12/29/2008

Wisdom from the Margins

The thing about new routines is that they're like new plants - when the environment changes and becomes unstable, it's really hard to keep new things growing and deepening, and there's nothing more unstabling for me than 2 foot of snow over Christmas.

We've come through it all okay. We had a wonderful Christmas at home with new friends and did a bunch of house cleaning/sorting. We're all adjusting to the fact, though, that we weren't able to do the traveling that we wanted to and that for about 10 days we wondered "are we going to make it up/down the hill today or should we just stay put?" I feel like we've been in a holding pattern and just now landing and figuring out what can be done with the last few days of the year.

Spent most of the weekend dredging out my bookshelves which meant a lot of soul-searching. I realized that I have so many unread books on my shelf that even if I read a book a week for two years, I wouldn't finish them all. Yes, I'm a bookaholic. So then came the sorting, facing the fact that I wasn't going to be able to read all the books I had bought and setting new criteria for what I'd keep and what I'd pitch. It wasn't fun, but it wasn't as devestating as I thought it would be.

Ironically, it made me feel rather wealthy realizing I had more books than I could conceivably read, that life is quite abundant for me and that's a really nice feeling. I have more than enough resources to get done what I envision now, and those projects could take a few years to finish. It made it easier to let go of stuff.

It also allowed me a chance to group things together (exactly how many books on characterization does a writer need anyway?) and remember some texts I had started but not finished. Katrin DeGuia's Kapwa was among them and seeing it reminded me of the Four Agreements and a bunch of other books I've read over the years which talk about indigineous and traditional belief systems.

In all cases, it seems, there's this sense of 'going back,' of getting to the essential, the stuff that has been cluttered by modernity and politics and structuralism.

It always bothered me a bit, especially in the heigh-day of the New Age, where 'white folk' looked to 'colored folk' for wisdom. When did people of color become the keepers of wisdom tasked with teaching their 'masters' the error of their ways?

I realized recently that part of that search has to do with the lack of language in the dominant paradigm to adequately describe 'otherness' and 'difference.'

Here's the thing - if we need a system to address everybody's experience and everybody's longing and everybody's encounters with the sacred then that system is going to be pretty...generic. The system becomes complicated and convoluted because the system isn't designed to address difference - only sameness. The trouble comes from the fact that humans are all unique and that difference from sameness creates fear and fear mixed with power or lack of power creates conflict.

Trouble is, we forget that the system, the dominant paradigm isn't designed to handle difference. It's only able to handle sameness. So even if a person comes pretty close to having similiar attributes to the sameness established by the system, there will be times that person will feel outside and different. Could be a small thing, like a preference for cinnamon ice cream and the lack of that flavor at an ice cream shop, but still there's that shift to 'outside' and 'different.'

But there's no language in the system to account for this, other than words and stories about 'outside' and 'different' that calls for adjustment, usually on the part of the individual.

Being able to celebrate difference, having the supporting stories for difference, and seeing other differences supported and celebrated - these are the things we look for when we try encounter artistic expressions and explorations that are indigenous by nature.

Where I get troubled, though, in finding teachers and books who work in these spaces, is the idea of 'authenticity.' What makes an authentic FilAm experience? What is authentic indigenous Filipino art? Is there authentic North Puget Sound culture present in 2008? Who are the keepers of authenticity? What claims of authenticity can I make about what I do and the path I follow?

I think authenticity goes back to that generic sensibility, the imposition of the same cultural rules and regulations as those placed on the dominant. "Authenticity mavens" create an 'other,' a binary by saying "this is authentic, this is not," with no regard for intention, respect, or community.

I'm coming into a space where 'indigenous' means 'inclusion' - everyone contributing to an experience of art, everyone's story being part of the whole. This is a challenging place to be, because I know I'll encounter folks and art that I don't think 'belongs' to me, but I guess I have to remember that nothing belongs to me. I am a participant or not a participant - that's my point of choice.

Anyway, language - when I read the work of Katrin or Leny or Barbara Jane or Gaiman or DeLint or Bach or the Chatelaine or any of the others I list on my blogroll, I'm looking for resonant language.

Resonance. Language. Inclusion. Choice.

These are the bits of wisdom I find at the margins.

Next: Random Things

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