Pharrell Respectful of Native Americans-Really? by Tanaya Winder, Maggie Hundley and Jennie Stockle

Dear Reader,


I know this isn’t front page news anymore, but the issues raised by musician Pharrell posing on the cover of Elle in a headdress still remain. Sure it gets twitter or FB or Native news networks media attention for a little while, but then it falls by the wayside until someone decides to do something stupid once again and tries to play it off by calling it honor. When does the cultural appropriation end?  So some of us get offended by these kinds of disrespectful acts; why does any of this matter?

I never studied Ethnic Studies and barely have the “academic” language to deconstruct the power structures and oppression embedded in what really happens when someone puts a headdress on their head or dresses up like an Indian for Halloween or at a sporting event where the mascot is an Indian. I studied writing, which I suppose in a way means I studied how to communicate and how to deconstruct some of that communication. I got a BA in English from Stanford and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of New Mexico. At UNM I taught rhetoric. I relearned and taught my students how to employ persuasive techniques like ethos, pathos, and logos. I taught them to think about the intent and purpose of what they’re writing and how that should inform the choice of the form (essay, poem, proposal, memo, analysis, synthesis essay, etc) they were employing to serve that purpose. Equally important, I taught them to think about the audience (who they’re message, essay, writing) is intended for.

When I think of people at the themed Cowboys and Indians frat parties or people who wear headdresses at Coachella and now apparently on magazine covers, I can’t help but ask myself who do these people and editors think is the audience? Obviously, it isn’t us, Native Americans.

This is where my worry, anger, and the importance of why come in to play. In addition to writing, teaching as an adjunct professor, and running my own literary magazine, I also serve as the Director for an Upward Bound program that works specifically with youth from 8 different states, 22 different high schools, and more than a dozen reservations/rural areas. I love my job. I love working with youth. If you’ve followed these letters then you’ll know more about all of the reasons why I do what I do and love what I am blessed to do. But in my line of work there is also fear. I fear for the world we are sending our young Native youth into where their issues aren’t taken seriously and when the only people putting out images of Natives are non-ones putting out harmful stereotypical images that they know nothing about. To all of those people: Some things aren’t meant for you. Period.

I get to travel quite often performing poetry and serving as a motivational speaker. In some of my workshops I’ll do prompts where we name fears. At least once every workshop a young person writes “White People” as his or her fear. This never fails. This never fails to break my heart. I can understand part of the reasons why.

As I said before I don’t have an academic background in these areas. Unlike some of my friends and colleagues, I do not have a PhD in Education or Ethnic Studies. What I know about all of these subjects comes from experience. My experiences teaching Ethnic Studies at UNM, working with & education not only college students but our Native youth, and my own lived experiences as a woman of color all inform my worldview. So while I may not have the same language to talk about what happens when Pharrell puts on a headdress, I do know in my gut that it is wrong.

I know that I want my future children and all of the youth I work with to feel empowered. I know that this empowerment wont’ come from seeing headdresses on non-natives at Coachella or on magazine covers. It won’t come from seeing numerous Pocahotties on Halloween. I know it wont’ come from me writing this blog. I know it won’t come from us in the way we think it will. Empowerment comes from within and I know we need to be focused on creating a world where that empowerment & growth can exist for our youth to succeed and survive with pride in this ever-changing world.

So when things like Pharrell wearing a headdress come up I am driven to words. I am compelled to write. Thanks to the Twitter world and Social Media I was able to connect with some really amazing people. At the time of the Pharrell incident I virtually met Maggie Hundley and Jennie Stockle. Together we compiled the following blog initially published on Eradicating Offensive Native Mascotry 


Pharrell’s Apology:

(a poem by Tanaya Winder using 23 song titles of Pharrell’s songs)

Call that an apology?

You must be frontin’Maybe that kind of apology flies when you’re Just A Cloud Away from Ignorance. When you put some commercialized version of Indigeneity on your head check The MessageThe Game Has Changed from where people who blindly culturally appropriate just get away with it. Sad thing is it ain’t Brand New; people have been dehumanizing us for years. We’ve strengthened our numbers and whenever this happens we rally. We write, organize, and fight to advocate for truth and we Know Who You Are – someone trying to monopolize our culture by commercializing us with your Show You How To Hustle mentality thinking you’ve got that Swagger International personality. I’m halfway done so Stay With Me – the Number 1 thing to remember is that we are real. We exist. We are more than just some ancient relics or a Gust of Wind. We are still Hunter and gatherer; we carry resilience in one fist and truth in the other. So Come Get It Bae and give – respect. Can I Have It Like That? I think we’ve earned just that. To be respected. Don’t appropriate something you know nothing about. A feather is a badge of honor, each represents an act of bravery.  So when you think  You Can Do It Too just because you want to don’t expect us to be Happy or Smile because you’re wrong. And when we ask you to Take It Off your headHow Does It Feel? I can only hope that you and everyone else who tries to ‘play indian’ by putting on a costume looks in the media mirror and thinks two words: Despicable Me.

So if that’s your apology, naw, go ahead and Keep It Playa. This Young Girl only has 7 words left for you – I’ve got my culture Where’s Yours At?

