Monday, June 30, 2014


This is written in the spirit of reflection rather than accusation, though it may not come across that way.  After my mother’s death while I waited for her estate to be settled, I asked for a copy of my medical files.  I was working for the City of Portland which had “the best insurance deal in town” according to my doc at the time.  He felt this justified elaborate and expensive testing, but he did not feel any obligation to tell me what was going on -- what results showed.  I had chosen this doc in part because he had experience in his church with a clergy-advising committee.  People who are chosen for this role are considered by others to have a certain amount of wisdom and sophistication. 

In those years (‘92-’99) I was struggling with my knees and beginning to age, plus having a lot of trouble with my stomach hurting.  I attended the many little doc-talks around Portland, where they explained what they did and whether it would be a good idea to schedule time with them.  (Of course, it always was.)  I’d had fiberoptic observation of my whole GI tract from both ends, several tests for diabetes that didn't detect diabetes, meds for high blood pressure that made me cough so much that co-workers complained I might be contagious.  And so on.  NO ONE confronted me with the obvious: depression.  Dying mother, deranged brother, worry about retirement, worry about former husband who was also dying.  Deadend job, at first with a bully for a boss.  Depression was not unjustified.  But I had a strong taboo on “woe is me”.  I just went numb.  

The doc was slow sending my file, I think because he was carefully redacting it in case I were planning a lawsuit.  He had been an outstanding heart surgeon, whose practice shrank to nothing when fiberoptic and stent technology arrived.  Now he was coasting until retirement.  I’d tell him my symptoms, he’d suddenly stand up and leave for ten minutes without explanation, then come back to tell me the diagnosis and write a prescription.  

I gradually realized he was either calling a colleague for advice or checking his textbooks.  I doubt that they had been bought recently.  A new boss at work figured out both my planar fascitis and my bum knee, and advised me what to do.  The doc didn’t know -- he just thought I should get a lot more exercise.  In euphemistic terms, he let it be known that overweight old women are just lazy and eat too much.  Finally, he leapt up and left once too often and for too long, so -- without signing out -- I just went home.

His nurse called to see if I were all right.  She didn’t ask why I left.  He himself never called.  When I got my file, I read it quickly and put it aside.  Later I looked more closely and saw that he had diagnosed “early CHF.”  By this time I was using Google and looked it up.  CHF is Congestive Heart Failure.  He never discussed it with me, except to insist on a treadmill stress test that just about destroyed me, not that he noticed.  I sat in the lobby for an hour until I felt like I could drive home.  This didn’t impress him.

Part of the reason for the leap to Valier, when I really ought to have stayed in Portland another five years until retiring at 65, was thinking about “early CHF.”  Portland was a city in disorder.  At least two cocaine dealers lived in my apartment building, armed hispanic gangs ran through downtown shooting randomly (killed at least one person innocently waiting for the bus), the TV station upstairs from my fav coffee shop was invaded by a shooter, the buses in my part of town were being robbed at gunpoint, and we clericals were all being instructed about what to do when the big earthquake hit and the bridges collapsed. The union was thinking of suing because the air conditioning system was infested with black mold, but no one was doing anything.  My mother’s house was in a neighborhood that had shifted to being ghetto.  Shooting every night.  One of my co-workers had repeated concussions from bike wrecks on the way to work in traffic.  He became convinced that I was accusing him of being a pedophile.  Years earlier I had helped him adopt a little girl.  He brought her panties to work and planted them around the office as a joke.  Maybe he WAS a pedophile, but more likely he just had weird brain damage.

Stress, do you think?  

Lucky for me, when I got to my ramshackle house, my new Valier neighbor Dale and his buddy helped unload my U-Haul.  Things have pretty much stayed where we put them until recently I had to move my 4-drawer file cabinets to the garage because they were making the floor sink.  I did some painting -- the bathroom was gruesome until I just painted everything white, including the spiders -- and replaced only some of the appliances that immediately began to fail.  In the middle of it all, I sat down and wrote.

Fifteen years passed faster than a speeding bullet.  A few years ago an eye doc saw damage from diabetes (now stopped, due to metformin and diet protocols)  The tests had improved enough to detect and monitor it.  No one in Montana has said anything about CHF.  When they use the stethoscope on my chest, I ask and they say,  “Oh, it’s fine.”  No one suggests stress tests.  (Suits me!)  Stomach rarely hurts.  I’ve lost fifty pounds since I came and can now put my socks on while standing up.  

