East Coast Native - Writer's on Writing
Terry Gomez - Comanche
Russell Wallace - Lil’wat Nation
Murielle Borst - Kuna / Rappanhanock
Terry Gomez - Comanche
Terry Gomez is from the Comanche Nation of Oklahoma. She is a published and produced playwright, published writer, theatre director, actor, painter and educator. Her play Inter-tribal was produced as a staged reading at The Public Theater in New York City and published in the anthology Plays by Women of Color. Other plays produced in various New Mexico venues include Numunu Waiipunu: The Comanche Women, Inter-tribal, Reunion, The Antigone, A Day at the Night Hawk, Carbon Black, Rain Dance, Melanin, and The Woman with a Mustache. Tobacco Leaves; a collaboration with Red Eagle Soaring Theater Troupe premiered and toured Seattle, Washington and the surrounding area. Terry has been an adjunct faculty teaching theater arts and dramatic writing classes at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and faculty for the I.A.I.A./ABC/Disney Summer Film Program. She currently works for I.A.I.A. as a grant writer. She has directed original plays and showcases for the I.A.I.A. and Ghost Dance by Annette Arkeketa. She has also taught workshops for children and teens at the Santa Clara Pueblo Community School, Tesuque Pueblo Language Program, Crown Point Community School and the Native American Community Academy (Albuquerque). She has been artist in residence for the youth troupe Red Eagle Soaring; and has given workshops at the International Workshop Festival in London, England. She is a recipient of the 2007-2008 American Indian College Fund/Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship. She recently directed a series of staged readings for the 2008 Two Worlds Native Theater Festival in Albuquerque. She is a member of the planning committee for the Native American Theater Festival at the Public Theater, NYC. Terry received her BFA in Creative Writing from the Institute of American Indian Arts and her MFA in Dramatic Writing from the University of New Mexico. She is the mother of two and currently resides in Santa Fe.
Why I Write
In the mid 1960’s, at the age of seven years old, my family was making a major move from sunny California to my mother’s home state, Oklahoma. As if this was not shocking enough to my small system, I was going to be leaving school without finishing my illustrated class project, a booklet on alligators. It was literally heaven for me to create and write about this animal’s life cycle. The way the letters curved seductively, the way the pencil on the textured crème colored paper felt underhand, the smell of the pencil shavings and waxy crayons enticed me in the same way that nothing else but the ocean could. I cried and demanded to be let off at the school from our overloaded station wagon, finished my alligator pamphlet, turned it in, and was then relocated to Oklahoma. This was the beginning of my obsession with the word on the page.
As I got older, I began writing to entertain myself. I grew up in a rural community called Apache. For awhile we stayed with my mother’s mother. There was one television channel and an odd assortment of reading materials. A small town newspaper and my grandmother’s National Enquirers, my brother’s superhero comics and the Sunday Funnies were the main source for a while. The nearest city was Lawton, which included a military compound, Ft. Sill, where at one time the Comanches had been imprisoned.
I had a large extended Comanche family that got together often and sat outside on humid nights telling and re-telling our past and present. These talks included the “old days” such as when we hunted and gathered our food, dried meat (thaoh), and stored food for the winter. The elders spoke of the fact that we were descendants of Chief Wildhorse (Covey) who we considered the last true Comanche chief and we heard stories of his exploits. The stories included why we were never to go into Old Lady Sixteen’s house…not even to set step on the porch…or we might come into contact with her bad medicine. They talked over bologna sandwiches and hot coffee, acrylic cups full of home made lemonade, and store bought sugar cookies. They Numu thekwapu (spoke Comanche) and laughed and gossiped. They spoke English when they talked about my ballet teacher being caught in the janitor’s closet with the principal at the local elementary school. I was puzzled about that. I knew that there were several mops and buckets along with a big white sink in that closet. I wondered for a long time what my teacher and principal were doing in there. I imagined the Madame standing on her toes and wearing her Danskin tights whatever it was.
