Tag Archives: Michelle Troxclair

Radio Edit

October 29, 2019 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Mental Illness, specifically depression, runs through Dave Wingert’s family. But it wasn’t until he told his mother he wanted to go into radio broadcasting that he realized how deep that depression ran.

Wingert knew he wanted theater to be part of his college life at Ohio University. However, he wasn’t sure about his major until he walked past his college radio station while he was getting fitted for a costume to be worn for a role in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.

“I looked at the studio, and pressed my nose against the glass, and I thought ‘Wow, playing music and talking. I can do that,’” Wingert says.

When Wingert told his mother, she said his father was also in broadcasting. Wingert was confused, because the man who raised him, Abe Wingert, was a dry cleaner who died of cancer when Dave was 14. Then, his mother said, “I’ve been meaning to tell you…”

He had a biological father he didn’t know about.

“And as my mother said that day ‘Well, your father came to the hospital the day you were born. Saw you, went home, and killed himself,” Wingert says.

Wingert’s biological father, Aaron Levine, went by the radio name David Stone. He was found dead inside his car in his garage. Wingert said he could have killed himself, or he could have just fallen asleep with the car running.

“It is all very clear to me now that if I inherited my father’s talent of theater [and radio], it’s not a far stretch that I inherited his depression as well,” Wingert says.

Wingert is an Omaha staple. His muted baritone was first heard on Omaha radio in the 1970s. He moved to Seattle in the 1990s, but returned to Omaha in 2000, and now DJs the morning program on Boomer Radio. He’s also been vocal about his struggles with depression. In addition to talking about it on air, he has given talks on depression in churches.

“I’m almost becoming the poster child of depression,” Wingert says.

According to statistics provided by the Douglas County Health Department, almost 21% of those surveyed in Douglas County in 2017 reported they had been told they’ve had depression of some form by a doctor, nurse, or other health professional. Almost 23% of those surveyed reported at least one day in the past month where their mental or physical health prevented them from working or pursuing daily activities.

Douglas County’s numbers are slightly higher than the national average. The National Institute on Mental Health reported that almost 19% of the United States population suffered from some form of mental illness in 2017. According to the National Health Expenditure Accounts, the United States spends more than $200 billion a year on mental health. Treatments are as varied as the illnesses themselves. Andrew Solomon’s National Book Award, and Pulitzer Prize-nominated book The Noonday Demon, dove into the “anything goes” approach to treating mental illness, from the conventional (cognitive-based therapy, medication) to the extreme (brain surgery, rituals involving animals).

For a field that seems to make enormous strides each year while remaining shoddy when it comes to producing effective treatments, it’s sometimes beneficial to study depression on a case-by-case basis. Each person who suffers from mental illness has a different family background that can confirm depression’s hereditary nature, and each person has certain barriers to care, be it their own (the stigma that comes with acknowledging you require therapy or medication) or financial ones. Two people, including Wingert, agreed to talk to Omaha Magazine about their lifelong struggles with mental illness. Another person found himself in an unexpected leadership position for mental illness after caring for a family member diagnosed with bipolar disorder. 

Wingert wasn’t expecting to go on an extended medical leave the morning of his last shift at Boomer Radio in June 2018. It was a routine that he had done thousands of times before: talk about the news, play some Fleetwood Mac, check in on traffic, and make some final preps for any guests that were supposed to come in for the day. But during the shift, “something snapped,” Wingert says.

He was dealing with typical real-life stressors. He had gotten married earlier that year and was working through the ups and downs that come with cohabitation. He was concerned with his place in the volatile broadcast radio industry. But on that June 2018 shift, things were different. He felt as though he was having a panic attack. He held it together on air, but he remembered telling the general manager “I feel like I’m having a nervous breakdown.”

Wingert said “goodbye” to his listeners at the end of that shift.

“I remember saying on the air ‘I’m sorry. I’ve got to take care of whatever this is that’s going on. So, I’m going to be gone for a little while.’”

