This rain’s falling hard, straight down. Even so, there’s a reassuring line of red sunfire on the horizon just now; the sun rises warm above bruised clouds. I’ve been sifting through headlines to check the people barometer, which reads just like the morning sky: heavy and bruised with some pockets of humour (a photoshopped Rudy Giulani giving a press conference in front of a wall of Ritz cracker boxes).
Some days are thicker than others. Dear Mister Trump is making sure we all stay awake and alert to the very real dangers of rampant ego, fear and delusion while he begs for donations to support his legal battles. We know now that he owes a great deal of money to a significant number of people, and crying foul at this point is a fantastic opportunity to rake it in, no doubt.
To Trump it makes perfect sense to fan the flames of discord and division; we’ve learned this about him by now. I do not waste one iota of energy in indignation; he will eventually be persuaded to leave.
Meanwhile we re-enter quarantine and self-isolation in a new pandemic surge, we tighten our budgets yet again, re-stock the pantry, trade our summer tires for snows. While the GTA hospitals fill up again and again staff is stretched beyond their limit, again long term care facilities are most vulnerable. Bankruptcy filings increase, still more storefront businesses close. Never has the difference between the stock market and the economy been so stark … or no, wait. We’ve been here before, haven’t we. Face palm.
I don’t waste energy on the Bezos or the Zuckerberg, either.
Collectively and personally we have taken heavy losses, yes. But good grief, Charlie Brown. We are still alive, we still laugh and eat, sleep, dream, read books, help each other, care for ourselves, and many are still gainfully employed. We can still crack jokes, even and especially at our own expense when, disoriented, we bump into walls, then recalibrate, reset, hit another obstacle then stop, laugh, rethink, try again. Social media is awash with memes of comically frazzled animals captioned: my mental state right now. It has NOT been easy, but we are, in fact, making our way through, despite an appalling lack of real support and direction from many (most?) of our political leaders.
My BS meter peaks all the time these days; I’ve stopped watching politicians and avoid mainstream news. I did watch Kamala Harris and wept happy tears, though, as The US turned a hugely important, historic corner.
Shakespeare’s life and career was concurrent with the bubonic plague. Thank the Universe, then, that despite the many theatre closures in London he continued to pour his energy into crafting story – stories we still consistently quote 420 years later, whether or not we’ve seen or read the play. Take note, that his stories did not focus on the plague, but on people – how they show themselves, how and what they choose. In a New Yorker article from this past May (2020) Steven Greenblatt observes that in fact the plague plays a subtle but central role in the deaths of Juliet and Romeo, “The plague, which is hardly represented in the play, does not cause their deaths, but the profound social disruption it brings in its wake—conveyed in the rush of seemingly irrelevant details—plays an oddly significant role. The ill-timed quarantine is an agent of the star-crossed lovers’ tragic fate.“
For Shakespeare, the quarantine and theatre closures were an effect. People – kings and princes, moneylenders, daughters, wives, friends, soldiers and besotted fools were far more interesting: the myriad, fascinating ways people chose to respond to life, in times of adversity.
I sign a new petition, write new letters to elected politicians every three days or so – against wetland development, human displacement to make room for pointless corporate projects, demanding clean water for first nations NOW, universal basic income for all….the list goes on. Thank you to the people who are on those front lines, investigating, advocating, watching the shady government deals that are happening under covid-cover. I’m aware that these issues are shared and visible because of choices made by people, while in isolation, to change a broken system.
We do figure things out. Every day I work with practicalities, weave in new skills to bring what I do into alignment with how we are now. Learning through the inevitable first batch that will never see publication, now seeing a glimmer of the stories I love and want to tell. Always with paint and colour, music and language, all in layers, visceral and strong. I’ve got good plans in motion that will generate income from and for this work, am grateful for the new practicalities of internet commerce.
Talking about money need not be a divisive issue. Are we coming anywhere closer to a place now where we can see that, as with Shakespeare’s plague, as with the pandemic, income affects, but need not define us? So much focus on money since yes, we are indeed dependent upon it. Certainly, take care of what you need to take care of. But what if we found ways to ‘unhook’ from the disempowering belief system that’s connected to money? What if, instead of focusing on economic self-judgement and anxiety, on how to profit, collect and consume ever more, chasing security as if our lives depend upon it – what if we just … let money be the simple, relational thing it is?
I suspect this looks a little different for everyone. For certain though, an enormous amount of energy and time get freed up if and when we unhook from the toxicity. If we weren’t so obsessed with what’s going to happen next month or next year, trying to to control the economic ‘weather’ so we can keep things the same, maybe we’d work out new, healthier systems that would never have occurred to us, otherwise.
