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TEDWomen 2017

Felice Belle and Jennifer Murphy: How we became sisters

Filmed:
864,199 views

Poets Felice Belle and Jennifer Murphy perform excerpts from their play "Other Women," which is created and directed by Monica L. Williams. In a captivating journey, they weave together stories full of laughter, loyalty, tragedy and heartbreak, recalling the moments that made them sisters.

- Poet, playwright, pop culture enthusiast
Felice Belle consumes and creates stories to make sense of the world and her place in it. She spends her free time solving fictional crimes. Full bio

- Writer, performer, private investigator
Jennifer Murphy is an award-winning writer, performer and private investigator who spends her time solving crimes -- some real, some imagined. Full bio

Chris Waddell: Felice Bell
and Jennifer Murphy
00:12
are going to do an excerpts
from their play "Other Women,"
00:14
which is created and directed
by Monica L. Williams,
00:17
so please welcome Felice Bell
and Jennifer Murphy.
00:21
(Applause)
00:25
(Music)
00:29
Felice Bell: Gambling.
00:41
Quit your job.
00:44
With no savings and a rough sketch
of the rest of your life.
00:46
Withdraw money from your 401K,
00:52
pay the penalty, why wait?
00:55
In this economy, everything you own
is worth more than it will ever be.
00:58
Cut your hair, call yourself "new,"
01:05
call your ex, call Robin,
01:08
tell her you bought a ticket to the Bay.
01:11
Paso Robles road trip,
01:14
wine taste,
01:17
buy a Malbec and a tight red tee,
01:18
eat a cookie from an LA dispensary,
01:20
chain-smoke around
bed and breakfast hillside fire pit
01:23
with San Diego newlyweds
and vineyard view.
01:27
(Laughter)
01:30
Go to the water with your girls
01:32
and grease-stained
bags of burgers.
01:35
Sit on driftwood.
01:38
Sunset.
01:40
Remember you folded.
01:42
Remember your place.
01:45
Spend the night in Reno.
01:49
Resent the safety of the slots,
sit at the blackjack table,
01:50
hand the dealer rent, retirement,
01:55
pray God cares enough to pony up an ace.
01:57
(Laughter)
02:01
Leaving.
02:03
Lunch on Lake Tahoe, they say, is deep
02:04
and cold enough to preserve a body whole.
02:07
Railroad workers, mafia, military
and possibly a monster like Loch Ness --
02:11
no one can prove it.
02:17
Ignore the math.
02:18
Odds are a distraction.
02:20
What matters is the chip count.
02:24
The cards on the table,
02:28
the cards in your hand.
02:30
You must be willing to lose.
02:32
Jennifer Murphy:
When the dream was a notion,
02:42
it lived in the desert
02:44
near Edwards Air Force Base,
where NASA tested space ships.
02:45
It fed on cactus and stars,
but it kept being delayed.
02:51
"It's not time," they said.
02:55
The dream grew impatient,
02:58
broke water, extracted from its mother
in a bed of wrecked strawberries.
03:00
As a teenager, it cried,
took endless drives over the grapevine
03:06
out of a town ripe
with oranges and silence,
03:11
"Get me out of here," it begged.
03:14
It was so tiny and delicate,
you feared for its life.
03:18
It seemed a butterfly might land
on its face and crush it.
03:22
It frightened you
to love something so much.
03:27
Later it rebelled, got drunk,
03:30
handcuffed for urinating whiskey
on your neighbor's rose bushes.
03:33
The dream had issues, needs.
03:36
"Don't ignore me," it screamed.
03:39
It needed skyscrapers and nicotine,
03:42
needed to stay home
reading the "Easter Parade"
03:45
instead of going to its job
as a waitress at a restaurant
03:48
where it could not afford the food.
03:51
It was a dream, for Christ's sake,
it had better things to do.
03:53
It had to write, pray,
dispatch fleets of messages to God
03:57
about how to make
itself known in daylight.
04:02
All its life, the dream made plans.
04:06
It planned to write,
publish, get rich, publish,
04:10
have sex with reckless, attractive men
in the backseats of taxis,
04:13
yes, that happened -- no, it didn't.
04:17
The dream argued with itself,
with the truth.
04:21
You didn't have the dream,
the dream had you.
04:24
Every single one
of its plans fell through.
04:27
"I give up," it cried, "I quit."
04:31
Hid itself in the dark until finally
it heard its name being called.
04:34
Pondered the unspeakable miracle
of sticking around long enough to be seen.
04:41
Now it looks around for the ones
who've waited years for its arrival.
04:48
They always come for you,
don't they, your girls?
04:55
With their crossed fingers
and belief in you,
04:59
"No destination," they say,
"No maps, no idea where we're headed."
05:02
And even though you
cannot believe this is happening,
05:09
even though you are
hallucinating with fear,
05:14
you hear yourself say it,
05:17
"I am ready, I am ready, let's go!"
05:19
FB: Episode one.
05:28
JM: Everyone always wants to know
how we became sisters.
05:30
"How did you two meet?"
Like we're a married couple.
05:34
I like to say we met online.
05:37
(Laughter)
05:39
FB: We met at the Nuyorican
Poets Café in 1999.
05:40
Every Friday night of our young lives
spent in the audience or on the mic.
05:45
Miss one Friday, and you would hear
about the poet who killed it.
05:50
You should have been there!
05:53
JM: I killed it.
05:55
FB: The night I met Jen, she was sitting
on the lap of my archnemesis.
05:56
I swear we are never going to be friends.
06:02
JM: Really?
06:07
We are not going to be friends
06:08
because I'm friends
with someone you don't like?
06:10
FB: Absolutely. Without a doubt.
06:13
(Laughter)
06:15
JM: Misdemeanor one: menacing.
06:16
I love it when women
size me up and spit me out
06:19
before they've ever met me,
before I've said one word.
06:22
The phrase "dismissed
before investigation" comes to mind.
06:25
Misdemeanor two: fraud.
06:29
Felice likes to claim
