Thursday, April 30, 2015


This is the infamous Michael Graves Portlandia Building with Portlandia herself about to gig a small car with her frog-hunting trident.  Graves was asked to build as cheaply as possible on a slanted lot.  He made up for the challenges with decoration -- first the dramatic coloring of the outside and then the addition of an invented goddess of the river.  Basically, he admitted that it was only a warehouse with very small windows.  Inside we suffocated, cooked, froze, sneezed, held our noses, got stuck waiting for elevators, and tried to invent barricades for our carrels.  In the end, the plans examiners and inspectors made such a ruckus, all documented, that they were moved out of the building.  It was cheaper than upgrading the Portlandia.

This is the inside.  The City Hall was next door.  It had an atrium inside that was an elegant place to grab a cup of coffee.

City Hall

The Justice Center was just across a little park.  The top is a jail and had an outdoor basketball court with one wall made of wire.  Inmate shouts echoed overhead.

My official portrait for employees only.  It was just beginning to be dangerous for people to know who you were if you worked for the city.  I spent my lunch hour at Rich's Cigar Store (for magazines) 
and the bead shops (for earring materials).


Even worse nuisances.  (My rose shirt.)

Site development -- a little breathing room
but with bear spray in the desk drawer, just in case.


This was a great guy to work for.  Vietnam taught him to read.
(Hurry up and wait meant lots of time.)
Thoughtful, generous, easy-going, intelligent and moral.


Another thoughtful, "big picture" guy
who grew up in a tough part of town which only made him kinder.


Gentle and rueful, he was the most outdoorsy.  
Both he and Bill would have liked to move to Montana with me.


I can't remember his name.  Too new to be on the phone list.
A quiet guy, a true engineer.  Stats and charts spoke to him.


From Great Falls, Mike was endlessly fascinated by Hill 57.
In summer he brought me huge handfuls of roses, still wet from the night.
He tried to shake all the earwigs out, but usually missed some.
He and his son made the little hanging bird house in my yard.

He was the "flood plain man" and tried to teach me to read the maps so I could answer questions.
I was careful not to learn or I would have needed TWO bear spray canisters.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015


Here are totally outrageous statements concerning marriage. They respond to a speculative idea about the Sharia-type draconian view of marriage as ONLY the legal and religious union of two people WITH children genetically produced by those two people. This is an IF. I’m certainly not recommending these statements, but I think some people are hiding them in the backs of their minds.  Some friends have suggested that it is dangerous to even post this list because I will be attacked or -- on the other hand -- that someone will propose they actually be passed.
"Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII"

This is inspired partly by the US Supreme Court arguments and partly by the PBS and BBC show, “Wolf Hall,” about the necessity of producing an heir for the throne of England. But it is also suggested by the idea that there are far too many children in the world and far too many people who have children without providing for them or even any prospect or intention of protecting them.

1. Children without parents who can successfully raise them to self-sufficiency are a burden to society and society cannot succeed without families that take care of themselves. Therefore all marriages, as an obligation to society, must fulfill their duties of procreation or be dissolved.
Two-genome cat

2. If marriage can only be between a male and a female, then all persons who are neither or both are forbidden to marry. To get a marriage certificate, all persons must be examined by a physician to assure they have the proper genitals and that each genome is only one sex. (No “chimeras” with mozaic genomes may marry.  Neither can gender be reassigned surgically.)

3. Since the mission of the institution of marriage is the production and successful raising of genetic descendants, then all babies must be tested to make sure the milkman didn’t deliver their precursor sperm. (So far anonymous surveys of genomic information acquired for other purposes, indicate that maybe a tenth of children are not related to their supposed fathers.) If a child is not provably descended from his purported father, the marriage is voided. Also, since the genomes are right there at hand, people who have faulty genomes may not marry since medical costs will be high.

Caster Semenya

4. If children are neglected or abused, the marriage is voided.

5. There will be no adoption. Children who have no genetic parents (orphans) will be killed. The cheapest method should be selected since the point is to save money.

6. If one parent is lost through divorce or death, the other parent may not remarry unless all children from the first marriage are killed.

7. If all the children in a family die, the marriage of their parents is voided.

8. A woman who does not produce children within a marriage by the time of her menopause, will be killed.

9. Any man who is not provably the father of a child and married to the mother will be killed, with the proviso that if the man chooses to live, he can be a soldier or a priest. (Soldiers may have as much sex as they like as it is an aid to violence, but priests may not marry since they are already married to God.)

