Thursday, February 28, 2013


In terms of “most popular post”on this blog, the “old” winner (“Are Suspenders Sexy?”) has long been replaced by “Adult Oppositional Defiance Disorder.”  I speculate on why.  Instead of joking about suspenders, being suspended, or the nature of suspension, I’m approaching AODD ( Gotta have an acronym !!!) as a serious philosophical issue.

Forget the “Disorder” thing.  The shrinks are constantly trying to define, confine, publish, claim knowledge, and make categories.  Reality simply defies them.   Going to the other end of the phrase, forget the “Adult” thing.  There’s no such thing.  A human being is never “finished”, “mature,” or “adult.”   It’s a legal category, entirely negotiable.  Often used as a club:  “Will you grow up?”  “You don’t need help because you’re an adult.”  “You’re just immature.”  When society isn’t trying to push the age of maturity up past 21, they are trying to push the age of senility down past 65.  Why?  Because there’s control and money in it.  

So we’re left with Oppositional Defiance.  “OD.”  (“Oh, Dear.”)  It’s the same old individual-versus-group problem.  But there are many variations of strategy and no stable state where the dynamics are resolved -- this is a syndrome of dynamics.  That’s the definition: a process of defying.  The only way to reach resolution is not to care -- to withdraw.  That only seems like resolution.  Not all withdrawal signals a lack of caring.  It might be matter of self-preservation or it might be a way of protecting the opposition or it might be a temporary strategy.  Only time will tell.

In the public realm the shrinks want to connect OD to antisocial (criminalized) behavior and rage.   They represent themselves as able to use cold and scientific methods to confine or even extinguish hot, indignant, passionate OD. (They supply lots of statistics, like claiming ten percent of people have OD -- about the same as the percentage in every mammal species that is defined as “gay.”) This is justified by university degrees, professional certification, institutional affiliations and commercial viability that promise to control those who are outside the larger social group -- to either bring them IN to the group or banish them, maybe extinguish them.  These hot OC people are presumed to engage in terrorism, mass murders, abuse of many kinds.  Fear is always an effective justification.

In the private realm -- on the couch -- the shrinks will try to “resolve issues” so the OD person won’t care so much.  This is probably a doomed effort.  Even when a person falls in love (why?  how?) with someone so different as to guarantee constant conflict, the desired [sic] outcome is not to achieve flat affect, which might mean to shrug and walk off.  So what is the benefit of the domination/submission relationship that keeps it together?

A quote I read once decades ago has always stuck with me:  that two people who are “crazy” in ways that fit together like jigsaw pieces, can achieve far more intimacy that two “sane and mature” people.  Over the decades I’ve thought about this a lot.  Two concave/convex people are not necessarily in a consistently dom/sub relationship on all issues. They may eat the same way but sleep in opposite ways; housekeep in different styles; want sameness or want variety -- and so on.  C.S. Lewis said the ideal friend is one who has opposite opinions on all the same beloved subjects.  People who have no opinions are not worth struggling with.  (Of course, Churchill said a fanatic is someone who will neither change his mind nor change the subject.)

These forces -- centrifugal and centripetal -- are as biological as the developmental stage when a maturing cub leaves to find a new territory.  If it doesn’t, the mother forces it out.  The two forces persist in tandem because this is how evolution goes forward, how people go through life -- constantly being forced out of their comfort zone and then creating or finding a new one.  If they don’t do this, nothing changes and deterioration sets in.  Eutropification.  Luckily, the planet is so much bigger than humans that the terms of survival -- hurricanes and earthquakes, tsunamis and epidemics -- force change.  Humans never achieve homeostasis for long.  A couple of millennia (Ancient Egypt) is the limit.

Schools don’t like change.  Government doesn’t like change.  Institutions of all kinds do not like change.  They manage by channelling opposition -- building dams and moats like the one that protects Winnipeg from the Red River floods or sea walls like the ones in the Netherlands now proposed for Long Island -- the same idea that didn’t work in New Orleans.  There is an awakening in the Netherlands that may affect Long Island -- the idea that it’s better to adapt, to dance with change, to use culture to fit into nature instead of opposing it.  Similar reflection is questioning the way we handle criminal behavioral nonconformity:  putting everyone in prison doesn’t work.  So maybe we should change the definition of criminal.  What percentage of a population can be defined as criminal without them becoming a political entity forcing change? 

In personal relationships based on intimacy-across-difference there is a lot of pain even without breakups.  One hates to move on.  The factors of feeling inadequate or needing to blame the other or being jealous, all interfere with understanding -- even more with forgiving.  One begins to act badly, which has the effect of enforcing distance.  It is both better and worse to have a “cause” to address together, so the rage can be focused outward, rage used as constructive energy.  Oh, the possibilities for story!

The truth is that many people fear intimacy -- maybe defining it as capture -- and can only feel safe in a context of opposition.  So then the problem becomes one of management, tolerance, or benefits to the shared cause -- might be children or politics.  (Ask Hilary Clinton.)  It appears that having the genetic formula for a temperamentally “hot” style might cause a person to choose a “cool” partner -- a sheath for the sword.   This is a benefit to the individual if the cool person will be an enabler, a compensator; and it is a benefit to the larger society because persons who might otherwise start revolutions preoccupy themselves with kitchen wars.  Maybe fatal.

My choice to remain solitary is partly guided by not wanting energy I use for writing diverted to being on committees.  One of the most effective ways for society to handle Oppositional Defiance is to put people on committees so they fight each other, blind to any issues but the ones their teeth are sunk into.  The result is not insight but regulations.  I see at our local town council meetings that the “social challengers” -- who evidently have only phony issues to quarrel about --  merely drive the real business underground into secrecy.  (Council members agree among themselves before the meeting.)  The hours wasted listening to irate one-issue people are innumerable and, well, maddening.

Another “energy and anger sink” is social networking where people twitter steady streams of “Ain’t It Awful” and “Now I’ve Got You, You Sonofabitch,” those famous games described by Eric Berne.  Everyone sorts themselves into like-minded polities so they can go sit at a seminar table somewhere and produce papers to put on their resumés.  It beats spraying people with bullets, but does not promote innovation and progress.  Evolution will seek its growing edge somewhere else.  Maybe among the solitary nonconformists.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013


Sex is not necessary for the survival of the individual, but it IS necessary for the survival of the group.  Evolution proceeds at the expense of the individual, not the group, unless there are no individuals left.  They say that when a primitive Inuit family was in extreme danger and members had to be sacrificed to save the rest, the first to go are the nonreproductive ones -- the old, the barren, and I suppose the gay.  The next to go are the children too young to survive without adults -- all the pre-adolescents.  Next the men.  The remaining women can hunt or travel, but the men can’t have babies.  If the women can survive and find a man, or are already pregnant, they can preserve the family line to some extent.  It ought to make a good cable game show. 

