Shirley Hager is an advocate and activist for social and racial equality. From a young age she has had an eye for spotting discrepancies in the way we treat each other. Recently, she joined a group of thirteen indigenous and non-indigenous people who banded together to gain a deeper understanding of each other’s lives and culture. This group recently co-authored a book, The Gatherings: Reimagining Indigenous-Settler Relations.
Shirley joins me today to discuss her first encounter with racial inequality as an elementary school student, her lifelong pursuit of equality, and how she gained a particular interest in Native American culture. We talk about the early years of this great nation and settle some little-understood facts about how it got it’s start. Finally, we discuss what it was like writing a book as a group and the unique creative process that they used.
“We all have the truth, we are just looking for someone to confirm it.”
This week on the School For Good Living Podcast:
Shirley [00:00:00] We all have the truth, we’re just looking for someone to confirm it.
Brilliant [00:00:07] Hi, I’m Brilliant. Your host for this show. I know that I’m incredibly blessed. As the son of self-made billionaires, I’ve seen the high price some people pay for success. And I’ve learned that money really can’t buy happiness. But I’ve also had the good fortune to learn directly from many of the world’s leading teachers. If you are ready to be, do have and give more. This podcast is for you. If you are concerned about the future of life on this planet, if you are concerned about the quality of life on this planet today, if you want to improve the quality of your relationships, your connection to the Earth and the sense of meaning in your life, I think that you will enjoy the conversation I have today with Shirley Hager. Shirley has written a book along with 13 coauthors, 13 Wabanaki and Indigenous authors and a few non-indigenous authors as well. The title of the book is The Gatherings: Reimagining Indigenous Settler Relations in this conversation. Shirley makes a statement that some people might find difficult to hear. They might not agree with. The statement is this, that this country, meaning the United States, was founded on genocide and slavery. That is, for me, a pretty profound statement that I think we haven’t as a country come to terms with. Although this book doesn’t have simple answers, it does recount a series of conversations with indigenous people and non-indigenous people that I think can serve as a model for having meaningful interaction that ultimately can lead to some pretty significant healing. So with that, I hope you enjoy this conversation with my new friend, Shirley Hager. Shirley, welcome to the Oil for Good Living.
Shirley [00:01:59] Thank you, thank you, it’s good to be here.
Brilliant [00:02:03] Shirley, will you tell me, please, what is life about?
Shirley [00:02:10] Life is about. Connection, I feel we which is an interesting thing to think about these days when we all seem so divided, but I really do think that that is what it’s about and but connection not not only with one another, but with with the land, with the earth. And I think maybe that’s the first thing I think of, because I grew up I grew up during segregation in the South, and that probably has been the motivating force for all the work that I’ve done since may be is trying to repair some of the separations in my life and in our lives.
Brilliant [00:03:06] How have you gone about that?
Shirley [00:03:10] Oh, well, I I think within my own family, I have done that within my own connection to my family to begin with. When I. I have an experience of witnessing. A lot of course, a lot of. Conflict, discrimination, all the things that you might imagine growing up in in the south in the 50s and 60s. And there was a time when I was in eighth grade and we had. There was one African-American student in my class who was there because his way North Carolina resisted being fully integrated in the schools. So they developed a workaround that the state called freedom of choice. And so parents were invited to list the school they wanted their children to go to in the fall. And of course, none of the white families put down the black school to send their children. But one family who had a son my age opted for their son to go to the white school. And so there was this one African-American boy in my 8th grade class and I remember witnessing. The mistreatment that he got in our class, every time the teacher would leave the room, the the bigger boys in the back of the of the class would dump him out of his desk. He had the misfortune of also being fairly small. And so they would pick him up in his desk and dump him out. And I witnessed this multiple times. And I remember feeling so ashamed that I didn’t have the courage to say anything because, of course, it would have been social suicide to say something at that time. And at that age, so many years later, I happened to be at a at a class reunion and I ran into someone there. Of course, he wasn’t there. Why would he come? And so I ran into someone who was actually a neighbor of his family’s and I asked her how to get in touch with him. And I got his address from her, and so I was able to contact him and we actually made contact, this is many, many years later. And that’s that’s quite a long story, but I think. I think that. Experiences like that sort of instilled in me a longing to reconnect over difference over some of these chasms that we create in our lives.
Brilliant [00:06:56] The. What was the what was the connection like, the reconnection? I mean, how did you initiate that conversation? How was it received? What was the result?
Shirley [00:07:05] OK, well, I guess I’ll tell you. So I got this I got this man. Then I got his address and I wrote him a letter. And in the letter, I simply shared with him what I had witnessed when we were in eighth grade and I told him how I had felt at the time, that I had felt guilt, that I didn’t have the courage to speak up. And and I also said I just told him that I wanted him to know that I had been a witness, that I had always wondered how he how he managed to stay in that class because he would never defend himself. He would simply pick himself up off the floor, turn his desk back up. Put his books back in the desk and sit down day after day. And so I told him that I had always wondered, you know, why he was how he was able to do that, why his parents sent him to school to to ask our school. And and I also told him and I think this was important, I said, I don’t have any expectation that you will want to be in touch with me. That’s not why I’m writing this. And I said, but if you do, here’s here’s my phone number and and my my address. And and so I just let it go off and into the universe. And so some time later, maybe several weeks, I, I managed somehow and I’m in my forties now, I managed somehow to get a bad case of mononucleosis or mono. And so one night I’m lying flat on my couch in my living room with the phone beside me and the phone rings and I pick up the phone and I hear this heavy Southern accent, deep male voice say, is this Shirley? And I said, yes. And he said, Well, this is Charles. And I was pretty floored. It was amazing and he said, I got your letter and he also said my daughter wants to know if she can get on the other line. She’s 11. She’d like to meet you. And so what ensued was just this conversation where I got to talk to his daughter and I got to tell her. What a brave person her father was, even at the age of 13, and it was just a beautiful. Healing moment for me, I, I you know, and I think for all of us, in a way, and and then he said, if if you’re ever in Washington, D.C., let me know. So it actually turned out that some months after that, I was down there and I let him know and we wound up having dinner together. And then he said, hey, my my daughter’s having a basketball game tomorrow. Would you like to join me and my family? And I said, sure. And he said, OK, we’ll pick you up. And so I wound up walking into a high school gymnasium packed to the rafters with parents and fans. And this basketball game going on, I do believe I was the only white person in the whole auditorium, which is a wonderful turnaround for the story. And we stayed in touch, you know, Christmas cards for a few years. And we haven’t been in touch for quite some time now. But it’s an experience that certainly stayed with me.
Brilliant [00:11:26] You know, as you share, I’m I’m just reminded of how there is a universal aspect to our experience and there’s obviously a very individual and a personal one and a healing or as you said, connection seems to be something that is essential to who we are and what we need as we make our journey through this life. I know that this is something that is very central to your life and your work, to the point of having written a book called The Catholics and not just having written a book, but having been a part of a process that was years long and I think has some pretty. Pretty profound implications for for our society, or at least represents possibility I might be getting ahead of myself. So you wrote a book called The Gatherings: Reimagining Indigenous Settler Relations. So will you tell me, how did you go from this girl in the South to to this having done this? What is the book? Who you write it for? Will you speak to that?
