We all came to the powwow for different reasons. The messy, dangling threads of our lives got pulled into a braid--tied to the back of everything we'd been doing all along to get us here. There will be death and playing dead, there will be screams and unbearable silences, forever-silences, and a kind of time-travel, at the moment the gunshots start, when we look around and see ourselves as we are, in our regalia, and something in our blood will recoil then boil hot enough to burn through time and place and memory. We'll go back to where we came from, when we were people running from bullets at the end of that old world. The tragedy of it all will be unspeakable, that we've been fighting for decades to be recognized as a present-tense people, modern and relevant, only to die in the grass wearing feathers." (from Goodreads)
I read this book as part of my Indigenous Lit and the West course at Montana State University. It was... difficult. It was also pretty amazing. Told from multiple viewpoints the story unravels in a spiral. You are introduced to characters, introduced to their lives and struggles and hopes. Slowly connections start to form, a relative here, a passing acquaintance there. Each story is both completely individual and one thread in the whole tapestry. In that way I found myself deeply invested in the characters and their chapters, while also finding myself jumping backwards to double check if I had really read what I thought I read. The context changing as the spiral tightens. Everything leading to the powwow and the events that unfold there. I won't go into it, to talk about where it all leads is to spoil the ending and the ending is both shocking and the inevitable conclusion of the paths the characters were all walking.
There, There somehow manages to be both uniquely Native American while providing a universality that allows those who don't share this specific history to make a connection nonetheless. There, There deserves all the accolades and awards it has received. If you haven't read it, do. It's one that I know I will refer back to and read again.
A Question on Analyzing Books:
So like I said, we read this book as part of my Indigenous Lit course and as part of that course we dug deep into the books we read. Stories by and about Native American writers like Morning Dove and Tommy Orange. Books published 100 years ago and those published just last year. As we read we looked for meaning, tied the stories on the pages to the events occurring at the time, argued about what the author might have meant by a reference. Through it all we worked together, and sometimes against each other, to figure out why these books in particular were important, why the author wrote them, what importance they might have seen.
Sometimes there were interviews that we could reference or other articles that would give insight to what the author felt or meant, but more often then not it was just us, guessing at meaning by using the clues were were able to pull from the story and our knowledge of the time the story was set in or even written in. It's a fun exercise and I enjoy the debate, of seeing where our personal biases and experiences color our interpretation. Still, something about it has always left me on edge, because I have seen in teaching where a question on a state exam or a story in an ELA unit will give a definite answer to something in a story only to have the actual authors of the story come out and say "well, that's not what I meant at all". All of this is to say that whenever possible I try to ask the author, and I try to impress upon my students to ask the author. Even if they don't answer, at least there is an attempt to get to the heart of it.
For me I was delighted to see that he lectured much in the same way I teach. Basically, here's what we should absolutely remember to say, but also let me tell you this cool story. Orange was concerned that he was not a lecturer, but I found the whole thing pretty spot on. At there end there was time for questions, which is where this whole thing really comes back together for me.
I was lucky enough to be able to ask the last question of the night and I chose to ask about something that had come up in our discussions in class. There, There opens with what we generally categorized (in class) as a non-fiction essay prologue that speaks to the violent history that Native Americans had to deal with in the US. There is also an interlude that delves back into those topics. As a class we talked about the importance of the prologue and why Orange might have included it. We talked about how it gave the book context, gave it a backstory. We talked about how if you were not a person with a knowledge of how Native Americans were treated in the US, it would help frame the story to come. So last night at the lecture I asked Orange why he had chosen to write what was essentially a non-fiction Prologue before moving into the book proper.
His response was pretty simple, and made total sense, while not at all being anything we had discussed in class. Orange first said that he didn't even know that he had written a non-fiction essay. That it was just writing and the information was important to the story. He also said that what he loves about prologues is that you don't have to follow any of the rules that you set for the rest of the book. His book is told from multiple perspectives set in the present day, this important information didn't particularly fit into that format, so it became the prologue. He said the other great thing about a prologue is that if you're a person who hates a prologue you can just skip it and still get the story. This information, while important, wasn't part of the narrative proper and so if you read it, the information enriched the story, but if you didn't read it, you would still get the story. In all the analyzing we did, these weren't things we considered. That isn't to say the things we spoke about were wrong, they just simply weren't the whole picture.
Which brings me back around to my dilemma. How do you have students (or adults for that matter) make personal connections and analyze literature while also balancing the authors actual perspective? Do authors like us to reach out and ask, and if so what is the best way to do so? What if the author is no longer living- is there a way to figure it out or is it enough to simply say "we may never know what they truly meant, but here is what we can infer"?
