Since in my own mind many of these posts have been "chapters," I'm splitting some of them out to separate blogs. But also, my audience is divided and quite different, one part from another. Many have dropped out and many have newly arrived. There are recognizable paper "book" versions of some of the posts that fit together.

I find that some people still assume that a blog is a sort of diary. This one is not. It is not for children, either in terms of subject or writing style. It's not written "down." Think academic magazine or column without footnotes.


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

Fiction about Indians at
Essays about Indians at

Thursday, October 23, 2014

"ROUGH RIDERS": Commentary on the mini-series


Since my birthday is the same as Teddy Roosevelt’s and I’m as near-sighted as he was, about as red-headed but in other ways VERY different, I ordered “Rough Riders” from Netflix.  After all, if “The Trail” celebrated the endurance of women on the long journey of life, Teddy had something to say about charging uphill on the side of righteousness.  As it turns out, the film was more about John Milius (b. 1944, roughly the age of my brothers) than Roosevelt, but that’s okay.  Milius is from the generation AFTER WWII and before Vietnam, that great period of the “stand down” veteran when the long quiet stare was considered sadness rather than PTSD.  In those days the big strong silent marshalls and sheriffs tried to avoid shooting people, but usually had to anyway.  Milius loves the B-Western and John Ford.

Milius was born in St. Louis, that great mythic hub of the frontier opened by fur traders.  Of course, he was close to George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, California kids but masters of the grand tale full of paraphernalia, choreographed violence, and questions of loyalty.  Male mythology that guides many of us still, esp. in Montana, was served and formed by the same understanding of war and warriors as drives “Star Wars,”  an assortment of characters of every kind, united in brotherhood’s loyalty, and empowered by a nation, which they served by risking death in personal combat.  None of this fancy no-risk flying over with bombs or remote control predator drones.

Recognize Anthony Quinn's son?  These guys had a lot of fun.

This movie is simply another version of what in my childhood we called “playing guns.”  Not war or winning, but enacting the shooting of guns and the dying after being shot.  Some of us were especially good at dramatic death, shouting “aaargh, I’ve been hit” and spinning on one heel, dropping, arching the back, gasping and thrashing, then suddenly going limp.  In a moment one eye opened to see how the performance went over.  Sometimes the hit was contested, but modern paint ball games have taken care of that.  Except they have not preserved the high art of the dramatic death, at least not in the vids I’ve seen.  They just take off their goggles and leave the field as though they’d merely lost at chess.

If Gary Busey's horse wasn't deaf in the beginning, it must have been by the end.

For grown men there is a body of knowledge about guns that’s quite comparable to trivia about athletic games or wine connoisseurship.  Collecting the actual objects is admirable, but even knowing their history and capacities is so important that there is an entire website devoted to the many movies and the weapons in them.   The one for "Rough Riders" is here:  It’s a whole sub-dimension of all the shooting and one that the director must keep in mind, so that there are chances for the viewer to get a good look at what character is shooting which gun.

When we were small, squirt guns were popular but they were nothing compared to modern space age water propel-ers that can nail a cat at twenty feet.  Some are equipped to sound like guns, but they are usually transparent and in day-glo colors, not capable of the light glints and cocking clicks of a real gun, which is irreducibly a machine -- very clever and requiring maintenance.  Real guns today are accessorized with laser sights, scopes, silencers and stabilizers.  They come in a neat bit of luggage with custom-fitted foam interiors.  I once watched a film about the psychological boot camp creation of loyalty of the soldier to his gun:  “Your gun is your lover, your woman!  You love the sight of her, the feel of her, you are never without her!”  Guns are not generic.  

Our best toy -- well, at least for the boys -- was cap guns.  I googled cap guns and fell back in amazement.  “Steampunk” cap guns, “Cyber Gothic” guns, “Civil War Musket, Wood and Steel Frontier Rifle Designed After The Original Rifle, Fires #917 Pull Off Caps”.  The caps themselves come on plastic discs now, instead of the red paper roll of black powder dots we used.   You had to thread them through the feeding mechanism past the hammer that exploded them by impact.  It was like threading movie film into a projector.  I still have the feel of doing that in my hands, managing that red ribbon of paper.  Since no one would buy me a cap gun (we were gender-assigned) and my brothers loved theirs too much to share, I took the paper roll to the front steps and pounded each dot with a rock to make it explode.  The smell of gunpowder, hot concrete, and summer sun mix in my memories.

It was equally important when playing guns to have a persona.  “Rough Riders” supplies famous figures known to be in Cuba: Frederick Remington (shown painting a very un-Remington sort of picture, evidently before he weighed 300#), Stephen Crane (not given much respect), William Randolph Hearst (George Hamilton -- WTF?), Black Jack Pershing and his Buffalo Soldiers, two very noble (and “cruel”) Native Americans, and Sam Elliott who steals the whole movie from Tom Berenger who is supposed to be Teddy Roosevelt.  (We can tell by his teeth.)  Sam is the one who assures us that the Indians are “cruel” and tells us this is a good thing that the men should learn.

