Sunday, December 28, 2008


Can an “intellectual” old lady find happiness in a tiny Montana village? It seems worth considering since I’m older than the last time I really thought about it. Getting older begins to mean a few chronic complaints, though careful attention to diet has put me “on game” for diabetes, as my young male pharmacist puts it. (My last a1c was 5 point something. Fasting blood glucose is in the eighties. Two hours after eating I’m almost always under 140 which is the point where cell damage is supposed to begin.)

One of the sources of moral guidance says that since God is the creator of all, then a creation’s obligation is to fulfill its nature. So what is my nature? Clearly I’m fulfilling and extending my writing by producing a thousand words every morning and distributing them via a blog. Is there more than that?

What about my education, or should I say “educations,” since there were different efforts for different ends. But a lot of people and the institutions themselves put out a lot of resources to teach me what I know and can do. I have not stayed within those institutions. Their appeals for money go unmet because their assumption was that I would make money, but I haven’t.

My obligation to Bob Scriver is mostly ended. The book is out there. What happens to it now is mostly out of my hands, though I will continue to accumulate, sort and provide information about Bob’s bronzes. I’ve been stunned by the hostility of the very people whom both Bob and I believed had good will. He might have been better served by his enemies.

You already know about my little manifesto that dates back to high school: “if there is a choice between adventure and security, take adventure; if there is a choice between money and education, take education.” But I have some other rules and principles. One is to try to avoid the irreversible, and the other is never to endanger the physical support of my mind. (No drugs, no trauma.) Moving to Valier came close to violating both principles, since it’s unlikely I could sell this house now that the very short Valier housing boom is probably over. This village is risky when it comes to medical care as I age.

But it’s clear that Nineties Portland was killing me: the food, the job, the people, the general picture was high stress to the point of destruction. Portland is a city that pretends to be idyllic and liberal, but working backstage and living there for decades taught me quite a different story. I guess I’ll skip the sordid details -- might need ‘em for a book later. I’ve already used the Seventies dog-catching stories in a book, “Dog Catching in America.”

For a decade I’d been scouting for a good location near the Blackfeet and, because the money for moving back came from my mother’s estate, I have an obligation to fulfill there, too. If you go to, you’ll find the Blackfeet books for Blackfeet that are available there -- more compiled resources than written books. Other than that, I’ve played interlocutor a few times and am trying to to be the best friend I can for a few individuals, mostly former students. But the Blackfeet hardly need me now -- they’re on their way.

So what an “intellectual”? Certainly I’m not a University of Chicago thinker as Richard Stern, truth teller, pointed out to me. Many of the print options for intellectuals have disappeared, at the same time that blogs have opened up. So I ought to keep on taking advantage of the internet while it lasts: while there is still an electrical infrastructure and before censorship begins. But in what way?

Many realms open as minority empowerments, but then those groups -- as they become more organized -- become oppressors and the new minority is those who oppose them. Tim Barrus has reached out to me, simply because I wasn’t afraid of him, and now we have a kind of ministry to each other, while he is engaged in a ministry of his own: Cinematheque, teaching boys to help each other through art. This will put me -- already has -- in opposition to the oppressors of Native American lit which surprisingly are often European. They try to press the People back to the nineteenth century so they can exploit the images.

Three entwined forces have dominated our culture for too many years: sex, violence, and profit. All three have become markers of status and privilege: Big Dogs have whatever or whomever they want, no matter whom it hurts, and at CEO compensation levels. They do not stay within the law. Opposing them is dangerous. Could I have any impact at all? Not alone. But I could if I were part of a network that is international and always thinking. The change has begun.

Valier knows that I sit at my computer most of the time: when they drive down the alley they can see through the window past my snoring cats to me at my keyboard. If they drive down the street in front, they can see my floor-to-ceiling bookcases. I have no idea what they think I’m doing, but several have threatened me with violence (playfully) if I blog about them. Maybe they think I’m on Facebook or YouTube, but I don’t sign up for those “friendship” networks. I don't want chatter or twitter.

I’m “doing” ideas, because if there’s anything I’ve learned it’s that an idea is not a passive object (the way they used to teach us in the public schools) but a live thing that can be conceived quietly and privately as in a womb, and then take on a life of its own. This is a religious principle, worthy of my fancy Div School education and my improvised ordination in the Grand Street Theatre (built as the Unitarian Church of Helena, Montana) on the set of “Death of a Salesman,” temporarily decorated with candles and banners.

Someone local challenged me as “trying to move mercury with a pitchfork” and that might be true, but I’m betting against it. Anyway, it’s my nature and it’s good for my blood glucose to keep moving. What I have not expected is to sit here writing a book with Barrus in Paris. What he writes sometimes makes me weep. Not alone. He weeps, too. Not for ourselves but for the world, slowly rising over the moon's horizon, hopefully tipping back towards the light.

1 comment:

Art Durkee said...

Actually I think you're a public intellectual, like Lionel Trilling and others were. Not affiliated with any institution, necessarily, but a thinker who publishes.

The last time I was at an academic conference, there was a woman who gave a great paper on ethnomusicology who had no academic affiliation, so her nametag read "Independent Scholar."

You could do worse!