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

SOCIAL MEDIA

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

Other Blogs by me

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

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


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



Tuesday, June 30, 2009

MICHAEL TWO HORSES: Hero

Prowling around the Internet, with a little help from Maggie Dwyer, another extraordinary research librarian like Dave Lull and George Lessard, as well as a fellow member of the nineties Nat Lit listservs, I was hoping to find out what happened to some of those folks. I came across this:

Obituary for Michael Two Horses (1950-2003)

Michael Two Horses, Sicangu Lakhota/Crow Creek Dakhota, passed away recently at his home in Blacksburg, Virginia. He was fifty years old. His death was unexpected and peaceful.
Mr. Two Horses was Visiting Instructor in the American Indian Studies Program and the Humanities Program, within the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies at Virginia Polytechnic Institute. He was also a member of the Virginia Tech Commission on Equal Opportunity and Diversity. He was a doctoral student in the University of Arizona American Indian Studies Programs. His emphasis was on societies and cultures, law and public policy, and American Indian history.

Mr. Two Horses was born in San Diego to Alberta Mariana Bertino and David Two Horses Jordan, and adopted at six months of age by Edward and Sadie Lou Tieri. He served in Viet Nam with Military Assistance Command Vietnam Studies and Observation Group, stationed first at Tay Ninh, then at Long Tranh, and was Petty Officer 2nd.

He is survived by his father, Edward Tieri of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, his brother, Albert Tieri of Palm Springs, California, and a large community of friends and colleagues.

Mr. Two Horses will be remembered for his exhaustively brilliant research and writing and his passionately honest dedication to human rights, particularly with respect to American Indian treaty rights, spiritual rights, and cultural rights. During the Makah whaling controversy, he formed CERTAIN, the Coalition to End Race-based Targeting of American Indian Nations. He went repeatedly to Neah Bay while anti-whaling forces were threatening school children, harassing the Makah people, and threatening the lives of the whalers. With CERTAIN, Mr. Two Horses engaged the opponents of the Makah's treaty rights in dialogue, countering their arguments in the media, taking photographs and witnessing to protect the Makah from further physical attack, and acting in conjunction with the Washington Human Rights Commission and the US Coast Guard to protect the lives and rights of the Makah people.

Mr. Two Horses was equally engaged in expanding the scholastic dialogue. He persistently pointed out elements of racism in the dominant cultural perspective on American Indians, in the face of pedagogical tendencies to trivialize these concerns. He declined to acquiesce to that marginalization in the discourse.

He investigated the growing rift between mainstream environmentalists and tribal nations across the US and Canada, and the way that much environmental writing fails to consider the role of indigenous peoples in shaping the so-called "wilderness." "They did not want to acknowledge," he wrote, "in much the same way as colonial writers did, that the human hand has always shaped this continent, and that in creating false constructs of 'pristine wilderness' and of cities as 'fallen' areas, such writing tends to avoid completely the contested lands where members of marginalized races or classes live, and fails to deal with the concept of 'national sacrifice areas' in human terms, inasmuch as the Indians, Hispanics, Blacks, Asians, and poor Whites living in those areas are sacrificed as well. These are zones where uranium mines and coal mines and their pollution of groundwater, or toxic waste dumps are located, without exception in proximity to marginalized peoples)."

He was ruthless toward "plastic shamans," people white or native who hawk Indian spirituality. "They abstract bits of our culture," he said, "and then they sell them as the genuine article, something along the lines of taking parts of the Catholic liturgy and extracting the 'cool parts' and then performing those parts for money. This is the deepest essence of what they do, and it is comprised of both 'snake oil sales' and of a deep disrespect for Native cultures."
__________

Michael was a lawyer/soldier whom I very much respected though I never met him. He stood apart from a ragtag and opportunist pack of hounds that tried to make their own reputations by destroying others over the identity politics of Indian intellectual property. He was clear about what he was doing and careful about drawing lines. Unlike others.

It’s true enough that there have always been opportunists who were both Indian and white and who capitalized on the public’s near-worship of Indian spirituality. But the plastic shaman hunters just added another level of opportunism to build their own prestige. The worst (least restrained and most self-serving) of the plastic shaman hunters in those days were female. low-quantum, urban, somewhat educated. Margaret Mead said that armies should never allow women to join because they don’t know when to stop. I’d have to reject that as a truth statement, but there’s some observed evidence in it.

Sherman Alexie, who carries weight because his name is known from his movies as well as his books, attacked Tony Hillerman (white, writing about Indians) in his novel “Indian Killer,” but the accusation fell flat. Later he accused Tim Barrus of “stealing his heritage.” Naturally, he didn’t mean that his own heritage included child rape and abuse. At the most extreme the local “director of culture” here forbade anyone to take photos of Chief Mountain because it is sacred to the Blackfeet. I agreed with the policy to keep hikers off the mountain.

I’m not sure what good all the pursuit of the “immorality” of certain writers did, except that a lot of people -- including a lot of very talented Indian writers -- simply walked off to avoid all the blaming and rivalry. It just wasn’t worthwhile, spiritually or any other way, but the persecution revives now and then to settle scores or give a little leverage to an insecure achiever. Some of the victims are personally known to me, like Adolf Hungry-Wolf, whose four-book accumulation of First Generation material has been stiffed by scholars but remains the best single source of material on the Blackfeet anyone could have, most of it unmediated by interpretation. (Oh, those middlepersons!)

Changing the focus, Neah Bay, the topmost leftmost corner of America (except for Alaska) is a tough little rez with a hardy bunch of people. I’ve visited several times, but only in “pacific” intervals. In the midst of the true danger and need of the Makah attempt to hunt whales in the old way and though he’s in Seattle, only hours away, I never once heard Sherman Alexie comment nor do I think he went there. Michael Two Horses did.

Monday, June 29, 2009

WHAT CAN THE INTERNET DO FOR ORAL LITERATURE?

http://transcriptions.english.ucsb.edu/archive/topics/weaving-webs/discussion.html#oral

The above url is reference for what follows, which will be quotes and comments on this website by Chris Schedler. It’s ten years old now and relevant as it ever was. These were the forces of thought when I first got onto Native American Literature bulletin boards, so they have shaped many of my understandings and opinions. They were educated and temperate. Linden, one of the gentlest, died of a systems disorder that caused him great pain and disability. It was a great loss. Schedler, I think, is a professor at Western Washington University unless he’s moved recently.

I’m just going to cut and paste them from the site:


John Berry (B.A. and M.A. California State University, Fullerton; MLS, University of Missouri, Columbia) is Assistant Director of the Graduate College at Oklahoma State University, Stillwater. He is of Choctaw, Cherokee, Scots-Irish, and German descent and currently serves as President of the American Indian Library Association (1999-2000) and President of the Native American Faculty and Staff Association at OSU.

Linden Gilbert was born on the Flathead Reservation in Montana in 1948, but his family moved to Los Angeles in 1954 to escape prejudice and a lack of employment opportunities. He has been, at various times, a musician, a painter, a poet, an actor, a writer, a producer/director, a graphic designer, a set and lighting desiger, a "roadie," and professional stage technician. From 1991-1994, he worked at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, NM, as a part-time faculty member and full-time Assistant Operations Manager. He relocated to the Tulsa, Oklahoma, area in 1998.

Revamariah S. Gover is currently a graduate student at Oklahoma State University, where she is working on her second creative writing thesis consisting of poetry. A member of the Tohono O'odham and Skidi-Pawnee nations, she presently resides in Pawnee, Oklahoma, with her seven year old son Daniel.

Philip H. Red Eagle is the author of Red Earth - A Vietnam Warrior's Journey and the originator and a co-founder of The Raven Chronicles - Journal of Art, Literature & the Spoken Word. He lives and writes out of Tacoma, Washington.

Carter C. Revard (B.A. Tulsa; B.A. Oxford; Ph.D. Yale; Professor Emeritus of English, Washington University, Saint Louis) grew up on the Osage Reservation in a mixed-blood family and was given his Osage name in 1952. He has published scholarly works in various journals and collections, three books of poems (Ponca War Dancers, 1980; Cowboys and Indians, Christmas Shopping, 1992; An Eagle Nation, 1993), and a collection of essays (Family Matters, Tribal Affairs, 1998). He lives and continues to work in St. Louis.

Chris Schedler (doctoral candidate in English, University of California, Santa Barbara) is presently completing his dissertation, Modernist Borders of Our America. He has published one article in Arizona Quarterly, and two other articles will appear in forthcoming issues of The Hemingway Review and Texas Studies in Literature and Language. His current web project is Weaving Webs, a course linking Native American Literature, Oral Traditions, and the Internet.

Lew Soens (B.A. Harvard; M.A. and Ph.D. Princeton; Professor Emeritus of English, Notre Dame) has edited an edition of Sidney's Defence, edited and compiled a collection of American Indian classical poetry in translation, and written several articles on Renaissance fencing and drama. His interests include Renaissance drama, Shakespeare, 18th century literature, and Pope and Swift. He has also served as fencing master for 39 productions of Shakespeare and as a Fullbright Scholar at Magdalen College of Oxford University.


Not everyone on this list is genetically Native American. The subject is oral literature. The discussants note that it’s different to hear a story with a group of people you know and can smile at or nudge over references.

Soens says, “The interaction in storytelling flows through a channel the storyteller establishes and shapes. That would be lost when the narrator and the audience don't sit in the same room. Interaction on the net works either through no channel, or through a series of set events (choosing different alternatives in a story line, for example). What is lost are the myriad subliminal bits of information that the story- teller spurs and rides without, perhaps, consciously noticing them all.”

Philip H. Red Eagle responds: “A really good way to remember all these conversations would be if we had them live. Fresh coffee smells. The smell of grits and fritters hanging in the air. Burnt toast smoke and smell drifting through the house. Cottonwood burning in the iron stove. Laughing at each other jokes and word plays. Blue Jays laughing outside the window. Crows taunting every other bird. We would all sit around in big cushy chairs and tell stories. Carter would relate all those little things that characterize our Anglo buddies and their cruel ways. I would remember that.”

