Things I learned: On Artistry and Art Life

Writer and storyteller, Rebecca Mabanglo-Mayor, shared a link on her blog to a speech given by Ursula K. Le Guin upon accepting the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. In this speech, Le Guin speaks not only of the need for visionary writers, but she also speaks of the need to discern between the production of a market commodity and the practice of an art.

At the end of her speech, Le Guin says that the name of our reward is not profit, it is freedom.

I think of freedom as I reflect and go through the notes and the memories that I have from New York and Janis Ian’s masterclass in artistry. Le Guin’s words resonate with the lessons learned from my time with Janis.

In New York, Laura and I talked about Janis’s commitment not only to her art, but also to taking hold of the business aspect of her art practice.  It was an aspect that she brought up a number of times and listening to Le Guin talk of freedom, serves as a reminder that whatever proceeds come from the exercise of one’s art–they all go back towards the artist being able to keep on practicing that art.

The practical truth of it is that we cannot exercise or develop our art when our energy is gone, when we are too tired or worn out, or when we our head is filled with worry.  I think of how I would never have finished or published the stories I have if not for being given space and time to practice my art free from the stresses and the tensions of daily life. I am grateful to my fellow practitioners–to the artists and writers who have opened their homes to me and who have so generously given me flights of freedom.

Freedom.

To be able to practice our art in a space and time when we are free from thinking of anything else but that practice is a vital and precious good. The writer cannot live without writing, and practicing art means we must be able to center ourselves on the work most of all.

Which then leads me to a question Janis Ian asked repeatedly in various sessions:

“Who among you wants to be famous?”

In thinking on that question, we are forced to recognize that fame does not equate into freedom, fame is not the same as success.  Indeed the boundary between fame and notoriety is so thin that it’s easy to cross over without realizing it. Rather than fame,  I value more the freedom to practice my art, and the knowledge that I have remained true to my vision.

Because, as Janis Ian reminded us, no one else has the vision that we have; and while there are many things in this life that can be faked, talent and art can never be faked.

Even as she said these things, she reminded us too that talent is not enough. The artist must do the work–must master their craft. If talent is a spirited horse, craft is what will ensure that your talent will not run away with you. In the course of the week, Janis continued to emphasize the need for artists to grow and add to their skillset (what we also call our toolkit). As artists,  we need to be constantly developing ourselves.  Being equipped with a wide range of skills makes us capable of answering to the call of opportunity.

I think of these things and I think to myself–the sky is unlimited.

#

One of the interesting features of our week was what Janis called the Museum Wall. At the end of the week, we were asked to answer the question: What does all great art have in common? I’m sharing the image of the wall here. You answer the question.

IMG_2421

Things I learned: New York and Janis Ian’s Masterclass in Artistry

 

This time’s visit to America was started off by me singing lines from “Seventeen” to the customs officer at the entry point to New York.

“So, what do you intend to do in New York?” he asked me.

And because I had been bottling up my excitement for so long, I did a fistpump, smiled wide and said: “I’m here to meet Janis Ian.

When the border officer shook his head and failed to recognize her name, I decided to give him a song sample. ( I also said: You’re an American, how come you don’t know that this woman is one of the best American Folk Singers ever?)

Imagine me: standing in JFK, a row of tired and grumpy people standing behind me, and there I was, bursting into song.

The guy behind the counter shook his head (he didn’t recognize the song!). Still, he laughed (he’d been quite solemn), wished me a wonderful visit, and stamped my entry ticket.

As I walked away, I heard the lady who had been standing behind me give the officer a loud and cheerful greeting. I hope the officer was smiling still.

#

One of the things Janis Ian taught us during the week in New York, was that fear is a construct. Except for atavistic fear, every other kind of fear is something that we’ve learned and what can be learned can be unlearned.

When I was standing in that line, I thought of my first visit to the US when I could hardly say a word to the officer behind the counter and ended up getting detained and interrogated for about an hour. I felt the familiar tickle of stress and the teary urge to break down.

