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.
Depending on your demographic profile, Girls Trip may or may not be on your radar, even though at the time of its release, it was the current title-holder for largest opening of a live-action comedy in 2017. You may not have noticed it because like much of US culture, films are still largely segregated, from casting to marketing. A comedy with four Black female leads is easily dismissed as a “Black film” that would only be of interest to a subgroup of moviegoers. I am a Black woman, so it was no surprise I joined another Black girlfriend of mine for opening weekend. She was actually my companion on my #FabFlirtyFantastic40 Birthday Trip this year, so a funny movie that might at least slightly resemble the beach adventure we just enjoyed sounded like the perfect night out. I expected to laugh-scream (I do that) and exchange knowing looks and arm slaps throughout the movie, but I didn’t expect to do a deeper dive into my deepest longings for belonging, community, and self-love.
“This is an important play, a theatrical masterpiece, as significant as Death of a Salesman or Oh What a Lovely War,” our tutor told us as he handed out a list of the play’s themes: right wing politics and corruption, the ozone layer; the experience of the gay man— closeted and out, the personal and societal impact of the AIDS epidemic; faith and sexuality. This was theater at its most contemporary and my secret shame was I just didn't get it!
Other students declared Angels in America was their favorite play of all time, while I silently fretted over why I couldn't see it's genius. Maybe it’s because I was a latent homophobe? After all the sex scenes made me blush. Or maybe it was because the character I identified with most was Joe Pitt, a closeted gay man struggling with his faith as his worldview changes, but after the mortifying "safe sex, no sex" comment I wasn't going to admit that to my fellow students and be singled out as "that religious girl" again.