(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."

Wednesday, May 04, 2016


Ivan Doig at his Puget Sound home

When I first came to Browning, Montana,  I didn’t hear much about “Montana Writers.”  Maybe A.B. Guthrie, Jr. (b. 1901) because of the movies made of his books.  Dorothy Johnson (b. 1905) the same.  A few miscellaneous people wandering around, mostly “poets” who wrote people-pleasing doggerel.  The old-timers sometimes self-published through a “vanity press,” which set the pattern of a peddler with a box of unimportant books under his bed and the general conviction that being published was equivalent to a college degree, a certificate of quality.  Mildred Walker (b, 1905) was writing best-sellers that have held their appeal.

I mostly came to the “Edwardians”, James Willard Schultz (b. 1859), Frank Bird Linderman (1849), George Bird Grinnell (b 1869), Walter McClintock (1870) et al from reading Bob Scriver’s library.  John Ewers (b. 1909), Harold McCracken (b. 1894).  The category of Western Art or Montana Writing, were both as yet uninvented as sales categories, but just about to take hold.  Native American Writing was still a bit of a paradox, since most of it was oral transcription of legends recorded by white people.

By the time I returned in 1982, “Montana Writing” was as hot and revered a category as genuine imitation pearls.  Very appealing but always a little bogus around the edges.  “Montana Margins: A State Anthology” (1946) by Joseph Kinsey Howard (b. 1906) was a little too early to define this group.  Leslie Fiedler (b. 1917) had just exploded still waters with his 1960 essay, ”Come Back to the Raft Ag’in, Huck Honey!” which set the key Western archetype as two men escaping to the wilderness together.  Fiedler was an East Coast ethnic Leftie with streaks of Red. 

Leslie Fiedler

Now it was the gentleman chroniclers of the West who got out of Dodge.  (Richter (b. 1890), Stegner (b. 1909), and Walter van Tilburg Clark (1909), who was gratefully claimed by Nevada.)  Now Missoula was not just a hotbed of liberalism as the humanities center, but also the experimental edge of what became a time of drugs and iconoclastic politics.  We’re living with the mixed consequences.  A different sort of group developed in Bozeman/Livingston.

So it was with a certain amount of amusement and even cynicism that I reacted when the Valier librarian handed me a postcard announcement about Ivan Doig, “one of Montana’s most cherished writers.”  His papers have gone to MSU, the rival Montana university.  I approve.  I even celebrate.  But it’s all very ironic.  Go to for the whole story and DO watch the short video interview to get a sense of the man.  There’s a link on the website, but here’s a straight shot to YouTube.  

Doig in the 1980's at Annick Smith's ranch

Quite apart from that, I have such a tumble of responses.  Ivan Doig and I were both born in 1939.  We were both in the National Merit Scholar program at NU but we didn’t know each other.  His roommate, the fabulous piano player, Ralph Votapek, dated my roommate, Gwen Cline.  But Ivan and I were never introduced.

At Northwestern, Doig was in journalism and history.  I was in theatre with Alvina Krause, at a time when the School of Speech was quietly a haven for gay male theatre people, like Marshall W. Mason, Laird Williamson, and Tom Foral.   They were among my best friends though I’m not gay.  It was their kindness and intelligence that attracted me, and I was a bit of a disguise for them in a closeted, criminalized time for gays.  As soon as I could, I made a beeline for Montana — not the university towns, but rather Browning, Montana.  Doig was traveling as fast as he could in the opposite direction.  He never returned to live in Valier where he had graduated as class nerd, and has lived ever since near Seattle.  The comparison might be Sherman Alexie.

I spent the Sixties on the Blackfeet Rez with Bob Scriver, a sculptor twice my age.  Bob’s daughter, Margaret, went to Valier HS one grade ahead of Ivan, who said he sort of knew her but she seemed very grownup and not part of his group.  After a retread and an interim as the first lady dogcatcher in Portland, I became a student at the U of Chicago Div School in 1978. There I read the newly published “This House of Sky” right straight through and called him up.  He wasn’t famous yet, so he answered the phone and we visited a while, tears streaming down my face.  That was the end of it.  When I graduated from seminary, I spent three years as a circuit-rider in Montana.  By that time he was long-gone to Seattle, but considered a Montana writer because of his content.
Mary Clearman Blew

Over the years I’d make brief contact, more often with Carol at a reading, but it never went anywhere.  We didn’t correspond.  No one saw me as a writer, just as an appendage to Bob Scriver.  In 1977 Mary Clearman Blew was just beginning to be published and some said she was the only female writer in Montana, though she soon migrated to Idaho.  The same people claimed Jim Welch was the only “Indian” worth reading.   Jim Welch’s father, who was also Jim Welch, was Bob Scriver’s best friend in grade school.  So I knew Jim Welch in a sort of private way.  I’m not welcome in the tight Missoula Circle that “owns” Jim and makes these judgements.  I barely publish and am not their kind of academic.