Then, I realized that I’d traveled a long way. Friends had offered me this chance, and I couldn’t possibly spoil it by giving way to stress and anxiety. So, instead of mumbling through the interview, I squared my shoulders, spoke up and followed through with the song routine because…well, the worst thing that could happen was that they would send me back home again. (Also, who cares what people in line thought of me. The likelihood of them seeing me again was so small.)

The week with Janis Ian was marked with so many instances where I had to face up to the constructed fears that stood in the way of me doing things.

Coming out of JFK, I felt a huge burst of confidence. I was in New York, standing on the edge of change.

#

To the artist, change is a constant. If we’re lucky, change means growth and development–a deepening of the work, a deepening in insight, growth in perception and understanding. Maturity not just in the work but in ourselves as human beings.

The following statement is in The Stella Adler Studio of Acting’s preamble:

Growth as an actor and growth as a human being are synonymous. 

I would dare to exchange actor with artist and say: Growth as an artist and growth as a human being are synonymous. If we remain stagnant, if there is no growth, what does this say about our art? What does this say about us? What does this say about our practice?

Regardless of what field of discipline we occupy,  our exercise of our art, our commitment to our work is what differentiates us and binds us together in a global community.

On twitter, I posted a question Janis Ian asked that I felt is very key to all of us who are engaged in the practice of art: “Whose bones are you standing on?”  

There’s so much to unpack about that question. So much that can be said about ancestors, about the litany of names that have brought us here and continue to carry us through. We are one in a chain and I am grateful for the bones I’m standing on.

Check out the board below and think on these things.

IMG_2419

 

Sunday Morning Rambly Thoughts

Finding the words to talk about new adventures is often challenging. Here I am in New York City,  I have met one of my musical idols, have met with women I love and admire, and have found myself engaged in conversations that challenge me, inspire me, and compel me to look at various interactions in my life with new eyes.

Janis Ian said to me that it seemed to her that I was at the start of something new. I can’t help but agree–whenever I come to America ( once for the CW workshop and now for Janis’s masterclass), I find myself at a point where I must make decisions that may seem tiny to some, but are the equivalent of life-changing to me.

I find myself thinking of the Robert Frost poem that my sister loves so much–that one about two roads diverging into a wood and I can’t help but think of how life brings each of us to these forks in the road. Do we take the left? Do we take the right? Do we take the road that’s safe and known, or do we take the one that’s less travelled? And as Frost has said: the road we choose will make all the difference.

Making a choice isn’t easy. I find myself wishing that it were, but I don’t think life is meant to be easy anyway. I came out of a loving home, a nest where I was sheltered as well as my parents could, but even when there, I had to make a choice on whether to stay cocooned and separated from the hardship of the world around me, or to engage and see and know and understand that the society we live in isn’t egalitarian.

There is a larger mass who grow up in the absence of that access to shelter, to good nutrition, to healthcare, to education and the numerous minutae that we take for granted. Things we consider as simply being, are often luxury. Take for instance how here in the West, we take running water for granted–back home, running water is a luxury that only the very wealthy have access to–and then it is only the super-rich who can be assured of that kind of luxury where they don’t have to worry about whether there will be water tomorrow or not. Having grown up with this absence, each time I turn on the tap, I remember how my mother would caution us and tell us to conserve and recycle water.

Luxury.  To not have to worry that the tank will run out.

It’s easy to grow comfortable, to become complacent and inured to the hardship of the world. As long as it doesn’t touch us, we can rage, we can shout our anger, but we are still cocooned because that hardship is at a distance.

A white man can never fully comprehend the hardships a black man goes through. It’s easy for non-blacks to bagatelize the uncertainty of life as a black person. ( This is what happens when we say #alllivesmatter when black folks say #blacklivesmatter.)

Much as we want to believe that we live in a society where we are all equal, we do not and we need to make choices. Those choices won’t always be easy, they won’t be the road well-traveled, but choosing to walk that road, choosing to leave the comfort of the cocoon behind, choosing to open our eyes, step out of the box, engage fully, embrace the uncertain and the uncomfortable–these things, they do make a difference.