Shirley [00:12:36] Yes. Well. I, I left North Carolina. I spent some time in Utah going to graduate school, working for a bit, and I became aware of the fact that there were a lot of indigenous people out in in the West, although I never had an opportunity to meet them. But I will I will say that when I was when I was a girl, I remember always being fascinated with stories of native people. And I tell this in the book that, you know, when I watched the Westerns, I. I always identified with the, quote, Indians. You know, I just I wanted to live the way they lived. I was fascinated by that.
Brilliant [00:13:37] By the way, what was something that drew you? Excuse me? What when you saw that and you said you wanted to live the way they live, what what do you mean?
Shirley [00:13:47] You know, I was just thinking about that. I think there was this sense of community that even in the Westerns, as horrible as they were, that somehow got portrayed about how they lived close to nature, living in community and small villages. And we grew I grew up pretty isolated as a child. And so I think there was something about that that really appealed to me. So I was sort of always on their side in the Westerns. But such a romantic view, such an uninformed romantic view. Of course I had. And so, again, you know, as I said then, I lived out west and I never really got to I never met any indigenous people out there. But when I moved to Maine, I I’m a Quaker and I was involved in some peace education work through the Quakers. And I met a woman named Ellie Hainey, who was also starting a social justice group, but a social, pretty unique situation. She was founding this group called the Center for Vision and Policy, and their goal was to try to weave together issues around economic justice, environmental justice and social justice. And the the reason the point being that they wanted to create a vision, a collaborative vision of what it would look like to live more sustainably in the Gulf of Maine bioregion, which describes Maine and Atlantic Canada particularly. And about the thing that was particularly unique about that is that they wanted to make sure that the voices of the indigenous people who lived in this region were part of that vision because they had lived sustainably on this land for thousands and thousands of years. And their voices should be included. But they didn’t really have an idea about how to do that. Ellie had a few names that she’d been given. I happened to be attending a yearly gathering of Quakers in New England shortly after that. And I saw that in the program. There was a Wampanoag man scheduled to speak about native spirituality, and his name was Guessatonamouk, although I could not pronounce his name at the time. And so I said to Ellie, well, I’m going to this event and I will see if I can talk to this man and tell him about what we’re doing and see if he has any suggestions for us. That’s how that’s how elemental and basic this whole idea was. So I did go I did meet him. He was there with his partner, McMahon, and their their daughter at the time who was two years old. And so after one of his sessions, I went up and I spoke to him and I told him about this whole idea and he was intrigued. He told me later that he was intrigued because we talked about wanting to include people of the land and that that was a term that he didn’t hear quite. People use very often, so what what happened was that he sort of took it upon himself, he did give me some names of people that we could talk to in Maine. By the way, we were in Massachusetts at the time at this Quaker gathering. But he gave me the names of some people in Maine that we might speak with. We had gotten some names of indigenous organizations from other people. And so during this year that we spent sort of seeking people out and seeing who might be interested in working with us because the Tanimura and I corresponded and he sort of took it upon himself to educate me about about the issues, about the real issues between indigenous people and settlers and the history that they had experienced. And so about at the end of that year, the idea was formed that we would have an event that would bring together what indigenous or from from Maine and the Maritimes. The term would be Abenaki. It’s a blanket term that that includes the the Passamaquoddy Penobscot Myxoma and MALUSI, as well as the Abenaki peoples from this area, from this territory. And it also and it also corresponds with the Abenaki Confederacy that was here long before settlers. So we decided to create this educational forum where the non natives invited the natives to come and educate us. And so we invited speakers and we it was kind of workshopping, you know, and we were in the quote audience and they were sitting up in chairs facing us, speaking to us. And so we spent a weekend doing that. And it went well enough that we did it again the second year. But at the end of the second year, some of the Lubinsky people who had been part of this, they came up to me because by then I had become the coordinator of this event and they said, you know, we think this has promise, but we’re really not comfortable meeting this way. We we would like to suggest that we meet differently. And if you would be willing for us to come together in a traditional format, a traditional council meeting with a fire gathered around, sharing with one another and surrounding our meetings with ceremony that would help us help prepare us and it would aid Aidar process, but where we would be in charge of all of that and you would just get the people here because that’s what you’re good at. And we would be in charge of the format, how we meet and anything ceremonial that happens. And I mean, we immediately said, yes, we would love to do that. And people said, well, we’d like to do that more often. So we decided to do this twice a year. And now what I’m talking about are four day weekends where we would find a place, a farm, a place where someone had a large enough area for people to camp. We would come bring in coolers and tents and sleeping bags. And because we couldn’t afford to do it any other way, really, and it and so we would spend all that time together, just in circles, talking around a fire. And sharing meals, cooking together, hanging out together from Thursday to Sunday, twice a year, we did this we did this 11 times over the course of a six to seven year period. This was in the 80s and 90s. And as a result, friendships were formed, connections were made that continue to this day and there would be about 25 to 30 people there. You know, there would be more I would say probably people would come and go, of course, over the years, but a core group probably of 10 to 15 people that would always show up and so about. Well, it was 2008, to be exact, because I had just retired and several of us went to an event together. We wound up at the same event and we started talking about what we should write a book about this. We really should. And so one of the people who was there was a friend of ours who had been part of the gatherings for years, but she’s a New Zealander. She had been here to attend school. And as she continued on to work in the States, but she had long since gone back to New Zealand. But she’s a writer and she works primarily with with the Maori in New Zealand. So she said, look, I can do this. I’ll come back. I’ll spend a couple of weeks in Maine and New Brunswick and go drive around. Shirley will drive me around. We’ll do some interviews and I’ll write the book. I said, great, that’s been a dream of mine, that someone would write a book about this, just not me. And so great. So we those of us who sort of had the initial idea, they became the planning committee. So there were three Abenaki to non-native myself and and my friend Francis from New Zealand being the non natives. And we began a process of grant writing to raise money for us to come back together in reunion gatherings so that we could plan the book. And we had so we raised money, we had everything all set. Francis was going to come back, do the interviews, and she had a series of of medical operations. She had emergency eye surgery. And the doctor said, you’re not flying anywhere for at least a year. And so we said, well, we’re not going to stop. We’ve come too far. So at that point, the group asked if I would take the lead on the writing project, and Francis promised to be our guide and mentor from afar. And that’s how it started. That’s how it started. So looking back, I can’t imagine that we could have done all of this with Frances coming back for two weeks and doing interviews. It really started, you know, gosh, couple of year process of raising additional money. I traveled all over Abenaki territory, sometimes with McMahon, once with guest autonomy, because all of us in the book to interview people. Then there was a matter of coming back and transcribing those interviews. Sending those interviews out to people to make sure that they were comfortable with what they’d said, people had full rights over their words, if there was anything they didn’t want in there. It came out. If there was something they wanted to add, it went in. And then we went through a whole process like that several times of crafting the the personal interviews into stories and sending them back to people and getting their approval for that. We had a couple of reunions again in the process. Once the trend, once people were satisfied with their interviews, then we had a process. I wrote a first draft. People got a chance to respond to that. So ultimately. People were able not only to have full rights and responsibilities over their own words in the book, but over the book as a whole. So we didn’t proceed until everyone had signed off that yes, this they were happy with how they were represented and happy with the book.
Brilliant [00:27:13] Wow. What a what an intense endeavor. A very thoughtful one. What did you hope would result from it? Like, how did you hope the world would be different or people who who read it? What did you hope they would do?
Shirley [00:27:28] Do you mind if I respond to what you said first, which is that because I said there’s an important point here, you said what an what an involved endeavor, whatever, it was really important to us to go through that process, particularly because this was a project that involved indigenous and non-indigenous people, particularly because I’m not indigenous. And what has happened over and over again when you know. White people will come into an indigenous community, will gather information and go off and write a book and get a degree from it or make money from it, and nothing is ever given back to the community. And so it’s it’s really a huge issue these days because people are really calling that sort of thing out. And so it was tremendously important that. Everyone be involved that they had full rights over the book and. One of the things I’m most proud of is that I do feel and I hope that getting to this point, people really feel as if it is their book, that the book is our book. And and it took it took that intentionality on all of our parts, I think, to make that happen.
Brilliant [00:29:10] Well, just on that, if I may. Yeah. Go back to that other question. Yeah, this book is a bit unique. It’s where you have this coauthor listed on the title that’s really not just one person, it’s more. Am I saying this right?
Shirley [00:29:26] Mobianay
Brilliant [00:29:30] Moubianay, on a so very good one. This what does this mean?
Shirley [00:29:35] Well from the book. It is it was a name that was chosen and it was chosen by two of. Let me let me back up and say that it was really, as I said, it was so important for this book to be ours, our book, not my book. And so University of Toronto Press has been absolutely fabulous to work with. And they have consulted with us at every step and been completely open to our suggestions. And the first time that I got the proofs back for the cover, it just had my name on it. Well, that was clearly not the idea. And so but the designer was, of course, looking to have a very attractive, simple design. And so we went back to them and we said, we can’t do this. People’s names have to be on the book. And they said, OK, we will do that. So it came back and they had listed all of our names, all 14 names, plus Francis, who writes the afterword on the cover. And we looked at it and we said, oh, that looks terrible. It’s so busy. You know, there’s too many names. And so
Brilliant [00:31:08] Careful what you wish for.
Shirley [00:31:10] Right. Yeah. So so they said, OK, how about this? Can you come up with a name for the group? And so we said, well, we’ll, we will, we’ll think about that. So. We and the name would be somehow representative of what we had accomplished, but also visually show that it had been a true collaboration, native and non-native. So what was a really wonderful moment in all of this is that I was speaking to of the one of the members, as I said, we have three Abenaki coauthors on the planning committee. One is McMahon, who was a native Michaelmas speaker. Another is Wayne Nool, who is a native Passamaquoddy speaker. And so there are similarities among those languages. But they there’s there are differences among those languages, but similarities as well. So I managed to get Wayne and McMahon on the phone on a three way call, and I just got to sit there and listen to them talk about, well, what should this name be to people who are fluent in their. Languages, two separate languages, but similar to Abenaki languages, and so it was just a wonderful moment to have them go back and forth. Well, what about this? Well, that means this, but there’s a little bit of that. And so this is what we came up with. It’s actually mobile is a personal quality word. And but Megamall had agreed that it was a word that would be recognizable by those speaking the other Lubinsky languages. And so it means literally and Passamaquoddy let us sit together. But as Wayne says, it’s it’s a healing word. It it it means more the connotation is let us sit together as we would sit together in the longhouse and work on an issue where there is there can be divisiveness, but it’s really worth it to hang in there. And that’s the best way I can describe it. But that’s what they came up with. And it’s really resonated with people, I think.
Brilliant [00:33:57] What a what a beautiful what a beautiful name to come up with a concept. Right. And this was something that I’ve been struck by as I’ve learned about indigenous traditions. And and it’s threaded throughout this book about this inclusiveness, this collaboration, this every voice matters. Every voice is welcome. It’s not essential even when it’s a voice of disagreement or maybe. Right.
Shirley [00:34:23] Yes, you stay with it until you reach a point where people are in agreement.
Brilliant [00:34:29] Yeah. So let me go back to that other question, which is, how do you want the world to be different now that this book exists? What was your personal hope or intention for your involvement in this in this project and kind of stacking questions here? But who is it for? Who is this book for? And what do you want from.
Shirley [00:34:50] We felt that the experience that we had had in the gatherings had first of all, we all felt that we had come away with our lives transformed by what we had learned about one another and about ourselves in the process. As a non native person, I, I look at nearly everything differently, that as a result of this experience, I look at what I hear on the news, I look at history that I read current events. I look at the land. I look at what politicians say all through the lens of the experience that I had because I learned a different way of seeing. And when you look at where we are in our society today, we’re on the brink of climate. Catastrophe we’re on the brink of. Ruining and using up our clean water and the extracting the land. You know, we’re just doing it all wrong and we need to do something different. What? Indigenous cultures have to offer us in terms of the. Thousands of years of information and experience that they have with the natural world is something that we all need to learn from. That working together to solve those problems would be hugely beneficial and desirable for all of us. There’s also the matter. Of looking at how this country. Began and, you know, there’s there’s the saying, you know, this country was founded on genocide and slavery. Well, yes, and we still live with that history. Indigenous people live with it every day in terms of the difficulties, the obstacles, the challenges that they deal with in their lives. We live with it, too. It’s not so. Evident to us, it’s easy to ignore because we are we’re the ones who benefit the most from what we’ve created here, but we live with it, too, and we see it all around us, I think in the mindset that came to this land, a mindset of conquest, a mindset that might makes right and. That we haven’t gotten beyond that, so we need to go back and do some healing with how this country was formed and realizing that there’s a price we’ve paid on a spiritual level for living in a culture that was. Not founded. Rightly, that was founded on the taking of land, that was founded on the breaking of promises, and that is going to require some healing. So I think that. There are many ways to begin to repair that relationship. Our relationship with indigenous peoples and our relationship with the land and with ourselves as a result of how how we began. And we don’t really know. The steps to take until we’re willing to be in relationship with one another and being in relationship with indigenous people means to learn to listen, to learn, to listen and believe what you’re told. Believe what you’re told in terms of people’s experience, what they experience every day and and what the society puts upon them in order to exist. And I really need to say that being in relationship with indigenous people in no way means taking on their culture or their ways or their religion or that was something that was so uppermost in our minds when we created the gatherings, because particularly in the 80s and early 90s, there was a great fascination, a sort of new age fascination with indigenous spirituality. And people were going to workshops given by people who weren’t even indigenous or weren’t sanctioned by their communities, thinking that they could go out and practice, make money off of indigenous spirituality in various ways, quote, acting Indian, all of these things that we just were tried to be so careful to say that these gatherings are about getting to know one another as people. And one of the things I would say to people is if someone invited you, if you’d never been to a Catholic church and someone invited you to join them, would you would you go and then feel qualified to. Go out and conduct a mass. This is the equivalent of what you know, what happens sometimes and so indigenous, the Wabanaki people in our in our book would say one of the one of the best ways you can meet us is to be knowledgeable and secure of your own traditions, your own heritage, because at one time back there, there was the same strong relationship to the land. And that’s that’s where we can meet. That’s where we can join together in working toward a better future that includes us all.
