It was a pleasant bright September afternoon and she was having a good time in the small county library cruising through their archives when a boy plunked down across the table from her.
Monday, September 22, 2014
It was a pleasant bright September afternoon and she was having a good time in the small county library cruising through their archives when a boy plunked down across the table from her.
“Could you write a biography?” he demanded.
“Probably. Who did you have in mind?”
“Me.” His grin improved the impression made by his ragged clothes and gawky body. Backwards red baseball cap. He saw that she noticed the cap. “The librarian made me take it off, but she can’t see me back here behind all these bookcases.” Now she was noticing bruises, scrapes, a certain rime of dirt, but he ignored that. The whole thing.
“And what name?”
“You should meet my sister Turd.”
She didn’t believe he had any such sister and he knew that she wouldn’t. “Last name?”
“You don’t need to know. This will be impressionistic more than historical. There’s really no such thing as truth and accurate facts anyway.”
Her eyebrows were up. “Very sophisticated opinion.”
He twisted to the side and put his feet up on the chair next to him, creating two sharp peaks of scabby bare knees sticking out of his old jeans.
She smiled. “I thought school had started already.” He looked about fifteen or maybe fourteen, teetering on the threshold, so that one moment one saw a grown and rather sad man, but only for a flicker of a second. It might have been the mottled sunlight coming through the tree just outside the window. He might turn out to be quite handsome.
“Oh, I transcended school a long time ago.” He was either ditching or suspended. He didn’t seem hardened enough to have been entirely barred. He used the fancy word easily.
“What would be the point of this biography about a guy named Zit?”
Old-fashioned yellow canvas pull-shades flapped a bit at the open windows. The whole building was pretty much as it had been when erected decades ago, a solid -- even unyielding -- monument to the value of a certain view of learning that depended on a way of life just as solid, anchored in small town values with God-loving trust.
“Did you know that in the Great Depression dust bowl fathers took their families down in the basement and shot everyone, then himself? Because there was nothing to eat, no way to leave, no way to contact other people. In the end of despair is death.” He must have been reading all this somewhere. There had been a case of it in the newspaper a day or so earlier, except that this recent version was a family sunk in drugs, violence, and unwanted babies. The father was a grandfather. “My father did that. He killed everybody but me and then shot himself in the head.”
She shifted in her chair, put her hands flat on the table. She was a historian. She knew anything was possible. “Why didn’t your father shoot you?”
“He thought I was already dead. He beat me so much I had learned how to stay absolutely still. Most times it made him stop. So when he started shooting, I dropped and held still. Anyway, he mostly wanted to shoot my mom and little sisters. He hated women.”
“When was this?”
“You don’t need to know. This is not a biography about facts. I already told you.”
Her head swam. She gave it a shake and picked up her pen. By now she was so intrigued and half-shocked (the half that believed what he said) that she had accepted her part in the script he proposed. “Let me take notes. Just go ahead and tell me what this book is about.”
Turning back so he was facing straight front, he put his elbows on the table and his cheekbones on the heels of his hands. “There was this fuckin’ boy . . .” He stopped. “Are you offended by cussing?” She shook her head. “I didn’t think you would be. It helps me if I talk tough.”
The story was not memorable. It wandered along, full of impressionistic detail more from media stock advertising and journalism than from anything recognizable as small town life, though there was never any claim that it WAS about small town life. Nor was there much about the unfortunate family in their respective pools of blood.
Nevertheless, she wrote it all down -- clichés, repetitious loops, flares of hyperbole, and tedious lists of aides a la memoire. The theme seemed to be survival in the face of the world’s determination to crush him. There was no time nor energy after that super-struggle to simply live.
Then the boy started to run down, to leave long pauses, wear out and stumble. She began to be concerned and wondered whether she ought to alert someone, even call an ambulance. “Zit, did you take anything before you came in here?”
“Naw, don’t worry. I get this way on warm afternoons. I’ll go find a place to take a nap.” He lifted off his cap, stuffed it in his back pocket and straightened up to pass the guardian librarian, then turned back to her. “Thanks for listening. I think you got enough for the biography.”
“Wait, Zit, I’ll come with you. I could buy you a hamburger and Coke.”
“Don’t want ‘em. I’m gone now.” And he was.
She sat wondering what had happened, but she was feeling a little strange herself. There was no question of doing any more work on this day, so she gathered her papers into her briefcase. Stopping at the librarian’s counter, she waited for the woman’s attention to come to her and then asked, “Who was that boy who left just a few minutes ago?”
“Oh, Zit? Pay no attention to him. We’re all used to his tall tales so I expect he was pleased to find someone from out of town who hadn’t heard them before. I hope he wasn’t bothering you. I should have chased him out.”
“Who does he live with, since his family is dead?”
“He’s got a perfectly good family. He’s the one who’s uncontrollable. Around here we’ve just sort of given up. He disrupts every classroom, disappears for days at a time. Some think his parents beat him too much, but it’s hard to blame them.”
“What about his sisters?”