Pharrell Williams apologized for his ELLE magazine cover with him in a Native American head dress saying, “I respect and honor every kind of race, background and culture. I am genuinely sorry.” It is not the first time apologetic people or businesses whose actions disrespect Native Americans say they respect everyone. Some think they actually respect money and ego more. Doing something controversial to make headlines and add to name recognition is the easy way fulfill the old adage, “all press is good press.”

Despicable-is a great word for what is happening with this Native headdress wearing/mocking trend, and ironic in the Pharrell incident considering his current big hit Happy is featured in the Hollywood blockbusterDespicable Me 2. The actions of these people and companies attack Native American culture and innocent families. Native American culture has been so overtly exploited that people in this country can’t see real human beings-real Native Americans anymore, just perverse mockeries of our people and culture. It is so ubiquitous and harmful that it is having real psychologically negative impacts on Native students.

Persons, like Pharrell, and businesses, like ELLE, are exposing innocent Native children to bullying, scapegoating, and culturally hostile environments by the actions they make popular and get money from doing. Native American families are turning off the radios to his music and vowing to never buy ELLE. They should realize any moral compass that excludes Native Americans will taint anything they touch. Many people in the broader public may one day have no use for such profiteering by monopolizing how Native Americans are portrayed in mainstream by excluding open Indigenous people.

Pharrell is such a big name, and he is so popular in the music and entertainment industry – he is a trendsetter. So, what has saddened many Native Americans is that appropriation displayed on the cover of ELLE, also internationally popular and trendsetting, is going to be emulated the world over. Pharrell and ELLE are telling the world it is “okay” to “play Indian”. They are endorsing wholesale erasure of Native voices and culture. Pharrell has planted a seed that will sprout more and more current and future appropriators, because he is so famous.

The nonapologies are harmful because they do nothing to get to the root of the problem and shift blame from the appropriator BACK to American Indians. Now it is on us to try and convince the world that we are worthy of better treatment because Pharrell, and Fallin, and Stefani, and Coyne, and Cyrus, and…the list goes on…”apologized”. Then the real issues get lost after this blame-shifting because then the hate comes out, the blood quantum stuff comes out, the “I’m part-Indian too and I don’t find it offensive” stuff comes out when we are defending our culture and children by trying to convince people THIS IS NOT OKAY AND NEVER WILL BE.

As people, mothers and teachers, involved with youth for years one mindset to maintain is “separate the person from the act”. If a kid makes a mistake it doesn’t make them a bad person, but the action was wrong, the choice to make the action wrong. If you apply the same line of thinking and separate Pharrell’s-Miley’s-Stefani’s mistaken choices from them as people, some people can say, yea perhaps they are not bad people. But, in their apologies they apologize for their mistake without getting to the heart of why. When kids make a mistake getting to the root of it …why was this behavior wrong or inappropriate? is very important. None of these stars/famous people take the time to get to the root of why their actions were inappropriate and offensive. Why not?-because with stardom comes privilege, the privilege to just get by doing whatever-the-heck-you-want half the time. But it is dangerous, more dangerous than they all even realize.

Tanaya Winder Personal story:

            I remember as a child watching Charlene Teter’s documentary about “In Whose Honor”.Coming from the rez I’d never seen anyone “dress up” as a Native American. I wasn’t even in the stadium where Teter’s saw people “playing Indian” and it still struck my core. My young girl self felt somehow “less than” human in that moment. Later, I went to attend Stanford University (a school whose former mascot was an Indian) and would still see people wearing Stanford Indian shirts.

Halloween was the worst. I’d never seen so many people dress up like “Indian Princesses” or the Pocahotties. I’d never seen this growing up on my reservation. We were a tri-ethnic community full of Latinos, Natives, and White people. Maybe it was that my community and peers knew better. Maybe it was because they knew we were real people. I thought at a world class institution that these “educated” people would know better. Now living in Boulder, Colorado, Halloween still involves numerous drunks dressing up as “Indians”. I take instances where people simply “put on a headdress” because they fell like it or who knows why they do that (I still can’t figure it out) as an act of dehumanization. It strips us of our identity when the action of them putting it on by placing feathers on their head makes it seem that anyone can become “Native” through dress up. And now it isn’t just the sports arena or the Halloween Holiday it’s making its way into music and the cover of magazines.

The entire act of cultural appropriation is much more harmful when people take things so lightly. When our culture is stripped and slapped onto some cover because it looks cool or would sell more. It goes back to questioning the action. What is the intent? If the intent is to honor us, not sell magazines, then-why not reflect more about how you think that would be honoring us Pharrell? People should think about how a child feels when they see someone who hasn’t earned the right to wear a headdress places one on their head. Think about people putting on a costume and saying “I’m Native”, and how that makes someone who is still young and developing and growing feels.

The odds are already stacked against us in this society. No matter what others say, the statistics prove otherwise. When we are condensed to a symbol, to a colorful feathered headdress, it reduces us to one image. We as Native people are many tribes, many images, and much, much more deserving than having to sit back and watch other people act from ignorance and not think about the consequences.

The following closing poem for Native American youth was a collaboration between Tanaya Winder [visit her website here!] and her twitter followers:

Dear Children,

When You See Someone Dressed Up “Native” On a Magazine Cover Remember These Things:


That being Native American is more than just what you wear.

But should you see someone “Playing Native” with cultural appropriation wearing fake buckskin or a feathered headdress you tell them

You know what it means to wear a headdress when you think about sacrifice. The sacrifices our ancestors made to hold on to what was left, of our tribesmen who still fight overseas for our country

That each feather on a headdress was meant to represent an act of bravery; our own badge of honor.

