[This is Part 3 of a 3-part post series by Dao Strom/The Sea and The Mother, regarding her hybrid music-literary project, We Were Meant To Be A Gentle People (East EP). The EP album-plus-book project combines both written and sung “voices”, plus text and imagery, to revive some of the old tradition of ‘ca dao’ (sung-poetry), but utilizing the tools, language, and stylings of our modern era. The project consists of a book & music album, available in limited edition hand-bound copies (& digitally) — available for purchase only on Bandcamp.]
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[Author’s Note: The following text is a “coda” from the above-described project. The “coda” is an extra passage not included in the book; I designed and printed only 25 copies of the “coda” as a 4-page pamphlet, to hand out at shows and give away as a special extra item with orders of the album/book.
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[CODA] : This Is The Wound We Came Out Of
This is the wound we came out of.
§ More than three decades later, we say the war is over, lives are better now, we are safe, and we consider ourselves healed. We tell ourselves by now we “should” be healed.
§ We have certainly given the subject, the history, as well the silences and contradictions of said history, ample thought and acknowledgment, haven’t we? It is done and now is a new day (also a new war—or wars—for that matter) and have we not better things to concern ourselves with by now?
§ But for some of my generation—they call us the 1.5 generation—the face we present to the world is still darkened by our preoccupation with the tragedy of the war of our parents; that last-century’s tumult we were born at the fringes of. Is it perhaps because, in looking back at the innocence of our child-selves through the eyes of our adult selves (some with children of our own now), we lament the powerlessness of childhoods that gave us no choice but to be swept up, sometimes pummeled, by the tides that took us? § Or is it perhaps due to the amplification of tragedy as absorbed, yet hardly understood, through child-selves, that our work and lives today are inclined toward contemplation—a bewonderment, even—at those sorrows that evicted us? § & yet, around me, even in my intimate circles, there are those who ask why we are not “over it” yet.
§ There is an American (or is it just modern) tendency to cite letting go and moving forward as psychological triumph: we know it is better – “healthier” – to acknowledge but forgive, process but not over-ponder, events of the past. We understand it is imperative for the victim to find strength to say a firm no to the return of pain, when its familiar environs and patterns again tempt us. § & so I acknowledge that the war is over and it must remain over, and I acknowledge that the pain I have inherited and carried, that I have wrestled with over an entire thirty-nine-year lifetime to date, is better off relinquished. I will also acknowledge how emotion and catharsis have at times penetrated, providing me with experiences that make me believe maybe now, at last truly, maybe now I have come through to the other side, I am done with it and can get on with my American living, happy and unburdened, accepting of its privileges, finally. § Yes; on occasion I have come to points where I tell myself I can learn to laugh now and find enjoyment, satisfaction in the small things, in the simple and even the shallow pursuits. § We have our t.v., we have clothes, we eat when and whatever we please, and we know, even, the luxury of boredom; we are free. § At intervals I have thought this, even believed it, to be enough, to be all. But then, a picture, another artist’s rendering of memory, a documentary program, a paragraph, a relative’s reminder, ignites it all over again. § & I find that “Vietnam” (as opposed to Việt Nam) still resides in me, as a predicament, as an irresolute condition. It is not over.
§ —& then it comes, that hollowing in the chest, a pressure against the lungs, that sends into the throat that raw searing sensation to signal that one’s susceptibility to sorrow, in the face of certain discrepancies, is still very much alive and well, thank you. Despite the years, the distances, the logic, I can still be overcome when faced again with witness of the violences that continue to be a part of our human—& my own ((dual)) culture’s—histories.
§ But I am also one of those who thinks it should be “only human” to feel sorrow at such transgressions. That failure to “be human” begins at the point at which our sorrow can no longer find access, and thus relegates itself to other avenues—anger; denial; forced forgetting; the stubborn pride (or blithe callousness) of the survivor.
§ We should remember: forgetting occurs, usually, in correlation with loss, it is parcel to the aftermath of absence; forgetting, like memory, is an antecedent. To something previously known.
§ It is critical we realize this. That the hate that drove the violence of the war I was a child of was always, only, a secondary emotion. That the malice to destroy others does not arise without there having first existed, somewhere ensconced in the leaves of the being, some former knowing, of something gentler, something other than strife, a form of love or harmony or a state of stillness perhaps, just something that, in comparison, makes the malevolence and disconnection in one’s present circumstances undesirable and exceptional; a former manner of guilelessness—a child-state—that was disrupted.
§ & perhaps it is only this state of being, of simple access to bewilderment—a refusal—in the face of harm-doing, that we are trying to return to in our recycling of the travesties of past wars. We reopen those wounds in order to redress them, again and again, we use paper, artifice, the overstimulation of montage, the false architecture of words, anything we have, anything we hope might eventually, partially or wholly, reconstitute what was lost.
This is the wound we came out of. §
[Hear a song from the project here – “Ode to Mother(land)”]:
Dao Strom is the Oregon-based author of the the novel Grass Roof, Tin Roof and the short story collection The Gentle Order of Girls and Boys. She is also a musician with two albums, Everything that Blooms Wrecks Me and Send Me Home. More info here.
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