Friday, May 31, 2019


When is the case closed?  Written statements define what a case might be about.  Some people cling to their elementary school understanding of breaking rules in handbooks -- fisticuffs on the playground, bad things hidden in a locker, dealing drugs, doing sex -- are exceeded by mass shooting.  Now we are challenged to think what is WORSE than mass shooting.  Because the last few years have taught us that there is always something worse and we just couldn't imagine it.  I hesitate to suggest anything.

Impeachment is like that.  The founding fathers (sic) tried to suggest a category that gave priority to the state of the nation.  They never suggested that selling the USA to Russia was worthy of impeachment because it never occurred to them that anyone would do such a thing.  During the Cold War we could have imagined it.  Today's planetary Russian mafia techie operations -- destroying the energy network of a country, sinking a ship, deranging a nuclear plant, crashing a satellite, shutting down the internet, holding a major corporation hostage by seizing its operating system, hacking the atomic bomb controls -- those things were unimaginable until the last few years.  Is there some on/off blackmail out there that only certain people know about?

If the stories are true, the explicit killing has begun.  Of course, Russia has always done such things, but usually disguised the act.  In the days when I researched violence, fifty per cent of murders were estimated to go unpunished and possibly even undetected.  If you know that -- which Trump does -- it explodes paranoia.  That's supposed to be the reason he scarfs cheeseburgers in his bedroom, because he thinks they are not poisoned.  But why did he serve cheeseburgers to entire competitive ball teams?  To show he wasn't afraid?  To make it seem normal?

What my animal control years taught me after many days spent in a court room, quibbling over what was normally something like loud barking since only occasionally do dogs kill people, is that it's never assured that there isn't more evidence out there that would trigger a different sentence.  This is why I think Pelosi/Schumer KNOW there is something still unnamed that is worth waiting for and Trump might even prefer to the danger of impeachment -- which means jail time almost surely -- rather than let the process go forward long enough to reveal what it is.

Possibly it is whatever has the Senate in chains over any action that interferes with McConnell's goals, but does he have that much real power?  It's got to be about either money or re-election, which are about the same thing.  I mean, the Senate much more than the House is in touch with ordinary people in real places, which is probably why the founding fathers gave them slightly more power.  To them the Senate was equivalent to the House of Lords in Britain, where the country dithers over Brexit.

The subject of death has come up in the sense that so many senators are only years away from their natural end.  If you accept the idea that they believe they have no life after being senators, this is convincing.  I mean, why worry about consequences?  Why not go for broke, which means -- ironically -- total denial of change.  It's like someone knowing they will die of cancer soon blowing up city hall.

If an animal is trapped and endangered, one of their extreme attempts to escape is called "thrashing."  YouTube has vids of kittens fighting off veterinarians with claws and fangs.  No one has hit that breaking point on the floors of Congress, but some have begun the equivalent in terms of threats and strategies.  Notably, Trump.  So much is ridiculous and invented, that something is justifying so much energy.

Let's impeach Barr first.  He's a low energy faker who is getting somehow compensated, if only in status.  He tries to pretend he's an insider, but there is no way he can be.  He is not the Mr. Rogers of Washington DC  -- more like the obsolete playboy Hugh Hefner of a bygone time, except that he's not sexy enough to qualify for the grandpa open-robe crowd.

Then wait until someone opens -- probably in court -- the black box containing Trump's still-hidden atrocities.  Hard to think of worse things than have already been done.  If it is true that MLK Jr. stood watching a rape without intervening,  what has Trump been watching?  How can we even think about things that are so awful they might make us go out of our minds?  On the other hand, no one flinched at children in cages, assaulted and dying.  A self-immolation was hardly noted.  School shootings are converted to data: how many, what time.  I think a lot of Trump's cherished faithful are just afraid to think about such things.  And a lot of the lilting "love" pushers among liberals are just as unreal.

When Trump's final and complete case is ready for impeachment, we are likely to know how he snake-bit all those Republicans who were too busy counting their money to govern the country.  Just as Trump was guided by reversing anything Obama did, the Repubs were guided by reversing whatever the Dems did.  Through the looking glass indeed.

If the final indictment is Putin using the Russian mafia to decapitate and disperse America, there is no way we can impeach him.  We will need help from our allies, the ones Trump does his best to insult and alienate.  This is a planetary conception of what needs to be done and it far exceeds a mortal and demented old man, even with all his paid-off gang which keeps thinning out when they find out what's really happening.

Thursday, May 30, 2019


In the last year at the City of Portland (1999) I found a niche as the clerical specialist for the soils engineers who reviewed plans for building, checking for soil stability and flood potential.  I gave each man a copy of a little paperback I loved:  "Dirt, the Ecstatic Skin of the Earth" by William Bryant Logan.  The six of them were baffled.  They were engineers and this was a poetic, if fact-based, book.  I don't know if they even read them.  

