Inkwell: Authors and Artists
David Gans (tnf) Sun 13 Nov 11 18:15
Your book worked just fine for me. How big an impediment was the withdrawal of cooperation from the Ruess family?
Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Sun 13 Nov 11 19:53
Please say more about plagiarism in Angle of Repose.
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Mon 14 Nov 11 04:48
Wallace Stegner's been on my "to do" as a reader for many years. And now the bio is too. On the question of bipolar disorder, I reserved judgment until I finished the book, which I did last night, but I agree with your conclusions. I don't have any particular scientific expertise either, but there are plenty of clues in the journal quotes. Wild mood swings from exaltation to misery and back are clearly described in dozens of quotes from his journals. I think you deserve credit for not simply losing these indications in the clutter of high-flown early 20th century prose. One thing that amazed me was Everett's reading list, as it were. Judging by the books he asked his family to send during his travels, Ruess was an *astonishing* culture vulture, reading one classic after another - many of them the sort of books most PhD students would approach with a certain amount of trepidation. I'm tempted to pose the question as "Jeez, didn't the kid ever read a comic book?" but more seriously, was his sort of reading more common within a certain subset of early 20th century Americans?
those Andropovian bongs (rik) Mon 14 Nov 11 08:12
What Sharon asked. I just finished "Angle of Repose" the night before last. An awesome piece of work.
mother of my eyelid (frako) Mon 14 Nov 11 13:30
I'm still back in 1931, but I am really loving the practice of putting Everett's own words in italics right in the middle of your paragraphs. It's so much more direct than the wearisome and repetitive "he wrote," "he said," etc. And it adds a level of detail and writing style that is vivid. I'm fascinated by the strange entertainment provided by Yosemite staff back in 1930: bear feeds on garbage, firefalls. I had no idea there were such crowds in Yosemite during the Depression, but it makes sense since you didn't have to reserve a particular campsite back then and I'm guessing you could stay for a longer spell than you can now. I'd also forgotten how involved Everett's mother Stella was in the high Los Angeles culture of her day. I missed that she trained under the Japanese dancer Michio Ito. (I'm now watching a Japanese TV production about him on YouTube)
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Mon 14 Nov 11 17:45
Yeah, that technique (the italics) really worked for me too. It made me feel like I was getting inside Ruess's head, which in a way I guess I was. My mother worked in Yellowstone as a young girl during the 40s. They still did the feeding the bear thing there at the time. I assume with grizzlies, although she's still living, so I'll ask her next time we talk.
Philip Fradkin (philfrad1) Mon 14 Nov 11 17:52
I first want to go back to Gary's Greenberg's (#25) correction of what I posted. He is correct. My post is wrong. I should have read what is in the book, which is correct. In terms of the depth of the research, which David asked about, I also read Kraepelin, who I cite twice in the endnotes. Kraepelin united the extremes of emotional behavior, stating that the illness was "a single morbid process." Probably what I was thinking was what I stated in the book: there was no cure, other than institutionalizing someone, and think what that would have done to Everett had he lived, until the 1970s when lithium came on the market. This is what I wrote, and I don't think the Ruess family can object to it: "Since much less was known about the illness in the 1930s, Everett was never examined for the disorder, and as his life ended abruptly in 1934, there can be no certainty about whether he was in the early stages of the illness or what the progression would have been had he lived longer." P. 94 There is also an important footnote at the bottom of that page that is directed to mental health professionals. Through his letters and journals, Everett volunteered a history of what disturbed him without any knowledge of what that might be, as opposed to a mental health professional taking a history from a patient who has sought treatment for a specific illness and who might tilt his or her history in that direction. That kind of unprejudiced history I think would be invaluable for professionals interested in someone suffering from extreme emotional highs and lows. Lastly, the literature I read gave the mid-teens as the approximate age of onslaught for bipolar disorder. The symptoms start occurring in Everett around that time. David asks how big a factor was the withdrawal of the Ruess family from cooperation with me because of their objection to my dealing with the bipolar issue. Not great. First, they cooperated for a few months and helped me with details, such as how to pronounce Ruess (both ways). Almost all the information is available at the University of Utah and elsewhere. The family has a collection of photographs and art work that would have widened my selection for the pages