Sex is a means -- not an end.  The next generation is the goal.  It is the negotiation between the culture and the life map it presents versus the individual and the drive the individual has to stay alive for some purpose (which may very well be the preservation of the group) that presents our most riveting stories.  The individual might have their own purposes (Romeo and Juliet) or they might surrender to some other goal (Sydney Carton).

No one had studied the physiology of sex until Masters & Johnson -- the timing and sequence and function of vault walls and epididymus secretions, etc. -- but it wasn’t because of taboo so much as because no one was really very interested in the charts and graphs.  They liked the part about the penis camera and the surrogates, because that’s when the culture got into it -- that’s when the taboos and desires and moral parameters came into play.  Kinsey attracted a LOT of attention, because he was studying the culture.  And Krafft-Ebing was pretty interesting.  So was Freud except that now we’re beginning to suspect he wasn’t as attached to reality as he was to his favorite myths.

What cultural strategies can convince people to have no sex at all for the sake of the group or to have sex and skip the obligations to the resulting babies they don’t really want -- in spite of obvious baby suffering?  Especially now that the practical means for sex WITHOUT babies exist if people will just pay attention. The answers are all around us.

Sex is not just about the moment, sex is not just about the babies directly, sex is in the brain and brains are dominated by memes, which are cultural.  It’s all the surroundings, the implications, the meaning to the individual that makes them do things that are cruel, criminal, and totally unjustified.  It’s a kind of insanity, except that when a lot of people share the same insanity -- like the idea that women should have their clitorises excised because it will make them better wives.  Then it becomes the “norm.”  A cultural insanity.  We could make a list:  babies sexualized, boys raped, men who think they have to beat up women to show they’re powerful, women who have surgery to make breasts bigger, and so on.  That’s us.  Crazed.

We can do a lot better.  It should be the cultural norm for everyone to have survival basics: food, shelter, health care, infrastructure, education, justice.  Nothing fancy.  This goal will not be possible.  There is not enough cultural consensus and won’t be for a long time, if ever.  We are biologically wired to sacrifice those who are stigmatized and we quickly stigmatize any competition or unwanted demands, even troublesome kids. Stigma is not rational or just -- consequently many innocents are and will continue to be sacrificed.  We can’t help it unless we can get at the cultural norms.

About five thousand years ago there was a big breakthrough called “writing.”  It became a major impact on the world, the foundation of Religions of the Book so that there was more stability, more agreement, more persuasive stories.  Right now we have another major breakthrough -- even more powerful -- in electronic imagery and story telling.  It’s very fluid and much of it is corrupt culture, but it’s also so vivid and so empathetically evocative, that it has enormous impact.  It is cross-cultural so it has the potential of creating a new world-wide understanding of human lifeways.

I’ve been watching the groups of videos that are packaged together on Netflix.  Series like “Brave Neuro World.” “Head Games,” “Ancient Clues” and “Sex, Secrets and Love” offer ways into the future that are nothing less than the reconciliation of physiological sex with new cultural memes, so that the choices don’t have to be tragic and the outcome can be survival for the human species.

But the daily news is even more interesting.  Take same sex marriage.  Interesting idea.  But how about dropping gender from marriage altogether and making it about KIDS -- not sex, but raising healthy kids.  The vows would not be to a spouse about cherish, honor, sickness and health, worldly goods -- all that stuff without even mentioning sexual faithfulness -- but rather about the cherishing, honoring, nursing, coaching and protecting of the CHILDREN.  And instead of religious godparents, the government becomes the backup and really IS a responsible backup team.  Then who cares what gender, color, ethnicity, etc. the two parents are or even whether they produced the babies themselves?

So many of our sexual memes come from trying to guarantee personal power and regime immortality by basing succession and inheritance on biology, which before DNA could only be guaranteed by sequestering/imprisoning the women.  Priests had to be celibate to keep them from making their churches into family empires.  It wasn't that they didn't have sex -- it was that their children were not entitled to anything.  At the same time gradually we begin to realize that the “out-breeding” through mistresses and the pretense that male lovers weren’t often inseminators that has given the European aristocracy health and sanity it would otherwise not have had.  They’d have done better to imitate the Tibetans, to take the belongings of the previous Sacred Leader and offer them to babies in order to figure out which child now houses the life of that Sacred Leader.  At least it was a practice that selected for healthy, happy, eager babies.

A cultural historian might be able to trace our mixing of sex and religious institutions or our mixing of sexual physiological responses with spiritual physiological responses, which share the same brain spaces.  We talk about the spiritualization of eros, but not about the erotic nature of the spiritual. The Song of Solomon could not have been the first metaphorical mixing of lust and exaltation and it will not be the last, but we seem to be in a time that uses the crossover in a dysfunctional way to justify lapses of morality.   (“I couldn’t help it!  I was in love!!”)  It’s one thing to step outside the bounds of legal relationships because of temptations -- it’s quite another to pretend to a child that God is involved in molestations or to use the promise of Paradise to push whole groups into suicide by Kool-Aid.   

What is good for some groups is not at all good for every individual.  To be able to separate oneself from one’s group identity is a kind of insurance in case you have to make a run for it in the night.  On the other hand, sometimes it’s necessary to stand up and say,  “Take me!  Oh, take ME!” for the sake of the group.  It’s all negotiable.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013


My eyes get far too much use because I’m such a print-freak.  When I was in Saskatoon, I began to see strange patterns, esp. grids, when my eyes were closed.  One of the reasons I was living there was for the universal health care, so off I went to the eye doc.  But one of the reasons the system works there is that access is filtered.  I was shunted to a bored little man, very interested in his cuticles, who gave me a stiff lecture on how I -- an American carpet bagger -- was depriving worthy people of the land, little old work-worn peasants, blinded by ultraviolet rays while toiling on the prairie. How dare I crowd them out with my trivia?  Then he mocked my symptoms, asking whether my “grids” were pink and whether I also saw elephants.  Back in the States, I was diagnosed with ocular migraine (malfunction of vascular supply) and given laser surgery to fuse the holes left in my retinas.  Painless.  Took minutes.  Extremely expensive, requiring high-tech machine and training.  Lucky.  VERY lucky.

Fast forward a couple of decades.  I go to the American eye doc thinking I’m having a routine checkup and he urgently refers me to a regular doc because of eye damage from diabetes.  Since I’m female, he refers me to a female doc.  She does a blood glucose assay, sits me down and fills me with terror.  Unless I do EXACTLY what she says for the rest of my life, I will soon be entirely blind and have my feet cut off.  My blood glucose score is 325.  (Normal is 100.)  I can barely drive home.  (Docs here are 130 miles away.)  Her prescription meds take my bg score down to 60, which is close to losing consciousness.  The little meter starts beeping and says (in print):  “Call your doctor !!!” I call her -- she’s angry.  I must be doing something wrong.

