Toolkit Extra: Kimber Lee on the daily

During this public health emergency, the safety and wellbeing of our staff, artists, audiences and families comes first.

We are exploring ways in which we can all remain connected and optimistic. The Bruntwood Prize has always been about much more than the winners. It is about opening up playwriting to anyone and everyone, to support anyone interested in playwriting to explore the unique power of creative expression. Therefore we want to make this website a resource now for anyone and everyone to explore theatre and plays and playwriting. 

So we will be highlighting the many different resources archived on this website over the coming weeks.

Kimber Lee won the very first Bruntwood Prize International Award with her play untitled fuck m*ss s**gon. She wrote the following piece pre-lockdown, for the Ojai Playwrights Conference in 2019

 

the daily
by kimber lee

I wake up.
I roll out of bed, I make coffee, I eat full fat organic non-GMO yogurt.
I walk to the subway, I warn the squirrels who run up to me on the path through the
trees: y’all are too friendly. You’re gonna get eaten.
I get on the train, car in the middle of the train, seat next to the driver’s compartment, by
the door.
I transfer to the local at 59th Street/Columbus Circle.
I get off at 28th Street, walk across town to a leafy, prosperous block on the northern edge
of Madison Park.
I find the door — there is a sign but it’s very unassuming, and if you don’t know it’s there,
you might miss it.
I walk in, greet Julia, write my name on the sign-in sheet, and descend a set of worn
concrete stairs.
My chest starts to vibrate with the syncopated rhythm of gloves on pads, on heavy bags,
the rapid pounding ripple of speed bag floating over the top, coaches shouting, reggaeton
blasting over the speakers.
My mouth goes dry.
It’s a sparring day.
My sparring partner is a young woman who just competed in the Golden Gloves, and
made it to the finals though she didn’t win.
She is fifteen years younger than me, she has me for height and reach by several inches
each, she trains 7 days a week, she is all fast-twitch muscle fiber and self-possession, and
her workout clothes match. Just enough. Not too much. What she’s done with her
workout gear is to flawlessly state her bad-assery and fashion sense without ever seeming
like she’s trying too hard, her gear says, I know who I am, and Who I Am’s about to Beat
Your Ass. I wear men’s sale bin shorts from REI and a t-shirt I got for free from my
boyfriend’s best friend’s grandma who got it from her doctor who got it from a
pharmaceutical sales rep for Lipitor. Nothing matches, nothing says anything except
“I’m a Lipitor Success Story!”
I get to the bottom of the stairs, I step down into the heat, the humidity, the sweaty,
grimy live underground maze of blue floor mats, duct-taped heavy bags, boxing rings, and
speed bags.
I go into the women’s locker room, reggaeton pounding.
I use the restroom, I sit on a bench and lace up my boxing shoes, listening to two young
women talking about why did Trish never come to the bar last night.
I go back out onto the floor, I greet amateur and pro boxers and trainers, the folks you
know if you stay on your grind daily. You might not be gifted, you might not be talented,
you may never be a champion, but if you stay on your grind daily, they know you.
I rope for three rounds, I stretch a little after that, my sweaty hands slipping on the mats
as I lean forward to get my calves.
I see my coach, we chat about the health benefits of eating two bananas every day as I
wrap my hands.
Bananas.
Wrap over my wrist twice, up across the back of my hand.
Every day, I eat two bananas.
Through my fingers, out and back around, over my wrist.
If you eat two bananas every day, you will be happy.
Around my thumb, finish on my wrist, press the velcro to keep it tight.
Organic bananas, of course. Have you seen that YouTube video about how they inject
produce with hormones?
Headgear, mouthpiece.
My coach holds out my gloves, laces me into my brand new used-all-my-Christmas-money
sparring gloves that just came in the mail from Japan.
Okay, my friend. Nice and easy. Use your jab to draw her out. Control the distance,
keep your feet moving. Use the feint. And don’t forget to breathe. You feel good?
‘I didn’t sleep last night.’
That’s too bad. Don’t forget to move your head, don’t just stand in front of her.
Nodding, shaking out my arms and legs.
You got this.
Roll under the ropes, move around the ring a little, trying to stay loose.
My sparring partner steps into the ring, friendly smiles around mouthpieces, muffled
‘How’s it goin? / Congrats on the Gloves. / Yeah, thanks,’ our coaches stand outside the
ring, leaning on the ropes.

