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Interview with Alice Lovelace:
Accept The Responsibility

Part 2:
Education, Poetry, And The Nuance That Is Left Out

Atlanta, Georgia

Alice Lovelace delivers one of her poems at the conclusion of the U.S. Social Forum, Atlanta, Georgia. Photos by Nic Paget-Clarke.
Alice Lovelace delivers one of her poems during her closing remarks at the conclusion of the U.S. Social Forum, Atlanta, Georgia. Photo by Nic Paget-Clarke.
Alice Lovelace teaching a doll making workshop for the Atlanta Partnership for Arts in Learning. Photo by Theresa Davis.
Alice Lovelace teaching a doll making workshop for the Atlanta Partnership for Arts in Learning. Photo by Theresa Davis.
Part 2: Education, Poetry, And The Nuance That Is Left Out

Alice Lovelace is a poet, a teacher, and an organizer. She was born in St. Louis, Missouri and is now living in Atlanta, Georgia. The interview was conducted (and later edited) by Nic Paget-Clarke for In Motion Magazine on June 30, 2011 at the American Friends Service Committee Peace Center in Atlanta, Georgia.

Also see part 1:
Part of the Process / Organized Chaos
(Part 1 will open in a new browser window.)

A way of liberating ourselves

In Motion Magazine: Can you talk a bit more about your role as an educator, your participation in the process of education?

Alice Lovelace: When I work in schools, I elect to work with young people. I work with all ages, but young people are the audience who are my self-selected community.

In Motion Magazine: What is young?

Alice Lovelace: Elementary and middle school, and sometimes high school. But mostly elementary and middle school.

Writing to me is an act of liberation, so that is how I try to teach it, as an act of liberation. First, to liberate the child, then liberate the child’s mind. So, quite often, I have a difficult time in schools because my purpose is not to make them a better student. My purpose is to open them to themselves, and that is different. I have very prescribed ways.

When I enter the classroom, I enter their community. When I go to a school, the first thing I do is get as many newspapers and others sources of information about the place, then I read them. I try to understand from my reading what would be important to the young people I am getting ready to enter into community with.

When I walk into their room, I read everything on the wall, papers, I take in the entire room because that helps me to understand the culture I am entering. I ask the teacher what they were studying. I get all their text books and I read what they are studying right then, because my obligation as the outsider is to listen, to be accepted into their culture. I had to acknowledge that it was their space, their culture, and I was an interloper, and I could only enter by invitation.

I would ask the students if it was okay for me to be in their classroom, then explain why I was there. This often upset the teacher because the teachers would say, “Well, we made arrangement for this. You don’t have to ask them.” And I would have to tell them, “I’m sorry, I’m talking to the students. I’m not talking to you.”

I would tell the students who I was, who hired me, why they hired me, what they asked me to do. And I would ask them if this was alright with them. If this was something that they agreed with.

And we would talk about it. Each student had to say, “It’s okay for you to be here and it’s okay for you to take this time out of our lessons.” Giving their agreement.

What happens is the same thing which happens with adults. Even the worst child in that room, even the biggest troublemaker, once you asked people’s permission, and you get their agreement, what they do is they open their hearts. They open their minds to you. Now you can teach them because they have opened their minds to you. They have given you permission to go there.

I tell them that writing is not for your teacher. Writing is a way of liberating ourselves. It is for understanding our experiences, to get to our base of knowledge. Using our memories to assist us. It is how we express our thinking. So, you have to have something to think about, because writing is evidence of our thinking.

Ground rules were: nothing from television; nothing from modern music; you could bring no sports; you could not talk about athletes; you could not talk about rappers or any of these other things. You could not talk about anything you saw on television or in the movies. You may only use what you have experienced.

In the context of the world we live

In Motion Magazine: How did you come to this understanding of a way to teach?

Alice Lovelace: It evolved. When I first started teaching, I kept getting very superficial pieces of writing from kids. They would write about rappers or athletes as if they were friends. As if they knew them. They would want to emulate them. You would not see their life present in the work. You wouldn’t see them. You saw a re-telling of popular culture. I think what really struck me was this one child I will never forget. The experience struck me, and I said, “I have to do something different.”

