I follow the example of Crazy Horse: Susan De Muth in bed with Sherman Alexie

Susan de Muth
Tuesday 29 March 1994 23:02

I am haunted at night by ghosts who talk a lot. Sometimes I see them, shadows out of the corner of my eye. Sometimes they flood my mind as memories. Mostly they bother me - but they are an essential part of my creative life so I live with them.

Being spooked, I used to suffer complete insomnia and would stay up till dawn writing. I met my fiancee two years ago, however, and now try to keep in with her patterns and am more relaxed. It took her a long time to get used to sleeping beside me - I'm a very active sleeper and dreamer, talking and moving all night.

The ghosts are usually bad. I was a weird nerdy little kid and got beaten up a lot by the other Indian boys - they often come back to bully me some more. Then there are my parents - they were both alcoholics and at night, when they drank, they were shape-shifters, monsters. Sometimes I encourage these hauntings by reading scary things like Stephen King late at night. I know they're good for me, I need these edges. How many people have written well about being balanced and happy? If I want a respite from them I listen to soppy music like the Carpenters or Stevie Wonder.

I might remember sweet things then. Like lying in bed when I was a child listening to the drums from the pow-wow house and imagining the dancing and partying going on there. Or sitting round a sweat-lodge in the dark listening to the old men talking.

Though I no longer live on the reservation, my life is forever connected to my tribe (the Spokane Indians). We have our own ways, which set us apart from the Americans. I measure time with my breath and don't need to carry a watch. I sleep, measure time, and wake when I need to. In my hotel room here in London I have an acorn from the Osage tribe, which brings me good luck, and when I fly I carry feathers.

We have a bank of tribal energy from which we all draw and to which we all contribute in our own ways. I had a big problem with drink for four years and had several abortive attempts at giving up. Then my dead grandmother appeared to me in a dream and told me to quit - I suddenly got the strength to resist temptation and I haven't touched it since.

Dreams are a vital part of our Indian culture. In the past Indians would dream their adult names on a 'vision quest' in remote places - if you dreamt of an eagle you would have a name to do with an eagle. Dreams would also tell hunters where to find buffalo and warriors how to paint their faces for battle.

Crazy Horse, one of our greatest spiritual leaders, taught the importance of dreams and everything he ever dreamt came true. I treat dreams with the same degree of seriousness. They allow you to analyse your life and sometimes they predict things for you. First thing in the morning an Indian family will discuss their dreams and treat them as guideposts for where they should be going.

For me as a writer dreams are an incomparable source of material. Life on its own isn't that interesting to write about but dreams re-interpret events for you. They help you to see things from all sorts of angles instead of just watching life as if it's television.

My fiancee is an Indian woman, so she understands when I talk to her about my dreams. I loved a white woman for many years but found myself always having to translate across the cultural divide. Life is hard enough on a daily basis without going home and fighting the same wars.

Months before we were actually introduced, I glimpsed my future fiancee at one of my readings. She began to appear in my dreams all the time in her red shirt, laughing. I was dissatisfied with my relationship and she was a vivid dream symbol of what I really wanted. Then the improbable happened - my dream became a reality]

Sherman Alexie's latest book of short stories, 'The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven', is published by Secker & Warburg, pounds 8.99.

(Photograph omitted)

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