I woke up thinking about a little folk singer’s broken open letter; about righteousness, accountability, privilege and compassion; about slave songs and multi-million dollar renovations; about “glory days,” ghosts and how the wind done gone; about how people call what happened on plantations pain and suffering, the mildest words for torture.
I’m also thinking about how unsustainable pedestals are; about how brilliant, progressive artists will often double as flawed human beings. And of course.
Mostly, I’ve been thinking about how anger can be useful but, ultimately, my questions mean more to me than my rage. I’m an artist. I love creative retreats. I love Southern Louisiana. But financially and emotionally, I could not afford the Righteous Retreat. Even if bell hooks and Pema Chödrön were on site to help us process it all, I’d never register for such a thing. I'm sensitive. I doubt I could get a good night’s rest in a slave captor’s fancy old bedroom. I doubt I could sip sweet tea on the Big House porch without barfing on the white rocking chairs. My urge to trash the joint would be too strong.
When I went to the event website and read the invitation to get “suntans in the light of each other’s company,” I knew the organizers were not imagining my body, mind or heart in that “captivating setting.”
I’d probably write an excellent poem or song there. Because lotus flowers can grow out of the mud. But we’ve got to call it mud, Sun. Even freshly painted and manicured, it has always been mud.
I’m trying to imagine the perfect retreat cancellation statement. Maybe “I didn’t think this through” would have been enough? Maybe the artist’s best words are in all those lyrics we love.
May we do the best we can with what we believe and know. May we call each other higher as we call each other out.
(A version of this post first appeared on Facebook.)