Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Born to Run - Bruce Springsteen


This Christmas, I got Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen as a present.  I'm never sure what came first, the chicken or the egg, writers and poets or my own interest in identity?  But Bruce Springsteen was one of those people who got me thinking as a teenager.  His Born in the USA album was something I had pretty much on repeat during my first year in high school.  The album wasn't new, but the thoughts; about war and Vietnam,  racial conflict, unemployment, what it means to live in place, and identities we are born into - were new to me.

Born to Run does focus on identity - or rather, it looks at what motivated the original thoughts, and the process of working on the various recordings.  It also focuses a great deal on relationships, what it means to be a person in a social, political, work related or family context, and the troubles we sometimes have along the way.  Bruce Springsteen has always written about relationships, but Born to Run emerged out of a long process of therapy and self-exploration.  The result is a coherent story about where he came from, the journey travelled, and those he met on the road.

We are introduced to the complex, drunk, neglectful and sometimes terrifying father, his very capable mother with her Italian work ethic, sister Virginia, who married young, and whose early life inspired song The River, baby sister, Pam, and all those friends he met along the way.  Bruce Springsteen also introduces us to his many different identities.  We get to know the sensitive child, the determined teenager, the traveller, the reflexive and politically aware young adult, the lost wanderer who searches for home, and the family man.

There's the story of broken down cars, lost dogs, and a whole lot of hitchhiking.  In some ways, the book reminded me of On the Road and I imagine Bruce Springsteen intended this, comparing himself to Sal Paradise by drawing up images of Dean Moriarty on his first trip west.   Sal's wanderings came between marriages, and he searched for the ghosts of lost fathers.  Bruce Springsteen's journey included marriage, and involved an exploration of fatherhood, Catholicism and even the great navy blue sky, seen from a stadium floor before playing to a once only imagined audience.

But Bruce Springsteen, while having the energy Sal only writes about, focuses more on his internal life.  He shares his depression, his anxiety, his search for meaning, his determination and his desire to make a difference.  Music is a passion, and he brings the adrenalised experience of playing to an audience to life, sharing the highs, the fears and the doubts of standing on a stage in front of crowds of people.  He shares the importance of getting the girls to dance, or having that one person in the audience who sings along, so that the fluid motion which occurs between a performer and his audience starts to build.  Bruce Springsteen isn't a passive observer of everyday life.  He constantly engages with the world around him.  And he wants to make a difference.

Throughout the misunderstandings his work produces, his determination to carry on, and the plotting of a path into the future, Born to Run shares what it means to have a passion, to be vulnerable (or not) and to battle your own demons in a divided world.  He doesn't romanticise everyday life in the way Sal Paradise does.  Instead, he reflects.  And as a teenager, he encouraged me to do the same.

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Friday, 23 December 2016

Beauty in storytelling




I've spent the last week reading Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer.  I've actually had a pretty wonderful year when it comes to reading, and over the year I've read and re-read many different writers, but Braiding Sweetgrass left me mesmerised.  With a beautiful sense of poetry, the writer shows us the impacts of history, the wonders of the ecology, and the value of community and what it means to look out for each other.  She does this while sharing her own life story as an ecologist.  And at the same time, she challenges the dominance of western science, allowing the insights of indigenous beliefs to come to the foreground.

Bron Taylor (In The Dark Green Religion) quoted the Columbian ecologist, Ximena Arango's belief that "oppressive behaviours do not follow an understanding that everyone is part of the earth."  Robin Wall Kimmerer uses lived experiences, including clearing out a pond, or the picking of wild strawberries, to share the value of be - ing, and what it means to live in a more-than-human world.  There's the imagery of pecan trees, all producing nuts at the same time, the maple syrup moon, and the gift of strawberry shortcake, a present from both earth and children.

Certain writers create a yearning in me to write as well as they can.  Usually those writers are able to both tell a story and make me think.  I spend months longing to be able to get it right myself, and a thousand frustrated pages trying to make it happen.  All I do is baffle myself.  I'm getting to realise that I'm better at connecting the dots and sharing the story than I am at bringing that story alive.  All I can do, the majority of the time, is share my appreciation of the work I get to explore.  And express my gratitude that I get to do what I love.

After almost a year of exploring decolonised reading though, I was really sad at one of the comments made by a teenager focusing on a future university career.   The teen wondered whether decolonised education would mean lowering standards?  Western scientists wonder where (and how on earth?) some indigenous people have acquired such sophisticated knowledge.  They are told, much to their frustration and bafflement that "The plants taught us." We've only got a vague inkling of what it means to be a person in this world.

We live with a wisdom so much greater than our own, in a universe which breathes alongside us.  And this was what I loved so much about Braiding Sweetgrass. As a scientist herself, Robin Wall Kimmerer showed us how western science doesn't have the only answers.  And what it means to embrace alternate ways of knowing, so that our own beliefs can be expanded.  She does it through story telling, by embracing wonder, and by marvelling at the beauty which exists all around us.  I can't think of a more inspiring way to learn.


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