There's something about sad stories
"I can finally breathe. Take in the air. I have hope here. In the midst of me laying down my life in sacrifice for my son. There’s beauty and hope here. Hope for your children. Hope that they can get a college degree. Hope that they have a future, hope that their narrative will not be snuffed out. Hope that we can reform a system that will conform to the brilliance of our children. That your children not return to you in a casket. Hope for a better tomorrow. Hope for partnerships. Hope. Love y’all for real."
~ Dannielle Brown, mother & activist from D.C. on day 28 of hunger strike in Pittsburgh.
Yesterday, I visited Dannielle Brown at Freedom Corner with a friend. A little girl came by, and Ms. Brown explained to her what she’s doing & why. She encouraged the girl to pray for her and to dream big dreams. Before we left, she told us to advocate for university police reform, not for her.
Since then, it has been a long night and a dreary, cloudy morning. I’ve done all I can to support Ms. Brown, but something in me resents the next logical step — to accept what I can't control & move on with my life. I resist this logic, as if sadness were a form of activism.
It reminds me of my penchant for sad stories.
Two weeks ago, while teaching a workshop, I asked the kids, “What kinds of stories are you most interested in telling?” My own storytelling has been rooted in powerful feelings of isolation and dissonance. I encouraged them to revel in unanswered questions, to find a place for creativity within uncertainty & tension.
Then someone suggested creating from a place of joy. How could I have forgotten this? When I play flute, joy is one of my deepest values.
But in storytelling — crafting a journey for people to think through, imagine, and feel — I am drawn to sad stories. Or more specifically, to the heaviness in stories.
Purely lighthearted, noisily celebratory content doesn't interest me. Even on this blog, I'm reluctant to post anything that isn’t weighed down by social or historical awareness.
I tend towards creative work that is inflected with the heaviness of living in this world. Into these representations of lived experience, creative storytelling breathes possibility, imagination, and hope.
In this segment of Behind the scenes, I'm practicing an excerpt from Gustav Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde. Since watching MTT and the San Francisco Symphony perform Das Lied live over five years ago, I've been captivated by this work.
Over a year ago, I watched the Pittsburgh Symphony perform this piece. At the very end, silence stretched across the concert hall for seconds, or maybe a minute, or even longer. Then, slowly, applause washed over the hall.
As I've written before, being a musician can feel superfluous in the face of tragedy. Tragedy demands silence. Yet I find solace in this music from Das Lied, because it leaves room for silence — both in the expression itself, and in its impact on those who listen.