Vulnerability & Justice

“Somebody,” an original theatrical exploration by Jamie Goodwin ’22 at the Wallace Theater on November 11, 2021. Photo by Bola Okoya

Welcome back to the pink room… and Happy New Year!! Grab a seat, get comfortable we might be here for a little while.

Wow, it has been a while!

A lot has happened. Maybe too much… in the what 8 months since we last spoke. With the most recent on the list being, I literally wrote, produced, and performed in a play that just had its performances in mid-November. It was crazy. I went from an observer of theater to maker and let me tell you it’s like euphoria or something. Anyway, it is this play and the process of devising it that we find the content of our chat today.

As maybe you have caught on over the past year and a half, I have been going through a kind of self-discovery process or likely more accurately a self-destruction process. I mean that I have been discovering the self I thought I was, really, was not my self at all. It was the right self. It was the Christian self. It was the good self. But it simply was not my self. This has been the most terrifying process I have ever begun. But also I dare to say, as each old definition of “self” falls, I feel just a little bit lighter.

And this is exactly where we find this play. A play that I think I was meant to write. A play that put on full display, the hurt, the pain, and the unlivable solutions that I have wrestled with my whole life. The hurt, the pain, and the unlivable which I continue to live. And yet have always been afraid to give voice to. It is the kind of play that never really ends only begins. It is a play where, in a life of performance, to perform becomes the only way to finally stop performing. It is a play to be seen. To be real.

It was a play that gave me permission to be broken. To be honest that I am still living in the first act, laboring for my second act. The act of dreaming a world I have never seen in the face of a world that is killing me.

And I understand that most of you have no idea what I am talking about having not seen the play and all but I promise there is a point here. And the point is this. Vulnerability. Vulnerability is justice.

What do I mean by that?

In a world that is set on killing you, acknowledging that you are hurting no longer becomes an option. No one survives dehumanizing violence, human. For love, joy and pain become distorted beyond recognition since the only way to be human in a dehumanizing world is to hate yourself or destroy the world.

And suddenly even love can become violent.

Love, for your children, for whom you had been practicing your “obey the police speech” since they had been able to walk and now at 12 still sounds wrong, becomes a violent rage as you desperately try to keep the kids locked up inside away from the violent police. Love for yourself is just as distorted when you realize that the dead look in the shopkeeper to the terror in your English teacher’s eye all have the same cause. To love yourself then is to hate yourself or at least its embodiment. To love yourself is to demand with a passion that you are more than your dark skin and curly hair. To hold on fiercely that you are human despite the fact that you were black.

So yes, in a world that is set on killing you, acknowledging that you are hurting is to condemn yourself to death.

So you grin and bear it. You survive. You wake up and go to work. And you never cry. Not a single time. And you can survive, for you are in the family line of those who have survived the apocalypse, hell, and then a few more miles down below. But there are some moments, quiet moments, where the world and your body feel heavier than their normal load. They weigh so heavy, you are not sure you can bear their weight. It is also in those moments you wonder just for a second what it might mean to be human, to be weak. You wonder what it might feel like if you could tell someone, it doesn’t have to be the whole world, just a single person would be enough that you never wanted to be a bodybuilder. You had dreamed of being an artist or perhaps simply a dreamer.

But you quiet the thought. Since you remember when you had told your dad how much it hurt, his eye glazed over and his face grimaced and he walked away without even a whisper. You remember when you told your mom how you weren’t sure if you were right for bodybuilding and she cried all night and you were afraid she would never stop. You even recall the one time you told that friend of yours from school who only the day before had said they would be yours forever, and how their eyes went as blank as the shopkeeper’s, and then they laughingly said “but you are the best bodybuilder I know”.

So you tuck it away. Lean your back forward just a little bit more. Let your head hang low and don’t even try to look up. And then in a single and seemingly superhuman movement, you pick up your body and go. You go on surviving and you fear and yet hope for the next moment your body and the world get too heavy to wear.

So then to survive in a world set on killing you is to let yourself die before the world ever met you. To become invincible by simply nursing your wounds every night and painting yourself red or blue or whatever your insides look like. To become whole by mastering the art of illusion with invisible glue and duct tape. To become brave by hollowing out your heart so that the fear might be replaced with nothingness. You become loud. You rage because that is the only thing that won’t break the intricate webs of tape you have wrapped around your torse to your face. So, yes you survive.

And you get good at it too. You become perhaps the first. Maybe even the best. You are strong. And your artistry is more intricate than Leanardo da Vinci, for you have convinced the world that you are whole. Sometimes you even convince yourself. But each night, as you expertly paint over another fresh wound and wash its pain away with whatever pill you have on hand, your body seems to become more painting than flesh.

And soon the same world who had once been set on killing you seems to be enchanted by you. Or at least your artistry. It praises the masterpiece that you have become. It envies the intricacies of your unique brush strokes and obsesses over its vibrant colors. And so the world who first forced you into bodybuilding and then turned you into painting, thinks it has changed. It loves you. It thinks your strength, artistry, and resilience are beautiful. But the problem is that no matter how pretty or compelling the painting, a canvas simply isn’t human.

So now, we return that to the fact that I have become convinced of: to be vulnerable in a world set on killing you is a decisive and humanizing act. To wash yourself clean, reveal the extent of your brokenness, and offer no compelling solutions is to steal back your humanity. To hurt and hurt badly is to love your hurting body. To hate, to be ashamed and exhausted of painting and bodybuilding is to learn how to be human again.

And yet it is still a dangerous act.

It is an act that puts all those bodybuilders who have become artists at risk. Because when you have lived as a painting for almost your whole life to be human is terrifying. If you are not superhuman then how do you get up tomorrow morning? When you show the world that you and not simply them have been on a crusade of destroying your body, you also destroy the charade. A world who was obsessed with your painting and how much it changed is simply not willing to see your real bleeding and bruised body.

So the world will say, “see we were right even they despise their bodies” and your fellow bodybuilders will stare at you horrified, and say “do you care so little for our pain such that you have decided to steal even our pride.”

So I repeat justice is not firsts or bests. It is not a false love of the masterpiece of culture, resilience, and beauty with which my ancestors, grandmothers, and fellow bodybuilders have dumbfounded the world. Justice is only achieved when I can be weak. When I have the ability to be wounded. When I can be human without it destroying me first. When courage isn’t forged from the back-breaking work of carrying the world on your shoulders but the mysterious adventure of your humanity.

So then the possibility of my vulnerability is justice. And so justice can only come when I can be a dreamer, not simply a bodybuilder. Justice then is pursued not by becoming art history majors but construction workers who set on finally destroying the world.

That’s all folks. Thanks for joining me in the pink room. See you all real soon!

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