SOCIAL MEDIA

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

Other Blogs by me

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

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


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



Sunday, February 28, 2010

THE WORLD TURNS & TIPS & SHAKES

Tracks in the snow. Big rounded off square ones with toes and claw marks longer than a man’s fingers. Grizzly paw prints. They’re waking up. Maybe they won’t stay up -- maybe after a reconnoiter they’ll go back to snooze a little longer. But don’t hang around to find out -- they wake up really cranky. In town the song sparrow next door is filling the air with arpeggios that sound like love but we are told are meant to defend territory. That is, they are not for the feather-hidden ears of their true love so much as signals for all rivals to keep away. Where did the sweet poetic idea of spring as a love festival come from when it’s really about sex and defense?

This was a cranky-making winter. Here are the facts of this territory, which fall short of the horrific storms of the east. (They were in the Great Falls paper, so they’re Great Falls statistics.):

Cloudy days: 12/1 to 2/21, normally we have 55 and this year we had 21. I don’t believe it.
Clear days: normally 14 but this year 33. The rest were mixed. Hmmmph.
SNOW:
October: 6.9 inches.
November: none
December: 9.5 inches
January: 30 inches.
Entire snow period: usual average 37 inches; this winter 49.4 so far, last year 57.6.
FOG: average 4 days; this winter 12 so far; last year none. The constant fog caused remarkable hoarfrost that became so heavy it brought down power lines or trees that fell into power lines.
COLD: Average 24.9 degrees; This year 21.7; last year 20.4.
NOTABLE STORMS: A big ice storm that hit just before Christmas left the heaviest accumulation ever recorded in Great Falls. It stayed for more than a week. Several times we’ve had record-setting blizzards at the end of April. I was on the road in the one in 1969. They are wet, heavy storms often followed by flooding. Ranchers call them calf-killers. One of my fav Canadian books is “Stilton Seasons: the Diary of a Countryman” by Richard Symons(1975). He says that up in Saskatchewan they know it is spring when the crows come back, but after the dark gangs come winging in, there is generally one more blizzard, called, “the Crow Blizzard.” One more squeeze before winter leaves.

I also recall an idyllic fall last year (When exactly was that? I must look for a better weather website.) and a long cool summer which I enjoyed but which caused unaccustomed problems, like moss on my garage roof. I’m not like many people around here who can reel off the exact climate variations from one year to the next. But I can remember the winters in the Sixties, much more like this one. Weather records on the high northern plains only go back a couple of centuries, if that, so in many ways we know nothing. We must rely on sediments and tree rings. Maybe tribal “counts” kept orally.

Right now the owls are courting -- or at least chanting their eternal question -- from the airport where there are rabbits and grouse across town to the grain elevator where there are usually pigeons. I suppose an occasional kitten goes into the mix since we have plenty of feral cats. I took my usual mid-afternoon tour around the town in the pickiup but only spotted a short string of geese, probably local. No crows, no pigeons, no seagulls. People here don’t like them and will poison them if they can get away with it, even though it’s illegal. To some local minds, federal laws don’t count. Way too early for frogs.

Indoors I’m cautiously de-winterizing. The dark (rust, emerald, gold) Roman striped drapes are down, replaced by cream and pink one-inch stripes. Bold red stripes now on the sofa. Blue and white ticking on the wicker chair. I’m pondering my reading chair -- will probably go to pink roses on cream. That’s what’s on the hassock. The quilt over my bedroom window, the mover’s packing pad over the back door, and the plastic painter’s dropcloth covering the coldest bathroom wall are down now. Other measures are pending. Should I start some seeds on the window sill? Can I afford a quart of paint? My next door neighbors must have gotten a good tax rebate: I see new furniture come in and old furniture go out. The neighbors across the street are planning to move to a new house in the country. There a little frisson, a ferment, all across the town.

Sunshine is sluicing through the house. Less conveniently, moonlight is also flooding in, making the cats wakeful and shining in my own face at 3AM. Squibbie comes to lean on my ear and purr like a locomotive in hopes of persuading me to open the garage door. A cat flap in the kitchen lets her get into the garage. But if I open the garage, the cat traffic is likely to come in rather than go out which leads to cat war on the kitchen floor. Screaming death threats and tufts of fur. The Squib will have to settle for cat food. Which means Crackers wants some, too, so I might as well check my email. I’m tempted to put on clothes and go walk in the moonlight, but that’s not fair when the cats have to stay in. The newspaper lady will soon be at work. The nursing assistant will soon be heading out for the county seat hospital.

Lately the media people have been talking about the difference between “weather” and “climate” and I even saw a brief discussion of the geological consequences of atmospheric meterological force changes, things like the weight of snow on the land, the disappearance of glaciers, penetration of ground water deep into the continents which are really only immense rafts floating on a molten sea. Fire, mud, eruptions (Old Perpetual geyser in Oregon has stopped erupting) and, of course, those terrifying earthquakes -- all uncontrollable, unpredictable, deadly and expensive, will be sending some people into frenzies of Chicken Little panic.

To mark gradually increasing daily highs by hanging different curtains is a small thing, but I control it. It is reassuring to stand at the ironing board over fabrics I haven’t seen for a while, as though they were returning flowers and birds.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

FAV COOKBOOKS

In Great Falls I nabbed the April copy of “Cook’s Illustrated”, one of my fav mags. I would subscribe except that about half the time they cook things that I wouldn’t cook and couldn’t eat anyway because of not eating sugar. But this issue was right up my alley: pan-seared chicken breasts, everyday beef stroganoff, better stir-fried broccoli.

This magazine is tagged “America’s Test Kitchen.” It is the product of imagination and persistence beyond any cookbook I’ve ever known, though I’m sure this sort of thing goes on in the kitchens of good cooks everywhere. Christopher Kimball is also a very good writer. Even if I don’t shell out for the mag, I stand in the store and read the excellent editorial page about rural life in Vermont. What better way to make a living in rural Vermont than by exploring fine cooking, both scientifically and aesthetically? One of the staff members is Guy Crosby, Ph.D, Science Editor!

Kimball and his crew review equipment as much as food: what is the proper angle a big saucepan’s handle ought to have? They tried EIGHT saucepans, studying the materials they were made from, subtleties like the sharpness of the corners which can be hard to scrape out, and attractiveness. In the photos they look almost indistinguishable but three were “not recommended” including one costing $400. Among the “recommended” was one costing $70 and another costing less than $90. Two were recommended with reservations related to difficulty in handling, like pouring.

I was intrigued by a short piece comparing Euro knives with a thirty degree angle on the cutting edge with Asian knives that have a fifteen degree angle. It was concluded that the sharper angle cut better, but pointed out that Euro knives are made of softer metal. One could grind a thirty degree edge to fifteen degrees, but it would mean losing a lot of metal and having to resharpen often. Your choice. In another brief note, if you are stuck (not literally!) with a dull knife in a place with no knife sharpener, you can use the gritty unglazed ring on the bottom of a coffee mug, drawing the blade across, if you pay attention to the angle.

The chemical composition of ingredients, the molecular explanation of how they work, and the alloys of metal are all included for your consideration. Some people will think that’s really boring and unnecessary, but for me -- someone who is more interested in thinking about cooking than actually cooking -- it adds enormous value. In the end it turns out to be useful and helps prevent the unaccountable bad results I sometimes get, which is why I like to avoid the reality.

This thin magazine (32 pages, not counting the cover) is not food porn with substances sprayed with oil and color-hyped. What “illustrated” means is a still-life-quality painting on the front and black-and-white vignettes inside, matching John Burgoyne’s careful drawings to Carl Tremblay’s black and white photos in a clear and charming layout. There is no advertising, though there are lists of recommended products. One must look carefully to find the website: www.cooksillustrated.com. There is also a PBS cooking show, “America’s Test Kitchen,” which has it’s own website: www.americastestkitchentv.com.

There are two forces that push me to take advantage of these resources. One is low income, which makes food failures either expensive if you throw things out or repulsive if you have to eat a failure. I flinched when my niece disapproved of the job my toaster did (I bought it because it’s red) and simply dropped the too-dark toast in the garbage. The other is having to stick to a diabetic (sugarless, low carb) diet which means cooking unfamiliar things (strange veggies) and wondering how they are supposed to taste. One runs out of inventive ideas and needs technical advice.

Long ago I had a cookbook I treasured that explained why recipes for things like bread or piecrust failed. I cooked out of it all the time. When I left seminary, some boxes of my books were sitting out in the hall, waiting to be carried downstairs, and someone stole that cookbook. It was not the only book of mine stolen while I was in seminary, a place that considers books to be precious objects. I doubt the place has gone electronic in a big way, but everyone there is much younger now. Considering the batter-spattered state of my cookbook, I think I would not want to prop up a Kindle on the kitchen counter.

I ran across an appealing cookbook while browsing online at www.lulu.com where people self-publish books, often better books than in a bookstore. (There are 2643 cookbooks! Many specialty-focused.) The title that called out to me was “Make Me Something Good to Eat.” The book linked to a website and a cooking show one can watch on vid. (http://www.tamradaviscookingshow.com/) It’s kid-centered and starts with the garden. Mostly vegetarian recipes. And she says this: “Sorry it has taken me forever to post a new show. I have been busy finishing my film “Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child”. I got in to Sundance Film Festival and it was a crazy rush to get it done. I hope you get a chance to see it.” So how many other cooks do you know who can cook up a film about Basquiat? (Do not google “FIX me something good to eat” unless you’re marijuana friendly. It’s the first line of a song about lying around getting high!)

