I was scared to write. Scared of my own story, scared of the unknown. Scared of the words that came out of my pen every time it touched the paper. Everything I wrote was about being Indian and I didn’t know what that meant. I had only known my birth mother for a few years and was only beginning to be introduced to other Indian family members. I was unsure if I could even call myself Indian, let alone write about it. But, those ancestors kept showing up in Taos. On my second trip, I dreamt of them almost every night and each time the black ink from my pen scratched across the surface of my blue-lined notebook paper, they were there. In Taos, I felt brave. I could be myself because no one knew me. It was safe. At home, I was always worried about what others would think of me. I was tired of being judged, so I kept my mouth and my pen as quiet as I could. But, I have learned that when Indian spirits want your attention or need you to do something, they are relentless. They’d had enough of my silent pen.
I was sound asleep in my too small apartment when I started to feel my bed shake. I opened my eyes and sitting on top of my bookshelves were several little black shadows shaped like people. They were about two feet tall with shiny blue eyes. There were four of them. Three sitting on top of the shelves and one climbing back up . . . I can only assume he was the one who had been shaking my bed. I thought I must be dreaming, but my eyes were wide open and I was sitting up, alert, but terrified. I kept blinking, sure that I was hallucinating, but no, they were there. Staring at me and laughing, their mouths gaping open. I closed my eyes tight and laid back down, praying over and over, “Please, Holy Mother, make them go away.” I prayed and I prayed, not opening my eyes again until morning. The next day I told no one. I thought there was no way it could have been real, it must have been my imagination or too much Seattle’s Best coffee the day before. But, it happened again. The same shaking, the same beady little eyes, the same laughing mouths. And then the spiders came. Dreams of giant, hairy spiders making webs beside my bed, just over my head. Dreams so real that I would wake up and wave my hands through the air to make them go away. I was horrified. I thought there must be something wrong with my brain, why would I hallucinate night after night? I told a friend about it and she, in her intuitive Welsh way, said to me, “Maybe it was the Indian spirits wanting you to write?”
Her comment struck my bones as true. Some things just feel right in our very bodies. So, I wrote. I wrote every Indian story that wanted to flow from my heart to my pen and onto the page. And those spiders and those little stick people went away and they have not been back (although other ancestor spirits have). It was still a long time before RiverWomen took its shape as a play and a long time before I understood who my night visitors had been, but they woke me up. They taught me to be brave and have enough courage to spill my secrets onto the page. And, once released, those secret stories I believed I had no right to tell, have helped me to claim my identity as an Indian woman.
(Today’s drawing, “Grandmother Spider,” was created by Janet Dancer and can be found on flickr).