“He has no sisters. There’s just the one boy and I expect they think that’s plenty enough.”
In the next week she never saw Zit again, though she drove slowly up and down the small town streets, not quite admitting to herself that she was looking for him. What would she do if she found him? She didn’t really know anything, certainly not enough to go ask questions of his parents. Intruding could get her in a lot of trouble with violent people -- she DID believe the part about beatings because evidence had been right across the table from her. Once in a while she thought she saw a red baseball cap disappear around a corner, but not really. She was uncomfortable from the feeling that she was stalking a boy who had reasons of his own for being hard to find.
Even after she had gotten back home to the city and back into that headspace where she did her more conventional work, she couldn’t stop thinking about Zit. Then the newspaper ran a story about young male prostitutes. The photo was either Zit or a close relative. She couldn’t tell for sure without that red cap. But he was telling the reporter about his family and how his father had shot his little sisters and he alone had escaped to tell the story. The reporter, a woman, was avid to hear more. Seduced.
Sunday, September 21, 2014
Greg Mortenson, they say, is considering re-entering the controversial field of book-writing for the purpose of fund-raising, which -- naturally -- will cause an equal and opposite move from Jon Krakauer who always knows better than anyone else. Somehow in our culture we have let “truth” become a kind of ownership. Mortenson has the “truth” of having been there and having founded and funded the Central Asia Institute. Krakauer has the truth of a fact-checker. Female writers used to get their start checking facts for Time magazine.
The Great Falls Tribune, which is convinced that interacting with their readers is good for circulation (and drums up content they don’t have to pay for), runs a little quiz every day asking people’s opinions about some news subject. Often the people split right in half. Other times they are totally predictable. Once in a while they are surprising. That’s the nature of the beast.
WHY are people voting the way they are? We’re told that Greg Mortenson, the putative author of “Three Cups of Tea” has been asked by the Central Asia Institute to return to a more active role with them, now that they’ve been reorganized, Mortenson has been audited and paid back a million dollars, and -- most crucially -- their previous $20 million level of giving has subsided to a tenth of that. In the meantime Mortenson has had heart surgery but otherwise remained quietly in Bozeman, where a lot of mountain climbing people live.
So the vote was 7 people saying he should have a second chance, 27 saying no, and 14 people saying it all depends. In the comments people frame their responses in terms of a choice between the credibility of Mortenson and that of Krakauer, the moral scourge of the “Outside” magazine crowd. In a way, this is a choice between a Puritan and a Universalist, a rigid purist and an ambling nice guy. It’s religious. Religions of the Abramic origin all love books, so that’s where these two meet, one insisting on the literal truth and the other trying not to spoil a good story.
Most people don’t know sic ‘em about books. I’m talking about college-educated nice people who read books all the time. People who are trying to live moral lives and who base much of their morality on books. They think the Bible is a book in the modern sense, but it’s not. It’s a compendium of writing as found and edited by political patriarchs in about 350 AD. It’s as though someone back then collected blogs into a manuscript. If you get hold of a “Rainbow Bible”, you’ll see that some of it has been edited and added-to quite a bit. (Each suspected author in a different color.)
What you read on this blog is NOT edited and has one author. It is REVISED, sometimes three or four times over the course of day. No other person looks at it and says, “This antecedent does not agree. This statement has no basis in fact. You use too many commas.” Some people like that feedback, depend upon it, and crave it as a form of attention -- but not me. The experience I’ve had with editing has not been good. Editors live second-hand lives.
“Three Cups of Tea” was not even WRITTEN by Greg Mortenson, who was a mountain climber and adventurer -- not a wordsmith. He supplied information that was composed into words and sentences by a second writer hired by the editor Lee Kravitz with orders to make it exciting. In the middle of the scandal that second writer committed suicide. Why doesn’t Krakauer explore THAT?? There’s the mischief. It’s a two-part source of trouble. Kravitz himself wrote a book of penitence over mistakes he made but does not include this. ("My Unfinished Business.")
First, the co-writer was David Oliver Relin, who did at least manage to get his name on the cover and title page, though why I don’t know, since no one pays attention to it. He had a hard time pinning Mortenson down to specifics. There was no journal, diary, or other guiding document. We don’t know how much Relin deduced or guessed or invented because he committed suicide. Not many relentless critics trigger suicides.
Second, publishers are there to make money and push hard to do that. Whatever it takes. Lies, sex, exaggerations, sensation -- that’s what they think sells books and therefore that’s what they urge on authors. Were they wrong? Clearly they gave the public what they wanted, faux reality full of emotion. Then they went invisible. Along comes Krakauer and recapitulates the whole thing, adding his inquisitor’s twist, and publishers cash in again. A burning at the stake, media-monitored and fanned. Krakauer did not investigate the publisher.
