One of my favorite stories so far that I’ve learned while reading Michael Grundwald’s exceptional compendium of South Florida, The Swamp: The Everglades, Florida, and the Politics of Paradise–required reading for my new job–is about the Creek-born but Seminole-bred Osceola.
The Seminoles aren’t native Floridians (Tomahawk Chop that, y’all). They were farmers from Georgia and Alabama who got pushed into north Florida and, later, down into the Everglades, courtesy of Manifest Destiny. I didn’t know this, but the Seminole kept black slaves whom they reportedly treated more like sharecroppers, which is why African Americans sought refuge in the tribe. [history factoid: A Georgia militia dubbed the “Patriot Army” launched an attack against the Seminole on the grounds of stealing white man’s property. Shortly after this, a man the Native Americans called “Sharp Knife” but we know as Andrew Jackson, was going to get directly involved. Then the Seminole Wars would start and that’s some fun stuff I’ll get to in a later post. Guess who won?]
Now, check this out: Osceola was young, sexy, fit, and not down with white men pushing his people around. How do I know he’s fit and sexy? According to one US officer’s journal, “Osceola’s body was ‘a beautiful development of muscle and power…something of Apollo and Hercules blended.’ ” That’s how I know.
Sharp Knife had a government liaison in place, and his name was Wiley Thompson. Of course. Wiley previously served in the aforementioned Georgia militia, which I am deducing qualified him as a government agent to the Seminole nation?
When Jackson ordered the Seminoles off their land to move west across the Panhandle (the direction that, in Native American beliefs, means death), Osceola and several tribal chiefs rebelled by refusing to go. Wiley made a huge public display of striking their names from the official list of chiefs and punished them by withholding “traditional gifts,” and, to be sure, they weren’t allowed to buy guns and powder. Osceola, the brashest and uppitiest of them all, was eventually “clapped in irons” and thrown in jail, which, as Grunwald tells, is a grave and ultimate humiliation for a Native American.
After his own theatrics, Osceola capitulated. Admitting defeat and deference to the new rule of white domination, Osceola apologized. He signed the treaty to move west. Sharp Knife and Wiley were pleased. With Osceola on board and packing to go, the white guys could sleep peacefully knowing the infernal Indians would be removing themselves from the path of progress.
Wiley was so pleased, in fact, that he gave Osceola a silver-plated rifle.
Two months later, Wiley Thompson decided to take a walk after dinner. He lit a cigar. He strolled under the stars on a clear December night. Suddenly, out of nowhere, Osceola springs from hiding and shoots Wiley Thompson in the chest.
With the silver plated rifle.
There is some graphic business that happened after involving Wiley’s scalp and drunken Seminoles standing around a fire mocking him the way high school boys impersonate the principal, and I would include it here except that Grunwald doesn’t provide any transcripts. I’m left wondering if they satirized his language use, like an SNL skit, or if they did it more like my twin brother did to me when we were growing up: standing there with their hands on their hips and their lips pursed going “mu mee me mu me me me.”
We’ll never know.
But I like this story so much because of two reasons 1) I love the sick and dirty beginnings of American history and 2) my God, I really love an underdog story. Oh, and 3) in my own racist way, I am turned on by big, silent, sexy, theatrical, ass-kicking Indians. [Michael, if you are reading this blog, hint hint.]
For me, my life story–the one I wrote for myself–ended in Wilmington. Sometime in college, when I was starting to grab the reins of the runaway stagecoach that later became my life, I made a decision that ultimately I would settle down in Wilmington and be a writer and a teacher. This life seemed like a good call, and it happened for me in the last few weeks of 2005, nine years after I graduated from college. I moved to Wilmington with my then-husband, and I thought I was done. I’d gotten my master’s, I got a job teaching at the community college, and I was married. All I had to do now was ride it out til the end.
Except that’s never how it works out.
Two years later, I was divorced. I was also getting sober. I was also embarking on a profound direct relationship with the creative force of the universe, which I call God because it is simplest, and I was certifiably insane. Yes, they are all related.
