Friday, July 20, 2018


Last night, just as I put my head on my pillow, which is in front of the window so I'll get air in such warm weather, the whole room exploded in bright pulsing red.  My first thought was a volcano had sprung up in my front yard.  The second was a police raid.  The truth was a flashing ambulance that didn't use its siren and slid on up the curb to the corner.  I have no idea why and may never find out.  Valier is so small that one can actually see most of what happens, but so defensive and close-mouthed in an effort to have private lives that often one doesn't find out the story.

I doubt anyone in town knew that I didn't post yesterday because I had fallen and was immobilized with pain and OTC pills.  They may have known that I fell, though it was inside the garage.  Certainly everyone knew that I was seeing the Family Practice doctor in Conrad.  My knee symptoms didn't develop until I got home, so my doctor doesn't know.  I went thinking I had a kidney infection but it turned out that I didn't even know where my kidneys were -- much higher than I had thought.  The diagnosis was wrenched ischia crest (the top edge of the pelvic bone complex) attachments -- that's a painful result of the fall as well, but we didn't figure that out.  He told me to take Aleve.  It didn't work.  I went through aspirin, .222's (a Canadian failsafe that only worked somewhat), and Advil, which worked at a higher dose than is recommended.  They're all meant to combat inflammation.

I had no prescriptions and didn't call the doc.  I'm a stoic and there's really not a lot to do except wait for time to pass.  I found my elastic knee brace.  "Doctor Google" who is a quack, was some help.  Anyway, I couldn't go to either the post office or the town store until yesterday when I tried and discovered my knee buckles, so that when I tried to get into the pickup, I ended up dangling from the steering wheel and flailing for a second handhold on the door.  If I don't mind eating beans and pasta, I won't starve.

The cats are puzzled by my inactivity.  The two big ones have been going around the block like the Two Cats of the Apocalypse, looking for trouble.  When they turn their faces towards me, I expect grinning skulls.  I was afraid they would hide kittens in the tall grass, but their bellies are not wet from nursing.  The two little ones sleep.  A lot.  When they aren't demolishing what they can reach.  They aren't that little.

My office chair at the keyboard became painful -- bent in the wrong places -- so I dragged in from the garage a disreputable and collapsing old wicker chair that doesn't hurt to sit in.  There are four fans running and I'm about to pull in another one from the garage since I finally found its electric cord.

Mostly I'm sleeping -- sometimes with "little" cats sleeping on me -- which is good since the news is as unexpected and terrifying as a volcano in the front yard.  It's not just Trump, vulgar and repellant as he is.  The policies of his administration are now hurting the livelihood of the big ranchers around here because of his tariffs and monkey-business with the borders.  The state's universities have always been welcoming to international scientists and tech teams, let alone tuition-paying grad students from around the world.  The usual principle of business is that stability and predictability are the necessary infrastructure for successful dealing and development.  But Trump has invested in disruption, unpredictability.  It is a policy that snuffs everything but sin.

In the middle of this I get a message from a former classmate, who was asked to leave Meadville/Lombard.  He scored a Ph.D. at the U of Chicago, which some people think is like the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval, and then began to lose churches.  The last time was for a cockamamie theory about what destroyed the World Trade Towers -- not what we all saw, airplanes used as rockets, but preplanted dynamite by the CIA.  He wanted to pick a fight about Trump because his girl friend left him and he doesn't have enough money.  Delete.

Then a blameless young woman in Coos Bay, Oregon, had discovered we were related -- distantly -- and wanted copies of everything I had about that part of the family -- I have two file cabinet drawers.  Years earlier I spent a lot of time copying, annotating and sending material to another branch of the family.  They were not interested, so I am no longer enthusiastic.  But I thought to send her a few old photos via email, since I could sent JPG's without a problem.  But my computer wouldn't scan because the red ink is out.  The photos are black and white and in theory I should be able to scan without colored toner, but like everything Epson that I touch, it won't work.  Everything demands updates and adds features I don't want, like taking a picture every time my old fingers fumble the keys.  Often.

What she didn't know was that the women who connected us were greatly disliked by my part of the family.  They were vengeful, mocking, and greedy.  This romantic young woman only wanted to know whether they were "Indian" which she considers honourable and glamourous.  She feels sure that a genetic spit test will prove which tribe, which it cannot but is marketed by promising it can.

In short, it's an impossible world she lives in.  But then, science is proving that we all make up the world as we go along.  Both suffering and fantasy are part of it.  We're finding the pitfalls by toppling into them -- we're getting bruised.  And we're told this immmoral-greed-criminality is only a few decades old but was there all the time until computers made money into digital three-dimensional chess.  We were going on and on about transparent when we should have been looking for the invisible.

