From Suburban to Urban

Heading for San Francisco today to have a Writer's Weekend.

It's still a bit boggling to me how it all came together... it started with Barbara Jane asking me if I'd be willing to give a review of her work for a new press called Achiote last winter. Engaging with BJ's work is often challenging and thought-provoking, and I appreciated her thinking of me for the project.

Achiote Press is the brainchild of Craig Perez who has the vision of creating a journal where poets and reviewers engage each other in the same volume of work, instead of the usual post-publication model. When I asked Craig what he was looking for in a review, he surprised me by saying that it was totally up to me. Even beyond writing what I wanted about BJ's work, he encouraged me to respond to her poetry in any form I wished, from poetry to essay to combo-genre. I relished the assignment and felt an incredible freedom to really dig into BJ's poetry and poetics and ping my own ideas of aesthetics and poetics off of her words.

Early on, Craig wondered if I could make it down for a reading when the journal, Achiote Seeds launched, and I half jokingly said yes, although I figured that I really didn't have the budget for it. When Craig finally set a launch date, he asked again, and I found myself saying yes. Just a few days prior Alaska Air had announced cheap ticket prices and I'd received a small bonus at work.

That little Yes, set into motion a whole bunch of plans and I found myself in a whirlwind of preparation... and nervousness. The event will be my first poetry reading of sorts - I'd read my work before, but in the form of essay and fiction, and of course as a Teller of Filipino Tales. Poetry is a whole new thing for me... sort of... most of my publications are in poetry, but before all this came down, I figured it was mostly a fluke. *shakes head*

I guess if I'm going to travel some 2000 miles round trip to do a reading, doing poetry is a bit more than a fluke *chuckle*

Anyway, tonight I catch up with Eileen at the kari edwards memorial at the California College of the Arts. She's been kind enough to offer me housing for the weekend. Tomorrow I'll be doing the Tourist Thing, then Sunday's the reading.


It's strange to be doing this gig solo, but I'm also looking forward to the time to think just about my writing and where I want to take things next.

Author's Note: I had meant to post prior to leaving for San Francisco to set up the blog properly, but between packing and intermittent WiFi access, it didn't happen. But for the sake of continuity, I've gone back to insert what I would have said before I left...true date stamp: 5/2/07, 9:30 PM


Stories in Community

Recently Morgan Chipopu, a Teller from Zambia, asked me:

what do the folk tales tell us about the origin migration and displacement of mankind? are the folk tales in Philipines different from those in China? How can we use the folklaw (sic) to impart wisdom in today's troubled world? Can movies, soaps be made based on these stories?

His questions open up great spaces for conversation and thoughtfulness about the modern role of storytellers. I appreciate his ability to both look to the past for connection while acknowledging that modern media has a place in storytelling also.

In particular, his question about stories imparting wisdom got me thinking about stories that heal and even more importantly how our heritage stories can bring about healing.

Last weekend, the Lummi performed the final installation of a totem pole created and dedicated to the memory of the three people killed in the 1999 Whatcom Falls blast. We hope to get a chance to see the pole soon and see how the area is recovering. There are certain parts of the Falls area that are still blackened by the blast, limbless trees, barren of bark point upwards like toothpicks.

The Lummi brought their prayers of healing and their way of remembering to the spot even though the land is not reservation land and the people killed not Lummi. What was important was the land and its people were harmed and they needed to be remembered and honored.

About a year after the blast, a group of Tibetan Monks came to the University to create a sand mandala to promote peace and understanding between cultures. Once the mandala was complete and after weeks of painstaking work, the mandala was deliberately marred and mixed, symbolizing the impermanence of matter. The sand was taken to the Falls and sprinkled in the water with prayers of hope and healing. The monks had done this extra ritual after hearing about the tragedy, wishing to show their solidarity with a community they briefly visited.

There have been many memorials for the event, both private and public, and a community coallition lobbied to change the rules about where pipelines can be laid and how they are maintained (this particular line runs underneath I-5 in certain places and underneath an elementary school yard).

These things all came to mind as I read Kim wrote about taking her foster kids to a local Pow-wow.

The 10 year old explained her dad didn't like her and her little brother to watch Dora the Explorer because (the characters) were Mexican, and that Pow Wows were for stupid people. Bear in mind this is a family that used the "n" word and "wagon burners" in their everyday language among other colorful adjectives.

She goes on to write: We spend so much time fighting racism and talking about how race shouldn't matter, but you know, when it comes to these kids,...our kids, it does seem to matter.

