WE NEED WORDS THAT SING

November 20, 2016
Salt Lake City
sun and shadow

I had a workshop of the commission play during election week, in Minneapolis, at the Playwrights’ Center. Dominique Serrand directed (despite his protests: “I am not going to direct. I am just a first responder.”). Walter came out to join us. We had some of the funniest and loveliest Minneapolis actors in the room. I didn’t have a public reading, which freed us up to play and explore the entire time. We switched actors into different roles endlessly, casting against age and type. The first act is in a solid place.

I was in a hotel room on election night. Lulled into the sleep of confidence by polls, I thought I’d write all evening, checking the internet once an hour and then go out for a drink when Hillary won. Instead, I couldn’t look away from the news until 3 am.  Then I wrote. In a daze of pain.

What now?

I come from a large Pennsylvania family that is part of the “white working class.” They are not liberal. That is an understatement.

What does that mean, “white working class.”

What does that mean, “white.”

For that matter, what meaning do any words hold, when the word of the year in America and Britain is “post-truth”?

They still hold immense meaning, but it is the meaning of prosody. If content is dead, form is everything. Words are king. Rhetoric, you’re our last hope and savior.

Make America Great Again. In content, that is meaningless. In form, it is supreme.

Stronger Together. Two words ending with weak, unstressed syllables. It pains me that prosody calls those “feminine endings.” That other slogan too has a feminine ending, but only after three hard punch hard stresses, and the energetic iambs of am – ER- i  -CA.

Then, there’s this (which has already been pointed out by another writer):

I’m With Her
vs.
She’s With Us

Uneducated voters chose Trump. I am reflecting on my speech, our speech, and our need to find words that sing.

Our language of tolerance is extremely educated. Academic language speaks to academic people. It does not speak to people outside of that realm. Can we come up with another compendium?  Racist. To me, that word hits like a bomb. To them, it hits like a bomb in a foreign country that has nothing to do with them. They don’t spend all their time dissecting racism and why it’s problematic. So just calling them that isn’t enough.

Besides, my family calls each other names all the time. “You’re an ass.” “That man is an animal.” What’s another insult to people who trade in insults? They also trade in God. “I will pray for you.” They speak God and we speak academic. They speak crass and we speak carefully vetted internet. I have started speaking God back.

We need to go high and low. Humanity is both high and low. I have been trying out words like bully. Sin. Compassion.

I know we can do better. The City of San Francisco issued the most eloquent and inspiring manifesto for its status as a sanctuary city. Yes We Can, We Still Can.

Call your representatives, call your relatives, see you over hard conversations and in the streets.

Installation Sam Durant’s “End White Supremacy” (2008) at Paula Cooper Gallery (photo by Kyle Dunn)
Installation Sam Durant’s “End White Supremacy” (2008) at Paula Cooper Gallery (photo by Kyle Dunn)

 

 

 

 

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