Monday, December 31, 2018


Now that my treasured trope of "The Bone Chalice,"which is about ritual/worship/ceremony and the "otherly" feeling the events give us -- which I fancied was all in the head, the brain in flames metaphorically -- is discredited, the new year begins with a new metaphor: the Gate.  I might just throw that out as well.

Now the idea is that the whole body is the instrument of ritual, as is suggested by the body of thought in "embodied cognition", a whole "body of thought" (a confusing metaphorial second use of the same word) that takes into account things like muscle memory (remembering how to ride a bike) or gut feeling (clenches at a sign of danger) or mood shifts that affect performance.

I am also embracing the idea that the Enlightenment legacy of thought -- which has become entangled with the ideas of "braininess", STEM, English grammar (subjects and verbs), computers, robots and superior thought -- to the point where we've hit a wall and need access to different understandings of thought.  Different doesn't mean replacing, but rather is additive, a second system to use when appropriate.  It's only pleasing that embodied cognition was never stamped out, but how could it be?  It's what makes us human animals.

The human body is "animal" up to the evolution of the prefrontal cortex that contains rationality, ethics, reflection and so on.  This handful of cells behind the forehead do not replace whole-body thought.  We are still more than ninety per cent animals using whole-body thought  though we forget that the brain's work is only accepting the electromagnetic code of the rest of the body and translating it into what we see/hear/taste/etc. as sensations, then sending code back out to the rest of the body.  I'll say again, "a brain in a jug of alcohol is not a person and cannot be."  It receives no code and offers no code.

So far I've been happy to accept Lakoff's mantra about metaphor which describes thought.  It is an excellent way of thinking of the "connectome" which is the unthinkably complex and myriad ways of plugging together the neurons of the brain into one system.  It is organized by "loops" or systems that are parallel, each "loop" recurring back to itself in the standard biological way of proceeding by depletion and then replenishment.  We are busily naming those loops as we figured out what each will do.  This is neurology research.  The connectome can be illustrated with fMRI versions, quite beautiful.

In the meantime, since much of what bodies do is animal (even brains), we "feel" these loops as moods or "frames of reference."  Though Lakoff is clear about metaphors being organized in the context of major schematas or understanding of the world, his work doesn't interface with classical philosophy as well as the work of his partner, Mark Johnson, an academic philosopher.  Now I'm obliged to read and figure out (within my confining limits) "The Body in the Mind: The Bodily Basis of Meaning, Imagination, and Reason."  

This is going to take a while.  Johnson distinguishes several forms of what he calls "phenomenology" which was taken by some U of C Div School people to be secularizing, taking the magic and mysticism out of religion.  Johnson calls his own version "objectivism" which I expect refers to being objective about the work.  There's always a bit of cramping over language because of new discoveries that borrow old words or that really have no developed vocabulary yet.  And because of arbitrary lines in the sand drawn to preserve clarity and prevent meddling from hostiles.

For instance, I need a good metaphor for the felt shift of a connectome, one kind of thinking to another, that is characteristic of ritual, which may or may not be religious.  The whole idea of secularity, separating from religion, is arbitrary, and though it freed up science from ecclesiastical oppression, it was part of the shift to always being rational, logical, attached to the Western world's understanding of what is real.  It shut out and stigmatized whole realms that were literary, shoving them into dreams as well as fiction, which is also an arbitrary separation.  The separation also helped to define people who were NOT rational/logical/
Western as "unreal," and therefore not true, discrediting their lives and understanding. The idea became a gender separation.

Johnson is impinging on politics and I don't want to do that.  I'm interested in the private, individual, "felt" context, which a writer today identified as working against political institutions that can power changes for everyone.  This is too powerful to ignore, and sometimes the ideas of ritual and powerful thought really can be claimed by a group -- perhaps sitting in a theatre where they take the performance to be a kind of reality that they feel vaguely in their bodies as though it were happening to them, or perhaps as a surge of emotion as a political rally or a sports event.  A little scary, which is another reason I avoid it.  But maybe I can't.

The door to liminality may be carefully built and deliberately entered or it may spring open unexpectedly so one staggers into the space awkwardly unprepared.  It may simply be a trapdoor and not a pleasant one.

This thought is not deliberately for institutional religion, though it can be used that way.  This is a principle so basic that it precedes dogma, organization, and proselytizing, which are characteristic of institutional (instituted) religion.  It has absolutely nothing to do with either theism or atheism.  It is meant to be active rather than simply labeled -- it is something that is "done."

