Necessary since my local provider is all snarled up. I've been black listed for some mysterious reason.
It's comes and goes.

Mary Scriver
Valier, MT

(Main blog, daily posts)

Heart Butte School, Montana (Non-fiction, the school and its community.)

Robert Macfie Scriver and Art: An archive. 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."

Monday, August 03, 2015


At one point it was suggested that we could reconcile cultural differences by making our central defining point the getting and spending like the fur trading posts so vital to the frontier.  After all, economics is what it’s all about.  (Too bad we can’t seem to figure out what economics is about.)  So now the Global Ferengi have us in their grip.  The pirates win.  The most important and reliable news source is “The Economist.

The Internet was thought to be a way to get us all talking to each other, therefore understanding each other and transforming the world.  But what does a resentful snide little high-heel wearer with the mental equipment of a 7th grader have to say that isn’t the online equivalent of her slam-book?  (A slam book is one that assigns a coded page to a frenemy and invites other girls to write accusations on it.  It’s semi-anonymity.  Like the Internet.)

What I’m talking about is a phenomenon of print -- the line of the sentence is the shaft of the arrow.  Those who can write a piercing sentence that matches straight logic with a smooth rhetorical shaft are those that kill nonsense.  Of course, there are always the feathered fletchings of religion -- plucked from angels, no doubt.  And the nock of the author’s fingers on the pen.  I’d make up something cute about the “crest” but I don’t get what it is and don’t care enough to find out.  It’s just a simile and a bit of a parody.

The quiver contains “kinds” of arrows, usually relating to the academic history of nationalities.  Of course, those who have NO SUCH THING, because their language and heritage is oral, must resort to throwing rocks.  Nevertheless, there are interesting variations in the arrows:  The English ones are about the entitlements of hegemonies.  The French ones are about the suffering of the oppressed being bled to death.  (They admire de Sade and Saint Sebastian.  There’s also a strange cult about pelicans who feed their young from the wound on their side which is somehow connected to the crucifixion of Jesus.)  The German ones are about the sacrality of nature.  It’s hard to tell about the Italian ones because everyone is yelling at once -- or is that opera?

Now I’ll be a little more serious.  Many word arrows have been exchanged with North American indigenous peoples.  Most of them have become bent or broken by now.  The problem is that the peoples of any continent are not defined or shaped by their relationship to the whole continent, but rather by the various ecologies, which are the basis of the economies of survival.  This is true of everything from genetics to religion.  Fish-eaters to corn-raisers to bison-hunters.

The Big Empty

First Contacts with Europeans, who wrote everything down on their terms, was governed by “otherness.”  This was rooted in the unwritten native cultures, elaborated, definitive and place-based. Organic.  The Euros saw them as all alike -- a big mass called, mistakenly, “Indians,” who soon conveniently died and left an “empty continent.”  Everyone still thinks the prairie is empty.

These ideas are so potent that even teaching on a reservation in the Sixties one met whites who said, “Well, we only took the land because the Indians weren’t using it.”  (Using means exploiting.)  And only a few years ago when a law was passed requiring Montana schools to teach Indian history, a librarian said to me, “I don’t see why WE would have to study THEIR history.  There isn’t any anyway.  It was again the hegemony of the written.  It was a puzzle to her how anything could exist if it weren’t in a book.  After all, her work was books, not stories told out loud.  (That was before the row of computers now in the library.)

The transition from oral to written has been a rocky one and often confused by the belief that certain cultures only write certain kinds of writing.  The early writing-down of Indian matters was done by helpful whites, often Victorian women or clerkly sorts of white men, who were influenced by Grimm and Anderson writing down the oral literature of Europe.  So “myths and legends” became the definitive genre of Indian literature.  But then the “scientific” -- well, “natural history” people -- came along, taking a great interest in material culture, and soon the whites had captured back through description the implements, the clothing, the shelters, in anthropological compendiums of the contents of museums or the paid reports of informants needing to feed their kids.

Young musicians playing for a wake.

In the meantime the “Indians” were going to government schools which intended to make them white, but instead created an underground Pan-Indian culture that is still carried along on the Pow-Wow circuit and the many political alliances of tribes, different as they can be.

You might know all this.  But have you considered the dilemma of a person who wishes to change cultures, the trans-culture person?  (Is that parallel to trans-gender?)  Adolf Hungry Wolf has an excellent Euro-education but a place-based lifestyle from the frontier between white and indigenous: a log cabin with a photovoltaic array to power his computer.  He is attacked from both sides, at least by those who cannot accommodate any sort of hybridizing, thinking of it as disturbing the order of the world.  Or maybe the diminution of their own power.  Remarkably, Adolf is peaceable about all this.  