But I am super-responsible.  By my next visit, I’ve radically altered my diet, my bg score is 135  (cell damage is thought to start at about 180 and must persist over time to make you blind and foot-less), I’ve lost weight, and I’m proud.  The doc sets about demolishing me.  She tells me I have fudged my scores.  Clipboard in hand, she goes down a list:  what do I eat?  when do I eat? how much do I walk?  etc.  Every answer is inadequate.  As she talks, I grow older and wiser.  I stand, leave, never return.

So here are two cases, one of a helper who does not intend to help, and the other of a helper who wants total control -- emotional control enforced with fear.  Both of them are evil, but both of them are good examples of how entwined “help” is with “control.”  Both of them are forms of domination.  

Now let’s flip this over.  I have a friend who defies every attempt to help her.  Though she constantly appeals for advice and assistance, every suggestion or intervention embroils us in a kind of sword fight -- thrust and parry, parry and thrust.  (Berne calls this, “Why Don’t You, Yes But.”  Friends, docs, exercise consultants, relatives -- all are cut off at the knees while the victor stands over them crowing,  “You see?  You can NOT help me!  I win!!”  Domination.  Control.  One can only walk off, ignoring the writhing anguish crying out behind one.  It’s real enough, but it’s a tool.  To cure it would be to remove a defense, possibly even the structure of a personality.

My short list of where things go wrong when it comes to “help” (or pleas for help) that are really “control” include, first,  motivation (who is defining the situation as requiring help or being susceptible to help -- is this for the benefit of the helper or the helpee?)  Second, the nature and source of rewards when help is successful -- or not.  Third, the methods of helping:  how authoritarian, how “scientific,” how intimate?  Fourth, the unintended consequences of helping people in the aggregate, since society is such a responsive complex ecology that changing a small meme somewhere (e.g. “addiction is not a crime but a physiological response to toxic substances”) can throw huge organizations and budgets into disarray.

In the individual personality, the pattern of needed help (infant dependency) versus provided control (parental intervention) is formed early on.  Resources, genomic potential, and the larger society all come into play.  It gives me the shudders.  I vividly remember at the age of maybe six or seven -- probably because of attending school -- I was facing an uphill struggle to remain myself as I knew myself to be.  You’re smiling, but to me it was dissociation, being forced out of my identity by adults telling me,  “Oh, you’ll change when you grow up.”  Meaning:  you’ll be the way we want you to be.

So when I sit down with some big scary hairy smelly alcoholic back-country brute, what I see is that same fear in his eyes.  Quickly replaced as he looks back at me by calculations about how easy it will be to game the system this time.  If it looks like the game won’t pay off they dissociate.  (Ever play Indian stick game?  Well, DON’T unless you grew up with it.)  That is, they look at the far horizon and suddenly don’t speak English anymore.  If there’s nothing on offer, why should they give up the small advantages they already have, like the welcome buzz of being drunk and the easy company of street people?  In my experience, which is more about highly educated professionals, the latter are worse.  More complex, more resourceful.  Exhausting.  VERY controlling.

In the end professional helpers can hardly help but perform triage, helping those who will accept it, helping those for whom the price is right, and waving on the impossible energy-suckers who will fight “help” all the way.  The trouble is that in some cases those intractables are vectors who can re-seed trouble (TB, HIV, violence, IV drugs) among the innocent throughout the culture.

So the helpers, not getting any rewards from their clients, turn to satisfying themselves with the feeling of being helpful, cheerful, exceptional people, rushing around improving everyone.  My mother thought this was the definition of ministry and was much disgusted by my constant fishing in the Abyss.  She saw it as no different from being a common misery-voyeur, entertained by maimed beggars in India instead of getting the dishes washed.  She herself usually went at problems as though she were killing rats.

Since that was our family pattern (which usually sent my dad running for cover out of the house) it feels to me far more trustworthy than cheery, kind, embracing “help.”  Alarm bells go off in my head:  “It’s a trap!  It’s a trap!”  Cool analysis, design of some strategy for change -- those to me are help that might work.  My mother’s gynecologist, who took her through three children and a major mastectomy, was strict, brisk, and VERY skillful.  The first two qualities are not enough.  The SKILL counts.

So now you know why I’m a print-freak.  It’s cool, it’s remote, it’s relatively safe, and not only do I not have to help anyone, but also I can play identity games that will always keep me moving, just out of reach.  But you remember that thing about “unanticipated consequences?”  I had not realized how intensely one can get attached to others via print.  No help for it.  Very little control.

Monday, February 25, 2013


Big Pharma has little to do with producing an AIDS-free generation.  Big Pharma can only produce meds and market them -- maybe pull together a bit of research.  That’s not what keeps people from getting what they need to be cured of AIDS any more than it truly has eliminated smallpox (because the mega-countries have hidden some of it to use for weapons) and can’t seem to produce an STD-free generation of any kind from chlamidia to gonorrhea.  Focusing on a PILL to cure diseases that are epidemic- pandemic-syndemic lets everyone off the hook so we can all blame some mysterious white-coated figures far away, as though seen in buildings lit in the night, moving to and fro behind the glass.  Big Pharma likes that image.  If they seem mysterious and privileged, it helps keep the prices up.

Identified and devastating diseases -- polio, plague, Lyme disease, malaria -- are ecologically based.  At origin, HIV is NOT a gay disease -- not even a human disease -- not even a primate disease.  It appears that the first of its kind evolved as a lentivirus, a subcategory of retrovirus, (which are only genetic machinery codes) in simians (monkeys), possibly 12 million years ago.   “In hopes of getting a more accurate estimate of how long primates and lentiviruses may have coexisted, Michael Emerman, Ph.D., a virologist at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and Alex Compton, a graduate student in the Emerman Lab, examined the interaction between host and virus on a molecular level and traced back the dynamics of this relationship. They found that APOBEC3G, an immunity factor in the hosts, has evolved alongside Vif (viral infectivity factor), the viral protein that targets APOBEC3G. . . The researchers determined that this co-evolution dates back at least five to six million years -- and possibly even 12 million years.

“The oldest known primate is the Late Paleocene Plesiapius circa 55–58 million years ago.  Molecular Clock studies suggest the primate branch may be even older, originating in the mid-Cretaceous period around 85 mya.”  
It wasn’t the genes that suddenly changed, kicking off a wave of deaths, so much as it was the memes, which changed the ecology, both in the human body and in the environment of that body.  The SIV version of HIV was fiddling along in the bodies of monkeys and then chimps until hungry hunters after bush meat got deeply enough into the jungle to catch it and transmit it to other humans who carried it out to the “civilized” world.  That is, HIV like venereal diseases is dependent upon human vectors. (HIV is NOT essentially venereal -- it is a BLOOD disease which is sometimes transmitted at the same time as STD’s.)  That means avoiding contaminated blood, semen, etc., not just avoiding sex.  It’s the BLOOD, not the sex.
Since it was human memes (travel, adventure sex, habitat destruction, hunger, etc.) that got us into this mess, then that probably is the way to get out.  What memes do we need?  What cultural arrangements?

