BACKUP EMAIL CONTACT

Montana.prairie.mary@gmail.com

Necessary since my local provider is all snarled up. I've been black listed for some mysterious reason.
It's comes and goes.

Mary Scriver
Valier, MT

SCRIVER BLOGS

Prairiemary.blogspot.com
(Main blog, daily posts)

Heart Butte School, Montana (Non-fiction, the school and its community.)

Robert Macfie Scriver and Art: An archive.

www.lulu.com/prairiemary: Books by Mary Scriver

ON AMAZON: "Bronze Inside and Out: a biographical memoir of Bob Scriver" and "Sweetgrass and Cottonwood Smoke: sermons for the prairie."

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

"BIG GIRL" GRAMMAR


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

DESIRE AMONG THE VECTORS




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.

Ged

“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.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

INTERNET PROTOCOLS VS. SORBS



The internet is supposed to be a means of communication that can’t be blocked, censored, controlled.  It’s supposed to survive atomic bomb attacks and power breakdowns and all that disaster stuff.  But it can’t survive other human beings.  Without warning or even your knowledge, you can be blocked -- block-listed which is about the same as black-listed.  The first you’ll know is when people let you know (how? if you’re computer is blocked?) that they are getting bounced messages -- that is, their own message back with a long formulaic message appended to the beginning.

Or maybe you are blocked from sending.  Then you'll be notified. You won’t be told the real reason and you’ll have to scramble around to find out how to get unblocked so you won’t lose offers for contracts and requests to perform something remunerative.  (I write. Most publication is managed via internet.)

“An Internet Protocol address (IP address) is a numerical label assigned to each device (e.g., computer, printer) participating in a computer network that uses the Internet Protocol for communication. An IP address serves two principal functions: host or network interface identification and location addressing.”


There are a LOT of organizations who will interfere with your IP.  Find out what your IP is, then go to SPAMhaus.org and enter it.  You’ll be told which of this list of IP controllers are blocking you.  There are also websites that will unblock you or evade blocking, but you are warned of dire consequences if you use them.  It's estimated that three MILLION IP's are blacklisted, blocked.  Exploring Google on the topic is revelatory.

My IP provider’s techies didn’t know about this until about three levels up.  (The newbies go by a notebook with the commonest questions, the more seasoned people have more info, and then you get to the truly initiated people who claim they don't know.)  Part of the problem is that they’re not supposed to tell you whether you’re on the block/black list because it sounds awful -- as though you did something illegal or immoral.  But it’s not really you who offended.  It’s a punishment administered to the whole IP, a form of hostage-taking and extortion.  It’s supposed to control SPAM and porn.  


3 Rivers originally announced this nanny function with great pride, as though it were a religious morality.  They signed up with "Barracuda."  One was allowed to choose the level of interference one wanted.  I said I didn’t want ANY.  But it would sneak back somewhere that I never looked.  I hate having to monitor the shenanigans of techies -- some techies tell me they feel the same way.

This sort of thing is low rent.  Professionals -- doctors, lawyers, ministers, professors -- don’t want any censorship because they are supposed to be thinking about everything, not just the part of the world that your IP provider approves of or rather, the monitor of your IP provider.  I’m living in the part of the world that is quite conservative, but my work and training are radically liberal.  

It’s a bit of a struggle to not be stigmatized, partly because much of my thought is against stigma as a social control that does enormous damage.  This changing world is terrifying (though I’ve stopped worrying about the bomb and am continuing to worry about the Cascade subduction zone that will take many beloved/despised places into oblivion which is part of the reason I live here) and those in power need more control -- they think -- so they press for more restrictions.  It is worrying that they like being secret, and are only possible because people are not educated and don’t have time to do more than listen to gossip.  


