Tuesday, April 15, 2014



What if I looked back over my own life with the same level of analysis as I’ve used on the rez and on Valier?  These are “time-line” reflections.  There are two main ways that the time-line matters:  one is the forces that came to bear on the creation of one’s physical genome and family heritage and the other is the sequence of macro-micro experiences that a person has lived through.  Some of them are universal or historic.  It's not a matter of pride or blame.  Just  "is."

So here’s this Scots/Irish person, female, first-born of what I thought was two first-born late-marrying people. (It turned out that my father had an older brother who was premature and died after 17 days, information that was hidden).  I was soon joined by two brothers.  The parents were both raised rural, my mother in the generous but slightly hill-billy environment of the southern end of the Oregon Willamette Valley, and my father on potato farms, first-plantings on virgin prairie in Dakota and Manitoba.  Both families were poor by today’s standards, though they were rather successful on their own terms -- which were mostly that surviving at all was a success.

My grandfather and the residue of living on moose meat.

My father’s life was dominated by his birth family.  Lifelong he made it a point to stay connected to cousins and friends from early life.  My mother’s family was much influenced by a third family line because her sisters and cousin married brothers and cousin for security (they owned a LOT of land) and insisted that their boys stay on the ranch (sheep) while their pretty and popular girls married "up."  (Very Jane Austen.  The third family was English and overwhelmed the Irish strand -- except for my mother.)  The contrast between my parents’ take on life had major consequence:  my father believed women are princesses, my mother believed women were workhorses who must save men.  This separates me from my female cousins on my father's side, though we are all readers.  They have not had the lives of princesses, but they're good at pretending.

My father received his MS with his proud parents attending.

Both parents believed in education.  They just had limited ideas about what it was.  My father’s Master’s was in potato economics just before the Depression.  My mother’s Bachelor's was in teaching, just after the Korean War -- her classmates were veterans on the GI Bill.  Both got a job, clung to it tightly with no intention of promotion, accepting the cramped income, staying in the same house from marriage to death.  During WWII was the only time my father couldn’t travel.  (We never figured out what he did while traveling besides his job.  My mother wondered if there were a second family.)  Everything changed again in 1948 because he was in a car accident that did prefrontal cortex damage.  From then on he was volatile, had no patience with his children, bullied us.  He grew very fat and clowned to compensate.  Both parents knew something was askew but didn’t know what to do about it.  They read a lot of pop psych, but never talked about such matters.

The Depression had pulled my mother out of college halfway through.  Her father had objected to her marriage and cut her off.  (When her younger sister had been killed in a car accident with an older sister driving -- they were in high school -- the father had coped with it by denying it.  He was a powerless controller whose schemes never quite worked out, which made him mean.) My grandmother had been dying of cancer in the early years of the marriage and my mother had been blamed for it.  My mother’s sister had been finishing a nursing degree in Portland at the time and had shared her education with my mother.  They were stoics, impressed with the idea of service to others, mostly female support of males, who were then supposed to protect the females and children.  WWII had reinforced this.

My father’s default religious position was secular progressivism and prairie humanism, but he secretly flirted with Unitarianism.  My mother was raised Presbyterian and raised her children that way.  I went along until college.  All of my cousins on both sides, except for one atypical male, are secular.  They do not smoke, they are faithful, they pay their bills and do well at work, they do not drink to excess, they have never been arrested, they don’t use bad language and they don’t read porn.  But their children are haywire.

Life mostly happened to me while I was busy reading books -- not paying attention.  School was high achievement but high stress.  I took on a lot but mostly got it all done, but was always at the bottom of the top and not quite in sync with the prescriptions of the time.  A semi-finalist for a National Merit Scholarship, a semi-finalist for a National Honor Society Scholarship, but not a finalist for either.  I didn’t date.  I had a pleated Pendleton skirt bought at the factory outlet and a Pendleton jacket that my mother made.  I never got the blouse-under-sweater thing right because I was too generic: never the right kind of collar, never the right kind of circle pin.  But I tried.  Then I’d add one of my father’s plaid ties because I was pretending to be an English school girl.