You know honor. You know it enough to know that it doesn’t come from someone dressing up like you, pretending they can look like you by putting something fake and untrue on their heads.

Telling us they’re doing it out of honor or respect,

to honor you to respect you- how?

Your ancestors were true warriors who suffered to evade conquest and when pillagers try to rape and reap from our culture, Remember that we come from a long line of resilience embodied in your spirit.

The battle and the struggle continue.

Even if you struggle with the reflection in the mirror because the media never who look like you beautiful, Remember your are beautiful.

Remember that we don’t dress up for cultural vultures looking to claim something that wasn’t-isn’t-ain’t-ever-gonna-be-theirs, so if they tell you that you should “shut up” “bear it” or “focus on the REAL issues” like alcoholism, poverty, or apathy

Tell them you have “no apathy, hear”. We can focus on all of those issues but no one outside of our community hears. They’re too busy with their tomahawk chops and cheers wondering if the look hot in their feathers and skinny jeans. And before we can discuss the issues outside our walls we need to be taken seriously as modern human beings, not vague relics.

Remember that you are not a novelty. You are not meant to be fetishized or romantized or continuously commercialized.

Remember that you can be anything you want to be, maybe one day we’ll have the honor of representing ourselves and our own culture in movies or on the cover of a magazine.

So the next time you see someone “Playing Indian” or dressing up in something not intended for them you tell them.

That you forgive them for believing we are relics of the past, that we forgive them for not seeing us. Say something like that and then just walk away. These kind of battles can be fought on other days because

in your heart you know – truth.



Peace be the Journey and I just want to be….

Dear Reader,

I hope this letter finds you well. On my end, I am quite tired. While I still consider myself a young poet and endeavor to write to you on a more consistent basis it remains a difficult task. Life, as it is, continues to get in the way. I suppose we all use the “I forgot” or “I got too busy” as excuses now and again. I’m hoping to commit to carving out more time for goals, ambitions, and relationships that matter to me.

I will say though that peace is indeed in the journey. I’ve written about my frequent flights, but I am also very blessed in that I get to drive many places as well. A few weeks ago my journey took me to the west coast. I met a former student for a chat to catch up on how things were going. She’d told me about a recent loss her family had experienced, how it was like I said (in my TED talk) that you wonder what the last words you said to someone were. She knew hers.

I know this. Sometimes Life hits you right smack on top of the head so that you open your eyes just a little wider and you see…connections, unspoken ripples that you had no idea you created when you initially uttered your own truths.

I’d had no idea she watched my talk. No idea it contained words that she held onto and I continue to hold onto that moment where I was reminded of our power as people, as poets, as humans to weave our stories together with others. Perhaps this rope holds all of us up when we need to reach out to have someone (or something) to hold onto.

And then it continues. Was it already two weeks ago Dear Reader that I was able to open a concert for a young talented and truly inspiring Indigenous hip hop artist? I strongly believe in the power of words, in putting good wishes, thoughts, and prayers out into the universe. Faith is believing it will happen in its time and wow, was I honored, shocked, humbled, and grateful for that opportunity. For that connection. He’d said something to me in a conversation at dinner that he felt most alive when he was performing. The artist / dreamer / believer in me relates. I get it. It is the same with me. And shouldn’t it be that way with all of us? You feel most alive when sharing the gifts you’ve been given. Isn’t that honoring the life you’ve been given. I think so. I think the world would be a better place if we all found and practiced our passions.

The universe continues to unfold in the most beautiful ways. I see it everyday and sometimes, when I’m lucky, I run into it in unexpected places. But more on that soon, Dear Reader. I need some sleep and I suspect you do too.

with gratitude,


I Kissed a Stranger (and I liked it)

Dear Reader:

It was the kind of meet-cute you expect in romantic comedies, the kind that occurs in those old-school black-and-white films about an old-school-kind-of-love that we just don’t see anymore. Remember Casablanca when Humphrey Bogart’s character talks about meeting Ingrid Bergman’s, he says, “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.” But those meet-cute in-person meet-ups just don’t happen all too often and those kind of films just don’t get made anymore.

Nowadays people meet online. I’ve even heard about relationships starting by someone ‘liking’ or ‘favoriting’ someone’s pictures on instagram. There’s nothing wrong with that. We are all (at some level) looking for love.

But what places are we looking for love in and where? It seems like the search used to be more than a simple click on someone’s profile, pic, or scrolling through image after image in the latest dating app. Is it now old school to remember when it seemed like finding love was more of an act of fate, a conscious effort to engage in conversation in the moment? Say you missed your bus, the one you took every day for the past 10 years to work, but that day… that day you overslept spilled coffee on your shirt had to change and were forced to take the next one. The only seat on that bus was next to someone you couldn’t help but converse with as if you felt compelled by a greater force to engage in a conversation with that person. Immediately you connect with someone you would’ve never met if it hadn’t been for being late. Enter Fate.

Perhaps these two examples of an online and in-person meeting aren’t all that different. After all, the online relationship usually leads to meeting in person. We adapt to the times; we evolve in love. But oh Dear Reader, I long(ed) for those old school acts of love & fate.

Nearly two weeks ago I kissed a stranger.

