Saturday, February 29, 2020


Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez recently gave a short speech on her Christian religion which was both impassioned and cogent.  Her allegiance is to the Jesus-affirming branch of the movement rather than the Roman-Empire influenced Old Testament ideas of the American Right Wing.  That is, she affirmed the Gospel declaration that all humans are valuable, which was a defense against Roman ideas of hierarchy and stigma enforced by violence and deprivation, governed by an Emperor.

She said, "All people are holy and sacred", meaning that all deserve protection and love.  I agree, but I use the same words for something different which is pretty confusing.  I need a new word to describe the felt epiphany of something full of harmony and relationship with all that exists, not just humans and not just life and not just one planet.  It can be produced by physical means, whether drugs or brain interventions, but only some people even realize that it exists unless they've read reports.  To them it might seem crazy and, indeed, sometimes it is full of fear and horror as a bad drug trip.

"Epiphany is an “Aha!” moment. As a literary device, epiphany (pronounced ih-pif--uh-nee) is the moment when a character is suddenly struck with a life-changing realization which changes the rest of the story. Often, an epiphany begins with a small, everyday occurrence or experience."  (Wiki)  

"Satori, enlightenment. epiphany (noun) An illuminating realization or discovery, often resulting in a personal feeling of elation, awe, or wonder. Synonyms: enlightenment, satori."  (Wiki)

Comparisons are to being struck by lightning.  In movies such moments are often indicated by a ray of light striking the person.  Sometimes there is a choir.

An epiphany is...
"a realization; an opening; a portal to the Divine; growing up; a magic moment that impacts you and changes you forever and you can remember it as vividly as you experienced it; a moment that changes the lens through which you view your life; our soul scratching around our head and giving us a signal to guide our lives with; a moment of descending light, open knowledge, and choice; a drastic shift in energy and change of perspective that happens in the form of a moment of clarity; something that gives you the strength to take a different direction or move forward and opens up everything; a sense of wonderment; a clarifying direction; and, that moment where you know your life is never going to be the same."

The contemporary way of talking about such intensities is to frame them as psychological or marginally rational.  This discards anything supernatural and also discards the body.  A lightning strike is reduced to a reading lamp.  But this definition DOES admit that such a thing can happen and that it has a major impact. 

Among clergy it might be named a "calling".  There is great concern among those who name such a manifestation as to how to "discern" (the word seminaries use) whether it is real or not.

At the very least an epiphany asserts that there is a higher power than any human tyrant or government, no matter when or where.  This is why resistance and revolution leaders value them and why Holy and Sacred are depicted in the Gospels.  Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez uses the words.  She is saying that Holy and Sacred are designations beyond any administration or even the Rule of Law.  I don't know what she would say about non-human life.

In the Christian paradigm there are three concepts:  Father, Son and Holy Ghost.  These are mostly political quibbling over monotheism that pushed into theology, but the Holy Ghost, sometimes depicted by the gender-fascinated as female, is connected to the idea of supernatural moments.  It is sometimes seen as a "wind" that "bloweth where it listeth."

John 3:8 King James Version (KJV)
"The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit."  (Bible Gateway)

This accounts for unexpected conversions in a person never before showing the inclination, but also may describe a "sea change" among populations without any real explanation of where the frame of mind came from.  How does a paradigm change?  What are the Forces on the people?  It is powerful for an institution to claim and build on such a shift.  

These ideas apply to any demographic, even tribes in remote places.  But they would also be recognized by people in highly sophisticated settings that specialize in devotion.  It is so basic as to be almost unconscious, and therefore is worth reflection.  The following link is for an Aeon essay that is about an effort to get to "epiphany" but doesn't quite make it.  Still, it includes some interesting thoughts, particularly in terms of motivation.  (And I'd love to have seen Aldous Huxley doing "ecstatic dance"!)

I'm responding to Katz.   "The first counterblast was made by the US philosopher Steven Katz in his paper ‘Language, Epistemology and Mysticism’ (1978). Katz pointed out that mystical traditions are actually very different. They are rooted in differences of language, symbolism and culture; if you try to remove ‘mystical experiences’ from that local soil and create a global synthesis, you end up with something stripped of much of its meaning. Christian mystics have Christian mystical experiences, Buddhists have Buddhist mystical experiences, and so on."  

Instead of looking for the right "box" for epiphany, I'm interested in how to build a new holding structure drawn from any human culture through the medium of sensory experience according to the Valence of their lives.  What is the paradigm of homeostasis in the time/place where that human is surviving?

Friday, February 28, 2020


The two crucial phenomena for becoming a full human being are "attachment" and "empathy."  Being a human being means relating to other humans in a very particular evolved biological way.  Attachment begins at birth when the infant interacts with a caregiver.  The feeding, cleaning, comforting, and playing with eye contact begin the creation of a particular but virtual (unseen, constructed, mental paradigm) time/space of trust and exploration.  This is what we call "liminal" because it feels like entering something like a room.  The limen is the threshold of a door one steps over into a new space.  Some people might say "numinous."

Before the human version of attachment, there was and is the attachment of animal children, both mammals and birds, who imprint with their mothers and follow them until they are mature.  If they don't, they die.  We find it both amusing and reassuring to see the cygnet babies on the river in a line behind the mother swan or the procession of kittens following the mother cat.  

Humans are more resourceful than kittens, but we all know about the orphan infants who died of lack of attachment, mirasmus.  One of the most devastating stories I know is a girl baby kept in a crib in an empty room by a maniac father who only fed and cleaned her intermittently.  She was not found until she was a teen, still in the crib.  She had imprinted on an imagined interaction with a old rain coat hanging on the back of the door.  It was inchoate and uncommunicable since she never learned to talk, had no words.

