Saturday, November 16, 2019


Identity, the sense of who one is, walks a line between one's interior opinion and the assumptions of the community of surrounding people who enforce what they think.  It's a well-known phenomenon that if a fat person manages to lose weight in order to be what feels like their "true" self, other people will set about trying to make this new thin person fat again, because that's what they know.  Or consider Elizabeth Warren triggering outrage because she repeated a family romantic notion that there was an "Indian" in her family tree.  An element of the indigenous world ripped her as though she had claimed to be descended from Jesus.  Some identity categories are sacred.

Recently a friendly person praised me for being a teacher and for getting an undergrad college degree which he didn't think many women did in 1957.  Both ideas are media fantasies promoted in pop books about women.  I don't know how many women were at NU in those years, but there were plenty of us.  I was a bad teacher (preoccupied with sex but at least not sleeping with the students as teachers do today) in spite of the hopes of my superintendent, but one of my students became a successful superintendent there.  It wasn't because of me -- it was mostly because she is part of a family and rez category that values education and holding a job.  She's also smart and now retired. I claim no credit, just admire.

Interestingly, my later seminary career and degrees (78-82/MA,MDIV) was indeed in a "man's world."  My mother opposed it, saying I was getting above myself and ought to marry a "nice Presbyterian minister" (male, of course) -- not be a circuit-riding UU at the edge of heresy.  Part of the attraction for me was the idea that the UU ministers were brilliant men.  Almost as soon as I qualified, the men began to leave or die and the women began to take over, pushing the vocation towards therapy instead of morality or intellectual issues.  Anyway, in the actual congregations people interpreted me as a social director.  I lost interest.

For twenty years I've sat here writing, mostly developing through blogging.  This population considers it to be somewhere between gaming and keeping a diary, both juvenile.  Content that goes somewhere else through the internet, like serious edgy stuff developing a line of thought, is valued around the planet. ( reports I often hit a thousand readers a day.)  

The assumption here is that I'm writing locally like a newspaper columnist.  Two competent professional-level female ranchers write this way in the weekly newspapers. In the Sixties I wrote a column called "The Merry Scribbler" for the Glacier Reporter.  A cheerful drunk on the Browning streets always hailed me from blocks away by yelling, "Hey, Merry Scribbler!"  I got fired for politics and when that didn't shut me up, they fired Bob from his job as City Magistrate.  Everyone except white people still addressed him as "Judge," for years afterward.  (He rarely tried any white people. They were either waved on through or their offence was serious enough to go to the FBI.)

As soon as I was able, because I am old and this is where I was young, I came back.  Living minimally in a place that doesn't cost much is easier when one is young.  How does one travel 80 miles for a blinding eye problem without driving oneself?  Outliving almost everyone once cared about is also sometimes painful, but they live on in my head -- they just can't drive.  Almost no one local reads my blog or would find it intelligible if they did, but that's an advantage -- no second-guessing -- one of the reasons I'm here rather than on a university campus or in a city.  (That's leaving aside loving this part of the planet.)

Many have noted the anti-intellectual feelings of conservatives but few connect it to the prevention of change, even as improvement,  At the same time there is an unjustified idea that somewhere is a technological advance that will make more money for them. The two tendencies are in conflict.  This is very useful since it suggests where to investigate and reflect.  Like GMO's, soil exhaustion, monocropping, corporate farming are just as interesting as fancy philosophical issues that preoccupy professors.

My birth family was "operated" by my aunts and uncles (none left living) on both sides with the shadow of homesteading grandparents falling over them.  They opted for tight and private relationships (privacy verging on secrecy), staying in place, urging college as a path to success for their children, but not getting above safety.  My cousins have stayed with that worldview..  We saw ourselves as entirely respectable, without crime or insanity, keeping a modest but respectable job, never divorcing, never pregnant out of wedlock.  (None of this is true, I gradually realized.)  This separated everyone from me on the rez with an aging artist. Relatives came to visit once each, because Bob and GNP were famous, but were horrified and dismayed by poverty.  I tried to ask them things and tell them things.  Lalalalalala.  

I now realize that having no money, an advantage in some ways, prevented me from understanding my brother's/
mother's situation.  But our family doesn't use the social services.  I had no money to fly to weddings or travel to investigate when my brother was drifting into psychosis the cousins found potentially fatal but beyond what they could handle.  Both they and myself should have involved welfare people, though he fought them. I can't even afford to take a kitten to the vet or to put a new roof on the house and sheds.  But in my view this is NOT identity.  It is in the eyes of local people.  They do not share my fear of debt.

So this is another of my tradeoffs, both propelled by and resulting in my identity, admirable to same and damning to others.  Across the continent, around the planet, others are making similar tradeoffs.  In the aggregate we create the identities of nations and generations.

No comments: