Steven McFadden is an independent journalist based in the Southwest of the USA. In the early 1980s he initiated Chiron Communications as an umbrella concept for his varied interests and pursuits. Chiron is a bridging figure, and bridging is what he has mainly been interested in over the years. What follows is the transcript of his 2023 interview with Heena at The Reading Bud.
Welcome to The Reading Bud (TRB).
Please introduce yourself to our readers.
In the early 1960s, upon my older brother Mark’s urging, I took typing class. I was in the 9th grade, and my brother said it was a foolproof way to meet girls. Ha. I did make a few friends, but no teen romances. Just as well for that moment in time, I suppose.
We learned on clanky old manual machines, and back then I felt it was a complete waste of time, although my hands and fingers did become knowing of the keys. By the end of the year I could type perhaps 25-30 WPM. Not impressive, but enough to get by. As school ended and summer began, I thought it likely that I’d never see a keyboard again.
Here it is now, some 60+ years later and I’m still typing on a keyboard, albeit on a far superior machine, the digital age having dawned for me in 1990 with my first computer. Through the decades typing has been my core skill, a reliable tool for the fulfillment of my dharma – the soul impulses that have guided me along the path of my destiny.
What more to say beyond my bio? I’m happily married to Elizabeth Wolf. We’ve been together 16-plus years, and our relationship deepens. Our dog is Amigo, and our cat Lily. We are grateful to be together, to have shelter and food, and to be purposefully engaged in life.
Please tell us something about your book other than what we have read in the blurb.
Beyond the blurb, the main thing that occurs to me is to let readers know the profound depth of feeling I experienced in Spring 2023. That’s when I was moved to update this little book, Native Knowings, and make it available to readers in a print version as well as an ebook.
I’m glad I followed through. As the environmental, social, and political climates intensified, I understood with calm certainty that the voices of learned elders and tradition keepers could be steadying for many people. So those were my main motivations for compiling this version of Native Knowings: steadying the people, and giving readers an opportunity to engage some of the deeper roots of Turtle Island (North America) as we pass through a turbulent era of transition.
Why did you choose this particular theme for your book? What is that one message that you’re trying to get across to the readers in this book?
Since graduating from Boston University in 1975 with a degree in journalism, my personal and professional interest has been to explore intelligent and spirited ways of living on the earth, and then to explain in writing what I’ve been able to understand.
The contemporary tradition keepers of the North American continent are part of an unbroken chain of practical and contemplative understandings (knowings) that go back many thousands of years, long before immigrants came to the land and began calling it America. It is altogether worthwhile to listen to what the learned elders have to say.
From my point of view, considering the condition of our world, listening is critical, deepening, and enriching. The elders offer keys to survival and well-being for all who now call America home, and in many respects for people all around the world.
What inspired you to write this book? An idea, some anecdote, a dream or something else?
My response to question 3 also addresses this question in general. But to add context: I first became interested in learning about our indigenous relatives and neighbors in the late 1970s. I was awakened by a bumper sticker on the back of a beat-up VW in a parking lot of my small village. It said something like “Broken Treaty Score: Red Man 0, White Man 370.”
When I looked into what that might possibly mean I learned that in fact the USA had broken or violated virtually every single one of the solemnly sworn treaties it made with various Native nations. Recognizing that track record of faithlessness by my own government raised an persistent series of questions for me. What? How? Why? And so forth. As a citizen, I felt a share of responsibility for the agreements my government had made and broken. As a journalist, I felt compelled to pursue answers to the questions. What’s going on here? What’s the story. Where does honor lie, and how can honor be advanced? That’s been my career, and Native Knowings is but one concise expression of what I’ve experienced and heard along the trail.
As the years of my life unfurled I began to write about clean, sustainable farms and food (so important), and also to engage the native knowings that were at the heart my personal mission as a messenger: take care of the earth and each other.
How long did it take you to write this particular book?
In terms of compiling the words and photographs, then dealing with layout, cover and other technicalities, it took me just over a month. But to get to the point in life where I had the experience, the tools, the material, and the artistic discernment to express them, about 75 years.
What are your writing ambitions? Where do you see yourself 5 years from today?
Good question. I’ll be 80 in five years, and of course one never knows…At this mature stage one has seen so many souls come and go, and thereby inevitably one has passed through many enriching stages of emotion and understanding about life and death. I’m at peace with whatever comes, although I’m staying fit and actively writing, aiming to live into my 90s. We shall see.
