I’ve been on the road. Many roads. Internal, metaphorical, physical. These are hard times. These are churning times. We all experience hardships, challenges, yes, but right now, it feels bigger, more intense, somehow the worst. Maybe because of the full-out cries for action, the organizing, the flurry of information clogging our internet hi-way (for which, I am grateful). I’m finishing Richard Grant’s book Dispatches from Pluto. I’ve recently watched Oscar nominated Loving, Hidden Figures, OJ: Made in America. I’ve read and re-read and asked my father to read David Bradley’s Eulogy for Nigger, an award winning, re-and well-published essay. I drove to the tip of the South and toured the only plantation museum in the US telling the story through the experiences of the enslaved.

I wake daily and feel overwhelmed. Incapable of doing anything useful or worthy of this national cause to heal wounds, history, her-story, and move our country to collaboration and intelligence and humanity. Sometimes, I am paralyzed.

So, I get up, make my coffee, read a few pages, and then I write. Any one of us art-makers knows that to make our work is a Revolutionary act. A necessary act. The right act for us to engage in because this is how we came into the world and this is the work we do and it is the just right work for us. I recall a conversation I had with my mom, years before she died, right after the devastating earthquake in China. We were sitting on my couch–she and my dad visiting New Hampshire–and I was lamenting this stupid feeling of worthlessness I’d by this time felt again and again–September 11–because I was “just a teacher, just a writer, and not doing anything.” And she said, “You are doing exactly what you were put on this earth to do and that is just right. You are doing the work you are here to do.” I think of this and am grateful for her and her words.

But I am not doing nothing. To read these texts, see these movies, drive myself down to Louisiana to see this museum, having longed to see it since the day I read about it in the New York Times magazine two years ago, these acts are revolutionary. Did I tell you that my reserved tour at The Whitney Plantation was comprised of TEN people, including myself? Nine white, one young African-American woman. All, excepting me, under the age of 30. Our choice to get there, be present with and accept this history, revolutionary and necessary.

I think of Jan, of course, and all the ways her life and actions intersect with my history (that brief period of time we shared) how all of this–my travel, my reaching for art, my healing from an ending marriage, a broken and divided country–somehow connects to her revolutionary acts: to leave a broken and destructive marriage and parent two small children on her own. To build a singing career at the same time. To freelance and cobble together gigs and jobs in order to survive and care for those children. To grow, all the while, a deep and abiding musical life in the presence of all this hardship and challenge. She did it.

I think of steps. Baby steps. How I was sent this useful article about not getting overwhelmed. About how steps lead to roads. To running. Taking longer distances at a stretch. I’m working now on entirely new writing about the four years Jan was at Juilliard. And there’s no way to lay it down but to do it, fact by fact, moment by moment, description by description, until the map comes clear.

Walk on.





About dhaines54

Dawn Denham (formerly Haines) lives in the hill country of North Central Mississippi where she's writing a book about her mentor at the Eastman School of Music mezzo-soprano Jan DeGaetani and teaching writing at Oxford High School. Her work has been published in Poets and Writers magazine, Brevity, Zone 3, Literary Mama, and WILLA. Her book with authors Jacqueline Raphael and Susan Newcomer Writing Together: Transforming Your Writing in a Writing Group was the first book of its kind published in the US. Her essay Aleatorik about her mother’s death won the 2012 Solstice magazine Creative Nonfiction prize chosen by Jerald Walker and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She received an MFA in Nonfiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts, an MA in Rhetoric and Composition from the University of Arizona, and a BM in Voice from Eastman School of Music.
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