Saturday, May 20, 2017

More (reactionary) thoughts on the Tizon essay

(aka: Notes, snippets, mishmosh of thought and emotion)


I'm still digesting, processing, unpacking, untangling and peeling back layers. Since my last post, there have been a good number of responses from within the Filipino/Fil-Am community. I am glad. We need to make our voices heard. (It’s important to note that not all the voices are in agreement.) This one by Melissa Sipin is the only one I've seen from the perspective that *wasn't* positioned in the upper/middle classes. And I am grateful for her essay-in-progress. I think we're all working on something in-progress. I know I am.

So these past couple of days, I've alternated between being angry and weeping. Sometimes both at the same time. And yes, I've run the gamut of emotions in between. This morning, I'm feeling particularly all-over-the-place. There is still so much. I started writing something yesterday and came back to it this morning. And then I found myself asking: who the fuck am I –and American-born Filipina from a middle class family— to be writing anything about this?

And then, I responded to myself: That’s the stupidest self-talk I ever heard. Of course you’re to write about this! You must. Because you’re Filipina. American-born or not, you need to offer your voice to the mix. Do not silence yourself.

Yeah. Writers talk to themselves like this all the time.

*

Questions. There are at lot of questions in my head. So let’s start there (can’t promise any answers):

Why did Alex Tizon write this story? I understand that he started writing it in 2011 after Eudocia’s death, but why? What made him say to himself: “I’m going to tell this story”? Was he trying to conduct some kind of penance: to admit his guilt, his complicity in all of this and to try to set things right by pulling back a curtain on the utusan? I can’t say for sure. If his widow doesn’t know, then no one will truly know.

But I will say this: this is Alex’s story, not Eudocia’s. Do not be fooled into thinking otherwise. Everything we see and hear and feel is all orchestrated by Alex: his specific viewpoint as well as his writing – from the words he chooses to how he builds sentences and narrative arc. This is how literature works. It’s a conversation between writer and reader. Our responses are based on our individual selves and our individual experiences and relationships to, not just the moments happening in the story, but to the language itself.

This is why his essay triggered a lot of emotions for me.

For one, it’s a story about a Filipino family. It is rare for me to see stories about myself and my cultural heritage – to see Filipinos in mainstream media—so when I get to read one, I get really really excited. But when I saw “My Family’s Slave” with Eudocia’s photo, my gut went: uh-oh. Then, when I read that Alex's family addressed Eudocia as “Lola”, my body tensed. That’s what my kids call my mother. “Lola” is “grandmother” in Tagalog.

How jarring to put the words “slave” and “lola” together.

*

As writers we aim to seek out truths. And truths vary. But inevitably, they are our own. Readers sometimes forget this. How we put words together, which words we choose, how we build paragraphs – these things reveal more about us than we’d like to admit. But in connection with that, readers are also applying their truths to what they read. Consider the varied responses to Tizon’s piece. How many were “selectively reading”? (e.g one sees the word “slavery” and immediately forms an opinion before reading the rest of the story, if they finish reading it) Consider each person’s sociopolitical position and how that informs their response (e.g. West vs. East). Too often, we all forget these things. And that has never been truer than this moment.

Filipino writers and academics are offering nuanced, critical responses to this story by including cultural and sociopolitical contexts (there we go, educating folks on our culture yet again). Some are responding to these thoughts as defense for Tizon’s family’s actions, as if we were trying to excuse Tizon and his family for their actions. This is what I mean by “selective”. Nowhere does anyone defend what’s happened to Eudocia, but yet, here they are, telling us we are making excuses for Tizon.

[A random aside regarding visibility: I find this an interesting moment for Filipinos in that we are presently in the American spotlight – what will we do with this moment?]

Some are wondering if we could ever know Eudocia Tomas Pulido’s story. I would be interested in hearing it, but the likelihood of someone in a similar situation speaking out? Close to none. Why? Because most of these folks are conditioned to understand their place in the rankings. Sharing their personal story is not an option for them, if it even crosses their minds. 

*

I am exhausted. Emotionally drained.

*

What is my complicity in this? What about all of our collective complicity? Once we’ve admitted that we are / I am complicit in creating and allowing for these situations to happen, then what? What do we do with this?

In order to solve this problem, in the most basic, reductive terms, we’d have to scrap the Philippines – heck, probably every nation—and start over. This is an issue that is intricately tied across the globe. The historical and sociopolitical structures are so deeply embedded. But a do-over is not an option. So what can we do instead?

*

I feel like I’m spinning my wheels. I don’t know what I’m saying anymore.

Time to stop here. To take a break. Practice self-care.

[to be continued]


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

That Atlantic story about a "family slave"



This is Essay #20 of The 52 Essay Challenge, a series in which I write a new (unpolished) essay each week during 2017.


Do you know what it’s like to be invisible? To not see yourself in the world around you? To not see people brown like you in books, in movies, on television? To grow up thinking that you’re just like every(white)one else? Until, of course, some(white)one points it out to you either directly or microaggressively.

Imagine the thrill, then, to be able to read a book in which you completely understand and identify with the characters because you recognize that language, those turns of phrase, that obsession with American pop culture, even if your own actual life was totally different. For me, it was Jessica Hagedorn’s Dogeaters. That book changed my life. I never imagined that someone could write a book, let alone it be considered literature. about Filipinos. That someone could write with language that I used in conversation instead of that stuffy elevated British version of English.

Suddenly, the world opened up for me.

Twenty years later, there still aren’t that many books written by Filipinos for Filipinos. Yes, there are more books being written and published, but not enough in that we are a significant part of the visible literary landscape.

And then yesterday, “My Family’s Slave” was published in the June issue of The Atlantic.

Before I started to read, I looked at the photo. It was of a woman who looked Filipina, who reminded me of similar photos I’ve seen of my relatives, my ancestors. I started to guess what this story was about and felt myself bracing for whatever I was about to encounter. I sensed it was going to be difficult.

“Difficult” doesn’t even come close.

Tizon’s story sounded familiar: a family struggling, looking to the United States for better opportunities. Once there, more struggle to make ends meet. But they persisted. The difference here is that they had what Tizon calls “a family slave”, Lola.

There’s so much to unpack here and I don’t even know where to begin. So let me start by saying: I am writing this as part of my processing. I may say things that are upsetting or politically incorrect or offensive or whatever. Fuck that shit. This is my blog and this is what I’m thinking IN THIS MOMENT. My thinking could change as soon as I hit “Publish”. Whatever. I need to say what I need to say. Now.

The Philippines is an incredibly poor country, despite appearances (which are usually sourced from a single place in an archipelago of over 7,000 islands: Manila. Or, if you’re feeling exotic, then the Banaue Rice Terraces). That kind of poverty makes you do things you wouldn’t otherwise do. (And before you jump all over me: I’m not make excuses – I am giving context.) The fact that Tizon’s grandfather “gave” Lola as a “gift” to Tizon’s mother is not unusual (though I will say that I have issue with the words he chose to use (“gave” and “gift”) – perhaps that was intentional to create the response that he has now received). Poor people look for ways to survive; wealthy people exploit that. This is nothing new. This is how humans have operated for a very long time. Tizon mentions that even poor people take advantage of those who are poorer.

*

When I first traveled to the Philippines, I was already an adult in my late 20s. I went with my mom and grandma (my lola), whom I was taking home to Lucban, where she wanted to live out the rest of her days. At this point, I already had a general understanding of class structures. For one, I knew that we’d have a driver who would take us to the condo where we were staying (it’s not safe to move through Manila without one you can trust – I’ve heard stories of robberies and the like).  Then, we’d have another driver a few days later to take us to Lucban, about a four-hour drive through mountains. So far, this all makes sense.

Then, I was also told that we’d have a housekeeper. To which I thought: What? Why one earth would we need a housekeeper in a *condo*? Heck, why would we need one at all? What would she even do? It’s not like we’re not living there; we’re just sleeping there. We’d planned to be out and about during the day. Later, when we arrived at the condo, I’d discover that she was also our cook and our hospitality hostess. She offered beverages and snacks the moment we walked in. She asked me if there was anything I wanted from the grocery store or if I any special meal requests. I was bewildered.

She had this little room off the kitchen –a closet really, with just a chair where she’d sit, awaiting her next command (I hate to use that word, but it goes back to Tizon’s explanation of the role of these domestic workers as utusans). It was awkward. I was wholly uncomfortable. I wanted to tell her that she could go home, that we didn’t need anything. But my mom said she needed the money.

Shit.

