Missed out last week? Storytellers from our 2018 Soap Box Ball share their notes.
By City Bureau
Anton Seals Jr.
My “Promise of Change” was to write a masterpiece — one that could be refined — failed. It sat and sat until the Magic 24-hour Mark. Well not quite, I knew I was gonna tell a story, or some semblance of one. So to all those that love me I make only the “Promise to Be.”
Got some. Need some. Loose.
Ext. 71st and South Shore Drive
First things first. Welcome.
Welcome to South Shore‚ where we know we got soul, where “we ain’t we lucky we got em’,” meets moving on up 2tha east side.
Images, sounds, smells flood my mind.
The colors of Autumn pop and the lake breezes (the little Hawk) slide through pre-winterized windows, the sound of the IC line screeching on the 1, the golden amber hues that cast their light at sunset, filling every blemish with flattery, only to be outdone by the sun’s ascent at dawn.
The South Shore skyline dotted with Moutoussamy buildings that peer from the background as you zip down Lake Shore Drive, as it merges into South Shore Drive. Stony Island, Yates, Exchange, 79th, 75th, 67th, the “Highlands.” All are markers for those who call South Shore home.
This is home base for this Community-Brother-at-Large. Like roots, you don’t see them at work, and you wonder the depth and width.
Can u smell it?
that change in the air.
Do you feel it. is there an electricity in the air.
made, kept, broken, shhhh promise.
to be dedicated to the liberation of my people.
All power to all the Power.
You’re standing in change
1905 Lawrence Heyworth has an elite club
He made his money as an heir to an English real estate developer
He bought this 67 acres
1916 2k folks ring in the new year
No Black No Jews
1974 the final event
No Blacks still
abandoned, liquidated, salvage restored, fought, campaigned for
And here you are. in the Change, that now needs changing again. A cultural center.
Slogans ring out, an almost 10-year-old boy, up close, in the mix, phones ringing, typewriters clashing notes, cigarette smoke filling a room, the cacophony of blk Chicago was — is — alive. I was there, canvassing, passing out signs, pasting the old school way, the pastemix. on 63, and 71st Come Alive October 5!! Punch 8.
no real idea how much of an impact it would have.
The Champions who are countless, and often nameless folks, who drove the idea of change in this, this promised land, the Windy City, City of Big Shoulders and Deep Blues. This deeply racist and corrupt city would and could be fair. Fair and Just for all.
It died, yet its seeds rooted and lived in the eyes that were watching … #blkjoy, #blkexcellence imprinted.
change you can believe in, but not that you can feel. from this same street, 44 would rise. A master brander, leader. A symbol that some still chew on as manna from the heavens. Change was sold, or marketed, to choose same eyes, who begot new eyes. 8 years of Change you can believe in? Disappears, the market closes
We turn to Rahmbo, and then orange one, with a flip. Some Change?
in this room are all of us who are bonded by the universal law of change, movement, our individual and collective promise to continue this ongoing ebb and flow of changes, that we don’t control, but seek to steer.
Those eyes, those ears are still present. in this space. The courageous and timid, the roots and the leaves, All of us knowing that all is possible, and we make it so. To stretch the infinite possibilities of life. So that new and returning eyes can bare witness
it is the promise i know.
What an honor to be here tonight to be a part of celebrating City Bureau and its critical vision of creating equitable media coverage by working alongside communities to tell their own stories. I’m deeply humbled to be in the company of such talented speakers, thinkers, DJs, doers and makers like all of you.
I stand before you tonight in the middle of an adolescence. I’m in the midst of learning so very much, and it’s shifting my spirit. I’ve run an arts series called Salonathon for the past seven years, and we just wound down its mainstay programming to make space for what is next, even though that is still not finished crystallizing. Salonathon is so close and so personal to me that not having it to lean upon and to identify myself by has been terrifically disorienting.
At the same time, I’m working on an initiative at my day job that aims to use the arts and humanities to imagine alternatives to our criminal justice system, and to draw disparate people and communities into conversation and action around its massive systemic flaws. Our institutional learning curve with this project has been and continues to be extremely steep, and what I am personally learning is transforming my own ethical landscape.
In short, I don’t feel that I have any answers right now, nor even that I should. This is the thing about adolescence, about being in the midst. You’ve got decent vantage points in all directions, but you don’t feel at home anywhere. You want to yearn your way into meaning. You’re not There yet, and you’re not There anymore. But you’re not nowhere, either. You’re just … you’re trying to take it all in, to stay open, to shore up what you’re learning and gird for what you must do next.
So, this is a story about about in-betweens, about what happens after the end of one era but before we know anything about the next, about vibrant, thwacking awkwardness and murky, blurry grey areas. This is not a speech about bright-eyed quests or clear-hearted starts to inevitable success. It’s about not knowing the answers. It’s about going straight for the part of a thing that confuses and disorients you the most and staying there as long as it takes to find where you are inside of it. This is a story about me, right now. And maybe about our country, right now. Our city, right now.
Which is not necessarily what I was asked to write about. I was asked to write about The Promise of Change.
THE PROMISE OF CHANGE. ??????
It’s far too big a concept to be taken in whole cloth.
While trying to figure out what to talk about tonight, I thought about so many Salonathon stories. Salonathon is that arts series I mentioned before (and Salonathon is — anyone? a home for underground, emerging, and genre-defying art!).
