Tuesday, September 30, 2014


Julian Fellowes' book after "Downton Abbey"

The Middle Class has made a religion of books, but like the more recognized “church” religions, books are no longer what they thought they were.  Neither is the Middle Class.  As a townsman remarked to me recently,  “There is no middle class anymore.”  As my cousin noted, “We are told the Middle Class is endangered.”  He just retired after a lifetime of struggling to be what he thought was Middle Class, because that’s what that side of the family thought they were and should be.  That was the Scots side of the family.  (My father’s.)  

On the Irish side of the family the sense was not scrambling to go UP, but rather digging in one’s heels while sliding steadily DOWN.  The Scots were ultra-respectable: my grandmother objected to us saying, “Gee,” because it was short for “God” which is swearing.  The Irish were provocateurs: that grandfather loved to pick quarrels.  He had married above himself.  Both grandfathers were located in the transition from a farming world to an urban one.  On the Irish grandmother's side were profitable woolen mills and an artistic woman who married an architect and lived an upper-middle-class life in Pasadena.  I have one of her paintings, a still-life of a copper kettle with a geranium growing in it and a little covered dish made to look like a hen.  Domestic, tabletop, nurturing.  Middle Class.

When I went off to college at Northwestern University, my American lit teacher in Portland exclaimed,  “Oh, I’m so glad.  Now you’ll meet some rich people!”  She was a small bird-like woman, aging into ill-health, with huge glasses that I thought were because she was far-sighted but I now think compensated for cataract surgery.  Her heart was with Walt Whitman, who never thought about rich people, so I was puzzled.  

What she meant had mostly to do with the arts, that I would be exposed to good taste and refined living -- nothing to do with income really, except that rich people can help artistic people by accumulating their creations, even the experimental ones, or can become patrons.  She’s the teacher who taught us that it was fine to write in books, but we should do it neatly, meaningfully, and perhaps with a special pencil.  She encouraged us to get a leather-bound journal book and use it as a day book; that is, record thoughts and poems to keep.  I think that’s when I started using green ink.  Decades later someone at seminary stole my beautiful green leather journal.  

The Scots side had lots of books.  (My father went a bit over the top.)  They had been school teachers in the days when teachers kept order and supplied facts.  The Irish side -- at least the women -- weren’t much different than today’s female immersion-cravers.   These are novels that endorse Middle-Class ideas, esp. the burden of Middle Class women. (It’s not housework -- it’s carrying the culture.) I have a complete set of the works of Gene Stratton-Porter, partly inherited and partly bought.  (She had a career but it wasn’t writing romances, though she did that; it was bird photography.)  

Gene Stratton-Porter

Somewhere in the resulting surf, I search for the romance of ideas and find them everywhere, but often too cheap, too much aping others, too transient.  I thought religion would be different, but it wasn’t.  Still the same agenda: safety, repetition, replication, privileging the male but only so long as he brings in money.

Books are what you make them.  The Victorian bourgeois Middle Class women made them into strategies for rising in status (meaning making money and marrying well), escaping from rigid lives, and secretly enjoying sex.  (Imagine the Somali immigrant woman watching “Downton Abbey” for hints about how to order daily life.)  The novelistas of our times, who still believe in Victorian values but not Queen Victoria, a social category that includes the present and recent princesses, still also believe in the French kind of oppression, by which I mean “The Story of O,”  an account of dependent wickedness as a sign of distinction.  (Must I mention “Gray”?)  The middle classes are so fond of royalty and rich people because they have no actual idea of what those high-status lives are like, though they will buy many books about them.

I suppose that the “third” world, that is, the dark and marginal places where people yearn to get into the Middle Class, is no longer getting there with the help of books.  Rather they must be using their smart phones which are about information and where you are, a specialty of the part of the Middle-Class that developed from artisans and shop-keepers.  The novels that people read over and over as maps to rising (I certainly did) are now on video.  No longer do we watch the bourgeois tales favored by displaced Jewish entrepreneurs in Hollywood who didn’t have the chops to become psychoanalysts.   The indie and underground films are compelling but won’t always provide reliable maps.  On the other hand, who can map a world without a Middle Class that stays put as a point of reference while everything else shifts, empties, swarms with life that seems as foreign as the little monsters of the deep sea -- glowing, amorphous, predatory?  

These are personal essays, meaning that I make no pretense about writing about and through myself.  At first, given the chance to write what moving to Valier meant, I went straight to the Middle-Class immersive experience of partnering Bob Scriver.  It was hardly boring, and there was lots of sex, some wickedness, and always the landscape.   “Are you makin’ any money, Robert?” asked his dad every evening, puffing on his pipe as his mom served a little treat in her cushioned parlor.  He did; I didn't.  Irrelevant.

Not reading but writing changed me.  Refusing to be controlled by the Cowboy Art Cartel -- who wanted me to write something very different -- changed me.  Attending the Montana Festival of the Book, so Middle-Class that their heroes are all on NPR; writing accounts of other parts of my life: animal control, the UU ministry, this blog -- all changed me.  I was a revisionist visionary. Radicalized by realization.

