Tuesday, December 11, 2018


Dawn is at 8AM now and sundown is at 4:30 PM.  In between, anything could happen, but yesterday it didn't, except for the usual sky show of silver and purple.  It was a good day for driving to Great Falls for an overdue eye exam.  My eyes are of concern because of age, diabetes, and overuse.  The exam is a happy event because the Eye Clinic of Great Falls is cheerful, competent, and friendly.

So this is about a layered event: the planet turning through its patterned but various events, the human business of helping people see, and world news about what might be the end of civilization as we know it.  Actually it IS the end of what we know: the end of Enlightenment thought, the end of the industrial revolution but not its effects, the end of WWII institutions and people, the end of humans as privileged above other animals, and the death of God.  Very confusing.  We have a lot of work to do.

The first step seems to be ignoring all the rules, even the unwritten social conventions, and doing whatever suits or profits.  No consequences were expected, so they have been a surprise.  We are lucky that the main perps are such clowns that what they do is now out in the open, except we are chagrined to discover that millions and billions of dollars have been shifting around the world without us realizing it or participating.  But that's not what yesterday meant to me. 

I hadn't been to Great Falls for a long time and when I go I don't usually go downtown.  Many more shops have closed, often appealing and standard ones.  I was looking for a place to grab a burger and ended up in a fancy joint with ten-dollar hamburgers that featured avocado rather than fried onions.  There was a big help staff, all looking as though they just got out of college, no espresso machine but a corner that sold alcohol.  The clients included older women in clumps and preoccupied older single men.  Art on the walls was abstract, unframed.

I found two art galleries, one that combined several businesses like publishing a free magazine about the area, as well as hanging a sequence of artists too young for me to know, none extraordinary.  All competent.

http://wranglergalleryart.com/brad-hamlett-biography.html  startled me -- it is directly from the Sixties Western art scene, the artists I knew personally, the kind of bronzes that knocked us out in those days, well-worn cowboy regalia -- I couldn't go inside so this is from peering in the window.  Brad Hamnett, the owner, is involved in Helena and was active with the Russell Auction, which seems natural, since business, government and Western art have always been related.  But there hasn't been a gallery like this in Great Falls for a long time in spite of the CMR Museum.  There is no trace of Bob Scriver www.artnet.com/artists/bob-scriver/  which is not surprising since he had little to do with this crowd, but there is a high visibility of Charlie Beilwww.askart.com/artist/Charles_A_Beil/119848/Charles_A_Beil.aspx  which is unusual.  He was close to Bob Scriver but his studio was in Banff and usually he's not well known down here.  Ace Powell and his wife Nancy McLaughlin were on the list.

The Eye Center of GF is from an entirely different context, the Malmstrom Air Force Basehttps://eyeclinicgf.com/meet-the-doctors/   Josh, my eye guy, is a handsome young man with a pretty wife, two pre-school sons, and a new place to move into this weekend, a country spot with a kid-friendly landscape, something like where their father grew up in central Texas.  All the people in this Center are conventionally and highly qualified as well as belonging to professional organizations.  This is in contrast to small medical practices with sub-conventional qualifications in service to people with chronic incurable but maintainable conditions who must stay on a schedule monitoring drug intake.  (A perfect opportunity for opioid abuse.)

I mentioned the sound of the big "cargo" C-planes in the night, either practicing, as they like to do here on the East Front, or leaving for the other side of the planet.  I tried to tie that to the news that satellites show that Russia has sent heavy ground machines to Ukraine, possibly preparing for invasion.  We didn't talk politics, though I made my usual cracks about Trump and war.  Josh is in the National Guard and he does not kid.

So he is earnest about eyes and concerned about how to help me keep my body up to my self-imposed work.  My life has been hard on my body, since I gave it little attention, but has nearly overwhelmed me with things to think and write about.  Computers, likewise, have been a leap in productivity but hard on eyes.  My cataracts are developing, my glaucoma is at 19 now, approaching the necessity for meds.  But the computerized machines of the Center no longer require my eyes being numbed or poked and there was a dilating solution mild enough to let me drive home with my photo of eye interiors.

