Kate Hawkes (Essay Winner)
The WE Conference™ is pleased to recognize
a winning submission in The WE Conference™ Essay Contest
by Kate Hawkes of Cordes Lakes, Arizona
Alexa Beatrice was born in 1900 and Faerlie Eva in 1901. These two women became my grandmothers. From my beginnings in Australia 54 years ago to my work and life here in Arizona, USA, today, they are always with me. Whenever I talk to my daughter or email, facebook, text or even actually write (!) I use the name ‘Alexa’. Named after (as she would remember it when she was little) ‘Great-nanny-who-died’ she is a living connection to those remarkable women.
There are also many photographs, yellowed letters and jewelry handed down. I, as the oldest grandchild on all sides of the families, inherited both grandmothers’ engagement rings. There are china plates and glasses used almost everyday in my mother’s house and my sister has most of Grandmother Alexa’s living room furniture in her house.
Every one of these items has a story. We are a family of storytellers. There are more stories than anything about the grandmothers. Some may have been so re-shaped by years of telling that the grandmother at its center may not even recognize it. And an old aunt doesn’t hesitate to correct the nieces with her version of the story. Over time she also joined the parade of women at the center of the family stories.
Women have always been storytellers. Even if history has been less prolific with its rendering of stories about women, women have steadfastly kept their stories alive. It is the stories by women, about women, passed on to other women that keep our community and culture together.
I directed the musical play Quilters, by Molly Newman and Barbara Damashek, 3 times over 14 years. Daughter Alexa was 6 weeks old for the first production. (She mostly sat out rehearsals in the back of theatre, nestled in the portable rocker/car seat!) The third time round she was 14 and, in spite of herself, had her favorite characters and sang along with the songs.
Performed by 7 woman playing over 60 characters, Quilters traces the stories of a generation of American pioneer women, from birth through death. Quilting blocks, each with its own story-pattern, serves as the form by which the stories unfold.
Pioneer women, isolated by geography and financial difficulty, in a man’s world without family support, turned to an old art form for sustenance and empowerment. The quilts were useful items essential to physical warmth and they were beautiful works of art that told the stories. Working alone or coming together for quilting parties, women shared their stories and passed them on to the next generation.
When women lose their voice, no longer tell the stories, ignore or are embarrassed by them, and don’t pass them on to the next generation, then something of their strength is lost. Imitating the dominant gender culture, male and often goal orientated, does not nurture the depth of capacity inherent in every woman.
These stories of the individual, the family, the culture, region, or the universe, are for everyone regardless of gender, age or ethnicity. It is only when we can tell, listen to and honor those explorations of self and connections, that there is true community.
I observe the apparent disintegration of our society and the failure of political systems to address the needs of the individual. I have worked with unmarried teen mothers and am appalled by the statistics of the sex trade and prostitution right here in the USA.
I also note how many organizations provide services—space and time and yes, an ear, to those most in need. I notice how many are run by women. Women—willing and strong enough to really hear the stories that are told, in all their detail, and then assist in creating new ones.
I am seeped in stories. Grandmother Faerlie always told us stories, out of her imagination and about the family, way back to her childhood. Grandmother Alexa was one of the first women to graduate from the Adelaide University, in Latin and French. Even in her last months, years after I had moved to the USA, she was sending me long, perfectly handwritten letters detailing and critiquing her current reading material.
It is hardly surprising that I gravitated toward theatre. Live theatre is the ultimate form of storytelling, and has been across all cultures, epochs and generations forever. As long as human beings have wanted to share the days’ events, explain the mystical, or process the myriad challenges of simply being alive, they have told stories.
There are similarities in all storytelling. A central character or heroine has something they want/need, a goal. That is made difficult to reach by obstacles and challenges. Sometimes the heroine wins and sometimes she loses. Regardless, she goes on a journey where inevitably she uncovers something of her self in the process.
Live Theatre puts the story on stage, before an audience. Sitting in the presence of a live person on stage, generally unable to interfere or leave, you are taken on that journey. However, you can be the writer, lead actor and director of your personal story.
Empowerment arises from being your own hero (or heroine) rather than a passive observer or, worse, victim. Imagine being able to appreciate yourself as the heroine in your story, not one of the people on the periphery, or the means by which the hero does his/her thing or, worst of all, the slave.
In theatre the actors’ task is to find the journey the character is on by looking at the given circumstances (the what, where, who and how) and then asking, ‘What is it I (the character) want? What is the goal, the objective, of this journey?’ Placing the character firmly at the center of the story, the actor fully inhabits the emotional, psychological and behavioral world. The best actors, the ones with the most courage, also access the spiritual or Soul aspect of their character.
I have enjoyed many years as a theatre artist—director, actor, writer and producer—and as a teacher of acting and writing. I work with arts in healthcare and have created processes by which people can uncover and tell their inner story. Here is what I have learned. When anyone is given the opportunity to engage in the arts, in a safe place to begin to articulate and explore their personal story, there is empowerment.
I call it Personal Magic. We each have a unique story to share with the world. It is fundamental to who we are and why we are here. When we have conscious access to that story then we can make choices, even in limited circumstances.
There is an old theatre adage, ‘There are no small roles, only small actors.’ Likewise, there are no small people, only the small self. By embracing your Personal Magic and bringing that to the world, you can be the heroine at the center of your story. You will know your given circumstances, name your goal, and fully inhabit the emotional, psychological and behavioral aspects of your story. Most wonderfully, in real life, you can do so without being a puppet at the mercy of some other writer. Rather you are the writer and the director and the lead actor.
The empowered woman is both the heroine and the storyteller, at the center and also outside the story, able to see it all. The heroine doesn’t escape the story nor is she devoured by it. The real heroine is truly Free and Empowered.
Daughter Alexa is 23 and well on her journey to empowered woman. It has not been easy for her as she negotiates the obstacles to her only recently articulated goals. However, she has always had art. It stopped her dropping out of school. The brushes, paints, paper and collection of collage items travel with her wherever she goes. When she went to Australia for 6 months one entire suitcase was devoted to the painting materials! Her great-grandmothers would both recognize her and be proud. She is an empowered person, which for her mother can present its own challenges!
My form is text-based but any of the arts, be it dance, music, drawing, clay offer the same opening into your strength. Whatever puts you in contact with that creative inner flame or Spirit, puts you directly in tune with your powerful, autonomous self.
Out-of-date structures are breaking down around us, fear and anxiety paralyses or antagonizes. These are calls to Action. The time has come, not only for women as individuals, but for the earth, planet and universe in which we live, to embrace our individual stories. We are not selfish when we choose that because we bring the gift of our Personal Magic. By being empowered we empower others.
My story, my Personal Magic, is to facilitate through the arts, and particularly the written/spoken word, empowerment in others. I urge you to seek out and live your Personal Magic and recommend the creative endeavor as an opening into that place of empowerment.