Thoughts Released Like Birds

I have too many ideas fluttering through my mind all at the same time and they are playing tug of war with my attention to establish which one will receive the prize of my concentration. Currently none of them are winning so this post may be a little scattered. I am going to release them all in a flock.

I awoke this morning with lines of poetry flitting like sparrows at the edges of my dreams. Must deal with the poetry. I wrote a few yesterday that did not greatly impress me, but the poetry nags at me sometimes until I work on it. Poetry can be worse than a spouse and much harder to clean up after.

I was thinking on art last night and decided that I like the idea of art in the here and now. Something that takes on value for the uniqueness of being placed in a particular context and at a particular time. If I draw a chalk drawing on the sidewalk, it has a certain interactive life that a museum masterpiece will never have. It is by its nature temporally situated. Not timeless. Because even as a memory it will change and fade. It can only be actively encountered by someone who takes the time to observe it and remember it and maybe photograph it. It has to be experienced in some ways. If it rains, the art changes. If it is smudged by foot traffic, it is a new piece. If it is vandalized, it has been co-opted or enhanced. It becomes potentially a dialogue in any of these situations as opposed to being static communication. Further, does it change the sense of geography? I am not sure.

Is culture a function of geography or mind? I live on the North American continent and consider American culture part of Western culture as opposed to Eastern culture. But American culture is certainly not European culture and American culture is certainly not remotely like any of the tribal cultures of the native people that occupied this continent prior to the invasion of people from Europe. So what defines culture and where is it derived from? How long does it take for a distinct culture to arise in a geographic location?

New Orleans and New York have distinct personas and a sense of unique cultures. Writing from the American South has a unique regional flavor so to speak. The Midwest of America is really only unique as a region in its sense of blandness. So is this Midwestern culture? Recently I was reading about Theodore Roethke who grew up in Michigan and how his poetry has a definite sense of nature about it. Michigan, outside of Southeastern Michigan, is very rural. Would writing that comes from Michigan then have a rural, natural aesthetic? Or a gritty urban feel because of the factory culture and the automotive industry? What defines and creates culture?

Over the weekend I was in a discussion about cultural appropriation. It occurred to me this morning that as an American I am not sure that I can do anything but appropriate other cultures. The US is such an infusion of different cultures I think it is unavoidable. I live in Ann Arbor. We have a huge international community in Ann Arbor. There are several Asian and Middle Eastern grocery stores. We have Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, Christians, and every conceivable religion in our small Midwestern town. I have met people from every continent on the planet in Ann Arbor and heard many different languages. I don’t know that I could describe succinctly the “culture” of Ann Arbor. Which part of Ann Arbor? Which subgroup?

I came to the conclusion over the weekend that for the purposes of writing fiction, I am nervous about the idea of cultural appropriation with the intent of creating a certain flavor in the fiction. I still feel this. I think if an author is creating a piece with a certain theme or intent and pulling a trope from the folklore of a culture it needs to be well thought out, respectful, and done in a quality way to preserve cultural meaning or expand meaning. Creating something that is shoddy is derogatory to the culture of origin and does damage. A superficial treatment of cultural elements does not introduce that culture to a wider audience or broadened anyone’s understanding, it creates misunderstanding. It also could lead to a type of overexposure and non-caring dismissal of the trope. As in the case of vampires.