I regret that I have to go back to filtering comments with one of those maddening "copy this" gizmos. I was getting too much spam. I suppose when I have time, I ought to figure out where it's coming from. In the meantime, if you really need to talk to me, do it the old-fashioned way: landline telephone. Information has my listing.


My name shows up on google+ and twitter, but I only monitor and will not add you. I do NOT do Facebook though someone with the same name does. Please use plain email. My phone landline is in the phone book. I have no cell phone.

Other Blogs by me


Notes from Alvina Krause between 1957-1961 are posted at www.Krausenotes.blogspot.com

Fiction about Indians at www.willowsticks.blogspot.com
Essays about Indians at www.siksikaskinitsiman.blogspot.com

Tuesday, August 19, 2014


This is about two scientific things I didn’t know about cannibis.  Actually, I know hardly anything about this plant except what I’ve read.  Personally, I’ve been given two pieces of advice.  In the Sixties when I was struggling with marriage, my brother thought I should smoke pot because it would cool me out.  In the Seventies when I was in a course of counseling I meant to discourage me from the insane idea of seminary, my counselor thought I should never smoke pot because it would make me wildly paranoid.  I never found out who was right because I had other things to do than smoking anything and I didn’t want to spend money on something to hold while it burned up, no matter what it was.  Not even cigarettes.

Genome analysis of marijuana

But I like taking two separate scientific investigational modes at once because with something as emotional as pot, it’s easy to get stuck.  I hope for contradiction.  The first thing is the cannabis genome, which has been entirely decoded.  Pot genes are like dog genes: plastic.  Just simply by cross-pollinating and eliminating the ones you don’t want, you can easily alter the growth and chemistry of the plant.  This why the stuff that’s on the street has brand names and why it’s possible to increase the strength of the active ingredient.  The cannabis fiber, hemp, is valuable as a crop, so there is an equal and opposite effort to create a version that has no hallucinatory characteristics at all.  The trouble is that from just looking at a plant standing there, much less doing a flyover with a spray plane or a drone, you can’t tell which is which. So you could make a law requiring THC genes be removed, but how would you enforce that without testing whole fields?

The genes that prompt the plant to make THC in two species of cannabis are identified and can be snipped to insert into the genomes of other plants, like maybe mint.  Menthol cannabis.  Remember experiments to grow tomatoes and potatoes on the same plant?  They worked but how do you harvest?  I haven’t heard whether anyone has tried to implant THC genes in potatoes, the true underground plant.  Mary Jane french fries?  Or stick to brownies?  THC butter?  They say cows are already zonked on their digestion ferment anyway.  I don’t know whether THC genes could be produced by bacteria, the way crime scene DNA is amplified for analysis.  Maybe it would be easier to just make the chemical, the way LSD and Exstacy are created.

More Analysis

http://cen.acs.org/articles/91/i49/Chemists-Analyze-Cannabis-Safety-Potency.html  “Randall Oliver [is] a chief scientist at Analytical 360, a marijuana testing lab in Seattle that started serving Washington’s medical marijuana community about two years ago. The lab tests for potency by using high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) to quantify the amount of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabidiol (CBD), and several other cannabinoids and terpenoids. It looks for these compounds in dried marijuana plants, which will be smoked, and other products, such as food and personal care products that have been infused with cannabis extracts . . .Testing edibles for potency can be surprisingly challenging, Oliver says. “You have to extract cannabinoids from many different kinds of products, including taffy, caramel, gum, butter, and soda. It’s not just a flower that we’re dealing with.”  The experts say that the advantage of smoking weed is controlling the potency.  In edibles there’s no control so the intake can go over the top into Crashland.  A recent murder mystery featured steroid (‘roid rage) hand cream.  THC Jergens?

I begin to think that an up and coming young chemist should forget about plastics and start an analysis lab.  Substance analysis and human bodily fluid assays are where the steady action is and analysis isn't an illegal activity.  The real scientists are not just worrying about THC levels, but also pesticides or bacterial contaminants on the original plants -- same as in food like spinach.  You never know where those wild pigs will poop.

Cannabionoids have a crucial but mysterious function at neuron synapses.

The other scientific analysis approach to the study of cannabis is the molecular action of cannabinoids: why does it seem so effective in so many ways?  Is it all just placebo stuff, the rigamarole and mythic tales?  The first surprise is that cannabinoids are everywhere in the body, vital to its function.  The second surprise is that they are a lipid, a fat, which acts in the context of cells very differently than sugars which are water soluble.

This is from “A brief history of cannabinoid and endocannabinoid pharmacology as inspired by the work of British Scientists,” by Vincenzo Di Marzo.  http://www.cell.com/trends/pharmacological-sciences/abstract/S0165-6147(06)00031-9   

Some people will not like me (or you) reading this because the only way they know to stay out of danger is to avoid even thinking about it.  My way -- which that counselor called “counter-phobic” -- is to know as much as possible about the danger.  Other people, like Elsevier, want to put such desirable info behind a pay wall.  Anyway, this is a tiny bit of what I’m reading.

Sir William B. O'Shaughnessy

It was by “Sir William B. O’Shaughnessy, an Irish physician working in Calcutta, that the therapeutic value of cannabis was assessed scientifically for the first time and publicized in the Western world in the early 19th century.”  Here’s a bit of local history:  James Willard Schultz, the popular writer of Blackfeet adventures, was an avid user of “grass” for his bad back.  This is in variance to his friend, the reservation government agent, Major Steele, who was a morphine addict because of HIS bad back.  (He’s the one who approved the building of Swift Dam -- on his Blackfeet wife’s allotment.)

