Author Archives: Shelah Horvitz

I Know a Place…

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On Why the Perfect is the Enemy of the Good

What I love about so much ’70s music was its optimism. Many of the songs by Sly and the Family Stone and the Staple Singers songs were full of life and optimism, but they were not the only ones. The whole era had a sense of possibility. In ’82 when John Lennon got shot (Sean said he thought Poppy Bush was in on it but who knows), everyone artistically went into hiding, Dylan hid in a bottle, and punk was about the disappointment of a generation who had been raised on this optimism, who came out into the working world when all the promises were broken, and all they could do is mourn, cut their hair off and wear black and pierce their body parts, make their outside match their starving and mutilated souls (I know, I was there). Why is the perfect the enemy of the good? Not that we lose sight of the perfect. But the perfect requires of us an intensity of hope that has to come without the expenditure of energy, an intensity of hope that has no doubt, that has no niggling hole in its foundation that says it’s unfounded. Did we lose hope when Poppy Bush arranged for the Iran Contra scandal to drag on until Reagan was elected and the Revolution became officially over? When did it happen, when was that wound in our collective soul inflicted that destroyed our belief in hope? We get a little back when we listen to ’70s rock, when we listen to Patti Smith who went from rebel to survivor. We are all survivors. That is why the perfect is the enemy of the good. Because we are, all of us, battle-scarred, and we don’t see that the fact that we’re still hanging on is what is perfect about us.


Think Same

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Dissidence starts insidiously.

I was probably eight years old. My parents had sent me to camp, where my entire day was mapped out for me. Tetherball. Swimming. Arts & Crafts. In the constant company of about 40 screaming kids, I couldn’t hear myself think. By the third day, I slipped away, into the woods, where it was quiet. I looked at the trees. The pine needles swallowed the sound of my footfall. I listened to the birds. I looked at lady’s slippers and jack-in-the-pulpits. I had a great time.

On my return I discovered that my disappearance had thrown the camp into pandemonium. When I got home, I was in big trouble. I had broken a cardinal rule that I didn’t even know existed: you don’t go off and do things by yourself. In time, I was slipping off and doing things by myself every day. In a family where my every move was watched, I became an expert at knowing my moment, when my jailer was distracted, and then off I would go. When people asked what I was like, my mother would snarl, “Shelah is very independent.

When you’re young, dissidence is simple and intuitive. You just don’t enjoy what the other people are doing. You try to join in and the fact that you don’t have the fun you’re expected to be having makes you miserable. You become aware: you’re not like the others. This awareness forces a choice — stay with the group and try to be like the others, or keep to yourself and be yourself.

At first, you might experiment and see what works for you. If you try to stay with the group — in other words, if you choose to hide in plain sight — you’ll be lonelier than you would be if you were alone because you will be reminded at every turn that you do not belong. What’s more, sooner or later you will be found out, at which time the group will turn on you. However, if you can master the trick of forgetting the differences, if you can master the trick of forgetting how you feel, if you can enjoy what others enjoy and think what others think, then the group will accept you. The group will back you. Membership has its advantages. You’ll know that everything you think and do will be safe. You won’t know who you are, but that might not bother you.

If you make no effort to be like the others, they may leave you alone. You will be lonely but not as lonely as if you had people around you. But nothing about you will ever be safe. Because you are alone, if you are ever pitted against someone in the group, the group will close ranks and instead of an even fight against a single person, you will find yourself fighting the unified group. Because your rejection of the group constitutes an existential threat to the group’s sureness of itself, you must be eliminated.

As you get older, you discover that you don’t enjoy the same things as others because you don’t share their value system. You don’t accept their premises. You can’t help yourself — you think differently. It’s not a choice. It’s who you are.

Orthodoxy is safe. You know your opinions will not be challenged. You know you’re right. Other people feel safe with you, because you hold the accepted notions dear. You will not challenge them. You belong. You’re one of us.

Whereas independent thought is inherently threatening. It is dissidence. By questioning accepted premises, independent thought jeopardizes everything that follows. Independent thought jeopardizes a worldview and therefore it jeopardizes the whole world. It jeopardizes our whole world. The more reasonable and seductive this dissident thought appears, the more threatening it is.

Every college application I filled out wanted to know examples of my leadership qualities. Yet when I finished college and got into the working world, I learned that what employers want is a good follower. Someone who will take orders and drink the Kool-Aid. Someone who will do the work they don’t have the time or the skills or the inclination to do, but someone who is essentially an extension of whomever is hiring them. Someone who will Think Same.

