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



Sunday, November 30, 2008

KICKSTART: THE HOSTAGE

The twentieth century was hard on American men. It was hard on
everyone, but arguably -- because of the privilege and obligation of
being the head of a family -- it nearly crushed many men, did crush
many. Two world wars, the beginning of industrial war with gas,
machine guns and tanks, and then airplanes, holocaust and the atomic
bomb, wiped out entire generations of lovers, husbands and fathers.
The Thirties Depression generated so much despair in dust bowl country
that loving and responsible heads of families took their wives and
children into the cellars and killed them and then themselves rather
than watch their babies starve to death. Vietnam and assassinations
eviscerated hope, destroyed pride and security across America.

In the attempt to get back to their feet, knowing that what had seemed
so solid -- the nuclear family and the assembly line job -- were now
failing, the lid of the box came off. In San Francisco the box was
less Pandora's box than a Jack-in-the-Box. With cries of "why not?"
and "what do we have left to lose?" new social patterns that had
previously been firmly repressed burst out into the open. They've
been working through the larger society ever since. Perhaps because
of this new financial catastrophe -- or maybe just because it's about
time -- scholars are beginning to look with both nostalgia and
analysis on those reckless times when many men felt like kickstarting
a motorcycle and heading to California -- stark naked at top speed in
the dark night. Take me, Fate!

We know from research and simple observation that a percentage of
mammals of most kinds are homosexual: that is, behave sexually towards
their own gender. Cows mount cows and no one knows whether they are
"bull dykes" or "cowing" the others into submission, being bossy. Is
it desire or is it domination? A consistent proportion of rams will
only mount rams, though it would seem illogical, considering heredity.
We too often forget that heredity has more to do with whether the
whole group (herd) survives than whether any particular individual
passes on its genes. It appears to be advantageous for the group to
include bachelor rams in the herd, maybe more armament against
predators. At this point among humans increasing the number of babies
is hardly helpful in the long run. But social pressure or
self-deception might be enough to produce progeny from those not
normally interested in women. Human sexuality, having a large
component of culture and psychology, is quite plastic.

Our mental construct of gay men tends to be the "swish" pansies full
of camp and snark and no doubt wafting around a lavender feather boa
with a limp wrist. It has been less clear to the general public that
gays may be what Jack Fritscher dubbed homomasculine, that is, the
black leather and tight jeans crowd with brawny, hairy chests. Nearly
Hell's Angels, these guys are best left alone because, as Barrus has
described, threatening them with baseball bats will mean the bats will
be taken away and used first on the assailants and then on their
transportation.

These are the men photographed by Mapplethorpe. As for the
sado-masochistic dimension of the porn for this crowd, Michael Bronsky
("S/M: The New Romance" in Gay Community News, Vol 2, #30) points out
that it a short step from the broken hearts, fatal diseases, lost
babies, and redemptive suffering of heterosexual romances to the rough
and scarring fleshly pains of the black leather crowd, which in turn
are closely related to the noir Mickey Spillane man who can be beaten
nearly to death and still prevail. Weapons are phallic (guns, knives
and bats), potentially lethal. Tim Barrus, survivor of violence, was
exactly configured for this context. Sex was the smaller part of it.
But this was an urban kind of romance, at least until "Brokeback
Mountain."

The other male heritage in Barrus' family was more American, although
some would say nothing is so characteristic of the US of A as
violence. The dimension of "moving on" came from Maynard's father,
Mason, who had a ranch in the High Sierras among other temporary
frontiers. Though much of Tim's life has been in cities, Mason's
heritage was a love of open country. During the Aquarian Revolution,
especially if one were a member of the net-worked society of gay men,
who in the days of being underground had formed their own railways, a
man could move across the country and still be in the company of
friends and compatriots, like old-time fur traders and scouts. But
this modern adventuring type had a preference for warm climates and
good restaurants, so they went from San Francisco to Mexico to Florida
and on out into the Caribbean.

Maynard, Mason's son, never seemed able to break the tie of family
enough to either really light out alone or to take his family with
him. His solution was to pile his young son Tim into the car --
surprised and coat-less -- for a long flight to the wilderness, only
to return both exalted and traumatized after a period of forced
intimacy with a violent father. Maynard's motives seem mysterious and
painfully conflicting except when dosed with alcohol. He was far
beyond the comprehension of a child, though not the child's effort to
understand and heal him. Indeed, it was probably the same impulse
that held Barrus' mother hostage.

Much of Barrus' more formal "porn" is in actuality one more attempt to
come to terms with Maynard, to be an un-Maynard, anti-Maynard, focused
on an impossible salvation. Two males, related but one older and
stronger, cross a wasteland in a survival ordeal based on love and
pure determination to see it out. It is no more S/M leather porn than
Cormac McCarthy, though the theme of genocide/AIDS is just under the
surface. In life Barrus alternated trying to capture his quandaries
on paper with acting out the flights, the alcohol, the drugs, and
sometimes the partners. His efforts were muted and masked to spare
his family. When journalists found his parents and questioned his
family, the relatives denied that any of it was true, a final
violence. His father died in 2003 and his mother in 2008, setting
Barrus free to be more open. But these are wounds that break open
easily.

He has never rejected the part of the mix that will always be the
vigorous and glorious "glitter life" of the San Francisco scene,
though it has subsided now. To some who were there, it may seem a
betrayal that Tim finally married a woman, but he has never rejected
his brothers and never stopped mourning the losses of many beloved
men. They would have understood that his attempts to redeem
transgressive young men of talent is a revenge against those unable to
love.



>Hostage

Our games as kids were quite likely to involve the taking of hostages. Who would be held for one kind of ransom or another.

Keep your eye on the leader or leaders of the group. They're never held hostage. They assign those roles.

My dad would hold me hostage to whatever it was he wanted even when he had no idea what he wanted and I had no idea what he wanted. But I knew this: You tended to the issue of what he wanted because if you did not the price was always a violence breathtaking to behold. My dad would upturn the dinner table on you and all the food would end up on your lap. It would be hot. Then, he would pick up the table itself and throw that at you.

My mother would just sit there and look at her hands.

Dishes broken. Food everywhere. On the walls. On the floor.

The taking of hostages was far more complex than even this scene might suggest. He was, in fact, her hostage, and she wasn't going to settle for a ransom, any ransom. She wanted the hostage.

I don't know how she roped him in initially. I wasn't there. But I do know he never wanted kids. But he had them because she saw to it.

My mother's passivity was an illusion. Anyone authentically familiar with the dynamics of sadomasochism will tell you that it is almost always the bottom who controls the scene.

They would break up. Loud, noisy, screaming fights. One of them would leave.

My eyes to the sky.

I didn't care. I wished they would divorce and get it over with but they never did.

My dad had frequent affairs with other women and he would put it in my face, in her face. I did not know them, but I knew of them, and I would find their panties stuffed in hiding places all over the house, and I did hate him for that.

I was twelve when other men would pay me to let them fuck me. He followed me once and he did see that trick. I saw him sitting in his car fuming.

As those men were fucking me, I would pretend to be someone else. It wasn't me getting fucked.

One day my dad decided he wanted to go moose hunting up near Hudson Bay, Canada. There are no roads so you fly in and hire an Indian guide. It's not cheap. It costs a lot of money to do this. My dad had a pilot's license so he could fly the sea plane in but you had to lease the plane. He did not own one.

His father did.

This flying business was like an echo. It bounced back at you. At this same time, 1962, I wanted to learn to fly, and signed up for flying lessons at the Lansing Capitol City Airport. My teacher, Renee, was French so I could barely understand a word he ever said. But I could read the book.

My dad never once saw me fly. He refused to even drive to the airport. I had to hitch-hike there.

I flew a lot and got fucked a lot so I could pay for it.

Maynard went on a I am not going to pay for you parental strike.

He refused to buy me food.

He refused to buy me clothes. I was on my own.

The clothes part of it is what I remember the most acutely.

I was a little whore who had a thing for clothes but not in the way you might think. Clothes were not accouterment. They were armor.

They were always making us strip naked at school and I hated it. I wanted my clothes.

I don't know if schools do that anymore. I don't want to know. I would think that today it would be hard for them to get away with it but in 1962 they got away with it.

We were required to swim naked. I would skip that class. The truant officer was always looking for me.

I told him that the reason I didn't like being naked around those boys was because they were fucking me, too. I think rape is the more accurate term but I didn't know what rape was in 1962.

They did not believe me. I was told in no uncertain terms to keep my mouth shut if I wanted to live. I was not sure I did.

Today, those boys are getting to be old men and they still live in Lansing and I still really deeply most assuredly still hate their fucking guts.

Flying was my only escape then. Hunting was my dad's. My mother just wrung her hands raw.

Since my dad wasn't paying a single dime for me, he saved enough money to go moose hunting in Canada. I was glad to see him go. I didn't have to deal with him.

At school, the boys would form a ring around me and fuck me one at a time. They had lookouts. Even the boys who I thought were my friends.

School was about sex and rape. I do not recall a single moment of it being about anything academic. I had taught myself how to read. In Lansing, you were just a piece of meat and that is all you ever would be.

I hated all of them. Every last stinking person in that town. If it was up to me to push the atomic button to blow that town off the face of the planet, I would do it in a second.

I would run away to Florida to my grandfather's house. He always took me in and he never pried. He knew. We never talked about why I was there. There was no need.

I would sleep on my grandfather's boat. We would go fishing on the Gulf of Mexico.

We would have something rare called fun.

School. Left behind.

Parents. Left behind.