For three weeks, Wingert practically sequestered himself in his house. He remembers napping a lot, as well as crying. Interacting with people was almost impossible. He remembers having trouble dealing with the checkout counter at Hy-Vee, and not being able to buy a newspaper at Walgreens.

Wingert knew he needed to see a psychiatrist. He allowed his psychiatrist to be in charge of all his medications. He had taken medication for years, first to deal with the pain from three hip surgeries when he lived in Seattle. Then for shoulder pain. He started with hydrocodone and later moved to oxycodone. Along with pain management, he began using the medication to deal with stress. His general practitioner caught on to his abuse.

“I remember my family physician saying ‘I’m not giving you any more hydrocodone, because when they find you dead, I don’t want my name on that bottle,’” Wingert says.

The treatment helped. Less than a month after he announced his sudden departure, Wingert was back on the air. His Facebook feed had dozens of well-wishes and ‘thank yous’ for his candidness. He remembers his first day back behind the microphone being tenuous.

“I thought ‘Can I still do this?’ ‘Did I lose my talent along the way?’ ‘Did God come down and take my talent?’” Wingert says.

By the end of the shift, he was back in the groove of things.

“It was fine,” Wingert says.

Wingert was prescribed Suboxone to ease his transition from oxycodone. He was also prescribed a new antidepressant, Pristiq. Between medication changes, things started to settle down for him.

“I lost 20 pounds like that,” Wingert says as he snapped his fingers.

Prescribed medication was only part of Wingert’s treatment. Most psychiatrists recommend some sort of cognitive therapy, like talking to a counselor or a peer group, alongside medication. Wingert’s psychiatrist recommended enrolling in a 12-step program.

When Wingert enrolled in the 12-step program, he decided to give up drinking. While he believed he didn’t have a drinking problem [he said his abuse was strictly related to opioids], he thought it best to make a clean break with everything. He has now passed one year of sobriety.

Michelle Troxclair is another staple of Omaha radio. She is the co-host of “The Morning Show: With Michael and Michelle” on Mind & Soul 101.3. Troxclair has openly discussed her struggles with depression on the radio with co-host Michael Scott. She routinely touts the importance of not lapsing with one’s anti-depression medication. Like Wingert, Troxclair traced her depression back to her youth.

“I was a very angry child, and had significant problems with anger management,” Troxclair says with a laugh. She was later diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Growing up in the 1970s, Troxclair says one of the reasons she wasn’t diagnosed early was because of her gender.

“They [clinicians] thought it was strictly a boy’s issue,” Troxclair says.

In terms of the ADHD, Troxclair compares it to having a web browser that’s bursting to capacity.

“People describe it as having a hundred tabs open in your brain, and you can’t shut any of them down, and they’re all open at the same time.” 

It wasn’t until she became a parent that she actively sought professional help. She had been doing OK shielding her kids from general adult stresses like work issues. However, she was having increased trouble keeping a good front with her children.

“I was OK with showing anger in front of my children, but not the sadness piece,” Troxclair says.

Troxclair was diagnosed with major depressive disorder in the late 1990s. She was prescribed citalopram but quickly discontinued using it because of side effects. She now takes escitalopram, the generic form of Lexapro.

Medication helps with her depression and ADHD. Another thing that helps is constant activity. On top of being a radio show host and working at the Nebraska Writers Collective, she performs spoken word and runs her own nonprofit, Verse Inc. The organization helps pair poets with artists in other genres such as music or visual arts.

Troxclair says she routinely encounters people in the arts scene with depression, anxiety, and ADHD. Those working as full-time artists oftentimes find themselves lacking the resources to seek medication or psychiatric treatment, she says. A common problem is that some artists may not qualify for Medicaid but also not make enough money to qualify for the tax credits provided by the Affordable Care Act. The risk of going uninsured is especially troublesome for those suffering from mental illness because so much of the treatment, from routine psychiatric visits to medication, requires ongoing care.