Another rambly post with a word for the journey

This is a rather rambly and somewhat personal post, but I’ve been thinking a lot about things and I’m remembering a day conference I attended where one of the women leaders reminded us that if we’re going to be engaged in social change, we need to bear a number of things in mind. One of these things is a word that I think we all need to carry in our backpacks.

Watchfulness.

We already know that in life, there will always be someone waiting to bring you down. When we’re starting out on the journey, we’re all eager and full of faith. It’s real easy to be made to believe that everyone who claims to be on our side really stands on our side, when the truth of the matter is that each and every person has an own agenda and that agenda may not be the same as the one you carry. I’ve learned the hard way that just because a person uses the right words and claims to stand on the same side, it doesn’t mean that person is someone you can open your heart and your soul to. It doesn’t mean that person is someone who wishes you well.

The thing is, when you’re engaged in struggle, you’re vulnerable too. It’s easy to get sucked into the kind of talk that will derail you from your original purpose. Because we long for companions in the struggle. Because it’s lonely out in the field and it’s hard. It’s even harder if you feel like you’re struggling all alone–like you’re a voice shouting into the void

Watchfulness.

Some people can’t conceive of success that makes room for others to enjoy greater success alongside of you. Some folks can’t understand the joy that comes from seeing people you love receiving praise and accolades. Some folks don’t see how the success of someone else does not diminish your own success. But we who are working for change must keep our eyes focused on the goal. Don’t be distracted by folks to the back or to the front or the side of you. You might share a goal with some folks, but in the work of change, in the work of creation, it’s not a competition as to who gets to reach the goal first.

When you have your eyes fixed on that goal, accolades and praise diminish in importance. What becomes important is that the mission gets accomplished, that we reach change, that we achieve that hoped for state. And maybe you won’t get awards for the work you do, but in the work towards change, awards aren’t a proper measure for the work that is done.

The true measure, the true reward comes when you see change taking place for real.

I keep my eyes fixed on the goal.

Sometimes, when the darkness crowds around me and I’m tempted to lay me down and not rise up again,  I think of all the hands that have lifted me up and of the folks who’ve gathered around me and chanted a mantra of love telling me to keep on writing and I know, I cannot give up. Not ever. I won’t give up until I see each and every one of those I love blossom and reach their full potential.

I don’t know when, I don’t know how the dream of proving Filipinos can write well enough in English morphed into a dream to witness how those who travel alongside me come into their own.

I don’t know when I started dreaming of a future that’s different from the present we occupy. Perhaps it was always there, lurking at the back of my mind, perhaps that dream just blossomed into maturity as I experienced what it’s like to be held up and given wings to find my dream.

My dream is to see more voices rising. To see a field occupied by a multiplicity of voices to see a field where there are no minorities.

Watchfulness.

We move through different stages in life. From not knowing, to slightly knowing, to full knowing. From apathy, to fear, to outrage, to anger, to compassion and understanding what it takes to truly work for change.  Not caring about others that is the most deadly state of all. It means, you lose your ability to feel with, to empathize, to feel deep down to your bones–you lose your soul.

Be watchful of your soul. Be watchful of your heart. No matter how hard or tough or how angry-making the struggle becomes, remain watchful.

When you’re doing the work, you need to accept that not everyone will love you. You need to accept that more folks will hate you than love you. Because who wants the world shaken up and changed? Who wants the world order to be turned upside down on its head?

Working towards change is terrifying work because it can at times feel so gigantic and overwhelming and if you’re invested in it, there will be moments when you’ll go: Oh shit, what was I thinking when I said I would do this? When you work towards change, you need to put your hands to the ground and do the dirty work. You need to invest your time and energy in creating and bringing into being a new world order. That’s not easy work. It’s an investment of time and energy and other resources and you won’t even get headlined or praised for that kind of work.