This guy can't stand up to put on ANYTHING.

But recently the docs and techs ask,  “Do you get out of breath?  Do you wheeze?”  They don’t say why they are asking.  When I say (honestly) NO, they don’t seem to believe me.  So what are they thinking?  Why is CHF treated like it’s -- I dunno -- an STD?  Or cancer?  I’m divided between pushing them, which might mean they become a lot more invasive, or just continuing to take care of myself, which might be stupid.  I've scheduled a lactic acidosis test, which is advised after taking metformin a long time.

Coming to Valier was not trying to find a safe place -- it was returning to a known place, even though few people here remembered me.  In Browning, nearby, they DID remember me.  In Heart Butte they remember me, but even 2001 was a long time ago.  In Cut Bank there are people who have torn strips off of me during the past half-century and probably still have them in a desk drawer somewhere.  This house is the kind of house widows used to own so the rent (usually from single school teachers) would supplement their retirement.  I rented those old houses and loved them.  In Valier the school is obliged to build houses because today’s teachers will not live in ramshackle little old houses.  The school teacher next door just moved out of the twin to this house. 

Time’s stream moves quickly.  Things catch up.  The years I spent sleeping out in an F150 cargo van while circuit-riding have had a curious after effect: snoring.  The kind that comes from obstruction like an accumulation of phlegm or misalignment of thingybobbits in the throat.  I only realized this lately.  No one will tell you that you snore (it’s considered like having bad breath -- shameful) and I don’t sleep with anyone anyway.  Once at UU General Assembly I slept in a dorm “pod” of bunkbeds, and all the other occupants disappeared the second day.  I didn’t know them and didn’t know why they left.  Now I get it.

Only once did I sleep in a retreat center where I was loud enough that one of the ministers had a talk with me.  He was on a CPAP at night for his snoring.  They had just been invented.  One cannot plug in a CPAP in a barebones cargo van.  I waved it aside.  The necessary testing is expensive and so is the breathing machine -- IF you can tolerate something strapped to your face while you sleep. (Too much like being inseminated by Alien!)

Now when I proof writing, I find strange typos and malapropisms -- not a lot.  I can’t remember names, but I never was good at that.  I take short naps.  I have little protocols, regimes, and sticky reminders but I forget to take my lists to the store and forgot to buy coffee last time.  (Eeeks!  A bag of coffee in Valier costs $2 more than it does in Conrad.)  Little strokes?  Lack of REM sleep?  “Normal” aging?  What I know from watching so many people get old (many of my best friends have died -- men and Indians die young) is that it’s a good idea to plan ahead.  Set deadlines and triggers, research to discover possibilities and markers.  This may be the beginning of an on-going thread.

Sunday, June 29, 2014


The Unitarian Universalist denomination symbol is a flame in a chalice, to show the ambiguous relationship with Christianity, but also to identify with iconoclastic defiance as in when people are burned at the stake for their beliefs.   It turned out to be a very flexible and inventive sort of icon:  a flame in cupped hands, a flame in a tree, a chalice with a tree for a flame and on and on.  So what I was after with my skull chalice was some kind of universality that was a little shocking.  Instead, I seem to have stumbled into a sort of "Goth" context.  But worse, the impression is that I'm only talking about this one denomination.  In a sense, I am, but in a larger sense, I'm not.

The revelation I've finally come to is twofold, based on two different ways of researching the brain.  One is the direct observation of the neurons and their connections by using incredibly sensitive instruments and injecting various tracers.  The most recent is a method of “Comparative Consciousness” that puts light-responsive genes into rat cells and then connects them with very fine fiberoptics.  By manipulating the light the genes that are light-responsive can be turned on and off, so specifically that once the researchers discovered that adjacent cells controlled sex OR violence, they could make a rat attack or fuck or stop doing either unless the sex had gone far enough along the rising stimulation to nearly trigger climax.   They say there are tens of thousands of KINDS of neurons specifically evolved for certain kinds of responsiveness, evidently organized into nodes connected by strands.  (Rhizome patterning.)

