Though I'm approaching eighty years old, I still have the grandiose fantasy that I might do something great, like writing the Great American Novel. I'm not alone. It never dawns on me and the others that a novel is mostly a frivolous entity, for entertainment before being discarded though it may be cherished by individuals; that it is linked to European narrative forms; that is always local and often melodramatic; that it is dependent on the machinery of publication which is basically an exaggeration of friendship networks in high school; and judgement of its value is dependent on professional critics from a certain class and education; or on highly emotional attachment to the central issue, perhaps that the plot recommends a certain morality be changed. My example is "Moby Dick," among others, highly praised for including a lot of minutia about hunting whales that is politically incorrect and out of date. Most of it is not on land, American or otherwise.
Granted that if we accept Lakoff's assertion that human thought is a matter of metaphor acquired in the process of interfacing with the environment, then we have a lot to learn about obsession through the metaphor of a frail little ship pursuing leviathan. Each side of my family has a ship captain in its history and a strain of Ahab's obsessiveness in its family story. It's hoped that one of us will become famous and respected, which will result in the confirmation of our family.
I was the oldest of three children and the only female. The kink in my version of the story is that there was a worship of heirs (Xian echo) who would be the flag-bearers allotted extra resources in the interest of all of us, BUT this individual was supposed to be male. Achieving women were supposed to be feeding their power through men, possibly by marriage. But that new man should be particularly powerful and capable of confirming the importance and therefore security of the family. So the position of an oldest daughter is to be exceptional but to show it only by being secondary to a remarkable man.
I thought I had that licked when I threw in with Bob Scriver, though it took me a while to make the relationship one of marriage. Being a Western sculptor who cast his own bronze works was not quite as elegant and gentrified as writing a famous and prestigious novel, but it still celebrated a complex of definitively American prairie events, both indigenous and imported, demonstrated dramatic and mythological conflict, and was a part of the humanities, which are the context of gentry who have aspirations based on education before tech science took over.
Contradictorily, self-education was more respected than a degree from a high institution because the latter went to an idea essential to America -- the spontaneous worth of an original person (a son) who honors but exceeds his father, just as the "new" country related to the King of England, and Jesus related to God. (Xian ghost) At the time Western sculpture was relatively undeveloped but benefited from the idea of it being outside the oppression of the elite.
It was deceptive because I did not take a position of "wife" in a traditional sense, but more of an employed daughter. That is, my time was devoted to the studio work (actual materials) as well as clerical support and a role that became increasingly important, a blend of pr, description, research, analysis, and exploration. There are people around here who will claim that my contribution made Scriver famous. They were not intimates. They interpret life in terms of sex and money, strong elements of every culture.
What I contributed from the beginning came from my education in a intra-department of a prestigious institution, Northwestern University. I did not pursue writing beyond one course because it was focused on young men meaning to write the Great American Novel. I put my energy into the Theatre Department where I learned a time-art meant to be performed, the management of the human body both conscious and unconscious, and the tradition of Broadway in Manhattan, which enjoyed the same mixture of the vulgar (in the technical sense) and the sophisticated. It was not just the location of the theatre, but also the center of gallery and museum art. I was taught to monitor the Arts Section of the New York Times, so I had a directory to the institutional and business entities of the place and knew how to connect Scriver to it.
I had expected that I would find a way to work on my writing while still supporting my husband's sculpture. In the beginning that was true, but as time went on and Scriver became better known and rewarded, the time and space for writing diminished. He became the white whale so what was I?
Yet in my family he was my "claim to fame," much valued. I didn't give it up until both family and husband began to find my frustration was narcissistic selfishness and my defiance in insisting my own ideas were signs of moral failing. I decided the hell with all that. When my emotional distress exceeded my usefulness and a host of other women sought my place, I gave it up.
Back in Portland at my mother's house, I looked for a job, any job. My mother's idea was that I had failed and that since my father had died, I would now put my energy into her well-being in a social context and look for a new marriage. She did not value my writing. When I took a civil service job as an officer of the Multnomah County Animal Control, the first woman ever hired for this, she was embarrassed.
But I was beginning to be political and enjoyed being a trail breaker. Ten years on the rez had been good preparation. Scriver's sub-occupation as city magistrate and Justice of the Peace, which I attended, was also helpful. Writing became less important as I started courses towards a degree in clinical psych, a frequent reaction to being labeled a nutcase. Then I began to replay the same role as for Scriver, but for Animal Control. PR, research, outreach on the national level, creation of a textbook and other materials.
When I found the Unitarian Universalist congregation downtown in Portland, the scope and relevance of that body of understanding exceeded anything offered through clinical psychology. Now the White Whale was God. This was a meaning thread that led directly into an unexpected huge cultural explosion that was often deadly, mostly reacting to Vietnam, but also to the limits of American institutions and the common assumptions of the American culture left from an agricultural context. Now the schism was not between the rural and the industrial complex based on cities and its cover for internal, competing, auto-governed and bloody crime. Assassinations, riots, and the alternatives to the mainstream that are always present went out of control.
It was energizing, worldwide, entirely Other to Americans (so they thought), and it is not finished. The idea of gentry based on British customs and standards was knocked aside in favor of raw mercantilism and continues now until it threatens to also swipe away Democracy. It knocked me out of the UUA, out of Xianity, out of conventional kinds of writing, out of the whale-hunting ship, and back onto the prairie where indigenous people, some seeking to be gentry in the Brit/Germanic way and others searching for the same "new way" that I am.
We are no longer dependent on the "codex" form (pages bound between a protective cover) or even print in the English tradition. The new forms (images, short takes, transgressive writing, oral dialogue, sound with music and effects) relate to the new technological devices that demand change of technique.
We are no longer dependent on the proprieties of grammatical English as produced by Great Men from the past. Women, minorities (particularly those with dark skin), persons from other cultures and educational frames are writing, which might be graffiti, scraps from the deep past, databases kept personally or institutionally, long non-academic theses, and powerful anti-conventional ideas. This scares a lot of people and causes blowback. So far, the controlling value is again mercantilism. If it sells, it's okay.
Where does it leave me? As for "selling," I've abandoned the idea. I have enjoyed twenty years of independent but not isolated writing, choosing my own cohort, which is not at all related to my demographic definition. I'll come back to this later, but I've already written about it quite a bit. The point here is that in my attempt to satisfy the family demand that I be a famous and honorable achiever I took many detours but persisted and came to a two-decade-space to simply glory in the act of rubbing words together to be read on glass-screened scrolls on cyber-gizmos. If something of some value (whatever "value" is), comes of it, that's fine. But it has nothing to do with my right to exist.