Two weeks prior, I’d been reading and teaching about love. My students read theory and essays from bell hooks. Students were most moved by bell’s essay “The Practice of Love.” They’d never read or learned that love existed in this way, as a means of humanizing or creating social change. Love existed in the “ing” in the act. It was process. They responded that the media seeks to primarily promote a hallmark version of love signed, sealed, and delivered with messages of lust / physicality / materialistic and a selfish emotional side of love. LOVE is so much more. Love is a vehicle for change. Love promotes self-care, self-worth, self-love. Love for others. Love is all encompassing.

I choose to teach “The Practice of Love” because love is (and should be) just that, a practice. It takes work. You make mistakes. You learn from them. You grow. You employ and practice it daily because it doesn’t just come to you. Commitment. Acknowledgement of the time and effort needed to put into it. It is ironic and beautiful and crazy and crazy-beautiful that in my own practice of love, I encountered it in a most unexpected place – up in the air.

I hopped on a plane to Boston to participate in an event called Rise-Up: A Celebration. I was flying to support a friend who put together the event out of love for community, health, and self. I was flying out of and for love.

I fly all the time. Lately, I fly more than one person should. On this flight in particular I thought I definitely wasn’t looking my best. My wild curly hair. No make-up. Probably bags under my eyes from lack of sleep. I always sit next to the window. I like to watch the ascent, descent, watch the ground as we jerk in the landing. Falling asleep leaning against the window posed a likely possibility. A not-so-nice lady sat in the aisle. Frustrated, she angrily threw her items into the middle seat complaining about no overhead space. I hoped someone would sit between us. I didn’t need the negative energy. As the plane began to fill up in true Southwest fashion, the middle seats were all that was left.

I looked up to see one of the most handsome and beautiful men I’ve ever seen. I smiled, blushed, and then looked away. To my surprise he sat between the not-so-nice lady and myself. In my true fashion Dear Reader, I fell asleep. Thankfully I woke up during the free beverage service. Not-so-nice lady went to the restroom at which point I thanked the handsome & beautiful man for sitting between us. Connection.

From the moment our mouths opened we never stopped talking the entire 2.5 hours flight. It was one of the most invigorating conversations I’ve ever had. I won’t go into details about the conversation but I will say it made me believe in love. It – him – the situation – the stories & beliefs shared – all of it. I thought like Cinderella “so this is love,” at least part of it in that energy exchange that I’ve only had once before in my lifetime. It was a moment of soul. In that moment I felt compelled to rest my head on his shoulder. He grabbed my hand and we existed like that into the descent. As he walked me to my gate carrying my luggage like a gentleman, we both agreed. Best.Plane.Ride.Ever. We hugged each other and I looked up at him. “Don’t look at me like that…it makes me want to kiss you,” as he stared into my eyes. I still can’t believe I responded, “Maybe I want you to.” And he did. We gently kissed twice before he left me smiling at my gate.

Now if you know me, Dear Reader as I expect you must by now, you know that this is totally out of character for me. But in that moment I thought “maybe I met the man I’m going to marry” or at least a version of him. I felt in my gut that no matter how it ends, even if I never hear from him again, even if our connection was destined to last only those brief hours experiences like that happen once in a blue moon, experiences like that should end in a kiss. I’d also taught Chela Sandoval’s Methodology of the Oppressed in his chapter “Love as a Hermeneutics of Social Change” Sandoval writes: “the language of lovers can puncture through everyday narratives that tie us to social time and space…” I was existing in the drift.

Two weeks ago I kissed a person I’d only known a matter of hours. Two weeks ago I once again believed in the power of love(ing). A little more than a week ago TIME released a video “20 Strangers Were Asked to Kiss for the First Time and It Was Strangely Beautiful.” They wrote that a first kiss could be magical. I agree. I believe all connections are magic. Tonight during my most recent flight I watched two strangers across the aisle from me immediately engage in conversation. I drifted into sleep and woke in the descent just as the man said to the woman, “You know, I don’t even know your name. Hi, I’m ….” and she said “I’m …….nice to meet you.” It was nice to witness. Each day, whenever I log onto Facebook it asks me “what is your relationship status?” I don’t select an option. I never feel single or alone. I am always surrounded by love. Love is one’s existence, action, belief, hope. I believe in and aspire to incorporate love into my life daily.

It was fate – me flying to Boston to perform at an event, him looking for houses in the state I was flying from; him not knowing a single person there. It was just like a movie – a remake of An Affair to Remember. Of all seats in all the planes in all the airports in all the destinations in the world – he sat next to me.

The True Revolution: It Was All A Dream….

Dear Reader:

One of my favorite quotes is from a poem by Nikki Giovanni. She writes “and if ever I touched a life I hope that life knows that I know that touching was and still is and will always be the true revolution.” To me, this is truth. We are put on this earth to connect, empower, support, help, and love each other.

I hope your 2014 is starting out with life, energy, and light. In 2013 I actually got to meet Ms. Giovanni. I got to shake her hand and get her autograph on my collection of “Love Poems” It was a great year. 2013 was a big year for us all personally and professionally. One venture I’ve put a lot of time, energy, and heart into is a literary magazine I help run called As/Us: A Space for Women of the World. We publish writing by Indigenous women and women of color around the world. We also get to publish our male allies and women supporters in two issues a year.

