Monday, September 28, 2009

Creativity summit in Waikiki (of all places)

This past weekend I attended the 16th Manoa Forum at the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Waikiki. The forum, organized by Vernon Char and Dick Dubanoski, brings together professors from UH and members of the community--business people, lawyers, artists, organizers--to discuss a central issue. This year's subject was "creativity." We had all been given a large packet of readings inside of yellow covers, ranging from Plato and Aristotle to New Age considerations of right and left brains, to biographies of "creative geniuses," to part of a memoir by a neuroscientist, Jill Bolte Taylor, about suffering a massive stroke. We sat mostly at round tables, watched presentations, and then talked to each other before reporting back to the group. There were performances, a skit (very silly), and much sharing of stories and ideas. I was pleased to be connected to a larger network of friends and co-conspirators in Hawai`i. Especially compelling to me were a presentation by the Honorable Dan Foley, the first lawyer to bring a gay marriage case to court in Hawai`i in the early 1990s; James Koshiba's efforts to organize community in Waianae and elsewhere; Dr. Brad Wong's plea for help with the Aloha Medical Mission; Maenette Ah Nee-Benham's story of her struggle to win equal footing in the academy as a Native Hawaiian woman; Tom Coffman's description of the moment he discovered he had to go on his own as a political writer and documentary maker; Kalei Kanuha's complaint that the only thing the "geniuses" achieved was that they were all "jerks"; the O'Malley's vivacious performance-driven discussions; Laura Ruby's valedictory for her late husband, Tony Quagliano; Kealoha's comment about how groups have to "suck it up" and contribute to the whole. There was more, but.

What struck me the most, perhaps, was our venue. While we spent most of our time in a conference room around tables, we resided in the Tapa Tower of the Village, a 19 floor building with a view of other buildings, higher and lower, that make up the urban sprawl of Waikiki. My heavily air conditioned room was large, and looked out over the roof of a parking structure to another huge building. From the lanai, if I craned my neck to the left, I could see the mountains past another bank of buildings; if I craned my head to the right, from the far right side of the lanai, I could just catch a glimpse of the ocean. Several hours into my stay, I noticed a curtain behind my large television set. When I opened the curtain, I discovered an ocean view (past the main Hilton Hawaiian Village building and its painted rainbow); I could see the artificial lagoon, the marketplace area (full of shops full of bad art and better jewelry). In the farther distance, a pod of surfers sat looking out to sea in anticipation of the next good wave.

Down at ground level, one could hear music piped in; that it was usually Bruddah Iz's music carried a certain irony to it, as Bruddah Iz favored Hawaiian sovereignty. The concrete jungle was filled with pink Australians, young Japanese couples with adorable children, and local workers in their standard aloha wear. I wandered down to the beach during one break, past the gaudy wedding chapel nestled between towers, the artificial pools of water surrounded by lava rock, the display of penguins, the Starbucks, through an open air lobby, and toward the ocean. A wedding party wandered by, bride in white, holding onto the hand of her military groom, trailed by men carrying beer bottles. The beach is wide (this takes a lot of work to maintain, as erosion is at odds with the Tourist Bureau), covered by people; just around the corner of the high buildings, I could see the edge of Diamond Head. Music wafted from the ocean side restaurant.

Thinking back on this, I want to ask how our conversations about creativity either reflected or pushed back against this version of Hawai`i, so unlike the Hawai`i those of us live here know. Clearly, this space was created; it took imagination to put these simulacra of Hawai`i together. The website of the resort alludes to "perfecting paradise," after all. And it takes real energy (electrical power!) to keep the place running smoothly. Bryant, who spent some hours with the group and me, was astonished by the wastefulness. Does luxury need to be wasteful? Do we need to equate free time with luxury? Luxury with operating outside of time in a place that isn't even itself? I think not, but here it is. On the other hand, as we noted that the bias of our reader was toward the intellectual and the western and the dichotomous, we sat in an air-conditioned room and conducted intellectual conversations, while the tourists at least attended to their bodies on the beach.

It was good to get home to the family, the messiness, the Koolau. I hope to think about what these discussions of creativity mean to Tinfish Press's efforts to reach out to community, sometimes to form it. Brad Wong's dilemma was telling: he argued throughout for a notion of creativity that was not public, did not require an audience. At the end he gave an eloquent plea for help with his medical mission, as community is the theater in which healing takes place. That seemed a good place to stop, or to start again.

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