Everyone has his or her own version of the story. Then you come to find others have their versions of your story. They may have nothing to do with you at all. I’ve heard some wild rumors about myself that are quite entertaining. Someone told me that a meeting of an Indian organization in Oakland that a board member adamantly insisted that I initiated the “Frybread Kills” campaign. Not me. Too much frybread kills. I agree. Too much alcohol, too much smoke, even too much feeling sorry for oneself can kill you. A little frybread now and then dipped in my beans won’t do much harm. And we do need to change our diets from what has been sold to us to enslave us, to make us docile, compliant and fat. I always remember the speaker from up North who first made the comment that since drinking cows’ milk Indians were acting like cows.
The funniest I heard was picked up at an opening night dinner a few years ago for a screenwriting workshop in Los Angeles. I had to miss the dinner as I was flying back from a performance. A “Cherokee” writer who had very recently become Cherokee, or at least acknowledged her Cherokee heritage publically, sat down next to one of my best friends, a Pomo/Miwok writer, a tall, muscular, impressive man who used to quarterback for the UCLA football team. During the dinner she leaned over and said: “Do you know Joy Harjo?”
“Yes”, he said. That was all the encouragement she needed. She proceeded to tell him all manner of bizarre information, that I had an apartment in Los Angeles where strange people came in and out, up the back stairs night an day…Well, I did briefly have an apartment in LA, but don’t recall many visitors. I was the only strange one who came and went, though I had no back stairs…So there’s always some sort kernel of fact in any rumor. I won’t repeat it all here because next thing you know it will start circulating again. That’s how these things happen. When you tell a child: “Don’t go out in the street and play.” They don’t hear “Don’t”. The most compelling part of the sentence is “go out in the street and play.” That’s what they retain.
Of course, he encouraged her. She unloaded her vitriolic story the whole evening.
He called me that night after I got in. The next morning we walked into the first workshop meeting holding hands. (We were not romantically involved.) You can imagine the look on her face.
That wasn’t the end of it. After the final workshop a group dinner was held at a Moroccan restaurant on Sunset Boulevard. I came with my friend and another male friend of ours. I sat between them. We perched across from the “Cherokee writer” and pretended that the three of us were involved. We had great fun. Then, at the end, my friend threw me over his shoulder and announced that we were going to the “Pleasure Chest” and would anyone like to come with us. That was the last I saw her. Though I heard at a conference in Georgia a few months ago that she was telling audiences who brought her in as an Indian writer that all Indians are drunks.
Maybe the story’s true, maybe it isn’t…You never know.