The next morning, she was in the kitchen, cooking garlic fried rice and longganisa (my favorite sausage). When we emerged from our bedroom, she immediately asked: coffee? To which I nodded and sat down at the small glass table. She had set the table for breakfast. Within minutes, she served our tapsilog: the rice, the longganisa, and eggs over easy, with a side of tuyo (dried sardine). It felt weird having someone serve me breakfast in a condo.

*

I wept the entire time I read Tizon’s story. I felt myself nodding at the struggle of it all. I got angry towards his parents for how they treated Lola, but could see how my own parents might have acted the same way. I could also see the difficulty Tizon endured to write this story –to break that silence so conditioned in most Asian cultures—and put pen to paper –to so do (seemingly*) unflinchingly, but with compassion. It takes some guts to not only be truthful about this reality, but also to put himself out there as complicit in all of it.

(*Note: we all know that stories are subject to the one who tells it. There is an article, a kind of memorial/ obituary, here that presents a different perspective. Which one is true? Which one is reality? Can there be more than one?)

A lot of people are up in arms now, the day after. Everyone’s got an opinion. Most of them are split between “Oh my God how brave of him to share this story!” and “How could you let this go on for as long as it did, Master??” (I can’t ignore how much of the story’s title created this kind of response. Was the title written this way in order to create a kind of sensationalism? We must ask these questions.) There is very little in between. There is little nuance, little critical thinking to unpack the layers.  Many people are selectively reading; others are creating their versions of meaning. This is what happens in the experience of reading. No? But on the whole, many of the voices being amplified are outsiders. I have yet to see someone from within the Filipino culture –heck, from ASIAN culture in general—express their opinion. Not to say that we’re not talking –oh, hell yeah, we’re talking!—but is anyone giving us the SPACE to express voice?? Nope. None that I can see.

So unless you take the time to peel the layers, to look at them more closely & more critically, to understand the context within which this story happens, then shut the fuck up with your judgments. Shit is more complex and complicated than you think.

Now, excuse me while I go process some more. Including the fact that Eudocia Pulido was called Lola (which means “grandmother” in Tagalog) and that both of my grandmothers, my lolas lived with us when I was growing up. Yeah, let me go untangle that.

[To be continued...]

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Melancholy: finishings, endings

This is Essay #19 of The 52 Essay Challenge, a series in which I write a new (unpolished) essay each week during 2017.


This week started another unfurling of the Long Goodbye.

After ten months, I will officially complete my 200-hour yoga teacher training this weekend. For whatever reason, I can’t help by feel fatalistic. Unlike the conclusion of my residency at VSC, this feels like a permanent ending, a closing of a book. Not a chapter, but an entire book. And I don’t know why.

It doesn’t make sense. Many of the people in our group are members of the studio where we are training. So I’ll see them in class from time to time. With some, I’ve developed a strong bond and will for sure stay in touch. Right?

But will we really? Will we really stay connected as closely as we have over the past several months? I doubt it. It’s terrible for me to say, I know. And really, I’m not a pessimist. So where is this coming from?

During the year, we tried organizing dinners and outings, but it never quite turned out like we imagined. Everyone was all in and then at the last minute (quite literally, as we’re walking out the studio doors), people would drop out. Things would come up: people would complain about being tired or remembering some forgotten commitment. And four people would be left out of the eleven who said yes. (At least that’s what happened this last time we tried.) Everyone has their priorities. And they’re not always in alignment.

But I think it’s more than that.

I’m feeling the pull-away.

Maybe it’s because I was at VSC during last training weekend. And while I did participate via videoconference, it wasn’t the same. (I know: totally nerd to do that –to participate remotely—but there’s so much material covered that the idea of trying to catch up was far worse than Skyping in.) I felt left out. It was an awful feeling. To not be part of the loving energy of that group? To not be physically present? That totally sucked. So much so that I started to wonder if playing catch-up was actually better. I almost hung up on the conference call.

That’s when I sensed the beginning of the Long Goodbye. And that this one was different.

During the fourth week of my residency, I was a little sad, but also felt hopeful. Inspired. I filled my creative well with so much abundance! And felt grateful for the people I engaged with, for the things I learned. Leaving didn’t feel like an ending. It felt like a moving on, but carrying the wisps of that experience with me. Like a tail of a comet.

This Goodbye feels weirdly final.

Everyone feels so distant.

Or maybe it’s me who’s (unknowingly) distant.

Or a little of both.

