Monday, September 28, 2020


“The Social Dilemma” is a film on Netflix that is the cyber equivalent of the revelations about our financial robbery by international criminal corporations.  Both were there all the time, people can estimate a time-line, and the consequences are devastating.

The idea at the core is that by managing huge data banks created by social media, operators can control how we think and what we do.  This is certainly true.  I feel a little arrogant about it because I’m so atypical that I fall off the curves at every turn.  My “worst” characteristic is that I’m not “like” but that probably means that I still fall into some silo or other.

The thing that thwarts the categories is that they come from a certain kind of culture:  
Middle class
College educated
Super rational
Other-directed but ironically narcissistic
White Brit class assumptions about meritocracy 
or Asian conformity?

In the past I’ve begged my relatives and the churches I know to leave Facebook.  They look worried but don’t do it.  They say,  “But my family . . .”  When I try to explain the concerns in this film, they can’t get it.  Everyone they know uses Facebook.  Anyway, their use of the computer has moved from the tabletop console and has merged with smart phones — a necessity if your basic group is spread around. They depend on them in the most elemental way. 

I signed up for Medium because Blogger was morphing in an uncomfortably unfriendly way.  My use of the computer is based on writing and self-publishing, plus a bit of research.  I object to all the groups and apps that talk about doing something but never do it.  Medium promised to pay if you were read by many.  But you cannot be paid if you are on landline — only if you have a mobile phone.

I call it the “insectification” of humans, but I could refer to as becoming "borgs" which is more grandiose and has a media reference, which techies like.  Insects are standardized and communicating through shared and probably genetically based understanding of a varied world.  They are at the mercy of their environment as the collapse of bee hives show.

Actual government has little to do with it since I see that most of the old white legislators can’t operate even a tabletop antique like mine.  Many don’t carry laptops because that’s for aides.  They have no idea how the internet or apps work.  No need.  They have no interest in any realm except how to stay in office and how to secure power.

I did get interested in “A Billion Wicked Thoughts”, the data-mining that revealed what people found to be attractive pornography, because it was so unexpected, esp. to an old white vanilla female like me.  I’ll never be able to think of octopi the same way again!  Our solution to the pandemic depends on data mining, as does so much medical research.

In fact, the evil consequences of social media on kids, pushing the suicide rates higher and so on, are only perceptible through data mining, collected through computers.  But they don’t work on the atypical, and whole categories of people are not this kind of typical.  No insect or computer can shingle a roof or fix plumbing.  You Tube can help you out, and those vids are social media in a sense, but they are unique, independent, and personally made.  A little rough.

The best possible pushback to this domination by little rectangles of exotic metals with a screen or an ear bud is strong sensory connection to the world through more senses than sight and sound.  More than brain, besides the physiological response to watching action, the body registering movement, smell, surfaces (haptic), taste, balance, and on and on.  Some things just can’t be cyberized.

One of the most crucial foundation damages for humans is that for the most part the reciprocal sharing of a created space is distorted.  “The emergent self-organizing process, both embodied and relational that regulates energy and information flow within and among us” -- which is one way to define a human -- is replaced by a machine-and-algorithmic determined system that has no senses.  With no senses, it has no experience of the world.

This may work pretty well for urban people interfacing with transportation, sales and distribution systems, advertising — but it leaves out far too much of life.  It mechanizes humans instead of the other way around.  It limits awareness and therefore concepts.

So many a film or series I watch depends for its plot on smart phones and computer indicators.  The cell phones are never out of their hands or pockets.   The model is so stylish.  Crucial decisions depend on them.  They show just where you are, how to get at you.  They overhear your conversations and record all phone calls.  In the course of solving criminal problems, they reveal personal relationships that are then damaged by the lack of privacy.

Everything from the refrigerator to the Bonneville Dam powerplant is regulated and monitored by computers, meaning that a foreign hacker can turn off the electricity as effectively as a hurricane could.  Right now we’re obsessed with the possibility of them changing vote counts without considering how their clever persuasions of whole silos of thinkers can affect a vote.

But the algorithm makers are hampered by having to think inside the silos invented by a monoculture.  The wild card can evade them.  We can leave the pack, abandon meritocracy, just go a different way.  For lack of detectability, many have already escaped, gone “off the grid” and technology has made it possible to generate one’s own energy from sun or wind.

The reward system of attention management is pretty much power and sex, but notice that the people in this film go right away to touting auto-generation of chemicals, talking about dopamine as though they really understood the pathways a hormone might take.  The younger people in this film are more likely to be into math than literature and therefore think they have basic stories of the world that are not ambiguous and conditional the way people really are.  "I had no choice," they say.

These folks probably had achieving parents who weren’t consistently with them even in the earliest years when they were left in child care centers with a dozen or more other kids.  They are not used to creating the liminal space between two actual people sitting together and merging with each other.  I’ve always remembered Sylvia Ashton-Warner remarking that American children are raised by big dogs and television.  No wonder when it comes to times of divorce it is the dog that both people want so badly.  

