When I get up in the morning, I wish I hadn't. It's never been like this before, I think, but then I reflect more and it's clear that it HAS been like before. As many point out, we have closed borders, incarcerated innocent and fragile people without food or bedding, let police shoot minorities mistakenly and acted like bullies on purpose. But it was always kept covered-up, secret, even undenied because the premise of sanity was that such stuff didn't exist, not in America. This administration does it in plain sight, gets off on it, doesn't even bother to be rational or reasonable about it -- not even to pretend.
The whole anti-ethic is far more widespread than anyone suspected. I still cannot grasp how Supreme Court Justice Kennedy could let himself be bribed so directly and obviously. People had to know, but the real shock is that everyone shrugged. All the checks and balances were ignored. They had no teeth. There were no consequences except loss, loss, loss.
That's one thing. For a writer in a time of change there is another, which is dredging the personal past so as to sort and analyze it. Of course, it is only one kind of writing but a powerful enterprise since humans are place-and-family proud and want a certain account to show their best side. It's one thing when the times change radically -- it's tragic for many people that the pill has entirely thrown over how one should act. Now the fearful consequence of indiscretion is not a baby, but rather the inability to bond, the diminishment of intimacy, and confusion about what should happen.
We've known that we would come to a time of critical population mass, but not that we would be joined by many Others-Not-Us. We always thought of England as the Mother Ship and now find that she has sailed into the unknown with all the rest of us. We thought we at least knew what a human being was: privileged, gifted, the peak of evolution, lucky in a stable -- even rock solid-- world. Now the rocks are unstable, on fire, flying, shaking, cracking open the earth. We can only run and hope.
Today's kids take what they know for granted as being reality, as though borders and names on maps were real things. They even think what they see on their pocket electronics is a realistic account of how things go. Their games are all violent or they won't sell, so violence is their measure of value and power. Bad words are their patois, rough living doesn't scare them, they don't believe the parent generation knows anything at all, and for the most part they are almost right. No one comes close to knowing all the things we need to know now.
My twenties were my wild experiment years but not on hometown terms: I was on the rez but safely anchored by an achieving white man. My original cohort had gotten it out of their systems in their teens and those who survived were now settling into families. Since then my principle of action has been to read anything, think about anything, watch any movie -- but to be very damn careful about what I do. I don't drink, smoke, do drugs, chew gum, dance, own a gun, or consume sugar. (Whaddya mean I shouldn't watch porn or pics of bare people? These are made-up rules. What IS porn?) But I whistle. I cuss. I break all the family rules and my reasons are historical in the broadest sense, but also specific.
My three-part family has split out and is far away. My parent generation is dead. My mother and her sisters (the Pinkertons) chose different paths and the sister-paths closed mostly. All but my mother merged with the Hatfields, who needed civilized smart women. They did take in my brain-damaged brother but never told me exactly what was happening (psychosis) nor did they know what to do about it except to exclude him with no means but an old truck. They could have plugged him into the government veterans, welfare, and disability system, but they didn't know how to do that. No one in any part of my family knows how to do that, including me. He blew up early attempts to explain to ladies at desks by being a bully-fantasist, telling what to them were lies until they threw him out.
Of course, I came back to Montana and have hid out here. My other brother went to the SW and hid out there. We are not family-lovers. A cousin from that side has also hid out in Montana. Don't call us. Take us off your Christmas list.
On my father's side (the Strachans) the grandparents became poor as they aged. Their fortune was their little house. Those sibs spread over the continent and the cousins have all lost touch. The last connections were a few women, readers with bureaucratic jobs, now retired. To say it in a trendy way, their lifestyle -- which they both got from princess-like but hard-working mothers (one of them a published poet) -- separated us the farthest of all. After one late in life effort to be supportive, I discover I'm a bully, inappropriate, and off the point. Even my decision to live out my years in relative poverty is an insult from their point of view. They don't understand what I do and if they read my writing, they do it secretly.
Montana is not a place as much as a context. I came thinking that I would write and that it would be fiction, like AB Guthrie, Jr., Norman Maclean, Walter Van Tilburg Clark and his nemesis Leslie Fiedler, Ivan Doig, Jimmie Welch, Richard Hugo. There were no women writers then, except that Mary Clearman Blue was just beginning. These people were close by; you could know them; they came to town. Missoula was location of the sacred source.
Now no one reads these people. Aspiring writers moved to Portland. Today I hardly know who the Montana writers are. Missoula is disgraced for many reasons, the collapse of their writing program among them. No one writes fiction unless it is YA or murder mysteries. Reality IS fiction. The new centre of the action is Bozeman/Livingston with a rank overtone of Hollywood. McGuane, Bowen, James Harrison, Cahill, Quammen, Peacock. Lot of naturalists. Nonfiction rules. So do men.
But I don't write like anyone on these lists, partly because what I do -- long form blogging which is rather like maintaining a column without a print destination -- no one knows how to read it (I sometimes think of bunching the instalments into anthology books.) and few are keeping up with the new world revealed by incredible (literally) new knowledge of everything. I don't want to spend time explaining what you can find out from a genome, which explodes all assumptions about genealogy. I don't want to stay in the smug embrace of an entitled prosperous class, which it pays for by Not-Knowing, repressing the dark side until it pops out through Enlightenment in scary ways. My relatives think careful prosperity is the only salvation.
That's the "don'ts". I'm on the prowl for the new way. I look at old photos. I look at the signature horizon. I push my dusty books around until they make me sneeze. Not there yet. Maybe it will come in a dream. Maybe someone on the rez knows.