Linden says: “I'm curious why, in these discussions, there seems to be an assumption that the Web or electronic, hypertext media is proposed as a REPLACEMENT for either printed literature or traditional storytelling. I think this is a faulty assumption and I don't know of anyone, nor have seen anyone on this list, propose such a thing. Simply that the new media is just that, a new media, and offers it's own possibilities which are just beginning to be explored, an additional alternative, not a replacement for anything. Granted a lot of hype flows in that vein, but it's just hype. Maybe kids buy into it, but on the other hand, maybe introducing them to literature and/or storytelling via a medium that excites their interest has the capability to move them into the "real thing" in a way handing them a book or telling them to sit down and pay attention doesn't (and can't, anymore, no matter what we think of that).”


I hope that ‘s enough to get you to read the whole thing.

I say, in the present, that this conversation was taking place before YouTube, which has more than captured young people! The subject matter may not be classical in those vivid bits of image and music, but they are compelling, iconic, even mythic, and the kids OWN them in ways that the old people owned their stories, because they come out of their experience and suggest who they are or could be.

I suppose it will take another ten years to get them to smell and/or taste. Maybe more. I’m happy to wait.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

IMPOSSIBLE CHOICES

This week I’ve been thinking about “choices,” in particular the either/or choices that seem to be everywhere, both politically and personally, and the human demand to somehow find a way to have both alternatives, whether it’s a governor who wants both his prestigious life and his secret lover or a nation that wants an end to recession without having to spend zillions of dollars. That’s the framework of my inability to answer the question asked by a photographer who seems to be coming to Heart Butte in an attempt to see something “real, true and authentic” and wants me to tell her how to go about that. I suspect that her fantasy is that she will find picturesque and either noble or touching scenes of Indians, which she intends to sell, to enhance her own standing.

In fact, I’m seeing in many of these cases that same hidden choice, which is to promote one’s own interests. This morning the Sunday magazine section of the paper tells us Jada Pinkett Smith wants us to know her “true self” in all its intimate depths. Impossible in the first place and she’d better think twice in the second place. Maybe Will Smith likes her the way she is, but what makes us think that we will? Could any of us withstand public knowledge of our intimate “true” selves?

Anyway, what can “true” possibly mean in terms of identity? What is the “true” nature of Native Americans when -- like every other functioning human being -- they vary in response to time and place. The media, by pretending to present reality, fixes in our minds a picture of life that cannot be true. Sometimes that’s destructive. The Heart Butte kids firmly believe that all the rest of America lives like sit com people and that there are only two choices in life: to be like Heart Butte or to be like a sit com sim-suburb.

Obviously there are at least two strategies for keeping control of impossible choices when neither one of them is obviously happy. The first is whether there really are only two choices. A subset is whether they really are mutually exclusive. Generating many alternatives and strategies is a good thing, even if one doesn’t get any more clear-headed about what to do. It’s pretty predictable that the situation will change shape as you accumulate more information, other opinions, interactions between the two choices. Compromise. Obama is becoming Mr. Compromise, which worries some people because they see they see reality as always insisting on one of two clear alternatives, or surrendering. The biggest change between Bush and Obama is not between conservative and liberal but between intransigence and negotiation. And yet Bush was famous in his pre-presidential business years (not particularly successful) for boldly insisting on everything and then quietly settling for a lot less.

Kids in their senior year think they must make a choice between college and jobs without ever working through the alternatives like community college, jobs that lead to education, internships, work/study and a host of other strategies. They seem to have a lot of trouble withstanding the anxiety that’s generated by having to explore a field of unlimited possibilities. Often the adults around them are no better at it. The strategy that has worked for the entire lives of many of these kids is to DEMAND that the adults solve problems for them, make the world do what they want, and pick up the tab as well. This is the strategy of tribes and the strategy of many of their constituents. It works just often enough to be reinforced with small results, while confusing the big picture.

Sometimes the world shifts in a way that happily resolves a difficult choice. I worried a bit over having to choose between a little village and a big city for the decades of retirement. The Internet has so thoroughly brought city and university activities like scholarly research and discourse to any point on the globe that all I’ve had to give up is shopping. Well, of course, I could do that online, too, but it’s not quite the same as wandering Powells. I can buy more books online than I could find at Powells, plus I still have access to Powells. As for the obscure fine arts movies I love, Netflix is up to it. (People entering the post office with their own red envelopes see mine and ask, "What did you watch?" When I tell them, they say, "Never heard of it.")

There’s something more in this craving to “know” and “be known.” More than just the silliness of setting up two such categories. We seem to have a yearning for intimacy without having to let ourselves be known. Consider Governor Sanford, poor man. I think all that public rambling was the real him, hoping that people could see him. All the journalists got out of it was that he wasn’t smart enough to produce a sound bite that would get him off the hook. We’re all anxious to know the “real truth” about Michael Jackson’s death and the crash of the airliner over the ocean. We seem to feel we have an entitlement and it had better be “good” in the sense of fiction having a satisfying composed ending. Impossible. We want to be the only ones who know the true exclusive story, as though it gives us some superiority and as though anything in the media could be "exclusive." What’s the inside deal on that over-the-top raid on suicidal Mormon geezers who dig up Indian artifacts? We seem to think it gives us some control. But it doesn’t.

I’m working my way slowly through the MI-5 series as a backup while I wait for Netflix to find more scarce movies on my list. The big preoccupation on MI-5 is the tension between knowing and not-knowing. They are charged with British domestic intelligence and authorized to kill if necessary to preserve secrecy and safety. The scriptwriters always frame it in choices, often resolved either by chance or by generating a new alternative that changes everything. They don’t address health insurance or global warming, but they’ve picked up a lot of other major issues like the moving of nuclear materials across populated areas and the underfunding of the military complex -- or it it underfunding? Still, the subplot is always intimate relationships, whether they can be maintained in the face of secrecy or whether they would be destroyed by disclosure. Should one form domestic partnerships within the workplace? Or does that provide too many conflicting and distracting choices to be intelligently managed?

I’ve said I’d like a better sound track for my life. But I could use a good scriptwriter sometimes. Even as I sit here and invent my own scripts, wrestling with story choices, and wondering what to say to a photographer who thinks she can just ask someone how to find the “real, true and authentic.” How does she find it where she is? What makes her think it’s any different here? What makes her think I know, or that it’s knowable. Isn’t she just flying to Argentina, in reality not knowing whether she’s going to either a lover or an ocean disaster?

Saturday, June 27, 2009

BLADE RUNNER IN WHEAT COUNTRY

It took two nights to get through two versions of “Bladerunner” but there are still two more versions to see. Then there’s the problem of what to call it. Film noir, film gris, neo noir, neon noir, red noir, Western noir, but all the time in the background it was the term cyberpunk that might have been most useful. Then there’s steampunk, which has all the characteristics except that the technology is Victorian, that railroad engine/ocean liner trope. What’s the diff between “punk” and “noir?” What would be the signs of cyber noir? These are serious questions when studying literary culture, even though they’re mostly pot-lifters for a shifting assemblage of pots.

According to Lawrence Person, “Classic cyberpunk characters were marginalized, alienated loners who lived on the edge of society in generally dystopic futures where daily life was impacted by rapid technological change, an ubiquitous datasphere of computerized information, and invasive modification of the human body.” Ain’t this all of us? Ain’t this the secret to the popularity of the genre: recognition? But, really, cyberpunk is modernized noir of the sort gently ribbed by Garrison Keillor’s Guy Noir, private detective. Serious noir requires someone like Humphrey Bogart or Robert Mitchum, a despairing tough existentialist facing death with boredom. The plot, then, becomes a challenge to make him feel again. And the context is generally the underculture that supports crime.

Film noir is well-known. I proposed “film gris” as characteristic of noir in the rain, like the series filmed in Portland, but Blade Runner, though monsoon rainy, is darker than black. A fetid hole writhing and blinking with artificial light. Neon noir. If the sun comes up, it is veiled in smog. (All that steam and smoke is a little Turner landscapish.) The inspiration is supposed to be both LA and Chicago, with maybe a bit of English industrial landscape thrown in. It seems to be a given that noir must be urban, though if you get far enough into sci-fi (cyberpunk/neo noir) the urb will be mostly destroyed or extra-planetary. It is usually necessarily a human-constructed environment, like the inside of a spaceship.

Bernard Schopen
wrote some pretty darn good rural noir, but the plot kept sneaking back to LA. Right now I can’t think of anything specifically “red noir,” which is to say, about Native Americans. Maybe Adrian Louis comes close with "Skins". Blacks are already there, of course, and a big part of punk is the blue music pushed through synthesizers. Color lit crit -- I love it. More fun than Derrida.

As I say, “Blade Runner,” which was considered so far out that it required a narrator when first released, is now familiar. You’d barely have to push the envelope to see existing Pacific cities. (Maybe this is “ring of fire noir.”) Aren’t we all eating Asian noodles? The architecture makes me think of the Sturdy-Stone building in Saskatoon, brutalist Soviet slabs as interpreted by Louise Nevelson. Battery operated pets are always turning up. The newer version of the same theme (the line between human and animal, human and machine), “AI,” is almost more horrible for being sentimental, prosperous and bright. Corporation noir. (“Pacific” -- there’s an irony.) The BBC, of course, which leans heavily on noir and punk for its mystery series, is Atlantic.

I watch these movies and then do a bit of research that is often surprising. The first surprise was looking at a photo of Ridley Scott: looks enough like me (when I had red hair) to be my cousin. I really feel an affinity for him. The second surprise was finding out that Philip K. Dick, the author of the original story, began to have visions and voices in his later life, and died of a series of strokes and heart attacks. These were reassuring visitations -- “everything will be all right” -- and he was maturely skeptical about them, seeing them as possible messages from a higher power but maybe not. He didn’t have a happy or secure life, but he faced it squarely and found compensations later. As far as achievement goes, he won. If you accept publishing as an achievement.

