Friday, July 31, 2015


Four horses of the Apocalypse

As I finished reading “The Circle Repertory Company” by Mary S. Ryzuk, another book rose up in my memory, ghost-fashion.  The Circle Rep book is an account of NU classmates’ creation, an off-off-Broadway group that was so notable that it became a pathway to Broadway.  We’ve been told that it takes about 10,000 hours of learning to become truly proficient in an art form and that the “life trajectory” of an art career usually runs about ten years before it begins to fade.  Ryzuk was looking at a repertory company that ran from 1969 to 1996, which means it lasted nearly three times as long as the prediction.  She was asking why, how, and whether, but didn't exhaust the subject.  There’s a bit of information about the years between 1961, when we graduated, to 1969 when the formal evolution of this company began.  The tone of the book is dominated by the second book I was thinking of, Frank Kermode’s “Sense of an Ending.”

A Classic

This second book is highly influential, picked up by the reflective in more than one context.  I read it years ago and will now reread it.  In the meantime, according to the summaries I found online, the premise was that the Christian paradigm with its obsessions of end times permeates our culture and influences what we do.  But is it justified or it is a template that distorts reality and possibility? 

Certainly the great juggernaut of commercialism, which is noted here as more of a strangulation by the business department of the company, has crushed many a fine and idealistic enterprise. But the evidence is that many small repertory theatres have popped up again -- not in the same place, the same way, or the same results -- but certainly with the same heart and drive.  In fact, they are always around if you know where to look.  In 1974 when I was the theatre critic for the Portland Scribe, they were in the backs of warehouses and on the stages of old movie houses, often remarkably vital and ingenious.  I can’t remember reviewing one touring company of a Broadway musical.

Waiting for Godot

Ryzuk seems to feel that one of the crushing blows to Circle (aside from people’s private lives with their issues of aging, exhaustion and relationships) was the end of Lyric Realism.  I had to look that up, too.  I gather that the subject is the incomplete transition we saw back in Annie May Swift Hall, basically the Method acting technique of the Edwardian Alvina Krause, well suited to bittersweet end times, versus the avant garde and surreal such as “Endgame” as mounted by Robert Schniedeman.  The argument also calls on a November, 2008, essay by Zadie Smith in the NY Review of Books which set up a duel between old-fashioned novels and more inventive and confrontational approaches.  The essay is part of the response to 9/11 which seemed to many people to be an end, the promised apocalypse.

Alice in Wonderland at Looking Glass Theatre

By now theatre seems to have left all that and gone to strategies like the Looking Glass Company in Chicago, where the stage embraces flying harnesses, trapeze work, fire juggling and tightropes, all celebrating local history, like the Great Fire that consumed Chicago but did not destroy it.   The actors may have helped brainstorm the “play” or pageant, whatever it was. The old-fashioned novels or plays, the ones individuals were always going to write that would make us famous Americans, have been swept aside by a world-conscious, cosmic generation.

Here’s a paragraph from a book that’s online responding to geological thought that dwarfs “man”made commotions like 9/11 and Hiroshima: “Instructive” events seem to be compounding—both actually and within human consciousness—to lay bare the reality of just how deeply human life is embedded in the “brute materiality of the external world”—in the very “stuff” of the geologic. Take, for example: the discovery in 1997 of The Great Pacific Garbage Patch; the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami (2004); Hurricane Katrina (2005); Eyjafjallajökull’s eruption and subsequent disruption of European air travel and economies (2010); the Haiti Earthquake (2010); Japan’s “triple disaster” (2011); the Gulf of Mexico oil spill (2010); Superstorm Sandy (2012); increasing efforts to prepare for the long overdue “big one” along the San Andreas Fault in California; ever-clearer signs of climate change both man-made and earth-made; recent “near misses” of earth by asteroids and a growing understanding of the planet-wide effects of prehistoric direct hits; growing stockpiles of high-level nuclear waste and the urgent attempts to design ways to contain it–within the geologic–for up to one million years; new evidence of how geologic-scale engineering projects, such as the Three Gorges Dam in China and carbon sequestering, actually alter planetary dynamics; and. . . 
(From Ellsworth Kruse, “Making the Geologic Now” which is a PDF ebook you can download or buy as a bound book at  

Reynolds Creek Fire still burning in Glacier National Park
with Northern Lights in the sky.  Pretty theatrical!

