“In his lecture at UArts, Faustin [Linyekula] challenged us… ‘to reimagine who we are with a full awareness of the ruins around and inside us.’” Lauren Bakst, quoting Faustin Linyekula
“Somehow Ewing has created a collection that is at once formally spectacular and grounded enough to ask readers the two most important questions in art: Will you stop to remember and imagine with me and will you help me change the world with memory and imagination?” Kiese Laymon, in an introduction to an interview with Eve Ewing
I’ve built a small digital altar and it lives on twitter @stillmourning. I can check up on it periodically and make sure the candles are still lit. I can tend the digital flame. It is always on in the background, regenerating itself. No one knows about it but me, but it is public at the same time. It has zero followers, and it follows no one.
I am reckoning with all the deaths I am still mourning. As I get older, I feel the accumulation of losses. The list of loved ones gone and tragedies is only going to get longer, until I’m gone myself. I didn’t realize this was part of aging, that you just layer on the sadnesses.
The avatar is a picture of small lit candles against a black background. Unoriginal, but maybe that’s appropriate? In each tweet, there’s a space between my object of mourning and the period. I could have fixed it, but it felt right somehow as a small nod to the automation.
I visualize each tweet as an electrical surge from my heart. The bot and my heart are both fluid; we can respond as things change. I see a tweet about E.J. Bradford’s mother, with a picture of her and her son. Bradford was killed by police in Hoover, Alabama on Thanksgiving, trying to stop an active shooter. She looks so proud of her son and they have the same broad, beautiful smile. I add him to the list in a tiny, secular prayer. It’s inadequate, but a gesture that still seems preferable to the alternative of the ongoing and everlasting scroll through the twitter feed.
At the same time, my list feels grotesque. How can I have Merce Cunningham in between Philando Castile and Freddie Gray? Guy Clark in A44 and Michael Brown in A45? Do I even have the right to mourn Selena? To mourn someone is partially to claim them as your own, it feels. Can I claim to be mourning the victims of the massacres at Sabra and Shatila? How would my actions reflect this? Why don’t I have any names for victims of hunger, of domestic violence, of homelessness, of poverty? Don’t these dead deserve a place at the altar as well? Why don’t I know more trans names? Who is my list a performance for? Who’s going to judge me for my list of dead? Some piece of me feels bizarrely insecure about the shortness of my list. Have I really lived if this is all I’ve suffered? Some of mine are secondhand griefs; I feel the passing of my friend Nichole’s mother because I love Nichole. Only 64 entries. It feels wrong to write those words. How much death is enough? What kind of perverse cred am I after? Wouldn’t even one entry be more than enough?
I knew it would be political, but it’s more political than I imagined before I wrote it all down, before listing the particular pains I am still feeling. We measure what we care about. But even in the imperfections and grotesqueness, it feels better than what we often settle for. The numbness, the scrolling, the forgetting. The wild mix – in my case of modern dance luminaries and victims of police murder – feels like how we actually experience life. It’s all a jumble, all coming at us at once all the time, especially in the digital age.
Try the exercise for yourself and see if you run into discomfort and inconsistencies. Whose deaths do you really feel for and why? What kind of deaths do you feel inured against? Who do you feel empathy for?
This is one small personal strategy for me to cope and remember. To acknowledge the accumulating griefs. Of capitalism and cancer. Family and public figures. Falls off mountains in Peru and state-sanctioned violence.
(Quick note on methodology:
Each of these is probably questionable, but I only included deaths that have taken place since I was born and that I can still feel in my body. I only included humans–no buildings, no pets, no ideas, no institutions.)
(If you would like your grief included in @stillmourning, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.)