I google all the time, not for shopping but to keep track of the world in several senses -- theory, research, and medical strategy.  One of my "feeds" is STAT https://www.statnews.com, which is for professionals, mostly about the companies and the meds they are developing.  It is a scary look into the politics of pharmacy, ranging from CRISPR editing baby genomes to battlefield pain relief.  Much of it is bluff and hype -- not at all the sure magic we think of as meds.  

Previously I went to the Great Falls Clinic for my eyes and other things over the decades.  Dr. Jordan sealed holes in my retinas after the Saskatoon doctors refused to look.  Aboriginal people there complain of prejudice, but white Canadians also reject white Americans.  Recently there were three eye docs at the GF Clinic -- one was so successful that he hived off to his own clinic.  One decided he didn't like GF and left.  The third, Dr. Padilla, suddenly died of cancer.  I liked him and am saddened by his death.  But I'm glad not to go out to the dizzying super-modern architecture outside town if he's no longer there.

Doc Josh is not intimidated by knowledge, which is a great relief.  Some of my complaints are a little esoteric, like a gray fuzz ball phenomenon that happens in brains rather than eyes and comes from overuse.  Some are just dumb, like dry eye syndrome related to ocular rosacea, connected to pink cheeks and common in Britain.  One can see it on actors and public figures (Prince Harry), but mine is also connected to a dandruffy accumulation on the scalp that I've had since childhood.  My cousin has a version that she treats with a thirty dollar cream.  I use a drugstore med, Psoriacin.

Near sunset with a violet storm shelf building over the Rockies, preparing to descend the East Slope in a blizzard, in the end it didn't while I was driving.   When I pulled into Valier, the neon piping along the edge of the clouds was gone and headlights were on.  It was a little while before I felt the relief of completing the overdue trip.  A lot to think about.

Monday, December 10, 2018


So many "anthology" websites for thought about writing exist that I don't pay much attention to them.  This story arrived that way but is demographically relevant, though I won't be 80 until next year.  The article is worth reading and then I'll reflect after that.

Quote from the article:  "After the image of a 92-year-old woman, vital, working, came into my head, I began seeking out an old-lady canon. When the image of the woman didn’t go away, I wrote a novel around her. It wasn’t female aging that fascinated me as much as I wanted to swing into the viewpoint of a woman who had lived a long complicated life, deeply occupied by her work. I began to think of my book as a coming-of-death novel. The Germans, I thought, must have a word for this (as it turns out, they do: reifungsroman, literally, “ripening novel”)."

My aged mother is on my mind these days, as a role model and as an influencer.  She was part of the demographic move of America from small farm to small town to big city, while I've deliberately gone in the other direction.  This story begins in Portland, OR, where I was educated mostly by old women at Vernon Grade School and Jefferson High School, both examples of "exceptionalism," the conviction that we were the best.  Starting in 1945 and ending in 1957 when I left for college in Chicago, many of the female teachers were single because of war or because the Depression made marriage impossible.  They had high ideals, sometimes threw in with other women, and were hardly victims.  Rather, "hardy" victims.

My mother lived to 89 but her mother and maternal grandmother died as young women.  Her grandmother, a cherished Cochran daughter in a prosperous pioneer family of the Willamette Valley, died of childbirth infection.  The necessary stepmother was harsh and belittled my mother's mother, mocking her for having "horse teeth".  Her teeth were painful trouble but through help, maybe from friends in the downtown Portland Baptist Church, she spent enough time in the big city for them to be corrected.  Her daughters inherited the teeth.  One of my last acts for my near-death mother was prying out her full set of false teeth.  She was comatose.  I'm not sure it was the right thing to do.

My grandmother's beginning family was in Idaho, growing small fruits, where she married a Pinkerton, a defiant and energetic man her father didn't think was good enough for her, though he sounds rather like her father.  Hot-tempered.  Full of schemes.

Ethel Cochran with Lucy, my mother, alongside.  
In front, l to r, Aliene, Helen and Vera.

Here's my maternal grandmother as a young mother.  My mother is the oldest daughter.  The husband tried to conceal his disappointment at not having sons, saying his girls were as capable as boys.  My mother could drive a nail straight.  I don't know how much education she had.  I don't know why there were no more than four daughters, no infant losses that I know of but a gap between the older two and the younger two.  Abdominal cancer killed her, possibly of the female kind.

