A Thought on Columbus Day

Columbus Day is the twelfth of this month, and I thought the day would be a good occasion for some contemplation and awareness.

I went and saw The Canary Effect on campus this evening, a film about how Native Americans were effectively exterminated from the United States during and following colonialism, and how Native Americans continue a relentless struggle in a plethora of socioeconomic and political spheres.

The film was infuriating and impassioning.

I looked down at my shoes, I was wearing moccasins.  I’m sure these weren’t made by Indians at Pine Ridge, and I’m even more sure that Natives don’t benefit from my wearing the style of shoe they created.  I felt slightly sick to my stomach.  Was I aiding the subjugation of American Indians by wearing these shoes? Was I another ignorant American, exploiting these people for selfish reasons?

I took a deep breath.

I left feeling major white-girl guilt and anger, but at the same time, empowered and determined to make the world a better place.

After the film, I asked how I, a 23 year old middle-class college student, could ever create positive change for Native American populations without being condescending or ineffectual.  Another girl gave a good answer.

She suggested that we become aware. That as individuals we do research and get the facts.  That we seek to understand Native cultures and truly see the reasons for why so many of them are desperately troubled.

She also noted that we must become critical consumers.  We must question what we’ve been taught in our public school systems and be critical of the bias we encounter in our textbooks.  We can also stand up for the Native community, so that when someone says, “Oh, why give them[Native groups] any funding or aid? They have casinos so now they’re rich”.  We can then politely inform them that in fact, 90% of American Indians are in NO WAY affected by the gaming initiatives.

We can confront biases and ignorance in the media.  We can kindly remind each other the truth of what happened to the Native population, that by 1890, 98% of American Indians had been killed, and after that thousands of Native women were forcibly sterilized, and thousands of Native Children were ripped from their families and put into Christian boarding schools that sought to completely deconstruct their Native identity.

Today, natives are seven times more likely to commit suicide than the majority white population. Substance abuse is twice as prevalent on the reservation as it is for white communities.  American Indians face constant discrimination in the search for employment and sexual violence against Native women is at a terrible high.

So perhaps we should contemplate these facts and revaluate our prejudices and assumptions.  Perhaps we should be more conscientious of our words and thoughts.  Perhaps we should continue our personal education and re-examine the history of the United States.

I for one, rather than feeling guilty for wearing moccasins, will use them as a personal reminder of what happened to Native Americans. I will remember what has happened to their families, culture, and heritage, and remember the struggles communities face today.  I’ll challenge myself to be aware, and to stay educated about the past, the present, and on matters of the future.

Instead of feeling guilty, become informed.

(Facts derived from The Canary Effect, directed by Robin Davey and Yellow Thunder Woman)

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Do I declare myself?

“But when you rip open that shirt to find the ripped abs of truth – when you remember who you are – the question then becomes: Do you declare yourself?”

-Justine Musk

I ask myself this question often: Do I declare myself?

Being the self-conscious, justice-seeking, slightly psychotic individual I am, I constantly play with different aspects of my self.  Whether it’s the political side, the philosophical side, or the bad poetry side, there are many facets to my personality. I think this is normal, but it’s difficult to find that one passion, that one part of my being, that is stronger and demands a declaration above all others.

What are my ripped abs, so to speak?  What do I see, what do I feel, when I remember who I am?

Do I too, wear a facade?  Do I put on a ‘front’ when I go out and about?  And if so, who am when I get home to an empty house and a lovable mutt?

I suppose I am a sensitive, calm, critical, and slightly sad female.

Without the face without the facade. Just a silly girl puttin’ curlers in her hair.

Acting tough and intelligent can be exhausting some times.

I remember that I am a flawed, unfashionable, and fervent woman.  I have fears and fallacy.

But this remembrance is more beautiful than my shell of ‘wonder woman’ outer projections.  And I remember it, yes, yes, I do.

I remember my fears and passions, and god dammit I declare them.

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Perhaps some poetry?

Bubbles

Bubbles in a boiling pot,

Second layer of skin.

