Silence = Death.
How that simple phrase molded my young queer life back in the 1980s when we were quite literally fighting for our lives. The thing is, when I think upon it now, the phrase has lost none of its meaning. It is still relevant today as it was back then. Maybe even more so since the community has achieved so much from the time those signs first hit the pavement lo those forty years ago.
Recently, Levi Strauss introduced a line of clothing that carries that phrase and queer folks everywhere started doing the bash syndrome (something that really started to gain momentum when Roland Emmerich tried to create a movie about Stonewall). The same can be said for how we bashed the production of Looking on HBO. It’s far easier to bash what we fear is coming our way before we’ve even seen it or experienced it for ourselves.
So when Levi Strauss did the sneak peek reveal, peeps started chiming in and calling them out on the carpet for marketing a phrase that carries a ton of weight with the community. Yet not everyone back then agreed with Act Up! who created the campaign to have our voices heard when no one wanted to talk about the “gay cancer” scare going on.
Silence = Death.
But then I saw what Levi Strauss was doing. My queer granddaughter doesn’t have the context for what that phrase meant to the community. She’s grown up in a world where queerdom has its place in the mainstream conversation now. Sure, as her gay grandfather, I spend a great deal of time educating her on our past. We watch countless documentaries about what our community has gone through. At fourteen, she’s becoming quite the activist. I couldn’t be prouder of her if I tried. I sit in awe of how powerful a woman she’s becoming. My only fear with that? She’s extremely empathetic. She feels what others go through strongly. I know that under the wrong circumstances it can be used against her. So I educate her in how to detect that and how to channel that sort of negativity into something greater that accomplishes her goals. But there are times when things bother her and she’s been tight lipped about it.
Silence = Death.
I can’t have that. Not with her. And not with myself either. You see, recently I was diagnosed with testicular cancer. Being over 50 I am one of the “lucky” ones in that most men who get it are between 18 and 35. Only 2% of the male population can get it at my age. Gee, thanks for that. Couldn’t I have been the 2% of the population that wins the lottery instead? No, my win had to come in the form of a cancer that within three weeks knocked me on my ass so hard that even after surgery I am still feeling its effects.
The thing is, I think I knew something was up but didn’t say anything to my husband.
Silence = Death.
At first it started out innocently enough. I went to the ER because I’ve had bouts with kidney stones and my lower right back was aching something fierce and I thought a stone was on the move. I didn’t want to miss work so I went to the ER with the thought that I’d get some pain meds to get me through the night so I could sleep and still get to work the next day. Well, I had the great fortune that I got the Asian equivalent of NPH’s Dougie Howser – the guy was YOUNG … like teenager looking young. But he was aggressive in that he wanted a CT scan to see if a stone was truly on the move. It was then that they discovered my lymph nodes in that area were inflamed – one so large that it was quite alarming. That was my first clue something bad was on the horizon. The cat was out of the bag, but for some stupid reason I didn’t give it a ton of thought about it. So shit is inflamed. What of it?
Silence = Death.
Yeah, that coulda been me. If it weren’t for my husband noticing that something was off in a moment of intimacy and (being the retired physician he is) made me book an appointment with my urologist to get that looked at. Unfortunately, I didn’t say the right thing when booking the appointment – ya know, the magic phrase that I guess I missed the memo on that all the other guys got – so my appointment was three weeks away from when I called. They must’ve thought it was routine or something. Well, in those three weeks I lost 45 lbs, my balance was way off – there’s video somewhere of me walking down a long hall at work where I was literally leaning against the wall for support but was so out of it that I didn’t realize I was doing it at all. Say nothing of the countless times during those three weeks where I’d get up to go to my car to buy something for lunch and nearly fainting in the parking lot (it was a far more regular occurrence than I want to admit even now).
So the appointment finally arrived. I was weak. I was a bone by comparison to how overweight I was before. Everything started to hurt. My blood tests were way off. My body was shutting down. I know that now. But then the operation came and removed the cancer – which appears from the pathology report was completely contained. So that’s a relief.
But now comes the part every cancer patient dreads … the chemo.
And here’s where it gets weird. They do these blood tests for cancer markers within the blood makeup. All of my numbers are within normal ranges, except for one. And it is slightly above the line in the sand they have for whether you can do outpatient chemo or you have to stay in the hospital on a drip for five days and then recuperate at home for 3 1/2 weeks. Guess which side of that little line I am on. Yeah – in-patient care. Needless to say I am fucking freaking out. My husband has been nothing but supportive as have the few friends and author pals I’ve told. For that I am extremely grateful.
But there are things in my life that I do to help others within the queer arts community. Chief amongst them is the Wrote Podcast. Y’all have no idea just how much time and effort it takes to put a podcast together and to keep it going. And it’s not like we’re getting paid for it. This is out of our love to promote others who write, sing, act, perform, sculpt, paint, etc about our queer lives. We want to champion them. But with my current state, I am having to pull back, leaving my co-host and co-producer Vance Bastian (who I can not ever come up with the words to describe what his involvement – both with the podcast and in my life – has meant to me. He is truly our superhero, our godsend and such a brilliant and caring man with a golden voice that could melt just about anything) to handle the podcast on his own. I’ll try to stay connected, but I’ve been told that energy will be a thing with me over the next four months while I go through the chemo.
Good news (if you can call anything remotely related to cancer – good) is that the success rate for my cancer is 97%. I’m clinging to that. That’s my light at the end of a very long and arduous tunnel I am facing now.
Silence = Death.
So while not totally the dramatic cause of the AIDS scare back in the 80s, I do see how that phrase means so much more to our community. It’s a bell-weather, a marker, a flare in the sky to remind us that we must be forever vigilant in keeping our voices out there. So while I step back, while I regroup and try to get better and hammer cancer back to the 9th level of hell where it came from, I call upon all of the authors, singers, queer content creators to step up and keep things rolling for Vance and Jayne while I find my way back to you all. Sign up for eps, encourage your author pals to do the same. Or if you know of singers, musicians, poets (GODS above, I would love to have a show on queer poetry), screenplay and playwrights – please get them to sign up for an episode.
With the current administration, we are at the precipice of our voices being silenced once more. And we can’t have that. We must not remain silent and think things will maintain the status quo. Because as I’ve learned from personal experience, you can’t remain silent. That silence might just very well spell death.
Until next time (and there WILL be one) …
The Game of Catfishing and the Terrible Devastation It Leaves Behind
Recently, I witnessed a good friend, someone who loves what I do get caught up in yet another terrible game of catfishing. The whole debacle was rather painful for her which only brought about pain on my part because you never want to see any of your friends go through something like that. What made this round particularly painful was that my friend only recently started writing herself. She is a champion of my works, something I still find astounding, so naturally I wanted to comfort and help in any way I could. You’d have to be living under a very large rock, and have been there since the early 2000s to not know what catfishing is. For those that don’t, I’ll give you a quick rundown – I looked it up.
