Monday, September 21, 2015

On Insecurity*

I woke up this morning with a small headcold and a case of insecurity. My body is telling me I need so slow down and stay home, but my energy level is up enough to support my mind wandering in what feels like 1,000 directions contemplating what exactly I am doing in Anchorage. There is so much potential in Anchorage for See Stories, but where should I start? Will it work out here for See Stories? Will I be able to materially support myself and my son in the way I want to?

I am aware that as a business owner I am supposed to project an image of confidence, and as an educator I work to support self-esteem in my students. I have never been good at trying to project an image, but my authentic self tends to be confident and enthusiastic. Yet here I am facing my insecurities, one of the most human experiences one can have. Everything has changed in the past two months, I’ve moved with Tchabo to Anchorage, my grandparents passed away, Tchabo started kindergarden, and I’m reframing my work model to emphasize local Anchorage projects so that I don’t have to take Tchabo continuously out of school. In a way it’s shocking that I’ve been doing as well as I have given all the change in my life, and yet that feels like little consolation in the face of today’s insecurity.

And yet this is a reality that business owners (and everyone!) has to face. It is an insecure world. Sometimes there are too many clients, other times too few. Sometimes payment comes on time, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes I spend a week writing a grant to create a project for myself, and most often the grant doesn’t come through. Sometimes I look in the mirror and wonder if there is something wrong with me that I choose this life. Why don’t you get a regular job, Marie?! Or even more insidious… stop with the entrepreneurial bit, get a consistent job, it’s the responsible thing to do… as a single mom you OUGHT to. 

And yet I trust in my continual calling to run See Stories and to be an entrepreneur. I’ve been like this since I was a teenager, and I’ve always cherished this about myself even when it’s hard. I don’t want to live in a compartmentalized way, work, personal, parenting… I want my life to be in a balance. With See Stories, Tchabo can travel with me to a village to be with me as I teach. I can make a family reunion into a film workshop in my own village in Nebraska, spending time with family and delving into community stories with the next generation. When I need personal time I can take it, and when I am ready to be in the world I can go. And yet inevitably, there are moments and days when it is hard.

Several days ago I picked up Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning as if I unconsciously knew that I would struggle with insecurity today. As I nurse my cold and my emotions I read his instructions that seem directed precisely at me in this moment: “Don't aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one's personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself.” I know this in my bones, even as my mind spins with questions. I am responding to my own particular call in this particular moment in the best way I know how.

Sometimes the reminder about the “cause greater than oneself” is so tiny that it disappears next to the deafening noise of the mind’s chatter. As I respond to Frankl’s call, I realize that today a student from my last workshop just wrote me that she had an exciting interview with a woman who spoke Swedish. She is crafting a film on Swedish traditions in Wausa, the town of my late grandparents. A beloved student and friend from Uganda wrote me to say hi and check in, a young woman whose story and strength of spirit continually inspires me. Ultimately it’s my students, and the next generation, that inspire me to continue with See Stories. As a film educator, I get to support youth to share and engage in stories that are meaningful to them.  

While I sit with both my insecurities and my inspiration, I also realize there are limits to what one person, and to what I, can do. And that’s okay. I follow my bigger call as best I can, but that doesn’t always have to look momentous. It can be as simple as a student doing an interview that touched her. Or a conversation with a former student about how she sees her path forward in Uganda. If there is one thing I would like to go back in time and tell my 20 year old self, it’s that the difference you make doesn’t have to look huge to be meaningful. In a world obsessed with “scaling up” and “broadening impacts” I am content to “scale down” and focus on the little openings. I wonder where they lead…

*I would like to acknowledge my teacher, mentor, and friend Lydia Ossorgin for her conversation that helped me to refine this blog post.  

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Weaving a Story

Interviewing 97 year old Great Great Uncle Clicker
In Wausa everyone is related. The Hults, the Bloomquists, the Andersons. It feels as if the families can be counted on one hand. This is true in most villages where I do film workshops. Karluk, Alaska consists primarily of two families. One stops even asking about whether people are related in most communities because the answer is so obvious. The difference in Wausa for me is that I am a part of the web of relationships. I am a Hult, and also a Bloomquist and an Anderson through marriage. When I look at old pictures I sometimes see a resemblance with myself. Interviews are punctuated with explanations of how I am related to cousins, nephews, long lost aunties-in-law. When I flip through the pages of a Wausa Gazette from 90 years ago, my late Grandpa's birth announcement flies off the page. "Born, to Mr. and Mrs. David Hult, Monday, August 17th, a baby boy." I suddenly see him as a little baby, with all the potential that comes with babyness. He was not yet the handsome young man he would become, or the avid carpenter, or the old man who couldn't stop loving life until the very end. He was a bundle of freshness, unnamed in the paper. 

Grammie in the center of her grandchildren
I can mark time and growth through my visits to this place. The Labor Day parade, with hours worth of floats that defy any notion that the small town is a fading thing, reminds me of the same parade, 25 years ago. My grandma sewed all of us cousins swedish costumes. We danced around the maypole the way the Swedes did in the old country. We ate Potato Balogna, Ostakaka with Lingonberries, and we called the noontime meal "dinner." 25 years later I realize how much of myself is recycled from this past. I started a crepe stand, and we can trace the crepe tradition back in our family for 5 generations. No matter where I travel in the world, I am most comfortable in a village where people farm their food and live with the seasons. Tchabo and I recently noticed that we both apologize quite often even when we have done nothing wrong, and even this I see in the mid-west politeness where people tend to be extremely considerate of one another. 

Grammie's biography of her Mother-in-Law
I work with students to share their local stories, I also weave together my own story. I realize that my Grandma was quietly and impeccably keeping track of our family story. Every object she possessed had a note about its history. Every photo had a caption, and relatives had entire home-made books documenting the family tree and anecdotes. I find myself connecting to my late Grammie through this passion, as I too am drawn to understand the web of connections in our family. Who suffered what? How did people survive? What was different, and what the same? And yet my Grammie didn't leave notes about why she felt called to be the family historian. She did it so quietly that I didn't even think of her as a genealogist until I witnessed her countless albums, reel-to-reel-movies, and writings, after her passing. What she didn't say or write, but what I sense, is that she kept track out of love. She wrote her Mother-in-Law's history as a 95th birthday present. She wrote the story of tatting in our family as a gift to me and my cousin Melissa, who learned from our Great Grandmother how to make lace. She understood how important it is to feel connected to a bigger story, and wanted her loved ones to experience that. 

Oftentimes small town and family history can boil down to nostalgia, or a sense that things used to be better. Or for others, perhaps a sense of relief that we are in a new century that doesn't involve waking at dawn to milk cows and feed chickens and work all day, every day. Sometimes I look at the straight-forward and lasting nature of marriage as it used to be in Wausa (marry young, and stay married for life) and I find it more honest, that instead of looking for an ideal partner you work hard with the partner you have to make a life. Other times I feel grateful that I have more options, that I can marry (or not marry) on my own terms and in my own way. The truth might be that life is challenging and beautiful in either case. For me, looking into my ancestors here in Wausa, ultimately I am not comparing the merits of the past and the present, but I am in the tender process of understanding myself and my son. What is this piece of the puzzle? Tchabo intuitively knows the depth of the connection, which I see as he spontaneously embraces without release his Great Great Great Uncle Clicker, or as he plans how we will honor the memory of Grammie and Grampie through making apple pancakes and celebrating them "at least once a month." Through an honest and evolving understanding of ourselves, free of judgement, we grow and embody our full potential, our birth-right.