In the meantime we frogs are beginning to feel the warming water, the high acid seas, and the unbreathable air.  I wonder whether I should take Tylenol.  My knee is improving.  I hope the same for whoever called the ambulance.

Thursday, July 19, 2018


Parallel to watching the US news, I'm receiving Tweets from Western and Northern indigenous people because I'm friends with some of them.  Mostly Adrian Jawort, Sterling Holy White Mountain, and the Tailfeathers guys.  They can write, they take fabulous photos, and they are real.  But as you probably know, running your eyes through Twitter means having to discard a lot of trash, lint, and weird stuff.  Today there was a real estate ad for a big house in Missoula  !!??  Often people beg for money -- with good cause.

The breakdown into tribal warfare -- ya did/ya didn't -- over some nonsense issue that deserves exploration and understanding -- shows up in ways that are almost funny.  One among these peripheral First Nations coteries is obsession over skin color.  I don't mean the whole thing about being called "red" which they are not, unless badly sunburned, but about how dark one is and what it means.  White people have made "dark" a stigma, so indigenous people have countered to make it an indication of "blood quantum" (though skin color is not about blood -- nor is blood quantum about blood) but about inheritance of melatonin (a molecule) and exposure to sun.)  At base it is about markers for social standing.  "Indians" take dark skin to be good, pure identity as an "Indian," and assume that white people hate dark, though in summer white people hurry to the beach in hopes of getting dark.

For young "Indians" the subject quickly turns into a binary: dark is good, white is bad.  Choose sides.  Complex and molecular cell features are brushed aside, not understood anyway, just more of the mumbo-jumbo those snooty scientists are always going on about.  

So I tried to break up the deadlock a bit by introducing poetry.  "Of all the skin colors possible, the sun-warmed fawn with hints of lavender that many indigenous people inherit is one I love the most.  It looks so well with shell white and turquoise blue-green.  Also, copper, gold and silver.  And crimson."

This was quickly labeled unintelligible since it didn't fit the binary dark/light.  But also it was a refusal to confront the real significance of skin color specifically among indigenous people.  Esp. among young women who live off-rez.  They took offence that they expressed in junior high contempt terms.

"Bloodlines, Odyssey of a Native Daughter" by Janet Campbell Hale, a descendant of Dr. John McLoughlin who was a ruling white man with an indigenous wife, Ms Hale tells her story of a girl persecuted by her own mother for being "dark."  Her mother wanted to "pass" as white but if the girl were around, she couldn't hide the truth.  It's a harsh story, but not unique.

People here, with perfect confidence that they are telling the truth, believe it is absolutely true that "Indians" get free money and "get out of jail free" cards simply because they are enrolled.  People who are members of families that include many people of many mixes will also claim that those with a certain "blood quantum" -- a fancied fraction figured out by descent rather than a laboratory blood test for genomes -- have unjustified and arbitrary advantages over those who are a small fraction of whatever the tribe sets as the boundary.  (The US government realized a long time ago that setting this boundary is sort of like walking in front of a firing squad, no matter how stringent or generous the percentage might be.)

From the other side, indigenous people will explain with all seriousness that white people have a major advantage, like stable families, access to money and college degrees.  To them poor whites with alcoholism, unknown families, and inability to read just don't exist.  Even satisfactory white people can be rejected and thrown out because they have an "advantage."  They are unfair.  

When whites write books about "Indians", there is an outcry to try to suppress whites from doing such a thing.  The "Indians" don't think of writing their own books.  If they do, they rewrite the same old "myths and legends" that were defined by white people centuries ago, when they could be writing mysteries, sci-fi, or some new genre they invented.

The truth is unimaginable because it is about the time when European immigrants were faced with the problem of what to "do" with the people they were displacing, since now that they were pushed off a place where they knew what to do and how to survive, they were going to need humanitarian help.  At first there was lots of room, so they were just pushed to the West.  We no longer think that way -- at least most of us.

"European Americans passed "Indian Blood law" or blood quantum law to regulate who would be classified as Native American. The first such law was passed in 1705 in the Colony of Virginia, to define Native Americans and to restrict the civil rights of people who were half or more Native American.  In the 19th and 20th centuries, the US government believed tribal members had to be defined, for the purposes of federal benefits or annuities paid under treaties resulting from land cessions.
Many Native American tribes did not use blood quantum law until the government introduced the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. Some tribes, such as the Navajo Nation, did not adopt the type of written constitution suggested in that law until the 1950s."  (from Wikipedia, so I don't know who said it.)

Now we know so much more about law and so much that complicates the subject of the genome, like outrage and indignation from African-origin people whose skin color was used as the brand of slavery, that the whole concept needs to be junked.  The idea in the beginning was that indigenous people would naturally want to be educated and white, so after they got to the great-grand stage, they'd just drop the subject.  That was before the tribe became a corporation and "blood quantum" was a sign of enrollment, shares in the company, and thus entitled to a share of any profits  At first there were no profits, but now there are, and everyone wants "in."