We watch it all by proxy from outer space where the astronauts can see the forest fire in Glacier National Park that right now is making my nose itch.  In order to tell this story, we need video, symphonies, new kinds of spaces, lots of technology, people who can collaborate.  I suppose we must have lovers and scientists.  No need for crucifixion or virgin birth.  We could ask why we discard boys and oppress women.  We could move past nations and institutions, particularly the corporate international chimeras.  We could search for family in the refugee camps where miles of little plastic tarp huts are regimented on plains far from anywhere.  

To perform in a way that is revealing we need two things:  a  point of view that will hold the spectacle together, maybe filaments from the past mingling with threads of recently invented fibers;  and a sense of metaphor/meaning “plot line” strong enough to carry through various media and styles.  Survival ought to do.  Individual survival versus group survival might mean an overwhelming group consensus against the few, but that’s generally been the story of evolution and sometimes the few were the survivors.  (Did “Antigone” survive?)  

David Caruso

I sit here watching CSI Miami, David Caruso cocking his red head to the side when the camera lets him suddenly appear out of nowhere, and wonder what he thinks about the fact -- FACT -- that most of Florida and certainly all these glamorous glass and stucco houses are going to be underwater in a few decades.  If we can persuade the conservative Republicans to give up their love/hate of luxury and sin, maybe we could develop an adaptation into something like Venice, but there probably is neither the time nor the will among people looking at "Judgement Day" which they hope will punish their enemies.

Prairie erratic along the way to Heart Butte

This online geology ebook says we need to construct “a viewpoint that is generative rather than critical or analytical.”  So what would “generative” creation be like?  I would like to think that it would draw on ideas like immanence, the felt sacred, the dark brain, the violence of intimacy and the intimacy of violence.  Might need some puppets.  Maybe a tiger.  Dancers.  A boulder the size of a buffalo, rather shaped like one.  More like Looking Glass than Krause’s Eagles Mere repertory, but strange and wonderful things happened on that converted barn stage without any flaming batons or trapezes.  It’s the vision that’s crucial.

Inevitably when  a person starts thinking this way, comes the realization that people have been doing it for quite a while.  What do you call Koyanisquatsiyaa?  Or Equus?  Or for that matter, a fantasy account of the trafficking of boys, like “Just Before the Cure” (free on the Internet) in which relief from a world disease is the provocation addressed by the boys themselves.  They ARE looking at an ending -- of THEMSELVES.  But we have learned that our modern problem is that we sometimes outlive ourselves.  Isn’t that what we want?

"War Story"

Thursday, July 30, 2015


Cold in the night makes me semi-dream.  It triggers half-resolved memories from my whole life, other times when I was not quite warm enough to sleep deeply but not cold enough to wake up.  Often they were from times when the family traveled in a tent trailer and I slept on a sailor’s canvas sling in the middle with my parents and brothers on folding beds on each wing. Or when I’d just moved into a decrepit old house, but still had no heat or furniture, so was sleeping on a mattress on the floor.  Then there were the years of sleeping out in a van while circuit-riding between congregations.  Undefended.  Unreconciled.  But in a defensible space.  

A certain mood comes with it -- not really sadness or anxiety.  A sort of suspension.  Just lately I’ve been asking myself whether it’s a relative of dissociation, stepping aside from the flow of life into a different consciousness.  This week there were a few record-breaking cold intervals, the same kind of arctic intrusion as paralyzes us with below zero temps in winter.  Coinciding with a major forest fire in Glacier Park, the chill air was just smoky enough to create a stuffy nose, a shortage of oxygen.  These dreams are not really dreams, but floating images, sense impressions from long ago, each with its metaphorical burden, shifting in and out of each other, mere suggestions with no narrative but emotional significance.