The only really bad thing about flying is that at some point everyone has to fucking land. The sky will not keep you hostage. -- Tim Barrus

THE GIRL IN THE CAFE: A Review

“The Girl in the Cafe" was touted as being sort of like “Lost in Translation,” which I didn’t like. Critics these days can’t seem to tell much beyond the most obvious, which is that both movies are about an older guy and a young girl in a hotel world that encourages romantic attachments. But the tone, purpose and enactment of this idea is totally different.

Beyond the plot, “The Girl in the Cafe” -- as the more perceptive imdb.com critics noted -- is almost completely dependent on the casting. Bill Nighy, surely the most twitchy tall handsome slightly balding actor with fine stage enunciation that we have, meets the earnest Scots serene-but-concerned young woman, Kelly McDonald, who is between lives. The man happens to be a gray shadow, what they call these days a “quant” meaning a quantifier, a math guy. His life is no life. He sits down across from “Gina” because there is no other seat in a crowded coffee shop, and their very shyness is a tie between them. Of course, the relationship continues, Nighy’s character carefully introducing himself every time he calls, sometimes after just leaving her a few hours earlier. When they come a unexpected step closer together, this guy does an amazing scissors-jump that shows what he’s repressing -- except for those escaping twitches.

Then comes the beginning of the real plot. He decides to take his new friend to a G8 summit in Reykjavik where a rich tapestry of land surrounds an absolutely abstract and geometric hotel. We do the usual “It Happened One Night” nonsense, suspending disbelief but not as much as the other members of the Brit delegation, who treat Nighy like a slightly dim child -- except for the women who like Gina immediately.

Instead of going shopping with her new friends, Gina settles down to read the presentation papers and watch the televised proceedings. She is not baffled nor daunted, but sees right away that the delegates are supposed to seem to move ahead while preserving the status quo. No actress since Audrey Hepburn has so convincingly portrayed the wide-eyed young woman who graciously takes the hand of the big shot and then kindly asks, “Why is it that you’re wearing no clothes?” (Rachel Weitz in “The Constant Gardener” was not so innocent or kind.)

Even the crisis-point is reached in a low key, but the action in this movie happens IN the delegates, who ARE people of conscience, who ARE having trouble sleeping like Bill Nighy, who DO know what they could do, but are afraid of jumping, trained to be obedient no-risk poker players. One has to keep in mind that this is a British television movie and that it was timed to coincide with the real G-8 summit on world poverty in 2005.

In short, this is the plea to the authorities that is mimed at the major formal dinner, where McDonald looks absolutely elegant except that her hair up-do has a tiny bit of a tuft sticking out and her dress IS a teeny bit tight. She doesn’t stand and shout or overturn the table. Just quietly and reasonably speaks her piece. And no one interrupts until the end when a hand falls on her shoulder. In fact, the faces of the delegates are the real story. The director says that his theory of England is that the whole place is an iceberg, where the real gravity and weight is unseen beneath. This is palpable as these polite diplomats sit frozen in place at the banquet table.

On imdb.com there are 130 reviews and reactions, maybe evenly split between the cynics who hated it and the idealists who loved it. They would be happy to tear the movie in half, the humorous whimsy of the first part on one side and the challenge to high government on the other, which perhaps tells us more about where society is right now than anything about the movie.

We never see Africa. There’s no girl-in-grisly-circumstances as there is in “Constant Gardener” and “Spy Game.” We hear some statistics. Humorously told. The girl is removed. All the man can do is accompany her to the airport. And yet everything is changed somehow, a scale has shifted. So this is a morality play, as surely as if it were acted out in medieval times with a guy in a devil suit pitching sinners into a mock hell while declaiming from a traveling wagon stage. And yet it shows that the source of morality is in this quiet tenderness between people. The courage to reach out can be just across a table or across a banquet hall or across the continents.

Iceland was chosen because the real G8 that coincided with this television drama was NOT in Iceland and because Iceland is so removed from our ordinary assumptions and because there’s a magical quality about all the mist and the slant-light and the independence of the people. They have a distinctly moral quality as a country, which is why it’s hard to see them so hammered by this recent financial collapse.

But the point the movie makes about poverty in Africa is as real right now as it was in 2005 when the movie aired. I get a little impatient about my new way of eating, our whole country is upset about how much food costs, food banks are complaining that the food is going out faster than it’s coming in, but we are NOT starving by the millions in this country. Africans are, if they don’t die of AIDS first, just as was predicted years ago by the opponents of overpopulation. The most frustrating aspect of it is that we DO have enough food -- we do NOT have the will to get it where it needs to be and we do NOT act strategically to help countries feed themselves. And we’ve gone into overload about diseases -- our fingers are in our ears.

These two actors, Kelly MacDonald and Bill Nighy, were also at about this time in their lives shooting “State of Play,” which is a masterful long series about the interplay of politics, journalism, and the difficulties of intimacy. It’s all lies and secrecy and surprises. In that movie Nighy is the newspaper editor, an old hand, one who sees through all the naughty bits and cuts to the chase, absolutely confident. MacDonald also is in pursuit of the truth, as dedicated, earnest, and intent on asking the key questions as she is in this movie. The director says that the two actors became quite close and I’m sure that’s true. The tenderness and careful attention between the two of them is acting, true, but it draws on reality. It’s remarkable that so many members of our society resist this kind of connection, both on the personal level and as a society.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

NAT LIT IDENTITY POLITICS

(Note: Don’t read this if you are easily offended by the way kids talk, because when Barrus gets angry, he stops censoring. And I don’t like censoring Barrus. PM)

I know absolutely nothing about the small world of Native Lit other than the fact it has to be like any other dusty, poorly illuminated corner of publishing that gets scant attention because marketing people in Manhattan would have no idea what to do with it.

A lot of people might assume I brushed shoulders with Native Lit as Nasdijj but that would be a mistake to assume. Publishing actually didn't treat me any differently than they treated any other white writer -- they knew me as Tim Barrus -- just a guy with a pseudonym, and there are hundreds of them in their universe. Tim Barrus is white and that made me acceptable to deal with.

It was only when the public mask came off they put their tails between their legs.

The people in publishing would scream blood they deal with African-American writers all the time. Bullshit. They see "black books" as niche publishing as well and Tony Morrison is pretigous but she doesn't sell that many books. She's window-dressing for an institution in America that is as racist as any other institution in America where racism gets covered up and made nice by white liberals who do not wear sheets. The sheets are now suits. The racism is camouflaged but if it looks like a duck, it's a duck.

I knew in the beginning he was going to be a writer.

I was working in a well-endowed, rather chacha (pool and patio) group home for adolescent Native Americans whose families were in one kind of turmoil or another, and we were what amounts to respite care. The place was run by a tribe so let's dispell of the notion of the abusive Indian school run by abusive white people because this was not that in any way, shape, or form.

Okay, the boy was (is) gay. Who the fuck cares. It isn't relevant. Because I say so.

I know. I know. All of you fucking care.

But not any of you cared when he was growing up and struggling. So get out of my face with how you care. You didn't give a fuck then and you give a fuck now outside of provoking me and I'm a little on to you.

He was a writer.

He was failing in school (his school sucked as badly if not more so than he said it did) and yet he had the most extraordinary journals mainly because he wrote everything he ever saw down in them.

Like how he felt about other boys.

Who beat him up almost daily.

He loved them (strangely) and he hated them. How could it be any other way. This kind of conflict is what makes a writer none of whom live in vacuums even if they do, indeed, live alone in tiny rooms where they write. You figure.

I do not believe you can make writers. You can help some kids to be more literate than others. That's about it.

A writer is born. He or she just isn't made. Go ahead, pick a kid. Any kid. When you're done teaching him to write he'll become a computer geek or a plumber or a truck driver -- I will guarantee it.

This particular kid was already more of a writer than I could ever hope to be. I had no illusions about teaching him how to write. He could write circles around Shakespeare.

I could though teach him a few things about how to get published.

1.) Adopt a pseudonym. Make it white.

2.) Tell no one you are a racial minority.

3.) Do not tell anyone (this includes family or tribal members) what you do when the money starts rolling in.

4.) Get someone else to manage your money.

5.) Do not drink alcohol. Ever. One drink and the party is over.

6.) Do not settle for any of the stupid agents. Get an agent from Hollywood who is willing to deal with a writer. He won't make the money he makes from movie stars but he might like books.

7.) Sell to the movies THROUGH New York.

8.) Never ever ever ever deal with New York marketing. That is why you have an agent at ICM or CAA or William Morris.

9.) Do not write literate books and never write about Indians.

10.) Never tour (be above it as only the Little Writers tour). These things are done easily. You WILL meet with your agent but that will be about it. Your agent will be discreet and never ever ever ever tell them things they do not specifically ask to know and when they do ask be evasive. Most people have no clue that most writers never meet their editors, never meet a publisher, never actually see a publicist; none of these idiots have time to know you anyway. The CARE about sales figures. They're not selling vacuums door to door but close enough.

11.) Forget high school forget college. They have nothing to offer you (but grief and jealousy).

12). Go write your tits off. Always heterosexual. Not a hint of gay anything.

13.) Never visit Seattle (it is filled with vile and jealous people) and never never appear on a "panel."

He did. All of this and then some.

Today he is one of the top-selling writers in THE WORLD.

Why in heaven's name would he join the ranks of niche publishing.

His books are reviewed as if they were deep wells of literate thought nudging history's slow length along.

He lives in the Los Angeles area.

The chances of my naming him in this are not good. My dog and pony show. My way.

His books are turned into godzillion-dollar blockbusters.

Anything Indian he writes, he sends to me and I applaud like I have for years and then I burn those manuscripts.

This will not win me Mister Popularity among the Native Lit folks. Like I was in line for it anyway.

Not even Mister Runner-Up.

"But he should give something back to his community."

Why. They did nothing for him but beat him up.