These are questions that I don't have an answer to, but I'm glad I was given the opportunity to ask Orange last night, his answer enhanced and shifted my reading of his book, which is always an exciting thing.
While there is no video of the lecture I attended last night, I am attaching a video of Orange speaking at Politics and Prose at the Wharf in June 2018. He reads from the book and at the 12:20 mark he specifically speaks to the prologue.
I'm going to tell a story here that I went back and forth about sharing. This past weekend a strange and frankly humbling thing happened. First, a little back story.
Last week I attended the Supernatural Giving Back Tour in Cleveland. In addition to the normal fun and games- like photo ops, panels, autographs, karaoke and the Saturday Night Special Concert- there were also a ton of chances to interact, both with games on stage with the actors, and with some challenges that you did on your own or with friends.
A year ago when I bought my tickets, I was intrigued by the Creative Quest- an art contest that would marry Rock and Roll with Supernatural. I wanted in, even though I knew I was not the best artist. I racked my brain for what I could do that would be in my wheel house and still fit the parameters... then I landed on it, I would paint an acoustic guitar. It took me months to figure out what to do and how to do it. There were several failed attempts, and numerous points where I almost threw the whole idea away. Then, with a few weeks left to go, I finally hit my stride. Still, I ran out of time. Life got in the way and the night before I had to leave the guitar was not nearly what I wanted it to be. It was missing several symbols I wanted to include and I never got the epoxy on to seal it all in. I almost left the guitar home, but decided to bring it anyways and enter the Creative Quest. When I saw the other entries I knew I was out of the game- the level of artwork that was on display was incredible. I was in awe of the talent that this family brings to the table.
Then a funny thing happened. My name was called as a winner. I had to go on stage to speak about my work. Now, I love to be on stage and I have no problem talking to large groups of people. I should have been in my element, but I felt like a fraud. How could my work have won anything when up against some of the stuff that was entered? It felt a bit like one of those moments you see at awards shows where the winner steps on stage and says "I never thought I'd win!" I normally think those people are full of it, but now I think I know the feeling. I'm not even sure what I said up on the stage, and I don't know what the judges saw in my work that made them choose it (I almost asked for a critique!). I do know that the more I reflected on it, the more I realized that I was being given a chance to do something great. No, the guitar wasn't perfect, hell, it wasn't even finished, but they saw something in it that was worthwhile. So I came home and I finished the guitar, I made it into something that I am proud of. Something that I actually want to do more of as well- I already have some ideas for a few more guitars.
So here it is:
I painted this used acoustic guitar using acrylic paints. The flower design was done free hand and then I added in 9 Supernatural symbols into the design, before I put a clear glaze over the top to seal and protect the work.
Symbols included: Anti-Possession, Mark of Cain, Tibetan Tulpa, Horn of Gabriel, Angel Banishing, Purgatory, some Wings, Azazel Sigil, British Men of Letters (Aquarian Star).
If you have been following this blog for the last year or so it will come as no surprise that I am a proud member of the Supernatural Family. One of my favorite parts of the fandom is the opportunity to go to conventions, not just to attend panels and meet the actors, but because you get to spend the weekend geeking out with other fans. I've been to 2 Supernatural Conventions and will be attending the Giving Back tour this fall and I've always walked away with new friends and great memories!
This past January I happened to see a post on Facebook looking for submissions for a book called CONventional Wisdom, which has become a way for fan to share how conventions have changed their life in some way. I sent off a submission and since then have been lucky enough to become part of the CONventional Wisdom Family.
Since January a lot of work has been done on the book and this past weekend I was able to interview the ladies behind CONventional Wisdom, April Vian and Melissa Kennedy!
1. Can you tell us a little bit about CONventional Wisdom and what inspired you to create this book?
Melissa: The initial idea was all April’s. After the con in DC in November 2017, (which we both attended, although we hadn’t yet met) she posted a request for inspirational con stories on the “Salute to Supernatural” Facebook page. She asked “Did you hear or experience something that inspired you to make a change, take chance, give back? Meet anyone who made a lasting impression?” Originally her goal was to look at the mental health benefits of being involved in the fandom, and specifically in attending cons.
I sent her my story, because my first con, DC 2015, brought about some really important changes for me. Some things happened there that shifted my thinking in ways that enabled me to make progress with some mental health issues I had been struggling with. Just the experience of the con itself, and my unexpected emotional reaction to it, shook me up, in a good way. So I wrote out my story and sent it to April. We talked about our con experiences and how they were wonderful and perplexing at the same time. Neither of us is exactly a squee-ing fangirl. We’re adults with children and responsibilities, and tend to be pretty practical, analytical, rational people. But at the cons, we were different. We both found ourselves feeling . . . giddy. Overflowing with emotions. Exhilarated. I reconnected in some ways with the person I used to be. The con was so much more than just a fun weekend, and that was really unexpected.