Sam’s role is “Bucky O’Neill” who in reality was present at enough key Western historical moments to have deserved a movie of his own.  He really did have a mustache, which is lucky, because I just saw Sam in “The Contender,” a modern political drama in which he had a shaved upper lip, revealing it to be rather strange.  The camera likes to linger on his “cruel” eye.  He’s a very shoulders-back sort of person, but he’s played so many iconic roles that we are convinced that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

Chris Noth

Other characters are pretty predictable except for Chris Noth, who is supposed to be a patrician man, well-educated, and able to be slightly more objective or at least philosophical.  We’re used to seeing him as the bold but slightly behind-the-curve hero of “Law and Order.”

Geoffrey Lewis is always good as the “rustic,” a classic comic-relief type used by Shakespeare and going back to Greek comedy.  I just watched an episode of “House, MD” in which he was a defiant old codger who wished to die of cancer without pain relief because it would make him more distinguished.  Not a comic role that time, but a version of the brave eccentric who is often the cook in Westerns, or maybe a sidekick of the hero.

Geoffrey Lewis

This movie has none of the serious, cynical, flesh-exploding, cold-blooded bitterness of more contemporary war stories.  No prosthetic heads rolling around.  Rather it’s a kind of bildungsroman in which Roosevelt and everyone else goes from being adolescent to fully mature.  There’s enough humor and slapstick to make it seem like a frat party that got out of hand, but there are no women except a few accessory hispanics and Teddy’s strange wife,so that pesky political/sexual issue is moot.  Still, guns are phallic.  But the survivors are blameless and even Stephen Crane, who takes some mockery early on, is enlightened.

The real Stephen Crane

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


A Jain text in images

An arguable review of thoughts about what I'm doing.

Art is the expression of a relationship between a human and the universe.  Liturgy is an intense affirmation of this definition that provides a meaningful guide within the specific parameters of survival for either an individual or a group.

"Religion" -- before it is frozen into theology, maybe called spirituality -- is an extension of identity, which is an active relationship between person and situation.  Too much thought about spirituality is just fuzz and custard -- pleasant, but with limited meaning.

Material culture, used to record memory and to create metaphor, is the vocabulary and instrument of arts, including liturgy.  It is useless to argue over whether the images painted long ago in the depths of caves are either "art" or "liturgy" because in those days there was no separation between the two.

The world needs some sort of way of thinking that will bring us together.  Since formal "named" religions are institutional -- ethnically and turf-based, we can't reach unanimity on that level.  But we can go to the universal human experience of spirituality (NOT just emotions of love and all that) which kindles the spark of all religions.  That is, instead of looking at the content, we can look at the structure, not the structure of the outer world but the structure of human experience of it, which has two parts -- cognizant or beneath reflective access -- in the mammalian and even reptilian sub-brains.

Spirituality is an experience of meaning in two ways: it confirms the identity of the person and validates participation in the group.

Spirituality is not verbal.  Therefore it cannot be approached primarily through words but rather through whole-body thinking which precedes, underlies, and expresses thought:  art, dance, music.  It has evolutionary value in that it promotes survival for the individual and the group.

Spirituality is emergent.  When conditions are right, it emerges from the brain/body, called forth by sensory cues, a connectome hippocampus function.

Human development depends first on safety and then on attachment to another human in order for the brain to stay in growth mode.  Otherwise it closes down in hiding and defense, which is a different and higher priority connectome pattern that prevents growth.  The liminality of Victor Turner, et al, provides this safety and attachment necessary for even adults to confirm, re-affirm, or convert their thinking.


What I'm called "liturgy" is an art form.  It's closest relative in theatre in several ways.  Actors study the skills for managing internal consciousness, even in multiple (the character and the actor) and even in what are labeled dissociated states.  Actors learn to modulate emotional responses, to respond to others, to express emotion clearly, to manage their bodies, to use transferences through empathy, not to fear human extremes and excesses.

Liturgy can interact with what we call therapy in various ways.  Liturgy can be a kind of therapy, reducing stress and providing a context for insight.  Likewise, a therapy can become spiritual when people arrive at deep meaning with the support of the therapist or a group.  A therapy group can serve as a congregation, both a "holding community" and witnesses.

a holding community supports you

Liturgy can bind a community together and keep their attention centered on specific acts and events, often those recorded as print of some kind, though there can be great importance given to memorization and to reflection on the meaning of the words and stories.

Most books about liturgy are about institutional, print-based, prescribed events that may be repeated over and over.  The Catholic church is often seen like that, but reading Dom Gregory Dix’s book “The Shape of the Liturgy” taught me a number of things.  The first was that there WAS a shape and that it was not just historical but also evolved:  first came the invention of a “book,” which at that point was a scroll which rabbis gathered to study and reflect upon.  Since this was holy work, it was marked off not in space, but in time, by the saying of prayers.  So the liminal time was closed by another prayer.  So now we have four elements: the prayer of in-coming, the reading of the passage to be studied, the reflection on that passage, and then the outgoing prayer.  

