Sunday, February 18, 2018


Renée Auberjonois, Kate Nowlin Auberjonois, Reny Augerjonois

Renée Auberjonois has been a favorite of mine since he portrayed the shapeshifter on “Star Trek”, but I never wrote about him because I couldn’t spell his name.  Now I’ve practiced until I can.  But I still hadn’t realized that Reny Auberjonois was his son or even that he had a son.  Partly I was confused because in the movie “Blood Stripe”, which I watched last night, was written and directed with the son’s wife Kate Nowlin but Renée acted in the film as the kind of insightful and supportive clergyman that we’d all hope is out there — somewhere.

This is a film about PTSD, the formal kind suffered by Marines who have been in combat, with the twist that the sufferer is a woman, and the environment — family, camp, Minnesota lake country — really is menacing, double-crossing, exploitative, punishing for no reason.  The exceptions are the woman who runs the camp and the clergyman.

I don’t know about other women — I never know much about other women — but the world I’ve known is not different in kind, only degree, from the world of this “BAM” (Broad-Assed Marine).  Both my brothers were Marines, but they didn’t talk about it much.  They never saw combat after basic training.  As sibs we are more wary than paranoid, but — rather like this heroine — danger attracts us more than is sensible or self-protective.  And we (one is dead) have been isolates.

The beginning of the film is a remarkable explosion of the expectations stereotyped in advertisements.  No one meets her at the airport, her husband seems only interested in dominating and guilting her, the sister-in-law demands and orders incessantly and chaotically.  Yet the heroine tries to be the good soldier who obeys orders until she breaks and goes AWOL.  Even then, she yearns to go back — not a good idea — and anyway they’ve closed the door against her.

The “blood stripe” is the red stripe down the trouser-seam of the Marine dress uniform.  That metaphor may have been the key that unlocked the idea for the whole film.  In the beginning she only bleeds a little from her nose — maybe high blood pressure?  Then as the tension grows, the blood drips more and more.  No wound is shown.  Water washes the blood away.  Until water washes the life away.

I don’t know whether other women have a “second self”, someone athletic, skilled and able to handle weapons.  An echo idealized.  Someone with freckles and red hair like oneself.  A beautiful jaw-line, unlike oneself.  Maybe people around here believe in and know a third “self”, which is a sturdy competent woman who works hard to provide for church and children: scrubbing, baking, organizing.  (Rusty Schwimmer has the role.)  I look a bit like her, too, but am really nothing like that.  To the dismay of folks who don’t want to read confrontive writing, who avoid anything troubling or ugly.  They feel tricked by my appearance.  Bulky women in work shirts and jeans are either moms or lesbian, right?

Not many have the experience of being clergy, doing all the right things, inviting prayer, lighting candles, invoking happy memories of the past — but it’s not enough.  It’s admirable and pleasant in the moment, but it doesn’t save lives from the real juggernaut of cultures, which in this case is gender-assigned.  I mean, all the threats are male.  To some women there is no such thing as a “good” or safe man.  Their paranoia is that a wolf-whistle on the street is a signifier of impending attack.  Yet their idea of safety is a protective liason with a dangerous man.

The plot line of this film follows this pattern and it is convincing.  We all see things out of our “side-eye” and wonder whether we ought to address them.  When I drove a drab-green van and affected a safari jacket with a Glacier National Park patch on the shoulder, I passed on the highway a pull-off where a man evidently had a woman trapped in the open door-angle of a car.  She looked distressed.  I pulled up alongside and said in my animal control officer voice,  “Everything all right here?”

“It’s fine.  We’re fine.”  But I’d created an opportunity in which the woman managed to get behind the wheel of her car and take off.  I left, too, so the man was simply standing alone, stranded.  I never knew what was really happening.  For every time I’ve been accidentally an interventionist and it worked, there have been times when it didn’t.  Sitting inside a running vehicle with the door locked and the window half-up is not much of a risk.  The best weapon is sometimes the other person’s paranoia.