We moved to another small town into a house directly across the street from the library. I thought that I might become a detective like Harriet the Spy or Nancy Drew. I was a small nerd who loved to read whenever I wasn’t out running, catching tadpoles, or riding my bicycle. In the dense summer heat, I took shelter there in the library and would read for hours finding new words for the stories developing in my head. I collected books on travel which my mother ordered through the mail for me and would salivate as a 45 record which accompanied each book played along. I turned the pages as the orange, portable turntable offered sounds of foreign countries. I couldn’t wait until I could take my red Big Chief writing tablets, my detective kits, and my pencils to all these strange places.
My imagination was also stretched by the rural landscape. All my grandparents (which included great aunts and uncles) had allotted lands from the government which they lived on or leased out. My favorite grandparent’s acreage was open and clean, nobody around except my darling grandmother who spent most of her time cooking, sewing, doing beadwork and making our traditional clothes, and cleaning. After I hauled water from the well in the morning and swept the dust off the front porch, I was free for the rest of the day to play in the pristine water of a small creek which was densely populated with oak trees and wild blackberry bushes. I created mansions and castles within the huge roots of the trees and tiny babies made out of sticks whose leaves and branches were made into their beds. Piles of stones on the opposite side of the creek were the military posts that were constantly trying to attack.
As I became an adolescent, a political landscape was becoming clear to me. A moment of clarity was in Tulsa at a convenience store when we stopped for a cold drink and saw a “No Indians or Dogs” sign posted in the window. Another moment was when I was shopping with my grandmother and she grabbed my hand dragging me away from an assortment of nail polishes, telling me that the salesclerk wouldn’t help her. There was an obvious division between whites, Blacks, and Indians at the public schools I attended. The American Indian Movement came to town which caused a small frenzy.
I realized my father was an alcoholic, not “sick,” as my mother and extended family talked about in hushed tones. I understood that he was not the only person in my community with this problem. I continued to write, to question, to ponder why things seemed unfair for many. I was lucky to have friends of all colors but I wondered why some people had such things as swimming pools and some had ramshackle homes. I began to recognize poverty in certain elders’ homes. I thought about how the color of skin could define so much. I began to realize that we were on the lower side of the economic scale even though my mother worked relentlessly.
I learned about death and loss when four members of an uncle’s family tragically died one right after another, including that uncle. The first boy I fell in love with died when we were eighteen in a trailer house fire possibly related to being intoxicated. The first boy I passionately necked with died on a country road after a forty-nine when someone who was drunk ran over him. We were nineteen. I have experienced many more losses of loved ones since then and the ache from their absences has stayed with me.
I saw and experienced historical trauma as it created different ripples for the generations. There were ripples of unemployment and dislocation for my uncles and cousins, ripples of loss of tradition and respect that affected my grandmothers, aunties, and mother. There were the ripples which changed ideas of spirituality and brought divisions: traditional versus Christianity. There were powerful ripples that assimilated and spread some of our families further away. There were also the boarding school ripples which changed our families and the way parents related to their children affecting us still to this day.
Like others before me, I have had my share of heartbreaks, both in career and in romance. I became a single mother and learned what true love really is: an adult son and daughter who have helped to endow me with gray hair are the loves of my life. I am now learning how to let go of them (a little). I have been fortunate to see my mother live to be a tribal elder and to really see the wisdom, beauty, and pain of aging through her. I have been given my share of affairs and marriages with a few nice men and some not so nice and have paid my dues for said affairs and marriages. I have achieved my education to the highest extent and have traveled to some of the distant countries and cities that I dreamt of long ago.
These experiences and so many others have inspired me to write. Not only is it a way to record the history of contemporary generations, but I feel that I can be myself when I speak through my writing to Native people in a way that is familiar to them as well. I can speak through my writing to non-Native people and help to change the perceptions that they have of Indigenous people and help to take us out of that contained box. I can write plays that tell of our experiences and viewpoints and make plays that are for us and about us and done with knowledge and love for The People. I want to write to help with the continuity of our culture and language. I will say that I speak as an individual, but share common thoughts and feelings with many. I write about how we Native Americans are right here as we’ve always been: existing and participating in our own way with the rest of the universe. If it were not for my culture, I’m not sure I’d love life as much, nor want to write about it. My culture has not been a burden to my writing as someone once told me, but it has been a blessing.