The cortex of the cerebrum is in very thin layers.  ( is a terrific resource.) Thought at present is that the body is “mapped” onto one wrinkly layer, with space allocated according to the sources of the sensorium;  most sensitive and often-used parts have more brain space.  The map has great big hands and eyes.

Also there is a connectome related to memories, which are evidently filed according to the compass directions, up/down, in/out, and sensory moments, which is why the memory exercise of imagining a building and pretending to walk through it in your head, noting furnishings as one goes, associating each with a detail of what you're trying to remember, is a trick for remembering long complex narratives. 

This kind of research is on the physical, provable, observable brain as it operates.  It comes from academic research, the field of medicine, and organic chemistry.

The other stream of research I’m rejoicing over is in part derived from above.  George Lakoff calls it “embodiment philosophy.”  That is, understanding how a human becomes a thinker and a self-aware one at that, but by empirical, experimental investigation rather than logic and reflection.  More about this as I understand it better, but Lakoff's view is a confluence of literature, psychological research, art theory, linguistics, semiotics, narrative, method acting, psychotherapy.

Lakoff has a political dimension:  this chapter can be downloaded.  It would please most UU's.

George Lakoff's work has met brain neurology in a remarkable convergence.  It is simpler and more poetic than post-modern theories, but I didn’t really “get it” when I first read “Metaphors We Live By” (by both Lakoff and Mark Johnson) in 1980.  I did not really grasp that if a person’s brain structure has accepted the idea that “life is a journey” and interprets everything as a way station, a rocky road, a new path, a gateway, that person will have a different response to accepting new information than will the person whose life has taught him “life is a trap” so that vigilance, frustration, the impossibility of change are what to expect.

The structure of the brain’s connectome is CREATED by life experiences.  It can change deep metaphors, but not necessarily consciously.  Conversion, transformation, epiphany are religious terms referring to the experience (I will claim) of revising deep brain node filters to allow both new information and new configurations to enter.  I suspect this is what LSD does, and maybe ketamine or ecstasy.  Not the opiods.  But I have no experience or expertise, so I’ll stick to the more literary ideas like insight or inspiration.

What to read?  Or google?  Or YouTube?  (Use recent bibliographies.  This stuff is moving fast.) 

Some books on my shelf:


Antonio Damasio

Antonio Damasio“Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain” (2010)
Antonio Damasio:   “The Feeling of What Happens:  Body, Emotion and the Making of Consciousness”  (2000)

Robert OrnsteinThe Roots of the Self: Unraveling the Mystery of Who We Are”  (1995)

Daniel Bor:  “The Ravenous Brain: How the New Science of Consciousness Explains our Insatiable Search for Meaning”  (2012)


Life is a journey.  That's a metaphor that feels like a fact.

George Lakoff and Mark Johnson:  “Metaphors We Live By” (1980)
George Lakoff and Mark Johnson:  “Philosophy in the Flesh: the Embodied Mind and It’s Challenge to Western Thought”  (1999)


Roy A. Rappaport:  “Ecology, Meaning and Religion”  (1979)
Robert J. Schreiter:  “Constructing Local Theologies”  (1985)
Richard Kuhns“Structures of Experience:  Essays on the Affinity Between Philosophy and Literature”
Victor Turner“The Ritual Process”

Tentatively, I’m working on the idea that these last four books relate to structure, the chalice, a source of patterns.   This is also a good use of the four brain research books.  But the embodiment books (there are more than what’s here) suggest content, the flame.

Too many UU congregations lose the “flow.”  Flow comes from engaging in something that is just difficult enough to be at your skill level.  It’s too easy to be a UU.  No challenge, nothing hard to think about, repetition of stuff without it having present meaning.  Some don't believe in Evil.  Do any UU questionnaires ask,  “Are you bored?”  Both ministers and congregations get into a groove.  Maybe this is why rivalries and emotional social issues tend to dominate dynamics.  Maybe this explains the liberal fascination with the under-culture.

Few know how to handle spirituality without prescribed liturgies, usually word-based.  Spirituality is defined as individual, unaccountable, with the person having the duty of figuring out the dogmatic framework of the denomination.  The rigidity is that of the magical spell.  It’s exhortational tone is from advertising.  When conforming fails to deliver on its promise, the people leave or get into side issues.  Among UU’s the “social issues” group forms, usually older men, and argues in a tight circle at the same time as worship, which doesn’t touch them.  And everyone loves the experts who do come-and-go workshops.

