Rachel’s gone. Two-thousand-miles-away gone. One really long road trip with loads of pit stops gone. She and Helen left for LA last week to throw Rachel back into an acting career they had thought she gave up on more than ten years ago.
You might have been following their journey this last week: the boomerang vids of endless Iowa and even more endless Nebraska, all the selfies and candids—posing with burritos or burgers, precariously lying at the edge of the Hoover Dam, rumbling through mountain tunnels or looking stoically through the car window out into desolate horizons. You might have noted their lead up to and their slow slide down away from the Rockies. You might have even imagined the thrill of spilling out of Utah and into California, finally hitting LA with the trip meter reading a frustrating 2221.4 miles, and looking out at all that traffic, all those lights, all that life, and all those souls pressing hard into the ether of their existence.
Their journey is kind of a reminder. Watching others transition into uncertainty—taking that proverbial leap of faith—reminds us of how steadily we’ve been performing the same safe tasks, executing the same safe routines, engendering the same safe behaviors and attitudes: at home, at work, with friends, with family. Reminds us of how steadily and how unquestioningly we’ve been swilling that banal drink of adulthood: security. When such reminders fail to arouse introspection, we should maybe wonder if we’ve already quaffed too deeply from the cup.
Still, it’s rarely easy.
Rachel related her inner turmoil, as she mulled it over months ago, “How am I going to blow up my life and my stability and all of these things?” She had a solid, engaging position at Lawrence University; her work had garnered international recognition. “Every ounce of my creative energy went into it,” she said, but once the opportunity arose, she also knew, “I would regret it for the rest of my days if I didn’t take advantage and try.”
Pushing against their own comfortable bubbles—and in the Midwest these bubbles get pretty comfortable—people like Rachel and Helen remind us of the comforts in which we have enclosed ourselves and of the opportunities, the challenges, the almost certain failures we have ourselves waylaid or dismissed entirely for whatever good reason.
Rachel explained how “passing the mic back and forth” has been “inextricably entwined” with their story. After working for years under an important mystery novelist, Helen wrote two well-respected books, both of which are still in print and continue to be assigned as important gender studies texts in universities, and then toured them extensively.
She is regularly invited to colleges and conferences to speak on gender issues, but it was an invitation by the Department of Justice’s Office of Violence Against Women that, Helen chided, “lit the competitive fire under Rachel’s ass” to audition for a major indie film role, for which she was cast within days. Even with Helen’s enviable ability to speak with intellectual ease or campy candor, she doesn’t seem to really care about having the mic.
Rachel’s role in this indie film opened the floodgates on her pent up desire to perform. It’s what led to their decision to ship her west. But Cory Chisel and Adriel Denae at The Refuge Foundation for the Arts made the decision easier. “We’re behind you. But you’re going to need some money,” they said. They committed to matching what she could raise up to $5,000.
In less than a week, more than one hundred people, “people from every phase of our lives” she said, toppled and exceeded their goal. She actually disabled further donations from going through the gofundme website. “It was incredible.”
We don’t use the word advocacy for individual artists because we think advocacy is the kind of thing you do against the government or against a large institution to change things.
As an artist-in-residence at The Refuge, Rachel reflected on Cory’s continuous support and guidance. Her campaign proved his philosophy that “people want to advocate for individual artists. People don’t know that they want to” she explained, but they do. “We don’t use the word advocacy for individual artists because we think advocacy is the kind of thing you do against the government or against a large institution to change things.” The irony is that the more intimate and direct advocacy for an individual is perhaps, in the end, the more affecting and rewarding.
The take-away is maybe more of a question than an impression.
How are you or how am I or how are any one us advocating for the people who are on the verge of putting everything on the line to do some shit if they haven’t put it all out there already? Whose concerts, whose galleries, whose stories and whose creative ambitions are we going to put our weight behind? And how will we share in their triumphs and their failures?
At one point in our interview, Helen joked, “Every story begins with Rachel, and ends with Rachel, and she’s the whole middle of the story . . . I just occasionally show up.” They lovingly jostle, but it’s apparent after spending just a little while with them that the mettle of their relationship was forged in some serious hellfire. At another point, getting up to grab a drink, Rachel laughingly noted after a bit of repartee, “We have lots of ways to tell each other to fuck off.” Through the haze of their edgy humor, there’s this rare, almost tangible sense of their solidarity.
Helen will be making the long voyage back to Appleton alone soon, but not to unwelcome company, and not despairingly. How do we emulate her resolve? How do we, when the person we desire most to keep safe and secure aim for the damn moon, how do we, through all the doubt and uncertainty, step out of the comfortable space we’ve fashioned for ourselves and say “Baby, whatever, just get all the roles. Get all the roles. Go for it. Just go for it.”
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