“I understand that fear is my friend, but not always. Never turn your back on Fear. It should always be in front of you, like a thing that might have to be killed.” -Hunter S. Thompson, Kingdom of Fear
Jess waves me over in the library.
“I wanted to tell you. I went to the bathroom earlier, and there were these three 14 year old girls in there. And I went into the stall, and they started laughing. And then they turned the bathroom light off on me and walked out, laughing harder. And I just sat in the dark on the toilet, staring at the stall door. I really couldn’t see anything at all. I felt like I was in middle school again,” she paused, and looked at me with a smile mixed with a little humorous frown.
“Annie…I felt like I was bullied.”
We laugh. Because it all hits a little too close to home for us right now and speaks to how we feel overall. And mostly because it’s absurd and I love the way we constantly find things to burst out into spontaneous, mutual laughter about.
“The only difference between the Sane and the Insane in this world, is the Sane have the power to have the Insane locked up. That is the bottom line. CLANG! Go immediately to prison. You crazy bastard, you should have been locked up a long time ago. You are a dangerous freak- I am rich, and I want you castrated.” -HST
I did say I wanted experience this year, whatever that entailed. I was lost, and now I am continually being found. I opened myself up to opportunity, and on the whole I don’t regret it. I want to make a life of it. And so when I’m looking back on my life choices, and asking myself how the fuck I ended up in this hard ass situation, I am reminded that I wouldn’t have had it any other way. And if I’m going to talk about having experiences to write about, I’ve got to own up to the fact that they end up taking place. No one promised me life was going to be safe and easy. And I promised myself that I would push the boundaries in my own way.
“Contradictions abound, as well as dangerous quirks that sometimes make people afraid- which is not a bad thing on some days: Fear is a mechanism that is common to felines, wolves, hyenas, and most humans. Even fruit bats know fear, and I salute them for it. If you think the world is weird now, imagine how weird it would be if wild beasts had no fear.” -HST
This morning we have our conference call with campus, where we all declare wholeheartedly that we want to be sent back to Sacramento early. We literally go around in a circle, and each state that we need to be sent back as soon as possible. Including our leader, who actually starts crying.
At the meeting, staff confirmed they will be discussing the entirety of our situation on Monday, and making decisions from there. Going back to Sacramento is on the table. If that does not happen, we all voiced in a united front that we do not feel comfortable continuing to participate in this project any longer.
For fun, I tell campus about the experience of being aggressively flipped off yesterday. I clarify that I do not feel threatened by the people here, but feel that I am threatening the people and their now delicate culture and way of life by what I’m doing here.
Inupiat people and culture tends to be very quiet, but very welcoming. And one of the main values is avoidance of conflict. Most of the people that I spoke with yesterday, asking what they thought of the “tundra garden proposal” (I call it a proposal, not a finality) nodded meekly, and walked away. Communication is super subtle in this culture, but the subtlety has not been lost on my team and I. I believe the flipping off yesterday epitomized what a lot of people might feel about us in varying degrees, but are too polite, kind and reserved to express.
I also acknowledged that communities are not always going to be receptive to the government coming in and “doing what’s best for them.” But this situation is unique, based on the history of oppression and culture killing of Native Americans, still taking place today.
Yes, maybe our place here is to learn just how that good intentioned “American Dream,” “my way or the highway” and “save the pagans” history of the US government has, and continues to take place. The American governmental past of sending natives to boarding schools to “civilize them” and “help them learn the right way to live,” is right in our faces up here, as we commit a subtler form of this patronization.
So are we are here so we can get inside the heads of this culturally imperialistic mindset, and see how shitty it is right up close, and how the American government is still blinded (unknowingly or knowingly) to the plight of the continually diminishing Native American culture? This place is so unique, Barrow is isolated and is the least touched by globalization and “Western ways” that I’ve ever experienced in my life. But I feel our place here is sending a shiver of change and fear of the outside world down the local’s spines. We are simply a representative part of the continuing deterioration of the strength of their sublime, traditional culture, and their history of self sustaining.
I see we haven’t changed as a government in this phone call as I run up against arguments of bureaucratic interests over the human and cultural relativity interests I am pointing to.
Who am I to fly across the world and tell people how to live? Who is anyone to do this? Promoting what the locals call “American food,” as an employee of the American government? Isn’t that what has been happening for centuries, with different agendas and focuses? I don’t want a part in it. And while it’s a learning experience, how much of a price are these people and their culture paying for these few “Americans” to “learn”?
“We are not at war. We are having a nervous breakdown” -HST
Deciding to spend the day on the other side of town, I splurge and buy some food at the grocery store.
After searching all around for the peanuts, I finally ask someone. He walks me through the aisles in our mad quest for these legumes, and then two other people join in the search. One is this nice local boy about my age, who is working with his Mom, and they are cracking each other up, and cracking me up. And it’s so beautiful how easy interaction is here now, when I’m not advertising for the controversial tundra project I have conflicting ethical opinions on. People have begun to recognize me in town, and I’ve begun to recognize them. And it feels similar to walking into Westloop Dillon’s in Manhattan, Kansas. Sharing those smiles and getting high off of them.
I go to checkout after we find the peanuts, everyone laughing at the tail chasing that we had to go through to find them. And the quiet high schooler at the counter looks at me and laughs with his eyes.
“Back again,” I announce with a smile.
He smiles, and continues to check me out. As I’m walking off he says, “I’ll see you tomorrow, I guess.”
And I say, “Actually, you’ll probably just see me later today.
I say this as a joke, but literally ten minutes later I’m back in the AC store because I’ve forgotten to buy my coffee.
And I’m treating myself today. Peanuts, yogurt, apple juice and coffee. Going to read all day.
“When you travel like I did, vague about destination and with an open-ended itinerary, a holy-seeming openness takes over your character. It’s the reason the first philosophers were peripatetic… I was like a blank canvas waiting to be filled with what she told me.” -Middlesex
Deep breaths. Just for me. Not for my writings. Just for me.
I put on my headphones. I inform the complexity of life that I am unavailable for the afternoon.
“The piano is not, firewood yet. Your heart beats in threes, just like a waltz. And nothing can stop you from dancing.” -Regina Spektor, Firewood