Friday, May 31, 2013


Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "SHERMAN ALEXIE'S PROBLEM WITH CENSORSHIP": 

Please don't bully our Indian writers!!!! If they don't promote your agenda just let them be.

I debated for quite a while about what to do with this comment.  I didn’t want to just block it, but it IS anonymous and that’s a good reason to zap it.  (Someone else made an anonymous comment, a rez person, who when challenged explained the danger he/she faced if he/she were named -- the post is about rez murders.  This is a good reason to both remain anonyous and for me to publish the comment.)  But this other comment is so clueless that it’s hard to know where to begin.  For one thing, Sherman has been quite willing to bully other Indian writers -- plus white writers. (The "Old Bulls" among the NA writers joke "don't squeeze the Sherman.")  For another, this commenter seems to think Sherman is a little beginner needing protection.  He’s nearly fifty, a battle-scarred old warrior with white wings over his ears and a very nice apartment in Seattle.   

The “our” in this comment sounds like he belongs to the writer -- why?  Do all Indians own all Indians?  Or is the commenter one of those fond whites who think THEY own Indians?  The adjective makes it sounds as though he’s either a pet or a doll (“The Indian in the Cupboard”).  Why FOUR exclamation points?  Soooo emotional.

What possible agenda does this person imagine I have:  the one about being a reservation English teacher?  The one about reading and reviewing NA books and buying copies for rez libraries?  Or does she imagine something about my friends who write, some of them Indians and some of them not?  

Why does she ask me to “just let them be”?  What makes her think that any writers should be “let be”?  Like they’re nice statues in the garden.  Collectible.  Passive.  Not involved in their own fates, let alone politics.

In the end I decided to simply use the comment as an epigraph for this post, which is a list of all the posts I’ve written about Native American lit. (Some books written by whites.  Also, Metis are included as “Indians” in the Canadian way.  And I count film as "lit.")  When she ( sounds so sweet -- must be female) finishes reading all these posts, maybe she’ll be a little more aware.

This list doesn’t include Blackfeet, necessarily.  I’ll make a separate list.

4-4-05     Book Review:  “A Walk Towards OR” by Josephy
4-10-05    “Half Breed” (George Bent)
6-7-05     “Common and Contested Ground” by Ted Bennema
6-8-05     “Firewater” by Hugh Dempsey
6-13-05   “Catch Colt” by Sidner Larson
6-14-05   “Viet Cong at Wounded Knee” by Woody Kipp
12-8-06   Adrian Louis’ Strong Brown Wings
9-7-06     What’s a Native American Perspective?
9-20-06   A Quick Check-list of NA Writers
7-27-07   Ward Churchill:  Lucky He’s Not a Bison
8-25-07   Native American Writers:  A Constellation
8-26-07   Starboy: James Welch
9-15-07   Sherman Alexie Leads the Way
10-18-07   The Nasdijj Trilogy
12-23-07   Frank Bird Linderman
1-12-08     “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee”
2-3-08      “Rez Dogs” -- the Video
3-10-08    “The Business of Fancy Dancing”:  a Reflection
6-13-08    “The Stick Game” by Peter Bowen
6-22-08    “The Boy and the Dog Are sleeping: by Tim Barrus, A Review
8-16-08     Penny Derivative Native American Literary Critics
9-8-08       Joseph Epes Brown and Black Elk
10-29-08   The Forces at Play on Native American Literature
11-6-08     Alexie, Barrus and Louise
11-15-08   Native American Lit Renaissance: Where Did it Go?
11-25-08   Indian Trouble: a Double Chapter
10-29-08   The Forces at Play on Native American Literature
1-9-09       The Riel Rebellion Ends
1-21-09     Time and the Writer
6-4-09       Politics of Identity and Resentment
6-16-09     “Rain in the Mountains” (movie)  a Review
6-29-09     What Can the Internet Do for Oral Literature?
6-30-09     Michael Two Horses
8-8-09       “Trickster”:  Notes from Lewis Hyde
12-12-09   “The Education of Little Tree”: a Reflection
2-3-10        Gyasi Ross and the Native American Generations
6-18-10      “Rolling in the Ditches with Shamans”
8-16-10      Write This Down!
12-18-10    Metis Stand their Ground
1-20-11      Yu’pik “Swan Lake”
2-5-11        When it Comes to Indians, You See What You Expect
2-6-11        “The Edge of Eternity”
6-6-11        “Lost Birds,” “Split Feathers” and Roots
6-8-11        Trace DeMeyer:  “One Small Sacrifice”
11-29-11    “American Holocaust and Survival”
1-24-12      Heather Devine on Joseph Kinsey Howard
1-31-12      “The People Who Own Themselves” (Metis)  a Family Story
4-19-12      Directory to Reviews of Books by or about Indians on this Blog
6-19-12      “Shamans and Religion” by Alice Beck Kehoe
6-27-12      “Far North”  (film)
7-30-12      “Always an Adventure” by Hugh A. Dempsey.  A Review
1-31-13      Priests on the Prairie
2-2-13        “Gujaw and the Reawakening of the Haida Nation”
3-30-13      Knotting a Shawl for a Planet
5-3-13        What You Get Is What You See
5-23-13      Wendy Rose: Combustible
5-28-13      Sherman Alexie’s Problem with Censorship

This is the bottom line:  being a successful published author has nothing to do with the actual writing, whether or not the writing is authentic, actual, of proper ethnic origin, etc.  It doesn’t have much to do with the quality of the writing, though there is a minimum level and probably also a top end where writing becomes too intense and experimental to sell very well.  (Like some poetry.)

BEING PUBLISHED IS ABOUT INFRASTRUCTURE: the pop-it-beads of publishing and how they connect.  Discovering:  finding something that will sell.  Editing: rewriting as necesssary.  Agenting: the interface between the writer and the publisher.  Finding peripherals:  illustrations, graphs, sourcing any quotes.  Fact checking:  making sure names are spelled right, dates are accurate, things are as represented.  Layout:  choosing a font, organizing the pages.  Artwork:  esp. cover and dust wrapper.  There are other things about making a physical book which involves stacking up the objects, storing them in a warehouse, shipping them out to stores and keep track of all of this.