*

Melancholy is defined by Miriam-Webster as “an abnormal state attributed to an excess of black bile and characterized by irascibility or depression; a depression of spirits; a pensive mood”

Perhaps I am all three right now:

1. Black bile coats the inside of my mouth. Coats my throat. Lines my stomach. Its darkness radiates out into the rest of my body, weighing it down like lead. A shiny patent leather finish.

Is this what finishing feels like? To complete? To end?

1a. Irascible. Erasable. Melancholy erases. With hot temper. A pour of scalding water.

2. The press of a finger into the smooth surface of my spirit. De/press. To press down. To bring down. To sadden. Depress. Push pockets into smooth. Pockmarks. Spirit pushed down into earth.

3. Pensive in the pen that sieves thoughts, hoping to gather larger hunks of gold as sand sifts through, pulled down by gravity. Do you understand the gravity of this finish(ing)? The weight of this de/pression? Think. Ponder on the pond of her distance, her melancholy. That melody so sweet, so sad like butterscotch candy on the tongue.

*

While I’ve been able to function with some level of “normalcy” (whatever that means) during this second week back, I’m not sure I’m done with re-entry. I’m not so sure I will ever be done. What needs to happen is a revision of the old life to accommodate the revised post-residency me.

But as I consider the end of my yoga teacher training, a new Self is being birthed. I keep using the word “revision”, but that doesn’t feel accurate. I truly feel like a new version of me is emerging. Totally new. Not cosmetic edits here and there. Not a resurfacing. (Or is it? A surfacing of a Self long forgotten?) More like: core changes that result in a dazzling new Me.

And that’s not something to be melancholy about. Because, like Brenda Lane Richardson said: “great outbursts of creativity alternate with feelings of extreme melancholy”. The next upswing will be a brilliant outburst of creativity. I just know it.

*

So here’s the good news: today is Vesak Day when people celebrate the birth, enlightenment, and death of Buddha (forgive my oversimplification). Tonight’s full moon holds potent energy. Now is the time to clear the things that no longer serve us, to acknowledge the things that are coming to conclusion (YTT!), and to set new intentions for the next twelve months.

“A full moon can feel like the end of a chapter or the completion of a significant phase in our lives, as it brings closure, change, rebirth, as well as being a great manifestation of something new. It is a time where we can reflect on what no longer serves us so that, with gratitude, we can release old energy and create clean space to begin anew.” - from Elephant Journal

And suddenly, all of this makes sense. Oh, how wise the ways of the Universe.




                                                                                                                         

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Experiment with Silence

This is Essay #18 of The 52 Essay Challenge, a series in which I write a new (unpolished) essay each week during 2017.

Have you ever tried going a day without speaking? Deliberately not using your voice?

I tried it yesterday. I didn’t speak for about 16 hours.

It started with me saying something regrettable to my youngest kiddo.

I’ve been home about 3 days after spending a month at Vermont Studio Center for a writing residency. Re-entry is hard, to say the least. Re-entry like the burn of a space shuttle’s orbiter back into the atmosphere. It takes time, too. And, for me, it requires plenty of recovery sleep (which I haven’t been getting).

Yesterday morning was especially challenging since it called for me to take on full mama responsibilities before I was ready. Nothing like a Monday morning to kick your ass back into the swing of things! Needless to say, I was irritable. Waking up kids, packing lunches, and driving to school? No, thanks. All I wanted to do was sleep. On top of this, my youngest was tired and cranky. She, too, just wanted to sleep. In my world, I’d just gather her up and get both of us back under the covers. But, alas, the real world was banging down the door.

In my irritation, complete with short temper & frustration, I blurted out: “Maybe I should go back to Vermont”. Instantly, I regretted saying it. There’s no need to discuss the messaging here. I already know. I apologized and corrected it. But it also gave me pause.

Suddenly, I didn’t want to talk anymore. My mouth didn’t want to open. My larynx wanted to make no sound. My jaw seemed to grip tighter.

*

Voice box: colloquial term for larynx. A box that contains voice. Voice inside a box. What is voice? Who gets to open the box? What sound comes out? What is the sound of your voice? What is the sound of mine? My voice is in the key of G. Girl voice. Box of voices harmonizing through chords. Vocal chords. A chorus of harmony to create the key of G. Girl. Voice. Sing.

*

The drive to school was interesting. If you know me, I love singing in the car. I didn’t sing. I couldn’t. I tried. It felt weird. Like I was forcing something to happen that refused. So I just kept quiet.

It was then that I decided to just refrain from speaking for the rest of the day. My body had already decided for me, so why not just comply?

