Wednesday, April 15, 2009


One of my ideals has been to live an “unfiltered” life -- that is, I suppose, one that was not pre-edited by teachers, parents, authority figures, friendship circles, and the media. Life magazine didn’t just confuse Jackson Pollock about what was important, it confused all the rest of us, too. The most valuable (and slowest) realization I got from the University of Chicago was that there’s no such thing as an unfiltered life. At best, one chooses one’s filter.

One’s filter determines one’s identity. There’s only so much time in a life and that amount is never determined ahead of time -- I might be destroyed tomorrow or I might live another thirty years but not another fifty years. One can only be one place at a time. And events come down like cards in a poker game, except that there are a limited number of cards in a deck. So the Indians are right -- it’s a bone game, a stick game, a gamble no matter what you think you know.

Barrus brings me back to the ideas of the Sixties and Seventies, which for me were overlaid onto a small rez town in a very large landscape alongside an obsessed sculptor operating partly on Edwardian assumptions and partly on old WWII movies. And that pesky Life magazine insistence on geniuses and being the BEST. Barrus, born in 1950, overlays those same idealisms and aspirations -- “be where you are, let it be a dance, one day at a time” -- onto the necessity of survival. Just about the time he was beginning to have a little confidence in life, along came the AIDS pandemic and wiped out his world while officialdom stood around with its finger in its ear.

If we get this book published and “out there,” today’s media reporters will be totally stumped. They “get” the Life mag stuff, which they frame mostly in terms of money or did, until money turns out to be fungible. Fungible. Vivid mental image. And they’re slowly beginning to pick up on the necessity of survival in a world they assumed they were entitled to. Unemployment rises while every grocery store around here advertises for checkers and stockers, because all those kids sent off to college to be rich and brilliant think they are too good to bag cat food. In the past all they had to do was kick up a loud embarrassing fuss and someone would fix life for them. Now -- not.

I do not filter death. People are dying in this town, people are dying in Cinematheque, people are dying on the Mexican border, people are dying in Somalia, and so on. (I’m very glad that captain survived. I don’t filter heroism.) Last night I watched “Landscape After Battle,” a Polish movie about the concentration camp people left after WWII and their confusion, to say nothing of the confusion of those charged with managing them. The protagonist is a poet who tries to keep his face in a book, but fails. It won prizes but no one wants to see it -- too depressing. As a people, we filter depressing. Now we’d better not.

Contemporary media-driven filters are so strong that my identity is filtered out. No villages, rural life, Diabetes II, fat cats allowed to go outside, low incomes, teeny old pickups, highly educated people who are not glamorous and powerful. . . Everything I’ve done in my life is wrong according to this filter -- therefore I don’t exist.

But the Sixties/Seventies -- Aquarian? -- revolution supports me. Except that THEIR filter would say that I’m not hedonistic enough. I don’t take enough risks. I don’t know enough music. I don’t get angry enough at oppression. I should put down my books and get involved.

Then there’s the liberal filter -- is that what it is? “Nice” people who know the “right” way and try to help that huge mass of unfortunates out there who need instruction. Lots and lots of filters, which the U of C would call “method.” If you cut an apple crossways, you get stars. If you cut it lengthwise, you get moons.

Barrus just sent me the url for a YouTube animation accompanied by Alan Watts’ remarks called “Music and life.” (I LOVE it!) The truth is that Watts’ messages and the other “third force” or “humanist” messages come to me more through a funnel than a filter. But I didn’t die of alcoholism at age 58, like Watts. (Pollock died younger.) I don’t even drink. I don’t trust hedonism. Did that save me, or was it something else? Simple pleasure is enough and more than that, satisfaction at getting challenging things done. I don’t even care a lot about getting them done “properly” as Watts, essentially Brit, would put it. Is that last a mistake?

I hate quoting Wikipedia, since VizJim (James Mackay) makes such a hash of the Native American stuff and no one cares enough to update it. (My efforts get deleted -- so much for the "peoples" voice.) But I’m assuming that the person who posted about Watts got it right when he said, “he maintains that the whole universe consists of a cosmic self playing hide-and-seek (Maya), hiding from itself by becoming all the living and non-living things in the universe, forgetting what it really is; the upshot being that we are all IT in disguise. In this worldview, Watts asserts that our conception of ourself as an "ego in a bag of skin" is a myth; the entities we call the separate "things" are merely processes of the whole.” Accurate or not, I can agree with it, metaphorically speaking.

But somewhere in my mountains of printouts that slip and slide around this so very unofficial “office” there is an anthropological concept called the “gathering bag.” It’s just a simple metaphor really, though there are many examples in many cultures. A woman’s metaphor: the shopping bag, the backpack, the root basket -- usually accompanied by the metaphor/actuality of the digging stick, the garden knife, the prod. That’s my method: bag lady. So many women dread being a homeless bag lady, but I’m not so worried about the idea of poverty. I’m too beguiled by the idea of moving along from one “find” to the next. Non-fungible. No mushrooms, magic or not for me. ROOTS!! As in radical.

1 comment:

Lance Michael Foster said...

So Watts was a Monist?