LAKE MACBRIDE— On the second to last day of 2013, it is nine degrees below zero with little reason to venture outside. The kitchen is well stocked with food, and there is plenty to occupy an active mind. The only thing lacking is time to accomplish everything that needs doing. For a change, I spent time getting focused soon after waking.
I plan to continue writing this blog in 2014. In case you missed it, there is a tag cloud in the right hand column where readers can pick topics of interest. Seldom have I worked any subject for very long, although local food, worklife and sustaining the human species (locally and more generally) continue to be topics that most engage me. I’ll probably write about those in 2014.
Sometimes my posts are pretty good and other times… If you made it this far, I hope you’ll read more, and either RSS, follow or twitter with me by clicking one of the links to the right.
My commitment is to continue to make it worth while for readers to stop by.
LAKE MACBRIDE— At 6:56 p.m. on Dec. 28, 1951, I was born at Mercy Hospital in Davenport, Iowa to Mr. and Mrs. Jack H. Deaton. Curiously, my mother’s full name is not on the birth certificate, although the attending physician, Howard A. Weis, M.D., is. We lived at 1730 Fillmore Street, a duplex shared with my maternal grandmother, down the street from where I was baptized, and three blocks from the hospital. A few photographs and memories of that time survive. I believe I had a normal city childhood among people who never had much money, but had a well defined culture centered on family, work and church.
Soon after, we moved to a house my parents bought at 919 Madison Street. While there, I was hospitalized for a head injury from a swing set in the basement, and still carry the scar. My sister was born in 1955, and my brother in 1956. In 1957 I entered Kindergarten at the Thomas Jefferson Elementary School on Marquette Street where my teacher, Ms. Frances Rettenmaier wrote about me, “he has good work habits and is willing and able to accept responsibility in the room.”
My parents sold the house on Madison on contract, and we moved to a rental behind the Wonder Bakery on River Drive. I attended first grade at Sacred Heart Cathedral where Sister Mary Edwardine, B.V.M. was the first of six nuns, along with two lay teachers, who taught me in parochial grade schools. I recall this because Mother kept all of my report cards. During the spring of 1959, my parents bought the house where I lived until leaving home to attend college in 1970. I transferred to Holy Family School in the parish of the same name, and spent some of the best years I recall as the Polish-American odd duck among children who were mostly the descendents of German and Irish immigrants. I met my best friend in the seventh grade and our friendship has endured. I entered Assumption High School during the Fall of 1966.
My father died in an industrial accident on Feb. 1, 1969, and the company he worked for gave me a four-year scholarship which I used at the University of Iowa beginning the Fall of 1970. My grades were lackluster in college, and I drifted, but graduated in four years with a bachelor’s degree in English, listening to the commencement exercises on the radio while I tie-dyed some shirts in the basement of our rented house on Gilbert Court in Iowa City.
When Richard Nixon resigned the presidency on Aug. 9, 1974 I felt a weight had been lifted. I had a little money and decided to tour Europe after college, visiting Canada, England, France, Spain, Italy, Austria, Germany and Holland. While in Rome, I had an audience with Pope Paul VI.
I worked a couple of low wage jobs in Davenport upon my return to Iowa. When the Vietnam War ended with the fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975, I decided to follow in my father’s footsteps and enlist in the U.S. Army that winter. I began basic training at Fort Jackson, S.C. in January 1976, took Officer Candidate Training at Fort Benning, Ga., and was assigned to a mechanized infantry battalion in the Eighth Infantry Division in Mainz-Gonsenheim, West Germany.
I served in the Fulda Gap, attended French Army Commando School, and was an exchange officer with a French Marine regiment in Vannes, France. On two occasions, some of my Iowa friends were able to visit and we made brief tours of Germany, France, Spain and other countries.
In 1979, after military service, I returned to Davenport and was accepted into the American Studies Program in the graduate college of the University of Iowa. I received my master of arts degree in May 1981, achieving a 4.0 grade average and feeling I had made up for my lackluster undergraduate years.
