The Next Step on my Literary Journey

The door is closed on Dan and his friends.  The door is closed on the style, the door is closed on the story.  I can’t say exactly how I know this; I only know it is true.  It’s similar to the moment when, on a journey, your thoughts suddenly turn inexorably toward home.  You can fight it, you can deny it.  But you know the heart of the journey is over —  you have moved from the excitement of discovery to the wistful anticipation of return.  And nothing you can do will change this.

I felt this as I worked my way through The Girl who Sang to the Buffalo.  It was not that I had said all there was to say, or that I had exhausted the characters or the story.  It was just time to go home.

So where, I ask myself, is that home?  What should I do next?  Who should I be as a writer?

One of the many gifts that I have received during my years with Native people is a deep appreciation of the importance of being an elder.  I’m not referring to some status within some religious denomination, or a faux linguistic effort to demarginalize people who have reached an age where they are no longer productive contributors to contemporary economic society.

No, I’m talking about an active, dynamic status that carries unique responsibilities that come from having journeyed long and seen far.  It is something that you gain only by life experience, and it is characterized by being able to look at those coming up behind you and seeing them walking in pathways you understand. 

You understand the innocence of childhood, the incredible emotional sensitivity of adolescence, the excitement and struggle of early adulthood, the travails and joys of child raising and shaping a family; you have experienced deep joy and deep sadness and know the fleeting nature of time.  In spite of yourself, you have knowledge that is worthy of sharing if you do not close in around your own immediate concerns of aging or your biases about the direction you think the world ought to be taking.

In effect, you have the responsibility to be a teacher.  Sadly, our contemporary culture does not offer up that role to the elders.  It pays lip service to this idea, but, in fact, it patronizes them, marginalizes them, sees them as economic and social liabilities, and completely ignores their gifts of long vision.  And too many of the elders acquiesce to this or fight in an unseemly manner to hold onto their centrality when they should gracefully be letting it go.  In either case, they are not truly being elders.

The Native cultures, even though they do marginalize the elders to some extent, have it built into their cultural DNA to listen to the elders and value their counsel.  It is a joyful thing to see.

What I have gained from this is the realization that as I move to the elder stage of life, I must claim the status, exhibit the appropriate behavior, and offer the knowledge that has come from my journey.  I have always seen my literary role as being a teacher, either directly or obliquely.  But now it seems like a moral imperative. 

And so I have sifted through the possible projects before me and decided to look back over a life in the arts and to offer the insights it has taught me.  This will not be a “how to” book, and God knows it will not be some self-serving life retrospective.  Rather, it will be reflections on the inner journey; a guidebook through the psychological and spiritual pathways that anyone in the arts must travel.

People on the outside misunderstand what it means to live a life as a writer or a painter or a dancer or any other profession of artistic expression.  And those on the inside are too often left to find their own way through the ecstasies and uncertainties and rejections and societal misinterpretations.  If I can speak of the artistic journey in a way that illuminates the path just a little for those who would travel it or those who would seek to understand it, I will be doing something of value and importance. 

It seems like a worthy next step in my own artistic journey.

22 comments

  1. Michael Workinger says:

    Kent, it is with eager anticipation that I await the pen to paper of your next journey. I am sad for you to see Dan and his friends go, but perhaps they have said all they have to, or want to, say. Either way, it’s a loss. Your “home” home is a beautiful place…I’m sure you will once again enjoy the great beauty that God has placed you in. Peace and the best to you in your writings.

  2. Elaine Solomon says:

    I will miss Dan et al but am looking forward to the next step in your journey. Thank you for being who you are

  3. Franci Taylor says:

    may you be blessed on this next section of your journey – I have greatly enjoyed the times spent with talking to you and look forward to more good conversations – This will be a worthy step for you and you never know when or if the road will lead you back this way. That is for the creator to decide. I also am wondering if there needs to be a new side road for me, of late – but that is a long story and one I will hold close for now. Best wishes to you and the family – keep doing the great things you do. I look forward to this new chapter.

  4. Patt Rall says:

    For us elders it is an imperative to teach the young adults coming along that artist’s way and also have to live a life not clouded by the trite and downright dangerous (look at this week’s stabbing at the Texas high school)life styles–although do not watch public media very much, last night was an eye opener of the kind of anti-civilization we’ve have let happen—taboos are mostly forgotten–you need to add some of your wisdom on living life across the generations but not based so much on NA values but certainly on the values we learned in our growing up years. I finished the Girl and you are correct–you are finished with Dan and the guys–you left them in better shape than they were—I believe–hello to Louise

  5. Sara Stewart says:

    Thank you for this. I’ve been given the grace of 62 years of life & now find myself frequently asking, “Now what?” I have a life that many would envy. My family is well. I am wealthy in my friends. Yet until now,when I’ve been presented with the chance to be a teacher/guide, I’ve backed off. False, ego driven humility,I suspect. So, thank you for being a way-shower. It feels a bit scary to take up the mantle of elder, but if not now, when? If not me, then who?
    Blessings,
    Sara

  6. Cliff says:

    Worthy step indeed.

