Giving Thanks on Thanksgiving

Nov 22, 2018

TAA 0047 – To celebrate the holiday, C. Travis Webb, Seph Rodney, and Steven Fullwood offer thanks. The hosts recount some of the things they’ve each been thankful for this year, and also offer reflections on the challenges of artistic creation and the difficulty of doing foolishly ambitious things.
C.T. WEBB 00:19 [music] Good afternoon, good morning or good evening, and welcome to The American Age podcast. My name is C. Travis Webb, editor of The American Age, and I am speaking to you from Southern California. Seph, Steven?
S. RODNEY 00:30 Good afternoon, good evening, good morning. This is Seph Rodney. I am currently in the South Bronx and I am currently an editor at Hyperallergic. I don’t expect that to change any time soon, actually [laughter]. And I’m an adjunct faculty member at Parsons in The New School.
S. FULLWOOD 00:52 And my name is Steven G. Fullwood, and I must say my full name all the time because that’s just how it is [laughter]. I’m coming to you from a Harlem, I’m coming to you from a gray Harlem right now. And I am the co-founder of the Nomadic Archivists Project. Look it up: nomadicarchivistsproject.com.
C.T. WEBB 01:11 It’s a good name. Just before we started the podcast, Steven and Seph were riffing on Donald Trump and Rick James. That was pretty funny [laughter]. So if we ever get popular enough to have an outtakes episode, maybe we’ll use that for something.
S. RODNEY 01:28 That’d be funny.
S. FULLWOOD 01:29 That’d be fun.
C.T. WEBB 01:29 So today we’re going to talk about Thanksgiving. A Thanksgiving episode. And I thought we would do something somewhat hokey. It’s not how I feel about it, but it is how it could be described in certain circles that I am familiar with, and that is–
S. RODNEY 01:53 I.e. iTunes.
C.T. WEBB 01:55 Yeah, that’s right.
S. RODNEY 01:57 This the hokey episode.
C.T. WEBB 01:59 Right, right. Is to just actually practice thanks, and for each of us to kind of have a conversation and use the moment of intellectual intimacy that we try to practice to talk about things that we’re thankful for this year. And we’re going to keep it relatively short because it’s a holiday episode. So Steven, Seph, do one of you want to get started? Anything right on the top of your head that you want to express some thanks for?
S. RODNEY 02:31 You want to go, Steven? I can go if you want. It’s up to you.
S. FULLWOOD 02:34 Yeah, go right ahead. You go ahead.
S. RODNEY 02:35 Okay. So when Travis suggested this, what immediately jumped into my head were two things. One of which I alluded to before on this podcast, which is my financial situation with regards to coming from where I came from in 2006. To rehearse that story really quickly, in 2006 I left LA to move to London to work on a PhD at Birkbeck College. It took me until, essentially, 2015 because the PhD was referred not once, but twice. So that means that when the viva came up, the examiners saw enough in the work that I’d done to say, “This could be a PhD thesis, but it’s not quite there yet. So we’re going to give you–“
C.T. WEBB 03:28 Seph, you should say what a viva is because there’s probably people listening–
S. RODNEY 03:30 Oh, right.
C.T. WEBB 03:31 –that don’t understand.
S. RODNEY 03:32 It’s the UK version of a defense. Of a PhD defense, where they basically sit down in a room with you, and they say, “We read this thoroughly. We’re scholars in your field. Here’s where we think– this is what we think of your intellectual production.” So they referred it twice. They referred it first in 2000– I think it was ’10 or ’11. No, it was ’10. Or maybe it was ’11. And I left London then because I couldn’t stay. Came back to the US, spent two years living on my friend Lawrence’s couch, where he helped me, supported me financially, even fed me for a part of that time, until I got on my feet. Finally got the PhD done again in 2000– I think it was ’14 and submitted it– no, 2015. And by that November they had read it again and finally conferred the PhD on me.
S. RODNEY 04:35 Since that time, since, essentially 2006, I have been dirt poor. There have been several months where I really didn’t know how I was going to make it. And this is the first year since that time that I have enough money in my account, enough of a cushion, that I finally– I’m in a place where I’m just not worried right now. I’m not anxious about paying bills or making it through to the next month. And a lot of it, actually, this year is because I’ve taken on extra work outside of Hyperallergic and Parsons. I’ve taken on writing catalog essays for a couple of different artists. And I’ve been invited to do panels and moderate talks in galleries, and I get paid for that of course. So part of the reason why I’ve been so crazy busy this fall is that in addition to doing all the work I do for Hyperallergic – which is, in itself a full-time job – and the teaching, I’m also doing these other things.