I like him a LOT. I want to see someone who comes from where he comes from successful. It is MY revenge.

And I love seeing someone fuck publishing in the ass.

"Coming out" would ruin everything. Charlie Rose has begged but why go on Charlie Rose. Charlie Rose isn't dog shit.

Bend over, publishing. Bend over publicists. Bend over agents. Bend over marketing. Baby, you know you like it and so did your mama. -- Tim Barrus



The problem with Native American literature is not the writers, it is the publishing, publicity and distribution. People who think Native Lit is authentic writing by and about old-time Blackfeet ought to go to the Browning Public Schools website and order a short stack of the booklets they’ve published by and about local people. Or buy Percy Bull Child’s book “The Sun Came Down.” Do readers do this? No. They buy “Piegan” by Richard Lancaster, a self-serving and predatory white man from Texas who imposed on the Whitecalf family long enough to write his book, riddled with cliches and therefore “real.”. It’s not the readers’ fault -- their only yardstick in most cases is Hollywood films. The serious analysis of Native American literature is often so theoretical that no one can understand it without a Ph.D.

Not that Indians are always so inclined to help each other. One year Fishtrap Writer’s Conference, a high-grade workshop in the Wallowa Mountains, invited all the outstanding female Native American poets and novelists they could think of: about four. The result was a disaster as elbows and accusations flew. The Warrior Ethic survives among the women. In general, contentiousness and accusations, “identity politics” and “revelations,” have made Native American writing and movies so radioactive that business people don’t want to deal with them, the same as reservation disorder and corruption keep out business.

At the same time probably no one has done so much for Native American writers as the Bruchac family, part-Abenaki, whose careful scholarship and hard work in organizing conferences and touring schools is invaluable. For many years the family has run a press that publishes NA materials. (http://www.josephbruchac.com) They struggle. In Canada such efforts are subsidized. Another effective print warrior is Tim Giago, who comes through journalism , and the late Vine Deloria, Jr., who comes through the academic and church worlds. Adrian Louis has braided together journalism, academia, and Hollywood.

The kind of publishing Barrus is talking about pays little attention to such people. They did publish Adolph Hungry Wolf, a “volunteer” Indian (white) who lives in a cabin and runs his computer with a solar panel. Since the result was not a blockbuster, they dropped him. Adolph’s priceless collection of information and photographs, the work of fifty years of careful searching, is orphaned because no publisher or museum will acquire it and the tribe itself thinks it is entitled to have it for free. Luckily, Adolph’s publisher in Canada with whom Adolph has worked for many years to self-publish (as Bob Scriver did as well) went out on a limb to print four books that preserve the material. Anyone who doesn’t jump to get those four books is a fool, but the academics scoff. THEY didn’t think of it and didn’t acquire the material though they were on the scene. Nor are they anxious to help now, because Hungry Wolf is stigmatized by the identity politics game.

I also know an Indian writer who has kept a journal all his life. It fills suitcases. He is a deeply worthy man, closely connected to the Blackfeet past, indubitably full-blood. I urge him to edit those materials and get them published, but he’s reluctant. The social consequences for a full-blood who publishes can be catastrophic. I’m terrified that there might be a fire at his house or that someone might get the materials after his death and edit them clumsily. He's aging.

Most people could stand right next to an Indian and never realize they were alongside a full-blood. They might register dark skin and good hair, but unless there were beads and feathers, that’s about as far as it would go. So how could they recognize writing by Indians? What’s different about it? Nat Lit writers are more different from each other than they are from white writers. But best-selling, Manhattan-published white writers are pretty different from small publisher writers anyway. If they weren’t before, they are after. For one thing, they are more likely to have invented personas. For another, once a book sells well, they will be heavily pressured to write the same book over and over again because publishing operates on the Simple Simon principle, the same as all the major corporations in America that hate risk.

Barrus beat the system once with his three Nasdijj books. This will not hurt the prospects of NA writers in the future, since he is white. But will the NA writers of the future care to write books now that Manhattan best-sellers are revealed to be equivalent to bundling high-risk mortgages? "Cashing in" for writers is a myth. Publishers are middlemen, like bankers or lawyers or brokers. Writers are product. The only thing that counts is whether they sell. We need a whole new system.

Barrus’ solution is to change media: he has gone to video. Another solution is something like Kindle, a way to read books in eformat that costs much less to produce. Or a third way is Print On Demand which makes self-publishing feasible. (This is what I do.) Or a fourth route is Espresso, the machine that makes you a book while you have a cup of coffee nearby, drawing on efiles but producing a bound well-printed book. And a fifth route is the artist-made book, limited editions, possibly in unique formats or with etchings. Or there might be a hybrid product: imagine a Print On Demand book with a custom leather binding. Possibly a classic used book, re-bound with an artist’s cover.

The big excitement about Native American literature has pretty much passed on now, pushed aside by writers from India or the Middle East, but the contemporary American Indian scene is full of ferment and intrigue that deserves being written about, both as novels and as nonfiction. If they were written tomorrow, they might not be blockbusters, though I wouldn’t bet on that.

But if one has the appetite for those briefly published and often marvelous Native American Literary Renaissance books, bless the Internet for the used book websites. With a little archeological strategy and patience, one can build an excellent library. I wouldn’t tell others what to do, but in my own collection, I include both Hungry Wolf and Barrus. In the end it is life experience that counts towards good writing, not just genetics.

What we need are Native American publishers and distributors who know how to get books into the hands of reservation readers. And we need RESERVATION READERS because reading is what makes writers.

Friday, November 28, 2008

UNEQUAL RELATIONSHIPS

My recent movies seem to be falling into a theme, or maybe a set of interlocked themes: big/little power relationships, power that comes from status, and what happens when big loses status and slides to little. The movies are “Callas Forever,” “Country Life” (an Australian interpretation of Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya,” and an episode of the Inspector Lynley series, “If Wishes Were Horses.” I’ll work through them backwards.

But first, we have a major social conviction that relationships should be equal, not just under the law or in terms of citizenship but as person-to-person, especially in intimate relationships. And yet I can hardly think of any relationships around me that are truly equal. Besides that, we seem to have major problems with the professional classes, who are supposed to be bigger than the rest of us in terms of power and knowledge. I mean doctors, lawyers, ministers and other roles that are meant to award power to people who will use it for good, who will be restrained by their peers (who ARE equal-to-equal), and who make a clear “profession” that this is their intention. Dr. Nuland, who writes powerfully about doctors, suggests that today’s doctors are seriously undermined by the loss of their association with religiously endorsed moral requirements such as compassion and freedom from corruption. Those of us who loved “The Infinite Mind” on NPR have been sickened (iatrogenically) by Dr. Fred Goodwin’s recent exposure as accepting a million dollar payment from a manufacturer of psychotropic drugs. No need to point out the many, many other convictions of high officials for low behavior.

(The rest of this is riddled with what imdb.com calls “spoilers.”)

The premise of the Inspector Lynley series of BBC mysteries is that the Inspector himself is high class, highly educated, handsome, and well-aware of it, which means he is also arrogant, high-handed, smirking, and sometimes blind to ordinary humans. His sidekick, a tiny but intense woman (I always think of Sharon Butala), is lower-class, inclined to ignore procedure, pig-headed, and far more open to the run of ordinary humans. The idea is that though these two are unequal in rank and background, their inequalities mesh to create a synergy that solves mysteries. The idea is a powerful one, but it appears to be quite a challenge to script writers.

In “If Wishes Were Horses” another superior being (a forensic psychologist or “profiler” -- a handsome white man, of course) is murdered. A serial bonker, it turns out that he has even taken a turn with Lynley’s wife far in the past. Said wife is also a “profiler” who seems not have had a very good insight into this murder victim when she was his student. There’s a second murder and then a third, if you count the loss of a fetus in a car accident. Possibly a fourth if you count the alert little sergeant who throws herself into the line of fire to protect a murderer while Lynley stands by, looking noble. That’s the closing, so we don’t know whether she survives.

The general rule with BBC scripts is that the perp is the least-likely possibility and so she is: a beautiful female doctor who wants power over the docile wife of the dead man. (Also, not incidentally, his estate which includes a rather fabulous stone house with huge window/doors in the front.) The dead man is an abuser and a likely candidate for killer is his bitter but cheerfully realistic first wife, who is no longer docile. She has learned from her afflictions and anyway, she’s Irish. She’ll take a beating only up to a point -- then she wants compensation. (The actress also played the long-suffering wife of “Cracker,” who is still my fav BBC forensic psycher.) And she gets her reward since the second wife (but possibly thousandth boinkee) has been found out in her over-liberal acceptance of “comfort” from the beautiful lesbian doctor. There are a lot of smart comments all through this episode about people patronizing, underestimating, disregarding, and disbelieving -- but also about the people who accept such treatment. The neediness seems to be part of the problem.

“Country Life” revolves around two powerful men: the Sam Elliot character who is also a doctor, and Voysey, the uncle who has been a popular reviewer in England, now just returned with his new and elegant wife. It’s another of the post-war chaos times (1919) with everyone trying to preserve their status and prospects while realizing that the rules have been very much changed. The girl who would previously have been idle is now a true working partner of the ranch, the man who was previously respected is now a has-been and the woman who threw in her lot with him in hopes of safety is now going over the cliff with him. To her credit, she sticks with the bargain. The uncle who runs the ranch despairs, but in fact is supporting everyone else, which he now begins to realize. The doctor ruefully rides on his way, his integrity a bit compromised but his compassion intact. What’s interesting is that on reflection it is the tough old cook, played by Googie Withers, who has the real power. She sees it all and sets the schedule as well as the table.