Approximately 28.5 million people in the United States are uninsured, according to a 2017 report by the U.S. Census Bureau. Troxclair is one of them, and as a result, she searches for discounts for her medication, and pays $100 upfront to see a psychiatrist.

Troxclair says there are also cultural barriers in the African American community that prevent access to mental health resources.

A report circulated by the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services in July indicated that almost 15% of African Americans in the state had an anxiety disorder compared to 10% of whites. The same report stated that almost 28% of Native Americans in Nebraska suffered from an anxiety disorder.

“There is so much PTSD and trauma in the black community. It’s like a plague,” Troxclair says.

Troxclair points to the long-term psychological impacts of living in impoverished communities and institutional racism as two factors that contribute to PTSD in the African American community.

Troxclair has seen depression’s impact on young adults. As community outreach program coordinator for the Nebraska Writers Collective, Troxclair organizes poetry and creative writing programs for Blackburn Alternative High School as well as Douglas County Youth Correctional Center (DCYC). She has worked with kids at DCYC for more than two years.

“I have yet to meet a bad or evil kid since I’ve been there,” Troxclair says.

“Every kid I come across is a kid who is suffering some sort of trauma.”

To cope with traumas such as PTSD and extreme poverty, Troxclair says she sees many youths self-medicate and turn to other self-destructive behaviors. She points to a lack of education in schools when it comes to teaching kids about mental health.

“They’re just out [there] suffering without a clue until they end up in an emergency room, or picked up by police,” Troxclair says.

Law enforcement often times finds itself dealing with mental health episodes, sometimes with lethal results. On June 3, 2017, 29-year-old Zachary BearHeels was traveling on a bus from South Dakota to his home in Oklahoma City when it made a stop in Omaha. He was not allowed back on the bus because a passenger complained about his behavior, which reportedly included talking to himself. The next day Renita Chalepah, Zachary’s mother, alerted Omaha police that her son was schizophrenic and suffered from bipolar disorder.

The American Psychiatric Association showed in 2014 that, nationally, approximately 21% of Native Americans/Alaska Natives ages 18 and up had reported mental illness, compared with 17.9% for the general population.

On June 5, 2017, police responded to a disturbance call at Bucky’s gas station at 6003 Center St. There, the police confronted BearHeels. During the encounter, BearHeels died after being shocked by a Taser 12 times and punched in the head repeatedly. Two of the officers involved were fired for their involvement. One officer was acquitted of second-degree assault; no other officers were charged.

Since BearHeels’ death, the Omaha Police Department increased efforts to train their staff about mental illness. One such course is Crisis Intervention Team (CIT). The class teaches law enforcement about de-escalating mental health-related incidents, identifying medications and their side effects, suicide prevention, and geriatric-related mental health issues as well as handling juveniles in crisis situations. Oftentimes when police are called to respond to a mental health-related disturbance, a person is going to one of two places, and each has a significantly different outcome, Gary Hering says.

“You’re going to the hospital, or you’re going to jail,” Hering says.

Hering works at Mutual of Omaha as a systems engineer. Before joining Mutual, Hering’s background was almost purely mechanical. His father was a mechanic, and when he was in the military, he serviced aircraft. However, his home life was slowly preparing him for his current role as president of the Omaha affiliate chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). He was caring for a family member who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

Late one night, the person Hering was caring for locked themselves in the bathroom and dialed 911, telling them that they were in danger from Hering. The police were dispatched, but the family member left the house before police arrived.

“Somebody must have told [the relative] in their manic state ‘If you see an opportunity to get out of the house, go ahead and leave,’” Hering says.

Hering soon found himself in a standoff with police. They asked him if he had any weapons in the house. He said he did: a 1917 Russian rifle he inherited from his father. After determining the swatting incident was a medical-related matter, things calmed down, but Hering found himself reaching out to NAMI.

He attended one class called Family to Family, which is free and open to the public. He was so impressed at the curriculum that he volunteered to be on the NAMI board. He was later elected president and has held that title for three years.