I'm in a bit of the same position on Twitter.  I'd been tracking politics and Western Canadian indigenous people, esp Alberta.  Then the algorithm recognized that these are the same thing and suggested these two soil tweeters.  I should have looked for them, but I didn't know they were there.  They know each other and there are more of them.

BuildSoil  "MA Ecological Design, landscape planning, geospatial, ClimateRepair/SoilCarbon obsessed. eMergy literate. RTs may not be my view. he/his.  Occupied traditional lands of the Multnomah, Kathlamet, Clackamas, Cowlitz bands of Chinook, Tualatin Kalapuya, Molalla & many other tribes."

Stuart Somerville "Father & Husband. Farmer. Bagpiper. Trying to live in a good way."

The first tweeter is in the Willamette Valley (I know about these tribes because I grew up in Portland, visiting Roseburg, where my mother grew up and was once a Strawberry Princess in Roseburg and handed the chief of the Kalapuyas his bowl of berries and cream.)  

The second is a highly literate guy who tweets from atop his tractor, saying he is "in his office."  He also has a strong ethnic religious background. He reminds me of my two years in Saskatoon when the "sustainable ag" farmers rented our Unitarian congregational hall for their meetings and let me sit in with them.  The energy was so strong it nearly burst our walls.

People my age (79) are likely to be the first urban generation in their family which is probably more significant than the first college grad generation, which I and my sibs were.  My grandfather was an admirer of Rodale and the Nearings, a little too early for "Small Is Beautiful."  As people begin to understand that we must redesign the way we live, I would recommend these profound and practical people as well as Wes Jackson and Wendell Berry.  They don't just address the practical work of restoring land in all its variety and profusion, but also pass along the delight of being out there, so deep that it speaks to "humans" who arose as a phenomenon of "humus."

This morning my tweets included the recommendation of this book, which I want to read though I'm in dryland farming country probably best used for grazing rather than the endless miles of wheat, which it doesn't mention.  Another tweet (Somerville) spoke of the drought up north.  The related massive Alberta wildfires started early: already the smoke is filtering in my Montana windows strong enough to smell.  And Somerville again spoke of the other end of the scale, the stupendous floods through Midwest crop lands that are destroying towns and making fields impossible to plant.  It looks as though this will be a seriously short production year.  The Ukrainians -- who escaped Stalin's imposed starvation by emigrating to Saskatchewan where Canada was trying to fill up the land with Europeans -- are shuddering at the possibility of consequences they recognize.

Potatoes are one of the six crops for survival in the book above.  My Scots grandfather in South Dakota was first a school superintendent but then went to raising potatoes in Swan River, Manitoba, with a plow pulled by horses. Then he joined the industrial revolution by sub-contracting American farm machinery for tractors. Ended in old age with two lots, just outside Portland, where he gardened intensively until death.  His youngest brother became an expert on grasses and forbs.

What I'm saying here is that my connection to people of the land is real and even "documented."  Which is lucky, since I'm no kind of gardener because I sort of avoid reality.  Even my houseplants suffer from lack of attention.  But I AM a thinker and walk through the theories with relish.  A fav (I should read it again) is "Topsoil and Civilization" by Vernon Gill Carter and Tom Dale.  (I955) It's as useful as Jared Diamond's work.

I have not left thinking about politics, the work of the people.  It is plain that the land, particularly food production more than resource development like oil or steel, is the basis of forming a country.  The historical push/pull and economic opportunism that formed our States are outdated.  We need to move to ecologically defined areas with common interests, small enough to monitor for corruption and invasion by mafias from other countries.

The work is far enough along that there are already alliances and regional authorities that work together for common goals.  We still get surprises like the high tension electrical lines that set massive fires in the California mountains.  Population still needs to settle.  We could easily be ecologically defined and yet globally aware of far impacts like climate change or commercial satellite networks so bright they prevent dark nights.

I think the insight that deactivating the state lines, surveyed defined boundaries, in order to go to mega-city centers that organically serve areas, something like postal or pipe distribution networks, make far more sense.  But there's a population density aspect of culture and the nature of the residents that deserve thought.  You don't have opera or people who love attending them in the vastness of desert.  Manhattan may be outdated. It will be flooded for sure.

In the end we're looking at something near-religious, a shift from the metaphor of a king in the sky to the new understanding of Deep Time written in traces long before life, a hundred hominin models before today's people, an exquisitely calibrated fleshly functioning body, and an unlimited Cosmos.  Our deepest religious impulse now should not be eternal life but rather participation in all of existence.  WE are the creators, not all-powerful, but each in our little particle of time/space with the capacity to organize ecologies, systems with enormous efficacy.  We receive a zillion molecular events and begin a zillion more. 

