mindset and some messy thoughts

A number of initiatives I’ve been involved with have led me to reflect on the communal and collaborative nature of creative work.

Think about it. Art doesn’t truly come alive or serve its purpose without the interaction with the viewer. The written word, fiction or non-fiction, doesn’t gain power until readers interact with it. The worlds that we imagine and bring into being don’t come alive until readers or viewers respond or react to those worlds.

How much of the work that we do is individual and how much of what we create is the product of collaboration–whether conscious or unconscious. We talk about stories with our peers, we discuss our works in progress, we brainstorm, we go away to write it down, we come back with our drafts to brainstorm some more before we finally go and put our name under it and send it away. One name may appear under that story, but before that the work goes through a process that is communal and collaborative.

For us who engage with story, we may think that stories are born inside our heads, but what comes to us also emerges from our histories which are interwoven with the histories of others. They come from all the connections and experiences we’ve had in life and the stories that we tell speak to that longing for connectedness.

I’m thinking of decolonial practice and I want to say here that decoloniality is different from decolonisation just as coloniality and the colonisation project are two different things. Walter Mignolo in this interview gives a clearer explanation of the difference which is far better than anything I could come up with, so if you’re reading this, I suggest that you go check out the interview. But in particular, I find myself struck by this point where he talks about decoloniality as a delinking from the overall structure of knowledge in order to engage in an epistemic reconstitution.

Mignolo elaborates further by talking about how we need to reconstitute our ways of thinking, languages, ways of life and being in the world. It’s a really great interview and one that pushes the reader to thought.

So, going back to story making and the workshop practice, I found myself thinking about polarisations and I wondered how much of that is born from a feeling of no longer being connected. How much of that comes from feeling alien in the communities we live in? How much of polarisation takes place because we feel unheard, unwanted, excluded and pushed away?

It makes me think of the tendency of hurt beings to crawl into their selves, to lick at the wounds and because of that hurt we lash out–whether it is as an act of anger or self-protectiveness, a determination that comes from: I am not heard anyway, so what should I care what you think about me…whatever space it comes from, it feels to me that this thought is something to reflect on.

What would happen if instead of focusing on individual story, we decided to gather as our ancestors did. What would happen if we decided to create spaces where we would give each other time to speak and tell each other what the world looks like to us. Would we meet? Would we find those spaces where we can breathe and recognise that we are still connected and the neighbour who lives next-door to you isn’t an alien, but is someone who (as Shylock says) bleeds when you cut them.

I remember thinking about this when I was still new to The Netherlands, how distances in a neighbourhood felt sharper because of the seasons. How in the winter months we hardly ever knew about what was going on with our next door neighbours because we were cloistered indoors (Granted I always felt the need to flee indoors to where it was warm and cozy, but it might have been different for those born in this country, I don’t know.) It felt startling to me because even if we didn’t hang out in the streets, there was never a day when we didn’t see our neighbours in the Philippines. We talked to each other over the fences, or when we encountered one another in the street…a big difference from here where the impulse is to dive into the warmth of your car or your home once cold weather strikes.

But, is it this kind of distance that creates polarisations? It feels to me like a cop-out to use the seasons as an excuse. Although, I find myself thinking that the extremes in weather and the urgency of climate change reflect the extremes in how people interact these days and that to me emphasises the urgent need for change.

Today, I live on the edge of a city and the neighbourhood we are in is one where messages are exchanged through WhatsApp. Where initiatives are made for neighbours to work together. I’ve had neighbours knock on my door asking where I got my blinds, for instance.

This post is quite messy–pretty much like my handwritten journal is messy. But messy thoughts are essential to process. Without that messiness, we can’t work towards solutions and messiness is necessary for us who are involved with making. Conversations, particularly when struggling with complex matters, become inevitably messy. It’s why listening and paying attention and thinking through are important.

In this age of social media, the trigger response has become our go to. We are quick with the retort, swift to condemn, immediate and hard in our judgement when perhaps thoughtfulness and listening would serve us better.

