Season 2: Ep. 5: Narratives of Trauma and Transcendent Hope with Tyné Angela Freeman
Tyné Angela Freeman’s work spans songwriting, ethnomusicology, recording, and authorship. This podcast explores her album and text by the title of “The Sky is Deeper Than the Sea” to discuss questions of trauma, transcendent hope, history, love and resilience. We also explore her earlier work of cross-cultural bridge-building and her research on Mamie Smith. Resting on a profound belief in hope, Freeman explores the reconciliation of traumatic histories through evocative approaches to story and time.
Tyné Angela Freeman
is a vocalist, composer, and multi-instrumentalist. She graduated from Dartmouth College in 2017 with a degree in music. Tyné has released five independent records and has performed across the U.S. and internationally. She was a performer in the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage Series, a YoungArts national winner, and a finalist in the 2018 Independent Music Awards.
In 2020, Tyné Angela Freeman published a novel and an album titled, The Sky is Deeper than the Sea. This conversation is an exploration of that work as well as her Bridges album and prior scholarship. Additionally this podcast is constructed to support our Master’s students' investigations into trauma-informed frameworks of healing and care.
1. Freeman explores the imagination of what it means to be the “dreams of those who believed.” How does reimagining the presence of the past change us?
2. Mamie Smith used text to name the truth of anger, rage and grief. In Brueggeman’s Prophetic Imagination, Brueggeman names artistic lament as powerful means of protest. How does prophetic text invite truth-telling and reconciliation?
3. This podcast explores our interaction with technology. For Mamie Smith, it offered powerful spaces for critique and other problematic trends. For Freeman, it offered time to sit with ideas, building bridges of song with distant collaborators. In this time and place, what opportunities and constraints does technology offer for new ways of speaking, listening, and being?
4. In one TED Talk, Freeman describes listening as an improvisatory act, a sense of listening for “what comes next.” What does it mean for listening (not speaking) to be an improvisatory act?
The podcast cites Boss’ notion of ambiguous loss as one that is traumatic. How are notions of ambiguous loss rooted within unjust systems?
5. Menakem points to the understanding that trauma and resilience are experienced, lived, felt, and passed on within community and across time. How might this inform approaches to trauma mending in the classroom? How might it inform our understanding of racialized traumas?
TyneAngela.com - Tyné Angela Freeman's Website
Boss, P. (2000). Ambiguous loss: Learning to live with unresolved grief. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Freeman, T. A. (2017). Bridges: Retracing Afro-Diasporic Music Pathways. (Thesis, Dartmouth College).
Freeman, T. A. (2019). Echolocation: Black Female Recording Pioneers. (Master’s Thesis, Dartmouth College).
Freeman, T. A. (2020). The sky is deeper than the sea: The story behind the songs. https://www.tyneangela.com/: Self-published by Tyné Angela Freeman.
Kemp, A. (2016). Say the Wrong Thing: Stories and Strategies for Racial Justice and Authentic Community. Lancaster, PA: Joy Will Come Press.
Menakem, R. (2017). My grandmother’s hands: Racialized trauma and the pathway to mending our hearts and bodies. Las Vegas, NV: Central Recovery Press.
Tyné Angela Freeman Sound Travels TED Talk
South Carolina TEDx Talk
Mamie Smith's Crazy Blues
Thu, 4/29 5:19PM • 52:52
trauma, freeman, music, write, forgiveness, peacebuilding, song, singing, story, feel, thinking, hope, people, book, connect, voice, learning, continue, world, growing
Music, Kevin Shorner-Johnson, Tyné
When we decide that we're going to operate from a place of hopefulness and believing that tomorrow can be better than today, it gives us the power to display acts of radical mercy. It gives us the power to continue creating, to continue being loving. And I think art is one of the ways that we can paint these pictures of hope. So for me, all of it was my attempt to point in the direction of hope, transcendent hope.
