Sunday, January 3, 2010

It's Interesting...

This weekend we returned home from our travels far and wide visiting our loved ones far away.  It was a great break, a great vacation, a great Christmas, a great chance to do things that the "real" world offers (shopping, movies,  pizza, seeing the Nutcracker Ballet in a big city), but man is it good to be HOME.

Yes, even though I grew up in the middle of the midwest, Hooper Bay is home. Almost as if it was home beyond this lifetime... if you get into those things.

But it's a new year, and a new decade, and this blog has been around for 3 years now.  I've learned so much about blogging and this internet world this past year, much in the last few months.

I was recently asked to join a group on facebook called, "I Am Eskimo" and my blog was listed as one of the group's favorite blogs.  Thanks!  I like it -- I like feeling like my blog is getting out there to the world -- AND the whole experience raised an interesting point of discussion and made me feel like I needed to re-asess and rethink about the purpose of this blog and you, my audience.  I'll fast forward to the results of this thinking process and tell you that I feel great about this blog, its content, purpose, and you, my audience.  But you may find this thinking process interesting, so I'll detail it below. :)

When I moved to Alaska for the second time, with my M.Ed in hand and ready to take on the rural Alaskan educational system, and with Esther as a babe in arms, I was sending monthly newsletter emails with a couple pictures attached to a group of friends and family. This was a success -- and the number of people who were interested in our adventures kept growing.  So I decided to start a blog instead, so that I could post more pictures.  I also had the motive of reaching out to teachers new to Alaska, new to Hooper Bay, helping them visualize their soon-to-be surroundings, and showing them by example how to make the best of their experience: to get out into the community and the tundra.

Then when the random readers kept appearing,  I realized that my words were reaching kind of a lot of people -- not as many as the big bloggers, but maybe some who had never read anything about Alaskan life before.  Maybe my voice would be the representation of Alaska for the reader in Brazil, in the middle of the Amazon Forest (for real!  Check out the Clustrmap on the margin!).  Although most folks in other parts of the world know by now that people don't live in igloos up here, Alaska is still a shadowy region in their minds, especially rural Alaska.  And I have to say that a lot of what information does make it out is not good.  There are books and movies that, because they need a climactic plot line and a hook to drag  people in, show the ugly and tragic sides of Alaskan life (or the overly romanticized parts, which doesn't help, either).  So it was at this point that I promised myself that I was going to show the positive and wonderful parts of living in Alaska -- not to gloss over the hard parts, or to put on a rosy show that was not truthful, but to give a portayal of healthy wholeness that is inspiring, to show the ways we deal with the hardships that everyone knows are there but that I choose not to write about.

One example is the book "Ordinary Wolves" by Seth Kantner, which is really a fabulous novel and has received critical acclaim around the globe from all my favorite writers (Louise Erich, Barbara Kingsolver).  Although it tells an important story about cultural and identity confusion, does not give one positive depiction of an Alaskan Native person within its pages.  I appreciate the catharic nature of his novel -- it must feel good to express the difficult experiences he writes about (though it is indeed fiction).  And for many people who are going through similar issues as the main character, it may be a helpful read.  I think there is a lot of power in straight-on dealing with the ugly, hard side of life, and in my personal life I am definitely on the side of talking about things directly and keeping no secrets.  However,  I believe the problem comes in when the book or other media that reaches a worldwide audience who have no context to embed the portrayal within, or any real life experience with a culture to balance negative portayals with positive ones, and that one piece of media becomes the representation of the entire culture to the reader who lives far away.

This area of the world has its share of troubles, troubles that have no easy solution, and troubles that it's hard to get a break from.  But my answer to dealing with all of that is to focus on the positive, good things that are possible, to work on the things that can make even a small part of it better -- and to get outside.  I really believe that the tundra heals all, if you give it a chance.  Subsistence activities are the most healthy mind-body-soul activities I have ever had the honor to partake in, and I'm sure to a Yup'ik person, or any other native person, it is even more healing -- as Dr. Oscar Kawagley says, "Landscape creates Mindscape."

With Dr. Kawagley's quote in mind, I've chosen to raise my daughters here so that with any luck, they will be fluidly bilingual and bicultural.  Although this blog may seem mommy-bloggish at times, it's really the story of our family navigating complicated ground -- and I hope that our success so far is inspirational to any of you out there who are contemplating the same thing, whether you are thinking of taking the plunge into village life or you are in a different culture/region entirely.  I guess my point is this: it is possible to do important, meaningful work, be very involved in the village community and raise your family in a healthy way in rural Alaska, despite the challenges. And to prove it, here are pictures of my Esther, taken within a 10 day span -- she's riding the cultural divide with finesse, and I can't wait to see how she and Iris choose to negotiate the rest of their lives -- it's all new as they're living it; they're creating their future with each choice they make.

So please, enjoy the pictures and stories, and know that we are loving our life up here, and thanks for reading!


Anonymous said...

I've been following your blog for quite sometime an absolutely love it! Thanks for sharing Hooper Bay with those of us in the lower 48 (Oklahoma).


Rebecca said...

Not as exotic as the Amazon Forest but I love reading about your blog here in Sydney. As I sit in sweltering heat it is hard to imagine the sort of cold you are experiencing (have never seen snow but about to fix this).

I love reading your blog and it has been a real eye opener, we live in very different worlds!!

Slugs On The Refrigerator said...

It IS interesting... In fact this little space of yours is one of my favourite blogs to read, precisely because of the real glimpse of the life you are leading and the way you embrace the good andthe bad of it with open arms.

It is so easy to use a blog as a vent for everything we don't judge ourselves, others, and our children, or to put others in our lives down to make us feel better, particularly when it's against the backdrop of a "foreign" culture. But you never do that. It is so fantastic to get these unaltered snapshots of your life.

I guess I am trying to say in a very long winded middle f the night kind of way...thank you for transporting me into you your world.

TwoYaks said...

I forgot who told me this, but someone once told me something to the effect of "cultural differences are all in our mind, but our brains are very big."

I wish more bush teachers knew what they were getting into. I think the districts are somewhat responsible: some teachers are told to look at job offers as an adventure. But very few people spend their whole life adventuring. I wish they instead said, "this can be a good place to live, too." Maybe turnover wouldn't be so high...

Cate said...

Thanks everybody -- I really appreciate it.

Two Yaks -- Yes, I very much agree with you that districts don't do enough to prepare teachers for all the elements of being a bush teacher -- and it definitely contributes to high turnover. I try to reach out to all the new teachers I know are coming in, and I give them as much information as I can. But it would be better if it was a goal of the entire district.

*mary* said...

Awesome pics! And omg- that devilfish on uglyoverload blog is giving me nightmares!

Finnskimo said...

I love, LOVE, LOVE the photo of Esther at the Ballet (?) I just like reading your blog cause I'm in rural AK too...we have some of the same issues, but you always stay positive. I like positive blogs! haha. When people ask me for a cultural orientation. I always say..."where you going?" Cause I have a few blogs I read from rural AK. Read mine if you're coming up my way, read yours if you're going that'a way, etc. :) Thanks for the glimpse!

Arvay said...


I just found your blog and enjoyed it so much I linked to it. Hope you don't mind being connected with some riffraff. :) If you'd rather not be linked, please let me know and I'll take it down.

Pixeljoy said...

I've enjoyed your blog and Finnskimo's for some time now. From the central California coast, rural AK is pretty exotic. Looking forward to your next post.

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