Monday, April 24, 2017

DWELLING IN THE OXYMORON

Jack Gladstone blesses the Badger/Two Med

The hard-core Blackfeet have a conviction that objects have a life and intentions of their own.  Frivolously, this explains why my books change location and create even more books.  Seriously and religiously, it explains why the Medicine Pipe Thunder Bundle that was transferred to Bob Scriver and I fifty years ago has disappeared.  The Old People say that when it wants to come back, it will simply be there again.

This spring, moving things around and removing some books that had gone dormant, I found the binder containing the manuscript of “Penucquem Speaks: A Look at Our World from a Different Culture.”  I’ll append a link to the manuscript at the end of this post.  Penucquem’s English name is Ronald Thomas West, a near legendary person who was on the Blackfeet rez decades ago.  I read this manuscript about the time it was copyrighted in 2004-2005 and it has evidently decided I need to read it again.

So I used Google, found Ron and emailed him.  

An oxymoron, regardless of the sound of the word, is recognized almost exclusively by smart people.  It describes a phenomenon that is a contradiction.  In our binary world, most people think they have to choose one side or the other, because they are not aware of the quantum physics proof that things can be two different places at the same time.  
Ron’s article called "The Great Oxymoron" about academic Native Studies Programs is at http://www.unlikelystories.org/10/west0310.shtml

He speaks of the folly of expecting white people to understand and make possible Native Studies of things they have spent centuries trying to stamp out.  The need is for indigenous people who can walk on both sides, and they are arriving.

Ron's bio squib at "Unlikely Stories" is:  “A Vietnam Veteran and former Special Forces Sergeant of Operations and Intelligence, Ronald Thomas West is a retired investigator that had worked primarily in Human Rights and is published in that field together with Dr Mark D Cole under the title "The Right of Self Determination of Peoples and its Application to Indigenous Peoples in the USA: The Mueller-Wilson Report." Ron spent two decades immersed in Blackfeet Indian culture. "The Great Oxymoron" is an excerpt from Napi Mephisto, an unpublished work-in-progress.”

There are other excerpts posted here and there.  He has created a body of work well-suited to the episodic but persistent demands of the Internet.  It escapes the blockhead publishing Procrustean sales strategy that deforms much thought and experience.  He has given me permission to quote and publish from this manuscript, which is long.

I can name maybe a dozen men (always men, not because there are no women but because they marry and then disappear into family, which is NOT the tribal way) who are like West to some degree.  Some of them are dead and some of them are, well, evil.  They tend to be shape-shifters, because they are produced by pasts that re-shaped them several ways, so they are multi-dimensional.  They are not necessarily shamans or ceremonialists, but they are open to those worlds and their realities.  The sequence of events in the Sixties and Seventies produced some of them.

Specifically, West was in Vietnam with a double genetic heritage that let him “pass” and occupy two worlds.  Drugs, trauma, and world-shifts brought him to the Blackfeet rez in the Seventies.  He took refuge with Alfred and Agnes Wells in Heart Butte, throwing in his pittance of disability money along with his skills.  On their behalf he negotiated deals, cut wood and carried water, and paid attention to them.  In a while he moved on to East Glacier, where Cree spirituality more or less descended on him.  Not necessarily the “real” thing and invaded by misguided white seekers. 

I knew these people Ron knew because they worked in the Scriver Studio or because their children were in my English classes or because they were drunks brought in daily for Bob to try.  Bob evaded entrapment by the culture oxymoron because he grew up there in Browning and because of his music.  I evaded the paralysis because my basic undergrad education was in theatre, where the whole idea is to understand and inhabit people who are totally different.  

Dreams came to Bob in the Sixties.  Our ceremonialists were of a slightly different set a decade earlier than Ron’s friends, so my point of view is not exactly the same, but we saw the same cultural oxymorons, which were the efforts of white academic or mercantile people to understand a culture entirely different — not because they wanted to help or would be social advocates, but because they were profiting from it.  Not that indigenous people are opposed to profit.

One of the most inscrutable phenomena, and one of the oldest because stone gambling counters have been found in the Bombas cave of the east coast of Africa that are of paleocultures, both stones fitting into a hand and one etched with lines.  I cannot find a photo on Google because the entries that used to be there are overrun by white ideas about gambling: casinos and cybergames.  