This imposed particulization of society will be pretty revealing.  Already it has proven in detail money laundering on a planetary scale and the ineptitude of our legislators.  I suspect that some people will discover they don’t like their children very much, and others will discover for the first time that they love these developing people they never paid attention to in the past.

Sunday, September 27, 2020


A week ago Saturday someone was banging on my door very hard but I wove the noise right into my dreams and only later realized it was real.  I apologize to whomever might have really needed me to answer.  I learned that consciousness doesn't always want to rise to the surface.

At Animal Control if people wouldn't answer their door, we called them on the phone.  We are conditioned to answer the phone.

No sooner did I ask for the gas meter to be shut off than the busy algorithm sent me this.

This month marks the anniversaries of two of the nation’s worst gas explosions: #MerrimackValley & #SanBruno. Between them, 9 people were killed, 75+ were injured, and thousands had to evacuate. And just last month it happened again in Baltimore, MD. We need to #MakeGasHistory

There is no gas in this house at the moment but I intend a gas wall heater soon.  It will not be in the crawl space.

I'll add that the estate of the frozen man, who died in his trailer with no heat while sitting in his easy chair, has evidently been settled.  The property is being renovated.  It's an old Texaco station once operated by the husband of my step-daughter who was a year older than me.  This is the sort of thing small towns notice and discuss.  Abolishing gas is never on the agenda.


Continuing with what I learned taking theatre classes at NU 57-61, I remind us that the approach was Method, meaning inhabiting the character we portrayed by finding the equivalent in ourselves, both what our minds and our bodies were doing.  The next step was understanding the mental logic and structure of the play, even how it came from the time, place, and experience of the playwright.  

After that, we went to Malvina Hoffman’s “Hall of Man” at the Field Museum of Natural History, chose a character from the “races” portrayed from all points of the planet, and tried our Method by assuming the stance of the statue and researching the anthropology of the person’s place.

When I returned to school at the U of Chicago 78-82, I was extending that technique to include “comparative religion”— a formal field of study. I went to researching the place and person of philosophers and theologians — what they thought was the meaning of human life and why.  From the less scholarly context at Meadville/Lombard, came questions about how people handle all these things.  

One persistent question was whether the Holy Spirit could be called, as epiphanies are stunning but happen by surprise.  One subject I’ve been pursuing is exactly that.  It seems clear that these intense moments that change lives appear in every culture but are felt in the being of individuals.  What is it that happens?  Some think it is an organic brain state and claim they can induce it with magnetism or electrical waves or drugs.  But maybe that’s not it.  It’s perceived but unaccounted for, like the ability to sense the Holy in the Eliade sense.  He claimed that even standing at a point of transition as humble as a doorway can feel holy, which is one of the sources of the idea of the “liminal” or threshold.

It was not until I retired in 1999 that I began to read the science that has exploded our world.  My resulting mysterium tremendum et fascinans is shared by many and pre-existed modern culture by a few millennia at least.  But it has never been this overwhelming.  The elegant increase in our finely detailed knowledge of the world reveals that we’re destroying it and, in turn, it is destroying us.  

My response to the problem is to admit we are participants in the world — not controllers of it — and to admit the human Rule of Law, but also the dominant Rule of Nature.  We are as we are built in and by the time and place we occupy, connected to everything else, dead or alive, past present or future.  It seems to respond to a time and place but to happen in us, not just our brain but our whole self. 

Then I come to a definition of a human being that Dan Siegel, a professor of psychiatry at UCLA School of Medicine claims was developed twenty years ago by a meeting of 40 scientists working across disciplines to define the mind.  This is what they agreed upon as the nature of a human:  “the emergent self-organizing process, both embodied and relational that regulates energy and information flow within and among us.”

This definition relates to the ideas that people are gathering under the heading “embodiment” as our entire bodies are a perceiving and responding point, some ways conscious and others not.  But also it puts the emphasis on relationship as a reality “between” the actual and the perceiver.  I proposed this in terms of a play or a sermon existing not in the speaker or the audience, but as a thing of the moment between the two.  Siegel uses the idea that a shoreline exists between the sea and the beach.  Either one alone is not a shore.  And it is not static.

These virtual concepts with their potential for guiding — even controlling — our lives are processes, always moving and changing.  They are better described grammatically in the participle mode — ing or ed — than in our subject-verb-object way of thinking about phenomena.

Then Siegel throws me a real curve:  mathematics.  To me it’s a black box.  I’ll just quote the paragraph:
“In math, complex systems are self-organizing, and Siegel believes this idea is the foundation of mental health.  (Certainly it is basis of the self-organization of the universe.)  Again borrowing from the mathematics, optimal self-organization is flexible, adaptive, coherent, energized and stable.  This means that without optimal self-organization, you arrive at either chaos or rigidity. . .”

