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Jun 23
Arts and Poetry, World, other
Yes: Express Your Everything

One Woman Show

One Woman Show

A One-Woman Play by Cynthia Kneen
Photos courtesy of Jennifer Holder

Before leaving for South Africa, I had been writing and performing a one-woman show as part of an underground theater group. A week before I left home, I wrote something new called YES. It is fiction, a story all made up… yet true. Writing and performing from within our body’s voice is “a healing fiction,” because when feeling at ease, this subtle, emotional body has feelings that can reach beyond itself. YES is a tale about grief, Africa, love and lust. The larger play is tentatively called, “Come Closer and Express Your Breath, Your Everything” after something Trungpa Rinpoche once said to me.

* * *

YES! A Monologue

Lights come up on two chairs on a stage, one behind the other, facing the audience. Stage has a lip, on which actor can sit and address the audience up close and intimately. Woman is standing, gesturing to an invisible person sitting in the chair farthest from audience, somewhat blocked behind the first chair. Woman speaks.

She’s leaving soon for Africa, teaching for three months in Cape Town, down at the tip. This is big for her. She feels she’s been living her life in a small and sheltered way ever since her lover died and she died, too.

Everything cascading after he died – having a car accident on the way to his funeral, hurting herself and someone else, losing him, her job, her health, her career, the house with gardens that she loved, her community. Everything around her falling down. So she ran from the losses, ran home to where she’d come from, and the second day there, she fell down too, and broke her back.

You think you're going somewhere?

You think you're going somewhere?

And why not break her back?! It’s perfect imagery for how can we stand up straight amidst grief?

Then slowly, slowly she stood up. She became a truer person. Slowly she made sense of things. Yet I watch her resting in familiar ways, sitting like her mother sat as she was aging, all folded up and in, watching stupid shows on TV, trying to flash on some kind of awake. Accomplishing things here and there, but really? Mostly, she rests uninspired, not knowing which way to go, or what to do.

I encourage her. So she said YES to Africa. YES to three weeks. YES to a month! YES to three months!! YES! YES! WHY NOT? Africa is a huge continent, and her heart is just as huge and deep.
She, who is afraid to go to the public library! She is leaving for Africa.

I imagine South Africa as sophistication, beauty, brutality, poverty, and the ocean. Ohhh… the ocean. She hasn’t seen the ocean since he died, and she died, inside, along with him. But this ocean will be different for her than the Pacific: more raw, more audacious, close to Antartica at the Cape of Good Hope. It’s perfect imagery to go to a place where oceans meet and currents clash. The very tip of South Africa reaching outrageously for the pole, reaching boldly to be whole. This is what I want for her.

Last week she was afraid. Now she feels the call to be authentic, to be what Africa will help her become. It is a call to leave her habits. I feel she’s going home.

* * *

Bridge, then a Leap.

Bridge, then a Leap.

Woman moves from back chair to stand next to front chair, unobstructed to the audience’s view. Woman gestures to an invisible figure who now seems to be sitting in the forward chair, and speaks.

So she’s leaving to teach the dharma in South Africa for three months. She’ll teach the Buddha’s dharma, but if she’s blessed, it’s real dharma she will teach. “Dharma “ means truth in Sanskrit, not true as opposed to false, but true as real, true because it’s so, truth that can’t be denied, the true kind of truth — the one that frees.

Once a teacher said to her, hanging on by her fingernails, heartbroken, unable to communicate, “Don’t do fake dharma. Do real dharma. The real dharma is in you. Don’t lose dharma.” That’s true dharma he was talking about. Someone has to say the truth. — She thinks, why not her?! Africa demands a weighty truth, and she does, too.

I think of Africa as where we began as human beings — not where politics began, or religions began, nor the beginning of institutions — but our bodies, our courage, our humanness.

I think of Lucy the mother, Lucy the original, our oldest ancestor, an upright walking hominid who lived 3 million years ago. I think of her tiny bones, and what a monumental thing it was for her to go upright — the inspiration and the risk. How she had feelings, how she loved, bore children, and then down, down, down we came, descending from Lucy into the beauty and terror of this present life we have: yours, hers, and mine.

Last week she was afraid. Now she is grateful. She feels her life’s meaning is coming into focus. I know that she is giving birth.

* * *

Reflective As-Is

Reflective As-Is

Woman moves away from front chair to sit on lip of the stage, very close to the audience. Woman speaks intimately.

She met a man from Camaroon, a royal man, dark skin, friendly, sophisticated. And she felt quickened with life on meeting him — desire surging through her, him so beautiful, funny, wise. Her, full of outrageous love and lust. She hadn’t felt this in years.

I watch her, and I marvel. Camaroon! Carved out by the colonists, oil rich Camaroon — not even its own name. Just a name the colonists gave it, names just made up — like anything. Camaroon! Where the government doesn’t need the people, and the people don’t need the government. Where magic and dignity are held in the people and the land, and the government holds the oil… the money.

Would YOU take magic or money at the carnival of life?? If I had to choose, I’d say, “You can sell your soul for a dollar, but I’ll take magic any day.”

Friends, she is on a collision course with Africa, with its grief and imagery, its life and death and sensuality. Outwardly, she is an author on a tour, ho hum. But inwardly? The stakes are very high. I want the beating of her heart to guide her now.

I know the Dalai Lama wants us to be gentle. I love the Buddha, and the Buddha taught this, too. Yet when I think of Africa, I know a certain inspired rage is necessary, or if not rage then call it life. Strength. A life force and vision in us that is bigger than our obstacles.

I want to hold this truth for all of us, for her and me. I want anger without hatred, love with strength, tenderness with guts. I have a Japanese teacher from a long line of samurai who simply calls this “hard back, soft front.”

I encourage her.

Woman stands up, moves directly in front of the audience.

Medicinal and Watery

Medicinal and Watery

I say YES to life, and YES to grief. YES to inspiration and to risk. YES to Lucy who helped us go upright, who looked at the horizon instead of the ground – Lucy the uplifted, strong, vulnerable, exposing her open chest to inspiration and to fear. YES to love and sensuality. YES to the depth of our own truth, the wholeness of our hearts. YES to the validity of life as-it-is. YES. YES.

Life Buddha. Death Buddha. Love. Sorrow. Joy. Rage. Each of them is Buddha, too. I cry real tears of joy and sadness for all of us: for Lucy, Africa, and me. Powerful things are moving in me. Deep down I’m not afraid. I am glad to be with the ocean again. I know who I am. YES! YES… WHY NOT!

With dharma at my side, I am going to Africa.

Lights fade out.

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1 response to “ Yes: Express Your Everything ”
  1. phyllis segura
    Jun 23, 2010

    I can’t help but think about missionaries here. Is this about one person feeling broken and wanting to express what she has been taught and believes to the truth? Or is it the inner discursive dialogue as the person tries to rouse herself to continue? In any case, it sounds like the structuring of a belief that the person wants to pass on thinking that passing this information/data/knowledge on in Africa will actually save her. Oh dear.

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