Prairie Mary (Main blog, daily posts)
Heart Butte School, Montana (Non-fiction, the school and its community.
Valier Infrastructure: non-fiction as it happens.
Robert Macfie Scriver and Art: An archive.

Alvina Krause: method acting.
The Silver Comb: also method acting.

Swan River, Manitoba: Family history.

The Bone Chalice: worship theory.
Holding Open the Universe: also worship theory.
Eagles Mere -- the Playhouse Books by Mary Scriver
ON AMAZON: "Bronze Inside and Out: a biographical memoir of Bob Scriver" and "Sweetgrass and Cottonwood Smoke: sermons for the prairie."

Friday, April 24, 2015


The meadowlarks are singing.  The robins are chorusing in the morning.  My daffies are blooming -- they’re always late because they don’t get enough light under the trees.  Dandelions are blooming and the old ladies will be demanding herbicide soon.  They learned as children to despise dandelions, dust and chickens as signs of sloth, disorder, and evil.  No one said anything about cancer or diabetes.

As I write, it’s barely five AM and the sky is glowing.  Squibbie, the tortoiseshell, has been up for an hour, walking around the house -- it’s a square divided into four connected rooms so there are no halls and one can walk in an endless circuit.  She's just heavy enough to make the floors creak a little.  Crackers doesn’t wake up until I’ve just sat down to write.  She’s a kind of automaton who doesn’t think, just reacts to environmental cues.  For the first ten years of her life, she never said anything.  Now she won’t shut up -- everything is a demand for me to do something until she suddenly shuts down and sleeps the rest of the day, rolled up like a “pill bug.”  By that time the Squib, watching from the window alongside me, has been up, out, back, maybe several times.  It’s too early for the Smudge, the little gray cat who now has a little gray kitten.  She'll be there after second sleep.

I made a grocery run to Cut Bank, hoping to try out a new business that is mainly a quick lube but also is supposed to offer computer diagnoses on vehicles.  I didn’t have an address but there are only two significant streets, the main one and the old main one which is now a truck alternative, industrial.  The new biz was on the main street and said open, but also had a stickie note saying “back in 15 minutes.”  I waited twenty but no one came.  One of the developments in small towns is that the men disappear from their businesses for a “coffee break” mid-morning, leaving signs and female clerks to run the business.  The men gather in cafes or C-stores to talk and joke.  I didn't wait longer.

I think they are reacting to the uncertainty of the times, which they aggravate with a lot of rumors and crackpot theories, all transmitted with great airs of authority that have a strong defensive quality.  For a while they were all thinking about the big drilling boom, the Bakken, but those oil rig companies are thirty miles to the north, mostly in Cut Bank.  The Valier Good Ol’ Boys were advising everyone to develop housing, even if it were only “man camps” of trailers, and to buy guns for the crime wave that is sure to follow.  They were reacting to near-hysterical media fantasy.  Of course, now the oil market has collapsed.

The new mayor, a quiet man who respects the local powers, believes in facades: the lawn-mowing has begun.  The billboard telling about the sewer project has been edited and the expensive work on the sewage lagoon, which was literally frozen during the winter, is now a bustling construction site again.  The idea is to aerate the water like a fish tank and put a floating cover on it, because when it freezes, the “bugs” that digest the sewage don’t work and we begin to fail our e.coli tests.  We were already in trouble because the post office cut back so our samples don’t get to the lab dependably, often too late to be tested.

Shelby, the boom town of the Golden Triangle where their mayor is always open to a new profit scheme, is slipping over some kind of line.  The hospital/nursing home has been judged in need of improvement -- quite aside from lawsuits.  The rumor has gone around that it will be closed down, which they deny. They are operating with a temporary CEO. The big old male elephant doctor, the one who always seems on the verge of going into musth, is in trouble with the state officials, which affects Valier because the Shelby hospital has the contract for the one-day-a-week clinic in Valier.  It hasn’t been staffed by docs for months.  Instead nurse-practitioners are doing the job.

Shelby, MT

The mayor of Shelby is far enough out of line -- or his supporters have aged out enough -- that there are investigations, but what will really do him in is that all this boomtown stuff -- private for-profit prison, multi-modal freight exchange center between railroad and semi’s because of being a port of entry into Canada -- has meant an expanding population.  Their waste disposal problem has meant more work on the sewer and lagoon, and that has led to a per household hike of more than $80, just about doubling the fee.

Demographics are key to government.  Booms are as troublesome as decline that leaves houses empty and not paying taxes.  The new expensive expansion of sewage lagoon will have to be constructed because diluted poop doesn’t encourage the bugs.  In fact, there is a crunch point in the system because when the original settling ponds were built, there were no storm sewers in the streets to divert sudden waves of rain or snow.  As the buildings are added, there need to be storm sewers to keep from diluting the lagoons.  That means a lot of digging and inconvenience besides the spike in cost.  Our lives are strangely interwoven with e.coli.

