Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Return to Goree

How many returns will I make to this place, to this space? How many times will my path criss-cross the others and what shape will they design? Here we are again, where it all started and where it will all end: Return to Goree.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Ask Me

Some time when the river is ice ask me
mistakes I have made. Ask me whether
what I have done is my life. Others
have come in their slow way into
my thought, and some have tried to help
or to hurt: ask me what difference
their strongest love or hate has made.

I will listen to what you say.
You and I can turn and look
at the silent river and wait. We know
the current is there, hidden; and there
are comings and goings from miles away
that hold the stillness exactly before us.
What the river says, that is what I say.

-William Stafford

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Running in place

So it's been almost two months since I last posted. I've been busy. It strikes me that I have spent most of this fall not only adjusting to life back in the United States, but life in a new place and truly in a new mode of existence, in which no one even remotely validates the choices I have made. I don't know quite what to do with this. There is no one standing there saying, "Your experience is valuable. This is significant no matter how meaningless it may seem at the time." This doesn't mean that I don't still believe it; but when people press me, I have fewer things to say in defense of myself. And yet I feel, and feel is the word, that I am in the right place. I haven't been here for long enough to know where I'm going, but maybe I'm not going anywhere right now and that's ok. If here is where I'm going, then that's just fine with me.

For a while, I was working 40 hours a week for a slightly controlling film producer and director who has Charcot-Marie-Tooth syndrome, a regressive muscle disease that currently has her confined to a wheelchair with her arms paralyzed. She is in the middle of launching a national tour for her documentary on racism in health care. I don't know whether it was the particular dynamics of this job, the personalities, or the tasks, but 40 hours a week is a lot of work, especially when it's not exactly what I find rewarding, challenging, and inspiring in life.

So I quit. This was a good thing; I felt I had freed myself before getting permanently trapped.
I am being forced to make a lot of big decisions lately, and I'm finding that I am most at peace when I choose the most rebellious option. So I am currently doing one of the things I said I would do. No, not apply to graduate schools, actually. I am working part-time as an editorial assistant, freelance writing and playing music gigs. So far it's paying my ridiculously low rent for the room I share with Andy, buying some nice food, and keeping the car running. I think that's a success.

On my day off this week, I took the Metro-North train into New York to visit Columbia. I got off at 125th Street, took the bus down to 116th, and found myself in East Harlem, seven blocks from campus. Oops. So I walked back to Morningside Park and up the hill and to a great seminar on Caribbean music in the ethnomusicology department. There was more fun to be had at a lunch lecture with three scholars from Brazil, who talked about the value of participatory research, where researchers who travel to foreign countries work cooperatively with the people there, rather than continuing to objectify them as ethnomusicology and anthropology have done historically. This addressed one of the major reasons why I have had doubts about going into ethnomusicology - that it has colonial overtones of superiority, power, and the control of knowledge. This issue came up in the seminar, too, when the professor brought up the work of a controversial Ghanaian scholar who has accused the discipline of ethnomusicology, even in this day and age, of doing violence to African culture in its study of African music. The professor noted that he had been offended by this scholar's negative appraisal of the discpline as a whole, without acknowledging the past 20 years of advances in cultural studies and activist musicology. But isn't this always going to be an issue? Even if we could say that the age of colonialism had passed (and I don't think we can), aren't the issues of power and privilege still in constant play in our interactions with other societies? Aren't we bound to consider that as responsible human beings? My subsequent meeting with this professor was a little bit of a turn-off, but others in the department held my interest. The question now is timing. To stay, to go? I'm happy here, but is there more out there? Should I reach higher, jump through flaming hoops of fire?

Who knows. Tonight I cleaned the shower and that seemed like accomplishment enough.