Our Lives Have Changed, Our Jobs Have Not
This piece is part of a blog salon, curated by Caridad Svich, called "Stages of Resistance." The series welcomes reflections on themes related to making work for live performance in political and aesthetic resistance to forms and systems that oppress human rights and censor or severely limit freedom of expression. We are in increasingly hostile, volatile times around the world, and this salon hopes to serve as a space for considered, thoughtful, polemical articulations of practice and theory on the subject of resistance, the multiple meanings of political art, and the ways in which progressive, wholistic cultural change may be instigated through artworks. Stay tuned for more articles and reflections in this series throughout March and April 2017!
You’re in Arizona for the first time in your life. Everything looks like Mars. You’ve been in the passenger seat of a rental car for a few hours, including a harrowing stretch while the car climbed higher and surfed sharp turns with only the slimmest of shoulders nudging you into the realization that you have not lived enough yet.
Then you’re out of Flagstaff, riding through endless red earth peppered with sharp scrubbery. You pass the occasional souvenir store and long to get out.
But the Grand Canyon awaits.
Now the rental glides between trees that puncture the low-hanging sky. You haven’t seen another car for at least ten minutes. Everything looks different. The angle of the sun seems blue. The clouds are smaller. The familiar is strange. You might be a little messed up at this point.
You start to get excited. Just a few miles more. Then you tell yourself Come on, it’s not like the road will open right onto to the Grand Canyon or anything. There’ll be parking lots and shuttle buses and lines to a viewing platform where you can look across the canyon and see the other side.
So you wait.
The car rounds a curve and suddenly it feels like you’re driving into the ocean. There it is. No parking lot, no tour buses, no visual buffer between you and this abyss. You try to make sense of it but your eyes can’t lock onto an anchor. You get out of the car and realize you can’t see the other side, that all you can see in any direction is this dangerous, beautiful, cracked emptiness. It doesn’t look real. The only thing you can compare it to is looking at an ocean. But that doesn’t make sense, this is just a canyon, and canyons are smaller than oceans, so how come you feel so engulfed?
And suddenly, you feel smaller than you’ve ever felt in your life.
Eventually your brain adapts to this new visual language. Your eyes take in and digest. You no longer feel lost. You realize it was there all along. Whether or not you flew out west and took this long drive, it was there. It had always been there. You’d seen photographs. You had an idea of it. You thought you knew.
You did not know.
Ever since the election, you keep coming back to this memory.
My stepmother died suddenly in October, and a friend was murdered at the end of December. In between those two events, I had two plays open the same week of the election. So the last part of 2016 was…disorienting. The world was upside down and much bigger than I’d realized.
The things I thought I knew, I did not know.
Mind you, I’d been worried. Savviness is cold comfort, but I wasn’t one of those who thought for sure she would win. I was nervous. I’m guessing white social activists on the whole were caught a little more off-guard than activists of color, who know more directly what seethes below the surface. Still, I was in disbelief. I engaged in denial and in magical thinking. All my assumptions were being questioned, whether they be about race, self-interest, feminism, ethics, popular culture, privilege, newspapers, or even my own family.
I pulled in. I stopped reading and sharing on Facebook. I couldn’t process it all.
I felt powerless, invisible, like I couldn’t see a way forward. I worried for my brown friends. I worried for my queer friends. I worried for women’s safety and health. I felt helpless in the face of so much hatred. Eventually I found a direction. The direction was the absence of fear.
Sometimes you can only define something by negation, by what it’s not.
I have no use for despair.
As I tried to avoid articles by liberals criticizing other liberals, I started calling my Senators’ offices, sending emails and faxes, signing petitions. All the while, thinking, thinking, thinking. Feeling like it wasn’t enough. Trying to make sense.
And this is how I’m anchoring myself in this new world order:
Our lives have changed. Our jobs have not.
Our lives have changed, especially for the non-white, the non-heteronormative, the non-male, or any combination thereof.
Our jobs have not. We’ve always been charged with transmuting ugliness, honesty, and compassion into art.
This is the America we’ve always lived in. There have always been people who fear, who hate, who love cruelty. There have always been self-righteous people on both sides of any issue.
Now we understand it was there all along. Whether or not we experienced it firsthand, it was there. It had always been there. We had an idea of it. We thought we knew.
We did not know.
One of my college professors used to call me her “deep-sea diver.” I was always writing towards the depths of what I was most afraid of. I’ve always been afraid of the ocean, of feeling lost and overcome by a power I could not understand, even as I knew I carried salt and water and terror inside me.
See the beautiful, cracked emptiness.
Swim into it.
Waste no time.
Have no use for despair.
Do your job.