One jurisdiction hired a mascot for sewage issues.
Meet Mr. Turd.

In Cut Bank at the Albertson’s I visited with my checker, who happens to also be the “Satisfaction Manager.”  He checks groceries when there are a lot of people waiting or someone goes on break.  There have been experiments with automatic machinery that will let a person check their own groceries, but they didn’t look as though they got much business.  It’s a welcome breather for customers to just stand in line and chat.  In fact, one of my students from the Seventies was there and I got a big hug from that intelligent, competent woman I still think of as a bouncy kid.  Her grandmother, who dyed her hair bright red, and her mother, were also well-balanced and cheerful all their lives.  Must be hereditary.

A crew was working on the little secondary road, filling all the cracks with tar.  It’s early in the season for road work so the flaggers were paying close attention and the tar heating machine was roaring.  But clusters of guys were talking in groups about something, strategy of some sort.  There’s not much traffic on this road but the county is suddenly taking an interest.  It's a pleasant drive.

Eurasian collared dove, invasive and noisy.

By the time the sky is rosy in the morning, there are calls from a lot of different birds.  I can’t identify them except for the basics.  The exogenous Eurasian collared doves, which are not much appreciated (they’re on the old-ranch-lady condemned list along with barking dogs and weedy lawns) made a racket earlier, but now they’re fertilized and sitting quietly on their nests.  There are almost no ground squirrels along the roads which means that there are not enough hawks to knock back the pigeons.  The remaining hawks now depend on eating cats.  

Everything shifts and copes, until they can’t.  Then they’re gone. The people are not exempt.
I've been struggling with eye allergies for almost a month.  Finally going to GF to my eye doc, I was reassured there was no infection, but on this day my eyes were stinging and itching again.  I didn't find out until I got back home that the problem was a grass fire in Kalispell.  There's no safe place.  But at the moment the sun is shining copper through the sunset window that often forms over the mountains.  The elevator is tall enough to be bright against a dark purple sky.  The eye drops are working.

Thursday, April 23, 2015


Said Mrini as the young boy

Netflix decided I would like to see “Salvation Army,” or at least their formula did.  Maybe they thought the movie was religious.  Maybe it is.

Most directly, this is a “coming-of-age” movie set in Morocco (Casablanca, actually) that is simple in the best sense, just a portrait of a “gay” boy in a big family with a trapped father, a handsome big brother, a mother barely coping, and way too many sisters.   So far -- in my limited experience -- I understand that there are at least two kinds of gay: the kind that compensates by being educated, well-socialized, achieving -- and the kind that simply physically desires men and just lets it be.  This is not a embarrassing porny movie.  The sex is not explicit.  A child would not realize the implications of the scenes.

If I were capable of writing good poetry, I would try to express the attachments of tactile relationships that might or might not be expressions of sexually driven yearning.  Much of it would be about environment, esp. in nature and in very old "built" places like the cement and stone of humble Casablanca.  Cleaned by wind and sun, the colors are limited.  The just previous movie I had watched was “Tracks,” about the young woman who crossed Australia with four camels and her dog, which echoed.  The feet of camels on sand.  Sifting and scouring by wind.  Boys cleaning each other with poured water, rubbed soap, mud.  Skin caressed.  Men holding lonely boys against their breast.

I disliked the NYTimes review of “Salvation Army” -- I often do.  I think the problem is that NYTimes hired a reviewer who would not approve of any part of this film except the wealthy gay academic who was happy enough to relate to the hero in Morocco, but rejected him in Geneva when the boy arrives too early for his grad school scholarship to start.  The young man could not have survived without the Salvation Army, which asks no questions, simply feeds and shelters him.  But he could not have gotten this scholarship, or even wanted it, without soaking up what he could from the professor and more than that, because of his brother’s example.  Too bad the professor could evidently learn nothing.  Reciprocity is a good thing.

Where I meet Taia emotionally is in an old movie, “Black Narcissus.”  Taïa has said that Michael Powell’s film Black Narcissus “directly influenced Salvation Army., says Jon Frosch.  [ "'There's a Place for Gays in Islam'". The Atlantic. Sept.6, 2013.]   According to film critic David Thomson, "Black Narcissus is that rare thing, an erotic English film about the fantasies of nuns.”  I’m not so sure it’s rare.  I saw the  Rumer Godden book-derived film in 1947.  I was eight and it went to my heart.  Suppressed desire in Tibet.  It’s on Netflix.  For years I looked for this film but confused it with “The Black Rose,” so never quite got hold of it.  Deborah Kerr is in it.  She often plays this sort of part, as in “Tea and Sympathy.

According to the Wiki, Taïa, the author and director, was an effeminate boy who "always knew he was gay”.  That’s not what comes across in the film.  To me he doesn’t seem effeminate (whatever that is).  No doubt I was missing a lot of signals and subtext, but what I saw was a pure human sculpture poured full of emotion.  I saw beauty and essential loneliness, looking for a way to embrace life.

