Rock WILK is a white Jewish hip hop artist whose major external claim to diversity was that he was among the many who are adopted and feel perennially estranged, ill at ease in his skin, and in search for his birth mother who may have had some answers for him. Or may not. At a moment in time when many of us are celebrating the presidential victory of Barack Obama, the emphasis has been on embracing diversity, mostly from the outside perspective of who and how we are and how we differ.
The question of inner diversity may be far from the political podiums but is one many of us struggle with on a day to day basis. How is one part of us different from the other part of us? How can Rock deal with his feeling Jewish but not feeling Jewish because he is told by many others that his athleticism makes him unlike Jews. How does he deal with looking for the home that will complete him when there are other parts that make him uniquely blessed and courageous enough to be himself, to speak and write and sing and spark his story with poetry. He does so as he puts some pieces together as he lets people in an audience identify with multiple stories, the adoption issue being but one. It is but one because in his case and that of many of us, and as he comes to realize, there is a level of estrangement not easily explained by or fixed by a kiss on the boo boo or the right person we have in our fantasy.
This thing about being known, being gotten is not Rock WILK's alone. And so it is the connection with others that ultimately helps him get to the home and the love within him. You can partake of this journey of his and of your own by joining him at his one-man show Broke Wide Open at the 45th Street Theater at 354 W. 45th Street in Manhattan, which opens Friday November 9. 2012.
Storytelling is a way of understanding and being understood, but it's also a way in which those same stories can evolve and even change with different awareness that we didn't have at the start. To make the part of this that is lonely or mysterious at ease, an enormous gift we need much more of, is a sense of community, big or small of people who can care, who can get it. Rock has found what I told him seemed like a kind of midwife in his director Stephen Bishop who, he said, has let him get to his own truths at his own pace.
And then, and now there is the recent partnering with Rain Pryor who has come on as producer. No stranger to feelings of being estranged and juggling emotions and events from her wild and glorious and confusing and overwhelming and lonely past as the daughter of comic genius Richard Pryor and a Jewish mother, fierce and shaky, Rain knew what she had needed to get off the ground with the sustaining recognition from her own producer. She saw Rock WILK in his performance of his show and she saw a kindred spirit: She was mesmerized, haunted, thrilled, and in some way at home.
Those of us who wander in the realms of identities, who seek the "real" us beyond the magical longings that make knowing our birth mother the answer to who we are, or to finding the right partner as completing our everything, have to ultimately confront the loneliness of giving up those fantasies. This isn't the concrete problem of employment or not, but it is the problem of how human we feel, how much belonging we can know, and even ask for. This isn't about begging, but about putting our truth out there, coming out of our individual and collective closets and telling our inconvenient truths.
Our culture has been ambivalent about that search to find the real self, which in truth doesn't always stay static for long. For some, Broke Wide Open could seem self indulgent, whining, too prolonged and Rock as ungrateful to his beautiful adoptive family. Or it could seem like the perfect vehicle that adoption activists who are less in favor of adoption, in fact adopt. But the play and Rock will really have none of that, because his seeking is what many of us can sense as a deeply human journey which may not duplicate our own but gives us one version of what it can be like to put pieces together of what can at times seem to us as the impossibly broken parts of Humpty Dumpty.
Rain Pryor is no small talent herself. Her continuing voyage of her own story in Fried Chicken and Latkes, which is itself a brilliant multi-accented collage of her, her parents' and her -- once again -- unique and and universal story, can itself be a blessing for those who get to see it. The fact that she caught on to Rock will hopefully help them both become themselves on their way.
To evolve ourselves we need to get closer to ourselves and our truths, to another truth as well: We need to open ways to tell our truths to each other, more often. Not all the time for all of us, and not always in a theater to an audience, but to someone so we can begin to belong more deeply in this life.
Never to diminish the pain of those who struggle with poverty and illness, but hurt from within can destroy a life or help it begin to be. See Broke Wide Open if you can. And share it as well. It's the beginning of conversations we all need.