For my last class of my MFA taught by David Leach we had to write a memory essay on a creative piece we presented to the class. I presented on Mr. Burns: A Post Electric Play and here is my essay.
Voyaging into Anne Washburn’s creative process and practice threw me on a cerebral and spiritual inquiry that got me asking what the role and responsibilities are of creatives with regards to our artistic intersections and impact on memory and thus history. Has the species done enough to hold our citizens accountable to the deep impacts we have on our ethnosphere?
Wade Davis who is a Professor of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia and has been described as “a rare combination of scientist, scholar, poet and passionate defender of all of life’s diversity” defines the ethnosphere as the intellectual and spiritual web of life. Defined by Davis as “the sum total of all thoughts and intuitions, myths and beliefs, ideas and inspirations brought into being by the human imagination since the dawn of consciousness, the ethnosphere is humanity’s greatest legacy. This accumulation of culture and knowledge embodies everything we have produced as an inquisitive and remarkably adaptive species.”
As an artist who identifies as a Cultural Evolutionist and Indigenous Theorist and has been tasked with the responsibilities to serve my Nations, I think about this a lot. I think about how my work, creative content and existence is contributing to our species legacy. Being a Cultural Evolutionist means participating in the honouring, remembering and evolving of Salish Plateau culture - culture being the language, art, science, eroticism, politics, philosophies and spiritual constructs of a group. I do this in service to creating opportunities for my people to peacefully thrive and to ensure we have the ability to meet our social and environmental present.
One of the most impactful provocations that my Syilx Pa told me was that “we didn’t survive by banging the same drum song for 10 000 years.” This familia memory is something I think about everyday. I think about what my Ancestors created and stewarded me into, how they lived for my blood memory to be suffused with ontologies to ensure I could have the opportunity at a peaceful life. I listen to the beats of their songs they drummed into my heart and I feel the medicinal stories they prayed into my deni tsin (spirit) all resulting in my ability to be conscious or what we call in Tsilhqot’in - gwesneh - the law and traditional practice of living a whole, sustained and awakened life.
Being conscious of my contributions to our intergenerational orchestrations is imperative to my storytelling process and I can sometimes find imperial and euro-centric notions of creation frustrating because it lacks a critical protocol around our impetus and process to foster a collective ethnosphere we are proud of. I want to be proud of what we make and remember as a species. I want all of our future Ancestors to be grateful for what we gift them and I think about our creative legacy everytime I go to take up space, participate and mark the matter of the Universe - which is what story creation is to me.
When I read Washburn’s Mr. Burns: A Post Electric Play and experienced the possibility of a future where the world sanctifies the verbatim script of a Simpsons episode, honestly my heart kind of broke. Which is a reflection of Washburn’s potent ability to capture the current state of our cultural affairs and prophesize a very possible post-popular cartoon canonized future. Is Matt Groening's writing team currently creating the sacred scriptures of our cultural history?
Reading Mr. Burns pulled me into a detailed introspection of understanding my practice and impact as a cultural creator. The play propelled me into a deep dive reflecting on my societal intersectional contributions. It was a very amusing cogitation that got me humbly troubling my ethereal contemplations and thinking maybe I should be more focused on getting a network deal with Fox and create a “Native Chief of the Hill” cartoon hybrid to ensure my future grandbabies will give a hoot about Salish Plateau art and culture.
With the globalization of our world where the internet has become the long house gathering spaces, especially during this pandemic and with imperialism displacing so many Indigenous peoples from culture which is a portal for blood memory and with capitalism displacing so many of us from the land - land being one of our memory portals: am I using the right modes of creation to reach my people to ensure knowledge is being passed down? Is blood and land based memory the way of the future or something we will remember we once did?
In The Memory Field by Jake Sheets says, “Memory exists as a kind of spatiotemporal entity, because time, memory, and land are woven together. One cannot look at the Grand Canyon without conjuring the deep time needed to create it.” And I wholeheartedly agree that land pulls us into remembrance states and lets us traverse time but if our peoples aren’t going to the Grand Canyon does that mean we are no longer accessing the natural anthologies of our ecospheric Ancestors and thus we won’t remember what is most sacred to us?
