All photos courtesy of author
Mixed Messages: Love as Muliwai
by Lyz Soto
I begin this writing with confession.
I have been hiding from Facebook.
For the last year, my newsfeed has been swollen with a tide of near unrelenting tragedy. Fingers brushing a mouse pad to a scroll bar in blue frames cataloguing friends offering post after post and article after article chronicling endless stories to grieve. Cute cat or dog videos, sarcastic memes, and the odd personal post about diet or fashion choices provide the occasional interruption.
But these stories fill my newsfeed.
Sometimes sacredness is found in a church. Sometimes safety should be found in a church. But our societal systems limit the parameters of safety and sacredness to a select group of people. Apparently, African Americans cannot be counted among this group.
Governments continue to try to erase indigenous peoples in the United States, Canada, Australia, and Indonesia, so their resource rich land might be drawn as empty and claimable. Governments and corporations are surprised when they speak. They are surprised they are not already extinct.
In the United States, Natives, more than any other group, are more likely to be victims of violent crimes perpetrated by non-Native people.
The United States becomes the nineteenth nation to legalize same-sex marriage. Find my newsfeed full of rainbows.
Dominican Republic. Haiti.
The Melanesian Spearhead Group gives associate membership to Indonesia and observer status to West Papua, so the colonizer gets a voice while the colonized gets to watch.
Gaza. West Bank. Checkpoints. Fences. Guns.
Our islands are being swallowed by governmental pacts fast tracking corporate friendly trade policies (TPP) and by international negotiated indifference to the threat of climate change.
For some people, racial and cultural identity appears to be down to personal choice.
Over time the reading of these posts wears me down, so in an act of self-preservation, I have given myself permission to risk only the occasional foray into the scatter of this social network, and to limit my engagement when there. I’ll log on to check messages and take a quick scroll through my newsfeed. I re-post stories that I feel are important, but I offer no introduction. I offer no comments. I do not engage…and I feel a real sense of guilt attached to that act of disconnection.
I want to say—Facebook doesn’t matter. That it belongs to a fake cyber world that distracts us from the practice of real physical life.
And it can be, but it also holds a measure of power in its real ability to “spread the word” and to get people talking about important devastating issues that are largely silenced by the corporate media machine. We all know this.
So why bring it up again? Because it’s not just the tragedy that pushes me away from the social network. It’s also the disconnection within my newsfeed. It’s the lack of mixing. It’s the lack of integrated mess. It’s the lack of friends posting stories beyond their own interests. It’s the lack of alliances between people. Dare I say it’s the lack of love?
between our four fists
on a platter when we stretched our heart globes
to elliptical shadows
–risked holding hands
with the wounded
and called them namesakes.
I once read in an article (possibly found on Facebook), that the human heart has an elliptical shape, an echo of our planet’s flight around the sun, but when we leave the stratosphere of our world, our hearts become spherical, so even this organ, where some of us seat the idea of love, needs our Earth to hold itself in shape.
And I’ve thinking a lot about love. In my youth, heartbreak shaped me— warped my love into a tight sphere searching for gravity. Broken into a spherical heart, I inextricably tied my ideas of love to romance and soured them to bitter pith. I could not see beyond the love that is all about the dizzying chase; the love that denies the hard work of everyday pain; the love that is so neatly packaged by rom-com movies and chick lit novels; the love that absents itself from family, community, and land; the love that leaves us empty when the chase is done. But to our loss, it is this facsimile of experience that our popular society values most.
In more recent years, I have begun to pull my heart back into its elliptical shape by re-thinking love as a community verb: an act of social revolution: an anecdote to fear. This is not a new idea.
Kanaka Maoli ideas of love, privilege, and responsibility, which tie people to community and land, have existed for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.
It is an act of revolutionary love when storytellers in places like the Philippines, Pakistan, Senegal, Majuro, Ireland, West Papua, and Guatemala speak their traditional histories into life providing more spaces that keep their cultural practices alive.
Roland Barthes suggested that love is not about blindness, rather it is about an opening of self to a full knowledge of the other.*
bell hooks writes that love is more about being loving than being loved. She describes love as a spiritual practice that opens the heart to the possibility of living without lovelessness.*
John Lennon said, “Love is all you need,” but he also said it was easy, which is pretty much the opposite of the ideas I offer here. Love is hard work.
But disconnection is neat and easy.
