I regret that I have to go back to filtering comments with one of those maddening "copy this" gizmos. I was getting too much spam. I suppose when I have time, I ought to figure out where it's coming from. In the meantime, if you really need to talk to me, do it the old-fashioned way: landline telephone. Information has my listing.

SOCIAL MEDIA

My name shows up on google+ and twitter, but I only monitor and will not add you. I do NOT do Facebook though someone with the same name does. Please use plain email. My phone landline is in the phone book. I have no cell phone.

Other Blogs by me

IF YOU ARE LOOKING FOR INFORMATION ABOUT THE ART OF BOB SCRIVER, PLEASE GO TO: www.scriverart.blogspot.com.

Notes from Alvina Krause between 1957-1961 are posted at www.Krausenotes.blogspot.com


TWO REBLOGS:
Fiction about Indians at www.willowsticks.blogspot.com
Essays about Indians at www.siksikaskinitsiman.blogspot.com



Monday, December 31, 2007

SCULPTURE REVIEW: Animaliers


This is "Sacred Hamadryas Baboon" by Rembrandt Bugatti, modeled in 1910, cast by 1930.

As Giancarlo Biagi is quick to say in his editorial comment in the Fall, 2007, issue of “Sculpture Review,” the magazine is “planned and designed at the head office of the National Sculpture Society where the Editorial Board meets regularly... the group is very tight and includes a variety of experts in the sculpture field.” This time the theme (there is always a theme) is animal sculpture, with a sort of sub-theme because of the number of sculptors who have background in taxidermy: Akeley, Clark, Rockwell, Jonas, Ullberg, Balciar, Bunn, Cherry and others. Bob Scriver belongs on this list (as do several others). I choose to take the attitude that it’s always good to know what the others are like, since one already knows oneself. BUT I hope my book about Bob (assuming it EVER arrives from the printer), will get his name on such lists.

An introduction specific to this sub-theme was written by Dan Ostermiller, whose huge piece called “Scottish Angus Cow and Calf” often pops up in the Western Art mags. His father was a professional taxidermist and Dan worked for him. He says, “These modeling skills now allow me the luxury of creating character without struggling with the details.” He also explains that his father made casts of animal bodies for the production of mannequins that other taxidermists bought. (Those huge molds made by Bob Scriver from real animals, invaluable because they included all the fine specimens in the Scriver Museum of Montana Wildlife and cannot be duplicated without killing another animal, were destroyed out of ignorance by the lawyers in charge of the Scriver estate.)

Sculpture Review is a sophisticated magazine for connoisseurs and therefore doesn’t depend upon slick color photos, but it does rely on excellent black and white photography. This suggests that supplying the National Sculpture Society with good photos is an important step for sculptors who hope to be represented, no matter the theme.

Barye (1795-1875), the “Rodin” of the Animaliers, who capitalized on the same fine “Roman Block Investment” castings done in France of that time, is here with his archetypal portrayal of reptile being killed by big cat. At the other end of this spectrum are the peaceful portraits by Rembrandt Bugatti (1884-1916), younger brother of THAT Bugatti (the auto man). Anna Hyatt Huntington (1876-1973) is represented by one of her agile, choreographed portraits of young animals (which are often human) and an indispensable photo of Carl Akeley (1864 - 1926) shows him with one of his famous elephant mounts. Kemeys (1843 -1907) deserves much more attention as an early American Animalier, but the bison shown here has a eye so large and misplaced that the animal seems like a toy with a shoe-button eye.

Among the younger and more recent artists, there is a tendency to stylization, most marked in “Rising Crane” by Elliott Offner, b. 1931, and least by Walter Matia, b. 1953, whose taxidermy background includes the Natural History Museum of Cleveland where he learned the importance of gesture and silhouette. He is represented in the magazine by an interview and three photos of sculptures, including a fragmented maquette of a bull -- very powerful. Rosetta likes to emphasize the faceted planes of animal bodies and Louise Peterson appreciates the humorous expressiveness of dog bodies. Tim Cherry, who smooths his animals, also has a feel for the droll including an otter ready to rhumba and a duck with a curly drake’s tail.

As Matia puts it, preparation as a taxidermist provides two fields of expertise: one is the anatomy of animals, the sensation of their fur or feathers in one’s hands; the other is the technical skill of the mold and materials which can only be acquired by experience. In addition, most taxidermists are hunters, watchers, keepers of animals who store up interactions -- gesture and silhouette, one might say, as well as the obvious emotional content of animal movement and expression. Bringing these skills together successfully is the key to fine animal scuptures, whether portraits of specific actual creatures or archetypal representations.

I’m on several academic list-servs concerning animals and increasingly find them dismaying as they lift off into philosophical discussions, untethered kites most nearly resembling theology. There is a preoccupation with suffering, transgression, and ownership that I find quite beside the point of animals. One recent article was about bringing animals into a clean, beautiful room so they could “piss and shit” on it -- very transparent sort of displacement, if you ask me: a child’s reliance on bad words to pitch muck against parents. Of course, this is as far as it could be from the careful molecular considerations of scientists working through the dog or horse genome, so similar to human beings, so elegant in balance between chaos and eros. And so totally blank in describing what animals in their environment can become. These are animals reduced to ciphers, made abstract nearly to the point of nonexistence.

We are, naturally, obsessed with the loss of species and their habitat, preoccupied with the proper management of our household pets, and concerned about what the food industry does to animals that we eat. But I think it is vitally important NOT to lose our grasp of actual animals, whether the cats and dogs in our homes or the exotic beings in places we cannot hope to go. Biophilia must be anchored in true images we can keep with us.

In the Fifties and Sixties, when Bob Scriver was making many animal portraits of the specimens he collected for the Scriver Museum of Montana Wildlife (now dispersed by the Montana Historical Society), he felt it was important to be unique, to be the only one doing this. Now it seems that there is "so great a cloud of witnesses," and that is also a very good thing.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

TATIANA & BENAZIR

COMPARE AND CONTRAST: Benazir Bhutto and Tatiana the Tiger.

Both beautiful and beloved by many.
Both powerful and dangerous.
Both killed.
Both enclosed (entrapped?) by institutions for human reasons, maybe political reasons. (Aren’t zoos political, created by the popular will of the people?)
Both capable of killing.

Tigers and political leaders gather our attention through their glorious appearance and family relationships and become symbolic of certain aspects of the world. We think we are managing them, using them to our own purposes, but in fact they react almost instinctively, using strategies and private convictions to overcome the barriers at least temporarily.

We severely underestimate them. Surely a tiger can’t leap more than twelve feet? (The experts recommended A sixteen foot wall. Why wouldn’t any sensible person add a margin in case of error?) Surely a woman, no matter how well connected -- even if she was Harvard educated -- could not keep nuclear proliferation out of Pakistan, especially since it had already begun by the time she had any power. What good did it do for the CIA to take her aside and show her their evidence that Pakistan was already making bombs? Did they think she didn’t know and that if she DID know, it would make a difference? Were they trying to force her to accept their worldview?

We pretend we know all about these two powerful females when in fact we are singularly short of facts, so that as new “facts” arrive, new theories develop and people’s opinions go this way, then that way, until finally they become bored and confused and just turn away. The three boys outside the tiger compound were teasing her, inviting trouble. She would never have tried to jump out otherwise. There was a bloody shoe and blood on the wall of the retaining pit. No, there wasn’t. The three boys outside the tiger compound were innocent victims. No, one was a hero who tried to save his friend but then was attacked and killed. The zoo employees had a tranquilizer gun and were about to immobilize the tiger, but the police took their gun and insisted on shooting the tiger dead. No, the tiger charged the cops and they had to shoot her in self-protection. People grieve for the tiger. People are indignant that a tiger should attack innocent boys.

Benazir Bhutto was killed by her rival, Mousarraf. No, she was killed by Al Quaida and the Taliban. No, she was killed by an accident, struck in the head by her own armored security vehicle, thrown off balance, not careful enough, struck by a protruding lever. No, there was a suicide bomber who took twenty other people into death with him, so who can say she didn’t go with them, almost voluntarily. No, there was a gunman and it was shrapnel caused by his shooting that killed her. No, you can’t do an autopsy -- we’ve already buried her. What does it matter? She knew she would die a martyr. Her whole family died martyrs. She expected it. There was no shame in it. (But she should have been more ashamed of her family’s bad behavior.)

Better a tiger should be shot to death in the midst of aggression -- a tiger is by nature aggressive, it is built for attack and killing, not for living in a concrete phony environment no matter how many toys and growing plants are provided. Tatiana was never more a tiger than in the seconds before the bullet hit her. How to justify a tiger in a fake compound when the real tigers in the wild are not being protected? Let this be the beginning of closing down all zoos. This one was bad anyway. This tiger had ripped ragged the arm of a keeper because of bad confinement design. This zoo has allowed two elephants to die -- if they can’t protect their elephants, how can they be expected to protect either their tigers or their tourists? Yet people love zoos and don’t want to give them up.

Pakistan is a “democracy trying to struggle its way into being from inside a dictatorship.” The only way the leadership changes is if it dies of old age, is convicted of bad behavior, or is assassinated. How can anyone expect orderly elections, orderly public events, progressive leadership? The autocratic leaders impose hardship and suppression until the people are inflamed and then the people overreact in riots and killings, so that the autocrats feel more justified.

What can anyone expect from a country ripped from the side of India? What can anyone expect from a huge hunting cat so totally displaced from the jungles of India? Why can’t we leave things as they are instead of constantly introducing more division, more hatred, more violence? How can anyone care about Pakistan when we know so little about it? How will anyone ever protect wild tigers if they never see one in order to realize just how magnificent is really is? You can transmit PBS and the History Channel constantly, but you can’t make people sit down and watch -- much less think about what they see. Anyway, all those video images just make the reality unreal.