Karim Ait M'Hand, playing the adult

The following story was in the book but not in the film.  (Wiki again.)   “When he was 11, a mob of men gathered outside his family's home and shouted for him to come out to be raped. "Everyone heard, not only my family but the whole neighbourhood," he later recalled. "What I saw clearly was that this is how society functions and that no one can protect you, not even your parents. That's when I realized I had to hide who I am."  You remember the Biblical version? If it's Biblical, it must be at least archetypal, but this is what actually happened to Taïa. In Sodom men come demanding sexual access to some angels who are staying as guests and the man who is protecting the angels offers his daughters instead.  (Genesis 19)  Was that coded homosexuality?  “Angels in America”?  Sodomy?  It's usually presented in church as a story about the obligations of hospitality.

 Abdellah Taia, author and director

But this boy was not Christian: he was paying attention to pop culture and Western novels. “Taïa’s older brother, Abdelk'bir, was a cultural influence on Taïa, introducing him to the music of David Bowie, James Brown, and Queen, the films of David Cronenberg, Elia Kazan, and Ang Lee, and the books of Robert Louis Stevenson, Dostoevsky, and Tawfik al-Hakim.”  Al-Hakim, (1898-1987) was an Egyptian, wealthy, educated in Paris -- a trail breaker.

For my own selfish reasons, I see an affinity and alliance between young gay men and old women who choose to live alone, which in our society is often seen as a kind of perversion, marginally better than being considered a witch. Jon Godden,  sister of Rumer Godden, author of “Black Narcissus,” wrote a book called " The House by the Sea.” about a stubborn old woman who preferred solitude.  This is the epigraph:  “There is a fish called a Hermit, that at a certain age gets into a dead fish's shell, and, like a hermit, dwells there alone, studying the wind and the weather, and so turns her shell that she will be protected in life and that she makes it defend her from injuries that they would bring upon her.." Isaak Walton, inscription before Part One of book.  (Walton means hermit crabs, not fish.)  That book also struck to my heart.  (The branch librarian used to worry about my reading. She was right to do that.)

Rumer and Jon Godden

Perhaps the earliest and most universal situation of physical erotic yearning that society demands be suppressed is the child’s desire for intimacy with an adult.  This attachment is necessary to protect babies and young children.  Going without it would be as serious as going without food.  It's not a question of denying this love, but of guiding.  I am not arguing against the necessity of the taboo against too much closeness with aroused children, because the unequal balance of power and the introduction of sexual goals are destructive to children, both physically and psychically.  But blanket taboos mean that such a situation cannot be handled by education in the way of other inappropriate relationships like those across “race” or political categories.  That is, honestly but with awareness of risks.  In this context, Taia's use of physical cleansing as a parallel for sexual intimacy is a universal metaphor, especially in the Abrahamic religions where the people are always conscious of water.

Rumer Godden (remember she’s the author of “Black Narcissus” about a nun yearning for a powerful and charismatic man) wrote another of my early-forming film loves, “The River,” about three young women loving a damaged veteran.  One woman is Indian, one is red-headed, and the third is too young.  What makes some stories so powerful is being ambivalent, challenging their supposed culture, evoking emotions so deep that they are hardly perceptible -- even denied by the culture, disrupting the rules of the family of origin in favor of a new community of affinity.  They are ambiguous -- hard to figure out what is “winning” and what is “losing,” pitting safety against achievement, the individual against his or her culture.

Casablanca, Morocco

This film is a poem: a simple evocation of yearning on the cusp between childhood and something much larger.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015


For the last few days I’ve been following “Uncouth Reflections,” a blog consortium of highly educated and aesthetic men that was one of the earliest blogs I ever subscribed to.  They were “Blowhards” then.  Often they were way ahead of me, but that didn’t interfere with my enjoyment of their explanations and photos of fine architecture and so on.  Sometimes I was way behind the curve, mostly with politics, math and economics.  


But they fall short when it comes to religion.  They seem only to know five big-name religions, and to claim only the originally Zoroastrian-influenced Abrahamic middle-eastern systems without any sense of what that means in terms of wells, grain storage, walled cities.   They argue about what is "true." There are other contexts where the correspondents are only interested in what the world was like before the agricultural revolution.  In their minds crops are the biggest thing since the discovery of smelting copper but not necessarily a development that has been good for human beings.  Perhaps it was the beginning of the structure of society that makes all the wealth accumulate one category of people, usually related family circles controlled by rules of inheritance, which they claim are dictated by Gods.