So my mother never had a role model for aging except through the media and then as a "professional woman" working in small Roseburg, OR, businesses with older women.  My grandmother and mother never wrote anything or aspired to, except that my mother kept a diary for a while.  She had a terrific fight with someone but tore out all the relevant pages.  Lifelong she was a social conformist, but never hesitated to oppose individual injustice.  She loved the stories of visiting missionaries and late in life took trips to Asia.  A male Filippino neighbor, a young artist, was close to her.

I think that in trying to mold me into the woman she wanted to be herself, pushing against my natural demonic independence, she created the person I am now.

"Late works in literature and art are often more radical, mysterious and profound, given that the creator, finally free of conformity, is brushing up against their own mortality. Now more than ever, we need to engage with these women, evolution’s wild ones, who not only survived, but managed to make world-altering work while they were at it."  Did I?  Dunno.

The list presented in the article emphasizes both defiance and very fine writing.  Those are my priorities as well, but the old women I see as my "type" are late Colette and Gertrude Stein.  That is, sadder but wiser females whose cynicism is matched by relish.  We don't get excited about sex-based fiddling.  We reach for the biggest picture -- the many and surprising arrangements of cultures across the centuries, the complexity of today which can barely be followed by our media, the illusion that anyone could ever design a perfect world.  Where I differ is by being solitary, without partner or community.  It makes me a little distant.  Sometimes a bit elegiac.

Diana Athill (from the article) is in three YouTube vids and they feel "right" to me.  I'm not the sort of withered, crumpled, needy old person often portrayed, so it's good to see Athill looking fine.  In fact, my mother looked okay: a little slower, her hands a bit deformed, often tired, but not very wrinkled, no collapsed face.  She was a sharp dresser.

Culturally, I've made transitions my mother never knew existed, but her experience informed mine.  That is, she compensated for her passive husband so became strong and a leader in a way she didn't expect but should have.  Something like that happened to me: I thought I was attaching to someone in order to help him and have shelter, but found he was willing to take that and ask for more than I had to give.

Interpersonally, my mother never thought of me as a daughter as much as a subsidiary of herself, "owned" -- exasperated when I didn't obey,  I seemed to her to be a sister, named for Helen (killed in an auto crash as a young teen), and then (per Freud) calling me Vera when I didn't behave (that was her sister closest in age) and Aliene when she was feeling affectionate (that was the youngest and most lovable sister).  

When I exceeded her, as by going to U of Chicago Div School, she was enraged, partly because she was afraid for me -- I was getting above myself.  Then, because I stepped out of the conventional rural Presbyterian frame, she couldn't even understand what I was talking about.  (She's not the first to be baffled by deconstructionists.)

What I never understood until recently is how she assumed and supported "boys against the girls," a phrase often used then.  My two brothers were simply a higher form of life in her unconsciousness.  They were not shining heroes -- in fact, after his concussion the younger brother lived off her, which made her restless because she had had other plans, but she couldn't solve what to do with him.  Neither could I.  Anyway, both boys resented me.

The most daunting failure was that she never understood my writing, neither why I wanted to or what it meant or how skillful it was.  When I wrote short stories about the rez, she read them sceptically and said afterwards that she hadn't expected to be moved -- but was.  Big deal to me.  The real writing was after her death because without meaning to, her estate set me free to move back to the prairie, writing on the fringes, never being a "Montana writer" which is a category mostly about sales.  But fulfilled as an old woman.

Sunday, December 09, 2018


David Brooks tweets how much he admires Andrew Sullivan's essay describing "New Religions" in New York Mag, and I sympathize with what they say, but they're too shallow and too much the product of their educations, which taught them to privilege reason.  I like them and their courtliness but I also relish rude Christopher Hitchens and they do, too.  But I think they are missing recent research and thought.  Recognition of the post-WWII influence is common, but little reflection on what I see as the end of Enlightenment thought dominated by rationality.

