Tuesday, December 04, 2012
STARTLING THOUGHTS AT CHRISTMAS
This time of year I don’t think of my childhood Christmases but rather of the late Sixties when I was married to Bob Scriver and part of the Scriver Studio crew, sitting all day at a table burning my fingers on hot wax as I painted it into molds to make bronze-castings, sticking the same poor fingers with three-edged leather-sewing needles while putting the edges on bear rugs, piling into the pickup six-to-the-cab for a much needed coffee break mid-afternoon up at Angie’s where we all scarfed down “long johns” (also known as maple bars), going out back to the softly roaring foundry to sip hot air from the baking molds -- trying to detect the last molecules of the wax being driven out by heat. Our Christmas music was not elegant NPR cantatas, but rather silly pop songs about two front teeth and snowmen and this reindeer with a human name and an electric red nose. We had a stack of half-a-dozen half-functional radios piled in the window. Different ones worked depending on the weather.
As I finish up Wilshire’s “Get ‘em All! Kill ‘em!” I remember those times -- which were NOT simple and naive -- the country was wracked by riots, assassinations, a cultural shift no one could understand or control. Reservation life is never simple and secure. AIM was active. The best one could say about those years was that pot was beginning to be the drug of choice, though few gave up alcohol until just a decade or so ago. Now, of course, people are prosperous and hip enough to get into the big time drugs.
Anyway, the crew was a few steady members -- like me (argh), Carl Cree Medicine, Sullivan Hameline, Gordon Monroe -- plus however many extra bodies we needed and pulled in off the street. Since Bob was the City Magistrate and Justice of the Peace, he knew the street people pretty well. We called them “the boys,” but I don’t think there was a political meaning. Maybe. Anyway, he’d grown up with most of them and been the band teacher for a good many of them. These guys -- never women -- could walk in, pick up a tool, and do whatever was needed. Fix the roof, skin a bear, go out to feed the horses, stack hundred-pound sacks of hydrocal, help pour bronze, and around this time of year venture up to the mountains in the snow for Christmas trees, one for each plus some extras for moms and grans. There were always a lot of jokes, occasional bad mistakes, things that got lost -- but a kind of amiable compliance. Over the actual Christmas-to-New-Year’s week or so, no one did anything and we didn’t see any of the crew unless the cops brought them in to be tried for drunkenness or violence.
After I quit teaching, the actual teenaged boys sort of disappeared off my map except for the occasional kid who hung around to tease the caged eagle. I don’t know where they went but I’m not sure it was to a safe or happy place. Maybe they knew to hide from fathers who became demons when they drank.
Now and then Wilshire strikes a nerve in me. At the end of this book he suddenly takes a surprising swerve and proposes that the “best” aspect of Islam has the potential to save the human world. He says “Of the three great Western religions, Islam’s apologists most prize and protect the mysteriousness of the ground of all being and value. Thoughtful Islam can most resolutely oppose and debate the technological and commercial mania of North Atlantic culture that rides roughshod and deranged over the planet.” (To think I’ve been counting on Buddhism! Or even Native Americans! Maybe they’re just North Pacific instead of Atlantic -- you know, California.)
This startling paragraph above follows another that hardly anyone would criticize:
“We live now in a plunging, restless, technologically wired and wiring end-culture.” [Wilshire feels there is a real possibility that the Israeli/Palestine tension will result in an atomic war and that it will destroy the planet.] “For nearly anyone accounted educated to speak seriously about the holy, say, is an oddity, practically an affront. But all cultures have rooted themselves in this all-involving gut sense of the holy or the sacred. I mean, roughly, the numinous and spine-tingling sense that we are caught up in the unknown, that we are supported and nourished and righted inexplicably every instant. The basal meaning of life is how we contribute our mite in the swirling sea of energy exchange and interdependency. The meaning of life is how, through endlessly various ways, we participate -- awake -- in the universe’s maintenance, recreation and celebration of itself.”
What if the new understanding of human beings doesn’t come out of a lab where someone is actually making a functioning cell from scratch, but rather from a few drug-addict teens who fall in love with each other, create a community, begin to make art by turning technology to the uses of the erotic vision that Wilshire often talks about, and gradually form a world force-for-good? It’s not the sort of thing a person can set out to do on purpose. No one can predict when or whether it might happen, but the possibility is always there. We just don’t know when it will be triggered. (So to speak.) No one expected it last time.
My guess is that it will happen among the stigmatized who just decide they have nothing to lose. My bet is that they’ll look around for someone left over from the Sixties who remembers how to run a commune. They aren’t that hard to find. The future won’t come from kicking drugs or even surviving diseases. The future is with people who can work together on their own terms without any media attention.
Only one other member of that original Scriver Studio crew (besides me) is still living and functioning. That would be Gordon Monroe, who was the most religious person among us. (More than me by far and in quite a different way.) He spent a lot of time and effort helping others with charity; he wasn’t afraid to get ecstatic (Pentecostal). Neither of us drank. When I was his English teacher long, long ago, he quit school a few weeks before graduation so he could go to a Bible school somewhere. Decades later I mentioned this and how indignant I was that he didn’t get his high school diploma. He looked at me levelly and said, “I made the right decision.” He didn’t need a diploma to belong to himself and his Ultimate. He’s considered himself an equal to me from the beginning and he was right.