Writers are defined partly by sales and partly by academic studies.  Lately academics have minds only for Cormac McCarthy, who is close to an opposite of Doig.  As a youngster, Doig absorbed the attitudes of what he called “sharecroppers of the West,” which is to say someone who raises livestock on shares — not that different from the Southern share-cropping experience and as low-pay/low status.  It gave them an abiding yearning for legitimacy, recognition, security.  In his teens he and his family were raising sheep near Heart Butte, and the sociological dynamics did not cause him to romanticize Indians.  He never wrote about them.  

Late in his career he was friends with the Welches, more Lois than Jim, who was not so much an academic as a visionary poet.  Doig was a bit of a snob and sexist (women who wrote surprised him) but Jim was neither.  Both men could be writers because their academic wives paid the bills.  Jim was not much a rez boy — his HS years were in Minneapolis.  His mom’s rez was Fort Belknap.  His sibs were successful urban people, I suppose “assimilated.”

Both Doig and Welch were defined by marketing, locked into stereotypes, just as much as L.M. Montgomery and Louisa May Alcott were trapped into writing the same story over and over.  Both of them tried to escape, but the atypical books (for example, Doig's "Prairie Nocturne" or Welch's "Indian Lawyer") wouldn’t sell.  

Doig’s underlying poor health put a lid on him too early.  He was pretty much an author who wouldn’t have pleased Leslie Fiedler by going for the deep mythic dimensions.  But he is deeply satisfying to the ranchers and farmers he wrote about — second generation immigrants with high values on work, respectability, and family.  They all love a good joke, even if it’s on themselves.  Life itself is one of those jokes.  But Doig defined himself a relic, son and grandson of relics.

A couple of days ago a comment showed up on a prairiemary post about  “My Friend Flicka,” by Mary O’Hara.  (The comment is there.)  “My Friend Flicka” was a book that literally saved O’Hara’s ranch, but not her marriages nor the lives of her children.  Promoted as a kid-book, it’s one of those semi-autobiographical tales that will stay with you the rest of your life, worth rereading now and then.  The comment was from her great-niece, Adele Alsop, who is living in Utah.  The Alsops were a privileged, wealthy, highly educated, well-connected family who were exactly the kind of person an author hopes to be.  

Patricia Nell Warren

Several of that family did write books, something like writing by the descendants of the Conrad Brothers who founded Valier and Conrad, as well as building a mansion in Kalispell.  The sociology of writing in Montana has not been explored.  It drops out many people.  I wonder where Patricia Nell Warren (b. 1936), author of the much beloved The Fancy Dancer will leave her papers.  The history of the Grant-Kohrs ranch where she was born is already recorded.  But she’s part of the same cohort (b. 1936) as Doig, Welch, Blew, Warren, and others, including myself (b. 1939).  Maybe this bequest of Doig papers to Montana State University will trigger something.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016


The girl in the doctor’s office is not a nurse.  She hasn’t even graduated from college.  She might have taken some courses at a nearby tech school.  This is typical around here.  Stalwart low-pay narrow-focus females. They used to be fry cooks.  She has a list of questions to ask me before I can see the doc, because presumably that will speed things up.

“Do I have headaches?” she asks me?  

I consider what to say.  Yes, no, maybe — what KIND of headaches do you mean?  She doesn’t have those kinds of questions on her list.  This is an eye doc.  She’s expecting an eyestrain tip-off.  What do I tell her?  

Here’s an inventory:  

When I first wake up in the morning, esp. in winter, I had headaches in a sort of fuzzy global way.  I thought maybe carbon monoxide, so I got an alarm.  It’s just little and flashes a tiny light sometimes, but the siren on these things is super-loud.  THAT hasn’t gone off.  This time I got one with a battery.  The last one plugged into an outlet and every time the dirty, often-interrupted, Valier electricity faltered, it blasted me and the cats out of our skins.  An article suggested sleeping with the covers over your head, auto-suffocation.

But sometimes I have that dull ache that comes from not having time to drink coffee or maybe just forgetting.  When I have a hot idea and don’t want to stop, I forget everything, including coffee.  Once I went to stay for a few days with very fancy friends in Hollywood who had a new espresso coffee machine — this was decades ago — and they loved showing it off.  I had one cappuccino after another — I LOVE them.  By the second day my head was throbbing but I couldn't figure it out — typical Californians, they were feeding me decaffeinated coffee.  Along with peach Bellinis, which were “in” that year.  I was a mess.

Then there are those sharp little twists on my parietals — top of the skull — that always make me wonder whether they are little strokes or just muscle twitches or the mysterious “Transient Ischemic Attacks” that are like little clutches that don’t seem to leave damage but might.

