Friday, September 30, 2011


Situations where one person tries to shift the consciousness of another person abound in ordinary daily life.  Trying to get someone else to go for a walk, to play a game, or to get amorous are pretty usual.  Living with a toddler means constantly distracting them from unwanted behavior based on untrained intentions.  “Oh!” one exclaims enthusiastically, “Look at this!”  One even learns the triggers for pets to keep them -- well, not under control exactly.  More like in sync with one’s own purposes.  Of course, pets reciprocate so that my cats have taught me to go dish out some cat food when they rub against my shins.  They can even resort to negative reinforcement:  a terrible yowl if I fail to respond.  But babies and dogs don’t usually operate on more than one level of consciousness at a time, as adult humans do.
There are a few occupations where the direct management of someone else’s consciousness is the business at hand.  Not just their behavior, as one might think a cop or trainer would want, but the person’s attitude, the way they look at what’s happening, which hopefully makes them participate in the goal, desire the same end as the person trying to move their consciousness -- not just rationally because it’s the right thing to do -- but really collaborating with enthusiasm and shared desire.  Yeah, seduction.  Or advertising.  Religion.  Politics.
Actors think about this all the time, whether they say so or not.  Acting classes might do an exercise where two people face each other across a table and one tries to get the other to change their emotional state.  Some of it will be body language: always eye contact.  Another effective method is evoking memories, maybe rather universal ones like the struggle to learn to ride a bike.  Sense-based images.  Stories, if properly chosen and told, can change someone’s attitude for life.
I’m working my way through “Slings & Arrows,” the Canadian series about a company of Shakespearan actors.  It’s intelligent and complex, dependent in part on knowledge of a different play each set of episodes:  first Hamlet, second Macbeth, and third Lear.  One soon becomes very aware of how much levels of consciousness are the subject.  Shakespeare himself was preoccupied with what is real: ghosts, murderous ambition with resulting hallucinations, and frank madness.  The same conceit that a dead impresario -- older, wiser, and oddly happier in death -- is used in this series as was present in “Being Julia,” the movie featuring Annette Bening who ends the show with a tour de force scene on the stage that is packed with layers of emotional reality, irony, professional skill, phony pretensions, audience reaction, turning the tables, and stage gimmicks for maintaining the power of focus.  Under these amusing situations in both contexts are many questions of consciousness, like falling in love, misunderstanding others, and the exhausting corrosion of constant attention to inner life.
The idea of a dead person speaking to one is not hard to understand.  We all know what influential people would say if they were still present.  (Even God, though we have a notable tendency to conjure different aspects.)  To debate with someone in one’s head is not unusual.  A writer is often doing exactly that on paper.  This inner management of one’s own consciousness can approach something like prayer or might simply be a demonstration of the ability of humans to create inner persons while not losing their own identity.  Sometimes this is conscious and other times it is not.
The work of a therapist is to allow those inner dialogues, which are sometimes half-submerged in the swampy dreamland that underlies what we think we’re doing, to come out onto the “stage” where they can be engaged and explored.  How much is old scripts?  How much is based on fantasy or situations long gone?  So much of adult identity comes from forms invented in childhood and never altogether put away.  The novelist covers much of the same ground but does it alone.  Then the readers pick up the narrative, run it through their own individual consciousnesses and produce a new thing, a kind of collaboration that invites their own ghosts.
A few days ago I watched a TED video made of Oliver Sacks talking about people who are blind but who “see things.”  That is, their brain is throwing up images but they are not generated by sensory contact with the real world in real time.  In the course of explaining this, he mentioned that there is one part of the brain where cartoons register.  I’ve had no luck following this up.  I don’t know whether he meant the mind-rotting capacities of “Spongebob Squarepants,” or the fMRI research that suggests women get more out of amusement at cartoons than men do, or the idea that there is a strange reality in a drawn world that might be related to our ability to “suspend disbelief” when we watch acting.  Certainly my own self-observation is that cartoons, especially the kind we call “comic strips,” can create a world with its own convincing integrity.  I don’t know how to describe the feeling of watching a CGI combination of familiar drawn characters with real actors.  A kind of irresolvable absurdity.
Some of us have that sensation when we confront religious concepts and stories that once worked when they were drawn from the reality of the person using them to affect the consciousness of the listeners -- either persuading or confirming their ideas.  (Lambs and kings.)  Theology doesn’t address this situation because it is focused on logic (-ology) and only considers the theos in those terms.  But an active preacher or evangelist is trying to use a personification in a way that will make it a role model -- an inner voice that can accompany the believer for the rest of their life as a source of courage and a moral guide.  This is entirely honorable.  But it is not a reality connected to the sensory world that obeys the laws of physics.
Leadership is the ability to embody a consciousness that makes people want to willingly follow, to share that view of the world.   I would suggest we are currently stuck in unreality:  too aware of people suffering on the one hand and too afraid of our own possible destructive fate on the other hand.  We mistake the representations in our media for real life.   We simply are not available to rational discussion of alternatives.  The persons wanting to be our leaders have not gotten enough of a grip on our shared consciousness of risk to move it out of defensiveness.   They don’t quite know where we are and neither do we.  Where’s Shakespeare?  Where’s the inner voice of the sadder but wiser dead impresario we refer to as God?

