Tuesday, August 11, 2020


There are just too many good things to tag.

For instance, this rather long article in Wired about how San Fran handled Covid-19 pretty well because they had suffered through AIDS and knew how to PAY ATTENTION !!



This is a shorter paper about identity and autobiography that was written two years earlier.  The ideas are the same.


HICKOK  A thumbnail review.

Two ancients, Bruce Dern (b1936) and Kris Kristofferson (b1936) take part in a diagrammatic enactment of the legend of Wild Bill Hickok.  Dern is the doc, Kristofferson is the mayor, and some youngster whose name I can’t remember played Hickock.  (Luke Hemsworth)

It’s almost a diagram of a Western in a little town built to be a movie set, something like watching a game of chess.  But for those who are into it, the moves have meaning.


I still like my little "Arctic Air" AC machine, but I have two caveats.  One is that it is plastic and plastic can stick, so it requires a bit of patience that way to get at the filter so you can wash it as recommended.  The other is that Valier tap water is alkali enough to leave a white buildup.  I'm buying distilled water.  It takes about a cup an hour.


 The last interview on the Rachel Maddow show is often cut off.  I don't know why.  If you look for the same show the next day on YouTube, it is restored.

Yesterday the interview was with the head of the post office and Maddow asked about Trump's attempts to prevent voting by mail by firing all the top managers.  She was interviewing a major management person whose name I've forgotten.  

He said, "Most of the interference amounts to delaying tactics.  Delaying mail delivery by deadlines, delaying counting the ballots and so on.  The best thing to do -- besides raising Cain with legislators -- is to vote and mail as soon as possible, before the delays are put in place."

He noted that blocking or hiding mail-in votes will affect red states more than blue states, because rural and small town people depend on the mail.


 For years I’ve been following the stories about how the brain works, the molecular/electrochemical tiny reactions contained in cells and swirled among them by blood and plasma carrying molecular messages from reacting organs.  Recently this complex of complexes has had to be reconciled with the psychological  and philosophical theories of old men, usually white, European, legitimated by semi-religious power centers like universities, and obsessed with sex.  My father hoarded their books in his sock drawer and when I was alone in the house, I read them.  Not a lot of help.

Now I’m alone in my own house with shelves of books about the talking cure with their schematics about how minds work and how that fits with what we tell each other.  Most were written in the Seventies just as I staggered out of a divorce that was irrelevant to what happened.  They were wonderfully helpful.

The reconciliation between what we thought we knew and what we know now has begun.  So far it is more in journals than in books, but those journal articles are available on the Internet.  This one has become invaluable, a summary of what Erik Erikson was struggling towards through observation.

To find it yourself, it is in the Journal of Infant, Child, and Adolescent Psychotherapy, entitled “Identity Narrative and its Role in Biological Survival: Implications for the Child and Adolescent Psychotherapy.”  The three authors are Andrei Novac, Margaret C. Tuttle and Barton J. Blinder.  I’m going to try restating and quoting them, both for you to have access and for me to make sure I understand.  I’ll start with the timeline of human development as it connects with the world through sensory ability and inner growth.

Let’s begin with a vernacular version of their Latinate words.  This metaphor will assume that a person unfolding is like building a house, an abode, but instead of talking about muscle and bone, it will discuss development in two ways that are biologically separated systems.  One they call “intrinsic” which I’ll call “scaffolding” and one they call “procedural”, which are the things learned and skills acquired as the builder goes along.  They call this house “Identity.”  The tools are stories.  But first comes attachment, before birth umbilically and after birth through care-giving.

This theory system begins with defining the method, the choices in descriptions and assumptions. Everything is dynamic, in process, and formlessness, chaos, gradually becomes shaped by what is called “attractors” which reward adaptations to support them.  That is, one senses something and being drawn to it forms it into what becomes organs.  The first is sound.  It’s not that sound directly affects the new life, but that the dreaming life “hears” and listens for more.  The rhythms of the mother’s body and then her voice.  Theories of gestation in bottles of fluid, like the novel "Brave New World", are simply wrong because bottles have no sound nor do they speak.

The key to gestation is not a matter of obeying some blueprint but rather an ability to respond chemically to the mother’s sound, blood contents, movements or temperature.  Growth is a partnered dance pushing against the womb as embedded in a particular woman.  The fetus affects the mother, even sending new DNA into her blood stream that can be detected years later.  All these capacities are evolutionary, that is, what is helpful and sustaining will persist while what is a blind alley or actively destructive will end the process.  We call it death.  Estimates are that one fifth of conceptions fail.

The ability of the fetus to move begins between the 10th and 20th week.  The list of what they do when they can:

1.  Bending and stretching

2.  Pushing against the wall of the uterus

3.  Turning the head

4.  Twisting, yawning and stretching

5.  Scratching what must be itches

6.  Sucking the thumb

7.  Responding to sounds

Eyes begin to move between the 28th and 30th weeks, and appear to be related to the kind of roving under eyelids that we know from REM sleep.  The fetus is now able register displeasure and pleasure — making faces.  Personality is forming.

After birth continuity of exploration and reaction continue.  Dreaming becomes interacting with the reality outside the mother’s body, which the infant is aware of leaving.  By the second month, the baby knows where it is in terms of orientation and gravity.  By the fourth month they can reach and grasp.  By the 18th month, if you stick a Post-It note to their forehead, they know it’s there and can remove it.  They know the image in a mirror might be them.