Here's a list of problems with the Enlightenment based on ancient Greek and Roman thought:

1.  Thinking is not confined to our brains.  99% or so of what we "know" comes to us through our sensory capacities as they exist unconsciously throughout our bodies and in our relationships with the environment.  The idea of the brain in a jar is a figure of death.  A brain must be in context to work because the context is what it does: sorting and defining incoming information and controlling the response.  Rationality is only part of that. It is not the content. It is a way of managing content.

2.  In fact, the Enlightenment and its values, very much influenced by mathematics and formal historical philosophy, are the foundation of much of our lives: science, technology, AND politics, history, and much of literature.  Our nations and our institutions are the products of Enlightenment approaches and assumptions.  So are books, city traffic, and other products of order.

3.  The next problem with the Enlightenment is that it is anthropocentric.  It does what is best for humans while using human measurements. Recently we have begun to wonder what the world looks like from an animal's point of view.  It was nice when we could wonder what God saw and thought, a curb on our narcissism.

4.  Sullivan's essay focuses on the idea that religions have been previously seen as institutions for a lot of people, maybe whole nations, but recently have become the preoccupation of the individual trying to create their own "religion" which is seen as an OS, an "operating system" in computer terms, a platform for decisions.  It does not supply FELT meaning, especially deeply FELT meaning that marks fulfillment,  This trend is at least partly due to the Enlightenment permission to put the individual ahead of the larger group, a tension that is often explored in literature where individuals pursue justice while the group insists on law. Now reason and morality are stuck together, which can feel very wrong.

5.  Compensations and strategies for searching out meaning include:

     A.  Building community among real individuals through festivals, shared recurrent events like worship or dances or rallies, according to seasons or the calendar.

     B.  Social media interactions can pull people together into affinities but the potential for lies and fakes is high.  The data aspect is an Enlightenment record of FEELINGS, which is dangerous -- two conflicting realms. Numbers reduce humans to graphs.

     C.  Smorgasbord or cafeteria assortment of various systems: a dream catcher here, a crystal there, and, in the congregational setting, services that sequence a quote from a Brit, a Buddhist resonating bowl, a song from Africa. (Kumbahya), a good old Christian hymn but with new words.

     D.  Empathic efforts to eliminate suffering, starvation, oppression, cruelty and the other single issue causes that join people with good hearts and awareness are all good, but people want to pencil them out to count dollars.

     E.  Political merging with religion or sometimes therapy merging, the former defining the group's hope for progression and the latter defining individual happiness.  These were once generally considered secular.  Sullivan finds the useful division between religious and secular troublesome.  After all, it mostly just protects the secular, an Enlightenment value, along with progress.

     F.  The hierarchical and hegemonical values of institutions invade religion and distort values with thoughts of control and wealth.  Enlightenment values cut against this or ought to.

     G.  Systems directly opposed to institutions of control and wealth, particularly when they merge with political and governing systems.  The monk as opposed to the priest.  The Dalai Lama contrasted with the once Emperor in Japan.

Enlightenment aside, other sources of thought and therefore meaning are:

     1.  Deep awareness and love of a place in a sensory way -- the smell, the weather, foliage, sounds, animals.  This is centering for an individual and the basis of the ecology of the community which is in turn based on the economics it supports: farming, mining, making, awareness of horizons.  To go from one place in which one is embedded to another unknown place is deeply dislocating and disabling.  What worked in one place doesn't work in another.  This can be true among levels or sub-communities or generations.

     2. Family in the conventional Western sense or in other ways, a group with shared bonds and commitments.  Their expressed thoughts over the years may be "heard" in one's head in the voice of one's mother or teacher.  Vignettes of moments of realization may replay in the way of PTSD visions, even if they were not traumatic at the time, maybe a source of inspiration.

     3.  I've described a sequence of FELT knowledge that starts before birth with the sensation of rocking in the womb, being embraced with warmth and safety, body function supported through the umbilical cord which sends along the mother's emotions molecularly, and then the stages of learning about other people, how to walk and speak, and so on.  This is the core of identity.

     4.  From the moment of birth a phenomenon appears in the space between infant and caregiver that is discussed by a particular school of thought: Bowlby, Winnicott, Kohut and others.  This definition is from Google, a bit understated.  "The Self, (or subjective sense of self), refers to the person's experience of their own unique subjectivity which may vary in its qualities of cohesion, agency, continuity and vitality. A selfobject experience is one in which the person experiences themselves to become more cohesive and enlivened."  Enlightenment thought has scorned this phenomenon as weakness.  An example in the painful result in the Brit Royal family entirely conscientious but cold until Princess Di taught them to feel.