They are the subconscious made perceptible, actually, the second level of my little five-part schema.  I call them stages but that’s not quite accurate because they aren’t separate or sequential in their flickering.  Talking about spiritual matters in terms of stages is never accurate since -- very much like the brain since they are the raw products of the brain -- perceptions come and go (connectomes, the patterns of the brain’s neurological connection at any given moment) and loop back or leap forward or double or are only half-there, like music.  This stage of conciousness/unconsciousness is about the unresolved, the incomplete, the impossible to reconcile.  It’s the source for writing -- at least some kinds of writing. It is the next step after accumulating the data of the sensorium, but not yet the third step of analyzing, naming and sharing.  The famous “sleep paralysis” is in force.  No action.

The simplest and yet most profound ritual of perception I’ve found described so far was devised by an artist for one-person meditation.  A chilled room, a pane of glass, and a fan.  The ritualist leans forwards and exhales on the glass, producing a warm cloud of condensed lung breath.  Then the fan moves the air enough for it to evaporate.  No words.  The subtlest of awareness, but it is the air from next to your heart, at blood temperature, only ephemera, but crucial to life.  The two person variation stations the other person on the other side of the glass, so that they can take turns or simultaneously make clouds, by bowing.

Sometimes when preaching on something intense, I’d see someone in the audience with tears.  Whether it was something I said or something they were independently remembering, they must have hit this chilled-so-visible level.  Usually they didn’t want to talk about it, because they couldn’t.  It seemed uncanny, too intimate to be nice, inexplicable.  When writers are blocked, I think many times it’s because this strata, this aquifer, is somehow unmanageable -- not accessible, empty, over-full.  Psychoanalysts work at this level, but often something physical touches it.  Rain. A certain kind of jacket.  A book cover.  The sound of a doorbell.  “Jake brakes” puttering in the night on an empty highway.

The example from our family travels is one of the earliest and activates my confused need to be a sentinel when a leader is not effective.  My father was violent at the beginning of the Fifties; I’m quite sure because of damage from a concussion in 1948.  Effects can be subtle and long-lasting.  But his underlying personality was not violent in any obvious way.  Rather it was passive-aggressive, a concept I didn’t learn until counseling for the ministry.  

See how ingeniously I managed to pull in counseling without being defined pejoratively!  How honorable to prepare for ministry by “soul-searching” -- much better than struggling to save a marriage, though the issues were the same.  Much more effective than my father’s strategy, which was to buy counseling books but never read them.  So -- passive-aggressive, the art of punishing people by NOT doing something.  In terms of the tent-trailer, creating a self-contained small context he could dominate since he was the driver and also the bill-payer.  Staying in the same job, never risking efforts that would bring in more money.  Reading, which can be an evasion, an excuse for not responding.  The only way to escape was to get out of the car someplace strange.

So I did that.  With wind whistling in my ears.  And it worked, but only if I were alone.  Sometimes I was risking my life (several lives, the ones with safety and honor and social recognition) but I never died, or at least only outside that small circumference I made for myself.  The boys of Smash Street and Cinematheque would understand, which explains my affinity for them.

With family, traveling through small towns after WWII -- there was no interstate system yet -- never eating at normal meal times because they didn’t fit with my father’s plan for making mileage -- we stopped near closing time for a burger and shake, inconveniently for the little mom-and-dad cafés and met a wall of resentment, suspicion -- more people who had created their small context based on xenophobia.  The only knowledge that had value was their knowledge.  The only people safe to welcome were their people.  

This is alive and well in the prairie small towns, but I didn’t feel it so sharply until traveling in Canada in the Eighties as a single woman.  Then it was underlain by gender politics: it was often the practice to use women as the source of comfort and the compensator for disadvantages.  As my mother and her mother were.  Can any woman compensate for a non-productive prune farm?  My grandmother raised chickens.  In the city it was possible for my mother to go back to school, get a job.

