Sunday, August 18, 2019

BUNDLES

Between 1982 AND 1985 I was the Unitarian Universalist minister of the renewed Helena Fellowship.  At some point in those years some women came to me who belonged in the Presbyterian congregation but had a "spot of bother" with their minister.  Years later, when I met Kenneth Hayes Lokensgard, he told me frankly that minister was his father.  At the point when we talked, he was trying to find a way to be "religious" without being a Presbyterian.  He found it as a scholar of Blackfeet religion.  It was long enough ago that academia would still hire white people to work with indigenous people and he still is doing that.

As nearly as I can tell, this is Ken's only book, an academic technical book, an entirely different genre than I usually read about something I knew rather well.


"Blackfoot Religion and the Consequences of Cultural Commoditization" (Vitality of Indigenous Religions).by Kenneth Hayes Lokensgard
Paperback  $49.49

Besides taking a different point of scholarship, one much more classically encouraged than mine, Lokensgard's approach is as well different from mine because his sources are quite different.  For one thing, he says he's known John and Carol Murray, a married couple, for fifteen years.  My acquaintance goes back fifty years to when I was a high school English teacher in Browning where they were teenagers. My experience sitting in a Bundle Opening and becoming a Keeper is also that early. The ceremony was still technically forbidden, but secret.  Except for Bob Scriver and I, everyone was full-blood and born in the 19th century.  The Murrays became keepers on a new wave rebirth of the ceremony.  I have not participated in this generation.

What I'm saying is that the Blackft international community contains many strands and lines of culture which sometimes overlap and sometimes don't. Ken and I do not follow the same paths in terms of disciplines and sources, but they don't contradict each other.  They sometimes compete or argue.

Lokensgard's highly philosophical approach is through the accepted duality of "gift" versus "commodity", a theory of exchange.  So that's the first difference: the Bundle that Bob and I kept came to us through a dream that Bob had.  Whether one considers that dream to be psychological -- which is easy to defend -- or actually supernatural as the elders seemed to believe, that is not the same as anthropological exchange theory. Pentacostals or Catholics would understand and indigenous people often mix these traditions.

Another dimension of a holy entity like the Bundle is that it is connected to and responsible for the welfare of the entire tribe.  That is, not only is it an Entity, as Lokensgard puts it, but it is a member of the community with effective impact.  Being white, yet all our impacts could be defined as either negative or as positive, since the fortunes of the Tribe are far better now, fifty years later.  We did stay, participate, and wish everyone well.  But commodification is present.

My own understanding also has a "white man" historical dimension.  "The Hako: Song Pipe and Unity in a Pawnee Calumet Ceremony" by Alice C. Fletcher, assisted by James R. Murie, describes how the concept of a long, decorated pipe became conceived and then spread across the prairie with variations according to the tribe.  "Alice Cunningham Fletcher  1848 - 1923 was an American ethnologist, anthropologist, and social scientist who studied and documented American Indian culture."  She was also notoriously the woman who organized reservations into allotments to be more like homesteading, definitely commoditized.  It didn't work very well, but Helen Clark, half-Blackft daughter of the equally notorious Malcolm Clark whose murder triggered a massacre, was an assistant in this work.  As nearly I can tell, she was never part of Blackfeet ceremonial life.

Because the actual "medicine pipes" are decorated with falconry bells, glass beads, and satin ribbons -- with the occasional "stuffed" bird including a green parrot as on ours or a rooster on another -- alongside ermine skins and the entire tail feather fan of a golden eagle, they can't precede white contact, though to the indigenous people pipes felt like "always."  I don't know what the procedure was for accumulating the wrapped animal skins bundled with the calumet, but they would have been easily acquired in early days.  I always thought of them as a hymnal since their use was as prompters for specific songs and dances connected to that animal.

The colorful central pipestem was appealing to collectors.  Few paid attention to the rest of the Bundle.  In addition, the Bundles in the homes of ceremonial elders were vulnerable to minor theft of bits that could be sold without recognition.  Some of the elders themselves were in the grip of addictions that commodified everything and everybody.  A few became enflamed Christians who came into homes and carried off Bundles to throw on a bonfire as though they were martyrs, which they were.  What remained went underground.

The reason Bob and I went into the Bundle circle in our different way was that he had grown up in Browning, as a child had been at ceremonies with entire innocence but not sent away, could even sing a few songs. When the anthropological understanding came to us it was through John Hellson, who was married to a Canadian Blckft woman, and Adolf Hungry Wolf, who was also married to a Canadian Blckft woman and lived in the old style in a cabin.  Hellson is dead now. Hungry Wolf, an Austro-Hungarian raised in California, put everything he knew into four massive books, one of which is entirely devoted to ceremonial matters.  Ryan Heavyhead is another in this married-to category as well as Canadian.  Narcisse Blood, now dead, was his partner.  