10. No one who does not have the means or capacity to support a family will be allowed to marry. No one may delegate the task of raising children to others, either paid or not.

11. Love has nothing to do with it. Life is a matter of obligations fulfilled. The group is primary.

12. The other obligations of the family, such as legal responsibility for property or taxation, must be managed by other laws without reference to marriage. Likewise, criminal matters concerning one or the other parent or the children, must be resolved in courts who do not consider marriage or descent.

13. Religious systems must manage their concerns without reference to these marriage and family laws. So long as they don’t conflict with the parent/child laws, no regulation by the state of religious rules will be undertaken. This includes abuse so long as the child doesn’t die or its ability to procreate is not impaired. But see #4 above.

14. Sex is not important except for the purpose of producing children. Sex for enjoyment or domination is not allowed. (But see #8 above.) Taunting people by depicting intense coitus between beautiful people is cruel and not allowed.

15. Sex or marriage between species are irrelevant. Don’t even think about it.

* * * * * * * * * *

These ideas are meant to sound extreme and shocking, but they are not so far off from reality at both ends of the spectrum.  

In a sci-fi tale about extreme authoritarianism, the plot driver is usually the desire to escape domination. The stick is unreasonable punishment and the carrot is love. Are we so far from that? Do our children survive if they don’t have functioning families? Are mothers or fathers who ignore their children, even in the face of extreme need, married at all? Is there more to the definition of mother, father, family, son, daughter, than these scientifically ascertainable concepts?

Is there more to marriage than the binary of female and male entitlement to each other’s bodies and households?

Tuesday, April 28, 2015


BEFORE:  The female ministers of the UUMA in the PNWD

Seattle, always ahead of the curve, welcomed female ministers because the men were smart, energetic, hard to threaten and fond of women both as a category and as individuals.  Then everything changed.  Look at this collection in about 1985: mostly young, pretty, and very funny with our bubble gum cigars and real brandy.  I have no photo of "after" because I left.  The new women in the smaller congregations are hefty, older, and into social justice.  SO entitled.

I made my own robe from 9 yards of blue taffeta.
I was going for a kind of 19th century look,
 except that in those days women wore hats in the pulpit.

Conventional clergy robes cost hundreds of dollars.  The black silk robe I borrowed from my supervising minister while doing my internship was old and fragile, so that the breaks in the fabric revealed how much lining and tailoring there was inside: very much like a high-end suit: layers, padding, basting.  At the time a lot of UU clergy were wearing unbleached cotton monk's cassocks with a rope belt.  Their stoles went for an ethnic look, maybe Mexican except not American Indian because that would be stealing their income and mocking their heritage. 

Women since have gone for a Supreme Court look: black robes with white ruffles at the bosom, fishus instead of dog collars or full-out ruffs.  The stole I finally made was black velvet with silver moon, crystal stars, and a blue metallic Earth.  Too theatrical, actually, but little kids liked it.  Little kids like me in general because I'm soft, rosy and wear glasses, which they try to snatch off.  (My glasses have sometimes cost $400.  Now I've found direct from China sources:  $35.)  But I could not be less prepared to be a Sunday School teacher -- or "Full-Span Religious Education Minister" as the job is now styled.  Professionals are out; moms are in.

My previous life strategy for protection, which was appearing funny and non-threatening, now came back to bite me.  People saw the Vicar of Dibley.  There was a female minister in Saskatoon who was like that:  overweight, complaining that she never got laid anymore, that people wouldn't invite her for dinner -- but she wasn't funny.  (I do NOT like BBC comedy anyway.)  I dislike the Vicar of Dibley.

The Vicar of Dibley -- note truncated cross.

Sinead O'Connor

I had in mind something more like this.  Irish.  Socially conscious.  It would help if I could sing.  Or lose weight.  About equally possible.  Anyway, I don't accept the idea of a deity as a lover.  It's only a step to "who's that huzzy in the pulpit?"  Anyway, no one in any congregation would accept a shaved head on a woman.

