Monday, October 16, 2017


I redacted the photos so you'll need to use links to get them.  There are Blackfeet/Blackfoot photos, but not in this story.  You could go to Google Images to get a lot of examples.

Paul Seesequasis, writer and editor, is optimistic that perceptions of indigenous peoples are changing. 
Sharing archival photos of Indigenous life on Twitter has not only taught author Paul Seesequasis about the strength and humour of his mother's generation — but it also netted him a book deal.

The Saskatchewan Plains Cree writer and journalist started posting the images two years ago, while the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women's inquiry and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission were dominating the headlines.
Inspired by a comment from his residential school survivor mother that "we don't hear enough positive stories about Indigenous life during that time," he started digging up old images in public archives of Aboriginal Peoples across Canada from the 1940s to the 1970s.

"And from there I started posting them up on Twitter and later on Facebook, and just started to receive a very positive response and that kind of gave me the momentum to keep going," Seesequasis told As It Happens.

Penguin Random House took notice and will be collecting the images in a book called Blanket Toss Under Midnight Sun, due to hit shelves in the fall of 2018. 
Seesequasis spoke to As It Happens guest host Susan Bonner about the photos. Here is a part of their conversation.

SB: Were you looking for just images that depicted positive scenes of Indigenous life?

PS: I was looking for images that captured the resilience and the integrity of communities across Canada during that time. So, in that essence, yes, positive.
But I was also looking for photos that captured the sense of personality of people, as well as people going about their day-to-day lives, as opposed to posed photographs.

SB:  Are there a couple that really stand out for you as meeting your objectives?

PS: One would be by Richard Harrington, who was up in Nunavut, or what is now Nunavut, in the late '40s and early '50s, and he took one called "Foot Race." 
It's just a marvelous photo. It captures humour and joy and day-to-day life, and I think that one stands out.

As does a photo by Rosemary Eaton of a Dene boy in Saskatchewan, and he's dressed in a very beautiful beaded jacket and he has this lead dog bedside him and the dog is sort of snuggling against his leg, and there's just something very warm in that photo that when its posted, people have responded to.

View image on Twitter

To me, it's photos like that, they just speak to something in our hearts or in how we view them that captures a moment as much as a photograph can, and captures the integrity of the subjects themselves. 

SB: Tell me about some of the responses you've been getting.
PS: I'm getting responses from people saying, 'Oh, that's my late father' or 'That's my auntie, that's my uncle,' or 'Oh my god, that's me and I was 16 with my dog and I've never seen this photo before.'

View image on Twitter

I think sometimes it is the process of reclamation, of people being able to reclaim their families or how their ancestors lived with the land, as well as culture and traditions.

SB: What have you personally learned about Indigenous identity through curating these photos? 

PS: The first thing I've learned is respect for the hardships that people went through ... particularly in instances when there's starvation, near starvation, residential schools — all that process that attempted to shatter the sense of community within different regions.

View image on Twitter

But at the same time how, despite that, people were able to hold it together. And without their resilience and without their determination, you know, our languages would not be here, the culture would not be here in the way it is. And I think we're seeing now a new generation coming up that is really reaping the benefits of what the previous generations were able to do.

And then there's the humour and the tall stories that also come out with the photos, and that's also part of oral history and a very rewarding thing to be a small part of.

SB: Tell me one of those humorous stories. I understand there's one about a boy and a cigarette.
PS: Oh yeah, there's one where Jacob Partridge, who is Kuujjuaq, and Rosemary Eaton, who is one of the pioneering photojournalists ... just happened to be there this day he had his first cigarette. And I think he was probably having it, as he said, to show off to her, 'cause he was 16 at the time.

View image on Twitter

You can sort of see that he's kind of playing with the camera a bit and feeling quite proud of himself. Now, you know, 50 years later, he's laughing about that.

SB: So, I've got to ask you what your mom thinks of all this?

PS: I think she thinks it keeps me out of trouble. Maybe she thinks I spend too much time on the computer, I'm not sure. We'll know when the book comes out how she feels about it.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. For more on this story, listen to our full interview with Paul Seesequasis.


