Guest Blog Post, M.L. Rio: We Shall Overcome (Someday?)

Hover for image attribution.

The Vietnam War is closer to home for me than it is for most twenty-somethings in 2018, probably because our schools tend to gloss or ignore the conflict. What I remember of my American history classes is that the narrative came to a screeching halt after World War II. Nobody wanted to wade through the moral quagmires of Korea and Vietnam when it was so much easier to end on the high note of Allied triumph over the Nazis, with the unprecedented prosperity of the 1950s on the horizon. I’m sure this isn’t a universal experience, but from what I’ve learned in conversation with my peers, it’s a common one.

This war is entrenched in my family history—my grandparents were in the Foreign Service, my mother and her sister raised in Asia while their father worked at the U. S. Embassy in Saigon—so it’s something which has preoccupied, obsessed, and haunted me. I’ve read my grandfather’s letters from Tet. I’ve heard my mother describe waiting for her father to come home, while her mother tried to hide her fear that perhaps he never would. What tormented me most as I got older was how little I understood the conflict. So I did what I do best: research. I devoured books and newspapers, letters and interviews, movies and documentaries, music and memoirs and museum exhibits. The experience was unique in my archival pursuits in that the more I read and the more I learned, the more confused I became. But there’s some strange comfort in that, because that is the common thread running through so many different narratives of Vietnam: confusion and frustration of such agonizing magnitude that words simply cannot do it justice. But, as a writer, I am trying.

It is difficult to explain (especially to people like me who never talked about ’Nam in their history classes but unlike me had no reason to wonder about it) why I spend my scant spare time immersed in something so deeply, indefinitely disturbing. It is difficult to explain that this is something I feel tyrannically compelled to talk about, especially right now. The political climate of the United States is perhaps the most volatile it has been since the Vietnam War—which was ten months into its deadliest year exactly fifty years ago. Daily, anniversaries of deaths and battles and marches—at home and abroad—go by. On October 21, 2017, I walked the same route tens of thousands of anti-war protestors followed to the Pentagon in 1967. In the past two years, I’ve attended protests of my own, dragged out into the streets by a moral obligation to object to what I cannot countenance in this country of my birth: rampant gun violence, virulent misogyny, unchecked corruption, tax cuts for those already obscenely rich, the political legitimization of white supremacy. Since returning to the States from London immediately after the 2016 election, I have lived in a state of constant anger, fear, and confusion. And while I will never really know what it was like for the hundreds of thousands of men who fought for their lives or lost them in Vietnam, I am beginning to understand what it was like to live in a domestic American warzone, where families and friendships and illusions shattered under the pressure of such insurmountable conflict. I feel like I can never quite relax. Random crying jags while reading the Sunday paper have become the norm. Signs lettered with slogans are piled up in my coat closet. Every time I’m off to a protest I dress for a riot, a lesson learned from history and current events alike. Wear sneakers in case you have to run, tie a bandana around your neck to breathe through in case you get tear-gassed, keep your ID and cash in your pocket in case you’re arrested, and don’t forget to call your folks before you go and let you know you love them—just in case. But worse than anything, I think, is the feeling of desperate breathless exhaustion, like you’ve been screaming your lungs out for two straight years and nobody can hear you—or if they can, they’re not listening.

So. Where does that leave you? What do you do?

As historians are fond of pointing out, the Sixties witnessed socio-political unrest unseen since the Civil War. The Sixties also saw some of the most remarkable artistic achievement of the 20th century, and that is hardly a coincidence. Without the cultural revolution which was undeniably intensified by the Vietnam War, we would be bereft of a rich artistic groundswell which gave us freeform radio and music videos, Slouching Towards Bethlehem and Slaughterhouse-Five, Bob Dylan and the Doors. Art has often been rebellious, sometimes revolutionary, and never apolitical. It has held a mirror up to nature, since Shakespeare coined the phrase (and long before). Art is one of the most powerful forms of protest we have, which is why artists are usually among the first to be exiled, arrested, punished, and persecuted when totalitarianism rears its ugly head.