Of course, like any writer the contemporary has influenced me: all types of music and movies have made their mark on my psyche. Contemporary writers from Henry Miller, Vine Deloria, Jr., Richard Van Camp, Darrell Dennis, Sam Shepard, Tony Kushner, August Wilson, Leonard Madrid, Lou Clark, Marcie Rendon, Annette Arkeketa, and other writers, actors, directors, colleagues, peers, students, and artists of every medium and from all cultures. My family and friends love, support, and are patient with my tangents. The Creator is my inspiration and I am thankful. I also continue to feel that life is amazing, full of comedy and tragedy, and look forward to what will be on the next page.
Russell Wallace - Lil’wat Nation
Russell Wallace is from the Lil’wat Nation and teaches singing at the Native Education College in Vancouver. Wallace is working on his BFA in Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia and holds diplomas in Information Technology and Performing Arts.
Finding Voice in Canadian Education
Have you seen my voice? I know I lost it some point. I have looked behind the fridge, checked the dryer, I even looked in the one-sock bag in the corner but nothing has turned up. And, no I did not lose at the casino or in bad investments it just disappeared.
So, let’s do some productive reasoning. Did I have a voice to begin with? Well, yes, we are all born with a voice, right? I had it elementary school; I remember having to say “here” or “present” whenever my name was called (which by the way, was always reversed or transposed to Wallace Russell). I had my voice at home, “Yes Mom, I did brush my teeth” and “Yes Dad, I did take out the garbage”, and I had my voice in church because I sang with my mother and in the choir even before I can remember.
Now that leaves high school. Did I have a voice in high school? Well, actually I did not have a voice there. Now how was that possible or how did it happen?
In five years, I went to four different high schools in Vancouver, Canada. I went through public school, private school and alternative education programs. I went to one elementary school from Kindergarten to grade seven (Vancouver does not have junior high or middle schools), and I stayed in one house for fourteen years. My parents gave up the migratory food gathering lifestyle by the time I was born.
Grade 8 is the prime suspect in this case. What was it about grade 8 that made me lose something that I was born with? We can go all crime-scene-investigative on it by looking at the prime suspects. First we have curriculum, in grade 8 English we had to read stories like “When Legends Die”, “I Heard an Owl Call My Name” and the “Ecstasy of Rita Joe”, all stories that were written by Aboriginally Challenged writers. The stories had words like “drunken” “lazy” and “stupid” associated with Native peoples (or back in those days “Indians”).
There were Social Studies and History classes that described the brutal and savage life of the peoples who traveled over some land bridge a few thousand years ago and basically did nothing but wander around and scalp a few pale faces while waiting for the American Dream.
The next suspects were the staff at high school (who were all Aboriginally Challenged by the way) who made me feel uncomfortable. At the time, I did not know what was going on or how to describe the coded languages. I had one teacher who, at the beginning of a new section of the curriculum, would ask me about random things that we had not even studied yet. Naturally, I would answer, “I don’t know”. He would never ask me after we finished a section he would always ask someone else who could answer correctly. This teacher liked it when I said, “I don’t know” which reinforced the “stupid Indian” association.
After a year of this, I stopped going to school on a regular basis. The counselor at the school asked me what was wrong. I could not explain this so he assumed that it was all due to trouble at home. Our family was by no means a Norman Rockwell painting but it was not why I did not go to school, in fact, my Mom would chase me out of the house with a broom to get to school sometimes or she would say, “just wait till your Dad hears about this”. So, what’s a boy to do, the classes I enjoyed, like computer and band, were off limits as well as any extra curricular activities until I improved my grades and attended 100 per cent. Then I was put to work in the laundry room with the idea that I would work at a job like that for the rest of my life (assuming that I would get a job and not end up in jail or dying in the wilderness like the characters in the stories we had to read).
In one class, we had to announce what we were (what our cultural background was) and what we want to be (what were going to be when we finish school). Students said that their family was possibly from England, France, or Scotland and were talking about being lawyers, doctors, carpenters, plumbers and what not, (and no, I did not hear anyone wanting to be an Indian Chief). When it came to me my teacher said, “we all know what you are, so what do you want to be?” I announced that I wanted to be a composer. There was a beat of silence and then the whole class started laughing. The teacher said, “No, what do you want to be…really. You want to choose something that you can find work in and contribute to society. Perhaps something in manual labor or manufacturing.”
