More Homegrown Hauntings (Continued from Part 1)

WHAT’S PLAYING: Pussycat DollsI Hate This Part

More creatures and legends from the reservation:

1. Ishkitini “The Horned Owl” – a sinister character believed to prowl about at night killing men and animals. When the ishkitini screeches, it means sudden death or murder. Owls were often associated with witchcraft.

2. Heloha “Thunder” and Melatha “Lightning” – huge birds responsible for dramatic thunderstorms. Heloha would lay her giant eggs in the clouds. They rumbled as the rolled around atop the clouds, causing thunder. Her mate, Melatha, was so fast that he left a trail of sparks as he streaked across the sky.

3. Shilombish “Outside Shadow” – Choctaws believed that every man had a shilombish (outside shadow) and a shilup (inside shadow). After death, the shilup departs to The Land of Ghosts or Heaven, while the shilombish is doomed to wander about its former home. The shadow would often try to frighten the dead man’s family and drive them from the house by imitating the cries of a fox or owl, which were bad omens. The only way to tell the difference between the cries of the shilombish and the animals it imitated is to listen for a reply. When a fox barks, or an owl screeches, another fox or owl replies. But when the shadow imitates the sound of either animal, no response is given.

4. Nahullo – This is a generic term that applies to spirits that never existed as human beings, although some say they were a race of gigantic hunters who lived in western Tennessee and the northern parts of Alabama and Mississippi during the Choctaw immigration. Later, the term was applied to Caucasians due to their pale skin.

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The Very Inspirational Blogger Award (Black and White Edition)

WHAT’S PLAYING: Dev “Bass Down Low”

The lovely and talented Halfway between the Gutter and the Stars nominated me for the Very Inspirational Blogger Award. I am doubly honored because—with her fearless honesty and unbelievable strength—this woman, in my humble opinion, is the very epitome of inspirational.

Check out her blog here and see what I mean.

The Rules:

1. Thank the blogger who nominated you.

2. Share seven things about yourself

3. Nominate other bloggers you think deserve the award, and post on their blog to let them know they’ve been nominated.

Seven Things about Me:

1. I have no sense of direction. During my visit to New York, I spent twenty minutes looking for my hotel, only to discover that it was two blocks away…in a straight line…directly across from the entrance to the train station. And I was using the GPS feature on my phone.

2. I’m extremely gullible. Seriously, you could tell me that bats fly out of your ass at midnight on the third Sunday of every month and, as long as you said it with a straight face, I’d probably believe you.

3. I’m terrified of commitment. Always have been, but it’s gotten a lot worse since my fiancé died. The thought of owning a house, setting down roots, or falling in love again makes me want to vomit.

4. I was raised with the belief that crying is useless and self-indulgent, so I tend to bottle everything up until I can’t bear it anymore. I usually cry once every three years, unless I’m watching a Hallmark commercial or a Disney movie. Then all bets are off.

5. My favorite book in the whole world is The Long Nosed Princess by Priscilla Hallowell, published in 1959. I read it at least once a year and have since I was ten years old.

6. Growing up in Mississippi, I had to deal with a lot of crap for being mixed race. One of the poems that helped me through was “Cross” by Langston Hughes.

My old man’s a white old man
And my old mother’s black.
If ever I cursed my white old man,
I take my curses back.
If ever I cursed my black old mother
And wished she were in hell,
I’m sorry for that evil wish
And now I wish her well
My old man died in a fine big house.
My ma died in a shack.
I wonder where I’m going to die,
Being neither white nor black?

7. I am extraordinarily clumsy. I once executed a perfect routine during a karate competition, complete with kicks, flips, and splits. I bowed to the judges, turned, and then tripped over my own feet as I left the mat. Fortunately, they didn’t penalize me for it.

Now, for the nominees (I’m only listing seven, mostly because I’m too lazy to do more. Besides, naming all the inspirational blogs out there would take me days.):

1. Janice Heck

2. S.Z. Williams

3. Fic Faq

4. Melinda VanLone

5. Word Flows

6. This Man’s Journey

7.  No More Race

The Healing Power of Stories

WHAT’S PLAYING: The PoliceWalking on the Moon

Some of you might have noticed that I’ve been MIA for the past week. (If you didn’t notice, then keep it to yourself. It’ll just depress me.) The reason for my weeklong silence is that I was down with pneumonia. Way down. Like “temperature in the triple digits, followed by a day in the hospital” down. It pretty much sucked.

