Recently a friend introduced me to the word “Iyeska.” It’s a Native American word, I believe Lakota Sioux originally, with at least three different meanings: If one is talking about ancestry or culture, it means, “mixed-blood.” If talking about language it means “translator;” and in reference to the sacred, Iyeska means “Shaman.”
I love this one word with three such distinct and separate meanings, and that they all connect. The “mixed-blood” would have often been the translator, the one with the knowledge of two cultures, with two parents, who was raised speaking both languages. And the Shaman is often a translator of sorts, whether translating spiritual ideas to the community or tribe, or translating the spiritual and cultural significance of events that might seem insignificant at first glance. It has been said, “Iyeska is the spirit who stands at the crossroads between the visible and the invisible worlds.” Somewhere in this idea is a central theme to who I am.
When the male human fetus is in the womb, near the end of the first trimester a process takes place called the “androgen wash.” Chemicals produced due to the male’s Y chromosome wash over the brain, with the primary androgen being testosterone. The result is that synapse connections between the left and right hemispheres of the brain are “burned” away by this reaction. On average, about twenty percent of the connections between the hemispheres are destroyed. This process seems to account for some of the “masculinisation” of the child’s brain, and mirrors a similar process that takes place when the second androgen wash takes place at the onset of puberty .
There has been quite a bit of medical speculation that concentrations of testosterone and other hormones in the androgen wash, as well as the duration of the process in individual males, might be somewhat linked to left handedness, to more creative (right brain) thinking, and possibly even to homosexuality. The thinking being: males with more dilute androgen wash retain more of those brain connections, and are less extreme in their gender traits. They might retain some more “feminine” cognitive traits (access to more emotionally based or “intuitive” forms of cognition), and may result in more access to creative parts of the brain than most males typically have.
Since I first heard this information in my early twenties, I have always been fascinated by the concept, and have wished there was a way you could easily test the brain to see how much of those connections remain. I have always felt like “iyeska,” between two worlds, possibly even between the two hemispheres of the "collective brain." I could be the poster child for the “androgen deficient wash” I’ve read about: I am somewhat ambidextrous. I write left-handed and naturally play guitar left-handed. However I throw and catch right handed. I am right hand and left foot dominant in almost all physical ways. I eat either way, and sometimes get confused which one feels more comfortable. I walk the line between a creative (right brain) person and a logical, linear (left brain person). I can get easily caught up in logical, linear tasks and goal orientation, but I also love to work in free-form problem solving and brainstorming areas.
I am constantly finding myself in the role of interpreter, or liaison, between the artistic world and the commercial world. Artists often lack the ability to explain or interpret their work to the general public. They need someone to explain what they’re doing and why it’s important to the world. Throughout my life I have found myself in those situations. I have worked for and alongside artists for my entire adult life, practicing my own art along the way and wishing that I had someone to interpret or “push” my work the way I was capable of doing for others. I created curricula in churches I worked with on the topics of Arts, Culture, and Worldview; teaching the “non-artistic” public why art is so crucial to culture, and why the support and development of the arts throughout the spheres of society is key to the progression and development of our culture.
It seems I am always at this crossroads, between the two worlds. Just last night, leaving my office, I ran into a girl from the neighborhood that wants to be a photographer. She is struggling to learn the art, to get her ability to rise to her desire, and to find fulfillment in this form she cares about so deeply. But she’s getting discouraged, and when I asked why she wasn’t out shooting photos of the blanket of new-fallen snow all around, she responded, “I think I’m retiring from photography.” We started talking about the creative process, how she felt dry and uninspired and was about to give up. I walked with her and explained how that’s simply part of the process, you give out, you create, and then you retreat a little, take some time, and fill yourself up again. The lack of inspiration doesn’t mean you’re not an artists, it just means you’re not taking photos that instant. But the inspiration will return; and when it does, if you’ve sold your camera, you’re one sad sack. She went away laughing, enjoying the snow, and from a block away called back to me, “So much for retirement!”
I have these conversations constantly. I understand the artist. I speak their language, and I intuitively understand the process and the difficulties associated with it. I know what the artist needs to hear in order to maintain belief in their art at difficult times, and I seem to know intuitively as well when the best and kindest thing to say is, “Stop. You’re doing it wrong, and you need to re-examine your path.”
Last night I was talking with my wife about some of this, about the conversation I’d had with our photographer friend on the street and the progressing realization that this is who I am. I brought up my last real job, working as Tour Manager for a major-label band touring through the US and internationally. I said, “You know, I think that’s why I was valuable to them for a while, was because I knew how to encourage them. More than my skill as a tour manager, more than my organizational abilities or my ability to get the show on or make the stage look right or make sure we got paid what we were supposed to every night… I think the thing that was indispensable for those two and a half years was that I knew how to inspire and motivate them. And in the end, it wasn’t lack of communication, or travel or any of the other contributing factors that ended my time with them, it was simply that I couldn’t be that person for them anymore. I didn’t believe in them in the same way. And they knew it.”
I think it was a significant realization for me at the time that the break came, not because of any of the external factors, but because what I was really there to do was to be their “Iyeska.” And the season for that ended. And when it did, it took the magic right out of everything else. Realizing that has given me more closure about that time than any other single revelation.
In 1996, my wife (fiancé at the time) and I were in Switzerland working with a missions organization. I was teaching Critical Thinking and Worldview with a university outside of Lausanne. Our work was done and I was preparing to come back to The States. A Maori woman named Alana took the two of us aside, and basically gave us what amounted to a “prophecy” for our lives. She said that she saw us as “consultants,” or liaisons. She didn’t quite know what that meant to us or how we should take it, but she felt the sense very strongly that this identity was to mark our lives together. I treasured those words because I felt they hit at the heart of who I need to be.
But if artists have a difficult time making a living through their art, what living is to be made from talking about it? I’ve never been able to connect the dots between my passion, my ability, and my checkbook. That’s a fairly mercenary way to put it, but as I’ve said to my wife before, “I can do anything except make a living.”
More than anything I’ve written here so far, this is the reason for this memoir. I’m trying to make sense of it all, to gain some perspective on my life and find the central questions. I believe that somehow in this process I’ll uncover the code, or unlock the door. I’ll find the arrow that points in the direction I need to go, and in doing it this way I’ll have a road map that I can return to for reference and guidance when I get lost again.
Anyway, that’s the plan.