White people are warned never to play stick game because it looks as simple as “button, button, who has the button,” but it is part of an ancient system of meanings embedded in the culture; Ron suggests it's something like the I Ching, which is basically impossible to translate.  You feel it.  Not only did Ron learn how to play, he is able to explain this dimension, and also to tell stories about the gamblers and their interactions in the game and out.  Stakes are high.  It’s as fascinating as Baccarat.  

Think back to the Wells family living at Heart Butte, an entrance to the Bob Marshall Wilderness and the Badger/Two Medicine ceded strip, which has just been declared by the tribe to be Sacred Land where drilling for oil is forbidden.  The US Government had just recently agreed.  But now, with Trump emboldening the industrial opportunists again, there is a lawsuit from an oil company as intent on drilling as a dog smelling a bitch in heat.  All this is far from over until a generation dies.  That has begun. 

Ron was much involved in the first wave of resistance, but now those defenders must be renewed by a second generation, far more educated, deeper into the oxymoron.  So I figure that this is a stick game again.  And I figure that “Penucquem Speaks”  is a Bundle that has come to give the People stories and ideas that are the REAL content of Native Studies.  It's too strong for many people.  In fact, Safari would not give me links to the manuscript and I couldn't figure out how to attach the pdf Ron sent me.   Here's Ron himself.  


penucquemspeaks@googlemail.com  

Thank you for writing. I've gone (mostly) off the grid. If you are requesting free pdf copies of my books, please state which ones and be patient, when I check this account I'll get them out to you.

Penucquem Speaks (ranked five stars by Howard Zinn at amazon) is an autobiographical sketch of my many years life with Indians of the Northern Plains (Blackfeet, primarily.) I recovered the copyright and give it away free these past several years.

Napi Mephisto is a collection of essays stitched together simply intended to get teeth grinding and provoke outrage in those people really stuck in the ethnocentric bias of euro-centric (western) culture

Queer Chicken Dinner is a rip into Kerouac’s ‘On the Road’

Cosmos and Consciousness is a translation of pre-Columbian world view into modern modern western terms (the most difficult to write, by far) 


There will be more as I read and digest.








Sunday, April 23, 2017

THE OPERATING SYSTEM FORMERLY KNOWN AS “RELIGION”


Underneath one’s formal conscious life is another “force” that guides one.  It is often expressed in shared cultures drawn from specific ecologies because it is developed from experience.  When the experience in one place and time begins to prove untrue or has to be rationalized all the time (they call it “apologetics”), a person can get to the point of rage against the system, attacking the OS out of fear, frustration, and despair.  

The culture will respond to this, but very slowly, needing a lot of prompting with images and stories.  Person by person new evidence accumulates and gradually develops into something new, a transformation that will often carry within it a pentimento of what has gone before, the assumptions that are still valid.  But it can also become a social abscess like nations that capture, torture and kill gays — or a world that has returned concentration camps, this time calling them refugee settlements.

Structural elements of religion that will persist after the “beliefs” have gone will include institutions, moralities, hierarchies, and compassion systems.  Some of them will migrate to government, creating both partnerships and adversaries.  The media, which always contains a generational and philosophical schism between the “owners”/editors and the reporters who interface with society.  It is hierarchical with the overt power on the side of the older entitled people and the renewing power in the streets and kitchens of the people.  At the boundary is the “skin” which in these days is a glass screen of variable size with planetary reach and unsuspected persistence.  This has moved the boundary, even changed the nature of it.

Still, human emotional life sustains prayer, ceremony, song, and dance.  These are part of the operating system of individuals who must exist in tension with groups in order to survive, though sometimes either of these will oppose and try to destroy the other.  Children who leave families; families who throw children out, even sell them.  Regimes that try to kill minorities and minorities who rise up in rebellion or even terrorism.
Kahlil Gibran (1883 - 1931)

Writing like this makes me feel as though I were Kahlil Gibran, who sat around proposing wise things while being sustained by a co-dependent devotee, luckily wealthy.  That fit both their gender cultures.  Sam Vaknin (see You Tube vids) would say Gibran was a grandiose narcissist and the wealthy woman, Mary Haskell was an enabler.  Gibran was an immigrant, Catholic Lebanese, much influenced by Islamic Sufi ideas, but also in the context of Boston aesthetics, like the Transcendentalists.  Gibran/Haskell's correspondence has been published.

These elements still fit our culture, but not entirely and not without pain.  People suspect such not-quite-old-fashioned and syncretic arrangements (brilliant male, supporting female) as malignant but they may simply be based on biology since they are so long-standing and recurrent, maybe roles that develop out of mothering exceptional sons.