It is the fate of Pakistan to be constantly in uproar. After all, they are located right at the juncture of two tectonic plates that cause repeated violent earthquakes, destroying their little mud huts and cutting off villages that were never really connected anyway. It is the fate of all the charismatic megamammals to become extinct. They simply exist in a time of extinctions that cannot be changed. If overpopulation doesn’t get to them, climate change will. Should a tiger be more cherished than a polar bear? Or a human.

Why do we care more when something beautiful is killed than when something ugly is wiped out. Who decides what is beautiful or ugly anyway?

Is there oil in Pakistan? Might they use their bombs on us? Might they export their bombs to our enemies? Why not just bomb them into rubble now and prevent any problems? But why are we meddling in their problems anyway? If we leave them alone, why would they bomb us? Containment, that’s the ticket.

How much are tigerskins worth? What will happen to Tatiana’s skin? Will she be mounted? Isn’t taxidermy just a macabre extension of a zoo? Why not a rug? We could present it to the next worthy Prime Minister of Pakistan. (We might have it a long time.) Who decides?

Friday, December 28, 2007

THE GAZE OF MICHAEL KITCHEN

Peter Raible, UU minister in Seattle for many years, used to say, “Nothing that is human is foreign to me,” and reference Whitman’s “I contain multitudes.” Recent brain research suggests that the definitive capacity of humans -- though we appear to partly share it with some primates and maybe some pets -- is empathy. Not sympathy, the ability to recognize and respond to emotion in others, but empathy, the ability to share those feelings -- to understand them from within, like “method” actors.

I’ve just about gotten to the end of the “Foyle’s War” episodes available on DVD. This is another of those BBC series you can get on Netflix these days. They are prepared according to a recipe that allows variation. I got started on “Cracker” via Netflix but had previously watched “Morse” and “Poirot” and others via Masterpiece Theatre on television when I was in Portland. I often reflect on what they all have in common, most obviously a key superior male -- the Sherlock Holmes pattern. He picks up the telling detail and then puts the puzzle together, seemingly with steely detachment. Watson seems to have all the human warmth. It is characteristic of these series to provide a sidekick. After all, if there were not some lesser -- if warmer -- being in the story, Holmes would be reduced to talking to himself or there would be very little script.

Yet “Foyle’s War” is based on a man whom both writer and actor (Michael Kitchen) agree to be a dialogue minimalist: he says very little. Maybe in compensation, he has two sidekicks: another younger man to run down background and tell it to him (and us) and a Chatty Cathy of a driver, a long stalk of a girl with honey-colored hair. (The actress is actually named “Honeysuckle Weeks” which sounds more like the name of a character, but the character is called “Sam,” short for Samantha.) The donnee or conceit or schtick of the series is that it’s happening during WWII in England when the country is under terrible destructive pressure, quite truly fighting for her life, but Foyle is not in the war directly so the title of the series is ironic. Foyle is a Detective Chief Inspector on the south coast of England, presumably out of the action.

But no one in WWII England was really out of the action. Anthony Horowitz, who also writes children’s horror stories, has accepted the challenge of devising plots that will create a tension -- which he envisions as concentric circles: the outermost being the war in all its worldwide aspects and the innermost being the moral code (as opposed to the legal code) of one man. (He's not above occasionally ignoring the letter of the law.) Foyle is a lonely man, a widower, who has a son in the RAF with whom he shares close ties but not much explanation.

Michael Kitchen is suited for this role in the first place and became invested in influencing it in the second place because he is a physically unremarkable (short, balding) man with a face that responds minutely to his inner life: marking, commenting, considering with a twist of the mouth, a quirk of the eyebrow, a small turn of the head or change in focus. This is ideal for film. The other actors say that they watch him from the sidelines while his scenes are shot, think he has done little or nothing, and then see the scene on film where it is a revelation. There’s a whole Greek chorus of comment in his face.

Another tiny marker seems to be unique to this role. (I’ve known him previously from “Out of Africa” where he was the comprehending friend of Isak Dinesen and from “The Buccaneers” where he was a penniless estate owner trying to urge his son to put the estate before romance, as he himself has done.) The marker seems to be his eyes, which are the key introduction for Foyle. His pupils are always contracted, making his eyes intensely blue and focused. I don’t know whether there is a drug that can do this or whether Kitchen has some sort of yogic control over his irises, but I think they simply made sure to keep a bright light on his face. True enough, when I watch carefully, his face seems light while his dialogue partner often has a face that is dark while being backlit. Of course, a well-lit face is a necessity for an actor who acts with such subtlety.

The other male detective actors (“prime solvers” rather than “prime suspects”) sometimes produce the results of empathy, but one rarely sees it happening. “Cracker,” for instance, is always in such a frenzy of his own motives that when he finally comes out with his “solution” speech it rather seems to have come out of nowhere. Robson Green is probably halfway between that style and the Foyle style, but much funnier than Foyle in quick bursts of goofiness. Foyle is never goofy.

One of the intros describes Foyle as one of those “rocks” on which one can absolutely depend, a moral center of the kind we all long for our leaders to be. (Well, maybe the special interest crowd doesn’t.) Such people can be unsympathetic if not simply boring, but Foyle is not because of his loneliness which he only allows to show in isolated [sic] moments. Much of the tie between himself and Sam is not romantic (she takes a bit of a twirl with his son) but rather from her awareness that he is lonely and his gratitude for her blithe and enthusiastic approach to life. He does not hesitate to draw the line which she may not cross and, like an obedient golden retriever, she sometimes tests the line but does not cross it. There are transient romantic interests for Foyle: one from his past and one as solitary as he is. No scenes of sexual intimacy with women.

Foyle’s son lives the life his father longs for -- dashing, risking, hell with the consequences, misinterpreting -- and we see in his experience the price he pays, which is different than the price his father pays with his discipline and reliablility. That is, the writer is aware that we ALL pay a price, even the virtuous. It is partly this awareness of human limits that provides the empathy that drives the plots. And some people think this is only a “period piece” about a nostalgic time. Lack of empathy, that!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

THE SOURCE OF HARMONY

Today on “Here and Now,” the NPR program, the conductor Sir David Wilcox was being interviewed by Robin Young about conducting choirs. She asked him about that moment when a singing choir hits every note exactly right, so powerfully that, “everything falls away and there is only white light and the conductor.” Wilcox had nothing to add to that, but agreed that it happened. Bob Scriver spoke eloquently of the experience of being in tune, saying that it reached down into one’s deepest body and put everything into the powerful sensation of harmony.

Decades ago I had a “travel sermon” that I took around to various pulpits. It was about that kind of transcendent moment when in a strange paradox one felt oneself saturated and continuous with the higher power of the universe while at the same time having one’s deepest existence confirmed. It is rarely planned or even expected, but can strike or seize one with heart-shaking power that is never forgotten. When I preached this sermon, people would come up afterwards to tell me about such moments. One man said it happened when he was camping with his family and was bathing the baby in the dishpan at a picnic table. Another person said it happened when she was driving west and came up over a hilltop just as the last of the sun set behind mountains. Often they were connected to nature. But I once had a brief moment like that while standing on an “el” station in Chicago, hardly a pastoral scene though there was a powerful sky.

People go at religion -- defining it and so on -- many different ways and therefore it’s not surprising they would end up with many different conclusions. They think of religion mostly in terms of institutions: traditions, rules for daily living, ethics, sources of authority such as a religious leader or a book, and so on. Not many speak of the pure experience of transcendence.

Mircea Eliade did and institutionalists didn’t appreciate it. Eliade said that anyone can “feel” even the mild differences between the sacred and the profane that are in, for instance, a house. The points of significance would be points of transition (doors and windows, stairs), sources of fire or food or water (Santa’s fireplace, mother’s kitchen, the bathroom) and extremes, such as the highest place in the house and the lowest. He might reflect that the fact so many houses now have neither attic nor cellar is a loss of mystery and memory. I wouldn’t argue.

It was Tillich who was always playing with the symbolic perpendiculars: the shaft of the Cross that goes up to heaven and down into the earth (both meaning transcendence) versus the horizontal cross-piece on which one extends arms to include all reached by the horizon, humanity. So one might argue that the chimney of the house is a vertical while the roof is a horizon. Pushing it, but still... How about the star shining straight down on a cave versus the long horizontal roads of the shepherds and kings? If you know other traditions besides Christianity, it’s probably possible to find other examples because the ideas of vertical and horizontal are so basic.

It is at this level, this emotional ignition of awe, this kindling of the spirit, through which I prefer to approach religion. To my mind the work of religious leaders ought properly -- besides the defense of justice, the encouragement of compassion, and the constant need for institutional reforms and renewals -- to be creating the conditions for the most innocent and spontaneous moments of harmony with the universe. No edifice or hierarchy or text can be justified truthfully except by such moments in all lives.

I’m not speaking of the creation of altars, the practice of pilgrimage, or the anointment of saints. All that is earthly and often a source of disharmony as institutions compete for adherents, territory and control: secular and therefore transient.

One of the major preoccupying questions of our times is whether there is actually anything beyond us, outside our perceptions even with instruments. We don’t like to accept our limits, our boundaries. And yet there is this experience of being limitless, without boundaries, that is there always -- and, when permitted, strikes us almost forcibly.

They say that transmitting mild electromagnetic energy through the temporal lobes of the brain will make people have this experience. (Or some recommend drugs.) I don’t know how much I trust that, but I’m willing to consider it as a minor truth. It seems like jiggling the instrument since the experience can come without any laboratory stimulation. But maybe religious experience IS something happening in the brain without any relationship to external phenomena of the universe. We know we only detect a small amount of what goes on “out there” and we know that in the first years of life, when the brain shapes itself according to what it perceives, it forms deep (one might say “immanent”) categories which shape that child’s experience of life forever. Those categories don’t necessarily fit with the categories of any given religion, but I would guess that the better the fit, the stronger the faith, the easier to sense harmony.

These categories would be wordless and more basic than we are used to considering: being lifted up securely (not in danger of being dropped); being warmed gently (neither burned nor chilled), being fed or drinking; light and dark; transformation as people come and go; voices and music; smells; being tenderly washed. It seems to me that these “baby things” are what we touch when we feel that moment of transcendent harmony.

So now consider an infant as a religious symbol -- either an objective beloved infant or one’s own incoherent wordless experience. Some people reach that moment of selfless satisfaction and cherishedness in sexual union, though probably not the people who subscribe to the SPAM notion of sex as being attacked by a battering ram. The mistaken substitution of power (or drugs) for love bedevils both sex and institutions.

In our society we seem to have always a proportion of infants who are born unwanted, uncherished, uncomforted and unfed -- maybe beaten, cold, or tortured with boiling water or cigarettes. How can they be religious? Some will be born already hooked on drugs, already damaged by alcohol. How can a religion like Christianity, which founds itself on a sacred birth, allow such things to happen?

I would suggest it is because these people, when grown, are so enormously vulnerable to those institutions that would exploit them. From suicide bombers to chemical contaminators, those people are doomed to dissonance. Or are they? Could music or art or nature, for instance, redeem them?

Monday, December 24, 2007

FIFTEENTH AND ALBERTA



Here’s a little Christmas angel for you: Ana Louisa Mateo, three and a half years old. She and her family are Philipino and live in the Philippines so that they will grow up culturally Philipino rather than “American” (whatever that is) but her father, Louis, sometimes lived just two doors away from my mother and brother on 15th Avenue in Portland, OR. Louis and Paul were bicycling buddies as well as both being art professors, though Louis was actually teaching at Mt. Hood Community College and Paul had not worked since he hit his head so hard. But Louis was also attached to my mother, who was very fond of him. She had a real affection for all things Asian and had lost an uncle in the war over the Philippines, an early version of Vietnam. In fact, the uncle returned physically, but was so hollowed out by trauma and probably disease that he disappeared. Beyond that Louis and Lucy were really “into” plants and conferred over them often. And Mowgli, the cat, sort of lived in both households.

Louis Mateo is a fine artist in his own right. Portfolio at www.louismatero.com -- some abstract and some representational. Quite a range of styles, really. Paul posed for him sometimes. I remember one show of figure studies drawn with sepia ink and a twig or twigs, whittled to a point. Flexible thick ‘n thin lines, delicate and strong at the same time.

I’m not a big Christmas person, at least not the way people do it nowadays: big expensive trips, luxury gifts, debt that lasts until next Christmas. An aspect that I DO like and try to keep hold of is the idea of returning -- if only in memory -- to old places and remembered friends. So Louis’ photo is part of the proper festive mood of Christmas for me.

Across the street from Louis, long before he moved there, were the Simmies. They had a button factory in the basement where they made buttons from thin sheets of agate and other semiprecious stones. They had glued-on shanks, as I recall, rather than holes. My mother used to work there so we sometimes had fancy buttons on our Pendleton wool shirt/jackets, which everyone in Portland wore daily.

Last week Scoop Simmie, their daughter just a bit older than myself, sent me a heavy Christmas package that I couldn’t decipher from the outside. When I opened it, I laughed and laughed! It was a great big snowball candle, the kind my mother used to make at Christmas. The wax was sold by my father’s wholesale ag co-op employer and she used to do demonstrations of how to make it into candles at meetings of farmer’s wives. She was even on local television once. The candles were touted as “glowing” when they were lit. The big ones were made in halves in mixing bowls and then you whipped the wax with a fork to make “snow.”

The Easter eggshells were a little trickier. You had to fill up balloons with water and dip them over and over to make the shell. Then you let the water out of the balloon and cut the edge of the wax so it looked as though a chick had just escaped. Once at a demonstration she had a table full of water balloons ready to dip when one unaccountably untied itself and sent up an arc of water, in my mother’s words, “just like a little boy.”

My grandmother Strachan, Beulah, got the family started in the neighborhood by picking out a house on NE 15th when the family moved from Brandon, Manitoba. I’m sure the big house, which had belonged to a doctor, reminded her of the Brandon house. It was a few blocks south (uphill) of Alberta Street and my father bought a house a half block north of Alberta. My mother said (only partly joking) that she married him for that house and that’s where she eventually died many years later. (What’s 1938 from 1998 -- sixty years?)

Fifteenth Avenue runs perpendicular up and over a ridge that is parallel to the Columbia River (E/W). The crest of the ridge is along Prescott and then Alameda, along Alameda Ridge, off towards Mt. Tabor. I expect there were once Indian camps along that ridge. I used to walk the half-block to Sumner and stare across the drop-off to the West Hills. On a scooter you could get up a little speed on that side of the block if the plum tree hadn’t loaded it with pits. Fifteenth had enough incline that when my mother’s funny green going-to-college coupe wouldn’t start, she’d make my brothers get up and push it down the hill. By Killingsworth, it would lurch into action.

My mother was eventually deeply woven into the society of this neighborhood. It had begun as a little country town more like the place she’d grown up, but that was before she came. In her young married life it was quite a European immigrant place with businesses along Alberta that had apartments upstairs for the owners. There was a trolley along Alberta, which was its lifeblood. The seats were along the sides, woven cane, and when one wanted to get off, there was a little pearl button between every two windows. One wore gloves to go downtown in those days and I put my dime fare in the tip of one finger until the trolley came. I could only jam the coin in there because the glove was stretchy, crocheted.

Just as in a small town the school was the center of society for the mostly young families at the time. Programs and carnivals and drives to make money for charitable purposes. The PTA -- all ladies with hats -- was a powerful force. At Jeff Hi and at Benson Hi, the dads took over. We had not a doubt in the world that we were all doing the right thing.

In later years there were buses and one ran down 15th. After the Vanport flood, which was like a mini-version of New Orleans, the displaced black population moved up to north and northeast Portland, surrounding and then infiltrating the modest little homes. Gangs and drugs came along. Syringes turned up in my mother’s compost bins. If Paul hadn’t been there, she would have retired to a teachers’ home, though sometimes she was glad she didn’t have to because of the yard. The lowest point was just a while before she died. She was at the bus stop and came home hotly indignant. Some black man had come up alongside her and stood there and “wagged his wienie” at her. “The ignorance!” she raged.

But she put off moving and stayed interested. Charles Moose, the first black Chief of Police, bought a house from some old sisters my mother knew in what she called “the get - tow” and started a turnaround. Alberta had closed and collapsed enough that it presented an opportunity for artists to find low-rent spaces and that was the way it came back. Galleries, coffee shops, bodegas, and one valiant woman whose coffee shop courtyard was planted with flowers in the shape of Africa.

They tell me our house still looks well-maintained. Louis still owns his house plus one across the street and has enough relatives and good friends to keep them occupied. Scoop’s house hasn’t fared so well, but Scoop has. She lives not far from Jeff Hi where she and I both graduated. Her mom was Philippina, as beautiful as Ana Luisa. But that’s another story...

Sunday, December 23, 2007

FRANK BIRD LINDERMAN

Frank Bird Linderman has always been a bit of a puzzle to me for three reasons: sharing the middle name “Bird” with George Bird Grinnell (they also both died in 1938 and both wrote books of Blackfeet legends) made me mix up their identities, Linderman is also the name of a famous rodeo family we came to know rather well, and Linderman’s territory was the Flathead Valley -- I don’t go on that side of the Rockies. I stick to Blackfeet and the east slope. In addition, “his” tribe (He was white, but knew this group well) appears to be the Chippewa/Cree and the Metis diasphora created by the failure of the Riel Rebellion in Canada which sent refugees down into Montana. He knew many of these landless and destitute people, was even partners with a few of them. But the two books for which he is best known were about Crow people: Plenty-Coups and Pretty Shield.

I suspect that F. B. Linderman is extraordinary enough to confuse anyone. Beginning as a kid trapper, something like James Willard Schultz and Charles Marion Russell (in those days everyone had three names, so I’ve rather gone back to that practice myself), he moved on to mining instead of cattle ranching, learned to be an assayer, then did a sidewise jump to newspaper editor, and got his parents started in a local furniture store -- surefire in a growing area with families moving in. (Same principle applies today.) But he made his real fortune by selling insurance statewide. The money allowed him to build a house on Goose Bay and live in it while writing about the early days. (His account of saving it from a forest fire could have been written this summer!) When the writing didn’t go so well, he bought a hotel in Kalispell, made a success of it and sold it for enough money to go back to writing. For a while he was a legislator and his greatest achievement was probably securing the creation of Rocky Boy’s Reservation for those Cree/Chippewa and Metis people.

This strange assortment of trades, businesses and occupations was always backed by confidence acquired in the earliest days of settlement when all a man needed was a rifle, intelligence and a good reputation to live prosperously where ever he was -- like an Indian. Of course, this became more problematic once he married a pretty 97-pound woman he called his “Frau” in those innocent years before world wars, and acquired three little girls. They managed. In fact, I sat at a table across from the daughter of one of those little girls at a luncheon at the CM Russell Museum not long ago.

I’ve just finished reading “Montana Adventure: The Recollections of Frank B. Linderman” which was edited by H.G. Merriam, whose wife I knew in Missoula. Merriam is the original force behind the idea of Montana literature as a sort of privileged genre. Now it is clear to me just who Frank Linderman was, why he was important, and how it was that he was able to do so many things so well. Clearly he had an ability to analyze the forces within a situation. He had no preconceptions about anyone’s origins -- trying always to look through race and so on to the character of the individual. Perhaps because of this he made strong friendships based on respect for his integrity, which was of high value to him. And he was persistent as well as diligent. If one way didn’t work, he thought of another way. Also, he was a GREAT storyteller among others of the same sort. There was a keen feeling that much was disappearing that ought to be remembered.

