Last week will go down as the week I started sending myself text messages. Not notes in an emergency, just language at risk of becoming unmoored because its urgency could not resist the temptations of a certain generalizing. Notes all the same, missives cramming my notice. “Don’t forget who you were when these words lit up your brain. Those moments when you weren’t just an imposture of a person.”
Dallas is a much-unloved place. I can cite a not-insignificant amount of evidence in support of this argument*, for there is a quorum who would counter that Dallas is just another non-place, sprawling hot awfulness, a hive of strip malls and plastic surgery disasters and Red State entitlement, textured over with Super Big Gulps, frack water, McConaughey-isms, type 2 diabetes. A zone, if you will, full of people but no culture. A Chinese metropolis, in other words. But I love being from Dallas, I love the loathing mentions of Dallas can engender. I tell myself, unless your city isn’t inspiring shit-talk, it’s not really a city. Less so the vacant, “I think I’ve been to the Dallas airport” nice-nice dismissals that can blend introductions and goodbyes into simultaneity. I was born here, my sensibilities formed within a little seam of walkable urbanity along Lower Greenville Avenue, its repertory movie house and all-ages reggae pool hall and record store-cum-art gallery and original yuppie Whole Foods (Richmond Ave.) and bars bars bars. Dallas is weird, and not least of all because of its bad mojo. What I don’t love is having to admit that this is all an expression of football me, a self trying to mount a good defense with what Sunday afternoon TV calls “offensive fireworks.”
* An at-the-time resident poet, preparing to read their work, addresses the audience: “Thank you. It is so wonderful to be here with you, all of us gathered together for an evening of poetry. And in Dallas, Texas, of all places.” A friend visits Dallas for the first time. We have a blast, hanging out, exploring the city together with real gusto. Said friend posts a photo of a Dallas landmark to their Facebook profile, geotags it “Dallas.” The photo receives one comment: “Give it my worst regards.”
I was born at Dallas’ Presbyterian Hospital. I ask myself: is it a hospital anymore? The Dallas Morning News reports that Presbyterian “has lagged behind its peers on emergency room care and lost some federal funds the past three years because it had high discharge rates of patients who later had to return for treatment. The hospital scored significantly worse than the state and national averages in five of six emergency care indicators, with emergency room wait times twice as long as the averages, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.” Is treatment happening here? Care? Or is this a billing department that just so happens to have a clinic attached to it? What exactly did they do with their share of that 30 billion dollar subsidy to improve EDIS? And how symptomatic is this? How much of a vector?
This was not a good week for sleep. The weather breathing its must all through our bedding. The early darkness this time of year. Disagreeable shoulders. You name it. Each morning starts a little sooner, a little more black. I woke up on Wednesday with congested thoughts (like dreaming might clear them out, transform their block into a drip), and wrote the following to post to Facebook:
I’ve seen quite a bit of surprise expressed in both the mass and on social media that Ebola would be diagnosed first in Texas, and specifically Dallas. But for those who know anything about the neighborhoods adjacent to Texas Health Presbyterian, and for those who know anything about where refugees to the United States find opportunities to start their lives over and make their homes, that surprise is tempered by concerns that this population will suffer more trauma and stigmatization because of misinformation about and panic over this disease.
The rest of last week was almost nothing else but a steady inflaming of those concerns. And if this pustule has a head, it is a sermon.
This terror, the animated .gif of tearing curtains that in torn turning disclose how your community was never really a community, only a scene. A petri dish of aristo-celebritocracy posing as a different experiment altogether. Maybe you feel cheated by a false egalitarianism, its method of merit accounting, and, in feeling taken, that something must be paid back. WTF is a community anyway? A place as small as a locality? An exchange you make in order to lard Responsibility with new salt and savor, perhaps. If we haven’t all read Hyde’s The Gift, have we at least lived it? You don’t extract what you want from your community of choice until you’ve put in something you know you need and will need all the more in giving it away. At least, this is the work I think that makes community. Too many Vikings, too few tillers, not nearly enough eremites. I’ve been stranded on this island before. I watched that shipwreck sink my father.