Original color of hair, written in the

fine print.

Seeds of the fruit and popcorn in your teeth.

A splinter under your nail and

the tears choked down all the way to your

feet.

Secret loves

that we keep in the shoe boxes of our

hearts,

manifested in the hairs that prickle as we turn the corner.

Night sweats and belly button

phlegm,

this, the subconscious lives in.

Paint splotchs

I Am Muddy Puddles

I am

muddy puddles and flowers atop prickly cacti.

I hold onto

dog-eared pages and wine-soaked lips.

I feel my

clay encrusted feet and sandy bottoms.

I smell

the dust-covered romance novels and the spiders on the rose.

I wear

holey jeans and big, chocolaty smiles.

I see

melted candles and paint splotches.

I am

baby boogers, with a hint of mint.

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What happened to common decency?

This morning I missed the bus as usual.  This time is was different though, because a young man had missed it too.  Both of us panting and feeling annoyed, I offered him a lift to campus.  He seemed so shocked at my gesture, but to me it was logic.  If I’m driving to class anyways, why wouldn’t I give the kid a ride who had frustratingly made the same mistake as me?

The conversation during the ride was forced and awkward.  Questions like what’s your major and whatnot formed the basis.  I asked him why he had a cast on his right arm.  He asked me permission to drink a can of Mountain Dew.  I was helping the guy out, but it seemed like the last place he wanted to be was sitting in the passenger seat of my Honda.

After parking, he said goodbye, and I said that I’d see him around.  No smiles, no offer to help put money in the meter(that’s OK ’cause I was going to have to pay it anyway), was there even a “thank you”?

I felt like I had done the right thing, but it also felt so unfriendly, so impersonal.  Is giving a stranger a lift to class rather that weird?

I got to class feeling hot, tired, and hungry.  I sat next to a blonde girl wearing a tie-dye sweater, and as we make eye contact for a split second, I smile and give a nonchalant “good morning”.  The girl averts her gaze immediately, taken aback from my informal greeting, gives an uncomfortable moment of eye contact and looks away.  She practically turned her entire orientation in the opposite direction.

Why is decency so reviled?  Why is common courtesy so rare that when someone offers a kind gesture it freaks the other person out?

I felt like a leper.  What’s wrong with giving someone a ride to class?  Why is saying hello such a threat?

Stay away or I’ll bite you!

It’s no secret that our society is quite impersonal and often unfriendly. We ‘other’ each other and avoid situations where we might feel out of place. We avoid eye contact, avoid sitting too close to someone.  Avoid having our views challenged.  In an age of Facebook where our lives are on display for all to see, we lack intimacy more than ever.

We walk around campus with our headphones in, staring at our shoes and focusing on getting from A to B with the least amount of friction possible.  Sometimes I’m this person.  Avoiding everyone and everything because I’ve got a bone to pick with life at the time.

But more often than not I appreciate a greeting, I welcome the unexpected recognition that I exist.

We’re not all so separate, so foreign.  We’re a bunch of humans walking around on Earth.  Essentially, we’re all the same.  We all struggle, we all carry baggage, we’ve all had a screwed up life in some way or another.

Given this, why do we avoid each other so?  Why is it so hard to make a connection with another being?  Why is friendliness seen as a threat or intimidation rather than a gesture of good faith?

I think each of us, and society as a whole should question this.

Why are we so pissed off all the time?  Why is being kind the exception and not the norm?  What happened to common f***in’ decency?

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A question concerning food and culture in America

Last semester I took an Archaeology course and my professor brought in some roots that Native Americans used to subsist on in the Spring months.  I can’t recall the name of the root, but I remember looking at it, traces of dirt remain, and it smelled of Earth.  It was the most natural thing I had held in years, but it felt so foreign. This came straight from the ground, how WEIRD.  No fertilizers helped this grow…how odd.  It was moist, bitter and Earthy.  Full-bodied and crunchy, I had to have another.  This was the natural way of things, I remember thinking to myself.  How often do people pluck their own vegetables and eat them straight out of the dirt?  This is how it should be done. Why is the concept of natural food so distant to society?

