Boozhoo, indinawemaaganidog! Aaniin! That is to say hello, all of my relatives! Welcome to another edition of An Irritable Métis. As I write it is morning. A day ago it was gray and snowing, but today the sunlight is turning everything golden … except the ground. What was under a thin layer of white yesterday is today a carpet of rich, thickening green. Soon there will be dandelions! Meanwhile, just beyond my window there is a sparrow and a red-wing blackbird in the upper branches of a spindly tree showing the tiniest evidence of growing buds. The birds are both rubbing their beaks on the limbs they perch on, presumably clearing away the sticky remnants from their time at the suet cage. The sun is shining on them too and I am imagining they are luxuriating in the warmth the way we all do. Of course they are, right? I hope their little bodies are tingling with the embrace of it. I hope everyone finds the means to tingle in some manner of embrace today. Remember, as Khalil Gibran was alleged to have said, “Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet, and the winds long to play with your hair.” Let earth and winds have their way with you.
Enough and Abundance
To say thank you in Ojibwe we say, “miigwech.” I use that word frequently here and I am often asked what it means. So now everyone reading this knows. But as Native words go, it is relatively new to our language; perhaps three centuries or so. In fact, as James Vukelich explains wonderfully, it didn’t exist until after the Anishinaabe people came into contact with Europeans and began trading with them. It evolved from this trade. When Anishinaabe people were trading goods-for-goods with Europeans, when a suitable exchange had been made, the Anishinaabe person would say, “Miigwech”, or “Enough”, to conclude the transaction. So the word literally means you’ve given me enough, I have enough, I don’t need more, etc. As the Euro-centric view of the continent all but obliterated every other interpretation, it came to mean “thank you” because that is how we conclude transactions in English. So now we use it for thank you as well.
I’ve been reflecting on the idea of “enough” lately. And of abundance. And of the 7 Grandfather Teachings, and of living an Anishinaabe life. Of thank yous and gratitude. As Eddie Benton-Banai was quoted saying, to live an Anishinaabe life is to live one where every footstep is a prayer. You can’t live this way without a “moral respect for all living things.” It is important and something I’ve chosen to do my best to devote the rest of my life to and I wish I’d started sooner but better late than never. Is it possible to have this moral respect for all living things without a firm underpinning of enough? A keen eye for when abundance becomes excess? I’m not so sure it is.
Over the last year I’ve seen so many people just roast themselves on their strivings and their ambitions and it bums me out and I want no part of it. I don’t want it for anyone, really, but I can only choose for myself what I want to participate in and hope others don’t sacrifice themselves on the altars of more than they really need. For me, anything that increases my level of distraction, that takes me farther from the world that exists outside these constructed spaces, is not something I want to embrace. I just want to simplify it all so I can give more of my attention to the things that really do matter, that I will miss if they are not there. Stirred-up outrage online isn’t something I miss. But kestrels, who I love and look for wherever they typically perch and am often rewarded in seeing, are something I would deeply miss. I’d rather be out paying more attention to them than staring at a screen, or worrying over how to “reach more people.”
As clear as I am in knowing that, though, I remain a participant and it is often physically uncomfortable. A big part of it is the trade-off. Engaging at all in these online spaces is a profound practice in failing to respect all living things, given the human and non-human toll it takes to manufacture our devices, provide the energy to power them, and keep our world afloat. I am struggling mightily with it all. Are my words worth anything to justify my participation in this contribution to burning down the world? They are not. Yet here they are, on your screen, where you may choose to read them. If they went away, like so much other internet bluster, you likely wouldn’t miss them either. Something else will happily fill the void. Does my need to make a living justify this? It is an uncomfortable question. It’s what the world is and I am part of a culture that grinds everything it encounters into mud and it is next to impossible to escape from. Ugh.