What’s missing from most of the mainstream denominations is a true dimension of spirituality.  Most of the books out there are either treacle or woo-woo.

The breakthrough when I was writing “Bronze Inside and Out” about Bob Scriver was structuring it around the experience of the materials:  how if feels to hold plastilene and plaster in your hands, not just the dramatic bronze pouring.  I feel as though “The Bone Chalice” is breaking into several books, one of them a “handbook” with steps, examples, and all that. Another one would follow the theory of embodiment philosophy, while recovering some of the principles of Rappaport, Schreiter, Kuhn, Turner.   I think I should begin to design experiences and see if I can find small groups to play them out.  I need feedback.


The big machines line up in front of my house.  This one was TWO STORIES tall.

This little fellow was across the street.  He was a peaceful specimen, no bull, until after the parade when everyone had gone off and left him picketed with nothing to eat.  Then the mooing started.  I never did get the story on him.  Maybe later.

The horses line up around the corner from me.  There are never enough of them.  This Belgian team was the only one in the parade.  I'd love a parade that was ALL horses!!

Saturday, June 28, 2014


“The Bone Chalice” started out as a simple proposition: that worship services didn’t have to be the same old “hymn sandwiches” even for the Christian-based religious groups like the Unitarian Universalists.  Indeed, the whole idea came out of the Pacific Northwest District’s workshops at Leadership Schools designed by Peter Raible, Rod Stewart, and Ord Elliott in the Seventies.  In seminary I began to run into issues that I couldn’t quite grasp and then lately issues so amazing and new that they seem to change everything, except that they don’t.  They confirm what I thought from the beginning.  Indulge me while I make another inevitable list.  They help me very much.

Alan Deale, Peter Raible, Rod Stewart at Fort Worden, WA

1.  Historically, the Unitarian movement has always been a “thought” game:  principles, logic, academia.  Services are exercises in words.  They come from the Jewish root of the Middle Eastern source: the study and prayer groups.  The Universalist movement is Jesus-based, focused on compassion, forgiveness, women.  It values the Communion, an act of giving and nurturing.  This usually hidden schism affects the design of ceremonies.

2.  Mostly it has been UU men who have gotten interested in liturgical design and they generally have seen it in a priestly light: that is, a primary figure directs the event and a supernatural overtone is not discouraged.  In the UU context in America, there have been several experimental sub-types:

Vern Barnett

A.   ABRAXAS, a group, on the one hand picked up the English Vespers pattern (Rev. Duke Gray) and on the other the use of materials drawn from world religions.  (Rev. Vern Barnett, Center for Religious Experience and Study, Kansas City.)  There was also strong input from Rev. Fred Wooden and Rev. Mark Belletini, who both entered through music, both traditional and newly composed.

Dean Willard Sperry

B.  Dean Willard Sperry at Harvard used the syllogism of thesis/antithesis/resolution as a worship pattern and was mostly sermon-centered.

CRev. Von Ogden Vogt used traditional European Christian structure in both worship and building but filled them with industrial images, which to him were the cutting edge of modernity.

D.  Rev. Kenneth Patton, a Universalist, kept the structure but went to science: the cosmos, anthropology, and a steady flow of compelling human images expressed in words.

Carolyn McDade
3.  The feminist movement brought in a new concern for words, since English is so gender-linked, but also an entry point for lay people and women who were less interested in being “priests” than in organizing cooperative experiences; a wave of new music composed to be inclusive  (Carolyn McDade); more openness to the “enthusiastic” emotional Christian denominations and the folk element in the Catholic context; sharing of space (sometimes members) with the Metropolitan Community Church congregations; Starhawk; Third Force Psych exercises. 
Alan Deale and Harlan Limpert, First Unitarian Church of Portland, OR

And they expanded Norbert Capek's flower communion into a whole family of communions, most notably the Ceremony of Water Mingling, which had universal precedents.

4.  Meadville/Lombard Seminary, where I began work on this subject, was a blip attached to the University of Chicago Divinity School.  It was the most conservative of the three possibilities I considered and the most academically stringent, which is what I wanted though I had to struggle.  The new theories of Foucault et al were just taking hold.  Though much of that work comes out of language, esp. semantics and semiotics, it was trying to access “meta” language, primal thought.  