It is meant to be about experienced phenomena, something felt.  If humans, who may have different schemata because of their life experiences, have internalized different versions of the world which they feel is "real," then they will be different people and organize in different ways.  These ways might be governed by child-raising, the schemata for family and economics which necessarily depend on the ecology.  "Truth" implies that everyone should join a specific point of view and prevent change.

Preventing change is the most inhuman thing we can do.  Humans have persisted only because of changing and being open to the world in a way that lets them do that.  When climate and "nations" have remained stable enough, cultures have become vivid and powerful with many interacting institutions, including the religious.  When the world shifts, it is the various who save us, because surely someone's schemata will fit well enough to support survival.  That's about where we are now.

Sunday, December 30, 2018


In 1961 I began teaching on the Blackfeet reservation -- high school English.  I was still hoping to write and had signed up for the Famous Writers Course which returned my efforts with such mockery and cruelty that I soon dropped out, which is what they counted on.  Eventually they were sued for it.  This treatment made me vow to be kinder to my own students.  I kept hoping that some of them would be writers.

Some of them were, the ones who read books.  Dramatic, multi-syllabic, somewhere between rapping and raving, they were just barely touching the edges of political criticism.  They were often from the same cluster of families who had produced thoughtful young men for the half-century after the collapse of traditional Blackfeet life at the end of the 19th century.  Peace chiefs rather than warriors.  Which, of course, meant that like Heavyrunner they got massacred, but their children were adopted and raised by the scouts, who married women who could read.

Some students were tall and grave, a few were Napis, full of mischief, but they weren’t very productive.  They didn’t show their writing -- you had to wheedle it out of them -- but then there would be pages of careful handwriting with multisyllabic words that didn’t quite mean what the dictionary defined, but somehow -- poetically -- almost did.  It was like reading English as a second language, and I guess it was.

I stopped teaching, came back, stopped, came back.  Every time I came back I asked about these writing boys.  Sometimes I was told they were in cities. Then by the early Nineties I began to be told, in a small voice, turning away, “Oh, he’s dead.”  How did he die?  Vague answer.  Until someone who trusted me said, AIDS.  If they’d been on the rez, they’d probably have died in a car crash.  Or alcohol.

I never saw drug tracks on arms. I often smelled marijuana, esp. on those who were around colleges, esp. the humanities people who were likely to be progressive and have a special fondness for Indians, or who they thought were what Indians were like.  These mentors also had the idea that they might inspire writers -- or write about Indians.  Their moral principles were very strict except about drugs.

Later I was circuit-riding clergy.  I often went home late at night even when home was a hundred miles away.  Late at night with my Walkman blasting (if the heater was working well enough for the batteries to produce enough juice to play the cassettes) I was often enough passed by other vans, black with mirrored windows.  This was the Eighties.  Some of them had 38 plates, meaning they were from the rez.  When I asked friends, they looked at each other and laughed.  Some of them were at last prosperous.  I thought it was Indian preference hiring.

When I was in Saskatoon in the mid-eighties, I was on the board of the Friendship Centre which tried to help Indians.  I talked to the police.  They said there was a new mystery drug that was showing up at parties and that there were many deaths from people beating each other violently with no motives and not even weapons, though the service station I used was giving out as a premium slender screwdrivers long enough to reach a heart in a chest.  The police said they were really frustrated because no one was clear-headed enough to even tell what had happened.  The carnage was too random to interpret.  It must have been meth.

The last time I taught, at the beginning of the Nineties, some of the people in remote places had acquired the huge satellite dishes that would pick up porn stations.  The junior high boys knew how to operate them if no one were home, but no one cared much anyway except the women who didn’t like their soap operas messed with.  

One boy was emotional, resistant, and always sliding around on the floor behind the furniture, taking care to keep his butt against the wall.  He would tell me nothing.  I turned him in as a victim of sexual abuse.  He had a lot of therapy and I was not rehired.  

Rez health statistics are kept separate from Montana stats.  The Indian Health Service is federal.  State laws don’t necessarily apply to people on reservations.  Until this year, whites couldn’t even be arrested and charged, even if they had just beaten a woman near to death. We are just now realizing how many women "disappear".

Maybe you’ve joked about “butt cracks” that are exposed by mechanics bending over car engines or plumbers kneeling under sinks.  I got to wondering whether there were a Latin medical term and looked it up.  The formal term is “Intergluteal cleft.”  Reservations have “intergluteal clefts” everywhere there are fundamental divisions.  I looked up “fundament.”

1. The natural features of a land surface unaltered by humans. 
2. A foundation, as of a building. 
3. An underlying theoretical basis or principle  
4.  (humorous)  a person's buttocks.