My Mother's retirement gift was this old school bell.
At her funeral my Marine veteran brother used it to ring the maritime code.

Because I attended college twice at widely separated intervals, enrolling in institutions physically separated by the City of Chicago:   Northwestern University (1957-61) on the North Side and U of Chicago on the South Side (1978-82), I should be able to do a “compare and contrast” essay.  But I am not.  They aren't enough alike.

In the first place, the two episodes — my 4 year sojourns in each place — were both atypical.  I did not take a standard curriculum at NU, based on conventions reaching back centuries, but rather joined an atypical cadre of actors with a focused intention of understanding human beings as expressed onstage.  At the U of Chicago I entered from the beginning as an atypical member (I was forty) of a minority (UU) separated seminary, with privileged access to an almost austere circle of prestigious scholars, predominantly at the U of Chicago Div School but also a cluster of denominational seminaries.  

Strangely, they complemented each other for my purposes, but it’s hard to explain how or why, particularly since I didn’t “embed” but wasn’t quite iconoclastic.  (The watching cat.)  Part of the reason I give so much attention to these two academic experiences is that I wrestle with how they are relevant to what I think today.  And partly, I see them to be as shadowy as American Indian tribes — almost secret and impossible to define —nothing like the state universities portrayed in the media with all their craziness and xenophobia.

And yet my testimony is unreliable in the present.  Once I had driven off from Hyde Park in the smallest U-Haul truck possible, navigating the June Midwest torrential rains with a stuffed panda bear bouncing alongside for a co-pilot, I never went back.  Never wanted to go back.  Well, maybe recently a tiny bit to see what the renewal of the Meadville building and the new Seminary Co-op Bookstore look like.  The scholars I needed while I was there — but didn’t know about — all moved to California.  I do not go to California.

While I attended the U of Chicago, I did revisit NU a few times, but it was so changed that I couldn't even find Annie May Swift Hall.  They say Eagles Mere Theatre, where the summer repertory was housed has collapsed.

To my friends and relatives from early years of my life, even the Sixties in Browning, I’ve become inscrutable and possibly self-destructive.  For them, life is a matter of keeping calm and carrying on, responding to the needs of loved ones.  Isolation is the worst fate.  Fame is an unmitigated good, but fortune is even better.  None of that matches what I have learned.  But I wonder if I can communicate with those people now.  It seems dubious, mostly because they are sure of what THEY know.  It worked for them.

Standard mainstream NU today, as represented online and in alumni magazines, makes me shudder.  In the thrall of corporations, nevertheless, in pockets, it indulges in post-colonial rhetoric and technological expertise, almost as a disguise — certainly as justification.  People with money still attend there, justifying their own lives since they are not quite Ivy League.  I don’t have any evidence for how theatre is taught in the splendid new buildings.  But I’ve tried to show that in Annie May Swift Hall there were indestructible seeds of what I still understand to be the path to meaning.  I’m glad it was recently renovated instead of being torn down.

Some of the same factors come to bear on the U of Chicago.  Their biggest challenge is the necessity of surrendering some of the entitlement based on a rigidly precedented sequence of philosophers.  It will be decades before they give up the philosophy “Modern Thinkers”.  (We used to call them “Modern Stinkers”, since they were the subject of one of the qualifying exams.)  The new understanding of how brains and bodies work in the most basic molecular interactions challenges the cult of the young brainy and handsome male who sees the universe in his navel.

Lifelong, apart from these two giant universities, I attended a slew of random classes as part of teacher recertification or just a practical way to get certain knowledge.  A course in producing art in Cheney, WA, was useful.  A summer seminar for white people teaching reservation kindergarten was amazing.  Some Portland State University classes required for a degree in clinical psychology were both boring and revealing: more stuff about white rats and a self-serving prof who offered psychotherapy in her private practice.  At least I learned enough about statistics to recognize a standard deviation on a bell curve and how arbitrary it is.  