Google defines five distinct kinds of headaches:

1.  Tension:  constant ache or pressure around the head, especially at the temples or back of the head and neck.
2.  Cluster:  occur in groups or cycles. They appear suddenly and are characterized by severe, debilitating pain on one side of the head, and are often accompanied by a watery eye and nasal congestion or a runny nose on the same side of the face.
3.  Sinus:  fever and pus, infection
4.  Rebound:  too much treatment, now withdrawn 
5.  Migraine:  Nausea, auras, in sequences, family trait

None of these are about eyestrain.  Going to “eyestrain” on Google, I find headaches can be a result of clenching the face around the eyes, not blinking often enough, squinting, not looking away often enough.  None define “ocular migraine” which I have sometimes and which is a result of the build-up of fluid through the eyes which creates pressure on the tissues and bone.  None define “dry eye syndrome” which I now understand that I have and which can also make eyes ache.  A contradictory mix of too much swollen and too much shrunken.

Is a neck ache the same as a headache?  How far down the back of the head does a neck ache begin?  All sorts of causes possible, even placement of the computer screen.  Maybe an abrupt stop, hitting the brakes in traffic a few days earlier, a little whiplash? The City of Portland Human Services people were constantly hiring the kind of young woman now questioning me.  Their questionnaires were all about posture and chair adjustment, accompanied by pesky demands that we change.  The changes only interfered with getting work done.  The truth is that the human body adjusts to the challenges presented, at least most of the time, and then resents having to do it again because of changes.

And then there’s the headache that comes from worry or from a pain-in-the-butt — er, neck.  Is your doc prepared to walk you through that?  One local female “doc”, who is actually a physician’s assistant rather than an MD, claims she’s better than a shrink.  Her role model is Mother Theresa.  That gives me a headache.  (My opinion is quite like that of Christopher Hitchens.)

But these days if you say “headache” and the hospital management is selling the use of big ticket machines to justify their cost, one can find oneself with one’s head in a thing like a washing machine, pounding, and the cost will bankrupt you, insurance or not.  If asked, “do you have headaches?”  best to be evasive.

When the doc asks this sort of a question, he or she watches your face for reaction, maybe asks for more detail, leaves a strategic pause to see if you might say more.  This young helper doesn’t look up from her list.  She got A’s in high school and she didn’t get them by tolerating distractions or considering alternatives.  Check the box or not — it’s a clear choice.  There are two pages of these questions to get through.  

I once managed to preoccupy two mature questioning physician assistants for an entire morning, destroying the clinic schedule, because I answered honestly, which meant at length.  It was supposed to be a free Medicare checkup using a laptop instrument, but ended up costing over a hundred dollars for lab tests they ordered.  They paid no attention to the answers I gave them — just the numbers on the lab readouts, which prescribed what the averaged scores of a multitude of people indicated.  I am not an average.  I go out of my way to avoid the average — above or below, according to which is least effort.

If a person has brain cancer, does one have headaches?  The answer I get is “it depends.”  The dogma is that the brain has no pain receptors so there’s no sensation until the tumor gets big enough to press on or block other structures, like circulatory systems or the skull lining.  But only recently have docs admitted that babies have pain.  They used to operate on them with no anesthetics.  Docs are unreliable because they operate on dogma -- it ought to be called "docma".

In the days of working in Scriver Studio, the foundry/
workshop combination, we knew we could get headaches from volatile substances, esp. the acids, solvents and plasticizers.  Not that it meant we would stop what we were doing.  is a website about emergency medicine.  I like that "austere" -- most of my settings are austere.  I hope this is an austere blog post.  It sounds like a relief to me.

Monday, May 02, 2016


Since the Internet and the platforms on it have turned out to be illusions and far more fragile than paper, I’ve been transcribing old messages to save them. Right now I’m in 2009 which turns out to have been more momentous than I realized at the time, mostly because so much was happening that coping overran everything else. I was writing with Tim, whose shoulders were being replaced, which meant he had to be in Carolina. I was trying to be our agent, but had no contacts nor any idea of how to go about it. I was climbing a learning curve that I never mastered and finally abandoned. It was collapsing anyway.

Beyond that, we were trying to understand “vooking”, now referred to as “cross media.” Handhelds were not so plentiful and everyone was just realizing that print as sub-titles (so spoken languages could be mixed in spite of mono-lingual audiences), as a continuous strip (like a news teletype), as overprints (as when someone’s subtext is supplied in a balloon or the content of their texting appears in front of their hands), could be mixed with video, sound, changes in speed, fast cuts, black screens, split screens. overlays, morphing — all this STUFF that kids can do without even thinking. 

