Thursday, September 01, 2016


Myself, 1945-'46

This time of year I’m always a little panicky.  It doesn’t help that the weather shifts now, so around here we are due for a cold spell and even some snow, but in the meantime fires are filling the air with smoke so that the nose-brain is signalling “fire,fire,fire. . . “  

But the real reason is the beginning of school.  From the very first day of kindergarten, which was my own personal first day because my mother had to fight to get me in late, because she said that I was overloading her ability to care for the three of us (me and “the boys” who at that point were like one person).  My b-day is late in October, so I was technically too young, but she made her plea stick.

The result was that I walked into a classroom where everyone had already formed their social patterns and there was no place for me.  Lesson learned.  Maybe OVER-learned.  I wouldn’t have known this had happened if my mother hadn’t told me.  Her position about me all my life was that I was unwilling to take the bullet for her and the boys, for the family.  (My father had a traveling job.  He was irrelevant but he was also the reason my mother felt so overwhelmed.)  She never mentioned a precipitating incident, but there must have been one.

A candle-making demonstration about 1953

She felt that my role as a daughter was to support hers as a mother.  She hoped I would be a do-over for every disappointment she’d had.  That meant she finished college while I was in high school as she could not at the proper age (the Depression), and then sent me through college.  But she was enraged that in middle age I went to Divinity School on scholarship.  Twice in life I really screwed up and got into the crosshairs of failure so that I had to ask to come back “home.”  The first time she assumed I was admitting she was right — now I would get a proper hairdo and learn how to play bridge.  The second time she almost didn’t let me return.  

So now at 77 I make my own place.  Ironically, it was my third of my mother’s estate that bought me this ramshackle house.  I’ve been on my own ever since and have managed the necessities — barely.  But the crucial nub of my real, if secret, life has since 1999 has been aflame with ideas and fulfillment.  Only one person really knows and that person was a gift beyond measurement.  

They say that in a sort of foreshadowing of coitus that bacterial one-celled creatures will sidle up next to each other and both will open a sort of port-hole in their cell walls.  Then they exchange some genetic information.  it’s a vivid image.  For me it brings to mind ranchers out on some rural road, traveling in opposite directions so that they can park with adjacent windows and talk for long enough to shut off the engines.  They used to smoke.  What they learn from each other can be vital.  So this writer and I pulled up our computers next to each other and the result was life-saving.

So many people are trying to resolve their life-issues by writing, that there is a parallel industry now that coaches and gives pep talks.  One of the best is  Best because he really does know nuts and bolts and has sold books.  All these guys operate off pretty much the same assumption: that “writing” is linear, follows the same pattern of a compelling problem that causes rising action through increasingly tougher problems until finally there is a crisis/climax and then a resolution, hopefully one that leads to a higher plane of life.  

This is narrative fiction, but most of the non-fiction also follows this pattern.  The college educated pre-readers, editors, and agents look for it and endorse it.  If presented with a mass of print, they try to find the “narrative line” and develop it, prune it, espalier it onto the familiar wall.  Many times the most inspired but nonconforming writers are murdered by this.  Sometimes they reframe themselves as poets, which means they’re free but they’ll never make a living.

So what are the new patterns, the alternatives?  One has grown out of blogging, on-going sequences of individually composed writing — possibly chronological like a journal, but maybe only related by the writer having written them, like beads on a string.  Way down at the origin of at least one of my strands is kindergarten, and the dread of starting school again but being driven to take the bullet for the family.  A lot of other strands added since 1945, which is the origin of that bullet metaphor.

The formal philosophical underpinning of the three-part syllogism comes out of Greek drama and was both the origin and the exemplar for the Western world clear up through the Enlightenment.  Science and the scientific method is another version of it: define a problem, take evidence, form a hypothesis, make a triumphant discovery.  There were alternatives, but they were ignored.
Most recently I found “rhizome theory” which is the pattern of how sweetgrass grows: in clumps, then in long runners with a new clump forming at the end.  This is how blogs are.  This is how I think and write.  This how the world seems to be for a moment.  It’s a “Silk Roads” theory.  A town, a trail, another town.

Here on the high prairie the temp and the air quality are balancing, still late summer but predicted to flip over into a crisp fall in the night.  It’s hard to sleep and dreams are worrisome.  A repeated dream is that I’m at a conference in a strange town, not all that interested in the agenda and not knowing any of the other attendees.  I walk through the city and only half-realize they are cities from television, mixed and overlain with the cities I’ve known.  Rarely am I stepping over railroad tracks in a rotted industrial zone; usually I’m passing shop windows.  Often it’s all so real and familiar that I wonder whether I’m channeling someone.  There’s no Freudian symbolism nor even any Jungian tale.  I’m just new to kindergarten and wondering what the key might be.

Alan Deale and I at the tea after ML awarded him an honorary doctorate.

A few nights ago I had a telephone call from my original — and beloved — Unitarian minister, Alan Deale, because of writing about clergy misconduct misconstrued and suppressed, then dragged out of the past in vengeance.  We talked about his intern student ministers from the Seventies, who are involved.  I told him about driving by the church at 2AM after an event of some sort and seeing all the lights on, so I stopped out curiosity and the vague thought that help might be needed.  It was an intern in tears over not being able to write a sermon.  My efforts to help didn’t work.

When I went on, I had to cross what they call the “Pearl District” which used to be warehouses and therefore has railroad tracks in the streets.  Now it’s trendy boutiques and galleries, gentrified but with no residences.  I came to a car on fire — totally engulfed in high flames, just like television.  A man with a camera on a tripod was taking photos.  I stopped again.  

“Is there anyone in the car?”  Knowing if there was, they were dead.

“Yes.  In the back.”  He didn’t stop.  I heard sirens.

I left.  There was never anything in the news nor did I hear anything through the sheriff’s gossip.  Sometimes I wonder whether it was a dream.  What is reality?  When can we intervene?  When is it right to call on others for help?  Are we ever entitled to guard our own interests?

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