When Milestone called and asked me to design the poster for Rocco and His Brothers, I was humbled and excited. The opportunity to work on a film of such magnitude with Martin Scorsese's name attached was a dream I wasn't going to turn down. Both Amy Heller and Dennis Doros know that my love for the dramatic holds no bounds...and this film was no exception.
Before attending design school at NC State University, known for it's architectural foundation and technological advances, I apprenticed with an oil painter for almost five years. All of my design fundamentals originate from the core of atelier or "in studio" painting. While learning from a master painter, I learned to love big brush strokes, bright pops of color, and constantly shifting textures.
During my time at NC State, I was able to incorporate some of my painting into my work as an undergraduate, but for the most part, my paints were set aside for Adobe software. Knowing this and looking back on my process to create the Rocco poster, it doesn't surprise me that I attempted to create a digitally rendered poster at first; I wanted to have the ability to change the narrative based on the decision of each brushstroke in minute detail - from color to shape to size, digital software allows for a constantly shifting story to unfold.
Painting Rocco was great challenge and one I won't forget for a long time! It was a graphic design puzzle and a truly humbling undertaking as an illustrator.
Completing this poster reminded me how much I enjoy storytelling through painting and thinking back on this experience encourages me to continue working and challenging myself creatively. I am so grateful for the inspiration that Milestone Film provides for me - an artist with an archivist's heart. While no assignment is ever dull, Rocco and His Brothers had everything I could ever ask for.
The 17th annual AIFF brought a wonderful selection of films, filmmakers, and cinema experts to town — including some old friends of Milestone… and some new! We were very happy to get the chance to hang out with pals Jonathan Marlow (filmmaker, musician, and self-described “purveyor of moving images’); filmmaker and activist Helen De Michiel; Claire Aguilar, programming director of the International Documentary Association; and Courtney Sheehan, the wonderful head of Seattle’s Northwest Film Forum. It was great to reconnect with artist and animator Stacey Steers, who we first met a few years ago in Houston, and to see how she is continuing to use silent film imagery in her gorgeous, hypnotic films. Other old friends we didn’t get to schmooze with, but were happy to see included Clemence Taillandier, Laura Thielen, and Betsy McLane.
We even “met” a wonderful British composer we first collaborated with many, many years ago — Joby Talbot, who wrote the wonderful score for one of the Evgenii Bauer melodramas on Milestone’s Mad Love DVD. Now living in Ashland, Joby and two wonderful musicians, performed his score accompanying Bauer’s The Dying Swan. And we were happy to meet festival juror Cameron Swanagon —nontheatrical and festival coordinator at Oscilloscope Films, which is Milestone’s partner for streaming and video distribution. It’s amazing how often we run into fellow NYC-area friends in far-flung festivals.
(George taking a photo of the audience at a screening).
A highlight of our festival experience was the amazing reception that the festival goers gave Milestone’s restoration of No Maps on My Taps and its effervescent filmmaker, George Nierenberg — who made it a point to shake the hand of every person on a line for a special screening for school kids. The crowds loved the joyful dance documentary and the tap dance demo by local hoofer Suzanne Seiber and her students.
(Dennis sitting far left next to Joby Talbot and others on a panel about commissioning and composing scores for films.)
Another great treat was discovering Saving Brinton, a documentary about a real-life cinema hero — Michael Zahs. The film brilliantly chronicles one year in Zahs’s decades-long quest to save and preserve a collection of pre-1908 films, lantern slides, wax-cylinder audio recordings, and papers from the estate of two Iowa promoters, Frank and Indiana Brinton. The documentary is wonderful and we were absolutely thrilled to meet Zahs and filmmaker, Andrew Sherburne. The film will be screening in New York at Cinema Village in May and at the Monica Film Center in Los Angeles in June. Catch it if you can!
Other new friends include Dan Miller and Suzanne Clark, the creators of the documentary, Citizen Blue: The Life and Art of Cinema Master James Blue, and Richard Blue, the brother of the filmmaker (who died in 1980). We also really enjoyed meeting trans activist, artist, and filmmaker, Zackary Drucker, who turned out to be a fellow fan of Portrait of Jason. Erica Thompson, the festival’s Filmmaker Liaison, was incredibly welcoming and lovely — she is one of those festival angels who keeps things going smoothly and does so with real grace and kindness. And her volunteers were also wonderful — we send special thanks to Vicki Augustine and Nicole Gullickson, who drove us around and made us feel like Oregonians. We look forward to keeping in touch with all these wonderful folks!