I remember when it was just an idea we had, a dream. We dreamt of uniting voices by women of color to create community. Because of community, people sharing, supporting in person and by word of mouth we’ve managed to get the journal viewed in 129 countries around the world and counting. My neurotic self used to check our magazine FB page every day seeing if we could get over 200 likes….when I wasn’t looking somehow it is now over 700. I think the best things happen like what…when you’re not looking.

I remember as a young woman I used to search for meaning, for place, for belonging. I always felt like I never belonged. My mom always said that was a good thing because the seekers are the ones who go out searching; they are destined to find themselves out there and create change. I’ve been searching a lot time and I finally found myself in writing, in words, in art. I fell in love with poetry because it helped me make sense of things, the world, experiences, and myself.

Since then I’ve been blessed to make other writer/artist friends, but most of all, most importantly and what I hold most dear to my heart….our youth. I have been able to work with 100+ Native youth from over 8 different states, 13 different reservations and more. I find we are all searching for experiences, meaning, for love.

All of this matters because there are so many organizations and people who create spaces where people can come together for common causes. We do this with our magazine. We hope to continue to always provide a space for voices to share their experiences, to find each other, to find the words they’ve been searching for.

We’re on the last day of our Reach the Rez fundraiser that will help us get more issues of As/Us out into our communities, schools, and reservations. I’ve heard that when you walk through a door of opportunity you don’t shut it behind you, you hold it open for others to follow through. This is Us holding open the door to art, literature, creativity, and passion for those who will follow.

If you have already donated to our cause, purchased issues in the past, or helped us set up readings… I thank you from the bottom of my heart. If you have any funds to spare today please donate what you can If you don’t have funds today you can always support us at a later date by purchasing issues from us online or in person.
May we all find what we need in this life and help others find what they need to. Thank you for your journey. Dear Reader, I am glad our lives have crossed paths in this life. Thanks for continuing to live, dream, to be. It really was all a dream, a seed that was planted in our hearts that is beginning to come into fruition. I hope we always live our lives like that… as dreamers. “You may say that I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one…” I know you all are out there too.
with love
A Young Poet
visit with SUIT academy pic 2

Shedding off former selves…

Dear Reader,

Every morning I dance, I sing or hum to myself in the shower, and when getting ready I listen to my “Walking on Sunshine” playlist. This year has been about so much reflection. A dear friend reminded me it was the year of the snake, a snake sheds many skins and I am shedding off versions of my insecure, frightened, and former self to embrace the braver and brand new kind of free version of me. My life may not have turned out how I imagined it, but it’s so much better than I could’ve ever dreamed (even with the hurts and struggles). Sometimes I used to wonder why things didn’t work out with someone or why I didn’t get a job/position/internship I applied for, but I believe in the Creator’s plan. I believe in destiny. The bigger your problems, the bigger your destiny. I have faith. This life so far, this year getting to travel/read/perform and speak in Chicago, NYC, Boston, Canada, Stanford, the TED talk, and later this year in Nevada in front of all of the state tribes..none of it would have been possible if any of those other things had worked out when and how I wanted them to. Yesterday, I received some news, Monday I’ll let everyone know, but Bam Freaking Sunshine I am happy Girl-On-Fire status right about now! I may not follow a ‘normal’ life of whats expected by women by age, I’m not married, I have no kids of my own (and Lord knows I’m not ready for that yet)  But I have a 103 high school kiddos who I love and would do anything for. I have even more CUUB kiddos in college and all around the country being good moms, dads, students, and more…  I have the support of my home, family, Native communities, a poet/writer/artist/educator family, a Stanford fam, and a CUUB fam. Because of all that I probably have a couch in every state I could crash on if needed. This is not because I’m popular or anything like that, whatever the heck that means, but because I surround myself with other people who believe in love, light, who do good work and give back the gifts they’ve been given. Light recognizes light, real recognizes real. I have support. I am loved.

And so are you Dear Reader. You are loved. You are light. You are real. Do what makes you happy, what feeds your spirit, and if anything, this year, shed the former versions of yourself that are holding you back. Love more. Dance more. Be brave.



Short and Sweet…

Dear Reader,

I’m feeling very reflective and just had a need to get it out, put it on paper, and in a place where I could remember. But I’m sure you know this feeling, too and you understand the impulse. This morning, I put a call out to some friends today to help me with a creative writing project in the year(s) to come and received a lot of awesome responses & support. This evening I attended my final TEDxABQ coaching session and feel good about where I’m at preparing for it. And tonight, someone dear to my heart thanked me for something that I’d given her that was bigger than I could have imagined. The Creator works in beautiful and mysterious ways… who would’ve thought that one choice, one decision to go somewhere would bring so many beautiful people into my life and that one person’s short time on earth made such a huge influence, one that continues to make little ripples that slowly and sometimes swiftly bring me to people I need, to the ones who may even need me. Tonight, it all feels “right” in a way I’ve only felt once before in my life. I have faith, everything that’s in my heart will work out as it’s meant to. I have faith that everything that’s in your heart will work out as it’s meant to, too. Thank you for your continuous support on the journey.


Dear Reader,

Today as I was cleaning and organizing I came across a lot of books, notes, lists, etc., that I’ve saved over the years. Some of the things I read couldn’t have come at a better time. I believe in getting out there, living, and experiencing all that you can, but setting aside time for reflection is always, always necessary from time to time.

