Where We Belong

Page from the program of the Portland Center Stage run of “Where We Belong”

I’ve been forgetting to blog. It’s only one way I get my thoughts out there, but it’s an important way.

It’s been hard because my thoughts have been exploding in all sorts of directions. It’s hard to pick which project to work on next. I have at least four creative projects within me that I desperately want to finish.

And then there’s my day job.

I got to do something really amazing at my day job this week. I got to speak to the whole staff about neurodiversity, my neuro-journey, and why it’s important to support and celebrate neurodiverse people in the school setting. And also acknowledge the glaring, overwhelming reasons why it’s so hard to do that very thing.

It was a highlight of my workweek, but it was also exhausting. In a good way. I felt like I was actually doing the work I want to be doing. Even if it took twelve hours of the previous weekend to prepare a 75 minute presentation. But that’s the work. Maybe i could give it again.

So, after the past workweek, I was tired. Yesterday was a big turtle up and recover day. It can be frustrating, especially when I know I have four different creative projects to work on. If I can’t work on my projects on a Saturday, when can I work on them? And what if it’s actually six projects now? (It might be six. I’m a little afraid to count them. It’s overwhelming.)

I didn’t do any creative work yesterday. I took care of some bills, mowed the lawn, focused on self-maintenance and recovery. And, by the evening I was ready to leave the house to go to a play with my wife.

Taking in culture is an important part of my work and my self-maintenance. Theaters and performance places restore my energy as I sit in a darkened room with dozens of strangers and focus on the facet of humanity that is being presented to us. It’s the closest thing I have to a house of worship these days.

The show we saw was “Where We Belong.” It’s a one woman show written by Madeline Sayet. Sayet is Mohegan. In the production we saw, Métis actor Jessica Ranville channels Achokayis (Sayet’s Mohegan name).

The show is Achokayis’ story. Her journey far from her Mohegan (Connecticut) home to Oxford to study the works of Shakespeare. The conflict between her love of the language Shakespeare gives to people, and the cold, distant, analytical lens that established academia insists she take in her studies. At Oxford this lens is also polished with centuries of British colonial perspective that, in effect, erases the cultural importance of the colonized.

Achokayis is asked to dial back the post-conlonial criticism and put some good old-fashioned redface Indian characters in the background of the Tempest.

I’m not happy with that last sentence. It doesn’t do justice to the show. The meaningful connection to her ancestors that Achokayis brings with her. The frustration of needing to turn to Shakespeare for language because her own culture’s language was erased. The moment where she finds the stone memorial to Mahomet Weyonomon in the churchyard of Southwark Cathedral. She speaks to the spirit of this ancestor in what resurrected Mohegan words she has. She muses how the spirit of Weyonomon hasn’t heard his own language in centuries and doesn’t even mind that she speaks it wrong. (The last native speaker died over 100 years ago… but they’re trying to bring it back).

Achokayis talks about the schools that were founded with the intent of ‘civilizing’ natives. How ‘civilizing’ means erasing language and culture.

And this is what resonates so deeply with me. My day job is in a school.

This brings me back to that presentation I made to my school. To the things I left out of it.

The American education system was built in the 1800s to homogenize the children of white immigrants and to ‘civilize’ the non-whites who happen to still be here.

And by ‘civilize’ I mean make them acceptable for employment as house servants. To erase their language and their cultures so they could assimilate nicely into upper class households or work as Pullman Porters. And those that couldn’t be ‘civilized’ could hopefully find unskilled labor jobs until they die.

That’s the bedrock our public education system is built on. And every standards, accountability, and “anti-woke” movement is an effort to bring the education system back to that bedrock.

And here I am arguing for Neurodiversity Celebration in a system that was designed to homogenize and assimilate kids. So, I really feel Achokayis’ conflict as she gets beat down by the expectations of British academia’s expectations at Oxford. I inwardly cheer for her decision to return home, return to who she is, and do the work that is meaningful to her and her culture.

So what do I do? Neurodivergent people don’t have a home. We’re intersectional. Our home is everywhere that people are. Fifteen to twenty percent of all people.

Some cultures are more accepting of neurodiversity. Some cultures accept that some people are different. Achokayis is a Mohegan who is not like other Mohegans. Mohegans are part of the land they are from, and vice verse. They are Wolf People. But Achokayis is a Wolf Person who is also a bird. Who has learned to fly from culture to culture. To share and learn and to bring back to her people what she has learned.

And I did a little of that this week when I presented to my school staff. I was honest and open and told them a little bit about what it’s like to have a non-typical brain. And I must have done it well, because I got so many compliments. So there is hope.

Also, the kids give me hope. So that’s my deal. I try to give them a good role model and tools to survive the school system, and they give me hope.

2 thoughts on “Where We Belong

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