October 10, 2016
Twenty years ago, I started a second collection of essays with the following piece: “US & THEM.” This second collection, however, was never completed. The essays intended to go in the collection sat on the hard drive of a computer that has since died. Sometime in 2006, they were retrieved from that hard drive and placed on a newer computer, retired in 2014, but retrieved from storage a little over a month ago because its operating system was Windows XP, and Microsoft’s updates of its Windows 10 operating system were consuming our limited download allowance here on Adak Island.
The hard drive of this older machine will not last forever; so these essays are again being retrieved, some of them updated, some left unchanged, but all of them placed on-line so that they can be archived on the Way Back Machine.
A few new essays will be added to the collection for which a publisher will be sought. However, essay collections have limited sales appeal so the essays will continue to be available on-line. They should answer questions about what I was doing before being called to reread prophecy, and what I have done since. They are honest stories, honest opinions at the time of their composition. They remain honest stories even though I have changed some opinions as I went from middle-age to an older man who appears his age. Both ex-President Clinton and ex-President George W. Bush are my seniors by a couple of months; so my experiences are of the same decades as theirs, but of a different sort, of a different location economically and culturally.
US & THEM
I once took a graduate course about how to teach literature to undergraduate students. I wasn't the only older student in the seminar, but I was the only one not from academia; the only one who had worked in primary industries: logging, fishing, millwork. I was the only one who had operated a small business for an extended period, who'd had to worry about inventory, advertising, payroll.
The course focused on using confrontation as a strategy for including minorities and women in discussions about the Western patriarchal culture, which, I was told, is the dominant model of truth and the source of all problems between ethnic groups, and the cause of all conflicts between humanity and the natural world. As I listened to the seminar leader, I was continually reminded of a history professor who had asked me why, at academic conferences, do everyone's papers make sense except those from university English departments. At the time, I couldn't answer her.
The seminar leader insisted that we as future instructors should challenge today's cultural and political order with ideologically subversive schemes and practices. She held that we must destroy the prevailing schema in order to reform it, and she identified the metatext about conquering the wilderness and overcoming nature as what is wrong with this nation. She said this metatext must be eradicated before real reform had a chance.
The more I heard her speak about this metatext, the more I realized she was talking about me, about what I do, have done; about my father, his father, grandfather, great-grandfather. I was and still am, according to her, the cause of all injustice. Her pedagogical confrontation was intended to cultivate anger against me. I am what she felt she must overcome, and I felt like a spy who had infiltrated the enemy's camp as I sat listening to her lecture about not lecturing.
Her contention was when anger against that American metatext is narrowly focused, that anger will produce positive changes. She said there is too much in the literary canon about the territorial imperative, about manifest destiny, and about the westward expansion of settlers. She certainly would not have wanted to read the history of my family: Mom was a Howland, a direct descendant of John Howland who arrived on the Mayflower. It was her forefathers who broke bread at that first Thanksgiving, then pushed the edges of the frontier westward until the Pacific washed away the last remaining traces of wilderness.
Dad's ancestors, the Keysers, arrived in New Amsterdam in the 17th-Century (1680s), then migrated south into Pennsylvania and Virginia, before heading west to Ohio, Indiana, Washington state, and Alaska, opening up forests everywhere they went with axes and plows.
My ancestors were Minutemen, Yankee seamen, whalers. They were soldiers, farmers, loggers, schoolteachers, truck drivers, carpenters. They preached Christ, and Salvation by Grace—they didn't apologize for believing in the creation of a better world for all humanity as they shaped that metatext which now is the perceived obstacle to genuine reform. They gave faces and names to the stories that form the literary canon. Yes, the canon is the record of my patrilineal genealogy, and if it contains too much Judaeo-Christian theology, sobeit.
As I listened to the seminar leader's lectures I felt the polarized crosshairs of twoism aimed at my groin. Perhaps this was how my forefathers felt when they fled Holland and England, one tide ahead of bishops and queen. Didn't authorized churches declare my forefathers other? Certainly they did both on the Continent and in Britain.
I was newly married when Watts burned in 1965. I didn't think in terms like us or them. My interests all related to guns, to how to build guns, how to repair them. I shot in highpower and black powder competitions, and I tried to enlist in the Army even though I knew that meant going to Vietnam.
The Army would not have me: I was too big, too muscular to squeeze onto a chart that claimed, being six feet tall, I shouldn't weigh more than two hundred twenty-five pounds. I had weighed more than that since I'd entered puberty and had filled out.
