Race, Sexuality, Quarter-Life Crises, and Bill T. Jones

Tuesday, July 26 – “Last Night on Earth” by Bill T. Jones


I’m gonna start this post off with a huge disclaimer: it is going to be very self-focused and personal. I also haven’t yet finished the book, but I wanted to write this post while I had the time and was in the right mindset. So here we go–

I started off today with a meeting with Professor Breen, who is lovely and endlessly helpful. I then sat on the lakefill and read for a bit, before heading up to SPAC to work out and then back home. I showered and ate lunch and now I’m writing these posts before day two of the DNC (!!!).

Honestly, I love Bill T. Jones. Granted, I haven’t gotten to the end of the book yet, but so far this book is truly beautiful. Jones writes in a manner that’s very different from any other memoir or autobiography I’ve read thus far; it almost reads like a novel. His writing is stunning, and I’d highly recommend this book to everyone, dancer or not.

Jones writes really candidly and poetically about the ways that his race and sexuality affected him and his experiences growing up. It’s often easy to forget how recent Jim Crow was, but it was not that long ago. Jones was around for that, and he’s still alive today. Some of the anecdotes and stories he tells about his race and sexuality are really beautiful and heartbreaking, which I think is sort of in everything Jones creates.

The one thing that’s super interesting to me is the notion of rituals. Tharp mentions rituals a lot in “The Creative Habit,” and Jones has already used the word four times in the book. That relationship is something I think I would love to investigate further, especially in terms of how rituals relate to race.

However, over this past weekend, I’ve been having a quarter-life crisis, and I don’t know what I want to investigate anymore. My plan has pretty much always been secondary English education; I recently also started thinking about higher education policy and management studies and other things like that. But I was pretty solidly invested in English education, and my plan was just to apply to a bunch of grad programs in anything that could possibly interest me and see what I got into and what I wanted to do. It’s always been very straightforward. But, as my sister-in-law put it, when I started college and made this plan, I didn’t think I’d be seeing videos of black people get shot by the police every other day.

See, social justice has been a pretty big theme this summer for me. It’s gotten to the point where people have started equating me with social justice, and they reach out to me for advice/answers/thoughts when they’re not sure about things, or to thank me for being outspoken. (I just want to make clear that I am, by NO means, an authority on all things social justice. I’m happy to educate when I can and I’m happy to investigate when I don’t have an answer. I’m still learning). And while going to workshops and sit-ins and marches and posting articles on Facebook and having conversations with people is all fine and dandy, I can’t help but feel like I have an obligation to do more. I am so fortunate to attend Northwestern, and I have the opportunity to use my brain to actually make concrete change in the world, so I feel like that’s something I should do.
I don’t know what this exactly looks like just yet. It might be working at a nonprofit; it might be policy writing. It might be public policy; it might be law school. I’m still investigating and researching and exploring my options and interests, but this path feels more right to me.

I still think that dance and art are so important, and if that’s the way that you want to express your thoughts or change the world, then that’s really great and really important. Those voices need to exist, and art needs to be created. I’m not entirely sure that it’s right for me anymore, though. But Jones is one of those important art-makers, and I’m really excited to explore the links between his work and society, and the through lines that connect his life and art to policy and concrete change. Who knows, maybe my entire thesis will be on race and dance.

I’ll keep you posted on this crisis. I’ll probably buy a sports car tomorrow.