Wednesday, November 27, 2019

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Friday, November 22, 2019

“December” by James Schuyler

Yesterday while walking past the Jewel parking lot I smelled pine. Already the Christmas trees have arrived. Suddenly I was engulfed in a James Schuyler poem

“December” by James Schuyler

Il va neiger dans quelques jours FRANCIS JAMMES
The giant Norway spruce from Podunk, its lower branches bound,
this morning was reared into place at Rockefeller Center.
I thought I saw a cold blue dusty light sough in its boughs
the way other years the wind thrashing at the giant ornaments
recalled other years and Christmas trees more homey.
Each December! I always think I hate “the over-commercialized event”
and then bells ring, or tiny light bulbs wink above the entrance
to Bonwit Teller or Katherine going on five wants to look at all
the empty sample gift-wrapped boxes up Fifth Avenue in swank shops
and how can I help falling in love? A calm secret exultation
of the spirit that tastes like Sealtest eggnog, made from milk solids,
Vanillin, artificial rum flavoring; a milky impulse to kiss and be friends
It’s like what George and I were talking about, the East West
Coast divide: Californians need to do a thing to enjoy it.
A smile in the street may be loads! you don’t have to undress everybody.
“You didn’t visit the Alps?”
“No, but I saw from the train they were black
and streaked with snow.”
Having and giving but also catching glimpses
hints that are revelations: to have been so happy is a promise
and if it isn’t kept that doesn’t matter. It may snow
falling softly on lashes of eyes you love and a cold cheek
grow warm next to your own in hushed dark familial December.
**
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Tuesday, November 19, 2019

My presentation in Bolingbrook, IL

I have only the most tenuous hold on my time and schedule lately. Since returning home from a bike trip to the Adirondacks and Vermont I have been working hard on a manuscript about bicycling--not a travelogue.

There are so many loose threads I'm trying to hold together--I need two or three monitors for this book! Right now I have about 40 tabs open--which drives my friends crazy--except it should be me going insane and not them!

Anyway, apologies for being a slacker at the blog. The blog slog.

This past weekend I experienced a first: the first time I presented a seminar and met someone who traveled to get there. Meaning: she said she came up the night before and stayed in a motel. Wow! I thought, I'm just like a real author. My talk was about flash writing and flash being the building blocks to longer writing--such as the novel. About 12 people sat through my rambling. They did seem to get something out of it.

Kathleen definitely won the prize for coming from the furthest away, over one hundred miles from Lanark, IL

Friday, November 8, 2019

Bear With Me--book(s) review


A cascade of coincidences. Kyle White and Jane Hertenstein, both writers of flash and THE SAME BIRTHDAY.

I discovered Kyle’s work, Wisconsin River of Grace, when he was doing a reading at Everybody’s Coffee. I never intended to buy the book, but had to once I opened it and read a snippet (the good thing about flash is you can dive in anywhere and get a taste). Since that 2012/2013 publication he has continued fermenting flash.

Bear With Me is a field journal that reads as a contemplative children’s book. In the sense that I could see it being shared with the whole family, the meaning explicit on so many levels. Just like a good Jon Scieszka book—there is something there for the adult and younger folk to hang their hat on. Mostly I enjoyed the pace of Bear With Me: short, pithy haiku-type entries with a unspoken “selah” at the end where one can sit and pause, ruminate over the importance of hibernation, relaxing, listening to your body, nature calling, living in tune with the seasons. Such as a bear drinking coffee in a birch grove puffing on a pipe. Giving space to ourselves to think and breathe deeply.

Sky getting lighter.
Finally back to sun’s warmth.
But naps end, sadly.

Or this:

Solitutde: pipe smoke,
Morning prayers, walks, sketchbook,
Coffee, toast, butter.

The simplicity of the lines is like a spell, a kind of wake-hibernation. Bear With Me is a cozy read. *Illustrations are also by Kyle L. White

Neighbor As Yourself (2016) is a collection of flash observations. The subtitle explains: Midwest essays, poems, etcetera.

It is the act of knowing we are not alone, that all around us are people—some lonely, solme frustrated, some frustrating.

One essay details a spring break to remote Washington Island in—let’s be honest—winter (as soring breaks are wont to be). The writer discovers an Eastern Orthodox monastery chapel and spends time each morning just being in that sacred (unheated) space before joining the party of others, his friends gathered to grill and vacate during a vacation. I sense the quiet, the candlewax, the rough wood board walls. I see tiny rabbit tracks in the snow which refreezes every night. Another selection enumerates (get it!) the writer’s brief career as a census enumerator.  

Winter is Scissors (2018) is his latest project, consisting of 31 flash essays or “daily” readings for winter. The daily is not tied to any particular day, so can be randomized. Dipped into. I’m particularly looking forward to Winter is Scissors because of the fact that winter has come early to Illinois/Chicago. Last week we had a Halloween snowstorm and this weekend we will have a double-dip Artic blast (two in one) with forecasts into the 20s. Brrr. I can just imagine the Bear in Bear With Me shivering inside his furcoat and snuggling deeper under covers. There are so many life analogies one came make about enduring winter, watching the titmouse peck up and down the walkway for a crumb, the lonely tree branches dark against a winter sky. We see these things and know that if we can just hold out that the sun will return. To cold, barren fields, to the winter-bleached concrete buildings with “smoke” coming out of the stacks on frigid mornings. We wait in hope, because spring has always come before.