When the Jewish tradition became the foundation of Christian community, the younger groups accepted that Jesus had prescribed to them the ceremony of Communion: the bread and the wine that were normally eaten by a group staying together through mealtime anyway.  These were brought from home and left at the door until the Communion, and that moment of going to get the bread and wine so it could be consecrated for significance, is now in the Mass.  
Togo -- the place, not food "to go"

When the Protestants broke off from Catholic Mass, they kept the basic pattern since it is so natural to humans (the picnic, the potluck, the tailgate party, the hunt breakfast, the pizza party).  Sometimes they simplified.  Then when the Unitarians broke off from the dissenting Protestants, they began to drop out the Communion, the most extreme of them calling it “cannibalism.”  

Part of what makes the Catholics so interesting is that there is always a breaking away but also always a reform from within.  So Schreiter’s book about the problem of explaining bread and wine to people who have never seen either one (Inuit, for instance) is one of the most valuable resources I know for understanding how the deep equivalent human dynamics at the level of the limbic system can be discovered and resolved into new acts that celebrate the same thing.  One must go to the paradoxes of the saints.  The landscape itself becomes the Bible.  The human family remains meaningful.  Death by torturing authorities that turns out to be a release into some kind of transcendence may also be meaningful.  But an institutional religion that formed in one environment will always have to be translated very carefully to keep it from being reduced to toys and magic.  What can the desert say to the jungle?  What can the shepherd say to the keyboard junkie?

I have come late to an appreciation of community, which is partly temperament, partly the times when I was growing up which emphasized individuality and “creativity,” and partly my birth family which was immigrant homesteaders who sequestered the family.   Mathew Lieberman adds to the other specialized cells in the prefrontal cortex the “mirror cells” that support empathy -- the ability to look at another human and understand how they must be feeling.    “We believe that pain and pleasure alone guide our actions.  Yet, new research using fMRI – including a great deal of original research conducted by Lieberman and his UCLA lab -- shows that our brains react to social pain and pleasure in much the same way as they do to physical pain and pleasure.”  

The assertion is made that humans spend a lot of time thinking about their relationships to other people, particularly those towards whom one feels intimacy.  Balancing that, it also appears that we need “out-groups” -- people we disapprove of, whom we shun or even attack.  This mob xenophobia can become destructive, but isolation is equally destructive, and we begin to understand that using it for punishment creates insanity.

Praying for others might be the most common liturgical element for justice, but also imagining a higher power who understands beyond what humans can grasp is often expressed in prayers.  Still, FELT meaning may be different.  Consider ordination of clergy during which the ordained person is not just prayed over and advised, but also is actively leaned on by the hands of those already in ministry, so that the weightiness of the moment is physical and real.  This interaction between words and enacted images is what I’m trying to explore.  


"The Shape of the Mass" by Dom Gregory Dix
"Constructing Local Theologies" by Robert Schreiter

"Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect" by Matthew D. Lieberman

"The Ritual Process" by Victor Turner

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


“The Sacred and the Profane” by Mircea Eliade made the definitive distinction between the two valences of life called rational (secular) and irrational (spiritual).  He attributed the irrational to “another world” : “the manifestation of something of a wholly different order, a reality that does not belong to our world.”  (p. 11)  

The sacred is equivalent to a power, and, in the last analysis to reality.  The sacred is saturated with being.” (p. 12)  He remarks that it is the profane that has been recently invented: to earlier people everything was sacred, full of power.  He's talking about the "invention" of the secular hundreds of years ago in Europe, from which the religious in any sense is excluded.  This had become necessary because religious forces were at war, each claiming their own reality.  It was the invention of a "no religion land."  (This is breaking down now.)

This requires some elucidation.  Eliade constantly refers to the comparative systems of belief that I prefer to call spiritual.  (He says "religious" or at least his translator does.)  He considers that the rational, the secular, and the moralities connected to them (law, dogma, precepts) are destructive of the sacred and therefore disempowering.  But he says the ordinary experiences of contact with nature, eating, sleeping, arranging domestic space, always hold within them the poetic dimensions of sacred meaning which can be released.

For the secular person, space is homogenous, a smooth plane.  But “the religious experience of the nonhomogeneity of space is a primordial experience.”  (p. 20)  For we who wish for both the spiritual experienced sacrality of space AND a truly scientific locating of this ability to feel the discontinuity of the real world, it is a joy -- it proves we are not fantasizing.  It is no surprise that this ability to feel the difference is very old, enacted from the limbic primordial brain, and detected by specialized cells call “grid” cells and “compass” cells.

So I’m claiming that the spiritual/sacred/emotional/felt meaning aspect of life is NOT verbal nor mathematical nor even accessible to cognizing thought.  But it is something real in the brain, felt meaning.

