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A sound-rich essay with original music about how building with stone is like building a society where all Americans have the opportunity to create resilient communities, free from police violence. Musician and podcaster Douglas Detrick shares what he has learned about stone wall building amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and the protests surrounding the killing of George Floyd in Portland, OR and elsewhere.

A close-up view of the stone retaining wall I built this summer.

Episode Intro

Welcome to More Devotedly, a podcast for people who see the arts as a force for positive, progressive change. I’m Douglas Detrick. This is Volume III, episode 6. 

This episode took a long time to create, and as you listen I think you’ll understand why. I wrote it to try to help myself make sense of some of the ideas and feelings being expressed by so many different people in response to the killing of George Floyd. It was a wildly emotional time, and I needed a constructive way to work through that. 

This will be the last episode of Volume III. In Volume IV I’m going to be taking a close look at my home town, Portland, Oregon. You might have heard about us lately because of the protests going on at the federal courthouse in downtown Portland, and the federal agents that the president deployed to quell those protests. I wanted to talk to as many artists and arts organizers as I could here to show what Portland is really like, and how artists here are responding to the pandemic, to the movement for Black lives, and the elections coming up in November. That’ll be coming up soon, but for now, I hope that you find something in this episode to help make sense of this difficult time, and to find your place in it.

Here’s the episode.

Essay

About a decade ago I watched Rivers and Tides, a 2001 documentary by Thomas Riedelsheimer about the British artist Andy Goldsworthy. I loved the impermanent, temporal artworks Goldsworthy made with stone, wood, water, leaves, and soil that he found wherever he was working. I loved watching this artist talk so earnestly about his fragile, beautiful, impractical art.

Goldsworthy’s work showed a way to find a balance between the childlike, and the adult. He followed his own internal motivations like a child while he also did the work of an adult artist who must communicate with an audience. I was in my early twenties when I saw the documentary, the question of what kind of grownup I was going to be was on my mind, even if subconsciously.

The stone wall he designed for the Storm King Art Center was my favorite part. It’s a dry stone wall, meaning that it’s constructed with just the weight of the stone holding it together, without any mortar or cement. Rather than the straight wall I expected, it weaves serpentine through trees, slinks down a hill and disappears into a pond. It looks alive. 

In a moment from the film he stands apart from a team of stout “wallers” as he called them, talking about the skills required to build walls like these, and how he stays out of their way out of respect for that skill. I was taken by the skill on display, and also for this artist’s respect for it. It was a way to be an adult that I was still learning—listening, watching, being still and paying attention even when you want to act, to do something. I was more of a “learn by failing” person then, and I still am today. 

Since I saw that film, I have wanted to build a wall like that myself. When the COVID-19 quarantine began here in Portland, Oregon, I still had a job, and suddenly my weekends were clear. I had drawn plans for a wall, patio and a garden more than a year before that and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to finally do it had arrived. I went out into my backyard and started digging the foundation.

^^^^^

Humans have built walls for millenia to attract wild animals and to corral domesticated animals, to create shelter for family, state and worship. We lay a solid, thick foundation; we place large stones as a frame, and smaller stones to fill in the spaces and steady the large ones; we build narrower towards the top so the wall doesn’t topple; we repair the walls when necessary, and we have done so on every continent centuries before the age of European colonialism began.

Usually, walls are practical, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t also symbolic. A well-tended wall or fence on a farm is a symbol of pride and productivity. A wall on the grounds of a sculpture garden like Storm King Art Center, is a symbol of the dignity, beauty and vitality of practicality. A wall in my backyard is a symbol of curiosity, discovery and family connection.

When I started digging in my backyard a few months ago, I was hoping I could build something good, a positive memory that would compete against the waking nightmare of the pandemic for me and for my kids as well. It seemed like a plan with a solid foundation. 