The times from 1885 when he arrived to 1938 when the Depression was replaced by WWII were changing so rapidly from promise to disaster to triumph that everything was constantly dislocated, rather like now. And it is not really any comfort to me that his books, well-written and historically valuable as they are -- elegantly illustrated by his friend Charlie Russell and others -- did not make enough money for him to feel a success. He had a hard time finding a publisher who understood what he was doing and, anyway, interest in the frontier years was fading. Eventually, his friendship networks nudged him into the right circles and he wrote many “Indian legend” books -- the kind that remain the definitive Indian literature to many people, though few wrote with as much authenticity as Linderman. The equivalent on the Blackfeet side would be Walter McClintock. (Dunno where McClintock’s middle name went to! To give you a feel for the time period, Bob’s dad knew McClintock and Bob knew James Willard Schultz. Bob was twelve when Charlie Russell died, twenty-four when Grinnell and Linderman died. Bob’s daughter Margaret was born that same year, 1938. I was born in 1939. When Linderman died, he was a year older than I am now.)

Now that Linderman’s gone, of course, he is considered one of the great wise personalities of the Montana scene -- one of the 100 most notable citizens of the state, according to The Missoulian. Because of his illustrators, the Industrial Cowboy Art Cartel has found him and his books are an excellent investment if you can find any of the first editions. I don’t think I’ve read any of them except this autobiography, which Merriam considered below his usual standard. Since I found this one pretty rewarding with its rich detail and wry asides, I’ll have to get around to the others.

I’ve ordered Linderman’s Blackfeet legends book, though I really am not fond of that genre these days. Once I swallowed them whole, one after another, but now I’m more interested in either fiction like Jim Welch’s or historical narrative like Montana Adventure. I suppose that's at least partly because of the contentiousness over which are "right."

I haven’t been paying attention to the talk about where Linderman’s papers and artifacts are -- supposedly in the Museum of the Plains Indian in Browning, but now I begin to have a livelier interest because it is clear that time passes quickly, what seems like the monotonous Now soon becomes the exciting Yesterday and I may have produced enough papers myself to need a reliable repository -- if there is such a thing.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

CULTURE, STATUS AND ART

Christmas often brings some unanticipated delights -- or at least one hopes it will! This morning arrived in my PO Box a little privately published book called “Remembering Louis Bunce.” The subtitle is “Recollections and reflections of friends and admirers on the 100th anniversary of his birth, August 13, 2007.” Phyllis Johanson, who was a collaborator when I was at animal control, sent me the book because she knew I’ve always been interested in Bunce, partly because of a huge flap over a mural he painted for the Portland Airport. It was cubist and set off an uproar heard clear to Paris!

People claimed they couldn’t understand it, but some pilots said it looked just like flying, and I never had trouble “understanding” it. It was vaporous planes of blue and green. One airport electrician kept going by and exclaiming that it was just a mess, until one day Bunce went down to the electrician’s bailiwick and walked around looking at the tangle of wiring, remarking that he “couldn’t understand it.” Luckily the electrician had a sense of humor and converted to figuring out the mural and then even explaining it to others.

I think the reason some people take offense is that they feel excluded, as though the artists and the cogniscenti know something that their own incomprehension makes them feel is stupidity. It’s a kind of Emperor’s New Clothes story in which the observers think that everyone else really IS seeing something, and they don’t dare ask what for fear of revealing that they are falling short. Certainly the Art Revolution since the turn of the 19th century into the 20th has depended very much on explanation -- as much discussion of how and why the painting was made as raw experience of what one of Bunce’s friends called “something that hangs between you and the wall.” So the people who don’t “get it,” maybe because of lack of education which they think renders them stupid, form their own Scoffing Society and say, “I don’t know nuthin’ about art, but I know what I like.”

I don’t have a close relationship with Louis Bunce’s and George Johanson’s circle of friends but I never found them exactly a closed society though they were based on their relationship to the Portland Art School as students and teachers. But they did understand each other in the way that people always do when they’ve know each other a long time. These guys (a few women, mostly spouses) lived through the Depression, when many of them worked for the WPA, and then WWII though many were 4F and then again the Fifties, which are still not quite available for analysis for some reason. It was sadder than the “winners” of the war want to admit, maybe. People drank hard, smoked a lot, took risks and admired Jackson Pollock whom some of this group knew rather well. By now they’ve mostly settled into being senior citizens, but they’re still tricksters and survivors -- which are the salient qualities that pull them together into a kind of culture.

I gather that some philosophers have been trying to set out the relationship between culture/status and the valorization (valuing and meaningfulness) of art. These are communities based on consumption, rather than the artists’ societies based on ideas and production. The critic, the gallery-owner, and the patron form interlocking relationships that have nothing to do with tricking (pun intended) and surviving -- and everything with demonstrating good taste at the same time as hopefully turning a profit. If bad taste will turn a profit, well, so be it. There are periods when shock and offense are worth more money -- then the pendulum swings and all of a sudden indiscretion will be bargain basement, except that there is always a little residual underground whose attachment to the art has been too visceral to give up. With luck, those folks have money they will spend on art.

So it’s possible to separate two kinds of “art groups,” one based on the artists’ relationships with each other, often through shared experience or a relationship to an institution, and the other based on the marketing of the products. In the “Cowboy Art” context, there is a kind of hybrid group: the Cowboy Artists of America. Beginning as an affinity group of artists who helped with a roundup, the association became a self-promotion business that broke with the original institution (Cowboy Hall of Fame) and then lost contact with its roots, by now partly because of the deaths of the founders, and partly because the annual group ride began to be seen as a hardship for older and less Western members. The group shifted from mutual support to being plagued by internal politics and competitions.

This was partly because of what I called the Industrial Cowboy Art Cartel, the loose and unofficial network of “experts,” authors, administrators, gallery-owners, and the like who arrange shows and create reputations. One of the interesting and probably positive results of their efforts is the broadening of the field to include more than Charlie Russell and Frederic Remington. Now they think about the Taos Seven, the great scenery artists such as Moran and Bierstadt, the early Indian portraitists like Catlin and Bodmer, and even the California Impressionists.

It’s fascinating to attend Western art auctions, a national string of events rather like rodeos, and study the people, which form a group of their own. Some travel in a group to events, chartering a plane. Many are rich from extractive industries in the West -- oil, coal, mining, dams. Some become admirers of a certain artist and acquire everything about him (usually a "him"), including trivia, as though the person were a movie star. Part of the identification may be historical, since in the West “history” was just yesterday. People dress up in old-timey outfits or in unsophisticated glitz: a remarkable number of beaded chiffon dresses and bleached blond up-do hair. They are a culture of their own, sometimes leathery from outdoor work and glittering with diamonds to show the work was profitable.

Manhattan barely understands that so much action has moved away, in much the same way that the art action moved out of Paris during WWII and made Manhattan the new scene. One must go to the glossy newsstand magazines about Western art and what they call “the lifestyle.” Interestingly, these people who giggle about frontier brutality and sex, make it clear that they are easily offended by any bad behavior in the here and now. And they are patriotic, though the Cowboy Artists of America have dropped the “of America” part, shortening CAA to CA.

There’s a terrific story in this Louis Bunce book about his wife and him at an impossibly pretentious and stuffy dinner party. A lemon meringue pie was brought to the table. Bunce’s wife, despairing, looked at Louis and smashed the pie in her own face! I know just how she felt.

Friday, December 21, 2007

REFLECTIONS

My young correspondent with the fortuitous name of “Art”, who describes himself as a "Funky Pagan Taoist Neo-Pagan Shaman Artist Musician,” is representative of a whole horde of young people who have discovered the abiding preoccupations of those who live in the context of the Abramic religions (Esp. Xianity, Islam, and Judaism) with their entwined theologies and competing goals. I thought I’d just make a short list of some of the issues that fascinate some people -- though they aren’t exactly the sort of things that bother the kind of people who argue about eating fish on Fridays or whether Mitt Romney as president would be dominated by the Mormon hierarchy. (Kennedy clearly didn’t obey the Pope, even when he should have.)

Most of the puzzles come from the tribal origins of these desert-based systems that formed just as agriculture changed human living arrangements based on grain raising and irrigation, thus requiring the invention of defended walled cities for storage. The assumption is that a Big Man is key, so God is assumed to be that sort of entity. From that arises the problem of loyalty (“thou shalt have no other Big Men before me”), inerrancy, and free will (“do what I say because you really want to”). Beyond that, argument is endless about the nature of the Big Man, whom some see as a King, and some try to make into a less-demanding abstraction, like “Love.” The Big Man is your Father, who will obviously see that you are taken care of, because He loves you. If He doesn’t, it must be because you did something wrong, even if you can't think what. (Remember Jacob and Esau?)

Then arises the problem of succession, which introduces some tricky bits about the next generation. Human beings attach to their own genetic children, so why would God be different? But one doesn’t like to think about what God must have done to the Mother of God any more than thinking about what one’s own parents did to create oneself. Also, acknowledging the genetic contribution of the Mother introduces another line of descent, unless you’re an Egyptian pharoah marrying one’s sister. Virgin birth, that’s the ticket. (Male parthogenesis, with woman as incubator.) And no sibs, please.

Since daily life for most was a matter of hard work and potential scarcity, Paradise became a place where one could lie around in plenty, a goal rarely reached until recently -- it's rumored to be the practice among the American rich. Rivalry and the domination of enemies are characteristic of Abramic religions. “Dad loves ME best! I’m the Chosen People!” “Oh, yeah? Well, MY Guy really WAS God’s Son and actually He was God as well!” Crusades, Holy Wars, and more walls follow. Jesus was first conceptualized as a Warrior who would come down out of the sky and lay waste to all the other side’s Big Man Armies, at that point the Roman Empire. Then the theory shifted to a hidden hero within. This pattern persists in such folk heroes as Marvel comic book heroes who come to save the meek, tiny and blameless from big tycoons with cigars who hire private armies.

