Sunday, September 30, 2007


The obituaries in the Great Falls Tribune, a Montana newspaper reporting on a population high in grain farmers and Indians, increasingly attributes death to diabetes or “side effects.” Were these deaths by heart attacks, strokes, amputations, blindness... what? I’m being told that most diabetics die of heart attacks and therefore I should keep my blood glucose scores in the eighties or nineties -- 100 presumably being “normal.” But I’m also being warned that a score too low (I dip as low as 70.) will cause me to slip into a seizure which can be fatal. Is this what’s causing the deaths in the obits? Death by hypoglycemic seizure, which is more common in old people? I suspect that it is more likely the fact that there is a lot of attention to diabetes and a wish to impress upon people that not taking action can kill them. Something like the insistence on seat belts.

My diabetic friend and I have noticed that increasingly our doctors get angry when we ask questions or if we don’t respond to our meds the way they think we ought to. As my friend puts it, “They have this little routine set of answers and protocols, and if you don’t fit, they get mad.” Even my pharmacist, a cool guy who seems open to ideas, became impatient the last time I asked too many questions. I think this is because increasingly the realization is dawning that the problem is not being solved and authorities are indulging a tendency to “blame the victim” again. The assumption is that if dieting doesn’t work, it’s because the patient is shirking the diet. After all, if “she” [sic] weren’t such a sugar pig, she wouldn’t have gotten diabetes in the first place. (Illness as retribution for sin.)

Gary Taubes
, author of “Good Calories, Bad Calories,” is a science writer who explores issues we have taken for granted. He comes to the conclusion that much of what we “know” is wrong. We DO know that: “The obesity epidemic starts between 1976, say, and 1986. We're fairly confident about that because there're these series of National Health Examination surveys, and we know that in the third NHANES survey, obesity rates are still 14 percent.... And then somewhere in that period between the late '70s and late '80s, they shoot up to 22-25 percent. That's known as the obesity epidemic, and the idea is: What explains it?

From my fat research, I already knew that there were two major changes in the country during that period. One was, high-fructose corn syrup came in as sort of the primary caloric sweetener in America, which was my personal bias. I thought that it was high-fructose corn syrup because I'm allergic to high fructose corn syrup. “…[Local ag newspapers are beginning to actively oppose this now, so it must be having some impact!]

The other factor is highly processed sugars and starches. This fits with the glycemic index approach best explained by Aussies who are not dominated by the US’s Industrial Diabetes Cartel. You can get to them through Google. This is the way I lost fifty pounds in a hurry when I was diagnosed with Diabetes 2.

Taubes is open to the idea of “metabolic disorder” rather than just “high sugar.” He points out that insulin (and estrogen) are traffic directors that help to set points at which weight stabilizes, that guide different sugars and fats to different places in the body and help transform one into another. In other words, he’s willing to look at the major associated metabolic feedback loops that should be monitored by each person: high blood glucose, lipids, and high blood pressure. It seems clear that some mechanism under ALL of them is the REAL problem. We are only addressing symptoms.

In 1990 in Great Falls, I went to a gynecologist without the guidance of my internist, because the latter was on vacation and it was a sort of hurry-up situation. When my wise doc found out to whom I had been assigned (it was a clinic), he sighed, and soon I sighed, too. This was an angry gynecologist who declared I MUST lose weight, who scolded that it was just a matter of decent moderation, and who prescribed premarin (for menopause troubles) in an amount that made my pharmacist raise his eyebrows. This gynie was a younger version of a Sixties gynecologist (same town) who had insisted I lose weight and prescribed both thyroid extract and amphetamines. I took them, ruined my equanimity and did not lose weight, which made him very angry. (I have a suspicion that too many men who hate women go into gynecology. I have theories about why.)

In the Nineties I was beginning to really wonder about weight gain (I weighed just a little more than I do now -- about 200 when my ideal should be more like 150. But this seems to be a set point.) and to accumulate books about the issue. Not diet books, but physiology and metabolism books about stuff like cell membranes and ion pumps. I gave my best anthology of essays to that gynie to try to smarten him up and now I wish I hadn’t. That book seems highly relevant and I may have to scout for replacements. Maybe the research has moved along now anyway, maybe helped by genome information since much seems related to a sort of subtle ethnic adaptation to region. And maybe Google will work better than any book at this point.

It’s possible that this metabolic syndrome is due to more than the kind or amount of food one eats or to one’s heredity. Some have suggested a virus, and certainly we’re beginning to realize how much double-helix code is floating around the world, looking for a cell to call home. Or it’s possible that there is an environmental contaminant that is slow-acting and pervasive. It seems clearly related to wealthy countries: life-style issues as they say. Or possibly there is an actual genetic mal-mutation or a prion floating around.

Taubes again: “One of the things I had always tried to understand, the orthodox wisdom is [to] cut back. Just eat less, and yet people eat less and they don't lose weight. I've eaten less and I've not lost weight. I mean, it doesn't seem to work, and I kept saying to myself: Why can you tell people over and over again [to] eat less, and yet they don't lose any weight?

“The thing they never pay attention to -- and I've interviewed probably 300 or 400 researchers in the obesity/heart disease field in the past four to five years, and in obesity in particular -- they do not consider hunger a physiological phenomenon. They will talk about hunger hormones, hunger genes ... But hunger to them has always been something that's purely psychological on some level, so they could put people on a diet.

“But [now] everyone agrees that insulin is the hormone that controls the deposition of sugar and carbohydrates and fat in your body. They agree that if insulin levels are high, you'll preferentially store calories as fat; and that as long as insulin levels stay high, you won't be able to get to that fat to use it for fuel. They agree that carbohydrates will raise insulin levels more than fat -- fat doesn't have an effect on insulin, although if you force-feed enough calories, you can [raise] it. All of that is given....

“It's not just the calories. That's the point. It's the effect of the calories on the hormones, and the effect of the hormones on how your body decides to use the calories you're eating -- is it going to burn them as fuel or store them as fat -- and that effect on hunger.”

Is it possible that in rich countries many of us are dying of hunger? I think so. And not just hunger for food either: hunger for attention, hunger for intimacy, hunger for achievement, hunger for understanding, hunger for control of our own lives, hunger for safety. We have a lot of work to do and angry docs won’t help, even if we hungry folks are fouling up the ten-minute interval schedule that guarantees their income.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

LOVE AND ABUSE is the url of a fine poet housebound by fibromyalgia in Missoula. One might say that she’s making lemonade from lemons, except that the product is much finer than just lemonade. Sometimes champagne and sometime strong medicine. One of her “disciplines” is subscribing to poetry prompter websites, which suggest topics. Last Thursday a prompter reminded her that Thursday was a day to address abuse, with people across the country choosing the type of abuse to confront. sbpoet at one time made her living as a group therapist for men who had been convicted of sexual abuse. Her poem is here. I give you the url so you can go to the website because there are other excellent poems there.

This poem simply and straightforwardly reports what the therapist hears, rationalizations the perpetrators failed to understand were criminal, destructive, power-based, and painful. Put side-by-side, the claims are ridiculous as one can only hope the men realized in group. The end of the poem is the “snapper,” switching to the point of view of the victim and confessing that “I loved him.”

If you have experience with these situations, and I hope that few of you do, this truth (for some, not all) will ring true and reveal itself as -- what word will do? Ironic? Inscrutable? Infuriating?

At this Montana Festival of the Book, I spoke to Barbara Richard, whose book “Dancing on his Grave”, was a powerful reflection on her father, a man who embodies this poem, except that the abuse he doled out was not just sexual except in the way that our corrupted culture equates violence with sex with love. None of the respected writers who backed her last year (Lee Rostad, Mary Clearman Blew, Judy Blunt) were present. She was not on our panel about memoir, though her sort of memoir is a hot topic around the planet. I suspect that the Montana Festival of the Book does not seek “hot topics” but tries to be “nice” as a sort of Chamber of Commerce Event, thus risking boredom.

What Barbara said ( was that those working to end sexual abuse are finding the perpetrators far too resistant and capable of denial to be changed. (This is pretty daunting considering how both the acts and the retribution seem to escalate.) Some are now going to a new strategy: addressing the victim, the person who says “I loved him.” What is it that makes a person say such a thing after being abused? Barbara said that her own mother, even after two episodes that nearly killed her and being smart enough late in life to earn college degrees with excellent grades, still insisted that she was in love with her violent husband, that they would reunite and live in bliss.

When I was young, I thought the way to cope was to face everything, to confront, to know the truth -- all that Walt Whitman stuff. But then as I grew older, I discovered some truths. One of them is that a person can prevent themselves from facing the truth -- just never think it. You can't know that you're missing something because your own head tricks you -- an outside person has to help you see things.

A therapist once asked me to tell her concrete evidence of love on the part of my ex-husband. I told her about him brushing my hair. She scoffed. I think that one of the truths is that even a therapist can take a point of view that prevents them from admitting evidence. Many people would think the only evidence of love is financial: if he gives you diamonds, he loves you, even if he blacks your eyes. What IS evidence of love? Fidelity? Support and protection? Tenderness? Seen any movies about those things lately? Does Philip Roth write about those things?

One of the responses to SBpoet’s poem was from India where women are often no better than animals, maybe not as good as cows. Financial instruments, heir producers, family slaves, the women there suffer through social consent, even though that country is the source of many ideas about compassion, nonviolent reform, and respect for all life. No matter how bad something is, there is always something worse.

No matter how easy your own life is, it doesn't always mean you can help others. It just doesn't come out even. But you can try. If you can figure out how to do it. I went to our little village clinic for a blood test. The only other person was a woman who had plainly been beaten up. She walked past my yard daily and I always spoke to her, so I said something about my daylilies. She barely responded. Now she never walks on my sidewallk -- she goes up the alley, she walks on the other side, she drives. If I went to her house, she would ignore my knocking.