Oxford’s online dictionary defines it as:
US informal [with object] Lure (someone) into a relationship by adopting a fictional online persona.
In the case of gay fiction writing, particularly in the MM Romance genre, it is generally a woman who professes to be a (gay) man in order to establish legitimacy within the genre. Catfishing should be a thing of the past – indeed, if there was any real reason for it to have existed at all – because I’d always assumed (yes, I know where that gets me) that the feminism cause was to have parity with their male counterparts in every way. Full equality, right?
Evidently, not so much.
I’ve come to think the real danger of Catfishing is that it sets the feminism cause back decades when someone does it. Sure the degree of that “resetting” is tempered by how prominent or prolific the catfishing author was at the time of exposure. But you see, that’s where I start to scratch my head. Why do it if you’ll run the risk of being caught? And you always get caught. I’ve not witnessed any catfishing author that wasn’t found out at some point in their career.
I get why authors use pen names. There are a great many good reasons to do so. Anonymity being just one of them. I use one. Not because I want to hide behind it – on the contrary, I’ve made it quite public via the Wrote Podcast how I came to use a nom de plume. It was a gimmick on my part. I used it because the book I was writing at the time was being told by the main character’s (MC) point of view. I thought, rather silly of me at the time, why not have him write his own novel? Thus, Sebastian Alexander Collins became SA Collins. That’s the only reason I did it. Which is now rather odd considering that I’d shelved that particular book’s development in favor of my current series.
So pen names, yeah. The reasons to use one are varied and have been used probably for as long as publishing has been around. I get that part of the game.
What I don’t get is the need to use one to purposefully to employ deceit in the name of legitimacy. That part escapes me. Why profess to be a gay man at all when you are a woman? I think that women who do this aren’t confident in their own work enough to let it stand on it’s own under your own (female) name or a pen name that doesn’t try to come across as a (gay) male. And that part is most puzzling to me.
I have a daughter and granddaughter that up until recently had lived with my husband and myself. A multi-generational home. I spend a great deal of my time worrying about their future. Fretting over what society will try and throw their way as they make their way though life. I’m a parent and grandparent – it’s part of the job. I want what’s best for them. I want them to have amazing lives that are (hopefully) better than mine. It’s how my parents reared (not raised, by the way – you raise corn, you rear children) to be. I want equality for them with as much passion and conviction as some of the staunchest feminists out there. The recent women’s march that consumed the globe a little over a week ago was so incredibly awe inspiring that I often misted up as I watched all the videos play from around the world. Truly breathtaking stuff.
Which brings me back to this whole catfishing thing.
So, why do it?
I mean, even JK Rowling (arguably the most successful female writer of all time) used a male nom de plume for her first book written after the global phenomenon that is Harry Potter. But she was quickly found out and when asked, she simply said that she did it because she wanted to see if the work could stand (it was her first adult oriented novel) on it’s own – separated from her fame. It was an experiment of sorts. Got it. And she quickly copped to it when it was discovered. I don’t consider that catfishing – and if some do, then I’d like to understand how this fits into that category. Rowling didn’t do it to deceive and establish legitimacy as an author. She already had decidedly established that. I think her use of a male pen name was only to push that association with her even further out to watch if her work really was as good as people kept telling her. Could she be equally successful in the adult fiction category? Would it stand up under that level of scrutiny? Maybe the male pen name didn’t hurt in that regard, I suppose.
But back to the MM romance genre (which is where most of this catfishing seems to come from as of late). I struggle with their reasoning of why do it at all. MM Romance (as a recent genre) was started by straight women writing for other straight women – something that when pressed up into my grill I often fire back that while they can write what they want, they need to understand they are writing about a very oppressed community and with that comes great responsibility. I am all for women writing about we gay men. But if they cross that line and try to tell me how gay men are I’m gonna step up right into their grill and push back … HARD.
But maybe that’s where this catfishing thing stems from. I don’t have any answers here, just pondering the whole thing as I watched the recent events concerning a woman who not only professed to be a gay man writing MM romance, but a veteran, a staunch Trump supporter (which I think was the beginning of her undoing – that one is a real red flag for queers though there are some who actually do support him which is beyond all reason), and always tried to come across as if the IQ level in the room rose significantly the moment they arrived. She kept telling my friend that her male catfish persona was the smartest person around.
To which I replied to my friend, “Yeah, people who feel the need to profess their intelligence, often aren’t that intelligent at all. If you’re intelligent, people will glean that for themselves. You don’t have to go charging into a room like the proverbial bull and bellow I’m the smart one in the room. People will perceive that for themselves.” In reality, that was probably the biggest red flag of all. The audacity to presume they were the smartest at anything. This was revealed to great effect when the catfisher’s author persona “had a heart attack” but was released the following day. As someone who has gone through FOUR such situations as I have with my husband I can tell you that NO hospital would do such a thing. The catfish was unwittingly revealing herself. It was the biggest stupid move she could’ve made, thereby proving my earlier statement. Not the brightest crayon in the box by any stretch of the imagination.
This is something that my husband has always maintained – “Just keep giving those type of people rope. Eventually, they will hang themselves with it. You won’t have to lift a finger.”
But it was still painful to watch someone I cared about go through the reveal. Practically everyone in the writing community that writes MM Romance chimed in. I was just as angry as my other gay brothers. It bordered on nothing less than queer culture appropriation. And again, that brings me back to why not just be who you are (as a sex – not the name being used)? Some of these women don’t seem to get that on the social totem pole Queerdom is at the bottom and not likely to move any time soon – especially with Tyrant Trump and his ilk in office.
Some female authors have said to me on the topic (and we’ve interviewed several on the podcast) that females struggle to “make it” in the business. So let’s look at that, shall we? I think you’ll find the answer to that question rather telling at dispelling (to a degree) that myth.
The first interesting article I read came from the Guardian in the UK. This pretty much has been the established argument. But what I find particularly telling is that while women find it extremely hard to get their works reviewed and taken seriously, a number of those reviewers are women. Why would women not value or press to review other women’s work – if anything, just to give rise to it’s legitimacy? That particular point I find very troubling. I realize there could be extenuating circumstances that preclude them from doing just that. I don’t presume to “have the inside scoop” on the goings on of the reviewing side of the industry.
But it was this little ditty that really was an eye opener … while it doesn’t remove the stigma women face to get noticed, it does however show that in terms of moving vast numbers of book units, women are the dominating factor here. The headline alone explains it –
Female authors whip the men’s asses after writing 18 OUT OF TOP 20 bestsellers in 2015.
So while there are more male writers and reviews for their works, it seems that if you’re a woman who cracks the top and becomes a major player, you sell big. BIG TIME sort of big.