Vickery Meadow has a Wikipedia entry. I remember when I first learned this fact, not in the journalistic sense (when and where I was), but the feeling of the discovery, being pleased and being puzzled mingling in a silent “Huh?” at Vickery Meadow being documented in some orbit outside of my city’s limits. I would wager that, before last week, many individuals in the region did not know that this area, pinned—of course—between highway and dense residence, had a name. Was more than a crime statistic or joke about section 8 housing or another “‘hood.” Cross over (Upper) Greenville Avenue to the West, or I-75, and you will find yourself in a very different part of Dallas: the northernmost reaches of the affluent Park Cities, NorthPark Mall, its diversity guaranteed by commerce, public transportation infrastructure (the DART light rail), not circumstances largely beyond its citizenry’s control.
Last week will go down as the week I remembered that visions are dewy with the ideal, seeing is not recoiling from the real, and watching the prison that has to be built somewhere even though no one wants it built near them, and so the jail that is watching ends up erecting its walls within whatever territory is situated between the ideal and the real. An anti-genesis, and yet the creation of a NIMBYsphere we call spectating. Trouble is, it’s in this domain that all the action is. Where the EMS vehicles get wrapped in the black rubber of are-those-garbage-or-body-bags. Where parents mingle in somewhat aimless, expression-drained concern outside of effected schools. Where the microscopic slide of a virus looks like it is wearing Mickey Mouse ears, and, Yahoo answers, why? Where no one thinks to blur out the phone number of the Ivy Apartments as that location, its veracity, is established by hundreds, thousands, however many “shots” of the complex’s sign. Where a hazmat uniform gives us a friendly wave that isn’t so friendly as soon as we suspect it might be a beckoning. Where one’s worldly possessions fit in a single cardboard box, dangle off a few wire hangers. Where most everything is deemed breaking to the public, and so is to be monitored through or over fences dissolved in a trick of focus.
Last week will go down as the week that I confronted myself with reader comments on news stories re: the Ebola “outbreak” here in Dallas, systemic failures, questions as to who vomited when and where, questions about how long a virus can live on surfaces such as countertops and bedsheets, comments such as (and here I paraphrase): “Well, Liberians are notorious for overstaying their visas,” “This person is a liar and deserves exactly what he is getting [by which, I assume, the commenter means a particularly horrible death],” “Obama! / Obamacare!” “Wow, I wish I could get big government to spend $300 million on me whenever I get a boo-boo.” “Close our borders,” etc. What are the countries of origin for most of the refugees resettling in the United States? According the the Catholic Charities of Dallas “most refugees resettled during fiscal year 2014 were Afghan, Bhutanese, Burmese, Congolese, Cuban, Eritrean, Iranian, Iraqi, Liberian, Nepali, Somali, Sudanese, and Vietnamese.” That we cannot or refuse to see our own nation’s warpath clearing its way through this list is a grievous thing.
I can only imagine what it means to be a refugee. Do you come to this country in the hopes of finding a sort of invisibility (or at least anonymity) for yourself? To cloak your past in a new job, a new set of living conditions, perhaps even a new language and a new culture (but knowing those suits tend to chafe, and need to be put off at the end of the day). Not to shed your identity, once surely fraught anyway, for home is no longer home, and in a painfully material sense. You cannot return. You must seek opportunity elsewhere. Government policy plays a role, but so too do those familial and communal ties that endure in spite of persecution, civil war, the collapse of states, and all other forms of calamity. We all wish to be known, and yet we all wish, at some profound level, to be left alone. To be recognized if not completely exposed to our own visibilities. I often think that this is why Kafka remains such a significant author, for he not only comprehended but felt intensely the dynamic of this near-paradox. The penniless bucket rider is alive as only the desperate can be, his desperation being for “even just” a single crumb of coal, yes, but he is also nearly dead in that no one in his town seems able or willing to confirm his existence. When he flies over the ice mountains at the conclusion of Kafka’s odd parable, however, is he lost forever in the realm of the dead or in the higher elevations of fancy, fairy tale? A narrative cosmos in which buckets are winged steeds? Either that, or he is shooed into some form of exile, isn’t he? Or is this how his inherent exile is finally acknowledged?
