New Year 2017. Challenges and opportunities ahead.
I don’t often do straight-up political posts, but this time, I’m going to start with politics. Like many of us, I’m concerned for our country’s future. Like many of us, I was disappointed and scared after November’s presidential election.
Over the past several weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about what to do as an artist, as a writer, given the changes ahead. Given the things I’m afraid of: the loss of our civil rights, the destruction of our environment, a drastic economic downturn, corroded relations with the rest of the world. What can I, as one person, somebody who finds it hard to stand up for herself and never picks fights: what can I do in the face of all this?
This week I decided on one small act. My novel To Love A Stranger will be out in May, and I hope it will do some good in the world. Meanwhile, though, I wanted to do something right now, with my words, to make some concrete contribution to our country’s well-being.
I decided to publish an e-book of six of my short stories. Each of them deals in some way with social justice, with relevant issues of our time, and with the importance of building connections between people. You can read more about the thought process behind the collection, Unraveled Souls, on its page here. I’d never done self-publishing before, but it seemed like a chance worth taking.
As with so much of my work, some of the stories drew inspiration from music and other arts. The first piece in the collection, “Fly Away Home,” was inspired by the life of the legendary jazz musician Charlie Parker. Parker had a committed relationship with Chan Richardson, and he stood in the role of stepfather to Chan’s daughter Kim. But because this was 1950s America, and Chan and Kim were white while Parker was black, the relationship had inherent tenuousness and conflict. Parker’s lifelong struggle with America’s attitudes toward his race had its outlet in a crippling heroin addiction, but also in his music, which inspired the generations after him.
Now more than ever, we need to connect with each other. We need to hear the stories about people who find themselves on the fringes, fighting against the judgments of others. We need to understand what it’s like to be in that place, and we need to be ready to protect each other.
That’s what I want my words to do, as best they can. That’s what Unraveled Souls is for, and why I wanted to put that collection out right now, as our world is changing. For anyone who doesn’t want to watch the inauguration, the stories will be out on Thursday 1/19: you can read them instead. And that’s also why I’m giving half the profits from the collection to 826 National, to support the education of students in disadvantaged communities.
It’s easy for me, as someone with the safety of middle-class status and white skin, to feel that the world will probably keep on going, no matter what happens in the coming weeks and months. I’m relatively safe. I know how lucky that makes me. But a lot of us aren’t so lucky, and those of us who are must be willing to protect those who are not.
I’ll end this post with a piece of music by Charlie Parker: one of his most famous tunes, “Ornithology” (titled after his nickname, Bird). Parker taught himself music. Because of that, he developed his own style, like nothing else anyone was doing or had ever heard before. Out of the conflicts and troubles of his life, he changed music history.
If you would like to read the story that Parker’s music inspired, and other stories like it, and at the same time help support students in need, you can pre-order Unraveled Souls here.
Thanks so much for stopping by. See you next time.
3 thoughts on “Zen for Ten 12: Jazz, Stories, and Resistance”
I admire your spirit and support your efforts, but I wonder about this: “We need to hear the stories about people who find themselves on the fringes,…” I may be cynical (admittedly) but I fear this is classic “preaching to the choir.” Like you, I feel more safe than many as a member of that most privileged class of middle class white guys, but the winners in this last election clearly don’t care about the “fringes.” Nobody who truly did could possibly have voted for the guy who got enough self-centered votes to win. Maybe those stories will help, but only if they’re told in the context of a wave of civil disobedience the likes of which only old guys like me remember.
I agree with you. I’m new at all of this, and thought it’s better to get started with one small effort and figure it out as I go. Also figuring out my place in what I hope will be a new wave of resistance. Thanks for reading.
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