Revisiting “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action” by Audre Lorde

I’ve read Audre Lorde’s speech “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action” several times over the past 3 years and each time I’ve read it, it’s resonated with a new part of me unearthed by life. Every. Time. Audre Lorde (1934-1992) is “a black feminist lesbian mother poet”, a woman celebrated for her poetry and radical womanist writings. Her speech, “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action” was originally given during the Modern Language Association’s Lesbian and Literature panel on December 28, 1977 and was published in two of her books, The Cancer Journals and Sister Outsider. My instincts told me to reach for this text today, as I’ve made some personal breakthroughs that have encouraged me to seek the light at the end of a long, dark, tunnel.

I’ve been sitting in silence and darkness for months. Some of it was intentional on my part and some of it was crafted carefully for me by people who I originally believed deserved my trust. I became tired of the sensations of anxiety, triggered by Mondays, emails, and text messages; hated the feeling of dread pulling my chest and stomach taut. I am still tired. I spent months in silence. During the day I pulled back at work, went through the motions, ended my struggle for change, and felt defeated by bureaucracy. I sought the quiet of my room at night, avoided watching television, sat in the dark with my thoughts and worries. It became meditative. It was also healing, at first. But I soon became too comfortable living in silence. I withdrew from conversations with my closest friends, kept details of my life to myself. I felt unsure of myself, and my path. I doubted my instincts. I sought answers from the stars and in planetary alignments. I sought answers from my silence. I found peace. And I found apathy. Continue reading

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The Mythical World of Lina Iris Viktor

Art has the power to breathe life into us. When I first ran across the awe-inspiring work of Lina Iris Viktor I saw something that I didn’t know I needed: a reflection. Lina Iris Viktor is an accomplished conceptual artist and painter, whose work was showcased alongside Andy Warhol, Takashi Murakami, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Tom Sachs, Ryan McGinley, & Peter Beard. Viktor’s work is loud, striking, and unapologetic. It is ornate and minimalist; realistic yet mythical; and she strictly adheres to a color palate of royal blue, black, white, and 24 karat gold.  She is her own muse, and many of her paintings and performance art pieces are centered on her own body acting as a canvas, sheathed in rich fabric, or dripping in black and gold paint.  She places a great importance on photographing herself with her work: she aims to create an ongoing record of her world and the way she interacts with it. Often, these self-portraits feature Viktor posing and voguing alongside of her completed paintings. On her website, she wrote of her self-portraits:

There is often a certain abstraction – an otherworldliness – to her photographed work which moves between the real and the imagined, the concrete and the geometric. Viktor approaches her photographs with a compulsive perfection, and with a very succinct vision.

She encourages her own myth, reinforcing the impression of a perfectly sealed off cycle of existence in which elements of the work and her life become virtually interchangeable. This myth has been so fostered by Viktor in the way she lives and works, arranges her workspace – through her choice of attire, and the concepts she conveys in her paintings.

Her deeply held philosophies and her essence resides in her paintings, but her photographs offer a clear picture of how Viktor experiences her work and the world she creates. Her goals extend beyond a simple documentation of her paintings – her real ambition is to create a visual record, a time capsule, a memory of her own experience of it – of a period, a body of work, a time. She provides an account of her life and her art, which is inseparable from life itself as she lives it.

Lina Viktor’s work is so striking to me not only because of her pure talent for capturing her image and imagination, but because I see myself in her work. A certain quote by art critic Jon Updike comes to mind when I try to articulate what Viktor’s pieces do for me, “What art offers is space — a certain breathing room for the spirit.” There is something magical about Viktor’s presence in her work: as a black woman, she unapologetically takes up space and her energy is magnetic. Viktor’s work captures my gaze and engulfs me in her graphic, elaborate creations. In her self-portraits, Viktor peers back at me expectantly.

Viktor’s work appeals to my secret aesthetic. Anyone who knows me well knows that I adore toeing the line between classy and gaudy; I like extravagant textures, loud patterns and bold colors with classic shapes. I  do not show this woman to the world often. I am aware of the way others perceive me and carefully curate my outward appearance so as to not attract too much attention. As a black woman often occupying spaces where modesty is highly valued, I have to scale back, especially since my blackness and womanness garner enough attention alone. However, I refuse to hold myself back fully: I cannot resist fur scarves and coats; my royal blue and gold-studded trench coat; huge statement necklaces and earrings; richly patterned headscarves and pants; and high heels. In contrast, I am deliberately silent; observing the people and world around me carefully. When I do adorn my body boldly, I am comfortable in others’ gazes. Experiencing Lina Viktor’s work is seeing her living in her truth, and it’s a beautiful sight to see. I feel at home when I see her world, and it inspires me to want to live unapologetically in my own truth.