Back in 1997, Apple introduced the slogan, “Think Different”, and its associated commercial, which showed 17 of the people whose work defined 20th century western culture. The implication was that those who think differently make the world a better place. The crazy ones, the square pegs in the round holes, the ones who would not be pounded down, they are the ones who invent things, who fight for the downtrodden, who encourage the ones who don’t fit in.

When you watch the commercial, thinking differently sounds romantic. It sounds like the stakes aren’t that high, that it’s just about being a little quirky. And then you notice how many of these people were murdered. You might wonder, if you’re going to think different, just how different is too different?

The real question is, do your ideas fundamentally threaten the power structure? If not, if your ideas are only superficially different, you might even be extolled. For instance, Apple’s MacIntosh or iPhone were far more elegant devices than anything offered by competitors, but they did not threaten capitalism, or the practice of using cheap foreign labor, or the premise that for every ill there is a technological solution. Apple makes a better device which superficially is different, but fundamentally is not.

Why was Gandhi murdered? Why was Martin Luther King or John F. Kennedy or John Lennon? These figures all threatened white hegemony by fighting for people of color.

Why is it even a question whether black lives matter?

Why has there been a 40-year cycle since the 18th century where a few women would rise up and accrue followers, and then for the next 30 years the “war against women” cracks down with draconian force. Why are women writers, artists, comediennes, and political figures routinely threatened with murder?

Why, when we are seeing vast hoards of new poor, when most of our jobs have been automated away and the remainder have been outsourced to impoverished countries or to domestic prison labor, when industrial farming has created rural wastelands where there is no work and people waste themselves on drugs, why when our people are in crisis, is any call to amend the crisis decried as “socialist”?

Why, when most of the best-paying jobs are now technological in nature, are we defunding our educational system? Why are we not teaching critical thinking skills?

Why is it alright to ignore a 150-year old treaty and send privatized security forces to steal land from Native Americans in order to build a pipeline whose oil cannot compete for price against wind or solar, but which is bound to despoil the environment?

Why is “thinking different” forbidden when it means that some very wealthy people may enjoy less profits?

We like the idea of “thinking different”. We like the romance of it. But we are not a romantic people. Americans care about money, period. If thinking a little differently will make someone a lot of money, that’s great. As long as you do not think differently enough to challenge the status quo.

We in the US think we are all about rugged individuals. We think we are all about the self-made man who “thought different”. These narratives are fundamental to our identity. But they’re lies.

In America, we expect you to Think Same.


The Individual vs the Group

mv5bmza2mda5mzm5m15bml5banbnxkftztgwmdgyndeynje-_v1_sy1000_cr0014441000_al_Last night we were watching an episode of The Man in the High Castle, in which the Obergruppenführer explains to his son why an individual who thinks independently is doomed to failure. He explains why the group is all, why motivation from outward sources is the only valid motivation. It became obvious that an examination of the two worldviews, one predicated on the heroic individual and the other on the glorious group, was the whole motivation for the creation of this series. The writer wanted to follow each to its logical conclusion.

I have always thought of the sublimation of the individual to the group as a distinctly Eastern cultural norm, because we see it in various Asian cultures. The fact that it is articulated in this series by a Nazi, then, is striking, because the Nazis are the opposite of Eastern. What occurred to me last night, while I watched this, is that the focus on the group is not about East-West. It’s about tribalism.

Which brings us to the push-pull of the individual vs the tribe within America.

The American archetype is the cowboy, the rugged individual. Why is that? Within America, we have all sorts of enclaves, particularly on the coasts, where immigrants came not knowing the language, not knowing the culture, and they bonded together in little communities. So for instance, New England is replete with towns or neighborhoods that contain a predominance of one ethnic group or another, from the English Puritans to the Irish, the Italians, the Jews, the Poles, the Portuguese, the blacks, the Chinese, the Vietnamese, the Puerto Ricans, the Guatemalans. At first, the group takes care of itself. You need to go to a doctor, you go to someone in your group. You need a job, you look for someone in your group. Over the decades, these ethnic groups shift, so as one ethnic group assimilates, it literally splits up. The children or grandchildren leave the self-imposed ghetto to go live and work amongst the Others. Another ethnic group comes in, occupies the same cheap apartments, the same cheap houses, and the cycle begins again. And the children who leave to be amongst the Others, they’re on their own, but they still have their connections to the previous generation. They have to navigate the tension between the Tribe and the Self. They are a battleground.