You can learn so much from a dictionary, even if you don’t get the definition quite right.  Like, “crack” is more than anatomy.  See above:  land, foundation, principle.  But where are my tall, serious, boys who wrote poetry?  Of course, they weren’t “mine” anyway.

There are two Blackfeet words I used to know: one was the word for the butt and the other was the word for death.  Those boys would be men about seventy years old by now.  They were only a little younger than me.  The more I think about it, the more I remember.  “Oosie” is what you sit on.  I think the word for death might be “inim” but the word is inflected to respond to circumstances.  It’s easier to use sign language: hold your right elbow in your left hand with your right forearm and hand standing up straight like a person.  Then let the “person” fall to the left.

So many have fallen down.  What's the Blackfeet word for Birth?

Saturday, December 29, 2018


The time between Christmas and New Year's Day is not quite "liminal" but it is not quite like "ordinary" time.  For instance, Adele and Daisy, best friends, have a little free time because their therapy clients are generally preoccupied, though they will soon return with renewed dilemmas.  One always hopes they don't kill themselves.

The ladies met at Starbucks, the one that's railed off in a bookstore, enjoying coffee as though they were in a bar swigging alcohol.  Just over the rail was a rack of magazines, undoubtedly aimed six weeks down the road for Valentine's Day.  The covers asked, "Is Love Obsolete?" and "It's All Just Chemical."Should You Monkey Around?" and "Curse You, Doctor Harlow!"  That was the scientist who proved that baby monkeys craved cuddling more than mother's milk.

Daisy, looking at them, said, "Do you think the public understands what it really all about?"  

Adele shrugged.  "Does anyone? Do we with all our training and fancy theories?"

Laughing because Adele rarely admitted limits, Daisy rose to go back to the counter. "I'm going to get a refill -- plain Americano this time.  If anyone thinks there IS such a thing as a plain American."  The barrista was not a kid with tattoos and metal bits, but rather an older woman.  "Did you have a good Christmas?" Daisy asked.  She wasn't being polite -- she was really curious.

The barrista came out of her mist and looked at Daisy closely.  "Pretty good. I didn't get the kids everything they wanted, but they want too much. This year they didn't complain.  They're picking up on the starvation and invasions. The media pushes all that pretty hard." She set out the mug of fresh coffee.  "Would you like something to eat?"

"No, not right now."  Daisy was a bit jolted by the idea of a spoiled Christmas, but it was good to think of alert and sympathetic kids.  Maybe with tablets?

Adele had been watching newcomers, a young caregiver, maybe Mexican, pushing along a wheelchair for a quadriplegic black man, maybe a veteran. He was missing a foot.  Softly she said to Daisy, "This is like flashing back to Vietnam!"  At the counter the woman loudly asked for a tall skinny grande with chocolate.  "My husband will have a caramel machiatto.  Sorry if I'm shouting.  He's deaf so I talk too loud." It was not a Mexican accent.

The two friends laughed at their assumptions.  "So, Daisy, what are your therapy groups saying?  Have any overcome being depressed and deprived?"

"They fall into categories.  The D and D ones think that Christmas is about money and things.  If they don't have all the stuff, they're upset, even though after Christmas they complain about taking down the decorations and cleaning up.  It's not just the poor ones -- the ones who have enough money are worse."

She took a napkin from the little pile she had brought to the table and wiped up the wet rings.  "I have a lot of academics and wanna-be sophisticates who deny Christmas and every other religious event. They think being smart is the same thing as being dour and dark.  What about you?"

"I'm thinking about giving up one-on-ones.  The amount of game-playing possible at Christmas is incredible.  So much opportunity.  So much self-destruction."  She shifted in her chair and pulled at the scarf around her neck.  "Maybe research.  Maybe I'll just take a few months off and write a book."

"Do you know how to do that?  Books are a lot of work and you need contacts."

"No."  They stopped talking and watched the young wife help her husband with his drink, carefully letting him sip a bit at a time, clearly practised at this.

"What is love?" suddenly asked Denise. "We say sex, we say bonding, we say attachment, we say habituation, we say economic security, we say endorphins or even that mothering hormone, you know. . . "

"Oxytocin," offered Daisy.  "How about a craving for excitement and adventure?  I love my husband dearly -- we can barely find the differences between the two of us -- but sometimes it's nice to be surprised."

"What would surprise you?  Something good."

"Hmmm.  Well, how do I know?  It wouldn't be a surprise if I could expect it!"  She laughed.  "I think I'll get a cookie.  Something for you?"

"Yes, please.  Surprise me!" More laughter.

The "Mexican" woman wiped her husband's chin, gently.  Maybe she wasn't Mexican at all.  Maybe she was from a Middle Eastern country.

Daisy was back and put a plate down for Adele. It was a small pastry, twisted and with a dollop of something and a dusting of something else.  "What is it?"

"I dunno.  I can't pronounce the name and I can't spell it either, but it looked good, so I just pointed.  My cookie has macadamia nuts.  We're very sophisticated."  They nibbled and swigged contentedly.  Then Daisy asked, "Why did you never marry?  Were you ever tempted?"

"Actually, it was about this time of year and I always think of it, especially in the years when there's snow on the ground.  I had some writing to do and went to a ski lodge to work on it, figuring everyone would be being athletic and busy so no one would interfere with me.  I'd been to a conference there earlier."

"He was sitting in front of the big picture window that looked out on the mountain, so beautiful and so dangerous.  His leg was in a cast, the old-fashioned white plaster kind because this was a long time ago -- but there was no writing on it, which suggested he was alone.  I vaguely remembered him from the conference and knew he was also a therapist.  Well, more credentialed than that.  He was either a pediatric psychiatrist or a psychiatric pediatrician -- an MD anyway."

Daisy was VERY interested.  More than she should be.  This was something her friend had kept secret.  "He worked with little kids?"

"Well, he worked in a prison."  Daisy's mug went down with a surprised plunk.  "Not little kids but adolescents -- fourteen to eighteen.  Seriously twisted kids who had been very badly abused since early in their lives.  Hard cases and then, mixed in, b some victims of circumstance who shouldn't be there at all."

Silence.  Then, "He really needed that mountain."

"I've never known anyone who was more empathic than this man.  He could see into people.  It was far more than sympathy.  We stayed together a few days and then kept in touch with email.  I gradually came to understand that empathy -- really sharing minds -- was his defense in life.  I only had glimpses of his childhood but it had been pretty terrible. He'd had one excellent grown-up friend who always asked, "What did your attacker think he was doing?"  Gradually, he began to understand most people.  But he said some of them were not really human.  To try to share their minds was to go into darkness."

"What happened to him? Did you lose touch?"

"One of the boys full of darkness stabbed him with the sharpened handle of a toothbrush.  He died. In that place they now saw off the handles of the toothbrushes."

More silence.

Before they left the coffee shop, they stood and held each other a while.  The married couple watched and understood. 

Friday, December 28, 2018


"That cauldron of lust and muck."  I ran across this phrase the other day.  I'm not sure whether it was about sex or politics or both.  As I sort my old papers, I keep an eye out for a short article I saved describing metaphors for sex from different sources.  One version was about sex being a monster something like a squid that lives under beds, binds innocent girls and injects them with something that makes them writhe and moan.  One was a mother's idea of sex, the bride reclining on an altar attended by singing angels carrying candelabras and cherubs (grandchildren) full of delight.  Then there was "ka-ching!"  The more emotional the event, the more vivid and numerous the metaphors.  People feel very metaphorical about bodies.

This work I'm doing is meant to provide material for the design of a wedding ritual or weekly worship or funeral liturgy -- whatever you are faced with creating.  If one's office in society is simply to pursue a prescribed script, then that's fine but might need a little interpretation for some.  Working out a sequence of happenings as an individual or as a group can easily turn in a child's birthday party of familiar leggos, quickly assembled and unremarkable.  Or it can be so baffling and irrelevant that everyone present ends up repelled.  It can make assumptions about what to do not just ineffective, but offensive.  Like an initiation orgy at a fraternity.

Two sources of order are helpful.  The first is Victor Turner's sequence of LIMINAL time and space: entry, transformation, exit.  Briefly, his idea was that even in a secular setting there is some sign of the "doorway" (the limen is the threshold of a door).  The house lights go down, the orchestra plays the prelude, and finally the curtain sweeps open to the main event.  We are alerted that the following time will be special and carry meaning.  Turner claimed that during this "liminal" time, people will be equals and it will be possible to open one's mind to something new, possibly transformative.  When the time ends, people will need some sort of transition back to the real world -- maybe just rolling the credits of a movie, maybe bows from the cast and the presenting of bouquets.

The other structuring force, besides the one demonstrated above, is that any presentation, including a sermon, is an INTERACTION between the producer and the acceptor.  What the presenter offers, whether a concerto, a play, or a dance, must be to the audience something they can accept and kindle into meaning for themselves.  Consider how you react to these YouTubes.  This group is called "The Bad Boys" and they certainly look a little delinquent.  Their movements are typical of "I don't care," but because they do them in synchrony with music, they become dance.  We don't know what to expect, but most of us will be entranced and watching.  More than that, in our muscles as we watch is the faint echo of making those moves and even feeling the emotion of defiant carelessness that they come from.  This vid is younger boys and is labeled hip-hop.  It has a cheering audience.  It is not so potentially threatening -- more like cute.

