Tuesday, February 3, 2009

INITIATION - My Two Cents or Why It Really Sucks to Be a Satere-Mawe Indian Boy


Glad to be here, admitted into the company of people I admire and have much to learn from. As much as possible I’ll try not to make an ass of myself right off, but I’ll need your patience. Here I go:


When I was living in Panama in 1995, broke and out of work, I went looking for a photography job. One of the places I stopped was the Smithsonian Institute’s tropical field office in the Canal Zone and found the head of the little photography department there. No, they weren’t looking for any photographers, thanks. But these are the real world Indiana Jones guys, very cool to talk to, so I hung around and failed to make an impression, but got to talk about cool Guy stuff. We got to talking about Panama and the work they did and he showed me a glossy photo he’d taken in Darien of a huge purplish ant with big jaws. “See that? Know what that is?” “No, sir.” “Hell, son, that’s a Bullet Ant. Now there’s a real piece of work.” “Oh, a Bullet Ant. Wow.” He lifted up his leg, peeled back his pants cuff and showed me an old scar about the diameter of a pencil eraser. “That’s where I got stung by that nasty sonovabitch. Know why they call it a Bullet Ant?” “No sir, I haven’t given it much thought.” He leaned in confidentially and said “It hurts so bad, its like getting shot with a low caliber bullet, that’s why. The pain? It lasts a day and a night. Oh, yeah. Think about that.”


Yeesh.


According to Wikipedia, the Satere-Mawe tribe chooses its warriors by using these ants in an initiation rite by sewing about a dozen of them into a glove and making a young man wear it for 10 minutes by which time his whole arm is paralyzed for a couple of days and he may go into seizures. He has to do the glove thing 20 times without freaking out. I just thought getting a girl to go out with me in high school was tough.


The Satere-Mawe are a tribe. Initiation has always been about tribe. I’m sure this ritual with the ant glove isn’t simply about macho courage. It’s about commitment to an identity, as one of the warriors, the fierce and trusted guardians of the tribe. It means you’re committed to doing what you’re expected to do, even in a life threatening situation to defend the tribe. In others words, you can be trusted to be a stand up guy.


Another form of initiation is the apprenticeship, the novitiate, which is where I find myself when I’m sitting in the back of the Burger King with my elderly laptop and my story notes, resuscitating a sinking story for the fourth or fifth draft. I don’t see myself as a professional writer yet, because they’re still sticking that ant glove on me and it hurts every time. I’ve got a hell of a long way to go. It takes me a long time to write a story. Any story. The novella you see on the side bar - “The Color of the Moon”, hell, that took me ten years to get it right. College courses and writers workshops are nice if you’ve got the dough. But every writer, from Joyce Carol Oates on down to my wretched level pays their dues the same way, at the keyboard first, one word at a time. The written word is deceptively cruel. When you first get it down in the heat of inspiration, your scintillating prose, your impassioned dialogue makes you crumple and weep, because you’re just so goddamned good and you imagine that day when you'll be sitting in the movie theater with your characters up on the big screen. You'll walk into a bookstore and everything will stop and someone will gasp and yell "You're Sanchez-Garcia! Holy shit!" College kids will be studying your stuff in American literature classes generations after you're dead.

The next day you read that stuff cold, and it's like you lost two hours of your life yesterday shoveling horseshit with a keyboard. You put on the glove and start again. The world of the apprentice writer is that you must always start again. The day you refuse the glove is when you stop kidding yourself and get a real job.


There is also the initiation of abandoning the person you once were and starting over. It might be a divorce or a change of career, or just getting sick of who you are and reinventing yourself. I think the best evidence of reincarnation for me, is the fact that I have already been so many different people in this one life. In my case when I left the religious life I had completely devoted myself to for twenty years – when I left my tribe – I suddenly found myself haunted day and night by the ghost of a young schoolgirl I had once known, until I could get her to talk to me.


But that’s a story for another time.


Garce

35 comments:

  1. Holy smokes, great post, Garce! Very cool story about the Satere-Mawe tribe.

    Not sure I would have the gumption to keep pulling that glove on, but I do sit down at my computer every day so I guess that's something. I have a real job and a writing job, so my time is limited. When I sit down to write, the muse better damn well be interested, or another day is shot.

    I'll look for you and your laptop in the back of the Burger King.

    *G*

    Jamie

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  2. I'm humbled and awed by your post, Garce. Seriously. I don't know what else to say.

    Except that I believe you are a lot further along toward being a professional writer than you think. Your passion, wit and insight are great gifts.

    I am SO glad you've joined us on the Grip.

    Warmly,
    Lisabet

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  3. I agree with Lisabet. (I usually do, but that's another story.)

    You may consider yourself an apprentice, but I consider you an inspiration.

    ~ Alessia / Imp

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  4. What an inspiring post! Now I'm off to pull that glove back on...

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  5. Such a great post, Garce. And what a brilliant metaphor, although being a terrible physical coward, I'd sick up over a bad story every morning of my life rather than stick my hand in the bullet ant glove.

    I'm so very glad you landed here on this most recent reincarnation. You're in great company, and they are lucky to have you.

    Hugs,

    rg

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  7. Thanks ladies, as always, thanks for reading my stuff.

    This afternoon I'll be pecking away in the back of the Burger King here at Fort Gordon. Maybe I'll see you there!