The knowledge and peer support of NAMI helped Hering when another family member was diagnosed with mental illness. A family member was hospitalized twice this summer for bipolar disorder. Both times, he was able to receive help promptly, but at a steep cost thanks to an emergency department visit.

“The initial bill was $9,000 before a psych consultant,” Hering says.

Two major Omaha hospitals—Nebraska Medicine and CHI Health—require patients to be evaluated through the emergency department before they are admitted to inpatient psychiatric care.

“I can’t speak for the city as a whole, but I don’t see availability of services as an issue,” Hering says. “I think it’s the cost. The cost that these people are going to incur to get services is unsustainable because they’ll stop going to get services if they can’t afford it.”

There is low-cost help available. One resource is Behavioral Health Connection at Nebraska Medicine. Anyone with a concern for themselves or a loved one can call 402.836.9292 daytime, and experts at BHC will help people meet behavioral health and other social service needs. This includes helping to identify problems, or helping to get into and find transportation to programs and agencies. Troxclair recommends Charles Drew Health Center’s Behavioral Health Services at 402.810.9758. Another resource is NAMI Omaha. Their free services include 24-hour information and referral line (402.717.4673), a suicide hotline (800.273.8255), a Nebraska family helpline (888.866.8660) and a safe harbor line (402.715.4226) for those with mental illness to call for help anytime.

Hering said he has seen a noticeable shift about people’s attitudes toward mental health, specifically depression, especially with younger people. Peer support is an essential element when it comes to treating mental illness. People who are realizing that they require mental health assistance can find the options (or lack thereof) to be an anxiety-inducing challenge.

Hering recommends looking for counselors before seeking a psychiatrist. Many company insurances have confidential Employee Assistance Programs where counseling services may be free for some initial visits. Hering also cautions people who are first reaching out for help to manage their expectations.

“This is a marathon, not a sprint,” Hering says.


Visit namiomaha.org, nebraskamed.com/behavioral-health or charlesdrew.com for more information.

This article was printed in the November/December 2019 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Dave Wingert of Boomer Radio.

Dave Wingert of Boomer Radio.

Give Thanks

November 22, 2018 by
Photography by contributed, Hope Jewell

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Pick of the Week—Saturday, Nov. 24: Ditch the madness of Black Friday and head to your favorite local shops for Small Business Saturday instead. Here is a list of a few of our favorites.
Hardy Coffee is partnering with Dundee Book Club and Nebraska Writer’s Collective for a little coffee talk at their Hardy Coffee Co. north location in the Highlander. They will also have some free copies of Jason Reynold’s new young adult novel Ghost while they last.
Absolutely Her is having their 7th Annual Small Business Sparkle Saturday, offering prizes, drawings, and refreshments all day. And of course, sales.
—Get your HOWLiday Photos done at The Green Spot while you shop for your real favorites (aka your pets). There may even be some discounts going on if you’ve been good to animals this year.
—Now this is the way to shop. Spirit World is hosting a “Try and Buy” shopping event for this Small Business Saturday. Try samples of wine, beer, and spirits and buy bottles at a discount. This is only happening from 1-4 p.m., though, so don’t miss it.
—Looking for some unique holiday clothing and accessories? Whether you want to look nice for family dinner or just lounge around on game days, Onyx Street Boutique has got you covered.
— Lastly, be sure to check out the sweet little boutique Hearts & Fire in Rockbrook Village. The village will have cocoa, cookies, Santa and his sleigh for the kiddies, and this brand-new boutique will have champagne for you as you get away and get some shopping done.
You know your favorite neighborhood shops will also want to see you, so be sure to check them out as well.

