Drinking Country Politics

Legislative Forum in Coralville

Legislative Forum in Coralville

CORALVILLE— The League of Women Voters forum last night was a bust for the candidates in my house district. The league puts on a good show at the table, but only a limited number of constituents were present, and the television feed went to only one of six county precincts in the district. Major outlets published limited accounts of the action, but mostly the evening passed and little news came out of the forum. It’s been that kind of year in the most local of local politics.

The forum enabled me to get away from writing and household chores for a while to socialize. I’ve never been part of the drinking culture that plagued more famous writers. I have been hearing a lot about drinking on the radio while driving across the lakes to work.

“I belong to the drinking class,” sings Lee Brice in his country hit “Drinking Class,” released in August. Country music today is full of stories about using alcoholic drinks to celebrate or escape unpleasantness in life. I hear enough of them during my 20 minute commutes to the warehouse to see the pattern.

“Monday through Fridays we bust our back,” the song goes. I don’t know who, except a small minority of people, works that kind of job, so the song seems more aspirational of lifestyle— a form of hope to define culture around externals that seem ersatz and manufactured.

“What I’m really needing now is a double shot of crown,” sings the protagonist in the Lady Antebellum song “Bartender.” On Friday night she seeks relief from a relationship gone bad. “There’s only one thing left for me to to do. Put on my favorite dress and sky-high leather boots, check the mirror one last time and kiss the past goodbye.”

The signs and symbols are archetypal. Shots of Jack Daniels and Patron, jeans that are painted on— stereotypical images of guys who get rowdy and women locked into frames we had hoped were long gone from the culture.

From “Aw Naw” by Chris Young:

Aw naw, somebody just bought a shot of that Patron.
Hang on, we’ve been here all night long.
Aw naw, it would be so wrong
If we didn’t dance one more song,
Show off those jeans you painted on…

“On” doesn’t rhyme with “song,” but we can accept it in the vernacular of bar culture. What impresses about this music is the way it draws from people’s everyday experiences to paint a picture of longing and possible fulfillment or caesura.

James Joyce’s “Araby” in Dubliners, is a variation on this theme, albeit a bit obscure for the drinking class. It’s more about me that this story came to mind.

What innumerable follies laid waste my waking and sleeping thoughts after that evening! I wished to annihilate the tedious intervening days. I chafed against the work of school. At night in my bedroom and by day in the classroom her image came between me and the page I strove to read. The syllables of the word Araby were called to me through the silence in which my soul luxuriated and cast an Eastern enchantment over me. I asked for leave to go to the bazaar on Saturday night.

Much different and yet similar. I’d rather listen to the song about lighting watermelon candles upstairs, “Doin’ What She Likes” by Blake Shelton. “Fixin’ up a pitcher of margaritas,” and then calling the fire department when the watermelon candles ignited the bathroom, is a different and more interesting kind of disappointment than in the Joyce story. To weave a story with that imagery requires talent, and it resonates with people.

I’ll continue to listen to country music in the car, but am not ready to join the drinking class. For now, the occasional political event will have to serve as release in a life of work.

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Odds and Ends

Fall Colors

Fall Colors

LAKE MACBRIDE— It is a late frost this year. Oct. 20 and the tomatoes and peppers are still growing, inspiring hope to pick more before the season finally ends. I gave away a bushel of kale on Saturday, confident there will be more.

In between part time jobs there are blocks of time with which to build a life. There are fewer of them, but between interactions with members of the public and spells of writing in public, there is a private life about which I haven’t and won’t write much here.

In most ways, mine is the plain life of a common person. The profound awakening I had as a grader—that Cartesian view about communication with others through media—shaped much of who I am and have been. Realizing it was not unique to me has shaped my life as I moved from school to worklife to homelife. I don’t mind being a commoner.

Part of each week is spent with people in public, and discontent seems to lie below craggy surfaces. Some appear to have had a rough life, and take little joy in human interactions. Others, especially people accompanied by children, are more positive and joyful. Life in society is a mixed bag, and that is not news.

For me there is much more than getting through to the next day. Since Monday is my Friday, I am resolved to get something done during these weekdays. To transform this quotidian existence into something at least as beautiful as the fall colors—or as close as I can get.

Posted in Home Life | Tagged , ,

Politics 18 Days Out

Fall Colors

Fall Colors

LAKE MACBRIDE— The general election is 18 days away, and how my ballot will shape up is finally clear. This coming week, the two of us will head into Iowa City and vote at the auditor’s office. The down-ticket races and issues have been challenging to make a reasonable decision.

In particular, the township trustee election has no candidate on the ballot. As chair of the board of trustees, I made the following press release regarding the absence of a candidate on the ballot:

October 17, 2014

SOLON, Iowa– DeWayne Klouda is running a write-in campaign for Big Grove Township Trustee in the Nov. 4 election. He currently serves as a trustee and was appointed this year upon the retirement of Elmer Vanorny. He has prior service as Township Clerk, beginning in 1998. He is familiar with the roles and responsibilities of the township, which include managing the township budget and the Tri-Township Fire Department, operating Oakdale Cemetery, custodian of the pioneer cemetery at Fackler’s Grove, and resolving lot line disputes.
Klouda’s filing paperwork was delayed by the U.S. Postal Service, so his name is not on the ballot.
We seek to make voters aware of this campaign and hope voters in Big Grove Township will consider writing in DeWayne Klouda for township trustee on their Nov. 4 ballot.

