REMARKS

Since in my own mind many of these posts have been "chapters," I'm splitting some of them out to separate blogs. But also, my audience is divided and quite different, one part from another. Many have dropped out and many have newly arrived. There are recognizable paper "book" versions of some of the posts that fit together.

I find that some people still assume that a blog is a sort of diary. This one is not. It is not for children, either in terms of subject or writing style. It's not written "down." Think academic magazine or column without footnotes.


SOCIAL MEDIA

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

Other Blogs by me

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

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


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



Tuesday, August 31, 2010

PUBLISHING FROM A WRITER'S EYE VIEW

Every writer must have the NEED to write and the WILL to write and the ABILITY to write. A lot of people want to “be” a writer without writing. Forget it. But today “writing” can mean creating narrative or image or spoken words, or a mix -- not necessarily lines of print. Check out Tim Barrus on Facebook for examples. He has been a writer, a photographer, performer and voracious reader for many years. This is deliberately, consciously, short-form visual poetic narrative never possible to publish until recently. Not everyone has the chops for it. There were no major expenses except Tim’s time and talent. He owns the camera and downloads free music. They call it New Media.

To “publish” in the former print sense of the word takes investment capital (money) because it means actually making a big pile of the books. The publisher either thinks there is a way to market the product that will earn a profit or thinks the work is enough of a contribution to the world that it is worth funding as a gift. The printing cost of my book, “Bronze Inside and Out,” was paid by a grant from an organization that supports lifting up people who made a contribution to Alberta. The return on that investment will simply pay the staff’s wages and the expenses of the office. There will be little if any financial return for the writer, because this is an academic press where it is assumed that the author’s reward will be in terms of contributing to his or her career in the academic world. I did not understand any of this.

Facebook publishing does not provide advertising, promotion or any other active agenting. (The agent is the person who acts on behalf of the author to find connections that can lead to profit -- although lately there has been a shift to the agent who looks for writers on behalf of the publisher, almost exclusively from a commercial point of view. My book was suggested to the press by a woman who had a contract to find stories about outstanding people.) The University of Calgary Press listed my book in their catalog, made it available through a wholesaler, bought several ads in “Montana, the Magazine of Montana History,” and distributed many review copies which resulted in two or three reviews, a very nice interview with George Cole on Yellowstone Public Radio (you can find the interview if you Google), and a signing event at the Russell Auction with a dozen other authors. About half the edition of 750 has been sold.

The breakaway editors who have become “agents” have been followed by breakaway businesses that contract to promote books. Otherwise the writer must do it. Some writers with money will pay promoters in addition to what the publisher pays. A Montana publisher once told about an author, an older woman, who was determined to promote her book and was reading at an outdoor microphone on a cold rainy day, shaking with cold, determined to sell her book. He said he admired her so much. I should think so -- essentially she was making money for her publisher! But she thought she was doing what writers are supposed to do because they believe in their work.

Authors are now asked to submit a plan for promotion and an explanation of their platform, tasks previously performed by the publisher or possibly the agent. They are asked to submit an index, illustrations, the necessary permissions to quote, possibly even to format or pay for that specialized job to be done, and to round up flattering quotes for the cover. All of these were once part of the publishers task. Some publishers charge a “reading fee” for accepting manuscripts to their slush pile, usually about equivalent to what it used to cost to mail a paper manuscript. Now, of course, the slush pile is electronic.

Most writers are not very good at “publishing” because they throw every bit of strength and intelligence into the actual writing which is a different skill. It’s a bit like asking a dancer to make the costumes, play the music, and operate the lights as well as dancing. But most writers CAN manage to post their work on the Internet. They will simply have to make their living doing something else -- which means less time and energy for writing. Bob Scriver acted as his own foundry and gallery -- the equivalent of publishing -- which meant he could pay the bills but his work dwindled.

On the internet two immense streams of information and advice are now running in parallel. One is about the actual writing: all sorts of technical advice about how to develop plot, illustrate character, punctuate dialogue, think of images and so on. The other is advice for writers about marketing, either stuff about how to find a publisher (including the self-publishing alternatives) or find an agent or how to do the tasks oneself. The effort now is not to sell writing to the reader, but to sell advice to the WRITER -- because they are the ones with the greater craving.

The bright side of this is that all restrictions are gone. The passive restraints of scairdycat publishers or alleged potential commercial profits are gone. Experiments cost no more or less than tradition and writers doing their own “everything” are pressed into breakthroughs -- like Tim’s video-poems that are drawn from real life happening now. Are they journals, outcries, memoirs-of-just-yesterday, direct expressions of the heart, or something that doesn’t have a name yet? Since they come from the lives of a young multi-lingual community that lives with iPod earbuds dangling next to earrings, there is a lot of music and several languages. They travel so there is a lot of scenery.

People think of blogs as trivia or politics -- something mysterious and sort of dangerous. What I write is long-form daily essays, the same as I used to write as Sunday sermons. They are informal but often structured, sometimes researched, and occasionally illustrated with a photo from family albums or my own camera. It began as a way of organizing Blackfeet history for the tribe itself to read and then branched out into eulogies, theory, religious exploration, memoir, movie and book reviews, and natural history. I’ve made it a point to report on Valier, the village where I live. It’s interesting that people react to reading these blogs in a way they would not if they were in paper books or if the people were listening while sitting together as an audience.

Sometimes the reaction is not to the content at all, but simply to the fact that they exist, as though they were a product of some kind of privilege (being published) that is not justified. I think they are wondering what to think, afraid to have their own reaction, which is why they normally need a publisher, critics, and blurbs on the book jackets. They want to know why I have access and they don’t. (But they DO!) They need me to be authorized by someone. I hope the eventual result is the abandonment of authorization. Just AUTHOR. Why should someone be paid to set limits?

Monday, August 30, 2010

A DIRECTORY TO BOOKS BY MARY SCRIVER

The big puzzle now is how to get any specific printed matter. Never has so much been so available but not since early Gutenburg has it been so hard to find. This is because not only may the actual nature of the print range from paper to pixels, but also the gizmo on which you read may be anything from loose sheets to a cutting edge device requiring batteries, and you may be accessing videos mixed with print or spoken words with sound effects. Then there is the huge range of sources (many languages, beginning with children almost too young to spell, arcane academic works, pirated data, narcissistic chattering, and surreal poetry). The problem becomes not just where to find what you want, but how to conceive of what might be out there, in the famous phrase, “the unknowns you don’t know about.” Have you heard about the “number transmission” on ham radios that are presumably spy communication? Nothing but a detached voice reading a series of numbers.

An additional factor is that marketing systems have been radically -- I mean RADICALLY -- changed by electronics. Amazon, online remainder houses, online used book sources, are systematically wiping out the corner bookstore, but NOT the people in them who were living repositories of knowledge about books. Yet those people are not identifiably online to tell us what they know. They have been replaced by something called an “algorithm” which is a mathematical formula designed to sort information in some way more sophisticated than alphabetically or numerically (ISBN). Factors included are usually gender, age, income, education, what movies you’ve rented, what books you’ve already read or own, whether you have pets, where in the nation you live, whether you are city or country, what kind of food you eat, and so on. Then the factors might be weighted: more importance given to what college you attended (and what department you were in), less to what kind of car you drive. This is entirely from the point of view of the book marketer, whatever kind the book might be.

www.lulu.com , which prints for authors books on demand, produces a thousand books a day. It’s internal sorting is by subject and by staff recommendation. Powell’s, the huge bookstore in Portland, does the same thing. YouTube sorts by subject. Many smaller websites try to capture clients, both producers and consumers, by specializing in educational material or YA books. Sometimes work is grouped: “If you liked this, you might like that.”

Academic publishers have been slow to catch up, partly because codex bound books, adjudicated by peer review, have been an important way of sorting people instead of books. They are indicators for tenure. Also, they deal in journals as much as shelf books. People cling to the status quo because it means their jobs. Catching up with this is the number of websites like TED or The Edge, that present lectures in both video and manuscript. The university itself will be far more deeply affected by all this than they realize at present. It’s an auto-didact’s heaven. And a monopoly-smasher.

In the past small groups of certified elite entities or persons have been able to control publication and scholars’ work. They have sold access (books, lectures) as a way of financing themselves that did not depend on rich patrons who might or might be sympathetic, might or might not interfere with what was written. (No longer dukes and kings -- now international corporations.) This pattern applies both to small local historical societies and to mega-universities of enormous prestige and to Manhattan publishing cabals that have totally sold out to the marketing department, right down to synthesizing authors for ghosted works by hiring people to impersonate an author. Most of the public has not realized any of this, has had no reason to reflect on the consequences in their own lives.

From the point of view of the consumer, most of us would not know how to write an app (application) for an algorithm (though they tell us this is what we need to do) but soon there will be an app for an app that will do that. I will need several because I cruise a number of different categories from fMRI brain research to Blackfeet oil drilling transactions to the highland clearances in Scotland and so on. In the meantime Amazon and Netflix try to make their little “five star” ratings work and there are voluntary aggregators of readers who post their libraries in hopes of finding people with similar collections. (How many books do they have? It would take me a week to enter my books and few have bar codes, let alone ISBN numbers of even Library of Congress designations. And maybe -- like snoopers who want to find out what library books you have read -- some people will be far too interested in what I have.)

More important to me is the “publishing” of my writing, that reciprocal and synthesizing sort of book. I composed the appended list (which doesn’t include works in progress or works in file cabinets) according to what is formally published. Don’t expect anyone to come around to your place to beg you to buy them. Some are free. (The pdf’s about Blackfeet.)


MARY STRACHAN SCRIVER writes in various modes that must be accessed in various ways. She does not aggressively market. You must look for the books. Online is best. I have none of these books at my house. Here is some help:

STANDARD BOOKSTORE: “Bronze Inside and Out: A Biographical Memoir of Bob Scriver” was published by the University of Calgary Press. It is acquired from any bookstore that has standard wholesale access or can be acquired from the academic wholesaler at Michigan State University Press. (msupress@msu.edu) If you Google you can find it at Amazon and other sources, sometimes for a discount. I have to buy these books myself.