But some audiences, perhaps used to ballet, will not like this stuff.  (I suspect most ballet dancers will be intrigued and try out the moves.)  Part of the effect of something once unimaginable is specifically that it is boys instead of girls, in street clothes, using moves from ordinary living instead of five numbered French court-dictated foot positions.

Leonard Nimoy, being an alien, was not afraid to be even more daring by photographing women who were fat, VERY fat, and totally naked -- dancing.  He had the support of his wife who had a different point of view than his and luckily he listened.  Some people will be freaked out and some will be kindled into thought about the way we understand bodies.. There were two two-party conversations: the one with the models, who were from a burlesque group called "The Fat Bottom Revue", and the one with the audience for the photos -- and then a third, which was between Nimoy and his audience when he spoke.  Some audiences would rise and leave.  Others would find their lives changed. Which of us is seen as an alien?

Context is of primary importance when dealing with metaphors.  When I first moved here, a local boy was fighting to stay alive as long as possible though suffering from muscular dystrophy.  He could not move; he could not get fat.  He died.  The way I was taught to "do" a memorial or funeral was to gather the family, friends, and even pets together for a few hours of "testifying," bringing up memories.  

The role of the celebrant is to mull this material until a metaphor emerges that epitomizes the person. "Testifying."  Then the celebrant takes the gathering through an introduction, a justification and summing up, finally a return to the world.  In this case the boy's sister had composed a prelude by editing together the boy's favourite songs.  

The town had kept an eye out in case of need for many years.  They would have liked to hear about earlier days when the boy went along the dusty streets in his electric wheelchair, his dog trotting alongside.  But the minister just used denominational boiler plate.  She never even visited the home. The failure was so much less than the boy deserved.  Somehow this woman, new to ministry, was not properly prepared for her work.  Her seminary evidently thought only of the dogma. Her denomination, not many years ago. added flames to their stark cross.  Metaphorical, but not fulfilled.

These two ordering strategies do not depend on history or dogmatic liturgy. They are from human experience, whole body cognizance from flesh but not a cauldron of lust and muck.

Thursday, December 27, 2018


The pretence has been that the only way to "do" religion, particularly institutional religion, has been to rival science by being rational and precedent-based.  One pretends that arriving at "faith" this way is equivalent to the secular scientific truth achieved by experiment and evidence.  Philosophy (which pretends not to be religion) is treated as logic and insight, the same as religion.  This is an Enlightenment-related idea that has made argumentative atheism possible.  All the snarky little bits about whether religion can be infallible or what is the true nature of "God" are irrelevant.

But most people can't think of an alternative and can't critique the alternative they choose.  There are three ways to go wrong that are off the top of my head -- that is, unexplored.

1.  The first is that since Rousseau has equated the original innocence of Adam and Eve with all living-frames that are not influenced by Western thought (like primitive tribes), all people who refuse to grow up (whatever that is -- full conformity, maybe), and a lot of "uneducated" people  -- given those things, it is possible for people to go to their basic innocent child-like selves and this is a good thing.  The innocent uncontaminated noble indigenous person is naturally good.

2.  The second is that since all this science and civilization stuff is secular but governed by science (which is an assumed, made-up idea). then religion must be supernatural, of another world.  A person can feel that magic while here and will ascend to a better place when dead.  Maybe you're cold, hungry and burned at the stake on this planet, but in some other place you either will be fed or not need food and all will be repaid.

3.  The third is lifting up human emotions like love and compassion into a reified concept that can change the world through good will or attachment, no matter how impractical or ungoverned it is.

My idea of "felt meaning" comes perilously close to that, so it's necessary to learn how the thought of the body is guided by the rational "fact" based approach.  Neither approach is faultless when alone but when properly applied WITH each other can be powerful and change-making.

For instance, psychologists have been very busy and ingenious in devising experiments about the gaps and fallacies in our understanding of our own minds, how they work and when they lead us astray.  They investigate everything from the fantasy limbs that plague us with pain after amputation by convincing the brain for an interval that the limb is back, using mirrors, to common illusions and logic jumps too trivial for usual attention.

