culture


Random quote of the day:

“The wildest dreams of Kew are the facts of Khatmandhu
And the crimes of Clapham chaste in Martaban.”

—Rudyard Kipling, “In the Neolithic Age”

You can read the whole poem here.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Siegfried and Roy, Leonard Maltin, or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

Here’s what I was concerned about on March 23, 2011. I never posted this, don’t remember why now, but came across it while cleaning up my hard drive. This is still something that concerns me, still a valid question to ask myself, but my life is so much more complicated now—and my creative life so much on hold—that it has slipped down the list of worries.

I have no idea when the Dos Lunas saga will see the light of day, although a member of my “fan base” was inquiring about it last week. I use “fan base” ironically for those who don’t get the quotation marks. When I was generating a lot of these DL stories I had a dedicated band of local readers who really liked them and always asked for more. One of them contacted me Friday to find out why I hadn’t e-pubbed them. I explained that time is not my friend these days and why.

Yet I still hope to do just that one of these days.

And so, last year’s concerns:

So. I’ve got this contemporary fantasy novel that I wrote about a mythical Southern California county by the name of Dos Lunas. I’ve been writing about this place for years, a bunch of short stories, and this is the first completed novel (though I’ve started and hope to finish others). Some of the vast cast of characters who inhabit Dos Lunas are Indians from a tribe called the Kintache, a tribe as mythical as the county they inhabit. I have for some time felt rather sensitive on the subject of cultural appropriation, as in this post, for instance. That’s why, with notable exceptions, I’ve tried to write from the outside in, rather than in the POV of my Indian characters. Being a middle-class white girl, I knew I couldn’t do justice to an Indian POV.

Now, I do have one character, JK Montmorency, who is three-quarters Irish and one quarter Indian. He’s been raised mostly as a middle-class white boy, privileged, taking his life for granted, so I’ve felt comfortable writing from his POV. And I’ve written in this special protection for the Kintache, a mother goddess who walled their valley off from the rest of the world through most of their history in order to protect them from the negative currents of history. They missed out on the Holocaust that visited most of the California Indians when the white men invaded their land in the late 18th century. They observe it happening to the other tribes, and they mourn for it, but they have stood somewhat outside the sweep of history. It’s been my hedge, you see, because most of the Dos Lunas stories are semi-comedic. With serious undertones, sure, but comedy-dramas, and the Holocaust isn’t really a suitable subject for comedy (Roberto Benigni and a different Holocaust notwithstanding).

I thought I was writing something I knew, this serio-comic place called Southern California with its goofy and eccentric ways. But like many things that are silly, there’s a vast reservoir of serious, tragic things just below the surface. I thought I was doing a decent job of reflecting that, too, but I’ve never been without doubt about it.

These days doubts are blossoming and growing, like the wildflowers in Dos Lunas, where it’s springtime at this writing. Reading Sherman Alexie, whom I love, has me feeling desperately inauthentic—and even disrespectful. Above all, I want to be respectful to the real suffering of the real native people of California. But I worry about it constantly. I think I’m being respectful, but what if I’m deluded?

I can only keep on, I suppose, and hope others let me know if I’ve stepped in a big pile of dog shit. Hopefully, with the same care and consideration I’ve tried to have in these stories.

Random quote of the day:

 

“I’m very wary of people who give us the lessons of history or the laws for the future of cultures.  But I do think one thing the historian can do is to warn us against the overgeneralizations of social scientists, politicians, preachers, all those who think they’re in on the secrets of the future.”

—Daniel J. Boorstin, interview, NewsHour

 

 

Disclaimer:  The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Siegfried and Roy, Leonard Maltin, or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

prayer sticks

What are prayer sticks? A way of making a prayer manifest in physical form, an offering to the gods and spirits in hope they will please them and persuade them to grant your prayer.

There are many ways to make prayer sticks, many traditions, including fake ones. If you type prayer sticks into Google, you’ll see what I mean. They aren’t strictly an American Indian tradition, but exist in many forms in many cultures. The thing is: one tradition will have you plant them in the earth to soak up the earth’s magic; another will tell you they must hang in trees and never touch the earth or the magic is void. I suspect the “truth” is more along the lines of “as you think, so shall it be.”

The way I was taught is this: first, get yourself a stick. Now, some traditions say it has to be a stick gathered from a certain kind of tree (the kind of tree varying depending on who you’re talking to), stripped of its bark and sanded; others say leave the bark on; still others say the stick itself is less important than the intent put into it. A piece of wooden dowling will do if you do not have a tree handy to harvest switches from. So, I got me some wooden dowling. Second, on the top part of the stick you paint or write your prayer in some kind of permanent medium. Next, you cover up the prayer with bright cloth or leather and bind it with string or leather thongs. I have a special piece of batik cloth which a soldier brought back from Vietnam for his mother. She gave it to my mother, who gave it to me. I use it for all my ceremonial art pieces. Then you decorate the cloth—with things of a more natural bent, not plastic. In my case, I used shells, bells, tile beads, shell buttons (some dyed blue, some natural), bone beads, ribbons, and feathers. Feathers are very, very important. Almost every tradition I’ve read of speaks of feathers. They help the prayer fly up to the gods, you see. After all this—in the way I was taught—you find a secluded place where you can plant your stick in the ground, somewhere where it’s not likely to be disturbed because if someone touches it, the magic all goes away! You visit the stick every day at sunset or sunrise for ten days, and reiterate the prayer inked on it. After ten days it becomes just another decorated stick and you can pluck it from the ground again and do whatever you like with it. I placed mine on display in my room, and they have journeyed around with me now from place to place to place to place.

prayer sticks closeup

And no, I will not say what the prayers were for. I have a superstition of my own, that telling the prayer will make the magic all disappear. In fact, I’m only totally sure what one of those prayers was for (both were done many years ago). I also have a superstition about unwrapping the stick and peaking at the prayer. See above about magic disappearing. The one I’m sure of came true, so the stick did the trick. I suspect I know what the other one was, but I’m not entirely sure, and if it was what I think, then the gods found my prayer stick and me wanting. The prayer did not come true. No harm, no foul. Prayers sticks are about asking, not about receiving.

I did a lot of asking back in the day, back in that day.

This post is really about cultural appropriation

(more…)

Western. Educated. Industrialized. Rich. Democratic.

Most of the people who read my blog are not rich by American or European standards, but compared with the rest of the world, even the poorest of us are not doing bad at all. We in the West are not typical of the globe, although we often think of our culture as mainstream while the rest of the world is about “their culture.”

This is a interesting article from mindhacks.com about this attitude and how often scientists draw global conclusions about human nature based solely on studying the Western version of it. Then again, sometimes the cultural bias swings both ways…

Interesting things to think about.