When I googled, it appears that Siegel has gone on to develop a mental health franchise that doesn’t interest me.  Enough with the genius systems already.  I did those in the Seventies.  Franchises are often rigid.

Dr. Matt Kreinheder has another franchise, but he remarks helpfully, “Siegel realized the mind meets the mathematical definition of a complex system in that it’s open (can influence things outside itself), chaos capable (which simply means it’s roughly randomly distributed), and non-linear (which means a small input leads to large and difficult to predict result).”  (His well-being franchise is interested in the mystic.  I avoid woo-woo stuff.)

He says, In anthropology and sociology it is easy to see how mind is something that would move not just in us but also between us. This consensus pulls science out of the aforementioned 400-year-old reductionistic rut.

Its important to understand that the post-rational views are not suggesting that the mind is not in the brain, its just that its not only in the brain. All good developmental models of understanding systems create a “transcend and include” framework to inclusively incorporate what has come before and avoid the “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” that can so often happen as new theories are posited. . .”  I agree with this.  I’m conscious of the “400-year-old reductionist rut.”  It has brought us where we are.

The provable actuality that the planet “rings like a bell” and that waves of cosmic space energy wash over us and through us, that we struggle to overcome our inheritance as mammals without rejecting it, that the teeny bacterial genomes in our guts can change our functioning, and that our existence as the last of maybe a hundred hominin “rough drafts”, doesn’t seem any more preposterous than the beliefs of the big institutional religions we know.  

Humans will always reach out for the mysterium tremendum et fascinans  but cannot know everything — just how to dance with it, trying to hear the music.  I'm listening.  Perhaps I am swaying.

Saturday, September 26, 2020


The most recent of the workmen who have come to save me was the “Smilin’ Lineman” who came with his amazing bucket truck to trim back the tree that was entangling three wires: the telephone, the cable TV, and the electricity.  I don’t need the cable TV — it’s left from previous people — but power blinks turned off my computer and made lights flicker.  High winds were expected but I hadn’t been paying attention to how high the trees had grown, but I was right to call the “Mom” who responds to emergencies.  

The awkward part is that when the lineman got the call he was almost through with his shift and nearly home in Choteau when he had to turn around and come back.  I called it in right after lunch, but it took a while to get through the passalongs.

“Smilin’ Lineman”, as is his affectionate nickname, has nearly reached retirement so he’s a little older than the infrastructure contractors who’ve been here since the roofer discovered the vents for gas were decayed beyond safety.  The tree had no relationship to that — just happened at the same time.  For many years no one besides me had been in this house except the UPS man who brings the catfood.  (Except yesterday it was Fed Ex with a woman driver — they must work together somehow.)  Now I hear their voices as they do their jobs under the floor.

The lineman was from the High Line and old enough to remember Bob Scriver so we swapped stories a bit.  He told about an English teacher he had long ago who assigned them to write a poem.  He was proud of his, but she gave him a D minus.  He checked with a buddy who got a D plus.  Then he showed the poem to his mom, a nurse.  

She said, “This is a perfectly good poem!”  and went to the teacher.  

The teacher said blithely, “Oh, I just gave all the boys D’s.  I don’t like boys.”  She didn’t stay long after that.  This nonsense is deep in our culture.

The other workmen have been a bit younger and when I meet them they begin to mention their mothers, who would be about my age, in order to get a bead on how to relate.  It works out well though I’m nobody’s mother unless you count cats.

I have been impressed with these men.  I remarked to several that their jobs require major strength and math plotting, so were probably not suitable for women.  The youngest man bristled a bit.  He and his partner had just lifted a 400 pound water heater through a hole in the floor but he said,  “I’ve known a few women who could do it.”  

“Smilin’” said he was a “Choteau boy,” so I responded that I was a “Browning girl,” and that’s why I wanted to spend my old age here on the East Slope.  We named a lot of people but there was not much overlap.  He taught me what he was doing while he did it, because that’s the way men here do.  I’d never seen the inside of an electricity meter before.  Luckily, I knew where most things in this house were.  The Sixties taught me a lot while I was helping with the studio and foundry, but some of these things hadn’t been invented yet.

Todd Ahern and Marvin Johnson from Ahern Electric were yesterday’s water heater team and Todd called this morning to make sure all was well.  These are the kind of men that should have been running the country instead of the Loophole Lawyers who infest the government on behalf of international crime.  But these men are busy with real problems — overwhelmed really — keeping we ordinary people sheltered, warm, and rolling safely.  

I also salute the women working from a base to keep track of where people are and what they are doing.  The work is often dangerous and the demand is so high that they can’t go slow.  Dispatchers are part of the team.  Both Northwestern Energy men, gas and electricity, responded competently and on time, even when it was aggravating.

My effort to go for the “meta” and “primal”  — which is the reason for my solitude of reading and writing — means that I never know what’s happening in a practical sense because I don’t read the daily paper or listen to the local radio and TV.  Some of it, filtered through young journalists and old editors, is unreliable anyway.  It’s the tradesmen who know the truth and caucus about it.