It took me even longer to realize what was under this fixation on child-like women clergy.  People want their female clergy to look prosperous, successful, in the pulpit because they are winners -- not losers.  They don't want to feel as though they're going to have to pull them along, take care of them.  It's supposed to go the other direction.  It's okay for a male clergy to be threadbare -- it means his mind is on higher things.  But a woman who is threadbare is an embarrassment, exp. since most of the congregation are usually female.
A minister is supposed to have power -- power trumps love, unless love IS power.  (It's not.)  The denomination "sold" female ministers -- suddenly there were a lot of late-life women who needed jobs because the seminaries had needed their tuition money -- by assuring the congregations that a minister could make the group grow and get richer.

UU's are generally prosperous.  This is because they tend to be in the denomination because they are educated, liberal, used to thinking and leading-- but don't like the ritual of Episcopalians.   Mostly this results in higher income.   They are the values of our culture.  The idea of making very little money means you're trying to be a nun.  So the idea of circuit-riding, living in a van, was not a contribution to the movement, a gift to the people -- it meant to them I couldn't do any better, couldn't get a proper church.  Only a few professors in Missoula actually said that.   I accused myself of it. 

Public school kids who struggle are always given the worst teachers and the kids who already excel get the really inspired people.  This makes no sense, but it is a pattern that surfaces over and over.  The other end of the spectrum might be the ghetto storefront congregations who turn their clergy out in splendid bespoke suits and plenty of bling.

In UU circles there is another element and that is persecution.  Not by UU clergy, but retaliatory for conservative and punitive clergy and priests of the past.  In one workshop experiment, a small group was asked to design and deliver a conventional Christian service.  In spite of cautionings not to indulge in mockery, it was soon full of vengeance -- pay-back.  So a non-threatening minister seems good.  But the suspicion doesn't go away.

The joke witch -- they provided the costume at Halloween.

Not a cougar -- a ridiculous tiger.

I turned forty in seminary.  There were two men who understood that by that time I was almost desperate to get back to Blackfeet Country.  One was Emil Gudmundson and the other was Russell Lockwood, both powerful prairie people.  David  Pohl, Director of Ministry, had been a gear jammer in Glacier Park.  He understood.  Alan Deale had been my own original church minister and he was at that point a powerful man, chair of the Fellowship Committee, a strong believer in whatever would grow the denomination.  

They did NOT think living in a van and circuit-riding was frivolous or a hair shirt.  They wouldn't have minded doing it themselves -- well, with a proper RV.  That's how the fellowship movement began in the first place.  Monroe Husbands went across the country and even up into Alaska barn-storming Unitarianism.  But these senior men worried that my social skills weren't up to it.  They were right.  On the other hand, that's why I could do it.  I didn't mind the solitude.

I DID think it would sort of challenge some of the men who walked into cushy jobs and stayed there, all comfy.  They WERE non-threatening, not inclined to rock the boat.   They dressed well, but always in good taste.  In 1982  when I graduated -- or at least left -- he grip of American stereotypes ("The Man Called Peter") was still strong.

The Role Model

I had several strategies for sleeping out in the van.  Sometimes I parked at someone's curb so I could use their facilities.  Sometimes I had no choice, like the time my radiator hose broke late at night on the main street of Great Falls.  I just went to bed right there -- the only problem was waking up early enough to feed the meter until I could find a mechanic.  Sometimes I went into wilderness.  The scariest time there was when I had a can of Spaghetti O's for supper and left the window cracked enough for a flying squirrel to squeeze in.  It badly wanted to take the Spaghetti O can back out with it and its efforts made a tremendous clatter.

The best times were when it wasn't too cold because I couldn't afford a true winter sleeping bag and so just piled on comforters.  I had a little heater and ran an extension cord out the wing window.  Most Montana businesses have an outdoor electrical connection so they can plug in their head-bolt heaters in winter.

I'd lie there flat -- I just fit over the axle, side to side,  and feel the planet turning.  There was a little pattern of holes by my pillow where there had been bolts for some kind of antenna. If there were any wind, it played a chord.  (That guy on the motorcycle in the photo above sold me the van and got into trouble for it because he gave me a big break while the boss was out of town.)

Solitude is not being alone.  It's more like merging with something enormous and symphonic.  No one ever asked me about it.  In fact, they've mostly forgotten about that crazy idea.  A new member from one of the fellowships I had served contacted me not long ago to ask if I could remember the name of that woman who used to drive around Montana preaching.  No one around there knew what it was.