The Heart Butte kids will laugh if they read this: Bladerunner is full of big industrial fans, turning slowly. I was always reminding them to look for those fans in a Ridley Scott sci-fi movie. It's as though the air of the future was so fetid that it had to be kept moving or you couldn’t breathe it. Maybe, considering global warming and environmental pollution, that’s the truest prediction of the future in the movie. Or maybe it’s the immigrants: not quite androids, but in the minds of many people these days, not quite human either.

That’s the bottom line, isn’t it? Xenophobia, terror that one’s life and loved ones will be displaced or even destroyed by the “other” no matter what that is -- and sometimes it’s one own punk kids. This is what happens when you run out of frontier. We are very much alert to the extinguishment of former civilizations: cliff dwellers, Mayans, pyramid builders.

More than that, and perhaps this is why the genre is so connected to movies, we see people born, grow up, age and die before our eyes on television and in movies. Michael Jackson, Farah Fawcett -- as James Olney famously says (when he speaks English instead of his own “Vulcan-style” created language): “They don’t live -- but then, who does?” Olney is the clearest survivor, though he limps. He watches. He comprehends. We’re all just origami, small and frail. But did you notice the erection on that little paper man? Which is analogous to the horn on the unicorn. The question is, “does life turn you on? Do you see, even with cyber eyes? Do you love without demanding someone just like yourself?"

In the end of the first version, due to studio demand (those middle men are always messing up stuff) a happy ending was tacked on, an escape to a whole new “world” where everything was idyllic. You know where it was? Glacier Park. Old leftover footage from filming “The Shining.” Sure, it’s nice in the summer if no grizz bears find you. (Good berry year this time -- they’ll be smiling with purple snouts.)

But don’t move here. Today is Valier’s Centennial so the Great Falls Tribune ran a little story and included a front page photo on the cover. It was one of Robin Lozniak’s beautiful pictures. He used a telephoto lens that made us look as though we were right in the foothills, though we’re thirty miles away, which is why the highway stays open more in winter and you can raise a garden. Lotta existential despair in this little village -- though it’s improving with the drought receding. Cyberpunk noir will have to be about kids, since they’re really the only ones caught up in computers or welcoming the future. We haven’t reached post noir yet.

Friday, June 26, 2009

SEX AT THE BIG BOX STORE DEVELOPMENT

At the laundromat I read the magazines I usually never read. Family Circle, Women’s Home Companion, and maybe some tracts of some kind. This time I found a nice big juicy copy of Vogue and stole it. Even when I had money I stopped buying this magazine when their target demographic went to sixteen year olds. Of course, they do put out a “beauty at any age” issue in the fall for women who are sixty but through the judicious use of surgery, exercise, botox, cosmetics and non-eating somehow manage to look sort of like sixteen-year-olds. In certain lights.

The issue was the famous “Sex and the City” wedding dress layout with the skeletal Sarah Jessica Parker photographed in designer wedding dresses that cost as much as some people’s first house. They are gigantic, extravagant, and more or less white, though the girls in this series which became this movie which prompted this Vogue issue (that’s packaging!) are anything but virgins. Although, there is a lady lawyer who never gets around to sex with her husband. It’s the CITY! A woman’s got to move fast and put in 18 hour days! Beautifully dressed!

The whole movie is just a less witty version of Jane Austen’s novels with the subterfuge that it’s about sex when it’s really about money, status, and “love sweet love.” Austen didn’t have to include the down-to-earth black girl, though she may have smuggled in a few practical aunts and servants. One thing Austen’s girls has in common with this bunch is bosom-centered clothes. In fact, if you know Empire gowns, they sometimes spilled the boobs right on out of the top, not just bulged up by tight corsets. No corsets on gauzy high-waisted Empire gowns. In my estimation Mr. Big doesn’t quite measure up to the best of the Austen men, especially since he has no title. He’s only a contractor of some vague sort.

When I was a kid, the equivalent of this trope was Brenda Starr, top-notch reporter, and her mystery man was a doctor who did mysterious and dangerous research. He gave her black orchids to wear with her flaming and frothing red hair. In those days the girl across the street and I drew paperdolls, very sexy as I look back on it, and clearly a transition between babydolls and the search for a man. It was much simpler to just draw some. All the paperdolls stood with their hands flung out to the sides, their feet together (the men had a wide stance, as was suitable), and a minimum of underwear over their big boobs.

We colored them with pencils after drawing them in ink. My most fabulous number was a Brenda Starr ball gown with a strapless top, an out-of-control black tulle skirt caught up here and there with black orchids and -- ha, ha -- a giant black orchid as a corsage, as big as Sarah Jessica Parker’s giant flower dress in the first scene of the movie. Any Freudian would recognize a vulva symbol. Even I do now, but then I was really into displacement, sublimation, suppression -- whatever worked to get through life. I may have overdone it a little.

I never watched “Sex and the City” on television. The wrong demographic and bad timing. By the time it came around I’d been there and done that, just not in the city. I ran across references to the series here and there but in general I never watch TV anyway. So I ordered it on Netflix. It was a little fluffy. Kinda “the four little kittens have lost their mittens,” except for the conformist who wanted babies. (Isn’t there a message there?) The character who is “like a man” -- meaning a sex addict -- can’t resist an Italian stallion who showers in public. That’s not quite like the liberated Jo March falling for Rozzano Brazzi as Professor Bhaer, but close enough, given that times change. Of course, Alcott wrote a character more like Walt Whitman (older, bearded), which would have been interesting considering the lightweight gay moths flying around the flames in this movie.

What I really liked was the “extra” material on a separate disc, all about the costumer. I’ve read about her before with her leather face, penciled eyebrows and intensely bright crimson hair. She’s got the gift of being outrageous and glamorous at the same time, but she doesn’t design -- she finds. And she has a closet that’s practically a warehouse, though not so elegant as the one Mr. Big builds for his true love in the penthouse that is their sign of true love.

All this was on my mind when I went to Great Falls yesterday where I did not buy a Vogue. But my eye was caught by another mag, which I didn’t buy either, but I did stand and look at it for a while. It’s that outrageous imposter who fools everyone with his pretences, using the illusion that he’s just an innocent foreigner -- maybe a Martian -- to ask insulting and way-too-personal questions, usually cleverly calculated to cause the unwitting stooge to give away his or her prejudices. This time he’s nude on the cover of a man’s magazine, beautifully made up and lit. Since his legs are demurely curled to the side, we cannot see what sort of wax job he has. (The lady lawyer in the movie is stingingly criticized for wearing a bathing suit without proper waxing.) He’s quite appealing. In fact, he looks a whole lot like Sarah Jessica Parker, which was no doubt intended.

SJP, as she is often referred to, for her part bravely discusses the raw courage it took to appear in the movie with NO makeup, though she reports wonderful support and tact from the crew -- in fact, as much as if she had been bodily instead of facially nude. She looks AWFUL. But real.

What struck me down there in the Big Box Store development was the real fashion statement. This is worn by everyone of every age and gender: baggy shorts, camp shirts, ball caps and either big harness leather sandals or big rubber tennies. Everyone looked like students at an English summer school session for four year old boys about 1940. What does it mean for everyone, large and small, to go around looking like Christopher Robin? Is the new demographic four years old? Can Pooh be far behind? More likely Eeyore these days. Sixteen and female. I recommend sublimation.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

SWEET SORROWFUL SUSPICION

At last -- I thought -- I’d gotten to the point where my diabetes regime was predictable, practical and effective. The doctor at the Valier Clinic hadn’t turned over for a while, the very strict pharmacist in Cut Bank had moved on, and all my statistics were normal and happy.

Then suddenly I was told that all my prescriptions were blocked until I scheduled an appointment with the doctor. The good a1c I’d had didn’t count.

Without my prescriptions -- though I take few pills -- my regime might crash and burn. But I really resented being pulled in and suspected it was a money-generating scheme for the clinic. Remember that I had worked “backstage” as a ward clerk with this clinic and knew that “benevolence” was not their middle name. Their first, middle and last names are all “PROFIT.” So, kicking and screaming, I went to the clinic this morning, belly-aching and making accusations and spreading paranoia on all sides like a flu virus. The others were much more docile, because that’s the way is in Valier. You’re docile or you’ve somehow got a grip on enough money and power to throw your weight around. This is so true that if you’re not docile, everyone assumes you’ve got some secret source of money and power even when you don’t.

But no one had told me not to eat, so I couldn’t have the blood workup that was the reason for me being there. And it was NOT the doctor who had called me in -- it was a state agency that had decided to “survey” the state’s diabetes cases through the doctors. I don’t know which state agency. I don’t know whether they were covertly checking for illicit drugs. I’m told Medicare will pay for it, a nice little raid on the public purse, but I’m not told how much the survey would cost or what the goals and parameters might be. Nothing has been in the newspaper.

Big Health Care doesn’t have their fingers on the pulse of this state, they have their two hands around the state’s throat. It’s a major industry. So why all the secrecy or did I just not see the stories or recognize them? Or was some Helena agency hiding from the Big Health Care forces? Diabetes is such a GREAT source of income: something everyone has, assumed to be all their fault, and that people themselves believe can be treated with pills alone. They pretend to diet and exercise, but who has time? Want sugar, take more pills. Anyway, the effectiveness of the diet and exercise is in the twenty years BEFORE the diabetes is diagnosable, so the motivation is just not there in the most crucial years. I predict that diabetes will become a bigger money-maker for the pharm industry that even AIDS or anxiety.

But now I’ll switch sides. How can we drum up support and education for the public’s own health care of their own bodies -- let alone the massive changes that need to be made in the restaurant business, the grocery business, the ag business, the insurance business -- even ignoring the growing conviction that diabetes and other things are caused by environmental pollution, plastics, and food processing chemicals, overuse of poisons -- without knowing any objective measurements?

