Monday, October 23, 2017


After my circuit-riding ministry in Montana, I did an “interim ministry” in Kirkland, WA, following this man: The Reverend Patrick O’Neill.  (1985-86).  When I googled I found him in England!  By now he must be retired.  But here he is:

Interims are supposed to bind up any wounds, offer handkerchiefs to those grieving, rejoice as appropriate and shake out the bedding if necessary so as to make room for a new start.  But this was a happy interim and it was probably more the case that the congregation comforted me than the other way around.  

Patrick was an easy guy to be around, a big man (much bigger than in this vid — someone must have put him on a diet) with bright blue eyes and the shadow of an Irish accent, since that was his family background.  He’d been the last child in a large family of sisters who cherished and celebrated him.  His idea of church was a lot of females in the church kitchen baking up goodies for sales, but also making lunch for everyone and taking turns entertaining the littlest kids.  If they got into quarrels, he took the combatants into his office and worked it out as a threesome.  It wasn’t often necessary.  The men were pleased.

Patrick felt breakfast was an important meal because that’s when one read the newspaper, which in those days was worth the time.  He carefully went up and down the columns, even reading the obits.  One morning he found the obit of a man who had died at a very old age, but the only accomplishment noted in his eulogy was that as a young man he had been on a softball team that “took state.”  The rest of his life was considered unimportant.

Appalled at this, Patrick wrote the man a proper eulogy, though he had to invent a life for him to do it.  I don’t remember what he said, but now I remembered that he did this because of Rev. Mark Belletini giving a delayed eulogy for Rev. Mark Mosher DeWolfe via video.  (10-22-17)  It was live-streamed, but I think it will stay posted.

Thinking about this at bedtime caused me to dream the following story, so now I’ll try to write it down before I forget it.  

Eddy had a particularly lovely mother but she would not let him sit on her lap even when he was very small.  When he toddled over and tried to climb up, she kissed his little hands, smoothed back his hair, and slid him off to sit on the floor and lean on her knees.  His father was also kind but not huggy, and bought him a dog that was meant to be a companion.  It was a lazy dog with big flaps of ears and a cold nose.  It would much rather doze under the kitchen table in hopes of something edible falling on the floor than to go for a walk.

So Eddy walked alone.  The family house was in an area just being developed, but slowly because of bad economics.  It was second growth with as many kid trails as animal trails.  Not many trees were big enough to climb, but those that were got a lot of use.  

One day he met a couple of other boys he knew from school.  They liked to do the scrap components of softball — playing catch, trying to hit a ball with a bat, and just running.  They never developed those things into an actual game with competitive teams.  Often Eddy ran alone down the trails through the woods.  It was best in fall when the light was yellow and the ground was cushioned with leaves.

In the school year that the kids began to “pass” between specialized classes with their books on their arms, one of the girls took him in hand.  She claimed him as hers and from then on he was guided throughout a normal life, meaning uneventful.  Then there was the year he was on the softball team that took state.  In fact, he was the guy who hit the home run that won the game.  That was the high point of his life and he never tried to exceed it.  But neither did he ever forget running the bases with everyone cheering.

The economy improved, the area returned to the original development plans, and since Eddy had started a hardware company with his father-in-law’s backing, he did very well.  Things unfolded nicely and his wife got a house she loved and maintained beautifully.  Once in a while Eddie played in a local softball league, just for fun.  He liked the running.

They were careful to have only two children and pleased that one was a girl and one was a boy.  The children did very well in life at first, graduating from good colleges.  But both of them grew restless as time went on.  The girl was married three times before she finally settled.  The boy went with the counterculture and played drums in not very famous punk road bands.  There were grandchildren and eventually they were listed in the obits by name but no one local knew much about them.

Eddy’s wife died of diabetes.  Everyone said it was no wonder because she loved her sweets and grew quite round in middle age.  But Eddy stayed slim even after he sold the hardware store for a good profit and moved into a pleasant little apartment, happy to be alone and have things his own way.  Except that he had a big old cuddly ginger cat who made certain demands.

When he died, his neighborhood only remembered the year his team took state, but that was more of a distinction than a lot of people around there could boast about.  I don’t know what happened to the cat.  People put dogs in obits, but I haven’t seen many cats included.  Make up your own cat-fate, I guess.  I’m going to imagine that it found the last scrap of unbuilt-up woods and waited by the path for a boy to come along so it could follow him home.

I haven’t kept in touch with the Unitarians around Seattle.  I had thought Patrick and his wife were in Boston and was surprised to find the vid made in England.  I see that University Unitarian is password protected but I was happy to be able to read that they are building on again.  