Late breaking situations like this are why I don’t like voting early. This year, I will be in the Chicago area in early November, so won’t be around to vote on election day.

The U.S. Senate election is garnering a lot of media attention, and the Republican advertising campaign has been thorough, well crafted and abundant. Counting how many impressions of Joni Ernst have filtered into my no-television lifestyle would be tough. Suffice it to say her name is everywhere I go. This last week, her sign advertising has begun to crop up, along with new radio ads I hear on my way to work. There are web ads everywhere, and bumper stickers. She will have no problem with name recognition.

Bruce Braley’s name is also most places I go, although there have been less impressions of Braley than his opponent. My sense is that because Ernst and her third party supporters appear to be outspending Braley in an attempt to buy this senate seat, the outreach of her messaging has been effective, the way anything that is well capitalized can be. The benefit for Braley, is many voters that matter most don’t seem to like what they are hearing from Ernst.

When I talk about “voters that matter most,” I refer not to polling subjects, but to people I meet and know who are less partisan in their approach to elections. It seems clear to me that neither candidate has cracked the code to get these votes, other than to work hard at it. It’s hard to tell because people don’t want to talk about the election the way they did during the 2006 and 2008 cycles. As I work my network to turn out votes, people plan to vote for Braley or one of the less well known candidates, but not Ernst. My network has a Democratic bias.

I proofread our local paper and there have been very few letters to the editor supporting one candidate or another. Because I read the stories from text files, I’m not sure who is buying ads in the paper, and can’t provide a meaningful evaluation there.

My state representative is bringing Senator Rand Paul to a fundraising event at his political family’s farm. His challenger is publishing an ad with a photo of himself with Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. There is talk that these two senators are evaluating a 2016 presidential run—key word is evaluating. I suspect they are here more to help Ernst and Braley and other candidates. Neither one of them seems likely to pull in the less partisan voters, although Paul has moderated some of his views in a way that will appeal to some of them.

October will soon turn to November when we’ll know the result. In the meanwhile, there is work to be done in the ground game Democrats are counting upon to win.

Posted in Politics | Tagged

End of Season Work

Fall Colors

Fall Colors

SOLON— One was planning to harvest corn until Sunday, when he would turn to beans. Half the beans are already in and the fields have been too wet to get the equipment in the last few days. Talk is about how much propane will be needed to dry the harvest.

“It could easily run up to a thousand gallons,” he said. He plans to take a slower approach to erode less of his margin.

Another is cleaning up the fields and barns after a long season. Picking up and stacking tomato cages is the last big task before turning to livestock and wintering.

While no farmer, I’m still picking kale, peppers, apples and a few tomatoes, delaying the garden clean up for another week. There’s a lot to be done before settling inside for winter. People winter too.

Fall Colors

Fall Colors

Not really ready for winter and don’t want to be. Perhaps that’s why I let the scraggly bits of green shoots grow on top of the tomatoes. That’s why I hope for an ability to use more of the abundant kale. Eventually I’ll get the extension ladder out of the garage and pick the high apples. But I’m not ready for the last lawn mowing, mulching the garden, or inspecting the gutters one last time before the cold. Perhaps it all seems too much like death.

So not ready for that. I left the house.

Fall Colors

Fall Colors

The fall colors are just slightly past their peak, and still beautiful. They are breathtaking really, and hard to capture in digital images.

I drove to town to buy a newspaper because my first article appeared in the Iowa City Press Citizen this morning. While I’m mostly digital, having a print copy of my first still means something. I spent the last 75 cents in my pocket on a second copy.

There is a shift at the warehouse this afternoon. To get ready for a celebration, I pulled a couple of beers out of the box to chill while I’m working. Expiration date July 2014, so I hope they are not skunked. Is that still a thing?

Whatever end there is to this season, and it is palpable all around us, here’s a toast to the idea that it will not be our last trip around the sun. May we sustain our lives on the prairie for yet another year, with an abundant harvest, a great margin on our work, and fresher beer.

Posted in Farming, Work Life | Tagged , ,

Inequality in the 21st Century

Blog Action Day“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

These first words to the Declaration of Independence, written by Thomas Jefferson, and proclaimed on July 4, 1776, are what most U.S. residents think of when considering equality—we all are created equal.

A month earlier, George Mason had written the Virginia Declaration of Rights, which included, “all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights of which… they cannot deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.”

As Jefferson and Mason both understood, liberty meant the right to own property, including slaves, something each of them did.