When writing was devised back in those days, the idea was that if the rules -- as well as the entitlement to patches of land regularly obliterated by floods that made them fertile -- then people would have to acknowledge where the boundaries were instead of arguing and fighting over such issues. Thus, the theory of inerrant scriptures and ownership linked to prosperity arose. (This is the part where Paul Shepherd thinks we should have stuck to hunting or -- at most -- herding. Too late now. Too many people. Unless there's a plague...) In those days, the Big Man (or his representatives) wrote the Big Laws. Democracy was not part of the deal.

So Free Will on the part of people is a problem. If the Big Man has all the power, why doesn’t He do a better job? Why should people suffer, especially those who have done nothing to deserve it? Why is life so unfair if the Big Man says good people will be rewarded? The answer is usually something like: “Well, you ought to use common sense to do the right thing. I can’t hang around and control everything!” Or sometimes, “Well, it was that OTHER Big Man in that Other Place who snuck in here and corrupted everything. That SNAKE.”

I don’t know Islam or Judaism as well as I know Christianity, but I have a notion that the latter translates to modern life best when it sticks to The Family Romance, that is, a small social unit developing organically from Mom, Dad and Junior; that is, celebrated at a dinner table with bread and wine. It works okay as long as the larger culture actually KNOWS bread and wine. Difficulty arises when the larger culture never bakes bread, never grows grapes, and subsists on something quite different from the Mediterranean Diet. Such exotic items as communion wafers and wine then become objects of magic and can be worshiped as objects -- when the original idea was for them to point to the family and the memory of that lost son. And how does one depict a crucifixion in a place with no trees, any more than mandating the eating of fish on Friday in a place with no fish? The question didn’t arise so long as the Europeans stayed in Eurasia. And then there’s the problem of the affinity tribe becoming more important than the family, which seems to be affecting our youth today.

Christianity is pretty resourceful about drawing localisms into an increasingly more and more complex systems of belief which developed little tales of saints and miracles. So the north European sanctification of evergreens (renewing even in winter) became our Christmas tree (though the original Christmas tree was a palm) and the event of the birth of Jesus was slid along to merge with the Solstice (and now Hannukah). The trouble is that the Christmas tree began to dominate the creche and the giving of gifts lends itself so well to capitalism that it has gobbled up everything else. Even the Nativity gets a lot of emphasis on the gifts brought to the Christ Child. And the tree has become artificial, as convenient and about as inspiring as an umbrella.

The old Greek split between Apollo, the Big Man in charge of order, arts, and self-discipline, and Dionysus, the Big Man in charge of drunkenness, wild behavior and plumbing the depths of the psyche, has never been resolved and erupts through every Christian festival. Judaism has been more successful in holding up the nuclear family as a defense. Islam has that Ultra-Apollonian strand of Human Puritanism which provides a kind of backbone -- even did so for early American democracy when the celebration of Christmas meant a day of fasting and devotion -- not revelry.

Such are my speculations on a cold morning pre-Christmas in a little prairie town where everyone but me professes to be a good Christian though I know that even the white ranchers around here have at their hearts a connection to the land that is far more like the Blackfeet only a few hundred years ago. Paul Shepherd would have loved the old Blackfeet life.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

PUNK POST-MODERNISM AND RELIGION

Being educated means being able to sling around labels and categories so that they mean roughly the same things that all the educated people more or less agree that they mean. Of course, all categories slip and slide and have fuzzy edges. But when there is a major change in these categories, a person can be at a disadvantage. Thus, when I went off to seminary in 1978 with a 1961 education, I was boggled by post-modern criticism. Ever since, I’ve been struggling along trying to understand.

Here’s exhibit A, which is from “Sightings,” the formal e-essay or blog posted twice a week by the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School. This piece is entitled “Trangressive Irony at Radio City” and is written by Travis Scholl, a recent graduate of Yale University Divinity School and Managing Editor of Theological Publications at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. Yale is supposed to be one of the ten universities where they understand post-modern culture criticism, as follows:.

“At this time of year American culture is laden with customs, themselves laden with multivariant meanings. The Christmas Spectacular that takes place every year at Radio City Music Hall, for example, comes with its own set of traditions. The stunning simultaneity of the Rockettes' high leg kicks, the complex choreography of the Wooden Soldier, the condensed retelling of the Nutcracker story—most of the elements of Radio City's Christmas Spectacular, now in its seventy-fifth year, are told year after year, only with different choreography and new sets.

“Near the end of each year's Spectacular, another tradition takes place: the "Living Nativity," in which, as the program notes tell us, the "beautiful and inspiring story of the first Christmas [is] told reverently in pageantry, music, and scripture." It features multiple set tableaus, live animals, and swelling musical orchestration; but perhaps the most notable component of this particular scene, as I observed it over Thanksgiving weekend, was in the audience response to it. As soon as the curtain pulled back to reveal the full set of the nativity, the stage began to sparkle with the strobing flashes of camera bulbs. It was the one and only point at which the audience was willing to transgress the venue's explicit rule to not take flash photographs.”


That’s the case, now here’s the analysis, complete with some handy definitions:

“It has been about twenty-five years since the French philosopher Jean-Francois Lyotard characterized postmodernity as "incredulity toward metanarratives." His definition relied on the distinction between (big) metanarratives, which tend to dominate whole systems of meaning, and (small) narratives, which provide more organic meanings within existential realities.”

I think this means that major cultural assumptions, so big and taken-for-granted that they are hard to think about, can dominate smaller traditions. Thus, we’re a "Christian people" who incorporate into the Birth of Christ/Renewal/Salvation the smaller stories of glamorous stage celebrations, a Viennese gift feast, and then a particular version of the Nativity, which we treat as though it were also a staged spectacle, which in this case it IS.

“But what Lyotard's distinction does not necessarily take into account is the way that cultural narratives, even religious narratives, can be inverted upon and into each other. In a postmodern context where popular culture is inundated by spectacle, religious narratives, most often presumed to function as metanarrative, can be inverted, taking the form of smaller narratives within other systems of meaning. At Radio City , the Spectacular's own metanarrative could have been summarized by the production's oft-repeated encouragement "to believe in the magic of Christmas," supported by its signature lyric to "let Christmas shine." As such, the narrative of the Christ child—which took up all of about twelve minutes of an almost two hour show—was subsumed within the larger narrative of the Spectacular's more recognizable emcee, Santa Claus.”

It’s all about magic, European traditions, and -- bottom line -- prosperity. NOT humility, the power of the “least of these,” and what the interior of a Middle Eastern cave might be like.

Scholl continues: “In most cases, such inversions become instances of those most famous of postmodern events; they become transgressive instances of irony. The irony of what happened at Radio City worked through a kind of double inversion: The production inverted the nativity narrative within its much larger spectacle, but audience members displayed their own inversions of what they were seeing by transgressing the rules for (non)participation and pulling out their cameras at what was staged as perhaps one of the least "spectacular" moments of the show.”

For those of us who find this a bit too subtle, consider Larry Flynt’s “transgressive irony” on the covers of old Hustler magazines. One showed the Nativity Creche with Santa Claus in the manger. (Chuckles of recognition. Oh, we ARE so greedy! Tee-hee.) The other showed the Easter Bunny crucified. (Cries of outrage at the sacrilege. An innocent little creature tortured!) Does it occur to critics that both the Nativity and the Crucifixion were meant to be “transgressive irony” in the first place: renewal out of poverty, salvation out of torture? The very ugliness of the events are meant to provoke thought and realization.

Which brings me to another category I had reason to look up: “punk.” Los Angeles artist Mark Vallen has said: “Punk had a unique and complex aesthetic. It was steeped in shock value and revered what was considered ugly. The whole look of punk was designed to disturb and disrupt the happy complacency of the wider society.” (Wikipedia) So Larry Flynt is a punk religionist in the eyes of post-modern criticism, eh?

What’s interesting to me is that “post-modern criticism” is often academic, remote, so analytical that it’s almost inconceivable, even cold. But once it translates to “punk” it is hot, hot, and even violent -- thrusting reality (a teenaged Middle Eastern girl giving birth in a cave/stable, unattended, without anesthetic, after riding a burro a long way) into the midst of Radio City Music Hall. I understand “punk.” Unless “modernism” means something about prosperity and Viennese Society. Like, um, Freud? The freedom to lie back and free-associate about Mommy at a cost of hundreds of dollars per hour?

What if someone next Easter showed Jesus being waterboarded? What's the equivalent for Christmas? An Iraqi girl giving birth while we bomb her house?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

TUTORING

I’ve been thinking about offering to do tutoring for high school kids bound for college. There’s a lot to think about, enough that I should probably number the issues.

1. Are there enough college-bound kids in Valier to make the effort worthwhile? Classes in the high grades are very small. I have no idea how the kids do on their national tests. Maybe they don’t feel they NEED tutoring or maybe they figure they’ll just take vo-ed classes at two-year schools. If anything.

2. The parents of Indian kids have formed a committee which is chaired by Grinnell Day Chief, one of my best senior students in Heart Butte in 1990. Should I try to hook up with them or would that confuse the issue?

3. How should I relate to the school? They are paying for tutoring now, but I suspect it’s focused on underachievers and I’m aiming for the high end. I doubt they could justify paying for gifted or high-achieving (determined) kids, since they are seen as already having advantages. On the other hand, if they could arrange for credits or access to materials like videos, that would be good. I certainly wouldn’t want to work against them and for them to oppose me would be the kiss of death. It would be nice to work with kids in space at the school after classes, but maybe not convenient for the school. I could not and would not tutor kids in my own house, partly because it’s a distraction and partly for fear of sexual accusations. In fact, even at school I’d want open doors and other adults around, maybe parents.