Beware of writing honestly and intensely because it will change you more than reading any books.  One of the changes will be leaving paper for the glass screen.  Just as well, since avant garde exploratory books hardly exist anymore.  The progression has been:  novel (middle class), poetry (REAL poetry has no class), image (including all classes, rendering “class” irrelevant).  It has been a movement from immersion to submergence to emergence.

The necessarily final step will be nonexistence, death.  If a person can’t accept the reality of death and loss, but is always throwing up the safeguards, if a person can’t risk being stigmatized, violated, and possibly murdered, then the paralysis sets in.  If a person can’t risk creating for the sake of the thing itself in the moment instead of for the money, the status, the finger in an eye, then the paralysis sets in.  If a person can’t give up being simply a body in a social world with little relationship to whirling galaxies and swarming blood, then the paralysis sets in.
Gene Stratton-Porter, naturalist and novelist

If you follow Middle-Class ideas about success (prizes, money, speaking engagements, household recognition), you will be paralyzed.  But if you don’t, if you go soaring and spelunking, you’ll be changed and your mother will not recognize your success. 

I first read Gene Stratton-Porter’s romantic fiction on my aunt’s sheep farm where I found “Keeper of the Bees” on the screened second story sleeping porch that was necessary before there was AC. Stratton-Porter was a red-headed reckless woman who tried to save the great furniture-quality hardwood trees of the Limberlost marshy forest.  She mostly failed but she was certainly not paralyzed.  Whether she was Middle-Class or not is open to discussion.  Her novels were about struggling for prosperity and security.  She’s not forgotten.   Yet.  Because she was an ornithologist.   

Still, not so modern as a black swan.  The Middle-Class has learned to love the dark side.  A marker for horror instead of culture.  Now, why is that?

Monday, September 29, 2014


Food: can we talk?  No doubt.  Even my Sunday morning symphonies have been displaced by recipes and what was once a nicely confined set of foodies in trendy urban places seems to have taken up the work of the Devil that medicine started -- scaring us all, making us afraid to live for fear we might die.   Promising orgasmic ecstasy if we just follow directions and buy exotic ingredients. Yet, there’s a lot of truth in what they propose.  Life is a matter of push against shove-back.  

Most things biological operate on continuums in tension between two extremes.  Mouth and anus are obvious, but I’m thinking more like glucose v. insulin -- the subtle transactions that go on inside bodies all the time.  We are bombarded with statistics, which are translated for our innumerate misunderstanding into percentage warnings.  They would be more effective if they stayed the same, but one month butter is in, then it’s out; one month salt is out, then it’s in; etc.  

The constant war of theories in our media is echoed less consciously in the local grocery stores, which must figure out what they can afford to stock (what there is shelf space and warehouse space for) versus what won’t sell, fresh foods versus how long foods can be held and how, what is appealing enough to bring people in when what is appealing varies widely by age, income, and so on.  To say nothing of advertising and celebrity opinions.

There are men here who packed supply mule trains in Italy in WWII.

Also neglected is the conversation we act out in our daily lives, the binaries of transactions.  This is a stream of consciousness list -- or order or categories.  Unsorted.

Buying local versus buying at a supermarket
Growing one’s own versus standard packaging and transportation
Vegetarian versus meat
Storage: fresh, frozen, canned, dried
Diet proportions:  carb to protein to sugar
Root veggies vs. leafy vs. fruits and nuts
Statistic generalizations vs. the unique individual
Monitoring blood vs. whatever feels good   (a monitor strip a day vs. a1C)
Adjusting diet to respond to blood type (not genome)
Traditional diets with ethnic identity value
Comfort food, what Mom gave you when you had a cold or hurt feelings
Weaning from sweet/fat/salt fast food
Glycemic index v. calories
National holiday foods

Is there such a thing as food that's not organic?
Yes, Twinkies.  Not even biodegradable.

Mechanical problems like bad teeth or trouble swallowing 
Access to cooking and “kinds” of cooking (microwave, convection, electric, gas, wood)
Hydration vs. food
Fish: fresh or salt water, cold water, mercury, other pollution, endangered, 
Regulation of recreational acquisitions, both fish and game. 
Allergies: gluten, peanut
Industrial chemicals:  antibiotics, herbicides, hormones
Human contamination  (e coli)
Abuse of human workers (long hours, poor housing, no washing facilities)
Abuse of animals (unnecessary force, crowding)
Processing of both meat and vegetables
Inclusions:  high fructose, foreign objects, level of tolerated insect parts
Kinds of fat:  Lard, Krisco, oils, butter, margarine
“Taste additions,” dye, preservatives, nitrates, monosodium glutamate

Independent Grocers Alliance is the full proper name of the IGA stores, which are organized as a franchise in 1926 and now exist in thirty countries.  The difference is that each store is independently owned, which means it can develop according to local conditions. What we never see is the distribution network, which can make or break an individual store.  I'm going to leave in the wiki-links, in case you really want to think about it.