Dramatics was my thing.  I went to Northwestern University because it was my teacher’s alma mater.  (I was on full tuition NU scholarship.  My mother paid the rest because that's what should have happened to her.) Recently I was surprised to discover that acting classmates had been as interested in religion as I was, taking serious study-of-religion classes from people like Paul Schilpp, a major humanist thinker.  Yet we had never joined congregations.  We just approached theatre as if it were a formal institutional religion, as taught by Alvina Krause.  This turned out to be a major handicap for a high school drama teacher.  I take it much too seriously.  Theatre was everything.  One of my classmates recently expressed indignation because he was a professional actor working with a local community theatre where the others didn’t bother to learn their lines.  I smiled.

Teaching was my ticket to another culture, the Blackfeet, which in the Sixties was mixed with whites, Cree, fugitives from the law, hippies, and alcoholic geniuses.  No blacks, no Latinos, no Asians.  Falling in with Bob Scriver was a destiny I could not have predicted but certainly recognized.  It lasted a decade and then I was stuck about what to do.  Back in Portland I began the strange process of job-hunting and resorted to Civil Service, intending to take night courses in psych, which I did.

The day job was animal control, which was just then trying to be progressive so was in transition between the regime of a handsome Portuguese sexist son-in-law of a commissioner, a tricky guy who also ran a riding academy (which I always suspected was a front for trafficking girls) and a big vital Welshman who had been a California cop.  I was the entering edge of a social transition, which transformed AC just as later I was part of a widening wedge in the UU ministry.  That is, I was suited because I could work like a man on men’s terms, but then the occupation began to include so many women that it changed:  therapy, “making nice”, personal relationships, and then -- more and more -- money raising.  It was no longer a “learned ministry.”  I became unsuited because I refused to change.  I thought.

By the time I finished Div School, all I wanted to do was return to Montana.  The three years of circuit-riding in my forties -- acting like a twenty-year-old in a time when twenty-year-olds scorned such a job -- I proved something, but I’m still not sure what.  Finally it came to a choice between “Indians” and conformity and I chose Indians.  Who threw me out.  I was not what they thought a white person should be and anyway, they wanted all whites to leave.  Most did.  (1988-91)  Much of this was the political impact of half-digested post-modern French theory (1776 returns!) and much of it was simply coming of age.  The buffalo Indians were gone and their greatgrandchildren were AIM.  That is not finished.

When I went back to Portland this time, it took eight months to find work.  Resorting to Civil Service again, I took a clerical job, but this time instead of taking classes I “attended” Powells bookstore every evening.  By this time my father was long dead and my youngest brother was the one with frontal neocortex damage from a fall.  My mother had begun to die from a blood cancer, possibly because by now both were chain smokers.  My other brother left after college and never really returned.  The “third family” and even my father’s family were no longer in touch or in sync.  When my mother died, one-third of her house -- my inheritance -- was enough to get me back to the edge of the rez in 1999.  Here I am.

I am still equipped with willingness to risk, which I got from animal control when I walked into danger all the time and from driving Montana winter highways, and a much greater resourcefulness in thinking, thanks to the Div School.  They have not surrendered the insistence on logic, precedent, and method.  My denominational school has been feminized and trivialized.  (That is not a compliment, but it is probably their route to survival.)  In the fourteen years since I’ve been back here, history of half-a-century has given me a major advantage, as did the abiding friendships of people here -- who have been dying over the past few years.

But now I think global, the macro-patterns of the planet that come from the mini-patterns of a trillion lives stretching back through not just millennia, but aeons, aeons, aeons -- from the first one-celled “animals” that managed to become creatures and plants.  This Consciousness has swallowed religion, swallowed humans, swallowed time, and is gaping wide to eat the Cosmos, which will soon eat me and redistribute my elements.

Oh, did I say that I write?  I’m getting better.  It’s my religious practice.  A religion that is not enacted is not a religion.  Neither is it theatre.  It is participation. 

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