Friday, September 27, 2019

New Meaning to the Word Surreal

Today politics has gone beyond surreal. I’m not sure what words actually mean anymore. Definitely the doublespeak has to be decoded, but now the doubling-down on lies is an unbroken circle, like a snake biting its own tail/tale.

As a kid I remember trying to figure out what a fascist was. How was that different from a dictator? Communism—when explained it didn’t sound so bad, then I read Animal Farm, and, again, I was confused. At first glance populism sounded great, like power to the people. Farmers in Kansas experienced a series of difficult years from the late 1880s to the early 1890s. Out of this dissension came the People's Party, a reform movement with roots across the country but particularly strong in Kansas.

How could populism go wrong?

Then along came Donald J. Trump, a populist candidate. He broke the mold of the established politician seasoned in rhetoric that is frustratingly accommodating to the status quo. The amount of time it takes to pass a law or initiate real change can be measured in dog years.

Since the US election of 2016 more and more countries have been putting forth their own populist candidates. Comedians, reality-TV stars, porn queens, media influencers. People with no discernable background. Where the only thing going for them is that they are not the other guy.

Experts used to say populism could not happen in the UK or Germany where populist movements in the form of Brexit and the Alternative for Germany party have taken off. All of these exceptions have fallen one by one,

All I know the power to the people lately has been frightening. If substantially whipped up mobs will elect an anti-immigrant candidate or vote for a referendum that isolates an entire country because of  unreasonable economic fears.

Right now I’m watching the UK devolve/dissolve. Just like when I was a kid, I don’t exactly understand what is going on—all I know the words do not match up with the picture.

Image result for mussolini
Benito Mussolini, in 2001 I visited Salò, Italy. From 1943 to 1945 Salò was the de facto capital of Benito Mussolini's Nazi-backed puppet state,

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

New Work Out

This story, Big Thompson, was something I had on my mind for awhile--in a couple different pieces. Listening to Rebecca Makkai at OCWW talk about how she composed a few of the stories in her collection Music for Wartime I went home and tried to do the same thing. She wrote down two of her strongest ideas and then tried to tie them together into one plot. For example, the collection ends with “The Museum of the Dearly Departed,” a story that focuses on an apartment house that had a gas leak which killed almost all of its inhabitants, save one couple—who also survived the Holocaust. Relatives move into the apartments, and one of the new residents is an artist who is creating a project—a dollhouse structure using found and donated objects from each apartment. Record albums serve as a focal point for each miniature room: Glenn Gould, Maria Callas, Joe Cocker. Whew! This could all seem like such a jumble--but under a deft hand it can all come together.

So I combines images of water and death. A town near where I grew up that was submerged by the Army Corp of Engineers for a reservoir and a deadly flood in a canyon in the Rockies in the late 70s. Not sure what the emotional impact this all had on my psyche but the stories and discordant images stayed with me for decades. After that class with Makkai I went home and wrote Big Thompson, working through memories.

Then I lost the story. That's right somehow, with various versions on my desktop I must have deleted the good one. In my Big Thompson folder was notes and drafts. I called a friend who in the past has been able to resurrect work tossed into the dustbin of cyber space. He wasn't able to retrieve this piece.

Depressed for ages, I finally got around to re-writing it. I choked on every word, hating myself for being so reckless. I felt the grief and the pain--perfect for the story, in fact. I vetted the piece with different critique groups. Submitted. Rejections. Then THINK Journal accepted it this summer.

Yesterday I got a physical journal in the mail. All this to say: Don't give up.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Love Letters from Kashmir

In 2002 I was invited to the Breadloaf Writer's Conference where I attended on a scholarship because I served on the waitstaff. at the time I didn't understand how selective this invitation was and how prestigious the conference was. The history of Breadloaf goes back to Willa Cather and Robert Frost to name a few. Through the years it diversified. Several years before me a wonderful poet Agha Shahid Ali was on faculty (an honor for any writer). In December 2001 he died too young of brain cancer.

Agha Shahid Ali came to the US as a student from the Kashmir region. He became enamored of the poetry form called ghazal. At Breadloaf the waitstaff was each presented with The Country Without a Post Office, a book of his poetry. I always loved the lonely little line from the book: "The world is full of paper. Write to me."

The book refers to a point in time and a place. Kashmir is a disputed territory belonging to India but more aligned with Pakistan. It is here that world war III might erupt and one of the major reasons both countries sought to acquire nuclear weapons. In 1990 a confrontation broke out when Kashmir rebelled against Indian rule, resulting in hundreds of gruesome and violent deaths, fires, and mass rapes.

