If there are lessons from northern Ireland that could apply in the current political moment in the US, they might be summarized as the recognition that we need to get to know our neighbors.
This is the myth of redemptive violence: when we assert the use of lethal force to bring order out of chaos, and pretend that the only consequences of the force are dead bad guys and a clean slate.
One of my wisest friends, Dyana, who’s also a writer I deeply admire, suggested to me once that the US could benefit from a national day of mourning. We could frame it like a memorial day for the afflicted, the survivors, the perpetually marginalized, and the dearly departed. Or we could frame it like a timeout from a scolding mother—in essence, a day to stop and think about what you’ve done.
There is a lot to mourn. I don’t think I need to tell you. For me, I am mourning that some close friends just lost their pregnancy, and another friend is moving out of the city, and yet another was dropped from the running for a dream job; and an enormous hurricane just hit our neighbors; and trans leaders in our military are being insulted and denied the right to exercise important freedoms; and our president just shamelessly pardoned a man who has acted with such callousness that the pardon is likely to reinforce not only the dehumanization he meted out to others, but his own broken self.
Dyana explains that we need something more than an escape from these realities. We need a better response than self-care. I want to know how to mourn as the active expression of anger and sadness. In this sense, mourning sits opposite from passive despair. Mourning is muscular.
Brian Andreas and Fia Skye work together weaving stories and images that heal the soul, expand the mind, and invite community. They’re good friends of The Porch, and when we talked we began by asking them about the earliest stories they remember:
Brian Andreas: I grew up in an environment of storytelling, so it wasn’t until I was probably in my twenties where I recognized stories as a discrete thing. So when you say what’s the first story I remember… it’s like breathing, what’s the first breath I remember taking? You breathe, you breathe, you breathe and all of a sudden you go, “Wow, I’m actually breathing.” So, I don’t really have an answer for that, yeah, I can’t remember the first one.
Fia Skye: I remember the books on my shelf…Winnie the Pooh was a very big thing, you know, The Night before Christmas, but we didn’t have that atmosphere growing up so it wasn’t until I started doing theater that I started to think of stories as breathing livable things.
GH: So when you look back on your childhood from this perspective, can you observe the outlines of the contours of the story that your family believed about the world?
FS: My dad worked for Caterpillar and we had a lot of issues with the unions in a lot of family stories, you know. My dad had this idea of the story of how he was supposed to put his children through college. It’s like you inherit these stories and then you say, I like it, I don’t like it, I’m going to fix this because this is wrong with my generation or my dad said it was wrong and so on. I remember the story we got around the dinner table was of course that my dad was helping save the company [from the unions]. And there were a lot of stories in my family about what a man is, what a woman is. My dad doesn’t do the laundry, still doesn’t do laundry, only cooks because he has to survive.
There were no global stories except for Russia the Cold War during that time period, but I would say that in the Midwest it was very isolated stories, before computers and before cell phones.
GH: This is probably a fairly common story, we grew up with the notion that there were good guys and bad guys…and we knew that we were on the good guys’ side.
GH: So, I’m assuming you no longer think that unions are bad and that a woman’s place is in the home, that kind of stuff [laughs]. When did those stories start changing?
FS: I have been so fortunate to have some incredible teachers. I remember working at Sam Shepard’s play True West, and it was a game changer for me and I just saw how this teacher’s voice in conflict changed everything. I had never seen a woman with such strength and beauty and ferociousness. In theatre when you step in and you have to give voice to somebody else, you have to speak somebody else’s truth with conviction to a room full of strangers, you have to go off your centre.
You had to look at the whole story then you have to look at all of the different players and all the different pieces and you understand that I’m playing this character. You begin to understand how people are incredibly human and how they begin to believe stories that other people tell them if they offer something that they want to believe is true.
We live in fractious times. It’s all too easy to cast difference as evil, and to adopt an attitude of enmity. Certainly there are times when resistance is needed, but more often than not it is the ideologies that mold people that require our attention, rather than the unthinking products of such dogma. The temptation to personal hatred is subtle and corrupting.
I love America, but I sometimes fear it.
I dream of America, but it sometimes shows up in my nightmares. I know I'm not the only one.
Living here has brought overwhelming gifts of love, community, service, creativity and hope.
It has also stimulated feelings of uncertainty, anger, and deep concern.
In his song DEMOCRACY, Leonard Cohen wrote of the US that "It's there they've got the range, the machinery for change, and it's there they've got the spiritual thirst." We're nearly a year in to a presidency that less than a third of US Americans voted for, but many of the rest of us are still experiencing some kind of exhaustion, mild dread, anxiety, and a sense of powerlessness.
It could be useful to reflect that the range, the machinery for change, the spiritual thirst are what allows someone like Donald Trump to think he could be elected, but they also nearly got such a common good-oriented figure as Bernie Sanders to the White House too.
They're what allows ideas and events as varied, brilliant and awful as the invasion of Iraq *and* the national parks system, the Transformers movies and Schindler's List, the writings of aggressive nationalism but also of Maya Angelou and Mark Twain, the alt-right and the civil rights movement, the subprime mortgage crisis and the existence of Habitat for Humanity.