The only thing better than receiving a book for free in the mail is if you’re in it! Linda Hasselstrom, one of the most stalwart and authentic authors of books of the rural West, has produced a unique compendium of blogs, poetry and essays from her career that are a guide for others who write — beginners or pros. This is not a review, just a quick notice that the book exists and a context.
Linda recommends five blogs by Western women:
Sharman Apt Russell (www.sharmanaptrussell.com and
Susan Tweit (Susanjtweit.typepad.com);
Cindy Salo (sagebrushandspits.blogspot.com)
Susan Wittig Albert (www.susanalbert.com)
Mary Scriver (Prairie Mary) (prairiemary.blogspot.com)
If you’ve had enough Trump and coronavirus for the day, these first four women and Linda herself might be a relief. If you’re looking at my blog, you’ll need to go back before 2016. These days the two disasters of our times are never out of my mind. I rarely write “cozy” anymore.
In the Sixties Mary Clearman Blue was the only known female writer of stature in Montana or so some said. Then there was a cluster in Missoula that included people like Judy Blunt, Claire Davis, Molly Gloss, Teresa Jordan. They didn’t write blogs because the form hadn’t been invented yet. I wrote a column in the Glacier Reporter called “The Merry Scribbler” and got fired for being political.
During the Native American Renaissance wave, I read women like Janet Campbell Hale, Beverly Hungry Wolf, Louise Erdrich, and Leslie Marmon Silko. In those days the value rested on the person’s authentic membership in their demographic, defined by tribal blood quantum. Most of them had mixed heritage with a bit of college.
Then came Annie Dillard and Gretel Erlich and blew everyone else away with their exalted insights and fine language. Even before that, as a English teacher, I had put a good deal of emphasis on writing well in terms of grammar and vocabulary. My second academic degree included writing classes with Richard Stern, an acute stylist, and put me far beyond subj/verb agreement, parallel structure, careful antecedents, and sentence-part order. I’m still working on that.
But blogging threw it all into a corner because of the remarkable, terrifying, and still unrealized implications of what reflective science is teaching us now. Our understandings of ourselves is far beyond the old industrial, technical, power-mad idea that a big human in the sky favored some of us. The rural existence is no longer just a pleasant retreat, but the core of creatureness, the continuum from which animals emerge and disappear — including ourselves. A blog is inadequate, but is the only the beginning of how writing is transformed by the global internet web (many languages) the struggle to invent new political forms, sexual identity released from definition, and the inadequacy of a mercantile understanding of what it is to write for a living.
Linda won’t drive you nuts with all this stuff. She belongs to the multitude of women thriving on the invention of computers, smart phones, and Photoshop to create “vlogs” (video augmented writing). Cat Urbitkit (http://paradisesheep.com/rangewriting.html) is as fine a photographer as she is a writer and operates on a world-stage wherever there are sheep.
In an entirely different context, that of rodeo, is Kari Linn Dell (http://karilynndell.com/home.html) who writes in two genres: romances stirred up on the rodeo circuit and humor arising from running a ranch nearly on the Canadian border. She lives a bit north of here.
Some of my own writing in underground, so secret that you can’t even hack my computer to find it because I keep it on a separate computer that is little more than a typewriter. Linda speaks directly to the problem of telling a little too much and too intimate details on a blog, which can produce ethical and even legal problems, even when repentance from sin is practically an industry. I don’t see anything that suggests she writes about the more stigmatized aspects of life, no treason, murder, or prostitution.
This is both the strength and the weakness of female rural blogging, that it can be a refuge in an ugly and destructive world, but on the other hand it can go whistling by things that need to be confronted, though they might never be resolved. Most personal writing about madness tends to be urban. Racial prejudice gets some attention. So much of country life is about family that telling secrets will have more consequences than offending the national morality. One woman here put her nose in my face and hissed, "If you write about me or my family, I will kill you." As far as I know, she was perfectly respectable.
The Missoula Festival of the Book used to round up everyone and I was faithful in attending until I realized that the point was not to understand books, but to sell them. One of the most stark and heartfelt books never sold because it was too powerful. The author had a deranged father who strung her up to the rafters of their house nude and whipped her until in a veil of blood, she fainted. No one wanted to talk to her about violence or read about it either. It didn’t sell. No one at the Festival knew what to say to her.
I’m estranged from my own family mostly because so many of them are dead now. I called my last brother not long ago and was informed by his wife that he had died two years ago. Other branches are outraged that I failed to take in my other brother, the one with the concussion that turned into paranoid schizophrenia. Most of them are simply unknown to me. I wasn’t notified of their birth, don’t know their names, and have never seen them. We still share a genome.
It’s my second degree (U of Chicago, MA; Meadville/Lombard, MDiv) that has put me apart into an entirely different vision of the world. They can’t understand me and I can hardly bear their lives. I see things that they don’t think exist.
Ironically, on the other hand, around here and on the rez, I am a repository of information — not because of my genes but because I’m old and my ex-husband was older and his father was even older than that. Much of what I know is oral information as much as that of any non-writing rez person. My deficit is the lack of sitting up all night with other old women, sipping tea and telling stories. But blogging has some similarities.
I don’t have to stick to one gender, one style, one genre, though it’s pretty hard for most men to understand what I’m saying unless they are rural Westerners. Sharon Butala (http://sharonbutala.com) is a prize-winning Canadian author whose deceased husband, Peter, probably understood it all, including Sharon. A proper review will be posted after I’ve read Linda Hasselstrom’s book, “Write Now, Here’s How.”