One of the first meetings I ever had with my mentor in my MFA Program, something in me forced the conversation into the minefield of “What does it take, really, to get published?” Even then, I knew what a tiresome subject it was. But perhaps it was a subject that had not utterly wrung all the juice from my mentor. Perhaps it was one subject my mentor felt truly comfortable addressing, at least much more so than issues of craft. In response, my mentor showed great patience. “Well, if things worked they way they’re supposed to, you would have moved to New York after college, continued writing there, making connections, gotten an agent…” “If things worked they way they’re supposed to” I took as a kind of double code, a way to harmonize, “If things worked the way they used to,” with “It’s through no fault of your own that things don’t work this way, but the possibility that they might is still one you could activate, without enough effort and lucky and, quite honestly, naive certitude that this is the way they’ve worked for other writers.” Had I been free from certain duties and been able to relocate to New York, would I have found a community there? “Connections,” that was the assurance. Rungs on ladder on which I too might serve as a rung, happily or not. Not to say friendships would have been impossibility, or that my Dallas-confined friendships were perfectly rewarding. But whatever liberties were denied me by the particular privations and obligations of the life I accepted was mine here in Dallas, helping to care for my father, what I was granted was a certain artistic freedom. No one here cared about my literary aspirations, and nobody wanted to enter into competition with me in that way. And, because of that, I chart whatever course I liked. Ah, but did my writing in all those years ever really satisfy me? Which is another way of asking: Can the self ever be a self to its own satisfaction? Until I myself migrated, I would not know if these were questions the answers to which might be lessons. (With a friend who is now more of an acquaintance (a long story), this conversation once occurred via email: “I’m not sure about traveling to these places. As much as I want to see them, visit them, I don’t want to pretend I can make myself integral to them.” “Those places you want to visit, it could be that, what they need aside, they want you just as badly.”) Please, let’s just not confuse any of this mobility, moving around and ditching “the provincial” (as if all places weren’t provincial in some respect) recently advocated by MacArthur Fellows Program Vice President Cecilia Conrad in the pages of Time Magazine, with displacement.
I know: Thomas Eric Duncan only a visitor, not a refugee. An opportunist, not someone seeking asylum. Assuming, that is, we take his story for who he is. (My position: there is much more to be learned about both narrative and person, should we be allowed.) Yet what choices would you or I make if our entire neighborhood were full of corpses? Should he not have offered assistance person who infected him, the seven-months pregnant woman trying one last time to save her own life, her baby’s life? Should he have taken more precautions? Thought more about the rest of us? I don’t know where that line of questioning leads, except back to the one asking such questions. Make an answer of yourself if you can.
What I do know is that Texas in general and Dallas in particular (Houston as well) are two of the most important cities in the United States when it comes to understanding the refugee experience. Again, The Dallas Morning News, reporting almost 1 year ago: “Texas refugee numbers have been rising for three years… Last year, Texas settled about 6,000 refugees, who have legal immigration status… Syrian resettlement in the United States could increase next year if fighting continues, [Lawrence] Bartlett [the State Department’s Director of Refugee Admissions] said… as many as 50,000 people from the Democratic Republic of Congo are expected to be resettled over the next five to seven years in various countries.” That Texas is, as our governor likes to boast, an “economic miracle,” has much to do with this trend. But Texas is also huge, oversize, and space is something we will, we believe, never run short of. The cost of living here is unconscionably low, though that is changing; real estate is already not as cheap as it was even 3 years ago. These practicalities aside, there is also the fact that, though our reputation is of of rampant assholery, Texans are mostly generous, welcoming and friendly. They certainly don’t have any difficulty understanding why someone would want to move to Texas, because, well, it is clearly the greatest place on earth. Even transplants from California and Massachusetts end up driving white Ford F-150s, falling in love with the silhouette of Texas (it does kind of look like a cowboy hat perched atop a craggy cowboy face) and accepting its ubiquity on all forms of signage, wearing pearl-snaps, drinking Shiner, drawling, pigging out on all forms and iterations of BBQ (cow, not pig), all that yee-haw crap that made me hate being from Texas when I was growing up. Cultural transformation in Texas is genuinely mutual and relatively egalitarian. Anything to make Texas more “more,” well, hell yeah. But how far can we stretch that grandiosity in a world that, Texans’ persistent myths about themselves, their history and their destiny aside, is growing smaller and smaller? The pressures of that compaction erupted in only little ways last week, but, for being petty, the stories to be told about them were no less—in fact, were more—ugly.