“Callas Forever” is a reincarnation of a Diva, the near-definition of a powerful person. But she doesn’t guard her power-source, her voice, and when it goes, she loses everything including Onassis. Jeremy Irons has a scheme for restoring her reputation by dubbing her previously glorious voice onto new film footage, notably “Carmen.” Since this movie is made by Zefferelli, who knew Callas, it is gorgeous and knowing. This group of show-biz people might seem careless and corrupt in their relationships, and yet they stand by each other and preserve their equality. Callas, in the end, decides the project is an unworthy deception and cancels. (In real life she died not long afterwards.)

Artistic community can be quite vicious, but at its best it’s more than community: it’s family. Maybe because they work so directly with human psychic qualities, artist friends seem a better wager than business friends -- unless they are too mixed together, which often happens. The business parasites who profit from artists are the most corrupt and in our contemporary culture, they are predatory.

Unequal relationships have their roots in the parent-child relationship. I am not alone in beginning to think that American affluent society has betrayed their children by trying to make them “equal” to the parents when the children have neither the means nor the motivation. Instead they become monsters of narcissism in their efforts to find boundaries. But the “low class” has also been pressed so hard to survive that they simply abandon their children, leaving them with a constant craving for some major figure to embrace them. When women were always “little,” they were vulnerable to power figures, but now it is the children who struggle, so needy that they will substitute gangs for family.

I agree with Dr. Nuland that the remedy might be a new “religion” that is powerful enough to urge integrity and compassion on our society. But I reject the idea of going back to the too-many-times reconstructed Middle Eastern Abramic patterns. The best I can imagine is a cross between Obama-calm and Dalai Lama-compassion, but circumstances may be changing so drastically that something entirely new is forming. I hope it hurries. As I age, I become smaller, more at the mercy of doctors.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

RESERVATION LIFE

To be white and living on one of the vast dry high-altitude reservations of the plains West was to step into almost a different dimension. It wasn't that people were different in the way that another country might be different, but that one's most basic assumptions about everything were challenged. Ordinary tribal society was a tissue of dreams, half-memories, secrets, superstition, and outright lies meant to baffle and deflect.

It is often as difficult for Native Americans to grasp as it is for white people to understand that not all tribes that are seen as tribes today were, in fact, formally tribes until the BIA starting requiring organized tribes to function in political versus historically matrilineal ways. The Navajo were a loosely-knit band of nomadic Indians who spoke a similar Athabaskan dialect of which there are over fifty variations on the Navajo Nation alone. Changing Woman is the chief deity of the Navajo whose mythology reflects their extraordinary migrations that hit the Southwest when Anasazi culture was ready to decline. But these migrations (from the North) were family-led, not tribal in nature.

When an anthropologist went to such a place, carefully taking down notes all day and transcribing them in the evening, he (almost always "he") was a dog watching a movie, picking out what seemed real to him, but not what might seem at all real to the people doing the acting. (This is no longer the case since most people have been assimilated more effectively by television than by any missionaries.) In the Sixties and Seventies the complex swirl of rez life included Aquarian pilgrims hoping to find a way to fit in.

At the point when my father-in-law came to Browning, 1903, the Blackfeet and their Cree/Metis adjunct had been refugees, staying in place while their culture was dismantled and suppressed around them, losing from their own sky the constellations of belief that had guided and protected them for millennia. One agent forbade beading as a savage and subversive preoccupation, though clearly glass beads were provided by Euro traders or maybe Asian trade. Mission teachers went after obvious things like braids and eye contact, while never noticing abuse to children. Today all that trauma -- major destruction and perversion of families, never enough food, the confusion from losing the stories that told them who they were -- is either suppressed by the Indians themselves, glossed over by whites wanting to look good, or inflated into monstrous exaggerations for the political ends of both categories.

Everywhere on the planet, the absence of money causes other economies to develop: trade in secrets, behind-the-scenes deals and contacts, and maybe sexual privileges. The reservations today are now no better or worse than their surrounding white towns, which they are rapidly moving into anyway, since reservation housing is never quite adequately funded. Nothing is ever quite adequately funded except expense accounts. But in 1903 the straightforward men who came to trade in Browning had been buffalo hunters and horseback warriors a few decades earlier. By 1961 when I came, there were still a few old people who were born in 1880 or maybe slightly earlier, but the main reservation treaties were signed in 1851, the buffalo had been gone since 1883 (Charlie Russell arrived in Montana in 1880), and only a few child survivors of the Baker Massacre in 1869 were still living. Since then, another half-century has passed and today's parent generation is tall, strong, prosperous and educated. Their grasp of history is based on classes and books and most are firmly Christian. One just became the head of the state Office of Public Instruction.

Tim Barrus and Tina Giovanni went to live and teach on the Navajo Nation in the 1990s, escaping the many AIDS deaths destroying what had been a brilliant renaissance and new creation in San Francisco, especially fueled by gay talent and energy. Tim was particularly struck by the Mariano Lake high-desert landscape of Hosta Butte. From their BIA house they could see for over a hundred miles -- a hundred miles and nothing man-made in sight. Mariano Lake was an awakening. BIA housing is not closed off from the community. It is very much a part of the community. The Pinedale Trading Post was groceries, post office, and laundry for everyone. You only made the trip off the reservation if you had to. There were children who only knew Mariano Lake. Like kids everywhere, when given a bit of educational support, they bloomed like the Navajo country after a rain.

Tim already had special feelings for kids, had worked for the United Nations Year of the Child by organizing art shows, painting a giant block-long mural on the building where he worked, and taking his own photographs. He had worked in special education in Taos and Santa Fe. In California, he had worked with deaf children. By this time he was carrying enormous guilt for not being able to somehow pull his small son, Tommy, out of his damaged brain into something like a normal life, but also constant joy in his daughter, Kree, born wise and tough, a survivor from the beginning.

Given that Tim and Tina's training and certification was special ed, which means adapting to the child, inventing methods, not getting stuck in issues of curriculum, life on the Navajo reservation was both shocking and transcendent, the kind of experience that marks a person for life. An old lady set up her loom in the front yard of their home. Sheep, horses, and goats were everywhere. The people gradually came to know them. It was a while before the corrosions and tragedies surfaced.

The difference between deaths and other losses on a reservation is that, like a small town, you know the victims by name. You help deal with the debris afterwards. You have to deal with your own grief, and one of those ways is by writing.

It's a strange phenomenon that often white people who have never been on a reservation except to drive through on a holiday are the ones who are most insistent about what the reality of reservation life truly is. They split into two groups: those who want to hear about the miserable and degraded things so that they can shake their heads at all that misery, and those who want Indians to be next to angels, noble and magic. The first of these groups was only too happy to accept Tim's stories so long as they appeared to be memoir, thus adding a little spice to the voyeurism while allowing them to feel that everything was all right in the end since he could write a famous book. The second of these groups, especially the members attempting to worm their way into what might seem to be a privileged career as an "expert" on Indians, attacked Tim once they found a way to discredit him. They seized on his participation in the San Francisco gay life -- defiant and transgressive and flamboyant as it was in those times -- and "revealed" it in sensational articles in men's magazines and the alternative press.

In the actual time of being "cloaked" as Nasdijj, Tim was in a wheelchair and then recovering from a double hip transplant, paid for by the three books. Barrus and his wife moved to North Carolina because Duke University Medical was the only place willing to try the then experimental surgery Tim needed to replace bone with ceramic (most hip surgery is still done with titanium). Tim still limps as one leg is now shorter than the other, a by-product of the surgery. The title "Geronimo's Bones" is clearly personal.

At this time of rabid right-wing fundamentalism, attacks on homosexuality mixed with a barely hidden racism. These righteous people wanted to be virtuous, prosperous, straight and white and were willing to use any means to enforce that idea. It was in their interest to vilify Tim Barrus.

Tim Barrus did not take it, so to speak, sitting down.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

IN A WORD, REVENGE

Dear reader, I was not going to post this, since Barrus is not talking down to children, but then I changed my mind. You've heard these words before. You've even heard these ideas before.

Prairie Mary

* * * *


Random House and Houghton Mifflin loved the paradigm where they send the writer on the typical tour.

It was the most absurd thing I have ever done.

I did it because, quite simply, they make it very clear that if you don't you get put into the "difficult writer" category, and committees of publicists who are the real powers at publishing houses loathe difficult writers and are not likely to publish them again. So you do the tour or else.

This paradigm is about to get buried six feet under in the graveyard it so richly deserves. The fundamental assumption is that one develops a readership from interacting with one's public in bookstores where the public buys its books.

Let's see a show of hands for those of us who hang out at bookstores because the authors who arrive are so captivating.

Right.

It goes much further than Barnes and Noble.

There was a time when culture revolved around the spoken word. Most public education remains stuck in this mode. Rote memorization, reciting blahblahblah and rhetoric (Our Country is a Great Country Because) instilled in societies a reverence for the past, the ambiguous, the ornate, the subjective, and tradition as tribal ritual. Then, about 500 years ago, the oral universe was overthrown by the anal universe of technology.

Gutenberg saw a vacuum and he filled it. Metallic movable type elevated writing to a highly-placed position in the cultural hierarchy. By means of cheap and perfect copies, text became the engine of change and the foundation of stability. Once it was in print, it had to be true. The same bullshit goes for the Internet.

People don't think. Other people do that for them. A consumer isn't supposed to think. All he has to do is buy. For the moment, the Internet is a shopping mall and red-light district. Most people come to the Internet to see pornography, and it has been innovation in pornography -- new ideas as to how the Internet might work at selling porn -- that has driven innovation everywhere else. The people who don't mainly come for porn shop.