The impulse is to avoid, abstain, never do the things that a careful clergyman would caution against: lying, stealing, cursing, forcing intimacy.  But this is not particularly helpful to the culture.  I hear many people say they won’t even vote because the whole political thing is a shameful mess.  When there is trouble in congregations, people leave.  Realization ought to be the first step towards empowerment, not desertion.

This film depiction is not ugly or overbearing.  We see the scars on the woman's body, gradually realize the scars in her mind, and understand why she would simply set out swimming in what looks like eternity.  The people who fear suicide are often fearing the death of their way of life, their identity, rather than the biological end of their inner life.  What they underestimate is the blood-letting from those who love them.  And the despair and guilt of not being able to save them.

Some reviewers complained that this film was “too spare,” maybe wanting some authority to step out and explain it all.  They wanted the ex-con’s love to save this woman.  They wanted the clergyman or the good cook to say the definitive salvific thing.  But that’s a Christian idea.  This is more Asian, Buddhist or Taoist.  But it is also related to the existentialism of France after WWII.  Probably earlier thinkers if someone would lift them up.  Heraclitus?

Spareness is a kind of beauty and the cinematography here (Radium Cheung (HKSC) - Director of Photography) makes the immanence of nature also express the transcendence of eternity.

Saturday, February 17, 2018


This is about a school shooting that didn’t happen.  It’s very hard to figure out how to write about it since it was partly dumb luck, partly imaginary, partly only potential, and an example of how I failed.  It happened over a decade ago, not in this town and not on the rez, but close enough that people will know where I live.  Not many read blogs, esp. the long-form ones like this.

A boy was transient, genetically attached to an oil field laborer who may or may not have married the long-gone mother.  He was not in foster care.  He was small and furious, not in any of my classes.  One lunch time, after most of the students had left, he began pursuing boys and kicking them in the crotch as hard as he could.  I wasn’t on monitor duty, but I collared him and took him to the office.  He didn’t quite dare to kick me, but he argued profanely at the top of his voice.  He felt very righteous about the whole sequence of events.  Everyone fell back ahead of us and got as far to the sides as they could when we passed.

The principal was a woman who grew up in a right-wing community.  She despised me, partly because I’d taught on the rez, partly because she had been an English teacher with poor skills but high pretensions and knew I had a reputation for writing, partly because the superintendent had hired me over her wishes.  He hired me in the mistaken belief that because I had taught on the rez I could handle rough boys in a class that regularly drove off teachers because they figured their athletic skills made them more valuable than any teachers — and they were right.  

The principal didn’t know what to do with this boy.  He denied that he had ever kicked anyone.  (The kicked boys, who may have been bruised at least, were only concerned that their parents didn’t find out and that the other guys wouldn’t make fun of them.  They wouldn’t give me their names.)  She almost believed him.  She would have liked to kick me.

This hard to write about because I sympathize with all parties involved from THEIR points of view and life dilemmas, including my own.  I had come back rather recently, having been assured of a job with a local newpaper — which was sold within months and disappeared.  I had been hired because the owner didn’t want to make an enemy of a local when he sold.  I considered myself a local.  From then on I was an enemy.  He hadn’t expected that.  He didn’t count the rez as “local.”

This boy had had a toxic reaction to a situation others were surviving more happily.  For instance, one boy’s parents had divorced and the mother left, the boy stayed on in the house with the father and the second much-younger wife, but then the father left for a better job and the younger wife — who was really quite kind to the boy — got bored and also left.  The boy was now in the house by himself and had a big steak for every dinner because it was the only thing he knew how to cook, thanks to barbequing.  He wanted to stay because he was one of those athletes.

Teachers who have signed contracts can be sued if they quit before the end of the year.  I was saved when a boy jerked off in class.  I quit then.  The school board did not want to sue because it would have made a lot of things suddenly public.  Also, because they were Christian and thought that I’d been a minister of the Christian kind, so they assumed that I quit because of prudery over the “indecent” act.  

