Saturday, July 31, 2010

"THE PRINCESS MONONOKE": Review and Reflection

“The Princess Mononoke” is part Western, part Lord of the Rings, part Samurai tale, part enviro-fable and part Mowgli. In the US it was released in 1999. “Anime” (Japanese animated) in genre, this beautiful film can be seen as very contemporary, especially since the provoked evil form of the forest spirit looks very much like a BP gulf oil spill. It can also be interpreted historically as the coming of the industrial age to Japan, including the invention of the gun. The confusion and deadly mixed motives of the consequences are very much like the American frontier. Or even the shift from hunting/gathering to the first walled cities in the Old Testament. In fact, the issues are still relevant: can we keep on fueling Iron Town or must we preserve the life force of the forest? Can we reconcile the two? The movie doesn’t tell us how. That would be a lot to ask of an animated movie.

The American voices of the characters include many famous names: Billy Crudup as the hero, Claire Danes as the wolf girl, Minnie Driver as the elegant leader of the city (veddy English), Billy Bob Thornton as an ambitious monk (actually the drawing looked more like Ernest Borgnine) and Jada Pinkett Smith as a sassy former brothel girl, now a wife and iron-monger. There are a lot of lepers but they are background cast. There are no real villains, just stupid or vengeful people. Occasionally someone speaks out against hate.

Miyazaki, the beloved innovative director, said:
“Ashitaka is not a cheerful, worry-free boy. He is a melancholy boy who has a fate. I feel that I am that way myself, but until now, I have not made a film with such a character. Ashitaka was cursed for a very absurd reason. Sure, Ashitaka did something he should not have done - killing Tatari Gami. But there was enough reason to do so from the humans' viewpoint. Nevertheless, he received a deadly curse. I think that is similar to the lives of people today. I think this is a very absurd thing that is part of life itself.”

Miyazaki’s next movie “Spirited Away” was action-packed and starred another brave and feisty girl, but I didn’t like it as much as “Princess Mononoke.” “Spirited Away” is more in the style of Disney with extraordinary but doll-like monster-spirits. In the earlier film, especially in his depictions of the Forest Spirit, which has a day aspect and a night aspect, Miyazaki was inspired. The Night Walker is a sort of leopard seal filled up with stars and frilled down the back like an iguana. The Day Spirit is -- oh, I’d bet money on this being connected to the early Disney animation classic! -- a sort of Japanese Noh mask version of the Great Stag of the Forest except with a many-spiked candelabra on his head. Remember how Bambi’s father appeared at the crucial moment when his mother had been killed and Bambi was devastated? Remember how that noble stag posed on a crag and spoke to Bambi in a thrilling voice? The book on which the sentimentalized Disney movie is based is a German mystical forest fable, the kind of tale that has fed directly into modern environmentalism. I’d love to see what Miyazaki could do with it. Maybe he could rescue us from Flower and Thumper, beloved as they are.

When a Japanese person speaks of a human mistake that invokes a deadly curse, it is not all metaphor. Pearl Harbor surely led to Hiroshima. But just as surely vengefulness cannot go on without reducing the planet to desert and volcano. The message of this movie, withstanding grievous and unintended harm, is highly relevant for young people who have made a mistake or been forced into circumstances that have left them with consequences far out of proportion -- the threat of death. But Miyazaki simply presents the problem, the injustice, in terms of characters that are mixed in their abilities and allegiances -- some admirable and some not.

The charging demon monster of the first scene, covered with tentacles of fire, attacks the hero and leaves him marked with something like Kaposi’s sarcoma. It turns out that the demon monster was inadvertently created by the lady ruler of the City of Iron when she shot a boar in an effort to clear the forest of wild hogs. The pellet of lead is removed from the pig’s body and carried to her by the hero, so she’ll see what she’s done, but she is not repentant. In this tale there is only one guru sitting on a pinnacle, which is a bamboo tower easily smashed by the demon hog. The guru has no magic wand, no spell to mutter, and no philosophical interpretation to offer. Luckily, he falls into brush, presumably surviving. But he’s not really in the story.

Some people demonize anime, though I’m not sure why. They seem to find it shocking or immoral, perhaps because there is a long history of manga (comics) behind the animated versions and, like all Japanese literature, they take a far different attitude towards sexual matters, far more liberal and matter-of-fact. But Princess Mononoke is PG-13.

The closest act to something sexual is when the hero is desperately wounded, too weak to eat, so the wolf-girl chews up the food and passes it from her mouth to his, mother-wolf-style. A wounded hero being tended by a strong and previously resistant heroine is a favorite motif in Westerns. So is the faithful horse, which in this case is described as a “red elk,” but looks like an eland to me. Faithfully, he stands by his rider, nibbling him awake when necessary.

One form of ethical thought, “aretaic,” proposes that a good way to guide oneself in life is to choose a heroic or admirable figure and do what he or she would do. The Christians have been using this to say, “What would Jesus do?” But you could also ponder what Abraham Lincoln would do. In fact, I’m sure Obama does quite a bit of that. This is the opportunity that Miyazaki offers us: a chance to think about what “a melancholy boy who has a fate” would do when challenged and likewise how a wolf-girl might react.

There is a set of little forest creatures in this film, sort of stone-headed cherubs. They made me think of the little stone piles that are a world-wide historical phenomenon and which have recently become popular as a symbol of good intentions towards the earth. Up at East Glacier they are everywhere around the Big Hotel, little balanced stacks. Forest spirit children. Anyone can make a little pile of stones to signal something unspoken. Few can create a film like this.

Friday, July 30, 2010


It’s strange that there’s such a brisk and open market for books about female whores in the Frontier West. This list is from: Buckingham Books. Website: A specialty of theirs is books on the West, maps, reports and ephemera. It’s evident that Jay Moynahan is dispersing his personal warehouse. (In Montana most of the writers on this subject have been women.)

“A retired professor of Criminal Justice from Eastern Washington University in Spokane, Washington, Moynahan is continually working on this series of books about prostitution in the American Old West, from 1849 to 1920.

“Over the decades, the author has scoured the American West and Northwest collecting material from vintage diaries, letters, newspapers, photographs, books, magazines, census data, interviews, personal records, police, prison and court records in an effort to separate fact from fiction and has given us an entertaining look at history as it was and not the movie version.

“There were a number of interesting and dynamic women in the ranks of these good time girls. Some were in constant trouble with the law and found themselves in a revolving door between jail and the streets, countless others were addicted to drugs and alcohol. Many were ahead of their time in social matters, consequently their lives are intensely interesting to us and read like an old soap opera, engaging yet almost unbelievable.

“A crusader of sorts, Moynahan's research became more personal when he discovered Anna Moynahan, a distant relative who supported herself in the 1870s by running the Star Adair Bordello in the mining town of Georgetown, Colorado.”

1. MOYNAHAN, JAY. REMEDIES FROM THE RED LIGHTS: CURES, TREATMENTS AND MEDICINES FROM THE SPORTIN' LADIES OF THE FRONTIER WEST. Opposite each cure, treatment or medicine is a story, fact, or observation about prostitution. Cures for a number of ailments are discussed, such as, ear aches, cure for drunkenness, croup, complexion cleanser, burns, stomach aches, wrinkle control, and much more.

2. MOYNAHAN, JAY 1895. LADIES OF EASY VIRTUE. THE GAR SOUVENIR SPORTING GUIDE. This book contains a facsimile reproduction of an 1895 guide book to sporting women in Louisville during the annual Encampment of the Grand Army of the Republic. The guide was 28 pages long and provided the reader with a list of houses of prostitution in the area.

3. MOYNAHAN, JAY. BUTTE'S SPORTIN' WOMEN 1880-1920. THE FAMOUS RED LIGHT DISTRICT AND A LIST OF OVER 1200 NAMES. History and photographs surrounding the "sportin' women" of the Montana town of Butte and the ladies of its Red Light District.

4. MOYNAHAN, JAY . FORTY FALLEN WOMEN. WESTERN DOVES AND MADAMS 1885-1920. This book presents a collection of 40 old western photographs of prostitutes and madams who plied their trade in the West. The women pictured worked in a variety of settings that included saloons, cribs, and houses of prostitution. Some of the photographs are of well-known doves as Big Nose Kate Elder, Squirrel Tooth Alice. Della Moore , companion of Harvey Logan (Kid Curry), Etta Place, companion of Butch Cassidy, and many lesser-known women.

5. MOYNAHAN, JAY. THE KLONDIKE TRAVELS OF MATTIE SILKS AND HER SPORTIN' WOMEN. The story of Madam Mattie Silks, eight beautiful prostitutes, and their thrilling and dangerous 1898 trip to the Klondike gold fields. Mattie was a prominent Denver madam who decided to travel north and get her gold by providing sportin' women for the lonely miners. Mattie chose a poor time to travel as there were no trains or roads, only trails and the temperature of the Yukon interior was in the -30F to -50F. Mattie and her group traveled over 500 miles to get there. Some information on Wild Bill Hickok. Mattie and her girls made a great deal of money and left after three months, on her trip home through Skagway, Alaska, Mattie crossed path with an old nemisis, Soapy Smith, who made plans to rob her and the other women. He was unsuccessful in his plan.

6. MOYNAHAN, JAY. GOLD RUSH GIRLS OF THE KLONDIKE 1896-1901. There was a fabulous gold strike in the Klondike at the end of the nineteenth century. In addition to the men coming to the strike, there was a special breed of women who came in search of fortune. They were the gold rush girls, who dispensed their favors upon the men of the gold rush.

7. MOYNAHAN, JAY. PROSTITUTE DICTIONARY OF THE OLD WEST. This book has been completely revised. It was originally published in 2002 under the title TALKIN' ABOUT SPORTIN' WOMEN. The terms used in this third edition were used by prostitutes, their customers, the public, and social reformers in the second half of the 19th century and the early part of the 20th century.

8. MOYNAHAN, JAY.. SOUVENIR SPORTING GUIDE. This book contains a reproduction of an 1897 guide book to sportin' women in Los Angeles. The guide was 16 pages long and provided the reader with a list of places where prostitutes could be found. Apparently neither the working women nor the madams were particularly shy about advertising their wares.