These random courses in different places for different reasons do not provide a concentrated focus that any big university can offer:  the formation of a lifelong cohort and possibly formal family alliances through marriage.  Particularly in seminary it is important to establish ties among each other that can be called on through the future.  This is also true of preparation for careers in small towns where people are widely separated by highway time but have common interests.  Various boards, committees, NGO’s, and other selected gatherings can offer both support and inspiration, even intervention when things go badly wrong.  But they require loyalty and cooperation — they can be enforcers.  

As far as education goes, by which I mean personal acquisition of knowledge and skills, I see autodidacts who do better.  Apprenticeships.  On-line courses.  But they have no cohort of familiars.  And none of the accesses to expensive labs and libraries that the wealthy endowed institutions can support.  So it’s always a tradeoff.  As well, these connections established when people are young are generally gender-sorted.  Guys help guys and gals . . . some play the game and others don’t.  Some pair off.

My mother and a scholarship paid for my NU degree, which my mother interpreted as a guarantee of prosperity and safety that she never had.  To her, a returning student to Portland State alongside Korean veterans, her diploma opened the door to one job, teaching elementary school in one school, Columbia, which got its name from being almost on the levee along the Columbia River, with a low-income student body partly from house boats.  She was there until retirement.  It was her world.  Not mine.

My oldest friend says that she always thought I was brave about following my heart and ideals.  But in the Sixties, starting out, I had no idea what they were.  A more recent deep friendship taught me that I was not the only one whose community identified them as future stars and loaded them with expectations that couldn’t be fulfilled.  We escaped to worlds unknown, sometimes secret, occasionally riding behind stereotypes that were stigmas, and with absolutely no relationship to prosperity or safety.  That friend grew up next to a university.  I grew through but away from universities.  

The PSU shrink/prof I went to for counselling said that in her own life she had thought it would be wonderful to have all the people she knew and valued come together in one place for a party.  But finally she realized it would kick off an enormous fight, a donnybrook something like the political battle that is consuming many of us now.  It was one of her most useful stories.

Sunday, October 15, 2017


“What should I do if a student pulls a knife in class?”

“Get a new job at a better school!”

That was the 1961 exchange between me and my NU teaching methods professor who had been giving us tips about stuff like kids who chew gum or won’t take their hats off.  I wanted him to get real.  He wanted to entertain the class, which was mostly jocks, either as camouflage for being on Bobcat teams or with the vague intention of becoming coaches.  When the prof himself was in high school, he had probably been the kid in charge of towels and keeping the stats.  Though — quietly — such a kid would always get more prestige out of keeping secrets and carrying messages — in those days probably substances not so much.

My student teaching was at Evanston Township High where my supervising teacher, Wallace Smith, who had a fabulous deep voice, answered the phone by announcing,  “This is God.  What can I do for you?”  Unless they knew him, there would be a long pause.  He did not have this voice because he was Black, because this was one of the best high schools in the country and they did not have Black faculty.  There was a beautiful Black female student whom Mr. Smith told sadly that though she was a better actress than any white girl in the school, she could NOT expect to have a career.  Luckily, it turned out he was not God after all.

If Mr. Smith came to any color of girl turning the corner in the hall, he would demand, “When are you going to start losing weight?”  Even the skinny ones would stammer out some excuse.  He loved throwing people off balance.  He said to me, “Well, you know, once you start to talk you seem a lot smarter than you look.”  

Used to my mother’s family’s idea of humor, I took it in stride.  Anyway, it seemed true.  I don’t know what challenge he issued to Laird Williamson, who was the other student dramatics teacher along with me.  Laird went on to be a pillar of the Ashland Shakespearean Festival.  I don’t know whether he ever really taught high school.  Since I taught on the Blackfeet Reservation, almost everything I learned was pretty irrelevant.  Except the acting courses — it’s impossible to be irrelevant to acting.

Anyway, it’s beyond ironic that when I googled “Wallace Smith” I brought up a successful black actor (male).  I have no idea where the white high school teacher ended up.