Maybe other people have a tendency like mine to think that good cooking is rather pretentious and requires a kitchen like Martha Stewart’s. Or that it’s something done by unsophisticated fat rosy women in country aprons who love to feed people mounds of food. But these sources above remind me of one morning when I was visiting JoAnn Johnson Clark on her ranch. She was a student of mine who became an English teacher. Her children were both girls, so -- Blackfeet-style -- she and J.R. (who was superintendent of schools in Browning until he retired to run the ranch) took in a little boy. He woke up and came stumbling into the kitchen where we were talking. “Make me something good to eat!” JoAnn cracked an egg into a small bowl, dropped in some cheese, added a bit of butter, and tucked it into the microwave for a moment or two. He went off smiling with his spoon already in action. No Count Chocula here.

Friday, February 26, 2010

THE TRUE EVIL OF PUBLISHING

You won't like this; in fact, you will bristle. But it's what I believe. I am not asking anyone else to believe it. It is not an argument. It is only a statement of what I believe to be true.

I honestly believe there is evil in the world. I also believe that book publishing in ALL of its manifestations is permeated with evil.

There are people in publishing who are not evil. They're quite misguided (book lovers mainly) but not evil. I can count them on one hand. There is not six of them in the world.

Book publishing -- the paradigm or structure of the product is irrelevant -- is the darkness. And nearly ALL the people in it are evil.

I would say BURN THE BOOKS but the stink would be overwhelming. This is how I see it.

Tim Barrus


My co-writer, Tim Barrus, is a provocateur. My most cynical response is “why burn the books when we could be burning the publishers?”

But that’s not very nice. (Tim thinks I’m nice and I’d just as soon not dispel that illusion.)

My theory of evil (informed by seminary, etc.) is a combination of situational ethics, which always (in my view) includes some solid non-negotiable principles. The first principle here is that “publishing” is not a THING any more than medicine or law or family or sex are things. They are processes and therefore can be done in a benign way or an evil way. To decide case-by-case is a big nuisance, but in the end I think that lumping a whole category into “evil” or “not evil” is simplistic in the first place and too dominated by the troublesome Manichean dyadic world view in the second place. But people LOVE simplistic Manichean statements and labels. It’s really tough to get them to think a situation through, esp. if they’re drunk or madly in love, which may be the same thing.

So, what if you’re madly in love with “publishing” as a process? Not BOOKS. That’s different. I’ll defend my books. I’ll even defend magazines. I have magazines I’ve saved since 1958. (Wasn’t that the year of the House Beautiful issue that defined “shibui?”) I told Tim that if he showed up at my house and threatened to burn my books, I’d lock him out.

For the purposes of “situation ethics,” I’ll break this down into parts.

1. The writers: when they are touted as celebrities, when they have books written in their name that they did NOT write, that’s evil.

2. The acquiring editors: when they promote their friends, inflate importance, secure big advances, promise things they will not and can not deliver, that’s evil.

3. The publishing owners/managing editors: when they manage for profit, pretend innocence, make secret deals, pursue sensation and promote contention, that’s evil. The present practice of exploiting extreme political positions is tantamount to promoting war both in and out of our country and is satanically evil. It’s costing lives. The same applies to extreme religious positions, which they know little or nothing about and don’t bother to properly investigate. Big Time Evil.

4. The agents who used to be editors and are now making their livings by forcing writers into templates they know the editors want (because they make their money only IF the editors accept the work) and are more concerned about their relationships with the publishers who screwed them and fired them than they are with the writers they pretend to serve, are evil.

5. Writers who genuinely are talented and have a clear vision of what their work ought to be but compromise because they need the money are evil, but in a mild and redeemable way. We ought to set about redeeming them by imagining a far better system, but maybe ebooks, vooks, multi-media, embedded arts will do the job. And what’s the matter with old-fashioned open mics? (Unless you need to eat, of course.) Still, people who merely want to be published or to become celebrities or belong to some elite group ought to be prevented from calling themselves writers. Writers are people who write.

6. Readers who read as though books drop out of heaven or spring up from hell, who read with no discrimination or understanding, who leave trails of discarded books while they scarf up whatever the media throws at them, are evil. Readers who suck up to writers as though they were great (and therefore not in need of support) are evil. Readers who condemn writers because they’ve been told the writer in question was a bad person or politically incorrect -- though they’ve never read the actual book -- are evil. Book clubs who only pretend to read the assigned books are naughty, but not quite evil.

7. I’m trying to think about how to say that political correctness can be evil. I think I’ll go with Jesus: those who go by the letter of the law but ignore the spirit are evil.

Power corrupts. Poverty equals vulnerability. These principles take me perilously close to a soft core kind of Marxism, but without proper care capitalism is just a way of taking from the poor while rewarding the rich, always moving towards violence and suppression.

Luckily, writers are like 7th graders or the water behind a dam, which is to say “irrepressible” and they will constantly be feeling around for a way through or around or over obstructions. This moment in time is a great opportunity for writers -- ask any seventh grader how to take advantage of the new media.

The results may not look like what some are now called a “pbook.” The way to achieve the results may not look like “writing,” but the principles of narrativity will always apply because story is a part of humanness that is beyond good OR evil. It just “is” on its own terms and if it has to scratched out on the wall of a prison or encrypted in a symphony or scrawled on a banner, then that will happen. But often at a great cost which could be defined as Evil. So there’s a second major and immutable principle.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

THE TEN RULE MEME & WHY IT'S USELESS

Lance Michael Foster has offered this prospective comment on my post about the NPR story contest. I rejected it as comment because this advice and variations on it has been circulating all over the Web and I’m tired of it. BUT his questions seem worthy of consideration. Skip this list if you want to. I’m just cheating on my 1,000 word goal because I’m tired and my house is chaos from shopping yesterday in Great Falls and then talking on the phone for a couple of hours in the wee smalls. (There’s a lot of anxiety and bereavement going around. This has not been the only call.)


1. Roddy Doyle: "Do feel anxiety ― it’s the job."
2. P.D. James: "Increase your word power. Words are the raw material of our craft. The greater your vocabulary the more effective your writing. We who write in English are fortunate to have the richest and most versatile language in the world. Respect it."
3. A.L. Kennedy: "Remember writing doesn’t love you. It doesn’t care."
4. Anne Enright: "Remember that all description is an opinion about the world. Find a place to stand."
5. Neil Gaiman: "The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like."
6. Geoff Dyer: "Don’t be one of those writers who sentence themselves to a lifetime of sucking up to Nabokov."
7. Anne Enright: "Imagine that you are dying. If you had a terminal disease would you finish this book? Why not? The thing that annoys this 10-weeks-to-live self is the thing that is wrong with the book."
8. Zadie Smith: "Resign yourself to the lifelong sadness that comes from never being satisfied."
9. Will Self: "Regard yourself as a small corporation of one. Take yourself off on team-building exercises (long walks). Hold a Christmas party every year at which you stand in the corner of your writing room, shouting very loudly to yourself while drinking a bottle of white wine. Then masturbate under the desk. The following day you will feel a deep and cohering sense of embarrassment."
10. A.L. Kennedy: "Older / more experienced / more convincing writers may offer rules and varieties of advice. Consider what they say. However, don’t automatically give them charge of your brain, or anything else ─ they might be bitter, twisted, burned-out, manipulative, or just not
very like you."


Anderson: The Best Writing Advice of the Best Writing Advice -- Vulture http://nymag.com/daily/entertainment/2010/02/anderson_the_best_writing_advi.html#ixzz0gYvVAkh6


Lance says: “But there has been raging controversy over such things? Tell me more...I don't see anything controversial to me. After all it's all just a bunch of opinions, not facts. What's the Salon article like?

“Yeah, it seems like everyone in the world is a writer these days, or wants to be. Why do you think that is? The access and ease of writing on the internet?”


Lance

Okay, you asked for it. Gloves off. (I will say that Lance is a published writer of considerable academic standing.)

1. You are as capable of googling Salon as I am. This list and others just like it have been floating around the blogosphere for months.

2. The controversy is in part a failure of definition of what writing is, what “good” writing is, what “successful” writing is, what publishing means, what favorable criticism means, how the academic worlds and media worlds collaborate and how to survive in this world. And a hidden question is always how do I get rich.

3. Publishing as the kind of Virginia Woolf dignified and careful creation of pbooks that can be marketed to an educated clientele and cherished in what is called a “library.” Publishers attribute this to the rise of ebooks, electronic publishing. But I would argue the other way around, that the corruption and failure of publishing almost demanded the invention of ebooks.

For these reasons:

a. The business model, which was originally socially prestigious, was plundered by conglomerate corporations who got rid of all the English majors and installed publicity mongers and market researchers to “package” a product that only looked like a pbook. They also moved the focus from the writing to the author as celebrity.

b. On the level of the book store, books were treated as merely objects: taxed as inventory, required to pay duty when crossing borders.

c. A strange practice invented out of desperation in the last Big Depression let all unsold books be returned to the publisher without question. The trouble is that by that time they were generally unsaleable because of abuse on the shelves. In short, all new books in stores were on consignment.

d. These unsold books were pulped. As many as 40% of a printing. There was nothing else to do with them.

e. Writers were paid upfront for manuscripts submitted and in process with sympathetic editors guiding things along. These “advances” were sometimes large and if they were, they were well-publicized. The “costs” taken out were never known to the public but included. Some were rather, shall we say, “inventive.”

f. Electronic business models allowed the elimination of some bookstores, esp. those who bought and sold used books as objects in which they invested and could not return. On the other hand, these books could now be sold online. But no inventory needed to be kept on hand. In fact, books could be bought directly from the writers.

