Wednesday, June 18, 2014


I had coffee with Norma Ashby this morning at the Panther Cafe as she went on her way to a bigshot board meeting of this organization:  They are meeting in the posh environs of Whitefish -- Taos of the Flathead.

Norma Ashby of Great Falls was elected to the GMF Board in 2008.   A native of Helena, Montana and a journalism graduate of the University of Montana, Norma was a broadcaster at KRTV in Great Falls from 1962-1988. She was hostess and producer of the award-winning “Today in Montana” show and interviewed more than 26,000 guests.  She is the author of “Movie Stars & Rattlesnakes: The Heyday of Montana Live Television”, and co-hosted the Montana Childrens’ Miracle Network Telethon with Dan Snyder for several years. She produced 21 television documentaries and co-produced “The Great Falls Story: A Tribute to 125 Years”  in 2009.

Among the awards and honors she has received:  TV Broadcaster of the Year in 1985,  named Most Influential Woman in Great Falls,  inducted as an honorary member of the Blackfeet Tribe and received the Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Montana.  She was inducted into the Montana Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 2010 and named a Montana Humanities Hero in 2012.

For "Greater Montana" the task at hand will be to award another honor to someone they think is important.  They also have a little money to give out.  Founded in 1958 by a radio pioneer, they are not exactly cutting edge.  In fact, these days Norma and I have a hard time finding subjects in common.  We are opposite in several ways.  We kept losing our tempers (or I did) until we settled on gossip from the Sixties.  Our life-assumptions are just too different.  But she likes to stop in Valier because there are always a lot of old ranchers hanging out in the cafe who think she’s a movie star and rush over to shake her hand.  They’d hug her if they dared.  They ignore me until Norma introduces me -- then I get a fingertip handshake.

Paris Gibson

On the other hand, she was distributing a brochure-style publication about the life of Paris Gibson, the founder of Great Falls, who is part of my mental life because he was a Universalist as a Bowdoin student, then a Unitarian, and finally the Congregationalists buried him.  The actual facts of his times are always in question because of “people parallax.”  Partly they just want to see certain things (either heroes or scoundrels), and partly there is no really solid information, and partly those suspicious French philosophers are probably right:  there’s always a sub-agenda in society, the same as there is an unconscious in minds.
Essex webcam  6-18-14

But Norma knows travel in Montana so she closely questioned the café folks about the driving times and state of the highway.  Only after she left did I pick up the info online that five inches of snow fell on Marias Pass last night -- where she is headed -- and the roads out of East Glacier to the east are flooded.  She drives a small low-to-the-ground car.  Fingers crossed.

While she struggles with the road, I’m struggling with an offer that unexpectedly came via email.  says that if I agree to write an honest review, they will give me the book.  (Of course, reviewers used to be paid actual money.)  I make that deal with individuals whose books I want, or sometimes I promise to give the reviewed book to the Valier library.  But BloggingforBooks’ sign-up rigamarole is impossible.  First they insist on a UPS address only, but most single books come in here via the post office.  The PO will not deliver to a street address and UPS will not deliver to a PO box, though they have some kind of contract deal for locations out in the country.  Most publishers are in Manhattan and don’t believe there IS anyplace else, so they don’t market to the rural prairie.  

The signup insists that I must be either male or female, which is very old-fashioned of them, esp. since the idea is to capitalize on the distribution of my blog, which often discusses transgender, third-gender, general inclusiveness.  When it came to which art subjects I might review, sculpture was not on the list.  Their idea of religious choice is the major institutions plus atheism -- no place for general theories or anthropological ceremonies.  They call that category “faith” but I write AGAINST faith, or AROUND faith.  “Faith” is a word full of sandtraps.    So far, every book I see suggested is a pop lightweight meant for conventional twenty-year-olds who didn’t go to college.  Lots of cookbooks.  Nothing about the theory of metabolism.  It’s all magazine-level transient stuff.  (I’m trying not to type “trash.”)  I do not want to waste my time reading such stuff.

Joseph Boyden

So I go get the mail, and there’s a “gift” book that I didn’t order:  “The Orenda” by Joseph Boyden.   No note of explanation.  “Winner of the Scotiabank Giller Prize.”  Never heard of such a prize.  I google.  (Norma says she refuses to google -- it’s too hard.)  Joseph Boyden is a Canadian novelist and short story writer. His first novel, “Three Day Road” won the Amazon/Books in Canada First Novel Award and the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize.   Of Irish, Scottish and Anishanaabe heritage, Boyden writes about First Nations heritage and culture.”  Aha.  I smell Nicholas Vrooman, my Cree sympathizer friend.  My policy is Cree-Free unless they were living around here.  Boyden is a cute little devil but he divides his time between Toronto and Louisiana.  Metis in the Creole manner.  A soul patch, a teaching gig, and a writing wife.  Wonder when was the last time he was out in the bush.  

Boyden was educated by Jesuits, so “The Orenda,” whatever that is, is about the Jesuits first encountering the Iroquois, the most cruel and inventive torturers of the Eastern tribes.  (Like, cooking priests’ legs while they’re still attached to the living guy and then forcing him to eat gobbets.)  At least there’s no re-interpretation of famous people.   Wait!  A flyleaf update about location:  now Boyden’s teaching in Vancouver at the U of BC and also at American Indian Art Institute in Santa Fe, but somehow continues to divide his time between Northern Ontario and New Orleans.  I guess he’s just continental.  Identifies as an urban Indian, but he clearly spends a lot of time in airports.

American Indian Arts Institute

Norma asks me,  “Are you having fun with your little blog?”  She was startled that I flared.  I’m pretty proud of this blog.  I consider it a form of writing as influential and as demanding as writing novels.  Would she say to the Pope, “Are you having fun writing your little encyclicals?”  (Yes, she would.)  The Blogging for Books form refused to accept the number of hits I get in a week.  The poor apologist who has been trying to help me explains that the form won’t accept commas.  They didn’t think there would be more than 999 hits in a week.

Does anyone sell that many books?  (What is the percentage of people who READ the books they buy?)  A book is an object and people treat them like one: stack ‘em up, push ‘em to the back, rest coffee cups on ‘em.  Read 'em -- someday.  A blog -- the way I do it -- is an experience of the moment.  Like a sermon.  Or an early morning conversation over coffee between two women about the same age but from totally different eras.


Darrell Reimer said...

"No note of explanation"?! WTF? The note that was to have been in the package should have read: "Hi Mary - I apologize for the bulky hardcover, but Boyden has been coming increasingly to mind as I read your blog. Rising in the CanLit pantheon for the last 8 yrs. As ever, read w/o obligation - Darrell"

Darrell Reimer said...

Regardless of what Google kicks out, this is the Boyden profile I'd have pointed you to.

(...still pissed with Amazon....)

Mary Strachan Scriver said...

Darrell is a fellow writer back East. So Nick is off the hook. Naturally, this blunder on the part of Amazon -- NOT Darrell -- will open up some interesting blogs. One about why middle-aged writers in a kind of Norman Mailer mood are readers of mine. (I blocked two; one became insulted and left on his own. Others stick.) Another post about how Joseph Boyden managed to become the great representative of Canadian First Nations while living in New Orleans. How "punk" bounces off this. Darrell is the one who got me reading Conan.

What are they seeing in me? What does this mean in terms of platform marketing?

Prairie Mary