Yesterday I saw the sheriff’s truck with the Longhorn emblem on the side stopped in the street with neighbors, contractors, standing talking through the window.  Stan was there — he’s the man who went past my house, saw I was working on the yard and basically restored the whole front yard to decency.  He used to be a canal-rider — you might remember the post — and maintains the “Little Libraries” at Folklore Coffee and the campground.

So I just joined them.  For some men this would be uncomfortable because they would have to stop cussing, but these men never use curses.  They have very strong rules about behavior, like doing one’s best, keeping one’s word, paying one’s bills.  If they were not like this, they would soon be out of business in a small town where reputations count more than advertising.  They are trained people, some of them with four-year degrees and many years of experience.  

Years ago a fuel truck missed the turn by the library and tipped over.  Corky was watching from the motel across the street and ran over to help the driver.  The door was jammed so he grabbed the top of the window glass — it was slightly open — and simply broke it out.  The driver had been stunned.  Deputies soon arrived and it became clear that potential for an explosion could wipe out the town.  The firefighters responded and people were sent door to door to evacuate us to the campground by the lake.  People took their pets along.

By the end of the day everything was sorted and restored — no damage except to the truck — but I was impressed by the quick thinking, the inclusion and resourcefulness, and willingness of people to take action.  If this had been nationally present in the beginning of the pandemic, today would be different.

We delegate too much to unknown others.  We question and balk and ignore.  Newcomers aren’t willing to be volunteer firemen or EMT responders or election workers.  Their cry is “that’s what we pay others to do.”  They don’t know that communities are co-ops because we are all in this together.  The better we are as individuals the better for all of us.  It’s not a matter of gender, it’s basic morality.

The illegal chicken next door is announcing her daily egg. Continuing high wind is tearing at everything but not affecting my electrical supply, thanks to the Smilin’ Lineman.  The three kittens I called “the Buttons” just came stampeding in from getting windblown.  Inky, Fuzzy, and Spotty are ready for lunch.  Don’t panic.  Some things never change.


Almost suppertime and the wind seems as strong as yesterday.  The sky is blue but a storm shelf stands over the Rockies.  Usually that means rain but it's not in the forecast.  Today I finally closed the windows.

When I looked at my blog comments this morning I found a problem that's no one's fault but a consequence of history and social division.  I had written that I kept a card file for a long time in which each card was the obit of someone, an obit published in the GF Tribune.  But I don't take the Trib anymore and I suspect they charge to print them now, so I stopped and gave the card file to the Blackfeet Community College because there is always a lot of family information.  I wrote about this.

I don't print anonymous comments, which this one was.  It was a murder accusation.  I am neither a journalist nor a law enforcement officer, but I cannot include such things in my blog.  I have no way to find facts and the Rule of Law requires official processing.

The trouble is cultural and I can address that.  In the Anglo/Euro context someone accused might be validated by a "grand jury" or by a prosecutor.  Then the facts are pursued in a court of law with a jury of peers.  This is not foolproof but faulty in a number of ways.  I'm not a lawyer, but one can see that "prosecutors" can be diverted, "juries" might not be composed of peers, and so on.

In the pre-domination days when bands of a hundred or so people knew each other, traveled together, and set their own standards, justice came from discussion and consensus among those people.  Offenders were generally ejected.  Some were subject to family revenge.  This system runs against the prevailing law in the US and could pervert it, sabotage it.

I am aware that injustice uses the confusion of the rez.  People are left unsettled and angry. The lawless laugh.  Families protect their own.  But now the tribe includes lawyers who can use the system to get closer to unity.  Probably the days of FBI jurisdiction should end. They are outsiders.

I'm not part of that.  All I can do -- because I am old -- is remember the past for whatever use it is now.  I'm not trying to interfere nor intervene.  I'm just recounting.

As a reminder, in any case I will not append anonymous comments.

When I went to get into my electric bed last night, all the cats preceded me and formed a kind of feline pancake, entwined together in the warm lullaby hammock of the night.  When I pushed them over, still entwined, they went on gently snoring their song of dark.  It had been hard work monitoring all the workmen.

Friday, September 25, 2020


This material below was linked via Twitter, a post by a Montana journalist who values the writer named Anne Helen Peterson  It’s interesting and valid but doesn’t seem to realize that it is about only ONE culture, that of the mainline white denominations that belong to the LEARNED culture.  That is, who expect college degrees from themselves and their clergy.  It’s not surprising that the author is describing the culture of Missoula, a self-conscious university town.

In America we have two streams of clergy, one of which is this kind of trained pastor and the other is the “inspired” minister authorized by God and by the community or congregation that he or she serves.  No education at all is required.  This culture came out of Protestantism when the church separated from the state and insisted on a direct relationship to God without institutional interpretation, though it kept the Bible and the congregation.

For a decade I served the Unitarian Universalist Association which is open to ideas both secular and religious, several kinds of religious and even anti-religious or anarchical notions — but anchored in principles revered by academics.  There is no UU church in Valier.  