she believes in science and math,
06:32
that she proceeds through life
with logic, like a man.
06:36
Lot of logic in this example,
lot of fairness and justice,
06:39
real open-minded play.
06:43
Felice is not a detective,
she only plays one onstage.
06:45
And when I say that,
I say it as a private investigator,
06:49
licensed in the state of New York.
06:52
(Laughter)
06:54
FB: Sherlock Holmes
doesn't need a license.
06:56
(Laughter)
06:59
He solves crime. So do I.
07:00
Using science and my intuition.
07:03
Everything I know about
detective work, I learned on TV.
07:06
JM: Episode two.
07:08
How we became sisters.
07:11
FB: Right, so about a year later,
07:13
Jen and I were invited to read poems
in the basement of Two Boots pizzeria.
07:14
JM: Our careers had taken off!
07:19
(Laughter)
07:21
FB: After the pizzeria reading,
we have a slice.
07:22
I don't know why, but I tell her
something I hadn't told anyone.
07:26
I spent the weekend in Reno
with Nacho Velasquez.
07:30
First thing she says --
07:34
JM: Did you see Nacho's little nacho?
07:35
FB: And we were friends.
07:38
JM: That --
07:40
(Laughter)
07:41
That is not how I remember it.
07:42
In my mind, we became friends
after I was diagnosed with cancer.
07:45
You came with me to Sloan Kettering,
because my family wasn't handy.
07:50
FB: OK, let's hear that version.
07:53
JM: So, we walk into Sloan Kettering,
07:55
and I have never seen my sister happier.
07:58
Reminder: we are at the cancer hospital.
08:02
There are people limping by
with carved faces and missing ears.
08:06
FB: This place has everything.
08:11
There is a waterfall, there are orchids,
little packets of graham crackers.
08:14
JM: I am sitting in the waiting room,
sweating through my dress,
08:18
she's making herself a cappuccino.
08:22
FB: It's delicious.
08:24
JM: I cannot handle you right now.
08:25
FB: Episode three.
08:29
JM: Six years after we first met.
08:32
FB: My childhood best friend dies.
08:36
The day of his wake
there is a transit strike.
08:40
Jen walks from Cobble Hill
to Crown Heights
08:46
so she can go with me.
08:52
There are moments that bond,
and this one is key.
08:54
When there is no train,
no car service, no bus,
08:58
my sister will walk miles
just to be by my side.
09:03
JM: When a sister loves a sister.
09:09
When she says, "It's time for bibimbap,"
09:14
she means, "I need to talk,
I'm having a meltdown."
09:17
And when she says,
09:20
"Did you sleep with my man,
Nacho Velasquez,"
09:21
she means, "I'm having trust issues
around our friendship again.
09:25
You are supposed to know this."
09:28
(Laughter)
09:29
FB: When a sister loves a sister,
09:30
you are in Crown Heights
and she is in Bedford-Stuyvesant.
09:32
Or you're in Spain, sipping absinthe,
and she is in Paris, writing.
09:35
Or you are in your apartment,
sun-glassed and hoodied,
09:40
creating new choreography
to the right soundtrack.
09:43
JM: While you're home
having flashbacks to 9/11,
09:46
listening to the last call of your friend,
09:49
a firefighter who perished
in the North Tower.
09:51
His last words, "Thank you."
09:54
You find it difficult to say goodbye.
09:57
FB: When a sister loves a sister,
10:00
it is five o’clock in the morning,
you are asleep and she is calling.
10:02
You say, "Hey, sis, did someone die?"
10:05
JM: You are sobbing, saying
your boyfriend, the cop, got shot
10:08
and straight away, her voice contains
the depth and calm of a windless lake.
10:11
For hours, she stays on the line
and remains very quiet and very kind.
10:17
FB: Whatever you need to get through this.
10:23
JM: When she says,
"Let's see each other this week,"
10:26
she means, "Let's cancel
and talk on the phone instead."
10:28
When she says,
10:31
"This thing Tara Brach said
reminded me of you,"
10:33
she means it reminded her
of her and then you.
10:35
It means she's been doing
guided meditations again,
10:39
is about to drop
some spiritual-wisdom-type shit
10:42
about radical acceptance, ergo --
10:45
FB: The only way to live is by accepting
each minute as an unrepeatable miracle.
10:47
JM: In the '90s, you fought
with the constancy of dawn.
10:51
It was entertaining, a sport, a pastime.
10:55
FB: What is wrong with you?
JM: What's wrong with you?
10:57
FB: I'm not the one being aggressive.
11:00
JM: I'm relaxed.
11:01
FB: I'm not doing this with you.
11:03
JM: Your wide-eyed friends
would raise their hands and say,
11:04
"What is going on with you two?"
11:08
One winter, when you had no money,
11:11
you mailed her flowers from Paris
because she was having surgery.
11:13
One spring in your deepest heartbreak
11:17
she stood with you in the rain
on Fulton Street.
11:20
FB: This isn't your dream, sis.
11:23
You can leave him.
11:25
JM: One winter, one spring,
two decades, two women, one dream.
11:27
Your mothers' names are Sheila.
11:33
They quote the Bible, say --
11:35
FB: "You are fearfully
and wonderfully made."
11:37
JM: Say --
11:39
FB: "Boy, it's good
you're done with that MFA."
11:40
JM: You and your sister laugh,
thank God that pesky dream is finished,
11:42
now you can finally get back
to peeling potatoes and shucking corn.
11:47
FB: When a sister loves a sister,
11:51
you want her in the audience
when your play premieres
11:53
at the National Theatre in Washington DC.
11:55
JM: When a sister loves a sister,
11:57
she cheers and screams when an agent
agrees to send out your stories.
11:59
FB: When a sister loves a sister,
12:04
she celebrates your artistic,
romantic and spiritual victories.
12:07
JM: You are like young girls becoming
12:11
what they always dreamed
of becoming when they grew up.
12:14
FB: When a sister loves a sister,
12:18
you listen to her read, thinking --
12:21
JM: As heaven to the gods
is poetry to the beloved.
12:24
(Applause)
12:30
JM: Love you.
12:33
(Applause)
12:34