Others are not.  One of the most interesting cases is Sherman Alexie, a bit of a misfit among his own tribe, who has managed to be on both sides by aligning himself with whites who romanticize Indians and believe they are a definable “something” in spite of being removed from the context that shaped their ancestors, but also aligning with the subcategory of Indians who resent having to conform to white hegemony and try to claim their molecular cell nucleus DNA trumps all environmental and cultural influences.  As time goes on, Sherman has to shift his target audience to a younger and younger demographic to keep his mockery from rebounding on himself.  
Sherman Alexie

Mocking whites who try to ennoble themselves by alliance with an imaginary “noble Indian” is to choose a soft target, mostly German, these days often female.  But Sherman has a hostage to the white medical establishment that tends to he and his son with their hydrocephalus.  They saved both brains.  But it means he has to keep the money coming and more whites have money than reds have.  Indians on reservations do not buy books, even his.  He gives respect and authority to whites and white publishing, enabled by political correctness, and dances to their organ-grinder tune -- not the drum.  

After all, his tribe bullied him and the other tribes only admire him now because he is a success in a white world, the way they want to be.  Wannabe-ing works both ways.  Dissolution of identity is not a happy thought, but the arrows puncture us right and left.  We are like the wounded buffalo, still running but destined to fall and rot.  The fish are dying in the drought the cities may cause, but everyone crowds into the cities.

Russell Means

There’s another influence: in the French-Algerian post-modern-influenced context, political correctness targeted governmental, academic and literary whites who soon discovered that the best way to avert disaster was to hire the troublemakers to be professors and actors.  Just don’t let them have any power.  In a while, they’ll discover what they thought was privilege and authority is nothing of the kind, and then they’ll go home.  

If you don’t dare fire popular individuals, in spite of claiming that the once accepted credentials are now worthless, don’t fund their department.  Native studies, queer studies, women’s studies, border studies -- whatever.   Asian studies . . .  are you kidding?  That’s where the MONEY is!  Do you want this university to survive?  And how do the now unemployed indigenous, mock or not, make their living?  What color was the parachute of the president of Harvard who was driven out of his job because he said that women were not like men, which enflamed the arrows of the hard-core feminists.

Is politics a living?  Is that quivering orgasmic?   

Sunday, August 02, 2015


The poorly educated are still obsessing over the diff between fiction and nonfiction.  They are waaaay behind.  Now the question is whether there is any reality outside of what we assemble in our heads.  The evidence is on the side of NOT.  

And in fact, since one cannot step into the same river twice, and memory is a time-river, one cannot access the same memory twice.  Something will drop out, something will be added.  Experiments show how easy it is to plant ideas.  DNA shows how easy it is to send people to terrible fates because they were stigmatized enough that a jury wouldn’t believe them.  The fMRI machines supply evidence that a memory is not a self-contained function of the brain -- one separate memory at a time the way we think of them.  Instead, the sounds are in one part of the brain, the sights are in another, the emotional state of the person at the time emerging from the accumulation of summoned senses.

The unreliability of witnesses is not a question of literary categories, which have just been invented in the recent centuries and become customary over the years, handy references for teachers who are trying to explain how a story works.  “Creative nonfiction” is a recently invented category to explain the journalist who, like Norman Mailer, puts himself in the story or imagines what might have happened by dramatizing it. 

False memories are provable scientific principles based on factual evidence.  People who write memoirs or work with psychoanalysts will report vivid events that could not have happened.  They’re called “screen memories,” the brain’s way of summing up and justifying an attitude.  Sometimes an impressive movie will get woven into one’s own life.

In the early world of the novel, the “roman,” which was an adventure in other places or in a mysterious part of society, the tales were often bolstered by pretending they were accounts “found” in letters or an old journal.  At the time people who did not travel were just beginning to realize how exotic other places could be.  There were two reactions, one denying in order to feel secure, and the other intrigued to find out more.  A publisher benefitted from both.

This is not a question of religious metaphors -- not the Easter bunny, the Tooth Fairy or Santa Claus.  It means that the whole world shifts on its axis all the time and some people are not keeping up.  Religion in particular can become unbelievable and irrelevant if it is based on superstitious claims, if life changes enough that the advice is no longer effective.

Literary categories must be in the hundreds, each with its degrees of fact.  Different cultures, different languages, each have their own customs and indicators.  To insist on fiction v. fact is to show how provincial and narrowly bound to one male-lawyer- dominated context the concept is.  Usually the point of this sort of argument is either political or has some monetary gain at stake, which is why it becomes so vehement, so tied to emotion.  My mother-in-law used to accuse me of reading lies (novels) while she herself read about real things (movie stars).

Another factor is a kind of xenophobia tied to the original organization of the tribal nomad mind to recognize only one’s own band, usually about a hundred people.  People who have never been out into the larger world enough to know that there are different ways of being and thinking become barricaded in their own minds.  Anything that’s not part of THEIR experience has got to be made up.