So now the problem is way beyond skin color, whether scientific, poetic or statistical.   What is the new criterion for being enrolled, a corporate share-holder?  Can it be inherited?  Can it be seen by a casual observer? -- Or if not, how else can it be documented?  Should it be living on the rez?  (About half of enrolled Blackfeet on the American side live OFF the reservation -- not counting the members of the Nation who live in Canada.)  If what is at stake is not money but culture, which culture?  (Remember that frybread, glass beads, and jingles (snoose can lids) are all white intrusions.)

If the People themselves don't figure this out, it may be imposed by bureaucrats or simply be frayed away by time.  Even what seems so innocent as the PanIndian movement is a threat to those who want sovereignty without quite defining what that means.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018


Pinned into a chair by a fall that screwed up my left knee and made my eyes water with pain, I began to explore alternatives to Netflix which -- like everything else -- has turned to sensationalist repetition.  Hulu turned out to be the same thing except smaller, cheaper, older.  Britbox somehow pulled me into a weird trap where it might only have been the cheese bait.  I never did get to HBO et al, because I found  It's what I thought Britbox was -- BBC content, meaning the whole Commonwealth --like Aussies.

I'd already seen many of these films and series.  I seek out "procedurals", meaning cop shows but not the kind with shooting and explosions.  Most of the victims are quietly knifed or poisoned and, anyway, not all the cases are murder.  In fact, many of them are simply atypical and bizaare, a challenge to the written law.  The great difficulty of keeping justice aligned with law and order is the real subject of the show.  "Crownies" is 22 episodes long and connected to another series that is much shorter.

There are two levels here.  One is the law of Australia which is derived from English Common Law and not that different from US law, though the differences are often troubling.  The other is the "law" of social decisions among young educated professionals who are very attractive but hardly experienced.  "Crownies" is the nickname for these people when they work for Crown prosecutors, which are guided by "old hands," in this case an alcoholic horse-race addict who is nonetheless capable of seeing to the  human kernel of many matters (a cliché); a capable but limited man nearing retirement; and a steely movie star-type-woman, more Swedish than Aussie, who is gay and pregnant with twins.  These things, played off against each other, offer many serious questions and silly dilemmas.

The young characters are, to my taste, much more attractive and far smarter than any on US shows.  The repartée is a big part of the pleasure.  The writers make the most beautiful young woman into the most brilliant as well, and give her a gangster for a father, which seems a great advantage since he is very rich and also, when a convict gets fresh with her, an effective threat.  Her boyfriend, stupid but hunky, works for her father but the implications are mostly left to your imagination.  Several of the men are moochers, who get others to do their work, except one man ends up doing everyone else's work.  All is sex, drunkenness, and fixated on being brilliant by remembering every case ever tried and using clever strategy.  A very Christian fussbudget keeps these people under control.  Sort of.

The New Society created by the invention of antibiotics and the Pill is the norm here.  And there's much play of the idea of "gay" but no recognition of AIDS, which may have been earlier or possibly have been deliberately left out.  The same goes for the cyber revolution and the new society it has created, though computers are there and "smart phones" are the hinges of every plot.  It's as though the writers haven't quite digested two new and very deep changes in the world of wealth and connectivity.  Neither have they come to grips with China or the Arab countries and controversies.  It's pleasant to have a rest from those for nearly an hour.

But I rarely miss Rachel Maddow in the evening.  I'm not even entirely pursuing the facts as much as the perspective given by history.  She doesn't deal with the New Society of sex or cyber possibility either, but I suspect people on her staff do.  After all, both are germaine to our current terrifying crisis.  Trump is dependent for his self-image on the idea that he is an irresistible sexual stallion who can do anything he wants, and probably enchained himself by violating sexual propriety in a commercial way. 

Pride in the former and guilt from the latter are both outmoded now, but not to the American public.  The beer-swilling boys down at the bar still believe it is a sign of superiority to grab women by the pussy and they both are terrified that their mama might find out they've done.  In contrast, Putin, whether or not it is true, derives much of his power from an assumed asceticism, though it may only mean he has total control over what gets out.  (He just loses track of his shirt and assumes riding a bear is attractive.)

The other contributor to the New Society, the realm of the Internet and the possibilities of cyber coding, is probably more dangerous.  In fact, more dangerous than nuclear threats.  An atomic bomb can seriously mess up the planet, but it is easy to shut down the cyber grid across the continent, thus grounding all airplanes and preventing all distance communication, to say nothing of the controls of municipal water systems and the ability of service stations to pump gas.  People will die but infrastructure will endure.