When we started talking to other fans and reading the stories they submitted, we realized that’s true for a lot of people. So many fans are eager to share their stories of how important the con experience was for them, but there aren’t a lot of outlets for that other than personal blogs. We ended up shifting the focus from stories dealing with the mental health benefits of cons, to really being a snapshot of the variety of experiences people have at (and as a result of) conventions--which includes mental health benefits, for some.
April: My first con took me by surprise, I’d never really been a fan before and was genuinely surprised that I became a little giggly and silly while I was there. After I came back from my first con I found myself making changes and looking at things from a different perspective. The whole story will be in the book but that con brought about some really big changes for me.I thought it would be fun to collect some fan stories and see if it was just me and at first that is all I was going to do. I put out an all call on a few FB pages and received a really positive response It became clear that were some stories that needed to be shared
2. How did the two of you meet?
Melissa: After nine months of talking and working together on the book online, we finally met in real life just this past weekend. We carpooled and roomed together at the NC-Charlotte con, along with some other friends. And had a blast.
When I first sent April my story, we spent a lot of time talking, first about the cons, then about life in general. It turns out we have a lot in common. You know how it sometimes feels like you were just destined to meet a certain person at a certain time? It felt that way. I really, really wanted to be part of putting this project together; the show and the cons have been literally life-changing for me. And I work as an editor and have a master’s in literature; it’s right up my alley. I was trying to think of a way to offer to work with April without making things awkward if she didn’t want that, when she asked if I’d like to be a co-author. I jumped at the chance.
April: We actually just me in person this past weekend at Charlotte con. Melissa responded to my post about con stories and emailed me her story I was impressed with her writing and her story, and honestly just felt moved to ask her if she wanted to help me write this book. Once we started talking we found that we had a lot in common even outside of the fandom and it’s just progressed from there.
3. What was the process of reviewing and selecting submissions like for you?
Melissa: Amazing. There are so many stories that made us laugh, or brought us to tears. It has been really moving to see how deeply con experiences have affected many of us. It’s hard to turn down any story.
April: This has been my favorite part and what has changed the intent of the book I think. The stories have been amazing and profound and funny; reading everyone else’s experiences has really brought to light how important the cons can be.
4. What has been the hardest part of the process? The most fun?
Melissa: The hardest part . . . well, we had some really cool people lined up to write for us who later fell through. That was discouraging. Also, Google Docs is the spawn of Satan.
The most fun? Reading the wide variety of experiences people have had at cons. Some really are laugh-out-loud funny.
April: Definitely having writers fall through has been the hardest part, and having some stories that we just couldn’t include. I second Melissa’s assessment of Google Docs; we may be approaching a record-breaking number of docs.
The most fun has been reading the stories and getting to know some of the contributors. I’ve been given the opportunity to make some amazing friends through this process.
5. The cover of the book (by Shannon Laree) was just revealed and looks amazing. How did you go about choosing a cover for this book?
April: That was really mostly Shannon. Melissa designed the symbol with the wings for our t-shirt campaign, I sent that to Shannon and she did the rest. She said that she thought that every light could represent a story and that’s exactly what we thought when we saw it.
Melissa: Shannon’s design is awesome. We just took a look at what she came up with and said “Yep, that’s perfect!”
6. I've been to 2 conventions so far, with another coming up in October, and have never left without several stories about the actors, the band and my fellow con goers. What's a memory from a convention that immediately jumps out for you guys?
April: Just coming home from a con yesterday, I don’t know that I could pick just one. Some of my favorites will be in the book. From this last con, if I had to choose, it would be the kazoos in the Louden Swain vendor jam. Kazoos are usually brought by a fan or small group of fans and handed out before the band sings “Medicated”. It’s always at the fans’ initiative as a nice gesture to the band. I had been asked by a friend (who I met through the process of writing this book, and who actually introduced to me to Shannon) to help pass out kazoos in Charlotte. We tried unsuccessfully to do so discreetly, but no one really seemed to know what we were up to until the band started to sing, and they were told to get their kazoos out. There’s a video out there of the mad kazoo-throwing that followed. A few people may have had to dodge flying kazoos; Rob refereed to ensure safety. I think just about everybody had one by the time the song started. The kazoo chorus was awesome, and there was a ton of participation from the fans--Rob even said it was possibly the best they’d heard since they started doing the vendor jams. It was my first time being involved in something like that, and it was just amazing to see everyone come together, and how happy the band was. I love that that the fans consistently work together to show appreciation for the performers, and just to make them happy. It was a very cool thing to be a part of.