Monday, April 27, 2015


Freud’s notion of what went on in the mind was thus:

Based on introspection, he started with the conscious mind which he connected to the “ego” or one's general feeling of identity and then proposed a superego, which was one’s “best self,” something like a conscience.  But, held down by repression, there was below consciousness the “un-”conscious where there was a lot of stuff that couldn’t be known and a “pre-conscious” where stuff went in and out through dreams, jokes, drifting on the edge of sleep and so on.  The deepest unconscious is also called the “id.” “In Freudian theory, the part of the psyche associated with instinctual, repressed, or antisocial desires, usually sexual or aggressive. In its efforts to satisfy these desires, the id comes into conflict with the social and practical constraints enforced by the ego and superego.”  (online definition)  This is close to the prevalent notion of what society/culture was like.

Sigmund Freud defined libido as "the energy, regarded as a quantitative magnitude ... of those instincts which have to do with all that may be comprised under the word 'love'.  " It is the instinct energy or force, contained in what Freud called the id, the strictly unconscious structure of the psyche." (wiki)  Its shadow is thanatos, the wish to die.

This is invented.  There is no single brain-blob that can be identified as the ego or even the libido.  Freud was scribbling doodles to keep metaphorical ideas clear.  They were dynamic and theoretical, but they were not real.  Yet we have all talked and speculated so much about this little diagram that it seems real.  Esp. to the psychoanalyst, to whom these concepts are very useful and come to account for things otherwise inexplicable.

Since they are based on introspection, what one can think of consciously is the main category.  Then under that is the unconscious -- we are aware that sometimes we do what we didn’t intend, that we remember and other times forget -- sometimes conveniently.  This is Freud’s strongest concept.  It pulls back into the human mind things that to more “primitive” people might be projected out onto the world, so that “the devil made me do it” seems like a good explanation.  People might feel they are somehow under a spell or not really even know how they feel, deceiving themselves somehow.   "Jesus loves me."

Research now has undermined the idea that there is a "truth," something resistant to fantasy.  Memories are as unreal and fluid as everything else.  It appears that a memory is re-assembled every time it comes to mind and thus can accidentally include mistaken ideas. 

The superego was the attempt to keep the ego sorted.  The id was identified with the raw body and all its indecencies, childishness, craving appetites.  In 19th century Vienna, the highest value was given to rationality, control, fitting one’s culture, staying clean,  being close and obedient to one’s family.  The result was a lot of suffering and an unending source of jokes, which are an effective way to frame ridiculous contradictions.

There have been many other systems since this “egg” was hatched.  Basically the division between the conscious and the unconscious has persisted, but always the unconscious was seen as an undeveloped source of energy, merely an emotional substrate for the refined mind, messy enough to require the ego and superego to keep a lid on it.  And yet psychoanalysis asks for access to all the steaming, roiling mess in order to straighten out misconceptions.  The old Greek mythology has been authentic and powerful enough to provide “pot handles” by which to grasp strong hot stuff.  At least in the Euro-American setting.  But that's NOT universal.

When working with ritual, Victor Turner’s anthopological concept of the “liminal” has proven very useful.  The idea is that the inner life is more like a room than a pot with a lid --  and that one enters it through a sort of door.  A limen is the name of the threshold one steps over.  In this idea the liminal space is sequestered like the unconscious, but it’s like hypnosis in that it gives access to what is not usually conscious and throws off the superego nagging. It allows change.  No shame.

With this concept and some others, the consciousness is a much “smaller” state than "id/animal/flesh".  One might think of consciousness as the circle of light from a spotlight that can be moved around to reveal the dark stage.  Instead of being some kind of volatile animal to be contained, the unconscious becomes a potential to explore in the way an artist might develop a view or narrative.  What one doesn’t know about oneself becomes a potential discovery instead of some kind of inner monster.

But these are all fantasies, metaphors, poetries about a molecular structure interacting electrochemically, that somehow manages to throw up to "view" a small stage, a fraction of the busy city of transactions that supports it. A puppet show. Only recently have we been able to actually SEE things flowing busily around and to identify the organized, though sometimes very small, cellular structures of the body and brain that connect messages from outside the body, messages from the actual tissues and their orientation in the world (Where's "up", where's "North?") and messages about well-being or dysfunction in the gut, the eye, the lung, the heart.

