I was recently asked what message I hope to convey when I write, after sharing some of my articles with a neighbor.
The tone in her voice was tentative at best, appearing to suggest that my European phenotype would not be able to hide how a “kass’aq (non-Native)” might respond to such a question. In spite of my slightly-crimson response that immediately warmed my skin, I paused a long while before stating that my message is simple-Harmony. If the Native people of Alaska can accept a young, non-Native girl as one of their own, why can’t we all learn from that and live in harmony-respecting and valuing one another? She responded with a very unguarded, “Wouldn’t that be nice.”
Wouldn’t it be nice if we all valued our respective cultures and languages and traditions? Yes. Wouldn’t it be nice if we were able to see beyond our differences and embrace them as opportunities to learn about someone/something else outside of our own private worlds? Yes. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could genuinely be happy for people who succeed and if we could respect different definitions of success? Yes. And, wouldn’t it be nice if we saw one another as fellow human beings, and not labels laden with stereotypes? Yes, it would. I had to agree. Answering her question, albeit uncomfortable, helped me organize my emotions in a constructive way.
It helped me articulate not only my message but also what inspires me to write.
Further thought reminded me that without being asked those difficult questions in life, we often become consumed with our own path (or rant if you will) without truly exploring and evaluating where it comes from or why we believe it. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “If the tongue had not been framed for articulation, man would still be a beast in the forest”. Therefore, being able to articulate my message clearly is not only a skill but also a necessity if I strive to accomplish anything with my writing. However, I use the word “accomplish” carefully, knowing that, like the word “success”, we each define “accomplish” subjectively as well. If lighting a fire, stirring the imagination, or evoking humor is your literary goal, then creative use of articulation is not only welcomed, but required. Similarly, if I want to convey a message of harmony, I need to carefully choose words that compliment the imagery I strive to portray for the reader. What better way to accomplish that than to explore what inspires me, in its entirety.
What inspires me is love-in all of its wonderful, and worldly forms. It is what we all strive towards from the day we are born, and it is one of life’s greatest motivations. It can create giants, heal the broken, and move mountains. And, like all great emotions, the lack of it can create monsters and perpetuate ugliness. Therefore, I believe that there is but one way to receive it constructively-with a completely open mind, heart, and soul. That means putting one’s own agenda aside and seeing others through a lens of acceptance and appreciation, regardless of your differences and any impressively negative social norms. To me, that is harmony.
So, why do I write about being Yugtun (Yup’ik), and about my rural beginnings from a Native perspective, as a non-Native person? Because I have experienced and know love.
It has shaped me to be who I am today, and it has inspired me to write the way I do, with respect for nature and our fellow human beings. It has also led me to discover a more articulate and eloquent message about harmonious living. If nothing else, that is my message: live in harmony and love unconditionally. Or, as C. JoyBell (author of The Sun is Snowing) states so articulately, “we are all equal in the fact that we are all different. We are all the same in the fact that we will never be the same. We are united by the reality that all colors and all cultures are distinct and individual. We are harmonious in the reality that we are all held to this earth by the same gravity. We don’t share blood, but we share the air that keeps us alive”.
Little did I know (at 10 years old), when I was sitting on the kitchen floor of an elderly Native woman’s home making akutaq (Eskimo ice cream) and speaking Yugtun (Yup’ik), that I was receiving one of the best kinds of love-one that plants the seed for cross-cultural harmony.