9. MOYNAHAN, JAY. FIFTY YEARS OF PROSTITUTE PHOTOS 1870-1920. THREE VOLUMES. The compiler says, "Early photographs of American prostitutes are difficult to find. Most of the women in the profession were reluctant to have their pictures taken. Some of the sportin' women saw their tenure in the field as only temporary. When they returned to their previous life they didn't want to be followed by photographs. On the other hand there were some sportin' women who were interested in using photographs for advertising. These women would have pictures taken and many copies made so that they could be given to customers as a reminder of good times. Some of these ladies were fully clothed while others were without clothing. There were others shown with varying amounts of clothing." These ladies pictured were employed in the West in Colorado, Idaho, Arizona, Washington, Montana, Wyoming, etc.

10. MOYNAHAN, JAY. PHOTOGRAPHS OF RED LIGHT LADIES, 1865-1920. Depicts the working girls in various forms of undress or completely nude. A photographic history of prostitutes who practiced their trade in the Western United States from 1865 through 1920.

11. MOYNAHAN, JAY. SOILED DOVES, SPORTIN' WOMEN AND OTHER FALLEN FLOWERS: PROSTITUTION ON THE AMERICAN FRONTIER. The Introduction says in part, "This book is about soiled doves and their customers, working arrangements and places of business. The author has chosen material and stories from across the West, including Canada and Alaska." Much on El Paso, Texas, with five important madams who operated brothels between 1881 and 1915. Also information on the Bird Cage Theater in Tombstone, Arizona, Sadie Orchard, a "colorful pioneer" of New Mexico, Lois Lovell of Denver, "French Marie" in Dawson City, Yukon Territory, who decided to auction herself and the aftermath of that auction. The stories describe a few phenomenal women who did some interesting and remarkable things on the American Frontier.

12. MOYNAHAN, JAY. BAWDY PHOTOGRAPHS 1870-1930. [Spokane: Chickadee Publishing, 2007]. This book displays amateur and professional photographs of women who worked as prostitutes from 1870 to 1930. Some of the women are fully clothed while others are nude. Along with each photograph is a statement about prostitutes or prostitution.

13. MOYNAHAN, JAY. RISQUE PHOTOGRAPHS OF THE SOILED DOVES. This book displays amateur and professional photographs of women who worked as prostitutes during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Some of the women are fully clothed while others are nude. Along with each photograph is a statement about prostitutes or prostitution.

14. MOYNAHAN, JAY. [EDITED BY]. THE BLUE BOOK OF NEW ORLEANS. Storyville, the red light section of New Orleans, was opened in 1897 and officially existed for twenty years. A series of guides were printed during this time and were called red books. these books contained prostitute's names, where they resided, brothel advertisements, and general advertisements. The guide were distributed in bars, barbershops, at the train station, and by a small team of newsboys.

15. MOYNAHAN, JAY. RED LIGHT REVELATIONS. THE SPORTIN' WOMEN OF WALLACE AND THE SILVER VALLEY, 1888 TO 1909. Silver Valley is the name of the old Coeur d'Alene Mining District. It stretches in Idaho about 40 miles along the Osborne Fault from the town of Mullan to Pinehurst. Prostitution first appeared in the Silver Valley in 1883 and remained active for about 110 years. These pioneer prostitutes constituted an important part of the community, leaving a lasting and memorable stamp upon the Valley. Pieces of their life stories are found in this book. Some stories are funny, a few are happy but many are sad. Most of the women did not lead an easy life. Newspaper accounts of 1888 to 1909 provide information on the sportin' life in Idaho's famous Silver Valley.

16. MOYNAHAN, JAY. RED LIGHT REVELATIONS. A GLANCE INTO SACRAMENTO'S BAWDY PAST OF 1885. Book observes prostitution in the city through the 1885 issues of one of the city's newspapers, the SACRAMENTO DAILY BEE. Articles about the ladies are gathered from January to December of that year.

17. MOYNAHAN, JAY. RED LIGHT REVELATIONS. RISQUE LADIES OF DAWSON AND THE KLONDIKE GOLD RUSH, 1898 TO 1902. This book captures the flavor of the gold stampede in Alaska and Northwest Canada through newspaper articles about soiled doves. Of the 30,000 people in Dawson, Yukon Territory, most were men but some women hastened to the call of fortune and excitement. Many of these were professional prostitutes.

18. MOYNAHAN, JAY. RED LIGHT REVELATIONS. A GLANCE AT GREAT FALLS' LUSTY PAST 1889-1918. This book traces prostitution in Great Falls through the newspapers from 1889 through 1918. Activity in the red light section was probably greater than at any other time in the history of the town. The sportin' women were working the streets, saloons, cribs, hotels, boarding houses and brothels of the city. This book is the first known publication to focus on prostitution in Great Falls and the surrounding area. The women who engaged in the world's oldest profession were often colorful and their stories should be told.

Thursday, July 29, 2010


Paul Graham is one of the Big Thinkers of the computer context, inventing early languages and strategies, but he is also a painter and his bio calls him an “essayist.” I discover that I’ve marked his essays several times. His most recent essay is “The Acceleration of Addictiveness.”>

My practice is to approach big essays through small evidences. Therefore, consider my cat, Crackers, the stupidest of my two cats, and easily addicted. I noticed she was having a hard time getting her little bits of dry cat food cornered in the slick bowl so she could get them into her mouth. To help, I poured a little of it onto the corner of the rag rug where the roughness made it harder for the bits to slide away. Absentmindedly, I did the same thing the next day and the next. Now Crackers will not eat her food unless it’s on the corner (the SAME corner) of that rug and I have learned to step over that corner even though it’s right in front of the sink.

Graham is not quite talking about cat habituation, which only takes three repetitions, but about the intensifying by technology of things we like in irresistible addictions. His examples are hard liquor, heroin, crack and Facebook. They started out as beer, organic ingestibles and neighbors. He says “increasing numbers of things we like will be transformed into things we like too much.” He says, “As far as I know there’s no word for something we like too much. The closest is the colloquial sense of “addictive.”

Other examples are food: Big Macs, Twinkies, potato chips -- “can’t stop eatin’ em.” But there are also people hooked on NOT eating: anorexic. Board games have become interactive electronic games. Print has become 3-D CGI Blu-Ray. The neighborhood wraps around the planet. More, more, more -- can’t stop doin’ it. Tactfully, he’s not mentioning exercise or sex or Big Ship Cruises. Or, indeed, oil.

Then he says, “The two senses in which one can live a normal life will be driven ever further apart. One sense of ‘normal’ is statistically normal: what everyone else does.” This is operative within Valier. Not that everyone thinks normal is what the state, the nation, or the continent does, but that people watch their neighbors pretty carefully to see what they’re doing and whether it works. It’s a problem to try to “norm” to TV sit coms, though they do that as well, because they have more predictable script writers and anyway, neighbors don’t all watch the same programs. There is a gamut from those who are hypnotized by Fox to those who are studying Wikileaks on the Internet. But generally, dry land farmers learn early to stay aware and not get too far off the norm. Now if the weather would stay something like normal . . .

The other meaning Graham brings up is also well-known to dry land farmers: “the normal operating range of a piece of machinery: what works best.” The trouble is that they tend not to bring that concept home to their own bodies and households, until someone realizes how much damage is done by some practice, like smoking. Graham speaks of his effort to escape the Internet by taking long hikes, which give him time to “think without interruption.” Personally, that’s my norm. It’s probably closer to the norm here where farmers with big machines spend long days alone. Which immediately brings up the problem of urban thoughts dominating rural experience, when maybe it ought to be the other way around.

“What works best?” Of course, it’s always contingent on environment so it’s smart to move to where your normal IS normal. It makes me crazy when newcomers bring their normal to Valier and try to impose it on everyone. It made me crazy to sit in meetings in Portland where City Planning and Zoning women in their early thirties with degrees from elite schools tried to impose their idea of Sim-City on people they didn’t know existed. Yesterday I talked to a dentist who was so nagged by formal regulations carrying penalties, imposed by overseers who were NOT dentists but operated according to statistical norms researched in other places, that he retired early. I have a friend who does property maintenance and management who says that the restrictions and requirements are so onerous in Montana that he would reject doing business in this state and just confine his clients to Idaho, except that the population is thinner there.

The phrase “best practices” seemed a good one when it meant general recommendations about the use of certain materials or routines, as in engineering. Learning from each other is a good thing. But when they are imposed, based on statistics and a specific environment, they can NOT be best everywhere. But they CAN be addictive in Graham’s sense of becoming so common that no one has a “raised consciousness” or the freedom to reexamine through reflection -- assuming they have the opportunity for quiet uninterrupted thought. Addiction to uniformity is a pathway to oppression by authority.

I freely admit that I’m addicted by now to writing this 1,000 word blog post every morning. Sometimes I get up thinking, “Why am I chained to this practice? There’s no money in it. I alienate about as many people as I attract. When readers try to make a blog into a personal relationship, it can go very wrong. People read blogs carelessly because they assume they are just personal opinions flung up in fungible prose. Maybe. Maybe that’s the norm.

Graham suggests that “customs” may develop that bundle up eccentricities into categories. I don’t much like that idea. The great thing about this last few years working with Tim has been his defiance of norming and customs, even within the boundaries of the various wickednesses where he could be assigned. It’s not that he’s not addicted -- he has no choice in some respects. It turned out that my unconventional and private norms were not so different from his. The thing about humans is that if their sense of “what works” gets too far off the physical norms, they just die in spite of every high tech intervention. That’s the definition of “not working.” But we are just as capable of getting habituated as any cat.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


This is not a typical late-July, but then in Montana there IS no typical late-July. This year is far wetter and therefore far greener and also the wet and storms are coming in pulses. Today is clear and warm, tomorrow is high winds and overcast, the next day is thunder, lightning and sluices of rain. I always wonder what strangers think. They have no way of comparing.

They won’t know that Highway 89 crossing Two Medicine River was completely rebuilt this last year. I don’t care to guess how much dynamite was used to move rock, how many man-hours on huge yellow earth-moving machines, how many mostly woman-hours for flaggers, one on each end of the construction. Will they see how carefully the angles were planned, how the ditches in the borrow-pit are celled to keep water from eroding away the borrowpits, Will they see the organic structuring rolls of straw and twine and know what they are? Will they understand that the slopes have been seeded with an air cannon and then covered with netting?

When they look at the fields will they know the yellow stuff is camelina and the alfalfa is a Middle Eastern forage plant that has been incredibly successful here because its roots go so deep and that the shock pink stuff is French alfalfa? When they come to a patch of lavendar-blue, random and intense, will they know it’s lupine and that lupine comes from lupe, the wolf, but that it puts nitrogen into the soil, like any pea? When they see horses that are gray and dun with abundant black mane and tail and eyes smoldering like a Spanish senorita, will they know they are mustangs, Spanish barbs?

