Friday, May 20, 2016


The caption began, "Higher than an eagle flies. . ."

My earliest and hardest writing challenge was writing captions for Bob Scriver’s miniature dioramas in the Scriver Museum of Montana Wildlife.  They had to be short, full of information, simple enough language for kids to understand, intense enough for people to remember.  More than that, Bob offered the challenge to all sorts of people, including his former lover, and some of them did better at it than I did.  It was emotional.  But it sank the hook.  By the time he died, he said,  “You sure can write.” But the dioramas rot in a warehouse, so what was it for?  For the doing of it.

I wrote Bob's biography, “Bronze Inside and Out,” and it was published but not because it was well-written or because he was so famous.  It was simply seen as enhancing the people who controlled him — the galleries, the curators, the promoters, the historical societies, and the customers.  They complained that I put too much in there about me and too much that didn’t make him look good so what they owned would be more valuable.  “Go ahead,” said one of them.  “Be a bitter old divorcĂ©e.”  They knew that their fixation on success was shared by Bob and was the kernel of the divorce. It is a key to our dysfunctional culture.

By that time I was in the ministry and preaching weekly in four major Montana towns.  What I wrote was delivered four times each—once for each small group. I could see what was reaching the listeners.  Instant feedback.  Four different reactions.  The secret was to hit them where they lived.  They didn’t give a fig about all the stuff we learned in seminary.  They wanted to feel better.  Sometimes I could see how to deliver that.  Other times it began to be a ceiling, a cage, too much like building popularity instead of poking people where they needed to be poked. In these years I was typing on a Selectric, a red one I bought from an African-American lady minister in Hyde Park.  I still miss it.

During the four years of seminary (78-82) it was too early for the Internet, though for a living I was transcribing spoken dictation to a mainframe system of work stations handled by a big computer in the basement of the U of C Law School.  Teaching in Heart Butte got me onto the Macintosh, because a friend of the superintendent needed to off-load some obsolete models.  None of the teachers knew how to use them.  There were no programs; no one knew what they were.  I bought “Writenow” and used it until the company was sold.  There were bulletin boards, and soon I was on Blogger.

I'm disconcerted to see that one can simply download this book online.
Nor have I received my royalty check.

Because I was writing short, atypical nonfiction and posting often, I’ve ended up with a lot of small pieces, a fact that hurt “Bronze Inside and Out,” but also saved it, because I could group by theme and image instead of the same old biographical chronologies.  It is as much about bronze-casting and the steps of making sculpture as it is about the man named Scriver.  But I almost lost control of all the various pieces.  It held together because of intense emotional connection.  

Now I’m (still) working on a book I call “The Bone Chalice” which is a developed version of my Meadville/Lombard thesis.  The problem is that it is based on historical examples and introspective (philosophical) understanding.  It's an argument for escaping institutionally dictated liturgy, but the fact that I argued for “felt” (emotional, visceral) elements was joined by neurological research that confirmed and expanded my ideas far beyond the original manuscript.  The original is still useful, but old-fashioned.

So — as often happens with me — the thesis has been joined by a second manuscript I’m calling “Patterned Tumult”.  Neurology, brain evolution, human thought at the dawn of art and science, the material metaphor culture of sensory thought, and so on are subjects piling up daily.  But I’m aging.  I had already hit the limits of my technological understanding when T. and I stopped writing together.  In fact, it was hurting our collaboration.  I couldn't keep up.

A platform like Medium is only basic exposure to possible markets.  Not very different from Blogger.  In fact, Blogger has more and stabler elements than Medium if they can keep from being raided for time and skill to feed the newer Medium.  (The same people are involved.)  I see that Gmail, which claimed it would be there forever, trustworthy and unbreakable, is no such thing.  One contractual agreement behind closed doors and all agreements are broken.  Facebook wiped out years of work done by Cinematheque.  No recourse.  I need to keep hold of paper.  Innovation in instruments may even render my desktop Macintosh obsolete and unusable.  Already I don't fit handheld culture, a specific genre.

So I went looking yesterday and found Scrivener.  It’s almost a joke since my name is Scriver.  It’s a print management system and will be hard to learn because it’s complex, but it gives a lot of control and all of it is suited to writers, not journal-keepers or texters.  It is also shouldering Lulu aside as a way to format “books” of all kinds.  I’ll have to find somebody else if I want to sell, promote, distribute.

It turns out to be an advantage to write in short segments — 1,000 words is my daily goal— in view of so many people reading on handheld instruments as they travel by bus, train or plane.  I think some of Scrivener will also work for sound, so I listened to my few past sound pieces for T.’s video.  The main thing I need is a desk chair that doesn’t squeak.  But age is affecting my voice.  I choke and strain.  Maybe I need an otolaryngologist.  I like what Sid Gustafson is doing with short stories he reads.  (His website is his name.) Scrivener will let me embed both sound and vids — just as Cinematheque had envisioned years ago.

But I want to produce some long, printed, high-culture books.  Scrivener may be the bridge I need for that.  It’s a tool.  The writer will be enabled, not made a better writer except in terms of better control.  It could and probably does produce a lot of the sterile, repetitious boilerplate fiction that’s always around and that some writing coaches pitch. 

A person needs something to say, like Sid’s passion for horses or the major catastrophe of Swift Dam breaking or his fraught intimate relationships or the deep emotion of being close to Native Americans.  But those forces of thought and emotion are enough to manage without having to fuss with numbering pages properly or keeping fonts consistent for chapter headings.  It’s a bicycle, but you’ve got to pedal it and choose the direction yourself.

Besides being able to instantly reformat for various book forms, the program offers different streams of production including scripts, music and poetry, research, recipes.  I’ll leave them alone for now.  Old diabetic ladies must avoid those seductive recipes for food porn.  Aging and disease simplify life by eliminating choices.  Sometimes it makes for better writing, better use of time, clearer perception of what the question is.


Anonymous said...

I'd like to see more images of the dioramas and a post on them if you haven't done that.

Mary Strachan Scriver said...

If you weren't anonymous I might be more helpful.

See the blog: "".

Prairie Mary