I like posts and read articles regarding issues that have a direct impact on me.
I am fully committed to this issue. I don’t have the time or energy for anything else.
I don’t belong to this group of people, so I shouldn’t be involved.
I don’t comment.
I’m too tired. I’m too overwhelmed. There is too much.
Disconnection puts us in tidy pockets of rage. It keeps us allied only to the issues that immediately impact us and it insures we will never change the global systems that keep so many of us bound by colonial structures of oppression and violence. Disconnection divides us from ourselves. We become small islands in a vast ocean.
before our hands. We had no need of books.
Our first stories were songs.
Our first songs were love poems.
Remember, when we dream of shattered mountains
irradiated waters and pillars of gold
in the guilded homes of our leaders,
our heart beats as a muscle filled with stars
so when we say we love you, please, remember
we have chosen revolution in plural.
I’ve also been thinking a lot about sacred spaces. The attempted building of the TMT and the protectors of Mauna Kea have brought sacredness, land, and place to the fore of many conversations in Hawaiʻi.* I have been brought into this conversation by love. I am not Kanaka Maoli. My family genealogy is a diasporic maze navigating multiple oceans, islands, and continents. Native land is lost to me, so Mauna Kea does not belong to me, and yet I am drawn to the protectors of this mountain by a deep sense of connection. I belong to a community that belongs to Hawaiʻi. My community feels the sacredness of this place, so a long echo of this resonates within me, and I know that hallowed can belong to the ground, even when people dismiss it. Sometimes desecration looks like a cathedral, while consecration looks like unmolested earth.
A connecting observation: These stories fill my newsfeed. Find few overlapping posts. People posting about same-sex marriage, not posting about Black Lives Matter, not posting about Mauna Kea, not posting about West Papua, not posting about the threat of oil pipelines and mining on indigenous lands in Canada, Australia, and the United States, not posting about Native lives, not posting about the Palestinian Territories.
Disconnect: With the exception of the legalization of same-sex marriage in the United States, there are few moments of intersection. There is no integrated mess.
With this dialogue our thighs become open books. We write psalms over lines of trauma and childbirth. We whisper pages in twisted sheets and disrupted pillows. “This is revolution.” “This is hope in a body.” In a crease of neck, we ponder our trite bit of flesh, rub at the plastic in our hearts...
Not too long ago, the editors of Hawaiʻi Review* put out a call for work on the muliwai — those cradles of water binding land and sea — mixing in the brine. This call has stayed with me. It has shaped my thinking on all our places that mix us up and pull us into mess.
Estuaries, marshlands: transitions to salt. These are the mixed spaces that push us into medley.
In the book Kailua, which chronicles the history of Kailua on the island of Oʻahu, Kahikina de Sliva writes, “…this water travels, delivers nutrients to soil and plant life, and, by making physical contact with valleys…and the people who inhabit them, connects everything along its path…these waters become the means by which inspiration and nourishment is carried throughout…” (133).
This is where we place our homes—on shifting lands, filling out brackish to concrete; we have been given a foundation built to fall, so we try to imagine bedrock in our feet. We create fences of protection. We pretend we cannot see the tributaries that feed into our floods. We try to erase the mixed mess, because in this world we can only be land or sea. There is no room for in between. And yet estuaries and marshes are fed by streams and rivers that wind through all of us. We are touched and connected by these waters that tie the land to the sea, which ties us to each other. Our Earth does not recognize our boundaries built with fear. My home sits on the belly of Olomana mountain overlooking Kaʻelepulu and Kawainui. A century ago these spaces were marshlands creating a brackish bridge between the Koʻolau mountains and Kailua Bay. These were fertile bodies of water for fish and vegetation.
Construction sprawl, in the last century, has cordoned off these bodies from each other. Flood control projects, understandably intent on protecting people’s homes, have attempted to make these waters biddable and tame, but in so doing, we are destroying the integrated mess that once fed these lands.
Filled without water,
cisterns rich with loveless,
broken thought gifts.
Here, I might say these are separate issues — disconnection on my Facebook page, the binding of these estuaries into fractured waters, our spherical hearts longing to be elliptic — instead I will offer that these issues are connected. Our current society thinks it likes neat packages. Even in our activism, we stay in our proscribed boxes. We do not leak out. We do not mix. We do not become brackish. We do not feed our land. We do not feed each other. We do not stretch our hearts.
