Earlier this week, I attended a little Atlantic hosted series of talks regarding incarceration and women and girls, particularly women and girls of color. It was quite a deep experience.
The highlight was getting to see filmmaker Ava DuVernay chat with writer Ta-Nehisi Coates about subjects ranging from making political work to Harvey Weinstein. A lot came out in the talk, much of which could have been pocketed to muse over for a long time to come. It also revealed to me how much DuVernay is a powerhouse – and so mesmerizingly cool. She’s the type of person you invite to a dinner party because she’s fun and hope that, by the end of the night, you’ll be having a deeply political discussion that will resonate for the rest of your life. She’s the type of person whose everything has an import.
One of the more casual things that stuck with me was a very, very brief relating of creating art to having kids. The idea came out as a result of Coates’ jabbing at (white) culture being obsessed with taking care of one self. “My self-care is writing,” Coates said. “I’m funneling all that rage into writing.” He then shifted to DuVernay to see if she had the same view of her art. “Does the art exist in the same relationship to you?” he asked. “What if you couldn’t say these things? What if you couldn’t say these stories?”
“That’s pain,” she said. “That’s painful. I’m grateful that I’ve been able to find my way through that.”
She didn’t stop there. After relating passion projects like her 2012 film Middle Of Nowhere to major pictures like 2018’s A Wrinkle In Time, she said something so profound that it felt directly targeted at me, almost whispered in my ear.
I don’t have children. I don’t plan to have children. These things are my children. This is what I leave behind. This is what I want to say I did with my time here…I don’t so much think about how it’s going to resonate or how it’s going to live in the world. It’s my survival. It would be pain if I wasn’t able to do it.
Damn. The notion of creating as a form of creating kids is an idea that has long fascinated me, from Maurice Sendak’s queer creations over children to Ina Garten’s creating a specific life over family.
DuVernay’s point resonated deepest since, in a way, these creations are not only what people like she and I will leave behind but they are also our immediate futures. These works will have lives and they will return to us on occasion to give us gifts. That’s why we make art, childless or not, to be able have something you made grow up in the world, to impact people’s lives. It’s a lovely sentiment and a reminder to make, do, and be.