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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

THE BAD INDIANS WINTER TERM SKYPE TOUR!

I'VE FINALLY DISCOVERED HOW TO BE IN TWO PLACES AT ONCE

I love visiting with students who are reading my book; the energy, questions, and stories exchanged on both sides is exhilarating and inspirational.  However, as a professor myself, I realize there is little time in the academic calendar for scheduling an author visit, not to mention all the expenses (airfare, hotel, meals, honorarium) involved.  So, I've adopted a grand idea:  If you are teaching Bad Indians and would like to schedule a Skype visit with me, and if you can arrange a nominal honorarium, now's the time to get your date on my calendar. To get a plan started, email me at mirandad@wlu.edu and I'll get back to you promptly.


In October, I skyped with David Carlson's class at Cal State University, San Bernadino.  We had a fabulous time!

IDEAS FOR A SKYPE VISIT:

Decide what kind of Skype visit you want: Q &A?  Writing workshop? Discussion of a particular piece from Bad Indians (or another book)?  Part reading from my work, part Q&A?  Let me know the general course curriculum ahead of time, too, so that I have time to plan what will work best for your particular focus.  For example, if you are coming from Women and Gender Studies perspective, I'll choose different material than if you are coming from a Creative Writing perspective.

Given your current group of students and classroom situation, think about where you will position the monitor where the students will see me; try to keep me at their eye level.  During Q&A, think about having someone responsible for turning the monitor/camera eye toward the student speaking, so I can see that student - or, have students with questions walk up to a particular spot within my range.

Visiting with a "talking head" can be impersonal on both sides; I love having your students introduce themselves to me before they ask a question.  Just a quick, "Hi, I'm Jessica" is fine, but more is great if they feel like letting me know their background or fields of interest.

Ahead of time, give the students my blog URL and encourage them to explore past posts, my bio, tribal website, and so on.  I think it helps them feel a little less shy and may help generate questions and conversation.

HONORARIUM?  

One hour Skype visit to a university classroom:  $300.

One hour Skype visit to your book group:  $150

One hour Skype visit to a Native community college, university or high school: free (seeing Native faces makes my day!)

One hour Skype visit to a high school:  free (but I do love thank-you notes, or copies of any interesting projects like a video book promo, a performance of a poem or story)!

MY TEACHING SCHEDULE WINTER TERM:

For your scheduling plans, please know that I am definitely not available during these times January through April 4 (there are, of course, the usual committee and department meetings, office hours and conferencing to work around, but these are the absolutely inflexible times - please keep in mind that I am in Virginia, and on east coast time):

M and W, 2:30-3:55
T and TH, 10:10 - 2:50


So as we approach the New Year, I'll make my toast to technology, and how it allows us to meet, talk, question, and exchange ideas despite obstacles of distance, time and funding.  Looking forward to hearing from you, and thank you again for the warm, loving support of my work.

Deborah





Monday, October 14, 2013

“In fourteen hundred ninety-two, Columbus came to massacre you" (or, Why Storytelling is Still Important, and learning to Analyze stories is even MORE important)

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It’s tempting to post and re-post all the wonderful anti-Columbus memes going around the internet today.  Columbus with a big bloody “X” scrawled across his face.  Cartoon Indians on the shore watching the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria looming on the horizon, saying to each other, “They better have their documents! No illegal immigrants here!” and so on.

But when I walked in to my office this morning, all I could see was this poster.




I found it in a local antique shop years ago, but never had the guts to hang it in my office until this year (maybe being a full professor has something to do with that).  After all, I teach first years; what would they think, walking into Professor Miranda’s office for the first time and seeing a full-blown massacre of whites by savage Indians?  Any chance of them taking Native Lit with me somewhere down the line would probably go straight down the tubes, I figured.

Now, I’m not so sure.  I’m not so sure first years would run screaming from the room (no one has yet, but more on that later), and I’m not so sure I don’t want to have a conversation with any of my students about this incredible poster.

