How do you do you

At a recent party, I was on more or less on the sidelines of a conversation between a native Coloradan and a new Denver resident about the peculiarity of the term native. It does seem to be most prevalent in Colorado. A historically v. diverse state that has made itself out to be not at all that diverse. Race was never a thing here was a frequent refrain. Eyerolled so. hard. And in my head (and I so regret not voicing the thought) I replied you mean, race was never a thing for YOU, right? Native divides us by definition in any context, and thus tends to set both sides up for a negative confrontation. The primary question that spurred that conversation - why native? - is never answered to anyone's satisfaction.  Are we really implying that the droves of people coming to live in this state are non-natives?  And what does that entail? Imagine the baggage the terms you use carry, people. Language is fraught. It requires space (and silence!) to broaden, context in which to bloom. Newcomers are not invasive species any more than oldcomers are, and as long as we reduce each other to the lowest (un)common denominator, we are denying each other's humanity. In the era of T***p, it is vital for us to hold onto our ability to really see each other and meet each other as human beings, not merely labels. This simplistic habit of speaking to one another does not lead to fruitful conversation - it leaves both parties feeling firmer in their convictions against the other, hurt and prone to lashing out. Like the man said, if it's not love then it's the bomb (the bomb the bomb the bomb the bomb the bomb the bomb) that will bring us together. Lest we forget, none of us humans are natives, we are none of us above reproach. If you delve far enough back in your bloodline, you will find blood guilt. Thus, the answer is humility. The answer is open-mindedness. The answer is love.

All this also got me thinking about introductions. Those awkward, cursory questions we ask when we first meet someone. Like frightened woodland creatures, inching toward an open palm full of seeds, we are wary, but tempted at the idea of this new nourishment. Part of the stream of conversation that same evening also diverted to the topic of one of those questions: what do you do? The dreaded JOB question. Anxiety abounds. We infer - often rightly - that this is a pivotal moment in which the balance of power in a brand-new relationship is coming to the fore and will color all further interactions between the parties. To an artist who has chosen to focus her primary energies on making art and not on a particular career path in any traditional sense, it is a monstrous question. Yet, I find myself asking it along with everyone else. Am I trying to size up my new acquaintance? To check their cultural/socioeconomic worth against my own? Probably on some level, that's an accurate assessment. We all project our anxiety into our interactions - I think it's just important to own that, acknowledge it and try to build by this heightened awareness to a place of deeper, more authentic connection and respect for one another.

M. has been gone for nearly a dozen days this stretch. He may be coming home Monday, but we don't know yet. The uncertainty is the worst of it, I've found. Not knowing when or if he'll be coming home, if he'll finish up a well only to be called out to a different rig to start the process all over again. To make things more difficult, when he gets busy, that precious window in which we are both awake and not working is thwarted (he works 6 p-6 a; I have a traditional 9-5). There were a few days this past week when we did little to connect but exchange a couple of texts. I've felt like a rig widow, a single person, with all the duties and responsibilities of taking care of the house, the pets, working, keeping up with my musical commitments, and none of the emotional sustenance of having my partner there to help. I have, on the bright side, gotten a TON more reading done than I would otherwise have done. And I have the support of many wonderful friends. I've felt that I need to get better at leaning on others for support. I am a very independent person, and am constantly worried about being a burden, always concerned about maintaining reciprocity in my relationships. But relationships, friendships, I know are not about keeping a balanced ledger of favors. Love and friendship should be a haven from tick-marks, balance sheets, the cold minutiae of financial transactions, &c. I am trying to use this prolonged apartness from my husband to cultivate acceptance of this; to disengage from these ideas of owing, of being owed something. We none of us deserve love; we all deserve love.


Gary Williams said…
I think maybe the reason "native Coloradoan" is spoken with pride is just that, relatively speaking, there aren't that many of them. It's true that waves of in-migration (or out-migration for that matter) can change the character of a place. Colorado is almost certainly not what it was in 1965, or even 1985, and for someone who remembers that time a sense of loss is not surprising, because when thinking about how things have changed, we usually focus on what has been lost (easy drives to ski areas) rather than what has been gained (an opera company in Denver). I suppose the character of the area in which one grew up is just one more thing which the Buddha would say we make ourselves suffer by clinging to.

As to the "what do you do?" question, it is interesting that in this culture we define people by what and how they produce. When I was in the Army it was easier, or at least different. Then when you met someone you asked, "Where have you been stationed?" And depending on the answer, that could lead to identifying mutual acquaintances and shared experiences. But perhaps the "what do you do?" question just lives on because it is a question of pretty general applicability.

Maybe we should change our introductory question to something like "What gives you enjoyment?" or "What do you like about this area?" And maybe we should sabotage the "What do you do?" question by answering, "When I'm not walking the dogs, I like to play tennis," or, "I read historical fiction," or "At least once a week, I cook from a new recipe."
Lindsay Bell said…
Welcome, Gary! Thanks for reading, first of all. And for your thoughtful response. What I didn't mention about the native conversation that is probably pretty crucial to better understanding the implications of that particular conversation, is that the native Coloradan was a white male and the newcomer was a woman of color. I did make mention of the racial dimension in my post, but now I'm wondering if I've been sorely remiss in not pointing out those minor details. Maybe I was avoiding it to maintain my own comfort level. Which is not at all helpful! Those details really change the whole character of the conversation. And my overarching point that we should be coming to one another as fellow humans and digging deeper to come to a better understanding of each other as such, not as our respective labels is not hurt - rather it is helped by pointing out these details. I think that we can still honor each other's backgrounds, differences and similarities, without engaging in the kind standoffish of broad-brushing that the term native implies. And while there are parallels between naming someone as white or a POC v. a native or non-native of a geographic region, there are also very important differences - native Coloradans, as far as I am aware, have not been the victims of multi-generational, systematic oppression of the scale or impact as have POC. There's also implicit power in being a "local" and a white person, where being a newcomer or POC is implicitly not a position of power, particularly in this context. I think what's key in this whole conversation is seeking to look beyond our own limited experiences; human beings have been migrating en masse since we developed legs, basically - what makes Colorado special once we understand this impulse? What we need to understand is that with a diversifying population, we have a responsibility to have these conversations and confront our racial biases and assumptions. I think it's a great thing that lots of people want to come here for the obvious benefits of the active culture, access to the outdoors and economic opportunities. But what makes it a great thing also makes it a very obvious thing. People go where the opportunities are! ALL people. And they should all feel welcome here. You're quite right in citing the Buddha regarding the unwelcoming knee-jerk of some locals. I think we need to get more comfortable with being uncomfortable (har). Minds need to be broadened, including mine. And, we should not be afraid of giving offense, crucially, but we should be prepared to be challenged and open to different perspectives on some of the things we once took for granted. True growth cannot happen otherwise.

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