My next door neighbor is a Southern Baptist church where the pastor is not religiously educated but acting according to the Bible on 19th century terms, sometimes more Old Testament than Gospel.  We are tolerant except for the cottonwood tree growing on the line between our two lots.  He wants it to conform to them; I want to conform to the tree’s nature.  

About Culture Study: The name “Culture Study” is a modification of “Cultural Studies,” a term used to describe an academic field — and general posture — towards the culture that surrounds us. ... Politics can be culture, celebrity can be culture, tourism and feminism and consumerism and work practices — all culture.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Burnout is a symptom of working within contemporary, largely unregulated capitalism — and religious organizations, whether they want to or not, operate within that system. Not because they’re money-making enterprises (apart from the celebrity pastor cool Christian franchise cases in which they most certainly are) but because they have to function within society created by that system. When the cost of schooling goes up, and student debt goes up along with it, so too does the amount of student debt (many) pastors have to take on. When health care costs go up for everyone, they can also become too much for a congregation to bear for its leader.

Many religious leaders are working 21st century jobs with 20th century skills. We’re still getting trained and formed for a version of church/life that doesn’t exist anymore.

The savior complex is rampant in this field, and there’s almost no counter-narrative to that way of doing this work. 

If I were to describe a profession to you where 59% of the members don't have family health insurance, where the average student loan debt is $54k, where 25% are currently thinking of probably wouldn't guess I was talking about pastors

(This is the midweek edition of Culture Study — the newsletter from Anne Helen Petersen.)


I didn’t leave the ministry because I burned out.  I left because my personal “culture” shifted.  Not my “material” culture.  Some of my furniture was bought by my parents when they first married.  Some of my books belonged to my grandparents.  This is a very humble house — rather chilly at the moment since I had to remove my gas water heater and furnace because their venting failed.  Remedies are in the works but the pandemic’s blows to material culture mean a major shrinkage of manufacturing and even more delay with shipping.  

This shortfall of material culture is a kind of hubris, really, a bit of the pride-in-poverty that used to be part of being religious.  Is there such a thing as “spiritual culture”?  Of course, there is.

So I left congregational ministry but not high principles that serve others some way.  I call myself, when necessary, a “public intellectual” because I’m not “religious” in any cultural terms.  In fact, I turn away from the idea of “religion” as an outmoded term stuffed with cultural conceits.  The revelations of science have demanded a new understanding, a new kind of direct relationship to the world and what is holy.  And now it includes again the whole body instead of the worship of the brain.

I recognize and once participated in Peterson’s culture.  I witness the tension with ministry.  I finally paid off my seminary tuition loan with part of my mother’s estate.  The pastor who used to serve the Lutheran church across the street was a young man who explained to me before he left that he wanted a wife and family, but this village was so small that there were no viable bridal prospects.  He went to a bigger place.  The Methodist minister who was here when I came was older, but he yearned for a place with really good coffee.  It just came fifteen years too late.  (Not Starbucks,  but “Folklore”)  Coffee communion is cross-cultural.

So what is it like to be an unmoored and independent minister?  I write the equivalent of a sermon a day every day — 1,000 words which is about as much as I can compose and revise in a morning.  But I think about the subject and do a bit of research all the time — I don’t do anything else but domestic maintenance and not much of that.  Instead of delivering audibly, I publish through my blog.  I was a manuscript preacher.

Rather than staying in the context of the 20th century culture, I am way out there on the front edge of the 21st century in a way not possible through books or even journals.  My readers are worldwide and vary day by day in number from a few hundred to a few thousand.  This is the internet access to a global idea of “congregation.”  There’s no money in it.  I live on SSI and a small pension.

The Catholics, Methodists and Lutherans preserve the idea of hierarchy, discipline monitored by more superior, non-congregational sources.  Hierarchy is a cultural value and vulnerable to corruption through power, but at the other end of the spectrum is careening emotional group insanity and we see that on television.  Koolaide communion.  Jonestown happened while I was in seminary.

The circumstances have prevented in-the-flesh congregations with their sitting together, their group singing, their potlucks, their hand-shaking.  That’s clear, but we haven’t been aware of a new demand for a change in the nature of ministry.  Because this is still a culture based on materialism and profit that defines the church as a business. 

In terms of “religious” material culture symbols, mine are “found”:  small bones and fossils and an old porcelain doorknob that gleamed at me from the wreckage of a destroyed house.  Survival symbols.  What else counts?  My thinking has expanded far beyond humans.  I’m about the bears, bees and trees and how they all fit together.  The new conditions changing our culture still let me tell you about that.

Thursday, September 24, 2020


This YA novel that I’ve rolled around in my head for twenty years would be called “Prairie Gladiators,” which was partly inspired by the shot in the movie “Gladiator” (2000) — which was then recent — showing the home-loving warrior trailing his hand through fields of wheat.  But also because the phrase of ignorant whites for Native Americans was “Prairie N — r“, not because they were enslaved but because to the ignorant what counts is the responding emotion when a word is used.  None of them had any awareness of history nor regard for racism.