 

I’m still reading The One-Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka, and it’s becoming increasingly challenging and illuminating.  While reading late last night, I came to a passage that shocked me and had me wondering about culture, food, and the connection between the two well into this afternoon.  After all, I study cultural anthropology and religion, so this debate had me quite puzzled, in a good way.  This is the passage that rattled me and had me examining my own values and those of the United States.

“Culture is usually thought of as something created, maintained, and developed by humanity’s efforts alone.  But culture always originates in the partnership of man and nature.  When the union of human society and nature is realized, culture takes shape of itself.  Culture has always been closely connected with daily life, and so has been passed on to future generations, and has been preserved up to the present time.”

I understand this, and agree. Culture is a product of people and nature coming together and learning and growing together.

Fukuoka is discussing culture in relation to agricultural production and consumption, and he goes on,

“Something born from human pride and the quest for pleasure cannot be considered true culture.  True culture is born within nature, and is simple, humble, and pure.”

This is where I stop, reread, and think.  When I consider agriculture in the U.S. today, which is based upon large yields and high production.  Where we use massive amounts of pesticides and fertilizers that are a horrible detriment to our environments, where we pump our produce full of coloring agents and preservatives, where we throw out about half our crop because it is not the ideal fruit or vegetable, it has me wondering, is there anything natural to our food?  Even our meats and milks are pumped full of hormones and additives.  Agriculture today is not natural, simple, humble, and certainly not pure.

Our food is based on more, more, more, no matter the cost.  There is no humility. It is a blatant disrespect to nature in many regards.  We poison our bodies and our Earth for the sake of monetary profits.

If Fukuoka is right, that TRUE culture is born within nature, than the United States could be said to not have a TRUE nature.

In the land of McDonald’s and Taco Bell, where the food is ridiculously processed,  Applebees where half of what’s cooked is frozen and then microwaved, where hunks of beef brought from a slaughter house is considered normal, do we really have a pure culture?  What is American culture, anyway?

 

In the context of food, what is the typical, cultural, American cuisine? First thing to my mind was a cheeseburger and fries.  The burger is probably heavily processed and contains hormones and additives applied to add flavor and longevity.  These additives are needed because the cow from whence the burger came was raised in a dark and filthy industrial center, where it was pumped full of antibiotics to keep it from dying due to its unnatural diet.  The wheat of the bun was probably grown from GMOs, the cheese is probably highly processed, the fries were frozen for weeks and the potatoes were grown using fertilizers and pesticides. This is not natural, pure, humble.

So much about American food is unnatural, the United States at this point could be called the Land of Unnatural and I don’t think anybody could argue with it.

Therefore what is American culture?

What do our production and consumption practices of food say about who we are?  Who are we as a collective and as individuals, consuming all this unnatural food as if it were the norm?

Many Americans know that our food is pumped full of preservatives, colorings, and additives, yet why is no one talking about it?  Why do we put these frankenstein foods into our body?

Are we indifferent? Are we a culture of not caring for our bodily selves?  Are we a culture so absorbed in our own lives that we pollute our bodies and the bodies of our loved ones with nasty food because it’s convenient?

What has food in America become?

What is the culture of America?

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Happiness is…

Despite my previous post stating that I can’t search for happiness like I would a lost puppy, I thought I’d end this chilly night on a positive note and think of the things that do make me happy. Seeing as it’s a new day, I might as well try to be less of a grouch and appreciate the little things.  So here goes…

Happiness is…

A dog kiss on a terrible day

Sierra, a pit bull I fostered some time ago. She taught me so much about responsibility and unconditional love

A hot bowl of ramen with sriracha when I’m starving

A light drizzle of rain and a glass of red wine

A chocolate chip cookie from your best girl at midnight on your birthday

Photos of my smiling family

My family and I in New Delhi, India

Phone calls and wise words from the ones I love

A good hug when I need it most

My favorite song first thing in the morning

Sore feet after dancing all night at a concert

I eat so much Ramen it’s kind of gross. But still, I love it.