It never occurred to me as a child, though it probably did to my mother, that the ultimate passive-aggressive act in the event of a quarrel would be for my father to just drive off without us.  So there was never a quarrel.  Just a need for a sentinel sitting at the backseat window, making breath clouds against the glass, fighting off sleep until in a chilled, semi-conscious state one could call “dissociation.”  It’s a brain mechanism, because emotions are in the whole body but controlled by the brain and one of its skills is recognizing patterns.

In the circuit-riding ministry across Montana, I summoned up that pattern on purpose and lived it out in vocational terms, finally acted it out by leaving a congregation and then the ministry.  I went back to a place that was not small, that was not xenophobic, that historically was always nomadic.  The rez.  So I fit.  For a while.

There’s never a happy ending because there’s never an ending.  Life is a process, human beings are a process, the larger culture is a process -- all changing, all re-negotiating, always finding new accommodations if you’re alert, a sentinel.  That’s the cat’s choice.  And if it's cold, the cat sleeps with me.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015


Some mock person called “Self-development” has just signed onto Twitter to follow me.  I blocked them.  It’s obscene in its pretense to be a person, its use of a “social” media to flog an obsolete premise that intimidates people and transparently wants to sign them up for a lot of empty cliches so they'll shine in polite society.

In contrast, on the same social media (Twitter -- I refuse to go near Facebook) I found a crazy columnist who writes about babies.  “Yeah, Baby,” is written by Kool A.D. in a wildly exuberant rap on managing an infant.  One of those pastel, “nice," "self-development" ladies, whose babies never dirty their diapers, was confused.  Was this a joke? she asked.  NOT.  

I love "Yeah, Baby!" for its energy, its truth to a subculture, and its failure to “self-develop” into a shadow.  Brace yourself for a sample:

Sup, fam? It's your boy, Kool A.D., professional rapper, visual artist, astrologer, male model, and now, apparently, parenting columnist. Ten months ago my wife/swag coach/fun-employed Islamo-futurist art swami Cult Days popped a tiny combo version of us out a slit a doctor cut a couple inches below her belly button.

Kool A.D. before swag coach

Kool A.D. after swag coach

The baby is of the female variety and she's a keeper. Real cute lil' monkey—big eyes, the whole nine. It's been a wild ride but I gotta say we're true fuckin' pros at parenting, which is why I landed this sweet columnist gig.

Popped-out product

I'll be here every other week putting you on to all types of priceless parenting game. Nothing but gems and jewels my dudes and dudettes. First rule of parenting is there are no rules. Feel me? Oh, the baby's sad? Slap the lil' fucker onto a titty and let it get some milk. Still grumpy? Maybe the baby shit its pants. That's no prob, just take the shitty diaper off, wipe dat azz, put a new diaper on, and presto. It's still pissed? Try rocking it to sleep going "ssshh" or singing a soft lullaby of some sort. Not tired? OK, just kick it then. Make a weird face and/or noise; babies love that shit. Crinkle up some paper or tinfoil or whatever, give the thing some playing cards, teach it how to play solitaire. Play some sick tunes; babies love sick tunes. A baby's basically like a tiny person on too many shrooms—literally anything can blow its mind.

There’s a thin line between slang and poetry and this writing is right on it, or maybe they overlap.   High energy, metaphorical, experience-based, bad words, slang, using all the “figures of speech” like exaggeration, part-for-the-whole, etc.  

This list is from  I’m going to copy their whole list because I can’t always remember the fancy names for stuff most of us do all the time without noticing.

