Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Tattoos and Skin

Brendan O'Brien      
EN 385
They Who Do Not Grieve Post

            Sia Figiel's They Who Do Not Grieve is a slightly depressing look into the nature of Pacific cultures and the role of shame and lack of autonomy that can sometimes reside there. The novel focuses on the role of the tattoo and how it acts as a cultural symbol and a mark of belonging. However, the native Pacific Islanders are marked just as much by their skin and their culture as they are by their tattoo. One particular instance that stood out to me is when Apa is describing the plight of the factory workers. and how it enrages him An old man questions him, "What do you want us to do? Rise and spill blood? Is that what you wanna see, Apa? Is that it boy? Because if we do we're not better than them. And in a roundabout way, that’s exactly what they want us to do. They expect it of us.” (Figiel 207). Much like the women are marked for their unfinished tattoos, the factory workers are marked by their skin color. Apa is enraged by this discrimination and unfair treatment but as the man points out, violence simply begets more violence. There must be other ways to end their plight.
            I couldn’t help but to connect this reading to Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” or Fr. Kolvenbach’s speech. Both men similarly call for a nonviolent end to injustice. And furthermore, all three writers are suggesting that by violently resisting oppression, they only restart the cycle and affirm the white population’s racist beliefs. The only true way to end oppression and injustice is through nonviolent action. By bringing people together to understand the different ways in which society has taken advantage of minorities, injustice can be combatted.
            The old man seems very pessimistic at first but he ends on a high note by reminding Apa why he left his homeland. He tells Apa that he came here for a better life and the dream of success. He admits that it has been harder than he thought it would be however, he closes his thoughts by saying, “But still, Apa, I’m in my dream.” (208).  Despite the hardships and prejudices, the man has found something that no one can take away from him. By remaining hopeful of a bright and better future, this man offers an example of how to react to injustice. Instead of giving in or lashing out, he finds something that is completely his and can only be his.

            It seemed hard at first how to connect this story to any of my travels. My first obvious conclusion was to discuss my time in New Zealand and my interactions with the Maori people there. The Maori have similar tattoos to the Samoans and have also dealt with their share of discrimination. However, there is similar type of disparity in our country even to this day. There is no denying the fact that minority communities in America still experience disadvantage and prejudice. It is up to our society to follow the example of MLK, Fr. Kolvenbach, and Figiel and to praise and respect people for their individuality rather than discriminate against their physical appearance. Furthermore, we must look through their eyes to understand the way in which society views them. Literature and travel are both ways to experience this transformation.

They Who Do Not Grieve

Molly Erlanger
EN 385D
Dr. Ellis
24 February 2015
They Who Do Not Grieve
            In Sia Figiel’s novel They Who Do Not Grieve, the reader is given multiple accounts of women who originate from islands in Southeast Asia. The character Malu is given many different types of role models, from her grandmother to her aunts to her mother who committed suicide. Her grandmother raised her children without a man beside her, but in many ways is still very traditional. Her Aunt Ela, on the other hand, leaves the island to go to dentist school in America. Throughout Malu’s story, and in other stories in the book as well, there is a lot of comparison between these less developed island nations and more advanced countries such as America and New Zealand. It is interesting to note that both these nations have idealized versions in their heads of what the other is like. In this way, perhaps, the imagination could be considered not to be completely trustworthy in aiding a person in travel. A person’s traditions and way of life can cloud their judgment and perception of others and the way they lead their own lives.
            This point seems to be exemplified in Malu’s Aunt Ela. She goes to America hoping to make something of herself, to chase the American dream and go back to her home a more respectable woman. However, she finds that the reality of America does not necessarily match up to the perception she had of it in her head. At one point she says to Martin, “Forget about the books and the movies, Martin. I’ve read a bit. Seen a bit. And I can only say I wish I grew up on those islands where everyone is problem free and where the Sun always rises to a picnic. It’s like me coming to this country thinking everyone was either a cowboy, a murderer or a millionaire…It’s all about dreams, isn’t it?” (Figiel 125). For Ela, and for Martin as well, they could not travel to each other’s home countries in their minds because they did not have the full picture of the place. Martin only knew of the happiness of living in a tropical place, but not the poverty or the lack of education for women, or lack of opportunity. This is very much like Marco Polo describing the cities of the empire in Calvino’s Invisible Cities. He needed to include both the positive and negative aspects of the empire in order to transport the Khan there imaginatively, and allow his mind to grow.