Wikipedia says:  “Logistics is the management of the flow of goods between the point of origin and the point of consumption in order to meet some requirements, of customers or corporations. The resources managed in logistics can include physical items, such as food, materials, animals, equipment and liquids, as well as abstract items, such as time, information, particles, and energy. The logistics of physical items usually involves the integration of information flow, material handling, production, packaging, inventory, transportation, warehousing, and often security. The complexity of logistics can be modeled, analyzed, visualized, and optimized by dedicated simulation software. The minimization of the use of resources is a common motivation in logistics for import and export.”

Curry's belongs to Associated Food Stores.  The logo is over the door.

Another wholesale supplier is a cooperative:  "Associated Food Stores was founded in 1940 by Donald P. Lloyd, president of the Utah Retail Grocers Association along with 34 Utah retailers. Concerned with effect that large corporate stores would have on small independent retailers, he felt the only way these small businesses could survive is if they united and faced the competition as one, therefore increasing their collective buying power."

The entry describes eleven different aspects of logistics, which would apply to any kind of system, including schools or the military, but in the small town grocery store, all eleven aspects have to be handled by one owner.  The trouble with the IGA system is that the end-point is at the mercy of the wholesaler, which is a single entity.  In a place like Montana where distribution is always struggling against aging transportation systems and unpredictable weather, the interface network of friends and influence becomes crucial.  Customer populations split between older folks (though most are too young to know how to get through the winter with a side of beef and a barrel of flour) and younger folks who want the latest instant stuff; split between locals who’ve always made pies with lard-based crusts and formerly urban folks who expect frozen ready-made graham cracker crusts.

Gresham Berry Growers

My father’s first job was as a wool-buyer roving the state of Oregon.  Most of his working life was as a field rep for Pacific Supply Cooperative, visiting the small co-ops to drum up business and provide feedback to headquarters.  It was bought out by a corporation, as most of the rural co-ops have been.  Gresham Berry Growers and Tillamook Cheese were on his agenda.  For him, growing up on the prairie, grower co-ops were a kind of religion with granges for churches.  His cathedrals were the elevators that stood along the railroads.

Today convenience and fast-everything has replaced co-ops.  People will pay for time saved.  The big corporations have the capital and tight management that makes such a thing work.  I once accidentally walked down the aisle of an Albertson’s behind a regional man interviewing the store manager.  It was very enlightening.  The local man emphasized that cost was more important than name brands in his store.  Since name brands use whatever leverage they can to get their items into the big corporation stores -- including kickbacks and promotions -- this wise regional man paid close attention.  Now the store carries generic foods at lower prices.  The big names have been saving money by short-weighting packaged foods, so people like me begin to prefer bulk.

In fact, the co-op is bouncing back in the form of Bountiful Baskets, a distribution system with no stores.  Customers must put in the time and the effort of understanding what things are and sorting them.  (Local clerks never recognize parsnips and are puzzled about how to cook them.)  It’s one step farther along than U-Pick, which was my mother’s way of saving money and guaranteeing quality.  It also mean canning, freezing, drying.  We were in Oregon, which is indeed bountiful, but in Montana there are not so many kinds of local food beyond meat and grain.  (If you U-Pick livestock, the ranchers get upset.)

We’re at an awkward spot in the economy where the population is teetering back and forth between having cars that can reach bigger stores easily, using computers to order luxury foods that will dependably arrive by UPS, individually owning washing machines and cell phones -- unless one has slipped below a certain level.  Then there are not enough low-income people to support laundromats and telephone booths, or even a decent bus system, but there are unserved poor people.  Local stores, at their discretion, can offer credit.

Living in Saskatchewan was an education.  Instead of fifty cereal options, there were maybe five.  The same for toothpaste, canned goods, and even basics like flour.  In the States, even on the prairie, one strategy has been to slightly vary something like cola and market it as unique kinds, for the discriminating, a mark of prestige and identity.  Vegetables are sold as organic or gluten-free, even if they’re carrots.  Is there such a thing as a non-organic carrot?  Or one with gluten?
A Canadian cartoon

In the small town store the most important feature is the owner and then the clerks.  No order “from the top” can compete with observation “on the ground.”  Brand loyalty can never be more important than friendship and good service.  There's gotta be a sweet spot in there somewhere, but it moves around.

Sunday, September 28, 2014


Suppose I got tired of producing written content and finally turned to the other half of what the middle-class worshipfully admires as “publishing,” which is the commercial exploitation of content.  I look at that alternative now and then, mostly when the bills mount up.

In the past, sales have been based on the idea of “quality,” dictated by experts, including institutions like the New York Times list of best-sellers (implying that the “cloud” reflex of paying customers is an indicator) or Book-of-the-Month club (without readers understanding that the choices depended as much on unseen contract negotiations as on the quality of the writing).  Today in this huge haystack of available content there are two governing indices:  one is the cult of personality that we are used to because of movies and TV; the other is sales figures, which are partly based on customer studies.

Alvina Krause

I’m using blogs several different ways: one is simply an archive and reflection about a professor of acting, Alvina Krause.  One is a repository of posts about Blackfeet matters for the Blackfeet to ponder.  (They can’t afford books but can get access to computers.)  One is an archive of materials about Bob Scriver.  These blogs are focused on a specific audience but they are not widely read.  