I call it “high school rules” but in a church it’s called “the one-celled congregation.”  Everyone does the same thing the same way and the same people stay in their roles: queen of the prom, nerd, football hero, the guy who always makes coffee.  If circumstances require broader minds, they fall short and get upset.  When they travel they eat at American food chains.  One of my friends taught a philosophy of religion class in a state university and said he could just about predict how long it would take for the naive small town kids to realize that they were a minority even in their own tradition as the world expanded around them to include Buddhists and Hindus.  For most, it was somewhere between Halloween and Thanksgiving.

Thinking about the “meta” level of anything is not really possible until the brain has developed the structure and neurons to do it, which is usually in a person’s twenties.  Not everyone can think at the meta level, the abstractions that yield insight.  The capacity may be dependent on a evolved kind of cell that not everyone has, like mirror cells that reinforce empathy so that one person can participate in another person’s feelings.  Indeed, some people seem flat or hard, even at the level of a sociopath who cannot grasp that others besides him or her self is a living being.
Some seem to have had that ability destroyed by trauma, maybe physical excision of brain matter rather than some psych block.

“Theory of mind” is not quite the same as empathy.  The term was invented to describe the ability to predict what other beings will do, which was clearly evolved by hunting.  Those who could see what either prey or a predator was likely to do next would come home with supper instead of becoming supper.

In wartime this ability becomes valuable and so do the unbelievable tales of courage and strategy.  One response is the vaudeville shtick of telling in detail about a famous encounter, challenged by the other guy in the oleo act who asks,  “But wuz ya THERE, Chollie?”  

And then there is the hill-billy old-timer who tells his grandchildren about ‘rasslin’ an impossibly big bear.  He’s vague about who the winner was, so the saucer-eyed children ask,  “What happened then?”  Grandpa, who is tiring, lights his pipe and announces,  “Wal, then the b’ar et me.”

Denying reality is a strategy for dealing with the anguish and starvation of the needy.  Just pretend the homeless are not there, even while stepping over them.  Don’t notice that one’s children are falling into bad company.  Deny that HIV or chronic fatigue or brucellosis is real.  If efforts to get people to see and help deal with a problem are failing, it is often because they are overwhelmed with statistics, but a story strong enough to convince them -- sometimes a work of fiction -- can be effective in changing laws and attitudes.  This is what “Black Beauty” and “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” did.  They were “meta” in an effective way.  So was “The Red Badge of Courage” -- Stephen Crane was never in battle.

People who have obsessive moral accusations about this tangle of what is real and what is not, must be struggling with their own lives, trying to make choices according to emotion instead of logic, hoping to align with powerful people who will support them, or maybe just wanting to make a buck and cynically using “reality” as a selling point.

I find that I have a not-quite-moral attitude that doesn’t require truth so much as the meta-level of meaning.  I value the courage of the journalist who leaves the hotel bar to see the actual place, but I also do not discount the wild tales of persecution I’ve heard old indigenous people tell.  I don’t take them as factual, since they are often provably not, but I recognize the emotion they hold.  And I know the old adversaries on the other side, even “my” side, are no more accurate.  People who are resentful and frightened defend themselves with a pen. 

Every piece of writing can be proven wrong.  EVERY.  ALL.  That doesn’t mean it’s not an accurate account of something felt deeply.  To discount or mock it can be a kind of abuse.  But to cling too hard to one’s own idea of truth can reveal the oppressor’s iron heart.  Sorting it all out is a lifelong task, not a publisher’s blurb.

Saturday, August 01, 2015


I don’t think I’ve ever done this before: re-posted someone else’s blog.  I’ll edit it a bit because it’s rather specialized.  Martin Marty was one of my professors at the U of Chicago Div School.  He’s been a public voice with considerable influence because he is always fair, balanced and clear.  On retirement he began to write this blog every Monday.  On Thursday at the same location someone else, well-qualified, writes on a crucial but more specialized topic.

Vanishing Clergy by Martin Marty

July 27, 2015

Making the rounds after its publication in July 2014 is an item forwarded by many: from The Atlantic, David Wheeler’s catchily-titled “Higher Calling, Lower Wages: The Vanishing of the Middle-Class Clergy.” 

Wheeler’s sub-title explains, “As full-time pastors become a thing of the past, more and more seminary grads are taking on secular jobs to supplement their incomes.”  . . . 

The Association of Theological Schools (Canada and U.S.)—see the link in Sources—or ATS as it is also known, can guide readers to many kinds of adaptation, innovation, enterprise, and energy on the theological school front, but stories of “decline” in worshipping communities is obvious and is pondered by many of the many millions who are involved with them, and who care.