Admittedly, this was published nearly two years ago. But I don’t doubt it’s validity. So maybe it’s just getting the work noticed? Because once you do, female writers are extremely successful.
As I said before, I don’t have answers. I am only pondering this as I help my friend pick up the pieces of her burgeoning writing career (she was doing PA work for said catfishing author who insisted that she (my friend) personally endorse this author and recommend them to others). My friend’s personal and professional integrity were called into question because she had unwittingly put herself in the cross hairs of this recent catfisher.
So here’s my takeaway – ladies, write from who you are. I’d rather have truthfulness and authenticity in picking up a book and knowing who the author is to whatever degree they make their lives public. I don’t crave to know everything about them, but a little goes a long way to forming an opinion of their work. I’ve stopped reading other catfishers work simply because I can’t stomach it. That deceit clouds everything. And that probably is the hardest part to swallow. I know what goes into writing a novel. I do it myself. It’s lonely and (at times) grueling work. Literally your blood, sweat and tears go into it. So why run the risk of having all that hard work tarnished by publishing it under a lie? It’s a waste, that’s what it is.
Maybe that only points out the lack of confidence in the work or some form of self-loathing that is just convinced that the work won’t be taken seriously unless it is written by a man. But if women never push at that with author names that proudly proclaim it was written by a woman, will we ever see parity? JK Rowling did it. EL James, Toni Morrison, the list goes on. Women can be extremely successful in the industry. You just have to find some inner Rosa Parks and sit further up in the bus and demand that parity. I know it’s always easy to say, “but I’m not big enough to take this on.”
I would say, “Remember this: the history makers are those who put themselves out there, taking the risks; they don’t play it safe. They don’t go with the status quo. They lean into the hardness that come their way. You, my brilliant sisters, can do this. On your own terms. But it has to start somewhere. Why can’t it be you?”
I once asked an author on our show why she wrote MM romance and not MF romance with a strong female character. The response was rather telling – they claimed that they just couldn’t envision that type of strong female character within the confines of a MF romance trope. I was flabbergasted by that. My immediate thought (I just know the ghost of John Adams rages inside me) was, why not upend the trope then? Why can’t it be you? And maybe that’s the critical difference between male and female writers. Men take risks. They are not adverse to them because from our youth we are conditioned to be that way. Maybe that’s the cue women need to take then in order to bring their cause forward? I’ve always been a supporter of women moving into fields dominated by men. I think it benefits both when there is parity. The world would certainly be a better place if we did.
There is a brilliant book I think all women should read – Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance—What Women Should Know, ISBN 006223062X ASIN: B00DB368AY. It is written by two women I admire greatly. I think they’ve nailed it when it comes to women seeing the value in themselves and believing it. I highly recommend it to anyone. Men would find it fascinating.
But as I’ve said, I don’t claim to have answers, just musings on this recent catfishing scheme within our gay fiction writing community. One thing is abundantly clear: when it happens no one wins. That much is certain. I just wish that women wouldn’t feel the need to do it. Believe me, there is nothing lower on the totem pole than a gay man. Our lesbian sisters are oppressed, too. But in a male dominated society, gay men are still seen as the most perverted, the most reviled. To be honest, writing as us in the MM Romance genre is probably not going to win you any points as an author anyway. So why not be the “you” you’re willing to put out there (nom de plume or not)? I’d love to hear some thoughts on this topic.
Until next time …
– SA C
When the World Stops Being What You Thought It Was …
Those who cannot remember the past, are doomed to repeat it.
I can’t seem to shake those words right now. I sit here, watching the cursor blinking at me, demanding that I put something down. But what do you write about when you’ve just witnessed the rise of something that portends your undoing? What words can defend against that?
History repeating itself.
Has no one here watched the signs of what was in play? I keep seeing people who I thought were friends and colleagues all contribute to the demise of the world I thought I knew and doing it almost with a gleeful fervor that God was on their side.
God – if you’re out there … deliver us from your followers. Being an atheist, I am not sure I put much stock in that request. Just thought I’d throw it out there just in case someone is listening. Somehow, it rings hollow. God, or whatever imaginary being you might cling to, has little to do with this mess we find ourselves in now. This was man’s work. For only man’s work could give rise to this sort of malicious evil that colors the horizon now. The world trembles with what’s to come – and with good reason.
Being old, and believe me, nothing has aged me quite so much as witnessing the demise of what I hold dear to me slip from my grasp, I do not fret for what’s to come for me or my husband. Our lives are in their “golden years.” Why no one told me that the gold in those years was fake sort of rattles the soul. But my husband and I will weather this somehow. Our years are numbered, the conclusion to our lives now appearing murky at the end of a not so long tunnel.
It’s not our lives that I worry about. It’s my granddaughter. It’s her world I fear for.
My husband and I share a love of history. It’s something we’ve tried to impart to our granddaughter, Keely. We’ve shown her both the wondrous things in our collective past, and the horrors of what can happen when no one is vigilant, when we aren’t taking what freedoms we have for granted, when we don’t tend to those freedoms and keep a careful eye to what might threaten them. She’s witnessed how that has happened before. So with tearful eyes she came to us last night, begging for some nugget of hope. We gave her what we could. I know it fell far short of the mark. I’ve never felt so helpless.
For some reason TL;DR keeps coming back to me. For those not in the know, TL;DR means – “Too Long; Didn’t Read” – if there were any more inane and insipidly pairing of words put together I can’t think of them now. Why? Because that phrase explains the general apathy we have to nearly everything. We’re simply too busy with our mundane lives to bother. Deductive reasoning, analytical thinking, philosophical contemplation are nearly all gone. An elitist construct that the GOP has systematically worked out of what makes a decent human being think and reason for themselves.
The dumbing down of society benefits those in power. Cattle to the slaughter, that’s what it is. We’ve become a populace that wants to be told what to think and feel. Well, we’re about to get our wish.
I tried to write my current novel. I tried to add to my NaNoWriMo project and thought: what’s the point? When put up against where we’re headed, it all seems quite pointless.
And make no mistake, the words I write now, and anything akin to them might very soon be considered prohibited text in the not too distant future. The threat is very real. I write Queer Lit Fic. Do you think in a Trump/Pence world that those texts will survive? That they’ll still be permitted? I’m not kidding myself. Not only have we just handed him the presidency, we’ve given him nothing less than a mandate to do with what he wishes with a fully stocked “yes” vote on whatever they think is necessary for their America.
But America, the America I knew? She’s gone.
So with apologies to W. H. Auden for a gentle turn of phrase to suit the occasion, I wanted to pen my goodbye to what could’ve been, albeit, with a gentle and tearful hope that somehow, in some way, the world will find its way back to a more gentle, accepting and inclusive America. Not for me. Not for my husband. But for those generations like my granddaughter and those still yet to come. I wish it for them.
