Here’s my finished contribution to Mo’s “I Dream of a World Where Love is the Answer” project. I wish making this pennant had afforded some answers. Instead, the embroidery mostly forced one queasy question after another. How will we move past this riotously awful period of history? Why are we being so battered by destructive ‘policies’, nihilism, and retroactive social ideas? How can seemingly intractable differences in world views ever be reconciled? Why do we live in a country where a sizeable percent of the population doesn’t think fact matters? How much of our republic will survive the hate-fueled attacks on its very fiber? Just getting through a news cycle anymore is fucking exhausting.
Mine is a pretty solitary life in a town that is, for the most part, progressive (and unfortunately, almost exclusively white). My relatives, with one exception, do not drink the Kool Aid (and by ‘drinking the Kool Aid’, of course, I mean watching Fox News). Even my media contacts tend fairly uniformly toward the liberal.
So, if one healing route is to find others with opposing views and have conversations with them*, count me out. Not doing that. Nope.
(Honestly, even though I understand its instructive value, I cannot even watch Fox News now and again to get the lay of the land).
I read “Hillbilly Elegy” last year and yeah, it was somewhat instructive, but I still don’t have the time of day for Trump supporters, in this case specifically, for coal miners who condemn others for receiving state assistance when they themselves are doing the same. I don’t understand, nor want to understand, defending a dying, polluting industry at all costs. Nope. Not my conversation to have. (And by the way, if JD Vance ultimately runs for office as I suspect he might and chooses to make facile references to ‘East Coast elites’, I will be the first to remind him that he graduated from the same ivy league law school as Hillary Clinton).
I read “small great things” by Jodi Picoult this summer. The novel tells the story of an African American nurse banned from touching a white supremacist’s newborn baby. It doesn’t go well. It was really hard to find any measure of sympathy for the racist characters in this book and not just because I happened to be reading it the week of Charlottesville. It’s because I have no sympathy for Nazi’s or any other form of modern day racist. Why would I want to talk with them?
So, okay, skip dialogue. Prayer, then?
There’s also education.
The research I’ve done to set a novel in SC in the 1740’s has convinced me that without courageously facing our history, we are lost. We have to become aware of at least some of the gruesome details of American slavery. Then, we can acknowledge the lingering shadow and the ongoing harm. Otherwise, we will forever be torn apart by the history of human bondage’s after-effects.
Catch phrase: To deny racism is a form of racism.
The more I learn, the more convinced I am of this. In the introduction to “The New Jim Crow” Michelle Alexander makes the argument that white supremacy is a many-headed monster with regenerative power. When you cut one head off, another rears its ugly and savage face.
After education (and reflection), naturally, action must come*. Catch phrase (to quote Leslie Mac at an anti-racism training): “At some point, if you’re gonna dig a hole, someone’s gotta pick up the god-damned shovel.”
I used red seed beads to represent the blood of Africans who were kidnapped, transported and sold here. Their blood is a permanent feature of our landscape, as is the legacy of their labor. There is heft to this history. The fruits of enslaved labor are visible in many, many features of our built landscape, so it’s fitting that the lines of red beads are prominent and that they define whole areas.
The stitches took on the attributes of surgical repair in some places and of tailor-repair in others. I like how the stitched-down folds created texture when top lit and beautiful shadows when back lit. Imaginatively, the stitched repairs and the resultant shadows came to sometimes resemble a map and at other times, a scarred body. The act of integrating the dark cloth with the light cloth seemed at times to mimic the kind of healing process we all long for.
In two places, I carefully ripped open the top silk to more clearly represent injury. Like the blood-red beads, the bands that resulted from the long tears suggest that our wounds are a permanent part of the American psyche. Stitching the edges gave me the hands-on, hopeful sense that maybe there is some vantage from which our nation’s wounds show up as things of beauty. The spirals were inspired by the carved stones at Newgrange, which I have personally visited. They suggest reverence for the earth, awareness of our small place in the universe, and mystery. Surely, healing will not come strictly from the mind, much as I might try.
I cannot wait to see what Mo does with all of these — it’ll be extraordinary, that I know!
* Recent TED Talk called “Removing Your Filter Bubbles” by moveon.org founders made this very suggestion. Perhaps you need to be an extrovert and someone who moves in wider social circles than I do for this suggestion to have any possibility of success?
* On 2018’s To Do List: make sure none of our mutual funds invest in private prison corporations (if they do, shift money); offer frequent flier miles to a couple of Cambridge Black Lives Matter activists; continue to read black authors and buy their books; continue to follow and support criminal justice reforms here in Massachusetts; continue to oppose the totalitarian, racist regime in the White House with protests, calls to Congress, and more; learn more about the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute in Boston. Maybe (finally?) attend the Annual Slave Dwelling Project Conference. Continue with financial contributions to: the Southern Poverty Law Center, the NAACP, the Royall House and Slave Quarters (here in Mass.), the African American History Museum (in Washington, D.C.) Most importantly, to me personally: finish my novel featuring enslaved and elite characters to the best of my ability.
PS. I was reading Judy Martin’s blog this week and found a post full of so much process that I found familiar that it was almost spooky. Her poetic musings are wonderful and provocative.