You might ask, why do we have this archetype in America, why do the Europeans think Americans are cowboys? I would say it comes down to all the westerns on 1950s television, but you have to ask, why did the medium of the western become so popular? And why, as it persists in variations of the gunslinger in space, the gunslinger against zombies, the gunslinger against criminals, why is this cultural archetype so central to Americans?

It has to do with history — the US was populated by the riffraff of the rest of the world. The poor, the dispossessed, the hunted, those cut off from their communities. Some gathered in groups and some went into the wilderness to be alone.

But those ethnic groups who gathered together also spawn off their “cowboys”. It has to do with neoliberalism and the economic destruction of small businesses. The generation who has to leave home to make a living is without backup. Part of American identification with the lone individual has to do both with assimilation and with the economic breakdown of community.

I am reminded of Earl Butz’s mantra to the agricultural industry, “Get big or get out,” that dates from 1971. The push to corporatism has been going on for more than 40 years, not just in agriculture but across the economy. Corporatism killed mom-and-pop businesses, and in the process destroyed the economic viability of the ethnic enclave. It encouraged a different kind of tribalism, loyalty to the corporation. Some corporations have had a notion of a social contract, a duty to provide for the workers who helped grow the business. However, over time this social contract has been eroded by the profitability of raiding pension funds and replacing labor with cheaper foreign workers, or with software and robotics. So the individual, who may have thought he was part of a group, finds that he was on his own all along.

As we find ourselves corralled into cities and into isolation, new groups appear. The growth of religious fundamentalism has a lot to do with the lure of instant community. The growth of online groups and social media is a symptom of the loneliness of the heroic individual, out there fighting every day for survival and sanity, fighting without backup.

People are looking for backup. Even André the Giant has a posse.

You even see the breakdown of the group within families, because automation and global competition have eroded the purchasing power of the salary to such an extent that both parents must work. Some have time to prepare a meal but many do not. Some have time to eat together but many do not. The family becomes an aggregation of individuals; it is no longer a group.

Much has been written, and rightly so, about the tyranny of the group. Groups enforce groupthink, which is the price of solidarity. Some people are willing to pay that price. Some are not. People to whom individual thought comes naturally may find that it is simply not possible for them to conform to a group, that it requires too much acting, too much hiding. But people who fit into the group, for whom group membership is effortless, get to enjoy all manner of support that comes from having allies.

This is what the Obergruppenführer was referring to. Unity is strength.

To some people, freedom of thought is nothing desirable. If you think your own thoughts, if you make your own choices, you could choose wrong. As Laurie Anderson said, “Freedom is a scary thing. Most people don’t really want it.”

Just tell me what to think. Tell me what is acceptable to think. I’ll think whatever you want, just don’t make me go out there and fight on my own.

Right now the US is in the middle of a battle between the group and the individual. A pattern has emerged whereby individual liberties are being snuffed out state by state. It is the effort of the group to enforce thought conformity. It is, essentially, corporatism of the culture.

Get big or get out.

What’s a cowboy to do?

 


The Dark Highway

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Guidance comes when we least expect it.

You get in a rut. You get stuck. You can’t find your way out. It happens.

What are you waiting for? New information, without which, nothing can change.

I was driving on a dark highway on a moonless night, in a dark time of my life. I was on my way home from a job that literally made me wish I had never been born, after a long line of jobs that made me wish I had never been born, after years of unsuccessfully trying to find anything else that would give me a living wage.

I was 49 and alone, with no end in sight.

Everything I had ever worked for, everything I had ever fought for and sacrificed for, had come to nothing.

I used to say that resilience was my middle name. That I kept getting knocked down but I always bounced back. But you might notice that when you yourself get knocked down, a little air bleeds out. Over time, the ball of your resilience goes flat. And then you’re going on grit.

I was going on grit.

It’s March, the beginning of spring. I am driving up Rt. 95N in Massachusetts. I turn off to Rt. 125E, a dark road through a strip of woods the width of a front yard. Beyond these woods, suburban homes. Midcentury split levels. Travel a little farther, and the bleak standing dead trees mark a beaver pond, and on the other side of the beaver pond, a state forest.

The headlights of the car in front of me pick out the ghostly shapes of five whitetail deer — a doe in front, three fawns, a doe in back. They hurry across the highway towards another narrow strip of forest and another split-level subdivision.

The first doe makes it to the other side, then the fawns, and then the car, which hasn’t slowed a bit, plows into the head of the last doe and speeds on. As though nothing had happened. As though the deer had been imagined, vapors, as unreal as the shifting images on a TV.

The doe is flat on the asphalt in the middle of the highway. Her legs kick and she can’t get up. I stop my car so the headlights illuminate her, put on my flashers, and get out.

I’m a city girl. My knowledge of deer comes from photographs and Bambi. At the time I have this crazy idea I’ll just pick up the deer, put her in the back seat, and bring her to a vet.

I come up to the deer and kneel beside her. She stops kicking. Her head is laying in a pool of blood. She raises her head, looks me in the eye and I see that half her face has been smashed, mostly the jaw. She drops her head.

I try to pick her up. I had no idea how big a deer would be. She is the size of a small cow. She probably outweighs me by half my weight. I try to pick her up and can’t budge her at all. She tries to help me, raises her head, starts kicking, can’t move herself. Falls back exhausted. She lets me lay my hand on her flank. I see my ambitions have to be scaled down to giving her all I’m capable of giving her, love and comfort.

I’m crying by now. I’m thinking of all the houses nearby and how this used to be all forest. I’m thinking about what it’s like for a deer to live in the little stretch of woods along the highway because it’s the only woodlands that are left. I’m thinking about the extremis the deer must have been in to make the choice to cross the dangerous highway. They needed to get somewhere and this was the only way to go.

I dig my fingers into her fur and it is so dense I can’t reach skin. I think, this is how they survive the winter. I stroke her, thinking love heals, trying to channel to her atmospheric qi.

A car approaches and I stand up in front of my headlights and wave it away.

I return to the deer, who is lying in a pool of blood. I look at her limbs — no injuries. Only her skull is smashed. Her eyes catch mine in a mute appeal: Help us.

I promise back, also without words, I will see what I can do.

Another car approaches and stops. The woman inside beckons me over. She says, “I’ve called the cops to come out and shoot the deer.” I get really angry, because I think the deer still has a chance. I say, “Don’t you think we’ve done enough harm?” Meaning we humans. We in the suburbs, occupying their land. While we’re arguing, I see the deer haul herself to her feet, totter back to the woods where she had come from, and collapse.

The woman says to me, “I want you to stay here and show the cops where the deer is so they can shoot it.” I say no. I’m really angry. The woman has no intention of staying herself, though. She drives off. Because the deer is out of the highway and I am sure now she won’t be hit by another car, I also drive off.

The whole next week I can think of nothing but that deer. On the weekend, I return to the site where she collapsed in the woods. I’m hoping the coyotes didn’t get her. There’s no body. There are no bones. I comb the site. I see a trail of scat leading to the state park.

And I’m ebullient.

A couple of weeks later, I’m on a dating site. They have a question, what do you think about a lot? I tell this story. And then I get email out of the blue, from a man in Norway, Olav, who was moved by the story. I like him right off. I have this strict rule about no long distance relationships, but I figure, I like him, we can be pen pals.

Three days later he calls me from Norway. We talk for five hours. By the end of the week he asks me to dinner in New York City. We hit it off and he spends the next several months pretty much commuting between Norway and my apartment. I visit Norway twice. For work, he has an internet phone line that allows him to talk for indefinite periods of time. When we’re not together, we’re on the phone.

Surfing the internet together, from across the ocean. We’re separately and together looking at black steampunk gowns. I send him a URL. Isn’t it gorgeous? He says, “Get it.” I say, “But it’s a wedding gown.” He says, “Get it.” That’s how he proposed.

On our second trip back from Norway, he gets detained by Homeland Security. We have two weeks to marry or he gets deported. So we elope.

I paint a series of paintings about the animals on the fringe between wilderness and civilization, because I am still thinking about that deer. And then I have things to say that I can’t say with a painting because the ideas are too complicated, so I start a novel.

deerWhen you paint something, in order to get the anatomy and the expression right, you have to go into your subject. You have to become them. You paint a deer, you go in through the bones, coincidentally at the place the Indians call the “third eye”, and you inhabit their body, you stretch out into their limbs, take on their scents and their teeth and hooves. So much time I spent inhabiting deer and lynx and ravens, I had to write from the standpoint of something that was half animal, half human.

I wrote a novel about a sasquatch’s search for meaning. Its premise, with its Weekly World News tabloid edge, tickled my sense of the absurd but gave me a launching point. But as a city girl, I had a lot of research to do, if I were to set a story in the woods and make it come alive.

I had a character, Clare, who was going to leave the city and live off the land, and this character would meet a child sasquatch. So how would she live? Where would she live? Originally I decided on the Cascade range in Oregon.

I started studying rewilding. A biologist friend pointed me to the books of Bernd Heinrich, about living in a cabin in the mountains of Maine. I read about foraging. Hunting and trapping. Building cabins and underground shelters. Root cellars. Winter ecology. Passive solar heating. Wells. All manner of farming and season extension techniques. Over the next three years I read enough to give myself a Ph.D. on living off the land and I was just getting started.

We visited the Cascades and there had been a drought for seven years. I looked around and it was obvious, Clare could not survive here. There wasn’t enough food to forage. There wasn’t enough water with which to farm. Oregon would not do.

So then I started searching in concentric circles around Boston. If Clare were an engineer like me, then she would have savings like mine, so I know what she would be able to afford. How far would she have to go from Boston to be able to afford a piece of arable land on which to live, big enough to feed her, and inexpensive enough so she could pay cash and not have to deal with a mortgage? And then I found a place in Maine, perfect, nestled in the mountains, a modest but beautiful new house, situated perfectly for passive solar gain, on 15 acres of woodland, with 900 feet of brook frontage. For 1/3 the price of a 2-BR condo in Boston. Wow. Clare could afford this.

We could afford this.

And so we bought our homestead, in the town that coincidentally turned out to be the same where Bernd Heinrich lives. My husband has met him. I haven’t.

The neighbors welcomed us literally with open arms. I never felt a sense of community before. I had never had a real home before. Now I have both.

When I drove on that dark highway, I was in a trap with no end in sight. That deer showed me the way.

On our 15 acres, hunting is forbidden. We plant food for ourselves, of course, enclosed within deer fences. But we also plant for the deer. New England used to have an entire ecosystem around chestnut trees, but we lost almost all of them in the first decade of the 20th century due to a blight. Now blight resistant hybrids exist, and last year we planted 40 chestnut seedlings. We planted the native species of black raspberries. This year I’ll be planting kinnikinnick (bearberry). Little by little we will be filling the woods with wild foods. We are creating a sanctuary.

I am sure that the deer I met on the road has died. But I made a promise to her. From her I have a loving husband and a home and friends far better than I ever dreamed I would have. The deer has become my benefactor and my guide.

As the Chinese say, “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.”


The Gospel According to The Texas Board of Education

Baby Jesus Blesses the Dinosaurs

Baby Jesus Blesses the Dinosaurs (Conté, pastel, charcoal and watercolor on paper, 42″ x 42″, 2012)

CHAP. I

1 The problem with dinosaurs is that they all tasted like chicken.
2 So when you’re on top of the food chain, things can get pretty dull. Allosaurus for breakfast, tastes like chicken. Dimetrodon for lunch, tastes like chicken.
3 And God spake unto all his creatures, saying, “Humans taste like pork.”
4 In Persia, the Tyrannosaurus Rex Melchior heard the word of the Lord, and quoth, “What’s pork?” Lo, in India the great Tyrannosaurus Rex Caspar sayeth unto himself, “What’s pork?” And in Arabia, the great Tyrannosaurus Rex Balthazar sayeth unto himself, “I gotta get me some RIBS!”
5 And the three Rexes looked into the sky at night, and lo, a new star appeared. And the Lord spoke unto the Rexes and sayeth, “A Child has been born, and the Star will lead you to Him.”
6 And the Rexes each exclaimeth unto himself, “Baby back ribs!”
7 One by one, each followed the star to Jerusalem. They had a long road to travel and many times they got lost. It took them years. 8 And they left in their wake a trail of death and devastation. They ate every soul they encountered, yet still they could not be sated. “Chicken,” they spat with disgust. “Always it tastes like chicken.”

CHAP. II

1 Like most children, Jesus loved dinosaurs. Of the waters, he loved best the Plesiosaurus. Of the air, the Pterodactylus, and when he heard the mighty Pterodactylus screech in the heavens, always he would jump for joy and run to the window to admire this glorious winged creature of the Lord. 2 But of all the dinosaurs, Jesus loved best the Tyrannosaurus Rex, though he had never heard one. When his father Joseph roared like the Tyrannosaurus Rex, Jesus would giggle and roar back. Yet he had never seen the great T. Rex.
3 One day Jesus opened the door to their honest hovel and looked out unto the yard. “T. Rex! T. Rex!” he cried, and jumped up and down. His father stopped his sawing. His mother stopped her washing. She ran to the door and swept up Jesus in her arms. She quoth to her husband, “The Child is never wrong. We’re going to have guests.” And so she put up the beans to soak, mixed some sourdough to rise, and started her baklava.

CHAP. III

1 In the great city of Jerusalem, the dinosaurs met. “Lots of people here,” noticed Melchior, “I wonder if they’re crunchy. Let’s start with the very best human we can find.” So he went to the first man he encountered, and demanded, “Take me to your leader.” The man led him to the great and glorious royal palace, where Herod awaited them.
2 Melchior asked Herod, “Do you taste like pork?”
3 Herod replied, “You are what you eat. I am the king of the Jews, and Jews do not eat pork. Therefore I do not taste like pork.”
4 Melchior was crestfallen. Yet Caspar, the wisest of the dinosaurs, exclaimed to the others, “He is not a child. The Lord sent us to find a Child.”
5 Herod asked, “What Child is this?”
6 Caspar replied, “He who will be King of the Jews.”
7 Herod asked, “Is he a Tyrannosaurus Rex?”
8 Whereupon Balthazar replied, “Nay! For he is a Child born unto Woman and unto God.”
9 So Herod gathered to him all his priests and scribes of the people, and asked them where is this Child who will become King of the Jews. They told him the Child was in Bethlehem of Judea, for so it was foretold. 10 And Herod bethought himself, “I can save myself a lot of trouble if I just send the dinosaurs to meet this Child.”
11 So sayeth he unto the dinosaurs, “Go thou unto Bethlehem in Judea, for there lives the Child of which you speak, and He will be tender and good.”
12 The dinosaurs were gladdened and they went together to Bethlehem.

CHAP. IV

1 Mary was just taking the pita from the oven when the dinosaurs arrived. “We have been expecting you,” she cried. “Are you hungry? Come eat!”
2 The dinosaurs were confused, because they planned to eat, but not at a table. Mary was insistent. “Sit down! Sit down! It is a strong bench, for my husband hath made it, and it will support you in comfort! Eat at our board, and eat of our plenty, for you are kings, and we shall do you honor.”
3 So they sat. 4 And Jesus was overjoyed that the dinosaurs had come, because he had never met the king of the dinosaurs, and now had he three right in his house! So the Child exclaimed, “Bless the dinosaurs, and especially bless the T. Rexes, for they art splendid to mine eyes. And bless this food that we shall eat, and bless the Lord my Father who hath given it to us.”
5 And so the dinosaurs ate of the fat of the land, of hummus and falafel, the olive and the hot pepper, and then of the baklava, dripping with honey. 6 Each sayeth unto the other, “Well, it doesn’t taste like chicken.” Yet Caspar had his doubts. “I bet,” he whispered to Melchior, “we’ll be hungry a half hour after we eat.”
7 “Nay,” quoth Mary, who heard him, “for if thou eateth of the legume with the grain, thou maketh a complete protein, and thou shalt be nourished.” 8 But this was a little complicated for the dinosaurs to remember, and anyway they didn’t know how to cook. “And besides,” she continued, “Food is love, and now thou art filled with love.”
9 Jesus was jolly during the meal, and sang his song. He sang, “I love you, you love me, we’re happy family, with a great big hug and a kiss from me to you, won’t you say you love me too?”
10 The dinosaurs were abashed, for Jesus glowed in the darkness as he sat in the arms of his Mother, who glowed likewise. They glowed with the purity of their hearts and the kindness of their souls, and lo, the dinosaurs found they did love the Child, and they did love the Mother, and even Joseph the Father, and had not the room in their hearts nor in their stomachs to eat them.
11 And when it was time to leave, the Child spake unto the dinosaurs, saying, “Go forth unto the world, and kill not, nor eat of thy brethren, for thou art beloved unto Me, and thou must be pure.”
12 And so it came to pass that the dinosaurs, who heretofore had lived by eating their brethren, ceased their murder and mayhem. Yet because they did not know how to cook, nor how to read a cookbook, they had naught to eat.
13 And that is why we have no dinosaurs today. Yet those who died were pure of heart, and blessed in the eyes of the Lord.