Tim had a posse carrying little video cameras, building up a massive library of images. They already had play lists of music. It was their life. The point is that this barely contained assortment bursting with need-to-know, passionate emotions both positive and negative, and endless energy (once they figured out their health issues) was fuel for visionary short “essays.” (“Essay” means attempt, experiment, a try.) 

In Paris the group was not kids anymore, even legally, and pretty well-educated with high aesthetic standards.  Some had traveled with well-heeled clients and learned in the way that the consorts of aristos do — watching, osmosis, imitation, privileged access. In the Blue Ridge mountains they were more African, chaotic, uncontained, connected to nature. Both groups danced. I’m speaking of the productions — I never met the kids nor Tim either.

Strangely, what I was learning was relevant to my interest in what I was calling “liturgy” at that time, before I realized that “liturgy” is only print and about institutional religious dogma. What I really wanted was access to something like Deep Experience as conveyed by art and metaphor. It was not irrelevant to what Tim knew from his SF S/M years of “play” out on the edge of sensation, mixing danger with pleasure — getting literally “into” people. 

The backside of that is the taboo on talking about such things. sealing it off. There are still a few antideluvians and throwbacks out there who get into an hysterical froth and there are always the crouching hyenas watching for something they can define as criminal. So I couldn’t talk about it, not because of consequences to me but to Tim and the groups.

My level of discourse was not practice. It was theory. That’s what I was educated for and what I thought ministry would include. (It didn’t.) And I wanted theories that would include all humans, maybe more, not just one socio-economic-ethnic group. But the whole premise of congregations is that the members are alike.

When the French theorists came along — which just about coincided with my seminary education (78–82), we only knew they were “there,” except for Kenner, whose question was always “what does it MEAN?” He was the only one who talked about Derrida. Ricoeur was around on campus but I never understood him and he was too theological. I needed “Metaphors We Live By” by Lakoff and Johnson, published right then and there. No one talked about it. It was brushed off as literary, irrelevant. Today it’s considered vital to thought per se.

In fact, it was the recent neurological studies that made a real difference, specifically because of working with Tim and the boys.  It moved the thinking about metaphor to something besides introspection, internal speculations of a specific class of men.  These kids had brains in all their concrete perplexities and variations.  The brain was right there every day in so many forms: dreams, compulsions, misfires, poetic brilliance, ceaseless questioning and always falling in love. The variations in body fluid, microbes, hormones, minerals, T4 counts, melt-downs, soaring motion — were all on video and sometimes in poetry. 

Puppets v. intellectuals

The real scandal was what a greed culture had done to the arts.  What I saw was that the dominance of the culture was carried in the dominance of words with assumed meanings, and that the literature in print is dominated by circles of collaborators — NOT the writers, but the people who owned the machinery of production and sales. The capitalists. Everything was product. Sales were rigged.  Writers were overwritten.

It was not human. None of these resource developers cared anything about their human resources: the writers and readers, who might have just as well been lumps of coal. They were faggots for the fire.  All producers cared about was production, technical gimmicks, corner-cutting, and teasers far more highly developed than the movies they were teasing. 

Sometimes one wondered, expecting what the preview had shown, where the actual movie had gone. Sometimes one wondered where publishing had gone. What was this new thing, industrialized, mass produced? Trivial. They joined forces to prevent change, to exclude the new or the deep. Or the moral. Anything that would challenge people to do something different. At least not until recently when the shallow slick stuff became so boring that indignation erupted through it.

So going back to my own private agenda, how does one leave liturgy and go to Deep Experience, which is a kind of shaped arousal that gives meaning to life. How does one figure out one’s earliest assumptions except by dysfunction, failure, when nothing you thought was permanent is even there anymore. When you find out how many people are suffering and how convenient that is for those in charge. When you find out sacred places are gone. Even those of us who played by the rules and thought we were pretty cute are now trying to think what to carry along when we’re living on the street.  It’s a stripping to basics, a forced asceticism.  What are the ceremonies of no-place-to-go, nothing-to-eat? Surely the Salvation Army is not all there is, stalwart as they may be. 

by Catalan Anastase

I know two universal “liturgical” forms or sequences: one is the recited Christian mass which expanded out of Jewish Torah-based forms and the other is the sung-and-danced Blackfeet Bundle ceremonies. Both conform to the ideas of Victor Turner, whose name should still unlock a wealth of theory for seekers. (He left U of Chicago just as I came, but was often mentioned.) His idea is “liminal,” crossing a threshold from the known to the wildly crazy, the vortex, the blank — and coming back again, renewed.

When everyone killed God and walked out of “religion” as institution,they also left behind the shape of human experience. Not sitting in pews listening to a pulpit, but willingness to share human experience, thereby to learn “vocabulary” (of gesture as much as word) and pattern (of disruption as much as reconciliation.) These are what our new instruments ought to be expressing, not what brand of deodorant to buy, not which shocking new sexual kink can be demonstrated. True “cross-media” is cross-cultural, so that it can be understood by all humans. When one feels that understanding, it gives a person the confidence and vision to make a transition into totally new insight.

