Originally published in New Earth Almanac
I remember the day in 2010, it was spring in L.A., and I could see the overgrown wheat colored brush with purple flowers peeking through my large picture window, reminding me it needed to be cleared once again in order to avoid a fire on the hillside.
I sat at my old beat-up baby grand piano with a mis-matched bench that I had scored on Craigslist for $500, processing the news of what was shaping up to be the largest marine oil spill in history off the gulf coast of Louisiana: the BP oil spill otherwise known as Deepwater Horizon.
After a deadly explosion in the depth of a Louisiana night, it was confirmed that 11 men aboard the rig were dead. The area was engulfed in a firestorm and an oil slick on the ocean surface, caused by a ruptured pipe a mile down on the seafloor, was growing. We didn’t yet know how bad it would get or that today, 12 years later the surrounding land and wildlife would not yet be fully recovered. One hundred thirty million gallons of crude oil were released into the Gulf of Mexico. Although some species, like the brown pelicans, have rebounded others will be struggling for decades to come, especially the dolphins who continue to have heart abnormalities.
Incidentally, since 2010 cardiovascular disease has been the main culprit of mortality for the American people. Are we humans feeling the heartbreak of this trauma mother earth endured over a decade ago?
At the same time an old childhood friend of mine told me she and her husband were splitting up. She and I had known each
other since we were eight years old, and her husband was later inducted into our wild New York pack as we grappled with whether we wanted to become adults or not. I think meeting him pushed her over the edge into adulthood. I still wasn’t convinced it was a good idea to cave into the life of a grown up. I’d known them as partners for as long as I could remember, and the news shook me up.
Fiddling with the stained white piano keys I mused, do we drift apart because we don’t love our true nature? Where we came from and who we really are? Until one day a tanker that you thought was harmless, just resting quietly in the moist black air rips itself wide open to get your attention?
This is how the song “Shameless Times” came together which I recorded with my then folk duo Katz and David. Unbeknownst to me, my songwriting partner David wrote a beautiful acoustic guitar ballad called “Louisiana” which eventually came out on the same record. Perhaps we were channeling our grief separately, but together.
As a songwriter, I romanticized about that part of the South as the home to some of the greatest blues, zydeco, Cajun and swamp pop music icons. Building their unique sounds with instruments like the fiddle and the harmonica, now absorbed into pop folk music as if we invented it. That’s how tradition works, things get passed down and we don’t always know where they came from but find ourselves relieved that somebody had the good sense to keep it alive.
Why do we need to be reminded about the very things that break our hearts? Shouldn’t we just move past our failures in order to stay focused on building this new and more beautiful earth? Can we? If it worked, we’d have done it already, but bypassing the pain only brings more of the same.
I’ve noticed that the most outspoken political troubadours who for two years extolled the virtues of debilitating restrictions that crushed us in ways we will be discovering for decades, now deflect questions, in an effort to stay focused on any topic but the truth. Focusing on NEW fear means moving on, old fear is dwelling. I get it.
But will the children move forward as quickly? Will they heal as a result of barreling towards a new reality? Will the oceans now flooded with masks be healed by the news that we humans have moved on? Is the truth that none of it needed to happen going to guide our passage through time?
In our culture, moving forward is living. It is paramount. But how do we take those initial steps when we don’t fully understand the painful scene behind us, the one that envelops our souls and keeps us stuck spiritually?
The earth and sky are traumatized from decades of BP oil spills, geo-engineering, and the genetic modification of our foods. Our bodies hold those stories that we as a culture are afraid to tell. We whisper the truth in code on social media and via text, because we are terrified the powers that be might catch us shining a light on the very things we are meant to forget.
“Just move on” is the message.
However, have we learned the lessons?
“Shameless Times” by Michelle O’Connell Katz. Acrylic and oil on canvas, 11×14 in.
Holy river smoke shameless times
Meet me on the boat
I can change your mind
Whatever you take I’ve lost before