Someone gave me a book, What a Person Should Know About the 1960s, and I didn't recognize the decade. I didn't personally know anyone who was protesting the War in Vietnam, didn't know anyone doing drugs or experimenting with free love or who wore Gunnysax dresses or had a Jesus Saves van. I knew fellows who had migrated to Alaska to fish for shrimp and crab out of Kodiak, to log near Ketchikan and Petersburg, to placer mine gold at Chicken. But I also knew quite a few fellows who were poaching deer, gaffing salmon on spawning beds, sniping trees across sale boundaries.
There was, in the 1960s, a Zeitgeist of rebellion, of disrespect for Law and authority. But this spirit of rebellion manifested itself differently in the rural culture that roughly stretched from Eureka, California, to Dutch Harbor, Alaska, than it did in urban or suburban America. As a result, the literature resulting from this nation's urban protest movements, while canonical, is as exclusionary to me as is the literature of that perceived metatext which confrontational critics seek to eradicate.
The fellows I hung around with on the Coast reasoned (as they spotlighted another deer) that God and Country required respect for authority—they thought the government should throw all long-haired hippies, yippies and SDA activists into prison. That was then as it is now party-line thinking, devoid of genuine thought for if it were possible to split the world in two, all of life's decisions would be simplified: Hitler's SS knew what to do with Jews. No soul-searching was necessary.
Many Norse sagas tell of trying to hold together a society slaying itself when everyone not family was other.
Empowerment of the other makes the other us. Victimization requires victims and victimizers, reversible groupings. A confrontational pedagogy promotes continuance of this polarized cycle, producing repeated burnings of Los Angeles.
A bunch of us, loggers and shooters all, were sitting around a campfire during the summer of 1972, when someone asked, "What happened to Dave Oleman?"
"He got religion," someone answered.
And Gary Gettman, pulp mill superintendent, said, "You'll never know who'll fall next."
I knew who. I knew I would be next. I didn't want to be religious, wasn't interested in God or spiritual matters, wasn't looking for God. My life was going reasonably well. But as sure as I knew where I was and with whom I was talking, I knew I would be next, a frightening realization for someone more interested in hunting, shooting, fishing than in eternity.
Throughout early fall 1972, I ignored, as best I could, that sudden feeling of you're next. In Oregon, deer season always opened on the Sabbath, and I didn't want to give up hunting opening day hunt. In fact, that year I harvested a large four-by-four (Western count) buck with a muzzleloader at Hart Mountain opening day even though I had a nagging feeling I shouldn't be hunting.
Then came personal challenges on questions of Natural Law, the Sabbath, Holy Days, subjects unrelated to the workings of firearms. Even the simplicity of Give your heart to the Lord became complicated. Linguistics mattered for what are the signifieds of give, heart, lord. I didn't then, however, have the language to ask or answer problematic questions.
What I found, though, when I read the Hebraic Scriptures wasn't a polarized moral system that recognized only saints and the damned. Rather, I found a deity separating neighbor from neighbor, prescribing to both how they should treat the other, and how they should treat and interrelate with the natural world. I didn't find in these texts what I had been told was there. Rather, I found a bridge between good and bad, a bridge that defined both, a bridge along which most motives hover near the middle, ever fearful of falling into an abyss preached by a metatext that doesn't really exist and never has. What I found was that differences between two parties are either mediated by agreement or continued through violence. We must choose between two or three. Confrontation is counterproductive—it turns what might have been flexible positions into concrete sculptures, rigid and not easily eroded by reason.
Whereas the Army wouldn't draft me, I became a reluctant inductee into a covenant relationship with the deity whom my Dissenter and Separatist forefathers worshiped. I could no more continue to ignore the pricks that compelled change than I could have wasted a game animal. Grace was a gift, but Faith [Belief of God], I discovered, was the sieve through which I was strained. Dirt and puffiness, long-carried burdens and a lot of social junk were screened out or scraped loose.
The confrontational professor who wanted to eradicate that dominant metatext is as much a part of it as I am. She, though, hasn't yet expanded her vision of culture far enough to see how she fits in. Perhaps she will. More likely, her anger at those of us who push forward remnants of that ancestral territorial imperative will prevent her from ever seeing herself as part of that metatext, which will continue to flow like a meandering river, with eddies and backwashes, cross currents and rapids. Most likely, there will always be a few salmon swimming upstream, bucking the current that in their infancy swept them out to sea. I feel very salmonesque as I write this set of stories.