Thursday, September 29, 2011


Scott Gese has a passion for those old Westerns of the Fifties and writes them himself.  As a high school kid, I used to love them very much.  I’ve speculated in the past that they were “stand-down stories,” meant to suggest that strong men can take charge of situations in tumultuous times like the American frontier (or war) without ALWAYS being violent.  That is, gunmen need to have some kind of internalized guidance about when violence is justified and how to overcome reflexes acquired in war.  Part of their appeal is their concentration on moral issues. particularly when one is the authorized and responsible gunman in question.   (A lot of cop and detective pulps have the same issues.)
One version is “High Noon,” which many take to be about courage but is also (like “The Quiet Man”) about where the line is when defending home and orderly society.  Another version is “Shane,” when the man who restores order is forever forbidden to stay and enjoy that order in a home of his own.  And “The Searchers,” about a man who can’t give up revenge and retribution.  The iconic cowboy series was “Gunsmoke,” but I was also a devotee of “Cheyenne,” “Rawhide,” “Wagon Train,” and “Have Gun, Will Travel.”  Part of the appeal was that they were about strong men one could depend on, but also there was always that dilemma of means against ends.  

Scott has a website,, where he prints short stories in this mode as well as streaming old movies and offering merchandise and recipes.  There’s even a “friends” feature like Facebook.  Ever the resourceful one, now he’s got a special “imprint” on Amazon.  This is what he sent me:
This is an exclusive invitation asking you to join with Rope and Wire, Lobo Books and many fine western authors as we continue moving the western genre back into the forefront, by offering our newest generation of readers a preview of some of the genres’ finest authors through our newest venue, ePulps.
Rope and Wire has recently listed on Amazon, its first volume in a brand new series of eBooks. We are calling these books, ePulps, as with the first volume, these new ePulps will be an electronic version of the old pulp westerns which were popular in the 1940’s and 50’s.
The series is called “Rope and Wire Western Short Stories”.  Here is a link to give you a good idea of what volume 1, and future ePulps will look like.      Each future volume will include a variety of authors. 
Rope and Wire is currently soliciting, by invitation only, a select group of western authors who may be interested in submitting a short story for one of our upcoming volumes in this series.
In the Sixties and Seventies the children of veterans turned to debunking all that horsefeathers stuff.  They wanted to show that what the frontier was really about was greed and exploitation.  I never did develop a taste for “Deadwood,” which argued for means, the only ends being survival and money. That generation's sympathies were with the Native Americans who were steamrolled and starved out of the way.  This is where I signed on. 

They were also after the taboo of the times against any talk about sex or using the f-word.  In reversing that taboo, they created an anti-Western that was almost exclusively about f-ing and cursing.  (Corman McCarthy gave it a nice historical elocution without giving up his Southern Gothic death sensibility.)  So Scott says NO sex or cussing.  (I’m writing a story for Scott about a guy who is only kissed by his horse.)
I consider it honorable and legitimate to set arbitrary rules.  The difference between Scott Gese and the Manhattan publishers is that Scott is operating on principle, a virtuous goal.  Manhattan publishers want what they think will sell.  (The Deadwood principle -- which has ironically killed them.  It wasn’t just ebooks.)  Maybe Scott’s rules will work, and maybe not.  My suspicion is that his sweet spot will be profitable to the extent that it’s shared by others, a demographic that might be disappearing or might be renewed by immigration from places where sensibilities remain equivalent to American Fifties-think.  Scott is up-front about what he is doing.  I think he is too busy to sit around speculating about it, so I’ll just help him out.
The question is about violence.  Some of the stories are packed with traumas inflicted on the hero that are near impossible for a real person to survive, but he does.  No one grieves for anyone righteously killed.  Righteously doesn’t refer to the method -- only the justification.  The writer who really has the formula down is Tom Sheehan, who is a Bostonian veteran of the Korean War.  The name of the lawman is always colorful:  Cawdy Bellrock, Jonathon Digsby, Chadsey Brenault Cushing, Link Colburn, Burt Hollister.  A town is like a set for a Western “all the way from beautiful and sultry Ma Taylor’s Suitable Emporium of Taste at one end of the town to puckish Noah Cunningham’s Mortuary of the True Stillness at the other end.”  Tom can turn these stories out two and three a day and still manage to include a snapper surprise on the end.
This is very much like the nostalgic BBC serieses about small English villages, say, “Lark Rising to Candleford” or the CBC version, “Anne of Green Gables,” or even “Northern Exposure.”  Stories of small-town known characters who are invaded by strangers threatening to change the status quo.  It’s a story that happens again and again, everywhere.  And the situation often DOES make someone turn violent.   
There are also similarities with Steam Punk, which is Alternative History Sci-Fi in which electronics were never discovered, so that computers are steam-driven and considerable attention is devoted to devices and how they evolved.  The corseted women and other main elements of Victorian society remain.
So how has our understanding of violence evolved?  Let alone our idea of what a woman should be like?  Is a suicide bomber acting on principle a moral agent?  Or is the contract soldier working as a rogue outside the law who identifies and kills that bomber acting with sufficiently virtuous ends to justify his means?  And then the one that stumps us all:  the internet pilot who guides a predator drone into a house in a foreign country where it blows up an entire family.  What would Matt Dillon say?

NOTE:  makes a cogent counterpoint to what I'm trying to say.  

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

WORSHIP NOTES: Cut, pasted, and found.