Some of these very modern guys believe there is no worthy religion that doesn’t include the supernatural while others believe just as intensely that there is NO supernatural dimension to religion -- that the key is morality.  I was accused of a new fault:  a “woman’s” tendency to create apologetics for a system that is only a hamster wheel, because females supposedly can’t figure out how to survive without the old system.  This is the way they explain it on

"I think we’ve seen plenty of examples of self-gratifying spinning in the comments on this blog, not to mention just about anywhere in the informational universe where feminists congregate to kvetch. And the spinning is not just limited to feminists. Most losers in the mating game have experienced the crush of 5 Gs in their hamster wheels. I find these kinds of people fall into two camps: the pity whores (woe is me, i’m a loser, there’s nothing i can do about it, so stop trying to help people like me, you’re only leading us astray with your advice), and the delusion zombies (i’m not a loser, i have everything i need in life, single cougarhood, five cats and a niceguy beta orbiter are exactly what i’ve always wanted)."


There are some assumptions in this provocation.  One is that spinning isn’t fun.  (I thought it was something you did half-clothed in a room full of glamorous people on bicycles who go nowhere.)  Another is that the spinning doesn’t do anyone any good -- but if you ask me, dishwashing is only a form of hamster wheel.  SOMEBODY has to make it go cycling.

The main thing the inventor of this pejorative image wants noted is that hamsters are a lower category of being -- even an exemplary hamster is not of much value -- and since the original comments included the Pope, the demand is how else to get the hamsters enlightened and writing novels except by a strict overseer Pope?  One needs Papa.

Going to a link I saved yesterday, the characteristic of conventional religion that always comes up is the supernatural.  There ARE religious systems that don’t include the supernatural.  (I would argue modern science is a pretty good example.  Except that they just call the supernatural the unknown.)  But George W.W. Martin deals with it rather differently.

“Working magic” (Magic that works.) is Martin’s link between religion and sci-fi/fantasy.  He suggests that bringing people back to life is one of the most intense supernatural phenomena.  In terms of individuals returning as they were, that’s certainly true of Christianity, but not Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and a host of other systems.  It’s interesting to think about sci-fi’s relationship to religion.  And then I had earlier downloaded a post about “imagined communities” which seems relevant.

The Red God from "Game of Thrones"

So now I call up the idea that television and film communities, imagined as they are, horizontal as they are, resurrectable as they are, must speak to much the same needs in us as religions.  So if religions are ecological, arising from the specific circumstances of time and place, then maybe we could profit from a comparison of “Earthsea” with “Westeros”.  What sort of governance should an archipelago like Puget Sound and its islands have in comparison with Martin’s historical Europe where only one “nation” is separated by water?

There are dragons in both imagined communities but they are quite different though they both have wings and fire breath.  Why is that?  Are there no tubby green dragons with webbed feet who merely bubble?

by Elizabeth Malczynski

PBS and the BBC are stirring all this up with “Wolf Hall” which braids religion, government and fertility into the historical record of nations.  It is very Pope conscious.  I suppose the peasants are the hamsters and their running in wheels is a good way to keep warm.

What I am always after is ways to question and shake-up all the many assumptions that restrict us.  For instance, writing  (the Book) dominates some religions.  Baha’i honors all books of the various religions, but ignores oral-based systems.  This serves the academic and legal communities and excludes indigenous people very conveniently.  It also challenges non-writing art forms, though many will have scripts or scores.  

One of the best series on religion I’ve ever seen was Ninian Smart’s “The Long Search.” (1977)  The Buddhism hour is at

He made this useful list of the dimensions of religion:

The Seven Dimensions of Religion (Ninian Smart)

Ritual: Forms and orders of ceremonies (private and/or public) (often regarded as revealed)
Narrative and Mythic: stories (often regarded as revealed) that work on several levels. Sometimes narratives fit together into a fairly complete and systematic interpretation of the universe and human's place in it.
Experiential and emotional: dread, guilt, awe, mystery, devotion, liberation, ecstasy, inner peace, bliss (private)
Social and Institutional: belief system is shared and attitudes practiced by a group. Often rules for identifying community membership and participation (public)
Ethical and legal: Rules about human behavior (often regarded as revealed from supernatural realm)
Doctrinal and philosophical: systematic formulation of religious teachings in an intellectually coherent form
Material: ordinary objects or places that symbolize or manifest the sacred or supernatural

“The Long Search” was meant for the Boomer generation, but maybe it’s coming back into meaningfulness.  This is a place where the video series can be bought.  It’s not on Netflix.  Someone bump PBS.  There's also a book.  

Technically, this series is NOT religious.  It is the secular STUDY of religion.  This is what interests me, but it is VERY hard to explain to ordinary hamsters or highly educated men.  One says, “Religions don’t have to have gods.”  They agree and go right back to talking about the nature of God.  You say, “Not every religion has a morality we would recognize,” and they say, “All good people would protect infants.”

Ninian Smart ends his series by saying that finally there is only silence.  Quietly he makes a cup of tea.  The idea is to withdraw from mystery that cannot be known in order to take care of one’s needs for survival.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015


Rape victim

So Krakauer’s publicity machine is crying “rape” in Missoula and doesn’t want us to think about his last literary assault, which only cried “lies” and had a Bozeman target, where Mortensen’s headquarters and his mountain-climbing community is located.  In the “Three Cups of Tea” scandal, the victims were girls' schools.  A couple of righteous female Missoula liberals sued Mortenson for lying in his book.  

