Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Short Story

This is the story I referenced in my previous post. I am including the brief introduction of why I decided to write it.

I, like Nathaniel Hawthorne, have ancestors who have committed atrocities. I don't know of any who directly killed a Native American, but they were settlers in the area and time period of the Blackhawk war in central Utah. The current conditions of tribes forced to live on reservations breaks my heart. I have often avoided thinking or learning about what has happened to these people as a result of my ancestors because it is just too painful to me. The following story was inspired by Hawthorne's stories dealing with his guilt over his ancestors actions.

       My truck rolled across the dusty two acres that were finally mine.
       “Twenty nine years,” I said to myself thinking of the graveyard shift that I'd worked at the steel mill for the better part of my life. I left the reservation when I was eighteen. I had hopes of going to college, but fell victim to the bottle instead. It was hard to be a dark in a town where dark meant Mexican and lazy. When I turned things around the steel mill was the only place that would hire a guy like me. I didn't mind working nights. It was dark and gave me time to think.
Night work also gave me time to sell beaded leather at craft fairs on weekends. During my breaks in the middle of the ebony night each bead was hand-sewn onto moccasins, bracelets, belts, purses, anything the rich housewives could find a need for. I can't complain too much, all that cash went to buy my land.
       “Not much,” I muttered to myself after surveying each direction for the fence, “but it's mine.” I stopped the old Ford suddenly to avoid a rock in the middle of my path.
       “Well, she needs work, but that's to be expected,” I said as I got out of the truck to roll the rock to the side. As I bent down to move the stone, my beaded belt unexpectedly popped loose and flew under a giant, gray sagebrush.
       “Aw shucks, that's never happened,” I murmured as I went to retrieve it. Stooping down, a small sliver of bumpy crimson caught my eye. Right next to my beaded belt, there were more beads.
       “I'll be,” I whispered with spiritual awe as I stood up and dusted off the beads. I held the token in my right hand and lifted it next to the belt in my left. The leather was brittle and cracked. It was translucent enough to be buckskin. But nobody used buckskin anymore. Turning it round and round, I stared at the ancient beauty that I had discovered. That's when it hit me. The crimson diamond pattern on the medallion mimicked the sacred pattern of my tribe. No, it didn't mimic the pattern, it was the original. This was my land all along.

I am me, and I am good

Today I had as sort of spiritual awakening. Since December, and the last time I posted, I have been in a slump. I got so depressed about the events in Newtown that I felt like anything I could write was trivial. Then there was Christmas, busy and fun, then school started again in January. I am taking six classes, 18 credit hours and it is intense. I had been busy before, but I had made time for the things I enjoyed. In the last few months something felt different. I didn't feel like I deserved anything for myself. I felt like I had to do all those things on the list, on my syllabuses, and if I fell behind I would be lost. But I wasn't putting "me" into the work. The things I said and did were generic and, ironically, I was lost.

After not going to school last Thursday and a non-productive weekend, I decided I need to get it together. I reminded myself that I am in school and going to become an English teacher because it is what I love. English as a subject and the humanities in general are about helping people find out who they are and how they relate to the world. The last few days I have been putting so much more effort into everything I'm doing.

Then today happened. I woke up and had to write a rushed paper for my American Literature class. We had just finished reading some short stories and The Blithedale Romance by Nathaniel Hawthorne and my response was due by 2:30. Luckily my teacher has this philosophy that "you are the writer" so we can basically write whatever we want as long as it doesn't suck. So I wrote my paper. And I put my heart into it. And I liked it. Until I got to school. Then I saw my teacher in the hallway and blurted out, "I wrote a really great short story in response to Hawthorne." And then she asked me to read it aloud in class. And I didn't think it was so great anymore. I started questioning everything I had written and got that dreadful knot of fear in the pit of my stomach. She said to think about it and we parted with an hour and a half before class.

So I get to class, and she looks at me. And it's that look. That teacher look of "You need to read your paper." I really didn't want to and I told her my thoughts on the matter. She asked me to come into the hall with her. There she talked to me the most honestly any teacher ever has. She said that she has been waiting all semester for the moment we had in the hall earlier that day. For the moment when a student gets it; when they connects with the literature. She said that I would be the axe that broke the thin layer of ice that had been covering our class. And I still didn't want to. I was terrified of rejection. She asked me "What is the worst that could happen?" and I replied that "the Earth could open up and I would fall into that deep pit." We laughed, and then seriously I said "People wouldn't like it." Which is a really serious thing to me. For some reason I strive for acceptance. But, in the moment, I decided that I liked my story, I thought it was good, and that was all that mattered. And so I read my story.

It feels silly writing about it now but I felt so empowered. I was telling my words that I had written with my heart and had come from my soul to these people. And they were listening to me. Granted, they were a captive audience, but they were listening.

I easily trap myself into comparing myself to others. Unfortunately it has gotten worse with blogging which partially another reason I haven't blogged lately. I felt like what I wanted to say wasn't important compared to what so many others were talking about. I decided that I don't care anymore. My words have power. Even if they are only read by me. My words are important.

I am me, and I am good.