So, with extremely heartfelt emotions, a sort of requiem for what will never be now:
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message the America that I knew Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.
She was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.
The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
Be kind to one another – it’s quite probably all we have left.
Until next time,
– SA C
The Conundrum of Native American History and Modern Storytelling
So here’s the deal: while peeps have heard about the Haudenosaunee (under the more familiar moniker of “The Iroquois”), with the Mohawk (mostly in part because of that wild punker hairdo of the same name) and Seneca being the most widely known, when pressed they often don’t know much about them as a people.
And we can’t leave it to the history books, in part because the Texas Board of Education’s influence on dumbing down of the masses ensures that they’ll never get Native American history right despite the author’s best intentions of capturing what’s really out there.
Some university presses may have a better grasp of the reality but let’s be clear – most of that is written so dryly that just getting through the front matter of the book is a struggle.
So, we storytellers of the modern age who want to craft tales from that rich tapestry of North America’s indigenous cultures, it’s a dangerous mazurka across a cultural mine field. It’s doubly hard if you’re a member of that community mostly because you have to question every aspect of what you’re doing. As a member, you don’t get the luxury of claiming ignorance and white privilege. Because if you’ve had any cultural instruction you know better and more importantly, you know who to ask if you don’t, and second – ya ain’t white, period.
But herein, as a native author, you have to weigh cultural indifference and ignorance on the reader’s part – not wholly of their own choosing, I’ll cop to that right now – on why all natives don’t live in teepees and say “Hau.” Don’t even get me started on the misconception we all refer to our women as squaws, either – ’cause if you really knew the meaning of that word you’d find it as offensive as I do.
So here I am, with my first Sci-Fi work finally coming to life and I ran smack into that cultural wall of:
“Holy Shit! They won’t know our history, the way we look at life, our morals, our creation stories, how we came to be as a people – say nothing of my alt-world spin on it all.”
So, what to do? I’ve heard many authors and readers gripe about prologues that instruct rather than “show” and reveal through the story telling. Or the expository nature of a character who has to impart native cultural history that is NOT part of the mainstream knowledge base. This shit simply is not known. It’s not like JK Rowling giving us a tale about witches and wizards. We know what those are. It’s part of the common vernacular and mainstream understanding. We only have to glean her twist on things to understand her world.
But how many of you could relate to me the tale of Skywoman and her importance in life? How many of you get the allegory of how the world was truly created and how closely her tale aligns with what we know in science to be true. If you knew, you’d think it was rather spooky how we had it down fairly well from a conceptual point of view. Actually, native perspective on the known sciences is rather interesting all on its own. And it’s something I’ll be exploring as we get into the Cove Chronicles. My native characters in my story went to Dartmouth – a university established specifically to address native peoples’ education.
But our cultural stories play a big part in how my characters move through their lives and deal with what I am about to throw at them. It’s fairly epic. Well, it should be if I expect people to care about them, right?
Still, how much to impart? It’s not an easy question. I don’t get that Rowling benefit of a common knowledge thing – aside from their being Indian. And we all know how misinformed that knowledge is. Epic doesn’t begin to cover it.
So, this week, I am posting the revised prologue – I’ve moved the original posting (it’s a work in progress, so shit’s gonna change) to further along in the book. In it, I take five pages to move the reader through a primer on who we are as a people and how my world works. It’s a stab. It’s a what if … kinda thing. I don’t know if I’ll keep it.
But I know I gotta wrestle that white privilege monster to the ground and give y’all some common place to start. Plus I gotta worry about the Natives in this world who might give me shit for condensing it as I have, say nothing of my twist on it all to put it in a SciFi perspective.
So here is my stab at leveling the cultural playing field, presented as an oratory from the guy who is actually the leader of the opposition. Yeah, the baddie gets to bring y’all up to speed on us. As a point of interest, Ati:ron’s part of this posting was written over 8 years ago. It’s still in its original form. It’s been quite the learning experience to see what I was doing back then.
Enjoy! (It’s rough (read: unedited) and still being worked out – so keep that in mind – subject to change).
Wherein we learn of the birth of the Tewakenonhnè, the Guardians, and meet young Ati’ron, a Mohawk boy in the midst of his Guardianship training, finding himself, and his teacher in a very precarious situation.
The Haudenosaunee Territories
October 21st, 1183 – 5:12 PM
“I speak to you now, the words and the voice of the people. Words that speak of our coming, our creation, and our enduring peace. These are the words of our fathers, our mothers, given to us since time immemorial. Hear now of the sacred warriors, the Tewakenonhnè, and learn what they tell us …”
All Haudenosaunee children grow up with the creation stories.
They are the fabric of who we are as a people. They learn from an early age about the fall of Skywoman and how she started life here on Turtle Island, of her epic struggle to find a place to land, of seeding the plants and creating the beginnings of animal life that would populate the land.
After a time, she gave birth to twins. One was a virile strapping boy who would be known as Spruce, bringer of all good things in life. A constant of the universe maintains that a balance must exist. So where Spruce was robust and healthy; his twin, Flint, was sinewy and pallid in color, even at birth. One a bringer of light, love, empathy and compassion. The other of darkness, malfeasance, calculated evil and deception.
Their differences did not end with their out-worldly appearances. As with all things in life, each responds and interacts with it according to their own gifts. From an early age, Spruce was enthralled with every aspect of life. His keen and sharp mind, coupled with his compassion and deep profound respect for all the possibilities life afforded him, became the wellspring of his creations. Spruce demonstrated from childbirth his ability to imbue wondrous things on the island, expanding upon the flora and fauna he freely gave of himself to this world.
Meanwhile his twin, Flint, Spruce’s opposite in every way one could be opposite, would spend his days finding those wondrous things bearing the mark of his brother’s loving creation, and pervert them into creatures of a darker purpose. Flint took on a fiendish delight in bending his brother’s creations to his conniving will. Thus, the common garden snake would, under Flint’s maligned hand, grow fangs and poison others with its toxic venom. This was but just one example of the ways that Flint’s touch could leave his mark upon the innocence of life.
These small skirmishes between the siblings eventually grew to outright warfare. As their bodies grew in stature, their conflicts grew in direct proportion. Ultimately, Spruce found he could no longer bear to ignore the malfeasance that seemed to pour from his brother’s very soul.
Thus the brothers engaged, and a great battle ensued. A cataclysmic tussel that lasted for a very long time – whether one or one thousand years passed – the battle raged on. No one knew as no one was there to mark its passing. What is known, the twins in their epic conflict created the mountainscapes, deep canyons and gorges as they flung their titanic bodies across Turtle Island, slamming each other into the fertile soil.
