“Radical openness does not mean that we empty our minds but that we open our minds to the prospect of losing the understandings to which we are attached.” So begins An Interview with Anton Hart. To be fair, though, perhaps “loosening attachments” when face to face with the trifecta of fascist racism, COVID, and environmental extinction may be near impossible. It’s a big ask if, in the midst of existential terror, we are holding on for dear life.
Gail Griffin is the author of four books of nonfiction, most recently Grief’s Country: A Memoir in Pieces, named a Michigan Notable Book, and “The Events of October:” Murder-Suicide on a Small Campus. Her essays, poems, and flash nonfiction have appeared widely and been honored in publications including Southern Review, Fourth Genre, Missouri Review, and New Ohio Review. A native of Detroit, she spent a long career teaching literature, writing, and women’s studies at Kalamazoo College, where she won awards for both teaching and creative/scholarly work. She is at work on a collection of personal essays on confronting whiteness; she is also digging through a stack of paper to see if a poetry collection is hiding there. From her vantage point in southwestern Michigan, she studies, and mourns, the cracking open of America and dreams of her next trip to the shore of a Great Lake.
The weather report had been dire—a nor’easter, heavy winds, rain. But the day opens sunny and light and warm. I get up from the room in which I have been working for the past ten months and walk into town: Sag Harbor, a village that goes back to the eighteenth century, curving main street, part of the whaling world of the East End of Long Island, now the sweeter part of the Hamptons, a spot for writers and artists back in the ’60s, a village with outlying neighborhoods including a middle-class African-American world, the space Colson Whitehead writes about in his novel Sag Harbor. I have had a house here for thirty years, so am a relative newcomer, and this past year I have been here more than ever before, moving through seasons, garden blooming and leaves falling, watching through the same set of windows as the light and the seasons change. I am both still and absorbed in a single red room and walking through the village, beaches and gardens, in a natural world that seems eerily benign.
The concept of radical openness proposes not that we empty our minds but that we open our minds to the prospect of losing the understandings to which we are attached. In order to engage in a dialogue that could be described as radically open, we bring our prior understandings into the new, emergent conversation with the idea that they, when brought into contact with the speaking and listening of the other person, may be subject to revision, augmentation, or even relinquishment.
Back in 1987, I was in a doctoral psychology program outside of Los Angeles. I had the good fortune to do my final internship in a solidly middle-class section of town at a community mental health center staffed with social workers, psychologists, interns, and a psychiatrist. Every week, we had meetings to discuss new cases as well as chronically troublesome ones. In many instances, the patients who came to the clinic were from the local community and had been coming there for years, as had their families. Such was the case with the man I came to call Motorcycle Man.
I was born in 1948, on Finnøy, an island with two hundred inhabitants. My family was living close to the factory where my father and grandfather were mechanics, making and installing engines for the fishing boats. During my childhood, there was an abundance of herring fishing going on every winter. The herring were caught in large nets and hauled up in smaller ones. When the weather was bad, the harbor was packed with boats, and big bunches of fishnets were hanging to be dried. Every summer holiday I spent with my grandparents, living on the tiny island Notholmen (not=net) on Hustadvika.
Within the Black community, there exists a hidden caste system of “good” and “bad” hair, just like skin color hierarchies. “Good” hair is considered to be closer to straighter, wavier, Eurocentric hair, and “bad” hair is kinkier, coiled, thicker hair. Although these hair valuations are seen as being on a gradient, there is almost always a natural splitting that takes place when seeing and being seen. This dichotomy contributes to the double consciousness in the upbringing of Black girls in America. This twoness originally described by W.E.B. Du Bois is between the “American and the Negro, two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”
In the early 1980s, the heyday of Land Rights, I lived in Central Australia, working as a sociologist with the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress. A senior Aboriginal man, Dick Lechleitner Japanangka, worked alongside me, and we visited many Aboriginal communities and coauthored two books: Health Business and Settle Down Country. We held many meetings and recorded in language—on film and in print—the voices of Aboriginal people. We fought for two-way medicine delivery and for the Pintupi people returning to their lands to be provided with essential services. Some recognition for the dispossessed was achieved by hearing and reporting their stories and by advocating Aboriginal determination. In those days, it was rare to hear the Aboriginal voice—the aboriginal languages translated directly into English in the public and policy arena.
Kelly Cressio-Moeller is a poet and visual artist. Her poetry has appeared in Crab Orchard Review, Gargoyle, Guesthouse, North American Review, Poet Lore, Radar Poetry, Salamander, Southern Humanities Review, THRUSH Poetry Journal, Valparaiso Poetry Review, Water~Stone Review, and ZYZZYVA among others. Her debut collection, Shade of Blue Trees, is forthcoming from Two Sylvias Press. She is an associate editor at Glass Lyre Press.
Another fixation of mine has been the impossibility of my ancestors, particularly the abducted and the enslaved. Through the wound which would be called the Atlantic Slave Trade, Black persons were simultaneously the subject, the object, and the labor. Put another way, Black persons were the commodity—something akin to a gold piece, the means of production—which we would now call human capital, though such a qualifier is missing in enslavement and, ironically, in the subject. In the case of Black persons, the traits of subjectivity—communication, relationship, organization, aspiration, ad infinitum—were forcibly recognized either in their negative (as in the forbiddance of some otherwise common human practice) or in their grotesque affirmation (such as with the concession of small pleasures or the mechanic exploitation of human impulses). In this way, the Black person is canceled out in a triple negative, an impossibly impossible subject, further complicated by their intercession with other unreal things.