In order to stay in Iowa City after graduate school, I secured a job at the university, where I met my future wife, Jacque. We were married on Dec. 18, 1982. I began a career in transportation in March 1984 at CRST, Inc. in Cedar Rapids. Our daughter was born in 1985 in Iowa City and brought home to our house on the southeast side of Cedar Rapids. We relocated to Merrillville, Ind. in 1987, where I was a terminal manager for two years. I left the company to work for Amoco Oil Company in Chicago and eighteen months later, returned to CRST. I was transferred back to Cedar Rapids in 1993 and retired on July 3, 2009 as director of operations for CRST Logistics, Inc.
During the time after Nixon’s resignation until the 2000 Al Gore v. George W. Bush election, I remained mostly inactive in politics. The election and George W. Bush’s administration, especially after the Sept. 11, 2001 Al-Qaeda attacks, incensed me enough to get involved again. Beginning with the 2004 election I was very active in partisan politics and contributed in a small way to significant victories in 2006, 2008, 2010 and 2012. My political life culminated in getting elected as a Township Trustee during a write in campaign in 2012 while I managed an unsuccessful campaign for a statehouse candidate.
When our daughter left home to attend college in 2003, I began to get more involved in our community, and was appointed to the county board of health for two terms. This led to meeting friends around the state and country, and I became involved in a number of organizations, including Physicians for Social Responsibility.
I contributed to advocacy efforts to pass the Smoke-Free Iowa Act, to stop the coal fired power plants in Waterloo and Marshalltown from being built, to ratify the New START Treaty in the U.S. Senate, and to stop a nuclear power finance bill proposed in the Iowa legislature. In August 2013 I graduated from Al Gore’s training as a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.
Having helped organize to protect our environment on the first Earth Day in 1970, I have come full circle, making environmental advocacy the center piece of my volunteer time today.
Importantly, I began blog writing in November 2007.
LAKE MACBRIDE— A friend forwarded a link to an article titled, “The 10 Awful Truths about Book Publishing,” that reported more than three million books were published in 2010 yet sales were down. Stephen Piersanti, president of Berrett-Koehler Publishers wrote, “there is no general audience for most nonfiction books, and chasing after such a mirage is usually far less effective than connecting with one’s communities.” In other words, unless you have kismet, keep writing, and building relationships to develop your own market for your writing. I came to a similar conclusion, and a number of area authors seem to be pursuing this approach as well. What gives?
Part of my writing efforts have been figuring out what role words on a page or screen would play in life. Where it ended was “as a self-employed writer, the challenges are to find venues for writing, and to improve one’s skills. For most of us, writing is seldom paid work in the era of social media. My current writing can be viewed on my website pauldeaton.com.” This statement, posted on my LinkedIn profile, has been a sanity keeper and set my expectations about publishing low, while maintaining a reason to write. Sure, I would like to make a living from writing, but the simple truth is not many people do, and the number who sell more than 250 copies of their book once published is miniscule. The endgame is if a viable book idea was forthcoming, the work will be self-published and marketed.
There is a lesson to be learned from the prairie troubadour, Vachel Lindsay. Lindsay was one of the best known poets in the United States during his lifetime, but faded into obscurity after his death by suicide. He bartered poetry for food and lodging, and self-published works like, “Rhymes To Be Traded For Bread” toward that end. History has been unkind to Vachel Lindsay, and today his poetry is a difficult read.
The lesson to be learned is that we all live a life of struggle and desire. It is possible to self-publish a book, but the idea of written pieces as currency, or making a living solely from publishing and selling books is not realistic for most of us, and may never have been. It certainly didn’t work out for Vachel Lindsay, who had the fame that would presumably enable sales. Maybe he didn’t understand how to do it, struggling with in person sales negotiations to secure a bed and meal for the night, such bartering consuming a disproportionate amount of his time and energy. He worked hard, but maybe didn’t work smart enough.