The students of Krause numbered maybe forty at a time, which over the years would amount to maybe 1600 potential readers of a book, many of whom are now dead or elderly.  Outside of her students there is not much prospect of sales based on her teaching.  There would be more if a writer were to focus on the fact that the School of Speech at the time was covertly gay-friendly which stirred up backlash among the righteous administration and ultimately forced out AK.  Then there would be the element of her post-retirement renaissance in Bloomsberg, PA, where her ideals support a fine repertory theatre.  The audiences of Northwestern, Eaglesmere, and Bloomsberg would be another source of sales, but only Bloomsberg is recent enough to amount to many numbers.  Raw population density is the secret of success for theatre audiences and physical book sales, though today -- through video and internet sales -- the world via google and UPS is the only real limit.  Still, people like to read about their own familiar world.  On the other hand, theatre has drastically changed from the “Method” based realism of AK to spectacles involving fire, trapezes and “flying.”

Bob Scriver

Bob Scriver’s case is a little different.  First, he is ambivalently “located” on the Blackfeet Reservation which can’t really decide whether they love him or hate him.  Second, he was on the periphery of what I call the Cowboy Art Cartel, which is based on the marketing of Remington and Russell, rigidly controlled and defending a mythic patriotic understanding of what cowboy art really is.  Third, most people would not be interested in Scriver as a person, except in terms of what makes his work worth money.  His work is ‘trading stock’ and books can increase or decrease value.  The interlocking complex of auctions and “museums” are really semi-religious institutions defending that same myth of cowboys and Indians that Bob accepted and illustrated in his work -- not in his life.  Revelations of reality will hurt sales.

available on www.lulu.com/prairiemary

The blog I call prairiemary (www.prairiemary.blogspot.com) is the closest I come to a personal writer’s platform.  But my life-path is in compartments located differently with different audiences.  Unless I could find enough readers for any one of them, or somehow combine them into a grand theme, they wouldn’t support a readership.  Two other people have tried to develop books about animal control, but were overwhelmed by the great romantic unreality of the Humane Society of the United Society which never saw an animal it didn’t want to convert into a human baby, though it is the American Humane Society that takes on both child-welfare and animal-welfare.  

Valier, MT

Small town infrastructure interests me greatly, since that's where I am, and could be developed if it were properly targeted.  A lot of people are struggling with the issues.  In fact, I think the pressure is great enough and closely enough related to Third World problems that a lot of technical breakthroughs that will change everything are in the pipeline -- not least the breaking up of grids and the most difficult the safety of the water/sewer cycle.  Doing this properly would mean a lot of research and travel.  It ought to be done by a younger, better- financed person.

The religious issues in the world consciousness are so potent and various that it would be fair to call them “fulminating.”  We are about to step away from the dogma, admit to the historical and territorial sources and expressions of religious institutions, and possibly to change the nature of the institutions themselves, finally recognizing them as variations in the theme of “nations” trying to defend and expand boundaries.  I don’t really have the chops to take on such an overwhelming paradigm shift.

My specific interest is reconciling neurological research about how the body operates to create consciousness and identity with what I know from experience as an ordained minister about creating ritual and deep experience.  Things are moving so quickly, partly in response to the chaos and damage of today’s world, that as quickly as I work, I fall behind.  Nevertheless, other people are strung out over a continuum between sorcerers to iconoclasts.  Those who could benefit from an intense spiritual retreat or a steady Sunday morning reassurance include just about everyone on the planet, but sales could only be made to a narrow span of that continuum.  Still, that could be a lot of people.

Available on Amazon

Now step over to the practicality of selling.  I’m told by publishers that they make few sales at the Montana Festival of the Book.  Placing ads in the Montana magazine of Western History produced no sales for me.  Despite a barrage of postcards I sent to them, the institutions that supposedly preserve Scriver’s work failed to realize his biography existed.  Review copies produced nothing. The blogs that monitor such things say that readings at bookstores don’t work, partly because there are too few bookstores, partly because readers cocoon.  Review sections of the major newspapers are defunct.  Magazines?  WHAT magazines?  Radio seems possible.  Both the local radio and regional newspaper are highly political.  I'm not.

Circles of people who know and promote each other are the real source of book publicity but they no longer lunch together. Recently the Missoula bell-mare went into the Bozeman range with mixed results.  Anyway, that foray was about a movie. The NY agents who used to have magic Rolodexes are gone, though a wave of dismissed editors has joined them.  Instead, the conversion of writing into actual books has migrated out to the grass roots, which haven’t existed long enough to form a thick and resilient turf, despite the efforts of a website like www.lulu.com, which represents itself as a printer with benefits, something like a friend with benefits.  (Sex is sales and replication.)  A book may require a bit of professional grooming.

Rhonda Abrams -- see what I mean about grooming?

Today’s business section in the GF Tribune includes an article by Rhonda Abrams of The Planning Shophttp://www.planningshop.com  The topic is marketing.  If you are marketing by using a percentage of your profits, you will need to already be a major, prominent, advantage-generating entity whose simple existence IS advertising.  (Rhonda Abrams’ example is Costco.)  This is a variation on word-of-mouth.