From printing came what we think of as journalism, science and the mathematics of libraries and law. The distribution-and-display device that we call printing instilled in society a reverence for precision (of black ink on white paper), an appreciation for dull linear logic (in a sentence, in a paragraph, in a narrative), a passion for objectivity (of printed fact) and an allegiance to authority (via authors), whose truth was as fixed and final as a book. In the West, we became automatons of the book as the word of god.

Let us wipe all of that off the map. Let us now worship invention.

Today, there's a lot of vacuums and a lot of filling going on. The dominant media is being besieged.

Moving images go stage center.

We are now the automatons of the screen. The fluid and fleeting symbols on a screen pull us away from the classical notions of monumental authors and authority. The new authority is how well can you snark in a computerese designed to bring you hits.

On the screen, the subjective wins again. Only this time, everybody has a contribution. The past is a rush of data streams cut and rearranged into mashups, while truth is something you assemble yourself on your own screen as you jump from link to link.

Wikipedia has it right because somebody else said so and Wikipedia can link you to where whatever bullshit you think is true sits somewhere else.

The scene shifts.

The media wouldn't be the media unless it shared certain attributes. It is easier to read a book than to write one. It is easier to listen to a song than to compose one. It is easier to attend a play than to produce one. Movies in particular are a collaborative work. It's easier to watch a movie than to make one.

Publishers have been betting that they can keep interactive media marginalized because the public is lazy. They're passive and eat whatever is served to them. That tens of millions of YouTubers have been making their own movies has stunned old media.

Millions of people can be reached. The software to do all of this has only improved.
Hollywood will always be Hollywood. When you consider how much digital is out there, it's Hollywood that is marginal.

If you want to see the future of motion pictures, you need to take note of the creative food chain — YouTube, indie films, TV serials and insect-scale lip-sync mashups. The bottom is where the action is, and where screen literacy originates.

Publishing's dirty little secret is that this, too, is how authors work. They dip into a finite set of established words, called a dictionary, and reassemble these found words into articles, novels and poems that no one has ever seen before. It is rare that an author invents anything really new. What has been done with words for a long time is now happening with images.

Last year, four billion digital-display screens were manufactured. That is how many people there are on the earth.

The thrill comes from the power to create realistic fantasies spontaneously. Hollywood cannot do that. It's about as spontaneous as a dead horse beaten with an old whip.
In the past, they could kick me out of publishing for heresy and there would be nothing I could do about it.

Revenge is also sometimes called survival.

I am still here and they are so utterly annoyed. Tough titty.

I am basically dealing with the visions of males who have always existed at the sidelines. They've been kept out of it as I have.

No more.

We're not going away. We failed high school English. We were behavior problems, drug dealers, sluts...

We're making images that move. That have sound. We were supposed to go away.

A whore is supposed to stay a whore.

Colette's revenge was her character Cheri.

It was Cheri who turned heads.

Whenever he walked into a room.

Cheri was fond of silk pajamas and pearls.

The French had never read anything like Cheri.

In the end of the Cheri books, it is a woman who survives. Not Cheri. Because Colette made her women tough as nails.

Collete incorporated a kiss with her Lesbian lover in the act she brought to the Moulin Rouge. This literally caused a riot in the streets and the military had to be called in to quell the riot.

Colette was banned. Poor Colette.

She turned to opera and the Parisian opera produced her work. In a word, revenge.

Revenge is when the principal kicks us out so we open up our own school down the street and it's hipper, more endowed, and a lot more fun than their school. Revenge is getting away with it.

Real revenge is in the discovery you have worth and that fucks with their power as the people assigned to dishing small portions of worth out to boys and girls who follow the rules and keep straight lines.

In the old days, the adolescent boy hid his porn from Grandma and only got it out to jerk off. Today, he's making his own porn because he is his porn and Godzilla is not alone. He's jerking off online with everyone else in the sexual global community and so is Grandma.

And so is Colette.

Revenge is coloring outside the lines and redefining the lines and erasing the lines and substituting pixels which are round little motherfuckers versus lines and revenge is when the screen lights up, Mister deMille, and it's time for your close-up.

-- Tim Barrus

I'D LIKE SOME CULTURE PLEASE

THE THIRD CULTURE IN SPAIN

"The purpose of this initiative is to establish a movement in Spain based on this new way of perceiving culture, and promote it as a vehicle for development of critical opinion in our country. More and more people willing to educate themselves and get rid of superstitions and dogmas which reduces your field of personal and social action. Democracy works with people armed with critical thinking. A society of illiterates in the hands of scoundrels (Perez Reverte), can never be democratic." -- Arcadi Espada


NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE

Becoming Screen Literate
By Kevin Kelly

Everywhere we look, we see screens. The other day I watched clips from a movie as I pumped gas into my car. The other night I saw a movie on the backseat of a plane. We will watch anywhere. Screens playing video pop up in the most unexpected places -- like A.T.M. machines and supermarket checkout lines and tiny phones; some movie fans watch entire films in between calls. These ever-present screens have created an audience for very short moving pictures, as brief as three minutes, while cheap digital creation tools have empowered a new generation of filmmakers, who are rapidly filling up those screens. We are headed toward screen ubiquity. ...


EYEWITNESS REPORT


A woman who traveled on the same airplane as Tim and Isabella, his helper dog, recently remarked to Tim on disembarking that Isabella had watched the in-flight movie attentively and seemed to like it. “Isn’t that remarkable?” she asked Tim.

“Well, it surprises me,” answered Tim. “She really hated the book.”

* * *

Our assumptions about the world come in large part from fleeting glimpses and interpretations of what other people think, let alone other species. We speak of “the culture” as though it were a thing, an object with edges, and some people try to control it -- even to force it, especially by preventing change, like the Proper Grammar Police. One of the oldest moral mistakes is thinking that “what is” is the same as “what ought to be.” The idea is that what worked so far and what our ancestors thought was honorable and productive must be protected because it got us this far, didn’t it?

Jesus paid no attention and neither did Luther or Margaret Sanger or Pasteur or a host of other innovators like Gutenburg. Anyway, change goes on around us all the time, some of it good and some of it hardly worth remarking and some of it totally reprehensible (like various holocausts) and some of it seemingly brilliant at the time but disastrous later on (like our financial systems). Some of it is change that allows a whole cascade of unpredicted changes, like electricity.

A hundred years ago -- or maybe I’d better say 150 years ago, to make it mid-nineteenth century -- change fell upon the Blackfeet like wolves. (Sorry. Um, like Blackwater mercenaries.) Until then their culture had been based (as is all culture when you get down to the bottom of it) on their place and the materials and practices that would keep them fed, sheltered, and together. You learned from the adults around you. There were two kinds of people: “us” and “those other guys.” If you had to talk to those other guys, you used sign-language. If you talked to one of “us,” you spoke Blackfeet. The line between Blackfeet and others was that people who could speak Blackfeet were “in” and the others were “out.”

Then along came these white guys and they said, “You speak English because that’s what you ought to speak and you ought to do everything else like us, too, because that’s what’s right and true and what you ought to have been doing all this time.” At first the Euros didn’t think slaves and Indians ought to be taught to read, because reading was an advantage. For instance, they might read law books and figure out how to work the system. (Protestants learned how to read and so read the Bible for themselves, thus escaping the priests who had been the only ones who could read the big Bible chained to the lecturn.) But people figured out how to read anyway, and pretty soon a lot of jobs were dependent on reading operating manuals, contracts, and parts catalogues. Some people spent a lot of time reading the Sears Roebucks and Monkey Wards catalogues.

This leads us directly to modern commodification. We commodify everything: how much is it worth? How much profit? How many employees? How sexy should you be? With whom should you sleep? How much education does one need to be certified? Which leads us to education, which was the chief way that Blackfeet were forced to give up their language and speak English. It was not personal to the Blackfeet -- EVERYONE who wanted to live in the United States (which meant all immigrants, which meant everyone who was not an Indian as well as everyone who was) had to learn to speak English. Everyone mostly assumed that must be right.

Until the Sixties and Seventies after WWII when a counter-culture formed. The Blackfeet now used education to relearn Blackfeet. In spite of the best efforts of teachers, parents, and authority figures, the children slipped through their fingers, learning from Sesame Street and then from the cable sit coms and then from drug pushers. By then everyone was so busy accumulating commodities and mowing their lawns that they hardly knew what their children were up to anyway. They were inventing an underculture.

The educated people in the university world said they were inventing a new culture as well, one they often called “the third way,” that hopes to combine science and humanities in a more resourceful and less primitive and more flexible and less superstitious approach to life. So ... the long withdrawing roar of one culture is matched by the barbaric yawp of a new culture and then the two of them give birth to something that is so new that everyone but the kids feel like dogs watching movies. It’s interesting, but what does it MEAN? Can it be controlled? Does Obama REALLY know what he’s doing? Won’t gay marriage take us all straight to hell? Where did all these Mormons come from?

I sit here in the middle of a great nest of paper. But my eyes are on a computer screen and the papers are all downloads so that I can take them to my reading chair, push out the resident cat, and use a hi-lighter to try to figure out what I’m reading. I have not been culturally adept enough to afford broadband (which is provided here by a rancher’s co-op formed when the telephone lines got to the prairie). I’m barely affording elecricity. I’m between cultures. Maybe AMONG cultures.

My plan was to write great books, best sellers if possible, which would bring me fame and fortune. What worked for Anne of Green Gables doesn’t work for me. I’ve settled for blogging but no one knows how to commodify it yet. They’ll get to it. Maybe it will be part of the reconfiguration of the globe that is growing out of our financial emergency. So many systems, including schools and publishing, have grown pot-bound, overly complex, a nasty combination of unregulation and overregulation, grabbing one idea after another and squeezing the life-force out of them like Skeksis squeezing the little red-headed puppet people in “The Dark Crystal.”