The Atlantic story focuses on Justin Barringer, a Kentuckian who applied to “nearly a hundred jobs over the course of two years,” but landed no full-time, salaried church position. What to do?

As I read of him and his peers, an ornery recommendation leaped to mind: convert to Catholicism, study for and join its clergy, since Catholicism (including its middle-class) is often working “full-time” to find clergy to fill its depleted ranks or keep up with sudden growth in some sectors.

The “vanishing” and “thing of the past” terms are somewhat overstated also in Protestantism and Judaism, where processions of graduates enter the ranks of the “called” and “ordained” to more than what they would call “jobs” each year.

Admittedly, there is a shortage of positions for many in many denominations.

And without a doubt, many post-seminarians are saddled with debts, as are their counterparts in teaching, accounting, law, and many more. As one reads literature from the ATS, publications by denominational agencies, and the like, it is clear that many church bodies are working zealously to help seminarians enter the clergy unshadowed by mountains of debt.

Wheeler, David R. “Higher Calling, Lower Wages: The Vanishing of the Middle-Class Clergy.” The Atlantic, July 22, 2014, Business.

Author, Martin E. Marty, is the Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of the History of Modern Christianity at the University of Chicago Divinity School. His biography, publications, and contact information can be found at

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07.27.15  Mary Scriver in Valier, MT:

(I rather misread the issue here.  The original issue was why there are so many more pastors than pulpits.  I was thinking about why so many pastors are unemployed.  Whose expectations are askew?  Not just me right here, but also in the larger society.  This doesn't seem to be just a problem of ministers, but of all "helping professions" like teachers or social workers  There are a lot of them, but they aren't always very satisfactory and they are not likely to be satisfied with unreal work loads and low pay.)

Though I received an MA in Religious Studies from the U of C Div School in 1980, I left ministry (UUA) in 1988 for a variety of reasons that may be relevant to others in one combination or another:

1.  Ministers have reacted to the Sexual Revolution incautiously.

2.  Congregations will not let ministers explore new post-Christian theologies, maybe out of fear, and insist on old-fashioned apologetics — and yet are bored with them and can’t reconcile them with the far more exciting scientific breakthroughs or even pluralistic accommodations to comparative religions.

3.  Many denominations (esp in the mainstream) have pushed theology aside in favor of social activism and counseling.  Both require rather different educations than Div School.

4.  Many church contexts are over-influenced by corporation models, esp. those concerned with self-preservation through money.

5.  Levelers have brought down the kind of prestige and respect ministers once had and instead gone to “you are our servant who must be obedient to US.”  I had that said to me explicitly in those words and I was in a liberal denomination, though it’s a right wing attitude.

6.  Other vocations use roughly the same skills once the theology is removed.  They pay much better.

7.  Going to visit people in their homes or in the hospital is now unwelcome.

8.  Only the big churches can employ married couples, both ordained.

There are probably more forces than that at work.  The most relevant one for me was simple:  I wanted to come home to the Blackfeet Reservation and not move all the time.  (I am not tribal but I am aging.)  Some denominations assign their ministers, mine went through a long and arduous hiring process.

07.27.15 Dennis Maher, retired clergy:

I think that clergy are vanishing. I am one, now retired and better related to the Clergy Project than to any congregation. The rise of the “nones” has affected clergy as well as people in the pews. This makes clergy vanish.

Also, I worked with the PCUSA call and referral system in the ‘90's and have seen great changes since then. In that denomination then, there were about 1,400 clergy seeking about 950 positions; sometimes 1,200 positions. There are now 1,735 clergy seeking 479 positions, of which only 165 are for pastor or associate pastor. How many are full time is unknown, but most congregations today are under 100 members, making it difficult to pay a living wage to a full time pastor. Many of them used to have full time pastors but are calling part time pastors now. Once upon a time, the pastor was the best educated person in a small town. Now there are many counties without any resident pastor.  [my emphasis mhs]

As the number of educated and connected clergy declines, much knowledge about churches as organizations and institutions has been and is being lost. Denominations are not in a position to care about this, and themselves have lost their corporate memory. I think all of that is fine if congregations would adopt the teachings of Jesus rather than the myths about him as their mission. There is a future for the aphorisms and parables of Jesus but probably not for the church structures that I served for 40 years.


When someone like Rev. Maher has a strong voice, I try to research them via Boogle or some other means.  Rev. Maher appears to be active with The Clergy Letter Project which is a sort of petition website where specific pastors sign up to endorse the active inclusion of evolution in religious thinking.  There are 285 UU’s on the list.  They are not likely to get objections or criticism from their congregations or other ministers.  The church next door to me in Valier would be up in arms.