4. Part of my interest is in developing English teaching materials, an enterprise for which I set up a blog (merryscribbler.blogspot.com) and have accumulated literally boxes of books with ideas. This potential is sitting here unused. It’s not going out of date -- people still need training to write decent sentences and to think out the underpinnings of a good essay.

5. I would like to dodge grading of any kind. Grades have become so dubious and un-useful that they mean almost nothing. Mostly they mean that the student is obedient, comes from a good family and looks attractive. Unruly, disreputable, ugly kids in ragged clothes have no chance to get decent grades. Neither do they aspire to college. These days parents micro-manage kids lives so thoroughly and are so quick to offer to punch out non-cooperative teachers, that public school teaching is a hazardous occupation. I’m NOT kidding and it’s as much in Valier as it was in Heart Butte.

6. National test scores still mean something, though no one knows what. Maybe admission to a good school, maybe access to scholarships.

7. Much of tutoring, like all teaching really, comes from the impact of the personality of the teacher. It must be strong enough to keep kids from undermining goals (oh, they are so good at it), not so bizaare that the community is alarmed by the stories the kids tell (might be a problem), and warm enough to make kids want to work at the task (I HAVE had success here.) But there is a danger of slipping into counseling.

8. But what if the bio of Bob has such a strong impact that the consequences begin to change me with side-effects on tutoring? I mean, I’m already changed by the experience of getting this book published -- which it really isn’t YET, since the book has yet to hit the stores. There is so little profit, so little celebration, so little understanding that it’s hard not to be bitter. There are a few people -- mostly the people who have actually READ the book -- who are supportive and helpful, but the overwhelming reaction from elements at the Press, from the media, and from the community has been suspicion. This is partly not because of the book itself, but because of their convictions about what publishing is. It is not any more ANYTHING like what they imagine, which I now know, but they don’t yet. Also, opinion about Bob might intrude, but today’s parents are too young to have known him or even to have visited the museum. Shocking.

9. A side-effect of this tutoring might be materials that Montana English teachers might be able to use. Not that that would please them. My impression -- some people excepted -- is that they’re a depressed bunch of young women waiting for life to happen without much hope that it will. So maybe the focus is better on the Blackfeet, maybe Blackfeet Community College. Then the problem becomes transportation, but that might be solved by the proposed return of county-to-county bus service, except that they carefully leave the reservation out.

9. Commitment: what if I get some kids rolling along really well and then find that other obligations -- like maybe something to do with the book about Bob or his estate -- force me to break off. Wouldn’t it be better not to have gotten the kids dependent? (This is an old issue that goes way back and probably is just a knee-jerk in me that has nothing to do with tutoring.)

10. A woman in Valier stopped me one day and asked me to teach her daughter to paint. The daughter is a fine artist. This woman thought that because I was married to Bob, I’d know how to teach her -- what she REALLY wanted me to do was to make the girl a success, to make her “better than everyone else,” a money-maker. I tried to explain that my role was secondary. In the end the girl got married. I would not want tutoring to be used this way.

11. I should make myself look at advantages: it would weave me into the fabric of the community, it would mean that I myself was better known, it would be a contribution. It might inspire some serious writing of my own.


12. Maybe I could do tutoring online for a wider population. I should find out how to go about it.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

WHAT IT FEELS LIKE TO LOSE WEIGHT

About 1990 I went to a gynecologist who turned out to be a misogynist. This is more common that anyone would hope. He told me I was overweight (not a surprise) and that I simply needed to push myself away from the table. Fat is simply a surplus of calories-in. Change the balance with calories-out and I would lose weight.

Half a dozen excursions through Weight Watchers had taught me differently. I had bought a book about research on fat and I gave it to this guy for the sake of his future patients. Now I wish I hadn’t, though I can probably recapture the information via the Internet. It was about the molecular nature of sugars, proteins, lipids (fats) and how they were processed through human bodies, both between cells and within cells. There was research about ion pumps to take molecules through cell walls and how the molecules were stored inside the cells. Quite a bit had to do with water management both within and without the cells. This was a whole ecology of substances, their interaction and balances. It was not at all like my understanding of fat, which mostly was based on observations of bacon or tallow: that fat was a sort of goo that got smeared on one’s body under the skin.

More recently the town handyman, faced with a big life-changing move when his sons left school, decided to lose his formidable pot-belly. A methodical sort, he made a list of all the foods he ate, looked up their calorie counts, and crossed the five highest in calories off his list. He would not eat them. He lost fifty pounds in very little time. Lucky he wore bib-overalls or his pants would have fallen off!

So when I was diagnosed with diabetes 2 (because my retinas hemorrhaged), I knew I HAD to lose weight. This time I had the Internet. I decided to go with a combination health-food and low-glycemic sort of principle. I stopped eating anything with white sugar, white flour, corn syrup, or processed ingredients -- even (or maybe especially) if it was supposed to be for diabetics. I didn’t put imitation sugar or cream in my coffee -- I simply drank it black. If things were bitter or sour or aromatic, I learned to like them that way. Turned out not to be hard. And I lost fifty pounds quickly.

What I’ve reflected on since is what it felt like to lose the weight this time: it was like working a poison out of my system. This time the weight came off according to gravity, which one might expect though it certainly didn’t do that when I lost weight when I was in college. In those days it came off my waist and belly. Now it came off my face, my bosom (which conveniently folded down out of the way), my arms and legs and my hands and feet. I was fascinated that my fingers got long and slender. I could wear my wedding ring, if I wanted to, but I haven't since being divorced in 1970. I still have a pot belly, though it’s also somewhat “folded.”

I had several of what doctors identified as “lipomas” which is to say, “fat lumps,” an opinion they were so sure of that they refused to do biopsies or x-rays. (I was sure it was cancer -- I’m always sure EVERYTHING is cancer and since weight-loss is a cancer symptom, it takes a certain amount of fatalism for me to be brave enough to lose weight.) One lipoma was right above my knee in the back of my right thigh. Doctors hated to even feel it because they thought a fat middle-aged woman must be wanting a cheap thrill by getting the doctor to feel her lumps. (At least that’s the impression I got.) Gradually, it left.

But what I noticed was that in a streak going towards my body was a kind of almost-pain which I interpreted as being a sort of inflammation or varicosity of the big vein that returns blood from the feet. My fantasy is that the fat was being “shipped out” up that vein, which irritated it. That got me thinking about what it means to convert stored cellular fat into something that can travel out of the cell and be used somehow. Would it be glucose? I had read about people who had stored molecules of fat-soluble substances in cells, then lost weight which released the captured substances back into the blood. Some were contaminating substances -- maybe pesticides or heavy metals -- and sometimes it was hallucinogens, like LSD which brought on ghosts. I’ve never taken recreational drugs, but working in the foundry exposed me to strange things.

I wasn’t hungry on my invented diet, partly because I felt free to eat peanuts. They didn’t make my blood sugar go up, for some reason. I took a bare minimum of drugs -- one metformin in the morning -- though my original doctor had prescribed a handful of strong stuff which scared the bejeezuz out of me when my blood sugar plunged. I discovered cheese made my blood sugar go up steeply -- also potatoes -- but sometimes I craved cheese. What was it that my body wanted? (I’ve always believed in that idea that bodies “know” what they want.) When I take fish oil capsules and vitamin D, the craving diminishes. Aha!

My head is one hat-size smaller. My face has a jaw and cheekbones, which read as “good-looking” in our culture. My thick-facial-hair/thinning-head-hair syndrome (Inherited from my father’s side: an aunt and a great-aunt ended up bald. Shirley Maclaine has it but she can afford excellent wigs.) is probably increased. This is NOT read as “good-looking” and raises suspicions of high male hormones, which turns out to be true. This syndrome, the research suggests, arises in part when the gestating mother is afraid and full of adrenaline. My own mother was alone in the city for the first time -- my dad was on the road -- and had little community for support. She kept a .45 in the nightstand. In short, I’m becoming movie-star material because my mom was scared in 1939. My ear wax came back. What the heck does THAT mean??

But what strikes me -- to use an electronic screen analogy -- is that it’s as though someone adjusted my “screen” so that it’s high brightness, high contrast, and faster computation. I’m thinking fast, willing to get out and do stuff, better able to multi-task, and not so inclined to depression or just lassitude. I had thought I was aging quickly and would not be able to maintain this house much longer. Now I don’t feel that way. (All I need is money!) Who knew that this could be achieved NOT through medicine, NOT through buying beauty aids, but simply by NOT eating some things. This is not an insight about diabetes so much as it is an insight about how we are poisoning ourselves with polluted, over-refined and “fortified” food. Some folks have been telling us this for a long time.

My fantasy is little floating bits of molecular lipids leaving cells on blood and lymph streams, then being burned or exhaled or excreted. Sometimes I think I can almost feel it. My arm skin is loose and crepey. My formerly rock-like thigh muscles are soft, manipulable. My neck went from being a double-chin to being pleated. None of this has been as bad as I expected. I’ve been losing weight for two years now with resting platforms in terms of weight-loss and then more loss. It seems very much tied into tissue-water management (I tend to be dehydrated). My best indicator that my glucose level is too high or low is that my retinas get thick with water and my eyesight blurs. The shallow curves of ebb and flow left in my reproductive cycle clearly participate.

This kind of self-examination is not always very comfortable but a writer should not draw back. Reality is what we want. One would think that doctors would feel even more so that way if they weren’t drugged fat by money and the pharm industry.