I was concerned about what “bad wiring” caused such bad judgement on the part of the second boy.  (It was a seductive single mother.  He was the image of his terrifically powerful and charismatic father.  The other kids explained it to me.  When I finally observed that man from a distance, I saw what they meant.  He never contacted me.)  I went to Child and Family Services in that county, discovered that the director was the mother’s best friend, and finally drove to the nearest big city to discuss the matter with the state office when they wouldn’t respond to the phone.  I have no idea what happened after that.  The boy went off to college and that’s the last I heard.

The mother, who had been doing a little work for the superintendent, was afraid of me and my criticism but we did talk.  By now, the superintendent, the principal, and the coach have all left.  It was years ago.

(Today the story about Nikolas Cruz is reporting that his neon signals of trouble — talk of shooting, torturing animals, bragging about alliances, “cutting” himself — were all known by the kids and had been reported to all possible authorities. from police repeatedly responding to his step-mother’s house to the school suspending him to complaints to the FBI.  They had become habituated.)

After I left teaching, the crotch-kicker came to school with a gun in his backpack and was expelled.  The father moved away and took him along.  The school didn’t take state that year, but it wasn’t the fault of the kids not trying.

Once I had decided to quit but hadn’t left yet, I let that class of troublesome boys talk while I listened.  They were impassioned.  They told stories, they drew diagrams to show the dynamics of the town and how much they hated them.  In the end they did know they were being used, exploited, for the reputations of the town fat cats.  They talked violence and indignation.  They didn’t want parents to know because parents are childish and easily hurt and they might get so upset that they divorced which would ruin everything.

All authority figures were stupid and negligent.  Their interventions were clumsy and off-the-point.  What counted was the other guys and the special relationship with an indulgent girl who would mother them.  If that girl threw them over, they considered suicide.

What to do with all of this?  I started a novel called “Prairie Gladiators” but my own innards were still too unsettled.  I did find comfort in the image of Russell Crowe brushing his hand through the glowing heads of wheat.  This is wheat country.  While the shrinking towns of rural Montana were wrestling with the problems of power, success and relationships, the rez folks were coming to life, growing.  Gangs and drugs were part of it, the Town of Browning was disincorporated, but things were happening.

I read once about how caterpillars turn into butterflies.  They don’t just switch parts around as though they were having a sex change.  For a while they are only a soup of molecules re-forming and unrecognizable.  I hope this is a legitimate way to understand our shifting and often lethal society.

Friday, February 16, 2018


Every mass shooting becomes another round of frothing and curses about guns along with declarations from a certain kind of disempowered man that if HE’d been there and if HE’d had a gun, he’d have cut the killing short.  But all guns do is extend and intensify the violence that is always around the edges of human circumstances, esp. as the numbers, density and varieties of humans keep increasing.  

Somehow predator drones coming out of the sky like dragons to destroy families and villages doesn’t offend us, but one or two disturbed teenagers with powerful guns, entirely unpredictable, stir up fantasies.  So I want to take a different approach.

I notice how many of these shootings are in schools, churches, movie theatres, and homes.  No doubt because that’s where there are a lot of targets, but consider that they are — to the uneducated — institutions that impinge on and presumably order and guide lives.  What If the real source of the outrage is the failure of institutions, even the police.  I confess, which will probably get me on some list, that I’d like to turn a fire hose on Congress since they are the biggest failing institution in the nation.  The Wall Street stock market could also use a drenching.

These institutions are only proximate causes of our distress: out-of-date, underfunded, full of alligators.  This is because institutions, organizations of all kind both idealistic like Oxfam and destructive as the NRA (which we now discover has been hosing the Repubs with Russian money) are emergent.  The KKK emerges from scared old men who ghost us with bedsheets and torches.  The Red Cross emerges from people who are responding to suffering.

