My father was am immigrant from Mexico. My mother a full blood Kiowa/Cherokee from Oklahoma. They worked the peanut and cotton fields when my sisters and I were young. I remember ducking the large rolling water sprayers in the fields; I remember the heat coming from the dirt onto my bare feet; and I remember living in abandoned farm houses in the Oklahoma fields. Let me tell you about cold nights. No, better yet, let me tell you about the warmth you can have from the thin layer of a blanket.
“There’s not much culture in this writing,” I’ve heard students say when critiquing student work or reading the novel of a Native author. Or they’ll say, “It looks like the main character is having an identity crisis,” and it can sound dismissive, but there’s something we have to understand about most Natives: We move deep into the center of culture and back to the periphery like an ocean in symbiosis with the moon.
Revision is a little punk b#?ch! There I am toiling away on the second draft, almost to the end of the novel and starting to think about characters in the novel (mentally preparing for the “sweeps” portion of my revision process), and then I come to realize my main character is an asshole.
We writers area equal parts ego and vulnerable. The cliché is to develop a “tough skin” over the years and be able to take criticism. But we all think we’re geniuses, and we are. Brilliant beasts who are magical at hiding our softest parts behind a shield of “I already know” and “You just don’t understand the work.”
“I gotta keep my Capricorn mind straight,” said the planet of Saturn to the writer writing this post. Okay, so that first sentence had a weird third person shift–almost like a third person shift to a different third person gear, but the first third person perspective was oddly different from the latter, which was equally bizarre but uniquely awkward. See what I mean? I do need to keep this Capricorn mind straight. Saturn was right.
Getting bogged down in the muck is an artist’s nightmare. You’ve done the initial work. Maybe you painted the paintings, recorded the songs, or wrote the novels, and then you have to take the creation and offer it to world. Just when you thought you were done. There’s a million more hurdles.
There you are enjoying the advantages of not being accountable and then a writer moves in next door. At first you think, “Oh, this will be interesting…to have an artist type in the community,” and then you realize writers write. More importantly, writers stand up for the weak, abused, and disadvantaged.
I don’t denounce structuralism. Every time I watch a Disney or Pixar movie with my daughters and tears start welling up in my eyes by simple structural tactics, like music and camera angles, I’m reminded there is a reason it works. But I’m a literary writer and we are defiant bastards and we like to take structuralism and bend it our will. So we can look in the mirror and say to ourselves, “The industry will not make me a slave.”
How to hear? Not to listen, like saying “You need to pay attention,” but instead how we create consistency in our voice as artists. How do we hear voice? How do we recognize what is uniquely our own? Is one obstacle. Then the next. How do we reproduce it again and again?
So what do you do when a character is powerless? The first thing I tend to do when I’m looking to solve problems in my storylines is to turn to my immediate surroundings. For some reason, and I’m not sure where I got this from (possibly through reflection in the early mornings as I sip my coffee), I started to realize or assume or maybe just consider that all dynamics of story or narratives are in constant mimesis, so…if there is something missing in my story or novel (as is the case now) I start to look for signs and solutions in my daily interactions—in my immediate. I believe I’ll see the same thing, conceptually, happen at some point in the day if I just pay attention.
Like angels and devils breading hordes of bastard monstrosities, the impetus for the type of stories I like to write comes out of the comingling of two polar opposite ideologies. One is quite happy frolicking with idealism and innocence, while the other takes great pleasure in torturing countless victims. Together they make for unpleasant friends. The type to cater to your highest morals and simultaneously use those morals to bash you into the dirt.
“How many lives do you think you have lived?” someone asked me, and I responded “In this lifetime, I’m on seven.” I’m sure she meant previous lives, as in reincarnation in its literal meaning, but if you’re going to have a conversation with an artist you have to understand our minds work in symbols. I’m going to speak metaphorically before I speak literally. It makes more sense to do so when you consider the multifarious dynamics in life. Everything is fluid, ever changing, like narratives and lifetimes and phases, making for a rollercoaster ride in the dark.