  7. kerry Vincent says:

    This journey intrigues me – I have a feeling it may be your best sacred offering – looking forward to reading it. John Steinbeck’s “Journal of a Novel” comes to mind – he journal notes as he wrote East of Eden. Safe travels…

  8. Marc Allen says:

    Kent, I always appreciate your thoughts, because they always have depth and spirit, and look forward to reading ANYTHING you wish to write! It sounds like a great idea is brewing in that expansive mind of yours.

  9. Michelle D Anderson says:

    Kent, please include me in your “next steps”. Thank you! The spiritual timing of things continues amaze me. I have resigned from my “professional” hospice nursing position just this week so as to be more present and available for the Elders within my own family – Doug’s mom of course and my own parents 100 miles away. A difficult decision, but we know it is the RIGHT thing to do. TRUST… my one word prayer. Thanks for keeping your mind and writing hand engaged in our crazy world! Michelle Anderson, Sioux Falls, SD (cell 605-321-7688)

  10. Linda Brewer says:

    Kent – just read all three books in the trilogy in a matter of days. Thank you for the work you’ve done. I feel like Dan must have felt when you gave him the notebook. A certain peacefulness….

    LInda Brewer

  11. tara hands says:

    Congratulations on your finding and accepting a new direction! I was busy reading
    your writing, until near the bottom I noticed the view changing on the left. You have a good subtitle already – a guide through the psychological and spiritual pathways that everyone must travel. Best wishes for this intro-inspection. I’m
    always ready to read more from you.

  12. knerburn says:

    How well put. Taking on responsibility is an act of courage, especially for those of us who have little patience for people who profess to have answers. Our task, it seems, is to help those coming up after us to form intelligent and compassionate questions; to help them become honest seekers.

  13. bamboo-water says:

    Kent,

    Your books which comprise the trilogy of “Dan’s Journeys” will always be etched in my soul. The Girl Who Sang to the Buffalo is deeply special to me. I have a Zi of my own. Words will never convey how much you and your writings mean to me.

    Hence, perhaps you will understand better, when I say, “The Tao which can be spoken — is not the Real Tao.”

    Thank you for giving me a part of the Real Tao!

    bamboo-water

  14. bob leipholtx says:

    My exposure to your writings has certainly helped me to move on my path. having read the non-trilogy 2-3 times hope to continue the path to wherever it takes me. so i’m somewhere behind you. appreciate you keeping us informed. bob

  15. Tim Goodwin says:

    I have learned a great deal from you and “Dan” over the years. In particular I am greatly appreciative of the thoughts and ideas in “Twilight” about education and use excerpts of this with my education students. In fact, I found this blog entry today when writing a blog entry of my own in which I quoted from the book and came to your website to get the web address to link to it in my entry hoping the few readers who will see mine will discover these books as I believe all prospective teachers should read them.

    My blog: http://timothygoodwin.net/education-musings/

    Much appreciated for the work you have done.

  16. Claudia Srok says:

    Mr Nerburn, I have very much enjoyed your Dan books I’ve read them twice! I am sad you closed the door but I understand about your future and look forward to reading the next step! I went through the whole Native American Studies Program in MN, and traveled to Bemidji many times, wish I could have bumped into you. Good Luck, and thank you for all you have done and will yet do.

  17. Nancy Schupp says:

    Thank you for all your writings. Yes I am an elder now 78 taking under my wings the younger generation and other in working at the needs ministry at my church.
    Right now reading Make Me An Instrument of your Peace have not finished, but have sent 2 copies to people I love and have added another to the list. So that all may find JOY in their life.
    Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
    Bluebird

  18. Looking forward to your “elder reflections” on the art path. I’ve been fortunate to work with an elder who is now 90 to document her story…it’s been a real education and privilege.
    Thanks for Dan, Grover, Jumbo, the dogs and Little Z.

  19. Kay Wilson Fisk says:

    Thank you for putting words to my feelings. I am now 75 and have noticed that I often find myself offering my observations to my younger friends, who seem to find my perspective of interest.

  20. Eric H. Read says:

    Very seldom do I get emotionally invested in a story as I have in The Girl Who Sang to the Buffalo. I could not put the book down until I finished it. You have a way of putting the reader into the story that few writers have. I felt the cold of the Minnesota forest as the party walked to the singing of the little girl. The emotional ebb and flow you felt was mine. Thank you for bringing the whole story of Dan and the others into the world. My life certainly will never be the same.

  21. Devika Koppikar says:

    Hi Kent,

    I wanted to say that I truly enjoy your “Dan and friends” trilogy. In fact, I’m going to assign NEITHER WOLF NOR DOG to students in my intercultural communication class. (I teach communications at a community college in the DC Metro area)

    As an Indian American (as in India), I have always “lived in two worlds,” and my family often echoed sentiments similar to Dan’s. So your book was a great inspiration and eye-opener.

    Best wishes on your next project.

  22. knerburn says:

    Thanks, Devika. Intercultural/multi-cultural realities seem to have much in common. I’m pleased that my books will help you offer some insights and understanding to your students.

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