Hey, do you Canadians still think about Stan Rowe?  Lovely Albertan who taught in Saskatoon.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019


We are in a time when the taboos have been removed from stigmatized subjects like sex and also from suppressed political information that challenges the corrupt "frat boys" in charge of everything.  Two media champions willing to explore these two uncharted grounds are Rachel Maddow and Howard Stern.  Both two do media interviews with famous people and both are formidably intelligent, but until I came across Stern's recent publicity for his interview book ("Howard Stern Comes Again", I hadn't really seen him when he was being serious about himself with a major interviewer.  He's quite different with Terry Gross than with Stephen Colbert.  

Since I try to catch Maddow every time she's on the air, it suddenly struck me that the two probably share a lot of DNA.  Both are brunette, tall, lean, East Coast Jewish, and funny.  She has his hair and he has hers.  The difference is in their culture, which has steered Maddow into historical politics and Stern into an unpredictable we didn't suspect.  For instance, he once befriended Trump and claims that he understands the President perfectly.  He's just a fake over his head.

The only previous time I caught a Stern show, he was running a contest for men with the smallest penises, mostly because he thinks of his own as small.  The men, blushing, lined up in order of size by ruler.  No one then understood the phenomenon of the micro-penis, maybe only an inch.  Stern was moved by the courage of the men to be self-revealing, the challenge of being in a culture that insists on the size of an organ as the measure of a man, and the puzzle of their wives conceiving children with these men.  These days these men might be classified as "intersex" and join a continuum of people who are between two poles that previously denied they existed.

But I had a strange memory.  When I was working at animal control in Portland, I was an officer who went out the street as a sheriff's deputy, to sort out complaints and hazards, sometimes with real risk.  The shelter attendants were more like humane society people who maintained the kennels, but they also answered the phones, dealing sometimes with strange and even funny calls.  There was the lady who called every night to say there was a big snake under her bed -- she could hear it breathing.  The attendants were sophisticated enough to make jokes about Freud.

One day there was a call from a woman in tears, desperate for help.  She said her husband would not make love to her, but only screwed the cat.  The shelter attendants thought it was a joke at first -- was such a thing possible? -- but knew they'd get in trouble if they just hung up.  The more they listened, the more they began to realize she was real and telling the truth.  Just that no one knew what to do or say.  She was so distraught that after venting a while, she was the one who hung up.  Now I understand that this husband might have actually fit the cat's receiver better than his wife did.  But what to do?  Persuade her to form a menage a trois?  Forbid him to have a cat? Give up sex altogether?

It was a challenging situation which we never resolved.  No one had a record of how to find her.  We talked among ourselves and when we'd had her on the phone we had the same advice that we came to with each other:  this family needed a one-on-one therapist who could work out what to do in an unshocked and practical way.

Stern claims that psychotherapy -- simply the exploration of the structure of a person's life through the interaction of their own body as built by the proteins of their DNA  after it has been pushing back and been pushed back by their environment -- has really worked for him.  The same plan in one time/place might turn out a very different result from the same identity in a different time/place.  Once this has been sussed out, free from censorship and punishment, a plan for going forward is much clearer.  

I was impressed that in both cases the result was books, though they are quite different books.  Stern's is a compilation of interviews and Maddow's was first "Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power" and is now about oil.   Again, each is operating outside the role of their gender assignment.  The nation's culture is shifting to allow this and is changed by the fact that they're doing it.

We never realized these things.  We had thought we were too contemporary to have to contend with the vicious greed of these (mostly) men.  Where could they have come from?  And why did they flip themselves over so radically from the side of reform and generosity to pure self-interest?  Do they need therapy or has some kind of brain contagion gripped them?  Is it that the world has changed?

The sexual revelations and reconfigurations are easier to understand.  Stern says that when he hit puberty his mother gave him a subscription to Playboy and made him sit down with her to look at the photos.  She said, "Real women do not look like the women in this magazine.  They are freaks, exceptions.  Real woman look like your relatives and classmates.  I don't object to you enjoying this magazine, but don't ever think it is about reality."  That more or less goes for the whole of what we call sex.  Promotion and distortions has set us up to expect the visitation of the Holy Ghost with the Unlimited Vibrating Penis, when the truth is that a lot of people never go beyond a pleasant experience, which is good enough to create a family.

The hard part of a family is pushing it through the circumstances of economics, catastrophes, the politics of relatives and neighbors, while finding ways to persevere and occasions for joy.  Both Stern and Maddow, despite setbacks and losses, seem to have managed so far.  Mostly.  There is hope for all of us, even a solitary like me who merely watches them on TV and tries to stay out of trouble.  Mostly.  