PPS In my fabric win, Deb Lacativa included four bobbins of her specialty threads. I am enjoying using them in this piece.
I will be going to bed thinking about this post … your banner is AMAZING! I also recently read Small Great Things …and not unlike this post I was left with an overwhelming sadness. I live in the city of Milwaukee where racism is rampant. My husband and I just recently retired .. we both worked hard, saved and were able to enter into retirement mortgage free. Sadly because we live in a racially diverse area of the city we are seeing more and more homes being sold and businesses closing. I walk my dog and see homes filled with young hard working people ..young and old. Black .. White ..Hispanic..Asian gay and straight.
Anyway thanks … I loved what you wrote. I love that I can bring people like you into my home and feel loved. Yes finish your novel I’m looking forward to reading it.
Love and joyFULL Christmas BLESSINGS to you and all those you love …
Christmas blessings to you too! Than you for sharing and providing a window into your world and your heart.
It is a great reflection of truth, of truth, on truth and honesty, integrity and beauty.
It was a grounding and clarifying exercise, making this banner, even as it spun question and question. I need another project like this!
How is your show going.
Yes, this piece portends a series, a river of stories? Am I using “portends” correctly?
The show I’m in comes down next week. At the opening I spoke with several people and got great feed back on a couple of pieces. People liked my paintings! No sales. A friend also in the show wanted to buy one of my paintings and I immediately asked her if she’d trade one with me. Nice.
Congrats on the barter! Was there good foot traffic at the gallery? Not sure if this portends anything. I won’t stop stitching that’s for sure. I’ve seen some awesome quilters out there who use the map idea to good effect.
education, awareness, bringing the hard questions into the light, feeling the depth of the wounds to the land and the people, mapping the journey with deep heart and love for our beautiful broken world, the star & circle alongside the red thread in the last photograph brings so much hope.
The red thread dangling down is one of my favorite features, too. Feel free to remove star and use elsewhere if need be!
the star is exactly where it should be bringing hope
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I love the close-up shots of your embroidery on the pennant, and the views of front and back. It is so detailed….I’d love to see it in person. A deeply nuanced and stellar contribution!
I read Hillbilly Elegy last year also. I thought it was interesting that Vance hardly spoke about black people at all, although I think racism is rampant amongst his Kentucky cousins. Tribalism is what they are about and having someone lower down to make them feel better about their own low place in the pecking order is essential to their sense of themselves. I say this while acknowledging the similarities between those hill people and my own family, which came out of Arkansas and Mississippi. Ignorant poor people make the most stubborn racists.
Your point about Vance not mentioning blacks much was taken and I removed that reference. The condemnations were for slackers and drug addicts, the latter of whom the book triggered great compassion by the way.
Interesting to know about your roots in the Deep South!
You have written very eloquently about tribalism.
Just wondering….are the Ls in the words “love” meant to refer to the Christian fish symbol? They suddenly leaped out at me (like fish sometimes do).
I see the shape now too but it was not intentional.
Intense as you are and passionate, I am awed that you find the words and images to express yourself as well as you do. Love the list of what to continue with too. 3AM again – seems to be my natural bedtime.
Good night. See you on the virtual soon.
Three am. I know that hour well, too!
Here for a second reading and still speechless with wonder … I’ll come back when I find the words
No need but of course I would welcome your thoughts!
Dee, like Liz I have read, taken in and rested with your words, twice now. This time I can simply say that as I walk with your process, slowly seeing and feeling the motivation of your work, the reading that has touched you as you walk day by day and how all of this comes together in a most beautiful piece of work for the collaboration. Each work now seen, shows a diversity of style and manner of expressing the central them of the piece, healing a broken world. Is not the work for the construction going to be a metaphor for truly healing the world? Each person bringing to that healing their individual expression of life, love, work, play, family and friends.
Thank you, thank you for creating such beautiful symbolic visuals of the thoughts you so eloquently write…..yes, please, finish the book – it is on my to read list.
Hi Kristin. And yes we all hope that the “central theme of the piece, healing a broken world” will stand as a metaphor for healing. Thank you for standing by.
It all becomes clear as I read your words Dee but then I felt what you were stitching into your pennant, when I referred to your pennant as raw yet sophisticated. The rawness of the wound inflicted on our country, the unrelenting dishonesty, disgrace, dismay, day after day and somehow, you dug deeply from within your ability, your vision, your creativity to convey this with truth, honor and dignity in choice of pennant color, in choice of threads and stitching and that ability, that sophistication to convey without words, what matters most is why I am so moved by what you have presented and created.
Thank you so much Marti. Part of me wants to say: I was just attaching two pieces of cloth to each other. But I’m so glad the pennant conveys something of what I bring to it. Thank you.
Questioning is necessary for reflection and change. Your piece is strong, Dee- its earthiness, map of searching, truth holding scars, and healing. Your deep textures of stitch, cloth and thoughts make spaces for reflection. Well done.
Thanks Hazel. I could’ve kept stitching on it and part of me views the pennant as unfinished but getting in the mail with christmas packages seemed to be part of the process.
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