The deeper problem now is that our understanding of the universe — which ought to give rise to a potent and surging energy for synthesis into institutions that can protect and explain human beings — the raw material for “religion” — is blunted and diverted.  Instead of churches being organized groups of people sharing an ethos, we have shattered into individual screen-watchers who admire the anti-hero for at least taking matters into his or her own hands — like a school shooter.  More Peer Gynt, Conan, and Rambo than Robin Hood, but nothing new.  We’ve been through this cycle before.

But there are variations.  The levels of society which used to be purely economic and inheritable as God-given, still has that practical pousse-café aspect of layering, but there are maybe more layers and from different forces.  For instance,  we have a great many people who came suddenly into tech fortunes that they can barely control, like Mark Zuckerburg wrestling with his own algorithms and unexpected consequences.  Wikipedia is controlled by a hundred male Ivy League mandarins with all their contempts and eunuch aesthetics.  Our ideas of wealth are in the Midas terms of everything gold, poor person’s vulgar notions of fine things.  Our ideas of sex are obedient women six feet tall, bleached blonde, sixteen-years-old with cheekbones from the Ukraine and eye makeup bought online.

In terms of academia we have created compartments of knowledge that few can understand, like all the French post-colonial theorists that — half-understood — justify a lot of moral indignation on the part of the oppressed.  Just across the quad are the cosmologists, the deep cell biologists who can “crisp” DNA, the pre-writing history of the hominins written on the land and deep in caves.  These people talk over the heads of the ordinary dope slumped in front of his huge TV on couches with built-in beverage holders.

Simmering on the front stoop are the “brown” people with rich heritages that are brushed aside except as plot devices on the endlessly unspooling police procedures.  They sell self-snuffing drugs to the lost people who pull up at the curb in cars better than they can afford.

The computers show maps: maps of where oxycontin is sold, where meth is coming back, where the water is running out, who votes red and who votes blue.  On the right-hand side of this blog is a little “cluster map” of who’s reading this at the same time as you and where they are.  Sometimes I write something that makes Russia light up.  Other times it is Argentina.  I never know why.  Are they using it for bot material?  This is a good day for them.

The biggest irony of the maps is that the Russian oligarchs protect themselves from jealous not-so-rich Russians by hiding their gazillions in America.  If we froze them and seized them, the Russians would murder Putin.  That would be worse than the trade sanctions that Trump sold for his election without even realizing what he was doing or what the consequences would be.

I could go on and on and people would enjoy it.  We all itch and burn with the way things are going.  There will be a lot of big-time losers before this is over.  Some will win by a shoelace.

Here’s Jeremy Rifkin’s grand plan:  What is invisible to most of us is the fact that most of what we do is simply on paper: constitutions, rules of law, contracts, and money.  They are only consensus summaries.  Trump and his cohort regularly ignore the law, ignore any penalties, while the Repubs are like statues.  They look.  They do nothing.  They begin to die of old age.

Most people will not watch this vid linked above.  Too scary.  Goodby Manhattan.  Goodby elephants.  Hello young people.  Shooting up schools and churches will do you no good.  Try to preserve a free Internet.  Start the search for a new paradigm.  On reservations, in urban towers, at sea — anywhere.  

But I think Rifkin falls short.  He’s putting too much of his hope on the Internet, which is far too easy to distort and destroy.  We’re running out of palladium for smart phones just like we’re running out of fossil fuel.  (His admiration for Wikipedia gives him away.  He doesn’t know that that software didn’t come out of idealism — it came out of porn marketing software.  Connecting the kinks.  In the end he only knows his own world.)

The real source of energy is our human relation to the world, our awe and wonder, our love of what is, our determination to share it generously.  The bleak, vodka-soaked world of central Eurasia and the rancid narcissism of the American dregs are a drag on the system, a source of frustration that ends in shooting of children.

There’s a psych concept called a “leap to sanity.”  When a person gets to the limits of their craziness, maybe in an emergency like the house on fire, their brain snaps to effective function.  But when the fire is out, the craziness comes back.  I think Rifkin is in that leap, which is not the same thing as being wrong.  He DOES know there are new sweeping amazements coming.  On paper.  How do we make them real?