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 00:28
You are listening to the music and peacebuilding podcast, a professional development network at music peacebuilding .com, exploring intersections of peacebuilding, sacredness, community, creativity and imagination through research and story. Today, Angela Freeman is a vocalist, composer and multi instrumentalist. She graduated from Dartmouth College in 2017, with a degree in music. Tyne has released five independent records and is performed across the US and internationally. She was a performer in the Kennedy Center's Millennium stage series, a young arts national winner, and a finalist in the 2018 Independent Music Awards. She notes that her music is driven by a desire to rise to discover hope and tribulation, transform suffering into creativity. Drawing upon myriad traditions, she seeks to amplify the unheard, shedding light, especially on those who have historically been silenced or marginalized. She notes, "my song is always love, always truth, always justice, music has been critical in freedom struggles across geographies and generations. In this vein, I strive to engage pertinent contemporary issues with an ethic of reconciliation and transcendent hope. In 2022, Tyne Angela Freeman published a novel and an album titled "The sky is deeper than the sea." This conversation is an exploration of that work, as well as her Bridges album and prior scholarship. Additionally, this podcast is constructed to support our master students' investigations into trauma-informed frameworks of healing and care. Similar to earlier podcasts, I believe it is important that I name my frame, I'm a white male professor who is continuing to grow and evolve in my understanding and practice of anti-racist work and being, to support my growth and check my biases and assumptions. I have asked Tyne to listen to drafts of this podcast and suggest edits or corrections, making sure that my framing is ethical and done with great care. We begin with Tyne Angela Freeman's story.
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 02:56
Well, maybe let's let's start with a little bit of your story, since our listeners don't know your story, so if you would just encapsulate a little bit about your journey to, from being a pastor's daughter in South Carolina and into college in Dartmouth. And then I think later on, we'll open up your study abroad experience. But if you could open up that story for us a little bit and how you're, I think you're straddling both the areas of English and music at the same time.
Yes, sure. I'm happy to share a little bit more about my background. So as you said, my, my dad is a pastor in South Carolina, this, I'm here right now. So this is where I grew up, spent most of my, like grade school years growing up here, being very involved in church. Music was a really big part of my childhood as well. My dad is a pianist. And so I grew up learning piano from him, and then also singing with my church. So that's kind of my dad. He has these roots in the South. African American. He's a third generation pastor. And so that goes really far back in our family. And then on my mom's side, she is from Jamaica, and she immigrated here in 1982. So most of her family has come. Most of them live in like the Miami area right now. But yeah, so I guess growing up, I kind of had these two cultures that were musical and artistic in different ways. And just came with a lot of things that I didn't have a chance to unfold until college and kind of like you mentioned, studying abroad really opened up for me learning more about my cultural identity. But yeah, growing up, I just got to kind of enjoy the music, enjoy the food, enjoy the culture, that came along with what my parents were able to give me. Faith was a really big part of my upbringing, and kind of going back to this idea of hope. And yeah, that has always been really important to me and central to the way that I think about The world and think about what's going on in the world. I think that's always been really central to my songwriting, to my creative process. For as long as I can remember. I've been creating music for about 10 years, I made my first album when I was 15. And yeah, even then, the things that I heard in church, honestly, the conversations that I had with my parents, and with friends, they always found their way into what I created. And so I think that has just continued to persist, as I've continued creating. And as I've continued growing, exposure, traveling, learning more about, I guess, about myself and current events, other people's journeys and experiences, I've always carried with me, this sense of transcendent hope, I would say, and tried to bring it into the things that I create.
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 06:01
I think my next question was about how much I saw the deep themes of hope throughout your work as well, as well as your your search, and curiosity for connection with others. And I also wanted to note the sacredness of your memory of Aunt Evelyn, as you dedicated your work to her in The Sky is Deeper than the Sea. Yeah. I was just curious about how the stories of those who influenced you, how do you see those as forming your understandings of hope and your search for connection right now?
Oh, that's a that's a really good question. I think that's something that I've really gotten to delve into with this particular project. this most recent one, which I did dedicate to my aunt. Yeah, it's really been this, like the privilege of remembering those before me and learning about them. I think, just learning about their stories and seeing the sacrifices that they made. Yeah, that's definitely impacted me deeply. I think, something that I'm writing about a lot in the book is this idea of, I guess, appreciating or paying homage to those before us. I just feel very cognizant of that, these days, especially, I think, I've always had the privilege of like, getting to create my music having things like, like the internet, like YouTube, knowing how to being able to like navigate and learn how to, like produce music, to record things that the people before me didn't have access to, and getting an education, things like that. I just feel really appreciative of those before me who did, did what they had to do so that I can do what I'm passionate about doing and what I want to do. Like my grandmother, I was saying, my mother immigrated from Jamaica and her, her mother, she is an educator. But when she first came here for many years, she had to do like, she had to do a lot of jobs that weren't necessarily her passion, which is educating. And I think, just when I think about those before me who were willing to take on that type of work and make those types of sacrifices. Yeah, it just makes me really grateful to be able to do this. So in a lot of different ways, the more recent past and then like the more distant past as well. I'm very appreciative of the sacrifices of those before me.