I see that the opening page features a suggestion to include the church in one’s will, which tells you something about aging congregations.  In Valier the Baptist church next door to me is shifting the estate wealth of deceased past members to the future in the form of their own improved building.  I’m not sure that will attract new members, but in 1999 when I moved in, there were no children.  Now in 2017 there are.

Sunday, October 22, 2017


At least in part, Trump was elected — excluding Russian shenanigans — because he was understood to be someone who would break up the standing order.  It had become obvious to many of us that our federal representatives in particular had become entrenched and pot-bound because they were treating their representation as entitlements and careers for themselves.  Trump is fulfilling his mission of disruption very well.  But the results are more rubble than rebuild.  As a disruptor, he is far from idealistic or even focused.

Our doddering and diseased oldest legislators seem determined to die in office.  Beyond that, the culture from which these power mongers derived — white Euro males — is no longer the major stream of American society.  Not only could these men and man-identified women not recognize the legitimacy of other ways of thinking, they have demonized and resisted alternatives as hostile to their interests.  They can’t recognize female interests, dark people, different religious systems, nor non-conventional sexuality.  Oddly, they often indulge in unlawful sexual behavior while condemning it, which means they are claiming the titillation of power-privilege.  One can be too old for sex but never too old for oppression.

I see three contexts of structural constraints that were supposed to protect against corruption.  The most obvious is the “rule of law” since so many of these people are lawyers.  Originally, the rule of law was meant to be a protection again tyrants who simply enforced their own opinions and interests — the way Trump is doing.  

There are weak points with the rule of law despite it being meant to write down the people’s best understanding of justice.  One is interpretations, which are meant to be both logical and based on precedent.  Laws may have originally responded to quite different realities and opinions because the circumstances were different.  As an obvious contrast, laws that are relevant and even necessary in a time of war may not be justifiable in peace, but after the war those who had enjoyed extraordinary power or profit due to military need may be reluctant to give it up.  Recently he sexual revolution and availability of drugs has knocked many laws on their ears.

Another is enforcement of the rule in court, which has two dimensions.  First, acts that defy the law must be defined and identified, which can lead to many tedious hair-splitting sessions with ambiguous outcomes.  If the identification of specific law-breakers is in the hands of biased people (police, prosecutors) it might not be fairly applied.  When the public sees that prejudice and exemptions are in operation, the society as a whole is damaged and disrupted which defeats the purpose of law.  If cops shoot Blacks, Blacks demonstrate contempt.  If ICE abuses kids, churches provide sanctuaries.  Sarah Chayes describes this vividly.

Actual punishments must be considered and proportional.  Not like Duterte of the Philippines who imposes the punishment at the moment of supposed detection, shooting all suspected drug dealers in the moment they are observed.  No doubt innocents are killed.  I just learned a new euphemism: “overincarceration,” the American practice of jailing people even when the offence is poverty.

We are currently seeing many rather abstract laws (collusion, misprision, perjury) that are intended to guide the three strands of the US Government, but no punishments arrive.  The culprits simply stonewall.  The same with the predatory sexualization of power in Hollywood which has been common knowledge for decades — everyone waved it on, helped to suppress knowledge partly by representing it as sophistication, partly as provided by the ambitious victims, and partly by reviving the shady historical reputation of “theatre” as next to prostitution.

Lately the executive branch has openly hired regulators of industries who are from the ranks of the offenders and have been sympathetic to excusing or hiding them.  This includes the President.  By the time we are through the case will probably include outright treason, the highest international crime that laws are meant to prevent. 

Laws — even detected, identified, and brought before judges— can be fiddled and rendered inapplicable by redefining boundaries, qualifications, and regulations.  Those who are willing to play a “long game” can accomplish this so gradually that the corruption is undetected.  

This is particularly true of the second context of corruption sources, which is using money as the one denominator of the universal.  We monetize everything:  human lives and mutilations, disasters, artistic success, higher education.  This worked better within one monetary system based in one country with a great majority of people in the “middle class” as defined by income.  Now that “money” slides from one country to another, often virtualized on the internet, morphing from one kind of profit to another, the whole capital system is full of entry points for criminal strategy.

The law is evaded by “laundering” and — again — secrecy.  The greatest crimes are enabled by secrecy and yet secrecy is what protects us as private individuals governing our own lives.  But ambiguously.  Families are private, if not secret, but that can hide the worst abuses and atrocities of humans, esp. when families are as loosely defined and “blended” as they are today.  No amount of marriage law can contain intimate abuse.  No removal of children or elders to “care” is really better.