Though much of development is response to environment through growth in capacity, there are general patterns of development in the brain, following the historical evolutionary additive structures in the order that they happened.  Scientists like this sequence and for years proposed that a gestating mammal will go through the species-evolution from fish to amphibian to reptile to mammal to primate to human, but this is one of those story-telling impulses that help us keep order.  It’s not strictly scientifically true.  Generally, evolution began at the brain stem and moved up through the tissues to the frontal lobe over the eyes.

Another general movement of brain development is from the sides so as to cluster along the division between the two halves of the brain.  It used to be thought that the carapace of skull made the top of the head a “safe” place to strike someone, but clearly reality is opposite.  If we think of the baby’s soft spot on the top of the head, it must be there to allow this accumulation of special cells to have room to expand.  The accumulation of hair as a cushion and sun-screen seems reasonable, if sometimes unfashionable.

Attachment, a crucial mammal phenomenon, begins in these years through the olfactory system.  If the mother is missing, the growth of speech and relationships to others are addled or missing.  Even a familiar caregiver may not smell quite right.  Attachment, language, meaning and identity form in these early years and carry over through adulthood as the nearly unchangeable scaffolding of a person.  

There exists a questionnaire called the Adult Attachment Interview that takes on this template from a psychotherapy point of view, a set of standard questions about one’s past. It's on the internet.  It is regarded by that community of thought as very important to the point of being dangerous without a supportive guide, the therapist.  They do not mention using it in a group and forbid handing it around innocently.  But it doesn’t strike me as being that far from common knowledge.

In fact, it is the spine of many a fictional narrative, common stories that record and illustrate the concept.  Less talked about is the impact of creating the story on the author.  Something similar happens when exploring one’s generational history, perhaps prompted by DNA research, though one’s grandparents were shaped as much by national events like economic forces as their innate scaffolding and later learned strategies about how to survive.


 Much of my thinking comes from reading papers like this one in the Journal of Infant, Child and Adolescent Psychotherapy.  Entitled cumbersomely “Identity Narrative and its Role in Biological Survival: Implications for Child and Adolescent Psychotherapy” and written by Andrei Novac, Margaret C. Tuttle and Barton J. Binder, it’s a good version of a cluster of thinking you can get on a search engine if you enter “Identity Narrative.”  

They represent a convergence of thinking about the molecular operation of cells and the poetic composing of stories about how humans live.  The task is not easy and it has many small steps but I’ve been following for years so I learned them a bit at a time and have tried to share as I go.  But people are not really prepared.

Part of the problem is that previous ideas have such a strong grip on us — partly Christian, partly Freudian, partly French philosophers like Derrida, and partly concepts from other cultures.  Losses of prestige and authority are involved.  I most often align with Foucault but have not really studied his thought.

Loosely speaking, one concept from Freud seems to endure, which is the distinction between the conscious and the unconscious.  In molecular studies of how brains operate, it is known that there are two kinds of memory.  One is the scaffolding built by the infant, even as its brain gestates into operating within the body of the mother, subject to her physical and emotional structure, and then after birth until about age 3 when the child can walk and talk, sharing with that mother while learning words and movement.  This is protein molecules forming circuits, links, loops, and storage. It is neither mystical nor the product of a supernatural entity.

Proteins are large biomolecules, or macromolecules, consisting of one or more long chains of amino acid residues. Proteins perform a vast array of functions within organisms, including catalyzing metabolic reactions, DNA replication, responding to stimuli, providing structure to cells, and organisms, and transporting molecules from one location to another.”  (Wikipedia)

The physiological basis of the unconscious identity is produced in this direct way by the availability of quality food and the resources the culture have given to the mother.  Both are ecological and they interact with each other.  Thus the bison meat-based diet of the Blackfeet was of high quality in this dimension, allowing full development of the DNA potential.  Now that commodity food is mostly starch and sugar, the basis of scaffolding is limited.  The culture often comes from television rather than the mother, equally limited and not eco-relevant.

This is as true for almost everyone else in the country.  We have noted how uneven the necessary elements are available and we have even noted the cultural "justification" for limiting resources for some people.  We are an unequal society that betrays democracy, the equality of votes.

Separately from this highly guarded and conserved pattern in the brain, and developing along a different path with different proteins and concentrated function locations, is an entirely different version of internal learning that is described as “plastic,” not because it is slick and in primary colors, but because it can be changed.  We all work in this sense of memory every day as we learn new things. Writing on this level allows us to see how we develop in the process that is living.

Given that we exist in a materialist culture that teaches us at a way so deep that it is partly in that original scaffolding of the brain, capitalism — defining everything in terms of money or the equivalent — controls every thought unless we combat it by learning alternatives and unless our scaffolding allows it.  (I like the term of "scaffolding" though some people use others' more scientific words, like "intrinsic.")

In a sermon, thinking along these lines, I asked for someone in the congregation to give me a dollar.  Several people offered them freely.  I chose one and set it on fire.  Everyone was electrified and several rose to stop me.  But I had prepared an ash tray and held the scrap until I couldn’t anymore.  “This was only a piece of paper,” I pointed out, "But any of you would be willing to buy me a cup of coffee of even more value which I would destroy by drinking instead of burning up.  Why is that?”  The answer was close to being in the scaffolding.

“Give me to be beautiful within and for me let outward and inward things be reconciled together.”  (Socrates)  This is what writing is to me, a reconciliation of the amazing and even disturbing things I’m learning with deep convictions, a life pursuit that is either enriching or possibly threatening, one worth recording in print where it can be shared by others.  In the best work, it may become something timeless and memorable.  

Even in the attempts that don’t quite succeed, the thoughts I write may be helpful to two groups that I value highly.  One is “boys at risk,” the huge population of young males who cannot find a way to exist because of the breakup of the families, the pretense of not being at war, the changing of the dynamics of fertility through generations, and the lack of occupations.  Some have scaffolding that was damaged even as they gestated, and others had a strong beginning that was later smashed by circumstances they were too young to understand and barely survived.

