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Dear friends,

Stanford died on May 10 in the hospital in Casper. He was buried a week ago. It was a cathartic, grueling, beautiful funeral.

I feel kind of dizzy inside and know this will come in waves… But the support and love from Stan’s family and friends, and from the nonnative tribe with whom I traveled to Wyoming (about 8 of us in all, including my 10-year-old nephew Calum, who loved Stan and used to come up there with me to ride horses) was so strong and good I just feel a lot of gratitude and wonder at how wide the web reached from Stanford into the wide world.


Good golly, it’s been a long, long time since I’ve been here. I’ve been — oh, a lot of places, like North Dakota. On my way there, I attended a really interesting horsemanship clinic called in Rapid City, S.D. which you can read more about here:

At that clinic, I spent a lot of time giggling and yakkin’ with my new pal Suzi Landolphi, who, among other things, started the first sex shop in the United States (back in the dawning days of the AIDS epidemic). Since then, Suzi has been applying lipstick in the middle of cattle roundups, eating pancakes and teaching equine therapy to inner city kids in Los Angeles. She’s a hoot, and a total bringer-together of people… She wrote this very nice blog piece about the book. So in the spirit of cross pollination, here ya go:

There you go! I’m feeling very blog-ish, linking you to other nifty people and efforts.

Ciao for now,


Fortitude is common among first-time authors on book tour. In fact it’s required. Especially the kind you may have needed, say, last September, when a grand total of three people showed up for your reading in Oklahoma City. Stoicism: A must-have. Terror, which blooms at four in the morning and then again 10 minutes before you start to read. Vodka: Not a bad idea. Erratic behavior at home: Absolutely. I am president of that club. I could go on.

But I’m not here to talk about that. I’m here to talk about mirth. And about Barbara Richardson, who approached the publication of her first novel — the estimable and deep Guest House — like it was a big caper she’d let the rest of the world in on. She giggled her way through publication, appreciating her successes, blowing off her non-successes, enlisting an old boyfriend to help her design the cover, falling madly in love with him, and finally coming up with the world’s most original book tour — a self-designed trio of events held entirely in truck stops in Utah, Idaho and Oregon. (The characters in her book take a lot of road trips.) There she will read to patrons; they will gape with astonishment and accept CDs of her boyfriend reading the first chapter so they can listen as they drive their rigs into the sunset.

This will only take place in truck stops that have actual restaurants, because Barbara really likes green beans. She’s 54 and can do what she wants.

This attitude didn’t just happen. It was preceded by two decades of setbacks, including a 13-year slog through three unpublished novels. (She dedicates Guest House to “late bloomers everywhere.”)

“The first 13 years bled me nearly to death with suffering,” she wrote to me while swigging port from an open bottle and perusing bathing suits on-line. “That, I think, is why I am pretty chilled about results. Still focused and driven and productive and open to successes and creating as much out of my small successes as I can. But I won’t self-destruct over what the world does with my work. Not swallowing that poison bait … I think I wore out the shoe of suffering with lots of my own walking.”

The Salt Lake Tribune’s Ben Fulton calls Guest House “the most rapid-fire novel of domestic hope and strife you’re likely to read all summer.” But even better than knowing how to write, somewhere in there Barbara also learned how to free herself from the seriousness of being a writer. This is a crucial and often-overlooked step in the writer’s life. As bestselling Wyoming author Alexandra Fuller once told me, “you have to be really thin skinned to write a book, but then you have to grow a really thick skin in order to have written a book.”

So after I met Barbara through her boyfriend, who is a friend of mine, we became email pen pals. I followed her like a duckling, learning how to glide smoothly upon the waters of writerly vicissitude.

I should mention that while I and most of my other author friends are more or less making a living off our writing, Barbara — whose career is in landscape design and whose book was published by Bay Tree, a small publishing house in California — doesn’t need to. This brings mirth a bit more within reach.

But still. “Follow her around for a day and you’re not quite sure what to make of her light-hearted tenderness towards — and conversations with — insects and plants and trees.” says Jeff. “Especially when she’s just cursed at Microsoft Word like a boozed-up sailor.”

I called Barbara and said, “I’m writing a series of blogs on the theme of surrender, because I can’t do it. But I think you do.”

“I was so obsessed with perfection and so afraid during my first three books; I was miserable,” she said. “So, you’re right, I surrendered. I let this novel be dark and black and ragged and raw. I didn’t try to make it come out a perfect piece of literature. I surrendered every shred of literary dignity; let it come out black and molten. I opened up the flood gates.”