This morning Maddow tells us that Trump's administration fired Cory Louie, chief information security officer for the White House’s Executive Office of the President, whose job was to protect Donald Trump and other top White House people from getting hacked.  Not only that, Trump eliminated his office.  This is the act of a man who can't use a computer nor even an improved SmartPhone because he can't understand them.  Not in theory, but which button to push.  He's easy in terms of planting bugs because he doesn't understand them either.  Trump Tower is not just a communications tower (that's why it's so tall, so it can send messages to Moscow) but also probably riddled with hearing devices that record.  He's not smart enough to understand that such transmissions are perceptible and noticed by all the transmission towers and satellites along the way.  In short, he is vulnerable -- possibly mortally.  The Secret Service that accompanies him with the Atomic Trigger ("the football") probably should also have a cyber-expert along, one that can detect threats.

Watching BBC shows instead of American commercial mush (I thought PBS was public until they sold Big Bird) is not being a traitor.  But selling out the US in violation of oath and patriotism, not for the greater good of anything but one's theoretical bank account (which some studies show are in the red) is treason.  

In another context, he would be shot.  I don't mean vaccinated or photographed.  Aside from the frivolity of "Crownies", one of the finest serious all-time movies is "Breaker Morant," about a war criminal who faced a firing squad.  It's from a society before the one in which Trump grew up at post-war military school.  But the concept of conscience may be at the core of a Newer New Society that Trump triggers, one that accepts sex, understands computers, and has contempt for traitors.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018


The first time I ever heard of "VICE", the online magazine, was when they did a story about Browning, Montana, the capital of the Blackfeet Nation.  That was a while ago.  It was an honest story, though they like the underside of life a little too much and kinda neglected the women.

Now today I've intersected with them in two ways.  One was a short video.  Online magazines are beginning to present short videos that same way that print magazine present articles.  This was a little vignette of people moving through their lives, but instead of edited bits that jumped from one scene to the other, the people were all there on a stage-space and the camera simply moved among the people.  It was beautifully done.  See for yourself:

"Wa'ad" is a composite of what was written in letters from detention centers.  It is short and simple.  This URL will take you to both the film and a discussion and interview about it.  

VICE is not limited to Self-Obsessed America, but covers stories about the globe.  Today this week's disastrous and obscene conference between Trump and Putin,  sent Trump out looking as though he'd been beaten with a stick.  (We used to call dogs like that "fear-biters" and they were dangerous.)  Putin came out smiling, a show of SM almost unbearable to watch.  

VICE has saved me again by reminding me through Twitter of Obama speaking in honor of Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg, South Africa.  #Mandelalecture  It's not that I agree with everything Obama said.  For one thing he never seems aware of the indigenous peoples around the world.  For another he values institutions and nations far more than I do -- he's more of a politician and I'm more of an anthropologist.  But Obama's graceful, mature, humorous presence was a welcome restorative.  He calls us back to the values of his youth and my young adulthood.  We forget.

"Wa'ad" is also a reminder of grace under pressure -- not the flamboyant heroism of the movies, but the daily work that is before us.  These people are not from Harvard and Yale and so on.  They are the people that the Ivy League students envy and go to visit, pretending that they are bringing technology but ending up with friendship and laughter, freely given, they never forget for the rest of their lives.  Obama didn't forget all that -- he was born into it and calls us to join.

Twitter has fallen on hard times and one has to wade through a lot of debris to get to the good stuff.  One "genre" it repeats is that of the single drunk old white man, near-homeless, who expresses his deficiencies by finding someone to berate and shout at -- sometimes even strike.  Women get into this mode as well, looking for vulnerable victims and finding little kids -- the only people weaker than themselves.  It's a form of street theatre but clearly these people have also acted this out at home, made themselves hated by their own families.

I used to say that the strategy of being the "last man standing" is far too common and always overlooks the problem that when the last man stands there all by himself, who's going to admire him, obey him, love him?  In contrast is the Biblical, "What you do to the least of us is also done to me."  Do you see the small arms of the children reunited with their parents go around the necks of their beloveds, their source of life?

"In filmmaker Bassam Tariq's new short film, Wa'ad (The Promise), little is what it seems. Its centerpiece, a conversation between a father and son, isn't actually taking place. When the son speaks of his siblings "doing well" after their mother's death, they aren't really. And when he says he'll continue to write, right before the film's heartbreaking denouement, it's TBD.

"Deft in its execution, the four-minute short seeks to evoke the feeling of what isn't said—"what you can write when you have a limited amount of space," according to the filmmaker. Shot in two days last summer in Beirut, it's a stark look at life for one detained refugee and a tragic ode to family that demands multiple viewings."

Obama's speech is longer than an hour and there's nothing in it you haven't heard him say before.  Wa'ad is less than five minutes but it is not "small-hearted" to use Obama's memorable phrase.  Doesn't seem like watching it is too much to ask.

