28 February, 2013

About this blog

I figured it's about time to explain the ideas embedded in "Rambling Wəçak". The title, for instance.

The rambling part is easy enough. I ramble. It's how i approach life, how i travel, how i write. There's a goal in mind, but the process of reaching it is more about being attentive to things, investigating them and learning about them than a single-minded chase. Rambling lets things lead to each other naturally. Which naturally leads to... that other word. It's a totem animal, actually: woodchuck.

Late in adolescence i was fascinated with all things native: native plant gardening, traditional skills, native American aesthetics - or, as I've since learned to think of them - culturally appropriated aesthetics, images outside their original cultural context. I cultivated native medicinals, built a brown ash packbasket, and soaked and spudged a basswood tree until i could peel the layers of wood apart one by one and roll them into twine. I pondered the relationship between life and place in a post-colonial, globalised world; what kind of life could be truly native to this remixed environment?

As a gardener, i developed an odd affinity for my worst enemy, that burrowing marmot who devours legumes - be it wild clover or the snap beans i so carefully planted - and is surprisingly aggressive when cornered. I had to relocate or euthanize a few in defense of crops, but somehow the woodchuck is still among my favorite animals. In a practical sense, its burrowing behavior can symbolize hiding from your problems and, in certain traditions, the woodchuck is a totem symbolizing the dreamtime. (That's a pretty liberal remix of terms, for which i apologize; I'm no student of shamanism.)

As it turns out, the woodchuck is also an animal whose Algonqian (Iroquois?) name is still pretty evident in what we call it today. Having seen the original word transliterated as "wejak", i started to play with phonetics. I borrowed an IPA symbol and a letter from the Turkish alphabet, hybridizing ways of representing a similar thing.

Language is to me one of the greatest object lessons we have. A tree, ağaç, etz... different labels for a singular phenomenon, much as different perceptions of singular Being have given rise to an ever-branching tree of religious ideas throughout the evolution of human thought.

It's hard to explain my focus exactly, but that focus is the point where environment, culture, and media collide. Our media - including language itself - are embedded and embodied structures giving rise to culture; in developed societies, media and culture together form as large, if not a larger portion of our environment than the natural. When we look at the world around us, we're not simply looking at, say, trees. We're looking as well at all the cultural referents we have internalized; trees in poetry, mythology and symbolism, images of deforestation, social schemas, discourses of pastoralism and environmental risk. And this media-culture-environment is the petri dish incubating our lifestyles and actions.

Let's leap for a second to the language of storytelling. What makes a story dramatic? Conflict. Whether it's between lovers or political opponents (interpersonal); between the individual and society - a grand theme of the last century - or humans and the forces of nature (extrapersonal); even and especially our intrapersonal conflicts - these are the terms in which we describe existence. Battles, struggles, skirmishes, all in the effort to create identities based on independence from our parents, from society, government; to maintain our nationalistic identities, the list goes on. Damn, i just added psychology and politics to the brew.

Western thought has long been criticized for its dualism, the either/or mentality of dependence and independence, black and white. Life is more subtle than that. Each being is interdependent, making its own rambling way within a field of forces over which it has no control. I'm not interested in media, culture, and environment as an intellectual abstract. To me it's a holistic pursuit - about becoming aware and through media, creating cultures aware of that interdependence.