Thursday, February 15, 2018


The hero in storage

Now that we’ve got that pesky image of the all-powerful old white man out of our heads (though not out of our lives) it has become clear that what really needs to be reframed is our theory of what human beings are and can be.  Sci-fi, poetry, and alternative lifestyles have been working on it ever since.  Are we animals?  Are we machines?  Are we each other?  Are we our own worst enemies?  Are we the better angels of our souls?

Yes.  Yes to everything.

I’ve been marathon watching “Altered Carbon” which I began because of a discussion of CGI environments in sci-fi  about “Oblivion”, featuring Tom Cruise in an early knock-off of Bell bubble-cockpit helicopters.  It sounds a little dumb, but it was interesting — even quite beautiful — and Morgan Freeman, who seems to be channeling the Angel Gabriel in most of his films, was under control.  Of course, all the ruins are from Manhattan, because that’s the gateway to everything.  

Altered Carbon” uses the archetypal “Bladerunner” crowded streets where it always rains.  Though we’ve gotten rid of God and angels, we still have the filthy rich and the out-of-control police.  No Morgan Freeman, but a racial mix with an emphasis on the Pacific Rim.  Actually, when you think about it, these are the “brown” people, a blending of Asians, Africans, and Americans — but not indigenous Americans, which is a grievous omission.  (A red-headed Irishman shows up briefly among the rebels.)

This film is billed as “cyber-punk” which some reviewers contest, but to me it just looks like another CSI (Crime Scene Investigation) show.  The CGI (Computer Generated Images) element on steroids really is remarkable, esp. in the beginning.  The images of the city by night, obligatory in police procedurals, are gorgeous.

I was attracted by the Swedish actor, Joel Kinnaman, whom I got to know in “The Killing” where he played a sort of hip, semi-detached guy who said “snap.”  Kinnaman has an almost Brando-esque density and impassiveness, even when being tortured and while fucking.  He’s still a chain-smoker, but doesn’t break off the filters like the little banty rooster cop in “Trial and Retribution.”  Inscrutability is characteristic of law enforcement roles, even when the enforcer is not a cop, like “Person of Interest”.  In fact, cops I’ve known have cultivated this unreadability, this reserve of judgment.  It's part of the craft.

There are exceptions. “Hawaii 5-0” plays against the stoic with emotional relationships, including family ties.  (Among the acting pool, I was surprised to spot a younger Teilor Gruggs, who plays “Danny’s” daughter. And to glimpse McGarrett’s danceway lover.)  In "T and R", David Hayman performs the irony of rage and indignation in a man too small to punch people.  But the big-man style of leading man goes back as far as Matt Dillon in “Gunsmoke”.  It looks to me that Kinnamon has bulked up quite a bit since “The Killing.

So the genre of “Altered Carbon”, besides the sci-fi category, is police procedural and the plot tropes follow those well-worn paths, which is fine since it means you can keep track of a rather convoluted rationale about minds and koans.  The wise old guide is a Latino women, proposing a kind of California Zen.  She preaches detachment, alternate realities, gaming jiu jitsu, dissociation, multiple selves.  Reincarnation comes along for the ride.  The Incan prop-man’s preoccupation with severed heads persists.  So do coffee and the f-word.

By episode 7 we’re into Robin Hood, the Resistance, Underground, Guerrilas, Terrorists.

Most police procedurals and some sci-fi are focused on society, which at least one reviewer thought fell short in this example.  But I think they were reaching for some kind of religious reconciliation among named institutional religious dogma:  Christianity, Buddhism, and so on.  Not Gaean nature-based constructs until the rebellion.  Sci-fi necessarily has to be about a manufactured world.  The advantage of “Game of Thrones” is that it reaches back to the formation of the big religious constructs.

The echoes of Trump et al are clear, probably not because they’re patterned after the individuals individually but because the pattern is so clear and becoming clearer every day.  The economist Krugman says he recognized it clearly.