He was a special education student. He wrote me an entire page, and the entire page was filled with text that wasn’t readable. Two words on that entire page were absolutely clear and readable: “Nike” and “Adidas.” Clear as day. It hit me really hard. Out of all the reality that this child could express, this is the only thing that was relevant to him? I mean, the rest of it was just a jumble of letters that couldn’t be associated to make any kind of words, except for those two. That is when I decided that for young people the world will give them popular culture, why did I have to bring them popular culture? They already had that.

Nobody ever asked them to take their authentic experience and apply it to the world. To put their life in the context of the world. That’s what I began to do.

I set some basic ground rules. You can’t write love poems. I don’t want to hear about your boyfriend. I don’t want to hear about the athlete and I don’t want to hear about the rap star. I want to hear about you.

They weren’t connected to their world. I started making them, as an assignment, read the newspapers. I started teaching found poems - because the real world was not their world. They were in a world of television, movies, sports, and music.

I would constantly have arguments with them. Students would say to me , “But, Miss Lovelace, I saw it on television, it has to be true.” I tried to explain to them that what they see on television isn’t about truth or true. They would say to me, “Well, they couldn’t put it on television if it wasn’t true.” My students did not live in their world. They lived inside the bubble of pop culture.

Found poetry / A process of recovery

I started teaching found poetry. (As I was just saying,) they would have to get the newspaper and they could only use the national or international sections of the newspaper. They had to find a story in the newspaper and it had to be a substantial story. It had to be at least a full column. None of those little short pieces. They had to find a substantial story. One that they could connect to. And they would have to bring it in.

We would read the stories and talk about them. Their assignment was to read the newspaper story and find the poem, the essence of the story, because if you could find the poem, you could find the essence of what the real story was. I try to teach how knowledge is constructed in the lived world. Sometimes knowledge can lead you astray. I want them to realize that the headline of a story may not be an accurate reading of what the story means. I couldn’t tell them, they had to go through a process of recovery.

After they understood the story they had to take words out -- reduce, reduce, reduce -- until they unlock the poem. The poem had to be words from the newspaper story that were left in the exact order they appeared.

What they discovered was when they stripped away the impressions and opinions, sometimes the facts are different from what the headline, or from the opening paragraph of the story would say. Then we could talk about how sometimes the world misleads you. How words mislead you. How one has to be diligent with words in order to truly understand that everything you hear isn’t what people mean. That poetry often reveals a higher truth.

In Motion Magazine: Is that a generally understood definition of a found poem or is that your definition?

Alice Lovelace: That is my definition of a found poem. A process that I created specifically to help students understand how to separate opinion from fact. It is very difficult to teach children the difference between opinion and fact. Instead of trying to teach it to them, I wanted then to discover the difference.

In Motion Magazine: So, how would they know the difference?

Alice Lovelace: The problem is that if you’ve got a class of 30 kids, all thirty aren’t going to. But out of that thirty, a good ten to fifteen will. The ten to fifteen you lift up, you read their poems, you let them talk about the process and what they learned, and in this way they teach the others. You don’t try to teach them. You let their peers teach them from their experience. You let them explain how they found the poem because the other kids will listen and they will hear. It was one of the lessons that I really, really loved.

Then, from that, it evolved in different ways. It is also how I came up with this visual response poem, which was a way to force them to leave their conscious mind behind and to separate themselves from their conscious mind. The difference between what we think we know and what we really know.

In Motion Magazine: You are freaking me out Alice.

Alice Lovelace: Yes, we lie to ourselves.

A different universe of meaning

In Motion Magazine: So, is politics opinion?

Alice Lovelace: Well, no, the word “politics” has no meaning any more. The word speaks to a process -- a group of people making a collective decision. Today, what matters is what impacts your life. It’s like the organizers wanting people to go to vote but going to vote was not what was important to them. What was political to them was getting this power structure to put a light on that corner to save their children’s lives. That was political and that is what they needed help with because they couldn’t move the forces to do it. The organizers could help them to figure out a process whereby they could move the power structure to give them what they needed, which was that light. And then they could say, “Oh, that’s what we can do with it. That is what this other stuff means. So, if we get to vote, we can vote in people that we don’t have to go through all this for to get a light.” In order to get them to participate in the political process, they had to be shown what that participation would mean. It's the basis of Paolo Freire’s work, or (Augusto) Boal’s work, that what is political to you doesn’t mean it’s political to the next person. You can be using the same language but mean something different. A different universe of meaning until you ask the question, “What do you mean by that?”