Finally, we had a blast at the closing night Awards Ceremony, which Courtney Sheehan MC-ed like a boss. And we were very moved when Thom Southerland, whose film Fort Maria won the juried award for Best Narrative Feature, came up to us and told us that his experience seeing Killer of Sheep and meeting Charles Burnett in 2015 had been a powerful inspiration for his own filmmaking — he even shot his feature in black and white in tribute.
Dennis and I were really thrilled to be honored by such a wonderful film festival and community. And, if you have time next spring, we heartily recommend planning to spend April 11–15, 2019 watching films at the Ashland Independent Film Festival... maybe you want to mark you calendar now!
[Note from Milestone: This blog is by the our dear friend and intern, the inimitable Maia Krivoruk. We first met Maia when she was a five-year-old whirlwind of energy and opinions. She grew up to be a wonderful, caring, courageous adult. Her curiosity and compassion to learn about people have taken her around the world. We could sing Maia’s praises for days and days, but instead we invite you to read her wonderful blog about making hard choices, trying to live a meaningful life, and growing up.]
In the beginning of this academic year, I was sitting on the 23rd floor in the Cathedral of Learning at the University of Pittsburgh. I was one of twenty future social workers in this Models of Intervention course, a core class for the MSW that I was set to receive by August 2018. In the days leading up to the beginning of this academic endeavor, doubt was suffocating me. A part of me knew that this program was not what I needed or wanted to be doing. I was secured with a prestigious fellowship that gave me a specialized placement at the top outpatient clinic and a generous stipend. But it just wasn’t right. I was setting myself up to become something that I didn’t want to be. Having gone to Pitt for my undergrad in social work, it was a logical and rather easy move to enroll in the Masters program. However, there I was, in class, embarking on this journey knowing that I should have turned left instead of right.
I made what had to be the scariest and most intense decision of my life thus far — after just two weeks at the Masters program. I deferred my acceptance to give me more time to evaluate what I truly wanted for myself in the upcoming year. This decision was really frightening — and not in the romanticized type way, where you trust that you’ve made a decision that will open doors for me and lead to curious adventures. It was terrifying to pack up everything, leave a city I had called home for the past 4 years, and return home with only an orientation packet to show for it.
It is not that I have been afraid to make bold moves. When I was sixteen, I traveled to London with my Girl Scout troop to mentor younger scouts about what it means to be a female entrepreneur in a global economy. In 2012, I went to Romania with Habitat for Humanity to build houses with and for local families.
As a freshman, I got the idea of supporting an orphanage in Guatemala. I helped gather more than 800 medical and school supplies and the next year I led a team of six friends to Sololá. We taught the kids English and wellness activities and learned about issues of global poverty and neglect and about international adoption. Upon returning, my team and I created a club at Pitt so that others can experience what we did.
I spent most of 2015 in New Zealand, studying and working with the Maori people there. In 2016, I helped supervise a high school group from Minnesota that was visiting the Navajo American Indian reservation in Arizona, where we all learned about traditional practices and about the many injustices that American Indians still face today.
In December 2016, I toured Poland to learn about the history of Jewish people in Europe. In 2017, I represented the University of Pittsburgh at the annual Atlantic Coast Conference Leadership Symposium in North Carolina to discuss racial diversity and representation on college campuses. It was through all these experiences that I learned what a true sense of community feels like. Watching local and global citizens invest themselves into these communal goals is deeply humbling and inspiring. My service-learning trips enabled not only personal growth, but also provided me with amazing and unforgettable adventures.
In the days after I had deferred and returned home from grad school at Pitt, I felt like I was sinking. My brain was overrun with thoughts of whether or not I should have stuck it out. Some of my advisors, friends, and family members had told me that it would be better to have a Masters degree in a year than to go home in search of a maybe or a possibility. But it wasn’t right. I couldn’t sit in a seat that was meant for someone else.
I’ve spent the last couple of months weighing what I deem important. And to be quite honest, I still don’t have a clue as to what I want to be when I grow up. If someone were to ask me in my late fifties, I probably still wouldn’t know. But I am working on accepting that unbelievably scary truth. That life is fleeting and the decisions we make will shape the type of person we become.