Some people evidently dedicate their lives to IT and IP issues.  For instance, as I explore around I see a petition to get rid of Microsoft Explorer because it is such an awkward and faulty search engine.  But I do NOT want to do more techie interaction than the constant twitches that any cybersystem needs in order to work.  I use my computer to WRITE and it’s enough for my poor old head to keep track of logic sequences, parallel sentence structure and unmixed metaphors.  I want to research religion in the time of Genghis Khan and what is happening to Aussie aborigines, not what all my “friends” are watching on Netflix or what they are all buying on Amazon.  (I mostly buy cat laxative.)

I find it offensive and insane to think that people who "like" a few paragraphs of mine can push a button and assume they are now my “friends.”  Friends are a category of duration, long-time interaction and a certain entitlement.  It’s a transparent gimmick to accumulate a lot of URL and IP numbers to be exploited.  It’s not different from a door-to-door salesman pushing into your house.

Here’s what Nate Simpson thought about SORBS and their demand that he send $50 to a nonprofit of their choice in order to get his block removed.

Where does SORBS get the power to block your IP?  Your provider signs up for the service, often sharing with other IP’s that they don’t control and which may have lower standards.  What does the FCC think about it?  I dunno.

_______________________


SPAM AND OPEN RELAY BLOCKING SYSTEM 
From the unknown authors writing on Wikipedia.

The SORBS DNSbl project was created in November 2002. It was maintained as a private list until 6 January 2003 when the DNSbl was officially launched to the public. The list consisted of 78,000 proxy relays and rapidly grew to over 3,000,000 alleged compromised spam relays.

SORBS adds IP ranges that belong to dialup modem pools, dynamically allocated wireless, and DSL connections as well as DHCP LAN ranges by using reverse DNS PTR records, WHOIS records, and sometimes by submission from the ISPs themselves. This is called the DUHL or Dynamic User and Host List. SORBS does not automatically rescan DUHL listed hosts for updated rDNS so to remove an IP address from the DUHL the user or ISP has to request a delisting or rescan. If other blocks are scanned in the region of listings and the scan includes listed netspace, SORBS automatically removes the netspace marked as static.

Matthew Sullivan of SORBS proposed in an Internet Draft that generic reverse DNS addresses include purposing tokens such as static or dynamic, abbreviations thereof, and more. That naming scheme would have allowed end users to classify IP addresses without the need to rely on third party lists, such as the SORBS DUHL. The Internet Draft has since expired. Generally it is considered more appropriate for ISPs to simply block outgoing traffic to port 25 if they wish to prevent users from sending email directly, rather than specifying it in the reverse DNS record for the IP.

IP addresses that send spam to SORBS spamtraps are added to their spam database automatically or manually. In order to prevent being blacklisted, major free email services such as Gmail, Yahoo, and Hotmail, as well as major ISPs now implement outgoing anti-spam countermeasures. Gmail, for example, continues to get listed and delisted because they refuse abuse reports. However, smaller networks may still be unwittingly blocked. Because spammers use viruses, malware, and rootkits to force compromised computers to send spam, SORBS lists the IP addresses of servers that the infected system uses to send its spam. Because of this, larger ISPs and corporate networks have started blocking port 25 in order to prevent these compromised computers from being able to send email except through designated email servers.

_________________________



To sum up all this jargon, SORBS are a privately created gate that only they control and impose on functions people believe are free and independent.  With the permission of the paid IP's of the user. They are doing the same thing that China does when it shuts down computer users it doesn’t like.  If China is doing it, I strongly suspect that the US is doing it.  

Three Rivers’ board of local business people are no match for that level of control over people’s lives.  If someone who has as few real “friends” as I do and whose work takes me in little essay loops through Blogspot and Medium every day, plus some Googling research, is finding myself blocked/blacked, what is this predatory throttling of messages doing to creativity and growth in a much bigger world?

_____________

Since posting this I've been block-listed three more times.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

IMMANENCE VS. TRANSCENDENCE



The first commandment of this approach to deep meaning in human life is the simple advice to “pay attention.”  But in my system commandments and advice are ruled out -- the need to pay attention should and will arise inside you.  The most basic assumption is immanence, that life unfolds by itself without tricks, drugs, instruments -- because that is the definition of life.  All the rest is captured and exploited by imposed terms describing someone’s idea of transcendence.  This is not a bad thing unless it is used to oppress, but then it can kill.