Karl Robinson was in charge of the Speech Ed department.  He was a slightly geeky, conscientious, earnest sort of man who worried about me wanting to take so many religion courses — or acting courses, either.  (Maybe they were signs that I was unstable?)  If there is still an NU course of study for teaching high school dramatics or “speech” in the present Communication Arts curriculum, I couldn’t find it online.  But I was pleased to see that in the department devoted to speech and audiology pathologies, there are associated studies of learning disabilities.

There’s also a thing called “Rhetoric + Public Culture” which may be remnants of what was once a dominant emphasis on debate and public speaking.  In general the whole "School of Speech" territory is not just divvied up in different ways, but also spread out — you might say “globalized” since much seems to include post-colonial French-Algerian thought.  

In my day Dean Barnlund’s “Language and Thought” class upset all the rational, logical, either/or guys by introducing S.I. Hayakawa’s semantics.

“The original version of this book, Language in Action,[later "Language in Thought and Action”] published in 1941, was in many respects a response to the dangers of propaganda, especially as exemplified in Adolf Hitler's success in persuading millions to share his maniacal and destructive views. It was the writer's conviction then, as it remains now, that everyone needs to have a habitually critical attitude towards language—his own as well as that of others—both for the sake of his personal well being and for his adequate functioning as a citizen. Hitler is gone, but if the majority of our fellow citizens are more susceptible to the slogans of fear and race hatred than to those of peaceful accommodation and mutual respect among human beings, our political liberties remain at the mercy of any eloquent and unscrupulous demagogue.” 

Hayakawa was a Republican senator from California between 1977 and 1983.  He was the nephew-in-law of Joseph Stalin, in that his wife Margedant's brother William Wesley Peters was married to Stalin's daughter Svetlana Alliluyeva, so he could probably mediate with Russians.  He was a definitively inclusive guy, which may have come from being a Japanese Canadian by birth.  Rather like Obama, he depended on calm, honor, and hanging out with ordinary folks in South Side Chicago blues bars.  Here he is, speaking.  At that point he was President of San Francisco State College.

Powerful liberal forces in politics have somehow been diminished, but the thought has continued, as progressive (emergent) thought has always persisted down through the centuries.  Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it’s not there.  Journalists did not take “Language and Thought,” so therefore they don’t see one large sector of America.

My education at Northwestern was right on the cusp of a major shift in the United States, one that went along after WWII for decades with bumps and set-backs, until now when aged retro Republicans are making one last heave-ho, hoping the past will return — along with their youth.  Ironically, while they try to resurrect the past economic patterns of coal and Hollywood, the big picture is shifting quickly, and when they get what they want, like a grandpa with a teenaged bride, it will be useless.  Coal is replaced; Hollywood is obsolete.

The first classes I taught in Browning did include a student who pulled a knife on me.  He threw it at a desktop, intending it to stick in a twanging message of danger.  Instead, the formica desktop just bounced it off and it slid into a corner.  I went to get it, folded it (it was a pocket knife, but long and wicked enough to be illegal most places) and shoved it into his jeans pocket.  (Jeans weren’t as tight then as they are now.)  “Now sit down and get to work.”  He did.  Later he worked with us in the foundry and we got along fine.  He’s dead now.  So many of them have died.

“Professor, what should I do about students who are murdered, hooked on drugs, drive drunk, die young of preventable disease?”  The honest answer is that we don’t know.  The even more honest answer is that not many people care.

In the meantime, the students of both Browning HS and Blackfeet Community College have somehow shifted from shyness to eloquence.  I’m dazzled by their plays and speeches.  I used to say to kids who complained that their teachers hated them, “If you can’t learn because of them, you must learn in spite of them.”  They did.  Both.  Me, too.  Enough to get out of teaching.

Saturday, October 14, 2017


The unintended consequence of acting training is the consciousness of personification: that is, if you can find something in your “self” that can portray a tree or a panda — which are the kinds of exercises you might be asked to do — you can also see that abstract forces and real political goals are also personified all around us.  If it’s a “thing,” it can be represented as a person, like the Statue of Liberty. 