1.  The meme of families needs ecological support so that it doesn’t eject members, forcing them to do survival sexwork, or doesn’t leave them so dissatisfied that they spread their viruses around while searching for relationship.  Backup alternatives should be provided for genetically-based families that don’t work.

2.  The stigma memes have got to go.  They feed into an ecology that rewards vectors for viral contact by monetizing contagious behavior.  Stigma is a way of making something hard to access and therefore attractive and expensive.  It also justifies violence, suppression, secrecy and bullying.

3.  Some stigma markers make people attractive targets, mark them as vulnerable, set the law against them, and convince the stigmatized people themselves that they are weak and unworthy.  Other reverse-stigma markers (let’s call them authority markers) label “virtuous” religious people as universally judgmental, helpless, callous, and without resources.  These are effective in preventing people from expecting or asking for understanding or help.

4.  Persons need memes that teach them how to ask for help, where to go, how to figure out whom to trust.  We need “reach out” memes both as helpers as helpees.

5.  Social memes need to provide ways to network, join in solidarity, spread information, tolerate risk, and take action.  These were everywhere in the Sixties and Seventies and still remain in the culture, mostly latent but now waking.  However, the Status Quo people, who know that war gives them the upper hand, are fighting back -- so far with considerable effectiveness.   Until this last election. 

Genes are spread by contact.  Memes are spread in stories.  Effective stories, as powerful as “Black Beauty” or “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” -- books that changed the nation -- have been shut down by demand for proof, details, certifiable facts -- even when the stories themselves are told through publishers pursuing profit who know that sensational exaggeration will make sales go up and therefore strong-arm authors to push up the heat -- but dodge out afterwards.  Or when the demand is made to break the secrecy that made telling the story possible.  Shift the focus off the story onto the life of the author and stigmatize that person.  This is not different from focusing on Big Pharma and pills to solve a disease that thrives on poverty, ignorance, poor health, lack of housing, broken families, and in general a society that values only getting and spending -- the commodification of everything, including misery.

There have been some stellar and moving AIDS stories, both in books and on the stage or in movies.  Some of them are traveling via word-of-mouth, some of them are in our own families, and finally some of them show up in the newspaper.  We still haven’t broken the idea that HIV is only relevant to the people who catch it or that if the stats are good where you live, then the problem is solved.  

A distinguished elderly big city psychiatrist who was visiting last summer, a woman who devotes herself to helping disadvantaged women, told me that the HIV-AIDS was solved.  The meds existed, were subsidized, and amounted to a cure.  Of all people, she ought to have known better.  She seemed unaware of the many forces that keep people from maintaining pill regimes -- I can hardly remember to take my two daily blood pressure and diabetes pills, but people with HIV-AIDS take as many as twenty pills a day, spaced out at specific times.  They need to be stored and constantly available, often taken with food.  Many of them, like chemotherapy, induce nausea and fog.  

Recently pill shortages have been showing up in as many as a hundred different meds, not just HIV meds.  Unregulated companies are not working.  The pills aren’t being produced in timely quantities.  Some are not properly formulated.  There is no international access.  Prices are incredibly high and though there are supposed to be subsidies, those are also not sufficient.  The money just doesn’t arrive or -- here comes sequester -- is gone.   Dealing with needy people makes the dispensers surly -- so if you’re already confused and discouraged, you go to the clinic and the person at the desk bites your head off, and you say “forget it.”  If you blow up, you’re thrown out.  These are not magical molecular concoctions -- these are social memes.  

Not that I want to let Big Pharma off the hook.  They are outrageously gaming the system.  They say there are already “printers” that can fabricate medicines as easily as printing a paper copy or burning a DVD. They ought to be at every county health office.   Demanding action is not a gene, not even a regulation, but a crucial social reform meme and it ought not to be stigmatized.  To achieve an HIV-AIDS free generation, we’ve got to change people themselves and the way they treat each other.  Without ways to get access to meds, to have food and shelter and enough order to follow regimes, the most super pill in the world would not end HIV-AIDS.  Why wait for a pill when there’s so much to do now?

Sunday, February 24, 2013


The seminary program I undertook 1978-82 was premised on a special status with the University of Chicago Divinity School which used a one year MA program in Religious Studies to separate the sheep from the goats.  On the one hand it was meant to locate Ph.D. candidates with brilliant promise and on the other hand the original charter of the school was meant to produce ministers.  As declared students for the UU ministry, we made the statistics look good and a few of us were brilliant enough to leap across into the straight Div School program.  When David Loehr was thrown out of M/L (mostly for defiance) he was taken in by the U of C Div School.  The Div School operated in large part as participants in the great research and theory juggernaut that is the larger university.  One passed two series of three courses each, one set of religious history and one set of religious thought, plus a series of three “free choice” classes.  An MA degree traditionally distinguishes itself from an MS by requiring that one learn a viable research foreign language, usually (in religion) French or German.  Maybe Hebrew or Greek, which are required subjects in a Lutheran seminary.

I knew this ahead of time and had already taken a year of French in Portland.  I did pass the exam.  But no other requirement made the M/L students so desperate and indignant as that requirement.  Even the ones who could NOT pass the Big Six essay exams courses, were more meek about those than having to learn a language.  (In fact, if one looked at all deserving, one’s exam paper disappeared into the hands of a forgiving nun who marked it rather differently than the profs concerned.  No such arrangement for the French exam.)  Students delayed, sent ringers to take their test for them, petitioned for different languages, and argued that since few UU’s are anything but English speakers and there is no significant body of scholarship about Unitarianism except John Godbey’s Transylvanian studies (insert jokes about vampires here -- actually today being able to speak the “original” vampire language might come in handy).  They insisted it was an act of imperialism for the Div School to continue to impose the requirement.  Etc.  So the French requirement was dropped, then the MA from the U of C was dropped, and then any major scholarship component left.  Now M/L is downtown in a glass office building in the Loop.  Terribly trendy and impressive.  I dread to find out what their GRE scores are.

But that’s all background -- though crucially relevant -- to what I want to say, which is to that due to the amazing brain research (not so much of it done at the U of C, I think) that recently provoked Obama into suggesting a brain research project on the model of the genome project, Whorf is back.  Not the Star Trek character (fond of him as I am).

No, I mean Benjamin Whorf, the anthropologist who proposed (along with others) that how our language is constructed is interwoven with how we see the world -- one informs the other.   Here he is:
Here’s your NYTimes quick version of what's going on:

Here is a far more extended and clear version as explained by a beautiful professor.