Getting sober is harrowing business, and I will spare you the details. But at some point early on, a man told me that in his experience, he’d learned that when he got sober he’d stopped writing the story of his life. Instead, he had to be willing to let God write the story. I thought about this concept. I thought about it more: let God write the story of my life? I like that idea in theory, but in practice? Not so much. Honestly, I didn’t trust God to do anything cool or interesting. I knew a bunch of people who were crazy into church, and their lives looked really lame.
About this time, another friend turned me onto Emmet Fox’s detailed exegesis of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, in which Fox states that God’s will for us is (and I paraphrase…I will get you the direct quote if you ask, but my book is in Florida and I’m still in Wilmington) more vital, more joyous, and more necessary than anything we can come up with on our own. Now, this information piqued my interest. Because I had come up with a pretty interesting plan for myself. But if God writes the story of my life and it’s guaranteed to be better than anything I could come up with, then perhaps I should try to quit thinking I knew what I was going to do with my life and when and where and with whom.
Shortly after, another friend gave me Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, which is an intense 90-day program of creative recovery, in which Cameron explicitly and bluntly (and in practical daily exercises) guided me into a working relationship with God as my creator, and, being such, is the unfailing supply of, well, everything. But God can’t make me trust Him (again, I say ‘Him’ even though I don’t really mean it because there’s no adequate gender neutral pronoun in English–I’m not calling God ‘It,’ sorry). I had to do that part, which, as it turns out, is me basically saying, “hey, I’m willing to trust You even though I’m scared to because I don’t know what is going to happen to me, and I certainly don’t know how to do this. In fact, I’m learning that I don’t really know anything at all and that I’m kind of an arrogant idiot, but I would like to change.”
Four years pass while I am practicing all of this trusting. I’m terrible at it for the first three years, and a lot of really, really crazy stuff happens to me emotionally and psychologically, most of it dark and painful, but the parts I remember most are the moments I recognized I’d changed, and these moments were exhilarating and wild and wonderful. For the last three years, I can not write. Even while I’m deep into The Artist’s Way, I can not create one story, one play, one project. I keep a sketchbook of poems on my facebook and scribble in journals like a teenage girl because if I don’t write, it gets dangerous for me. I’m getting rained on with ideas during this time, but nothing is taking root.
My life makes no sense to me, but I have no other choice but to keep going, so I do.
Then I meet Michael. Again, a harrowing and triumphant and glorious and heartbreaking experience whose details will be spared at this time. I would say “for the sake of brevity,” but we’re so far past that by now. Michael and I manage to blow up our beautiful relationship in only seven months, and it is upon his leaving my life that the writing dam broke, and as I wrote and wrote and wrote, I could finally see–pouring out upon the pages, and there were 240 of them–what God had been teaching me in those four years. Literally and figuratively, “my” life story was ending. The story of my life, on the other hand, had just begun.
Michael and I got back together, which you already know, and when we did, we were two different (and better) people, ready to start over. And here we are.
Tonight’s James Cameron-length blog happened because I am making peace with saying goodbye to everything that’s happened in my life to get me to this point. Usually at the end of a semester, I sit in the bed and watch uplifting movies off Netflix and cry, but this time–because it’s the end of an era and not just the end of a school period–I did want to sit down with you and God so all of us together could close the cover of this story of me that I wrote, pat it once lovingly, and put it on the shelf.
You know, I want to be Osceola, but I’m more like Wiley Thompson. I forced my life to do something unnatural and unfair, to sign an agreement whose terms were unacceptable, and so it ambushed me and shot me in the chest, 14 times, in the dark of night, with a consolation prize that I had given it.
So, I’m glad my story is over and the story of my life is just beginning.
And I’m glad this blog is over, and you probably are, too, if you made it this far. As a gift to my beloved reader (and I do love you, but you know that), I won’t post again until the day Michael and I leave, just to let you know we’re on the road.
Night night, my beloveds. Thank you for reading.