For one thing, most students never seem to actually catch on that a massacre is happening at all.  They see the Holy Fathers rising beneath the IHS starburst (first three letters of the Greek name for Jesus Christ, which the Latin Church has traditionally rendered IHS as Iesus Hominum Salvator) surrounded by blond-haired, blue-eyed angels, and seem strangely comforted.  







 





True, the “massacre” (and by now I hope you realize I’m using this word sarcastically) is at the bottom of the frame, and much darker, both in coloring and in tone.  Easy to miss, to mistake as just foundational mass, nothing important.

If my students looked more closely, they would see these images:








A wooded settlement out in the wilderness.  Log cabins.  A beautiful lake.  And angry, nearly-naked, tomahawk-or-club wielding Indians cracking Catholic priests’ skulls open, burning one priest at the stake (with a handy iron kettle nearby, presumably to make Priest Stew afterwards).  Across the lake, more Indians set fire to what looks like a primitive church, with another Priest standing outside, arms outstretched, beseeching heavenly intervention.

Funny how we are in the fifth week of the semester and not one of my students, first year or otherwise, has noticed the juxtaposition of these two scenes, or at least, never commented on them.  Maybe my students are more concerned about the difference between a skeleton outline and a rough draft.  Maybe they think, Professor Miranda is REALLY religious!  Maybe sitting next to this poster, framed on my office wall, makes absolutely no impression on them at all.  Yet these same students comment on other artwork in the office – a student broadside of “Ironing After Midnight,” a Seafair Indian Days Pow Wow poster, the photo of Robert Latham Owens, first (and only) Native to graduate from Washington and Lee (Valedictorian, 1877; Law Degree, 1908), my collection of chapbooks and handmade books and so on.  Even the actual steel shovel with Seamus Heaney’s poem “Digging,” hand-lettered on it by a creative student, which is tucked away in relative obscurity, gets an appreciative nod now and then.

Why not this picture?

I warn my students that if they aren’t uncomfortable or disturbed by the materials we cover in my class, I’m not doing my job.  In fact, it is my job to bring this material to their attention, help them engage with it, learn how to read it in multiple ways, and figure out the significance of both the material and their discomfort.  Over the past 13 years I’ve been teaching at universities, student evaluations have raked me over the coals for this, but they have also thanked me.  At this point, the “thanks” are beginning to weigh in a little more.  I must be getting better about being, as one student accused me, “A Native American Feminist!”

Oh, besmirch my name!  I love it!

So on Columbus Day, I am looking at this poster with new eyes.  I am trying to see why the righteous resistance of Native peoples to colonial and religious invasion is so hard to take.  I am trying to see why fighting back against a terrorism that was grounded in greed, racism and fear is so damn hard for people to recognize as resistance, rather than “massacre” by “savages.” 

Surely, the way 2/3rds of the poster is taken up by the priests being elevated to sainthood – all that light and glory, angels and rays of heavenly beneficence – has something to do with this unusual blockage of vision.  Whoever painted this poster – and I don’t know the origins or artist – knew what they were doing.  They were telling a story we all know by heart.  In short, the poster is meant to serve as a visual metaphor: the colonizers as goodness, rising above the savages even when the savages seem most likely to resist, and crushing that resistance with the sheer weight of a story told over and over again in the dominant voice, using all of the power gained by believing in that story, no matter how false.  No matter how self-serving.

The poster tells a story full of heroics, sacrifice, and lies.  My job is to point out the holes in this story.  Starting with this one:  resistance to terrorism is not a massacre.  Innocence is not always represented by the guy in the white hat - or, in this case, the halo.  And anger is not always a bad response to injustice. 

Once again this year, I will post anti-Columbus memes on my FaceBook page.  Once again, I’ll lose “friends” or get comments like “get OVER it already!” from people who consider themselves otherwise sane human beings. 

I’ll deal with it all.  Just more “microaggressions” to fuel my Bad Indian engine.

