Sometimes categories feel like gilded cages. Sometimes they feel like steel traps. In todays’ literary world, largely thanks to Amazon, the lid has blown off the publishing world, and anyone now has access to what once were the forbidden gates. Of course, now along with the profound, we have much profane, but that’s another story.
Now, for the Indie Writer/Indie Publisher it is incumbent upon us, and not our publisher/agent as we are they and they is us, to decide into what category our books fall.
Sometimes this is easy—if we are a strictly category writer.
Sometimes this is pure unmitigated torture and no matter what we chose, we get it wrong.
I have struggled with this placement with most of my books.
When I first discovered Magic Realism, I heaved a heavy sigh and shouted, “Eureka!”
But as I educated myself on the parameters of this beautiful and ephemeral genre, I realized I was mistaken. Just cuz you got magic don’t make it Magic Realism.
Looking back over my work; thinking back over my years as a writer, and pondering my schooling in just what Magic Realism is as I have read about it and as I grew to understand it, I find it quite interesting and fitting that the work I have crafted about Native Americans is the work that can be truly classified as Magic Realism.
The Mexican critic Luis Leal wrote “To me, magical realism is an attitude on the part of the characters in the novel toward the world or toward nature.”
Further, he explained, it’s an acceptance, without comment, without wonder or awe, of magic in the real world.
One of the first times I experienced this type of acceptance was when I was interviewing Dr. Katherine Siva Saubel for a play I would eventually write about her and the Cahuilla Indians of Southern California entitled WE ARE STILL HERE.
I was speaking with her brother, Alvino as we were sitting at the gathering site on the Morongo Reservation that was just behind Katherine’s home at one of the many Cahuilla Festivals I had been invited to attend so that I could gain more understanding of Katherine and her People. Alvino was pointing out the craggy hills that surrounded us, dotted with jagged and rounded rock and scrub pines that bent and twisted as if wheezing for oxygen.
“See that over there?” Alvino pointed with his hand raised at eye level. “See all those marks– those indentations in the hillside? If you go up to there, walk around, you’ll see those markings are all gathered in three distinct sets. That’s because those are all places Temayawat sat down to rest. So you’ve got one place where he rested his bottom; and two places where he set his ….you know…” he indicated around his general private area. “He had big ones, of course. He was one of the Creators. Round. Heavy. So they’re gonna make big marks. You go up there. You’ll see them all over the hillside.”
Katherine Saubel was a devout Catholic. The first day I met her, she sat with me for over five hours. She told me the Creation Story of the Cahuilla Indians. She told me about the twin creators Mukat and Temayawat; about the Moon Maiden, who taught the People how to be men and how to be women, and how to wash. She told me about the death of Mukat, killed by Temayawat, and about how the people mourned and wept and rolled in the ashes.
And as she told the story, as if these people were her kin, I could see that Katherine believed every word as absolute truth.
She believed every word as absolutely as she believed every word of the story of Jesus. For Katherine held Jesus closely to her heart.
Two distinct belief systems. Some might say opposing. But she wouldn’t. Never. She held them securely at the same moment in her heart and in her mind.
She also said that Jesus, in the Bible, spoke directly to the Native People.
“He spoke to all the Nations. It says so in the Bible. And we, the Native People, Indians, are a Nation. Jesus spoke to us.”
One of the greatest gifts I was ever given was the gift of Katherine’s story. Her brother told me she gave it to me because she trusted me to tell it truthfully. And with respect.
The Cahuilla Creation Story—when the People tell it, gathered around the fire once upon a time, now more often than not at a Community Center or even at someone’s house—takes over 12 hours– overnight to complete.
I, of course, had to pick and choose which parts to re-create in the play.
At one of our early performances in Southern California close by the Morongo Reservation and Katherine’s home, Alvino was seated next to me afterwards. He leaned in close to me, but this time he was not talking about craggy hills. He was expressing displeasure with me. There was a part of the Creation Story I had left out that he felt was very important and that I needed to put in. It was a part about Coyote stealing Mukat’s heart and eating it before he returned to the People. “You need to put that in there. That’s very important that Coyote did that. And from the blood of that heart, the tobacco tree grew.” I promised I would make the amendment. When I told the cast, they were thrilled, and the changes were added for the next performance.
When I next saw Alvino, it was at the September Harvest Festival. He crooked his finger as the Indian/Cowboy band struck up, and we kicked up our heels pretty good, so I wager he’d forgiven me.
The re-enactment of the Cahuilla Creation Story is I believe one of the purest examples of Magical Realism I have ever seen.
Not written, you understand.
For I did not write it.
Great God, no.
I was merely the vessel of – as I was told – ten thousand years of the passing down through the generations of the story of this wondrous indigenous people—born—not crossed over from some land bridge up there in Alaska someplace, as Alvino told me many times– but born right here in Southern California.
And Alvino and Katherine and their brother Paul did not believe in the Creation myth– this was their story, their history. This is their truth.
This post is part of the Magic Realism Blog Hop. About twenty blogs are taking part in the hop. Over three days (29th – 31st July 2015) these blogs will be posting about magic realism. Please take the time to click on the button below to visit them and remember that links to the new posts will be added over the three days, so do come back to read more.
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