Friday, July 31, 2015


Four horses of the Apocalypse

As I finished reading “The Circle Repertory Company” by Mary S. Ryzuk, another book rose up in my memory, ghost-fashion.  The Circle Rep book is an account of NU classmates’ creation, an off-off-Broadway group that was so notable that it became a pathway to Broadway.  We’ve been told that it takes about 10,000 hours of learning to become truly proficient in an art form and that the “life trajectory” of an art career usually runs about ten years before it begins to fade.  Ryzuk was looking at a repertory company that ran from 1969 to 1996, which means it lasted nearly three times as long as the prediction.  She was asking why, how, and whether, but didn't exhaust the subject.  There’s a bit of information about the years between 1961, when we graduated, to 1969 when the formal evolution of this company began.  The tone of the book is dominated by the second book I was thinking of, Frank Kermode’s “Sense of an Ending.”

A Classic

This second book is highly influential, picked up by the reflective in more than one context.  I read it years ago and will now reread it.  In the meantime, according to the summaries I found online, the premise was that the Christian paradigm with its obsessions of end times permeates our culture and influences what we do.  But is it justified or it is a template that distorts reality and possibility? 

Certainly the great juggernaut of commercialism, which is noted here as more of a strangulation by the business department of the company, has crushed many a fine and idealistic enterprise. But the evidence is that many small repertory theatres have popped up again -- not in the same place, the same way, or the same results -- but certainly with the same heart and drive.  In fact, they are always around if you know where to look.  In 1974 when I was the theatre critic for the Portland Scribe, they were in the backs of warehouses and on the stages of old movie houses, often remarkably vital and ingenious.  I can’t remember reviewing one touring company of a Broadway musical.

Waiting for Godot

Ryzuk seems to feel that one of the crushing blows to Circle (aside from people’s private lives with their issues of aging, exhaustion and relationships) was the end of Lyric Realism.  I had to look that up, too.  I gather that the subject is the incomplete transition we saw back in Annie May Swift Hall, basically the Method acting technique of the Edwardian Alvina Krause, well suited to bittersweet end times, versus the avant garde and surreal such as “Endgame” as mounted by Robert Schniedeman.  The argument also calls on a November, 2008, essay by Zadie Smith in the NY Review of Books which set up a duel between old-fashioned novels and more inventive and confrontational approaches.  The essay is part of the response to 9/11 which seemed to many people to be an end, the promised apocalypse.

Alice in Wonderland at Looking Glass Theatre

By now theatre seems to have left all that and gone to strategies like the Looking Glass Company in Chicago, where the stage embraces flying harnesses, trapeze work, fire juggling and tightropes, all celebrating local history, like the Great Fire that consumed Chicago but did not destroy it.   The actors may have helped brainstorm the “play” or pageant, whatever it was. The old-fashioned novels or plays, the ones individuals were always going to write that would make us famous Americans, have been swept aside by a world-conscious, cosmic generation.

Here’s a paragraph from a book that’s online responding to geological thought that dwarfs “man”made commotions like 9/11 and Hiroshima: “Instructive” events seem to be compounding—both actually and within human consciousness—to lay bare the reality of just how deeply human life is embedded in the “brute materiality of the external world”—in the very “stuff” of the geologic. Take, for example: the discovery in 1997 of The Great Pacific Garbage Patch; the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami (2004); Hurricane Katrina (2005); Eyjafjallajökull’s eruption and subsequent disruption of European air travel and economies (2010); the Haiti Earthquake (2010); Japan’s “triple disaster” (2011); the Gulf of Mexico oil spill (2010); Superstorm Sandy (2012); increasing efforts to prepare for the long overdue “big one” along the San Andreas Fault in California; ever-clearer signs of climate change both man-made and earth-made; recent “near misses” of earth by asteroids and a growing understanding of the planet-wide effects of prehistoric direct hits; growing stockpiles of high-level nuclear waste and the urgent attempts to design ways to contain it–within the geologic–for up to one million years; new evidence of how geologic-scale engineering projects, such as the Three Gorges Dam in China and carbon sequestering, actually alter planetary dynamics; and. . . 
(From Ellsworth Kruse, “Making the Geologic Now” which is a PDF ebook you can download or buy as a bound book at  

Reynolds Creek Fire still burning in Glacier National Park
with Northern Lights in the sky.  Pretty theatrical!

We watch it all by proxy from outer space where the astronauts can see the forest fire in Glacier National Park that right now is making my nose itch.  In order to tell this story, we need video, symphonies, new kinds of spaces, lots of technology, people who can collaborate.  I suppose we must have lovers and scientists.  No need for crucifixion or virgin birth.  We could ask why we discard boys and oppress women.  We could move past nations and institutions, particularly the corporate international chimeras.  We could search for family in the refugee camps where miles of little plastic tarp huts are regimented on plains far from anywhere.  