SELF-PUBLISHED (Sometimes called “Nahpi-Yahki Press,” which means “White Woman Press”) books are available in two modes from www.lulu.com/prairiemary. You can download some pdf’s for free, or you can buy the books conventionally bound through the internet. They will come to you by mail. Since these are printed on demand, I do not have a supply of them. Many of the books are Blackfeet history.

OTHER SMALL PRESSES: A book of my prairie sermons was published by the Edmonton First Unitarian Church dba “Moosemilk Press.” This book, “Sweetgrass and Cottonwood Smoke,” was remaindered. All the copies left are available through Driftwillow Press in Great Falls. http://driftwillowpress.com 725 4th Ave. S. , Great Falls, MT 59405, Phone: 406-453-0685, Fax: 406-453 0276

I write a thousand-word essay every morning for www.prairiemary.blogspot.com
Occasionally I post items of interest to Bob Scriver fans to www.scriverart.blogspot.com.
I write with Tim Barrus, who publishes print and video on Facebook, but what I write with him does not appear on Facebook nor does it show up on Google. It is often poetry.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

RAIN CHECK

Rarely do I miss a day of blogging, but today it truly was raining hard all day and also I was scheduled to preach in Babb and Browning for the Methodist minister who finally got a weekend off. I was their minister for a year (1988-89) and was a parishioner there in the Sixties, so it's always a pleasure.

The other factor was that Tim Barrus, in pursuit of his little dog "Jack," slipped on a rock and fell, breaking bones. He has avascular necrosis which means his bones are very brittle and a bone break is serious. He is in Europe. Since we write together, we are constantly in touch and this changes some plans. Luckily. he is able to text.

It's cold but I refuse to turn on the heat. It's AUGUST!!!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

JAY VEST IN THE SIXTIES AND SEVENTIES

Talking to Tom Carrels about Jay Vest made me curious, so I looked him up on Google. It was a surprise of the good kind and I downloaded four documents:

I. www.uncp.edu/home/vestj/ which is his faculty CV and bib.

II. WHO COUNTS AS INDIAN IN POST APARTHEID VIRGINIA - ...www.mitsawokett.com/

III. [PDF] THE OLDMAN RIVER AND THE SACRED: A MEDITATION UPON APUTOSI PII ... Impacted by a water storage dam during the late eighties, the Old Man. River, in present-day Alberta
www2.brandonu.ca/Library/cjns/25.2/cjnsv25no2_pg571-607.pdf -

IV. [PDF] THE HERO'S JOURNEY IN JAMES WELCH'S SACRED GEOGRAPHY by JHC Vest - 2005 - Using an auto-criticism reflecting the author's ... James Welch's Fools Crow has figured greatly in that odyssey
www2.brandonu.ca/Library/cjns/25.1/cjnsv25no1_pg337-353.pdf

Jay came through Browning (I suppose he was actually in Missoula with side trips) at a liminal time -- meaning “on a threshold,” because that piece across the bottom of the door is called the limen. The same word, sometimes spelled “limin” means the threshold of perception, the least amount of sensation that can be detected. Psychologically and theologically, it is meant to be the point of entrance, transition, crossing, often into holiness or at least potential. It was a liminal time for the whole planet as the cultures shifted towards openness and experiment; for me because I was newly divorced; and for Jay because he was just reaching that point in a young man’s life when he’s trying to figure out his identity.

Normally there’s a lot of thrashing around, experimenting, emotion, and risking at such a time and that was certainly the case with Jay. I don’t think I ever exchanged two words with him, but there were conversations about him -- sometimes approving and other times not. He was one of the MANY who came thinking that if they could sort of meld with the Blackfeet, they would become powerful and knowing. The trouble was that they usually picked out advisors who were pretty full of it, to be frank. Tricksters. I won’t name them. Of course, I have a certain point of view which is that of a white female older woman. Sceptical. A little over-experienced. Okay, cynical. After all, I’d known some of these people since they were twelve and my husband and father-in-law were older than most of them, as old as the enrolled grandfather elders and here since 1903.

Liminal time in the theatre is when the curtain goes up. In church it is the call to worship. At a concert it is the first chord after the tuning up. At that time this country's crossing of the limin into some new way of being was almost to the point of critical mass, the tipping point. Something happened and the whole political scene backed off. I think just became terrified, maybe like now.

Jay was pursuing his degree, now in hand. Both of us have gone through many new spaces since then, stepped over many a limin. My hope is -- and I think there is some evidence -- that the world is again crossing a threshold, but the point is that in a liminal time/space anything can happen. The car is out of gear. There is space to be Dionysian, even with an Apollonian president. But immense destruction can be one result.

The paper about “The Hero’s Journey in James Welch’s “Fools Crow” is competent and engaging, useful in particular for people who don’t have much background in Blackfeet matters. I see that now Jay is claiming his own enrollment in the Mohacan Indian Nation but I don’t know much about that group.

The paper called “The Oldman River and the Sacred: A Meditation Upon Aputosi Pii’kani Tradition and Environmental Ethics” is the one that had me wielding two colors of highlighter and scribbling in the margins. There is really good stuff in this paper, mixing realistic sociology with story and theory. Of course, I like it because it’s theory I can understand.

SOCIOLOGY: “. . .the Pii’kani community was divided in response to the dam, which created a position easily exploited by the outside interests. Since Native Modernists, motivated by poverty, tend to be willing to accept change provided it brings the promise of monetary benefit, they were largely unopposed to the environmental degradation. It was, however , the Pii’kani traditionalists who had the most to lose. In the traditionalists’ identification with place, specifically the Oldman River, these Natives were impacted with a major disruption of their religious ethos and cultural identity.”

STORY: “According to Campbell, mythology concerns the mystical dimension, for without this you have ideology. Myth also concerns ‘the pedagogy of the individual, giving him a guiding track to guide him along.’”

THEORY: “Elements of this [spiritual] integration include include: first, purification of body, soul, and spirit; second, spiritual expansion in realizing a relationship to all that is; and third, identity or realization of unity in a state of oneness with the totality.” (The reference is to Joseph Epes Brown, “ The Spiritual Legacy of the American Indian,” 1982 p. 113. Vest studied with Brown.)

These ideas have not been exhausted and the development of ecological and scientific awareness of a changing planet makes them sharply useful. I’m a little surprised that Jay doesn’t pick up on some of the more recent thought. Many of the people he quotes have been gone for some years, which doesn’t make them less true and useful, but the torch has not been extinguished -- just handed on. Today the challenge is the Alberta Tar Sands and international high-tension power lines. The corporations are far more dangerous and powerful than anything in the Seventies.

Jay seems not to have heard about the “RENEGOTIATION OF THE BLACKFEET REALITY” . . . strongly challenging the idea of “culture,” which is so obsessed with accuracy that it tries to freeze everything at one point in time when, in fact, the shared lives of people on the land is always dynamic and changes as it goes.” (Quote from the recent history seminar at Piegan Institute.) Nor has he heard about Jack Gladstone’s generous troubador synthesis of song, philosophy, tradition and land.

There is a website where students critique their professors and Jay took some hard comments, mostly having to do with rigidity. I realize that today’s college students tend to be a self-important and contemptuous lot, but it sounds as though now HE’s the Culture Police, quoting a stack of white men’s books and telling about things that happened to him a half-century ago. Why does this happen so often? It seems as though he ought to be here celebrating and growing with the rest of us.

Maybe we should organize a convocation of all those white and low-quantum guys who came through here in the Sixties and Seventies, looking for liminality. Some found it and were transformed. We should find out what it did for them. And see what they can do for us.

Friday, August 27, 2010

PAST/FUTURE -- PASSIVE/ACTIVE: FORT BENTON

Sometimes the most subtle shifts have the most impact in the long run. I’m thinking about the shift from watching television to using a computer, which appears to be the same but is radically different. A television is a passive instrument: your only choices are on/off/change-channel. A computer is active: your choices are unlimited whether you are writing something, building database, or prowling the internet. A gameset is in between: you are acting voluntarily in a choice of ways within a limited context.

With that in mind, this is a story about books. Someone sent me an email saying they had been to Fort Benton, a wonderful (truly!) old (OLDEST) Montana town, and had been in a bookstore where they were told that “Bronze Inside and Out” was no longer available. EAACCCAKKK!!! I called a museum bookstore down there. (There are about four.) The girl said she had never heard of the book and there was no bookstore in town either -- just a little shop with a collection of old junk with one shelf of strange books. On Friday I nailed the Fort Benton contingent at the history seminar about the elusive bookstore and they assured me it was a MAJOR and ADMIRABLE -- in fact, STUNNING -- bookstore with terrific treasures all through it. I called there and got a very evasive owner. So I saddled up and went to scout yesterday. I like to see the whites of their eyes.

The little junk shop with a few books was there. Pretty good stuff, I thought. The guy is actually a saddlemaker and works in the back. He knew about the other bookstore: Riverbreak Books and Gear, 808 17th St., 406-622-5816. Tom Carrels, owner. It was indeed a terrific bookstore -- not just that. Zillions of hats and other outdoor kinds of stuff.

Some people will recognize this boomer life trajectory: South Dakota boyhood in Aberdeen; Missoula in the Seventies studying wildlife and landscape; then U Dub for a slightly more sophisticated degree, last ten years in Alaska. (Anyone know what ever happened to Jay Vest? Neither of us did. Last night I googled him. He’s a professor in North Carolina publishing books about Blackfeet, like, yetanother set of Napi tales.) Carrels has bought this historic two-story riverfront building and will create a hostel upstairs. His ideas are sound IMAO: not just history but also geological adventures on the river and surrounding land. Not just folks driving out from Great Falls for supper (it’s about thirty miles and there are good places to eat) but European backpackers and Calgary empty nesters in RVs. He doesn’t really understand the new books, ebooks, print-on-demand, Canadian, academic presses, wholesalers, self-publishing, etc. He’s just always bought books, objects, real things, maybe used and maybe new. He has good taste, meaning it’s a lot like mine. It was worth coming to check out. Easy to check the whites of eyes wide open.