We’ve been taught to be modest, to erase ourselves, to downplay our ambitions, to keep our heads down. Don’t rock the boat.

So we don’t talk about the vision we hold in us because talking about that vision is terrifying. It’s baring your soul and making yourself vulnerable to arrows and spears. I say: We must not be quiet about the future that we want. We must not be afraid to rock the boat or to put ourselves at risk. Because without vision–without taking that risk, we don’t have a future.  And if we don’t share the vision inside us, we can’t blame folks if the world goes on as it’s always gone. Rock the boat, I say. Do it to the rhythm that beats inside you–to the tune of that song that says: we have big dreams and our dreams have a place in this world. We’re not waiting for permission, we’re taking hold of it. We’re shaping the future we want to see, marching to the tune of a song that belongs to us.

When we speak about diversity and inclusivity, it’s much more than paying bucks for merchandise. When we speak about diversity and inclusivity, it means we invest time, effort, resources in cultivating, nurturing and making sure there are no minorities in the field.

James Baldwin talked about the need to create a country where there are no minorities. We need to do that in this field. We need to show that we stand on the same level–equals in every discourse and we won’t let ourselves be treated as less than equal.

When we talk of change, we’re talking about a vision we share. A vision we want and we need to see become reality. How hungry are we for change? Are will willing to put our money where our mouths are? Are we willing to invest ourselves? Are we willing to put ourselves at risk?

It’s a fearsome thing to propose an end to hierarchies and pyramid structures. It’s a fearsome thing to say, let us all realize the power we hold inside us. It is a fearsome thing, but it is not impossible.

Instead of traditional hierarchies let us bring in horizontal fractals where a multiplicity of voices and a multiplicity of stories abound. Set up institutions with built-in nurturing and supportive systems, install programs that will encourage instead of discourage, invest in the development of multiple voices, reinstate the chains that bind older generations to younger ones. It’s a giant endeavour. It requires investment of time, energy, economic resources; it requires willingness to take the risk and it also requires a hell of a lot of love.

**Tade Thompson made a series of tweets on diversity which I’ve storified. Do take the time to check it out.

About Bagi: Ada ti Istorya

It’s June and Bahamut Journal’s first issue is now available for purchase. There are stories and there are stories, but Bagi (included in this issue of Bahamut) is a marker for me when it comes to delving deeper into the heart of story. I wrote this post to provide a little bit of insight into what went into the writing of this piece.

I remember when I lost fluency in the use of my childhood tongue. We had just moved to Manila from the mountains and our parents had chosen to enroll my sister and I in an exclusive school. You know how you have those schools where kids come from the same social circles, grew up in the same exclusive neighborhood and went to the same kindergarten? It was that kind of school. It was a school that projected the image of: all our students come from high class families.

My sister and I were admitted as partial scholars because we both scored high on entrance exams. We were picked up by a schoolbus, and while we didn’t have a house in one of the exclusive gated subdivisions, at least we lived in a subdivision. Not well-off but at least middle class. Unfortunately, we didn’t speak tagalog very well and no one spoke Ilocano or Ifugao with us. Not even the one student who had moved to Manila from Baguio City.

Our saving grace was the fact that we could both speak English that was clearly not provincial English. As time passed, I realized that speaking English was the one way to be acknowledged and accepted somehow. Slowly but surely, I forgot all about Ilocano. By the time we graduated from highschool, I spoke Tagalog and English…mostly English because that was the posh language to speak.

I find myself thinking these days of what gets lost when we lose a language. As I grow older, I find myself yearning for more fluency in the native tongues. To be able to speak without fear of stumbling over words, to be able to burst into conversation with childhood friends on Facebook or on twitter. To say things that can only be expressed fully in the language that feels closer to my skin. I feel language bubbling just beneath my tongue, but I am often afraid because I have not exercised it for such a long time.

While thinking of language recovery, I found myself thinking too about what lies buried in language. What narratives had I chosen to erase when I chose to leave behind that language? What narratives could be pulled out of a text or a few lines or a word? What memory–what emotion would rise up from the use of a language that has lain dormant for so long.

