Motivational notes by author Octavia Butler, stolen from another blog post by author/artist Austin Kleon titled “All good things must begin” (June 23, 2020), who in turn linked it to an LA Review of Books article by Rochell Thomas titled “Tracing Octavia Butler’s footsteps: An interview with Dr. Ayana A. H. Jamieson” (December 2, 2016).
What is sacred:
Self talk does not have to be abusive, in my case, to get my writing going. It can be intense, or intentional in intensity, but it can also be managed, and goal set. It can be all these things at once and it can be called motivation, instead of abuse. I think the most important phrase from the image above that rings true for me and is most sacred to my process:
And since I am stealing anyway, here is another image from the Octavia Butler journal entry from the Thomas article. Nana i ke kumu.
I am always trying to steal inspiration from creative types. It helps me to understand that creativity is more about discipline than whim. In Maori director and actor Taika Waititi’s TedX talk on creativity, there is one portion where he talks about vigorous note taking as a way into understanding his own creativity. The purpose of this vigorous note taking is really not about the notes itself, but about the process of freeing oneself from the obsessive editorial voices. It is a way to open up the different perspectives that make us creative just because we are able to reframe our thinking.
These are things I already knew, but that does not make his Ted talk any less sacred. I am always ready for someone else to remind me to look in my files for my own process of creativity to just remind myself that I am not stuck. Here is my vigorous note taking that became one of my first articles after my dissertation. It just reminds me to get back to drawing and dreaming and writing. I hope it does the same for you.
In Kimmerer’s section on “Planting Sweetgrass” in the chapter titled “An Offering,” she relates the story of a ceremony she and her father participated in. It was not a Ceremony, big C, but it became their thing, this act of gratitude and the pouring of the first coffee of the morning into the soil.
She recounts how years later she asked him about this ceremony because as she started learning more of what had been forgotten, regarding her cultural identity and practices, she felt like what her father was doing was about giving an offering to the gods of Tahawus. For her it was a light at the end of the tunnel, that although they did not have the words of their ancestors, the ceremony was not forgotten. She asks her father if he learned it from his own father, and the generations before him. His answer was just no, but it seemed right.
If it ended there, at the fact that the pouring of the coffee was really to get the coffee grounds “plug” out of the boiled coffee so that it did not go into the cup, I think that would have been ok. It was a functional, practical “ceremony.” After all, coffee grounds are good for the soil, they had a purpose.
But it doesn’t end there. Her father thinks more on this question
‘But, you know,’ he said, ‘there weren’t always grounds to clear. It started out that way, but it became something else. A thought. It was a kind of respect, a kind of thanks. On a beautiful summer morning, I suppose you could call it joy.’
That, I think, is the power of ceremony: it marries the mundane to the sacred. The water turns to wine, the coffee to prayer. (37)
As a native Hawaiian educator who has lost the ability to speak and think in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi (it has been forgotten for three generations), I do not have the words for ceremony. I do not have the historical memory. But I do know that there are things that we do as a family that may seem mundane, practical (around gathering, fishing, etc.) but they feel right and they are things that we pass on to our children and grandchildren as ceremony.
As I continue the slow read into Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teaching of Plants, I am struck by the connections of how our stories become our lens and our theoretical framework through which we see research. By telling our stories, we continue to scatter the seeds of that research and it takes root in other communities that have similar stories to share. Different, but the same. In our work, we are able to recognize and embrace each others’ metaphors.
Those unfamiliar with the origin story of Skywoman need to find it and read it. I cannot do it justice like Kimmerer because it is not my story to tell and use as a conduit for my own thinking. However, what struck me was how Kimmerer used Skywoman, (pregnant and falling, saved by the compassion and sacrifice of the animals) to exemplify how the original people’s throughout the Great Lakes understood their role and relationship with the living world. But on the other side of the world, same species, same earth, different story, we have the Biblical Creation story that shows Eve, again, like Skywoman portrayed as original “mother,” exiled from the abundance and lazy ease of the garden and cast out to wander in the wilderness where she was instructed to subdue the wilderness in order to eat.