“We are not the things we accumulate. We are not the things we deem important. We are story. All of us. What comes to matter then is the creation of the best possible story we can while we’re here; you, me, us, together. When we can do that and we take the time to share those stories with each other, we get bigger inside, we see each other, we recognize our kinship – we change the world, one story at a time…”
― Richard Wagamese
I’ve been getting buried in notifications from Substack, both via email and when I log into it, and it is too much. So I really haven’t been logging in muchbecause when I do, the orange indicator in the upper right of my screen says I have 20+ or whatever notifications and the little endorphin jolt hits and so I look and THEN I see it is 90% bullshit that I’ve been trying to turn off for weeks now and then the endorphins evaporate and I’m left stressed-out and frustrated as I wade through looking for those one or two things I really don’t want to miss, which is ridiculous and distracting and a waste of time. And I should know better because since I left the other social media I’ve realized I am now missing everything while simultaneously missing nothing.
So last night I went through every dashboard setting on this devolving hellsite and turned off every single possible notification flag I could find in the entire system – even ones I still care to know about – in an effort to save my sanity and desire to participate at all.
I know this isn’t a very helpful effort in “growing” my followers but I will say this: I don’t much care if I do or not. I have enough. If more people find what I do here interesting and choose to sign on, that makes me happy and I will welcome them gratefully. Would I love the jolt that would come with hitting, say, 10,000 subscribers, or 1000 paid subscribers? Sure! But I’m not going to get caught up in worrying too much if that happens or not, or compromise what I want to do here in service of More. My newsletter already comprises a greater percentage of my income than I’m really comfortable with because as someone whose livelihood is completely cobbled together and in volatile constant flux, relying too much on any one thing is a recipe for disaster.
I never expected this subscriber income bonanza to happen at all, let alone last long anyway. I can see it changing already; there are more people choosing not to renew than there are new paid subscribers. I could jump into the frenzy of shouting and carrying on to draw attention to what I’m doing in order to staunch the bleeding but I just don’t have that in me. What has made writing here great is I never had to do that, not really. Now it seems that is all anyone wants to do and it’s bumming me out. Grow! Revenue! More!
Following new writers, interesting and wonderful as so many are, creates an over-abundance for me. The best writers are sharing stories that make us better, and more connected, as mentioned in the Wagamese quote. It is important and necessary. But even as a collector of such stories I already follow more writers than I can read. Which means I don’t have time to really absorb the stories, I’m too busy trying to get through the accumulation. Nor do I really want to spend even more time staring at a screen when so much of my work requires me to anyway.
Maybe this sounds shitty, but I’m not here writing to find new writers to read. I’m here to share with readers. Some people are both – I certainly am sometimes, and happily so! – but the model of marketing writers to other writers doesn’t really help anyone. We just end up passing the same $50 bill around. Something lately feels, if not entirely broken, at least showing visible separations at the seems. I am wary of all of it.
“It is no longer rare to meet adults who have never swum except in a swimming pool, never slept except in a building, never run a mile or climbed a mountain, have never been stung by a bee or a wasp, broken a bone or needed stitches. Without a visceral knowledge of what it is to be hurt and healed, exhausted and resolute, freezing and ecstatic, we lose our reference points. We are separated from the world by a layer of glass. Climate change, distant wars, the erosion of democracy, the resurgence of fascism – in our temperature-controlled enclosures, all can be reduced to abstractions.”
— George Monbiot
In my remaining decade or two I want to experience more of the world out beyond that layer of glass Monbiot mentions. I want you to too! If I learned anything from my years on social media is that the vast majority of those “relationships” aren’t even real. Not really. Because of the several thousand combined followers I had over Twitter and Instagram, I can count on my hand the number I still have any kind of interaction with. Are any of them readers here? Maybe a few. I’m not lamenting that, it is just how it works. It’s how it is designed to work, designed to be a distraction and make us think this abstraction is the real world. It’s not, it’s just a tiny part of it. I’m as guilty of not keeping in contact with people as anyone is, but when our lives outside of work are devoted largely to staring into screens we only see what is waiting there for us. And that is controlled entirely by the poeple who own the structures we are plugging ourselves into for hours and hours every day.