After two years of public school, I had enough. My church had heard about my educational problems and suggested that I attend a new private Christian school. My parents were not rich and so it was not an idea that resonated well with them but the church said that they would assist with tuition. The school thought it was the Christian thing to do but thinking and doing are two different things. I was put in remedial Math and English and was asked to the office on weekly basis to be asked when my parents would start paying. I was put to work on the school grounds to pay for every little thing that was not covered by the church. No other students were punished in that way.
After a couple of months, I was looking for a sign. What would be the last straw? Then one day sitting in remedial Math the teacher had to leave the classroom for few minutes. In those few minutes, the class went from paper airplanes to jumping from desk to desk. I was the only student sitting at a desk reading and being quiet. The teacher flung the door open and started turning red and yelled at the class. “What are you doing? What is wrong with you kids, you are acting like a bunch of wild Indians!”
The class went back to their desks and the teacher made everyone put their noses into their books. After a while the teacher came over and whispered to me, “I’m sorry”. Looking back, I should have asked for an apology that was just as loud as her previous assertion. The next day I withdrew from that school and registered at a Native school where the students did not jump on the desks.
The next suspect would be the school system. At that time, Native education programs only went to grade ten. I had to find another alternative program to finish my education. So I did and I graduated from grade 12 against the odds and statistics of those days. I went on to college and started a new cycle of my education.
So where was my voice? Well, I did go through puberty and my voice did crack. Native students fall through many cracks in the education system as I did. However, just as you can fall through a crack, you can also emerge through it. My voice cracked and something new came out of me, a new voice. Being pushed to the outside made me hear my own voice and announce myself. The first step was to define who I was and make a connection to others that were in the same canoe. I did eventually become a composer.
Currently, there are many changes occurring in British Columbia school systems. Literature by Aboriginal writers is being included in the curriculum, the First Nations Studies course is being accessed by many more schools, and First Nations teachers are being hired and placed in classrooms in more numbers.
Now that I found my voice, I can sing again.
“Aboriginal Voices: Creating Our Future”
Joint Conference - British Columbia Teachers Federation, Aboriginal Education Association, Provincial Specialist Association, Burnaby Teachers’ Association/Aboriginal Team. October 24th 2008
Murielle Borst - Kuna / Rappanhanock - See Bio under Theater Page
A writer’s journey.
When does a writer listen to their personal artistic voice? That personal voice that is inside of their head, that little voice that speaks to them at night and speaks to their soul. When is that particular voice noticed for a writer? When does a writer look at a movie or see a painting or read that book that changes their life forever? When do they decide at that poignant moment and just know, not that they want to be a writer, that that are a writer.
For some it is a long journey to make that decision. Are they a writer? Or not? I can only answer that question from personal experience. And for me, it just simply wasn’t a poignant moment. I just always wrote ever since I could remember. There was never any question that I was a writer. But finding my true style and listening to that certain voice was a different story.
Someone always asks me why as a Native person I made the decision to write Fantasy. All of my writing always went toward that genre but I ignored it for years. One of the first short stories I wrote in the 5th grade was about the collapse of the World Trade Center. Of course it wasn’t a terrorist attack in my story. But in my story, it was crystals underneath the buildings that came to life because they were called back from the planet Og.
And I am always asked what where my influences to make that choice to go into Fantasy. I’ll let you know right now that my influence was not the first time I read, Lord of the Rings…Sorry. Though my greatest influence is and always will be Star Wars. Also comic books such as Conan The Barbarian and Heavy Metal. Rudyard Kipling’s short stories in, The Jungle Book and Rikki-Tikki-Tavi my favorite.
There was always those who are not from Fantasy. Playwrights always my influence. Neil Simon, Arthur Miller, Eugene O’Neil, Ibsen, Shakespeare and always Euripides.