It may still be so. But from the time I took my first shovelful of Willamette Valley clay out of the ground, things have changed. The pandemic is resurgent as states reopen and the public health and economic responses   are blocked by the Republican party. Our democracy is under incredible stress and people are suffering. This was never going to be a happy time, but it’s gone far worse than I feared. For that reason, I’m disappointed in America, in us. And against that backdrop, George Floyd was murdered in broad daylight by a white police officer as Floyd and many onlookers begged for his life. 

The officer wasn’t concerned about Floyd’s life, and he wasn’t concerned about being disciplined for what he was doing, at least that’s what I think after watching the video. What I see is someone who felt perfectly secure in what he was doing. The only thing that can provide that kind of security is a system that overwhelmingly protects police officers no matter how egregious their abuses of power.

The stones at the foundation of that system, our American policing culture, were laid a long time ago, and they have worked for decades in the way Chauvin and others thought they should. Will that system continue to function? Will that wall crumble? I believe that it should. But if dismantling that system is our goal, we need to understand how a wall is torn down, and how new ones are built.a

Building a wall in my backyard does nothing to change the situation outside my backyard. But stories are like stones—we stack them up until a pile of rocks becomes a structure. Trying to understand how stone walls work and have worked over centuries has taught me something that I think is worth sharing. The difficulty of trying to put those lessons into words has taught me even more. A stone wall tells about where we’ve been as a species, and it can tell us where we can go in the future.

^^^^^

As I’ve been making this wall and patio, I’m trying not for perfection, but adequacy—I hope the wall won’t topple as my sister sits on it while eating potato salad, I hope my dad won’t trip on the corner of a stone that sticks up a few millimeters higher than its comrades. Those stones may be in great shape decades from now, but if I can get a few years without any injuries, I’ll be happy.

Just in case it’s not clear by now, I’m not a stone mason, I just play one on this podcast. I’m at about a 2 on a scale of 1 to 10 in terms of competency with this, and how did I get there? I took a deep dive into stone masonry videos on YouTube. 

The Car Talk guys on NPR used to tell a joke—who knows less? One guy who doesn’t know what he’s talking about, or two guys that don’t know what they’re talking about? Idiocy reflects idiocy, like two big dumb mirrors pointed at each other, never ending. 

And there’s no bigger mirror held up to the human condition than YouTube. We are documented there in our totality. Narcissism, bullying, pseudo science. But as weird and sometimes harmful a place as YouTube has been and is thankfully somewhat less so now, it is also a wonderful place.

After all, I could learn to knit a sweater. Me. A sweater. I’m not going to though, I’m more into stone walls for some reason. It turned out that I could learn a lot on YouTube.

^^^^^

Most of the videos offered simple, step-by-step instructions with some hints about problems to avoid, and what tools and materials you need as a backyard do-it-yourselfer. Some were clearly DIY folks like me, who weren’t experts but had fun making a patio or a wall and a video about making a patio or a wall. And there were some master wallers that had built businesses in the same way they built their walls, stone by stone. I learned that stone wall building was about self-reliance, attention to detail, preparation and execution. 

There were also some videos about the history of stone wall building. Dry stone walls and other structures have been built for millenia by people across the world. Centuries-old walls delineate pastures in European and American farms, but also Machu Picchu and the Pyramids of Giza were all built with dry stone. Anywhere stone is easily available, humans have built with it. It turned out that stone wall making is about history, heritage, and connection to place.

I learned there were proper ratios of width and height to observe and building a temporary frame and using string to mark the outline of the wall in the air helps you maintain them. I had to measure my imagined wall and patio and calculate how much gravel and stone to order. I ordered too little the first time of course. Math isn’t my best subject. It turned out that stone masonry is about calculation, planning, and data.

I learned words from English speaking walling traditions like “hearting“ which are the small stones packed between the bigger stones, filling the space between the outer faces of the wall. And, “throughstones,” which are long stones that cross the entire thickness of the wall, helping to stabilize it as you build up. It seems that the wallers of the past thought the stones told stories just like I do. It turns out that stone masonry is about understanding not just ratios and materials, but also understanding why we build anything at all when we know it will all fall down someday.

