Month: July 2003
I’m stunned, humbled, and astonished by the response I’ve gotten to this new website format. It probably helps that I’m actually putting some materials on it for a change. But it’s more than that. It’s the outpouring of heartfelt comments from so many people so quickly. I’m not sure how I’m going to keep up, or how I can manage this while keeping the inner solitude necessary to inhabit the spaces in the imagination where a writer necessarily must live. It’s an occupational hazard: your inner life has to be stronger than your outer life, especially at the time of actual creation. You need to be able to inhabit a landscape of the imagination while walking the landscape of everyday life. All it takes is one screw-up on your car insurance bill, or a leaky faucet, and your inner world falls apart. And God help you if something of consequence happens — a sick child, an argument with your wife, the dog biting the mailman (all hypothetical at the present time, blessedly). I never imagined that the kind words of readers could also serve as a tug away from this inner landscape. But, it’s true. You tug on me even as you lift me up and strengthen me in my resolve to inhabit this landscape.
So, what to do? The first thing is simple housekeeping: a blanket statement to all of you that I am reading and taking to heart every comment you are sending, but I’m going to have to limit my personal responses. If I write to each of you personally, I can’t write to all of you generally. And it’s generalized writing — my books — that have served to call forth this outpouring of good feeling. Either I write books or I write letters of response to readers. So, if you send comments, know that they are read. But don’t wait at your cyber mailboxes for a personal response. Think, instead, that your kind words are putting wind in my sails and allowing me to move into uncharted waters, from which I will send back messages in terms of the books that I write. You are giving me courage and resolve. If the books I create from this point forward move you or enlarge your world, know that the courage your words gave me allowed those books to be created. And that’s the truth.
But there’s something more going on, as well. Though most of you are writing to me to say nice things about my work, what you are really doing is celebrating or praising a sensibility. I’m merely the galvanizing point for that sensibility. Now, this isn’t some “aw shucks, it tweren’t nothing, maam” kind of comment. I’m pleased and gratified, and not unaware, that it is my words that are doing that galvanizing. But it is not me, but the sensibility, that is important. Let me move back a step and explain. I currently have two distinct but loosely-linked main readerships. One is the Native American readership. We’ll leave for now the question of whether I have a right to be writing in this territory. Suffice to say, for current purposes, that one group of readers finds the Native American writings the most meaningful. Another prefers the homiletic books — the books that spiritualize daily affairs. Then there is a sort of literary diaspora out there of people who like Road Angels and the late, lamented, Haunting Reverence. But they are, for the most part, different breeds of cats.
What unites you all is a belief in a moral purpose to the universe, and a humble attitude toward the mystery at the center of life. How people approach this mystery may vary. But all my readers recognize it, honor it, and wish to live in its presence. Life, however, does deal us curve balls like screwed up car-insurance bills and telemarketers and spats with our spouses and kids goofing up in school — whatever the crisis of the day might be. And suddenly we are not in the presence of the mystery but in the presence of some small anger, frustration, or petty administrative obsession. My works tend to reassert the mystery and serve as a reminder that the goodness and miracle is there, even though we may not be living in its presence at the moment.
What I see as a worthy goal of this website is the possible forum for people to share their struggles to live in this sensibility. In all humility, it’s not me that’s important. It’s what I point you towards, and what I articulate that helps you keep your eye on the mystery at the heart of life. It’s the assertion of the spiritual shining through the everyday.
My hope is that you who find this website will use the “comments” section to articulate some of your own feelings about the struggles and mysteries of life that my books have illuminated in your life. And that each of you will read the comments as diligently as you read my entries, and that you will respond to and with the common sensibility that we all share.
Truly, I don’t write to draw attention to myself. One of my psychological mantras in life is “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.” And, I assure you that the wizard here has no more magic than the wizard to which that comment refers. I want to draw attention to a sensibility, and to ratify it and strengthen it in each of you. It’s a sensibility of recognizing that the world is a place of light and shadow, but that we must live our lives, as best we can, as a witness to the light. What makes you as a readership unique is that you recognize that there are no easy answers. You are thoughtful seekers, not believers in some spiritual toolbox.
I want you to find each other through this website. It may not be a direct interpersonal connection. It may be nothing more than a constant ratification that there are others of like mind and heart out there. So, write to the sensibility; write to each other; write from your experience or write from your hopes. Let me, let this website, be a conduit. This is a chance for us to find each other. I’ll be reading and watching with as much interest as all the rest of you.
More soon, and, hopefully, less, as well.
The other day I received two very different notes from readers. One, a kind and thoughtful touch from a man who appreciated my candor in revealing the person beneath the veneer of “author;” the other, a heartfelt but vicious attack by a Nez Perce woman who raised the well-known, but never well-answered, issue of whether white people should write about Indians. I know I touched a nerve in her, and she touched a nerve in me.
I struggle with this issue constantly. I believe that imaginative sympathy combined with insight born of research or deep spiritual immersion can produce enough affinity for an author to at least brush against another’s self-understanding. But, at the same time, we each have a sacrosanct knowledge, perhaps personal, perhaps cultural, that is inviolable and unreachable by others.
I do not believe in spiritual appropriation, and we have taken most everything not nailed down from the various Indian peoples of this continent. But we are common creatures of a common species, and our capacity for joy, love, fear, and hope is what binds us together as humans. The challenge is to assert the commonality without trying to steal the uniqueness.
It is risky business, and we do not always get it right. But if we are not willing to take this risk, we cannot be creators. It is only by touching what is common that writers, musicians, painters, dancers, and all other makers are able to communicate beyond themselves. I guess the key is, indeed, personal authenticity, for the authentically human is where we all meet. And getting below the various veneers is the only way to achieve this meeting.
I thank the two readers for writing. The one enriched me, the other saddened me. As Dan said of me in Neither Wolf nor Dog, I’m a bit of a coward because I’m afraid of other people’s anger. It’s true. I take no pleasure in making others angry. It feels like a failure, not like a success, and I try to avoid it if possible.
But such is the writer’s, and creator’s life.
I could go on, but my family is starting to get up. My son in a cast for a broken wrist, my wife with people to meet and places to go, my failed Labrador with dog business (no swimming or fetching, please) to which to attend, and a couple of cats, one of whom appears to have emerged from his nocturnal activities with a broken tail.
I’ll go out to my writing cabin and move forward, hoping that the prose I create will touch some reader a year or two down the road. Hopefully, it will be a good touch. But maybe it will open a wound. I won’t know until it is published and read. Until then, all I’ve got is the gut feeling that something I write is either authentic or artificial. It’s a decent compass, and one I’ve learned to trust.
Keep in touch.