My map of Dallas has always been an atlas of illness. When my father contracted polio as a boy, he was sent to Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children just north and west of downtown. From what I’ve read of the polio epidemic here in the United States (these experiences not being ones my father ever recounted to me), wards overflowed with sick children, some confined to iron lungs, all separated from their families. Parental visits were severely restricted and closely monitored because of the trauma those visits induce: for parents, seeing their children, incurable, their neurons dying, their muscles withering, knowing how their children would forever be perceived as somehow unclean; for children, every adult not a doctor or nurse, individuals of little help or comfort to them anyway, a reminder of parents from whom they had been isolated. When my grandmother passed away in 1999, my older brother and I drove to Texarkana, AR, the hometown my parents left for the big city of Dallas, to help my aunt sort through her personal effects. I found a letter my father had sent my grandmother from Scottish Rite. He must have been 6 or 7 years old. Big Chief tablet paper, pencil marks faint as snail trails. My grandmother had saved that note for 50 years. I can’t tell you want that letter said, but I’ll imagine you can imagine that it made pleas that never received mercy, how it left its reader, me, vacant yet hot with bloody futility. I’ve driven past Scottish Rite many, many times, their cheery sign showing happy stick-figure children, undoubtedly based on actual drawings done by children there as part of their therapy, their crayon-enabled visualization of themselves as well and whole. And I’ve always been grateful for the fact that they somehow (well, via surgeries nearly Frankenstenian: abbreviating intestines, internal transplants of ligaments and muscles) kept my father alive and allowed him to become someone who could have a family of his own. But I don’t think I could ever really walk through their doors. (This being the story of difficulty I tell myself.) I can also tell you exactly where Miller Brace Company is on Gaston Road, near Baylor Medical Center. That my mother would drive to Like-Nu Auto, not to for auto repairs, for an occasional sprucing-up of the family car, but to have the spokes on my father’s wheelchair re-righted. The “Carnegie House,” where my wife-then-girlfriend lived when I first met her, the house she and her late partner (of 9 years) had relocated so they could make him more comfortable as cancer metastasized into his brain, robbing him of the use of his arm. West Nile virus has been a significant issue in Dallas the past several summers, and the city’s decision to contract for mosquito-exterminating aerial sprayings has redrawn our calendars, scrawled messages we preferred not to hear across the vastness of our prairie skies. (The sky here is our ocean.) My private map of Dallas does what any map does, of course. It connects as it contains, connects precisely because it fabricates discrete entities that can be puzzled and twined. But I want so much more overlapping from what I have, this past week, been obsessively unfolding, refolding, consulting and interrogating.
October 3, 2014. The Huffington Post, “Crews Race To Contain Ebola In Dallas.” Reporting, David Warren and Jamie Stengle.
Neighbors stood on their balconies and watched the family’s grim departure from behind a black tarp hung to shield their front door from view. The family was placed in a Dallas County deputy’s patrol car and driven away, apparently leaving with nothing more than the clothes they wore. The residence where they will stay had been offered only a short time earlier. Until then, a search for shelter had come up short. The city had been refused by hotels, apartments and other providers. “No one wants this family,” said Sana Syed, a Dallas city spokeswoman.