Many college sophomores pride themselves on realizing that “God” is not a person with a long white beard sitting on a throne.  But maybe they don’t realize that both Trump and Obama are also personifications, fronts for corporations, mafias, race relations, and greed — as well as all the qualities that resist.  Hilary Clinton is not Mother Courage.  The impotence of the new Hollywood is personified by a repulsive old man who may have to take Viagra in order to jerk off in front of a starlet.

The best acting training preserves a determined and idealistic core in actors that is supported by local repertory companies rather than Broadway productions owned by corporations and treating theatre seats like political fund-raising dinners, a thousand dollars a pop.

AK (Alvina Krause) used to say that both the reward and punishment of teaching is that one never knows how the student will turn out.  But there is not just one consequence when a student actor becomes a fully aware human being.  And that idealistic core of an actor is not necessarily done by taking on a role.  There are peripherals.  They have nothing to do with fucking unless it's in the script.

B43 people were required to attend a daily session with a red-headed and relentless coach named “Larry” who surely had a leprechaun somewhere in his genealogy.  He was there to teach us survival in the “real” world of Broadway theatre.  “What’s your price?” he asked.  "What will make you give up and quit?"   We had to read the theatre pages of the New York Times, even find how many times Hirschfield worked his daughter’s name (“Nina”) into his cartoon.  

In those days the Arts Section was our Internet.  (It was the real secret of how Bob Scriver went from being a local cowboy artist into a respected member of the National Sculpture Society.)  These sessions were meant to be a means of survival, to address character, make us more effective in backstage life.  We were becoming persons who could inhabit any person and maybe inanimate objects.  It was a step towards Lakoff, et al, identifying metaphor as the key to human thought and meaning.

It also empowered gays, feminists, renegades and anyone else who could “perform” in the broadest sense.  We would invent little vignettes to act out on the elevated railway — maybe someone who pretended to be blind and picked a fight with his escort.  The Sixties and Seventies were just around the corner.

Eaglesmere Summer Repertory was the most intense example of creating a cooperative of actors, who were as much infrastructure as actors.  (We did the lighting, the sets, the handbills, the programs, etc.)  We were like the small groups of independent actors who traveled in gypsy wagons in the Middle Ages, the ones in Bergman’s “Seventh Seal,” who had an ultimate message about good and evil.  We didn’t do “group” as much as autopsies of falling short, but back at NU there WAS a class that was "group," a kind of Gestalt therapy.  It was listed in the catalog as D-something, when it was listed.  Invitation only.  I wasn't in it and it took me a while to find someone who would admit that it existed.  When actors get real, there are real consequences.  I know of two "nervous breakdowns."

What spun off from all this exploration was repertory companies and academically supported programs across the continent.  The most directly connected remains Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble, now celebrating its fortieth season  “In 1980, BTE purchased the Columbia movie theatre in downtown Bloomsburg and reopened it in 1983 as the Alvina Krause Theatre, named in honor of the legendary acting teacher who was the Ensemble’s founding inspiration.”  This is not trivial ego-driven theatre, but serious inquiry into what it means to be human.

When I began to round up my AK-related materials to send to the NU archives, I also googled everyone relevant whose name I could find who was prominent in theatre from Shakespearean companies to experimental pop-ups to academic eminences grise.  They weren’t all men.  They weren’t even all favored by AK, who was capable of holding grudges and freezing people out.  

In fact, my high school dramatics teacher, Melba Day Sparks, took classes from AK and found her a hard and judgmental person.  Of course, Melba’s inability to confront risk and leave family meant that she stayed at the high school Thespian level — not that that was a bad thing and I’m grateful.  She created little families for adolescents.  In a way, that was also a contribution by AK.  In a way, my life — from ministry to dog-catching — was due to AK.  It would be hard to think up a better way to learn about people than through their cohabiting animals.

At NU we sort of split out between Broadway and Hollywood.  The summer I was at Eaglemere was esp. difficult because the plays had been planned around Paula Ragusa, who was just transforming into Paula Prentiss without much warning, and went off to shoot “Where the Boys Are” that summer.  Luckily, the network of AK-trained actors was wide and the plays were quickly recast, which is the point of repertory.  