To perform in a way that is revealing we need two things:  a  point of view that will hold the spectacle together, maybe filaments from the past mingling with threads of recently invented fibers;  and a sense of metaphor/meaning “plot line” strong enough to carry through various media and styles.  Survival ought to do.  Individual survival versus group survival might mean an overwhelming group consensus against the few, but that’s generally been the story of evolution and sometimes the few were the survivors.  (Did “Antigone” survive?)  

David Caruso

I sit here watching CSI Miami, David Caruso cocking his red head to the side when the camera lets him suddenly appear out of nowhere, and wonder what he thinks about the fact -- FACT -- that most of Florida and certainly all these glamorous glass and stucco houses are going to be underwater in a few decades.  If we can persuade the conservative Republicans to give up their love/hate of luxury and sin, maybe we could develop an adaptation into something like Venice, but there probably is neither the time nor the will among people looking at "Judgement Day" which they hope will punish their enemies.

Prairie erratic along the way to Heart Butte

This online geology ebook says we need to construct “a viewpoint that is generative rather than critical or analytical.”  So what would “generative” creation be like?  I would like to think that it would draw on ideas like immanence, the felt sacred, the dark brain, the violence of intimacy and the intimacy of violence.  Might need some puppets.  Maybe a tiger.  Dancers.  A boulder the size of a buffalo, rather shaped like one.  More like Looking Glass than Krause’s Eagles Mere repertory, but strange and wonderful things happened on that converted barn stage without any flaming batons or trapezes.  It’s the vision that’s crucial.

Inevitably when  a person starts thinking this way, comes the realization that people have been doing it for quite a while.  What do you call Koyanisquatsiyaa?  Or Equus?  Or for that matter, a fantasy account of the trafficking of boys, like “Just Before the Cure” (free on the Internet) in which relief from a world disease is the provocation addressed by the boys themselves.  They ARE looking at an ending -- of THEMSELVES.  But we have learned that our modern problem is that we sometimes outlive ourselves.  Isn’t that what we want?

"War Story"

Thursday, July 30, 2015


Cold in the night makes me semi-dream.  It triggers half-resolved memories from my whole life, other times when I was not quite warm enough to sleep deeply but not cold enough to wake up.  Often they were from times when the family traveled in a tent trailer and I slept on a sailor’s canvas sling in the middle with my parents and brothers on folding beds on each wing. Or when I’d just moved into a decrepit old house, but still had no heat or furniture, so was sleeping on a mattress on the floor.  Then there were the years of sleeping out in a van while circuit-riding between congregations.  Undefended.  Unreconciled.  But in a defensible space.  

A certain mood comes with it -- not really sadness or anxiety.  A sort of suspension.  Just lately I’ve been asking myself whether it’s a relative of dissociation, stepping aside from the flow of life into a different consciousness.  This week there were a few record-breaking cold intervals, the same kind of arctic intrusion as paralyzes us with below zero temps in winter.  Coinciding with a major forest fire in Glacier Park, the chill air was just smoky enough to create a stuffy nose, a shortage of oxygen.  These dreams are not really dreams, but floating images, sense impressions from long ago, each with its metaphorical burden, shifting in and out of each other, mere suggestions with no narrative but emotional significance.

They are the subconscious made perceptible, actually, the second level of my little five-part schema.  I call them stages but that’s not quite accurate because they aren’t separate or sequential in their flickering.  Talking about spiritual matters in terms of stages is never accurate since -- very much like the brain since they are the raw products of the brain -- perceptions come and go (connectomes, the patterns of the brain’s neurological connection at any given moment) and loop back or leap forward or double or are only half-there, like music.  This stage of conciousness/unconsciousness is about the unresolved, the incomplete, the impossible to reconcile.  It’s the source for writing -- at least some kinds of writing. It is the next step after accumulating the data of the sensorium, but not yet the third step of analyzing, naming and sharing.  The famous “sleep paralysis” is in force.  No action.

The simplest and yet most profound ritual of perception I’ve found described so far was devised by an artist for one-person meditation.  A chilled room, a pane of glass, and a fan.  The ritualist leans forwards and exhales on the glass, producing a warm cloud of condensed lung breath.  Then the fan moves the air enough for it to evaporate.  No words.  The subtlest of awareness, but it is the air from next to your heart, at blood temperature, only ephemera, but crucial to life.  The two person variation stations the other person on the other side of the glass, so that they can take turns or simultaneously make clouds, by bowing.

Sometimes when preaching on something intense, I’d see someone in the audience with tears.  Whether it was something I said or something they were independently remembering, they must have hit this chilled-so-visible level.  Usually they didn’t want to talk about it, because they couldn’t.  It seemed uncanny, too intimate to be nice, inexplicable.  When writers are blocked, I think many times it’s because this strata, this aquifer, is somehow unmanageable -- not accessible, empty, over-full.  Psychoanalysts work at this level, but often something physical touches it.  Rain. A certain kind of jacket.  A book cover.  The sound of a doorbell.  “Jake brakes” puttering in the night on an empty highway.