The first clear memory of a story that really inspired me was John Steinbeck’s, The Pearl. The Great Gatsby was another favorite book and movie, I dragged my protesting mother to see it when I was a child. And yes, the other great inspiration was Judy Bloom’s Forever. Her eroticism was my first and no one forgets their first dirty book. Other than Fear of Flying which I didn’t get at twelve and I still don’t get. And of course there was always Anne Rice. The Sleeping Beauty books blew me away along with her vampire series. We all have a bit of Lestat in us.
And one of my greatest inspirations is The Godfather. Why? You got me! All I know is that after I seen the film when it was first on television, it made me write a story for my 4th grade class. Great films have always inspired me to write, Martin Scorsese, Fellini, Akira Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood always come to mind. Not to mention a Clockwork Orange. Ingmar Bergman’s Cries and Whispers. I used all of those images for all of my work.
My English teacher Mr. Jones told me in High School that certain writers can go into a room and find different things to write about. Some writers look at a vase in an old room in a museum and wonder what that vase would say if it could talk. Some writers are told, a great mystery needs to be solved because of a murder. Some writers are told, the family drama and history of the time. Some writers are told the Macabre. If that vase would talk to me, it would give me a story that it was a portal to the past and it waits for its holder to save the world. You know like… save the cheerleader, save the world. That is where my mind has always gone. But I still fought against it for many years.
It was a great journey for me to have faith in that voice in my head. That voice that said to take the surreal and go for it. I wanted to be normal for Christ sakes! I wanted to tell a normal story. A story that people would listen to. And take extremely seriously.
I can only say that becoming a Fantasy writer was a very easy transition for me but difficult at the same time. I was afraid at first that I was belittling my story. It would not be put in great literature because there is a snobbery about Fantasy writing. I started to recently think about the other writers who work in this genre. And I noticed most of it was very similar to Native Storytelling. Native Story telling at times is not considered because it is an oral tradition and not thought of as real also.
For example; I believe Anne Bishop, is one of the greatest story tellers in the genre. First because I so related to not only her characters but the story to which her realm was created. In her The Black Jewels series. The name of her long race is called the Blood. The Queen of the Dragons who gave the Blood their magic, shedding her scales in the form of jewels. Making a matriarchy.
And when I read that series, I reminded me of The Kuna creation story, where the blood of a woman made the islands and that was why my tribe is a matriarchal society. To me it was the same story.
Sara Douglass is also another writer that has a sense of storytelling and style that reminds me of the power struggles that are happening in Native communities.
Jacqueline Carey is another writer that basically takes Angel stories and turns them into her own. Again I understand what she was saying as a Native person. Always fighting for the individual identity. Fighting for the cause in this country. The same as her heroes.
Juliet Marillier who takes an old Irish story and puts fantasy elements around it. And story telling within that family is how they go on and survive. It reminded me of that through our stories is how we survive as a Native people.
Then there is L.A. Banks, who makes a vampire tale that whips your butt! Making a story about Vampires that has nothing to do with Christianity. Just about towing the line for the righteous. That there is a good and evil. That all religions have to look into the light to fight the evil. To stay in the light. When the villain of the story absorbs the evil from the hero and makes it into a ball of cocaine then makes lines and snorts it. I completely related to that story. Vampires are just the metaphor really. Drugs are the real enemy. That is the evil, the anti- spirituality that we are all fighting in our communities. That this is not only a inner city problem but what is going on in the reservations too with our young people. How many have we lost to that darkness that can absorb their light?
But the biggest and probably the most important book in my life will always be, The Mist of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley. My mother gave me the first copy of it when she was done reading it; I was nineteen at the time. And when I read it, it was one of those things that change your way of thinking for a writer. It made me think. It compelled me to write. It actually made me fall in love with my husband. It made me look at the relationships that I had in my life. My spirituality as an Indian Woman. What it means to fight against those forces that are around you. And I understood the main character Morgan. And I believe it made me understand the power of a woman. It is one of the only books that made me look at it and say, “This is how I want to write.” “This is the story I need to tell.” But I fought against the current in my system at the time. Because I didn’t have the courage to write in fantasy. I thought I was looking for more. I didn’t listen to my heart or that voice from my soul.
