I am nervous about tearing things down

Because when you disappear the past, you have a hard time understanding what happened. I admit, I don’t want to tear down Robert E. Lee on horseback.

RobertELeeRichmondIn Richmond, Virginia, Monument Avenue is a beautiful  and elegant allee with statues of Civil War leaders. Some of them are dramatic and beautiful.

And they represent the grief, sadness and injustice of white supremacy. But rather than tear them down, I think we should surround them with images of what slavery and war really looked like.

Pictures of of slave auctions, of faces, of beaten backs, of thousands of dead lying in war fields. Images of Black strength and resilience despite systematic oppression. Because they were brave. But they got erased.

I want the evidence.

We need to see how wrong humans can be. And how strong they can be. So, I want the whole history. Not half. When younger generations forget that it can happen, demagogues get elected.

When history gets erased, and we become accustomed to erasure as a methodology, those who are most vulnerable become invisible.

Sure, I’d like to destroy every copy of “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” but if we did, we wouldn’t recall that it was a forgery, a complete fiction, cooked up to incite anti-semitism. Because that’s how the Nazi’s were able to pick it up 40 years later and use it as evidence of a “Jewish conspiracy”.

And yes, I’d like to burn every print of “Birth of a Nation”. It’s a bullshit, racist document that through the power of early film narrative, justified an ideology of racial oppression. It’s horrifying to watch today. But if I don’t see how oppression was skillfully normalized, I can’t read that normalization today.

When anti-immigrant hatred is used to stir up frustrated whites, it’s important to preserve the documentation of past public relations campaigns for state-sanctioned wrong-doing. (And look, I’m trying to avoid the word “evil” here because I don’t believe in evil – I believe that fear and trauma drive this crap. Its us. We’re not evil, we’re fucking wrong as fuck. Because of damage, ignorance and trauma.)

I want the evidence.

I want to be able to point to something —  “Can you believe they put up a statue to Andrew Jackson?! He authorized the killing of so many Native Americans…” Because the statue shows what the culture thought at the time. That it was ok. Normal. And right.

I want the evidence.

Let’s look ourselves in the eye, dead-on and see what we are. Let’s look at the bad things that dominant white culture did to others. Because if we don’t look at this sore we can’t heal it. Otherwise, we are just the walking wounded, lost and damaged. Betraying our values as Americans, denying our humanity and the deep connection to all beings.

So, I want to build other monuments. That surround the monuments. That contextualize them. (An exhibit on the modern slavery of sex trafficking right under General Lee…? Amen, sister.) I want the overwhelming nature of the wrong to be seen. Not disappeared.

Because, it must have looked like “right” to those old, white fucks. Everybody said it was. There were statues. And everyone gave money to erect those statues so that their overlord system would remain in place. But they were wrong. And let’s show it for what it was.

Now, maybe its easy for me to write this. I’m white. I can never truly know the hurt and pain that makes people want to tear down the evidence of white supremacy.

But, I don’t want other white people to pretend that it didn’t happen.

So, I want to surround the statues. I don’t want to forget. I want us to have something to point to. I know its painful. But, this time we have to learn this lesson, once and for all.

And, as we take our country back from the idiots, racists and fascists, we have to see the past clearly. So that we are reminded to fight for the future. Today and every day.

Peace to all. This is fucking hard. much love

Sending love to Loretta Lynn today

Loretta Lynn, one of America’s greatest songwriters and song stylists is in the hospital today. She’s 85 and suffered a stroke.

Sitting in the Atlanta airport I see the report flash on the TV. It chokes me up.

Loretta’s a songwriter who always meant a lot to me. A feminist cry in the wilderness. Because Loretta was a voice for poor, white women in the South when such things were not easy.

She defined the discontents of a sassy, outspoken Everywoman when she wrote of  the isolation of stay-at-home moms, the sexism of men’s sexual freedom at the cost of women’s physical autonomy, and the pride of Place (Appalachia) and Family (Even if he’s a jerk).

And god, she was funny.

She was a woman who defined a kind of American strength and country resilience. Akin to what Barbra Kopple’s documentary film, “Harlan County U.S.A.” reveals when the miner’s wives keep the strike going by staring down the violence of the mine owners.  Their men have given up hope but the women haven’t.
 