Confronting things, having insights, doesn't change things. You have to do something differently than before. But to people who have been assaulted, asking for help just means losing more control -- people intervene, but they might not have the same values, they might hurt the assaulter who is loved by his victim, they might cut off the last sources of income.

The nature of bonding is mysterious. When I was little, an oldest girl followed closely by two brothers, I was “dethroned” by a mother struggling to keep track of a household growing faster than the income from a husband whose job took him on the road. At least this is what I figure, looking back from adulthood. I was often a bad girl, throwing tantrums and disobeying to the point of earning a spanking. Because that was contact. That was attention. No one figured this out at the time. At school my strategy was different: I did everything right, I curried favor, I got good grades. My teachers, older women, gave me lots of attention. (My classmates were unimpressed.)

Barbara Richard will agree with me that “blaming the victim” is no help and will not change the situation. What victims need is new strategies that are often counter-intuitive but that will build new relationships outside the abusive one, people who support, protect, listen, suggest things never thought of before in the way a good therapist or group leader will do.

We need a new society that is not based on obsessive ownership of people and objects. I looked up “abuse” in the dictionary. We tend to equate it with something like torture, pain, destruction. But at root it simply means ab - use, to not use something properly. Sexual abusers often have the idea that it’s not abuse if love is present and that sex IS love. Not so. The whole culture needs to realize “not so.” When people used to sneer at teenaged suicides in Browning, saying they were just looking for attention, Bill Haw used to say, “Oh, yes. They’re dying for attention.” And quite a few more were fucking for attention. Shocked? Good. NOW you’re paying attention, which was the whole point of writing poems about abuse in the first place.

Friday, September 28, 2007


All summer I did the Marilynne Robinson “Housekeeping” thing -- that is, let the wind blow dust through and tracked leaves in and let small animals have their way with the furnishings. (Cat nests on all sides.) Fall is a time for reform while it’s still warm enough for things to dry out from washing or to temporarily set things outside to make room while moving furniture into new patterns. But yesterday I accidentally kicked the plug of the computer out of the wall.

No biggie, I thought. I’ll just start ‘er up again. But it wouldn’t turn on. My eMac is supposed to be a self-healer, but what if it won’t even turn on? I went away for a while, did other things, came back. Still no action. What would I do without a computer? My financial resources, even borrowing, are drawn down past the point of comfort. Partly this is because I was so sure that money from the bio of Bob would be coming in by now and partly because inflation goes up, up, up. Beyond inflation, there are beginning to be scams: AT&T is billing me $40 a month for nothing -- I’m using calling cards for long distance. Even my user-friendly credit union now charges me $25 per overdraft, even if it’s only $1. I couldn’t afford computer repair, much less a new machine.

What would I do without it? My grocery list is on it. My monthly accounts are on it. Thank God for blogging -- all those small essays are accessible through the library’s machines, though they are all “Windows” OS which I hate. Even some of my scanned photos are on Photobucket. My practice with novels in progress is to print as I go, put the pages in 3-ring binders, and shelve them. That works.

Communication with my cousins would stop. I’d miss out on the listservs. I’d have to read blogs at the library. (Some of them are just too good to miss -- they’re like long, on-going novels by now as people live their lives and record their changes.)

The worst part is that I’ve gotten so I think on the computer. I look up concepts and get a quick review. I investigate providers or symptoms or schools of thought. Now that I think about it, I could probably give up some of my books without really feeling it. IF I still had the computer. It structures my day (along with the cats and the post office).

In fact, I got so drawn into the internal head debate over the computer and how to survive without it, that I forgot to take my blood pressure and diabetes pills. Went to do that at 8PM and got a reading of 200 blood glucose! Panic! That’s twice the usual! I bailed out the door and walked for half-an-hour. That on top of my regular pills brought me down to 75. Swinging back and forth is not good, though it won’t look that bad on my a1c, which is an average.

Still distracted and with everything in strange places, I kicked my shin hard against a ceramic pot with a protruding rim, producing a bruise. Later on, since I didn’t move it and it was still in the way, I knocked against the pot again, aggravating the bruise. Was I going to die of a blood-clot from an accidental bruise? It was swollen pretty bad. I went to take an aspirin. If I still had a bathtub, I’d soak for a while.

I’ve got to get to Cut Bank to get more test strips for my little glucose tester, which means I must type off the records of results. I didn’t test as often as I’m supposed to. I’ll be scolded. (I also didn’t floss, didn’t moisturize, and didn’t check my feet carefully every day.) I’m crashing and it’s all my own fault.

The moon was up, so full and pale it made the yard look as though it had snowed. If it was full moon, that meant my hormonal system was at what used to be the pre-menstrual unjustified goad and outrage stage. I laughed.

Somewhere in the back of my mind, I remembered that I’d read that if a computer were just unplugged and left alone for a while, it had the capacity to settle down and operate again. Certainly my pickiup has that feature, which it took me a long time to realize was actually a FEATURE. If the computer in the pickiup gets confused, it just goes numb and dumb for a minute. (Not good in traffic!) Then everything works again. So I unplugged the computer and went to read. (Couldn’t watch my Netflix since I have to watch DVD’s on the computer.)

All summer I’ve been working through “The Raj Quartet,” loving it and always able to step right back in where I left off. So many people in such dire straits, and yet they cope. Or not. In the long run it matters little. Pretty soon I heard little “bings” in the office. Once I had a Mac Classic that I packed with me on trips -- that was before laptops. (I’ll bet I could sell enough books off my shelves to buy an old used Mac Classic.) The battery in it was dead but I hadn’t replaced it yet. It was August and as I drove in the afternoon, voices started coming from next to me. The heat had fired up the last energies of the battery and the computer was talking to me, a little muffled inside its backpack carrier.

At bedtime I tried this eMac and it came on as though nothing had ever happened, except that it reminded me to reset the time. My bruise had begun to itch a bit, which is a good sign. The forecast for today was 70 degrees which was an even better sign. My hormone balance changed in the night, so now my fingers are no longer sausages and I don’t feel as though I might burst into tears.

But a shot has been fired over my bow. Old age is not something to take lightly, nor is diabetes, nor is poverty. Back up data. Make connections. Offload anything unnecessary. Fill those 3-ring binders. Keep a schedule. Make lists.

Make lists.

Make lists.

Post them!

Thursday, September 27, 2007


On a summer afternoon I was taking a nap when suddenly Bob dropped this little creature into my lap. It took me a minute or two to figure our what it was: a baby fox just barely old enough to leave its mother. “The Boys” and Bob had spent the day digging it up. (Part of the reason people liked to work for the Scriver Studio is that they never knew what the days work would be.) I hope they left the other cubs. I was always careful not to ask too many questions.

But the critter was hopping with nano-livestock, fleas and other small stuff, so into the shower we went that very minute -- clothes and all -- and baby shampooed us both. It was a sort of baptism, a death to the wild world and a rebirth to the world of the domestic pet. But the way we treated our pets was not unlike the wild -- that is, we all slept in a heap together at night though the den was replaced by a bed. It wasn’t a problem until Vixen began to teeth and chewed her way through the electric blanket, wire included. Luckily, it wasn’t plugged in at the time.
Bob became mother. He took this pheasant out of the freezer to mount it and as it thawed, he fed the meat to the foxlet, until the bulging latter slumped down asleep in the middle of everything.
Bedtime was playtime for us all. The growing fox made a home for herself behind the books in the bookcase alongside Bob’s chair, so she could easily come rushing out and attack by surprise. Predator babies love to play -- it’s how they learn to hunt and it makes them lots of fun IF one enjoys the play.

Bob dearly loved playing and stripped for action, pressing his smelly old work glove into service as a lure.

Vixen had her favorite prey to drag "home" under the ironing board: the hot pink plush accessories in the bathroom (scales cover, bath mat) and the soap I got from Caswell-Massey that was supposed to look like a tomato because it had tomato juice in it. She hid these bits all over the house and every Saturday I’d find them and put them back where they belonged so she could drag them “home” again, stopping now and then to “shake them to death.”

Vixen and I had quieter times. Now and then I’d read her a story from a magazine. She was very attentive, esp. when the story was about birds or mice.

Then one day when the fox was about grown and had developed a passion for miniature marshmallows, Marie MacDonald -- elegant wife of a lawyer -- stopped by to visit, wearing her signature pearls. Interpreting her pearl earrings as marshmallows, Vixen leap into action and made off with an earring. It took me two days to find the earring poked into a corner under a rug. I was grateful Marie didn’t pierce her ears. She took the incident well. No lawsuit.

Not long after this photo was taken the story came to its inevitable and classic denouement. Like “The Yearling,” like Elspeth Huxley’s little antelope, the fox had grown and went about her own business. She might have found another fox and mated or she might have been killed. People don’t all like foxes. A fox in the wrong place is just another predator. A fox on an island where it is not native can devastate a whole ecology and extinguish species. They are not benign and harmless.

We didn’t keep this fox in a cage. The bedroom window was open at night and unscreened. If there was a full moon like the one last night, she’d leap out while we slept and come back just as we woke up and went to shoot gophers to feed the pets, so she’d be lined up to get one. One morning she just didn't show up. I have very mixed thoughts about all that.

My feelings are something quite different. To sleep with foxes, not metaphorically but actually and when they are young (You think adolescent humans smell bad -- they’re nothing compared to a fox coming into its skunky tomcat hormones.) is not that different from sleeping with cats. Except that when a fox cub wants to wake you up in the morning, its nose is sharp enough to stick it right into your ear. And if you twiddle anything under the covers, it will jump up a foot in the air and come down with all four feet on the twiddle. Fox fur is thicker and deeper than any cat’s fur, but it’s feet are like a dog, for digging.