This is how I started writing Bagi: Ada ti Istorya. Bagi is the word for body. I was drawn to the fact that Bagi contains the same letters as biag which means life. I liked how these two words spoke to each other and thinking about these words, Bagi : Ada ti Istorya came into being.

Writing Bagi was also a physical experience. There are stories that you draw from the air, there are stories you draw from things that have happened or from other stories that inspire you, and there are stories that you draw from deep inside your body. Bagi, inevitably draws from the body. As I wrote about trauma, I was going through an escalation of chronic and psychological pain. At one point, I was writing with only one hand on the keyboard as I could barely move my other arm because of the pain coming from inflamed joints.

By Loncon, I had written more than 2000 words, I still did not have an ending and I worried that I would not finish the work because my head was filled with many other things. Then, came end of August and the Rainy Writers Retreat.

In the company of beloved women friends, I finally was able to write the ending passage to Bagi. It was like descending into the deep and then coming up utterly changed.

I think of the ways in which we sustain and support each other and I remember that story comes into being within the collective. I think of how being within the collective, being supported and surrounded by the warmth and the light of beloved ones, women and friends, precious faces, dear hearts, I think of how being within that collective enabled me to complete the circle of Bagi.

This to me is the joy of the work. It comes into being from some deep and hidden part and blossoms into the life as it is watered by the circle of true comrades.

I sent Bagi off to Bahamut Journal and kept my fingers crossed hoping and praying they would accept it so I could finally write about the experience of writing it. I don’t think I’ve been more joyful to receive an acceptance email. Bahamut Journal is my dream home for Bagi and I am so happy and proud that the editors chose to say “Yes, we want to publish this.”

Bagi: Ada ti Istorya shares a toc with other amazing authors for Bahamut Journal’s first issue (now available for purchase). My thanks to Darin Bradley and to Rima Abunasser for their support and encouragement, to Nisi Shawl who told me to submit work to Bahamut, to Nick Wood who provided me non-Ilocano speaker feedback, to my beloved friends, fellow Pinay writers and the circle of women. It is an honor to know that I’ll be able to share this work with you.

**I didn’t have time to blog about it, but Lightspeed Magazine reprinted my PSF 6 story. Breaking the Spell is now available on their website along with an author spotlight where I talk a bit about what went into that story. You can also purchase a copy of the entire issue.

**A bit late with this announcement as well. The movements column on Use of Anger can now be read on Strange Horizons.

Thoughts on the Journey: Self-care: Play and the child self

My mom has this story she likes to tell–how when I was a child learning the piano, I would always at the end of each piano piece add my own notes or my own embellishments–putting in things that weren’t there.

I wasn’t very good at playing the piano the right way because the right way somehow didn’t match how I felt it should be like. ( I got much better at following the rules when I grew older, but my piano teacher always complained that I was too passionate about whatever I was playing. Which is actually pretty cool, now that I think of it.)

Growing up in the mountains, I discovered the perfect hideaway. The mountain behind our home had a small incline with no path leading up to it–no one could see from below because of the tall grasses and the view from behind was blocked by large rocks. From this perfect place, I could look down at our home, I could see the hospital compound and I could even see the road that wound up the mountain towards our home.

I can’t think about any place more ideal for a child to be because of all the endless opportunities for adventure. Everyplace could easily be transformed into elsewhere–into another place, another world, another planet and I could be anything from a secret warrior to an otherworldly alien.

One of the things I liked to do was test out what people would do if they couldn’t find me. During hide and seek, I would hide behind those rocks and no one ever thought to look there. Eventually, they would tire of the game and the sky would change its color and the other children would head home and I would still be sitting there, hiding. I sometimes wondered if they ever missed me.

At times, I tested my mother’s patience by staying hidden even after the supper call. I would watch from my perfect vantage place as the lights in our house went on and my mother called and called. When night descended, I realized that it wasn’t quite as cozy up in my hideaway in the dark. So, I would race down the mountainside and run towards the warmth of light and the warmth of my mother’s scolding voice.