We are devolving into one big global culture that is more generational than national, more a movie than a book, where someone in the Sahara sees a pop bottle fall out of an airplane and knows at once what it is, can even sing the jingle, but then throws it over his shoulder, saying, “Oh, that’s so last century.” And keeps on walking to the AIDS clinic.

At the same time we’ve broken into small cultures, “bundled” as it were, by commodification. Furniture for families with small children vs. furniture for geezers in front of television. Food for clever urban foodies vs. food for the dietetically challenged. And under it always that commodification: how can we market this new stuff we’ve just invented? Never a thought to what it might do to human life, let alone the rest of the planet. Melamine isn’t just in baby formula in China, but also in a thousand American products. Dioxin is in the breast milk of polar bears. Our cars are destroying their icebergs. We may run out of oil just in time before all mammal life is twisted out of existence by chemists converting fossil goo into strange molecules.

The meta-subject of all discussions of culture and education is what are we doing to ourselves? It begins to be clear that the “superstitions and dogmas which reduce your field of personal and social action” are yesterday’s truths and pieties. Like “progress is our most important product.” Products may have nothing to do with progress. We may have to struggle through decades of incomprehension. Except for the kids, who are thumbing twitter remarks even as I go back to polish my sentences.


Culture Yes

My war with culture is to provoke you.

I admit it.

I have seen the lock-step-and-fetch-it culture. The furniture is heavy there and the room is never rearranged. There is no dissent. Only lip service to it. The ideas are no longer vibrant. They become the past. Revolutions are like that. They are often ruthless.

I was walking down Castro Street in SF once.

With a friend.

A car pulled up. A bunch of guys got out of the car with baseball bats. They went for us.

What they saw were two gay men and the culture war was on.

But I'm not gay. No. Well, you looked gay.

Gay enough.

We fought back. We fought back hard.

We took those baseball bats from them and we beat some heads in. Then, we beat the car and smashed the windows.

Do not fuck with me.

We left them. Bleeding.

And continued on our way.

They wanted a culture war. Bring it on.

Today, I want my art to be a baseball bat. Sometimes.

Not always. But I want that option.

They are still cruising around the block. Every now and then, the haters pass me by. We exchange glances. There is no down time. No quiet moment.

Often, in any culture war, you're just taking what comes at you. One battle at a time.

Culture yes.

Tim Barrus

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

INDIAN TROUBLE: A DOUBLE CHAPTER

This is a set of the paired chapters that Tim Barrus and I are writing by alternating with each other. We don’t seem much alike on the surface, but often are in deep accord.

I WILL NOT NAME THE TRIBE BY TIM BARRUS

I do not have to name this tribe. Because I'm the one writing the story. And I already know who these people are.

What you know is incidental and not my fucking problem. I don't care what you know or don't know. You are only the reader and I am not responsible either for you or to you. I don't know you or want to know you. I will not be appearing in your local bookstore.

If you need something conventional to read, go read Sherman Alexie.

I assume he's conventional. But I really wouldn't know because I've never read one word by Sherman Alexie whoever he is. Sherman Alexie just doesn't interest me. I do not care about him.

This is not about him even if at some point he whines it is. It isn't.

I was working in a place that took in very damaged children who were from a variety of tribes. We gave them a safe place to live.

That was it.

No mumbojumbo. No Freud. It was a safe place where they didn't get beat up or murdered.

The various tribes themselves placed the children here.

I did mainly everything but one of the things I did was go get kids.

This could be a drive of thousands of miles.

If I named the tribe, all it would do would be to open up old wounds. Why would I do that. In the name of journalism. Please.

Get a life.

I drove an old jeep we had. I drove and drove and drove and drove.

Then, I got to the reservation.

Easy.

The children consisted of three brothers.

Mainly, they were three normal little boys who lived on a reservation with their mom and dad out in the country. End of story, right.

Not quite.

A few days before I arrived to pick them up and take then somewhere safe, they had all been sitting down to dinner one night.

Mom had a gun. Dad had a gun. Both guns hidden from sight under the table.

Mom brought out her gun and shot dad in the head.

Before dad died, he shot mom in the head.

This in front of three little boys who were simply sitting at the kitchen table.

Mom and dad were dead.

The three boys had to wade through snow in the dark to go find help. Now, they were traumatized. Severely.

The tribe wanted them off the reservation. Because families were beginning to take sides and it was feared that the brothers would become victims of one side or the other.

Like they weren't victims enough.

They were staying at Grandma's house and Grandma wanted them off the reservation, too, because people were driving by the house and taking pot shots at it. It was my normal pickup and delivery errand. It was not the first time this sort of errand had been stuck in my inbox.

I found grandma's house easily enough.

The word I would use to describe Grandma would be terrified.

She immediately helped me pack the brothers in the jeep and we were off. They didn't have shit. Not so much as a coat.

No lunchbox. No nothing.

Not even socks.

I'm a white guy. I had credit cards.

We drove and we drove and we drove and we drove.

We came to a large American city.

We went to a five star hotel and checked in. No big deal. I have spent half my life in hotels.

Secret. Don't tell anyone. I like them.

I want to live at the Brown Palace in Denver.

We had dinner. Room service.

Then, we went shopping.

We bought cowboy boots and coats and toys and clothes and Flintstones lunchboxes.

The brothers never said a word. Not one sound.

"They stopped speaking," Grandma told me. And she wept.

I don't know if it was a community decision but a decision had been made. They would never speak again. To anyone.

And they never have. They had made their decision. They stuck with it. Since leaving the house, to wade through that darkness and the snow, leaving behind the bodies of their parents, they have never said a solitary word. And the rest is history. Even if it's not a history you would know. History doesn't care what you know. History only is.

Their house was now splattered with blood. They reached a neighbor's house (about two miles away), and all they did was point.

That night we arrived in White people Town, they slept in their own hotel room. There was a connecting door to me in case they needed me.

I did not really care if they talked or not. They would talk when they were ready. or not.

Not speaking is a kind of power, too.

It was after midnight. They came into my room in the dark in their new pajamas. They crawled into the bed.

I could have left that out. It would have been the appropriate thing to do.

It wasn't sex.

It was tears and noses and snot and hugs. That is all it was. I do not give a fuck what you or what anyone thinks about it.

I took them to the safe place. Where they lived for a while. They never spoke.

They would eventually return to their reservation. Today, they are fine. They just never speak and the rest is not history -- it is silence. -- T


<span style="font-weight:bold;">A RESPONSE ABOUT SHERMAN ALEXIE

There has been twice in my life as an adult that I broke down and sobbed with a broken-heart -- I mean, big ugly ripping sobs. One was when I graduated from NU and realized that I would never again be part of that magical community in the theatre department. The other was after the superintendent (white) at Heart Butte forced me out because he couldn’t control me. I returned to Portland again. When my mother heard me sobbing, she went to the back of the yard and smoked to keep from hearing. She didn’t come to me. She didn’t think I should have been on the reservation anyway. She didn’t believe she could comfort me. But she couldn’t quite bring herself to say I couldn’t come back to what she considered my “home.”

No Blackfeet in Heart Butte tried to oppose that superintendent. They didn’t think I was a bad teacher. They were not happy to see me go. But they thought that white people were different from them and that white people had their own agendas and resources. It never occurred to them that I was leaving into the 1991 recession with no savings. It was one of my several Barrus-type falls to the bottom.

While I was there, living on a rollaway on my mother’s sun porch, I went job-hunting every day and haunted Powell’s every night. That’s when the Native American literature renaissance was just at the top of its arc and disillusioned publishers were dumping books by Indians into the remainder bins. They didn’t really know how to market them and didn’t have the patience to wait for word-of-mouth to get around. The Indian writers themselves came through to do readings and I spoke to many of them. One of my former students, Robey Clark, who is also an Indian writer, talked me into the internet bulletin boards where they discussed Indian literature. Every time I found a remaindered “Nat lit” book at Powells in the evening, I’d buy three: one for me, one for the Heart Butte school library (there is no other library there), and one for the Browning library.

The first of Barrus’ Nasdijj books didn’t come out until the year after I’d returned here to Valier at the edge of the rez, so I didn’t find them at Powell’s. Instead I ran across “The Boy and the Dog Are Sleeping” in the Daedalus remainder catalogue. Highly recommended, many prizes. Must have been about 2004. I read it and loved it, never thought much about whether it had been written by a Navajo but it sounded authentic. Identity politics were pretty worn out by then. But when I began to try to find out more about Nasdijj, I ran into the controversy. Not only was he not Navajo, it was declared, he wrote porn. Well, there’s porn and porn. Like, not “is it about spanking or leather” but is it well-done or just pulp truckstop porn? Porn can be highbrow, even literature.

On Abebooks I ordered some of the Barrus “porn,” which turned out to be about two men, one taking care of the other. I know now where that kernel-story comes from: a little boy trying mightily to save his father. Sometimes trying to save a beloved friend or brother. He writes it over and over. It’s not salacious and in-your-face so much as it’s flesh trying to real-life redeem much-loved flesh. But you have to listen for that. Then on my computer I was watching the melodramatic soap opera blog of the chase across the continent by Barrus and his boys, sending guerrilla messages -- often in shocking images -- on a war-correspondent’s cell phone parabolic satellite hookup. Suddenly it stopped.

Barrus had been so thoroughly vilified and indicted-without-trial that his books were off the market and his career was ended. He moved to Europe. What no one seemed to know was that he’d also suffered from avascular necrosis, had done much of his book promotion in a wheelchair, and used the proceeds to get his hips replaced. The third Nasdijj book, “Geronimo’s Bones” (2004), was written while he was recovering from both the surgery and the drugs necessary to survive it. When he was awarded the PEN prize for the best minority-written book, he was flattened in a borrowed cabin, trying to stay alive post-op with the help of Tina, his wife, and Navajo, the dog. His publisher (who knew he was not Indian and not named Nasdijj) had proposed him for the prize (authors can’t do it), and accepted the $1,000 award in his name. The publishers had made a great deal of money by promoting “Nasdijj,” but as soon as the jig was up, they abandoned him.