But something is better than nothing, right?
People are talking, in social media, in real world, about all the issues mentioned in this post. And that is better than silence. It is better than muffled whispers that never reach the corridors of power.
I was prompted to write this post, when several people on my newsfeed started calling out their social media friends for not posting about certain issues.
So what, right? It’s Facebook. Who cares, right?
But this call to account was a good dial in for myself. Because while it is true that social media is not the stage to make profound change in the real world, it is a good place to begin. Social media offers a cheap way to connect a lot of people across vast geographical regions in a reasonably user-friendly format. It makes it possible to bring voice to issues that have been deliberately silenced by global systems of oppression. Digital social networking also makes it possible for groups to coordinate activist projects in the physical world even when differences in time zones are night and day, and it’s a fast and visually easy way to get out a lot of information to people who will have the capacity to put that information into action — in protests, in testimonies, in classrooms, in performances, in courtrooms, in churches and temples, on farms, in homes, across oceans.
In my own history with Facebook, there are definitely some areas that resonate with me more than others. I tend to post more about these topics, and I recognized that the borders around my Facebook postings were a good barometer for what and how I’d been holding myself accountable for the real world. I realized I could offer some small measure of solidarity by helping to disseminate information on important stories that the headline media would chose to ignore. I could educate myself to look beyond the boundaries of my own defined boxes. I could become brackish. I could elongate my heart and stretch it into everyday action.
But in this accounting, I noticed that many of the people, who were calling friends out, were entrenched in their own causes and activisms offering very little acknowledgement of those issues that might extend beyond the boundaries of their own experience, and yet those issues could be linked through the same systems of oppression — that would trap and sterilize waters that might unite us — that would erase stories told with different voices — that would build spherical borders around our hearts.
Because let’s be real. The social structures that trivialize the importance of indigenous sacred spaces, dehumanize and murder black and native lives, claim native lands, brutalize women, threaten queer communities, burn down churches, deny access to medical care, education, and living wages, claim white supremacy, corporatize food, and disconnect us from land all belong to the same imperialized global system of oppression that puts the control and utility of most of our natural resources and human labor into the hands of less than 1% of our planet’s entire population.
In love with you and your body full of moʻolelo, manaʻo, and kai
I am slow limbs and a trunk full of forgetting. In this ocean,
some of my people see only cities of gold to plunder. Was this the reason
your ancestors shunned land and returned to the water where love
is not a slight of hand? If I could hold you as a shell full of sea, I would shelter
a universe from our madness, but today I only grasp at severed anchors.
So I’m still thinking about love. Love of people and place has brought me to the muliwai, the beautiful integrated messy meeting of land and sea, more often than any other reason. Outrage can only take me so far. Where anger might jumpstart me into action, love is what keeps me standing, even when I am too tired to sleep. This is the hard work of love.
A few days ago, someone, who has pulled my heart into elliptical shapes, challenged my desire to disengage from an institution I have viewed as historically problematic. He reminded me that change within that sacred space requires voices offering stories with a different vision and a vision to be different. He suggested I try to be one of those voices. He said this with love.
We love in rivers and seas. We live in waters that reach and touch all of our lives, which are often overwhelmed with experience, so this is not a call to be a part of every movement for action. This is request that we become brackish, an integrated mess. That we recognize in each other the possibility of allies that move beyond the digital world working towards a world that does not thrive on the consumption of fear and the building of fences, but the hard work of stretching our hearts into elliptical bodies.
*Barthes, Roland. A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments. Trans. Richard Howard. New York: Hill and Wang, 1978. Print.
*hooks, bell. all about love: New Visions. New York: Harper Perennial, 2000. Print.
*Two of the editors of that issue of Hawaiʻi Review, Anjoli Roy and Noʻu Revilla, are members of Ke Kaʻupu Hehi ʻAle.
*If you do a google search you will find hundreds of brilliant articles about this topic. Ke Kaupu Hehi Ale bloggers Bryan Kuwada, Noe Goodyear-Kaʻōpua, and Noʻu Revilla have all written beautiful pieces that explore some of the most important ideas around Mauna Kea as a sacred space that should be respected.
*de Silva, Kahikina, “Ka Makālei a Kawainui.” Kailua: Kailua i ke Oho o ka Malani. Kailua: Kailua Historical Society, 2009. Print.