Friday, November 5, 2021

Claiming Identity

Part of me is envious of people born into clear identity, like Sherri Mitchell of the Penobscott Nation who I have quoted often in these pages and my good friend Kofi Gbolonyo from the Ewe people in Dzodze, Ghana. They have learned invaluable life lessons from their elders and extended families, identified with the land in which they were born and carry with them the songs, proverbs, stories gifted to them from their culture as carriers of cultural values and spirit. 

 

By contrast, I loved wandering around Warinanco Park in Roselle, New Jersey where I grew up, but can tell you very little about the local watersheds, animal lives, names of trees and properties of the local plants. There is some legacy of Russian Jews flowing in my veins, but I can’t articulately name the qualities of that blood flow. I can tell you episodes I remember from The Twilight Zone and Leave It To Beaver from TV, but these are not mythologies to pass on to the next generation to teach how to live with grace on this earth. 

 

And so the sense of exile from a clear belonging, of search for my lost tribe. And that has its own power, that gathering of the poems, novels, musical compositions and styles, songs, stories, teachers, artists and more that speak to my condition and help me form my own landscape of belonging, my own life-sustaining mythology from the cross-currents of diverse influences. And then finding others who arrived in similar places and either discover and create that sense of tribe. 

 

That is not easy work. In some ways, the school where I worked so long was my tribe until I felt betrayed by some and in some ways, cast out, by others. (Though, to be honest, appreciated and embraced by most all the kids and a good percentage of the teachers). The group of men I’ve met with for over three decades held some promise, but once again, I often found the conversations not strumming the strings that meant music to me and my own talk falling flat, all call and no response. And AOSA, the national Orff organization I’ve tried hard to connect with for so many years, has always been a hit-and-miss proposition. 

 

And that’s where I am now and have spent the day walking into workshop after workshop and not finding the energy I need to keep me there. I can read the vibrations of the room within 30 seconds and class after class, feeling too little musical energy, too little soulful engagement, too much of the bright screen with dead words on it. Some of it is fine, but so little of it is wholly engaging and inspired and both the topics of conversation and levels of depth of thought not what I need or what I seek. Not wholly my tribe.

 

By contrast, I was so drawn in by the Collective Trauma Summit I attended virtually and that sense of “my people!” with strangers I was meeting on screens. The ideas presented were alive and vibrant and needed and spoken from the depth of the heart, each word pressed from the mix of lived experience and imaginative thought. Quite a welcome change from discussing whether we should repeat the A section of the poem once or twice at the end or hearing people emptily mouth the 4 C’s of 21st century learning without any sense of spark in their voice.


My complaints are neither arrogance nor insult, but the combination of lament that finding my tribe is so elusive and concern that we’re talking about the wrong things as the world burns around us. Every idea that reveals our trauma, that notes what cries out to be attended to, that is spoken with the full conviction of our muscles, bone and breath is water thrown on fire. Which is to say by contrast that every action and thought that carries on as if all is fine is dangerous and those that go further and actively try to shut down our questioning and courage and curiosity is downright treasonous to the human species. 

 

These are good people in these conference doing good work, but in my experience, not deeply enough. I keep looking for those who not only resonate with my work, but offer their own to reveal what I’m missing. Off to a few more sessions today, looking for my people.

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