After all, the state’s humanities people suddenly became convinced by a biz school faculty member that if they only knew how much money everyone made with arts and crafts, the legislature would come to its senses and fund a few basic things like orchestras and museums. Of course, that was before the economic infrastructure collapse, but I didn’t notice any change of heart on their part. Still, was the principle wrong? (I still think it was wrong for art, but maybe right for health. But isn’t art healthy?)

The clinic offers a support group now, but that’s not what I need. What I need is a source of unadulterated food. Another case of fiddling around on the edges of a problem instead of confronting it.

I’m aware that some diabetes assumptions have been shot down now that measurements and cellular knowledge is so much more precise and powerful than the previous equation of “sugar + insulin = health”. In its place is a complex of things that can go wrong with the cycle of metabolism from resistance in the cell itself to antibodies interfering both with the production of insulin and the nature of it. Now there is Diabetes I, people who produce no insulin because the Isles of Langerhans in their livers no longer function; Diabetes II which is more a matter of cell resistance; something called LADA which has to do with autoimmune phenomena; gestational diabetes which is triggered by pregnancy; and so on. The numbering idea stopped with Diabetes III which no one understood.

I learned something interesting, which is that when doctors are given information in conferences or journals, the study is now ranked from “this is only an idea with no evidence or research,” through “this has been studied but the results are not conclusive,” to “this has been studied well for a long time and the results seem convincing.” One of the hallmarks of science is that the case is NEVER closed. New theories and methods turn up new evidence all the time. The best doctors are the wisest in terms of the big picture, not the ones with the longest list of meds.

I did decide to have the blood panel. I don’t need to worry about illicit substances showing up -- not even nicotine. But I’ve been taking metformin for several years now. One is supposed to have regular blood panels for liver function, because research shows some livers can’t handle it for long. Oh, yeah. No one remembered that until now. Too much distracted by the ghastly consequences of diabetes: foot amputation, blindess, kidney damage and for many late middle-aged women, heart flutter that throws clots causing heart attacks and strokes. Too much fear. Not enough thought. I watch the consequences daily in the obits.

I don’t need threats from my doctor or the pharm industry. I beg my friends not to slosh Roundup all over their yards to get rid of weeds. They do it anyway. I know how the doctors feel.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

BOTH SIDES NOW: "Freckles and the Condor"



It was early June when she first saw the condor, or rather its shadow. She’d been painting “plein aire” out on the open land, looking away from the mountains for once. The grass was barely long enough to be rumpled by the wind and then her eye went to the softly dark spot moving along the moire pattern of the grass. She thought it was a hawk, riding the thermals that were forming as the land warmed. Thunderheads were just beginning on the horizon -- she was only beginning to sketch them into her sky.

But then she saw that this bird was much bigger than a hawk or eagle and had an entirely different wing shape. It must have been seven feet from one wing tip to the other -- maybe more. It dropped down a bit more, perhaps to take a look at her own strange shape on the east slope prairie, then lifted and spiraled away and away until it disappeared like a mote in one’s eye being blinked away.

“Condor,” she thought, wondering why she thought so. But that can’t be. There haven’t been condors here since the buffalo disappeared. They were part of that paleolithic world that fit together tightly until the white people came in such numbers that they pried apart all the connections. “Condor.”

She thought of a book she had read in childhood, finding it in her grandmother’s bookshelf. It was “Freckles” by Gene Stratton-Porter, the strong-minded “bird woman” who had fought to save the midwestern Limberlost ancient trees and the birds that lived in them. “Freckles” had begun with a huge black feather floating down from so high in the sky that Freckles, who was a timber-cruiser, couldn’t see the bird it fell from. It was a condor feather and even in those days they were supposed to be extinct in the midwest.

Of course, now the world of Gene Stratton-Porter with her huge box of a camera and hats tied on with veils and small towns where daughters struggled to come to terms with their mothers -- that world was gone now. In fact, Stratton-Porter herself had fallen afoul of the New Invaders, the post-colonial Marxist accusers who hated authority figures, hated any sign of racism, hated any science that didn’t agree with their notion of a Edenic world that never existed -- though they insisted that it had.

No feather fell from Clare’s sky. The science part of her brain kicked in. It wasn’t impossible for a condor to have returned to the east side of the Rockies, though it was unlikely. Still, the population pressure on the Pacific coast was driving out some of the people who had always loved living there, so why not these immense glorious birds, so scarce that they were individually known to the researchers. Who should one call? Maybe best to call no one. If the word got out, photographers and opportunist hunters -- polarized into those who practically worship animals and those who saw them only as raw material for their own lives -- would be everywhere.

She would keep it a secret. This had been a spring when the major blizzards persisted very late, so that some ranchers had moved their cattle up into the foothills too early. Meant to graze among the high country trees, they were instead trapped in deep snow the wind couldn’t get at, and they died in piles. It was impossible for cowboys to get in on horseback and gather them out, as they would in the fall. It was a gift to the grizzlies, carrion piled everywhere. Maybe that drew the condor. All ecologies are woven of pushing and pulling like that: deadends here, a breeze of opportunity there.

Still, a condor sighting was way out on the edge. Even in Stratton-Porter’s novel, the condor was a rarity and Freckles hardly knew how to react. She had read the novel so many times that she knew some paragraphs by heart:

“Out of the clear sky above him, first level with his face, then skimming, dipping, tilting, whirling until it lit, quill down, in the path in front of him came a glossy, iridescent, big black feather. As it struck the ground, Freckles snatched it up and with an almost continuous movement faced the sky. There was not a tree of any size in a large open space. There was no wind to carry it. From the clear sky it had fallen, and Freckles, gazing eagerly into the arch of June blue with a few lazy clouds floating far up in the sea of ether, had neither mind nor knowledge to dream of a bird hanging as if frozen there. He turned the big quill questioningly, and again his awed eyes swept the sky.”

No long black wing feather fell for Clare. She smiled at the use of the word “ether.” No one uses that anymore. When she got home, after a bit of scouring through her bookshelves, she located the book. She’d never been able to give it up. It was at the heart of her relationship to the world, not an artifact but a story.

The crucial passage was a few pages into the third chapter with a “margin decoration” by E. Stetson Crawford: a long wing feather obviously drawn from life. She recognized the artist’s name -- she hadn’t as a child -- and knew he was from that Parisian turn-of-the-century Beaux Arts school that guided so many fine Western visions. In the States he’d attended MacMonnies’ school (which partly belonged to Whistler) and she could picture in her mind the several fine Native American monumental bronzes done by MacMonnies. She recognized now that the marginal “drawings” were etchings.

Both Stratton-Porter and Crawford were part of an Edwardian time that saturated everything with Victorian Christianity, believing that this was the true way to see the world. Industrialism was just dawning, sending the great railroads stretching across the continent in the same way that the steamships went out across the oceans. Writers and artists had convenient access to a new world and because they met the Plains Indians with the romantic optimism that assumed surely nature was God’s work, gently forced all the Indian religious assumptions into Christian categories. Star Boy became Jesus and the earth became “Our Mother.”

Clare had forgotten Freckles’ Irish Catholic fantasy that the long black feather came from the wing of a wicked angel, battering at the Gates of Heaven for mercy. Universalism was sweeping the land, the idea that God -- in the end -- would forgive everyone, even Lucifer. All was optimism and security, if only a few wicked people could be brought under control.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

DRIVING THE NETFLIX COMPUTER CRAZY

There’s a computer at Neflix somewhere that’s going crazy, I hope. I’m trying to make it do that. The Netflix solution to marketing, like the Amazon solution, is to get all the products into categories, then get all the customers into categories and then match them up. Their major failure with me so far has been telling me which DVD’s were most often ordered in Great Falls, in hopes that I’ll order them, too, since because I live here I must be like them. But I look at the titles with horror -- I have never seen those movies and never intend to in the future.

The other bust has been trying to make me award stars to movies according to whether I liked them or not. I refuse to do this, even when they set it up so that I can’t progress through the movie ordering system without designating a star. I don’t do it because my opinion of a movie is not based on “liking” it and I think a value judgement of anything that is just one dimension is unfair, untrue and unuseful. When I failed to pick a star for a used book, the book dealer his/her self sent me a wounded email claiming I was ruining his/her life, because it affected his ability to sell books.

For a long time I was ordering BBC murder mysteries. There are endless numbers of them and my “default” choices are generally MI-5 these days, which they couldn’t call “Spooks” (It's Brit name) because in the USA that word doesn’t mean ghosts. It means roughly the same thing as “shovels.” Blacks. One learns a lot while ordering movies and even more if the DVD has international explanations included.

Then I got tired of that and went to costume dramas, the big sprawling epics of history, which led the computer to believe I might want to watch musicals, but I didn’t. Then I fell into Brit Indie movies, largely produced by FilmFour which is the government BBC channel #4, designated for alternative “serious” stuff, like social comment.

So the red envelopes I threw in the mail this morning included “John Trudell,” which is an American “serious” documentary. You could tell because heavyweight liberals like Robert Redford and Chris Christopherson had a lot to say. Trudell is actually one of the most appealing AIM leaders. I had not known that his house was burned down with his family inside, probably arson, and quite possibly the FBI. Consider PUSH, WACO, and lately the NA artifact bust that was so violent that one elderly man’s toes were broken. At least he wasn’t burned alive. Trudell sank into immense sadness, far beyond depression, and then resurfaced -- a poet. It’s hard not to admire him, even like him.

The other two films were BBC. “Pierrepoint” is the story of the last “King’s” executioner, a hangman whose father and uncle had also filled that post. Excellently cast, beautifully filmed, it is a horrifying subject that is really about how decency and care should shape something basically barbaric into something at least bearable.

The executioner, played by Timothy Spall, was a real person and events really happened. Spall, well-known as a character actor, brilliantly channels compassion and civility. “I will take care of you,” he tells the condemned and he means it. Some of the most powerful moments come AFTER the hanging, when he carefully washes the body, puts a shroud on it, and lays it gently in a coffin. This was not the shameful debacle of hanging Hussein. When at Nurenberg, there are so many bodies that they run out of coffins, he is outraged. His wife takes an economic point of view: she is determined to remain a proper wife, but even she is not much interested in his physical needs. He’s no prince, but he has a good job.