*Support our small business by subscribing to one of our magazines here

Thursday, Nov. 22: Oh, you know what time it is. The Thanksgiving Lighting Ceremony  kicks off the Holiday Lights Festival tonight. Listen to a special performance by Musical Kids before the countdown to the start of the 2018 holiday lighting display. Keep the music going by heading to the free Making Spirits Bright Holiday Concert at the Holland Performing Arts Center at 7 p.m. Or you can skip the chaos and enjoy one of the lighting ceremonies taking place in both North and South Omaha. Get all the details you’ll need here.

Friday, Nov. 23: Did the Black Friday madness wear you out? Let the smooth sounds of Timeless bring you back to life. They’re performing Friday night at Love’s Jazz and Art Center. This special evening will be hosted by Michelle Troxclair of Mind & Soul 101.3FM (check out our story she was featured in here), and will include a performance by local fave Dani Cleveland. Be sure to get your tickets here asap. This show sold out last year!

Saturday, Nov. 24: The Millard South Craft Fair is “the area’s only Craft Fair dedicated to 100% handmade and crafted items,” and features everything from jewelry to pet treats. Not only are you buying small and local, but all of the proceeds will benefit the Millard South athletic and activity programs. There will be over 120 vendors at this incredible event, so get your Christmas shopping done early and actually enjoy the rest of this holiday season. Click here for more details.

Sunday, Nov. 25: Didn’t get to enjoy a good friendsgiving celebration yet? Well don’t worry. The folks at Inclusive Communities are bringing you the best one ever. Be sure to hit up Friendsgiving 2018 at Slowdown this Sunday. Why, you ask? Because this year hometown-woman-made-it-big-time comedian Amber Ruffin will be there! The Late Night with Seth Myers writer and Drunk History superstar (in my humble opinion) will be the honored guest at this event. Be sure to get your tickets here now. What’s that you say? Why yes, we did do a story on her as well. You can read that one here.

 

Diversity on Stage

October 24, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Roses are red. Violets are blue. American poetry publications have a diversity problem. It’s true in Nebraska, too. 

It’s easy to assume that Omaha’s published poets are predominantly white people. After all, the anthology of poetry selected for the 2018 One Book One Nebraska (Nebraska Presence), does not feature a single African-American poet.

But looking only at “published” work can be misleading. 

Omaha’s poetry scene is incredibly diverse. Anyone who has attended one of the myriad competitive poetry slams or open mic nights recurring throughout Omaha—featuring local poets from across the spectrum of ethnic, racial, gender, and sexual orientation/identity—already knows this.

Zedeka Poindexter and Michelle Troxclair know all too well about the struggle for representation in Nebraska’s poetry scene.

Poindexter and Troxclair are both leading voices in the local poetry community. These African-American women are dedicated to building an inclusive environment for spoken-word and slam poetry in Omaha.

Troxclair is the board president of Verse Inc. (a nonprofit dedicated to making “poetry exciting and relevant for future generations through innovative projects and unconventional collaboration” with consultative and financial assistance for local poets), and she is the founder of The Wordsmiths (a local spoken-word poetry troupe). 

She also organizes an open mic night, Tapestries, with the goal of bridging the racial, cultural, geographic, and age divisions in the local poetry community. Tapestries takes place on the first Sunday of every month at The Omaha Lounge (1505 Farnam St.)

“We all kind of function in these silos,” Troxclair says, commenting on the divisions that she has noticed among local poets and between those working in written vs. spoken mediums of poetry. “And my role in this is to try to open up these silos and cross-pollinate.”

She explains that spoken-word poetry comes out of the African-American oral traditions. Slam poetry incorporates influences of spoken-word poetry along with hip-hop (another artistic form rooted in the African-American experience).

Spoken-word and slam poetry are both performed. But the competitive form of slam poetry is more like a poetry recital combined with a rap battle and judges taking score.

Poindexter has served as an ambassador for Omaha through her involvement with Omaha Poetry Slam. Representing Omaha on the national stage is a point of pride for her. 

“We’ve been respected as consistently good writers, which is the thing that I love,” says Poindexter, who was the first female Omaha Slam Champion and twice named Poet of the Year at the Omaha Entertainment and Arts Awards. 