If we also understand that community includes not just humans, but also the leaves of grass, the algae in the sea, whales and porpoises, dung beetles, all those other creatures great and small. If instead of viewing the world as being there for us to occupy or to exploit, if we saw the world as this place we’re meant to nurture and protect, if we saw each other as fellow inhabitants and if we treated each other and the world as we wish to be treated, how would things change?

And so, the journey continues. Think messy thoughts. Embrace them. Be well.

History and myth-making

I’ve been thinking a lot about history and myth-making as I work on another piece. Edouard Glissant’s work inspires me a lot and it feels like the universe is working to bring various readings across my path that are in conversation with the work of Glissant.

Rolando Vazquez’s Vistas of Modernity enriches my engagement with Glissant’s work and vice versa and I can’t recommend Vistas of Modernity enough. While I was reading Vistas of Modernity, I found myself moving back to some passages from Glissant and then returning again to Vistas. In my head, it felt like there was this rich conversation going on between these two thinkers. There’s a lot to process and a lot to think about and I feel like rushing to make a post on it would not do any justice to the work. But definitely, anyone who’s interested or who is engaged in decolonial work would benefit a lot from looking up Glissant’s work and Vazquez’s Vistas of Modernity.

While reflecting on these two works, and while working on the new short piece, I found myself thinking about the relation between music and mathematics: about algorithms and improvisations: about waveforms and spacetime. A lot of times, I feel like a chicken scratching at the surface of concepts where comprehension lies just beyond my reach–like that word that you know is waiting to be uttered at the tip of your tongue, but you just can’t vocalise it yet.

The new piece is me working on concepts that intrigue me. It’s also influenced by the idea of history, re-membering (as Rolando writes it) and myth-making.

All these thoughts tumble together to inform the practice I am developing when it comes to the workshop practice. The idea of employing various mediums and ways of creating or re-membering or un-remembering history….these are things that I feel are key to the work and are necessary to what we want to achieve with the Invitation to Dreaming.

The hungry mind led me to Epistrophies: Jazz and the Literary Imagination by Brent Hayes Edwards. I’ve only cracked the book open, but in the introduction there’s a passage that captured my imagination. Here, the author writes that: “Oral history’s importance lies not in adherence to fact, but in its departure from it, as imagination, symbolism and desire emerge.”

I think on how we can sometimes get stranded or blocked by the idea of story not aligning with empirical data and I’ve been thinking too about how a lot of history is told from the viewpoint of the conqueror or the coloniser.

Anyway, this is because I find myself rather obsessed with the question of the use of speculative fiction in the work of decolonisation.

A beloved friend of mine spoke of this kind of writing as a form of exorcism and the more I think on it, the more I love how this resonates with the idea of myth-making and how important it is for us to recognise that the myths we create are not subordinate or less important but are rather of equal value and equal importance. Do we even need to explain why it is important to us? Do we even need to make everything comprehensible or transparent?

Glissant in Poetics of Relation writes this: “For more than two centuries whole populations have had to assert their identity in opposition to the processes of identification or annihilation triggered by these invaders. Whereas the Western nation is first of all an “opposite” for colonised peoples, identity will be primarily “opposed to” — that is a limitation from the very beginning. Decoloniality will have done its real work when it goes beyond this limit.”

I think then to myself that the capacity to think beyond data and to think outside the box, to imagine beyond what is presented as “these are the facts” are tools which help in the work of decoloniality. Myth-making, the de-linking of the personal and the empirical, the creation of tangents and speculations, the ability to think outside of time.

My mind works away and picks at process and about how to bring these ideas into the workshop practice. How to encourage new and aspiring artists to bring this kinds of concepts with them into their core work.

Again, I find myself thinking of points of origin and how starting from the self, meeting the artists at where they are in that moment is an essential part of the work. Histories, stories, songs and other creations which are personal to us are also linked to the wider world. Family stories are where myth-making starts. Family histories are part of our personal myth-makings too. Beyond the personal portraits, beyond the familial, we see the world as a backdrop. How is that family myth set within the world around it? How do we create myths that originate from our selves? What’s important is that these myths come from us. From creators whose voices have often been elided–the sound you miss or skip over–like jazz creators, we must improvise. We create and bounce off each other’s words and worlds, we mix and play to create myths that sound like and belong to the self. They don’t have to adhere to an existing narrative, they belong to their selves, just as we belong to our selves.