“This Is England” features another protagonist of dubious charm, this one a little boy with Oppositional Defiance Disorder (if you’ll allow such syndromes) brought on by the death of his father in the Falklands. The movie gives the story an impressive historical frame with newsreels and still photos, both from Maggie Thatcher’s era in England and the shadow events of WWII that somehow get entangled in immigration and welfare. The boy, mocked and bullied whereever he goes, is picked up as a sort of mascot by a gang of skinheads, the whole bunch of them infected with ODD. They love to smash and vandalize. Then a new leader arrives from prison and things get entirely out of hand. It’s not the most charming movie, but it does tell a vivid story that anyone ought to understand. I have NEVER heard the F word so many times, not even in “Platoon,” though they pronounce it "fokking."

We seem to be in a time when we’ve not been able to throw off the past, even as we enter into the dystopic situations of our own times and of the predicted future. Over and over the themes are conformity, prosperity and authority. Forget about cars that can fly and the cure for cancer. These issues are where the action is. But I can only bear these polemics for so long -- then I need a different kind of movie.

Some people would be best served by movies categorized according to how many explosions they have or how many sex/love scenes. Maybe a lot of people would rather watch movies about animals. I have a kind of penchant for movies that are nothing but long conversations, like “My Dinner with Andre.” There aren’t many of those around. My cousin loves haute couture and often recommends movies about Paris designers. I wanted to see “Aria” but it has become mysteriously unavailable.

My newest addition to my Netflix list, which I’m told I will have to wait a long time to see, is “Battlestar Galactica.” I do like sci-fi, but I didn’t get interested in Battlestar until yesterday’s NPR story about how the sound track for this show, which was meant NOT to be like the John Williams orchestra score for Star War. It took on such a powerful influence -- I guess using sort of “earth music” or “space music” more like Paul Winter -- that it actually began suggesting the plot. This I’ve gotta see! That’s what MY life needs -- a better sound track! Luckily, I have a lot of Paul Winter CD’s. Prokiofiev will do in a pinch.

Monday, June 22, 2009

THE PRAIRIE IS SOAKING

The prairie is soaking. This is our monsoon month, June, but it has been dry until now. The stats for Great Falls in June 2008 were 3.07 -- for June 2009 so far it's 1.19 with “normal” (a word that doesn’t have a whole lot of meaning when you’re talking about Montana weather) for June on this date being 1.66.

In terms of the Year So Far, “normal” is 7.79, last year was 10.02, and this year is 6.36. We’re a bit on the dry side in Valier, but we’re also in a pocket of “dry” that includes Glacier (that’s the rez, though some of it sticks over into Pondera where Valier is) and a few other adjacent counties: Toole and Teton. This is just about the cross-hairs of the cold weather cells that track down from the north and the wet weather cells that track in from the Pacific Northwest, sometimes so quick that one can seemingly taste iodine and salt in the air. You can bet it’s wetter on the west side of the Rockies.

The last decade has been drought years here, with an improving outlook as time moves towards now. One measures drought several ways, not just by rainfall. A crucial part of it is snowpack, which has steadily diminished over the last century. Indeed, the glaciers in the mountains -- which is the part of snowpack that never melts -- have been diminishing for 10,000 years, since the planetary ice cap began to pull back. Ten thousand years -- that’s when agriculture began, the foundation of civilization as we know it. That’s just five times the two millenia since the year one of the Christian Era.

Water resource people watch two other measurements: soil moisture and forest moisture. Soil moisture is mostly about agriculture: the higher the moisture level, the better the crops will be. The better the forest moisture level, the less likely to have a big fire year. Here’s a little chart of the thousands of acres burned in the past decade:
2000: 1,160
2001: 147
2002: 110
2003: 737
2004: 18
2005: 109
2006: 1,047
2007: 776
2008: 107
You can see there is enormous variability.

The pattern of fire doesn’t seem to correspond to moisture levels because the timing of the moisture matters so much. The worst pattern is a lot of rain early in the season, so that there is a lot of growth in grass, weeds and brush -- then a prolonged dry spell so that all that potential fuel becomes tinder-dry. Another bad pattern is a sequence of growth years with NO fire, so that potential fuel builds up into an exceptionally hot burn. The early plains Indians took matters into their own hands by setting fires, but most of the May/June prairie fires were the result of the thunderstorms, created by cool land solar heating into a chimney of hot air, rising into massive thunderheads where the collision of hot/cold air causes lightning.

Everything is connected to everything else and the prairie tribes tried to throw their weight into good outcomes -- much grass, fat buffalo, no one struck by lightning -- by opening their Thunder Bundles to sing and dance. The summer solstice which passed us Saturday night is a religiously significant event all over the planet. I celebrate by listening to Paul Winter’s concert in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Go to this url for details and to listen. http://solsticeconcert.com/?utm_medium=email&utm_source=Email+marketing+software&utm_content=473800455&utm_campaign=June+10%2c+2009+-+Summer+Solstice+_+hkiyhi&utm_term=Sunrise+Solstice
In Winter the solstice is a midnight event, but the Summer event is at sunrise.

Rain this time of year is an aesthetic event. This rain came in last evening while I sat here keyboarding by the open window, suddenly realizing I was smelling rain. I looked out at yard and tree which don’t show rain, but pretty soon it was raining hard enough to hear its soft percussion on leaves. Then it was time to check which windows were letting rain in. It’s never the same ones. The cats sat with their arms up their kimono sleeves, passively watching the little birds flit around in the moving leaves. This was “small rain” as in one of my favorite hymns.

In fact, one of the things I miss about a Unitarian congregation is the singing. The hymns I love most are the nature poems coordinated with some traditional tune. Here’s an example, a poem by Joseph Cotter, Jr. (1895-1919 -- he died at 24. We are as grass, so easily cut down.)

On the dusty earth drum beats the falling rain,
Now a whispered murmur, now a louder strain.

Slender, silvery drumsticks on an ancient drum
beat the mellow music bidding life to come.

Chords of life awakened, notes of greening spring,
rise and fall triumphant over everything.

Slender, silvery drumsticks beat the long tattoo --
God the Great Musician, calling life anew.

The tune in the UU hymnal is WEM IN LEIDENSTADEN, attributed to Friedrich Filitz (1804-1860).

Valier is not in a romantic landscape except for the mountains on the horizons. We are in wheat fields and irrigated alfalfa fields. The big circle wheeling sprinklers stand along the road and across the fields. People are cautioned not to go stand under the rain of them, since some people feed their herbicides and pesticides onto the fields through the irrigation system.

Lake Francis, the main irrigation impoundment, is brimming with water for only the second time since I came back in 1999. This spring I heard frogs and yesterday I saw a heron stalking the margin, plus a little gather of pelicans farther out in a bay. The island where birds build nests is protected except from boaters this year. Last year you could just drive out there on your ATV and smash ground nests. The Dark Side stands cowled alongside the golden stripes of wheat in a way we all know well, esp. those of us who sit at the bedsides of cancer victims while they shrivel.

Farmers and ranchers around here are of two minds: one kind tries to understand the ragged rhythm of the weather and land, so as to dance with it. Another uses the same pattern and timing as his grandfather and father did. Over the long run they generally come out about equal in prosperity. The ones who crash are the ones who lose their nerve, don’t believe in any system. The ones who profit most are the ones who love the land -- not the money.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

COLLECTING THE DEAD

The second of two dozen people indicted and seized in their homes for collecting and trafficking in Indian artifacts in the Four Corners area (we think of it as Navajo county) has killed himself. This time the person was Steven L. Schrader, 56. He wasn’t in Santa Fe on the day he was supposed to appear in court. Instead his body was found in a corn field behind an elementary school in Shabbona, IL, not far from his mother’s home with two bullet wounds in his chest, evidently self-inflicted. There was a note that is not being disclosed. Something has got to be going on that we don’t know yet.

Schrader lived in Santa Fe. His home was not searched and he had turned himself in rather than being arrested in the SWAT team manner the others were. The objects he had were ancient sandals and baskets which had collected while with the Crites, a married couple who had been arrested before for the same offense. The Crites did have arrowhead collections; they also had sacred prayer sticks, baby blankets, seed jars and other objects included in ancient Puebloan burial mounds. Schrader was a single man with a job and no police record that was disclosed.

There were 150+ comments in the Salt Lake Tribune and rising. I was stunned to see that they were attacks on the two men who had committed suicide for being cowards! I think some of the commenters were thinking but not saying the same thing that I am: these suicides are disproportionate. Are they really suicides? Or did this investigation stumble upon something more serious than collecting arrowheads, possibly a gay relationship? None of them addressed the morality of digging up artifacts to buy and sell or even mentioned the practice. (If Tony Hillerman were writing this story, he would have.)

Lance Foster suggests that sometimes objects themselves are powerful, affecting the fate of those who come to them with bad consciences and much secrecy. (See his post entitled “The Dish Ran Away with the Spoon” at his blog called “The Sleeping Giant: Bioregional Animism in Montana” Lance is an excellent Metis archeologist, writer and artist in Helena. (http://hengruh.livejournal.com/)

It doesn’t seem as though a person in Santa Fe would have to hide being gay -- though the other suicide, a married doctor in a small Utah town, might have to hide a clandestine relationship. If they were truly in love, one could interpret this as a Romeo/Romeo script. But maybe that’s not the factor that was in danger of being unmasked at all. Many are asking why the home invasion-style arrests -- full body armor, sudden entry, heavy weapons. Are collectors so dangerous? Was the real reason for secrecy something more sinister, like drugs, terrorism, pornography or a militia group? There’s been an element of self-fulfilling prophesy in the whipped-up emotions of people who are convinced Obama will destroy them all. And too many law enforcement people, especially on the federal level, are prone to harbor television script-writer-type convictions about the world. It was lucky no one was shot during the arrests.