Brilliant [00:42:29] Yeah, well, thank you for for sharing that and, you know, it’s my my personal belief that a lot of what’s not working in our society today really is directly related to what you’ve just said about this, whether it’s a feeling of guilt or shame, even though we weren’t the perpetrators, you know, we are the beneficiaries of. Right. And I think at some level we were not even aware of that. You know, or even if we are aware of it, we don’t know what to do with that. We don’t know where to begin and discussed, you know, your gatherings and how they happened and what a beautiful invitation that you received. And as you said, this practice of listening, you know, in this invitation not just to participate, but to conduct it according to traditional ways in a circle around a fire. You know this and I suspect that there are many people who would love that now, whether they’re listening for it or whether they would actually receive it or how they would receive it, you know, I suppose as a matter of person, each person. But where do we even begin with this healing? If we’re if somebody is listening to this and they’re saying, oh, that that resonates with me? Right, and I want to just interrupt myself for a moment to to quote something that you say, you quote in the book, you do quote Kishtanimuk and where he says, I’ve come to understand. Now, he says, it’s no coincidence that the whole world came to this continent. He says people came looking for trade, but they were also looking for something else. They were moving away from a place that was sick and they were arriving in a place where there was something different, something healthy, but maybe they couldn’t recognize it. We’ve struggled this far and survived these many years, and we’re still trying to get people to connect with land. So I actually think those were gonna apologize for the pronunciation Migamahan?
Shirley [00:44:36] Migamahan.
Brilliant [00:44:37] She quoted as saying it’s no coincidence that the whole world came this comment. But the sense that we’re all looking for something. Right, but we maybe don’t even know what it is that we’re looking for. And as you’re saying, you know, sometimes we look at this indigenous ceremonies or indigenous way of being in relation to the land, relation to the community and will recognize something. We yearn for it, but we don’t necessarily know how to engage in it. And paradoxically, when we don’t, maybe that’s where this unworkability of sickness, this violence, this depression come from. But all with all of that in the background. So I invite you to respond to any part of that that you want to. But I also ask, like, how do we living in the corporate world where we have our property rights and we have our mortgages and we live according to a clock. This kind of thing, how do we even begin this healing process?
Shirley [00:45:29] Hmm, well, we have this discussion in the book I talk to Gessatonimuk about, he says, and other people, other indigenous people say that white people suffer from. Knowing on some level that we’re not here legitimately on this land, as I was saying before, and. Gissatonimuk says in the book at one point. Something like listen to the land, all you need to know, she will teach you, and so it’s not so much that we need to we don’t need to go to indigenous cultures to know how to be. We we we need to spend the time ourselves to create our own connection to the land. And then we will, if we come to love it as much as they do, which is another thing he says, then we have something that we can work on together. I say in the book that, you know, when you said, where do we begin? Well, there’s actually two answers to that. I think one is that if if you’re talking specifically about relations with indigenous peoples. A lot of us don’t have that opportunity because as a result of contact, original contact, which involved so much disease as well as intentional genocide, all kinds of forces, that populations were reduced nine, 90 to 95 percent on this continent. So then you have the government moving the people who were left into reserve, onto reservations in the most rural and usually the most undesirable. There’s not a lot of opportunity for many of us to get to know an actual indigenous person, which is one of the reasons we wanted to write the book, because we felt that we had had a rare opportunity, a window into one another’s lives that that we wanted to share. However, if you do live in a part of the country where there are indigenous populations, there may be people who are your next door neighbors, but you just don’t know it. But if there are no indigenous communities, if there excuse me, if there are indigenous communities near where you live, then. You know, it’s a matter of looking for ways that are presented to you to attend events, talks were given by indigenous people to to read books written by indigenous people to join if they are being impacted by some sort of public policy or threat to their environment to learn more about that and find ways to support that. So the important thing is to be taking your lead from them, not. Deciding that you think there’s a problem and you have the answer to it, there’s so much of what we talk about in the book about that, learning to listen, learning to take advice, being willing to be humble about who you are and what you don’t know. So. You know, it’s a combination, I think, of trying to find our own relationship both with the land and with our own ancestry. There’s a beautiful story in the book by Joanne, who her ancestry was Irish, and she lives on lived on Cape Cod. She’s no longer with us. But she she was talking to a tournament one day and she was talking about how she felt ungrounded, that she loved the place where she lived on Cape Cod, but she didn’t feel of the land. And he’s not in the way that she had experienced the Abenaki people who were part of the. Who were part of the gang? To Ireland and walk the land, and she really took that advice and she went over there and she spent several months, I think initially, and she has this beautiful description of what that meant to her. And she said now being back at home on Cape Cod, I feel like. Now that I know. Where I belong, I can belong anywhere. So having had that experience of really having the land in Ireland speak to her as her ancestral land, she felt able to come back here and live here and and and have that experience here as caring, caring for the Earth in the way in the same connected way as she had felt going back to Ireland. So that’s another example.
Brilliant [00:51:44] Wow, that’s that’s a beautiful example you mentioned there were two ways did that cover both of them or is there another way to depict.
Shirley [00:51:52] Yeah, I think so. One one was you said, how can we start? And one was finding your own relationship to the land and your ancestral heritage, because you may not have if you’re talking about starting to repair this relationship with indigenous people, you may not have that opportunity where you live. But if you do, then the second way is to look for those things that are those opportunities that are indigenous led and where the information is coming from them, or they might be involved in a particular environmental issue that impacts them. And find out how that affects you as well. Because I say in the book that in the circles. It was as if over time we could move from looking at one another in the circles to looking outward together at what we can do together.
Brilliant [00:52:55] Oh, what a what a wonderful perspective. In the book you write, we all have the truth. We’re just looking for someone to confirm it, not even confirm it really, but to support or complement what we already know.
Shirley [00:53:09] Yeah, I think McMahon said that actually, because which is a wonderful thing, because she was talking about, you know, people looking. Some people might be looking to indigenous philosophy, religion for how to be. And she was saying, you know, we all have the truth. We’re just looking for someone to confirm it. And that that’s what she I think she was saying. That’s what their spirituality does for them, is that there’s not a dogma, but but their spirituality confirms what they know for each other and that we have that available to us to.
Brilliant [00:54:00] What a great what a great perspective, and it’s one that I, I absolutely share, I’ve recognized it in myself. It was like something that I knew. But until I heard someone outside myself say it or live it, you know, it wasn’t something I was maybe aware of. And just the idea that’s available to all of us and even believing that I can make a huge difference. Let me ask you about this. So you write in the book you include a couple of ideas that are maybe related or maybe they deserve their own distinct exploration. But one is this idea of helping versus standing with. And the other thing you talk about that I was interested to get your view about is this idea of white guilt versus humility. Will you talk about we talk about either or both of those?
