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Notes from Alvina Krause between 1957-1961 are posted at

Fiction about Indians at
Essays about Indians at

Thursday, April 24, 2014


This woman is claimed to be 125 years old.

Aging’s most daunting aspect, to my mind, is the changing of everything around one, so I looked for a place that wouldn't change much.  Though I’ve personally changed quite a bit over the decades, sometimes on purpose and sometimes in spite of myself and even unconsciously, none of it is as startling and sometimes inconvenient as the cultural shifts, people who suddenly die, and changing material culture both built and natural.  

When I moved into this little house, I had a list of desiderata with about seventy-five items on it, like kitchen with east windows, trees on the south side, within a couple of blocks of the post office -- so, indeed, none of that has changed nor is likely to, though the Post Office occasionally changes its hours and occasionally threatens to close altogether.  Only one of my trees has had to be removed, but the Baptists sawed off some major branches on another.  We’re down to one grocery store, there’s no laundromat and the best mechanic has major health issues.

But now the house is sinking under me.  I have so many books and files that the floor has subsided by a half-inch and the roof is cupping as the center of the house sinks.  Part of the reason the foundation is sinking is that 18-wheel and big farm trucks use this street for access to the Valier water supply which they load from a hydrant south a few blocks.  These vibrations are steady, not because of shipping, but because this is dry-farming country where some people have no wells -- ironic in a place founded on an irrigation system for water in the fields.  The trucks are mostly getting household water which is treated by Valier and stored in cisterns back on their homesteads, but also water for commercial uses like mixing with herbicides and pesticides.  I never thought of putting that on my list.

Crop spraying

A welcome change is that the crop-sprayer who put in the hydrant and used to live beside it has moved his operation out of town so the huge containers of poison are no longer uphill of me and the rest of the town.  I suppose he'll own some drones soon and it seems good to keep a pilot out of the poison.

Missile silo pad

Another welcome change is that the nuclear missile silo that was only a couple of miles to the east is on the closed list, though I don’t think it has been filled in yet.  

Wind farm

A strange change that everyone ignores is the wind-farm within eyeshot to the north.  It’s like a white forest of branchless trees.  You need keen eyesight to see it in daytime, but at night it’s lit with red -- I suppose to warn airplanes -- and the first time I came back to Valier in the dark, came over the last ridge and saw the huge blood red splotch, I got a major adrenaline surge.  It was unearthly, like a landing field for flying saucers.

Wind farm at night -- actually much redder than this.

Forced changes coming from state and federal regulations and law have been more uncomfortable to long-time residents than they are to me.  I feel it mostly in the constantly rising fees and the social conflict.  Most of it is about upgrades to the infrastructure, including the second water tower with its modern bubble design.  The new well that helps to fill it has brought an unwelcome change to the mineral content.  If I ever have money lying around, I’ll send some for analysis but it passes the state standards -- just stains fixtures.  On the other hand even our wells respond to drought or high run-off, so it’s much softer right now than it will be in August.

Demographic turnover is pretty quick in a town with so many older folks and one misses the staunch old retired farmers.  Rising costs and diminishing supply means that professional ministry is missing now -- none live in town.  The Sunday supply clergy are people with three and four charges.  The working men who built and now service the wind farm, who built the second water tower, who are driving to the oil wells along the High Line and on the reservation, who work on the highways and bridges, keep a pretty low profile.  The man-camps that have sprung up in other places did not appear.  There are no real taverns in Valier.  
Valier library

Another subtle change is computer access and use.  This is one force revitalizing the library where the kids practice what they have learned in school, the Hutterites come to look for bargains, and older solitaries get an infusion of social life.  I don’t have a feel for how much the kids are picking up gross decadence and full frontal obscenity or how much they have migrated away from television access to the same thing.  The impression I have is that they sweep through the social networking in great waves, then settle into little dyads and rings of friends.  The grip of the black ghetto that is apparent in Browning, doesn't seem to appear here.

Bob Miller, the new Mayor of Valier

Town Council struggles are quiet at the moment but they’ll be back.  There’s no solution for the power distribution, which is the “ring of power” in the service area (mostly ranchers) who can’t vote in the boundary-based town elections and who don’t always want the same goals.  No one wants the thankless job of governing split constituencies for no pay, esp. since making a living now is a full time job for every adult in the house.  This is a problem not on my list but it is not just local -- it’s not even national.  It’s a phenomenon of our times.


The Crip, Ming the Tom, Mom cat drinking.

