Wien: Run and scream

by Elise Wien | 1/31/17 2:15am

What is the shape of your woe? What is the container that holds it?

Round 1:

Take your woe out of its box. If it has the potential to break into shards, use caution. If it’s sticky use gloves. Sitting in a circle, pass your woe to the person on your left. If eligible, crack the woe on top of your head and let the yolk run over your eyes. Lie down and hold it over your chest.

The game is this: Your (brown) friends with visas may not be able to return to school.

Your sister works at a federal institution that supports refugees. Like most federal employees, she probably has to follow orders rather than get fired. She reminds you that there are other refugee groups that don’t fall into this ban. There are still tens of thousands of people that the U.S. could accept even with the limitations.

The game is one of forgetting, or remembering selectively.

The game is that on Holocaust Remembrance Day, a whole religious group is barred entrance to the U.S. Your grandfather escaped Austria and came to the U.S. via England, where he changed his last name from Schaier to Shire to sound less Jewish.

He was able to come over, then your mother was born, then you were born and the game is this is happening again.

The situation is an alarming thing, and the fact that one can only make so many phone calls is disheartening. There is a tug-of-war, this tension between urgency and helplessness.

You talk to your sister and she is hopeful, at least, that the national parks are practicing resistance. After all, they are the ones with the mountain lions. A man dissolved in Yellowstone a few months back.

You try to do your reading, but there is a tightness in your chest that makes it difficult to breathe.

You feel empathy, for a moment, for those in countries that did not accept Jews in the 1940s. Not because you agree, but because you imagine what you’re feeling is something like what citizens of those countries felt. Emotion is the only marker of chronology. You try calling your representatives, and calling their representatives but the chain of command is so long and distorted you know the message gets lost at some point.

The game makes the woe heavier, and it sits in the area behind the ribcage, which feels scooped out by a thousand mini melon ballers.

The game is this: you study history and you’re told to never forget it, and when time comes to remember there’s little you can do about it. You call and march and donate but the tightness in your chest remains.

Round 2:

This game is called Safe House, and it’s played in a replica of the womb.

The lighting is a glow whose source cannot be located, and the pitch is made of soft fabric. Safety is feminized and I want to be proud to embody that. In the absence of security based in reality, let’s go back.

Here are things that are threats: the U.S. going underwater, oil spills, a progressively worsening public education system, gun violence, car crashes, cancer. Here are things that are not: people leaving violence in search for a better life. If danger is a mode of control, a vague danger that hangs around us like a fog, with no bearing on reality, is feeling safe the greatest form of resistance? Maybe it’s a false sense of security, but then again what is a “real” sense of security? A sense doesn’t come to us as a fact or fiction; it just comes. This isn’t particularly good advice: feel safe. It’s like when someone tells you not to worry and you have to be like, “Oh, thank you, Sharon, I hadn’t thought of that tactic. I’ll just not worry.”

What is the game that can make you feel at peace? Not to say at peace with the overall situation but to take moments of reprieve between the urgent matters that will burn us out faster than we’d like.

What are the moments of peace in these periods? Call your mother, float in water, listen to music in a different language, so none of the words have any weight or relation to policy.

Games are lovely because they allow us to pour our energy into something low-stakes. Winning or losing isn’t consequential.

At my summer camp we’d play a game called Run and Scream. The premise was this: we would line up in the field, and when they were given the “go,” we would run as fast as we can while screaming, and when we ran out of breath we’d stopped running. Whoever made it the farthest was the winner.

This place is a hard place to be in, but I want you to be here in some form. Even if it takes doing laps around the green, running and screaming, screaming and running, please give it a try. I’m here to join you.