I assert that spiritual experience is real and compelling; that religious institutions try to capture that dimension in their dogmas and ceremonies; and that any institution must return to the spiritual constantly or lose that which gives it power and justification.  Institutions are merely bowls, containers, even if those bowls are chalices or skulls.  It is the spirituality that is the fire within.  Some worry that science will dispel all that, but in the end science confirms it.  (Science IS an institution.)

I find definitions and papers online in places like:   I constantly need  to look up definitions like the following, because it is a whole new language:

“The entorhinal cortex (EC) is located in the medial temporal lobe and functions as a hub in a widespread network for memory and navigation. The EC is the main interface between the hippocampus and neocortex. The EC-hippocampus system plays an important role in autobiographical/declarative/episodic memories and in particular spatial memories including memory formation, memory consolidation, and memory optimization in sleep.”

So therefore, this paper below is about something that happens in the brain to tell the creature where it is going and where it has been, a primordial function found even in one-celled animals despite the lack of brain.  It has persisted as the core of being alive, if only the desire to move over there. . . or there . . . or there.


“Conjunctive Representation of Position, Direction, and Velocity in Entorhinal Cortex”  by Francesca Sargolini, Marianne Fyhn, Torkel Hafting, Bruce L. McNaughton, Menno P. Witter, May-Britt Moser, Edvard I. Moser

Grid cells in the medial entorhinal cortex (MEC) are part of an environment-independent spatial coordinate system. To determine how information about location, direction, and distance is integrated in the grid-cell network, we recorded from each principal cell layer of MEC in rats that explored two-dimensional environments. Whereas layer II was predominated by grid cells, grid cells colocalized with head-direction cells and conjunctive grid �� head-direction cells in the deeper layers.”


This one is easier to read.  Place Cells, Grid Cells, and the Brain’s Spatial Representation System” by  Edvard I. Moser,  Emilio Kropff, and May-Britt Moser

More than three decades of research have demonstrated a role for hippocampal place cells in representation of the spatial environment in the brain. New studies have shown that place cells are part of a broader circuit for dynamic representation of self-location. A key component of this network is the entorhinal grid cells, which, by virtue of their tessellating firing fields, may provide the elements of a path integration–based neural map. Here we review how place cells and grid cells may form the basis for quantitative spatiotemporal representation of places, routes, and associated experiences during behavior and in memory. Because these cell types have some of the most conspicuous behavioral correlates among neurons in nonsensory cortical systems, and because their spatial firing structure reflects computations internally in the system, studies of entorhinal-hippocampal representations may offer considerable insight into general principles of cortical network dynamics.

The introduction of this paper notes that while many out-skin things come into the brain as code from sensory impulses felt at the interface between the body and the environment, there seem also to be some primordial organizing abilities that are pre-existent in the brain and not at all dependent on any senses or even muscle tone or visceral awareness.  “Space” and the perception of it appears to be one of these primordial principles.  They note that Kant believed in “the presence of a preconfigured or semipreconfigured brain system for representation and storage of self- location relative to the external environment.” In agreement with the general ideas of Kant, “place cells and grid cells in the hippocampal and entorhinal cortices may determine how we perceive and remember our position in the environment as well as the events we experience in that environment.”  That is, it’s common to remember exactly where you were at an intense moment like news of the assassination of Kennedy, but how DID you know where you were?  How was it recorded in your brain?

Here’s a quick TED talk version that introduces the grid, the compass, the boundaries, and the landmarks or sensory “snapshot”.  It diagrams the “tesselated” or triangle connections that make up the grid, and shows you how a mouse builds up a “hot spot” in his brain about where something is.

When one is designing worship, trying to create the response of what Eliade calls a “hierophany” -- the feeling of touching transcendence -- is not as much a need to pay attention to the reality of the environmental space as to the “liminality” of the emotional space, which is metaphorical/virtual.  This will feel like locating the “center of the world,” the Axis Mundi.  A place with intense emotional association can easily become that center, even for someone who considers themselves resolutely rational.  The "eureka" moment is a scientist's hierophany.

On page 25 he describes the threshold transition from one state of awareness to another, from the profane street to the sanctified interior of a church; from public space to one’s private home.  He says, “Numerous rites accompany passing the domestic threshold -- a bow, a prostration, a pious touch of the hand, and so on.  The threshold has its guardians -- gods and spirits who forbid entrance both to human enemies and to demons and the powers of pestilence.”  I have blessed houses by touching the lintel with olive oil and poetry.

Consider the protocol of putting on a hazmat barrier suit to protect against ebola, a ritualistic process that takes nearly a half-hour that must be done in a specific order, with such great attention that a second person must stand vigil lest something be overlooked, with extreme accuracy and with deadly consequences if the suit fails.  It is indeed like putting on a spacesuit.  Taking it off is even more important.  It is rational, scientific, tested and proven -- but also it is emotional, accompanied by dedication and compassion, and intended to protect both patient and caregiver.  Bless this hazmat suit.  It is both a ceremony and the creation of a safe space.

Firing patterns of grid cells.  This link is to an Untermeyer poem that has become a beloved UU hymn.