It turns out that cannabinoids are a whole complex of molecules with the typical Latinate family names.  There’s THC, the active ingredient for altering consciousness, then CBD. cannabidiol, the THC-binding site -- the cannabinoid CB1 receptor -- and then a second cannabinoid receptor subtype, CB2.  This brings us to 1993.  And a lot more medical vocabulary.

Capiscum Frutescens:  Thai peppers

Nociception (also nocioception or nociperception) is the encoding and processing of harmful stimuli in the nervous system, and, therefore, the ability of a body to sense pain.  "nociceptors" or "pain receptors"  only respond to tissue damage caused by intense chemical (e.g., chilli powder in the eyes), mechanical (e.g., pinching, crushing) or thermal (heat and cold) stimulation.  I expect SM people know that.
Enkephalins are endogenous (made within the body) agonists of opiate receptors.  An agonist is a substance that acts like another substance and therefore stimulates an action. Agonist is the opposite of antagonist . . . The CB1 receptor, which is possibly the most abundant GPCR in the mammalian brain, is activated by endogenous agonists.”

Maybe this tiny snippet is enough to suggest that capsicum (bear spray), cannabis, opiates (morphine) and pain reception are all interwoven in the do-si-dos of cell interaction as well as in the culture itself.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ciQ4ErmhO7g  This vid is aimed at your heart -- little kids visibly suffering who are cured by cannibinoid molecules that are technically illegal.  Look at the comments and you’ll see that people are inflamed by what is obviously a considered and controlled medical effort.  People whose sense of their own virtue is based on knowing what is EVIL and going ballistic about it.  Their politics probably look the same and they do get high on it.  Endogenous rage.

Ganja (shudder)

What is simply and provably a matter of molecular interaction necessary to cell function and the management of subjective states like hunger, pain, and the straightforward management of perception has been turned into a metaphorical monster, forbidden.  Why?   Because criminalization creates a boundary and boundaries mean profit -- as soon as something is separated and access is restricted, both the people who provide the “something” and the people who punish those who get caught with it can make money.  

Think what a bonanza the prison providers have struck by the incarceration of stigmatized people who were caught with marijuana.  No big shots because if you jail important folks, they get angry and change the law.  Think what a bonanza the drug lords of Central America have found by driving children over the borders to the US, making even more money for those who enforce the border laws.  The coyotes and kidnappers and traffickers are creating fortunes from people who basically have nothing, by treating them like rabbits driven over to create a plague.  News comes tonight of between 5 and 10 children who have been sent back who have been murdered in Honduras.  Those are only the ones found -- so far.

At first I thought of quipping that we need a drug that will make people rational.  But then I saw that we only need to get rid of one trait:  greed.  Rhymes with weed.

Monday, August 18, 2014

BABIES (Part Two)

Angelification of babies proceeds and expands.  And the realification of dolls is right behind.  They are “touch-activated” to breathe, coo, and move their limbs.  I’ve been seeing them in films now and then.  They don’t have agents.  You can buy one for $150 or so.   Real live human babies are regulated by law and have a disconcerting way of growing faster than the script progresses.  I scoff and mock and resist the appeal of babies, but it’s impossible not to respond some way or other.

This is an ultra-real doll that has been worked on individually by an artist.

When I was doing my hospital chaplaincy, I was called to the baby ward because the mother of one of the babies scheduled for cleft palate surgery wanted a rosary.  We had some, but no Catholic chaplain.  The mother and child were black, the mother was young and did not look well, and the baby was adorable and perfect except for the gap in her upper lip.  The mother and I chatted, she refused more than just the rosary, and that was the end. 

A real baby

But in a few days I stopped back to see how things were going.  The nurse gave me the eye.  The rosary was attached to the baby’s crib.  No mother had appeared again since I was there.  “She just wanted magic.  She wasn’t even Catholic.  We’ll never see her again.”  Even if I had been as experienced and insightful as the nurse, I still wouldn’t have been able to do anything.  “I’m rushed off my feet,” said the nurse. “Would you give the baby her bottle?”   The last time I’d given a baby a bottle it was a bobcat kitten who chewed off the nipple.   But I plunked in the rocker, accepted this little chocolate-sweet creature and spent the next half-hour trying to get the formula past her leaky mouth while she gazed trustingly into my face.

When I came back again, she had had her surgery and was moved someplace else.  I never saw her again.  By now she would be middle-aged.  Her baby eyes still show up in my mind.  I hope she was raised by someone who loved her.   I do not at all begrudge the taxpayer cost of her surgery.  I don’t care whether she EVER goes to Disneyland. Some things matter and some things don’t.

The cultural forces now coming to bear on the baby issue include our ability to save preemies when they are on the far edge of survival and will probably have damage that will cost a LOT of money.  We can save spina bifida babies.  Strong forces oppose the abortion of severely damaged or incomplete fetuses.  Those who are looking at the reality would like to spare the suffering.  Those with moral lockjaw insist that child suffering is sacred. 

Again during my hospital chaplaincy, a baby was born with its insides outside.  It lived seventeen days.  The parents refused surgery but there was no legal euthanasia possible.  The nurses did their best to keep the baby comfortable while it starved.  Another culture would simply have killed it at birth.  When it died, I went to comfort the nurses and they did not want me.   As gently as they could manage through their pain, they told me they were united in their experience and I wasn’t.  Please leave.

