People think that out here in the hinterlands we don’t know nothing, but we do. We know the BIG Nothing which is that humans are temporary. Let’s go on from there.
Much of the commotion about a place like Montana is focused on the 19th century when Euro-based culture smashed into the Native American Indians, destroying their way of life, but not them. Right now (nearly 2010) it is ALL cultures smashing into themselves. We have all barely survived our remnant cultures, the ones we used to know. Nothing anywhere is like the Fifties.
“Why Gone Those Times?” asked James Willard Schultz, and Charlie Russell painted the disappearing edge of the times his own cousins (the Bents as in Bent’s Fort) actually lived. Luckily, his determined wife was able to make his art sell and persist to be the core of museums across America. We know those paintings and bronzes now. We know his illustrated letters to friends, the stories about his high jinks in bars, the pictures he painted on the petticoats of whores or for peep shows. Somehow we’ve forgotten some of the price he and Nancy paid in that maelstrom of early days, even the 19th century versions of AIDS: goiter (which killed Charlie) and syphilis. Somehow he’s been made into a respectable middle-class grandfather. I think it was the money.
Money won’t work now. It’s not that there’s less money -- it’s that the pretense that money is SOMETHING that is gone. We see through the illusion now that we know that the government is addressing our infrastructure crisis by simply printing more money.
It’s time to color outside the lines. But you have to be someplace or everyplace or anyplace, according to your temperament and experience. I choose to be in Montana on the edge of the Blackfeet reservation. This is where I am most me, according to Flaubert’s advice to "be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.” I’m pretty good at the first half, except that the village would like me to tend my yard a little better. The second half -- I’m workin’ on it.
If you watched me (you would have to look past the two fat cats dozing under their lamp in the window) you would see an old woman at her keyboard pretending she was pole-dancing alone in the dark before dawn. What I’m doing with Tim Barrus is almost psychotherapy, opening up to his stories of adventure, abuse, risk, inclusion, recovery and trying to understand what it means. His chaos, my order. My NPR Beethoven, Cinematheque’s throbbing, yearning Imeem downloads. None of it ever happened to me, but I listen and try to understand and try to find the words to explain from a slightly different angle, so those of us less driven can learn from it.
Where I am is a village. In it are crazy people, even sociopaths. In it are dying people, gentle loving faithful souls. In it are restless kids, some of them marijuana smokers and probably at least one with AIDS. Some of them get beaten by abusive men who think this will “reform” them. They think nothing ever happens here, that you have to be in Paris or Amsterdam or Italy or at least New York City, but the same things happen there.
People are wrong. Everything happens everyplace. You just have to get in touch with it.
I’m always a little surprised when diasporas are revealed. A diaspora is a population of a defined people scattered through the world. The French diaspora gave us Quebec, San Francisco, New Orleans, and the Metis population of the high prairie. Charlie Russell always wore a Metis sash. Paris is not much like the Red River country inhabited by Louis Riel’s people, but they did speak French. And they believed in “liberty, equality, and fraternity” until the British Empire hung them for trying to start their own country in the middle of Canada.
Some diasporas are invisible until they declare themselves: blacks passing as whites, gays, American Indians, writers and other artists, maybe feminists. Unitarians. The Unitarian leaders were having a meeting about how to relate to homosexuals. They said, “Maybe we should hire someone who IS homosexual.” One of them, a respected manager, said, “No need. I’m gay. I’m just not out yet. What do you want to know?” Why don’t we ask those among us who know. Just turn to them and ask, “What is it like to be you? What do you see?”
Especially the young, who roam the globe and outer space through their keyboards while you think they’re doing homework or playing video games. I’m not talking about porn or drugs. I’m not talking about the grownups sitting on the sofa watching movies about sex and violence and drinking beer. I’m talking about kids who ask “What is spirituality? What happens when you die? Might there really be life in outer space? Will there be a world when I grow up? Can I cope with it? Will anyone love me?”
One of the ways to cope is to exclude everything that’s troubling. Just don’t look. Don’t talk about it. Don’t talk about Charlie and Nancy Russell and why they couldn’t have children (scarring from VD.) Don’t talk about drugs or sex or accidental pregnancy. Nice people don’t know. Don’t you want to be a nice person?
But the world has gone far beyond that. Everything is connected. Everything is moving. It will sweep you along one way or another. It’s on your radio, in your food, printed in the newspaper, posted on a billboard, talked about in the cafes.
Dave Lull, the librarian/philosopher who so dependably keeps me on the lookout for Black Swans, says he remembers me suggesting we ought to go back to reading sci-fi. He says maybe I’m right. I’m looking for the “unknown unknowns” and sci-fi is good for that. I’m thinking there are too many people and AIDS is only the first of a wave of pandemics. Here on the high prairie we’ve been through two in the last few centuries: smallpox and Spanish flu. Maybe diabetes II is a pandemic.
It’s personal. And what it teaches me is that I must change to survive. I have and I’m prepared to do it again. This is one of the things I have in common with Barrus and Cinematheque.