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Tuesday, November 5, 2019

A note from an occupier


Last night I heard the most disappointing news about Abraham Lincoln. As an Illinoisan (formerly Ohioan) this was really bad. I mean I always knew as a lawyer he defended corporations and slaveholders, but he also fought a case in defense of a black woman.

There are at least two cases where Abraham Lincoln worked both sides of an issue. In 1841 Lincoln argued before the Illinois Supreme Court a case involving a slave girl named Nance. A man by the name of Cromwell sold Nance to his neighbor, Mr. Bailey. When she left Mr. Bailey’s service after six months declaring herself free, Mr. Bailey refused to pay for her. Lincoln argued that the girl was free because in the state of Illinois it was illegal for a slave to be bought or sold. Lincoln won the case.

On another occasion, though, in October 1847 Abraham Lincoln defended a slaveowner. Every year Robert Matson brought his slaves up from Kentucky to harvest his fields in Coles County. They were only in Illinois a short time before returning to Kentucky. When a family of slaves escaped with the help of abolitionists Matson sued for their return. The judge ruled against Matson and Lincoln lost the case.

His decision to free the slaves in the Emancipation Proclamation was more a matter of keeping the Union together. That was always his priority instead of the ideological argument that all men are created equal.

I remember reading in his biography that Lincoln fought in the Black Hawk War on the western border of Illinois in April 1832. From Wiki: Black Hawk’s motives were ambiguous, but he was apparently hoping to avoid bloodshed while resettling on tribal land that had been ceded to the United States in the disputed 1804 Treaty of St. Louis.

Such a simple sentence for a tragedy.

Again from Wiki:

The Sauks were divided about whether to resist implementation of the disputed 1804 treaty.  Most Sauks decided to relocate west of the Mississippi rather than become involved in a confrontation with the United States. The leader of this group was Keokuk, who had helped defend Saukenuk against the Americans during the War of 1812. Keokuk was not a chief, but as a skilled orator, he often spoke on behalf of the Sauk civil chiefs in negotiations with the Americans.  Keokuk regarded the 1804 treaty as a fraud, but after having seen the size of American cities on the east coast in 1824, he did not think the Sauks could successfully oppose the United States.

Although the majority of the tribe decided to follow Keokuk's lead, about 800 Sauks—roughly one-sixth of the tribe—chose instead to resist American expansion. Black Hawk, a war captain who had fought against the United States in the War of 1812 and was now in his 60s, emerged as the leader of this faction in 1829. Like Keokuk, Black Hawk was not a civil chief, but he became Keokuk's primary rival for influence within the tribe. Black Hawk had actually signed a treaty in May 1816 that affirmed the disputed 1804 land cession, but he insisted that what had been written down was different from what had been spoken at the treaty conference. According to Black Hawk, the “whites were in the habit of saying one thing to the Indians and putting another thing down on paper.”

Black Hawk was determined to hold onto Saukenuk, a village at the confluence of the Rock River with the Mississippi, where he lived and had been born. When the Sauks returned to the village in 1829 after their annual winter hunt in the west, they found that it had been occupied by white squatters

Abraham Lincoln was part of a frontier militia that formed. On August 2, U.S. soldiers attacked Black Hawk’s band at the Battle of Bad Axe, killing many and capturing most who remained alive. Black Hawk and other leaders escaped, but later surrendered and were imprisoned for a year.

One thing Mark Charles said was the deeper he dug into history, the worse it got. A bit like watching the movie The Mission over and over. Plus, he told us last night: There are no winners. Even the perpetrators of violence on marginal or indigenous people were left traumatized. He tried not to boil things down, but one thing he feels sure of is that white people carry trauma of the genocides their ancestors perpetrated or condoned. Christians, in particular, are guilty for rationalizing their actions by saying what they did was in the name of God or Jesus.

Wow—what a weight, the heaviness of history toward native peoples. We took their land and the best we can do is name a subdivision after the original hamlet or use their names—such as Sauganash or Somonauk Street in Sycamore, IL.

I can’t wait to dive into his book, Unsettling Truths: The Ongoing, Dehumanizing Legacy of the Doctrine of Discovery by Mark Charles, Soong-Chan Rah, InterVarsity Press
PW Starred Review: “This sobering critique presents a disturbing yet welcome analysis of how the Doctrine of Discovery has split American church and society along racial lines...”

Be prepared to have the top of your head blown off—in a “good” way. Also recommend, Prophetic Lament: A Call for Justice in Troubled Times by Soong-Chan Rah, another depressing read where you cannot turn your eyes away from the foundational truth that humans have created a lot of chaos. Acknowledging this is the beginning to conciliation.

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