SULI HOLUM is an award-winning, Philadelphia-based theatre artist whose time is full to the brim with directing, writing, acting – and being a mom, especially during quarantine. Following the recent surge in long-overdue action and conversation about systemic racism, Suli reflected on accountability, faith, and learning from your kids for our second edition of Domestic Blitz.
I am a Mom and a Theatre Artist. If I were to name my Faith practice it would be the pairing of Motherhood and Art. Faith is not a guarantee, it is not the practice that keeps you feeling sure and secure, Faith is the practice that allows you to sit with truth, with discomfort, with grief, with rage and to dream ahead.
I want to share two moments with you that have become guideposts for me in my Faith practice (it's not something you perfect, it's ALWAYS a practice). The first is a piece of advice that my daughter gave to me when she was in the fourth grade. I was in the throes of development of a new play about fracking in the Dakotas, and in my research I was bumping up against some uncomfortable details about my own white settler ancestry. I shared what I had learned with my daughter and she replied, 'Mom, you don't have to feel guilty about what your ancestors did, but you do have to be honest about it.' Guilt leads us to avoidance. To fear of exposure. Tell the truth. I practice.
The second moment occurred when I was in despair. I was in a leadership position as both director and writer for a project that was tackling extremely painful history and I had failed to provide my collaborators the support and sense of security that they needed. I was sitting on the kitchen floor, head in my hands. I had avoided difficult conversations in the rehearsal room, as a leader I had been 'more devoted to order than to justice' in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and as a result I had caused pain. I explained the situation to my daughter, now in sixth grade. She put her hand on my shoulder and looked me in the eye and said 'Mom, you messed up. You need to go back in there and say you're sorry. Then say that you are going to do better. And then...DO BETTER.' Fear of failure leads to inaction, to clinging to the status quo. I try to teach my daughter that mistakes are a necessary piece of learning, without mistakes you do not grow. She teaches me the same. When I mess up I apologize – but an apology without a change in behavior is empty. I practice.
Sometimes my kid is afraid to ask for help, afraid to admit when she's in over her head, or that the brokenness and injustice in the world is overwhelming and makes her feel helpless. And so am I. Together, we practice.