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 08:34
I think your line, "I'm the dream of those who believe" is such a powerful one in your singing so
I am the dream of those who believe. I am a dream of those who believe. I have a dream of those who believe. I am the dream of those who believe. [music]
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 09:34
If we turn to technology, I wanted to start with that first research project that you started exploring with Professor Levin and that seems to have had such a big impact on you. So the research project that you did with Mamie Smith, and her journey as a blues artist and the intersection of a technological development with her artistry. Can you talk a little bit about what interested you with her and where that journey took you?
Yeah, I was really interested in learning more about the birth of the recording industry. So I kind of started there just looking at the phonograph, looking at, especially looking at Black woman in the recording industry. So Mamie Smith is generally understood to be the first black woman who recorded commercially. That was in 1920. She really paved the way. And I think a lot of other names have. Like Bessie Smith, we've heard of, we've heard of Ella, we've heard of Etta, but Mamie was really a trailblazer. And her work, because it resonated with audiences so widely, it opened the door for other record labels to be willing to record black women. And yeah, so that is really what paved the way for an Etta James or a Bessie Smith, and all of those other wonderful artists who came after. But yeah, I was really struck by the fact that I've always been intrigued by recording technology. And this idea of cultural memory, how it's sort of like a time capsule, when we record something, you used the word timeless, earlier, I really just love this idea of creating something that someone can find later in time. And that can speak to them in their moment. So yeah, I was really struck by her recordings, her voice, and how it has managed to travel through time and find its way to me. So my project, this was my master's thesis that I created In 2019. I was just learning more about that era, I was learning about the Harlem Renaissance as well. And just the people who were willing to take these risks in this industry that was so new, and using this technology that they didn't really know what it would mean. I mean, now we can look back and understand how it has impacted society in the world. But I think they were so courageous to, yeah, to be able to tell their stories share their stories. And yeah, it's traveled to us. And it's just really cool to me to be able to hear that, to hear that moment.
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 12:20
And the importance that at that time, like in many ways, it disembodied the black woman took took her voice away from her body, but also allowed this voice to enter new spaces in new ways and to speak in new ways, which is something that you speak to maybe we can focus on crazy blues that you write about, which influences your song smoke, I think gives you quote that
Yeah. Yes, it does.
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 12:48
Um, there's that really profound like next to last line about shoot a police officer, which just, I don't think I recognized that until I went back and listened to the song after you had written about it. Talk about like, in that song, how she's expressing her. I think you say she's coping with grief and drawing upon her spirituality to reconcile her rage. The text explores trauma as a profoundly disruptive force, can you talk about that song?
Sure. Yeah, I can try to. I think, for me, it's been a really, I guess, I would say therapeutic and enlightening process. Just to sort of give some context, I, I started off with creating music, as I've kind of shared my background. And then in college, I started doing this more research oriented work that is allowed me to delve into these lyrics and delve into the context that surrounds them. So yes, likewise, when I came across that line, and was able to read about it and understand more about what it meant for her to insert that type of assertion into her music, that is really deepened my appreciation for her art. And yeah, so kind of, like you said, the recording technology, it does in a way does disembody, it separates the voice from the body. And my thesis was really, I think, at the core of it, I was looking at how it was a way for a black women to. Black women having been so exploited and reduced to just a body basically, historically. Yeah, I write about how this recording technology enabled Mamie to share her voice and share her story and be heard by people who otherwise perhaps wouldn't have been willing to listen. While also being in the space of safety, where her body can't be exploited. Like, it sort of allows her to transcend that reduction, like being reduced to just a body of physical presence. Hopefully that makes sense. I'm kind of trying to Yeah, trying to articulate what I was getting at in my in my writing. So yeah, I would say that when she does say that line in the song, there's a certain safety, I think, in the distance that she has from those who are hearing it when they hear the song, because that's a very inflammatory thing to say. And I think especially now, I mean, in this moment that we're in now, it continues to be inflammatory, and it continues to be resonant in some ways. But I think she captured this sense of rage and grief that a lot of black women were feeling and rightfully so, honestly, I think music has these cathartic properties. It has this power to, to heal. And sometimes that's through making these types of statements that, it can be an outlet for these types of statements that in conversations or other contexts wouldn't be acceptable or just wouldn't be possible to voice. So I think Mamie says this and I think she's speaking to this trauma that so many others of her time were feeling and I think it resonated for that reason.
