Friday, February 28, 2014


I'm not naming names here, and I'm not picking on anyone personally.  But when non-Indian folks tell me glowing stories of the California Indian land their families OWN, complete with the grinding bowls and arrowheads and other artifacts they 'find' there, something awful happens to my stomach, my whole body curls up in a fist, and I have the sensation of baring my teeth in a snarl rather than smiling as I try to find the quickest escape route out of the room.  Inside I am pleading, 'please don't tell me this please don't tell me this please don't tell me this I am going to eviscerate you on the spot.' 

I don’t flee because I am afraid of conflict.  I don’t flee because hearing these stories hurts like hell.  I flee because I know there is only so long I can control myself.  I know that if I stay, my anger and my grief and my loss will literally throw itself at this person talking to me, and I will flay them alive.

This is being Indian in this country where we are artifacts, we are exotic, we are somehow here (so you can tell us these stories) and yet not here (so you can totally ignore the fact that you are talking about land stolen from us, taken from us, while we were being killed off or missionized or relocated or simply locked up). 

Yes, I am having a ‘primitive’ reaction.  In another panel, a non-Native used that word and said that he felt the land “like a primitive.”  Really?  On a panel with an Indian woman sitting right there, and he didn’t re-think the use of that word?

Here’s the thing.  Telling me about ‘owning’ that land, and ‘finding’ those ‘artifacts,’ is like saying, “Oh, you know that Mercedes my grandfather stole from your grandfather?  I’m still finding all of your grandfather’s stuff there – you know, his tools and his treasures, family heirlooms, stuff he meant to leave with you.  I really enjoy looking at them and knowing that it’s all mine.”

It feels like that.  Only worse.  

And don't get me started on writers from California who talk about being Native Californians.  Just don't even GO there.

I’m at AWP in Seattle.  Going to a large conference like AWP means seeing all kinds of wonderful people that I don’t get to see in my small-town, small southern liberal arts university environment.  Lots of Indians at AWP this year, more than I’ve seen in many years, and we are delighting in seeing one another at panels, in the hallways, having coffee, crossing streets.  It’s an Indian love-fest, that’s for sure.  And because I am rooming with Chickasaw Linda Hogan, a beautiful soul who has taken me in with her friendship and her deep kindness, I ride her coat-tails when other, more well-known Indian writers approach her to say hello.  Yesterday Kimberly Blaeser waved to us at the panel where Joy Harjo was reading, and afterwards we all stood around laughing and taking pictures.  Indians, as other Native people often say, laugh a lot more than we look stoic.  And I was total fan girl, asking folks to pose for photos.

Sherman Alexie's shoes: SHINY

Kim and John Purdy, a retired Native Lit professor who was one of the first to publish me (when he edited SAIL), invited us to have lunch with them.  As we walked out, John noticed Sherman Alexie checking in at registration; we hallo'd him, he turned around, and Linda immediately pounced; she told Sherman that he owed her an email, starting a hilarious comedic routine about porn and unusual sexual positions.  This is how Indians tease one another.  It was so much fun to watch.

So there are good, soul-feeding moments about being Indian too.  As I sit here in my hotel room drinking coffee, and Linda sits propped up in her bed across from me, working on a poem, I am reminded that Indians laugh, and tease, and cherish one another in fiercely alive ways.  We keep each other going.  We ease the sting of those small acts of colonization that find us at unexpected moments.  We connect across barriers seen and unseen.

Yes, we do.  Stolen land and all. 

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Here's to Hope

We're sitting in the Pike Street Market Pub on a Wednesday afternoon, my son Danny (aka 'Daniel' in grad school) and I.  His class has fortuitously been cancelled on the very day I fly in from Virginia for a conference.  We've just walked along the waterfront under a semi-sunny sky, breathing in the smells from my childhood, adolescence, young adulthood - salt, kelp, tar, exhaust, the fry oil from Ivar's dockside restaurant where I remember the salmon fish and chips as some of the best junk food of my life.

As usual, Danny and I order our drinks with consideration.  A brewmeister himself, my son knows about beer.  He is a poet when he speaks of the making, the ingredients, the colors and subtle flavors, the carbonation, the foam, the many and varied containers, the alcohol content, the history of beer-making, and stories behind it all.  

As usual, the waitress cards him, though he is nearly 25; I tease him that he no longer looks 12 years old, he's moved up to 15.  "It's 'cause I shaved this morning," he laughs, stroking his nearly bare chin, "all ten hairs!" When his beer and my cider arrive, we toast one another with pleasure.  It's a rare day together, and we both know it and cherish it.