devoted to illustrations. Where I could have really used them, and where they shot themselves in the foot, I believe, was to read a draft and comment on it for errors of fact and differences of interpretation. Although not a legal condition for any book I have written, that kind of input, in which I have the last say in what goes into the book, is invaluable for catching errors and rethinking what I have written. So far I am not aware of any errors in the text, but I wondering what some of the sharp readers of this discussion will find. I am going to pass on describing my take on the plagiarism issue in Stegner's "Angle of Repose" and refer you to my book, "Wallace Stegner and the American West." The explanation is complex, and best to stick to Ruess here. Mark comments on the sophistication of Everett's reading list, meaning what he asks his parents to send him and what he reads and thinks about. First of all, it is at such a high level that I had to frequently resort to Google searches for information on many of the titles. In this way, and others, I think Everett was unique among teenagers in his time. Judging from the undergraduates I have taught at UC Berkeley, Stanford, and Williams College, he was beyond unique in terms of the level of literature he read and digested of current college students. In terms of what he read, I would place him at the graduate level of a first class university. In other ways, he was just a kid. That is what is so wonderful about him. What I find gratifying about mother of my eyelid's reading of the book is the kick she is getting out of what is happening around Everett. She cites the entertainment provided by the firefall and the feeding of the bears at Yosemite. I never saw the bear show, but I can clearly recall seeing the firefall in the late 1940s at Yosemite. The time, or era, provides a setting and gives additional meaning to the life, I believe. I feel young, which I was, when I recall that show provided with the blessing of the Park Service, and I feel old when I think of how far the Park Service has progressed in what it deems valuable in the park since then. That is part of the arc of time I wrote about at the start of this discussion. Remember, Everett is at the beginning of that arc of time in a life.
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Mon 14 Nov 11 18:03
One thing I was kinda curious about - and I don't remember reading all that much in the book about this. What were Everett's attitudes towards the living Indians of the Southwest? There are lots of journal excerpts which talk about his love of the landscape, and you talk a lot about his fascination with Anasazi ruins, but I didn't get much of a sense of his attitude towards the Navajo and the Hopi. He seems to have gotten along famously with at least some of the Hopi - given that he was invited to participate in the Antelope Dance.
Philip Fradkin (philfrad1) Tue 15 Nov 11 14:54
Everett romanticized the Indians in the abstract as a youngster in Indiana, but when he encountered them in reality, other than their hardiness and songs, he found little to like about them. Arriving on the Navajo Reservation in 1931, his first impression was that they were poor and lived in "filthy conditions." After experiencing thefts of his equipment, he branded them "scrupulously dishonest." To gain possession of his dog, Curly, he wrestled with an Indian woman, breaking her strand of beads. "Even then I had to manhandle her and pinched her fingers before she would let go of Curly." Over a week in 1932, during his most extensive experience living with the Navajos while working in their fields, they played tricks on him. His response was: "I think less and less of these people." He never mastered the Navajo language, despite the fact that his parents thought he was fluent in it. In 1931 he quickly passed by the mesas where the Hopi settlements were located, finding nothing of merit during the intense summer heat. By 1934, when he returned to the mesas, he seems to have absorbed enough of the different cultures to be welcomed into their kivas to watch dances, an honor for an anglo. He also participated in Navajo ceremonies that year. My guess is that he had made progress on the tolerance curve for others. (Remember he was seventeen in 1931. Had you been that age and alone and relating your experiences in private correspondence to your family, how would you have responded?) I let Everett's separate encounters with Native Americans stand on their own, since I didn't think he ever expressed himself fully enough to encapsulate his view.
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Tue 15 Nov 11 17:37
Thank you - that's a wonderful answer.
David Gans (tnf) Wed 16 Nov 11 09:20
And that sort of leads me to another question about his state of mind. When I was a 17 I had lots of huge mood swings, experienced florid bursts of creativity and crushing depressions. How does one differentiate between normal developmental hysteresis and clinical bipolarity? And I suppose a companion question is, how much does it matter in this case? I think Everett's story is an important and compelling one regardless of whether or not he was diagnosable.