     5.  Risk, acceptance of the possibility of death, managing stress, detecting the roots of hatred and rage in oneself, or fear and shirking -- all the negatives that Enlightenment tries to eliminate, are accepted in whole body awareness, so that they can be dealt with, often by sharing with someone or the group.  Some call it therapy and some call it friendship.

Sullivan has this right: everyone is "religious".  He says, "Everyone has a religion.  It is, in fact, impossible not to have a religion if you are a human being.  It's in our genes and has expressed itself in every culture, in every age, including our own secularized husk of a society. By religion, I mean something quite specific, a practice not a theory, a way of life that gives meaning, a meaning that cannot really be defended without recourse to some transcendent value, undying "Truth" or God or gods."  (He seems unaware that this can be as negative as positive.)

I would add that today's discovery of the woven DNA universality of life means that the Sacred must include the whole cloth, and since this planet is the substrate of all life, we must include it, and since the planet whirls and careens through the cosmos, we must include it.  All of it is interwoven and what defeats death is our participation in it.

Saturday, December 08, 2018


Waiting for Christmas is nothing compared to waiting for Mueller.  Maybe it's the same thing: waiting for something profoundly hoped for, some world-changing thing that will save us all, and the worry that we might not deserve it.  Coal is what Trump wants.  He doesn't care about the stocking.

The threats have piled up.  Worries about the economy and the stark reality of less money but more need for it are pinching us all.  The big overriding tsunami of global climate change is real in agricultural places, so real we can't really bear to talk about it.  Don't say "tariff". 

Talking abstractly about famine as war is far less tormenting than the sight of wizened babies who can barely move their eyes.  In the Seventies when working at animal control I invited scientists from the Oregon Primate Center to tell us about their work.  One of the women was deliberately starving baby monkeys to the edge of death so that she could treat them in recovery to see how to do it.  It seemed immeasurably cruel, esp. to her.  But now we see the point.  The trouble is that there is no access or protocol that gets to the Yemen children.  Once I read about a woman being punished who was deliberately put in a cage just out of reach of her newborn long enough to let it starve to death while she watched.  Humans are so resourceful at harm, so reluctant to heal.

The climate change that gave us agriculture ten thousand years ago may be taking it away again, without even a shrug.  Without even nostalgia for the little farms that were supposed to be our ideal even on the Star Wars planets because they were home for the small families that are today rejecting their children.  People surge across the continents to get away from war and drought and flooding and fires.  There's no escape.

Politics are sold out to oligarchs and person-less corporations that ironically pretend to be people.  And all this time we were worrying about robots without wondering where they were going to come from, who was going to make them, and who would teach them what to do.

We worried about the pandas and sage grouse while all the time the bugs were dying.  We worried about the sperm counts of American men and the rise of compulsive friction-sex based on domination, we worried about staying alive, but only while the babies were inside women.  Once they were out, it was all a matter of ownership, even if we only owned little corpses.  Men owned women and rich men owned everybody else, not with chains but with short-sheet paychecks.

Science has expanded its horizons to the point of hearing the Big Bang and creating little 6-chromosome "cells" that can make molecules, just like the molecules that make us.  But they still can't cure AIDS.  Alongside expanding the galaxies, science erases boundaries between genders, species, territories, planets.  All our assumptions about reality get challenged until we agree that there ARE no boundaries, there IS no reality, it's all constructed in our heads and agreed upon by eggheads with fMRI's.

Satellites and the Internet are invaluable and support our lives, but now we have the obligation of maintaining and understanding them.  We aren't there yet.  They could self-destruct tomorrow.  A universal hack that made all satellites fall out of the sky would paralyze the world.  A regional hack of the Internet means no one can pump gas or make change.  Big and little, these things are indispensable.  Or so we think.  We look at their end-objects, not their sources and infrastructure, and don't realize what they do to us.  Electronic systems power our emergency responses and the power grid.  Huge areas have suffered blackouts for unknown reasons.