4. Organizations had been leaning on publishers to be filters for what was worthy writing. Criteria for joining writer’s groups have been things like “has published two books with a legitimate publisher.” Credulous people thought anything bound was “published” so they paid to have their writing printed and bound. Walt Whitman did it. It is sneered at as “vanity” but some vanity is justified. Now that the gates of the six (6) remaining big publishing houses are so nearly closed, so many people are turning to epublishing that the stigma is gone. But so are the standards. Now the prob is how to find a good book without seeing it and handling it and with no middleman curating.

5. Times are hard. Publishing is like rodeo bull-riding. You might win big. You might be killed or maimed. But it might be exciting. The mistake is thinking that you’re going to be published. Go back and look at that advice, Lance. NONE of it is about publishing. Some of it is about surviving NOT publishing. So the question is, “are you writing or are you trying to publish?” The answers are different. These bits of advice are for WRITERS. Not for getting published.

More tomorrow. This is getting too long!! And I thought I needed a head start!!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

THE BALLAD OF JACK AND ROSE: A Reflection

“The [ballad] form was often used by poets and composers from the 18th century onwards to produce lyrical ballads. In the later 19th century it took on the meaning of a slow form of popular love song and the term is now often used as synonymous with any love song, particularly the pop or rock power ballad.”

“In all traditions most ballads are narrative in nature, with a self contained story, often concise and relying on imagery, rather than description, which can be tragic, historical, romantic or comic. Another common feature of ballads is repetition . ..”

-- Wikipedia (so I’m lazy)

“The Ballad of Jack and Rose”
is not concise: in fact, when the critics split about in half over the movie, complaints were about rambling and length. It reminds me of my early sermons which, as one listener told me, “had everything in it but the kitchen sink.” Not that anything was irrelevant, but that the focus was missing. It was “self-indulgent,” meaning that things were in there for MY sake and not for the listener’s sake. But entirely earnest.

Much writing is for the writer’s sake, a way of trying to find meaning in real life by working it through in a virtual story. Isn’t that what the New Testament Gospels do? Then why should we be criticized for doing it? But easier said than done. When I wrote my biographical memoir of Bob Scriver, it was not a ballad, not concise, not that focused except by the process of bronze casting. The problem with it was that too many people assumed it would be an indictment of Bob Scriver for bad behavior and they insist on seeing it that way. He did behave badly and so did I and others. But they are pushing their own feelings in and pushing out evidence they don’t like.

It would be easy to read “The Ballad of Jack and Rose” that way, assuming that the relationship between Day-Lewis’ character and his “daughter” is a mirror of Arthur Miller and Rebecca Miller. No doubt she was drawing on her feelings about her own father and her own life, but this is neither a memoir nor an autobiography, nor is it an indictment. It seems more like an exploration, as though she were as innocent as Rose. One critic called it “respiratory,” as though she were thinking while just breathing.

Richard Stern used to tell us to change gender, nationality, physical description, but keep the relational structure for the story. He did this with “Other Men’s Daughters” but, of course, everyone assumed that the novel was straight autobiography anyway. There doesn’t seem a way out of it, unless the reader takes responsibility for seeing more than confession magazine sensationalism. Arthur Miller himself used the people of his life when he wrote and he was hailed as a great man. Are we going to take that away from his daughter?

Beyond that, writing IS a way to figure out larger philosophical issues whether we’re talking about the author or the reader or the watcher of a movie. Somewhere someone compared this story to the basic plot of “The Tempest,” where the sorcerer has been living with his daughter entirely isolated and somewhat enchanted. One of the more intriguing ideas is that the two sons are Caliban and Ariel, though here they aren’t attached to the father. Perhaps, since Arthur Miller was not warm and fuzzy (maybe) the Daniel Day-Lewis figure is really Rebecca Miller’s MOTHER, Inge Morath, and her fusion with her mother is what was broken, sending her out into the world. (They say women marry their mothers.)

There are refrains: the snake (we all know what that means), the houses. Sometimes the metaphors seem a little too too, but they are almost throwaways, kind of good-humored until we get to the “acid pad” where things escape control. Is that freaky girl a Marilyn Monroe character? Or the young woman Miller took up with after Morath died?

What I see here most of all is people who have built small worlds for themselves (like the developer) and have been able to maintain them Even Jack’s oddball girlfriend and her sons know what they’re about, have done it before with various success. When one reflects on the lives of Rebecca Miller and her family, it’s clear that they are very much members of an “international artistic elite,” who could move with confidence that they would be interpreted as doing something gifted and meaningful and who could choose seclusion.

Chris Boot said of Morath, “[H]er approach to a story was 'to let it grow', without any apparent concern for narrative structure, trusting in her experience and interests to shape her work rather than in an editorial formula... She unsentimentally made pictures that were guided by her relationship to a place... Similarly, her photographs of people are born of intimacy without sentimentality. It is as if the presentation of relationships takes the place of story structure, and her work is best understood as an ongoing series of observations of the life she made for herself.”

These remarks could apply to this “ballad” as well. The accusation of “inscrutability” and “capriciousness” that Jack uses to describe Rose’s mother might be explained as personal (idiosyncratic) attachment and lack of sentimentality. Sentimentality -- after all -- just means being conventional. That’s why greeting cards can be mass produced.

The “message” that Miller seems to be pursuing in this story is that people love different worlds in different ways and that an environment that is too privileged, too protected, too attached, can be deforming from a conventional point of view. And yet it can also allow the growth of ox-like strength (the ox is a strong Zen symbol) and the ability to find a new place and attach there with new friends.

I wonder whether Miller really understands how intensely many of us attach to that world of Jack’s and Rose’s and how hard it was to see Jack surrender to the idea that his beloved commune was only one way to live, made possible by inherited money, no different than any gated community. I only believed that Jack saw that the Beau Bridges’ characters housing projects could also be valid because it was Daniel Day-Lewis. In truth I will never give up the dream of the green commune on a seashore somewhere with beloved people. It’s an ox I don’t want gored.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

NPR SHORT STORY CONTEST

Imagine a photo from inside a cafe. A newspaper is on the table in front of the window. A man is going by on the sidewalk.

This photo is meant to be the focus for a story that can be read in less than 3 minutes, a little less than 600 words. The stories are for a contest on NPR. http://www.npr.com/threeminutefiction.

Here’s my entry:

Since I was back in town, we would have breakfast together, my ex- and I. Separate tables. It would be accidental. Or not. I’d been gone for five years, so I didn’t know whether he still ate there, but he was a creature of habit. And I a creature of guile.

I didn’t know what I hoped. I’d brought along a newspaper to pretend to be absorbed in it if there were someone with him, maybe someone who had spent the night. Actually, I suppose I was more curious than anything else. We hadn’t kept in touch and I sort of wondered how he’d coped, especially since he’d said he couldn’t go on without me. Obviously he must have, if he showed up. Since then I’d sometimes felt I couldn’t go on without HIM, his support and his warmth. I had to write myself a letter to remind myself how cold and harsh everything had gotten.

But then I’d dream of the studio and how the cat would sleep with us, her purring a kind of soundtrack. I knew it would end, of course. He was my first lover and much older than I, which is what I wanted because one of us had to know how to do things, isn’t that right? So I knew I’d move on and maybe he sort of knew that as well. He was so famous, so sought after by women, that I knew he could replace me easily.

The door was glass so I saw him as soon as he arrived and put his hand up to pull the handle. I recognized his old coat. Our eyes met and held. All the plans fell away. He did not smile. For a long moment he stood there, then turned away and hurried on down the sidewalk.

I could not decide whether to follow. When I opened the door, the burst of air made the pages of my abandoned newspaper turn.

___________

Some of the entries have been posted already. When I last looked, there were two stories. One was about a woman who put down her newspaper briefly while she went to the counter to pick up her coffee and returned to discover that a man had mistaken the paper for an art installation. He raves and engages her for an art show of pieces like this one. She successfully complies. The other story is about a man who rises in the middle of the night in order to go to coffee shops and work the crossword puzzle in their newspapers, moving from one to the next, growing ever faster at his self-imposed task, and then going off to his day job, satisfied that he has skunked so many crossword fans. I suspect both writers are young, but maybe not.

What interests me is my own inner life while I go through this process of writing, submission and waiting. First, I tried to trump the others by submitting an mp3 version of me reading the story as well as sending the print version. Second, I contacted “Doctor Dave” who also teaches at George Mason University to see if he knew anything revealing about Cheuse, the judge. (He didn’t.) His opinion was that my story was too much “tell” and not enough “show.” I discover about my writing is that I’m more interested in “tell” than in “show.” Some might call it narrative or plot. I recount a sequence of events more than has been fashionable for quite some time. I find that I prefer reading this style. But it is not the “workshop” style taught to my peers. It is assigned to lowbrow “genre.”

There’s no doubt that I’m jealous and competitive. I applied to Iowa Writer’s Workshop once. Turned down, of course. Alan Cheuse is using their students to do the first cut on the torrent of stories arriving at NPR. EVERYONE wants to be a writer now. I’m less interested in being a writer and more interested in actually writing.

And beyond that, the management of consciousness in the writer -- where the stories come from inside the writer. I know that for Tim a story is a kind of vision, formed inside him sort of the way an egg forms in a hen. Scratch that. The way a pearl forms inside an oyster. Other people insist on a plot outline before they even begin. Stephen King claims that his characters take on a life of their own and act out the story for him. Another writer scoffs that that’s childish and deceptive, a writer must be in charge.

