Nacotchtank

In Australia, it is becoming a relatively common practice to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land where important meetings and government functions take place. They recognize the people who occupied the land they are on and sometimes are given a little bit of relevant history by a representative of the tribe. Australia has a VERY VERY shaky history with indigenous people, in ways similar to and distinct from the US, but that is evidence that at least some effort toward peace and justice is being made.

I had never heard of the Nacotchtank until yesterday, when I decided what I wanted to write my Independence Day blog post about. They are a tribe that is no more, one of the countless victims of White People in History. Facing encroaching violent settlers and dwindling numbers, they departed their homeland and became absorbed by larger tribes in the area.

They lived throughout what is now the District of Columbia, including on Capital Hill itself. Archaeological relics, including pottery and bones, have been found under and around the Supreme Court, White House, and Bolling Air Force Base. We owe them at very least the name Anacostia, some weird Latinization of Nacotchtank. In case you haven’t heard of it, the Anacostia is the river that flows into the Potomac in the southeast part of the District.

The National Museum of the American Indian (which, yikes, not even going to talk about that) has said that they only briefly mention the tribe because it essentially ceased to exist in the early eighteenth century, instead preferring to speak with the living tribes in the area–which they do, so that’s good. I’m not convinced we need to go back and find all the historical groups, especially on the East Coast, that’s just not really possible.

However. On some level, we need to remember. Not only were other people here first, people were here first and we deliberately exterminated them.

To be clear, I think America is a good idea. I appreciate the thought, and in many ways the reality, of the United States. But there’s a lot of very dark history that we consistently, as a nation, refuse to reckon with. I think that’s a big reason why there’s a lot of very dark present times. Because people who are not indigenous feel no compunction about railing against ‘illegal’ immigration.

ALL WHITE PEOPLE EXIST IN THIS COUNTRY BECAUSE OF COLONIALISM ie theft, murder, and genocide.

In a practical sense, yes, we are here and we have set up a government and that government should function appropriately. But in a sort of macro sense, we are still an occupying force hostile toward the local population. In a practical sense, immigration policy needs reform of course but is itself, in principle, a valid thing. In a larger way, though, borders are arbitrary and imaginary so why not let any and all people live anywhere they wish. Reality is a thing that we have to deal with, definitely, but so is morality so…

I do not imagine or expect this country to be perfect. And as a citizen, I am certainly not exerting every possible effort to effect the change that I wish to see. Even so, I think it is important that we, collectively, at least are trying to work toward justice and peace in a meaningful way. And we aren’t. Instead, we’re setting up concentration camps and killing innocents, then dehumanizing them by calling them illegals.

This is a pretty good place to live. A good place to be born. Especially but not exclusively for white men. But most of the ‘American idea’ stuff also exists in other countries and a lot of them do it better. Now more than ever, I just don’t feel much like celebrating. I don’t know exactly what should be done, Australia is an example of some bare minimum effort but isn’t necessarily the template to follow. And I think that I, as a white guy, probably shouldn’t be the one figuring it out. At least not on my own.

But here and now I want to apologize for my complicity in the oppression of indigenous peoples here and abroad. And I want to continue to do better.


I apologize, I’m too upset thinking about all this to include cats. I don’t want to subject them to this level of negative emotion.

Leaving tomorrow morning for a brief stop in St Louis. Wish me luck, it’s a long drive.

Glitter

I have been staying in the DMV (not to be confused with the DMZ, or even the Department of Motor Vehicles) this week. In case you’re unaware, that would be the colloquial name for the national capital region–District, Maryland, Virginia. Mostly in Maryland, but hey.

I have a number of connections in the area and it’s been good to catch up with a number of them. I was here only last spring but wasn’t able to see all the people I’d have liked to see but now, being here for a bit longer, I have been enjoying reconnecting a bit. Met some people, will meet some more this coming week. It’s been very restful and restorative.

Plus, you know, the anxiety of still not having a job. Moving on.

Next up, I need to have another little cat gallery. I have been very grateful to stay with one of my friends here and she is the lovely mother of the lovely Jackson! So a special feature on him this week because I finally met him in person. He is absolutely adorable and is one of the few cats I’ve ever met who does the little ‘chirp’ thing that I sometimes read in novels. He does it a lot but it isn’t really annoying, mostly it just continues to be cute (and cat mom, who hears it all the time, agrees).

He especially likes shoulder and hip rubs, in case you ever meet him.

Though I have heretofore seen precious little of fireflies in their peak season, I have been blessed to see some truly dazzling displays this week. Sitting in the dark on a park bench, watching a hot and humid night unfurl its shadowed glories, seeing a sparkling landscape echo the slowly emerging stars overhead. Sara Teasdale said, in reference to the stars and applicable to fireflies as well, “I know that I/ Am honored to be/ Witness/ Of so much majesty.”

