In 2021, my best friend and creative partner Mia S. Willis and I were part of the Interfaith Innovation Fellowship for our video podcast series, Dying/Laughing. It is a live action and animation discussion series that highlights how mental health and suicide are represented in television and film.
Mia and I discuss religion in a lot of our episodes, whether it be about our own worldviews or how worldviews are portrayed in the television episode or movie. One episode that stands out to me is Mia talking about their Zen Buddhist worldview in regard to death when reflecting on how the suicidal death of a Christian Black character in Law and Order SVU was mishandled by the writers of the show. They made her suicide a public display without taking into consideration how her Christian faith may prevent her from doing that, along with including two more deaths by suicide in the same episode.
Using the Interfaith Innovation Fellows grant, Mia and I were able to create a team of an animator, a video editor, and a graphic designer to build our table of our first five episodes of Dying/Laughing.
It was an honor and a privilege for us to be invited to Interfaith America’s Alumni Convening in May of this year to present a workshop on how we built Dying/Laughing and how folks can build a project similar in the context and passions that matter to them. We called our presentation, “How to Build Your Table.”
We didn’t want to make this a prescriptive presentation by any means, because we know our minds could change any time when it comes to planning a creative project. Although we didn’t provide infrastructure, we encouraged folks to outline their first steps and their “why” behind their projects. We asked,
“What are you bringing to your table (e.g., skills, people power, knowledge)?”
“What are you missing from your table?”
“What makes your table worth building (your “why”)?”
“How do you build your table?”
We also had folks talk in small groups along with as a whole group so that people could hear collective feedback and ask follow up questions about their respective blueprints.
It was wonderful to be in a space with Baha’is, Hindus, Christians, Jews, and Humanists navigating what it means to build a “table,” and to make sure we don’t have to build our tables alone. How to sit with the insecurities and overwhelming feelings of starting a new project as well as navigating self-care when fulfilling said project. It was interesting how Mia and I were talking about this while at the same time, I’m dealing with my own insecurities and overwhelming feelings about my mental health and my body.
I started a new medication before arriving at the convening, as an effort to take care of my mental health. However, at the presentation’s conclusion, I unexpectedly went into anaphylactic shock. I had to go straight to the hospital, and didn’t participate in the rest of the convening until the final programs the next day.
As upsetting and lonely that initially was, I ended up feeling so held by Interfaith America’s community. Mia (Zen Buddhist), Danny (Jewish), and Elyse (Agnostic) held an Instagram Live conversation for Dying/Laughing. Maia (Christian) and I got to know each other better at the ER. LaTanya (Agnostic) and Amber (Christian) came to see me at the ER (and sent me pictures of watching my TEDx talk). The last day’s programming facilitated by Eboo (Muslim) and Harmeet (Sikh) made me feel like I didn’t miss anything the day before.
Regardless, I hope you all sit with this poem I wrote.