Anybody who runs with me, whether they’re new students or friends, finds out sooner or later (probably to their disappointment) that I’m basically a feral Fraggle. My profession requires me to be at least somewhat visible either on stage or in a classroom, which is deceptive because my stage presence suggests I have some part of ‘It’ figured out, but apart from what I am obliged to do to keep the lights on, like everyone else, there’s no real master plan. No pattern. I have a few hacks up my sleeve, but the rest of it’s pretty much parlor tricks.
When it slowly but surely begins to dawn on any new recruits to my collaborative squad who meet me first at arms length from the page or the crowd, that the vision for my life revolves around acquiring adequate snack time, nap time, and play time (y’know…like a child), and I basically just want to play with my frans (play being the most serious work there is in the world, mind you…whole ‘other treatise coming about that at some point revolving around the film, Hook), people start asking questions which go something as follows: “You have no idea what you’re doing, do you?” Nope. Never said I did. “But, but…your poems are so dark. You are in way too good a mood most of the time to write such dark poems.” Welp. Gotta put it somewhere. “Why haven’t you figured ________ part of adulting out yet? Aren’t you a card-carrying white collar professional?” Nah. That’s my Clark Kent act. “Wha?! You don’t want to go out with everyone else to that bar/club/reading/conference/retreat where all those people are gonna be?” I’m an INFJ, man. And I’m done peopling today.
So, once those questions start coming, to save some time, I let folks know that my coordinates are located within the combination of three very specific films (in no particular order): Labryinth, The Last Unicorn, and The Wiz. Literally everything I do in life relates back in some way to these films. Long story short, whatever current quest I’m on at the moment to see if I can best myself is best enjoyed meeting kindred spirits along the way to share in the fun, preferably other shapeshifters.
That’s something else that these films share in common. They’re about found families. I’ve mentioned before I’m a latchkey kid, raised on a steady diet of muppets and Mister Rogers. I also moved around a lot growing up, so from state to state, when I made friends, we were usually bonding over what we watched and listened to. And that’s how I figured out that sharing stories is how we become kinfolk, even if we’re not skinfolk. So, when I share the most formative films of my life, it’s not to be coy. It’s to show inquiring minds what my core values are—what is sacrosanct to me in terms of achievement, endurance, and authenticity.
My fondest memories aren’t lodged in some special occasion like graduation day or holiday. My fondest memories revolve around hatching some hare-brained scheme with friends off-road (or on a rooftop) and daring ourselves to pull it off. I became a very amateur filmmaker several years ago because I wanted to explore the medium and talk back to it. See what had happened was, a friend of mine and I were on the way back from Louisville talking about this poem that people seemed to really like called “Waterbody,” which is about a woman who finds a mermaid, takes her home, patches her up, and they end up switching places Within that hour drive, we’d already cast it with some girls we knew around town, thought up a videographer, and started making phone calls because it was so crazy to think we could just make a movie on our own, it just might work.
We ended up making that short for under a thousand bucks, which I organized my first ever crowd-fundraiser for, ordered mermaid tails off eBay before it was fashionable, rented an underwater camera, and took four days running around in backyards and Kentucky creek beds trussed up in prosthetic ears and sequins. It was heaven. It took us a few months to edit it, record the soundtrack, and plan a huge release party on my birthday. None of us really knew one another very well, but that summer became the hallmark for the type of play I like best which is generative and expansive and fun, dammit. With people who are sharing a vision and everyone knows their role in it and supports one another through the process even if we can’t stand one another while trying to get through the weeds. Family stays, though. And when the magic is worth the price of admission re: setbacks and outbursts and improvisation, I mean. The partnerships and bonds that bloomed from that singular Kentucky summer? It was life-altering for most of us. I mean, technically of course, we were all winging it, and the short is probably twenty minutes too long, lol, but it’s still a big hit among four year olds and forty-year olds, who also happen to be my demographic. If you want to watch it, feel free to check it out here. It’s based on a poem I wrote several years ago that at long last, made it into my most recent full-length collection, Black Mermaid. But if you do watch, please do so with compassion for accidental guerrilla filmmakers who were working through their first flick together.
But anyway, when I’m talking about found families, I’m talking about people who just feel like home. Our souls recognize one another past the skin suits. Past the status. Past the age gap. Past the belief system. And of course with family, you can always come back to that feeling even when you’re with a new crew, it’s like, once you find that true North feeling in yourself that resonates with someone or someones where wisdom, grace, and authenticity abound (if I only had a brain, if I only had a heart, if I only had courage) it is like a true water-body right? Water always seeks itself out no matter where it is in or on the planet. It falls, runs, swells towards itself. And when your own family doesn’t entirely understand you or your choices, sometimes it’s like the water in your very blood calls out to the water in another person’s. It’s cellular-level gravitational pull. Like attracts like. Whatever the reason or season or lifetime.