My NPR feed comes from Yellowstone Public Radio in Billings/Bozeman. The programs keep being broken into by warnings that a hailstorm, a tornado, a high wind is coming through. They give the location according to Doppler radio and say which way it’s traveling (a guess) and just how fast it’s moving. “Get into a strong building,” they say, “Away from the windows.” Hail hit the North American Indian Days camp this year. A man showed me the welts it raised on his shoulder before he could get under cover. “Oh, it’s so BEEYOOtiful,” the tourists rave, checking “Blackfeet” and “Glacier” off their travel list. “How many miles to Spokane?”

The staff at one of the local sandwich shops went all out to quickly serve two bus loads of church camp people -- over a hundred people -- quickly so they could stay on their schedule. The next day another group came in and the same girls scrambled to make a hundred ice cream cones. Neither group left a tip. The boss put an extra twenty dollar bill in each paycheck envelope that week. The girls are from foreign countries. Locals don’t show up for work. (Don’t say racist -- not relevant.)

What it means to be local is knowing a lot of things without quite realizing it. The smell of the mower now taking down the verges of the highway, the exact tone of voice for making a dog behave, and the way to deliver justice in an oblivious world. It’s knowing about how long you can put off mowing the lawn before the town gets so mad at you that they mail you a letter and bill you for the postage. It means standing outside after a funeral, noting which emergency responders go wailing through town, and guessing what has happened -- then next day reading in the paper exactly what we guessed.

About this time the tomato plants have finally decided to grow and there are already bright yellow splotches on the deciduous trees where the phloem has been damaged so the chlorophyll has died. Bugs, wind, not enough sun. Many bare branches from last winter when the blizzards howled for weeks and the temps sank down to forty below. Birds coming through that I don’t know. That’s happened since spring. Small birds, hard to identify. But not as many red-winged blackbirds as I’m using to seeing and hearing.

Certain fields are managed in cycles: calving grounds and then feeding grounds and then irrigated and now the alfalfa cut and rolled into giant bales with a outside skin of plastic. If they are too damp, they can create so much heat from fermentation that they burst into flames. Very strange sight out there in the field, all the huge bales spaced out evenly, but one of them merrily blazing away all by itself, an exercise in surrealism. I don’t carry a cell phone and am not local enough to know which rancher to call. But here comes a pickup bounding over the field anyway. The cows are all up in the mountains. The grizzlies -- the young ones anyway -- have been following the rivers out onto the prairie.

Yesterday it was so warm that I thought of opening up my north side window, but today was so chilly that I put on a jacket in the house. There’s a big pile of clothes that starts with a sun top, then shorts and jeans, a couple of weights of shirt with different sleeve lengths, and a fleece vest. Might need them all in the course of the day. The down throw by my reading chair is an evening custom.

Harebells have invaded my front corner flower patch so I just pretend I planted them. Daisies are everywhere in town, spangling everything, and most people mow around them even though they’re on the weed list. Somehow they don’t suffer the stigma that dandelions have acquired. My sweetgrass is long this year and I sent a divot to Paul over where the sturgeon spawn in Idaho. I sent it in a Quaker Oats drum and it took two weeks to get there, both ends burst but intact inside the ziplock bag.

When you drive to Shelby now, you see lines and poles everywhere, windmills, transmission towers, radio towers, cell towers with strobes on top. You can’t see all the pipelines and underground cables. The town has decided to go for prosperity and to be a major exchange point for railroad, truck and cross-border traffic. They will link the tar sands project in northern Alberta to the American Southwest energy market. Consequences completely unknown. Except that my UPS deliveryman, Larry Salois, was the first person to have his land condemned for the MATL line because he wanted a small change in the route to save an historical site and wetlands. In my mind I can hear the managers: “Let’s take this guy out. He’s only one man. If we don’t use him for an example, we’ll have to shift the line every which way to suit everyone. That will cost us money.” They’ll pay him. But he didn’t want money. Not all of us want money.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

"THE THIEVES OF MANHATTAN:" -- Heck, It Was Stolen Long Ago!

Of course, as soon as I knew that Adam Langer was the son of the secretary of the Northwestern University School of Speech (back when it WAS the School of Speech instead of Communications), I knew that “The Thieves of Manhattan” would be interesting (dull people did not last long in the School of Speech) but I wondered why he wasn’t an NU grad. Then I read that he graduated from Vassar after Vasser turned co-ed and realized this was a guy full of irony, jokes and, well, acting. Because those of us who hung around the School of Speech were all actors, even the ones who did speech therapy or lip-reading. The time-warp is a little gappy -- I was there 1957-61 and Langer was born in 1967 which is a little past the real Golden Era of Alvina Krause and the Method -- but that just makes the whole syndrome more shimmering and mythical.

I did go back to Chicago, you know, on the other side of town, attending a little seminary 1978-82 but secretly intending to write. I would go into the book stacks of the library where the steel and concrete floors and racks of ancient books rested quietly, waiting for something to happen, and sit cross-legged in the Gothic stone windows that went up four stories. Because to write a book like this one Langer wrote (which I haven’t and don’t intend to, though maybe I could) and also to write the way I blog, one needs some kind of big T Truth to hold onto while all the little t truths go swirling around. Even if the big T turns out not to be a golden crucifix as it is in this book.

This is one of those stories in which the real life author pretends to be someone a lot like him who is writing a book a lot like this one which is about someone a lot like him who is . . . Maybe this is supposed to be about hoaxing but it’s really about the modern dilemma: we know too much and don’t believe a single thing.

For instance, do you really believe I sat cross-legged on the floor in the windows of the seminary late at night, pondering what big T truth is? Each of the students had a key to the library at that point in history and I treasured mine. I turned forty while I was at seminary so when I woke restlessly at 3AM, I’d go across the street and enter as quietly as I could. Sometimes I’d run into my professor/advisor in the hallway, his breath smelling of wine and his mood very cheerful. I was on the watch for Mircea Eliade, whose office was on the top floor. Usually you could smell his pipe, which set his office on fire once. No one was surprised -- the place was stacked with paper and books.

Most of the time I didn’t even turn on the lights, but sometimes I did so I could look for a book. The seminary did not advertise the fact that an MD sexologist had bequeathed his entire library of sex books. Book checkout was on the honor system -- you put your name on the card and dropped it in the box. We all read the entire sex collection, even the wives of students, but none of our names ever appeared on those cards. The books were conscientiously and quietly returned. They made “The Tales of Genji” sound pale. Most of them were full of lies, stereotypes and politically incorrect assumptions.

Then late one night fire engines pulled up in the street and hoses were attached and I seemed to be the only one who realized so I ran over in my bare feet with my key just in time to let the firemen in. They had one of those big axes ready to smash the beautiful wooden door. The fire was in the basement of the library. It was set to cover the theft of all those books on sex -- or maybe someone paid someone to remove them and set the fire -- and I helped put out the fire by striking the ancient burning newspapers with my bare hands. I had worked in a foundry when I was married to a sculptor so I knew how to do it without being burned. The fire was never solved.

The worst part of it was that then they took all our library keys away from us. But it doesn’t matter anymore because now the seminary is selling out anyway.

How much of this is true? Oh, I’d say the proportion was about 80/20. Maybe 90/10. Which is which? I won’t tell. Langer won’t know. I told him I used to babysit for an editor of Rogue magazine in Evanston and he told me that his mother ran into that guy in the street -- she knows him. What’s true here? I only know my half.

That’s the way it always is. We get part of the story, pick out what rings true to our own experience, might be right -- might not. I have strong opinions about this since after I resigned from the ministry and came back to the Blackfeet reservation I struck up a friendship with a brilliant pornographer and now co-write books with him. There are references to him in this blog. Believe that?

But on the whole this is not the sort of book that will tell you who’s in and who’s out, who’s real and who’s phony, which books to buy and which to ignore. It’s all framing and circumstances and things change faster than you can woolf through your day. It IS the sort of book that has to have a glossary in the back so that those of us who don’t hang out in Manhattan, don’t know anything about the publishing industry (which is nothing but a crater now anyway), and can’t get the inside author references will have some hope of understanding what’s going on.

Believe me, a “capote” in Manhattan may be the kind of hat Truman wore, but where I live a “capote” is a coat made out of a Hudson’s Bay blanket and worn by early Blackfeet. Just over the line in Canada, the writers don’t dare each other to write a satire on hoaxing that plays in-and-out the windows with the narrative. Instead, one day -- after imbibing a lot of faulkners -- they bet some daisies that Marian Engel couldn’t write a novel in which a woman convincingly did the chinaski with a bear. She won the bet. In fact, IMHO “The Bear” is more convincing than “The Thieves of Manhattan.” But the latter is more fun.

Monday, July 26, 2010


First you have to think of it. Then the ideas for a group come, slowly gathering force until someone offers enough money and a place and a leader. Even a curriculum. By that time the group may have become an institution.

Is Cinematheque an institution? (There is no curriculum.) I haul out the big unabridged dictionary to see what I can discover. (Someday I’m going to weigh this baby. It certainly weighs more than the cat. Maybe both cats.) Webster’s Third New International Dictionary.

I’m always surprised. Source? “statuere”, to stand up, set, place -- like a statue, a station. First meaning: a. “to establish in a particular position or office: put (as a pastor) in charge of the care of souls.” b. “to appoint as heir under Roman or civil law.” [or a formal bequest from a dead artist or artists.]

Second meaning: a. “to originate and get established: set up: cause to come into existence: organize. “ [Forget that last word! Except that these guys are experts at logistics. But more improvisational than planned, in spite of Kilian’s best efforts.] b. “to set on foot.” [Do skateboards count?]

There are quite a few other inflections of meaning but two jump out at me: first is the “establishment of a sacrament,” in this case not the breaking of bread and sharing of wine (though not in opposition to that) but really the ingestion of pharmacological molecules that have the power to maintain life but not to grant healing. A complex and unforgiving schedule of pill-taking more intricate than any liturgical hours and rules. All pretty much at the mercy of whatever higher powers (or lower darker powers) are the source of the meds.

Second, “A significant and persistent element (as a practice, a relationship, an organization) in the life of a culture that centers on a fundamental human need . . .” This element at Cinematheque is very simple: SURVIVAL. Not eternal life in some other dimension but THIS LIFE and right now. That is, survival until hopeful crucifixion is no longer endurable and then, release into memory but not alone and not unacknowleged. If you die, you will be honored. If you live, you will be loved. Those are Christian terms. But not exclusively. There are equivalents in other places, other times. Schweitzer said, “Life in the midst of life, life that wishes to live.”

