Living in Society

Waning Days

Obama’s Last Campaign Rally, Des Moines, Iowa, Nov. 5, 2012

Yesterday afternoon President Trump and Vice President Pence met and decided they would work together for the rest of the administration.

That meeting is similar to one held on Aug. 7, 1974, between President Richard Nixon, U.S. Sen. Barry Goldwater, U.S. House Minority Leader John Rhodes, and U.S. Senate Minority Leader Hugh Scott. The three Congressmen made it clear to Nixon he faced all-but-certain impeachment, conviction and removal from office in connection with the Watergate scandal. Nixon announced his resignation the next evening.

What the Trump-Pence meeting means is neither a resignation from Trump nor his removal by the process outlined in the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution by Pence and the cabinet will be forthcoming. The U.S. House of Representatives has enough co-sponsors of the Article of Impeachment to impeach the president. A vote is expected tomorrow.

Last news was the U.S. House would pass the article of impeachment and immediately transmit it to the U.S. Senate which is scheduled to reconvene on Jan. 19. U.S. Senator Chuck Shumer is seeking a path in the Senate rules to call the Senators back to Washington earlier for an impeachment trail. It is unknown if Trump will be removed from office before the scheduled inauguration of Joe Biden.

Yesterday 14 busloads of National Guard troops arrived in Washington. The FBI indicated armed protests are expected in Washington and in all 50 state capitols on or around the date of the inauguration. The Department of Defense said they will review troops deployed to the Biden inauguration to ensure they don’t have sympathies to domestic terrorists. President Trump declared a state of emergency in Washington, D.C. yesterday, citing the “emergency conditions” surrounding President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration. The president-elect continues to plan the inauguration ceremony outdoors. Biden is not afraid.

It was clear from the day of Trump’s inauguration his presidency was going to be bad. We didn’t know how bad. On the cusp of a second impeachment by the U.S. House, the president may end his term at a low point. The sad news is there are nine days left and what happens is anyone’s guess. It could get worse. We must accept the bad news of the Trump-Pence meeting last night and hope for the best from our political leaders.

News accounts of time-lines of Jan. 6 events at the capitol are being developed and published. Each hour we learn a little bit more. Those of us removed from the capitol follow the news closely, partly because it is so bad, partly because we hope for an end to the corruption, sedition and incompetence followed by a new, positive beginning.

As Trump prepares to make his exit there is a lot to learn. A book has already been written about what needs to be done to shore up the presidency after the Trump years. There is discussion of whether the White House family quarters will be safe, sanitary and secure immediately after noon on January 20, 2021. Perhaps the new president should stay somewhere else until a detox of the building can be done. There is much uncertainty today as the incompetence of President Trump is revealed, and the hopeful, positive plans of President-elect Biden move forward in tandem.

In the waning days of the Trump administration we are saddened it turned out worse than we foresaw on Jan. 20, 2017. There is little consolation other than that our country endured the indignity of this administration. Despite the breach of the capitol building six days ago our democracy was unflinching and resilient. After Trump, who knows for how long?


Editor’s Desk #1

Workbench cleared for seeding onions.

The value of having a good editor is something every writer knows. When one is self-published, isolated due to the coronavirus pandemic, and a novice at book-length writing, a meet up with an editor is inevitable.


My process this year began simply: produce 1,000 words daily, five days per calendar week, and edit on Saturday. It sounded simple and doable when I began. I hadn’t expected the writing process would be a flight into imagination with no net and a flimsy tether. Maybe the editor’s job is to rein that in, put a fence around it, and get it to grow the way sheep do. There is a case to be made to turn edited rushes (results of a daily writing session after my first edit) immediately over to an editor. What decent editor would take such work without compensation?

Just because I work without income doesn’t mean an editor should. I would argue that free editors must be viewed with skepticism. Why are they doing the work, and for free? By the nature of quarantine writing, meet up with a professional editor will be delayed.

Writing the daily 1,000 is like mining coal: the writer follows the seam where it goes. As a result, common themes are found in different daily rushes. There is bad writing that must be improved. Part of the editing process is to hang thematic segments together on a time line and create a consistent, readable narrative. It takes more time than I allowed as I spent parts of last Saturday and Sunday working on rushes. I’m far from done editing and feel an urge to write more rushes.

The autobiography writer’s imagination isn’t linear or sequential. One session leads to new things, not all of them related to each other. In some cases I spent the rest of the day considering events and people once forgotten. In others I discovered new information after writing the initial rushes. The first challenge is to remember what happened and get those things written down regardless of order.

Looking at photographs and reading historical accounts informs a steady yet irregular emergence of what happened. For example, I’m working on a section called Piety Hill, which is the last place Mother said she was born at home. I remember her different accounts over the years and am not sure whether Piety Hill was her final answer, or the original and only one. I settled when writing her obituary, “Born at home on July 28, 1929, near LaSalle, Ill.” An editor might accept that as my siblings did before publication. This evaluation of stories of a single event told by different people is something Clifford Geertz wrote about. While there are multiple stories about a single event, the writer has to decide whether to present them all or to keep them simple and singular as I did with Mother’s obituary.

While thematic issues like education, work, family and travel may hang well on a timeline, the timeline is not the narrative. Too, I can’t imaging writing a sequential work with each paragraph’s content isolated from others. That’s not how we live and to construct such a thing would be a monstrosity and eminently unreadable.

For example, one of the stories I tell repeatedly is about a gathering at Mother’s sister’s home on Gooding Street in LaSalle the night Marilyn Monroe committed suicide. We children were sleeping in the living room when Father came in the room and announced the news. It seemed unusual for him to do that at the time, giving the event increased importance to our family.

The date is fixed, Aug. 4, 1962, and that anchors my narrative in popular culture. Maybe the reason I retell the story is its relationship to popular culture as something more important than what we kids were doing. The role of the autobiography writer is to de-emphasize broader cultural images and focus on the single life. My habit, and it’s a bad one, is to get out the same well worn narrative sawhorses and retell them. An editor could point out those segments and ask, “Do you really want to say that?” I need to recognize it on my own.

Because this is pandemic writing I don’t see getting an editor until I get enough written to call it a first draft, hopefully a year from now. For the time being I need a better rush editing process because even two days a week will not be enough time. That may change as I evolve into the work and gain experience with long-form writing. This week I also must return to last week’s themes and fill out detail. As I continue to unbox the archives this process will be constantly present.

One positive note is the rush editing process has helped me consider the broader themes and narrative. The end result is likely to benefit. For now, suffice it that I recognize the need for an editor. Until I get more of the first draft written, that editor will be me.

Kitchen Garden

Garden Supplies

Winter 2021

This Sunday is a good day to take stock and prepare work space for the garden. It’s time to plant seeds indoors.

I placed the fifth order from my garden suppliers and despite the snow covered ground feel ready. The investment in seeds and equipment was $600 so far. Because of the derecho I will be investing in some new fence posts and fencing. It would be very American to post copies of my order forms, although I’ll save readers the trouble. Details left unsaid are often more interesting.

It’s been a month since I had exercised outdoors. I miss the daily gardening, walks, jogging, and bicycle trips. Today’s garden planning session should provide hope for spring. If we have a cold spell I’ll prune fruit trees, although that’s not enough to call it exercise.

I’m undecided whether to return to the farm this year. Mainly because of the coronavirus pandemic, but also because each year our household needs less of the vegetables for which I bartered my labor. Need to re-read the discussion thread and make a decision soon.

For breakfast I made oatmeal: a cup of water, tablespoon of dried cranberries, teaspoon of sugar, dash of salt, and a third cup of steel cut oats. Portion-wise this sates my early morning appetite. The combination of flavors is just right. If I got fancy I would add a dash of cinnamon, allspice and cloves. Not feeling that fancy today.


Second Saturday

Experimenting with traditional pancakes using rice flour and butternut squash.

2021 has been rough out of the gates. The coronavirus pandemic is raging, armed insurrectionists occupied the U.S. Capitol for a few hours on Jan. 6, and as a society we are as divided as ever. Happy flippin’ New Year!

The combination of cold weather, snow cover, and the virus have kept me mostly indoors. No more trips to town unless it is for provisioning or medical appointments. In the last three weeks I made one trip to the wholesale club, and that’s it for leaving the house.

I go to the driveway and breathe fresh air a few times a day. I don’t want to risk turning an ankle walking on the trail or in the yard.

It’s just as well because I’m using the time before gardening season to get a solid start on my book. 8,882 words this week with a stack of edits waiting for later today. The process is a bit sketchy as it’s the first time I began the project with a long-term writing schedule. Some days writing is based on artifact(s) or previous text, some days mining memory. The main roadblock is so much of my archival material is unorganized and stored throughout the house.

Yesterday I used a photo album from the early 1960s. Taking time to observe each photo, letting memory work, one thing led to another and my daily word goal was met easily. We’ll see how the edits go yet I believe idea production was good. It’s pretty easy pickings because I’m at the beginning of the project.

Another thing is there is so much material. I’ve been a pack rat about keeping artifacts, and there will be inadequate interest to make this book as comprehensive as it could be. I’m undecided about photographs. Picking a dozen or so would take a lot of distillation and they would represent more than their content. A benefit of going through the writing process is the archives will get organized. Presumably the quantity will be reduced.

On the second Saturday of 2021 the local environment seems quiet. It is a good day to stay indoors and work on projects. With the coronavirus everywhere, it’s a safe thing to do.

Juke Box

Juke Box – Gas Station Women

Here’s one by Phil Ochs.

“Fill ‘er up with love please won’t you mister? Just the Hi-Test is what I used to say. But that was before I lost my baby. I’ll have a dollar’s worth of regular today.”

Happy Friday!

Living in Society

January 6, 2021

Occupying U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office, Jan. 6, 2021. (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

There haven’t been days like Jan. 6, 2021 in my life. Ever.

It’s been clear for a while, certainly since Georgia was called for Joe Biden, who won the 2020 presidential election. President Trump refused to recognize his loss. Yesterday during a speech in Washington he said he would never concede.

Trump urging a gathering of well-dressed cosplayers to storm the capitol building was too much. Trump has been too much since his inaugural address. While I need to process it, one thing is clear: two more weeks of Trump would be too much and he should resign. If he won’t, the Congress should remove him.

While growing up, ours was a Democratic family. We were accepted in the community even though Iowa was and still is a Republican state. It likely helped that three of the four presidents in my life by 1968 were Democrats: Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Baines Johnson. It also helped that Father belonged to the meat cutters union.

Dwight Eisenhower was Republican yet he was also supreme commander of Allied forces in Western Europe during World War II. A number of World War II veterans lived in our community and spoke often about the war. We could relate to Eisenhower. Some of his initiatives, like creating the Interstate Highway system, benefited us directly. Our political life was good and a part of the culture that occupied a small space in each day. Eisenhower would not be elected to anything by today’s Republican party.

As years went by that all changed and political discourse gained hegemony in our lives. It began with Nixon who was forced to resign the presidency because he was a crook. We knew he was a liar after his televised explanation of the war in Cambodia. We didn’t like having a liar and crook as president. The shooting incident at Kent State in 1970 pushed me and others over the edge. I still have the clipping of us demonstrating at the Iowa National Guard Armory in Davenport.

Then there was Reagan who opened the door for dramatic change in our politics. What doesn’t get talked about enough is his ceasing enforcement of the Fairness Doctrine. It led to the rise of right wing talk radio and FOX News, both of which had a deleterious effect on our politics. If Reagan did some good things on nuclear disarmament and for the environment, the downside was much worse. The Reagan Revolution began dismantling the government. Every Republican president after Reagan — George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush and Donald Trump — chipped away at government. Republicans would say the changes were needed. Democrats would say we can do better.

At 1:30 a.m. today I joined 160,000 others in viewing a live stream of the U.S. House of Representatives proceedings regarding acceptance of the certified results of the presidential and vice presidential election. We all should have been sleeping. It was hard to look away even though the speeches were mostly pure drivel. It should be so simple: voters registered and voted, state officials counted the votes and certified them, and certifications were sent to the U.S. Congress to be counted. It should have happened during daylight and but for the cosplay it would have.

I’m tired of middle of the night politics. When issues are important, like last night, I stay awake and listen or watch. If I know the legislators I text or email with them while debate is ongoing. How could I sleep? I’m usually a wreck the next day.

If politics takes more of our time, it’s because old assumptions are no longer valid and so much is at stake. People like me planned our lives based on assumptions about government. Republicans have changed everything and would change it more given the opportunity.

We have to get to a politics of daylight where everyone is respected, can participate, and have a say. Except in matters of war we don’t need to debate at night. Jan. 6, 2021 serves as a reminder we can’t follow the path of Reagan, the Bushes and Trump any longer. We must find a new way together. I’m willing to do my part.

Living in Society

First Library Card

First Library Card, November 1959.

The public library has been important in my life. It began in 1959 at the American Foursquare the first year we moved there. I was in the second grade. The bookmobile made weekly rounds near us, at first to the church parking lot, later to the drug store parking lot at Five Points. I became a regular customer.

Entering from the back, we browsed the stacks, usually Mother and me joined by my sister when she got older. Before there was the Bookmobile I relied on books and magazines Mother gave me for reading.

There were biographies of the Ringling Brothers, Thomas Edison, George Washington Carver, the Wright Brothers and others which expanded my world. The first thing I checked upon arrival was whether there were any new ones in the series. We enjoyed Dr. Seuss books when they were available, which wasn’t always. All the kids who frequented the Bookmobile liked Dr. Seuss so when they were returned they immediately went back out.

When ready to check out, we made our way to the front, where the driver sat in the same seat he used to drive the Bookmobile. He voice-recorded the check outs into a microphone then we left. It wasn’t my last library experience.

The idea the city had a library, and the economics of one organization buying books that could be shared, was part of understanding cooperation and fair play. It was a lesson learned early in my life, part of getting along in the city.

Today our community of about 6,000 has a great public library. We gave money, built it, and then donated the finished building to the city. The irony is I rarely check out a book there. My main use of the library is to socialize. I check the new book shelves from time to time, use the meeting rooms, donate books, and attend the Friends of the Library used book sale. During the coronavirus pandemic I donated some new puzzles for kids to check out. With the pandemic most library activity ceased. Maybe the library will open again this year or next. I hope so.

I still have memories of the Bookmobile and my blue, hand-typed library card. That sustains me for now.

Social Commentary

What We Are Not

1940s War Diary, anonymous author.

I came across a war diary from the 1940s. While not sure how it came to be mine, it likely came from a box of odds and ends at an estate auction or from the used book section of a thrift shop. The first entry, tells a story of an Iowan at the time of U.S. entry into World War II:

I’m not much of a writer and don’t suppose I even will be but this isn’t supposed to be a great work of literature but rather a common down to earth story of a common down to earth boy.

Undoubtedly you know him. He is any of those numerous boys who left the farms, villages or cities — the fresh smelling earth of the farms or the clamoring errands of the city — to take up for you and me, the battle of survival between right and wrong.

The boy joined the Army.

Discarded 1940s Iowa Journal, Author unknown

The views reflected in these paragraphs were commonly held.

A single life was the story of broad society. There was a need to record that story in writing. Individual will was suppressed in favor of a greater good. People had an innate ability to understand each other. Right and wrong were easily definable and commonly held views. The relativism that infected our society a couple of decades later is absent and makes the journal entry stand out.

When people speak with gauzy reverence of the generation of men and women who fought World War II, I get a bit nauseous. I knew men and women who participated in the war effort and if you asked them, they wouldn’t want special treatment. Most of them hardly talked about the sacrifices they made or about the war. None of them paraded around in uniforms afterward. If they kept their service uniforms, they were packed away and seldom, if ever, mentioned. Many women worked in domestic defense plants and wore no uniforms. They are often forgotten.

What struck me about this journal entry was its clarity. One notices where the author fit into society. There were shared beliefs and those beliefs were positive and affirming. 21st Century society has no such clarity. It may no longer be possible.

It took a lot to decipher the script yet I think I accurately captured it. I would never write the sentence, “Undoubtedly you know him,” about myself. We’ve become a society where no one seems to know anyone outside a small clique of friends, relatives and co-workers. The idea there are common goals? Just look at U.S. reaction to the coronavirus pandemic to see the absence of a common response. We no longer are common, down to earth people and that’s one source of today’s social problems.

What we are not may define who we should be.


Resolved in 2021

Winter wonderland, Jan. 3, 2021.

During the coronavirus pandemic I resolved to make something of the raw material of life, a week at a time, going forward. Not a New Year’s resolution, subject to artificial pressure and expected failure — a structured, new life.

After decades of working jobs, the school years — mine and our daughter’s, political election cycles, and growing seasons, those patterns were blown apart by the pandemic. This year it’s time to put everything back together in a way that creates something familiar yet new.

The endless, unstructured days have been wearing and wearying. My daily routine, with its check list of recurring tasks and framing to accomplish something, is fine. For the first ten months of the pandemic I thought it would soon be over. Today I know it won’t.

I won’t dwell on this long, but American reaction to the virus has been pitiful. While other nations knew and followed protocols needed to stop spread of the coronavirus, our society is not so educated or disciplined. As a result, as of today, more than 20.6 million people contracted COVID-19 and more than 351,000 deaths were attributed to it. The projections are for multiple hundred thousands of additional deaths from COVID-19 before the pandemic is declared over.

Vaccines have been created and approved in record time. That’s good. Our government has done little to organize a distribution network. Last week, vaccine producers reported warehouses full of vaccine that had not entered the distribution pipeline. They were waiting for direction. Not only are Americans pitiful, so is our federal government in its response to the coronavirus pandemic. It’s not that hard. Develop a plan to get the vaccine into people’s arms.

Set all the crazy aside, though. If we can’t get our individual house in order, there is little hope of surviving the pandemic, let alone helping family, friends and neighbors who need it.

I want a week back. You know, one with weekends where we do special stuff. Leading up to it would be hard, diligent work for useful purpose. The kind after which we could take it easy for a while… over a weekend. Most of my working life I didn’t have that, so why now? Because it’s possible, and with the pandemic, needed for structure.

I built a weekly schedule to write the first draft of my autobiography by the end of 2021 as a first priority. There are Monday through Friday writing shifts that produce 1,000 words each. On Saturday, that same time of day will be devoted to editing the week’s rushes. Once I’m done with editing, I’ll take the rest of Saturday and all day Sunday off from writing. Sounds simple. It’s made possible thanks to FDR (Social Security) and LBJ (Medicare).

Writing these blog posts is quick. I haven’t counted how many I’ve written but more than 3,000. An autobiography grounded in history will take longer to produce the same number of words. I don’t know how daily writing will be organized, and the research materials are definitely not easily accessible. Figuring all this out is a process and by the end of it, when the first draft is in hand, artifacts will be well organized, I predict. By setting a daily word count goal there is a measure of success.

There is other work to schedule in my work week, not the least of which is working on household projects, gardening, cooking, and eventually returning to social activity and advocacy. All that can wait for the end of winter while I focus on being a writer. I’m resolved some good will come from this project. The end result is made easier to accomplish by having a realistic plan.

Kitchen Garden

Farm Journal #1

Chicken at Sundog Farm

Happy New Year to my friends at Sundog Farm!

Hope everyone is well surviving the coronavirus pandemic. It made 2020 difficult, to say the least. Jacque and I remained virus free, although neighbors on two sides of us caught it and former Solon Mayor Steve Wright died from COVID-19 complications, as you may have heard. The virus is all around us and I’m reluctant to leave the house much.

I’m wrapping up old business and I saw the check from the sweet corn come through on my account this morning. Your sister still hasn’t cashed the $30 check from April for a t-shirt, so if you can give her a nudge on that, I’m not sure how long the bank will continue to cash it. If it doesn’t clear soon, I’ll presume she won’t cash it. Insert snarky comment for her about running a business here:

I’m not sure what I’m doing this coming season. Well, I know some things. When the derecho destroyed my small greenhouse I bought another. I plan to start onions in January using the channel trays I bought from you last year. I also got a heating pad from Johnny’s and may get a grow light. I don’t like having the trays inside for fear mold will form in the room where I put them. I also don’t want to run my space heater in the greenhouse continuously. I think you started onions in the basement. Is that true? If so, when did you start them and at what point did you give them light?

As far as soil blocking, I think the pandemic will remain with us for most of the season so we have to address that. As I may have mentioned, I don’t really like working by myself all the time. It did protect us from each other last year and one hopes the situation is not permanent. Last year I didn’t wear a mask, although I am now the proud owner of five homemade ones and can bring one along and wear it when I’m with people. Since it’s your farm, it is really up to you to tell me what to do. So what I’m saying is I’m open to the idea of a barter exchange in 2021. It’s time to start talking about that, although no particular hurry.

To better use the home time I started a writing project. Hoping to have a first draft done by next year at this time.

Hope you are bunkered in for the snow storm. Supposed to get 5-8 inches, I hear.

Regards, Paul