As an artist I’m familiar to the point of boredom with judgement placed on my chosen career. The voices are clear and remarkably self-righteous; our culture simply does not support artists in the way it supports bankers, lawyers, CEOs, teachers. It’s a predictable trigger point, when I tell people what I do. Why such a point of contention?
A handful of people early in my career took direct offence with my practice. They were, in fact, a reflection of the voices inside my own head: You think you can do this full time? What makes you so special – You think you’re the next Emily Carr? (which is funny, considering). Maybe if my pieces regularly sold for $1M this resentment would dissolve into a grudging admiration? well that’s okay then, you’re in the business of money; I get it now.
People who do not resonate with my work will politely change the subject, or, unsolicited, show me someone else’s work they prefer or an approach that makes better sense (as if to guide me in a better direction). Well, if it were me, I’d… An online troll attacked me personally and fervently with some nastiness they felt compelled to project in the moment. Others find my work engaging and compelling, which often leads to further conversations, connections, exchanges. People are different from one another, and always have been.
I don’t waste my energy on a need for external validation. Not any more. That said, I’m blessed to have many people in my life who are sincerely supportive of what I do, which feels warm and good to me. I am and always will be grateful for this.
Art isn’t about money, Charlie Brown, it is about people. Selling my work for 1M is not and never could be my primary goal; it just doesn’t work that way. The folks who pay grossly inflated prices for art are quite often trying to hide dark money or use investment loopholes – the purchase is far less about the art than about taxes. Certainly if the artist is still alive it’s rare that they see any of this, since the big money goes from one ‘investor-owner’ to another. Good heavens, how Emily could have used that money while she was alive and working!! The middle-folk – dealers, agents (Sotheby’s, etc) rake in a tidy fee, for guaranteeing that the work will hold its ‘value’, or at least tracking its value on the art market. You’ve heard of the BANKSY painting that shredded itself in 2018? He was making a point.
Value on these upper echelon markets is capricious. Recently there’s been a huge demand at art fairs for ‘primitives’, or work by artists who have never been to art school, who may have regular day jobs as bus drivers or insurance adjusters. Was it last year that someone duck taped a banana to the wall at Art Basel Miami and sold it for $120,000.?; Face palm (but also pretty funny).
I’m not BANKSY, though I greatly admire what he does, as I do Ai Wei Wei and his work. I’m not aiming myself at being quoted in 400 years. I’m just observing and responding to the complex, relational world of right now in a way that stretches, challenges and eventually empowers me. I do believe art is about people, and that people are about connection, choices, stories, innovation. I know without any doubt that income will flow and I will keep on doing this, because things just work out, in exactly the way they should. I don’t need to control the weather.
If you’re someone who resonates with this, I’m glad. We need to keep stretching and evolving, empowering ourselves and each other. If this makes sense to you and you’re interested in hanging or showing my work in your spaces, I would be delighted to find ways to make it so. You can connect with me through this website, email (email@example.com) or on social media (messenger works well). Coming in the next few weeks are a newsletter option, and a subscription series which gives you access to my new Story Cake videos. I’ll talk about these in my next posts.
In the meantime, If you like what you read and see here, and just want to offer support, I’ve set up a safe, encrypted donation option on this site for the first time in eleven years. Your support of the work I do here can only make it better, so if you are able, I am grateful to receive. Here’s the button, apologies that it’s so large (I’m working at simplifying as you read):
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My point here is that we can choose where to invest our energy. We can choose how to know and show ourselves, just as we did 400 years ago, 2000 years ago, aeons ago, when there was no such thing as money. My point is that when something makes no sense, you can choose to find something that does, and focus yourself there. WAY more interesting than being stuck.
I find art deeply meaningful, and choose to spend my working time making it; other people study and learn from fruit flies. Still others are in jobs that bore them to puddles but make really interesting things happen when they’re not at work. Raging lame duck president is canny enough to earn money from loyalists, classical dancer does their work in an abandoned factory, shows get cancelled even though musicians really do need income and work so let’s fix that problem of income. We share rich meaningful phonecalls, broken hips mend, poison ivy heals, tears soak into a pillow, snowflakes dance on the wind, and I hear laughter outside. What a fascinating, amazing world.
It’s not about the pandemic or the politics, or that person that’s driving you nuts. It’s not about money or fear.
What do you love? Do that.
