It is 2011. I am returning to the Philippines for the first time since birth. It is beautiful and horrible and amazing and difficult. When I return, I shove the journey aside.
It is 2012. I decide to pursue a Master of Fine Arts in Writing & Poetics with an intention to become a YA novelist. However, my trip has sunk its claws in me; I can't make sense of my seemingly contradictory feelings, the lack of language, the salt in the air, the food my body didn't know I yearned. So instead I write a short story about it in 3rd person; my professor tears it up and puts it in an envelope with red tissue paper. In my feedback, she writes, "abyss." She writes, "'Reverse migration' is psychotic." She writes, "DISCUSS."
It is 2013. I am in a large army tent at Westminster Woods in Occidental, California. I, a person with no car or clue about what I want for my future, a person who has never before shown outward interest in learning about my birth country, am at a conference titled, “Katutubong Binhi: Myths and Stories that Feed our Indigenous Soul.” It is offered through the Center for Babaylan Studies, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that shares Filipino Indigenous Knowledge Systems and Practices (IKSP), with a specific focus on Babaylan discourse and Sikolohiyang Pilipino (Filipino psychology).
I am afraid of the dark. But it is not dark; it is nautical twilight, pre-dawn. Suddenly, I hear laughing, and see a shadow wave at me from across a deep gorge.
“Hello!” a voice says.
“Hello,” I reply. “Where are you?”
“Over here,” the voice says, laughing.
“I can’t see you, but I’m headed down to the mess hall,” I say. “I’ll meet you there.”
After arriving to the mess hall, I pour myself a cup of coffee. A new friend, Will, sits down next to me. His tent is near where I had heard the voice. He says he heard me yelling. I ask, “did you recognize the voice of the person I was speaking to?”
He says, “there wasn’t another voice. Just yours.” I look at him in shock. I don’t think I’m crazy. Another new friend, Mylene, overhears and matches my expression with a smile, “the redwoods must have been talking to you. They’re cheeky around here.” She is a plant whisperer; she would know. The next day I take an offering to the spot and give gratitude for sharing their spirit with me. I write in my journal: Presence. Breathe. Touch.
It is 2014. Little did I know that these experiences would alter my life and how I see the world. It occurs to me, while journaling about it, that plant spirit communication is really about three things: presence, breath, and touch. And this approach can be used to approach everything else in our lives.
I write Marilyn, an experimental poetry novel, which in hindsight I realize is my "ethnoautobiography," a term coined by Jürgen Werner Kremer, R. Jackson Patton, and my mentor, Leny Strobel. Ethnoautobiography is “defined as creative writing (and/or oral presentation) that grounds itself in the ethnic, cultural, historical, ecological, and gender self-exploration of the author.” It is a resistance poetics, an attempt to reclaim our heritage, rediscover our indigeneity, and to recall the long body. It requires us to let go of who we think we are. It is difficult work.
But I'm realizing how much it is needed. How there are many ways that people feel orphaned. How there are many shows featuring orphans. And just look at the amount of websites that profess to help participants discover their ancestry through DNA tests. What are we searching for? Science recently discovered what many of us have known all along: ancestral trauma can be passed down through our genes. And through my own journey, I've come to realize that our ancestral practices can also be passed down through our genes.
It is from this space that RestoryNation was born. As transnational adoptee, I am interested in the various ways in which we feel orphaned and untethered, and how we can use story and myth to reconnect ourselves to the earth.
Here, at RestoryNation, we believe our stories are sacred stories. Within it are the histories, hopes and dreams of our ancestors and ourselves. Not only do stories help us understand our lives and our humanity, they also help us understand and connect to each other.
The (r)evolution is somatic.
Amanda Ngoho Reavey (pronouns: she / her) is the author of Marilyn (The Operating System, 2015), which won the 2017 Best Book Award in Poetry from the Association for Asian American Studies. She received her MFA in Writing and Poetics from Naropa University, and is a Certified Journal to the Self Facilitator through the Center for Journal Therapy as well as a Reiki Master Teacher.
Currently, Amanda is a Poetry Fellow at Black Earth Institute, a teacher at OSHER Lifelong Learning Institute, and working towards a teaching certificate in Secondary English Education.