When the world seemed that it could no longer bear more of their conflict, Spruce finally gained the upper hand and, in his victory, banished Flint to the shadows of life where darkness dwelled and bitterness and anger made a home. Flint’s heart became blackened to his brother.
Though the battle had ended, their war was far from over. From those infernal depths, in the darkened recesses of his banished realm, Flint swore that he would not be gone forever. He retreated into the darkness to lick wounds and bide his time. For time, that ever uncontrollable but progressive companion, he knew was ever in his favor. His brother would soon grow weary of watching for him. Flint knew that he would work his way back. Patience and planning was all that he required now.
Slowly, over the millennia, he crept back into everyday life. Slithering through the cracks he worked out, testing his brother’s resolve to keep him at bay. Whenever threatened by Spruce, Flint and his horde of perverted creatures would retreat back to their shadows to fight another day.
Then a curious thing happened: Spruce decided one day that he had completed his work and confident that his brother was no longer a threat in this world, he became resolved to take his leave, to simply walk away. His sole final imprint on this land was that he put the people of Turtle Island as its custodians, or balance-keepers, of life. It would be to them that the world would be cared for and treasured. They would become the check and balance against Flint and his minions.
For a time, it appeared to work, because in the beginning there was a balance, albeit with the occasional skirmish between both sides. But Flint was not anything if not patient. He could wait several millennia if that is what it took to achieve his ultimate goal. So Flint prodded the people. He poked at their defenses. Never so much as to do them great harm, but to test their resolve.
Over time Flint became more crafty in his offensive tactics, doing great damage to the people. Setting them against one another to the brink of oblivion. In this, Flint’s plan began to establish it’s evil intent. Fear, mistrust and deceit would he plant in men’s hearts.
It appeared to work.
It became apparent to the people that they were losing too many of their kind to keep Flint in his place. The Onondaga faithkeeper, in desperation, appealed to Spruce and begged for his assistance, explaining that the people were losing the battle and that all would be lost if he did not intercede on their behalf.
For a while it appeared that his plea fell on deaf ears. Spruce remained silent on the matter. The people that remained, left to guard the planet were strong in their resolution to oppose Flint, they just did not possess the means necessary to even the playing field, say nothing of actually winning the war.
Under Flint’s influence, the people began to fight amongst themselves on the right way to defeat Flint. Flint saw this as an opportunity and played into this – pooling malcontentedness where he could, caring for festering feelings and enmity toward their brothers and sisters.
On the eve of a particularly cold and bitter winter night, in the midst of a great battle amongst the people, warring amongst themselves, tearing at each other to the brink of desolation, their prayer, long since forgotten, was finally answered.
He came. Spruce returned one last time.
He returned to us not in the form we remembered, but as another great man: Dekanawida – known to us as the great Peacemaker.
He came to a man, a Mohawk man – Aiionwa’tha – who sat grieving near a lake over the butchering of his entire family during a recent battle. The Peacemaker consoled the man in his desolate grief. Tears that seemed to have no end found peace as he spoke to the man. Though not because of his words, but of the calming peace that emanated from every part of him.
Resolved that the warring amongst the people had to end, the Peacemaker implored Aiionwa’tha to help him bring the people together. Using the analogy of a bundle of arrows, he explained that they would get the warring peoples to understand that a single arrow could easily be broken, but combined and of like purpose, they were nearly unbreakable.
The Peacemaker was no great orator. But what he did possess was that calming and abiding peace. It was hard work to bring the people together, but under Aiionwa’tha’s impassioned tongue, and the Peacemaker’s influence, the people began to respond and see the way to the Great Law of Peace, uniting the five nations – Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga and Seneca – to a common goal and purpose. Like those bundle of arrows, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy became strong.
But Spruce had a higher purpose in mind.
In their slumber as he visited each nation, he gifted the people with the ability to engage his brother and his twisted beasts. His gift would come in the form of preternatural powers that would manifest themselves in unique and powerful ways. Not every man – and later, woman – could answer its call.
At first, Spruce chose warriors who he observed showed the most promise; who were sound of heart and character and ultimately would not abuse the powerful sacred knowledge given to them by the Creator through him.
So the Tewakenonhnè or Guardians, as they came to be known, trained under Spruce’s tutelage in this way. As a warrior moved into his declining years – provided he had survived that long for the work was often lonely, grueling and for the most part, hidden from Haudenosaunee life – it would be up to the aging warrior to choose an able bodied young man culled from the village into the Guardianship and pass on the knowledge.
Sensing the people had taken up the cause for themselves, Spruce decided to take his final leave from us. He gave us every tool we would need to succeed. The rest, he instructed, was up to us.
As he left, he approached the faithkeeper of the Onondaga nation, and gave him a special wampum belt. Not of the white an indigo beads we crafted of our own, this belt, silver and shimmering like the ripples of a lake, is the most powerful and sacred of them all.
Gifted with this final tool to assist him in managing the Guardianship, he became the Guardian’s first Central. He alone would bear the responsibility of the Guardian’s care, welfare and their training. He was not their master insomuch as their caretaker, their counselor, and their elder voice when need arose in the Grand Council for the Guardians to be heard.
“This is the way of the people, this is how the Tewakenonhnè came to be.”
The fog wound itself in and around the trees as if the cloudy moisture would spiral up around their massive trunks, enveloping and protecting each white pine from the evening’s events. Their white tendrils glowing softly in the nearly eclipsed double-moons.
Ati’ron ran as fast as his youthful feet would carry him. Sweat beaded across his upper lip, dripped from his chin and onto the length of this bare torso as he tore through the forest. If he stood still, for even the briefest of moments, the cold would have seeped into his bones from the frigid autumnal air.
His senses bristled, everything about him on alert that he was being pursued on all sides. Thankfully, he had one element in his favor: he knew this area along the river well. He grew up here and throughout his childhood he had played along this river. Born from these lands, he would be hard pressed to come up short by some sort of surprise along its terrain. Its formations and indentations –the weft and warp of his very soul.
But he witnessed something that disturbed that for all time tonight.
It started innocently enough, he was out training with his teacher this afternoon; a man that was very well respected in the confederacy. It was said that he actually knew the Peacemaker himself. Ati’ron, though barely a young man of thirteen himself, thought that his teacher looked old enough that the rumor might actually be true.
Their practice started out with the basics, but in recent months they evolved into more the advanced teachings his teacher began to press he master. Tonight Tiyanoga, his mentor, decided to take him out to the river along a ravine that was about two miles away from their home to apply those techniques. After an hour or so into them Tiyanoga proceeded to gather herbs and other necessities from the surrounding forest while his pupil continued his training near the river’s edge.