The following is a comment from “Whisky Prajer,” a Canadian correspondent I met when we both posted books to  He’s quite a bit younger than me, but hip to religion and free-wheeling in other thought ways, though he’s a family man.  Maybe because he’s a family man.  And the wheeling includes bicycles.

The current politics are indeed profoundly weird. What I find especially bizarre/fascinating/abhorrent is all the "virtue signalling" involved. In my lifetime I can't recall this level of fervently expressed moral absolutism coming from anybody but the Religious Right. The Left has always had its causes, but the general tenor of its evangelism has usually been of the "Put yourself in their shoes" variety -- the liberal ideal we learned from being wide and deep readers of Important Texts. Now the Left has wholly embraced the tactics of the Right: there IS a moral order, and anyone who questions it is a troglodyte, or worse. I do no   t see this drum-beating marching the mob in a happy direction.

It's simplistic of me to say, but my sense of the generational attitude among those of us who came of age in the 80s was "We're figuring it out, just bear with us." Exceptions allowed for, of course -- I was a pious and socially docile youth for most of that decade. But we'd witnessed the razing of mores in the 70s, watched as families split up and reconfigured in unusual formats, fended off (with varying degrees of success) the adult solicitations for sexual favours while we were still pre-teens, mostly steered clear of drugs that weren't visibly rooted to the soil, etc. Sometime in the last 30 years there occurred a "Eureka" moment, I'm thinking probably among the post-modern set I left behind at the University -- THIS is what is morally acceptable; THIS is absolutely NOT -- and I missed it. I'm still trying to walk it all back and figure out how we got here.

The Hero's Death -- every kid has to live through it and come to terms with it herself, but I think what made the 80s different was the common acceptance that there was an entire tier of Heros expected to behave execrably. Rock Gods received an absolute pass -- movie stars and the like came close to it also. Famous authors, etc. Rise high enough in the public consciousness and illicit behaviour is approved.

Disappointment occurred when someone was perceived to be a decent person, only to be revealed as the antithesis. Nobody my age thought Harvey Weinstein was a decent guy. Charlie Rose, on the other hand -- he was NPR, so probably not too out-of-whack. So Rose elicits disappointment.

With the kids these days the stakes are so much higher. I was reading this morning that an entire generation raised on J.K. Rowling is disappointed (or more likely incensed) that she is not as "woke" as they. Yeah, but she's my age! And a novelist! She's still figuring it out, expecting the challenge will remain there to puzzle over long after she's laid to rest. Not so, the kids.

Anyway, I'm puzzling over it all, and grateful to have your blogposts as a scout-trail.
Thanks, Whiskey.

About three emails later I got an enewsletter message from Steve Pressfield, a spin-off from his best-selling book, “The War of Art,” which he takes to be overcoming blocks in the mind, like “writer’s block.”  Sign up at  He says he’s starting a new book and once again goes to the journey/trail/path metaphor.  He writes in one-sentence paragraphs:

The book is about writing.

I don’t have a title yet but the premise is that there’s such a thing as “the artist’s journey.”

The artist’s journey is different from “the hero’s journey.”

The artist’s journey is the process we embark upon once we’ve found our calling, once we know we’re writers but we don’t know yet exactly what we’ll write or how we’ll write it.

These posts will be a bit longer than normal, just because that’s how chapters in a book fall. I don’t wanna post truncated versions that are so short they don’t make sense, just because that’s where chapters happen to break.
Please let me know if you hate this.

I’ll stop if it’s not worth our readers’ time or if our friends find the material boring.

That said, let’s kick it off.

Starting with the epigraph, here’s the beginning of this so-far-untitled book:

“I found that what I had desired all my life was not to live—if what others are doing is called living—but to express myself. I realized that I had never had the least interest in living, but only in this which I am doing now, something which is parallel to life, of it at the same time, and beyond it. What is true interests me scarcely at all, nor even what is real; only that interests me which I imagine to be, that which I had stifled every day in order to live.”