Now the next religious element: the morality of doing good. Everyone knows that if people are rich, they have an ulterior motive if only to get their name on a building. So do-gooders hide behind organizations, which can offset such blood-suckers as publishers and even tax men. We loved Mother Theresa in her so-plain sari, until we found out she had a secret hoard of money worth millions that she did not spend on the suffering, nor on herself either -- simply hoarding. Jesus would have rebuked her. (The proverb of the Talents and all that.) Krakauer has no do-gooder organization behind him -- just publishers and their checks. Plus righteousness. And a public that loves scandal.
Another element is more submerged. It’s charisma. By all accounts Mortenson is a friendly, likeable, big-dog guy -- happy-go-lucky enough to make careless record-keeping quite believable. Krakauer becomes less and less the handsome mountaineer and more of a lean-and-hungry reformer. Which would you trust more? How do you like your clergy? Scolding or embracing?
Of course, larger events have changed the context. We don’t feel the same way about little girls in Afghanistan that we used to -- I mean, not with the urgent intensity we all had for a while. It may be that if Mortenson goes back to the Central Asia Institute -- whatever that means, since they’re all sort of socially related in a relatively small town and he’s still on salary -- the moment will have been lost anyway.
“Books” are in a context more changed than that of charity. What was once published by gentlemen on good paper, beautifully designed and bound, worthy of careful thought and line editing for perfect grammar and spelling, is now an ebook read by youngish women who work long days and need a cheap outlet, even if it describes a lot of sex -- which she is not getting. She’s probably a high school grad, but not much more than that. Her fav kind of book is, frankly, a movie video, maybe adapted from a book. Even bound books are infested by typos and the content is little more than extended magazine articles. Cheap gaudy books pushed around and piled up, waiting to be read by people who have forgotten they still exist in that dark corner. No one edits them or fact-checks.
When I first returned to Montana to be part of the then-trendy category of Montana writers, I thought I would write about the environment. One of the first articles I wrote was informed by having ridden in the Moiese Bison Range roundup, getting to know the beasts up close and personal while helping to sort them for culling so as not to overgraze the range. But the female editor of the enviro mag I sent it to wanted me to be against hunting buffalo near Yellowstone Park. She did not understand “carrying capacity.” She wanted me to say that shooting a buffalo was like shooting a Buick -- no sport in it, because they are big which she interpreted as unmoving. (They can turn on a dime and run like a griz.) She told me to change my article -- I did not. So she changed it herself and printed it her way. People who want to go into editing are into control. People who write have a certain investment in being out-of-control.
What she thought was right was as much political as it was moral. She belonged to a certain kind of environmental organization. Her morality was obedience to the party line. Along with having a few bon mots for cocktail parties in elegant mountain homes occupied a few weeks out of the year. Liberal morality -- a status marker. Krakauer's readership.
Krakauer in lecture mode.
Krakauer likes to write about people who are out of control so he can point out their mistakes. Mortenson is a little out-of-control. I see that as a plus. I think he should self-publish or maybe blog. The hell with making money. Consider the lilies.
Giant Himalayan Lily
Saturday, September 20, 2014
1991- now: The Future
In Great Falls, Montana, the airport is on top of a bluff and is used by both civilians and military. A woman with long braids under a billed cap with the logo of Blackfeet Fish and Wildlife called to her daughter, who had the dog named Imitah on a leash crossing the snowy airline terminal lawn. Just then an F-15 jet went shrieking overhead, so loud that the woman had to laugh at the futility of calling.
She shrugged and turned to the man next to her on the sidewalk. He also wore a billed cap, but with an expensive black leather bomber jacket, jeans and a long black ponytail. She couldn’t make out the logo on his cap. He had luggage by his feet.
“When does the airport limo come?” he asked.
“There isn’t any.”
He looked stricken. “Well, then, taxis?”
“You could rent a car inside.”
He looked sheepish. “No driver’s license. In the city I never need to drive.”
“That’s my rig.” She pointed with her chin to a GMC Jimmie with the Fish and Wildlife logo on it. “Where you going? ”
“Browning, Montana, the Blackfeet Reservation.”
She sized him up, considering. “Lost Blackfeet,” she thought. “A city Indian. Poor guy.”
Aloud she said, “Me, too. Want a ride?”
He didn’t hesitate. With a big grin he said, “Definitely!”
Margaret put her daughter and the dog into the back seat and the hitchhiker into the front. “What are those square wooden boxes way in the back?” he asked.
“Well, that’s why I’m down here. The boxes contain the bones of ancestors and I’m taking them home.”
“That’s it. They’ve been stuck in the drawers of museums for long enough.” She had not seen the insides of the boxes, but in her mind she didn't see detached bones and skulls. Rather she saw ancient, curled up people, more like mummies. The faces wouldn't come clear for her. Instead she thought of their hands, gnarled and bronze, wearing fine copper wire rings, blue beads on thongs for bracelets.
“Where you from?” she asked the young man, judging that she was not quite enough older to be his mother.
“L.A. I’m Blackfeet -- at least partly -- so I’m sort of coming home, too, but I’ve never been here. Do we have far to go?”
“Depends on the weather. Anything can happen this time of year. It’s a little late in the day -- early in the season.” He didn’t notice that she’d answered in time rather than space. The Jimmie swung onto I-15 and started north through low hills.
