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.
“My daughter is being bullied at school for being ugly. Nothing I say is helping and it’s breaking my heart. Please retweet with a message telling her how special she is,” a father desperately posted on Twitter, sharing a school photo of his perfectly average-looking and undoubtedly lovely daughter. So, people did. Kind people. Compassionate people. People who wanted his daughter to not feel ugly. To not feel bullied. And what did most of them say?
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.
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.
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.
Studies show that the "eye for an eye" Biblical imperative still rules. Though the "pro" contingent has decreased since its high of 80% in 1994, a full 60% of Americans still support the death penalty, per the most recent Gallup poll. Why? Given its inequity and ineffectiveness as spelled out above, why do most Americans continue to see red?
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.
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?
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.
Authors' Chat | indieBRAG-- Let’s face it: bad reviews suck. We can get hundreds of good ones, countless accolades and acknowledgments, but regardless of the applause that accompanies our endeavors, we tend to hold onto the words that pierce our creative skin, hurt our fragile sensibilities; shake our sense of who we are as artists. Frankly, even with their potential for destruction, we need them. We want them. We seek them out; promote, push, and pander for them.
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.
“Because we can” is not a good enough reason to publish. That notion, parsed from George Mallory’s rationale for climbing Mt. Everest (“Because it’s there.”), becomes even more misguided when you consider that even Mallory, despite being deeply experienced, didn’t survive that notorious peak! And while publishing is certainly less treacherous than mountain climbing, cultural expectations about the quality of what makes its way onto our bookshelves is demanding in its own right.
[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.
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.