(This material was written in 1982 for our thesis seminar at M/L.  I found it "assembled" from cut up pages and Scotch tape.  I’m not sure I agree with all of it now.  We were pressed -- or at least I was -- to be “christian” in some assumptions.  Mostly, it’s just not very clear.  Too many variations, too undigested.)
The forward progression of worship can be worked out in terms of logic, convenience, custom, story or the natural sequence of feelings.  But it must be focused and empowered on the level of “felt concepts” which are the way the worshippers feel the meaning of the worship.  This does not mean that the order of worship any more than music or poetry is written that way.  But does mean that the worship leaders and planners must be very aware of the level  of “felt” concepts and govern their decisions accordingly.
The image of the journey through life -- the rhythm of stasis, imbalance and catching one’s balance again that causes the impetus of something so simple as walking -- should model the progress of worship through a time set apart.  Worship should trace the progress of the past and then point the way to the future.  Search, quest, pilgrimage are all basic and dependable structural forms.  Search and quest might be distinguished on the basis of whether one knows one’s goal.  Pilgrimage is something that can be done alone or in company, but it has a goal.
Vern Barnett has taken pilgrimage as a model for worship and has embodied it repeatedly, so that it became the norm for at least one of his congregations.  These are the steps he used:
  1. APPROACH:  Gathering together in a particular time and place
  2. CONNECTION:  Realizing our connections with one another and with transcendent values.
  3. EXPLORATION:  Exploring ideas together
  4. RETURN:  Turning again back to everyday life as an individual.
These approaches use an abstraction of life to symbolize and guide the form rather than the content.  Content might echo form -- say, a pilgrimage pattern that talks about the life journey -- or it might not.  Many different images can be used to derive a justification for form, and since images always come from human experience, the chances are good that the form will have some validity and coherence, but this is not automatically so.  The form should not be allowed to impose something arbitrary and Procrustean on the content, and form that is too highly derived from the content could become precious and silly.
Group theory, such as discussion leadership or organizational development, proposes many sequences for guiding people with some common interest from choosing a topic, gathering information, isolating an issue, deciding on a course of action.  These form-follows-function approaches intend to end in action and business people or social action people are increasingly sophisticated about them.  Teachers also approach classwork this way, developing some natural progression of understanding.  As a source of worship order. these sequences are valuable, but it is even more more important when using them to take human feelings into consideration, so as not to get overly goal-oriented and narrow.  The best group theories do not take into account that if people have not “felt” and internalized each step, all the work will be ignored in the end anyway.
When worship begins to have a content, especially a literary content, it is not just poetic but also dramatic, because the emphasis is on the mediation of the remembered past with the potential future.  Literature is always derived from the rhythmic crises and resolutions of life, but drama is “a virtual history in the mode of dramatic action.”  It is using one’s knowledge of what has happened as a guide to fulfilling the promise of the future.  “It has been said repeatedly that the theatre creates a perpetual present moment; but it is only a present filled with its own future that is really dramatic.”
Worship, then, is a time set apart by special signals, during which poetic means are used to invoke the past, enact a virtual (abstracted) symbol of it in the present, and project that understanding into the future.  It preserves human knowledge and insight.  “This tension between past and future, the theatrical “present moment”, is what gives to acts, situations and even such constituent elements as gestures and attitudes and tones, the peculiar intensity known as “dramatic quality.”  Will being prevail or will non-being overtake the moment?  Our lives are essentially dramatic as we strive to shape our future.
If worship is essentially dramatic, an isomorphic section of life that shapes the future, then there are essentially two kinds of drama possible:  comedy and tragedy.  Langer’s use of these terms is idiosyncratic but very useful.  Her insight is that the salvation of our being and our end in non-being can be defined two ways:  by one individual life or by the life of the community.  If the focus of life is on the trajectory of one person through birth, growth, maturity, aging and death, then life is essentially tragic because it always ends in non-being.  But if the focus of life is on the community -- either the close community of friends or the larger community of country or all human beings or even the extremely expanded community of all living things -- then life always goes on and the individual is part of a greater flow which ensures comedy, not in the sense of being funny, but in the sense of returning on another day.  The future of tragedy is fate which requires a high sense of individuality;  but the future of comedy is fortune, which implies a picaresque series of events.  When the tragedy of an individual saves the fortunes of the community, then the human drama reaches great intensity.
Particularly appropriate for Unitarian Universalist groups are myths that are romantic: valuing of individuals, emphasizing the supernatural in the natural, and responding to change in the world.  The German reaction to the Enlightenment (German philosophers like Schleiermacher and English literary critics like Coleridge) has a lot in common with the roots of American Unitarianism.  Even the very utilitarian, scientific, atheistic kind of UU generally has a form behind the “dry” content that is very like the romance of Faust, the search for knowledge.  This ur-form may be the most unifying element of our denomination and it can be most clearly addressed in the context of worship.  Worship has the potential of unifying a radically diverse group of individuals by joining them in the experience of a satisfying form.
The romantic form of the individual’s quest or search after a fall from grace is explored provocatively by Joseph Campbell in “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” where he suggests a nuclear unit of separation, initiation and return -- sort of an inversion of the in-gathering -- an out-sending.
“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won:  the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”

Campbell calls this a “monomyth” (the term is from James Joyce) and he is able to fit Jesus, Buddha, and many other religious leaders into it.  A great many UU’s who tell their religious stories will give a variation on this theme without knowing it even exists.
Because worship intertwines so thoroughly with literature, the latter is an inexhaustibly rich mine of ideas for form as well as content.  The great mythic archetypes of death and rebirth; romantic love;  the fall from paradise;  leaving home;  seeking enlightenment; losing virginity; going to battle; searching for the grail; overcoming some handicap or disaster; all are sources of form because each of them is a variation of a dichotomy or conflict that must be resolved by a transformative dynamic.
Once the people are ready to move forward into a projected structure, whether or not it is based on the potluck metaphor, there are basically two aspects to the task of designing that structure.  One is to choose the overall pattern, like the coming-together-going-apart of the in-gathering.  This is the controlling trajectory of meaning, the arc of thought, the transformation of feeling.  
The other aspect is the joining of the sub-units of worship, elements such as hymns, prayers and act, which are sequential; and elements such as the architecture of the building, the placement of the people, the light, and the decoration which are usually consistent and settled.  Coordinating all these elements is very much like creating a symphony or a movie.  A strong drive and an intense focus must be found first, and then the elements seem to take on a spirit of their own and weave together almost by themselves.  Without preparation and focus everything will conspire to confuse the issue and lost the point.
In both art and sports when a driving harmony is achieved it can be felt, not just intellectually or even emotionally, but actually FELT in the body.  The only way to describe it is experientially:  “being hot,” “in the groove,” “going with the flow,” “flying by the seat of the pants,” and so on.  What it seems to mean is congruence, balance, a kind of synergistic sum of the whole that is greater than the parts.  An actor can feel it from the stage when the audience is really “with” him or her.  Sailors claim they can feel it in the tension of the deck and the taut lines of their sails.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