Last night’s movie was “The Ballad of Jack and Rose.” When people say something like “ballad,” that means certain form and other assumptions, but that’s another post. The first time I watched this movie a few evenings ago, I couldn’t understand how an Indie movie could attract top-of-the-line actors like Daniel Day-Lewis and Beau Bridges. The director’s name, Rebecca Miller, meant nothing to me. So I googled to get context. Rebecca Miller is the daughter of Arthur Miller by his marriage to Inge Morath. She is married to Daniel Day-Lewis. I don’t know what the connection to Beau Bridges is, but he has a history of being in small idealistic movies.

I found a Charley Rose YouTube of Rebecca and Daniel Day-Lewis and found her lovely face very revealing. Daniel had a huge beard and was clearly determined to be non-committal and cryptic, probably to protect Rebecca. I discovered that Arthur Miller had a Down Syndrome son, also with Morath, and that it was Day-Lewis who visited the boy and finally managed to connect Arthur Miller to him after a lifetime of denial. Day-Lewis himself had a famous but distant father, a poet. Arthur Miller was married to Marilyn Monroe before Morath. After Morath’s death, though he was 89, Miller moved in a young painter whom Rebecca despised and evicted when her father died. On the one hand, all this is gossip, but on the other hand it explains the movie and even why Rebecca Miller would make movies. After all, Arthur Miller drew on the same material for his plays.

So I will tell you that my 3-minute story is autobiographical: Bob and I DID have breakfast at separate tables long after the divorce. But it is NOT autobiographical because it was always a rather joyful experience -- even rowdy! And repeated. Sometimes we hopped to be at the same table. I used the events in quite a different way. What can you trust in fiction? Am I telling the truth? Does it matter?

Monday, February 22, 2010

BITTER MEDICINE: A Graphic Memoir of Mental Illness

I suppose one might accuse “Bitter Medicine” by Clem Martini of being schizophrenic in the sense of being divided, since it is a graphic novel using drawings on one side of the page and printed narrative on the other. But that’s an old understanding of schizophrenia: “split personality.” This moving book, in its totality, will give you a whole new understanding.

Schizophrenia is a true brain malfunction, where the person is simply not able to process thinking. It’s worth Googling and then returning to Google again now and then as understanding develops (very slowly -- too slowly). It has a big hereditary component (often related to depression, alcoholism), is entirely involuntary (not a character flaw or willful emotion), can’t be “seen” from the outside except through behavior, and is chronic. The behaviors (not moving, disregarding, hearing voices, bumbling and shaking) are stigmatized (mimicking drunkenness) and verge on being criminalized since they lead to homelessness. Economic failure can be fatal.

Clem Martini leads us gently and firmly through his family while his brother Olivier provides the witty and vivid drawings of how it feels from the inside. Originally there were four brothers but the youngest, Ben, developed schizophrenia earlier and had a temperament less amenable to help. He was lost to suicide. Liv plods along stubbornly, doing as he is told, enduring medicines that keep him sane at a cost that is not just monetary but paid in side effects. The family struggles along beside him, blundering, loving, never giving up, making us understand why people need to live in families, whether genetic or not.

It becomes starkly clear that the mentally ill are victims of what Clem calls “The Great Closing of the Eighties.” It hurts a lot more to discover this happened in Canada, which US citizens believe is a far more enlightened country, especially when it comes to health care. The Great Closing happened on both sides of the 49th parallel and was made politically palatable by the idea that new drugs justified turning out all the people warehoused in loony bins so they could be cared for by small community services. Except that in a bait-and-switch, after they had all been sent to the streets, there was no money for those community services.

I would compare this movement to the Highland Clearances in Britain when small crofters and squatters were turned off the common lands in order to pasture more lucrative sheep or to the Prairie Clearances of this continent in which the original people of the land were confined to reservations so that the rest could be opened to homesteaders who would eventually pay taxes and use railroads for shipping crops. Those who favor a vision of the world red in tooth and claw, would say the Great Closing was simply a matter of survival of the fittest, economically driven, and neatly eliminating all the people “wasting” public money. We do it all the time.

Gradually it was revealed that the pharmaceuticals were not fail-save and that research is still falling far short. Liv suffered irreversible damage and each new disorder (esp. diabetes) required either a change in medication or a whole new regime. He was told to get exercise and his brothers walked everywhere with him. His aging mother kept him on his med schedule. Their father, also damaged in some way, died relatively young.

In the course of time, it was discovered that diabetes as a side-effect of one drug was known and ignored by the pharmaceutical company in the by-now familiar practice of suppression of facts in favor of marketing. The Martinis have joined a lawsuit. The task at hand is the raising of consciousness about the disorder and how it is treated. This easy-to-read and sometimes gently funny book is an excellent step in that direction.

Clem Martini is the head of the drama department at the University of Calgary, so he has also adapted this book to a stage presentation, something like “Vincent and Theo.” He has written a trilogy for young adults, called “The Crow Chronicles.” I don’t know it, but I think I’d better find it. Sitting here near the border, even with no passport at the moment, I see wonderful things happening on one side that aren’t known on the other, though the border is an arbitrary legal line. Right now it is hardened because of exactly the kind of world strife and duplicity (one could say schizophrenia) that afflicted Liv and Ben. Imported or exported books have always been problematically handled.

In some ways, Liv was lucky since many mentally ill people are pushed out by their families and for lack of sufficient care get worse until they end up in jail. It is estimated that a huge proportion of prison inmates are simply mentally ill, not even violent. Prisons are simply a reinvention of those original loony bins.

This issue touches me sharply because my brother, cousin, and father were all deeply but subtly changed by closed-skull concussions. Many prisoners also have had head injuries, maybe from high school football. Lost marriage, previously unthinkable violence, immobility, incomprehension, and a need for economic support weighed on us all and still hounds me as I begin to understand better what was wrong. We tried to argue them out of it. Adding to difficulties was their paranoia and their media-skewed belief that admitting mental difficulty meant medieval tortures and confinement. My brother and father lived with my mother who supported the household by teaching. It wasn’t all grim: there were happy times.

Diabetes is another consciousness-changing disorder. When my blood sugar goes too high, I’m sleepy and stupid. When it goes too low, I bump into walls and shake. You can’t see blood sugar, so I have to test monitor and compensate all the time. No one knows the primal cause, though -- as usual -- we tend to blame the victim. It puts me more and more in the hands of pharmaceutical companies and ties me to clinical support. I might appear drunk and be arrested. We are all vulnerable.

In the end we have to rethink what a human being is and what it means to be in society. This very human book is part of that exploration and testimony that one mustn’t give up. We need to make common cause.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

THE WHITE MALE WANNABE

So what’s the deal here? Indins (Native American’s to you, Bub!) talk among themselves about it sometimes. Why do white men (it’s usually men) want to come pretend to be an Indin? Is the life so great? For reals, we’re special people with lots of good features, but what’s the matter with the lives of the white men that they are so anxious to leave it?

Here are some suggestions:
1. They read too much, watch romantic movies, and think they can actually leap into Eden by chumming up to Indins. (They haven’t noticed the people they are reading about were the 19th century version.)
2. It’s a mark of privilege to really be close to some exotic and honored group. They want the creds.
3. Their own white lives have been seriously dislocated some way, like they were in the military or their lover dumped them or they turned out to be economic duds.
4. They can’t seem to manage sex/intimacy, beginning with telling the difference.


Let’s try a little fictional story about a wannabe. He’s gotta be a college professor and let’s say he’s in Manhattan, the source of so many misunderstandings from the beginning when white men thought they traded beads for ownership. Let’s make him a book reviewer and let’s say he finds a book that he absolutely falls in love with. It’s about an Indian man coming of age. He’s named Roderick All Wet because when he was a baby he fell into a pond, got all wet, but sat there in the shallow water laughing.

In the book Roddy gets into all sorts of troubles as he searches for his true inner strength, which he finally finds when he accidentally hatches a duck. He was gathering duck eggs for a meal but while he was carrying them tucked into his shirt, one hatched and began to peep. The rest of the summer he took good care of that baby duck until in the fall it had grown up and flew off to the south with the other ducks. From this experience Roddy learns a) little baby things must be carefully protected b) what you love will always leave you and c) he has no wings and cannot fly. But he can swim.

The reviewer is pierced to the heart over the pathos of this. (He needs a name -- how about William? He says to call him “Wim” -- not Bill.) Wim felt like a duck out of water, as though maybe he should have been some other creature. (His mother calls him her “rara avis”. His sister calls him a turkey, esp. when he gets into her hair products.) But now he is a quite influential movie critic, specializing in obscure Indy films about exotic places where people are constantly falling into forbidden love. He wins a prize for one of his reviews and it’s enough to go out West. He’s over thirty by now, still unmarried, and he resolves to go find Roddy All Wet.

When he drives his little rental car a heckuva long way to the rez town, he passes through many abandoned burgs with empty windows, so he is surprised to pull into the little rez town past a drive-in eatery busy with cars, a community college bustling with people of all ages, and a car wash. How does one find someone in such a place? He decides to find the City Hall, but fails. But he does find a Senior Citizen Center. Everyone in there is busy playing bingo. When he tries to ask questions, they shush him. Finally, a nurse comes over and explains how to find Roddy, who evidently runs his own business.

It turns out to be a laundromat called “Time to Come Clean.” Wim goes in, entering an atmosphere thick with warmth and detergent. The place is filled with the usual gleaming rows of sloshing washers and institutional-sized tumble-dryers. Way in the back is an enormously fat man, ironing shirts expertly, the iron looking small in his big hands. He’s singing with the Muzak which is Charlie Pride. Wim is totally disoriented, but goes to the busy steamy man.

“I’m looking for Roderick All Wet.”

“He don’t exist, man.”

“But I’ve come from Manhattan to speak to him about his wonderful book.”

