Four-and-a-half years ago this jerk came to live with me and he wouldn’t, for no reason, sit on laps. Just wouldn’t have it. Would curl up real tight next to you, would rest his dumb little paws on your leg, would lie on his side on your side, would follow you around and talk to you like people, but laps, uh-uh off-limits. Then a couple months ago I dragged him on my lap and he stood there, unheld, digging his damn claws into me like we all was earthquakes. And then, what happened? A couple days later. I looked down at him and he looked up at me and then he jumped, real graceful, into my lap. Settled himself down like of course. Does it all the time now, often when I can’t have it. Sometimes we fight about it but usually we don’t. I take a lot of heart in it. The newness, the bravery, the of course.
When Gurr traveled to meet with various groups and promote the program, he often took along a nearly full-size, wooden cutout of Johnny Horizon created by the original advertising firm. Now, some 45 years later, the cutout left behind by Gurr upon his retirement as the BLM-Alaska Chief of Public Affairs is included in the display in Anchorage. This one-of-a-kind original 1968 advertising piece shows Johnny Horizon as he was first designed: a kindly-looking, middle-aged outdoorsman dressed in green pants, a plaid shirt and a red jacket, with a backpack and a brown brimmed hat. This image was described in BLM’s handouts as a symbol of the thoughtful visitor to the nation’s public lands, with an “origin myth” story of Johnny Horizon as part Nez Perce Indian and the son of a World War I soldier.
Hello, it is Earth Day, and a great day to learn about Johnny Horizon.
On the last day on the mountain we walked through the forest that was the backyard. The forest was also a mountain. On the other side of the forest was a barbed wire fence, rusted, cut. We stepped over it and stood in a field full of brambles and ticks. National Parkland, we realized, the fence had been the difference. There was a shed that was locked, that was covered in camouflage, that had four chairs, that had a typewritten note pinned to the wall that I couldn’t read. We walked and got scratched, then I wanted to go through the pines. By then my wrist had a welt and I kept swatting at it, thinking it was a bug. A short walk away were trees with tree stands. One was old, falling apart like a tree house. The other had been bought from a catalog, and seemed sturdy. We climbed it, one at a time. He held the ladder for me and I held the ladder for him. The view was like all of the other views, but better. He went to look at a stack of rocks and I sat down and tried to be still and to imagine what it was like, when They fought the Civil War here. I imagined we were two soldiers ourselves, diverted from the group, sent off to find something, or just lost. I imagined horses. When he walked back to me I heard the dry grass so loud. A wonder anyone won anything here, but then again, no one did. And it was beautiful. In spite of the ticks.
A New Phone -
Here is a new short story I wrote. It’s been many months. Hope you enjoy.
Yesterday I was running to catch a train. I misjudged a step so as I got to the doors they closed on me. I struggled in a sort of back-and-forth, caught in a trap kind of way. The doors had trapped my bag, and me. But also, there was a guy standing in the door and he was calm and he said to me, “Just move forward, I’ll hold them.” And so I stopped pushing outward and did what he said. One foot then the other foot then I was through. There had been no reason to exert my energy side to side. No reason to wriggle. There was someone there holding the doors. We divided the fight into two.
Last week a sort of crazy thing happened, which was, the artistic director of a major off-Broadway house wrote an email to subscribers about a play. Which I know does not sound crazy but this email was not an email like, “here is a play we’re doing, come see it” or “here is a play we’ve been doing, it’s great.” It was an email like, “here is a play we’re doing, we have noticed a lot of you leaving it at intermission and we’ve decided to explain to you why we put it on in the first place.”
I got this email because I am a subscriber. I also saw this play. I liked it quite a lot. It’s called The Flick and it’s by Annie Baker, who is wonderful, and it is a well-directed, well-designed, well-acted piece of theater. It’s longish, I suppose? Longer than many things I see, over three hours. But a lot of theater is long, if you do it right. As a person who goes to things, you get to decide: would you like to go to bed, or would you like to be challenged?
The email that was sent was interesting, or puzzling. “I hoped that Annie’s palpable love and compassion for her characters and the play’s fairly straightforward plot about a developing ethical workplace quandary would win you all over,” said the email. Sure! “My goal is not to dissuade any of you who disliked the play. I would rather evince passionate dislike than a dispassionate shrug.” Cool! “The business of putting on new plays is not empirical…. we appreciate that you are taking a risk and putting your faith in us when you sign up with us. We are dependent upon your willingness to take that ride with us. We need you.” OH GOD.