When I was in Israel in May of 2014 on a Taglit-Birthright trip, my group stopped at a cemetery shortly after landing in Tel Aviv. Our group leader had told us the story of the first men and women who came to tend to the lands and turn what was once desolate and barren wasteland into prosperous and bountiful farmland. He explained the daunting and taxing process that these farmers went through everyday, sleeping on haystacks with little to eat — but how they also knew that they and their communities would reap the benefits of their hard work in the years to come. The last thing the group leader has said was, “think about your own lives, and think about what gets you up and off your haystack in the morning.” It’s been a little over three years now and that mantra has been stained into my memory. Now I am not an unreasonable or gullible person. I know that to have a job right after college that gets you off your haystack is not always feasible. But shouldn’t it at least be strived for?
And so after signing away a year of a guaranteed degree and fellowship, I challenged myself to reconcile with my decision and discover what I’m striving for. I know that in the future, I would like to receive a degree within in the field of public health. I want to influence population health safely and effectively. I want to ensure that healthcare is not a privilege for the few but rather a right for all global citizens. But before I invest in that professional degree, I need to get out there. I want to explore parts of this world that will challenge and educate me. I want to be the calculated risk taker who knows that traveling and working with new people is never the wrong choice. The decision to leave Pitt is not some reckless wanderlust move, it’s a much needed shift, lining up pieces for me to pursue my passions for service-learning, international education, and global health.
And now, after being home for several months, I am rather relieved to announce that I have found my next adventure. AmeriCorps, which is a voluntary civil society supported by the U.S. government, has a branch called AmeriCorps NCCC (National Civilian Community Corps). AmeriCorps NCCC is a full-time, residential, team-based program for young adults who would like to have hands-on experience in the fields of public health. I have been hired as the team leader and will be responsible for managing 10 other Corps members as we travel throughout the United States working on various disaster relief, emergency preparedness, and environmental sustainability initiatives. Current teams are primarily posted in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico to aid in the relief work from the past hurricanes.
Having just graduated, I know that I still need guidance, resources, and opportunities to help shape me into an ethical and purposeful public health leader. While I am still nervous about this next chapter, I do feel this program will give me an opportunity to further deepen my understanding of service-learning pedagogy and build new experiences designing and implementing public health missions. The knowledge and skills I gain over the course of the year will be invaluable. My hope is that my leadership position in AmeriCorps NCCC will help better prepare me to challenge the members to think critically, develop intercultural competence, and more fully integrate practice/service into their journeys to becomes leaders in their chosen field. I look forward to collaborating with people across multiple disciplines and interest areas in this next adventure.
In 2008, I first saw Kent Mackenzie’s film The Exiles (1961). It is a neorealist film that showcases a true depiction of American Indians living in Los Angeles at a time when nothing was documented and when Hollywood cinema was generating stereotypes of Natives in Western films. I loved The Exiles because it gave a realistic portrayal of American Indians going through the U.S. Indian Relocation Program. It also provided a multi-dimensional representation of the characters and a glimpse into the gentrification changes to what is now called the Historical Core of Downtown Los Angeles.
Mackenzie, a film student working on a project called Bunker Hill, met quite a few American Indians in that neighborhood and was familiar with the Indian Relocation Act of 1956. Knowing that he wanted to shed light on Native American issues, Mackenzie made the conscious decision to give voice to the American Indians he encountered in Los Angeles. The urban Indian relocation program was set up to lure young adults who were jobless after completing their education. Most of these young Indians received vocational training, rather than an academic education, at Indian boarding schools across the United States, which followed Richard Henry Pratt’s philosophy “Kill the Indian, Save the Man.”
The young American Indians were further enticed by offers of paid moving expenses and more vocational training for those willing to move off the reservations to certain government-designated cities such as Los Angeles. The flyers were appealing, promising a path to what many believed was an American dream. Most who migrated into cities were young twenty-something single Indians or young married couples. My parents, like many Indian families, migrated to a city through the program. Yet many people today do not know about the migration of American Indians to metropolitan cities, nor the U.S. policies of assimilation through programs that enticed young Natives to leave their reservation homelands, in hopes they would never return.
The Exiles film inspired me to bring to light that we Indian people have a history in L.A. and to address U.S. policies of assimilation of American Indians. Clearly, people from many cultures have come to Los Angeles, such as Asian Americans, Mexican Americans, and African Americans. But while their stories have been told and acknowledged, the American Indian migration to cities has not been discussed on a larger scale. I want our history to be remembered and understood. I want to pay homage to that first generation of relocated Indians of the 1950s and 1960s.
