Unsolicited Opinions | How do we get in formation?
- Published: May 22, 2023
I originally started this piece in January, and couldn’t find the words to finish. I’m finishing it now, nearly five months later, and choosing to leave my January thoughts in the first few paragraphs.
“They must practice being an ear of corn, not a kernel”
—Mashkodiisiminag, “Noopiming: The Cure for White Ladies”
Going into a new year is always filled with hope and dread — hope that things in our world will be smoother, kinder, softer, and dread of the new “big bad” that always seems to appear when we least expect it. I’ve been thinking of what to write in a new column, a way to enter into this new year with intention and hope. It’s been difficult. Our little village is faced with some big decisions, decisions about the makeup of the village itself, who deserves to live here, how we can accommodate people while honoring the land itself, whether ensuring space for plants and animals is a priority, and how we safeguard our personal peace. I often find myself asking if this is really the place I want to raise my child, whether the stress of being a “villager” is worth it, what it means to be in community with people who don’t always see out of their own silos.
Last fall, I read “Noopiming: The Cure for White Ladies” by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, a Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg writer who is a member of the Alderville First Nation in Ontario, Canada. The book, a mixture of poetry and prose, is an example of decolonial art that I think should be centered as we consider and try to reduce our part in the ongoing colonial project. The book is separated into sections and chapters that come from the perspectives of elders, animals, trees, spirits — all of which make up a whole being that is submerged in a lake under ice.
A few days ago, Callie and I saw a formation of geese returning to their home for the spring, and I felt compelled to pick up “Noopiming” again. You see, one of the sections, called “formation,” details the flight patterns of geese, who must fly in formation to make it to their destination. A teacher of young geese offers lessons in how to navigate interpersonal conflicts, and practice being a whole ear of corn instead of a kernel.
I think the “formation” section of “Noopiming” can be useful as we navigate these hard decisions. The message reiterated throughout is to look out for the weak, be humble, consider the impact of your words, and spend more time listening than talking. For the geese, formation is crucial — falling out of formation causes a goose to bear all the drag and resistance of flight themself, so they rely on others. I think we need to do a little more thinking of how our formation should look, and the ways we can really lean into each other to avoid the drag and resistance of realities we face.
Reading Simpson’s work reminds me of two bell hooks quotes. The first, “We have to be aware of the extent to which liberal individualism has actually been an assault on community … when the genuine staff of life is our interdependency, is our capacity to feel both with and for ourselves and other people.” The second, “When you wake up and find yourself living someplace where there is nobody you love and trust, no community, it is time to leave town. And where you need to go is any place where there are arms that can hold you, that will not let you go.”
Neighbors, I came into this year nervous, and as the year has gone on, the nerves come and go in waves. In these five months, we have embraced each other through some really hard times, and I hope we can continue to do so, that we can make hard choices, avoid weaponizing history, and move forward without leaving anyone behind.
*News writer and reporter Jessica Thomas’ column, “Unsolicited Opinions,” opens up space dedicated to her opinions, books and sometimes other things.