Very simple. Nearly unendurable. Mega-expensive.

Can it be franchised? Of what would the franchise consist? Permission to struggle? License to suffer? A 400-page directory to what isn’t and can’t be known? Would you like the Brooklyn Bridge with that? Or just a cure for AIDS?

In the Sixties and Seventies, the losses of hot war and gelidness of cold war, plus the experience of so many who had seen the world as soldiers or were there now as rebuilders, caused people to call out for new ways to do things. “Why not?” was the cry. The creation of Israel, the reknitting of Britain, made us think about schools. What happens to the child in the kibbutz? Why do the English have that fascination with boarding schools that gave so many men spanking fetishes? How do the French manage their Catholic schools in the face of edicts from Rome? Now that the governesses have disappeared into novels, how do we educate girls?

In America there had always been after-school schools for immigrants trying to preserve their culture: Jewish schools, Chinese schools. But now the Free School movement in Boston called on students trapped in public schools -- theoretically invested in maintaining citizenship skills, but pushing students to the side if they were black -- to come in on Saturday to learn more and in better ways. There had always been parallel public schools, parochial schools, and private schools -- each trying to find the perfect formula for their self-selected students. Even public school students learn how to “select out” through truancy, moving often, becoming incorrigible. And now we have home schooling.

Headstart was invented for preschool. Unparented, possibly abused, certainly neglected, these little kids came to kindergarten without ever holding a crayon or using scissors. The first job of the young VISTA workers who helped was to go to the homes, wake the children, put their jeans and t-shirts on them while the parents slept, and walk them to the school.

In 1972 on the Blackfeet Reservation, the special school for kids who would not stay in public school was called The Blackfeet Free School and Sandwich Shop. Set up in the old commodity warehouse, the school had no cafeteria but installed a sandwich shop and invited the community to share at lunch time. The old left-behind filing cabinet drawers became cradles for babies. Where the commodity cheese had been stacked, kicking wheels for ceramics began to spin. There were even classes in reading, but mostly books were just around and the youngsters were curious. One full-blood grandpa told me decades later, “That’s when I really became an Indian.” One winter the whole school took an old school bus across the country, pursuing one adventure after another, many of them having to do with the bus breaking down.

About the same time the Catholics started an elementary school, which withered, then sprang back up, so that today it is high-functioning. The Baptists started a school. By this time the Blackfeet Community College itself had been started and grown into a real campus with a curriculum and accreditation. They started an “academy” for high school students.

Most intriguing of all to the outsiders was Cuts Wood, Nitzipuahsin, Real-Speak School, an immersion school where everyone spoke Blackfeet. People said it would never work. They said it was wrong to “go backwards,” and something bad would happen. The public school teachers said the students were not learning the basics, which have to be taught in English, and predicted they would all fail in high school. But they didn’t. When they went on to college, they excelled. Because in the end it wasn’t the content that mattered. It was the person’s sense of self and refusal to be intimidated or told who they had to be. They met the world with curiosity and self-confidence and taught themselves through exploration.

Native American immersion schools became necessary because the early mission schools had forbidden the children to speak their own language. Imposing their proselytizing zealotry next to the double government goals of unifying a diverse nation and preventing the unification of enemies, the boarding schools stole a generation of authochthonous children and introduced an abyss into their lives that no amount of alcohol could ease. Some of those early grandparents feared their children would be stigmatized or even killed by soldiers if they went back to the old ways. They had seen it. They had heard it from their own ancestors. When today’s children were only healed and strengthened, they were amazed. And now their task became finding and renewing old ways that had had to be hidden.

Barrus’ friends suggested the idea of an art school for boys with HIV-AIDS. They had watched him with youngsters, including his daughter. They knew he had been a Headstart administrator when he was Eavan’s age, that through the years he had worked with disabled students of all ages and had done drug-damage triage in LA emergency rooms. With his wife he had acted as house parent on an Indian reservation. He’d traveled the planet as a child advocate and AIDS expert. He had the loft, the place. The money was left to him. But it was the boys themselves who insisted that he invent Cinematheque. The need pulled him in.

Back in the days when we were all reading A.S. Neill, Jonathon Kozol, Neil Postman and a host of others saying “why not?” about education, I ran across a story told by a principal in a tough ghetto neighborhood. It was an elementary school. One boy was impossible to contain, ending up in his office again and again. The principal tried all his counseling tricks, all his bribes, all his rules and contracts, but none of it worked. Finally one day the boy did something outrageous and the principal lost his temper. He got out his paddle and spanked him. It was legal, but all authorities advised it was a terrible thing to do.

The boy totally reformed. From that moment on, he obeyed all the rules, stopped by the office to greet the principal, and finally began to work in class. He was not a stupid boy. The principal knew he couldn’t be threatened into changing -- wasn’t that afraid of a little pain. So one day he asked the boy, “What changed you? What did beating you do?”

The boy laughed. “It’s simple, man. If you’re not big enough to take me down, you’re not big enough to protect me either. I got enemies!”

Tim never beats anyone. He takes them up on the roof. He takes them to walk on the beach He sits them in a red chair and makes them talk. They listen to him because they believe he knows.

Guyz at Cinematheque, who range in age from way-too-young to near-adult (which doesn’t much correlate with their chronological ages even if those could be documented) have lived desperate and demeaning lives. Tim’s street creds -- been there, done that, won the wet t-shirt contest and designed a new logo for the back -- make the boys believe in him and attach to him. Even when they’ve had enough and run away, Tim eventually gets a phone call. He hopes it isn’t from a hospital. Learning one’s grammar and math is fine. Learning how to survive HIV and stigma in a chaotic and shifting world is far more important. It is learning a language that pulls you into the tribe.


I like what Mary's doing here.

Let me add something about edges.

I have messages. I just do. I don't have to rationalize it.

Message Number One: Listen.

I need you to listen.

Marc would not listen.

He was killing himself. He was jumping from bridges. AIDS is HARD.

It breaks up famillies who are fragile anyway. No one ever talks about them or that. No one supports them. No fucking one.

Marriages dissolve. I have seen it time and time again.

I will not knowingly send a kid into a broken marriage.

I took Marc to Australia. Fuck the money. This was about his life. Jumping from bridges is a very serious thing to do.

People have jumped from the Golden Gate Bridge and survived. It happens all the time.

In Australia, Marc learned about Aboriginal life. Where there are many tests.

One of them has to do with listening.

To the land.

The boy will get it or die.

I sent him back to his family in Santiago.

Mom and Dad were splitting.

Marc listened to that landscape. It was painful. He left it.

He survived a grueling journey to Buenos Aires. Where he knew I would be.

It was his first experience as a survivor. His hip replacements will be his second.

Sometimes you have to take them right to the edge and you had better know what the fuck you are doing.

The kid will live or he will die. Sometimes art helps.

That to me is what an education is about. It's life and death. -- t

Sunday, July 25, 2010


This photo was a spoof of male ministers that was staged by the women of University Unitarian Universalist church in Seattle, I think about 1986. By that time there were this many female UU ministers in the vicinity. The cigars were bubble gum but the brandy was real. I’m not sure I could name everyone, so I’ll leave them anonymous to avoid hurting the feelings of those I can’t recall. By now some of them are retired, since they embarked on ministry as a second career. If you need to be told, I’m seated -- second from the right. Directly behind me is Annie Foerster. Prompted by this photo, I went looking for Annie last night and found her on Facebook. She’s still in the ministry.

Annie and I were at Meadville/Lombard at the same time and then both in the Pacific Northwest District when it extended into Canada. We’re about the same age and about the same speed. At ministers’ meetings the youngsters tried not to room next to us because we woke up at dawn and laid in bed telling jokes and laughing -- they claimed it kept them from sleeping in.

This was the era when feminism was still on its “anything you can do, I can do better” platform, so it was natural to mock male-based ministry. We thought. Actually the laywomen of the church had the assumptions and we went along with them. Ministry has never been what the lay people thought it was because no two ministers are the same. Come to that, no two congregations, no two denominations, no two religions -- well, by the time you get to that level people realize that there are differences. It’s just that they see the differences through the lens of their own religion. To a Christian, every hero looks like Jesus -- even the women.

We came in just as the old WWII-era men were beginning to retire -- or die. Their doctors put an end to the uproarious events in the old days when ministers on retreat had gotten drunk to blow off steam. For quite a while there were only one or two female ministers, who tended to be attached somehow to a male minister, often romantically. They were treated like princesses, although some were more like Simone de Beauvoir than like Lady Di. The demand of the religious education ministers (who were mostly women) to be included as equals was only beginning. But none of the women in this photo -- at least to my faulty memory -- were the warm fuzzy therapeutic kind of minister that both genders seem to be nowadays. Neither did we spare ourselves any rigor or goal. We were a hardcore bunch. But not tough -- just sharp thinkers and self-disciplined. Mostly.

There were a few women who found their new attractiveness to men hard to handle. Certain kinds of parishioners (both genders) look for strong personalities in powerful positions and attach to them with flattery and emotional support. God [sic] knows ministers often need emotional support. When there’s a pile-up of church fights, denominational politics, national controversy, deaths or serious illness in the congregation or the same in one’s own family, ministers are dead center. The ideal is ministers who step in to help each other and every district has a Good Offices minister.

The role of minister was once much more in terms of the scholar, the ivory tower and carrier of the heritage. Ministers were expected to have formidable personal libraries and a thorough knowledge of philosophy and history. With the shift to female ministers came a switch to organizational leadership, counseling, and a sort of wedding-cake liturgical taste. Formidable old patriarchs were out -- Mom was in. I doubt that anyone has reflected much on what that did to those of us who joined the ministry in an attempt to escape from Mom.

I know that was part of my agenda in part because aspiring to and entering the ministry enraged my own mother. She refused to help in any way whatsoever. “Why can’t you marry a nice Presbyterian minister?” she demanded. She wanted me to be all the things she aspired to: a nice, well-dressed lady of status protected by a dependable man, everything her own mother didn’t have. I think somehow I was imprinted by WWII Life magazine photos of combat chaplains. I wanted to walk with danger and console soldiers with an assurance of pardon. The culture interprets that as a lesbian wish, but it was nothing of the kind. I just wanted to be a tough person who mattered. And I don’t like the games women play. Men are dogs; women are cats.

I was thinking along the lines of coyotes. Tricksters. But also, the quote over my computer says, “Be regular and orderly in your life so that you may be violent and original in your work.” Woe to those who confuse the message. All regular and orderly all the time is as deadly as all violent and original all the time. Several of the men were violent and original in their lives but regular and orderly in their work, which forced them into some degree of covert behavior -- always risky when serving a congregation, because congregations go everywhere and secrets are impossible to keep.