Monday, May 27, 2019


I never knew what the phrase "Noli me tangere" meant until I did a bit of research on the Philippines where it is the title of the most important novel in the country.  As the person wrote the Wiki entry put it:  "Noli Me Tángere (Latin for Touch me not) is a novel written by José Rizal, one of the national heroes of the Philippines, during the colonization of the country by Spain to describe perceived inequities of the Spanish Catholic priests and the ruling government.

"Originally written in Spanish, the book is more commonly published and read in the Philippines in either Tagalog or English. Together with its sequel, El Filibusterismo, the reading of Noli is obligatory for high school students throughout the country. The two novels are widely considered as the national epic of the Philippines and are performed in non-musical operas throughout the country."

But literature comes in layers and in this case the title comes from the Catholic layer of Philippino culture.  It has also been used in other countries to make different points..  The sentiment is repeated by people who are too hurt to accept sensation or intimacy, or as advice to people who are refusing the future.  It can also be a deathbed sentiment.  In the Christian first-use, it suggests that after death, when resurrected, one cannot be owned or embraced as in ordinary life. 

(Wiki) "Noli me tangere ('touch me not') is the Latin version of a phrase spoken, according to John 20:17, by Jesus to Mary Magdalene when she recognized him after his resurrection. The biblical scene gave birth to a long series of depictions in Christian art from Late Antiquity to the present. The original Koine Greek phrase, Μή μου πτου (mē mou haptou), is better represented in translation as "cease holding on to me" or "stop clinging to me", i.e. an ongoing action, not one done in a single moment."

The Book of John is concerned with the whole dilemma of whether Jesus, since he is the body/conceived Son of God who is supernatural, is still somehow human as promised.  The phrase might be used by a biographer who wants to break up some stereotypical notion or point of view, to let some new interpretation come through.  Giving up what is already assumed to be known, real, and proven is one of the most difficult human problems.  

While political assumptions are being shredded everyday, and one whole party refuses to give an inch, the balking becomes more and more maddening, esp. since the planet itself has no problem with giving up what has been true before, and we plunge ever closer to climate disaster.

The weirdest translation of the phrase has been noted by the Austro-Hungarian writer Ferdinand Blumentritt  -- that "Noli Me Tángere" was a name used by local Filipinos for cancer of the eyelids. Rizal, the author, was an ophthalmologist.  Actually, it sounds like a good phrase to be tattooed on a stand-alone person.  The novel itself is a century old and published in both English and Tagalog.  Can Tagalog be considered an indigenous language?  It's also a vid on YouTube.  

Once Bob and I were out in a field trying to catch our horses.  I came across a nest in the grass with eggs but no bird just then.  I touched one egg ever-so gently with the tip of a finger to see if were warm.  Bob saw me do it and scolded me.  "Now that you've touched the egg, the mother bird will smell you and abandon the eggs.  You just murdered."  I still feel badly about it.

But that's nothing compared to leaving Browning, marriage, love and having to say, "No, don't hold me back.  I've got to do this."

"The loveliest episode of Holy Week – Christ rises from the potting shed.  Only the subtlest artists choose to include this still, small scene of calm after the horrors of the Passion in their Easter cycles.  An article by Laura Freeman › Painting reviews."  I didn't really know this story.

Here's a rather scary dance about the phrase.  

I only know two Philippinos.  One was an artist who owned two houses on the block where I grew up in Portland.  He was best friends with my mother and brother.  They shared a cat  ("Mokley") which was quite touchable, since it was not feral.  Many feral cats cannot be touched.

The other was a student in Heart Butte, a mix of Phillipino and Blackfeet because his mother had been sent on relocation to a city where she ended up in the "ghetto" where all the poor people, sequestered from the mainstream who didn't want to touch them, were gathered in a patchwork of origins.  So here we have examples of why people don't stay separated -- one is governments who meddle and move people around and the other is artists who are always moving around in search of ideas.  We are all mongrels.  Which is one reason we may want to test each other, touching to feel for the truth.

Museums always say "Do Not Touch".  Some plants can be killed or stunted if touched by people.  The phrase is a warning.  And yet, if we read or watch a story that moves us, we say it is "touching."  So that's why it's a phrase that persists, that shows up in surprising places.  


When my mother became interested in genealogy, she was pleased to discover sea captains in the ancestry of both her and my father's history.  It was not until after she had been gone for years and I began to look at her materials that I realized that there were separate histories through the grandmother's families as well as the grandfather families who supplied the names with which she began.  The two sets of grandparents never met each other because of enmity on the part of my mother's warlike father who didn't approve of her marriage because my father kept insisting he was an atheist.  So he said.  More likely he just didn't want to give up my mother to any other man.

