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Awash in Soapstone

Figure 1: Figurine made from a chunk of dendridic soapstone from Jerry's Rock & Gem Shop.

Decided to try my hand at carving soapstone after a routine visit to Jerry's Rock & Gem shop. Great place, check it out. Started with my animal vibe as of late- the buffalo [Figure 1]. After writing up my go-to story from the field, I've been really feeling the buffalo. Even picked up a tooth and leather thong to wear the thing around my neck. I love bones, I don't know if I've mentioned my taste for body parts yet but it's something I share with many grave-robbing scientists throughout Western history. If you share the impulse to collect and catalog skulls and bones, might I recommend Severed by Frances Larson. It's delightful, insightful, anthropologically refreshing, and best of all, it is a book about severed heads.

Anyway, it just so happens that there is another story related to buffalo that, presently, affects my choice to sit down and free a lopsided buffalo from a bit of dendridic soapstone [Figure 2]. For clarification, soapstone is just talc. Basically, hot volcanic water prevented the material from forming hard crystals and so it's got a hardness of 1. You can busy yourself chipping away with your fingernail of you so choose. I chose a pocket knife [Figure 3].

Figure 2: One of three kinds of soapstone available at Jerry's.

We're gonna get off the adulthood train for just a second, here, and go back to kindergarten. The Adulthood Train/Bus/Ferry/Mountain of Life is one that I tell myself I am a friendly passanger on. Really, it's closer to being kidnapped by the conductor and I'm gagged under the floor boards while the cart with ice cream and beer passes overhead and I watch through the cracks as the rats of poverty and debt creep in from the shadows. #being25in2017

Pocahontas was big when I entered K-12 at Blades Elementary. Every little kid I played with partook in what I still think of as "playing imaginary" at being Indians and settlers at least once a week. Pretty basic stuff. So, it's Halloween week at Blades, and I'm in Mrs. Gorecke(?) (Goereke(?) I pronounced it Gor-eh-kee)... Mrs. G's full-day class. A decent portion of this cohort would go all the way through high school and part of college together. South St. Louis is like that, are most public schools. And private I guess. And everywhere. That is definitely a universal thing.

Anywho, it's time for one of the many holiday-themed activities. Topic: let's all say what we're being for Halloween. Indians. Let's all listen to Mrs. G read that book about the prairie tribe with the kid who uses magic paintbrushes to paint the sky with sunsets and sunrises and then leave his brushes to become wildflowers. Great. Good stuff. Next up, let's go around and say *which* Indian we are being for this game. I was somewhere in the middle of the group. The answers, as I recall them, were almost unanimously Pocahontas & John Smith or Kocoum. When Mrs. G looked at me and asked what my "Indian name" was (let us remember this was the '90s) I paused in thought. I feel like the teacher was used to this because I was often on the outlier of cooperation in activities where the group's judgement loomed over me. Looking up, I said, "My name's Dancing Buffalo!"

The look of disapproval from the other girls was evident and the confusion that I had not jumped on the Pocahontas train also stopped Mrs. G. I had chosen this name because I adored Native cultures (as most whites in urban are aught to America do) and loved the story of Sitting Buffalo. In all the movies and stories I had seen with Indians, their names always invoked something they liked to do (a verb) and an animal they liked (a noun). This was how my brain translated the messages of the media: I want to be an Indian hero like Sitting Buffalo (I later checked my facts and hero yes but not a pacifist), and I also loved to dance to anything at any time.

Dancing Buffalo just felt right.

I had (still have) this terrible habit of saying things I believe with absolute resolution. It infuriates people. After I continued to smile up at Mrs. G (who I adored but looking back I was probably not her favorite pupil) and ignore the looks of the group, the teacher resigned herself and gave in to this oddly adult answer to the question.

"Ok then, Tori, if you're going to be Dancing Buffalo, you're going to have to show us a dance," she said. The jury is still out on whether she intended this to inspire or dissuade me from being different. I remember the fear flooding my face with potential embarrassment and then, in my trademark resistance, shot to the center of the room. I announced, "I am Dancing Buffalo, and this i