Month: July 2009
I have remained silent for a long time about The Wolf at Twilight, even to the point of being incommunicado both on this blogsite and in terms of public speaking. It has been that important to me. Why? This is a book that tries to use most of my skills to bring an important issue to light in a way that crosses out of the “genre” issue of Native American subjects, does not lose the readers who want to be uplifted as well as educated, and honors the Native experience from which I have gained so much and to which I feel such a moral responsibility.
Unpacking this would take far more than a blog entry. But let me make a simple attempt.
Those of you who have followed my writings over the years have often broken into two camps: those who like the more spiritual writings, and those who are involved in some aspect of Native American affairs. For me the two have never been separate, because it is Native American spirituality in all its manifestations that forms the basis for most of my own personal theology and the core of my spiritual writings: honoring of elders and the past, concern for the seventh generation, seeing the spiritual in every moment whether elevated or ordinary, and a belief that there is spiritual presence in every star, stone, and human encounter.
I do not and have not ever claimed that I have access to Native sensibilities and I am deeply sensitive to issues of spiritual appropriation and distortion. But, having said that, neither have I shied away from the hard truths and unwarranted romanticization of Native America. To me, the many Native cultures are both victim and vanguard, and I am here to neither vilify nor celebrate them beyond the facts of their existence and history. What I do know is that the Native peoples have the only indigenous spirituality that was born of this land and that reflects the truth that this land reveals, and that they have been very poorly served both in their spiritual depth and historical encounter with European society.
For the moment, let me stay with the issue of Native spirituality. As I have often said, we shape our understanding of deity in some measure as a reflection of the monumental forces around us. We are the children of this land and the monumental forces it offers. It is only logical that an authentic American spirituality would reflect these forces and be best embodied in the spiritual impulses and manifestations of the people who have been born of this earth and have made their lives upon it. But I do not wish to go too deeply into this. It is a subject for another time, and one that I tried to address metaphorically in one of my favorite but most unnoticed literary children, A Haunting Reverence. That failure made me shy away from metaphor as a literary vehicle for spiritual expression and return instead to homily and narrative.
Neither Wolf nor Dog was probably the most overt blending of homily and narrative, and also the most successful. But it pretty much turned a blind eye to the darker truths that the Native peoples of America have had to endure. I have never been completely comfortable avoiding those darker truths (only Chief Joseph addressed them directly, and that book ended up gaining a separate audience and almost seeming like a separate genre altogether). I truly believe in the journalistic saw of “afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted.” The closer Native-oriented work comes to a new age vision, the closer it comes to the complete inversion of “comforting the comfortable.” This is not a road I wish to go down, not so long as the darkness at the core of our nation’s relationship with its Native inhabitants lies hidden or unexamined. Yet I know I lose my audience, and, thus, my effectiveness, if I write diatribes, screeds, or cries of wounded indignation. There is a place for that, but I don’t feel it is my place. At heart, I believe that we gain from seeing and embracing the bright gifts of Native culture, just as we need to acknowledge the darkness that lies in our national experience.
Enter The Wolf at Twilight. There is a horrible national disgrace that is only now coming out about our nation’s treatment of the education and re-education of its Native inhabitants. The Native people have lived with this knowledge and its scars for years, but it has not been brought into the light except within the realms of Native studies. I have been given the gift of being able to make the Native story interesting to many non-Native people who otherwise would pay no attention to Indian reality. I truly can be the bridge and ally that my Native friends have urged me to be. Neither Wolf nor Dog brought you a man (maybe even two men) who you grew to care about deeply. You followed Dan, asked about Dan, cared about Dan, and listened to Dan. Through my efforts he got your ear and, in many cases opened your eyes and hearts. It was and remains a humbling thing to see.
In The Wolf at Twilight I use your concern and interest in Dan to walk you into some of those darker corners of Indian experience. I do not hide the brilliance of his light, but neither do I hide the darkness that haunts his heart. Through Dan, I take you to some understandings you may not wish to have, but which I believe are crucial to the healing that needs to take place. Yes, Dan’s wisdom is there. Yes, the humor is there. And, yes, the lightness of touch is there. But you must be prepared to walk a bit on a dark trail, as well.
Making this work was not easy. I didn’t want to lose the spiritual seekers among my readers or those who would rather look at the light than the darkness. But I wanted to honor the darker truths and experience of my Native friends and bring that truth, too, into the light. And I wanted to honor one of Dan’s most adamant convictions: that people “learn by story, because story lodges deep in the heart.”
If you want to see what it is that has kept me from communicating for these past years and months, go to the website www.hiddenfromhistory.org and watch the video, “Unrepentant,” that can be viewed on google viewer on the bottom right of the page. Or simply click around on the page. This is what I needed to reveal in The Wolf at Twilight, focusing more on the U.S side of the border. But I had to do it with a gentle touch. As I said, making this happen was not easy. But I think I succeeded. When the book comes out you will be able to judge for yourself if I was able to blend the light and the darkness. For now, consider the darkness of www.hiddenfromhistory.org. What it reveals was happening everywhere on this continent. It will give you something to ponder.
So, I raise my head once, get a boatload of wonderful responses, and immediately show up on your doorstep again.
I’m in need of some immediate help. I’d like to get to Sherman Alexie, Jim Harrison, and Leonard Peltier to see if any would give an endorsement for The Wolf at Twilight. The publisher has no real access, so I’m turning to my friends. Do any of you have current addresses or back door ways of getting to any of these people?
On another note, the response to my flare in the night has been most heartening. One reader suggested something that makes good sense despite the fact that it would cause me to eat a healthy portion of crow. She said I should start a Facebook page for The Wolf at Twilight. I like that idea very much because it would allow you to share thoughts and opinions with each other, which has been a big deficiency of my website the way it is configured. I probably won’t do it for awhile because the book doesn’t come out for awhile. But it seems to be a good way to get the word out, and that’s what I want to do. Any other ideas?
I have to say that the response to my note has been inspiring, heartwarming, and energizing. I didn’t really expect people to write back. My new goal is to turn this group of caring readers into some kind of a community, though I’m not sure how. As I said in my first blog back before the earth cooled, I consider my readers a special breed. I might as well quote myself, because what I said then is equally as true now:
I have come to realize that you, my readers, are a special group. You care deeply about the children of the world, you believe that there are voices in the land that we must learn to respect, you believe in helping the weak and in caring for the less fortunate, and, above all else, you believe that there is a power of spirit that inhabits every stone and star. You are a rare breed, gentler in heart than the world around us, and I am happy to provide a place where you can meet and share thoughts with each other.
This statement has proven true over and over again through the years. There are those of you who have gone to work in prisons, traveled to reservations to bring friendship, gifts, and, in one case, veterinary skills, and those of you who written books of your own. One of you has gone to Africa to live and offer his medical skills. Another has tried to bring a human touch to his emotionally difficult job of serving as a Chicago policeman. There are college teachers, elementary and high school teachers, and folks who work in nursing homes. The list goes on. And then there are those of you who simply offer the gifts you can in the course of your ordinary everyday lives. But the one characteristic that has always shone through, no matter who you are or what you do, is a singular lack of a sense of self-importance. You – we – are the servers; those who try to go to the end of the table rather than take a seat at its head. I think its time we do something with this, and I’ll be picking your brains as the weeks progress.
So – any thoughts on how to get to Sherman, Jim Harrison, or Leonard Peltier?