Undercurrents

This past week reminded me of the power and necessity of art and writing. When a mob incites an act of terrorism against our nation’s capital, we need to pay attention to it. But we also need to see it as the distraction it is—a big act to draw our attention away from the daily work of progress and change. I’m taking a writing workshop through WOW! Women on Writing (who have a ton of classes if you’re looking for one.) We were provided some readings, and discussion/writing prompts that felt apt in the light of everything. One was an article from Brain Pickings titled Beloved Artist and Philosopher Robert Henri on How Art Binds Us Together. Here was the paragraph that got me.

“In these times there is a powerful demarcation between the surface and the deep currents of human development. Events and upheavals, which seem more profound than they really are, are happening on the surface. But there is another and deeper change in progress. It is of long, steady persistent growth, very little affected and not at all disturbed by surface conditions. The artist of today should be alive to this deeper evolution on which all growth depends, has depended and will depend. On the surface there is the battle of institutions, the illustration of events, the strife between peoples. On the surface there is propaganda and there is the effort to force opinions. The deeper current carries no propaganda. The shock of the surface upheaval does not deflect it from its course. It is in search of fundamental principle; that basic principle of all, which in degree as it is apprehended points the way to beauty and order, and to the law of nature.”

The actions of Wednesday were loud. The undercurrent of real change is quiet and ever moving. It’s interaction after interaction, simple changes to the language, restroom signs, offering a hand, sharing expertise, conversations, mentorship, empathy, seeing from someone else’s point of view, holding meetings, telling stories, sharing art, playing music. These aren’t always loud or huge or earth-shattering.

Another idea our teacher shared with us was that of Ecological Disruption. Encyclopedia Britannica had the best reading on it. Here is the link. In essence, it’s changes that occur to disrupt an ecosystem. A wildfire, tsunami, climate change, development. These actions create a shift to the balance. Some would say any change to any delicate ecosystem is detrimental. But others point out that sometimes those disruptions allow for opportunities. I live near a unique area called the Albany Pine Bush. They use controlled burns because the fires allow for the proper ecological balance the site requires. To learn more, go to this link. Some argue that we need the invasive species that others say are destroying our delicate balance. There are a lot of ways to look at what happens when something new comes in and creates change. It’s true with social systems as well. Is the introduction of new and change always a bad thing? Or can even small changes create ripples of good?

These ideas have my brain all fired up. Last winter, I worked with two of my students, who are inmates, to write a poem and write a personal essay. This was a quiet activity. In fact, they were often working in their cells alone on their rewrites (I made them each do four, just a random number, but I wanted them to stretch themselves.) They each submitted their pieces, then COVID hit, and we went remote, and they finished their time and moved on with their lives.  Both of their works were accepted and were just published. The publication isn’t world-renowned, and they won’t be nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Not everything has to be. Sometimes it’s as simple as storytelling and using a voice.

This not a loud event. But these women put the effort in and wrote their hearts. I’d love to study the ripple effects of the undercurrent of these pieces. Not only on their lives but the lives of those who read their pieces. Will reading their words influence another’s life who in turn may affect another. I know that working with the two of them altered me, and I can’t wait to see what effect that has.

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