The daughter hung over the back of the seat. “What’s your name?” she asked.
“It’s sort of embarrassing -- Lance. I know, it’s corny.”
“I don’t think it’s corny. I’m Tug.”
“That’s sort of unusual.”
“Actually,” said Margaret, “She’s Margaret Two, but her dad always called her Tug.”
Tug said, “My dad was my Man o’War so he said I was his Tug o’War!”
Lori Piestewa, Hopi - KIA
She saw the question cross Lance’s face -- “Where’s her father?” -- but he didn’t say it. She answered anyway. “Died in combat in Iraq II. That’s where we met -- both of us in Desert Storm. He was Blackfeet, too. We knew each other here on the rez, but it wasn’t like being two Blackfeet far from home. Though, you know, the Middle East was kind of like the way Montana was a century or two ago.”
Tug said, “My mom has a master’s degree.”
“Biology,” said Margaret. “GI Bill.” She looked sideways again. “And you?”
He was uncomfortable, pushing his gear around. “Kinda hard to explain. I’m a lighting technician for shows. Dance troupes. Rock concerts.”
They traveled parallel to the Rocky Mountains some miles to the west. The sun slipped behind clouds pushing over the mountains. Sunset bleached to silver and side-lit the contrails left by jets across the darkening sky. Lance thought, “I must remember this.”
“I’m driving back on the freeway to get us home a little faster, otherwise I’d go up highway 89 the whole way. It’s almost built on the Old North Trail, you know. In places you can still see travois ruts from the old days. Not from the road, but if you know where to look.” The dog was scrambling around in the back seat and began to bark.
Tug yelled, “Stop, Mom! Stop! It’s Timmie Old Pipe!”
Away from the city the dark was gathering quickly, but they could make out a slow tall figure in a long black coat and a muskrat hat so big and shapeless it looked like the actual animal on his head. Maybe two of them. He was walking, carrying a staff. It was illegal to walk on I-15. “Omigosh! Illegal and everything else!” Margaret pulled over and waited for the ancient slow figure to catch up. He saw them but didn’t move any faster.
“What’s happening,” asked Lance.
“Oh, he hitch-hikes everywhere even though he’s practically a hundred years old. They made ‘em tough in his day. He knows he’ll always get a ride but... maybe some day he won’t.” She checked the mountains again. “This storm could catch us.”
Timmie got into the back with the girl and the dog, nodding to all of them. “Eekso kahpi,” he said, signing “very good” with the blade of his hand sweeping horizontally out from his heart. Margaret nudged the heat up. He smelled of wool, woodsmoke, sweetgrass, tobacco, and ranker things. They passed a rest stop but when Margaret checked the backseat in her rearview mirror, all three riders were asleep, leaning against each other. Imitah -- stretched across the laps of the girl and old man -- opened one eye, sighed, stretched and went back to sleep. Then a super-elevator grain-loading station.
“The railroad never gives up,” explained Margaret. “Now they want the farmers to truck their wheat for miles to make it more convenient for trains to load at these big elevators. The little elevators will shrivel up and so will their towns. Some day the farmers will go.”
“Sounds like Indians.”
“We’re all Indians now.”
“Then who are the white people?”
“International corporations. Beyond nations, beyond governments. Not real people.”
Lance thought, “Whoa. A political zealot. Better leave that alone.” Aloud, he asked, “What are these places with high fences and floodlights?”
“Missile silo emplacements. Ever hear of Minutemen missiles? Nuclear warheads. Once I passed by at 3AM when they were loading a new missile. Tall, white, slim, gleaming in the floodlights. Very beautiful. Wipe out civilization as we know it. THEN we’d all be Indians!”
It was dark enough now to see the lights of small towns just off the highway. “What’s the deal with the strobe light over each town?”
“Cell phone relay towers. We gotta talk to each other.”
Margaret turned off to cross an overpass, now heading west. She was pleased to hear that the four boxes in the back were braced so they didn’t shift. She’d stuffed moving pads between them. Snow was beginning to spit on the windshield as they drove towards the Rockies. “We’re on the Valier cut-across now. Normally we’d stop in Valier for coffee, but I think we’d better keep going.”
The rearview mirror showed Timmie, Tug and Imitah still sleeping. “What made you want to come back?”
Panther Cafe in Valier
The rearview mirror showed Timmie, Tug and Imitah still sleeping. “What made you want to come back?”
“My mom died. She was Blackfeet. She wanted me to do it.”
“What about your dad?”
“I never knew him. I don’t know where he is.”
“What was his name?”
Laughing, Lance had to admit another embarrassment. “Hernandez.”
She wasn’t surprised. “Not Blackfeet then.”
“He was -- half. His own dad was some kind of Mexican Indian. His mom, my paternal grandmother, was almost full-blood Blackfeet. Went to the city on relocation. Her name was Eats Alone. I never knew her.”
“Heck, that’s a whole band name! What was your mother’s maiden name?” Then she joked to cover what felt like rudeness. “This is not a password confirmation quiz!”
