Good writing, everywhere

One of the joys of following other people’s blogs is discovering that there are plenty of good writers out there.
Some are more accomplished than others. Some have the knack of telling a story that just holds the audience.
I dipped in Jim Schaap’s blog today, catching up, I suppose. Cracking good stories there.
His voice in authentic, and the stories of our region have soaked through him into his writing. Put him in almost any situation, I’d wager, and he’ll find a good soul story.

We won’t be fooled again…

Winter in Northwest Iowa is often interrupted in January with a thaw. And, this year, it’s been delightful, temperatures reaching nearly 50 degrees on a couple of days, enough to entice hard-core golfers out to fire a few ball off the clubs.

That thaw interrupts a long and, for some, lonely month. Some of us look forward to it every year.

Now, though, it’s back to standard winter business. The temperature dropped throughout the day. There’s a steady, cold wind. Chances of snow are in the forecast.

We next turn to the mythical weather beast, the groundhog and his shadowy (shady) prediction for the rest of the winter.

Winter isn’t for the faint of heart.

Words worth repeating

In remarks in 1949 by John Cowles, part of the family that piloted the well-known Des Moines Register here in Iowa, made in 1949, I found his gem (see The Annals of Iowa, Volume 73, Number 2, Spring 2014, pages 134 and 135): “The primary obligation of a newspaper is to give its readers the news, all the news, without bias or slant or distortion or suppression in the news columns. We believe that only on our editorial pages should our own opinions be expressed.”

As a newspaper editor, I was delighted to see this concept expressed so concisely.

Here’s another quote from Cowles, this one from 1951, four decades from the beginning of talks shows and the talking heads of “news discussion” shows: “There is considerable reason to believe, I think, that television, when its facilities become nationwide, when telecasts are  in color, and when the number of receiving sets has doubled, will become the nation’s single most powerful instrument for the mass transmission of ideas and entertainment.

“Because of its powerful impact, television may tend to make the maintenance of our free society more difficult. Badly informed, emotionally adolescent TV viewers may tend to adopt hysterically extreme views on complicated political and economic issues concerning which they know, and would otherwise care, little.… Television may be the greatest potential agency for adult education we have, but there is a grave danger that it will develop in a pattern where it will not serve the public welfare as it might.”

This from page 137 of the same publication.

One could substitute digital information, as well, and make the same type of statements.

Thanks to for the inspiration to post this.


I’m listening to the hypnotic “Tramp With Orchestra” on Gavin Bryar’s 1993 recording “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet.”
Rereading the liner notes reinforced my feelings for the piece. Bryan left the loop playing of the tramp singing the lines, over and over.
The power of the loop became apparent to Bryar coming back from fetching a cup of coffee. He had left the door of the recording studio opened, which opened on a living area.
Here’s the quote from the liner notes: “I found the normally lively room unnaturally subdues. People were moving about much more slowly than usual, and a few were sitting, quietly weeping… they had been overcome by the old man’s unaccompanied singing.”
So, the piece has musical tidbits added as the loop of the old man repeats, gradually evolving. You have to listen closely to catch the additions as it unfolds. In its way, it’s a moving piece.
Oh, and Tom Waits’ voice is included in the piece, by the way. It’s a bit of genius.

Why this memory, I don’t know…

A boyhood memory surfaced today, a memory that every once in a while pops up, I guess, to remind me that all is grass.

I think I got the first inkling of the finality of life (I haven’t been dead yet, nor do I know any who have been), from an old man on a reservation (how I hate that word and what it means to the Native Americans), one of the two where I grew up as a non-Native American.

I think I remember his name, but I’m not sure. It would be much more fitting if I did.

He scared the bejeebers out of me one fine Southwest U.S. day. My chore was to haul the burnables out to an old boiler we used as a fire barrel. On this particular day, I finished poking around in the flames and ashes and turned around to head back to the house.

The he was, the old man.

It looked like he was pointing a firearm at me.

I spooked and tore off back to the house, rounding the garages, banging through the yard gate, through the back door and pounded up the stairs to our upper story.

I’m sure my parents thought I’d seen a ghost.

I stammered out what I thought I saw, and dad headed out to check.

The old guy was just pointing his cane at me, and my imagination supplied the rest. He was inebriated, my dad thought (and he ought to know… he and mom were teetotalers after seeing what the demon alcohol has done to people they served).

I got over the fright (although, maybe not).

That’s not the end of the story, though. I don’t recall meeting the old fellow again, until my dad gently led me to the back of the church several years later, where the shell of the old man lay in one of those pauper’s caskets (I don’t know why that sticks with me), no longer among the living.

I don’t think I spoke. All the questions that the sight raised with me came much later.

Now, that I’m well into the second half of the hundred years I have (I hope), I expect those images to intrude more often.

I wonder. Did my fleet retreat make the old guy grin? I wonder. Does he know he was my introduction to the mystery at the end of this life? He gave me a gift in those memories, memories that will forever tilt me off balance and bring to mind the road ahead.

One very small poem

I didn’t have a camera with me when I came upon a scene in the local coffee shop, so I attempted to capture it poetically (emphasis on “attempt”).

Tow head glowing

Cereal and sweets disappear

Soggy “o”s are arranged

She tries to wink at me

From table

While mom and dad

Lean on glass

Exchange ideas

Eat each others words

And rearrange

While the universe slowly winks.