More than that, our technology lets us look into the molecules of our flesh and cells where we have been startled again and again.  For instance, the huge surprise of the existence of individual perceiving cells in contrast to organs of perception like ears, noses and tongues.  Most people still think there are only five obvious senses and possible a magic sixth one.  The idea of as many as one hundred specialized cells, distributed through brain tissues rather than operating through a hole in the head with an "extension cord" to the organizing centers of decision, action and memory.  We still don't know how they work.

Challenging new ideas about how cells of perception work, whether they are perceiving an abyss or an ice cream cone.

"Perception as direct perception. Cognitive theories of perception assume there is a poverty of stimulus. This (with reference to perception) is the claim that sensations are, by themselves, unable to provide a unique description of the world. Sensations require 'enriching', which is the role of the mental model."

"Perception is the process which people are aware of objects and events in the external world. Perception occurs in five stages: stimulation, organization, interpretation-evaluation, memory and recall."

Because perception is the basis of thought and thought is physical reaction in the five different stages in the quote above, what one thinks actually changes the brain, becomes memorialized and conserved.  This gives us a great reluctance to change and an easy reversion to previous conviction.

When the research on split brains was conducted by masking off one side from the other and presenting something, it was apparent that one side was seeing and describing conventionally but the other was having to invent some reason for what they said they saw, a story that accounted for their idea that was not real.  Clearly, this is the way some religions are, a story to account for something unaccountable.  The rationalization was quite real, but its content was not.

"Felt meaning" is another category but so far needs more study to account for it.  Part of it is that we have physical reactions -- burning stomach, headache, muscle spasms -- that are quite real but reacting to something unidentified like hating school or fearing the city.  Another related phenomenon is memory vignettes that are inaccessible to our minds until prompted, called up by a cue.  But they can be falsified.  One of the presumptions of therapy is that it can figure out what is the basic and verifiable reason for a mental or physical reaction that seems unjustified.

What I'm "after" in terms of "felt meaning" is how to access the subconscious in terms of the transcendent.  Why do we sometimes feel this ineffable flooding of bliss?  Is it the same if an electric pulse to the temples or the ingestion of certain molecules can bring it on?  If certain kinds of meditation or chanting or ordeal can make it come, is it just a surge of serotonin, just as certain drugs can make us love everyone or blossom with motherly care?  If the physical basis for spirituality means we can just take a pill to see angels, is "religion" as proposed by institutions based on anything at all?  Is the Pope just whistling in the dark?  Do religion-based ideas like justice and compassion take primacy and dominion over order and control, as in the rule of law?  Does this mean the ideas are more real than institutions?

Most of this is too much for an old lady in a back bedroom who can't even figure out how to get the viruses out of her hard drive.  

Wednesday, December 26, 2018


In the past few days -- not directly related to Christmas -- I've been seen by others in surprising ways.  One was an email from an estate evaluator in the Northwest who wanted my advice on the price of a Western bronze from the Thirties.  She saw me as an historian and a Western art expert.  I guess I am those things, though I wasn't much use to her.  The general public never grasps that art works don't come with stickers on them that give a "list price" like a new car.  

Art works (everything really) are worth whatever people are willing to pay for them, and guessing what that is -- well, it's an art form.  The art work in question was particularly problematic because it was a recast, but one made decades ago -- not brand new.  Bronzes, as physical objects, are pretty easy to re-cast and if it's carefully done, the results can be good, even indistinguishable except for the shrinkage of the metal making it a bit smaller.  But the technology of casting bronze has been become so much simpler and cheaper that less skilled people do it with bad results.  What counts with bronzes (and paintings) is provenance: who owned it in succession from the artist.

So this evaluator was smart enough to call someone likely to know the big picture, but I'm not sure she grasped the core idea, that a popular piece or one that appeals strongly to a buyer, will sell for a higher price.  She asked about galleries, but most older Western bronzes are now sold at auctions.  Knowing where the "hot" auctions are is another art form.

The other contact was a UU minister, now compromising due to family so not in a prime pulpit.  Theoretically retired anyway.  But she believes that she and I have an affinity.  She doesn't know that I'm invisible to the UUA and sometimes in opposition to them.  She doesn't know that my life is problematic and far-flung, often secret for the sake of other people. Telling her that will make her more curious and insistent.

When my mother became a teacher in 1957 in order to put me through college, she attended all the union meetings and planning committees and so on.  Soon she was sharing the gossip with me.  I used to do the same thing when I was in elementary school -- I'd catch her when she was ironing and sit at the dining room table alongside.  She thought I chattered too much and interfered with her own thoughts, so in order to keep her interested, I'd tell her the most shocking neighbourhood news I'd heard through other kids. 

