I started yesterday talking to students, in my 8am class, about the importance of being involved in the world around them; about the value of civic conversations; Edward Snowden; The Patriot Act; misappropriated outrage. We discussed what a text is—it’s a book, a painting, a building, a classroom, it’s you, and me—and we must examine all of them critically. We must, as active world citizens, engage in textual analysis. At every turn.
If you’re outraged, I told them, be outraged by the apathy that surrounds us. It is a common conversation in my classes. I teach composition, writing; but I have learned that students must understand we are surrounded by the composition of our lives. It’s a tapestry your life, my life, that life over there, and in order to make it work we must work in concert, be interdependent—and that means being a responsible citizen—aware of what The Man is doing—and consciously working to make the world a better place, one little word at a time. And so, we examine the world in discussions, and then write. Yes, I am probably what many Tea Party people consider the epitome of liberal education (even though that term really means expansive, classical, including a liberal [i.e. generous] helping of a variety of subjects).
For a brief moment, in the shadow of another school shooting, this one in Santa Monica, we talked about the text of the room—what were the walls made from? Where would we be safe? We made a plan. One student commented that our schools are, in general, safe. A chorus of voices began… Iowa, Columbine, Tech, that reservation in Minnesota, the Amish school, that crazy professor in Alabama, wasn’t there a shooting at a Christian college in California?
They looked around the room. And planned.
After class, I did this and that. Jamie and I packed the car and we began our journey to Charlottesville, Va.. We stopped to vote in the state’s Democratic primary, at about 2:30; we were voters 9 and 10 in our precinct. Nine and ten. I slapped my “I Voted” sticker on my white oxford and took a picture of it.
Indigo Girls and Joan Baez waited. The hour’s ride was uneventful (unless you consider the six cars, with government tags, suspicious. Six government cars en route to the town where a concert by a long-standing political activist is taking place…if I were a conspiracy theorist…). I made it to the Water St. Parking Garage without getting lost, I always get lost in Charlottesville. Always. It’s a rule, so I was proud of myself for this accomplishment.
We walked the artsy brick pathways to the nTelos Wireless Pavilion. And by artsy, I mean it’s an artsy sort of place; new age shops, independent book sellers, coffee shops filled with artists and poets, street vendors selling scarves with eastern and Celtic designs—100% cotton, you know the type, I have more than a dozen of them, each different, each unique. My empty wallet and I gave the table a wide berth. Charlottesville is an artsy-folky sort of place. It’s a good venue for Baez and the Indigo Girls.
The crowd began to gather, mostly women, lots of purples, tie-dyes, paisley, Dr. Scholl’s. Many of these women shopped at Holy Clothing. Long flowing hair, braids that were once brown or blond, or red that had now faded to a graceful sort of gray dominated the crowd. Because both acts openly support the LGBT community, many women, lesbians, walked through the crowd unabashedly holding hands. The snippets of conversations I overheard included talk of the Stones new tour; recent bucket list check-offs like seeing Bob Dylan; low voter turnouts. I heard several people ask about recycling. I saw lots—lots—of “I Voted” stickers. These were people who were involved in the world around them, writing the texts of their lives, these people critically analyzed the text that is the world around them. These were my peeps, my peers, my sisters (and brothers). I breathed in hope, more so, because although many of the people in the audience were older than I am, many, many were younger. I thought about my students.
The Indigo Girls opened the show. They engaged the audience with amazing renditions of Galileo, Shame on You, Least Complicated, along with several songs, I didn’t know. They closed with a powerful Closer to Fine – a song that helped to define a period of my life.
Baez took the stage quietly, no introductions, no fanfare. She opened with Lily of the West. And then, true to reputation, she got political with Steve Earle’s Jerusalem:
I woke up this mornin’ and none of the news was good
And death machines were rumblin’ ‘cross the ground where Jesus stood
And the man on my TV told me that it had always been that way
And there was nothin’ anyone could do or say
And I almost listened to him
Yeah, I almost lost my mind
Then I regained my senses again
And looked into my heart to find
That I believe that one fine day all the children of Abraham
Will lay down their swords forever in Jerusalem…
She sang Woody Guthrie’s Deportee, dedicating it to Virginia’s pro-immigration senator, Tim Kaine. She also did Guthrie’s House of the Rising Sun, Donovan’s Catch the Wind, Dylan’s Don’t Think Twice (with the Indigo Girls), Swing Low Sweet Chariot, Diamonds and Rust, and a dozen or so other songs. The show was shorter than I would have liked, but Joan is 72. She is a consummate performer; funny, irreverent, thought-provoking, pensive. The show was well worth the ride, the Indigo Girls making the show that much richer. A good time, good socially conscious music, shared with good people. A ray of hope.
But, so as not to break my record, I got lost on the return trip…