Recovery was a long and painful process. I felt weak, exhausted, and useless. Forget about writing or working out. It was all I could do to change my underwear every day. The first time I left my apartment to get the mail, it took me twenty minutes and two breaks so I could catch my breath.

Still, life goes on. I had fallen behind in work, school, and writing, and I wasn’t going to catch up by lying in bed all day.

So you can imagine how it felt when I woke up on the day I was scheduled to return to work and saw this.

That’s right. My first day back at work just happened to coincide with the first major snowstorm of 2012.

Talk about adding insult to injury.

So, instead of snuggling under a warm blanket with a hot cup of tea, I recuperated by driving over an hour and a half in the middle of a frigging blizzard. I’m from Mississippi folks. I have many talents, but driving in snow is not one of them. It usually involves me hunched over the wheel, squinting into the night, and creeping along at 30 mph for about a mile before I pull over to the side of the road to let other, more confident drivers pass. It’s a vicious cycle: drive for about a mile while cursing the weather, and then pull over so I can curse the people passing by, my job, and life in general.

So, add all that to a persistent cough and sore throat, and you can see why I haven’t felt up to writing anything.

By the time my workweek was over, I felt tired, empty, used up. All I wanted to do was go to bed and stay there for a month. Instead, I wrapped myself up in a blanket with a cup of tea and my favorite stuffed animal. (I was sick. Don’t judge me.) Then I did what I should have done a week ago.

I called my grandfather.

My grandfather is a professional storyteller with a voice like black velvet and a talent for fashioning worlds out of thin air. He’s also my own personal form of Prozac. I know that, no matter how bad things get or how stressed I allow myself to become, there is nothing that can’t be fixed – or at least made bearable – by just one hour of getting lost in the stories of our people.

I don’t know about you, but for me stories provide tonic for the soul and wisdom for the mind. The best thing in the world is knowing that I can make things better with just five simple words:

Amafo, tell me a story.”

(Thanks to everyone for his or her kind words during my illness.)

Learning from the Past

WHAT’S PLAYING: Gretchen WilsonAll Jacked Up

I originally intended this post for Monday, to commemorate the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., but was too sick to write it. I still think the message is important, even if it is a bit late.

I was born on a Choctaw Indian reservation in Mississippi, a state not known for tolerance. My mother is Choctaw and African-American and my father is German, which made me a perfect target. I was bullied through much of my childhood. Kids picked on everything: my race, hair, clothes, height, you name it. Soon, the verbal bullying gave way to physical altercations. One day, a kid broke my wrist after I refused to call my mother a “white man’s whore”.

I left the rez and moved in with my father the next day.

Things were good for a while. I thought I’d left all that behind me. I grew up, finished my education and got a decent job. Then one day, my supervisor told me he considered intermingling between Whites and other races to be mortal sin. Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion, but it still hurt. It’s not everyday someone calls you an abomination to your face…at work. I stared at him for a minute, and then replied that I didn’t think fat ass, useless, bigoted idiots should be allowed to breed, so we were both destined for disappointment. Then I quit, calmly gathered my things, and walked out to my car…where I sat and cried for about half an hour.

I left Mississippi a few weeks later. I’m not bashing my home state. Most of the people there are warm, good-hearted folks. But every time I visit and see how far we’ve come, I can’t help but think of how far we still have to go.

Since then, I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter where you live, there will always be someone there to tell you what you can or can’t do. Or even worse, what you should or shouldn’t be.

Fuck ‘em.

Writers, musicians, artists, and even half-breeds: we all have a place in this world. We all make a difference and we have much to learn from each other.

Thanks to my less than ideal childhood, I’ve developed a thick skin. My bullies only made me stronger. Compared to them, querying agents and editors is a breeze. 

Let’s just hope none of them tries to break my wrist.