Getting letters in the mail

Spicy curries

The scratchiness and voluminous of a record

Being proud of my mother

Watching my father play guitar

Having a beer with my brother

and sometimes even,

Finding a hat that fits just right.

I suppose happiness comes in all shapes and sizes, and considering that several of these things happened this horrible Monday, I guess it was not so horrible after all.

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Finding joy

Today was a rough day. My dog woke me up after about four hours of sleep whining and attacking me.  After a urination and bite of food, he still insisted that I wake up and give him attention.  Thanks, Bernie.  And then the usual story follows, miss the bus, drive to school, cram for a test, yada yada yada.

I felt like I had a gloomy cloud hanging over my head.  I was worrying about my parents and the obstacles they’ve been facing, worrying about school, missing the a-hole ex-boyfriend and hating myself for it.  I was praying for something good to happen, some one or some thing to show up and save me.  Some reason to cheer up.  Needless to say, my Monday was shite. And nothing was going to make it better.

Late in the evening I began reading a new book though, entitled The One-Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka and a passage grabbed my grumpy attention.  In the introduction by Wendell Berry, he discusses happiness and joy in the context of agriculture, but then he quotes a poem that could apply to even to my meager life.

William Blake once said,

He who binds to himself a joy

Doth the winged life destroy;

But he who kisses the joy as it flies

Lives in eternity’s sunrise.

Sometimes I try so hard to obtain something, I work relentlessly for a job, a relationship, for happiness.  I can almost try too hard and become attached to the idea of such a thing, and I suffer for it.  When I try so hard for happiness, I cannot grasp it.  I must let go and allow nature, in a sense, take it’s course. This is when happiness is found.

Goose Creek Falls in McCall, ID

When I apply this to my life I feel a mix of emotions.  On one hand, I believe in ‘fake it til you make it’. The idea that if one projects happiness and strives to find the good and joy constantly than joy will return to him/her.  I have long felt this way.  That if I keep smiling even though my insides are aching or laugh even though I’d rather sigh, that eventually the happiness would find me.  I found however, that no matter how many happy, positive movies I watched, or no matter how much I sought answers and happiness, sometimes this wasn’t enough.

Perhaps William Blake is right, that one cannot force such a wonderful emotion has happiness, and instead must be patient and then truly appreciate it when it comes.

I believe that having a positive attitude can help one to be happy, but it is not the source.  Happiness does not come when called. It is not something to be possessed, it comes and goes like the tides, and cannot be held onto or captured.

When I’ve been down in the dumps and searching for some thing to pull me out, I am usually left forlorn and lonely.  There is no thing or person that can bring happiness. It finds me, it finds you, when we detach and let the moments, things, and people come and go.

I have often hoped that a friend or lover would come along and save me.  Some sort of wonderful soul that could be my bright light, could teach me how to be happy.  How incorrect am I. While a good friend or significant other may bring good times, true happiness is found within, and like the wind it comes unexpected, and without a mechanism.

So perhaps instead of trying to fill a void, instead of trying to force something so fluid and ungraspable, I should allow myself to feel low, look inwards, and patiently observe the world and my inner workings.  When I have grown, the happiness will come.  I must appreciate happiness and bask in it while it lasts, for as we all know, life has a good way of throwing curve-balls.

Kiss the joy as it flies, and kiss my sadness as well.  Everything is constantly changing and I must let these emotions wash over me like the water of a bath.

Naturally, I could use a dose of my own medicine. It is a constant challenge .  The last thing I want to hear when I’m having a bad day is the whole “this too shall pass” spiel, but sometimes it helps to write it down and remind myself that all will be well.

McCall, ID

Photo credit given to my wonderful mother, Laura B. Pramuk

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Sometimes being serious doesn’t work

I started off with this blog thinking that I’d change the pace and write something light hearted about myself or tell a sentimental story, or write a poem or something.  But I am not feeling sentimental.  In fact, I’m kind of frustrated.  Woke up late, dealt with my darling yet hyper St. Bernard mix, missed the bus, caught the next bus, was late to class, was hungry… anyways, you get the picture.