(My paperback copy of “The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion" is copyright 1959, by Harcourt, Brace and World, Inc.”  ISBN 0-15-679201-X.  Page number references correlate to that.)

Monday, October 20, 2014


Sacred and Profane, so often mixed in art.

This blog does not operate as a silo, which disconcerts some people who are used to seeing blogs as focused on a product.  This one is a landscape, a horizon, a broad set of topics for a dozen different communities.  But this particular post IS a silo in spite of approaching one topic through several points of view.  It is an inventory of thought about felt internal sensations that all creatures appear to have, but that have been repeatedly in many ways investigated and reflected upon, put into words and philosophically categorized.  It is the felt difference between two kinds of space which Mircea Eliade famously defined as “sacred” and “profane.”  It is also the difference between what is felt as sacred, as spiritual, as something palpable in the environment, and what is a peneplain, a flat featureless plenum, which could be called the profane, the daily, the quotidian, the ordinary (order-nary).

There are a variety of explanations or explications about this.  They come from many “disciplines” we are used to and challenge boundaries between ways of knowing.  One principle is that this difference is between what is wordlessly felt and therefore in every creature, and what is expressed in language, including the language of mathematics.  To many people language IS thinking -- they cannot conceive of thinking in any other way.  To them, for an animal to be thinking is inconceivable unless the animal can at least imitate language.

Recently, given a lot of ingenious and supersensitive instruments, we have been able to see our brains in operation.  These studies, along with what are called “lesion” studies -- observations of humans whose brains have been damaged some way and animals whose brains have been surgically altered -- tell us One Big Thing.  There are two brains, essentially: the primal brainstem and limbic system which has nerves through the body (the autonomic system) and which also controls the hormone chemicals from organs, rarely conscious except as “feelings,” including emotion.  The other is the cortex and the evolved organelles (hippocampus) and specialized cells that it coordinates into conscious thought, images and language.

This correlates with Freud’s most useful observation: that there is a conscious or cognizant mind and then another which he intuitively described as the “sub” conscious, though he was a good enough neuroscientist to understand that it was primal brain that was the generator of these forces, the drive systems,  Desire.  Survival.  But the survival of the individual can be suppressed or contradicted by a rigid culture; and the survival of a culture can be threatened by maladjustment to the environment which -- in the end -- determines survival.  Darwin called it “fitness.”   I say “fittingness” because it isn’t always a matter of biggest and best.  (Remember the little first mammals running between the toes of the dinosaurs.)

Now the scientists have identified the specialized cells in the cortex that somehow connect to deep primal awareness in the earlier brain:  the “grid” cells that let us feel where in a specific space we are; the “heading” or compass cells that let us sense the directions, the "boundary" cells that tell us where edges are, and the "homunculus" map that allots space to neurons according to their relationship to the body.  Somehow this hooks up with memory, so that an intense experience will call up sense memory of where you were, the smells, the sounds, the temperature, and so on.

From anthropology (van Gennep and Turner) comes the insight that besides physical space there is a psychological “felt” space that uses this associating of the sensory moment to cue something they call “liminal” space.  (The limen is the threshold of a doorway.)  It is a shift from the secular, profane, daily, public space to a sacred, spiritual, protected space that somehow escapes boundaries.  In that space one is psychologically equal to everyone else who is present and one may be able to change deeply felt beliefs.  It might be traditional ceremonial worship but maybe not.

I once was once asked to study the cultural gender assignments of worshipping people. (Post-Christian UU's, therefore Abramic.)  Our contemporary culture assigns men to the profane, mathematical, rule-operated, engineering sort of experience -- theological, hierarchical, empowering.  I called it the glass telephone booth where Superman assumes his powers.  The women are assigned the sacred, messy, emotional, enfolding approach that nurtures from the most basic physical level.  I called it the hot tub in which one almost returns to birth.

Partly this set of metaphors came from watching people attending a retreat.  At the end of a worship service (overgeneralized): the men leapt out to go do something; the women sat smiling and dreaming.  But also partly it came from reading about infant development and the accounts of saints.  The brains of children develop in response to what is happening to them.  Before they are born they move in their mother’s bodies, somersaulting in the womb and creating neurons that are aware of the mother’s body moving through the world -- the grid, the compass.  Their budding brains record the rhythm of heartbeat and the whale-like sounds of digestion.  Their first sensations are smell/taste, the most primordial senses necessary even for a one-celled animal trying to find food.  The cycle of darkness/light is built into the circuits as the baby grows.

What the saints described was paradoxes of the first distinctions, not yet separated, what an infant brain learns both before and after birth.  They said they felt they were falling, but supported in an embrace; there was utter darkness but blinding light; they were burning and freezing at once; they were flying and paralyzed.  These were feelings interpreted as the presence of the Holy which some named God.

