America and Resilience

Dance of the Dead

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.”

Aug. 8, Clark County, SD, Instagram

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.

Make ART!

I returned to South Dakota in May. Found a dreamy apartment nestled above a used book store in a corner of the city.

For a few months, until my lease runs out, I can still hop in the car and visit with my siblings out in the country.

I’ve already been on a photography binge, taking in the beauty of the summer landscape. I secured a small writing gig, and today I got word that I am going to receive a small grant I applied for a few weeks ago.

The grant is the big news in this post. I was uneasy about applying for it because of course there is that monster within telling me I’m not good enough, clever enough, talented enough to consider myself an artist.

Fuck that monster.

I applied and I got the grant.

A government agency has recognized me as an artist.

Therefore I am.

Squeeeee!

A special thank you to the @BushFoundation who provided most of the funding for the Arts South Dakota Artist Emergency Relief Fund program.

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.