It’s a question that we don’t often ask in this culture. We assume that we all are talking the same language and very seldom will we say, “Can you tell me what you mean by that?”

That’s a question that I constantly ask my students. I had a student once, at a high school, an alternative high school, and we were talking about society. We were talking about the shifting changes in society. “What is happening in the Black communities with Black youth?” “Why are you in here?” “What happened?” “What is going on in school that you got forced out?” And this young lady, she got up and she told me, “You know, Miss Lovelace, the United States is a communist country.” I didn’t laugh at her. I didn’t say, “You’re wrong.” I said, “Could you please, could you tell me what you mean by that? Can you unpack that for me?”

She said, “OK. Miss Lovelace, we on welfare. The government, they tell us where we can live so we have to live in public housing, in the apartment that they tell us we can live in.” She said, “Miss Lovelace, when people tell you where you have to live, and you can’t move nowhere else, that’s communism.” She continued, “When we want to go to the doctor, there’s only one doctor around here that will take the Medicare insurance that they have for people on welfare. He’s the only one we can go to. We can’t go to anybody we want to. Miss Lovelace, when the system says that this is what you have to do, and it’s all you can do, and you don’t have other choices, that’s communism.” And she just went on and on. When she finished, I said, “Thank you very much, because I’m certainly beginning to agree with you. You live in a communist country. Your whole life is controlled.” Essentially, she just laid down this thing where she said, “My entire existence is controlled by the system and I don’t have any power to make any decisions for myself.”

Well, how could I tell her that is a lie? That’s her truth. And, if I want her to go beyond that truth and experience it, I have to live that truth with her. I have to be there in that truth with her. Then I can get her to start understanding deeper what is the difference between the systems. You have to be with people.

I think that is the hardest thing for artists to understand, because artists go in thinking that they already know the solution to the problem when they haven’t even heard the problem; that they already know the solution. They know nothing of these people, of their lives, but they are going to tell them how to solve it.

So, yeah, teaching for me is a lot of listening.

An oral tradition

In Motion Magazine: You always say writer, you don’t say poet. I’ve read speeches that you’ve done, and I’ve read a lot of your poetry. Why do you say that?

Alice Lovelace: Because in our culture poetry and poet is of the university. It has a particular class status to it and it has something that says status, and I have no status. When I was forced to give myself a name, I used to call myself an oralist. Other people would call me poet, and I would say, “I am an oralist.” I speak an oral tradition. I come out of an oral tradition. I think, actually, that is what Malcolm was. That is how he mesmerized people, with his oral arguments.

I come from the oral tradition. Poetry and poet is a written tradition.

I had this long fight with Toni because Toni felt like I should start getting my poems published. But I didn’t want to publish my poems because I have a really difficult time with things in fixed print because once something is set on a piece of paper, it is locked and set. And that is it. That’s not the way that my work worked.

I would construct a piece and if I had to present it somewhere, I would understand who my audience was and I would look at the piece and then I could immediately make adjustments within the piece so that the piece was immediately relevant to that audience. I could take that same piece of work going to an entirely different setting -- again, understanding who I was with, what the issues were -- and I could do the same piece but with critical changes. It would now sound as if it was crafted only for them. Because that is the way it should work. It should speak to the people who are in front of you, not to some people you don’t know. For me, it was very much about being in front of the people and the words being relevant to the people I was speaking to. I was afraid if it got locked down that it would lose its relevance because I couldn’t make it fluid.

In Motion Magazine: Do you still believe that?

Alice Lovelace: Yes, I do. That is why I am so horrible at editing and putting poetry on the page. I think my poetry on the page really sucks. Still, the value of my work is in the live performance. Even after I did the first couple of pieces on paper, you couldn’t get them unless you came to my reading. I wouldn’t put them in stores and I wouldn’t let other people sell them. In order to buy a copy of my work, you had to come to a reading because you had to hear it first and then you could buy it. Because then you would have something of that voice that went with it. It was very difficult for me to separate my words from my voice.

In Motion Magazine: How have those words changed over the years? Your poems?

Alice Lovelace: Poetry now has a very different connotation because of the rise of proletariat poetry, because of the rise of Slam, and what people call spoken word. Now, you have a new generation that the moment they think poetry they don’t think academia. It’s possible to actually use it now among some groups and not have it take on a class connotation.

Through poetry -- a different way to know

In Motion Magazine: Could you say some more about the significance of slam?