For the mothers, the thought of justice is driven by their children’s faces. So, they bolster their men, keep the movement alive and make breakfast to get everyone out the door.

I imagine it works the same way in the Black Lives Matter movement – rooting itself as it does in the grief of parents who have lost children to police brutality. The wounded mother-warriors bonding across distance and trauma, who kept the deaths from disappearing. Who make breakfast and get people out the door. So they can make change, make laws, make protest.

So here’s to the mothers. And to Loretta. The Queen of Country Music. You gave voice. Let’s do the same.

A Letter to My Friends After the Election

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The morning after the election, I had to get up and fly to Indiana for work. When I left Brooklyn, you could have heard a pin drop. I haven’t been so puffy and prone to sobbing on a plane since my beloved sister-in-law died giving birth to my nieces. Talk about a redeye.

That was 1996 and the kind stewardesses let me lay on the floor and weep for 9 hours. Before 9/11 obviously.

And then there was 9/11.

On Church street I saw people jumping from the towers and then later watched the first building collapse from the Manhattan Bridge. I thought that was the worst thing I would ever see.

But now it’s us. Not some foreign unknowable crazy anger rage person. This is us. This is America choosing hate. And I’m what they hate. We’re what they want to erase.

A few months ago, a psychic told me that there would be a death in the family and it would galvanize me to do the next thing I need to do with my life.

And my mother told me soon after 9/11 that she thought I was supposed to witness that. And this too feels like a great wake up.

So this week in Indiana, I saw a lot of Trump yard signs, but I maintained a strict black out on all news and social media as I worked. Colleagues told me stuff, but we were talking. I could process it with them. You guys probably had this experience too – no work or personal interaction could take place without hashing it out.

So on Saturday, I hung out with some folks who befriended me last year at a restaurant north of Indianapolis. Angie and Neal invited me to their house for a bonfire with their friends.

At the end of the night, when I tried to leave after too much wine, they hid my keys. But I insisted. It was a 40 minute drive on country roads but I had to work the next day and wanted to wake up in my hotel room.

So at 3am I was driving past cornfields. When I had to pee, I pulled over. What could go wrong?

But I guess as I squatted, that bigass harvest moon lit me up. And when two sheriff’s deputies drove by, they spotted my car right away and pulled in off the deserted road.

So, there I am. Pulling my pants up. A lone white woman in foreign territory facing two officers with my hands in the air.

My pal Kevin says his liberal friends are finally understanding the depths of the racism he confronts every day. The veil is off. The scales have fallen from our white eyes and I never even felt the breeze.

So when those sheriff’s deputies shone their flashlights at me and the police dog was barking furiously from the car, I felt all of it. Here we are face to face.

“Officer, what do you suggest I do right now?”

I was looking down the lens of a night in jail. Shame and embarrassment among my work colleagues the next day, and having to explain to my bosses why I fucked a shoot that costs about $7000/day, not to mention a stranded work vehicle.

Indiana is very beautiful and despite what you might imagine from this one night of excess, I had been going to these woods every morning before work.

And the first day, I was surrounded by woodpeckers. Did you know what native traditions say about them? They symbolize the need to dig under the surface for hidden meanings. Four woodpeckers tapped all around me.

Then a young buck crossed my path. His antlers only 3 inches tall.

Native traditions see the deer as a symbol of gentleness. Bringing tender compassion to a situation. And I thought of all the young deer around us. All our young warriors.

My nieces were born from death. And now we are rising from another death and meeting the fear and trauma.

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So, when the Indiana Sheriff’s deputy told me he hadn’t seen me urinating (illegal) and hadn’t seen me driving (in my condition, super illegal), and that if I called a friend to come get me, he’d put me on the honor system and let me go, I took his advice.

Up the road in Perkinsville, Angie and Neal got back out on the road and came and got me. They put me on a couch and in the morning Angie made a killer cup of coffee and cinnamon buns and fresh fruit.

Her daughter Anna made us laugh describing how her friend and she were going to dress up as Melania and Donald. A relative had recently insisted on driving her and a cousin past a field where a man had proudly mowed “Trump” into the grass.