My mother’s father, when she came to live with us, would pinch me in exasperation.

What a child. What a child.

I was not very obedient. Not at all. Also, I dreamed too big for my size. I wanted too many things I couldn’t have, things I shouldn’t want, things beyond my reach.

So there I was a rather mischievous chubby child who was also rather rebellious and who couldn’t fit into a pattern, no matter how hard I tried. One time, when the evening prayers were being said and everyone was all solemn, I burst into a fit of laughter–I don’t know why. But I couldn’t stop laughing. I laughed so hard that I had to leave the room and had to be scolded again afterwards.

I guess, I’m still pretty irreverent. I tend not to take myself too seriously, because honestly, if one can’t laugh at oneself one turns out to be a complete and utter bore. My kids have also given up on having a mom who fits into the mold of being what other mothers are.

I’m so sorry, I say. I know you wanted me to give you the scientific explanation, but the fantastic one sounds much more interesting, don’t you agree?

So, I may not be the most solemn or perfect mother, but at least, my kids know how to laugh and we do laugh a lot together these days.

I know I had a point in writing this, so I probably should get to it. I think that even when we are engaged in the most serious of matters, it’s absolutely necessary to keep in touch with the child self. That we don’t forget about play, about not taking ourselves too seriously. Sometimes, we may lose our way or the way is just so densely overgrown that we don’t know where it leads to anymore–but that’s really okay. Life has no tried and true map of what works and what doesn’t work, but it’s an adventure and there is always something to discover, something to learn, something precious to be found.

Today, my kids are teaching me to stay in touch with my child self. I poke fun at myself and laugh at myself. I dance together with my kids and growl like a dinosaur. I play dead or do the zombie walk–I give myself over to my child self and that gives me the strength to head back into the arena and embrace the work because everyone deserves the room to play and the space to play and this is what this genre is all about. It’s about giving yourself room to reconnect with that child self and giving yourself permission to have fun and play and create.

Spread your wings. Fly. Dream. It’s a struggle, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun along the way. Laughter and joy, indulging in play–these too are acts of resistance.

**

(1) I admit I learn things best when they are fun.

(2) I still struggle with the big black dog, but I am thankful for the moments when my child self kicks in and decides it’s time to play.

(3) This post was partly inspired by Laura Mixon-Gould’s post on Our Nerdish Legacies. It’s a seriously good post. Do take time to read and absorb the meat of it.

(4) Adding big love to Nalo Hopkinson who reminded me to think of the joyful and happy things in life. Thank you.

Writer’s Journey: doing the work

I have been silent for quite a while as I moved through the necessary steps towards full recovery. Sometimes, we have our hands so full with the business of trying to make it from one day to the next that we don’t have much energy to think of much else. I deeply appreciate the kadkadua, the friends and comrades who have sent me encouraging notes even when I had no strength to answer.

What follows are things that bubbled up as I worked on the columns that I want to see published next. Fellow traveler on the journey, this is for you too.

. . . who  know what it is to be afraid to speak because to speak is a matter of life or death.

… who know what it is to hunger or to be anxious about where the next day’s meal will come from.

…who know what it is like to turn over every coin as each coin spent means a balance between what is needful and what is less needful.

…who have not been cushioned by the luxury of wealth, not owning anything more than what your two hands can hold.

…who do not own the privilege of position or class.

…who have not been shielded by the color of your skin or gender or sexuality…

…who know what it is like to go to sleep praying that you will not wake to the sound of guns in the distance.

…who know to lock the doors at night because there is no safe place…there is no safe place…there is no safe place…

…who stubbornly remain vulnerable in the face of fear because there is no safe place…no safe place…no safe place…

…who know the cost of dissent, the price of resistance, the punishment for rendering criticism.