Cats.  As I write, Casper, the big white bully from across the street, just chased up a yard tree the outsider tortoiseshell that’s always ruining Squibbie’s reputation.  The whole town is saturated with cats, though changes in habitat have thinned the niches.  My indoor cats, which were on the list, are over ten years old -- meaning about halfway through their lifespan -- and were the products of an old queen plus some misadventures.    They sleep mostly.  I call them “the marmots,” which are a kind of hibernating woodchuck that lives in rocky alpine places.  But the outdoor ferals, which were not on the list, are exceedingly healthy and vigorous cats, even the gray striped runt I call “the tiny mite” and the little female with a broken shoulder.  Well, maybe not her, but she has healed in her crippled way.  Ming, the slant-eyed white cat with caramel splotches, is already sexual and willing to pick fights.


Cats' Barn

Circling back to the beginning, my two out-buildings, temporary structures trucked in from use when Swift Dam was rebuilt after the 1964 flood, were never on the list and have remained an unfulfilled opportunity.  I’ve thought of a wood yard in the larger one: buy lodgepole pine, sell it cut.  Or maybe a cement stepping stone factory -- write poems on the stones.  Imprint them with leaves or footprints.  The smaller structure was once my “bunkhouse” meant to compensate for making the back bedroom into an office, but it was not what my middle-class relatives and friends expected in the way of accommodation.  Anyway, like me, they all have to pee in the middle of the night and that means staggering into the house over rough terrain.  So -- not on the list and therefore requiring more thought.

Not on the list because it was far bigger than the list, bigger than anything else, the motivation for it all is writing.  I am writing.  I did not expect the collapse of publishing and it ripped one leg off my planning stool.  I don't need it.

Of course, if you know what a milking stool looks like -- a sort of unipod like one of those English sticks that has a little sling at the top to rest a lower cheek on, but much more rustic and improvised -- then writing is the one last vital leg.  Maybe not.  When that’s gone, I’ll shift to reading.  The Great Cow of Thought that sustains me appears to be inexhaustible.  It jumps over the moon and supplies the Milky Way.  I can see the Milky Way from my backyard, you know, in spite of all the night lights and street lights.  They were not on my list.  I would put the lack of them on a new list.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

"FAITHFUL ARE THE WOUNDS" by May Sarton: A Review

May Sarton in old age

For a long time I maintained a shelf of May Sarton books, beginning with “Journal of a Solitude” and then trying to keep up with the dozens and dozens of books she wrote.  Eventually, maybe after “Anger,” I parted company and sold the books.  I had intended to read “Faithful Are the Wounds,” but then sort of forgot it.  Now Peter Matthiessen’s death has propelled me back through it.  The book is transparently about Peter’s uncle, F.O. Matthiessen, who committed suicide in 1950.  But only about one aspect of the older Matthiessen, who was a close friend of Sarton’s -- the political side.  Still, she is tracing how that impulse comes out of the puzzle of family.

Like Peter, F.O. was a “Yalie,” but hardly a Bush-type.  “In 1923 Matthiessen graduated from Yale University where he was managing editor of the Yale Daily News, editor of the Yale Literary Magazine, and a member of Skull and Bones.  As the recipient of the university's Deforest Prize, Matthiessen titled his oration, Servants of the Devil, in which he proclaimed Yale's administration to be an "autocracy, ruled by a Corporation out of touch with college life and allied with big business".”  His teaching career was at Harvard. 

Russell Cheney and one of his paintings.

His lover was a painter, Russell Cheney, twenty years older than he, who died five years before “Mattie’s” suicide.  They were what might be called “diplomatically gay.” That is, the general public was unaware but the friendship circle just accepted it.  Sarton does not address this unless it’s too disguised for an outsider to know, maybe by switching genders.  There are no painters in the story.  On the other hand, the book is very much structured by dyad relationships, mostly brilliant men with supporting wives, with a fierce old spinster as a main character, presumably the clearest avatar of the author herself.  

The book was published in 1955, when professors were still brilliant, some of them still hoped Communism would not turn out to be monstrous so the Left could stay unified, and those Lefty men faced the Inquisition of McCarthyism, which did pursue F.O. Matthiessen.  This is the core plot line as the protagonist, Edward Cavan, struggles with his perhaps overly strong conscience and the demands to be bamboo rather than oak.  In the end he will not bend.  So falls.

May Sarton

As one expects from May Sarton, this is elegant, measured writing -- a little old-fashioned, but it suits the theme in that particular time and place.  She could call up the State House’s golden dome restoration glowing against all the red brick of Beacon Street without Unitarians feeling the wound of moving out of Number 25 next door.  In those days professors argued hard about lofty ideals and endlessly smoked nicotine cigarettes.   Faculty dynamics were as cut throat as they are now. Students were remarkably innocent of anything but pretensions.  Conversations take place in cafes, not naked in bed.  No one in this book eats pizza.
The State House on Beacon Street

The title comes from Proverbs 27:6, King James Version  “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.”   Mostly these friends were constantly insulting each other even as they struggled to understand and help. I didn’t recognize any kisses from enemies.  The book is in two halves: the incidents leading up to the suicide -- which was by throwing himself under a train, thus cutting himself in half. (F.O. jumped from a height.)  Then finally the reaction from friends and family before a description of the attack on his character by a Senate inquiry, not because of the suicide but because of his political leanings.  