There is no shame quite like the shame of how we represent our imaginations to ourselves. How the news pairs images of reporters standing outside of Presbyterian Hospital or on the fringes of Vickery Meadow and tokenized B-roll of “the situation” (people? what people?) in West Africa: chaos, babble, abjection, everything muddied, slopped over, ravaged. Not for the sake of informing us, no. For the sake of beaming directly to the brain stem: “If you aren’t sufficiently afraid, and right now, it is only a matter of time before this country turns into Africa. You know, that problem.” Abuse is a contagion… abuse spilling and in the act infecting the spilling of bodily fluids, inflicting more shame, abuse a collective imagination bullying the individual, the private, imagination… if so, the identities of that disease’s innocent victims, receding behind but unable to flee the advance of abuse’s righteousness, those identities pass unrecorded. Communities can grow up in those spaces abandoned to a kind of deforestation in the aftermath of mass estrangement and disenfranchisement. Often these communities flourish, and, in flourishing, provoke a tsk-tsk if not outright dismay. These global “ghettos” where the only options for self-expression can curdle into an absurd binary: graffiti or terrorism. What are we to do with such problematic, unpalatable, dysfunctional communities? The solution, one practiced by elites all across that Jim Crow South of which Texas was unfortunately a member, is simple. The minute the imagination of any community lapses, the history that loves nothing more than to repeat itself piles unindexed impotence upon unindexed impotence and reaches for its torch. Kafka, “At Night”: “And you are watching, are one of the watchmen, you find the next one by brandishing a burning stick from the brushwood pile beside you. Why are you watching? Someone must watch, it is said. Someone must be there.”
Last week will go down as the week when, every time I thought about having a beer, I reread “my”** George Oppen.
We are pressed, pressed on each other, / We will be told at once / Of anything that happens // And the discovery of fact bursts / In a paroxysm of emotion / Now as always. Crusoe // We say was / ‘Rescued’. / So we have chosen. [from Of Being Numerous, “6”]
He wants to say / His life is real, / No one can say why // It is not easy to speak // A ferocious mumbling, in public / Of rootless speech*** [from Of Being Numerous, “17”]
** “My,” a “sad marvel,”**** as in “Do you know your ABCs?”
*** Or, as Sarah Vap writes in her End of the sentimental journey, ” Holy language and correct language, for me, were empty of my experiences. Empty of my private articulations. I felt monitored in mouth, and monitored in mind.” (33) Vap ultimately shakes off this surveillance. She finds she has the temerity to invoke the Muse of Irreverence. My help, however, announces itself namelessly. I’ll go chasing after a lodestar, one cold and far from heralding. A paramount stupidity. As in, pointing to my own stupidity with its several pricks. As in, my stupidity, arrayed, compassing. As in, an escape that is also a trailing behind. Behind what? My amazement. My blundering. My anesthesia. My wanting. My stammering, because-I-can-I-start-to-believe-I-must inanity.
**** We’ve known about Ebola since 1976. Why has so little progress been made on developing medical technologies to control the disease? Several factors, of course, but all of them matters of policy, whether tacit or overt.