In one of my classes we’ve been reading Martha Nussbaum’s book, as you may already know, and she encourages imaginative and creative processes to develop our own empathy and individuality.  We’ve also been talking about creativity in regards to writing in my Writing Online class.

After running around all day, being angry with myself, angry with our country, about to cry for problems of the world, I realized something.

Sometimes I need to sit down, take a deep breath, feel the sun on my face, remind myself how fortunate I am to be alive, and then laugh.

Yes, the world is a fucked up place and most days I feel helpless to better any of the social ills.  But I also have to remember that I need to take care of myself.  I should run myself that bubble bath, lay out in the park and get a sunburn, watch Sex and the City all night with my boyfriend named Bottle of Wine.  And as Nussbaum stresses, I should unleash my imagination and be creative some time!

We grow up drawing with crayons, finger painting, making mud pies, macaroni necklaces, egg carton ants, the list goes on.  Every once and a while we have to revert to our awesome little child selves and get messy with paint or glue, or write ridiculous poems we pray no one will ever see.  It’s too easy to get wound up in academic research papers or the pondering of our futures.  These things can get depressing after a while.

For a change, let’s get loose! I think for once I’ll relax about the whole failing education system problem, and chop up some magazines and glue the bits all over my refrigerator (my roommates with LOVE that).  Or I’ll turn the shitty pop music on full blast and jump around my room like a raving lunatic.  I’ll pick up my dusty guitar or write in my journal to expel some demons.  Whatever it is, we must exercise some of this creative energy.  Life’s too short to be serious all the time.

But perhaps we’re feeling serious and don’t want to relax?  Put that into some art! Head bang to some Pantera, or journal about how angry you are.  Paint a super morbid mural all over your wall.  Creative energy doesn’t always have to be hunky-dory.  Sometimes the most creative things come out when we’re feeling tortured.  Put emotion into your creative expulsion.

Let’s be silly, fervent, creative, and completely insane.  Let’s nurse our individual uniqueness and imaginative spirit.  Put down the books, or the computer, or the anarchist’s journal.  Have a margarita and paint some wild post-apocalyptic vision of the future.  Or write a song about your crazy uncle.  Walk around the house pretending you’re Charlie Chaplan.  Whatever you like to do, do it.  Relax, and have some fun.  I know that I’m prone to sudden implosion if I don’t chill out now and again.

Use some imagination, get funky from time to time.  Let your inner freak fly.

Getting funky with some blue paint

The Silencing of the Humanities in Our Education Systems

In my experience the arts and humanities are often seen as fun and interesting, however a dead end if one wants to earn a living and buy the newest gadgets and biggest homes.  We may absolutely love writing fiction and debating philosophy, but what in the world will we do with ourselves post-college if we don’t start a business or join corporate America’s zeal for materialism? After all, making money is the key to happiness and sustaining a healthy democracy, right?  Get a job and make money. Consume, vote for the prettiest politician, listen to your elders, obey the law, pay taxes, shop, and then shop some more.

As a society we’ve grown accustomed to this pattern and expectation.  We watch the news as if it were Divine information and command, without asking, what is really going on here?  What is the true situation over there in the Middle East or what does this politician REALLY stand for?

We take so much on faith because someone tells us it’s the truth.  Rarely do we engage in healthy, logical arguments and discussion over topics as important as war, the effects of consumerism, the accuracy of our historical texts, or the actual beliefs and practices of our foreign “enemy”.

We engage in “othering”, in seeing the person on the other side of the world as separate, as less human, as associated with disgust, alienation, and lower bodily functions.  Our authority figures tell us it’s this way or that, and just because they studied at Harvard or are grossly rich, we believe them and go on dehumanizing people different from us.

I’ve begun reading a book entitled Not For Profit, by Martha C. Nussbaum, which discusses the importance of a well-rounded education including not only technology and science (which are indeed very important) but one that involves creativity, imagination, constructive debate, arts, and writing.  Too often in the face of budget cuts and pressures to make more and more money, crucial aspects of a well-rounded education are being forgotten.

