My very dear friend Adam, from back in my Maine days, introduced me to Britt a few months ago. He was in California for a wedding, so I made the beautiful drive down there to meet up with him. And Britt, a friend of Adam's from college days, made the trip up from Southern California. Somehow our first meeting felt like a reunion and, without missing a beat, we got along splendidly. We tried to do this interview then, but it just didn't fit into our busy social schedule. As luck would have it, though, Britt came up to Oregon for a wedding and came through Bend with a lovely group of people in tow. We all became fast friends and the entire day was filled with love and a special kind of camaraderie. We carved out a little time for this conversation, which, for the first time in this history of this project, took place in my home. Then we walked around the block for some photos. Britt is a lovely human who is incredibly thoughtful and patient and kind. I am so grateful for our friendship and am very excited to introduce you to her here. Check out this beautiful documentary in which she explores some matters that are close to her heart.
Who are you and how would you describe yourself?
Well, I'm Britt. I am... it depends on the day - sometimes it feels that way - who am I. I grew up in a small-ish town in Pennsylvania that I would say is extremely blue-collar and segregated. I grew up in a predominantly white environment. And so, being bi-racial, that was always a struggle to find who I am. I think, specifically, this year that's been even more of a question. So, that's a hard one to answer without drawing from every experience that I've had. I would describe myself as someone who is constantly questioning. At a young age, somebody said to me that sometimes the questions tell us more than the answers. And so that stuck with me forever. For whatever reason... I think that the richness of life is about, for me, questions and continually trying to figure out what we're doing here and what I'm doing here.
What matters to you? Or what motivates you?
I would say probably the same - what matters and what motivates me has always been people. And conversations with people. I think, again, the richness of life, for me, is experiences. Questions, experiences, trying to understand where people are coming from. I think, like I said, being bi-racial, I always kind of felt in the middle of everything. I'm not quite white and I'm not quite black. So, not ever having firm footing of what I was, it kind of made me... I don't want to say it forced me into being more of an extrovert, but in a way it forced me to want to understand as many different types of people as I could. And so, I think my main motivation for life has always been people. Doesn't always pay the bills, unfortunately, though (laughs). So, what matters to me and what motivates me has never been something I can make a living out of. But, yeah, I guess maybe that's not what it's about anyway.
What concerns you? What gives you a heavy heart?
Things that concern me don't always give me a heavy heart, if that makes sense. I think the thing that has always given me a heavy heart is usually when I'm misunderstood in some way. I would say I'm a bit of a people pleaser. So I have a hard time when somebody has a hard time with me. And I spend so much time feeling sad about that kind of stuff. I don't know if it matters in the grand scheme of the world, but as far as what gives me a very heavy heart, yeah, it's usually when somebody misunderstands me or misinterprets something that I'm saying. That sounds kind of like a self-involved answer 'cause in the greater scheme of the world, there are things that make me feel extremely sad. But I feel like when I sum it up, it always ends up being when people aren't nice (laughs) to me and to one another. That's always something that makes me the most sad. And it seems the most simple. But, for whatever reason, the hardest for people to fix, in some ways.
But the things that concern me make me feel more enraged. That would be like discrimination and politics as of right now are really concerning. The climate of our world is extremely concerning. I don't hold it in the same way, though. I don't feel as paralyzed by it. I still feel the need to go out and make a change, but for whatever reason, the things as far politics or discrimination are upsetting, but they don't hold the same weight as if somebody feels upset with me personally. I don't know.
What do we mean to each other?
Man, a lot of days, it feels like we mean nothing to one another. That's how it feels when I turn on the news. We mean nothing. We're not doing a very good job of taking care of one another. Especially in the last few years I've become a lot more of a pessimist, so my grumpy old man answer for that would just be like, Nothing. It's shit. But there's always a little part of me that wants to feel like we genuinely want to do better. So, what do we mean to one another? I don't really know. I don't know if that's much of an answer.
Because of where I am in my life right now - I'm 32 and things aren't all that bad, but it's been a rough year. So, it's hard for me because I've been in a space where I don't really feel like a human most days. I don't know if that makes any sense. It's almost like I've not been feeling a very strong connection even to myself. So that's hard for me to answer because I'm not even really sure how I feel on a day-to-day. So, I've not felt super connected to anyone else. That it makes it hard for me. I mean, I guess we all go through this ebb and flow where we have depression and we may be in a better space. At a different time in my life, I would say we mean love. We mean acceptance and inspiration. But, I have to say I'm just struggling to feel that way. And I don't know where that comes from. I always make the joke that it's such a privilege, almost, to be able to sit around and be like, What am I? Who am I? (Laughs) Because a lot of people who don't have anything as far as wealth or anything in that regard, they don't have the space to sit around and think like that. So, yeah, I don't know. It's hard. The only thing that comes to mind when you originally asked me that was the word love. So, I don't know what that means and what to do with that. I guess I mean it not even in the positive sense 'cause love can be just so destructive. But, that was the one word that popped in my head when you asked me that. So, whatever that means (laughs).