A metaphorical illustration of a human connectome.

At the same time professors and their students have been resourcefully devising ways to reveal how the mind works, sort of parallel to the way cloud chambers can leave traces that imply what particles of the atom are like and what they do.  At first it was a bit of a shock to realize how much of our "rational" decision-making -- thought to be fact-based analysis -- was in fact being managed before it ever got to consciousness and sometimes that level did a much better job of evaluating choices.  “Zen” archery turns out to be a real thing, another way of tapping the knowing unknown, while “overthinking” complex problems can prevent good decisions.

It now appears that what we “feel” as the limen or threshold may be the instant of the connectome rearranging itself to address a new sort of task.  Say, going from writing a poem or even a shopping list, to playing a game of ping pong.  The information/decision flow will connect different points in the brain -- maybe more or maybe less.  Maybe not even in the brain.  But if the space/time is liminal, it will be protected without being secret.

It’s clear that the brain has evolved “consciousness” as we think of it when we use language, which must have been recently evolved.  But on the whole, brain evolution is not simply cumulative -- rising steadily up from fish to animal to human.  It may be that some new twist appears, but it’s possible and likely that sometimes it may be a dropped-out bit that has opened up possibilities by eliminating some blockage or sidetrack.  Clearly there are long nerve connections that go down into the legs, but also it seems that some of the newest and more powerful abilities are in individual cells, like mirror cells that enable empathy.  It’s likely that human beings will not evolve by growing wheels on their feet or by being patched in to iPods, but by finding new uses and connections for cells that are already there.  What is the autonomic nervous system up to these days?

Heather Berlin

Heather Berlin is a researcher who addresses these matters.  She’s VERY smart and quite beautiful, which means she is (and must be) meticulous in her thinking and carefully watched by others.  I’m going to spend some time today on an article she wrote for “Neuropsychoanalsis" 2011,13(1) called “The Neural Basis of the Dynamic Unconscious".  It’s so “sourced”, linked to previous research, that it’s hard to read, but I’ll see what I can do.  Freud’s unconscious, you notice, is still being used as though it were a unified entity, but “dynamic” is a good word: the unconscious is not just a junk pile -- it’s doing something, flashing along the connectome in electrochemical transmissions, jumping synapses, and -- only an hour or so ago making me dream.  

by Adolfo 1111

Dream.  “I had taken a train to Chanticleer, a medieval town with a stone wall along a river and some buildings that seemed to be small castles once but are now converted to business, so the nearest one had a huge sign advertising beer.  I was attending partly for a conference but was proud of myself for putting on a backpack and wandering the town.  One of the fellow attendees was trying to get my attention and called my name.  He was very fat and crouched behind the railing of an old stone bridge.  Then he threw a rock.  It was a black gritty one with tiny blue sparkling crystals embedded in it.”

Interpretation.  I free-associate to a long ago meeting in Halifax that looks rather like Bruges in my mind.  I had posted a photo of Bruges recently.  Also I ran across a photo from that Halifax meeting, which was chilly.  (My electric mattress pad had turned itself off.)  I suspect that Corky came over to look at my sink drain while I was still asleep -- I wrote between 3AM and 5AM, then went back to sleep) and called my name.  I have another friend who does this sort of work -- he's had surgery in Spokane that reduced his weight by a fourth or a third, but I haven't seen him since then.   (I'm trying to lose weight.)   I had read something about the imposingly big female knight, Briana, in "Game of Thrones" who was saved by the idea that she was from the Island of Sapphires.  The rooster was a little figure I'd torn out of a magazine for my painting morgue that keeps floating around on my desk without getting filed.

NO revelations of the future.  Just scraps.

Sunday, April 26, 2015


Tom Sheehan

I might be the only person in Montana who knows Tom Sheehan, so I feel obligated to fill in this blank.    He’s very American, a veteran of the Korean War, and a long-time employee of Raytheon in Saugus, Massachusetts.  He wins all sorts of prizes but the Big Five publishers take no notice.  Somehow he manages to write in an old-fashioned plot vs. character way while all the time being curiously modern.  Hard to explain.  He writes about shooting, horses and bad guys -- all with extraordinary names and detail -- but he also manages a poetic grasp of detail and landscape.  He doesn’t stay in categories very well, but once he chooses his “method,” he knows what he’s doing.