            Many people have this experience when thinking about places outside of their home, outside of what is familiar to them. Before I left for Newcastle, all I could imagine about living in a British city was what I had seen in movies and heard from a friend who grew up in London. I had a picture in my head of Newcastle, but it was an ideal version. It was really a picture of London, because that’s all I knew about England. The reality of Newcastle was a little less fabulous than London; the culture there was pretty much centered on partying, the city itself was a lot smaller than London, and the people there were a lot more rough and rugged than I expected. At first, this made it a lot harder to adjust to living there. For a little while, I clung to the idea I had in my head of what England would be like before I arrived. It was only after I let go of that idealized version and started appreciating the city for what it was that I truly started getting anything out of my experience. It was more important to embrace the positive and negative aspects of the place, so that I might let my mind grow and learn. Even though I was there physically, I was closing myself to any inward travel and growth by clinging to an image of a place that did not really exist. Every town, city, and country in the world has an ugly side that we may not always consider. However, it is both the positive and negatives that shapes the people and the place, and it is incredibly important to learn from both. A place may not always be all that you hoped it would be, but it will surprise you in different ways. The imagination can only be trusted to allow a person to travel if they can open their minds to possibility that this place that they do not come from has just as many issues as the place they call home. The good and the bad come together to create the heart and soul of a place.

The Power of Naming

Francesca Baldini
EN 385

They Who Did Not Grieve: The Power of Naming

            Throughout Sia Figiel’s They Who Did Not Grieve, the author highlights the importance of names and naming. The protagonist, Malu, constantly reminds readers what her name means or what other words mean. For instance, in the beginning of the novel she explains, “Malu means ‘shelter’, ‘protection’, like a fa’amalu, an umbrella that protects one from the rain. It also means to protect from or to shelter from bad spirits” (Figiel 6). The emphasis on meaning of names runs throughout the novel and suggests that in naming something, we are distancing our selves from its immediacy. This reminding me of Calvino’s Invisible Cities, where Marco Polo encounters this problem. In both accounts, the authors suggest an issue with language, in which language becomes inadequate in describing the actual experience.
            Our protagonist, Malu, explains this issue further when describing her role as a storyteller. Her grandmother tells her, “Don’t Write Anything Down! It’s the easiest (and surest) way to forget things. Writing things down does that, Malu, you know? And you don’t wanna do that, girl” (Figiel 5). The suggestion that writing something down is the best way to forget things recalls the problem with retelling one’s experience, particularly with travel. When documenting one’s encounters with travel in a written form, the author often loses the ability to describe her encounters in their truest form. Also, like Malu’s grandmother, once something is recorded, it is easier to forget what else occurred. However, the verbal form of story telling allows the teller to alter the story in a more authentic way. Instead of documenting an experience in a formal and fixed way, the teller can change their story each time, making it more authentic.

            These descriptions of naming and the power of naming also remind me of my own experiences with travel. When retelling my personal experiences with travel, I often need to rely on the other person’s imagination in order for them to understand me. However, in naming things rather than describing them, something is lost for the readers. Instead of describing the city in detail or the way a certain building looks, I rely on different vocabulary to articulate what I mean, but in doing that I take the imaginative process away from my listener. In a similar way, when listening to stories versus reading the written story, readers can tap into that imaginative process more easily. In this way, when someone finally encounters the city or place I’ve described, it is often not how they pictured it, mainly because I depended on words that impede true understanding of the thing. In agreement with Figiel, by naming something we not only avoid encountering it in its immediacy, but we also limit what it can be. Just as Malu is limited by the meaning of her name at different points in the novel.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Escape from Reality