I went on to the fort reconstruction and its museum. The women there called the men, some of whom I already knew slightly. Though presumably Fort Benton is a “Bob Scriver town” because of the Lewis & Clark monument and the portrait of Shep, they insisted they knew nothing about “Bronze Inside and Out,” Devotees of the Montana Historical Society, closely enough related to be assuming custody of the Scriver Blackfeet series of bronzes which is currently stored in Edmonton, they knew nothing about me. (The society finds me an inconvenience, an anachronism.) Though “Montana, The Magazine of Western History,” published by the Montana Historical Society, has printed two quarter-page ads and two reviews of “Bronze Inside and Out,” one man explained to me, “No one came here to us and asked us to buy a copy.” Passive.

That’s the key: they are passive television people. NONE of them uses the computer to look for information. The word “blog” scares them. The Internet sounds to them like a trap. They assume the internet will grab them, force them to look at dirty pictures, and blab all their confidential information to the neighbors. Meanwhile, their kids are texting like mad, talking to other kids all over the planet. They are very impatient with the older generation, and they are right.

So I make these big bold accusations and it turns out this generalization is WRONG !! (Not for the first time, and ever so cheerfully!) There are three blogs coming out of Fort Benton, as follows: http://fortbenton.blogspot.com/
http://mthistoryrevealed.blogspot.com/
http://viewfromthefbbridge.blogspot.com/ Active.

This idea of Fort Benton being blog-blind is my projection. Now I must go look in the mirror and ask myself why I have been so passive in the past that I didn’t find the Fort Benton blogs? (They still have not found mine, I think, though I just mailed them a complete guide to the publications of Mary Scriver.)

Fort Benton is where it is because that point on the river was as far into the interior of Blackfeet country as you could go on a steamboat. That meant the European aristocracy and the most enterprising of the early artists (like Audubon) could come to the heart of Blackfeet country on what was essentially a floating hotel. Regardless of what that meant to the visitors, it meant that shrewd and clever local eyes were watching as soon as they left St. Louis. And they are still here. Natawista was the resourceful wife of Culbertson, whose office will be replicated in this newly reconstructed fort, complete with log palisade. Her great-grandson was in my English classroom in Cut Bank a few years ago. He looked a lot like her and his personality was not so different either. Today, if you had five dollars for every Blackfeet living in Fort Benton, you might be able to buy an ice cream cone at the Tastee Freeze.

It appears to me that Fort Benton is operating on several levels. One is the sober historians and solid citizens who have raised the funds for and now operate this excellent and accurate fort reconstruction, according to historians and documents. The other is the entrepreneurs (saddlemakers and used book dealers) in the solid but decrepit actual historic buildings on the waterfront across from the sculpture promenade. They are still having adventures, open to possibility. I find myself -- as usual -- on the boundary. I began this post intending to find one type passive and one type active, but it’s more complicated than this. It’s more like this: Jack Lepley, one of the town’s revered history fathers, just finished a book on the last brothel in Fort Benton. What makes him think there are not brothels now? Maybe the last anything is still in the future.

It’s like this: Bob Doerck, another of the resident historians who has a formidable book collection, wanted to know if I’d written another book. Books have changed as much as brothels. I’m writing “books” but he’d not recognize them nor are they history. “History” is not always the best position for the future, but it’s a good foundation.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

LAID BARE UNDER BURNING SNARES (A Poem)

When I asked Tim if he wanted to respond to my professorial analysis of his triptych, this is what I got. I hesitated to post it, because this is usually a sort of “family” blog, but I’ve been talking about the Baker Massacre and this is only about one death. The Anglo Saxon four-letter words are mild compared to the real four-letter words of our times: METH and AIDS. They are on the rez because they are everywhere. By now Tristan is deep in AIDS dementia, thinner than Kate Moss, constantly cold, but happy because he is with Tim.

laid bare under burning snares

sometimes the pain comes to us fast upon the wind/ o proteus, it's the kind of pain where each bloody cell you have has gone to your throat to strangle the breath from you/ sometimes we just want to die/ tristan's way to deal with it is to not move/ my way to deal with it is to remain busy, call it yankee guilt/ the workslave ethic/ the more pain the more work there is to do/ people approve of my way more than they do tristan's way (tristan does not care) to wallow in the suffering/ sliding into stealth as grit and all the industrious yankee gods/ common sense tells you that if you just work hard enough you will make it into heaven/ people write to me about hope/ about how they need it in their lives/ most of the time, i have no idea what they are talking about, but i read my email and nod and pretend that i understand half of the email i get/ i am not sure i would look to any poet for it/ o maybe one of the nicer poets/ they know about hope maybe where that roadkill lives/ but i can't lie to you that i even know what hope is/ the easy answers (god) are offensive/ at the end of this, the poet (who is me and who is not me) comes back to love/ it feels trite to me/ love/ a poet asks but what about love/ poets have been asking that question for a while now/ why are we here/ existence seems a senseless thing/ common sense/ is dogma/ every broken radiance, some imagined country/ poetry is just a place for me to rage in the street like a madman/ because i have the rage and the street is there/ poetry is just the language to everything apparent/ there are no answers to the density that sustains the empty room or the vision locked in stone/ it would be a mistake to think i seek answers because i do not/ i seek rapture/ i seek desire (i have almost none)/ i seek within this skeleton to burst through the tread so as to get as high as i can storm the walls/ a junkie is a junkie is a junkie/ i could lie to you and end this at the exact point where the video version ends/ a great leap toward hope/ if you had the power to yank my chain, i would do exactly that/ end it with but what of love/ what strange wandering is this and warm across the floor/ let the video end where the video ends/ this is not the video version of the same work/ rich on these despairs, i seek the questions that yield up enormous skies into which i am being hurled/ i seek to die with tristan but that doesn't mean i get what i seek or even that i take it/ all it means is that i seek it/ the happy poets have a long slow task/ i am simply suspended here in discord with the dead/ it's you and me, baby, and the dead/ the air chilled and the journey ending in us/ IN US/ does that sound like a foreign country to you perhaps/ i seek the radiant centers and to drink them up/ never apologize/ never understand/ a great leap toward hope/ yes/ your hope and my hope are not the same/ i've been trying to tell you that/ your hope is curved like a mother bends over a sleeping child/ i bend, too, over such a sacrament/ but my hope just wants to snap the thread and get him high and then get me as high as he is and then the two warring halves stare straight into the sun which is what death is, and (being of yankee sensibility and dourness) i always pull the junkie plunger back, always drawing blood into the syringe, and just as we are about to fall, what syringe can unknot love at what point are our narrow bones fulfillment in a ditch/ our simple days are cursed with pain and demons/ now peopled by the dead, we offer our veins to the opiate god of the beautiful sleep (means no pain)/ let us call it science/medicine the house of pain management (sounds good to me) and let us imbue that pain with a tenderness broken like the dreams and the bridge of sighs/ now, the summer has sprawled itself/ i know all the signs/ and the panic of the boys as they negotiate the sharper edges of their beds/ i have watched them as they have found the world/ and the world like a boa constrictor goes for their throats/ hanging by threads and suckled by a retrovirus/ so i might, too, stand to watch this great sea/ dying on my ragged claws/ what instruments do we use to measure our lives in/ what darkness both heavy and the oracle knows pain in blood's deep sleep/ smelling not unlike rivers of light, and disastrous memberships of obligation/ i have watched them fuck and push away the vindictive madness even as it unrolls its horror in my face/ the reader thinks in bolts of impatient, delinquent eroticism/ but i have been to date buried above the ground, and i sold eroticism paused years ago/ as nothing more than do it do it do it/ stains upon the ground of vacant streets/ your eroticism sings you/ their eroticism sings sorrow in a bitter voice/ mine is merely mood and then gone again/ the hiv wrecks havoc on your ability to produce testosterone/ and to get hormone replacement, you have to let them stick their fingers up your shit hole and i will not allow it and i hate doctors with a vengeance you would never understand/ there is a vast and ancient chasm between who i am and who you are/ our values are not the same/ i have nothing in common with you/ and i have finally found a doctor who just does what i tell him to do -- just give me the antiviral pill cocktail, and leave me the fuck alone -- and i do not allow any doctor to touch me, and i hate all of them, too, doctor martin; your attempts to extend our lives are puny and pathetic what lives what dignity what future the virus has already won, and i don't want to hear your politically correct rhetoric about how everyone can live a normal life if i wanted to be normal i wouldn't have aids, you idiot/ i am buying entire lines of pharmaceuticals directly from the factory in shanghai shipped via tokyo/ i don't need doctor martin but for appearances, and my putting that in a facebook poem is called immunity/impunity/ and what i really want is to be left the fuck alone/ and i am sleeping with tristan, too, in the shivering on the dotted line/ and what the fuck are you going to do about it/ i don't owe you an undone blur of emptiness or even the bad light at dusk when you never know whatchagonna get a photograph or a shadow/ and none of us owe you anything i have freed us from your parochial grasp of witches hands laid bare under burning snares/ but what of love and the bullet holes they stick their fists in/ always twisting us around the pain/ what of love with its tender walls gently stirred by fingertips/ what of pain/ the kind that finds you fast upon the wind/ o proteus/ now, let us find a vein/ tristan smiles that slow smile he has and offers me his forearm/

[Here’s a link to the video which only shows one of the boys cleaning up after the construction in the nearby studio where the other boys are staying and remodeling. Tristan can’t remember their names, but he is happy to see them. Some days he can remember Tim’s name, other days not. Tim wraps him in blankets and carries him to the shore of the nearby river where Tim fishes every morning.]

http://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=154706354542033

A day or so after this was posted, Tristan died in Tim's arms. He was not the first and he probably won't be the last, but he was the only one quite like this.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

MIXED BAG FOLLOW-UPS

My readers, having accumulated out of many times, places and circumstances, are a various bunch. I sometimes wonder what they think of a piece I write for someone totally unlike them. Like maybe the gentle academic Indian woman who hissed out her hatred for James Willard Schultz coming across something in sympathy with Sid Gustafson who carefully tends the old reprobate’s grave since it’s on his family’s ranch, in spite of Schultz insisting he wanted nothing to with white men’s graves and Hart, his son, feeling the same way and hating his father. But then one of my dignified granny librarian friends discovered I was listening to “The Outlander” on the iPod my cousin’s husband sent and said, approvingly, “Oh, I just loved the sex!” Well mixed with violent beatings, I might add. So I’ll just pay no attention and write what I write.