So here’s what he did with one short story.  The title is “Aces and Eights” which is the hand of cards that the frontier gambler Will Bill Hickok was holding at the time of his death.  Bob Scriver did a sculpture and so have others. It’s kind of an American folk tale.

by Gib Singleton

In this version the main character is Sergeant Charlie Twohig who so loves to gamble that the cards are like an extension of his hands.  Hear the word echoes?  I think they’re rooted in Sheehan’s brain.  Some people don’t like the Hickok/Twohig reminder.  Writing workshop people sometimes classify alliteration with comma errors -- to be extirpated at once!  (I think it’s part of the Hemingway obsession.)  Nor do they appreciate the metaphor joke about hands of cards in hands who play cards so much that the cards becomes extensions of hands.  But this story is woven out of “tells,” the little giveaways of tick and gesture that a gambler can’t help happening but which are very helpful to a really “ace” player.

Tom Sheehan

The plot points come along like cards coming down.  The men are in a convoy of LST’s, frying under the sun, trying not to think about Ceylon, their ultimate destination.  An early scene is Twohig manipulating Corporal Tally Biggs into cutting cards for stakes.  His hands literally itch and he has a kind of “high” that he attributes to the heat but also to the prospect of a winning streak.  The heat is so intense that when a sweat-soaked soldier leans forward, there is a little explosion of steam from his back.  Biggs asks Private Jake Breda whether he has ever felt so intensely excited that he was sick from it.  Breda ("breed her") says only on his wedding night.  (This is an old-fashioned story.)  A little thread of sex weaves in.

Corporal Tally Biggs comes to sit by Charlie, who calls him “Twig”.  Twig suggests that without his ever-present cards, Charlie would seem naked.  Twohig agrees and gets him to cut cards though Biggs has already lost a lot of money to him.  Biggs is obsessing about sharks in the Red Sea but doesn’t twig to card sharps.

Having had enough fun with Biggs, Charlie moves to Captain Redmond.  The gambler has nothing but contempt for every one -- they’re all losers.  Redmond is ugly, stuffy, wearing a tie in the heat.  Twohig “accidentally” kicks his “box.”  But Redmond has aces in his pocket, letters from Twohig’s wife.  She clearly loves her mad gambler husband in spite of being much superior to him, but out of concern for him, she has betrayed him.  Redmond “has never had, owned or partaken of a woman for any extended period of time, though he knew how deep the hooks of a good, true love went.”  And he falls in love with his fancy of what Twohig’s wife is like:  “big of bust and hip, blond hair, bue eyes, skin like buttermilk, and tremendously good in bed.”  

Korean Graveyard Registration

Gradually we realize these men are not going into combat.  They are a “Graveyard Registration” company meant to find and ceremonially bury the dead, even the ones of their own company who die in the course of performing the task of search and burial.  Victims of ghastly torture need to be buried and the sight of them sticks to the insides of one’s eye, even in sleep.  Another writer might have gone into detail about rot and so on, but Sheehan only gives a few nasty little anecdotes.

Sheehan knows that the real story is in the uncomfortable relationships among the men, misunderstanding each other, keeping secrets, and building up hatreds and obsessions while somehow struggling forward with their assignment.  So the greedy gambler, who suddenly hits a period of good luck he would not be able to believe except that his health seems to be losing a long battle with tropical parasites and that interferes with his thinking.  He is so resented that his lethargy is interpreted as gold-bricking so he is pushed on and on.

This is genre writing -- for the people.  This is the sort of story that lends itself to telling around a campfire, oral literature.  But that would lose the little trills of poetry.  (“A licorice sensation ran through Charlie Twohig.”  I’m still thinking about that one!  Sweet, dark and a little funky -- twisted?)  But I’m thinking that all these hot-wire boundaries:  prose/poetry, written/oral, are just more academic distinctions from workshops.  When such fences are disregarded by writers with real skill and a strong sense of plot, they become powerful.

Part of the surprise in this story is how it all turns out in the end when all the little clues and tells pay off.  I won’t give it away, but in the end Charlie Twohig is no match for Redmond.