Mortenson did not write his book alone.  His co-writer committed suicide after the scandal.  No one sued Krakauer for that.  The Montana courts laughed Krakauer’s Furies out of the courtroom. 

Missoula is not one town -- very few towns, even the teeny ones, are a monoculture.  The darkest layer of Missoula is drugs -- in from Portland, out to the rez -- and a layer of false academic elitism.  So many WWII vets took advantage of the GI Bill so that a lot of second tier professors had to be hired -- the guys (rarely gals) had hoped to move on to the Ivy League, but were trapped by tenure.  Bitterly.  Demographic patterns are always explanatory.  But that’s speculation.

The defensive elitism sort of “hooked up” (forgive the phrase) with an insistence of virtuous gentility, a fantasy of New England campuses.  Between ’82 and ’85 I was the Unitarian Universalist minister for the two college towns plus Great Falls and Helena.  I was charged with making the four small congregations grow.  

One strategy was classes explaining the denomination.  On a Saturday morning the woman who volunteered to supply refreshments brought gingersnaps and fig newtons.    (I consider both medicinal.)  Visualizing the slightly hung-over football fans likely to arrive, I whipped over to the Grizzly Grocery and bought a box of the biggest, gooiest, sweetest, filled and coated donuts they had.  The result was a wave of UU leader resentment.  Their idea of religion was an ascetic, intellectual, critical stance in a corrupt and self-indulgent world.  Those doughnuts were sexual.  XXX.  California Unitarians would have laughed and burned off the calories playing volley ball on the beach.

The house the Missoula group owned had belonged to Leslie Fiedler: very Jewish, always oppositional and often considered offensive.  He was a New-York-type non-violent Communist with ties to the San Francisco beat scene.  Somehow he managed to survive for two decades in Missoula.  Those in the UU group at the time the house was bought were ambivalent, some pleased that it was a finger in the eye of propriety because they identified with him and some feeling that they wanted to help him leave.  They searched the house thoroughly for drugs but found only one syringe, unused.

These two paragraphs are from the anonymous Wiki entry about Fiedler:

"Come Back to the Raft Ag'in, Huck Honey!" argued a recurrent theme in American literature was an unspoken or implied homoerotic relationship between men, famously using Huckleberry Finn and Jim as examples. Pairs of men flee for wilderness rather than remain in the civilizing and domesticated world of women. . . 

As Winchell wrote in his book on Fiedler, "Reading ‘Come Back to the Raft’ over half a century later, one tends to forget that, prior to Fiedler, few critics had discussed classic American literature in terms of race, gender, and sexuality" (Winchell 53). Fiedler emphasized the fact the males paired in these wilderness adventures tend to be of different races as well, which created an additional critical dimension.

(For a modern version of this theme, look for Barrus’ book called “Genocide.”)

The point of this is that in the basement bedroom of the Fiedler house, several young men gaily composed “Montana Gothic,” which is both a periodical and a novel.  The Missoula literati try to ignore all this.  The literary scene in Montana prefers A.B. Guthrie, Jr.  Semi-respectable.  He had a “thing” about frigid women, which is unfortunate but virtuous.

Rough law enforcement.

Gender-emotion politics sneaks around all the time in Montana.  Someone should write a proper academic book about it, sourced to a fare-thee-well, because in Missoula only written words count.  It’s partly legal and partly academic.  I hear that written records are a key concept in this latest Krakauer book and its reception, but I haven’t read the book.

If Krakauer and “his publisher” were really concerned about doing good for Montana women, the book also should be about lethal violence against “squaws” which everyone (including Guthrie and the FBI) seems to understand are fair game sexually.  Frontier "thought"  is always oral stories. Listen for it:  “This book is extensively sourced.”  “It’s all in writing.  I worked from transcripts.”  Writing is the marker. Maybe’s he’s one of those who reads Playboy for the writing.  Mental constructs rising up behind images in a magazine are denied, because “everyone knows” that thought makes us human and thought is always in literate sentences.  

I wonder whether any rapes of men are considered in this book.  I wonder whether race or the terms of athletic scholarships are included.  The idea is always to be incendiary enough to sell a lot of books without being so extreme as to provoke book burning and lawsuits.

The Newsweek’s reporter, Nina Burleigh, is interested in the studies that claim that a fraction of men are “hidden rapists” (maybe 14% at the high end of estimates which is almost a percentage parallel to pedophiles), but who enjoy stalking and raping women instead of children.  Some estimate that these men (always men) average 14 rapes by the time they are detected.  From what I’ve overheard (and I never go into bars) in casual talk, I believe it.  This is, of course, the stereotype of the athletic black urban ghetto man.  Alphas dominate, Alphas fuck, Alphas sleep where they want to.   All those white rural high school athletes flashing “Number One!” are different.