The point in this case is that each grandmother had a brother who fought in the Philippine War, the one in the sequence of wars after Spain finally gave up trying to be an empire since their own failed struggle to colonize the archipelago of islands just east of SE Asia countries.  Their intentions of dominating the people were complicated by the indigenous people, who were semi-modern, then developing two sub-groups, a middle-class that didn't like to be pushed around, and an intense Catholic community with a Spanish flavor.  When Spain became embroiled in a Mexico-based rivalry with the USA, the Philippines became a territory of the US, plunging into revolution.

Each of my grandmothers had a brother who fought in this war, the Vietnam of its time.  They didn't know each other, were from different parts of the country, but were both badly damaged by what we now call PTSD.  They became alcoholic.  My mother remembers traveling past the Roseburg, Oregon, cemetery, probably riding in a wagon rather than an automobile, and seeing several men digging graves.  Someone whispered that one of the men was her uncle.  They did not acknowledge him nor did he give any sign of recognition to them.

I know even less about my paternal grandmother's brother except that his alcoholism made her a devoted member of the WCTU -- Women's Christian Temperance Union.  This couple, Sam and Beulah Strachan, were self-described but non-churched Christians more involved in patriotism than theology.  My mother's parents, John and Ethel Pinkerton, were conventional congregational members, but Ethel came from a warm and rather Universalist Baptist background and John was a political Presbyterian.

Again, the point is the dark stream of destruction that were a secret grief to the women of the generation at the shift from the 18th century to the 19th, the Edwardian period that included both Progressivism and the preceding rural small town culture.  Those women were taught that the obligation of every man was to go to war for the country, while the duty of every woman was to have children so there would always be soldiers.  We are just seeing the tail of all that, dragged offstage as though a remnant of a hideous reptile, a minotaur.

This is all pretty much covered-up by displays of sentiment and patriotism, poppies with their ironic darkness of opium addiction, and brass bands, the grand music of war.  We celebrate the military, but not the empire's hunger that the military must defend.  WWII meant that Japan seized the Philippines in 1942 and then the Allies drove out Japan in 1945 and set up an independent Philippine republic.

By then my parents and their sibs had little consciousness of where their uncles had fought and were deep into the recovery efforts after the WWII, which transformed the two worlds around the two oceans in ways that are just ending now.  The treaty structures are failing.  Men with mustaches want war so they can claim glory like their own ancestors.  These are nuclear Victorian times.

Even in these days of designer drugs and meth labs in neighborhoods, alcohol remains one of the most significant and dangerous drugs.  Recognition of this, determination to get drunk drivers off the highways, and the opiate of screen narratives celebrating violence and crime, have changed our youngsters.  They no longer expect to be drafted and plan babies for their own reasons.  Their scripts come in the dark as they sprawl on sofas.

On Memorial Day we are meant to remember other warriors in other times, but not those with allegiance to our enemies.  Until now -- and even now in some circles -- that would be a form of treason or even heresy, because so much of nationalism gets tied to religion.

I want to remember two great-uncles, failures by some measures, "walking dead" killed in a colonizing war over irrelevant issues.  War in tropics, war on islands, war with Asians, are nothing like the traditional European wars where the soldiers once met on a field to fight while the upper classes watched from a hill with parasols and telescopes.  Nothing like the chariot wars of the early Biblical countries that left plains strewn with bones.

So my mother's uncle, gently raised in a pioneer family well-established in the luxurious economy of the Willamette Valley, and my father's uncle, also rural but in the tougher ag world of Dakota homesteaders, went to confront a people of a different kind, more devious, more desperate, more covert, and more willing to accept a very un-Protestant understanding of the world that justified and even celebrated torture, even self-torture as in the reenacted crucifixions every Easter, the merciless outlook that Europeans always deny they have and project onto others, esp. Asians.

A lot of people reflect on these dynamics and try to understand how to shut them down, but they don't think of the individual soldier who is dumped into a climate and culture he can barely survive, a challenge he can only meet if doped with booze, a method honored by many centuries of men who found boisterous relief or cherished blotto in it.  Then there's the genetic vulnerability of some people, more men than women, a little knot of genes that gets various names and is kindled into destruction in some bodies.  Veterans of wartime who only seemed to come home, but home wouldn't have them.

Sunday, May 26, 2019


Across the alley from me lives a sweet old softy whose wife died a while back.  He visited her in the hospital daily and cared for her with devotion.  But her death opened a niche in his little homestead with the tight dog fence around it.  His wife's sister moved in.  That didn't work out, though she is also pretty needy.  So she left.  The new woman is not sick and things are better, but these are old people.  Each woman has brought with her from former lives a small camp trailer holding all her household goods plus her dogs.  It's a little crowded.

All over town I see camp trailers in yards, some empty, some storage and some emergency housing.  Better than having to live in a car.  Illustrations that in America old people, young people, and addicted people have to live someplace.  Montana weather is too extreme for sleeping rough, though people do it.