Alice Lovelace: Slam is very personal. Slam can be a form of therapy. Some writers to talk about hurt and pain -- painful places in their lives. Today, it is the expression a generation of youth who have a lot of pain. A lot of hurt, a lot of misogyny, a lot of sexual work goes onto it.

(Also,) the fact that it is timed, three minutes. They are really strict about that. You can go into a Slam and you can do an extraordinary one-minute poem and not win because they are all primed for that three minutes. It’s like, “We need three minutes.” To compensate for this, many Slams are beginning to incorporate one, two and four minute bouts.

But, it is still timed.

In Motion Magazine: What is the current state of the world of poetry? Slam is just one aspect of it?

Alice Lovelace: Just one genre, one aspect. I think poetry has always been popular because it is the most accessible form of the arts. It is also the most natural for people.

Modern research tells us everybody is born wired for speech. This is one reason I love the term “spoken word” -- they have to be the most democratic words in literature. People are not wired to write. Writing is a taught skill. And some people simply can’t master it. For some, it is a skill that they don’t want to acquire or to express their thoughts in that medium is not natural. But speaking is natural and owned by all.

Poetry desires to distill life. “What does this mean?” -- Poetry is a search for this meaning of life.

Children love poetry. Love it. It is their first language. I have tried for a long time to convince teachers that poetry is a natural way to test student knowledge and could take the place of tests, and essays. Teachers don’t believe me. But once, I did get a teacher to give me a chance to prove it.

For years I had extraordinary successes teaching. I earned this reputation, people would claim, “Alice can teach anybody how to write. Kids who sit and never write anything, let them take the class with Alice.” They loved to challenge me. I kept getting these challenging classes.

I was teaching at Madison Elementary School in Morgan County and the head of the Educational Psychology Department at the University of Georgia, came in and spent three days videotaping my classes.

The fourth and fifth grade social studies teachers were dismayed by the low student scores on the last test, one on the Civil War and one on the Revolutionary War. I was asked to teach a poetry class as an alternative assessment to the test. I carried the children through a brainstorm session connecting dates and places to the abstract ideas that supported the ideas. I took them through the review and the analysis and I gave them a test. The test was to write a poem. Every one of them, even the lowest scoring students -- when the teacher reviewed the poems looking for information they remembered what related to the lessons -- even the worst students scored higher than they had scored on the test.

The teachers said to me, “They know the information, so why didn’t they write it on the test?” Because thinking of the information as a poem is a different way to know. You know different when you write a poem because it’s a unique way of connecting to knowledge. The professor from UGA used the video tapes to help Education majors.

Unlocking the unconscious mind

It’s like unlocking the unconscious mind. It’s like when I do visual response. I get tired of these trite poems. I have to figure out a way to make these kids get out of their own way and let your mind write this poem. You think you know what you want to write, but you don’t know anything. Your unconscious mind knows a lot but you won’t let it tell you anything because your conscious mind dominates. I had to trick the conscious mind to get out of the way.

I give them abstractions. I love working with abstractions because working in the abstract is a wonderful way to force students to think deeply. Abstract ideas such as “bravery,” “pride,” “freedom,” “justice,” “honesty,” “love,” “death,” “hate,” “war,” “peace.”

First, they had to fix their mind on the subject. I have thousands of images. I love visual arts, so I collect catalogs. I cut up all my catalogs and use them along with postcards that I get from my friends’ art shows. So we talk about simile and metaphor so they can fix the abstract idea within the frame of their experience. Then they sort through the images with the goal to find an image that is a metaphor for the subject of their poem.

If, in their conscious mind, bravery represents something bright and shiny, a champion riding in, they had to find something dark, gloomy, cowardly, doom and damnation. That image would become their metaphor. Then, the image becomes their source of language to express their subject. Everything that they write about bravery has to be rooted in this image.

We talk about texture. We talk about how shapes, colors, nuance of texture communicate meaning to us. How our mind makes meaning of everything. Then I give them their assignment, “Name your subject. The image is your meaning. Now your mind has to make meaning of the image to tell me about bravery. And you have ten minutes.”