People who "do religion" in a dogmatically believing way are “inside the theological (churchly) circle.”  Those who don’t define it -- just feel it -- might be “outside the theological circle” but they sense the primal matrix of spirituality.  The circle itself is defined by community, tilted to male culture:  hierarchical, definitional, historical.  In short, institutional.  Institutions are not spiritual.  Some will actively exclude spirituality and feeling in order to strengthen obedience, consistency, morality and order.  The Old Testament and the letters of Paul tend to be institutional.  The Gospels and Psalms are spiritual.

The politics of theology and institutions can be cruel.  Spirituality, feeling-based, empathetic, can be ineffective.  The prefrontal cortex is the part of the human brain that tries to sort it out.  Gender definitions are as paradoxical as the other basic distinctions.  The extremes interact, the two “long tails” of the gender bell-curves overlapping so that the strongest, tallest, fastest females will surpass the weakest, shortest, slowest males.  Our use of gender hormone ratios to separate male from female doesn’t really work.

Intergenders are far more common than we think because in modern culture people wear clothes which carry the gender clues instead of exposing their bodies.  And the qualities of individuals interact within them, responding to the environment whether it’s chemical or situational.  To some extent an ovum of any creature is always different from a cloud of sperm because it has the directions for the “house” of the body.  But once we get to mammals, gestating, birth, and nursing are not just achieved by the unfolding plan in the DNA of two people, but also are deeply affected by the embracing relationship of the immediate family -- the epigenetics -- and the world situation.  We are just now discovering what war, hardship, or happiness can provide in the continuing gestation we call life, even crossing the generational barrier so that what our grandfathers encoded in their epigenes guides the development of their grandchildren.

The feeling of not being who others say you must be can drive escape from the theological circle into a far more ambiguous spiritual world.  Depending on what the zygote learned, this can be a new birth.

Sunday, October 19, 2014


Cindy Murray

Cindy Murray is a Global Volunteer and a social activist photographer who has been visiting the Blackfeet Reservation over a sequence of summers.  She was looking for info about the rez and hit my online “book” called “Heartbreak Butte,” about the two years (’89-’91) I taught at the beginning of the high school in Heart Butte, a village in the foothills of the rez.  (   She sent me an email note and included a link to her online photo album.  She had no idea how it would hit me.  I don’t think she realized that had I been in and out of the rez since 1961.  

More than that, I was married to a white sculptor born there who portrayed the nineteenth century Blackfeet by using contemporary Blackfeet tribal members.  Bob Scriver’s father had come in 1903 and founded the Browning Mercantile as a federally authorized trader.  Some feel that the 19th century didn’t end until WWI.  Even when I came in 1961, the people who posed for Bob had been born in the 1870’s and ’80’s -- the Civil War years.  It was the Civil War cavalry veterans who finished the prairie clearances of tribes.  This is not the sort of thing that is always conveyed to Global Volunteers.

The "old" Browning cemetery

The photo that really smacked me was of Hoppy Big Beaver’s headstone, or -- more accurately -- head “board.”  Hoppy was one of “my” kids in my earliest teaching years.  He was a big jolly guy.  In terms of Hollywood casting, he was a little like a baby version of Gary Farmer.  I tell two stories about him.  One was about pulling into the parking lot at the county courthouse and hearing my name shouted:  “Hey, Miss Strachan!  Up here!  It’s Hoppy!  I’m in jail!”  Sure enough, he was looking down at me from up where the holding cells were, waving his arm out between the bars so I’d spot him.  I gave him a big arm swing and shout-out in response.  Since Bob was the city magistrate and justice of the peace in Browning, I knew most of the drunks.  A surprisingly likable bunch.  It's crazy that white people are so scared of them.

Maybe 1963 Indian Days

On another occasion Hoppy was locked up in Browning in the tribal jail, in those days a truly awful place, a small cement building at the bottom of the water tower.  When it got impossibly “grody”, the officers went looking for Ida Cut Finger, affectionally called “Ida Baby” in her street drunk role.  While she dried out in jail, she scrubbed, and she was very good at it.  It was agreed that while Hoppy was serving his time, he should still go to school, but he stunk of vomit and general dankness really bad.  The superintendent of the time, Phil Ward, arranged for him to come up early with a deputy and use the PE showers in the morning.  He was also supplied a set of sweats to be kept in a locker at school.  I don’t recall him being either upset or grateful.  He took life as it came at him.

From here on, I’m quoting a memory supplied by Verena Rattler, who knew Hoppy much better than I did.  For a while she wrote a column for the Glacier Reporter.

Every time I see an Elvis Presley movie or see him sing and gyrate around, I think of my cousin, Vernon "Hoppy" Big Beaver. He would have been around 60 years old now. My Aunt Sarah (Running Crane) LaMott was married to Eddie Big Beaver, and they adopted Hoppy when he was just a baby. He was named Hoppy because at that time Sarah and Eddie were in Washington, picking hops.

When I was really young I remember a lot of people who couldn't find jobs around here, so they would go to Washington to pick apples or hops. Hoppy was a Red Horn. Jackson Red Horn is one of his brothers. If memory serves me right his mom was from the Stewart family of the Crow Indian Reservation.

