Wednesday, November 28, 2012


Author Louise Erdrich was a teenager  when she slept  in a football field, by herself, looking  up at the stars in the Great Plains skies.  This event was tantamount to a rite of passage into adulthood, from a “difficult” childhood.  In an interview, she said, “My clearest memory of growing up in North Dakota was the space and flatness. . . .  I remember how things smelled and felt and tasted when I went back to Turtle Mountains.”
In her books, those immense and limitless Plains skies emerge almost as minor characters.  In The Blue Jay’s Dance, she is homesick for them, even as she lived in New Hampshire with her children and then-husband, Michael Dorris.  After Dorris’ death, she moved back to Minnesota, her birthplace, to resume writing books about those vast spaces.

Her non-fiction work--Books and Islands in Ojibwe Country--tells of Erdrich’s trip with her baby and life partner, Tobasonakwut, from Minnesota  to see rock paintings in Ontario, Canada.  Like her previous works, Books and Islands interweaves the themes of Native American culture, mythology, cosmology, art, and history.  In addition, she writes in sacred terms of Ojibwemowin, the complex language of the Ojibwe people—with thousands of variations for a single verb. 

The book depicts the full life  that metamorphosed from a very painful experience and time.  In five chapters—entitled “Books and Islands,” “Islands,” “Rock Paintings,” “Books,” “Home,”—Erdrich  gives a glimpse of her life now: in her late forties, she had a baby with her life partner.  In Chapter one, she talks unabashedly of her pregnancy:  “I wept, I snarled, I laughed like a hyena. . .  . On the wall behind my midwife there was a framed poster of that obnoxious poem about the woman who looks forward to getting old so that she can wear purple.  I happened to be wearing purple that day, and I was old, and I was pregnant.”

Yet, Erdrich is delighted with the baby herself, as the little family sail in canoe over lakes, rocks, isles.  “My happiness”—she writes—“in being an older mother surprises me. . . .”

Then, she introduces readers to her new love, “Tobasonakwut, the sun dancer”—who rock-climbs and “can sleep anywhere.”   She says,  “He is a one-man spiritual ER.”  A teacher and spiritual healer, Tobasonakwut has created a foundation to further Native American causes.  As a child, he was forbidden to speak the Ojibwe language.  If he did so, he was beaten or punished.  (By contrast, Erdrich learned Ojibwemowin as an adult—“I wanted to get the jokes, [and] to understand the prayers . . . and the sacred stories. . . .”)

Erdrich’s child was named after a mythical spirit-woman—Nenaa’iikizhikok—who controls the stars and skies.  A force of nature herself, Nenaa’iikizhikok (or Kizhikok, “Sky Woman”) is one of “four spirit-women” in Native American cosmology.  These spirit-women “take care of all of the waters of the world,” as Nenaa’iikizhikok “cleans up the sky after a thunderstorm, makes sure the clouds are moving.  The stars . . . in their places.” 

Though we learn of Erdrich’s emotional  renaissance, today a bookstore-owner, traveler, new mom, with a new life partner, the ghost of her previous life haunts us.  Erdrich herself glosses over this quickly.  In chapter two, she states that her two brothers helped her immensely after her husband’s death.  They lived with her, to “guard my children. . . and made sure I didn’t stay in bed all day. . . .”

As Erdrich and Dorris were well-known for their literary collaboration, working on novels together in different capacities, many of us wondered what her new books would be like?  Would the writing change?  Would we notice?
Fortunately, Books and Islands continues Erdrich’s valiant effort to tell the complex story of the Ojibwe people.  She continues to be a voice for her people.  The book is a mature prose volume, more grounded or earth-bound than, say, The Blue Jay’s Dance–a book I love, with its lyrical, rounded, transluscent tones, a prose poem—a joy to read, filled with delightful anecdotes of the writer’s life in New Hampshire, alongside otters, birds, loons, and critters from the woods. 

Gradually, a portrait of contemporary Native American life emerges, filled with innumerable spirits—“The Wild Rice Spirit,” “The Horned Man,” “ Baby Spirits,”  “The Wolverine Spirit.”  “The Confused Man” Spirit, with whom the author shares her house. The “four spirit-women.”  Also, the real Nenaa’iikizhikok—a grandmother—who resides now “in the spirit world.” 

Moreover, we learn the importance of “tobacco offerings” in daily life.  The story of “trader’s rum”  chronicles the undoing of a man through alcohol.
Erdrich also writes of  how reading books has sustained her.  Books such as  Austerlitz, Middlemarch,  Spirit Horses, Tristram Shandy, Concise Dictionary of Minnesotan Ojibwe.  She shares with us a universal question she has asked herself and others since she was aged nine: “What book would you take to a desert island?”

In Chapter four, Erdrich describes a blissful time gobbling blueberries--“miinan” in Ojibwemowin--with Kiizhikok, her little daughter.  She writes, “This is the one traditional Ojibwe pursuit I’m good at. . . .  We eat with a lot of laughing.”  Also, she relates how one of her daughters—descended from a hunter-people—is a vegetarian.  “The joke goes: What is an Ojibwe vegetarian called?  A poor hunter.”