Tom Sheehan

From “Epic Cures: A Collection of Stories by Tom Sheehan.” (2005)  Press 53, PO Box 30314, Winston-Salem, NC  27130

I came to know Sheehan by reading his short stories on “Rope and Wire,” a website that refuses to give up the Westerns of the Fifties when the veterans were trying to find their feet.  Sheehan has almost 400 stories on this site: every one of them in the Western template.  Something unjust and terrible is happening, a hero with a clever name decides to do something about it, he faces impossible odds but wins in some improbable way.  The site owner doesn’t allow sex, which discouraged me, but Sheehan deftly leaves sex out.  I thought it was his taboo, but as I look at this collection, I see it was not. Sheehan served in the 31st Infantry Regiment, Korea 1951 and graduated from Boston College in 1956. His print/eBooks are Epic Cures; Brief Cases, Short Spans (from Press 53); A Collection of Friends; From the Quickening (from Pocol Press).

Books from Milspeak Publishers include Korean Echoes, 2011, nominated for a Distinguished Military Award and The Westering, 2012, nominated for a National Book Award. 

His newest eBooks, from Danse Macabre/Lazarus/Anvil, are  Murder at the Forum, an NHL mystery novel, Death of a Lottery Foe, Death by Punishment and An Accountable Death. 

His work is in Rosebud (6 issues), The Linnet’s Wings (7 issues),Literary Orphans (4 issues including the Ireland issue), Ocean Magazine (8 issues), Frontier Tales (9 issues), Provo Canyon Review (2 issues), Western Online Magazine (9 issues).

His work has appeared in the following anthologies: Nazar Look, Eastlit, 3 A.M. Magazine, Appalachian Voices,  Jake’s Monthly Recollections, Lady Jane’s Miscellany, Loch Raven Review, Rusty Nail, Red Dirt Review, Erzahlungen, R&W Kindle #2 and; 4, Peripheral Sex, Storybrewhouse, Wheelhouse Magazine, Home of the Brave, Green Lantern Press, River Poets Journal , Writers Write and A Tall Ship, a Star, and Plunder.

He has 24 Pushcart nominations, and 375 stories on Rope and Wire Magazine. A new collection of short stories, In the Garden of Long Shadows, has gone to press with solid pre-release reviews and will be issued by Pocol Press this summer. 

Tom Sheehan, the family years

Saturday, April 25, 2015


It was fascinating to learn that the sun has seasons. Earth seasons come from the tipping of the planetary axis plus close/far variations in the orbit around the sun. The sun’s seasons are more about internal relationships, not that they don’t affect us. Around here we’re aware of the eleven year cycle that is associated with rainy years and therefore with good saskatoon berry years and floods.

This is the first I’ve heard about the Gnevyshev Gap, “the lag between peak sunspot sightings in a year and a predictable wave of solar flares that follows.” Along the 49th parallel we can often see the jet stream hurtling across the sky and if it loses altitude, we lose shingles off our houses and limbs off our trees. This winter we learned about arctic oscillation and the polar vortex. The vortex is the area of coldest and fastest air on the planet. The jet stream is the outer edge of the vortex. It interacts with air pressure, temperature, and so on by moving north and south.

In terms of the sun, the bands of movement are due to bands of magnetism that pull the surface towards the center, then eject material so forcefully that it shoots into space and showers the earth with ions. To my mind such interwoven and cyclical patterns of energy are much more important to human life — as individuals and as societies — than any concept of “god.”

As I age, I sometimes have to stop and re-allocate my energy, looking at the magnetic bands and arctic vortexes. Scientific research is also morphing, not just adding facts but completely changing the concepts we thought were permanent. I like to think I’m aware and in tune with all this, but I’m probably not, and one of the abiding factors is knowing that my knowledge is incomplete.

My days are roughly in thirds: mornings are when I write (partly because in afternoon my brain energy runs low and I make a lot of typing and spelling mistakes), afternoons are when I move around doing maintenance and errands, and evenings are just random intakes: movies and books. My nights are also in thirds: sleep — writing for an hour or so before daylight — more sleep. I try to keep food, coffee and pills in sync with 6am brkfst-12 lunch-6pm supper. Hermits have to watch this sort of structure or one ends up just wasting time when the reason for being a hermit is NOT to waste time. The cats help. They believe in schedules and no matter how lost in ideas I get, they come to bump my rear as a reminder to me. They’ve learned not to meow (mostly) because I shout at them.