These people are in Lokensgard's bibliography.  So far as I can see, George and Molly Kicking Woman and Richard Little Dog, who were our main guides, are not mentioned.  Mike Swims Under, Curly Bear Wagner, Buster Yellow Kidney, and other accepted shamanic people are not in appendixes as informants, collaborators, or authors.  When the Province of Edmonton, which had bought the Scriver Collection, returned all the Bundles to the Blackft, they put them in the care of Alan Pard.  We didn't know him then, but I talked to him on the phone before his death. He was a well-qualified and aware man.

Technically, the Bundle is kept by both marital partners as a unit and from some points of view I remain a part-keeper of our Bundle.  It was stolen when Bob died --  never sold -- and the traditional way of putting it was that "it left" and that at some point, "it may decide to come back."  It is seen as sentient.

Lokensgard naturally turned to white academic "experts" like William Farr at the U of Montana and "curators" like Kirby Lambert at the Montana Historical Society.  They are white outsiders.  Enrolled Blackft informants were from established families who put emphasis on education, like the Bullshoe/Tatsey complex at the Blackfeet Community College.  Joyce Spoonhunter is related to Earl Old Person, Emeritus Chief of the Pikuni. 

Modern thought asserts that reality is a construct made up of experience and the interpretation of facts.  These differences in our pasts and contexts control how we see something like Blackft Bundles, right down to spelling.  On the Canadian side the "English" spelling of Siksika is Blackfoot and on the US side it is Blackfeet.  I choose to dodge that issue by leaving out both oo and ee.  I don't know how long I will evade the contrast between versions of "Bundles."  Maybe there is no need.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

THREE HONORABLE MEN

In a world  that often seems to be inhabited only by old fat rich white men, we almost lose a sense of what standard men we could respect are really like.  The feminists have seemed to insist that the alternative is blubbering weaklings who must be rescued all the time.  I mean, if even the English Queen's sons are seduced by child-girls and being dissolute in wealthy, corrupt groups, who is a prince?  Only a purple pop singer?  

From a surprising source comes a reminder.  It's actually an interview with Stephen Colbert as interviewee with Anderson Cooper asking the questions.  They are serious, frank, and address both religion and death in grownup terms, quotable.  For instance, Colbert depicts his mother's death as the "quiet closing of a door" to the past and memories.  But what seized the media attention is the fact that Cooper wept.  That says a lot about what this culture believes in as grief.

I've added David Brooks to this group for my own thinking because of his life-trajectory change and where it has brought him, which is no less than a new life.  He may be too liberal or in some way "soft" for others to like, but I do respect that he has found a way to be religious, progressive, and Republican against all tides and signs.  I think about him when I try to understand groups that sustain what I used to think of as culture, meaning that these men are attached to each other and the rest of the world without making them exclude each other.  His approach to the media is analytic but in a different way from Cooper's, which sometimes verges on "gotcha." 

This clip is introductory to the interview that intrigues people.

This is the link to the whole first half of the interview.

Where are we going?  Clip discussing Trump:

"This is a "Tweet" from 'Anderson Cooper 360°.  It's reference to the point in the interview that confronts the most difficult question for Christians, one so prominent in trying to understand theory that it has a name as an entire discipline:  "theodicy."  The question of how a benign and protective god can allow such suffering in the world.

The quote:
You said "what punishment of gods are not gifts. Do you really believe that?" @andersoncooper, choking back tears, asks Stephen Colbert, as they discuss grief.

"Yes," replies the comedian. "It's a gift to exist and with existence comes suffering. There's no escaping that."

Then Colbert goes on to say two things about suffering.  One is the importance of knowing as oneself that one is indeed suffering and that it is part of existence, an inescapable price.  The other is that one's own suffering opens one up to the suffering of others, meaning it sustains empathy which is part of being fully human.  

This is where it becomes relevant that Brooks searches for groups who are fully human and reaching out to others like them.  https://www.ted.com/talks/david_brooks_the_lies_our_culture_tells_us_about_what_matters_and_a_better_way_to_live  I think one could defend the idea that this was something like what Republican conservatism was once about..

Granted that these men are handsome, very well educated, employed and known as high status, and that their suffering has mostly been emotional.  Colbert and Cooper both lost their fathers at around age ten, before they reached the age of struggling with sex in society.  Both had exceptional mothers to whom they devoted themselves without being captured.  There are other differences and likenesses.  Both lost brothers.

"In a recent Ted Talk, published July 3, 2019, Brooks speaks about his views on the state of culture and relationships in America today. In a speech that surprised many long-time followers of Brooks, he shares his experience with loneliness, and how it led to his reevaluation of what is important to focus on in one's life.  Brooks shares about Weave, a social reform project that he is involved in."  He has a degree from the U of Chicago as well as being on their Board of Trustees.  (I have an MA from the U of Chicago.)

Colbert graduated from Northwestern University with a degree in theatre where I graduated from the same department three years before he was born.  That means he missed my two most powerful professors:  Paul Schilpp, a former Methodist humanist, who taught Philosophy of Religion; and Alvina Krause, an acting teacher who ran a summer theatre.  Anderson Cooper would have loved her.  Colbert's personal outlook comes from reading Tolkien completely and obsessively.  There's currently a film but I'm not sure how relevant it is.  Link to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wZ1vn85iQRE  The official trailer.  It's a bit "Downton Abbey" when it's not "Game of Thrones."

The Brits are in as much embroiled in danger and embarrassment as we Yanks and even the Canadians, which is what Brooks was originally.  All of us need to keep in mind what grown men used to be like, both emotionally and rationally, how they found resources for coping and then shared them with others.  They weren't tempted to spend a lot of money on their houses and airplanes, nor did they find it desirous to torture pretty women in whatever shades of gray,  I don't think they bought paintings of male presidents wearing blue dresses and red shoes nor would they be particularly amused to see one.  They have their down sides but they are not despicable.

These were white public men most of us respect -- they had standards and they became "standards", which became exclusive. That became demonic.  I think about them with affection and respect. We shouldn't forget them even if those of us who are different struggle to find our own strengths.  These three would not turn away people who have honor or are in struggle.


Friday, August 16, 2019

LITTLE GRASS AIRPORTS

The 2% of my brain that is conscious struggles with the rest of my mental and emotional life, which is inconveniently hidden.  Just a bit ago this tweet came up on Twitter.  It's from Virginia Heffernan and very useful.  "As a commenter just pointed out, this emotional connection—the activated parasympathetic nervous system—only happens when two bodies share space. And within a pact of non-exploitation (mocked as “safe space”) that used to be the baseline for any civilized interaction."

"I’d further add, without I hope getting too weird, that this kind of synching is made more difficult when faces & bodies are distorted w/uncanny cosmetics or cosmetic surgery. Trump’s matte orange complexion codes as inhuman (or, for fans, superhuman) . . .

My starter for this story about two people interpreting wolves has a old woman artist -- like me, except so far too bland and virtuous -- and a writer whom I've identified as Black.  Which means that I've slipped up. I'm too close to writing something socioeconomic about underclasses.  I've assumed that this Black man is somehow disadvantaged and "coming up," when it would be better to let the old woman be the underclass and build an elite, wealthy Black man, a Matthiessen type instead of a political rebel.

But there are also objects and territories.  Before I woke up the second (or third) time this morning I was dreaming with great reality that I was in Wyoming (the only Western state wilder and less populated than Montana) which had fallen into such chaos that "Tennessee" and Tennessee banks had taken over the state.  In reality it is the state of Montana that threatens to take over the county of Glacier which is practically rez and between Pondera (my county) and Canada. 

So I'm still working on the nature of society and trying to understand how individuals can survive in it.  The wolf pack vs. the lone wolf.  How do we get to "a pact of non-exploitation" as Heffernan puts it.  How can I work into the story a "wolf mask"?  Does it relate to the artist's dog or her friend Max who is indigenous and was asked to put up her lodge?  Is it about painting the lodgeskin with the mask of a wolf?  I don't want faux ndn woo-woo.

At 4AM I woke up and wrote the following about airplanes and artists.  Should I keep it or dump it?  So far it's only raw material, memories.

The Valier "airport" is just a few blocks south of me.  It's just a flat pasture, with a windsock, a newly renewed tight barbed-wire fence, and some shed hangars to keep small planes from blowing away.  A small flock of grouse raises their babies in the grass there in spite of cats.  During WWII it was an active place with a landing beacon that became a "lighthouse" restaurant, now closed after a stellar career as a dinner restaurant.  The lake -- parallel to the airport -- was considered capable of accepting seaplanes.  Today it's a fishing spot, as active for ice fishing in winter as for small boats in summer.  

For a while there was a mysterious unmarked helicopter that would often land there for a couple of hours and rumours about what it was swept the town.  One schizophrenic citizen developed an entire fantasy about black helicopters which rose out of the lake next to the airport and stole children.  Then it turned out that the pilot was a guy employed for something -- I forget what.  Checking irrigation ditches or counting grizzlies -- something like that.  His mom lived close by, and he had gotten into the habit of going to her house for lunch.

No one has ever landed on the grass runway and walked down to my house, but they could.  We think of airplanes now as big commercial airlines with monster machines on elaborate developments.  We forget that barn-stormers like my uncle in South Dakota could keep a small plane maintained and covering territory, except in Alaska where there are no roads.  He delivered the family business of ag machine parts.

In the Sixties when the Scriver Studio was more about taxidermy than sculpture, small planes flew into a field near Starr School, ten miles from Browning.  Bob had painted "Museum" on the roof so pilots could buzz us or we could be called by the Cut Bank sheriff who had a radio tuned to their slightly bigger airport.  Hunters returning from Alaska or coming to fetch their finished products would have enough money to be short on time.  Browning is near the Canadian line, a long drive by highway.  That continued with high-dollar sculpture customers.