Henry Miller, Tropic of Capricorn

So here we have two alternative ideas about writing:  proposing the absolute morality somehow derived from the post-modern morality that has brought us to our political dichotic ramshead-bashing —  and Henry Miller who would rather make love than war.

So far Pressfield is simply listing the titles of works by admired pop movie makers or song writers.  He works with what sells.  I try to ignore all that as ephemeral and low-grade.  But maybe there’s a ground that hasn’t been explored in fiction so much except by Ursula LeGuin  or Erik Erikson— I speak of the culture’s journey.  Maybe it has more to do with the Lord of the Rings than Harry Potter.  Maybe it has something to do with Orpheus in the catacombs, searching for the carbon unit alter egoes he loves and wants to spin up again into life.  

In that case, what is necessary is the song, because every song is a map of the journey, as Bruce Chatwin knew.  Some of this pulls the “pop” up to “literary.”  If that means anything.  Except that best sellers come from being in sync with the culture, not from being brilliant individuals.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018


The world was outside their skin.  Each was inside their own skins.  Everything was skin against skin.  

She felt safest, most alive, with her head on his arm and her own arm flung over his barrel chest.  He felt strongest, most resourceful, with her head on his arm, though it made his arm go to sleep.  But he learned to roll up a towel and put it just above his arm so the weight of her busy head would rest on that roll.  (The towel is useful later.)

Her head wasn’t busy on the outside — really quite still — but the insides went wild during REM.  He watched her eyelids shift as her eyeballs moved and asked softly,  “What do you see, my heart?”  In her sleep she muttered, “Your heart, heart throb . . . we should make some heart shaped sugar cookies. . . you are my sugar heart!”  He laughed.  “Sweetie,” he murmured.  She smiled without waking.

Skin, shaped by the muscles and bony joints underneath, stretched and contracted back.  He turned his back to her and she wrapped around it, feeling his spine and wing-bones, tucking her arms under his.  He feels her bosom, two soft cushions with a button in the middle of each.

Towards morning, the two roll over in the other direction and now she is flat on her back.  He pats her tummy, thinking of a taut drum top, but the sound he makes is slapping pudding.  He thinks of giving her belly a razzberry, but doesn’t do it, smiles to himself, and goes back to sleep.  She doesn’t wake, but smiles in her sleep.

She dreams he has antlers like a whitetail deer buck, not the body of a deer, but just the antlers with the two curving bases and rising from them half a dozen points, like some Art Nouveau candelabra.  He gestures with his head.  The antlers weigh nothing.

He dreams she is a tree with a trunk as curved as her body, some kind of maple, the crimson leaves being blown off by wind and falling to the green ground, but then a second wind comes and blows the leaves back onto their original twigs, each in the same place, and then the leaves rustle as though laughing.

Then they were voles, the kind that pair-bond, rolled together in the warm earth, ready for Spring. 

The above is meant to evoke thoughts (and hopefully memories) of pair bonding and bodily relationship that are not based on conflict or humiliation.  It is also a basis for the point already once made by Geoff Main, that inside our skins metabolic-molecular events accompany and possibly trigger what our emotional and mental identities express.

Today’s entry in “" is from  The Chemistry Between Us by Larry Young, PhD, and Brian Alexander. who made an inquiry into the phenomenon that “if you separate a pair-bonded male vole from his mate, you'll get a very mopey vole who uses what's called passive-stress coping to deal with the overwhelming anxiety of partner loss. When the separation takes place, this is what causes the animals to feel so bad.” 

Bosch checked their chemistry. "The males separated from their mates had much higher levels of corticosterone, a stress chemi­cal, in their blood than did any of the other groups, including voles sepa­rated from their brothers. Their HPA [hypothalamic/pituitary/adrenal] axis was working so hard, their adrenal glands weighed more."

“Passive stress coping” is like depression, lying on the sofa eating a whole box of Valentine chocolates.  Many things in the body work on a cycle of depletion/replenishment, controlling homeostasis of blood glucose, oxygen, and water.  But the more recently emergent physiological loops, as in mammals, work on an “axis” which are more complicated loops.  

