Living (the Creative) Life

“Like many other Native American women. . . I had an urge to procreate, as if driven by a feeling that I, personally, had to make up for the genocide suffered by our people in the past. But my white women friends had also taught me a lot which had influenced me in many ways. I was no longer the shy Sioux maiden walking with downcast eyes in the footsteps of some man. I was no longer an uncritical admirer of our warriors. . . Facing death or jail they had been supermen, but facing life many of them were weak.”

(Lakota Woman, 244)

There are three of us running in a staggered line across a bridge. On either side of the bridge is water, tripped by the wind and east-lit with sun. The water is beautiful—a shade so blue I feel like I want it inside of me. I want to paint with it, drink it, hold it and look at it and let it go and pick it up and keep on seeing it over and over again. It is early, maybe 8:30, and I remember again why running in the morning is a very, very good thing. You catch the beauties. That said, I don’t know these people I’m running with, which makes it a tiny bit awkward. There’s an adjustment we all have to make—getting used to each others’ paces, talks, quirks. I feel like I’m the one making it harder on them, but they seem to be okay with it. They’re both younger than me, and one of them, Izze, I work with during the week. She is petite, with a quick smile and genuine laugh, and dreadlocks swinging from the back of her head. I like her. A lot. “If we were birds, what would we be?” I asked her just a bit ago. I answered the question myself. (I’m in a good mood). “You’d be a chickadee! And I’d be a heron. Agh, yes! You’d be a chickadee.” 

We turn around at the first power tower and wait for two other women in our group to catch up to us. “That was five miles, just so you know,” Nick tells them. He’s the fittest of the group. The two other women jog up to us shaking their heads, though they’re happy we pulled them further. (We were only planning on a nine-mile run, not a ten). 

By the end of the run I am tired, feeling the tightness in my hips, ankles, quads. It could be worse. I know because I’ve been there. And I’m grateful for those memories—grateful to say that I’ve been there. I feel blessed to have lived almost thirty years and I’m thankful to have traveled where I have, run the races and struggle up the hills (and glide down the backsides) as they’ve come to me. 

But leaving Izze’s house to head home, I can’t shake the feeling that in those ten miles, I talked just way too much. I tell myself “hey, stop, it just means you were comfortable! It’s okay. Don’t beat yourself up.” But on the other hand, it feels selfish. I feel self-absorbed and I’m aware of the fact that I am the new one, I am the one who should drink in the habits of the other people around me—the ones who already know each other. It is the better way, I think, to observe and listen in order to learn. Talking about myself just puts more attention on me. And that begs the question: Well, why do I want attention? 

Twice yesterday I was asked whether I was still writing. Both times I said “not much.” There are reasons for this. The biggest reason is Gigi, my Boston-Bull Terrier. (Right now she’s asleep, so that’s why I’m pounding this blog out). I spend my waking hours watching her, hugging her, taking her on walks and reminding her that yes, I love her. It is hardest to write in the mornings, when she’s eager to be outside, telling me so by standing on my legs with her paws, kissing me on the face (and this, all while I’m sitting at the desk). Gigi is jealous of my time, and it’s hard not to give it to her. 

But the other reason gathers toward the idea that I am starting to get sick of writing about. . . my life. CNF, i.e., Creative Nonfiction. It’s kind of been “my thing.” And honestly, I’m not very good at fiction (yet). I’ve actually started to wonder if I threw myself into getting an MFA and spending all those years out in Maine partly because it was a challenge, something to fight against, prove that I could do on my own, or just plain prove I could survive. (I say “survive” living in Maine because of the distance I was from close friends and family in the Midwest. I’ve gained wisdom about the human need for familiarity; it grants comfort, peace and grace. Moreover, it takes inner contentment to return to the place where you grew up, knowing that you yourself have changed [maybe—sometimes—not for the better]). 

But writing. Writing. What purpose has it served me? Has it merely been a self-indulgence, a way to figure shit out? Figure my shit out? Did I do it for the challenge? And if that’s true, so. . . what now? Now that I face life, am I just weak?!

Maybe I’ve figured out enough. I think, yes, I’m ready to let things be. I’m ready to ponder on everything else besides me. I’m ready to write fiction, write poems, write in different forms and incorporate art, media, graphics. I want color and image and fun. Think Gigi, (think a very hyper dog) jumping up and down and racing around in circles, dragging a paintbrush on her tail. Like Jackson Pollock, but kanine-style). 

The truth of my reality? I’m struggling with being alone. But I don’t want to dwell in it, I want to push through it, live the days as creatively as I can—creating as much as I can—and trying to bless other people. I’m reminded of the Sioux word “tiyospaye” which translates to “the extended family” or which means, “those who live together” (also: clan)(Lakota Woman, 177). While it might be more accurate to say that my tiyospaye is the extended family on both my mother’s and father’s side, I also want to think of it as the family of friends, connected acquaintances, people who have touched my life and whose I, hopefully, have also touched. A network of connection that I want to consistently acknowledge and use as a catalyst for creation—a metaphorical notebook of memories. How can I use them? How can I use memories to craft new stories, new artwork, new vessels? 

I haven’t thrown writing off my wagon, but I’m letting it out to air for a while. I’m reading—trying to head to a different location each month (so far I’ve hit South America, Ireland and now South Dakota, and this month am heading to Norway with Per Petterson’s I Refuse)—and yeah, we’ll see what strikes me. At the heart of it all is this need I feel for letting God sweep out much of what is past, redeeming what I’ve done up to this point and channeling my focus back on him. . . so that I can make way for the future. It’s honestly all about God. About looking up, and not letting the alone-ness get the best of me. 

My goals? Find community, broaden the family, notice the beauties—of blue water, clear skies, birds—and turn the attention away from myself and onto The Creator, who will always invite me on a run. 

Inspiration for this blog post came from Lakota Woman, by Mary Crow Dog (New York: Harper Perennial, 1990). The memoir covers Mary Crow Dog's life from her growing-up years on the reservation and in a catholic school, to her life as the wife of Leonard Crow Dog, activist, political figure and Medicine Man on the Sioux Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. The book is a necessary read for those hungry for a glimpse into the Native American struggle for independence, equality and respect.