Sometimes sorrow spa, flame of fury burning through me, and an aching heart, often contemplates avenging, loss of future, loss of time, loss of love I once called my mine, [music]
How can say that I'm living by love? How can I say that enough isn't bad and fire with Paya now? When will we ever retire our? Our weapons and hate, star fighting our way to forgiveness. So I pray, for the salvation of your soul. I pray that you will somehow make it home I pray that we can let our weapons fall I pray that love heal us one and all.
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 17:50
Mamie Smith found artistic voice to express the trueness of anger, grief and rage within racialized traumas. In the sky is deeper than the sea, Freeman's character encounters the fundamental unfairness of the paradoxes of violence. Feeling a world of disconnection, the heroine finds herself angry, quote, At a little town where there are whites only signs and history books with missing pages, at everyone for pitying my choked sobs... at my papa for holding me in his arms, as I struggled and wept and grieved in the messiest way. I am angry at a world that can hold so much agony, and so much beauty in such close proximity."
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 18:49
In her own formative travels, Freeman explored the paradox of a journey away to discover what is within and relations that deepen where words fall short.
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 19:06
So turning to your bridges album, we have a long ways to go. And I hope we can get all of this done because I have so many questions I want to ask you. You write. For me music is all about building bridges. When I collaborate, I aim to cultivate trust and connect with my co creators, we improvise we're vulnerable, allowing space for missteps and missed notes, when we emerge at the unique composition we have imagined and brought forth something beautiful together. And this leads toward conversation, empathy and reconciliation. So, So tell us a little bit about about this story of your study abroad experience into Ghana and, and how collaborations have led you toward understandings of conver... musical conversation, empathy and reconciliation?
Yes, yeah, it was It was a really life changing experience. So it was my junior year at Dartmouth, I had the opportunity to study abroad. And I traveled to Ghana. As you said, It was my first time leaving the United States. And it was also my first time really confronting questions of identity, racial identity, ethnic identity. on a deeper level, I'd always kind of those were just a given to me, I would say I hadn't thought about. I hadn't thought very deeply about blackness, I hadn't thought about the different types of blackness, that my parents as I was describing earlier, embody their different experiences. And going to Ghana made me think more about where I came from. It made me think about what I have in common with the people that I encountered there, and also what we don't have in common, what distinguishes us, and yeah, it just added a lot of complexity to my understanding of my ethnic and cultural background. And as you said, Music has always been, for me a way of connecting with people, as that quote points to, it's been a way of building bridges. And a lot of the time when I think like when Words fail when conversation is not adequate. Music has been a way for me to express myself. And so when I got more serious about collaborating with others, that really just continued to occupy that role of connecting and having conversations that need to be had, but that maybe words fall short, in some ways. Yeah, so I was able to connect with several artists there. We kind of had like a midterm break on the trip. So during that time, I went and spent time in Nairobi, Kenya, with with the family of one of my good friends from college. So it was during that trip that the entire bridges album was, the idea was sparked. I went to a show in the city, and there was an artist performing. He was singing reggae songs. So that resonated with me. And I do write about this in my ethnography. So maybe you remember this little vignette? Yeah. He was singing reggae songs. So since that's a part of my background, it resonated with me. And it felt very familiar, even though I was 1000s and 1000s of miles away from my home. And he was also incorporating, he was incorporating Luo I believe in Swahili, so different languages into the lyrics. So that really struck me it was, it was familiar, but it was also different. And I just thought it was really cool. So afterwards, I connected with him. And he was, he continues to be one of my great friends. He's just so passionate about music, and was so enthusiastic about collaborating. So he initiated a collaboration between us. We were using WhatsApp, like a messaging application. Yes. And so he was just, I mean, really enthused, and really took the initiative to write half of the song and encouraged me to write the other half in English. And that was basically the genesis of the project. I was able to connect with a few other artists in Ghana, and then some other people through Dartmouth as well. And I've just replicated that process with them where we were sharing ideas, even though we were distanced geographically. And so we would Skype, we would send audio notes back and forth. We had this process of Tela-collaboration, where we were able to create something and be in conversation about the things that we were thinking about the things we were experiencing, it was an opportunity to, like I mentioned earlier, learn more about what brings us together what makes us similar, and also what makes us different and celebrate the beauty of those differences. And this is
[music] We sing a song.
