Making Space for Conversation: A Project

Solar_PanelsA lovely late winter morning, the light clear and vibrant on the snow and trees. The day is warm for late February; this entire week will likely be far above normal in temperature, a condition that increasingly seems normative in itself.

Early Saturday morning a crew arrived to install solar panels on our roof. In spite of our best efforts our steep driveway was dangerously icy which resulted in a confab as to whether the work could proceed. Fortunately, the temperature was rapidly rising and the application of more ice-melt soon remedied the situation. Sometime in the next few days the panels will be connected to the grid and our home will begin to generate relatively clean electricity.

Over the weekend my Facebook feed was filled with the idea of resistance. After a month of resistance I’ve decided that even more important than resistance, which remains crucial, is vision. We’ve had many years of resistance by one party or the other here in the US, resistance that has only managed to create ever more division and the very real possibility of massive physical violence. (I imagine people on all sides might agree they have experienced a prolonged period of emotional and spiritual violence.)

Also on the weekend, I got around to reading about a new project from Howlround and SpiderWebShow. Howlround wrote:

Across the much-discussed border, we are exchanging letters; Letters from Canadians and letters from Americans. CdnTimes will publish letters from Americans to hear what it’s like on the ground, now, for theatre artists working in the United States. Meanwhile, HowlRound will be publishing letters from Canadians about what’s affecting our work now. Artists from both countries share warnings, worries, strategies of resistance, generosity, and advocacy—messages of solidarity.  What can we learn from each other? —Adrienne Wong and Laurel Green, co-editors at SpiderWebShow’s CdnTimes.

I’ve been wondering how I might bring diverse voices together in this difficult time, and as I read the first letters I became increasingly excited, wondering how the inspiration inherent in that project might be joined with and amplified. I’m still curious. What might those of us who are working for a more equitable, caring, responsive world share with one another that would be useful and mutually supportive?  How might I provide an accessible forum for the thoughts and concerns of a diverse group of fellow travelers? What might happen were the conversation to be global!

I envision a gathering of folks in the arts, from around the world, where a conversation might be had about making art in this vexing time. I like the idea of letters as the are usually written, yet may contain photos and artwork. Letters can be thoughtful, personal, and engaging; they are by nature more than sound bites and talking points. Letters might also be created using video and integrating images, words, and sound.  Hopefully the conversation would be inclusive, and those in education, the healing arts, and many other vocations would participate. If there is enough interest, I’ll put up a separate website to carry the conversation.

I invite you to share your preferred vision for the your life and the world, and how your work feeds that vision. My expectation is that letters would be thoughtful, personal,  focused on your work, respectful of a wide range of views, and honoring the possibility of reconciliation and mutual care, far beyond  North America.

Please do let me know what you think of this idea, and whether you might be interested in participating in such a project. My hope is that should I go ahead with the project there would be letters from artists, and others, working in a wide range of disciplines and in many lands, and that conversations and collaborations might arise from the sharing.



21 thoughts on “Making Space for Conversation: A Project

  1. Michael:
    If you were to take on such an epic project the root and branch would emerge from solid ground. The Canadian/US has a nice perspective because it reminds me of how Gary Snyder saw we needed to see ourselves as inhabitants of Turtle Island. At the very least we should avoid building walls across that border! In this atomized digital media environment and globalized stateless economy it seems people become hostile and divided but, there’s also the possibility to discover the strength of embracing broader cultural diversity.
    Thank you for the many thoughtful essays,

    1. Thank you! Yes, there is much to be said for regional thinking and conversation. Perhaps there is room for the local, the regional, and the global. After all, each is just a matter of perspective and scale. The conversations are what matters.

  2. I applaud your insights about bringing people together to forge constructive visions of what could be, Michael, and developing ideas about how to proceed. Artists have so much to contribute in the creation of alternative possibilities and stories. I will be testing an assignment for the class I’m co-teaching, called “Branching out and weaving nurturing connections.” It challenges students to come up with one concrete initiative they can implement in the social welfare agency where they’re interning that focuses on helping clients connect or build supportive networks. It’s intended to help students see the value of reweaving supportive, inclusive communities. Most agencies currently focus on merely providing compartmentalized professional services that do little to support the development of healthy communities. In fact, in my experience, they tend to cut connections, a perspective eloquently described by John McKnight in “John Deere and the bereavement counselor.” I think you would like McKnight’s perspective. Here’s a link if you haven’t read it before and are interested:

    1. Yes, Carol, I liked the essay! Thank you for your thoughtful response. The class project sounds perfect, and I hope you will let us readers know what happens with it. Perhaps a student would like to write letter about their vision and project? There must be ways to open and maintain a conversation that remains civil. (Yea for moderators!!!!)

    1. Yes, Irene, I would be pleased if you reblogged it. I am hoping the conversation, and the letters, extend well beyond North America. Certainly the challenges we all face are larger than any one region. Thank you!

  3. Hi, Michael. Thoughtful interactive conversation can heal great divisions. It is important to air out concerns. Anyone who studies zen knows there is seldom only one right answer. I am an American by birth who is living and working in Canada. I refuse to be called an ex-pat, because I have never lost my love of, or loyalty for, my homeland and what it stands for, or used to stand for. In both countries, value priorities have polarized in different areas and in different media choices. This has created exclusive sub-cultures who are not serving the whole.
    In Canada, there are many who are still British Empire Loyalists. Rejection of Monarchy is one of the founding principles of the US. Yet the false faith in inherited ability to lead has been revealed repeatedly with the John Adamses, the Bushes, the Clintons (by marriage), and the Trudeaus. I am always shocked by how many Canadians erroneously think they have the same Bill of Rights coverage as in the US constitution, but they do not. Another gaping misunderstanding among Canadians is that they are fully dependent on the US to defend them, allowing them to pretend peace, under-fund their own military, and downplay its importance. Yet they do contribute in many unseen ways, rescuing hostages, intelligence, and recently rescuing immigrants stranded at Canadian airports by Trump’s ignorant travel ban.
    I am equally shocked by how my US friends and relatives know absolutely nothing about their closest neighboring country and best friend. Currently there could be better collaboration among environmental groups for west coast salmon, cross-border pollution, and pipeline concerns. Th US is not making any friends here. Thirty years ago, we had a cross-border friendship, but it has been ruined by the softwood lumber dispute and other one-sided trade agreements. There has been a lot of bigger, richer, more powerful bullying, and not enough respect communicated to the average Canadian citizen. In this void, anger and resentment accumulate. This can affect future mutual security.
    It is a challenge to dialogue amid opposite points of view. The points of view do not matter as much as mutual respect, listening, educating, fact-checking, weighing options objectively, considering consequences, compromising, and moving forward together towards overarching goals. When these goals are missing, both points of view are wrong.

  4. I would add to my comment that I try to do my part by public participation in uplifting and inspiring art and poetry that expresses tolerance, diversity, political wisdom, and environmental responsibility. I espouse a moral stewardship of one another and all aspects of the world. This includes financial patronage or boycotting, and trying to minimize my consumption of the planet, while encouraging others to do the same. I believe creative people provide the most important thought leadership in all cultures. Evidence of this is the frequency of their suffering coercion, suppression, torture, and martyrdom.

  5. What a great idea in response to these troubled times Michael and resonating with me in terms of the doubts I’ve been having about the difference my art can make – I love the idea not only of the connection, but of doing it through letters – taking us back perhaps to a slower, more thoughtful way of connection.

    1. Thank you, Andrea. I wonder whether the idea will catch on. I hope so, as I love reading about, and seeing, how other artists of all kinds address the world, and their lives, through their work.That gives me hope.

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