Because like, I went to the Grand Canyon when I was a kid and all I remember is that my sister Karlene got really car sick and when my Ma and Pa were yelling at us to “take it in'', I turned to my sis to see what I was supposed to be doing and she was puking up her chicken nuggets we got a couple towns back. And if that is our weaving contributions into the Grand Universe, I’m not sure it has enough cultural necessity to be thought of and regurgitated by any of the future generations. It is also not just about our contributions but the process of remembering.
Skeets goes on to say, “Radical remembering is the ability to travel through time, space, and existence. Radical remembering is connected to storytelling, which is an act of survivance for various Indigenous communities across the world. Radical remembering is a tool we hold deep within each of us that can help shape our lives, communities, and Nations.” Uh oh. Is my radical remembering broken? Cause I probably should remember more than being mesmerized by the lil nugget chunks falling into the infinite abyss. But it was wild. Barf...no splat. Barf...no splat. Where did they go? Did the nuggets ever exist?
As my parents grew more concerned with my sisters well-being and none of us were suited up for spatiotemporality (I left the Caravan without my jelly sandals, I had kicked them off somewhere outside of Las Vegas and couldn’t find them for the Grand pitstop so I went full savage aka barefoot) we just sort of left. Also both my parents rightfully deal with a degree of internalized racism that often makes NDN mysticism seem like bad fiction and who wants to remember Salish Plateau culture if it comes of like an native Nora Roberts?
Cause as Washburn prophesied people are going to remember The Simpsons. People are already baking The Simpsons into their blood memory. I don’t even watch the Simpsons but like a character in Mr. Burns - I can quote it. The popular culture of The Simpsons is undeniably impactful and when you look at the numbers you can see why. It is the longest-running American animated series, longest-running American sitcom, and the longest-running American scripted primetime television series ever. Currently the series has been renewed for seasons 33 and 34, taking the series up to 2023 and 750 episodes.
750 episodes and it has no sign of slowing down, mainstream culture is guzzling The Simpsons like a jalapeno mocha Squishee. And who is to say that this is “bad.” Well Groening and his team say Squishee’s are bad. On Simpsons Wiki it says, “Squishees are reputed to be dangerous to health, allegedly containing no natural ingredients, not even pure water. One customer, Nelson Muntz, even once had an out-of-body experience from drinking a Squishee. Consistent with the Squishee's general unhealthfulness, Squishee flavorings can cause hallucinations if ingested in sufficient quantities.”
Is this hallucinogenic cultural meta-comment on the popular culture that Groening and The Simpsons team is serving us? This insular artistic helix makes my brain freeze like Washburn’s meta-narrative layering. In Mr. Burns she is tackling many social discourses like energy capitalism and stacking them in sometimes what seems like an infinite number of entendres. For example, the theme of power - we have Homer working in a power plant, then in the play world we have a post apocalyptic nucleus group making powerful decisions on culture and allusions to a nuclear power plant failure that is the inciting incident of the narrative. Honestly, I have no idea how she wrote this and kept all the illusionistic threads connected.
This theatrical construction of worlds within worlds is impressively dizzying but is it too much? Is it too commentary? It makes me wonder if we remember stories that are commenting on culture or is that the culture? Or is culture like Washburn’s narrative ingressive structure a composition of culture on culture on culture. Barf no splat. Barf not splat. Bart no. Bart no skateboarding in the hallways. Are we bearing witness to Washburn grabbing one of popular culture's most dominant horses and steering the reins significantly away or are we just buffing the stone of the scripture? Like sands in an hourglass these are the days of our lives...
