I will always recall the conversation I had with Joy Harjo in 2021 as a great experience in a very hard year. It started inauspiciously on the technical front. As U.S. Poet Laureate, she was practically living on Zoom even more than the rest of us. We had trouble connecting. Then someone next door to where she was sitting in Tulsa was running a noisy machine that was beyond jarring. We finally stopped pausing and hoping it would pass. We just had to let the experience be imperfect, like the world in which it was unfolding. And on that, Joy Harjo was possessed of a captivating wry wit and was magnificently wise, often transcendently so, even when illuminating the hardest of realities.
I’ll be sitting with her again — this time by way of the time travel of listening back, and anew — on Indigenous Peoples’ Day this coming Monday. I wonder what I’ll hear this time that I didn’t catch last time, or that wasn’t ready to land in me. I invite you to listen with me on this long weekend, from your own corner of the world. We’ve woven it into a playlist below with other conversations, from across the years of On Being, towards this critical and communal re-membering that being alive in this time calls us to. Each and every one of these conversations has shaped me: with Ernie La Pointe, Sitting Bull’s grandson; with the botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer, whose books have moved our entire culture; with the remarkable poet Layli Long Soldier; with David Treuer about the Ojibwe language lost and found; and with my fellow journalist John Biewen, who grew up in a Minnesota place that had what felt like a parallel universe of history that he did not learn about in school, but that he needs to work with in order, himself, to be whole. You’ll also find a conversation between Pádraig for a special Poetry Unbound with Diné poet Jake Skeets.
I was struck, as I started to re-read the transcript of my conversation with Joy Harjo, how often I invoked the time in which we’re living as a “waking up” on so many fronts. I’ll be back in the Pause in the coming weeks with a new experiment I’d love for you to partake in with me: a foray into the conversational reading and writing I mentioned in my letter on my return from Berlin a few weeks ago — and we’re also going to offer a “conversational listening” option. We’ll ponder what is emerging, and all we’re learning, and all we’re capable of, as we step into the world ahead.
PS: In 2018, we conducted a research study that led to our Land Acknowledgement, included at the end of the show. You can read it in full on our website, and find resources in support of this practice. This has been an important anchor for us, and something we continue to grow into.
PPS: By the way, in case you missed it, I read my letter about my time in Berlin — and conversational reading — aloud as an On Being podcast offering last week, too.