If you are small and unknown, you will need venture capital.  The trick is to prove the product.  The third option is to create such a big controversial stink that people get to know your name and buy the book out of curiosity.  (Many will save money by reading reviews instead.)  For example, Krakauer is always writing about something sensational or purporting to reveal previously unknown and shocking facts -- regardless of consequences.  (Like, hiring big physical ghetto guys with respect-issues to be athletic stars -- and bringing them into a little white self-important town that aspires to be worldly -- will probably result in sexual boundary loss that will inflame a lot of cowboys.)  It works for the newspapers.  And lawyers.

So far, none of these options is attractive.  None of them would generate enough money to tempt me to give up the wealth I have, which is time and freedom.  I can sit here all day and write what I want to write -- immediately putting it out there for you read at no cost to either of us.  If you want print on paper, use your computer printer. Or go to www.lulu.com/prairiemary.  As for the cost to me, I prepaid with my life.

Saturday, September 27, 2014


EFFECTIVE sex education is not about actual fucking.  The people who provide our present kind of sex ed say they are concerned about health issues, which may or may not include pregnancy or HIV.  The parents just want to know whether their children are physically normal.  (Some still can’t decide whether they themselves are normal.)  The kids want the fabled orgasm, but more than that, they want emotional fusion: intimacy, bonding, attachment, safety -- what they had when they were babies.  They want to know how to be wanted.  So what do we give them?  Graphs, statistics, -- all that stuff that lets us handle hot topics in a cold way.

Sex and “love” are a Venn diagram in which the emotional components of “love” overlap but do not include all the physical functions of sex.  Still, I side with the kids.  The actual act of coitus is largely reflex and instinct if you are talking about physical matters.  “How to do it” varies according to whether you are a missionary or not and willingness to experiment, as well as style and temperament (which is physical) but the emotional and spiritual side of it can be almost destroyed by overbearing moral considerations.  Who cares what God and the angels think about it?  What are they, voyeurs?  What matters is in the two (not necessarily two but usually) people involved before, after and during the act.

Too many people, including but not limited to kids, are tugged in the opposite direction from emotional safety and fusion -- towards danger and exploration.  The trouble is that they may get into the sexual realm beyond their capacity to keep their emotional balance esp when the chemical/physical distortions of drugs are involved.  The education that is needed is how to manage intimate relations: how to read the other person and stay open while maintaining one’s own guard, the limits of your self-respect, how to signal, how to maintain awareness during an act that can close awareness to a pinhole . . . which means that trouble is almost inevitable, which means that the skills of recovery after hurt need to be learned.  Pain is not so bad, but suicide IS and strong sexual emotions can pull towards death or serious trauma.  Many of the young male suicides I’ve known about have been over "love" rather than sex.  For girls, physical pregnancy is added to the equation.

One of the main reasons I’ve never been a “hook-up” person is that I can NOT handle the emotional intelligence it takes to keep from hurting myself and others.  I do not know how to keep from attaching nor am I any good at letting go.  I mistake predation for need, narcissism for focus, and rage for strength.  I cannot keep from becoming engaged with someone who has access to my body.  I can’t shut off everything that goes with a sensory connection.  So if there WERE really good sex education, I’d sign up. 

One of my ways of coping has been to avoid pregnancy in order to avoid parenting.  This is not really coping -- just evading.

Howard Stern

Even on a physical level, much sex education does not tell the truth -- “level with us”, as it were.  Until Howard Stern’s rude contest for the man with the smallest dick, the problem of the microdick wasn’t known at all. (Technically, a little over 2”, erect, when 5” is normal.  .6% incidence in the population -- usually a code glitch obvious at birth.) Stern himself had thought it was a joke reversal of the obsession over penis size and was rocked by seeing those tiny penises -- also rocked again by the quality of the men who accepted themselves and willingly allowed themselves to be measured.  Most were married and some had children.  (Nothing wrong with their testes.)  Not until “A Thousand Wicked Thoughts” did we know there was a category of turn-on that was a female with a penis, which is not just a cartoon but a person, though usually addressed by surgery.  More code glitch. I didn’t know about intersex babies until my chaplaincy in a big regional hospital.  In ten weeks there were two cases of babies with ambiguous genders that the ethics board had to address in terms of what to do.  We are all being educated by the trans and queer people, who are no longer secret.

Making babies is as complex as rocket science, but failures don’t fall into the sea.  Fifty per cent (estimated) of fertilized ova don’t “catch” by implanting in the uterus lining or fail in some other way along the nine-month period of gestation.  Some are close enough to the goal to live, but with shortcomings or unwelcome additions.  (My cousins have the gene for too many fingers and toes.)  Some twins fail to separate but live.  (“Siamese” twins.)  Some of them marry and have children.

The substrate of our bodies, the neurological parts that get “hooked” into paraphilias, are very small structures that have whole-body emotional consequences.  Sexual attachments and preferences are a language, a hunger, a movement, an identity -- flexible, adaptive, persistent, easily conditioned.  Otherwise the species would have disappeared a long time ago.

