Trickster Lessons & the Power of the Collective

Yesterday I met with graduate students and a postdoc who are on the job market. We did a workshop about cover letters and one brave and generous person offered to use their draft letter as an example we could examine and critique. Starting with the first sentence and marching through the two-page document, we pointed out specific examples of how the letter was good, but we all agreed and workshopped how shifts could be made so the letter more directly shined a light on the writer’s brilliance, achievements, and huge potential to contribute to the communities to which they are applying for employment.

Ah, cover letters. The job market. These are phrases that can spark anxiety, fear, uncertainty. They are tricky. Impossible to navigate on one’s own. Fortunately, we never have to get through tricky situations by ourselves. We have teachers and lessons to help guide us. Keep us company.

For me, anything tricky can bring to mind the beautiful teachings of our trickster teacher, Spilyáy (legendary coyote). In our celebrated coyote stories, Spilyáy always finds a way through challenges, including the problems he brings upon himself with his own blunders. Our beloved trickster teacher knows the power of the collective and often reaches out for help. He’s a loving teacher and all his hard-earned lessons benefit us humans, if we are willing to engage and learn the teachings in each story.

I write about Spilyáy and many of our generous and wise teachers in my just released book, Huckleberries and Coyotes: Lessons from Our More than Human Relations. I asked several scholars and educators to review the manuscript. Here are a few reviewer comments:

“In Huckleberries and Coyotes, Dr. Jacob beautifully demonstrates a way to Indigenize our educational practices.”  -Dr. Stephany RunningHawk Johnson (Oglala Lakota), Washington State University

 “This book is an achievement. It is intergenerational and multi-audience. The storytelling is polished, skillful, and deft.” -Dr. Kyle Whyte (Citizen Potawatomi Nation), Michigan State University

“Michelle Jacob has perfectly captured both the fine craft and the deep meanings essential to the Yakama story tradition. This is what she asks of us: read and listen, take great pleasure, think hard, learn. And then seek out good life, humbly attentive to that greater world that surrounds us.”  -Dr. Philip J. Deloria, Harvard University

Writing a book is both a solitary endeavor and a deeply communal one. I am grateful to all the generous storytellers who’ve taught me over the years, and to all the people who engage with my work and writing. I’m so lucky to benefit from the power of the collective.

As I wrap up this post today, I wish you a day filled with kindness, joyful learning, and the power of a collective to help see you through any tricky situations. Maybe you want to read some stories from Huckleberries and Coyotes!

Photo credit: “Coyote” by ZionNPS is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Published by Michelle M. Jacob

Owner of Anahuy Mentoring

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