But finding out from her about the role-model teachers I knew -- who was lesbian, who had a lover, who was alcoholic, who was totally broke and so in trouble, which mother of which classmate was insane and had to be committed, and so on -- it was a lot to assimilate.  I suppose it was a little early to have a whole category of people revealed in all their worminess, but I was studying acting, after all, and that's the stuff that plays are about.  Writing, as well.

When I became a UU minister, the curtain was likewise swept aside from some people who disappointed me so much that I wept.  Even my dear friend, my own minister, turned out to be merely materialistic.  An accepted saint had a mistress who tore up my congregation. I'm not sure this person who wants to be my visiting friend has a grasp of that.  So many of those early brilliant men have died of old age that I'm reckless about telling their stories, which makes the remaining partners and children very angry.  It's easier to keep my distance.  Anyway, being a UU is very small part of my life now, and mostly over.  I have no interest in the entitlement wars.

The Sixties involvement in Western Art seems to be coming back but I see it quite differently now as a second or third generation phenomenon, the children and grandchildren taking over the galleries and historical societies.  Many of the customers in the old days were Republicans, even John Birchers, and rich in that unrepentant but confirmation-seeking way of puffed-up narcissists.  They haven't' changed much.  Bob was happy to play along in a cynical way until he was on the board of the CMR Museum and had an attack of virtue.  True enough, the deals and finagling were outrageous.  But the result was that he was black-balled and his work was discredited.  Even the book I wrote about him, "Bronze Inside and Out," was swept aside, never acknowledged.  I fought all that for a while and then gave it up.  I've moved on.

And I've gone deeper.  What is it that turns institutions evil?  Why can't democracies keep from corruption and injustice?  Why is it that the church that is most idealistic is the one most likely to become a home for fucking vipers?  It was fascinating to call up the "history of institutions" on Google.  It seems that more people than myself have been wondering about all this.  And no wonder: every school, town, police force and so on -- every one of them vital for making society functional and safe -- has been vulnerable to both the innocent, who really have no idea how it is done, and the wicked who know very well how to twist everything to their advantage.  

I see that car dealers are beginning to push the idea that "un-road-worthy cars" should be banned.  Not just palpable safety issues, but the year of making.  (This would paralyze me.)  The Trump administration is determined to eliminate every safety net and inflate all fees and fines so more of us will be sleeping in the street.  Our children are hostages dying in secret cages or shot in the street, on video.  Our addictions are permanent chains.  What was going to be reassurance for old people is now portrayed as deciding who will die by being denied meds.

It happened quickly and the legislators were paralyzed by something.  In fact, now that we begin to uncover the past, we discover that this sort of thing was dug in a long time ago.  Everyone just got kind of used to it until the inequities were too obvious to ignore.  

Years ago I got an email inquiry from a young man who was an English teacher but wanted to know about the UU ministry.  He said that of the twenty inquiry answers he got, mine was the only negative one.  The idea was that I was a crank and a grump, and I suppose I am.  But a solitary one.  I do NOT want anyone trying to hang around to "fix" me.  At the moment being a crank strikes me as virtuous.

The big planes from Malmstrom are in the air again tonight.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018


Designing effective ritual/ceremony for a global but various population can be difficult because of so few shared images and experiences.  For some populations, like kids who have been confined to homes with few resources and have never traveled, it is sometimes necessary to provide them with experiences they've never had so they can have a reference for future community events.

Our alcohol and drugs counselor in Heart Butte in 1990 understood this, that kids who say there is "nothing to do except get high" need to be taught what else to do.  She arranged for the entire school to take the buses down to Great Falls to see "Dances with Wolves" as a student body special showing just "us".  Both the people who later picked it all apart politically and those who just got absorbed into the story at least shared a common experience and could talk about it.  I suspect they dreamed the movie for a while.  This was one of the earliest movies with Blackfeet stunt riders so they would have known some of them.  I did.

Deciding what those new experiences should be can puzzle anyone who can't empathize with others.  The first step may be realizing that what seems like and is labeled "white bread"/vanilla/hegemonic/"educated" is not the norm or the standard.  In terms of demographics, they are not even the majority. Every group is unique and what is lazily called "middle class" is neither typical nor in the middle.  Thus, people who claim that they are the index to the norm are just wrong and can be stymied when it comes to ritual, particularly with a missionary mindset.  If everyone is not just like "us", they are a mystery.

Some look for common ground in the mall, expecting everyone to enjoy spending, buying things.  When money becomes the religion and the dominant experience, we come to the world of discardable "stuff" that we now live in.  My alternative in this thread I've turned to examine the physiological mechanisms that make us vulnerable to the world outside us.  What happens in our bodies to make us aware? And why is vulnerable considered weak?