But sometimes I can’t resist explaining the lay of the land, esp. to the kind of people who show up on the rez during summer because they so love “Indians,” by which they mean people in the 19th century who went around on horseback wearing feathers. Darrell says they come to ask him where they can find some “ceremonialists,” picturing in their minds the sort of wizened old wise man in a loincloth they’ve seen in the movies. When Darrell points out big healthy young men like Joe Bremner or five or six others in the room, quite equivalent, the questioner feels he is being fooled somehow. Yet Darrell has just in the last weeks of summer been “sitting holy” with Joe and others while they worked their way through traditional ceremonies they’ve been doing for decades, luckily having learned the songs while George and Molly Kicking Woman and old Swims Under were still alive.

These things go in waves and accumulate in pockets. For instance, a contingent always comes from Fort Benton, a pocket community along the Missouri River that was once as far north as a person could go by steamboat and therefore a spot where history pooled deep enough to drown the first Montana Governor -- no one knows whether by foul play or ordinary drunken misstep. As it happens, someone had just challenged me over a used book store there, wanting to know why the proprietor said he couldn’t get a copy of “Bronze Inside and Out” and every museum bookstore in town (three? four?) agreed that no copies were to be found, which was a shame since Bob Scriver was represented by so much monumental sculpture there.

So I called Fort Benton and was told there was no bookstore in town, just some guy who had a kind of junkshop with a few old ragged books. This was a young woman talking who had only recently moved to town but she assured me she knew all about bookstores and what they looked like. Chains, right? I zeroed in on the Fort Benton contingent at the seminar, and they had quite a different story. “An EXCELLENT bookstore!: they said. “Wonderful treasures! Thousands of volumes!” I called the right place but the proprietor was too busy selling books to talk to me. He has no email and no website -- at least none that works. So I’ll just go down there and take a look.

In the meantime, I turned to the handsome young man seated next to me, who is attending Yale and planning a thesis about those wonderful feathered horsemen of the prairies. And he hinted he wouldn’t mind meeting a few. Sigh. Like thousands of other young men, he had read “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” and been entirely captured by it. “But the prairie clearances are over,” I said. “And the Indians are busy with other things entirely now -- like taking business courses.” At lunch I tried to explain how those Indian wars were romanticized and flipped-over versions of the triumphalist manifesto of the Civil War era and made my pitch for a 20th century history of the Blackfeet. After all, we’re ten years into the 21st century -- it’s time. Every white person at the table looked balky and every Indian laughed.

Later I tried to explain how the Western history and Western lit departments of universities had gathered around the frontier West and then jumped to the Nouveau Riche West of today while barely nodding at the women, the blacks, the Chinese, and the Indians. So the Indian contingent went off on its own and has developed whole parallel disciplines. Not only is there no interaction -- the white branch has no awareness of the existence of the other.

Darrell agreed with me. Our focus was the Baker Massacre, which is now reframed as the Massacre on the Marias in the postcolonial movement to get rid of the names of the alcoholic killers who sometimes became army officers. Someone wanted to know where it was exactly. When Jim Welch wrote “Killing Custer,” some clues suggested a particular place so ceremonies were held there.

The rancher wanted to sell out and, seeing interest in that patch, offered to sell a permanent right-of-way to the tribe. They declined. By this time the “four years of remembrance” had been observed and the intensity of interest was easing. Denied access to the original spot, the commemorating group simply moved along the river a mile. But this was what Darrell called “soft history:” tradition, oral stories (which were given major importance during the empowerment of indigenous ways), certain landmarks and notes in journals. Now the mode of investigation has turned to “hard history,” which looks for material evidence. A man got on a horse and actually rode through what was probably the march route, timing it while allowing for snow and sub-zero temperatures. Someone got access to one of those huge map-making printers and likely GPS points were marked on a paper the size of a tablecloth. These are INDIAN researchers. Scientists. A repository is accumulating at the tribal college, not the federal museum.

Two of my blog readers who grew up here were amazed. One is my age and the other is younger. They had never heard of the Baker Massacre by any name at all. What should they read? “Fools Crow,” I said. “And ‘Death, Too, to the Heavyrunner.’” And when they wanted to know whether Darrell were related to the original Kipp, who was a scout for Baker (along with the Cobell, the sailor who came up to Fort Benton on a riverboat), I began to tell them the story of the children who escaped and how Kipp and Cobell came back the next day to find them and adopt them and how Darrell is actually a Heavyrunner . . . And then there was the other man who wanted to know where he could read about those children, but it’s only soft history so far -- tales told at seminars.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

ON THIS SHORE OF CATAPULTING TIME

The dialogue between Tim and I came out of early blogging when I was writing short essays and Tim and his crew were experimenting with digital images, even if they had to use sat-phones in the desert. Then they settled in Paris, inhabiting a loft studio plus increasingly sophisticated equipment, Tim has been an excellent photographer since his San Francisco years and the boys quickly caught on. Another of Tim’s media has always been poetry, the kind of ecstatic free-form word play familiar to us through the Beat movement.

At that time blogging seemed to be a way to go around a publishing embargo. Both Tim and I were blocked but still thought of books as a goal. One of the most ancient and intriguing genres of writing has always been correspondence and since Tim was blogging the ongoing saga of his art school for boys with HIV/AIDS, I saw it was a kind of Odyssey, especially if I could make it more accessible by adding a context or frame. The result was “Orpheus Pressed Up Against the Windows of the Catacombs,” which refers to the boys who die in spite of every effort on the part of Tim.

Innovative as this dialogue was, it was still print, for a book. At the same time the videos had become multi-layered: one moving image on top of another, carefully planned and edited so that your eye was guided. A good example is a simple sequence of two boys dancing. They are not in the same space or time, but they are in a pas de deux of visual space, actually moving through each other.

One day the concept of Vlogging leapt out -- combining videos with print, voice-over, music, talking head -- so Tim and the guyz plunged in. The video I’m analyzing here combines different media as well as different genres. It is not a conventional story and yet there is a narrative embedded into it. How does one watch this mix of genres?  How does one deal with the knowledge that this is something happening right now?  To real people?  And how does the artist cope with image, word, and music while shaking with his own emotion ? Shoot vid, go straight to editing that same hour, then post as soon as it is compressed?  Incredibly producing something that is permanent while still steaming with body-temperature life?

Is this a straight line from James Joyce?  Yes, yes and yes. The strategies are more symphonic and liturgical than they are literary. The familiar “entry,” “rising action,” “crisis,” and “resolution” might be there but they might not. Meditation -- holding one’s focus on one concept until seeing deeply into -- might dominate. Rhythm and motif are very important. It is experiential. It does mean, but also simply is.

I'm being very head-trippy here. Tim doesn’t like backstage tours: he doesn’t want to dispel the magic. He is a natural auteur who internalized all this stuff long ago. But my unfinished seminary thesis is about the poetics of liturgy, which I’ve used in conventional Sunday services, memorials, and private ethnological ceremonies -- it’s not just theory, it really works. But I worry that if people aren’t helped to see what’s going on, they will flip it off without really seeing it. It’s hard enough to grasp that it’s a technique developing alongside and within new instruments: NOT a way of reading on a computer tablet imitating paper, but a new way of shaping communication in several genres at once. Kids can get it.

The video I’m going to link at the end is in three parts, a triptych of movements. The first will be recognized and “enjoyed” by lots of people because they are used to “pretty pictures” with symphonic music, this time a cello. What transforms the vlog is Tim’s poetic words: shocking, death and sex entwined, as we realize that Tim has brought this boy with AIDS dementia to a distant stony place to protect him as he dies. Tim says that poetry is all that can keep him sane in the face of this, but fishing also works. Poetry and fishing entwine in his emotional life.

The first section is an essay and a moving painting at once.  It "quotes," sets themes, gives us beauty, fallen leaves like butterflies, gulping bright fishes. All the symbolism an analyst could want. Fish and fishing are abiding classic metaphors to many people. The rushing stream means the catapulting through events that we call “time,” urgent morphing as we try to study it out: where are the fish we want for supper? Where are the dangerous places that will drag us under?

The second part, “Intermission,” which is simply Tim with his dogs, will seem artless, but it is not. This is a deliberate genre that grows out of what Qi used to call “impersonating yourself.” Tim with his Harley-Davison hat on backwards (Hells Angels meets hip-hop) and his dark glasses is telling us the straight facts as clearly as he can. Tim used to do stage soliloquies “in character.” Though he’s here as himself, he is showing himself in a certain way, a disarming and protective mode, innocently physical with the dogs. He does not allow this kind of petting and hugging with the boys -- at least not until they’re dying. Human beings are not less sincere or real for being able to portray themselves. Even “reality” TV shows are shaped and edited by a director. So far the only real “reality” videos have been the Andy Warhol films of a fly crawling on a naked person for a VERY long time. Most people find it intolerably boring.