Empathy in this context is not sympathy, but a kind of habitation of another person, the key to understanding that might even be hostile but is a way of expanding and creating relationship.  "Mind melding" if you're a Vulcan, "grok" if you're a Heinlein reader.  This father above didn't have it.  These two phenomena, attachment and empathy, are personal and individual like prayer or meditation when alone.  With other people, empathy creates an expanding network of awareness and participation in groups and then in all life.  That's culture.  It's not genomic but the capacity is biological/physiological and that is genomic.

When thinking of what we call "religion" in the sense of an organized and structured group of humans, the two concepts that are key are the "map" and the "image."  (These are my terms.) The map might be through time or space or both, but it responds to the dynamic process of religion which is always transmuting even as it protests that it is permanent and unchanging.  The image is the focus, the control that unifies.  An icon.  

Damasio uses the Rappaport idea of homeostasis (it's a widely used concept) to describe life but adds to the two banks of the stream (too much and too little) by valorizing the term "Valence", which is the impetus forward of the stream of life as it seeks the future, which is governed and guided by feelings, the compass that uses both the physical and mental maps to guide the person into the future.  Valence is the feelings of the person as he responds to the culture.

I don't argue with any of this.  I think it is genius vocabulary that really helps and clarifies.  But I split with Damasio on the concept of religion.  This is not surprising since it's the subject of my MA but not his.  On the other hand he may come to it someday because I'm applying the lessons of Damasio or Quammen or others to the NATURE of religion.  Not really religion, but an historical predicate.  Damasio is still looking at the institutions that have dominated the definition of religion in the West, mostly centered on the Big Three of the Holy Land.  Everything he says about them is true, as far as I can see.  I'm a little more sceptical about "beliefs" which seem to me distributed along a continuum between "if you say so" and the rock-solid factual truth.

The Big Three religions tend to look for perpetual preservation as humans or human community.  It is very disconcerting in our times to lose confidence that continued existence is even possible, though a paradigm that includes immortality may be desirable to those who are thriving, those whose "valence" is fulfilled by "feeling."  For some, death is a relief.

But Damasio is not thinking about the felt Holy or Sacred, which is not universal, not necessary for institutions, and yet is the seed of our sense of Being.  Few if any people distinguish between institutional shared and named paradigms and -- not even the worked-out personal systems that conclude God is nature or God is love or God is good -- but the mysterious powerful moments of transcendence that some people describe.  What is THAT?  He doesn't say.

Quammen's description of the global sheet of DNA code -- most of it not just sub-human but also sub-animal, very little changed over aeons -- is that which is shared around the planet in microbes and viruses.  It even floats as fragments in the sea.  Just now we are pretty aware of the bazillions of those beings in us and around us.  It's not that they're Holy or even that they feel, but that we have elaborated/mutated/evolved from them until we are living knots or consolidations or even disruptions, complexifications that somehow exceed merely Being by thinking about it.  

Even if we are descended from E. coli, I doubt that the microbes think about us.  They just exist.  In us.  As collaborators.  Do they carry the ability to sense the Holy, something like the way they know how to search for food?  Or must one have an evolved body capable of opening up to it?  "The Force."  "The Way."  Probably only some of the population gives it any more thought than a microbe would.  As far as institutional religion goes, people with visions are a hazard.  Ask the people who over the years have had to fend off the "Emerson Avenger" intent on pointing out clerical shortcomings because one of them mocked his theophany. a vision of a "black sun."

Scientists point out that brain lesions, strong magnets at the temple, and other experiments can demonstrate a vision of Holiness that is quite convincing.  Is it just a form of epilepsy or some kind of neural disruption?  Or is it an epiphany?  I'm asking.

Thursday, February 27, 2020


Laird Williamson gave me my first kisses.  Not on a date but because we were in the same acting class at Northwestern and I needed a partner to do a classroom scene taken from "Summer and Smoke", the Tennessee Williams play about John, a completely physical and practical doctor's son, and Alma, which means "soul".  The play, besides being an archetypal American classic that I read in high school (to my prissy creative writing teacher's surprise) is an exploration of loving in a way that makes conventional intimacy impossible while the love remains intense.  Our lives went very different ways, but every Christmas I got a beautifully designed card with a spiritual message, because he was more Alma than John.  This Christmas there was no card.

In 1960 we guarded our futures by getting degrees to teach high school dramatics.  Most people know the movement as "Thespians."  Laird and I both did our student teaching at Evanston High School at the same time and walked up to the school together.  With our sponsor, Wallace Smith, we were sometimes out for ice cream as a threesome.  We attracted and supported the kids who were non-standard, brilliant, walking a high wire, maybe Black or Jewish in a way that shut doors.

Eagles Mere was a summer repertory company in Pennsylvania and again we were both included.  The place and time deserve a novel but those who were there find it too intense to describe.  I was the costumer.  Laird was actor and director.  The company was under the direction of Alvina Krause, who took special care of Laird, working with him in her office (a converted upstairs classroom in Annie May Swift Hall).  Some people didn't know it was happening because it was completely private. as much as psychotherapy, because that's partly what it was. AK's specialty was Greek drama, one of Freud's interests because the stories center on deep dilemmas, but the work was not done lying on a couch.  The actor was in movement, becoming the character.

When Laird became remarkable at Ashland, both acting and directing, I went down to visit, staying in my van parked in his yard.  He got me free tickets and we spent a bit of time together, but Ashland is a special sort of place for the repertory company, a special community of highly educated and prosperous people who provided the context and resources for high privilege.  I was not part of it but Laird was at the heart.  I loved seeing that, knowing that his life was so fulfilled.