(From Wiki)
Spindle neurons, also called von Economo neurons (VENs), are a specific class of neurons that are characterized by a large spindle-shaped soma (or body), gradually tapering into a single apical axon (the ramification sending signals) in one direction, with only a single dendrite (the ramification receiving signals) facing opposite. Other neurons tend to have many dendrites, and the polar-shaped morphology of spindle neurons is unique.

Spindle neurons are relatively large cells that may allow rapid communication across the relatively large brains of great apes, elephants, and cetaceans. Although rare in comparison to other neurons, spindle neurons are abundant, and comparatively large, in humans; they are however three times as abundant in cetaceans. . . .

The anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) the frontal part of the cingulate cortex that resembles a "collar" surrounding the frontal part of the corpus callosum. . It appears to play a role in a wide variety of autonomic functions, such as regulating blood pressure and heart rate. [Both indicators of emotion that can become conscious.]  It is also involved in certain higher-level functions, such as attention allocation, reward anticipation, decision-making, ethics and morality impulse control (e.g. performance monitoring and error detection), and emotion.)  This list is typical of the concerns in an institutional religion.

All of these are closely related to "Western" style worship in church, which is mostly rational and predetermined.  Consider the contrast between a standard morning service and a spontaneous late-night self-chosen circle around a bonfire, possibly sharing a mood enhancing substance while telling stories.  The effect on the participants in both might be profound, but they are certainly different.  Still, both are stored in the unconscious, which is PHYSICAL, electrochemical, molecular.

People have been gathering around a fire as long as they've managed fire. The circle of light that keeps away the danger in the night is a basic part of our wiring, possibly at the level of instinct, only conscious when it emerges in a situation where there is risk.  The statement below is research about who is rejected from participation in a group or possibly even being present. Persons previously stigmatized as individuals or as a group might be particularly sensitized.

Activity in the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC) has been implicated in processing both the detection and appraisal of social processes, including social exclusion. When exposed to repeated personal social evaluative tasks, non-depressed women showed reduced activation in the dACC on the second exposure, while women with a history of depression exhibited enhanced BOLD activation. This differential activity may reflect enhanced rumination about social evaluation or enhanced arousal associated with repeated social evaluation.

Excluding the uninitiated is a major characteristic of Christians and has been since they first separated from the Jewish community.  Those who had not been baptized were prevented from being present for communion. In recent times birth has conventionally been sequestered, but now birth can be crowded with involved spouse, close friends -- besides being videotaped. We have been pulling away from private, even secretive, acts, making them public. 

Giving birth, a new person coming out of an old person, is one of the most impressive physical things that can happen, a fitting centerpiece for human ceremony -- not witnessing an actual birth so much but calling up memories,  When we took birth out of the home, we removed the experience for many people, but it is often depicted in videos, even commercials.  Birth is the centerpiece of an entire series -- "Call the Midwife."  Therefore, human birth is a moving and enduring metaphor near solstice in what we call the nativity. It is a turning point even for a non-Christian.

Sunday School classes cannot trek to hospitals to watch birth, or even get to farms in time to see calves and foals born.  We don't encourage people to let their pets give birth anymore.  All this weakens the metaphor.

The other major Christian metaphor -- Crucifixion -- could be interpreted as a new person coming out of an old god, an agonizing process. But today we elevate a figure of Jesus the Christ as an indiscriminate happy man with open arms, fully dressed. Most of us never witness extreme trauma intended to be lethal.

Vietnam combat veterans, signalling their status with black leather, formed into groups secretly practising a form of S/M that could be compared to crucifixion.  This as well was imitated by the un-entitled, trivialized, stripped of felt meaning.  Geoff Mains, a participant with a degree in biochemistry, related it to the triggering of serotonin in the body. This does not exclude the view that isolated and traumatized humans were mastering extreme witnessed ordeal as a source of relief and personal stature.  This is a squib from Amazon:  "A subculture of gay men participate in a radical form of sexual and community known as leather. Through intimate forms of play, using such tools as pain-pleasure, bondage, and role-play, leather activity strips away frustrating cultural patterns."

All those gently raised young people wanted to go torture themselves at a Sun Lodge. They knew about ornamented and familiar worship services based on cultural authority. They hungered for the primal.  People spontaneously search for rituals that address their most crucial and central issues.  Cultures that shield us from our real bodily selves also starve the most vital metaphors, which come from the actual physical nature of bodies.  Rituals can give us back ourselves through our bodies.