The other group is the Native American population that is still being affected by the same cultural forces, stranded between what was deeply in their flesh and brains as scaffolding we might call religion or spirituality, versus the demands of capitalism controlled by other people.  Even the advantage of venture capitalism has been prevented.

The ability of creating and making accessible this level of writing is greatly enabled by writing on a computer and posting on the Internet.  It is quiet, accessible, separated from writing as product, and rarely even acknowledged by those who purport to “teach writing” as though constructing a commodity in five easy steps were really writing or anything deeper than a driving wish for profit.

The other major advantage of writing this way on a blog is evading institutions, which is why it’s not ministry, a function of organized religion.  I am free lance, both words, unowned and pointed.  But there are people who want to own at least the operating system, the machinery, the transmission lines, the political impact. That's all they can see. 

These two subcultural groups feel endangered, which is realistic, and as a result many are invested in being covert.  In the beginning they believed that “nobody knows you’re a dog.”  But now that’s less reliable and a writer must take hostile forces into consideration, using avatars and noms de plume, which irritates those invested in control.  I picked up the Socrates quote from reading “The Charioteer” by Mary Renault, who wrote about her issues by displacing them onto young men whose sexual desire was for other young men in a time when the penalty for gays in England was the death sentence, though they didn't seem to think women could be gay.  Sometimes she displaced the narrative to another historical time and place.

I don’t feel the need to do this, partly because my “scaffolding” is so old-fashioned and idealistic, even straight, that few people “get” it anyway.  They’d rather urge me to make money and use better photos.  Nevermind.  I’ll soon be on my way.  I'll leave a lot of print -- all over the world due to blogging so much.

Monday, August 10, 2020


 Not scared enough yet?  Here’s the next fantasy made that could be made real:  the insect theory of warfare.  Or maybe it’s industrial assassination, on the biological pattern of Covid-19 but using the predator drones made tiny.  It’s all fantasy so far and depends upon technology, not the tech that operates the slaughterbots but the tech that supports the lab where they are created.  It takes money and access to very specialized materials, plus knowhow.  There’s more to it than programming by a rogue teenager.


Most people will take the same attitude that they have towards politics, especially the nice people who operate by not looking down from their wire-walking.  As far as they are concerned, politics are such a dirty business that no one can get involved without being besmirched and corrupted.  Best to avoid the whole thing, not even voting.

This is a mistake.  Get scared.  Get dirty.


Beyond people I met around Browning in the course of the day, there were a few that I worked with at what I liked to pretentiously call “the Scriver Atelier”, meaning to suggest that we were in a French art studio, very romantic, rather than working carefully on both taxidermy and sculpture.  Taxidermy gets a bad rap, suggesting both a blood-thirsty but non-eating way of cutting up and “stuffing” animals and overtones of arsenic, which was the original poison used to keep bugs out of the organic hides and feathers.  In practice, it was quite different. Bob's startlingly lifelike full-mounts in the Museum were beautiful.  But in the end he concluded that it was the portrait of the animal that was more expressive than the “mounting” of the hide on a papier maché shape with glass eyes.

if done properly, taxidermy can be an art form instead of a moldering artifact of a childish desire to capture.  Both art forms were a matter of understanding the making of molds, shapes recorded as negatives capable of creating positives, and the use of parting compounds to separate the two.  Perhaps it is more familiar for people of a certain age to think of classic photography negatives making positive photographs with light as the intermediary.

This particular "atelier" employed as few as three or as many as a dozen, depending on the size and nature of the project.  It could not have been done without the native American employees, partly because they knew the animals both in life and as resources, and partly (let us be honest) because they would accept the low pay, a dollar an hour.  It was the early Sixties and there was not much to buy.  I worked for the same pay as the others and did the same things.  Most of it was meticulous work, sewing hides, cleaning clay out of small details in molds, mixing and cleaning and coating.  

My mother worried that I would become infected, imagining dead and rotted animals from her farming past.  But we worked bloodlessly and unrotted, using the same preservatives as the Egyptians used to preserve mummies, mostly borax.  The shop had a bathtub built at a waist-height for washing the hides after they had soaked in a mild acid for months to eliminate all the glue and fat in them.  When I first started, the men managed to convince me that I had to wash differently colored hides separately so they wouldn’t stain each other. Nonsense.

These jobs were quite different once we began to cast bronze, using the original lost wax process, also called Roman block casting, in which the heat-resistant plaster molds, the size of furniture, had to be baked for days in preparation for a scary climax of melting bronze and pouring it into the molds.  Once those cooled, we began the long process of knocking the plaster back off and picking the remnants out of the details.  Raw strength became vital, plus care about the heat.

The main worker, Bob’s right hand man, was Carl Cree Medicine, a handsome father of young kids who came with his wife Carma at the end of the day to take him home.  Carl had a serious drinking problem and when he got started on a bender he would be missing for a week, which made major trouble if we had something scheduled.  Bronze pouring had to happen just as the molds were ready and not after, when they would begin to crumble.  The worst was that when the accelerant of alcohol was added to the hot stress of a young marriage, things became violent.

Nevertheless, Carma never left.  When Carl was sober, he was hard-working, intelligent, and willing.  By mid-life he managed to get the booze under control.  The government was offering a program to people who were willing to build themselves a house.   If the people would do the labor, the feds would pay for materials and teaching.  Carl and Carma entered this program and successfully completed their house. 