Radiance is a song that I composed back in 2015. And I co composed it with students from a school called the Global Village project. It's a school that's located near Atlanta, Georgia, all of the students are teenage girls, they're refugees from different countries. So I wrote the song Radiance and had them translate one of the lines into different languages. So on the record, you can hear their voices singing these different lines, and you can also hear them as a chorus, on different parts of the song as well. And yeah, so this song was also another example of this collaborative process. And it was just a way for me to connect with them and use music as a medium for that, learn more about their backgrounds and really see the arts in action for them see how the arts could be a source of joy and healing for them as well. [music]
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 25:41
And if we circle back to technology, and I know that many music teachers right now are struggling to catch up with, yeah, these new distance notions of how we do music during a pandemic, you encountered the problems of latency, as you worked with Skype, and so you centered on this WhatsApp, can you talk about what collaborative songwriting looks like when you're moving across continents even?
Yeah, that's actually so true with everything that's going on. I know, a lot of people are having to grapple with that. Yeah, it did transform the process in some ways. So we did use Skype sometimes. But as you mentioned, we had that problem of latency where it was difficult to just try to perform the song live or in real time try to create, so we were able to do a lot using WhatsApp and also email where we were sending, we would i would record an idea, send it to my collaborator, they would add to it send it back. So it sort of stretched the process out in a way like made it sort of like a slow motion, collaboration. And I think that made me appreciate it all, the more I think I was able to live with the ideas that we shared back and forth. When they would share an idea I would just listen to it on repeat, try to, like I said, live with it a little bit. And once I had ideas to contribute to it, I would record my part, send it back. And I think I think I write in the ethnography I use the word elasticity, if I remember. Yeah, I think there are definitely pros and cons, of course, of all different types of collaboration. But I think especially in this moment, because we are having to adapt our process, appreciating that elasticity appreciating the opportunity to live with musical ideas. And yeah, just the pace of exchange is different. But I think that there's something beautiful in that too.
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 28:14
And I think I found this connection in your novel, like when Evelyn was encountering the blues singer in your novel, and she was asked to finish the song. I was like, Oh, that was the bridges experience. That was exactly what you're doing. Right?
That's true. Yes. I didn't really think about that. But I think it does find its way into my work. And I think in general, the tradition that I grew up in is very improvisatory. Yeah, so growing up in, surrounded by gospel music, growing up singing with the gospel choir, everyone is doing a lot of extemporaneous composition, I would say it's very passionate, it's very in the moment, very inspired. So I guess circling back to that, a lot of call and response elements. I grew up being very shy and reserved. But I think music was also a way for me to get out of my shell, with these experiences that are similar to the one that you're describing with Evelyn, and the blues singer, where someone would be like, they would sing something, and then they'd be like, what comes next? Sing it. And so that pushed me to just to just sing it sometimes to not overthink it, to not be afraid. But to find that courage to find my voice. And in some ways, it was very spiritual. I think, sort of me getting out of the way and trusting that I will be inspired. I will know what to sing and I'll find the words or the notes that come next.
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 29:45
The elasticity of time, open space for ideas to sit with us, find what comes next as we live within relation. In her invitation to feel what comes next, Freeman and Freeman's Character hold listening as improvisatory, generative space. In listening for what comes next with a bluesman named Ray, Freeman's heroine quote, "realized that through Ray's eyes, the world was colorful and full of possibilities, maybe even too many, such that it was difficult to choose. And when he sang, it was about love and loss, and feeling alone or sad or jubilant. He bared his soul in song. So his songs felt real, as though I might reach out and grasp one and hold it quivering in my hands. His emotions palpable, because he seemed to see the world more vibrantly. And to feel more deeply."
