I have been considering names as a powerful tool, lately. Names and stories, narratives, as grounding and foundational.
Puanani Burgess is a poet, mediator, organizer, and Zen priest who builds community through connecting to the intersectionality of her personal heritage. Bridging Zen practices with traditional Hawai’ian ceremony, Pua asks these three questions in group settings that have really stuck and resonated with me lately:
Tell the story of all of your names
Tell the story of your community
Tell the story of your gift
Since hearing these questions in a podcast, I have deeply resonated with these prompts as a guiding frame. Despite my dislike for naming things, a name becomes a jumping off point, a guide. It becomes context and a beginning for understanding.
Odette Press is a new chapter of making, a distinction in the practice, and I’ve considered these questions about naming, community, and gift in this new chapter of creative life.
Where does Odette Press come from? My family, my matriarch, my center. Odette Laughlin is my father’s mother. Odette is my tie to mountains, to travel. Odette is a fierce Capricorn woman, born in the winter of ’31, who, after meeting my grandfather, had a wedding in Damascus and moved from Beirut, Lebanon, to the states. I wanted to travel, she tells me. I wanted to see the world, she says. Odette is French, meaning wealth, its origins an acknowledgement of postwar French rule in Lebanon. Odette is at my center, my middle name.
Odette Press, for me, started as a need to distance between my artist / maker self, between objects and practice. Odette Press started as a note written on a scrap of paper the winter I lived alone, rediscovered while cleaning in the spring. Odette Press is a place for stories, a place to contain. A place for narratives: writing letters, writing lists, writing to friends, writing to self to remember. Remember.
There are many things we don’t remember. Family details that I would love to find. Exact names, places, locations, of people and family members as they left home and returned. What Odette’s mother told her about being Armenian, besides the horrors of genocide, and that it was often too hard to talk about or comprehend.
I think often about the vast unknowns of a story and acknowledge the abundance of knowns, how journals and letters and writing bridge the gaps between present and past. How these handwritten accounts connect us to the women of my history - their turmoils, their existences, their triumphs. How writing weaves together narratives that bring me to the woman I am today, traveling and returning, writing and reflecting.
Journals and writing and letters find their importance in both a present and a past sense. I write in my journal as a way of placing myself and my narrative, of coming home to a space: here, the shadow of light on a tree, and yesterday an insight I’d like to remember. A list of the thing I love in a day. I return to my journals as spaces to see, as spaces to say, oh yes, perhaps I have grown, perhaps I do still have a great deal of work to do. Tools for my own mapping, my own reflection.
I do not have journals from Odette, but I am grateful for the time I spend with her. I make notes in journals of my conversations with her, an act of gathering and remembering.
In considering the act of writing as an act of remembering, I widen my perspective to consider all those whose voices have not been recorded, have not remained. How the act of writing and remembering is not something we’ve all always been afforded. How the presence of a written experience in a diary can unlock vast multitudes of knowledge about a person and their experiences. In considering the personal narratives that remain unknown, I consider the hundreds of thousands of narratives we lose when the power of recording, reflecting, connecting is not present.
So this is both a call to go inside and connect to self, and a call to connect outwardly and expand. Write your stories, go inside, exhale. Remember and reflect on your experience. Take the time and space for the inner work and then, like the breath, expand. Fill your lungs with breath and your ears, let them listen to the stories of others. Build from the framework of your own experience to connect to everyone around you. Expand your circles, your lungs, and your capacities for understanding. To take the time to connect.
Odette Press is an invitation and Odette Press is a homage. To travel, to going, to expansion. To courage, to writing, to remembering. To my own leaving, exploring, and returning. To the mountains, landscapes, and vistas that continue to teach me. To the woman who taught me to sew and hold things carefully in my hands, who reminded me that with time and careful pressure any piece of aluminum foil can be made creaseless again, who taught me the necessity of a well-timed stern look and furrowed brow. Who met me with a carefully placed furrowed brow when I told her I was leaving for California, and encouraged me to both explore and be safe. Odette Press is both a brand, a separation, and an act of love and togetherness. It is me at my center and throughout generations, my past. I am glad to share the products of this journey with you today.
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Do you write in a journal? Do you send letters? Have you learned more about a person because of a journal? Share your experiences below!