In Motion Magazine: (gasps)

Alice Lovelace: I didn’t want them to think about what they were asked to do. That was my first comment. “I do not want you to think. You may not think. You are not allowed to think. You have a subject. You have your language. This image is your language. All you have to do now is feel and relate.” And the incredible work they started to produce was mind-boggling because the subconscious mind comes forward. We bury all the stuff that we can’t make sense of because it doesn’t fit into our conscious reading of the world. Everything that we have buried comes forward and it starts dictating what it is.

I use it now with performing artists when they are getting ready to create a new piece of work. I help them jump-start the process so that they can get out of their own way. Then the work comes from some raw, authentic place. Deeper than what they can find on the surface mind.

I have a poem written by a fourth grader. It’s called “Spirits.” It’s about religion. And this poem is so deep and profound. When the boy wrote it he walked up to me with this dazed look on his face, looking at the paper, and he looked up at me and said, “I think I wrote this.”

I said, “You think you wrote it, or you wrote it?” He said, “Well, it was my hand.” He said, “But I don’t know where it came from.” I said, “Yeah!”

Sometimes, I read it to college students and I ask them, “Who wrote this poem?” And they say, “Oh, that’s a theology student.” They say, “Oh, that’s probably somebody who is just out of theology school.” I say, “It’s a fourth grader.” And they go, “No. Impossible. A fourth grader cannot think that complexly about religion.” I say, “Fourth grader.” Because we know, always, more than we think we know. We know more than we allow ourselves to know.

That became a way of forcing people to stop writing and telling me what they thought and start telling me what they knew.

Communication rooted in knowledge

In Motion Magazine: Well, what happens to adults? You say it is our first form of communication but often we are not using it any more. We could have a problem there.

Alice Lovelace: Well, we do. Look at us. Don’t we have a problem? What is our primary problem in this country? Communications. I’m sure that you have watched some of these people who lie and mislead and use language in a way to obscure. And you think, “Surely people see beyond that. How could they believe that?” But they don’t see beyond that. They do believe it because they have poor communication skills. Because school doesn’t teach you to communicate. School teaches you rote education. It doesn’t even teach you to be critical about what they are giving you for education. It doesn’t teach you to question a lesson. You are not allowed to question the text, question the material.

In Motion Magazine: What does communication mean?

Alice Lovelace: To communicate a message is authentic-speak our truths. Not to just say something. To me, communication has to have meaning for the speaker. It has to be seated in truth, passion or in the heart. It has to be rooted in knowledge. And that goes back to what I am saying. Most of us speak from our conscious mind, the front part of our mind. That conscious mind which actually just sits there soaking up information true and false. It exists to make us comfortable in the world. So, when we say something, or come to understand something that upsets us or doesn’t sit with the rest of what we know, it regresses back to our subconscious mind. It goes back. We push that message back because we can’t deal with it. Our mind says, “Oh, wait a minute, let me correct that picture. Let me correct something so that it is harmonious with the way I think the world is. So that it doesn’t challenge what my conscious mind says is true. So it doesn’t make me feel uncomfortable. So that I can keep moving forward and functioning. That's when many people say, “I don’t want to think about that.” So they don’t.

I tell students, “Writing is about thinking.” The first thing you are going to do in my class, before you write anything down, is think. And if you can’t think you can’t write. Until you can think, you can’t write. And, when you write, I don’t want to know what anybody else has to say. I only want to know what you think. I don’t want to know what your momma said, what your daddy said. I don’t want to know what the teacher said. I want to know what you think. And that means you are going to have go somewhere where you have not gone before. That’s what I try to get them to do.

I do it with adults as well, with mixed results. Most adults cannot surrender their conscious mind. They protect their conscious mind. It’s easier with students. They are willing to surrender their conscious mind and actually trust me and let go. They have no idea what they are going to discover. They have no idea where they are going, or where it’s going to take you. But they will go with you. Adults tend to want to hold on to their conscious mind.

The nuance that they left out

In Motion Magazine: When you are teaching adults, it is in the context of art? Or in other ways?

Alice Lovelace: I tend to change it. When I teach adults, I speak to this idea of -- conflict and resolution.

In Motion Magazine: Which adults?

Alice Lovelace: I teach all types of adults. This one group that I am thinking about, is a group that worked on interracial affairs up in Kentucky. They met regularly. The group was a cross-section of different religions and organizations who worked on the Interracial Council. But I go to senior citizen homes and shelters. I go to GED classes and college classes. I go to churches, even garden clubs. I encounter adults in multiple settings. Sometimes they are at conferences. I just taught a class for the Louisiana Governor’s Conference on Juvenile Justice. This was for people who work within the juvenile facilities all over the state. I taught a visual response poetry workshop. We had about seventy-five folks in that workshop.