Monday, July 16, 2018


What really happened in Finland?  Of course, my version is all fantasy and never happened.  It is frankly fake news  It's just my way of dealing with the appalling photos of Trump kissing Putin's rump.  The body language is VERY eloquent.  Even Trump's habitual leaning forward on the edge of his chair and putting his fingertips together in the "pussy" sign between his knees, collapsed a bit as he looked wildly and belligerently around.  But Putin's attitude was triumphant: relaxed, open, and straightforward.  He won.  He thinks.

So what happened in the earlier two-person secret meeting?  This is what I imagine.

T. was begging for asylum in Russia and trying to set the terms for where he would stay, the strategy for getting him out of the US, and what the cover story would be.  He wants a golf course, of course, and wants his name on it.  But he can't figure out how to escape the US except by ordering his pilot to fly somewhere -- where?

P. doesn't want T. now that he's become so ridiculous.  He offers an old golf course in Siberia where they have no golf carts and in winter one must play in snow, which means a colored golf ball and a dog trained to dig up the ball if the snow is deep.  T. refuses because he dislikes dogs.  Dogs are loyal, which is an attribute he despises.

P. says T. must make sure that Melania comes along because otherwise it would seem like T. was merely escaping, not preferring Russia and its accommodations.  T. despairs.  It cost him millions to get her onto the plane to Finland.  If she figures out he is running for it, she will not get on the plane for any amount of money.  Anyway, his pilot is military and may obey his Air Force commanders in the US and anyway while the plane is in flight, a pilot is the captain of the ship and outranks even the president.  And then there's the fuel to manage.

But then P. changes tactics because he realizes that it would be simpler to shoot Air Force One out of the sky.  It would be easy to get a US rocket to do the job and then blame it on some country no one likes because the US munitions mongers will sell to anyone.  It's a little worrisome that the US, which holds so much of P's laundered money, might nationalize some entity with the money in it.  They seem to find things better than was anticipated.

T. is jet-lagged but took pills to compensate instead of getting drunk like anyone else in his position.  He is determined not to get drunk because that would mean not thinking and making crazy decisions, maybe not even able to comb and glue his hair properly.  The fact that he does the same thing while sober does not register.  He does not realize the pills were a hypnotic, something like date-rape drugs.

P. says if T. doesn't do what he's told, P. will drop an atomic bomb on an American city.  T. considers for a moment, then asks which city?  He can spare something small and liberal -- maybe Carmel, California?

While this is going on, the riders on Air Force One during this trip are having a conference.  They are remembering 9/11 and that third airliner, how the passengers realized what was at stake and even knowing that their own deaths would be inevitable, decided to crash the plane.  Destroying the White House, old and poorly maintained as it is, was too symbolic to be tolerated.  They put their lives on the line.  There were no cameras that recorded the crash.  Their act certainly prevented a treason so deep that America would be wounded for decades.  We could spare a couple of capitalist skyscrapers much more easily.

The humble stewards, the arrogant journalists, the flight attendants, the cleaners and the stenographers agreed that taking down the plane might be worth it, depending on how T. handles the meeting.  Certainly there were no Democrat legislators on the plane and if there were Republicans, they didn't want it known.

The only thing worse than T.'s speech alongside P. was walking in front of the Queen.  The speech was only words and no one believed them anyway.  The Queen, however, is sacred and must not be obscured or preceded.  She gave T. hand-signals as though he were a Corgi, and he obeyed since he was confronting military, which he loves dearly.  The Queen was not amused.

I'm going to end this right here because I can't even imagine what will happen next.  Watch the news.  Air Force One is crossing the Atlantic at the moment I write.

Sunday, July 15, 2018


Chuck Palahniuk became famous for two reasons:  the first is his book about "Fight Club" which became a movie, which certified him as a writer even though a film is not much like a book; the second is his success at workshops promising to be way outside the norm, dangerous and surprising.  This is a classic way for a writer to find an income based on all the wannabes out there, an evidently endless supply, and also the link between movies and books, which is the assumption that the road to success in any media is violence, insults, macho self-destruction.

The following quote is from an article in Oregon Live.  The success of any "book" that is paper pages within a protective cover is based on the froth about it produced on pop media: newspapers, interviews, speaking on panels.  Like this:

“The first rule of Fight Club is: You do not talk about Fight Club.” And the second rule? Come on, everybody, say it with us: “You do not talk about fight club.” Palahniuk’s novel of ennui-driven violence is a cultural touchstone for Generation X, and Palahniuk himself has sort-of become a leading voice for the disaffected Everyman. “Writing in an ironic deadpan and including something to offend everyone,” Publishers Weekly wrote in its 1996 review of “Fight Club,” “Palahniuk is a risky writer who takes chances galore ... [and his] utterly original creation will make even the most jaded reader sit up and take notice.”