Anyway, Hoppy was an only child to my Aunt Sarah, and she thought the world of him and therefore spoiled him a bit. Sarah lived in my Grandma Kipp's house at Blackfoot with Hoppy and her husband, Joe Evans. Hoppy's friends (Alfred "Small Fry" Guardipee, Galen Potts and Alvin Monroe, to name a few) frequently stayed with Hoppy at Blackfoot. They were close as brothers to him and were raised together. I and my brothers and sisters used to also go and stay at Sarah's, too.

Hoppy really idolized Elvis Presley. He dressed like him in tight fitting jeans, loose fitting shirt tucked in, with the collar up, and black, sharp-toed boots. He would gyrate around like Elvis and would sing like him. Sarah only had a wood stove, and Hoppy found a really big, long nail and he would heat it up in the stove and have me and Lucille curl his hair on top with it, and he would fix a hank of hair in the front to imitate Elvis. Ho, we really had to be careful not to burn him or our fingers. Then he would put the Brylcreem on so his hair was nice and shiny.

We were raised really close to Hoppy. He was close as a brother to us. Anyway, at a very young age Hoppy started getting in trouble with the law. He ended up in reform school in Englewood, Colorado. He would get out of jail here or there and end right back in there. I guess he was kind of a rebel in those days. Sarah and my mom would be so stressed out all the time, trying to get him out of trouble. My dad would always talk to him, trying to get him to change his ways, but Hoppy was stuck in his ways too much.

At one time Blackfoot, MT. was the end of the Great Northern while the tracks were built through Marias Pass.

He and his friends used to always hitch rides on freight trains at Blackfoot to Washington. Hoppy learned to play the guitar, and he would write me letters all the time from wherever he was and he'd write on them "500 Miles Away from Home." That song always reminds me of him.

Anyway, he got in trouble again and ended up in jail in Monroe, Wash. Sarah passed away around 1970 or so, and the authorities wouldn't let Hoppy come home for his mom's funeral. This really had a big impact on Hoppy because he loved his mom so much. When he got out of jail he came home for a while and stayed at our house in Blackfoot. He later went back to Washington.

I think it was around 1972 or so, and my brothers were riding their horses from Boarding School to town and they were going to let them go home to Blackfoot, down by the old dump road. Our horses really knew their way home. It was blizzarding, and I was waiting below Kicking Woman's in my old LTD and Harold Butterfly pulled up beside me. He asked me what I was doing, and I told him I was waiting for my brothers and I was going to haul their saddles and bring them home.

All of a sudden we just heard a really loud noise like someone was shooting near us. We couldn't see anyone around, though. Then my brothers showed up and unsaddled their horses and put their saddles in my trunk, released their horses and got in. I told them I heard a gunshot.

Verena Rattler

I lived at Last Star homes at the time, and my brothers and sisters used to stay with me in my new three-bedroom house when they weren't in boarding school. Mom and Dad still lived in their old house, waiting for a mutual home to be built.

I drove them up to Mom and Dad's. Dad came out and told us to get down to the jail right away because Hoppy got shot in Washington and he died. At that time, hardly anyone had telephones. Emergency calls were made to the jail and the police would deliver messages. I must have heard the gunshot when Hoppy got killed. Oh, that was so sad. My mom was crying really hard and trying to get in contact with authorities in Washington to bring Hoppy home. He married a girl from up there and had a baby girl, Verna Jo.

The police told mom that Hoppy was killed over a pool game. Hoppy died at a young age, too young. He must have been only about 24 or so. I remember Hoppy as a person who liked to have fun, have friends around him and he could really imitate Elvis. Oh, and did I say he had a lot of girlfriends, too?

His buddies, Small Fry and Galen, were really close to us, too. Small Fry went to the SIPI art school at Santa Fe and also went to Vietnam. He later had a family, raised his children and later died from cancer from that Agent Orange they used in the Vietnam War.

Saturday, October 18, 2014


Misty Upham

The death of Misty Upham is a terrible tragedy, but it can be a crucial occasion to question why so many Native Americans, very often female, die under mysterious circumstances.  Most cases are never resolved and some are never even found.  There are huge grinding dynamics of racism, sexism, international attitudes, literature, and media forces that are hard on almost all women, but particularly women of color from indigenous families.

An old “flamer” from out of the past almost immediately claimed that Misty was not “really” Indian, but a British subject who snuck in through the Canadian border.  This way of relating to indigenous people -- claiming they are not the pure and fantastical figures so many imagine -- is just a way of continuing the justification to wipe them out.  It is smallpox of the mind and entirely too infectious because people always think there is some secret fact they can claim to know.  And if it somehow indicts the victim, that gets us off the hook.
with Benicio del Toro

The Upham family is a deep and valued part of the Blackfeet tribe, which was split when the border with Canada was decided upon, as though it were a ranch that had a superhighway built through the middle of it.  “Doc” Upham played in Bob Scriver’s dance band after WWII.  Hiram Upham is the long-time pastor of a Pentecostal church, the Browning Evangelistic Center.  You can see him on YouTube.   I’ve written about Galen Upham on this blog.  His grave is in the same cemetery as Hoppy Big Beaver at the west edge of Browning, but I’m not sure it has a marker.  His sister told me it’s close to the left of the entrance.  This family is highly spiritual with a general outlook of helping and valuing others.  

