As part of the workshops at Crow’s Nest Center USA, we are gifted with stories from the fire guardian Bob. The most recent sharing planted a question, along with the teaching by workshop leader C. Michael Smith: What are you “of”? This query is not the standard measure by which many make small talk about the Job (“What do you do?”), the Family (“Do you have kids?”), Geography (“Where are you from?), or Racial-Ethnic Origins (“What are you?”).
“What are you of?”resonates much deeper than the surface skated over dinner-table introductions, which I find myself at a loss for these days. Neither my work (“A Portal…” 2012) nor my identity (“Cherokee” 2008) is summed up by categories or catch phrases. And while I take pleasure not fitting in boxes easily offered, casual exchanges can become … interesting when someone’s curiosity is left unsatiated.
This inward look at being and being “of” took root quite awhile ago. From a young age, I asked about the meaning of life, including my own. The quest went dynamic during my last leg of grad school (“A Prelude to ‘Discursive Earthquakes’” 2004), and truly plunged after breaking off that last institutional affiliation more than six years ago. Writing was clearly the next direction, although learning to walk that path took time and innovation.
Writing continues to be a foundation for much of what I do, yet it no longer is a catch-all (… and I reflect that is never was). This transformation of my creative process crystallized during a Crow’s Nest workshop in Belgium last fall. My heart beat these truths: who I am is not what I do, and what I do does not require a label. In other words, I need not fixate on what to call my work, nor limit this work to what is considered “work” in the wider world. The path is mine to shape.
The question that surfaced strongly for me during that fall workshop was, “What brings me joy?” Since then, I aim to be of joy, a sense that where I am in a given moment is the place to be. Am I of joy, though? Sometimes. Often in the creative process I experience uplift, altering the perception of challenge into opportunity. Often drumming and shamanic journeying transform angst into peace. Being in a community or circle in which I give and receive is a joyful experience … as is being with my dogs!
Maybe you can relate to my pause in the face of simple questions like, “What do you do?” since simple answers are far from my experience these days. For instance, there is no day job that defines me, nor anyone else for that matter. My present work is to bring a certain book art into being, to give over to the process that unfolds, a creative-healing adventure that mixes media and genre. As a seeker, my quest is to follow that inner compass of joy.
No need to answer me, dear readers, but may the question, “What are you of?” offer a chance to pause, unlike the dinner-side table talk. May joy speak to you, and may you hear its voice!