Act as if what you do makes a difference. -William James

It is not impractical to consider seriously changing the rules of the game when the game is clearly killing you. -M. Scott Peck

I can’t get that phrase out of my head. I got caught by the cops on friday night for taping paper and packets of seeds on a blank wall in the shape of a word. It wasn’t a naughty or unkind word. It said GROW. After a lot of talking, the cops pealed away befuddled and bothered. If they would have asked me to take it down, I wouldn’t have. I would have spent the night in jail if necessary, because words and sometimes simply and only words have the power to spark the fires of revolution.

I’ve been studying the artist Mel Chin, he said, “we should not whine or carry protest flags in response to the conditions we live in, but accept what is and work with it. Politically charged artwork is not to be found in obvious statements but in daily interventions, large or small. Create networks, work in groups, and stay in touch. Work within the belly of the beast, don’t cultivate bitterness at the unfairness and the unconscious behavior of those in power, but instead to work with compassion and a sense of humor.” I agree with most of that, there certainly is a time to carry a protest flag and refuse to accept what is, but what I love is the idea of small and daily interventions. Words are the smallest and most potent of daily interventions.

I remember once being in a history of poetry class and reading about all of the poets in other country who had nothing but words to fight with. The words had to mean everything, had to be read, they were the battle cry of the people, their vanguard. I remember also being terribly distraught at the idea that my words weren’t standing up for much of anything, perhaps lovely metaphors, but they were no part of a revolution. I stopped writing for a few weeks. I couldn’t bring myself to break the silence for a useless commodity poem in an over-populated literary world.

Perhaps then, that is why I had to put something on that wall. A personal revolution of sorts. It was nearly midnight when my roommate and I, cold-fingered and tired were finishing up the W. A couple neighbor boys had come out to help and the cop commotion stirred two different neighbors to come out, then two more walked out of the house across the street. They asked about the project, took some seeds and wrote on the papers underneath what they planned to do with them, but far more important, they turned with out-stretched hands to the neighbors and said, “Haven’t we been living next-door for the past eight months? I don’t think we’ve ever talked.” In that moment, I felt that the word I’d taped to the wall was the most important word I’d ever written.


Brooke Stoneman said...

beautiful ash - I'm so glad you are writing this stuff on your blog where everyone (most especially me) can see. This made my day.

shelly said...

Sometimes there's no better word for me to say than, amen!

Little Lisa said...

So rad.

Keep up your good work, Ashley. Out of everyone I know, you are making a difference, and I love and admire you for it.

See you in October 2009!

Lindsey P said...

Thank you.

Club Narwhal said...

these are the kind of entries that help me make it through the day. you are so, so amazing and i started crying at my desk (which was awkward because it's so dang quiet in here, but not because it's what needed to happen). you are lovely and i'm so pleased to know you.