The idea of checks and balances has been counted on specifically to reinforce the rule of law.  Separation of the duties of the legislators by division of them into 1) two “houses”; 2)  the separate duties of the executive manager called “President”; and 3) the impartial Supreme Court review was supposed to prevent monopolies and collusions.  Those of us who have lived on the Blackfeet Reservation where there still are no such divisions in tribal law are aware of the abuses and bullying made possible.  Those who have been protected by it (usually big important families) approve of the system and recently voted down a new constitution that would have meant separation of powers.  

Trump believes he is the boss of all three divisions, vetting judges and bribing or punishing legislators.

What I find daunting is that most people I’ve tried to talk to about these problems are unaware of the concepts per se.  Evidently they are not taught or no one takes them seriously enough to think about them.  At a town council meeting I was pulled into a shouting match with a council member who is convinced that anything outside written law is not, cannot be, forbidden.  I tried to explain “tort law” which is more commonly known as suing, but he resented the very idea.  I ran into this when I was answering the phone for the Portland nuisance department.  “There’s no law against it!” was a common refrain, even though the practice might obviously be a dumb and dangerous idea that no one thought even needed to be written down.  

Regulations promulgated by the executive branch at the sub-law level, neither voted on nor published, are another way of evading accountability, by claiming that they are executive functions, rather than legislative.  Trump uses this all the time.  His “carnival of lawyers”, funky as they seem, have this concept firmly in hand.  Under-the-radar rules, pop-up enforcements in airports, minor proclamations enshrined by ceremonies, all undercut and confuse law.

Demographics (the pressure of too many people, aging, multiple cultures) are affecting these safeguards.  Media provides too much information to sort or digest, so we simply lack enough time or means to investigate and challenge all these dangers and corruptions.  When I reflect on all the injustices and diversions of resources I’ve see in so many of the diverse settings I’ve known, they seem everywhere.  Trump’s defence is “so what?  Everyone does it.”  He has a point.  A sadly sharp one.

Saturday, October 21, 2017


I couldn't find an image of Mark DeWolfe, so here's Mark Belletini

My Twitter feed is mostly Native Americans, Canadians, Unitarians, environmentalists, and gays particularly focused on boys who have been sexually abused.  Very few of my readers are in Montana.  As far as I know, none are dogs.

This accumulation is not due to design since I post what I jolly well (or bitterly) please for my own purposes.  This is not an advertising campaign.  I don’t expect to attract a publisher or even an agent.  In fact, I’ve probably shirked what I ought to do in terms of social action.

The "juxtaposition" of my title refers to a UU email announcement that arrived at the same time as a Twitter link to the story about Dr. Betty Price wanting to quarantine all people with AIDS.   (I won’t call her “Ugly Betty” but I guess I already did, and now all we need to know is what’s her price.  We know that she and her husband are big spenders.)

A second version of the relevant email says this:
On Sunday, October 22, 2017, a lecture by the Rev. Dr. Mark Belletini will be available to all UURMaPAns via a webcast.
Mark Mosher DeWolfe of Canada: The Eulogy I Never Gave will be webcast from The First Unitarian Church of Toronto.  The annual lecture is offered by the Canadian Unitarian and Universalist Historical Society.  Mark Belletini, a fellow UURMaPAn, is Minister Emeritus of First Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbus Ohio.  
***The webcast will now be livestreamed at (please note that this has changed from the original link)Congregations are encouraged to host free group screenings for everyone interested in learning more about the history of Canadian Unitarianism.  
Lecture times on October 22, 2017 in each time zone are as follows:  4 PM Eastern Time, 3 PM Central, 2 PM Mountain, 1 PM Pacific, 5 PM Atlantic

The original announcement is now removed and good riddance, since it required a rude password.  This was it:  The needed password is: 4FUmembers.”
This is the second time I’ve run across Unitarian Universalist doings that are password protected.  I’m afraid to find out what “FU” stands for.  I will vouch for the Rev. Dr. Mark Belletini, though I don’t know him personally.  He has been an inspired and generous minister and musician throughout his career.  Maybe he didn’t get a chance to review this announcement.  In due time, no doubt — like everything else — the lecture will turn up on YouTube.  I do not believe in “fencing the communion.”  It's a Universalist value to be radically inclusive.

Mark DeWolfe was the first minister I knew who had HIV.  It was the Eighties.   I was in Saskatoon so we were in the same CUC district minister’s group.  Treatment for HIV at the time meant taking many pills on a tight schedule.  Though Mark looked like the handsome young man he was, he didn’t try to make a secret of the little electronic pill box that beeped at intervals.  His partner was an MD but it was no use and Mark died.  Mark and I shared ideas about a theology of the land, which has since become very trendy.  If this post doesn’t result in me being blocked, I’ll be listening to Belletini.