The paint provided was in pastel colors so people called the development the “Easter Egg” houses.  Carl had helped us cut willow switches by the creek and keep them planted in mud until they began to grow, which didn’t take long.  You could see his house from the road up to East Glacier and easily pick it out, the only pink house with trees.  

At one point in the feverish constant decades of politics over artifacts and entitlements, some renegades let it be known that they intended to ride behind Bob in the annual Indian Days parade, rope him off his horse, and drag him down the street in front of everyone.  He was old by then and the act would kill him.  He had ALWAYS ridden in that parade and had no intention of stopping, so Carl rode alongside him, an informal bodyguard, big, aggressive when that was needed, and very protective of Bob, whom he saw as a kind of father or at least uncle.  Nothing happened.

Later in life, Carl ran a relief house for street people.  The cigarette smoke in those days made a thick haze and a big coffee pot was always steaming in the corner.  At some point Bob had used his band teacher practices by printing up Certificates of Competence and Achievement, and Carl had framed his to hang over his desk.  By that time he had become an artist himself and made molds, but never cast bronze.  Sometimes I ran into him at an event like the Russell Art Auction in Great Falls, and we’d gossip a bit.

But the best creation of Carl and Carma was their son David Cree Medicine who was the best foreman Bob ever had and the principal person looking out for him at the end of his life, along with Boyd and Corky Evans, who provided the major pleasure of riding across his Flatiron ranch.

David’s temperament was steady and alert.  The bronzes cast by the team were much better than what was by then possible with bronze-casting “kits” for backyard projects.  By that time the Andersons had sold their lot and house to Bob to make room for a foundry addition.  When Bob died, his widow gave the Anderson house to David and as far as I know he still lives there.  By now the toddler clinging to his dad’s long leg is a middle-aged man with adult children of his own.  But there is no more “atelier” or foundry.

Sullivan Hameline was another “unsteady” employee.  Overweight and jolly, he was under-motivated but would sit happily skinning the cartilage out of the ears of ungulates so a plastic replacement could be sewn in.  He used an entire box of bandaids every and sharpened his knives so much it was no wonder they cut him.  

If we went downtown for something, Sullivan propped himself on the bottom half of the Dutch door between the working shop and the front entrance lobby and greeted the tourists.  He ran the cash register and dutifully did the little record-keeping of who came in and whether they paid to go into the museum.  On a day when we made more than $100 we all squashed into the pickup and went to Angie’s bakery for maple long johns.

One winter Sullivan, who lived in a small cabin in Moccasin Flats and heated with a wood stove, didn't intervene in time to keep their toddler from falling against that red hot wood stove.  The child died of the burns and we attended the funeral.  Bob may have slipped him extra money.  He was Cree, as we called Metis, and didn't qualify for Blackfeet housing projects.

On an ordinary day in summer when things were slow and the shop work was closed down, if there was only one person acting as receptionist and they needed lunch, it was customary to run across the street to the diner at the end of a the motel that Mel Overdahl had built.  He leased the café to Finette and her friend Mary Peterson.  

One summer they offered sourdough pancakes with chokecherry syrup, which they thought would last weeks,  but sold out in two days.  Sometimes we were the only customers during the slow afternoon hours but we did our best to help clean up the supply of such locally iconic food.

In those days the show called “Laugh-In” was highly popular on TV which we were just beginning to get in Browning.  A running gag was tricking someone into saying, “Sock it to me”, which meant a bucket of water was thrown in their face.  Bob always used a few Blackfeet words so when we came in one afternoon he exclaimed, “Siksikimi!” which means coffee.  

Mary Peterson answered, “You heard the man!  Sock it to him!”  No one threw coffee in his face but we all had a good laugh.  Since the women were mostly Metis, they really hadn’t known the Blackfeet word but Bob had held up a coffee mug in his version of sign language.

When time went on, the lots were eventually sold to a 9-ll and Bob moved the long string of motel rooms out to the Flatiron ranch where he used them for storage for the giant plaster molds of the full-mounted animals for the museum.  When his estate was settled, I doubt that anyone understood the value of those molds.  They were simply dumped.  Then it was discovered that their insulation was asbestos, so they were useless without renovation.  The Flatiron Ranch is now used as a study center for ecology in an arrangement made by Eloise Cobell between the tribe and Nature Conservancy.

Sunday, August 09, 2020

Meeting the Real Blackfeet

Maybe the first Blackfeet Indian I met was Jimmy Fisher, the school district engineer who brought the rest of my things down from the Great Northern depot when I arrived for my first job.  Besides my trunk, there were dozens of whisky boxes which I had discovered were ideal for books, since they were small enough and sturdy enough to be carried.  “Sure did hire a drinker this time!” he joked.  Then he warned me to fill the bathtub with water since the town pipeline tended to airlock.

No, wait.  The Blackfeet Indian I met before that was Rose, the waitress at Joe Lewis’ café, about sixty years old with coal black dyed and permed hair and two vivid spots of rouge, according to the fashion of her cohort.  I never knew her last name.  She must have been born around 1900.  Now she had a wide waist and a cheerful manner.  My parents and I, traveling home to Portland from NU, warmed to her at once.

When I was shown my new classroom, I was also introduced to Ramona Davis, the teacher across the hall.  Sophisticated in tailored suits, she seemed a little European though from a darker country, maybe Spain.  She was married to a white rancher.  Eventually, I would be the officiant for her funeral.

All these relationships were complex, moving in and out of ideas about class or race or culture.  Jimmy Fisher helped Bob Scriver figure out how to make a rafter pattern for the major hall of mounted animals in the Scriver Museum of Montana Wildlife.  They went out to one of the long trestle railroad bridges to copy them.  Joe Lewis retired and sold his café to “Ick” where it became a liquor store rumored to know how to find drugs.  I never knew Ick's last name either.  The cartoon of Napi that Al Racine painted on the wall eating pancakes was kept, but slightly altered to take out the product.  For a while I lived kitty-corner and observed the little cluster of the faithful hanging around outside.  I knew some of them.