Back in Portland in the years when the neighborhood was sliding down (it has now gentrified back up) the old widower who lived alone next door never did attract a woman.  But he rented his driveway out to as many of these small camp trailers as he could cram in.  Most occupants were addicts.  In the years while this was happening, the police removed as many as nine dead addicts.  I didn't know about it then.  What could I have done anyway?  If my mother had moved away, she would have taken a major money hit and have had to go to a rental, which carried the risk of eviction.  My brother with the concussion lived with her.  Addicts don't make much trouble.

Jason Danely of Oxford Brooks University, wrote: "In Japan, an unattended death is known as kodokushi, or “lonely death.”  The word kodokushi carries a tragic, melancholic tone, preserving the ambiguity around the exact association between loneliness and death. Was loneliness the cause of death, or just the circumstance surrounding it? The term itself makes way for us to reflect on the possible links between life and death, or even a death in life—a gray zone characterized by isolation, absence, disconnection, marginality, and suspense."

Japan's aging and poor urban population lives in tiny flimsy houses of wood and paper, not so sturdy as camp trailers with aluminum skins. The old people are sometimes sole survivors of families that are gone, and when they die, no one notices.  It can be years before their remains are found.

Danely says: "I take dwelling to mean the emplacement of forms of habituation that produce the conditions for mutual concern and ethical possibility. When I refer to dwelling, then, it is in the practical material and embodied sense of being-at-home-in-the-world with others. Older people in Japan often embody this sense of dwelling, as a link between geographically based generations, living and dead, or through long-cultivated links to community life, local political activity, and leisure with friends and neighbors. The regular appearance of the shadowy specter of kodokushi, however, throws the inevitability of such dwelling into uncertainty. Anxiety about kodokushi reflects concerns that the locus of dwelling and even old age itself as a terrain has become uninhabitable, despite extensive local and national investment in long-term care infrastructure "

In America we have long-standing tropes about people living on sidewalks and the old lady on a park bench living out of shopping bags who was a dread and is now a reality.  This diminishment may be one of the strong sources of our deterioration as a country.  Certainly it is at least a shocking symptom.

"Kodokushi mark a return of the familiar trope of the neighborhood granny—yet transformed, unsettling, unhomely, placing history’s unnoticed excesses and unstable narratives at our doorsteps."

When I moved here to live alone so I could write -- pushing back everything else -- I told someone what I intended to do, even down to dying alone when the time came.  The woman, a practical country person, said that she remembered a previous woman who came with the same goal, though not a writer so even more private than me.  "We tried to help her, but she asked to be left alone, so that's what she did.  Even when she died alone."

This sounded good to me. Interfering do-gooders have been my enemies. They are disguises for darker motives, like the care centers that farm old people as though they were carrots, keeping them dirty and numb but alive enough to claim insurance.

This dislocated shoulder I had was pretty severe, tearing tissue and bruising veins and nerves.  I couldn't sleep without OTC meds but even they interfered with my thinking and typing.  It was a realistic sample of what some other writers have suffered for years even while they produced words that chimed and prodded.  But the pretence of housework was abandoned.

"The homes of older adults become spaces of potential for both care and abandonment; of excessive disordered materiality and haunting spectrality; of dwelling and death."  "These different economies have implications for how someone might (or might not) inhabit, share, or build in this space of the home".

The article goes on in a way combining poetry and academic thought about Japan.  In the USA the single aging or diminished person is more likely to be isolated by space than by urban crowding, though decrepit SRO hotels have traditionally accommodated solitary old people.  Danely is a remarkable writer.

Lying on the floor with my shoulder torn apart was a strong reality check.  It was Ground Hog's Day and today is Memorial Day.  I'm close to functional, though the limits and rebukes from my body are still there.  I will take some precautions against repetition.  In recent weeks I've begun some small improvements.  My dentist is a competent young man.  So is the plumber who restored my drain system.  So was the emergency care giver at the emergency room -- not an MD, but a physician assistant, a military medical man.  To them I am a village granny.  There were glitches -- but I survived.  The theme is money.  I have enough of a small trickle to keep the bureaucrats interested and I'm enough of an ascetic to go without the many small ameliorations that take middle-class people through their worrying lives:  sports, rallies, concerts, but now mostly home electronics so they can live alone, protected.

My own secret weapon is willingness to die alone.  The problem is the preceding period when one is still conscious.

Saturday, May 25, 2019


Two revelations begin my thinking here, but they are not new ideas to me.  Maybe to others.  The first one is that "boundary studies" as a formal discipline is not a "line" as we understand the obsessively marked lines that circumscribe property and nations on maps, but rather an elastic and constantly varying wide space, sometimes miles across.  We Westerners, determined by war over territory, like our lines narrow.  We think the Bering Land Bridge was a little gangplank between continents, when in fact it was a low country, miles wide, with a population of its own, maybe motivated to move when the sea level rose -- rather like people moving out of Florida at the moment.  Bottom line: boundary studies exist between entities and create a population of their own.