Twigs snapped under Ati’ron’s feet. His breathing was becoming labored. Though physically fit for a young pre-teen boy, it had been sometime since he had run this hard over this great a distance. He turned his head to either side only to find the attackers pursuing him with renewed diligence. The patters of their feet crunching the flora debris around him on all sides felt like ants crawling over his body. They raced around him like the sinewy fog that meandered through the trees, slipping with ease as if the terrain held very little challenge for them. As they gave chase he could distinctly hear their jaws snapping at the air hoping in vain, for the time being, to catch some piece of boy flesh within their maw.
Without looking back he could feel one of them gaining ground on the distance he had fought so hard to put between them. Why hadn’t he listened to his teacher when he was showing him how to slip-run?
Memories of his first attempt flashed across his mind of that feeling of slipping through space and time in a flash. Only in that attempt he nearly ended up right off the side of a deep ravine and a potential plummet to his death. After that scare he was reticent about pursuing it further. Something Tiyanoga would consistently push him toward mastering. Now he was deeply regretting on putting it off for as long as he did.
He hastily reached over his shoulder and pulled an arrow from the quiver he had strapped to his back. The tips gleamed in what little light the night had spared; they were made from the very stone named for the foe he was now facing. He could feel the creature clapping it’s jaws as if nipping at the air between his snout and the heels peddling before him would help close the distance, or at the very least intimidate the boy into the terrifying demise that surely awaited him.
Just as the creature closed in on him the boy disappeared from sight. It took a few milliseconds longer for the creature to realize that he had simply jumped from a small precipice and had slipped below the horizon.
The creature pushed further and leapt from the same jumping point the boy had used. While in mid-air the beast thought he should see the boy in the distance continuing his run back to the village which was now within easy viewing from where they were. He knew others in the village would be coming to help the boy, he needed to finish his work now. The Master would not be pleased to find out the boy had escaped. His mate, a vile she-wolf who lived to mercilessly taunt and cause great amounts of pain had moved off to chase Tiyanoga down and kill him; two more souls turned for the Master.
As the wolf cleared the stone precipice, his fur rising on the attack, he finally spotted the boy just below him bow strung and an arrow notched into the bowstring; the boy struggling to maintain his focus in the face of his exhaustion.
With the single word puncturing the night air in between his deep breathless exhaustion he uttered: “Yotekhà …” and the arrow was loosed just as the creature was about to land. Though stressed to the point of snapping and losing his mind with what he’d seen, the boy’s aim found its mark. The beast’s final cry cut through the night, all at once a human scream and the howling of a wolf. As the arrow pierced the skin a fire-like pain coursed throughout its pulmonary system literally searing from within. The wolf’s fur caught fire and the creature’s eyes melted in their sockets; the final vision etched into the final memory of the beast was of the impending leaf covered ground its body was about to crash into before the engulfing flames consumed it in a fiery comet. The remains, flame licked bones, sinew and bloodied fur, skidded along the earth and scorched the leaves with small flames that were in its landing path.
The others in the pack suddenly stopped their pursuit and howled rage into the night air. The boy breathed hard and uncontrollably bent over bracing himself against falling over by placing both hands onto his knees. He felt like he wanted to wretch, he had expended nearly too much energy in the chase. The smell emanating from the burning leaves where the creature had met its fiery death smelled like fetid, rotting meat which didn’t help in settling his stomach. He heaved just once from the pit of his stomach with a little spittle taking flight from the edge of his lips and into the night air. Puffs of heated breaths accompanied his dry wretch.
Above, he could hear the others pacing around clearly within striking distance. The only reason they must have stopped was that Ati’ron must have just killed the alpha of the pack and they were somewhat confused on how to proceed. Maybe this is how Flint’s hordes worked? Could this be a weakness he needed to ask his teacher about? Something they could exploit to their mutual advantage?
Tiyanoga! In his haste to flee as he was told, he’d completely forgotten about his teacher being surrounded as he took flight back to the village. He needed to go back! But how? Ati’ron turned around to see the other Guardians making their way out of the village and toward where he now stood.
That was all his mind could muster. But how could he? He barely had the energy to stand where he was. The was only one way he was going to get there without complete exhaustion; which he knew wouldn’t help Tiyanoga if he arrived beyond exhaustion.
His only recourse was to slip-run to get to him. He clamored up the side of the precipice; leaves and bits of dirt colliding with his face as he cleared the top of the rocky landing.
Distracted for only a moment, the wolf pack renewed their attack once they saw Ati’ron clear the small cliff. They began to pace about the boy surrounding him as best they could for the kill. Ati’ron could hear the Guardians of his village coming. He felt arrows sing in the night air as they connected with their corresponding targets. It took only a few fiery displays to disburse the pack and send them into retreat. If he was to assist Tiyanoga it had to be now!
He quickly cleared all irrelevant thoughts and concentrated mentally to establish a complete image in his mind of the layout of the land he had just traversed. He had to have an absolute picture of where he and his teacher were so he could slip to him. One mistake could land him in an even more perilous position, something no one would be grateful for attempting.
He saw the path. His eyes narrowed and he could sense in the distance the point he needed to reach. He could do this…he knew he could. He could hear his teacher speaking softly into his ear as if he were right there to guide him forward. “Focus, will yourself to the other point. Find its point and anchor yourself to it – that was the hard part. Then pull yourself to it – it all seemed so easy when he said it like that.” He could do it … he had to!
“Okay, NOW!” He clenched his stomach, which was already a churned up mess, and steeled himself to the oncoming sensation of your soul being ripped slowly, as if peeled, from your body. That was followed by the pin-like pricking sensation behind the eyes that darkened your vision to a deep blood red color where he could only make rough outlines of his surroundings. He barely felt his right foot make the first move and he was already in the slipstream. He could feel the center-point of his destination just there beyond his reach. Now was not the time to lose control. Almost instinctively he reached out with his mind to seize it, as if to hold it in the palm of his hand.
As he neared his destination suddenly a white pine he didn’t remember slammed into his right shoulder. It shuddered violently and he was tossed slightly to his left and came crashing down into the earth in a rush of pain and dirt. His mind was racing he could feel the breath of a hot fetid animal to the right of his shoulder and he rolled instinctively and was onto his feet with his bow up and an arrow notched before he even knew he had accomplished it.
Within seconds he was joined by six other Guardians from the village who appeared, to a casual observer, as if out of thin air. Fortunately enough his abrupt stop had landed him within a foot of his teacher. Who was lashing out with luminescent tendrils that seemed to coalesce out of thin air around the fingers of his hands. Ati’ron had never witnessed anything like this! Tiyanoga moved them about with a whip like action at the she-wolf who was pacing back and forth, gauging where her next move would be; looking for that weak link in his formidable presence. Ati’ron knew at that moment more than any other just what kind of master of their sacred knowledge he had been learning from.
From here he also got a real look at the beasts that were sent out to take them down. From a far off glance across the woods they would appear as any other wolf but for the larger torso and broader chest and head.
