Muscogee Nation News Column March 2009

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.”


Melissa Barrett-Traister said...

It would be really wonderful to see you in a reading one of these days.Good luck with the show in LA.

Also,thanks for writing the following:
"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."

That inspired me today,while I worked hard on a new poem.

butch said...

Joy, Those dates you mention in March must be for April, enit?
Memorizing does get harder as we age. I remember as a young actor being impatient with older ones who struggled to remember lines. And now I am in my 60's, and keep having "senior moments" when it comes to words, names, phrases I have included in my teaching for over 30 years. And even though you wrote the play, to have to recite all of it, like Hal Holbrook did for his one man Mark Twain, and James Whitemore did for his Harry Truman, and Henry Fonda did for his Clarence Darrow....is a brave thing, perhaps a little madness, but the right kind. As Zorba said, "We all need a little madness, or else we will be afraid to cut the rope, and be free."
So fly free, and sing and act and recite your prose, music, and poetry. You are more than a one woman show, you are a force of nature, and we love to hear you roar.


Joy said...

No. It was March. (The column was for the March paper.) I finished the LA run Sunday.
Did it.
Now, a day or two off.
The show will travel....eventually.

Janice Gould said...

Saw the announcement of your play in the last News from Native California (Spring 2009), which just arrived, but too late to know about the performance. I hope it all went well.--The thought of blanking on lines in a play or poem makes me uneasy, probably because the loss of words threatens to unravel what the seaming together of language in a play or poem means to create: the imaginative construction of a different place, time, mood, or moment.--Janice

Jessie Carty said...

i can't imagine trying to memorize a whole play! I haven't had to memorize anything of detail since high school. :)

Sounds like it was great though!