Many of the Broadway people had come to NU from professional theatre families.  The Hollywood people sometimes drew on actors through New York connections like Woody Allen.  Other students were specifically interested in film — TV was too new to be a factor.  Truffaut, Bergman, and others who ended up in the Criterion Collection of classics were just coming into view.  AK had nothing to contribute in terms of movie acting.  Yet “Method” acting — which was her core message — was ideal for film, at least the kind that depends on the most subtle shifts of the actor’s face and body, direct reflection of the mind and heart inside.

There are blogs about AK.  I created two:  “” which is material about AK, and “ “ a compilation of all her writing that I had saved.  There is more material out there, a formal bio waiting to be written.  David Press’ doctoral thesis and AK’s own master’s thesis for instance.  My cohort, which was late in her career, is almost too old to take on projects — some are dead — but others are old enough to tell the truth without destroying their careers.

This kind of education, which doesn’t depend upon assumptions but rather on the inhabitation of personas in order to understand what they symbolize -- for instance, pretending to be God or his Son -- can have a strong political dimension and it’s time to energize that.  Trump as a weak parasitical man — the tool of giant corporations, some of them actually nations — could be a post-colonial Ibsen’s “Enemy of the People” unhampered by the taboos of Ibsen’s time.  There are new taboos to break.  But after all, my cohort of actors is about the same age as today’s Congress.  What we need is young playwrights.  Below is an excellent plot starter.

Friday, October 13, 2017


At NU in 1957 I missed Alan Watts who earned his theology Masters Degree at the adjoining Seabury-Western Theological Seminary in 1950, but I enjoyed watching the Episcopal proto-priests swirling around in their capes as well as listening to their carillon.  I was not aware that AK had come to the theatre department of NU through teaching interpretation at on-campus Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary which was United Methodist.  They seemed to be missionaries who played a lot of volleyball.

Paul Schilpp, my "Philosophy of Religion" professor

I didn’t even know that Paul Schilpp got his BD from Garrett, MA from NU, and Ph.D. at Stanford.  I didn’t know he attended Ethical Culture services (didn’t know there was such a thing) But I did know he had been born in Germany, was passionate and belligerent in his teaching, scorned both the Methodists and his first wife, and yet was one of the few professors who really reached out to students and tolerated their dissent.  

One of my cherished memories is sitting on a stairs at a party at his house (I am a cat), just watching.  He came to sit alongside and prompted me to react to his fond definition of “art is an expression of the relationship between man and the universe.”  It was too early to point out that “man” didn’t necessarily include me.  But I was adamant that art was the COMMUNICATION of the relationship.  I was focused on acting, which IS an art of communication.  I said an art (painting, sculpture, music) had to mean something to another human being before it could be an “art.”  The resulting debate has been in my head for the last fifty years.

Just now I went into the garage to look for my notes from the two “World Religion” classes I took then.  I didn’t find them.  Mostly they were the major Asian religions, Buddhism and Hinduism, plus all three Abrahamic strands and some of the smaller Mediterranean threads.  Put alongside Malvina Hoffman’s Hall of Man sculptures, which AK used as sources for actors, the result was that I was forever after impatient with people (so MANY) who cannot get out of the Christian bubble and constantly obsess about the concept of God.  

I wrote to my bigoted Presbyterian minister to withdraw my membership.  He had made a huge fuss about the formality of joining, and I thought it logically followed that if one were no longer in sympathy with the church, one should withdraw.  He had a fit and denounced me from the pulpit. ("Students who go off to fancy schools are corrupted there!")  My mother rose from her pew and transferred to Westminster Presbyterian Church where eventually I was married and my father was buried.

