storying and the storied

last week was strange for a number of reasons, not the least of which involved a meeting of faculty that was not a faculty meeting, or a department meeting, or any other configuration of faculty members who convene for largely administrative purposes.  we had convened voluntarily, in response to an invitation to inquire together about the nexus of globalization, education, and citizenship.  my feelings can be summed up in the tweet i twittered as i walked to my office after leaving my colleagues with whom i felt like i had engaged in something unique:

finding my way back to play from TwitterBerry

we were asked by our colleague and facilitator to reflect on a moment of transculturalism or transnationalism that we had experienced, either in our recent or distant or anywhere-in-between past. and here's where the strange quotient increases - the first story that popped into my mind was the great dosa tale of 2nd grade. i will write that story down at some point - i've certainly shared it verbally enough times! - but the story for right now is about why my mind went there, to that particular moment when i was seven. a moment that, by all means, could only be characterized as mortifying and emotionally scarring.  but given the previous events of last week, this tale became reframed in my mind as evocative of something different: a profound moment of self-definition and inquiry into identity that resonates with all subsequent invitations to inquiry and identity work...

i began to think about my grandmother early last week.  at the end of class tuesday night i gave a brief preview of the book we'll discuss during the next class, the magical life of long tack sam. the author of the text, and documentary filmmaker, ann marie fleming, composed the book and a film of the same name following from her inquiry into her family's history and learning of her great-grandfather's magical life as a world renown acrobat and magician.  the texts are worth more than a few pages of reflection themselves, but i'll just say here that in both form and content, fleming's storying of her family history evokes images of transnational migration, strength, personal and collective triumph, war, family, and peace among many others.  as i offered a brief preview in class, inviting us to attend to both form and content and the collective meanings fleming offers the reader, i continued to think about my own acts of personal storying, which flourished when i was in graduate school and which have largely diminished in the five years since...

the following day, i found my way back to a public library.  i was so moved by the realization that i blogged about the at-once new and familiar rush of emotions that swept over me.  i was again transported to a practice so dominant in my youth; to a space and structure that held deep personal meaning for how i made sense of myself in the then-present, and how i imagine my younger self now. i tweeted about the boy who shared a table with me, and allowed me to understand another dimension of public library life:

hair aflame w/a mop of orange. eyes focused on math puzzle hw. in silence, until rendezvous w/mom. she asks abt his day; he beams. #twitpoem

so in our faculty seminar, when presented with the invitation to engage in sustained inquiry - with thought and emotion, with storied reflection - about the intersections across otherwise banal terms such as globalization, education, and citizenship, my mind immediately flooded with images, feelings, details; i understood what fleming meant when she concluded her film by saying "memory is magic" and noting in writing that "history is relatives."

i have a working title for my inquiry: a is for assimilation.  there is a simplicity in that phrase that captures the nuances of learning to speak english from my floppy haired neighbor; constantly negotiating a very full identity dance card; pursuing language and literacy-based study in my studies and professional life; confronting the vestiges of my own identity work, begun nearly thirty years ago with trepidation and which is still very much under construction.

it isn't often when multiple strands of inquiry align, but when they do like they seem to have recently, the effect is awe-some. i concluded my week by attending a screening of fleming's film, originally released in 2003 but being rescreened to celebrate a new exhibit at the moca.  during the q&a, fleming mentioned that she began research for her film 10 years after her grandmother, the daughter of long tack sam, had died.  this year marks the tenth anniversary of my paternal grandmother's death; the person for whom i was named and with whom i shared a bedroom for the first several years of my life.   i've begun tweeting questions that i would have asked her if i had thought to do so at the time (#q4gma).  i think about the way she is storied in family lore, and how storied her siblings, parents, and ancestors.  hers was an unexpected transnational narrative that she negotiated for the last twenty years of her life.  so when i find myself undoubtedly mired in writing, revision, and analysis already on the schedule for the next several months, i will rejoice in the occasional opportunities to let my mind explore, making the familiar strange again, and play within the loosely facilitated structure of a seminar... just like grad school.  (i even became a bit giddy when reading and questions to guide our thinking were assigned...) 

this time, i'll take my namesake along for the ride. 


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