I knew that I wanted to write a family saga, not unlike The Godfather. A story about a Native family’s struggle for the American Dream. About the rise of power within a family and infighting for power. But how did they get there. Not just a Native family trying to survive in the Middle class or at the poverty level. What about the Native class that isn’t talked about? The privileged class who come from money and have political power. The same as the Corleones but are not a crime family. The rise and fall of one family and how far does one go for power. The human condition of power and what does it do? Does it corrupt? Does it enlighten? Or does the family organize the chaos and who are the enemies? The outsiders? Or the family becomes the villains who manipulates all around them and then their own family. So, it just comes to a tragic end. But I didn’t want to write about a family who just acted white and happened to be Indian. That was too normal for me.
There are very few stories in Native literature that I could draw on for that. So I went to the two writers who were thinking and writing in this way. Louse Erdrich’s, Love Medicine and Linda Hogan’s, Mean Spirits. Two Native women who wrote in the epic style that I was looking for. But I wanted another little twist and couldn’t find it anywhere. So, I went to the great epic in my life…Gone with the Wind! Why? For one reason only, Scarlet O’Hara. I wanted an Indian character like her but wasn’t sure it could be believable. Why a Southern woman? Because my great grandmother came from the South. And my grandmother who was first generation Northerner was brought up in a strict southern moral code. My Southern Indian Grandmother talked to me about Sunday Teas, good table manners, how to have the proper wedding, coming out parties, the bible and to run on the other side of the street when those cat eyed nuns came walking with their long black skirts. And about her mama’s home in Virginia. How she came from the Turtle Clan and sendins that were a message from the other side. Sendins that are warnings that could come to you anyway. By an itch in the nose or spilled tea in your lap. My grandmother who read tea leaves and could tell you your future. She told me the stories of when the moose and elk had fights and warred over the land before people were created. The story how the drum was made by the squirrels when they had wings. Those stories stayed embedded in me but I was not sure how to write them.
I knew I needed to tell these stories somehow. But I still couldn’t figure out the style in which to tell them in. I went to my literary basis, those that came from a southern background. William Faulkner was always my reference and Tennessee Williams. Summer and Smoke and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Who can forget the suffering Alma Winemiller and always the manipulative Maggie. Those women of the south. When you say one thing but mean something else. But I knew the story I had to tell was an epic. There was, War and Peace, Great Expectations, along with David Copperfield, Shogun and The Thrornbirds. All books that influenced me in some sort of way. But I still didn’t find the story nor could I found my style. Couldn’t find my voice that voice that spoke in my head. Not looking at what was in front of me at the time.
I also started collecting other stories in my family. I began to unpeel many layers of family secrets. I dove head first into the family secretes. Looking at it on all sides and my influence was not in literature. It was a film, Fanny and Alexander by Ingmar Bergman. The essence of magic combined with family drama. The film opened the back of my mind that I wanted to tell not such a straight story but something that was slightly off center. But how does one do it in words? How do you tell that story about spiritualism with a touch of insanity, where the conservative is the villain. How did I tell a Native version of it? How? After all I was not Swedish.
But as I started to do more research, I found other stories. Stories about color and racism. And survival. How did my family survive slavery and the Civil War? When they came to New York City what were they looking for? Uncovering secrets upon secrets, not only from my family stories but in history. History doesn’t talk about the struggle of Native people that don’t come from out west. But what about those who had to pass for white in a time that color meant everything. How did they keep their land? How did they survive the Jim Crow laws or did they just flee because it was easier. How did they maintain their culture and how did they maintain their identity? And how did it feel to live in that fear if you and your family were trying to pass for white or couldn’t. And as I started to dig even further, I came across stories about the pursuit for eradication of Native Peoples of Virginia. I found it in my research a single person Walter Plecker. He was head of vital statistics who wanted just two colors in Virginia. Black and white. He said all Virginia Indians were a mongrel race. He was a supporter of Adolf Hitler. A supporter of the Eugenics drive in this country. He helped pass The Racial Integrity, making white and non white illegal to marry in Virginia and that included Indians. He ruined entire Indian families. He wanted all Virginia Indians eradicated by threatening and imprisoning midwives, not letting them put Indian on a child’s birth certificate. That is a story about evil. A story of genocide. But again, how did I tell this story so people would listen to it. So people could be repelled yet engrossed at the same time. Did I just write a non fiction book about the treatment of Native tribes in Virginia? Would anyone read it? Because this story needed to be heard. Should I just go to the horror of it? And make it a horror story? Which it is but do I make it about Ghosts? Do I make Walter Plecker into a demon? A pure agent of evil? Which I thought might belittle the real story. The real story had to be told but how.