“Oh, well. I wrote that book.” He shakes out the finished shirt from his board and reaches for a wire hanger. He looks critically at the pink shirt Wim is wearing. “Want me to run your shirt through a machine? You got a bundle of clothes?”

Wim can only stare. Finally he musters his wilted courage. He holds up his copy of Roderick’s wonderful book with its photo of a noble slender young warrior on the back. “But this is a photo of the author!”

“Naw. I don’t like the way I look, man, so I got my nephew to pose for me.”

Long silence while Wim thinks. Finally he ventures, “I would have guessed that you’d have made enough money from this book that you wouldn’t have to work in a laundromat anymore.”

“Are you kidding? I bought this laundromat with my advance! It’s all paid for so I’ve got a steady income. I never have to write another book. And my mom gets all her clothes washed for free, so she doesn’t get mad at me anymore. Plus, it’s warm even in the middle of winter!”

Wim staggers out, so numb he can hardly find his rental car, except that five dogs are clustered around it peeing on the tires because they smell the town where the airport was. He drives home in a daze. After that he starts a whole series in the newspaper called “Hollywood Hoaxes”. One after another he condemns movies about Indians as fakes, beginning with “Nanook of the North,” which features an Eskimo (whom you should call “Inuit”) pretending to eat a phonograph record when in fact he was perfectly well aware that one cannot eat vinyl. He LOATHED “Dances with Wolves” and points out that the hero and heroine were actually white.

Everyone loves the series and praises Wm for being so honest and insightful. A publisher approaches him about a book. He choose the photographer for the photo on the back very carefully and gets a professional hair weave for his receding hairline.

Back on the rez Roddie never hears about all that. He legally changes his name to Alwet and since there is a new postmaster all his mail goes astray. A very nice girl who does a lot of beading falls in love with him. All their babies have wonderful bright and absolutely authentic patterns on their baby moccs.

It was the book reviewer who was the wannabe. The Indian simply was. Is.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

ALPHA MALE

When Ray Sawhill left 2blowhards.com in order to move his pop stand to Facebook, a lot of naughty energy went with him to the new location. Who am I not to follow? Ray says good things about my writing! So when he posted a link to a blog talking about Alpha Males, I jumped to it.

What I found was two chapters of a very intriguing story in Costa Rica, sort of a meeting between Carmen and Che. More is supposed to come. But then I read the comments. Oh, dear. More generation whateverthisis obsessing about the same old Hugh Hefner markers: access to bunnies, tech stuff, hot cars, and all that. Although I have to say, when one young man (35 is young to me, baby) boasted about his Ivy League education and his dot com fortune by saying he could have any twenty-year-old chick he wanted, the slightly older guys told him he was fishing for guppies or maybe those little feeder goldfish the pet store sells. “Man up!” they told him, “Find a real woman.”

Yeah, right. Someone like Carmen.

This same blogger likes to point out that Obama uses Alpha Male body language. No lie. Does anyone who has been a professor at the U of Chicago Law School NOT use Alpha Male body language? (Do you realize what those students are like?) Check out Scalia. He has more children than most men have mistresses and I expect no one at his house is confused about the kind of relationship they have. Obama wasn’t at the school when I was. Cass Sunstein was and the whole concept of “Alpha” was irrelevant to him. He would need an entire alphabet in several languages. It was a mercy they had just made computers available -- he rushed straight from his car to his office, developing three new concepts before his fingers hit the keyboard. Actually the whole U of Chicago Law School faculty reminded me of Lippizaners, very powerful, very disciplined, able to act in synchrony, and white. No blacks, yellows or reds at that time. These guys were empowered by two forces: the law and the institution of the university professional school. This was an historical, civilized, institutionalized, bureaucratic sort of Alpha-ness.

In more organic societies, like a small town or a rez, the alpha male is the “go-to” guy. If you needed help fixing something, or some advice about a local political matter, or to borrow something, you’d go-to this guy. If you were in really major trouble, you’d go-to him. And if you were really out-of-line, being a horse patootie, others would go-to the Alpha to straighten you out. The model here that’s outside the law -- or in an alternative law system -- is “The Godfather.” Or you might invoke Marshall Dillon from "Gunsmoke".

They say that in the new movie they’re making of “Gunsmoke,” Brad Pitt wants to play Marshall Dillon, but that’s all wrong. Pitt’s personal authority doesn’t come from the slow consideration and sorrowing experience that James Arness gave the role, but rather a sizzling, trendy, thoroughly sexual aura, which is exactly what this blog I found was talking about. Although it helps that Pitt is older now and helping to herd all those rainbow children around. But -- the camera can change what someone is like. Now and then a person who is unremarkable off the set can become a solar flare on film.

An alpha in real life might not look like much though I’ve known some who do. (I’ll stick to men.) I taught a boy who was troublesome and the other kids said, “You won’t understand him until you meet his father.” The father lived out of town (divorce) but when he did show up, it was in a crowd and the kids were right. I didn’t need anyone to point him out. Partly it was a matter of moving, like a dancer or a major athlete, and partly it was that people gave him space. Partly it was that his eyes were taking in everything and partly it was that his posture told you he was a compressed spring. The trouble with the kid was partly that he wanted to be always with his dad and couldn’t, and partly that he was trying to be just like his dad, but couldn’t. The path he was on was his mother’s path. He controlled her by making trouble and it was a strategy that would not allow him to grow up. So being alpha is not hereditary.

I do think that alphas are not promiscuous. A good fictional example might be the continuing saga Peter Bowen creates around his Metis man Gabriel DuPre, whose fictional domain in right around here somewhere. He is a protective man, a thinking man, a go-to man (who has his own go-to coyote consultant), and his wife might be like Carmen, but she doesn’t try to control him nor does he ever allow himself to dishonor her. Rather the two are held together by an invisible force field, like gravity, rather like what it is fashionable to call “gravitas” these days. That is, they take the relationship VERY seriously and those around them recognize it. But DuPre is not normally grim, and the great joy of this relationship comes out in his highly skilled fiddling. On the violin.

So these young men who are obsessing about “Alpha-ness” and its relationship to sex would do well to compare and contrast the marriages of Obama and Tiger Woods. I think that Woods was pressed so hard into the development of his athletic skill that he had no chance to mature as a human being. If I were working with him to understand, I would ask him whether the first affairs coincided with the loss of his father, his main source of intimacy aside from his mother.

Alpha males are slightly different in different cultures, and I mean the interwoven but plural cultures in any country. Some require the capacity for violence and some allow for differences in intimacy, but all cultures require effectiveness, skill which is the mother of confidence which is the cornerstone of achievement. Part of that is choosing your ground. Can a man be an alpha on the Internet? Ray? I’m going to you.

Friday, February 19, 2010

ANIMAL CONTROL MANAGEMENT by Stephen Aronson


Animal control is one of the most incendiary things to try to manage this side of terrorism and some people would say that it IS trying to manage terrorism. Steve Aronson, author of “Animal Control Management: A New Look at a Public Responsibility,” is not inclined to hyperbole and approaches the subject calmly. The cover claims he’s an administrator and troubleshooter with “many years of service” and that is immediately apparent. For anyone charged with designing or reforming a new animal control service or for someone simply starting up a sub-component like an animal licensing program, this will amount to a map and handbook. I suggest these rules should guide you.

Rule number one is keep your cool. Mike Burgwin, the best manager I’ve ever worked for and the first one to give Multnomah County an effective animal control organization, once looked me in the eye and said, “Mary, you’re smart enough to be groomed for management, but you’re too damned emotional.” He was quite right. Aronson (whom I do not know) would sincerely agree with that criterion and demonstrates with his patient, balanced, clear prose. (I regret that the print is so small, but I understand that it’s meant to save paper and thus expense. Get a magnifying glass.)

Rule number two is analyze the situation carefully
. This was my strong suit. In those pre-computer days I used raw statistics to design charts with graph paper and a ruler. As animal control people learn, what we “think” we know about the interactions of people and domestic animals is often quite wrong, generalized from our own neighborhood or culture or the interpretations of young reporters in a hurry. At that time the now editor of the Purdue University Press series, Alan M. Beck, had written the only book that provided any useful categories and definitions. “The Ecology of Stray Dogs: A Study of Free-ranging Urban Animals.” (1973) is still in print and still relevant. Aronson continues and expands this work by concentrating on the human side of it, what we might call “the ecology of animal control management, for -- as he suggests -- animal control has two constituencies: the protection and regulation of the non-human animals as well as the human animals. We all know which is more difficult to manage. Records, staffing, qualifications, communication are all human issues that affect everything else.

Rule Three is to generate as many possible solutions as possible.
So you don’t have to start from scratch, this absolutely indispensable book will get you off to a head start with checklists and ideas. Aronson has surveyed the field from small one-officer towns to the major urban centers and noted their strategies: contracting, delegating, fund-raising, and coping with totally unprecedented and probably expensive emergencies. He offers cautionary tales and examples of contracts.

I particularly liked his concept of “cost centers” which groups together goals and services separately under the larger umbrella. Examples might be field services, public education, in-house veterinary services (especially spay/neuter), records. This is not an exhaustive list, but it raises consciousness just to think this way. Too often, particularly when humane societies have contracted to provide animal control, all attention is focussed on the easier-to-see animal shelter where expenses seem given, so that the officers in the street are shorted. (People are often angry with them anyway.) And yet the best way to keep the shelter population manageable is good field enforcement that cuts down on high stray populations.

