Living Hi(s)Story, Living HerStory

Hello my loves! I'm embarking on a whirlwind pilgrimage that is both spur-of-the-moment and a-long-time-coming. I'm going on a Pilgrimage to explore the living Hi(s)Stories and HerStories that have shaped my life in both their presence and absence. This is both a personal Pilgrimage and a social art project. The personal journey is following the trail of stories I recorded my Dad telling of his youth after arriving in America after WWII- the places he lived and his adventures as young adult. I'm retracing his footsteps, his memories of those times and places, and exploring my own reactions to them in the here and now - what's changed, what's lost, what's gained. I am exploring America then and now through my family's story and giving myself permission to grieve in the process. I am inviting you to join me on this Pilgrimage to examine and share your own stories and feelings of personal and collective grief. I want to take you along with me and and create a space for us to sit with our grief and all the emotions that produces - anger, fear, depression, frustration, stasis, love, joy, grace, and so much more.  I want you to join me in creating and witnessing the love and loss stories of America in this moment, and in relationship to our past, our ancestors, our stories. To gift each other with our immigrant stories; growing up stories; parental stories, place stories, striking out on your own stories; success and failure stories; forgiveness and atonement stories; love in grief stories.

I feel like there is so much in my Dad's stories that speak to various aspects of what is going on in the US and the world today. In many respects he embodied much of the quintessential American Dream story - surviving slaughter to come to America; struggling to learn the language and overcome cultural and religious barriers; struggles with reconciling the desires of his parent’s ideas of success and his own; grappling with questions of faith or lack-thereof; driving west to seek fame and fortune and meeting the realities of not being able to “make it” no matter how hard he worked; coming face to face with racism and how many people are treated as second-class citizens; recognizing the need for higher education to escape the drudgery of poverty and hard labor; and ultimately ending up with his own business, married with children, a house and two cars in the suburbs of our nation’s capitol.  His stories contain echos of all of our stories, and raise questions I strongly feel we must all be asking of ourselves in this period of massive unrest and rapid and tumultuous change. We are cycling through the newest spiral,  of this historical cycle of questioning who we will choose to view and treat as human and what that even means. What does it mean to be human and humane? I see this project as an opportunity for humanization in the face of the rising tide of dehumanization and "othering" I see in our government, our news, our communities, and families.

For those of you who don't know, my Dad was a Holocaust Survivor - one of the 200 children who survived Theresienstadt - who came here in 1947 after his Dad (who had escaped Europe early in the war) found him, his mother, and brother through the Red Cross and brought them to the US. My grandfather was a psychiatrist specializing in women's mental health and worked & lived in State Mental Hospitals up and down the East Coast and Chicago. So my dad's childhood in these places was quite interesting.

My father passed away in September of 2016 and the grief of his passing is actually hitting me harder now than it did at the time. I'm using this pilgrimage to both grieve and celebrate him while also exploring topics that permeated his life (and therefore mine). Part of this exploration is how his experience is in many ways repeating in a new form today in this country (restrictions of immigrants based on religion/part of the world, demonizing certain populations, revoking citizenship, and  the rise of anti-semitism to name but a few). I'm asking questions like: How do we listen to each other? How do we humanize each other in stead of othering each other? What allows people to dehumanize and harm one another? How do sit with and understand our grief? Our Pain? Our Fear? How do we learn to sit with our uncomfortable feelings and those of others? Can we allow this discomfort and difficulty - within ourselves and others - and ask questions of those feelings instead of trying to shove it off/blame it on others or try to make it disappear without dealing with its true causes?

How will we be exploring all of this? Throughout my journey I will be making daily videos for you - sharing my Dad's stories and memories,  adding in my impressions of the places and what is coming up for me through experiencing and examining them. I will also be documenting the journey in writing, photography, and art making of various kinds. This is actually one of the reasons I am trying to raise $4,000 - I would like to bring my amazing photographer and friend, Ashly Covington, along for the ride to document everything in stills and video. You can check out some of her work here and here This is what the majority of the money raised will be going to  -  feeding, transporting, and housing us (when we can't find people to stay with) along the way.  Also, I believe artists should be paid for their time and talent so if we raise the whole amount or more, I can pay her! YAY! 
Back to what I'm doing and offering. I am asking you to help me support this journey, and offering to take you with me and give you space to explore your own history, your own grief and give it voice and value. With your help, I'm looking to create supportive communities for allowing, exploring, and releasing grief in all its forms. Everyone who donates to the project will be added to a private Facebook group where I will be sharing rituals and exercises to perform along with me as I visit each stop on the pilgrimage.  On the subject of ritual, for those who don't know, I'm a Reiki practitioner and Shaman in training (Celtic traditions) who regularly does distance healings and meditations. I will  be performing rituals including Reiki at each location and inviting those who support the project to join in from wherever they are. Each ritual will focus on different aspects of these difficult emotions and questions that I believe all of us are grappling with in these uncertain times - both at the personal and national level. The group will be a place to add your own stories and experiences around each topic being explored and offer support to each other. I'd also love to get your feedback on what you experienced during and after the rituals and what they brought up for you. There will also be opportunities for people to join me in person if they live along the Pilgrimage route.  
I'm hoping to gain not only monetary support but also places to stay, people to connect with, and shared stories. I'd love to stay with people who connect to this project and who have stories of their own they'd like to share. I'm offering Reiki sessions and/or mini BIO talk and movement sessions to process grief stories to each person I stay with. This is an opportunity for you to talk about one of your loved ones or something - place, idea, memory, hope - you are currently grieving and want a a chance to explore and learn to be with in a more supportive way. If you want to know more about BIO please contact me directly. 

Where am I going you ask?  Here are the cities dad mentioned in his stories that I will be visiting:

Arlington, VA
Wilmington, DE 
Westborough, MA 
Chicago, IL
Waukegan, IL
Watertown, SD
San Fransisco, CA
Los Angeles, CA
Richmond, VA

On the subject of support - I am asking for help to do this as clearly I need money to get it done, hence GoFundMe.  There is quite a bit of urgency in raising the money as I am leaving on the first leg of the journey in 10 days. I will be traveling from September 13, 2018 - September 30, 2018. I'd like to raise as much as possible before I leave but will be most grateful for everything that comes along the way. The Universe, acting through each of you, has an amazing way of coming through. If you can't give cash donations at this time, I am also open, happy, and willing to accept other forms of support. I would be most grateful for things like:

- Gas cards/gift cards
- Gifted points for train fare or airplane tickets (THANK YOU TINA for the Southwest voucher!)
- Places to sleep along the way
 - Car rides for short segments if you want to join me/us for part of this journey. 
- Tour guide services if you live in one of the places we are visiting. I want to connect with as many people as possible and hear their stories. 

If one of the aforementioned option is how you would like to help, please email me through the GoFundMe's contact/email function.  If you would like to help by connecting me to friends and family members who might be interested and want to participate, that too is amazing.  Please contact me directly about it. 

It is my hope that this journey will not only allow me to grieve, explore and celebrate the life of my Dad, but also allow you to have a new way to look at, sit with, and move through your own grief - for people, places, nations, ideas - and find solace in others who are on the same journey and struggling with the same feelings, the same questions, the same hopes and fears for the unresolved past and uncertain present. I hope you will join me.  

Lots of love,

PS - I will be posting updates as my plans evolve along with new asks and offers. . Stay tuned.
PPS - Thank you to Cher for my first offline donation! If you too prefer to donate by check, please contact me for mailing info.
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Jessica Browne-White 
Astoria, NY

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