The idea is out there that getting a book you wrote published is a kind of ultimate achievement that will show you're talented and achieving. No one expected that books would be displaced by the internet. But already people didn't understand ordinary publishing. Some is powered by a red hot topic, like the political tomes that are pulling together theories and evidence right now. People really want to know what's behind this chaos and evil.
But there are also gender-specific genres, romance novels for women, adventure "real life" for men. Schools teach us certain books must be included in a real education, but once we're no longer forced, most of us never read them or think about them. As usual, what impresses us best is material rewards ($) for mass popularity, like the NYTimes list of best sellers or the now defunct "Book of the Month Club." Pure quality is so hard to define -- since it depends on the reader's idea of what that is -- it's barely discussed. People will say that something is "good writing", but not be able to tell you why.
The invention of internet "publishing" changes the terms of writing. One need not hoard the writing until there is a "book" to be published as a unit. The reader can follow the development of writing as it grows in the mind and heart of the writer, sometimes transforming what was contradiction in the beginning.
I'm working on two "bodies of work," by others, one more than a decade of letters, typed before computers were invented, describing the process of developing an indigenous language immersion school for primary-aged kids, including the effort to fund and finally endow the school. The other is more than a decade of blog entries, also describing a community for kids but this time one as flexible and inventive as the entries themselves. The kids in this second case are without families but with the most penetrating and vulnerable of diseases, HIV/AIDS. They are in distress but resourceful.
Neither writing nor editing, I'm organizing these materials for those who keep specialty archives, and hoping that I can preserve the work of two different and extraordinary men who dedicated themselves to their efforts and grew from it. Why I ended up being a recipient of this writing -- some of it exceptional, poetic, and unexpected -- I don't know. Perhaps one of them was a preparation for the other, though they didn't know each other and maybe wouldn't have liked or approved of each other. If I had to draw a Venn diagram showing the two as overlapping circles, probably the commonality would be about prejudice, suffering, and how art/poetry/story can address them.
So if I'm in sympathy, why didn't I end up sponsoring a group the way these two men did? (I did have a ministry, but it eluded me.) Is it that I'm a woman who was taught that her role was enabling men? Many women would make these two epistolary relationships into romances, even sexual, but that didn't happen. The distance between ways of relating was necessary for the creation of letters and vignettes in the first place. There was no money in it, as there would have been in the context of publishing where even women are paid for editing. I can work with print, not boys or little kids.
Both groups were risky, even dangerous, to themselves and others, and stigmatized but also eroticized. Maybe that's what kept me fascinated, pursuing research that might show what was going on more clearly and even suggest ways to help. Both men were highly intelligent, younger than me by a decade. One is dead and the other is dying. I'm feeling my age which is why is seems important to find archives.
At least partly involved is my turning away from materialism, which it seems to me involves at least partly denying awareness of damage, blindness to being used by others. My family, survivors of the Depression and the conversion of agriculture to industry, is obsessed with a "living" which demands a certain standard. They talk about hating their jobs. I dumped all that, partly because idealistic work like ministry and teaching doesn't pay well anyway. The only prosperous cousins run a "titty bar". I learned to get along without fancy stuff, with the exception of the computer.
This whole blog post is self-indulgent, but it's an attempt to change the terms of discussion. Why should a woman claim "me-too" is her problem when attempting to survive on men's terms, instead of simply changing the terms of effort. Of course, I didn't have children as one condition of living in a risky, low-income way. Neither of the groups in these two bodies of work I guard have a lot of money.
I did devote the Sixties to hard work in service to one man, Bob Scriver. My reward was marriage and some thought that meant money, though we were divorced before the money happened. I left with no money and though he had millions, he didn't live any differently from before. He didn't live for any others, in his will he even cut off his own grandchildren. His archive, the Montana Historical Society, does not serve his body of work -- which was not publishing but a thousand bronze sculptures -- with either curation or exhibition.
I don't regret any of these years, which were a participation rather than simply receiving writing about what happens. They taught me a lot. I did publish in the traditional manner, one book entitled "Bronze Inside and Out" which was about the years with Bob Scriver when he went from local recognition to something like classic status. So there's that.
In the last twenty years I've built another body of work by blogging and self-publishing. What is unseen, iceburg like, is constant reading, thinking, and tracing patterns just for the pure "helluvit." The dialogue about this must be what was attracting the two men who were each creating their own bodies of work around relationships with young humans. The low-pay humanities jobs I had prepared me to look clear-eyed or at least unblinkingly at some terrifying, heart-breaking, and celebratory happenings. That's the way real progress goes. It's not about numbers or things.
“Freedom is a heavy load, a great and strange burden for the spirit to undertake….It is not a gift given but a choice made, and the choice may be a hard one.”
from THE TOMBS OF ATUAN by Ursula LeGuin