It turns out that there are far more then five senses.  The brain alone has maybe 200 kinds of neurons, each specializing in some kind of perception of the world outside the creature’s skin.  One of the most recently investigated was a little locus behind the top of one’s nose that tells you how fast you are going.  It remains to figure out what electrochemical signals it is using and whether it is accurately and actually reporting the real speed you are going, or just the speed you THINK you are going.

An apparatus for training the sense of smell to perceive meaning.

It turns out that what you THINK far too easily (from my stubborn point of view) overwhelms what actually is being reported via electrochemical signals to the sub-sorter cluster of neurons, which edits before sending to the brain where it is edited some more.  I do not like the idea of neurology being organized by dropping out information to preserve earlier heuristics -- giving clarity more importance than reality -- but what alternative do we have?  

Brains are limited because there’s only so much space inside a skull.  That’s why the originating sense-cells are all over the body -- but there’s only so much space in a body, either.  The skin limits a creature, even a dinosaur, who didn’t allot much energy to thinking anyway.  If the skin weren’t limited, we would simple dissolve into the energy needs of the environment and its other creatures.  We are only borrowed from the world because of our skins making the boundary between oneself and everything else.  This way of thinking is biological, practical, operative.

Is this about food?

But what we think of as psychological also has a boundary, which is not perceptible but built (immanent) from the interaction of the neurons trying to understand what’s going on and therefore forming concepts which is a way of creating divisions, boundaries, categories.  They are heuristic “involving or serving as an aid to learning, discovery, or problem-solving by experimental and especially trial-and-error methods; also :  of or relating to exploratory problem-solving techniques that utilize self-educating techniques (as the evaluation of feedback) to improve performance.” 

This is in sharp contrast to supernaturally-based institutional religions, whose “magic” is believed to be inalterable, unvarying, and the only real interpretation.  The claim is that unnatural things of another realm can be known by only one source -- person, book, god -- which demands obedience.  A ring, a token, a crown, a throne, are understood as the button that controls power.  If you argue with that, it is justification to confine or destroy you as a danger.

A cat can look at a queen, but what does it see?


Perceiving the world outside one’s skin in a way that respects immanence, the being of something simply as itself, gives one’s inner life many ways to connect and create, which are the third step after sorting and recording what is perceived.  Then one can connect with others (fourth step) and feel the simple obvious fact of being embedded in the universe, separated only by one’s skin and one’s assumptions (fifth step).  

This might not be pleasant. Suffering, awareness of death, rage, sadness, and loss are real.  To look for a supernatural (rather than metaphorical and symbolic) escape is an overwhelming temptation and can successfully fend off despair.  It is those who have no way of interpreting the world who are dangerous.  It is a death and some deaths want to be shared, maybe with a gun.

But interpretation is the second step.  The first is only feeling.


Some geneticists are asking whether one’s ability to create inner categories that are based on peace have anything to do with human wiring as it results from particular helical molecular constructs.  Our skills and knowledge are too primitive to know.  It has been heuristically suggested that the Euro-personality might be operating off inherited Neanderthal hunter/gatherer traits, emphasized by the need to fend off a wave of evolved African people.  And that the Asian genome, after millennia of agriculture, had become peaceful.  This doesn’t allow for the dynamic horse-based people who galloped down from the Asian steppes to spread Genghis Khan’s genes all over Europe.  Obviously it must be over-generalizing.

“Mongols were highly tolerant of most religions during the early Mongol Empire, and typically sponsored several at the same time. At the time of Genghis Khan in the 13th century, virtually every religion had found converts, from Buddhism to Christianity and Manichaeanism to Islam.” The anonymous expert in Wikipedia includes only one Asian system and three from the complex of choices in the Middle-East.  All are the systems that Karen Armstrong (and Karl Jaspers) explicitly felt were “Axial”, foundations of today’s major institutional religions.  These are transcendence-based systems, claiming supernatural sources as authorization.