I never heard any of the boys in this problematic small town high school class use that phrase.  In fact, they weren’t much prone to cuss.  They were more into the obstinate defiant mode with an overlay of self-righteousness.  They enjoyed opposition and knew that no teacher or even administration could really control them, the same way delinquents believe they are too young to be severely punished.  Most of them had parents who had no better success controlling them and some had parents who really didn’t care.

What they didn’t understand was that administrators are political and will throw teachers under the bus to please the politics of townspeople who don’t have kids but want winning teams.  I evaded the boys by joining them — listening and trying to figure out their issues — but there was no way to evade the girls.  One of them was the granddaughter of the man who originally hired me in Browning in 1961.  This is a story full of irony.

There were two other English teachers.  One was really a biology teacher who kept the peace by buying a box of donuts every morning.  The other one had to get a past English teacher to help her correct her grammar worksheets — she had majored in French literary theory.  

The past English teacher had confronted the rebels, saying he would flunk them, so the administration created a business computer class and redefined that teacher to be the business teacher only.  The boys never took those classes.  A non-athletic student was already working with Cisco.  When he had been teaching English, this teacher emphasized Dostoeyevskian writing, which attracted the best students.  They tended to despair of the world, but have done well since.  They had strong families.

The boys themselves were far more assorted than one might have thought.  One was a handsome arrogant citizen of Ireland who rose one day, declared the class far below his standards, and walked out.  The administration transferred him to another class but not long after that the young man was notified he had inherited land in Ireland and left to claim it.  I have always respected Irish education with its high standards imposed by the Catholic priesthood.  They had no trouble maintaining suffocating control.

A young woman with a lawyer father occasionally dropped advice for me.  One boy, unusually big and very funny, was somehow protected.  His classmates never gave him any trouble.  The girl said it was because his father was part of a notorious motorcycle gang they feared and told me the father’s name.  He was a boy I had taught in Browning many years earlier — he rode a horse then.  He was not mild and obedient but I liked him.  I laughed and laughed.

At one point I decided that the problem was that the boys had hearing damage and scheduled tests for us all.  I was the only one who had some loss.  Not much— just high frequencies.  

One troublemaker sat in the back of the room and every day asked to be excused to go to help the coach.  I always let him go, which puzzled him.  He was looking forward to a confrontation because he had a powerful father he assumed would eventually take me down.  He wasn’t likely to learn much in class.

Two boys had divorced mothers but were affected very different ways.  One was desperate to succeed at sports to  achieve prosperity for his mother and himself.  He was a descendent of Natawista, a Blackfeet woman who was wife of Culbertson, an early developer of Montana as a steamboat captain.  As his translator, in summer Natawista plied the Missouri with him and in winter she wore a red silk dress at their estate in St. Louis.  The great-great grandson was only vaguely aware of this since it would not help him get an athletic scholarship to a good school.

The other boy sat in the front.  He was intelligent and handsome with Latin blood.  His mother was very pretty and stylish but my daughter-advisor said I wouldn’t really understand him until I met his father.  The son was only a faint reproduction of that striking and potent man.  She was right.  It was only too late that I realized that the boy had been sexualized and burdened with anxiety.  It was the end of my employment.  

In the on-going class attempt to throw me off balance, the boy sitting behind him leapt up and declared, “X is jiggling his balls in class and I want to know what you’re going to do about it.”  I put the offending boy on detention.  At that point I didn’t know that another boy worked in the principal's office and was intercepting all the detention referrals so no administrator knew his long history of difficulties.  Also, it didn’t mean much to me that detention prevented him from playing in a crucial ball game.  

The superintendent came to argue me out of the punishment.  At first he was diplomatic, but then suddenly he “broke” and screamed at me for endangering his job.  The boys HAD to win this game and they needed this particular youth.  I quit.  The principal was very pleased.

The boys were mystified.  They had grown fond of me but had no concept of who I really was or that anyone unlike the people they already knew could have any separate identity at all.  I was not real, just interesting, which was a accomplishment in itself.  Finally the team did not “go to state.”  The coach retired.

There were other sub-stories.  The librarian who always had a coffee mug in his hand which he offered to let me taste to prove it wasn’t spiked.  The boy who lost his temper at a tournament and smashed a trophy display case in what might have been “roid rage.” 

The “English teachers” soon moved on to other schools and more fitting jobs.  The principal was given an award to increase her prestige so she could also move.  The superintendent left.  One evening a mother who had been more observant than I expected, called me up to say,  “They’re all gone.  Our high school is a happy place once more.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020


Almost twenty years ago a nearby white-town high school had a problem.  They had groomed and defended their best athletes because around here small towns are defined by the success of their football and basketball teams.  But either they overshot or other factors entered into the problem.  One specific group of boys had become impossible to handle in a classroom.  The word had gotten around and no one would accept the job of teaching them.