Another force for baby obsession is late-in-life pregnancies or impossible pregnancies, maybe due to earlier decisions or maybe due to the mysterious creeping industrial toxic molecules that saturate everything from our mop pails to our lipsticks.  The mythic elevation of being a working woman in a stylish suit and four-inch-heels is replaced with the image of the Madonna to justify changing desiderata.

This baby was abandoned on the NY subway.

On the other hand, the gay community is looking at the American nuclear family.  Now that they’re married, where are the kids to raise?   They long to have a little body to cradle in their strong arms.   The kids who so badly need just a few more years of basic food, shelter, and help with homework in order to get to adulthood are passed over because of the mystique of onesies, expensive English baby carriages, and stuffed animals that talk.  

We’re told one form of depression and anxiety is numbness.  Our hunger for “feeling” can seem to suggest the brilliant idea of raising a baby.  It’s always portrayed as so rewarding.  Sometimes that’s more of a feeling in retrospect, not so much at 3AM when the baby won’t . . . oh, I don’t have to tell you.


But maybe I do need to tell you that a small, vulnerable, ever-so-tender-and-sweet baby can strike some people as the saying goes:  “Good enough to eat.”  It arouses something in the brain chemistry that most people just pass by or laugh off, but a few people will act on in an urge to destroy, a literal response, maybe left over from some primal carnivorous impulse.  Put a newly hatched duckling in their hands and you can see on their faces they want to crush it.  (It's an acknowledged sexual "kink," usually with a woman in 4-inch heels crushing it.)  Bar Jonah, of course, acted on that impulse.  Strangely, in the grip of postpartum depression or the more intense postpartum psychosis, some protection against that impulse switches off in the brain, and mothers kill their babies.  Some people, esp. men, shift rage off onto anyone who hurts babies -- that is, they want to crush abusers of babies.  The remedy is not a matter of eliminating the predatory impulse, since it's everywhere, but keeping strong the guard against it lest it break through.

Humans are fractal.  One force balances another.  At every level an effective pattern repeats, including the cellular tug-of-war. If there are molecules in tension, there are neuron nexuses in tension: one that says, “Catch it and eat it!”  And another that says, “Aaaaaw, so cute!”  Strangest of all is the voice that says,  “It’s a danger!  Kill it!”, reacting as though a baby were a snake or spider.  Beyond that, what voice tells a berzerk soldier to cut open a pregnant mother in order to bayonet the fetus?   

Historically kings have ordered first-born children less than a year old to be murdered in their homes throughout a whole country.  They don’t do it themselves, of course.  If we’re going to get into the Bible there’s Abraham restrained only by an angel, but  there are always accusations of infanticide.  It shows up in “Game of Thrones.”  Classic.  Pervasive.

Another ultra-real doll

Where there is great exaltation or deep bonding, there is much potential for transgressive insult, high-value destruction.  That can be such a brain jolt that it exceeds non-endogenous drugs.  Googling turns up people asking for help, both mothers who have a terrible impulse to pinch their babies and people who find babies sexually desirable.  I have to struggle to understand how the idea would even occur to them.  That's what this writing is, struggling to figure it out.

But then I think about intensely realistic babydolls and how they trigger a kind of desire to hold them to your chest, to kiss them, to run palms over their soft bodies, to cradle their heads.  To OWN them.  Deep in the past when I babysat and changed a boy’s diaper, it wasn’t unusual for him to have a wee stiffie, since he didn’t know he was supposed to be innocent and sexless like a doll -- well, dolls of the past.  All babies will suck a fingertip if it’s in their mouth.  If a person were to . . . well, they can’t tell what happens to them, can they?  But sometimes the coroner can figure it out.

Doll customized to look like Prince George of Cambridge

They say there is a distinct difference between homosexuals who desire other men while despising women, and homosexuals who desire other men but befriend women.  Maybe there is something like that difference in regard to children.  I mean, some men of whatever sexual orientation, love to nurture and protect little children while others want to make them suffer -- one theory being that they themselves suffered as younglings.  With women, I think the difference is between those who welcome the fusion -- so close to love-making -- of nursing and rocking a baby and those who fear babies as an entrapment, an obligation, a destruction of their independence.  Maybe they despair of meeting the demand.  Maybe that’s how some men feel about women.  The violence is a clue.

This man is the baby's grandfather.

A culture, mysteriously and for its own survival reasons, will throw out mythological nets to hold people in place, ensnaring them with baby dolls or promises of sexual ecstasy or marriages sealed in heaven, because, as Albert Schweitzer said while in a boat on a great river in the engulfing jungle,  “Life is in the midst of life, life that wants to live.”  Fractally, at every level.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

BABIES (Part One)

realistic babydoll

I was given my last doll just before high school (1953) and was told I was really too old for it.  I guess they meant I was ready for real babies, but I wasn’t.  Maybe I was covering up for the endless sexy paperdolls I drew with their fabulous gowns and intense romantic lives.  (That was before “Sex and the City” -- it was before we even had a television set.  It was much influenced by the comic strip, Brenda Starr, Reporter.

The doll was one of the first crying babies, not the usual sweet bland round idealized baby.  Why were these rather nasty baby dolls appearing?  Maybe we were all wanting to think about reality.  It was the end of the baby boom.  Now we knew what it meant to welcome home the soldiers and gift them with children.