David Lisak, a nationally recognized forensic consultant on acquaintance rape . . . testified for the prosecution as an educational witness in the Jordan Johnson trial; his testimony included an explanation of the typical behavior of trauma victims based on brain chemistry.)  His research, which has been replicated, showed a small number of rapists are responsible for a high number of crimes. In one study, a single criminal was responsible for six separate assaults, and 14 total abuses.

“Krakauer's working title of the book was “What happened in Missoula.” The publisher didn’t like it, though, and when it comes to titles, the author defers to the publisher.”

I know what I’m talking about indirectly.  My step-granddaughter in a rural suburb of Portland was part of a high school culture based on cars, alcohol and sex.  She had three abortions, one after the other, but refused the pill on the grounds that it would give her cancer.  Her mother died of cancer.  

But the real reason, IMHO, was that pregnancies were the way of keeping score.  The episodes of intercourse didn't mean as much as the actual pregnancies.  One boy she was involved with was locally famous for getting alcohol-blacked-out girls pregnant.  His mother thought that was cute, a good reflection on herself for raising a potent son. I told him, while wielding the surgical scissors from my old biology class, that if he didn’t give that up, I would make sure he never scored again.  He stopped coming around.

There’s more to it than what Krakauer found.  Maybe it’s just a genetic heritage from when men actually hunted for food.  It’s far more than rough sex.

Monday, April 20, 2015


Early receipts

Written (alphabetical) culture comes out of math, marks made on whatever surface was available in order to make a record and to draw up agreements about crops, boundaries, ownership, profit and control.  It also defines “correct” language and supports “proof” in science.  It mostly happens in the pre-frontal cortex of the brain and can be done by isolated individuals.

Spoken (oral) culture (sometimes sung) is the basis of human emotional interaction, collaboration, and a bridge to animals.  Prayer is in here somewhere and the fancy that there are gods who can interact with humans. Much of it comes from the dark brain and so is full of sound and movement.

These are arguable premises that I intend to explore a bit since I have just realized that in my solitude I am functioning almost entirely in writing (keyboarding) but much of my thinking comes out of interaction with this place and its oral culture, the living patterns of people living on a "sublime" land, using the classical literary definition of sublimity as a combination of inspiration and terror.  Rocky Mountain high.

I see that white people with university educations are parasites on a living, various, and ironically defined oral culture.  The first of these written-culture people were fur-traders, learning the language in order to make a profit.  The second group was missionaries, trying to use the written word to create an imagined culture (religion) category in order to control people and expand their empire. The third category tended to be solitaries or small face-to-face groups guided as much by personal individual circumstances as by any governmental fiat or decisions from tribes en masse per se.  Today Indians are parasitized by government, commerce, and academia.

Let’s set up a little historical parable:  the Flathead Valley people want and need buffalo meat.  These are west side fertile valley people who used to live on the east side prairie nomad lands, but got thrown off by the Blackfeet.  They like the climate over there a lot better, but they still remember the taste of buffalo and they are not content to eat carrots, though the Jesuit missionaries keep telling them peace and safety is more important than food. 
St. Ignatius Mission with Cardinal Carroll

Nevertheless, small parties of west-siders thread through the high passes and arrive at the Blackfeet camps.  (I’m not going to source this, but a person could -- there are anthropological records of oral stories.  Be careful -- half of the Blackfeet  canon is Canadian, so spelled "Blackfoot," and there are two languages so add Siksika. )  Carefully approaching the camp, which is down in the cottonwoods along a river for the sake of carrying water and firewood, one brave west-sider scout goes to the bluff overlooking the camp.

It doesn’t take long for the People to notice him and react.  Men go into a lodge or sit in a circle under the trees to discuss what to do.  If they are feeling generous, compassionately remembering what it is to have children who are hungry, and having recently seen large herds of buffalo, they go and call the scout down to talk terms.  If they are angry, cranky, had bad hunting, or lost a battle with some other prairie tribe, someone goes out and shoots the scout dead.

"Little," Pine Ridge Oglalla

This is not inevitable.  The guy who went to kill the scout might be a bad shot.  The scout may have sensed the temper of the camp after hours of watching their lives and to have judiciously disappeared.  Some impatient hothead might just go out there and on his own kill the scout, even though the calmer folks had suggested this scout might be bringing useful news or even items to trade.  Or that he might be with a group large enough to raid the camp.  

There will not have been any written treaties.  No one keeps a list of who’s in the camp because it changes all the time.  No one records blood quantum, more accurately genealogical provenance, which is kept track of by the old ladies constantly rehearsing who’s who while they work.  More important is reputation, which is by family affiliation and stories.  The value system of generosity, bravery, potency, skills, and entertainment value count more than anything else.

The problem was that no one could read, not even English.
Not even some of the whites.