    Garce

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  8. Wow I would like to hear the story about the schoolgirl that finally talked to you. Bullets ants sound like nasty insects

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  9. Hi Garce,

    So glad you made it your post is definitely an inspiration. The metaphor you use, the bullet ants, is wonderful and in some ways dead on. The pain of knowing you've screwed up, the relief of getting it right, the terror of sending something out. It all fits and even though the pain might not be physical, it's there and hurts as much.

    I'm glad you've joined us and I'm really looking forward to hearing more about your life and your writing.

    Hmm again with the Burger King. I've never been into one, but that might be because we don't have one here, but if I ever pass one, I'll wonder if you're in there typing away.

    Hugs

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  10. What an awesome post! So inspiring. Looking forward to reading your works and 'meeting' you through the blog.

    Donna

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  11. Hi Jamie!
    I know what you mean about the muse not being there. I'm going to try again tonight. All I got out of Burger King today was a cup of coffee.

    This is sucha supportive bunch, I'm glad I'm here.

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  12. Hi Lisabet!

    I don't know if I'm as far as you say, but I know for sure I wouldn;t have gotten very far at all without the precious advice and patient reading I've gotten from you and RG. I'm very indebted to you both for your encouragement and serious crits.

    I was reading your stuff before I ever showed up at ERA.

    Garce

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  13. Alessio!

    Thanks for dropping in. And thanks for giving me my second break into print. Much more to come I hope.

    Garce

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  14. Hi Anny!

    Good luck with the glove.

    GArce

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  15. Hi RG!

    ("...I'm so very glad you landed here on this most recent reincarnation. You're in great company, and they are lucky to have you...")

    Good to see you here RG! You really get around. As I said to Lisabet, I've very much indebted to you and Lisabet for keeping me going. You two are the Gertrude Stein and Alice B Toklas' of my little world.

    Garce

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  16. Hi BethRe!

    Yeah, the schoolgirl ghost really happened and it was quite a deal for me. It represented a transition from one life to another. Someday I'll tell that story.

    That experience was the germ of the idea that inspired "The Color of The Moon", an erotic ghost/horror story, and my first published book.

    Garce

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  17. Hey Jude!

    Thanks for helping me navigate my way here.

    You don't have Burger King? Where do you live?

    Garce

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  18. Hi dBrown!

    Thanks for reading our blog. I hope we'll hear from you a lot.

    Garce

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  19. Excellent post, Garce. I get the comparison with writing but, honestly, the ant glove makes me cringe. I suppose it would; I'm deathly allergic to fire ants and so this kind of thing totally freaks me out.

    Writing, sending my stuff out, getting rejected and doing it all over again--that I can handle, but ants? Yeesh!

    I'll look forward to reading your posts even if you do skeeve me out from time to time.

    Best,
    D. L.

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  20. WOW! That was a great post! Very inspiring.

    tamjeang1@msn.com

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  21. What a great post! You really left me wanting more.
    Keep perservering Garce!

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  22. The thing about writing - no one is asking you to keep putting that glove back on, but you can't help it.

    Great post.

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  23. Kathleen, and not only do we keep putting it back on, we freakin want to, need to...would wimp and whine if we couldn't.

    Sigh. Masochistic bunch of idjits...LOL

    Garce, I'm in Canada, right on the west coast.

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  24. Great blog, Garce! Thanks for sharing with us.

    God Bless,
    Rhonda :)

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  25. Hi Garce!

    You know I've loved all of your work that I have read so far. I'm glad you keep pressing on!

    I learned pretty quick that I can't let it be painful. I try to just sidestep that reaction and see an opportunity to take that raw material and work with it until it takes shape.

    I look forward to reading more of your posts!

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  26. "... I'll look forward to reading your posts even if you do skeeve me out from time to time..."

    Skeeve out, is that like skivvies? I think I've found a new password.

    Skeeven King

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  27. Tam,

    Thanks for reading my stuff!

    Garce

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  28. Hi Sue!

    Thanks for reading my stuff. I'll keep going. If Burger King throws me out oneo f tehse days, there's always McDonalds.

    Garce

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  29. Kathleen;

    Actually that's very true. Its not something you have to do, its something you want to do. Even the big names like Stephen King when they sit down with the story, they;re doing it because you love it.

    Garce

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  30. Hey Jude!

    They don't have Burger King in Canada?

    That's weird. They had Burger King in Panama.

    Garce

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  31. Blessed HEart;

    Bless your heart, thansk for reading.

    Rhonda - I used to know a Rhonda. Your last name wouldn't have ever been Auchinlech, I suppose?

    GArce

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  32. Luna;

    I didn't know you'd read any of my stuff before! That makes me happy! I'm always a little surprised when I find someone has read something I've written.

    Yeah, we take the raw material the story fairy gives us and do the best we can and try to do a little better every time. In the end, its always yourself you're competing with.

    GArce

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  33. I'm afraid I wouldn't make a very good Native American. The sight of insects will send me out of the area screaming. Your story about the initiation gave me cold chills.
    You have a flare for story telling.
    You do it so well, I'm amazed you haven't been in print for the past 20 years.

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  34. I'm late as usual, but love this unique and perfect metaphor. Thanks for turning me on to the Grip, Garce.
    Looking forward to more.
    Renee

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  35. oh, oh, OH! Tell the Ghost Story!

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