Dean Barnlund

Since my undergrad School of Speech work at NU had included Dean Barnlund’s “Language and Thought” classes (mostly based on S.I. Hayakawa at that point), I was still interested but had no guide.  Likewise, since childhood I’d read fairy tales and mythology, which should have led me to Eliade, but he was inaccessibly in residence.  I mean, I nodded hello but couldn't get into his classes.  His "discipline" is called Comparative Religion.  (Joe Campbell is a "cousin.")

The important point is that my faculty advisor, John Godbey, wanted me to have a faith standpoint but I didn’t.  I had an experience standpoint.  He wanted me to have "God", though he understood the idea that “He” could only be accessed through a mask.  He didn't want to confront my dismissal of God because we were supposed to pluralistic.  Nevertheless, to him, a conservative man, a liturgy that was not based on formal philosophy and words, was not worship.  At least it was not academic and academic was the route to ministry. Thesis paralyzed.

Missoula UU Fellowship, formerly Leslie Fiedler's house.
"Montana Gothic" was invented in the basement bedroom.

5.  A challenging and therefore valuable parishioner in Missoula balked at the cost of having a minister, as well as the role itself.  Sunday morning services, which I provided two Sundays out of the month, were not worth his pledge of $100 a month.  He could go to a movie or read a book to get the same ideas.  He valued only the sermon, which is pretty typical of many UU’s.  He had been a lawyer and could do handsprings with our principles.  He recognized that the UUA is an institution but could not see any “spirituality” in it.  Even our social justice programs were limited and self-serving.  (They buy considerable respect and influence.)  All denominations are socio-economic.  I agree.

6.  Is a religious institution irreligious?  That is, religious institutions ennoble, accompany, and justify wars on every hand.  What is the difference between all that and the deep power of somethingorother that makes us value and love our lives, even in the face of death?  Or give up our lives for what we love?

7.  What is reality anyway?  IS there a reality?  Is spirituality access to reality?  Do religious institutions support spirituality in any way, or do they prevent and destroy it?

8.  The experience of sacredness seems real, but isn’t it a phenomenon of the human brain?  If so, how do we get to it, evoke it, and what are the consequences?  If you can just drop acid to get to it, how spiritual is it anyway?  Is there a way of designing a sacred experience -- rather like a sexual act that is skilled rather than instinctual -- that will “call the sacred” and if so, what does it mean?  Is morality involved?  If so, isn’t a morality that excludes sexuality in all its forms destroying sacredness?  I've been rescued by Lakoff's "embodiment philosophy."  When you strip the fancy stuff, what have you got?  Bodies.

Rev. Bob Horrocks  (Church of England)  Naturist

9.  “What is man?”  You know what I mean.  What is a human being in the animal sense? When a person stands before you, what are you looking at?  How does the body work?  How does the brain make human beings different?  We’re able to look at the functioning of individual neurons now.  What’s amazing is that the most sophisticated thinking at present is that human thought is a function of everything from the sensorium that lets in information from the world, how the brain organizes itself to interpret and act on that information (metaphor and mapping), what the person does to act on what the brain thinks is “out there,” and how it participates with other humans and whateeveritis in which we are all embedded.  Now the feeling of the sacred is less about being personally chosen and embraced, and more about being woven into participation, which may be the same thing.  Judgment of each other is too partial to count.  Sin is irrelevant.  Limits are highly relevant.

10.  My theories of how to design an experience that immanently evokes the sacred for human beings have drawn on contemporary science and my memories, including those of Blackfeet ceremonies. I’ve been aware since 1988 that I have no congregation.  I’m acting as a single prophet which is a great way to get into trouble and wander into the swamp.  

But I’ve had a virtual congregation, though people might scoff and argue.  They are not the prosperous, privileged, educated, ethical, adult people of the UU constellation, but rather stigmatized lost boys whom I never meet.  I’ve never designed ceremonies for them.  I just listen and watch the images they make, their "moves," and try to think what would have meaning for some country kid from El Salvador, trying to cross the border, hungry, hurt, doing whatever he must to survive, maybe thinking about suicide.  It's a stretch, but that's the point.

Survival is the key to all this stuff.  In the end everything else falls away.  In fact, none of us will survive except in our impact on the world, often through group survival rather than that of individuals.  But what does survival mean if we’re only a process, movements in a dance.  Doesn’t the point become moving as well as we can?  No words.