The "intermission" reminds us that Tim is a real man with dogs, sitting alone in a room with a camera and letting us into his private life as though the camera were us.  The dogs are enough of a distraction to keep him from bursting into tears, but only barely. This is a test of empathy. “Can you get it?” The purpose is to WIN. But if the reward is more suffering, then . . .?

Third we see who this anguish is about:  Tris -- or someone very like him -- in seduction mode, halfway between Grace Kelly and Brad Pitt, plunging down the stairs as if to say,  "I'm a fly-high bird, but my wing has been clipped -- you might be able to capture me if you were up to it."  It's a portrait but the aware viewer will realize that this beautiful young man is a reality and it is this seductiveness/vulnerability that has signed his death warrant.  And yet he is so innocent, so truthfully acting. Watch for the sleeping babe.  AIDS is paradoxical, unjust, and final. Images of an androgenous still-transforming boy have been valued among human beings everywhere, celebrated in painting and sculpture, not least in the pages of our contemporary slick magazines where they ensorcel perfume and designer clothing. Yet it is among our most forbidden sexual transactions, because the boy is drunk on testosterone in a way some men envy, even resent, but use.

Another dimension is added outside the video. These posts are going on Facebook, among other places, as they are completed. Tristan and Tim are fighting this battle REALLY ACTUALLY NOW. This is not a memoir. Tim has found a community of poets who comment. Aad de Gids says, “As a bedouin woman, as an inuitman, as a yanomami woman in the amazonian abyssal river of death, tristan now knows these voyages too and already is longing for them, darkening his shadows into the dark refuges of the shack, loosing himself in sleep, painfully for his friend disremembering the last beacons, dismembering the last threads, loosening, like a young albatross fostered by his mom, fostered by his real dad in the heart, now he is learning to walk, to fly, to use his brilliance in pure radiation and velours indigo drapérie, the drapérie of death and elevation, and he is loved, he lives, and we're preparing for his ultimate event, and we love him.”

Carolyn Srygley-Moore and Dom Gabrielli also making these inspired singing responses, like a kyrie elieson in the Mass. This is community. This is not creation alone in some self-indulgent or therapeutic way, but congregational sharing. For those who get it.

http://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=154151904597478&comments=

Monday, August 23, 2010

THE LOVELY STICKS


Because my house is surrounded by trees and because of the sub-zero cold in winter and the high winds of summer, I live in a constant rain of sticks. They are part of the reason I weed-whack my yard instead of using a push mower. Even the small twigs jam the spindle of the blades. In the night, falling, they strike my walls or land on the roof. But they provide a steady supply of kindling for my primitive little woodstove in the garage.

When Bob and I had the pet eagle we saw how much she loved sticks. She had a shelf where she piled her sticks and she constantly carried sticks around, though she wasn’t much of an architect. Once long ago when Bob was a kid, he came over a hill on horseback near a pothole pond and saw a bonded pair of eagles playing with each other, passing sticks back and forth and flying up so they could drop them and catch them in midair. Of course, it was practice for making a nest.

My friend Paul, who knows all kinds of things, was telling me about two county fair features for kids that I’ve never heard of before. One was an actual eagle nest, ten feet across, that kids could really get into and crouch to play eaglet. The other was an actual beaver lodge which was big enough for a small kid to get inside.

Paul said: “The original idea for both of them I think was Pat Hart. She is the head of recreation here at the USFS and has been for 30 years or more. She's an amazing gal, full of great ideas, and what's best, the vision to accomplish BIG things with volunteer labor. Some of the projects she's pulled off over the years are nothing short of amazing! If it wasn't for her and her volunteer crews from all over the world, all our old trails would be gone. The whole wildlife building was her idea from the ground up. She not only designed the thing, but found grants to pay for the materials and volunteers to build all the attractions. Pat is one of those unassuming movers and shakers that never gets credit for her undertakings because she's always busy patting everyone else on the back.”

First you have to think of it, then you get others interested, and then you just do it. Paul said locating and moving these two “stick homes” was not easy but so interesting that no one felt as though it was work. The beaver dam project answered a question that Ruth Beebe Hill, author of “Hanta Yo!” asked Bob decades ago. In her book her hero escaped enemies by crawling inside a beaver lodge and she wanted to know whether that was possible. For the rest of Bob’s life he never saw a beaver lodge without wondering how a small child could get into it.

But Paul had an even more dramatic idea. In his family there are stories about him in his early years being out fishing and accidentally stepping in a beaver hole in the grass -- several feet across and often disguised -- and disappearing down the hole into water deep enough to drown a boy. That would be an even more dramatic way to elude pursuers, just vanishing.

Beavers also build long mud slides, maybe a hundred feet long, for skidding tree trunks into the ponds behind their dams, and that would also work for a sudden exit. I suspect that Indian kids and otters would have a great time on such a slide, but not beavers. They are very serious and busy. The Blackfeet never much liked to trap them but there are beavers in a lot of stories, usually helpful to some man. In one story they adopt a boy.

Pat Hart’s actual nest and lodge are an amazing idea, but I should think it would also be fun to make nests and lodges -- just give kids a big pile of sticks and see what they could do. I suppose today’s fussy city parents would worry about safety. But the kids would be soaking up the soft colors and subtle textures of real objects instead of the bright plastic extrusions they play with now. You can change a stick: bend it, break it, weave some together, but the plastic all-the-same bits are meant to be unchanging.

This is not changing the subject. I watched “All the Lovely Bones,” having heard good reviews, but I think I confused it with “The Animal Wife” by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, in which the ghost of a tragically killed young wife lives on top of the paleolithic Siberian house built of mastodon bones where her husband and his son, her lover, still live. It’s a beautifully written exploration of these people. “The Lovely Bones” picked up the idea of a narrator who is a dead young woman but that’s the only similarity. Everything is happening in a modern suburb where, predictably, the dad is lovable but bumbling, the mom is neurotic, and the sibs have their own lives. There’s also a nutcase grandma who begins to seem sane. The girl in this story is murdered by a madman. We never see bones, much less lovely ones. This story is not an exploration so much as it is a horror story with a theoretically compensating pretty depiction of the afterlife of this girl and other victims in a kind of limbo.

I haven’t read the book, so can’t comment, but the movie -- for me anyway -- derived much of its horror and unreality from a material world that seemed to be “natural” but was not. The colors were the chemical brights of advertising, sometimes neon, that never happen in nature. Natural images, like the silhouette of a tree, were used in a stylized greeting card way. A field of dead cornstalks becomes sinister camouflage for an underground hideout. Skies were as lurid as the story. Our Photoshopped eyes have grown used to this.

It worries me that for many kids this sort of thing seems like reality. They can’t see the subtly varied shapes and sheaths and textures of natural sticks because all they know is machine-shaped dowels, if indeed they ever touch wood. A plastic world full of petroleum-derived and pixelated tweaks cannot help but lead to a slick, empty, pre-determined world in which madmen prey on little suburban girls, who are not quite alive anyway.

I wonder whether I have enough sticks to make an eagle nest. Probably.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

IMITAIKS: WHEN THE SPIRIT MOVED WITH US Part Two

Remember that the takeaway idea from this panel is not dogs but “THE RENEGOTIATION OF THE BLACKFEET REALITY.” Often the audience laughed and nudged each other. Whenever I’ve spoken about dogs this has been true. It’s an automatic trigger like “commodity cheese.” So many dogs. A dog is an ongoing character in Bob Tailfeather’s cartoons in the Glacier Reporter. Often it’s the truth teller.

Darrell says we need the children because that is who takes us into the future. One of the things they do at Cuts Wood School is invent new words. They wanted a field trip to Pizza Hut in Cut Bank, so in order to convey that name, “Pizza hut,” they combined the name for rose hips (red berries), farina, and lodge. There has been a word for television for quite a while, but the word for computer hasn’t settled yet. New concepts as well as new objects demand new words.

The people move into the future as a tribe, revitalizing as it goes. They learn how to Google on their “Sarvisberries.” But they don’t discard the old ways. Yet when tourists come asking to see 19th century lodges and to meet elder ceremonialists, they don’t recognize what they see right in front of them: TODAY’s ceremonialists and homes. Darrell asks them, "Do you have a churn at your house?"

Those who really long to know more about the old days, should go to the website called: www.saokioheritage.com/ where much research is recorded. Rosalyn LaPier works hard on this as she earns her Ph.D. at the University of Montana. It can also be found by going to www.pieganinstitute.org

So the subject here is the value of relationship and reflection about what that relationship is and what it might mean. The first demonstration of this was that two speakers, who knew about historical traditonal life in this tribe had to come from Canada because the governmental structure up there was one that protected old ways and the remoteness meant that the language persisted. The other side of that was they had to cross the border, which meant they were made late.

SPEAKER: MARTIN EAGLE CHILD, Kainai Elder and Cultural Leader
Martin says he does NOT like to be late! His practice is ALWAYS to be on time. He is a handsome older man carrying a big old-fashioned briefcase containing his papers. His iron-gray hair is in braids, his earrings are the big round shell kind, and his Burt Lancaster wraparound smile is brilliant.

Martin is both a Kainai (Many Chiefs) Elder and a Catholic server of communion. He is one of those Blackfeet men who naturally includes the spiritual of any kind in his life. (Joe Eagle Child, who has been gone a long time, was part of the original Pipe Bundle circle that Bob Scriver and I sat in.) His talk went back and forth between English sentences and Blackfeet sentences, each explaining the other. He often comes to Cuts Wood School to interact with the kids and is used to giving the audience questions to answer. But he also travels to other places and was recently with the Eskimo -- whom he confirms don’t like to be called Eskimo. Say Inuit or whatever else they want to be called. Sled dogs! His eyes lit up at the thought of them!

