Hi! It's R. Eric Thomas. From the internet?
This week: on the narrative of protest and progress
I don’t know how to begin this.
1...At the supermarket, I saw a black queer couple shopping for produce. They pushed a cart with a bouquet of flowers in the cup holder up and down the aisles, following the directional arrows that sprang up on the ground overnight a few months ago. They’d stop and one would hold up an onion or an orange, maybe inspect it or ask a question of the other that I couldn’t hear. They had nowhere, it seems, to be but here. They chatted behind masks, sometimes letting laughter slip up past the elastic bands until it reached their eyes. They moved in and out of sync, like couples can do, as if always in each other’s gravitational pulls. And I stood, next to the pineapples, and watched them for a moment, as if I had nowhere else to be, either. I stayed just long enough to feel peace without disturbing their peace.
2...I keep getting emails from companies expressing solidarity in “this crucial moment” or in “this painful moment” or simply “this moment.” And I squint at my screen and then I check the time on my FitBit and my FitBit is like “Babe, I don’t know what it means either. Anyway, it’s 12:30pm in the present; you planning on doing any walking or drinking any water today? No? Okay, cool. I’m going to go back to my stories.” (My FitBit has been catching up on Passions during quarquar.)
3...This week I felt so overwhelmed with despair and I got desperate to escape, to go anywhere that I wouldn’t feel the crushing weight—not of the present moment but of the centuries, of all the things that get stuffed down and smoothed over so that you can get out of bed and be a person and reach for the lifeline of hope. And I thought about the water, because I love water and I wanted something that I couldn’t see the end of or the depths of, something powerful and benign. I Googled how long it would take me to get to the Atlantic Ocean and then I got in my car, ready to drive three hours because what’s three hours in this crucial moment? But then the thought of the voyages across that ocean, of the souls plunged into its depths overtook me. The ocean, it seemed, would not be a release, either.
4...I told my therapist about this during our teletherapy session. About the ocean and the water and escape. I told him about my other impulse: to visit a closed pool instead. I told him about how I’m working on a play about Pool #2 in Druid Hill Park, the segregated pool that is now filled in with dirt and grass and how the hand-rails remain on the sides, as if inviting you to step inside, to climb down through the soil into another time not so dissimilar from our own. I talk a lot about plays in therapy. Lately, it seems like the only way I can express myself. Last week, I got so frustrated with my inability to say what I was feeling that I went on a long lecture about Raisin in the Sun and (my favorite subject) whether the Youngers should have taken the money. Anyway, I talked about the metaphor of the grassy pool and he listened, thoughtfully, and let me work through my thoughts and about 3 minutes in I realized that the video was frozen. When I dialed back in, I found out he hadn’t heard any of it so I did it again, like the first time through with the waves and the grass and the depths was just a rehearsal. This time for real.
5...On Twitter, I saw a black couple in wedding clothes exchange a kiss in the middle of a Black Lives Matter protest. Photographers swarmed them and protesters cheered them on. They kissed and the bride leaned her head back and beamed, that cathartic joy that comes from feeling love and feeling freedom and feeling all the weight of the weary years all at once. One of the things that surprised me most about my own wedding was how much I cried, how overwhelmed I felt at the sensation of being love and that love being spoken into words and written into law. The ritual making the real and the real becoming ritual in that moment.
6...In Bristol, protestors tore down a monument dedicated to 17th century kidnapper and slave trader Edward Colston. They threw the monument into Bristol Harbour and, reader, I laughed so hard.
7...On Facebook I saw a black woman, Brianna Noble, leading a protest riding on a horse. Something about the image, taken by Nick Sirotich, something about the pose, the power, the force, the weary years, the dusty road—it filled me up, if only for a moment.
Just one piece this week. I’m tempted to use that paradoxically empty and overfull phrase “It’s been a week!” But I don’t know what that means. According to my FitBit every week is seven days.
There is an obvious dissonance between the responses to armed groups protesting quarantine a month ago and the responses to protests against police brutality this week. But there's a strange narrative synergy as well. The former group was using the tools that are readily at their disposal to demand a return to what they considered normalcy. And the latter group is experiencing the brutal but logical extension of that normalcy. This disparity, coupled with a social media feed that shows some people fully engaged in their old lives again, prompts the question of whether we are, or were ever, in the same story at all. And, if we're not in the same story, how do we coexist?