Next door to the Museum was a newer ranch-style house belonging to the Bobby Anderson family, pretty much assimilated.  Next to them was the Kiplings, mixed bloods.  The husband was a county tax assessor and his wife was an administrator for an international children’s charity at the grassroots level.  

Then came the Skunkcap’s log cabin.  Their allotted ranch was a few miles out of town so they went back and forth with a horse and wagon, bringing stove wood to town.  Alonzo, grandpa, was blinded by trachoma, a plague that had affficted the Blackfeet early in the 20th century.  His descendants were hunters — we bought hides from them and once observed the tracks of their tough little ponies going up through snow into Glacier Park, as was entitled by treaty.  The family was Blackfeet-speaking, full-blood.  

On my side of the street was Elsie Wright, an older widow whose son was a Fish and Game administrator for the State.  She owned the little house next to her, which I rented for a while.  It’s previous owner had been Hughie Welch and before that it was the house where Jimmy Welch, the author’s father, grew up, but at that point the house was blocks farther north along the highway, close to where Don MacCrae built a shop that became Glacier Studio, a photography studio.  

I bought my first horse from Don MacCrae.  It was an ancient steed raised by the Bullshoe family as a relay racer out by Heart Butte, probably descended from Cavalry horses given his brown hide and traces of hot blood.  Just recently Tristan Bullshoe, Blackfeet enrolled but living in Valier, was admitted to an MD program at the University of North Dakota School of Medical and Health Sciences.  Because of the pandemic, he had to take his Hippocratic Oath online.

When I began to blog, I was emailed by a family in England whose ancestor had received a Blackfeet artifact on a visit to the rez.  They asked if I could find out about the “Pull Shoe” family.  As soon as I realized they meant “Bullshoe,” that was easy.

The Bullshoe girls, a set of sisters in a family that valued education, became leaders in the schools, each one supporting the others and backing their children and grandchildren.  This pattern recurs among indigenous people, so there are also “Bremner girls” who were considered exceptionally hard workers with a wild sense of humor.  In the annual Indians Days parade, they dressed up as “hoochy-coochy” dancers with balloons down the front of their shirts, brandishing life-sized plush pythons and cavorting in the back of a pickup blasting stripper music.  The family may have been as much Métis as Blackfeet.

Métis, mixed Cree and European, came to this rez from two sources.  One was the government decision to assign landless Crees to the Blackfeet rez, which immediately caused backlash among those already struggling with limited commodities and support.  The other was the refugees fleeing from the Canadian government because they were followers of Louis Riel and others who tried to establish a new nation in Red River country.  Many of them, including Riel, were hung, but for a while he taught school in Montana at St. Peter's Mission near Great Falls.  He was a deeply spiritual man who might have been safe if he had stayed in Montana.

Families had always been key to the Blackfeet, the kernels of the traveling groups that formed around the patriarchs, and became known by the characteristics of those leaders, like Eats Alone who took his meals out of camp on the nearest hillside.  Even in the Sixties one might have a notion of what last names meant about the related people.  This was much more meaningful than the tribe’s title, though that was suggestive as well.  South Piegan were known for being proper.  

People have a tendency to develop into family cultures according to where they fit in the hierarchy and priorities of the larger group.  The point of the original Indian Days and ceremonial gatherings was to reinforce the sense of the larger demographic so bands didn’t split off and become too different, so they couldn’t be depended on for buffalo drives or war.  Not that they excluded each other.  In particular young men tended to travel among groups, trading and courting.  Those who were contributors to the host band might be invited to stay.  Those who were soreheads and trouble-makers were pushed to move on.

None of this is recorded by Hollywood or even by the those who have exotic fantasies and mysticisms about living on the prairie in the buffalo days.  It was hard work and individuals who were solitary didn’t last long.  In modern times, the dreamers, the traumatized veterans of foreign wars, the gays looking for a place to fit, and even the young women seeking adventure, come often but don’t stay long.  They are rarely the type to write books and screenplays.

Saturday, August 08, 2020


Months ago Twitter suspended me.  No reason.   Possibly it was because I changed my email address. I appealed.  No answer.  So I just waited.  Nothing happened.

I thought I would just cancel my account.  But I can only cancel it from inside the account, which I can't get into.  I thought I would change my email address but someone had already done that.

Just now I thought I would try the Twitter means of reform again.  Then I saw this requirement:  if you make contact, it gives us the right to ransack all information accessible through your computer.  

I see.  They think I'm a spy.  Well, if senators can be traitors and the Repubs don't even mind, it's no wonder they think I'm a spy.  After all, I'm an 80-year-old solitary in a tiny Montana village who writes all the time.  Why would anyone be like that if they weren't a spy.  It's suspicious.

I'm beyond being angry.  I'm nauseated. I can hang on a few more months.  I guess.  Maybe.


Websites that offer writing are a bonanza for the middleman, even those who aren’t formal publishers.  “Discovery” has become a major hurdle — how do you find writing that you like and value — or maybe even need?  “Curating” has become the word for people who can filter content, including writing.

To be formal, this is what “Dictionary.com” says.


Chiefly British. a member of the clergy employed to assist a rector or vicar.

Any ecclesiastic entrusted with the cure of souls, as a parish priest.

verb (used with object), cu·rat·ed, cu·rat·ing.