But this year, I’m going to look over at the poster next to my desk, and smile.  They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  I say, resistance is in the voice of the storyteller.  

Hello, my name is Deborah Miranda.  I'm not just a storyteller.  Counter-narrative is my game, and if you send your children to the university where I teach, they will not emerge unscathed.  Beware.  Critical thinking happens here.


Monday, October 7, 2013

"DULLES AIRPORT LATE SUNDAY NIGHT"


Dulles Airport Late Sunday night

Waiting, waiting for the last flight out to Roanoke
I wander through gray carpet deserts,

up and down stairs, dazed by 3,000 miles
and lack of sleep, still glowing from the tender brush

of Sacramento’s air at 5 a.m. on my cheeks
like a mother’s goodbye.

I come upon an anonymous corner; a man
kneels, face to the wall, on a gray-white rectangle of cloth.

His intention so wholly fills his middle-aged body
I am embarrassed

to interrupt but he gracefully lowers
his forehead to the floor

in a singular reverence
and gratitude washes over me

for his devotion;
I walk around the corner

stand looking out at the dusky tarmac
beneath an almost-indigo sky,

let go of my suitcase,
my backpack of important things,

try to pray
that unabashedly.

Deborah A. Miranda



I had a lot to be thankful for after the California Indian Conference this past weekend.
















 

Friday, September 27, 2013

ASK FOR DIRECTIONS

Ask For Directions

Our DNA is a map made of stories.
A genealogy of stories.
A storytelling festival, featuring
ancestors and those still in the womb,
and those looking at us through eyes
not yet made from stardust.

When we tell stories we tap
an ancestor on the arm, ask
her to speak.  We take the hand
of a child, let our fingers intertwine.
When we tell stories we time travel
in a temporal wave that crashes
and crashes on the shores of our flesh.
Damn, we are fine
grains of sand, swirling kelp,
all the luminescent plankton that ever swam!

When we tells stories, skeletons dance
in dark museums, clappersticks crack
like lighting deep in unmarked graves. 
Abalone beads shine like oceans.  And I am
an abalone bead, drilled true, strung
on twisted plant fibers,
one of many glowing jewels
on a strand that spirals round
and around.  When we tell stories
I know where my beginnings spill,
drunken coyotes keening over broken moons.

Tell me a story.  Tell me how it happens.
Let me tell you a tale your bones
can't forget.  We are beloved bodies
of work dancing a spiraled flightpath
made of words, ink, tongues.  We speak
a language that does not contain
the word for dead, or end,
or lost.

Deborah Miranda

Sunday, September 22, 2013

BAD INDIANS IN THE WORLD

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L to R:  Andy Smith, me, Dian's book, Dian Million, Jennifer Denetdale after Dian's book panel at Critical Ethnic Studies Association conference in Chicago, 2013


Hard to say goodbye to friends at the Critical Ethnic Studies Conference here in Chicago, but good to be heading home. 

So much to process.  So much work to do.  So many good human beings out there doing it!

Throughout the last few days, I have talked to many people who are teaching Bad Indians right now, all over the country. 

Pause.

Did I just write that?  yes, I did.  People are teaching  Bad Indians in universities around this country, and in Canada. 

Pause again, while the skeletons in museums get up and dance.

Hearing from these professors, what they see happening in the book on both literary and theoretical levels, responses from students, is heartening, exciting.  I’m so proud of those Ancestors whose stories are being told, whose actions and words are changing colonial mythologies and re-writing histories and taking root in a new generation.  Thank you, colleagues, for trusting this book to be included in your classrooms.

And along with the news from classrooms, something that I did not anticipate: the problematics of being an Indian professor who has survived violence but now must teach about it.  Teaching the book is often a trigger, particularly for women.

Of course it is.  But I could not see this until Jennifer Denetdale brought it to my attention.  I had completely denied this possible and quite reasonable reaction in all of my imaginings about Bad Indians in the world.

