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Cheer Yourself On

Sara General

A new, as of yet untitled painting I finished recently.

A new, as of yet untitled painting I finished recently.

I took a vacation this past week and it was incredible. I listened to music. I binge-watched Supergirl. I relaxed. I did some art. I did some writing. I went to see Paw Patrol Live. It was amazing. It was like I spent time just existing and it was so, so refreshing. I also went for lunch with my husband and we spoke mostly Cayuga to one another. We also spoke Cayuga at the dinner table with the girls several times through the week.

I have to say, it was pretty amazing to know that even though it’s taken a long time—it’s happening. I’m learning language. I’m using language. We’re all using it—together, as a family. We’re filling our house with Cayuga and we can do even more if we continue to work at it. I needed to recognize this simple, good progress this week. I needed to give our family an enormous burst of love and affection for being awesome and encourage us to keep being awesome—to keep trying. We don’t do that enough. Cheer ourselves on. Encourage ourselves.

I am a busy person. Busy with work, busy with school. Busy with writing and art projects. Sometimes these different types of busyness blend together, as it did a few weeks ago when I presented at an Indigenous education conference I helped to organize. For a brief moment while I was standing there next to my PowerPoint (lol), it felt like all these different parts of myself got to exist in one space for twenty minutes or so: writer, researcher, language learner, mother, wife, artist. It felt good to feel them come together—even for a second—because it can be truly exhausting to pursue all of these different things all at once throughout the year. Hard to feel like there is enough space to be all of those things. And even though it’s hard, the truth is—I don’t want to give up any of it. It’s all connected. It all feeds each other.

This week was important then, because I got to think about how grateful I am that any of those things are in my life at all (rather than lament that I have so many interests, which I’m prone to do from time to time). I’ve worked a long, long time to have things like writing and language be in my life and moving forward from here—these are the things I am going to continue to prioritize. But the truth is, I’m going to prioritize all of it. Doing this means I need to continue to be careful with my time. Fortunately, I’ve learned some valuable lessons the last little while about what kind of space and energy I need to create for that work to flourish, and about how important it is to value my time and create boundaries around it so that I can be helpful, healthy and peaceful.

Part of this reflection and recommitment to being careful with my time comes from my ongoing reading about the concept of “deep work”. But it also comes from just living and experiencing the highs and lows of life—and the last few months have been filled with high points and low points. The high points were finding out that two proposals I worked on in May of this year were both approved. I’m excited about both of them for completely different reasons. The first project was for funding for a language immersion program for the Cayuga language. I’ve spent the better part of the last six years thinking about language and the Ogwehoweh Language Degree program, reading literature, talking with speakers and learners, hearing various kinds of feedback and then reflecting on how to improve and grow the language programming at my place of work. One of the most pressing issues I (and others) have observed is the need for an influx of highly proficient Cayuga language speakers and teachers for the degree (or any language program) to be sustainable in the years to come. Case in point—my husband was teaching three nights a week this term. My husband is an awesome speaker, but this isn’t a sustainable model for the program or my family. There is no question that adult immersion with effective teaching strategies and a well-laid out curriculum is the best and most expedient way to create new adult language speakers. And so, the proposal was written with these ideas in mind. There is a lot to say about this project, and I hope to share more about it as it moves forward, but for now, it is wonderful to have this opportunity to do this work.

The second proposal was for funding to host an Ogwehoweh Storytelling Festival. I’m excited for this one because ever since I started sharing my writing and books, a lot of people from my community have approached me with questions about writing and storytelling—many of them have writing and storytelling aspirations of their own. While I’m happy to share what I’ve learned with anyone, I thought it would be even more amazing to organize a festival where people could learn from other Indigenous writers and storytellers from Six Nations because Six Nations is a community where there are so many talented writers and storytellers working across multiple media. The planning is in the preliminary stages but the festival will happen in the fall of 2019, but in the lead up to it, there will be seven seminars focussing on a different topic (short story, poetry, script-writing, etc) that people can sign up for. I’m super excited for it and will be sharing more about it through my work.

Of course, where there are highs, there are lows. I don’t have as much to say about these, because I am fortunate that they pass with time, sleep, art, and music. I always find that for me, the lows are much more internal than external. Self-doubt. Self-criticism. Feeling like you aren’t doing enough or doing things the way other people think you need to do them. It’s times like these that I’m most happy to be a writer and an artist. Because I can watch something like Neil Gaiman’s “Make Good Art” speech and remember that I’m not here solely to please anyone or live up to anyone’s expectations of who I am. And when those kinds of thoughts creep in—I can let them go, let those people go, and focus on making the art that only I can make. Being the best version of myself that I can be. And celebrate that in myself and others. It’s a good place to land, I think. And land I did.

Anyways—these are some of the projects that I’m about to dive into as I return from the break, along with more books, writing, teaching, revising of dissertations, and language learning. It is a full life. A happy life. And even though it feels crazy and overwhelming at times—I’m grateful for all of it.

Anyways, I am jumping back in now. There are so many writing projects and books coming. It’s going to be fabulous. So happy creating everyone! And don’t forget to cheer yourself on every once in awhile :).