I had an interesting experience where I was speaking with someone and we were talking about the things that we liked. And I found myself rattling off some books that I hadn't read in years, but they are those go-to... and you know when you say them it puts you in a specific category of... if I'm gonna tell you that one of my favorite books is On The Road, then you know that I appreciate Jack Kerouac and then that puts me kind of in this space of being like a little bit of a hipster who's cool and smart and you know. But when we were talking about this, a friend and I, I was like, I haven't even sat down and really read. And then she said to me, Do you really even like reading? You know, it's almost one of things, we know what the answer is or how we want to be perceived by people, but we never really sit around and actually say, Do I even fucking enjoy that? Does it even really speak to me? It used to, but I haven't read it in 10 years - I might hate it (laughs).
What does being a part of community mean to you?
That's an ever-changing thing for me as I get older. I think as a young 20-some year old, the idea of community was a lot more about acceptance. I need to be a part of something because I need to be accepted because I'm pretty insecure so I should probably find that community and latch to it. And as I've gotten older and - I don't want to say I don't enjoy people - but I get acceptance in different ways and it usually comes from not people at all. I think now it's more about survival. Community, to me, nowadays is a lot smaller. The people that I choose to spend time with... it's been less selfish and more just I need a group of solid people around to remind that I'm not fucking insane. You know? To help me get out of my head. And give me some perspective.
This question is one that I can't stop tweaking. It's mostly because I'm just trying to dump all of my stuff onto everybody that I ask. A general sense of inequality is what bothers me and you can deconstruct all of the social injustices down to essentially the same thing - underneath it all is inequality, in some shape or form. Do you have any thoughts on why we focus on the particular forms of social justice instead of what's underneath it all?
I mean we have been doing that to each other since the beginning of time. We, for whatever reason, we're designed in this really funky way to... I don't know, maybe we weren't. Maybe it's all learned. Maybe at some point. I just feel like we have something in us that's like, No, I'm better. Or because it's different, it means its better or worse or whatever it is. I don't really know exactly... it's how we've been known to function. That's it. I don't know what else there is to it. Sometimes when I try to understand racial injustice or whatever it may be - inequality in some way - I can't wrap my head around it. Ever. There's gotta be something that we don't have control over. I have no idea. Let's talk race. Like, If I sit down with a white supremacist - being black and gay and a woman (laughs) - if you prepped that person before they came and sat down with me and then they sat down and we tried to have a conversation... we do a pretty decent job when you can humanize something or you can put a face on something or you have a common interest in something. But we don't take the time to hear each other or listen to each other. I don't know what that is. If there's a part of us as human beings we're just.... we already have something in us that's like a sense of survival, but then you add social constructs and that kind of stuff. I don't know (laughs). I have no clue. That's a really hard conversation and question to answer. I wouldn't even know how to articulately answer that because I have no clue.
So what do you do? What's your role in it?
All I can ever really do is be willing to have really shitty conversations with people. And somehow stay patient and find some compassion and love. Somehow. To be like, Fucking idiot. And not say that but just be like... There's gotta be some reason we're in a room together and you're driving me insane and I'm probably driving you insane, but maybe there's a reason. I guess that's what I do. I've always been someone who's willing to have a conversation with somebody who's completely ignorant. It ages me 10 years every time I do it (laughs), but I really think that might be the only way. There are movements and things that happen. I do, I think marches and those things are very powerful, but when it comes down to it, you know - not that I'm some wonderful human being who's got all these answers and let me just tell you about the entire black community... I didn't even grow up in the black community, so I'm not the spokesperson. But I've read some books. I'm not a dummy. I can understand history and why we are where we are. So, I'm more than willing to usually have those conversations with people and I think that's the thing. You just have to be willing to put it all out there and we don't do that enough. I guess that's what I do. That's the only way I've ever been able to figure out how to kind of contribute to helping the cause. And I'm wrong sometimes, too, you know? And I do get frustrated. I think what happens with a lot of people is when you start to have those really tough conversations and then they get frustrated and they're like, I'm not gonna fucking do it anymore. That's why people are like, We're not gonna talk politics. We're just not gonna do it because it never ends well. And I think we give up too easy on each other. I think there's a time when you're like, Okay, I'm tired. I'm not gonna fucking do it. But you have to wake up the next day and be like, But I'm gonna have to try to do it again today. I don't know if that answers the question (laughs).