Dana Stubel

Escape from Reality

            In Sia Figiel’s novel, Those Who Do Not Grieve, the protagonist, Malu, leads an extremely difficult life. She lives with her abusive grandmother, children tease her that her father was a devil, her mother is consistently defamed, and she works as a maid for a pompous white family. Because of this awful life, Malu needs to free herself at times. Malu says, “The present is full of uncertainty. Full of questions. Full of misery, confusion. Silent anger” (5) For Malu, the only form of accessible escape from reality is through travel of the mind. Since Malu cannot physically travel, she gets away through visions and dreams. In the chapter entitled, “Into the Dream of the Forest of Life”, She describes her life-like visions of meeting the Siamese twins, the guardians of tattoo, and the nose-flute player, who she falls in love with and has a child with. Her vivid descriptions are so real that it makes the reader question if she is truly dreaming. However, it soon becomes clear that her visions are a form of escaping the terrible reality around her. The nose-flute player makes her feel “naked, stripped of the principles, the voices that ruled my waking hour…I was overwhelmed with joy. It was a liberating experience” (46). Although the nose-flute player and their daughter Lulu are figments of Malu’s imagination, they still teach her lessons, transform her true being, and make her happy. When her grandmother is again ridiculing her, Malu thinks to herself, “Maybe you don’t know this, but I gave birth in my own reality. Unlike you, who has never been pregnant from the love of a man… You will never experience anything but despair” (67-68). Malu is able to use the happiness from her dreams to comfort her in the midst of her horrible reality. This form of escapist travel may not be necessarily “reality”, but it gives Malu hope, freedom, and feelings far more real than anything many people experience in reality.
            As I read about Malu and her imaginary travel, I began to think about one of the students I work with at Tunbridge. The student, Carlos, is an 8-year-old boy with autism spectrum disorder. Like many other children with autism, Carlos “scripts” and “stims”. Scripting refers to the echolalia of movies, TV shows, and real-life conversations, while stimming refers to self-soothing behaviors, such as flapping, rubbing, and rocking. Both of these phenomena comfort the children, but are frequently looked down upon because the children are not in “reality” when scripting or stimming. Most educators and therapists attempt to stop children when they script or stim and bring them back to the present moment. However, Tunbridge has a different approach. When Carlos scripts and stims, my teacher usually gives him a few minutes before attempting to regain his attention. Instead of deriding these occurrences, she refers to them a “brain breaks” She explains that Carlos is trying to comfort himself through the use of these devices because the present reality is too overwhelming. If we try to stop him from soothing himself, he will become even more frustrated and inattentive. After hearing this, it was hard not to compare these comfort methods to the way in which Malu escapes her tragic reality through visions and dreams. Both Carlos and Malu are facing adversities and frustrations that they simply need a break from. These breaks alleviate the tension of reality and give them a chance to escape to something comforting. However, these breaks are only temporary, since we all must come back to reality at some point. When we bring Carlos back to reality, he is slightly agitated at first but then is able to regroup and attend to the lesson. Carlos and Malu both show the importance for all of us to sometimes escape from a dark or complicated reality and comfort ourselves in dreams so that we can recuperate and come back stronger to face reality. 