Print on demand means only printing after orders have arrived.  Distribution services can contract to manage wrapping, mailing, paperwork like invoicing.  There’s a LOT to all this.  I do not know any Native Americans who do this work or who aspire to do any part of it or who think of being publishers through an institution like the tribe, the tribal college, Indian-focused museums, or a reservation church.  I do not know of any tribal college that teaches this.

I do not know of any tribal bookstores except those in museums or tribal colleges.  I do not know of any reading groups on the reservation who read books by or about Indians.  My experience is that journalists, political figures, and even teachers have an EXTREMELY LIMITED knowledge about what NA writing is out there or where to get it.  In general they know nothing about ordering online, esp. used books.  We don’t need more cell phones: we need transmission towers and optical fiber connections.


Thursday, May 30, 2013


Silver leaf cottonwood is a particularly lovely tree with long limbs extended as if for dancing.  I bought my little Valier house in part because of the trees around it, particularly the big cottonwood on the south side that makes shade all summer and branch patterns all winter, sometimes lined with snow cotton.   The growth pattern is a dome of leaves reaching down to the ground, so as to offer shelter to resting animals.  Mostly cats here. The kind of birds in it vary with the seasons: downy woodpeckers running up and down the trunk in winter and small transient birds I don’t recognize in spring and fall.  The doves in the blue spruce seem to eat something they find in the cottonwood.  Neither the cottonwood nor the blue spruce are native to the high Montana prairie though there a lot of them in our yards.  Most were planted about the same time at the urging of state agriculture people promoting woodlots and windbreaks.  Most of them are aging out, including mine, but so am I.

The cottonwood is on the boundary between my property and an empty lot that belongs to the First (and Only) Baptist Church in Valier.  When I first moved here, there were no meters on the water system, so it didn’t matter which of us watered the lot.  These trees are riparian and need a lot of water, but in early days when Lake Francis was formed as a reservoir for the Pondera Canal Company -- there was no problem.   More recently we have worried about drought.  The congregation was small and elderly with the grandson of one family acting as pastor.  The building was aging, though not disintegrating like the previous church up the street.  Two blue spruces were sentinels on either side of the front door and a cluster was at the back door.  A hedge of lilac grows along the alley in back and some smaller trees are on the parking strip where a song sparrow builds his nest every spring and stages his mini-opera all about sex and raising babies.

Suddenly the Baptist Church struck gold.  They cut down all their trees, re-sided, installed new windows, built a porch/ramp on the front, and applied a new metal roof.  And they acquired a minister, who drove up from Choteau where he was previously retired.  In winter he goes south.  At first it was his name that attracted my attention:  John A. Brubaker, who goes by “Pastor Bru.”  There was a man named James Brubaker who lived in Choteau and who was convicted of book theft.  He went into libraries, checked out rare and precious books, and razored pages from them which he sold on the Internet.  He also dealt in Indian artifacts and occasionally stopped at the Scriver Studio, which was a kind of social hub for history, art, antiques and hunters.  By now he has served his time in prison.  Pastor Bru says he is no relation.  I don’t know where “James” lives now.

The function of ministers towards their churches is often defined in terms of a pastoral versus a prophetic role.  In the pastoral role the religious leader is meant to comfort and care for people and in the prophetic role the same person is meant to preach morality.  There is a third role which is proselytizing, which means developing the organization itself by converting others.   Ministers are also expected to be humble while their congregations are expected to lift them up and admire them.  The clearest public example of the two styles is Pope Benedict versus Pope Frances.  I speak from the inside -- since I was myself a minister for ten years -- when I say this situation is full of pitfalls.  Pastor Bru is clearly a believer in a literal God, a man dedicated to a Right Wing point of view.  Order, control, domination, self-righteousness.

It entertained me, since we both attended the University of Chicago Divinity School and I’m so far on the Left of the political spectrum that I’m nearly falling off.  But Pastor Bru did not like to have anything in common with a tubby old lady who doesn’t cut her grass often enough.  On Sunday he came over to say that he wanted to cut branches off my cottonwood because it was “impossible” to cut the grass under it. The grass has been cut under that tree for the fourteen years -- since I moved here and probably for a long time before that.  Lately grass-cutting in Valier means sitting on a big riding mower, which puts a person up high enough to be slapped by the lower branches.  It’s unpleasant but not impossible.  Some mowers have jack-knifed off the lower switches.  I thought he was asking to do that.

But he had no intention of discussing anything.  When I balked and stalled, he became angry, pointing out that the tree was on the boundary between properties and therefore he had a right to do what he wanted on “his side.”  This man is elderly and has had a stroke.  He does not manage emotion well.  Neither do I, but I don’t have an excuse since my red hair has turned white.  However, he has the advantage in a nurturing little wife who smooths things over when she can.  Not this time.

Pastor Bru does not see a tree as a living creature to be praised, or even as the work of God.  He does not see boundaries as an opportunity for cooperation but rather as a way of excluding infidels.  I suspect he is aligned with what many have begun calling the American Taliban, those who want to deny schools and hospitals to illegal immigrants; keep all people convicted of sex offenses in jail for the rest of their lives no matter the circumstances or the sentences; deny any murderer from receiving any kind of food aid ever (they just attached an amendment to the ag subsidies to block felons from food stamps); force the young, the pregnant, the old, the disabled, the mentally challenged to live under their control; to do nothing to cure AIDS or any other problem that has a moral dimension; and to make sure we fight every war that protects our national corporate interests.  They are gutting our country, doing to today’s settled Americans what they previously did to the Native inhabitants of the continent, which is to say, take their property and demand homage.  It’s a return to medieval times.  This is not a tree -- it’s a symbol.  Talk me out of it.

So Tuesday when I came back from Great Falls (they waited until I was gone), there was a man chain-sawing the limbs off the cottonwood on the church side.  I wept and lamented without restraint.  To me it was like seeing a human being amputated.  Pastor Bru was safely back in Choteau.  He had instructed a lawn maintenance man to do this.  I do not hold that man responsible.  