There’s a You Tube of one of her readings here: Truck Stop Book Tour

For more on her tour and her book, visit

A few years ago, I sat in my car outside the tribal clinic on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming, being tied to my steering wheel by a two-year-old Northern Arapaho boy named Quame. We were waiting for his mother to finish her appointment. Then she and Quame would go home and I would go into the desert with a relative of theirs to look for runaway horses — an adventure I’d been looking forward to for days. But the minutes ticked by without her coming out, and I felt my opportunity for outdoor fun evaporate in the nonlinear pooling of resources that happens when you have a car and the people around you don’t.

Just then, a van pulled up next to me. A trio of elderly Native Americans with empty plastic milk jugs had come to get water at a pump that stood nearby. They looked happy and relaxed as they labored out of the van and lumbered up to the pump. One of the men worked the handle. Quame and I watched. Nothing came out.

“Shit!” I thought. “NOTHING works around here.”

The two men and one woman turned. Their facial expressions hadn’t changed a bit. Seeing Quame and me watching them, the woman smiled and waved. We waved back.

A couple of centuries ago, the Arapahos were living hunt to hunt on the plains. Then their home was invaded, occupied and subdued by people who looked a lot like me. And now, this damn water pump. The Arapaho have never lived outside the cycles of cause and effect. Nothing that lives on this planet ever has, except perhaps for my own culture, whose technological savvy has allowed us to absent ourselves from cause and effect for a few centuries while we mine the place dry.

Once I asked a family up here what they wanted for dinner. “Whatever you cook,” someone said, adding, as if I’d neglected to notice, “We’re Arapahos.”

A cowboy I knew told me about a chat he had with an elderly Arapaho man about history. The old man wasn’t angry about how things had ended up for the Native Americans. He said the Creator makes things happen, and if he were to feel angry he’d be putting himself above the Creator.

The cowboy was surprised.

“All my life I’d been taught to be a white guy and be very pissed off when things didn’t go my way,” he told me. “What I heard that day I’ve been using for years, to deal with my own anger.”

So, I thought, as the vanload of elderly Arapahos pulled out and Quame wound another length of webbing around my arm, when exactly did my own people decide not to accept things, but to change them? The advent of the railroad? The invention of the plow? Was that the first time we looked at the deer herds and wild strawberries and said, “Er, thanks for the glistening, sweet-smelling planet and all. But not enough is happening here. We’re gonna make stuff happen.” And off we went to plow and plant and drill for oil in the Gulf of Mexico.

Me, I don’t surrender to much and I certainly don’t surrender to water pumps. I’m from a culture of worriers, improvers, ferreters, miners, irrigators, builders of plows, railroads, automobiles, armies, nuclear bombs, diet sodas, solar panels — the most Can-Do nation in the history of the world. I love the excellent laptop computer, compact car and lime-mint lip balm that my culture has brought me. But when I let up even a little, the well-being just floods in. I can once again perceive the world that exists outside my plans. The color drains back into the landscape; the wind becomes audible in the trees.

Life on the Wind River Indian Reservation is marked by poverty, violence, addiction, danger and wrongdoing in levels that can only be described as post-apocalyptic. The membrane between life and death is gossamer thin. But, still. There is softness and sweetness here, belly laughter I rarely hear elsewhere, and a vibrant spiritual life that thrives in part because it has to.

I’m not saying Native Americans are perfect and that white people are bad. It’s not personal. I’m saying that Native Americans — and every other indigenous culture on the planet — live in a rock tumbler of circumstance; the constant pounding has smoothed out their edges. As a middle class white person living in the heart of the richest culture in history, my edges are sharp and my expectations high. When I get stuck in traffic, I smack my steering wheel. I slug refrigerators on their innocent white sides.

But I love — LOVE — being around the smooth-edged people. If I or my culture could surrender our dominion just a little bit, we’d live in a different world. I’m not talking about surrendering to drug cartels or terrorists. I’m talking about surrendering our dominion over every little thing; surrendering to inconvenience, lack of control, to taking the bus, to stopping in the middle of a spousal spat and deciding now is as good a time as any to start a ceasefire. This column is dedicated to those moments when, against the momentum of history, and even by accident, surrender happens.

Join Laura Pritchett and I for two back-to-back classes

followed by a reading:

Boulder, Monday Aug. 9, 1:30-9 p.m.