We call them bodies, the lakes. Bodies of water. Great and larger lakes, oceans, straights and inland seas are bodies. I’ve amended my understanding of this term through travel in the world in a learned understanding that context is all-important.
The largest lake in Ireland, Lough Neagh, is about one fortieth the size of Georgian Bay, upon whose shores I spent my tween and teenage years (and where my tiny cabin is now). Compared to the other Great Lakes, Georgian Bay is little – just a bay, even though it covers more area than Northern Ireland.
Context is all. All six Great Lakes have been ten minutes or a few hours away by foot or car throughout most of my life. Huron, Ontario, Erie, Michigan, Superior, Georgian Bay. The land I live on and travel through is full of rivers and waterfalls that feed the lakes with groundwater and snowmelt. Water’s pretty high this year, we say to one another, yep, just like the ’80s. Had to raise the dock again. Every one of the locals has a favourite spot on a favourite shoreline; we mark the days with sunsets or sunrises over the lake.
As a kid I believed that the whole world was just like it is here – abundant and generous with water. As an adult I came to understand that my soul and my white female body is forever linked to these enormous freshwater seas we call The Great Lakes, bodies that for 10,000 years and more have had other names. I can’t imagine living anywhere else.
The older names sound like the beginning of a long and complex story; full of a kind of wisdom I’ve always longed for: Waaseyaagami-wiikwed, Shining Waters Bay. I begin to learn that story in my middle age, and just how much of a recent anomaly I am within it, me with my white female body.
Yesterday I listened to the long version of the excellent, compassionate and enlightened Krista Tippet’s interview with a man whose name sounds like the beginning of another good story I can learn from: Resmaa Menakem, a trauma therapist from Minneapolis. The interview occurred in the On Being studios just before our pandemic lockdown. I could hear Resmaa observing Krista’s white body cringe as they discussed racism and white supremacy. I could hear the squirm he was seeing in her voice, as she struggled with choice points about what to ask him, how to ask him… for help with what she doesn’t and cannot understand about being black, from her experience in a white woman’s body.
I’m grateful for this interview because this is my struggle too, especially and specifically right now right here. If you’re white, I recommend you give yourself a good hour to listen to it, then another hour to walk through the park with what you’ve just heard.
Good Lord, but it’s well beyond time to pick up the burden of my white person inheritance and feel its’ actual weight. More appropriately, to take the weight off the backs of the BIPOC people who have been carrying it for me all my life. To observe what I have assumed without question, and how this has translated into behaviour through fifty seven years of living in a white body. In a system where to be white is to be supreme and privileged over all other people of colour.
Start there, says Resmaa Menakem. Say it, white-bodied people: White Supremacy. Look straight at what that means, and how you benefit from and support the system. Then stop talking. Just notice what happens in your body. It’s your job to change the system, but not just with patchwork policies, empty slogans, and lists of books you’ve read that prove how enlightened you are. You need to do this from a place of real, embodied understanding.
I know so little, but I learn, daily. Overwhelmed by the news, the full display of blatant callousness, rage and brutality from white people in power. How different that behaviour is from the intense but peaceful protests organized by BLM.
There’s a great deal more for us well-meaning white folk to learn about this long-rotted white supremacist system, a great deal of listening to do. Changing to do, in right action: for a start, my taxes over-fund the police, when they should be funding universal basic income. A start when I ask good but difficult questions, and make my wishes known in the system that has benefited me and my white body while excluding and punishing all other bodies. It’s not activism, it’s being human.
And it’s simple: if I don’t ask the questions and make my wishes known, I support the rotted system.
My story, and every story is valid, but it’s more important to hear the one that came up in my fb feed this morning.
Please read on. If you’re in a white body in a predominantly white neighbourhood, don’t just file it afterward and move on to make another coffee. Give yourself some moments to sit with Kyra’s childhood experience and notice how your body feels. Notice if you’re squirming, like Krista Tippet does in the interview. It’s okay to squirm. That’s how you know something’s wrong.
Ask yourself what you want to do about this.
In a rural population area of 350,000, a mere handful of the locals I grew up with were black. Two Anishnabe reservations were within a 40 minute drive but I remember little to no interaction between first nations people and the white people of Owen Sound. This is changing now, but we still have a long way to go.
I’m grateful to Kyra Nankivell who writes here about what it was like to grow up black in the same place I grew up white:
Kyra Nankivell is with Erick Baptiste.