As for the conception of Legacy of Exiled NDNZ, I specifically asked tribal members living in Los Angeles whom I knew personally, and who bore a resemblance to the characters in The Exiles to be a part of my project. I also reached out to a few UCLA students and, to my surprise, they agreed to do it. One of the students was a second-generation relocated Indian, whose mother I had known for a while in Los Angeles. When I asked the mother if her daughter would like to be involved in my project I was surprised to learn that she would love to participate. So, now I had seven young adults from various tribal communities, most of whom didn’t know each other. I had a shoestring budget, but I was optimistic.
The initial concept was just going to be a photography project. I decided to use black-and-white photography to showcase the nostalgic history of American Indians that is rarely viewed. I wanted to represent a counter-image to the damaging and dated representation of the American Indian in the public psyche as well as to capture inhabited history and culture from the past to the future. I wanted my images to evoke both an historical and contemporary sensibility, showing the reality of the vibrant, passionate, smiling Indians living in an urban world of yesteryear and today.
I also wanted to get behind-the-scenes footage of what I was capturing, so I hired a video-photographer. I generated questions for my young participants, asking what they knew about the U.S. Indian Relocation program, what brought them to Los Angeles, and about their connection to their respective tribal reservations. I wanted viewers to get a glimpse into who they were as young American Indians in 2013.
We filmed for two days. The first day we shot at historical places where The Exiles was filmed: Main Street, Grand Central Market, and Union Station. I also filmed in the alley that has been coined “Indian Alley,” off of Main Street. My young participants were not familiar with the area. Stephen Ziegler the caretaker who currently lives in the building that formerly housed United American Indian Involvement (UAII), shared with them the history of the location while we took some amazing photos. This site was important to me because it also represents a trail of where American Indians gathered in the early 1970s.
After funding from the Indian Relocation program ran out, many Indians ended up homeless. The United American Indian Involvement Center opened in 1973 to help Indians living with addiction on the street. As in earlier times, many were still coming to L.A. in hopes of finding a better life, yet unfortunately winding up addicted to drugs or alcohol and homeless. This is not uncommon when people struggle with poverty and depression in urban environments. UAII became a first stop for many Indians coming to Los Angeles — it was a place where they were able to reconnect with friends, loved ones, and family members.
Bunker Hill in the 1950s and 1960s was a hub for Native Americans to unite during the Relocation era. But by the 1970s and 1980s, 118 Winston Street, where UAII had been headquartered, was now Skid Row. This area — Indian Alley — has had a dark bleak history, but today it is commemorated by artwork created primarily by well-known Native American and non-Native American artists as a form of healing for everyone.
The Native population of Los Angeles has grown from roughly 12,000 in the 1960s to more than 25,000 in the 1970s. Today, more than 175,000 tribal members live in Los Angeles (the highest populated urban Indian community in the United States), many of whom migrated from Montana, South Dakota, New Mexico, and Oklahoma among other communities.
The second day of shooting was set up for recreating images I loved from the 1961 film The Exiles. I contacted Milestone before I started my project and shared my admiration for the film and how the film directly influenced me to generate a photography project. I also told Milestone that some of the young adults had not seen the film, so they provided screeners which I gave to my young participants to view and discuss in personal interviews on our second day of shooting. I initially was planning to showcase only an exhibition of black-and-white photography work reenacting scenes from the film, but after I listening to the interviews and viewing the behind-the-scene video, it grew into a short film project, which I entitled Legacy of Exiled NDNZ. My short film is shot in a neorealist visual aesthetic reminiscent of Mackenzie’s 1961 film. I truly feel it is a continuation of Mackenzie’s work.
Mackenzie didn’t like the Classic Hollywood cinema narratives or the portrayal of Indians in Westerns in the 1960s, and I feel the same way today. Even now, films with American Indian subjects, such as Pocahontas and The Lone Ranger, portray Indians as one-dimensional relics of an historical past.
Hollywood continues to invent Indian figures that no longer exist
— they turn us into ghosts, as if we are all dead.
When Indians are portrayed in current period projects, such in the Adam Sandler film The Ridiculous Six, they are often the targets of harmful mockery that perpetuates hatred and racism. Living in the mecca of Hollywood, I am determined to show that there is a dignified Indian identity and a great diversity in Southern California. For so long, when I have told people I’m Navajo, their first response is, “Oh, you don’t look Indian.” Their views have been shaped by the way non-Native filmmakers, history books, and the education system have all caricatured us.