In my mind it’s all mixed into a Japanese myth I read as a child, about an ill princess who could only be saved by the liver of a fox. A female fox sacrificed herself for the princess and then the mate of the female also sacrificed himself so that the princess would keep his fur always with her in remembrance.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


From one of my daily enewsletters. I think Publisher’s Marketplace:

“HarperCollins has taken a big step towards enabling their authors to communicate easily and thoroughly with fans online with the pilot launch of a web-based toolset to create author pages called Author Assistant. Beginning with 40 Avon Romance authors, "based on their strong community and existing connection with fans," the house plans to roll out the program to all US-based imprints and authors within this fiscal year.

“Participating authors create a set of web pages that can include such features as biographical information, blog posts, coming attractions, Q&As, photos, links to other articles and posts, browse inside widgets, and even a map of other Harper authors that fans have in common. The current feature set "reflects the basics of what authors need to publish content on our site," according to SVP for Global Marketing Strategy and Operations Carolyn Pittis, who says they plan to add numerous other features, driven in large part by "what authors want." One one of the most likely additions is a video component, as well as feeds to provide third-party syndication.

“While they "aren't trying to replicate every web 2.0 feature" one can think of, Pittis says they "definitely expect we'll be adding more two-way features." For now, "it's really an author to consumer project" though they understand that fans are eager to participate and communicate back in today's web world. "It all comes back to the question of what's the purpose of a publisher's web site. This seemed like the right first step...saying that there needs to be a way authors can keep their fans up to date on what they're doing."

“Pittis says the program has "a lot of enthusiasm in house" and helps to "simplify and speed up" the process of getting information about their authors and books online. It also lets the house use its natural strengths to draw traffic and cross-fertilize among different authors on their list. As Pittis notes, though many authors have been savvy about putting themselves online in various ways, "authors are not experts on search engine optimization. The point of what we're trying to do is to use the author's content to cross-market them within our network."

“The announcement notes that "several authors have played a key role in the development process, providing feedback and recommendations during the entire process of development." Avon publisher Liate Stehlik says those efforts included a small live focus group early on with a few authors and broader interaction with more authors at the RWA convention. Authors own any content they create for their pages.
AuthorAssistant home

* * * * * * * * *
Now it’s me again. So this is where we’ve been going all this time. Into the author’s bedroom and kitchen to see what they’re REALLY like, what toothpaste they use and what they think the secret of the universe might be. (Wasn’t that settled? Isn’t it 7 or 49 -- some number like that? Well, most romance readers are interested in less abstract issues anyway.)

In other words, nowadays we’re not just supposed to write a book and go around the nation (at our own expense) reading from it in deserted chain bookstores, but now we’re supposed to sit at our keyboards and nurse the readers through the books while rocking and singing lullabies. I’m losing my interest in being an author real fast. Good thing I still enjoy to write a decent sentence or frame a memory or propose an insight. But I’m beginning to think that Emily Dickinson had the right idea. Stay secret.

What the heck is going on? I proposed at the Festival of the Book that people are hoping a peephole into other lives will help them figure out their own. That’s the kindest thought I have. This new techie development is beyond vanity press, which is only paying someone to print one’s book. This is vanity website, which I suppose rises from a kind of an Oprah impulse, a natural development of books that range from narcissism (like O.J.’s did/didn’t) to earnest attempts to help other people by describing one’s own anorexia, alcoholism, or bad relationships. Maybe it comes with the territory of “misery” books, expanding the explanation to Officer Krumpke about why one is bad to a plea for sympathy.

This is INTERACTIVE vanity, mixing fan base, support group, and political caucus in that way Oprah has taught us. Of course, at heart it is commercial and soon the sale of books and quack remedies will follow the prose. I had a parishioner once who explained to me (after driving a thousand miles to “be with” me though I was no longer a minister) that public self-disclosure is always an invitation to personal intimacy. Evidently she was right, though I reacted to her proposition to come live with me (along with her kids) with horror. Until blogging I’d been pretty guarded, and even now I try to write an essay rather than a confession.

For those who can’t stand not knowing, I provide the below bit of my own domesticity. It’s a construct. I’m choosing the images, deciding whether or not to tell the cats’ names, whether or not to tell about my flannel sheets. There are lots of “ing” words to show transit, process. No big words. If you diagrammed this, it would be mostly prepositional phrases -- PRE (before) POSITIONAL (relationship). In time (season, morning), in my house (bed, computer, lamp). This is a passage that implies change. And maybe underneath is aging as an issue, time passing rather quickly and alone except for cats. You’re supposed to be able to figure that out for yourself. You’re supposed to read it in your own house and STAY THERE without a website all about me.

“When I go to sleep the tortoiseshell cat is curled up in my arms, purring. When I wake up I’m in the same position but the cat in my arms is yellow. They switch in the night somehow -- both of them purring and snoring and slipping in or out from under the covers, but without me being aware of it. It’s fall now. Time for the electric mattress pad and the thick nightgowns. Coffee and bran muffin when the paper comes at 5AM, then back to bed while the tortie curls in the window, basking under the computer lamp, and the yellow cat settles into my reading chair, now nicely warmed by my bottom.”

Personal enough for you? This does not mean I want you to come be my cat. It means I like to write. It does not mean that if I write a book about myself, I am selling intimacy. It means I like to write. Maybe the best protection is a false identity.

Monday, September 24, 2007

WILLIAM T. HAW (1931 - 2007)

About a year or so ago a friend of mine lost her miniature dachshund to old age. It happened that at the same time the Pope died and I had a vivid mental image of John-Paul and the little dachsie going over the great swelling horizon we call Death, the dog dancing around the Pontiff’s hem while he made a few little moves of his own.

This time it’s two men following that guy with the scythe over the ridgeline of the world: Marcel Marceau and William T. Haw. I only knew the latter personally and MM (b.1923) didn’t know WTH but I see nothing strange about them going arm-in-arm on the ultimate adventure. I became aware of MM in Chicago during my undergrad years, last of the Fifties. Bill Haw came along in 1970 just as Bob Scriver divorced me. Bill had been hired to be the new Browning High School counselor and I was returning to teaching because I didn’t have enough money to do anything else. Couldn’t think what else to do anyway. Bill started me on the Third Wave Psych people: Maslow, Rogers, Perls, Erikson -- bunch of renegades who didn’t want to lie on a couch talking about infant sex nor to torment rats.

Bill was the first counselor who actually COUNSELLED. He’d been trained as a “mature” (I put quotes because there’s a valid point of view that would maintain Bill never matured) student in Detroit where one of his proudest moments was lying on his belly on the floor alongside a little black girl, both of them coloring and explaining as they drew, so that he could figure out what was going on in her troubled little head. It worked.

Once in Detroit he was arrested for something or other (his driving I think), and got everyone in the holding cage to sing gospel songs so enthusiastically that the judge wanted to know what was going on and the guards were humming along.

In Browning the school was expanding painfully quickly, so his office was the former boys’ bathroom at the end of the hall. All his conversations echoed from the tile, which wasn’t removed along with the urinals, but he pointed out that it was a “corner office” with a terrific view of the Rocky Mountains. In 1970 we had a lot of riot and revolution in the school and one day the entire student body gathered in the library/auditorium to demand the overthrow of the status quo. Both management (er, administration) and faculty hid from the shouting, pounding kids. Bill went out there on the stage and talked them down, got them agree to conditions and even return to class. He was wacky and energetic and he understood them.

Elsewhere I’ve written about the Free School and the Kindergarten Seminar. But did I tell you that early in life he ran a Baptist church camp and was a rodeo contestant and a photographer? In those days he was married to Kay and his daughter was Wendy who was in high school. I was living in East Glacier, which was frowned on by the administration in those days but has since become the norm. We had a ferocious deep-snow winter and while we could still get through, Bill drove his van loaded with teachers. Three of us hefty damsels (calling ourselves the Three Graces) sat on the back seat over the axle and made sure we had traction. Once we ended up with too many cars on the Browning end and I was supposed to drive the van back to East Glacier. Wendy, Bill’s daughter, went along and sat over the axle, but we still didn’t have enough traction, so we stopped and shoveled the back of the van full of snow. Anything to avoid putting on chains!

At Christmas all the East Glacier teachers went “home” -- not so many in those days called the rez home -- and I stayed there to guard the pets, the plants and the plumbing at a half-dozen houses. The Haw’s dog was a beagle who had been neutered a little early and stayed a puppy. When I let Sloopy out, he dove into the fluffy snow, sank to the bottom, burrowed along until his usual irrepressibility exploded him up above the three feet of snow, then sank and burrowed some more. It was so much fun that he refused to go back in until he was exhausted and nearly had to be carried.

The next winter the snow was even deeper and pounded hard by wind. The road to East Glacier was closed to everything but snowmobiles. We lived in our classrooms and thanked the powers-that-be that no students had been snowed in with us! Every evening we played penny poker but in the morning, Bill Haw and I were the only ones who got up and went to breakfast at the Red Crow Kitchen. The regulars decided that we were sleeping together, a conclusion I didn’t know until Boyd and Lila Evans told me recently. Actually the story was quite different because Bill had fallen in love, but not with me. Not many knew. (I was sleeping along in a sleeping bag over a warm place in the floor where pipes must have run underneath.) One night we all stayed in Eula Sherburne's house which had been empty since her death years earlier. Her shopping list was still on the kitchen counter.