Fortunately for me, I didn’t have to interact with too many people yesterday. What’s funny is that I got to learn a lot about those people I did encounter during my day of silence.

I carried a small notepad and pen with me to communicate. I discovered that my handwriting is really scrawl so I had to exercise some patience to write more legibly. The people to whom I was writing also had to practie some patience while they waited for my message. Most people got a kick out it, watching me write, smiling the whole time.

A sample of my quick handwritten notes from my day of silence


There was something there in that silence, in that waiting. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it’s something worth investigating.

For some, the silence was a little awkward. I could tell from the tiny fidgeting movements. The shifting of weight from one foot to the other. The looking around. Others just laughed uncomfortably to fill the void.

The reactions I got were also telling. Some people, when I showed them my message, “No talking day today”, gave me this look like: I don’t get it, but okay. One friend, who is deep into yoga philosophy as much as I am, said to me directly: “You’re crazy, girl. Only you would do something like this.” Uh, what? What is that supposed to mean? Why am I crazy for practicing silence? And why is silence an act of crazy? I didn’t get it. I thought that she, out of most people, would at least try to figure out what I was trying to do. Instead, she wrote me off as “crazy”.

Another person didn’t think I was serious. That I was joking. Then, upon realizing I wasn’t joking, thought I was being ridiculous.

Later that night, I had hip-hop class. Prior to class, I texted my instructor to let him know what I was doing. When I got there, he announced to the class that I simply lost my voice, a case of laryngitis. He was honoring my experiment with some privacy – there’s no need to give those folks an explanation of what I was doing. And I appreciated what he did. He got it. He got what I was trying to do. He might have been the only one. After class, I wrote him a note saying that people think I’m a weirdo. He responded with: “You’re doing this for you. Who cares about them.”  What a great reminder. (Thank you, Tom!)

I found ways to communicate outside of using my voice. Gestures, mouthed words (I quickly learned who can read lips and who can’t! haha!), emails, text messages, and of course, handwritten notes.

For this last method, yes, I gained patience in order to write legibly, but I also had to write briefly (my notepad was small – the size of Post-It notes). I needed to be deliberate in my word choices. I had to make my words carry more weight than usual. This was certainly terrific practice for writing poetry!

When I did open my mouth to speak again this morning, my words felt purposeful. It sounds corny, almost melodramatic, but it’s true. The effects of not speaking for a whole day makes you think about how you use your voice and what you actually say. Are you saying things that matter? Are you saying them with kindness? (Tone matters, too.)

I was so fascinated by my experience with this experiment that I’m thinking of doing it again.

Silence is like a chameleon: it morphs from one thing to another, depending on its environment, carrying different meanings in various contexts. Intentional silence. Imposed silence. Quiet versus silent.

Who is listening?


Saturday, April 29, 2017

Re-entry from VSC, Day 1

If I close my eyes and listen to the recording I made of the Gihon River on repeat, I can pretend I’m in my studio at VSC. If I close my eyes and listen to Jake Shimabukuro’s rendition of “Hallelujah” on repeat, I can pretend I’m in my studio at VSC. If I close my eyes and listen to the 3.13.99 live concert recording of Dave Matthews Band’s “Two Step” on repeat, I can pretend I’m in my studio at VSC.

Re-entry is hard. And I’ve only been home a little over 12 hours. I have yet to venture out into the regular world. If it’s hard now, I’m in big trouble. And I can't exactly articulate what's so hard or why it's hard. It just is.

I wonder if the visual artists have this problem. Part of me thinks: no.

This morning, it was too quiet. No sound of the river. An occasional bird chirp. Not even a song. Just a chirp here and there. My home studio is a disaster, full of clutter. I want to take my arm and just sweep all of its contents out the window, into a big dumpster down below. Papers, books. Everything. Clean slate. Start fresh.

It feels weird to be home. Surreal. Like I’m here, but not. This weird pseudo-outer-body experience. Like there’s a kind of fog around me.

I unpacked a few things last night. Looking at my newly-acquired VSC items in my home was strange. Again, like I’m here but not really. For example, I bought a few of Michael’s beautiful wood bowls and they sat on my dresser in my room at Mason House. Now, they are sitting on the worktable in my home studio (I just randomly placed them there). Two worlds are trying to come together and, for me, it’s a little jarring. The bowls remind me of the peace and quiet of Mason House, but now, for them to exist in a space that’s not so peaceful, one that’s cluttered and frenetic? That’s the jarring part.

