The Art of Running Into Flames

Oscar Hokeah

When I think about creativity, or the impulses to create, and how there is a certain bravery or cowardice involved, I think of forest fires.  You see, my cousins were fire fighters for the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma.  I love it when they regale me with stories of their adventures and sometimes these are about disaster relief, like following Hurricane Katrina, and other times they are about fighting large forest fires in Colorado or California.  They tell me, “If the wind catches the flames and rushes the fire toward you, you have to decide:  are you going to run through the flames?”

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July yluJ

In the bigger picture, this is miniscule, petty even. Woe, me, ungrateful me.

I misspent my summer nights on sleep and traded all that freedom for schooling and all that searching for lost trails for searching for a house. And now I’m sitting in my garage to the sound of a fan in the foreground and all sorts of critters in the background  (It’s nighttime now), looking at furniture that needs painting and the designs I’ve carved into the paint on the piece of furniture I am removing the paint from, and it occurs to me that tonight is going to be one of the few nights I will have stayed up late into my favorite hour, which exists only when I’m awake for it.

It’s just that summer is almost over and it’s just now getting here. I’m whining because it’s past my bedtime and July ends tomorrow. 

July something, some year

I turned out the light for what seemed the fifth time tonight and as the last millisecond of bright light imprinted on my eyeballs I fell back onto the tangled bedsheets and stacked pillows and felt the heavy East Texas summer heat stick to my arms and back and neck and the fans blew off what the cool sheets didn’t melt away and for a split second I was 23 years old living in that old, no air-conditioning, 3 bedroom house with 3 other girls, none of whom lay any particular claim to any particular bedroom or closet or item of clothing. I’ve always been fond of humidity. Probably because of that.

A lot happened today.

And I became disturbed. But I haven’t figured out what to make of it or how to express it. I started to write “or whether I even need to express it,” but need is irrelevant. 

sigh, tap.tap.tap.tap

I am increasingly amazed at how integral this itty bitty piece of technology has become in my life. By choice, of course. For convenience. I was speaking with someone on the phone while texting someone else while editing a paper while someone on the other end of the screen watched in real time and commented. And I saved a document to my drive. Then emailed something. Shared a photo. Looked up the average time it takes the average human to solve a Rubik’s cube. The answer is stupid fast, and that puts me well below average at 2 minutes and 48 seconds as a personal best, which I timed on my phone. I also used the light of my screen to find the charger because I forgot to plug my phone in.

And I’m awake. Thinking about my new house and how it’s sitting there empty and waiting. Tapping it’s house fingers on its house walkway. Sighing a deep house sigh. Waiting for me to claim it, legally. 

We did a walkthrough today to make sure no one punched in the walls or spray painted profanities on the countertops since the last time we were there. I’ve been to the house a bunch of times, mostly because I like being there. The air feels calm. I have a lot of ideas for the house. Some will have to wait, but I think I’m okay with sitting on the floor of an empty room. I don’t think we need furniture. But no one agrees. They rarely do. 

Though a new couch would be nice.

Lots of ideas in my head. Enough of them to fill a house or two, and yet I still scroll through Pinterest.

Now I’m just rambling. 

I don’t want to sleep.

Wed – nes – day 

That’s how I say it in my head when I write it. That way I know that I’m writing it right.   


Today we talked about slang terms that she has been hearing but doesn’t understand, like “gonna” and “wanna.” I told her those were lazy ways to say what you and I know them to mean and that it’s okay to use those words in informal settings. I introduced her to “fixing to” and “ain’t” and “y’all.” Her interactions with people are, for the most part, limited to high society. So I told her that in a relaxed setting with a bunch of American southerners, “y’all” is okay, “ain’t” isn’t, and that never, under any circumstance, should she use “fixing to.” The important thing is that she knows what those words mean. 

She asked me to type those words on her computer for her, and when I did they came out on the screen all gobbledygook. I thought I was losing my mind. It turns out the keyboard was arranged Czechlosevakian style. It had all the same characters, but the characters were all mixed up. Some keys even had three characters on them. 

We eventually got to talking about The Little Prince, and we discussed word meanings. I pointed to: “he broke into a lovely peal of laughter.” She didn’t get what the author means by “broke into,” so I gave a visual description. And when I did, I got very excited, explaining how writers sometimes use imagery to make an idea come to life in a person’s head. She said she sees the same types of word usage in her own language, including other types we discussed, but seeing it in English clarified some things for her. 

This was a fun day.

And Friday, she and I are going to the bookstore.

And she’s asking for writing prompts.

Isn’t this the BEST?

Falling in deep

Every time I close my eyes now I see red and orange squares butted up against white and yellow squares fanning the flames of a bad habit burning out of control. Lines of words on the screen fold over others as I read, top to bottom, left to right, always in that order, and though the sensation is oddly satisfying the lack of upward and backward leaves a hint of unsettling.

I’ve solved the cube multiple times. The puzzle is now an obsession that I must break. Or maybe more of a compulsion. 

I gave my student an assignment on Monday to read The Little Prince in both her own language and in English and then compare the wording. It got me thinking about idioms today. Saint-Exupery wrote his little story in French, and the story has been translated into hundreds of languages. How often do you suppose the details in each translation stayed true to the original French text? And to compare two separate versions, each of its own language, both languages not the original…the thought is interesting.

But we’re going to talk about idioms and other odd word usage tomorrow. I highlighted a few things in the book to take with me, and after highlighting that the little prince “fell into a reverie that lasted a long while. And then, taking his sheep out of his pocket, he plunged into contemplation.” I got kinda giddy. A little warm and fuzzy even. It’s silly, really, but I’m most certainly bringing it up how fun it is to play with words once you get the hang of them. Though the English language doesn’t have the monopoly on that liberty. Clearly. And I’d probably insult her intelligence to even bring up the idea of word play. But I’ll point out how fun it is. Cause it is.

Oh goodness, it’s late.