I thought about the transformations I have seen over the years in the room where Salonathon once held weekly performance events-combined-with-dance-parties. Thought about how celebratory the space felt and how truly warm and inclusive and aspiring it was, thanks to the countless people of all genders, races, and abilities who shaped it. Thought about my own transformations over the years as I learned, again and again and again, from those brilliant people.
There are so many beautiful instances of “the promise of change.” The times when someone really comes through for you, or redeems themselves, or grows in a way that you hadn’t thought possible. Those are the instances to which I cling. That kind of change is what keeps me going, what fuels my spirit, what makes me the hopeful Polyanna who puns and razzle-dazzles, just hoping to oodge that smile from you, the one you didn’t think you had to spare, the one you didn’t think would matter, the one that catches like a spark and starts a whole room, a whole community, a whole city aflame with beauty and affirmation and love.
But those all come with hindsight. You can’t report upon that kind of “promise” until it’s already been borne out. That kind of recognition comes at the end of the book, when you whup it softly shut with satisfaction.
And I’m not there right now. Is anyone there right now? What I want to talk about is what happens in the middle of the writing process, when that book is not even a book yet but instead a series of jotted notes, dorkily phrased aphorisms, character sketches, and bad ideas. What happens when your spirit, your city, your country is a tween again, angsty and goofy in new skin and unsure how to tend to itself, prone to outbreaks and breakouts.
Before the story is perfected, before you can tell it at a cocktail party or a gala. Before you even know what it is. How to struggle through that moment. How to stay yourself in that moment, when maybe the things that used to assure you you were yourself aren’t there anymore. How you continue to peel yourself open when all you want to do is fold like a spent crocus and drop petal-soft to the floor.
I’ve always been a firm believer in the in-betweens. During another adolescence in my life, I wrote a lot of very weird short plays. I’d been trying to write Normy Stories for a while but they never felt like me. It always felt like I was trying to emulate Raymond Carver, and doing so badly. So I decided to try to lean into my own voice. To find out what it was, come hell or high water. A couple of short plays that I wrote in that spirit landed in a short play festival, and I went to see them on opening night. One of them went over rather well. It was funny. People liked it.
The other one… dear god. It was very experimental in form, and very obtuse in content. I was whapping around with language, trying to figure out where the walls and the ceilings were. It was called “Dead Dog/God.” I can only guess that the director read the script and said gamely to the cast: “ok, this piece is really out there. Let’s combine every artsy experimental performance art idea we can think of and just swirl it all up and GO WITH IT.” There were people writhing around under a net together. There was a lot of unnecessary crying. There may have been simulated copulation? It was… stunning. It was the worst and most embarrassing thing I’d ever been attached to.
And at the end of the night, during curtain call, the producers took the stage and asked all the playwrights in the audience to stand up, say our names, and announce which plays we’d written.
Y’all. I had to stand up in a crowded theatre after the most abysmal performance art catastrophe in the history of humankind and say “my name is Jane Beachy and I wrote Dead Dog/God.” There was a hush. A collective intake of breath, a couple stifled laughs, and then slow, hesitant applause. It was mortifying.
And I went back every single night of the run. I felt there was something cleansing about the experience, like a rough loofah to my ego. I couldn’t dare pretend I didn’t like the production or I’d risk insulting the cast and director. So I had to stand proud, smile, and say “yes. I made that. That is mine.” I had to own it. Had to claim a thing which, despite my own wobbly words, I did not recognize as Me. Had to acknowledge that I didn’t really know what I was doing, that I was not, in that moment, a good writer or a smart person or a success, that I made something uncomfortably weird. That I was, in that moment, uncomfortably weird.
I was an amorphous, blobby orb and I had just mouthed some things onto a page, and let them flop, worm-like, out onto the fertile soil of this poor new play festival and slug around. And I had to stand there and admit to myself and everyone in the room that THAT is who I was at that moment. No disclaimers about where I’d come from or what I’d done before. No promise of what would come next. Just the playwright of “Dead Dog/God.”
It’s how I feel now when someone asks me what’s next with Salonathon.
It’s how it feels to try to imagine if my contribution to a criminal justice reform project could actually make any kind of difference.
It’s what happens when I try to squint beyond the next elections, beyond my fortieth birthday, it’s how I feel when I’m marching in a protest and I only like some of the words that people are chanting so I mouth some of them silently but I stay in the protest because at least my body is there and my body is lending mass, when means lending visibility, which is the only pathway to change I sometimes have the clarity to travel. Just being there.
I don’t have any wise words or answers tonight. But I do believe in being here. I believe in this terribly unfinished, awkward, hard moment in time. I know that so much more lies beyond it. I know that things will crystalize again, for a time, before I’m back here, in the middle of another adolescence — which, at the end of the day, is where life is the most *extra*, is when change is actually, literally happening. Not where it gets anticipated nor where it gets summarized and analyzed, which both get confused with change, but where it actually takes place, slowly, in all its fumbling and awkward glory.
And what I learn from these moments is to appreciate the massive courage, tenacity, and importance of organizations like City Bureau, which hold the in-between spaces, the nuances, the questions, the ever-unfolding as a principle. Which doesn’t require people to arrive at its doorstep fully formed and finished in order to acknowledge their inherent wisdom. Which is not interested in the gilded results, but rather the earnest in-between.
I want to say thank you again to City Bureau for having me here to speak tonight. My name is Jane Beachy and I wrote this speech on the Promise of Change.