In the end it wasn't THAT original, but his influence persists.  In fact, this particular article is surprising because it shows other "Oregon" writers who have persisted, even though we've half-forgotten some of them and most of them are not pure Oregonian.  Joaquin Miller, for instance, the poet of the Sierras, an early model of poetry and edge, long before Burroughs et al.

It's ironic that the "Montana writers" who often overlap with "Oregon writers" are much "nicer" and direct their violence at the entirely Other, while the Oregon writers are fierce and after their own.  In fact, I've never liked Jean Auel, though I like her subject, because one day at the bookstore in John's Landing shopping center, she ran a handtruck of her books over my foot.  She didn't target me -- she was just in a hurry.  Heedless, reckless, limitless, that's what Oregon writers are after.  No apologies.  But their horizons are obscured by trees, except on the coast.

But it wasn't Palaniuk who founded "Dangerous writing."  It was Tom Spanbauer who come up with the idea and has done teaching workshops about it ever since.  Ironically, he says the first thing for a teacher is to create a safe place for the writers.  Palaniuk, who made a lot of money with his work, now claims that he was cleaned out by thieves, some of them purporting to be safe money managing friends.  Now THAT'S dangerous!

There was a writer I knew who wrote a book I didn't know.  (I'll buy it when I have money.)   Walt Curtis was born on the 4th of July when I was two years old.  He really was in Portland, and he was thoroughly Sixties in the Burroughs way.  His was the Portland I never knew about when I was there, but I recognize the places: the Lone Fir Cemetary, Sheridan's fruit stand.  I did know about William Stafford and his son, Kim, who teaches writing at Lewis and Clark College, very high-brow.  I didn't know that William Stafford was onstage with Allen Ginsberg.  It was the time of political protest and a demand for change.

Here's a taste of Walt:  ”Hell hath no fury like the dream spurned / I saw a waterfall of death and purity / Which will cleanse life of its dirt / We will bathe there naked and free in the morning light of a new dawn.” I am a poetic ecologist. I am concerned with climate catastrophe and saving planet Earth. I am dubious that there is a future."  He was talking about Oneonta Gorge, where my family hiked.

Curtis' "key" was a book called "Mala Noche: and Other 'Illegal' Adventures" written about immigrants, which would be even more dangerous today.  It was a chapbook in 1977 and later became a film by Gus van Sant "It is a vividly homoerotic account of Curtis's passionate and mostly unrequited love for several Mexican street youths who come to Oregon seeking jobs and money.  The powerful imagery is reminiscent of Jean Genet and of other Beat Generation writers.  There is great sadness in the lives of these lost young men but also great beauty and dignity."  Howard E. Miller in the Library Journal.

Strangely, this has become a genre of tales with special appeal for young people rather alienated from their peers and looking for a key to meaning.  It includes a deep love of wild nature.

Here is the hour-long "Salmon Poet" by Walt Curtis.  It's a little dorky, but meant to be fun anyway.  If you get as much of a kick as Curtis and others got making it, you win.  The vid is made in the fall which his why there are so many salmon come up to spawn in the streams, a little ragged towards the end of their lives.  In wilder places there are bears to recycle them, carry their digested remains up into the forests to feed the trees.  Curtis says he's not trying to be a white Indian or shaman, but that doesn't mean he leaves the salmon tribes out.

I'm so pleased that Curtis is focused on the immanent, the fleshly, the organic existence of senses.  Mystical woo-woo is evanescent, mental foo-foo for Ph.D. candidates who don't want to have to read all those books.  I remember vividly sitting in that old bomber plane when I was a child.  I can close my eyes and see that instrument panel.  It had a nose then.  War is not just about Vietnam or the sand countries.

I'm glad I left.  I'm glad Walt Curtis is still there.  We're both old now, but, oh, where we've been!

Saturday, July 14, 2018


Religion in the Western world, particularly after the Enlightenment which gave a high value to science and the confirmable world, has been a matter of institutions as well as their symbolism of buildings, locations, and natural formations.  At first religion was part of government, then was touted as a route to success and happiness.

In fact, what we call religion is a complex of forces, confirmations, instructions,  and aesthetics that give it priority over other ideas and entities, even in a modern individualistic world.  It is a way of binding and defining people as groups.

In our time we value most highly prosperity and morality, and until lately we believed they were related.  In a way, now that we have abandoned morality as getting in the way of prosperity, morality is still primary since it has become a guide of how to cheat successfully, how to be a winning individual in a sucker world.  Strangely, many religions promote powerlessness such as "love" which many translate to mean "be nice," a path to non-power as though helplessness were virtuous.  This appears to be a useful way to disarm individuals who persist in opposing the group, which might be either minority or majority.  To some extent individuals can choose their "group" or congregation, even if it's mostly an aggregation, an accumulation, a gathering of people that might be unconscious, simply a matter of their assumed identities being similar.

