Friday, September 30, 2005

Trying to Write "Beauty Way"

Let's call it "Beauty Way" for starters. That is its working title. It's about my rockhounding and hiking and other experiences out west with Brian and everyone, except that there is a problem with the book that I have to figure out. I'm a white Jewish woman writing stories that include Navajos and I really fear that Indian writers and Indian non-writers won't like it.

What happened was that when I began the book, I wanted a protagonist in the story to resemble my dear adopted Dineh Shizhee. I love him and wanted that part of the book to be about his life and all the good things, the beautyway that he has shown me. The book is a novel, so it is a takeoff on my Navajo dad and does not resemble him in totality. My problems started after I was part way through with the book and had a real life dilemma with another tribal relation whose characterization set the story flowing in a new direction and I cannot not eliminate him as he is one of the main characters of my book.

So, my angst is that some characters in "Beauty Way" are Indians who do not live up to the "white person concept" of what a tribal person represents-the 4 directions, the Mother Earth Father Sky thing, and at the same time, the real characterizations may be offensive to indigenous peoples. I may be upsetting everyone, so, what do I do, Sherman?

Now, Indian writers can write anything they want to about Indians, all the stuff, good and bad. They can write about alcoholic Indians and lost Indians and those who have become estranged from their language and their brothers and sisters on the reservation. Their families and friends may get really miffed but they still won't think of their tribal brother as anti-Indian but I am afraid that I as a white woman will incur the rancor of Indians, especially the Indians who are my adopted relations and friends.

I am allowed to write humorous truisms about Jews, the same way Jackie Mason does, and by the same rule, no one else is allowed to write nasty things about Jews who isn't Jewish. That means Indians can't write jokes about Jews either. If MSNBC's Chris Matthews tells a Jewish joke, he'll be looked upon with disfavor even though he is allowed to rank out George W. and Veep.

So, I've been writing "Beauty Way" for about 4 years now. Probably right now, I am on the third rewrite and I still have trepidations about its pending, no impending(as in disaster)publication, the critics, the book signings and all the scary stuff. I never had to worry about all this with the UFO book in 1994, but things have changed now. It's all about showing your face so they can throw darts(or green obsidian arrowheads) at you.

This week I'm writing a story about how you can look more beautiful for the January 2006 issue of "Ocean Drive Magazine" which is the big beauty issue. It has nothing to do with the real "Beauty Way" that I should be writing, but it is a great distraction. I am trying to work through my dilemma with a talented Indian artist who somewhere in the last eight years decided to make me his sister. He believes in the book and maybe that is enough to help get me through my fears.I promised myself that the final draft of "Beauty Way" will be ready by May 1st or I can't go rockhounding this year. Sounds fair, but what do I do for the summer?

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

The Fears of Katrina's Children

We are in an age of unease and insecurity and it is not just because we are getting older.
As kids, we looked to our grownup parents to help us get through horrible nightmares about North Korea and mushroom clouds, and to our teachers who would prepare us for the inevitable attack by shouting "Take cover", making us on a moment's notice get into some miserably crumpled position under our school desks to hide from the flying glass. We knew we were growing bigger when the little desk started to push down on us in such a way that it was almost backbreaking to crawl back out. There were a few things for us kids to worry about back in the 50's. Not only did we have that mushroom cloud of death taunting us, we also had the scourge of polio that we knew could leave us crippled for life.

What are these children in New Orleans and Mississippi thinking about and feeling now? What does rain mean these days, except, maybe, horrible floods that can render your mother and father helpless to take care of you. Even if you weren't directly a flood victim, you still have television which devoted hours and hours to pictures of shrieking parents, shaking babies in the air, begging our leaders for something so incredibly simple, like water.

We lived the hurricane as it traveled down Miami way as it was not supposed to do, and remembered Andrew as we listened to the transformers pop, one after the other, giving us the first hint that we would be without electric for some time to come. We weren't supposed to be cleaning up the five gallons of water that dumped in our bedrooms and living rooms and we didn't prepare for spending the fall months putting up new roofs. We were unaware and dumbstruck and some of us were affected in a worse way than we were with Andrew.

There was a real model of the devastating path this hurricane could take and the Hurricane Center gave it brief mention in their discussion site much earlier in the day. It was a model that diverged so greatly from all the others that had the storm traveling north and then quickly dying, because it pointed out a hurricane cat one that would travel in the southwestern motion, going toward the Everglades and the Keys, and then quickly strengthening at sea to become an exceptionally dangerous storm. The reason this path was mentioned at all was that this particular model is the model that correctly predicted Hurricane Andrew in 1992. By late morning, the model was gone from the discussion.
As we here in Florida watched the dangerous category five ball rolling out there in the Gulf, we knew what was going to happen to the Gulf coast, because we knew what happened when it was only a category one. Max Mayfield of the National Hurricane Center right here in Coral Gables warned the White House long before Katrina arrived.Warned them that the levee would be breached.

We will remember these times as a time that our White house made a promise to us that it did not keep. The promise to keep us secure from a sudden terrorist attack sits flat when they cannot even protect us from a fairly predictable disaster that could be witnessed on radar. How can they protect us from a biological disaster, when they are the ones who contributed to the toxic ocean of the once incredibly beautiful city of New Orleans?

Our children today are scared, I know. I lived during bogeyman times myself. The difference is that during those times our fears may not have been rational. We were scared of ideologies, but mostly of a bomb that likely would not have been unleashed by responsible countries, no matter what their ideologies may have been. The children of today are frightened and with good reason. The White House tries to assuage its guilt by handing out debit cards but it doesn't work. No money in this world can calm the fears of the children who faced catasrophe in their short lifetimes-A catastrophe caused by their own "protectors". They are scared, their parents are scared, and here in Miami, I am scared too.