I am in the middle of working on a short story “The Howling Contest” that takes place in a bar frequented by Indians, bikers and poets in Albuquerque in the early seventies. When you’re in a story, you’re in it, and all during the day it surfaces and will keep forming there at the edge of consciousness, or is it unconsciousness or super consciousness? It’s based partly on truth, partly fiction, partly myth. I am back at it this morning, though I have two hours to write, pack and get ready to fly to Kona to be part of the support for some friends’ 18-mile canoe race, and the Chinese attorney neighbor with the harsh voice is yelling at her teenage girls, though I don’t think she knows she’s yelling. She always sounds like she’s yelling. So that as I write part of me is answering: yes mom, okay mom, I will mom and then I’m ducking and getting out of the house as fast as I can to school. She’s also showering as she ushers them with her voice through the morning. The bathroom echo chamber amplifies the sound. You can hear everything up here anyway and that thought makes me cringe because if I can hear them, they can hear me, and that’s why I don’t practice music here past eight p.m.. A saxophone moan travels miles here, as does howling.
Today I had a major dent slammed into my self-confidence and did a little howling myself. Quiet kind. I do have pride. And this morning I go out with my shame-faced prayers for my feeling-sorry-for-myself lapse and am amazed again at the beauty of this time just before the sun comes up and everyone else is already out celebrating: the butler birds, doves, Brazilian cardinals, skinks, trees, opening flowers. There are just some things you can do nothing about, like the sun coming back and putting a shine on all of it. Yes, the disappointment is still there. And yes, I’ll still think about it now and then and it will be tender for awhile, but I will also let it go and focus on what I can do and what gifts I have here in my hands to return a thank you for all this. There’s just some things you can do nothing about except acknowledge the injustice and keep moving with grace towards making something of what you are given, like a story, a new song, a morning in which I have a home, am not dodging bombs or being dragged to my death by monsters. I read about it as I walk back up the stairs with the morning paper. I keep all that in mind, in heart. Ultimately, the only thing I have control over is my own dignity, no matter what happens. So, my wounded little dignity is taking a big breath, doing a stomp dance shuffle and will keep making music anyway.
c Joy Harjo September 3, 2004 Honolulu