Philip Fradkin (philfrad1) Wed 16 Nov 11 12:19
I couldn't agree more with your last sentence. I took the question up because others had raised it and I thought it needed as complete an airing as possible. Also, his mood swings seemed extreme enough (beyond what I had experienced, for instance) for a discussion of the illness. Lastly, he disappears, and you can't discount suicide, since he talks about it so often; and suicide is one of the symptoms of manic depression. To include those two or three pages of discussion of the illness was a decision I didn't take lightly, but it all became worthwhile when at a reading a Park Service ranger, who suffered from manic depression, thanked me for presenting it in a sensitive manner that she could relate to. It helped her realize she was not different or strange. She couldn't understand why the Ruess family was ashamed of the possibility that Everett was suffering from bipolar disorder.
David Gans (tnf) Wed 16 Nov 11 12:54
Very good. It was definitely worth including in the book!
Frako Loden (frako) Wed 16 Nov 11 13:09
I'm now reading about Everett's sojourns in the Grand Canyon and Sequoia. I'm astonished at how our attitudes have changed about 1) stealing stuff from cliff dwellings and ancient sites and 2) killing every single rattlesnake you come across.
Gary Greenberg (gberg) Wed 16 Nov 11 16:06
I;m really looking forward to this book. it will make an excellent sequel to The Lost City of Z, which I am reading right now. People who disappear strike a chord with me. My grandfather's father did it, and the ripples continue a century later. And David, the question of who is bipolar and who merely moody is not entirely answerable. In the 1930s, simply by not being in an institution, and being able to function, however strangely, on his own (and he seems to have been really resourceful and competent in his own way) was enough to say he wasn't manic-depressive. When you were a teenager, late 60s-early 70s I think, it would have been pretty hard to find a doc who would diagnose you manic depressive based on that thumbnail description. In fact, at that time manic depression was still considered a psychosis,i.e,. a mental illness that caused loss of contact with reality in a pretty florid way. Nowadays, thanks to a DSM that has given criteria for diagnosis, it's a little easier to determine "caseness," as they call it, and there's a whole new form of bipolar, called bipolar 2, which doesn't require full-fledged manic episodes. So the threshold for being considered sick, as opposed to growing up, has lowered substantially over the years. None of this, of course, answers your question about that line between illness and strangeness. It's not like we're getting better at finding it. It's more like we've gotten better at finding ways to categorize various troublesome behaviors/experiences as mental illnesses. Not coincidentally, since Ruess's time, the benefits of diagnostic expansion have increased. At least they have if you think that drugs like Zyprexa and Abilify are beneficial. That's an open debate, and hard to settle if you can't be sure the patients were sick to begin with.
Linda Castellani (castle) Wed 16 Nov 11 16:59
> I'm astonished at how our attitudes have changed about 1) stealing stuff > from cliff dwellings and ancient sites and 2) killing every single > rattlesnake you come across. And about inscribing your name on things. Although, in this case, it did seem to help answer a few questions. I'm still early in the book, and, for the moment, tickled by the fact this his father was briefly pastor of the Alameda Unitarian Church. I'm not a member, but I do live in Alameda. Almost all the places in Northern and Southern California resonate with me - Boyle Heights! - which is drawing me into the story and making me feel a connection to these extremely real people. I'm loving all of the details, and marveling at the depth of your research.
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Wed 16 Nov 11 19:27
Yeah, that stuff was odd to read about, but not that surprising. I had older relatives, now long dead, who would have been born about 15 or 20 years before Everett. That was just what you did. There was lots of stuff lying around, there were a lot fewer people, and there was no one to tell you not to do it. Or even to call it wrong. One of the interesting things about the book is that you can feel that era ending just as Everett comes along - the places are being made into parks, the parks are getting caretakers and staff, and the rules are starting to be enforced. The freedom people experienced in the West in those days is both exhilarating to read about and a little horrifying. It was hard for me not to think of Everett as an entitled little twit when I read about his attitude towards antiquities, but then I reminded myself that his attitude was probably the default setting in that time and place.
Gary Greenberg (gberg) Thu 17 Nov 11 04:31
>One of the interesting things about the book is that you can feel >that era ending just as Everett comes along One thing that comes across in the Lost City of Z, and just abnout any other account of exploration in the Victorian age is the entitlement people felt to take waht they had stumbled on--not just relics and artifacts, of course, but in some cases the real estate and the people as well. It's as if being civilized meant you had the right, if not the obligation, to civilize what you found. No doubt this was the default mode, and the American West was surely uncivilized. That attitude persisted well into the 20th century. A very interesting account of this is Alan Moorehead's books about the "discovery" of the Upper Nile region--Thje White Nile and The Blue Nile. Breathtaking arrogance that seemed entirely normal, indeed exemplary, at the time. Also, on a related note, Jonathan Lethem has a whimsical little essay on the end of freedom in the West as portrayed in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. http://www.believermag.com/issues/201110/?read=article_lethem
David Gans (tnf) Thu 17 Nov 11 09:35
THe early chapters of Stephen Ambrose's "Crazy Horse and Custer" include (now-) horrifying accounts of the destruction of millions of square miles of forest in Ohio to make room for "civilization." Not just that, but everything the white man did in the push west was pretty damn heedless of nature's balance, let alone the wishes or needs of the humans they forcibly displaced.
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Thu 17 Nov 11 10:13
I've always connected that spirit - and the rage at limits on it - with the Tea Party movement. "No more trees to cut! No more Indians to kill! Waah! Waah!"
From Scott Thybony (captward) Thu 17 Nov 11 11:26
Sorry for jumping into the middle of this, but Ive been on the run. A comment on Everett and the Indians: He mentioned participating in a Hopi Antelope Dance, but theres one problem. The Hopi dont have an Antelope Dance. Traditional Hopi have told me the Hopi in 1934 were probably having fun with an enthusiastic and inquisitive white boy. I was once dragged into the plaza by Yellow Clowns during a ceremony and made to dance to the laughs and cheers of rooftops full of Hopi spectators. They have a long history of pulling the legs of earnest visitors and curious anthropologists. In your chapter on the Comb Ridge bones controversy, you mentioned exchanging e-mail messages with Dennis Van Gerven, the forensic anthropologist. Did he indicate any remorse, any humility for having gotten it so wrong? Also, in your final paragraph you mention the wider implications of the faulty DNA testing. Have you had any response from the legal community on how this case might affect other cases dependent solely on DNA evidence?
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Thu 17 Nov 11 17:51
Hah! I wondered why I'd never heard of that dance! Not that I'm any kind of an expert on the Hopi. I show up, I admire the scenery and the architecture, I buy trinkets, I leave.
Peter Richardson (richardsonpete) Fri 18 Nov 11 07:33
Philip, I first heard about Reuss when reading Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild, where he's presented as kind of precursor for Chris McCandless. Do you care to comment about where that resemblance begins and ends? In McCandless's case, he seems to have taken a strain of American romanticism/transcendentalism very seriously. I'm thinking of figures like Thoreau and Muir, whose writings about wilderness rarely stress its dangers.
Frako Loden (frako) Fri 18 Nov 11 10:39
Mr. Fradkin, you have a lot of questions and comments to respond to so I won't bombard you with any more of mine for the time being. But I just wanted to commend you, on my having finished your book at last, on a truly wonderful bringing-together of the whole Everett Ruess saga. The past 8 days have been pure pleasure having the book by my side. It's brought back all the Ruess-related reading I did in 2000 while I was exploring the Utah- Arizona desert, as well as the desert travels I did this past summer at Hovenweep, Mesa Verde, Grand Canyon North Rim, and the loneliest stretches of Nevada. The photos you personally took and the way they dramatize the world Everett explored really "get" the heart and appeal of the desert for me.
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Fri 18 Nov 11 11:28
Yeah, it was a great read. I've been to many of the places mentioned many times, especially in and around the big rez, which added to the fun.
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