S. RODNEY 05:51 But in very sort of concrete ways, this work is paying off. And it is also the first year where I can see myself having real conversations with myself, and with other people, about this thing we call a career. I’m actually developing a career as an art critic. There’s a way in which people reach out to me, and request things from me, that they didn’t two years ago. So I feel that kind of– of it’s not even– there’s a particular word for this. It’s not respect, maybe it’s recognition. A kind of recognition, yes, that I take some measure of self-worth from.
S. FULLWOOD 06:42 Okay.
S. RODNEY 06:43 Right? It’s not the whole thing, but I see how people respect my position in the art ecosystem. And I’m appreciative of that. I am absolutely, deeply grateful to finally be at this stage in my life where it’s not just– and I both of you, I know, really get this. It’s not just that I’m doing things that I’m being monetarily recompensed for. It’s that I’m doing something that I’m good at, and something I actually like to do. I want to talk about art. Right? I want to go see work and talk about how it’s meaningful. That’s work I want to do. So being in this place in my life now, where all those things are somehow meeting in that space in the Venn diagram. My desire, my social recognition, being paid well for it. That’s all kind of coming together, and that’s a big deal.
S. FULLWOOD 07:48 That’s beautiful.
C.T. WEBB 07:49 Yeah. That is something to–
S. FULLWOOD 07:52 That’s beautiful.
C.T. WEBB 07:53 To take a moment to take stock in, and feel some things for, I think.
S. FULLWOOD 07:57 Quite beautiful.
S. RODNEY 07:59 Thanks, guys.
C.T. WEBB 07:59 Steven? Do you–?
S. FULLWOOD 08:00 So I started this conversation in my head with you both several times since you mentioned it via text, and so I think I’ll go with the easiest one. But Seph’s rise excites me in a way because of my last year, where I started learning how to make a film through The Third World Newsreels Production Workshop, which I am eternally grateful for because it is pushing me, and making me feel uncomfortable in ways where I’m uncomfortable. I have to learn how to not just technically learn to edit lighting, footage, sound, all of it, but also learn how to imagine a film in ways that I had not previously thought that it was going to be this way. And so there was a conversation I was having with Travis before this broadcast about how impatient I am to want to get the thing that I set out to do the way I want to see it. And that, when it doesn’t work out, I throw myself on the ground. I’m just angry and frustrated. And how I feel very adolescent and very uncomfortable because I’m like, “No.”
S. FULLWOOD 09:14 And so, for example, it would be a week where I’m working on– I’ll go out, and I’ll be speaking about archives and talking to groups of people where, as Travis put it, I’m the adult in the room. I’m comfortable with the material, the theories, I’ve got a few of my own, people are talking with me. It’s great. I get paid, I leave. Then I come back to the editing suite, and I go, “Argh. Goddamnit [laughter]. How did I even– what is this footage? What am I trying to do here?” And, to be fair – I was speaking to Travis about this, as well – where I’m like some days it’s great. I’m learning how to do it, I’m like, “Oh, yeah. I’ll just go over here”, I’m looking at DaVinci Resolve and looking at examples. I’m like, “Oh, yeah. I’ll try this, and I’ll move this over here.” And other times it’s almost like half down the middle, I am a child. I’m a very petulant and silly child. And so what Travis mentioned was that he didn’t know– could you say it, Travis? I don’t want to mess it up.
C.T. WEBB 10:15 Sure. You mean the part just about the necessity of it?
S. FULLWOOD 10:18 The necessity of it, but the emotional part of it. Where you didn’t see how anything you cared about, or that you invest in, would not result in this kind of–
C.T. WEBB 10:29 Yeah, I don’t know. The analogy that I had given Steven was just watching my youngest son Dean, who’s just recently turned six. He is a very solid artist now but started with shit skills [laughter]. I mean, even for other kids his age, he couldn’t really hold the pencil, and–
S. RODNEY 10:53 Travis is making these spastic motions right now [laughter].
C.T. WEBB 10:56 And that’s where he started, like a year ago. But he gets very, very, very upset. “Dad, does this have perspective? Dad, does this look three-dimensional? Dad, does this Carnotaurus look right?” And like, “Well it’s a little– not really–“. “Argh! Argh!” He gets really mad, and he will go in his room and throw the pencil like, “No! No [laughter]!” And I was telling Steven, I don’t– but yet, you look at where he’s at now from where he was a year ago. I don’t think that you can pull that emotional volatility out. I don’t think it can be pulled out from the process of artistic creation.
