Still Writing despite Questions and Doubts

Carol A. Hand

The national writing event ended November 30, 2015, but I’ve continued to write almost every day. It’s a relief not to feel pressured to make an overall word count. Instead, I can try to make those words I write worthwhile regardless of the number. But I still encounter the same recurring questions and doubts. Here’s part of my latest chapter, 17, appropriately titled “Thankfully It’s Friday.” It wasn’t easy to always feel like an intrusive outsider. And I still wonder what to do with what I learned.

[Please note: The names of people have all been changed in the following accounts to protect identity, and the names of states and towns have been removed. These stories could come from any of the states where Ojibwe reservations are located.]

***

Research Field Notes Friday, October 19, 2001

….

I packed my things and checked out about 10:15, and headed to the tribal community.
First, I stopped at the tribal center, and noticed what appeared to be a meeting in the large room directly in front of the entranceway. I could see Greg, the tribal social service administrator in profile seated at the table, so I decided it would be a good time to see if Carrie Abrams (child welfare) or Trevor Evans (tribal preservation) were available. When I pulled into the old school parking lot, it appeared to be pretty empty. I noticed that Linda’s car wasn’t there. I did wish I could just touch base with her, but in some ways it was good to be on my own. I couldn’t really share anything I had learned so far.

I entered the building and walked past Greg’s office and asked the man seated at a desk in the next office where I might find Trevor.

“I’m Trevor,” he replied.

“Hi, Trevor. It’s nice to meet you. My name is Agnes Sero and I’m doing a study on Indian child welfare here. Molly, the tribal preservation director at Lake Tribe Reservation, suggested that I talk to you.”

“Come on in and sit down, Agnes.”

I told him briefly about my study and explained that I had met with Molly and other tribal preservation staff to learn more about the boarding school. I was interested in learning more about the school since elders here had described their experiences in a similar institution.

“Would you like a cup of coffee? I’m just brewing a new pot.”

I accepted and asked him if he was interested in learning more about the study. He said he was, so I ran out to my car to get a copy of the revised introduction and questions.

Trevor is a handsome man, with the front of his hair cut short, the left side is silver (naturally), with a bound pony tail in the back which extends beyond his waist. The walls of his office were covered with flip chart sheets containing Ojibwe words. He pointed to the sheets and explained that some were numbers, food, clothing. As he spoke, he was often leaning back in his chair, feet held in front of him off of the floor.

As soon as Trevor looked at the questions, he began speaking.

“When I was growing up our elders were still pretty active, but I was between two worlds. Some elders were jumping into contemporary society. Some were holding back, trying to retain the culture despite the reorganization act and removal. They were moving around and going into the melting pot.

“I came from a dysfunctional family. My father drank, my mother didn’t drink. I came from a big family with six sisters and three brothers. Two of my sisters were older, and I was the oldest brother. I spent most of my time with my grandfather and grandmother. They lived on top of a hill in a two-story house. There was no running water, or gas. There was a pump in the basement, a woodstove, and my grandmother cooked on a woodstove. We lived in the big pines. When they were young, my grandparents lived in a small community in the southeastern part of the county in the national forest. My grandmother and grandfather lived there and made their living by selling food and pies to loggers. My grandfather worked as a guide.

“My grandmother and grandfather were fluent in the Ojibwe language. I don’t remember my grandfather well. I was about three when I remember him, and he died when I was 7 or 8. I was born in 1953, and in 1962 or 63 my grandfather died.

“I remember growing up as small children, my parents had so many children, and the younger kids got most of the attention. I got attention from my grandmother and grandfather. I felt content being around my grandmother and grandfather. There was always an extended family, the biological family, aunts, uncles, friends, relatives. That’s how it was in the old days in the community.

….

“I’ve been talking a lot, Agnes. I’m interested in knowing what kinds of policy changes might result from your work. There are so many important issues we need to resolve.”

“I’m not sure, Trevor,” I replied. “It’s too early to tell. I can’t predict what I will find because there is so much more for me to learn. I can promise that I will share my findings with the community to make sure my interpretations represent what the community would want others to know about them. It’s also a difficult time in history. After September 11, all bets are off about social service policy. War often ushers in a time when social programs are cut and civil liberties compromised.”

“I agree, Agnes. These are uncertain times but it’s ever been so. I don’t know about you, but I’m hungry – it’s after 1. I need to go get something to eat.”

As we walked out of the building together, he invited me to lunch with him. I told him I had another interview to go to, and I saw him drive off in his red truck.

….

Reflections Monday, December 9, 2015

Even though I’m sharing these stories now, I have kept the promise I made to Trevor and others to protect identities. As mentioned earlier, the names of people have all been changed in this account, and no specific place identifiers or local documents are cited. Still, I wonder about the wisdom and ethics of publishing these accounts.

But I keep thinking about all of the incredible people I met who willingly shared their lives with a stranger. Why was that easier than sharing their experiences – good and bad – with others in their community? How many suffered alone, believing that they or their families were ultimately the cause for their abandonment and abuse? Why couldn’t people share their stories and histories with those who lived just across the tribal-town divide? How many failed to bridge the cultural divides between the tribe and county because of fear and past rejections and disappointments?

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Photo: A Daughter and Mother Who Sometimes Share Stories – 2015

Sharing stories can bring people together in wondrous ways. It’s what can help us all begin to rebuild a genuine sense of community. Now, I live in a residential neighborhood in a predominantly Euro-American city where neighbors avoid each other. I’ve heard some of their stories. Many hark back to decades of contentious interactions and feuds that still continue. So each household does things on their own. I’m sometimes the exception. I offer to help or stop to say hello, but that doesn’t do anything to bring them together. This makes me I wonder if anything I learned in this research project can help people see the possibilities of healing old wounds through stories that promote understanding and shared hopes for the future.