The example from our family travels is one of the earliest and activates my confused need to be a sentinel when a leader is not effective.  My father was violent at the beginning of the Fifties; I’m quite sure because of damage from a concussion in 1948.  Effects can be subtle and long-lasting.  But his underlying personality was not violent in any obvious way.  Rather it was passive-aggressive, a concept I didn’t learn until counseling for the ministry.  

See how ingeniously I managed to pull in counseling without being defined pejoratively!  How honorable to prepare for ministry by “soul-searching” -- much better than struggling to save a marriage, though the issues were the same.  Much more effective than my father’s strategy, which was to buy counseling books but never read them.  So -- passive-aggressive, the art of punishing people by NOT doing something.  In terms of the tent-trailer, creating a self-contained small context he could dominate since he was the driver and also the bill-payer.  Staying in the same job, never risking efforts that would bring in more money.  Reading, which can be an evasion, an excuse for not responding.  The only way to escape was to get out of the car someplace strange.

So I did that.  With wind whistling in my ears.  And it worked, but only if I were alone.  Sometimes I was risking my life (several lives, the ones with safety and honor and social recognition) but I never died, or at least only outside that small circumference I made for myself.  The boys of Smash Street and Cinematheque would understand, which explains my affinity for them.

With family, traveling through small towns after WWII -- there was no interstate system yet -- never eating at normal meal times because they didn’t fit with my father’s plan for making mileage -- we stopped near closing time for a burger and shake, inconveniently for the little mom-and-dad cafés and met a wall of resentment, suspicion -- more people who had created their small context based on xenophobia.  The only knowledge that had value was their knowledge.  The only people safe to welcome were their people.  

This is alive and well in the prairie small towns, but I didn’t feel it so sharply until traveling in Canada in the Eighties as a single woman.  Then it was underlain by gender politics: it was often the practice to use women as the source of comfort and the compensator for disadvantages.  As my mother and her mother were.  Can any woman compensate for a non-productive prune farm?  My grandmother raised chickens.  In the city it was possible for my mother to go back to school, get a job.

It never occurred to me as a child, though it probably did to my mother, that the ultimate passive-aggressive act in the event of a quarrel would be for my father to just drive off without us.  So there was never a quarrel.  Just a need for a sentinel sitting at the backseat window, making breath clouds against the glass, fighting off sleep until in a chilled, semi-conscious state one could call “dissociation.”  It’s a brain mechanism, because emotions are in the whole body but controlled by the brain and one of its skills is recognizing patterns.

In the circuit-riding ministry across Montana, I summoned up that pattern on purpose and lived it out in vocational terms, finally acted it out by leaving a congregation and then the ministry.  I went back to a place that was not small, that was not xenophobic, that historically was always nomadic.  The rez.  So I fit.  For a while.

There’s never a happy ending because there’s never an ending.  Life is a process, human beings are a process, the larger culture is a process -- all changing, all re-negotiating, always finding new accommodations if you’re alert, a sentinel.  That’s the cat’s choice.  And if it's cold, the cat sleeps with me.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015


Some mock person called “Self-development” has just signed onto Twitter to follow me.  I blocked them.  It’s obscene in its pretense to be a person, its use of a “social” media to flog an obsolete premise that intimidates people and transparently wants to sign them up for a lot of empty cliches so they'll shine in polite society.

In contrast, on the same social media (Twitter -- I refuse to go near Facebook) I found a crazy columnist who writes about babies.  “Yeah, Baby,” is written by Kool A.D. in a wildly exuberant rap on managing an infant.  One of those pastel, “nice," "self-development" ladies, whose babies never dirty their diapers, was confused.  Was this a joke? she asked.  NOT.  

I love "Yeah, Baby!" for its energy, its truth to a subculture, and its failure to “self-develop” into a shadow.  Brace yourself for a sample:

Sup, fam? It's your boy, Kool A.D., professional rapper, visual artist, astrologer, male model, and now, apparently, parenting columnist. Ten months ago my wife/swag coach/fun-employed Islamo-futurist art swami Cult Days popped a tiny combo version of us out a slit a doctor cut a couple inches below her belly button.

Kool A.D. before swag coach

Kool A.D. after swag coach

The baby is of the female variety and she's a keeper. Real cute lil' monkey—big eyes, the whole nine. It's been a wild ride but I gotta say we're true fuckin' pros at parenting, which is why I landed this sweet columnist gig.