C.T. WEBB 11:46 Making, right? Artistic in the broadest sense, back to the Greek poieō, to make. So to make things, to hew things out of the world with tools, whatever those tools may be, requires that emotion– not as an unfortunate byproduct of, but literally is the fuel by which you accomplish those things. And I think that’s true no matter how old you are. And so I was talking to Steven about it, and just relating to how you feel, as an adult, part of the process of maturation is losing touch with that emotional volatility. It’s not that it goes away. It doesn’t go away. That’s why divorcés at 40 or 50 are fucking stupid teenagers again because now they’re dealing with the emotional volatility of romantic insecurity. Because it’s right there. It’s waiting for you.
S. FULLWOOD 12:49 Yeah, there it is. It’s right there. It’s right there.
C.T. WEBB 12:51 Yeah. But you make these moves as an adult that put you out of touch with that. And so Steven, I was saying, is in touch with that again. And you just can’t do anything about that, other than use it. Use it as fuel.
S. RODNEY 13:06 Right.
S. FULLWOOD 13:06 And I’m so grateful for it. It’s amazing. It’s wonderful. And it’s– no. This is a joke. But in short, I am grateful for it but I’m also terribly uncomfortable with it. And to wrap this up very briefly, I’m very grateful for the people who have hired me this year to do work at their colleges and universities. I’m very grateful for my son Andre, who’s always supported my work. And my best friend Carla who I can talk to, who is just very no-nonsense and very straightforward, who rarely ever leads me down a path– even if I can’t see the end of the alley or the end of the street, she already knows, or she bets. And if it doesn’t work out the way we planned, we can laugh about it. So I’m really grateful for her laughter, and her insights, and her love. And then I just have an amazing group of friends and family, so I’m grateful for all of those things. Yeah, I’m grateful for all of those things. And I hope to be useful to those people, my friends, and families, in the years to come.
S. RODNEY 14:05 Amen.
C.T. WEBB 14:07 Yeah. Thank you for that. So you flipped the order. I’m going to flip the order and talk about the things that I’m most grateful for in brief. I mean, most grateful for by miles and miles. Right? So I mean my family, my wife, my two sons, my parents, my in-laws. They make me a better human being. And it’s not their responsibility to make me a better human being, but my relationships with them do, I feel, make me a better human being. I’m very grateful for this, for the podcast, and for where it’s come from. It was so bad [laughter]. The first episode was so awful [laughter]. This was before you jumped on, Steven, but it was– and I was the worst of the bad. I was way worse than Seph was.
S. RODNEY 15:00 I was about to say, “I’m sitting right here, Travis.” You know that, right [laughter]?
C.T. WEBB 15:04 No, no, no. I was just–
S. RODNEY 15:05 You see me, motherfucker? Right [laughter]?
C.T. WEBB 15:08 No, no, no. I was so much worse than you were in the first episode. Just awful. And I’m grateful– Chris, who’s our sound engineer, has dramatically improved the podcast, and his involvement is indispensable to the projects that we’re doing with The American Age. And I’m very grateful for all of that, to be able to do something quixotic. Right? The project of The American Age is absurdly large and ridiculously ambitious. But I’m grateful to be at a point in my life where I can do something foolish like that.
S. FULLWOOD 15:43 Nice.
C.T. WEBB 15:43 So–
S. RODNEY 15:43 Nice.
C.T. WEBB 15:44 –those are the things that I am the most grateful for. So I want to do something slightly more provocative. And I am actually grateful for the election of Donald Trump–
S. FULLWOOD 15:53 Okay.
C.T. WEBB 15:54 –because it woke me the fuck up. I was way, way, way too complacent about history, and this country, and culture, and progress in general. And if Trump had not been elected President following the Obama presidencies, I would have moved along in a happy malaise. I would not have started The American Age.