Kay, Bill’s first wife, was a cousin to Terry, Bill’s best friend. Kay had faithfully struggled with Bill’s St. Bernard breeding plans, teaching the inexperienced male dogs what to do, which would have been a lot easier if they’d been smaller, and probably being the main feeder and shoveler-outer. She was a great backup wife, smart and competent, always able to follow-thru on Bill’s big plans. She learned sign language with Wendy, their daughter, who was deaf. But Bill -- whose physiology was tuned so high that he was on phenobarbital most of his life, who had to have a shunt installed to keep his head from exploding -- was often absent or explosive, and it began to wear.

Then he had one of those male-menopause personal revolutions and began to talk about Lynn. It was obvious he was madly in love. She had taught in East Glacier when he was the principal there. The Free School was just one step on the way out of being a nice conventional guy with a regular salary. He and Lynn went to Alaska and had a whole new exciting life up there. This time they raised bloodhounds and had two daughters.

When I saw them again they were “retired” and running a pet store in Kalispell. Their daughters were in grade school. I went home with them for supper and they took along a pet chipmunk. Bill told about installing a fancy new burglar alarm: if there were noises in the night, it called the Haws and turned on a speakerphone so they could hear what was happening and even talk to intruders. At 4AM, which is when the sun comes up during a Montana summer, the phone rang. Groggy, Bill answered, slowly realized someone was talking in the pet store, and demanded, “Who’s there?” The answer wasn’t quite intelligible, but the conversation continued several minutes before he realized he was talking to the parrot!

As we sat talking at the table, the chipmunk ran around checking for edibles. Then it spotted my clasped hands and wiggled into the warm cave they made, curled up and went to sleep. Naturally I had to stay until the chipmunk woke up. I don’t think I ever saw Bill again after that. They sold the pet store to someone from California, which is what you do in Montana, and built a house.

The next I knew was not long ago when I stopped in East Glacier at the Brown House to visit the McMasters. Terry told me Bill was in a nursing home. He was there seven years: everything was wrong with him. His brain drain plugged up. His chemistry was a disaster. His attitude stunk. And his mind was mixed up. Today, 76 years old, he gave up. Marcel Marceau and Death. This way please.

Bill had an older sister, Molly, whom I never met and wasn’t very aware of. Knowing he was sinking, she had idly plugged his name into Google and found herself reading my blog. She told Lynn and Kristin, who read it and figured out where I was. Kind of by accident, I was back in the loop.

One of MM’s classic acts was Bip going from birth to death, out along that continuum, that journey, that slow transformation, that burning up. Bill’s trip was more exciting than most. (There was the winter they took all the Free School kids south on a barely running school bus. Kay had to keep sending more money.) He spent all the energy and ideas he had -- no hoarding and no denying anyone what they really needed. (In the end Kay probably needed her freedom. Wendy died young of cancer, but there was nothing he could do about that.) There were laughs and songs and crazy tales. The Blackfeet might say it was a kind of “Napi” life, since Napi is both a trickster and a creator. We’ll gather some time in the future to share one more time.

Did I say Bill’s grandson’s name is Camden? He’s not two years old yet, just starting out.

Sunday, September 23, 2007


Crossing the prairies and then the lakeland remnants of glacial melting was no preparation for Chicago, the city built in a marsh. I had been to the South Side when I was in school at Northwestern (Class of 1961 in the School of Speech, which no longer exists), but not much and not to the University of Chicago. I got off the freeway and just drove side streets, blundering south, trying to feel the layout of the city. It was terrifically hot and humid. I was going slowly so could see that weeds had taken root on the sides of buildings wherever there was a bit of dirt and I could hear the midwestern bugs singing and rasping.

Inevitably, I came to black Chicago and, knowing black Portland, Oregon, which most people don’t understand exists, I dropped to a crawl. Cars lined the curbs, people darted in and out between them, steps and windows and stoops were crowded with observers. If I’d struck a child, a dog or a rolling ball, I would have been in as much trouble as if it happened in... We see it on TV. They stared. In a van crammed with furniture and boxes of books, I was clearly not a social worker. So what was I? Who would miss me if I disappeared? A social worker told me that when she went into project high rises, she always paused out front and called up to a nonexistent person, “Hi! I’ll be right up! Is the elevator working?” This to give the impression that someone was watching for her and would report her loss. In spite of the heat, I rolled up the window.

Then I came to a large area of rubble, looking like London after the blitz or maybe Iraq today. Urban renewal. We had to destroy the neighborhood in order to save it. Finally Hyde Park, but nowhere to park. I circled a long time, but at least I got a sense of where things were. When I was finally able to stop and stagger to the Meadville/Lombard building, kitty-corner from First Unitarian Church which is a deliberate copy of a small European cathedral, I was surprised to be greeted by Kiyo Hashimoto -- the small, vivid, Japanese heart of the school that really kept it working. She already knew a lot about me, was eager to know more, and told me exactly what I needed to know. I didn’t meet any faculty for days afterwards.

The building was beyond anything I’d expected even though my minister had described it. Built in the days when religion was a big deal and treated with enormous respect for institutions, it was full of finely detailed panels and marble. A graceful staircase rose close to the entrance to the solitary classroom. The rest of that end of the building was closed doors, offices, all with high ceilings and tall casement leaded windows.

At the other end of the building were the library stacks which contained the elevator, creaking and cranky as it was. I probably rode it twice in the four years I was there. The stacks were only the steel skeleton of the structure, with wire mesh floors, nearly twice as many floors as in the rooms. Ceilings here were low enough to make a tall man stoop. What was tall windows outside, in order to match the rest of the building, was top-halves and bottom-halves inside. The priorities had been set by understanding education for a profession as being “reading with” some wise preceptor: it was meant to be mastering a body of literature in several languages, as the PNW ministers always put it, semi-jokingly, “salvation by bibliography.” Theology, no pesky people.

Most impressively, we were each given a key to the building and a key to the library. Checking books out was via the honor system, which had a few little opercula in it. For one thing Unitarianism, because it was persecuted in England, has a strong doctrine of tolerance which occasionally attracts people outside the mainstream in surprising ways. At some point a “sexologist” had given his entire library to Meadville and it was dutifully put on the stacks. (Probably some money came along with it.) The books were not porn, but they were old-fashioned -- waaaaay old-fashioned by today’s standards. All of us read most of the books but we declined to write our names on the cards and drop them in the proper box. As far as I know, the books were always returned.

Even if one considered these books to have some practical application (at least they were about people), few of the other books did. Mostly it was an accumulation of history, but a history of a movement that has always been full of quirks and leaps, wonderful insights and boring blind alleys. To me the books felt like live creatures and I loved to sit on the floor at the top half of a Gothic window with all the lights out -- the street lights made this practical. Crosslegged, I’d rock with my heartbeat and dream of the whispering voices around me. I was taking a decidedly romantic approach to the whole enterprise, quite nineteenth century.

Others did not. There were three faculty members at that point, all about my age. The oldest was John Godbey whose dreams were as romantic as mine but considerably earlier and centered in Transylvania where there was a utopian brand of Unitarianism that still persists as a more Christian variation. Then there were two men whose friendship was so close and long-standing that we’d taken to calling them “Shengle” -- conflating Shadle and Engel. They conspired to make Godbey the Dean, year after year, which interfered with his scholarship efforts. Godbey was my advisor. He was a complicated man whose hearing problem interfered with his earnest desire to understand people. Sometimes he heard only what he wanted to, which mostly suited everyone. Shengle were survivors of the Sixties who had worn workshirts with reversed collars and gone into “the wilderness of the city.”

Up on the top floor lurked Mircea Eliade, a giant and original thinker. That’s who used the elevator, unless someone were moving a big load of books. Pilgrims came begging to find him, as though he were Gandalf. Maybe he was.

At the left on the first floor was the Curtis Room, a kind of combination lounge and auditorium. It had a huge fireplace, rarely used for a fire, and a coffee pot that was constantly in use. At a round table sat the students, coming and going, quarreling and howling with laughter. I once said to Davidson Loehr, in all seriousness, “If I had a gun right now, I’d shoot you dead.” Others have felt that way after me, including the Meadville faculty who more or less forced him out. His intellect and chutzpah were formidable enough for him to transfer over the Div School straight, without the fiction of attending Meadville. Anyway, Langdon Gilkey took a liking to him (David made wonderful bookshelves for Langdon.) and others also helped him. But he was in the class admitted the next year, a class of four.

I belonged to a class of six, all quite a bit younger than me. Three were female. Shadle, who mostly got stuck with this sort of stuff, had us over for a nice little party at his apartment, which I thought was very kind. I thought I was in a novel and waxed enthusiastic about the wonders and privileges of ministry. I wanted to get a little drunk and stay until maybe 2AM talking Big Ideas. But the others hustled me out and informed me that my enthusiasm was unseemly and would only result in more work being heaped upon us. They assured me that so much emotion showed soft-mindedness. Well, it was mostly Peter who had this opinion, acquired at Princeton.

Harris, who looked exactly like Cher, was a Nuyorican Jungian and emotion was her meat and drink. In fact, she felt so starved after a while that she transferred to Union Seminary in Manhattan. Before she went, we three women spent many happy hours in the Greek restaurant nearby, not quite conscious that it had been the hangout of the famous Jewish authors (Roth and company) at an earlier time. Maybe someday all three of us will write novels about that first year. I suppose the guys got drunk down at Jimmy’s. Maybe not.

Saturday, September 22, 2007


Okay, now put the chess pieces back in their rows and let’s play the game again. This time we switch sides: this is about a MAN looking for love, in fact, D.H. Lawrence. It’s 1985, his centennial year, and the writer of the movie wants you to know there’s more about this guy than sex. Switch sides from red pieces to white -- this time it’s love, not sex. But the point of origin is the same: love of an extraordinary mother, aristocratic, son-loving, like the mother of Tennessee Williams. It is a different place and time, a different phenome from a similar genome. This son loves women and they love him.