For seven months, there was no mail delivered in Kashmir, because of political turmoil gripping the land. A friend of the poet’s father watched the post office from his house, as mountains of letters piled up. One day, he walked over to the piles and picked a letter from the top of one, discovering that it was from Shahid’s father and addressed to him.

Even today--headline from the BBC:

Kashmir: Letters and landlines return to cut-off region

The troubled region where some 10 million people live had been placed under a security lockdown on 5 August, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi stripped it of its autonomy and downgraded its status.
The isolation is exacerbated by an unprecedented communications blockade: landline phones, mobiles and the internet were suspended. Kashmir sunk into what a local editor called an "information black hole".

You can imagine residents taking up their pens/pencils and composing love letters. All those quick inexplicable texts, 130-character tweets, or emails that require emojis--turned into 13-page letters, where writers bare their souls. 

A poignant piece in the book is "Dear Shahid" either an actual letter to the author from his mother or a facsimile. After recounting a brutal murder of an acquaintance "she" writes--"Things here are as usual though we always talk about you. Will you come soon?"

When real life has turned on its ear and turned a corner into the surreal it always good to normalize by reading poetry. It is why some of our most celebrated poets have written under duress and frightful circumstances such as the Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska. Here is a link to her poem Utopia about an island--read it and think about the Bahamas and the refugees being turned back now by the US, a situation that borders on the surreal.
Agha Shahid Ali
Agha Shahid Ali 


I am writing to you from your far-off country. Far even from us who live here. Where you no longer are. Everyone carries his address in his pocket so that at least his body will reach home. 

Rumors break on their way to us in the city. But word still reaches us from border towns: Men are forced to stand barefoot in snow waters all night. The women are alone inside. Soldiers smash radios and televisions. With bare hands they tear our houses to pieces. 

You must have heard Rizwan was killed. Rizwan: Guardian of the Gates of Paradise. Only eighteen years old. Yesterday at Hideout Caf6 (everyone there asks about you), a doctor-who had just that morning treated a 16-year-old boy released from an interrogation center-said: / want to ask the fortune-tellers: Did anything in his line of Fate reveal that the webs of his hands would be cut with a knife? 

This letter, insh'Allah, will reach you, for my brother goes south tomorrow where he shall post it. Here one can't even manage postage stamps. Today I went to the post office. Across the river. Bags and bags-hundreds of canvas bags-all of undelivered mail. By chance I looked down and there on the floor I saw this letter addressed to you. So I am enclosing it. I hope it's from someone you are longing for news of. 

Things here are as usual, though we always talk about you. Will you come soon? Waiting for you is like waiting for spring. We are waiting for the almond blossoms. And, if God wills, O! those days of peace when we all were in love and the rain was in our hands wherever we met.

Wislawa Szymborska
Wislawa Szymborska

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Good News!

I recently had an excerpt of my chapbook Bright Invisible in Utterance Journal

A short story will be out soon in THINK journal

It is titled Big Thompson and I used a method laid out by Rebecca Makkai author of The Great Believer and a finalist for the Pultizer Prize. She was teaching a class a few years ago at OCWW
where she said when trying to come up with ideas for a short story she sometimes let her ideas collide--for instance news of a recent gas leak/explosion and Holocaust survivors. She has a penchant for putting together incongruous scenarios and constructing a story. I thought: Why not? 

I'd had in mind several loose threads that had to do with water: New Burlington, Ohio that was abandoned and flooded to make way for a reservoir (Caesar Creek State Park) and a flood that occurred in Colorado along the Big Thompson in 1976. Adding other tidbits, I wove together a 5,000 word story. Forthcoming--Big Thompson.

Finally, Stoneboat a print journal contacted me to let me know they were including a reprint of past story in their 25th anniversary edition. Out soon once again, Exit 24.

Happy Fall--to all my readers!
Image result for fall season

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Adirondack and Green Mountains Round Up

So I cycled back home from Union Station, didn't include those miles in trip total. No reason to be that geeky.

I wanted to do a round up about maps, connectivity, and elevation/steepness.

The ACA maps. There were times when they unnecessarily led me up steep inclines. Like going into Burlington--it would have been better if I'd just stayed on the Champlain Way instead of going up Irish Hill Rd. Also going into Canada that gravel road it immediately puts you on once you cross the border felt unnecessary. I think their criteria is to put riders on the least trafficked roads. I learned that some of the state routes were not so bad and the grades were gentler. Overall it is good to have maps and I liked the ACA ones because they were “laminated” and did not curl up in humidity or dissolve from the rain. Buy a Vermont state map and keep that handy. Do not be afraid of the gravel or dirt roads--these are wonderful, like riding in Acadia National Park!