I worried about critics.  I worried about student reaction to having their knowledge about history and the U.S. Government being mercilessly challenged.  I worried about family responses.  I worried about Catholic Natives for whom the book might seem sacrilegious or disrespectful.  But curiously (especially as a Native woman who has survived violence and sexual violation), it never crossed my mind to worry about something that now seems obvious: It is hard enough for Native professors to claim authority in the classroom, for many reasons; who wants, on top of that, to feel vulnerable and fragile, in front of one's students? to cry in front of them, or to get angry?

And yet, as Jennifer repeatedly told me, the book must be taught.

In many conversations over the past few days, my colleagues and I faced this dilemma head on, with an honesty and passion and frustration that I can only appreciate and thank them for giving me.  We’ve decided to talk more about it, via email, and perhaps plan a pedagogy panel about teaching texts in which violence (especially against women and children) is portrayed and demands an intimacy from us in order to be discussed with students. 

There is, it seems, something about Bad Indians that brings old memories to the surface in a way that violence portrayed in fiction or even autobiographical poetry does not, particularly for Indian women.  I am still sitting with this knowledge and information, and it will take a long time for me to unpack my own feelings about this.  My initial response was horror.  And shock.  And forehead-smacking:  my own response to trauma has always been to internalize it, compartmentalize it into writing, where I am in control, where I decide what gets said or unsaid, written or unwritten – or at least, I can pretend I control that (as I’ve said before, writers often have no idea what we are unleashing from our depths until the words are already out there - and sometimes, this is a way of protecting ourselves from even more trauma).  I honestly feel horrified that I have “done” this to my colleagues, to the dear and brilliant Indian women teaching this book.  What kind of person would do that? 

Here I am, caught between being an author, and a loving community member.

But the book had to be written, and those stories had to be told, and as my colleagues at CESA have told me, they want to teach them.  They just feel unprepared for the way it hits them in the middle of the gut, in the middle of the classroom.

We need to talk about this.  And we did, and we will continue that conversation via email and phone and skype.  We have thrown some ideas around: a panel about the pedagogical aspects of teaching about violence that hits home.  Sharing techniques.  How to teach our truths brilliantly and yet not forget self-care.  How, as Dian Million says her new book Therapeutic Nations which we celebrated at the conference, not to get trapped in “the place where Indigenous women are posed as the abject victimized subjects of our present neoliberal states.”  How to walk into our classrooms in our Indian bodies claiming our experiences fully, and teach the truth about violence in our communities without being swallowed up by grief or casting a false, pathetic image of what survival looks like. 

This is a fierce charge.

I think I’m glad that Bad Indians is a good place to start this conversation. That little hesitation in my voice exists because it seems, in some ways, a frightening place to be, to have positioned myself.  And yet, as always, I am sure about the ways the Ancestors are guiding me.  I feel sure that I am feeling my way along this path in ways that, as I said during our panel on Sovereign Erotics, are reaching toward balance and away from fear.  It’s a felt knowledge, as Million says: something not always honored by others as real knowledge.

My first task is to finish reading Therapeutic Nations.  And then, I am certain, entering into a conversation with other Native professors and scholars that will change and clarify and re-charge how we do what it is we do.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

"Fog"

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Fog

Like not quite waking up
when your lover swears
in her sleep.  Like trying
to see the Dali’d hands
of a clock without glasses. 
Misshapen sound, wet
around the edges.  Thick
guesses: brain filling in
what looms over you,
grainy and gray, with
memory or maybe
it’s hope.

Deborah Miranda

Saturday, August 31, 2013

POETRY PROJECT #31: "What Whales Want"

Incredibly, here I am at the end of a month of writing one short postcard poem per day.  For some people, this is not a big deal.  But for someone who has been simultaneously writing poems, remodeling her house, prepping for a new school year, dealing with family issues, health issues, and a few other minor details, THIS IS HUGE!!!

I leave you with this little meditation on whales.  When I saw this card, it was the oceans that grabbed me.  How MUCH ocean.  How filled that ocean is with life, creatures and beings who live out their time in the waters of this planet. 

