Poetic Justice

Summer is coming to an end here on the Plains. Farmers are getting jittery about the upcoming harvest. As a wandering observer, I take in every majestic, breathtaking view with awe. I notice when something changes.

Recently these beautiful little yellow wildflowers have started popping up in the fields and on the roadside.

They’re Black-eyed Susans.

I arrived here in June, a few weeks into the beginning of summer, not knowing what to expect. Not sure if I was running away or to something, I came to South Dakota to listen to the sky, the fields, to commune with God and nature. To search my soul and tap my spirit for some direction– a sign. I kept telling my friends, “I’m in a liminal space.”

All summer I’ve been treated to a luxurious bounty of natural, scenic wonder. I’ve tried to capture the quiet, lush expanse of the vast South Dakota landscape with my camera lens. It calls to my inner artist and I long to draw and paint it. I’ve tried to understand the generations of people who make this area of the country their home: their warmth, their sense of community, family, and fellowship. It is exactly like the storybooks we’ve read, films we’ve seen about growing up in the Midwest.

I understand completely why my brother and sister love it here. Everything in South Dakota fills the vacuum, the deep cavity in our hearts we endured as children growing up in the chaos and pain of a dysfunctional family home. The love and tranquility pours in with every sunrise. The shock of bright stars at night against the pitch black sky illuminates the smallness of our place in the infinite universe. Yet, this state holds you close. It tells you reassuringly – you matter. You are special. You are loved.

That’s when it dawned on me about those little flowers. Years ago, I was a black-eyed Susan, and it was not beautiful, in fact it was terrible, ugly, and frightening.

But not anymore.

Today, I’m as free as a beautiful band of yellow wildflowers springing up in crazy bunches along the roadside in the South Dakota sun.

As I pondered the visual metaphor of those Black-eyed Susans on a long drive out to Sioux Falls yesterday, I realized I only read two books cover-to-cover this summer: Rachel Snyder’s, “No Visible Bruises” and Jess Hill’s, “See What You Made Me Do.” They’re both excellent new nonfiction picks addressing domestic abuse and intimate partner violence.

In short, it’s become obvious, I can’t stop working on violence against women and all forms of coercive control men impose on women. It has settled under my skin and there is so much more work to do.

I’m thankful for this time I’ve had with the good people of South Dakota, the beauty of this generous state, and I look forward to how I can make a difference for the women who have yet to reinvent themselves into flowers dancing in the sun.

ALERT: Community Response Required NOW

Last week, we finished our interviews and filming for our documentary about High Point, NC.  While we were there, a woman (and mother) was murdered by her abuser. This was the first instance of a Domestic Violence homicide in High Point where the offender had been notified, and was on the watch list.

We always knew it would happen one day. Domestic Violence is with us like a disease. There is no “cure.”  But there are steps we can take to inoculate the public against widespread serious injury and homicide.  This is what they’ve done in High Point.  This philosophy and approach is the thesis and social commentary that drives our film. Considering this is the FIRST homicide among known offenders in 5 years, the results have been impressive.  Even life-changing.

But, #EVERYDVVICTIMMATTERS.  In High Point, they recognize domestic violence is a public safety issue.  Domestic Violence (a.k.a. Intimate Partner Violence) crosses race, income, gender, geography – every known variable you can track.

The system is not perfect in High Point, but it’s the best there is that I’ve seen after nearly three years of working full-time on this horrific, devastating social epidemic.

This morning, I saw an alert that went out to the entire community:

ALERT:

“I was just asked by HPPD to rally all concerned HPCAV Associates and others who are concerned about our violence in HP to come to ElmTowers at 2pm today (7/21/17) for a Domestic Homicide Response to share with residents and our community that such violence is wrong and cannot be tolerated

…  We are saddened by such loss of life..  It is VITAL that we gather to show our care, our love, our concern and our outrage against such violence.”

– Jim Summey, High Point Community Against Violence

It takes a village to address domestic violence. Imagine if the community rallied in your town every time a woman was murdered?  I don’t mean with vigils, galas, and 5Ks.  I mean with outrage and a call for action to end the violence.  And a plan to make that happen.

Here in Central Florida, a woman (another mother) was murdered by her abuser, and it was just a blip on the nightly news.  When a cop identified the perpetrator weeks later and tried to bring him in, he shot and killed her too.

Only then, the town turned upside down in a nationally televised manhunt.

What kind of message does that send?  When will every community issue a mandate for zero tolerance for domestic violence?  I can only hope it comes sooner, rather than later. It’s unconscionable to think it may never come.

Update: 75 people showed up for this meeting. 

Yes Virginia, There is a Universe

paintingIt was the strangest thing.

I was walking downtown in Orlando to present to a local Meetup of Data Scientists about Big Mountain Data. I had just arrived in Florida two months before from Texas.

It was early evening, and I was running late. As I briskly walked past an art gallery, I glanced to my left and there she was: “The Girl.”

I literally felt the image pull me toward her.

I “saw” her.

It stopped me in my tracks. I thought to myself, “This is the woman I’m working for.”

That night I even mentioned it on Facebook. The experienced stayed with me.

I was thinking about this piece of art this week, as Big Mountain Data is turning a corner in 2017.  The past two years have been rewarding, and I’m more hopeful than ever that we are on the brink of creating something truly meaningful.  My mind drifted to this piece of art.  When I saw it in the gallery, she had a hefty price tag, but I was thinking I might be able to afford this in 2017 somehow.

So, yesterday, I started doing some image searches from the photo I had posted  on Facebook.  I found the artist, and discovered she was a local.  She had a Facebook page, so I inquired if the piece was still available.  An assistant replied within minutes, and said she’d check.  The artist, Pamela Loudon, responded to me herself with an affirmative and asked me to contact her about it.

I thought about it and decided to tell her the odd story about how the piece “spoke” to me that night in downtown Orlando.  I told her what I do, and that I felt a strong connection to this work:

“I saw your piece walking past an Orlando gallery downtown. It was the evening of April 23, 2015. I was on my way to present to the Orlando Data Science Meet-up (a group of nerdy developers and data scientists). The artwork stuck with me.  It is something about the way the woman is fractured, kind of has a black eye, yet is surrounded with vivid color.  I felt a connection to the piece in a way I had never had a connection to a piece of art.”

Pam called me within moments of reading my email.  She had just returned from being out of the country for many months.

She said, “This is very strange.” She told me the history about this particular piece. That she was walking up a hill in Marseille, France and “The Girl” was pasted in burlap to a wall and a group of men were tearing her down.  She was moved by the work and told the men to STOP.  She pieced her together in her studio and started applying color.  She told me she felt this woman represented all women who are “torn off the wall by men.”

Long story short, as a traveling photographer and digital artist, Pam has visited places and witnessed events (including Nicole Simpson’s house in Brentwood) where women were abused horribly.  She told me that this piece was her first experience of how “spirited stuff” can find its way into art.

I always tell people that bizarre events happen all the time for me since I’ve been working on Big Mountain Data.  Coincidences and things that cannot be rationally explained.  Pam said, “You have to be open to the universe.”

I told her, I am.  I am.

The good news is she agreed to sell me the artwork at a price and payment plan I can afford.  She is happy “The Girl” is going to someone who truly appreciates her and will use her eery power in a way that will empower women everywhere.

Thank you Pam, and you out there in the cosmos working for us.