If I made it into a horror story like Stephan King would do, do I go to what is under the bed or in the closet? The darkness. The body that is buried in the backyard. The red that is stained on the walls that isn’t paint but blood. Or a family curse that looks for a family because of unfinished spiritual business that was never put to rest. Would southern ghosts of the past live in a house until they were redeemed? Would the ghosts come at night and take over the living with secrets? And what were those secrets. Did the secrets manifest into a monster that chased you down the hall from your childhood nightmares?
How do we become the heroes of the stories? How do we become the superheroes? Would it be ridicules to have Indian superheroes? Indian Jedi? Chubby Jedi that fight with frybread. Most non- Natives think we have super powers anyway, isn’t that why they want to be Indian so badly. Our common sense is their Force. Do we save the world by going back in time and guided by those beings that created the earth and our clans? Those that can control the elements? Again, I didn’t look for what was in front of me. I steered away.
So the great epic of my life sat for three months on my computer, not sure where it should go. I wrote and rewrote it a number of times. How did I not make it cliché with the Indian standing on the cliff with hands held high praying to the Great Spirit? How could I not make it hokey? Where every German wannabe didn’t chase me down because in their last life they were an Indian too and an Indian Chief with long feathers! How did I talk about the Indians who just liked a good ball game! Those voices needed to be heard too. How do I breathe them to life? How to give characters like that justice? How did I talk about the urban experience for a Native person? This wasn’t an immigrant story. This was a relocation story. But how do we prevail?
I did not know how to tell this story that I wrote. I didn’t know how to give it a home. And I thought I couldn’t find it.
Then one day I was on tour with my family in Tennessee, doing a revival of a Spiderwoman show. My Aunt Elizabeth and I were at a lunch, and for some reason the discussion went to our family in Virginia. And my Aunt Elizabeth just simply said that my great, great grandmother’s name was Felicia and she was the daughter of a slave master and she was also a herbalist. It was something I knew but for some reason that triggered like a lightning bolt to my head. Everything came together for the story. The heroes and the villain. And when I got back home I rewrote the story and I had a new one. I wrote it in two weeks. But I still didn’t have an extra layer. I knew I had to mull it over for awhile.
And when that happens I usually go to a movie, jog or look at television all night and smoke a pack of cigarettes. I decided to read that night instead. And to read a book I hadn’t read for a very long time, The Mists of Avalon. It did the same thing for me when I was nineteen. It parted the mists in my mind. It made me see. Hear my voice. See my element. And how I wanted to tell this story. The story I needed to tell was in the Genre of Fantasy. I finally found my Niche as a writer. I knew how far I could go.
I decided to take my stories and twist them around. To look at them at different angles. To make different realms from Native Culture. To have animals that talked but gave messages to the humans they loved. To make Native Immortals. To make a magical fight in our communities. Where the forces of nature fought on the side of the chosen of the land. To make intrigues that could be related to Native people but something all could understand. Secrets, lies and silence. What if Native Immortals were cast to earth and some born light and others dark. To use time portals that were put there by our grandmothers so we could see the light and fight the darkness. And the darkness only bad when not used with light. To show our civilization four thousand years before the invaders came to our shores. To show that infighting happens in all cultures. To know that these were my stories to tell and they wouldn’t be hokey. To use the realness of my personal spirituality to make these stories real. To answer that voice in my head and soul at night. Listening to the inner voice that comes from beyond the stars and moon. To tell the story that needs to be heard from those beings who guide. I took the shooting star from my dreams, I put it into my hands, lifted and flew into the night. I brought the story back to the earth so it could be heard. So the listless spirits of the past hade a place to anchor.
I couldn’t escape this anymore then could I escape being an Indian. It was my voice and in my blood. It was like falling in love when you listen to the current of your heart. A love affair that flows of the pen from soul to page.