Because sometimes it /is/ about bodies and skin and economics and history and religion, even when we are talking about kids, and maybe especially because it's about kids. Our kids. Our kids friends. Our kids playing with kids they don't go to school with but meet at the park. Our kids meeting homeless kids on the bus or on the beach. Sometimes we have to face our own unanswered questions about race and heritage, admit that each of us hold precious prejudices out of fear of our own oblivion.

Later in Morgan's note to me, he writes about storytellers being Lightbearers, and I think that's about having the wisdom and humility to know we all have prejudices we're not proud of, and in fact are trying to heal, and that through stories, through heritage, we can bring about positive change and healing not only for ourselves but for others.


Monday Spam-etry

Some spam I receive is downright poetic...who writes these, really?

Sorry to be late

an expression of genuine sorrow
came over
i settled,
then i'll run away before
he can collect his wits
and be blossom
into someone good and great
in the best sense of the word

"and will you answer the letters?"


U like it? I do

and thorny laughed
from time to time,
as if his comrades chat
was very amusing. i

i b:
i've got a chapter
to read for tomorrow,
so i'll "thank you, dor-oth-y"
were his first words
'alice, I can'd believe it

-did you understand


Friday Tellers

On a good month, I have/get three storytelling gigs - Second Sat, Second Weds, Third Fri... sometimes, if the dates work out just right, they all fall in the same week...which is pretty exhausting actually...

But, today wrapped this month's series for me (the Guild will Tell one more time on Friday), and it went fairly well. R. gave a stunning performance of a tale she just learned today. I love her voice - richly Scots - and she uses her face and expressions to the fullest effect. D. told an odd little farm story which didn't come off quite as well as with a different audience, but that happens, so it was actually a relief to see a seasoned pro faced with having to change-up a story on the fly. B. was darling, getting everyone to do the sound effects for his tale, and K. did a terrific job with a story he had just researched today also. I think it's his equivalent of my Alitaptap story - built on bare bones but really rich with the telling.

I did the woodsman story again, third time round for this month, and the best I think. I took more time with the details of the story, but I still got the elements turned round a few more times than I would have liked. K. made the unfortunate observation that the water spirit I mention in the story, a diwata makes her appearance coming out of "da wata," ie. the river... It's going to take me a bit to recover from /that/.

Second time, though, that after a performance, the Tellers bullpen turned up that a story I'd told had versions in other cultures, which is cool, but always bears the question of how does it all connect? Are they the same story because of the theme or is it because there was a single origin from which the story spread?

It's the question folklorists love to mull around, creating statistical methods to show the likelihood of a story originating in one place and then adapted to later cultures. They look for the earliest recorded telling of the story, which unfortunately falls to pieces as far as showing 'original and authentic' given that most of the cultures in question and most of the time periods in question there's more oral tradition running around than written.

So, I've been looking at what it is about the way a certain story is told, what details are retold over and over, that might indicate how a culture views the world. In the woodcutter story, it's obvious that the main theme is the difference between an honest person and a dishonest/greed person. Basically a poor woodcutter loses the head of this one and only axe in river. The diwata comes and brings him a silver axehead asking if it is his, to which he refuses. She returns with a gold axehead and again asks if it's his, to which he again says no. Finally when she brings him his iron axehead, he confirms it is his and the diwata rewards him for his honesty by giving him the silver and gold axeheads to sell. He returns with his new found wealth, and does everything he dreams. A greedy neighbor over hears the tale, takes two axes, loosens the axeheads and goes to the river. He 'loses' both axeheads and the diwata offers him a silver and gold axehead, asking him if they are his. He says yes, and the diwata takes all the axeheads, accusing the man of lying.

Within, the story, however, there are places where Filipino values are shown - the woodcutter, when he receives the silver axehead, dreams of feeding his family for a year and finally fixing the roof of his humble home. When he receives the gold axehead, he dreams of buying a new house and sending his children to the best schools. Likely I could have extended the story to also include how the woodcutter shared his wealth with his village to help everyone have a more comfortable life. Then the second man's expectations could have been tailored more closely to the theme of greed, which in Filipino terms would be keeping his wealth to himself and using it to control others.

I need to look into that method of telling a bit more, try to understand what values I want expressed in the tales I tell and bring out those aspects more strongly.

I also look forward to perhaps doing a team telling with another Teller in the group. I've seen a few performances with two people telling a story together an it's really quite dynamic.

In the meantime, though, my attention is turning toward the reading next week in SF and to finishing the paper I'm writing. My mind, though is pretty distracted by what I need to get before I leave and what I want to get while I'm there. It's all I can do to just keep myself from buying everything that comes to mind with the justification that it's 'for the trip.'