Do you have a sense of purpose?
When it comes to other people, I've noticed. I find a lot of my purpose when it comes to other people and their feelings and that kind of stuff. I have not been able to sit quietly with myself and have a sense of purpose recently. I don't know why. I can usually pull myself up by my bootstraps when it comes to someone else. Very easily. Like my mother drives me fucking insane, but she gives me a sense of purpose; I would do just about anything for her. And I would say I'm pretty fiercely loyal. (Laughs) I've not always crushed commitment at the relationship level, but I would guarantee that if you asked my past partners, they'd say, You're kind of a fucking idiot, but you are loyal to the end of time. So, yeah, other people give me a great sense of purpose, but I can't seem to sit alone and find a whole lot within myself. Yeah.
What do you want more of in your life?
I don't know if it is my generation - I don't know if it is technology or whatever - when you ask that, I have this funny thought where it's like I want adventure, but I want familiarity. Right? I want a sense of home. Coming into your home and thinking, This feels really good. I want that. But then I go on a hike and I'm like, I want to sell everything and then I want to do this. So, what do I want more of? I never know (laughs). I never know. I'm always very envious of people who find a thing that works for them and then they're happy to be like, Okay, I would like more of this. It doesn't even have to be a material thing, right? I want more intimacy. Or I want more this or that. I kind of make the joke, like I said earlier, being bi-racial where I'm always kind of locked between these two worlds is what it felt like, I sort of feel that way about most things - even my emotions. It's like I want more clarity, but I want to keep asking all the questions. I think to simple answer it, what I want more of is a sense of self. I want more of that. I want to feel more secure. Just one hour a day to be like, I'm doing a good job. And I don't have that. I don't have that thought a whole lot. I never really have. I've never really been my biggest fan (laughs). So, yeah, a sense of self. And I have one hour in the day where I'm like, (big breath) I'm doing alright. It sounds so simple, right? When I say it out loud, too, I'm like, Well just say that to yourself. But it wouldn't be genuine (laughs).
Do you have anything else that you want to put out there?
Not really. We talked about doing this a couple months ago and, such is life, I can be kind of a hippy-dippy everything-happens-for-a-reason type - I have that in me a lot - and so I think there was a reason this was meant to happen in this moment. And I think, for me, I am in a state of vulnerability. I've realized that might be the only thing that gets us through is to kind of allow ourselves to be vulnerable. I think months ago or a year ago, doing an interview like this, it would have been a lot more of the answers of like, Let me show you that I'm well-read and well-traveled. And things that are true about myself - they are. But I wouldn't have been able to say, I don't know. I've been doing that a lot more. And so I guess, yeah, to end this it would be that this project brings a sense of vulnerability for people because I think that those important, hard conversations... I think that's what it is to create change. Dialogue and vulnerability (laughs). And if you don't have those things, what's the point? Why? What are you doing (laughs)?
Do you want to ask me anything?
Yeah, I have millions of questions. Has this made you feel like you have some purpose - these interviews?
(Long pause) I can't possibly know what anybody's gonna ask. At least anybody that I interview can look at the project and get a sense of what I'm gonna ask, but these tend to derail me a little.
I was born into the fundamentalist, evangelical Christian world and that's what I had. That's where I was born and that's what I knew and everybody gave me answers all the time. It's not a world for questions. It's only a world of answers. And it's cool or whatever that you get to know them. Right? And it never suited me. But one of things that world really puts on all of its people is a deep purpose. And everybody's is the same - it's that you're special. God picked ya; you're special; and your purpose is to get as many people on board as possible. So, I didn't really have to worry about that until I decided that shit wasn't for me. I'm sure the road to that was a bit longer than I recognize, but deciding that happened for me in college. So, I've spent fewer years of my life out of it than I spent in it still - I'm getting close to that line. So, I think I've wanted a sense of purpose since I decided that that wasn't mine. So, my answer would tend to be more in line with yours.
I have a hard time explaining my previous project, I Heart Strangers, and this project - like what is it about these unique combinations of circumstances that lead to me doing this type of work? And I guess to me, it's strange or rare enough - unique enough - that I can put a purpose label on that. Right? And I guess it makes me feel a little bit okay to be able to say this is my purpose. I might have been able to say yes and call it quits with my answer to your question, but that's not the truth of it. I don't know if this... a sense of purpose? Sure. Whether or not it's real, I don't know. And that's the most vulnerable and honest way I can move forward and it's now what I expect of everyone.