In 2006 Sherman Alexie, the only Native American writer many readers know -- usually because of his movies rather than his books -- wrote a nasty little attack essay in Time magazine. He said, “As a Native American writer and multiculturalist, I worried that Nasdijj was a talented and angry white man who was writing as a Native American in order to mock multicultural literature.” Sherman was right about the “talented and angry” and even the “white” but why can’t a white man be a “multiculturist?” Sherman was following the lead of a story in the LA Times “unmasking” Nasdijj. He’d evidently forgotten that in 2003 he participated in a Museum of Tolerance project. I’m sure he remembered that Oprah had him on her program in 2003 and I’m sure he thought he was following up on Oprah’s sensational witch hunt of James Frey, whose crime was not pretending to be Indian but pretending to be more wicked than he really was.

In 1999 I saw Sherman on the “Lehrer News Hour Dialogue on Race with President Clinton,” where Sherman was the soul of discretion and respect. I was on the early Nat Lit bulletin board when Sherman was on it and remember that he quit with hurt feelings because someone (might’ve been me) mocked his intention to write like a best selling author. I saw him speak in Portland and went backstage to meet him. He’s a great stand-up comedian.

Sherman is an assimilated Indian. Maybe he had it tough as a kid, but not anymore. He’s doubly ghettoized by being an “Indian writer” and by his Hollywood-style “Falls Apart” operations (see the website). At age 42 he has turned to “youth literature” to re-energize his career. “NA Lit” is said to be worn out, kaput. (It’s NOT really. Just out of sight.) Sherman always wanted to be mainstream anyway, but his Seattle noir novel mocking Hillerman went nowhere. I’m the only person I know who likes it, but then I have a very broad concept of what NA writers ought to write.

I could write rather a wicked little piece comparing some NA lit to pornography: voyeuristic, sensational, promising a world “never dreamt of,” forbidden to most, shamanic -- in short, “tomahawk sniffing.” People want the imagined privilege, and all that.

In my opinion Sherman’s best short story so far is one that got him into trouble. (Good writing will do that.) Called “The Toughest Indian in the World,” it seemed to be about an old prize fighter Indian who attaches himself to a young male Indian journalist and even goes to bed with him. He is “beautiful and scarred” and he wants to be “inside” the young man. But he can’t “cum” as Barrus would spell it. He leaves, walks down the highway, rises into the sky and becomes a constellation. He is the spirit of Indian, the 19th century glorified, impossible, poetic and still existent Indian that just won’t die. The barefoot young journalist follows up into the sky and the last sentence is one Sherman has used more than once: “If you had broken open my heart you could have looked inside and seen the thin white skeletons of one thousand salmon.”

No feathers. No horses. Sherman is a fish Indian. I like him best when he’s not joking around. Everyone thought he’d gone homosexual. That will haunt him now for the rest of his life, though he’s married with two sons. He could tell Oprah about it. For sure Barrus doesn’t care to hear about it. And I’m only vaguely interested. I’m home again, just off the Blackfeet rez, which has come to join me. My neighbors next door, across the street and across the alley are Indians from Heart Butte. The woman who runs the Title 5 Indian program was a toddler when I taught there. She says they have now acquired the “entire works of Sherman Alexie.” She hasn’t read them. She has a baby who keeps her busy.

Monday, November 24, 2008

WRITERS: BEETLES OR JAGUARS?

A nice lady, prosperous and kind, was telling me she was “fascinated” by “interesting” people. I said something off-hand about drawing a picture. “Oh,” she cooed, “And are you an artist, too?” I was deeply offended, not because she thought I was an artist -- she already had it firmly in her mind that I was a writer -- but because she thought that these roles were somewhere between ethnic identity and a vocational aptitude test that assigns people certain educational strategies. Lock down those people into categories! Then demand that they get a license.

The next thing she said was “Oh, I’m not creative at all. I just couldn’t be a writer or artist.” What she really meant was, “I’m just normal. I’m safe and nice and prosperous -- normal -- and I don’t want anyone to expect anything exceptional from me, because that’s dangerous.” She had no identity and she liked it that way, because it left her free to buy her identity. She has returned to the world of Edith Wharton that so many died to escape. She’ll be fine so long as the money holds out.

Everyone is a writer and everyone is an artist, but not everyone has the courage to act on it except little kids. Long ago I read that little kids in Japan draw and write (and writing is much more difficult with a brush and ideograms) and continue that on into adulthood. This was certainly true of the only Japanese adult I knew very well, Teruo who lived in the same house at Meadville/Lombard. He composed a little calligraphed poem for each of us when he left. Mine said, “Look out little sparrows! Here comes Mary!” It was about how I pounded up and down the stairs when I was in a hurry.

Writing for grownups IS shapeshifting. One shape is commercial and popular writing, “being” a writer, which is very hot this time of year because people give books for gifts. Best sellers, of course. What the bookstores are pushing. The trouble with that shape is that it can capture a writer and freeze them into being nice and prosperous. Same with art.

True nagual (jaguar man) shapeshifting is different: it is betting your life, living the narrative even while shaping it, maybe losing control of it, maybe being destroyed by it. (In Montana we don’t have naguals - this far north we have Napi/Trickster. In Europe they have Loki or sorcerers. One could write a book about shapeshifters of the planet.) All the nice prosperous readers and patrons are fascinated by shapeshifters, but they don’t care to participate. They are voyeurs, who go to the horror thrillers to bump up their adrenaline levels, but then pull on their coats and go home to pay the babysitter. This time of year they will exclaim over the Hundred Neediest Cases in New York, maybe write a check, and sigh with relief that they don’t know any of them personally.

They are not like the emergency responders in our society, the EMT’s, the police, the animal control officers, and others assigned to clean up after someone has gone over the edge. (I am not talking about the nice and prosperous social workers who try to manage people determined not to grow up or to leave their familiar cramped and inadequate lives.) I had thought that ministers would be prepared to respond to spiritual emergencies, let’s say Jonestown for an example, but when a woman -- whose sister was being abused, confused, and used by Jones (you know what he did) and who finally died in Guyana -- went to the Unitarian minister for help, he didn’t believe her. To his credit, when the ghastly story came out, he repented mightily, but that was self-indulgent. Voyeuristic. He wasn’t there.

Two things are necessary for people who visit the horror: one is a stubborn grounding in the world. I say “grounding,” and I mean earth, the ground we stand on. The simple animalness in all its attachments and needs. The other is a willingness to lose oneself entirely by venturing into a second world. Might never come back. If there’s a return, it will take time to assimilate the changes that surely happened. “I alone escaped to tell you.”

Nature’s way is to create a million beetles and then destroy 99% of them, keeping only the ones most closely adapted to the ecology: able to eat the food, find the shelter, withstand the temperatures, beat off the parasites. Then those survivors make a million new beetles, some better and some worse, with only a few survivors -- not the biggest, strongest ones but the ones that fit the situation. That’s the way writers are, too. Some times are writer-friendly and they’re in swarms everywhere, largely indistinguishable. Some times are almost unsurvivably severe and the only survivors are the ones who adapted, who found a way.

Well, that’s a nice metaphor. The trouble is that the larger storm which is the surface of the planet is so capricious, that no beetle or writer can plan for success. It either happens or it doesn’t, and the “success” might not be what was expected at all. Maybe by the time you write the book that makes your demanding parents finally realize who you are and what you’re about, they’ll be dead and you’ll never get rid of their mocking, abandoning, rejecting, judging ghosts. Because in the end the writers’ worlds are inside them.

But writing, like ministry, is also a calling -- I don’t mean that the person is called to the vocation but that the writing calls other people. Sometimes this is good. But having a lot of people underfoot makes it hard to write. Maybe not all of them really "got it" anyhow. If the call goes out to the hurt and needy, then the writing can become a ministry. On the one hand, a ministry can be through a book (a book has mystical quality, a book of recipes for magic, a book of secrets, book of maps) but on the other hand ministry also means actual people who show up at inopportune moments wanting to be understood, helped, loved, and maybe even fucked. What they want may not be what they need.

The good part about writing that calls people is that this sort of writer knows what people are about, sees them unclothed and touches their scars. The result, a deep connection, is the stuff of real story. But also, it can burden the writer so much that he or she must resort to shape-shifting to retain an identity that’s not dissolved into others, eaten up.

None of this can be commodified. None of it can be put into categories. None of it is relevant to cocktail parties or a source of status. Nice prosperous ladies should stay away.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

HOW I CAME TO THE REZ

Everyone carries around with them many fantasies about what an Indian reservation might be like, most of them fantasies invented by Hollywood script writers who maybe went through one summer. (“Journey Through Rosebud” is one of the better ones, but too reality-based for the consuming public, even the Indians. It’s about a white boy hitchhiking through the Sioux rez and what happens to his rather heroic Indian friend.)

When I was due to graduate from Northwestern University with a teaching degree in 1961, I went to the teacher placement office and told them I wanted a job west of the Mississippi but not in California. The woman stared at me with her mouth hanging open. “There ARE no teaching jobs there!” she said. “There’s nothing there at all!” Neither of us knew that each Western state maintained a placement office for its school districts. So my parents drove me home across the West, both populated and not, wondering what would become of me. Then I hit on the idea of Indian reservations. Actually, I was thinking about the Navajo, since we’d traveled through there once and since I’d read “Tangled Waters,” a 1936 book for “young people” by the wife of a trader, Florence Crannell Means. It holds up pretty well today, though -- of course -- it’s considered politically incorrect these days and an act of robbery for a white person to write about Indians, unless you’re Tony Hillerman. Means was very wicked: she seems to have specialized in books about minorities. “Tangled Waters” was illustrated by Herbert Morton Stoops, born in Idaho in 1888 and migrated to Connecticut where he was among the major illustrators of Westerns, though never so famous as some of the others.