This son, called Burt, has two sets of parents: one for his heart -- his early-dying, piano-playing, educated mother and his hard, uneducated coal miner father, whom he hates as the backside of love. (The images of the faces as father and son sit in front of a coal fire on the night of the mother’s burial are rich with meaning. “Sons are sposed ta luv theer mithers,” says the old man. “It’s in the natoore of things. For hoosbands, it’s different.”) Then there are the parents of Burt’s mind, Professor Hopkin and his wife. Kind, learned, and insightful. And, unlike that actress in the last movie, Lawrence has enormous talent and the expectation of work at developing it. (He doesn't look like Twiggy. He looks like my dead artist brother.)

We’re in a different country now: not louche and traumatized Italy after WWII but Edwardian Britain before WWI. The women wear white and lace or black taffeta. The love object is Helen Mirren again, but this time she is merely an anchor point (Frieda Van Richtohfen) while Kenneth Branagh twirls and orates around her. (Mirren is fine, but Branagh is no less than inspired, his tongue magical as he delivers Lawrence’s poetry. In 1885 he was so young!)

The movie ends just as they have decided they are meant to be together for life -- soul mates indeed -- and pause in the beautiful landscape to discuss it all, which is the kind of intercourse they love most. We can’t help feeling a bit teased. As one of the critics remarks, they’re just beginning! Now what happens? Where’s the part about Taos? But this is not so much a narrative as an homage.

Anyway, the truth is that their life together was not anchored and blissful. WWI made national enemies of them, esp. since Frieda was German and Burt railed against war, and that meant the writing -- the sole source of income -- had to be put out in great reams, gushes, gouts, and cataracts. One of the ways to do that was to travel and write about it, so they roamed Europe and many other continents.

At one point Lawrence, who tried to pay no attention to categories like heterosexual and homosexual -- which are in large part cultural constructs anyway -- did a bit of experimenting. But he and Frieda were sophisticated: she was from “Bloomsbury on the Danube”: Vienna. She mothered him and nursed him as he struggled with his weak lungs, dying at 44. At that point Frieda was in her fifties and after Burt’s death remarried to an Indian, a man patient and even fatherly. And there was money again.

It sounds dramatic, but in fact a movie about a lot of packing and unpacking with writing going along in between is not so satisfactory, aside from being expensive to make. So the solution -- in order to make a theatre-length movie -- is a brisk bright parallel plot: a slacker male and a mother female, both D. H. Lawrence fans and scholars. Scholarly intercourse. He’s attracted -- he’s like Lawrence: he likes women! She’s tolerant. But she’s modern. Her head rules. One of her rules is honesty. So which is the truth, the slacker male who fancies Lawrence was free and easy, or the motherly and perceptive woman who tells the truth about love?

There is no physical nakedness in either story. We are not shown either couple in bed. But if one listens carefully and watches these gifted actors closely, the answer is quite clear. I was supposed to send this movie back to Netflix yesterday, but I keep wanting to watch it one more time. This one, rather than Roman Spring, but I’ll keep that, too, and send them back together because then Netflix can send me “Sons and Lovers”, the miniseries version, both discs together. (I have a two-disc subscription.)

Now I’m going to go search my bookshelves for books by and about Lawrence. I collected them when I was thinking about how to write “Bronze Inside and Out, a Biographical Memoir of Bob Scriver,” but the connection goes back to Northwestern University when I knew this kind of man like Burt, a little group of us rather like the group that meets in the movie to discuss their work and resist capitalism. I knitted us all mufflers like the one Dean Stockwell wore in the 1960 movie and still have mine, fifty years later. D.H. Lawrence, like Tennessee Williams, were cornerstone figures for us, and they have proven meaningful to me even on the Blackfeet reservation prairie.

In fact, I’ve been much more successful at resisting capitalism than the other members of that group.

Friday, September 21, 2007


GNXP, which is a serious website about genetics -- sometimes so serious that I can’t understand the scientific jargon -- livens things up now and then with speculation about who appeals to the desirable women, what the latter really desire, and why. One recent theory was that the most attractive men are those with masculine bone structure in their faces (jaw, cheekbone, brow) but feminine eyes and mouths: soft, damp, and yielding. To prove the reality of this, now comes “The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone,” a remake of a Tennessee Williams tale originally filmed with Vivien Leigh as Mrs. Stone, but this time around with Helen Mirren.

The idea is that an actress at the tail end of her career, without quite the chops for the switch to character work and suddenly deprived of a “daddy” husband who did everything for her and structured her life, is left with no compass. Then she discovers the Italian gigolo, who in this remake exactly illustrates that kind of face discussed in GNXP: male but nearly childlike, with a personality to match.

Anne Bancroft is QUITE able to make the transition from glamour to character, though she has always had a tendency to comedy (consider whom she married), so her portrayal of the part previously played by Lotte Lenya has a little more chicken soup than bitterness as she manages her stable of “marchetti.” Motherliness wins out over cynicism, which might account for why she doesn’t seem to have as nice an apartment as “Karen Stone,” the actress. (Actually, with my weakness for the Bohemian, I like it a little better.)

Because for today’s audience, we always see Mirren’s police inspector persona no matter what her part, she comes across as drifting, all right, but hardly the crazed, vulnerable and exquisitely beautiful actress that was Vivien Leigh. The sparring between Mirren and Bancroft or even with the young men always seems blows and parries between equals, until Mirren’s character finally realizes what an utter fool she has made of herself. On the other hand, her relationship with the impersonator of Tennessee Williams doesn’t seem to be an alliance of oversensitive victims so much as a true friendship, which is probably much closer to the modern relationship between movie stars and creative male gays. (I begin to be aware of another kind of male gay, a corporation stalwart who manages his money and status well enough to get into Architectural Digest and has formed a relationship with a man of equal status. Sometimes they are in business together.) I don’t find this good or bad, just slightly different, successful on its own terms and possibly necessary for today’s audience.

But I got interested in the gigolos, who appeared in a sequence of increasingly handsome young men. (I had trouble telling them apart.) The one who finally scored was the one who took charge, just as the husband had. This is a woman who doesn’t like to make decisions, at least not openly. She might do it covertly (i.e. in the classic female way.) So the choice was “Paolo de Lio” played by Olivier Martinez. It appears from the comments on that he has a fan base, but they complain that he is “too old” for this role. In fact, his manager in the film, Bancroft, also thinks he’s a fading blossom, pushing him to move on to someone not so tight with her money, pushing him hard enough for him to overplay his strategy, enlightening the MIrren character.

In the background is a nameless man, played by Rodrigo Santoro, an Argentinian actor with a long list of credits. He says nothing, merely haunts the movie star while wearing beautifully tailored rags. He is never explained. At the end, alone and drifting again but needy for sex -- now that she is awakened -- she throws down her keys to this ultimately beautiful young man. Some say he represents death, preferably by drifty drugs like belladonna. Others say he represents Karen Stone taking charge of her life -- she will now be the “daddy.” As all the best art, it’s an interpretable tale.

It’s hard to remember this is a story from the Fifties, except when looking at that barge of a convertible or in terms of Mirren’s fabulous Dior/Susie Parker/Avedon wardrobe. In fact, the waif character (which many imdb commenters described as an urchin) is very much along the lines of Jean Shrimpton and Twiggy et al, with their stick bodies, huge eyes and puffy lips. So what I was reflecting about afterwards was the relationship between sex and parenthood, which sort of goes along with my wish to include oxytocin in the estrogen/testosterone debate. The “nurturing hormone” carries the impulse to feed (lactate), warm, protect, and generally mentor the young and vulnerable. This can be a function of a male parent as much as a female parent, and maybe the tendency has come back out into the open a bit with “liberation,” though male nurturing of a child is dangerously close to pedophilia.

It seems that in this tale -- with a modern spin -- the Mirren character is freed to be more “masculine” while she mothers these boys, at least partly because she’s never had children. I suppose it beats keeping a small dog in your purse. But she mothers them and then they fuck her, that’s the bargain, though Williams seems to be saying in this story that it’s okay, so long as the fucker really LOVES his mother (a motherfucker). How much of that is not really an honest opinion, but an apologia for personal behavior? It would not be an obvious question with Vivien Leigh as Karen Stone, because Leigh was clearly not even capable of parenting herself, much less anyone else.

Our cultural tradition says the man must be the strong one. Anything else is a perversion or an invention. So maybe in a society that encourages strong women, weak men can only dominate children. And if strong women have careers that prevent them from creating families, why not turn to near-child men? The more poignant moments in this movie were when the take-charge gigolo escorts the movie star to an Italian cafe that plainly IS a family. She seems to love it, but not to relate to it. What would have happened if she’d said, “Oh, I’m going to give all my money to an orphanage! Where’s an apron I can put on?” It might work -- it just wouldn’t be a Tennessee Williams story anymore.

I haven’t seen the Vivien Leigh version of this movie, but I saw her with Rip Torn on the stage in Chicago about 1960. Rip Torn was the beautiful young man which is proof that time changes everything. We went around to the stage door to watch Leigh come out. Her hair was dyed black, she was heavily made-up, her face was nearly sunk in a black fox fur collar on a long black coat. She was a figure of the kind of glamour that really IS magic in the original meaning of the word, and part of the magic was knowing that she was ephemeral, elusive, and -- in the end -- defenseless on grounds of insanity.