The second revelation is one brought home to me by conversation on Twitter about the nature and allegiance of being descended from indigenous people and mostly continuing as identifiably indigenous -- hard to resolve -- but that's not the point.  The point is that the larger culture, which is mostly white, meaning mostly British Empire, has more to do with indigenous identity than the peoples themselves.  White machinery (particularly print culture like books) is forever telling "Indians" who they are and pressing the identity onto people who aren't, say they aren't, and dare to speak in what the Brits/Americans fancy to be the way Indians seen the world.

"The Education of Little Tree" is one of the most notorious of these examples, written by a particularly UN-liberal German who is supposed to be condemned by his real identity.  Except no one pays attention because they really LOVE the story because it fits into their preconceptions.

In addition, Germans in particular have romanticized and idealized an assortment of peoples originally differentiated by their ecosystems until they were thrown out of them, then re-constituted on television as sort of Joe Campbell archetypal heroes (but not today's weirdo Marvel versions.)  German women come to the rez and look for Medicine Men to marry.  Germans in their own country form groups imitating what they think Indians are like and create artifakes indistinguishable from the authentic historic ones.  This stuff sells like crazy.  One can hardly criticize rez people from wanting to cash in on all this popularity and even beginning to believe that they ARE different, more special, able to scent the enemy in the jungle.

Originally the problem was that the thought and experience of indigenous people was whole, if damaged by trauma, but best expressed in their own languages, not a big pan-language as English purported to be, but the various languages developed where they lived and knew the land.  They were as different as Swedish and Italian.  Often their "nations" were bigger than any European notion of a governable country, but kept orderly by custom and success.

Since I was born an American Westerner, Indians have always been part of my life in all sorts of forms: neighbor, teacher, fellow student, and fictional character.  Since in fourth grade Mildred Colbert (Chinook) took my class to the Portland Art Museum, where in the great shadowy rooms we regarded  Potlatch Canoes and transforming Raven masks, I've known they were regional.  Since "Broken Arrow", (the 1950 Jimmy Stewart movie based on real people, I've earnestly hoped for the truth of the liberals: that all humans are essentially good and can get along.  The evidence is against this, but some people had hoped Indians were like this.

In 1950 I was 11, the end of menarche when one forms morality, but in the Seventies I had just left Browning, rez town, and was in Portland again just as the Native American Literary Renaissance was going to remake the world.  We thought at least there was a little money in it.  And we learned to sneer at anyone who wasn't provably "Indian" though the ultimate authority was bureaucrats with motives of their own, who invented the phrase "blood quantum" because blood is such a powerful metaphor and "quantum" sounds like Quanah Parker  "Wiki: Comanche kwana, "smell, odor") ( c. 1845 or 1852 – February 20, 1911) was a war leader of the Quahadi ("Antelope") band of the Comanche Nation."  Quantum sounds like Indian talk since it ends in "um".  ("He smellum enemy.")

Powell's bookstore in Portland had given up on the NA Renaissance and was remaindering all the examples at $5 each. The books became the nucleus of my "Indian" library, mostly Blackfeet though Jim Welch was about the only example except for anthro books by whites.  That is, those were the books recognized by whites as Indian.  And there's the boundary problem:  indigenous people did not naturally use print or create codexes (pages bound in a cover), but white people think that's what Indians ARE, the people in codexes.

The problem of an abyss between the foundational thought and history of and by "Indians" and the white understanding of who those people were and how to tell whether they were authentic was finally solved by GoPro and other low cost video access to "writing" with images.  Now vocabulary didn't matter.  The resulting dilemma is how to distribute and where the money comes from, but that's different.  It IS a problem, since the two requirements for becoming "best-selling" is high population and enough money to buy books -- both white characteristics.

Survivor writers of the NA literary renaissance were few, even the ones whose books were made into movies, like "Skins" by Adrian Louis.  (Whites stole the title.)  Louis comes into his writing career through journalism, which has proven a good way to do it.

But then then there's the problem of Sherman Alexie, who pleases whites and still sells and speaks to make a living, but who dislikes "real" Indians.  He's in the boundary territory, occupying both sides.  It makes him cranky, tricky and arrogant.  He is defensively hostile, particularly about women and the vulnerability of rez kids.  Early, he had a powerful agent who gave him a running start.  Previously the agent had gotten published  "The Wind Done Gone," a biting parody of "Gone with the Wind" that pulled down the romanticism about the South after the Civil War, very much like the emotional ideas that made "Indians" into a trope instead of a people.

