I am thinking this morning about those dear kids, their loved ones, and their teachers and coaches. I sit and cry and cry, and then I try to figure out how to start this day.
A five-year-old girl wakes up and, wearing nothing but Wonder Woman undies, rides a giant plush unicorn into the living room. The day starts.
But then she is at school by a magic of propulsion and happenstance because, surely, I can no longer send this beautiful, wild creature into a school. Not today. But she is there now. And if anything happens to her, this world and myself will be unforgivable.
I don't think we are made to withstand this kind of tragedy.
That seems right. But then I look around me and understand--that's the only reason some of us are here, because people have withstood (and, of course, are at this exact moment) so much and somehow survived. Maybe violence of such scale from within one's own community is a different kind of...whatever this is. I don't know. Maybe I am staying with big thoughts because the other thoughts are so very hard.
So hard that I come back to myself (it never takes long) and to the human body and mind and how these vessels might not be built to hold such sorrow and senseless tragedy, even from a distance. And that if by some miracle of biology and grace, they can--for they must!--then we must mindfully bear witness. We--I should switch to the "I" here: I must break a little, for if I don't, I'm afraid then I will become fully broken. I'm afraid of how many times this has happened. I am afraid of how many times I've looked away.
All of this is talking from a distance this morning, a distance brought about only by luck and circumstance, I'm afraid. I am devastated and unsure how we continue in a world like this, a world seemingly of our own making. Even our words mean so little now.
My heart and my mind aches waking again to stories of teacher turned hero, of kids texting loved ones goodbye. I'm so angry and hurt for those kids and the parents and loved ones who received those words over their phones and then had to wait for hours to know what the rest of their days were going to look like. And those who will never get to wake their sleepy teenager again and prod her out the door to school. I sit and I cry and I wonder how we can go on like this. How did we send our children to school today? How will we tomorrow?
Today's Lorrie Moore's birthday. Here she is in The Paris Review 15 years ago.
What an odd interview. What a delight. ❤️
In general, if a person were to watch me work—which I am grateful no one ever has—I suspect it might look like a lot of cutting and pasting of notes, stopping, starting, staring, intermittent flurries (as the weatherpeople say), sudden visitations (by invisible forces), the contemplation of the spines of various dictionaries and reference books stacked behind the computer, and much reheating of cold coffee (a metaphor and not a metaphor). But what it feels like is running as far as I can with a voice, a tuneful patch of a long, nagging idea. It is a daily struggle that doesn’t even always occur daily. From the time I first started writing, the trick for me has always been to construct a life in which writing could occur.
Well, it is possible to believe that the busier and more disorganized a writer’s life, the easier it is to write a novel as opposed to a short story. To write a short story, you have to be able to stay up all night. To read it all in one sitting and at some point see the whole thing through in a rush is part of the process. There’s urgency and wholeness in stories.
Could you talk about the moment you decided to become a writer, if there was one that you can put your finger on? Or was it always obvious?
It’s never always obvious.
Some writers seem to think it was inevitable—they were writing poems when they were five and never stopped.
Does that mean it’s obvious? I’d like to see some of those poems.
So you don’t feel you were destined to it, that you had no other choice but to be a writer?
Well, that’s all very romantic, and I can be as romantic as the next person. (I swear.) ...
-Lorrie Moore, The Art of Fiction No. 167
Hi, Friends. I'm so excited and happy to tell you that I've been named one of the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation's 2016 National Fellowship Artists! It's an amazing group of Native artists, some who I've admired from afar for some time (Bunky Echo-Hawk!) and some whose work I can't wait to get to know.
I'm so grateful and only hope the work I produce honors those who've believed in me along the way.
One day a while back, Granny took a walk to the stores in Marble City to see what she owed. She sort of laughed and wrote isn't it shameful, I owe all three places. In another entry, she and JoJo have received their checks. She says there's not much left after they pay their bills, which she does faithfully as soon as the checks come. Then at the end of the entry, she notes that she paid her tithes.
Often, she's cleaning greens or snapping peas people bring her. Sometimes she snaps peas for a person in exchange for a mess of her own. She writes about what she's cooking (squash, beans, cornbread, cobbler) and who she had over to eat or what family she sent food for or which grandkid she sent fried chicken home with. In several entries, she's going to do laundry. Later, she does laundry by hand because there's not laundry in Marble City any more. They don't have a car, and sometimes they don't get to go to church services. Almost always, though, someone comes by takes them to church or asks them if they want to go to Wal-mart or to Ft. Smith or to campmeeting in wherever.