Sarton’s trademark descriptions of settings of beauty are always there.  Now that I’ve looked for Russell Cheney’s paintings, I see the echo of images.  (He is CLEARLY nothing like Dick Cheney.)  It’s worthwhile to google to see the paintings just for the pleasure, but it has nothing to do with the plot.

by Russell Cheney

In fortunate corners there are still traces of what Harvard and other Ivory Towers once were, but even that is eroded now by the tumult of the last half of the twentieth century.  In those days no one imagined that feminists could depose the president of Harvard.  Maybe the old dynamic of privileged prestige continues in BBC series like “Morse” and “Campion.”  But as Japan knows very well, what cannot be captured by violence and defiance can simply be purchased if one waits for the right moment.

A dyad type closer to power inequity is pointed out: that between industrialist achievers as steel-cold fathers who send their sons to university for status purposes but then appear cruelly destructive according to the abstract principles of their estranged sons.  This is not examined closely.  Still, it’s interesting that one of Peter M’s life-dilemmas was his in-house war with his father, who was the brother of F.O. Matthiessen.  “Edward Cavan,” F.O.’s stand-in, has this same shadow.  In fact, it’s a theme of the century, a tragic one as men make themselves inhuman for the sake of sons who find them exactly that.  It feeds back into the dilemma of marriages based on gender assignment: the strong, rational, achieving men and the warm, beautiful, elegant women.  Wallace Stegner is eloquent on the subject.  It can be a science vs. humanities conflict.

In the book the sister of “Edward” has married a man named Lucier and F.O.’s real sister was named Lucy.  She is portrayed as conventional, prosperous, the wife of a California surgeon, estranged from her brother, trying to understand but not succeeding.  I don’t know how factual that was.  I gather that there has been considerable controversy about some portrayals among those who knew the principals in real life.

In terms of generations, this feels like what I just knew the very tail end of at the University of Chicago, and even then it was a little anachronistic since gays were out and the hippie years had trailed off.  People were even a little like the Fifties, wanting to think in peace.  But then came that wild wave of post-everything thought in the academy and an opposite rising tide of sentimentality and therapeutic cheerfulness elsewhere, both of them ignoring growing poverty and unable to prevent the “sand wars.”  

So now we look around and see neglect everywhere -- from the decrepit bridges people are forced to live under, to financial arrangements that are out of control even for the one percent.  The air and water are terrifyingly endangered.  Food and meds may be poisoning us.  It’s time to march all over again, but how do we do that without tearing ourselves apart like Edward Cavan or deluding ourselves as do so many others in this book?  Is a life of sitting in a sheltered environment to read and write merely ineffective or might that finally be a source of salvation?

May Sarton at home.

In one of the homages to Peter M. a young woman declared that she found reading “Wildlife in America” to be unbearable and only did it out of a sort of Calvinistic discipline.  On what stack of mattresses does this terribly sensitive princess sleep at night?  (I don’t care who with.)  “Wildlife in America” was copyrighted in 1959, only four years after Sarton’s book.  You can buy it on Amazon for a penny.  Literally.  What sort of novel could May Sarton make of all that?  “Anger” isn’t strong enough.  Try “Rage.”  But then the princesses will simply flounce off in search of bling, pizza, and righteousness.  They need seminars like those Edward Cavan was supposed to be teaching.  Wounds teach one how to bear pain.

May Sarton as a young woman

Tuesday, April 22, 2014


There’s nothing in this radio interview that would shock anyone or surprise anyone who has heard AK speak before.  A Krause KUSD 1971 on Vimeo.

She takes her usual shot at the star system that distorts the craft of acting by so celebrating one person that it amounts to congratulating the piano for a gorgeous concerto.  I mean, there are a lot of elements involved in theatre and not all of them are garlands around the neck of the player.  But I also think that she falls into something like the same trap by speaking of people with “gifts.”  It’s certainly true that some people have capacities that others don’t have and that capacities are more easily developed in some people than others and even that some people have no capacity to learn acting in the hard, long-term, sometimes painful ways that are necessary for "high" standards.  But maybe it’s as much a matter of desire as of giftedness and AK has always had a firm grip on that.  Is desire a gift?  It can drive you crazy.