Thursday, September 20, 2007


Tim says place is obsolete: there is no “here there.” (He’s living in Gertrude Stein’s old town.) He means if you’re on the Internet. One of my favorite “places” is the discussion list for the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment, which I consider a highly religious enterprise for a humanist. I’ve been hanging out there for about ten years. I’ll share some redacted conversation. (You can go to the raw material at

The thread began with an inquiry from ad7062 (the name has a history which I won’t go into here -- he ranks high on my list of good people) about teaching “Into the Wild” by Krakauer, which will be released as a movie by now. I haven’t read it but know it’s about a guy with romantic notions who went off to Alaska and died there. The REAL topic is “what should we do to be saved?” and this exchange is among some of the most longterm and interesting people on the list, favorite personalities of mine though I’ve never met them in the flesh.

I obviously have no idea what they do in the film, but the basic problem with filming such "idea" books is that they conflate the literal wilderness with the ideological and spiritual wilderness. Chris McCandless is looking for freedom, fredom from the corruption of the world, from his father, from politics, from him"self," from the whole mess. So was Abbey. So were Thelma and Louise. So were the Puritans. But the literal wilderness took over, the type overpowering the antitype, the symbol becoming everything and the actual principles it symbolizes lost, sort of like people who worship the flag but have no idea what "Freedom" is all about.. It is hard to picture "freedom" but easy to show emotional images of Old GLory blowing proudly in the breeze. The camera does this by making everything in front of the lens a "thing." For that reason, books are better for ideas.”
-- Preacher Dave (Dave Williams, expert on Jonathan Edwards, the Puritan preacher who said we were all “sinners in the hands of an angry God.” Longtime friend.)

I teach London's "To Build a Fire" and then teach McCandless. It works well. We also try to understand the book in terms of Cronon's notions of urban masculine malaise (which he touches on briefly in "Trouble with the Wilderness."
--Jeanne Hamming (a newer personality whom I don’t know)

I've not seen the film, but I did discuss the trailer in a section of "American Literature of the Open Road" I taught this past summer. Krakauer's book is the last one we read; I see it as being something of a corrective to the other texts we discuss, which typically get students "pumped" about road trips. Beginning as it does with death, *Into the Wild* serves as a kind of reality check, and my students automatically relate to McCandless even though had he lived, he'd be closer to my age than theirs. “What I found interesting about the trailer (available via is the way it does not mention McCandless's death; instead, it depicts his journey as being the triumph of the human spirit. This plays nicely into our class discussion since we talk about the two kinds of reader mail Krakauer received after writing his original article for *Outside* magazine: one pile praised McCandless for living his dream & the other pile condemned him for being underprepared. The film trailer, at least, seems to favor the pro-McCandless perspective, which is the stance Krakauer himself takes in the book. The trailer says the film is "inspired by true events," which suggests they took liberties with the story. One thing I'd be curious to see is how Walt McCandless is portrayed. Krakauer's book plays up the tension Chris/Alex feels toward his dad, but my students are often surprised when they learn that "all" Walt McCandless did to evoke his son's rage was have an extended affair with his first wife. Because the first half of Krakauer's book depicts the elder McCandless as being a "bad guy," students typically assume that the younger McCandless was abused: only *that*, they feel, would explain why McCandless hated his father enough to leave & sever contact with his family.
-- Lorianne DiSabato

Dave, the next thing I'm going to hear from you is that there really isn't a literal Garden of Eden. Damn.

"The Kingdom of God is within you" not in that pile of rubble called Jerusalem, not in the literal woods or deserts, not on the football field....... The confusion of the literal and the spiritual is what gets us into trouble every time. I have a nutty ex-Jewish Christian friend who keeps sending me "proof" that the literal Armageddon is about to explode upon the planet. She believes it, so does Bush I fear. So in his own way did Chris. Same old mistake.
--So Sayeth Preacher Dave

That particular confusion seems a lot less evident among many rural authors who were brought up within the wild regions McCandless toured--- instead of at a geographic and cultural distance great enough to allow the loading of romantic and redemptive notions onto the woods north of Healy. I'm reminded of the scene in the film Black Robe where a panicked missionary finds himself suddenly lost in a threatening forest, until his Native guides reappear from among the trees and laugh at him for being afraid of the environment they call home.
-- Will Elliott (Am just getting to recognizing this name)

When Into the Wild came out, I was working year round in a remote mountain area, collecting atmospheric data. My brother-in-law sent me the book, to which I responded with brief fascination and an enduring disgust. I'd been living and working in wilderness for many years, and had organised rescues and body evacs, to deal with the mishaps (and mortal remains) of adventurers such as McCandless. I thought it was pretty safe up there, given a bit of knowledge and preparation. Into the Wild seemed to me thoroughly commercial, casting the heedlessness and morbidity of McCandless' death in a lurid manner. My one-word review: creepy.
-- yrs, Chip (C.L. Rawlins, a crackerjack poet and writer)

Nicely put, but isn’t this more the question than a reason for dismissal? We all have our illusions, except for those few who have been touched by "the truth," George Bush being the one who first comes to mind. We are all victims of conditioning, or the constructions of society, of the world. Objective reality is hard to see through our subjective eyes. Chris McCandless comes across at times as a future member of ASLE, infatuated by books and lost in a romantic vision. Did literature kill him? I think that it is a good possibility. Would he have done all that if not for Jack London and Herman Melville and Thoreau and Tolstoy? Our social constructions are perceived by us as "heroic twists" which we, of course call "objective reality." One of the constructions of our culture, coming all the way out of the Old Testament, is the conceit that somehow "wilderness" is the very place to go to escape from social constructions and find the truth, the objective reality outside the text. So a social construction gives us the illusion that we can escape social constructions. Is there any way out of this maze? Or is the world outside the Matrix but another matrix ad infinitum? Are there only higher "stratums of illusion"? We who want to believe that nature or wilderness is an antidote to civilization, a place outside the text, a true objective reality, can't help but see some of ourselves in Chris, and tremble.

-- Preacher Dave

As often, I much admire Preacher Dave's rhetoric but feel he has overlooked a fundamental point. McCandless died because he misidentified a species of wild potato, isn't that right? That's what Krakauer identifies as the most likely explanation anyway. There is nothing in the idea of wilderness, in Moby Dick, Thoreau or Tolstoy that can be held responsible for this mistake. It's a mistake directly comparable to fatal mistakes one might make in a normal urban setting - a mistake causing a road accident for example, or an accident at work. In all other respects McCandless seems to have been perfectly competent, and there was no reason to think he wouldn't survive.
-- Richard Kerridge (a professor in England, another of my favs)

I believe, actually, that Krakauer argues that McCandless correctly identified the particular species of wild potato, but he didn't know that a plant with edible *tubers* might very well have toxic *seeds.* So although McCandless was good at plant identification, he didn't completely understand the basics of plant toxicology. It's an honest mistake. I make honest mistakes all the time, and so far, none of them has killed me. McCandless's mistake was undeniably exacerbated by his gung-ho interpretation of literary texts...but who among us, in all honesty, hasn't occasionally been guilty of *that*?
-- Lorianne DiSabato

I think McCandless's biggest mistake was making the trip without a map. Thoreau didn't go to Maine alone, without a guide or a map. Being a surveyor, he was rather fond of maps. Had McCandless brought a map, he would have figured out how to cross the swollen river. It's the rejection of the map, and what the map signifies about cultural inheritance and accumulated knowledge, that gets him in so much trouble.
--Tom Lynch (also the “father” of the Westlit listserv)

Much has been made of the map, and the fact that if Chris had seen the gaging station, he could have crossed the river. For Chris, hiking into what he believed was the undeveloped Alaska wilderness (minus the trail, bus, etc.), there would have been little reason to suspect that there would be any handy gaging stations nearby for the map to reveal. In most of the state, a map may not have helped him-- help would be far off the map. Neither would a cell phone-- there isn't coverage. Neither would a flare gun-- no one would see it.
-- Will Elliott

One aspect of Krakauer's exploration of the McCandless incident that I appreciated was how he showed that it was a series of small errors that compounded each other (also the case in the Everest disaster). He didn't have a map, but he was also too weak and despondent to do some exploring; wasn't there a ford a fairly short distance up- or down-river? I thought his weakness was due to eating the wrong plant or the wrong part of the plant, but didn't he resort to the plants after the moose meat spoiled? I thought the moose meat spoiled because he tried to smoke it instead of just drying it. While it is tempting to search for the one mistake that would have altered the outcome, I think it's more helpful to see how decisions led to one another, how a series of small mistakes that could have been minor all interacted to create a disaster.
-- Rob Brault, (A familiar name but haven’t corresponded with him.)

But Richard, that is like saying Ahab was killed by drowning, not by his fanatic determination to plumb the secrets of the universe and stand face to face with God. THe literal exists, but it is overshadowed by the symbolic. No? Yes, Chris was killed by the seeds, but his infatuation with literature and the wilderness tradition is what led him into the situation where eating the wrong seeds killed him. There are causes, and then there are the causes of the causes.
--Preacher Dave

Was there a causal connection between being there and eating the wrong seeds? He couldn't have eaten them if he hadn't been there, obviously, but he could easily have been there without eating them. Lots of people go there. Is this a common error among people who venture into the wilderness? Is it a common TYPE of error? Or is it a rare and, in a sense, technical error, on the part of someone who was otherwise competent and not in any particular danger? Aren't we both reading into this the narrative we want: yours apocalyptic, mine anti-apocalyptic, random and meaningless? There may not even be any irony to speak of, though Krakauer constructs one by suggesting that McCandless had just resolved his alienation and was showing signs of having learned a vital lesson from a therapeutic wilderness sojourn. Perhaps your tragedy is by Aeschylus; I'm not sure mine is even by Hardy (the one in the film sounds as if it could be by Ibsen). Perhaps we both get to the same place in the end, since the meaninglessness can be another version of the howling wilderness. But I'm not sure. Ahab isn't like McCandless, because Ahab was pursuing something with an obsession that had finally made him indifferent to all risk and all other goals, and I'm not sure there is any evidence that this was so of McCandless; he seems to have been rather careful. Perhaps it was just a very unlucky accident.
-- Richard Kerridge

And then there is the meaning of "maps." Michael Herr begins his wonderful book on Vietnam "Dispatches" by describing the ancient yellow map on his wall in Saigon which still had the names Tonkin, Annam, and Cochinchina. Maps, he tells us, are reflections of human constructions and do not often reflect accurately the objective reality out there. If Chris was trying to escape from his human constructed reality and find whatever truth lies outside the text, then his not using a map was part of his quest, not a stupid mistake. The whole quest may have been stupid, but such quests out of Egypt into the wilderness are a deeply imbedded part of our culture and hence ourselves. THus they cannot simply be dismissed. The children of Israel had to let go of all that connected them to the fleshpots of Egypt before they could enter Canaan. That included maps. Moses had to go defenseless up to Sinai. Ike McCaslin had to surrender his watch and his compass and lose himself in the wilderness before the bear would let itself be seen by him, if only his backside in passing. There are familiar patterns here, which is not to say that Chris wasn’t an idiot. But his idiocy, if that is what it was, is deeply ingrained in the American psyche.

