Monday, April 10, 2017


An East Hampton home

People talk about financial planning.  I just blundered along passively, never making enough money for savings, considering myself Class X — a person not defined by economics, vocations, and safeguards.  Almost by accident, I left guaranteed incomes, “followed my bliss”, and just trusted — as a friend of mine used to say, “trusted the art gods” who protect creative people in the context that’s now called “the gig economy.”  My main strategy was not having children and living close to the ground in substandard housing.  My main debits were being female, sometimes argumentative, and, well, “following my bliss.”

I confuse salespeople because some of them pick up on my education level and my only marriage which was to a man considered a wealthy success.  Others pick up on my old clothes, bad hair, and ancient pickup.  They depend upon class clues and none of mine are reliable.  It was fascinating to watch this video:

Neil Gabler is writing another book, but testing the waters with an essay in the Atlantic.  He has the chops and the contacts to use the remnants of traditional publishing to get another book out there.  He is effectively promoting it, probably hoping to ride on the media’s fascination with the subject of the shrinking middle class.  If you check out on a search engine what the response to this promotion has been, it’s negative, along the lines of “you ain’t suffered like I have.”  

It’s true enough of both Gabler and myself that we have active and effective thinking lives, which is a huge asset, but we are living in a time that is anti-intellectual — even incoherent.  Somehow the rules for what some call “the chattering classes” who shepherd books and politics have changed, so that to some of the people rationality and tradition are what count; to others it is justice and compassion; but to new third and fourth and fifth categories of people the whole understanding of the world has been recreated on a different set of facts, a different definition of what a fact is, a different set of principles of existence that only part of the culture even knows exists.  Not just the boundaries of nations have been challenged, but also the very cell-walls of our bodies, the nomenclature of planets.

Looking back at my own life, my first good fortune was the generation of dynamic women who went into teaching because WWI meant no marriage.  They were just retiring in the Fifties.  Second was my choice of dramatics instead of English, which gave me focus on exploration.  Then I applied only to one college, that of my dramatics teacher, Northwestern University.  If I had gone to Reed, wildly intellectual, or Portland State, steady and practical, in order to save money by living at home, my identity would have been quite different.  It was a scholarship and my mother’s new teaching job that gave me NU.

Next turning point was teaching in Browning, MT, the Blackfeet Rez.  Then getting deeply involved with Bob Scriver, who made it a point to never pay alimony though it was his wives that were much of his energy.  After that, the five-year animal control job was civil service and earned a little nugget of money that I could use for another go at the University of Chicago.  The bridge was Unitarianism, which suited me at that point and got me access to the U of C, but shifted out from under my feet by 1982, becoming political and psychological in what I now consider trivial and self-indulgent ways.  But ministry got me back to the prairie where I wanted to be.

A couple of years teaching in Heart Butte was followed by another civil service stint, this time as a clerical specialist for the City of Portland in the Bureau of Buildings.  Animal control and city planning/permitting are the bedrock of my understanding of democracy.

In 1999 a wave of gentrification made my mother’s house valuable enough for my third of it to buy this house in Valier, MT, for $30,000.  I had ignored many urgings, esp. in the Unitarian years, to build up equity in a house in order to retire.  It was lucky that I didn’t.  Buying a shabby house with cash was the result of reading my grandmothers’ books about former housing collapses and depressions.  I should have had a second $30,000 to renew the roof and individual infrastructure, but it would not have solved the problem of shared town infrastructure collapse and a shrinking and aging local population.

The time-line for white High-line communities is about a hundred years long, dependent on the industrial revolution reaching out along the railroad tracks and irrigation canals.  The building practices, streets, trees, aquifer developments, laws, and cultures have now reached their limits and even interfere with the next wave of technology based on data-collection, conservation, and energy shift.  World War I and II, divided by the Great Depression, provided a story about character overcoming all challenges and the safety of the familiar that has kept us from understanding that our children are nothing like us and that weather is planetary, including the ocean.  Now all people are voyagers again in a sea choked with plastic.  

My weakness has been never committing to one job nor tolerating any dominator, no matter how well-known and loved.  My strength has been the same thing.  It’s true enough that Neil Gabler is in a pinch.  As he says, to sell his house he would need about $100,000 to fix it up.  This is only assuming that he stays and that the new owner doesn’t just demolish it because the real value is in the land.  He’s actually trying to keep everything the same.  

I doubt that he’ll get an advance big enough to do the job.  Publishing no longer works that way, even for guys like Gabler who have had repeat best-sellers.  Now authors accept a share of the profits or accept some other inventive terms, hoping the publisher survives long enough to pay out.  But authors don’t make money; publishers make money.  They are venture capitalists of the purest kind.  The art gods don’t know their names, much less their addresses.  Yesterday’s sinecures are today’s eviction notices.

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