Shirley [00:54:59] Well, it’s Barb in the book who is a megamall woman who has such powerful. Such powerful. And, you know, I think we we can all feel if you’re if you’re non-native, you can you can feel badly about what happened in the past in terms of. What happened to indigenous peoples when settlers arrived, and it’s it’s very human to feel bad about that, but if we allow ourselves to come from a place of guilt, then what we call a personal guilt. We what we will often try to do in relationship with an indigenous person is. To want them to absolve us from that guilt, we want we want them to tell us that we’re a good person and no, no, it wasn’t you. You’re fine. You’re you’re good. You’re not racist. You’re not like, you know, we want some sort of sign from them that we’re OK. And that places an enormous burden on native people. It’s it’s not for them to do that for us. If we find ourselves in that place, there are places we can turn. We can we can read books by people who have struggled with this issue. We can and we have some suggestions in the in the book we can turn to other people who are involved in social other non-native people who are involved in social justice work and turn to them for support and processing some of these feelings. But it’s not helpful for native people. And it’s and it’s a burden to ask them to absolve our guilt. What we can offer is our humility in going forward. We can offer to show up. We can offer to place our bodies, you know, side by side with someone who is engaged in a struggle, whether that’s a struggle in the state legislature or on the protest line or, you know, that we can offer to place ourselves there side by side, not because we’re there to help them or to save them, but because we see that our fate is bound up with theirs, that we. Are impacted by this issue as well. And we are there to stand side by side with them and and if it is an indigenous initiated or led effort to to to absolutely take our cues from them, to take our advice from them. And that’s the humility there is. It’s such a strong and tantalizing part of of white European based culture to think we have the answers and to want to fix things now. And we can just blow into a situation and think we know what should be done. That’s what we want to avoid at all costs.
Brilliant [00:58:49] Yeah, yeah. I think, you know, as just having these concepts, it can be useful. Right. And at the end of the day, it’s kind of it makes me think of it saying, you know, no one can do your push ups for you. There’s things we’ve got to do for ourselves as much as we wish someone could absolve us or make it easier. You know, something that I hadn’t really thought about until I read your book is this idea of really, I would say like coexisting. This is a theme that comes up a few times. And there’s a statement that McMahon makes in the book that I thought was really insightful. She says, we have to we speaking of her indigenous, you know, indigenous people, we have to step out of our culture and go into the white culture to get our credentials or to celebrate our achievements. It’s only through that avenue. We are currently recognized that whether it’s in or law or something like this, that we’re kind of expecting them to fit into our culture somehow through our certification and credentialing process, instead of like making room for and acknowledging and in some ways collaborating, you know, in this kind of thing. And and what I wonder, you know, because there’s so much in this indigenous thinking, like you’re saying about the connection to the land, respect for nature, connection to community inclusion, things that we talk about, you know, diversity, inclusion and belonging, like we’re talking about it. But for thousands of years, these indigenous cultures have been living it, not just having it as some kind of a concept. So where I’m going with all this is you think it’s really possible that we could make room for this other way of thinking and being and not just constantly try to co-opt it or take the best parts of it or get right to a solution somehow?
Shirley [01:00:54] Well, it’s I’m trying to formulate because there’s something about saying if I could there’s something about saying make room for that still puts us in the driver’s seat, know that we’re controlling whether we make room for it or not. And, you know, I think that’s not where we want to come from in thinking about that. I think what we we meaning the dominant culture could do for ourselves is to realize that we need to partner. With. Indigenous knowledge, philosophy, science, spirituality for. The good of all of us, yeah, so that, for example, because the tournament makes this point in the book that, you know, so we don’t just learn about indigenous ideas in Native Studies 101, but that it is he he uses the term indigenized, the academy. And so, you know, so that indigenous thought becomes part of the biology class and the physics class and certainly part of the history class. But that, you know, I am on Facebook and I follow a number of indigenous people on Facebook. And, you know, I’m always it’s always fun to see them posting. Oh, say, an article from Scientific American or something, you know, that’s proclaiming this new discovery, you know, and and see the comments of, yeah, you know, they’re finally catching up. You know that. We’ve known this all along. And there and there is there are real movements happening happening in universities. I know. I know there is some movement happening at the University of Maine where there are real efforts beginning to. To make the study of a subject include indigenous thought on an equal basis and to reap the benefits of combining that way of thinking with with Western thought.
Brilliant [01:03:40] Well, yeah, it’s a it’s a it’s a wonderful vision, yeah, Ajin. I want to ask you back a little bit back to the question of what not. Where do we begin necessarily, but what can we do? But some people, I think, have they’ve asked that question, taken some pretty significant action here in the United States, in Maine with the only government sponsored Truth and Reconciliation Commission recognized by the government. Were you when you talk about that?
Shirley [01:04:17] I was not directly part of that, but I know many people who have been part of that and ton, the tournament in the book was one of the five commissioners on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Let me say, I think if I heard what you said correctly, I would say the Truth and Reconciliation Commission here in Maine is the only grass roots Truth and Reconciliation Commission that was formed. It was a grassroots movement that ultimately got governmental sanction not only by the state of Maine, but by the five tribal governments in Maine. So there was a big signing ceremony with the governor of Maine and the chiefs of each of the tribal communities here back in. Oh, gosh. Twenty, twelve. I think so. But it was grassroots because. Maine had an extraordinarily high rate of the removal of native children from homes by social service workers, caseworkers and placed in non-native pulled out of their communities and placed in non-native homes. And back in the 70s, there had been a passage of a federal act, the Indian Child Welfare Act, which. Laid down some rules to try because that was a huge thing that was happening across the country of native children being removed, ostensibly because people thought it would be better for them. But the damage done and often they were placed in homes where they were abused and they they were away from their relatives, their culture. It wasn’t always I mean, maybe there was a legitimate reason that they had to be removed from their parents home for their safety. But there was no acknowledgment of traditional methods of child rearing where there were relatives in the community who would have taken them, because those children are considered the children of the whole tribe. And so they were not only removed from their extended families, but out of their culture. And as I said, often in situations where they were mistreated. So the Indian Child Welfare Act tried to stem the tide, tried to put a stop to this in the 70s. But as well into the 2000s, Maine was still removing children at at an extremely high rate and in violation of Iqua, the Indian Child Welfare Act. So this led to a group of social workers who worked for the state of Maine and social workers who worked, child welfare workers who worked for the tribes in Maine, coming together and recognizing this problem and agreeing among themselves that something needed to be done with it about it and figuring out how to how to proceed. So they kept getting together. Of those two groups gave rise ultimately to this Truth and Reconciliation Commission, where they collected stories from people who had been removed, indigenous people who had been removed, as well as case workers. And those stories are archived. And, you know, truth and reconciliation commissions have happened all over the world. The whole country of Canada has done this around their boarding school, residential school issues, which is similar. And so it’s an example of what can happen from the grass roots. And I’m not quite sure what does that answer your question? I was there.
Brilliant [01:08:29] Thank you for sharing. And and I wonder is maybe a Western fairly rational thinker that is looking sometimes to fix things or for solutions if a truth and reconciliation kind of process on a national level is part of the kind of acknowledging and healing, you know, in that maybe even friendship and alliance building that, do you you see it that way? Or is that a simplistic view?
Shirley [01:09:02] Do you mean could we use could we do that here in this country? Yeah.
Brilliant [01:09:06] Yes. Yes, I think these are the lands and you know this.