Now move to today.  On a rez much is about writing, not least about treaties.  How much land and where it was according to the written Dawes act is the base, more than the rez boundary, which is a changing river on the south and a surveyed straight line on the north.  Maps were drawn up and assigned in writing.  Commodities were given according to a list.  Marriages had to be recorded in writing.  (It's a little confusing to decide who was truly married, even today.)  The white dominating culture insisted on their language, their (conflicting) understanding of one Biblical anthology accumulated on another continent millennia earlier.  Children were forced to attend school long enough to learn basic arithmetic and reading, but not enough to make them able to manage negotiations with the written contract and ledger bookkeeping overseers.  “Don’t worry your noble little head -- we’ll just take care of it for you.”

So they sort of “forgot” to write stuff down in those columns, they got the grammar wrong (number, gender, antecedents, parallel construction, tense -- VERY tense), and they wandered off to do something else, because this is the structure of WRITTEN language, not spoken language.  Oral language means watching someone’s face to see if they get it.

Gradually the People realized that a pen is a weapon and that writing, in its relentless progress across a page, can make sentences into the bars of a cage.  They demanded the means to learn how to do this kind of communication and thinking at a college.  What they found was academia:  rules, prestige, hierarchy, precedent, old men controlling young men, and a huge body of writing, all parasitic on the actual lives of Indians, pushing them into one frying pan after another until they had cooked-up written descriptions of Indianness, which is why they are called “pan-Indian.”  (jokes)

The writing cultures were mostly Christian  (translators of their holy book) and so they, by reflex, “fenced the communion,” which is sort of like "heading them off at the pass." That is, in earliest times only the initiated (and controllable) in the converted community were allowed to take communion, which consecrated ordinary bread and wine from the table by redefining it as the mystical body of their  “Christ.”  Christ is what gives Christianity its name -- it’s not Jesus-ism.

Christ meant the Anointed One or Messiah, who is a figure meant to come and save everyone.  In anthropological terms, a “Big Man,” a superman.  A hero-chief.  It’s unclear whether such a person would be the scout on the hill or the wisest man in the talking circle, which would depend on whether he were a “war chief” or a “hunting chief” or a “camp leader chief.”  Jesus seems to have been the last kind, as was Chief Joseph.

For an oral face-to-face culture, the value of a person is carried by that person himself, not any media-created version of what they call “wisdom,” which means always knowing what to do and actually doing it.  Tribal councils that are elected on written ballots are not the same thing as becoming the person everyone turns to with respect.  Wealth probably is respected too much, partly because money is a writing concept.

So now comes something educators in 1961 thought would be a great gift and bring Indians into the larger community of America: television.  But the media evolution continued on to the Internet (writing) and then YouTube where we can create a virtual (parallel, but flexible, re-framable, negotiable) imaginary community that speaks in images rather than languages and doesn’t require the presence of real people.  In the meantime, kids do texting -- writing -- which derives from their devotion to money.  Texting and credit cards go together.  But music is in there, too.

Both written and spoken communication.

Images have not quite crowded out alphabets or score-keeping.  Here I am, merrily scribbling about it!  But the generational divide also frees up the oral culture and makes a demand for more human empathy, however you explain it neurologically.  The old white writing-based people insist that they are the only ones who can decide what is legitimate Native American writing and the vicious quarrels over that create so much trouble that publishers (who deal in writing) decide to just avoid the whole category.  The post-modern academics are too damned hard to understand.  Anyway, they tend to sneak out the back door to go watch Truffault movies about boys in trouble. 

The writing-based people -- academics and publishers -- are parasitic on the oral culture people.  When they limit the oral story sources with constant curation, esp. curation for profit, they are crushing themselves.  Maybe it would be a good thing to shoot the scout.  This is an excellent reflection on dogs, who never write anything.  It mixes English with Siksika, writing with speaking.

Sunday, April 19, 2015


Two websites about "religion" are pretty well known to me, neither of them really about the content of “religion”.  I have no interest in being converted to some system of thought complete with dogma, buildings, and mighty leaders.  These websites are what some call “comparative religion” or “history of religion” or I suppose you could call it “meta-religion.”  That is, not so much the familiar “ecumenical” or anthropological categories and lists of tribal systems, but the relationships among them, their evolving ideas, and where all this stuff comes from anyway.  

The newer and more sophisticated website, Aeon, announces itself as addressing the adversarial relations between science and “religion,” which is kind of behind the times, because as soon as that big old man on the cloud throne walked off, it turned out he had been sitting on the fact that science had always had its religious side, dogma and all, and that religion is an attempt at science.  They are opposed only because our turf wars have set up false dichotomies for the sake of the drama of it all.  A “feeder” for Aeon is Ideas.aeon which lets the people participate by suggesting questions and writing short answers to those questions.  What that mostly shows is that they are white European males with education and opinions that are pre-WWI, mostly part of a canon, acquired by studying for a Ph.D rather than through experience.