His own dog’s name is Apache. Apache is very fond of Chinese food, but needs to have sweet and sour sauce on it. He says he’s very good to Apache and makes sure he gets Chinese food twice a week. (In Alberta a good share of the restaurants are Chinese.) He remarks about the story about the dog who tattled on the unfaithful wife, that Apache would protect him from any harm, but Apache always sides with his wife! Apache would not tell about her lover, but she has none anyway.

He remarks on the many Blackfeet names that include “dog.” Dog Child (Imitahpoka), Richard Little Dog (that’s who gave Bob and I our names), Dog That Curls Up, and White Dog. (More about White Dog later.)

In his young days Martin drank. Every time he did and woke up throbbing and bleary with a hangover, he would pray to the Great Spirit, “Oh, get me through this! Help me out here and I’ll never drink again!” But he did anyway. One night he had a dream. He was sitting on a rock and a dog came towards him, intending to bite him and tried to tell him something. It took Martin a while to understand that the dog wanted to punish him for constantly making a vow and then breaking it. He realized what he was doing, that he deserved a dog bite, and he quit.

He mentioned the epithet “dog face” which means something like unreliable and deceptive. Imituskee. (One of the first Blackfeet words I learned!) And he said that dogs howling are unwelcome because the feeling is that they are announcing the coming of death, that they can sense it.

He spoke of a huge Okan or sacred event in Brockett this summer where there were eighty lodges and nine pipe smokes, all the people coming together to share their holy ways. He says “Sun Dance” is a wrong interpretation. His own sons took part in piercing (then his voice got low, because that was against the law for a long time). Quickly he changed the subject to the name of Darrell’s dog: “Destroyer.” It’s a female. (The India-Indian goddess of destruction is named Shiva, which means the same thing.)

For five years Martin worked with the police as an elder to get them to understand the people they were protecting. They used dogs as helpers and he told about a boy who ran away and how the dogs found his frozen body. He told about them figuring out murders, both finding who was killed and who did the killing. He went off on a short diversion about a friend of his who recently had a run-in with an insufficiently civilized cop when the friend was taking his Bundle back home. The policeman told him that all of his native religion was crap. The friend said he thought the officials would be surprised to hear that he thought that. The policeman said they were crap, too. Martin did not think this policeman’s prospects were very good in the future. Dogs might bite him.

If a dog dies, one should not grieve too much but rather be grateful to the dog, because sometimes dogs will die in order to take the place of one of your family members who was supposed to die.

Wolves are closely related. When one goes on the war trail, one sings a wolf song. He sang it for us. He told about a man-dog song in which a mother dog and her pups come to a man in a dream and ask to come into the lodge by the fire because it is very cold. The words are like “have pity on me, pity on my poor pups. Then I will help you sometime.” And Marvin sang us that song with the help of a drum. The beat was a quick trembling one.

Last summer the Piegan kids had a camp at Buffalo Lake so they could look for buffalo stones, or iniskim. Martin was there. Then he told us about a very earnest man who really wanted to sing Indian, so he learned all the words to a song and sang them alone at a ceremony. The only thing he got wrong is that he accidentally changed the last line slightly so that he sang, “I make babies!” That won't be forgotten!


SPEAKER: DR. ELDON YELLOWHORN, PROFESSOR AT DEPARTMENT OF ARCHEOLOGY, SIMON FRASER UNIVERSITY

Eldon brought along a slide show to illustrate his talk and used his own dog as an example but it was hard to imagine his dog pulling a travois: it’s a Yorkie! Eldon is a big guy. He says the dog was intended to keep his wife company while he out-of-town, but the dog decided to be his -- though he has to be careful not to step on it. His name is “Omi,” the Japanese word for rain.

He told us the story of the Lost Boys who had been put out of the tribe because there wasn’t enough food because of drought. (Eldon points out that this probably happened repeatedly. He did not say it was the boys who were put out because the girls could make new tribal members later and because boys are resourceful enough that they might survive on their own.) The dogs pitied the boys and they prayed to the Moon (howled) asking her to speak to her husband the Sun and persuade him to let the waters return. This strategy worked and the drought ended. He repeated that people don’t usually like to hear a dog howling because it means spirits coming to take someone away.

Eldon told a real life story about when he was a boy. (He’s sort of young adult now -- everyone looks young to me.) They lived out in the country and used soft sage plants as wipers in the outhouse. One day he, his mother, and their dogs were gathering more sage. He was very small, maybe four years old, and he had to move his bowels. So his mother got him properly arranged. When his droppings hit the ground, the dogs darted in and ate them, which surprised him very much. Why was that? Then his mother told him the old story about why dogs can’t talk. This time the wife’s lover was a man, whom the husband killed, but this time the wife shoved shit into the dog’s mouth as his punishment and that’s what he barks to cough out. And yet he got a taste for the stuff and eats it when he can. (This is one of the duties of “pye dogs” or pariah dogs in Third World countries -- to clean away excrement and dead things.)

Then Eldon shifted to formal archeology. The skeletal and material records of the direct association between people and dogs goes back 14,000 years. If you Google “Blue Fish Cave” on your Sarvisberry, you’ll find many valuable references. A dog skeleton 12,000 years old was found there.

He explained to us “DNA archeology,” which means working in the lab to analyze both nuclear DNA and mitochondrial DNA, which is actually more useful because it doesn’t change except by mutation. (The whole point of nuclear DNA is to recombine during sex to create a new individual.) The current thinking is that dogs departed from whatever common ancestor was there between themselves and other canids probably 135,000 years ago. This means that dogs became a separate species before they took up with humans. Previously, humans thought that they caused the split into dogs. (Humans think they cause everything. This is a Napi quality.) Dingos, when looked at through DNA, turn out to have developed out of the dogs who went to Australia with humans and then turned feral.

It is an open question whether humans domesticated dogs or dogs domesticated humans. The relationship long predates the change from nomads to farms and villages (about 10,000 years ago) and many dogs still live on the boundary of that change, going back and forth, in and out.

SPEAKER: TOM SHAWL, PROFESSOR OF ASSINIBOINE LANGUAGE, FORT BELKNAP COLLEGE

Tom Shawl is a third handsome man who looks young to me. His father was Assiniboine (Crazy Bear) and his mother was Blackfeet (Lone Walker). He came to Browning to get to know his mother’s family and ended up falling in love with a Blackfeet woman and marrying her. He said he had asked Darrell to provide a couple of husky bodyguards for him because through history the Assiniboine and Blackfeet clashed hard. His specialty was accumulating stories about a real person named “White Dog.”

A number of people were at this seminar because they love the 19th century romantic horse-people stories and this was right down their alley. Tom sketched out the history behind it. The Assiniboine were actually a segment of the Sioux nation, in sign talk named by drawing one’s finger across one’s throat: “Cut Throat,” also called the Nakota because their dialect drifted in a way that substituted N for the D we are used to in Dakota states.

Indian warfare before the horse and even before the Euros, was patchy and band-on-band rather than tribe-on-tribe. At any given time probably seventy-per-cent of the people were not at war while the other thirty per cent busied themselves with daily work. War was with shields, arrows and spears and as much a ceremony as a destruction. He spoke of Assiniboine shields, very big, so many of them that every man had one to stand behind, and Assiniboine armor, several layers of leather with sand quilted in between. Heavy but effective. Assiniboine were related to and allied with Cree, in a similar way to the Gros Ventre, who are the buffer group between Blackfeet and Assiniboine, usually allied to the Blackfeet. For a long time the bands had worked out their boundaries, as though they were jigsaw pieces fit together.

When the Euros hit the east coast, they pushed the jigsaw pieces so that they buckled and disengaged all across the continent. Then they added the de-stabilizers of horses, guns, metal goods, fabric -- all things that kindled greed and created gradients between haves and have-nots, all of which started wars. The tribal histories tell of fighting the Iroquois, but then less than a hundred years later they had been pushed so far West that they were fighting the Sushwap tribe in British Columbia. Their relations are sometimes called Stoneys. (Shawl counts Hugh Monroe among his ancestors, as do more than a few Blackfeet.) The Assiniboine were so widespread that they became middlemen who disseminated material goods. Their territory extended from Texas to the Bow River. They fought Comanche/Shoshone whose sign was a snake, a wiggling motion across with the finger, going one way for Comanche and the other way for Shoshone.

At one point there were seven Assiniboine warriors and three Cree who came to help the Blackfeet because their backs were up against the Rockies and they needed to learn new techniques. Two Assiniboines stand out in more recent history (1820’s and 1830’s). One was “Left Hand,” noted for his military genius, to the point where whites called him “the Wild Bonaparte.” These men could muster huge forces of warriors, from 500 to 1,000 men at once time. In 1836 a huge force of 3,000 gathered to attack the Blackfeet, but the leader, “White Dog,” for some reason changed his mind and decided not to attack after all. The reason is not recorded. It was not typical because White Dog was one of the few who had a categorical vendetta against all Blackfeet. He would ride to a ridge overlooking camp and scream sexual insults at the men. In their own language!

White Dog was a shape-shifter who, when he was cornered, became a huge grizzly. He could reconstitute himself and there are many stories about how he was killed and who killed him (one can start a bar fight over whose great-grandfather managed the deed). He had a sweat lodge that he would go into, stay in for days, and emerge with fresh scalps dripping from his belt, brandishing captured weapons, all Blackfeet. Evidently it was a teleportation “worm hole.”

(My notes say that “David-Rodnick” is the source of this next, but I don’t think that’s the right name.) In 1935 “Returning Healer” went to war alongside White Dog. Two parties set out but “Returning Healer” had a dream that though horses would be succesfully stolen, someone would die, and he didn’t want that to happen so he turned around and went back home. But some of his warriors still wanted to go on, so they joined White Dog. He had the same dream, but his reaction was, “So? The dead person might be me and I want to continue.”