Shirley [01:09:10] Yes, I think so. And in fact, Deb Helland, before she became secretary of the interior, I believe, was sponsoring a bill to create a nationwide truth and Reconciliation Commission in this country. I believe that is still in process. I believe it’s going to be taken up by others. I think possibly Elizabeth Warren, but I’m not positive about that. And I think the focus of. That is still going to be on the removal of children, I’m not so sure that it’s a blanket Truth and Reconciliation Commission to deal with the whole situation of the broken treaties and all the things we talk about in the book. But I would imagine that those things would have to be part of it, because just as the PRC found in Maine to make recommendations. It has to be there. Their recommendations are much broader than simply focusing on fixing the child welfare system. Yeah, so and I suspect if we embarked on that nationwide, that that would be true as well. Yeah.
Brilliant [01:10:30] Well, thank you for for addressing that. Well, I know there’s so much more that we could talk about, a lot that I’m curious about. Things you touch on in the book about how circles work and why so many other cultural differences. The role of women is really going deeper into the idea of the longhouse. Maybe even the idea that the entire United States is a longhouse. And or I do want to respect your time. And I also want to make room for some of the other facets of the conversation about writing and creativity.
Shirley [01:11:06] Yes, yes. The rest of the conversation, the rest.
Brilliant [01:11:10] So before we transition, is there anything that we haven’t talked about that you that you want to talk about?
Shirley [01:11:18] Related to the book? Yeah, well, it seems like oh, can I show the book because I show it. Yeah, there it is. We’re really pleased with the cover. We think they did a wonderful job and they would use the theme in the back with some comments about it. But we’re very happy that it’s out. And our launch is Tuesday, May 11th at 11 o’clock. I don’t that that will probably have happened by the time this podcast is out. But, gosh, I think we’ve covered a lot about that, so I’m ready to move on.
Brilliant [01:12:00] All right. Well, thank you. And just because things on the Internet, I think they live on forever. For anyone listening, we’re talking about May 11th. Twenty twenty one. Yes. All right. All right. Well, then we’ll go ahead and transition to the enlightening lightning round. How are you doing, by the way?
Shirley [01:12:20] I’m doing fine, thanks. Enjoying this.
Brilliant [01:12:22] Good me to. OK, so again, this is a series of questions on a variety of topics. You’re welcome to answer as long as you want. My aim, for the most part is to just ask the question and stand aside. OK, question number one, please complete the following sentence with something other than a box of chocolates. Life is like a.
Shirley [01:12:56] Climbing a steep mountain with a gorgeous vista at the top.
Brilliant [01:13:03] OK, you care, I’m borrowing Peter Tiel’s question. He’s an investor and technologist. What important truth do you believe that very few people agree with you on?
Shirley [01:13:26] This this just popped into my head, and it’s not my original thought, but I recall a native man saying to me, saying this to me one time, it’s a radical thing to stay in one place. And I’ve never forgotten that. Because when you do that, you. You get to know what’s around you and you have to stay there, even if you don’t like all of it, I guess is part of the part of the lesson.
Brilliant [01:14:02] Interesting. All right. Thank you. Question number three, if you were required every day for the rest of your life to wear a T-shirt with a slogan on it or phrase saying or quote or quip, what would the shirt say?
Shirley [01:14:23] Yeah. Love is the answer.
Brilliant [01:14:27] All right, question number four, what book other than one of your own, have you gifted or recommended most often?
Shirley [01:14:39] Oh, gosh. Um. Probably. George Eliot’s Middlemarch.
Brilliant [01:15:02] Why that book?
Shirley [01:15:04] Well, I was also going to say Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and there’s a theme there because, you know, in spite of all my critiques of my European patriarchal heritage, I also have a deep connection and fascination with English literature. And, you know, I think it’s one of those things that’s like going back to Ireland and walking the land and having it speak to you. They speak to me and. Much simpler time, and that just has its charms.
Brilliant [01:15:48] Awesome. All right, thank you. So question number five is the opposite of saying in one place it’s about travel. So in your life, you’ve traveled a lot. What is one travel HACC, meaning something you do or something you take with you when you travel to make your travel less painful and more enjoyable?
Shirley [01:16:09] Well, this is funny, but I stay in one place because I you know, I’m just not. Even in two weeks or three, I the times that I have driven through a place and said to myself, what am I doing? And just stopped, looked for a place to stay. And I wound up staying in one place for a whole week or more at a time. Has it has there been life life changing experiences.
Brilliant [01:16:43] All right. Thank you. OK, question number six, what is one thing you’ve started or stopped doing in order to live or age well?
Shirley [01:17:02] It’s. Well, I don’t I don’t quite know how to answer that, because a lot of. What I what I do to age, well, I feel like I’ve always done, you know, to spend a lot of time outside to to walk, to bike. To spend time with friends. And we are so fortunate to live in a place where we can have a big garden, we heat with wood, and so I get I get plenty of plenty of activity that way. But, yeah, I don’t know that I’ve started or stopped anything in particular.
Brilliant [01:17:57] What a wonderful way to be able to question that. That’s great. OK, question number seven. What’s one thing you wish every American knew?
Shirley [01:18:17] I wish every American knew. The. The joy of getting to know someone. Entirely different from themselves. OK, and finding out that they’re not so different from themselves.
Brilliant [01:18:44] Yeah, that’s wonderful. That’s wonderful. Thank you. All right, the next one’s about relationships, what’s the most important or useful thing you’ve ever learned about making relationships work?
Shirley [01:19:10] Being honest even when it’s hard. And. Hanging in there when they’re honest with you.
Brilliant [01:19:25] All right, and question number nine, aside from compound interest, what’s the most important thing you’ve ever learned about money?
Shirley [01:19:44] When you’re generous, it really does come back to you.
Brilliant [01:19:49] Yeah. OK, well, congratulations, you have survived in enlightening, lightning round, and I’m
Shirley [01:19:56] just going to say I survived.
Brilliant [01:19:58] Yes, OK, so although as I mentioned, I do have a few more questions about writing in the creative process before we go to that. The the the very final question in the Enlightening lightning round is people want to learn more from you or if they want to connect with you, what would you have them do?
Shirley [01:20:20] We are in the process of building a website for the book, and we will have people will be able to find that by Googling it, I’m sure. But we’ll have away an email address there to try to find out more so that that will be coming very soon.
Brilliant [01:20:45] Great. OK. And I also will tell you this year that as an expression of gratitude to you for sharing your experience and and your knowledge with me and everyone listening that I’ve gone online to Kiva.org, and I’ve made one hundred dollar microloan to a woman entrepreneur in Tadjikistan named Saida, who is so sure is what.
Shirley [01:21:10] I’m sorry, I missed that.
Brilliant [01:21:13] Her name is Saida. Saida. She lives in Tajikastan, she’s a farmer and she will use this money to buy equipment that will help her and her work.
Shirley [01:21:25] I’m delighted. I’m delighted. So thank you very much.
Brilliant [01:21:31] OK, well, with that, the last the last few things that I just want to explore with you pertain to the act of writing, publishing, the creative process, anything related to that. Let me let me start by asking you this about the book. What was your so you’ve talked already about this collaborative process with these other coauthors. But as a practical matter of of actually pulling all that information together, organizing it, including the part that you wrote, how did you organize your time and what was the process you followed to to actually make this book a reality?