Later, not quite retired but living in Yachats, I went to visit again and this time stayed in the house he had just bought with friends.  It had the most remarkable river stone fireplace painted bright blue by some previous owner.  We walked on the beach, visited a lighthouse, ate at a wonderful place where Laird was a regular, and talked.  I was envious of the house and kept having ideas about things like sand-blasting that fireplace, but it made Laird indignant for me to do that.  It was HIS house and he was not slow to tell me.  But he treated women like sisters and that meant he was resistant more than angry.

We didn't drink wine or beer, we didn't get high, we didn't act sexy.  Ours was training that AK taught us in an almost Edwardian Methodist way, since that was her spine.  Our bodies were not so much temples as instruments and needed protection to keep them at the highest level of skill.  It was almost Buddhist in terms of discipline, asceticism, centered ability to risk.  Not everyone stuck to that, but we did.

Laird was a far better scholar and historian than I ever was and that was part of his theatre practice.  But I knew him best at Eagles Mere where he designed and produced our silk-screened posterboard window signs for the plays.  I kept a set of that summer's remarkable images.  One of his Christmas messages has been on the wall of my kitchen ever since I moved to Valier twenty years ago.  He's never been here.

In fact, he had a devotion to the idea of "Indians" that was awkward for me, politically incorrect among "Indians".  I mean, he had a sense that the Yachats house would be the end of the trail, so he and his cohort filled the place with images of "End of the Trail" which are pop and schlock and defeatist, often garish and misshapen, and offensive to indigenous people who are intent on maintaining a future.  It was a shadow of idealism.  This is promo for the original statue by James Earl Fraser in the Cowboy Hall of Fame.  Bob and I were there during its restoration in the Sixties.  It's a "white man" fascination with defeat of enemies.  Isn't it?  This is a discussion of the opposition to the image.  

Mentioning this is a way of talking about a part of Laird's life that was covert, though never denied.  None of the publicity about his death has talked about it to protect his privacy and the institutions that use AK's Edwardian Methodist outlook in an excluding way instead of the radical inclusion that's exemplified by a different sculptor:  Malvina Hoffman's Hall of Man at the Field Museum in Chicago, which AK's acting students were asked to study, to bring to life as exemplifying the many ways of being human.

I'm only in touch with a few of our NU theatre acolytes.  Our cohort is 80 or older and vulnerable.  Few are willing to talk about private lives -- most are more Broadway than Hollywood.  Not everyone stayed in theatre.  Tom Foral became a painter famous for his portrait of Grace KellyKate Emory married Bill Pogue, and they are academic. Some, like Marshall W. Mason, are both academic and Broadway.  Of course, I write.  Would I write about EaglesMere, Laird, all the things that happened in Annie May Swift Hall ?  I think it exceeds me.  But it set Laird free long ago.  Death is just a transition.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020


The kind of writing I've been pursuing off and on is thinking about deep wounds and dilemmas from the past.  This is not "misery lit" about how hard life can be for some -- I always had enough, sometimes barely but never depriving.  Rather it's regrets and vengeances and oppressions that I didn't recognize, much less control.  It's about thinking, written because of thinking, which is my approach to just about everything because that was rewarded and encouraged by teachers and books in my early years.

"Who can tell me what 'skipping' means?" asked the second grade teacher.  My hand goes up.  I'm one of those wretched "teacher, teacher, I know" people.  I need attention and rewards.  Besides, I know.  Teacher says, "All right, Mary.  Show us what skipping is by skipping around this classroom."  So I do and every other kid hates me for being a showoff and who gives a damn what skipping is?

My reward for being so smart is that the teacher lets me wash out the saucepan she used to warm her lunch soup.  I can smell that deep-sink mop closet yet, a mix of muck, rust, disinfectant and wet mop string.  My mother found out and that was the end of that "reward."  I had not seen it through my mother's eyes.  It was maybe 1947 and no one had much, but we had our pride.

In high school I was devoted to dramatics and though I had parts on stage, what I preferred was backstage.  I was asked to help paint the flats for "All My Sons."  The back of the house.  First I made the mistake of using water-based paint when it should have been oil-based.  That was corrected.  Then the teacher called me out to the audience seats to look at the set.  She was frustrated.  "Look," she said.  I was supposed to be painting siding, but instead of straight boards, I had painted the curve of the circumference of my reach.  Someone else repainted it.  Probably the teacher.  It wasn't that I wanted to please her -- it was that my morality was based on always being right.

My mother was Presbyterian, conventionally.  Her code was unquestioned until late.  She was a churchwoman because her parents were, though her mother was really Baptist, much warmer and Jesus-based.  I had no way of knowing all this.  In 1952 the World Council of Churches published a straightforward and readable version of the Bible which I decided to read cover-to-cover.  I got as far as Noah's daughters getting him drunk so he would get them pregnant and stopped, overwhelmed.  It was not just the sex, but the drinking.  We were a temperance family, which all my cousins and sibs conveniently forgot as soon as they reached adulthood. 

Looking back, it was not conventional morality that shocked me, but an unconscious sort of morality, psychological -- even biological -- unfelt until it was violated.  I was afraid of something that everyone in the family was terrified to admit, something world destroying.  Something that the generations had denied, the entire culture -- well, the part that was proper and virtuous -- refused to look at.  Still does.  It was not that moral codes are cultural and used to be held specific to nations before they began losing their boundaries and moving their people around the world.  It was a plate tectonics of morality, the deepest levels of what Damasio calls "homeostasis", the achievement of survival.  Deeper.  Because why should one kind of being persist while the next one dies?  Why should we kill each other out of competition and dominance?