I came across a journal a relative of mine gave me for my graduation from college 5 years ago. I read the first entry I made about writing, why it was my passion, and goals I had for myself. 5 years later I am happy to say I accomplished some of what I set out to do. I wrote that I needed to work on self-love, gaining confidence, and developing my art by teaching, performing, and publishing.

While I can ‘check’ those things off of my to do list, I must say they were not achieved without heartache and hard work (perhaps the two go hand and hand as surviving heartache is hard work itself), and tough lessons learned. A lot of things in my life (particularly these past five to ten years) have not gone according to my plan. A control freak to the core, the more I plan the more the universe reminds me, you can’t control a lot of the things that makes life interesting.

But you’re only able to fly by using the resistance, right? I’ve lost so I’ve tried harder to hold on sometimes so tightly, knuckles turn white, and I inevitably lose because I was holding on too tightly. On my journey to find love, self-love, love for others, and what does love really mean anyway, I’ve learned a lot. Love is nothing like I thought it was…since high school and college many of my friends have gotten married or have children and there are others who continually have dating disasters, become attached too soon, or seem to attract people who don’t appreciate their worth. Listening to the stories and empathizing with people’s pain in their own learning about life makes me question things even more. Sometimes their relationships make perfect sense and sometimes they make absolutely no sense at all. This inconsistency makes me all the more hopeful because you can’t plan, love. Granted it isn’t something you ‘fall’ into as people say “I fell in love” but keeping love and staying in it, takes work. You have to find who is worth fighting for and who sees you as someone worth holding onto no matter the differences in opinions, beliefs, appearances, and all of the above.

Maybe the first step in all of this is believing that you are someone worth fighting for, worth keeping, and that you are exactly what somebody needs. From my conversations with you dear Reader I know you are confused as to why it is taking you such a long time to find the dream job, the perfect home, or to find the love you’ve been searching for. Do not be in a rush. Your time is coming, not when you least expect it (as the saying goes) but when you’re ready. You may feel ready now, but more ‘work’ that you don’t always readily see, needs to be done. I’ve never been in love so maybe take my words with a grain of salt, but (as usual) I relate my thinking about this to my passion, writing.



As I sit here looking at some of the journals my poems have been published in, I remember the work it took to get to the end goal. I remember the inspiration or occasion of the poem, the spark that brought about the idea. I remember the emotion, the joy, the sorrow, or the longing in each. I remember the hours, days, months, (and sometimes years) it took to get the poem to completion. I remember the frustration but the importance of the patience it took in seeing something through to a stage of completion. Although sometimes the writing, editing, throwing away, rewriting, and revising, sending out, rejection, rejection, revise, fix, send out again entire process drives me nuts and can be discouraging, I find it is always always always absolutely worth it. I can’t help but be thankful for “the struggle” when it comes and I am pushed to a new level of being. Even though I don’t always appreciate it in the moment (because we know struggling is difficult) I feel blessed to be tested. The struggles will always keep coming with each new goal or ambition. I don’t have a book yet, but the big thick binded papers to the left is my manuscript. I am afraid no one will want to read it or that no one will publish it (and perhaps you can relate this to your fear of no one wanting to read all the lines and stories of your life and be invested in you enough to want to read (love) you for the rest of your days) but I keep the faith. It’s going to take work. It’s going to take putting yourself (and in my case, my book) out there into the world without fear of the rejection that will inevitably come. Someday my book will find a home with a good press. Someday you will find the love / job / passion / place you have spent your entire existence looking for.

It may be in one package or it may be in many, but whatever the case do not let others opinions influence your mindset. Everyone’s narrative is different. I know my friends call me crazy for trying to take on and do too much, but that’s what makes me happiest. When I can use all the parts of myself that need to be fed – my writing self, my teacher self, my working with youth self – then I feel like I am living my purpose. I believe in using the gifts we’ve been given. When you’ve been given gifts, you give them away, and in doing so, something will come back when you least expect it.

Whatever it is you are looking for Dear Reader, I hope you find it or him or her, the job, the person, the place, that feeds your spirit and ignites your passion, that challenges and tests you… you’ll find it in the most unexpected places and once you do, don’t be afraid to hold on.

Timing is Everything

Dear Reader,

A year ago today I graduated from UNM’s MFA program and gave my English department convocation speech.  Tuesday while walking through one of the buildings on the campus where I work I saw a quote written on the wall. In black ink on the dry erase board designed for quotes of the day were Maya Angelou’s words, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” Immediately, her words spoke to my writer self, “yes, we all have stories we need to tell, to share, to connect with others,” but they also resonated with me at a deeper level. Today, I think how I planned within this year to revise my manuscript a dozen times, throw away old poems, write new ones, but none of that happened.

In this span of time, poems I’ve tossed out: 0,
Poems I’ve Rewritten: 2,
New Poems: 3.

But time, can be measured in other ways.

Number of times I’ve overslept: 75
Number of miles run: 317
Cups of coffee: 567
Americanos: 100
Number of hearts I’ve broken: 4
Number of nights I’ve wanted to cry myself to sleep: 12
Number of times I did: 11
Number of times I’ve laughed so hard I cried: 15,000
Funerals I’ve attended: 1
Miles I’ve flown: 10,000
Number of things I regret: 15
Performances I’ve given: 25
Miles I’ve driven: 2,000

So, I made up those numbers, but you get the point. We can measure our lives in many ways and our stories continually unfold from exciting experiences and seemingly mundane day to day events that gain significance over time. I am constantly learning more about myself and the stories I have inside me waiting for me to put into words to share with whoever may need to read them. Time teaches me patience, especially when it comes to writing and my own journey’s unfolding.