A good human operating system includes a bullshit detector that can identify what is malignant.  For instance, if one is “used” for a cause, the toxicity of the use is determined by the value of the cause, which in turn might be approved or criticized by the culture, even the small culture of “family.”  Then one needs to closely examine the cause and its appeal.  Family will usually defend “family” which means children take priority.

What happens when it is a woman who is the exceptional one who must be sustained by culture or family?  I always remember Vollman’s account in a New Yorker article about a certain route for woman to take in Afghanistan.  They can become female warriors, a role that has a name and conventions about how to do it, accommodating to the male institution of army.  Something like being a nun in the male-dominated institution of Christian hierarchy.  Maybe an equivalent in our time might be Rachel Maddow: close-cropped, athletic, plain-spoken, wearing a uniform.

But sex/gender and aggression must be multi-nucleated now because the old tribal systems of the Middle East that dominate the English/French/German/Italian-speaking world were based on generations of inheriting sons of Abraham who competed in deadly ways, and the modern world will not sustain that, as the Middle Eastern sons are discovering.  For one thing, the terms of meiosis have been completely changed so that multiple people can reproduce in ingenious ways and for another thing sexuality is now understood as a spectrum.  And we can tell who your father was.  

Sex was always various was except that the middle was suppressed or destroyed for what was purported to be religious reasons.  An article suggests intersex people are about as common as redheads, which were also persecuted, but not so easily hidden.  https://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2017/apr/23/intersex-and-proud-hanne-gaby-odiele-the-model-finally-celebrating-her-body utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=GU+Today+USA+-+Collections+2017&utm_term=222882&subid=10790770&CMP=GT_US_collection 

As for war, now we destroy people via starvation and claim it is economics.  The old kind of war was bloody and cost both sides, but was confined (in theory) to soldiers who risked their own bodies and might spare women and children, even if only to keep for their own uses.  Now we push buttons and the scythe spares no one, no living thing, not even the plants or the water.  We kill daily in a thousand unnoticed but cumulative ways.

The qualities of the warrior must reconcile with those of the poet, the accountant, the dependability of the grain man with the resourcefulness of the livestock man, the physicist and the biologist.  We need an operating system that allows for variousness, but right now even our computers can’t do it — because they are mostly designed by people with the goal of making money, a lot of it quickly.   (Always the binaries: Microsoft vs. Apple.) Our pattern for men can no longer depend on the wisdom of longevity because our old men are dying and going crazy while hardly realizing it.  (We’ve got to have a decent test for Alzheimers that isn’t in autopsy.)

Then we come to the Sacred, the Holy, the Mystic, which is the justification for many Operating Systems, though there is no operating system that can control it.  The immanent or the transcendent forms can only be responded to and not necessarily coherently.  The feeling of what is beyond humans or planets or incomprehensible time/space is outside reason or formulas.  Science can pursue understanding but the essence of science is admitting when evidence shows we are wrong.  An operating system that doesn’t do that is worthless because it means paralysis — a spinning beachball that means nothing more can happen without a reboot.  That’s when a bullshit detector is most needed, for purposes of survival.


Saturday, April 22, 2017

THE COLD SPRING RAIN

Zechariah 10:1 Ask rain from the LORD at the time of the spring rain.

Montana early spring rains bring grass, which is wealth and pleasure.  I must remind myself of that every little while.  Unlike a bear, this is the season I prefer to sleep through, preferably with an electrically heated bed so that I’m warm enough to open a window when it’s just above freezing out there.  The wind is a problem, carrying temperature changes up and down, but also sweeping along smells of great complexity and promise.

It’s easy to be poor and old in the early summer, before it gets hot enough to defeat shade, when it’s not impossible to nap in the pickiup or in the back shed I used for a guest bedroom though it turned out to have too many deficits for my suburban friends and relatives to accept it.  Then I slept out there myself and let them have my bed, though the same problem arose.  At least they were closer to the bathroom, which is important when we’re all past retirement age, but they aren’t used to sleeping with cats and they found my shower alarming.  (It was my fault — I explained too much.)

My life is full of little protocols because that’s the way one manages in a old house where doors stick and a lot of papers are stacked on every tabletop.  I keep cat kosher, which means separate dishes and utensils, and I’ve learned to step over their eating plate on the floor where it's next to the cat food storage cupboard in winter.  