The Top 20 Figures

AlliterationThe repetition of an initial consonant sound.
AnaphoraThe repetition of the same word or phrase at the beginning of successive clauses or verses. (Contrast with epiphora and epistrophe.)
AntithesisThe juxtaposition of contrasting ideas in balanced phrases.
ApostropheBreaking off discourse to address some absent person or thing, some abstract quality, an inanimate object, or a nonexistent character.
AssonanceIdentity or similarity in sound between internal vowels in neighboring words.
ChiasmusA verbal pattern in which the second half of an expression is balanced against the first but with the parts reversed.
EuphemismThe substitution of an inoffensive term for one considered offensively explicit.
HyperboleAn extravagant statement; the use of exaggerated terms for the purpose of emphasis or heightened effect.
IronyThe use of words to convey the opposite of their literal meaning. A statement or situation where the meaning is contradicted by the appearance or presentation of the idea.
LitotesA figure of speech consisting of an understatement in which an affirmative is expressed by negating its opposite.
Metaphor:  An implied comparison between two unlike things that actually have something important in common.
MetonymyA figure of speech in which one word or phrase is substituted for another with which it's closely associated; also, the rhetorical strategy of describing something indirectly by referring to things around it.
OnomatopoeiaThe use of words that imitate the sounds associated with the objects or actions they refer to.
OxymoronA figure of speech in which incongruous or contradictory terms appear side by side.
ParadoxA statement that appears to contradict itself.
PersonificationA figure of speech in which an inanimate object or abstraction is endowed with human qualities or abilities.
PunA play on words, sometimes on different senses of the same word and sometimes on the similar sense or sound of different words.
SimileA stated comparison (usually formed with "like" or "as") between two fundamentally dissimilar things that have certain qualities in common.
SynecdocheA figure of speech in which a part is used to represent the whole (for example, ABCs for alphabet) or the whole for a part ("England won the World Cup in 1966").
UnderstatementA figure of speech in which a writer or speaker deliberately makes a situation seem less important or serious than it is.

A lot of what Kool A.D. is doing is playing with the words themselves (a “swag coach”) by using slang and unusual contexts.  “A tiny combo version of us” popped  out of "a slit a doctor cut a couple inches below her belly button” -- meaning the birth was Caesarian, which is also a metaphor.  Or you can spell inventively:  “azz” instead of “ass.”  Use the preposterous.  Teach the baby to play solitaire.  Use “sick” to mean the opposite.

Of course, “shrooms” in this context is a drug reference, but it can also mean innocent people killed in a shooting incident simply because they were there.  Much of this is toying with cultural conventions.  It can be pretty puzzling if you don’t know the culture in question. If you’re Martha Stewart you probably think of mushrooms in a different way.

Mork got a whole series out of taking figures of speech literally.

So writing is on many levels and therefore reading must also be on many levels.  And talking/listening.  I hear so many people spout on one literal, actual monocultural level that I sometimes wonder if it’s a function of chemical contamination from Twinkies and Ding-Dongs.   (Think about THOSE metaphors!)   

It’s the level on which the metaphors of retrograde religion almost always operate. Exaggeration (hyperbole), speaking of a part for a whole (synecdoche), impossibility (paradox), thinking God is your Mom or Dad (personification), believing there is an actual geological hell or a sidereal heaven (misplaced concreteness) -- are used by right-wingers as though they were truth instead of figures of speech.

A startling but hip guy like Kool A.D. is not fooled by all this stuff.  He can handle it, which is why it’s easy for him to handle a baby -- at least as long as his energy level holds up. He’s saying some serious things to get those couch-slouches sponging off employed women by pretending to babysit -- to protect their ‘shroom” instead of getting so frustrated that they shake the baby’s brains into Jello.  This is practical morality -- how to function.  It’s life or death.  And I’m not speaking in hyperbole.  NOT a joke.

Dread to shake!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015


In spite of all the fuss about “post-modern” and “sub-text” and seeing a culture from inside its speech and thought, most people have never mastered simple grammar.  It’s a lot easier and more relevant to ordinary life than computer code or learning the assumptions of an on-line game, but the last time I tried to teach in 2003, the only teacher in the building who knew anything at all about grammar was the teacher of French.

