Flux Notes: Wealth

Flux Notes provides a candid, behind-the-scenes look at our latest issue’s most memorable pieces.

In this edition, we invited our contributing writers to revisit their Flux Wealth articles and share the creative process behind them. From insight into their inspiration to mysteries still being unspooled, delve into what it takes to create a Flux piece.

Inspired by: A Sisyphean Query

Detail of “My Soul it Is Mine” by Jene Ballentine

In her piece for Flux Wealth, national editor Anna Harmon unpacked the nation’s infamously measly parental-leave policies, including Hawai‘i’s own. Here, she returns to the piece to divulge what led her down the bureaucratic rabbithole in the first place—and how little things have changed since.

I wish I had some sort of deep reference or analogy for what inspired this story.  Instead, it came out of moments of wonder compiled over years. That same question, “How do they do it?” which turned into “How can I do it?”

When I was studying for a master’s degree in 2019, I did a case study about how faculty at ASU coped with becoming parents. It turned out, no surprise, that it was complicated.

For instance, all the professors I interviewed discovered there was no available childcare for children under 1 year old but they were expected to return to work after 6 weeks; female professors were teaching up until their due dates and given classrooms with no seating at the front of the room. It made me wonder where that number, 6 weeks, even came from, and how it is that parental leave policy seem to so consistently diverge from the full range of lived experiences.

When writing this piece, I struggled to not smother it with all the clauses found in parental leave policies. Yet I still needed to convey just how difficult it is to decipher said policies, how faulty their foundations seem. It felt Sisyphean.

Why does policy not recognize the entirety of the experience: the single mom who adopts, the dad without any sick or vacation leave left, the gig economy workers, the sleepless nights and significant bonding that I can only begin to fathom? Is it because it was written by people like me, who haven’t had babies? Because it was defined by men who assumed that women could simply stay at home with spousal support or absorb everything happening? Because it was molded by employers concerned about the loss of investment that paid parental leave could impose?

I wish I had a PhD in gender studies or years of advocacy experience so I could clearly unpack the motives that have gotten us to where we are. Instead, my piece highlights my personal experience of feeling overwhelmed, left out of the policy’s parameters, and avoiding the complications altogether. Any volunteers? —A.H.

Read the original piece here.

Inspired by: Walking Nimitz Boulevard

Image by Marie Eriel Hobro

In revisiting his piece about Kahauiki Village, the experimental housing project for formerly houseless families, Schuler reflects on the act of walking. It has been a constant source of inspiration in his day-to-day, yet its role was transformed when Schuler tackled the precarious walk most Kahauiku Village residents have to take everyday. Plus, how recreational walking has taken on a different meaning amid current events.

When people picture a writer, they likely imagine a person at a desk, staring intently at a screen or blank sheet of paper and, well, writing. But for me, gathering my thoughts and putting them on the page is often the last step in a long and drawn-out process that takes place largely outdoors and on the move. Over the years, walking has become a crucial part of my daily routine, not only as a way to dislodge subconscious thoughts and associations but as a method of observation and connection.

In writing about Kahauiki Village, an experimental housing project for formerly houseless families, walking played an even more active role in illuminating the harsh realities that face residents. On my last visit to the housing development, I took the bus. For the most part, this was a practical decision; my wife had our car, and an Uber would have cost 10 times what bus fare cost. But the half-mile walk along busy, shadeless streets—at times without even a sidewalk—was eye-opening.

Experiencing for myself the dangerous conditions residents had to navigate to reach their homes made it visceral and heart-rending when later I saw a young family of three making the same trek. On my way home, I traced the route from the village to Farrington High School that some of the community’s residents make daily, following streets blighted by the razor wire and security cameras of the Oahu Community Correctional Center.

Walking these routes reinforced my just how isolated the village is, how cut off it is from the rest of the city. There is a lot I can’t know about the realities of being houseless. But that makes shared experiences all the more important. They are an antidote to the kind of othering that colors so much of the conversation around housing.

Walking is still a part of my daily routine, though it feels different under quarantine. Honolulu’s streets are empty, and I’m much more aware of other people, those potential vectors. Walking has taken on an air of the surreal. And yet my daily walks also serve as a reminder. A reminder that even, or maybe especially in strange times, walking is as effective a tool as any for observing a changed and changing world—and crystalizing how it feels to witness it. —T.S.

Read the original piece here.

Inspired by: Newspapers, municipal records, and more

Illustration by Lauren Trangmar

Sometimes the story continues beyond what is written on the page, as is the case with writer Travis Hancock. In his Flux Wealth piece, Hancock culled an archival abyss to recount the uncharted tale of history’s only Native Hawaiian whaling captain. In his Flux Notes dispatch, Hancock treats us to a director’s commentary of his piece, divulging new discoveries made since its publication and excerpts left on the cutting room floor.

Since first setting foot on George Gilley’s whaleship over a year ago, I haven’t really stopped hanging out with him. The kapena has some heavy moʻolelo! I already shared a lot about his many lives on the high seas, but there was a bit that didn’t make the page, and still more I’ve learned since the Wealth issue went to print.

For example, I’ve been a fly-on-the-wall of a Facebook group where modern Bonin Island descendants swap family lore, and some distant Gilley offspring recently mentioned that George was married to a daughter of the colony’s leader. Of course, in the article I mentioned a rumor that he had a wife in Yokohama who had contracted leprosy.

What to believe? Hoping more time with George will get him past any “loose lips sink ships” anxieties about this.

He’s also been mum about what really happened at Cape Prince of Wales, Alaska in July 1877, when a dozen Iñupiat were slain aboard his ship. I have found a few more white (racist) accounts of the “affair,” yet recently learned from municipal records of the Wales township that “There are many versions of the account that do not coincide with the local knowledge.”

Great. That actually reminds me of another thing George could have cleared up early on: that there is a big difference between Cape Prince of Wales and Prince of Wales Island. The latter is much further south. Ignorant of that fact, I spent a good deal of time learning about the island’s Haida people, several of whom star in the recent film SG̲aawaay Ḵʹuuna (Edge of the Knife, 2018). In an early draft of the piece I had a lengthy description of a scene from the film in which a fisherman wipes sablefish oil from his chin. Long story but trust me it was so good! Just totally irrelevant.

That wasn’t the only bit about Alaska’s natives that got cut.

My original ending discussed a 2019 native whale hunt that took place off Utqiagvik, on Alaska’s north coast—one of Gilley’s old haunts. The Arctic Sounder touchingly reported that “it was a day marked with mixed emotions at times as people remembered two fellow whalers who died out on the water last year.” Local women embroidered commemorative jackets for the day that meat was distributed to the community.

Why am I reading municipal reports and Arctic newspapers? Well, that gets at the biggest nut still left uncracked—which George really can’t explain for himself—where his iwi rest.

Last we heard he drowned off the coast of Nome, Alaska, where he was subsequently brought to shore. I reached out to the Nome Cemetery, to see if they can confirm his burial there, and have not heard back yet. Should I fly to Nome myself? A bridge too far, perhaps (or is it??). At this point I am tempted to say that George has become my white whale, or make a probably tasteless pun about him ghosting me. In any case, the hunt for George Gilley continues.

Read the original piece here.

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