Whatever liberty and the enjoyment of life we have gets parceled out unevenly at birth. We are more alike genetically than different, but the circumstances into which we enter life and live make us more different with each passing day. The cards are already dealt in terms of family, religion, and social and economic status when we are born.

For those who come into a life of wealth and property—an increasingly small portion of the population—life can be good. For the rest of us, it can also be good, but we have to find our own happiness and hope our liberties are not eroded by the government our forbears helped create to protect them. That is hard to do in today’s political environment.

The influence of money in politics favors the wealthiest among us and has been eroding the commons and our well-being since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. We held back the Robber Barons once. It seems unlikely the political will exists to do it again… yet.

On this Blog Action Day, what matters more is not the life we possess at birth, influenced by others. What matters is the way we seek common ground and lend each other a hand in times of adversity.

For if there is inequality in the circumstances in which we find ourselves, and there is, it’s whether and how we come together to fight oppression and get back to the best part of what the founders intended that will help resolve the greatest inequalities among us.

Today is a small step toward that end.

Posted in Social Commentary | Tagged

Rainy Writer’s Day

Book Shelf

Garden Book Shelf

LAKE MACBRIDE— Intermittent rain fell throughout yesterday. Fallen leaves were dampened, and for a while, runoff flowed in the ditch. Apples clung to the tree, waiting another day to be picked.

We needed rain, but then we didn’t as crops stood in the field drying before harvest. It was a writer’s day, one for gathering material. Today will be the crafting of stories—a rarified trip into the imagination to produce more tangible results.

There are two hard parts about writing.

The first is finding meaningful venues. My process began with keeping a journal, writing letters to the editor, and commenting on a local radio station. When I look back at this work from the 1970s, it was raw, and rough, and in many cases, stylistically challenged. But there were venues, and I made something of them.

My first article outside public forums was written after a trip to Belgium and published in the newsletter of the Center for Belgian Culture of Western Illinois. I published a series of three articles after a vacation while serving in the U.S. Army in Europe, the first appearing on Nov. 27, 1977. A friend who was editor patiently waited as I drafted, typed and mailed the copy from my apartment near the Mainz railway station. As busy as I was in a mechanized infantry battalion, it is a wonder these articles were even produced.

My current work appears here, on Blog for Iowa, and in three newspapers for whom I am a part time correspondent. The newest freelance job, for the Iowa City Press Citizen, was added to the mix yesterday. 2014 has been a year of learning the peculiar requirements of writing for a newspaper, and doing it. By year’s end, I will have written about 50 newspaper articles. Between journal writing, blogging and newspaper writing there are venues enough to find meaningful expression, at least for now.

The second hard part about writing is staying focused. Sitting at the work station and crafting words and phrases on the computer screen or on paper. This takes discipline, and a willingness to avoid distraction. Some days it goes well, and others less so.

By design, today will be a day of writing. There are four articles in the works, and with a full slate of part time jobs to pay bills, it has to be. The rain left last night, and the chance of precipitation is zero throughout today. There will be a temptation to head outside to pick apples and peppers, or to work in the garage on a dozen projects, but it must be resisted. Even now I procrastinate—the writer’s natural inclination.

Yet when inspiration comes from a mysterious source, the words flow, almost automatically. It is those times we treasure as we write. Yet they don’t come without discipline and work.

To get to today took work, and some persistence. When I began writing four decades ago, I didn’t know how it would turn out. Now that I am here I can see the sacrifices that were necessary in the form of an unconventional approach to paying the bills, and a willingness to make sacrifices to see the world and gain understanding of part of it.

Was it worth it? I’m still here to tell the tale.

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Driving Through West Branch

Meeting House

Meeting House

WEST BRANCH— After my talk at the Quaker school, I drove west through the darkened town. The streets were familiar as I had walked them each two years ago during a political campaign. I remembered faces and conversations as each one passed. It’s not my town, so I let the memories go into the night. I was ready to be home.

West Branch is the liberal center of Cedar County, with part of the city situated in Johnson County. There are two Quaker meetings, and the birthplace and presidential library of the first Quaker president, Herbert Hoover. The city is about more than Quakerism. There was no time for that as I drove into a western sky glowing from Coralville’s bright lights.

2012 was the worst heat and drought I remember. It was relentless. I wore shorts and blue short sleeve shirts to door knock during the campaign, covering almost every street in every town, and most unincorporated areas in the district. I approached farmsteads scattered midst the drought stricken corn to tell our tale. It was a scorcher and we lost the election.

Some say people receive their information about politics from the television, but I don’t know about that. I get most of mine from people I know or meet, experiences I have, and a few trusted news sites on the Internet. There is a headiness in being involved with politics, mostly from meeting the candidates, some of whom are recognizable in the broader society. The trouble is we can’t live our lives in isolation. Like it or not, we are connected to the body politic, and to accomplish things, one is required to engage.

Yet on some nights all we care about is getting home, and Saturday night, home was enough. That and driving through the darkness to something other than the ersatz illumination of a city on the horizon—toward sleep and tomorrow’s promise.

Posted in Politics, Work Life | Tagged ,