Following her thought, I’ve gone ahead into other art forms and the contemporary research on brain function (which is more properly seen as a function of the whole body, which is another thing she fully grasps) to define any art as the management of consciousness.  First one learns one’s own “connectome,” which is the system of nodes of understanding and interpretation connected to each other in the brain in something like the way chords can be played on a piano keyboard.  These are composed of neurons “who” play memories together to create empathy and evocation, first in the artist and then in the audience.

Some people learn this urgently and early.  Consider the abused child who must first protect him or her self enough to record what happens and then try to find the pattern in it.  When is dad beginning to move towards a drinking binge?  When is mom about to run away again, only to return bruised and exhausted?  By googling one can find lists of ways to control a child about to have or beginning a tantrum.  Some of the same strategies work on adults when practiced by kids or other adults.  Check it out.  Children don't have to google to find out how to control adults: it is instinctive and learning combined.

The difference is that a child cannot consciously control her or his own connectome: not until there's enough brain power to connect.  Otherwise a neuron filament reaches out for a skill or interpretation that’s not there yet or that meets a contradiction.  An adult, particularly one teaching acting methods that influence the connectome of others, supplies or evokes what’s missing from one's own brain connects -- maybe by supplying information, maybe by expressing confidence that makes enough space and time to figure it out, maybe by being a role model.  AK did all those things.  She had a powerful need to shift your consciousness into effectiveness.

If everything she tried met a stone wall, for whatever reason, she told you to get out -- that there was nothing she could do for you, and that was true, though most people took it as an insult and the thought didn’t get to them for a while that maybe someone else COULD shift their consciousness to a new place.  Or maybe over the passage of time, the needed node would grow in, the nerve axon would reach out and find AHA!!  If the desire was there, the person would find a way to learn somewhere somehow.

When AK failed, her attempts to "wake an actor" could be cruel out of her frustration with her own limits.  She was conscious enough of herself to know it and probably repented quietly alone at night, but she was a very self-disciplined person who could not easily be governed by others.  She knew it was collateral damage but felt it had to be done to get to the goal.  I'm deducing this -- she never said it.

The interviewer and AK agree that some people have a desire so strong that it amounts to a constant driving need to create forms.  Schilpp’s “expression of the relationship between a person and the universe.”  But then AK goes on to the necessity of knowing where that desire, that need, comes from in the first place.  Look at the character.  Is it because of trying to avert attacks, feeling that is a way of evading danger?   Is it a conviction that it will confer status and that status is a kind of safety?  Is it trying to fill an emptiness?  Is it trying to justify oneself to a harsh judge remembered from early in life?  Is it boredom?  This is the playwright level of need.  The level of need on the actor's part had better be invested in the needs of the character portrayed.  “How can I show what drives this character?”

The two women agree that the need to touch other people’s lives and make them complete propels art forms, but particularly the art form of teaching.  AK uses a phrase, “touching off,” which is like lighting a flame, touching off a fire, somehow kindling the person’s ability to operate their own feeling system.  She speaks of blindfolding people to get them to understand what it is to be unable to see.  In class and rehearsals we watched her as she experimented, maybe going onto the stage in the middle of the play, prowling around the actors, whispering in their ears, slapping them on the shoulder, tugging at them, all to get them to shift out of being stuck playing chopsticks instead of the melody.

The interviewer mentions the work of group therapy and recalls interviewing Virginia Satir.  She feels this work, which is just beginning in this time period, is very much the same sort of thing -- working at “touching off” the right awareness to free a person’s stuck brain.  These groups often use movement.  Satir’s speciality was family dynamics (nodes and connections) and the paradoxical impact of clumsy efforts at “helping” (secrecy, forcing behavior) becoming greater damage.  I think that AK was very much in tune with this sort of work and that her teaching and acting Method were as much informed by it as Stanislavsky’s sense memory.  There was a secret, closed, advanced class for only a few invited people.  Even now no one will tell me, but I think it was for the exploration of the actor's own inner life.  

Hedda Gabler

But the interviewer focuses on acting and not on how this applies to the play as literature performed to demonstrate something about human beings.  AK asserts,  “no man [sic] is alien to me” but her examples are nationalities, cultures.  As always she goes back to Hedda Gabler.  These are well-trodden paths.  One wonders what would “touch off” a post-Edwardian consciousness, knock her out of her comfort zone.  One had the feeling that it had happened to her at least once when she was young.

I suspect the sudden realization of danger as in her last years at NU "touched off" insecurity and a desire to go underground.  She was always circumspect, diplomatic, with authority figures, but I don’t think she had ever really felt vulnerable even after various challenges.  Her life had been a continuum of considerable depth and reward but she had mostly played it safe.  Even at forced retirement she had a second house, a reliable partner, a body of defenders and other resources, and soon she found her feet again.  But just as we are tempted to speculate on the inner life of actors, we are curious about the inner life of teachers.