In the days of this photo the feminists of the churches would meet after the service to go through the hymnals, crossing out all the male references and writing above them either inclusive or female grammar. Of course it was silly and of course it made no immediate difference except for those who hated the defacing of books. It was a little bonding ceremony for the women, I guess.

The female ministers were always saying, “We should get organized,” though we weren’t quite sure for what purpose. Once we met -- at Annie’s church, actually -- a couple of hours earlier than the all-clergy regular meeting. It was a morning meeting so we had sweet rolls (in those days diabetes never crossed our minds but I think it was already affecting my metabolism) and lots and lots of coffee. In fact, by the time the men trickled in, we were high as kites on coffee and politics. I think the kite reference might better be to the birds than to paper sails on strings.

The men were intimidated. We had all the best seats already and they had to sit away from the table. They had thought of us as allies rather than equals, and had not expected rivals. It was very funny because we were simply a little less cloaked, not different. I wonder whether Annie remembers all this.

Saturday, July 24, 2010


Subjects for blogs come at me from every source and this morning was no exception. An Englishman who calls himself the Grumpy Old Bookman (his temperament and age match mine, so we were friends at once) has written a compendium of what he knows about eating -- oh, all right, dieting. Dave Lull, the cross-pollinating librarian who connects a circle of people absorbed in this topic, sent me the url for it:

GOB is a long-time fan of Adelle Davis. Her program and Pep-Up were pressed on Bob and I in the Sixties by Hal Bieler, MD, the author of “Food Is Your Best Medicine.” He had been enormously fat until he converted to Davis’ ideas, which he tried to encourage us to eat. Besides Pep-Up, a mix of milk and vitamins roughly resembling sludge, he recommended lots of papaya juice (for digestion) and a soup that was diced-up boiled veggies with skim milk poured over them. We stuck to that pretty well unless we’d been lucky hunting and were hungry for deer meat. I doctored up both of them with lots of garlic and butter, which would have been considered unhealthy at the time, but are almost approved according to the later books on GOB’s list. If there were company, we had steak and baked potato.

The point is that food has half a dozen vectors impinging on it, depending on how you slice-and-dice it:

1. The times and places:

Because my mother’s concept of nutrition was shaped by Depression and WWII, plus growing up on a farm, we always had salad. But if we were at Bob’s mom’s house for supper, salad was likely to be “Montana green stuff,” which is some kind of Jello with marshmallows, pineapple, and mayo. She was Edwardian from Quebec, prosperous, and she creamed everything, avoiding all roughage. In old age she was much troubled by diverticulitis, but she lived well into her eighties. My mother reached 89. In times of drought and war, people might be lucky to eat anything at all. Otherwise, the state of advice in any time has a lot to do with circumstances. In our time people who are fat are considered morally deficient but in other times fat was a status marker. The skeletal people of Somalia are pitied, but skeletal starlets are admired.

2. Nutritional:

As GOB advises, nutrition research is fine (though it changes its mind every Friday), but once a carrot was a carrot and an apple was an apple. Now they are not: force-grown, chemicalized, inbred, and prettified. Maybe not even a product of earth/dirt. Soy used to be the magic plant, full-nutrition and a good thing to put in your homemade bread. Now suspicion is raised. The Devil is in the details. And then there's that Eternal Twinkie that never rots and never hardens, which calls into question whether it's food at all.

2. Political:

Bananas and coffee, two of my staples, are controlled by international mega corporations. In the past of the Strachans (my maiden name) and the past of the MacFie’s (Bob’s mother’s maiden name) was their participation in sugar empires based in the American Caribbean, part of the evil triangle of sugar cane/rum/slaves. Today the mega-banks starve whole nations by speculation on “long futures” of grain to drive up the prices of the stuff. (See the July Harpers.)

GOB doesn’t include on his list of influential books the early political cry to action of “Food for a Small Planet,” but I put it on my list. Still, I’m no vegetarian and resist those whose politics require them to eschew all eating of flesh, thereby replacing gratitude for a source of life with their own sense of virtuous abstention.

3. Social:

Food is how we share, how we nurture each other. Pot lucks and banquets, “lunching” and teatime, only begin to name the ways. Offices and stores and banks around here keep dishes of candy to offer their customers. The hardest part of being Diabetes II is not being able to participate in the funeral “feed” or the wedding party. On the other hand, refraining can be another of those “virtuous abstention” gambits for confounding other people. In some circles dinner parties are attended by as many people who have brought their own “must have” food as people eating what the hostess serves.

4. Personal:

Somehow I’ve always had the feeling that I might starve. I don’t know why. When I was circuit-riding, I always carried breakfast bars -- just in case -- and, indeed, some of my hosting parishioners would either eat so abstemiously themselves or be so determined to reduce my girth that supper might be a salad. Period. I’d hide the wrappers of the breakfast bars. My mother was always after me for my weight. (Her vice was smoking.) Maybe the hunger was not for food. But realistically, WWII was a time when Europe starved and it was depicted in newsreels on a movie screen, much harder to ignore than TV during dinnertime. I was born in 1939.

GOB calls his compilation of personal research “Is It Safe to Eat Breakfast?” If I were writing one, I’d maybe call it “I Miss Eating Breakfast.” The Adelle Davis rule of eating like a king at breakfast, a prince at lunch and a pauper at supper was interpreted by myself and some friends as long leisurely brunches in cafes: three egg omelets with bacon and cheese, toast, hash browns, bottomless coffee cup. A country working man’s breakfast. But we didn’t DO that kind of work and neither do a lot of country men now, since so much is mechanized and managed from a tractor cab.

But the practice that really did me in was the afternoon coffee break when I was low-level clerical in the City of Portland. I did well for lunch, but about three in the afternoon my energy level hit bottom. Starbucks was flowering and the coffee shops all had wonderful pastries, but my fav was the brownies in the Portlandia Building: thick, chewy, packed with nuts. Of course, I was taking Vitamin C and a couple of aspirin to get through the day, so I soon had holes in my stomach and my joints were inflamed. My daily anxiety level was pretty high, but at least I never took mood pills. The anxiety was justified. Maybe that was the difference. The doctor never tested me for diabetes.

The point I’m making is that diet is part of a whole complex of forces, not just food choices. The best thing I ever did for my diet was to move back to small town Montana where the cows are known individually and the wheat is grown and stored right here. Now if I could escape Roundup . . .

Friday, July 23, 2010

LADIES IN LAVENDER: Review and Reflection

The first time I saw Judi Dench was when I was in college (1957-1961) and she came to Chicago with Lawrence Harvey in Henry V. There’s a little scene where he is courting by teaching her (she is a French princess) to speak English and she repeats after him “eelbow” so gracefully and sweetly that it’s still indelible in my mind. The first time I really noticed Charles Dance was when everyone else did, too -- in “Jewel in the Crown,” where he was so intelligent and moral without losing any compassion. Maggie Smith -- well, I’ve always known about Maggie Smith. Hasn’t everyone?

My cousin asked whether “The Ladies in Lavender” was a “chick flick,” but it’s actually a grannie film in a way that I don’t think even Charles Dance, who adapted a short story from an old book and directed it with Judi Dench and Maggie Smith, realized. It’s an L.M. Montgomery (“Anne of Green Gables”) or Gene Stratton-Porter (“Girl of the Limberlost”) or even Louisa May Alcott sort of story about the relationship between old and young, small town and sophisticated achievement, disappointment and fulfillment. Briefly, a young shipwrecked sailor washes up in the cove where two older ladies (seventies -- my age) live quietly with a sturdy housekeeper. They keep him captive a little while and then, healed and gifted, he escapes -- but with gratitude. The ladies do NOT wear lavender: more peach and apricot, but at intense moments there is blood red. (No blood.) We are instructed that lavender is meant to refer to scented linen closets. Storage. Lavender is also the color you wear in mourning after a year of black. That’s not mentioned, though the portrait of the women’s dead father is shown and there are references to the deceased husband of one woman.

Our times are really lousy at portraying innocent and nurturing love -- we don’t believe in it. We label it and diabolize it, suspecting ulterior motives. But in real life there really is a precious kind of love that is not sexual in the way we’re used to: a nurturing and admiring kind of feeling that knows its limits and accepts its losses when the situation is impossible.

There is also something charming and moral about two people (two sisters in this case) in love but with quite different personal styles so that one is immersed and the other is watching fondly but with some trepidation. Dench always plays the yearning near-child (she’s only five-foot-one) and Maggie Smith or some equivalent plays the practical and perhaps occasionally harsh watcher. “Cranford” is another example. The male version was lurking around in Westerns long before “Brokeback Mountain.” (Yes, Peckinpah.) The small Brit village with its countercurrents of jealousy and wisdom, its pub and harvest, are well-known territory throughout the empire -- Aussie, Canadian, Nova Scotian, and so on. Even on Sesame Street -- did you notice “Bert & Ernie” doing schtick? When you add up the period, the scenery, the ruralness, the fine music, and so on, it is formally called “heritage cinema,” a category that probably ought to be added to Netflix. “My House in Umbria” is a good example -- Maggie Smith again. “Gosford Park” cast Helen Mirren and Eileen Atkins as the “two sisters” but we don’t know they are until the end.

There IS a dark side to this sort of capture of a man-child -- and he DOES rebel a little. In a mischievous way. He is a “good child” match for “Ursula”. This story is presented as a fairy tale, so one must accept a child’s point of view. Except that this “sailor” -- who didn’t learn the violin on any ship! -- wouldn’t have minded a little romance with Olga, the wicked and stylish witch, who is very careful to draw boundaries -- no smooching! Real achievement! Today’s parents are a little too inclined to insist that their children be vunderkinder, even if they’re more naturally garden variety urchins. We know about stage mothers, single mothers who make only sons into husbands and lovers. Children as assets, owned.

It would be possible to rewrite this tale into something quite chilling, but don’t ask Charles Dance to do it. The man is secretly Edwardian. Maybe not so secretly. In fact, in the original story the young man went off without saying goodbye, never sent back a painting, never saw the two women again. There is a science fiction story in which an old woman is standing at her sink washing dishes when she sees a young male (no clothes) angel fall into her backyard from the sky. She has some warm milky tea at hand and takes it out to him, hoping it will help. It does. Also, everywhere she touches him, the contact heals her arthritis. Then he revives and flies away. After a while the arthritis cure wears off. That’s the tough modern take of an old story. I suppose one could write a little tale about two old women in a bar who manage to pick up a young man and . . . go ahead! Tell it! (Maybe reverse it: two young men in a bar pick up an old woman!)