Some people think that religion should address all this.  I do, too, but my idea of what religion "is" has developed into something very different and I'm inclined to leave much of what the world knows behind.  First of all, most people think a religion is an institution, either a standalone like most protestant congregations and denominations or quasi-governmental like the Roman Catholics who were energized by Roman emperors but lost their authority when new inventions like Democracy arose.  We may be at one of those culture-turning/burning points right now.  Some Luther somewhere is nailing a list of crimes to a big door and will be napalmed for it.

Institutions are only one aspect.  Dogma is a thought-castle that is challenged by the new insights.  "Mighty leaders" are falling out of fashion.  We prefer the Court Jester.  Maybe songs bring us together better than armies or rhetoric.  We talk about the revolutions of the Sixties and Seventies, but maybe the real comparison ought to be with much earlier and more universal culture waves.  This much pain and new awareness has in the past produced new Worlds, not because a committee invented them, but because they were the only way to go.

So now Mueller -- who is a symbol and signifier for a whole body of people on his team and backing up the effort -- has begun to lay down the law.  He is making a choice of realities, the one described in the Rule of Law.  The sentencing guide for Manafort describes him as a liar who lies so much that he loses track of what he said, so that he has to invent new lies to protect the old ones.  It's likely that his brain structure is addled so that Actuality is not possible, but not quite bonkers enough for him to plead insanity.

So what is the balding Trump going to do?  Part of the Rule of Law is restraint and refraining from excessive punishment.  Many people just want him out of there but his inner parents taught him nothing about repentance.  His usefulness is over.  He's in danger from his former friends.

What's scariest to me -- but the clearest evidence that this is a world-changing universal culture wave -- is that all nations are seeing both sides of it.  Crime and corruption aren't visible until the rest of us wake up.  We're barely yawning now.  Even the arrogant who thought they were too good to deal with dirty old politics are realizing that they can't go about their business without getting greed and cruelty out of the way.

Friday, December 07, 2018


"Writing" is a kind of fantasy trope for people who can't rub two words together and never read books.  it's Aladdin's lamp, if they could just find it.  First nothing is there, then print comes marching like a procession of ants and you can SELL IT!! Maybe get rich.

In truth it's a privileged skill once limited to monastic specialists hand-producing the newly invented "codexes" of pages in covers, an improvement over scrolls.  Then the invention of the printing press made these "books" less expensive and produced a lot of print that was posters, pamphlets, etc.  By now a publishing industry has developed over centuries, beginning as a prosperous and sophisticated sort of thing to do, possibly driven by religion (the Bible) and then the eruption of novels, true-but-not-true.  Does this make the point that writing is often responding to the historical reality of publishing, which converts thought into saleable objects?

One of the offshoots of "publishing writing" is the idea that writing can be taught by people who already do it and have been published.  The validity of this is dubious, considering how much is dependent upon a morphing culture that changes standards.  That's not even allowing for the multi-layered phenomena of kinds, purposes, and value of print.  Three times I've been exposed to this idea.

First, in 1957 when I began work on a BS at Northwestern University, I only knew there one person, Bergen Evans, a funny and erudite man who had a television show about the history of words.  For intake and standardizing, all freshmen who "comped out" took a survey class in an auditorium that was taught by Evans.  Ivan Doig and Paul Winter were somewhere in that crowd.  I put myself in the middle of the fourth row and made it a point to react to everything Evans said.  (I remember he kept a pitcher of water at the lectern and someone put a goldfish in it.  I don't remember the quip he made, which was maybe in Latin.)

In his office I showed him my one and only poem, about six lines long, and he was kind.  He gave me permission to join a writing class which he didn't teach, but supervised.  The teacher was a younger man who must have been published, but I didn't know him.  The entire class was young men: arrogant, privileged, dominating young men.  In those days they shaved and dressed relatively well.  They were exactly suited for dust jackets and book store readings.  Maybe a little dalliance with readers.