You can experience more of Lina Iris Victor’s work on her website, here.

Essay / Academic Rant: Closing the Next Frontier: An Analysis of Offshore Oil and Wind Exploration Along the Atlantic Coast

The United States is moving to close the next great American energy frontier: the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). This move is part of an overall energy agenda to increase the United States’ energy independence through domestic energy. Since President Obama took office, the nation’s dependence on foreign oil has been at a 20-year low, and he has formed policies aiming to increase domestic energy production.[1]  In January 2015, President Obama proposed a plan for the Department of the Interior’s 5 Year Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program that has the potential to reopen the Atlantic coast for oil and gas drilling.[2] While this plan could stimulate domestic oil production and further the President’s energy independence political agenda, opening the Atlantic to drilling also has the potential to create serious negative externalities. Similarly, the Atlantic coast is a goldmine for offshore wind production with North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and Georgia holding 82 percent of the total Atlantic coast wind potential in the OCS.[3] Under the Obama Administration’s Smart from the Start initiative, Wind Energy Areas are being designated for development of offshore wind.[4]  The development of renewable domestic energy has the potential to reduce the nation’s dependence on fossil fuels it also faces several technological and political barriers to implementation. Below, I will compare the policies and politics surrounding oil exploration and wind energy development in the Atlantic OCS, and determine which energy source can be considered a greater contributor to the United States’ goals of achieving energy independence. Continue reading

Self Care / Self Love: YOGETREE Workshop

I’ve made a commitment to focusing on myself. “Focusing on myself” encompasses a bunch of actions and ideals, including goals to understand my patterns, accept my flaws and shortcomings, admit and seek help and mentorship, and to push myself out of my comfort zone (within some limits). These goals came into fruition today when I participated in an amazing yoga and poetry workshop series entitled Yogetree. Continue reading

Academic Rant: Residential Segregation, Gentrification, and the Pursuit of Environmental Justice in the Nation’s “Most Sustainable Cities”

Sustainability and sustainable development are terms widely used and often misunderstood. Sustainable development is most commonly defined as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising those of future generations.[1] Many cities use sustainable development initiatives in response to climate change and diminishing resources. Leaders of these urban communities fight to negate the stigma of pollution associated with cities by incorporating open spaces, green jobs, and affordable, efficient housing into the urban space, as well as upgrading transportation infrastructure and waste management programs. Sustainable development places a focus on community-based decision-making, economic policies that account for both social and environmental externalities, the reduction of pollution and the general goal of creating clean and healthy communities. Continue reading

It’s Worth It

This is just a friendly reminder that sometimes all those hours spent arguing with sexist, racist, ableist, homophobic, classist, Islamophobic, transphobic, etc. friends, partners, and family members CAN make an impact.

A few weeks ago my former partner from my early college years sent me this text (shown below). I can’t even recount how many times we’ve challenged each other’s ideas and experiences on the topics of feminism and misogynoir, but him reaching out to me randomly to thank me made it all worth it.

12270272_10207747180134703_294184932_nI’ve been burnt out lately and as a result have taken a break from engaging my peers in confrontational discussions about social inequality and have instead chosen to surround myself around like-minded people. However, dismantling imperialist, white supremacist, capitasitc, heterpatriarchical societal norms (sorry for using so much jargon) is no easy or simple task and I understand that preaching to the choir is unsustainable. So, I consider this text a wake-up call for me to step my game up, and to keep pushing to confront oppressive language, actions, and systems in my every day life. Because it matters. And it does make a difference.

Inside Scoop: NRPA Innovation Lab

One of my favorite parts of my job with Philadelphia Parks and Recreation is the fact that I occasionally get to assist my bosses at their high-level meetings and events. A few weeks ago, on December 3rd-4th, I assisted my department as they hosted the National Recreation and Parks Association Innovation Lab. Philadelphia is a national leader in civic innovation, and the National Recreation and Parks Association (NRPA) invited several Parks and Recreation departments from several cities including Baltimore, Atlanta, Miami, Pittsburgh, and Detroit to discuss opportunities and barriers to civic innovation, and to demonstrate examples using Philadelphia’s amenities as a living laboratory.

The two-day event featured collaborative workshops, panel discussions, and presentations that can be viewed online, here. My favorite parts of the Innovation Lab were the tours and site visits highlighting examples of Philadelphia’s cross agency partnerships. We visited several sites that I haven’t paid much attention to as a native Philadelphian, but the tours and discussions made me look at these staple places through a new lens. At each stop of our tour bus (I was so excited to get on a tour bus around Philly) we were met at the site by a staple figure who could speak to the partnerships involved and the details of the completed or ongoing project. The sites I’ve highlighted below include:

Viaduct Park

Race Street Pier

Schulkyll River Trail

Bartram’s Garden Continue reading