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.