In 1987 Charles Dance was quoted as saying he met Meryl Streep and they didn’t “click” which explains why Robert Redford played Denys Finch-Hatton in “Out of Africa” while Dance (who was far more like Denys) was in “White Mischief.” He said Streep was very “intellectual” in her approach to things while he was emotional and intuitive. He liked Shirley Maclaine, though he thought she was a bit “far out.” Here lies the key to this recurring theme of two humans very close to each other but different: they are really two sides of each of us. That is, there are two “sisters” in me -- one the sweet child and one the provident and wary adult -- who are in dialogue all the time about what should be done and how. We love seeing that tension acted out explicitly.

The genius of this movie is that these two women are either wickedly trapped or benignly sheltered; the village is either a magical bit of the past or a dead-end edge of a nation; the young man and his “art” is a bridge to the outside through the alluring “Olga.” What should one do about it? Whether or not Charles Dance and his actors “felt” that or thought it out, it’s there in its double potential.

Thursday, July 22, 2010


At some point in history houses began to be horizontal instead of vertical, at least on the prairie where there is plenty of land. To my mind a two story house is iconic, the “way it’s supposed” to be. The house below is in Saskatoon, a vintage example.

But Saskatoon is a college town as well as an immigrant town, so that when the old folks who built these houses after WWI died of old age, the next generation tended to move sideways and convert the tall houses to rentals. This one was rented by friends of mine, the McConnells, some years ago when Clyde was on the faculty there and it was the time in their family when there were still kids and animals, but not much cash.

Sue remembers: “Our old house in S'toon was/is very simple and had bedrooms so small that the chest of drawers had to go out in the hall. It had a claw foot tub and no shower. There was no duct work from the furnace to the upstairs, just a vent in the wall over the kitchen. Ian used to write me notes and "mail" them through the vent. They would float down onto the stove. But it had a nice yard with hollyhocks, and was freshly painted inside. Except for the basement stairs which I painted lime green. The kitten dashed across the wet paint, so there was a trail of paw prints on the dining room floor.”

Houses and time do a waltz for most of us, at least for those who don’t move a lot from one generic place to another. The McConnell’s are in Calgary now, owning a snug little one-story on a hillside. Clyde has been painting (he’s an artist) on the back porch because the light is so good and there’s really no convenient space in the house. It was not a particularly good summer to be rainy! Rain would have been more welcome a few summers ago when his project was terracing the back yard! Now the two cats sit happily among the flowers on several levels.

The front has been totally transformed by the sudden surrender of a big tree, which mercifully didn't fall on the house!

In 1970 after Bob divorced me, I stayed on our little Two Medicine ranch all winter, solitary except for the horses and cats. I wish there were some word that describes the period just after a major change in relationship -- something like honeymoon except in reverse. Maybe not many people get that little transition time to catch their breath. For a while I thought about fighting to get ownership of this place away from Bob, but the road along Two Med on the south edge wasn’t paved and rain made it impassable. The core problem is that where one lives is connected to what work one can find. I probably could have continued to teach, but it would have meant a struggle on the road in winter.

Since that time (1970) the road IS paved and the interchange between Highway 89 and the Two Med River is completely re-engineered to be far less dangerous. Bob sold this little ranch in order to buy the Flatiron Ranch that now belongs to Nature Conservancy and the Blackfeet Tribe. Locally the Flatiron Ranch is known as the Doane Ranch, though Corky Evans owned it for a while.

In the spring of 1971 I did go back to working for School District #9, not as a teacher but as a public relations person. I drove our little red van to work but it sometimes bogged down in the mud. When it did, I’d leave it and walk the rest of the two miles to the ranch. Bob and Ramona Wellman lived at the Highway 89 crossing of Two Med and he’d come along with his pickup and throw a chain on the van, so when I walked back out, it would be sitting safely on the grass. I had no phone, so he must have just been keeping an eye out.

That fall I taught again. As soon as I had a bit of money in spring, I moved into Ramona Wellman’s childhood home. Her maiden family name was Wippert and she said she always liked this house because in those days the snow piled up above the first floor, but you could still see out the windows in this house. The house had been empty for a few years and before that was rented to Richard Little Dog’s family. When I moved my brass bed in, I put it under the little cluster of nails (to make sure they were secure) where the Little Dog Thunder Pipe Bundle had hung. Its protection lingered.

That summer I contentedly scrubbed and painted and wallpapered and replaced almost all the glass in the house. Pulling up old greasy linoleum was one of my favorite occupations because it was so transformative. When I got down to the boards, I painted them with multiple coats of tractor paint. There was an old styrofoam cooler on a high shelf in the entry shed. Someone had left dead gophers in it long ago. When the lid came off the phrase that came to mind was “great gray greasy gopher gut goo.”

Wellman’s let me “pay the rent” by giving them receipts for materials. The labor was free. Therapeutic, really. That winter the snow piled up to the second floor and I had to go in and out a window where I dug a little entryway. After two years I put everything in the van and left for the coast to go back to school, but I left that house with regret.

After a few years Ramona was talked into moving the house across the street and over a block, in the process turning it so that what had been the front became the back. Also, the addition that had contained the bathrooms, one up and one down, was removed. But the project ran out of steam. Now the sun porch is boarded and the yard has grown up in cow parsnips. The bones of the house are waiting for the next dance partner. I thought of buying it instead of my house in Valier, but I’m too old for a two-story house now. I wish it well.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Here are two lists I sent in an open letter to Clay Shirky, who is doing the leading-edge thinking about these issues.


1.  The general reading public almost realizes that “publishing” is not the same as “printing.”  All the uncles who got their life story printed by a “vanity press” and boasted that they were “published authors” (though now all the books are under their bed) don’t like to hear this.

2.  Of the many components of publishing, only one can be addressed by “printing” and that’s the creation of an object, usually in multiple copies because that’s the only way all the setup of ink and paper was economically feasible.  But now we can print one copy at a time, replicate it later, or easily re-print it with changes.  If you accept on-line manuscript as a “book,” the content can morph daily, which is GOOD if the content is directions for something that is changing all the time.   And we have audio-publishing as well as ePublishing.

3.  Some of the arts of printing should be done by experts:  pagination, layout, photo resolution, indexing, choice and arrangement of fonts, paper and cover.  These cannot be done by machine, though a computer will help.   One can learn to do them, but it takes time and effort. 

4.  Preparation of actual content (beyond the quality of the writing) also requires some expertise:  the illustrations, graphs, indexing, line-editing for errors, and curation, which historically was done by editors and critics but is now hollow, driven by sales predictions.  If valuable curating had continued in the hands of critics and editors, it would not have been so easily discarded.  Another twist is that now academic presses require authors to pay for the preparation of their own photos and graphs.

5.  If the “book” is an object then it has to be sold like an object: a marketing plan must be devised, a network of salesmen and bookstore destinations must be activated, a catalog, registration with ISBN or wholesaling businesses, blurbs to be collected from someone (who?), an interview schedule set up, shipping, an exciting dust jacket and posters for bookstores. This is the part that makes publishers worthwhile (aside from an advance!) but they just don’t DO it.  And newbie authors don’t think to ask.

6.  Books that are done one-at-a-time (“art books”) or maybe as a set of a dozen, can be very tricksy, origami, hand-painted, pop-up or beautifully leather-bound with gold leaf, and so on.  They cannot be priced like mass-produced books.  They are a different KIND of object.  They are not much affected by this momentous shift.

7.  But remember “Bunny Esmond?”  It was a book that came in the box with a baby blanket and there was a little square of the blanket material glued to the inside of the last page and holes were centered over it so that the illustrations included a place to “pet the bunny” through the holes.  The cost of that book was added to the cost of the blanket.  A book can BE a promotion.

8.  Readers have not made the transition from passive to active.  They still tend to treat the computer as though it were a television screen.  They wait for the outreach via cookies.  Never go past the first five listings on Google.  The bridge is probably computer games which encourage initiative.  Otherwise, people only go seeking when they want to buy something cheap.  
This is a split that has long been in our schools:  most education is something you sit and receive until you reach a fairly high level when you begin to go seeking and then, even higher, synthesizing what you find into something new.  This gap is what tips some people into copying: they are shopping rather than thinking.  “Low synthesis” is more or less aggregating a lot of quotes on the same subject without much challenging them  or “high synthesis” means disassembling the thought systems, analyzing them, and recombining them into something new.  It doesn’t have to be at the university level.

9.  Traditional publishing  de-valued the “old” book.  Publishers want to sell “new” books or at least “new editions.”  When I looked at a new edition of “Rhetorical Grammar” it was heinously expensive.  So I bought a previous edition (only a few years old with basically the same content) for $4.  The computer has made the used book easy to find.   Some fields have not been addressed by any improved new books for fifty or a hundred years.  Luckily, now you are more likely to find those old key books, once you find out what they are.

Because all along old books remained valuable and were wanted by people who could find them, the used book business once depended on networks of “book finders” who used mail and the phone, plus travel.  But now lists can be easily accessed through Abebooks, Alibris, Powells, and so on.  This means that books go to the people who want them and are less likely to be discarded, even ephemera.   My little kitchen-table books about Bob Scriver are out there circulating on Amazon alongside the U of Calgary Press formal and accredited book “Bronze Inside and Out.”

10.  To keep values up, old books (meaning those that didn’t sell out in six months) were pulped.  If you didn’t have the money or didn’t find them during that window, they were gone.    This practice, plus cynicism about the value of Native American Renaissance books limiting the number of copies printed and baffled marketing (never to Indians!)  meant that a lot of books popped up, were praised by white educated people in cities, and quickly died.   Drives me crazy!
Pulping is also a result of property taxes on books in warehouses where large printings must be stored.  Combine this with the practice of letting all bookstores return any books that didn’t sell and Russell Chatham’s boutique publishing business in Bozeman, MT,  was garroted.


1.  New media leaves print behind, leaves solid object existence behind, and possibly even leaves language behind, going to a new way of communicating (think of sign language) by the flow and juxtaposition of images and music.  This terrifies the traditional print author and even the publishers because they just don’t have the expertise.  They try to buy it, which means another layer of copyright and editing expertise.   Or they assume they must assemble it from copyrighted materials.  Cinematheque generates their own images or uses Creative Commons.  So far no composers have shown up, but good old Foley sound effects work.  Barrus uses a layered image technique that’s highly suggestive and ambiguous, dreamlike.  Every kid has an iPod and a Flip vid camera.

