EPISODIC, SEQUENTIAL TIME

There was once a poet who briefly taught in Heart Butte who was obsessed with sequence. He insisted on the topic with the kids, which made little impact. He wasn’t a very good poet nor even a very nice person, but his obsession has interested me. Why did he think it mattered so much?

Maybe it’s because of being related to cause-and-effect, which can be vital if the consequence does harm and the cause is uncertain. Or if the cause is certain, then steps can be taken to interfere with consequences. But particularly when considering the plots of novels, the sequence of events or ideas can be deliberately ignored so as to keep the reader working to understand and guessing why things are happening as described.

A poet has less concern with sequence since usually what is being captured is a moment, though it might be one with background. Psychotherapy — in an effort to understand the basic life-frame of a person — can impose the sequence of childhood-to-adulthood and deduce causes, but the truth is that we don’t remember our lives in order and the most powerful moments might be out of sequence as remembered.

Brains seek patterns, which is why chess absorbs people and even name certain sequences so that patterns over time get names and become strategies. But for the brains to do this in less structured situations, much must be left out. Some say that 90% of what goes on around us is unperceived, edited when coded neurologically, and later ignored when the brain goes through all the little steps in different parts to produce a memory.

Seeing familiar things in a new way is a powerful experience, sometimes terrifying, and so the mind is capable of insisting on the same unreal episode even if it is proven wrong. My child conviction that a little red airplane landed on the street in front of the house — impossible because of all the wires between telephone poles — was discredited, but remains. This becomes relevant when we try to understand the self-destructive and proven wrong ideas that people are currently insisting are truth.

What early episodes, what habits of thought, what reinforcement is causing these people to act in this way? What similarity is there to praised patriotism and the obedience that takes soldiers into war?

Another angle comes from the facility with which images can rearrange episodes into sequences that are challenging to understand. We like our television series to keep events along a time-line, but often they don’t, and we don’t always think of people in real life along their time-line either. it can be disconcerting to see actors as youngsters alongside the same people in parts late in life.

“My Brilliant Career” Judy Davis
“The Dressmaker” Judy Davis in makeup to look old.

I just rewatched “My Brilliant Career” with Judy Davis after many times watching “Mystery Road” in which she is a gun-wearing sheriff. In the first film the story is in logical sequence at a particular time in history. In the second film the story is in pieces, clues to a final historical recounting of what happened. It speaks to “now”, a time when various cultures tell various stories.

When blogging uses memory to construct a memoir, it is necessarily episodic — in 1,000 word chunks as I do it — and so I find myself always saying what year I’m remembering. I was not quite amused when I first started researching for “Bronze Inside and Out” and went to the Montana Historical Society to get access to Bob Scriver’s papers. The library historians saw Bob as a sort of “Charlie-Russell-Lite” and knew me as his third wife in the Sixties, so in their minds Bob was Russell’s age and I must be the same. They could not grasp that I standing before them as a contemporary just-retired person. They could not grasp that I had made the photo albums and taken the photos they held, because they were archived as part of Bob’s life.

Knowing this, I shaped the book around the processes of casting a bronze using the classic Roman block method of lost wax. Each chapter began with a step and — I hoped — the sensory experience of the material in question beginning with the living flesh of the figure portrayed; to plastilene oil-based clay on an armature; to soft blue plaster mold; to hard white hydrocal one-of-a-kind; then to flexible mold and its mother mold; the wax positive buried in fire-resistant plaster; baked into a hollow block; filled with molten bronze; finally chipped out and patined as a bronze. Hopefully, that’s me now. But there are probably molds and meltings yet to come.

Though the book was published and appreciated by those who understood what I was doing and had an interest in the bronze products, it was pushed aside when this highly skill-based technique — let alone the Western subjects — were reduced to mercantilism: castings from ready-made foundries packaged for the unskilled who had no standards or experience of fine bronzes and sensational violent subjects that reduced authentic experience to toys. At this point bronze sculptures of Western subjects have lost their value and their relevance.

“12 Blackfeet Stories” marking generations of indigenous people on the high prairie is in twenty year chunks, nothing like the anthropologically certified and identity-craving Napi tales that have been told over and over, each variation claiming to be the “real” one. But the category has splintered out into various genres from Paul Rosier’s careful research documenting the development of the Blackfeet Tribal Council into a corporation with shareholders to an account of the psychotherapy of a traumatized Blackfeet WWII soldier. Most recently the new genre has been horror, as though living through genocide were not enough of a horror. The realistic depiction of the loss of everything, EVERYTHING, and then the slow reclaiming of identity, has not been written. Maybe “Ceremony”.

My reading and writing has moved to cutting edge neuroresearch about how minds work and how they put things in order. It appears that one of the deepest human sufferings is the inability to get order, a system, out of what is happening as “reality”, senseless as it may be. All around us the tachistiscopic and illogical bits are everywhere.

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Mary Strachan Scriver

Born in Portland when all was calm just before WWII. Educated formally at NU and U of Chicago Div School. Clergy for ten years. Always happy on high prairie.