When a deceased member of this church left money to install an electronic imitation of a bell carillon that played hymns from 9AM to 8PM, I didn’t object -- though they had it turned up to the highest volume possible.  After all, I knew the tunes, though the UU’s sing quite different words.  And at least I always knew what time it was.  Lately the racket has been quiet.  They say there are mechanical problems.  Last summer the church was struck by lightning:  I saw it and heard the explosion.  With no trees to act as lightning rods. . .

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

"THE HALL BOY": Fiction

In the great houses of Britain only a century or so ago, there was a position called “the hall boy.”  If he had been a black boy in the American South, he would have been called a house slave, or if he had been in Asia, he would have been called a “house boy.”  The boy is meant to be quick, energetic, smart, and self-effacing.  A convenience, a human appliance.  In those big houses he often slept in a cupboard in the hall, so he would be convenient for nighttime delivery of notes, fetching of drinks, or possibly the summoning of help.  Maybe things less innocent.  There are always a lot of boys around.  If one disappears, another one soon shows up.

Rex did not sleep in a cupboard, though his accommodation was not much better.  He had a small basement bedroom, not in a British country house but rather in a plush Chicago hotel, a gentleman’s hotel -- nearly a traditional club rather than a modern hotel.  No one went up to rooms unannounced, particularly wives.  He lucked into his job after a series of foster homes which were also lucky, though more numerous than was comfortable, because they were “high end.”  That is, he was taken in by doctors and lawyers -- or rather by their wives, if they were around -- though marriages at that level were often between wealthy older men and ambitious younger women who tended to travel a lot.  In the end, they never had any interest in children.  He was merely a stage prop.  He didn’t object so long as there was no chance of returning to the abuse that took him into the foster system.

By the time he was ten, he knew how the various households were managed.  He was not prepared for the last husband to die, nor was his resourceful wife, but she knew the boy well enough to see that he wasn’t cut out for foster care.  She found him the position with the hotel, which she knew because she had quietly visited lovers there, escorted up private stairs.  Then she went on a cruise.  He never saw her again.

The hallways became his domain.  He knew when the waiters came around to pick up the trays from room service breakfasts and he knew which rooms were likely to order very well, but eat little -- because he knew what they had ordered in the bar the night before.  Not just drinks.  So he saved money by nipping their toast and crisp bacon, maybe a swig of orange juice, but for coffee he had his own French press back in his snug basement room.  One must have standards somewhere.

Shining shoes pleased him, so he enjoyed the custom and took pride in the morning row of burnished wingtips and tassel loafers outside doors.  Over the years he educated himself from the newspapers, magazines, and occasionally even books the clientele left behind.  Since this was a hotel frequented by politicians, power brokers, and the more successful arts people -- never stars, just the ones behind the scenes -- he understood a great deal about how systems work and what the international dynamics were.  He even understood money better than most middle-aged men, partly because he knew so well that money is only a means.  It’s a major mistake to use money as a measure of success or a goal when there are so many other and often easier ways.

By the time he had entered adolescence, he had comforted a lot of women, given them the addresses of dependable abortionists, slipped off to the drugstore to fill their prescriptions, knew where to buy the best quality panty hose and who could remove stains from luxury clothing on an emergency basis.  In service to the gentlemen he could discretely provide the best in tobacco, condoms, and hangover relievers -- not to mention a range of pharmaceuticals.  Rarely was he surprised by a request.  Also, with a little help from the local librarian who taught him how to use the library computers, he became adept at curing laptop problems and using search functions.  Many things were out there that few people knew about.  His gentlemen mostly didn’t watch porn, but they were definitely on the edges of what people take for granted.  The world to these men was a labyrinth with real minotaurs but not the ones the public knew.  Still, they “ate” people, esp. young people.  They were the corporate masters who controlled economics and war.   The main news monitors did not know their names.  

Composed, polite, soft-voiced, and self-disciplined, the men seemed trustworthy.  It was a disguise.  Not entirely successful.  Not that they cracked -- more like they finally collapsed into death.  He took a first aid class after the first time he tried to perform artificial respiration and realized he just didn’t know how.  There were assassinations but not at the hotel: the police came to search the closets and luggage.  It would have made more sense for senior management to take on the task of preventing suicides, but being there was what counted.  Actually, it seemed to be an advantage to be a boy rather than a man.  He was good at talking them through it.

Sketch provided by Scaasi and Aad de Gids

All this made the transition from hall boy to call boy very easy.  He took excellent care of his people (he did not think of them as tricks nor johns, though they were mostly male) and they were high quality -- no problems, good pay, total discretion of course.  The problem was where to go from there, since he had no formal credentials -- only skills.   When he began to manage the hotel, he took permanent residence in a luxury suite but never brought anyone to its privacy, shelter, safety.  Solitude appealed to those working in a service industry where other people must be accommodated always.  He didn’t think of family because he didn’t know what family was.

The economy began to decline.  Permanent residents disappeared as they looked for a cheaper way to live.  The neighborhood began to be dangerous and the hotel detective became more of a guard.  Now and then a client took Rex aside and asked whether he might not like to buy an expensive watch or a bit of jewelry.  He had the resources but was very selective because of the problem of marketing: he didn’t want to look for customers and was not sure of the provenance of some things, esp. art.  Hard to fence.  Sometimes the latter were too beautiful to pass over and the suite became a sort of gallery.

Then one day a SE Asian man he knew -- but mostly avoided unless it could not be done courteously -- knocked on his door.  This was not welcome and, in fact, the suite was not numbered and the doorknob dangled a perpetual “do not disturb” sign.  The peephole revealed the man was in extreme distress, so for fear of a disturbance, he let the man in.

“I must leave Chicago at once.”  Of course the next request was to sell something.  “I give you a choice.  I do not have these things with me -- they are in my room.  I show you photos.”  One was a fabulous sable coat, floor length, that the man had been seen wearing when he got into the luxury town cars he favored.  The other was more unique, more precious.  That’s the one the Rex chose, paying cash from the safe hidden behind a painting in the bedroom, a small quiet street scene, quite unremarkable.  

“Come for it in five minutes,” the man hissed over his shoulder as he plunged towards the elevator.

Having no desire to create more drama than necessary, the hotelier waited for the full five minutes, then went down the plush hall carpeting, past the many mirrors, to the room and inserted his universal card key into the door lock.  His heart beating so fast that he could hardly focus, he opened the door slowly.

The very young boy was sitting on the bed in jeans, t-shirt, tennis shoes -- his hands resting beside him.  He looked up with wide dark troubled eyes through a forelock of straight hair.  No expression showed on his face, but the man did not need to be told what was going on in his head -- he had been there.  It had once been his life.

In a hotel, the things you need are brought to you.  Both of these males had been delivered new life, an unfolding future of joy and exploration.  Not sex: love.  Family.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013


My librarian friend, Dave Lull, just sent me a link to this video:   Sherman gives good talking head since his first career was as a stand-up comedian.  His skyrocket career as a Native American writer has begun to dive now that he’s older and AIM has been replaced by other issues.  In fact, publishing itself is nearly destroyed.  Cries of racism -- which have always worked both ways -- will no longer sell books.  The only two categories that seem to sell now are bodice rippers and Young Adult books, both of which take on the most extreme kinds of sexual practices and desires.  Sherman went in at the shallow end with adolescent masturbation.  In Seattle where Sherman has lived for his whole adult life, this is hardly shocking, but in small town conservative America or on reservations where missionary influence still lingers, it might sell a couple of books.

Though he’s married and has children, Sherman has been suspected of gay tendencies, partly because of his lisp and soft voice, partly because of his short story, “The Toughest Indian in the World,” which I take to be about the archetypal romantic image of Indians in literature which refuses to die and gets into bed with journalists, no matter how raw and realistic the books about and by Native Americans might be.  (I think it’s a terrific story and not necessarily gay at all.)  But times have changed since Sherman began to write.  We’re far, far beyond masturbation, even as a subject for YA novels which now include such real-life problems as transsexual persons, suicide, living in the midst of Middle Eastern War, drug addiction, HIV-AIDS and just about anything else you can imagine.  Racism is dominated by black issues with an entering edge about Asian people forced into templates of success.  In short, Sherman is old-fashioned.  And the Indians are all vampires.

In fact, the whole issue of Banned Books is sort of moot in a time when legitimately published books are bootlegged on the Internet almost before they get to the book stores.  If trends continue there won’t be any bookstores to picket.  Freedom to read is an important issue and the court cases based on repression were vital to democracy -- as well as being terrific promotional devices.  But now anything that can be put into print can be accessed on the Internet, and possibly far more graphically with more dramatic consequences and retaliation.  Banning a book was part of the old system of “owning” copyright and determining who could buy a book in the first place.

There are two sources of censorship that are never mentioned in all the freedom of speech stories.  One is the focus on the writers of the books, claiming they must necessarily be Native American if they are going to write about Native American issues.  This is called “platforming” and Sherman depends upon it.  It’s as close to copyright as we have now.  In fact, he puts a lot of energy into pushing other authors off that platform on grounds that they aren’t NA enough.  The idea is that white people come along and make a lot of money writing about NA’s -- which is true.  They tend to be either historic anthropologists or modern cruisers who look for what is exotic, surprising, romantic, and so on.  Johnny Depp with a stuffed crow on his head -- but, well, that’s a movie anyway.

The REAL censorship is economic:  publishers will not publish books that don’t sell.  They don’t believe that NA books sell, or at least they don’t know how.  (HOW!)  As Vine Deloria Sr. noted, they have never tried to sell books on reservations.  The dynamics of selling are NOT dependent on the reality of people who buy books, but rather on who the publisher thinks will buy books:  shallow, cynical, shady books for people who want the inside story, the low-down, the theoretically inaccessible now revealed.  Snake oil.  And those readers have slipped off to the ebook devices now.  More secretive, more hip.

There’s a second censorship that’s stronger than anything publishers can do:  it is a self-censorship rooted in readers instead of writers.  Not based on what is trendy or famous or expensively promoted, but rather a matter of the truth of the heart.  The question for Native Americans is not why there aren’t more writers, but why there aren’t more readers?  Why don’t they buy books?  The rez library is a quiet place, there are no bookstores and the stores that do stock books sell to tourists:  19th century anthropology and picture books for kids.  In university towns of the West you might find some readers of NA novels and poetry, but most likely they are NA professors -- teaching white kids.  Platforming.

In 2006 Sherman vehemently attacked Tim Barrus, not only claiming he was not entitled to write about Indians because he was not Indian, but also claiming that Tim’s story of the terribly disabled boy he adopted was ripped off from Sherman’s own son who inherited Sherman’s hydrocephalic struggle, a story Sherman protected though he destroyed any such protection for Tim and his family.  (They WERE hurt.)  His standards are double.  He was passed over for a prize which went to Tim.  Called “Beyond Margins,” the prize was NOT specifically for Native Americans, though I think he believed it was.

Tim went to Paris where he continued his lifelong work -- far more vital than writing books -- with boys in trouble, boys no one else wants or will help because they are outside the mainstream, stigmatized, traumatized, hard to manage.  Since 2007 I’ve been a friend of this career, both Tim and boys.  Working with them always makes me think of wildlife rescue: they come off the streets malnourished, badly hurt, infected, suicidal, gay or possibly transsexual, doing sexwork in order to eat, doing drugs in order to tolerate the sexwork and hunger.  At Tim’s safe house through their adolescence they get clean clothes, a safe place to sleep, enough food, and access to electronic gizmos which they seem to know how to use almost instinctively.  They don’t necessarily learn to read but they speak three and four languages, including computer programming.  Six years is long enough to have seen them reach adulthood.  By then, confident, handsome, intelligent, they are ready for the world.  That’s the hardest part for me: the release.  I get attached to individuals, same as I did when I taught high school on the Blackfeet reservation.