Alvina Krause was a small woman who stood tall, the youngest of sibs, trained as a speaker more than as an actor, and at first protected by powerful people, particularly Dean Dennis of the School of Speech.  I think there was always a little edge where she was not that confident of what she might call her “gifts,” (I would call “capacities”), where some things could touch off core vulnerability.  Lack of control, for instance.  The effects of modernity and surrealism, existentialism.  She was essentially American, thus rejected despair and could not get her mind around concentration camps or African heart of darkness --horrific things that are not censored these days.  But she doesn’t SAY “nothing human is alien to me.”  She says (I'm paraphrasing), “An actor must always work on the premise that nothing human SHOULD be alien to me.”  In short, she was a universalist, a progressive, a person of her time and place.

Monday, April 21, 2014





In composing a post about dystopias, I did a little research and discovered a new term: cacotopia, which is a place/time that is WORSE than a dystopia.  Most of the dystopias are gray, featureless, emotionless -- the Russian stereotype of concrete apathy. Banality .  Bureaucracy.  It appears that a “cacotopia” is the breakdown of every sort of government or order plus horrific aspects that are not survivable, like genocides.  

I would coin a new variation:  a kakatopia, that is -- a society organized around money (using Freud’s idea that money = shit = kaka) -- that not only requires its citizens to be obedient and to stay in line, but requires them to stay alive by spending money.  Not just an oligarchy, which is run by people with money, but a welfare state that makes poor people pay.

Kakatopia with money

Kakatopia without money.

Every day one goes to the wicket and pays or qualifies as a pass-through justification for someone else's funding.  Whoever does not, starves.  Gets no meds.  Is excluded from housing.   A cacotopia is like the African jungles where no one, not even with modern technology, can stop a single maniac running a small army that enslaves children, amputates their limbs, forces them to violate every taboo, then discards them.  

A kakatopia is where a heroin addict who has exhausted all resources cannot pay his drug bill and is knee-capped.  It is where a middle-class entrepreneur miscalculates and goes broke, so his house is taken, his wife leaves, and his children scorn him.  He lives on the street until he dies.   

A kakatopia is where a very wealthy man thinks he is safe until his children are taken in an extortion kidnapping, he cannot get the money quickly, and the hostages are killed.  A kakatopia is where low-status women are killed and no one investigates because it’s not worth it.  A kakatopia is where soldiers are paid so little that if they aren’t killed in battle, afterwards they die of exposure on the streets.  But the top officers make enormous salaries.

A cacotopia is like Somalia, where things are so disorganized and broken that people survive through piracy.  A kakatopia has the added dimension of making people into commodities -- the return of slavery, human trafficking, not just sexual access but also work camps that are death camps (yeah, like the holocaust) and the general right to indefinitely confine, torture and kill as is convenient if it makes money.

In fact, incarceration, nursing homes, extra-governmental armies, extradition, private prisons, and hospitals are all commodified, growing, institutionalized sources of money.  Schools, even public ones and elite universities, put money ahead of learning.  Big pharm is notorious for profiteering.  Young men are encouraged to compete at sports that destroy their brains and knees for the sake of the status of the sponsoring entity, whether school or small town.  Girls are encouraged to have surgery and diet to be more attractive, to look marketable, to marry someone who makes a lot of money and to do well in their own jobs because “pretty” gets promotions.  Children who are inconvenient, unprofitable, and defiant live in sewers and abandoned structures and die young.  Families who only have 80% of the income they need to survive -- in spite of both parents (if there are two) working -- first banish the boys and then pimp out the girls, one way or another.  

The description of “dystopia” below comes from, a website for teachers.  We used to teach this stuff.
Utopia: A place, state, or condition that is ideally perfect in respect of politics, laws, customs, and conditions.
Dystopia: A futuristic, imagined universe in which oppressive societal control and the illusion of a perfect society are maintained through corporate, bureaucratic, technological, moral, or totalitarian control. Dystopias, through an exaggerated worst-case scenario, make a criticism about a current trend, societal norm, or political system.
Characteristics of a Dystopian Society
Propaganda is used to control the citizens of society. 
Information, independent thought, and freedom are restricted. 
A figurehead or concept is worshipped by the citizens of the society. 
Citizens are perceived to be under constant surveillance. 
Citizens have a fear of the outside world. 
Citizens live in a dehumanized state. 
The natural world is banished and distrusted. 
Citizens conform to uniform expectations. Individuality and dissent are bad. 
The society is an illusion of a perfect utopian world. 