But we didn’t drive through the Navajo reservation because we were traveling between Chicago and Portland, Oregon. On the Blackfeet Reservation we paused to see the Museum of the Plains Indian in Browning, Montana. My mother asked whether there were any teaching jobs, there were, and I was hired. This was just before the Peace Corps became popular. The superintendent was overjoyed to have a qualified applicant and I was thrilled, though baffled about exactly what I would do since my practice teaching was in Evanston with very sophisticated high school dramatics classes.

In those days kids were tracked by performance (how do you judge the abilities of kids like these anyway when tests are based on conformity to the norms of totally different people?) and I was asked to teach junior high English about which I knew nothing. One opened the textbook (also tracked), started at the beginning, and hoped to finish by the end of the school year. I had the “top” of the eighth grade and the “bottom” of the seventh grade. If kids got out of line, the principal paddled them. Discipline was pretty good.

My first class was the bottom of the eighth grade. On the first day when I said, “All right, students, please take your seats,” a great tall boy bellowed, “No!” Students were required by law to attend school until they either passed the eighth grade or turned sixteen, whichever came first. This particular boy was close to sixteen and already a father. I didn’t know that. I only took teaching classes because that’s how women were supposed to earn a living. When I had taken a “methods” class that came to classroom discipline, I asked the professor what I should do if a student pulled a knife on me. His answer was “immediately get a better job!” Lots of laughter at my expense.

I had seen “Blackboard Jungle.” I was idealistic. I said to this tall father/boy, “All right, children. Everyone please sit down except those of you who choose to lounge on the radiator.” He sat down, but only because he figured there was a trick of some sort. He was in for a baffling year because I was always going off on some tangent about the glories of the world. When I taught again briefly in 1989-91, I was teaching the children of these students, and I still try to keep track of those families, though now they’re so mixed with other kinds of people and live so differently that I can’t recognize them without prompting. Today’s kids watch television and try to be like people in sit-coms. Sometimes I attend the funerals of my original students.

When I began to teach I was told that if any student called me a “nahpi-yahki” I was to take him or her to the office immediately. “Nahpi-yahki” is Blackfeet for “white woman,” but in those days it had the same kind of pejorative overtone as “squaw” does in English now. In those days speaking Blackfeet was considered very backwards. The morality of language has flipped over so now learning Blackfeet is a high ideal.

But it was the land that seized me and it has changed very little except for the booming settlements. The Blackfeet Reservation is the east slope of the Rocky Mountains just south of the Canadian border. It is about fifty miles on a side, an ecotone from the western foothills to the eastern flats. An ecotone is a place where one ecology interacts with another. There are five main rivers and many small feeders draining from the snowpack of the Rockies. Because the Rockies create a rain shadow, meaning that Pacific moisture is usually wrung out of clouds before they cross, there is not enough water to support trees except in the valleys. In any case, the constant driving winds discourage trees. But the winds are catabatic, which have compressed while piled up on the west side of the mountains and then expand, warming, on the east side. So this is surprising country. One crosses flat grassland, then suddenly drops into a coulee. A journey begins in sun and ends in snow.

Blackfeet as I used to know them were a patient people who survived by adapting to terrain and weather. They waited for the right moment, which was seen as “Indian time,” and took the option that required the least exertion, which was taken to be laziness. Their survival depended on their ability to respond and adapt. And that included me. They had no agenda except to survive me, because people came and went all the time and none of them agreed about what Indians ought to do.

This tolerant watchfulness affected me profoundly. It wasn’t just that the sheer vast environment was exhilarating. It wasn’t just that it was like going to a foreign country, which many were beginning to do by joining the Peace Corps. I wanted to write and this was just the sort of situation that a writer ought to be in. It was a chance to be Florence Crannell Means. But what I really needed to know was how to teach these kids to read. Only now, a half-century later, do we realize that we don’t really know how to teach kids to read. They either figure it out or they don’t. Now, of course, it’s politically incorrect for whites to write about Indians. In fact, it's rather politically incorrect for whites to teach Indians on reservations.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

"HEARTS OF MEN"

For a day or so I’ve been rereading Barbara Ehrenreich’s early book, “Hearts of Men: American Dreams and the Flight from Commitment.” Copyright 1983. That’s the year I left seminary in Chicago to fulfill a three year grant supporting the Unitarian Universalist Montana Ministry by “riding circuit” among four small fellowships. I can’t remember preaching about Ehrenreich’s book, which is an account of the unraveling of the nuclear family after WWII. She pointed out that jobs that would support a family (Mother, Father, Dick, Jane, Puff and Spot) were NOT the norm, but only a useful illusion. Hanging the economic well-being of the family on the necks of the men made some into zombies and some into runaways, but we pretended it didn’t happen. Some men turned out to have very dark hearts, the kind that destroys human health. It’s a short book, but I paid close attention. In those days and for a few more short years (I stepped out of the ministry in 1988), men were my colleagues, my mentors, and my role models. Everything Ehrenreich said was illustrated around me in various ways.

She describes sequentially what was really more of an interacting mosaic which had as its changing core the relationship between economics and family patterns. Recent progressive thinking about the family is not about which two people should fall in love and “marry” but how a family can be a “firm,” a “franchise” that protects and supports all involved, as well as the contextual society. Such an approach is much more in keeping with the major paradigm shift science has given us by “verbing” the world, in the way we used to fancy that Hopi language did. No more chairs, but chairing; no more god, but godding; no more family but familying. Too big to consider in this blog post.

Gore Vidal supplies the epigram for “The Gray Flannel Dissidents.” “The thing that makes an economic system like ours work is to maintain control over people and make them do jobs they hate. To do this, you fill their heads with biblical nonsense about fornication of every variety. Make sure they marry young, make sure they have a wife and children very early. Once a man has a wife and two young children, he will do what you tell him to. He will obey you. And that is the aim of the entire masculine role.”

Hating the role was part of the change -- for a WWII soldier that same role of family and quiet job must have seemed a refuge -- but the next part is the Playboy revolution: the single man who was defiantly, promiscuously heterosexual, because the accusation of being “a fairy” and wearing yellow on Thursday (enforced by taunts from elementary school forward) kept a lot of men at least pretending to be happy while they slumped in front of the TV, obviously alcoholic or comatose as Dagwood. The Playboy owned a hi-fi, knew all about cocktails, wore silk pajamas, and lay around discussing “Picasso, Nietzsche, jazz, sex” with a compliant female youngster on the pill. There was a LOT of talk about sex. (Those who don’t do, talk about it.)

Then there were the “beats,” quickly diminished to “beatniks,” but clearly anti-family, except for mom. No wife, no kiddies, no home, they seemed from the outside to be a combination of Thoreau and Byron: reckless, on the road, and hip enough to con the psychologists (male) who tried to diagnose them. Think Kerouac. Women LOVED them. Black leather jacket, road hog and attitude -- the movies loved them, too. No need to name the stars.

Dark-hearted Type A men were maybe the scariest category: the hard-driving CEO’s who ate like lumberjacks but sat at desks, simmering with rage and competition, and keeled over with heart attacks at inopportune moments. Ehrenreich’s chapter epigram is from Ivan Illich: “Medicine is a moral enterprise and therefore inevitably gives content to good and evil. In every society, medicine, like law and religion, defines what is normal, proper or desirable.” This is how medicine joins the economy and the family.

So no wonder when the hippie movement came along it attracted the women as much as the men. Sort of Beat-lite, the point here was “why not?” and the focus was on growing people and other living things, which seemed to be mostly a matter of freedom and peace. The territory of Rousseau and the idealized Native American, this movement tried to pull away from the commodification of America but didn’t quite manage until “Third Force” psychology (Maslow, Perls, Rogers, et al) joined the melee and demonstrated how to get money out of hot tubs and growth groups. Now it was okay to choose your lifestyle, so long as you had a good MMPI score. (Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory.)

Ehrenreich also recognizes that the path to legitimacy for homosexuality -- which once caused “real men” to go into frothing and violent attacks -- was becoming a recognizable community, which could be redefined as a marketing opportunity. Now one wasn’t just “gay,” but strove to the be the right “kind” of gay with commercial lifestyle markers, just like straights. And women.

These categories linger on, and other demographic forces have come into play by now: globalization, the drug underculture, the prison underculture, immigration, the rise of the tech economy, urbanization, empowerment of minorities, green power. Some have pushed towards the re-valorization of the traditional family, like the Catholic South Americans. Others are patterns we’ve never seen, like the National Guard unisex army that includes gays. What will come of their confrontation with violently separated gender roles in the Middle East, the cradle of the Abramic religions? Some Americans claim they want to reinstate them: early Christianity, for instance, but with Old Testament suppression of women and re-empowerment of patriarchy.

It is in this sweeping panopticon of factors that I reflect on Tim Barrus life and my own life, trying to understand whether we have gone our own ways for worthy reasons as seekers, or as unworthy push-outs who just don’t fit. Whichever it is, Puff and Spot, ever faithful, have come along with us to our very different households.

In search of a good epigram, I went to Ehrenreich’s website and discovered, not a quote, but crossed trails. Born in Butte in 1941, she is two years younger than myself. We are about a decade younger than Barrus’ parents. She took her undergrad degree from Reed College in Portland where I grew up. We are in sympathy.