I’m even kind of attached to Sherman, because I do read him, though not as much as I used to.  Sherman is a good writer, but not like Tim, whose fancy-dancing poetry is far beyond what Sherman does for YA readers.  There’s a big difference between writing to make money and writing that is emergent from a lifeway intimately connected to the redemption of others.  That last is what NA writing used to be -- still is for some writers like, say, Adrian Louis or Wendy Rose or Rolland Nadjiwan.

If Sherman tires of explaining masturbation, I would recommend he take on the issue of teaching reading on reservations.  Why is it that those tribal kids are not readers?  But then, in Seattle, where he is, the schools are different.  Maybe he plans to rip up Judy Blume for writing “Tiger Eyes.”  Or will he take on the “Twilight” series?

If you’re braver than Sherman and not hung up on mainstream values, you could go to to see the SmashStreet boys’ work.  If you have an electronic tablet, you won’t have to explain the cover of a book.  So adults won't be shocked.  You can't shock a rez kid.

Monday, May 27, 2013

August 19, 2012


“Yellow Coat”  5-26-06
BOTH SIDES NOW:  “The Piano and the Drum”  1 -18-07
      “The Boy on the Horse” (BOTH SIDES NOW)  9-24-11
      “First Encounter”  (BOTH SIDES NOW)  5-31-08
“Rara Avis”  3-5-09
“What the Dump Ground Lady Knows”  2-19-09
“The 20 Mile Clinic”  7-3-09
“The Yucca Sentinel”  5-29-09
“Aunt Tildy”  5-7-09
“French Milled Soap”  10-20-09
“Willow Creek” on 7-19-09 and “How I Wrote the Story” on 7-20-09
“The Winter That Killed Horses”  1-6-10
“La Femme Rouge”  5-10-11
“The Solitary Man”  10-12-11 and “The Railroad Watch”  10-25-11
“Seventh Cav: a Real Story  8-23-11
“Sheila Moira May O’Hara”  8-5-11
“The Pearl-Handled Pistol”  12-20-11
“The Joy Boy”  11-21-11
“A Country Story”  2-12-12
“The Sweetgrass Hills”  7-15-12  (From “Twelve Blackfeet Stories)
“Fan Fiction for Anthony Chisholm”  8-19-12


“Embrace Love”  9-15-09
“For Qi Lin”  6-8-09
“Eatin’ Shit”  1-28-10
“But Could He Play Vivaldi?”  6-30-12
“Mordecai”  2-2-13
“Threesome”  3-15-13


“Animals in the Coffee Shop”  12-22-09
NPR Short Story Contest  2-23-10
“Mary’s Brother James”  9-19-10
“3 Grannies and 3 Boys”  5-13-11
“A City Story”  2-13-12
“Tang and Clotilde”  2-14-12
“Visitors”  2-17-12
“Feral Horses”  2-23-12
“The Reader”  6-26-12


“Amber Eyes”  8-13,14,15, 16, 17 of 12
“Backdoor Johnnie’s DNA Biz”  1-21-13
“Chicken Hawk Virus”  5-16-13



My education has been lamentably Euro-centric when it comes to warfare, so I’ve known more about Machiavelli than Sun Tzu, who is quoted by one of my more adversarial friends.  Inadvertently -- unless my subconscious is even more powerful than I think, which is not a good prospect -- I watched “War Horse” on the same night as  “Day of the Falcon.”  

I disliked “War Horse,” though I love the documentary about the stage version with puppet horses.  I haven’t read the original book, which was meant for children, a sort of story-line to explain the participation of horses in WWI through the point of view of one horse, something like “Black Beauty.”  But when it came to the movie, I agreed with Simon Winder who lamented that the film, "despite twisting and turning to be even-handed, simply could not help itself and, like some faux-reformed alcoholic, gorged itself on an entire miniature liqueur selection of Anglo-German clich├ęs".    I’m even more cynical.  Spielberg often seems to me only a big LA suburban fourteen-year-old over-impressed by Truffault.  But the play onstage was different:   Later I intend to write about the lure of puppets and what they allow that a conventional movie, even with CGI, simply cannot.

“Day of the Falcon” is more informed by the thought of Sun Tzu than of Machiavelli.  There is no question that Machiavelli actually wrote “The Prince,” but Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” is much, much older and more controversial.  Chinese history is divided into periods: “The Spring and Autumn Period” from approximately 771 until 476 BC, followed by “The Warring Period” which concluded with the victory of the state of Qin in 221 BC.   Scholars differ over whether Sun Tzu’s work was revised by later writers, much like the composition of the Bible.  

The internal evidence indicating late tinkering (list from Wikipedia) includes:  the mobilization of one thousand chariots and 100,000 soldiers for a single battle;  protracted sieges (cities were small, weakly fortified, economically and strategically unimportant centers in the Spring and Autumn period); the existence of military officers as a distinct subclass of nobility:  deference of rulers' right to command armies to these officers;  the advanced and detailed use of spies and unorthodox tactics (never emphasized at all in the Spring and Autumn period);  the extensive emphasis on infantry speed and mobility, rather than chariot warfare.  An additional factor is that Confucianism was much more powerful in the second period and Confucianism frowned on deception and lies, something like New Testament Christianity but not the Old Testament which finds deception clever.

“Day of the Falcon” is based on a 1957 book called “South of the Heart: A Novel of Modern Arabia” (Coward-McCann, 1957) by Hans Ruesch.  Its relevance is rooted in a modern contrast something like the two Chinese periods except that it is the traditional bedouin culture that is like Confucianism, honorable and content with tradition, while it is the competitive (and greedy) leader who consorts with the modern world’s geologists and developers.  The two leaders have guaranteed an agreement to keep the “Yellow Strip” a place of mutual non-aggression and sharing, guaranteed by leaving the two sons of the traditionalist with the more ambitious man.

One son is the most romantic of Arabs, hunting from horseback with a falcon on his fist.  He is killed.  The other son is bookish so when the Westerners come to punch oil wells into the Yellow Strip, he understands the implications, is distressed, but is held hostage still by his love for the daughter of his host.  The rest of the movie is about the forces playing out, with tragic consequences before a final reconciliation is reached.   The hero is the bookish son, not a falconer but a wearer of specs.  He’s the one who understands Sun Tzu.

Sun Tzu says:   “So it is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you can win a hundred battles without a single loss.  If you only know yourself, but not your opponent, you may win or may lose.  If you know neither yourself nor your enemy, you will always endanger yourself.”

“All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when we are able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must appear inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.”

When the two realms, one traditionalist and one anxious to catch up with the Western world, finally come to war -- horses and camels against tanks and machine guns -- Auda, son of the bedouin Emir, outwits the Sultan by many clever strategies.  In the end the Emir (played by a hawkish English actor, Mark Strong) is killed, but the Sultan (cleverly played by Antonio Banderas) is not punished by death but rather by condemning him to Denver to sit on the board of the oil company, defending the interests of the Tribes.

This film was made in Qatar and is transparently propaganda.  It interested me in part because my old traditional Edwardian School of Speech, now converted to Communication Arts, is much involved in high tech production classes in Qatar.  It’s hard not to have mixed feelings about it.  On the one hand, it means more knowledge of each other -- on the other hand, propaganda is so easily deceptive, so focused on strategy.

By chance -- or maybe because of Netflix’ algorithm -- last night I watched two more movies about war on long historic terms.  One was “Arn” about the founding of the country we call Sweden by a virtuous knight depicted by Joakim Natterqvist and the other was “The Last Emperor,” a history of how China has developed, seen by Bertolucci through the eyes of the hapless Emperor, played by John Lone.  Much tricky stuff, but in the end Arn knows both his adversary and himself -- he even knows and likes Saladin! -- but the poor Emperor knows neither and how could he, since he has been confined to the Forbidden City from toddlerhood?  Both movies were beautiful, but Bertolucci has a gift for creating the most ravishing scenes.  Joan Chen, as the emperor’s wife, eats a whole branch of white orchids in a despairing imitation of opium smoking.  Earlier, the same wife plus “second consort” under a yellow satin brocade sheet with the emperor in an erotic threesome, slide their arms around each other in an undulating dance until the light of dancing flames suffuses the room, calling them out to disaster.  This is a far cry from Arn and his slashing sword, his horseback pursuits.

I’ve just learned a new word from the “feminist” editor on Good Men Project.  It’s kyriarchy, which is a “set of connecting social systems built on domination, oppression and submission.”   The word was invented by Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, a religious thinker.  “The point of using the term kyriarchy is that it looks at how the intersections of sexism, heterosexism, racism, etc. create and maintain hierarchal power structures.”  This term lets us include the female systems of religions, convents, eunuchs, old concubines, and other bureaucratic institutions that always underlie war.  At heart is always control and extension of the economy of the place whether we are talking about the Atomic Bomb or the Crusades.  

When the kyriarchy supplies both the martyrs and the money to erect monuments, we mark the calendar with Memorial Day so as to go lay flowers at their feet.  We should not let this distract us from the reality of war, which tries to conceal itself.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

"THE MAN WHO WOULD BE QUEEN" by J. Michael Bailey

As I accumulate and work through materials about Alvina Krause, the legendary acting professor at Northwestern University, I keep running into aspects of sexuality, first that AK was in a “Boston Marriage” with a woman and second the premise that homosexuality has covertly dominated the School of Speech, now re-named “Communication Arts” which includes everything from stage theatre to hearing problems.  The actual “communication” courses are heavy on social theory, including that of sexuality.  This is evidently what evolved out of my dear old “language and thought” programs, though discussion skills seem to have been quashed.  There’s a new exciting program in Qatar where it appears one can study modern media while wearing a burkha.

By these roundabout means, I discovered that J. Michael Bailey, a sex-role professor (Gender-Bending and Transsexualism) had an office in Swift Hall, which for a while I thought was the same as Annie May Swift Hall which is the theatre building or was when I was there.  AK’s office was upstairs.  I supposed that Bailey, who’s a bit notorious, had been given a hideaway there, but it turns out that was fantasy, alas.  There WERE a few queens in that building, some female and playing a role, some female and NOT playing a role; some male, one way or another.  AK was either an empress or a witch, depending on how your life turned out.

Bailey’s controversial, readable, and absorbing book is called “The Man Who Would Be Queen.”  I suspect he didn’t choose the title.  The text is about “feminine” little boys (pretty, slight, and fond of dressing like princesses) and whether they grow up to be gay (yes and no), but also about men who want to be women, maybe because they are gay or even if they are not.  This book is ten years old and things move rapidly in such a “hot” (sorry) field but the contents of this book remain useful and thoughtful -- a good place to start.

Bailey asserts that the evidence shows in every culture between one and three per cent of men are “gay.”  He identifies set-aside communities of she-males (men being women either by cross-dressing, role, or possibly surgery) in many cultures, even those that have none of the modern ability to actually change the gender of a person.  He distinguishes between men who desire men and want to become female in order to fulfill that desire, and men who desire men but fulfill that by being tough, honed, “leather” men.  He does not discuss “bears,” hairy working class or bearded intellectual guys with tummies.

Some time is spent trying to understand why same-sex desire would persist in the context of evolution since theoretically they don’t have children.  I think about evolution (even more than sex), so I have some ideas not represented in this book.  One idea is that gay guys contribute artistically and as uncles to the quality of life of the whole.  Bailey doesn’t consider them as extra warriors or as part of the support system of warriors in a context without women.  (Young men taken along for sex and as servants.)  There is an evolutionary justification of female menopause that holds up the value of grandmothers as contributing to the life of the tribe and therefore the survival of the children, as well as being carriers of culture which tends to help survival.  Maybe gay uncles are parallel.  In some tribes, uncles are more important than fathers in the lives of the children.