Thank you for sticking it out with me, folks.  This project was exactly what I needed at this point in my sabbatical year - this bittersweet ending, this have-I-done-everything-I-wanted-to-do August.

And soon I will post a group photo of all the cards I've received this month - what riches.

Without further ado, the Last Poetry Project Poem (for now):





And here is the "group photo" of the postcard poems I have received in the month of August.  More may still be in the mail! but this is what I've got right now...what a luscious crop.

This is how the postcards look when they are keeping me company.
This is the postcards posing for the camera.


Tuesday, August 27, 2013

POSTCARD PROJECT #27: "Manifesta"

Twenty-five cents.  That's how much this postcard cost me at the Antique Mall.  I've been living with this image for weeks now.  This morning, I heard her speak.



Monday, August 26, 2013

POSTCARD PROJECT # 26: "Somewhere around 36,000 feet"




This William Eggleston photograph has haunted me since the first time I saw it.  Things look so GOOD: the pretty sky, window seat, sparkly drink, delicate hand.  Then  you see the shadow of the unseen woman's hand, and it's so dang SCARY - like one of those movies where you can only see the monster's real shape in the mirror or something!  Duplicity ... Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde ... the way betrayal happens to you like a bad accident.  I also like the title: "En Route to New Orleans."  The kind of place where anything could happen. 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

POSTCARD PROJECT #22: "HEMISPHERES"

So I looked at this postcard for a long, long time, trying to make a list of all the different cartographic words scattered around.  Pretty soon, that list began to take on a life of its own; I began to think beneath the words on the postcard, on the map, in my head.  What would my own private map of this map look like as a poem??

Then Wordle came to my rescue.  If you haven't tried a Wordle "Word Cloud," please do!  You can play with background and font colors, font sizes and types, orientation on the page ... it's poetry, visual poetry, and sometimes very emotionally revealing poetry.

#22:  "HEMISPHERES"



(The original Wordle made with my list; some bits were trimmed off when I printed it out for the postcard.  The little, tiny, unreadable words are the names of continents, countries.  I decided it was right that they should matter so little.)



Wednesday, August 21, 2013

POSTCARD PROJECT #21: "World Atlas"

I like maps.  I despise maps.

I like them for the ways they try to make sense of the world, which is impossible (but it's so important to think is possible).

I also really like subversive maps, or as these guys call them, subversive cartographies. One of my favorite maps is this one:

In fact, I taped this map up in the room I taught in one semester.  It got a lot of double-takes from students, and provoked a lot of good conversations.  I remember one student who could not even locate the United States using this map; he was that disoriented, which is the whole point.  Not completely sure that had a great effect on my course evaluations, however.

Maps can be empowering, because they give the makers a certain amount of control (even if it is only imaginary).  The map above would be a good example of empowerment for people in the Southern Hemisphere, for example; not so much for North American students.  But often, it's a case of map or be mapped.  You know:  if you don't do the mapping, the colonizers will do it for you - but doesn't that mean you are helping to colonize yourselves?  The quandaries!

So I bought some map postcards and will be playing around with them for awhile, I'm sure.  After all, my first book of poems was called Indian Cartography, and I'm pretty sure I'm not done with THAT mapping at all.

#21:  "World Atlas"



Tuesday, August 20, 2013

POSTCARD PROJECT #20, "The Gluten-Free Chicano Celebrates Bread" (lines from FaceBook posts)

I've got this great set of postcards featuring William Eggleston photographs.  He's perfect for writing stuff that's a little off the wall.  This particular postcard seemed to me to be about getting a meal in a strange place, noticing the oddities all around, especially as regards food.  This image dovetails with the fact that I'd noticed a lot of FaceBook posts today and yesterday about food (it IS one of the more popular topics on which to post), and so I collected the first ten or so that crossed my feed today and put them into this poem.  Yes, my FB friends: you may recognize your own food-related rantings!