Sunday, May 01, 2016


When Bob’s second wife’s sister, Helene DeVicq, came to visit, we were always curious to know why she took so long to prepare for the day.  The bathroom was occupied for a full hour before she came out, which was okay in a practical way because we just used the shop lavatory, but what could take so long?  She did a lot of face care — which paid off because she was always model perfect in terms of “maquillage” (that’s French for makeup) — but she also did face and neck exercises and other mysterious things.  Now I have had to add more small morning rituals myself, more little potions on the counter.  More maintenance -- aauugh.

For a year or so I’ve been aggravated by itchy eyes.  I was afraid of infection which nearly destroyed Bob’s eyes in 1961.  His was Herpes Simplex Keratitis and was saved in the nick of time by accidentally finding out about a new experimental drug, meant for cancer treatment.  I decided I was just allergic to smoke, since there was field burning.  Then house dust in winter.  Then. . . but this time the eye doc noticed the little patchy scaly spot on my cheek — which I thought was from my glasses frames rubbing since I wear glasses with big lenses.  

Is that psoriasis?  Well, maybe.  Psoriasis gets into eyes.  And I have rosacea, that was diagnosed by the very strange dematologist I visited years ago.  He was totally hairless, deeply Southern, and his first words to me were  “strip.”  Then he recommended Pond’s cold cream, a lady’s basic substance from the Forties!  I was outta there and never went back.  He left town in a few months more.  But now it turns out that psoriasis and rosacea are more than cosmetic issues.

Innocent at first.

On the Internet I've learned a lot that no doc bothered to tell me.  The main thing is every morning and every night one should use a warm wet compress on eyes for five minutes. (Which feels good on my eyes but I hate the water running up my arms and getting my sleeves wet -- this is a cold house and I wear long sleeves.)  When things are soft, one gently washes the eyelids with a little diluted baby shampoo.  Now I realize that there is a sort of crust, a little like a hard water line, along my eyelashes on the lids.  Since part of this complex is “dry eye syndrome” (which the eye doc now tells me I have) I suspect that it is the dried mineral content of tears, which are supposed to be constantly washing the eyes.

But now I also find out that probably the population of teeny parasites that normally lives along the base of the eyelashes, in the little pockets each lash grows from (eek), builds up and irritates.  The washing technique seems to get them under control.  One web lady, Dr. Cynthia Bailey, is a dermatologist with a cosmetic skew.  She recommends using a Q-tip to rub along that line with diluted baby shampoo.  Eye makeup had begun to trigger what I thought was allergy, so for years I haven’t been very alert to the state of my lids except to smudge on eyeliner if I were going out.  If I don’t do that, I don’t seem to have eyes.

But this doc went farther.  She began to talk about the acid/alkali balance in bodies.  I’ve thought about this quite a bit but not in terms of bodies.  I was reading about gardens and soils. For instance, one can't grow foxgloves here because they need acid soil. 

Acid/alkali refers to the behavior and presence of hydrogen ions on molecules.  Before I could find this out, I realized that — much more than before — Google is dominated by sales, so you must go down the lists past a lot of people trying to sell you things by arguing about the acid/alkali balance of your bodily fluids.  The idea is that your body should be slightly alkaline, but that the modern diet pushes us towards acid with sweets, processed grain and dairy.

“An acid is a substance that donates hydrogen ions. Because of this, when an acid is dissolved in water, the balance between hydrogen ions and hydroxide ions is shifted. Now there are more hydrogen ions than hydroxide ions in the solution. This kind of solution is acidic.

“A base is a substance that accepts hydrogen ions. When a base is dissolved in water, the balance between hydrogen ions and hydroxide ions shifts the opposite way. Because the base "soaks up" hydrogen ions, the result is a solution with more hydroxide ions than hydrogen ions. This kind of solution is alkaline.”

A human body should be around 7.4, just above the middle.  Milk is at 10.  Oven cleaner is 14, the highest end of the scale.  The idea is that animal foods tend to be acid while vegetable foods are alkaline, esp. green stuff.  But, like cholesterol, blood levels of pH are controlled by hormone action —maybe drawing mineral from bones, excreting acids through the kidneys.  All that homeostasis busyness kicking on and off.  

You can test your urine pH with little sticks like the ones you use for garden soil or pregnancy testing, but it will be a little more acid that your actual body fluids — maybe 6 something. Testing pee is a little ickier than testing blood, but not so ouchy.  There’s also a saliva test, which is closer to blood pH.  6.5 to 7 would be normal.