For me, art is also a way to make some sense of senseless things. For the last year or so I have been working on a novel which follows the staff of a college radio station from 1967 to ’69. They are students and activists, lovers and fighters, poets and potheads, disc jockeys and GIs and draft dodgers, all dragged kicking and screaming into the chaos and turmoil of Vietnam. In their company I have marched on the Pentagon, watched the Tet Offensive unfold on television, felt crippling fear for a friend who just lost the draft lottery. I’ve also shared their wild delight at the vibrant life of the counterculture, their exhilaration at hearing “Purple Haze” for the first time and knowing it was something extraordinary, their contradictory conviction that peace is worth fighting for, their noble and naïve belief that they can arrest the forward momentum of a powerful political machine if only they, as Mario Savio so memorably put it in the days of Berkeley Free Speech, are brave enough to throw their bodies on the gears.

It’s not an easy story to tell when you know how it ends. The war dragged on until 1975, leaving almost 60,000 Americans dead—including four students killed at Kent State by the National Guard—and many more Vietnamese. It’s not an easy story to tell fifty years later when it couldn’t be plainer how little we’ve learned from the ugly parts of our history that nobody really wants to talk about. But that, of course, is exactly why I feel compelled to tell it.

Last week I marched with hundreds of other people from the U. S. Capitol to the steps of the Supreme Court to protest the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. In light of Dr. Blasey-Ford’s testimony that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her at a high-school party with his hand clapped over her mouth, the analogy that we’re all screaming and no one can hear has become painfully, horribly real. Doubt eats away at me daily, and I can’t help wondering if all our efforts, all our marches and protests and outrage, will ultimately amount to nothing.

As I stood by the Capitol Reflecting Pool under gray skies and drizzling rain, an elegant older woman passed by me—dressed in black, with short gray hair and a face that was familiar, though I’d never met her before. When I realized she really was Joan Baez and not just someone who resembled her I thought, My God, she must be so tired of this. But then I felt a strange, unexpected stab of hope and realized how grateful I am for someone like her, someone who hasn’t given up fighting inequality and violence and war for fifty years, no matter how tired she is. Later I saw her standing under a tree (surprisingly not mobbed by people; perhaps other marchers my age and younger don’t know who she is) and managed to mutter a strangled, inadequate “Thank you.” Because I needed the reminder that apathy is not an option. Because now I can return to the story I’m trying to tell, a story of then and now, art and outrage, small hope and long odds that we’ll ever learn from our mistakes. Because no matter how small the hope or how long the odds, I refuse to fall silent. Of course, I’m no Joan Baez. I’ve only been marching around in the rain for two years and I’m already exhausted. But I will keep marching, and I will keep screaming, and I will keep writing, because just maybe someone will hear me, and just maybe, someday, it will matter.

#ArtLitPhx: The Storyline SLAM: Haunted

#artlitphx

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Date: October 12th

Time: 7pm-9pm

Location: The Newton, 300 W Camelback Rd, Phoenix, Arizona 85013

Event Description:

We’re all of us haunted and haunting. ― Chuck Palahniuk, Lullaby

10 STORYTELLERS. 6 MINUTES. 1 WINNER

Ten tellers will have 6 minutes each to share a story based on the theme Haunted.

Sign up on TheStoryline.org September 15th through October 6th to tell a story. Eight names will be drawn October 7th and posted on the TheStoryline.org. At least two more names will be drawn at the beginning of the show.

Five members of the audience will be the judges. The storyteller with the most points at the end of the show receives a $30 cash prize.

Contributor Update, James M. Chesbro: A Lion in the Snow

A Lion in the Snow CoverToday we are proud to announce news about past contributor James M. Chesbro. James’ collection of essays titled A Lion in the Snow has been released and is available for purchase through Amazon here. The synopsis reads as follows: When his wife was pregnant, James M. Chesbro started having daydreams of seeing a lion in his street, padding toward his house through the snowflakes of a New England storm. He felt more like a son, still grieving over the early loss of his own father, rather than a prepared expectant-dad. In these essays, Chesbro finds himself disoriented and bewildered by fatherhood again and again as he explores the maddening moments that provide occasions for new understandings about our children and us.

James’ essay, “From the Rust and Sawdust,” which first appeared in Issue 12 of Superstition Review, is included in the collection.