Though it is easy to fall into the trap of time judging yourself or others by how long it takes to accomplish things or get over something, i.e. it’s been amount of years since we moved, quit our jobs, found new ones, have been unemployed, Y amount of years since we’ve been together, since you left him or her, since she or he broke your heart, or Z amount of minutes, months, days, years since you’ve been on a certain path.

We track our stories in these ways and maybe it helps us make sense of them. Maybe it simply helps us remember, acknowledge that it happened, that we were there wherever there maybe be physically, emotionally, spiritually, and mentally.

I used to use loss to mark my own story of what made me into the writer-teacher-person-artist-dreamer, used to say it’s been x amount of months or days since the date and somehow I let this define me. It was almost easier to name it, make Loss a stagnant entity that stayed in the past. Back then, I tethered myself to Loss and Grief and felt anchored orbiting around them. Once I was able to write through my grief I no longer had to keep count of all the days I spent living in a world where someone no longer was. Today, I am happy and healed though the date of that loss that occurred six years ago still holds such significance for me as a marker of my life changing.

As a society, we can keep track of dates, mark it in our calendar to send us a reminder, but for me certain memories and dates have become ingrained in my bodily memory.

The story of how losing my friend impacted me is still forming, changing, and shifting with each year that passes. One evening last month I broke down in tears. It hits me sometimes like that when I least expect it. I used to cry in public places when something reminded me but this time it happened in the solitude of my office after everyone else went home. I couldn’t place where this flood of overwhelming emotion was coming from. But I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again the body remembers. Some years it seems like that date might slip around a corner before I can catch a glimpse, but every year on April 12th, friends, family, etc, remember. Maybe timing also brings you what you need. We call or email or text each other anything from “Hi” to “thinking of you” or just plain and simple <3. In those acts of reaching out to each other we recognize the significance of the event. We remind each other about the importance of love.

The next day, Friday April 12, I met a woman who was traveling to California for a conference. “What do you do for a living,” she asked. “I’m a writer.” And then came the inevitable question that follows, “What do you write about?” Most people ask that same question when we divulge our secret identities as writers. It almost feels like you put on a superhero mask or cape when you say it “I am a writer!” But do people ask Spiderman or Superman or Wonder Woman who they save? I can just imagine it “Oh who are you the hero of?” No, for us it’s what do you write about. Perhaps I glorify writing too much. Perhaps we do not save anyone. Perhaps we are mostly writing to try and save ourselves.

I write about a range of subjects – identity, loss, longing, heritage, culture, life etc. But to answer her question I simply responded, “I write about love.”

She just so happened to be on her way to a conference about “love.” We discussed our current relationship/non-relationship situations, and experiences with love. We talked about books she’s read on the subject, meditations she does, and what she’s learned from it all. The most striking thing she said she learned about love was that it wasn’t about the other person so much as it was about one’s personal self healing. Her books encouraged people to heal their relationships with those around them, their siblings, mothers, fathers, etc., and that once we learn to forgive others or ourselves and let go of things from the past then we can be open to giving and receiving the type of love we all deserve. While I was talking with her I couldn’t help but think on that specific day that we were meant to meet to talk, decompress, and share our stories. It was perfect timing actually, the universe in sync with what I know I needed to hear on that specific day.

Timing is everything.

Amazing things can happen when you least expect it. You’ll meet people you need and others who you didn’t know how much you needed. Some people who you never expected to support you will. Others you expected to support you won’t. People you thought couldn’t hurt you anymore will somehow find ways to break your heart. You’ll hurt people you didn’t mean to. You’ll want to go for it with someone or some opportunity even if there’s a chance of heartache at the end. Because now you know, heartbreak is inevitable. Now you know things will unfold naturally if you let them. It isn’t worth it to hide in the shadows or be afraid of possibilities.

If anything this year has taught me to not be too hard on myself, to be patient, and that some chances are worth taking. Now I know to take the leap.

What I’m leaping into: security, faith, confidence, and hope.
Things I know: There are stories inside us.
Things I hope I never forget: There are stories inside us.

On Happiness, Vulnerability, and Dreaming

Dear Reader,

I should begin by saying, I’m obsessed with TED Talks. Ok, maybe “obsessed” is too strong of a word, but I enjoy watching them and turning others onto watching them as well. You name a topic, they probably have a TED talk on it – power, invention, image, stories, women, education, on and on….

So when, one of my writer friends expressed her recent bout dealing with self-doubt, I was excited to see another friend of ours respond with a TED Talk suggestion. This one is called  “The Happy Secret to Better Work.” You can imagine my excitement heightened when I discovered I hadn’t seen this talk before. Eagerly I put on my headphones in my office, watched, and listened. The talk discusses training our brains to think differently, more positively by changing the lens through which we view the world, “our world.” One of the talk’s tips was to show/express daily gratitude. Each day, for 21 days, share 3 things you are thankful for. By doing these tips, the study posits that we can rewire our brains and perhaps change the way we think about success and how that is linked to our happiness.