In the 19th century and earlier, childbirth killed women and babies.  It was before simple sanitation, so docs and midwives were infectious, and before anesthesia, so childbirth could be agony.  Caesarian sections were problematic or impossible, so -- like calves -- sometimes dead or not dead babies had to be extracted in pieces to save the mother.  None of the management meds had been developed and I’m including birth control pills in that.  Sometimes it took three or four wives to get all the children raised -- men couldn’t do it alone with the farmstead workload of the times.  In France, they say, the advent of dependable birth control meant that professional extramarital sex profits declined because it was no longer a necessary way of sparing one’s wife from the burden of pregnancy.  “Even with the help of modern medicine, pregnancy still kills about 800 women every day worldwide.”  (From the article quoted below.)

Dead baby, angelized

To keep women from flocking to convents, public culture in Victorian bourgeois circles made motherhood into a shrine and babies into sacred objects.  That lingers on in the anti-abortion movement, a denial of the real muck and pain (and cost) of babies.  Now a new set of medical studies has revealed a war unsuspected even by the Madonna worshipers: the molecular tug of war in the uterus from the moment the ovum is inseminated.  It’s all just organic chemistry, of course, but the least bit of personification and it becomes rather terrifying.

Some quotes -- a LOT of quotes -- from “War in the Womb” by Suzanne Sadedin, published in Aeon:

“The cells of the human endometrium are tightly aligned, creating a fortress-like wall around the inside of the uterus. That barrier is packed with lethal immune cells. As far back as 1903, researchers observed embryos ‘invading’ and ‘digesting’ their way into the uterine lining. In 1914, R W Johnstone described the implantation zone as ‘the fighting line where the conflict between the maternal cells and the invading trophoderm takes place’. It was a battlefield ‘strewn with... the dead on both sides’.”  So much for poetic images of the baby embraced by the uterus, but it isn’t a baby yet, is it?

It’s about genomic imprinting which is about the war between the two sides of those complicated and war-like little helixes of code. “Normal development can proceed only as long as both parental genotypes are correctly balanced against one another. Just as in a tug-of-war, if one party drops its end, both fall over. . . Primate embryos can sometimes implant in the Fallopian tube instead of the womb. When that happens, they tunnel ferociously towards the richest nutrient source they can find; the result is often a bloodbath.” 

“In all, about 15 per cent of women suffer life-threatening complications during each pregnancy. Without medical assistance, more than 40 per cent of hunter-gatherer women never reach menopause.”

“Cells from the invading placenta digest their way through the endometrial surface, puncturing the mother’s arteries, swarming inside and remodeling them to suit the foetus.” 

“Should the embryo fail to convince its mother that it is a perfectly normal, healthy individual, it will be summarily expelled. . .How does an embryo convince its mother that it is healthy? By honestly displaying its vigour and lust for life, which is to say, by striving with all its strength to implant. And how does the mother test the embryo? By making the embryo’s task incredibly difficult. Just as the placenta has evolved to be aggressive and invasive, the endometrium has evolved to be tough and hostile. For humans, the result is that half of all human pregnancies fail.”

Embryo in fallopian tube

“Once the embryo implants, it gets full access to her tissues. This asymmetry means two things. Firstly, the mother can no longer control the nutrient supply she offers the foetus – not without reducing the nutrient supply to her own tissues. Is this unfettered access to maternal blood the key to the extraordinary brain development we see in young primates? Fascinatingly, the intensity of the invasion does seem to correlate with brain development.”

“The second major consequence of the foetus’s direct access to maternal nutrients is that the foetus can also release its own hormones into the mother’s bloodstream, and thus manipulate her. And so it does.”

. . .”By looking for signs of genomic imprinting – that is, genes that are expressed differently depending on whether they are inherited from the father or the mother – researchers have been able to pin down the genetic causes of numerous diseases of pregnancy and childhoods. Genomic imprinting, and the maternal-fetal battle behind it, have been shown to account for gestational diabetes, Prader-Willi Syndrome, Angelman Syndrome, childhood obesity and several cancers. Researchers suspect that it may also underlie devastating psychiatric conditions such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and autism. In 2000, Ian Morison and colleagues compiled a database of more than 40 imprinted genes. That number had doubled by 2005; by 2010, it had nearly doubled again. Identifying genetic mechanisms does not in itself provide a cure for these complex diseases, but it is a vital step towards one.”

All this molecular struggle in the blood stream of an impregnated woman whose uterine lining has become a battlefield cannot help but be reflected in her emotional state, no matter how rational and informed about it she may be.  Even knowing what happens is not much help.   So the culture tries to help by providing images and ideas about the holiness of motherhood, the ideal of the Madonna who can remain serene even when loaded onto a donkey and packed off to Bethlehem to have a baby in a stable with the other mammals.  No midwife but a sheep and some shepherds -- not that they wouldn’t know what to do.

But these super-loaded images celebrating babies can deceive adolescents and confuse them about sex.  The girls begin to crave babies, esp. if they think of them as bonding gifts to a providing and protective man or as a chance to engage in love with another tiny being -- both giver and the receiver warmed and luminous.  Men can feel this pull as well.  Hopefully, they will be responsible men who will form a three-way, a domestic Trinity.

ultra-real babydoll, anatomically correct

But as I thought about it, I began to suspect how some males -- confusing love with sex, as usual -- can want to make love to the baby or toddler.  If they then define sex as reassurance, cuddling, responsiveness, respecting the humanity of the other, that’s one thing.  Maybe that can become protective love.  If they define sex as domination, control, and the right to humiliate, defile and torture another human being, those men are deadly weapons.  And some women, desperate for that male, might allow even torture of their own child.  Their definition of sex, from their own experience, might also be predatory.