Dr. Price’s husband was the first of Trump’s cabinet to hurriedly resign   (This link may be more than you want to know.)  But what evidently panicked her into betraying her racism was statistics at a Georgia conference that noted highest rates in the identified group of black “Haitian” males.  (The index for being Haitian is not given.  Recently arrived?  Fully Haitian?  Poverty level?  Education level?  Skin darkness?)  Compared to white statistics.  (Urban and suburban people?  Poverty level back-country people?  Education level?  Ability to stay private?)

New HIV cases were documented in at least 43 Georgia counties in 2013. The year before, there were 39,102 Georgians living with HIV or AIDS. Also in 2012, 613 Georgians died from HIV/AIDS. Meanwhile, the state's prison system is housing 803 inmates with HIV.  Oct 23, 2015”  (The boxed pull-out on Google)  

There was no comment on the fact that prisons are a reservoir for all contagious diseases and often prisoners who go in HIV-free come out mysteriously infected with it, without having had any diagnosis or treatment.  Proper treatment of HIV now can made the virus undetectable and non-contagious.  Overincarceration spreads HIV.  So does mass detention of children on the "wrong" side of the US border.

Public health officials often break down statistical groups in hopes of finding connections with causes or cures.  What evidently scared Dr. Price was the high reported numbers of black Haitian men who are positive for HIV.  In her mind she sees all those with the virus as sort of voodoo people, who can be confined to an island they evidently came from.  It’s all about sex to her.  And boogeymen.

Or crime.  She killed the proposed idea of needle exchanges meant to control Hep C as well as any other blood-borne viruses though they were very helpful in Kentucky, next door.  Clearly, Betty Price — whether or not she is part of a “religious” community, does believe in “fencing the communion” which meant among early Christians the practice of keeping out the “unsaved.”  I'm in.  Too bad for you.  Like walled communities.

Some time ago there was a story about the early wildfire of HIV infections that was exported from Haiti — not in the bodies of scary men, but in the plastic packets of blood and blood fractions to be sold across the US.  Poor countries are good sources of paid blood donors and there was no way to filter out viruses.  Not that the people making high profits were very interested in research.

The more recent news, now that we are better able to analyze blood in minute ways, is that patients who receive blood from women who have been pregnant are more likely to die than those who get blood from either men or never-pregnant women.  This is thought to be that since pregnancy triggers antibodies in the mother, these antibody molecules are affecting outcomes. 

I’ve never been pregnant and by now I’m too old to give blood, but because I was an animal control officer handling street creatures, I was advised not give blood.  I am likely to have rickettsia and possibly other sometimes sub-detectable things like the leptospirosis now killing people in Haiti.

Would Dr. Betty Price want to quarantine all birth mothers?  All Haitians?  All persons with Hep C, a deadly disease rampant in prisons, very contagious, with cures just now available at very high prices?  Would she want to quarantine all injectable drug users, maybe have sidewalk roadblocks to examine people for needle marks and arrest those who have them?  Should we should just build a wall around Georgia?  

Maybe this is where I should mention that an anesthesiologist (in the South but not Georgia) came close to killing a dear friend of mine because of not properly preparing for the special protocols necessary for an HIV patient.  (He did not have AIDS at that point.  AIDS is medically separated from HIV.)  Doctors are not infallible.  What is Dr. Price’s record of surgery outcomes at which she assisted?  

The good thing about arrogant racists is that they don’t hide.  And they could be educated, converted.  “Saved.”  At least the Universalists would think so.  

Science today could save Mark DeWolfe.  At least Belletini is saving his memory.  DeWolfe's parents are listed on the UUMA roll of deceased UU ministers, but Mark is not.


Smudge and her kittens

One of the excellent features of this decrepit house is the big picture window in the kitchen that looks to the east up an alley with a power line running alongside it in diminishing scale like an exercise in perspective.  I take many photos out that window, mostly of the feral cats who hang out there, having dug themselves a burrow under the back workshed.  

In lieu of a deck, I rolled out some old carpet to be a smooth surface.  I will add a photo of the latest brood if I can make the software work.  Every time there are “upgrades” the camera stops interfacing with the computer until I learn a new protocol.  If I don’t download the upgrades, they automatically install themselves in the middle of the night when they somehow turn on my computer unless I unplug it.  I think I should learn to draw cats, at least until they invent a way to upgrade pencils.  (I’m sure they’re working on it.  Mechanical, right?)  