Congratulations, James!

Authors Talk: Stephen Gibson

Today we are pleased to feature author Stephen Gibson as our Authors Talk series contributor. In the podcast, Stephen discusses the inspiration behind three of his interrelated poems: “At the Grave of Abigail Smith, Aged 6, at Copp’s Hill Burying Ground in Boston”, “Gravestone Carving at Copp’s Hill Burying Ground in Boston,” and “Gravestone Rubbing at Copp’s Hill Burying Ground in Boston.”

Gibson states that he drew his inspiration for the poems from the headstones he saw at Copp’s Hill “not only as art, but in the way they reflect two different views of mortality.” He goes on to contrast the remoteness of modern-day society when it comes to the subject of death with the societies who created the headstone carvings, which were not only a reminder of death, but an “acknowledgement, or rather, a belief in something after.” He also comments on the modern-day industry of gravestone rubbings, and how, through its focus on preserving headstones as historical artifacts,  it emphasizes contemporary society’s “disassociation from death.”

You can read Stephen’s three poems in Issue 20 of Superstition Review.

 

 

#ArtLitPhx: Tikkun Olam 3-Repairing the World Exhibition

#artlitphxEvent Description:

The Arizona Jewish Historical Society (AZJHS) presents Tikkun Olam 3 – Repairing the World  (TO3) exhibition is a significant and timely mixed media art exhibition curated by respected environmental artist Joan Baron. This exhibition showcases thought provoking and beautiful contemporary art by exceptional Arizona artists that raise awareness and address the theme of “Tikkun Olam: “repairing the world” and “not to stand idly by.”

Seven acclaimed Arizona based artists were invited by Baron to be apart of this powerful exhibition include:  Susan Beiner, Liz Cohen, Fatimah Halim, Marie Jones, Janelle L. Stanley, Christine Lee and Deborah H. Sussman, who created new works that explore climate change, environmental justice and sustainability through ceramics, wood, fiber, drawings, printmaking, textiles, graphic design, text pieces and spoken word performances.

The exhibition consists of three key components: The Power of Art, The Power of Food, and The Power of Words. This collaborative presentation by this talented group of artists highlights the ways in which art and artists can help to heal our world. As we all seek understanding and inspiration as to our role within these challenges, along comes a mixed media art exhibition that looks at these very imperatives.  Tackling social and political issues of our times without focusing on the political is the goal of Tikkun Olan 3. How the artists use materials in unexpected ways makes this exhibition intriguing and exciting.

The original idea for a series of shows where artists would explore this concept began with a show of Beth Ames Swartz paintings at the gallery several years ago. Her passion to bring forward the spiritual aspects of how to live peacefully in the world around us through art was significant in establishing and building a relationship with the Jewish Cultural Center. The response has been quite positive as we continue to engage with our growing population.

The Opening Reception for Tikkun Olam 3 – Repairing the World  will take place on Sunday, October 7, 2018 from 1:00pm until 5:00pm. During the reception, Baron has planned a special presentation of specialty lite bites prepared by Chef Sasha Raj owner of 24 Carrots Restaurant and Chef Danielle Leoni, owner of The Breadfruit and Rum Bar, while sharing how they incorporate the principles of Tikkun Olam into their work. Together with organic farmer, Maya Dailey, they will present delicious seasonal foods that reflect our unique region. Two films will be shown during the run of the art exhibition in the small auditorium adjacent to the gallery: “SEED: The Untold Story” and “Tomorrow”, selected by Baron to illicit discussion and reflection on reaching our collective highest potential. Check the Website for TO3 for dates and times https://azjhs.org/. There will also be activities for children during the opening and the dedication of a raised garden bed to the Center.

This exhibition will be installed in the newly renovated Cutler-Plotkin Jewish Heritage Centera historic former synagogue and church that now serves the community as a museum, cultural center, and event venue. Built in 1921, this historic Phoenix landmark served as Phoenix, Arizona’s first synagogue. The center is a Phoenix Point of Pride and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Exhibitions and programs educate the public about Jewish heritage as well as the diverse history of Arizona.