Knowing her grandchildren would inherit the world she [Skywoman] left behind, she did not work for flourishing in her time only. It was through her actions of reciprocity, the give and take with the land, that the original immigrant became indigenous. For all of us, becoming indigenous to a place means living as if your children’s future mattered, to take care of the land as if our lives, both material and spiritual, depended on it
–Kimmerer, p. 9
The author follows this with the legacy of Eve’s exile and a land that mirrors the bruises and abusive relationship that is still in existence today. Through the Western lens, there is a hierarchy of beings, with humans at the top and plants at the bottom. The abuse (overfishing, destruction of rainforests, carbon emissions, monocropping, pollution, overpopulation, food scarcity, poisons, floating trash islands, etc.) continues because it is about control and taming to suit the needs of humans, the pinnacle of evolution.
This comparison of “herstories,” so powerfully puts into writing what I have been feeling about how we seem to be speaking the same language, but as a people we cannot come to a peaceful resolution when we are not speaking from the same “story.” Our theoretical lens is based on our understanding of the relationship with land and our role in it. Are we reaper or servant? Do we come from Eve or Skywoman?
Hawaiians believe that their ancestral lines reach all the way to Hāloa, the first Hawaiian, and Hāloanakalaukapilili, the elder brother, stillborn and buried, and from his burial site, the first kalo, the taro plant that also becomes a relative of Hawaiians, and our direct connection to the ʻāina, the lands, earth, sky, moon, ocean, waters…
He aliʻi ka ʻāina; he kauā ke kanaka. The land is a chief; man is its servant ʻOlelo Noʻeau #531
This proverb, wise saying, becomes a theoretical lens and “Original Instruction” that guides my decision making and creates my kuleana, my obligation, as a member of a community and a resident of an island, a citizen of a planet. However, if this is not the lens or the praxis for the ones in power, then I think we continue to speak from different stories, and unfortunately, we Skywoman people will just keep falling.
In our language it is called wiingaashk, the sweet-smelling hair of Mother Earth. Breathe it in and you start to remember things you didn’t know you’d forgotten.
Robin Wall Kimmerer, preface
I am starting to read this book and when language makes me inhale so deep that I forget the art of breathing out, then I have to keep this tidbit somewhere safe, for when I don’t remember what I have already forgotten. I am exactly 4 pages in, not even to the start of the book and already I had to find a place to keep it safe so I am putting it here, where I forget many other tidbits so that I can find them again when I am sad or lost or forgotten.
Sweetgrass is best planted not by seed, but by putting roots directly in the ground. Thus the plant is passed from hand to earth to hand across years and generations. Its favored habitat is sunny, well-watered meadows. It thrives along disturbed edges.
Section 1 introduction
I too thrive along disturbed edges. Perhaps I have found my people.
I only seem to write these little journal pieces when I am under the gun or I am stuck in my head (and under the gun) as far as working (which for me equals writing). However, although I have a tenure and promotion packet due in a few weeks (gah!), this time it is not me that is under the gun but two of my three doctoral students who are about a semester and a summer behind in their dissertation process. By now, they should be collecting their data, doing their interviews, writing their chapters 1-3. Instead they are still writing their proposals and filling out their IRB forms.
I think what I needed to grapple with as a first time dissertation chair is “who the fuck would give me that kind of responsibility?” I am not the typical researcher/writer. I get things done, but nothing to model for someone else who is struggling. I do not follow the structures set forth by the academy, and in fact, I always try to see how far I can blow up structures and still get published. In other words, someone who is constantly trying to get away with shit is not really dissertation chair material in my mind. When choosing my own dissertation committee, I made sure that I had very traditional quantitative folks who would question my shit so that I would be forced to be more transparent and translate my intentions such that they could see substance over aesthetic frivolity. Yes, it is a multigenre dissertation, but the rigor is there, I challenge you to say it is not there so that I can make it more apparent to your way of knowing.
This kind of terroristic thinking does not help my students who are struggling and just want to get to that next hoop and jump through it. I cannot use the same strategies that I use for myself (self hatred and shaming that leads to resistance) because it is not fair for me to expect these students, who are also full time teachers, to do what I do.