For both, the advantage of the large hominid brain earned with chemical warfare in the womb, just doesn’t exist.  They are not thinking.  Fortunately, many of the rest of us are.  The question is what we think we’re doing about it.  I think “not enough.”  The crying baby is not a doll.  Carrying it away to social agencies is not enough.  They are not paperdolls, to be filed.

Saturday, August 16, 2014


Suicide is generally considered a religious problem:  it’s a sin to commit suicide and you’ll go to hell.  You can’t be buried with the nice people.  It’s also a legal problem: the penalty for trying to kill yourself is involuntary life -- which is not very different from death.  And now it’s seen as a medical problem:  the blood molecules that make you want to die.  Or you inherited it.  Or maybe it’s a family voice in your head: “You earned it, you worthless screwup.  Just do it.”  A few states will let you die early to spare you a few months of terminal suffering.  Spies are expected to use their poison pill as a way of protecting everyone else, as well as escaping torture.  In Japan one commits suicide because of being disgraced, as a matter of honor.  Then, of course, there were the Kamikazes.  Once in a while suicide is a political act.

Re-enactment of the two people who hung themselves from a Portland bridge just as Amtrack passed under them.  
No one remembers what their cause was.

This powerful piece of writing is about wanting suicide because of the suffering of depression, because somehow not feeling anything is a kind of torture.  A young mother I know of in Canada who tried the usual drugs, electroconvulsive therapy, and so on has finally turned around because of intravenous infusions of ketamine, a cat and horse tranquilizer that is a popular street drug.  http://www.bbc.com/news/health-26647738
No one knows how it works.  So much of treating depression is like trying to fix an old-fashioned TV set by pounding on it.  Ketamine may be like the dopamine discovery in Robin Williams’ movie “Awakenings.”  In a while everything goes back.  Like Robin.

I’ve thought a lot about suicide, more as a peripheral participant than a person considering it, because of being a minister.  At seminary no course was offered in how to handle suicide threats.  The first one I met was a public man who had molested his daughter, had been promised no prosecution if he got treatment, and then was exposed by the DA because he was up for election and needed to sound tough on crime.  I tried to talk this man out of his intention, failed, then did his memorial service -- as he asked.

There was a pair of aged professors, one demented and the other so devoted to him that she killed him and then herself.  She had left little notes all over the house with instructions about things like when the furnace filter was last changed.  The one that impressed me was the sticky on her wristwatch telling when the battery would run out.  Talk about a control freak.  Suicide as ultimate control.  She had not understood that when you die, other people buy your house and change everything.  Not just the furnace filter, the whole furnace.  They don’t even comply with your legal will.

Another woman was suicidal without me knowing it, though I’d stayed in her house.  I didn’t find out until a few years after I left that she had finally succeeded.  In retrospect it wasn’t hard to see.  No one missed her much.  Her husband quickly remarried.

Of my former rez students who have killed themselves (a mix of white and enrolled) the ones who weren’t just self-destructive, daring the devil all their lives, were extra-intelligent and gifted.  Some would argue that made them more vulnerable.  When there was a known cause for the suicide of a young man, it was almost always about love, sometimes same sex.

My kind, gentle professor/advisor at seminary had a son, a handsome jet pilot who seemed to glitter as he walked.  He shot his fiancé and then himself.  The doors slammed shut and we never knew more than that.  At least I didn’t.

When I tried to really hear people who had come to say they want to commit suicide, (esp. kids) I say,  “Well, all right.  But if you really think you MUST do that, please call me first even if it’s the middle of the night.  I won’t tell the cops or try to prevent you, but I’ll try to help you think of options.  Because that’s the FINAL option and you might be missing another one.  When you’re considering suicide, your brain goes flat.”   I really meant it.  They never called.

But that only works with people who are blocked, frustrated, and out of patience -- just need a delay.  Some people are not chemically, organically depressed, but nevertheless in a genuine state of suffering that is near unbearable.  That’s easy to see in someone with cancer or trauma that won’t respond to painkillers.  Or someone who’s had an enormous personal loss, like someone they loved deeply or even a home or job they loved.  These days people lose their country.  

It’s hard to witness when the suffering is the result of social torture as in the situation of -- try to imagine -- a boy with HIV he caught from survival sexwork while living in a cardboard box with infected skin, hunger headaches, exposure to cold rain at the very least, a glue-huffing habit -- the kind of boy who is invisible because his situation is too desperate to think about.  Don’t you secretly WANT him to die?  Don’t you think he can feel that?  Don’t you think some suicides are more like murder?

Jessamyn West

Jessamyn West was Richard Nixon’s cousin, but don’t hold that against her.  She was nothing like him.  You might know her as the author of the book from which the movie “The Friendly Persuasion” was developed.  That word “persuasion” has a little more bite when you realize that Anthony Perkins, the star, despite marriage and children, had relationships with men and died of AIDS-related pneumonia.  Berry Berenson, his wife, died a decade later when her plane flight crashed into the North Tower on 9/ll.  That’s all true but irrelevant here.

