Tuesday, December 26, 2017


An early Banksy, a classic

“Not everyone will understand your journey. That’s okay. You’re here to live your life, not to make everyone understand.”

This quote is from “Banksy,” and probably came as a tweet from that anonymous source.  It’s a little bit ironic since Banksy is dedicated to making people open their minds through the use of urban graffiti.  Probably many people don’t even know what “he” does with stencils, but once a person sees those images, they stick. 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banksy  This post is not about Banksy, though I’m in sympathy with “them” (they might be a collective).  It’s about the quote, because I’m spending Christmas trying to get my oldest best friend to understand what I understand.  It doesn't work.  So far.

This oldest friend’s feedback is coming today about what I write.  She doesn’t read the prairiemary blog, but only what I forward from my 4,366 daily 1,000 word posts.  (Aaauuuggghhh!)  I forward to her some posts I think she’ll like (mostly early ones) but over Christmas I sent the most recent two:  one about Old Jim Whitecalf and the one that “seemed” to be about jellyfish.  Or magazines.

She didn't like the one about Old Jim, found it confused and therefore confusing.  Suggested I study James Michener for hints and tips.  (Michener was one of my mother's fav authors.  I have never read a Michener book and have no plans to do so.)

My old friend is an audience I don’t usually have, very much like the local Valier folks and not computer-hooked-up.  Our early life was shared, but she made the classic woman’s choice between family and vocation by choosing family.  A devout Catholic, that’s where her family of origin is dedicated, and she has done very well at raising eight children, a blended family.  (Her first husband died of cancer, probably triggered by working on the railroad which exposed him to carcinogenic substances.)  

She’s seen it good and she’s seen it bad, but there hasn’t been a lot of time to sit around philosophizing nor has she been out of her social comfort zone very much.  In lit about women, this split about family vs. vocation is common.  (Think of "The Turning Point" with Anne Bancroft and Shirley McClaine.  Remember the fights?)

My life has seemed to me like being pushed over a series of cliffs.  That exhilarating movement of flight followed by a hard landing.  Most of the time it took a few years to figure out what had happened.  In addition, my first college experience was in theatre, based on empathy, culture and language.  NOT the usual curriculum or method.  

My second college experience (seminary) was highly analytical, historical and — finally — George Lakoff’s kind of metaphor, a doctrine just barely forming in the early Eighties.  This has made me unintelligible to a lot of people: very different from the way most people think, even now.

For instance, I suspect that a lot of people assume my Christmas Day’s post is about jellyfish.  Or maybe magazines.

So my friend had a top-of-the-line parochial (St. Mary’s Academy in Portland, OR) high school education with emphasis on categories and rules, a specific history mostly about Europe, and moral responsibility as outlined by institutions.  A nun in the family means she knows about the pushback from those lively renegades.  But her sense of literature is stuck in her high school years.  She hasn’t had time to read nor did she have any reason to do it.  

Besides living on the rez and interacting with the “Indians” as equals, more than most white people do — teaching, sharing work in the foundry, sitting around talking, becoming interwoven with the shared land, and quarrelling hard in various political ways — it’s profoundly difficult to convince people that I know something outsiders don’t.  It makes them feel put-down, ignorant (meaning dumb), and morally to blame.  In the past some online enrolled and politically sophisticated indigenous women spent weeks online beating and beating and beating it into me that I can NOT be them, can NOT “really” understand, am essentially different and had better get that into my head.  Just accept that I do NOT know and then maybe I can hear what they’re saying.

At least my friend didn’t — like my cousin — suggest that I write clever little books about kittens for children.  But she likes the "travelogue"  — Indians are always part of a travelogue, right?  One visits and then goes home to tell colorful little (little) life experiences.  To her anything intensely emotional is personal confession, so when I sent her a story about a woman who miscarried, she asked if I had lost a baby.  (“The Inconsolable Woman”, February 2, 2016 )  These assumptions are cultural.   I'm grandiose and pretentious.  No one around her would question her reactions. 

Except her sons.  They have the questions.  I spent a bit of time with one of them at their dining table, both he and I excited about ideas.  I think he's the one who lives in Japan now with a Japanese wife.

Writing about Indians is only one thing.  It’s not a secret that for a decade I’ve also written about boys marginalized by society and stigmatized in deadly ways.  When I first made contact, they asked me why I wasn’t afraid of them.  (They were in Paris, and they were young men, rather than boys.)  The question surprised me.  Why?  Because of them being gay or doing sexwork or being skateboarders??  But they were aware that ideas are scary, even over long-distance email.

It’s the same problem as writing about “Indians.”  The only pattern that conventional people can hear is the old Christian redemption story, complete with misunderstandings about sex, abuse, families, drugs and how economies work.  And yet, things once unthinkable are now explained in slick magazine articles.  Anal coition, once the bleeding edge, is now a plot point on “Downton Abbey” and a common practise of high school kids avoiding pregnancy.  But yet the same social traps persist for young males by picturing them as either heart-breaking martyrs or little twisted non-humans who must be locked up.  Never unique people with dreams and goals.  Like Indians.

The same problem crops up with explaining religious categories.   For most people “religion” is institutional.  Or moral.  Spiritual is a nice state of mystical stuff.  But talk about it being "neurologically emergent from experience" and everything goes blank.  We love our fantasies.

I finally had a suggestion for my friend — to lighten us up a bit, since we were hurting each other’s feelings.  (Her response to my writing is in terms of a Catholic high school English teacher in the Fifties.  I've finally begun to understand the French post-mod philosophers.)  I think we have come upon the same break as in the critics' opinions about the newest “Star Wars” tale, which I gather draws on that deconstructionist strategy of revealing an “understory” that turns it all on its head.  (I won’t be able to see it until it gets to Netflix.)  

It’s a strategy of renewal but moms don’t like it much.  They just got to where they feel as though they knew all these aliens.  And not necessarily approvingly.  Because — WAIT — you mean Carrie Fisher was actually having an affair with Harrison Ford?  The age difference . . .

No comments: