“What, do you imagine that I would take so much trouble and so much pleasure in writing, do you think that I would keep so persistently to my task, if I were not preparing - with a rather shaky hand - a labyrinth into which I can venture, in which I can move my discourse, opening up underground passages, forcing it to go far from itself, finding overhangs that reduce and deform its itinerary, in which I can lose myself and appear at last to eyes that I will never have to meet again.
I am no doubt not the only one who writes in order to have no face. Do not ask who I am and do not ask me to remain the same: leave it to our bureaucrats and our police to see that our papers are in order. At least spare us their morality when we write.” –Michel Foucault

Sep 1, 2015

Medical Science

               This was written in response to a friend's medical crisis. I like it enough that I decided to share it with everyone. In 1987, I was told that I had pituitary cancer after taking an eye-exam. Further investigation revealed that I had a rare birth defect, unidentified until then. MDs always try to pretend that their fine art and dubious science has reached such a state of perfection that they know almost everything and are seldom wrong. The trouble is that MDs have been doing this since the time of Dr. John Dee, court physician to Queen Elizabeth I. Dee is remembered today as a ceremonial magician and I think there might be just a little hocus-pocus left in medical science even now.
               Have you read "A Clockwork Orange" by Anthony Burgess? Burgess was told in 1960 that he was incurably ill and had, at most, two years to live. This caused him to sink into a clinical depression and begin drinking heavily so he did the logical thing; he moved to Moscow, Russia. Moscow was a very cheap place to live at that time. Burgess continued to drink heavily. That was about all there was to do in Moscow. There were no other distractions so he got a lot of writing done, five novels in one year to be exact. Burgess had gone to Moscow to finish as many novels as he could before dying so that the royalties would be enough to leave his family financially secure. One of these was "A Clockwork Orange". Beating the most optimistic prognosis of not one but many MDs by thirty-one years, Burgess died, a rich man, in 1993. Interestingly enough, he loathed the Kubrick film that helped make him rich intensely. Stephen King also loathed Kubrick's film of "The Shining" so intensely that, in 1997, a second version appeared based on a screenplay written by King. The two versions are very different. 
And Clarke hated Kubrick's 2001 because he wanted it to be about space aliens, and Kubrick made an intensely personal, metaphorical film that isn't actually about space at all. Clarke even walked out of the premiere before the movie was over.  The two weren't talking for years. This is reflected in a Time magazine cover on a table in the sequel, 2010. The text says something about USA v. Russia, but the pictures are of Clarke and Kubrick.