Alexander Nevsky among the Shamans

The foundational religion of Genghis Kahn was shamanic which is an immanent system.  Its super-powers are rooted in reality, like bears or cranes or mountains which should be taken as symbols with meaning rather than imitation humans.  The religious systems of Europe before the “Axial” religions were shamanic and so were those in the Americas and Africa.  Institutions are creatures of settlement and wealth.  Kings and armies.  

The 13th century in Europe is described by some historians as “high,” which is not about altitude but about prestige and power.  Maybe it comes from the practice of putting powerful people up on a platform where people could see them.  “High” table, “high” church, and so on.  These are all institutionally ascribed, but also we associate “high” with the sky, whether angels or bomber planes, images of power, though we don’t recognize bombs as religious unless we call them “demonic” -- which means they should be connected to underground, like landmines and terrorists.  Immanence is considered “grounded”, an eruption like Pluto bursting up in his chariot to seize the innocent Persephone, which deranges the order of the seasons.  The earth is "low," meaning vulgar, uncivilized, dirty, and probably sexy.  Maybe childlike.

St. Mary Roman Catholic Church, High Hill, Texas

So does that mean that the intended “high” civilization of skyscrapers, space stations, and church spires has deranged the world into famine and rising oceans?  Maybe.  Or maybe our categories are just wrong.  Are the Bioneers verging into institutional hubris?  Is the media now a hegemony imposing its own worldview from broadcasting satellites?

I would argue that the immanence of pure perception and a willingness to break down boundaries through empathy and compassion are the true Sacred strategies.  How to do that is hidden behind dark glass.  We should be cautious: it may be protective.







Friday, July 24, 2015

THE CIRCLE REPERTORY COMPANY



in order to escape all this mind-squashing tech stuff, I’m reading “The Circle Repertory Company: The First Fifteen Years” by Mary S. Ryzuk  .  I’m embarrassed to have discovered this book so late, because I went to undergrad school with half of the group of four who started this company, which is the kind of group one calls “seminal,” because they can begin new gestations.  (That’s a metaphor, kids.)

The theatre department was a sub-group of the School of Speech at NU, the Class of 1961 was a sub-group of that, and Marshall Mason and Richard Thirkield were part of a tight elite related to Alvina Krause and her summer repertory at Eagles Mere, Pennsylvania.  I was the cat.  I mean, I made the cat’s choice -- to sit and watch -- and no one paid much attention to me.  I made costumes and stuff like that.

Wilson, Nelson, and Mason

At the time there seemed to be three possible contexts for theatre people: Hollywood, Broadway and Academia.  Each attracted a different type and had quite different consequences.  My closest friend in theatre was Stu Hagmann, who went to Hollywood, directed “The Strawberry Statement,” and went on to direct “Mannix” and a lot of prize-winning commercials.  As I become more socially radicalized, I have less in common with him, though he has always been very generous to me.

My very best friend was Bill Shaw, who also related to a little group that included Thirkield and Mason.  They called him “Hume” because of his skeptical questions about human nature.   He was not a theatre student. Shaw’s father, a doctor, wanted him to follow suit, so he was in pre-med but dubious about it, thinking of psychiatry.  Shaw died young from brain cancer, old enough to have established a family and a reputation for excellence as a professor.  He and I used to sit in the back of the auditorium during acting classes taught by Krause, passing notes.  Quite a few people did, including rival professors.

But I made a fourth choice, which was related to the Peace Corps movement at the time of our graduation in 1961.  It had dawned on me that I didn’t need to go to Africa -- I could go to a reservation on my own.  In fact, I was thinking Navajo, but since at graduation my folks drove me home through the Blackfeet rez and there was a job, that’s where I ended up.  It has been part of my internal psyche ever since.  As far as the theatre department was concerned, I disappeared into a void.

