Medium.com was supposed to encourage and support good writing; indeed, revelatory writing that opened doors to new worlds. But the gate swung to the same old world. Writing in plain sight on a website exists mostly for a “type” who have been raised entitled, praised, and accommodated. It is no surprise to them that the website offers “the kind of internet you want”, as opposed to what’s good for you, what would improve you, or some such nonsense. The idea is that you’re “unique” and that your circle of friends, your circle of interests, are what make you incredibly precious and that the whole locked-up and boundaried (if not fenced) little knot will keep you captive — safe. So you can be sold things. And the website will make money.
This is very boring to read. It’s a circle fuck in front of a mirror. We’re used to it. Great TV series material. People rarely realize that praise is a means of control.
So the inevitable backlash came from the inevitable people who have always made their bones (balls) off such circles, know it well, and want to escape it. The message was “please, don’t write unless you have do.”
What does that mean?
One obvious compulsion is the need to make money. A related need is to have status, power, impact in the world, but there are more ways to do this second thing than by just buying it. We’ve been fascinated by politicians buying the presidency. The ones who get caught (going to jail instead of higher office) don’t seem to find it possible to do, but the ones who do succeed — we suspect — are many. The transactions are secret. It’s like murders: murders that are solved, murders that are unsolved, and murders that are never detected. “What ever happened to that guy who used to sit at the end of the counter?” “Who?”
Or murder by category. Demonstration today. Compare the statistics of the “aggregate” between races, genders, or income levels. Is there a Highway of Tears for educated white men who drive nice cars? Only if they drink. (Why do they drink?)
So writing has somehow been equated with publishing and therefore if writing is not published, it doesn’t exist. Writing that is not published is huge. Why not pretend to publish it and make the writers pay for it?
Money is survival. One can murder many and never be blamed if the means is cutting off money supply for food and shelter. The elegant female artist who just came to visit me was amazed that AIDS wasn’t “over.” But then she and her husband are from the American South where the rising statistics mostly belong to the uneducated Blacks and these are very admirable white, educated people. They say they read a lot. I wonder what. I don’t suppose their local newspaper is exploring HIV around town.
Mike Madel, the grizzly management expert, is often told he should write a book about his exploits and narrow escapes and maybe he will. A publisher would be interested and assign him a ghost writer whom he will be obliged to pay for and who will keep making small alterations until the book is quite different, much more saleable. Naturally he feels compelled to tell these stories — can he?
Sid Gustafson has written three novels so far and a lot of short stories and practical information about horses. Is he writing because he must? I don’t know him personally very well, but my guess is that he’s absolutely compelled by irresolvable life issues to keep writing. It’s not therapy, it’s identity, existence. Enough of us share the issues to make his writing welcome and worthwhile.
So what about me? Many times I’m serving a practical goal and aiming for a target, maybe something like Terrierman who pursues a number of dog-related issues. Other times my drive to write is much more complicated.
This lady visitor and her university president husband came because of Bob Scriver’s connection to Dickinson State University, which was where he earned his bachelor’s degree in the Thirties and is now honored as an achieving alumni. They came to Browning expecting to be welcomed as friends of a Great Man, but ran into the buzzsaw of the opposite opinion, as explained to them by Pete Shea at the Browning post office. Pete is a white man who raised his family in Cut Bank and now lives bachelorhood in East Glacier. Until retirement, he taught music in Browning which means that he was shadowed by Bob’s short but powerful career as a musician/teacher. As they say, “legendary.”
He told them about me, so they came, expecting something quite different from me and my house, I’m sure. They didn’t know about the book I HAD to write about Bob, “Bronze Inside and Out.” Why did I have to write it? (It had to be published in Canada because of so much pushback from the Cowboy Art cartel.) I ripped it out of the hands of the University of Oklahoma Press when I realized their goal was, well, castration.
I loved the man. I knew him in a way no one else knew him (our relationship was surely sexual but it was work that united us); because he was access to a powerful time and place (Browning, Montana, just as the last buffalo people were gone); because it justified my wager that “throwing in” with him would not be wasted time; and because the whole sensory, emotional, and imaginative complex of that world would be the foundation of the rest of my life. But only the foundation. Writing it down made everything after that explainable. Kept it whole.
Writing about ministry is entirely different and mine is even different from anyone else’s because my understanding of the Sacred is anchored in the Blackfeet. Not just them because they’re only a trope for the many kinds of people who live on the Eastslope of the Rockies, both sides of the 49th parallel. Ministry meant I have an academic “card” that is not anthropology — much broader and even deeper, maybe geological. Hanna Holburn Gray, President of the U of Chicago, when she put one’s master’s hood over one’s head, said, “Welcome to the Company of Scholars!” She didn’t mean congrats for your achievement — she meant “now the search begins.”
I’m writing a map, rather like the one Narcisse Blood and Ryan Heavyhead made when they walked with a GPS down the east front, looking for the ancient tribal camps before the horse. Or like Ted Binnema taking Old Swan’s early hand-drawn map as a guide going down the side of the Rockies looking for the landmarks the first trappers used as trail guides. These enterprises are not abstracts of land, but experiences of land. Any paper maps might have to be set on fire right in the middle, simply because of paradigm shift — something is discovered that makes the rest obsolete. What the body has learned remains in one’s muscles and dreams.
I no longer fit into any academic setting or, indeed, into any institution, not even the town. But the internet has made it possible to be a “public intellectual,” something in plain sight based on thinking. Now commerce is trying to destroy that, a murder that is only noticed by some because it is so pretty. Thought is in manacles of bling, Helen Mirren’s pink feather handcuffs. See it, sell it. The virtual space may soon crowd me out the way sober techies have crowded out the spectacular and innovative peacocks of the street in San Francisco. Virtual AIDS is on the way. So is Bladerunner.
Makes it hard to keybaord