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Kiwi Bunny

Elesa Knowles
Dr. Ellis
Travel Literature
February 21, 2015
“Kiwi Bunny! The birds within They who do not Grieve
In Sia Figiel’s Book 2, Alofa-Tausi makes the link between grief, the mind, and metaphorical birds. “For that is what the moa is. It is universe of its own lives within us. A universe of colorful birds that die only when we neglect them. That is, when we don’t feed them the food they are used to” (Figiel 136).  According to the protagonist, Moa or Mau means a universe inside of an individual. Considering Mau was official name associated with the movement for Samoan independence from colonial rule during the early 1900s, this understanding of a petite universe with independence and agency within another universe is logical. In Samoan, Mau denotes 'firm strength'. For this universe to exist, it must have stability to endure but also the flexibility to adapt within the self. (Para http://www.nzhistory.net.) The bird imagery points to this physical manifestation of Moa. The “universe of birds” seems to point out that each individual bird hold essential components of a whole being within them and needs to be in emotional solidarity as a flock not in extreme solitude or they will die.
Each color of the birds seems to be associated with an emotion meaning the red birds that haunt the protagonist are grief manifested; while as, black birds appear to be despair or hope regained manifested. “Rivers of despair that spiraled endlessly towards the birthplace of joy and sorrow- the moa. Drowning joy so that I would hear nothing but the black birds’ winds flapping, screeching through the endless insomniac nights” (Figiel 160). The bird’s universe is that of the emotional human mind, which is essential to the human protagonist as a whole. The protagonist shows great maturity in recognizing the birds are a natural part of her opposed to demons that haunt and torment her.  I did not have maturity to make peace with my birds. In particular I wanted to rip my bird from my mind once and for all. This bird with a kiwi body and bunny ears that made me wail and drained to the core. My bird that stood screeching within me as I stood in funeral lines shaking hands with strangers and refusing to cry. There were 5 relatives in one month perished, 2 to cancer, 1 to pancreas exploding, and 3 to texting and driving. From dust to dust, I breathed it in daily suffocating what on the therapist telling me, “People die all the time?”, the counselors telling me, “Maybe you have an eating disorder…. join grief group”, and my roommates telling me, “I liked you before you became retarded”. There were 17 days without sleep; 31 days without food, and eventually too many days to walk vertically anymore. On November 8th, my body went horizontal and succumbed to the birds. A looming bird, wailing the kiwi bunny, the flightless bird was now skeleton of all my futile attempts of getting through grief without utilizing it. My bird of fear both once my enemy. In my bed in December under medical cares, I realized Kiwi Bunny was and always was my ally.
            Alofa-Tausi speaks of, “A universe of colorful birds that die only when we neglect them. That is, when we don’t feed them the food they are used to” (Figiel136). Through therapy, rest, and conversations with myself, I feed the starved bird love, acceptance, and a voice to listen and hear its cries. By not listening to it, I let it starve and as an extension of myself. I starved as a warning of my soul’s decaying if I did not grieve properly. The bird was looking after me even at the cost of itself own life. Kiwi Bunny is my anxiety, which is a part of who I am. My bird is a natural reaction to unnatural chaos of loss and grief, which does not run on the timeline of deadlines, midterms, or job expectancy. It was always there and appears during short periods. I did everything in my power through self-improvement, body language, rationalizing, and ousting spiritually what I thought was unnatural threat to my life as normal person.  If I had kept rejecting my bird, then it would be like me cutting off my lung. My emotions and birds are not cancer meant to be cut from me. They are my body and mind’s way of defending itself. Through patience and collaboration, the Kiwi Bunny and I became a team. The bird of fear gave me caution through insomnia, rumination, and sometimes fits of paranoia of being abandoned. I politely answer back and thank it for the warnings but I tell it I can rationally walk through the situation with you by my side. Then the bird calms down, sleep comes eventually, the thoughts stop racing, and the abandoned bird is reminded we never shall be parted because we are two universes in one. When the Kiwi Bunny does not let me eat or sleep, it is because it is trying to tell me something essential. Instead of fighting myself and blaming it, I listen even late at 3:00 AM. It screeches, then sings then whispers and cries itself to sleep alongside me. Acceptance of my emotion of fear, rush of cortisol hormone, and the feigned stages of death is what makes my universes overlap not collide.  Drowning joy so that I would hear nothing but the black birds’ winds flapping, screeching through the endless insomniac nights” (160). Acceptance is a song of pain and joy at a intense pitch, but like Alofa-Tausi if you listen the sounds of the birds’ universe, then the tiny wings can guide you to transform their universe as well as your own.  

Works Cited
Figiel, Sia. They Who Do Not Grieve. New York: Kaya, 2003. Print.
http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/politics/samoa/rise-of-mau. Accessed 21 February 2015. Web.