Thursday, December 10, 2015


Leaning on lions

I am a parasite.  I try not to call attention to it, but the evidence is clear.

My father told me that’s what I was when I was about eight.  He threw his checkbook down on the table between us.  “Ten dollars!  That’s all the money there is, because of your teeth!  The dentist is taking all our money because of your teeth!”  I didn’t know whether there was more money coming or other bank accounts or even whether ten dollars was much money.  I hadn’t made the decision to go to the dentist -- it always terrified and humiliated me.

In fourth grade Mr. Garnet wrote our schedule on the blackboard, which could be pushed up in the air so as to use the one underneath, told us we’d better copy it fast and did indeed push the blackboard up where I couldn’t see it.  I leaned over to copy my friend’s paper and he caught me.  Said I should do my own work.  I burst into tears.  He looked at me for a minute, then went to the file cabinet to take out an eye chart.    I was near-sighted -- VERY near-sighted.  My mother was chagrined but I had glasses.  My father didn’t say anything.  My mother had always said she had married him for his excellent eyesight.  Those were the days when we all thought about genes but in a very different way from now.

In high school it was my female dramatics teacher who kept on eye on me.  I had good grades.  I was in or worked on every play.  When she and her husband went someplace, I took care of their house and read all their high-end interior decorating magazines.  They kept a cage of birds as big as a room in the backyard and a gentle doberman pinscher indoors.

My mother paid for my college by going back to teaching.  I had a full-tuition scholarship.  I attached myself to my biology partner, a brilliant and careful man destined to be a professor of education law. . . before he died of brain cancer.  He had married his high school sweetheart.  My theatre department friends have stayed friends but we live far apart.  One would call me to act as family vicar for weddings and births.  I did my best but all that luxury made me sick, literally.  And they didn’t want to talk -- they talked to each other about me in front of me.  They were Hollywood people, used to talking about casting.

Browning was my major attachment.  Scriver was my game and Scriver became my name.  It was a world, a foreign country.  For ten years I tucked in behind this dynamo as though I were a VW beetle in the slipstream of an 18-wheeler.  We ate in cafes, he picked up the cheque, I dressed up for shows, and dressed triple-thickness to work pouring bronze.  I helped chase buffalo, skin bears, change tires, and on the side wrote letters, composed catalogues and all that stuff.  We were learn-as-you-go, not like these youngsters who take courses and know the formula for everything.  We just grabbed it in the middle, watched what happened, talked about what that did, and got better at it next time.  A lot of other people helped us.  Everything we earned went back into the business.

Then I began to disappear into the business, too.  I had no identity of my own, no time to myself, no space that was mine, and now that he had fame, other women were lining up, assuming he was rich.  I TRIED hard to do what my mother did: whatever my father wanted and needed.  But he was a traveling man and when he was gone we did what WE wanted.  I would never put all my eggs in one basket again.  And I would never be anyone’s angel.  There were days he thought I was a devil anyway.  Sometimes I ran away, but he never did, because how could he?  Everything was his.  All that work had to be done.  Depression threw a bag over my head.  It made me angry.

When I became the first female animal control officer for Portland, my boss sort of fell in love with me because, he said, I had balls.  I’d walk into all sorts of unknown.  But I wanted brains.  All the time I was taking theatre at NU, I was wishing I were taking something at the U of Chicago.  I wanted to be a “brain.”   I got involved with First Unitarian Church of Portland and their dynamic minister. (Now retired.)  Every book my minister read, I read.  I read the complete works of Ernie Gann, all that airplane stuff.  Jacques Ellul was big and I read his books, but didn’t understand “Christian Anarchy”.  I decided I should go to seminary in Chicago.  He thought I should go to Berkeley, smoke pot, and get laid.  Loosen up.  He was probably right.

The three years I rode circuit for the Montana UU Fellowships were a devotion and a self-fulfillment -- very selfish in the most literal sense.  I lived in that cargo van with no heat, hours of driving on what were sometimes terrifying roads, watched the sky and thought about the Ultimate.  I was no one’s special buddy.  I felt real.

In Kirkland, across the lake from Seattle, everyone was my special buddy and we had a blast.  They didn’t want to grow and change, but I was only an interim minister -- it was against the rules for me to be permanently called, so it was an affair, not a marriage.  It was the way to go, at least for me.  But a little too easy, a little too luxurious.

Saskatoon was too hard, too cold, too involved with being good and right and in control.  I ran away.  I’m no angel.  This time I wasn’t depressed, just determined to protect myself.

One man, a geologist, claimed he needed me to comfort him.  I laughed and got him to talk about isotopes.  Another man, a loser, said he knew all middle-aged female ministers were needy, so he was prepared to comfort me.  I said I was not the temple whore and he said he paid for a car for the last female minister and she was pleased.  She's still in the ministry.

The hell with all that.  I had enough material for a shelf of books.  Back in Portland I did data entry and freaked out my female supervisor, but at the end of the day was too tired to write, so I’d go down to Powell’s where all the Native American Renaissance authors would come through to read.  I settled in with the little group of City of Portland soils engineers and watched.  The cat’s choice, watching.

Then the unexpected: my mother left me $30,000.  It was 1999.  I headed right here, where I am now, bought this collapsing house, sat down at the keyboard and began to write.  You only see the foam, not the beer.  I’m not very sure how I have enough money, or even whether I do.  What’s money?  Nothing.  Foam.

The good thing about not fitting the system is that no one understands you.  After a while they get bored and leave you alone.  They say,  “Oh, she’s a character,” and in Montana that means you get a free pass.  Up to a point.  They get scared if I blog about them.  If I came into a lot of money, they would take back my free pass.  But I’m really writing.  I’m no angel.

This is the famous Angel of Evil

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