On the other hand, a body that is exhausted, abused, starving, diseased, drugged, or in terror cannot respond beyond built-in reflexes.  There cannot be subtlety, elegance, creative connections other than what is mindless.  In a healthy person, sex can be a source of many good things that we don’t even recognize as sex: art, friendship, political charisma, growth towards a goal.  That’s so obvious it’s almost claptrap cliché.

The alternative press (people like Dan Savage or Eugene S. Robinson) is now supplying advice for people who are outside conventions, experimenting and curious.  I see that they sound much like any good counselor: “take it slow,” “don’t exceed your own limits,” “dump the crazy fantasies” and so on.  This is great and available online, but I think the need still exceeds the supply.  

Part of the trouble is that we confuse “love” (whatever that is) with sex, a physical act that is connected to a zillion attachments, repulsions, transactions.  We say that “love” justifies any kind of sex, but does anyone ever say “I love you” to a sheep?  Too bad it’s not possible to make love to chocolate, although you can involve it in sex.

Strangely, the graphics for this subject are better on the business sites.

Sex is a lever that can be used for good or ill.  Sex education should include wariness about that, but the “good” side is often neglected.  Sex can heal wounds, bond people together, comfort pain, erase worry, build for the future.  It can lead both into and out of friendship, which might be considered close relationship built on common interests, not necessarily agreement.  Adolescents who are savvy about all this, and capable of managing contraception and disease-prevention, might be free to have sex -- even entitled to it.

Neither good sex nor “love” can be achieved by living the other person’s life.  One must be SOMEBODY before any transaction between parties can occur.  Masturbation is classified as sex, but I wonder if that’s really what it is.  Seems like physical sex should always be about relationship.  But just as arguably, fantasy entities are treated by the brain as though they are reality, so the body reacts as though someone else were present.

Good sex cannot be forced (nor can “love”) but it can be called out, particularly if the party being called has the ability to hear and interpret other people accurately.  I have no idea where the ideas that sex must be forced or that “love” must be impossible and unlikely, ever got their start except that they are obviously self-serving.  Good sex education will keep both “love” and sex from being for sale, esp. not cheap.  Better to buy a ticket to effective sex/love education.

It's all so theatrical.

Friday, September 26, 2014


“Fire Shut Up in My Bones” by Charles Blow is in its debut publicity wave and deserves close attention.  Blow is a strong, inspiring person who lives up to his intention of always being brave and honest.  What follows is not intended to discredit him in any way.  But I want to question the definition of his book as a “Black” book, his life as a “Black” life, his problems with intimacy as “Black.”  I think he is in danger of being ghettoized.  We already think of the "down low" and MSM as Black behavior.

Repeatedly “Black” is used as a way of pushing away issues that are really those of all of us.  But it is also an advantage for Blow because he is part of a solid community, the “Black” one.  Charles Blow is not named Gene Robinson, but he has that community behind him.  Other writers do not.  I’m saying there’s a camel coming into the establishment tent (for which I am glad) and that only the nose of the camel is black.  The rest is camel colored.

Charles Blow

It's not just a white problem.  In terms of demographics, Black keeps overwhelming red.  On the one hand, the AIM movement came out of the street Indians of Minneapolis observing Black Power and following their map.  On the other hand, the Native Americans -- because they are a decimated and diasporia/confined population -- is always on the graphs as a single-digit number.  In fact, there is probably a little Indian in all of us.  Looking at Charles Blow, knowing he grew up in rural Louisiana, I suspect that he’s got more than a little Native American blood in him.  Runaway slaves were given shelter by tribes, captured Indians were enslaved.  Being Native American is not so easily defined, esp. since sometimes death can only be evaded by hiding, even now.

Blacks contact me to ask how they could find out if they were part Blackfeet.  (Don't call -- there's no way unless you've got a family provenance.)  Almost always they are probably not, but it seems to them a way of ennobling their families and evading the Mandingo syndrome. Mandingo is another of those syndrome novels that I would never have read except that I found it as a much-worn paperback in a house I rented.  The building had stood open for several years so I don’t know who had been reading this raggedy copy, but it is about an exceptional slave who is tormented by whites.  Individual versus society.  Mandingo (it’s the character’s name) is forced into a pot and boiled alive, suggesting both the fate of missionaries in the world of cannibals and the proverbial frog in heating-up water.  I've never seen the movie.
from www.beyondthisplace.com -- Black frats

Charles Blow has gone the conventional academic route, submitted to the group (Black frat) in “a trauma of cohesion” -- hazing -- which I presume was not quite like joining an LA gang, but on the same principle.  He has been a public journalist for a long time, a popular and appealing man.  His stories (I haven’t read the book yet) are supposed to be as much about manhood as about black.  Though he began this manuscript as short personal pieces, before he got to publication he had an editor/coach to help him make decisions.  He’s used to that, he can deal with it, he does not need to defy anyone.  Authority has been on his side.