Irish peat bog

The British islands, Ireland more than Scotland, are acid because of the geological shape they are: dished slightly so that the constant ocean moisture collects to make peat.  Thus, genetically Irish bodies tend to be a little bit acid and this shows in their faces, sometimes quite red, and tending towards rosacea.  The rosy cheeks that I always attributed to chill and fine rain may actually be due to higher acid.  But some of the molecules in the body fluids work better if they’re a little bit alkaline.  People selling health gimmicks use this to persuade people to use various diets and substances, exaggerating a bit of truth into dogma.  As usual.  But the following seems to fit me.

Symptoms of Over-Acidity:
Constant fatigue
Easily running out of breath
Frequent sighing
Muscle pain or cramping after walking 
Often feeling like you can’t get enough air

"When people are very acidic, their tissue levels of oxygen are so low that they have difficulty holding their breath for more than 20 seconds. The length of time you can hold your breath is one technique you can use to document the difference that occurs after adapting a more alkaline-producing diet.”


When my blood oxygen is tested with one of those little fingertip grippers, it comes out low.  I asked about that, but no one had answers. I reported all the above symptoms, but they were not considered relevant.

Valier is a highly alkaline place because it is an old sea bed.  The latest well we drilled leaves a white crust on spigots.  “Calcium forms when the surrounding environment is alkaline. This results in symptoms of migrating nerve and joint pain. Insomnia can also be a problem, and it is often associated with early morning stiffness. These individuals wake up stiff, but the stiffness quickly improves as muscle activity produces lactic acid. Lactic acid helps neutralize the buildup of alkaline compounds and bring the body's pH back into balance.”

When I get up, I should right away walk around the block or do exercises.  I don’t.  But coffee is acid, right?  The quotes above are from:  His gimmick is green juices.  I do not want another kitchen machine.  But I see the stores are beginning to stock green juice in bottles.  Maybe that would be worth a week of experiment.

My brother Paul was a red-head like me, but redder.  His sweat was so acid that it ate wristwatches unless it had a leather strap and he had to put adhesive tape over the main body to protect the battery.  He could patine bronzes just by rubbing them.  (He was an art metalsmith.)  I suspect that our genome and epigenomes were a bit skewed by high acid.  The other brother Mark is less ruddy and more stable, but slightly depressed and possibly alcoholic.  I think this is part of the heritage of acid Ireland, which could be said to even have a dark and acid national personality.

The bottom line is that my eyes, kept free of mineral rime, no longer itch.  And maybe I’ll take another run at growing greens this summer.  But now it takes me more time to get going in the morning, even without a walk.  I had to write a list of all the little rituals to post on the mirror so I'd remember everything.

Mary, Mark and Paul
Sometime in the Fifties
The trail above Multonomah Falls 

Saturday, April 30, 2016



Sacredness is direct unmediated contact with the universe, not by-passing the senses but a chord, a symphony, a melody.  It is felt holistically.

Religion is produced by cultural evolution, beginning with hunting/gathering people.  Religion is an institution that claims the sacred but is NOT sacred.

Institutions are identified with a social purpose, transcending individuals and intentions by mediating the rules that govern living behavior. The term "institution" commonly applies to a custom or behavior pattern important to a society, and to particular formal organizations of the government and public services.”  (By the secret author at Wikipedia — I always wish I knew who they are so I could read more of their thinking.)

So it begins with a superstition, a lucky hat, a little chant to call the prey but repel the predator.  Connected to the hunting grounds.  Maybe accompanied by a bribe, a sacrifice.

Then comes the beginnings of control: domestication, which means being able to locate and kill animals at will; and gardens or fields.  Swidden agriculture means clearing forest or jungle, growing crops that can’t be stored, like yams, or crops that need extraordinary preparation like sago palm pulp.  But grain agriculture means storage, surplus, value for trade, the necessity of guarding.  Math for defining territories.  The concept of “owning.”  Community/towns.  This is the root of institutional religion.

The social purpose of everything is survival, transcending individuals.  This means that individuals are subsumed, consumed, and even sacrificed physically and horribly for the benefit of the whole.  These are religious institutions, even if today they are thinned and paled, except in some places they are not.  Instead they have reverted to blood sacrifice.

If a religious institution becomes too cruel, too destructive, another institution based on resistance will begin to form.  Now we have “Game of Thrones.”  Except that there is an alternative, which is Asian Evasion. (The art of turning forceful oppression back on the oppressor.)  The appearance of some seemingly un-formed institution that carries the resistance.  (Guerrilla warfare.)  

Saturn eating his children -- Goya

Now we have the arts.  The arts don’t support institutions, but the culture can form institutions that pretend to say that the arts are marked by sacredness and therefore institutions should protect them.  These institutions are only pretending, providing ways to institutionalize free thought.  They are the opposite of sacrifice in their own instititional existence but often sacrifice the artists as a means of control.