For many of us, and I am speaking to this from my writer’s perspective, success is definitely on our brains. Who’s got an agent? Who doesn’t? Who has a chapbook? Were you a finalist for a 1st book competition? For those who are lucky, you get the book, you get published, and then your goal post for success, changes. It then becomes about how well is the book selling, what are the reviews saying, what about the second book – will that happen? Will it do better, worse, etc? For me, all of these questions and wondering whether or not we’ll “make it” is inevitably tied into vulnerability (another hot topic for us writers, and well, humans…)

Reader, I feel like the universe is making ‘vulnerability’ a theme for me in recent experiences. The V word just keeps popping up. In fact, another friend of mine just the day before wrote a blog: “Falling in love feels just as clumsy as falling down. Opening up and allowing myself to be vulnerable has sown a whole new crop of insecurity and self-doubt.” (Sigh, the perpetual cycle that plagues many of us…) I have to say that I love that Andrea was writing about love in this post. It makes sense. Anything to do with anything or anyone we love can bring up all those feelings of being afraid, scared shitless, and left in a perpetual state of confusion, insecurity, wonder, and excitement. We feel it in relationships, the initial getting-to-know-you-me-us, are “we” a “we”, but we also feel it with things we are passionate about. Perhaps this is why so many writers feel these emotions because writing is something that we love.

This of course makes me think of another TED Talk that I forced my friend to watch with me today called “The Price of Invulnerability.”  We watched it just after watching the Happiness talk above. During topics and points that he felt related to me, he pressed the pause button, then looked at me to see if his insight resonated with me as well. And they did, especially the beginning where the speaker talks about how we automatically assume the worst case scenario, almost as if we are afraid of happy endings. It’s weird and  ironic, but makes total sense that happiness and vulnerability are linked.

For me personally, if I really think about it… if I’m really honest… my “success”, my need to feel fulfilled by being busy, by trying to live an ‘extraordinary’ life is linked to my fears of being vulnerable. I am afraid of the unknown. I keep myself busy, I keep myself invested in so many orgs, volunteer positions  projects., etc. I’ve mentioned this before Dear Reader, but I am a planner. I like control. I set a goal and I go for it. But, I’ve never just surrendered. If I think about my writing, I just don’t have time for it these days. Sure I am writing to you, but the real-tough-sit down-spend hours-reading-re-reading-revising-re-visioning my manuscript hasn’t happened. I honestly don’t have the time unless I seriously re-prioritize and let some areas of commitment go. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to just surrender , go all in, and see what happens on the other side. By this I mean, why am I so driven by my ideas and hopes of success or making an impact that I couldn’t just let it go, move somewhere less expensive, be a starving artist, work at Starbucks or Target and just commit to my writing for a year.

These fleeting thoughts have been on my mind a lot lately and maybe it’s because this May it’ll have been a year since I finished the MFA. My once again driven by success mind thinks “I have no new publications, no agent, no book deal to show for it.” So I’m trying to rewire my brain for happiness and be open to vulnerability  In following the TED Talk advice, here is an alteration on the gratitude thing (b/c I honestly do give thanks everyday) and so I wanted to share a combination of hopes & dreams:

  • We dreamed of starting our own literary magazine for Indigenous women and women of color. It’s happening. We’ve sold 100 copies on Amazon so far and 30 in person. We were thrilled with Issue 1 and the Vday issue. We’re getting some amazing submissions for the next issue (still open for subs until 4/15) and the online journal’s been viewed in 81 countries, say what?!?!
  • I dreamed of making a difference…working with Native youth and hopefully inspiring some to pursue their own dreams. I’m thankful to have found a home and purpose working for this upward bound program that serves 22 diff high schools & 8 states in this country.
  • I dreamed of teaching and have been blessed to have had the opportunity to teach from the high school, community, to University level.

I am thankful. Many of the things I dreamt of have/are happening. And I still dream…

  • I dream of one day writing something others will need… to read to feel less alone in this world, to heal, to feel that each of us has a voice, and that that voice matters.
  • I dream of bringing people together whether it’s the voices / experiences / words in the journal or joining people to support causes, or connecting people I know who can help each other.

and there are even things I never even imagined that could happen, that are now unfolding. One week from today I travel to Chicago for the American Indian Speakers Bureau to speak, lead a writing workshop, and perform some of my poetry. I cannot contain my excitement! I feel blessed, excited, and you know what… happy!

In terms of my personal life, I’m making some new connections and meeting new people, good people, who I feel blessed, thankful, and grateful for. Although the reason some of these people have come into my life (or the reason I came into theirs) has yet to be revealed, I am happy and enjoying the journey. Though I am still struggling to embrace the shuffle I am open and excited for the challenge to let go of my constant need for control.

It’s always a mixed bag and being happy takes a conscious effort during the days when I get a rejection and I’m feeling down on myself. When the self-doubt sets in I try to remember what Jennifer said, “I need to remind myself everyday that I am good enough.” But I also know the fear with surrender and vulnerability is always there somewhere lurking behind the shadows of my happiness. So I am following Andrea’s words too, and telling myself “It takes grace to face fear”  because if you’re pursuing anything (or anyone) you are passionate about, of course it’s going to be scary, you’re going to have to face your insecurities and fears, but if it’s worth it – you go all in because without being vulnerable…without leaving yourself open, you’ll never get there.

So here’s to embracing vulnerability, fear, and (hopefully) doing it with grace. Here’s to going all in!