This is an “” talk so it’s not as short and smooth as a TED talk, but the content is crucially important to the modern world in which we are all voyagers among islands, each of which speaks a different language and lives in a different material culture.  We are beyond United Nations now, because nations are not necessarily a useful concept anymore -- so many of us are in diasporas largely defined by the languages we speak.  Each of those languages or concept systems is the equivalent to and the means of maintaining a unique religious point of view, whether or not it is embodied in an institution.   

The existence of these “encapsulated universes” suddenly came into focus for Whorf when he was working with Hopi and realized that they saw the universe as process, noting the difference by speaking in verb forms equivalent to English participles -- they did not speak of a chair but of “chairing” or at least “sitting”.  The great theological freedom of this is that when one says “Godding” one is not locked into the mistaken assumption that “A God” is an entity somewhere -- but rather God is a process.  One would learn to do “godding” rather than quarreling over the nature of “The God.”  Euro world-view and grammar is dominated by nouns, some would argue because it is a system based on the aggregation of objects.

Beyond that, a good communicator, educator or shrink MUST realize that each human person has constructed a world with a language from the materials of their own life.  The great mistake -- an Evil and Demonic mistake -- is using that realization to punish and convert people by forbidding them their own language, which is the same thing as forbidding them their own world.  In fact, that world is both their consciousness and their identity, so that the forced choice is to either become subversive or to destroy part of themselves.  (Mike Eigen, psychotherapist, was posting today about “the annihilated self.”)

Around here that happened in terms of Blackfeet falling into the hands of European missionaries.  Luckily, some individuals were able to navigate both worlds, even to create a new one that includes both (metis).  NA activists never quite realize that the new America imposed this world/language destruction on anyone not conforming to their goals -- whether Chinese, Ukrainian, or even Irish.  And the new Americans never quite realized that all those pluralities were quietly preserving and building back new versions of their old selves.  The first frontier churches were often formed around the imported language so that the preachers could speak in that familiar way.  The Hutterites still do that.  But often when the congregation has all learned to speak “American,” their world view remains what it was.  In Valier there are a lot of subconscious Belgians.

Conversely, denominations that seek to preserve themselves by identifying and exploiting a mainstream identity tend to slip into amorphous tolerance with no rallying flag.  They become political more than religious and fear to make trouble for fear of losing members.  If they are TOO tolerant of pluralism, people begin to press for pledges of allegiance and some folks will drift on out the other side of the category.  The more frightening the cosmic global world, the harder people will press for some solid point of reference and a language in which to express it.  It is not surprising that post-modern thought arose in French Algeria.

Maybe it’s more surprising that this category -- newly named “the Nones,” as distinguished by their assertion that their religious affiliation is “None” -- has formed in a time when institutions are being eroded by concepts like free-form individual “spirituality.”  IMHO, this has paradoxically formed from the spiritual side of science.  The right-wingers are right.  And they SHOULD be worried.  It’s as big a shift as from noun to verb.  Have you noticed how many nouns are used as verbs these days?  

I used to have a seminary classmate who often asked, “What does it mean?”  His two respected authorities were Paul Ricoeur and John Coltrane.  He did not enter the ministry.  What did he do with his formidable intelligence?  He sells wine.

Saturday, February 23, 2013


I’m a little nervous.  I’ve signed up for a Great Falls HIV-AIDS Outreach workshop next week.  I haven’t been an activist for years -- maybe decades.  If anyone says “committee,” I’ll bolt.  It’s not that I fantasize I might catch HIV.  What do you think these workshops are like???  Hep C is a much greater danger in a public group and there’s a lot of it around here, but not much HIV -- so far as anyone knows.  Our local attention is rather on immature young men who abuse their girl friends’ infants and toddlers, occasionally killing them.  The stats show few cases of HIV in Montana, but there a few sequestered populations that probably don’t show up in the data.  One is Malmstrom Air Force Base, one is the reservation populations (Indian Health Service) and another is probably post-prison felons.  

Otherwise most of the HIV cases are around the universities -- not just students but also the fellow travelers who hang around campuses, esp. IV drug peddlers.  Of course, University of Montana has attracted attention for cases of rape, including urban athlete recruits from the rough parts of eastern cities.  These days even nice ranch girls have defined anal and oral sex as somehow “not sex.”  Low income women dependent on men (maybe only emotionally) will accept bad treatment of all kinds esp. when both are drunk.  These days HIV is not homosexual -- it’s human.  The pattern is the same as tuberculosis or polio: under-lain by poverty, poor nutrition, housing shortage, mixed populations, lack of education or skills.

When I taught on the rez over the past decades, I had to take a tuberculosis anti-body test because the “bug” moves as aerosol and most schools have closed ventilation systems that recycle rather than pulling in outside air.  For a while I got false positives.  When I was ward clerk at a nearby nursing home, the lead nurse was sweating out an eye-splash she’d gotten while working in an OR elsewhere.  There was no known HIV on the premises, but many stories about Hep C.  (The nurse was spared HIV.)  The first AIDS death of someone I knew was a fellow UU minister, a handsome young man whose father was a denominational leader and whose male partner was an MD.  

If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll know that I leap from the particular to the universal.  Therefore, what I see in this virus is a call to theology -- one of the many needles and shuttles that connect us with threads.  This web has powered my shift from an understanding of salvation as personal and individual eternal life in some other place (as I was taught in Presbyterian sunday school), to awareness of eternal life as a fabulous shifting code pattern in which we participate through the phenomenon of consciousness -- our ability to reflect and enjoy.  This is Eastern and Native American thought, which are contexts that were spared the Roman Empire as well as the Abramic paternalistic worldview.  It’s not “New Age.”   It’s scientific.  It’s the cosmology of those who are aware of the evidence.  

Like every other threat to existing prosperity, HIV-AIDS is virulently attacked by the representatives of the status quo -- which use as disguises the imported dogma of the Mediterranean, filtered through battles for dominance in Europe, and temporarily successful domination of the Americas.  These forces (call them right wing or ultra-conservative) are really about owning and controlling.  They are propelled by fear.

A key concept of participation-based wholistic life rather than preservation-based personal life is that there is no birth and no death -- one’s consciousness is simply received and then surrendered.  Use the body as you will, while you may, to traverse the web as you encounter it.  This is so different that it has penetrated [sic] many people on this planet without those who are preoccupied with getting-and-spending even perceiving it.  But children can see and feel this universal sense of the world.  