The challenge isn’t the writing, it’s finding the reason to write and the opportunity to do so. For now that means sitting in front of a screen most mornings trying to figure out the meaning of a life. Hopefully readers will find some resonance with theirs. This may be as published as one person’s writing gets.
LAKE MACBRIDE— So begins the quiet time. Snow covers the ground, temperatures are well below freezing, and life turns inward toward family and friends, and reading, writing and cooking, as we approach the winter solstice. Somewhat spontaneous, and upon us all at once, there is practiced ritual to help us make it through the days.
Since making the last CSA delivery during Thanksgiving week, these days have also been a time of recuperation. The year’s physical labor was not without its toll. Tendons, ligaments and connective tissue are not as flexible as they once were, so despite a cautious approach to work, I have been a bit sore. Recovery is well under way, but I don’t recall that aspect of life from previous holiday seasons. Who knew naproxen sodium and skin moisturizer would become as prevalent as Christmas greetings and holiday lights?
Today, I’ll write and mail the fundraising letter for a social group. I’ll read a book, and plan for next year. There are a few errands in the hopper as we move toward the weekend. Then there will be the bustle of house cleaning, and decorating from the boxes of stored memories kept below the stairwell. One can get lost in the pattern and there is a yearning to do so because of its comfort and familiar warmth.
A time to let go of ambition and desire, and to return to being native.
LAKE MACBRIDE— Having a headache rots. Having one on Saturday rots more. Last Saturday, my headache was bad enough to cancel the whole day’s schedule with the exception of working at the newspaper. That wasn’t the worst of it.
Something happened to shuffle my memory, creating chunks and particles that float before my mind’s eye like the colored shapes in a kaleidoscope. As it happens, I try to recognize the bits and pieces. They are familiar, but disjointed from whatever associations may have existed. The sense is they are important, but maybe not. It has been a weird few days since then.
Whatever it was, Saturday stands as a line between my past and what will be— something I need more than want. We all cling to memories and forget they serve our future, not nostalgia for days of yore. It was a clean cut, enabling a fresh approach to each day’s endeavors. Yet the bits and pieces persist.
The effect has been to concentrate on creating well considered cultural objects: writing, food, trips in the car, segments of time spent with others. One fears, and to some extent welcomes, the idea we only live once and had better make the best of it. That is where I’m finding myself today.
Whatever was lost on Saturday may not be found, and it’s time to let go and move on after the shuffle.
There were two pictures of biscuits and gravy next to each other in my Facebook newsfeed Sunday morning. One from Salt Fork Kitchen and one from Big Grove Brewery, two new restaurants that opened this year in Solon. While I am not partial to the dish, one has to appreciate the fact that there is some competition for the Sunday brunch trade on Main Street. Not to leave them out, the American Legion serves the dish for breakfast as well.
In this simple offering is a sign of hope for revitalizing Main Street in our and many other small towns. While the shelf stable and highly processed foods available in most grocery stores serve a purpose in family meals, there is a trend toward using fresh ingredients and sourcing food locally. Whether we realize it or not, Solon is in the mainstream of this trend.
At last count, there were eight places to get something to eat on Main Street in Solon, counting the grocery store and the gas station. In addition, a number of local growers produce everything from spring radishes to fall squash. In our midst, without us really being aware of it, we have the necessary elements of a vibrant local food system.
In order to revitalize Main Street, people have to want to come there, and since these new eateries opened, I have noticed more vehicles filling the newly designed parking spaces downtown. That is a good thing. I don’t know, but the increased foot traffic has to be good for established businesses like the grocery store, the hardware store, the barber shop and others.
If we seek to become boosters of life in Solon, we should support our Main Street businesses, and with the recently improved local food scene, there is more reason to do so.
LAKE MACBRIDE— Walking across Highway One to the mushroom park lot, the headache felt worse the closer I got to the car. After proof reading next week’s newspaper, driving home, and assessing the situation, things were bad enough to call off the rest of Saturday’s activities. It became a day comprised mostly of fighting off a painful headache— something I don’t usually have to do. The good news is this morning, I feel re- and ready to renew year-end activities. Being a sixty-something, I know not every day is as productive as one would like.