You know Steve is talking about something he knows when he says that animal control is always unique, where ever you are and no matter what the general principles might be, because animals are part of communities, which are unique. You never can predict what might happen next: a couple of dozen fighting roosters might be brought to you to be held for evidence for a court case six months in the future. Do you know how to care for them? Have you got premises where you could confine them? Or maybe an animal hoarder is arrested or dies on his premises, and a hundred assorted animals in distress need immediate care, possibly euthanasia. Perhaps an exotic animal (ostriches, elephants) is endangering people at this very moment and the police request help even though animal control specifically excludes exotics and wild animals. One does not refuse an emergency, even if nothing is budgeted.

In 1978 when I left, the professionalization of animal control was just beginning. Aronson constantly reminds modern managers that vital resources are only a phone call or email away. The American Humane Association (established in 1915), the Humane Society of the United States (a breakaway group from AHA established in 1954), National Animal Control Association (formed in 1978), and The Society of Animal Welfare Administrators (formed in 1970) are only four of the many coalitions and partnerships that support each other even as they compete in some ways. Smaller organizations exist and Aronson lists many. Managing animal control is not an occupation it is wise or pleasant to undertake alone. One needs a long list of contacts ranging from bee keepers to animal research laboratories. These days a good local attorney is necessary for any manager and it pays to be on good terms with the relevant labor union. Be sure to budget for training at the several “academies” that move around the country.

Arguably, the most important chapter in the book is the one on reviewing and auditing Animal Control Programs. Although one’s first reaction to evaluations is to cringe, any rational person can understand they are a huge benefit, supplying the rationale and data for a healthy future. Aronson de-mystifies the process. First he recommends that this be a “performance audit” of two sorts: management/efficiency audits and program audits. In other words, not just “how well are we doing this” but also “is this what we ought to be doing.” Such an audit might be performed by an outsider. Aronson’s list of reasons for an audit range from a transition between managers to a grand jury inquiry. Myself, I would want an annual mandated internal audit.

Plenty of scope remains for future books, but this one provides a sound foundation for someone trying to figure out how to manage a literally life-and-death function of government that demands both transparency and tolerable results. Save your own neck by carefully reading and rereading this book.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

HOT WATER

When I bought this house I was so excited about owning a whole HOUSE that I invited everyone to come visit. I figured the shed made a good extra bedroom and had all kinds of improvements in mind so vividly that I could see them already! It took a while to realize I’d gotten myself into hot water. I’ve always lived in decrepit old rentals and improvised a lot, but it soon became apparent that my guests have not.

The only guy who seemed perfectly okay was the “worm man,” an expert who came to look for extinct worms in the Sweetgrass Hills but got stonewalled by everyone up there who had been telling me about them only a few months earlier. In fact, even the guy he was supposed to stay with turned him away. So he stayed in my shed and liked it. When I asked him, he said that he’d stayed in plenty worse. I asked him where and he said “the Philippines” where lizards were everywhere and the bathroom was just a hole in concrete. He even understood about the hot water.

The hot water heater is in the crawl space -- a crawl space is just the dirt under the floor. Someone previous to me had dug out this crawl space so you don’t have to crawl -- you can stoop and it’s tall enough to put the hot water heater there, which is evidently why they dug it out -- so there’d be more space in the kitchen.

This water heater is gas and fairly modern but I keep it turned low to save money. It has some kind of electronic programming but evidently not for this time zone. Maybe a time zone on the moon. One shouldn’t just bop into the shower without testing the current “hot” water temp to see if you’re in sync with a bearable temp. If it’s too cool to suit, one runs a lot of water in a sink about an hour in advance, which will cause cold water to run into the water heater (VERY cold since the water is off the Rockies). That will make it turn on and get plenty hot. But you don’t want to forget that you’re waiting for hot water and go shopping or something, so that the gas to heat the water is wasted.

In the house where I grew up in Portland, which was built about the same time as this one (Thirties), though times were more advanced in the big city. The hot water heater was in a proper basement but was not automatic. The tank was the regular kind but the heating part was old-fashioned gas that looked like a whiskey still. One went down to the basement, opened a door in the side of a tube-shaped chamber with a coil of copper inside, struck a match, and held it to the bottom of the coils where the gas came out, propping the door open with your arm, while turning a key to let the gas in.

What I never got straight was whether to strike the match and turn the key, or turn the key and strike the match. The wrong order meant an explosion and since I had trouble propping the door, once enough gas accumulated to make a big enough explosion that it blew my eyebrows off. I was about ten. After that I refused to even go into the basement again until my mother got tired of my cowardice and forced me to go light the heater, smacking my legs with the yardstick when I balked. It was also important to remember to turn the water heater OFF because otherwise it kept cooking away until the tank was in danger of a REAL explosion, one that would blow the house apart. People lived dangerously in those days.

Here in this little house I put a “telephone” head in the shower to avoid the kind of shocks (either hot or cold) that makes a person leap out the door (it’s a glass booth) scattering water in every direction. The idea is to unhook it and point away from one’s body until the temp is known. I also use three kinds of soap: Irish Spring for the bod, Oil of Olay for the face, and funny slurpie stuff in a tube that smells like veggies or flowers just for the fun of it. So when my company heads for the shower, I give them a little explanation. The worm man loved it. (“Wait until I tell my wife!” he said.) My great uncle said, “Well, it’s just like a motel, isn’t it?” And his partner, who worked in a hospital, wanted to know whether I bleached the shower stall daily. (Ulp. Nope.)

I did NOT give them the pitch I got from friends in upscale Hollywood who were up on one of those spectacular ridges in a time of drought. Guests were asked to lather up from a bucket, then rinse as efficiently as possible because there was little water available and the septic tank (hacked out of rock) filled up so quickly that once everyone had to be sent home from a party until the honeytruck came.

Luckily, my cleanliness standards are very low and I’m among those who finds body odor interesting. (No pee please.) My cousin the gardener hates to be sweaty and in summer can take as many as five showers a day. These are teenager-type showers lasting a long time. Her bathroom counter sports more kinds of lotions and creams than my shower has soaps.

My real passion is soaking in the bathtub, preferably with a book. I never worked up much interest in the battalions of candles shown in movie bathrooms, because you really can’t read in the bathtub by candlelight. In fact, since I started to develop cataracts, I would need a good strong reading light in a bathtub, which is a bit of a problem, since electricity and water don’t mix. It’s not a problem in this house because I took the bathtub out in order to find room for the shower. The bathtub is out in the backyard now and I grow tomatoes in it in the summertime. But sometimes I’m sorry about that. It would feel so good to soak my butt in winter. When I’m rich, I’ll get a hot tub. With grab bars.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

BLACKFEET DOG WITH MANY NAMES

From H-Amerindian, an academic aggregator of Native American news:

“Blackfeet Reservation Facing Cultural Dilemma Over Animal Control,” FRBB
News. February 14, 2010.
http://www.kfbb.com/news/local/84355487.html

“With an abundance of dogs roaming the streets each day, the city of Browning is facing a cultural dilemma over animal control on the reservation. The Blackfeet people have a deep love for their dogs that goes back many years, but the current living conditions of the animals on the reservation is causing concern. Once the protector of the camp, the Blackfeet Nation dog once carried the burdens of the people, guarded their camps and were allowed to roam free, but now the dogs are living in a modern day society. The reservation is looking to take a new approach to animal this year, while keeping the cultural beliefs intact at the same time. Darrell Kipp, Director of the Piegan Institute, is helping new mayor Lockley Bremner determine what changes need to be made. He says, ‘We're talking about a time when there were no streets, no technology. Today it's a different situation. We have to use modern day approaches to be friends with the dog.’ Today, many stray dogs roam the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, some limping, others so hungry they are forced to dig through the trash for food. New mayor Lockley Bremner says, ‘We've become immune to the atrocities that the animals face here in Browning. I'm not innocent, you know, I've neglected it myself.’ Bremner has only been mayor of Browning since January, but he says the lack of animal control has been neglected for far too long. Its something Office Wayne Higgins sees firsthand everyday during his patrols…”


(I think this Lockley Bremner is the son of the Lockley Bremner in the first class I taught in Browning in 1961. That would mean it was his grandfather, Robert Bremner, who hired me to teach since he was on the school board then.)

___________

Last night I found a good place to sleep with a couple of other dogs under a house trailer. The skirting had come loose enough for us to squeeze in there and we were right next to the hot water pipes. I hope they don’t find that place and fix it, but spring is coming. We’re through the worst. I can smell it on the wind.

In the really old days we’d have been busy but hungry this time of year, working with The People. But in the cowboy days, like even fifty years ago, we’d have had to lay low for a while, because it used to be that the cops would shoot every dog that was loose. The calves were coming and some of us dogs would kill them.

I guess you never really get rid of the wolf in some dogs. Some of us are pretty big and tough -- strange dogs don’t go into their part of Browning. But in the smaller towns closer to the Rocky Mountains those big tough dogs keep the bears and cougars out of the street. Cougars eat poodles, you know. (Some of us think that’s not entirely a bad thing!)

In those days there was an old woman named Eula Sherburne, whose husband was an important businessman and who was the daughter of the agent named Churchill. (No relation to Winston, I think.) She didn’t own a dog but she would hide one she liked on her sun porch. It was “McGraw,” who was no poodle. He was a St. Bernard and he DID kill calves, though no one with a gun ever caught him. We thought it was hilarious because she was just a little lady, but she was tough and made McGraw do what she said. It was for his own good. Even people did what she said.

The thing is, Blackfeet dogs are not really pets -- most of us. We’re like an interwoven tribe. Like, I belong to what they call an “extended” family, so I don’t just stay in one family’s yard because they might not come home at night. If they don’t, I go over to the auntie’s house or if they’re gone, too, like at basketball tournament time, there’s a ranch in the country where someone has to stay in order to feed the cows. They’ll put out food for me. Otherwise, I just rustle. I’m really good at rustling. I don’t need anyone to open a can for me. But I would be really upset to be tied or fenced. How could I rustle?