“Child. Her name was longer but that’s the part she used.”
She laughed, clearly pleased. “It is, if you know the whole thing. Was it Surprising Child, maybe? Was she a lawyer?”
“Yeah. But towards the end she did more consulting than law. Why?”
“My cousin is Jay-Jay Saint John. She acted as his lawyer once, got him out of a scrape.”
“I don’t know anything about it. She never had much time to talk.”
“How did she die?”
“Diabetes. She had pretty good medical care, but she never ate right and forgot her shots. She was really driven to try to change the world. Traveled all the time, even overseas. An infection got out of hand.”
“You’ll find, Lance Hernandez, that you have friends and relatives on this rez.”
They were past the village of Valier, past the big Hutterite colony, and now turning to the right so they were going north again. Just past the Birch Creek bridge they passed two tall horseback figures in warbonnets welded together from the parts of wrecked cars.. “What was THAT?”
“The Guardians. An artist made four sets, one for each entrance to the rez. Using our natural resources -- junked cars. Smart, huh?”
“They’re spooky.” He turned his head to keep an eye on them while they passed.
“Power figures. Now we’re on the Reservation.” Margaret didn’t hear the muttering and jostling in the boxes, but she did realize that Timmie Old Pipe had begun to sing Indian under his breath. His eyes were closed. Imitah whined and muttered. Tug was smiling, her eyes moving as she dreamt, maybe about the Nitzitahpi, the old-timers.
The snow was thick now, accumulating on the road. Margaret was really concentrating. “Watch for livestock, Lance. This is open range.” They crossed a second bridge. “That’s Badger Creek.”
The snow was too thick to see scenery. The headlights made a wall of hypnotizing swirling white dots. By the third creek, Two Medicine, they were engulfed in a serious blizzard, especially slippery and heavy because it was relatively warm, right at the point of freezing. Visibility was near zero. Slush grabbed at the wheels. “You can start praying now,” said Margaret.
The Jimmie fishtailed going up the hill out of Two Med valley and barely had enough traction to make it to the top. Then they were on flats for a while. “The Y is always the worst.”
“What’s the Y.”
“Where the east-west Highway 2 joins north-south Highway 89 -- or just before that actually -- on Spring Hill -- there’s a cut that snows shut. They’ve tried to flatten it out with bulldozers, but it still happens sometimes. It’s where all the repeaters and relays and microwave dishes are -- a big communication crossroads. Should be right along about… Uh-oh.”
Margaret saw the massive snowbank, decided in a split-second to hit it as hard as she could in hopes of breaking through, and the jolt woke up her passengers. Even the boxes shifted a bit and if she hadn’t been preoccupied with the state of the vehicle, she might have heard murmuring. Old Pipe heard it. He kept singing.
“Are we stuck this time, Mom?” asked Tug.
“Sure seems like it.”
Snow piled up on the windows and when Margaret pushed her door open a bit, she could see they were embedded over the hood.
“Should I get out and shovel?” asked Lance.
“Naw. Just get hypothermia. They’ll come dig us out when it’s light.” She dug around under the seat and pulled out a thermos of hot coffee and a couple of hard candies she passed back to Tug. The old man shook his head at both coffee and candy. “Sorry I don’t carry booze. Some do, but I don’t hold with it.” Snow whispered against the dark rig. The old man in the back said something in Blackfeet.
"What did he say," asked Lance.
"Dunno. Didn’t catch it." They were both slumped down in their seats, unmoving, the dash lights barely lighting their faces. Even in the greenish light, Lance definitely looked Indian.
After a while he said, "Tell me something about what you do."
"I work with the bear management team."
"What does that mean?"
"This is one of the last places on the planet where grizzlies can be. We study them. Bears are sacred to us, so we want to know them and help them."
"Do you dart them with guns? Put radio collars on them?"
"Yup." She didn't like thinking about that part. She hated thinking about the powerful animals gone limp and drooling, their eyes staring and unblinking so that one of her jobs was squeezing ointment into them to protect the corneas. But she realized that she had sounded curt, so she tried to think of something better to tell him. It really was important work.
"Once I held a little small cub while we worked on his mother. I put him inside my jacket and he didn't fight me. They usually fight, you know, even when they're so tiny. But this one just curled up against me, right over my heart. That might have been the secret, my heart beating. Sounded like a bear's heart, maybe."
"Braveheart," he said without thinking.
"Yeah. I saw the movie. But I wouldn't like my supoostsies torn out! White people are so darn drastic."
"Guts. Supoostsies are guts. The old folks used to like to eat 'em. Buff'lo supoostsies, anyway."
"Oh." He tried to think ofsomething intelligent to say. Then there was noise outside the Jimmie. "Hey, someone's coming! We're rescued!"
"I don't think so."
Huge shapes loomed up against the snow, more a change of density and temperature than of darkness. The vehicle rocked a bit as the shapes passed by, brushing against the metal skin of the Jimmie.