When it is targeted for adults, I ask them to focus on a powerful or meaningful story from their life. The story must have meaning for them. It must be a part of their meaning of my life. Then I ask them to give the poem a title, this helps the mind to focus. The mind is an extraordinary powerful organ. Once they write the title down, the mind -- like a director -- says, “Oh, that’s where you want me to go look for information. You want me to go mine that story. You want me to look that up for you.” The act of writing begins with making a commitment.

Next, they have to find the image that is the metaphor, only use the image to tell . This forces them to take a story they think they know, that they have told a thousand times. Now, they have to write it down using only the language found in the image. Suddenly, it is not the same story.

Now the story speaks to all those places in the original story that the writer avoided. Or was afraid of, places in the story that might reveal something they didn’t want to think about It’s the same story but it’s not the same story.

This shifts you. I was teaching an adult class and this woman begins to cry. So, I go to her and say, “OK, calm down. Calm down.” She said, “I’ve told this story a thousand times. This story has always been about my parents.” It’s a story about her and her best friend who lived next door. She is white and her best friend is this young Black girl. But the people in the neighborhood didn’t want the Black family there. But when she had told the story she insisted she didn’t know about this. Then, one day she came home from school and her friend was gone and she never saw her again. She blamed her parents and the adults who expressed joy at their being gone. That’s how she’d always told the story.

But now she was crying because she started to write and she started to look at her culpability. She wrote about what she really did know, what she had overheard. The nasty comments she had heard them say. How she had heard them talk about her friend. But she never stood up and defended her friend. That’s when she started crying.

She said, “All this time, I thought it was my parents’ fault.” It wasn’t their fault. It was my fault. I could have said something. I could have done something I could have stood up for her.” She said, “I am culpable.”

The visual response writing process is like shedding a protective covering that allows you to tell the story in a way to protect yourself. The process allows you to think and see it deeper. You can see the deeper meaning of the story because if you can understand the story on a deeper level, then you can understand something about yourself. Fundamentally who you are at the core. Then, you can shift yourself.

Then she said, “You know, this is my problem. I see things that I don’t agree with all the time, but I don’t ever say anything. I'm not going to do that any more. When I see something that I know is wrong -- “I couldn’t speak up for her, and I lost her” -- but I’m not going to do that any more. I’m speaking up from now on.” That is why I do this.

We have to shift ourselves. The shift can’t come from outside. The shift has to come from inside. The type of revelation this woman experienced, that is what I live for and hope for. I don’t get them every time, but when they happen, that’s what I worked so hard for. This is why I keep on coming back and trying this over and over and over again.

Responsibility - we only have each other

In Motion Magazine: Besides writing poetry, you also edit, which I think is slightly different. You edit for the book and for the magazine. “Select,” as you say, may be a better word.

Alice Lovelace: Yes. Well, the book that we did, “Crux,” well, that was a hard job. We got so many selections for Crux. It was a very difficult job. Our first go around, the book would have been twice the size it was. The people who were funding it said we had to cut it and it was hard. That was really making some critical decisions about work that seemed to really live our theme and communicated.

What I found is I like producing the work of other artists. That for me is just another way of producing. I love offering, creating opportunities for other people to be seen, to be heard. That’s just another way of creating an opportunity for other people to be seen and heard -- in theater or in a book.

Toni opened avenues for me. She made it very clear that that was a responsibility. When you have an opportunity to open a door for someone, you do. That is part of your responsibility to bring other voices forward.

In Motion Magazine: Well, the theme of responsibility runs through all of what you have been saying. Also, it runs through that speech you gave in Florida to the Performance Art Network, in which you include the poem about revolution. It was all about responsibility. Can you talk about that?

Alice Lovelace: The sense of responsibility?

In Motion Magazine: Yes. Also you speak of conscience and consciousness. It’s all wrapped up together.

Alice Lovelace: As human beings, I do believe that we have a responsibility and that part of it is to be aware. To not be comfortable with what we are told, but to dig beyond what we are told. To push. To press. To look in those hidden places. To find things that even disturb us. To seek knowledge in ways that our thinking is crystalized by it. To not think that we know everything. Even when I make a decision or I stand on a platform, I am always open to knowing and learning more so that it can help me be clearer about where I stand.