After an intense conversation about the state of our country and the world, governments and leaders, pope and money, religion and creeds, Danny concludes by telling me his own personal philosophy: that everything is connected via the planet, our bodies, and the cosmos, that we are part of something grand, magnificient, in which religion as we currently define it really does not play a part, the vastness is so much greater than what that word can imagine.

I look at him sitting there, my Classics major, my atheist, my ethical, loving, fiercely honest son who inherited so much of his Esselen/Chumash grandfather, but also so much of his Germanic/English Miller forebears.  And I say, "I am so proud to have you as my son."

And Danny looks right at me and replies, "I'm so proud to have you as my mother.  You got knocked down, and got right back up."

Just freeze that moment.  I'll take it with me to my grave as one of my prize possessions, the kind you CAN take with you.  Sometimes parenthood completely blows my mind.  How these beings we birthed with so much work and hope and fear and ignorance somehow grow into themselves, into humanness, recognizing their connectedness to the greater whole.  What a blessing it is to witness, to be part of that:

Here's to hope.

Monday, February 24, 2014


Note: I can't promise you Seattle will look anything like this photo; the PNW in March is, in general, not a pretty place.  But just IMAGINE this scene as you pack umbrella and boots and raincoat.  

Seems like I just returned from a trip out West ... but on Wednesday I'll turn back around and do it again.  Some weeks are like that.  This trip takes me back to one of my homes, however, and I'm looking forward to seeing not just many amazing poets and writers, but my two grown children and my grandbaby, Turtle!  

Tamiko Nimura, a writerly friend who lives in Tacoma (about 35 miles south of Seattle), has written a TERRIFIC blog post called "An AWP14 Welcome Mat: Eating, Writing, Reading in Seattle" that covers all those bases and more.  Check it out - it will save you enormous amounts of time sifting through restaurants and bookstores and more.

The entire AWP schedule is available online (follow the link) as is a schedule of most (not all) off-site events.  Author signings, too, have their own schedule (I will most likely do a signing for Heyday Books, their first time at AWP! and will post the time and place here when I know what it is).  If you use twitter, my handle is @badndns.

For those of you attending AWP in beautiful downtown Seattle later this week, here are the two panels I am on, and one off-site reading:

Thursday, February 27, 2014

3:00 pm to 4:15 pm

R240. The DIY Book Tour: Take Your Show on the Road

Room 615/616/617, Washington State Convention Center, Level 6

(Ron Tanner, Jessica Anya Blau, Deborah Miranda, William Trowbridge, Benjamin Busch)

How can we find readers for our books? Most writers now live only online, through social media and blogs.  Recently some writers have taken to the road in innovative and enterprising ways and found new readers and expanded their networks as they could not have online. These writers, representing both small and large presses, first-book and multibook authors, will share their road stories, tips, and insights about how best to take your show on the road and maximize the potential of your book.

Friday, February 28, 2014

3:00 pm to 4:15 pm

F262. Weaving Stories from Strands of Truth: Native Writers on Nonfiction

Room 202, Western New England MFA Annex, Level 2

(Elissa Washuta, Debra Magpie Earling, Deborah Miranda, Ernestine Hayes)

Many Native American writers are currently working within the genres of poetry and fiction; fewer writers work in nonfiction. This panel considers the complicated history of Native self-telling alongside contemporary memoir, essay, and other forms in order to examine where nonfiction is situated among the recently published literary works by Native writers. The history of Euro-American influence on the oral storytelling tradition creates a distinct set of issues within Native nonfiction.


Barnes & Noble, Pacific Place, 600 Pine St Suite 107, Seattle, WA 98101

Cost: Free

The second of two QUEERTOPIA events at AWP. This year S&Q is proud to present QUEERTOPIA 2: a reading by LGBTQ poets & writers. The event at Barnes & Noble just steps away from the conference hotel will include 12 poets & writers in 120 minutes.

Also, my steady AWP roomie, Linda Hogan, has a session:

S276 Rounding the Human Corners: Writing the Truth about the Changing World

Room 613/614, Washington State Convention Center, Level 6 
Saturday, March 1, 2014
4:30 pm to 5:45 pm

Straddling mass extinctions and shifting ecosystems, how do we write about the more-than-human in a way that avoids simple metaphor? And how do we write of degradation and extinction in language that engages the (human) reader and remains truthful to these “other nations?” Discussing a diversity of approaches are five authors of fiction, poetry, and nonfiction about horses, wolves, birch trees, killer whales, polar bears—the depth and range of the world just beyond our human skin.

See you there!