…who know what it’s like to always be judged based on the color of your skin, the flag to which you pledge allegiance, the country of your origin…(fill in the blank)

…who know what it is like to be reviled, rejected, judged, ridiculed, belittled, cast out, ignored…(choose your own synonym)…

…who know what it’s like to hunger for words…to fight over words…to want to own words…to chase after glimpses of story in whatever form because there are never enough words to speak the stories that have grown and grown and grown…

…who understand what it’s like to dream of one day being that adventurer, that star traveller, that explorer, the one who discovers, who charts, who lays claim, who takes hold of–planets, countries, kingdoms…becomes ambassador…becomes forger of peace…savior instead of saved…redeemer instead of redeemed…

…who reach out in anxiety…who having found voice speak tentatively…because you have never had that freedom…to speak…to speak without anxiety…to speak without fear…to render criticism and not be cut down or imprisoned or taxed or punished or sent into exile…

…Oh who have fought not to be silenced….and having won…struggle not to fall into silence…do not fall into silence…do not allow yourself to fall into silence…do not…do not…do not surrender…do not give way.

Speak on.

2014: updates and lessons learned on the journey

I have been rather quiet online as I’m going through a seasonal dip. It sometimes feels like I have to wrap what little energy I have around myself in order to make it through the day. My apologies for the radio silence.

2014 has been one of my most challenging years. I am thankful for those I’ve come to know this year. For true friends, for kadkadua, for comrades who walk beside me. I would not have been able to make it through without the presence of these dear ones.

I’ve started work on a new group of columns for Strange Horizons, the first of which was published a little while ago. Anyone interested in reading it can find it here. I also took part in the Smugglivus celebration over at The Booksmugglers. This is my look at 2014 and some of why I’m excited about 2015. I see movements towards nurture and positive change and that always heartens me.

I believe in a principle that recognizes how people who write and create art embrace vulnerability. I also believe that hardening ourselves is not the solution. I believe that it is to us to create the environment in which we want to create and if we create environments that support and nurture the vulnerable, we are allowing the creation of mindful work–we enable visionary and emergent work as we remember that the writer writes from a place of vulnerability.

This doesn’t mean that there is no room for criticism or dissent. I believe that criticism and dissent are vital to living and dynamic art. I also believe that it’s possible to practice criticism and dissent in a spirit that protects what is vulnerable.

I have learned so much about my work and about myself as a writer in this past year.

The stories I’ve written are part of the journey I undertake towards becoming the kind of writer I want to be. To write from a deep place, from a place that recognizes the effects of history but also chooses to envision a place where we are not shackled or tied down by that history–to be liberated in every sense of the word and to become a person who inhabits a world of my own making–we create our own histories and it is to us to decide what kind of record we wish to leave behind.

I am thankful for teachers and guides whose works and whose spirits have accompanied me throughout this year. I am grateful for the work of Audre Lorde, Octavia Butler, Leny Strobel, Barbara Jane Reyes, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Gloria Anzualda–there are so many that I cannot name them all in this one post.

I am still in the process of learning and reaching for more understanding and more knowledge. I do not know everything, but I am grateful for fellow travelers who open my eyes to the realities that I don’t see–I am grateful to you who teach me understanding and love and what it means to be a citizen of the world.

Here’s to a 2015 and the vision of a future that is home to all of us.

Some quotes I’m thinking on

“I use the term Indigenous to refer to the self that has found its place, its home in the world. Emptied of projections of “inferiority”, “third world”, “underdeveloped”, “uncivilized”, “exotic and primitive”, and “modernizing”, it is the self capable of conjuring one’s place and growing roots through the work of imagination, re-framing history, and re-telling the Filipino story that centers our history of resistance, survival and re-generation.”   -Indigenous Filipino Knowledge as defined by Leny M. Strobel-

“Unlike the English word ‘Other’, Kapwa is not used in opposition to the self and does not recognize the self as a separate identity. Rather, Kapwa is the unity of self and others, and hence implies a shared identity or inner self. From this arises the sense of fellow being that underlies Filipino social interaction.” – Leny M. Strobel –

“In the way I experienced Kapwa, I found that people would seek acknowledgement of a shared bond by trying to find a connection that ultimately widened the sphere of the self.”  – Margarita Certeza Garcia, Towards a “Kapwa” Theory of Art, Working towards Wholeness in Contemporary Practice

And then, this Tony Hall quote that I picked up from Nalo Hopkinson’s twitter feed: “The arts are really oxygen for the community, creating breathing space. If we don’t breathe, we die. We need oxygen.”