To take charge of (a museum) or organize (an art exhibit):

To curate a photography show.

to pull together, sift through, and select for presentation, as music or website content:

“We curate our merchandise with a sharp eye for trending fashion,” the store manager explained.”

Note that the example of the verb is about merchandising, not about art, and that the goal is not to look for value but to look for what sells.  They are not the same thing, though our culture conflates them.

If I weren’t post-Christian and questioning the concept of souls, I’d be more comfortable with the idea of cure - ating secular arts.  But the common use of “saving” was also originally ecclesiastical.  We secularize words all the time.  Why would we want to diminish their intrinsic inspiration by promoting sales?

So let’s go to another question:  who “ordains” the middle man (who may be female or other) to be qualified to tell others what writing or painting — whatever — is important and valuable — in what terms?  Must the curator be from the same demographic as the writers?  The readers?  If only a certain kind of person can write certain books, must the readers also be limited to that kind of people?  Not many readers are indigenous — they don’t have money to buy books and no place on the rez that sells them.  So indigenous writers must write for white readers.

The Native American Renaissance of literature resulted from publishers thinking that they could likely sell writing by “Indians” the way anthropologists once became popular by explaining tribal culture.  They found people with an enough education to write, and promoted them.  The books didn’t sell.  I bought many for remainder prices.

Then books by “Indians” disappeared and those who could write went into journalism for their peers to read.  White people don’t usually read “Indian Country Today.”  Newspapers don’t cost as much as books and people like to save old newspapers or pass them on.

Our categories of genre are now so fluid that we have to rush to Google to see what “emo-writing” or animé might be.  Websites specialize in writing in the sub-genres — memoir, nature writing, personal essays, literary journalism, cultural criticism, and travel writing  —  that we already know and love.  “The Fourth Genre” is talked about in terms of nonfiction, possibly creative non-fiction.  Hmmm.  

Nonfiction is basic, isn’t it?  Before there was written fiction there was “non” itself, right?  Where does the idea come from that non-fiction is not creative?  Is it to separate marketing, non-edited-to-conformity print from — what should we call it?  Inspired?  Personal?  Edgy?

Even news personalities mixing written and oral words are subject to ear-mikes so producers in the control room can even INSIST on the personality being more aggressive or asking certain questions so as to please the audience.  Last night on PBS Judy Woodruff was practically writhing between what she was urged to ask and what Nancy Pelosi was avoiding by bulldozing her.  (I was on Pelosi’s side.)  PBS is a good example of the liberal misunderstanding of what “fairness” might be, thinking it’s an equal time issue and inadvertently validating lies and malevolent opinions.  Woodruff is fond and “liberal,”which producers think will sell.  But it also limits the audience to sympathizers. 

On the other hand, Barracuda, the email guardian that’s supposed to keep me from being shocked, prevented me from downloading an excerpt from “The Sex Lives of Birds” as though I might be seduced by a robin, brutalized by an ostrich, or start laying eggs.

author: Jennifer Ackerman

title: The Bird Way: A New Look at How Birds Talk, Work, Play, Parent, and Think

Actually, now that I’ve read the paragraphs and have been told that mallard ducks go in for group rape but that females have a defensively convoluted vaginal passage and can shit out unwanted sperm, maybe it isn’t for children.  This is pop science, which loves sexual issues.

Probably porn is one of the most confused genres as well as the earliest, though more likely in the beginning to be graphic.  But the money, honey!  More if it’s secret.  I was once in a bookstore in Manhattan and picked up a book that was in the celebrity section.  It was photos of famous people “flashing”, like getting out of cars with their skirts blowing up revealing . . . imagine.  The clerk practically ripped it out of my hands.  It was quite expensive.

In the family albums that remain in my hands because everyone else has died, are many bedtime photos of me and my younger brothers as pre-schoolers cavorting around naked.  Once considered innocent and even immortalized in garden sculpture, family snaps are now porn because of the panic about pedophilia.  At the time we thought what we called “bare scuddies” were cute and innocent.  Or should we assume that there were Freudian motives?

Put that aside.  Some websites insist that they want to guide people to be quality writers, but so far I mostly see directions for making money: how to propose, how to write, where to find enticing illustrations, and so on.  Some of it seems to be advice for people for whom English is a second language.  There’s nothing wrong with that but it’s not classic writing as in the canon we all used to learn in school.

When people have asked me to give an opinion of the quality of their writing, I’m always worried.  They think that I will “correct” it, but what I’m after is their own take on life.  What is unique and flavorful?  If it breaks the rules, so what?  It’s almost like cooking — do what tastes good to you.  Our school systems don’t like that.  Even at the U of Chicago, my professor said “sternly” (that was his name, Richard Stern) about a story I wrote, “This is NOT a University of Chicago paper!”  One of his duties was whipping undergrads into shape to fit an institutional template that is widely respected.  Then he added,  “But as what it is as itself, it’s hot.”  (It was about Blackfeet.  He knew NOTHING about Blackfeet.)  

You’re not supposed to get fancy with fonts or capitalization  It really bugs those who have been obeying the rules to think “incorrectness” can be part of good writing.  Imagine how they feel when they read a Trump tweet.  I do atypical things, for instance, I always bold proper names the first time I use them, because it helps to find that place again later.  The point of punctuation, like all the other pointers about clear writing, is to be helpful but not too intrusive.  

I converted to business letter writing habits of handling paragraph, dropping indentation to indicate the first sentence and skipping a space instead to create a block of print.  Cries of outrage from the academics.  

Self-publishing eliminates publisher demands.  I don’t care about “correctness” but only about intelligibility.  And that means caring about the reader because different things make sense to different kinds of readers.  Sod your publisher, who takes it for granted that they “know” readers when they don’t.  Find out about your reader for yourself.  And find “curators” who know those people.