I don’t know why I chose to be a writer. Or this is the story I keep secret to myself. Was writing even a question of desire? Ambition, perhaps. A question of authorship rather than writing in all its fuss and mess. All I know is that, as a boy, I looked up to my father. Books mattered greatly to him; therefore, I made them matter to me. Only several years into young adulthood did I really understand why books were so important to my father. They brought to him a world he felt—had been told; I don’t expect everyone to remember what accommodations were made prior to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (the year my father turned 48; he died at the age of 62), but please try do try an imagine a world somehow even less forgiving of difference—was not his to sojourn in, except “prosthetically.” I think this is also why I never wanted to write about myself or my experience, at least not explicitly. (Even here, there is so very much I am reserving.) For all representations are betrayals. My retelling my story, however I shuffle its possibilities, what does another retelling change? I’ve retold this story to myself so many times, and it always wears that same angular Freytag frown, one turned-down corner birth, the other whatever denouement defines this present. Middle school is still hell, we never move to a better house, never sniff affluence or its complacencies, 1980 still freezes and still fries, the institutions in which we placed so much of our trust forsake us anyway (and provide us with an education as necessary as it is dreadful), my father never walks again*****. And this man I call my father. He is not my father. What about his extensive knowledge of Hertzogiana, his skills as a mimic, his opinions about how Paramount ruined the Popeye cartoons by forcing the resignation of the Fleischer Bros. from the animation company they founded and turning it into Famous Studios, his own writing, the son he was, the son-in-law, the husband, the father to my brothers and sister, the neighbor, the parishioner, the incurrer and payer of debts, the “rolling Catholic,” the symbol—as some tried to make him—of a decision my mother supposedly did not comprehend she was making? There isn’t language enough for him, or anyone else, for that matter. I gave up on the idea that writing could fix anything for me other than its own fixed incommensurabilities, and a long time ago, maybe before I ever even started writing. Not that I deny anybody else the possibility of writing’s ability to soothe, correct, circumnavigate, discover. Reading is where I most frequently locate those phenomena, find their landmarks still standing where I thought they stood all along, shaping their own systems… systems, it turns out, constituted of other landmarks I never before realized I needed. So why write at all? To teach myself, over and over and over (rededication, this), not to flinch at the extent of the devastation I would add to a world already devastated. Language, after all, is a medium. As such, it mediates between us and our intentions. As such, it can be a way to find new intentions, one less ours than another’s. To write, I think, is to submit, and thus, should humility bestow its grace on my selfishness, to serve. (My community? The communities within me? Having penetrated me with belonging? Both genius and idiot are associated with our conceptions of place.) To serve serving’s praxis.
***** The nuns who prepared me for First Communion in the 2nd grade, they never lied to me about miracles, even as they exhorted me to bastion my faith with rosaries and penance.
I’m weary of my voice, sickened by the fact that it seems to mount in strength even as it should be abating, strained, its throatiness broken. But I want to relate something about MacArthur Fellow Rick Lowe’s Trans.Lation: Vickery Meadow project. And to tell of my personal investment in Trans.Lation: Vickery Meadow without toggling on some patrician mode; without apostrophizing, “Here is what there is to be thought on the subject.” Better to let the Internet chorus of it.
Trans.Lation: Vickery Meadow is an art project that seeks to highlight and translate the cultural diversity of Vickery Meadow as an asset. … Cultural diversity in the United States is often celebrated and sought out. Every institution from schools to corporations works to create some degree of diversity. It is considered an essential element of the democratic framework, and a driver of creative and economic growth. In it’s efforts to contextualize Vickery Meadow’s diversity in the framework of a social asset, Trans.Lation provides residents and the broader community the opportunity to envision Vickery Meadow as a place conducive for cultural exchange and a model for creative and innovative exchanges between folks of varied and dynamic cultural identities. Trans.Lation provides social gatherings and workshops that support the production of cultural expression, and a series of pop-up markets in the heart of the Vickery Meadow community as an open space for sharing, celebrating and encouraging cultural exchange. [https://www.facebook.com/TranslationVickeryMeadow?sk=info]