I want my relationships to be with all the senses. I think that is part of living an Anishinaabe life too.
All of this hand-wringing over Substack showing its true colors in taking a path I don’t really want to follow has made me realize concessions I’ve made to a kind of system that I never intended to. So I’ve made some changes, or “revert-back-tos” I guess is more like it. When I turned on paid subscriptions after a year without them, I never intended to offer special content for paid subscribers only. It feels greasy to me when measured against my values. My thought is that if something has value to you and you can afford it, you pay for it, at least the way things work today where people have to earn income to live. If you can’t afford it that doesn’t mean you should go without, though (see: health care, including dental; food security; housing). Not that I’m suggesting my bloviations are anything near in importance to such essential components of living but you get the idea. My friend Holly recently wrote, “If I want to believe in a world where everyone is taken care of and everyone has a sense of abundance and everyone gets to make a living doing things that inspire them rather than destroy them, I have to live that principle myself.”I love that and I believe in it and I want to do better about that myself. This is part of it.
So no more content for only paying subscribers. And the posts that were set-so previously have been updated to be available to everyone. There were only six or seven anyway so it isn’t that big of a deal. Thank Substack for this also. I noticed that on my home page, the section that displays the “Most Popular” posts were all my paid subscriber only posts, which is bullshit. Most of them aren’t even close to being most popular, but I figure that was Substack’s way, again, of trying to dupe people into paying for content they think most people like best from this newsletter. So I fixed that on past postsand for future ones. Now the ones showing as most popular really are the most popular ones and anybody who wants to read them can.
Look, you know if you can afford to pay for work like mine or not and it is up to you if you want to do so. I’m not going to judge either way. But if you are of a mind that you should get something extra because you are in a position to pay for something when others can’t, that’s a mentality contrary to what I consider living an Anishinaabe life and you probably aren’t going to dig much of what’s going on here anyway.
Poetry as Spiritual Practice Huffs and Wheezes Toward the Drop Dead Date
The in-person workshop from the Lamar Buffalo Ranch in Yellowstone National Park – Poetry as Spiritual Practice – is a month out. Hope that it is actually going to happen is running on fumes and that bums me out but I get it; getting there isn’t particularly easy for most of us, physically or financially. I’ve been accused more than once of doing things that “only rich people can afford” and it is largely true, however I justify it. So I’m going to fulfill the obligations I’ve agreed to – which means begging people to sign up – and then think hard about whether I want to do them in subsequent years. I don’t know.
Anyway. I’ve never done this workshop in a non-Zoom environment before and I can’t imagine a better place to do it live than in the rustic locale of the ranch, though, so it’s worth one final, desperate effort to get three or four more people to sign on, if only to support the efforts of my friends who invited me to do it in the first place.
Here is the text from the Facebook post the Yellowstone Forever folks put together:
It's National Poetry Month! And the perfect time to say hello to Chris La Tray. Chris will be joining us at the Lamar Buffalo Ranch May 22-25 to lead *Poetry as Spiritual Practice*. Click HERE to learn more and register.
From Chris: “The practice of quiet attentiveness and observation is critical to the writing and enjoyment of poetry, and a key element of what makes life living in many, many ways. It is a refuge for me. Perhaps it can be for you, too. "Poetry as Spiritual Practice" will include readings and discussions and opportunities to write poems from three (or more) points of reflection. In particular, we will explore the themes of Impermanence, Mindfulness, and Joy, and how these ideas relate to spiritual practice, regardless of religious affiliation, or lack thereof. As my approach is deeply connected to the natural world, there will be particular emphasis there.”