"What is it? What's happening?" Lance tried to keep the panic out of his voice.
"Buff'lo. We must've called 'em up. This is a strong medicine night."
One great shape stopped by Lance's window. Margaret groped for her flashlight and shone it. There in the window, like the eye of the Tyrannasourus Rex in Jurassic Park, was the eye of a bull buffalo. The round dark eye blinked, unperturbed, and then moved on out into the whirling snow. Margaret explained. “Buffalo walk into storms because the huge mass of insulating hair on them is in the front. Cows are driven from the rear until they are pinned against fences, where they get trapped and die. Buffalo walk through barbed wire. The ranches couldn't be fenced until the buffalo were gone.” Ranchers would be struggling to keep their calves alive in this storm, taking out tractor loads of hay and straw for bedding and bringing back newborns to warm in the kitchen.
"Am I dreaming? Is this science fiction? I thought bison were gone."
"Tribal herd. We were wondering where they went off to. Must have been down along the Two Medicine bluffs." She stowed the flashlight
"Could you put on the headlights? Maybe we could still see 'em." But they had gone on. All they could see was the huge snowdrift that had trapped them and the plowed places in it where the buffalo had pushed through. She shut off the heater to save gas.
The two sat quietly, hearing behind them the soft song of the old one and the shallow breath of the young one. Margaret groped around for a blanket in the back seat and pulled it over them. Both their minds turned to the ancient remains in the boxes.
He thought, "If this were a movie, I would cut in a montage of the People in their village. The smoke rising from the lodges, the women going about their work, the men smoking and boasting... all those people belonging together and knowing what to do. And then the camera would go to a young woman in buckskin, cradling a baby bear in her arms. Her face is soft..." He looked sideways at Margaret.
She was thinking about what it must have been like to grip a running horse with your knees and ride up alongside a buffalo, close enough to drive an arrow into its side. As a girl, she made her father angry by riding her pony up on cows. "Don't you know you're just runnin' the money offa them cows?" he would demand.
"We can't go back to the old days, can we?" said Lance.
"No." She meant both the old times and her childhood.
"How do we go forward?"
"I don't know yet. Just beginning to figure it out."
A voice came from the back seat. "Follow Star Boy," said the old man. The wind was dying down. The clouds had torn and begun to clear away. "Gonna be cold," said the old man. "Better run the heater."
Margaret turned the key to start the motor. In the sky was the Morning Star. "See, Lance. There's that Star Boy. He's the one who walks in the morning."
Lance looked and laughed a little. "The planet Venus. Follow love."
"Could do worse," remarked the old man.
The front seat people looked out at the stars gathering between the clouds, seeming to push them out of the way -- so many stars so close together there was hardly room for darkness.
“It’s ironic,” said Margaret. “The whites came swarming over the west and smashed our way of life because they thought they were so right, so progressive, so scientific, so enlightened -- in the end it turned out it was the Indians who had it right.”
“What do you mean?”
“Their science, the kind that has given us so much technical and amazing stuff, that was so based on experiments and experts, now says that the world is made the way the Indians always knew it was made -- not just for humans, but for all life, interwoven, cycling, and always changing. They were so sure we were savages and here we are, at the cutting edge of the future, using the genome and exploring geology while they’re still stuck on Creationism. Do you know that the human genome includes the genomes of every creature that has gone before? The genome of that dog back there is very close to being the same as our genome.” Lance looked dubious.
“We’re brave enough to challenge the United States Government to straighten out our trust funds, which they managed because they said we were too stupid to do it.
“Not only that, because we got so good at fire-fighting with our teams of hot-shots, now we’re called on to do things that the National Guard used to do. We recovered the debris from the space shuttle that disintegrated on reentry. I went along with the team to New Orleans to help those people. We’ve always known how to recover from disasters, how to accept loss and go on, to call our families back together, to rebuild, to fit ourselves to the new lives and yet not abandon the old. Now it is the Indians who take care of the whole country, who show them how.”
“I didn’t know.”
“You know what they said about the Blackfeet in New Orleans? They said they loved that we joked while we worked. And that we knew how to rough it without a lot of fancy stuff.”
Soft voices, almost too quiet to hear, came from the boxes of bones. An old woman said, “I knew them horses would never last.” An old man whispered, “That bird could talk.” Another, “His hair was bright.” More voices, braiding together. “So that’s where the buffalo went.” Old Pipe and the dog could hear the talk, but the others only felt it. They sensed all of time and space stretching out there, an unthinkable vastness that nevertheless included them all in dancing complexity.
Then Tug was saying, “Old Pipe has gone!” She was right. He wasn’t in the rig but there were no tracks leading away, no sign the door had been opened. None of them heard it open or felt a burst of cold air.
“We’d better go look for him before he freezes to death!” cried Lance.
Margaret thought a minute. “I’m not sure he was ever really here. I mean, he’s always HERE, but I’m not sure in the same way we’re here.”
“There are no tracks! Is he a ghost?”
“Probably the wind blew them away,” said Margaret matter-of-factly. “His son lives just over that way.”
