Monday, November 09, 2009

Another great writer named Linda

There are lots of things to do in and around Grand Rapids. This, of course, fits with my firm belief that there are lots of things to do everywhere, and it's your own fault if the only one you can think of is going to Walmart. (Grotesque!) Sure, sometimes, the fact that there is stuff to do can get lost because the people with whom one can do the things are not so interesting (*cough* Long Island *ahem*) but trust me, there is stuff to do everywhere. Why do you think I had so much fun living in Provo, Utah? I skied twice a week (fifteeen minutes away) throughout the winter and biked/hiked all summer. There is mad artsy/cultural/musical stuff on and around the BYU campus, not the least of which was International Cinema. I found fabulous bookstores and a vegetarian cooking class, and I discovered my love for cheese fries in Provo (mmm, Training Table). If I hadn't come to the undeniable realization that I could no longer give one penny of support to the repressive, politically objectionable BYU, I might have stuck around to graduate. There was even a decent Mexican restaurant!

But I digress. Where was I? Oh, right, Grand Rapids. So I have been trying to discover the stuff around here, in between my writing, working on projects, and seeking freelance gigs. One of the advantages of this small city is that there are quite a few colleges, which automatically translates into Events, many of which are free and open to the public. A little over a week ago, I went to Aquinas College to hear Linda Hogan speak to a packed ballroom. For those who don't know, she is a Chickasaw writer, feminist, poet, Pulitzer finalist, etc. and not to be confused with the wrestler's ex-wife of the same name. I'm sure some of the 18-year-olds who showed up because they were assigned to imagined they would hear a boring lecture about activism and writing, but I think they were pleasantly surprised because in addition to being a serious poet and writing books like People of the Whale, Ms. Hogan is actually quite funny.

She spoke about how we relate to land. To illustrate the difference in point of view, she mentioned the Snowbowl recreation area in Flagstaff (woo-hoo Arizona represent!), which is built on a mountain sacred to the Navajo people. (That's my old stomping grounds! We lived on the edge of the Navajo reservation when I was a wee little tyke.) Apparently the U.S. Forest Service folks, in their own way trying to solve the problem or at least compromise, asked the Navajo about the sacred mountain, "Well, where is the line where it stops being sacred?"

Ms. Hogan also talked about Oklahoma, where she lives. I have long since known that Oklahoma is the state with the highest Native American population, but I didn't exactly know that like most United Statesian things, there is a shady oil story involved. Back in the day, when white men forced Native peoples off their lands, basically shoving everyone into Oklahoma, the whites were ready to be done with the whole thing, build a wall around Oklahoma, and just say, OK, you all live there, and let's carry on. But then - and I should have remembered this from reading Cimarron and watching the Oscar-winning movie -- the white man realized there was oil under the Oklahoma ground. Not so fast, then! Maybe the white man wants this land after all!

While Linda Hogan was talking about how she works for the Chickasaw nation, I started making sense of the bizarrely high percentages of votes for Dubya in Oklahoma. Wasn't it 95% or something in 2004? I remember being astonished at the time, wondering how any population could vote for Dubya in such high numbers, let alone a group of people who respect the Earth and are environmentally sensible. Listening to her, I thought, oh! Are a lot of the Native Americans there more involved with the politics of their own tribal government and their own nations, and maybe not even voting in U.S. presidential elections? So all that's left is jackass oil votes. Which, obviously, would go 95% for a Bush.

Speaking of nasty Bush administration tactics, Linda Hogan read some of her poetry, and one line from a poem called "History" jumped out at me, vis-a-vis torture: "We try to discover who is guilty by becoming guilty..."

All in all it was a good evening. And don't forget that she was funny, like when she first started to read she looked around the podium for the water (which, if you've been to author events, you know there is always a bottle or glass of water for them) and because she didn't spot it at first, asked, "Is there any water?" The event host college staff people pointed it out, and she thanked them and then said, "Is there any cappuccino?" The crowd was pleased. She also made fun - but only a little - of the students later, when a bunch of them took advantage of the break between her talk and the Q&A period to exit - noisily. "Poor students, such a rough life," she quipped.

Good times in Grand Rapids! Even if Linda Hogan had met earlier with a group of Michigan people discussing some written history of the Grand Rapids area and "unfortunately it starts with the French traders," she said. The crowd laughed. "Well, you know how history is."

I used to search for reservations, and native lands
before I realized everywhere I stand
there have been tribal feet running wild as fire
some past life sister, my desire...
I'm not ready for the dead to show its face.
Whose turn is it anyway?

-- indigo girls, 'jonas and ezekial'

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