Friday, June 27, 2014


Vincent Edwards as Ben Casey

For months I was trying to remember the name of the doctor series that dominated TV for a while.  You know -- that cranky but handsome brute who was always right, an exemplar of the grandiose narcissist, a lion with a thorn in his paw.  It was quite awhile ago and evidently all my informed friends were just too young.  I ended up prowling on the internet a good bit, resurrected some memories, signed up for some med news services, and ended up hooked on “House, MD.”  

Then a couple of nights ago someone making a joke on that program gave me the name:  “Ben Casey.”  Early Sixties.  “Ben Casey” was one of the places Sydney Pollack developed his directing style -- Alpha male exploitation.  Casey was so popular that in Vietnam the name was used as code for doctors.  An older doctor was on-scene as mentor and the main romantic interest was a patient who awoke from a coma.  (Maybe not all the way?)

Hugh Laurie as House, MD

House has the ego but not the face of Ben Casey.  What revived the concept was adding a team of three “types” who reflect on his murderous brilliance, a close friend who is his age and sometimes his roommate, and an executive who, as he says, dresses like a trollop and is trying to get pregnant, possibly all by herself.  This is comedy.

I can only hope that people don’t get the idea from the show that all patients have the kinds of dramatic symptoms the scripts use.  In the early episodes things were more realistic, but by the end of the first year the show was mostly playing for laughs and soliloquies.  At the moment I'm watching there's a new character as strong and authoritative as House, a cop who is pursuing House’s addiction to painkillers, and who has introduced a new dimension.  (Third year, I think.)  The old irresistible force meets the immovable object ploy.

David Morse as a Cop getting to the bottom of it.

As for the symptoms, they are most often
1.  collapse and coma 
2.  spitting up blood
3.  seizures
4.  suffocation
5.  strange test results
6.  impending death as the machinery beeps 

Emergency treatment always includes injections with big needles, intubation, electric paddles to restore heart beating, lumbar puncture, MRI, surgical biopsies including brain surgery, and organ transplants.  All the while everyone claims the patient is dying but these massive and in real life traumatic techniques are treated as usual, even casual.  In actual practice the success rates are not the best.

The real subject, if you can find it, is most often human foibles of the ethical kind and the twisted psyche of just about everyone, but esp. House.  The female team member, Cameron, falls in love with anyone needy.  How she would have loved Ben Casey, which many fans at home did, but without Casey ever turning around and mocking them for it as House does.  Not that Cameron (Jennifer Morrison) is discouraged.  It only fans the flame.

Where's Omar?

Here we go!  Omar!

The black team member (Omar Epps) is the closest to an equal, not least because he is a former felon and can suss motives, but mostly because he’s just as smart and not dependent.  The white Aussie handsome fellow (Jesse Spencer) is no Dr. Kildare, though he looks a bit like Richard Chamberlain.  The surprising aspect of Kildare was that Lionel Barrymore, the older mentor, pushed him out of his own series.  Chamberlain went on to become a priest in “Thornbirds” and -- in real life -- an acknowledged gay man who adopted his lover since marriage was not an option and a lot of money was involved.  Times change, which is the point of this post.

Richard Chamberlain

So doctor shows are an indicator of the times in which they are written and viewed.  It is true to life that these days docs are managers of tech teams and merely sign off at the end of the episode.  It is also true that the names of the diseases, conditions, and parasites are more familiar to us.  We don’t just know that guinea worms have about been eradicated (thanks to Jimmy Carter) but we’ve all watched them being teased out of living flesh on You Tube.  Sometimes I recognize diseases from my chaplaincy: Wilson’s and Kawasaki made impressions.  It was a big regional specialty hospital, so I saw some anomalies.  But treatment was never this dramatic.  

Nowadays many conditions simply require on-going monitoring and blood tests, like diabetes and HIV.  It’s boring, repetitious, expensive, and sucks up time and travel from your life.  Maybe care is provided in a charity clinic where the employees distinguish themselves from the patients by showing contempt.  One becomes a human dipstick.  These features are not so likely to be discussed by House.  The hospital on the series is also a major institution in an urban area.  What the screenwriter knows.  No episodes about what to do if your nurse is your next-door neighbor, the nosy one, or if your doctor is a former student.

