What is Okie Noir? It is the struggle and pain, survival and rebirth of people in this land, the place where we descend from outlaws and survivors of attempted genocide and the Dust Bowl. Speaking of Okie Noir, can I get a do over and can I get a witness about these last two months? Remember that song A Long December by Counting Crows? Specifically the part where Adam Duritz sings:
“it’s been a long December and there’s reason to believe Maybe this year will be better than the last…
If you think that I could be forgiven I wish you would…”
That song’s been fluttering around my brain for weeks now and not just because I’m a Gen X’er with a penchant for melancholy 90’s tunes. The end of 2018 stretched on so looooong, I wasn’t sure it was ever going to let us go, even into January.
Life’s been rough around here of late, from illness and death, depression and anxiety, friends and loved ones wrestling with old ghosts we believed long buried, myself included. While we know these things are continuously present in existence it’s still difficult to grasp what others experience until those same birds come home to roost with you. The one good thing that comes from a painful struggle is renewed empathy for your fellows. Empathy can pull us from the brink when we put it into practice as a community. When you discover the person who disagrees with all your politics and all your dogma just lost a beloved family member all those things that created a gulf between you go right out the window (or at least they should). The proper human reaction is to go to him and offer comfort of some kind. You don’t ask questions, you just go.
January was supposed to be the month I neared completion of my masterpiece, my fourth book that I optimistically like to call my River Book. Let us just say that as of today, I’m three weeks behind schedule. Nonetheless, I intend to publish my River Book this year (***Lord, please let me live long enough to finish my River Book***).
The book is inspired by the true story of bones my sister found on a creek bank in Adair County. That discovery inspired me to imagine this person’s life in the place where we call home. It is the story of all of us in the Ozark foothills; our struggles, connections, spirituality, addiction, grief, humor, music and family… all set alongside the life giver of the Illinois River and its tributaries that tumble down to us from the mountains. This book will be my ultimate expression of #okienoir .
I’ve known all along that water would be a central character in this book. The Cherokee people are intrinsically connected to the water as a source of food, medicine, celebration and cleansing, to name just a few. The river was known as The Long Man with his head(waters) in the mountains and his feet in the sea. The ancient ritual of “going to the water” was a cleansing practice performed every morning to start the day. Cherokees would go to the river to pray and submerge themselves regardless of the temperature. The old Cherokees would wade out waist deep just after daybreak and throw water over their heads and pray, “wash away anything that may hinder me from being closer to you, Creator.“
Research for the River Book caused me to seek out some of the most amazing locales in the Ozarks. The headwaters that flow clean and clear down ravines come together to create a mighty force greater than anything man can control. Gushing underground rivers bubble up out of mountains in some places, the source of which remains quite unclear, even to geologists. These things stoke my fire and renew my dedication to remain childlike with wonder and awe even in these days when I feel like an old woman, weary of the world.
I make no attempt to obscure the obvious influence of Mark Twain in my own work. Life on the Mississippi is the reason why I’m calling this fourth book my River Book. The genius in what he did was to shine light on the darkness and even mine humor from it at times. If my River Book is done correctly it will do the same. Sometimes we are the shadow, sometimes the sun.
Now you must pardon me as I submerge myself onecet again.
“wash away anything that may hinder me from being closer to you, Creator.“