Or, if the clarity shows me something different, I need to shift. I’m always willing to shift. I know most people aren’t that flexible, but I think being human beings we ought to be flexible. We ought to be willing to seek out knowledge. I think we need to be responsible to each other. We are each other’s keeper. We only have each other. There is enough in this world for every one. There’s enough of everything in this world for everyone, which is why I have a problem not with business, not with enterprise, but with this idea of capitalism. This idea of “buyer beware.” This idea of if I can make a fool out of you and make a profit on it, “Shame on you.” Not shame on me for doing it, but shame on you for letting me do it.

Yes, we are responsible for each other.

When I came back from Nigeria, I had taken a lot of slides, and I started to doing slide presentations in schools around environmental issues. I wanted to talk to young kids, particularly, about all the trash that we produce. About the water that we waste. About the way we go about our lives. Because when I would talk to these kids they would repeat a lot of what I’m sure they got from their parents, that the problem in the world was with those poor people in India, those poor people in Africa, they just have too many children. If there weren’t so many of them. They are the burden of the world. I really wanted to talk to these kids in the United States about how you are the burden of the world. Each one of you consume every day what 25 children in the world could have if you didn’t take it all.

I wanted to demonstrate to them in a real way that you have a responsibility to the rest of the world, to the other children in the world. You cannot take more than you are due, and you need to be aware of this. Somebody needs to tell you, “You cannot take more than you are due in this world.” So, yes, we are responsible.

Life is wonderful. Life is a journey. It is never a destination. It is a constant journey. My life has definitely gone through three or four different metamorphoses where I have been allowed to enter into places that I never thought I’d be. I’m just always open and curious of where life is going to take me next.

A right and an obligation to question

In Motion Magazine: And what were those metamorphoses?

Alice Lovelace: I used to work in computers. I used to work in corporate America. I worked for the federal government. I became a printer.

I love machines. I ran every kind of printing press you can think of: Miehle Vertical, Heidelburg. I ripped plate presses. I worked in the darkroom. I shot negatives. I burned plates. I also threw lead and made lead slugs for printing presses. I handset type. That was one of the things that really began to impress upon me the power of the word and the power of those who control the word. The ability to mass produce a word and disseminate it. That was one manifestation.

Yes, I have been through several.

When I was young ... . I am not religious but I grew up in the church. I think that in a strange way, the Bible and the Baptist Church had an incredible influence on me.

I started reading the Bible when I was eight-years-old. I had so many questions about this book that nobody would answer. Nobody would take my questions seriously. So, I set out on this course that I was going to solve this mystery of this book for myself. It took me from the time I was eight until I was eleven. I systematically read this book, beginning to end.

I got thrown out of Sunday school class because teacher said I was turning the kids into heretics. They made me go take private Sunday school lessons. I had to meet one-on-one with one of the assistant pastors because they would no longer let me into a class where other kids were. But I had all these questions. In a way, even though they didn’t want me to, they kind of still encouraged me to question. To question everything. And he would try to answer my questions. We would have these deep discussions.

Then, they shipped me off to theology school. The summer I was fourteen, they said, “We want you to try theology school.” I went to theology school. I went to Westminster and I spent the summer there. (But) all that did was create more questions about our responsibility to each other. About connectedness. About why we needed an intermediary between ourselves and God. About why we ourselves are not manifestations of what God is and all we had to do was behave and treat each other in a way which was respectful. That that’s all God was -- respect.

Ultimately, I think when I was nineteen was when I totally broke with the church. But I don’t think I ever forgot the lesson of it, which was that I have a right and an obligation to question. To never accept anything without questioning it and coming to an understanding in my own mind of its relevance and its importance and its meaning. Taking what I need and rejecting what I don’t.

That has kept me moving through life. It has really seen me being able to even question myself. That I have been able to change myself. I see myself acting in a certain way and I know I have to question myself. It’s sort of like the old communist thing. You get in a cell and the group tells you, “When you know you are being selfish, you are acting this kind of way, you need to change this.” Well, I kind of internalized it from my Baptist education. It has helped me to constantly, on this journey, to try my best, to try my best, to always mean what I say and say what I mean. To be as honest as I can possibly be at that moment in time. Be real. Be authentic.

Published in In Motion Magazine July 22, 2012

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