I don’t mind being on the lean side so long as I have the wind in my ears. But what I love most is being out and about with my buddies. I mean, next to my human family, the best thing in the world is being with my other dogs. On a spring afternoon, dozing up against a sunstruck wall where it’s warm and keeping one eye on things, I couldn’t be happier. It’s more than just happy -- hard to explain. Peaceful. In harmony. Sometimes the town street people come along and sit against the wall with us, talking or even singing. It’s a good sound. They might have food in their pockets.

Granted, it’s not much fun to be clipped by a car, even killed. But we have a lot of endurance and we either heal or we don’t. That way the weak ones get weeded out, which is the way it’s always worked on the prairie.

I’m the last of my mom’s pups. The family took her to one of those veterinarian marathons where they tied her tubes. She fussed over me longer than she would have otherwise. I miss her now. Not quite sure where she went. In fact, there aren’t as many dogs around as there used to be.

This college kid who belonged to one of our families made a movie about us. You could watch it at:
www.reznetnews.org/multimedia/video/rez-dogs-5530 I’m in it but I won’t tell you which one I am because a dog has to guard his privacy. I won’t tell you my name either, because I have a dozen names. Some of them are in Blackfeet and you wouldn’t be able to pronounce them anyway.

I know change is coming. I hate change. I want everything to stay the old way. I can’t help it. I’m just a dog. At least the mountains stay the same.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A PASSIONATE DEFENSE OF "FRIENDING" by Mattathias

This blog post by Mary Scriver is an editorial with a lot of judging going on. I want to know why I have to limit my so-called real friends to relationships defined by the past. I do not want my grandmother's friends. I want my friends and who is qualified to tell me that my Internet friends are of less value and that they are plastic like legos. Is this to piss me off? I wish Tim will tell me but he will not. "Tell your story your way," is what he always says. "Mary did. Now, it is your turn." I have found many friends who are good friends and supportive human beings and I have found them through social networks. They are not legos. I resent being called one. I am their friend and I am not a plastic person or a cheap toy and I am not a Rolodex. No one uses a Rolodex no more.

There are other implications like the one where it is judging to say that my social network friends are like fundraising. Just because someone has found Cinematheque through a social network does that mean that their financial support is not supportive? it is safer to be on the Internet than it is to be where people can really hurt you if they have a mind to if they see you as being vulnerable. I am vulnerable. Multiple sclerosis is a disability. It gets worse and worse. Am I supposed to stay in my bedroom a shut in and cut off from the entire world because my Internet friends are not really friends and they are really legos? If the purpose was to piss me off it worked. Am I supposed to say that I am not worthy of having friends in the flesh because I can't always attend social events?

When you started reading this did you say to yourself that this writer is disabled? No because you did not know. I am treated with great equality by my social network friends and the disability only comes up every now and then. They see me as a person first and if they know about the MS it is not like the big deal it is when they know me sitting in a wheelchair. They do not feel sorry for me and I do not need or want their pity. I type with a pencil in my mouth. Does that make me into a thing that can only connect to other things? Why are we things and only people who know other people and are friends with them the old way when there were no computers can be friends and we are not really friends? Because people might not disclose on the social network? People do not always disclose face to face. Mary's aversion seems to me to be coming from a couple of places. One of them is generational where the word friend is supposed to mean sight-to-sight, flesh-to-flesh. In person. That is only one way of communicating. Am I not supposed to use the touch talker on my computer because it is not really talking and it is only a machine? I will not do it. I will use my touch talk machines TextSpeak and I will be heard by anyone I want to talk with. There are many ways to know people. I feel like Mary is putting one of the ways I find friends down and sort of making fun of it with disdain by putting me in the same category as a list. Am I an impersonal person who functions like a snap-together life?

One of my social network friends works for an airline and he has made it possible for me to travel to foreign countries. He has changed my life. He has removed barriers. Am I supposed to say that our relationship has no worth because it started on Facebook? The old way is always the better way. It is not better for me. I love computers. I have friends because of computers. Not many people know this but my friend at the airline has MS, too. We connected through a group. His MS is not as bad as mine and he can work. Are we not supposed to connect because we are just names on a list. Mary doesn't know what she is talking about. It is a complaint. If someone does not want to be on a social network who is holding a gun to their head to do it? But to put down a way many people use to make contact with other people is I think kind of mean.

Mattathias Athanasiou

(Matthathias is a member of Cinematheque in Paris. I have not edited whatsoever.)

A FRIEND IS NOT A LEGO

A friend is not a lego. Acquiring a friend is not like popping a peg into a hole. However, building a list of clients, customers, is very much like that. Computer geeks working for cyber-businesses assume that all lists are like that.

When our grandson was six years old, he spent the summer with us. When he settled down for the evening he would count his riches: “Today I made ten new friends, counting dogs.”

When I was trying to build a Unitarian Universalist community in Montana, I slowly accumulated a huge collection of 3 X 5 cards of people who had visited the services or who used to be members or who seemed like possible prospects. Also, I had parallel collections of sympathetic ministers of other denominations, informed reporters, printers who could do newsletters cheaply, and the like. What I was doing was “aggregating” and “curating.” That is, I was creating a mailing list and a contact list. The addresses all out of date now. Many of the people have died, but I haven’t thrown the cards out because I like to be reminded of the people.

In one of my recent BBC mysteries, the plot hinged on an old lady killed because she had memorized a list of “benefactors” who turned out to be drug dealers. Discovering this was a function of “curating.”

Business people have always guarded their Rolodexes. They are wise. In our sculpture days, we protected our secret sources, like who made P-300, the latex formula we used for antlers which made the little tourist deer and elk relatively unbreakable. Or where we bought the controlled carcinogenic substance that kept black tuffy mold material from distorting.

When a person is seriously fund-raising, as First Unitarian Church of Portland did in the days when they took money seriously, the committee sat down with the pledge cards (another version of the Rolodex cards except that they had the pledge records on them) and sorted them several different ways. First you skimmed off the high pledges and looked around at the committee to see who could most tactfully and successfully ask those people to renew or raise their pledges. Then you divvied up the cards so each person took a set of cards, representing contacts for them to make. The really hard core money raisers did a good deal of discrete investigation. A banker was an important member of the committee.

But the BEST churches had a second committee who took the same cards and re-sorted them according to their needs and styles. What could be done for this group with the resources they seem to have? Surveys were necessary, but since they never really tell you a lot more than the assumptions of the survey-maker, human interaction was crucial. Strangely, people who would visit to find out these things were harder to find than those raising money.

So now we come to the “friends” lists on Internet platforms, which amount to this kind of Rolodex building and targeting, right? But there is more involved than just raising money. In today’s political climate, Big Brother wants to know where you are, what you’re doing, who’s there with you, and why your hands aren’t up on top of the table where we can see them when the surveillance satellite flies over. And these lists are suddenly not voluntary. Even unlisted phone numbers are there, your house number even if you’re a famous movie star, the names and ages of your children, and -- if you’re willing to put out a bit of money -- more than even small town neighbors or your banker probably know about you, as indiscreet politicians are discovering when someone gets hold of a madam's Rolodex.

What we were doing when we worked on the fund-raising committee for the church is called “curating,” which is the evaluation of each entry on the list. But a computer is not a good curator. An algorithim is nothing less than a machine-made stereotype. When it sorts me one way (small town older woman), I’m sent apron patterns and pie recipes. When it sorts me another way (former minister, book buyer), I become the target for Christian publishing. (I’m not Christian. Machines don’t GET that.) When they realize that I have no money, I fall off their lists. (Whew!)

Not that human individuals don’t do the same thing, assuming all sorts of movie-inspired possibilities, maybe based on a photo from thirty years ago. And we know entirely too much about people who are using categories not to get money but to get or sell sex, especially indirectly like clothing and makeup.

So now we’re all urged to create our “platform,” which is little more than a can label for list makers and shelf stackers. Lists of literary agents show which categories of writing they will handle. There is no category for “good writing.” Rather it is YA, horror, romance, history, etc. and only “literary fiction” is supposed to signal “fine writing.” Everything is based on past products: one must not leave one’s platform.

The assumption of Facebook and Google Buzz is that you’re building a Rolodex list of interchangeable parts, like legos. A snap-together life where one doesn’t step out of one’s sociological demographic or one’s hierarchical level. I’ve spent my life fighting these assumptions, trying to break and escape templates. Even the counter-culture degenerated so that even it demanded conformity: certain way of dressing, certain hairdo, certain music.

Maybe having so many immigrants in the country contributes to this idea that there is a certain “way” to be American or even to be religious. The first generation is just trying to cope, but the second generation learns in junior high never to be too different. In my high school years (53-57) we were constantly urged to be “creative.” But one had to wear a certain kind of blouse with a circle pin on the correct side. When I was inspired by photos of English public school students to wear my father’s tartan tie instead of a circle pin, friendly people asked me whether I were being hazed by some club I wanted to join.

There’s a far less benign side to having one’s name and address suddenly put on a list developed by a stereotype. Ask the people whose criminal background is now published, like the sex offenders who get burned out by NIMBY arsonists. Ask the people who get stalked. Even I had hoped to escape some of the people in my past and I’ve had a relatively benign past. For marketing purposes it’s probably useless because there’s no platform.

So do NOT friend me, unless you really ARE my friend, my human, real, pulsing thinking friend. In that case, you’re on a very short list that I can easily remember, even including dogs.

