By Conner Delgado
I started this in February. It was going to be about the last pre-pandemic art crawl in Nashville. I’m writing this in July now. My family was almost homeless last month and now we’re living in a house with seven bedrooms, a garden, and two strangely personable crows. I’ve been bribing those birds with trail mix to stay around and do pest control.
My well-intentioned white friends message me again asking for intellectual dialogue about what’s been going on lately, not realizing I come to these conversations from a separate, more intimate place than them and don’t have the privilege of “thought experiments”. I speak in a language of emotion and experience and they reply with ones and zeros. We don’t understand each other. I wish we did.
I’ve been rattled with sleepless nights more often than not. The sun has risen twice before I’ve slept once more times than I can count since I’ve moved from Nashville. Every day feels like a fresh new hell and you still have to make the three year old some Ovaltine. I started drinking coffee again. James Scurlock was shot in my city. He was twenty two.
I don’t want to mince words. I’m tired. I don’t know how to wax poetic on aesthetics anymore. Everything feels so big lately. I’ll text my friend Lincoln most days to see how she’s doing. She just moved again, too. Her apartment is half painting supplies and half milk crates.
The fear I already feel with my disability is given center stage and a spotlight. I had another health scare this spring right before everything shut down and I’m just getting back in for testing.
I book what they tell me to. MRIs, neurology appointments, med checks, I wait a few weeks on bloodwork because it’s already been months. I’ve gotten most of my results back, and I still don’t know anything new. It’s been five years of not knowing so far.
Almost every day lately my 5 year old sister – over a glass of sun tea – reminds me of that one time I watched her and the three year old while the rest of my family got out of the house. She helped me make dinner, and we watched a movie. It’s remarkable the kind of conversations kids will have if you listen. When everything seems scary and unpredictable sometimes the only thing to do is pay attention.
On my worst days I wish I could be someone else. I feel like even if my tongue could make rocks sprout rivers, people I care about still wouldn’t understand me. I’m learning to be at peace with that. I’m learning to be okay with just bearing witness.
Art, like love, is an act of paying attention. It shows us who and what value either directly or indirectly through what we look at or turn our backs on. My hope for us is that most days, our actions and values actually align with what we say- and on the days they don’t we do our best to correct it in sustainable ways beyond lip service.
I’ve had to be an expert since I got out of the cradle. Lately I just want to have normalcy. I want to have small talk and catch up again. I feel like I’m talking to strangers. It’s hard to feel safe in conversation about the world on fire when it’s personal experience for you and an abstract concept for them. Don’t you see the smoke too?
Tell me about how your family is doing. Have you eaten yet today? What’s your favorite taki? I want to remember you. Did you get to go outside today? How is Abilene? Are you still going plant based? How is the new job? I miss seeing you in person, I hope you’re staying safe and doing okay. What was your favorite toy growing up? Have you seen that surprisingly rewatchable Café Bustelo Youtube ad?
I moved again. There’s still holes in my walls from the water damage, but I’m hoping that we can get it fixed soon. I was finally unsick enough today to eat three whole meals for the first time in ages. I started painting again; they aren’t dry yet, though. My grandmother in Texas made fun of me at Thanksgiving back in 2016 for drinking coffee after 5pm but had no problem with other people drinking beer at 11am, and I think about it every time I drink coffee at 11pm. I want to remember you.
I’m not turning away from what’s going on in the world. I’m turning towards it. People are going to die. It’s not going to get better soon. I’m paying attention so I remember the normal things, and the good things, and the everyday.
As important as it is to practice gratitude in abundance, that abundance lets us see where we have need. I started growing marigolds in my bedroom window. By the time this gets out I hope they’ll be sprouted. I’m longing for days when these moments are blessings I almost forget.
There’s a difference between feeling and action. In the valley between the two is where most good intentions become empty pontifications at best, and harm and violence their worst. You can’t become experts in one book, one conversion, one theology, or one stereotype, and expect to fix everything. As long as our Nice White Friends don’t do the work to seek out information themselves, there will be a gap in between what is taught, researched, venerated, and valued, and what is real, and practical, and breathing. Real change needs care, humility, and a dedication to justice and equity that temporary committees and dedications can’t fix. No matter how much I love you I can’t give you the answers you want.
We have to devote ourselves to new ways of seeing and new ways of doing. Until we wrestle with the space between our professed and practiced values, we can’t get to some place better.
Until then, I will be just as sacred.
Delgado is an artist, writer, & curator based in Omaha NE. Director for @opengallerynashville.