The email was, of course, not about the play at all. The email was about business. Was about relations. Was about smoothing some apparently-ruffled feathers. Of course, the weird side effect was that all of us with perfectly combed feathers all of a sudden felt them mussed. I felt a little fearful, to be honest. I like this theater. They have been responsible for some of my favorite shows in the last few years. They work very hard. But here they were, in a defensive posture. And their defensive posture made me also feel defensive. Already I see so many short plays. Already I write them. Already theater artists crouch when they should be doing anything but. And these are old statements I am making! So what the hell chance does anything have.
So what the hell chance. When your independent things were never really going to stay independent and of course it’s all a business, of course. IN A WORLD where you are somehow both the product to be sold and someone with the power to make an artistic director bow his head. The consumer-merchandise and the consumer-boss, and sometimes they fake one to force you to be the other. You can draw lines, sure. Can draw lines all around yourself but then oh god you’re going to look up one day and did I accidentally sketch like a mystical symbol here, summoning a demon from deep within? And if so can this demon help me draw on my own power, help me figure out how to enjoy the wonderful things that people create while also maintaining ownership of myself?
Look, I know not everybody likes sports, but if we’re going to talk about leaning in and female success and the corporate ladder and work-life balance, we should bring Pat Summitt into the conversation. She came from nothing, entered a world that nobody gave a shit about, and built one of the biggest somethings in American sport out of it. (When she started coaching, high school women still played basketball with six girls on the court for each team. Three played offense and three played defense. They were not allowed to cross half court. It was thought, depending on who you asked, that women were too weak, or too clumsy, to exert themselves further. And this was not 1890 or anything. This was the 70s. And this is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what women’s basketball was like at the beginning of her career.)
Pat Summitt is not only the winningest coach in NCAA basketball history and covered in dozens of other personal accolades; she also mentored hundreds of women (every single woman who played for Pat graduated with a degree, and half of women’s basketball coaches at this point have the Vols in their pedigree somewhere) and openly worked on balancing her desire to have a family with her burning professional ambitions. She is gracious about every person who has helped her along the way despite all the nonsense that’s been thrown at her. She’s not perfect, but she has never pretended to be. She’s not had time to. She’s been too busy working her ass off and loving every second of it. I’m glad that she was able to show us all how.
I liked Argo but I didn’t love Argo. I watched it on a plane, after a nap. The man next to me was watching Pitch Perfect. I saw Pitch Perfect in the theater. I sort of wished I was watching it again, sometimes, while watching Argo. But. I had made a commitment, to myself, I said, I wanted to see at least all of the Best Picture nominees that were telling stories that were stories drawn from United Statesian history. Recent, less recent. I counted five: Argo, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Django Unchained, Lincoln, Zero Dark Thirty. And I saw them all.
Because there’s a drum I like to beat, and it goes, despite my country’s unbelievable knack for self-aggrandizement, we have very little in the way of creative historical self-examination. A fragment of us likes a multipart PBS documentary; another fragment enjoys passing the time with Civil War pulps. But, countryfolk, think of the celebrated historical novels you’ve read or seen. Think of the successful HBO serieses, the costumed films. The Broadway transfers, even. A terrific amount of them are about lives lived overseas. And they are good, many of them, and come with their own cultural baggage, all of them, but. It has made me wonder. We’re a country of liars and repressives and marketers, how is it that for the most part the only cultural reference any of us have for Manifest Destiny is a computer game from two decades ago?
Okay, my thesis is broad. Okay, AMC is apparently developing a series about a Revolutionary War spy ring, and obviously there was Deadwood, and yes I too loved the John Adams miniseries. But these feel like exceptions to the rule, particularly considering the amount of lawless batshit crazy that went in (that continues to go in) to building this country. It’s a rich vein, people. In Karen Russell’s new story collection, Vampires in the Lemon Grove, there’s a brilliantly spooky story that takes one line of the Homestead Act and uses it to make you never want to sleep without a light on. This is iceberg-tip material. This is the reason they tell you to read everything, if you’re going to write anything.
So I saw all those movies and overall, mixed feelings about the quality of the films but really strong excitement about how different they all are. A heist, a fantasia, a revengesploitation, a Kushner, a bucket of ice water. And the arguments against many of them are, well, this and that was inaccurate, well, this and that was reductive, well, this and that was yes yes yes no yes these are all true THESE ARE ALL TRUE. But god have you ever seen so many people trying to reconcile art with history, all at once. It’s a good thing it’s a good start it’s a good it’s a conversation, you guys. Not only about the events in the films but about the way we tell the events in the films, about the way we tell our stories. About the way history makes us and we make it, and re-make it, and what that all says about then and what it all means for soon.