Monday, February 21, 2011
CERTIFIED FOR SUCCESS
It was graduation day at Northwestern University in 1961. I’m not entirely sure who took the photo since there was a row of relatives in front of both me and Stu Hagmann, all snapping away, but Stu is the one who just now sent me the photo for a Valentine. He went on to become a bigshot Hollywood director, as intended, and married his high school sweetheart, as expected. NOTHING in my life was expected.
It just occurred to me that I don’t have this diploma on my office wall -- only the U of Chicago MA (1980) and my Master of Divinity (1984) from Meadville/Lombard. I worked hard to earn that first Masters. I wouldn’t be exaggerating to say they gave me the M/L one just to get me off the rolls. By the 1980’s I was quite a different person that I was in 1961 and I’m different again now. Yet I’m not.
On the day this photo was taken, I was in a stunned state, having no idea what would happen next. I’d gone to the placement office and told the woman there I wanted a teaching job west of the Mississippi but not in California. She stared at me open-mouthed, then said, “But there’s nothing out there!”
The night of this day in the photo, I cried as hard as I’ve ever cried -- broken-hearted that this world was ending and my little community there was dispersing. I thought my life was over. Five days later my parents and I pulled into the parking lot of the Museum of the Plains Indian in Browning, Montana, and I got a job teaching there. THAT turned out to be my heart-place.
Let that be a lesson to you. Never give up. You don’t have any idea what might be just around the corner of the labyrinth. Sure, it might be a minotaur. But maybe not. Maybe something you never dreamt of and that other people don’t believe exists. For instance, in my case, while I was sitting here wondering why “Bronze Inside and Out” wasn’t my key to the world, wondering what to do since I was a writer and the publishing industry had just collapsed, along came Tim Barrus.
At first we just visited. Then there was more, all electronic. We could not have been more different, and yet . . . It turned out I was born to blog. And Tim -- oh, he vlogs (blogs with vids) amazing videos with print accompanying. We’re synergistic. We co-write. And I’m back on the rez.
This is a blurb from a vlog called “Orpheus in the Catacombs,” meant to keep the manuscript of that name alive in the minds of ourselves and others:
“Orpheus in the Catacombs” is an evolving reality that we recorded in blogs, vlogs and emails during early 2007 to the end of 2010, a period of nearly four years, one long trajectory of developments. Through this period the group went from being Storyboard to Cinematheque to Cinematheque Films and now The Studio. Like American Indians, when the group feels different, they take a new name. Although this time there was some sentiment for going nameless, if only to escape Google. The individuals are constantly disguised to protect them. The archives for Orpheus are real-time writing about real events, slightly edited, organized by place as much as time. You’d need a warrant to get to those archives, but Tim says that one person to whom he gave access was stumped to discover there’s very little in it about sex or, indeed, about drugs. This is an arts-based context.
The last chapter of “Orpheus” was so powerful that I removed it from the manuscript to become a stand-alone. Now it is a poetic novella, a kind of counter-”Death in Venice” in which it is Tadzio (Tristan), craving love and hoping to access it through sex, which is his only experience, who clings to Tim in mortal dementia. It’s called “Fingerprints on the Iris of the Eyes.”
And still there is a lot more material, only partly contained in a long row of two-inch three-ring binders and growing daily, which I’m organizing into a dialogue called “The Whore and the Hermit.” Tim has been quite frank about the years of his youth when he made his living as a whore, a kind of call-boy, who with a friend ran a “playroom” in an old warehouse where they installed equipment to do something I would call “transgressive Gestalt experiences.” S and M to you, bud. Men paid for it. It was intense enough to be transformative, in some cases counter-traumatic, over-writing violence in the past.
The “hermit” part of the title is me in my tumble-down house in a Montana village, where my rosary/worry beads/devotional practice is a computer keyboard. I’m a monogamist, now a celibate. Drugs for me are aspirin, coffee, and metformin. No more chocolate. My job is to witness, second-hand though it may be, and keep the records. This is a report to you. I don’t give a rip whether you believe it or not. I have no idea what will happen next. I’m thinking about audible books but I need rural broadband internet to make it practical.
According to the media, the general public is still obsessing about money and sex, parts of the globe are worrying about national revolution, and scientists are worrying about the planet itself: earthquakes, global weather change, loss of satellites. The sky is falling, the sky is falling!
But it isn’t, of course. Just the world as we know it and most of us never know much more than our small corner. In fact, we actively resist knowing about troubling and “wicked” stuff unless it’s “other,” as though bad stuff couldn’t touch us if it remained unknown. Evolution is better than revolution. One person’s advance is another person’s spanner in the works. Add your own platitudes.
A change from DVDs-by-mail to streaming will ruin my current lifestyle, but it’s not the gadgets that change us. It’s human systems that change, enabled by new connections. “Streaming” will be better if Congress supports rural broadband, but only until China shoots down our relay satellites or until the electrical grid fails. (My backup is shelves of books.) What counts is being right here and now in the moment, because that’s what carries us to the next thing. Shutting down the internet only shuts down the gadgets -- not the passionate, linked determination of the people to find each other. Which is why I tell you all this stuff.
Somewhere out there are a cure for AIDS, a new source of power (hydrogen?), a system for the equitable and accessible management of water, and a way of controlling population other than killing people. Just around the corner. Keep going, keep going, give me your hand. Sod the diplomas.