...I wonder if I can find a good tale about shopping...



Slowly coming out of the fog of grief and prayer for the tragedy at Virginia Tech. It's the sort of thing that defies words and threatens to overwhelm the mind and senses.

I didn't know anyone personally who was killed or had family killed at VT, but I'm on enough listserves to be affected beyond the emotions generated by just glances at the various 'net news services I manage between coding and editing at work. I have been tied in one way or another to universities for over 20 years - I've been a student, an RA, an instructor, a freshman, a senior, a grad student. I've been both drawn to and repelled by the stories about each person's life cut short so violently.

There is grief along the same listserves, since most of us are in Literature and/or Cultural studies, grief mixed with fear trembling along bloodlines. Will there be backlash? Will it be like the LA Riots again? How will this affect immigration laws/policies under review? What could happen that we couldn't possible forsee any more than this event could have been accurately predicted?

There comes a point of choice, I think, at least for me, on how to respond - continued fear/anger, numbness/BAU, refocus on larger world issues, focus on prevention - I'm trying to get back to what I center on best, heritage and community, finding ways to create and link support systems based on mutual trust and respect.


In my corner of the world, plans are set for my trip to San Francisco next week. I'm hoping to see lots of po-bloggers at various events, as well as a few of the city sights.

I'll be checking out Eileen's Reading at the kari edwards memorial tribute on Friday (Alaska Air willing), play the tourist on Saturday, then do this gig on Sunday:

Celebrating the Launch of Achiote Seeds

When: April 29, 2007 (Sunday), 3pm
Where: Canessa Park Gallery, 708 Montgomery (x street Columbus)

Featured writers:
Barbara Jane Reyes
Oscar Bermeo
Todd Melicker
Alfred Arteaga (planned)
Rebecca Mabanglo-Mayor

Cost: $3-5 donation requested


Bringing It Home

Stuff sorta mulling around in my brain pan... likely a side-effect of working on this paper about decolonization by reclaiming, renaming, and reinhabiting an interior landscape through storytelling.

I think it started with BJ writing about Filipino American Literature and "Originary Points" of Geography where she muses about the intractability of Location and her own ambivalent view of geography in relation to identity...

Later BJ writes of diaspora and dystopia in the same breath...

So... the dystopian landscape, the after-place of nuclear/biological devastation is the space that diaspora communities inhabit, even when living in the relatively safe confines of the US... which I question in our post-9/11, Patriot Act society, meaning, we, here in the US, are experiencing our own sort of post-apocalyptic dystopian social structure...

Then in my own blog, a conversation is emerging about the role of Telling mixed in with the re-membering of heritage and what drives us Tellers to find and tell stories from locations far removed from where we are at this moment.

Yesterday, after Saturday Telling at the Public Market (in which my sleep-deprived brain struggled to string words together - not my best performance), the Guild president and I mused about how to help people realize that they cannot just take/translate stories and fail to give credit for at least the culture the story came from. He's learned several new stories since traveling to one of the oldest (and arguably /the/ oldest) continuous storytelling villages in the world, located in a remote village in China. He and the other tellers who visited the village last year want to be sure that the stories they brought back with them are protected - but how to preserve and give credit for stories and still perform them to an audience so that the village can be recognized?

Stories in diaspora. Stories in decolonization.

Not /about/ diaspora or decolonization, but in the /process/ of being relocated and de-imperialized. Is that remotely possible or are we simply looking at damage control?

But my friend writes on the previous post about the difference between heritage and identity which I thought was really smart - often I find folk who require me to 'identify' solely to my 'heritage' or to redefine me as having an identity removed from my heritage. Which I think is the reason why I become ambivalent toward both identity and heritage.

So why care enough to only research and tell Filipino stories if I identify as biculturally Filipino and American? Shouldn't I also allow myself access to traditional American tales (not the Disney-fied Euro stories, btw)?

Perhaps... But do I have a 'right' to these stories simply by dint of my location? Is being "American" only about acquisition? Can I really tell stories of Old Blue the Ox and Johnny Appleseed along with Tales of Raven and Crow along with Creole and Hawaiian Tales? Or does that just reinforce the diasporic aspects of those stories, rendering them as objects of colonization?


Wednesday Tellers

  • Once a month, on the second Wednesday of the month, I do a half hour Telling at a local nursing home.

    See, performance storytelling is done by Tellers and what they do is Tell, so yeah... I Tell stories to the residents once a month.

