Note: I took a Skillshare class called “The Style Class: Work out Your Illustration Style Through a Daily Project” with Instructor Tom Froese. My project was “By Their Fruit You Shall Know Them” as I identified human “fruit” (values, behaviors, principles) and a fruit for every letter of the alphabet. Some letters have a lot of possibilities, both for the idea and for the fruit, and some letters are a stretch. But I was able to do it, though not all of the fruit are personally known to me. However, all the ideas are important to me, I will use this project as inspiration to write, as I seem to be not writing much in the new year, or since the election actually. Another note: I am writing for an adult audience, though these illustrations look child-like. Maybe my children’s version will come later.
What is authenticity? Being authentic, your real, true self. One of the most influential writers on my life is Parker Palmer. His book Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of A Teacher’s Life got me through the rough years of teaching when I resisted the test-centered mandates.. It helped me to strive to be “authentic” in this struggle - to never forget that my students are precious souls that I am responsible to nurture., to help to be authentic. An earlier book of his, A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life deepened my quest for authenticity and helped me to understand people who appear one way to the world, but whose actions contradict that. Their actions spoke louder than their apparent persona.
This morning I was listening to a podcast - Design Matters with Debbie Millman. The guest was Tanya Selvaratham, a writer-producer-activist. Her book Assume Nothing is an account of her experience with domestic violence. In the podcast, she discusses the insidiousness of abuse by one’s partner. In her case, it was the New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who she fell in love with because his appearance to the world as a progressive who meditated hid his latent misogyny. This reminded me of my interest in authenticity, especially in terms of one's relationships.
My first play, Wind Dances, was about a young Japanese-American dancer who hid her authentic self from her father. My second play, Pulani, was about a young Chamorro girl who had to go on a journey to become her authentic self, a healer responsible to help her community. I wrote a play, Ka Ikena, exploring whether one could or should return to one’s values held in youth. The main character was a visionary poet as a college student and then became a successful developer. When I was writing this, I kept this theme taped to the wall next to my desk - “Can one live an authentic life?” I suppose if I stretched it, I’d find a way to fit this theme into all of my writing, but you get the idea.
How do you know if you are being authentic? How do I know if I am being true to myself, or just fooling myself? Just trying to please? To make nice? To avoid conflict? I have tried to twist myself every which way in the past, especially in navigating the world of relationships and trying to make something work when it wasn’t meant to.
In today's political climate, I am particularly triggered by blatant hypocrisy - for example how one can claim to be "pro-life" but then have no empathy for migrants who risk their lives so that their children can have not jut better lives, but LIFE itself. And who would have thought I would honor Republican Liz Cheney for her integrity? I disagree with most of her conservative views but admire her courage standing up to the dangerous anti-democratic lies that her party continues to spew.
What is truth? Authenticity? I do think the answer is knowable, but sometimes it needs to unfurl on its own. It takes being vigilant, being open to being wrong, being on the lookout for signs. For example, if you lie, and find yourself having to lie again to cover your initial lie, that’s a sign of inauthenticity. If you hurt and alienate loved ones to preserve your lie, that is a sign.
The quest for authenticity is a song that never ends.You can keep adding verses, keeping the theme and melody of your authentic self. It can get more and more complex, but you know it’s consistently the same song. If you don't know what that song is - the melody, the theme - that is a sign and a first step is to find it. . Then sing it.
Diane Aoki is a writer who explores other modes of creativity as her intuition leads her.