The stone I used didn’t come out of my pastures. I don’t have any pastures. It was delivered on a flatbed trailer. But when I held it in my hands I thought about this ancient piece of the earth, and about all the other people who had worked with stone. Some of them were over-schooled, soft-handed weekenders like me. Some of them were masters of their craft. And some of them were enslaved. Building walls, railroads, and tunnels, enslaved or incarcerated Black Americans played a vital role in building our country, though some history books have downplayed that role. As I worked, I thought about police violence, and how I was connected to it even as I worked in my backyard. In the United States, the history of slavery and the present of racism is right beneath the surface. It turned out that stone masonry is about labor, race, and exploitation.

^^^^^

The first step in my project was to dig the entire patio area down about six inches and then fill it with gravel. For someone who spends most of his day typing at a computer, the physical work was really refreshing, but also a little treacherous. I was careful to work slowly, keeping my back straight and lifting with my legs, taking small bites out of the ground with my shovel to keep each load light. I got the whole foundation dug out over two weekends. The bar was pretty low, I’ll admit, but still I felt some pride of accomplishment after finishing the first step. I didn’t hurt myself. I even felt strong. 

Next I ordered the gravel and stone from a local supplier. When it arrived and I had moved it all to the backyard with many trips with my wheelbarrow, I thought about the rules that I needed to follow as I built. 

Make a solid, packed gravel base that will allow water to drain through and won’t heave in frost. Lay large, flat stones in the first layer of your wall, taking extra time to secure them in the gravel. Let the wall lean against the embankment behind about two inches per foot of rise. Fill behind the wall with gravel so that the water can drain behind the wall. 

And the one that figured most prominently in my mind as I worked, “lay two stones over one, and one over two.” If you follow this rule the weight of the stones will be distributed evenly and the joints between them are stronger. It makes the difference between a pile of rocks that’s ready to fall, and a wall that will stand for a long time.

But I found that even with that maxim ringing in my ears, I struggled to actually follow it in practice. It seemed like every stone I picked up would cover the joint on one side, but align with the joint perfectly, wrongly, on the other. The trial and error with each stone was frustrating at times, but when you get it right, you can see how the rocks support each other. 

When you lay two stones on one, and one on two, you make it easy for the stones to support each other. You make it almost inevitable. Stones don’t think, they just behave in ways that respond to their environment and the forces that act on them. They are pushed down by the rocks above them, they are held in place laterally by friction between all surfaces they touch. They expand, ever so slightly, when they are warmed by the sun, and shrink when they’re cold. A dry stone wall will stand longer than a mortared wall because it can move in response to those forces, rather than cracking when the pressure builds.

And this rule, two stones on one, one on two, is the first step in understanding how a community of stones is like a community of people. A community that can support itself will stand, and one that can’t will topple. 

People are resilient, we can be creative. If we need a wall and don’t have stone, we’ll build with sticks, or mud or even trash if we have to. We know how to support our families and neighbors through tough times. We loan money, we cook meals, we provide a couch to crash on, we form organizations and government agencies that institutionalize those kinds of support and provide it at scale.

All groups of people experience pressures—we get sick, we lose our jobs. But if our neighbors can’t provide support because they are struggling too, our communities show signs of strain. When a wall falls, it turns into a pile of rocks, it isn’t really destroyed. It’s undergone a phase change like ice to water—present wall to potential wall. 

With people, it’s different. The strains on human communities in America include poverty, poor health, food insecurity, and mass incarceration. Because of centuries of privilege granted to white people only, those signs of strain accumulate in communities of color. These vulnerable communities sit on an anvil of racist disparities made worse by the pandemic. In the case of George Floyd and many others, the police aren’t the servants and protectors, they are the hammer.

If these communities are like a wall, they can be repaired. And these communities have been engaged in that work for centuries to the present. That principle applies, but in the individual case of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Elijah McClain, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner and so many others, those people, those stones in the wall that were holding up other stones, they are gone forever.