The memory that came back when I began to think about this wolf story was not about wolves at all.  Harry Jackson was a "cowboy artist" like Bob and we had just met him in Cody at the Buffalo Bill Museum, not yet the major complex people now sometimes call the Smithsonian of the West.  Harry looked more like Bob than his own brother, and was completely unthreatened by Bob, though Harold McCracken meant Bob to intimidate Harry because of Buffalo Bill politics.  There was no time to talk in Cody, so Harry simply flew up to spend a couple of days.  He and Bob immediately formed a deep bond, not just about the sculptures but also because somehow they were alike.

Harry's past is sort of gussied up in documents.  He was born near the Chicago stockyards but his grandmother did not run just a cafĂ©.  He was commercially abused from toddlerhood, which contributed to his five marriages, all to prominent and well-heeled women as near as I could tell.  But he was immensely charismatic with a ranch near Cody and a classic atelier in Italy.  During WWII he'd been a combat photographer on a South Pacific island and, suffered a head wound which meant persistent epilepsy.  While he was with us, his Italian foundry foreman ran off with one of his wives.

In the last years before his death, he entered a kind of therapy with a female counselor who inspired him with a vision of the universe.  He put this on CD discs and sent me a set.  I listened, was confused about what to do with them, and simply stored them.  They weren't the sort of thing that sold bronzes.  I should get them out and listen again.

Maybe I was dreaming about small airplanes because of noise coming from our nearby landing strip.  It's a much more welcome sound than the thunder of big C-series planes from Malmstrom flying high to practice because they say the east slope is not too different from parts of Russia.  It was a full moon last night.


Thursday, August 15, 2019

WOLF STUFF

To be a proper wolf it's important to mark out the territory.  


The Evolutionary history of the wolf is not totaly clear, but many biologists believe that the wolf developed from primitive carnivores known as miacids. Miacids ranged from gopher-sized to dog-sized animals, and appeared in the Lower Tertiary about fifty two million years ago. Miacids in turn had evolved from Cretaceous insectivores. The direct descendants of miacids today are animals called viverrids, which include the genet of Africa.

Relatively late in the evolutionary history of miacids came the appearance of the first canid (Cynodictis), one of these was called the dawn-wolf, this creature had a long body and looked like a enlongated fox, it could live and climb in trees, it was also thought to possibly related to feline species.

The first gray wolf,(Canis Lupis), probably appeared in Eurasia sometime in the early Pleistocene period about a million years ago. Around 750,000 years ago, it is thought to have migrated to North America.  Some think it originated in America and moved the other way.  (This was a theory among Amerindians once.  Now the theory is that wolves originated in multiple places and the theory about hominins echoes this idea.)

The Dire Wolf,(Canis Dirus), larger and heavier than the gray wolf, evolved earlier and the two co existed in North America for about 400,000 years. As prey became extinct around 16,000 years ago due to climatic change, the dire wolf gradually became extinct itself. Around 7,000 years ago the gray wolf became the prime canine predator in North America

Many large animals went extinct about 10,000 years ago, but not the gray wolf nor the coyote.  No one knows why. Wolves can still viably reproduce with dogs and coyotes, but it doesn't happen often or create a new species. The barrier is not DNA but rather cultural/ecological niche difference.  They don't always interact.  Neither have I seen anything identifying the genes that keep wolves the same but spread variabiity among dogs to incredible contrasts.

This includes a whole website that is "Ideas for depicting wolves".  Art and wolves, story and wolves, are tightly interwoven because they inhabit the part of our inner life that is recent: symbolism, emotion, empathy, and awareness.  They are dangerous but have a dog dimension.  "No, it's not possible for humans to turn into wolves. Werewolves do not exist in reality. However, there is an actual medical condition called Lycanthropy, where people believe they have turned into, or regularly transform into, other animals (most notably wolves)."  Through horizontal transmission, it's possible some humans now include some wolf genes, but they are not expressed in any obvious way.  And so on.  

To be a complete and working wolf is complex.  

"The gestation period lasts 62–75 days, with pups usually being born in the summer period. Wolves bear relatively large pups in small litters compared to other canid species."  Females give birth in dens they dig, in the right kind of soil, as much as ten feet deep.  Fear of wolves and attempts at elimination often focus on the babies in the den, using fire or gas or entanglement with barbed wire.  Bodies can be flayed for the fur, then hung as warnings and boasting.

If safe, babies form attachment to the mother through nursing and her licking. These are the beginnings of every mammal, which develop into the species-specific voice and relationships.  Humans included.  "There are some lone wolves out there that live alone. They don't scent mark or howl though. They live off of very small animals such as rodents due to the fact that they have to hunt on their own."

An individual wolf is the product of its physical experience, its mind (it can see what prey is going to do next); its emotion which is mammalian, so dependent on the same electrochemical, hormonal, organ-based loops as ours; its immediate relationships; its environment, esp food source and sources of danger; and the whole incredible and minutely interacting history and extent of its existence.  This is also true of people, no matter how much young college men worship brains.  

