The alarm bells went off in my head. You know the flashing lights that tell you that something is wrong. Instinct. A six sense. A feeling in your gut. I heard that sound, saw those lights when I received a phone call from a fellow writer that I hadn’t heard from in a while. The last time I heard from this older gentleman , a man who had written me two pages of beautiful Haikus. I blew him off, listening to those alarm bells that told me he was after more than my professional opinion about his writing. This time, however, I was curious. My heart and spirit felt open to the possibility of collaborating on a writing project that sounded interesting if nothing else. I am trying to be open to what the universe sends me in terms of exploring my creativity.
Last Friday I met with the gentleman in a café in the West Village. Hell if nothing else it gave me an excuse to get out of the apartment. I sat down at a table he had already secured and ordered a hazelnut cappuccino and a croissant. He ordered an omelet. He was as loud as I remembered him and it made me uncomfortable. There was no need for everyone in the small café to hear that I was moving to Los Angeles or that he wanted to quit his job in sales to live off his writing.
“So tell me the title of the poem you are basing the performance piece on.” I said.
“Latina Dreams” he said with no hint of sarcasm in his voice. No hint of flirtation.
I leaned in, “Tell me who else you are collaborating with. Is everyone involved white?”
He affirmed that the two musicians involved were white.
“It’s all about celebrating the sacred feminine and doing it erotically” B. told me seriously. He was going to this through a stream of consciousness poem titled “Latina Dreams” (or was it “Latina Nights”? As if that were better. He was going to do this with music and with dancing. Not just any dancing but dancing with poles. The dancers would be strippers.
Really loud alarm bells.
Bright flashing lights.
It’s not that I have anything against strippers. I used to be one in fact. And yes there was a part of me that felt very sexy, very powerful up on stage. But there was also a part of me that felt like I was being swallowed whole, consumed.
“Let me see the poem,” I told him. At this point I just wanted to get it over with. Confirm what I already knew.
Words screamed up at me from the page. I read and reread the poem neatly separated into two paragraphs, neatly separated into two women, two strippers, who both happened to be Puerto Rican like me. I struggled to maintain a certain level of distance. I fought the urge to lose all semblance of professionalism. I wanted to jump across the table and show all my ghetto Puerto Rican passion.
“It’s all stereotype. It’s all fetish,” I said in a low voice before taking a swallow of my coffee, my rage.
“I see have I have made you uncomfortable and that is good. Art is supposed to make you uncomfortable. I want to get beyond the manmade racial stereotypes and the only way to do that is to confront them,”
“You understand that I was born uncomfortable. That you are just repeating what has been put out there. That race may be manmade but it doesn’t negate how it works and that is something that you will never be able to understand,” I was still speaking low, still sipping my coffee but I was simmering, brewing beneath the surface of my own skin.
“Your reaction is stereotypical, “he threw at me. Before I could react he began to tell me a story about how he had gone to the Nuyorican Poets Café and read a related poem and how he was shot down and called misogynistic, racist.
Hmmm. Think maybe they were on to something.
Then he continued to say that it would be different if he were writing about say women from places like where Garcia Marquez or Vargas Llosa came from (he didn’t name the countries. Maybe he didn’t know the names of the countries).
“Those places have literary histories. Where Marisol (the stripper in his poem) is from, that is a place rooted in rhythm. All Marisol has ever wanted to be was a dancer (which in his mind was the same as a stripper).”
Did I mention that the strippers in his poem were both Puerto Rican?
“Well show me something,” he said almost as if it were a dare.
I pulled out “Exxxotic Girl”. For those of you who haven’t read it or heard it, it’s all about the objectification of Latina women.
“This is like every other Def Poetry Jam poet or wannabe poet,” he said.
Now criticism is fine when it’s warranted and useful. But when it comes from someone like this person there is no value in it. I have been called worse by worse writers with their own issues.
I put my share of money down on the table.
“Now I will extricate myself from this situation,” I said before leaving because well I like to use big words when I speak sometimes and I was setting myself free.
I walked to the subway laughing.
Some people will never get it.