That Thing with Feathers: Hope and Literature in a Time of Upheaval
Amid the tumult of 2020 and life-changing events, Alastair Lee Bitsóí focuses on the feminine in today's That Thing With Feathers: Hope & Literature in a Time of Upheaval.
Yellow Corn, Grandmother Moon, and Queen Bey
by Alastair Lee Bitsóí
Lately, I’ve been issuing prayers to Grandmother Moon, a feminine being, with Yellow Corn.
Usually it is offerings to Grandfather Sun, a male being, with White Corn. That’s if I can fight the lazy out of me to get up so early. I do my best to do so…daily.
“Alastair, get up and pray. Greet the sun. Pray. Run.”
“Alastair, you do not do enough of it. You need to get up. You are not praying enough or getting up early. You’re too lazy.”
“Alastair, if you do not get up, you will get old faster and get wrinkles all over your face. Or, you will get white spots. Wake up. Nidii dah.”
“Alastair, the Old Lady is making you sleep longer. She’s sleeping on your eyelids. You’re having sex with her. She’s keeping you warm in bed.”
“Alastair, fold your blankets every time you get out of bed!”
In my mind, I am thinking about how this Old Lady is an actual Old Man. I am a Diné queer person, after all. I sleep with men.
And by this point, I am irritated for not getting up to meet First Light, as these Diné values are issued from my late grandmother, parents, siblings or any other relative. They are reminders even today when I go home to visit loved ones.
“What about the moon?” I think out loud.
She is responsible for the cycles of life and death. I want to worship her, too.
As humanity, we do not—literally and figuratively—worship Grandmother Moon. It is always the patriarchy of our Grandfather Sun.
Grandmother Moon is who I have been praying to recently, more so than Grandfather Sun.
Grandmother Moon is who I have been praying to recently, more so than Grandfather Sun. She has helped me overcome many obstacles, particularly this 2020 year.
She’s helped me to be resilient to three life-changing experiences: a positive COVID-19 diagnosis, a sexually transmitted infection, and the loss of my job as an environmental advocate for Bears Ears.
In these situations, it is Yellow Corn and Grandmother Moon, two sacred Holy People, that have helped me heal and recover. Ahéhee nitsaago for your love!
If you know me, I am pretty honest and truthful. Years ago, this was not the case.
You may wonder? It is because I was battered.
Now, I am becoming better at understanding who I am through lots of internal healing, including from writing again.
After undergoing various Diné healing ceremonies over the summer on Dinétah, and recently checking into therapy, I have learned that I suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Probably everyone does, right? But, to utter this to myself has been life-changing. I know there is trauma in my life, but to be told, “You have PTSD, Alastair,” from a social worker hit differently.
After a therapy session, I quickly googled PTSD symptoms. I had already been aware that I had suffered from childhood sexual abuse. But PTSD?? This is breaking news.
Digesting this dose of news has since helped me understand my behavior and relationship to others.
It makes sense why I would have struggled out of bed to greet Grandfather Sun at First Light. Yawn!
Unknowingly up to now, I am processing how PTSD impacts my life—years of generational curses caused in part by years of colonization and patriarchy. At the root, it helps to understand my 2020 challenges.
Sure, it sounds like I may be blaming other factors and causes for my present being. However, I think not. From my view, it makes total sense now.
So, when Torrey House Press asked me to co-edit the upcoming anthology New World Coming: Frontline Voices on Pandemics, Uprisings, and Climate Crisis with Brooke Larsen, it was a difficult yes.
I did not want to be exploited as a Diné person to fulfill the diversity, equity, and inclusion card trending across the world.
Mostly since I did not want to be exploited as a Diné person to fulfill the diversity, equity, and inclusion card trending across the world, particularly in so-called America. Torrey House Press’ ask came on the verge of the Black Lives Matter uprisings over the spring—a feature of this anthology—and the unknowns of this COVID-19 pandemic.