The arts and humanities foster individuality, critical thinking, discussion, and also involves the studying of different religions, cultures, and practices all over the world, teaching compassion and understanding.  With this compassion and critical thinking students learn to respect others rather than “othering” them, and are equipped with better skills to analyze political debate and think for them selves rather than take orders from an authority figure.

In a compassionate, kind, and Socratic learning environment, members of a society are taught to self-examine as well as challenge norms in day to day life.  Nussbaum explains how easy it is to fall into a subservient and sheepish mode of living, simply absorbing what is the supposed truth.  We see time and time again the dangers of blind following, as in the case of the Holocaust, the Rwandan genocide, and even with such experiments as the Philip Zombardo prison experiment.

Technology and science are increasingly important facets of the education system, and with good reason.  However we must not forget the importance of creative innovation and the art of the argument.

We must constantly question authority, question what we see on TV, question what our professors tell us, question what we read, CHALLENGE what we think we know.  Foster debate within your self and within your community.  Question yourself when you stereotype, when you hear yourself  “othering” a person that is different from you.

Transcend the norm and rise above the obedient follower.

For further investigation:

http://press.princeton.edu/titles/9112.html

http://www.harpers.org/archive/2010/06/hbc-90007141

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cbcGbflpFzI

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iG9CE55wbtY

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About being wrong…

Being wrong about something, whether it’s a math equation, the location of our shoes, our religious beliefs, or the person whom we loved, well, it sucks.  How does it feel to be wrong?  When I’m caught mistaking the answer to a question, or purporting some political factoids that turn out to be entirely incorrect, I feel deflated, ashamed, and maybe even like I’ve backslid on the moral scale.  Personally and societally, wrongness is seen as coming from satan himself.  How could I have been mistaken? Oh Lord, I’m a hideous wretch! Ok, perhaps it’s not always so dramatic.  But in reality we are terrified at the prospect of not being “in the right”.  This is why we argue with erroneous facts, bet on our correctness, and dog someone out if we prove them wrong.  We feel elated when we’re right, and nauseated when we’re not.

One of my classes this semester has begun with the reading of Being Wrong by Kathryn Schulz.  In her text, Schulz defends a different way of looking at being wrong.  Rather than hanging our heads or denying we were wrong to begin with, Schulz challenges her readers to see wrongness as an opportunity for growth.  In her optimistic model, she describes how in the realm of science, we get stuff wrong all the time.  And each of these disproved theories or ideas leads scientists in a new direction and a new way of discovering the truth.  Perhaps we can do this in our own lives.  Perhaps next time we screw up and humiliate our selves after losing a bet on the artist of the song or the position of a constellation in the sky, we can learn from our mistakes and be better off for them.  We often brush off our wrongness, because, well it feels lowsy being wrong.  However there is much opportunity to be had after screwing up.  For example, after realizing you’ve been doing your math homework all wrong and have been incessantly bragging about how right you were, take a look and reexamine your methods.  You’ll be a better mathematician for it and your peers will greatly appreciate it.

On a personal note, I can barely add 2 + 2, however I know that after a break-up with the certain someone I thought I was going to marry, I realized I was completely wrong about what love is supposed to be.  This epiphany shattered everything I thought I knew and I was deeply depressed for some time, but I slowly began to examine my mistakes and transform my views on relationships and love.  This confrontation with my wrongness was a completely awful experience, but in the end, I grew from it.  If I had gone and found a new boyfriend right away and ignored my mistakes, I would have learned nothing and continued life in my ignorance.

So while confronting our wrongness feels like a diss to our individuality and moral being, if we challenge our selves to look at our mistake and grow from it, we may have the opportunity to grow and maybe even come closer to the truth.

When have you realized you were wrong about something when previously you were so sure you were right?  How does being wrong make you feel?  When have you grown from a situation of utter wrongness?

For further investigation, visit http://beingwrongbook.com/

You Are Doing it WRONG!