Devon Wilke's resume includes essays & op-eds on politics & culture, as well as the creative arenas of publishing, theater, music, and art. Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for links & details.
For a little white girl growing up in the cornfields and cow pastures of the deeply homogenized environs of Richmond, Illinois, a tiny northern Illinois farm town biking distance from the Wisconsin border, it may seem anomalous that Aretha Franklin would be one of my greatest influences and inspirations… but she was.
Here we are in 2018, once again debating the explosive merge between politics and art, with some sniffing that those who create the movies, TV shows, music, books, images, and comedy enjoyed by a rapacious public should keep their politicizing pie-holes shut. Nikki was peeved, Trump took on Jay-Z, and God forbid a certain red-headed comedienne made tasteless jokes about the man in the White House…satire is dead, color within the lines, banish them from the kingdom! Some of us aren’t having that.
I look at my skin and it offers no opinion. It has no wisdom or insight that allows me arrogance; it’s not notable in any exclusionary way; it’s not even remarkable in its whiteness: beige in warmer months, too pale to be interesting the rest of the time.
It’s just… skin. It makes me white. It does not make me superior.
Empathy may sound like one of those idealized concepts that reads well in print but is, in fact, too high-toned and elusive to be effective in changing the true, tangible, earthbound problems of our society, but it's not.
To be vulnerable and intimate enough to make personal art, then make public that art, exposing it to the potential of rejection, misinterpretation, critique, insults, and painful, hurtful, soul-scraping judgment takes courage. To get up after each onslaught to continue tapping into one’s soul to access what bubbles within takes courage. Honoring your muse by not ignoring or discarding your talent takes courage.
Courage is not suffering.
Oddly, we seem only to ascribe the concept of legacy to those who are famous. We speak rarely in those terms about the uncelebrated, the not-famous, the every-day folks unknown beyond their small circles. They are, or were, after all, just “regular people,” certainly not meritorious enough to bear the burden of legacy... right?
I don’t think so. In fact, I think the misassignation of “legacy” as a responsibility only of the famous and celebrated has done a grave disservice to our human race.
[Awarded in Rocky Coast Essay Contest sponsored by The Maine Review]:
Tucked in her lift chair, chilled and uneasy, she waits for tea and dry toast to calm her daily quarrel with queasiness and hunger. With a raised eyebrow and sardonic grin, she remarks, “It ain’t easy gettin’ old.” I commiserate, but she dismisses my empathy; tells me I’m too young to understand. I don’t bother to correct her.
We look and we feel something human and compassionate, and we wonder: who was this person? What happened here? Who left this memorial with its tableau of sorrow and windblown plastic flowers?
I don't have to name names; we've all seen one famous face after another tumble down the rabbit hole of peer pressure, cultural expectations, show business demands, sheer vanity, fear of death, revulsion of aging and the simple miscalculation -- pummeled and propagated by the media and culture -- that the only beauty is youthful beauty. It's a heavy burden.
When there is enough evidence, both anecdotal and scientific, to educate and convince us of our commonalities as members of the human race, any white person continuing to blame “fear” for their reactive behavior is abdicating responsibility for their part in perpetuating racism. Fear offered as an excuse is exactly that: an excuse. It is not a solution. Empathy is. Empathy is the solution to fear.
Effective leaders around the world operate vibrantly and vigorously at ages far older than Ms. Feinstein—the Queen is 91, the Pope 90—and their constituents love them still.
But here in America, land of the free, home of the brave, bubbling cauldron of isms of every kind, the population likes its leaders, its celebrities, its artists, its influencers, particularly its women, young and pretty, evidenced by some of the comments during this recent Feinstein imbroglio.
Let me start with a disclaimer: this is not a screed against traditional publishing. Yes, those are trendy and you’ll find lots of them out there, but this is not one. Life has taught me that when something sustains as long as traditional publishing has, it’s because it remains, however confounded and confused, a vital player in the scheme of things. I’d say that’s the case with the Big 5.
Storytellers are the chroniclers of our life and times. They memorialize history, dissect our complex and evolving world; they entertain and provoke and captivate. They are as diverse and eclectic as the characters they create and the stories they tell. It is their job to reflect who we are, what we experience, and what we can imagine. That’s a big canvas. It’s huge. And there’s no end to the variety of colors and hues that can be drawn upon it. Just as there is no end to the variety of artis...
I don’t know what it’s like to be judged harshly for my skin color, the shape of my eyes, the letters in my name, the gender of my lover, or the religion I believe.
What I do know?
I know what it’s like to be a woman. Specifically, a woman in America.
While the assignation may not typically engender tragedies like the above, it does come with its own list of degradations and diminishments, “isms” and marginalizations; mitigating and dismissing factors.
Being a woman in America is a full-time audition.
Whenever I see an article that pits one generation against another, that categorizes the value and merit of any person in terms of age; that wildly asserts that terming-out is how to handle old folks and only youngsters have the sense and savvy to proceed to the route, I find my teeth grinding.