Upon closer inspection it was clear that the similarities stopped there. Their teeth were much finer than their canine counterparts, almost needle-like in their precision savagery. The snout, which alternated between fur and a lizard-like scale was a constant river of drool and a slime-like venom that dripped from their snake-like canines that would snap like a rattler into a life threatening strike.
He spared a quick glance at his teacher to take stock of how he had handled the situation before his arrival. At first it appeared that he was okay but a second look revealed a small puncture wound on his lower right calf muscle just above the ankle. The wound had some of the greenish-yellow slime oozing from the lip of the puncture. He could also see that the muscle of his calf was starting to collapse, much like it was losing life altogether and rotting on the bone.
Ati’ron knew he didn’t have much time to resolve this whole stand-off if he was to get his teacher back to the village and some immediate care. For a split second it seemed like all time stood still. Every being present taking full stock of their opponent, then just like water cresting over a dam the whole stand-off teetered on the brink before turning into complete chaos.
The she-wolf lunged forward in a flurry of claws and razor sharp teeth just as Tiyanoga sank to the knee of his injured leg. The field surrounding him, shielding him from her attack weakened and began to fall. Ati’ron knew he needed to strike now. He flung his body directly in her path and loosed his arrow. The tip glanced off her forehead but was enough of a threat that it brought her down to the ground hard. She roused herself up and shook off the blow.
Ati’ron reached out with his mind and focused as well as he could in the melee surrounding them both. The she-wolf snarled, then surprisingly she spoke to them both in Mohawk.
“Pretty courageous for a boy. You don’t think that your useless arrows are going to take me down? Just look at your teacher, he isn’t long for this world. Hope he taught you enough. You’re going to need it just to survive what I am going to do to you once I dispatch with him.”
“Stop talking about it and just get to it. You think you can take me? Then let’s do this.” Ati’ron spat at her all the while he was reaching with his mind to the energy that was seeping from Tiyanoga.
Tiyanoga was in agony now but trying to keep a straight face in the sheer pain consuming his lower leg. The others from the village were battling all around them. Both warrior and wolf alike were losing members. Ati’ron didn’t have time to spare taking stock of the score. He had successfully taken hold of the field that Tiyanoga was losing his grip on. He focused the energy just as the she-wolf bounded for a second attack. The shield held as she collided with it. The resounding sound echoed across the ravine as she was repelled back to the ground. She lunged again and this time he was unprepared for the attack and her head pushed at the limits of the shield and penetrated through her jaws snapping at the air just in front of his face. Their razor-like fangs mere inches from his nose. He removed his hand from the bowstring, reached around to his ankle, and pulled up the blade he had stowed there. In one move he thrust it forward deep into the throat of the beast.
She howled and sputtered blood and venom all around. Her thrashing around dislodged the handle of his blade from his hand. In two further shakes it slipped from her lower jaw. She had put all four paws onto the shield and was applying great pressure to bring her head back out of the shield. He couldn’t hold it much longer. Saturated with blood and venom the sick, rancid smell of her breath he let go of the field but she had a plan of her own.
As she sensed his withdrawal from the energy lines she used the same field to grab the boy and rip him from where he was planted. He was pulled from the ground, went careening over the side of the ravine embankment, and tumbled head over feet down to the river’s edge and plunging into its darkest depths. The icy water lacerating his body from all sides.
No time to think on that now. Get back to your teacher!
As he struggled to swim up and break the surface, he sensed the she-wolf enter the water as well. He was fully unprepared for her agility under the water. She sped immediately toward him. He wasted no further time in getting to the surface.
The current was strong and to get away from her he had to swim upstream. She seemed much more powerful a swimmer than he. As he broke the surface he had the good fortune of seeing a low-lying branch hovering just above the waters surface. He lunged for it as he was carried past.
The she-wolf had immediately changed course and spun in the water toward where he had pulled himself onto the branch and was squatted against another branch of the tree for balance. He saw her approach and he pulled an arrow from the quiver still tied to his back. The arrow he chose was a special one. He had worked for well over a year on it. There were ancient markings given to him by Tiyanoga during his trainings. Literally his blood and sweat were born into the arrow. It’s tip, dark flint, was still tinged with the dried blood from his own hand that he gave several moon cycles ago. It was the last of a long set of rituals to bring the arrow very powerful medicine to complete the task it was set for. Tonight was time for that task.
Ati’ron could see the wolf maneuvering under the surface and was now within ten feet of were he was on the branch. The fact that she wasn’t out of breath under the water and could move so easily within its strong current was proof she was a creature of Flint’s own making. In the next instant as he pondered this she broke the surface and was within a foot of him when he loosed the arrow.
He felt it connect with her throat from within her mouth where the tip shattered upon contact literally ripping the head of the beast into bits. Blood, bone and flesh were flung from the fatal wound and the body slammed with all the force of gravity back into the water.
Ati’ron stood there for a second breathing a bit harsh when he realized his teacher was still at the top of the ravine and the venom had more than enough time to take full effect. He ran up the branch and scurried up the embankment using his hands to grip branches, brush and vines wherever he could.
As soon as he reached the top he stopped.
The battle was all but ended. Four of the six warriors were left standing; two with serious but survivable wounds. Their opponents didn’t fare as well.
He saw Tiyanoga collapsed onto the earthen floor almost in exactly the same position he had left him in.
“Tiyanoga!” Ati’ron called out and moved quickly to his teacher practically sliding under his head and propping it up, as gently as he could, onto his curved knee.
“Ati’ron,” he said softly through labored breaths, “You must listen to me now more than ever. It is too late for me.” Seeing Ati’ron’s growing protestation he continued quickly, “No! Now is not a time for debate. I know what I speak of. Listen! Remember what I told you about bringing your thoughts into focus. Only then can you see the dark marks of the enemy.”
He coughed and some blood spewed from his mouth. Ati’ron did not react when Tiyanoga’s bloody spittle hit his face. It bore little concern for him.
“You are truly a great find, Ati’ron. I have been so proud of your dedication and your fearlessness and that you were mine. But now you must go. Leave me to my fate. Whatever you do from here out, promise me two things.” Tiyanoga was really struggling to keep focus in the delivery of his last teaching.
Ati’ron nodded, “Of course, ask anything of me and I will make it my life vow.”
“Remember what I taught you. But be innovative in how you apply it. Creativity is your strongest suit, you need to learn to trust it. One day, many years from now, your grandchildren will speak of you with great awe and reverence. Not because of your talents, but because of the man you will become. Become that man for me. Take hold and never lose sight of it. Promise me!” Pain and tears moved across his face as he was slowly losing his battle to maintain control.
Ati’ron saw small droplets hitting his teacher’s face but there was no cloud above to bring rain now, only to realize, his own tears dotted his teacher’s face.
“And the other promise?”