I was asked by a former student going by my reputation on the rez as a “good” teacher (the standards vary from one situation to another) and one who had taught in Heart Butte which was considered out on the fringe and hard to control.  (It wasn't.)  I was interviewed by the superintendent and hired.  The high school principal hated me on sight.  She had formerly been a conformist English teacher and was from a right wing community.  One of the forces over the next couple of months was her posse of righteous females who “knew” what was proper.

I lasted two months.  The girls refused to do anything until they could be in control.  So I let them just sit and visit which was what they wanted to do.  Meanwhile, I put all my liberal listening skills to work on that bunch of boys.  One insisted he had to be excused to go do athletic stuff, so I did.  He was a little disappointed since he had expected a nice little war.

But I developed strong affection for those boys, even the ones who were profane and obsessed with sex.  They had strong personalities with a streak of idealism that made them indignant about what they saw.

Ever since then I’ve tried to figure out how to write a “YA” novel about these dynamics.  I discovered the same kind of simmering rage at the status quo, the loss, the misunderstanding, the patronizing, and pessimism about the future that we can plainly see twenty years later in men twenty years older.  They would be in their forties now.

This morning I downloaded an essay that lists 14 ideas that were being taught these boys and that have produced these men.  It was presented as explanation for intransigent Trump's voters.  Here’s the list.

1.  Practicality Trumps Morality.  Practicality is defined by profit and keeping the status quo.

2.  The Brain’s Attention System.  Sensationalism and emotion grab us.  Barnum and Bailey knew this.

3.  “America’s Obsession with Entertainment and Celebrities”  In this instance it was Tony Hawk and his skateboarding.

4.  “Some Men Just Want to Watch the World Burn”.  Esp. those accustomed to the carnage and mayhem taught by vid games and the news. 

5. The Fear-Factor: Conservatives Are More Sensitive to Threat.  This is perfectly reasonable in a place where the weather or drunk driving kills people you know or being urged to play a sport that knocks the brains out of growing boys.  This particular coach was described to me as a “red meat” coach.

6.  The Power of Mortality Reminders.  When someone dies in a small town — which is not unlikely in a place with so many old people that the town itself is said to be dying — the boys probably know them or their families.  This list refers to “Terror Management Theory” which is a way of handling fear of death through denial and reassuring idealisms like feeling that one’s parents were homesteaders or from a proud European country, that one belongs to a better group.

7.  The Dunning-Kruger Effects:  Humans often Overestimate Their Political Expertise.  In small towns it is often believed that the people there know all there really is to know about how things work.  DK theory proposes that they don’t even know that there is much they don’t know.  Here on the East Slope, people didn’t know that people in Manhattan knew that Trump was a failure and a fake.  They took the flash and rhetoric as real, so feel like hicks.

8.  Relative Deprivation — A Misguided Sense of Entitlement.  This is the sense that someone has an unfair advantage.  People on the rez think that white people are rich, because all the rich people they know are richer than they are.  People in small Montana towns think that college grads are richer than they are because they went to college without really knowing what happens in college.  Football?

9.  Lack of Exposure to Dissimilar Others.  If a person doesn’t know any Blacks, Chinese, or Turks, their mental image is going to be fuzzy.  In Montana, because of gender assignment, many working class men are never around women and have very little idea of what they are like.

10.  Conspiracy Theories Target the Mentally Vulnerable   Small town theories based on gossip are often about conspiracies.  Aside from that, it’s a temptation to know something no one else knows, even if it’s kind of marginal,   like seeing a flying saucer.  And teens love Sci-Fi with that feeling that anything is possible.

11.  The Nation’s Collective Narcissism.  The idea of being “best” and “number one” and the conviction that this is important, vital for existence, was necessary for wartime but is leaking away now.  Still, around here people are barely aware of how much respect America has lost.  They still fly the flag with pride.

12.  The Desire to Want to Dominate Others.  This is linked by the maker of this list to “Social Dominance Orientation” and “Authoritarian Personality Syndrome”, which are each thought systems focused on hierarchy and the desire to be at the top.  Like "winning state", the competition which was the focus of these boys.  

13.  Authoritarian Personality Syndrome is listed separately.  This was the strong stance of the administration of the school, particularly the principal, a woman who didn’t carry the authority cues known in the community — neither local family, appearance nor knowledge.  But the coach did, though I recognized his tricks.  I wondered about showers, where dominance becomes SM.

14.  Racism and Bigotry.  Most of it around here is focused on Native Americans though their athletic skills are honored and courted.  Of course, on the rez it goes the other direction, 'cuz "white men can't jump".

So how to I translate all these theories and insights into a dynamic and exciting YA story?  Maybe it’s already been written and I just don’t know.  It’s one of those things that’s hiding in plain sight.  It's such a short story because I quit in a few months.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020


Today is the first day of Fall.  I’m biting my tongue to keep from saying, “Now is the Winter of our Despair,” because it isn’t.  We’re not despairing.