Friday, August 07, 2020

Where Are the Rez Readers?

Where are the rez readers?  Why is it all right for white people to buy and read books by indigenous people, but not okay for white people to write about them, even if they’ve lived in the community a long time?   Why don’t rez people buy books and read them?  Once there was no place to buy them on the rez, but now you can find them online, read them on the screen or download them.

Where are the rez publishers?  Browning School District #9, which is still under the governance of the state rather than the tribe, has the rights to publication of several valuable books but has no idea how to publish them or how to sub-contract to someone who does — even a newspaper.  I ordered a copy of one book two years ago, but it never came.

Notably, Adolf Hungry Wolf (whom purists love to despise because he's white) has given them the rights to his four-volume Good Medicine books, virtually a museum in a box, that gathers a century of history and photos.  It could be a bonanza if sub-contracted to the Museum of the Plains Indian if that institution hired a “curator” who was capable of advertising and distribution, even through Amazon.

Where are the rez fabricators who could learn to bind books in custom covers?  The graphics artists who could create knockout designs are everywhere.  Existing used books about Blackfeet could be bought on the internet used book market (Abebooks, etc) and re-bound in new covers to sell, if only through the Museum gift shop.  Even an individual could do such a thing.  A teenager!  The cash layout wouldn’t be much, but it would take a credit card to make the online transactions.  How-to classes are free on YouTube.

First you have to think of it.  I take the problem to be one of horizons.  Those who dare to look beyond the boundaries of the rez are often enticed to just leave and establish a new life, maybe in the city or maybe with a partner from another tribe.  But on the computer one can explore while staying in place.

Another problem is trying to hold everything still, to keep it all the same, which is a response to trauma.  Also to the capriciousness of both tribal and federal politics, which constantly interfere with trying to start a business or an education without any assurance that funds will be there.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, efforts were made to “salvage” what was assumed to be a vanishing culture.  The premise that writing by/about Indians is more precious is rooted in this period when white experts wrote for the white curious.  As it happens, the Indian culture simply adapted, incorporating aspects of at least two cultures to create something new, but as yet not defined yet.  Books could do that.

Part of the interference is the war over who is “really” Indian or not.  Consider that James Welch attended high school in Minneapolis and as an adult lived in the college community of Missoula, married to a white female professor.  His childhood summers were often with his mother’s family in Fort Belknap rather than his father’s family in Browning.

Jimmie Welch, as we called him was actually the 3rd with that name.  Jimmie Welch’s father was the 2nd.  He was a classmate of Bob Scriver, the white man to whom I was married in the Sixties, and the two got into mischief together which I heard about from Jimmie Pere when I interviewed him for the book about Bob.  I attended his graveside burial in Dupuyer where the cemetery is on a hill full of wild strawberries.

Jimmie the Senior did well enough alternating a master welder occupation with hospital administration.  At one point he bought each of his children an automobile.  One son became a pilot.  The daughter went into administration.  I forget what the other son did, but this was not a “moccasin” family.  None of James Welch the author’s Missoula family attended.  (If I’m wrong, let me know, but I wasn’t introduced to anyone from the U of M.)

This does not lessen the power or truth of what the books tell.  He was always generous and aware of kids, made time for the Heart Butte kids I took to a literary conference, but didn’t spend a lot of time on the Blackfeet rez.

His cousin, Sidner Larson, from his mother’s side, was also an academic and author.  Most of the Indian writers that I’ve met in person were at a conference at the U of Oregon where Sid was teaching at the time and organized the event.  He also has a law degree, I think, and ran a bar for a while.  He likes to keep his head down now, after getting bruised by the academic world losing faith in the virtue of Indian Studies and saving money by closing them down.  His book, “Captured in the Middle” is highly relevant.

Welch himself tried to escape stereotypes by writing about an Indian who was a lawyer or one who emigrates to France, where Jimmie is a great favorite.  After a person has seen the movie “Winter in the Blood”, so idyllic and tragic at once, one can hardly blame him for going back to the old tropes in “Fool’s Crow.”

But the audience and the publisher wouldn’t hear of anything different from the early books, any more than the public would buy Sherman Alexie’s attempt at a murder mystery.  Alexie's  frank young adult books went better, because the kids didn’t get stuck in old assumptions.

As soon as recording devices were invented, both amateurs and anthropologists began to record the oral language of the Blackfeet.  Crackling and semi-intelligible recordings steadily got better until we come to the modern dilemmas of technology moving so quickly that no sooner is a CD made than the machine that can play it will be too old-fashioned to be on the market.   https://windspeaker.com/radio occasionally broadcasts speeches in Blackfeet/Blackfoot and they are probably not the only tribal radio stations out there.  

Maybe now there are more rez listeners and videographers than readers and writers  Not everyone realizes they can watch on YouTube as easily as opening a book.  This link will take you to some contemporary people, including Earl Old Person and John Murray from Browning.  


The link below goes to a classic 1930 conference recorded on film and at one time almost impossible to find.  These people were born about 1850 when the first prairie treaties were signed, the first attempt to secure peace, faulty as it was.


National Geographic  and other natural history websites have taught us to expect public performances and high cinema values, though there’s far more to it than that.  But first you have to think of looking for it.

Thursday, August 06, 2020


When I’m shocked and appalled by what people say, I let it sink in.  Then later I come back to try to understand what they meant, why I reacted as I did, and how it fits into some larger picture.  I suppose that comes from teaching.