Since the change of administrations with the new emphasis on transparency, many rocks are being turned over. Economic collapse, growing world hunger, renegotiation of the meaning of family, populations of all kinds on the move across borders, new diseases. We’ve been deceived, ignorant, foolish, and the suicide rate is up all across the country, isn’t it? So many layers of secrecy. So little social sophistication that is helpful. I mean, we know so much about crime from the media, so much about immorality from talk radio, and so little about our own reality. (Where’s that reality czar? Why isn’t she doing her job? What is she, a committee??)

I’m against secrecy, but foregoing at least a little discretion is like going nude. It’s fine in the right context if you have nothing to hide, but it makes you terribly vulnerable. When I was very small, I was curious about what people looked like under their clothes -- once I realized that in under there they were ALL naked. But now I don’t care anymore. I’d rather stay warm and dry myself and I assume others would, too.

Over the last few days I’ve been sorting my collection . I don’t collect artifacts, I collect people from the Blackfeet reservation. That is, every time there’s an obituary in the Great Falls Tribune, I cut it out and stick it onto an index card, then file it. At first it was a way of keeping track of lost friends and I put the dates on each card. Then I realized that I didn’t always recognize people I’d known over the last fifty years and even their names had changed, sometimes many times. I appreciated the trend to include photos of the people at both young and old ages. (So many of the young faces of men are in military uniform these days.) So now I just cut out everybody from the rez, even if they’re not here and related to an Indian only by marriage.

The edge of the enrolled tribe has always been a porous membrane, ever since the first “enrollment” list was made by some Army clerk sitting at a wobbly table on the prairie while the people filed by, giving their unpronounceable Indian names so they could get government food. You can count on there being some starving non-Indians in that line and no one until then had thought much about who was “in” and who was “out” or even what a tribe was.

I got lazy about putting the dates on the obits I saved. If I couldn’t find the scissors, I could tear out the notice, but I couldn’t always find a pencil and there was no backup. So now what makes the cards useful is the same thing that makes the genealogy in the 1907-08 Blackfeet Census so helpful: the family relationships that are at the heart of tribe anyway. It grows from the center out, not by people coming in from outside.

That Census book was simply typed up from a shoebox of cards just like mine. It’s alphabetized the same as mine are -- right this minute. Yesterday they were a jumble and there will be more filing to do in a few weeks. While I sorted them, I remembered the real people. So many tiny babies. So many former students. So many wild characters and sturdy citizens. So many suicides. So many diabetes deaths. Just “so many.”

The point of forbidding the collecting of arrowheads is not the value of them, not that white people are getting rich off red people. It is, as Lance Foster points out, the information embedded in where they were found. In fact, so many are found in the high arid west because the land is constantly being stripped by wind and eroded by storms so that the layers of objects re-appear where they were put down and then covered up long long ago. Just so am I interested in the information recorded in a few inches of newspaper print. Though I know there is deep secrecy in some of these stories, there’s no need for a SWAT team.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

JOAN UDA AT THE WATER'S EDGE

One of the features of the Great Falls Tribune that I always look for and enjoy is a Saturday column on the Religion page called “At the Water’s Edge,” by Joan Uda, a retired Methodist minister who is married to another retired Methodist minister. Joan is about my age and on the surface, if you didn’t know much about religion and assumed that everyone is just different kinds of Christian, you might think she was a lot like me. I’m a retired minister, too, but my circumstances and education are radically different.

Joan constantly works on the theme of salvation by grace, in quite concrete ways. Not long ago she had heart trouble, but has now recovered. At one point in her life she was struggling with children, income, and the short-comings of her own temperament, but then met her present pretty-terrific husband who helped her solve all those problems. And so on. In John Wesley fashion, she confronts small afflictions everywhere and through self-examination finds her faults so as to admit and address them.

Today the lesson was ants. Proverbs 6:6-8. A neglected anthill in her yard had grown to the point where it ate her Diablo ninebark bush, necessitating the use of poison. The ants were a quite literal affliction, biting her hands and feet every time she tried to interfere with them.

I sympathize, since I’m at war with ants all the time at my place, too. Nothing so dramatic as fire ants or soldier ants -- just hills of the critters always pushing for more food. This time of year I spend a bit of money on ant baits and sprays myself. Since the neighbors don’t, I’m basically creating a vacuum for the next ant tribe over to invade as soon as the poison wears off. I haven’t lost any bushes, but my front yard border suffers from lack of weeding. Gloves don’t help. Long sleeves don’t help. The cats do their part by rolling in anthills -- nice soft dirt -- thus picking up ants to bring into my lap and bed.

So Joan and I definitely live in the same world, this planet surface where we have to elbow other critters over to make room for us. We just see it differently, but not in contradictory ways. The biggest difference is not religious but rather connubial. She is married with children and therefore her whole complex life is invested in the role of women as wife and mother: the expectations, the rewards, the daily duties. I’m solitary, celibate, nearly sequestered. The biggest source of discipline in my life (aside from cats) is being Diabetes II, or as they now say, “borderline diabetic.” So we have aging bodies in common, but in different ways. My writing occupies the place her family takes.

We both have books out that deal with religion. Mine is prairie sermons gathered up by the Edmonton Unitarian Church and I sell them out of my hip pocket: “Sweetgrass and Cottonwood Smoke” ($10 plus postage). Liberal Christians would not be upset by these sermons, though they are not theist, let alone Christian. The darker, tougher parts were edited out by the church members and I did not take on gays, abortion, pacifism, the death penalty, the right to die, or any of the other patented hot-button issues of the far right.

Joan doesn’t much address those either. In the Wesleyan style she minds her own business and shows her morality by not drinking, not smoking, not cussing, rather than by criticizing others. Her style is “inspirational,” the “chicken soup” genre. Her publishing website is http://www.riceuniverse.net/joanuda/index.html and her books are available there or at local bookstores. So far as I know, these are the only books she writes. I mean, no fiction, no biographies, and so on. I don’t know whether her husband also writes. Actually, the columns originate with the Helena Independent Record and her post office is in East Helena.

Helena Methodism has always been a hot bed of good thinking and strong liberal politics. The Harper and Holmes ministerial families, connected through the strong friendships and good works of their children (Notably the Montana Lumberjack Ballet Company and the really EXCELLENT bronze sculptures of Tim Holmes), have always been friends of Unitarians. George Harper specifically was a major help when we re-formed the Unitarian Fellowship there in 1982.

But Joan Uda speaks from inside the theological circle, meaning that she is a believer. It’s all Truth to her, but it’s metaphor to me. My education at the U of Chicago Divinity School was alongside Ph.D. scholars of religion of every kind, as a historical and social phenomenon. To me Christianity was and remains simply one tribal expression of world-patterning based on a desert tribal chieftain (growing out of Judaism and sprouting into Islam). My own belief system is constructed by me from my own experience, philosophy, and reading. What’s surprising about it to some people is that Joan and I end up in the same place. I don’t smoke, drink, dance or play cards -- I DO cuss! Startled the Valier ladies recently at a committee meeting. My temperament is hopeless. I do believe in the sanctity of marriage (which is part of the reason I opt out), and I get bitten by ants just the same as she does.

It would be interesting for us to speak together sometime -- not in a debate style, but as a conversation to model how differences can co-exist, as much in laughter as in intellectual dueling. But who would attend? I think her readers would be there with bells on, interested in community and personal contact. I suspect they’re mostly local, within the range of the newspaper distribution. Mine are scattered across continents and would rather read.

I’m head, she’s heart, if you like that symbolism -- neglecting the fact that you can’t think without your heart pumping up blood and the heart can’t beat without a little prompting from the head. And how come the gut always gets left out? Anyway, I suspect that the biggest commonality between us is that we both believe in “whole person” religion.

Friday, June 19, 2009

INNOVATION FEELS LIKE EXCLUSION

My post today is proving almost impossible for me to write, because the thinking behind it is so incoherent. I’m trying to frame up some thoughts about publishing and the forces of our electronic media and what it means for writers. Partly I’m bouncing off a TED speech by Clay Shirky called “What is Twitter?” that Barrus posted. So I Googled this guy. His original degree was from Yale. Uh-oh. It was in ART! What??? He thinks about Internet stuff. Just what I need. (I am not being sarcastic!) The least helpful reaction to technology would be closing it out. The most helpful reaction -- IMHO -- is theory, plunging in, difficult as that is.

Shirky has a diagram in which he lists the four main advances in communication in the past. When I did English curricula for the Blackfeet schools, I always started with four aspects: listening and speaking, reading and writing. I could never get people to see what I meant about listening and speaking, which they thought they already knew all about about since they'd been doing it since age two. But my fancy education at Northwestern in the School of Speech (now the School of Communication) emphasized how bad people are at listening with real understanding and defining speaking in discussions as being as crucial as formal addresses. Our society simply refuses to get this, so our schools don’t either.

Shirky’s diagram of four was not like mine. He showed the invention of the movable type printing press, the telegraph/telephone, movies, and then radio/TV broadcasting. He analyzed them this way: one-on-one (print) and physical; one on one (code and voice) non-physical over long distances; one to large numbers who are present together, escaping print and going to image; and then one to large numbers who are NOT together. NOW, he suggests, with the Internet, we are going one to one to many to many (I'm not stuttering) all without being present together. These are the kinds of changes that totally change communication.

Since I began this blog, I’ve collected a little cadre of baffled writers who are still back there with Gutenberg in terms of technology -- using their computers to produce stories in movable type and looking for distributors. They ask for advice. But the business models that would support this activity are fizzling out. It’s not that people are not reading, so much as they are reading differently -- maybe not in print. The paper and ink folks now have access to the used books of the world. UPS is thriving on them and on the Netflix one-on-one of “used movies.” When movies can dependably move electronically (which they can in short format), UPS will lose that income, and everyone who doesn’t have a computer will lose that access.

So many people want to “be” writers, even those who really can’t write and those whom nobody wants to read. WHY? I think the answer is back with Gutenberg, the same as the impulse of everyone to be a movie star or a pop singer rest on the tech industries that provide sound and image (DVD & iPod).