--Preacher Dave

Perhaps "The Wild" is socially contructed, but what about gravity and thermodynamics? Social construction won't keep your hands from freezing. Mittens will. What's always been terribly interesting to me is that ecotone (if you will) between social construction and earthly process. In the interest of survival, one ought to have some vague idea which is which. Sad to say, I think our society fails that basic test.
-- yrs, Chip (C.L. Rawlins)

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


Today's main post is at since it's mostly of interest to that constituency.

But for the sake of bloggers, I will say that I took my "Twelve Blackfeet Indians" POD generated books to Barnes & Noble, knowing that they would not accept my table-top published books because they had no ISBN and therefore couldn't be managed by the B&N system. Since this particular book DOES have an ISBN, I thought it would be acceptable, but no. Now B&N has a NEW policy which is not to sell non-returnable books. Ingrams marks them on their database.

There are two factors: One is that print-on-demand has partly become so popular BECAUSE authors and publishers go broke when bookstores stock their shelves with returnable books -- wouldn't it be nice if all the groceries that spoiled or became outdated could be mailed back to the producers?

The other is that quality-control has always been the job of the publishers. Now that the publishers have abandoned quality as a criteria and only accept market research that indicates fat profit, they no long provide the bookstore gate-keeping which used to keep out what Wheeler calls "sludge." No one has time to actually read the book at the book store level.

But since it is not only bookstores that sell books, I took mine on down to the History Center, where they were acceptable even without ISBN. They were taken on a "consignment" basis, but I previously sold table-top books there, found it a good brisk place to sell, and always received prompt and accurate book keeping reports. I suppose you could say that the big chains, by insisting on returnability, were also taking books on consignment. The difference is that the History Center actually looks at the books and evaluates them personally.

The B&N manager, a handsome young man, felt badly. He wanted to carry the book. I told him POD was part of a plot to destroy his book chain. That didn't cheer him up. I told the clerk (overweight, goatee, young, many pierced earrings) the same and then told him that I was going to go use my corporate-sellout gift card at Starbucks, since the one in the B&N is a false front that won't take the card. He laughed at the irony. The manager did not. Managing a large book chain store is a thankless job.

Now I'm thinking about the new strategy of allowing authors to create shell "publishers" of their own and order their ISBN that way. I don't think Ingrams will be able to pick them out. Hmmmm.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


When I was about three or four, my mother put me on her own bed when it was naptime because my two younger brothers actually slept and she herself napped on the sofa. I was a lousy napper, even in kindergarten where I vividly remember scooting my nap rug around in pursuit of Tommy Wilhelm. My mother’s bed was on the north side of the house upstairs and she kept the windows open summer and winter (this was in Portland, Oregon). It’s the summers I remember, when I lay on a yellow cotton quilt made by someone in the family -- don’t know whom -- kicking my legs and thinking about stuff.

Sometimes I even studied the wall of books next to the bed, my father’s idea. Two books were side-by-side and when I learned to read I saw that one was entitled: “My Mother Was a Violent Woman” and the other was “My Father Was a Quiet Man.” Just now I checked Abebooks but they don’t list these books. I think they were mildly popular in the Forties. I tried Googling the phrases and found 2,000 matches for “My Father Was a Quiet Man” and two for “My Mother was a Violent Woman,” one by Roseanne. Clearly many more people have quiet fathers that they want to talk about.

For my parents, awareness of their style difference was the source of many iconic jokes between them, things like their fondness for the movie “The Quiet Man,” so slow to become violent and Maureen O’Hara, the spitfire. The pattern must be pretty widespread considering the popularity of that movie. Culturally endorsed, you might say.

I have two female cousins about my age (retirement) and we’ve become close as the previous generations has slipped over the horizon. One of our abiding topics is the difference in behavior style between the other two and me. Their mothers were in-laws but best friends from way back when they were married in a double wedding ceremony. Ladylike, gifted, and gentle, they were “quiet women.” Their Scots husbands were also mild and thoughtful. My mother was indeed that “violent woman” who had to run the household alone because my father was on the road all week and whose Irish (Pinkerton/Cochran) could be roused by injustice more than anything else.

The difference for our generation is that my cousins -- confronted by tragedy and betrayal -- will withdraw and slip towards depression. But I, as described by a counselor, am counter-phobic: I fly into anger and attack the problem, often clumsily. The advantage of my style is that something happens, but the advantage of their style is that they’ve been fairly safe and successful. It’s the next generation that’s even more interesting. In my family there was none -- we didn’t have children. In their families, the results have been all over the map from high-strung and in grave danger to sweet and compliant. The next generation is still babies, but we watch to see what they’ll be like. How much is genetic? How much is the times?

Reflecting on this Festival of the Book has shone light on another angle. So many book people are like my cousins: quiet and prodigious readers. And yet so many authors are violent, like me. On the panel about memoir we had some interesting paired contrasts. The most obvious was Lynn, the outraged army screwup, and Dan, the preacher’s son Marine who colored inside the lines. (As we began the panel, one of the hosts poured us new ice water and “accidentally” spilled the entire pitcher-full onto Lynn’s lap! It is not true that Dan slipped him five bucks to do that. Lynn thought it was because he’s from California though he owns a Montana ranch now, just like Dan.)

Another contrast is between Richard S. Wheeler, author of sixty fine Western books, gentleman, conservative, product of the Fifties, a quintessential “quiet man” and myself, the violent (and often funny) woman just beginning to write. We have a friendship that teeters around reeling from our differences. I’m an admirer of Tim Barrus, the shocking Nasdijj. Wheeler’s favorite movie is “Casablanca,” tough and romantic.

The Montana Festival of the Book originated as a recognition of the many good writers in Montana. It was a celebration of achievement, a circle of the initiated that could be admired by others, and -- frankly -- a way of promoting and selling books. Definitely Wheeler turf. But the times have changed. It was a shock to count up how many of the original participating writers are now too old to attend or even entirely gone since 2000.

We’re in a new millenium: the era of the blog. One doesn’t have to live anywhere, so long as one has access to cyberspace. The books that SELL now, are violent. Sensational. Ephemeral. But the people who put on the Festival are still from the old book world. There were few young people at this Festival. Can one organize a Festival of the Blog? Invoking my favorite philosopher, Bibfeldt, I would go for the Both/And.

How do we bridge the gap? I had two ideas. One was to put up “Lucy Booths” at the next Festival and stock each with a laptop that has wifi and a ten-year-old prepared to teach the grownups how to navigate such mysteries as the Internet, Google and Wikipedia.

The second idea comes from the heartsick realization that Leni Holliman, who always taped and edited these panels and readings for radio, is too ill right now to do that. But my younger relatives and even a few outrageous writing friends have turned to YouTube, a wilder, freer medium. Why not get teens from the Montana hometowns of the Montana writers to do YouTube-style five minute stories about each writer -- maybe impressionistic images and maybe interviews. Play them on a loop at the Festival and then sell a compilation of them on DVD. Check out that Tim Barrus for ideas, if you dare. (He works with a video crew of boys in Paris and posts on YouTube.)

A high school English teacher over east already sends his students out to interview Montana writers and then puts the result online. I apologize for not knowing his name right now. Maybe someone can put it in the comments. One of the big advantages of a blog is the instant feedback.

Sunday, September 16, 2007


Though I’d set the alarm clock for 4AM, I was rolling and muttering in my sleep so much that the cats decided we should get up at 3AM. I went over the mountains via Highway 200 and stopped in Lincoln where I fortified with coffee and toast while shamelessly eavedropping on a table of big-bellied, broad-shouldered, short-haired, weather-bitten men a little younger than me who had clearly trapped all their lives on the side of timber jobs. They were stirred up because of a griz attack near Yellowstone on Friday morning. The victim was not hurt very much -- he climbed a too-short tree and his foot was gnawed -- but as a result several trails were closed, which these guys didn’t like since so much is already closed by fire. Last week a 450 pound grizz was killed on 89 just north of Choteau. Hit and run. They’re looking for a big truck with a lot of bear fur and blood on the front. And damage.

I got to the Parkside Holiday Inn with a half-hour to spare and was engulfed in friends. Wheeler gave me a fine reproduction of a Winold Reiss Blackfeet portrait. Dale Burk gave me a big hug. Bill Elliott’s daughter Chris was next in line. It went on like that. Some of these people I’ve known for fifty years, a few only via email and reading their books. Some from the Unitarian context, some from teaching, etc. No one else from either Valier or the rez was there.