He decided to make medicine and sent someone out to find a buffalo skull on the prairie. He took a bit of this and powdered it. His medicine caused the skull to become a living bull bison that snorted and pawed the earth. He had an enchanted buffalo robe and a war shield both of which could repel bullets and arrows. One man swore that he saw a bullet bounce off White Dog’s forehead, leaving him unharmed. He specialized in stealing women right out of their lodges and also horses so valuable that at night they were tied to the owner’s wrist or ankle. (Tom said once he himself had a car so new and beautiful that he considered doing that, tying his ankle to his car with a rope out the window. But that then he realized that the consequence would probably be that he was dragged out the window behind the car the thief was driving away!)

Probably it was the Blackfeet who killed White Dog in the end, though they don’t agree on the place. Mary Ground says it was here but Schultz identified a place farther away. Shawl did find one Blackfeet elder and then again an Assiniboine elder who was a nephew of White Dog’s, and they told the same story. The night before he died, White Dog rode around the village on his horse, singing his war song, which went this way: “My relations, it is a hard thing to lose someone but only the earth lasts forever.” The Blackfeet took this song and they still sing it as a victory song when they take the state basketball championship.

Shawl is trying to establish whether White Dog was with Custer on the Greasy Grass and says he was with the band that surrendered with Sitting Bull. But that’s about the facts.

The more interesting story is that one of the features of White Dog's exploits with women was that many of them fell in love with him. He taught them the magic spells that would reconstitute him if he were chopped into parts, which those who tried to kill him were intent on doing. But he was mean to these women and sometimes beat them up. So the last time he was chopped into pieces, the women came together with their parts of the ceremony to reassemble him and then got to talking. They became jealous and angry and some refused to perform their part of the ritual. Therefore, parts of White Dog remained severed and he stayed dead. In fact, some time later, he was dug up and his corpse was mostly together, but parts were missing. (Do you know the Egyptian story of Osiris?)

Unyiyee.

Add comments or make corrections as you see fit.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

IMITAIKS: WHEN THE SPIRIT MOVED WITH US

IMITAIKS:
WHEN THE SPIRIT MOVED WITH US

THE TWELFTH ANNUAL PIEGAN INSTITUTE HISTORY CONFERENCE August 20, 2010

OPENING PRAYER: Emmett Dusty Bull, Cuts Wood School student
(In Blackfeet. Stay seated.)

PRELIMINARY WORDS FROM DARRELL KIPP:

Piegan Institute is an immersion school for teaching the Blackfeet language. It was founded in 1987 so the first students have graduated from college. They have done exceedingly well. This was a privately funded school without tribe or BIA or any other “ownership” except for sixty people who thought learning the Blackfeet language was a crucial thing to do. Of those sixty, only Darrell and Dr. Dorothy Still Smoking are left. But many of the people who predicted it would never work or even that it was a bad thing to do, have now converted to the idea. Many schools try to teach indigenous languages but it is far harder than they realize at first, so some quietly shut down. But this school has persisted.

Part of the reason is the actual school building. The present Cuts Wood School was designed to provide space for sacred doings and many Bundle Keepers and affinity societies meet here. The old Blackfeet ways are saturated with spirituality. To take that out of the school would be to destroy its purpose, which is to explore the language.

In that exploration, inquiry is made into records and memories to discover what the earliest recorded meaning of Blackfeet words might be. They found that in the oldest definitions of imitah the words mean “the spirit that moves with us.” NOT the animal that moves with them, though the dogs were indeed carrying the materials for the camps or pulling them on travois or traveling alongside the people as they walked so they could be sentinels and scouts. The SPIRIT -- not the ghost or the beast or any of those English words, like domesticated (domicile, ownership). So Piegan settled down to sort through the facts of relationship to dogs, the dependencies, the reciprocities, the companionships. They found these things as well as others: protection, hunting, objects of love, trading items, and (controversial) food. (The Sioux admit to eating white dogs as a ceremonial dish.)

Darrell and his “talking circle” have been pondering the “dog days” for quite a while now, trying to figure it all out. They come to something that the scientists agree with: that the special gift that dogs have is the ability to “talk” to people through body language and through watching human faces. Of course, we know they also sense whether or not we have diabetes, cancer or fear, using their sense of small. (Darrell mentions people who are always getting bitten by dogs and who ask “why me?” He advises them to go smudge themselves.) So dogs were the first animals to “throw in with us” and share our fates. They understand our doings and intentions intuitively as well as by learning.

Darrell tells one of the “Why Dogs Can’t Talk” stories. (There are many dog stories.) A woman has a lover whenever her husband is gone. (Blackfeet stories, like those of many cultures, always portray the unfaithful one as the woman.) The lover is a bear. The dog is afraid to intervene, but it observes and, since in those days it could use human language, it told the man. The man killed the bear and in revenge the grieving wife stuffed a big piece of meat into the dog’s mouth. Its barking is partly an effort to dislodge that lump.

PANEL: A REPORT on KAAWA’POMAAKAA SOCIETY

Darrell’s position is that the Blackfeet NEVER ate dogs, that they always held them in very high regard and considered them too valuable to simply kill and eat. He mentions that there are specific individual dogs with names who have been remembered in stories. He asserts that Blackfeet are anti-euthanasia and could never support the killing of surplus dogs. They are cultural icons. However, he recognizes that there are always lots of dogs around in Browning, that often they are hurt or starving, and that outsiders are often upset and offer to help the dogs if there were some way to do it.

At one time there was an organization called “Friends of Imitah and Poos,” but the sponsor, Peter Berger, moved away. (You might notice that the Blackfeet name for cats is "poos" or "puss," since both animal and name came with the Euros. The cats were invited to participate in this seminar but declined. They said, "As if we cared!") But there have always been individuals who did their best to take care of dogs.

Darrell told about a female documentary producer who was working in Browning and who became attached to a cute little pup. When it was time for her to go back to New York City, she really wanted to take the pup with her and asked Darrell what he thought, He asked around subtly, and it seemed to be okay. So she bought a shipping kennel and loaded it up for the airplane. About six months later this woman called Darrell, desperate for advice again. The cute little pup was now the size of her sofa and had just eaten the coffee table. What should she do? Darrell told her to take it to Central Park and turn it loose! “What?? Impossible!! I’d be arrested,” she protested.

“Oh, no,” reassured Darrell. “That’s a rez dog. In two weeks it will turn up back here in Browning.”

More realistically, it was decided to organize the Kaawa pomaakaa Society, a group with big hearts and small resources. One of the gathering places for the rez dogs is hanging around near Ick’s where the street people gather. (In fact, some of them suggest the dogs are reincarnations of old buddies.) So one of the first projects of this group was to make friends with these guys enough that they would allow the dogs to be spayed or neutered, then returned. They figure that nearly all the dogs are now sterile. Though they had taken along a small tranq gun in case some of the dogs were wild or hostile, Georgeanna Horn simply opened the door to her car and they all jumped in. In fact, the outsiders who come in to help in practical ways (like those who do the spay and neuter clinics) say that the street dogs in Browning are very well socialized animals that get along fine with people, so they can be adopted out even in other places. One of the strengths of this group has been establishing ties with other groups and individuals who have the same goals. These are not the big national humane societies, but more the local person-to-person animal lovers.

Darrell had the members of the group tell who they were. Erin Trombley had been a veterinary assistant at Grasswinds Veterinary Clinic and though she doesn’t work there anymore, she was so conscious of the many dogs brought in, sometimes hurt, and how they were all accepted by Dr. Ethel Connelly until a home could be found, that she has continued the work. Ellen Woods is the town librarian who volunteered to help with the spay/neuter clinics.

Debbie Nikou is a nurse at the Indian Health Service hospital and has rehabilitated and rescued animals for decades, including horses. Debbie administers a small grant account at Grasswinds. One person she was not able to help was a tourist who wanted to send a found dog home via UPS! But she has connections to Calgary and three states. She told the story of a little fluffy pup that she saw hit by a car. When she cme back and found it, the street people by Ick’s said it wasn’t really hurt, it was just “depressed.” But it was passing blood in its urine and had other bad symptoms, so Debbie took it home. Now it’s a fine boisterous Blue Heeler, exceptionally beautiful. Denise Sollars has a whole menagerie: dogs, cats, rabbits, turtles and so on. Sandra Watts, the tribal attorney, has eight dogs.

One sixth grade boy has a specialty: he takes in female dogs that are pregnant, births the pups, raises them, and then adopts them out. When he comes to the meetings, he gets very impatient with adult protocol. “Let’s get to work and get things done!” he urges.


Tomorrow I’ll post the rest of the content. The important governing concept of this whole seminar is “RENEGOTIATION OF THE BLACKFEET REALITY.” They are strongly challenging the idea of “culture,” which is so obsessed with accuracy which tries to freeze everything at one point in time when, in fact, the shared lives of people on the land is always dynamic and changes as it goes. They are also questioning the value of being old, being an “elder”, as qualification for saying what should happen. As Darrell says, “A person who is mean and selfish at the age of 20 or 40 or 60 is not very likely to be different when he or she gets to 80. So why pay attention to them just because they are old?”

Friday, August 20, 2010

IS VALIER IN THE PITS?

What do you call a steam shovel when it’s no longer driven by steam? An excavator. What’s the difference between an excavator and a backhoe? An excavator moves around on big tank-type treads while a backhoe has rubber tires. I found this out by asking the guys digging giant pits in the street by my house. The one up by the highway is maybe twenty feet deep and fifty feet long -- very impressive.