What does two stones on one, one on two look like for people? Universal pre-kindergarten and childcare, restorative justice, a higher minimum wage, universal healthcare, universal basic income and a carbon-neutral economy. Those policies yield resilient communities that will flex with the seasons, holding all the stones together. People aren’t rocks, but they’re no less susceptible to forces that act on them. All Americans deserve the chance to build their own healthy, resilient, sustainable communities.

^^^^^

In “Rivers and Tides” Goldsworthy talks about stone walls on his property in Scotland that had inspired him. When he was getting to know the grounds at Storm King, he found derelict stone walls, and said “these were probably built by people who emigrated from Europe, maybe even Scotland.” They spoke to his heritage, and the wall he designed there spoke to the present and the future, the potential heritage of that place and the people who care about it.

Since that film, I long visualized wall building as something that only happened in Scotland, or places where Scottish people had emigrated to. But even the superficial google sleuthing I did in preparation for my project showed that wasn’t true. Machu Picchu and the Pyramids of Giza, these incredible structures built by great Black and Brown societies of the past, have been vital to add to my mental picture of the world. But I found I needed to look much closer to home as well.

Here in the United States, Indigenous people built stone structures too. John Pynchon, the founder of Springfield, Massachusetts wrote in 1654 to John Winthrop Jr. in New Haven, Connecticut about a “stonewall and strong fort in it, made all of Stone, which is newly discovered at or near Pequot, I should be glad to know the truth of it from your selfe, here being many strange reports about it.”

More recently, people of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community in Washington state have been reviving the practice of building “clam gardens,” which are short wall-like structures built in the ocean in the intertidal zone parallel to the beach with a terrace behind it. The gardens provide habitat for clams and other sea life, increasing food security and sustaining wild shellfish populations at the same time.

I have cousins living in western Kentucky and southern Ohio, who have mentioned stone fences that still stand in rural parts of the region. A lot of people refer to them as “slave walls” because they were built before the Civil War by enslaved African Americans. This is true in some cases, though in other more recent walls built after the Civil War, free Black stonemasons are known to have built some of the walls, like one at Coldstream Research Farm near Lexington that was formerly a horse breeding facility. 

It turned out that stone walls aren’t a European tradition only, they are as widespread as agriculture and architecture. It turned out that walls were a route to moving beyond assumptions and gaining a more true understanding of the world.

^^^^^

I was surprised to see how fragile stone can be. 

In building a wall, you can use that to your advantage. Would that stone fit better if it didn’t have that sharp corner? Just take your hammer and break it off. It’s easy to do, but beware. The stone will break the way it was meant to break, the way the minerals in the rock were aligned when it was made, and not necessarily how you wanted it to break. Stones are like people in this way too—you may have the power to apply pressure on them, but they may not react the way you want them to.

And when the stone breaks, it can break along a long, flat face, sometimes turning that almost perfect stone into two not-at-all-perfect stones, now so thin that you can’t use either. But not all is lost, you can break those stones into even smaller pieces and use them to pin larger stones, so they sit flat and steady. There is a purpose for every stone, no matter its size or shape.

And when the stone breaks, you see brilliant colors. Yellow and green mostly, with some blue and red. But the colors fade with time, turning gray-brown eventually, like the walls of the Columia River Gorge. 

But this too is instructive. The gray rock of time needs only be broken open to reveal the bright color of history. And the color of old history—stories that we’ve grown accustomed to, that we wear every day for decades like favorite shirts and shoes—that color fades over time. And when it’s faded, it can feel innocuous. But it isn’t always.

Like cleaving stone, history is unpredictable, and therefore dangerous. If you don’t believe me, just turn on your TV and look at the protests in the streets of America. They are breaking windows in some cases, yes, but they are also showing us stones that have been broken open, telling us a new story in livid color. The police aren’t the knights in shining armor that we’ve been led to believe. George Floyd, a Black stone broken open by police brutality, has shown us a truer color. 