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 30:44
I want to turn to The Sky is Deeper than the Sea. And I think I want to, I've got a couple themes of questions. First, I want to talk about time. And then I want to talk about maybe time and trauma, because many of the events in that book are set off by a traumatic event. And I'm going to try and be careful not to spoil the novel for listeners who haven't read it yet. And then I think I want to move towards this idea of this evil within us, the fact that we have many different versions of ourselves within ourselves. So if I start with time, which, by the way, is one of my favorite topics, because this is, I think this has been one of my areas of scholarship, as I have realized how in peacebuilding and conflict situations, the view of time is, is underneath almost everything that's happening, like, you know, one, one person who might describe a series of traumas that they've experienced has one scale of time that they're working with. And then another person might be working with a totally different timescale, and our visions of time, and our visions to have like how soon it will be until we achieve peace, if we ever do achieve peace, or, you know, all those, those questions are so important. Anyway, your text has a beautiful section on how nature remembers time. You have lots of stories that cross boundaries of time, as Evelyn looks out the window of, of this train that's going up to the north. Yeah. And I think we've already talked about to about the dream of all those who believe here, the idea that your past ancestors are living within you in many ways to if I'm correct,
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 32:38
So as you play with notions of time through your artistic voice as a writer and a songwriter, tell me about what you find in the importance of looking and thinking across time.
Yeah, I mean, that is, I'm also fascinated by time. This book has been an opportunity to explore it creatively narratively. I was also really inspired by I don't know if you've read Kindred by Octavia Butler, or heard of it. Okay. Yeah, well, it's kind of a similar treatment of time, I would say she's traveling back in time, she's interacting with her ancestors and kind of thinking about how the choices that were made, then impact the present and even the future.
I mean, I think a lot about time, just because I feel very connected to the past. And also the future. Like I feel hopeful about the future and think a lot about those who are coming after me and what I want to leave, that can maybe help them navigate the challenges of their moment. So I think, right now I am back in South Carolina, with the virus and everything. It's, it's been really interesting to come back after being away for six years being in school in New Hampshire. I feel like I'm coming back with this deepened sense of all the history that unfolded on this land. Yeah, so I think, after having done a thesis and written this book that prompted me to explore the Jim Crow South, and to think more about slavery, and just all the history, all of the trauma, and also all the all of the hope all of the, like I've said earlier, the sacrifices that have been made. Being back here, has really given me a different lens, I think, to interpret so many things that I see. So some of it is more metaphorical. Maybe. I think maybe being an artist and a writer. I see things like what I wrote in the book about I think I write something I look into the river and I see 1000 faces Looking back, I look at the trees and I wonder what they remember something along those lines. So I think a lot about like nature holding memories. And I guess in a literal sense, like trees are, trees literally hold so much history like they have been here for such a long time they're rooted. And they, when so many other things have passed away, they continue to stand. So I was thinking a lot about that as I was writing, just the different, I guess objects that hold trauma or hold history within them. And then I also I just feel like when I am moving through the world here in the south, especially I am thinking about what happened in different places that I go, like, I'm thinking about the people that once walked on these roads or yeah, hopefully that makes sense. I just, I do feel like I can feel the weight of the memories. Having explored them a little bit more through my research.
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 35:51
In her book on ambiguous loss, Pauline boss writes of dissonances between physically present family and the weight of memory, and ambiguous relationships. The traumatic sudden loss of a loved one can be an ambiguous, empty space at the kitchen table. In Freeman's beautifully written book, I sense the ambiguity of a character's life tossed in a sea of racialized trauma. Unresolved traumas are compounded by denial, departure and despair within unjust systems.