In my mother’s bedroom was a “picture” on the wall of a baby sleeping.  It was “mixed media,” consisting of a paper head tucked under a scrap of real blanket and embellished with the real curls from my little brother’s first haircut.  When I was little this fascinated me because of the mixture of reality and fantasy.  Was that paper head really my brother’s picture?  Where was the rest of the blanket?  Why was only my youngest brother depicted?  My hair was just as red and curly.  That didn’t reach down into my struggle with reality versus fantasy, which seems to have been lifelong.  Maybe it’s the reading and writing.  I would not have been surprised if the baby had opened his eyes. (I presume he was male -- he only had a head and I knew his hair was male.)  When I asked, I was told my aunt made this collage.
I don’t recall anyone’s potty training being much of a deal at our house, but naps were different, a battleground for me.  I was the oldest and when I was the only, my mother and I lay down for our naps together.  Very cozy.  Then came a brother.  And another brother.  At that point my mother maxed out.  She had the idea that I was “withholding” sleep in order to make trouble.  
The worst example was one day when she had promised the family would go see “Fantasia,” newly released, so we needed to have our naps because it would be late before we went to bed.  But I tried to do down our steep driveway on roller skates and scraped my knees into hamburger -- again.  I couldn’t go to sleep.  I just bawled.  She threatened that if I didn’t nap, there would be no “Fantasia.”  I didn’t.  There wasn’t.  When my father got home after work and discovered the “Fantasia” attendance was cancelled, he was more devastated than I was. I didn’t really know what it was anyway.
My birthday was in late October so I was technically too young for kindergarten, but as soon as I had that birthday, my mother went to work to get me accepted into afternoon kindergarten so she and “the boys” could nap.  It was not a bad solution to our screaming matches.  Except that she got a little dramatic: she put me on the knee of the principal’s three-piece suit and claimed I was killing she and my brothers with my wakefulness.  (I was impressed by the idea that I had the power to murder.)  I joined the class after the social circles had formed.  Since there were no other kids our age in the neighborhood, I had zero social skills.  The few I had pertained to boys since I had brothers.  My feet were on the outlier path and have been ever since.  It wasn’t about sex.  It was about “getting along.”
So I was interested to see an article by Perri Klass MD, who often takes on quirky subjects.  She says,  “Most parents cherish toddlers’ naps as moments of respite and recharging, for parent and child alike; . . . napping problems have often been treated by pediatricians as parents’ “limit-setting” problems.”. . . “napping in children actually is a complex behavior, a mix of individual biology, including neurologic and hormonal development, cultural expectations and family dynamics.”  “Possibly because of the intense synaptic activity that goes on in their highly active, highly connected brains, young children are less able to tolerate long periods of time awake.”  

Why can’t kids be like puppies and just pile up to sleep for a while?  Maybe we interfere and schedule too much.  Current thinking is that the “circadian process,” . . . “works a little like a clock, tying our sleep to schedules and to cycles of light and dark, regardless of how much we have or have not slept. This interacts with the “homeostatic process” which works differently, pushing us harder toward sleep the longer we stay awake and building up sleep pressure.” 

If you get off schedule because of something unusual happening -- a trip, company, catching up work late at night -- then habituation comes all undone.  None of the cues that normally tip you towards sleep are there.   And then if there are hard tasks, much commotion, a lot of things to think about or problems to solve, the “homeostatic process” wants you to sleep.  
“Generally, new infants sleep between feedings in short periods both days and nights.”  I’ve never raised a human baby, but mammal babies of various kinds seem to go “four and four,” four hours asleep and four hours awake.  A feeding on awakening and a feeding on dozing off. 
Dr. Klass assures us that “Sometime after the first birthday, the . . . naps are consolidated into one, usually in the late morning or early afternoon.”  That when the mammals usually lay-up to sleep for a bit in mid-day, especially if they are diurnal animals who like the half-light of early morning and evening.  But for humans, “The rationale for having your afternoon nap over by 3 p.m. is to build up enough sleep drive so you can fall asleep at night.” 
“Go to sleep,” my mother would call, as though it were something I could control.  Now Dr. Klass says, “there is a great deal of individual variation, and many parents struggle with a child who seems too eager to do without a nap.”  And as the tempers of both parties rise, the likelihood of real sleep dims and withdraws.
“By age 5, about 80 percent of kids have given up a nap — that means one in five still napping.”  What’s a kindergarten teacher to do?  
Those insatiably curious people in their white coats run around recording everything. “They also found that individual children’s sleep needs and sleep patterns tended to be consistent through age 10. In other words, children who slept less than their peers as infants grew into older children who seemed to need less sleep.”  No surprise.
But this factoid raises questions:  “A 2005 study of American children ages 3 to 8 showed distinct differences between black and white children, too. While total sleep duration for the two groups was similar, black children napped more and tended to be older when they gave up their naps.”  Is that good or bad?
Now we get into the chemical stuff that we want to know so we can simply give the kids a pill.  (Be careful about that.  Death due to antihistamines used as sleeping pills for children is not unknown.)  Dr. Monique LeBourgeois, a sleep scientist at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and her colleagues recently conducted the first study on how napping affects the cortisol awakening response, a burst of hormone secretion known to take place shortly after morning awakening. They showed that children produce this response after short naps in the morning and afternoon, though not in the evening, and it may be adaptive in helping children respond to the stresses of the day.”
“I think there’s a dire need for adults in general to be in tune with individual children’s physiology,” Dr. LeBourgeois said. “What are the capabilities, and what are the limits?”
There seems to be a long continuum of parent involvement in their children from zilch to helicoptering, and a parallel continuum of from those who live in chaos to those who live by elaborate charts and clocks.  As much variation in household style as in kid physiology.   Parents need a calibration adjustment system that works, especially when they kids are different kinds and ages. Of course, it’s partly cultural.  One of the nice things about computers is that they seem to have broken up the suburbs who lived by the television fifteen-minute intervals with hourly bathroom breaks that show up as water demand spikes.  
“If the child is stopping the napping, that represents a process of neurological maturation,” Dr. Jenni said. “The ability to tolerate wakefulness is an indication that the brain is maturing.”
The rest of the story is that moms need naps, too.  My own collapsed on the sofa late in the afternoon and I know from monitoring my glucose that I go into a decline about then as well.  Why fight it?  Why doesn’t this country have siestas?  Surely it’s not because we all have mature brains!