There is a lot to think and reflect on as I think of this and as I consider on how to bring that into my practice.

To you who are on the journey, sing your songs, write your myths, dance your dances.

She’d always known space had shape and form of its own. It wasn’t always visible, but it was there. Now, its patterns and undulations were visible to her. She could see it curving around to accommodate her sire; could see it flowing and moving to accommodate static instruments, to accommodate her/self/; and now, she could see too how it lent itself to shadows that took on a form of their own as they came to stand beside her sire. 

-From To the Tune of the Wild Ones-

rounding off the sessions and looking to the future

Summer break is upon us and so I rounded off the writing sessions with a promise that we would return to them once the summer holidays are over and the new school year begins.

Right before the break, I invited a group of kids (the youngest was 8, the oldest was 14) for a short writing session. I had initially done this to accommodate a request to include an 11 year old in the writing sessions but considering the age gap, I thought it would be better to try and see if we could gather together a group of younger kids and see what happens.

We did a one hour orientation session on zoom and I found myself quite inspired and mind-blown by the work the kids did in that short hour. For this session, I decided to conduct the class in Dutch. My reasoning being this: while the children are all bilingual, English is not an automatic second language for everyone. Also, as I said to the kids: we live in The Netherlands, you go to school in The Netherlands, and so everyone in the session understands Dutch.

I did provide the children with the option of writing either in Dutch or in English (whichever feels most comfortable). It surprised me to observe how kids switched between both languages, although there were at least two who opted to go for Dutch. After the class, I asked the kids if this was something they’d like to do again and to my surprise, they all said yes. (A part of me wishes I could read one or two more languages, so this might be my next personal project.)

I’m taking time to think and reflect through the lessons learned during the period when we were having the sessions. I’ve also purchased a number of books which I hope will help me as I move forward. One of the books I’ve recommended to my older youngsters is Kiini Ibura Salaam’s “Finding your Voice”. It’s a collection of essays that I recommend no matter where you are on the journey.

As the busy season is coming to a close (I’m rounding up sessions with another student tomorrow), I find myself reaching for works I’ve had on my reading list. I’m reading Edouard Glissant’s Poetics of Relation and find myself in wonder. I have been nudging a very dear friend with text messages of: you should read this because this is just wonderful. I’m grateful to people who’ve pointed me in the direction of work done by thinkers I otherwise would not have known of. I’m eyeing another Glissant book on amazon, but will finish this one first or I might find myself switching from one to another without ever finishing anything.

Another book I recently purchased is The Anti-Racist Writing Workshop: How to Decolonize the Creative Writing Classroom by Felicia Rose Chavez. This book was recommended by Vida Cruz and so I look forward to reading it and absorbing it in preparation for the next season.

Reflecting on the past few months, I’ve been thinking of how developing a workshop is also part of process. I’ve been richly rewarded by the interactions had with the youngsters and as we continued along on the journey, I thought of this as us developing a practice together. We move from one stage to the next, learning more and more about our own process of creativity.

For the last session with the youngsters, I asked them to create visual images depicting their process. I asked them to use pen and paper instead of the computer. The resulting sharing was really fun.

We recognise each other in our process, how we become enthusiastic about an idea, proceed to work it out, think we suck, go back to working on the idea, procrastinate, work on it some more, and then at the end wonder if we made the right choices. It’s a recognisable cycle and we had a good laugh about that.

After the summer, I am planning a longer and more outlined trajectory of how to proceed from the point where we stopped. I know the kids enjoy the meetings. They tell me that they enjoy the writing too. But for the next trajectory, I want to incorporate a number of practices–to encourage the kids to embrace and try other disciplines as well. I believe that being multidisciplinary enriches the work.

I also think that something has changed in my perception of myself and my work. I’ve stopped thinking of myself as just a writer. I can’t explain it. Somehow, it feels like stepping outside a box into an unknown space where anything and everything is possible and while there is this sense of ‘I don’t know yet’, it also makes me feel lighter and joyful. Less burdened with a certain expectation.