The teacher went around the generous table so each of us could say what we had had published -- in my case, nothing.  "Journals?" he asked me.  Then more sarcastically,  "Letters to mom?"  No.  All sneered.  Then Evans must have had a conversation.  My next story got an A+.  I do not believe in A+ as a grade.  Now I was condescending toward this professor.  The young men had such high expectations of themselves that nothing they wrote was good enough to suit them, so they wrote nothing.  They all needed a workshop on "The War of Art," about the resistance within.  I sneered at them.

When I went back to university in 1978, now aspiring to be clergy at the University of Chicago, I found Richard Stern, a stellar writer used to the above kind of class.  Instead, he ended up with four females, two of us older than usual.  He thought about just cancelling the class and steered away the only young male who applied.  Shaking his head, he took on us female renegades and that's exactly what we were.  We bonded. Stern did his best.  We wrote such things as falling, sliding across a glacier while menstruating, leaving a bright trail of blood.  No one brought baked goodies to share.  We cried. 

When I received from seminary my MA in Religious Studies, the class attended the ceremony In the Rockefeller Chapel, a near-cathedral, and stood up to cheer, against all decorum.  I took every class from Stern that I could because he was a specialist in narrativity.  His classroom anthology was called "Honey and Wax", a quote from Heraclitus off my lifework on the Sacred.  

The third incident came about when I was teaching in Heart Butte in 1991.  A professor at the U of Montana in Missoula organized a workshop led by Peter Matthiessen, an acknowledged master of writing, natural science, and Buddhism.  One qualified for it by sending in writing.  Mine was about walking out into Buffalo Lake, at a time when it was entirely dried up, and finding an iniskim, the "buffalo stone" for which the lake was named.

The class was a good mix of male and female, all ages.  In the end, there had not been enough people signed up, so some had been drafted.  Richard Manning was pulled in, locally famous for taking on corporate raider clear-cutters who destroyed whole mountain sides.  There were poets and medical writers.  I remember many of the pieces read and found a few them when they were actually published.  It was rousing all around, but I was taken aback that Matthiessen said he didn't see anything wrong with my essay and that he defended several things I said.  For instance, I talked about how buffalo look massive from the side, but when seen from up high, as in the sorting corrals with walkways at Moiese, that they were narrow from side to side.  A couple of the guys snorted and said I was wrong.  Matthiessen said he had been there, seen that, and I had it right.  They were more careful.  It turned out that Matthiessen had been in the Scriver museum and wanted to talk about that, but also about the fact that my high school teacher had told us F.O. Matthiessen, Peter's uncle, was a brilliant man, key to the New England writers.  He was also gay.

The organizer of the event didn't want me to take Matthiessen's time, as he considered himself the only one really entitled to it.  The second year of the workshop I went back to the public reading and then tried to make contact with Matthiessen but was warned off by this organizer because I hadn't paid.  There was no third because the professor and his wife died in a boating accident on Flathead Lake.  But for me Matthiessen's comments were a kindling spark.

And so it goes.  The people who write, MUST write, because it is part of being alive in risky places (which may be banal, a dangerous quality) and who do not play off the cult of ego that powers much print and even many more blank pages.  We learn however we can through opportunities, sometimes missed.  Plans do and do not work out. Gender does and does not count.  Theory and actual adventure both count.  Sometimes writing becomes sacred to the writer.  Take a knee.  Take both knees.

Thursday, December 06, 2018


When I first found the National Institute for Mental Health "RDoC" (Research Domain Criteria), I had the idea that it related somehow to the advertising/political categories used by Cambridge Analytica et al to target voters in the last presidential election.  Instead, it turned out to be another attempt to medicalize human beings, to make them scientifically explainable.  It's mildly interesting, esp. if you go to the next level of subcategories down from what I reproduce here, when the listers begin to elaborate with examples from the experience of those working on the categories.  You can get to them with the link below, but I didn't include them here.

What soon becomes obvious is that the most human emotions -- the passion, the yearning, the bonding, the rage  -- are not there.  Many of us feel that this "medicalizing" -- which is a form of Enlightenment professional rationality -- works to make us into obedient zombies, grinning ninnies who have been "adjusted", the kind of thinking that gave us lobotomies.  Once that grievous danger is noted, maybe posted above one's computer, then it's still absorbing.  But it ain't poetry.