Monday, September 26, 2011


Hey, there’s an arrow sticking out of your foot.  Did you mean to do that, or did it just happen?”  I don’t think I’ve ever written anything quite like this before because I try not to offend Indians.  Do they return the favor?  Well, that’s what I’m talking about.
The history of Indian PR has been that binary thing -- either they were howling savages who should be exterminated or they were Children of Nature, who were naturally noble.  Then later they were drunks or congressmen.  (That was before those two categories overlapped so much -- they ALWAYS overlapped some.)  But the real binary on the rez is between those who “go ahead” and those who “stay back.”  These two categories are getting farther apart, which is a wound tearing.  Those who go ahead are doing pretty well, getting college educations, accumulating accomplishments and even prosperity.  Those who stay back, the old-fashioned ones, are increasingly helpless, suffering, and blamed.  Reconciling the two factions is tough.
But the binary that has really been a shot in their own foot was the Cherokee effort to throw all the descendants of their slaves off their rolls: it was red against black.  The Cherokee were an adaptable people and their basic tribal ways were not that different from the ag-focused whites who came along, so they were easily “civilized,” in terms of being like the whites -- including the owning of black people.  (Actually, many tribes kept subservient captives but they had not been legally -- by US law -- been defined as slaves, nor did they all look alike in terms of skin color.  In fact, some may have been white.)  When abolition came along and the North won, the tribe once again followed the whites by abolishing formal, legal slavery, and they went one better by giving their slaves “citizenship” -- membership in the tribe.
Now that the tribal rolls are too full and there are tribal profits, some bright council members wanted to throw out all the people descended from slaves on grounds that tribes are defined by genetics and they could not be genetic Indians.  2,500 membership obligations dismissed in one act.    
In fact, no tribes are defined by genetics: they are defined by provenance, which means descent from people who were on the first lists of tribal members usually made by white outsiders.  Those lists were highly susceptible to rigging, which was motivated by the need to eat: lists were made in order to issue commodities.  It was easy to claim tribal membership unless some enemy of you or your family was standing there, willing to swear you were not a member.  Whites were easy to bamboozle.  Anyway, “tribes” were not like British citizens but rather a loose aggregation of folks who went along together, some related and some not.  
In those days when tribes, reservations, and “belonging” were being defined, no one knew that there was such a thing as blood types (A, B, AB, or O) much less a genome.  If a “marker allele” COULD be identified for each tribe (which it can NOT because membership was not dependent on being born to a specific family), the tribal rolls everywhere would suddenly look quite different.  Some people among the Cherokee and other southern tribes could look black but belong to the group.  From the first African slave who ran away from whites and was taken in by Indians, the races have been naturally mixing.  There were also whites who ran away from whites.  
Over the years tribal membership has become such a hot potato that the US officials have simply surrendered, ruling that each tribe has the ability to decide who’s in and who’s out.   (Therefore, Ward Churchill, who is genetically white, was legally a tribal member.) The quarrels and accusations continued, but they were at the local level and didn’t gum up Washington, D.C.  (It doesn’t need any help.)  Naturally, tribal “blood quantum,” which was really provenance controlled by birth certificates rather than genetic information, got more and more generous, because no one wanted their children or grandchildren to be shut out.  Of course, the information on birth certificates might not be entirely accurate due to a little -- shall we say -- cross-pollination.
In the present generation, people are able to prove their provenance by using genetic markers from their blood (or any other of their cells that carry chromosomes) rather than legal markers like marriage or birth certificates.  Sometimes it’s an advantage and sometimes not, but only the tribes themselves paid much attention until the Cherokees decided to throw out all the descendants of their slaves, which they had made a treaty to accept.  (Indians howl that treaties are not honored.  Now we see that the Cherokees agreed with that.)
But the descendants of slaves -- though many were low-income, dependent on the Indian Health Service, and needful of commodities -- were not without legal recourse.  Thrown off immediately before a tribal council election, they were reinstated by a federal court.  I suspect they elected people sympathetic to their cause, which will affect Cherokee politics for a while.  Those who wanted to get rid of them achieved the opposite: people who now oppose them.
But the larger effect will be national and even worldwide.  The world-at-large thinks of Indians as a sort of ideal people, brave warriors, kind women and wise chiefs.  This puts an arrow straight through all that, self-maiming people who live in a tight little bubble of their own without considering their image outside that.  It was bad enough when tribes began to sell tax-free cigarettes and fireworks, got worse when they built casinos (omg, GAMBLING!!) in spite of sharing enormous profits to improve their reputations and pointing out that gambling is an ancient and even religious practice.  Things went even higher on the “uh-oh” scale when a few did their best (still are) to foul up Eloise Cobell’s achievement in getting the federal trustees to reform by nit-picking and obstructing settlements.
But throwing African-American-Cherokees off the tribal rolls is raw racism.  After all the reciprocity between Black Power and Red Power, despite a love of Indians so strong that black people are always telling me they are part-Blackfeet when they plainly couldn’t be, despite the importance of trustworthy political alliances, this nothing less than scandalous action on the part of the Cherokee damages the public image of every American Indian.  They are simply much too assimilated.  They’ve turned white.