I remember the soap operas I watched with my friends in Grad 9 when we were skipping class, more than I remember the classes we were skipping. I didn’t even like soap operas. I was just going because I was a late sexual bloomer and I had major crushes on all my friends' older siblings, even the asshole ones - hormones don’t care about assholes (a lesson I didn’t fully honour until my late 20’s.) But I do remember it was a weird/awkward time for haircuts and costuming in soap opera’s. Leads who had been on the series for decades were having to chop their mullets off and I remember my friend Erin, who lived closest to the school, her Mom had a lot to say about this.
I would find myself standing in that section of the home where the carpet turns into the kitchen laminate and I’d watch her go through this recall of soap opera ceremonial regalia, as if it was a war story or something. “Kim I just can’t believe they would slash off Donald Drake Hogestyn’s hair like that. He was so, so, so handsome before.” It felt like she was in mourning and if I was more of an NDN back then I probably would’ve put some tobacco down but I just nodded and ha’ad in my Hudson's Bay outfit which, as I look back, made for some very weird colonial fort story trading tableauic circumstance. I hope my future Ancestors just sort of forget this particular operatic remembrance and I don’t know why I have such a recall of it.
But I often wonder what we will remember, what generational facts will become family lore, what cultural myths will transform into future truths and what hums of nature will become the spiritual hymns of future services. I think deeply about what I know about the alchemic process of bonding memory into blood but to be very honest with my C- high school science scholarship and my mostly dirtbag NDN gas station exposure to culture, the metamorphosis is as misty as it is mystical.
One of my clearest memories of childhood cultural belonging and spirited aliveness is when my Mom would shepherd my sisters and I out to Sto:lo territory for the “Annual Aboriginal Academic Awards.” Which was pretty hilarious. I think it was the result of some Indigenous committee's “stay in school” initiative cause we never had to submit grades and yet we all got “academic excellence” certificates. They would parade us in high school gymnasium to Susan Aglukark’a “O Siem” on repeat and I’d proudly prance across the stage with stale bannock shoved into my chubby cheeks, clutching onto my paper certification of excellence with jam glazed fingers.
What I remember so fondly about that experience is getting ready with my sisters who I idolized. I stared at them in the bathroom, even though my mere presence made them push my face away but that made me love them more because at least they were paying attention to me. I remember so fondly is the 40 min drive to the gathering with my Ma who would lovingly give us the “how to be a good NDN” condensed lecture. I remember fondly the NDN brown faced boys who would shly follow me under the bleachers as I pulled pranks on the witnesses at this suto-intellectual ceremonial teenage gathering of Nations. I remember the particular blue that would set behind the Sto:lo coastal mountains that would be the last thing I see before I fell asleep on the drive home and I remember the peace it would bring me.
I think about what is worth remembering and I don’t want to live in a world that sacrifices the memories of what supports us through the everyday, the minutiae of seemingly unimportant moments. One of the biggest criticisms I have of Jayzus and his anthologies is that his biographers failed to consciously totem his humour, his erotic charm and unornamented moments of life. I wonder if the disciples' descendents have some comedic blood memory echoes of bearing witness to I dunno, Jayzus letting one rip in a river baptism or something. Water farts are strangely hilarious.
Cause I don’t believe there is a holified metric for how blood memory exists and transmits. I think our spirits might try to discern that maybe we need more conscious sacred knowledge like more than the lyrics to that Third Eye Blind song we listened to on repeat in March of 1998. But I think we must also have the blood memory capacity for Itchy and Scratchy jokes, we must make lives where we can sit outside the Kwik-E-Mart and down some pink sprinkled doughnuts and laugh about the trials and utterly hilarious mucky moments of a life well lived.
And that is what I will build my cultural practice around, taking moments to breath in the sacred, of all kinds, in the oscillations of a life and creative practice that I hope will be remembered for giving the next generations more opportunities to smile at the brown faces of cute boys under the bleachers and fall asleep to the comforting colours of their Nations skies. For maybe that is what is the most important and the transmissional essence of what cultural remembrance is built upon: the tenacious ability to remember not the events or particular knowledge of thing but to remember the qualities it takes to stay alive, gwesneh.
Limelet David for the class and opportunity to explore memory in such a supportive environment.