Popped-out product

I'll be here every other week putting you on to all types of priceless parenting game. Nothing but gems and jewels my dudes and dudettes. First rule of parenting is there are no rules. Feel me? Oh, the baby's sad? Slap the lil' fucker onto a titty and let it get some milk. Still grumpy? Maybe the baby shit its pants. That's no prob, just take the shitty diaper off, wipe dat azz, put a new diaper on, and presto. It's still pissed? Try rocking it to sleep going "ssshh" or singing a soft lullaby of some sort. Not tired? OK, just kick it then. Make a weird face and/or noise; babies love that shit. Crinkle up some paper or tinfoil or whatever, give the thing some playing cards, teach it how to play solitaire. Play some sick tunes; babies love sick tunes. A baby's basically like a tiny person on too many shrooms—literally anything can blow its mind.

There’s a thin line between slang and poetry and this writing is right on it, or maybe they overlap.   High energy, metaphorical, experience-based, bad words, slang, using all the “figures of speech” like exaggeration, part-for-the-whole, etc.  

This list is from  I’m going to copy their whole list because I can’t always remember the fancy names for stuff most of us do all the time without noticing.

The Top 20 Figures

AlliterationThe repetition of an initial consonant sound.
AnaphoraThe repetition of the same word or phrase at the beginning of successive clauses or verses. (Contrast with epiphora and epistrophe.)
AntithesisThe juxtaposition of contrasting ideas in balanced phrases.
ApostropheBreaking off discourse to address some absent person or thing, some abstract quality, an inanimate object, or a nonexistent character.
AssonanceIdentity or similarity in sound between internal vowels in neighboring words.
ChiasmusA verbal pattern in which the second half of an expression is balanced against the first but with the parts reversed.
EuphemismThe substitution of an inoffensive term for one considered offensively explicit.
HyperboleAn extravagant statement; the use of exaggerated terms for the purpose of emphasis or heightened effect.
IronyThe use of words to convey the opposite of their literal meaning. A statement or situation where the meaning is contradicted by the appearance or presentation of the idea.
LitotesA figure of speech consisting of an understatement in which an affirmative is expressed by negating its opposite.
Metaphor:  An implied comparison between two unlike things that actually have something important in common.
MetonymyA figure of speech in which one word or phrase is substituted for another with which it's closely associated; also, the rhetorical strategy of describing something indirectly by referring to things around it.
OnomatopoeiaThe use of words that imitate the sounds associated with the objects or actions they refer to.
OxymoronA figure of speech in which incongruous or contradictory terms appear side by side.
ParadoxA statement that appears to contradict itself.
PersonificationA figure of speech in which an inanimate object or abstraction is endowed with human qualities or abilities.
PunA play on words, sometimes on different senses of the same word and sometimes on the similar sense or sound of different words.
SimileA stated comparison (usually formed with "like" or "as") between two fundamentally dissimilar things that have certain qualities in common.
SynecdocheA figure of speech in which a part is used to represent the whole (for example, ABCs for alphabet) or the whole for a part ("England won the World Cup in 1966").
UnderstatementA figure of speech in which a writer or speaker deliberately makes a situation seem less important or serious than it is.

A lot of what Kool A.D. is doing is playing with the words themselves (a “swag coach”) by using slang and unusual contexts.  “A tiny combo version of us” popped  out of "a slit a doctor cut a couple inches below her belly button” -- meaning the birth was Caesarian, which is also a metaphor.  Or you can spell inventively:  “azz” instead of “ass.”  Use the preposterous.  Teach the baby to play solitaire.  Use “sick” to mean the opposite.

Of course, “shrooms” in this context is a drug reference, but it can also mean innocent people killed in a shooting incident simply because they were there.  Much of this is toying with cultural conventions.  It can be pretty puzzling if you don’t know the culture in question. If you’re Martha Stewart you probably think of mushrooms in a different way.

Mork got a whole series out of taking figures of speech literally.

So writing is on many levels and therefore reading must also be on many levels.  And talking/listening.  I hear so many people spout on one literal, actual monocultural level that I sometimes wonder if it’s a function of chemical contamination from Twinkies and Ding-Dongs.   (Think about THOSE metaphors!)   

It’s the level on which the metaphors of retrograde religion almost always operate. Exaggeration (hyperbole), speaking of a part for a whole (synecdoche), impossibility (paradox), thinking God is your Mom or Dad (personification), believing there is an actual geological hell or a sidereal heaven (misplaced concreteness) -- are used by right-wingers as though they were truth instead of figures of speech.

A startling but hip guy like Kool A.D. is not fooled by all this stuff.  He can handle it, which is why it’s easy for him to handle a baby -- at least as long as his energy level holds up. He’s saying some serious things to get those couch-slouches sponging off employed women by pretending to babysit -- to protect their ‘shroom” instead of getting so frustrated that they shake the baby’s brains into Jello.  This is practical morality -- how to function.  It’s life or death.  And I’m not speaking in hyperbole.  NOT a joke.

Dread to shake!