Gutenberg provided relatively inexpensive access to the Bible and other crucial documents like political pamphlets at a time -- or possibly as a cause -- of the rise of the middle class everyone believes is the motor of democratic stability and prosperity. But it keyed into an imitation of class society. Educated people (education was a hallmark of upper classes) could read books. It was a mark of their superiority, even if they didn’t accomplish very much.

America accepted this marker from the beginning. Emerson, Thoreau and Alcott (I mean Bronson, not Louisa May) and a host of others we now revere and honor, didn’t accomplish much but they amount to American aristocracy because they wrote books. To have a book published, even now, means to educated people that one is oneself educated and therefore a little higher class than others. Unless, of course, one is writing genre for the masses, which is identified with cheap paperbacks, lurid morals and WWII’s leveling effects. (I mean dissolving class among the people, not knocking down the buildings.)

To people who ignore English upperclass markers and just go for power and money, books mean nothing. Now the new marker of power and money is technology which requires mostly experience and peer-to-peer communication, since the whole picture changes so much that a class can barely be organized before it’s obsolete. Even Barrus’ Cinematheque boys off the streets savvey iPhones and music vids. Even the ones who can’t read print. At the same time, the highly educated boys also get it.

It’s the smug middle classes who don’t get it and mourn over the loss of books. Actually, most of them don’t have better than high school educations and only read genre fiction. The women read it by the binful. Men would rather go hang in a bar and josh around. Around here, using a computer is considered “playing” because they are used only for gaming or shopping. Well, maybe the stock market.

Here’s where I get hung up, I think because it’s where my emotions get into the picture. What is a aspiring writer to do? Most writers are not good at being their own agents. Most agents deal only in the status quo. Most writers are solitary and not very tech-minded, but they believe in the “honor,” the “magic,” of writing, at least I did until now. In our nearly subconscious way, we feel that our lives will be justified if we become recognized writers. It is a terrible jolt when it turns out the neighbors only sneer. The publishers, of course, once they decide to publish you, will soothe your ego and ask you to invest more money in yourself. Not money THEY provide, of course.

Okay, so what’s the tech answer? You’re lookin’ at it. Blogging. And tweeting. Short. Personal. Interpolating images and music. Produced by one source for unlimited numbers who are scattered everywhere and pass material among themselves. Such a swarm, as Shirky points out, that dictators can’t control this stuff except by shutting down the entire systems. China has been busy trying to keep us out, but they didn’t expect their own people to breach the wall with a million piercings from cell phones. The Middle East has been trying to keep us out but under their chadors the women are carrying cell phones and iPods.

Now consider the converse. The US has assumed we would be the providers, the inventors, the instigators, the only way to go. But that’s over. Now we must learn from the rest of the world. And all that is left for writers is to understand how to fit into that. The beginning might be writers contacting each other, quite apart from the middle-class “festivals” and gatekeepers at foundations. It’s that thing about speaking and listening. Discussion skills. Thinking.

One no longer leaves a calling card as in Jane Austen. Now one has a web location, like www.skirky.com, or a blog like this one. Until the next invention. Since that changes all the time, concentrate on a good tight grip on what you want to say, which stays put.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

GHOSTS OF THE PAST

This has been quite has been quite a week, filling my grab bag with what amounts to screen grabs. “Screen grabs” are a tech term for moving an image from a computer or TV screen to one’s computer hard drive. If you don’t know what a hard drive is, just let it go. One of the jigsaw pieces ( are you with me now?) was a meeting of the Valier Association for the Development of ? The community, I guess. I don’t know. VADC, anyway. Screen grabs don’t include acronyms.

Tuesday half-a-dozen harried women of early middle-age met to finalize plans for the big Centennial celebration for the town. Each was in charge of one piece/event category: scouts by this one, day-care by that one, churches by another. (No history of saloons, but one display about the major hotel once here.) All complained of overload. One of the women said her family told her she needed a Blackberry. (She can’t operate a computer, though she runs the Port of Entry office.)

When someone else offered a DVD composite of images of early days, this woman asked me how they could be presented since I was such a “techie.” (Snort.) I told her all I did was sit here and type. A little later it occured to me that any kid would know all they needed was a TV set and a DVD player.

At the town council meeting earlier in the week, the group was a dozen early middle-age men. They were addressing the high tech requirements of negotiating with the town’s employees, three people: a female clerk and two men who run machinery. Two claimed major knowledge of the arcane workings of labor law, which eventually appeared to require that nine people be assigned to the negotiating committee. One man was full of random information which he delivered with great conviction. The next day I followed up with queries and discovered that almost everything he said was wrong or just a plain lie.

Back to the VADC. The mayor, looking over all the photos of the early days, saw that nearly always ceremonies were “certified” by the presence of Blackfeet “chiefs” in their buckskins. So she decided that the Centennial ought to have some and called the tribal offices to see about “Blackfeet dancers,” as often featured in the Great Falls Tribune. She was informed by the Queen of the World (I don’t know her Indian name.) that it would cost $2,000 and that Valier was hardly worthy anyway, since anyone knew that demon white people had ripped off the tribe and destroyed their lives and caused all sorts of other mayhem. (This woman’s personal life is quite comfortable, due to her close relationship with big shots in government, both red and white.) The mayor was taken aback. It was a while before she remembered the tribal member who had generously worked with the local school all winter to develop drumming and singing. She would see what he said.

In the meantime, the posters had been printed. The only trouble is that the events on the list had mostly canceled. Other things to do. It's summer.

The mayor had asked me if I would again rent a table to sell books. Since the only book I sold last year was a $10 book of sermons which the mayor bought to give her mother-in-law, and the cost of the table is $10, I declined. But I offered to do a reading. Then it occurred to me that the little advertising mag about the Centennial had included four writers: myself, Ivan Doig, John Holden (a local rancher) and Rib Gustafson, a patriarchal veterinarian who doesn’t live in Valier, though his son, also a veterinarian, does. They omitted Rib’s son, Sid, who is a professional national writer, as compared to his father’s small regional books. Another of Rib’s sons is a musician who lives in Washington who had been hired to play at this Centennial. I suggested that if Ivan doesn’t come, someone be deputized to read from “This House of Sky” which is about growing up in Valier. And I proposed Sid be asked to read. He writes about here.

Resistance was major. Sid was declared an irrelevant outsider. No one was rude enough to say I was unwelcome right out loud. I mentioned that Norma Ashby, a local celebrity much admired for fifty years, had wanted to come read at the Senior Citizens’ lunch, inspired by her stopping at the Panther Cafe one day and being mobbed by those folks, who associate her with their youth. The senior citizen guiding committee had rejected her appearance on grounds that “she’s just trying to sell books.” But this time the VADC declared that such events “belonged” to the library.

Myself was rude enough to remark that people in Europe read my writing and admire it. That my blog readership is robust. But no one locally would read my book or blog. (We’ll see when this hits the airwaves! If anyone is techie enough to find my blog.) I’ve been told that my book about Bob Scriver is “too much about you,” that “he wasn’t all that famous,” and that “only virtuous people deserve biographies.” The library is stuffed with Westerns, mysteries, and romance. In fact, a new section of Christian romances has just been added. But the section on Native American writing was dismantled a year ago, reshelving the books among the “white people books.” That includes books written about here by local Blackfeet.

Earlier in the day I’d been talking to an editor’s assistant at Esquire magazine, reminding them of the ten year anniversary of their publication of the little story by Tim Barrus that led to him becoming the infamous “Nasdijj,” vilified for claiming he was half-Navajo. “It was an unforgivable offense!” announced this righteous 31-year-old prig. I asked him whether he would pretend to be half-Navajo if it meant he could make enough money to walk again. (At the time Tim was in a wheelchair due to avascular necrosis, needing a double hip transplant.) “Absolutely NOT,” declared the virtuous desk jockey. (Sherman Alexie endorsed this opinion in Time magazine, saying that the PEN Beyond Margins prize, ear-marked for minorities, was “stolen” by Barrus’ pretense. Alexie has not won the prize in the many years before or since, though there have been many Arab, African, and Chinese winners.) So let me get this straight: a white man’s work was only bought because they thought he was Indian, and then an Indian couldn’t win a prize because the man was actually white, an unfair advantage.

Valier knows that it’s out-of-step with the Big Bad World and prides itself on the fact. (They forget that it was WWI that brought the immigrant homesteaders here in the first place.) The Blackfeet are scrambling to become part of contemporary life, but are using their romantic and legendary past to gain an advantage. Some young man in Manhattan believes that’s absolutely justified but that the martyred purity of noble people prevents any white person from getting in on it, though PEN (Professional Something -- it’s writers, but I don’t know how you get E and N out of that) can ennoble themselves by awarding a prize for minorities, and one of those minority writers, an Indian, believes he is the only minority and would not qualify unless all white people were barred.

What a mess. Are we out of touch with reality or what? Seems to me our “conviction infrastructure” is full of Bernie Madoff fantasies. Maybe Obama would address this problem, hire a “Reality Czar.” Naw. The media would never stand for it. And Valier is not an Obama town, though the rez loves him.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

IS YOU IN OR IS YOU ODD?

The Cinematheque boys have scattered for the summer, some hiking the many walking paths of Europe and others doing special projects. Tim is posting short talks from the TED organization on the vlog to keep it alive. I told him TED folks are very much like Unitarians at their best.

One of the talks included a story that caught my attention. A girl was so impossibly hyper, constantly on the move, that her folks were going crazy and she was not doing well in school They were upscale so they made an appointment with a very good psychologist. He sat with the girl and the parents for a little while, listening and observing. Then he said he’d like to speak to the parents alone in the other room.

Before he left, he flipped on his little office radio. The “other room” was the observation post behind one-way glass. As soon as they were gone, the girl was up and bopping to the music. She was GOOD. The psychologist said, “There’s nothing wrong with this child. She’s just in the wrong place. Put her in a dancing school!” They did and it worked. She became a happy star.