Doctors complain all the time that patients search the Internet for their symptoms and are soon suffering from the exotic multisyllabic afflictions that appear on House, except that it’s all in their head.  But I would claim it is self-defense to check the Web.  Many of my symptoms are simply advancing old-age.  I have trouble distinguishing new phenomena from the background noise.  The docs are in a hurry.

Our little clinic has a problem with tumbling docs.  The one I had left in the night with no warning.  I don’t know why.  The nurse-practitioner who took her place said lactic acidosis (a complication -- potentially fatal -- of metformin that is stated on the label) is very rare so therefore I don’t have it.  But no test, so I still don’t know whether my symptoms are background noise or worthy of panic.  But I’m opposed to overtesting.   On “House MD”  they run a zillion tests, some of them expensive and requiring experts plus amazing equipment.  We’ve come to expect that.  Simple observation is discounted.  Also med labels.

Hugh Laurie and Robert Sean Leonard

For Valier residents there is a small clinic that sends someone over from Shelby, Teton County, once a week.  The other choices are Cut Bank, where my dentist just quit, or Conrad, where the hospital is in financial trouble.  Also in Shelby is my pharmacist, who is now saying she’s going to get out as soon as possible.  She is an older woman, honest and conscientious, sometimes a necessary alert system, though she’s working for a Big Box store that refuses to keep enough pills on hand.  This policies come from headquarters where roads never close and all driven by profit.

I wonder whether watchers have really noticed that one of House’s strategies is to search the patient’s house, with or without a warrant, looking for toxic substances, drugs, clues.  Home invasion may be the next step in the mommy version of medical care.  House and his whole team would note that, and do it anyway, though Cameron and Omar might object.   But the program is off the air now anyway -- just on Netflix.   “House search” may be the trend.  After all, it’s only to save the patient.  Your privacy or your life?  Um -- can I get back to you?


SHELBY, MONTANA    June 27, 2014

Thursday, June 26, 2014


del Toro and Amalric

“Jimmy P: Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian” is not a movie about Indians.  It is about human beings.  It is also a big lovable mutt of a welter of trauma, forces and questions that are always left by a war, at least the kind of war that WWII was.  This movie explores both the Indian and the psychoanalyst George Devereux, who is sort of inventing his work out of anthropology, philosophy, and ancient Greek assumptions, plus his own issues from a Hungarian Jewish family with a lawyer father and a mother at odds with him.  Edward Teller was his cousin.  His brother committed suicide.  He studied with VERY high level founders of sophisticated thought (Marie Curie!) and was never quite accepted by the Americans except Menninger, always a man with foresight and tolerance, perhaps a precursor to the Third Force psychology of the Sixties and Seventies.  

Devereux wrote 400 manuscripts, not all of them published.  “In "From Anxiety to Method in the Behavioral Sciences" Devereux proposes to rethink the question of the relation between the observer and the observed. Devereux takes his guidance from psychoanalysis. According to him, the classical methodological principle which prescribes to the researcher to make his observations from a strictly objective point of view is not only impossible to put into practice but outrightly counterproductive. Instead the observer should place himself in the middle of the process and keep in mind that whatever he may observe is always influenced by his own activity of observing.”  This is a principle of particle physics, quantum mechanics.

Devereux wasn’t Procrustean (Freud’s dark side), but rather formed himself against the boundary of the person who presented and learned from that.  (Technically transference and countertransference.)  He was wrestling with the scientific requirement of being absolutely objective (impossible) versus the poet’s yearning to inhabit the revelation of another person’s life (dangerous).  But he was able to move successfully in and out of the other person’s experience, using empathy as much as analysis.  Writing everything down helped him to externalize it; long walking talks helped him share Jimmy P’s world, though he never came to the rez as did the film-makers.  He did previously have two years on the Mohave rez.

I agree with Roger Ebert , who said, "the movie offers the most psychologically complex screen portrait of a Native American character in at least twenty years, probably more" and "those who have undergone such treatment will appreciate how accurately the film portrays the process, never simplifying anything, never going for the easy dramatic epiphany, always respecting how analyst and patient circle around and around the edges of meaning". 

Desplechin was active in composing the script, with the help of Julie Peyr and Kent Jones.