For now, those thoughts are enough to encourage me to keep writing. There’s a lot more to write. I’m sure I will confront these questions and doubts many more times before I’m finally finished.

Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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20 thoughts on “Still Writing despite Questions and Doubts”

  1. Hi, Carol. Great material, as always. And I love it that you are continuing every day even now that the month is over. I know this is a first draft, but as you revise — or now that you don’t have to make a specific word count every day, remember what’s important. The reader doesn’t have to see Agnes entering and leaving rooms. The reader already knows her name so you can skip dialogue in which she introduces herself by name. The more extraneous language you can cut, the more you highlight what really matters. So you could go more directly into Trevor’s story. I do understand that in this draft, you may need to set the scene for yourself in order to work your way into the chapter. Just remember, the reader may not need it. I think you are making the choice to emphasize Agnes’s courtesy and sensitivity and that makes sense, but a little goes a long way. You know the power of story to heal, so stick with the story! Example:

    Research Field Notes Friday, October 19, 2001

    Trevor Evans, the tribal preservation [title?], is a handsome man. With the front of his hair cut short, the left side is silver (naturally), with a bound pony tail in the back which extends beyond his waist. The walls of his office were covered with flip chart sheets containing Ojibwe words. After I introduced myself and explained the child welfare study, he pointed to the sheets and explained that some were numbers, food, clothing. He offered me coffee and I offered a copy of the study questions.

    As soon as he’d read the page, he began speaking, leaning back in his chair, feet held in front of him off of the floor.

    “When I was growing up our elders were still pretty active, but I was between two worlds. Some elders were jumping into contemporary society. Some were holding back, trying to retain the culture despite the reorganization act and removal. They were moving around and going into the melting pot. etc.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. These are such helpful suggestions, Diane! I will certainly keep all of these in mind as I continue writing. I know the editing process will be even more challenging than writing this first draft. I’m afraid if I go back at this point, the questions and doubts may be overwhelming. I do wonder, though, if you would be willing to read the edited draft at some point in the future?

      Like

    2. I’m not sure if you’ll see this comment, Diane, but I hope you do. Once again, I want to thank you for such valuable feedback. I’ve returned again to your comments and suggestions as I edit. I am so very grateful to you 🙂

      Like

    1. A good idea, although I do have signed consent forms and IRB approval (legal permission to publish). It’s the Ojibwe ethical issues that concern me most. Portions I’ve already published in journals or conference proceedings were approved before they want to press by the people whose interviews were cited. I’m considering doing the same with this manuscript when it’s done. It may be challenging, though, because a number of people have died.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Where I grew up there was some community. But not anymore. As people my parent’s age died out, the sense of community in neighborhoods died out along with them. Now people cane live next to each other for years and never even speak.

    It makes one wonder how any kind of unity can ever be had again?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sadly, capitalism has played a role in that as well – plant closings and career mobility discourage or prevent putting down roots and building a sense of community. Work becomes the center of people’s lives if they can find it and keep it (and sometimes work locks them into hopeless poverty in companies like Walmart). Yet this Ojibwe community shared ancestry and history, including colonial oppression.

      Stories can help raise awareness about the old days and the ways in which colonial (or capitalist) policies destroyed families and communities. It’s a foundation for beginning to reclaim what was lost. But Freire’s work suggests that those realizations need to come from within communities. The role of an outsider can sometimes be a catalyst, by asking questions that allow people to make their own connections. That would be my purpose for finishing and publishing this book…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I agree. I didn’t mean, by my comment, to imply this can never become reality again, or that your work is somehow invalid. It most certainly is valid and important to all of humanity.

        I was just sharing how things have changed from when I was a boy until now.

        I am a strong believer in and supporter of small, independent, self-governing/sustaining communities, where the individual thrives while being part of a collective.

        In fact, I long for this!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Your comment was important, Sojourner, as is this one. I didn’t read it as a criticism. It actually helped me clarify why I think it’s important for me to finish this writing project even though it is perhaps the most difficult thing I’ve ever done…

          Like you, I think many of us long for community and all that implies 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

  3. You have a beautiful daughter, Carol! As a teacher you know that the only way we improve our skills is to keep at them. The more we work at anything the more refined our efforts become, and If we are happy with the results, that’s all that really matters. I have little use for critics as all they do is evaluate the works of others instead of producing anything of their own. So I would forge ahead without the doubts, now and always. One flower doesn’t complete with the one blooming next to it. It simply blooms confidently with all the glory that’s in it. Hugs and love, N 🙂 ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I would like to encourage you to write,Carol. It’s a story worth telling, I find. Personally, I write something nearly everyday, but under no pressure. No word counts, no sense of commitment. And honestly, no desire to do so. I think it’s more of an addiction; a relief valve. A large part of me wishes I could stop and never write another word. Or maybe it’s that I wish there were no need to write another word.

    Lovely picture of your daughter and you.

    Peace.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I appreciate your thoughtful comments and encouragement, Peter. Although I’m grateful for the word-count experience – it really did give me a necessary structure for beginning a project I don’t think I would have begun otherwise – it wasn’t healthy in many respects. All I did everyday was write… Now, writing is my choice and it’s interwoven with other things I need to do. It sounds as though you’ve found a balance and use writing to help sort through thoughts and feelings. Thank you as always for your kindness 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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