THE CLASSES will be held from 1:30 to 5:30 p.m. in North Boulder. They come as a package & cost $60/person

THE READING (which can be attended separately) starts at 7 p.m., Chatauqua Community House. Admission is $5; to learn more or by a ticket go to:

What will the classes cover, you ask? They will strike at the heart of our emotional and creative lives and are designed to proke and inspire. Like the reading, they feature authors

Laura Pritchett and moi, Lisa Jones


WRITING SEX WELL (get out of bed and onto the pages!)
One of Laura Pritchett’s most popular classes, WRITING SEX WELL will have you giggling, writing furiously, and exploring the possibilities of writing real stuff in a real way. Sex is not always good, but it’s always revealing! Whether it’s fantastic, boring, strange or predictable, sex is one of the most powerful unions and sensations we experience, and it shouldn’t be skipped or avoided in writing. On the other hand, a sex scene shouldn’t be included unless it serves a purpose, which is to illustrate the characters and the larger themes of the work. This workshop will introuce examples of good literary sex scenes and explore some ideas about writing sex well — how to direct an honest gaze at this most fascinating activity.

(what you’re avoiding putting on the page)
Lisa Jones, who went through this feeling umpteen times while writing BROKEN: A Love Story, will lead this segment. Memoir may sound like an easy genre, because you know the material — you were there, right? But the truth is, writing memoir brings you face to face with things you’ve done and decisions you and others have made that you’d rather leave out. But good narrative may demand they be acknowledged on the page. Lisa will draw from the experience of other memoirists, as well as describe her own final, wine-assisted surrender to writing down the bare, shuddering facts in her own book. And she’ll talk about how forgiving the reading public has been. Then we’ll do some fun, generative writing exercises to assist the beginning of the surrender to the truth.

the bad Santas and me, earlier this month

the bad Santas and me, earlier this month

Stanford got out of the hospital two days ago, a little less than six
weeks after he went in. Hooray!

His sister Arilda drove down to Cheyenne to pick him up in her
Suburban (with a mattress laid down so he doesn’t have to sit up),
while his son Daniel ferried Stanford’s wheelchair home in the pickup.
When I spoke to him today, Stan was extremely excited to get out of
the hospital, and even more excited to have his first

He’ll be in bed for a week at least to heal from his bedsore surgery.

heading into the sweat lodge at Stanford's late August

heading into the sweat lodge at Stanford's late August

In other news, I’m sure you’ve read the sad news about the sweat lodge
in Sedona, Arizona, in which two people died a week ago. I’ve been
thinking about it a lot. It brings up a question about the place of
nonnative people in Native spiritual practice. It seems like anyone
of any ethnicity who charges dozens of people $10,000 apiece to do a
five day “Spiritual Warriors” retreat before putting them in a plastic-
lined sweat lodge is going to evoke the wrath of a spirit or two.

For Stanford’s part, he believes that white people (not to mention black and yellow people) came to America in order to learn about the Creator. Spiritual
renaissance, he says, is the main reason we’re all here
together. We live, he says, in the spirit land. His grandpa, a
medicine man, told him so. And when he got his own powers,  his
spirits told him the same thing.

So, how should white folks handle themselves in Native American spiritual ceremonies?

Here are some opinions.

“Indian Spirituality is for Indians only. We had these beliefs and
ceremonies long before the white settlers brought their Bible across
the ocean and they withstood all the assaults by the Church to destroy
them. It is high time the Indian people took them back and closed
their ceremonies to outsiders.”
— unsigned editorial, Native Sun News, Aug.
19-25, 2009

“The absence of water during the heat is really disturbing and
potentially dangerous for a northerner with genes intended for fat and
cold and lots of water. Indians with their dark skin can do things
that we fair skinned people simply are not intended to expose
ourselves to. Witness Sven Hedin’s adventures when more or less all of
the expedition died somewhere in Asia after having resorted to
drinking urine.
My mother knew Sven, who was a famous explorer.
Pay attention to your genetic make up and respect it. You are not an
Indian. Maybe you need to be respectful of that.”

— my Swedish mother, in a letter to me in
2005, in response to me wanting to intensify my involvement in
Northern Arapaho spiritual ceremonies.

“Wannabe!” snapped a young Lakota after ending a conversation with an
eager white man en route to a powwow.
“Wannabe?” replied his grandfather. “You mean, ‘wants to be
— from Dreamkeeper, a 2003 feature film about the Lakota,
past and present
(the quote may not be totally accurate, but it’s close. And
wonderful, lovely, deep, funny movie. Really worth seeing.)

Ciao for now,


Lovely aspens Peter and I saw last weekendI visited Stanford in the Cheyenne hospital last night and I’m here to
tell you that he may be home within a week! This would make his entire
stay slightly longer than a month — which is a whole lot better than
the four months that was being bandied about at first. His surgeon was
Dr. William Wyatt (one of count ’em THREE reconstructive and plastic
surgeons in the state of Wyoming, Dr. Wyatt is my hero as he works all
week on low income patients, confines his tummy tuck and face lift
practice to Saturdays, and spends his vacations in Honduras fixing
childrens’ cleft palates.)