Also, I’m feeling a little delirious from lack of sleep.

I don’t know what to do with myself right now. Maybe I can start with another cup of coffee. Then figure out where to start in KonMari-ing the shit out of this home studio. I’m sure there will be more to say, but for now, I will clean.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Leaving

This is Essay #17 (on time! woo!!) of The 52 Essay Challenge, a series in which I write a new (unpolished) essay each week during 2017.

(my studio during last night's Open Studios)

My residency at Vermont Studio Center is coming to an end.

I should be packing up my studio right now, but instead I am staring out the wide open window, listening to the Gihon River roll by. Birdsong trilling every now and then at this early morning hour. Everyone is still sleeping after a night by the bonfire behind Schultz studios. I like the quiet, the stillness of the world before everyone wakes. Which is why I'm not packing up just yet. I want to linger here. To savor this moment as the sun tries to break through cloud cover.

Leaving is always hard, no matter how much one practices non-attachment. Well, at least for me.

Last night was Open Studios, which, for those unfamiliar, is like an Open House. Studio doors are open and we wander in and our from place to place, seeing what each of us has been creating during this month of our residency. It's pretty amazing to see all of that art, in varying degrees of process with a vast range of media. To witness each person's specific ways of interacting with the world and their expression of what they see. Because as artists, it's all about what we see and how we see it, how we make sense of it.

There was Open Studios mid-month, but this one, at the close of the month, was really intense for me. It took longer. There was a lot more work to take in and a lot more conversation with everyone. Discussing projects, plans for what's next. Sensory overload. But all of it was really incredible. So much talent in one place.

Afterwards, I just sat in my studio, listening to the river with one earbud in, listening to one of my favorite songs on repeat. I needed to just be alone for a minute, to take it all in and digest before I went back out into the world of socializing. I didn't want to talk to anyone. I just wanted to be in the quiet. Then it started to seep in like the night: that sadness of leaving.

On Monday, I could already sense it: the long goodbye. There was talk of the process of shipping (mostly for visual artists), of breaking down studios and returning them to clean slates. Plans for last dinners, staying in touch, final hurrahs. I started to slow down, to really be present as much as I could (which, to be honest, is something I should've done right from the start. Oh, hindsight, how you vex me so! Haha!). That afternoon, I took a hike with my friend Kara to Journey's End. A hike that should've happened sooner rather than later. It was beautiful. Warm and sunny. Waterfalls here and there --the sound of rushing water so powerful-- which then tapered off into quiet. The water so clear that you could see the river rocks shimmering in the light. I took off my socks and shoes and dipped my feet into the icy water. While Kara searched for her stone treasures, I just sat there, letting my mind wander from thing to thing, noticing the water's movements, noticing water bugs on the surface, feeling the sun's warmth on my face, on my arms. Unhurried. At peace. I didn't want to leave.

On Tuesday afternoon, I spent three hours painting the big canvas (24 x 36) I bought during the start of Week 2. It took me two weeks to just break the plastic wrap and put some blue on it. It felt good. I listened to this one song on repeat and let the body respond with gesture, paintbrush in hand. Again, I was unhurried.

But then yesterday that prickly ball of anticipation showed up in my belly. I still moved at a slower pace than I usually do, but I needed to get things done. I had to prep my studios (both my writing studio & the art installation) for Open Studios. It's like staging a house for open house: you want everything just so. You won't necessarily be there to talk to those who visit, so you want to make sure things are clear. But also, I didn't feel like I needed to be around my peeps (which was interesting since I suffer from FOMO all the time!). I kinda liked doing my own thing. I even had dinner off-camus at the pizza place by myself, reading the comic book, Ms Marvel. I guess I wanted to be alone for a bit.

This seems to be a new way of me dealing with leaving. Usually I'm frantically trying to spend every last minute with every single person I want to be with, squeezing quality time into every tiny second. This time? Quite the opposite.

*

There are different kinds of leaving.

Leaving home to come here was both exciting and a little sad, but not so much so because I knew I'd return. But what it is to be left behind? To be in the place that is familiar and feel the absence, the gaping hole of that person who has left? This, I think, might the harder of the two. Of course, it depends on one's perspective and circumstance.