Monday, February 15, 2010

BREAKING & ENTERING: A Reflection

“The techniques used to burgle Green Effect come from parkour, a physical discipline and recreational activity of French origin whose practitioners are called traceurs. Sometimes confused with free running, a related discipline derived from parkour, the art, as it is called by some practitioners, has gained in popularity in urban areas, particularly in Europe, during the early 21st century.”

That’s my epigram. To discuss a masterpiece, one needs an epigram. “Breaking and Entering” is a very constructed movie and yet one’s emotions can go “free running” through it, exactly because it is so solidly fitted together. “Breaking and entering,” aside from meaning burglary, is an oxymoron. How can you “enter” a broken thing? Even if it’s a relationship? If it’s a country? Or does the break let you in? Anyway, there is a third step that’s not in the title: “healing,” corny as that concept has become, or maybe “returning.”

Minghella also directed “The English Patient,” one of my favorite movies, which was supposed to be unfilmable. I think the reason he succeeds is his own internal structure of interacting polarities which he uses like the grid under the chess pieces to hold them in relationship, playing them against each other, something like the two young people nimbly negotiating unyielding structures. It’s certainly amazing to watch.

The “interacting polarities” (I’m sorry that sounds so pretentious.) includes the nature of the characters who are also in pairs: the glacial, northern, impassive woman who cannot get enough sun against the passionate, generous woman who radiates warmth; the architect with visions and dreams versus the near-engineer who wants sound building. It extends to the unbuilding and rebuilding of King’s Cross, destroying it in order to save it.

Minghella said that one of the most compelling images, the fox, was NOT a metaphor, though EVERYTHING in life is a metaphor. I think he means that it arrived by itself. The fox population must be cleaning up the rats displaced by building destruction. They are really there, occupying the ecological niche of cats but rather better prepared to tackle big rats and finding the city safer than the country where the chief predator is the gentry. The witty human equivalent is the prostitute. Minghella says that when one walks down the street, the musky reek of fox can fume out of corners. They didn’t have to use a trained fox, just watch for chances to film wild foxes.

The other overwhelming “trope” was that of glass which comes out in the cinematography: windshields, windows, skylights, “reed glass” (that grooved glass the English seem to love), binoculars, the glass screens of computers, the “sun box”. It’s such an obvious and common practice in movies that we hardly notice, except that Minghella adds lenses and focus, the camera as window. Some scenes are so out-of-focus one can hardly tell what’s happening. Yet the compelling scene of the architect and his mate undressing in front of the mirrored doors of their huge closet was “found” rather than planned. Minghella calls it “the choreography of the eye” and praises the immense power of stillness, frozen action.

Then there’s color: the high-brow cream-colored house we see everywhere in magazines was not “set-dressed” but found. The navy/black clothing is also in sophisticated magazines but the riotous ethnic colors of the Bosnians is in less exalted magazines. So one of the challenges in the story is that of luxury markers: the displaced peoples of “low class” countries turn out to be just as intelligent and savvy as the supposed superiors.

In an art book or class somewhere I learned to distinguish between the Gothic cathedral era which reached always “up,” aspiring into the sky, a religious trope; versus the Renaissance buildings that were expansive sideways -- like Henry VIII. Architecture is an inhabitable art form that plays these two off each other, with landscape architecture existing as another oxymoron. Minghella avoids the grids of roads in order to pick up the web of canals through London, lined with exuberant vegetation. Ironically the “council housing” looks so beautiful in the camera that Minghella said they had to go back and find some tough, ugly stuff to convey the reality of tiny apartments. Maybe it’s the places for things to grow, mostly weeds. The most raw emotion of the plot is expressed in a groomed park on the long slope of a hill crowned by a gorgeous classical building.

As you can tell, I was almost more fascinated by Minghella’s discussion of the movie than by the movie itself. He said the basic idea had been in his mind for fifteen years, so I suspect that much of it was formed deep in his subconscious and then emerged as a surprise to himself, a discovery. Once he got hold of a plot element, though, like the parkour free running (fox! -- and they WILL climb like cats but by leaping rather than clawing) he knew to research it and use what he found. He said that what at first seemed like the most organic, dream-like and personal of elements turned out to be “concrete” events of the real world. How could any artist ask for more than that? The wisdom is to go with it.

Shooting London is definitely “going with it,” particularly when he used so many of the seasoned English actors from BBC mysteries, rough and raw as they know to portray. Jude Law himself actually lives in that Kings Cross part of town, albeit in a gentrified place. The office of the film company, working out of the warehouse office in the movie, was burglarized repeatedly.

Minghella is dead of a “breaking and losing” -- a hemorrhage after surgery for tonsil cancer in 2008 -- and I grieve for the lost movies, though I didn’t like all of the real ones. “Cold Mountain” left me, well, cold. But one of his productions has lived in my imagination for years though it wasn’t even a movie and I’ve never seen it. It was the Met production of "Madame Butterfly" that used a life-sized bunraku puppet for Butterfly’s little boy. (Bunraku puppets are operated by people who are right there in plain sight, but dressed in black.) I haven’t finished exploring YouTube Butterfly snippets, but it’s clear that Minghella's Chinese wife, Carolyn Choa, a choreographer and director, understands human architecture of movement. Part of Minghella’s genius was pulling in collaborators, his vision becoming a stage for their dance.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

I HEART SMALL TOWNS

Part of the problem of managing a small town like Valier, which is about a hundred years old, or Browning which is slightly older, is that we are having to travel in two directions at once. If the problem were to plan a new community within the limits of money available and to the extent that is practical, it would be easy. But these are towns built on the bones of the recent past so that deconstruction must constantly accompany construction and in some cases -- like the original decision to locate Browning in a swamp -- old decisions constantly present new problems.

In Browning old buildings still persist in spite of many of them being burned. In Valier we seem to have passed that stage, mostly. The ghosts that haunt us are things like underground contamination plumes from former gas stations along the highway. Now they are a line of vacant lots on which nothing can be built. It’s not just that they must be monitored and eventually cleaned up, but that the law suits entangled with them are proceeding slowly. And since the blame/accountability/decisions were all entangled with parent and grandparent generations -- but most of the impulse and need to build is on the part of the younger people, competing families and newcomers -- the frustration and defensiveness get personal. Divisions and factions develop.

The pressure of growth in people and their modern water use (showers, sprinklers, frequent laundry) is coming up against tightening legal requirements, most of them meant to be protective like the sometimes onerous restrictions on our sewage lagoon. (Sometimes six samples a day, spaced by hours) Most reforms and rebuilding of the sewer and water infrastructure mean digging, which means a need for nonexistent maps and personal knowledge to deal with what is unseen but constantly felt. Investigation of the water distribution pipes reveals all kinds of improvisations, like jackleg plumbing that takes the water of two houses in from one pipe with the shut off on the single leg. So if one house pays the water bill and the other one doesn’t, how can the deadbeat be shut off? On the other hand, if one fellow wants to go to Florida for the winter, how does he safeguard his plumbing by shutting it down and emptying his pipes? It looks as though this sort of thing will contribute major headaches to moving from a “shared co-op” model in which everyone pays the same price regardless of use, to a metered system. Installing meters will mean rebuilding the pipes. Who pays?

Digging aggravates one of the constant sources of irritation: the roads. Plow it, pave it, gravel it, water it, light it, keep the equipment running -- major headaches.

One of the council men remarked that the only product we have to sell as a town is water, but that’s not true. A town is a service provider. Service providers respond to need and keep coming. They operate on good will. How do we maintain good will in the face of so much aggravation? We are basically a cooperative but some people are not good cooperators.

I’ve been thinking about the churches as reminders of good will and common benefits. They are so shrunken in resources that none can maintain a full-time resident clergyperson. This means that their awareness of tension in the town is pretty vague and their feeling that they ought to address town problems of morale and morality is weak. If one is preaching to four towns in one day, the tendency is to generalize so one can simply repeat the same sermon and put the energy into driving. This town has the VADC, whose purpose is to “improve” the town but on their own terms. I think they would be surprised to know what I consider an improvement. (Benign neglect!) The social clubs like Lions or Elks tend to be area-wide, not specific to Valier.

Town-identified entities include the fire volunteers and the EMT or the lunches provided for senior citizens. The home visit nurses do a lot of good, but rather privately. The single biggest organization providing identity and guidance is the school, which helps to explain why so much revolves around it.

The new mayor notes that we have MANY cancer and diabetes patients in this town. (I have my theories why and I don’t blame the victims.) But there is no bus service to get them to chemo or dialysis. Many people have family, but not all. The local cafe and the local grocery store are run by conscientious and extremely hard working people, but they are aging and growing exhausted. The townsfolk dread losing these vital gathering places and services. Most people have become prosperous enough in the past few years to have cars or washing machines, but not all. The laundromat is gone. The car dealer is gone.

Somehow our electricity has become co-opted by Conrad: the algorithms that control power allocation put them first in an emergency so we have breaks in service. On the other hand, their water supply comes from our lake and in a dry year their intake sucks mud. Somehow we keep getting dragged into area schemes, like a pipeline that runs thirty miles and more to another larger irrigation-impounding lake, and when we try to stay out, pleading poverty, they get us grants. Or they use their influence to make the state REQUIRE participation, so we are gradually losing our ability to control our own decisions.

In the past ten years some of the very qualities that attracted me to Valier are ebbing away. I’ve always known I might eventually become too frail to maintain a freestanding house here, but I had not expected the town to become too robust, contentious or rule-ridden to include me.

The cards haven’t all come down yet. For instance, what if the children who grew up here begin to return? This has been one of the best impulses for inspired growth and renewal in Browning. The other has been a growing willingness to cooperate and compromise. Since this was the style of Valier's original founders, perhaps we’ll just dig it up.