At this point my reader-o-meter is nagging that I had better get to the meat of this post to retain the few who stuck through that first, self-indulgent paragraph, if any. So here it is. Thanks for reading this blog.
When I started writing on a public blog during November 2007, it was a big step from sending an occasional letter to the editor of a local newspaper, to something that anyone with Internet access could see and, if I let them, could comment upon. With the exception of Iowa City Patch and Blog for Iowa, I’ve taken down my previous iterations of blogs and reduced them to bound paper on a shelf. So what’s up with that?
The persistence of blog writing is, and should be very brief. Some posts from the first years were better than others, but I’d just as well have posting be fresh, and of the moment. Downloading and printing old work is part of the process, and I don’t open those books very often. Not many care about yesterday’s news, let alone the musings of an isolate citizen of the plains. If there is a more persistent story, it would be better handled by word smithing at my desk, and spending the effort to get it published more permanently. Not much of what I have written or said is of high enough caliber for that.
Mostly, blog writing is a way of working ideas out. Taking something, and adding a bit of research, a bit of the opinions of others, a photo, and making something else. A snapshot of how we approached an issue, recipe, behavior or artifact in a given moment. Let’s face it, with tens of millions of blogs, there isn’t much original thinking going on, and the main purpose of blogging is to put reasonably articulate stuff out there to find like minded people and see what they have to say. Blogging is more about us.
So thanks for hanging with me. I plan to keep on writing next year, and I hope you will return.
LAKE MACBRIDE— Having never been a fan of the UNESCO City of Literature designation for Iowa City, I can see why people like it. It gives the social mavens something to preen over. In telling the story of Iowa’s development into a cultural oasis among fields of row crops, mine is somewhat different than what I read and hear about from the source of brightly lit night skies to the south. The main benefit of what the late Darrell Gray described as the U.S.S. Prairie Schooner has been an increased ability to hear writers, authors and lecturers invited by the local literati to speak or read from their work. Last night it was Margaret Atwood.
I don’t know Atwood or her work at all, so it was easy to listen to her talk without prejudice. Somewhere in a box, I have a copy of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” which someone posted on social media is “canonical.” First to admit my deficiencies, I looked up canonical and it means, “included in the list of sacred books officially accepted as genuine.” Genuine is good, and when I find my copy, I’ll give it a try.
What most engaged me was Atwood’s question and answer period. Between you, me and the Internet, I didn’t care much for some of the questions, especially if they revealed too much about the questioner. One teacher went on about a group of women students and their class. She had one of Atwood’s works on the syllabus, but it appeared she wasn’t very knowledgeable about it. An awkward moment that soon passed. While I’m complaining, in the row in front of me was a couple behaving like they were in Juliet’s boudoir, and one or both of them needed a shower to wash away an offensive body odor that reminded me of stints in the oil patch of West Texas. Get a room people and take a shower before coming out in public. My neighbor to the right made a comment about reading the Guardian on my handheld device while waiting for the event to start. Nonetheless, we live life’s diversity, and these things were not a real distraction, even if recalled here.
I perked up at the question about the e-book – paper book divide. Atwood said the market share of e-books had declined from 30 to 20 percent, and that e-readers were better suited for short works. That resonates. She also mentioned her “Three Reasons to Keep Paper Books,” which can be found here, and is worth a read.
Margaret Atwood was smart, witty and attentive to the audience. I was happy to immerse myself in the weird, smelly, nosy and boisterous literary scene in the city just to hear her speak.
LAKE MACBRIDE— The afternoon was spent making applesauce with the last of the fallen apples from the Sept. 19 storm. They stored well, and six quart Mason jars and a pint are processing in the water bath canner. It’s local food more so than most: they fell about 30 feet from the kitchen window during the storm.