In summer I can stack cat food in the garage, but in winter wet cat food is like a rock within fifteen minutes.  This is when the satellite ferals figured out the cat flap, not so much to keep themselves warm (They form a “cat stack” by doing what the vets call “pillowing.”) as to find food that won’t break their teeth.  Kibble is beneath them.  There is another floating wild population that will eat it.  One year when I was feeding outside a family of blackbirds carried off kibble by the bowlful.  Then a dog stole the bowl.

I need a half-heated space where it would stay warm enough for a laundry set.  There’s a place where the former dryer sat in the garage and it was usable in winter if the drum were preheated before putting in the wet clothes.  The washer in the kitchen also died and the space was used for a new refrigerator.  The old one was moldy.  This house was furnished with the illusion of appliances, partly because the idea was to sell it to someone who would rent to poor people who would trash it anyway.  The hot water heater is the only survivor, though it’s moody, varying between lukewarm and scalding according to it’s own schedule.

This time of year I’m moody as well.  (In the old days this was time to renew or cancel teaching contracts.)  But this year is different as the incredible chaos of politics acts like Scylla and Charybdis, smashing together and then flopping apart.  I’m keeping a cast of characters because there are so many people and jobs I never heard of before.  The situation is not helped since both the NYTimes and the Washington Post are imposing pay walls to exploit the worry.  

Suddenly the idea that I and others have played with for years seems realistic— notions about splitting the United States into ecological zones because they’ve already done it spontaneously, organically, and politically.  Apart from deliberate gerrymandering to dilute the impact of minorities, there seems to be something about climate: long Southern afternoons when powerful old men can play pattycake with their pretty assistants; hard, spare states where moms must work and get tempted into cooking the books; cities so major that they have become sheet-cities with no spaces between except abandoned and rotting remnants of bygone industry.  The sweet spots have been off-shored to islands.

In physical terms I’m not suffering from any major chronic disease, but my whole body is a couple of clicks off normal — nothing drastic, but a degree or so off plumb, and bodies need gravity, assume alignment with it.  When my eye doc told me I had dry-eye syndrome, I asked him about how the body, especially the human head, manages fluids, which I thought about in terms of water because dry eye syndrome is a phenomenon of tears.  I suggested that there was a source of water high in the skull that internally poured the fluid down like a shower, bathing the brain, the sense organs (nose, ears, eyes), through all the sinuses, through the pharynx, the mouth and throat, and down the esophagus through the GI tract.  It lubricates, carries information, makes functions — slippery all the way down and out.

He said I had it about right except that the fluid was mucus.  Then he left the clinic — I don’t know why — and joined another eye doc I once attended who had left the clinic earlier.  This happened twenty years ago as well.  Andrew Jordan saved my eyesight after the Saskatchewan eye docs refused me access to care on grounds that I was American.  Politics.  What is the mucus of politics?  Money is too easy an answer.  I think it is more like the fantasy that high status means control.  It’s actually vulnerability.

I’m about to try to break my video habit.  The discs on-hand right now are the last seasons of “Homeland” so I can finish the story line, but I watch in the evening when I’m sagging after a day’s activity and I don’t like what it does to my dreamlife.  I identified with Claire Danes as soon as she showed up in “Little Women” (1994).  Since then we have drifted apart, partly because without Brody she doesn’t fit the intriguing crazy-to-crazy paradigm and I find the Mandy Patinkin character unconvincing, rather like Professor Baehr in “Little Women”.  Eastern Eurasia “New Cold War” is becoming hackneyed.  Or maybe it’s a little too timely.

Since I live alone, rather isolated, my dreams are much more clear than they would be if I were around others.  There is a set of places, almost like theatre sets for plays.  One is a city with a center of skyscrapers that I associate with the Portland Lloyd Center (which has no skyscrapers) and an edge of backstreets suggestive of Helena, MT.  There’s one street on a slope, lined with little shops and movie houses.  Somehow it’s connected to the old ballet film, “The Red Shoes.”  

One is the NE neighborhood where I grew up in Portland, though it sometimes seems like Missoula or Oregon City.  (It’s the green lawns and picket fences, pre-suburbia.)  Another is a 19th century farm or ranch house with a porch across the front.  In contrast there are university buildings, never classrooms but the hallways and stairs.  I know they come from movies, mixed with scenes from various places I’ve lived.  If I wrote fiction, they would show up, even control the plot.

I never dream about ministry, but often dream about Scriver Studio in Browning.  Kenner’s Question applies:  “What does it mean?”  The cold rain might be an explanation: penetrating reality.

