Process v. Product: letter to my ma

letter to my ma by Jenn Freeman

i am writing because i recently put together a service of gratitude called Thank the Lorde! it was a re-imagined church service praising audre lorde and featured singing, dancing, poetry and more. it was an incredible experience. now, two weeks later i’ve found myself stuck with a box of leftover programs. i have decided due to the sheer cost of ‘em to send ‘em to folks who didn’t come.

i am not sure how you will respond once reading this letter and the enclosed program. this is something we don’t talk about. the art i create. the how and why. but, it seems, people wash away from my life like shores. i’m told mamas ain’t suppose to go nowhere and figure if that’s true you might as well truly see me.

it is hard for me to write this to you. knowing that you are a preacher’s wife. knowing you are gonna think “i didn’t raise you to be this Jennifer.”

i am not a christian anymore. i can’t deny tho’, that some of my fondest memories were created within a church. i loved church. i loved the black history month marches. the blue and white choir robes. the red leather bound hymn books. the after church dinners with tables of food and rushing women aiming to serve. the telephone with the long spiraling cord that reached around the entire fellowship hall. it was a culture where black folks edified, loved and believed in each other. amen. since falling away from christianity i’ve seeked faith that centered experiences like mine.

i think it is hard to read about the work and life of audre lorde and walk away not believing in her. it ain’t gonna hurt us to find ways to love and praise black women. can i get an amen? there is so much of audre lorde’s work that i think you’d connect with. reading the cancer journals made me think of grandma. audre was among the first to openly speak on her journey with cancer. she died in 1992 just a year before grandma.

so much has changed since then.

these last two years, since my divorce, i’ve found myself in rehearsal rooms undergoing more changes. i have been looking at how i create. an ugliness has revealed itself, when i am left in a room alone to create. by ugliness i mean the mouth of my fears. it was so much easier to be in rehearsal rooms with another set of eyes. someone affirming and pushing my creative choices. now it is just me. at first the loneliness was pulsing and maddening. i would lay on wooden floors overtaken by depression and spirals. allowing the echoing of my self-doubt to consume me. a friend. or rather one of those people who now have washed away gave me audre lorde’s “a litany for survival”. much like grandma did with psalms 23. i’ve imprinted this poem into my spirit.

i started reciting “a litany for survival” each rehearsal. over and over until i wasn’t weeping. but standing on my feet. body ready to move.

fear’s mouth would open and over time i learned to answer it by searching for movements that reminded me of those days in the church. thinking of the usher’s gestures. of prayers. the choir procession. pausing from this quest only to read more about audre lorde and to dig deeper into her writing. i would journal about my findings, and write directly to my fear.

“breathing. softening spine. worshiping and praising. be present and let go sis. can you trust your voice? trust your movement. believe in your movement. dear lorde. be in this space. show me your spirit. guide me. where are you holding your fear today? can you let go of your spine? your shoulder? you neck? you are not alone.”

you are not alone.

i know ma, that there will be parts of this letter and program that you will reject or ignore, but i hope the parts that you come to love and appreciate reflects how much of you and my love for you has shaped Thank the Lorde! and my art.

I love you

J Freeman

p.s. if you would like, next time i write i can send you some pictures from the service. there were some stunning moments captured.

Above: Jenn Freeman in Thank the Lorde! Photos: Greg Inda

This blog entry is part of the Dance Center’s Process v. Product Festival (March 28-April 7). This two-week festival examines how concert dance presentation can be a document of process rather than a consumable product. Molly Shanahan/Mad Shak and Bebe Miller Company headline the festival through a series of performances, artist discussions, panels, workshops, and more. The Process v. Product Festival invites dance-makers, dance lovers, and other artists to reflect on the process of creation.