    I got the gig when I was shadowing another local Teller, learning what I could about the craft. Oddly, although many Tellers are terrific at spinning tales, the ones I've met haven't been very good at explaining how Telling is done. And I guess that's because like any art, it's really up to the artist. There are a few books out there about the craft, but by far more compilations of stories and every once in a while a good commentary about Telling. So, like the old days, the best way to learn is to Tell and watch Tellers Tell.

    The gig became solo when the nursing home wanted Storytelling twice a month, so the other Teller Tells on the fourth Weds and I get the second Weds.

    The first time I went to the nursing home I felt pangs of memory, remembrances of when my Lola was at Mount Saint Vincent, a resident there to keep her safe during the last stages of her Alzheimer's. The scent there is the same, part sanitizer, part White Shoulders perfume, part vinyl and lanolin. All the residents ride in wheelchairs, some simple affairs of chrome and rubber, wheeled by patient, jaded yet hopeful aides. Others have more permanent looking motorized chairs - once, during a story, I watched out of the corner of my eye, one resident do a slow, power assisted wheelie with her chair. Totally cool. Totally distracting. Really loved it.

    When my Lola was at MSV I visited her rarely. I was living across the state and visited Seattle only a few times a year. I watched her shrink slowly over the years - I have two clear memories of her last days...once she bit my finger thinking it was a cookie I was offering her. The other time, I wheeled her out into the sunshine the day her husband died, realizing that there was no way we could explain to her that he was gone and not coming back to visit her, no matter how often she asked.

    I Tell at the nursing home because I'm learning my craft, but I'm also, I know, trying to somehow take back that lost time with her. She's been gone ten years now...

    When I started Telling, I decided that I would only Tell Filipino tales. I wish I could say it was my idea, but it was actually Robert Kikuchi-Yngojo of Eth-Noh-Tec who had suggested it... "There aren't any Filipino tellers out there," he said. "At least none we've seen." And considering their career, I have little reason to doubt, although I hope to find FilAm Tellers, even as I have found FilAm writers.

    So I research Filipino stories and Tell them at various events. The oddest Teller/Telling combination yet was me trying to render a solo version of Seven Silly Fellows at the local Scottish Festival last year. I preface each telling with how the story I'm about to tell comes from the Philippines or from the place my parents came from. I'm still working out the whole "US born Filipino American, I really don't have time to explain my ambivalent relationship with my culture, but here's a cool story anyway" thing.

    At the nursing home, they're as likely to fall asleep as to follow the tales I unravel, and I often wonder if they understand where my stories come from. Tonight I had a lively group, though. Instead of the usual dining room venue, we were stationed in a small alcove known as the TV room (meaning - there's the widescreen TV and here's a few chairs). My audience was lined up three rows deep, perhaps the biggest yet, and my stage was about the size of an average dining room table surface.

    Two stories - one about an honest woodsman who meets a diwata and one about (as usual) three princes in search of a princess (and a kingdom to rule).

    I try to find original sources when I can, conscious that every storyteller and researcher has an agenda, no matter how benign. They both needed work to be Tellable, but the second more so than the first... They both came through decently enough and I think by the time I retell them this weekend at the Public Market, they'll be solid stories for my story bag.

    Anyway, after I finished an elderly gentleman (because really, he was sweet and not an 'old man' in any way) asked if the stories I told were ones I had heard growing up. When I told him no, he seemed disappointed, but pressed me further. What stories /did/ you grow up with? And I gave him the litany that any Disney-raised child would give - Snow White, Cinderella, Jungle Book... Little Red Riding Hood... at which point, I was given a request by another resident to Tell Goldilocks and the Three Bears on my next visit (I wonder if there's a PI version?)

    You should tell stories from your heritage, he told me and I smiled. The two I told tonight were from my heritage, I replied. And that pleased him very much. He shook my hand and thanked me.

    I hope he's there again next month. There are so many more stories to learn and Tell.


    Speaking of Lolas...

    Evelina writes:

    Dear Friends and Colleagues and Family,

    The petition to support House Resolution 121 is one month old today and carries 1416 international signatures. We have two more weeks to push the numbers beyond 2000. Abe arrives on the 26th of April.

    When the petition began House Res had 42 co-sponsors in Congress. Today 77 Representatives are co-sponsoring this resolution. We need 100 for the resolution to pass.

    If you are a US Citizen and signed the petition, please take a moment to email your Congressperson ( http://www.house.gov/Welcome.shtml). Tell him or her you live in his/her district and you signed the petition. Cut and paste the petition link: http://www.gopetition.com/online/11466.html . Tell your Congressperson House Resolution is important to you and to support it.

    We have the support of so many international citizens — especially Japanese citizens. Let’s move the petition to a new level.

    With gratitude,

    M. Evelina Galang