"But here's the strange thing: both the voles who stayed with their fe­male mates and the voles who were forced to split from the females had much more CRF in the BNST [bed nucleus of stria terminalis] than did males who lived with, or were separated from, their brothers. In other words, loads of this stress-related hormone were being pumped in both the voles who got depressed after separation and voles who were still happily bonded and didn't show signs of passive-stress coping.

"'Bonding itself produces high CRF,' Bosch says. 'But this does not mean the system is also firing.' There is something fundamental about living with a mate that results in more CRF stress hormone in the brain, but that also prevents the engagement of the HPA stress axis as long as the mates stay together.”

That is, whatever gift it is to have a bonded mate, the cause seems to be a suppression rather than an addition.  The first cause of the “high” of falling in love is due to the hormone called dopamine, which is the driver of addiction to every pleasure: nicotine, heroin, sex, gambling, whatever.  This is infatuation.

"[George] Koob, [chairman of the Committee on the Neurobiology of Addictive Disorders at the Scripps Research Institute] agrees. The CRF system is there, he explains, to signal that a loss has occurred and we need to do something about it.”  When rats used in experiments on addiction are given the CRF-blocker used on the voles, they stop being alcoholic.  They get off the couch and go about their business.

The next step is NOT designing a pill that will affect the CRF system.  We probably already have some of those, discovered by trial and error without knowing how they really work.  Rather, we need to discover what it is in our world, the way we do things, the things we consume, that are distorting our CRF axis and sending it spinning off the rails.  

I don’t envision a world where we have a blood testing gizmo at the breakfast table to see what our hormones are doing.  Rather, I hope more of us can live with people who love us and who will look closely at us and say, “Let’s take the day off and go fishing!”  Even the memory of people who knew us and did that, even pets, can suppress despair and comfort loss.  Because our inner environment is more than chemicals: it is memory.  That’s managed by the two little “horses” — hippocampus — above our ears.  

Tuesday, February 13, 2018


The temp is up above freezing right now, but forecast to plunge below zero again tomorrow night.  The roads are whited-out -- that means you can't see where you are going or even whether you are on the road.  I've been in these blizzards when it was so bad that someone had to get out and walk ahead of the pickup with a flashlight (hopefully they can also drive so you can trade off the walking) or if you are alone, you have to hold the driver's side door open so you can look down to watch the yellow line.  

Usually a wind that stiff will blow the pavement clear unless you come to a drift that is impassable.  Then you crack the windows an inch (it's not usually cold because this is a catabatic wind), get out your space blanket and pillow, hope you have enough gas to last until plow comes and enough battery to keep the lights on so the plow won't smash into you.  You're grateful if you have a nice warm dog along.

In town most things are pretty much settled into drifts and plow-piles.  I'll be able to get to the store in town.  But during the severe cold, all the big spotted tomcats birthed by the Granny Mama Cat (now dead) came back, plus Finnegan.  If you've been reading here for more than a year, you'll know what a homewrecker that Finnegan is.  Douxie remembers and screams so terrifyingly that it would scare a catamount.  But not Finnegan.  Tuxie now looks like a bowling ball in a tuxedo but no kittens yet.  She wants me to rub her tummie.  Her nips are like pink corn kernels.

A recent UU death has revealed to the survivors that I'm not where or who they thought I was.  They do not understand that the Lewis and Clark they admire was a curse to the Blackfeet and killed two of their boys only a few miles from here.

Likewise, they cannot grasp the concept of Post-UU.  They thought being an upper-middle-class, educated, atheistic, well-dressed, sexy person was the pinnacle of religion.  They are very condescending about my evolution from the loser they thought I was and a little alarmed that I'm not grateful as they had thought I'd be when they called me up.  I care not.

I need to do maintenance.  I'll be back tomorrow.  Today my eyes need to be away from the computer screen.