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.
Janis Joplin told us that “freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose,” but odds are good the majority of adults living in the world today, both those old enough to get that reference and those who aren’t, embrace a more expansive, complex view of our most valued of human rights: personal freedom. Yet beyond hippie poetry and ingrained notions of entitlement, we of the western world are so accustomed to the ease and permission of the First Amendment or the Human Rights Act, our codified protections to be and do what we choose...
“Aren’t you worried that stating your political opinions so freely might alienate potential readers?” ~ unknown female on Twitter
Certainly, it was a worthy question, especially coming from someone who didn’t appear to agree with my stated opinion of that morning, likely something to do with the folly of a certain wall or the joy of a particularly qualified woman advancing in her career. But I’d guess the questioner wouldn’t have abided by Ms. Simone’s opinion either; there were several “mad-face” emojis stuffed into the tweet.
We live in a time when history is made by Tweets, when what happens there can instantly be known here. A time when anyone with a digital device can express views, publish opinions, or comment on news within moments of it unfolding, making the (somewhat dated) concept of “information superhighway” never more accurate…or glutted.
We want to be informed, we want to keep our awareness sharp, or maybe we just want some good old chatty entertainment, but...
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?
“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?
They can want to. They can try. They can watch it, read about it; talk about it, blog about it. They can weep over its injustices, march in solidarity with its victims; use the right phrases and hashtags, even show homage for its music and culture. But just as non-parents can never fully understand the experience of actually being parents (forget the "my brother has kids" thing... it ain't the same), so, too, can whites never fully grasp the day-to-day, can't-turn-it-off, always-there experience of being black in America.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.