Jessamyn’s sister developed cancer and Jessamyn agreed to help her die when it became unbearable.  No one else can say when something is unbearable, but they talked it out, with the sister’s husband -- not quite so steely -- as a sort of fellow-traveler.  The decision was that when the sister had less than an hour a day when she was coherent and relatively pain-free, she would end her life with pills (they had hoarded some) and alcohol.  They did that.  Jessamyn wrote two books about it, one fictionalizing it to avoid being arrested for murder, and then later when the laws changed, a nonfiction version.  These two books are always in the back of my mind when I think about suicide.

Kevorkian had a connection to my home church in Portland because his first client, Janet Adkins, was a member there.  She took spiritual guidance from the Reverend Alan Deale, the Portland Unitarian minister in the Seventies.  He felt she knew what she was doing, had a right to her own mind, and blessed her.  Oregon and Montana are both Right to Die states.

Let's hope he's tying the boy's shoe, not attaching shackles.

This is not the same as that street boy I described earlier because if the boy gives the slightest hint he is self-destructive, he will be seized, incarcerated with people who will make his life even worse, denied medicine, denied hope.  He’s a little rat and we play “helper” with him.

If I were Mother Theresa I would be trekking up to Shelby to the private prison to try to redeem inmates.  I probably know them or their parents.  But I am NOT Mother T.  Mother T is a “Martha” if you know the Biblical story.  I’m Mary.  I’m going to sit here and figure this damn social puzzle out.  You should do the same.  Prevention.  PREVENTION.   We know how.  We don’t do it. Why?

"To See Eternity": Bob Scriver's portrait of his dying daughter, Margaret.  
She was Catholic and toughed it out to the end.

The tack I take against the wind, that will eventually blow us all away anyhow, is to get people to think carefully about what would tip the scales into doing it -- for them personally.  It might be the pain, maybe not.  Much of fatal disease is humiliating.  My stepdaughter was shamed by her colostomy, sure we could smell it.  Disease and its treatment put you pretty much out of control so that when you’ve had enough, you might not be able to manage suicide. I recommend that people write themselves a letter in which they figure out their tipping point and how they will cope.  Write, because that makes it more concrete and objective, but burn it or people will read it and interfere.  You may realize that your mind has slipped away too much to write and in that case you probably will not be able to find a way to send your body after your mind.  Soon you won’t be you, just your surviving cell-colony.  Don’t worry about it.  Let it go. 

The boy in the cardboard box can easily step off an overpass, hang from a tree, overdose.  “Nice” people have it harder in this one regard:  people will rush to intervene.  Too often the only intervention we offer the street boys is a bullet, but they won’t be able to afford even one cartridge, much less a gun.  So . . . death by cop.  So easy.

Friday, August 15, 2014

"OFF THE PATH" an anthology about on the rez

When I came to Browning MT in 1961, I wanted to teach English partly because of a fantasy of creating indigenous writers like my 4th grade teacher, Mildred Colbert, Chinook.  The superintendent at that time, Phil Ward, shared that dream because he was formerly an English teacher as well.  He wrote poetry.  If you’re reading this, you know what I write.  Phil Ward and I were white.  Do-gooders.

Fifty years later I get the news that Greg Hirst, a former student, will teach English in Heart Butte this coming year after a fine career in Wolf Point.  I’m already trying to make contact.  But somewhere I heard about an anthology that included a Blackfeet writer and ordered it:  Off the Path, An Anthology of 21st Century Montana American Indian Writers, Vol. 1.”  I just finished reading it and am absolutely so swollen with excitement that I could split screaming. 

Here are the names and their enrollment:  Adrian L. Jawort, who is also the CEO and editor, and Cinnamon Spear, (both Northern Cheyenne),  Luella N. Brien and Eric Leland Bigman Brien (both Crow which is Apséalooké) and Sterling HolyWhiteMountain (Blackfeet).  Luella and Leland are sibs.  I reach for the phone, but am hampered by the lack of a directory for cell phones.  The phone number of www.offthepasspressllc.com was in the front of the book and that worked.   I talked to Adrian and I’ve left a message for Sterling, but -- after all -- it’s Friday afternoon in August!

Adrian L. Jawort

Poor Adrian -- I swooped down on him with no warning and out of any context at all.  No matter.  He’ll get used to me -- I’m not going away.  Not because I’m going to horn in on what he’s doing, but because THIS anthology is what I want to see published.  TRUTH.  REALITY. CONTEMPORARY.

Sterling HolyWhiteMountain

These ARE 21st century college grad people.  They do not wear feathers, they do not bend the knee to the gatekeepers, they know their stuff.  The most accomplished (Iowa Writer’s Workshop ring any bells?) is Sterling and you can see him reading on YouTube:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Crs1Z9dZr8Q  In his story he talks about “court vision,” meaning basketball court -- not the other kind.  Court vision is when a player has mental awareness of everyone, what they’re doing, what they’re about to do, where the ball is going and how fast it’s traveling.  It’s something like getting the big picture.  That’s what these writers have.  

They talk rough -- they talk about booze and drugs with name-brand familiarity.  They know murderers and the murdered.  They’ve seen their parents slug it out.  The only thing that surprises me is that they don’t talk about dogs very much.  Sterling mentions them.  (I make it a policy to smuggle at least one imitah into every short story.)   They throw in words from their tribal languages.  Almost every character is from their generation, sort of half-in and half-out of success and the middle class, some of them convinced the only way to have a life is to leave the rez.

The staff of "Rez Made" clothing

And yet Sterling has a clothing company, http://rezmade.com, based in East Glacier.  Check it out.  The people in the photo above is very much the same kind as the ones in the stories, except there are a few maniacs in the stories and none in the pics.

