When I Look at You

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Write with your eyes like painters, with your ears like musicians, with your feet like dancers. You are the truthsayer with quill and torch. Write with your tongues on fire.
— Gloria Anzaldua

I know many angry, sad, frustrated and emotionally exhausted people right now. Sometimes it’s difficult to know how to stay open, engaged, responsive, and committed to the changes necessary to move toward greater social justice.

I spent the last two days listening to the opinions of fourteen college students on a two-day tour of Los Angeles newsrooms, where we learned about the way news is curated, produced, translated and distributed.

In the process, I learned about how to stay open.

On one of our stops, we visited an 82 year old woman who goes by the name of Wowza; we learned a little about vitality and a lot about ourselves. Like an orchestra conductor, she taught us to play with multiple tones of earthly energy and to bring them forth from inside ourselves.

Wowza spent three hours getting us out of our comfort zones, helping us understand we have access to a range of emotions and personalities we don't often explore or inhabit, and that by increasing our tonal range, we can have greater access to genuine connection with a wider range of people.

We sat on bouncy balls, abandoning the social roles and decorum we use as armor, and we learned to get in touch with and allow ourselves to feel emotions in our guts and hips. As we bounced, Wowza illustrated how to observe and mirror tone and body language, which we practiced with each other. We practiced looking each other in the eyes, letting go of speaking English, and working with emotional expression through extended vowel sounds.

We tried on white masks that concealed our life experiences, and we looked in the mirror, imagining what it would be like to erase the past and start anew.

By the end of our time together, each of us was able to move freely and express tones of "wow," articulating degrees of amazement as we moved in and out of the center of our collective circle.

And as we learned to see and appreciate the idiosyncratic details in one another, we began to recognize and embrace them in ourselves.

Maybe love is like that, constantly in motion. Weaving in and out of social roles and identities: exchanging, seeing, recognizing, appreciating, embracing, apologizing, uniting. Maybe that’s how we forge hope.

Michelle Dowd