Browning, MT

Long before that, in high school, an archetype had emerged from Tennessee Williams’ “Summer and Smoke.”  When I wrote a book report on it, my teacher asked,  “Do you understand this play?”  She meant sex, but I knew better.  Alma (soul) was forever in tension with John (who could easily have been called "Dick" or "Peter"), the doctor’s son, representing the body.  Part of my relationship with the NU people was mediated through this play, this binary.  Most of my classroom acting scenes were based on this play. Alma’s idealism has been the battered and barely surviving part of my psyche, but it persists in spite of both ministry and teaching and, finally, Scriver.  Montana and smoke.

Recently, there has been no counterpoint of a male representing the concerns of the body until the relationship with Cinematheque and the Smash Street Boys.   These are young men whose bodies have been so misused that their psyches are hard to access.  It took a person who was intensely physical and tortured to match that side of the Tennessee Williams script.  The message is that the two sides -- idealism and self-exploitation -- cannot meet.  Tim gets it.  He lives it.

I doubt there are two or three people around here who know “Summer and Smoke” or even who Tennessee Williams is.  When I told my English teacher (an old maid with a great puff of white hair) I understood the play, I wasn’t talking about sex.  I meant intensity, the meaning of life. Unfulfilled yearning.  Painful life.  In this play Alma takes drugs (opium) as an evasion of life, and I vowed never to do that.  In fact, my determination rather interfered with my intention to write, since it is far more meaningful to really live the issues.  And books have turned out to be more transient than anyone guessed, serious thought lost in triviality.

Marshall W. Mason explains the magic.

So, Marshall W. Mason and his group have not just been performing plays -- they have been shaping real lives.  Theatre is only a needle-width from church, as Alma knew.  Prostitution is very close to doctoring.  Humans are always making little distinctions that will allow a bit of dignity and status.  But they break down.  

For instance, teaching is nothing like it was in a class with Alvina Krause.  She was relentlessly focused on the goal she had in mind and you just had to figure out how to cope with that.  I watched -- the cat’s choice.  I hoard my lives, though I’m down to the last one and it’s getting shorter.  Don’t worry -- all of the other eight went to good use.  

But this one has been a flowering, a song, though a sad one.  The counterpoint now is between suffering and creation.  Tim doesn’t know how much time he has either.  Nor do these boys.  But we have all been part of communities of synergy, groups who shared goals and accomplished more than they ever could as individual “geniuses,” which was the Fifties ideal.  The Sixties broke that open; maybe in 1961 when Ernest Hemingway committed suicide.  That year I graduated from college and came to the rez.  Tim was eleven, fighting to survive his family.  He can tell you himself.  It’s always so different than the movies.

Through the Sixties Mason and Thirkield were building the Circle Rep theatre company into a remarkable force off-off-Broadway.  In those years I was absorbed into the Blackfeet world which, pre-contact, had structured itself in bands genetically related at the core, but then open to the inclinations of those who joined or left that fluid, moving world as it traveled over the prairie.  The difference from the urban clusters of rep theatre was that onstage the genetics were ideology, and like -- genetics -- variation was the source of progress.  The rest of the book (I assume, since I haven’t read it all yet) traces the forces affecting the Circle Rep group.

Lanford Wilson, author of "Hot l Baltimore"

The only one of them who probably would understand my high prairie life was Sam Shepard, who never settled into any specific company for long.  During the early years of Circle Rep, on the opposite coast Tim’s parallel but transgressive SF world was smashed by a virus.  Circle Rep ended in 1996 after 27 years. At that point I was back in Portland, all prospects ended.  As soon as I could, I came back here to begin again from where I left off in 1973.


Marshall W. Mason, American Theatre Hall of Fame

The point is that humans are meant to be in small groups, fluid, permeable, sharing, and -- on both scales -- living out their gifts until the environment forecloses them.   If they are terrified by change, they will freeze, which is a form of suicide, but if they can accept new ideas, they will survive.  Not every revelation is comfortable.  It is, after all, a kind of birth.  Ask Justin Many Fingers.

Marshall tells me:  "My new book, THE TRANSCENDENT YEARS, covers the same time-period, but I doubt we'll see it in print before January, 2017."  He feels Ryzuk sometimes went off on a tangent.