“He will change the world,” said Floyd’s brother Rodney at a globally broadcast memorial service. And I hope that that will prove true. If it does, it will be because finally, after so many years, it will change our national understanding of the story of the police. If the story looks different as we look into the past, then it will change as we move into the future. 

^^^^^

This new history, it has changed me. For the first time, I joined a Black Lives Matter march. The march was happening in my neighborhood, so it was hard to ignore. I’m glad I didn’t. 

I put on my mask and walked to the baseball field in Powell Park in SE Portland. I got there a few minutes before the advertised starting time. Being a total rookie, I was wondering where everyone was as I sat in this mostly empty field.

“The revolution isn’t going to start on time, apparently,” I thought to myself. But soon the PA system was set up and we were listening to hip hop, and people showed up, at least a thousand of them. I came without a sign and a woman gave me one, “Defund, reDistribute, Demilitarize,” it said. A big thanks to her if she’s listening.

Soon, promptly at 7 pm, speakers from the organizing group, Rose City Justice, spoke to the crowd, reminding them that masks were required, talking about the plan for the march, and more about their goals for remaking public safety.

Then the march actually began as we walked together toward Reed College. It was very much like the last march I participated in, the Women’s March back in 2017. There were chants, drums, bullhorns, folks giving out water, and signs in everyone’s hands.

I felt proud of this group of people as we walked very near to my kid’s school, past my favorite coffee shop now closed permanently due to the pandemic, and finally ending up at Reed College, where I teach as an adjunct faculty member. 

I don’t know what I was expecting exactly. I didn’t come expecting chaos or violence like a Fox News pundit might have me believe. But, I would have to admit to feeling uneasy. I was worried about counter protesters who have been attacking BLM protestors with cars, and I was worried about catching covid, despite the masks, so it was a bit about personal safety. 

Some of it was my discomfort with a portion of the things being said. One chant I heard for the first time was “all cops are bastards.” I’ve since read more about the history and meaning of the phrase, and I still don’t like it personally, but I can understand the emotion and the logic behind it. But, to me It feels like a blanket, personal attack, especially compared to the positive, constructive nature of a slogan like “Black lives matter.” But there are times when I think entering into a coalition with people for a common purpose is the right thing to do, even if I don’t agree with every detail.

And after a while, I was uncomfortable just because I was physically exhausted and emotionally raw. It was time to go home. I felt lucky to have a home to go to, in a quiet, peaceful neighborhood. I knew that once I got there, I could watch old Star Trek episodes and drink some water and scratch my kitties and scroll on my phone and dink around in my backyard and go to sleep in perfect safety. 

After that experience, I have an even deeper respect for the activists that have been working for years to get us to the point we’re at now, at the brink of a potentially massive change in how our culture thinks about race and policing. If I was exhausted after marching for one day, I can’t imagine how I would feel after marching for years.

^^^^^

The way I felt after that march has a lot to do with who I am and how I was raised. I’m a white man, born in 1983. My parents were pretty conservative, and like most other white parents of their generation, they taught their children to respect law enforcement officers, and that people who work hard and do their best in school will succeed.

All of that was true for them and it was true for me as well, but that story leaves so many people out. The march was challenging to me because it insisted on a personal, visceral level that that story is only true for some Americans, only for white Americans. That dissonance is hard to resolve on an emotional level, even though I’ve already resolved it intellectually. 

I know that even if my parents would approve of me taking a stand in general, my dad, and my mom who is passed away now, would probably disapprove of this march in particular. I love my parents, and it’s still hard to feel like I’ve disappointed them, even when I feel I did it for the right reasons.

As I’ve been working on the wall and patio, I was remembering some projects my dad did at home when I was a kid. He has a master’s degree, and did a white collar job like me, but when he was home he did a lot of gardening, woodworking, fix-it projects on our home, stuff like that. He’s also a pretty good cook. He’s been a positive model for me as a father, and I’m thankful for that. 