Some of you may yet be unaware, but people like me don’t actually die. Instead, when our time comes, we either dissolve into a shimmering cloud of glitter or dissipate in a cloud of noxious fume, depending on how we lived our lives. Fun fact.

There is so much hurting in the world right now. It is a world filled with troubles of various kinds but in particular, I feel outraged and helpless about the horrible situation around immigration right now: raids, concentration camps, deprivation, fear. It is not right. I do not know what to do.

When faced with stuff like that, I don’t know how to be. There are some things, like contacting your congressional representatives and donating (in any way) to organizations like these (and as I’ve said before, even better if you’re able to support them long-term). I don’t know if that stuff really makes a difference, you know? How can I live my life in a way that is moving toward glitter in such circumstances?

I have not read Middlemarch by George Eliot but a friend recently drew to my attention a section toward the end. Regarding the main character, she writes:

“But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”

I do not think that there is anything inherently noble in living in obscurity. I wonder though, there must surely be some kind of valor in a life humbled, either in spirit or by circumstance, where one remains firmly committed to goodness. The kind of life with sufficient glitter in the metaphysical sense but not a whole lot of external, visible glitter.

Clearly, I have no idea what I’m saying at this point. Something about trying to help, something about being good and humble and selfless. Take from this mess of a post what you will. I hope our actions makes the world better.

No Such Beauty

Before I get into anything else, a small observation that struck me for a sec this week. I wrote a sentence or two last week about appreciating the later evenings. As a sign of spring. I realized this week: I’m not used to it being dark. And not in the seasonal, latitudinal sense. Like, obviously I’ve been back for a while. And was in New Zealand before that. But Seoul was never dark. Ever. And I missed it. There are lots of advantages to city living and a lot of reasons that I miss that, too. But I think somewhere inside, living in a city kills me a little bit.

Anyway, on to something that brings me life. Cats. And also other things, probably.

Camaro2018-4-18

This past weekend I was tremendously privileged to be able to attend the Chamber Singers reunion at American University, my undergrad alma mater. I was a member of Chamber Singers my whole time at AU, including tours to Russia and the Balkans. I’ve only been absent from DC for three years (almost exactly) but a lot has happened in that time. This reunion was a deeply welcome change of pace and settling of heart.

I was in Choral Society at Trinity, but that was a) not a very in-depth choral experience, as enjoyable as it was and b) finished more that two years ago. And in the intervening time, I have not been a part of a musical group of any description. The only singing I’ve done has been to myself or at church. And that truly was and remains a hard thing for me.

So this past weekend was a bit of a remedy for that, however brief. Friday and Saturday were absolutely gorgeous, a particular blessing in light of the bizarre weather they’ve had this year (and spring weather in general). They were too hot, in my opinion, peaking in the mid-eighties. Sunday and Monday were grey, rainy, and mid-fifties. What can you do. I got to see cherry blossoms galore, daffodils galore (my second favorite flower), and a regional tree climbing competition because apparently that’s a thing.

Also, I visited the Wheaton station on the metro for the express purpose of riding on the longest escalator in the western hemisphere. Apparently I’ve already ridden on the longest in the world, a three way tie between stations on the St Petersburg metro.

There were plenty of alumni events during the weekend. It was quite a crowd, about 55 of us (from a group that’s usually around 30 at any given time) with graduations ranging from 2004 to this past winter. I think I’ve made it clear that I don’t do large social situations well and these were no exception. I’m uncomfortable and that’s that. But it was still a special kind of soothing to be around some old faces, old friends, and other people who I barely met for thirty seconds but who cared enough about singing to come out for it.

After the (smaller) concert on Sunday, I was also able to catch up in person with my best friend whom I hadn’t seen in three years (since graduation, pretty much). And that was really good. I wish that I had stayed longer–I didn’t have anything pressing back here. We’ll see how the job search goes, maybe I’ll be back for another visit sooner rather than later.

Our alumni group was actually integrated into the current Singers’ regular spring concert which had a very laid-back vibe focused on some favorite songs. One in particular, which we sang on tour in Russia after my freshman year, we sang as a joint ensemble some 85 strong. One line, in fact, in the midst of a text that feels definitely applicable to my current aimlessness.

There is no such beauty as where you belong.

I’m not sure where, exactly, in the world I belong. Where in life, where in all kinds of metaphysical senses. And, as I’ve said before, I wasn’t 100% comfortable with all the people I was singing with. But there’s a power in music and I can say with certainty that I belonged on that stage at that moment. I belong in music.

I feel like some people feel that way about sports or whatever else moves people, so I probably don’t really have to explain it any further. One way or another, this weekend was exactly what I needed it to be.