Genetic considerations seem so far inadequate to Bailey, but the book was written before the discovery of the epigenome, which does not remove genes nor mutate them, but can modify them, using a process called methylation that can persist over several generations.  This would help to explain identical twins in which one is gay and one is not -- in spite of identical genes.  One may have acquired a epigene that the other did not.  Bailey does recognize that biological processes after the ovum splits do not necessarily affect both fetuses.  Also a force like extra testosterone or adrenaline in the mother’s blood will have a different effect if it’s early in the pregnancy than it does later.  He does not seem to be aware that whatever causes homosexuality on a biological level, it exists in most animals at rates not so different from humans, even though some of the animals are domestic and culled if non-breeding.

Evolution in birds is a vivid demonstration that mutations can persist even if mildly detrimental so long as they don’t actually get in the way of survival.  What Bailey has not looked at here are gender-related characteristics that tend to affect survival of babies in a NEGATIVE way.  He does talk about male violence entwined with sexual jealousy, which is expressed in lions by the male killing all cubs with different fathers.  We are accustomed to newspaper stories about jealous and violent men beating women to the point of causing miscarriage even of the man's own babies.  

I’ve been following the Good Man Project on Twitter where we are hearing about fathers who deliberately arouse their small sons with rough-housing at bedtime, follow it up in the night with actual forced intercourse, and then displace their guilt onto the child with horrendous beatings.  Such aggressive and potent men are likely to be successful and sexy enough to attract women, maybe women who want the man enough to neglect the ensuing children.  He might be a good battle leader, an alpha guy.  Marrying a gay man, who tends not to be jealous or violent and who seeks other men for extramarital sex rather than a girl-like boy, seems like a good option for survival of the child.   The consequences for boys in either situation are only beginning to be explored and expressed.

A nurturing man who loves babies and protects children in the way we think a mother ought to, would be the most likely of all to produce surviving children unless he is so distracted that he doesn’t earn a living.  I think of Walt Whitman. This nurturing quality is partly what I respond to in “bears,” alongside intelligence.  Think of Professor Bhaer in Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Men.”  I’ve heard the character mocked by people who think a woman who loves such a man is afraid of “real” men.  Indeed!  See the previous paragraph, which is the way many women picture ideal men.

Bailey spends little time on women so he’s not helpful in thinking about AK or myself.  I think we are not un-alike though not lesbian in the way most contemporaries seem to think of it -- that is, either bull-dykes or boy-sexy.  But for us I think the factors most important are impatience with nonsense and the demand to be self-determining.  I do have a taste for cross-dressing, which caused me to spend time musing in front of the display cases at a high-end men’s clothing store when I walked my dog past late at night: beautifully tailored tweed suits with suede detailing and antler buttons, cashmere scarves in muted colors, soft fedoras with wide brims.  But I would have to be slim and flat-chested to wear such clothes.  (Katharine Hepburn, Coco Chanel, neither lesbian.) If I’d really cared, I could have whittled and dieted myself to that shape, but I didn’t really care that much and didn’t believe that it would attract people I would desire.  Anyway I’m busy thinking.  Walk on.

So much of gender thinking is about confrontation, striving against each other.  And then these men on Twitter claim they yearn for intimacy, real sharing -- even fusion.  But that’s nurturing stuff and to many people nurturing equals neuter.  Still -- back in the old days of the School of Speech we were inclined to nurture each other, gay or not.  Some of us have successfully raised some exceptional kids.  My prime example that you might recognize is Paula Prentiss and Dick Benjamin, still madly in love after all these years, still a little wacky.  

Ross and Prentiss, the offspring.  Who needs royalty?

Saturday, May 25, 2013


When I began this blog, I didn’t know Tim Barrus.  We became acquainted via email in the spring of 2007.  Since that time I’ve often blogged about him and we wrote a book about Tim’s years in Paris with Cinematheque.  We wrote a book together, alternating chapters, called “Orpheus at the Windows of the Catacombs” which proved to be too painful for the boys who were in the story.  Too many deaths, including that of “Navajo,” Tim’s dog. We withdrew it.  No one wanted to publish it anyway.  They weren’t shocked, they just didn’t know how to market it.  Books are not about writing -- they are about sales.  So I only continue to blog, though I self-publish at

Tim and I are not communicating directly now, which means I’m making my own decisions about writing.  This is a list of all the posts about him on prairiemary, some of which were originally approved by Tim, including the ones that include his writing.  Since they don’t show up on Google or any other webcrawlers that I know about, I’m listing them here.  Maybe I’ll compile them into a .pdf at  I think the time for confidentiality in this instance is over.   I always wonder who it is who pays to keep that libelous outdated wikipedia entry about Tim at the top of Google.  Be sure to use the tabs at the top of the entry.  (Vizjim is a discredited and dismissed editor.)

Society is changing radically.  The HIV virus that hit the San Francisco community in the Eighties and killed a whole culture -- many of them Tim’s friends and lovers -- is no longer an outlier problem for stigmatized people.  It is a world-wide pandemic with huge political and economic consequences.  Interacting with hunger, sex trafficking of children (both genders), and exceeding the coping capacity of even zillionaire Bill Gates, HIV-AIDS is a part of our world even in remote places where “there are no gays.”  (Homosexuality is present in as many as ten percent of all mammals.  Anyway, HIV is not about sex.)  More intimate than flu, it is more deadly because it is so expensive to maintain health -- there’s no end to it.  There is no cure except bone marrow transplants, enormously expensive and dependent on a tiny cohort of HIV-resistant donors who must be genetically matched.  It’s just more research -- not a cure.

It’s not just the expense of HIV meds, but the necessary self-discipline of staying on a strict regime, reporting to distant and invasive  clinics regularly, surviving a list of unpleasant side-effects, and wondering what will happen if the increasingly tenuous privacy rules don’t work anymore.  Only a third of people are able to stay in treatment and compliant.  We are about to find out what will happen when funding for meds is ended.  HIV is a vulnerability disease: it paints a big target on your back for co-infections, trauma, systemic debility, and politics.  