If you say “diagramming” in polite groups, a shudder will run around the room.  Why is this?  I think it is partly because grammar is confused with “usage” which is class-tied, propriety-based, and usually conveyed as scolding.  It is seen as a hindrance to “writing” which is a matter of pouring out one’s guts and passions onto paper, a practice which soon turns messy and can lead to writer's block.

I was fortunate to have a bow-legged red-headed Irishwoman, Agnes Carter, for 8th grade English -- back in the day when Portland, OR, was considered a model of white-gloved boring gray life.  I DID wear white gloves and a hat downtown, even when I was nine.  It seemed like proper dressing-up.  In the many decades since then I have NEVER thrown a dildo up to dangle from powerlines, even though in some jobs I was interacting with an underclass that mixed sex with violence, animals with humans.

Miss Carter made us memorize two lists of small but crucial words: one was the prepositions and one was the linking verbs.  I mean, her former students can recite them in their sleep:  be, am, is, are, was, were been, have, has, had, do, does, did, could, would, should, must, might.

She taught us to dissect a sentence as systematically as a hawk eating a rodent:  first tear out the guts (verbs), then find the muscles (prepositional, participial, gerunds, appositives), discard the skin (adverbs and adjectives) and then swallow the head (subject, object, indirect object).  It will be neat and bloodless.

But then the school year ended.  In college everyone kept talking about rhetoric and semantics and linguistics -- always ICK, er, IC.  I never could get a grip on it until decades later I found a book about “rhetorical grammar.”  Suddenly I knew what Richard Stern and Peter Matthiessen always talked about: the arrangement of sentences into elegant sense.  This is not relevant to some kinds of writing, but it was information that I’d needed myself.  Stern used to get exasperated and tell me my sentences were inside out.  Now I see that he meant I was not presenting the information and relationships that a close reader needs in the order that they need it.  Instead, I was writing down the elements as they occurred to me, sometimes leaving holes, because I knew what I meant.

The missing information, the part of grammar after the 8th grade, was the ability to convert prepositions to appositives or even to a single adjective, to  swap participles for dependent clauses, to condense, transform, remove, and augment the order and relationship of whole phrases.  THAT’s what makes an author able to control a sentence.  

It can take you to high places.

But it is dependent on good thinking.  Sentences get snarled because of not being sure what it is that’s being said.  Which is the most important part of the argument?  What sensory metaphor controls all the rest?  Where does the logic sequence start and end?

Knowing grammar on this level does not mean obsessing about obeying the rules.  There are no rules on the order of “i after e” or where to put commas.  The only rule or guide is the goal of the specific writing -- is it intelligible, does it convey the feeling?  It’s perfectly possible and legitimate to just write everyoldwhichway until getting to clarity of thought.  Revising is the thing to do, but you can't revise unless you write SOMETHING down.

You know webbing?  It's a form of diagramming but not about grammar -- about ideas.    

There’s no need to obsess over the rules.  It’s more like bird-watching.  When you learn to recognize one, then you see them all the time.  A noun clause is not harder to recognize than a robin, but identifying one is partly knowing the place they're likely to be -- you won’t see a robin swimming or down a hole.  But if you’re using the metaphor of birds on the line, an idea that’s going around due to Anne LaMott’s book of that name, then it matters what order they perch in.  (Remember that a preposition without an object becomes an adverb.)   

Adjectives in all their forms: words, prepositional phrases, participles and subordinate clauses, come just before the noun they modify.  (Modify: add more characteristics so as to be more specific.)  Appositives come just after the noun they modify because they are basically restatements of the same thing.  Gerunds act like nouns.

Adverbs in every form: words, prepositional phrases, participles and subordinate clauses can come anywhere in a sentence except for adverbs that modify adjectives -- then they act like adjectives.  (They are usually “intensifiers” like “very.”)

