Back in the Fifties when I was still trying to be a proper little girl and feeling the first gut-turning gears of puberty begin to take hold, I would now and then consider a diet. If my mother figured that out, she would demand “Are you denying yourself?”
Is a diet denying oneself or fulfilling oneself? I was mystified, caught between being my natural, spontaneous, and well-guarded self but on the other hand being pressed to recreate myself to suit society so that someone would marry me. My mother worried constantly that no one would marry me. I didn’t care very much about marriage. I thought in terms of love, though I wondered about sex and found no information. Today I don’t care about sex but I wonder about love. Often it seems to be a matter of self-denial.
At the same time that I was forming myself and my ideas, I declared (to myself) rules of character that were fairly Presbyterian, my mother’s affiliation, a denomination I abandoned later without leaving the rules, which I suppose were rather self-denying. Or were they self-defining? Both, I guess. They came from the same sources: books and films, almost never other people.
I seemed to be invisible to other people, even when I was acting in high school plays and winning prizes: National Merit Scholarship semi-finalist (one of four out of a class of 500), National Honor Society semi-finalist (one of two), 498th in manual dexterity (being the worst is a distinction of sorts), Betty Crocker Homemaker of Tomorrow (one out of the whole school of 2,000, which made my mother laugh so hard she fell off her chair.) I was thirty-sixth in terms of grade point average and entered NU in the same scholarship program as Ivan Doig. My IQ was 136 or 140 — I forget, so plainly that ability — if it ever counted as part of IQ — has diminished.
They told us we were attending one of the ten best high schools in the US (Jefferson in Portland, OR) and that we were in the most intelligent 1% of the country. (We didn’t talk about money in those days.) No one told us how many people that was in actual numbers, so it was a shock when I discovered in college that EVERYONE there was a National Merit and Honor Socieity winner. In those days they told us this meant we had a particular obligation to work for the betterment of the nation: “Ask not what your country can do for you," and so on. The Peace Corps was just being devised. We knew nothing about nude presidents who chased naked women down the halls of the White House.
My resolutions were mostly about faithfulness, tenacity, keeping my word, following the thread, not fearing the underground. My guide was “George Macdonald (10 December 1824 – 18 September 1905), a Scottish author, poet, and Christian minister. He was a pioneering figure in the field of fantasy literature and the mentor of fellow writer Lewis Carroll.” His Univeralist Christian beliefs (because God is good, no one is eternally condemned) were smuggled into books, but not disguised enough to keep him from being assigned to ever worse and smaller and more remote parishes until he was nearly starved off the island. The books included “The Princess and the Goblin,” “The Princess and Curdie,” and "At the Back of the North Wind." I knew nothing about his adult books.
In those days I was red-headed (it was curly as well) which attracted criticism and amusement. I took it seriously, as I took being a Scorpio. They were points of reference. Sometimes I dyed my hair even redder. I also wore a lot of eye makeup. (I miss that, but “dry-eye syndrome” doesn’t lend itself.)
What about all these other people? My family has disintegrated. For a while I made an effort to re-connect, but found that we are now so very different that the effort means giving up my principles. They never left the 1950’s. They can’t understand the twenty-first century. They don’t understand that fear is an addictive drug — instead they try to deny.
Linda Hasselstrom is one of a high prairie circle of female Western writers that includes Sharon Butala, Mary Clearman Blue, Judy Blunt, Molly Gloss, Gretel Erlich. I relate to Mildred Walker, Dorothy Johnson and Mary O’Hara, but I’m too old for Maile Meloy, Deirdre McNamer — not quite “Indian” enough for Debra Magpie Earling. I don’t know anyone at this website, self-organized. https://montanawomenwriters.com Nor do I aspire to. Reciprocally, they never heard of me unless they search out long-form bloggers. Different spheres. Different rules.
But just now Linda Hasselstrom sent me an email asking for a review of her soon-to-be-released book, which is how you promote books. Watch for "Gathering from the Grassland: A Plains Journal" Modern as we are, she sent it in an attachment so I’m already glancing through it, and I’ll blog a review as soon as I can. I like to help deserving writers. I’m not sure I want to be better known myself anymore.
I like being transparent, shadowy, the eyes in the underbrush. It’s safer in a small town where people fear those who are different, resent those who excel. Exhibit A is the fate of Bob Scriver, though he brought some of it on himself. The rock that broke our relationship was — to use jargony and slippery popular terms, “grandiose narcissism” based on mercantile success. That is, he had been taught that he was way above average (based on sculpture, not being white) so therefore he was entitled to use people who were lesser. The evidence for his superiority was selling work for high prices.
I agreed with him about the quality of his work.
I had a counter-command internally about fame and money being, you know, the root of all evil.
I resented like hell being used and controlled. It was against my principles. And it's nice when the people you love see you for who you are.
What I didn’t understand, but Jesus would have, it doesn’t matter how brilliant or popular you are, how high you score on other people’s tests, how many scholarships you earn — in the end none of it matters a damn. Time and the shifting sands of humanity will either throw you up high, or destroy you, but they will mostly require a lot of slogging along. Luckily, that fits with my principles.
The hard part is knowing how to offer a helping hand to others without being dragged down to so much uselessness and despair that one becomes worthless. I guess that’s sort of a religious problem. Especially if you're facing a social headwind.
Not the least part is the hordes who DEMAND help and on their own terms, a good reason for being in an inaccessible and unknown location. The computers always get it wrong because they are controlled by techies who know nothing but coding. They say I am “protestant” or maybe “Unitarian Universalist”. They know nothing about the new “religious” terms that blend science with mysticism to find holiness and amazement in everything. They’re still “amazed” by a new shoe design. I’m still amazed by the evolution of feet that will support a walking animal with its arms full.
I’m still self-denying to the extent that I don’t smoke, drink or buy new clothes — mostly read and write. I try to stay on my diabetes regime. My arms are already full of ideas and love like stars. Walking on.