The panel was a big success and we could have gone on for another hour with happy consent from the audience. Sue Hart kept firm control over the four big virile men and me, and had real questions for us to answer, though she clung tenaciously to her position that the dictionary definitions of memoir and autobiography were good enough and Richard (to whom she is married) backed her up. Merle said he liked to tell real stuff because most fiction is about sadness, crime and other depressing aberrations. Lynn said he was testifying and wanted to get at the truth. Richard said his memoir was a taking-stock, an attempt to come to grips with his own career in order to understand what it meant. Dan spoke of the great pleasure of revisiting scary, happy and rewarding times.

And then I launched into my excited account of the news and arguments over the last few weeks about the truth and nontruth of memoirs. The English guy who wrote a thinly veiled account of his own family, accusing them of atrocious behavior (Running with Scissors) has settled with his family’s lawsuit. Instead of suing for libel, demanding a retraction and the removal of the book from the market, the family settled for a share of the profits. In the struggle over whether it was memoir, fiction, nonfiction, etc. they agreed formally to call it “a book.”

Because Sue had said she was sick of the case, I didn’t mention that James Frey, who wrote a scandalous account of his own life, including parts that were later determined to be untrue, and who was shredded by Oprah, mom-like, for telling LIES, is now publishing a book that is described as a novel -- but we are assured that parts of it are true. I think they should call it “a book.”

This obsession with factual accuracy was explained to me by Book Daddy, a book blogger on a newspaper payroll. Autobiography that purports to be true sells for hundreds of thousands of dollars -- people crave these books. The same manuscript as fiction sells in the mere thousands. (The men agreed “why would anyone want to read something that’s not true?” Lynn was in favor of forbidding cartoon movies as nothing but fantasy.) And memoir, as Merle remarked, is something reserved for famous people. What it comes down to is not definition but rather marketing. Wheeler confided, though he didn’t say it on the panel, that he HAD to take a new name to publish his next book (a mystery) because no one would buy a mystery written by a well-known Western writer. Many genre writers use a dozen names as they go from writing cozies to thrillers to romances to sci-fi.

Probably the most troubling question after the panel was from a woman who had been asked to edit a sixty-page impassioned account of childhood abuse by a grandmother in her community. She did this (It had no paragraphs and strange punctuation.) but the grandmother’s family told her she could not publish it and that it was not true. The question-asker was wondering about the moral obligation SHE had -- what advice could she give this grandmother? Should she help her or just stay out of it? She believed the account. Luckily, one of the people there was an author from last year’s festival, one of the few of that panel to return (Judy Blunt, Mary Clearman Blew and Lee Rostad were missing), made contact with her. No one is more qualified since this author rallied her entire family to resist a psychotically abusing father. I wonder if the others were missing because of criticism, or whether it was just too intense, or whether these women -- who are among the really remarkable Montana authors -- are simply too busy elsewhere. The whole circle of distinguished Missoula-trained female writers who teach in Idaho was missing.

Beyond this first bouyant launch, I heard no praise of anything but the “Definathon,” which the English teachers won. I was told that even Brian Schweitzer and his dog, who had a brilliant act (one-liners) that had the professional publicity people rolling with laughter, was greeted with stony faces. Attendance was down, book vendors were glum and their big guns left early. Though the weather was wonderful, it was easy to find an empty bench along the river where I could eat my muffin. (Homemade plum/almond bran muffin for medicinal purposes.)

The event seems to have run its course, just as the circle of writers in Missoula who defined themselves as “Montana” and have dominated the scene for a couple of decades are now aged, absent and moved away. The golden circle, the round table, the sacred grove, has gone someplace else. The conscientious ladies who keep things sorted out were wringing their hands. What to do?

The thing to do is to take a step into the future. Most of the attenders were older women who constantly expressed their technophobia. The upshot of this is that all their concerns are local, spiraling in on their own umbilicus (prosperity and gentility) instead of connecting to the great World Umbilicus of the Internet. The best comments are on the book blogs in England, like Grouchy Old Bookman. Here’s what the technophobes are missing:

1. The strange problem of identity and authenticity of writers, which has been so extraordinarily charged with money while being represented as a moral issue. Part of it may come from the nature of content which is increasingly transgressive and sometimes criminal. There seems to be a feeling that if we just knew WHO WROTE THIS we could make it stop. In other words, kill the messenger. On the other hand we have an almost unseemly hunger for the unmasking of political transgressions, mining ever deeper into the acts and suppressions of the Bush administration, though some are still busy digging into Clinton malfeasance. A few still obsess about Nixon.

2. Bloggers as critics which some blame for the decline and elimination of book reviews (or even arts reviews) from newspapers. Some find this appalling, a decline in civilization if amateurs begin to remark on their “betters”, while others feel it is an escape from shackles, especially the weird Algerian-French Post-Everything lit crit theory that is now dying of its own inscrutability. I think it has not sunk in yet that the existence of many blogs could maybe bridge the gap between the young who launch YouTube and FaceBook videos and the small town folks who check out large-print books from their library, if indeed that IS a bridgeable gap. That is, bloggers are often explainers.

3. I tried to point out that I can spend an evening compiling essays or chapters that I’ve posted as blogs into one manuscript, design a cover by downloading art, email it to in about a half-hour, and have it appear as a book for sale on my “storefront” the next morning. If I fork over $100 for this “blook” to have an ISBN, it will in a day or two appear on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Ingrams index, and Google, complete with translations into foreign languages. (Not the book -- just the access info.) If I put “Blackfeet” in the title, it will come up every time you hit “Blackfeet” on Google. When ordered, the book will come to one’s doorstep in about a week to ten days. No one pays anyone until the book is ordered. (I sold two copies of "Twelve Blackfeet Stories" at the Festival.)

Yet when I tried to explain this to one woman, she said she simply couldn’t master Google. What’s to master? You type in in that little box at the top. When the jokey-looking Google box shows up, type in the subject you want, and VOILA! You get a long list of what’s out there. But I have to admit that when I go beyond looking things up on Wikipedia, which is similar, and try to actually edit or post, I become hopelessly entangled in jargon and protocol.

So why can’t a “Humanities” festival (the festival has formally changed its name from “book” to humanities) line up a bunch of ten-year-olds with laptops and wifi to sit at tables with grannies and grampses to walk them through some of this? Surely MISSOULA has a plethora of faculty children who would jump at the chance!

4. This tech revolution has made self-publishing (which is not quite the same as Print-on-Demand though the latter enables the former) another challenge to accepted “civilized” benchmarks. One of the major gates to status and dignity (aside from a university degree) has always been getting a book published, because it implies that somewhere a literary establishment has decided to risk capital on one’s behalf, feeling you are “worth it.” But if anyone can throw a book on Lulu without even paying pennies for it up front, then a published book is ... what is it? A tattoo? Just a declaration? Who can tell what its value is? Or what it means? Or whether it goes too far?

5. Rather similarly, it’s now possible to get a book published in another country, as I am, thus escaping the clutches of the Industrial Cowboy Art Cartel, which hasn’t got a branch in Canada yet.

6. Some people saw all this coming when the quality of publishers began to, well, go to hell quite some time ago. When the big international corporations began to buy publishers -- much helped by the ever-rising raw cost of paper and ink and the constant erosion of literacy standards even among English majors -- they demanded 10% returns in interest. The staffs who once dug and delved in cobwebby offices in order to proof, edit, promote, and dig through the slush pile were fired as excess baggage, esp. after spell-checkers were invented, and found new lives as “agents” though they rarely placed manuscripts and were forced to edit them before they were saleable anyway. Meanwhile, relentless promotion convinced the general public that getting a book published was like hitting the Publishers Clearing House jackpot, guaranteed wealth. But real authors proved so hard to manage that publishers have become “packagers” who do market-research, locate or generate a bunch of print on the desired subject, and hire someone to impersonate the author. No one is invested in the content -- only the sales figures.

7. Meanwhile, it was not the ebook readers that threatened “real” books (“Kindle” looks good to some previewers, but still may not be the magic instrument.) so much as it was the ability to easily convert eprint to paper copy: print-outs. When copy machines were first generally available, I remember the many “backpack books” that traveled as loose pages, often literally stored in a backpack to show people and hand around, maybe photocopy for friends. “I’m Okay; You’re Okay” was one of those books and the reason for it being cherished like that was at least partly the big hunger for how to get one’s own self organized and functioning. To bring this argument full-circle, I think that’s the root of the wrestling over identity. What evidence can we trust? What can we take to use for our own lives? How can we get this damn treacherous world organized and functioning? Where’s the copy of “I’m Confused; the World Is Treacherous.”

I took the wrong turn on the way home and ended up coming back on highway 12 through Helena, where I lived between 1982 and 1985 while circuit-riding as a minister. It was the long way around, but for quite a while I hadn’t seen that road which I traveled twice a month in those years, so it was pleasant to visit the “beaverslide” country where they still hay with horses. Then I came up 89 but saw no bears. It was smoky all the way over and back with the setting sun looking more like a harvest moon. The sky was wreathed and scrimmy, like a blotchy pastel chalk drawing that had been partly rubbed off with a dry paper towel.

On the way I was thinking over an excellent accidental conversation with a Methodist bishop, a friend of Sue Hart’s, who does grief counseling workshops. We knew a lot of the same people, especially in the CPE world since he lives part of the year in Rockford, IL, where I did my basic hospital chaplaincy training. We agreed that it’s a lot harder to develop an understanding of what a human being IS now that we know a lot about the genome, realize how much damage we’ve done to the planet, and are baffled by a cosmos that becomes -- as we presumably learn more and more about it -- ever more baffling.

Feel free to put this in your backpack. I want to learn how to convert it to an mp3 so you can put it on your iPod.