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 36:58
So we turn to trauma, I'm really fascinated about how Evelyn experiences trauma. And I think I hold, hold side by side with the work of Pauline Boss who's written a lot about, the whole notion of ambiguous loss, like when we, many times when we lose somebody dear to us, or go through a divorce. It's nothing's clean in this world, like we continue to feel, feel loss across time and time doesn't really work the way we think it does. So maybe a little bit, let me read this quote from your text, and then maybe offer us some time to think, to reflect on it. "I realize that I have turned to memories as an escape, allowing them to carry me far away even before boarding this train, in some ways I've had to in order to to survive. But in this moment, I feel. Perhaps because I am farther from home than I have ever been. And losing even a small part of where I came from felt like losing everything. I cradle the small photo in my hand, this small worn thing that is imeasurably precious to me. And finally, I let myself feel, really feel the present." And I hold that together with with your song still. Still, I remember and this this idea of the, the trembling heart. Talk about like this sense of ambiguous loss that this character is going through and how it's messing with their sense of time.
Yeah, Evelyn experienced a very concrete loss through the loss of her fiance. But she's also grappling with, like you're saying this ambiguous loss, which is this trauma that her community for generations has been grappling with and mourning, and that she always had a sense of in some way, but has to confront face on when she loses someone so dear to her. So I think that trauma can plunge us into this. It can warp time, because it can make us cognizant of our connection to others who have experienced similar trauma. And that can be by necessity, like I think trauma can feel isolating in some ways. But Evelyn's realization that she's not alone in this trauma, her realization that this trauma is a part of a larger trauma. It's a part of a larger story. That is, that has plagued her community, those that she's those that came before those who are also experiencing this particular trauma with her. I think that is important for her, recognizing that she's a part of something larger, even though it's such an agonizing reality. The reality of how large this trauma is, when she realizes that TJ, his death means more than just his singular death. I think that I think that in a way connects her to those who came before her and reminds her that she's not alone in her loss. I think that's healing for her. And I think that's important for her. I think it also makes her think about the future as well. And at least for me, having a similar realization in terms of trauma makes me want to think about how we heal, and how, yeah, how we can do work that's going to help those who come after us to maybe not have to experience the same traumas, maybe have tools to continue healing and confront the challenges that they encounter.
But then you turn away feel the sting, as you say, darling, you are no longer my thrill. And I don't understand [music]. So I say [music],
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 41:18
A s a therapist and trauma specialist Resmaa Menakem writes of the generational resonance of the dirty pain of avoidance blame and denial. He notes that racialized traumas in a sense are timeless, altering genetic expressions across generations, and impacting the long term development of children's brains. We often think of trauma as occurring in a singular body. However, within communities of culture, quote, "trauma also routinely spreads between bodies, like a contagious disease." As Menakem gazes at his grandmother's hands, he notes they hold not only the scars of cotton, and racism, but also the strength of a black-bodied story, that is 400 years of collective resilience. Menakem states quote, "I often tell people, that resilience is not a thing or an attribute, but a flow, it moves through the body, and between multiple bodies when they are harmonized. This takes place not just in the cognitive mind, but in the body, and in the minds and bodies of others, and then the collective body of people who care about us."
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 43:07
Alright, I'm going to try and do this without giving away the novel. Okay. Okay. But, but talking about the versions within ourselves, and, and there's this scene of like magical realism in your book that to me is really powerful. Let me read this quote, "I look again at Link, I do not know who he is, I do not know who I am. I am too many things all at once. I carry each version of who I was, and could have been in hope to become. I'm every possibility and everything in between ... I'm going to jump forward a little bit... "I am startled. Now as I looked down at this man grasping my hand, what lives within me, all of it does. In this moment, every path is opened, time expands and contracts. Time is a page folded upon itself until it is small enough to tuck away into the tiniest compartment. Small and nearly weightless and easily overlooked. But when unfolded, it harbors galaxies and memories, stories to be decoded." First, that's a beautiful piece of writing. But maybe if we try to avoid giving away the book, but but what is this idea that there's this notion in here that has to leave towards towards forgiveness, which is this notion of the multiple versions being within ourselves, am I on the right path there with your thinking?