The point of upgrades is to corner the market, sell, sell, sell on grounds that it’s an improvement though it’s really only a way to pull customers away from the fundamental reality of a fist with a pencil.  Of course, my first step away from the physical act of writing was the keyboard.  By now I’m compromised.  But not when it comes to cats.

Recently most of the cats have left, scattering or dying of the plague that sweeps the town when the population gets too dense, or maybe poisoned by the cat-haters, who overlap with the chicken-haters.  (The latter have a point.  Infections from backyard chickens —avian flu— are rising.)  

The first feral cats came years ago when the calico that I call “the Granny Mamacat” arrived with a column of kittens going along behind her.  The one closest to her heels was a tiny gray kitten I called “Smudge.”  The Granny Mamacat was looking pretty tough this summer, a rack of bones with fur going every which way.  Now she’s gone and I suspect she died of old age, but I haven’t gone looking for fear of finding her corpse.  All the kittens but Smudge grew up and disappeared.  Smudge was gone, too, for a while. 

In the days of Smudge’s babyhood, I fed the ferals outside on the carpet, but then there were too many cats because pets from blocks around came to share, dogs ate everything and chewed on the dishes, and one summer a family of magpies carried off cat kibble to feed their babies for weeks.  Now I feed the remaining cats in the garage and lately I’ve been standing over the dishes at mealtime to enforce who can eat.  

The kittens have just experimented with drinking water, which was funny to watch.  One tried putting a paw in the water, tried scooping water with a paw, finally put his (?) nose in — which made him sneeze — and finally began to lap.  The other two watched closely and saw how to do it.

I can’t touch any of these cats, so the only genders I know for sure are the mother cats.  Technically, they are not feral but satellite cats who revolve around this household.  They evolved because of agriculture when people kept cows and had barns.  In those days they didn’t use poison.  At least not as much as today.  So there is a cat surplus which — because the dogs are all confined by a leash law — thrive in relative safety.  On ranches it is coyotes who are the canid limit to felines.  It’s ecological.

Only a few cats are living in the garage now.  Uncle Shorty is a big patched cat from a previous kitten batch.  He had really short legs at first but they grew to normal size.  Shorty will attend cat births, snatch the kittens while they’re still slimy and eat them.  I can’t blame him much, since I wait a day or so and then, if I can find them, I drown them.  The death toll is dozens by now.  I drown them in my rather splendid bathroom sink in warm water, holding them firmly together in a bunch and singing, to make it a sort of ceremony of returning to the womb.  It doesn’t take long.  Sometimes I weep.

Some reading this will be horrified and never read this blog again, because drowning kittens has become a signifier of unbearable and unjustified cruelty in our society.  We can accept hundreds of thousands of deaths of humans and animals so long as it’s far away and doesn’t cost money — indeed, may make a profit.  My cousins and friends do not want me to talk about such social justice issues because it won’t “sell.”  They want me to write “cute” kitten stories.

One of Smudge’s kitten-batches was drowned except for one that somehow escaped.  She raised it under a big pile of windfall branches in that back workshed which I keep in case all sources of heat fail except for my little woodstove.  (The gas has never failed so far, but the electricity does.)  The kitten was elusive but survived sub-zero temps.  I called her “the Blue Bunny” because she really was gray shading towards blue.  (Blue Bunny is a local brand of ice cream.)  

When she was still tiny, the neighbor bought an old pickup that had three stowaways.  One died, one became the neighbor’s pet and one came over to live with us.  That was Finnegan, a big tough Ulster Scot striped tomcat who as he grew took over the house.  Blue Bunny fell madly in love with this delinquent and would sit next to him, leaning fondly.  Since Finnegan was tame, so became Blue Bunny as well.

This line of cats was quite unlike any others in Valier.  They were very much like the Primordial Source of all domestic cats:  aggressive, inclined to climb, yowlers, long-tailed, long-legged and long-snouted.  They bite.  After research I concluded they were the product of a trend to try to breed back to original cats which resulted in what are called “Bengal” cats.  I’ll save Finnegan stories for later.  What’s relevant is that he is gone now, after being a bad influence and fathering kittens with the Blue Bunny.  

Smudge’s most recent batch from the burrow is barely old enough to be out bumbling around, exploring the yard.  Recently we’ve had some warm days, the kind we would call Indian Summer if we weren’t worried about seeming racist, and I took a photo out the window of Smudge nursing her three little gray powder puffs of kittens.

Bunny — Smudge’s grownup offspring — had four kittens last spring.  When I began to take them, she realized what I was doing and carried two of them through the open trapdoor to the crawl space under the house.  The little black and white one was hastily grabbed by a hind leg instead of her nape which made her emit unearthly screams and shrieks.  After that, there was no sound or sign of them.  I didn’t even see Bunny go under the house again, but I left the trap door open just in case.  I can drown kittens — so long as they’re eyes are closed and they’re barely born — but I don’t want anything anywhere to starve.