What do you call a scandal? A mayor who signs up for all this (a renovation of the town water system that means installing water meters and raising rates) without the backing of her town council or the townspeople themselves. The project is well under way, but the machines -- whatever they are called -- have been quiet this afternoon. There is action behind the scenes. Of the four town councilmen (all men -- some describe them as “good old boys” who conspire for their own good instead of what is good for the town) only one has not resigned. (He is a person who doesn’t act quickly.) The news accounts on the front page of the Valierian are hostile. http://www.cutbankpioneerpress.com/the_valierian/?cal=thevalierian

Mackenzie Greye (note fancy spelling) came to town with money and high intentions. She is retired. This is not the first place she’s tried to settle after leaving Seattle corporate culture, where she was a computer expert. In Valier she published her poetry on a blog and drove to Cut Bank to teach art classes. And she quickly lined up the town’s women as her admirers. Except me. She called me up to ask me to run for the council, though she’d never met me and knew nothing about me, nor had she ever been to a council meeting. She wanted me to go for coffee and I proposed that she just bring a thermos to the next town meeting, since I normally attend all of them. (I don’t know whether I’m glad or sad that I missed this last confrontation. I was pushing a deadline of my own.)

A minister dreads to see this kind of person coming into a congregation, not because they bring new ideas but because they are divisive, don’t know what the real stakes are, don’t bother to find out the lay of the land, and try to enforce fine print in long documents instead of using common sense. Ms. Greye was soon appealing to state authorities and, in turn, being courted by a certain kind of business (consultants, engineers, salesmen) that makes its living off small town projects. They arrive, identify trouble (starts with a T), point to disaster (starts with a P -- like pool) and offer to sell the finest in band instruments and uniforms. This time the trouble was an ancient water delivery system, the threat was that if there were a fire at the school there would not be enough water to save the children, and the answer was a new water main, water meters, and a new water tank. Maybe some new wells.

Earlier the way has been strewn with disaster. The first fiasco I heard about was a local knothead taking his ATV out to the little nesting island in Lake Francis, made accessible by drought, and gleefully smashing through every ground nest he could find. “They were just filthy seagulls.” Greye raised hell with everyone from the Audubon Society to the feds about the Wordsworthian solitude and beauty being violated. Every enlightened woman in town was on her side. The Pondera Canal and Irrigation Company which owns and operates the lake (it’s actually the reservoir for irrigation) declared that they would resolve future problems by bulldozing the island out of existence. Every practical man in town (except for the idiot who caused the trouble) was alarmed at the official hue and cry when a well-placed word would have done the job.

Another major blunder came when the town needed some gravel and the mayor went out of her way to buy it from someone other than the local gravel provider, who happened to be one of the councilmen. She let the word be passed around that the only reason he wanted to be a councilman was so he could make money off town projects. (His prices were never explored.) The bill for the gravel was high and was sprung in the council meeting AFTER the purchase. So were some other expenses, to the point where some councilmen were wondering why they were even asked to sign the checks. At one remarkable meeting the council and mayor confronted each other in lawyer-to-lawyer combat. The lawyers were embarrassed.

Then there were the Great Horse War. Horses are now forbidden in the Great Metropolis of Valier. But you can have a 4-H project, so we have hogs.

It began to appear that the mayor thought she had been elected Queen. And yet in meetings she spoke in a voice so soft no one could hear her as she sat hunched and meek beside the protective town clerk. The latter, a local solid citizen and good Mom, once lost her temper entirely with a power and righteousness that brought the meeting to order in a hurry. She apologized but she needn’t have.

Confrontations with the town employees (1 clerk and 2 maintenance men) continued. They had started with the previous mayor whose health had deteriorated badly during her tenure. The union rep came. Confrontations between councilmen and employees flared at every meeting. Behind the scenes citizens were demanding to know why THIS was done and why THAT was done and also why wasn’t that other done? But they never attended council meetings. Greye complained that the councilmen were plotting against her, lingering on the sidewalk after meetings in order to mock her. (Actually, I stood with them for a few minutes and got the impression that they were just kind of confounded and trying to blow off some emotion.)

I’ve attended nearly every council meeting for the past few years, not to follow content -- though that’s often interesting -- but rather to follow group dynamics, a major part of my training both as a minister and as a teacher. I didn’t often say anything. I did try to help find a way for an old rancher to keep a couple of horses in a field that’s technically inside the town, as he has for several years. There’s a major lesson in this situation. It could never have come to this if the townspeople had cared enough to attend meetings or even run for office. But they are all too busy for democracy. Democracy takes too much time. Let the Queen do it. Okay. Then she sets the terms. She says that everyone is so awful to her that she’s just going to move away. Okay.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

DON'T FRIEND ME, YOU SOB!!

By now I rarely read a book or watch a movie without also Googling to read about the author, the circumstances, the reaction and so on. In fact, this goes back to Alvina Krause’s demand that we develop a character for acting by ransacking their circumstances and gripping their place in history. It’s the way I survived Div School courses like “Modern Thinkers” (which we nicked “modern stinkers”) because one cannot understand Paul Tillich without seeing the times (Hitler) that pushed him centrifugally towards the edges of Christianity while his heart held him centripetally bound to the center. One cannot understand Freud without understanding the Vienna of his times, which he took to be reality. (Well, hardly, my dear!)

So in wading through these Stieg Larsson Millennium mysteries (I’ve read all three now, though I only heard the first one read aloud), I find that he is in fact explaining his real-life opposition to the forces of Evil -- specifically stigmatization and persecution that erode democracy -- through inquiry journalism. Tying this into the reading I’m doing about Deleuzeguattarian system thought, I see that what he specifically said in “The Girl Who Played with Fire” was that criminal enterprise is not always (or perhaps anymore) a matter of a big overarching crime syndicate. (Even the Pope is admitting he’s not running a monolith. And there’s a fascinating article in this month’s Vanity Fair about the hundred-ring-circus the US presidency has become. Tim speaks of “all the little mafias.”) It wasn’t until I began to read the reviews and watch the YouTube interviews that I realized how much Larsson was also trying to redeem small individual (rhizomatic) struggles against injustice through the paradigm of a lone journalist and the small resistant figure of Lisbeth Salander. They are not lovers: they are co-warriors.

Our society has become more than ever a free-for-all in which crime, like many other phenomena, follows the rhizome structure: many small spontaneous nodes only loosely connected. What Larsson adds is that these little criminal enterprises are not run by brilliant or exceptionally evil minds, as the movies would suggest, but are more often just clusters of the human weeds of society growing in empty lots on broken ground. Stupid, ugly, malformed and uneducated, they are criminal simply because they can’t think of anything else. It’s there and it’s easy. He was not guessing: he had investigated.

I keep a close eye on Adam Curtis’ blog. His most recent post included a link to a video made in 1973 about Hell’s Angels in England. That’s not really what it was about: it addressed young, uneducated, unsocialized, unmotivated men hanging around getting into trouble. http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/adamcurtis/ . It is not an accident that most of them are from stigmatized minorities with no education or marketable skills. The American solution has been to put them in jail at enormous cost. The criminal culture finds them useful. Our prisons are seminaries (seedbeds) for crime.

Turning over a small notepad, intending to write a shopping list on it, I discover this list of five things on the cardboard back:

1. Absolute truth claims.
2. Blind obedience.
3. Effort to establish an ideal time.
4. End justifies the means.
5. Declaring a “holy” war.

I don’t remember when I copied this down or from what. Might be the characteristics of Fascism, or Fundamentalism, or simply Dictatorship. They’re not all that different. And they certainly describe the self-righteous and finally Evil nature of the little renegade group within the Swedish secret service that tried to crush Salander.

The characteristics on this list do not account for the kind of Evil that comes from the “left,” the forces sometimes labeled “liberal” that are intent on doing what they think is Good, through regulation and control. Or do they? In fact, the missionary zeal for improving everything often pulls them into this same list. (They are the origin of “penitentiaries,” meant to be places to become penitent.) The problem is that the enormous body of complex rules and regulations that do-gooders are constantly legislating are all based on the assumption that they know what the world should be like -- like THEM. I read in the NYTimes today that Facebook has a new feature: you press a button and can see the exact location of all your friends so you can hail the nearby ones for a cup of coffee. They describe this as “nice” and “social.” Lisbeth Salander might define it as stalking.

The rhizome idea is that many small centers of thought and action are superior because they are more likely to be organic and related to the real local ecology. Looking for the “head” to kill (which has not succeeded in the case of Al-Quaeda) is less effective that improving the environment that encouraged the formation of terrorists in the first place -- usually through poverty, stigma and exclusion. The ground surge of this idea -- which organic gardeners and holistic health advisors have known for a long time -- has now begun in military circles. Hopefully the great consolidating ideas that have afflicted schools and ag systems lately will be abandoned in favor of of “local” rhizome networks in healthy environments that do not depend upon endless regulations and inspectors who never get around to inspecting, if indeed there are enough of them funded, properly trained, and immune to corruption.

Here are quotes from an article in the Atlantic that is supposed to be about the World Wide Web now dwindling in the face of “apps” (which I don’t understand at all). The quotes might also apply to the current struggle over economic theory and other social developments like gay marriage.
http://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2010/08/whats-wrong-with-x-is-dead/61663/

Too much scholarship has shown that technologies and systems are (messily) shaped by social movements and events and governments, political ideas and freak accidents.”

On the contrary, I think there still has not been enough scholarship (or maybe journalism) to convince people this is true. There’s very little awareness of how UNcontrollable spontaneous grassroots movements can be and how they can transform the world. I watched the 6-part YouTube video about Jack Kerouac last night and am still thinking about Bill Burroughs’ assertion that the “Beat” movement changed the planet, even penetrating the “hermetic” society of the Muslim world. Like Bin Laden. I consider this good, by the way.

From the Atlantic again: “We have made [technology] an all-purpose agent of change. As compared with other means of reaching our social goals, the technological has come to seem the most feasible, practical, and economically viable. It relieves the citizenry of onerous decision-making obligations and intensifies their gathering sense of political impotence. The popular belief in technology as a--if not the--primary force shaping the future is matched by our increasing reliance on instrumental standards of judgment, and a corresponding neglect of moral and political standards, in making judgments about the direction of society.”


Alexis Madrigal, the romantically named author of this article, has my attention. As much as Stieg Larsson did in his novels. So much to read -- so little time.