Friday, April 21, 2017

A RE-BLOG ABOUT THE MAGEE PHOTOGRAPHIC COLLECTION

Thursday, January 15, 2015

THE MAGEE PHOTOGRAPHIC COLLECTION

A Thomas Magee photo: the town square in Browning, MT
This is the Broadwater Merc, which may be the building Bob disassembled to get the lumber for the 
Scriver Museum of Montana Wildlife, now the Blackfeet Heritage Center.

My intention was to post only Magee photos here, but I find that most of what's online is unattributed, even the ones who managed to get the names of the people who posed.

At least I managed to find photos with dogs in them:


This looks like McClintock to me.

But this is the same location with more people and seems more like a Magee.

This is a favorite of mine.  Magee's photos tend to be these relaxed friendly scenes.
Is this the same place as the two photos above it?

The Magee Photograph Collection
The information below is from the University of Lethbridge website.  Big thanks to Nicholas Vrooman who guided me to it.

(http://web.archive.org/web/20101008230135/http://www.uleth.ca/lib/digitized_Collections/display.asp?PageID=218)

The Magee Photograph Collection contains a selection of nearly 1,000 digitized photographic negatives depicting life on the Blackfeet Nation [Browning, Montana] and in Glacier National Park [U.S.] during the early twentieth century. All materials in the collection were originally produced by photographers Thomas B. Magee, 1862-1930 and Henry L. Magee, 1896-1966 of Browning, Montana. The collection was purchased by the University of Alberta in May, 2007 from Donald L. Magee. This collection was also highlighted in OCLC's CONTENT


I think this is McClintock's.  The old woman in the middle is the most sacred person of all: 
a virtuous mother of many whose symbol is the digging stick that brings food.  
The man with thongs in his chest undergoing an ordeal is only her son. 

 Collection of Collections feature in October, 2008.

Thomas Benjamin Magee (1862-1930)
Thomas Benjamin Magee was born May 30, 1862 in East Douglas, Worcester County, Massachusetts. After being orphaned, he was educated in the public schools of Pawtucket, RI. He left school at the age of twelve to seek employment and, in 1883, travelled west to Montana to work in the Miles City coal mines. By 1884, he had moved to Great Falls, MT where he established the city’s first brickyard.

From 1888 to 1896, Thomas worked at the general store of Joseph Hirshberg and Company in Robare, MT and was also in charge of Joseph Kipp’s trader’s store on the Blackfeet Indian agency. He subsequently purchased the drug business of C.M. Lanning and Co. and established himself as a local businessman and postmaster. It was at about this time that Thomas and his brother George took an interest in chronicling local events and photographing the area’s inhabitants and landscapes.

In 1890, Thomas married Julia Grant who was the daughter of James Grant, an early pioneer and one of the first white men to bring cattle to Montana. In the early 1900s, Thomas, Julia and their five sons (Thomas, George, Walter, Henry and Dewey) moved to a ranch in the area now known as Glacier National Park [U.S.]. This would prove to be an ideal location for him to pursue his interest in photography. Park landscapes and the local Blackfeet tribal members became the major focus of his work.

Thomas and his wife Julia became good friends with Walter McClintock, author of The Old North Trail (1910). Mr. McClintock would often come to visit and stay with the Magee family. During these visits, Julia shared her extensive knowledge of native plants which included their names in the Blackfeet language, their uses and related botanical information. McClintock recorded all of this information and referenced it in his book. Julia was acknowledged using her Blackfeet name, “Menaki” – Berry Woman.

These are "Bullshoe" girls who grew up to be educators.
Henry Lincoln Magee (1896-1966)
Henry Lincoln Magee was the son of Thomas B. Magee and Julia Grant Magee. He was born on March 6, 1896 and schooled at the Holy Family Catholic Mission on the Blackfeet Reservation and the Fort Shaw Military School.

As a young man, Henry lived with his family in a house on his mother Julia’s land allotment, which was near the current Two Medicine Bridge, east of East Glacier, MT on Highway 2. It was this family home that was later destroyed by a fire that also claimed many of his father Thomas’ photographic prints and glass plate negatives.

One of Henry’s careers involved working for the Blackfeet Agency, Bureau of Indian Affairs. After the opening of the Museum of the Plains Indian in 1941, Henry took an interest in photography while working there under the direction of noted Blackfeet historian John W. Ewers. He used his camera to photograph people, events and artifacts while working with the U.S. Government’s photo collection.