The gay issue turns out to be a bit of a sidebar, but he firmly defends the right of individuals to escape the dyadic coercion of American white society which thinks it is the mainstream, but probably isn’t anymore.  Same as Britain.  We are at least bracketed by immigrants.  The extreme contemporary version is the right wing of the Islamists.  Even the gay movement is now various, and may have lost power because of lack of cohesion, which may be in part due to acceptance into the lives of young urban people.  They just say, "whatever."  Anal intercourse?  Oh, yeah.  Cheaper way than condoms to avoid pregnancies.  HIV?  "You can live a normal life, man."  (For a price.)

But there are still those out there who are not struggling with fire in their bones because their bones are already charred.  Their problem with identity is maintaining any kind of coherence at all.  They would be alone and unknown except for the efforts of a few dedicated people.  The ones I know work through real-stories-gallery.org.  The idea is not for some major handsome strong figure to speak in retrospect about his suffering, but rather to let today’s suffering kids speak for themselves through video.  Many are poly-lingual in an oral world but illiterate in print.  Not all.  And they all speak image -- and dance.  And tech.

I’m not talking to Charles Blow, except to say, “Good on you, man!”  I’m not wanting him to turn into a flag-carrier for abused boys, black or any other color.  I’m talking to all the people who will read Blow’s book and say to themselves secretly the equivalent to NIMB (Not in My Backyard)  which is maybe NTDWM  (Nothing to Do with Me).  Sexual abuse of children, esp when intimacy between adults is described only in terms of sexual desire and violence, is so widespread -- we now realize reluctantly -- that the trouble is not just about the pervie deviants who live across town and don’t look like us.  It IS us.

Looking back over my 75 years I’m embarrassed and grieving over the times I failed to realize what was going on and why.  I probably intervened a couple of times, but nowhere nearly as much as I ought to have.  I’m finding that people are more and more anxious to go underground, actively scared of being identified -- even in the most conventional terms -- not anything they could be criticized or criminalized for being.  This is especially true of Native Americans. Every clue might be followed up by Seizers, the name the NA people gave to soldiers, and then the men who went by contract to grab kids and force them into boarding schools, without even telling their families.  Now they use Facebook.

What I’m saying is that the black nose on this camel can be followed -- I hope WILL be followed -- by the whole animal.  I want the tent to fold.  It’s like the tents put up over crime scenes while the technicians work.  At first it’s a protection but there comes a time to remove it, or it becomes only a way to hide things.  People get too used to it.  It becomes an illusion about polite society.

Blow’s title, "Fire Shut Up in my Bones," is intriguing. It's Biblical: 

Jeremiah's Complaint  Jeremiah 20:9
…For each time I speak, I cry aloud; I proclaim violence and destruction, because for me the word of the LORD has resulted In reproach and derision all day long. But if I say, "I will not remember Him or speak anymore in His name," then in my heart it becomes like a burning fire shut up in my bones; And I am weary of holding it in, and I cannot endure it. For I have heard the whispering of many, "Terror on every side! Denounce him; yes, let us denounce him!" All my trusted friends, Watching for my fall, say: "Perhaps he will be deceived, so that we may prevail against him And take our revenge on him."…

I don’t know whether Blow is aware that for people carrying the HIV virus, one of the most common problems is pneumonia.  One of the last ditch meds for pneumonia is prednisone.  It is generally effective, but in the case of those carrying HIV, it is more likely than in non-poz populations to trigger Avascular Necrosis, death of the bones due to lack of blood supply.  No one knows what causes it, no one knows how to cure it.  For those bones, the fire has gone out -- they don’t get the oxygen that supports fire.  Charred and splintered, they can be replaced by steel. 

I am entertained by the notion that the New York Times is riding on the coattails of their only Black columnist who is now surfing a big wave (I love mixed metaphors) by advocating unique and fluid sexuality in each person, esp. since his life has been an adventure in presenting deliberate and conscious conformity.  He learned table manners and a new voice, but couldn’t make his sexuality conform.  I still wonder whether he knows of any Native Americans in his family tree.  (I don’t see genealogy as legal categories and entitlements -- I see them as being like tree rings, marking good times and bad.)  So now we have three metaphors: coats, waves, trees.  Pay no attention to that camel.  It just wants in.

Thursday, September 25, 2014


Eugene Harold Robinson

"Eugene Harold Robinson (born March 12, 1954) is an American newspaper columnist and the former assistant managing editor of The Washington Post. His columns are syndicated by The Washington Post Writers Group, and he is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists. He won a Pulitzer Prize in 2009.
"Robinson is a board member of the IWMF (International Women's Media Foundation)." 

Booknotes.org  interviewed this Eugene Robinson in relationship to the publication of his book, “Coal to Cream: A Black Man’s Journey Beyond Color to an Affirmation of Race.”  The title comes from his grandparents: a very dark man and a very light woman.  He is formally addressed as “Mr.” but the transcript rather curiously put in every stutter, every misspeak, every stopandstart, of what he says. 