Aug 29, 2015

Bachelor Farmer

 He was Wesley Thompson's uncle. Wesley (who stood 6' 10") was a good friend in high school so I heard the story when it happened. The uncle's name was Caleb and he was one of those Norwegian bachelor farmers Garrison Keller talks about all the time except that Caleb was a redneck bachelor farmer. He lived alone about a half mile from his next-door neighbor and had a reputation even among the other farmers in the area for having a set of social skills significantly less well developed than what one would except to find in, for example, a barn owl. He was a creature of habit, so much so that you would probably call it OCD. He always wore a pair of one galosh over-all. Some say he only had one pair and ,therefore, never needed  to waste time going laundry. I cannot confirm this. It has been pointed out that he raised hogs and was none too careful about hygienic conditions in their one large pen. He was very good about pumping plenty of water out in and keeping the hogs well feed and was apparently considered a good and considerate master by hogs who thrived under his care and had no complaint. But Caleb never saw the need to pump anything back out. Some say that the result was living proof that hogs will happily wallow in anything that is kept wet and cool, which is what Caleb always assumed, perhaps because their standard of hygiene so closely matched his own that Caleb saw no reason to believe that his hogs were any more fastidious than he was.
               There was an odor that was hard enough to ignore that his next-door neighbors, a family who had worked the same land since the civil war, talked seriously about the possibility of relocation. But, honestly, even they, being closest to the source, could not say for certain what exactly made a shift in the wind that put them dead center down-wind from the Thompson place so memorable. A gas station a little further down the road did close down but they were corporate-owned and had only been there a year or two. Folks assumed that the decision to buy land and build there was made on a day when the Thompson place was upwind of a strong breeze. A farmer about a mile down the road, who traveled around the country working construction when he was younger, always claimed that this was obvious and cited it as proof that the "big bosses" never listen to a damn thing the people doing the actual work involved in building anything try to tell them.
               Anyway''''. Caleb always began his day by smoking a Swisher Sweet cigar while he sat in his out-house waiting for his morning call of nature to be answered. Caleb never saw the need to waste money on in-door plumbing or to pump shit, human or hog, out of a place where it was not bothering anyone. An odd thing about Methane gas is that it is heaver than air. If you really did want to make the closest thing to a lead balloon that you could manage, you would fill it with Methane. If you put shit in a pit and leave it there long enough, it eventually turns to Methane and stays put right where the original shit was dumped.
               Caleb, being a creature of habit, had begun his day with exactly the same ritual every morning for the last thirty years, without ever having the slightest problem that would have alerted him to any danger involved in continuing to do as he had done all his adult life. He would light his Swisher Sweet, step in the privy (French for "private place", explaining the term "privy council"), drop his one galosh overalls and smoke contentedly while he waited patiently for the welcome relief that had always quickly come before, just as it did once more on this occasion. Caleb would then toss the un-smoked portion of his Swisher Sweet into the hole he uncovered in rising, pull up his one galosh overalls and give the hogs their breakfast. How could Caleb have known that today was the day, thirty years in the making, when an ever larger and thicker earth-bound cloud of Methane gas had finally achieved critical mass, making the introduction of his still-lighted Swisher Sweet most unfortunate.              
               Caleb went out in a blaze of glory that broke a window or two next door and was buried in a closed casket for painfully obvious reasons. The hogs survived their master by only a day before being declared unfit for human consumption and sent to join Caleb in whatever version of heaven would seem heaven to them all given their unique habits and deeply treasured pleasures. I heard of all this and had to say something to Wesley. This was the only time in my life when I have had to offer condolences while carefully avoiding even the hint of a smirk. Wesley responded by inviting me to go ahead and laugh since no one, not even Caleb's immediate family, could help but notice how appropriate to the character of the man and his manner of life his passing had been. He died as he had lived and, besides, had not suffered at the end for any longer than it takes several sticks of dynamite to remove a troublesome stump from a field.

Aug 14, 2015


Jung believed that intuition was a sense, a way of gathering information about reality just as important as sight. Intuition might also be called insight and defined as grasping the  significance of what you see based on a web of feelings and associations that makes that significance personal. This web acts as a code which gets us from what we see (signifier) to what this experience means (signified). One has to be in touch with one's feelings and lack any significant degree of denial in relationship to previous life experience to trust intuition as a guide to behavior. I often respond to situations out of what I know without being able to explain how I know or even what exactly I know with any clarity. This works out well for me more times than not. I often make decisions that are intuitively "right" for me without being able to articulate a motive that would justify those decisions as being "right" in any other sense. I can, however, often explain the motives behind those decisions in hind-sight from where making those decisions took me. I almost never know where I am going or why until I get there. People in denial also only know where they are and how they got there after the fact and keep returning to that place over and over again.

Jul 25, 2015

Scars just make your soul more interesting

I will never be a grown-up. Sometimes I fake it well and sometimes not so well. I’ve always liked the CCR song “Someday Never Comes.” There are no grown-ups. There is never a “someday” in your life when you suddenly say “I understand” and the world starts making sense. The world only starts making sense when you start ignoring all the things that hurt you so deeply that even the scars mark you as a member of the tribe of walking wounded who survived that particular awful something. Scars just make your soul more interesting. But, being a grown-up is acting as if the scars were not there in situations where acting as if they were would only make things harder. We have to hide the scars often in order to get our needs meet in the big world of pretend adults outside. Intimacy is dropping the mask and telling where it hurts. At some point, it is necessary to stop comparing resumes and start playing show and tell with the scars any “we” will have to deal with together, when the doors are closed and no one is pretending to be a grow-up. We eternal children call this “playing for keeps.”

Jun 12, 2015

The Shaman

The energy is very real which, in the process of working itself out, created religion as a trace. On the other hand, the process that creates every religion turns the free-play of signifiers that was in the beginning into a game with rules and boundaries. One is not allowed to edit and revise those rules or redraw those borders once the game is in progress; seeing any gap between the map and the territory strips the emperor naked, un-tunes the sky and makes it harder for the simply devout to properly digest their food, whether we are talking about material bread or spiritual sustenance.

A shaman is a visionary walking between worlds, gesturing madly in an attempt to make us see the absence of everything missing from our side of the divide. We live inside a map which is one of the worlds the shaman walks between. We call this map the real and see the other side as somehow surreal, as a dream sometimes collective and sometimes private. We think of inside information about everything we have made real by mapping as being hidden like ciphered messages or Easter eggs in these dreams. Insider trading is what most people have in mind if they pay rapt attention to some mad woman, suspected of hiding real secrets worth knowing inside a word salad of oblique allusion that never says but only suggests, making indirect reference to things always at least one link away on a chain of signifiers leading to something that is real because it has value inside the real. They are listening to a senile pirate muttering about a half-remembered map to real treasure more lost than hidden in ruined chains of tangled reference.

The shaman is no prophet. She does not claim exclusive rights to anything. She leaves no true map of things to ensnare later travelers. Religion provided the structural model for every later type of human collaborative involving enough people to make strong personal ties between everyone involved impossible. The shaman is always the mad woman hidden in the attic of every trace of spent energy, that is to say, of every organization. She remembers where all the wealth hoarded and even occasionally  nurtured within the structure came from. She knows the actual un-retouched or photoshopped behind the creation myth. She is an embarrassment, a resource and a threat. She is the secret weapon and the Achilles heel. The treasure was not made tinkering in a garage. It was born illegitimate in a flash of passion gift-wrapping an insight into the nature of the game. Sometimes the game is poker and the stakes of the game are the right to play law-giver but only the way a child plays enraptured at being king, wishing his magic to be real for now, for as long as free play continues, but then gone for good and quickly forgotten. It is not good to leave the world littered with the dry bones of dead play. Better to write the rules of a game yet to be by playing, just playing beyond and outside any game in the place where games wait with endless patience to be born and play dies in the very first moment the rules are spoken.

Apr 10, 2015

Nestle CEO: Water Is Not A Human Right, Should Be Privatized

 Peter Brabeck-Letmathe speaks for himself
The response
Protest in California shuts down Nestle
The same thing is happening in Florida. 12 different companies hold permits giving them the right to drain as much water from our aquifers as they want. The price of this permit is all but nothing. This is not happening because anyone thinks it is good for the citizens of Florida. This is happening because the corrupt demagogues who keep conning their way back into office year after year in Florida with ads about God and how their opponent is a pedophile, closet Muslim terrorist or philatelist are getting fat on graft (the unscrupulous use of a politician's authority for personal gain). I am not exaggerating. The late Claude Pepper, running as an incumbent, lost his US senate seat representing Florida to an opponent, George Smathers, who accused Pepper of being a philatelist (someone who collects stamps) and a flaming heterosexual who practiced celibacy before his marriage to a woman who was already well known at that time as a thespian (someone who acts in plays).
         As we speak, many of the winners in the last election have already transferred their winnings off-shore while laughing at the stupidity of the deluded little dupes who put them in office. If you voted for Rick Scott, I am talking about you and the people you voted for last election and the election before and will keep voting for again and again until you die of either thirst or the long-range effects of drinking tap-water that will light if you put a match to it.           
The CEO of Nestle, Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, thinks that phony people (corporations motivated exclusively by greed) and not real people (who live with water around or under them that they need to survive as much as the air around and above them) own all the water. In Florida, he is right thanks to that permit I mentioned earlier. Why does a phony Swiss citizen (Nestle) own the water under your feet? Because the people who get elected in Florida sold him (Nestle) a cheap permit that allows Nestle to make billions draining as much water as they can sell anywhere in the world from Florida's aquifers. This was a horrible deal for Florida and a very profitable deal for Nestle and, I am quite sure, for the fervent apostles of tickle-down economics that sold a permit worth billions for peanuts.
         Soon, Nestle will buy a license to hunt and fish. Ten years later, there will not be a fish swimming in fresh water or an edible beast left alive in the forests of Florida. Anything is possible in a state where politicians will sell the water right out from under their constituent's feet. Maybe Rick Scott and the whole sick crew will move to Switzerland after Florida becomes uninhabitable. That is probably where the money has gone already.

Jan 24, 2015

Why one autobiography is not enough

            Many years ago, when I was taking Survey of American Literature as an undergraduate, Dr. Howard Creed, our instructor, mentioned that Sherwood Anderson was quite arguably the most influential minor writer in the history of American literature. Anderson wrote Winesburg, Ohio, a novel that was the first book written by an American which could not have been written at all if the author had not read Freud and, for better or worse, been so powerfully influenced by Freud that it could be truthfully said that, without Freud, the author would never have written that particular book.
            Anderson's novel sold well and was much better than most novels that were selling well at the time. It was especially popular with and widely discussed among those younger readers who fancied themselves "literary" and day-dreamed about novels they might write themselves someday. Winesburg, Ohio is not remembered today as a great book or remembered at all very often. But, it was an influential book in its time. Specifically, Its influence made Freud more important to American writers by showing how psychoanalytic concepts could be used to develop complex characters and plots that unfolded to reveal those complexities. Anderson also wrote six different autobiographies. All were well written and seemed plausible as revelations of Anderson's character. But, each contradicted the other five in key ways that went far beyond just getting some of the details wrong. The six books each candidly revealed the values and needs of a different personality and explained how exactly that personality was shaped by a lifetime of experience, Sherwood Anderson's lifetime of experience.

            What does any of this have to do with how exactly my personality was shaped by a lifetime of experience, not Sherwood Anderson's but my own? This was the question being asked here and I'm fairly sure that you, gentle reader, wish ardently that I would cut the "literary" posturing and answer it. I can sympathize with Anderson and his several mutually exclusive autobiographies. I cannot help but be aware that my past as I remember and retell it is a revisionist history explaining how I came to be the person I think I am as I sit here trying to get something written that will accurately reflect this writer's sensibility and point of view. Episodes will be recounted that I think will do so and those which do not will not come to mind. The result will be a brief character sketch that will have coherency, closure and ring true as a real story about me, but only because of everything that was left out. There is no one true history that reveals the character of the person who lived it. Any number of life-stories can be told about any one person, all of them true but none of them capturing the whole truth all at once in one story.

            I was born in rural Alabama to a farmer and his wife. I was their first and only child. They divorced when I was four and the court awarded custody to my mom. This was pure sexism. Any woman who had not sacrificed an elder infant to Bal would have gotten custody. I remember standing by the fire with my dad in the mornings while I watched Captain Kangaroo and my dad complained about Mr. Green-jeans. Mr. Green-jeans was supposed to be a farmer but was nothing like my dad or any other farmer I or my dad had ever met. My dad thought it was wrong to lie to kids like that.

            Divorce was rare in this time and place. I was the only child from a "broken home" in my first few grades of school. Now, about the same percentage of children in that school come from 'broken homes" as you would find in any other grade school.  I can't recall any episode that would neatly sum up the difference this made at the time but I cannot believe it made no difference at all at a time when Stand by your man and D-i-v-o-r-c-e were two big hits, both by Tammy Wynette, that were played endlessly on the radio. I feel it must have made a difference so I tell you a story about Tammy Wynette to fill a hole in my story where a recalled episode should sit providing the perfect example illustrating the difference it made.