I’ve been in Valier, writing, for sixteen years now. Incredibly, publishing has so transformed that it probably needs a new name. On the one hand it has shattered into its parts: discovery, acquisition, production, promotion, delivery. Parts have disappeared, like reviews. Libraries are off-loading books no one checks out anymore but books are no longer pulped — instead they are recorded by vendors for resale, making available eternally what used to be on the market for about six weeks. With the help of computer translations, one can decipher writing and buy books across language boundaries.

This means that regional vs. global divisions are weakening. This means that the literature categories that used to be based on that division are falling apart. When I recently began thinking about Montana literature — a category I once assumed I would join — it had dispersed into ecological and sociological categories, east of the Rockies stretching into high prairies and leaving west of the Rockies in a sort of fancy rump Montana that requires money for lattes. Academic studies that once set up these definitions have fallen afoul of the “romance of the frontier”, pulling in many who live in a virtual world. But once here, the thin population, increasingly non-readers, means the universities produce people who must leave to find jobs.

I had greatly underestimated the degree to which writers in an academic frame of mind will form communities, which in bitter moods I call “circle jerks.” They are dying in windrows just now. So, as when trying to figure out the circumstances of a conception, one counts back from the actual birth, I count back from this wave of age-related deaths. What was happening seventy or eighty years ago? I arrive at war, which generally produces both readers and writers, hurrying up to wait. Paperbacks in hip pockets — now replaced by tablet screens.

War is always meshed with industrialization. Montana writers who enjoy industrialization like to write about Butte. Those who don’t, try to stick to indigeneity (injun-eity) and the dry grasslands. Valier began as open range, went to the industrialized and irrigated wheatlands with it’s connectome of million-dollar tractors, elevators, railroads, sea-going ships and now pump-driven wheel sprays. Impossible to imagine the next step.

Strangely, when I asked Gary J. Cook to help me think of “war” books by Montana writers, we could only think of his Vietnam-based, experience-grounded “Blood Trail,” and the law enforcement follow-up, “A Murder of Wolves.” What ever happened to the guy on a panel with me who wrote war memoirs?  He self-published and was very angry.

At least three social forces move against this awareness of how much Montana activity interacts with industry. One is the feminizing of the academy which has meant a shift to romance; another is the virtual technology of the computer and internet which do not lend themselves to action and land-centered sorts of stories; and the third (there may be more) is what locals used to call “granolas,” people like David Oien who is highly educated and even “spiritual” but very much involved in alternative agriculture (lentils, etc.), guardianship of the land, and worldwide networks. It’s a fascinating repeat of a kind of thinking in my grandfather’s world. Rodale. Green revolution (reconsidered). Hard to keep a granola from growing.

David Oien

Maybe the way into all this is strategy, which ties into electronic games. Maybe the youngsters who would otherwise imagine fiction are doing the same things but with avatars instead of protagonists. They’re also very much dominated by sports. “Game of Thrones,” anyone? These are rather gender-assigned, so the guys who used to struggle to write “the great American novel” have run into a disconnect that used to be bridged by agents and editors of both sexes. Maybe we’re just all pussies these days.

Tom Sheehan

I’m going to set myself some little assignments. The first is to finally read the books Tom Sheehan sent me. He has a firm grasp of a number of genres but he is personally a veteran of the Korean War, the age-group just ahead of me. I’ll see what I can learn. I’ve resisted him earlier, though I like to read his material. It just seemed irrelevant to Montana writing as I was still thinking of it.

But now Montana has stopped existing for me. When I call or email the people in the defined circles of writers and those assigned to keep track of them, I get no answers. It’s partly debris from Bob Scriver. They think they know all about him and his shenanigans. Partly that I’m so aware of the Canadians. And realizing that peripheral academics (humanities) don’t understand blogs or blogging — consider them beneath their dignity. There’s a Gnevyshev Gap.

I want to write about a character who was real when Vollman met her: a female Afghanistan soldier, traditionally validated, entirely private, and not about sex. A crack shot, a sniper — not a truck driver. A person of landscape, self-determined. She slept a little ways from the main camp, but was very much part of it. I like that. Maybe I’ll make her a Blackfeet or Metis. I want there to be guns — not machines, but mechanisms.

Winchester .66, sometimes called "Golden Boy."