Alcoholic dads are the worst monsters but they have multiple personalities and can also be your savior -- how do you cope with THAT schism?  How do you keep the pattern from rising up inside you and taking over your own innocent relationship many years later?  Cinnamon Spear makes you feel it.  Her other story, about having to give up $1,000 to save her little sister from a dumb mistake, and sleeping rough for a few nights because of it, while wondering what she has really done -- well, it’s not an Indian story.  I mean, it is, but there are no horses or feathers -- just the reality, a mix of innocence, yearning, family loyalty and murder.

Rez girls at Indian Days. wearing Rez Made

Cinnamon Spear also gives us the goody-two shoes girl who always does the right thing and has almost no experience on the wild side, but falls for a demon boyfriend.  It’s okay.  He’s in prison.  It’s a theoretical relationship based on letters.  Oh, boy.

Adrian Jawort masterfully handles the indigenous relationship with the dead in a story about meeting his brother for coffee -- because he needs to tell the brother he’s dead.  The brother is.  The story is so good you won't mind that I just gave you a spoiler.
Luella N. Brien and her twins

A prom girl conceived on her mother’s prom night gets ultimately trashed out at her own third prom by her “stereotypical Indian poet boyfriend as one of the props.”  That’s one of Luella N. Brien’s stories.  

Her bro Eric has a beginning website:  http://www.ericbigmanbrien.com  His story is about the writer's brother who wants the writer to take him in during Lent, because he has been told he will die on or about Easter.   Family is what happens when you're trying to have a life.

Woody Kipp, BCC journalism professor

These writers all have a touching conviction that a person can be a writer as a career but no one wants to teach English, so they all go for journalism.  It has worked for some, thanks to its immediacy, but they should talk to Woody Kipp.  Some take up Indian Studies and it IS time for them to crowd the white guys out.  I'm not sure they realize how many of these programs are being dropped by universities.  A few writers, like Adrian, already free lance here and there.  But the tribal colleges are welcoming.

There are no more than a few scattered sentences about the landscape or about Indian Days when the lodges are put up in the old circle:  moyis, “the circle where we live.”  No talk about vision quests or sun lodge tortures.  Instead, someone at the Indian Days pow-wow asks where the “49” is being held, and if you don’t know what it is, too bad.  You're missing something.  (It’s a hybrid of “Innun” singing and old white traditional songs, that I suppose got mixed in the Carolinas.  The first one I ever heard was a version of "She'll be comin' around the mountain when she comes.")

Darrell Kipp and I used to talk about NA writing and I always thought he’d break into the big time with a killer novel, or at least a chapbook of poems.  But he spent his life for kids and Blackfeet language, aside from being one of those solid people the rest of us count on.  Maybe there’s no shame in that.  Maybe it’s just as good -- being the person who inspires a new generation with a different vision -- maybe one that can only be seen if you have the equivalent of social “court vision” for those younger people.  They don’t fuss about grammar, they say fuck whenever they like, but -- curiously -- none of these people use slang for personal parts.  A penis is a penis.  Just a penis.  Good enough.

Okay, so "Breaking Dawn" is not realistic.

But love, oh, love, how they all love love and can’t resist falling into it, can never quite get over it, never believe it could ever happen a second time.  It will save them, make everything all right.  They crave the fusion.  Now how is that different from being a young white person or any other category of young adult?  I guess part of the difference is that on a reservation or just by being Indian, a person is always aware that the one you love might die.  Tonight.  Suddenly. There will never be an arrest or a trial.  But you could write about it.

If you want to read about it, go to their website www.offthepasspressllc.com or use Amazon.

Thursday, August 14, 2014


I read this article linked below.  Don’t you do that same thing unless you can handle some pretty painful and miserable stuff.  I thought, “Well, Mary, you’ve hit your limits.  You can NOT blog about this.”  But it's a pretty brave and honest essay and I admire this kid very much.  He's not a denier of reality nor is he a victim of cowardice.  He's got guts.

Then the Great Falls Tribune reported that a Valier man had been arrested in an FBI sting for arranging to meet a 12-year-old girl for sex and I thought,  “Well, that’s local, I know this guy, and though it's not quite the same as that overwhelming article on medium.com, it's close.  Maybe I SHOULD write a post.”  And I do know this guy -- not socially.  I worked at the "Prairie Star" with him before Brent Gaylord sold out and the paper became “Trader’s Dispatch”.

Then this morning I spent some time visiting with my neighbor across the alley.  Remember me posting about Rosie, who died of stomach cancer and then her husband Wayne who died in a car crash?  (He had only one arm and wore a morphine pump, wasn’t supposed to drive, but his bud talked him into it and . . .)  I did each of their graveside services since they had no church and I'm a retired minister.

Dave Schaibley, my neighbor

When the trailer wouldn’t sell, Dave Schaibley -- their son -- and his wife Jody moved out from Illinois where things are economically tough.  But it wasn’t long before his wife, who is on oxygen, had to go to a nursing home in Shelby.  Other bad things happened, but Dave tended his yard and dogs and took his wife some special yogurt for lunch every day, rain or shine, snow or high water.  My computer window looks out on the alley so I see him come and go.  He’s an honorable guy who loves to fish.  He gave me some cherry tomatoes and little zucchinis just right to stir fry.