S. FULLWOOD 16:26 Oh, wow.
C.T. WEBB 16:27 And the problem was always there, and lurking. It would have been left dormant for my children, or certainly, the people that come after them. Because there is something altogether alien, and strange, and precarious about this many human beings getting on, and identifying themselves with a common purpose. It’s just– we are so fiercely unique, and selfish, and self-involved, and gloriously so. Right? I mean, gloriously so. And that cooperation amongst that many people is really, really, really, really, really fucking hard. And was never going to be handed to us. And I think that Trump’s election is something that I am actually grateful for. As odd as that is to say, and as incensed as I am on a daily basis with his behavior, thank you, Donald Trump, for waking me up.
S. RODNEY 17:48 Yeah. You know what, I want to follow up on that and buttress that point by saying there’s a basketball analyst who I really respect. He does that show on TNT with Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal. Kenny Smith. Kenny “The Jet” Smith. He is one of the– I think he’s the smartest person, actually, in the room. Amongst Shaq, and Charles, and E.J who directs the program or runs it, I think. He has said this about particular players over the years I’ve watched the program. He said that this particular player is really integral to the team because he puts the other players in the right places.
S. RODNEY 18:31 And he could be talking about a point guard. He could be talking about a shooting guy. He could be talking about a small forward. Whatever. But I think it’s typically among the guards that someone of that caliber rises out of the ranks. He puts the other players in their right places. Maybe Trump is like that. Maybe he puts us, in some ways, in our right places, or in our right mindsets. He is so egregious, he’s so obviously a kind of expression of America’s adolescent Id that he makes us realize what our politics really are and what our principles, our core, core principles, really are. Because he makes the realities, the consequences of those principles, really stark.
S. FULLWOOD 19:27 Very, very well said.
C.T. WEBB 19:29 Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Thank you, actually. That helps me articulate how I feel about that. I think he does put us in our right places, and he clarifies the field–
S. RODNEY 19:43 Exactly.
C.T. WEBB 19:44 — and people’s positions on it. For sure.
S. RODNEY 19:45 I love the fact that– I mean, “I love” is maybe too strong a word, but I really like the fact that now– I see you with the MAGA hat, I get it. I got you. got you. Thank you. Okay, you’re like half a step away from being a white nationalist. I get it, you– or you’re fully there. I get it. Because that attitude of America first, and America as defined by white straightness, maleness, middle-class-ness and living in the sort of middle of the country, I get it. Your definition or America and mine? Ooh, we are not going to get along. Okay, good to know.
C.T. WEBB 20:27 Steven, do you want to finish? We’ve got a couple of minutes left, we were going to try and make this a shorter podcast. So Steven, do you want to finish this– take us out?
S. RODNEY 20:35 Yeah, yeah.
S. FULLWOOD 20:35 Wow. I’m still marinating on the MAGA hat. The wrench I was going to throw into it was that symbol allows you to do the very thing that I’m sure you don’t want to do, or want put on you as like, “Look at a black man, this is how he is”, and so forth. So the signifier can never be the truth.
S. RODNEY 20:57 Yeah. Fair enough.
S. FULLWOOD 20:59 So that’s all I–
S. RODNEY 20:59 Good point.
S. FULLWOOD 20:59 –wanted to say.
S. RODNEY 21:00 Good point.
C.T. WEBB 21:00 Yeah, that’s a good question. I second Steven’s–
S. RODNEY 21:02 Good point. Yeah.
C.T. WEBB 21:03 Yeah, I second Steven’s–
S. FULLWOOD 21:04 Of course you do. I’m the smartest person in this room [laughter]. It’s coffee, people. It’s just coffee.
C.T. WEBB 21:11 I would like to note that Steven is sitting alone in his apartment [laughter].
S. FULLWOOD 21:18 Very good, very good. With a MAGA hat on [laughter]. All right.
C.T. WEBB 21:26 So anyway, Happy Thanksgiving everyone.
S. RODNEY 21:28 Happy Thanksgiving.
S. FULLWOOD 21:29 Happy Thanksgiving.
C.T. WEBB 21:29 Seph, and Steven, thank you very much for the time today.
S. FULLWOOD 21:32 Thank you.
S. RODNEY 21:32 Definitely.
C.T. WEBB 21:33 We’ll talk soon.
S. RODNEY 21:33 Okay.
S. FULLWOOD 21:34 Thanks a lot [music].

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