To those who journey into the world, exploring what is new and unknown, embracing the act of creation, may you always see beyond the leaf.

(image copyright by PvanderP, used with permission. Purple flowers with sun and shadow and a butterfly perched on the bloom.)

some ambitious dreaming

I’ve been working on our project proposal for the dreaming sessions which would lead to more writing sessions. This is a project that’s flowed forth from a dream I shared with one of my friends sometime before Covid sent us all into lockdown. At that time, I didn’t see how to make that dream become something real. I just didn’t know how to at that time because I was emerging from having retreated away from the world and was just moving tentatively towards engaging with the world again.

So I told this friend who is also a dreamer like me, about my desire to create something inviting for BIPOC writers, thinkers and creatives. I didn’t know what form it would take, but during the pandemic period, when I realised how dreaming was essential to youngsters, I started the writing sessions. When my fellow visionary got back in touch with me, I had already worked out some of the things I wanted to do with a face to face version of the writing sessions.

As I work on the draft for this project, I think about my own history with dreaming and the written word.

My love for writing started long ago, when I was little girl in the mountains who had run out of books to read. Before I thought of writing stories for myself, I remember lying in bed next to my sister long after lights out. I remember the stories we spun for each other in the dark. I remember holding hands when our stories got scary, and falling asleep when they got a bit boring, and dreaming on inside my mind long after my sister had fallen asleep.

Books were magical things created by people far far beyond my line of sight. When I was a child, I didn’t know it was possible for someone like me to one day have stories included in books.

I think of those whose names I don’t yet know–those who I will meet on this journey. I think of those who dream and who are scared to reach out for the pen, I think of the numerous stories, the numerous words, the recollections and the dreaming that are waiting to be brought into the world. I want to say: I can’t wait to meet you. I can’t wait to read your work.

Preparing for the next session

I’m doing very small forays onto twitter these days. Just very brief jumps in and out to see if there are interesting articles or links being shared. If friends have sent messages, I also want to at least send a quick reply.

This morning, I checked in and saw this link shared by Anna Sulan Masing. (Click on her name to visit her website) As I read the linked article, I realised that I’ve missed out on a lot of conversations in the years that I was off the internets. (It was needful for me and my boys and I didn’t have the spoons or the headspace for anything else other than survival for a while.) I found myself clicking and following some threads and so I now have lots to think about as I reflect on my workshop/dreaming practice.

The thing is, I’m less and less inclined to think of what we’re doing as workshopping. As I said to the kids, we are fellow travellers on a journey where I am simply an older person who might have more experience in a certain craft but it doesn’t mean I’m the authority. Because, as I tell the kids in the writing sessions, we are learning together. So, I hope I can inspire and encourage them to continue to dream on the page just as they inspire me to keep on doing the work that I do.

I like calling our meetings writing sessions instead of writing workshops because sessions reminds me of jam sessions where musicians meet and jam together. Maybe we riff off of each other’s work, maybe we borrow a note and improvise from there, but it’s still jamming.

Moving forward on that energy, I thought of how the language and the landscape around the writing sessions would ideally be shaped by the youngsters and the writers who create and share their art in those spaces. This is still a work in progress and so I am also eager to learn from others who are farther along and who have engaged different ways of doing or sharing craft with fellow artists.

There was a funny moment when my high school son (who refuses to leave the sessions even if he claims he can’t write) asked if it would be okay to use swear words in a story. This resulted in a lively discussion in which we agreed that profanity is allowed, but not if it offends or hurts anyone in the group. I love these kids. They’re kind and open with each other and they have clear sight. I’m honoured to be included and to accompany them on a part of their journey.

I’m thinking of what to do next as we move forward. Do we stay with the seeing practice for a while? What step do we take next? I’m still undecided, but I feel certain that further reflection on process will reveal that step to me. More importantly, I want to make sure that I don’t impose a voice on these young people. It’s important to me that they discover their own sound, that they learn to trust in that sound and be true to their selves when they are writing.