Saturday, I MC’ed an event for Gina’s Team called “The Art of Love” at Cup O’ Karma in Mesa. It was a fundraiser where we featured musicians, spoken word poets, roses, hand-painted coffee mugs, and inmate art. Even I sang a couple sets.
Needless to say, I was terrified. Let’s face it: generalized anxiety disorder feels like heartburn in your brain. I’d already give myself permission to consume a vodka martini post-event, but first, I had to make it through the event.
Once things got rolling, I found a rhythm, assisted greatly by the likes of emotive piano player Nate Rosswog, sexy chanteuse Tiffany Brown, and Gina’s Team co-founder Sue Ellen Allen. Ex-inmate Sandi Starr and one of the phenomenal Gina’s Team interns, Samantha, brought us practically to tears with their witnesses on how the organization saved them both.
We kept on rolling with kingpin poet Tristan Marshell, gravel-voiced god Jon Rodis, and Rasheda Poe, who translates pain perfectly into poem. It was a relief for me when I got to sing two sets—one with jazz prodigy Jesse Sumter; the other with my gifted, spirited guitarist, Russell Braman—because I could just shut up and sing, wrap myself in lyrics like warm ocean waves.
The ever-glamorous wordsmith Emily Cimino reminded us that love ain’t always pretty. Then came the cast from Four Chambers Press, Jared Duran and Jia Oak Baker, who made us laugh and consider what love is all about (even if it involves Costco). We closed the afternoon with Teneia: a melodious married duo that had us dancing in our seats.
But let me be honest: all my artists, my volunteers, were not the highlight of the day. A small busload of teen girls from Mingus Mountain Academy came for the show, as well, and a certain girl (let’s call her Mary) who I’ve connected with in the past sought me out because she needed to talk.
We headed to the alley behind Cup O’ Karma, and Mary admitted she’s been barely able to cope with her depression. She’s been having nightmares. She wants to isolate herself from everyone. She’s scared she’ll never feel okay again.
A strange epiphany: Mary and I have been experiencing the exact same emotions, she in Prescott, me in Phoenix, for months. Divided by miles; connected by despair—connected by “The Art of Love” event this past Saturday.
I told Mary I didn’t have the answers, because if I did, I would have remembered how to eat by now, how to get out of bed in the morning, how to smile at good news. I told her that the only way I make it through the day is one step at a time: one hour of one day of one week … I told her, “Just make it through this hour and the hour after that and the hour after that.” She seemed relieved. We hugged a half dozen times before she had to leave.
I wondered later, while surrounded by Gina’s Team supporters, if I’d done enough. I always wonder if I’m doing enough. Then, I remembered, we do what we can for who we can when we can.
That’s what Saturday was about. That’s what Gina’s Team is about. That’s why all my musicians and artists agreed to do an event for free for a good cause—no, a great cause. Like Sue Ellen says, “Been there, done that; now, how can I help?” I’ve been in love; I’ve been broken by love; I’ve cut myself until I bled.
If not for our own experiences—the good, the bad, the ugly—we couldn’t help other people. And because we survived those experiences, we can give back, hence Saturday’s “Art of Love.” What can you do today? (If you’re moved to do so, donate to Gina’s Team.)