Henry and his wife Agnes Douglas Magee had one son – Donald (Donnie) Lee Magee.  After Henry’s death, his son Donald inherited the Magee Photograph Collection which Henry had held in his possession throughout his entire adult life.

I doubt that women did their work wearing finery like these splendid beaded capes.

Donald Lee Magee (b.1938)
Donald Lee Magee is the son of Henry L. Magee and Agnes Douglas Magee. He was born on May 13, 1938 and completed his early schooling at the Blackfeet Boarding School, a U.S. Government school, and Starr School. After attending high school in Cut Bank, MT and Browning, MT, Donald enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps.

After being discharged from the Marines, Donald married Delores Higgins. Shortly thereafter, the couple were moved to San Francisco, CA as part of the U.S. Government’s Indian Relocation Program. Donald, Delores and their three children (Dawn, Darren and Dustin) moved back to Montana after three years when Donald’s father Henry fell ill. Donald soon found himself employed at the Museum of the Plains Indian, where he would work for thirteen years. While there, he pursued crafts such as sculpting, painting, doll-making, and the refurbishment of maintenance of the museum’s dioramas.

Donald became concerned about the preservation and survival of the Magee Photograph Collection upon his retirement from his various Blackfeet Tribal Government appointments. He felt strongly that the collection’s educational, historical and cultural value should be shared and made more accessible to others. He also considered the collection to be of particular significance to the people of Blackfeet Nation and to the sister nations of the Kanai (formerly Blood), Northern Peigan and Siksika that together make up the Blackfoot Confederacy.

Night-Rider, Blanket-Robe, and Black-Weasel-Blackfoot-1898
In May, 2007, the University of Lethbridge Library accepted the Magee Photograph Collection from Donald after it was purchased by the University of Alberta. The collection was subsequently digitized, described, and made available via the Internet by the University of Lethbridge Library. The physical collection now resides at the Bruce Peel Special Collection at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.


I believe this is Mountain Chief.  
I know this is a Blackfeet-style straight-up bonnet.
I suspect the photo is by McClintock.

PAUL SESEEQUASIS WRITES ABOUT PHOTOGRAPHERS OF NORTHERN PEOPLES


This is a list of posts I've made on this blog about photos of Blackfeet.  I'm talking to Paul about the book he's writing about photographers of northern tribes: Blackfeet, Cree, Inuit, et al.  I may find more posts as I keep looking.  These are not Curtiss photos, posed people dressed from his trunks, so much as household snaps as recent as the Fifties.  About the people rather than some literary vision.



IMAGES OF THE NORTHERN INDIGENOUS PEOPLES IN GRASS AND SNOW   10-10-16

A LITTLE STORY ABOUT A CHIPPEWA GIRL AT BLUEBERRY CAMP (fiction)   8-4-16

PHOTOGRAPHERS OF BLACKFEET PEOPLE  1-14-15

"HIPPIES, INDIANS AND THE FIGHT FOR RED POWER" by Sherry Smith  8-31-13   (She accuses McClintock of not doing enough.)

"SINAAKI" : IMAGES OF BLACKFEET  8-23-08

DILEMMAS OF THE BIOGRAPHER


No one can ever really explain another person, not even a psychoanalyst.  It’s all interpretation — even their genome.  Maybe the answer is several explanations in several media by several people, all given equal weight and cross-referenced.  The real problem not just that a human being is multiple in terms of layers and aspects, but also each of the layers is a living process, constantly changing and interacting.  The person in this hour and place with these people is not the same as they will be by teatime with the Queen and neither will the Queen be the same.

So an account of a person in terms of temperament, or in terms of goals, or in terms of family or culture or bibliography — books either read or written — will depend on whether the description comes from youth or old age.  And so on.  This means that the framing of the narrative structure and the eloquence of the writer explicating it will become almost as significant as the subject person, which may not please them.  Even writing about someone by editing their diary or correspondence will have the same waltz-step complication.

If this hypothetical biography is being written with a lot of research, that’s one thing, a complexity of what is true, what is slanted, what are facts inaccessible.  If the bio is being constructed through interviews, that’s a whole different set of hazards and privileges, esp. if the person has been accused of unreliability, which is an obsession in our times.  If the point is to persuade readers of the true identity of someone, that may be impossible because they enjoy their scepticism so much.