At this point, I had learned I was COVID-19 positive after being in Washington, DC, New York City, or even here in Salt Lake City. Who knows? The ask also came after the spring earthquakes, something that I never experienced before and could be attributed to climate change? It seems so.
Torrey House’s ask also came at a time of denouncing rampant patriarchy and lateral racism that became more visible with the need to stand in solidarity with Black Lives Matter. Sometimes your value and truth can take a hit for you, leading you to depart from meaningful work that is falsely masked as Indigenous land conservation.
I was also being stigmatized for having COVID-19, or that I was neglectful of my own being through my promiscuity.
Or, that I was not praying to Grandfather Sun enough. Or, that I was trying to get fame from my social media followers about writing in the Navajo Times of being a COVID-19 survivor. “My COVID Journey” was an effort to offer hope.
I was alone—quarantined and isolated. I was both. There were many mean things told to me during this time.
But, as the Leo that I am, I bought myself a ruby crown and ordered a coffee mug from Tiffany’s. I began praying to Grandmother Moon in all this mess. Little did I know this would help me heal.
As a queer Diné person from the New Mexico side of Dinétah, Utah is a strange place, just like the phallic structure illegally inserted into Mother Earth without her approval. I simply do not meet the minimum requirements of basic whiteness.
I do not even know the significance of Emily Dickinson’s “Hope is the thing with feathers" . . . It’s so cheesy.
I do not even know the significance of Emily Dickinson’s “Hope is the thing with feathers,” which is what this piece aims to appease. It’s so cheesy.
But, what I do know is Mariah Carey’s shady way of caring for an irrelevant person: “I don’t know her…” And, that’s okay, because I’ll do my best to learn more about Emily Dickinson in 2021, just like other Utahn values.
Basically, this has been my growing pain while living in Utah. My parents were happy for me to live here—probably because of the familial values and geographic proximity to home—rather than places like New York City, Washington, DC, or Los Angeles (all places I lived). Clearly, Utah is not as safe as those big cities.
Even through it all, I’ve remained hopeful—a teaching from my ancestors to “Never lose hope. Never.” Sihasin.
Through Grandmother Moon, I gain strength through her feminine energy. As Diné people, it is taught as humans the fires of our mother and father merge to create you, and thus we consist of both feminine and masculine energy and traits.
As we continue on through this pandemic, we need to harness Grandmother Moon and the feminine. It is how we will get to this New World, and it is not ironic that most of the amazing contributors of this anthology are women voices. They will save us.
P.S. Yes, I still need to pray at First Light to Grandfather Sun with White Corn, but also in equal balance to Grandmother Moon with Yellow Corn. Thank you, Holy People, for my life, breath, and opportunities! Ahéhee nitsaago.
P.S.S. Queen Bey (Beyoncé) helps to process this healing and life journey, so listen to her, too. Tah ahkwidii (That’s all/that’s a wrap).
Alastair Lee Bitsóí (Diné) is a public health and environmental writer from the Navajo Nation. He is from the small community of Naschitti, which is nestled below the Chooshgai Mountains on the New Mexico-Arizona state line. Alastair has worked in various spaces over the last several years, including being an award-winning news reporter for the Navajo Times, where he continues to write as freelance; communications director for the Indigenous-led land conservation nonprofit, Utah Diné Bikéyah, which continues advocacy for protection and restoration of Bears Ears National Monument; and is currently helping the world during this COVID-19 pandemic with public health communication messaging under his newly launched consulting business, Near The Water Communications and Media Group. Alastair also provides media and cultural sensitivity training for the media, nonprofits, for-profits, health care settings, businesses, governments, and for many other industries. He has a master’s of public health degree from New York University College of Global Public Health, and is alumnus from Gonzaga University. He is co-editor with Brooke Larsen of the forthcoming anthology New World Coming: Frontline Voices on Pandemics, Uprisings, and Climate Crisis.
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