A few weeks before the march that I joined, he and I had a constructive conversation about what happened to George Floyd. We agreed that the killing was brutal and unacceptable, and we talked about some of the various proposals that some activists have put forward to fundamentally change how police departments operate. I said that the ideas we’re talking about aren’t radical compared to the problem. They are a reasonable response to a deeply problematic situation, a problem of a system that has become radical in its resistance to accountability and change.

I can’t speak for him of course, but I thought I could hear that the world has changed somewhat for him now as well. Fathers pass on so much to their sons. Some of it is concrete and tangible, sometimes just an “mmhmm” over the phone is evidence of an inheritance you can’t touch or put in the bank, a willingness to listen.

^^^^^

As I write, I’m nearly finished with the project. At this stage, I’m just moving dirt around the yard to prepare for planting, and fixing mistakes I made when I was just getting started. Many of the flat stepping stones I placed when I first began the patio look glaringly uneven now. I’ll fix them by picking up each stone out of its place in the gravel bed, using my garden trowel to scrape gravel out of the parts that are too high, and replacing the stone. I’ll repeat the process as many times as needed until it’s steady, creating as flat and uniform a surface as possible across the top of the stones.

The supplier picked stones that are flat one side, but most aren’t flat on both sides. Some have jagged or curved bottoms, with chunks missing or protrusions sticking out. The interesting thing I’ve found is that there isn’t much difference between the flat bottomed rocks and the jagged ones when it comes to setting them into the gravel bed. Flat bottomed or not, they both need individual attention, they both need support. Without a solid foundation below it, no stone will be steady, and none will fulfill its purpose. It turns out that every stone has the capacity for success and failure, it’s the mason’s job to create the right foundation, and to find the right spot for every stone.

As I’ve tried to extend this metaphor, to say that stones are like people, and walls are like communities, I’ve not paid enough attention to the role of the stone mason. Even the cursory knowledge I have about this craft has told me that making anything of value out of stone requires an incredible amount of work, experience, and knowledge. The stone mason has their own collection of specialized tools and techniques, and they use them in ways that aren’t always visible to the uninitiated. It turns out the mason’s work is only visible when you know what to look for.

Good quality work looks miraculous, especially when looking at ancient stonework done centuries ago. The meticulous effort that went into those structures is so alien to us now that lots people now think that it was actually aliens that built them. But it is we human beings who did the work, are we are the ones that have more work yet to do. That is to say that the structures we build, in stone or in our society, are not otherworldly miracles. They are built slowly, stone by stone. It turns out that no structure is inevitable, no structure builds itself.

The YouTube video that got me thinking about all of this was one by Mike Haduck, a professional stone mason from Pennsylvania. He made a video showing how he was rebuilding a stone retaining wall, but as he was working he added a lot of his own story, and the story of historic stonework in his region. He talked about the “oldtimers” that taught him, who had learned the craft with the WPA during the New Deal era. 

For a moment, he left the retaining wall and went to a railroad cut that he said was built before the civil war. This blue collar, wisecracking stone mason talked about how a massive stone retaining wall more than 10 feet tall was built. The hillside was blasted with dynamite, then they used a steam crane to lift the large stones in place and men packed smaller stones in around them. After more than a century, the wall stands just as steady as it did when it was built and even though he was generations removed for the men who built it, he was clearly proud of it. He wouldn’t have spent his life doing this work if he didn’t feel that way. It turned out that stone masonry was about how the structures we choose to build in our world have lasting effects. Those structures change our lives.

What makes it more difficult to understand these effects is that each one of us is both the stone and the stone mason. We all shape the circumstances of our neighbors lives as much as we are shaped by theirs, to relative degrees. It’s been important for me personally to recognize my own role in counteracting or perpetuating racist forces that act on our society. 

But I also recognize that I only have power to effect change in certain areas—myself, my family, my work, and my art. Overemphasizing one’s personal, individual responsibility is a sure way to feel anxious, and paralyzed. Instead, I have to tell the people who do have the power to make the changes that I want to see. It turns out that stone masonry is like protest, it’s a conversation, or an argument, between stone and mason.