If one is writing a book— meaning a stable paper-and-glue object that can be sold to many by replication and actually owned— that’s one thing and must be written one way.  If one is simply filling a notebook over time, the basic structure has to be chronological because it must be written chronologically as things happen.  But if one has entries in a 3-ring binder, the sequence can be grouped on many different terms, creating many different tracks of mind presenting many different styles.  This goes far beyond Doris Lessing’s color-coded notebooks, which would be an idea interesting to attempt on a set of blogs, though it might yield a runaway like the early keyboarders who discovered possible colors, fonts, photos, drawings, music and jumbled them all together.  I mean, who has a mind that can manage all that?

Not me.  In fact, I’m trying to edit a ten year span of posts from a friend and find myself either becoming so absorbed in the entry that I forget to think about how to fit it into the sequence -- or always having a teasing half-memory about something else that ought to be next to it.  It would be easier if I had a physical face-to-face with the writer, but maybe not.  I try to organize by place or by some philosophical concept.  English-speaking writer’s convention is that it is the turning points, the crises, the temporary triumphs, and the near-deaths that should dictate the shape.  But sometimes the triumphs ARE death, and the deaths ARE the turning points even though they really ought to be the end.

Of course, if the subject is living and interferes, that’s confounding.  Worse, his/her family and friends may have ideas, mostly protective, meaning “stand back.”  There are predatory writers out there in the world, searching for half-truths and able to hack what I put in my main computer, so I have to maintain a second one they can’t access, since it never goes online.  But the truth is that I’m working mostly with paper anyway.  Old-fashioned scissors and tape.  Little stacks with clips.  

I never meant to do this — I just kept pages and pages because I love the writing so much.  I have no idea how those pages relate to an actual human being who is remarkably mercurial.  I have no way to know if anyone else will see these materials the way I do, but what does it matter?  Kingdoms will not fall.  Rivers will not reverse.  Nations will not go to war. 

Is this what they call a “labor of love”?  A labor of love means emotion without money.  Love is supposed to be compensatory enough, but in this case the love is pretty slippery and sometimes agonizing, so what is it compensating for?  And yet this is the way most people see the ideal of fiction and poetry: intense exotic love and the agony of prevented attachment, all expressed in a certain way.  The youngsters like it pretty; the experienced know better.

Shocking sells, but what is shocking these days?  Yesterday’s horrifying practices of the flesh show up in high school writing.  The f-word is used so much it has lost its kick.  It’s just a tick.  The old question of Life v. Zombie or Human v. Machine or v. Animal have been done and done and done.  The war between the generations — efforts to escape, to dominate, to own, even to understand — has created a sort of false solidarity among millennials or among geezers, which the relentless marketeers try to sell as genres.

One of the rewards is that reading print is the way the brain learns to write and working with these vignettes and declarations does enrich my connectome.  Since I have both sides of some of the conversations, I can see that my own writing changes.  For a long time it was becoming richer and more daring.  But now I seem to be having little brain neuron clenches that set limits.  Maybe this material should be offered to someone younger and closer to the relevant demographic, but I’m not sure I can make myself give it up.  Yet there is sentiment in others that it should never have been written.  Blocking it would be honorable.  


Originally the computer was pitched as a way to eliminate paper, but in my hands a keyboard generates paper: it’s so easy to print pages and pages.  Not so easy to get it under control.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

"IF YOU WRITE ABOUT ME, I'LL KILL YOU"

Tatanka Means
You can probably write about him.

My life now is writing, but I have a major problem.  It’s not “writer’s block.”  That’s just a marketing platform selling to wannabes.  

It’s more like the dilemma I had as a “dog catcher” — which is that there are two things one can do wrong:  catch a dog and not catch a dog.  It’s a more complicated problem than you might guess, hinging on social convictions about animals, the nature of individual dogs, one’s capacity to “catch,” and a failure to find options, like “catching” that isn’t “catching”.  In the writerly version of this the problem is writing a biography and not writing a biography.  The subject participates in the problem -- maybe involuntarily -- but didn’t quite cause it. Authorization is a separate issue. 

It’s similar enough to the problem of writing about Indians  (retro term) that I can use them as an example, a displaced version of the same double-bind.  Telling what I know would make trouble, even put me in danger.  NOT telling will also cause suffering . . .  to them.  If you have witnessed, how can you not testify?

