Snowing here today. Old, old, totems with moss growing off the top. Clan poles for each of the houses. Shark, Bear, Salmon, Killerwhale, Raven, I walked around to all my interviews. Years ago I learned to take my time. There was a woman I admired a great deal. I still do. She is the current Writer Laureate of the State of Alaska. Nora Marks Dauenhaurer. She is a linguist and a poet, a very dignified woman and a powerful intellectual. I used to feel tongue-tied around her. Whatever I said felt wrong and I'd tried to rephrase it and then that was wrong.... Augggg. Once at a gathering, I decided to try just relaxing and not saying anything. I sat down next to her and an agonizing ten minutes went by and not a word was said...then another ten. Then Nora looked at a magazine on the table and it had a picture of the candidate running for president. She said, "What do you think of this guy?" I said, "I like him. I think I'm going to vote for him." She said, "Me too." Then another ten minutes. Silence. And another fifteen. I started to sweat. Pretty soon she put her hand on my knee and moved to get up and she looked me in the eye and said, "John, it was good talking to you," and left.
What did I learn? Absolutely nothing...except that she seemed happy, and more comfortable when I kept my mouth shut.
Now I try and allot more time for interviews than I used to. When I go to someone's house I try and sit if I can and if people will have me I just listen to whatever they want to say, without my tape recorder running. I just sit and listen and say enough to let them know I'm interested. Because I am. I say, "No way!" "You are kidding me!" "That's kind of like that in Sitka but in Sitka they...." I watch their babies, and squeak their heads, and I just listen.... Women mostly.... I don't sit and talk with Native people who are drinking alcohol because it almost always gets ugly... I've been in too many situations where racial tensions come to the surface easily and fights want to happen, guns want to come out, or knives. It's not usually personal...well it is but it doesn't matter...the information isn't worth much and I can't be where new crimes start, I'm investigating old crimes.
But in late morning when the babies are fed and dressed. Men come by selling fry bread...or with smoked fish for their Aunties. It can be a delightful time to sit and listen. People joke about "Indian Time" how Indians are always late...but you see it in white subsistence communities too. You get on a different clock. The house I sat in today was crowded with stuff, toys and cooking tools, religious icons, then there are people coming in and out, grabbing food out of the refrigerator. The old Aunty sitting in her wheelchair presiding like a queen while a three-year-old races her trike around the kitchen table bumping into the table. The television on with only music. The music from Frozen...is that it? The three-year-old with no shirt on and a lioness backpack and glittery Princess slippers. Her mother lying on the couch talking to a friend on her cell phone. The Aunty telling me about the times when she was a girl when the bears used to come right down into town and the girls could talk to the bears but the White Police Officers messed all that up with their guns by shooting at the bears. I just listen and I don't take notes and I don't turn on my recorder. I just watch the little girl in her Princess shoes go around and around and around the kitchen table and another uncle comes in and dishes himself some spaghetti and walks back outside with a paper plate dyed red and maybe tomorrow I'll get down to business.
Snow falls on totems.
Ravens on Satellite Dish.
I'm unstuck in time.