The concept I’ve been thinking about is the idea that those websites like Medium.com have an assumption that the success of writing comes from the writer.  Because of my training as a preacher, I know that no matter how skillful the speaker or writer may be, at least half of the quality comes from the side of the reader or listener.  I’ve come to propose that the receiver should be seen as the founders saw Congress — that is, divided between an “elite” who learned to accept ideas critically, to think abstractly, to follow with understanding, on one side, but on the other side to take seriously the “common person” who reads in an unsophisticated way, just skipping whenever their understanding goes blank or their sensibilities are offended.  Oddly, in Congress it is the ordinary person's side, the Dems, that are concerned about the vulnerable and the elite who can't grasp facts.

(I try not to think of an “elite” Senate that has gone corrupt.)

Thus, my cousins — we’re Scots — loved “Outlander” about the history of that country, and simply skipped the sadism, violence, and gay stuff.  Readers have loved the whole series.  Arrogantly, I considered some elements just reader bait for less sensitive people and I ignored the story.  Thus my friend I mentioned earlier innocently enjoyed James Willard Schultz’ wild tales without worrying about whether they were a bit exaggerated.  But purists were offended.  Nevertheless, Schultz’ popularity has been sustained for a long time.

It’s easy to know how to attract writers to new venues, esp. the ones who participate in the pop loop about celebrities and scientifically wobbly speculations about psych stuff.  Just offer them fame and fortune.  It’s almost publishing automatically mechanized or rather digitized.  (It was Gutenberg with his printing press who was mechanizing.)

Some people cannot make sense of print.  They are not simply illiterate in the sense of not being taught to read.  Whatever it is in the brain that can associate sounds of spoken words with little marks on paper (or the equivalent) is simply missing.  Maybe they weren’t taught but maybe one of several steps is missing physiologically.  The code for “brain construction” had a glitch.  We tend to think everyone has the same mind unless there’s a marked deficit.

But sometimes it’s a matter of experience, like the famous reflection on how different is the world of the bat.  I’ve been slow to realize that defined and habitual versions of certain knowledges make it impossible for me to understand their language:  banking, insurance, the stock market, and other monetary worlds, for example.  They use specialized jargon that they think everyone understands, but I don’t, so I end up trying to get some young person on the coast by telephone to explain terms and rules.  They’re usually patient, but a bit baffled that I don’t understand.

This is what one runs into when trying to explain writing about the original peoples of the continent and their descendants.  It’s a different world.  If the virtual construct of a novel is not what some readers expect, they will put the book down.  But they aren’t conscious that they imagined some expectation that wasn’t fulfilled.  It just seems bad writing. The actual Native Americans who grew up on the rez may begin to read, find the ideas ridiculous, and quit.  

Their problem can be something like those who learn to read and write Blackfeet, a naturally oral language, but discover there is very little in print using that language.  In fact, there isn’t an alphabet for English that can accurately convey a language with different consonants or even vowel sounds.  Readers need to read what make sense to them but if they don’t write, where will it come from?  It’s a circular problem.  But it’s not about white people if one wants reservation people who can write.

I would argue that “race” is not physical so much as a matter of culture and that culture can be radically different from the mainstream, or partly secret because of stigmatizing and tabooing different things and wanting to avoid trouble.  If the trouble is an oral culture, what about going to video “writing”?  Sometimes cultural “race” -- understood as culture rather than skin color -- is an attempt to preserve the past, maybe through writing, or maybe to define the present.  Shared culture is more meaningful in the lives of people than their genes or provenance, which are the basis of “blood quantum” as an entitlement, though the original idea of protecting a completely pre-existing set of people was at the bottom of the idea. 

The reservation system was straightforwardly the provision of commodities to people who were in danger of death, extinction.  The government mainstream wanted to kill them, or at least hoped they would dwindle out of existence.  It was a hellish basis for a new culture, which was inconceivable then.  The People were vulnerable in part because of their means of living being destroyed but also because they couldn’t read print and all the negotiations were recorded in print, signed with X’s and often neglected afterward.  

Today a great big Rule of Law chicken has come to roost on the government, because the legal requirements have been ignored.  These are now given close attention by wily old chiefs who can not only read, but also may have been to law school.  And they may not be that old.

For the ordinary person who only watches TV, the romance of the displaced and seeking person still holds attention and keeps value in those books.  For many readers it doesn’t matter who spins the more recent yarn or whether it is all “true” so long as it fits their expectations.  But ever since AIM warriors appeared, it has been possible to break through old standards if the writer is passionate enough, sexy enough or forbidden enough.  No need for high Anglo literary quality, though fine writing has always been able to accommodate both Venus and Dionysos, Western post-Roman elements.

Autochthonous (earth-based) ideas from Eurasia are more like the American indigenous frame of mind.  One shared aspect is the love of laughter, especially related to the mischief or stupidity of an archetypal character, whether Naapi, Simple Simon or Trump.  Laughter, one of the most potent oral language elements, can also carry the uninitiated into reading print.  Maybe graphic comics stand in between, political cartoons most of all.

This phenomenon of writer/speaker interacting with reader/listener creates something invisible, which can be called “virtual,” something abstract but existing.  It begins in the mother/infant charmed circle and persists in the idea of the “liminal,” an extraordinary time/place marked by some kind of psychological “limen” or threshold, either deliberate or accidental.  Even non-readers can experience the phenomenon, maybe not consciously, but just by feeling the difference through music or ceremony.  It is deeply human.

Not every bit of writing or speaking can be liminal, but when it reaches the proper receivers it can be extremely powerful, even intoxicating.  Can writers try to do this on paper?  Would anyone pay them for it?  Native Americans who think that simply insisting their writing is entitled are apt to find out their advantage is an illusion.