coping with grief and the news, grief at the news
June 15, 2016 § 1 Comment
I’ve been walking around like an open wound this week, and I can’t properly tell where exhaustion meets summer cold meets grief. I genuinely don’t know whether I’m sniffling because my sinuses are clogged or because I have been crying intermittently for 60 odd hours. I can’t figure out if my body feels like it’s shutting down because I went straight from finishing my first year of grad school to a film set, or because I gave a pint of blood on Sunday on a weak immune system, or simply because my nerves are so raw.
What I know, is that Sunday morning 49 young, vibrant people were murdered in cold blood at Pulse nightclub for the crimes of being themselves, and having fun, and seeking out the solace and safety of numbers, and I cannot come out of this despair.
It’s strange, because if I wasn’t here in Pittsburgh I wouldn’t be in my car so much listening to the news all day. I wouldn’t be experiencing these out of body moments when I breathe deep, clean up my face, turn off the news and arrive in time to be privy to conversations ending with sentences like, “so I’ll get back to you over costs and which items are replaceable, and that will tell us who can lose an arm and who can’t.” I wouldn’t be back in my home for the summer with my aunt, weeping with her while we watch grieving mothers, thinking of her own son.
If you have read this blog before or ever talked to me for more than ten minutes, you know I am an Anxious Person. I am forever waiting for The Worst to happen; I have lost nights of sleep to an unplaceable surety that a bomb will go off nearby, or our house will crumble on top of us, and I am determined to not be caught unawares. I was told once by a therapist to avoid watching the news so I could sleep. But how can I avoid hearing the stories of these people when their stories so deserve to be told and heard over and over again? They deserve my attention, and my worry, and my tears.
I am feeling this one deeper than the others. Maybe it is because I am finally starting to give in to despair over the rhetoric in this political season, or because I am finally starting to think that nothing will ever get better. I think though, it is because as an artist I feel a particular love and kinship with the LGBTQIA+ community. So many of my colleagues, collaborators, friends and peers could have been there that night. I could have been there that night. I am thirty years old and in what feels like my short time in adulthood I have watched and supported as friends and colleagues went through the highly personal, completely individual processes of coming out. I underwent my own journey of learning about allyship and activism, and trying to find where my supportive role in this should be.
I still don’t know. I don’t know what I can do to help or to support. That morning, like another morning 15 years ago, I heard the news and my mind slid over the gravity of it. I thought, “Oh, sad,” and then we turned on the news. We wept at the kitchen table, I signed up for the last slot of the day at the blood bank. I gave blood in Bethel Park, PA thinking, maybe it won’t go to Orlando but it will go to someone. I kept listening to the news. My husband called last night while I was watching the Facebook Live feed of one of the victims, newly returned from the hospital and telling his story, conveying his own shock at what he had just lived through saying, oddly self aware and understandably detached, “so I guess I’m going through these PTSD symptoms now…” Haunting stories of investigators wading through a cacophony of cellphone rings, stories of loved ones called in moments of panic and terror. What can I do?
Everything happens so fast now, and each slice of news is picked apart so immediately and cleanly it can seem callous and circus-like; a sick parody of a foreboding science fiction movie from the 1950s. But each of these people, these victims and witnesses, has a voice through social media and it’s kind of amazing. I’m watching my other artist friends working through their grief in real time; I’m ingesting the art they are producing as fast as they can post it.
What I’m hearing and feeling this week is that this is all we can do: be us. Be artists. Be queer. Be the way we were and are and proudly continue on, speaking out in the face of unspeakable tragedy. When I talk to artists who came of age in the 1980s, they still discuss the AIDS crisis in hushed, serious tones. They talk of friends and loved ones lost, and their hatred for Reagan, for the President who turned his back on their entire community. They talk of so. much. talent. snuffed out overnight. But they also talk about the community rallying, of furiously huddling together in the face of the unimaginable.
I didn’t watch the Tonys because I had an early call time, and because #Tonycanyouhearme, and because I don’t have a lot of love for awards shows, but I did pay attention to the highlights the next day. And while I think some events in our recent past, namely the abuse scandals at Profiles Theatre, as well as personal experience as a woman in the field prove some of James Corden’s rousing words to not be entirely true, I was moved by the sentiment and inspired by my community coming together, making art like we always do because it’s how we survive. To tell us not to post, or rally, or speak out, or politicize is to silence us in a way that we cannot, and I believe should not, be silenced. Each of the victims, each witness or other member of that embattled, underserved community who wants to talk about their experience to anyone who will listen, should be listened to. And artists, we should be listening and feeling and grieving and then translating all of it to something useful.
Give blood, volunteer, write your Congressman, and make art. Build empathy; forge connections. It’s all I can think of to do, but I think it’s something.