This Robinson grew up in an academically centered all-black community, so was only vaguely aware of color-based discrimination until he was assigned to South America as a journalist for the Washington Post.  In Argentina where he lived and Brazil where he often traveled, he became aware of how skin-color interacted with status and class assignment, splintering “black” into a lot of sub-categories, whereas in America, if you were a little bit dark, you were considered black.  This forced unity gradually became a political entity with some real power.  The book is how that happened and the people involved.

Rev. Eugene Robinson

The white Eugene Robinson is MORE controversial.  He is a gay man, a recovering alcoholic, married to another man for twenty years (he had been previously married to a woman and had two children with her), ordained and consecrated as a bishop, though he had to wear a bulletproof vest under his liturgical vestments at the ceremony.  The event split congregation, the American denomination, and world-wide Anglican networks, which roughly follow the British Empire.  He has resigned by now after seven years of turmoil.

He wrote two booksIn the Eye of the Storm: Swept to the Center by God,” and  God Believes in Love: Straight Talk About Gay Marriage.”  Basically he is defending the right of an individual to have a relationship with both "God" and social respectability while committing to an unconventional marriage that the group disapproves.  He has been a highest level religious leader, but in a small context (New Hampshire) that stood by him personally.  This is a definitively Protestant stance, which means that the Roman Catholic church and the “high” Anglican denomination find him disruptive enough to label him evil.  

What I’m seeing in these two men is a much more global tension between the individual seeking a personal stance and the category, which in terms of the black community is crucial to the preservation of power.  Since I’m currently feeling very anti-institutional and since the institutions themselves have fossilized and eroded, it seems an important issue, even a central issue to everything else, generating a host of questionnaires and theories of change.  Add in the other two Gene Robinsons, and we’ve got two more versions, one noisily (literally) counterculture and the other quietly but supportively conventional, though progressive. 

Entering Valier

Like most things in life, one must seek balance if not harmony, but how do you do that?  As a flaming liberal thinker whose lifestyle is even more conservative than this Belgian-diaspora irrigation community I live in, but who is affiliated over fifty years with the violently splintered Blackfeet rez community just to the north, and who is merely tolerant of the Southern Baptist congregation at my elbow (If only they were Progressive Baptists!), I am rather urgently pressed to work on this.

All the feminists and enviros will urge me to look to the land: identify with the larger East Slope community but it is also split -- not splintered, but cleaved between those who (religiously) think the point of human life is prosperity and those who think humans must respect their participation in the planetary interwovenness.  Prosperity is individual (unless you’re a Hutterite) and interwovenness is the ultimate in community, without limits unless you consider the planetary troposphere as the boundary.  And we must do that or suffocate ourselves.  ALL of us.

Browning, MT

This week the Eloise Cobell Trust Fund settlement checks are going out to individuals, whose financial fortunes have been separated from each other by the US Government through the Dawes Act and the imposition of the rules of property developed in Britain and spread through their pre-empted empire.  At the same time the Blackfeet Tribe is trying to consolidate and “clean house” as a community in the interest of keeping at home the profits of a new wave of oil discovery (among other things, like fighting poverty).  The next couple of years will be fascinating to watch.  It is important to realize that there are more players than the tribe at this poker table, this bone game, but that the tribe’s players are new, just elected.  The government, the corporations, the underground culture of booze and drugs, and now new categories, local academics, and check-receiving diaspora Blackfeet are all keeping time with their sticks.

At the same time, the issue presented by the land -- water produced by the Rocky Mountains -- is an uncomfortable but real unifying force.  There is a famous experiment in which two summer camps of boys were encouraged to be rivals, to strive hard against each other in competition and make that opposition central to their lives.  It worked, all too easily.  But the two camps were dependent on the same water system.  The experimenters deliberately interdicted the water in a way that could only be repaired by the cooperation of the two camps.  The boys worked together -- carrying rocks, digging, planning, joining pipes.  By the time the water was running again, the boys were a single community, connected by many small friendships.

There are two water systems originating in the East Slope: one runs north/south in a rain and snow run-off belt;  the other is man-made and runs along the boundary between Canada and the US which happens to be high land due to volcanic activity, but not high enough to draw much water.  The pipe and diversion systems run parallel to the east-west railroad which prompted settlement dependent on that water.  Now the system is aging out.

The water coming off the Rockies is regulated by water law, a water master, a water court.  The trouble is that the humans have mostly ignored it and now the differences in development between the rez and the rest must be reconciled.  It will hurt, but there are guidelines.  The water along the High-Line is dependent on non-governmental sources and one-time funds.  The two communities created by water use face different problems.

It seems to me that the same split is between human-dependent systems and land-dependent systems throughout the world.  As much as we are in tension between individual and community, we are also in tension between places that are easy to live in and places that are pretty damn tough.  But the binary is on a sliding scale.  In summer and fall the East Slope and even the High Line are wonderful windswept spaces of light and grass.  In winter you might as well be at the North Pole.  

The easier the environment, the more the emphasis can be pushed toward the self-sufficient individual.  The tougher it is, the more people must unify to address survival.  Tough social conditions produce one kind of “Gene Robinson” and clearly supportive institutions help another sort of “Gene Robinson.”   It’s the transitions and reconciliations that are turbulent.