Tim has handled his own HIV-AIDS at great cost in several dimensions.  He knows more about the meds than most docs.  Avascular necrosis -- bone death -- tortures him.  It is hurricane season:  wear a mask when sorting hurricane debris, for that is an excellent way to be invaded by fungal pneumonia.   It's what happened to Tim just as the notorious short story appeared in Esquire.   In a bad case the only way to keep breathing is through doses of prednisone, which caused Tim’s avascular necrosis.  There is no cure or even any amelioration for bone death except joint replacement which is extremely expensive and temporary (ten years or so).  I thought (and I think he believed) that Tim would have been killed by AIDS by now, but instead the extraordinary pain of AN puts him at risk for suicide.  What saves him is enormous courage and grit.  

The boys keep him alive.  He will not do anything that will put the boys at risk -- well, more at risk than they are already.  No one cares about sex stuff anymore, except to stop being a human vector for HIV.  Everything now is about staying alive.  The boys don’t always realize how powerful they are when it comes to Tim.

Art keeps them all alive.  Art pushes them up against the universe.  All arts.  Video art.  Photography.  THEIR worldview: dark, scrambled, disturbing, defiant and fecund.  You can buy it online.  You can see the videos at  At your own risk.

The dwindling number of my posts is not related to any lessening of caring about Tim and the boys.  Moving the program to the USA has meant much less safety and therefore less disclosure.  The American culture approves of violence in the suppression of the same sexuality that sells perfume and jeans.  There will undoubtedly be more posts unless Tim asks me not to.  But I think this story needs telling.

Dates and Titles for Posts mentioning Tim Barrus on

6-22-08      The Boy and his Dog Are Sleeping
8-16-08      Penny Dreadful Native American Literary Evaluations
8-20-08      What is Native American Literature?
9-1-08         Djordji’s War
10-3-08       Beloved Community or Saving Remnant
10-29-08     Forces at Play in Native Literature
10-30-08     Books as Wicked
11-6-08       Alexie, Barrus & Louis
11-7-08       Trust Wikipedia?  HAHAHAHAHA
11-15-08      Native American Literature Renaissance
11-16-08 Me ‘N Barrus
11-22-80 “Hearts of Men”
11-24-80 Writers: Beetles or Jaquars
11-25-08 Indian Trouble: a Double Chapter
11-26-08 In a Word: Revenge
11-27-08 Reservation Life
11-29-08 Native Literature Identity Politics
11-30-08 Kickstart: The Hostage
12-1-08       I Can’t Believe it
12-16-08 Kickstart Begins
12-21-08 Boyz in the Night
12-24-08 The Turning Moment
12-27-08 Some Dance to Remember
12-28-08 Old Lady in Montana
12-29-08 Shooting Down Lovers
12-31-08 Tristesse: Hope in the Dark

1-14-09      Time and Terrain
1-18-09       Let It Be a Dance We Do
1-26-09      Enabling Tim
1-30-09      My Brother, My Lover
4-6-09        Au Courant
5-12-09      So Tim Barrus is Nasdijj -- Get Over It
5-26-09      Crossing a Threshold
6-2-09        City Streets Can Be Catacombs
6-3-09        Scary Mary
6-4-09        Politics of Identity and Resentment
6-7-09        Keep Them Dogies Movin’
6-8-09        for Qi Lin
6-11-09      Let Me Ask You This
8-13-09      Capote and Us
8-14-09      Trickster Goes for the Joints
8-15-09      Trickster & Shaman
8-26-09      Coyote Was Going Along
9-8-09        Trickster Notes from Lewis Hyde
9-23-09      Bildungsroman?  Kleinsterroman?
10-2-09      Gad Vooks
10-3-09      NPR, Nasdijj, Jackie Leyden, and Zebo Boozer
11-21-09     Ben Yagoda & the Egg & I
12-26-09     De-Hoaxing Timothy R. Fox, Ph.D.

1-15-10      Tim Barrus: a Guest Post about Publishing
5-7-10       Tim Barrus
6-7-10        Robert Sapolsky Explains Tim and I
6-11-10      Boys with AIDS
6-17-10       Who Reads This Blog?
6-29-10       Am I Me or Am I You?
7-1-10         A Sample from “Orpheus Pressed Up Against the Windows of the Catacombs”
7-10-10       The Author’s Motivation
7-19-10        Paradigms and Human Systems: A Dialogue
7-26-10        First You Have to Think of It
8-10-10        Light in August
8-15-10        Reading Modern Poetry Explained
8-17-10        Immersion without Publishing
8-24-10       “On This Shore of Catapulting Time”
8-26-10        “Land Bare Under Burning Sands”
8-29-10        Tim Barrus FELL
9-12-10        For a Boy Called Flare Who is in Mortal Combat with HIV
9-14-10        Surviving the Holocene
9-17-10        Strange Collaborations
9-25-10        The Struggle to Understand
10-3-10         Indian Summer in Sandburg Country
10-10-10 What Books Are Now
10-18-10 Barrus & Scriver
10-19-10 Tim Barrus: Poet Maudit
10-22-10 The Two; Le-Too; Deutorology
11-1-10   “Then Let the Wind Die Down”
11-7-10         Tim Barrus Fights AIDS
11-27-10 The Shared Trajectory into an Explosion:  Barrus & Scriver
12-4-10         Shall We Call it Rapting?  (Not Rapping, Not Rafting)
12-5-10         Curating Tim Barrus
12-6-10         “My Brother, My Lover,” First Draft Novel
12-9-10        “Ulteriority” in “Anywhere, Anywhere”
12-30-10 Tim Barrus

1-19-11         No Choice But to Write
2-4-11 Chris, Queens, and Wikipedia -- Oh, and Barrus
2-13-11         Book as Dance
2-15-11         Catabatic Nights
3-1-11 Naked Young Men
3-21-11         Tim Barrus Creates “Tristan’s Moon”
8-22-11         End of Story

4-28-12        Video Art by Young Males
6-5-12          Cinematheque Goes for the Throat
6-29-12        Tim Barrus & Cinematheque

5-9-13 Art by Boys
5-19-13         The Way