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About the speakers:

Felice Belle - Poet, playwright, pop culture enthusiast
Felice Belle consumes and creates stories to make sense of the world and her place in it. She spends her free time solving fictional crimes.

Why you should listen

Felice Belle is a poet, playwright and pop culture enthusiast. She has performed at Joe’s Pub, the Apollo Theater and the American Museum of Natural History. Belle was a featured poet at TED’s City2.0 conference and her young audiences play, Game On!, premiered at the Kennedy Center as part of the One Mic: Hip Hop Culture Worldwide festival.

Belle co-wrote and performs alongside Jennifer Murphy in Other Women, a two-woman show about the enduring nature of sisterhood that interrogates ideas about women as artists, lovers, and friends. A unique theatrical experience with stories, poems and images, Other Women invites audiences to choose what’s real, what’s fantasy, and what lies between. Other Women was created by Monica L. Williams and produced by #LoveHustle, a global dialogue and performance series.

Belle holds a B.S. in Industrial Engineering from Columbia University, an M.A. in Individualized Study from NYU’s Gallatin School and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Long Island University. She spends her free time solving fictional crimes.

More profile about the speaker
Felice Belle | Speaker | TED.com
Jennifer Murphy - Writer, performer, private investigator
Jennifer Murphy is an award-winning writer, performer and private investigator who spends her time solving crimes -- some real, some imagined.

Why you should listen

Jennifer Murphy is an award-winning writer and performer whose work has been published in numerous literary journals and anthologies. A recipient of the PEN Oakland-Josephine Miles Literary Award honoring excellence in multicultural literature, she has performed at Joe’s Pub at The Public Theater, Knitting Factory and The Nuyorican Poets Café, among other performance venues. Murphy also maintains a parallel career as a private investigator, specializing in online investigations and threat monitoring for high-consequence events.

Murphy co-wrote and performs alongside Felice Belle in Other Women, a two-woman show about the enduring nature of sisterhood that interrogates ideas about women as artists, lovers, and friends. A unique theatrical experience with stories, poems and images, Other Women invites audiences to choose what’s real, what's fantasy, and what lies between. Other Women was created by Monica L. Williams and produced by #LoveHustle, a global dialogue and performance series.

More profile about the speaker
Jennifer Murphy | Speaker | TED.com