Connectivity. I use T-Mobile who are supposed to be “everywhere.” I was not always able to make phone calls or search. The state parks in general had no WiFi--except for Gifford Woods. So if you rely on the phone to connect to Warmshowers etc you might have problems in some areas.

Outside of Cornwall I have not encountered such long, steep hills. It felt as if my chest was bursting to ride up some of them. I generally tried to stay in the saddle to get up and if the road wasn't busy that helped greatly as I could weave a bit. Definitely make sure you have 3 chainrings for the front. My lowest in the front is 20 teeth! So I had a good range--and yet at times I still had to walk the bike up because it simply made more sense.

The platform peddles that I installed a week before the trip were the EXACT RIGHT thing to do.


Books read=3

The following are a few pics from my quick side trip to Brooklyn--where I rode a Citi Bike in Williamsburg. It was freaky and fun!

Monday, September 9, 2019

Day 13, Adirondacks and Green Mountain Loop Bike Trip, 2019

Day 13, Dorset, VT to Albany, NY 77 miles
What a difference a day makes!! It’s 12 noon and I’ve already done 40 miles.

Last night I complained to my host, Malcolm that I hadn’t passed any cycle tourists. “That’s because you’re on all the hard roads,” he replied. Then he drew me a map to Cambridge, NY.

I left their house at 7:30 a.m. having to leave a note to say goodbye. I made it to Dorset Village Green for a sandwich. There were hills and my legs were still trying to recover from yesterday and the day before. But I kept going. Manchester was also a cool town. After that I noticed I was able to go to my third gear and ride at least for a while. Before turn off for 313 Arlington, I stopped at a Norman Rockwell exhibit. More on this later, but let’s just say the two sales clerks were fiercely determined to preserve his legacy. Seems the whole town was in on his successful artist career when he was painting in the area. He lived there 13, 14 years and raised his three sons.

I followed 313 and the Battenkill River and this was a GREAT road! I made it to NY and the grades were gentle and even rode a lot in 3rd gear.

Right now eating second half of sandwich in Eagle Bridge.
5pm arrived at Laura’s place in Albany. Wow!! Wasn’t sure this would happen, but once passed Eagle Bridge I missed a turn and was heading south and west, sort of had a feeling I was getting there. At Waterford crossed the Hudson on route 4 and was routed onto bike paths and bike lanes. I pretty much didn’t stop till I got to her house. I remembered passing some of the places on my way out of the train station over a week ago.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Day 12, Adirondacks and Green Mountain Loop Bike Trip, 2019

Day 12, GWSP to Dorset, VT ? 60 miles
Today was a longer riding day and I wanted to get an early start, but weather and physical things have conspired to slow me down. Plus my butt hurts. If anyone doesn’t think they need gluts to cycle are dead wrong.

This a.m. it rained, starting at around 5:30. As I tried to pack up there would be cloud bursts or else splitter splatter from the trees. I was frantic to pack without getting my sleep system wet. The humidity is thru the roof. I felt like I was riding in slow motion.

Leaving GWSP there was MORE mountain to climb. Two miles in my lowest gear at about 3 mph. Then a white knuckle downhill, worrying about trucks and crappy road all the way into Rutland and West Rutland.

In Castleton at a little coffee shop at the depot I bought an egg and spinach wrap. I was around about 25 miles. I say about because all day forgetting to turn odometer back on or leaning on it and knocking it off kilter.

After eating I hopped onto the Delaware and Hudson rail trail. I’d been leery of this trail after previewing it on Google maps and had plans to jump ship if it turned muddy, Rocky, or too slow. It was a dream. Level, shady, and all to myself. I didn’t have to think about traffic or navigation. I took it for 8 miles into Poultney where I discovered the best used bookstore in New England. I swear if I wasn’t on a bike I would have gone crazy. Even their cards were cute, but where would I have put it in the humidity? I put the book into my handlebar bag thinking I’d move it when I took a break. Wishful thinking.

It rained when I was on the trail, so I was wet. It rained when I was cycling around Lake St. Catherine. It rained hard outside of Wells that I had to stop and stand on a narrow porch. I was there a long time. By now I was thinking I probably wouldn’t make it. I also thought I might die of hypothermia or else pneumonia. Dorset was still 13 miles away.