Sunday, September 25, 2011


The aspect of liturgy/ritual/ceremony that I am exploring is the use of the senses to shift consciousness over the limen to a deeper level of conceptualizing.  Of course we already use scent cues, whether it is the “nice” smell generated by machines in a luxury department store while the piano player tinkles out tunes, or the heavy mock-rose of a mortuary, perhaps meant to cover the reek of formaldehyde from the prep room.  We are advised that to sell our house, prospective buyers should get a whiff of apple pie baking (even if you bought the whiff in a spray can).  At a Catholic mass the priest will wield a pierced ball of burning incense, a censer.  I’m giving you examples of smell, because in spite of the above, smell is often a neglected sense in worship.
Octavian Coifan calls the formulation of perfume the “Eighth Art,” still very close to alchemy.  Books on the subject sell for hundreds of dollars, like the formularies for patining bronze sculptures before one could just buy predictable solutions from a sculptor's supply house.  On Coifan’s blog  he explores commercial perfumes but also historical scents.  He does not neglect those that come from the edge of human life: smoke, embalming, tanning leather, shipping shawls packed in the infamous patchouli smell that became so popular in the defiant and cannibis-scented Sixties.
Specifics.  The original patchouli perfume was said to include ground up Egyptian mummies, which had been preserved with spices.  for Coifan’s eloquent description.  The famous cashmere shawls absorbed the odors of the other cargo: often exotic wood, spices, pepper, and musk.  The spices were partly commodities for sale and partly to guard against insects, the way Blackfeet used sage, sweetgrass and tobacco.  Among the bug repellants were the leaves of the patchouli plant.  In the nineteenth century enterprising commercialists traced the plant to its origins in India and began to grow it in France, where it was associated with tobacco rather in the way that it later chimed with cannabis.  But even more intensely, it was associated with sex, evoking the elegant shawl over the gauze empire dress that sometimes exposed the bosom.
When the “wise men” came to Bethlehem with gifts of frankincense and myrrh, they were bringing scents used in religious ritual.  Coifan looks at such matters, combining the traditions of Middle Eastern incense with the ritual tea ceremonies of Asia which were made bourgeois, restorative and friendly in English petite rituals, sipping Earl Grey black tea scented with bergamot, now forbidden in its original formulation.  First olfactory secularity and now extirpation.
Coifan says, “If myrrh is a ritual of smoke and scent performed inside the coldness and darkness of stone temples in a "social" space accessible to very few, the tea is about taste and the hot vapors, a ritual of intimacy accessible to everyone. Outside (communion with the others and with the Gods) and Inside (the enclosed space of intimate thoughts in silence).

“Perfume is not about abstract concepts, even less about landscapes. It's above all about the relevant notes for us as humans in the myriad of scents of this planet.”  What is relevant is what is associated with the ultimate thresholds of death and sex.  
Vegetal sources are everywhere but those of the rhizomous orris, iris and violet plants have long “roots” in history.  See  These are again Egyptian preservatives.  Smoke, or as the Native Americans would have it, smudging, is connected to the household,  but also to the Middle Eastern burnt offering. (Sacrifices were “sent up” to the heavens by burning them on the altar.  The practical -- or stingy -- burned the parts no one would eat, but the generously beseeching would burn the whole animal, a “holocaust.”)  
There is a class element to odor.  The smells of households that burned wood or coal, that fried meat, that simmered roots (onions, turnips, cabbage) for long periods of time, had a particular reek that smack of low-class kitchens where cheap foods were prepared, maybe on kerosene stoves.  That tenement smell mixed with fungus, rot and urine.  No wonder the people smoked.  Remember Susan Sarandon in the movie role where she was a fishmonger, rubbing her bosom with lemon at the end of the day?
Dry vegetal matter, aromatic, can be kept in sachets, like lavendar or in pot pourri.  Balsam fir, or sweet pine, is popular as a Blackfeet offering, tied into a little calico bag.  Cedar, even when it’s not burning, is the sweet smell of a new pencil.  Resins, gums oozing from bark or at a cut.
Aldehydic smells stand in relation to natural odors the same way that anniline dyes relate to organic dye.  Laboratory created, they are more intense, more sharp, and perhaps more likely to trigger allergies.   The chemistry of smell is the molecular story of alcohol, fat, sugar and rot.
However specifically based on culture and ecology many perfumes are, everyone has their own private iconography of evocation.  For me, burnt metal as produced in a foundry or torch welding carries a strong emotion.  The mixture of beebalm and wild mint found along the creeks of the prairie -- because of lying in it nude with no blanket -- is more sexy to me than musk.  That’s a young smell.  Even younger were the medicines of menthol and iodine.  The smell of newly cut alfalfa is one thing; the smell of a broken-open bale of hay in the middle of winter is another.   The skillful liturgist knows the congregation well enough to balance the likely individual associations against the more broadly cultural or historic. 
Even the smell of the sacred space in use must be perceived and considered.  Because so much wood is used, there may be smells of wax and lemon oil.  Beeswax candles. The combined smell of the worshippers.  I grieve that so many people are now allergic to perfume that some church buildings are posted with notices excluding those wearing it.  And yet our children stink of fruit, baby powder, detergent additives, and oxymoronic musk-scented deodorant.  Olfactory cacophony.
In a purist worship group, perhaps a small sandalwood or cedar paneled room might invite newly washed persons wearing long loose cotton shirts laundered, well-rinsed and dried in sunlit outdoors.  Then a smoke smudge or scented oil or aromatic wine could regain its full meaning as the door latch to the sacred. 