Yesterday on  Matt Damon’s mom, who is an expert on child development, discussed the impact of so much “dark” violence in our media, esp. since her son is pretty deep into it. The question is in part why ordinary nice suburban kids are so attracted to these sexualized, monstrous, terrifying images.  If they weren’t, we wouldn’t have to ban them. Since nice suburban moms with good incomes are discussing the issues, they miss the most obvious fact:  many (maybe most if you include the Third World) kids right-here-right-now are LIVING what’s in those video games.  They don’t see murder on TV -- they ARE murdered.  This is one of the reasons kids have so much contempt for adults; that adults turn away.

Even the nice ordinary suburban kids know this -- odds are some of those kids are sitting in the same classrooms, undetected and unaddressed by adults.  Anyway, the state of the world on the news, the ragged “canners” pushing shopping carts, the urban myths that circulate even in the countryside, are mostly denied and ignored by adults.  If games are a way of working through kid issues, then video games quite likely address the moral and spiritual puzzles that adults fail to address in reality.  I still dream images of torture from WWII when I wasn’t even old enough to attend school yet.  (Bulldozers push high piles of the naked bodies, bones barely covered by flesh.)  No adult ever discussed them. They are the bulldozers behind my questing, which isn’t about God-dogma at all.  It’s existential.  And mercifully, the adults who WILL address such Evil are often located in the better seminaries.

So this workshop in Great Falls is being addressed by a man on the boundary, Greg Smith:  young, good-looking, and dynamic.  Because he is a partnered gay, he cannot be a priest.  I’d like to see the world from his eyes for at least a few hours.  I’d also like to see what he knows about the Underworld where big tough outsider tribal felons hang around in bars the college guys love to cruise to show how initiated they are.  What I know is mostly second hand, but mighty vivid.  (If I’d investigated first hand, I’d be dead now.)  Being a "virtuous" old lady, impoverished and celibate, is like being a priest without a church.  

Of course, I don’t SAY that, because many people are terrified of religious people, having had relatives who were “seized” and put into prisons of one sort or another.  Christianity can be predatory.  The irony is that a physical prison -- when it reaches critical mass -- can force a spiritual rebirth.  Not always.  And some fake it.  

The media doesn’t really get all this stuff, partly because reporters tend to be young, underpaid, ambitious kids controlled by old guys with an eye that is interlocked with readership and advertising.  News is defined by profit.  The educated are too busy sitting in seminars arguing over regulations.  The priests are burying young people.  (But only their bodies.)  Some realize that life is “for reals,” not a video game.  But it’s going on and going on -- through us.  To feel that is an astonishment and a joy.

Friday, February 22, 2013


PRIEST BUTTE is a bluff, really, but more than that.  It looks over Freezeout Lake which hosts African-scale migratory bird flocks twice a year, it is a landmark along the Old North Trail which is now highway 89 so that traffic goes right past it, and because of three crosses on top, it has acquired a mythic history.  

The debunkers say the crosses actually were erected by an enterprising church youth group as an Easter project, but stories still weave themselves around the trope of Crucifixion: three priests martyred by Indians or sometimes three Indians martyred by priests.  Works both ways. 

“Three Priests” is a movie that adds another layer to the location.  A 2008 “Western,” the cast includes two surprises:  Wes Studi as the sheriff and Olivia Hussey as the patriarch’s wife.  (Yes, Juliet!!  Maybe the best one ever!  And she seems to have aged well, though I have no idea what she’s been doing since she was fifteen.)  Julia Jones is what’s at stake in the Cain and Abel plot.  (She’s also in “Winter in the Blood,” the movie of Jim Welch’s famous novel, not released yet.)  The gimmick is that the father, Michael Parks, had in the past also been Cain, so the idea is history repeating itself.  Or fate that cannot be escaped.  The "ground" of this story is Tarantino/vampire movies, but it is shot in sepia as though an old Western photo.  A low budget Indie movie, it cleverly takes advantage of real forest fires raging along the East Slope of the Rockies but ignores the huge flights of geese.  (The Canadian book/film “Wild Geese” uses the idea of the geese as metaphor for the flight of young people from their original nest.)  Maybe Americans give a higher priority to the individual than groups.

This movie is too murky to watch on a small screen, but those of us who know this area will fill in what we can’t see directly.  At the very least this is an useful text for exploring myth versus reality on the high prairie.  The film company has brought a Fifties California world view of dystopia and family failure to a place that now likes to present itself as transcendently pristine, a good location for upscale folks.  But my favorite upscale family, who brought with them an excellent bookstore (homed in a two-story log cabin) of first edition books about the West, and who tried to ranch fine organic cattle up one of the historic canyons, was soon driven out by locals obsessed by the need to control and the fear that outsiders might know more.  I’d like to watch this movie sitting alongside A.B. Guthrie, Jr. -- who fought this same fight -- or maybe even Olga Monkman, local historian.  Both are gone now. 

Most of the movies about the present that are supposed to be located around here are about leaving -- notably “Cut Bank,” another unreleased movie which begins thirty miles north of here, where the Chamber of Commerce doesn’t quite like the tone taken.  The alternative is to locate the movie in the past, which is where many Montana small town people live or hope to return to.  They still think of movies in terms of studio productions with big stars and a cheery vibe centered on heroism and romantic love.  They assume fame and fortune will follow.

I never did figure out which three characters in “Three Priests” were the actual priests, but I’m not sure it matters.  In a class I would tackle this plot in terms of domination/submission or just bullying.  There’s no doubt at all that the West was settled and is now maintained in a system of domination/submission at every level.  (A broader term than the narrowly sexual S/M dyad.)  Bullying here is a blood sport. (Ask Indians.)  Nor is there any doubt that some families are run that way.  The questions then become motivation and how the system works, what the community will tolerate.  Big brothers are entitled to crush little brothers.

Bar fights are fine.  Competitively shooting gophers and rabbits is fine, though around here it seems to me most people prefer poisoning.  The sheriff walks that fine line between doing his job and protecting his friends.  The women are disempowered, always pleading, very beautiful and cherished.  But the real underlying force is the one that plagues Hollywood actors:  economics.  A bully with something worthy to do is far less likely to take it out on his little brother.  These brothers have nothing in particular to do, no way to succeed honorably.

Some historians propose that the real conflict between Cain and Abel was NOT over sexual jealousy -- that’s a Hollywood trope.  The “real” problem was the shift from a hunter/gatherer culture to farming grain.  It’s clearer in the story of Esau and Jacob. who argued over who pleased the father most and whose altar sacrifices pleased God more:  a holocaust of wild game, or a sacrificial domestic lamb.  (This gets tweaked in the New Testament, of course: Jesus as lamb.)  It’s interesting that the two fathers in the story are pretty dense about what goes on and seem to have no power to intervene.  Maybe that’s the way we see the Patriarchal version of God these days.