“Get up and leave. Don’t look back, whatever you do. No matter what you hear, no matter how tempted you might be to watch I need you to be strong and abandon my body as if you never knew it. You must do this! Go! Go now! I cannot hold it back any longer. Go! Please!” Tiyanoga cried out in a desperate whisper that crecendoed to a strangled plea.
Ati’ron kissed his teacher’s forehead, tears mingling with that soft kiss. He got up as he was told and though everything in his body and mind told him to stay and take care of the man who had become the single most influential man in his life next to his father and grandfather, he ran. He did as he was instructed. He would keep his promise no matter the cost. Tears streaked across his face knowing that his teacher was losing the battle against Flint and that if Tiyanoga, with all of the wondrous power he had amassed over his life could fall, how soon would he meet his own end?
He heard anguished cries as his beloved teacher was in the last throws of his rapidly emaciating body.
If he were to turn around he would have envisioned the final thing his teacher wanted to protect him from in his new life: as the light of his soul ascended from the body, its vessel decayed rapidly into an ashen mass. As that brilliant blue-white wisp of light took flight, a tentacle of dark energy lashed out from the decayed mass and ensnared it. For a moment, the light struggled against it, writhing against the dark strand until the light could fight no more and fell back to the earth in a semi-solid state, a small puff of dirt billowed where it collided there. For a moment, Tiyanoga’s spirit rippled and shone brightly, but in refusing death his prize, the light began to turn, take shape and from the decrepit mass that was Tiyanoga a new being began to form. The skin of this new creature darkened considerably to a deep black and almost reptilian in texture and appearance. After the transformation, it did not move. It did not breathe. The forest life became still, holding a collective breath the maligned creature’s presence promise of death and destruction. A stillness permeated every crevice of this part of the forest.
It took a long protracted first breath, before releasing it as an audible hiss.
When its eyes suddenly opened, they glowed with a deathly blood red – savage, brutal bringers of dark light, filled with malice and dark thoughts behind them. It raised itself up from the ground as if riding on the wind only to set foot to land gently on its feet. As it made contact with the ground, he became more solid. Tiyanoga, born into a new life, inwardly swelled with raw unfettered power. Who or what had granted him this he could not be sure. But he knew there would be time enough to ponder upon that. He sat up, taking in his surroundings, finally focusing on the retreating boy – the boy’s soft sobs caressing his preternatural ears.
He watched his former student depart over the horizon. There’s a good little lad, he thought. Always did as he was told. We shall soon meet again, little one; and then I will have the upper hand.
And with that last, he moved up into the air a bit and hovered for a few seconds then moved backwards and faded into the dark recesses of the ravine rock wall some ten feet behind him. A malevolent unspoken promise buried in his dark red luminescent eyes. Those eyes, the last to be seen as the crevices of the earthen wall closed in around him – a smile breaking across his sublimely handsome, wicked face as he watched the last of Ati’ron clear the horizon and slip from sight.
Until Next Time …
Hold On, Wait a Moment … JK Rowling and the Natives
Something is going on in the media and the blogosphere that as a native man I have to comment on. We’re talking about an author who has had tremendous success (and rightfully so – this post does not debate that) who has written a new work in the much beloved Potterverse world.
A recent letter from an academic, a Native American woman, has written, what I believe to be, a rather important letter to JK Rowling about the responsibility as an author to “get it right” when writing about a cultural/societal community.
You can read the initial letter to her here.
This has been picked up by the media – of which the Guardian in the UK has had an uproar from Potter fans coming to Jo’s defense. Yet, I say to you, they are woefully off the mark as to what is really in play here. They are blindly defending her (by and large) and attempting to obviate her from any culpability in writing about a specific Native American nation (yes, NATION – we still have some modicum of sovereignty in play here, folks). There is a growing concern from within the Native populace that something is sadly amiss here. Now, no one has seen the work, so it’s speculation at this point. But even so, the letter to Jo wasn’t accusatory (to my mind) but rather a – please tread carefully and consider what you, and your powerful writers voice, are saying to the world about any indigenous population.
For I’ll grant you, no matter where they are – what continent they exist on, ALL native populations are watching this.
Here is my two cents on the matter as a member of that community – I find I can’t sit by and NOT say something (this was my response at the Guardian UK website to those who were blindly defending Jo without considering what was really at play here):
Sorry I disagree with those that think writing fiction is some sort of “get out of jail free card” – the tone of the “letter” to Jo was not in a accusatory manner at all, rather a plea to be sensitive to another culture. How can anyone state that she did NOT do anything to misrepresent Native Americans or their culture? Just the broad use of Native Americans carries a disingenuous tone as we are a collective of various sovereign nations each with our own beliefs and societal mores. Are you from that culture to speak to what is offensive or not? As a native man, I interact with my community (both from my own nation/confederacy and others from abroad). I see the signs of continued oppression from within.
Authors are in the business of communication. Even Jo acknowledges this point herself in that documentary that was about her. When she was writing something new the documentary filmmaker prods her about it. She doesn’t want to say much under the point of “it’s still my world.” She knows the moment it is released it is no longer hers. The world’s readership has the right to absorb and reject what the work as to say. It’s all about communication.
I grant you as an author you can write whatever you want BUT be prepared for how others will perceive and respond. That is THEIR right to take in the works and respond to them. If there is a legitimate concern as to representation then that community has every right to say so. Authors are not immune to responsibility in what they write. They can surely stand by it, but at what cost? Alienating a community who feels misrepresented? Breaking down trust that an author sees them with disrespect?
When it comes to my community remember that #whiteprivilege has been the edict that has oppressed us and misrepresented us in all manner of writings – not just “academically” but in fictional literature (Hiawatha, much?).
Case in point: I am writing a story that involves my own native community. It is a story that on the surface looks like it is magic/witchcraft but it in reality is quantum mechanics in play. Yet because of the witchcraft metaphor, I am off-worlding it to an alternate universe because I am fully cognizant of how my people view witchcraft. To be respectful, I am alt-history and alt-universing it in a LIKE universe to divorce myself from our own reality. That is respectful of my own nation and its core beliefs. EVEN THOUGH IT IS FICTION. I wanted to represent the community and give them heroes that they could see beyond the trappings and identify with the characters.
Just because an author writes fiction, it does not obviate that the community you are writing about doesn’t have the right to say “hold on, wait a minute …” because while even Americans (and I realize I am giving them far too much credit here) may know the barest whispers about individual cultural systems in play with each nation, a kid in Romania may think that what’s there is an extrapolation of how it truly is. Why? Because Jo has rooted whatever she’s concocted in the real world (muggle vs. wizard). Therefore, the reality does play a factor (reality is a “character” in the stories she creates) so the “letter” to Jo from this community is merely reminding her that as a people we still are here, and we watch what’s being written about us (whether in fictional form or not).
Until Next Time …