Friday, June 10, 2016

Bookmark. Place holder. Space holder. Grief.

"...this is the first time in four years that I am something other than a bookmark in someone else's story." ~Natalie Lovejoy

So Say We All, a non-profit publishing company produced Incoming: Veteran Writers on Coming Home. Natalie Lovejoy is a former military wife who contributed her story, "Two Roads" (click on the link to read a very powerful excerpt).

"...It's okay for you to be upset, but not for him to be. Because what he's doing is important and what you're doing is not. Because his life is important and yours in not. At least not as important as his. This is your role in life, and you must accept it. You need to accept not mattering as much. But it's really not so bad... Mattering is overrated. Calm down woman, and treat yourself to a manicure.... (...) A military wife is supposed to be there to encourage, not challenge; to enhance his life, not her own...."  (Excerpt from "Two Roads")

I feel this so deeply - as a wife, as a woman, as an educator, as a humanist, as an artist. I come from a strong support system where my husband and parents have encouraged me to dream and fly. But, it's hard to fly in a glass cage.

With the elections coming up, gender inequality is at the forefront of many conversations. A particularly striking job interview comes to mind. In a private conversation, my male tour person warned me, "I think you'd be great, but this is a good ole boys club here and you're a woman. Make sure you get the compensation you want and don't be afraid to fight for it. You'll probably have to fight a lot if you come here. I don't want to scare you, I just want you to be prepared and have as much information as you can before you make a decision."

As a teaching artist, "the organization is in a serious deficit and we're going to cut the dance classes. We see more of a revenue stream from non-arts related subjects. And it's just dance - the students have Zumba as a wellness option."

No, it's not just dance and Zumba is a form of fitness (albeit an awesome form of fitness), but it's not art! It's not teaching young people self confidence from being on stage; problem solving from collaborating on group projects; trust from weight sharing exercises; community building through moving together and challenging each other to improve technically; creative thinking through imagery; non-verbal communication and awareness through choreography...! I scream in my head. I take a deep breath, and calmly continue to advocate for the power of dance as a form of positive, non-violent, social change.

Maybe I need to start screaming. Really screaming.

"Calm down woman and treat yourself to a manicure."

Several years ago, a very smart medical researcher at Jefferson University asked me "I know you're a dancer, But do you work?" (click the link to read more). This question is a challenge not only to my ability to produce money for my copay, but also to my ability to create value and meaning in this corporate, capitalist world.

Art matters, friends. Dance matters. Who I am and what I do is not just taking up space. I'm taking up a challenge to combat the norm.


So, I'm working on this solo for a performance of KYL/D at the West Park Arts Festival. I'm inspired by Natalie's words and challenge myself to be as brave as she is/was. I'm moving, improvising, researching, crafting, reflecting, returning, reflecting, returning, reflecting... and I realize that I've been grieving. I've been grieving for my perceived role as a bookmark, place holder, space holder. I've been grieving my "mattering" being "overrated".

According to, there are five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. "They are tools to help us frame and identify what we may be feeling. But they are not stops on some linear timeline in grief."

I've grieved a lot - loss of family, friends, opportunities, work... and I'm grateful to realize that "mattering" is something I can grieve too.

Awareness is the first step - right? Now that I'm more aware, I have the power to act. Natalie made me aware that I'm not the only one grieving. And knowing means I have a responsibility to act. To dance. To share my voice.

"Bookmarked" is one of those steps in the process of acting.

The performance tomorrow will provide me with more information on the piece. How is it perceived? How do I perceive the work as I'm sharing it, rather than just rehearsing it? Is the work a process of relief or am I actually telling a story?

If you're there, I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Thanks, friends. May you know that you, too, matter!

KYL/D is performing on the Dance Stage (there are two stages - the Main Stage and the Dance Stage) at 1:30pm and 3:15pm. The Festival goes on rain or shine!


  1. Jessica: you are a wonderful and thoughtful writer. I spent 25 years in the Army and am a highly decorated combat veteran. Just want you to know that I would follow you in your endeavors anywhere. You are worth a fortune, a treasure. You search, you learn, your art is extraordinary. Thanks for posting this. You are experiencing here everyone's story, especially in America. You can succeed if you stick to your box. We cheer our outlaws and then we kill them. The best thing is doing what you are doing. Creating your Art. Telling your story. Sharing every ounce of you. Never do less. Thank you for all you do to bring grace to so many others. Mike Lancaster

  2. Michael, first and foremost, thank YOU for your service and welcome home! I hope you found and continue to find a home - or at least aspects of a home - that is worthy and satisfying to your sacrifice(s). Thank you for your dedication to the values of this country and the people who served beside you. Thank you, personally and humbly, from me!

    I am honored and humbled by your feedback.

    Thank YOU for continuing to search, challenge, question, and (in the words of my 8th grade English teacher) revise, revise, revise. The story continues and changes and grows... thank you for being a part of my journey! Thank you for accepting and reading my journey! I look forward to continued conversations!