"RDoC is a research framework for new approaches to investigating mental disorders. It integrates many levels of information (from genomics and circuits to behavior and self-reports) in order to explore basic dimensions of functioning that span the full range of human behavior from normal to abnormal."


Ever since the Cambridge Analytica/Facebook scandal, we've suddenly awakened to the idea that a lot of data, properly interpreted, can put us into categories that are very helpful in predicting what will affect us.  In this case it was elections, but the technique was developed for marketing/advertising and intriguingly analyzed when "A Billion Wicked Thoughts" became a framework for thinking about the content of pornography.  (Stigma provides the kind of secrecy that makes us all curious.)  This RDocC is not quite like those, I THINK, being more concerned with how and why the domains or systems work than what will make you buy more tomatoes or be more excited by imagining the grip of an octopus than by a Japanese school girl giving you the time of day, which might turn your neighbor on.

I have lists of criteria and prescribed values that go back to the Fifties when I was in high school, the days of Menninger.  My mother was taking psych classes at Portland State as preparation for teaching and she was also noting these lists.  We were both trying to be "good," "adjusted," compliant, successful, and those were the values of the times.  In her classes were many Korean War veterans pressed to self-examine, get control, be good employees, just as they had been pushed to conform as soldiers.  PTSD was not identified as such, but there was concern about "brain-washing," even as they did it without realizing because they thought it was benign.

Here's the NIHM list.  There are five "Domains."  (So far, they admit.)  Probably they arrived at these with brain-storming and discussion, mostly among people with the values of educated white men. 

  Acute threat (Fear)
  Potential threat (Anxiety)
  Sustained threat
  Frustrative non-reward

  Approach motivation
  Initial responsiveness to reward attainment
  Sustained/longer-term responsiveness to reward attainment
  Reward learning

  Declarative Memory
  Cognitive Control
  Working Memory

  Affiliation and Attachment
  Social Communication
  Perception and Understanding of Self
  Perception and Understanding of Others

  Circadian Rhythms
  Sleep and Wakefulness

Nowhere is there a place for sex, genders, or identity.  There's no murder or giving birth or brain dislocation through concussion, infection or substances.  The automatic balking of the ODD is missing.  It's flat and white-washed, like the people who use the categories.  Where are the consequences of stigma or the results of children torn from parents and put into concentration camps?  These are the big impossible categories that plague ordinary people.

This sort of list is the result of reflection about personalities, one might guess related to patients, rather than actual scientific research into process in an electrochemical sense.  It is a result of thinking of thought as a function of the brain and no other part of the body, though we know that what a brain really does is sort and record what the body receives from itself and its environment.

Bodies work by making loops of recurrence so that function that goes too far one way then compensates by going the other way in the style of a thermostat.  If the loop is distorted or prevented -- and it is organic, produced by contact neuron to neuron -- then the person shows psychiatric symptoms.  Sometimes these are dealt with by reasoning with the patient, as though it were deliberate misbehavior.  

There's a parallel in the larger society, going one way and then compensating like a pendulum returning.  If the swings are too wide, the society can die.  We seem to be dangerously approaching the limits that keep us functioning but the signs of pushing back the other way are also perceptible.  Uncomfortably now we are shaken to the point of doubting evidence.

We had thought we could tell by looking at behavior and presentation of a person whether they were honorable in a strictly moral way, but here's Bush who seems so courtly and yet whimsical with his crazy socks.  He did good things and bad things -- which-are-which depends on whom you ask.  He had a devoted marriage, talented sons, pretty women and marvelous property.  A charmed life.  But he still died.  And he was still dependent on maintenance from others.  When the living presidents are arrayed in a pew as the steady march of funerals requires, there's a lot of scope for speculation.  Some even say that Trump smashed an evil standing order by taking power to such a ridiculous extreme that it was unsustainable.  And Carter, so clearly a good Christian man, seems to have had little impact.

Preparation for the semi-Christian ministry created even more lists for me to ponder, and then studying Comparative Theology threw many of them off the table.  For me, leaving Enlightenment assumptions about being rational has been a relief in some ways and yet prescribed a whole new list of aspirations about the wholeness of the emotional person and fittingness to this new world we muddled up.  Idleness and withdrawal are values, but not usually when in the face of exasperation.