Saturday, September 24, 2011

BOTH SIDES NOW: The Boy on the Horse

This is from a novel I work on now and then.  An old female painter is living on the rez.  She is widowed.  Her husband, much older than she, had been a famous anthropologist.  Now she is painting but also sorting through her husband’s effects. 
The photo was down in the bottom of the box but also in an envelope with nothing written on it.  By now she was wary of these unlabeled envelopes containing photos.  One of them might have been an accident, an omission, but they were beginning to seem like a pattern, an un-label that meant something.
She opened it up and was stunned.  It was HER photo.  Not a photo OF her, but a photo that belonged to her, that she had looked for everywhere.  It was a Blackfeet boy, about fourteen, barely adolescent, looking into the camera from the back of a horse with no saddle.  No bridle either.  Just a rope and not much of one, maybe baling twine.  But he and his horse were getting along fine.  They were in total agreement.  She had loved the boy, not in a sexual way and not exactly maternally either.  Just as a being, like his horse.
The day long ago rushed back into her consciousness.  Her husband had left her out on the prairie where she had a view of the mountains, promising to return when the light went bad at the end of the afternoon.  She had arranged her easel and folding chair, with its obligatory clamp-on black umbrella for shading the artist.  After a bit of sketching to establish composition, she had easily slipped into absorption in issues of color values and their interactions.  It was bright, so the usual subtle Payne’s gray versus yellow ochre interplay was replaced by cerulean and cadmium.  She thought about geology a lot, how to bring up the mighty forces of nature from under the “prettiness” of mere scenery.  This was such a challenge that she nearly forgot to eat her lunch sandwich.
She had missed seeing the boy until he was close, managing his skinny young horse skillfully as it warily approached what the steed clearly considered to be a horse-eating umbrella.  When she called to the pair, the horse was not reassured, but the boy laughed, implying that he as well had been rather wondering at this strange apparition so unexpectedly deployed on a glacial moraine in the prairie.
For her part, she was now attentive to the structural anatomy of the summer-darkened boy, who was wearing only jeans, and the horse with no saddle.  The boy’s relaxed shoulders and hips, his flexible narrow waist, his slender neck balancing a head of long loose hair, danced in compensation to the four shifting feet and weaving head of his steed, and under their feet was a moving banner of shadow, waving in the grass.  She picked up her sketch tablet and began trying to capture the articulation of the bones, the overlay and interplay of the muscles as the graceful young creatures moved together.
The boy slid off and came over, careless of his horse, which finally saw that there was no immanent danger and went to grazing, the need for which was always present in its long head.  There was plenty of grass and no need to run off.  The boy stood where he could see her drawing and considered gravely.  He did not think such practices trivial.
“Hullo,” she said distractedly.  Taking this as an invitation, he sank down cross-legged on the ground, settling to watch the way he might watch grazing buffalo, memorizing small details and trying to predict what the animal would do next.  Hunter’s skills.  He was still, which pleased her as she tried to capture the curves of the side of his head: the hair moving in the wind, the curled snail of his ear, the gentle scoop of neck down to the dip between there and the knob of his shoulder.  She was always pleased by the way a hook of bone from the scapula reached to the front in order to attach the collarbone, the bone unique to humans, the bone that held the shoulders apart so that arms could throw.  The clavicula,  named for Roman doorkeys because someone fancied the clavicles were the same shape -- sort of.  
The boy knew nothing about all that, though he was pretty good at throwing as well as running and strategy.  He had a hunter’s practical grip on anatomy; that is, where to penetrate for a sure kill and which parts were the best eating.  But he had not seen a woman who drew -- until now -- because most of the tribal artists were men recording their own or history’s exploits, using more symbols than realistic representations.  Still, this woman was doing something that made him see more than what was there, though it was recognizably there.  A lot to think about.  He needed more information.
“What are you doing?”  
“Well, I was painting.  Now I’m drawing you.”
He digested that.  He was not displeased.
“What for?”
“Mostly because it pleases me.”
He understood that.  He said nothing more and for the next few hours he just watched while the woman, untroubled by any need to make conversation, filled a page with sketches of parts of him, then put her landscape off the easel and painted his portrait in bold strokes that still caught details of mouth and eyelid.
Finally a cloud of dust was raised by a car on the wagon trail to the ridge.  Her husband was coming to collect her.  The boy rose and walked to get his wandered horse, but then rode the pony back instead of leaving, so that he was there when her husband swung out of the car.  “I see you found a model.”
“A very good one.”
“Clearly.  His portrait demonstrates exactly that.”  He reached up to shake hands with the boy, which the latter was plainly not used to, and began to inquire about family and so on.  The boy was not shy but didn’t volunteer a lot of information.  While the two males established identity, she went to the car to load in her painting gear.  Her camera was in the glovebox, so she brought it back and took a picture of the boy on his horse.  She promised him a copy.  They all parted happily, satisfied.  Indeed, her husband had seemed almost euphoric.
Now, holding the photo, she saw who this boy was.  Her landlord.