2.  Kids today, esp. underground street kids, easily communicate among countries through visual/sound media without print or sometimes with print.   Some learned by running porn shows online. This is far more true of European, Asian and African countries.  Tech-hip practically from birth,  they CAN author expressions/narratives without any print at all, or with print reduced to icon-status, like stop signs or advertising.  In fact, communication (publishing) will be far more like advertising and that expertise can be very deep and useful.  It’s not all scam and spin.  (See the movie “Art & Copy.”)  At seventy I’m being crowded to learn iMovie and I CAN!

3.  What modern kids DON’T normally have is life-experience.  They tend to be urban, to stay in one social class, to pick up most of their info from television -- though now not even that because they seem to have migrated from sit-com to song-vid.  Their world is iPodized.  They don’t know about options, strategies.  But again, they learn through vid games.  And Barrus’ theory is travel.  He had a kid who was mute -- too traumatized to talk.  He packed the two of them off to Australia where the sight of kangaroos shocked the boy back into speech.   He was filming:  “Faster!  Closer!”

4. Shirky: “ There are revolutions in which people’s principal skill is not being afraid of what they don’t understand. These people do well in revolutionary times.”   That’s us: Barrus and Scriver, two renegades with backgrounds that relate as Venn diagrams.  Barrus running his Cinematheque school for at risk boys; Scriver out here on the prairie living off SS and friendships with the Blackfeet.  We’ve been in and out of the fire all our lives in every kind of place.

5.  Maybe the university is no longer relevant for many people, though it has become the new standard.  The real energy may be at the level of the local community college, which used to be strictly hands-on stuff, but now is often a people re-cycler, a transitioner, a now-that-you’re-grown-up locus.

6.  Shirky: “Look at the difference between how a library shelves books, how serious fiction as a category exists in bookstores but not in libraries.”  The line was always blurry -- it is a marketing line, not a morality line.  One of the most tenacious and devious ethical errors (they teach this is at the U of Chicago Div School) is assuming that whatever “is” then “ought to be.”  The status quo as the rule of thumb. But for Barrus’ underground and for my rez friends, transition is all there is, the only way to survive.

7.  What brings the “revolution” home to us is the fact that we’re disenfranchised people now displacing the Ivy League educated, net-worked, prosperous, access-to-money people who previously controlled publishing.  The irony is that their resistance almost forces us into New Mixed Media.  The other factor (much more underground) is that they are so structured and confined by their own lives that they go “slumming” in our milieu and almost accidentally teach us how to challenge them.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

JACK WOOD: 1931 to 2010

Because I was raised a teetotaler and have remained a non-drinker all my life -- not out of principle but simply because I don’t like to feel woozy and hate spending money on anything but books -- I’ve missed out on a lot of life. Not the big crowded Cut Bank-type bar scenes that end in a brawl, but the small pub where the best patrons are story-tellers who also play the guitar and recite poetry, staying up nearly until dawn to follow their narrative paths together. Ramsey Rink, who owns the Firebrand, showed what I was missing by accompanying with his guitar his best customer and good friend’s funeral yesterday in East Glacier. That would be Jack Wood, a man who had Robert Service’s works by heart. The poet was aptly quoted.

Jack was famous as the top-notch cowboy who didn’t quite make it into the PRCA finals because at Madison Square Garden his arm broke and never quite healed and who, they say, began to drink over grief for his dead wife and never found a good enough reason to quit. In spite of it all, he didn’t lose his ranch while others did. His two children, Crystal and Will, grew up happy and healthy.

In the Thirties when Bob Scriver went off to the Vandercook School of Music on the South Side of Chicago, he was thrown into an alien world where he knew no one. In the first days there, walking along the sidewalk, he saw coming towards him a very tall man in a cowboy hat. He knew the man. It was Bob Wood, Jack’s father, who had just brought a load of cows to market at the nearby stockyards. (They don’t seem to put cows on the train anymore -- just wheat. The cows go by truck.)

In the Sixties when Bob Scriver was competing for a chance to create an heroic-sized portrait of Bill Linderman, that much-beloved champion cowboy, he turned to Jack Wood for help and advice. Bob submitted two maquettes of poses, one carrying the saddle and the other leaning over to buckle his chaps. The PRCA chose the one with the saddle, which was a pain in the butt to make, over the one we liked better, the graceful one with the the chaps. Bob gave a hydrocal casting of the small version of that statue to Jack Wood, who was a model, and it was standing by his coffin at the funeral.

The Women’s Club in East Glacier is a log hall, not very big, that has a little library and kitchen in the back. It is the scene of many events. In the summer this resort town is packed with tourists, many young and many foreign, but in winter the population is small and tightly bound together except that by February one side of the railroad tracks doesn’t talk to the other. The tracks are elevated with access only through an arch that seems always to flood in winter, then freeze solid. Ramsey’s bar is tactfully outside of town on the way across the mountains, a good place for dinner or a good place for some kind of fortification on your way somewhere.

Or to spend time with friends, which has always been the custom among men who do hard physical labor and therefore are always a little achey-breaky. Those who know how to survive it are full of jokes and humorous banter at their own expense. Nowadays they give you pills and physical therapy -- maybe joint replacement and unwelcome advice. The bonding among these men is crucial when they need a neighbor’s help either seasonally or in an emergency. The drive to get ‘er done is so strong that it becomes self-destructive. When Jack’s heart began to go bonkers and had to have an new bovine valve implanted (lots of joke material there), right after the surgery his son-in-law asked him how his pain was on a scale of one-to-ten. “About six, but I told the doc two, ‘cuz I want outta this place!”

Lots of stories began with good intentions and ended in crackups, like the time he set out with a load of hogs that needed selling in Great Falls. He got the pigs sold, not for much, stopped at the Cowboy Inn for a social moment and made it home days later and hundreds of dollars short. Another time a friend had successfully sold a load of Christmas trees in Winslow, so Jack thought he’d try that gig and loaded up a truck with trees. Shooting for the big time, he went to Denver. But Denver is a bigger and more formal town and required a lot of permits: selling, fire prevention, insurance, and so on. The system was complicated and required a lot of advice from old rodeo friends, but he finally got the last permit -- the day after Christmas. Then he had to buy another permit to haul the trees to the dump and burn ‘em. Now driving an empty truck, he had the idea that he’d swing over through California and pick up a load of oranges to sell back home. The only trouble was that he stopped at the Cowboy Inn in Great Falls to celebrate his resourcefulness and, while the evening progressed, one of those sudden drops below zero came down the prairie. His friends claimed that at that point he invented frozen orange juice. He was always inventing some darn thing out of ranch junk. People said he should get patents.

This new breed of molecular scientists who study everything are claiming on the radio that the fermentation of beer, wine and mead more or less coincided with the invention of agriculture ten thousand years ago, but I’m not sure I believe them. I’ve heard too many stories about Vikings and jungle tribes. But on the other hand, a band of hunters who got drunk around their campfire was likely to be in trouble without a designated campfire stoker. The Plains Indians were never drinkers until the whites came and discovered that it undermined the skill of the warriors. Maybe booze somehow releases the compressed springs in a man’s heart when he needs to travel and dream and story, like a guy on the rodeo circuit.

It’s hard to resist men like that. John Weathered, who sang the last song, remarked, as e.e. cummings said about Buffalo Bill, “Geezus, he was a handsome man!” It was true in the Sixties.

But Jack confided to a friend, “They’re bringing me up on charges for child abuse.”

“How do they figure THAT?”

“I’m leavin’ the ranch to my kids.” And he never left it for long either.

Monday, July 19, 2010


Why is Deleuzeguattarian theory a good fit for Tim Barrus’ Cinematheque? Because both come out of the Sixties world cultural revolution, interrupted by plague, against the tyranny of both Freud and Marx. “Soft Subversions: Texts and Interviews 1977-1985” (Felix Guattari) and “A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia,” 1987 (both Deleuze & Guattari) explore concepts that don’t seem so revolutionary now as they must have seemed at the time. There are new forces that grip us now, but it seems to me that these D&G concepts are still not entirely unpacked or made very accessible, even as their ideas become more relevant, substrate to present thinking.

The basic concept to understand is that these ideas are against hierarchies — that is, they do not want to see things ordered on the basis of “importance” with one big thing at the top controlling everything in descending order underneath. It is inefficient, inhumane, and cannot endure without draconian enforcement. These days even China and Cuba have their doubts. In place of this “power tree” they suggest not the “bush,” (as though we were talking Hannukah here!) but the rhizome. A rhizome is a lot of small centers of growth connected by stolons (stem/roots) as a way of communicating. Think strawberries, think sweet grass, think hippie communes. One rhizome is not better than the other. Each has its own territory and fits it. Each is self-determined. Nassim Taleb would agree that it is a robust system, since destroying one leaves the others to persist. (Ask the crabgrass and the thistle.)

My biggest fear is that international corporations are growing like rhizomes but might suddenly coalesce into the Dark Empire, finding it profitable to organize among each other as they have within themselves, subsuming under themselves the rhizomatous growth of nations, mostly by controlling resources.

Guattari asks what if we see: “An ever more marked integration of the more privileged sections of the working class into the ideology, lifestyle and interests of the petty bourgeoisie, while new social strata of great insecurity come into existence: immigrants, hyper-exploited women, casual workers, the unemployed, students without prospects, all those living on social security.” The causes are over-population, specialized jobs, and the diminishing of resources like oil. We’re there. The potential and actuality of violent chaos (terrorism, civil war) is unmistakable. The withdrawing of the social safety net is already underway. Guattari doesn’t see individual black swans: he sees ecology change. (Compare weather.) He doesn’t see Marx’s underclass arising, he sees whole categories of people crowded off the edges of the continents.

When it comes to Freud, Guattari (a veteran radical psychoanalyst) says: “The result of Freud’s incessant comings and goings between an impenitent scientism [Freud aspired to the status of doctor] and a lyric inventivity reminiscent of romanticism [that love affair with Greek myth], is a sense of reterritorializations carried out in reaction to the numerous projections of the psyche.” I take this to mean that Freud could never decide whether these concepts he proposed (the libido, the unconscious and so on) were permanent maps of territories or suggested processes of the inner life. “Schizoanalysis,” which is the rhizomatous approach, wants to address inner chaos according to any system that gets good results. Experiment. Go by the territory — not by the map, because the map is always the part rather than the whole. The map is about the map-drawer.