What is inside the skin pushes against and pulls inside whatever is outside the skin.  A wolf taken from the SW to the NE will be a changed animal.  Maturation patterns change the animal.  I'm watching the adult cats next to me in the "computer window" where I made a platform for them to sit in the sun.  The last kittens are nearly grown now and a new couple of infants has arrived.  The oldest cat is mixing the old kitten-licking with hard biting.  She is his grandmother but the mother died when this kitten was young.  The two half-grown cats are toms, beginning to wrestle with each other hard enough to shriek. The two adults are female. The infants are too young to tell.  Even newborns have slightly different personalities. The nearly grown kitten, one of a pair I called "the Dittoes" because I couldn't tell them apart, have separated into one which is now half-wild and often missing and one which is fond and always close by.

It was thought, in a bit of romantic projection, that wolves like geese and swans mate for life, preserving cub interactions as affection for years of intimacy and protection.  But the group is larger than a couple and will include "aunts and uncles" who help care for and feed cubs.  At the same time, some individuals are "lone wolves" and will not only stand apart from the cluster but also begin to travel very long distances, even across the continent.  Modern electronics make it possible to follow them.

A pack may be disrupted by the death of an animal, particularly a leader.  Competition and war between packs can cause disruption but sometimes the family will re-form.  Males don't necessarily remain faithful, so DNA sequences vary.  Much of wolf behavior is echoed by the patterns of early Plains indigenous people, because it works, falls into place under pressure from circumstances.

Young males are always a problem, but I found nothing about the formation of same-sex and age groups, as in herds of young elk or horses.  A wolf is full-sized at two years and simply leaves.  Two major factors are the ability to collaborate, as when working together, and communicating even over distance by howling.  The other strong variable is territory, which must be big enough to feed and shelter the pack.


Now, how to shape all this into a coherent story that has some kind of point?  What point?  What would it mean to a reader?

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

A QUESTION FROM NANCY ABOUT FIRST BOOKS

The following came in as a comment on my blog, prairiemary.blogspot.com.  I don't know which Nancy sent it, but it must have been someone without my email address, so they took this route.

"I wonder if you have seen this extensive compilation of comments by women writers about the experience of publishing their first book. They are deeply embedded in the process and believe it has made them better writers, but, from reading your posts, I recognize that it made their books more saleable, which is not the same thing. I'm sending you the URL just in case you want to take a look. Will read with great attention if you decide to comment on it."

https://longreads.com/2019/07/24/the-first-book/

So now I've read the linked article about the first book and can comment.

1.  This is not about "women" writers.  It is about educated, connected, often free-lance or academic writers who have believed that publishing a book is something like a marriage:  a ceremonial marker of achievement that might turn out good or bad, but usually challenging.  Except that you need an agent, who functions like a doctor.

2.  The emphasis is on how surprising and difficult the book process turned out to be -- not the writing but the publishing.  Writing is difficult enough, but once the object is created, the rest is marketing and will take the writing out of the hands of the author.  Perhaps marketing will dictate what is written in the first place.  I've watched this closely twice, once in the life of Bob Scriver whose product was bronze sculpture rather than a book, and again in the life of a male writer who shall remain nameless.  In both cases, the factors described by these women were just the same.  

3.  Erica Jong's timeless phrase, "the zipless fuck" has now become sayable again the way it was in Chaucer's day.  That's the way many people think it is to write/publish a book.  The same dilemma of something that takes a lot of effort, attention, and compromise is in both sex and authoring.  And wickedness sells just a well as virtue.

4.  The internet has smashed open the system that developed after the invention of the printing press which produced these objects for sale, objects that had previously been unmarketable to many people.  Long blogging is a new medium that can be easily translated into print, varied to suit, bound if that's desired, passed on with minimal cost, but potentially unnoticed and ephemeral, just like books.

5.  None of this has anything particular to do with female writers, which is just a selling gizmo anyway, using a category to create a genre.

I think Nancy was already onto this.

I'm thinking about a category that really IS usually female: that of the muse.  What do you suppose Ghislaine Maxwell's book would be like -- but you'll never know because she was music played only through the medium of Epstein, whose commodities were money and little blonde girls.


WOLVES AS ANALOGY

When my agent called to make a pitch for a deal to illustrate a book by a semi-famous writer, I didn't want to do it.  I hate commissions like that.  They kill any creative desire I have, but I could always use the money.  I had my expenses down to the bottom, which meant a little old log cabin up near the top of a ridge near Starr School.  It wasn't high enough to be hit by the high winds, which is probably the only reason it was still there, but it was high enough that my cell phone worked.  Mostly.  I never have understood what makes the service fluctuate.

So -- reluctantly -- I agreed.  In preparation I got my good friend Max to put up my tipi near the cabin.  it's not big and I haven't gotten around to painting it yet, though I have some designs sketched.  I don't want it to be tribal -- since I'm white and am already trespassing to be living on the rez -- but I don't want it to be crazy either.  I'm not putting it up for this scribbler to use, but for myself.  Scribblescribble can stay in the cabin.  He'll have electricity in there, but the biffy and pump are outside anyway.