Knowing this stigma in society, I am determined to change it. Thanks to Kent Mackenzie’s The Exiles, I was able to start my path toward changing the way that Indians are seen in mass media. My project, Legacy of Exiled NDNZ, showcases an indigenous aesthetic of real Indians today and gives voice to young tribal members living and thriving in Los Angeles. I call my work “Indigenous Realism.” From Legacy of Exiled NDNZ, my work has expanded. You can see my other projects, photos, and poetry at www.pamelajpeters.com along with my current project #RepresentYourTribalNation, which I am fundraising to complete at https://www.gofundme.com/IndigenousLA .
I am extremely grateful that I was introduced to The Exiles at UCLA. It has had a huge influence on me and in more ways than I am able to explain. I am also grateful to Milestone for the restoration of the film that is now one of my favorite of all time and influenced me to Kickstart the many projects I have been doing here in Los Angeles, California.
The reflections and voices of American Indians have long been excluded from mainstream storytelling. In my work, I employ an indigenous, neorealist aesthetic to examine how Native American relocation history is part of California’s legacy and how the strong ties American Indians proudly maintain to their tribal communities and identities can not only exist, but thrive in large urban cities like Los Angeles.
We first “met” Sherman Alexie in 2007 — on the Milestone office answering machine. We had been preparing the press kit for Kent Mackenzie’s Native American film, The Exiles, and our colleague Cindi Rowell had suggested that he might be interested in the project. Dennis googled, found the booking agent for the popular writer, poet, performer, and filmmaker and sent off an email. We were all pretty sure that that our inquiry would fall into a dark bottomless hole.
So imagine our surprise and delight when we checked the messages the next morning and heard Sherman’s voice raving about the film — one he had loved for years! He even enthusiastically described a favorite scene early in the film when Tommy playfully shaves his pal’s sideburns in anticipation of a wild night on the town.
It was the start of a beautiful, albeit long-distance, relationship. Sherman went on to co-present The Exiles with filmmaker Charles Burnett (who turned out to be another one of Sherman’s favorites). We emailed back and forth, from time to time, and strategized about doing a joint film restoration project (which we still hope will happen someday). Meanwhile we continued to read and love Sherman’s great novels, short stories, and poems about being a human being and an Indian (his preferred designation he told us at the time – any use of "American" is an oxymoron).
This June (2017) the not-too-distant Word Bookstore was hosting a book signing with Sherman, so Dennis and I reached out to him in advance by email and them made our way to Jersey City. Meeting him and his wife Diane was a joy. Before going on to speak, Sherman was both excited and very nervous, but also incredibly warm and welcoming. He joked that he was dressed less formally than he usually did on tour, and felt more naked. I replied that seemed appropriate given how revealing the memoir (which I had already read) is.
You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me is Sherman’s struggle to think about, feel, and write about his very challenging, wonderful, and terrible mother. In the book he also writes frankly about his own frightening health problems, which include several brain surgeries (one in 2015), bipolar disease, PTSD, OCD, and as he says, an alphabet of syndromes.
As a writer and a man, Sherman is so, so, so much more than these diagnoses. And his wrenching memoir of how impossibly painful, wonderful, messy, and maddening it can be to love and lose a parent is more than just courageous, it is literally death-defying.
Sherman grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Washington State with two charismatic and hard-drinking parents. After a particularly raucous, drunken house party in the early 1970s, his mother Lillian promised her kids that she would stop drinking. As he writes, “My mother was a liar. She broke many promises over the coming decades. But she kept that greatest of vows. She was sober for the rest of her life. And that’s why I am still alive.”
But living with Lillian was often a test of survival, especially for Sherman, who shared his mother’s intelligence, sharp tongue, and bipolar mood swings. They were, he writes: “roller coasters on parallel tracks.” His memoir is both a love song and an indictment of his glamorous, brilliant, and terrifying parent.
In addition to trying to paint his mercurial mother’s portrait and tell the story of his own traumatic childhood, Sherman is also grieving aloud — and he employs all forms of narrative, including confession, philosophical musings, poetry, ethnography, and reporting on the facts of his mother’s illness, death, and funeral. The book contains 160 chapters; some are 25+ pages long; one is just eight words. Many are funny, all are painful. One is a poem entitled “Genocide.”
Chapter 28: “Eulogize Rhymes with Disguise” is a poem that tells the story of one night that Lillian locked the four-year-old Sherman out of the house for crying for his absent father, who was out on a binge. He writes that he sought shelter and warmth with the family mutts in the doghouse and refused to come in when she called him in “three minutes or three hours later — I don’t know which.” The poem ends:
“…I never stopped
Being afraid of her. I never left
That dark porch. I am still
Sleeping with those dogs.