Sherman is 52 now.  He lives in Seattle.  The kids in Heart Butte think he is a successful Indian.  Is he?'s not very nice.
Here's a kinder article about this man trapped half-in and half-out of a myth.  

This post, like many of mine, is a true "blog," a log of posts that gives you links.

Friday, May 24, 2019


Is writing a biography a way of keeping someone alive or a way of killing them all over again?  Probably both.  Though I've only written one biography, "Bronze Inside and Out," it was meant to preserve at least the memory and possibly the experience of Bob Scriver (to whom I was married in the Sixties).  But how does one do the latter from the outside?  I couldn't, so I ended up describing my own experience -- in some ways.  People thought this was not proper.

In fact, a lot of people had opinions about exactly what a biography had to be, according to their preferences. I didn't really understand this until it came to publication. No one edited, no one ordered the book.  I just wanted to make a record, including things about Bob's ancestors that inclined him to be the way he was. And I tried to make obvious things vivid, like the fact that growing up as a boy born in 1914, he spent a lot of time lying on his stomach poring over stories in the newspaper about the many war memorials going up after WWI. 

This was only possible because his family owned and ran the Browning Mercantile, a key store in the small town of Browning, Montana, which was the headquarters of the Blackfeet Reservation. I mean, there was not a lot of money for newspapers and not a lot of readers. I suspect Bob read old papers kept for wrapping.  I kept expecting to find a scrapbook of stories about the work of the classic Art Moderne bronzes by men who studied in Paris, the community that included Rodin and Malvina Hoffman, his student. But an even bigger influence was the Hall of Man by Hoffman at the Field Museum in Chicago where he attended the Vandercook School of Music, a first-class source of band teachers.  Ten years later I was also an admirer of Malvina Hoffman while I attended Northwestern University.  I knew the same sculptors because I grew up in Portland, Oregon, which is a city of monumental bronzes because it was so much influenced by Boston.

Most of the publishers to whom I wrote when the book was complete cared nothing at all about the above.  They just wanted to make money and improve their reputations by holding Bob up as an archetypal John Wayne sort of guy. They despised me and gradually became aware that I returned the emotion.  The University of Oklahoma Press would only publish this manuscript if I took out all the women (There is a strong strain of misogyny in the Western romantic trope.) and, Trump-style, put in praise for the officials of the press.

One man was hoping for rehabilitation because in an earlier job he had encouraged an attack on Bob when the latter sold his collection of NA artifacts to Edmonton's Provincial Museum.  This was a white man's decision to protect the money invested in them and (right-wing) keep the things away from the government.  I was gone by that time.  True enough, Bob didn't sell Bundle that was transferred to him, but these white men had no concept of that.  The Bundle disappeared.  No known person has it.

The ordering principle I finally adopted for the book was the actual process of making a bronze.  I concentrated on the sensory feeling of working with newly-mixed plaster or molten bronze.  I talked about "black tufy" flexible molds and steaming patinas onto hot metal.  No one expected that.  We had newly discovered classic Roman block bronze casting, and were enchanted by it, with no expectation that it would soon all be blown away by ceramic shell casting and 3-D printing.

When writing a biography, there is no set method in spite of your high school English teacher construction of boxed definitions.  High school English teachers are in disrepute these days, which makes it hard to know how to categorize when putting books on the shelf, but that's the point.  Why are you keeping books anyway?  Question yourself. 

There is in existence a CD video interview of Bob which is slightly bonkers, partly because it was made by novices with ungelled ideas about both what Western art was (besides being sale-able) and who Bob Scriver was.  Loud "Indian" music and Bob's inflated idea of who he was and what made him famous worked together to endorse a stereotype.  Closeups of his clay-smeared hands, complete with a ragged bandaid, seem an old man's deterioration.

The difficulties in understanding who someone is -- which I presume is the point of a biography -- are compounded by the publishing industry's obsession with profit.  One might say that it would be more honorable to be published by an academic house and "Bronze Inside and Out" was eventually put into print by the University of Calgary Press.  But honor had nothing to do with it.  A woman had signed a contract to provide suggestions for a series about important people in Alberta and she needed a name.  Except for the contract there was no profit either to the press or myself.  An employee of the press got a benevolent organization to pay the  cost of printing.  The press did list the book in their catalogue, but did little to promote it.  The U of O did more to put the book on a black list, which succeeded at suppression rather well with some Montana elements of the Cowboy Art Cartel, including the Montana Historical Society which ended up with Bob's estate.

If I had been who they thought I was, not a writer but rather a PR subsidiary of Bob Scriver whom they could "own," that would be the end of the story.  But I don't give a flip about them.  The tide of writing and the nature of persons are dynamic and moving always into new contexts, esp. when they dance together.  Readers must keep up, which might take some time and reflection, or they should just give up and go watch TV.  Maybe there's an old Western on.