He would fly in, using a pilot since the small plane would have to go back to the county seat to be safe.  Anyone who uses this little Starr School airport will soon be surrounded by kids and then the old pickups will begin to gather.  Maybe a few older kids on horseback.  Not a good idea to leave an airplane out there overnight.

I don't usually do illustrations anyway, but the guy's book is supposed to be about wolves and I love wolves.  I know wolves.  I once raised a wolf -- well, it was part husky -- and still grieve that it was shot.  The reason was sound -- it had gone rogue and was killing sheep.  I'm sure it was the dog inheritance.  I know that's not rational but domestic dogs do plenty of damage to livestock.

My phone rang.  It was the sheriff saying that he'd just gotten radio contact from the pilot bringing the scribbler.  I should go to the airport.  So I did.  I even got there soon enough to run off a half-dozen cattle.  The landing was without incident.  The guy only had one bag and even as he hiked over the grass to meet me, the pilot left again.  I suspect he was a little spooked and anxious to get back to the county seat where there was a motel and a decent bar.  There are neither in Starr School.  Our only amenity is a Pentecostal church.

Scribblescribble wore a classic blue-striped shirt with jeans and a carried a jacket that wasn't black leather.  I was surprised: he was Black.  Though he stretched out his hand in greeting, his own eyes were going up and down me in equal surprise.  I was old, I was female, and I was white.  So?  If he wanted to call it off, the plane would have to come back.  He'd best take the chance this would work.

* * * * * * * * * 
This above is the beginning of a story that will be a discussion of ways of approaching the idea of the wolf, which is a concept that holds many ways of thinking cross-culturally and cross-discipline.  It's partly a reaction to a vid on The Edge where I found a discussion of minds and ways of approaching intelligence.  I tend to drift away from the the Edge despite its hippie beginnings because it still ends up being old opinionated white men.  Alison Gopnik was one of the exceptions.  

I keep coming back to the idea that the Sixties and Seventies are repeating now, both the disruptions and assassinations meant to prevent change and the other end of the spectrum, which is romantic and seeking.  One of the first persons who charmed me then was George Dyson, who had rebelled against his distinguished family and amazing father by going to live in a kayak on the PNW coast.  He was sixteen, brilliant, and tough.  He made his own kayak, which was a particular kind developed by indigenous people.  Here's a wiki-squib.

https://www.edge.org/conversation/george_dyson-ai-that-evolves-in-the-wild

"George Dyson (born 26 March 1953) is an American non-fiction author and historian of technology whose publications broadly cover the evolution of technology in relation to the physical environment and the direction of society."  I would add that he doesn't claim to be a scientist but a naturalist.  This pleases me very much, as I think that science has become a religion.  "Naturalist" is more honest.

But he still talks bafflegab, which is necessary when having to invent concepts and words.  He's trying to contrast the idea of deliberately coded computers with analogue computers, which he defines as "pulse frequency code" and "continuous infinities".  He claims human brains are analogue.  The point, as I get it, is that this method is based on reality/experience rather than pre-determined assumptions.  In the end he makes a pitch for God NOT to be determined by dogmatic faith but to be assumed as a mystery because that doesn't close down possibility but leaves it infinite.

This puts him within range of the Templeton Foundation which made its first award to Ralph Burhoe, who was loosely connected to Meadville/Lombard because of editing Zygon, a journal that sympathetic.  I read about Templeton but when the same award went to Mother Theresa, who has successfully hoaxed the world, I was outta there.  But now I'm hearing that Templeton, thinking analogously, has moved from being so intent on the white Christian English understanding he learned as a boy, and is ready to think more about science, as it grows and learns.

Here's the Templeton wiki-squib:  "The John Templeton Foundation is a philanthropic organization that reflects the ideas of its founder, John Templeton, who became wealthy after a career as a contrarian investor and wanted to support progress in religious and spiritual knowledge, especially at the intersection of religion and science."
"The question is less whether Templeton is giving grants only to researchers who will reach a religion-friendly conclusion; several philosophers involved in the debate said it’s pretty clear that the foundation is not attaching ideological strings to the mission. Instead, they have a broader concern: how the influx of money from one donor, with a specific worldview, could transform the discipline in the future."


So now I'm going to set myself a little puzzle: can I tell a story about wolves, naturalistic, that is at the intersection of science and religion by using two relatively non-mainstream characters in an atypical setting, one I know.  One will be my stand-in, the old female artist I invented for "Both Sides Now" and the other one will be a writer, young and male -- I guess I'd better make him Black.  Urban?  Dunno.  Maybe over-educated.  Of course, there will be a dog.  The wolf -- maybe better to remain a mystery.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

HALF A CENTURY IS ALL IT TOOK

The first thing I read on my computer every morning is likely to be Delaney Place (delaneyplace.com) which is timely excerpts from books, maybe historical but also sometimes literary or philosophical or some other category always intriguing.  This morning it is a few paragraphs from "A Country of Vast Designs" by Robert W. Merry.  It's about the years in the 19th century when Mexico and the US, with Britain also involved, were fighting over who would pull Texas into their nation, with Texas also fighting hard to be its own nation.  It was what Trump keeps imagining is happening now, military and deadly, settled but not quite completely.