Yes, I am always cold and curled
Like a question mark
Among those animal bodies.
As I wait for the glorious
Warmth of the rising sun.”
The warmth he awaited — needed, and needs still — was his mother’s difficult and unpredictable love for “the prodigal who yearned and spurned and never returned.”
The dilemma of whether to return home or stay away haunts him. When he was twelve, Sherman asked his parents if he could leave the tribal school to attend a non-Native school in a nearby town. “And my parents, knowing that I was betraying thousands of years of tribal traditions to go live among white people, said, “Yes.” My parents, as wounded and fragile as they were, had the strength and courage to set me free. I think they knew that I would never return, not in body or spirit, but they loved me too much to make me stay.”
In another one-page chapter, “Your Theology or Mine,” Sherman writes that if theists forced him to choose to believe in, “The Word” — he would pick the verb “return.” “Because I am always compelled to return, return, return to my place of birth, to my reservation, to my unfinished childhood home, and ultimately to my mother, my ultimate salmon.”
Sherman’s tribe, the Spokane, long worshipped the beautiful salmon who returned each year to spawn and die. When the Grand Coulee Dam was built, the ancient wild salmon were forever exiled from the upper Columbia and Spokane rivers and the people of the region were, like his parents, left “without salmon, spiritual orphans.”
He writes that “all of us Spokane and Coeur d’Alenes, after the Grand Coulee Dam, have been born into the Clan of Doing Our Best to Re-create and Replicate the Sacred Things that Were Brutally Stolen from Us.” After his mother’s death, he and his brothers and cousins realized none of them even knew the Spokane word for the fish.
“My name is Sherman Alexie and I was born from loss and loss and loss and loss and loss and loss and loss and loss and loss and loss and loss and loss and loss and loss. And loss.”
The losses he writes about are generational, historical, familial, personal and unbearable. Torture and rape haunted the Native American residential schools, the reservation where Lillian grew up, Sherman’s own elementary school, his own home. No wonder his dad once told Sherman he drank because of “the pain of being Indian” — and went on to drink himself to death at the age of sixty-four. In Chapter 85, “Litmus Test,” Sherman notes that some people ask him why his dad drank so much, “But some strangers, the ones who know the most about pain, hear my father”s tragic story and they ask, “Damn, why didn’t he drink more?”
Lillian Alexie was a quilter (and a singer, a social worker, an addiction counselor, and a basketball fan). And as his wife Diane told him after reading this memoir, Sherman also patched together squares to make a whole.
As quilts go, You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me is not much of a comforter. It is, perhaps, a garment for grieving. In my tribe, when you are at the Jewish funeral of a close family member, the rabbi pins a piece of black cloth on you, and then rips it, to signify mourning. The Internet informs me that the practice is called kriah, “the ancient practice of tearing clothes as a tangible expression of grief and anger in the face of death.”
Like Sherman, I am a “middle-aged orphan” (in my case, past middle aged) and I wore black ripped ribbons for my mother in 2003 and my father in 2010. Although I was in over 50 when I became an orphan, I was stunned at how disorienting it was to no longer have parents. And walking in the footsteps of Sherman’s grief, I am reminded of how hard and physically painful it was to move forward from the death of Ida Melnitsky Heller — another powerful brilliant, and (often) disappointing mother. I miss her terribly, but fortunately, not every moment, as I did in the first years after her death — years when I wept on the blacktop after school waiting for our son and reached for the phone to call her every day.
This summer, shortly after we were in the audience for his hilarious, heart-breaking, and (yes, I will use the adjective again) death-defying performance/reading/rant at the bookstore in Jersey City, Sherman Alexie suspended his book tour. He explained that he needed “to take a big step back and do most of my grieving in private.” Dennis and I were saddened, but not really surprised. We could see what a terrible toll his public (and naked) mourning was taking.
One anecdote Sherman told that day at Word Bookstore was about how, in a bout of paranoia, he had stocked up on a year’s worth of survival rations. He told the audience that anyone who could recite an Emily Dickinson poem was invited to Seattle for an all-emergency-food feast. While Sherman was signing our books, I recited a poem I know by heart. It is a fitting end to this blog, I think:
Endow the Living — with the Tears —
You squander on the Dead,
And They were Men and Women — now,
Around Your Fireside —
Instead of Passive Creatures,
Denied the Cherishing
Till They — the Cherishing deny —
With Death's Ethereal Scorn —
I look forward to that feast of dehydrated goodies, and even more to Sherman Alexie’s book.