Government, like agriculture, is territory-based, in terms of owning which is called “patriotism” which is a form of religion.  It is capable of inventing the equivalent of land, food, shelter, walls and wars and printing it all on paper called money or contracts.  Government is a religious institution.  It is not sacred.

Science is also a religious, community-based, resource-using institution.  Its walls are negotiable, its products are technological, and occasionally it touches the sacred.  Not the sacred as defined by the priests (though scientists can be considered parallel) but as defined by direct contact with the universe.  Awe, wonder, humility, exaltation.

Science tells us that our brains and bodies work according to code that can be perceived and measured as electrochemical pulses and molecular interactions.  They are the sum of evolution that began with eukaryotes, one-celled creatures, who in their hunger and willingness to discard (sacrifice) developed a gastro-intestinal tract capable of passing the environment through them in a self-nurturing way.  Because they were meiotic, that is, capable of code-exchange that produced varied offspring, producing enough variation for winnowing.  They kept morphing over the millennia.  Until now.

Having achieved consciousness and control, humans now institutionalize what is familiar and manageable.  They no longer discard what is not good for them, but try to hoard resources, swelling up their institutions and governments until they are paralyzed.  This will kill them.  Only the few, the nimble, the Asian evasive (turning the force of the oppressors back on them), the autochthonous, the indigenous, the artistic, will survive -- mammals slipping between the toes of the dinosaurs.  Maybe a predator drone has no pilot who is at risk because he or she is far away from deadly fire — but the global corporation fantasists who think they are greater than nations and entitled to all resources are doomed.  They cannot escape their own drones.

I can only wish this were true.  But maybe it is.  I now turn away from institutions except for my small town, which provides the infrastructure of water, fuel, food.  I’m a lousy gardener and don’t want to give up time away from the keyboard, so I need a store.  I’m a gluten glutton, adapted to grain and dairy.  I could easily take to alcohol except that it interferes with my thinking.

When institutions discovered writing, it was as though they had discovered alcohol.  I mean they stopped thinking and started wanting.  They didn’t have to memorize anymore.  (Too bad for Islam schools where the Koran is memorized, now the action is in schools that teach the reading of the Torah.)  Writing is such an aid to preventing change.  Now there can be law books.  But of course a new kind of priest is invented, to interpret what the writing “really” says or decide when it is too old-fashioned to use anymore.  But it’s hard to purge law.  And universities now study advertising.

Imagine an institution without writing.  No by-laws.  No instructions.  No record of boundaries to register down at the court house.  Birth, marriage and death all uncertified.  No diplomas.  No post office.  No texting.  No internet.  No list of in/out or who's in charge.

No treaties, no United Nation accords.  But what does it matter?  Even when they were signed, they were disregarded.  Writing is a tool and it can be a deception.  It’s arbitrary, a matter of social agreement.  Even the alphabet.  It’s a great revelation to some that different languages use different alphabets.  They don’t use different numbers, right?  They DO use different numbers, different bases, different symbols.  Consider zero.  Consider the algorithm.  Think about standard deviations.

To realize that symbols are not realities is to begin to step away from institutions as reality.  They are not sacred.  Even reality is not sacred, no matter how precious the bud, how glorious the sunrise.  Reality is the carrier of the sacred and not all humans can receive it.  

It cannot be defined in writing but only in experience.  It is a “felt” meaning.  Artists work with felt meaning.  A priest is an institutionally identified artist who works in a symbol system that is used by that institution, regardless of the ethics, the social consequences, the attempts to prevent change.  The task is to make people “feel” sacredness in a way that benefits the institution.  

If it crushes the individual, that is called a necessary sacrifice.  They are the animal on the altar with their throats cut before they are burned.  They forget that the sacred moment spared the child.

Abraham's ram

Friday, April 29, 2016

AEON LOST ME TODAY lost me today.  I’ve been slipping away for a while. Now to mix the metaphor.

A python does not squeeze its prey to death.  That’s too much of an effort, which means a waste of calories.  It’s all about calories (money).  So the snake waits until the mammal (us) has made itself a bit smaller, maybe by exhaling or maybe stretching longer.  Then the python fits itself to that smaller diameter.  The same thing repeats and repeats until finally the mammal doesn’t have enough room to take a breath.  Then it dies and the snake can eat it without wasting calories on struggle.

This is what Aeon and other websites are doing.  Like Vivaldi.  Tell us what you like!  As a convenience, we will only present what you like so you don’t have to go exploring or think about alternatives.  Pretty soon, that perimeter of “what-you-like” will be all you can get.  You’ll starve your mind and shrivel to blankness, and then you won’t be much trouble to swallow.