When I'm exhausted with writing for the day, I stream Netflix and Acorn.  I'm impressed by how many plot lines are about fathers and daughters.  We're stuck on Antigone and Iphigenia, but they are now usually beautiful young women, self-righteous and identity-challenged.  (Not like Medea.) Sometimes they hate their fathers, sometimes they don't know who their fathers are, and sometimes the father saves them.  It's not just that females are fertile or that the sexual revolution has changed the power games.  It's as though the daughters were aspects of the fathers.  If Oedipus and his mother were unknowing incest, what would Lear and his daughter be?  A moral incest?  One standard of behavior fucking another?

Today the media is frank about Trump's sexualization of Ivanka and publishes the photos of her underdressed in his lap.  It expresses the Euro obsession with the virginal, usually blonde, not quite mature, OWNED female that a father can play with.  Part of my contempt and nausea with Trump is from my own father, who suggested openly and cheerfully that when I was old enough he would take me to a burlesque show. He seemed to think it was just innocent entertainment.  My mother put a stop to that idea.  She didn't know that because our bus went through the part of town with both the burlesque theatres and the Romany (Gypsy) colony, that they were rather linked in my mind, but the priority went to the women in robes and glittering jewelry who sat together on straight chairs in the sunshine just outside the door of old industrial buildings.  Their lives were defined, guarded, with a tight morality of good behavior.

My curiosity was unbounded, therefore immoral, something like my interest in the gay network, which has lessened now that I realize that they are in many parts, some at war with others.  That's a different story challenge.  But it's relevant in part because I'm much more wary of women's networks.  Experience has taught me.  The worst attacks were women in competition over something they imagined.  I see some of them are retiring now, so it was long ago.

My best friend as a child was Catholic, conventional, a mother of many, conforming, and sometimes restless.  She was horrified by what I said at my mother's funeral, which was not sugar-coated.  In fact, it turned out to break the relationship more than my education did, though that ended many of my early relationships, even in the early teaching years.  Going deeper into one's inner morality is a kind of spelunking filled with danger and loss.  But not doing it can feel like sin.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020


A friend suggested that most people treat their cats as "fur babies" and consider them one-by one, but I treat these cats -- which are hardly "mine" -- as a group.  We know that how we think of things has a big impact on what we do about them.  I stopped thinking of these cats as my family and began to consider them as a "colony," a sort of biological project.  They are enchained, knitted, through generations.  I did not choose them -- they simply claimed what they thought was a good space for cats.  Electric warming, regular cat food, lots of noisy things to knock off surfaces.  

This is the colony at the moment:

2 fertile cats, one the daughter of the other.  The daughter is devoted to the mother.  We see humans with that relationship.  These two cats produce kittens.  If I succeed in eliminating their kittens while they are outside, they grieve for almost a week, even if they aren't nursing.

When kittens come -- and sometimes these cats abort or never become pregnant -- if I can catch the moment, I usher them on out of life through drowning.  This is an old practice among farm wives.  When I dislocated my shoulder, I lost track of a lot of things and failed to end kittens early.  The daughter-cat as a newborn was about to be ended when her mother suddenly saw what was happening, grabbed the baby by one backleg and carried her shrieking though the trapdoor to the dirt crawlspace under the floor.  I followed but she hid the kitten in an inaccessible spot where it grew up with no light at all.  In the end she came staggering out of the darkness, but her hormone status is addled.  She has many tomcat characteristics and is ferociously aggressive when strange tomcats come calling.

During my addled recovery from the fall, my guard was down so I didn't prevent what became two big solid-but-soft tom cats I call the bachelors.  They are not so friendly.  The mayor of Conrad suggested I contact the vet there to see if any ranchers wanted mousers.  Then the temp went to ten below zero and I didn't have the heart.  I guess the ranchers didn't either.  If one responds to spring, these cats are available.

In the meantime, two more kittens arrived, one mostly white that I call Salt and the other dark so I call him Pepper.  Both male.  The white one is fond and likes me.  They were both cute when they were little, but are now long, slinky, pushy, demanding cats.  But I would keep them and castrate them as my limit of two, if I were being sensible.  They both occasionally have periods of respiratory distress, sneezing and dripping, so they can't be given up for adoption.

4 kittens, newborn

That's six cats.  Then both old females gave birth and I had six additional kittens.  The daughter, Tuxie (black and white), the one who grew up under the house, had kittens with troubles.  One died at birth for its own reasons.  I helped along the other two.  But Blue Bunny, the cat who's lived here the longest, produced four kittens, all of which have eye troubles, gummy eyes, sometimes sealed shut, so that I spend time cleaning eyes with cotton balls.  Now they are eating canned food and semi-box trained.  They still nurse, just not so much.

There's another tomcat, the Mooch, a battered ancient creature who comes in the night after a week of battle, recovers on whatever overstuffed chair doesn't already have a cat in it, then disappears for a while.  I've never touched him.  We all just go around him and he avoids us.

So I thought it was ridiculous for an 80-year-old woman with very little income to have all these cats.  I began calling veterinarians.

To spay a cat:  $97 to $135
To neuter a tomcat: $60 to $69
To kill an adult cat:  $50 to $53
They refuse to kill kittens.  It makes them feel bad.  
The cheapest solution would be to kill all the adult cats.  $200 plus transportation for thirty miles.