The bell rings.
Smiles vanish.
We circle each other, eyes intent, focused, looking for an open spot.
My legs suddenly feel like they are made of concrete, I’m instantly tired even though I’ve
been doing my roadwork, what the fuck, what’s wrong with my–oh yeah. Breathe,
dummy.
I flash my jab, but it’s meaningless — I haven’t closed the distance and she’s too far away,
way too far, like maybe six inches.
It’s a game of inches, of small incremental advances and retreats, of angles, the precise tilt
of a head or hip, a multi-dimensional puzzle moving in rhythm, it’s timing.
I’m trying to time her.
I’m waiting for her to throw that lazy jab again, the one that says she don’t give shit about
my right hand, the one that opens her up for a hair’s breadth of a second, and —
My coach yells,
STOP WAITING ON HER.
I move in behind a double jab but my hand is too slow getting back and she slips and pegs
me with her right.
While I’m thinking about how that happened and how pissed off I am, she takes the time
I’ve given her to pepper me with a double hook. After several years of standing there, I
finally cover up and move away, but straight back, not to the side, so here she comes
again, sensing my need for a thought process around what’s happening she steps in hard
and fast, looking for a home for her left uppercut.
GET OFF THE ROPES, my coach yells.
I move to my right.
She lets me.
I start circling again, looking for a way to get in.
She is taller, she is longer, and now she is working on the outside, moving and throwing.
I start chasing her.
CUT OFF THE RING.
I cut off the ring, but she is still too crafty, too fast, her feet, they move and spin and post
up on the new angle — bap-bap — they move and spin and lunge — bap — they dance away,
they dance away, in and out.
I am panting, gasping, sucking air. I realize I’ve been holding my breath.
She feels sorry for me now, I can tell, she slows down, she lets me get closer, she covers up
and waits, she throws soft touches to my guard. This pisses me off, I don’t need her pity
punches. I throw a short combination, I look for something to the body, but I’m so spent
that the punches are little more than pitty-pats.
She looks up, I step back, letting her off the ropes, my torso bent in a little on itself in
exhaustion.
The bell rings.
30 seconds.
THIRTY SECONDS, COME ON, WORK.
She moves away, lands a couple of easy jabs to my head, I fire back, but always just
slightly out of rhythm, a little too slow.
I chase her around the ring again, throwing a jab when I can, but I still can’t get my
distance, she’s always just out of reach.
The bell rings.
End of round 1.
We’re doing 5.
I feel like I’m gonna die.
My coach gives me water. He looks thoughtful, lost in thought, like he’s not sure he’s
ever seen anything quite as abysmal as what he just saw and he needs a minute to process.
He looks at me, I lean on the ropes, bent with fatigue.
Don’t forget to breathe, he says.
I pant, Should I be um I know I’m not doing what I’m supposed to–I just can’t figure out
how to control the — I —
No, no, no — you know how to do everything you need to do. You’re just not doing it.
The bell rings.
Round 2.
I step back into the middle of the ring with her, we touch gloves, start circling.
The rest of the session isn’t much better. I do manage to catch her with a solid right hand
a couple of times, punches I know she felt because she stopped being quite so cavalier
about rushing in on me whenever she felt the urge.

But mostly what it was, that sparring session, and many, many sparring sessions since
then: failure. And that’s a large part of what boxing is to me, really.
Close and intimate contact with my failings, there’s no place to hide, the work gets all up
in my most personal of personal business, my feelings, my feelings about myself as myself
and in the world in general, in that sticky, stinky, itchy, messy space in me that can’t let go,
a physical feeling of failure, of being a failure.

Failure in the ring will never not be personal, in the same way that my writing will never
not be personal; I’ve been told many times to ‘grow a thick skin’ which I feel like is
bullshit but mostly because I honestly don’t understand what that’s supposed to mean.
If my skin is thick, impervious to hurtful things, if nothing gets in, no pain, no discomfort,
no fear — is that the goal? But if nothing gets in, then what can get out?

This is the online Oxford Learner’s Dictionary definition of “failure”:

  1. not successful
  2. lack of success in doing or achieving something
  3. a person or thing that is not successful
  4. not doing something
  5. failure to do something an act of not doing something, especially something that you are expected to do
  6. the state of not working correctly or as expected; an occasion when this happens

I’ve heard a lot of talk about failure, around the process of making theatre. It’s usually
associated with risk, that risk and failure are values we hold as theatremakers, that artists
must have the chance to try something and fail, in order to grow, in order to push the art
forward.
And in general, there is a great soothing mantra about it being okay to fail, failure being
necessary to growth, Oprah Super Soul Sunday inspirational stories about failure leading
to meaningful growth and success, that artists must have a safe space to fail in order to
achieve the breakthrough.

This is what Herman Melville had to say about it:

It is better to fail in originality, than to succeed in imitation. He who has never

failed somewhere, that man can not be great. Failure is the true test of greatness.

Doesn’t that sound good? To wrap failure in this sort of heroic attempt at originality and
greatness, to frame failure within a long and noble tradition of those who pushed the
boundaries of the familiar, those who pioneered, the pioneers.

(Pioneers died a lot in the wilderness, you know. Sometimes they ate each other.)

But look — these things do appeal to me, and they are things I write in my journal and
want to believe in my bones, which are the tuning fork of truth, the bones — but.

But then.

That’s not what it feels like to fail. Not ever what it feels like to really fail, to just
absolutely, undeniably SUCK ASS at something. For something you made or did to just
not work, at all, in any way. We all talk about the value of failure until someone does.
Fail. Then we all look away, embarrassed.

Feels like…..

A burn, a whitehot flush of shame that starts from the bottom part of my belly and moves
upward, and by the time it reaches my head I am red and panting slightly. No place is
comfortable, my mind darts around like the squirrels in my neighborhood, running up to
random people and places on the internet, Do you have something for me, something to
take away this burn of shame and humiliation?

Feels like people not meeting my eyes, like they don’t want to put us through the pain of
acknowledging my failure. Cuz that’s no fun, yo. Not as much fun as eating baconwrapped scallops at the award dinner where we celebrate genius, amiright?

Feels like a deflation, like wondering for the ninemillionth time,
Why do I do this? Why even try? Why didn’t I become a dentist?
And I don’t honestly know. In this moment, in the world, there are so many things that
feel insurmountable, so many reasons to not even try. I don’t have any answers. I
honestly wonder about everything, the questions vibrate and pile up, vibrate and pile up
until my head feels like it’s gonna explode. Why are you doing this? What are you doing?
What are you DOING?? To move, to go forward?
What should I do??
I don’t know what to do.

So.

I wake up.
I roll out of bed, I make coffee, I eat full fat organic non-GMO yogurt.
I walk to the subway, I warn the squirrels….
I get on the train, car in the middle…..
I transfer to the local at 59th Street.
I get off at 28th Street.
I find the door–
I find the door–

I walk through.

13 May 2020

Comments

Add comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Change the current year of the prize to display in the header.