1) Harjo draws on Native American beliefs to connect her life to the spiritual realm. In so doing, she acknowledges her connection to history and to people who have come before her. How does your own personal story fit in with your own family history? Are there things you do, strengths you have, or other aspects of yourself that make you feel close to your ancestors?
2) The story begins before her birth and imagines the courtship between her parents and then provides images of her arrival into the world. What story might you tell of your parents’ meeting and beginning relationship? What images or metaphors might you associate with your own entry into the world? (For a classic short story that imagines the meeting of parents before the child comes on the scene, see Delmore Schwartz’s “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities.”)
3) Harjo paints a powerful connection between her father and stepfather’s physical abuse and her own sense of worth. Look at the related passages such (p. 50-53 and 57-60) and try to describe how her internalized self-image was influenced by their abusive treatment. How did she break this cycle?
4) In school, Harjo is caught after being out drinking with friends. When she is questioned, she hesitates about being a “snitch,” but thinks “The truth was a path clearer than anything else, a shining luminous bridge past all human failures.” (p. 108) How did telling the truth impact her life, in this situation and in others?
5) Over and over in this memoir, music, art, and poetry are the author’s refuge and ultimately salvation. What role do music, art, film, theater, dance or literature play in your own life? Have they ever been a source of refuge, joy, or even identity for you? Try to think of a concrete example.
6) Harjo is invited to run away to Italy with a circus performer. She refuses. Do you think she did the right thing? What would you have done?
7) Harjo considers the notion of warrior and states “for the true warriors of the world, fighting is the last resort to solving a problem” (p. 150). How can one be a “warrior” for social justice, but wage war in a non-violent manner? Where are we seeing evidence of this in recent demonstrations? Do you think violent action is ever justified?
8) What do you think of her literary device of interspersing poetry and stories of myth with the narrative of her life? Do you like this or dislike it–find it a way of deepening the text or see it as distracting from her story?
9) Do you believe that her art would have emerged and achieved its power without the suffering and challenges that Harjo faced? Is this a necessary condition of great art?
10) The book is divided into four sections: The East represents beginnings, the North represents difficult teachers, the West represents endings, and the South represents release. This cycle may repeat itself in large and small ways with a person’s life. Think about your own life through this framework of four directions and the concepts they represent. Where does your life fit into these four areas? Do you feel you have experienced all these areas at some point in your life? Do you feel you are experiencing one of the phases right now?
11) In addition to being a writer, Harjo plays the saxophone as a solo artist and with her band Arrow Dynamics. How does Harjo’s life reflect jazz- involving both pre-determined structure and improvisational variations?
12) How has this book broadened your perspective about important personal and/or societal questions? How has it challenged your thinking about family, social class, addiction, and, more specifically, the lives of indigenous people in our country? Were you aware of the social and political movements of Native Americans that helped to shape her life and art?