Friday, August 17, 2018


The book that the scammers picked out from all my self-published books -- the only one "properly" published, was "Bronze Inside and Out" which is a biography, the story of someone's life.  I also call it a memoir since I'm in it and working largely but not entirely from memory.  But these are very big umbrella terms.  There are excellent biographies of people who don't and never did exist, though there may be suggestive models in real life.  Jesus, for example, left no written records -- which is the Westerner's journalistic measure for truth -- but many claim He lives in their hearts.  Okay.  I can go with that.  Alongside some pretty dubious "true" accounts of their lives by supposed whores.  (Not Mary Magdalene.)  Religious and sexual accounts are the source of much of our anxiety about biographies being true.

One teacher in Heart Butte asked the kids to write imaginative biographies and autobiographies about objects.  The best ones were about chewing gum and a pencil sharpener.  Dogs are often involved as biographers who know us intimately, same with cats.  The "bio" prefix includes whatever is "lifelike."  So far I don't see a bio of a sex doll -- that would be interesting.  The first chapter book I read as a kid was "Biography of a Grizzly."  Loved it then, love it now that I know it was the autobiography of Ernest Thompson Seton, the author.  I think sometimes he knew that and other times he didn't.  They can mix.

Besides choosing surprising subjects, the treatment of them is crucial.  When I wrote "Bronze Inside and Out," I meant it to explain the process of bronze casting in the Bighorn Foundry that we built ourselves, but also of Bob Scriver himself.  It was meant to be praise with here and there a few cautions.  That was early in the 2000's when I first came back to Montana.  Since then my consciousness has changed drastically.  

In this place I see Westerns idealized as the family history rather than escapist fiction.  I never quite got into the anti-Western, but realized that the stories were really about WWII, that cattle drives only existed until refrigeration was invented and railroads were built, that Mr. Favor (Eric Fleming) from "Rawhide" fell out of a canoe in South America and was eaten by piranhas -- but Rowdy Yates (Clint Eastwood) became a bitter, rigid old man who canoodled with the NRA.  Awkwardly, I still care about them.

Next after that was the psych and genealogical stuff that has become pseudo-scientific and supposedly definitive, unless you're Goldwater who is protected by a rule for shrinks. Everyone loves to shuffle around in the subconscious of someone like Vincent Van Gogh in search of genius.

To many people (too many people) a biography is an edited document written as what is called a "hagiography" -- "hagios" means saintly.  They achieve this state by leaving out all the bad stuff, so it's equivalent to erecting a big bronze statue of some hero on horseback.  Many people expected Bob to be talked about that way and scolded me when it wasn't.  That's as much a surrender to social convention as pulling down a big monument because you don't like the horse-rider anymore. -- as conventional as putting up the monument because you liked him then.

Prospective publishers of Bob's bio objected that the facts of his family and the rez didn't matter.  They wanted the women taken out because they didn't like women and didn't like anyone to know how much women contributed to what was created.  Bob was dead, or I could not have written the book, because he would want some things left out as embarrassing -- like not knowing about proportion when he made his first misshapen portrait of Charlie Russell -- or wicked.  You know.  He was sexually insatiable until late middle age.  Maybe more out-of-the-norm than that.  Everyone was curious.  Some told me stories, relieved to get them off their chest.  Bob had no idea anyone knew.

The promotion manager from the University of Calgary Press was disconcerted when she called a local Montana country music station and offered me for an interview.  The Big Voice who answered declared he hated Bob Scriver and therefore me, whom he had never met.  He did not explain and the nice lady did not ask.  This contrast has overtaken our whole society: some want no biographies unless they are tell-all and exposés; others want no biographies unless they are "nice" and praising.  People get rubbed out in the friction. 

I'm in an awkward position.  I love writing, even risky stuff though I know enough to avoid getting people arrested -- I hope.  But I hate and despise publishing.  It is not an art but rather a money-making scheme that pretends to be helping people but is in fact covertly making money and therefore intent on what will sell.  The negative and shocking always sells better than the truth.

But anyway, there is no truth in written words except transiently from the point of view of a writer.  Change that attitude, which is the guide to what to put in or leave out, and it selects a whole different array of evidence about the subject.  Lately people have sought to escape from that dilemma by concentrating on the author and finding out "secret" things about him or her.  Since most of the things left out were the negatives, they develop almost an appetite for the sad and bad, often on grounds that they explain why the author wrote the story -- explanation or rationalization or expiation.  

Since the public thought Anne of Green Gables "was" L.M. Montgomery, they are flummoxed by her suicide.  Since they thought Ernest Hemingway "was" a manly man of great courage and self-control, his suicide also changed the meaning of the act.  No one yet has figured out the relationship between the characters and the author of "Lolita."

When it becomes openly asserted that Trump's books were written by others who were instructed what to leave out or put in, it is perverse that we just accept that.  It is more defensible to propose that regardless of books or writing, the real work of art is the person him or herself, which cannot be put on the page but has real world consequences.  Yet writing certain "takes" can change everything.  Publishing any writing can be dangerous, evil, deadly.  But also it can be an instrument of justice.  I HATE publishing, even though that's how I get access to writing.  Publishing is uncontrollable, wrenching, and unpredictable.  A creature of profit.

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