Guattari remarks (p. 222-23), “It is a slight paradox to see thus coexisting presuppositions [hysteria, dreams, slips, wit] directly inspired by the psychophysics of Fechner and the “psychophysicalism” of Helmholtz and Bruke [I don’t know these guys] and an “abyssal” exploration whose adventurous character will have hardly an equivalent except with Dadaism and Surrealism.” [Ah! Here we are!] It all seems to indicate that the support Freud took from the scientific schemas of his epoch had given him self-confidence that allowed him to give free reign to his creative imagination.” Aha. Another of those oxymoronic paradoxes that are so fruitful because the tension forces things to a higher level of thought.

What I begin to see is that Guattari, at least, thinks of life as a zillion interacting particles (oh, yes, that’s physics, isn’t it?) which sometimes form patterns (fractals?). Then the interacting patterns or forces organize themselves into what he calls “machines.” “Machines” are a hard term for me to understand because to me they mean something mindless manufactured out of metal: devices, gizmos. But in this context they appear to mean something more like self-creating mechanisms, like a family or at least a marriage. More biological or social. But maybe any systems that perform or produce.

This thinking of D&G precedes the advent of the internet shuffling of the cards. Now we go to a fav story of Clay Shirky’s about how a bank catered to students and gave them nice perks until summer came along and the students were no longer in a position to organize and protest — so thought the bank. The bank instituted new fees and penalties, expecting to make a nice profit before the kids figured it out. But the students were on Facebook and — even dispersed across the planet — they carried laptops, iPhones, Blackberries and so on. They kept in touch. Soon they were organized, blazing in print and withdrawing their money.

At its core Cinematheque is only a few dozen marginalized adolescent boys (they are defined as “at risk” because they are infected with HIV/AIDS) with overdeveloped thumbs. With Barrus steering — more-or-less — through the use of video production on “vooks” (is that a “machine”?) they are nomadic, anti-hierarchical, ubiquitous, non-conforming and energizing. That’s not the mode of organization — that’s their very nature. Within days of establishing his Facebook page “Vook 1” Barrus was flooded with almost three thousand “friends.” They were listening for him. He had connected rhizomes in a way that neither face-to-face contact nor books can, partly because the connection is made through music and image. When one uses the phrase “new vision” here, it is quite literal. The email might be in Chinese characters.

Theatrical performance art, nomadically traveling the globe, reinforces electronic contact and creates real-people contact for the boys. Where the population is thick enough to support it, there might be art shows. At the private level, when pain and confusion make problems, the practice is a conversation with the red chair — Fritz-Perls- Gestalt-style — talking to the intangible, the iconic, the lurking subconscious creatures of the abyss. Maybe your mom. Maybe a revolver.

This quote is off the Internet. Deleuze “aims to view reality positively, in terms of what it is, rather than what it is not—that is, as differentiated and multiple, marked by specificity and individuality, rather than according to the abstractions generated by philosophies (such as Hegel’s or Sartre’s) which give priority to human consciousness and see the world in terms of negation, contradiction, opposition, and lack… Deleuze’s ‘schizoanalysis’ repudiates Freudianism as reductive and repressive; it believes individual ‘complexes’ to originate in specific social structures, not in universal, triangular family relations; it does not envisage desire as arising from lack but considers it a positive means of breaking away from social and political restrictions. For Deleuze, art is never neurotic; in his terms, it is psychotic and revolutionary: ‘schizoanalysis’ aims to uncover the revolutionary power of the text, its explosive potential energy. Malcolm Lowry, Deleuze claims, comes closest to his own conception of the literary text as a ‘sort of machine’. His concern is with what it can do, not with what it may mean. He does not interpret a text but rather asks what its uses may be, and argues that these are as varied and multiple as the domains of human desire.

That’s about enough to think about for a while.



I could lie and fall back on my transparent onion and go to the power of a layered transparency but it wouldn’t really tell you much about Cinematheque; in fact, it would be obfuscation.

It’s not an onion.

You do hit some of the physics to it.

There is much going on in the world. Much of which I am not at liberty to even discuss because it would not be in our interest to do so.

Where there used to be much argument — especially at the quantum physics level (how small or powerful can it get). Today, there is a relative calm about what are the fundamental facts. The essential, fundamental facts are so at odds with what those facts were thought to be a mere ten years ago, you might not think we were imagining the same world. In FACT, the same universe.

Or dozens of them.

This will seem like a stretch to you to say nothing of your readers. But if you were to ask certain boys what Cinematheque was about, they would tell you cosmology.

Art is just one way to interpret small (smaller than the imagination will allow), subatomic parts of that.

The irony is that while we appear to be painting a vast horizon, we’re not.
We would consider the idea of a vast horizon as sophomoric.

Any horizon behaves in a particular way due to the laws of physics until such time as those laws are no longer relevant. The smaller you get the more irrelevant physics becomes.

Consider event horizons and neurology.

When certain particles interact under certain conditions, particle theory can make certain predictions.

So what is art.

A translation but a fluid one. No absolutes.

E=beauty, too. As equation.

You can talk to the revolver in the red chair or make it your mum. The revolver and your mum will not be altered. But the physics inside your brain will be. We know that much.

What we do not know about the brain is the equivalent to what we do not know about the universe.

There are people who get that, and then there are people who get it and envision some of the consequences, and they are the quiet ones. The arguments no longer rage.

Why Cinematheque. Because what you see on the screen is relative.

It’s not an absolute. It’s fluid.

It’s light and color which is light.

Cinematheque is infectious.

I do not mean that as “enthusiastic.”

I mean it as a new way of seeing things. Art may be translating, translating, translating, but eventually, the smaller you go, or the deeper you explore into the thing, you begin to think about such things as a virus in a different way.

Coming up for air is a problem. You see the stone age.

I head for whatever tree will have me sit under it. I have a companion.

Deleuzeguattarian theory seeks a structure and ends up constructing a pyramid. In terms of what isn’t there. But I am not sure they understand what is there anymore than string theory can count the number of parallel universes based on dimension.

An electron has no dimension. It is a wave. It can be in two places at the same time.

Social theory and Freud go so far. Freud was a creature of time and place. His work is irrelevant.

The idea that Tim Barrus drives (or steers) the machine is one I have spent the last year or so debunking.

Doing so is FRAUGHT with risk. I must not try too hard.

You yourself said: People will want to know that there are limits.

If you were to go to my blog, Enfant Terrible, you would see where I am questioning the role of limitation (you have used the word wisdom) in a parenting context (I wrote it in French because Americans will simply attack me) which I juxtaposed against the iconography of sadomasochism.

By “driving or steering” the machine: I am assumed to be in the dominate role and the boys submissive. I am the authority.


The chaos theory in particle physics is one that must be taken seriously.

Authority imbued with wisdom. Reality: you see what I want you to see. Authority imbued with common sense. I suppose that is comforting. This would be the conventional, hierarchal POV.

I have not opted for the transparency of deconstructing that.

Because I do not think people will get it. You can tell them the truth. You can say: an electron can be in two places at the same time. And they will look at you and nod but they have no reference point. It’s Greek in the stone age.

But THAT is exactly the condition of humanity, and has been for eons. It is the tension between civilization, her rituals and institutions, and the way of the universe.

Stone age man pretends he gets it. It is an illusion. One that many myths (many of them Greek) have been based on. He doesn’t get it. He falls back on what he thinks is wisdom or common sense. Or God.

Or family. The cave.

This is not a criticism and is not aimed at you.

It is an observation as to how humans work in systems.

The reality is that Tim Barrus drives nothing but sits under trees a lot. Another reality — one that western systems reject — is that I am only an equal among the boys. It appears differently. But appearances are misleading because we want them to be. I am no innocent boy. But either are they.

I do not buy the rhizome metaphor. It’s too pretty. It fails to make the connection — not roots to the roots of other organisms — but the roots to the leaves of the same organism.

There are things that drive Cinematheque. Drive is really the wrong word.

The right word is control. Again, SM imagery.

The effect of women.

Cats in bags. Technology cannot be put back in the bag.

Experimentation of the participants (drugs, relationships, paradigms such as monogamy — the public POV that the coupled relationships at Cinematheque ape heterosexual monogamy is an illusion we have deliberately employed).

Sadomasochism. I in no way refer to sex. I refer to control. IE: human trafficking.

One “thinker” who never gets mentioned (I think because of the theatricality) is the Marquis de Sade.

Yet it is exactly within the context of that theatricality you will find entire systems deconstructed.

In the beginning, I would have said: economics.

I am perhaps the most surprised at how little it drives anything at Cinematheque. We subvert most systems.

I can’t say how. One obvious issue is travel. But we subvert that, too. The rules don’t mean us. We have found numerous ways around them.

Chemicals drive us. Antivirals mainly.

Generational divides drive us. Usually around them. Or straight through if there is no other option.

Those Asian boys who want a piece of Cinematheque are not there because they have permission to be there.

I am learning from them. I have been very careful in dealing with them. The numbers alone.

The situation with them is more fluid than I like or am used to. But they have respected me. That is a new one.

My model is the organism infected with a retrovirus.

Not a social system, and not a psychiatric one.

To date, the most effective engineering that has come along to affect the HIV has to do with proteins and reproduction. This is a good first step.

But I think it has become PAINFULLY AND QUIETLY obvious to molecular biologists that the real answer here will be found at the quantum level. The level of the electron.

Science is not there yet.

It is still collecting neutrinos.

My own belief is that the new horizon for human medicine will be coming out of CERN, not the NIH.

Through designs and matter we are not familiar with.

Cinematheque operates like a body fighting a virus because that is what it is.

We have assembled an international paradigm. Because that is what a pandemic is.
My critics do not see the value in that. But they have no real affect on me. Daily contact with human beings does. We are very vulnerable.

This week, I have been learning about the relationship of HIV to stroke.

I seem to have plenty of company in the medical community.

Who treat me very badly. Publishing does. Internet haters are everywhere. There is metaphor to be discovered. Not my job. Sadomasochism (as the Marquis tried to point out) is everywhere in the human drama.

This is where some folks will mention God. Not me. I believe in physics. Can you imagine the hue and cry if Barrus was connecting SM to children or — God.

And yet he does. He’s dying. What does he stand to lose. It has all been taken from me. I own nothing. Not even and especially the tree I sit under with Siddhartha.

As we observe the stone age and the subsequent civilization and say it is.

But I am more interested in lives and creativity. Why. Because it will be creativity (or even cosmology) that finds the relationship between matter we do not currently understand, and the most simple system on the planet: a virus. — t