Anthony Hawley, “November 22, 2017” (2017), ink on unique silver gelatin print, 7 x 5 inches

I live in a state in the heart of the heart of the country. We do Middle West things here. We do Plains States things here. We talk a talk here. We say we want an openness of a certain sort. We want sky that’s a tent. We want occasional Western-ness and a gun even if we don’t admit it. We talk a freedom and a pioneer thing. But we also like to pretend we’re more Cleveland or Chicago when it fits us. Because we fear not being citizens of something more established. We are too middle to have aggressive Lone-Star-ness. We are too north to have a Wichita weirdness. But not north enough to think in frigid white-outs and stillness. We have no annual state inspections for vehicles because we occasionally drive things mostly taped together. Greatly dragging. Greatly not in the shape of say, Massachusetts. Have you been to it?

We don’t lane change much because we want no one to tell us where to drive faster or slower. We have things we put in our mouths called Runzas. We have bluffs and stuff and Cather ever after. We have a football and we have awe-shucks hucksterism. We have fear of others and of outsiders. We have had at times a Chuck Hagel even though now it’s Ben Sasse and he is this and that & like a puddle disappearing; a thing that is blank and never gathering.

We have death penalties because several years ago our own governor spent hundreds of thousands of dollars of his own to lobby voters to reinstate them. Even after they were voted away by real people. In a world of planetary change, great migrations, systematic violence, and political upheaval, we have a wealthy egg-headed white man who spends his own money to make sure more people can get slaughtered. We have meat and meth, which are for different kinds of hunger.

We have a state university that boasts ever-increasing enrollment even as it suffers from failing leadership, a lack of vision, and bloated, overpaid middle management that ensures glacial thinking. A management increasingly beholden to a backwards-looking, fear-mongering board of regents and state senators who talk a talk of other centuries. And yet what is a university if not a haven for questioning the present?

We do weird divisions. The only other state in the union besides Maine, we divide votes from the electoral college between candidates. We like to be neither/nor libertarian, unostentatious and not offending.

We also have potential candidates to oppose incumbents. They use language that is common and un-disturbing. About hard-working Americans. About change in big government. About preservation, prairies, farmers and such. It is pleasant. Like a welcome luncheon of finger sandwiches for people who will never amount to much. Anyone can say it. Please don’t raise your voices.


A state is a shape, and if anything is abundantly clear at this moment, it is that our shapes aren’t holding. We can no longer use them because they are rusted.  Our tongues are tired. A border, a dollar, a skin, a shelter; a kiss, a cowboy, a haircut, a bible. Nothing is as it was and we can’t count on it to carry us forward.

This is because our country is being run by an extreme narcissist, and because the narcissism of our system is being exposed, sometimes hastily, and sometimes not nearly enough.

When you are a narcissist you get famous so that, no matter what, there is always a chapter in which you are present. When you are a narcissist in a position of extreme power, those who rebuke you are written out of the chapters your enablers are writing.

We need a tongue to uncover the next chapters. We need the audacity to admit our systems continue because we are lazy and full of fear, fear that feeds our indifference.

Have you ever thought of a future? Perhaps you have not even thought of the present. What is failing? What is fatigued and broken? What is flailing; what’s pretending? What other shape will you make? What other alphabet is there, waiting for us to uncover?

Anthony Hawley is a New York-based multidisciplinary artist and writer. Recent solo projects were presented by the Salina Art Center; CounterCurrent in partnership with the Menil Collection & Aurora...