This leaving is different. Everyone is leaving at the same time, heading off into different directions, like the burst of colored rays in a kaleidoscope. It is sad to leave the place and the handful of staff who remain behind (Mo!!!), but, in some ways, this leaving feels like a promise of possibility. And that is what I'll hold onto to keep from crying (Lord knows I've done more than enough weeping in my studio this month!).

*

Which brings us back to this moment of me staring out the window, listening to the river. I'm going to miss that river. I'm going to miss my studio. And my big first-floor window out of which I have stepped. Do you know how great it feels to just step out of your window and onto the grass and then walk a few steps to get closer to the water? I love it.

Leaving is hard but only because we've grown attached to the temporary. While I will miss my studio, I know I will be back. While I will miss the amazing, loving, and supportive friends I have made here, I know my life is much richer because of them. Some of us will stay connected, others may drift into the horizon. Either way, I am grateful for all of the interactions and experiences I have had here.  I am blessed beyond belief. And I hope that I can walk away, take these moments, and create something that will add beauty and love to the world.



Monday, April 24, 2017

Mediations on Water


This is Essay #16 (a little late) of The 52 Essay Challenge, a series in which I write a new (unpolished) essay each week during 2017.

Every day these past three weeks, I have sat at my desk in a small writing studio in Vermont, looking at the Gihon River outside my window. I watch it flow by with ease. The part of river I see doesn’t seem affected by the rains and the snowmelt (that’s further upstream) so the current has been pretty consistent. At least from where I’m sitting.  Some days I hear “Row Row Row Your Boat” in my head, imagine an empty tiny rowboat float by with its tiny oars. Most days, I just hear the waters flow by, calming my heart. If I am still enough, I can feel the river’s energy.

There are days I think about going into the water. To step outside of my floor-to-ceiling studio window, onto the brown grass, clumps of leftover snow, and down the short slope of riverbank studded with rock and weed. To step in, shoes off, clothes on, hair loose. To feel the water’s force around my ankles, then my shins. To wade into the river’s center and let the current carry me to wherever it goes. Despite the freezing cold temperature. What would it be like to surrender like that? To allow yourself to be taken? To be just a branch floating downstream? Or to sink to the bottom as the water polished away your edges, smoothing the very the stone of you?

But also I think about drowning. I am terrified of drowning. I won’t go off the diving boards at the community pool. I know how to swim, but when I’m in the deep end of a lap pool, a tiny tremor of panic rumbles through by body. Yet I am fascinated by it. By drowning. Is that a messed up thing to admit? Morbid, yes. Terrible? Probably. But don’t get me wrong: I’m not suicidal. I am curious about what it feels like to be submerged in freezing water. What it feels like to have that cold liquid fill your lungs like an ice tray. Like so many snowflakes crystallizing you from within.

To suddenly become fish.

I think of Ophelia.

*

I am drawn to water.

*

I just completed an online flash workshop with Winter Tangerine literary journal. The workshop’s theme: Dissolved in Water.

What dissolves in water?
Water carries memory
Does memory dissolve
But memory changes, shift shapes
Just like water
Does memory make home? Or home make memory?
What shape does water take in order to make a home?

*

Chirping in the trees. Wing flap. What if a bird flew in the open window of my studio?

*

When I sit next to the window and look to the right, I can see a bit more of the river, the way the water spills over rocky terrain: part waterfall, part rapids. The way the current curves out, away from me, streams beneath the bridge with its stone-railed edges, only to slingshot back, bringing with it a big white water rush, pouring forth like froth, before slowing down into a ease of water and light.

*

Lately, I've been thinking about home & identity & diaspora & water & memory. A lot of big things. Thinking about how water needs something to hold its shape. (And conversely, how it shapes other things, like landscapes.) How a bowl can hold the water's shape but also spill it out to change water's identity (via volume). Also: how is the bowl's identity changed by the presence of water? The unfinished surface of turned wood allows water to seep through to the other side of the bowl. But not only that – what about the presence of a word or phrase etched into the bowls? What happens to words & language when they are etched into bowls? Then submerged and/or soaked in water? How are their identities & meanings changed, if at all? Changed by its existence in wood (wood as word) but also in water?

Other inquiries can be found in last week's essay.

So with all of these questions, I created an art installation with the help of my writer-turned-artist wood-turner, Michael Badger. I wanted to explore the answers to these questions but felt that actual answers through language was limiting. Verbal and written language feels limiting here. I wanted something physical. And thus: “Cartography of Water: Home, Memory, and Identity in the Diaspora” was born at Vermont Studio Center.