In the past, human farm males were asked to cram a tomcat headfirst into a boot and snip off their balls with scissors or a knife.  Normally part of raising livestock is removing testicles from male meat animals.  "Soft-hearted" people had better stick to plants.

I am humiliated and embarrassed that this cat situation is out of hand.  Not just cost and smell and mess, but also because of my five years of animal control in Portland going into the homes of demented old people overrun by cats and inches deep in excrement.  No one complained about the people being half-in and half-out of death.  They wanted the cats removed.  I didn't have to clean the house, but I called social services.  No time or duty to do follow-up.

When I moved to this small town, some people were friendly and hoping I would have something interesting to offer them.  When I said I was really more of a rez person, some drew back, some turned hostile.  I tried to say I came to write and didn't plan to spend long hours gossiping and playing cards.  In fact, I wanted to be left alone.  This was bad news for the kind of small town person who thinks they are in charge of everyone else.  They told me that the last woman who came wanting to be left alone -- even if she died -- got exactly what she wanted.  She died.  No one knew until -- you know.  I did.  Animal control officers remove the pets of people who have died alone when the police have to deal with it.

2 "Queens" + 4 kittens

This moment there's a very living kitten swarming up my leg.  A seedy character, he didn't turn up when I put out cat food for the kittens.  There is always one kitten missing, never the same kitten.  When I went searching, I found this "four" in my reading chair, embraced by one of the bachelors.  This big cat had been chasing kittens earlier and I was afraid he'd killed this one, but it was safe, not particularly pleased by being awakened.  The leg-climbing kitten reached the keyboard, which some kitten had peed on yesterday, and wanted to taste my coffee.  I took him out to the front room.  The missing "four" had returned to the furry soft bachelor and was blissfully asleep.  I tossed Mr. Adventure in with it and the bachelor made room.

Monday, February 24, 2020


In 1961 when I came to Browning to teach English, I had no idea what I was doing.  Neither did anyone else.  We just blundered along, mostly dependent on textbooks meant for some other place.  One day I saw a high school senior in front of the school with a brush cut and heavy pair of IHS glasses.  It was Darrell Kipp.  (DRK)  He was discouraging a bully.  (I know who that was but I won't tell you.) We were told by the admin that if any student called us "Napi yaki" we were to send them to the office.  In those days teachers used force.

New story.  I had become a side-rider with Bob Scriver who was born on the rez in 1914.  He spoke "storekeep" Blckft because his dad came in 1903 and still operated the Browning Mercantile.  B used the Blkft lang as though it were French, a word or phrase here and there.  (His second wife was French Canadian.)  I picked up words.  One day we were in Cardston and I went to use the bathroom at a service station.  When I came out, there was a Blft grandma with a half-dozen little boys, all jittering because they needed to pee.  She thought I was slow and called me "Napi yaki."  I laughed.  I'd be angry and impatient in the same situation.  Some would not be civilized enough to use a bathroom but just teach the little boys to pee in a bush.

Another new story.  B. had the dream about becoming a Bundle Keeper.  The old people told him that was what it was.  He spent thousands for the object, the ceremony, and belonging to this group of people born in the 19th century.  We had to learn a prayer.  This was it.  More less.  I used it sometimes which made speakers do a doubletake.

Ki yo! Neena!  Na too see!
Spumokit.  Keemokit.
Ki mis nyok so kwan.
yi yee!

Jack Holterman was rich, gay, and very well-educated.  While waiting to inherit his money, he taught in the many little one-room schoolhouses on the rez.  He protected and adopted indigenous children.  During B's second marriage, he bought land at St. Mary's next to the Scrivers and began building a stone cabin.  While building, he and his partner at the time lived in B's cabin.  This was partly to prevent B's second wife from hiding out there.  B's women were always hiding out.  When I knew Holterman, who was then living in West Glacier in retirement, he was writing history of the area and had prepared materials for teaching Blkft.  One of his books, "Place Names of Glacier/Waterton National Parks," was later augmented as "Let the Mountains Sing."  The names were in indigenous languages. He worked from the Flathead side and rarely came to the Blkft rez anymore, but DRK always stopped by when he crossed the Rockies.

I have a whole box of binders containing impeccably typed letters from DRK during the years he was trying to understand how to start language revitalization.  He and DSS were employed to do this by the local school system, but it was always blocked, mysteriously.  Finally he saw that the school didn't want this to happen.  But he and DSS had academic creds as well as local roots.  DRK had a Harvard degree, worked in Canada, made connections.  He was able to invent the Piegan Institute with help from Hawaiians, New Zealanders, and private foundations.  His rule was never to take federal money and never to let the state get involved.  Cuts Wood School was run as a charter school for elementary kids and they DID learn to speak Blkft.

Earlier, Marvin Weatherwax's mother, Elizabeth Lewis, (I may have the name wrong) collaborated with Terry Sherburne who was white from a family even earlier than the Scrivers.  Weatherwax people are exceptionally bright and focused.  After years at BCC, Marvin Senior now teaches for this program linked above that comes from the Montana Historical Society.  The vid at that site where he describes a beginning program for basics is cleverly mocked in a vid of someone speaking Blkft eloquently while the print captions list the colors, numbers, days of the week.  Baby steps.  But it taught people that they could say the words without dissolving or turning green or being beaten by administrators.

The University of Lethbridge has made itself into a center of Blkft knowledge.   Two books come from there.  "Blackfoot Grammar" . D. G. Frantz (1991) ·"Toward a Generative Grammar of Blackfoot" (with particular attention to selected stem formation processes) . D. G. Frantz (1970) ·I've had these books for years and sometimes can even figure out what Blkft words mean by using them.  The college level knowledge based on linguistics, morphology, syntax is difficult to learn.

