During the summer after my junior year of high school, a professor named Ken Sroka held summer English classes at a local college, a course called “Journeys in Literature”. At the time, it felt like an island of time to think and read and grow. We read Joseph Campbell, Joyce Carol Oates, Robert Pirsig, James Joyce, Lawrence Ferlinghetti… writers that shaped how I came to regard the world. Part of that course was an investigation into the question: Go or stay? Learn something new and risk failure, or deepen your roots where you are and risk stagnation? I’ve pondered these same questions ever since, turning them over in my hands — they feel heavy and smooth from years of worrying, like a well-worn leather-bound book.
Recently I picked up Sherman Alexie’s The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, and he has this to say:
Your past is a skeleton walking one step behind you, and your future is a skeleton walking one step in front of you. Maybe you don’t wear a watch, but your skeletons do, and they always know what time it is. Now, these skeletons are made of memories, dreams and voices. And they can trap you in the in-between, between touching and becoming. But they’re not necessarily evil, unless you let them be.
What you have to do is keep moving, keep walking, in step with your skeletons. They ain’t ever going to leave you, so you don’t have to worry about that… Sometimes, though, your skeletons will talk to you, tell you to sit down and take a rest, breathe a little. Maybe they’ll make you promises, tell you all the things you want to hear.
Sometimes your skeletons will dress up as beautiful Indian women and ask you to slow dance. Sometimes your skeletons will dress up as your best friend and offer you a drink, one more for the road. Sometimes your skeletons will look exactly like your parents and offer you gifts.
But, no matter what they do, keep walking, keep moving. And don’t wear a watch. Hell, Indians never need to wear a watch because your skeletons will always remind you about the time. See, it is always now. That’s what Indian time is. The past, the future, all of it is wrapped up in the now. That’s how it is. We are all trapped in the now.