Poindexter has traveled across the country to read her poetry and perform in poetry slams (including the National Poetry Slam). 

In Omaha, she has worked closely with fellow slam poetry organizers (including Matt Mason, director of the Nebraska Writers Collective and founder of the Great Plains chapter of Louder Than a Bomb) to help support new voices on the scene, such as Olivia Johnson, Shanketta Newsom, and Ryan Boyland.

The regional youth slam poetry chapter now encompasses teams pulling from more than 40 schools. Poindexter is thrilled to see students who were exposed to slam poetry through Louder Than a Bomb and other programs now coming back to work in the Omaha poetry community and compete at the National Poetry Slam. 

Troxclair’s work with Verse and other poetry initiatives function in concert with the efforts of Nebraska Writers Collective, providing opportunities for teens and young adults to take their poems to the next level. 

“We provide opportunities for poets to do these really innovative projects,” Troxclair says.

Located at 2205 N. 24th St., Verse not only allows local poets, young and old, to perform original poems and develop their writing through Tapestries, it also provides a space for collaborations between poets, spoken-word artists, rappers, and other vocal or musical artists. Previous collaborative partners have included local artists Lite Pole, Edem, Kiara Walker, and Marcey Yates.

The crew at Verse also puts on verse plays (theatrical productions consisting primarily of spoken-word poetry or monologues). Casting for Troxclair’s play From the Ashes is scheduled for Jan. 15-Feb. 15, and Verse accepts submissions twice a year (Dec. 31 and July 31).

Verse is also developing curriculum for the Nebraska Writers Collective to use in work with the Douglas County Youth Correctional facility, and Troxclair is teaching spoken-word poetry at North High School through FLIYE Arts Youth Development.

Poindexter and Troxclair emphasize that supporting local poets—whether through financial donations or through attendance at open mics, competitions, and other events—should be a priority for the Omaha community. 

“How will we be remembered,” Troxclair wonders aloud, “if we do not support our poets and our storytellers and our artists?”  


Visit newriters.org for more information about the Nebraska Writers Collective.

Visit verseinc.org for more information about Verse and Tapestries.

Visit ltabgreatplains.org for more information about Louder Than a Bomb Great Plains

This article was printed in the November/December 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

From left: Michelle Troxclair and mentee Cory Chiles

BOTH

June 8, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Self-deprecating rappers impress at SXSW.

Omaha artists tend to violate stereotypes by being sincere, humble, and approachable. We don’t coast and we don’t mistake braggadocio for talent. But if local artists should be bragged about, try BOTH. BOTH are Make Believe Studios hip-hop recording artists Scky Rei aka Skylar Marcell Reed, and INFNTLP aka Nate Asad.

In the last two years, the rappers and OEAA Album and Artist of the Year winners have been shaking the clubs, MAHA, and SXSW. The duo from “North of Downtown,” is fond of lyrics like “Here I go…lost my soul a long, long, time ago…music is the only thing, left up in my soul,” featured on their song
Drug Abuse.

Gigs at the Nebraska Exposed showcase and a Front Gate Tickets private party worked out well.

“The experience was surreal. SXSW was a great time, playing in front of a new audience,” says MC/rapper/singer/songwriter/videographer Scky Rei. Scky Rei raps about life in the Big O and “provides a sonic connection to everyone in the same world at the same moment.”

“We’re just expressing social experiences through weird ways of explaining everyday life,” says Scky Rei. “We didn’t play in front of thousands like I thought, but watching people coming from the street to fill the upstairs of Cheers Shot Bar made me feel like we’re doing something right. Just being surrounded by creativity and people that love the same thing you do gave me a breath of fresh air.”