(Sister Vickie Kirk came by one evening after everyone had left for the campmeeting in Hobbs, NM, and asked Granny if she wanted to leave the next morning early. Granny thought she was going to have to stay home alone, since JoJo had gone with someone else and everyone else was supposedly gone. Granny packed a bag and was up before dawn the next day, ready to go. Who knows where she stayed--at the church or with some New Mexican Saints, I'm sure. She got a ride home with someone else, when the caravan started back to Marble City.)
Through it all, she's watching babies. I'm there almost every day and many nights. Chris is there some. Tammy still lives at home, I think, but she isn't there too much. She's with Jay a lot. Shannon and Bruce; Sherman, Mike, and Barney; mom and Mike Longshore; Pam and Wayne; or Terry, Bud, and Shelley Rae--or all of the above--spend the night regularly.
In the midst of everything, there is sickness. JoJo has spells, some "light" but most bad, near constantly during this time period. Granny cares for her. In this entry, she rubs her feet until she falls asleep.
Through all of it, she is thankful. It would be understandable, reasonable even, to despair or to feel like life shouldn't be the way it is for you. In this journal, Granny never complains. Occasionally she'll say her ankle is hurting or that she is a little tired. But she's never bitter for how hard things had to have been, especially for how terrible it must have been to see her daughter so sick so much.
I am sure faith has much to do with her steadfast...goodness, I guess, for lack of a better word. But this kind of humble, giving, grateful nature seems extremely rare no matter what crowd (religious or otherwise) you are in. I don't understand it, but I am in awe. Sometimes our memories do serve us well, it seems. For instance, my Granny, she was as good as they come.
I'm reading a journal my great-grandmother kept in 1977. I can't tell you what it means to run my hands over these pages, many that were probably last touched by her hand. There are times I am afraid I've forgotten my Granny, or that I've somehow made her into something she wasn't because that's what we sometimes do when we need something larger than ourselves to cling to.
But it's all here. There were long stretches I was with her and my grandmother Jo every day because my teenage mother worked. When Mom worked nights, I spent the night, and when I spent the night, I slept with Granny, probably long before anybody thought to call it co-sleeping. I like to think our souls sort of smudged together because that’s how it feels and also because I believe something like this happens when you co-sleep, that there are ways we merge that have nothing to do with spoken language or conscious intent. Did I mention that I have a little girl now too?
This journal tells me Granny was funny:
…Bro Will got awful sleepy driving so did Opal. I didn’t get sleep Boy! I watched them and watch the road. I sure would make a good chuffer, huh But Lord took care of us.
I don't remember any jokes, but I feel like I can hear her laugh and that she did so a lot.
This journal tells me she loved to fish. That I know because she passed it down. I grew up on the banks of creeks, rivers, and tanks, fishing by myself, a dog at my side, usually. The last several times I’ve fished, I’ve found I’ve lost the heart for it, catch and release feeling too cruel. We grow up and we grow old and sometimes we grow so far away from who we were that it feels that maybe we live a few short lifetimes on earth and not one (hopefully) long one.
The journal shows her command of English was pretty good but not great. I remember that. It doesn’t tell you how she felt that neither of her children and none of her fourteen grandchildren spoke fluent Cherokee. It doesn't tell you how it felt when she wrapped you up in her arms, or held you up to the sink so you could run water over the poke salad your cousins Shannon and Bruce picked, but it reminds you that you come from a big, close family—a tribe.
Our lives used to be so entwined that it was hard to tell where one’s life ended and another's began, so different from the transitory existence I’ve chosen where you hardly have time to get your neighbor’s name before you up and find new ones. I have slept atop a volcano, married, spied upon a cinnamon bear doing a backstroke, seen Elvin Jones at the Blue Note, divorced, danced myself silly in second lines, been zapped by prophets, married, and slipped alone and unseen into a crater lake so black in the night that it seemed there might not be a bottom. I’ve seen so much as I ran so far. There is so much we have lost, so much we have to lose.
"Ahhhhh," she said, surprised, almost in pain, "you got to be."
"I got to be what, honeysuckle?" He tightened his arm around her slim shoulders. They were sitting in a booth with a few others, drinking Angel Wings. Her mouth, the lipstick darkly blurred now, tipped unevenly toward his.
"You got to be different," she breathed.
-"The World's Greatest Fisherman" (1982), Louse Erdrich
I'm having a hard time figuring my way into this revision, so I sat down with a master. Every time I come back to the book, I find something else that stuns me.
I'm at School for Advanced Research in Santa Fe as Indigenous Writer-in-Residence now, speaking of stunning, beautiful gifts. I'm going to finish this book.