5 Voices

I love seeing the work of many black authors get attention, but equally saddened that black is often perceived as a limited, one-sided perspective.  Many of us go looking for the black experience, and it is about time we did.  But what is found is the human experience, made more honest by the wisdom of a pain we white people can never fully understand.  These voices have the nuance and compassion that is carved from having to reconcile the worst parts of our humanity.  That lens of pain yields a wisdom on things like love and parenthood and justice that we – all of us – desperately need.

These voices move me this week.

1. Intimations by Zadie Smith, written and published in the wake of COVID-19 and the impact of losing George Floyd. A powerful juxtaposition of what insidious virus most plagues us, and ponders what America we really want to be.  

2. Myrlie Evers on the Mississippi flag removal, and what it was to love and be loved by Medgar Evers. Love is powerful indeed.

3. Breathe by Imani Perry. This is strong motherhood.  No sugar coating.  No romanticizing.  This is real and gritty and intellectual and philosophical.

4. A grateful remembrance of John Lewis by Barack Obama.

5. And the inspiring last words of John Lewis himself, a man whose strength and bravery were stunningly anchored in love.  May we honor his legacy and continue the progress he relentlessly sought.  

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5 Things

I question the value of saying anything on social media, a cacophony of shouts in itself. I see so much that enrages me, amuses me, breaks my heart, and inspires me. I doubt the value of engaging with any of it. When I have the urge to speak, I wonder what unheard voice I help crowd out.

So for now, I’ll just do this.  These are 5 things this week that occupied my mind, and to which I wish everyone would pay attention.

  1.  Just when I think we could not be any more off the rails as a society, the federal government is sending federal agents into cities it deems not brutal enough on their own to snuff out protesters.  Among them is Chicago, which pays annually about $100 million in policy brutality case settlements each year.  Despite experts and research all over the country demonstrating that butality is not the way, we are about to have multiple brutal and uncoordinated factions in one city.  The Department of Homeland Security “was not established to be the president’s personal militia.”
  2.  I’ve seen plenty of subtle sexism in my career, but in 2014 I had a manager go off complaining about how awful it is to have to work with women.  As he tried to clean up his outburst the next day, his non-apology included “I’m not sexist.  I mean, I married.”  If for no other reason, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s speech last week resonated with many of us because we are so tired of this bullshit defense.  She nailed it.  If, as NYTimes journalists claimed, this is simply AOC “amplifying her brand,” then sign me up for #fuckingbitchsquad.
  3. And as you carry your weariness from tired narratives about and toward women, this short bit by Katherine Ryan is gold.  CW: it’s also filled with profanity.
  4. There are too many lovely memorials to the great John Lewis I cannot pick just one, but in doing so Fresh Air also included an old interview of civil rights attorney J. L. Chestnut, whose largest focus was on changing laws that interfered with black people’s access to their natural rights as citizens.  It’s inspiring and worth a listen.  The high arc of our moral failings against people of color is so recent, and the laws on our books matter.
  5. Heaviest on my heart and mind this week, I just finished Waiting for an Echo by Dr. Christine Montross, a psychiatrist who has worked both in prison and psychiatric hospital settings, and describes the patients at each as “virtually indistinguishable.”  While there is plenty of evidence that our carceral system is a trauma farm, and failing at its stated purpose of ensuring a safe and just society, this is a compelling new piece of work.   We as a country are committing the very crimes against the incarcerated that we claim the system protects the rest of us from, and we are doing it to some of our most vulnerable members.

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A Stranger Held My Heartbeat

I love collaborations – the more different the contributors are, the more their shared product surprises me and opens my mind.

The Weisman has an exhibit on display called Walk Back To Your Body, a collaboration between healthcare researchers and artists. I loved the concept so much I did the unprecedented – abandoned my kids on a weeknight to go to the opening presentations last week.

And there, a stranger did hold my heartbeat.

I was able to lie in The Daydream Chapel, also with a total stranger. I guess we adults need a fancy art gallery to give us permission to return to the simple forts of our playful youth.

But my absolute favorite was the work of psychiatrist Dr. Kathryn Cullen and poet Yuko Taniguchi. As the placard below from the exhibit indicates, adolescents struggling with behavior disorders learned to find a powerful identity as an artist rather than a person with a diagnosis. I missed their talk that night, but Taniguchi has a different one here that is worth a watch.

I could only stay for the start of the presentations, but was deeply moved by what I did hear. Dr. Jakub Toler, Dean of the University of Minnesota School of Medicine is also a bone marrow transplant surgeon. He talked about how art teaches us how to work with humanity. He said he learned 5% of the skills he uses in his work life from medical school – that he learned more from David Hopper about how to work with human beings as they suffer.

Another gem from the evening that lingers with me is from the curator, Boris Oicherman. He defined collaboration as the labor intensive work of different people finding a shared meaning.

I cannot tell if this exhibit is otherwise available, but I highly recommend if it if you have the chance.