When the lights of the big BIA plow began to work towards them through the drifts, the sky was barely beginning to pale. By the time they were dug out and past the Y, around the curve and crossing the railroad track overpass, the sky was steel blue, then straw, and finally amber shading into rose. The little town of Browning with its water towers stood on the snowy prairie before the Rocky Mountains as pure and new as they ever looked.
“The Sun comes up,” said Tug. “Natoosie.”
“Be green again by noon,” said Margaret.
And Lance breathed, “So this is home.” Imitah barked, meaning the same
The bones grinned, but they always do that. Wherever they are.
Friday, September 19, 2014
Why is the sexual molesting of a child such a third-rail issue -- third-rail meaning that it is so intense, carries so much energy, that it cannot be discussed and attracts ferocious violence to the point that some people suggest the unlimited reaction of would-be protectors is more a source of trauma to the victim than the original offense. At the same time it is fascinating. Confessionals of all sorts are published everywhere, all following pretty much the same accounts. Failure to recognize what was happening. Shame and secrecy. Confusion. Uncontrollable rage for revenge. Unproven theories. Gradual entry into a state of forgiveness -- “letting it all go.”
I don’t have any answers so I’m going to make a list of stuff that interferes with finding them. Why can’t we think clearly about relationships that involve age disparity? I’ve been quite open, even proud, of my own “teleiophilia,” sexual desire for older people and marriage to a man 26 years older than myself. It was a decade before the age dissonance made a difference. Until then it was rather like marrying someone from another country. In truth, my “turn-on” is guys in their fifties, when they are mature, skilled, and as powerful as they ever would be, but a little “tenderized” by life. Now I’m too old for them. They are the age my sons would be. That’s material for a novel, maybe.
But what has obsessed people of all sorts has been a very specific phenomenon -- a person, usually male -- with any of a variety of self-defined gender identities, ages, or social situations from VERY powerful to loser -- who cannot control his sexual desire exclusively for pre-adolescent, or early adolescent children. This desire drives such a person to act in socially transgressive ways somewhere between merely affectionate along the spectrum to violent and deadly. Snuff films, what a turn-on.
Though most of the published accounts emphasize how damaging this can be to the child -- which I do not question -- other victims seem to go along without much trouble, just seeing it as part of life or finding other ways to compensate for it. The code word is "resilience." It all varies by time, place, and person.
Around the actual incidents or string of events is a bubble of variations of all sorts. Consider President George Bush resting his unwanted hands on Chancelor Angela Merkel’s tense shoulders. A gesture of power that incorporates sexuality. Not pedophilia, since Merkel is no child, only a small woman, and it was a gesture in public, but it was transgressive. Consider JonBenet Ramsey, child beauty queen murdered in her own home. Was she targeted because she imitated an adult sexual woman? Consider Matthew Shepherd, a child-man who was not a pedophile, but gay. Did his attackers get a sexual thrill from killing him? Sure.
This list is a bit of a hodgepodge because I mean to come back to it after I’ve done more research and thought about the whole thing more, but it seems to me that a big part of the reason it’s hard to think about sexual desire for children is that it’s woven into everything, not at all a free-standing act that can be easily defined by statutes.
1. One of the main reasons pedophilia is such an intense issue is that it is confused with homosexuality, which has been criminalized for many years in some places -- with the endorsement specifically of the Roman Catholic church, where it has become associated with celibacy. The cases of priests preying on altar boys encouraged this. The setting, costumes and role-violation are so vivid that they overwhelm tales of clergy who merely seduce adults. (I can name both men and women “of the cloth” whom I know and who did this. I only know one who was caught and punished. They generally just move on. But anyway, that’s not pedophilia.)
2. Pedophilia is widespread: they say one in six men and one in four women ends up molested to some degree. These estimates are thought to be low. Probably in its mildest forms, sexual desire for children will always be present. At what point does it become a transgression? What will suppress or lessen it? When is it criminal? The law wrestles with this and usually stipulates ages, which might or might not work.
3. When is “gazing” a sexual act? In a continuum, looking at children is considered “kiddie porn,” even if the child is dressed and playing in public, then in posed photos, then nude, then engaged in interaction with others (maybe another child, maybe an adult), even as a cartoon depiction or dolls acting out. It is not the child, but the gaze of the consumer that makes it porn. The consumer may be aroused by being watched by a child, particularly if sexually exposed, or even depictions of the child staring at something not normally seen. Forcing a child to be gazed at can be transgressive.
4. Research used improperly has led to a “vampire myth”, that anyone who has been sexually abused will become a sexual abuser or that all sexual abuser were abused themselves. This is only true in a small percentage of cases. Nor is it true that non-sexual criminal acts in childhood will continue into adulthood. We just like to stigmatize young people by predicting and labeling, with the result that it can become self-fulfilling prophesy. This makes us feel as though we’re in control of something far too complex to understand, much less control.