“Home” is the book’s final chapter.  “Home,” she writes, “is familiar and it is disorienting.”  It is a recurring theme for Erdrich.  Years ago, in an interview, she said, “The women in my books are lighting out for home. . . .”  And so, in Books and Islands, as Erdrich approaches Minnesota and her life, “I start dialing, and talk to my daughters from the road, check in with my household and with my bookstore people, with my sisters and parents.  All of a sudden I am back in the web of connection. . . .  [I ] muddle around trying to enter the stream of my life.”

Books and Islands in Ojibwe Country  is a slender personal travelogue that illuminates the history of the Ojibwe nation—while it acknowledges Native American spirit-women and real women like Nancy Jones, a female Ojibwe hunter.  Also, “Striped Earth Woman,”  and “Acts Like a Boy”—the author’s female ancestors.  And the ancient Nenaa’iikizhikok.  Add to them Louise Erdrich, the author of this  pensive book infused with the pulses of fierce women.

--Yolanda A.  Reid

Note:  Earlier in  November, 2012, Louise Erdrich won the National Book Award—which she blogs about at her website,   Also, check out an interview of Erdrich   at

Copyright  © 2012 by Y. A.  Reid

Saturday, November 17, 2012


For years, I’d heard of Louise Hay and her groundbreaking book, You Can Heal Your Life.   When I
first saw her in a TV interview, she proclaimed how easy, effortless, magical her philosophy is.
According to Hay, your thoughts can be your genie.   Cristina Aguilera’s song comes to mind: “I can make your wish come true/I’m a genie in a bottle. . . .” 

The premise is that we create our lives through our thoughts.

In the book, Hay writes of changing one’s thoughts.  Her philosophy is a kind of New Age positive  thinking.
Divided into four parts, the book details why it’s important to change one’s thoughts, as well as how to do so.  Part I introduces us to Hay’s philosophy—which involves a re-programming of our conscious and subconscious minds.  In Part II, she delineates how we can begin to change our thoughts (and thus our life circumstances).  This section cites and describes mental exercises—such as “Dissolving Resentment,” “Forgiveness,” “I am Willing to Change,” “I Love Myself . . . .”

One  important tool, she writes, is the mirror:  “I ask people to look in their eyes and say something positive about themselves every time they pass a mirror.  The most powerful way to do affirmations is to look in a mirror and say them outloud. . . .  Now, look in a mirror and say to yourself, ‘I am willing to change.’”

The gift edition of the book is stunningly beautiful: each page is replete with vibrant watercolors of flowers and seahorses and shells and stars and birds in magenta, royal blue, fuschia, lime green, and sunflower yellow. 

Amid this backdrop, Hay shares her revolutionary ideas: for instance, in Chapter 10, the way to change someone else is to change yourself.  If you keep attracting jerks into your life, look within and analyze why.  “Relationships are mirrors of ourselves.  What we attract always mirrors either qualities we have or beliefs we have about relationships.  This is true whether it is a boss, a co-worker, an employee, a friend, a lover, a spouse, or child. . . .   You could not attract them or have them in your life if the way they are didn’t somehow complement your own life.”

Hay says recovery begins with self-love.  The mirror exercise is a step toward self-love.  If you utter the words, “I love myself” several times a day--while holding a mirror—your mind will begin to believe this thought and behave accordingly.

Once you believe you’re worthy and lovable, you will begin to make better choices.  You will attract someone who regards you as worthy and lovable.  Heartache avoided.

After reading the relationships chapter, I realized how life-changing this philosophy is.  More often than not we want the other person to change.  Then--when we focus on the other person’s faults—situations escalate.   “Why does he always do that?”  “I can’t believe she said that!” “He’s always late!” “Why does he try to hurt me?”  And it may end in domestic violence.  Instead, says Hay, develop a little compassion and try to envision the other person’s “inner child” and speak to that child.  Resentment melts and the relationship is transformed.  Affirmations, prayer, and meditation help to further the process along. 

In Hay’s own life, for example, she decided to move to California.  Her landlord—a problem for other tenants—was a godsend to Hay.  He released her from the lease and bought her furniture.  All the while, she had affirmed that her relationship with the landlord was cordial and good.

Chapter 14 explicates how the body manifests our negative thoughts, expressing the psychological, physical, and mental stresses in our life as disease.  “The stomach,” she writes, “digests all the new ideas and experiences we have.  What or who can’t you stomach?  What gets you in your gut?”  I f you can answer those questions, that heartburn may begin to disappear.

The most astonishing chapter, for me, is the last chapter, in which Louise Hay writes of her life and childhood. 

She overcame many issues: a former teen runaway, Hay experienced domestic violence as a teenager and as an adult.  At a certain time in her life, she attracted abusive men.  But once she changed her thoughts, her life changed.  We must learn to reject what’s not good for us.  Now she fears nothing  (“All is well”), and recently—in her mid-seventies--she took lessons in “ballroom dancing.” 

You Can Heal Your Life  is remarkably inspirational, a phenomenal book that will evoke an intuitive wish for only good in your life.

--Yolanda A.  Reid


Copyright  ©  2012 by Y.A.  Reid