Borders & Frontiers

Note:  Since it’s late, this entry is going to be sort of an open letter to my own brain.  I’d call it a beginning point into one of my many lines of inquiry, a journey should start with a question yes?, but in reality this question has been crystallizing for a while.  Either way, my six faithful readers are duly warned.  While things can get awesome in my brain, they can also get a little weird.

Dear Brain,

Awesome fucking question tonight.  When does a border become a frontier?  I instantly added a slew of corollaries and ancillaries and capillaries (not sure about the usage of the first two, so I threw in the third so I at least have a sentence with parallel structure).  Anyways, here are a few of them: when does a frontier become a border? do both frontiers and borders have valid purposes?  who is benefitted and who is harmed at both borders and frontiers?  Frankly brain, I’m surprised you have not firmed this question up earlier, because it’s seriously all around you and so clearly it is trying to get your attention.

You spent a third of last year’s curriculum discussing the idea of borders, physical, social, emotional, what it means to cross them, the function they do or do not serve.  I wonder if you, as any love struck parent is, were so entranced by the kid’s thinking on the subject that you did not think about it yourself, apart from the curriculum design.  I know we were shocked by the fact that the U.S. did not always have borders.  It shocks me a little still actually, or is that grief? hard to tell the difference sometimes.  There was more than a hundred years until we thought we officially needed to protect something.  Did our shit get more valuable?  Did we get more full of ourselves?  Both?  Neither?

The last few months you have clearly continued circling this investigation.  There have been multiple moments, especially at dance Monday nights, where you can feel the suspension, the pull between points of new and old.  However, not once have you ever named it a border.  Instead, you always speak to yourself of a frontier.  Maybe it’s too much Little House on the Prairie as a kid, Laura Ingalls Wilder drunk with space and confidence on the pages of her books, Melissa Gilbert not giving a crap about her horsey teeth and hawkish nose as she run-stumbles down the hill in the TV show trailer.  But seriously, you always call it a frontier.  And it delights you, that feeling of frontier, makes you a little drunken yourself, so much so that you have pages of mostly nonsensical writing on the subject, every few lines you exclaim, “Who lives like this?” in bewildered joy.  And now you’re watching your friends doing the same, and true they’re being pushed into frontier living, choices to stay in comfort stripped against their wills sometimes, but it is intoxicating.  The ‘not dying amidst the struggle’ makes them realer, real enough to want to bite them they’re so three dimensional, it makes them more visionary, more grounded, and all the other good woo-woo words that don’t adequately mirror their reality.

It also makes them exhausted…I can see that.  And maybe that’s why we stay at borders, even if the forest is alluring as all hell from the clearing (DAMN YOU Joseph Chilton Pearce!!  Crack in the Cosmic Egg being one of the many books I’ve read in the last five months that explores the border/frontier duality ((did I just use the word duality?  that feels very smart at this time of night))).  We don’t have the time, energy, or other resources needed on the frontier.  In fact, we’re tired enough of a style of living that disconnects and depletes us that some actually believe that building and enforcing more borders to be a restorative action.  How is chopping up physical and spiritual territory and refusing to move between the sections because of our fear of scarcity, ever supposed to be restorative?  Clearly brain we are not speaking as one with it all figured out–you know the number of conversations we’ve had to have about their being no actual need to operate from a scarcity mentality.  And sadly, the number of times we never actually caught on that that was what we were doing.  Then you only saw it in retrospect, if at all.

So what turns a border into a frontier?  (Geez, you were just writing a piece called Passport two nights ago)  Part of me thinks it doesn’t matter because it happens whether you monitor it or not.  One day you’re sitting, standing, or lying down curled up in a ball, unable or unwilling to cross a certain line or lines for various reasons, some known and some unknown.  The next day, maybe the weather is a little warmer, maybe you had a good night’s sleep, maybe something catches your eye on the other side, and WHAM!  you are on your way to being an adventurer, a frontier person that would do Laura Ingalls Wilder proud.  But.  But….if I knew how it happened, couldn’t I turn more borders into more frontiers for me and for more people?  That’s the intrigue, the pull of this particular question.  Well, that and, trying to understand how we travel in this world.  Why do some people get stuck irrevocably and some do not?  How is it possible that we’re just expected to be born and pick up enough stuff along the way to fashion a life by the time we die–I come from the world of high stakes testing and public education and even I find that to be a rather unreasonable expectation.  Our movement or lack thereof seems central to this life-making.

Overall, I don’t know that I do, or ever will, have a me acceptable answer for myself on this one.  I wonder if partly, as times change definitions change with the struggle and love of many, and what one generation saw as a border, another sees as a frontier.  I think of my own students who now embrace an amazingly wide range of sexuality and gender expressions.  I grew up with hearing how “gay” something was as a generic form of insult, but I will now watch boys hug their friends, defend transgender people, and rock the skinny jeans with, what looks like to me, total lack of social punishment.  They didn’t grow up with sexuality as a border like I did.  I’m happy for them, and with maybe more humility we’ll learn from the less hemmed in how they do it.

Thanks for listening brain.  I remain yours in this curious pursuit, this mystical walkabout…Chelsea

p.s. a little Dave Eggers from his book I just finished tonight…Heroes of the Frontier (nope, not lying, that’s actually the title): “Instead, at this moment, she thought she was right about everything.  That we can leave.  That we have a right to leave.  That very often we must leave.  That only having left could she and her children achieve something like sublimity, that without movement there is no struggle, and without struggle there is no purpose, and without purpose there is nothing at all.  She wanted to tell every mother, every father: There is meaning in motion.”


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I am a former teacher, writer, dancer, aspiring Taiko drummer, and artist. I am trying to listen to the journey, no matter where it turns, and pump out a whole lot of magic while I do.

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