These are Life and Death Times

If You’re Going to Write — Be Brave

Mural seen in Oaxaca de Juarez, Mexico Photo Credit to Author

“It’s not autobiographical,” I say slyly when I share the plays that I have written (wink wink). Japanese-American dancer hungering for approval from her emotionally distant father. Artist from Guam living in Los Angeles with artist who is using her as a model for his erotic paintings of islander women. Single Okinawan-American mom of a mixed-race millennial caring for an elderly mother. Not autobiographical.

Because they’re plays, and presumably fiction, it gives me cover so that I am not naked to the world. But in non-fiction opinion essays, the only cover from exposure is to wimp out and not go to those scary, controversial places. Am I am a (wo)man or a mouse? A writer or a wimp?

There is a pervasive sense of death in the air. In Hawaii, today there have been three fatalities, and last count was less than twenty positive diagnoses on my island. Those small numbers don’t give me comfort. I feel the pain from all over the world. It’s heartbreaking. Our inner Pooh wants to tell our inner Eeyore to look at the silver lining. We feel guilty and cheesy for the Pooh-ness of our impulse. But there it is. My silver lining is that I decided to face my inner wimp.

I was once a union activist. I used writing and speaking to advocate for educational justice. In the beginning of the current president’s term, I participated in the Women’s March, and later, the March for Science. I shared Nina Simone’s quote about An Artist’s Duty to reflect the times, believing that I would step up and do my part. But instead, I became dispassionate and numb. What happened to me? I think it was a combination of despair, futility, and escapism that doused my fire.

Photo by T. Chick McClure on Unsplash

As the nation became more controversial, I found myself becoming less able to engage in it as an activist, a change agent. I know where I stand. I know I did not vote for Trump. I know he and his enablers piss me off, but what can I do? This carried over into my local community as well. On my island, I knew where I stood on the most significant protest in my state in recent times — the Mauna Kea controversy. I didn’t try to use writing to lend my support. I didn’t visit friends who were occupying the access road to prevent the construction of the super-sized telescope planned there. I know where I stand on issues -climate change, immigration, guns, abortion - but I kept my opinions to myself and among friends of like mind. I was like the lethargic vultures (not the peppy one who wanted to go get some action on the west side) in Disney’s Jungle Book. “Whatcha wanna do? I dunno, whatchu wanna do?”

From the outside looking in, I have a good life. I do a lot of good things: creative projects, art, volunteer work, substitute teaching, learning how to play ukulele and trying my hand at songwriting. I help take care of my elderly mother. I travel. I have a lot to be grateful for. But something was missing. Though I am single, it wasn’t a man that I longed for. If that last relationship had worked out, I know I would still have had that malaise.

It was this uneasy sense of something off-balance that led me to attend a women’s plant medicine (psilocybin, magic mushrooms) retreat in Mexico.

Okay, got that out of the way. Sharing this was one of the reasons I needed to write this article. One of the insights I had at the retreat was to live fully, to speak out, especially about things that I believe contribute to the betterment of the world. And that includes being open about this experience. This is one of the truths about myself that I need to share now, that I need to be brave about. It was a beautiful thing and I will write about it in detail at another time.

But for the purposes of this article, another of the insights was that I needed to visit Mauna Kea. So I did. You can read about that here.

Flags of some nations or people who came to support. Photo Credit by Author

Standing in solidarity with the protesters means standing in solidarity with our planet, with Mother Earth, with Nature. In doing this, I stand with native indigenous people whose wisdom and power is deeply entwined with their connection to the land and the spirits therein. I stand as a feminist calling for an end of male dominion over women, including Mother Earth. The era of exploitation of the earth must end. This is not an easy lift, particularly under the current anti-earth president. The list of attacks on the environment under this administration goes on and on. Besides his handling of the pandemic (shameful) this is this president’s legacy — environmental abuse! The gall he has to gut the clean car standards amid the pandemic exemplifies his destructive priorities. My mama bear instinct is provoked to protect our planet. When I read that the the president’s “pastor” preaches that environmentalism is evil, that was fuel on the hellfire. Their anti-earth (anti-life) hypocrisy and evil must be challenged.There’s a lot of work to do!

This is where the bravery comes in. I am not a brazen bitch, I am not a tita (in Hawaii, a tough girl). I am an introvert. I am reserved. I am awkward around men. I struggle with self-consciousness. I don’t want you to be mad at me. If I wrote something I thought would offend, I didn’t share openly and proudly. I have been a wimp. And here I am at a crossroads. I either continue to be a wimp, or I learn to write bravely and share openly.

Given the divisiveness that defines the current era, I expect that I will offend someone. If we’re being honest, a writer’s fantasy is that you can write so convincingly that you inspire the Hallelujah moment in someone on the other side. But if bringing people over to my side was my motivation, I wouldn’t be able to keep writing. Rather, connecting with others, even if it’s preaching to the choir, or better yet, guest-preaching to a different choir, is compelling to me. I reach out to you with my truth. You can reach back and we can have a conversation or you can spit on my outstretched hand. If there was no risk that I could get spit on, bravery wouldn’t be required. I hope you don’t. I hope that even if you disagree with me, you will be civil. Elbow bump, okay? But if you do spit on my truth with your condemnations, I will wash well for more than twenty seconds. And keep writing. It is life or death in these pandemic times, but even after it’s over, it’s life and death for the survival of the planet.

Going forward, I will write to be in touch with my truth, to understand other perspectives, to do research so that I inform my writing with facts, to drive my feminist-environmental perspective even if it may offend. I will wrest the wimp out. I will channel my inner Nina Simone. I will write bravely and share openly.

Playwright, essayist, teacher, artist, songwriter, poet. Creativity Activist. Learn more: https://www.dianeaoki.com

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