Types of Dystopian Controls
Most dystopian works present a world in which oppressive societal control and the illusion of a perfect society are maintained through one or more of the following types of controls: 
Corporate control: One or more large corporations control society through products, advertising, and/or the media. Examples include Minority Report and Running Man. 
Bureaucratic control: Society is controlled by a mindless bureaucracy through a tangle of red tape, relentless regulations, and incompetent government officials. Examples in film include Brazil. 
Technological control: Society is controlled by technology—through computers, robots, and/or scientific means. Examples include The Matrix, The Terminator, and I, Robot. 
Philosophical/religious control: Society is controlled by philosophical or religious ideology often enforced through a dictatorship or theocratic government.

The Dystopian Protagonist 
Often feels trapped and is struggling to escape. 
Questions the existing social and political systems. 
Believes or feels that something is terribly wrong with the society in which he or she lives. 

So the “topic” is control.  How much control is too much control?  And on whose terms towards what goal?  A Dystopia is generally defined by a society where there is too much control, a “Sim City” that has gone mad and is bringing everything to a halt with rules.

A cacotopia (compare cacophony which is disorganized noise) is the other end of the spectrum.  NO order.  

A kakatopia is only controlled by “monetary” profit with no regulation except desire to accrue money.  The “free hand” of capitalism soon creates its own order and values human life and the planet itself only according to the profit.  Maybe it’s an oligarchy.  Maybe it’s a mafia.  Soon it will be a desert in an acid sea.  We already see the beginnings.

The opposite might be an ecology that is not based on money but on the sustaining benefit for all elements.  An alternative eutopia might be based on relationship and affinity.  Some people already try it: barter, energy off-the-grid, co-operatives, living in a style of basic simplicity, small communities who support their members.  Maybe in the city -- where it might be problematic -- and maybe in a rural place -- where the problems would be of a different sort.  The biggest problem I see is how to manage the media, which irreducibly remains in the kakatopia, even the presumably “public” radio and television.  As the hippie communes soon discovered, free-loaders are also a problem since they can’t just be eliminated the way a kakatopia would, converting them to cash customers through drugs, maybe. 

So how does apocalypse fit into this?  That’s when the bills come due, the water rises and the sheep separate from the goats.  The big secret?  Apocalypse doesn’t always come.  Arks capsize.  The escape spaceship blows up.  Apocalypse is not a punishment imposed by some God, but merely the collapse from within.  No judgement is involved -- just natural law.

Fear of this will lead to a dystopia, which justifies rigid control as it tries to figure out and prevent every disaster.  Not possible.  What ends kakatopia?  Someone somewhere figures out that money is worthless.  It’s all IOU’s.  Imaginary. 

Sunday, April 20, 2014


When I looked for the formal definitions of “thrashing” I did not expect to find a computer term, although many things have become metaphors for something technical in the computer world.

“When referring to a computer, thrashing or disk thrashing is a term used to describe when the hard drive is being overworked by moving information between the system memory and virtual memory excessively. Thrashing is often caused when the system does not have enough memory, the system swap file is not properly configured, or too much is running on the computer and it has low system resources. . .

"When thrashing occurs, a user will notice the computer hard drive always working and a decrease in system performance. Thrashing is bad on a hard drive because of the amount of work the hard drive has to do and if is left unfixed will likely cause an early failure of the hard drive.”

The original word, which has an onomatopoeia element (sounds like what it means) is about separating wheat from chaff by beating on the grain stalks, forcing the meat of the seed out of the husk.  Since grain harvest is done by machinery now generally -- people use the word to mean beating or fighting.  They also use it to describe violent punishment, like a parent beating a child to an extreme, presumably beating out bad traits.

Shark. Thrashing attracts them.

The meaning I want is psychological, but I don’t see it in the definitions.  Maybe it’s local but my friend the psychiatric nurse recognized it.  I mean a situation when all hope is lost and the body goes into a state of wild random energy, throwing the body around, pulling and pushing -- because there’s no rational way out and there’s nothing left to lose.  Once in a while it works.  The first time I set my cat trap, the cat I caught (which I never saw, only heard) thrashed around enough to pop the door open and escape.

But decades ago we visited the scene where a grizzly had been trapped and had thrashed but didn’t escape.  It had plowed the ground around the point of entrapment to a depth of two feet, it had torn up trees six inches across, it had thrown logs, and bellowed loudly enough to make the sheepherder some distance away cower in his flimsy wagon.  The bear did not escape.  It is dangerous to approach a thrashing animal to rescue it.  When daylight came, they shot the bear.

We're just trying to help you.

So people, when trapped in some circumstances with no way out, will throw themselves emotionally against the “walls” of the people around them, especially those with whom they have a strong pre-existing connection.  The thrashing brain will see ghosts of all the most feared forces of their lives: oppression, blame, lack of success, punishment instead of love, injustice, on and on and on.  The people who are the walls can suffer because cause-and-effect have been disconnected.  If they are lucky walls, there won’t be physical violence or only ineffective physical violence -- just verbal attack.  If they are not lucky and if the thrasher is armed, the consequences might be in the newspaper.  But usually a thrasher is too disorganized to plan.  Shooters are deluded but not out of control.  They are over-controlling.