Anyway, I had the quote wrong, which I wondered about, so I googled.  It’s the Winter of our “discontent”, not despair.  And Google suggested a novel:  Steinbeck’s “Now Is the Winter of our Discontent”.

“Published in 1961, this dark but important book condemns the increasing materialism and social acceptance of dirty business practices that Steinbeck saw infecting American society of the late ’50s and early ’60s, as it transitioned from a values-based to a materialist culture. In a 1959 letter, Steinbeck speaks to “… the enemy inside. Immorality is what is destroying us, public immorality. The failure of man toward men, the selfishness that puts making a buck more important than the commonweal.”

Steinbeck is one of my favorite authors but I have not read this book, was not even conscious of it, maybe because it was published in 1961, the year I graduated from college and came to Browning.  I’ve ordered it now.

I’m so conscious of the metaphor of Winter because here it is a reality.  Fall is often a season when Winter days get closer together until they are continuous and below zero.  But then days of early Fall begin to appear in our Winter until abruptly and without prediction, it is Spring.  This may continue to be relevant, I hope.

In reality at the moment I have neither heat nor hot water.  Every tradesman is overwhelmed with work because of insurance payoffs that enabled roof repair and insulation.  But the covert problem is that manufacturing has taken such a hit that what we order doesn’t always come.  In theory, my new water heater should come on Friday.  I’m out of money but should have enough credit.

My electrician, a humorous and experienced man, came to take a look and brought his sidekick, an enormous young man who claimed he had met me before.  I had been hired at the high school to be his In-School-Suspension monitor for two days.  I forget what the offense was and didn’t ask.  I was never asked to do that job again because I was “too friendly.”  I was supposed to be his jailor, not his buddy.  But he was actually quite interesting.  Still is.

This series of men at my house was begun by roofing over my gas vents.  That snuffed the pilot lights on the furnace and water heater.  After waking at 3AM to consider the possibility that gas that didn’t get burned might result in the explosion of my house, I called Northwestern Energy, which is no longer Montana Power because it was bought by South Dakota.  Regional remote control with the goal of profit.

Next morning I searched through all the stuff they send me to find the emergency number.  The phone was answered by a woman at home whose little boy was alongside playing with toy cars.  She walked me through a questionnaire though I didn’t have good answers.  “Can you smell gas?”  “I have ten cats.  All I can smell is their litter boxes.”  Silence.

She said she would get a technician to me.  I sent my best to her boy.  This is the way it is now:  Mom is on the job.

Yesterday Blake showed up in a crisp new uniform, looked at my ancient meter and proposed that the best answer was the installation of a new meter.  I asked for it to be locked until the new gas heater came.  It will vent through the wall, evading the problem of punching a hole in my new roof.  I can’t do this until LIEAP decides whether to help me.  They will tell me who will install it.  

Blake did a 4-year course of study in Wyoming.  He’s skilled, resourceful and equipped, but it was a beast of a job: old, fused, balky, a knuckle-breaker.  He did not fool around.

But as he packed up we visited a bit about managing the pandemic while going house to house.  He wears a Van Dyke beard and this gets complicated by the need to wear a mask, in the beginning being used by management to claim that he didn’t need a mask because anyway he wouldn’t be able to “get a seal” as one must for toxic gas.  But his girl friend is a nurse who was pulled from a nursing home job to the hospital to deal with Covid-19 patients.  They need 24/7 intensive skilled care, possibly for weeks.  The suffering is nearly intolerable, even if it’s only emotional distress for helping people who die while being helped without really knowing what would be help. 

She urged him to keep up the struggle for masks as the information kept exceeding the expertise and information of the gas company’s safety officer.  Now he’s being told he MUST wear a mask.  We don’t have many cases and he spends his day mostly working alone, but he is trained to recognize risk, systems, and direct action.  Management evidently has regular team meetings and he has been persuasive.

So far the weather is not severe and portable electric heaters plus jackets are enough.  My bed has an electric mattress which the cats love.  Otherwise, they enjoy the incandescent lightbulb beside my computer.

The bottom line is “salvific” as we said in seminary.  With no gas being burned, I realize that my head is clearing from a winter of mild hypoxia and toxic fumes.  I thought I was just getting old.  Or maybe it was a diabetes symptom.  If I hadn’t slept with the window open, I might not have survived the season.  Sometimes I was dopey, but my carbon monoxide alarm never began to scream.  My recent blood test showed nothing. 

I bought one of those little fingertip oxygen monitors.  My pulse was a high number and my oxygen level was under 90 which is supposed to mean you should go to the hospital.  Now I’m showing more like 95.  Blake advised me to keep in touch with the gas company.  They have a sensor that can pick up more than just carbon mono.  Call Mom!  (Oh, and according to the “sniffer”) my old meter WAS leaking gas.)

This is a highly relevant story about working men in Russia.