Definitely, yes. Life presents so many different pathways and decisions. And I think in that particular moment, Evelyn is faced with a multitude of possibilities. It's after we've already learned so much about her experience her story and. At the core of the book is this idea of, the way I've been thinking about it is radical mercy. So it ties back into this idea of hope and rebuilding, reconnecting. And I think that those types of decisions, the decision to display radical mercy. It's not an easy one. I think a lot of the time we can justify making a different choice based on what has happened. Yeah, based on her experience, a different choice could be justified, I think. I'm trying to remember the exact quote, and I don't think I'll remember it verbatim, but just the, the notion that in situations of injustice, when there's an oppressor and a victim, both the oppressor and the victim suffer. Yeah. And I think in terms of finding healing for both parties, a lot of the time, the victim is the one who has to make a decision that that has to make a decision that requires radical mercy that requires this forgiveness that you're mentioning. So there's a power in that I think, maybe you remember the shooting that took place back in 2015. in Charleston, there was a church shooting. At Mother Emmanuel, I believe the church was called. Yeah, yeah, yes. And I remember, well my dad, he did a he did an event after that shooting, where we just did kind of like a community conversation and a family member of one of the victims spoke at the event. And she echoed something that I've heard other family members and friends of the victims say, which is that they forgive the shooter. I think it's something that is, well, it's a really profound act, to be able to forgive someone when they haven't asked for forgiveness. They don't necessarily deserve forgiveness, whatever that means. But I think that is a really critical step toward healing.
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 47:11
Forgiveness and mercy are profound words in the Christian tradition, linking feeling, compassion, forgiveness, reverence and awe. Mercy becomes radical, as it reforms, renews and repairs relations, worldviews, and patterns of violence. Freeman's narrator speaks of the awe of mercy, and the profound trust and forgiveness on the Underground Railroad.
How had they found it within themselves to trust that white man, after suffering so much at the hands of white men, I recall the white man holding the small brown baby as the mother climbed into his canoe, such strength of spirit it must demand to trust again, forgiveness is what set them free. For them, it was urgent and immediate. And sometimes I'm fooled into thinking I am any different.
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 48:04
In the coming section, I use the phrase fugitive slave, I want to publicly critique myself. that in doing so, I am complicit in normalizing the criminalization of humane existence.
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 48:18
You write really beautifully. I remember that scene about fugitive slaves getting in the boat, and you're imagining into what kind of forgiveness did it take to hand a baby to a white person who's helping them escape. Like what kind of trust and forgiveness took place in that moment. I think that was a beautiful piece of imagining that you did in that novel.
Thank you. Yeah, I think that was just an attempt to, to speak to the strength that it takes to differentiate between. Yeah, the, like I write in the book they had suffered at the hands of white men before. But in this particular instance, their survival depended on a white man. So I think giving people space to disrupt preconceived notions that we might have, and that might be justified in some ways. I think that is necessary for our survival. For them, it was literally necessary for their survival. But I think it continues to be, not reducing people to Yeah, to stereotypes, preconceived notions, or maybe what people before the may have done, giving people space to be individuals and to have their own have done their own work of imagining who they want to be, what they want to contribute, and how they maybe want to disrupt narratives that have surrounded, that have surrounded the people before them.
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 49:59
Botanist and Indigenous scholar Robin wall Kimmerer writes of the work of love and care in restoring a pond to become a swimming hole. As she extends restoration across years Kimmerer marvels at the inter woven communities of life and an enlarging circle of care as she embarks on acts of restoration in one small pond. She reflects, quote, "the circle of care grows larger, and caregiving for my little pond spills over to caregiving for other waters. What I do here matters. Everybody lives down stream." Freeman's character becomes acquainted with rivers that have known sorrow, she finds awe in peering into the sky and marveling at the timelessness of the world, the company of trees, and the pulsing and throbbing of stars. To the heroine stars throb, quote, with the dual burdens of memory and promise held in an inheritance of hope. Freeman notes The sky is deeper than the sea.
[Music] the sky is deeper, deeper than the skyis deeper than the sea
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 51:49
Special thanks to Tyne Angela Freeman for the artistry, thoughtful scholarship of her musicianship, songwriting and the text of her research and creative writing. Much gratitude to her and her record label for permission to use audio excerpts and quotes in this podcast. Information about Freeman's album and book The sky is deeper than the sea or her bridges album can be found at Tyne angela.com or a link is provided on our podcast web page. This is the music and peacebuilding podcast hosted by Kevin Shorner-Johnson. At Elizabethtown college, we host a master of music education with a focus in peacebuilding. thinking deeply we reclaim space for connection and care. Join us at music peace building.com