If one is the thrasher, like a little kid at that stage of development when the brain storms and the child beats itself howling against the floor, there’s not much to do in the way of intervention except physical restraint or chemical restraint.  The wall must protect itself and wait for the tantrum to pass.  Even an adult person who is in the grip of the storm cannot get a hold on the situation.  

Psychology Today, always ready to offer pop ideas, suggests there are two kinds of tantrum, as follows.  (Neither is flattering to the person in the storm.)

"Both borderlines and narcissists get into rages in which they blame and criticize others. However, the rages are slightly different and are motivated by different things. . . . Keeping these differences in mind will help you anticipate the rage and respond when it happens.
"As you know, people with Borderline Personality Disorder are emotionally unstable. . .  Their intense and annihilating anger comes from believing that others don't care about them, are not listening to them, or are not meeting their core needs. Their pain is your punishment. You're still, though, the equal in the relationship.
"The anger of narcissists, on the other hand, can be more demeaning. Their criticism evolves from their conviction that others don't meet their lofty standards--or worse, aren't letting them get their own way. "Narcissistic injuries," or wounds to the ego, often pave the way for narcissistic rages, which can be passive-aggressive or planned out, as well as sudden. They are above you and you have displeased them and probably deserve punishment they will dole out."
Neither of these ideas addresses the desperation of someone fighting for survival.  Nor do they consider how much a person who is desperate is exploited by other people who can passively and “innocently” deny help, thereby adding more insult and entrapment.  They see a person “in the stocks” -- that old punishment of trapping someone’s head and hands so that they are vulnerable -- and can’t resist throwing rotten objects at them.
Most of the advice in Psychology Today is meant for young adults in relationships or raising children.  I don’t read it often.  This recent study is more helpful.
A study, published in the March 2014 issue of Psychology and Aging, examined 1,315 men — mostly military veterans who participated in a 15-year survey — between the ages of 53 and 85. Some 80 percent said that at age 50, life became easier.”  But then at seventy things get rough: people die, health declines, money runs out, people are no longer listening, past accomplishments are forgotten.  Then there’s the added element of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, having been in life-threatening circumstances that demanded extreme reaction:  killing, extreme exertion, high risk, major loss.  More than one veteran has told me that it is a truism that when a person has no idea what to do, that all indications are gone but the danger is extreme, it is much better to do anything than nothing.  Even if all you can do is thrash people with your cane.  You might accidentally strike the one holding a gun and knock it to the ground.

When I was working at a nursing home, one of the patients had been an aide in that same place.  She was much admired and loved by everyone.  When she became a patient, she lost her mind and began thrashing:  that is, screaming, throwing herself around, striking people, in what looked like self-destruction and is called “acting out.”  Finally she was sedated into unconsciousness for the sake of the people around her.  If her sane and healthy self had known, she would have been mortified.  But one couldn’t help but speculate (Freudian-style) about whether she had been repressing irritation and impatience all along and now that the restraints were weakened, they were bursting out.  I think that’s putting a psych layer onto something that was purely physical -- not even spiritual, but merely (!!)  the desperate attempt of a body to find some way out.  
In the days with Bob Scriver we shot a gopher every summer morning in order to feed the eagle.  A raptor that doesn’t get roughage (fur and bones) will die.  I got pretty handy with a .22 and there was usually a choice between shooting the critter in the head or the heart.  If you shot them in the head, there were enough reflexes left in the spine so that they thrashed and often the thrashing took them down their hole.  No breakfast for the eagle.  If you shot them in the heart, that was it -- they dropped.  Things are simpler with ground squirrels.  

But even a grumpy old man who “acts out” is trying to survive with the resources at hand.  If he has a lot of "backbone," it will be hard for everyone.  "The system does not have enough memory, the system swap file is not properly configured, or too much is running on the computer and it has low system resources."

Saturday, April 19, 2014


Bernini  St. Therese

Much of human meaning comes from the psychological/physiological phenomenon of attachment, the first manifestation of which is literal and maternal -- the umbilical cord.  Throughout life one yearns for attachment, usually to another human being but sometimes to a surrogate (dog? institution?  art?), and -- in religious terms -- to God.  One of the main functions of portraying God as a person (regardless of factuality) is that it demonstrates attachment.  Call it love if you like.  

A specialized kind of love/attachment, physically erotic, is often expressed in words and music, love songs.  I’m appending a quiz that compares the attachment rhetoric of eroticism to the attachment rhetoric of spirituality when God is seen as a Person.  It was composed by a Christian homeschooler R.L. Stollar, and comes to me courtesy of  Don’t assume that everyone in the believing Christian community is stuffy and blind.  These people are not.  The category of the bands, I'm told, is "Christian Rock."  I’ll put the answers on the next post.