Shirley [01:22:14] Wow. Well, first of all, I mean, I have such incredible admiration for people who have. Fault, they have a full time job, and so they talk about how they get up at 4:00 in the morning and right during the quiet hours and because they’re just so compelled to write. And that wasn’t me, because I I first and foremost never thought of myself as a writer. As I as I said to you, you know, I didn’t expect to write this book originally. And I had done writing as part of my my my profession, but it had never, never anything like this. And so I was fortunate enough. I retired at the end of 2007, so and this idea began to develop throughout the following year. And that meeting I told you about where we all kind of decided we needed to write a book that was in the fall of that year. So I had time. And I had wonderful support in my husband, Dave, and. You know, so the process was a kind of step by step, as I said, we spent some time writing grants so that we could get together. Then once we got together and we figured out who was going to be in the book, I set out to do the interviews. I would travel around to where people were and interview people for about a couple of hours, very similar to this. And then I would come back and transcribe. I did buy some software to just to transcribe the words, but it didn’t work very well because it only really works when it it gets trained to your voice. But since there was both my voice and the other person’s voice in the interview, it really didn’t work well. So I had to. Literally, listen to the interviews again. Line by line and stop and start and type type them out, and so then I would type them out, you know, separate them by paragraphs, send that to people. And I freaked everyone out because I was so bent on making sure that I didn’t, you know, put words in anyone’s mouth that, you know, I was headed exactly like they said it. And so I would send them these transcripts and they would tell me, oh, my God, you mean I actually sound like that. That’s how I talk. You’re not going to put that in the book, are you? And so I had to kind of calm everybody down and say, no, we all talk like this. We all say and and, um, and, you know, and and so I eventually got the idea through my head that people don’t really want their exact words back to them. They want you to write what they meant to say and then check it out with them and see if you got it right. So that was a process of of sending things back and forth. I would literally send written typed transcripts to people. So then so there was that process then of sort of creating a coherent story from the interviews in in in people’s original words. However, so there was just this whole time of writing that I would check back with people. Check back with people. Thing more so we do that in a phone call. I did a first draft, sent that out, got feedback from people, Frances actually from New Zealand, came back and did a visit and she traveled around with me because she wanted to see everyone again. And so we went around and we talked about the first draft and she took notes and I took notes. And then that led to a second draft where we integrated everything that we had heard, which again got sent out to folks. And after the second draft, you know, it gradually came together. So I sent the finished manuscript to everyone, had it printed out, bound, got feedback, and along with that sent a permissions letter. You know that you have my permission. I signed off on this book. It says what I wanted it to say. It looks like I wanted it to look. And so I had those on file. And so then you start the process of finding a publisher. Well, first, you have to learn how to write a book proposal, which, if a book is a dissertation, a book proposal is a master’s thesis. The one I did was 50 to 60 pages. And every publisher wants something a little bit different. They want some times they want just a query letter, like a cover letter. Sometimes they want a full proposal. Sometimes they want the proposal and the first chapter of your book or the first three chapters, and so every time you send it out, you have to learn about that publisher and tweak whatever you’re sending them to meet their requirements. And I did that a lot. I did that I’ve probably sent out the book to 25 publishers. Overall, it took about a year to learn to do the proposal, to write the proposal, begin to send it out then. There was this process of getting feedback from publishers, and what I found is that. I got a lot of positive feedback about the book, I didn’t. I only got one out of maybe 25. This is I don’t know what this book, you know. You know, this book I don’t know. It was a negative, but it was clearly like he almost hadn’t read it. So I was grateful that I didn’t get any searing rejection letters. But I got a lot of we don’t really know what to do with this book. It doesn’t really fit this category or that category. And so that took some time. And all of a sudden I hear back from this editor at the University of Toronto Press and she also said, I don’t quite know what to do with this book, but I really love it and I’ve shown it. I’ve shown your proposal to people and they love it, too. But we’re going to have to have a long conversation. Well, they’re a scholarly press university press. And her concern was that their books all had to go through a peer review process. And she says now people are going to be looking for certain things because they’re going to want to be looking at, you know, can I use this in my course and so on. And she said, I’m just concerned that a peer review to respond to what you might hear could change the book. And we don’t want to change the book, you know, to make it more academic, to make it more textbooks. And I said, no, we don’t want that either. So she said, well, let’s just let’s just keep going. Let’s just keep trying that. And so we we were going through that peer review process and we were getting, again, positive feedback. But also, you know, could you do this? Could you do that? And, you know, the editor who was really being a champion for the book, you know, she was concerned that, you know, they were asking for things that weren’t the book and weren’t what it was supposed to be. They she told me and her one of her areas of expertize is indigenous studies. She said, we don’t have anything like this and we publish books in this area all the time because we we don’t have anything that is over the long haul. Here’s how you be in relationship. The you know, the inside look at at the anxieties and the fears and and the anger and the mistakes and as well as the joy and, you know, and over time and, you know, it’s unique. So what happened in the midst of this whole process, which, you know, we’re looking at, we’re into it a year and a half, maybe by then it’s not quick going through particularly university presses because of this whole peer review thing. So. In the midst of all of this, which would have been last November, 20, 20, no, 20, 19 all of a sudden. The University of Toronto press decided to create a trade division, which they named Avio Avio, and all of a sudden the book had the perfect place because it’s it’s a trade book with academic interest. And they fully expect that people teaching courses in indigenous studies and related fields will want to use it maybe as a supplemental reading for students. So they’re going to market it to university universities, but they just felt it had greater appeal to a broader audience than that. And so, yeah.
Brilliant [01:33:07] Jump in there. But for anyone listening who might not be familiar with the term trade or to understand a trade having a trade division, what what does that mean?
Shirley [01:33:14] It means simply means, as I understand it, books that have a bit of an appeal to a general audience. And so, you know, they’re not not the typical scholarly book, as we might think of it, although I was careful on there is a background chapter background in terms of politics, history. We talk about how this all began, the doctrine of discovery, what mindset people came to this country with. So there is a chapter like that. And I’m you know, I do have an academic background and I was very careful to footnote sources and so on. So, you know, I think it’s it’s proper from that standpoint. But they develop this trade division for general audiences. And and suddenly the editor just contacts me and she says we’ve got the home for the book. So and she said it’s good because we we will we will market it more broadly now. And so that’s how it all unfolded. And so the book came out. It was a it has was available in March of this year. Twenty twenty one. And here we are.
Brilliant [01:34:34] You know, really just validates my belief that there is a story behind every book and they’re all different.
Shirley [01:34:41] Yeah. And you have to hear, especially if a book is a little bit different, you know, having a champion, finding someone at a press that will will really fight for the book, you know, and beyond the editor. Everyone else has been incredibly wonderful and extremely sensitive to the subject matter and consulting with us at every turn. We’ve been really grateful.
Brilliant [01:35:13] You know, in this in this day and age where self publishing is easier than ever. Why didn’t you just self publish?
Shirley [01:35:21] Believe me, I’ve been asked that question before. Well, it was always something I knew we could have in our in our hip pocket. I knew that was available. I, I went to a couple of workshops to learn more about that. I guess I wanted to try I wanted I wanted the book to, if at all possible, to have the largest support that it could get. And I just felt I felt it deserved that. I you know, I, I felt a real responsibility to the people in the book whom I love and care for. And we had put so much work into this that I really felt that it was worth a try. And people told me that it was unique. They told me that it is much easier to find a publisher for nonfiction than fiction and that often people who write fiction really have to think about publishing themselves for the first book or two to to get an audience. But this was a little bit different. And so I just felt it was worth a try. And I was willing, willing to do what I could to say we had given it our best shot.