Shamanism

Lynx

Lynx (2012, Pastel and watercolor on paper, 45″ x 43″)


Just because we happened to have lived through an apocalypse, it didn’t mean that Mrs. O’Donnell stopped being a teacher. She loved teaching.

“So, class,” she said to the five grubby children who sat in the cave before her, “Let’s talk about long ago when people lived in caves. Why did they live in caves?”

Bobby’s hand shot up. “Yes, Bobby?” The boy answered, “Because they’re cool!”

“Well yes,” Mrs. O’Donnell had to admit, “they are cool. But they lived there because, like us, they didn’t have any houses.”

Karen raised her hand. “Did they live through an apocalypse too?”

Mrs. O’Donnell chuckled. “No, honey. They didn’t live through an apocalypse. They lived through the Ice Age. They didn’t have the skills that we have, like how to use a computer or a thermostat. But they had different skills. Like they knew how to build a fire without matches.”

The kids pulled their knees up and hugged themselves. Everyone was cold.

“And,” Mrs. O’Donnell continued, “they knew what plants were edible and which weren’t…”

The kids remembered how hungry they were. They fantasized about chocolate bars.

“And,” Mrs. O’Donnell continued, “they knew how to hunt. And there were animals available to hunt.”

Bobby piped up, “We have animals. We have rats.”

Mrs. O’Donnell said, “Bobby, please don’t speak out of turn. Yes, we have rats. We also have squirrels and crows and cockroaches and lots of small animals. But the big animals, that were difficult to hunt, that were worthy adversaries, we’ve killed them all. They’re not around anymore.”

The children were silent. Mrs. O’Donnell took a piece of charcoal and started drawing on the cave wall. “Now in the old days,” she began, “when the men would go out to hunt, they would practice in the cave first. They would conjure the big animals because they were difficult to hunt. They were worthy adversaries. And they would bring them alive within the caves, in drawings, and plan how the hunt would go before they actually did the hunt.”

The children watched her draw a lynx. Quickly the cat’s head emerged from the stone, as if by magic. Part of the cat was still a drawing, but part of it was alive.

She said, “In order to conjure the animal, the shaman had to know it from the inside-out. He had to go into the animal in order to know what the animal was thinking, and how to hunt it. And once he came out, he would have to remember that he was human. So he would mark the wall with his hand, to remember a human drew this. She dipped her hand in paint and pressed it against the wall.

The children gasped as the lynx emerged from the wall and in one bite, swallowed her head. While it leisurely ate the rest of her, they ran screaming from the cave.


Always a Road

Bear (2012, Pastel and watercolor on paper, 63
Bear (2012, Pastel and watercolor on paper, 63″ x 42″)

A loud crack sounded in the clearing. She didn’t know what it was but it was definitely a man-sound.

She had spent the morning fishing at the stream, but there was almost no salmon. The water left a stink on her paws. No fish.

She tried to think, where might there be roots left to eat. And then above her head, she heard the sky machine again. She would not be able to think until it was gone. The noise got louder and louder, like a cicada. She waited for it to fade away. She waited and waited.

The crows called the news. “My food,” then the answer, “Found it. My food,” then another call, “I found it first.” The crows circled, waiting their chance.

In the clearing, she found her mother. The bear had driven her from home last year and she had not seen her since. Now she had no head. It had been cut off, and tracks from the land machine led to the horizon. Soon the coyotes would come.

This land had no food. To the west, the ocean. To the south, the land of machines and manstone. To the east, the land of the Big Mean Bear and then more machines and manstone. She went north.

Many trees, good land. A still pond with lily pads, trout passed silently in the brown depths. A school of minnows. By the bank, a great blue heron listened motionlessly, coiled to strike.

But always there were lines of man-stone, and the land machines ran across them fast. A land machine could kill you. She saw dead animals on the man-stone lines all the time. It was smelly by the manstone lines, and so loud, but these were the safe places. The people lived off the manstone lines, but not next to them. Next to them were the only places where there were lots of trees.

So she stayed by the manstone lines, where it stank, and the noise continued day and night. No matter how far she traveled, she always heard the machines.

She sniffed the air. A marsh with cattail tubers nearby. That was a good start. At the waterfall, she would try once again to fish. Maybe tomorrow she would be lucky.

In the sky, another machine buzzed by.