The co-opting of religious rhetoric in the service of S/M sex is a demonstration of how thin the wall between the two can be.  But also there’s something about defining a privileged meaning-community.  I think of the feminists in the Seventies busily “correcting” the UU hymnal lyrics which were Humanist but white male.  The claim was that male pronouns included people of every gender but that was demonstrably (if not very consciously) not true.  Of course, only a few decades earlier the Humanists had been scratching their heads to find words for the hymnal replacing Godtalk, even though the claim was that God could be considered an abstract principle, like “love” or “creativity” or “the Force.”  What is an one-syllable synonym for “man” that IS inclusive?  “Folk?”  (“Human” has man in it.)

The next twist on attachment is that if there is a God, then there is a Devil.  Isn’t the S/M lover in Shades of Gray just Lucifer with a bankroll?  The opposite of good is evil because they are both addictive, which is an extreme paradoxical attachment.  Ecstasy is almost painful.  Pain is almost ecstatic.  If there is addiction, the addiction is demonstrated by the withdrawal.  If the addiction is simultaneously to the “good” of bliss and the “bad” of suffering, then the addiction is twice as powerful -- maybe more, a synergy. (Like an abusive marriage.)  The other extreme of the detach/attach spectrum is fusion.  But then the relationship collapses: the two entities are the same.  

Indifference is the real opposite of attachment.  (I admit that I am addicted to the study of meanings, including that of attachment.  I am not indifferent.  But perhaps this is a protective addiction, a kind of methodone or antidote.)  Indifference/attachment is a spectrum, but a basic level of attachment is necessary for survival.  Doesn’t matter whether it’s good or evil.  Total meaninglessness is not evil but catatonia: numbness.

The ultimate meaning of meaning is survival and therefore attachment is a means of survival.  I ask all the time, what is the addiction UNDER addictions?  ALL addictions.  Of course, in the physical sense it is molecular responses in the brain, the triggers and plug-ins of various kinds.  But what connectome, what consciousness pattern?  

No one shoots up with “street serotonin.”  That can’t be the only key.  Meaning is historical.  Heroin has more of a history than serotonin.  It has glamour, wickedness.  (The root meaning of glamour is witchcraft, right?)  Every flame needs a chalice, every act of sex, religion or drug use needs its ceremony.  I’m sure folks out there can offer the rhetoric of drugs in songs, which will be close to those of God-worship and sex.  Every meaning needs its rhetoric and if the meaning is near to the core, that rhetoric will dwell in the lyrics of the songs.  

So here’s the quiz and I’ll put the answers in the next post.

1. Which of the following is a lyric from a Newsboys song?
a. Giving it over, I was flat on my back.
b. I come instantly
2. Which use of “hand” is from 50 Shades of Grey and not a CCM song?
a. You gentle your hand…
b. Gushing with surrender in your hands…
c. My hands are open, so take what you see…
3. Three of the following four lines are from Skillet songs. Which one is from 50 Shades of Grey?
a. Stretch me bigger….
b. An empty vessel to be filled at your whim…
c. I’m exploding like chemicals. I’m going crazy — can’t get enough!
d. It’s so urgent. It’s so desperate I can feel it in my bones.

4. One of these four is dirty talk. The other three are DC Talk. Which one is dirty?
a. You consume me like a burning flame.
b. Anytime, anyplace.
c. I am calling out your name.
d. Oh, you know that I surrender.

5. Which “you” is from a Sonicflood praise song? (The other two are about sex.)
a. God, I want you
b. I want to touch you.
c. I am in awe of you.

6. Can you figure out which is neither Rebecca St. James nor Audio Adrenaline?
a. Here I am. I will do as you say.
b. You’re pinning me to the wall.
c. I’m enslaved to what you say.

7. Different people handle pain differently. Which one is the 50 Shades of Grey way?
a. How can I scream when the pain is such a release?
b. The pain is such that I refuse to acknowledge it.
c. I do not deserve to be set free.

8. Once you experience something you really like, you usually want more. Which wanting more is not about God?
a. We’re going all the way.
b. I’ve never wanted more, until I met you.
c. I’ll be chasing you.
d. I wanna do it soon.

9. Which romantic exclamation is not about Jesus?
a. When I’m in your arms is when I feel the best.
b. My heart beats for you.
c. I want my world to start and end with you.
d. I can feel your power surging through the whole of me.

10. One of these is about a BDSM master/slave relationship. The other three are from Christian music.
a. Capture me, make me a slave.
b. I’m struggling to resist, but I’m drawn.
c. If I could only be your master.
d. You can have everything I am.