The bait on Aeon was the “high quality” BBC tone and the TIME magazine science.  Lurking in the background was the restrictive right-wing philosophy of Templeton.  When I looked him up — and I’ve known about him for more than thirty years but didn’t ask questions — that was one veil of illusion falling away.  What AEON had in the background was “landed gentry” — the King’s Friends, cleverly disguised as a monastery.  It has nothing to do with religion in the sense of sacredness.  It has everything to do with walls, privilege, elitism — the things Christianity has come to represent.

It’s not really about either Christianity or religion.  It’s about empire, siphoning off all profit to the hoarders.  Empire is the formation of institutions that control, protecting and feeding the snake.  When the pundits and surveyors talk about how religion is dying in America, they mean institutions are collapsing.  Protestant denominations are not and never were a religion.  They were splinter groups of institutions, usually dissenting over some slight or dogma or economic force, protecting their icons, going to court to secure their communion silver.  They have nothing to do with belief, and everything to do with the status quo and solidarity, even when they are a splinter group that has drawn their walls in closer and higher.  It’s “Game of Thrones.”  Game of Altars.

I’m not sure Aeon knows what they’re doing.  I was going along until they hooked up with and immediately went to sequestering:  “My Aeon.”  It’s the same old narcissistic splintering.

Everything people in America know about religion they learned at the movies.  It’s all sci-fi written by a tableful of writers in LA, usually mostly Jewish and bearded.  Maybe some seculars flirting with Zen.  Maybe a few brash and accommodating women.  Their game is the python game:  make a movie that makes money, remake the same movie on a smaller scale (budget), then another a little smaller, until the audience is so conditioned that they never realize there is anything else out there because they can’t get their breath.

Maybe one or two of the people at the table stand up and invent some kind of wall-smasher —Netflix?   And then Netflix becomes the squeezer.  And now the squeeze is on George RR Martin to do more, better, nakeder, bloodier. . . but the “show runners” get antsy and start by-passing the original author, doing the python on him.  Amazon, Amazon.

In past years we’ve seemed to free ourselves from the squeeze by keyboarding past the institutions, but here we are again — lonesome for the Seventies when the “free” weekly newspapers really were “free” — really alternatives instead of just another cartel.  Now I watch one broad institution after another go down, only existing at all on the reputations of the earlier years.  PBS and NPR now charge for a “passport.”  “Sesame Street” has been diverted to profit.

At first TED talks and AEON and all the other trademarked shows had a backlog of rich surprising material that hadn’t had an outlet.  By now we’re down to the reruns and imitations.  Everyone went to business schools or became a techie.  They have nothing in particular to use for content.  Just a Rolodex database and an agenda.

Montana was once dominated by a big squeezer snake: the Anaconda company, based on copper.  We didn’t get rid of them, they just squeezed out all the profit and left.  Missoula was once our literary treasure and moral center but now it’s notorious for rapist athletes and selling its public water. That’s only the local version of a national — no, an extra-national -- phenomenon.  The planet has been Trumped.  Nations are obsolete.

First the corporations convinced the courts they were a “person,” a Christian concept derived from the fantasy that God was flesh, carnal, incarnated, one of us.  Then they convinced the courts that they weren’t here, so therefore needn’t pay taxes.  We’re a nation unfinanced by ghosts.  

What blood was left drained off in the pretense of “contracting out” torture and wars not even waged by people — rather by zombie predator drone machines guided by gullible young people sitting in a trailer in Indiana and developing PTSD when they finally realize what they are doing.  Any citizen who made trouble was criminalized and incarcerated where, for lack of anything better to do, they all infected each other with AIDS: don’t-blame-me capital punishment when there are no drugs or condoms.

The cloud of viruses coming out of the African jungle aren’t teaching us what we should have learned when the sub-saharan people began to die of famine.  Today the newsfeed is saying that young women are having much fewer — like 40% fewer — pregnancies out of wedlock.  The explanation proposed is that they are taking care of their health.  The reality might be more like the sci-fi stories based on near-universal sterility due to environmental pollution.  There is a flood coming.  Not a biblical flood to wipe out the wicked, but a coastal flood around the planet that will wipe out Johnny Depp’s cherished island paradise, along with the sodden peasants of Bangladesh who barely survive, the glass-walled fancy beach houses, and downtown Manhattan.

We see now that our illusory march of progress from blob to fish to gladiator to programmer was wrong all along.  We are a sheet, a web, a vast varying continuum of relationships.  And we’re torn, worn thin.

The anonymous writer on Wikipedia says:  “The word aeon /ˈiːɒn/, also spelled eon and æon (in American English), originally meant "life", "vital force" or "being", "generation" or "a period of time", though it tended to be translated as "age" in the sense of "ages", "forever", "timeless" or "for eternity”.

Nothing is forever.  The website called “Aeon” is not “my aeon.”  It’s a constrictor.  But I grieve.  I thought they were real.