Tikkun Olam 3 – Repairing the World  will be on display through January 23, 2019. The gallery is open for First and Third Fridays of each month from 6:00pm until 9:00 pm (or by appointment). The Arizona Jewish Historical Society is located at 122 E. Culver St., Phoenix 85004 (Free parking available on site). For more information about this exhibition or AZJHS visit (www.azjhs.org). Direct all exhibition inquires to Joan Baron 602-616-0223 or email joanebaron@gmail.com. AZJHS inquires refer to Executive Director, Lawrence Bell, PhD by phone: 602-241-7870 or email: LBell@azjhs.org.

Link to Official Press Release

Guest Blog Post, DJ Lee: The Looking Back

Source: https://www.pexels.com/photo/spider-web-34225/

In August 2018, on hill overlooking the Salish Sea, I was walking through an old growth forest that grew suddenly dark and foreign. The other twenty members of the nature seminar seemed perfectly comfortable there. A few yards away, a woman with gray-blonde hair had placed her palm against a towering maple and was talking to it in low voice. Further away, a young man with a shadowy beard padded barefoot on the forest duff, then crouched next to a wild rose bush, eyeing it with loving intensity. Though I’d been anticipating a moment like this for an entire year, I somehow couldn’t do it.

I’d come here to Cortes Island, British Columbia, to join a class led by the geophilosopher David Abram, whose two books The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in the More-Than-Human World and Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology I’d read so many times the pages were falling from the spines. Though Abram isn’t the only one to talk about how we humans have wandered far from our animal selves and have lost touch with something vital in the process, he’s one of the most ardent. I thought that by taking his class I might learn to connect more meaningfully to the natural world and to translate that connection into my writing.

Earlier that day, Abram had led us to a grove of cedars and sat cross-legged on the forest floor. A fringe of brown hair peeked from under his leather hat. His brown vest and shirt hung on him like a silken tent, and he used big, sweeping gestures as he spoke. “In oral cultures,” he said, “human language was nothing other than shaped breath. For our ancestors, air carried the words and the meaning.” He spoke of the “beings” of the more-than-human world, the crows, ladybugs, kingfishers, salmon, antelope, grizzlies, rocks, and soil. At a certain level, he told us with boyish excitement in his voice, everything in nature speaks, from the guttural sound of a stream to the squeaky ridges on crickets’ wings. Their difference from us, he continued, is the very reason they matter so much. When we stare too long into human-created things, we deteriorate. He then sent us out to have an encounter with one of these beings.

But now that I was in the forest attempting to do as Abram had asked, something was holding me back. Possibly I felt exposed. Was it okay to talk candidly to a piece of sky with others listening in? Or maybe I felt the relationship was moving too fast. How long does one have to know a Ponderosa before stroking its butterscotch bark? I’m not someone to force intimacy on a person, so perhaps that’s why I was finding it difficult to do so with a sandpiper, a boulder, a patch of moss. I passed another student lying flat, back against the ground, eyes trained on a moving cloud.

I’d never felt such discomfort over an assignment.

Abram was still sitting twenty yards away under the cedars, a slight smile on his face, as if he knew exactly what he was doing, as if he even took some delight in the fact that some of us lept into this encounter while others struggled.

Even if I couldn’t connect, I told myself, I could at least walk in silence and notice the shine of the alder leaves, the chalky aspen, the rugged fir, the ear-like oyster shell. But I resolved not to disturb a thing.

Still, like most writers and storytellers, I’m enthralled with the double-take, the looking back, because it’s the moment after something happens when images collect themselves, events unfold as drama, meaning accrues, and story begins to weave its disparate threads.

And what I saw just then, and saw again, was a silken web silvering in the afternoon light, each spoke double-tied at each cross thread, strung between two sword ferns. Suddenly, I was caught. I reached out to touch it, but then hesitated. What if the spider was nearby? I searched the vicinity, studying each leaf, each stem, the air between. I waited. When she didn’t appear, I placed the tip of my index finger on one diaphanous thread and felt it in an almost way, which is to say, it gently stuck to my skin then pinged back into shape as I pulled away. Was this the encounter I was meant to have? The language I was meant to hear? That for every intimate touch there’s a lingering in the pulling away. Or was I meant to see that these strange, nearsighted creatures spin to live, catching what they need in their gluey mesh?

