In my usual incoherent way I looked back on the weekend to discover that I was traveling in two incoherent and contradictory ways. Well, maybe SETS of incoherent and contradictory ways. Maybe I can exemplify them in two Internet messages this morning. One is from Paul, who has childhood ties to this area but now lives in Bonners Ferry. He’s intensely interested in the local and the regional. Like, uses Google Earth to scan the prairie and metal detectors to scan old homesteads. Here’s a url about right here around Valier that he relayed. http://usa.indettaglio.it/eng/30/073/778554.html (If anyone sends me email with info, please clearly mark anything private or confidential. A blog, after all, means a “web log,” which is a record of links, both url’s and ideas.) I appreciate this link. I wish my current blogger connection allowed real linking. I'll work on it.
At one time I used to do a workshop in the context of congregations about “being where you are,” which began with that good old enviro quiz we used to pass around: “Do you know where your local water comes from? Historically, what people lived here? What geological forces came to bear under your house? What local foods do you eat?” It was a high value to investigate all these things. This is the context that the most recent wave of “Montana literature” came out of. One man told me despairingly that he lived in a development and therefore there was NOTHING under his house. I had a disconcerting image of his house floating six feet above the ground.
So I said -- and I stand by it -- that “my” territory was “Rockies to Black Hills, Edmonton to Yellowstone.” I anchored here on the edge of the rez and that still works. I have no intention of changing locations. But in the meantime I’ve become far more aware that when it comes to writing, regionalism and localism mean contempt and bad writing. The big center for Montana writing moved back east with Globe-Pequot and then just dissolved, partly because it was diluted by outsiders trying to join the fad. Partly because the vital community that had formed around Richard Hugo aged out. Partly because they themselves were so conscious of their “brand” that they didn’t let others come in as equals. Annie Proulx arrived and ransacked the newspaper morgues. Now she’s gone and what we have left is tourist industry writing. The Montana Festival of the Book brings in its headliners from NPR back east.
Alongside that, the publishing industry worldwide has collapsed under the weight of the conglomerates who bought the old publishing houses of Manhattan and strip-mined them for investment profits. The Internet has totally demolished the financial infrastructure of books. Even worse, much writing has turned “pink,” written by women watching themselves try to be writers because they are entitled.
Anyway, regional and local writing now offers no money -- just domination by outsiders who are intent on exploiting the scenery and the romance of it all -- and no route to a market. Even someone so enterprising as Hope Good, who was for a few months buying short pieces to put in advertiser booklets, has gone under the economic waves temporarily. Yet I came to this place to write about it, my heart is here and one should write about the place where one’s heart is even if one is stuck or stranded or ghettoized.
So my co-writer, Tim, who is not regional or middle-anything but rather urban and European, committed to subversion, thought he would pay me a compliment by saying I ought to write some local stuff and get it on NPR. BLOWIE! Big backlash from me. Tim was supposed to be the guy who certified that I was a sophisticated enough writer to be working with someone in Paris who commutes to Tokyo! He wasn’t supposed to say I should stay home and knit.
What I heard was “oh, you’re too nice for us -- why don’t you tell us all about those farmers around there, so wholesome.” Bob’s second wife’s sister, a glamour puss if there ever was one, cooed to me, “Oh, Maaarriiieeee, you are so HEALTHY! Like a peasant!” Screams of outrage from me.
So someone somewhere called my bluff. Today I have a message asking me to tell you about a website that appears to be an episodic novel from the subversive underculture dark side that feeds off the diseases and addictions of celebrity around the planet. http://waitingforjohn.blogspot.com/ if you’re interested. It came in as a comment on my post about “Gay Cowboy Artists,” which they evidently interpreted as the same thing, though it is not at all. My whole point was that they are respectable, middle-class, achieving and largely unsuspected. They dislike Tim’s subversions. At least in public.
But I’m wondering if my protestations of sophistication have triggered the challenging assumption that I think it means being so tolerant that I’m a participant in the part of the literary world based on self-abuse, defiance of all healthy pursuits, avoidance of nature, and religion defined as satanic ceremonies. Sadean “other” as a cypher for power. Why else would I have anything else to do with Barrus and his guys?
I guess I’m obligated to explain. It has nothing to do with prestige or going to the dark side. Rather it is a matter of recognition in Tim of a lot of forces and interests of mine. Like: what is a human being? Like: confronting and trying to get over this conviction that artistic achievement is a matter of being a solitary, tortured, genius male Euro better than everyone else, but without getting pulled into a Marxist morass of reducing us all to middle brow conformists through the reckless use of French deconstruction theories. Like: nature as a quiet, personal, unexploited relationship as simple as walking the dog. Like: Perlsian honesty in confronting one’s inner life. ("See? See?" she says, sitting in the red chair and pointing at herself.)
What makes it confusing and maybe impossible to reconcile the “right here” with the “over there” of Barrus-in-Paris is that they know very little about each other. Each is working with a stereotype of the other while I get insulted in the middle. As topics go, it seems worthy. I think I’ll just keep on with it. It’s “linking,” isn’t it?