There’s no question that when an economy shifts away, violence goes up.  Nor is it remarkable that where there are guns handy, there is death, though it’s interesting that the crucial death uses the rifle present throughout the story as a killing club, not with a bullet.  The cliff adds to the damage.  The fire, of course, might make a holocaust of the whole outfit -- we don’t know for sure at the end.  The fire is not a huge emergency that makes everything exciting and then resolved by crisis -- it is a smoldering presence throughout and we are often reminded in the dialogue that the danger depends on which way the wind blows.

If I were thinking like Alvina Krause and trying to evaluate this film, I would be happy that they didn’t fall into the cliché controversies that fan the flames of racism and religion -- easy to do with Priest Butte in the title.  But I would also suggest that the symphonic through-line and rhythms of the action were there but not clarified enough.  It’s surprising because these guys are musicians (country blues), but maybe too focused on riffs to take care of the melody.  One of the dangers in camera acting is that everyone gets so much submerged into the life of making the film that they lose focus and clarity in terms of the product.  Most of the shape comes out on the editing deck anyway, so it’s hard to blame the cast.

I suggest that the editors are unconsciously dominated by West coast Values and country blues themes.  "Murky" is a plus for them.  Religious tradition doesn’t exist.  Indians are a category of actors.  Romance is always dangerous.  Everyone dies, but before that, the real tragedy is that they age and their kids leave.  They come to a place like the East Slope of the Rockies because they associate it with heroism and grand themes, but all they see is their own world, the inside of a bar.  That would be fine if they really grabbed it by the throat and dominated THAT story.  But maybe the neon-lit murk and smoke is what they’re portraying.

This is a painting of Priest Butte by Jason Waskey who is from Seattle but often paints in the area.  Prints are available at his website:

Thursday, February 21, 2013


Barnaby Conrad Jr. has just died at the age of ninety.  He lived in the Santa Barbara area of California and few here in Montana know his story as they ought to, though he never lived here.

After the Civil War Charles and William Conrad were Big Men, so big that they had to split up the territory, first between the US and Canada along the Whoop-Up Trail, and later on either side of the Rocky Mountains so that William founded Conrad, my county seat, and ran the Seven Block Ranch from roughly where I live in Valier, developed the irrigation system that now supports wheat, and sold the whole outfit to Cargill for a nice profit.  Charles took the west side and founded Kalispell.   Both “married” Indians, some more formally than others, and had mixed blood children.  To read their stories is to read the history of Montana, but the plot is only passing through from French Huguenots (a subcategory of Calvinism persecuted by Catholics), to the US War of Independence, the Civil War, the early industrial development of the high prairie, then diplomacy and bull-fighting in Spain, and finally the post-WWII literary and arts flowering of San Francisco.  Of course there was a saloon:  “El Matador,” founded by Barnaby Conrad Jr. to invest the money made from his book by the same name.  Trying to make that much money from a book nowadays is sort of like undertaking open range ranching of sheep and herefords in the 1800’s. Barely possible with a lot of luck.

Now I’m quoting myself about the third Conrad brother, John.  (Use the search strip on the right edge of this blog to find earlier posts.) 

Rewind to 1880. Now we turn to John Conrad. His cattle were in the Hurlbut-Conrad Cattle Company, based in the notorious Johnson County, Wyoming.  [See “Heaven’s Gate”, the movie filmed in Glacier Park though the history was in Wyoming.  Some of the film was shot in the Charles Conrad mansion.) It’s unclear whether John was part of the cattle mogul vigilante groups, but certainly his cowboys were also gunslingers. By 1891 he had sold out his cows.

He met Mabel Barnaby during the 1884 Democratic National Convention. She was nineteen, accompanying her father, who was a Rhode Island merchant and politician. John was 29, identified by the newspapers as a “Western millionaire.” In 1887 he installed his new wife in a log cabin home in Billings and opened a fancy store. He also established an attachment to Samuel Hauser (banking, railroad, mining, and cattle) who was one of the Big Four. the others were Charles Broadwater (railroads and a fabulous health spa in Helena), Marcus Daly and William A. Clark (both copper kings). John’s goal was becoming governor. He bought a house at 702 Madison Avenue in Helena.

In the spring of 1891, Mabel’s mother was poisoned to death in Denver. John went berzerk in pursuit of the poisoner, who might have been a doctor who had ingratiated himself with the woman. The doctor had a mentally unstable wife and eventually collected $25,000 from her will, but the doctor poisoned himself before he could be convicted of murder. Under the pressure of all this the John Conrad marriage came totally unglued -- the master and mistress accusing each other of repeated adultery and the household so disorderly that at one point there was an in-house riot featuring the coachman wielding a stick and the Chinese cook swinging a frying pan. John was the loser.

The divorce was complete in 1895 and Mabel took her children (Florence, Maud and the first Barnaby) back to civilization in Europe. Since she had her own fortune, it was not difficult to marry an American named George Choate Kendall and move into a chateau in France.

Barnaby Conrad, Jr. (Mabel’s grandson) is the one who just died at the age of ninety.  He has a website of his own:   Basically, he lived the life that every small town boy in Montana longs to have -- including a career as an amateur bullfighter, ended by a near-fatal goring.  

His children fanned out across the humanities: painting, writing, publishing and editing, traveling and exploring.  But in Montana we don’t recognize such elite society: we cling to Charlie Russell, celebrating the man we think he was over and over and over, even as we un-fund humanities in the public schools.  The history of Conrad and Valier are mute on the subject of their founding families.  And the biography of Barnaby Conrad Jr. does not mention Montana.

I would not know about all this except for the courageous and engaging writing of Barnaby Conrad the Third, born in 1952 and author of “Ghost Hunting in Montana,” a key book about this major family of Montana history.  Conrad III was born in San Francisco in 1952.  His mother was architect Dale (Cowgill) Crichton. After graduating Yale with a BA in Fine Arts in 1975, Conrad worked as a journalist and magazine editor. Much of his work was for art magazines: he was one of the founding editors of Art World in the 1970s, and a senior editor of Horizon from 1979 to 1980.  In 1982, Conrad moved to Paris and became an adventure travel writer.  Conrad III married art gallery owner Martha Sutherland on May 24, 2003.  

His father, Barnaby Conrad Jr. was married twice, first in 1949 to Gale Cowgill. That marriage ended in divorce, and in 1963 he married Mary Slater, who survives him.

He is also survived by two sons, Barnaby Conrad III of Acconac, Va., and Winston Conrad of Kanuela, Hawaii; two daughters, Kendall Conrad of Montecito (Santa Barbara County) and Cayaetana Conrad of Carpinteria; and eight grandchildren.  The two daughters are artists who each have websites.

This intercontinental family has enormous vitality, boldness, and intelligence -- all supported by connections and money.  This third branch who descended from the younger son did a little better than the older sibs, probably because of their mothers.  Morality didn’t come into it much, though things have calmed down quite a bit in the last hundred years.  Not many of us have coachmen or Chinese cooks -- much less in-house riots.  But I suspect most of us don’t have as much fun, either, or the reckless and exhilarating exploration of new horizons.  