The other website, Religion Dispatches, is journalistic and describes itself as The latest in religion / politics / sexuality / art / culture.”  They probably ought to have thrown economics in there, because economics -- in the sense of finding enough resources to survive -- is the ultimate purpose of both science and religion.  I have a few principles that I use over and over as basic guides.  One of them is Ray Rappaport’s insight that survival has two levels: one is the group and one is the individual.  When the two levels fit together and reinforce each other, times are happy and people are content.  But if the two levels, the individual’s integrity and the group’s beliefs about survival, are against each other, there will be blood and corruption everywhere.  

Also, the roots of every religious system come out of their level of social success, so groups form on the basis of wealth and their understanding of how to get and protect it, which they pretend is “morality” and about higher things.  There is a third website, Martin Marty’sSightings” which he issues from the U of Chicago Div School.  Formal essays  are posted on Monday and Thursday.  He is a respected observer of the scene, with good reason.

I should note another website that has the same schedule and that is “Francis,” the cartoon strip that takes off from St. Francis of the past and Pope Francis of today, often interacting with a holy fool, called Brother Leo, to make a point as Catholicism tries to return to the word of Jesus.

Homeostasis is the idea (Rapaport again) that a person or human organization must stay within two extremes, boundaries beyond which the entity cannot survive, both too much on one side or not enough.  At present we seem to find ourselves in worldwide turbulence struggling to find the central (which is not the same as the middle) deepest flow of all life, which is technically (this is a geology term) called “the thallwag.”

So Aeon is still fussing about human consciousness without having read any of the recent research because they were taught that “thinking” meant philosophical introspection and therefore dislike Science which means opening the horse’s mouth to count its teeth  (Ick) and worrying about end times.  But “Religion Dispatches,” true to its name, offers breathless observations about proper legal families, police brutality and why Wiccans don’t get no respect.

Here’s a recent Francis strip so you can calm down.

This whole surging and merging and dispersing melee is much crippled by the need for vocabulary.  I’m not going to suggest any new words, but hopefully they will emerge, because at the heart of all successful “religions” is emergent meaning and understanding.  Taken from that point of view, ecology is one of the most powerful religious terms -- the idea of everything fitting together in a synergy (there’s another good religious word) in which each tiny part contributes value to every other part.  So is evolution though most of the Aeon thinkers haven’t found out about "horizontal evolution" or jumping genes yet because it challenges their conviction that “every day in every way the world is getting better and better” -- meaning that they are climbing the hierarchy of human beings.  They do not appreciate the notion that there IS no hierarchy or that ecologies of mutation and gene-sharing are not based on virtue.  They want to be “progressive”, esp. if that means going their way, “up” the path to the “peak.”  

And yet, what they secretly hope to find is the enduring imprint of God’s butt on his Cloud of Thrones, which only they can see.  Many places are said to bear the impression in rock of God’s foot -- or maybe it was just a prophet.  Or an accidental image like Jesus’ face on a piece of toast or the Madonna immortalized in a screen door, limned in rust.  One of my fav stories in the Bible is about the prophet to whom God spoke, saying, “Avert your eyes and get down in a crevice because I’m coming through and seeing my overwhelming body in all its brightness and radiation will strike you blind.”  So all the prophet ever sees is God’s fundament in a flash overhead, and feels honored by it.  Writing from deep history often has this homely kind of endearing reality.  Much better than greeting card descriptions of God or mathematic arguments about his existence.

The progression of spiritual and conceptional development is from the basic categories of survival a baby brings with it out of the womb (safety/danger, warm/cold, embraced/
abandoned, hunger/satiation, and so on) as the basic structure of understanding.  Then comes the shaping by those who raise him in the earliest years of learning to walk, talk, and interact.  (Kindness, laughter or punishment, desertion.)   Pretty soon there’s entry into adult communities of belief that supports their life in that place and time, usually merging politics with the supernatural.  

Sooner or later these communities are likely to harden into institutions.  If there are enough resources, buildings are created to be monuments, palaces and sanctuaries and individuals or groups of individuals become priests and administrators. Books are written and become dogma.  As power grows, dissenters are thrown aside or killed.  The necessity of keeping the institution alive prompts wars and taxes.

Save yourself.

The dissenters may start new systems, may return as terrorists, may seize the political system, or may invoke their individual consciences and become wandering monks and prophets.  These are all part of the human ecology and also part of the planetary ecology, so that famine or contagion may change the terms of survival.

We speak of non-institutional spirituality, which can become bright comforts (god’s glowing humanoid butt passing overhead), and we speak of science, which has now turned its attention to the particled patterns of life as a kind of music, which so often accompanies deep meaning, and dance, a better use of bodies than warfare.  On ideas.aeon it is clear that our “religious” impulses go every which way, but mostly lean back to the familiar old ways, the assumptions of the pre-genomic discoveries, when a baby became “ensouled” at a certain time, or “quickened” when movement was first felt by the mother.  No one had to worry about whether human life began at conception or implantation or presentation at birth.  No one fussed about the “meaning of life.”  Everyone just got on with the task of staying alive.