I think that is why this graphic done by Austin Kleon really spoke to me. It is a gift, a poetic pearl, by the late poet Mary Oliver that basically gives my students insight into not only the key to staying afloat (as in, no you cannot drop out of the program at this point, it is like choosing to drown), but the key to swimming back into shore.
In Hawaiʻi, our currents often go parallel to the beach so when the undercurrents are strong, the way to come back to shore is not by looking forward to your beach towel and slippers and swimming straight ahead, but to actually let the current take you and swim diagonally until you get to shore. You will not end up where you started, but you will get there. Isn’t that the point of this struggle that is one’s dissertation – to end up somewhere different from where you started? So the strategy (to connect the graphic and this story) is to work at it a few hours a day, everyday. Write a little, read a “good book” which basically means reading an article or research that is what will inform your diagonal movement, and taking a little time for self care whether it is digging for clams (not a Hawaiʻi thing) or just going to the beach for an hour to tread water (my thing) as the sun goes over Mauna Kea.
I just turned in my third article a couple months ago and as a 50 year old academic, that is pretty lame. I went to AERA where they were introducing some social justice pioneers and one of them published 7 books and like 200 articles. Yeah, I haven’t been doing anything but teaching for 27 years so I am already near my end and not even close to that.
Still, what I noticed about my very slow writing (like an article every year and a half) is that half of the battle, no, 3/4 of the battle is this push back on my part of not sounding too white. I sometimes use words that are not English (like kuleana), but I have to use it because it means more than just my obligatory one word definition that I give it (obligation). However, if you know, you know, and if you don’t know, I really don’t care if all you think it means is obligation. Maybe I’m not writing to you. . .yet.
Mostly, though, I shift my pronouns away from I to we and then reviewers keep asking me who the “we” is. The we is me, but it’s never just me. It’s the difference between indigenous thinking and western thinking. You know that saying, pull yourself up from your own bootstraps? There is nothing indigenous about that. Individual success is never done individually. There are paths and jungles and oceans that were crossed to get me here. It takes a village. That makes more sense to me. Those are the we, the village, or in my case, the lahui.
What does this have to do with the picture above that just looks like rocks and stuff? This is a picture of my grandmother’s garden, a menagerie of shells, rocks, abandoned toys, driftwood, a lone skateboard wheel. Every day, my grandparents would walk the two miles along the coast to Kaʻanapali and while grandpa sat on the bench to watch the water, grandma would walk the beach picking up more “seeds” for her garden. This garden ran the length of the house from her bedroom to the kitchen door. It was filled with anything and everything that caught my grandmother’s eye – from sea glass to puka shells to non biodegradable plastics. She would haul her treasures up the hill to Fleming Road and plant them in her garden. This garden is the story of me, both as that face shaped rock that she picked up, but also as a grandmother now, it is about the “seeds” I look for and pick up. Things that maybe are not worth much to someone else, but let me show you what makes each thing sacred. This is my treasure, this is what I teach from, this is whom I teach for and about. As a native Hawaiian teacher who teaches through a lens that privileges my grandmother’s garden, I teach through aloha ʻāina, a Hawaiian moʻo pedagogy and praxis of sustainability, metaphor, generational knowledge, ancestral memory and sacredness of “we.” I may stand in front of you barefoot and alone, but I bring with me multitudes. Welina.
Austin Kleon talks about Bliss Station as perhaps both ideal place, but also ideal time to get the very independent work of doing done.
Even he believes this is the best solution in an ideal world and as I struggle to actually take advantage of my own carved out time on my calendar, and as I see deadlines start to pass me by for my “on the side writing,” I realize that I need to stop looking for my own bliss station and start writing in corners and in the car as I am sitting in traffic. Perhaps my ideal time that I carved out – Wednesdays, 7-10 am – really only works if I stop looking for the ideal chair, the perfect light, the best inspirational quote and I really just write.
So this is me, just writing after one whole month and a half of having my every Wednesday morning carved out for writing on my Google calendar as well as my paper calendar. This is me writing for the first Wednesday instead of wishing that I was writing or feeling guilty that I was not writing. I am not at home on my uncomfortable, cheap office chair, nor am I at the university in my comfy chair but always with the risk of a distractions from students, colleagues, email and fast wi fi.
