Durham was full of stories throughout the two day stop. I’ve started to get more comfortable with my spiel, new places, knowing less people, more raw interaction with the public and I think it is showing up in the variety of conversations. I want to thank Tripp, Jolieee, and Cecelia at Vega Metals Art market for helping me while in town. I had an awesome time seeing everyone at Liberty Arts in Durham: Jackie! Denise & Mike and getting to share coffee with my long lost cousin Jennifer Hill (no known relation, just our little joke). And a special thanks to Nicole for purchasing new Krink markers for the tour!!! Just got 'em in the mail!
I had a lady in Durham break down and cry to me about our national condition. It was intense getting drawn into an empathetic moment and giving some very gentle stranger hugs (yes, you better hug a crying stranger lest you cry yourself!) Her angst came from a lifetime of trying to make American better, through the 60s and then into her later life only to see that not much has changed. She described the deception of her grade schooling, that she felt she was fed manufactured history omitting the genocide of the Native Americans. She continued with pain of the Civil Rights Movement, which she participated in, only to have incremental advancement and continued racism in her beloved Carolina. Her's were not only tears of pain, but also of frustration. She was so overcome with emotion it moved our dynamic from empathy to sympathy. I cannot understand feeling so helpless after a lifetime of activism to sense it is somehow all rolling backwards. Maybe my project gave her a little comfort and hope.
I also met another patriot on a journey- Michael Boncek and his Walk By Faith tour (walkbyfaith.today) Michael is traversing North Carolina on foot to raise money for veteran’s suicide prevention. His is a noble cause and he is a dedicated veteran helping his fellow soldiers. It was kinda funny bumping into another pitchman, his story refined and ready. And amazingly, he was not at all bothered by my project. It was a pleasure meeting another person willing to put their energy into making things better on the ground, getting out there and talking with people. I think that’s the most important element of all, getting people out of the news cycle echosphere and face to face. Happy trails, safe travels, and thank you for your dedication, Michael.
I witnessed an episode of racial dynamic between a couple of valet coworkers, some boys in their early 20s, working right next to where I was parked. The white fella got up on the flag & wrote “Greatest country in the universe” His buddy, an African American kid named Aaron, coolly looked at what he wrote and replied “I don’t agree with that.” Anglo bro says “What? Why? What do you mean?” Clearly this guys has no understanding of WTF is going on in the country at large. A few moments pass and a few more coworkers walk up to investigate, examining what the white kid wrote with mild reaction. Now with an audience, Aaron proclaims, “I cannot support or agree with what you wrote.” An awkward wave of non-response floats over the group. Everyone knows there’s a conversation to be had, one that is difficult, one that is not appropriate for Friday night, but the collective group has taken a pass on the opportunity to engage Aaron’s position. I do not know what you call this, if it is passive racism, micro-aggression, general white assholishness, or youthful spinelessness, but here in lies the problem that we’re all experiencing- disrespect. It is the disrespect of someone’s perspective that is different than our own. It is the disrespect of a friend, who’s life hasn’t been nearly as easy, to ease your own guilty conscience that your life has been an American Dream. Aaron was embarrassed, I was embarrassed for him and wanted to cuss the group. I thought there might be a back lashing on the flag from Aaron, but he didn’t want to talk to me. I caught on quick and backed away. No reason to make things worse, but we were standing next to one another for the rest of the night with the whole of what is festering within America between us.
I capped my stay in Durham with a trip down the road to Carboro to visit with sculptor, cyclist, and friend Pat Day. Always a pleasure to kick it with another artist, Pat, his cycling buddy Steady, & I sat around the informal “Pat’s Bar & Grill” breaking down all the “wtf”s of our current affairs. Rarely I think it occurs that people are able to get together and have a relaxed dialog about what’s going on in the world with folks they barely know. But when it happens, it can be really fulfilling. It is as if building a few bridges of understanding and communication are therapeutic for our taxed minds. We didn’t solve any problems of course, but we did respectfully listen to one another, taking turns and letting go of our harder notions to yield to the more enjoyable moment.
Talking and listening with these gentlemen I continue to gain a better understanding of the anxiety that continues to creep into the American psyche. The unknown change that is approaching us as Americans threatens the good lives that the majority of have enjoyed. Many of us have lived in a prolonged period of general security without want or even need for our basic livelihood. The future is always unknown, but Americans have become accustom to knowing there is bread, shelter, protection as well as Yellow Fin Tuna, Hummer SUVs, gluttonous television entertainment, and cheaply harvested year-round vegetables . Not everyone in our country is afforded all of the above, but the thought of losing any perceived advantage kicks in a primordial survival reaction. It is as if we cannot conceive of things changing for the worse and that we will be woefully unprepared. This is when anxiety mutates into fear; fear of the future, fear of the unknown, fear of the others, fear of your neighbors, fear that swallows you whole. We cannot be lead by fear or we will destroy our grand experiment in governance for the people, by the people. It is a personal responsibility to overcome one's fear, but often requires a hard look in the mirror to know exactly why you are afraid.
As I make my way on this artistic journey, it is really gratifying to have the support of fellow artists like Pat Day and his friend Steady. In some ways I feel like I am out there promoting tolerance & patriotism for a great number of people who don’t want to give in to fear, people who know the importance of our collective evolution as a society, people who really do believe in an America for all. Progress isn’t perfect, but it is paramount and it starts with each one of us choosing respect and love over fear and othering. Many thanks to the guys at “Pat’s Bar & Grill” for the enlightening dialog and welcoming environment. I'll be back!