Step away from institutional religion, meant for groups, giving individuals a lot to think about and chances for leadership.  Some are protective against a larger society and others oppose it.  In terms of the individual, religion is often not what it is for a group.  "Nones" explicitly reject institutions but may have specific and meaningful moralities.

Writing is a vocation or calling that often might bring up the topic of religion or the individual in relation to the group (whether defined as family, community, identity groups, humankind or living creatures).  Print on paper captures the dynamic process of the individual brain as it pushes against the environment and sorts through it.  Pen on paper is not the only way to preserve a record of something that can't really be recorded.

This is a stiff and sophomoric way to describe what is fluid and ineffable, no matter how much you want to "f" it.  While some are trying to get notice and praise for their writing, believing that it is an invited "spirit" for good boys and girls, others wrestle with the true primordial conceptualizing that is underneath words, only conditionally grammatical, and entirely irrelevant to publishing, prizes, inspiration, or any other way that institutions try to own writing.  It's the dimension that causes some to say that in order to be an effective writer, one must develop one's personhood, the qualities that allow truth.

Every language is a code but may not have code for what can be conceptualized: no words, no grammar, no metaphors that capture some felt experience.  True writers seek to master the code, but are also willing to go outside it for ways to say the unspeakable, even when it's only howling.  This is a boundary that some always seek to find and cross, in hopes of finding the way many have felt but couldn't express.  It is often about the edges that institutions deny and suppress.

Talking this way makes me feel like Kahlil Gibran saying all those gnomic, enigmatic puzzles that can be great insight or just chatter, often quite popular.  Not very far away from sophomoric pontificating but apt enough to seem valid.

Back to the little handful of writers I was "talking" about yesterday:  Doig, Welch, Kipp, Blew, et al.  They're good story tellers with genuine experience and insight.  I appreciate and praise them, but I want to go beyond them.  Guthrie is not quite the example I want.  Maclean comes closer.  Von Tilburg Clark even closer.  These folks have had publishing success, but I don't care anything about publishing.  As it stands, writing is meant to be mediocre because that's where the sales are.  Get too fancy and you'll go broke, so in the name of "editing" -- making proper -- publishers often destroy.  They pull teeth when teeth are the story.

When I came back twenty years ago, I had a vague notion of being a Montana writer.  That meant the prairie as a metaphor, the physical sensations of a wide space taking on meaning.  I explored that while in the ministry and had a little praise for it, but from individuals rather than any institutions.  I pondered and read in the environmental movement, which offered bigger concepts in a space so wide it became global.  I thought and felt myself outside of all institutions, even the ones that employed me.

About ten years ago a new medium, internet messages that operated almost like phone calls, took me outside print-on-paper categories into a far more fluid, international, and cross-morality context.  I was asked to write for a loose affinity-group defined as boys who do sexwork for survival while trying to grow up.  Did I have anything to say about the meaning of their lives?  Soon that question, sort of journalist-media sensation-seeking, was abandoned.  The point was not to question, but to listen -- not to my experience but to theirs; not on the prairie but anywhere, though I stayed here.

They wanted to know why they suffered (when they did, which was not always), why God was punishing them by putting them in grim life-endangering circumstances like diseases that targeted them or social stigma that caged them.  I saw that they loved movement (skateboards) and risk (city parcoursing).  They lived in that below-language underconscious human adventure and they often howled.  Their families had betrayed them -- the families that had ever existed beyond biology.  What accident had allowed them to persist as individuals even if they had no larger group at all?  Many died.  Others grew up.  Their highest value was each other, their most eloquent word the embrace.

It's clear that a writer who is serious must learn to survive -- not just express -- knowing things of great pain and moral degradation, often the realization of one's own limitations and failings, small contemptible things.  There are two effective keys and I learned them from the boys themselves:  story and laughter.  I'll keep at the keyboard.

Friday, July 13, 2018


Louisa May Alcott, Lucy Maude Montgomery, Ivan Doig, and a host of others were all cursed by writing books that everyone dearly loved.  Though popularity in great numbers and over generations are supposed to be the goal of many who want to be writers, when the reality arrives it turns out to be a cage.  The people who loved the first book demand more of them -- just like that first one.  The human -- indeed, mammalian -- love for what is familiar and therefore safe, is so strong that publishers pitch the next book as a variation on the first and then a third and so on.  Until Montgomery, for one, committed suicide because of depression possibly from being locked into the original formula.  J.K Rowling, has used a pseudonym to escape Harry Potter.  Daniel Radcliffe has escaped through growing up, though performing nude in the theatre could have helped break-up the stereotype.  