These are institutional religious terms.  Eventually I came to lose interest in all religious institutions except as sociological phenomena, reactions to their times.  Much of it economic.  When I first got to Browning, the Blackfeet rez, I attended the Methodist Church, which was really the only Protestant church and therefore white, at least until Rev. Jim Bell arrived and began outreach to the rest of the rez.  The church has struggled throughout its whole existence, which is a long story but basically related to them being partly a mission and partly a community church.  Actually, Methodism per se is a pretty good fit since it was devised as a strategy (method) for resisting gin and sin in England during brutal factory times.

In 1988-89 I was the pulpit supply for this Methodist congregation in Browning, because their appointed minister abruptly left.  He was a big handsome blonde Navy chaplain who was surprised Indians were not in the 19th century.  I wasn’t the official “called” minister, but occupied the parsonage in exchange for preaching.  If a parsonage is occupied by an ordained minister, it is not taxed.  The small congregation accepted me as a friend.

There have been several major relationships that have brought me to where I am now.  One was a decade in the Unitarian Universalist ministry, one was inclusion in “Bundle Opening” with 19th Century-born Siksika, and one was trying to meet the outrage and sorrow of a group of outlier boys around the planet via the Internet.

Today I reach some conclusions:

1.  Emergence is a phenomenon in which pre-existing elements interact to create something new.

2.  Consciousness emerges from the “dashboard” of the felt body.  It is the ability to organize feelings and control reactions, which pre-exist (unconsciously) in most creatures.  Consciousness confers the ability to reflect on and shape the “dashboard” processes.  It operates by metaphor, building on the felt meaning of what has been perceived before.  In the "Western" world it has been distorted by valorizing the definition of intelligence so it has been equated with mathematical rationality.

3.  Art and religion (on the same continuum) are made possible by emergent relationships with the felt meanings of the world outside the body (the universe) and operate via metaphor.  “Felt meanings” are sensory: concepts that emerge from electrochemical perceptions of what is “out there.”  

Diminishing or ending sensory life and felt metaphors will shrink and decompose both art and religion.  The more one experiences deeply, the more human one will be, the more effective the “religion” will be.  It is not a matter of book learning.

4.  The emergence of art and religion are made possible by experience.  But it is possible to have a lot of experience without art and religion ever emerging.  What prevents emergence?  Fear?  Lack of resources?  What makes it work?  Memory?  Language?  Ritual?

5.  Empathic awareness between mammals emerges from the Theory of Mind, “understanding behavior.”  In humans with language it can become a direct connection by vicarious sharing in story, image, metaphor.    

6.  This is made more likely by the formation of “holding communities” — that is, groups based on trust and a common view of life, which is to say “congregations”.  (Maybe “embracing communities” would be more accurate.  Or “enfolding communities.”)  If those groups form into institutions (churches) and then bureaucracies (denominations) they can become “confining” or even “imprisoning communities,” all about money and politics.  Willing to enforce obedience even unto death.

If a person has impoverished experience, a confining community may be a relief, supplying a strategy that isn’t based on the person’s real life.  If it fits the situation of many lives -- cultural which in turn is ecological -- then it “works.”  If that holding community has become rigid and rule-driven as a “church”, the whole culture can use it as a weapon for conformity and order.  The “gospel” good news becomes promisespromises and threatsthreatsthreats.

Thursday, October 12, 2017


During the third of the freshman NU sequence, which was devoted to speech therapy and audiology, we were asked to “be the audience” for an evening presented by stutterers.  Our task was simply to listen “through” the clutter, understand the real meaning, and not turn away or make faces. It was harder than we expected.

At another point we participated in a short session of speech therapy, where an intensely observant person sits face-to-face to see what you are doing with your speaking “tipofthetongue/thelips/theteeth”.  We learned about our soft palate, hard palate, alveolar ridges, glottis and how to make a “glottal shock”.  We also learned the sequence a child normally pursues when learning to make the sounds of English.  This was meant to help us speak clearly, a skill much neglected these days.

I lost almost all this learning when I was preaching.  I “pushed” to be loud instead of “projecting” my voice, so that the strain has made my throat raspy and weak.  This climate — extreme wind, cold, and dust — is hard on both speaking and hearing.  The fashion in presentation for young people these days is to be as impassive and immobile as possible, but to speak very quickly without moving lips, as though someone were trying to spy on what they say.  It works better on a microphone except that they practically kiss the apparatus which blurs sound.