"Some general aspects of Blackfoot Morphology" . C. C. Uhlenbeck (1914) · Verhandelingen van het Koninklijke Akademie van Wetenschappen: Afdeeling Letterkunde: Reeks 2 · Vol. 14 · Amsterdam: Koninklijke Akademie van Wetenschappen.  This work was brought back to life in translation by Mary Eggermont-Molenar and entitled "Montana 1911", the year Uhlenbeck was on the rez.  He transcribed many oral stories from speakers but I don't know where one would find them to read.   
This resource lists "Blackfoot for Beginners". E. Tailfeathers (1993) · Edmonton: Alberta Department for Education.  Maybe Terrill Tailfeathers, who posts on Twitter, has some comment.  There are other books on this list that I never knew about until just now.

Relearning oral languages and integrating them into today's lives is a sputtering fire.  Various attempts and versions are scattered embers, partly because of barriers between nations (you CANNOT learn Blkft without Canadians), because of competition between persons who constantly dump the past in case it undermines them, and because of economics.  White people (academics and philanthropists) like to make themselves look good by claiming special affinity to tribes.  Montana academic entities do not help, not even the several university programs.

I don't speak Blackft.  I have a long history here.  Therefore, my prejudice as well as my philosophy is that language is cultural and cultures are ecological.  Therefore, to really learn a language, one must first learn the ecology, build a relationship with the land.  In the Sixties no one we asked even knew the word for "buffalo" or bison.  Today a lot of people own them on the rez and companies and programs use the word iinii in their names.  But I admit I'm a napi-yaki.

Sunday, February 23, 2020


Narcissism -- or as we used to say, being self-centered -- comes in "varieties" as the experts are beginning to say.  I want to discuss two kinds in this post:  "justified narcissism" and "self-protective" narcissism.  

All babies are self-centered because they can barely perceive what is outside their skins and have a hard time organizing what is inside their skin, things like digestion, circulation, and even breathing as crib deaths tragically demonstrate.  To ask them to consider others is silly.  But they do have an inchoate awareness of care providers and when they do begin to sense the world outside their skins, it is that developing and interacting relationship that shapes their brains.  In fact, will probably determine whether their future will be able to reach far beyond their skins into abstract ideas and other life patterns.

But someone who has suffered grievous damage, either physical or emotional or the blend that makes us human, may also need to be narcissistic for a while.

What I'm calling here "justified" narcissism is a reference to a person who is capable of enormous achievement because of concentrating only on themselves and their work.  Not only do they demand the time and support to do great things of value to everyone, they reserve the right to define what that is exactly and they demand that all others recognize and agree that it's worth sacrifice and neglect.  I lived that out through a supporting role for years.  It was true and worth it, and it made me crazy.  No regrets.  I grew to meet the challenges until they were just too much.

The joker in the pack is that the end result -- symphony, painting, play, architecture -- has to be worthy.  Who decides that?  Often the work at the peak is time-limited, maybe a decade.  It's at the mercy of the larger society who may not approve or may not even know it exists.  The rest of the joke is that the whole thing will be judged by money and only money.  Most of the people who buy art think in terms of money, what the art is worth.  That can go up and down overnight.  How does a supporter know they are not wasting their time and effort?

The narcissistic achiever who needs the "narcissistic supply" (see Sam Vaknin) of what the market will bring needs a backup narcissistic supply of praise and service to keep his or her nerve, to keep working.  Of course, I'm talking about Bob Scriver and I was perfectly suited to provide narcissistic praise for him.  It was sincere. The rez will tell you I helped his career.

But I was the example of the narcissist as self-defense.  A counselor once said to me, "It's as though you have NO defenses."  I had read so much about all the ways people protect themselves psychologically -- usually presented as criticism and pathology -- and been so determined to evade them, that I was a hermit crab with no shell.  So I borrowed Bob's.  But he gave me no "narcissistic supply" -- who I was was no concern of his.  He didn't really know why I was there and why I hung on.  That was my protection: that he didn't try to figure me out or change me, just let me be a child.  I paid no bills, I made no decisions or choices, I expressed no wants.  I just did what my mother did: be faithful and supportive.

But HIS mother was also narcissistic as a child to keep herself sane. Her husband, Bob's father, had had a mother who was frail and his own mother's mother was dynamic but often seriously ill.  Luckily Bob's mother's father was a big, warm, providing, sheltering man.  Bob at his best was like his grandfather.  At his worst he was like his mother.  At his worst when things got really bad, he was dangerous to thwart.

My worst was to hide.  Runaway.  And Bob's mother at her best made him give me a vehicle.  I stayed out on our little Two Medicine ranch that last winter and then went back to teaching. "Well," opined the administration, "Now THAT's over."  It never really was.  We didn't have the vocabulary or concepts for what really happened.  By now he's been dead for twenty years and it's still not over.  But there's space, some recovery, and even a bit of understanding.

This is where novels come from, but I'm finding that I don't want to write novels.  I'm not saying I don't want to write fiction, but I don't want to rehearse over and over.  That's the factor that makes people get so hung up on the authors instead of the novels.  Maybe.  The uncertainly of our changing world makes us want to see alternatives in stories.

This post used the concept of "narcissism" which is so popular right now, to show that being self-centered can mean survival, a legitimate self-defense that should not be removed without support and understanding.  I also mention genetics, which have dominated many conversations in the past few years, influenced by our old rural ideas of breeding livestock and dogs.  Our tendency to grab for one explanation and use it in every situation can be either helpful or an evasion of harder but more effective work.

