Someone tells you, “There’s nobody on that piece of land,” and you’re invited to stake a claim to it, build a home, move your family, and grow crops. Start a new life for yourself. That was the narrative fed to early European settlers and is commonly referred to as “The Pristine Myth,” meaning the wilderness is untouched and open for the taking. Then you arrive and find that not only are there people, but they’ve been there for thousands of years. I’m going to ask you one question: Has modern day academia created the same siphon?
I hiked into the Grand Canyon. I must’ve been in my late twenties, maybe early thirties. It started out as a walk to look over the rim. I had camped the night before in a tent at one of the sites and woke early (probably about 5am). I was there with a friend and she was still asleep. As the sun rose out of the east, I decided to follow the paved roads toward the rim of the Grand Canyon.
Like clipping and pruning back branches on a bonsai tree. Then we wire and train those branches to spread in the appearance of organic design reflective of the natural environment, taking careful consideration and steady hands. We have to make the right decisions. I’ve been revising Unsettled Between over the last two months and it’s been a transformative process not only for the novel but for me as well.
What I’m about to say is going to rub a lot of people the wrong way, especially an older generation who built their identity on the backs of a sovereignty based in contention between governments. But ultimately a shift occurred while many were sleeping, and this wasn’t something the younger generation brought about. We were simply swept away in the waters and learned to swim for fear of drowning.
Suppose you’re at a coffee shop and you’re telling your best friend about your workday. You’re saying so-and-so is building a case to take to human resources and will file a lawsuit soon. So-and-so has evidence of coercion and retaliation. Maybe it’s based on gender. Maybe it’s based on race. So-and-so will also file with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission as a federal employee complaint due to implicit biases at work. Then you notice someone at the next table staring and listening with interest at all the juicy details.
We’re tweeting and sharing and posting. We touch on a politically sensitive subject. And we don’t hesitate to engage in a friendly dialogue amongst community members. This is how folks learn. The back and forth sway. As we all know, a simple text exchange can quickly turn a meal of delicacies into a food fight.
Often I sit here in front of this computer and think about how to capture the voice of a narrator. Voice is the darkness around the thief, his soft footsteps, and his choice of victim. There is nothing innocent about what we writers do. We’re persuasive colonizers seeking to intrude on your sensibilities. We’re convincing–softly so.
Metaphorically #DVpit becomes water. Likewise, I could say Twitter is some type of container–a canteen maybe–something tethered to your belt. Whether you’ve been slinging a sledge hammer to break rocks or ripping callouses off your hands for grip on a climb, you’re exhausted and you could use a drink. What you need is opportunity and energy to keep climbing, to keep breaking those rocks.
Often we spend so much time looking down at our phones we forget to look up. I catch myself looking at the stars at night and the moving clouds in the day, realizing I’m watching them like I had when I was kid. Those were days before Reasor’s Grocery Store in Tahlequah moved from Choctaw Street to Muskogee Avenue, and back when there was a drive-in theater outside my aunt’s house on the southside of Lawton. Back then, we never looked down.
You’ve done the work. Wrote the story, painted the painting, soldered the jewelry, sculpted the clay, or weaved the basket. You’ve put in the hours at the workstation, lost yourself in the art, creating work unique and powerful and meant to contribute to a collective of voices echoing from generations past. Then you take the work into the world. Now it’s time to dance with the “crabs in the barrel” and the “fake In’dins.”
One of the beautiful behaviors of people is our need to protect. We don’t like bullies. This becomes more the case the older we get. There is something about seeing someone being treated terrible that we can’t stand. Maybe it’s a new comer who is unjustly getting targeted, or it could be someone vulnerable who doesn’t have the means to stand up for themselves. Either way, when you see opportunists attacking someone, you can be assured the protectors will come out if full force.
The sought after and mysterious “voice” of writing. You watch editors salivate like Derridean defeatists about how magical voice can be when it “makes your foot tap to the rhythm.” Aww, how romantic. We are lovely romantic beings who need magic in our lives. Well, I’m about to take the magic out of the what, where, and how to find a literary voice.