5. Pedophilia (pedopredation) can be mixed with violence that is non-sexual, and sexual transgression that is non-violent. The judgmental rage against a pedophile has a sexual element, a shot of testosterone/adrenaline.
6. The role of the victim is always questioned (esp from inside the victim), and victims can be stigmatized, as are females in general, by the idea that they somehow tempted the perp or found the violation a turn-on.
7. The larger culture is ambivalent: access to children is a valuable privilege, a powerful source of advantage, useful as blackmail. It can be portrayed as rare and "special" when in fact it is everywhere and not at all confined to upper classes. Surely a man who beats his own children and defends that as necessary discipline -- getting a sexual high out of it that might even cause him to sexually violate the child -- is a kind of pedophile.
8. Gender bimorphism means that the response to children is divided. Boys are encouraged to see age gaps positively, esp. if the violator is female. (Cougars come off nicer than dirty old men.) Girls remain property so the crime is against the father-owner of the girl. In some cultures pregnancy and virginity become issues, but not for the child -- for the father’s loss of value in ownership.) In the case of boys, they are an extension of the father and a guarantee of family succession, so wrong use of the son is the same as doing it to his father.
9. Secrecy has many dimensions. Some people don’t even let themselves know, both victims and perps. Divisions between kinds of populations (black/white, Indian/white) exist in circumstances when secrecy is the only protection against a seizing and punishing authority, including in the prison population. Ambivalence about secrecy undone -- is it better to have no secrets or should some things never be revealed?
10. We don't confidently know how to address healing. Should it be talked out? Are there special skills for doing such a thing? Must it be direct and dramatic? Confrontive or consoling? Does it require professional intervention?
11. Offenses are often within families. Pre-existing dynamics can become tornadoes. Legal considerations like divorce and child-custody are affected.
12. Aftermath of war in which rape as well as the deaths of children have been a major component. Some see the sudden flare of concern about pedophilia after WWII as shaped by the idea of the monstrous invading other, intent on destruction. Today’s chronic wars mean chronic and unpredictable rape, child abuse, trauma of all kinds including loss of a home, constant hunger, broken sleep.
13. "Stranger danger" is the continuing insistence that the perpetrator is unknown, though research indicates the perp is usually familiar, and often trusted, maybe imprudently like boyfriend babysitters. “Blended” families mean there are strangers within the circle.
14. Difficulty of child testimony. How does one access what a kid knows when they may not have understood what happened, may try to please the interrogator with answers they think are wanted, can’t quite distinguish between movies and reality, are just plain scared?
15. Mixture with religion, satanism, moral panic. The misunderstood and unknown have always been associated with danger and therefore evil, which raises superstition about what causes it, what to do, and inner searching about blame -- “What did I do to cause this?” Secrecy means suffering alone with fantasies or displacing them onto imagined causes. "God is watching you." "The Devil will get you."
16. Mixture with drugs and cyberspace. Drugs are already demonized. The Internet seems mysterious and uncontrollable and -- in fact -- is packed with sex and porn. Advertising fulminates with the same. It works. Screenwriters are paralyzed without it.
17. Some research is suggesting that “hard-core” sexual desire for children is inborn and associated with other genetically determined aspects: left-handedness, short height, dyslexia, and other anomalies. This suggests a glitch in brain wiring, but does NOT prove it. The idea is dangerous, but it cries out to be investigated objectively.
18. If it is true that sexual desire for pre-adolescent children (adolescents are cultural icons for desirability) is hard-wired, and that some people wired that way struggle to manage that desire (the "virtuous pedophile" movement is now becoming more public), then how do we help them? If pedophilia is a brain “dysfunction” caused by gestational distortions, inheritable deficits in the carrying mother, or is a product of the environment like alcohol or addiction during gestation or afterwards, or possibly from distortion of the man’s sperm as he ages, what are we going to do about it?
19. Like other differences in genetics, DNA issues can be attached to specific populations, esp. the dark ones, so that all the other stigmas (poverty, lack of education, poor nutrition, disease) are joined by yet another unjustified burden. Sterilization is being mentioned. An old dragon stirs.
20. Frequency: there are one-time offenders, like the man who initiated intercourse with a seven year old, realized that she was physically too small, saw the impossibility of the situation, saw himself, and never did such a thing again. Statistics suggest that most violators abuse more than a hundred children, but statistics never record those who were not caught. It is suggested that statistics are distorted because people with deficits are easier to catch. Powerful pedophiles go on for years before being caught, if then. Check the newspaper.
21. The majority of known offenders are old guys with low self-esteem, a history of transgression (cheating on wives, diverting funds, alcoholism), and fear of non-performance criticism. This suggests that at least some of the time it’s not a DNA mutation but just common ordinary stupidity and maladjustment. It is worth being assaulted in prison?
22. Self identity is who the person thinks they are, versus being defined by society according to the age of the victim. What does it mean to see oneself as sexually desiring little children. Can it be romanticized? Did Nabokov capture it? But Lolita was adolescent, in transition.
Dominique Swain and Jeremy Irons -- maybe too pretty, the two of them.