Brilliant [01:36:41] What advice or encouragement would you give to someone who is in their own writing process? They’re working to finish their own book or it’s a dream they’ve had for a long time. What do you say to them?
Shirley [01:36:55] You know, I’ve thought about whether any advice I give could be that helpful to somebody else, because, as I said, I never thought of myself as a writer. I guess if you’ve written a book, you then are. But I certainly never identified myself that way. And people have asked me, what’s your next book? And I just laugh because, you know, my my effort was to tell our story and I wanted to tell our story, and that was my purpose. I’m fortunate that I don’t have to make my living as a writer because I am retired. And the other thing that I would say is that. I you have to be willing to be in a writing group to get to be critiqued all along and to take that criticism, and I didn’t really have that option, I felt, because now I did I did take a writing workshop early in the beginning. And I let the the person running the workshop read portions of the manuscript when I was writing it. But I never joined a writing group or put myself out in that way because of this commitment to making sure that the people in the book were OK with what was in the book before I shared it. And I was really very committed to that. And so I didn’t do that. And what was my saving grace was that our friend Francis, who is a writer, as I said in New Zealand, she did when she came back for that visit after I wrote the first draft and we went around and visited people, she literally taught me how to edit my own work. She edited several chapters and then she would have me edit the chapters, the next couple, based on what I had observed her doing, and then she would critique my editing. So that was great. And that was that was a saving grace. But you have to have somebody you have to have somebody that can look at something and say you’ve got twice as many words in that sentence as you need. How can you cut it down? That is the that is the thing I learned about writing is that we always. I think we need more words than we do to get a point across, and as somebody said to me, it tires the reader out. You need, you know, to hone the idea down to as few words as possible. And that keeps the reader with you, too. And it’s just it’s totally improved everything else I’ve written since then.
Brilliant [01:40:05] Oh, that’s great. Yeah, I’ve I’ve heard and in my experience, it’s so hard to edit our own work. Right, because we’re in the forest, so to speak. Yes. Right. And I think pretty much all writing could benefit from, you know, a good editor. But besides that, besides being more concise or honing, you know, the ideas in the sentences, what else did you learn about editing that has served you?
Shirley [01:40:40] Well, again, there’s a uniqueness in the book and that the first half of the book is other people’s words, so. I you know, although, you know, as I said, you know, and as they told me to do, you know, I could take a two hour interview, but it might be that, you know, they would start talking about something in the beginning and then we wouldn’t circle around back to it till the end of the conversation. And as I’m sure you’re you’re aware. And so, you know, I had to kind of rearrange in a sense what people were saying, but to put it in a in a logical way. And so. The big challenge was I had to keep their voice and and so, you know, you you can you can change while someone says something grammatically, but you can’t change their voice. And so luckily, I knew people very well. And as the through the practice of having to listen to their interviews and literally in one ear and type typing it out, I had heard these interviews over and over again in their voice. And so I feel, you know, I feel as if I was able to do that because I think I think they read it and they feel like it’s them that that’s that’s the feedback I get. So I don’t really know what the secret to that is, but. It’s a unique thing about this book that I hope that people hear their voice when they read their story, even if they don’t know them.
Brilliant [01:42:37] Yeah, and what a gift you give those collaborators, those participants to preserve, you know, their voice and the gift you’ve given to readers.
Shirley [01:42:48] I hope so.
Brilliant [01:42:51] I think, you know beyond any advice that you would give and beyond, even just sharing your own experience of how you did this and so forth, I hope what people listening, those, especially those who want to write, are taking away. Is this your example and your commitment that you you took this writing course? I mean, first of all, all the work you did and the intention and whether it was learning how to write a book proposal, spending a year sending out twenty five of those receiving back, incorporating, you know, like responding to it in meaningful ways, because as we know, writing a book is hard. It’s a it’s a very challenging endeavor. And I think that’s why it’s still valued very much in our society. And this idea of having an intention, having a commitment and really organizing your life and devoting your energy around that is really I think is really remarkable. And so if there’s something people take away that might serve them, I hope it is. Are you really thinking about who you want to serve, what you want to impart to them? Are you really willing to invest your life energy in making that journey or offering that gift? Because surely I think that’s something that you’ve done and I think it’s. That you’ve done, and I think it’s.
Shirley [01:44:20] Thank you, Brian.
Brilliant [01:44:22] Well, final thoughts, anything that you want to leave people listening with, whether it’s related to writing or anything we talked about in an earlier section or anything at all. What’s a. What what you feel is an appropriate way to to end this conversation?
Shirley [01:44:39] Well, I guess believing in what you’re doing. Be patient, there’s a lot of waiting involved in the process and you have to. Process and you have to. Mosul, and you’re waiting for someone to judge your life’s work. It’s a tough time, and if you read books about getting your book published, people will tell you that it’s it’s a really hard time. And so you have to have support. You have to have people in your life, whether they’re personal friends or professionals, you know, you have to have people that will support you through that because it is such a you know, I likened it. I said, you know, when you. And when you when you if you find a publisher, you give them your manuscript and then you wait some more because they’re going through this whole big process that you don’t know anything about or what’s happening. I liken it. I said it’s like it must be like having a baby and giving it to a total stranger and trusting them that they’re going to do they’re going to take care of it and something that you’ve put your your whole self into. So it takes you need support and you need to have a strong belief that that what you’re doing is what you’re meant to be doing. I think
Brilliant [01:46:24] now. Well said. OK, well, again. Again, today, my guest, Shirley Hager, her book, The Gatherings: Reimagining Indigenous Settler Relations. Shirley, thank you so much for being on the show.
Shirley [01:46:40] Thank you, Brilliant, it’s been a pleasure.
Brilliant [01:46:43] Hey, thanks so much for listening to this episode of the School for the Living podcast before you take off, just want to extend an invitation to you. Despite living in an age where we have more comforts and conveniences than ever before, life still isn’t working for many people, whether it’s here in the developed world where we deal with depression, anxiety and loneliness, addiction, divorce, unfulfilling jobs or relationships that don’t work, or in the developing world where so many people still don’t have access to basic things like clean water or sanitation or health care or education, or they live in conflict zones. There are a lot of people on this planet that life isn’t working very well for. If you’re one of those people or even if your life is working, but you have the sense that it could work better. Consider signing up for the School for Good Livings Transformational Coaching Program. It’s something I’ve designed to help you navigate the transitions that we all go through, whether you’ve just graduated or you’ve gone through a divorce or you’ve gotten married, headed into retirement, starting a business, been married for a long time, whatever. No matter where you are in life, this nine month program will give you the opportunity to go deep in every area of your life to explore life’s big questions, to create answers for yourself in a community of other growth minded individuals. And it can help you get clarity and be accountable. To realize more of your unrealized potential can also help you find and maintain motivation. In short, is designed to help you live with greater health, happiness and meaning so that you can be, do, have and give more visit good living dotcom to learn more or to sign up today.
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