Thursday, April 10, 2014


Once again I come to the task of sorting and discarding the stuff in boxes I’ve packed around for years.  Here’s a whole fat envelope of little photos we used to give each other at graduation, all saying how nicesmartfunny I am.  Where did those women go?  Most of my life has just accidentally happened to me.  How could it be all that different for them?

Mary, Paul and Mark Strachan  (1945?)

Paul, Mark, Mary, Lucy, Bruce Strachan  (1950?)

Lucy, Mary, Bruce, Mark, Paul Strachan  (1957)

This is one way of looking at identity, a kind of card game between identity and the Big Picture.  Born at the beginning of WWII, graduating from college in 1961, the era of idealism spreading out until stained by assassinations.  But I spent the Sixties in a remnant of the 19th century here on the East Slope.  In the Seventies I wore a badge to make my living but was essentially trying to be wicked.  Wickedness would not have me.  So in the Eighties I gave life my best shot: the Unitarian ministry.  I learned to think in quite a different way and realized that a nice middle-class life was not for me.  I had not understood the UU ministry was exactly that. 

The Nineties were family: brain-damaged brother, slowly dying mother, contact with cousins who WERE nice middle-class people -- except for gambling obsessions, alcoholism, drugs, bipolar disorder, titty bars, cancer, depression, depression, depression, and seductions by the woo-woo.  Living in the ghetto with black gang shootings and cocaine peddlers in the next apartment over.  Portland is not always nice.

In the Oughts, I came back to the beginning on the East Slope and began building my brain into a writing instrument.  One does that by writing -- a LOT, every day and -- true to the theories of neuroplasticity and responsiveness, pushing in that effort means that my brain has added many neurons, connecting them many more ways.  I don’t just think differently, I AM different.  But more deeply the same than ever.

The Montana East Front of the Rockies

In particular I am different from most of the people around me who never completed the last natural stage of brain development that should happen in their early twenties, leaving the familiarity-bound life one already knows and mastering the art of seeing patterns, alternatives, universals.  The Other.  The Meta-Other.  I didn’t get it done until I was in my forties at seminary.  

And now I approach the most transcendent developmental stage, which some call “deep ecology” and others call “Buddhism,” but without any institutions.  There are probably other names for it.  The most obvious marker is getting past both anthropomorphism (thinking of everything as though it were a person, esp. a person like me) and anthropocentrism (thinking of everything as though it were about humans, esp. one like me) -- which have led us into the anthropocene, the era that is destroying the planet.  At least if we think of the planet in our human terms.

We are only rendering the planet unlivable for ourselves and what we love, the way the early plants made so much oxygen that it eventually destroyed whatever was dependent on carbon dioxide and prepared the world for breathing creatures whose blood carried oxygen as fuel.  Auto-salvific means saving oneself instead of the Mediterranean idea of a god saving us.  Auto-destructive means suicidal.  Auto-ambiguity is a term I just made up, so I can define it as always mixing destruction with salvation, but also I can invent another word: polyguity -- meaning there are always plenty of ways to look at it.  And I WILL look at it, the cat’s choice.  Witness and testify.  Don’t turn my head away.  

My mother lived to be 89.  She was proud of that.  Do I have 14 more years?  I’m astounded to have had the nearly 14 years since I moved back here in 1999.  Why haven’t I done more by now?  Partly it was spreading the cards out in front of me and considering them.  Partly it was, as usual, that nothing was as it seemed at first.

Publishing was the first loss.  No one can take writing away from a person.  A stroke could.  But publishing, which is a corporate business, is a cross between an earthquake and a volcano -- upheaval, sedimentation, crevasses.  Now and then a river of molten rock becoming something mysterious and unyielding.  I won’t throw writing into it.  Yet. 

Bob Scriver with his Pieta.

Success was the second loss.  Totally ambiguous, contingent, and addictive.  More dangerous than drugs.  I watched Bob Scriver’s life (which I was a big part of) as it was raided, twisted, mocked, tossed into the ditch.  He wasn’t the only one.  “Cowboy” as a genre is bones bleaching in irony and contempt.

Culture and family went tumbling after.  A cherished great-uncle’s son, a man who had served during WWII in New Guinea and spent his life as a loner, came with his Shoshone grandma girl-friend to look through my father’s photo albums, which I had saved for that purpose.  Just as he found what he was looking for, the World Trade Towers were hit.  He was desperate to see it, but I had no television, had removed the antenna.  Covertly he went outside to fix it but couldn’t.  I set him up at the computer to see the clips that would have come on TV.  He wanted to re-enlist.  Patriotism.

His Shoshone grandmother girlfriend wanted to go home where it was safe.  My shack of a house was not what she had expected of a white woman.  She had expected luxury, hospital-cleanliness, color TV and at least one recliner.   Anyway, the old man knew he was dying, though he didn’t tell anyone, and his solace was genealogy.  He tried to pass it on.  I see that only my generation has much interest and then they only want what is self-congratulatory.  If it will fit on an iPhone.

Most of the efforts to “help” me along the way have really been attempts to enlist me in the causes and successes of others.  Not ALL.  Once in a while someone has reached out to give me a lift that I didn’t expect.  Some of them have made the mistaken assumption that I had money, power, connections -- so they hoped that by attaching to me, they would be included.  

Some have been framed as invitations to intimacy.  I have not discarded intimacy, but I have discarded conventional ideas about gender and sex, particularly binary definitions (either-or), outdated morality based on fertility (who gets the baby), and the relentless commodification where even the old are sold eroticism.  (Catalogues for the rural elderly are arriving -- among the rheumatism cures and adult diapers are vibrating penises.)   Like my great-uncle’s son, I’m a loner.

A delusion cutting knife.

Death is the final removal from anthropocentrism and anthropomorphism.  Matthiessen tells about Tukten, his old Tibetan guide, sending him “a Tibetan Lama’s delusion-cutting knife; it’s for cutting your delusions. It’s kind of a half-moon crescent blade with what is called a dorje or bell handle on it.”  I attend the funerals of local former students and present friends if I have enough gas money and if there’s no blizzard.  My family forgets to tell me about the deaths of relatives.  I find out by accident years later.

Thalweg diagram

The thalweg is a geological term that means “ 1.  The line connecting the lowest points along a stream bed or valley; a longitudinal profile.  2.  The line of continuous maximum descent from any point on a land surface, e.g. the line crossing all contour lines at right angles.  3.  A ground-water stream percolating beneath and in the same direction as a surface stream.  4.  The deepest or best navigable channel, used in defining water boundaries between states.”  It’s a pretty good title for a biography, reducing what was a wandering course responding to geology into a point-to-point account, engineered.

It's also a band!   

1 comment:

northern nick said...

. . . refective. Almost nostalgic. Certainly a vast arch of your (mostly, i.e., yet unfinished) life within a single thought. Maybe Buddist, more Rumi-nation. Spring rises along the Front Range. With it, we can relive every spring of our knowing. The accumulation of years gives us that, at least.