Dr. Wyatt cut into Stan’s ischial bone (the one you sit on) and
removed the dead and infected part of it (a process called “debriding”
the bone), stitched him up, and decided Stan’s home health nurse up on
the reservation can take out the stiches (which I believe are more
like metal staples — they were last time) when he’s healed. Stan is
currently trying to wean himself off heavy-duty pain medication to
expedite the going home process. It isn’t easy, but it’s better than
four months away from home. Last night was fun — my visit coincided
with a visit from Stan’s sister Arilda and her son Sass, and Stan’s
son Daniel (who had been with sleeping on the couch in the hospital
room and generally attending to his dad for 10 days) was being
replaced by Shiloh, a young nephew. It was great to see everyone. Stan
chatted and watched Iron Chef on TV.

Thanks to everyone who contributed to his piggy bank in the last few
weeks — the $1,350 you gave went towards shuttling relatives back and
forth, paying a debt, and paying bills. As Daniel left, Stanford said, “remember to buy hay.”

Oh! In BOOK news, Scribner is happy we’ve done well in the first few months and are already sending me design
ideas for the paperback. I think that may be hitting the stands sooner
than expected. Yay! Meanwhile, I’m turning my attention to getting
some paying work on non-Stan topics from the world of journalism. But
journalism seems to have sort of turned into a pet turtle (is it dead?
why isn’t it moving?) while I was writing this book. Maybe I’ll have
to just write another book. Since they’re so easy to write. I’m
kidding. Okay, I’m signing off;
I’ll write again when there’s more news in the Stan and paperback


Stan's truck, with wheelchair, near Farmington, N.M.

840 miles, two radio interviews, three readings (four if you count the fact we read twice in Santa Fe), 23,685 french fries, one narrowly missed goat (which ran out on the road near Farmington, N.M. in front of Stanford’s truck in the photo to the right) one hawk that dove in front of my car outside of Del Norte, Colorado, (also narrowly missed), one coyote eating something on the side of I-25 near Pueblo, another trotting off into the sage near Santa Fe, a sweat lodge, three households thrown open to the needs of nine travelers….. after all that, we’re all basically collapsed at my house. Today, we recuperate; tomorrow, we part.

The readings — in Santa Fe, N.M., and in Colorado in Durango and Salida — were great. People really liked the stories and pretty much melted around Stanford. A cowboy who runs a therapeutic horsemanship program for veterans came; so did two old pals of mine from Manual High School in Denver…There was a lot of chile (thanks Erich!), a great sweat lodge at Angelique and David Midthunder’s house, late night music, a couple of too-early mornings, coffee, coffee, coffee. Oh, and the radio interviews (the afterglow of our first one can be seen below), and a third one done over the phone with me days before we arrived can be listened to here:

Driving the last leg through South Park, Colorado yesterday afternoon was absolutely magical. Fall in the light and the air, and the feeling of being done done done done. Yum.


at Teresa Neptune's gallery in Santa Fe last Saturday

at Teresa Neptune's gallery in Santa Fe last Saturday

Three-woman show: Photographer Teresa Neptune, documentary filmmaker Angelique Midthunder, Stanford, and me, all in Santa Fe on Saturday

Three-woman show: Photographer Teresa Neptune, documentary filmmaker Angelique Midthunder, Stanford, and me, all in Santa Fe on Saturday

Marshall is tired

Marshall is tired

Dear friends,

My living room is full of sleeping Arapahos — Stanford on the nice
foamy pad, and Daniel, Shiloh, Marshall and JR variously on couches or
on the floor on camping pads. They arrived last night, for a
restorative dinner of bratwurst and root beer floats. Soon I will shoe
horn then out of bed and we will pack up and start our Southwestern
tour. Like a rock band. But instead of a big black bus we’ll convoy in
a large Dodge pickup with new hubs and Wyoming plates, a Honda Insight
the color of a margarita, (my husband’s pride and joy — he’s coming!
yay!), and an Audi containing our pals Peter Heller and Kim Yan. It’s
gonna be a party.

Here’s our schedule. Come on down if you’re in the area, or please let
any friends who live nearby know about these readings. Thanks!

August 22, 4-7 p.m.
Teresa Neptune Studio/Gallery
616 1/2 A Canyon Road
Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501

This is a collaborative event with photographer Teresa Neptune and
documentary film director Angelique Midthunder
The event will be held during Indian Market.

For full details, go here:


Monday, August 24, 6:30 p.m.
Maria’s Bookshop
960 Main Avenue
Durango, Colorado

Tuesday, August 25, 2-4 p.m.
Salida Regional Library
405 E. St.
Salida, Colorado 81201
(719) 539-4826

Now I make a very large pot of coffee. Bye for now,

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