“Everyone was someone, somewhere, and that was cool to be a part of,“ says DJ/backup singer/producer/pianist/Dragon Ball Z enthusiast INFNTLP, who paints SXSW as “the Internet on wheels.”

left: Scky Rei (“Sky Ray”), right: INFNTLP (“Infinite Loop”)

left: Scky Rei (“Sky Ray”), right: INFNTLP (“Infinite Loop”)

Working on new music full time is BOTH’S goal for this year if manager John Schmidt hits his mark. Schmidt was a fan who met Scky Rei in a coffee shop last spring and offered to help out.

“We’ve accomplished a lot in the past year,” says Schmidt, who also represents psych rockers JAGAJA. “SXSW was a great experience. Staying relevant is a grind even for superstars, so we will continue to put in the work. As long as these guys are in front of a crowd, they will succeed.”

Don’t just take BOTH’s word for it.

Michelle Troxclair, director of Nebraska Writer’s Collective, says she finds BOTH “a transformational group of musicians.”

“BOTH has been able to reflect all that is part of the cultural art form that is African American oral tradition,” says Troxclair, whose Verbal Gumbo can be said to do the same.

“The great thing about BOTH is that they are the anti-rap group. Nothing is stereotypical about them at all,” says Dominique Morgan, fellow OEA Award winning R&B singer and activist. “Scky Rei shoots all the videos, makes their posters. INFNTLP will go from deep club beats to playing classical piano in a set. It was only right they won Album and Artist of the Year.”

For now, BOTH will be pushing the EP  “BOTHSUCKS,” releasing videos, writing and increasing the love.

“Most of our fans came out to past shows bringing new people into our world. It’s awesome,” says INFNTLP.

“I don’t see fans, only extended family,” says Scky Rei. “Money is nice, but at the end, we do this for the love.”

Visit bothsucks.com to learn more.

Both1

Out of the Shadows

August 21, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

This article appears in July/August Omaha Magazine.

At the risk of stating the obvious, Michelle Troxclair commands a full life.

She’s a poet, spoken word artist, and founding member of the storytelling troupe The Wordsmiths. By day, she works as deputy director of the Nebraska Writers Collective, a nonprofit organization that promotes creative writing and performance poetry throughout the Midwest. With fellow poet Felicia Webster, she runs the Verbal Gumbo open mic at House of Loom every third Thursday of the month. She will graduate this July with a Masters of Fine Arts in creative writing from the University of Nebraska-Omaha—her second postgraduate degree. She’s a mother of three, an advocate for individuals living with autism, and an awe-inspiring woman who makes at least one Omaha Magazine contributor feel like an indolent narcissist by comparison.

As if all that weren’t enough, Troxclair is currently engaged in a residency with The Wordsmiths at Bemis Center’s Carver Bank. The group is working on a spoken art showcase addressing domestic violence (Love Didn’t Do That To You) and a new project dealing with corporal punishment and violence within the African-American community (From the Whip to the Switch to the Gun).

“I’ve got my fingers in a lot of stuff right now,” she quips.

For a good introduction to Troxclair’s poetry, check out her YouTube videos, particularly “The Trigger,” an urgent work addressed to an unnamed police officer that has unjustifiably killed a black woman. The performance starts with a single shadowy figure clad in a black hoodie staring at the floor of a stark white room whose brick walls are cracked and peeling—a subtle visual symbol of the entrapment many black Americans feel subjected to by a predominantly white bureaucratic power structure. The poem surges on the waves of Troxclair’s words as her cadence quickens, slows, and syncopates around gut-punch metaphors and unflinching appeals to civility. At the piece’s climax, the shadow-figure, Troxclair herself, removes her hood and speaks directly to the camera:

You don’t know me. I am a 46-year-old mother of three. I’m a homeowner, taxpayer, and I got a master’s degree. I don’t want you to love me, like me, or even respect me. I just need you to let me be. So please take your finger off the trigger. 

It’s an uncompromising performance that stays with you, a piece that wouldn’t cut so soul-deep if rendered only in print.

