Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Road We Walk On

I believe what caught my attention most readily within “Krik? Krak!” was the many examples of art, or art forms. This presence of art forms carries on heavily throughout all of our reading this semester, but especially within the second half through tattoo, and even within Kerouac’s “On the Road” for the actual tempo of the travels mimics a jazz tune. What Danticat establishes in her writings however, that I did not initially pick up on in the other novels yet is certainly present within each, is the way art forms are essentially a filter for devastation, a means of coping, a method for hope.

One significant instance that depicts this conception properly is established in the opening lines of the novel when Danticat writes, “I also know there are timeless waters, endless seas, and lots of people in this world whose names don’t matter to anyone but themselves” (3). The timeless waters, and endless seas depicted reveal the sense of no end to the devastation, that the hardships are eternal like the waters. Similarly, the name which holds such importance to an individual as repeatedly discussed in class essentially means nothing to anyone but the person owning it which unveils a purposelessness coexisting with hopelessness whose combination is unsettling.

Yet, the same young man who can not escape his devastation, and who believes people and names go forgotten is also asked by an old man to write down his name. When revealing his identity (which is an obscenely long name) “he says it all with such an air that you would think him a king” (27). It is further important to note that the old man believes the journal to be a book. Thus the dual identity of the writings serves an important purpose. While a journal is personal, it is a form of writing that allows the young man to cope. Yet in scripting the old man’s name upon request, the journal has become shared, and is now a book. In this sharing of the journal, the old man’s name has also become important to more than just himself, allowing hope to creep upon the two men by means of writing which is art. Even more symbolically, the journal is thrown to the ocean, bringing us back to the opening lines, which is to say that by placing art in an endless sea of despair, we are in turn creating an endless sea of hope.

A similar instance occurred within my service learning at St. Mary’s, though not as dramatic as dropping a journal off the side of a ship. The students were taken to the computer lab, given pen pals, and a prompt. They were to simply tell their pen pal about themselves: their name, family members, activities, likes, dislikes—whatever they desired, similar to the young man’s journal. The first drafts of their letters were only a few sentences long, humbling if you will. When I asked one of the girls why her letter was so short she responded, “’cause I don’t have anything nice, or expensive or whatever to talk about that would be interesting.” Before that encounter I never realized how close the association of having a lot materially was to being “interesting.” The pang of inferiority and the disillusionment of hope that is embedded within the students because of financial depravations is detrimental to their sense of self. They believe themselves to be swept away in the “timeless waters and endless seas” as depicted by Danticat.

Fortunately however, when I asked the same student to think about what other things she has in her life that dose not entail money and to write about them it took her a few moments but her pages were soon filled. Therefore, through this writing prompt in the form of a letter, she and her classmates were able to share their re-defined identities, which evoked a sense of hope in their new interpretations of themselves, as well as excitement in being able to share their hope with another, whether it is their classmates or pen pal.

Danticat’s novel, as well as the others this semester, has helped me to adequately assert that the greatest form of travel is the journey we make internally. What is even more fascinating is that these internal journeys are usually provoked by the external, and later become the lens by which we view the world. More importantly, through both this class and my service I have learned that it is not only experiencing the internal journeys yourself, but sharing them with others that allow us to fully travel. It is presumably under these circumstances that writers are inspired to share their stories, painters to paint, sculptors to sculpt, and people to receive tattoos. In this sense we literally “make the road we walk on.”

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