I couldn’t get a hold of my host’s. Either there was a cell phone dead area or else out of network.

So . . . I kept going in the slackening rain. At one point I made a wrong turn and started riding back to Wells. I turned around, retraced my steps UPHILL. There was no bike lane or berm to speak of and the sides of the road were torn up from trucks. I felt safe but was stressed out. I was riding so slow, I felt like I’d never make it to Dorset and my Warmshowers host’s house.

Then I turned off down a gravel road. I walked the bike; I just couldn’t take anymore. I’d been riding wet since 11 a.m. and had nothing to eat since 10:30.

Finally arrived and it was worth the push. My host’s home is beautifully situated. Right away they helped me get my stuff set up to dry. I washed a few items in the show and put those to dry also.

So dry, clean, and fed. Sitting under a cabana walkway watching the mist come down and the dew rise up. I expect tomorrow to be foggy.

By the way, the book in my new handlebar bag which was advertised to be waterproof survived completely dry. I recommend Banjo Brothers products.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Day 11, Adirondacks and Green Mountain Loop Bike Trip, 2019

Day 11, Lebanon to Gifford Woods State Park via Killington Peak, 43 miles
Such a perfect day. New Hampshire to Vermont. Those first days of riding in hot humid weather with hills (the 3 Hs plus hell makes 4) were excruciating. Enjoying the ride so much more. Yesterday and today kept stopping to take pictures of the blue sky, red barns, covered bridges, sunny meadows crowded with lupine and butterflies.
Two more covered bridges. One on Queechee Road and one by Old River Road on the way to Woodstock Village. This was a dirt road which I’m usually apprehensive about taking (a holdover from getting lost following Google directions in Norway), but this road was lovely, like a little picnic along the river in a shaded grove. I stopped at The Village Butcher for a sandwich and soup. The soup and crackers filled me up, so saved the sandwich. Woodstock is typical quaint New England, rich white people.

The approach to Killington Peak was gradual. I was partly again on dirt roads, which led me to one more small covered bridge before emptying out onto route 4 with substantial truck traffic. At Bridgewater I refilled my water bottle and used the porto. I stayed in my second gear most of the way up, and in the middle gears in back. I took a turn at Mission Farm Rd. where there is a beautiful stone church. It was a small religious community. A woman said they lead retreats.

So kept going. I ate 1/2 my sandwich and some trail mix right before Mission Farm so I was ready. The real climbing began soon after re-entering route 4. Storefront gear, but in the rear not too low which gave me climbing not spinning power. Still about 4 mph for 20 minutes. A few cars beep-beeped encouragement.

Really, it was over quickly. In 43 miles at Gifford Woods (1614 ft), campsite 10, super quiet, tucked into the woods. This is a stop off/thruway for Long Trail and AT hikers. It’s only 2 pm so relaxing and planning next 2 days.

Hopefully tonight can maybe have potluck with other campers.

Mission Farm Church

office at Gifford Woods State Park

chillin' at Gifford Woods State Park

campsite at GWSP

Monday, September 2, 2019

Day 10, Adirondacks and Green Mountain Loop Bike Trip, 2019

Day 10, to Lebanon, NH, 48 miles
Last night was lovely and lonely. My own little stealth paradise. It was foggy this a.m. Left at 7;30 and cycled to Woodsville where—tada!—there was a covered bridge. Before starting this trip I thought I’d see covered bridges and cycle tourists. Well, we know how that’s gone, but this covered bridge was to beat the band, more than made up for being the only one by being LONG. In North Haverhill I bought 2 pastries.
Haverhill, the village, was amazing, like some old New England carriage village. It was like a movie set. The road and weather were perfect. Coming down from Haverhill to Orford I spotted a sign out front of the Mt. Cube Masonic Temple: Hot Breakfast. I pulled over immediately even though it was 10 minutes after it went off. The folks set me up with a plate of pancakes. I could taste the syrup on my lips going up hill.

After Orford I forgot to turn on my odometer, so lost track, but roughly 6 or 7 miles to Lyme, another GREAT village. In Hanover, Home of Dartmouth College, I found a bench and dialed up a Warmshowers host. The first one I contacted got right back. In fact, he’d passed me going on a pleasure ride opposite direction. I waited for Scott to circle back and we rode on to Lebanon.

So, tomorrow Killington Peak and then I reckon 2 more days back to Albany. New Hampshire is called the Granite State and everywhere are granite boulders, exposed granite rock cuts, etc.