Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Pleasures of Listening

In case you haven't noticed, I post every Wednesday morning. I think this violates some basic tenet of blogging (that one should post frequently), but weekly is what I can manage. Every week, I encounter so many things related to my theme (discomforts of diversity and labeling) that I sometimes have a hard time settling on a topic. However, this week, I was clear on the subject, even though it is perhaps slightly off-topic. 
    A couple weeks ago, I posted about the discomforts of listening--especially to opinions that differ from our own. This week I want to address the pleasures of listening. This is because last week was my birthday, and the gift my husband gave me was the new boxed set of Beatles music--all of it, and all remastered to perfection and packaged in a very handsome black box with many photos and liner notes and even DVDs.
     As a girl, I was a true Beatles lover. John was my favorite. It didn't even seem worth arguing that he was the ultimate. When someone named one of the other "lads" as their favorite, I'd simply shake my head and refuse to even consider their POV (much like that little boy in the photo in my earlier not-listening posts). 
     At any rate, my husband and I have been going through the CDs in this black box one by one over the past three or four days, and it has been a magical mystery tour through my own personal history. Every song triggers memories, and I remember almost every word. So many wonderful songs. It has also been stunning to witness, through sound and photos, the development of these four men from somewhat packaged commodities in their identical hair and round-neck suits, emerging step by step, song by song, as artists with distinct talents and interests. What a wonderful birthday gift this has been.
     One last thing to say about this. I have now become far more open to the possibilities of the other "lads." I now see what they have to offer as musicians and artists and potential heartthrobs. However, when we took our daughter (maybe 10 yrs old at the time?) to see Hard Day's Night, a film I'd seen and died over perhaps 15 times, she said she couldn't tell the difference between the four guys.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Puzzle of Ethnicity

Here I am again, trying to understand the terms ethnic and ethnic group. I'm not saying I ever really stopped wondering. It's a slippery one. Could the people who live in a town like the one I do eventually develop enough of a shared identity to be considered an ethnic group? Could the people of Detroit, who have a sense of shared loss and challenge and identity? How about the people of New Orleans? They certainly have a shared identity, customs, even language (e.g., Who dat?).
     I began to ponder the question This Time because the past couple days, I’ve been listening to Michael Sullivan’s fascinating travelogue on NPR. It’s about his 3,000-mile journey along the Mekong river, starting in the Tibetan Highlands. So many amazing images. E.g., Tibetan monks dragging themselves over the frozen ground as they make a 400-mile pilgrimage to Lhasa (see photo on the NPR website). In the first installment of the journey, Sullivan stops in a village, and there he speaks with a young woman who says she is "troubled by the influx of majority Han Chinese that development has brought to the area." She also says that her father is from the ethnic Hui minority; she is a mix of Hui and Bai; and her husband is from yet another ethnic minority, the Lisu. The Bai view the Han with suspicion, and one interviewee says that there are more Han than the government reports. The ethnic minorities feel threatened by the Han. The older generations speak their own languages (Hui and Bai and Lisu, I assume), and the younger generation speak Chinese (Han?).

I will not pretend to be able to read this map, and Yunnan is not even the district being described in that part of the NPR story (I couldn't find an ethnicity map of the Tibetan Highlands). But by looking at it, you do get a feel for the complexity of the matter and the intermingled slipperiness.
     So I turn to Dr. Phil Herbst once again and his encyclopedia of ethnic terminology, and here is his definition of ethnic group:
Any category of people within a larger society who possess distinctive social or cultural traits, shared history, and sense of their commonness, regardless of the group’s size, power, race (the perception of certain common biological traits), or time of immigration. The term is popularly used for such groups in U.S. society as Jews, who identify themselves in terms usually of common history as well as religion, or groups designated by national origin, such as Polish Americans or Japanese Americans.
So it's a pretty subjective matter (especially that "sense of commonness), really. No wonder so many people wonder what it means when they hear that some one is ethnic Hui or ethnic Bai or any of the rest of the ethnicities we've heard about as the media bring the whole world to our door in ever-more-vivid detail. 

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Not listening


I decided to return to this not-listening boy today because he is so decisive and committed to his position, and right now, this level of commitment appeals to me. Also, in an email, my friend Jody hypothesized that children refuse to listen when they fear that adults are going to impinge on or threaten some aspect of their identity. She pondered the possibility that it is the same for adults, and that makes sense to me. So thank you for that insight, Jody. Why not do what we can to shut out an assault of any kind? I don't need to tell you that there's plenty to shut out these days, no matter what your identity is. 
I do have a confession to make about this little boy. I found his image on a website about ear infections. He was being used to illustrate what a child with ear pain might look like. But, with Jody's comment in mind, the image still fits with the not-listening theme on a metaphorical level--that is, one can think of messages we do not want to hear as potentially infectious assaults we must keep from invading the inner sanctum. 

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Salon


This beautiful image from Tara Bradford (who has a blog called Paris Parfait) captures the spirit of this week's post. In Monday's New York Times, I read this:

At the end of a week that included two spectacular bomb attacks, Ali al-Nijar left his home to talk about poetry. Mr. Nijar, a retired professor of agriculture, was squeezed in among 60 others at a weekly literary salon on Baghdad’s Mutanabi Street, one of about a dozen salons that have sprung up around the city in the last two years as violence has dropped.
“This is a product of freedom,” Mr. Nijar said, waiting for the featured speakers to arrive. The topic for the week was a poet named Abdul Wahab al-Bayati, one of the founders of modern Iraqi poetry. “Of course, there is fear in the city right now,” Mr. Nijar said. “But people don’t care about the bombings. I know the risk I’m taking, but I don’t care.”
For centuries salons were a vital part of Iraqi intellectual life, places where people of different classes or sects met to discuss culture, literature or ideas. At one time Baghdad had more than 200 salons, about a quarter of them run by Jews, said Tariq Harb, a lawyer who is a regular at several salons and hosts his own.
The article went on to describe a second salon, attended by both Shiite and Sunni clerics, women in headscarves and others without, even women smoking cigarettes, which John Leland, the author of the Times article, notes is a taboo in Iraqi public life.
     Usually, this blog focuses on divisions between people or dividing lines, so I'm happy to have an occasion to focus on people coming together around art, culture, ideas, eager to listen and exchange--even in the face of possible danger. 
     A few more images to celebrate the spirit of the salon: