On Nov. 10, 2007 I launched a blog called Big Grove News, named after the rural township where I live.
I made three posts that day: a brief welcome announcement; a copy of a letter to the editor of the Solon Economist asserting the name of the Environmental Protection Agency should be changed to the Environmental Exploitation Agency under President George W. Bush, advocating for Democrats to caucus for John Edwards; and a remembrance of Norman Mailer who died that day.
Since then, under different names and platforms, my blogs traced my transition from a well-paid career in transportation through our daughter’s leaving Iowa after college, and my “retirement” at age 57. As readers know, I didn’t really retire nor ever will I. In the post-Reagan era working people get relief from a troubled world only when they head to the cemetery. Ten years later I’ve become a low-wage worker getting by well enough to support my writing.
I thank the many friends and editors who read my work, provided feedback, encouraged me, and helped improve my skills. My editors in the newspaper business — Lori Lindner, Jennifer Hemmingsen, Emily Nelson, Jeff Charis-Carlson and Doug Lindner — were invaluable to my craftsmanship. Trish Nelson’s editing since my first post at Blog for Iowa on Feb. 25, 2009 kept me focused on progressive issues. Her influence has been and is significant. When I think of who is reading me, she’s there.
I also thank John Deeth who noticed I had begun blogging that November. In the petri dish that was then Johnson County, Iowa that meant a lot. Laura Belin encouraged me to re-think my policy of taking posts off line. It was good advice and I’ve left them up ever since.
The fact of Barack Obama’s administration enabled my current desire and ability to write in public. Whatever flaws he had as president, his tenure created a political and social environment that encouraged me to let go the entanglement of a big job and venture out on my own. If the Republican had won in 2008 I’d likely still be working in transportation.
I live in a place with inherent stability. Townships were the first form of Iowa government and on clear nights I can close my eyes and see the removal of natives and destruction of prairie that led to today’s grid of land sections created by the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. Fence rows and gravel roads create the patchwork that today is Iowa seen from the sky. Whether the work of our forebears was good or bad, in 2007 it was a stable paradigm for rural life. The peaceful stability of living in Iowa enabled my writing.
The consumption of news, information, books and magazines combined with the explosion of social media after 2007 changed the way I read and write. The broad availability of information on the internet led me to pick a few areas and read deeply in them: foreign affairs, agriculture, slavery and the environment. My written pieces got shorter and more concise.
My earliest creative influences were William Shakespeare, Pablo Picasso, Pete Seeger, Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, Babe Ruth, Saul Bellow, Marlon Brando, Albert Einstein and John F. Kennedy.
Today’s influences are Al Gore, George Lakoff, Greg Sargent of the Washington Post, Jane Meyer and Elizabeth Kolbert of the New Yorker, Naomi Oreskes of Harvard University, Ari Berman of Mother Jones, and the trio of Associated Press writers Margie Mason, Robin McDowell and Martha Mendoza. I also follow and read most of what Daryl Kimball and Joe Cirincione write about nuclear non-proliferation. Current influences include well-known writers Joan Didion, John Irving and Simon Winchester.
I don’t watch television. I don’t (or can’t stand to) listen to radio, especially National Public Radio. Vera Ellen is likely the best dancer ever. I consume YouTube videos, including recent views of interviews with William S. Burroughs, Hunter S. Thompson, Robin Williams and Robbie Robertson. I don’t know or like much of current music but favor Sara Bareilles and Amadeus Electric Quartet. I still listen to the music of The Band, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, Peter, Paul and Mary, Paul Simon, Bert Jansch and the Incredible String Band.
Writing about my influences is indicative of a desire to continue blogging. As I reach the Social Security Administration’s “full retirement age” next month I expect to continue blogging as I have but do more writing off line. Ten years of blogging has prepared me well in politics and I hope to have something meaningful to say during the 2018 and 2020 election campaigns.
We never know what tomorrow might bring, although most good writers have a pretty good idea.