Thursday, January 01, 2009


It’s New Year’s Eve, a windy night after a windy day. The neighbors in several houses are partying with the big pickups coming and going, which keeps the cats busy from their observation posts in the windows. It’s not cold but not quite above the freezing point. My mind is full of bits and pieces.

For instance, twice I’ve invested good money in shearling slippers, once moccasin-type soft-soles and once hard-soled scuffs. Somehow neither pair has remained. I have one slipper from each set, both of them nearly new, and no idea whatsoever where the other two slippers went. Luckily, these two are opposite feet, so I just wear ‘em. I never leave the house except in boots anyway, so there’s no problem. I suppose that when these wear out, the mates will show up. But sometimes I think about where those others went -- did a dog carry them off? There is no dog.

I’m watching “Inside the Actor’s Studio” DVD’s and I think about how diligently I’ve pursued all the kinds of “outsider” stuff -- acting, Indian reservations, marrying a man who was older, driving all over the country by myself, even sleeping overnight in my van or the back of my little pickiup. And yet I end up being absolutely reliable, earnest, non-smoking, non-drinking, non-gum chewing, sooo respectable. I’ve never even managed to dance sexily except one night with Mike Burgwin when looped on alcohol and cold medicine. He, of course, tried to be wicked but ended up being absolutely reliable, earnest, etc. Though he smoked. Anyway, how much trouble can a person get into at a humane society conference?

I cuss a little. Given some time I can come up with some pretty dreadful curses, creative camel-driver stuff, but everyone just thinks it’s funny. “May your breakfast flakes be full of weevils.”

What’s all that about? Is it my Irish trying to get out and my Scots side pushing it back in? Maybe it’s useful for writing. It puts me into a very strange relationship with Cinematheque where almost everyone is an expert on the raw, perverse, violent, deranged side of life and I come along with my inane little principles. They don’t seem to mind.

Experts say there are two kinds of paper managers: those who stack and those who file. I’m halfway between. My files are packed with carefully sorted stuff that I rarely look at, and one desk groans under four tottering piles of stuff that I would use if I could find it. There’s another kind of person: the kind that just takes all those stacks out and burns them. I’m not that kind. In fact, when I am away for a couple of days and accumulate 500 emails, I look at them all. I have the junk function activated on my email but then I worry and look at all the junk just in case. Sometimes I find stuff I don’t want to lose.

People ask whether I’m lonely. I’m not. I’ve always liked to just putter along at my own speed in my own way, and with the Internet I’m always talking to people all the time anyway. I like that I have only dialup connection because it keeps the telephone from ringing. Some people have figured out when I can be called and I like that, because it shows they’re paying attention. For instance, Petunia and I check on each other now and then even though we can see each other’s lighted windows.

People ask whether I’m cold. Well, it’s relative. On the one hand I won’t really be warm until about April. On the other hand, I sit here with my feet tucked into plush pockets on a “secretary’s friend,” I read under a lamp of high intensity because of cataracts which generates quite a bit of heat, and I have a down throw that I carry around and keep on my legs. My bed has an electric mattress pad and if that fails, the two big fat cats are bound to be there burrowing under the covers with me.

I’m selling books. (Not the ones I write, which don’t sell.) The used book trade has slowed way down just like everything else. As I sort through the books, which I’ve tried to keep in categories, I’m reminded that I kept this or that group for retirement and that’s NOW. But other times I see that the whole category has been discredited and is no longer worth keeping. On the other hand, I end up re-buying books that I sold ten years, twenty years, ago because I thought they were obsolete.

Montana has disappeared. The land is still here, but the people have changed radically, even the ones who were born and raised here. They are so invested in prosperity, so uninterested in the real world, so conditioned by television and talk radio to have certain convictions, that they seem like Martians to me. The Montana literature that was so stirring and exciting and that I thought would be my natural context is gone. Only a few gatekeepers remain and they are holding the gates shut to the younger writers. Not out of orneriness so much as the same problem I have: they can’t recognize the newer ones.

They don’t like me because I’m considered a major troublemaker. I have a strong feeling that if I were male it would be different. So many of the positions of authority now are occupied by women, often old women. I mean, past retirement, my age. They see another woman and immediately set out to dominate. I don’t like that. I don’t let men do it and I won’t let women do it.

The upshot is not that I leave. Instead I strike up relationships with people far away, in New York, in Paris, in England and north in Canada. Who knows where that will go? Not me. But they’re terrific people: lively, articulate, the whole range of ages, curious, scientifically literate, politically progressive, analytical.

All my life I’ve been tested to see whether I have diabetes. No test -- and I’m talking the kind where you stay all day drinking nasty-sweet lemonade and giving up a half-cup of blood -- ever showed even an inclination to diabetes. I suppose it’s because the testing is so much more subtle now that it’s clear my body does not handle glucose levels very well. But thanks to Internet advice -- science-based, blood-test guided -- my levels are normal. What’s more, it’s as though my head has cleared of fog. That whole last near-decade in Portland I was grayed-out. No wonder I couldn’t write -- I could barely read. It’s diet that’s working for me. I’m relentless about it, which really bugs other people, esp. those who are using meds.

I wonder how much better I might have served my dying mother and damaged brother if my arrogant Unitarian cardiologist doctor had been a little more informed. He DID catch my high blood pressure, but the meds he prescribed were the most expensive rather than the most effective. On the other hand, at that time the knowledge about metabolic syndrome was primitive.

Here I am on the verge of the new year, happily collaborating on a book with someone in Paris now sitting at the bedside of a very desperate little boy whom I also care about greatly. The HIV of those boys seems to echo my diabetes. Wind is pounding on the side of the house. Snow stretches away in great hummocks on all sides over the prairie and wheat fields. Little ice-fishing huts are scattered over the lake -- I assume no one sits out there all night. Maybe they do. I should ask. It feels as though the planet creaks as it tips on its axis.


Dona Stebbins said...

Happy New Year, Mary! I check your blog and read it daily - but seldom comment. I just want to start the new year out right and tell you how very much I enjoy your writing. Stay warm!

Kim Simmie said...

Scoop sends best wishes as the days get longer and sunnier. Wish I could send you some of my TWO turkeys. Apologize for not sending holiday music for you to play. Now it's even too late for "What Are You Doing New Years?" Sorry to hear that you don't need art supplies but will follow your advice and gather boxes of extras to give to Boys and Girls club or some other good place. Wish I had two fat cats to keep me warm; it's chilly with the wind whistling in through the plexiglass above my a/c. Nothing like Montana, I know. We're really spoiled here in Portland. Thinking of you with affection. Love, Scoop