I spoke at Wagner University this week. It is a breathtakingly beautiful campus overlooking a body of water in NYC that houses one of the most famous statues in the world-the Statue of Liberty. I had to cross over to the borough called Staten Island in a ferry that glided so smoothly on the river’s surface that at times I wasn’t sure it was moving. I saw wild turkeys for the first time. They, like many animals during the pandemic, had a chance to repopulate during the years humans locked themselves inside. They now make regular group appearances. I am told a cluster came close to the window behind me during my talk. After seeing them up close I have decided that they are beautiful stately birds and I’m uncertain why we eat them. It feels a bit like we are eating peacocks.
At Wagner I gave a fuller version of my talk, “How to Escape Colonial Nostalgia”. After the lecture there was a line of students who waited to talk with me. It was the first time this has happened. Later, one of the professors who attended the lecture via Zoom called her colleague that invited me to share that she thought my talk was the best artist talk she had ever listened to. Sharing this may sound a bit like bragging, but here is where I want to bring back my father. I want you to know this part of my artist bio. My father was a gifted priest which means he was a gifted storyteller. He knew how to light up the characters in the Bible by connecting them to the stories of his own life and the lives of people in the community. He read the Bible in the original languages and studied the ways it was put together and transmuted throughout the years. He could be stoic and did have a booming baritone voice, but he was also the kind of priest that would slap dominoes on a table while drinking rum. He was riveting.
He was a weaver of tales. I knew this before I was even born, because I heard his sermons from the belly of my mother as she sat in the pews listening to him deliver the sermons she sometimes helped him write or transcribe. I am told that my grandfather, my father’s father, also preached at times even though he was mostly a carpenter. I share this because we come from lines. I share this as a reminder that we all are a living accumulation of ghosts. I am honored that I can continue the oratorical traditions of my family and that during my artist talks I can light up my work with the stories of how they came to be, how they connect to the past, our sense of place and self. I’ll be speaking again at a class at Pace University and a public conversation with Dr. Erica Johnson on Thursday, October 27th at 7pm at the Scandinavian House. If you are in NY I would be delighted by your attendance. If you work for an institution that is in a position to invite me to speak here is a link to a.pdf you can share to begin that process.