How a Native American Festival Made Me Proud to be African

native american dancer

Ahhhh, Milwaukee… the city of festivals.

Okay. You can stop laughing now.

Because seriously, that’s what happens here over the summer months.

Or month. Depending on which bearded, menopausal, sex-starved weather demigoddess is running shit that year.

We’ve got music festivals, Greek festivals, Italian…

Mexican and Asian festivals…

Art festivals and barbecue festivals…

German and Polish festivals,

Gay festivals,

Pirate festivals…

So, yeah. It goes down in Milwaukee, in only like, three months – and then we’re up to our tailbones in snow.

And every year, I pledge to attend at least three of the different festivals. To expand my knowledge of other cultures, and meet new people, and to try the food.

Basically, to try the food.

‘Cause I’m greedy.

But I’m also extremely busy. So every year, I look up around mid-September and realize that I have let yet another summer slip past without going to a single festival.

And I berate myself for about five minutes.

Then, someone says there are donuts in the break room, and I’m distracted again.

Until the following summer.

This time, however, I was reminded by a musician friend, that there was still one festival left before the entire season was over – Indian Summer.

Every year, Native Americans from all over the region (and the country, truth be told), gather for the three day celebration of their culture at the Lakefront.

I looked at the website, and saw that there would be a Pow Wow – I had only been to one as a kid in northern Wisconsin, and was so affected by the experience that I never forgot it.

There was no way I was letting that slip past me again.

When I got to the festival grounds, all I knew at that point was that the opening procession was to start at 7 PM. I had no idea where, the Powwow was being held, and decided that as soon as I got inside the main gate, I would ask someone.

Just then, I heard a jingling sound, about a block behind me. As I continued to walk, the jingling got louder, and seemed to come from not just behind me, but from every direction.

The sound of a million bells, rhythmically ringing and getting closer. When I couldn’t take it anymore, I turned around.

Two men, heavily adorned in yellow and red feathers, were walking towards me.

They were magnificent.

Feathered and beaded, their bodies enlarged by enormous, colored hoops, their fearless faces painted, their steps ringing…

Can a man adorned in feathers and face paint still swagger?

Yaasss Lawd.

They walked past me with long, almost hurried strides, crossing the street and parting the crowd at the main gate.

Welp, I thought, I guess I’ll just follow them.

I heard the drumming before I saw anything.

There’s something about Native American drumming and singing, though.

I always feel like crying when I hear it.

And hugging a stranger.

And kissing a baby.

And setting fire to something.

All at the same time.

When I got to the gate surrounding the festivities, I learned that once the processional started, no one was admitted either in or out of the area until it was finished.

I was cool with that.

So I stood outside and watched as a line of Native American veterans, followed by a line of women, then a line of elders, and hosts of men in full headdresses and face paint, and women with braids adorned with shells and beads and feathers, all two-stepped into the circle.

And the wind shifted, and that drum rhythm crawled under my clothes and seeped into my skin, through my rib cage and washed over my heart, and those shrill voices raised the hairs on the back of my neck…

I broke out in a sweat, and I was just standing there. The crowd had pushed in behind me, all straining to see the processional.

As I pushed through the crowd for some air, I saw an elder in a wheelchair, his white hair in one braid that snaked around his neck and down over his shoulder. He wore an army fatigue that was busy with medals. He leaned his head back, and closed his eyes, a smile playing around the corners of his mouth.

Awww, Sweetie… I know that look.

I have that look. Every time I hear this (3:23, Sweet Babies):

It’s not about just music appreciation.

This is me.

This is mine.

I saw it all over his face, that guy in the wheelchair. And on the faces of those veterans as they two-stepped into the circle. And on those children, just learning to walk, watching with wide, glassy eyes and thinking, “One day, I will dance inside this circle.”

And the elders, who stood along the perimeter, their bodies bouncing, keeping time for the circle of thunder and lightning the drummers provided.

It was not just pride.

It was ownership.

It was membership.

This is what happens when people embrace their culture, and no longer feel the need to defend or explain it.

I’m telling you, the whole thing gave me YEARS of extra life.

I felt so happy for them.

And I went home grateful – grateful that I had seen this with my own eyes, and that I had my own culture to celebrate.

It was a great night.

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Day 31: What I Learned During The Blog Challenge

Well, Party People, it’s the last day of the challenge.

I have to say, while this was not easy for me, it was necessary.

The truth is,  I’ve let a lot of things get in the way of my writing. My job, social life, fatigue, illness, laziness, and my own misconceptions about who I really am.

For years, I dedicated my time and talents to something else. Anything else. And during those years, I didn’t write a word – not even a journal entry.

I read constantly.

I read everything.

I wrote down ideas for blogs, for fiction, for screenplays.

I researched topics online, in libraries.

And through it all, I wrote not one damn word.

Instead, I talked myself out of doing the one thing I loved to do most.

(outside of tripping people and then yelling, “YOU GOT SERVED!”)

And there were signs all around me, signs that told me it was not too late to start again. They came from everywhere – billboards, song lyrics, book titles, and even a sermon from a popular televangelist.

I once read an article where author Walter Mosley (creator of the Easy Rawlins mysteries and other works) was interviewed. He was asked to give aspiring writers a piece of advice. His answer, and I’m paraphrasing, was that a writer should write something, anything, every day. He said that this was the key to how he is always banging out a new book almost every year. Write at least five pages a day, he said, and you’ll have a book by the end of the year.

I found that idea preposterous, and immediately placed Walter Mosley in the FOH file that I keep in my head.

Oh, by the way, there will be a blog about that file later.

Yes. Right. Walter Mosley. I thought he was on that bullshit. I thought, dude writes for a LIVING. He has time to write every day. It’s not like he has to write a chapter, then punch the clock at Jiffy Lube every morning.

But that little voice in my SHANDO (you know, that place deep down in your spirit that has all the answers, but we continually ignore it? That.), it kept taunting me.

Punking me.

Telling me that if I was a REAL writer, I would make time to write every day, just like I make time to read every day. That real writers can’t go a day without putting something on a page.

Burn.

And to top it all off, Luvvie (famous blogger) showed up with this 31 Blog Challenge.

And my SHANDO poked me in my forehead.

So, what you gon’ do?

I mean, what else could I do? I ain’t gonna let some abstract spiritual concept PUNK me in my own house, man.

So, here we are.

And frankly, I’m exhausted. But I feel awesome. I pushed myself, and even confronted one of my greatest fears as a writer…

Running out of ideas.

But I wrote through the fog. And was able to clear out some of the cobwebs in my head so I could continue the next day.

And rediscovered a truth about myself that I had buried long ago:

I need to write. Every day.

So, what’s next?

While I’ll be scaling back to a weekly blog, I will write every day – a journal entry, a story, a chapter, a blog, a threatening letter to the asshole who took up two parking spaces at the grocery store…

And I pledge, to myself, that I will not neglect the things that are most important to me, ever again.

This is only the start, Party People.

I have SO much to say.

This will be an interesting journey, and I promise, it won’t be boring.

So, who’s with me?