Just ignore this information until you get so you can “see” and “hear” (written language is always derived from spoken language) the words, prepositional phrases, participles, subordinate clauses.  Just do what comes naturally because you already know this stuff -- it’s just not conscious.  There's an awkward phase when you make a transition from the instinctive to the deliberate.

The biggest mistake school-minded people make is that schools only teach the conscious, but brains are mostly subconscious.  Got that?  MOSTLY SUBCONSCIOUS !!  This means that good teachers are simply revealing to you what you already know.

But don’t mislead yourself into believing that introspection is the key to reality and that your own subjective speculations and feelings are any kind of reality.  Nor are they unique.  If your time and place are the same as someone else’s, your construction of reality is likely to be similar.  If you are unique, you will need to work at grammar a little more to get your ideas across, because words can wander all over the landscape.

Diagramming chess strategy

Our formal culture, derived from English school talk heavily influenced by Latin, is nothing at all like street and neighborhood talk.  Even our informal writing is cautious, over-genteel, full of qualifiers and modifiers to the point of confusion, and often it's passive.  If you see a sentence that begins with “there,” kill it.  If you see the adjective “beautiful” trample it underfoot.  If you see the adverb “very”, wring its neck.  If you feel it's necessary, ignore this advice.

In junior high I loved diagramming as though it were crossword puzzles.  I could see the relationships between the words, what should dangle from what, but I didn’t know what to do about it.  The fancier, more elegant, game is chess, structuring interaction, patterning sentences, getting the birds arranged on the line.  But there are flaws: chess is adversarial.  Grammar is not.

More another time.

Monday, July 27, 2015


It’s almost a half century since gender has been taken out of the closet in all three aspects:  desire, identity, and social role.  It’s been almost as long since a virus came out of the African jungles to devastate the demographic category of “gay men” and then slowly ooze out over the rest of the world until now most AIDS victims are heterosexual, including children.

It’s about six centuries since Europeans found the American continents and started the traffic back and forth across the Atlantic -- loot, slaves and disease.  Early cases of smallpox among the indigenes were recorded almost immediately.  Smallpox, and many other zoonoses, are thought to have originated ten thousand years ago in Africa near the Mediterranean, the consequence of domesticating animals so that they were kept in enclosures near enough to transmit viruses and bacterias to their owners.  North Americans had no defenses and were decimated.

Not long ago smallpox was eradicated (sort of, since hidden samples are suspected) and now they claim that an effective vaccine for malaria exists.  The cause of malaria is a plasmodium (one-celled parasite) that uses mosquitoes as a vector syringe.  It is also an African organism, thought to have originated in primates. 

Human beings are the most effective vectoring entity from Africa.  The cross-over diseases not only were stored in the bodies of the African people but were also carried worldwide by them.  These human-transported parasites have endangered other living beings, but the humans themselves are parasites on the whole balance of the planet.  Some believe the only “cure” is to fly to another planet where there are no living beings -- a sort of clean slate.  But a spaceship is a vector of the problem -- us, we are the mosquitoes -- or are we the plasmodia in the mosquito?

Syphilis, which no one knows the original cause of, is bacterial.  Sheep have been mentioned, but the main origin is humans indigenous to America, going back across the Atlantic.  Recent research seems to clarify (and it's only fair) that Columbus took syphilis back to Europe with his crew.  And we finally acknowledge that every member of the Lewis and Clark party was infected except Clark.  A few died of it right away, some later, and pretty certainly Lewis was one of those victims, dying in agony and psychosis before he had a chance to edit his journals.

Meriweather Lewis

“Genocide” by Tim Barrus is an anthology of short stories considering these demographic disease issues and society's reaction, mixing male same-gender bonding with indigenous American peoples, with World War concentration camps disguised as carnivals, and space travel in a spaceship so anthropomorphic that it wants to know about sex.  The concentration camps are to hold HIV-infected persons -- the model is leprosy.  In reality it was actually suggested in regard to HIV and currently practiced to confine Ebola.