Of note, I had a clear perception at age 40 that I had fulfilled my dharma and could sail off into spirit if I so desired. It was a profoundly peaceful and satisfying sensation. A knowing. For me that knowing was pronounced and enduring. But at the same time I recognized that I could contribute more to the world, that it had potential to be benevolent, and that I was not ready to release. All these years later, I still feel that way.
Are you working on any other books presently?
Yes. I’m nearly finished writing a full-length biography. The title is “Wind Walker: The Sacred Journey of Naa t’áanii Leon Secatero in concert with Ni?ch?i Diyin (Holy Wind).” Leon (1943-2008) was a talented and dedicated leader, a servant to his own Navajo community in the Southwest of the United States, as well as for the world at large. His story presents a great and uplifting vision for the world, and also offers a model of exalted courage and leadership. The book should be in print some time in 2024.
Do you dabble in Fiction?
When did you decide to become a writer? Was it easy for you to follow your passion or did you have to make some sacrifices along the way?
My mother’s brother–good old Uncle Paul–was a writer. He once wrote an article for True Magazine. It came out when I was about 11 or 12. The title was “Why I poach deer” and the byline was not my uncle’s name. He instead used my father’s name (Edward Leo M.) as a pseudonym, so no game wardens could read the article and then come hunting for him.
The article made a notable impression in our household. Among other things, it started me thinking that writing could be a job; it could be what a person did in life, among all the possibilities – engineer, builder, doctor, teacher, etc. So many possibilities. And now, for me least, writer was also among that range of possibilities.
While it has not been financially easy to be an independent journalist, and it has required many sacrifices, it’s been worthwhile. I’ve been able to write not what others assigned to me, but rather what called me from both within and without.
What is your writing ritual? How do you do it?
At this stage I’m not sure I’d call anything I do a ritual. Beyond my first cup of coffee, I’m very much in the moment. If I feel it’s time to write, I write. Time to research, I research. Time to hike along the river or climb a mountain, then I’m off to do that.
Always in the back of my mind I’m aware of deadlines, and I am faithful to them, but I’ve no set times or procedures. When the juice is flowing, I write. Otherwise I am called along the trails of One and also Ten Thousand Things.
Is writing your profession, or do you work in some other field too?
Writing is my profession, yet it has not provided sufficient income over the decades of work and marriage. I’ve been able to create hundreds of newspaper and magazine stories, and 15 or more nonfiction books, but I’ve also scrambled for income, working intermittently in a number of occupations: tree surgeon, groundskeeper, cook, yoga teacher, home care for elders, laborer, babysitter, pipe fitter, and more.
Can you recommend a book or two based on themes or ideas similar to your book? (You can share the name of the authors too.)
I recommend Basic Call to Consciousness, published by Akwesasne Press.
How do you deal with Writer’s Block?
Having started my career writing for newspapers for several years, I never experienced the luxury of being able to surrender to a writers block. There were always deadlines to meet, and the job was on the line. Meet the deadlines, or find a new career. That early conditioning has, thankfully, remained more or less consistent for me.
The mantra in my mind: my job is to tell verifiably true stories that offer a compelling and practical vision of the future. “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” – Proverbs 29:18 “ If you don’t have a dream, how can your dream come true?” – South Pacific
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Pay attention to your breath. Master your breath, and you will more readily remain centered and capable through all you meet in life and in your profession.
With mastery of the breath you will be inspired: both literally and figuratively. Your personal inspiration will add light to your soul, to your words, and to the truths you strive to reveal through writing.
Thank you, author McFadden, for taking out the time to answer our questions and for all your thought-provoking and interesting answers!
About the Book
This original compilation–a small treasure of 72 pages–offers a concise and contemporary compendium of some key North American (Turtle Island) wisdom teachings to help support people through this era of transition.
“I ask you to listen,
not just with your minds.
I ask you to listen with your hearts,
because that’s the only way
you can receive what it is,
what we are giving.
These are the teachings of our hearts.”
– Frank Decontie, Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg
What do some of the venerable, deeply rooted wisdom teachings of the Americas offer in our era of transition?
This Soul*Sparks small treasure offers an array of thoughtful messages, a compilation of keys that everyone has opportunities to turn. We’d be wise to understand and then to weave their enduring insights into the fabric of what we are creating for ourselves, our children, and our children’s children
The words of contemporary elders, in particular, sound notes of urgency.