As I entered into this tradition of stone masonry, like my experience at the protest march, I didn’t realize the extent to which I was entering into unfamiliar territory. It has taken a lot of learning just to understand the basics of what’s happening. But as I progress in that study, I see the stone mason’s work everywhere I look. I see roads, houses, skyscrapers, and yes, patios, in a different way. And I see the metaphorical work of stone masons who have shaped our criminal justice system and so many other parts of American life differently as well. The racial disparities in our justice system are obvious when you look at the data, and that didn’t happen on its own. It turns out that a stone mason can build a big wall on top of a foundation that makes racist results inevitable. 

^^^^^

Lately, we introduced Rivers and Tides to our seven year-old son and he loved it. He’s since built his own Goldsworthy-inspired art pieces with leaves and flower petals around the backyard. Many times in the film Goldsworthy talks to the camera haltingly, wistfully, looking a lot like my son looks when he’s lost in thought, or “communicating with the mothership” as my wife and I sometimes say. He and I both love that film, and we both spend a lot of time lost in thought.

I’ve written a lot about the father-son relationship not because my daughter isn’t important, but because fathers have been the ones that have held the power to shape our society, and passed that power on to their sons. That dynamic has shaped American life for centuries. I’m trying to create a foundation for my son that helps him be more interested in equity than I was as a child.

I hear my son use words that I use, he talks the way I talk. I see him move the way I move with a body just like my body. He worked with me a lot on the patio and wall project, as much as a seven year old can. Though, mostly he and his sister just played in the dirt pile that’s lived next to the unfinished patio for the last six weeks.

I said that I’ve tried to teach him about race and will continue to do so, but it’s probably more likely that he will show me the way. He is growing up in a much different world than I did. He and his generation will have so many more opportunities to reimagine our society, and they’ll have to—climate change, economic and racial justice and so many other issues will be persistent and difficult problems in their lifetimes.

And I hope that my son and my daughter will question the broader cultural inheritance they will receive as white people in the United States. The walls being torn down right now will be rebuilt somehow, and it will be up to him and his generation to live with them, or tear them down again and start over. If there’s anything he may learn from watching me build this project is that you can learn new things, you can fail and try again, you can create something beautiful in your own backyard. 

They will look at their world and find out what “two stones on one, one stone on two” looks like for their communities. I hope my kids and their generation will be the stonemasons that I and mine couldn’t be. They will place the throughstones that allow the structure to grow taller, they will pack in the hearting that makes it all stable.

Human beings can support each other. Our communities can swell in the heat and shrink in the cold, the people in them can hold each other up, but only if there is a solid foundation beneath them. Reimagining public safety is a first step in shoring up the foundation. Equitable structures will rise from there.

If stones can do it, why can’t we? 

Outro

This was a hard piece to write for me. I had a lot to learn not just about stone masonry and about the history and the present of the Black Lives Matter movement, but also about what I think about all of it. Lara Messersmith-Glavin, a wonderful writer and performer who was part of the Volume II live show back in February, edited the piece. She pushed me to take responsibility for my own thinking, and without her help I wouldn’t have finished it. So, a big big thanks to Lara.

But I wanted to dive into this topic anyway because we’re in such a momentous time in our nation’s history right now. I felt that I could offer something that might help some listeners to understand it in a healthy and productive way. I wanted to try to be part of the conversation, despite my personal limitations, because I feel optimistic about our capacity for change, now and in the future. This is a small thing I can do to be part of it.

As for the podcast, I’ll be making a few adjustments for Volume IV. The episodes on the free feed will be a bit shorter and the music a little more streamlined so I can keep to a more regular release schedule. One of the reasons I wanted to start this show, and to create a Bandcamp page, was because I wanted this to be a platform for my music as well, and so I’ll be focusing on making the musical statements a bit smaller inside of the interview episodes, but more developed in fully scored episodes like this one, or in music-only releases. Learn more at moredevotedly.com.

I wrote and produced this episode, and composed and performed the music here in Portland, OR.

What you’re doing is beautiful. Can you do it more devotedly?

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