More intricate riddles of life on ‘In These Times’

Episodes 4 and 5 of the OMNIA podcast’s fourth season cover how to confront trauma, using words as a coping mechanism, and music and meaning.

This season of “In These Times” explores how words, music, and other mediums throughout history have helped humanity to cope, connect, and process trauma and healing.

In Episode 4, “The Many Mediums for Confronting Trauma,” Breanna Moore, a Ph.D. student and Fontaine Fellow in Penn’s History Department in the School of Arts & Sciences, discusses her engagement with fellow student collaborators to recreate the history of Penn’s connections to slavery, which began with a memory book and a journey through her own family’s history. And Deborah Thomas, the R. Jean Brownlee Professor of Anthropology in the Department of Anthropology, explains how the many mediums of art, including film, dance, and photography, have helped her promote healing within communities marked by trauma in Jamaica and beyond.

Fantasy drawing of a human overcoming inner demons.
Image: Marina Munn

Episode 5, “Finding a Way with Words,” reflects on how for as long as humans have had voices, trauma has been told and processed through stories, poetry, and music. Author Lorene Cary, senior lecturer in English, and poet Fatemeh Shams, assistant professor of Near Eastern languages and civilizations, discuss the ways words move people, create a community, and help heal.

Episode 4 highlights:

3:51: [Breanna Moore] “So I had the idea to use my grandmother’s quilt, which we actually found in her room after she passed away, because when she was alive, we didn’t know that she made quilts or that was a hobby that she was interested in. So we found the front part of the quilt. And then my great aunt Emma, the one who had a family reunion … we gave her the front part of my grandmother’s quilt and my great aunt Emma, put the backing in and put, like, the cotton side to really finish the job.”

“So for me, it was very special because it was two matriarchs of my family who created this quilt. … The quilt itself is a story. So I felt that the quilt would be an excellent way to have the patchwork of the different video clips that tells different stories in my grandmother’s life, through her own words, be the medium through which I would tell the story of my family’s history on the tour, on the Penn and Slavery Project augmented reality app.”

23:38: [Deborah Thomas] “Our intention with those still photographs was not to create images, sort of stereotypical images of ‘suffering victims,’ but instead to portray people how we knew them, which was as members of families, as mothers, as aunties, as daughters, as sons, as nephews, as uncles, as members of community, as people who had an educational history and an occupational history, people who were living life, not just stuck in this kind of particular moment of death.”

“But for me, I think audience has always determined the form of an intervention, thinking about who the audience is or could be or should be, is the thing that helps me imagine what kind of entity we’re putting into the world. Is it a performance? Is it a film? Is it a different kind of installation? Is it a sound scape? Is it a book? So if we’re thinking about what do we want this work to do in the world and to do for the people with whom we’re collaborating? Then that helps us to understand what is the meaning.”

Episode 5 highlights:

5:40: [Lorene Cary] “Sometimes people ask about storytelling in the past. One of the reasons I love stories was that they allowed my mind to roam and intersect with other people in the way that prayer or meditation or song allowed the mind and emotions to intersect with spirit. I think storytelling is our, it is a technology we have come up with that connects mind, emotion, and bodies, and past and present and exploring the future.”

19:38: [Fatemeh Shams] “I remember it was deep into pandemic when I decided to reach out to some of our graduate students and faculty members to start a monthly virtual poetry circle with them. I wanted to give this fear inside me and this fear of loss, weight and credit, but I also didn’t want to let it rule my life. I thought one thing that can help doing this is to basically rethink how to do this one healing way method that I know, which is reading poetry together, collectively, something that I used to do when I was a teenager.”

“I remember when I was full of rage and full of disappointment as a teenager [in Iran] with the society around me, sometimes even with the way that the world didn’t make sense. I used to go to poetry sessions with other poets and we read there and we got angry; we laughed; we cried, and poetry suddenly allowed us to process our emotions in ways that nothing else allowed us to do. And I thought that power of poetry to calm down the words and the thoughts in the middle of a dark chaos was probably something that could help.”

Listen to the podcasts in full at OMNIA.