Notes from an Isolated Witness
Part of the Invisible Diaries series:
Week 10 / Day 3
Today I accidentally slept in and it was beautiful. I think it was the first time in about three weeks that I hadn’t set an alarm. Even when my mornings consisted of taking the bus to class, a routine I was happy to have, mornings were hard. Austin, Texas, has killer hills and heat, and I go back and forth wondering if I miss the climb and the urgency.
In moving from Chicago to Austin last summer, I truly didn’t anticipate the ways my body’s demands would change. The present sun is a blessing as the heat fuels my Persian heart, reminding me of long days sitting outside with my dad. Wow, I miss my family.
The thought crosses quick but the impact lingers. This is the longest I’ve been away from them, from Chicago. Almost six months now.
Soon, my morning has gone and it’s 1 pm. I sit in these feels and eye my 6:30 pm Zoom meeting with bated breath. I live alone – something I had mostly appreciated leading up to quarantine. My space is my peace and I relished the freedom.
But I’ve desperately missed people and making in a shared physical space. And I find myself dramaturging these feelings, interrogating where they come from, how I see them manifesting in my actions. Yes, I roll my eyes at myself on the daily. But dramaturgs are nothing if not the masters of transferable skills. Funny that my methods of coping follow such lines of thought.
Though the homesickness is present in a whole new way, I’m fortunate that my main gigs are rooted in Chicago at the hands of fierce collaborators. So generally, home doesn’t feel as far away. Many of these my collaborators have been at the forefront of organizing on issues that are finally making the mainstream conversation – like abolition and defunding the police – and framing them as tenable possibilities. In 2018, I was able to participate in weekly sessions on Performance for Direct Action with Free Street Theater. Here I learned how the arts could be mobilized for tangible, systemic change through strategic disruption. These memories bubble as I scroll social media testimonies and photos of a recent visual action undertaken.
On days like today when my heart grows heavy, wishing I could be on-the-ground, I find myself leaning into the practice of dramaturgy that we love and prod. The tools of the dramaturg are those of the thinker, the writer, the asker, the giver. I find myself looking at a national masthead and pitching a story that keeps getting rejected by my fave local paper, no matter what my angle. Though I don’t necessarily enjoy writing, it’s definitely played a major role in shaping my patience and generosity.
Being at a distance to my city allows me to bear witness in a similar way as being distanced at the tail end of a rehearsal process. We may see what others may not, and it is our responsibility to track these observations and decide when/if to offer them. I try to reframe this time away from Chicago as a gift, as a new lens. And if I have notes to share, now they go to the public rather than a creative team.
Yasmin Zacaria Mikhaiel (she/they) is a Chicago/Austin-based dramaturg, journalist, and oral hxstorian. Their multi-disciplinary work as a queer, fat, brown, femme endeavours to amplify and archive stories that go lost/stolen/forgotten. Select bylines include essays and arts criticism with American Theatre, Chicago Reader, Windy City Times, Rescripted, The Austin Chronicle, and Sightlines. They are currently pursuing an MA in Performance as Public Practice at the University of Texas at Austin.
Learn more at www.yasminzacaria.com and follow them on Twitter/IG @yasminzacaria.
Photography is courtesy of the author.