Last week was damn busy – as I forecast in my Failure to Launch post. I don’t usually have so much going on, liking mostly to just come home and chill after work. I’ll write more later about the other events, including the two author readings, one of which held several fortuitous moments for Doug and me.
As I also mentioned in that post, I capped off the insanity by getting up crazy early on Friday to be at a monthly pre-work yoga and dance party called DayBreaker (@daybreakerSEA). The theme this month was the 80’s, in honor of the one year anniversary of Prince’s passing. I pulled together a semi-appropriate outfit in spite of screwing up my attempt to create a slouchy sweatshirt (basically it was so slouchy it was falling off) and danced like a very happy fool with my good bud Tess for two hours after doing a 6 a.m. yoga class on the floor of a bar. Doesn’t get much better than that (although, never been more grateful for a yoga mat, trust). In case I don’t get back to this at a later time, my impressions from club dancing, which I love and used to do often in my twenties:
- Be yourself, together
- Beats in your feet travel through your body, jumping up and down
- Sweaty and free
- Not one, but TWO dudes dressed as Prince were there
- Spandex (this WAS an 80’s theme, after all)
So my intention Saturday was to have breakfast, mow the lawn before the rain returned and then run some errands. Not much else, because I was SORE, people. Dancing at 47 is a whole different story than when you’re 17 or 27. Knees and feet particularly, plus shoulders and upper back from the yoga. I do yoga every week, but this was a bit more rigorous. I think the adrenaline was pumping, from a lack of sleep and in anticipation of dancing , so I overdid it. YOLO, right?
After mowing, I did my meditation (priorities!), and I realized that going to Costco on Earth Day felt akin to tossing plastic bags into a pod of whales. So I thought about what I felt up to doing, which unfortunately didn’t include the March for Science (first protest I’ve missed this year) or volunteering at a park restoration event. I landed on a long-overdue trip to the Seattle Art Museum to take in the Jacob Lawrence Migration Series that was ending yesterday. The Seeing Nature exhibit is also there, which felt appropriate for Earth Day. A wander through a museum felt like the speed I could handle.
I arrived early, which it turns out was a very good thing, since the room is small and the paintings are numbered, so are viewed in order. By the time I left the museum a few hours later, the line to get in the room extended all the way down the third floor.
The Migration Series was painted by Lawrence in 1940-41. The 40 paintings in the SAM exhibit (I’ve read there are 60 total, so some were apparently left out) depict the stories of African Americans migrating from the rural South to the North in search of better lives and new opportunities.
The first paintings show life in the South and the conditions that black people were facing – lack of food, work and decent housing, boll weevils killing off the cotton, and lynchings. Meanwhile, the North desperately needed workers, so much so that agents were coming to recruit them. People started to leave for Northern cities, waiting at stations and crowding onto trains with their few belongings, leaving in such numbers that they faced harassment and even arrest to impede their exodus, but nonetheless they went. They sent letters back to those who stayed behind about all the opportunities, and the black newspapers covered the stories as well, compelling more people to make their way North. There were jobs (hard jobs in steel factories and railroads, but jobs), better places to live, more food, schools for their children.
Things seem good for a while.
Then the paintings start to show another side to the story. White workers angry with black workers for taking their jobs (unbeknownst to them, black workers were sometimes being recruited to replace striking white workers), sometimes resulting in violence, even riots. Different, subtler forms of discrimination, even from other African Americans who’d lived in the North much longer. Living conditions becoming overcrowded and unhealthy.
The last painting is only a few feet from the first one as you finish the series, and by that point, there seems to be almost no difference in the story of those who migrated from the ones at the beginning. It comes full circle, but in the same way a merry-go-round does, ending up where you started, then being swept up again into the swirl. You circumnavigate the room and at the end, little seems to have changed. I found myself pulled toward the beginning (end?) of the line, wanting to start over, hoping for another outcome.
Instead, I headed upstairs and ambled through the Seeing Nature exhibit, which houses 150 years’ worth of European and American paintings depicting luminous landscapes, brilliant renderings of the Grand Canyon, and numerous scenes of Venice as seen through the realist, pointillist and impressionist lenses. This exhibit was entrancingly beautiful and I enjoyed it thoroughly, but in some respects, I wish I had seen it on a different day. Or maybe that I’d seen Jacob Lawrence on a different day. Seeing scenes of such disparate lived experiences on the same day was jarring.
Then again, maybe it worked out just as it was supposed to. As my mind turns to the People’s Climate March on 4/29, I try to grapple with what we are doing to our planet, the plants and animals, and ourselves, of course. The impacts will be felt by all, but not equally. Some people have fewer resources and won’t be able to cope as easily with the changes we are facing, whether it’s lack of water, food or habitable places to live.
What will those migrations look like and how will we respond?