“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” – Maya Angelou
It was probably 2014, around this time (May 28), when Maya Angelou passed that everyone was talking about the famous poet. I had just begun working on my startup dedicated to violence against women after my long career in technology. At that time, my oldest daughter was working with me. I asked her, “Who is Maya Angelou?”
She was shocked and somewhat appalled that I could ask such an ignorant literary question.
She told me she was one of the most famous contemporary poets and civil rights activists of our time. I shrugged, and went on with what I was doing.
It took me a few years to finally dig into Angelou’s brilliance. When I found the poem, Still I Rise, I recognized myself in it. It reminded me of what one of my male tech partners once said about me that I didn’t understand, so I had to look it up. He told me he admired how I would, “Rise like a Phoenix, over and over again.”
Such a universal truth for women emboldened with the will to survive, to overcome.
And therein lies some of the mystery as to why I’m uninformed as to the great feminist writers. I spent a lifetime competing in a man’s world, surrounded by men, reading men’s words predominantly. I did not have the privilege, nor the luxury, to invest in learning about the oppression and discrimination that dogged me throughout my professional career.
When my international and coastal elite friends ask me why I’m in South Dakota, I start by telling them the story of how my brother and sister wound up here. So, that family is here seems like a logical reason why I’d be here.
But, if you’ve been casually paying attention to this blog and my Instagram, you know it’s something else. For me, this part of the country is a petri dish for the changes that are taking root in other areas of the world.
I was drawn to stay here in South Dakota because of the landscapes. The incredible scenery. These scenes are teaching me about myself, about our society, and about America’s place in the pantheon of world history.
Tomorrow concludes voting in the U.S. Presidential Election. Early voting records are suggesting this will be the highest turnout ever in the country’s history. There have even been early voting lines here in South Dakota.
In August, when I was driving down one of the state’s beautiful country highways, I spotted this line of dead trees to my right out in a field. On my mind was the concern that America was careening toward autocracy and a full-on dictatorship. It was likely I was listening to a podcast at that moment. But suddenly, those trees spoke to me in a loud voice.
I pulled the car over, grabbed my camera, and started shooting.
Later, I posted this on Instagram:
“I posted about these trees on other social media. I called them, “Dance of the Dead.” I will say more about them here. These dead trees slay me. Their stark presence on the lush landscape is pure poetry. Proud, resilient, transcendent, beautiful in their post-relevance— I love them dancing in rebellion. Refusing to lay down and die. I stood on the edge of the highway taking photo after photo of them, thinking about how maybe they’re a metaphor for America today. The rest of the world may be mocking us, writing us off for dead, irrelevant, a failed experiment. But these dead trees that populate the expanse of the frontier out here hold the ghosts of the pioneer spirit. I am praying I stole their souls by capturing their images with my camera. It emboldens me to fight for democracy. If even with a camera, and a metaphor in a field.”
Now, in the fall of 2020, I’ve been working on a campaign for a Native American and his family. I’ve learned more about how sacred these lands are for the people who once had the luxury of living here without us. That pioneer spirit I mentioned above murdered a lot of innocent people here so that white Europeans could colonize this beautiful countryside.
I still have a lot to learn about our country’s history.
Tomorrow, American voters will determine our path. People who dare to hope diverse communities can begin to understand each other, live peacefully together, respect one another, and rebuild America in a new image are hopeful for a reset. The current administration has surfaced with unflinching clarity the ugliness embedded in our society.
The American experiment is still new. Still morphing. We must forgive ourselves our trespasses. I’m hopeful our resilience will save us all, and lay the foundation for the next generation/s to seed a more perfect union.