1.  To write about individuals is to expose them to harm, maybe from law enforcement, but mostly from each other.  They are not harms that can always be seen by outsiders who can’t tell revenge from drug abuse from long-standing tribal rivalries from sexual jealousy.  But they can be deadly or economically erosive or just damage persons’ sense of themselves.  There are stalkers out there and they are highly cybersavvy.  Some are murderers.

2.  To write about persons is to remove their main safety (or so they believe) which is being unknown.  (Writers sometimes think it is being KNOWN that is safety.)  A rural white person here said, “if you ever write about me or my family, I’ll kill you.”  I think she meant it.  Maybe she was thinking of writers who are muck-rakers.  As far as I know, she was quite ordinary and non-criminal.  To write about the most dangerous rez people is to risk death for myself.  They will not necessarily be people considered criminal.  Like that woman, I try not to call attention to myself.

3.  The media across America today at every level is like, um, Japanese tentacle porn.  That is, it goes for the little crevices of the sensational, the destructive, the unexpectedly ubiquitous, and the unstructured but very smart — because that’s where the money is.  And today, with a president who reads and believes in the National Enquirer, he’s at least straightforward about it, not indulging in pretences of gentility.  He’s not entirely wrong about fake news, just which is which.

4.  Academic and think tank authorities are not in touch with reality.  They are arguing over our heads and far too Platonic to be relevant.  Many cannot get their own minds around the variousness of rez people or the existence of indigenous people in the diaspora or whether writing about Indians should be considered idealized anthropological essays or just flotsam and jetsam.

5.  I love these indigenous people.  It is not requited.  Their version of love doesn’t really allow white people.  Individuals might love me, but their peers will quickly suppress any sign of it.  For an Indian, to love a white person is to hand them a knife and expose your throat.  This is a secret, perhaps unconscious.

6.  The other white people who love Indians don’t much like me either because they don’t like competition and they hope to stay unique.  Mystery is marketable.  Knowing secrets makes you special.

7.  The paleobiological terms of belonging are taking on the identity of the group, which makes the belonging real.  So the little kids stolen and adopted became like their captors, which was the whole idea, especially if the demographics of the “tribe” were shrinking.  Ideas about tribes having hard edges that exclude those who are genetically different are simply wrong.  DNA testing as precondition to certifying tribal belonging is a derangement that would set people howling, because the edge is a blur of genes and SHOULD be that way.  

It’s the culture that counts and the culture has to come out of the environmental requirements for survival, so residence in the region is what really counts.  Strangely, in a modern world where so many people’s environments everywhere are a couch, a television, and the inside of a relatively new vehicle, “tribe” in an indigenous sense is lost.  Everyone shares this culture, but it is constructed, a product of the anthropocene.

8.  There are cultures and sub-groups that form spontaneously and some of them are not socially acceptable — in fact, it is the main cultures' unacknowledged appetites and practices that create them.  In the case of something like suppressed indigenous ceremonies, the repression becomes part of the identity of the event.  If it is not secret, it is no longer itself.

I can feel this myself.  The freedom to write what I like on this blog is part of the blog.  My evasion of editors is part of the point of not turning a profit because their idea of what “sells” is not mine and selling is not the point.  If I don't market, I'm invisible, so I accept that.  On a blog the kind of free-floating stigmas that invade so many comments is easily deleted before it is read by anyone.  I’m not beholden.  Of course, if I got wicked, Blogger would probably boot me out, but wickedness is not my goal and if it were, I’d hide it.

9.  The problem is injustice to those I love because they are not understood — I don't want to apologize for them, but for them to be seen for who they are, and not persecuted for what they are not.  But explaining them is exposing them.

10.  The secrecy is enforced as much by the person as by the situation.  If a person has been almost mortally punished for something they didn’t even see coming, they understand consequences for mistakes as being unbearable and will not “bear” responsibility.  Telling their story may be inviting the consequences they have evaded with ambiguity.  Knowing that, they will clam up to protect the biographer, maybe without letting the writer know what those terrible punishments might be.  But the writer might be willing to take that punishment, even flirt with death, like combat photographers. 

I found a startling example.  In terms of what I have written above, this analysis of Melania Trump’s selfies fits the dilemma in terms of safety and choice. 
https://medium.com/@kate8/fairytale-prisoner-by-choice-the-photographic-eye-of-melania-trump-f1f7b97fff29   

What punishment for this will Kate Imbach bear?  Will Melania show up with a black eye?  www.kateimbach.com  

What would happen to Melania if someone did a deep biography of her?  What happens to a captive who captures her own story unknowingly, innocently taking snapshots?