When I came to Browning in 1961, the Cold War  (1947 to 1991) was not yet ended.  Maybe Putin doesn't think it ever did.  The first night I collapsed into my "new" bed, exhausted from the train ride, I woke up at 10PM when the curfew howled from the watertower next door, and in my confusion tried to take refuge from an impending atomic bomb attack.  The tiny building was little more than a shack resting on railroad ties, so there was no refuge.  Only gradually did I realize that I didn't need to respond as I had been taught in Portland and Chicago.

I feel a little bit like that now facing what is intense in many people's imaginations.  I worry about what I will do when the food distribution collapses, how to manage if there is a major earthquake on the Pacific coast and waves of people begin to arrive homeless, how I will live if Social Security is ended.  This morning I awoke to the shouts of men with machinery but I still don't know who they are or what they're doing.  The town is built on an aging web of water and sewer piping, so it's likely to have something to do with that.  In earlier years I would go out to investigate and have a lot of questions for the men.  Now I just want to stay in the house, writing, hoping they aren't going to shut off the water.  They used to warn us, but not anymore.

The idea I originally had was that this high prairie place, not necessarily this town, would be "safe," at least from nuclear attack.  Between leaving in 1973 and returning in 1999, I lived in Portland again, then Chicago, Hartford, Rockford, then traveling a circuit in Montana among bigger towns, then Kirkland across the lake from Seattle, and Saskatoon in Canada.  People were most scared in Saskatoon, because many were Ukrainian, meant to populate the prairies after escaping Stalin's starvation plan.  They knew that there is a kind of sub-war, what we're now calling fascism, surveillance capitalism we thought was about curbing crime.

There has always been a "gray" layer of society that is neither virtuous nor evil, but opportunistic.  In some ways its existence is necessary to address the tension between law and justice.  The law is the written and enacted rules, but when applied it sometimes ends as injustice, which is why there are so many layers to the law.  Mostly, esp. in a small town, the police respond to complaints: barking, theft, drunkenness, and the like.  They are directed by a layer of "chiefs" who are like editors for writers -- they weren't on the spot of the event, but they can encourage or restrain street officers.  Above chiefs are the political leaders and presumably, through media, those leaders control chiefs.  Most of this corruption is secret, never seen by the public unless there is a crisis.

Standing against this shifting, culturally influenced life in actuality, is the court system which is meant to invoke the rule of law, clear back to the original constitution.  In addition, organizations with the purpose of monitoring and alerting people may or may not be aware or willing to go public in some way.  When I first joined the Unitarian Universalists, they were an educated and idealistic body who often stood for justice, even against law.  The huge shift in society, undoing many restrictions imposed by families, has also affected the UUA, so that it has become concerned about socioeconomics of minorities and the necessity of reassurance.

Ultimate justice does not exist.  It may be unjust for all life to be destroyed, but only from our point of view.  Genocide is unjust -- even immoral -- from our human point of view, but the rule of law supports it, criminalizing simple existence.  Or possibly imposing reasons for war when "emergency measures" suspend both justice and law.

Underlying all of this is biology and ecology, the essential nature of human beings as we have cumulatively evolved from reptiles to mammals to primates, keeping a set of instincts and reflexes that may have kept us alive as a species (not individuals) but are deeply destructive to what we call nations, including the reservation societies that have formed because of limits imposed by the larger nation.  By now they have regained strength and insight enough to define themselves as international nations. 

In 1961 the law on this Montana rez was controlled by the US, loosely overseeing what was once simply the interaction of grouped families you could call clans.  Prevented from moving apart, influenced by their place on the ecotone (some encouraged assimilation, some protected old ways), and constantly roiled by "brilliant" political interventions like sending people off to the city to become welders or office drones, but never following through with support that would create success, the end result was always unpredicted.  Blacks taught Reds how to be political.  Government schools at high school and college level mixed the supposed "tribes" of certain blood quantums into marriages across distances and different ecologies, creating "pan-indigenous" as an entity.  The secret goal was always "make them be like us."  Except controllable.

In Browning after WWII and during Korea there was so much street level chaos that the town organized its own justice system that competed with both the tribal system (which was unitary and competed with family systems) and the FBI federal list of crimes.  Neither addressed whites except in the town.  Bob Scriver was the city magistrate and one of the two Justices of the Peace.  That made me, because of being always near him, the "bailiff."  I watched this competition between justice and law, moderated by money (fines) and confinement that was sometimes more like a shelter, a place to sleep and a minimum to eat.  


It's all very vivid to me, still.  Most remarkable and unexpected is that the grandchildren of the drunks I knew this way have turned out to be achievers.  The great-grandchildren even more.  In the newspaper, the names of the leaders are the same.  So . . .  Kenner's question: what does it mean?  SURVIVAL.  Or not.

