I want to start on a new book. I have the plot idea and even a title. The problem is that it is historical fiction and requires some research. I don’t mind doing research – especially as some of it may include travel, which is always fun. In this case I’ll have to go to Nebraska and interview some Winnebago Native Americans. I may also want to go to Carlisle, PA to visit the old Indian school there. Maybe even a bit of time looking at old farms in the Pennsylvania countryside. Yes, that might all be lovely.
BUT! I want to write now. The problem is something like hydraulics. I’m sure there are equally good similes to be found in electronics and computers, but I like hydraulics – something I can dip my feet into. The ideas for the new book have become a torrent so forceful that they keep other writing ideas from entering the river that leads from my brain to my fingers and thence to keyboard and computer. I might tell myself that I need a new short story, a poem, or a blog piece; but I end up thinking about Red and White. Sorry, that’s the title.
The preoccupation has gotten so bad that I even have difficulty making time for marketing. With three novels already published, I should be writing about them: bothering people on Facebook and Linkedin and creating clever 140 character blurbs to tweet. Focusing becomes difficult. “No,” I have to remind myself, “Memoirs From the Asylum isn’t about the injustice of trying to destroy a culture.” Those mental hospitals may have taken away freedom, they may have been sanctuaries for those who fear being free, they may have been filled with strange and at times funny events, but they weren’t there to teach youngsters to be servants instead of free roaming hunters.
Delete another false start.
“Darn, I’d better start a new comment to post on Book Junkies. Something about mental health.” I know this one won’t go any better. I keep thinking about the visits I have made to the various “reservations” here in Arizona. I wonder the forbearers of the men and women I have met among the Apache and the Navajo. What were their cultures like before they were corralled and their children ripped away to be indoctrinated?
I had the pleasure of meeting one woman from a tribe in California. The treaty between her people and the American government had never been formally ratified. The state had sent the tribal members paperwork to complete the long-suspended process. Her grandmother had shredded the documents and fed them to the fire. “Tell your mother to do the same thing,” she had instructed.
“Why?” they girl had asked.
“Because they want to come and take you away from us,” was the grandmother’s response.
I visit my friend Charles in San Carlos and I see the widespread depression in the community. It is as palpable as the tears that are not shed by these bowed but unbroken Apache. We stop by the community’s center for the elderly. Some of these men and women were sent to a government run boarding school. They do not speak of that time.
I do some reading and learn that the very first experiment in taking Native American children from their parents was with the Apache. A group of Apache had been shipped from the Southwest to Florida, and their children had then been sent off for education – would we perhaps not call it re-education? What mental illness did that process create?
“Back to marketing,” I tell myself and try to kick myself in the rear. It is no good. I cannot escape my preoccupation with those Native American children. “One last thought,” I bargain with myself, “and I’ll get back to work.”
The thought is of the middle and high school in the southeast corner of the Navajo Nation. The U.S. government no longer takes the children away from their families. No, now the government helps to build schools. That school is a beautiful building; it looks like a modern public school should. What nobody mentions is that it is built on contaminated ground. Those teens are daily bombarded with radiation from the Uranium tailings dropped in that area by water from a storage lagoon when its dam had broken and the water had surged from New Mexico across Arizona and into the Colorado River. How will that radioactivity affect the just developing gonads of those Navajo boys? How will it affect the future of their tribe?
No wonder I want to write Red and White, the conscience of my race demands that we tell the stories. I think back to the authors I read as a child. Steinbeck, Dos Pasos, Sinclair. Yes, we writers of serious fiction have a place in the conscience of our society.
Kenneth Weene http://www.authorkenweene.com/
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