Monday, December 17, 2007

VALIER, MONTANA: Answers to a Questionnaire

The town has paid an "Environmental and Technical Assistance" company to administer a questionnaire to everyone in town. I'm posting my answers. You can probably imply the questions.
__________

This questionnaire presents me with a problem: there is no way I can really say what I think without being identified. I don’t mind being identified except that this will cause some people to immediately be opposed or in favor of what I say -- simply because it comes from me. I think I’ll just go with it.

I have not forgotten that when I started attending town meetings and tried to say something about a matter on which I had a little expertise (having worked for both the City of Portland and Multnomah County), I was told by Nina Stoddard (who was newly elected) that my ideas were not welcome and I could just butt out. At that point checkbook politics ruled. Of course, then the checkbook moved on. I’m still here.

Valier is a good place to live, but my reason for thinking so is probably nothing like the reasons of other people. I like it because it is much like my happy past in Browning in the Sixties. I like the cheap funky little house I live in. I like the people. I don’t mind wind. I get too cold in winter. This house was “weatherized” by some previous program that did a truly lousy job, using asbestos-contaminated vermiculite and poor workmanship.

I came in Spring 1999. I am the head of the household (which otherwise consists of two fat cats) and am 68, retired and living on Social Security and a bit of pension. I am right AT federal poverty level, a little over $12,000 a year. I bought this house outright -- it is paid for. I took a slightly early and underpaid retirement so that I could write, which I do. I have two master’s degrees, one of which is a Master of Divinity. I was in the Unitarian Universalist ministry for a decade. I lived in Browning and Heart Butte for a total of about fifteen years.

5. How could I possibly even know what the educational program is in Valier? I’ve never seen their curriculum. I substituted a couple of times. My impression is that there is much emphasis on athletics and discipline, which is typical for Montana, and that this is fine with the parents. I’ve never seen test scores. I don’t know who goes on to vocational training or college.

6. Likewise, I have no statistics about how many people are on WIC, how many are receiving commodities, how many are on welfare or disability or other assistance. Neither do I have any idea about norms in other communities or what the experts consider adequate. This information might be surprising since there is still enough old-fashioned pride here to encourage people to keep quiet. At the same time there are people here who have had low-pay jobs all their lives -- they must be living on the bare minimum. They are the people who provided services for many years.

7 and 8. What do you mean “more” convalescent/nursing homes? There are none now. What is enough? There are such places -- they just aren’t here. What are the criteria for “assisted living facilities?” What are the trade-offs for funding them instead of visiting nurses and helpers? I thought the cutting edge was to keep people in their homes with help.

9. The only problem I see with the Valier Clinic is that it is at the mercy of the Marias Care Center. Since I was a ward clerk there for five months, I have a strong sense of what is wrong with THEM, but this is about Valier. The main problem is the constant turnover of physicians, which is not rooted in Valier. How come you don’t ask about counseling services? Why don’t you ask about diabetes support? We have an epidemic of Diabetes 2 in this town and the little clinic is not prepared to respond. It’s great that we have a massage therapist who is prepared to address feet.

10. What is “adequate” services for senior citizens? The lunch service seems to be underattended at times but overall my impression is that it’s a major success. I was glad for the blood pressure checks, but probably ought to have been advised to seek medical attention when it got above 140. For the vigorous ones who are anxious to direct everyone from the town employees to the cooks just how to run their lives, there probably needs to be more constructive things to do. Bingo or knitting or something. For the ones who are at home, maybe housebound -- I don’t know who they are, what they think about privacy or visits. A questionnaire to everyone is hardly a good way to find out. I don’t know how many “Meals on Wheels” go out.

11. What do you mean, “sufficient financial services?” Do you mean for running a ranch? Do you mean can I get my pension check cashed there without having an account? (No.) The ATM took a lot of pressure off me in terms of convenience. Wells Fargo is an oppressive bank corporation -- they were even in Portland, OR, when I had to deal with them as Bureau of Buildings cashier. It’s not the fault of the local people.

12. I doubt that many people in this town are crying out for business development and management assistance! Reliable help might be more of a need. We need a plumber, an electrician. I really miss the handyman.

13. Yup. But I was deceived about the town infrastructure. I was told the water came from the lake and was unlimited with no treatment problems, that the sewers were new and the treatment settling ponds were problem-free, etc. The cost of infrastructure has doubled since I moved in. (Do I own my house.)

14. I have no idea what low-income housing there is in Valier. I hear citizens object to Section 8. I think that in this community “low income” is code for Indian and that there is still resistance to Indians unless they are high income and can buy a house. The only entity that wants Indians is the school, because they bring in federal money.

15. The constraints on water service are geological, but also the town council is far too inclined to cross their fingers instead of taking action. A “grant” is the answer to everything. I would set the priority of cleaning and properly operating the wells far above the importance of new street signs which cost roughly the same as cleaning the wells. There is far too much tendency to rely on local memory rather than experts or real research. We still have individuals who abuse water. This town is hooked on lawns, though the growing consensus is that they should be re-thought by going to xeriscaping. Green grass means respectability and prosperity in this part of the world, but we are using expensively treated well water to pour on a bunch of grass where it mostly evaporates. We went for being a “Tree City USA” knowing that there would not be enough water to keep them alive. The bottom line is that people here have not been willing to face the consequences of global warming -- it’s not hard to understand why that is terrifying for an economy dependent on irrigation.

16. Yes. I have no idea how I would pay for a water meter, but the inequities are pretty major.

17. Of course. (Is Source Water Protection important?)

18. So far so good. I watched carefully when the lining was installed past my house. (Sewers)

19. I don’t mind dirt roads. I don’t mind dust and potholes. I know I’m the exception.

20. I’d say we were above average when it comes to any kind of fire/rescue/EMT/police service. I’m especially impressed by the care they take with teenagers.

21. How do we know? I see unmarked helicopters coming in here -- who are they? Homeland security? Border patrol? Air Force? How many of these people are living here now? I didn’t hear the little cropduster bumblebee this summer. Maybe people can’t afford crop dusting anymore.

22. Seems okay to me, but I’m not disabled.

23. I think our representatives here are entirely too much enthralled by grants, programs, state and federal entities and so on. Velda said at a recent meeting that she was applying for things without any council consultation because she “didn’t think we’d get them.” I don’t think they are taking the “matching” part of matching grants seriously enough or doing enough pencil work to figure out what these things mean to low-income individuals. It’s just too exciting to be throwing levers and going to conferences.

24. A town is much more than roads. I think streets have become a kind of obsession for some people and they are crowding out more important services. Water is far more important, for instance.

Where is a question about laundromats? I don’t have a washing machine and must drive thirty miles to the nearest laundromat.

Where is the question about the proposed county bus link to Valier? I think this is vital as gas costs more and more, esp. for older folks who don’t drive anymore.

Where is the question about television broadcast? What are we doing to do about the coming switch to digital, the end of analog? The assumption seems to be that everyone will either be on satellite or have access through a computer, but is this valid for older people with limited funds? And yet, many of the housebound are dependent on watching television to be “company” through the day.

Where’s the question about wireless broadband throughout the town? This is a service for businesses and individuals that would be a major contribution. For that matter, what about cell phones? You don’t ask any questions about it.

You didn’t ask, but one of Valier’s real strengths is the two restaurants, the Panther and the Lighthouse. Both are excellent.

Where is the question about whether Pondera County is supporting Valier?

I can’t believe we are paying a business to administer a questionnaire as superficial and unhelpful as this one. Why didn’t we have an old-fashioned meeting with felt marker and easel to thrash out some of these issues? This sort of plowing over the surface is bound to create hard feelings and resistance.

In fact, I think this is one thing that needs to be addressed: the constant harassing of anyone who is brave enough to serve the town. Intemperate people scold the town clerk, constantly bad-mouth town employees, and second guess everything that happens. They cannot be satisfied and keep a constant stink rising from local coffee klatches. If this were a church, it would be worth addressing from the pulpit and making a lot of house calls. We can’t hope to have happy, high-functioning people on our town council if we kick them all the time.

I realize we are all rather terrified. Aside from the climate, we’re in the midst of a major political sea-change and don’t know what that will mean to our future. When it comes to environmental issues, the predictions tend to be apocalyptic. I think this is why there is a tendency to think that a person can take refuge in a small remote town like Valier. But it is NOT remote. And it is not just a town -- we are deeply connected to the farmers and ranchers around us, to the Blackfeet tribe, to the Rocky Mountains, to the world grain economy, to the price of gas.

Ask me if I’m glad the missile silo over the hill has been closed down. I am. But IS it?

Sunday, December 16, 2007

THE LEGEND OF BILLIE JENKS by Robert Roripaugh


This beautiful panoramic photo is by Diana Volk. And I know, I should NOT put down my books on their faces like this!

In the Fifties, which have become pretty much invisible years to many people, my family traveled a lot -- economy-style in a folding tent trailer except for one trip to the east coast when we stayed in “auto camps” as motels were then called. We ate cereal for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch and for supper we’d stop in some small town on a blue highway (that’s the only kind there was in those days) and have either hamburgers or hot beef sandwiches at the local cafe. My dad had trouble taking his foot off the gas, so sometimes we ate in places that were more bar than cafe, because that’s all that was open after seven pm. We traveled mostly in the rural West.

I was between eight and twelve in those years, old enough to observe and even introspect, but without any very powerful ways to interpret what we saw: small town, ranch and farm people struggling to keep their families together and fed, men drinking to numb their trauma, women frustrated by boredom, and what would now be called poverty though we didn’t think of it that way then. None of the glitz and sheen that even the smallest towns flaunt now, but on the other hand, not near so many boarded up buildings and deserted streets. If there was a bar, it always had a red neon martini glass with a green neon olive. The Korean and Cold Wars gripped us, teaching that conformity and group identification offered the only safety.