As if out of nowhere, she came, the orb weaver, or yellow sac, or whatever she was, with her eight legs and eight-fold eyes. A few inches from the first perfect web, I noticed another one. More opaque and less pristine, filled with bits of leaf and twig, this second web hung hammock-like from a branch. She slipped into that hammock and rested, tense and still, legs poised.

As I gazed on her speckled belly, I was pulled out of myself into my childhood bedroom at midnight in my dressing gown and hiking boots, standing on my bed screaming bloody murder, my mother flying down the hall saying, “What’s wrong!”

“A spider!” I said. “I stepped on it and it came up through my boot. Or I thought it did.” My mother rubbed the sleep from her eyes as we watched the spider creep from under the dresser. She scooped it up in her hand and put it out the back door, shaking her head as she left. I was tough by default, growing up the only sister in a house full of brothers, and my arachnophobia made no sense to her. I wasn’t even able to bear the glossy fibers laced through the forest behind our Seattle home, and would refuse to go on hiking trips for fear of encountering a web, though it was thinner than an eyelash.

The spider on Cortes Island made her way to the larger, perfect web, and it was then I noticed that my one slight touch had damaged it. A few strands had stuck to my finger, leaving a gaping hole in the mesh. Something like grief shot through me for what I’d done in my clumsy attempt at an encounter. I wanted to say something. Sorry? But I didn’t know how to speak spider language except through silence.

I remembered that my irrational fear of spiders eventually resolved. I couldn’t recall how, but it must have had something to do with the year I taught Greek mythology to middle schoolers. I would stand at the front of a classroom in Richland, Washington, retelling the oral tales as the students squirmed and fidgeted in their seats. No tale intrigued them more than that of Arachne, the girl who, having challenged Athena to a weaving contest, made a tapestry showing all the ways the gods abused mortals, and for such harsh truth in such a gorgeous form, Athena turned her into a spider.

Or was it that other myth, the one I found in graduate school through the poet John Keats, at a time when I needed it most, that of Philomela? Tereus, her brother-in-law, raped her and then violated her a second time by cutting out her tongue. He thought he had ensured her silence, but Philomela turned that silence into a grave spinneret from which she wove a robe that told her story of pain, whereupon the gods turned her into a nightingale, and so she became a sister in metamorphosis with Arachne, and, it seemed to me then, with the soundless spider there on Cortes Island.

As these things were winding through me, Abram called us back to the cedars with Tibetan prayer chimes. We sat in a circle among the roots. “In oral cultures,” he said, “land is the primary pneumonic for stories. And so stories are intimately tied to the places where they happen.” He then asked us to share our encounters. One person witnessed a mercurial blue reflection on a rock. One felt vibrations under a clod of dirt. One was healed by touching the scar of a fir tree. One heard a maple whispering through her arm. As each person spoke, I felt as if the air itself was multiplying, diversifying, thickening with meaning.

As for my own encounter, it was only later, when I looked back, that I understood how the more-than-human world confronted me with the very thing that makes me human, the ability to let memory unspool. But something else happened, too. In the days that followed the encounter, I noticed webs everywhere, and no wonder. As I learned when I consulted that other, shadow Web, there are over 700 spider species in the province of British Columbia, and on Cortes Island, I was never more than a meter away from an arachnid. I saw the strands under the eaves of the guest house and woven into a blackberry vine, in the silver hair of the other seminar students, and in the diamond chain dangling from a young girl’s neck as she danced to African drums on the last evening on the island. Every web was a double-take, a reminder of how story is built.

#ArtLitPhx: SMoCA: Art Handlers Triathlon

#artlitphx

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Date: October 4

Time: 7pm-8:30pm

Location: Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (SMoCA), 7374 2nd St, Scottsdale, Arizona 85251

Event Description:

Free

Join us for this third annual event where art world professionals and museum workers step into the spotlight to compete for the coveted Golden Level trophy. Pick your favorite Valley institutions and cheer them on as they install, handle and package artwork with precision, tenacity and white gloves. Cash bar.

Photo: Claire Warden