Monday, August 12, 2019

TEACHING "INDIANS" ON THE REZ

When one approaches the end of the "life trajectory," one of the dilemmas is what to do with all the "stuff" accumulated.  I saved so much, assuming it would be valuable and someone else would care.  It's only been recently that I've understood how wrong I was about teaching high school English to adolescent rez kids, both enrolled and non-enrolled, both this tribe and that.  Not exactly wrong -- more like futile.

I'm not sure there's been another time in history when one big culture rolled over the top of another continental people and then the oppressed culture bided its time until it could come back.  By that time -- hundreds of years -- both cultures will have utterly changed because the world will have changed, but neither wants to have to invent a new, necessarily hybrid, understanding of existence on this planet.  By that time the demographics of culture will be so various and inventive that the only thing that can be an accurate indicator is skin color.  But people are not either black or white or yellow or red.  They are gradations and mixtures, and have no definite edge between in and out.  Yet no race questionnaires have a place for "mixed" or the whole set of assumptions would be wiped out, because that's what almost everyone would have to mark.

Every culture tries to impose some other criteria than skin, like wealth or religion.  None of them has a hard edge.  So what if we go the other way, look at the intense central characteristics and then arrange the rest of the suspects according to their closeness to that centerpiece.  The trouble is that the dominant culture still makes the markers and the underculture may be as much distinguished by rejecting it as by accepting it.

They used to require teachers to write out the curriculum of their subject.  I wrote a dandy (I thought) for Heart Butte that was composed in four strands: reading and writing/listening and speaking.  Then I sorted the subject matter into one theme per grade:  lovers, grizzly bears, etc., each marked by a particularly powerful book written by a "Native American."  This was necessary because the Germanic lockstep militaristic factory preparation wouldn't work.  The People simply ignored it.  Some of them were repeating three years of English meant to be sequential because they kept flunking, usually because of absence.

No two kids learned the same way, had the same goals, was in or out a state of trauma, and so on.  Few had an "axis mundi" (to be fancy) that was not simply being there at that time.  Not even the rewards of city life appealed, which was understandable since they were mostly McDonalds and KMart.

I took my four best writers to a conference in a nearby town.  One boy had shaped his whole personality about being transgressive and had picked up enough Algerian French theory from Vietnam veterans to feel justified.  One was a woman of intelligence whose father had been an early "academic Indian" and whose whole family defined success as academic, mostly teaching.  The first could not resist imposing on the second -- they were competitors and sex got into it.  Or I should say gender-identity: boys take, girls give.  I had not expected this.

The conference was based on Jim Welch.  I did not know that he spent most time on his mother's rez, which was not Blackfeet, and that his high school education was in Minneapolis.  He was simply enrolled with the Blackfeet.  He was friendly, generous, and interested.  I don't think he had any idea how terrified the four young adults were.  He might as well have been from outer space.

These were the days of the Native American Literary Renaissance when "Indian" writers were just being recognized.  I can hardly think of one who was not at least half non-Indian, because the trick was to have been present on a rez, but having enough of a culture -- maybe through school or family -- to manage their experience through white-eyes.  Because that's who buys and reads books because "Indians" don't have the money.  No one had thought yet about NA languages being oral or about what -- if they became used to written words -- they would read.  It was all white-eyes stuff.

So I had the idea that we would write our own book and I would act as an interlocuter, translating from oral to written, and we did that.  The result was "One Windy Day."  http://www.lulu.com/shop/mary-scriver/one-windy-day/paperback/product-493222.html

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SrmUBL4Ocj4  This is a Korean YouTube with the same name that is a song.  Songs would have been a good bridge, maybe better than a written story.

Over the years I acquired a set of books about teaching "Indians."  The history of Indian education were ones were the most valuable.  I loaned them to a tribal woman who never brought them back.  Others were poetry.  Some were proceeds of conferences.  Then there were the stories:  who was gay, who was married to an "Indian", who couldn't get a job in any other context, who was depraved.  Pretty soon I was fired, too.

Part of the difficulty was that through an earlier marriage I had been included in a religious ceremony that required the observance of rules, many of them about secrecy.  The more I disclosed that, the more I was in trouble, because the schools are state regulated and the white schools of the state thought anything "Indian" was a sort of curiosity be put aside.  

Now on Twitter I hear the educated self-identified rez people talk, struggling to know how to think about it.  What right do I have even to observe, to comment, to keep out-dated materials?  One prob is that even those with D.Eds now realize that they have been indulged, given soft degrees, in the end patronized again.  They mistook the certifying documents for the actual mastery of content, the way paper bills stand for money but aren't.  This is because of the many tribal colleges, even though they must also meet outside standards to be useful to people looking for jobs that require a knowledge base.


I'm not dispensing with my NA Lit Renaissance collection of books.  They're not about demographic purity, but rather about life trajectories.  Nor -- so far -- am I finding an archive for materials from individuals, now dead, who are important figures in the search for answers.  I have no reputation.  Just experience.  Maybe of a kind not recognized by the people who have power.