Two touches

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.

5 comments

  1. Linda Mostert says:

    Hello Kent,

    I can’t believe I’m actually getting to post you a note personally! I received your book ‘Small Graces’ as a gift oh, must be around 3 or 4 years ago now… and it truly touched me. I’d never heard of you before that and I’ve not gone looking any further as life has been tumultuous and I’ve been self-absorbed. Having recently reconnected to the internet I looked around to see if I could find anything more by you and was pleasantly surprised to find so much available.

    I’ve felt an affinity with the Native American ways for as long as I can remember and after going through the personal crises I have for the last few years of my life, I’ve come to a place where I’ve started to listen to the still small voice which has long been with me, and which I have either ignored or tried to interpret or translate according to the teachings and/or expectations of others for such a long,long time… I’m learning now, albeit slowly, that my spirituality is my spirituality and my path to and with the Source needs to be my own. So I’ve started listening to my intuition and my own earth calling… asking for guidance from above… and the calling to the ways of wisdom of the Native Americans is unmistakeable in my life. This has come to me through so many channels, and that beautiful little feather on the cover of your book has stayed with me… the gentle power of the simple truths you spoke of warms the recesses of my mind. And so I’ve come upon this site… one more connection on my journey, my quest for my true self and for love, peace and truth…

    Thank you for sharing your precious gifts… for honouring God in your very being and in your reaching out in love…you’ve touched a soul far away from your own earthly home. God bless you.

    Love,
    Linda

    Cape Town, South Africa

  2. Leigh Austin says:

    Oh, Kent… I am so excited to have discovered this forum!! For so long I have been reading your books and longing for an opportunity to tell you how much they touch me.
    The book Small Graces literally fell into my hands – as signs from the Divine often do – when I was working in PR for a small spiritual company. The story is interesting. I was with my client at a television studio taping an interview. The host had been preparing to either interview you or review the book, and she had it with her. We began talking about spirituality and books and she handed me Small Graces. She said it needed to be shared.

    That time in my life was difficult. I had just separated from my husband, had two small children and we were struggling to eat. When I read Small Graces, I wept at the beauty and simplicity of the words. They made me feel so utterly complete and at peace, I literally glowed with warmth inside. When I felt low or in my anger, I took a moment and read a few pages and I always felt better. I read and reread it so often the binding became soft and mushy as well read books get. I quoted from it frequently, and shared it with my children. They loved the story about Clouds. Then I met someone else who needed the book, so I gave it to him. I gave one to my father when he became chronically depressed. At one point, I wanted to buy a copy for everyone I knew and give them as gifts.

    I purchased your other books and read them as well. I read often – usually have two or three books going at once. Now I pull out Small Graces, Simple Truths or The Prayer of St. Francis and use them like rich chocolate – a decadent treat. I will read just one chapter at night right before sleeping – only one. Then, smiling, I brush away the tears and turn out the light.

    Thank you. Thank you so very much. Your words and experiences inspire and fill me with joy. Emerson said in my favorite poem “… to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived–that is to have succeeded”. My life has breathed easier because you have lived.

    Peace and Blessings,
    Leigh Austin

  3. Sandi Pleune says:

    Dear Kent,

    I have frequently thought of wanting to write you and tell you how deeply your books have touched me and my life, especially Neither Wolf Nor Dog, but I didn’t have the courage until now. I love books and do a great deal of reading but in my 60+ years of devouring books, I have never been as deeply moved by an author’s words as I have been by yours! I have read and reread your books and bought copies for my friends and some for clients (I am a psychotherapist.) You speak from a deep place of truth and from a huge heart. Thank you for your courage, committment, honesty, and beautiful use of your God given gift with words. I understand your being afraid of other’s anger as I share that fear; however, I believe you demonstate great courage by continuing to speak your truth knowing that you are risking anger and criticism. Please keep speaking and writing from your heart as you have no idea how many lives and hearts you are deeply touching by doing so.

    Love and blessings,
    Sandi

  4. Eva Murray says:

    Hi Kent,
    I just finished reading Neither Wolf Nor Dog,and I wanted to share my thoughts with you.First let me say Thank You for taking the initiative to try to open our white eyes to the plight of the Native Americans.I’m sure you have met much resistance yet you still published one of the finest books I have ever read. In your final chapters with Dan at the Wounded Knee Burial site,you took me along on your journey.
    Your style had me totally captivated and I could almost see and feel what you experienced.
    My Great Great Grandfather was a Navajo,so I consider myself Native American even though the blood is way back.I also am a Wasichu :)so I am looking at all of the injustices from both sides.
    Your book was an eye opener for me and also for those I have told about your story. I am passing this book on,it has many roads to travel and travel it will.
    Thank you for all you have done and please continue to do so in the future.
    Be Well,Be Safe
    Eva

  5. Hi Kent!

    keep on writing such good books! they are inspiring!!

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