In those years Robert Roripaugh was there in Wyoming, knowing the people and their stories, which he kept in his heart until he was adult enough to spin them into poetry (he was the poet laureate of Wyoming from 1995 through 2002) and fiction, both short stories and novels (“A Fever for Living” and “Honor Thy Father.” After service in Japan, post-war, he returned with his wife, Yoshiko, to the University of Wyoming where for thirty-five years he taught creative writing and Western American Literature. He has worked hard to serve and develop Wyoming literature through workshops and seminars around the state.

Reading Roripaugh’s stories is a little like reading Richard Ford, who writes about Montana and lives here sometimes but is not really from the state, or Raymond Carver, who turns out not to have intended to be famous for minimalism after all. (Evidently it was a style imposed by his editor, Gordon Lish, whether or not that was a good thing.) They are not exciting romantic Zane Grey epics.

But they are not like the indigenous writers who are best known at present: Ivan Doig is much more inclined to gentle humor and lapidary prose. Mark Spragg, a Wyoming native, is quite a bit younger, which shows in his stories. Roripaugh is often described as “grounded in reality.” But maybe that’s not the most interesting thing about this collection of short stories.

These stories include some of his earlier works as well as recent stories: each has head-notes that let us know the source of the story and its fate through many rewrites. This anthology amounts to a "story" about being a conscientious writer not inclined to be Hemingway or Kerouac. Perhaps the most important lesson of all is how willing Roripaugh has been to accept advice and criticism while never losing his own core of integrity and conviction about what he was writing. He says frankly that the best way to become a writer is to read and read and read. Clearly a good story is not ruined by rewriting, though rewriting to make his stories shorter tended to paradoxically end up making them longer! Still -- often better. This is about the actual writing -- not “being” a famous personality.

It’s clear that Roripaugh’s a Westerner when he writes about Native Americans, taking for granted what they are and understanding what they are up against. One remarkable story is simply a set of faux “compositions” written by an Indian girl and supposedly turned in as assignments for the course he taught. It’s easy to see what’s coming -- esp. if you know this territory -- which doesn’t lessen the impact when it does happen. He tells stories quietly and a bit on the slant, so it’s possible that Easterners wouldn’t be able to absorb what just happened under their noses. But the notorious Gordon Lish, then an editor at Knopf, recommended the story for a Pushcart Prize in 1981.

Though Roripaugh is well known by the Western Writers of America and has received awards from the Cowboy Hall of Fame, he is not on the Manhattan radar and that may have been an advantage. He’s had the place and opportunity to “grow” his stories quietly. Most of them were begun in the era of the TV Westerns, a time when writers were feeling around for a new moral center between war and passivity, and to find a new balance between the epic inflations of early outlaws and the grinding reality of day-to-day survival in the droughty West. “The Legend of Billy Jenks” puts the Billy-the-Kid kind of myth-making over against a mere delinquent who gets pushed out to the margins and then cut off at the knees, so to speak.

In small conformity-based Western towns, there is a special fascination for the young in the different, rebellious, un-containable, renegade outlaw. Differing in degree and kind of exceptionalism, from young woman carrying Indian blood to old man trapper living primitively, they interest a thoughtful young man who writes. Stories tend to be about them, trying to explain or come to terms with their lives.

A second common theme is that of the relationship of father and son as father tries to teach what he knows. “Morning Flight,” the most recent story, seems to be one of those accounts where little happens except that the boy shoots his first duck. There’s no fuss about killing birds. Rather there’s a confusing web of war/sex/death/competence for a boy, even one with a protective and guiding father. It is the accuracy and justice of observation that makes the story real, rather like Walter van Tilburg Clark or Wallace Stegner.

I often puzzle about how there can be so many first-rate writers, especially locally, who produce such fine work without much fuss or hoopla while at the same time the media and even the academics spend all their energy re-examining the same dozen latest stars who have already been analyzed a dozen times. When someone like Roripaugh quietly offers examples from his life work, we’re fools not to reflect closely on what he says.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

SEMINARY SURVIVORS

Religious seminaries are to most people a kind of “black box” with rather sexy overtones ranging from the benign Brother Cadfael sort of herbal seedbed to the frankly sexual terms of semen and insemination. Indoctrination for inseminators, one might guess, and be more right than they COULD guess unless they were former seminarians, which many of our national public figures are. Seminaries are nothing if not political.

For a liberal seminary like Meadville/Lombard, serving the Unitarian-Universalist community, admitting women into preparation for the ministry was both a necessity and a problem, not least because the seminary had shriveled to the point of people speaking of merger or foreclosure. Admitting women would both double the potential student clients and encourage generous donations from all those old widow ladies with portfolios -- or at least so it was hoped. How to prepare women (particularly older women), how to place them, how to support them in churches, was not the seminary’s problem. Even the specifics of preparation were controlled by the powerful UUA Fellowship Committee, the actual gatekeeper that was known to be ambivalent about Meadville. Anyway, Meadville’s long-standing symbiosis with the University of Chicago Divinity School was surely a bulwark against trivial transiences such as feminism. Some of us made it through by persistence, orneriness, and pure luck. Then the problem was what to do once ordained. Many had spent their fortunes at the seminary and were now facing the rest of their lives in low-pay marginal churches while the young men rose up the stairs to the major citadels of prosperity.

When I was told that Armida Alexander, who was a few years ahead of me at Meadville, was serving the Glacier UU Fellowship in Kalispell, I was delighted that she was close by. (By Montana standards -- 120 miles through a mountain pass.) Her class was the first to include many women. I called her up, we talked nonstop for a long time, and she simply got in her Subaru and come over to take me to lunch. She is in her early seventies (as compared with my late sixties), has had more serious eye trouble than I have, but is simply fearless. (Although still judicious.) The weather could hardly have been better in mid-December: dry road and sun. The goddesses were smiling.

We are very much on the same page theologically and both had our theses (both of them on ritual and the theology of worship) blocked by crypto-Christian bullies, which we evaded with Jungian strategy up to a point. That is, our theses are still unfinished but we were given M. Div’s to get us out from underfoot. WITH a thesis, our work would have entitled us to D.Mins, Doctor of Ministry degrees.

There are those who claim that Meadville’s troubles came with the early loss of one of their buildings in a tenure lawsuit. The building that was sold had been the communal kitchen and partial dormitory of the students in the first years. It’s at bed and table that many long discussions supply the roots of ministry, the rhizomes of professional relationships later. A minister needs someone trustworthy to call sometimes. A congregation may need another minister to come and put something bluntly to their minister. The denomination may need a friendly but frank and firm first-hand report. (Sorry about the alliteration -- I just read a review of “Gawain and the Green Knight!” Which might be quite relevant, actually.) If the self-governing principle that is supposed to be the heart of professional privilege is to work, then people have to know each other.

Armida and I have more than seminary as points of reference. We’ve both been part of the Pacific Northwest Minister’s Association at the time when its fiery international energy was almost the beginning of a separate organization, which might have been one of the forces in favor of dividing the Canadian and American denominations. We’ve both had relationships with Rockford, IL, Armida coming from it as a hometown and returning occasionally, and myself serving out my Clinical Pastoral Education there one long hot summer. And now we have the tie of Montana. This is a very rich relationship and yet we haven’t seen each other for a long time -- decades.

Armida exclaimed as she stepped in the door, “This looks exactly like your room at Meadville!” Of course. My wicker chair was there. The books were there. Very similar bookshelves. The same art. We lived in different buildings, old near-mansions next to or across the street from the seminary. Now the decision has been made to sell out the graceful old places and move over across the Midway green belt left from the Chicago World’s Fair into black-ghetto territory newly gentrified. The buildings will be modern, the students will be housed right there, and it will amount to a Baghdad-type encircled “green zone.” A student was recently shot to death near there. On the other hand, the massive Lorado Taft cement sculpture on the Midway has been restored. The modern University of Chicago Law School is on the south side of the Midway, but I don’t know whether that’s a plus or a minus. Depends on the context, I guess.

The marble stairs and wood-paneled walls of graceful old Meadville will become something else. The all-marble "hierophany" unisex bathroom, where Mircea Eliade used to warn of his presence with puffs on his aromatic pipe, will be gone. They’ve already torn the steeple off the faux-cathedral First Unitarian Church kitty-corner from the school. With such losses go many of the icons and settings of student life as Armida and I knew them. We are aware that a congregation should not necessarily cling to a building, architecture does not a community make, and yet we feel sharply the loss of continuity with roots. After all, the UUA itself refuses to give up its location at the top of Beacon Hill, it’s crumbly old red brick buildings, in spite of major infrastructure and demographic drawbacks. (It’s built on an ancient mountain of garbage and the neighborhood goes through many changes.)

So Armida and I could talk in shorthand and we had a long list of people to ask about though neither of us is on any good gossip pipeline. This is either an advantage or disadvantage of being in Montana. I’ve been technically “out of ministry” since 1988 when I left Saskatoon, though I did pulpit supply until 1999 when I came back to Valier. From 1982-85 I rode circuit among the Montana UU groups, but Glacier declined to participate.

Armida has been doing “interims” which means staying only a year or so while a congregation finds a new minister. It requires a good deal of tact, almost at a therapeutic level, as well as adaptability about living arrangements. (Glacier created an apartment right in their building for her.) The Glacier placement is part-time, year-to-year depending upon the economy and Armida’s health, but with huge potential rewards for both sides, not least because Armida has a long-standing interest in Native Americans. My usual resistance to religious liberals having ANYTHING to do with Native Americans is dropped for Armida. She will not indulge in foolish little oppressions of patronization and romanticism.

This day of talk was for me a magnificent and much-needed gift (though I hate to admit being anything less than self-sufficient!) Esp. in this season of worry while I wait for the bio of Bob to come out. But an on-going relationship over the next year or so will do us both good, I think. Armida is a fine poet but says she’s stopped writing. Maybe we can see about that... We’re like old-wood rosebushes that have not quit blooming yet, though the gardeners are tending other plants.