Schools now are focused on “containment and conformity”, which it is assumed will guarantee prosperity -- even as today’s Yale graduates wander the land looking for jobs.  We so underestimate youngsters.  When the oldest Conrad brothers joined their father in the Civil War, William was thirteen and Charles was eleven.  John arrived here in his teens. Their plantation was destroyed and their slaves dispersed, so they just walked West.  Nowadays, they might walk their fingers across keyboards.  Or maybe not.  Maybe organic farming.  We mostly recognize achievement in retrospect.  Few in the midst of the struggle have the perspective to understand what it means.

If you’re interested in this philosophical angle about the arts, you might watch!  This is Sir Ken Robinson on the same theme.  Think he’s ever heard of Charlie Russell?  To be fair, he’s probably never heard of the Conrad Brothers, either.  But I’ll bet he’s heard of Barnaby Conrad, Jr.  

Thanks to Dave Lull, here is a link to another fascinating bit of Barnaby Conrad lore.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013


When not writing or sleeping, I’m sorting.  On the prairie eliminating dust is hopeless, but I do try to organize mostly archived documents, using cardboard cat-food-case trays.  In the process, of course, I make discoveries and that feeds the writing which means research and more disorder.  Because of the Internet, I can involve others.  When spelunking through catacombs, it’s wise to have others along as a matter of safety.  When it becomes too dark, you reach for a hand -- hoping you will not find yourself holding a tentacle.  This is not “a walk down memory lane” in that trivial, sentimental and offensive phrase.  Hallucinations are the least of it.  What one discovers is horror within -- one’s own monster-role.  Plus a certain number of coprolites.  Some familiar, some large enough to include human bones.

A friend from the past recently sent me seven fairy tales I had written in 1959 or so.  They were meant to be fortune-telling in that free-associating way revealing things unknown.  The first one was for myself and was written in the medieval stone-castle-constant-conflict style of “The Highlanders” or “Game of Thrones” -- that Scots hard, cold, grim reality, often with an uncanny overtone.  The scene was high in a tower prison room where a wounded young man lay on a pile of straw and a woman came to nurse him.  It don’t think it had an end.

The key is double.  Obviously much of my child-thought was shaped by WWII because I was born in 1939.  My aunt, Vera Pinkerton Hatfield, who was head of surgery nurses in Great Falls when war was declared, joined the WAC’s and served in Rheims and London.  Far from being set free in the world, she returned to Roseburg, Oregon, where the Pinkertons and Hatfields lived.  Over the years I’ve talked to army nurses from that era.  One told me how she went to ready for surgery a young man on a stretcher with a blood-soaked towel wrapped over his head.  When she removed it, he had no face.  She stumbled out of the tent and puked behind it.  The doc came out and said softly,  “It will never be this bad again.”

Vera’s vulnerability was rooted in an adolescent Model A car accident in which her younger sister died, throat cut by the edge of the broken windshield.  Vera was driving on a dark road where another car had stopped.  No one blamed her.  No one discussed it.  For a year she dropped out of high school, then went back resolved to be a nurse.  

She was close to my mother and trained at what is now OHSU in Portland.  At the age in this picture of the two of us, I used to sneak into the linen closet and experiment with her nurse’s caps, stiffly starched and flat.  I couldn’t get them to fold properly.

Vera’s younger sister, incorrigibly romantic and married to a brother Hatfield, always felt there was some kind of doomed romance during the war.  Maybe there was.  It wouldn’t be a surprise to anyone.  So that brings me to the second significance of this fairy tale, for if there is anything linked to war it is sex, whether it is rape-as-weapon or Hemingway-style romance like “A Farewell to Arms.”  During and after WWII there was a strong trope about sex-that-isn’t-sex, usually some transgressive rough character who is redeemed by a virtuous woman, a nurse or a nun.  

All those long wards full of beds.  All those basins of water.  All those compresses for foreheads.  I never could figure out what that last was for until I realized it was sort of a metaphor for cleaning out pus and maggots or for full body cold water sponging to reduce fever, just as the whole ceremonial process of nursing is a metaphor for honorable intimate love, bodily based, attentively gentle, but somehow pure.  In the name of saving lives, men could even nurse women, undressing and bandaging them.  (Dorothy Johnson explored this in “The Hanging Tree.”)  The original gay AIDS generation nursed their lovers -- surely same-sex nursing and medics came before same-sex marriage.  Even boys can be innocently loved by men if they are dying in the hospital and the men are doctors or chaplains.  The taboos are not broken, but purified by compassion.

As it happens, several of my college fairy tales were written for gay men who were close friends of mine at the time (’57 - ‘61).  No one said “gay” in those days.  We didn’t talk about it.  The stories were a way of conveying warmth without ever discussing all those Kinsey subjects or inviting unjustifed behavior.  For a theatre major studying with Alvina Krause justification was paramount, so one did tread carefully.  One pointed out what splendid physical training was provided by ballet lessons.  One had grandiose plans for a fabulous career, but the focus was development of oneself as instrument and it was not helpful to get arrested or thrown out of school by the beady-eyed administration, who threw out even students who were in legal heterosexual marriages.

Sometimes such displacements and fantasizing become more fulfilling than the actuality, always a bit of a problem for theatre people.  I was virginal until after college.  In almost every sense.  My entrances, emotional included, were guarded.  I was in the wings, I provided costumes, I went on walk-and-talks and attended strange European movies, but I never got involved much with reality because I was writing in my head already.  Watching, living vicariously because it was much safer, watching to keep my guard up against the constant evaluations.  (My student teaching supervisor said,  “You know, you really seem stupid until you talk.”)  The result of this vigilance is that I remember so much -- everything but names.  I was inevitably cast as a peasant or mother.  Only a few knew that inside I was all Tennessee Williams, not because of desiring the same sex (Robert Mitchum definitely turned me on and he was NOT feminine!) but because of the numinous tumescent dreams.  One friend called me Deborah Kerr.  Theatre people are always casting the story.

At over seventy the tumescence remains, but the transcendence has taken some hits.  Once reality is incarnate in flesh, the payback consequences become agonizing and lethal.  One pukes behind the tent.  That’s when the Scots part, cold and grim, is relevant.  Now memory and vicarious participation are alive and warm, even as another Arctic front sweeps through the prairie.  It’s snowing.  I’m running a heater for my feet while I make the keyboard click.

The illustrations in this post are by Ivan Yakovlevich Bilibin (Russian: Ива́н Я́ковлевич Били́бин; 16 August 1876 – 7 February 1942) who was a 20th-century illustrator and stage designer.  His quite wonderful illustrations of folklore need more exposure.