Like our stigmatizing of emotion, while elevating "rationality" and tech, has shut out information we needed and has distorted our grasp of reality.  Now the new way of looking at the interaction of body and thought systems confuses some and scares others.  Our hierarchies of achievement are confused and our assumption that it is a good thing to ask for conformity is challenged.

Damasio introduces a new term he calls "valence," which in his definition is the overall feeling of "how'm I doin'?" and "how's that workin' out for you?"  We hear those phrases.  To feel one's "valence", or life satisfaction it is necessary to use every kind of understanding or to risk ramming your head in a corner.  When "valence" is operational and dependable, people make good choices and are satisfied.  It's not religion, but a religion that is a good fit can help sustain it.  (My mother was the only church-goer in that generation.  She quit when the church was dominated by social status.)

Families confused by new times, in conflict over the nature of success, inclined to stigmatize outsiders, will burden their children, but it's not hopeless.  One is not confined to birth families.  Listen to what people say.  Map the territories where they are.  

Saturday, February 22, 2020


The sexual revolution came out of growth in knowledge and control of the generational drive, making it possible for women to limit childbirth and change the dynamics of families.  Accompanied by the shift of most people from rural life, attachment to small farms and towns, to the city, these changes evoked a whole new set of values and strategies.  My parents exemplified the transition, which deeply affected their children's lives, partly causing them to resist children of their own.

The plan on my father's side was for each of the sibs to have two children.  The accidental third child in my set meant an economic burden that was finally lifted by my mother's entry into the workforce of teaching.  My father's fealty to rural communities meant that his job was serving rural people, which meant travel.  Both parents thought they were city folk, sophisticated and knowledgeable.  My father maintained his illusions through books and magazines.  My mother took up the political role of a PTA leader, which led to teaching.  Both held on to rural ways of assuming a "family business" even as my brothers and I left them through peace time military service and me through access to a national university, Northwestern, which was considered higher status. 

My father's sibs scattered, one brother going to Southern California to manage lung damage, one brother becoming an airline pilot, and the sister and her family making a sociological jump by building a house across the West Hills from Portland proper.  My mother's sibs, the Pinkerton girls, married Hatfield boys down at the southern end of the Willamette Valley.  As the Hatfield patriarch told his boys, "Pinkerton girls are smart and work hard.  Get one."  The Hatfield boys continued to ranch and did well.  Military service took one to the city.  One of the Pinkerton girls, a nurse, did military service but came back, traumatized and content to live quietly.

What I'm leading up to is family dissension.  My mother said that her childhood was a verbal war at every breakfast because of differences between her parents, her father the Pinkerton from a branch of his family that were not detectives but rather builders who happened upon the boom in dairy business that required big barns.  When all the barns were built, less work meant less money.  They turned to raising small fruits and orchards.  But it was painful. This pairing meant the wife was more sophisticated than her volatile husband.

My mother's mother was a Cochrane, a family that did very well in the fertile valley, but she had terrible teeth and for one year was sent to Portland with the help of church connections, in order for her mouth to be redesigned.  She acquired a taste for the big city.  The breakfast wars were over making money and being sophisticated.  Because both partners thought in Victorian rural terms of breeding and WWI terms of nation, the accusations were not about economics but about breeding.  And about opportunities and compensations in the big city of Portland, which my mother believed.  But she was a woman of determination and refused to allow breakfast wars, so instead that refusal hid behind its back resentment at not being more "successful" and involved.  The looming ghost of sociological resentment was invisibly real, controlling the decisions of my brothers and I.

Somehow we all became convinced that achievement was dangerous, though we had a taste for it.  We'd do well, start on the track to stardom, and sputter into safe low profiles.  Part of it was that our parents didn't have contacts and skills they could give us: their whole life strategy was always to get a secure job and hang onto it like bulldogs.  As time went spinning on its way, the nation moved to a gig economy and corporations owned both rural and urban life.  All my cousins on my father's side dispersed across the continent.  The Pinkerton/Hatfield coalitions held but were somewhat limited by ancient English understandings of life, like primogeniture and the drive to acquire and keep land ownership.  The accident of one marital pair having boys and the other pair only having girls was at the heart of their wars.  In the last years of his life my younger brother took refuge with them, uneasily.  

The concussions that we now take seriously affected both my father who was in a head-on car crash in 1948 that changed his personality, eroding it until his relatively early death, and my younger brother who fell and cracked his head on pavement, which took him out of the workforce in his forties.  The other brother had evaded romantic liasons but broke his leg and married the woman who moved in to take care of him.  She was divorced with a son.  Their low-key conservative liason worked.  I think it was peaceful.

So my own life has been divided by a split between conventional marriage and an atypical and romantic arts life that required making big money (bronze casting is far more expensive that painting) and entered a new split between the post-WWII culture of heroism and prosperity celebrated in the boom of Cowboy-and-Indian stories, realistically portrayed, and a new ironic progressivism, wanting to "get behind" the stories.  I refused to have children as a source of oppression and physical endangerment.  But I could never quite understand how to "rise to the top", or even how to develop my best talent, writing which came out of a reading childhood because of my parents.  I wanted out of the status quo, out of fast track urban life, out of middle-class standards left over from Britain and war. I wanted both rural and urban.

There have been passages when I took any job I could.  I was never subject to major sickness or damage.  I was stubborn about being reliable, not complaining about work that was "beneath" me, staying aware and informed, but I never was able to build a writing habit or to understand how to market writing, though my aunt the poet knew how to do these things in a quiet way and tried to help me.  I gradually came to understand that I wasn't like anyone else in the family, didn't share their "values," and couldn't expect them to understand what I was doing, much less thinking about.