There’s one more element: the needled syringe, the proboscis of the human insect which made it possible to penetrate directly into blood, as a mosquito does, by-passing the acid bath and molecular-parting-out protective metabolism of the digestive system.  The visionary sci-fi epic of “Dune” took on drugs in terms of early versions of LSD, as something to put in the mouth (watching in cowboy country, the movie version of "spice" looks a little like “snoose”) rather than the injectables of today.  

Our times have addressed consciousness in the most brutal and invasive of ways, from electroshock to solitary confinement to surgery on intimate parts.  We have neglected the aesthetic power and lyric savagery of life itself.  Somehow it has been reduced to chemically triggered fucking, plastic credit cards and 3D video.  Now ebola comes, requiring a brutal response -- shrouded attendants drenched in bleach who only bury the dead because once more we must struggle to find a cure.  But we haven’t yet cured HIV and now realize there is a whole family of filoviruses out there, each waiting its turn.

The universal element of this story is, of course, humans.  It’s not just the medical dimension of confronting disease, but also defining our response as “fighting a war”, thus leaving refugees and creating stigma.  Truth be told, someone is “getting off” on the control, the blaming, the playing at heroics, the secret conviction that it’s related to virtue and that the people with the money are the virtuous ones and therefore justified in not spending it on the infected, because surely it must be their fault somehow.  They should pay.

Blood cells under attack

This means that the fruits of war include sexual ownership of the vulnerable, esp. children, and for some tastes, esp. boys, who don’t get pregnant (though they can be infected).  Boys can be partly controlled by the hope of someday themselves growing into warriors, as though being a victim were preparation for being anything but a bully.

The motor of this social system is ignorance that there is any other way of organizing a culture, which is why the indigenous and historical contexts are so valuable.

I don’t read much gay literature and haven’t really been very deep into sci-fi since I was a kid -- so long ago that Heinlein was new.  But I did read H.G. Wells and understood that he was doing cultural criticism, trying to suggest alternatives or at least thinking about many worlds rising into consciousness as they did in the 19th century. It’s the root of “Star Trek” and all the time travel tales.

The Starship Enterprise

“Desire, identity and social role” are characteristics of individuals, but the culture as a whole must be responsible for supporting the survival of individuals, who exist in reciprocity with all other humans plus the other beings and circumstances of the planet.  Otherwise, it all collapses. The idea of taking on the predicaments of suffering people everywhere across the planet is pretty daunting, and yet we come up with shelters and food for them.  Why can’t we do that for our own boys right here in America?

“Genocide,” the Barrus anthology, is poetic riffs on “desire, identity, and social role”.  Metaphor, narrative, and theatrical climax.  He could defend it as experience, but that’s dancing too close to bull-fighting with the well-dressed Puritans who live in airport bathroom stalls, passing judgment and gas.

My sci-fi (if you choose to call it that -- some say there’s not enough sci) is feminist, I guess:  that of Ursula LeGuin (more than Atwood) because the Pacific archipelago of Puget Sound is a place I know.  Her portrait of the cultures is almost stronger than the desire and identity, but Ged wears the monk robe, confronts the wind, and is infected with a small black scuttling thing that could be taken as a disease.  He’s a boy, the essence of boy, and finds a niche rather than aspiring to a throne.  He relates to both the small clinging companion in his hood and to the dragons that climb the skies as though they were rockets.


“Genocide” was copyrighted in 1988.  It is defiantly and erotically obscene and not a chronological narrative, but vividly the product of one haunted mind in a devastating time.  The latest work, “Just Before the Cure” probably cannot be copyrighted, though it is composed, written, and filmed mostly in 2015 by a group of boys.  It is a pastiche, a jumble, remembered nightmares colliding, the product of argument among boys about things they know, a harangue, a tantrum, and a love story (inevitably). Photos, videos and music smash into bitter surrealism.  A lot has happened in the 27 years since Genocide, but not enough.  One thing that has happened is that Barrus has been pushed by activism from a “solitary genius” sort of mode into this group performance that is both much older and much newer.