Lowe’s mission is to unite this culturally and verbally disparate neighborhood through arts education, food and sense of community, culminating in a series of five open-air public markets happening in Vickery Meadow on select Saturdays during the length of Xchange’s run (October 19 to February 16). Before any of that can happen he and his team of busy Dallas arts activists must sell the idea to those already living there. Friday was their first public rousing effort, and to get the community’s attention, Lowe’s crew organized a simple, but beautiful block party where tables stretched out in the shade, offering heirloom recipes from each of Vickery Meadow’s cultural influences. [Jaime Laughlin, The Dallas Observer]
One August evening, I visit the complex on Ridgecrest Road where Lowe has turned two units donated by North Park Terrace Apartments into a temporary community workshop and an artist residence. Alwan, a short, small-framed man with dark, deep-set eyes and stringy, slicked-back gray hair, is teaching three students in one of the bedrooms that has been converted into a painting studio. “How do you like my birds?” a fortysomething Hispanic man asks Alwan, pointing to squiggles at the top of his canvas. The artist smiles. Later, outside, Alwan smokes a cigarette while sitting on a raised plywood platform that served as a stage for a talent show event the Trans.Lation team organized the prior weekend. Most refugees only stay in Vickery Meadow for a couple of years before moving on, he explains, but he has been here for five. He likes the community. He likes grilling food and inviting neighbors to his apartment, and after eating, singing and playing his oud, a lute-like stringed instrument. But sometimes he gets depressed. He says his apartment is too cramped to paint. He puts his hand to his mouth and makes a swigging motion. Sometimes he drinks. Looking at some of Alwan’s work, it is not difficult to surmise why his sensibilities haven’t translated to the American market. He paints watercolor landscapes of Baghdad or the Iraqi countryside, and rich, melancholic oil paintings. In one, a family of murdered refugees lies in the dirt near a tattered, rolled-up rug, their faces peaceful, as if they are sleeping. In another painting, a pretty young woman lies in a bed, her body lost in billowing sheets, her right hand extending out, clutching a plucked flower. While Alwan is undoubtedly a skilled painter, his work is flushed with melodrama, and it doesn’t seem to jibe with the interests or sensibilities of much mainstream contemporary art. Since Lowe started his project, though, Alwan has been teaching classes again and making a little money doing it. His hope is that the market in October will bring new attention to his work. The project has already made him yearn for a studio of his own, with room for his materials. [Peter Simek, D Magazine]
The element of surprise is at play on Ridgecrest Road and its jumble of aging apartments, where rents are as low as $450 a month. Three cube-like galleries are open on Ridgecrest, the work of local architects and construction contractors. Inside are photos of characters from the community and plants nursed by Jonathan Harris, a resident rechristened an “ecological interventionist.” There’s an interactive installation that asks a trio of questions: What languages do you speak? What holidays do you celebrate? Would you rather have a job or an education? A response to the last query in chalk on the wall: “Education. Because with education I can choose my job.” Gallery curator is Darryl Ratcliff, a native of the Dallas area who moved into the neighborhood in August. “A lot of this is about dignity and creating space for people to interact with each other,” he says during a stroll on Ridgecrest. “Most people don’t know this exists in Dallas. The world is literally in your backyard.” … Inside an apartment where studio classes are held, Adu Bhattarai displays her beaded jewelry and delicate henna-on-paper paintings. The 41-year-old Nepalese refugee came to Dallas with five family members about four years ago. Her English is limited, but this she knows: “I like the program.” Sara Mokuria, the project manager, views the possibilities of Trans.Lation from the perspective of an urban planner. She’s a researcher at the University of Texas at Dallas’ Institute for Urban Policy Research and the daughter of an Ethiopian. Mokuria said she’s well aware of the surrounding wealthy neighborhoods, where the median household income can be five times that of those in the aging apartments of Vickery Meadow. Some of the apartments are boarded up, a sign that gentrification could follow. “The neighborhood and this project offer an opportunity for the city and the residents to think about what a community means,” Mokuria said. “How can we think long-term about what we want our living environment to be? In my dream world, Vickery Meadow would be an international neighborhood, where you can live and dine and experience people from all over the world.” The final pop-up event is Feb. 16. What happens afterward is in play. Will workshops and organizing continue? Who will fund it? Could Trans.Lation become Dallas’ version of Project Row Houses? “I am presenting this as a cultural challenge to arts groups and others in Dallas,” Lowe said. [Dianne Solís, The Dallas Morning News]
