telling the story

August 21, 2009 § 5 Comments

you know last winter, around december, i was on twitter chatting as one does, and through the convo, i had an idea of interviewing my cousin who lives in rural south carolina.  she and i are only a year apart.  and every summer i would go down south for a couple of months to hang out with my cousins.  anyways, we always played city mouse country mouse.  and didnt really talk that much when we were teenagers.  but she was my inspiration for becoming a doula.

anyways, i had this idea of interviewing her, she has three kids, has been on govt assistance and now works as a social worker for teenage moms.  i wanted to interview her about being a single mom, living in the rural south, and what that means in terms of her and her clients ability to access govt assistance.  and i wanted to look at that and then look at my interactions with govt assistance, as a partnered mama living in the urban midwest whose working with teenage moms.  sort looking at these threads of family, and relations, north and south, single, partnered, mama hood, rural and urban…just our life stories…and what that meant through the framework of a welfare office…building off of conversations we had while i was preggers and studying to be a doula…

well i was thinking of doing it.  and then i was told that partnered mamas comparing themselves to single mamas was insulting to a certain single mama who i had a lot of respect for.  and so i put it on hiatus because i wanted to think about that.  i wanted to think about what stories do i tell.  what does it mean to be a writer.  ethically can i only tell my story.  what does my story mean.  how do i feel about people who write about mother hood but are not mothers themselves.

do i resent the fact that because they are not mothers they probably have a lot more time than i do to write about motherhood?  do i feel that only mothers can write about motherhood?  what about people who are not mothers but write about their mothers.  or their sisters who are mothers.  or the parents of their god children.

considering all the people who weave in and out of my life how can i write my story without telling the stories of others as well through my eyes.

how do i write about sisterhood without writing about my sisters.

obviously there are incredible ethical questions in writing.  whose story do we tell.  and how.  and what do we think of as a story anyways.  and how do we choose the stories that we do.

but i realize that i must be courageous enough to face these questions.  that i have known for as long as i can remember that i am a story teller.  and part of being a story teller.  or following any god calling.  is to face the ethics of how we do our calling in this fucked up world. and to me part of being a radical woman of color is facing those questions.  around origins, accountability, ethics, framing, voice.

so i am going to do this lil interview series.  esp.  since i am out of the country for so long and feel disconnected to my blood family.  i havent been to homecoming in ages. i miss pine trees and sand and broken bridges.  dirt roads and rusted pick up trucks.

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§ 5 Responses to telling the story

  • NaksibendiMuslimah says:

    to be honest, it’s these sorts of ethical arguments that contributed to my “taking a break from writing”. obviously, it’s not the only reason (i was, and remain, fed up with a certain community’s consistent demand that writers and artists contribute work for no pay, with little or conflicting parameters, and to keep submitting more and more, all while also limiting female writers to “certain” topics), but it is a reason. i constantly fight with myself over how i am representing Muslims, how i am representing Native people, am i indirectly contributing to stereotypes, am i telling a story that it is my place to try to tell, why is my own story considered not-as-valid because of x, y or z? my answer to you would be that you must tell your story, it is a valid story, you have every right to it. and that you must show the world what you see, which means, yes, you are gonna tell other people’s stories too… people who aren’t afforded the opportunity right now to tell their own story (even as we support them to be able to), etc. you can only tell what you see, and as a storyteller, as an artist, you see things your own way. that doesn’t make your way invalid. now if only i could take my own advice. 🙂

  • mama says:

    ha ha. aaminah. i have also recently gotten into the habit of trying to take the advice that i would give others. like obviously its ok for you to take a rest. obviously you are a great mama. obviously you arent obligated to do xyz. its okay if the house is a mess.
    and i know that internal struggle doesnt end. how am i representing my communities. is my daughter going to look back on this writing 15 years from now and feel wronged.
    there was thing that habibi pointed out to me about accompaniment. he said that at its best. you are just lending an extra hand. like a lot of communities would like to be able to document their struggles. but at the moment they are more concerned with grazing sheep every day and so cant hold a video camera while they are doing it. so they ask one of us to hold the video camera for them.
    now we were also told that they would like us to record their interactions with the soldiers, without us being seen. because the way that the soldiers speak to them when we are present is much dift than the way they speak to the shepherds when they are alone. so our presence changes what is happening. and what we are recording is in part a story of our presence.
    i dont know what i am trying to say here. that recording and representation is not ethically pure i guess. and there are really deep questions. and no easy or universal answers…
    but i really appreciate and am grateful that i can share stories. and i love supporting folks being able to tell their stories. cause we all need support doing so.
    you know? i mean i had to acknowledge that when i choose not to tell my stories i am making a statement as well. and that statement can be read multiple ways.
    i mean audre said that our silence wouldnt protect us. but i am thinking of it more like…there is no such thing as silence. we are speaking all the time. whether or not we utter a word…
    ha ha ha…im rambling…ah well…

  • NaksibendiMuslimah says:

    ah yes, like “not making a choice is also making a choice”. so silence is another way of making a statement. and just like how our words can be misunderstood or misrepresented, our silence also can be. and yes, i totally know what you mean about how when we tell someone’s story, even with their permission, we are still telling it as we see it and it is changed by our presence and involvement. no easy answers.

  • If it helps, sometimes questions and these very reflections ur expressing can be part of the story. Point is, this is your story, and your reality, your thoughts. You’re not imposing your reality on your cousin’s, you’re reflecting on the similarities/differences from your perspective…

    • mama says:

      @tigera,
      actually that is a great idea of bringing this whole question of ‘how do we tell a story’ explicitly into the piece. thanks!

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