One day I heard mewing in the crawl space.  When I went down, a little kitten, sort of marbleized gray, came staggering out of the darkness towards me.  I picked him up, cuddled him under my chin, and named him Doux because he was so soft.  But there was no sign of the tuxedo-marked kitten for a couple more days.  Then, again, mewing.  I went down and called and here came Tuxie out of the dark.  

I made a box bed but Bunny would have none of it.  Ever since, the three have slept on my bed with me.  I make them stay down at my feet, because they have a habit of reaching out with a front paw, like the kitten testing water -- I think because of growing up in the dark, feeling their way.  They want to pat my mouth (I know where their paws have been) or my eyes, but they forget to pull in their claws, so I wear my glasses to nap when they are likely to visit my head.

They are a little malformed and possibly sterile because of growing up with no sun whatsoever.  Douxie has only one testicle, so I sometimes call him Mono or One Ball. (Very rude.  He is, in general, an indignant cat.)  Tuxie has a flat and glossy coat like patent leather, a little black soul patch on her chin, and tufts of white hair in her “armpits.”  She does not get pregnant.  Neither has Bunny become pregnant again, but she nursed the two kittens until they were bigger than herself.  She has never been one to yowl, climb or shred the furniture, but her offspring do.  Douxie likes to perch on the top edge of open doors.  Tuxie begs me to turn on a little stream of fresh water in the sink, which she drinks and drinks.  She rarely drinks from the water bowl.

There are other stories, some sad, some maddening, some funny.  There is no humane society in this county.  The neighboring county shelters will not accept animals from Pondera Co, which is where Valier is.  The favorite way of dealing with a problem cat is to drive it out onto the landscape somewhere and leave it.  I’m spending about a hundred dollars a month on cat food, which I cannot afford, but as I say, I have a thing about starvation.  (In reality cats are good at finding new homes, but I also have a thing about desertion or abandonment or whatever it is.)

I do not think these are the kind of clever little kitten stories that will make money.  My cousins and friends cannot hear this.  To them, the point of writing is to make money.  If it is good writing, it will make more money.  "Cute" sells. There is no other definition of “good” than sale-able.  They do not believe that the Internet has made it impossible to make money by writing.  Therefore, they think, my blog is a waste of time, the eccentricity of an aging woman who never would behave.  There’s more to talk about.  I've already posted about the cats quite a bit.

Friday, October 20, 2017


It’s a unique kind of reflexivity to have to consider how the media (access, creation, preservation, distribution, compensation, access) affects one’s own writing, particularly in a predatory world that gobbles up writing faster than any one person or even any one slush pile can provide it.  Through flattery and unlikely promises, there are plenty of cyber-sites looking for free content, whether family photos that can be resold as illustrations or naive writing that is likely out on the edges — if not across the boundary — of the accepted stream.  The people who post advice about writing don’t often consider the changes.  They are stuck in the past.

My metier is blogging, long form (a thousand words per post).  It is blogging because I post it daily on blogspot, beginning in 2006, so that it is a steady stream of writing on a variety of subjects in a variety of styles, a little like a newspaper column.  For years I had a co-writer or two, but most of that work went to a different provider because it included video.  I also stockpile fiction on Wordpress, which is supposed to be the high-end high-prestige provider.  I find it difficult to use and over-concerned with making things fancy.

If you like “fancy,” Sharon Brogan is a poet in Missoula who explores the ultimate in “fancy,” a kind of graphic digital collage derived from “scrapbooking.”  It is unique, hosted by Tumblr which is a site that excels in visual work and sound as well as print.  Since their audience is younger and edgier, I sometimes post there, esp. during times when I’m posting spoken words instead of print.  But I don’t do fancy — usually just a photo at the heading.  I try to use my own photos.

“Blog” originally meant a log of what one visited.  When I’m bouncing off someone else’s posts, I try to remember to link to them, either so my reader can follow back or so I can retrace how I got to my own piece.  I appreciate the online resourcefulness of word invention, like “pokemon” to mean “pocket monster”, because they are so evocative and funny, but I’m finding that many people are just baffled and don’t like learning new words anyway.  It’s part of what discourages computer use.  

Of course, with a search engine even I can keep up with slang and neologisms — very useful when watching something like “Top Boy,” a Netflix series about Jamaicans in London.  I’m always surprised that something like Google can know so many unique words.  “Bell me,” the boy says, making the telephone gesture from the days when one picked up a receiver.  I’m even more surprised when many of these conflated languages include the characteristic “init” that Blackfeet use.  