I am sitting at a Honda service center on a little round table with plastic chairs waiting for my car to get looked at. I am here with a television blasting the morning news and a view of the men’s bathroom. Perhaps this is the bliss station because hey, at least I am writing.
I sat in on a student writing group the other day and one of my students was supposed to be reading his poem that he had just written as a way for me to model Elbow groups based on Peter Elbow’s work Writing Without Teachers. He is a science teacher candidate, not used to being forced to write poetry from a couple of mentor texts so in the 10 minutes I gave him to write, I gave him this technique: write “I don’t know what to write” until your pen is so used to moving that you will start to write with fluency.
When “J” shared his piece to our small Elbow group, he read “I don’t know what to write. I don’t know what to write. I don’t know what to write. I carry my father’s last name, but I wish I carried my mother’s. I don’t know what to write. . .”
The way he read it. The way after a series of the same sentence he would throw us some pearl of insight and then close up again was so powerful that as I think back to that now, I realize that I have absolutely no excuse for not having anything to write. I just have to build up my stamina for writing by writing.
What I need to/want to write about:
The cosmogenic relationship to Kuahuokalā (the dirt that smells like my grandfather’s yard and the dirt below the mango trees)
and how this relationship has created a hale that is my Room of Requirement (walk past three times with your intention in mind and the room, like magic, provides what is necessary)
Abstract for our work in community partnerships – pilina, pilina, pilina
The lessons of Hiʻiaka in Honouliuli and how that is the foundation of the secondary education program
Although I do a LOT of YA reading — and by a lot, I mean 109 books this year so far, I came across the book The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafron.
It is not a YA book, but this quote from the NY Times review sold me:
“Gabriel García Márquez meets Umberto Eco meets Jorge Luis Borges for a sprawling magic show.”
I pictured exotic (non-American) civilizations, the romance of the past, and indulgent adult sentences that seem to make me as a reader feel like I am floating in the buoyant, salty waters of my youth as the humpbacks sing their mournful songs in the ʻAuʻau channel. The promise of this book is that I am free and unencumbered to slow down and get pulled in. Seems silly even for me, but that is what Gabriel Garcia Marquez meets Umberto Eco meets Jorge Luis Borges
I got to the first page and I need to write this paragraph down somewhere so that when I am old or sad or scared that I will not be able to write, I can at least read something that is good and pure and magic.
Shortly after the Civil War, an outbreak of cholera had taken my mother away. We buried her in Montjuic on my fourth birthday. I can only recall that it rained all day and all night, and that when I asked my father whether heaven was crying, he couldn’t bring himself to reply. Six years later my mother’s absence remained in the air around us, a deafening silence that I had not yet learned to stifle with words. My father and I lived in a modest apartment on Calle Santa Ana, a stone’s throw from the church square. The apartment was directly above the bookshop, a legacy from my grandfather that specialized in rare collectors’ editions and secondhand books–an enchanted bazaar, which my father hoped would one day be mine. I was raised among books, making invisible friends in pages that seemed cast from dust and whose smell I carry on my hands to this day. As a child I learned to fall asleep talking to my mother in the darkness of my bedroom, telling her about the day’s events, my adventures at school, and the things I had been taught. I couldn’t hear her voice or feel her touch, but her radiance and warmth haunted every corner of our home, and I believed, with the innocence of those who can still count their age on their ten fingers, that if I closed my eyes and spoke to her, she would be able to hear me wherever she was. Sometimes my father would listen to me from the dining room, crying in silence.
This month we are meeting again to talk about native control of native research. For many academics, it has to start with controlling the IRB process (the organization and structures we have in place in universities so that we are no longer able to do the kinds of research on humans that were done until the Holocaust.)
For me, however, it has to do with knowing the “who you.” Who are you to do this research or even ask for an IRB? What is your kuleana to this community? How do you know that this is what the community wants? It starts with this quote:
If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together. I want to be free. I want you to be free. And you aren’t free until I am. Spend your privilege, and just when you think you’ve spent enough, spend some more. Lilla Watson, Aboriginal activist and artist