Besides developing her own powerful art, Troxclair takes pride in cultivating Omaha’s young poetic talent through Nebraska Writers Collective’s Louder Than a Bomb initiative: an extensive poetry-writing and performance workshop conducted in area schools and capped by a friendly tournament. The program strives to reach students who might not be served by such activities as sports, music, or visual arts.

“[Louder Than a Bomb] gives me, at age 46, hope that the next generation is thinking and they’re active and speaking truth to power…and using words to do it. It’s absolutely amazing what they have to say.”

Some of these students will go on to become the next powerhouses in Omaha’s poetry scene. In fact, Troxclair says, The Wordsmiths are bringing in younger members “just for some new energy and innovative stuff.

“I’m the elder here,” she adds, laughing, “and eventually, I will be leaving.”

But not before leaving a legacy that will cast the longest of shadows.

MichelleTroxclair

Verbal Gumbo

April 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Felicia Webster’s voice produces chills up the spine. “And then he kiiiiissssssed me, and I melted. Like buttah.”

Her friend, Michelle Troxclair, nods and waves a hand. “Mhm, girl, we know what that’s like.”

This is spoken-word entertainment. It’s theatrical, it’s heartfelt, it’s ethereal, and it happens every third Thursday of the month at House of Loom on 10th and Pacific streets. This is not your safe-bet night out. The words you’ll hear could be dark, could be sexy, could be hilarious. It could be anything really, which is why Webster and Troxclair, the open-mic evening’s organizers, call this night Verbal Gumbo.

Troxclair arranges the club’s random chaise lounges, velvet chairs, and embroidered hassocks on the dance floor. Webster picks out the candles and incense. If guests outnumber the usual crowd of around 70, there might be a few people standing. A $5 cover charge gets you a simple meal, like Troxclair’s white chicken chili or her brother’s highly requested mac-and-cheese.

The evening begins around 7 p.m., giving guests enough time to sign up to speak if they wish, get their bowl, and settle into a seat. Troxclair is strict about minimizing distraction during the spoken word sets that begin about 8-ish. Of course, feel free to get up from your seat to wait for the massage therapist set up in the corner or the body painter off to the side as someone else speaks at the mic.

“For those who haven’t come here before,” Webster explains, “they’ll find out that it doesn’t matter what order you sign up in.”20130321_bs_8812

Troxclair laughs and says, “It’s whoever I’m feeling like hearing at the time.” The two women make sure speakers alternate male and female, but other than that, there are few rules. People offer poetry about anything from relationships to violence to the triumph of breaking cycles. “Sometimes it’s comedic,” Troxclair says, “but there’s always a message.”

The only requirement is that “you respect the mic,” as Webster puts it. Verbal Gumbo creates a flow between audience and speaker, almost a conversation. The speaker shares his work, and the audience participates in the performance by responding verbally when something resonates.

“Say yes, say amen, say all right, honey!” Troxclair suggests. “You’re validating what they’re saying.”

About 15 people speak per night for about three to five minutes apiece. If time’s not running tight, each person should feel free to offer two pieces. A short intermission makes room for a few public service announcements and to refill a drink.

Felicia Webster

Felicia Webster

If the easily stage-frightened start to come out of their shells as the evening progresses, all bets are not off. Walk back to the sign-up sheet, add your name, and you’ll probably be called on. Deliver your offering with confidence that whatever you bring will be accepted. “This is not The Apollo,” Webster says. “You don’t get the hook.”

Let’s be clear. Verbal Gumbo is not another poetry slam. A poetry slam is an entertaining competition. “Spoken word incorporates storytelling,” Troxclair says, separating spoken word from slam. “It can be prose or poetry.” Historically, it’s an artistic—and sometimes secret—way to spread information. It’s an oral tradition shared by Africans, African-Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, and many other cultures.

“You are disseminating information to get people to think, to move, to change, to progress, to become empowered,” Webster says. That recipe ensures that Verbal Gumbo, like its culinary counterpart, is savory, spicy, and never the same twice.

Sample the next Verbal Gumbo on Thursday, May 16, or Thursday, June 20.