Desplechin goes back and forth over his subjective/objective boundary by using an alter ego, Mathieu Amalric, who has been his representative often enough to move into it smoothly.  He also depicts the dreams as they are presented.  The result is a simple, clear, graceful portrayal of the relationship between two very different people. This film is already a classic because of this dimension: that it is accessible but not stupid.  

A few little flourishes from more recent scholarship than what was in the original book are helpful.  Clearly someone read the anthro scholarship about Blackfeet.  (“Manly-hearted women.”  And there’s Cyn Kipp!  Well, Mary Ground has gone on ahead, right?  And a lot of others.  But there are plenty left and they’re getting impatient!)

Hungarian Manly-Hearted Woman?

You should not go to see this movie because you dearly love and idealize Indians, not that they are put down, but because they are not treated as a separate species.  There are no feathers.  But to my heart’s joy, the land that made Siksika into a tribe is well-portrayed.  To my irritation and sometimes amusement, Benicio del Toro is about as Blackfeet as a Taiwanese playing a Korean.  The unfamiliar are not likely to notice much, but to those who know the difference, it will be a bug.  The compensation is that he’s an excellent actor and does a fine job with the dynamics of the character.

Another issue that needs to be acknowledged and then dismissed is del Toro’s attempt to speak in what some call the Indian drawl or brogue.  At your peril say “guttural” because to the unsophisticated it implies “the gutter,” though it really means words pronounced in the back of the throat.  Blackfeet language had a lot of consonants spoken against the soft palate and throat.  (Modern Blackfeet speakers tend to have accents because they can’t make those sounds anymore.) Their singing is falsetto, nasal, almost like throat-singing, but that is changing, too.  Del Toro ends up sort of halfway between Tonto and a Jamaican.

Upham and del Toro

The real Jimmy P. was from a family called “Everybody Talks About Him.”  Usually around here we leave off the “Him.”  Or even just say “Talks About.”  The name is not in the 1907 Blackfeet census but Devereaux is.   No relation.  Jason Devereaux was an art teacher here.  I didn’t know that George Devereux was actually György Dobó, but that clue begins to explain why the lives of Blackfeet would become relevant to him.  Both men had translated names because both had been culturally overrun.  Devereux was evading the Jewish danger (he converted to Christianity in 1933) and Talks About was living out an imposed culture.

Despite the fantasies of some, many tribes were very strict and closely prescribed behavior.  An unfaithful woman could have her nose cut off.  The last “Nosie” in Browning had died only a few years before I came in 1961.  Beatings were approved, a root of present violence.  The people who were friendly to Jesuit Catholicism were the same as those who had derived their sense of themselves from rule-following in the old way, just a matter of reframing the rules a bit.  To be thrown into a chaotic “anything-goes” situation like WWII meant a major change in the most basic assumptions.  

Almaric and McKee

For the Devereux character, it meant accepting a “Swedish” sort of tolerance in which loving someone unavailable (married to someone else) and losing them was simply necessary, a matter of rueful acceptance.  For the Jimmy P. character, faithlessness was intolerable and deserved punishment to the point of death.  He had been a warrior, he had been displaced, he had been robbed -- all of these things brought up unresolved issues from boyhood.  With a harsh mother and tough sister, a dead wife, a deserting wife, the only figure of female reconciliation in the movie that’s possible is the teenaged daughter, who is Catholic, raised by nuns.  Eventually, Jimmy could accept their ceremonies of confession and forgiveness and internalize them, which is what the psychotherapy was anyway.

There are a few loose ends, mostly the other Indians:  Gary Farmer, A. Martinez, Misty Upham, Michael Greyeyes and background extras.  None of their stories are pursued and only Misty is Blackfeet, but they give a sense of “group” which is very important when dealing with tribal people.

This film fits into the brain research issues I’ve been following.  If the level of challenge presented by things like war, esp. when the moral dimension is high enough, it becomes necessary to find a way to rebuild one’s world-view from the deepest, earliest levels.  One way is psychotherapy, but ceremonies can also work.  A previous icon of PTSD recovery has been Leslie Marmon Silko’s novel “Ceremony,” also about WWII.  In that book, the man goes back to his tribe and accepts the old ways.  If this kind of work is not done, either people will be assaulted and even killed, or gentle persons like Jimmy will turn the rage on themselves, blindly, painfully.