Chris La Tray is a Métis writer and storyteller, a walker, observer, poet, teacher, and pillar of the Montana literary community. His first book, One-Sentence Journal: Short Poems and Essays from the World At Large (2018, Riverfeet Press) won the 2018 Montana Book Award and a 2019 High Plains Book Award. A second book, Descended from a Travel-worn Satchel, was released by FootHills Publishing on September 21st, 2021. His next book, Becoming Little Shell, will be published by Milkweed Editions in 2024. Chris is an enrolled member of the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians.
If anyone asked me as recently as even just a couple years ago what I think of Yellowstone National Park, my response might have been little more than a shrug. I’d have said it was beautiful, of course, and I would mention I’ve had some memorable experiences there during the handful of visits I’ve made, but given the hype around it I probably would have remarked that I still find it a little overrated. Which, considering the sheer magnificence of the place, of the entire ecosystem that comprises far more than what the park boundaries enclose, is ridiculous.
My perspective changed last year when I had the opportunity to spend a reasonably significant amount of time within that vast ecosystem. My first opportunity was a previous workshop from the Lamar Buffalo Ranch in February of 2022. The winter experience was transformative. I followed that up in August by spending a week at Madison Junction representing the Little Shell as part of Yellowstone Revealed. These combined experiences have made a profound difference in my life, and I think a workshop like this one can be so for other people too. So if you can be in the area next month, please consider joining us. Or pass this post, or the Facebook page, along to someone else who might. Many people besides me will appreciate it if you do.
This is a poem I wrote based on something I wrote in my journal last year during the February workshop. I like it because it reminds me of being there. Maybe it will remind you of something too….
Miigwech, my friends. You are all gloriously, perfectly, enough.
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I’ve deleted the app too, which I never really used in the first place because I hate reading shit on my phone and, given what the stats tell me of how people access the newsletter, not many of you are reading it on the app either.
I added these two words, “the other,” as relates social media after I initially wrote this sentence, because Substack as it has suddenly evolved absolutely is social media of as shitty a version as any other, or at least aiming to be.
Which is hardly any at all, really.
The same post I grabbed this line also includes this blast: “I discovered over these past few years I would rather be in integrity than be rich or even solvent.” Hell yes. Both lines (and a few others I grabbed) came from this post, which is behind a paywall. Which bears mentioning I have utmost respect for anyone still using paywalls. It just doesn’t work for me is all, and that’s a ME thing. Like Holly ALSO says, in the SAME POST!: “There is a power that comes from being different, from not fitting in, from observing the world from the margins or breaking the social contract.” 💣
Which took some figuring out; I had to go in and flag them as “Exlude from Top” posts. That was before I turned them off as paid only so who knows. I’m not going to mess with them anymore regardless.
I might have taken the liberty to add a couple relevant links here and there to what they posted….
*chants "less apps less apps less apps" in the background.
Sometimes I'll say to my coaching participants that "the world needs you in all of your imperfect beauty." There's no app for showing up fully in your own life, and never will be. (Thank heavens)
Reading this was a strange mix of discomfort and relief, as I’d been thinking this last week of taking everything out from behind a paywall. Having all these notifications shoved in my face (and I *cannot* figure out how to turn them all off, no matter how many layers of toggles I find to click on) made me more tired of it all than ever. I’m this close to just offering to mail people some printed sheets to help all of us get offline. (I think those are called magazines, though.) The more the hustle presses in, the more I want to slow down and do less.
I’ve been thinking a lot about attention. I don’t subscribe to that many newsletters—and especially very few that publish frequently—because I can’t give my attention to very many. It feels disrespectful to have a bunch piled up that I either delete or skim or click “like” on without really reading. The thought of people doing that with my writing makes me feel sad and a little annoyed, so why would I do that to others? You might not believe it, but I’m sure I’m not the only reader who finds yours one of the few irreplacable ones. Maybe the only irreplacable one.
Driving to Butte the other day, I saw 4 Migiziwag! And on the way home saw several osprey and relatives, and heard a meadowlark while sitting with a friend talking through a horrific thing that happened and trying to think of how more to help; and then the sky couldn’t stop being immense and powerful and fluid and everything that mattered.