It’s late afternoon before the column is due. I’ve almost emailed the editor twice to say: “it’s not possible”. I am out on the West Coast rehearsing every night at San Diego State University for my show, Wings of Night Sky, Wings of Morning Light. It will open in Los Angeles in March, as part of the Native Voices at the Autry series. There are a few reasons I am telling you this: 1) I am need of a column ASAP, and mostly 2) maybe this will inspire others who think it’s too late to pick up a musical instrument, write a book, learn the language, learn songs, or anything else, because they hit thirty (yes thirty, I’ve heard many a hitting-thirty panic that they were too old….give me a break), forty, fifty, sixty, or….
This show is one of the biggest challenges I ever had. First, I had to write the show. I have rewritten the play countless times. I have written, recorded and performed the music for the play, and kept going, even as I have been turned down many times for one thing or another mostly for being too Indian, or not Indian enough. Go figure. And now, one of the most difficult challenges: I have to memorize the play, and to act. I haven’t acted since I was a high school student at the Institute of American Indian Arts. I was always the shyest student and usually sat at the back of the class and said nothing.
I begged the director. “Please, let me just read the play.” “No way”, he said. “You can do it”. “Well, at least let me tape all the lines to the floor”, I argued. “No”, he said. I even looked up how much it cost to rent a teleprompter. They were too expensive, and huge. Writing on my arms was the most cost effective. But I don’t have enough arm space for the whole play. So, I’m here this afternoon, memorizing my play. And I’m nearing sixty. (“Nearing” means, I’m closer to sixty than to fifty.)
I don’t like to write about myself, in fact, I’m several years late with a book I was contracted to write, because I don’t want to write about myself. I write because I love stories and words, and these columns, because I think they might be useful. Maybe by writing this you might decide to keep going, to take care of your gifts, no matter how old you are, seven or hundred. I’m not special. There are many talented people out there in the nation.
I’m including an excerpt from the show. And if any of you make it out to LA between March 12th and March 29th, I’ll get you in. Just say you’re my relative, or you’re with the band. Let me know. I’d be honored.
Redbird Monahwee (to her father):
I followed you as you unloaded it from the truck. I helped, as you strung the deer up on the tree. I squatted down with you, as the red sun kissed the red earth. You tamped out some tobacco into our hands.
You said, “We pray with tobacco to acknowledge the spirit of the deer. We give thanks, mvto”.
“There is much suffering on this earth.
Even plants suffer. Tobacco agreed to come along as we walk this world. It’s medicine, a gift from the Creator.”
And remember I said, But Daddy, you smoke two packs of Lucky Strikes a day!”
I was such a little plant, drinking in your words.
“And what about whiskey, Dad”, I asked you.
“It's killing me”, you said.
“I'm sorry, Hokte”.
“Pray for me girl.”