            I am the product of one of those segregation academies that sprung up like mushrooms after a summer rain the year after the Alabama schools finally desegregated. I was embarrassed to be there at the time but, looking back, I think I was probably better off there. Academic standards were about the same at both schools and not terribly high at either. My grandfather was on the academy governing board. His grandfather, James Monroe Roberts, was blinded fighting for the Confederacy at the battle of Atlanta. Another ancestor, Richard Roberts, fought in the revolutionary war. One fought to be an American and the other fought not to be. My great-grandfather, Carlos Roberts, was a school superintendent who believed in flying saucers. He was a break in the chain. My grandfather often mentioned to me that I reminded him of his father in so many ways that it was a bit spooky. The academy gave me more of what I needed to be another break in the chain than a desegregated public school could have. The academy did not reproduce the all-white public school that no longer existed. It produced a parody of that situation that magnified and exaggerated all of the more negative aspects of the culture that resisted desegregation so stubbornly, of my culture of origin. I felt more out of place there than I ever felt in the public schools either before or after desegregation. This made me look around and notice that no one I wanted to be in 20 years time was a part of that culture. This gap between where I came from and where I wanted to be was more obvious to me because I attended the academy.  
            Very early on, I found that reading books gave me a satisfying sense of knowing what was going on and why that I never got from participating in the way of life I had been born to. I used resources found in books to understand my self and my world much more than any of my peers. I learned early to walk between worlds and still do. One world is the world where my own life unfolds and the other is the world of books. Should I mention discovering the novel Steppenwolf  at age 14 as an important event in my life? Naturally, I wanted to be a writer when and if I ever managed to grow up. I also wanted to know the meaning of life and to understand why the rest of humanity did the things that humanity has been doing for thousands of years now. Once I figured all this out, I was going to get rich and famous by writing it all down in a book with a boy meets girl sub-plot and maybe a car chase or two thrown in just to make the movie rights more rewarding. This work is still in progress.

            In the meantime, I've earned degrees in philosophy, English, educational psychology, instructional technology and won the Betty Crocker Future Homemaker of America award. I am now working on an MA in Interdisciplinary Studies with ESL and plain old psychology as my two majors. I am doing the psychology major just to find out what had to be left out of my degree in educational psychology to make room for all those courses I took in research design, statistics, qualitative methods and testing theory that were not taught in the psychology program. Once I am done, I can die happy knowing that I did not cheat myself out of anything by graduating from an education school rather than a psychology department. I will, unfortunately, be too old to do much of anything with that vast body of knowledge but, then again, my quest for knowledge was always more about pure, damnable curiosity than about the desire to learn to actually do anything in particular. I've taught or tutored psychology, English, research methods and a few other subjects over the years. I am mostly a distance educator now but still occasionally teach or tutor on-ground. I am serious enough about animal rights to be vegan. I play several drums and a few different stringed instruments for fun. Kristoff, my cat, is curled up asleep on my desk as he usually is when I am trying to get some work done.
            I'm watching this text appear on a sixty inch screen. I am not legally blind but I am blind enough that I was able to write the screen off on my taxes as an adaptive required for work. I grade a lot of essays and do get headaches when I work with a smaller monitor. I also watch a lot of subtitled movies. I am not married and have no children. I live with three other adults in what will eventually become a naturally occurring retirement community for old hippies if we really have come to final rest here.
            From the beginning, I have been fascinated by words. Over the years, my emphasis has shifted from literature and creative writing to teaching English as a second language. Doing a degree in ESL so that I theoretically know what I am doing has been a wonderful excuse to learn more about linguistics and to think and write about language, how it is acquired, how it is used and how one can best facilitate the acquisition of a second language. I say "theoretically" know what I am doing because I, more and more, see language as a kind of magic we learn how to do as we grow up without ever learning how the magic actually works.