JtSpeune 5 ato mSn11fsnmurof:rg2l0h eidSueAatdM · Black in a White Town – SHARE THIS PLEASEFor context, my full name is Emma Kyra Nankivell and I started going by my middle name in grade 10 to “feel more black” among other reasons. I want to share my experiences because I’ve been told that it really helped people recognize their ignorance and try to understand. So here it goes…I’ve always described my experience growing up in Centre Wellington by this simple line, “The first time I saw a black person in school was like grade 9.”Although, I never fully understood my situation until Erick (my bf) looked at my CWDHS 2018 yearbook and saw pages and pages of white kids in every grade. He was just in awe. And honestly I never saw my yearbook like that… That was a “wow” moment. Like holy sh*t I actually grew up in that environment. Obviously I wasn’t an idiot and there was racism but it became so NORMAL to me.Here are some very specific experiences:
1. Finding out my best friend had a confederate flag in her basement
2. Being asked countless times to punch “N****r cards” so people could say the word.
3. My school invited a group from Brampton to perform for black history month and they didn’t even invite me to the assembly. On top of that, everyone was asking me who the group was and why they were at my school. AS IF I KNEW.
4. Getting my hair braided and having almost every TEACHER ask me if I went on vacation.
5. Going to track & field meets in Guelph and actually seeing black people was the first time I felt NORMAL.
6. PEOPLE TOUCHING MY HAIR 24/7 and people asking why I don’t straighten my hair.
7. TAKING INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS AND HAVING CLASS DISCUSSIONS ON ISSUES IN DEVELOPING COUNTRIES WAS LIKE ME AGAINST EVERYONE. “Why don’t they just raise minimum wage”
8. Someone drew swatstikas on the bathroom stalls
9. Having a black friend over, walking around Elora and getting 628379191 texts the next day saying “who was that”
10. Countless black jokes that weren’t funny at all. “Hey Emma what sound does a chainsaw make? Run nikkaa-nikkaaa-nikkaaa”
11. Explaining to people what black history month is, then explaining black history
12. BEING TOLD EMMA IS A WHITE NAME. “Seriously your name is Emma??” *confused look*
13. Always being “the only one” or at least feeling like it!!
14. BEING CONFUSED WITH THE ONLY OTHER NON WHITE GIRL IN THE ROOM BY PEOPLE & CUSTOMERS AT WORK HOLYYY. Like no I’m not that person.
15. People assuming the only other black or even just non white person is related to me. Like whattt?¿
16. Never seeing a shred of my culture displayed, understood, spoken about. Only ever talking about Jamaica when “those poor nations” came up.
17. People comparing their skin to mine after a sunny day/week. “Omg I’m almost as tan as you hahahaha”
18. Being told I look “aggressive” with my hair braided
19. “Where are you from” ummm I was born in Guelph “no like where are you actually from?!”
20. I played hockey for 10 years of my life and I can count the number of black people I saw on my FINGERS. It was super discouraging and you best believe that when people “talk sh*t” racism was fuel for the fire. “Monkey” “N***r” “Why r you even playing hockey?” “Do your parents have the money for this?” “Why don’t you go back to Africa”
21. I was nicknamed “Mocha” on one of the teams I played for.
22. WHEN I WORKED AT MCDONALDS IN FERGUS SOMEONE ACTUALLY REFUSED TO LET ME TAKE THEIR ORDER. THEY ASKED FOR A WHITE PERSON. THAT WAS 2017.
23. Girls at my high school asking me to hook them up with my black friends… As if it was something on their bucket list.
24. People trying to guess where I’m from, like it’s some kind of fun game.
25. I actually tried to switch schools after crying to my parents and saying “I hate it here, no one understands me.” I remember going on a tour of the new school and the guidance counsellor asked me my main reason for switching, I said “There’s not enough diversity at my school” and then we spent a couple weeks trying to figure out how to “legitimize” my reason so the board would allow the transfer. CRAZY.
After Ahmaud Arbery was shot while running, I was genuinely afraid to let my bf run in my neighborhood alone. I still am. I get anxious everytime he goes on a run or bike ride by himself… THIS IS NOT JUST AN “AMERICAN PROBLEM” THIS IS VERY VERY REAL IN CANADA. The fact that people are brushing off RACISM as just some American issue is DISGUSTING. WAKE TF UP PEOPLE. I need everyone to reshare this. I know my following is predominantly white people and it’s hard to admit that you’re part of the problem but it’s NOT ABOUT YOU. Y’all are getting tired of hearing that black lives matter, TRY BEING BLACK. I love everyone, idc if ur black, white or purple. But right now we all need to get behind this because I don’t want to raise black children in the society we live in. #blacklivesmatter#sharethis#blackpower#useyourvoice]