I chastise myself for not writing. I hear the clock ticking, or rather the calendar. Ever more so since I turned 70 in October. Not because I feel old. It’s just that 70 makes it real. This is not a dress rehearsal.
I have the novel in short stories to finish (Because I Could Not Stop). And then there’s the Beans-and-Meatballs-and-the-Pink-Stuff memoir. Half way through one. Three chapters into the other.
I haven’t written a blog post since last July. Started one. Called it “How Big is a Crow?”. Stopped four paragraphs into it.
I think about it. Writing. Finishing. Continuing.
But what’s the use? I conclude.
The what’s-the-use demon has been strong in me for the past months. I can write my way through despair. But that demon overrides all that is holy and sacred in me.
And so I have been wandering in the Waste Land.
I think it started last July when the town I now live in, Sequim, Washington, became a microcosm of what’s happening in the country. Othering has run rampant.
“Time for cowboys and Indians,” reads a post on the Facebook group page of Save Our Sequim—a group that demonizes the local tribe, the Jamestown S’Klallam tribe—the descendants of those who lived here for centuries before having their traditions, their ability to feed themselves, their economy, their rich spiritual life stripped from them. For less than pennies on the dollar, land was taken from the Tribe.
“Indian Land for Sale” read the advertisements meant to attract white settlers to the area.
Slowly, over time, the Tribe bought their land back. They became very successful through their businesses, including a casino, sharing their success with the community of Sequim. When Virginia Mason withdrew its support from the local clinic, the Tribe took it over, running it at a loss at first. It now serves 17,000 people in the area, about 16,000 of whom are not members of the Tribe.
In response to the opioid epidemic, which hit the North Olympic Peninsula particularly hard, it made plans to open a regional clinic for treating opioid addiction—a facility that will bring a John Hopkins’ level of health care to this rural location.
Rural locations are notoriously underserved when it comes to health care.
A local politician, one who creates wedge issues for their political agenda, seized on the Tribe’s plans as an opportunity to stoke fear and hatred in the predominantly white retired demographic that lives in the greater Sequim area.
Sequim is Mayberry they claimed. Idyllic—a gated community where nice people live. Nice people. You know not those others. The ones who are poor, addicted to drugs, are homeless.
Or aren’t white.
The “nice” people moved here to escape the urban landscape of the “other” for the idyllic landscape of rural.
But rural has never been idyllic. Drug addiction, homelessness, and poverty have long been here in Sequim. Rural communities have been at the mercy of the natural world, not the idyllic. Nature exists for its own purpose—to perpetuate life. It does not recognize privilege as a get-out-of-life-free card.
As I watched the country descend into the tar pit of fear and hatred, led by a sociopath who brags about assaulting women and teenage girls, normalizes racism, and robs the national treasury to enrich his own coffers, I have said that this is not the country I grew up in.
What I have learned is that this is the country I grew up in. As late as the 1970s, Native American women of child-bearing age were sterilized without their consent. Native children were taken from their families, abused emotionally, sexually, and physically. “Kill the Indian in the child” was the war cry of white culture.
The Civil Rights Movement exposed the landscape of fear and hatred—and I believed that that meant we had created a new one.
But, it’s never that simple. Trauma is passed down through generations. And until we as a nation face the gap between our ideal that all men are created equal, and the trauma inflicted by the centuries of otherizing those who were not considered the men referred to in that document, we are a culture, a society wandering in the Waste Land.
“The Waste Land, let us say then, is any world in which (to state the problem pedagogically) force and not love, indoctrination, not education, authority, not experience, prevail in the ordering of lives, and where the myths and rites enforced and received are consequently unrelated to the actual inward realizations, needs, and potentialities of those upon whom they are impressed.”
Joseph Campbell, Creative Mythology (Vol. IV of The Masks of God), p.388
There are no saints. Just human beings. We have the capacity for grace, as well as the capacity for vengeance.
I recognize grace when I see it, when I feel it. I believe in its power. I believe it is amazing. But it’s a rocky road for me. The road to grace. I have to find my way around the boulders and twists and turns of desire for vengeance and claim to victimhood first.
What I see, what I feel from the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe is their grace. They did not have to serve non-Tribal people in their clinic, but they do. Their planned opioid treatment clinic is not restricted to Tribal members. It will be available to all residents of the North Olympic Peninsula—residents of Jefferson and Clallam Counties.
Grace. The unearned gift. We need to extend it—to others and to ourselves for life is not for the faint of heart.
The present, I once read, is where the past flows into the future. I think I understand that finally—that what we do today, in the present, can shape the future, regardless of what the past might have been.
I think I found my way out of my Waste Land by writing this post, rambling as it is. Instead of hearing what’s the use as discouraging words or a demon, I heard them as a question from an inner mentor. What is the use of writing?
“ . . . (humans have) a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things.” William Faulkner
I will do my part to craft our future with grace as my guide and words the tools of my craft.
Note: I wrote about the S’Klallam Tribe’s influence on me in 2015.