I also liked Sir Ken’s remark that if this girl were doing exactly the same thing now, she’d have been diagnosed with ADD and smothered with drugs. He quipped, “Attention Deficit Disorder" hadn’t been 'discovered' yet in those days. It wasn’t available for use. They didn’t know they had that option.” When I briefly taught in Cut Bank, teachers were handed two typed pages of students being medicated for ADD.

If authorities define a syndrome, suddenly it crops up everywhere. Soon there’s a support group, a newsletter, an a lucrative practice for a specialist. The one that always rivets me when I see the ad in the Great Falls paper is “Oppositional Defiance Disorder.” This is the syndrome that justifies dads who beat their sons half to death. “Disrespect,” you know. It is also the syndrome that got me into trouble with school administrators, though the diagnosis wasn’t available at the time. The guy who vows to “cure” it in the ad, looks to me like someone who would beat a son half to death. Or me.

Burgwin used to tell us about his training as a rookie cop in California. His sergeant took him along on graveyard tours of the tough little port town and taught him a lot of valuable skills. Once they stopped a man for some small offense and the guy had this “oppositional defiance disorder.” He lipped off to the sergeant and resisted everything. The sarge told Burgwin to take the guy in for observation as a psychotic. (California law allows a limited arrest like that.) “But he’s not crazy, he’s just a jerk!” objected Burgwin.

“Anyone who opposes me is crazy,” said the Sarge and lit a cigar. At least he didn't beat the guy up. Authority affects a lot of people that way, though it’s supposed to be the other person who has the problem. Of course, at the time ODD was not an available syndrome in the formal sense.

There are a lot of odd people in the world, some of them valuable contributors to the world, some of them just quiet wallpaper people, and some of them big pains in the butt. Sometimes “oddness” becomes a punishable offense. Esp. in small rural communities around the planet, “oddness” is noted. (In Montana they say, “well, he’s just different.”) Conformity and group solidarity are the highest value. China comes to mind. Being “different” can be a free pass if the community likes you, or it can earn you ostracism at best and attack at worst. In high school did you read “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson? Jackson was a writer, which made her different right off the bat. Or just being an outsider can make you "odd." Did you see "The Wicker Man?"

It’s not just in small rural communities that people are threatened by oddness. Manhattan publishing functions pretty much the same way. If the group sets out to stigmatize a specific writer, that person will have to find another context. It’s good in a way -- a lot of fine talent is always migrating out to other nations, other categories, maybe even other media -- like from print to video. But eventually Manhattan starves. One of the high values of reservations used to be that they tolerated difference, and now that's paying off.

Academics have a category they call “border studies,” for instance, studying the historical or sociological border between the US and Canada. So far as I know, no one has done many studies of borders around reservations, “Skins,Adrian Louis’ and Chris Ayres’ very fine but shocking novel and movie might be an example. It’s about the Sioux boundary that creates destructive difference based on alcohol: dry inside, wet outside.

The New York Times yesterday took on “Borderline Personality Disorder” or BPD, a kind of junk category that’s back in the news because a therapist claims she has an effective way to treat people who have it. Most therapists won’t have anything to do with BPD people because many of them have Oppositional Defiance characteristics and therapists consider themselves authorities.

Anyway, “experts” can’t decide whether the syndrome is about the borderline between being neurotic and psychotic, or the borderline between being compliant and “oppositional,” or the borderline around the identity of the person that keeps getting lost, or -- in the current formulation -- the borderline between being in control and out of control. This new therapist claims to be able to teach borderline people how to stay in control.

I’m always interested in this particular syndrome because it was pinned on me in seminary. I was not obedient, I did not tell the professors what they wanted to hear, and when I was elected as the student rep for the Board of Trustees, I was not positive. (I was also a forty-year old divorced female who had been doing law enforcement for years. They were used to nice boys.) When I was an intern minister in Connecticut, where they value oddballs so long as they’re male, my minister labeled me a “stormy petrel.” That’s a seabird that flies on high winds. He was one, too, which is probably why he was encouraged to go into the ministry. “Odd,” you know. But women aren't supposed to be "odd."

It used to be that we valued the oddballs, thought they might be geniuses or at least see into unknown country. Remember Szasz? I’ll quote Wikipedia : “He is a prominent figure in the antipsychiatry movement, a well-known social critic of the moral and scientific foundations of psychiatry, and of the social control aims of medicine in modern society, as well as of scientism. He is well known for his books, The Myth of Mental Illness (1960) and The Manufacture of Madness: A Comparative Study of the Inquisition and the Mental Health Movement (1970) which set out some of the arguments with which he is most associated.

“His views on special treatment follow from classical liberal roots which are based on the principles that each person has the right to bodily and mental self-ownership and the right to be free from violence from others, although he criticized the "Free World" as well as the Communist states for its use of psychiatry and "drogophobia". He believes that suicide, the practice of medicine, use and sale of drugs and sexual relations should be private, contractual, and outside of state jurisdiction.

“In 1973, the American Humanist Association named him Humanist of the Year.”


The whole movement lasted just long enough to justify turning true brain-damaged psychotics out into the street without any protective care on political grounds. Then law enforcement went back to arresting them for being crazy. And all those ODD people, too, of course.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

RAIN IN THE MOUNTAINS: A Review

“Rain in the Mountains” is the name of an Indie movie (available at Netflix) and also the chosen name of the lead character. The name is a gentle spoof of N. Scott Momaday’s quite famous “The Way to Rainy Mountain,” as well as being very appropriate for western Washington where this movie was made. The movie is a sort of movie version of a garage band, except that through the magic of saying “Native American” at the right time and place, the little production crew received a “six-figure” grant from NYU.

If you go to the following url, you’ll find a journal of the whole process : http://www.makingthemovie.info/2005/06/making-rain-in-mountains.html Everyone is very young (most looked non-Indian), and therefore watches themselves living in that reflexive manner of the video/twitter generation. Watching the movie with the comments on tells you more about the producer/director/writers than the movie content, which is a fairly simple but potentially rich plot. Briefly, an Indian man who is out of work walks home through a field. He comes to a hanged man in a tree who looks like maybe a lost member of the Carradine family. (Nothing is made of the Tarot or “Dangling Man” motif.) He talks. The Indian man, having been raised off the rez, doesn’t realize that he’s got a trickster in front of him: Napi, maybe, who always makes his point by doing the wrong thing and encouraging everyone around him to get involved. The gimmick is that the dead man tells the hero that he must recover his heritage.

The story is then about all the trouble this earnest fellow gets into. It’s not subtle nor is it more then a surface effort -- too literal to yield much more than gentle satire and so charming because of Steve Pierre, the main actor, that we really have a good deal of sympathy for him. His practical and capable wife, as usual, is the key to his survival. His sceptical son, who declares his father “a lot more fun than other fathers,” is mostly the representative of likely audience point of view. The directors commented that this actor boy was pretty unhappy with having to wear Good Will clothes, as he is a bit of a dandy, and he didn’t like getting dirty. Nice stereotype breaker. In fact, the usual Indian stereotypes were quite neglected: all Indian parts were played by Indians who fit their parts and often -- partly because they were non-actors -- were about as likely to improvise their speeches as to say scripted lines. Robert Satiacom, the local sheriff, was really excellent at this. I loved that with his standard brown-and-beige uniform (the same as the uniform I wore myself in the Seventies as an animal control officer, technically a sheriff’s deputy) he wore some quite magnificent Navajo turquoise-and-silver bracelets. His hair was in a pig-tail. Pierre had a ponytail.

When you listen to this DVD with the comments on, you hear about the most authentic Indian factor of all: this actor was gone that day because of food poisoning, that one was gone that day because of a death in the family, the other one was gone that day because of something mysterious. The worst of all was that Steve Pierre had a massive stroke, striking him down to the floor with paralysis and inability to speak. In the hospital he spelled out on an alphabet board, “Finish movie.” All actors hung right in there in spite of interruptions and long drives across the country, but the hardships are typical of poor people with large families. Casting calls had been answered on every rez in Washington State. Steve and Joe Heldman were best friends at home, so when Steve was struck down, Joe went home to prepare for the worst, possibly a funeral. Thankfully, he made a full recovery and was able to attend film festivals showing the film later.

Most of the story had been shot and the resourceful writer was able to rewrite and invent scenes that shifted to the other characters so the movie could be finished. I didn’t read all the entries on “Making the Movie” which turns out to be a bottomless website resource for Indie producers. I’ve marked it for return. Even home vid makers could really benefit from all this information and advice.

When I started to write this post, what I had intended to focus on was the reaction from imdb.com commenters which was split right down the middle again -- we live in such a split society that I sometimes wonder how we avoid being altogether paralyzed. Anyway, one half of the audience HATED this movie. They consider Native Americans to be Sacred People who cannot be criticized or mocked in any way. I called a Manhattan magazine to see about business to do with Tim Barrus who wrote three books as “Nasdijj” and ran into exactly this attitude. The young assistant I talked to thought that pretending to be a Native American was absolutely, flatly, unforgivable. “Would you say you were Indian if it meant you could walk again?” I asked. (Tim AND the publisher made more money by presenting the books as authentic memoir than they would have as the accounts of a white witness. Tim's share almost paid for his hip replacements.) “Oh, NO!” said the young man, as fervent as if he were Saint Peter declaring he would never betray Jesus.

The people of this frame of mind HATED, HATED the movie and declared it to be nothing but junk. Then there were the people who knew or were Indians. They loved it. They recognized it. They got the jokes. (There were no commodity cheese jokes.)

It’s hard to keep in mind that making impossibly virtuous images of minorities is one way to keep them down, because the reality never measures up and so those people always feel as though, like this main character, that they’ve somehow fallen short. Think of women on pedestals. And if the non-Indian sees an Indian drunk, or impoverished, or otherwise faulty, the first reaction is that they aren’t “real,” that they deserve what they got because they threw away their heritage. Now it is legitimate to do anything to them. They are like fallen women.

My best advice is to watch this movie with an Indian friend. If you don’t have one, you’d better get around and find one. Or more than one. Each will have an independent take on the story. All of them worth discussing.