Angie and Neal told me they had taken 15-year old Anna to a Bernie rally in the summer. It had felt important. They live near people with confederate flags in the yard. They live it every day. They are my heroes.

So now, I’m writing this on the plane back from Indy. It’s Monday morning and as I re-enter my “real” life, I feel a little dread.

Hearing my 20-year old niece sob uncontrollably over this vote, her deepest grief is for the most vulnerable people who contribute the least to environmental destruction and who will suffer the most from electing a racist, sexist, climate change denier.

And that’s why the folks who read this, and every person we are close to will be part of the challenging path towards love and compassion. Not for us. Because we’ll be fine.

It’s for the young and the vulnerable. All over the world. For our young warriors.

I don’t know about you guys, but this bitch is going to get so huge with Love that I can hear the pain, listen to the trauma and heal.

Because this makes me bigger. I’m done waiting my turn. As a woman. As an artist. As a sensitive. And the future is on our side.

I keep you close in my heart, gentle warriors.

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If Richmond, Virginia – ex-Capital of the Confederacy – can have a holocaust museum…

… why is there no national museum  devoted to the American holocaust of slavery?

It should be right next to the Smithsonian on the Mall in DC.

This absence has bothered me since I was 12 and traveled to Europe.  Why, if Germany has Auchwitz preserved as a museum, do we not have a museum that assembles all the artifacts of slavery in one place?

Because as Trump talks about mass deportations of immigrants, we need these reminders of how close we can come to evil.

# # #

Trying to understand how an intelligent person could also be a profound racist, a supporter of slavery, I recently read a biography of Varina Davis, wife of Jefferson Davis, bull-headed President of the Confederacy. She was a controversial figure, not well-liked in Richmond because she was literary, sophisticated and broad-minded. She stayed in touch with Northern relatives and friends throughout the war and never felt that the south should have Pulled away from the union.

Later in life, she moved to New York and advocated for unity betwen north and south and became friends with the Pulitzers and Ulysses S. Grant’s widow. Her only excuse for her support of slavery was that she was a woman without her own income and had very little social power. But privately, she was blind to the injustice of slavery. Loving individual slaves but not able to challenge the dominant world view of her race and class.

This is the ordinary evil. The banal evils of custom and class. Of going along to get along. It’s our history. But it’s also our present.

And in a time of #Black Lives Matter, a museum would go a small way to address the monumental damage done in this terrible history.

Now this wrong is being slowly, quietly  addressed through the work of Bryan Stevenson. Here’s his phenomenal Ted Talk:

And a great New Yorker profile on his efforts to create a museum around American lynching, connecting it to the current state of mass incarceration and execution of Black Americans.

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/08/22/bryan-stevenson-and-the-legacy-of-lynching

There is so much to be done. Perhaps a museum is only a symbol but I find it very hopeful that Stevenson and his supporters are working to re-write the larger social metaphors of our American public life.

A Music Video that Paul Kloss, Erin Orr and I recently finished

 

This is the director’s cut of a music video that Erin Orr, Paul Kloss and I spent the last 6 months off-and-on to bring to life. It represents the heart and vision and ultimately the truth of our friendships. A big thanks to the crew and puppeteers who helped make it happen. We’re very proud of the storytelling and vision that resulted. Enjoy!

Puppet Design and Direction: Erin Orr

Producer and Director: Kerthy Fix

Director, Camera and Edit: Paul Kloss

Gaffer: John Murphy

Assistant Camera: Greg Keras

Art and Assistant Lighting: Gabe Cruz

Hair: Diana Sabio

Stylist: Mariah Keras

Twig Crown Designer: Lisa Van Wambeck

Production Assistant: Faith Robinson

Studio: Charged, Brooklyn

 

Puppeteers:

Rosalind Lily

Ren Carrillo

Rachael Shane

Maiko Kikuchi

Jaime Elizabeth Moore

Heather Bunch

Kate Brehm

 

Puppet Builders:

Rosalind Lily

Rachael Shane

Maiko Kikuchi

Jaime Elizabeth Moore

Heather Bunch

Boo Froebel

DJ Reed

Sarah Alden

Chris Green

Lake Simons

 

Thank Yous:

Cynthia Von Buhler

Chris Green

Adam Pierce