After experimenting with applesauce techniques, I cored, but did not peel the apples, cut each into about 16 pieces, steamed them in a bit or water until they released their own juice and begin to fall apart, and processed them through a food mill. I also made chunky-style apple sauce, using a potato masher before spooning it into a jar. No spices or sweeteners here. They can be added when serving, but this applesauce really needs no additives.
Is the story of my applesauce afternoon worth writing or reading? I don’t know about the latter, but the process of writing helps me understand life on the plains in a way that takes the rough, dull and lonely parts out, rendering it into a sweet pulp to serve to friends and family, and packaged to give as a gift. Seriously. Who wants to hear about the rough, dull and lonely parts of life anyway?
There is the actuality of the time spent and the image above. If that’s all there were in this post, an autobiography of a moment in time, it would not be worth reading. The hope is that by imagining a life, and writing it down, some value can be added, and if we are lucky, an epiphany reached.
According to WordPress, there are more than 72 million blogs on their site. Add in the other sites and there is a lot to read, many thoughtful, some hate-filled, and more than a person could ever consider. For the blogger, it is a way to write, an outlet for expression in a world where only a very small number of writers get read, and even less get paid. We need outlets.
There is a first draft quality to a blog post. A flawed freshness that can be like the life from which it is expressed. Sometimes it is sticky, syrupy sweet or messy, and that goes with the territory. We’re not the Scientific American or Harvard Business Review in the blogosphere. What we hope to be is an expression of the imagination. Taking the desultory moments of a modern life as the ingredients of something better, something universal. Bloggers mostly fail to reach the sublime, but once in a while, things come together.
So there it is, the ABCs of writing in autobiography, blogging and canning. Write about what one knows, do actually write on some platform, and think in terms of a finite product that is useful to someone, to nourish a body, but more importantly, one’s intellect and spirit. There are benefits, not the least of which can be jars of applesauce.
LAKE MACBRIDE— To support a couple of significant projects, more computing capacity is needed in our home on the lake. It seems unlikely any funds will be disbursed to support the projects. Rather, old computers and equipment will be located, resurrected and deployed in a way to create a couple of new work stations and bring focus to these new intentions. What does that mean?
Like many who have been on-line since the mid-1990s, we bought, sold, donated, gave away and recycled a significant number of computers. I lost count, but over the years, at least 20, with a number of them still in the house. At first, the trouble was finding a way to dispose of them without tossing them in the landfill. Some were given to a local political activist for potential use in campaigns. Too, for a while we donated old equipment to Goodwill, and now, they have a local specialty store called Reboot that will take old computer hardware and recycle it. In the case of those remaining at home, ample storage space and entropy have accumulated ten CPUs or so. There are plenty of working processors for new projects.
What are the projects? Two are most important. First, there is the persistent need of consultants to focus on business development. Determining how we will pay the bills and seek fulfillment at the same time requires a minimum number of distractions. For this, I chose an old laptop the battery charging function of which ceased to work and is too expensive to repair. It works fine while plugged into an electrical socket. Whatever work is not backed up may be at risk, but that can be addressed with good backup habits.
Secondly is a big writing project that requires a focus on words on a screen. For this project, no Internet access is needed or wanted. Regardless of the information available on the web, the craft of writing is done a word or phrase at a time, and distractions of any kind are unwelcome. For this work station, I picked a CPU returned from a family member with a monitor returned from another. The main challenge will be getting the same version of Microsoft Word installed on all three CPUs without feeling guilty about using the same license on more computers than the software package allows. There is also the issue of finding the disk, which eludes me at present and will eventually show up (I hope).
Operating systems? The desktop CPU has Windows XP, and the two laptops have Windows 7. XP is on the writing CPU, so that will take me into a different world when I boot up, and that may be okay. Regrettably, it has a 2002 version of Microsoft Word on it, and that’s too different from the 2007 version on the other two.
All of this is minor accommodation to a person who continues to recall the MS-DOS command prompts, and using computers before the introduction of the graphical user interface. One suspects people don’t even recall what is a GUI, but they have gotten much better.
Just about done with the setup, so now, let the working begin, he said hopefully.