Lowe’s “piece” is one of 10 commissioned by the Nasher Sculpture Center for Nasher Xchange, a collection of public artworks positioned throughout Dallas to mark the museum’s 10th anniversary. The official title of the Vickery Meadow work is “Trans.Lation.” Lowe and a group of many collaborators have been working in the neighborhood most of the year, planning, meeting neighbors, running workshops. This fall saw a series of monthly “markets”. Sometimes, they are more traditional markets, selling residents’ artwork. But there has also been “Lucky Pot,” 17 women from different countries sharing traditional dishes with neighbors. And “Vickery Meadow’s Got Talent,” 27 acts performing for about 500 people. “There doesn’t need to be a literal interpretation of the word [market]” says Ratcliff. “It’s really about how do we facilitate these cultural exchanges inside the community and also with the greater Dallas community as well.” Last month, the newest feature, White Cube Galleries, opened. These three outdoor cubes—two are white, one is green—are accessible 24-hours. “They’re meant to be these community spaces where we can bridge the high-end art world and the community world and bring the two together,” says Ratcliff. … The Nasher project – and its funding – ends in February. But the collaborators are looking for a way to keep it going. So’s the community. “It’ll be really interesting to see…if the arts community in Dallas sees that as worthy to invest in and continue this type of work here,” says Ratcliff. “In a normal art world, the gallery world, we have a show and then it’s over. We sweep the floors, we take the work down and it’s time for the next show. If it’s a bad show, whatever. With work like this, it’s not quite that easy because you’re really dealing with people’s lives. You can’t just take the work down and sweep the floor.” One woman who had heard that the workshops might go away began crying, “expressing how much it meant to her to have this place, where people are so open. And that moment really impacted me, that realization that ok, you’ve come in you’ve provided spaces for people’s lives. Just pulling the plug like that can sometimes also be disruptive.” [Anne Bothwell, Art&Seek]
This last article was published in January of this year. Beyond an “extended market” in April, I cannot confirm when the project itself was most recently active.
For the last few years, nonprofits in Vickery Meadow have increased social services, starting more English classes and after-school programs. Aging apartments have gotten some repair, including new fencing and gates to cut down burglaries. Vickery Meadow is also one of Dallas’ top crime hot spots, with some immigrants targeted as victims. Darryl Ratcliff, an artist, moved into the neighborhood about a year and half ago when an art project called “Trans.Lation: Vickery Meadow” began as part of the 10th anniversary celebration of the Nasher Sculpture Center. The project aims to use “social sculpture” to inspire change. As he stood outside Trans.Lation’s offices, Ratcliff contemplated the threat of Ebola. “The challenge,” he said, “is to make sure a single incident doesn’t end up defining a community. [Dianne Solís, The Dallas Morning News]
Last week will go down as the week that I tried to compose new soundtracks for old habits of virtual being. I can tell you, failure dances to a distinct rhythm.
Last week will go down as the week in which I struggled with mediation in its every brand, with the very notion of mediation, its ubiquity and inevitability. (Mediation as prophecy.) The week I tried to mediate myself out of it all, with this post to the private / Entropy editors and contributors Facebook group.
Living in Dallas, being from Dallas, spending a week processing the various uglinesses of the response to Ebola here — some local, but the majority of them not so easily isolatable — notions of contagion, mapping, race and class and choice, recognition, how we are all Kafka-esque subjects in the eye of the media, I don’t know, too much, I feel something needs to be written, just not sure I am the one to write it. If others here have thoughts about this “case,” please reach out as I would welcome the opportunity to advance a dialogue rather than indulge in a monologue about the varieties of sorrow to be felt.
I made this post late Friday afternoon. I deleted it late Saturday morning. After a night’s rest and a long walk, I decided that, after all, I couldn’t go any way other than on my own.
(JM, 10/04 – 10/06 2014)
FOI / For (the Freedom of) Our Informedness
Refugee Services of Texas, Dallas: http://www.rstx.org/dallas.html
International Rescue Committee (IRC), Dallas: http://www.rescue.org/us-program/us-dallas-tx
Refugee Resettlement Services, Catholic Charities of Dallas: http://www.catholiccharitiesdallas.org/programs/res/refugee-resettlement-services/
Vickery Meadow Learning Center (VMLC): http://www.vmlc.org/
Vickery Meadow Improvement District (VMID): http://home.vickerymeadow.org/
Vickery Meadow Assistance Fund, The Dallas Foundation: http://www.dallasfoundation.org/tabid/406/Default.aspx
Vickery Meadow Youth Development Foundation: http://www.vmydf.com/
Vickery Meadow Neighborhood Alliance Food Pantry: http://www.jfsdallas.org/getinvolved/volunteers/mitzvahcentral/general-opportunities/193-vickery-meadow