The fact of producing blocks of print on many subjects finally means I have thousands of entries along certain threads.  Thus I’m accumulating streams or themes that could be printed as books and are POD (print-on-demand) at  They aren’t as smoothly edited or neatly sequential as purpose-written books with the paraphernalia of intro, index, footnotes, and all the other evolved bits.  

I’ve got one “book” about Valier that follows the water: the historical construction of Swift Dam to create the irrigation canal system for grain growing and the town that resulted, connecting to railroad and oceanic shipping and thus to politics.  Today the crumbling edge of the future is melted glaciers, diminishing snowpack, and therefore smaller reservoir content.  Also the empowerment of the reservations along the mountains, which means that this writing can make some people very nervous.  If this were a conventionally published book, there would be pressure to trim facts certain ways.  Sid Gustafson’s book entitled “Swift Dam” is fiction, mythologized poetically, which means the irrigation industry is not threatened.  It's true in a different way.

I wrote a proper book about teaching on the rez called "Heartbreak Butte," but it was unpublishable for political reasons so I converted it to being a blog by posting the chapters separately.

Another book I’m “accumulating” is theory about how to create intense experiences, possibly religious.  "The Bone Chalice."  It began as my proposed thesis in seminary and by now has been transformed by the amazing new research in cell-level neurology, the actual creation of thought in response to experience.  And that has doubled back to the literary theory of Lakoff, et al, that was developing at and around the U of Chicago when I was there — but I never knew it except for the early books.  This approach to understanding is metaphor-based which gives me an advantage as a former English teacher.   (God is a metonymy.  Also a personification.) To be convincing, I will include a lot of vids, both talking heads and creative experiments, which is possible online.  The end point may turn out to be a paper handbook with links.

Today’s world is so hungry, so avaricious, so boundaryless, that it is impossible to copyright or even control whatever is created.  There is no use in expecting profit.  One must not be surprised when work is diverted, twisted, exploited.  My strength is that, nearing eighty, I have such a backlog of experience that I can keep up momentum.  It is an advantage to have my family’s albums as resource and reminder.

A gray panther rather than a “cougar”, I seize the online evasion of editors in order to be as “pervy” as I choose and use as offensive language as suits me.  Those who read what I write must come to the source voluntarily but are free to shun me.  I won’t even know.  So much about sex and other previously censored life is waiting to be sorted and understood.  The taboos are melting back like glaciers.

Blogging is such a strange mix of the eternal — if you understand the Wayback or if you’ve downloaded a lot (recently I ran across pages and pages of printed-out posts from an early Native American chat room in the 1990's, when I thought it all might disappear so I should save it) — and the inscrutable.  I still can’t figure out how to access any streaming services for movies (Hulu, et al) except Netflix which frustrates me with their lowbrow offerings.  Maybe it’s just as well — I should read instead.  But I write reviews and I like to review movies.

All this is so “thick” and uniquely and internally contradictory that I’ve only run across a few people who can follow — one or two of whom have led me into even more esoteric places — but another characteristic of old age is not wanting to be a consumer except on my own terms.  People try to make contact by offering things.  I’m discouraged that they don’t think in terms of anything but subject matter.  Media, skill-level, intensity, uniqueness, connection to shared experience — all seem to mean little or nothing.

At this point, time is short.  I spend my mornings writing, in theory do maintenance in the afternoons, and these days am following Rachel Maddow through the terrifying jungle of history-in-the-making.  I hope we both survive to the end of this cataclysm.  I believe with many others that we may be witnessing the death of democracy, the end of the Internet, the self-snuffing of the last hominids.  I sometimes feel I’m scratching lines with a rusty nail on a last chunk of rubble.  It’s urgent.

Thursday, October 19, 2017



This is entirely imaginary and based on scraps and hints of history, except that we do know that Jefferson and Clark were trusting friends.  We do know that Clark’s slave York was a boyhood inheritance from his father, that he was a full member of the L and C expedition, and that he was eventually freed.  It is not legally proven that Sally Hemings was Martha Jefferson’s half-sister and had children by him.  Sally and the children were eventually freed.

This invented conversation is meant to be a speculative inquiry into human relationships which are often defined by the “names given the concepts” which do not necessarily reflect actual phenomena like emotional bonding, obligations of role, and love.  For factual information about these two fascinating and prominent men, consult the many sources.  

Clearly there is enough material for a much expanded manuscript, maybe a play.  Maybe Sacajawea and Sally Hemings  or York and Pomp ought to be added.  Go for it.