All this is to say that I "know better" than what is happening in terms of my person-to-person oral communication, but instead of addressing the issue, I’m evading it with solitude and a refusal of Skype.

My former student, who has made a life of Native American education, took me to the Lighthouse for an elegant dinner (he claims it is a tradition) a few days ago.  He had brought along a friend from Portland, where he lives, who is on the board of the First Unitarian Church there.  Conversation was lively with my FS in control, occasionally announcing, “I’m going to change the subject now.”  I think he had a list and, specifically on it, some stories from the Sixties in Browning.  I could feel myself becoming more and more dramatic, making faces and voices -- but not waving my hands since we were eating.  Or not eating because of talking.  

My FS has toyed with writing, but is handicapped because he is not a reader.  He loves podcasts and is a regular listener of NPR podcasts.  I am disenchanted with NPR.  One can get plenty of audible material in other places.  But I digress.  The point is that I put on quite a show for FS’s friend.  He looked a bit stunned.  It was my old high school mode when I played the clown, the eccentric, the surprising.

Through my college career I played the cat, or if I really cared about a person, the devoted dog.  The idea was invisibility and came partly from helping my gay friends pass as straight, though we didn’t think of it very consciously — just did it.  I thought I was really a friend.  No idea what they thought, but there was that feeling of being safe if I were along.

The focused attention of a speech therapist is as close to an intimate one-on-one experience as one can enjoy short of sex.  With younger kids the therapist will often devise games to teach things like how to make a good hissy “s” instead of a slushy “sh” which means the tip of your tongue is not making a small and tight enough aperture for air to go through.  Much of speaking is managing air intake or propulsion back out.

I wonder what it means that so many people use CPAP machines, esp. at night, to push air into their lungs so they won’t go hypoxic in their sleep.  Drinking causes chemical hypoxia, since alcohol impairs the function of red blood cells that carry the oxygen through the body, so maybe high alcohol intake is related to needing forced air.  Not the dead-drunk falling-down kind of impairment, but the buzz-on preparation for sleep, which is what many nice hard-working people do here in Valier and a lot of other places.  Forced air going through the breathing system has got to at least dry out tissues.  Maybe numb them a bit.

The use of these head-of-body parts in sex, esp. kissing, was once such a prissy little postage stamp kind of thing — at least in the movies — and then it became a kind of flesh-gnawing extravaganza, but has now reverted back to “tipofthetongue/thelips/theteeth”, a kind of conversation.  Watching mouths is not so easy on home video as it was in the gigantic movie images of theatres, but is mostly focused on women.  I would not want to see Trump talking or whatever on a movie screen.  His exaggerated grimacing is obscene, lascivious, as though we were being slobbered on.

When a person learns a foreign language, it is often seen as a matter of learning new words, often in print rather than spoken.  Attention to the formation of the sounds at the level of a speech therapist’s standards is the real key to being understood by native speakers, quite apart from the metaphor reference cloud that comes with the words, and also apart from the “music” of the sentences, the little tune of varying up and down the sharps and flats of slightly different emphasis/emPHAsis/emphaSIS which is the key to many Asian languages.

Maybe it is the prevalence of world culture challenge in music that has helped to blur words, even destroy them, instead of the crooning lyrics of pop ballads or the words of opera which are in a foreign language anyway.

At the end of these posts, I often loop back to the beginning idea, which this time was discussing the value of three months of education about the mechanics of speaking and hearing, and how much I have abused it.  What should I do about it now?  I wonder what FS thinks about speech and hearing for rez kids.  ESL kids there are often accused of being "guttural" because Blackfeet sounds are in the back of the throat and they bring those sounds to English.

When I googled to find “alveolar ridge,” I discovered that this county has a speech/hearing clinic for kids.  Maybe I should be investigating them.  If I had to do a speaking tour or go on Skype for interviews, maybe I would.  But for now, I just stick to print.