I've been collaborating off and on with conceptual artist, Natasha Marin, since 2012. I've quite literally never met anyone who thinks or dreams like her. As an artist and compatriot, I have so much respect for her visions. She's one of those folks who, when they write to ask if you want in on something, you don't even ask what it's for. You just nod emphatically and send back a string of ecstatic emojis. In other words, game recognizes game.
Natasha's currently co-curating a series called, "Black Imagination," which will debut a third installment re: ritual objects at the Virago Gallery in August. At present, I'm not at liberty to discuss openly what-all's involved—that's another thing. Aries women are kinda like Valkyries—masters of the attack-from-above you never saw coming—but definitely check out the premise behind the exhibition here.
What I will mention is what happened when I was coming up with my part of the collab. Each artist was given a specific theme and invited to explore our own approach to that theme. That's another sign of an excellent project manager—they don't micromanage. I chose to do what I initially thought was a fairly simple exercise—something I have my students do quite frequently in workshops—I'd print out current events articles and redact the text to create found poems.
These weren't just any current events articles—they were articles that reflected the 21st century Black American experience. I chose articles about Serena Williams, Kanye West, Claudia Rankine, the Bill Cosby trial, Neil DeGrasse Tyson vs. B.o.B, Patricia Okoumou, Confederate monument removal, and more. To provide a little context about this process, you should know that I am currently on a social media hiatus. I'm so out of the loop, it took me almost a week to find out about Anthony Bourdain.
And even when I'm on social media, I'm not really clicking headlines. I don't watch the news. I don't keep up unless it's completely unavoidable online or someone tells me about it. So far, that's worked out well for me. I stay abreast of current events, but I'm not enslaved to needing to know about them. So, this exercise was much more challenging than I realized.
I wanted to find hope in articles that were talking about sobering or depressing topics. I wanted to sift through the shadows and ash for embers of pleasure—of joy. It was tough going. I dedicated almost an entire day to selecting articles, and then going through each one, maybe 150 pages total, redacting any words that contributed to trauma. By the end, I was exhausted. I was drained. My shoulders ached, my neck was sporting a couple of knots, and I was irritable. I'm pretty much used to sitting in one place for long periods of time reading and writing, so I can't peg the discomfort on that—it's kind of what I do for a living.
But article after article, I found that even reports about positive events were couched in contextual trauma to indicate what we should be celebrating as Black Americans and why. The words I found repeated across several different news and media sites were as follows: Black, U.S., America, assault, violence, rape, history, decades, oppression. "History" and "Violence" were repeated the most, almost orgiastic in some cases, throughout a single article. It became clear that I was imbibing upon triggers. I was being physiologically and psychologically triggered by a codified arrangement of words. I was being spellbound. The process felt Herculean towards the end, and the resulting pieces were frantic, shorter, more fragmented.
This process was very edifying for me, and I am indebted to Natasha for unwittingly helping me break through the sound barrier about what bugs me re: current events reported about people of color. It's what I teach all the time—words manipulate readers. They activate subconscious drives and reactions in readers that they may not even be aware of. It's strange to think that I can't celebrate triumphs of Black America without also being coerced into mourning the challenges of Black America. No wonder so many of us continue to feel like outliers, suppressed, powerless, and quite frankly, insane. American culture is narcissistic (and not in a healthy way—in the pathological sense), and in true narcissistic fashion, gaslights the codependent, then says there's something wrong with them.
I don’t know what to do with this information. I’m glad I went through the process. I’ve become adept at eliminating as many sources of negative stressors from my life as possible because stress ages you and shortens your homeostatic capacity in both physical and mental health. So, when something newly stressful enters my life, it’s pretty clear to me what it is, and I can then determine if the end-goal is worth the stress. But it’s worth considering not just how we consume our media but the literal subtext of what we are consuming, particularly if only one-dimensional truths are being touted like they are the truth. Also, consider how much we allow ourselves to consume. If the reactions in us are nothing but negative, that might just be our inner GPS saying, “This is a boundary. Why am I crossing this boundary? Why am I intentionally triggering myself? What am I trying to prove or disprove and why?”
If we can't answer those questions other than we feel an urgency to continue reading because we need to be kept in the know, maybe it's because we're hooked on our own supply.