Blackfeet families are often split between Montana and the Seattle area because of economics, esp. the industries during WWII, the government effort to relocate Indians to cities, and the use of Indians to harvest crops like apples or to string hops -- seasonal ag labor.  Economic conditions that enforce unemployment push stigmatized people to do hard field labor.  This is another aspect of the grinder.

with Meryl Streep

The glamour industry (international-level corporate movies) and social action (indie and nonprofit movies) have a more subtle economic impact.  The queen-sized tribal woman in a “red carpet” gown has had an impact strong enough that these days the Homecoming Queens of the rez all dress in fancy ball gowns full of dazzle, usually strapless though it often snows during the Homecoming events.  (They are generally rented.) Yet the roles in the actual films are usually country people living in hardship, often historically.  

Role models on the rez will sometimes dress in the 19th century way of early reservation: bandannas, wide leather belts, mother hubbard shifts, high top shoes -- NOT historical beaded buckskin, which can be worth thousands of dollars.  Then the real power women, the ones who moved up through the baby boom, dress middle-class white: permed hair, nice suits, high heels.  This could be seen as offering choice or as making confusion.  The ones who’ve been to college, maybe earned graduate degrees, wear jeans and shirts, not usually cowboy-tailored.  Indian men who’ve been to Harvard wear khakis and blue chambray shirts.

How can a person be effectively “other-directed” if there are so many others, all intent on “othering” you even more by pushing you into roles they want fulfilled?  Most difficult of all are the ones of family, wanting money and prestige and home nursing.  To claim belonging, which can turn into ownership.

One problem with being an actor is always being moved, so where is home?  Even Marilyn Monroe lived in a place that was mostly just a bed and a lot of carpet.  If a person is “on location,” the housing might be almost anything.  The other problem is that one is not in charge of one’s own work.  In the first place, roles that fit one’s gifts are not always there.  Who writes scripts for a young Indian woman who is not Pocahontas?  Not Indians.  So there will be a burst of offers, then silence -- maybe for years regardless of the prizes and praise.  What do you do during that silence?

Even if one is employed, the director is the one who decides what you do.  (Except for the agent on the phone, urging strategy.)  In film one must “become” the character, who is usually a person in crisis because that’s what makes drama.  And always the co-players (among others) are saying,  “Here, take this pill.  It will help you.”  Even if you’re careful not to drink, the pills can get you.  Once your metabolism and deep brain have been contradicted and confused, you lose your inner gyroscope.  The Indian way in this event is to go apart, to find solitude.  If anyone could help, it would be a shaman, but these days they’re all busy getting big fees from white people who want magic. 

Indian/indigenous/aboriginal actors who do a lot of stage work, maybe in a repertory group like the ones in Canada, are much helped by that context, but even Graham Greene can suffer, even in the midst of success.  There need to be plays and movies that reflect, suggest, lay open the wounds in a way that doesn’t infect them.  The Uphams I know are all natural writers, performers.  They have the genes for it.

We can never really know what happened to Misty that night and therefore it’s really impossible to assign blame.  The Northwest forest is underlain with treacherous volcanic terrain, water-soaked soil, tangled vegetation.  It would be easy to fall over a precipice, thrashing and grabbing at ferns on the way.  More tourists die in Glacier Park every summer from falling off a cliff than offending a grizzly.  

Cops are no more monolithic than tribes.  One officer will go out of his way to help, the next will react with resentment or even anger.  Under-funded, over-scrutinized, exhausted officers are more likely to turn their attention away.  Of all the things they’re bad at in a structural formal sense, it is persons whose inner world has seized them who are the most problematic.  How do they have the time and energy to go bushwhacking after a young woman who has already left many times and who always comes back?

If you look at statistics, the number of indigenous women who turn up as bodies, often decomposed, is as shocking as ebola stats, but right here among us -- not far away in Africa.    Most of them were not reported as missing.  Some of them have no known families, though autopsy evidence shows that there must be children somewhere, if they’re not dead, too. Some women have been doing sexwork that turned into violence and the fact that they are “of color” is for some predators permission to kill.  This was NOT the case with Misty.  The line between suicide and murder is a thin one -- some call suicide “self-murder.”  Some are already walking dead.  This was NOT the case with Misty.

What is most distressing about Misty’s death is that her family, the community, the larger world of Hollywood celebrities, all knew her and loved her, but it was no protection at all.  It was no explanation of her last few hours.  There is no one to blame and punish -- or maybe it’s everyone, which is no better.  There should be a play, maybe a Rashomon play, that explores those moments at the lip of the ravine, at the edge of the performance space.