The strange thing about theology is that it's supposed to be a "people's knowledge", blameless and basic because of faith, which in fact it is not.  Instead it is more rarified and dependent on the past than any science or math.  To "really know" theology is to be separated from the mainstream.  But it is considered virtuous.  It was a perfect escape from meaninglessness because it showed that meaning is constructed instead of inherited and possibly contentious world views.  It's a discipline well acquainted with schism, belligerence, and transformation.  Vital for writing.

Friday, February 21, 2020


The books in my father's sock drawer were secret.  I don't know why they should be secret since they were not obscene books, but rather scientific books about sex.  I don't know why a sock drawer is considered a safe and private place.  Is it because socks are a displaced symbol of sex, kinky like shoes, like condoms, like feet and toes?  Is a sock a vagina?  Is a shoe a vulva?  Is a foot a penis?  I never knew how to think of high heels, except that I grant that they're associated with sex as sex workers know, and often the first venture of a little boy into being as sexy as his mom.

If you want to read the books in my father's sock drawer, here they are.  I found and read them seventy years ago:

     "Sexual Behavior of the Human Female"  (1948)
     "Sexual Behavior in the Human Male"
  Masters and Johnson
     "Human Sexual Response"
     "Sex and Human Loving"
    "Human Sexual Inadequacy"
    "Human Sexuality"
    "Psychopathia Sexualis"

I haven't reread these books since I was a kid.  I don't own them.  They were factual, dry writing about an engrossing body of material that was usually denied or kept secret.  But it was a lot for a ten-year-old to digest alone.  No one knew I read them, not even my brothers.  I could only read them when everyone else was out of the house.  

Nothing has turned out to be wrong.  I couldn't look at a fire hydrant without blushing.  But it was all solitary.  This set the mode for the rest of my physical life:  intense but restrained.  Not thwarted but suppressed.  High awareness of the need for safety and secrecy.

In seminary when I was forty, a Masters and Johnson workshop brochure came to the school in the mail.  It was put in my pigeon hole as a joke, because it seemed to the male sorter that I was the least likely person to be interested, most likely to be offended.  I signed up and went.  It was what I expected.  That was forty years ago.  I had been married and had even managed an affair that went nowhere.  But the mail sorter didn't know that.

The feminist flames were burning high and I stopped into a women's bookstore where I happened upon "The Story of O."  As far as I know, I was the only seminarian who even knew the book existed.  I opened it on the way home while waiting for an exceptionally long stoplight and was riveted until all the cars behind me were honking wildly.  High-end glamorous S and M, which I was equipped to recognize.  Once again high intensity, impersonal, secret and restrained.  Very French.  No fertility involved.  More costumed than nude.  Rather like Anya Seton's historical novels in which the heroine rose in the morning with red marks on her breasts.  I figured that those castles were flea-ridden.  I read them all as a teen.

So now my bookshelves hold survey books, not like Kinsey but rather scraped databanks analyzed, like "A Billion Wicked Thoughts", which revealed to the researchers' surprise just exactly what porn buyers actually wanted.  Porn is a separate subject, but the revelation that had me both laughing and turned on was "tentacle porn" from Japan where depictions of the human penis were banned, so authors and artists displaced to tentacles.  I ran across it in sci-fi.  Once the idea took hold, it was powerfully psychological.  That's the other kind of book I keep, the origin of fetishes or the ones that show how intimacy evolves from the awakening consciousness of a child

For a long time I ignored the sociology of sex, the economic parameters, the mercantilizing of equipment, spaces, class and stigma.  But then a peripheral conversation with young male sex-workers and the experience of actually being clergy made the issues vivid and personal.  I had been a woman ignored as "sexless" but now I wasn't.  Power is assumed in religious leaders and that turns people on.  Other see clergy as public property.  Older women felt free to adjust my clothing, fondle my jewelry, adjust my hair.  At conferences middle-aged women invited me to shower with them in a little intimate group.  Sheesh.  I found it alarming.

Once I began trying to write fiction about sex and the clergy, but it went nowhere, mostly because it kept turning into slapstick.  I despise the English irreverent burlesque slapstick about anything meant to be dignified.  Neither do I appreciate the more American romance of the nun, that suppressed and sanitized, even medicalized, idea of mystic desire.  Already did that in real life. So what else is there? 

When my father died, his bookcases dominating every room could be emptied and removed.  It turned out that some of them were double-shelved with the back row being paperbacks.  These were truckstop porn, evidently from his years on the road.  Poorly written, cheaply bound, it was a puzzle that he didn't just throw them away.  Maybe he wanted to be found out.  Maybe such secrecy is really about the drama of unmasking, the passage from intimacy only with oneself into a larger interaction with others.  Was it a displacement from using prostitutes?  We didn't think so.

What did it have to do with me?  I've never known why I've always felt such contempt for my father.  My brothers felt it as well.  My mother would never admit such a thing.  Incidents stick in my mind but only in the past few years have I figured out that my father's birth family thought that women were natural princesses, beautiful and treasured like my aunt.  But my mother's family thought that women were competent, tough, equal to men but careful not to let the men know they were being supported and guided.  This binary might be the real dynamics of sex that I carried.  Not about the physiology of sex at all -- about gender roles.  So now I must read Foucault.

Now I am encaged by time, though an endearing young male sexworker was indignant at the idea that I might be past pleasure provided by someone else.  (No interaction. He was in Paris.)  His need to make money and my need to figure it all out are both restraints, but maybe that's what keeps us from being disinterested.  A bit of a boundary to let things accumulate intensity.