Melissa: My favorite spans three cons. Back in 2016, Misha and Jared had been teasing back and forth online about the fandom being a cult, and the possibility of establishing a commune. That gave me a photo op idea. I had bought a giant, five-pound gummy bear, thinking I’d use it in an op with Jared. Then Allyson Callahan and I met in an online fan group, and decided to share a Jared/Misha photo op, posing as prospective cultists. We dressed in flowing linen dresses and flower crowns, and presented them with the giant gummy bear resting on a bed of kale, on a silver platter. Immediately after the photo was snapped, Jared grabbed the bear, lunged over to Misha’s son West, and tried to feed it to him. I have never seen anyone move so fast! Misha tweeted photos of West and Jared munching on it, and our gummy bear became a minor celebrity on social media.
The next year I wrote an intentionally-dreadful poem (it rhymed “squee” and “charity”) telling the story of the gummy bear and asking if this cult was going to happen or not--I mean, they accepted our offering, after all. I illustrated it with some photoshopped pictures of Jared, Misha, and the gummy bear, and had them sign it during autos. It got an evil laugh from Jared, and a world-weary sigh from Misha.
This past weekend during his panel in Charlotte (which happened to be on my birthday), Misha told the gummy bear story again, to my endless delight. That gummy bear is the best 30 bucks I’ve ever spent. He sparked a lot of fun, and I still get the giggles whenever Misha’s tweets about him pop up again on social media. He’s the photo op prop that keeps on giving.
7. There have been many articles about why Supernatural has lasted as long as it has and has managed to garner such a loyal fan base, I'd love to hear why you think Supernatural has stayed the course and kept us all on the edge of our seats for so long.
April: I think for me it’s relationships between the characters, not just Sam and Dean but the those between the other characters as well. I’ve enjoyed watching them grow and watch the relationships develop.They’re relatable in ways that you wouldn’t expect from a show of this genre. This is something we explore a bit in the book as well, the parallels between the show and the fandom, the creation of family put together through shared experiences. We don’t necessarily fight physical monsters and demons but a lot of the fandom can relate to having to having to fight metaphorical demons and leaning on a family that was found and made to do so.
Melissa: I could write a dissertation on this and still not say it all! I think the show appeals to a wide spectrum of people because there are layers to it that allow for enjoyment on different levels, by people at different ages and stages of development. It can be pure entertainment, if that’s what you’re looking for--it’s scary and funny and cleverly written. But it also often has allegorical layers that allow for more complex interpretations. The show is full of archetypes; universal themes and characters that speak to us on multiple deep levels. Monsters representing our darkest fears. Heroes who show us monsters can be fought. But they’re not all-powerful superheroes--Sam and Dean are fallible humans who make mistakes; sometimes really big ones. We can relate to their imperfection and struggle. Their world might be full of supernatural beings, but the emotions are real. The relationships are real. The show doesn’t shy away from darkness or complexity. I think especially if you’ve experienced trauma, Supernatural speaks to you in a way that little else out there does. For a lot of us, I think that explains our devotion to it. These are good stories about compelling characters, well-told with complexity and emotional realism. There have been some missteps, sure--and I’ll be heretical and say that I haven’t loved the last two seasons--but the world of Supernatural is one of endless possibility, because despite all the fantastical elements, it’s deeply real.
I also think the fanbase is so loyal because not only are the characters and stories compelling, but the actors who portray them are some of the most genuinely good human beings out there. They work hard, and give a tremendous amount to their fans and to the wider world. They all seem to truly enjoy working together, and that’s just enjoyable to witness.
8. What's coming up next for CONventional Wisdom?
April: We are working on formatting the fan stories and writing around the academic portions being written by Lynn Zubernis, Tanya Cook and Kaela Joseph. We are planning a launch party at the con in Vegas in March, 2019.
Melissa: We’re still working out how this is all going to fit together. It’s a bit of a genre mashup--part anthology, part memoir, part academic study, a little history, with a few other things thrown in for fun. We’re both hoping to attend the Giving Back Tour con in Cleveland in October; maybe we’ll see the birth of a new type of con and have even more to write about.
Thank you so much April and Melissa for chatting with us! I can't wait to see what is up next for CONventional Wisdom and see the finished copy of the book.
if you want to stay up to date on CONventional Wisdom you can follow them on twitter and facebook and also check out their website CONventional Wisdom: Lessons learned. One con at a time
Home of the ramblings of an avid reader. In my spare time I also run, ride, teach, go on adventures and get into shenanigans.
Find me here:
Livingstone Brand Ambassador
10% off: LIVINGSTONEBRAND10