Friday, September 23, 2011

BOY/KID/LAD: A Bit of Sorting

How should we think of young men?  I return to this question now and then.  Off and on I ponder the difference between “the boy” and “the kid.”  I’ve decided part of the difference is that the “boy” is English and the “kid” is American.
The meaning of the boy in English might be in part because of the primogeniture laws which made the gender of a baby of such enormous political importance, esp. in terms of inheriting the throne or other prestigious entitlements.  These inheritances affect many lives because the oldest boy, the inheritor, would not just grow wealthy from his holdings but also govern the people within his “patch” whether a nation or a land-grant within it.  Their lives will depend upon his wisdom and diligence.  Also, men were the key to the Brit colonies.  No women did the semi-military work of governing foreign peoples.  (If they had, colonies would have been quite different.)
A main preparation for upperclass careers was the school system, which concentrated the upper classes in all-male boarding schools, an arrangement that was a little like curing youth by forcing adulthood, very hierarchical, punishment-laden, unforgiving, no-child-left-behind because we throw out the ones we break into pieces.  A boot camp.  In fact, it has deformed generations and was, of course, the model for the notorious boarding schools for Indians in America.  Religion and patriotism dominated all lives.  Suffering was a virtue.  (Escaping on adventure was a deep yearning that was one of the rewards of the colonial administrator.)  Sex got all mixed up.
"Boy” is one of those words that can be praise or blame, depending on the context.  Technically, it only means a young male human, so the vibe it gets has to come from the circumstances.  In many times and places “boy” meant someone who had to do work that was trivial (“boot boy”), dirty (chimney sweep,), tiresome (forge bellows operator, organ bellows operator), exposed (paper boy, messenger), and risky (coal mine pit pony tender).  The pay-off was learning the world, not in the way a school boy would, but in a far more realistic underfoot way.  If he could stick with it, he might become a formal apprentice and really begin to learn how to be a shoemaker or metalsmith or printer.  Something real.  If he had bad luck -- well, boys are expendable.  There are lots of them.
Nowadays boys are criticized for inhabiting fantasy worlds, gaming.  It strikes me as good preparation for modern life.
“Boy” in the States might be a “kid.”  Quite a different sort of role.  At first there was no pre-existing assignment of inheritable land, education was haphazard and local, and on the frontier “kid” slipped away from being gender-specific.  The English system persisted to some extent in the south, but with servants and tutors, which would produce quite a different person.  Of course, as in England, those without wealth were nothing.  In fact, slaves were not allowed to read or write.  Not that it stopped them.  Up north were the imported major universities, but “professionals” had to rub along with “enthusiasts” who simply seized their Bibles or healing substances and went out to do what they did. At first the work of lawyers was probably as much creating laws as interpreting them.
I suspect there was a strong counter-current of informal -- may I say “organic” -- education from African to white, from Indian to white -- the whites being of several sorts depending on origins and economics.  This would be in the beginning.  Later the whites were even more polyglot immigrants and the schools were supposed to iron (as in rod) it out of them as though they were Indians.  They had better success with immigrants since they WANTED to fit into a new country.  At this point the women had to be educated so that they could teach what passed as culture to the children.  The Indians had education thrust upon them, and, anyway, book learning was not a proper education for a frontier where one survived by hunting.
I’m just doodling around here, but it would be interesting to think about the degree to which today’s Republicans are still trying to become landed gentry in the English style, while the Democrats combine the defiance of Ulstermen with the pretended compliance of the indigenous peoples.
It does make a difference when a girl can be a “kid.”  England had it’s stage tradition of male actors taking on the parts of girls who are pretending to be men.  Pre-contact indigenous America had a melee of roles, all practical more than idealized.  Until less than a hundred years ago, a high proportion of women died in childbirth, leaving their girl children at the mercy of whoever was around.  They were well-advised to masquerade as boys, even to the point of enlisting in the army.  
As soon as a girl was reproductive, she was no longer a kid.  Maybe that’s true of boys, too.  Part of the transformation of adolescence is going from kidhood to adulthood, but a boy can be a boy -- well, some are boys all their lives.   I got to be a kid until I was 27 -- that’s when I married and then I was a gal.  It was a mistake, but there’s no going back.  After I was divorced, I was a broad.  Now that I'm old, the local men call me, sarcastically pretending they are being complimentary, "young lady."
Returning to the Brits, what about a “lad”?  Oh, lads are wicked!   Australia is packed with them.  I found these definitions on the Internet.
"An Australian term used to describe teenagers who wear a nautica, polo or nike white hat, tilted upright revealing the front of their hair with the strap at the back done up tight so it is dangling out the back, a striped polo or nautica shirt with the collar popped and either saucony or nautica trackies or shorts, topped off with nike Tnz which are fresh. These lads think they are tough but are generally small and skinny and travel in packs trying to roll other innocent bystanders for their worth."

A lad is a male who specializes in creating and distributing exquisite banter. Though most lads are youngish (late teens and early twenties) age is not a defining characteristic and you will find both young lads and old lads. Some special skills of lads include, but are not limited to the following:

- Binning Pints  
- Exposing genitalia and getting naked in public places 
- Throwing up after copious alcohol consumption 
- Spousal Abuse 
- Getting kicked out of pubs/nightclubs for being overly offensive

Excelling in all areas will earn a lad the title of "top lad". There is no higher praise that can be bequeathed upon an individual.

The British version of guy

A male person of any age between early boyhood and maturity
Origin:  Middle English ladde
First Known Use: 14th century
Brit : a man with whom you are friendly : fellow, chap   In British English, a man who is a bit of a lad does things that are considered a bit wild, such as getting drunk and having sexual relations with many women.

Can a lad be gay?  Is a lad always involved in sports?  Can a lad be an effective military man?  So much is context.  What’s the American equivalent of a “lad?” 

Boy!  Boy!  Bring me my dictionary!