Nearly everyone living in limbo in American prisons and jails got there after being distracted from reality and doing something they thought would not be noticed. They assumed they would get away with “it.” But, how wrong they were.
The Kin of Ata are Waiting for You, by Dorothy Bryant is a story about understanding yourself through self-reflection and then taking ownership of your past.
Just as the protagonist (who remained a nameless man throughout the story) said, “I don’t excuse what I did then. It, like most of my life, was inexcusable. But, I understand it. I was a thoroughly lost, dislocated man.”
It is a story that touches on Eastern and Western philosophies while showing that individuality and social bonding are equally important to humanity.
The subtle lessons about society, family, and people eased into the storyline of The Kin of Ata are Waiting for You.
Although it is not clear, what is real and what is a dream, it is clear that the Atains live for and through their dreams.
The unadulterated societal driver in this story is simple: Live to follow your dreams and dream to find out what to do with your life. However, getting this idea across to someone caught up in a consumer-based society would sound crazy as the protagonist realized, “In a moment I would sit up and laugh and write down my dream for the psychiatrist. It was a good one. He would dig into it like a kid making mud pies.”
Let your imagination run wild: What if you are dreaming right now?
Looking at the person I was nearly two decades ago, pre-incarceration, the protagonist reflecting on his life fit me well: “I am an empty man, not a real person. I gave away what was real in me long ago. I sold it for nothing. I am nothing. I am not fit to live.”
Bryant has a way of storytelling that engages readers early on.
Even though I agree that the protagonist is not fit to live, as his continuous and disgusting acts before dreaming and while dreaming are indefensible, Bryant pitches a strong argument for the continuation of all humanity at all costs.
“The human race is like a suicide, perching on the edge of a cliff, wavering, teetering. When she is about to fall over the edge, one of us goes out and using all the strength he has, makes a wind that blows against the falling, keeps humanity wavering on the brink,” writes Bryant. This delicate balance is artfully crafted in The Kin of Ata are Waiting for You.
Those living the life of an inmate in a prison are obsessed with getting out of these darkened places, devoid of love. The inmate wants out to be released. However, in many cases, to be found suitable for parole requires very specific articulation to a panel of so-called experts who are tasked with determining whether the inmate is no longer a danger to the rest of the community. The inmate is put on display and must perform a ritual before representatives of the community, showing the things learned from past mistakes. The inmate must express clear insight as to why they have done things that required stark separation from the rest of society in the form of prison bars. The sad and lonely place, called prison, forces this revelation upon its subjects.
“The human race is like a suicide, perching on the edge of a cliff, wavering, teetering”
Effective communication skills are important for inmates who want to get their ideas across to the parole board, ultimately leading to freedom. Comparably, I interpret the protagonist’s desire to understand the Atains’ language as a means to figure out how to get out of Ata and back to the real world.
However, in an attempt to decipher the Atains’ language, the protagonist found that “verbs lacked tense—literally, as they spoke, there was no sense of past or future, only of now, the present moment.” Therefore, the Atains lived for the moment. When the protagonist tried to figure out how much time he should spend working, he was told, “However much makes your body ready for good dreams. At first, now, not too much, I think. It will change. Later you will work more. You will find the rhythm. No work makes mean dreams; too much work makes pain and twitching. Useless dreams either way.”
The Kin of Ata are Waiting for You is filled with lines that will stick with me forever, making me stop and think about the way I am living:
“Jealousy is such an ugly feeling. One would do anything rather than be filled with that sick feeling.” Along with, “Wasn’t all art impossible? Art was an attempt to capture the real, to pin it down, to keep it still, so that we can understand.”
These dreamy literary lines make reading The Kin of Ata are Waiting for You enjoyable even after the more than four decades since it was written.