I am thinking of oxygen–the need to breathe–the need for connections–the need for air and how we need each other in creating space so we can breathe. I’m thinking of community and I am thinking of love. I am thinking of the importance of dialogue and conversation, the necessity of keeping lines and doors open. I am thinking of how this thing is true, that we are always at risk, that we put ourselves constantly at risk. That trust is hard and pain is inevitable.

I remember my Father reminding me that what matters is not how others see me or how others judge me–I remember him saying: “what matters is how you respond to others. Your actions–what you do next–that’s what you’re accountable for.”

It is a risk to remain vulnerable, but if that’s what it takes to help build a stronger community, I’m ready.

Thinking things through: Your story and the change you bring with you

My online presence has been rather erratic as I’ve been having difficulties getting online. I waffled quite a bit about posting anything as it takes time to write a post and then it takes time to wait for connection to stabilize enough for me to publish the post. But what the heck. I’m here and I have time.

Thinking things through has helped me a lot, not only on the decolonization journey, but it’s also helped me to come to a deeper and better understanding of what’s needed if we are to create an environment that’s conducive to diversity. The question isn’t just a matter of getting people in the door, but what I’m concerned about is how to continue to nurture and support these writers so they don’t burn out, don’t feel isolated, don’t feel that they are a voice shouting in the wild that no one listens to. Nothing is more hurtful to the vulnerable spirit than to feel like you’re shouting into a vacuum.

It’s easy for me to say to a writer working in solitude that I hear their voice, but I think the writer needs much more than this. The writer needs to know that there is room for their work. I am of the belief that where you publish and how you publish all depends on what you want to achieve with what you write. If you want to become rich on writing, er…I think you may have chosen the wrong field. If you want recognition…again…er…wrong field. But if you want to write because you have this passion in you and you are bubbling over with things that you want to say to the world, there is no limit to what you can do and to who you can reach. Yes, believe me. There is no limit.

The point of diversity work is to make space so diverse voices can be heard. Not just one, not just two, but a variety of and a multiplicity of voices. I don’t believe there is one authoritative voice. There’s none. We all have very different stories and we all tell them very differently. I said this to a bunch of friends one time, it’s not a question of who rises the fastest or who shines the brightest–the thing is, we all rise at the kind of speed that we need to rise. We all shine as we were meant to shine. It’s not a competition and the awards are not the end goal. Someone once said that we change the world one story at a time. I think this is true. The story you bring with you is a story that will touch and change those in your sphere of influence. The question is: what kind of story do you bring with you? What kind of change are you bringing?

This may sound a little bit floaty, but I did want to share a dream that I had last night. It’s a dream that I believe speaks to the feeling that we all feel at one point or another. In my dream, I saw a group of women who had been cast out to sea in a little boat. They had been sailing and looking for land for quite sometime. Each time they sighted land, they would cheer and rejoice only to be devastated when they discovered that it was nothing more than an illusion. At the moment when they were about to give up, they saw an island in the distance. They looked at the island and they didn’t want to believe that it was real. They’d seen too many illusions and had been disappointed too many times. It wasn’t until their boat drew closer and closer to the island that they realized it was no dream. There before them was a beautiful stretch of beach and beyond that foliage. It was a vibrant country filled with color and life. It was a resting place.

I’m sharing this dream for no reason other than I felt that it was a good time to share it. I think that we all long for a paradise and we all long for a place where we can rest our heads. Don’t give up, it’s not yet the end of the journey.