Tuesday, December 09, 2014


Valier, MT, from the air

When I moved back to Valier, I had a job with a local ag newspaper which was sold six months later to a publisher in Great Falls.  It wasn’t a writing job anyway, just layout.  So then there was a bit of floating and unemployment until I tried teaching again.  It was a disaster: the school was chaos -- out of control -- and anyway I discovered all over again that I no longer fit into the kind of schools around here.  As my NEA rep advised me when I was “non-rehired” at Heart Butte, I am only fit to teach in a fairly liberal city or university town.  But I don’t want to live in those places.  I want open land.

There’s a strange bait-and-switch thing that happened in high schools, something like what happened to the mental health field.  Because of the atrocious warehousing of patients, the idea was to create neighborhood havens where the disturbed could be treated with the new pills.  But they never funded any havens, so the people ended up on park benches or in jail, which was warmer and had food.  Sometimes even pills.   In the case of schools, the idea was to get rid of those lock-step textbooks and creatively teach with custom materials run out on the newly invented xerox machines.  But no time for making custom materials was ever allotted and it turned out that xerox machines have a tendency to burn out as well as being more expensive than textbooks.  (Same for teachers.)

Bronze Inside and Out by Mary Scriver

I had thought my fall-back would be publishing free-lance articles and books about the famous Bob Scriver.  But he wasn’t so famous anymore.  The free-lance market was flooded with people so anxious to have a market that they accepted low pay or wrote for free.  Publishing simply turned to rubble because of the Internet: no more warehouses to store books, no more advances to make sure they got the best, no more publicity except for repetition of last month’s best seller, no more insightful editors. But I did accomplish my mission of getting a bio of Bob published.  Amazon and Barnes and Noble carry it.

My house has two buildings behind it, both trucked down from the reconstruction of Swift Dam after the major flood in the Sixties.  One was the workshop and the other was the caretaker’s bunkhouse.  I thought the bunkhouse made a good guest bedroom until it turned out that my company was my age or older and needed plumbing in the night, which the bunkhouse didn’t have, so it went back to being a shed.  

But fifteen years ago I had ideas about what to do with the back building.  At first I thought maybe I could make it into a puppet theatre for kids, both to put on shows and to help the kids make their own puppets.  But I find my tolerance for kids is low these days.
Marias Care Center

I was the ward clerk at the Marias Care Center for just long enough to qualify for unemployment again. But the previous ward clerk -- who was far more skillful than I -- decided to return to work.

I had the idea of a woodlot: fireplace lengths made from lodgepole pine bought from Heart Butte people.  Someone else was already using an electric splitter and saw.  

I thought about a cement business: urns and planters, maybe some statues, and stepping stones with custom writing and imprints, maybe poetry.  Pet memorials.  Or inlays of old broken plates with interesting designs on them.  Usually a person in this line simply buys molds, but I know how to make molds, so I could customize pretty easily.  I just never got around to that one.

Recently when Steve Culver graciously came on an emergency basis to fix my roof, I realized that there are a LOT of people who are having to cast around for work because businesses have been closing up.  Rude Sheet Metal did ductwork and DeVoe had a construction arm, but they were both dependent on new construction, which stopped.  Steve had worked for both those businesses but now is free-lance.  So I got to thinking about what a metalworker could do in winter.  How about windowsill trays to fill with gravel and keep potted plants on?  Nice, but small.  How about copper-clad front doors?  I googled -- they’re grand!  A little creativity and QUITE grand.

I never did make a business plan or take a class in how to write them.  At one time I had an idea for a jacket business: authentic Blackfeet designs in three price categories: one in corduroy with rickrack instead of beads, one in velveteen with sequins for eveningware, and one in authentic buckskin with real beading -- the most expensive.  The idea was to sell them at places like Glacier Park where people underestimate how chilly it can get and will impulse-buy on vacation.  I never did work out prices, distribution and so on.

In Heart Butte there was a sewing co-op for a while (nothing to do with me) and they contracted through an agent to do small jobs -- not clothes but things like filters for machinery.  But it was boring and there was always too much work or too little work so employment wasn’t dependable.  Then bad people broke in and destroyed the sewing machines.  The end.  

I had an idea about a mail-order business that would take advantage of the name of the town, “Heart Butte,” so there would be heart-shaped cookie cutters and embroidered or appliqued pillows in the shape of hearts.  The idea was small handwork a person could carry around to do at meetings or games or just visiting -- even waiting in a pickup while someone did errands. 

One of the things to remember in such a place is that shipping will cut into the profits, so what has to be shipped should be small and so will supplies have to be shippable.  I remembered how hard it was at Scriver Studio to pack a mounted trophy moose head for air freight.  We learned to make a sturdy frame and cover it with clear plastic so the handlers could see what it was -- then they would protect it.  The eighty-pound sacks of hydrocal, special hard plaster, came by railroad until they closed the depot.  Terry McMasters, the Brown House potter in East Glacier, can drive to his Canadian source of porcelain clay, if the border regulations will let him.

My niece, who is completing a Ph.D. in animal studies in Oregon with a focus on cattle fertility, has her own Artificial Insemination business.  She started out in high school doing free lance sheep and llama shearing.

Recently I thought about doing college-prep English tutoring, but given the way kids are today I would have to rent a public place to sit tete-a-tete at a laptop with people watching to prevent gossip.  Maybe the school, or the ideal would be if the library were able to finance its expansion for a meeting room.  But I don’t think the college-type kids would even have time to work on their writing skills.  I don’t think they know what writing skills are.  They think they’re grammar and usage. "Correctness."  The high schools agree, which is why university is a shock.

This time of year my favorite idea comes back: a public sauna with a laundromat attached.  So far I haven't been able to get anyone with money and energy interested, but I keep thinking I might get some Scandinavian to consider this precursor to hot tubs. 

For a while I tried making some little FIMO sculptures and that was fun, but they weren’t good enough to sell.  Finally it dawned on me that I was old enough for social security and that it would be enough for me to live on (VERY frugally) while I wrote.  I decided I didn’t really care about publishing, but I wanted to think and write.  Blogging was exactly that -- without having to ask for permission or make excuses for being too liberal, "over-educated".  So I put on my hat as “prairiemary” and have been at it ever since.  When I have enough material to make a book, I bundle it up and self-publish on www.lulu.com/prairiemary.    

Action Central

The truth is that I don’t know how many good writing years I have ahead of me.  I don’t want to squander them on anything but doing what I’m doing right now, this minute.

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