An example in Montana might be Richard S. Wheeler, who writes rather tongue-in-cheek Westerns.  An example of a son in a proud family who is encumbered with the obligation of being a great success in life, it took him a while to hit upon this niche, but by inventing colorful characters and listening carefully to other writers tell about their plot points, he was able to build a career on a specific sort of story.  At one recent point many of the Western writers who belonged to the same "club" discovered that the take-down of the Cowboy West meant that their stories were hard to sell to publishers.  

As the culture of the West moved farther along the timeline from gunslingers and settlers to a West understood as a treasured environment and "Indian wars" gave way to indigenous peoples, the number of people who wanted to read stories written by other people their age began to diminish.  Now stories featuring gays, Muslims, and persons seeking enlightenment became what sold.  Wheeler and other Western writers tried murder mysteries for a while, and changed their names to fit the genre, but it was not wholly successful.

Even porn writers had to move from stories about sophisticated, naughty and secret events to earnest young dancers struggling for a place in a ballet company and first loves.  Following a burst of change-of-life men leaving their marriages because they finally decided to leave the closet, there has been some about old men with rich lives helped by young partners.  But our Age of Individualism has meant separating into new categories not based on the sameness of the stories but on the sameness of the readers.  Unless there are enough self-identified people like the particular writer, sales are limited.  Seduced housewives want to read about other seduced housewives.

Let's return to Ivan Doig.  In the beginning (in 1957 we were in the same English class, the size of an auditorium).  Ivan was a serious journalist and historian, but that wasn't the route he took, though he moved to Seattle where such a career was possible and he had the right education.  His first book, "House of Sky: Landscapes of a Western Mind" 1978, is cited as one of the ten best memoirs of the West.  It is heart-felt memoir, bitter-sweet, intense as a prairie wind.  It could be argued that it was the best of his writing ever.

The next two books, "Winter Brothers: A Season at the Edge of America (1980) - an essayistic dialog with James G. Swan", and "The Sea Runners" (1982) were serious research-based books, much respected but not best-sellers.  These were the sort of thing he had expected to do.  They were written while I was attending seminary in Chicago.  We were coming to forty years old, getting serious about the meaning of life.

Beginning in 1987, the trilogy about the fictional McGaskill family was published with the success that defined the rest of his writing.   English Creek (1984), Dancing at the Rascal Fair (1987), and Ride with Me, Mariah Montana (1990) remain much loved, reassuring, almost-but-not-quite remembered as reality.  The rest are much like these with the exception of "Prairie Nocturne" (2003) which offered a black character who disconcerted some readers.  He died in 2015.

Now and then my path would cross with his, but he was cool, distant.  His style, almost lapidary in its care and semi-poetry, was always aspiring to be the best, the classic, the irreproachable -- even as he got shoved back into regionalism and the "Western" period.  Keeping history, he wrote about the big industrial projects of dams and what the boom/bust cycles did to people.  Often he was in danger of writing what I call "pinafore sagas" about cute kids and mildly alcoholic eccentric uncles.  It's a genre we cherish as our nostalgia for the past becomes less realistic.

So Ivan Doig had a career as a writer: distinguished, occasionally powerful, popular in the genre, not quite escaping those who like to patronize, likely to persist for many years.  His life summaries list many awards and much praise, in addition to genuine affection.  He was constantly published though at some points it was his wife, Carol, who as a literature professor paid the bills.

Ivan and I come from the same stock: red-headed Scots, but I have a strong streak of Irish.  I have only "published" two books, one at an academic Canadian university ("Bronze Inside and Out" about Bob Scriver) that is baggy and indiscriminate but all-there, and "Sweetgrass and Cottonwood Smoke," an anthology of sermons about the theology of the prairies.  

For the past decades I've written daily 1,000 word essays as posts on a blog, -- this one.  I began posting about Blackfeet; Ivan never wrote about Blackfeet. though he grew up next to them.  Another writer, Jimmy Welch (d. 2003), WAS Blackfeet, enrolled, the same age as Ivan and I and educated as a boy in Minneapolis, then in Missoula.   His dad, also named James Welch, was Bob Scriver's playmate.  Young Jim was always warm and friendly to me.  I write as well as they do, probably as much as they have.  I have a "better" education that either of them  (U of Chicago religious studies. MA, 1960).

There's another writer, Darrell Robes Kipp, about our same age but died in 2013.  He was a careful writer but a better speaker, a more expansive and visionary person than any of the other three of us.  And certainly 100% "Indian."  Probably there are others our age who write without being known.

So what is it worth?  What does it mean?  Was Doig, a white conformist, too tame?  Since Darrell published nothing, does that mean he wasn't worthy?  Did I live longer because I'm not done yet or because I'm female or because I haven't stretched to achieve?  Did Darrell, 100% "Indian" write any differently than the other three of us?  Should we be assigned to our own kind or a specific genre?  All Westerners, are any of us more than that?  We were all connected to Academia -- does that matter?