Martha Jefferson
There are no portraits of Sally Hemings.

It is late and the two friends sit on the porch at Monticello, enjoying the breeze that is driving away mosquitoes, the faint sound of singing from the slave quarters, and a bottle of wine from Jefferson’s own “cellar” which constantly led him into debt because of his fondness for fine wines.

“What do you hear from York?” asked the president, knowing that Clark had recently sent him to Kentucky to be near his wife, an experiment since they had spent little time together over the years.  “Are there children?”

“York’s not literate and I guess neither is his wife, so they may not have located someone to write for them.  Or they have nothing to say.  But I get regular letters from Pomp, Sacajawea’s boy.  My own fourteen children have a rather irregular pattern of correspondence, but from Pomp — maybe a habit from boarding school where it was enforced — I get regular messages even when he is on the frontier.  I did even when he was in Europe.”

“Some accept their fathers and some do not,” mused Jefferson.  “Nothing is better in life than a loving family but it is not assured by blood relationship.”

[Jefferson had six children by his legal wife but four of them died young, leaving two daughters.  In-laws and feuds among relatives were problematic and damaging.  Maybe things went better with the children of his slave, Sally, who was his white wife’s half-sister.]  

The lanterns were fluttering in the bit of wind.   “I could not love Pomp more if he were my blood child.  He seems born out of the expedition itself, a time when we were tried to the limits but also full of amazement and satisfactions.  I was not Sacajawea’s husband and my blood children were from two wives, but those marriage bonds were not so strong nor vivid as those that came from saving and being saved by Sacajawea, not much more than a child herself by white standards and totally uneducated in any white way.  Her naked infant, kicking his feet there on a scrap of blanket, went straight to my heart.  He was my “dancing boy” from the beginning.”  Clark knocked the dottle from his pipe and refilled it, trying to hold down emotion.

Jefferson held up the wine bottle they were sharing in order to see how much was left.  “My wife, as you know, on her death bed, made me promise not to remarry in order to show my love for her, but what could I do when her sister was so much like her in so many ways — not just appearance.  Sally had no formal education but was so alert to what Martha learned that her mind held much the same ideas.  Sometimes more grounded in what was real.”

Clark laughed.  “York was also more attuned to what was really there, a good cook who could gather some of our food as we went along.  But he was prone to excess, exhaustion, and easily seduced by women along the way.  He was an object of curiosity because of his color, but when children were afraid of him, he couldn’t resist pretending that he was a cannibal, never registering that the main monster of those people was the Wendigo, famine personified who did indeed kill children.  He went too far.”

Jefferson sighed.  “Martha’s request that I not remarry was a little selfish of her since she herself had been married and widowed as a young woman before I met her.  But I’m one who fulfills my obligations and I did love Martha, honored her and kept her as carefully as any other part of my plantation estate.  Sally was also my obligation.  The people who live close to the land seem sturdier than those who are elegantly housebound.  Your York and my Sally had a vitality and primitive resilience.  I didn’t see them as lacking.  Three of my freed children could pass, you know.”

“Indeed.  And Pomp for all his appetite for the wilderness was educated to read and write in Greek and Latin, and after his friendly sojourn in Europe could speak those Romance languages.  He exceeded both his blood father and his heritage father.  But likely his intelligence and temperament came from his mother."

Clark went on, “We know so little about what of a person’s capacity is inheritance and what is a different kind of legacy.  York was given to me by my father, meant to be my companion and guardian but never my superior.  This he accepted most of his life until after the expedition people began to urge him to be my equal, to be free.  I protected him — made sure of him having food and shelter.  But then he wanted more even though the conditions of the time and his race would never let him have as much as I could give him.  Never the dependability, the security, the defense against predatory whites.  He didn’t do so well with his freedom.”

There was a pause while Jefferson reflected.  “In France my family was accepted as wife and children.  Perhaps they were “mine” as possessions, as a man owns his marital alliance and the progeny that result, but their class was never questioned; they were not stigmatized as they were in America.”

Clark nodded.  “Pomp likewise found that the best freedom in civilized society was in Europe, but that no company was so tolerant as the great Western tribes, once he understood their ways.”

Jefferson sighed.  “Slaves always understand our white ways.  Or at least are careful to let us think so.”

Clark’s voice rose as he asked, “But what ARE our ways?  Which is the JUST way that gives us each our freedom?”

The singing had stopped.  The sounds of insects filled the air.  The sky was becoming pale.  "We'd best retire," said Jefferson.  The dark little boy who had been dozing in the corner was relieved.  Now he could get some real sleep.