Curt Aaberg mug shots

But he complained innocently that a few weeks ago people stopped talking to him at the post office or at the store.  His feelings were hurt.  Suddenly it dawned on me that he looks enough like Curt Aaberg to be mistaken for him.  It also was clear to me that Dave lives in a trailer, is from elsewhere, doesn’t know many people, doesn’t socialize much, and in some ways is much closer to the kind of low income person we like to stigmatize and demonize than good ol’ gregarious Curt is.  So now I HAVE to write this post.  Maybe buy Dave a t-shirt that says, “I am not Curt!”

I was not so surprised by Curt’s bad judgment and childish cravings as some guys around town say they were.  I never went bowling with him.  I never drank with him or anyone else.  I did aggravate him, because when I was working for the "Prairie Star" in 1999 I’d come a half-hour early every day.  (Old teacher habit.)  That’s when he was on the phone doing deals and, it was pretty clear, contacting his sweeties.  Jean, his wife, didn’t come until later.  She is a super-competent person who actually operated the business.  Curt just brought in ads by being an old-fashioned drummer/salesman, circulating around the ag businesses the way Brent Gaylord taught him.  

No ad sales now.  No business.  Another economic hole punched in a small town that can’t really afford to lose more businesses.  I have a few observations:

Jean and Curt in better times

1.  Since I have worked with a non-profit which gets at-risk boys off the street, I have heard them say that their most likely tricks are standard middle-class working white guys with kids.  Not any stigmatized, demonized, persecuted, pierced and tattooed trash trailer felons.  The seeming normalcy of tricks is their disguise.  (Some are cops.)  The stereotypes protect them.

2.  This family -- which I observed for six months before Gaylord sold the paper, putting me on unemployment -- had in its history a lot of alcoholism and abuse of various sorts.  They were supposed to have the drinking under control, but they had eliminated the alcohol without eliminating the behavior: the secrecy, the threats, the sneaking around, the resistance to trust or intimacy, the co-dependence, the uproar and demands -- it was all there.  I was coming from a background in ministry, law enforcement and city government (Portland) that alerted me to this stuff.  The Methodist minister and I talked about this family.  (He's not here now.)  They DID work hard and put up a good front -- at least Jean did.

3.  Life in the industrialized West encourages these patterns.  Working on railroads, windmills, canals, big field machines, oil rigs, semis and so on means that an ordinary working guy has a chance to get a job, but being desperate to stay in that job keeps him pinned in place even if he’s hurt and aching.  The clinics are suspected of being too free with painkillers, but good old dependable booze is always there.  Men work long hard hours for their families, but what families?  Lots of moving, lots of man-camps, lots of kids back somewhere else.  Maybe several wives.

4.  Small towns are very snoopy but they are also very good at denial.  If they find out something they don’t want to know, their brain carefully blacks it out.  On the other hand, if they find out something juicy, the hell with the facts.  And don’t lecture them about morality and the law.  They know everything about it -- they are "good Christians".  In fact, most of them are, in an unsophisticated and mostly habitual way.

5.  How is it that a sixteen-year-old has more common sense than Curt?  He’s not worldly enough to recognize a sting in the classified ads even though he sells them for a living? (No one is so easy to con as a con artist.)  What did this old guy think he was going to do with a 12-year-old girl? She's neither fish nor fowl -- neither child nor adult.  He has no idea -- he’s in a Playboy magazine dream about blonde teens, long-legged, augmented bosom, innocent, not critical -- about how the other guys would envy him, about what a status marker it is.  His own girls are barely out of their teens, but they’re different.  Didn’t he once scour the country to find one of them the used car she wanted?

Philip Aaberg

6.  Yes, Curt is a cousin to Philip Aaberg.  Curt doesn't like Philip and had never heard his music until I loaned his wife a CD of mine.  Maybe as compensation to reassure people that Philip wasn’t arrested,  the Sunday GF Tribune had a big photo layout about Philip's many generosities, accomplishments, and friendship networks.  He's a respected, maybe even beloved, sort of guy.  I'm very curious about what force made the two men so different.  http://www.greatfallstribune.com/story/life/2014/08/03/converted-grain-bin-aaberg-recording-studio-chester/13481411/    Was Curt thinking to himself, “I bet Philip never had a hot young babe like the one I ordered!”  As if Philip, who knows how to have a love life and cherish a wife, had to pay for sex with a child.  You can bet Philip will never have to stand trial either.

There’s pornography and pornography;  there’s pedophilia and pedophilia.  They are not big demonized easily understood and avoided monsters.  They are slippery slopes and blurry categories.  A twelve year old blonde girl is a big prize in Africa maybe.  (She might be represented as a virgin, a magic cure for something.)  The French more likely might prefer an older woman with a little skill and experience.  But if you're into domination, control, and maybe hurting someone who can't retaliate, an abused American kid is what you want.  

To a pre-adolescent or even preschool kid here’s such a thing as being over-familiar and over-stimulating.  How many men love to tickle kids?  Even if they cry?  There’s also torture, transgression and befoulment that is psychotic.  That's what shocked the sixteen-year-old in the first story and made him look for help. 

What’s scary about Curt is that he’s so clearly mainstream, so mini-Hugh Hefner, so much with his head up his ass, all without anyone finding him aberrant. Only banal.  Obnoxious, maybe.  All the time with his family -- what, pretending everything is okay even though there must have been clues?  Like not wanting the new hire to come in early?

But don't take it out on Dave Schaibley just because you're afraid to take a close look in case "sin" might stick to you.  He could use a friendly face, a "Hi, Dave! How's Jody?"  Why spread the damage when it's already so bad?  (He has a copy of this post.)