The endowments and the foundations won't, but you can help support my long-term exploration of the middle west, Vagabond In the Middle. Any donation to help defray expenses will be appreciated. Send to Tom Montag at: PO Box 8, Fairwater, WI 53931.
yesterday; she only nipped at us. It warmed up enough to clear much of the ice. Some snow is gone. Our driveway is not bare, but it's better than it has been for more than a month.
And January comes to an end. As bad as it might get, how bad can it be? The worst of winter is over, spring is within hailing distance. We can outlast whatever winter throws at us. Ha! Bring it on, bring it on.
Mild air. No frost on the windshield. A think skin of ice where water stood at the edge of the driveway. A grey sky. Shove the day in your pocket and take off with it.
The wind blows from west to east this morning.
The color of the grey sky is deep enough in places to be a blue coat. The stretch of snowy fields, the blue clouds, the long silence of the birds. Sometimes we look too much at ourselves, think to much of us. We must get outside ourselves. In this instance think of the birds and where they have gone off to. They sing, it's just that they're not singing for us today.
Of course we have the crows, which do nothing we ask of them.
about the universe's tendency to glob like things, you may remember. Well, as if I needed further proof that my theory holds water, before the day was done I received an invitation to participate in a "Poetry Cafe" the evening of April 12 at Parkview Middle School in Green Bay - in the shadow of Lambeau field, for you Packer fans.
There will be 2-4 poets involved, I'm told, and we'll each have a short while to tell the assembled students about ourselves and to read a bit of our work, then we'll gather in smaller groups and talk about the process of making poems, and - more important - the students will actually experience the process by making some poems of their own.
I think for beginning writers, kindling the fire of enthusiasm for writing is more important than actually teaching all the intricacies involved in poetry. If the student develops a passion for writing, a greater understanding will come later, naturally, as it is needed. Starting out, what is necessary is the fire for writing, the passion for it. At least that has been my own experience. I had identified myself as "a poet" long before I ever wrote anything even remotely passable as poetry. Yet I kept at it because I had the fire and - hey - I'm a poet.
By the end of the evening, if all goes as planned, each of those budding poets will have a poem to share during the open mic session which will wrap up the Poetry Cafe.
I think to myself: how fortunate these students are! How I wish I had seen a real live poet up close and personal when I was in middle school. Perhaps I wouldn't have felt like such a geek, an outsider among my own people.
It would have been terrific to hear someone tell me: it's okay, what you do, and here's how you might do it better.
Ivan said, "Paul's Cafe was the scene of a gathering of most of the brain power in Smith Center and surrounding community. At the east table, with an IQ that must have averaged in the high one fifties, was Lyle Morgan, Jim Meyer, Tim Albert, Robert Williams, and David Grey. At the west table was Stan Hooper, Arden Devlin, J. C. Chance, Dwayne McGinnis and John Bergman. There was probably at least two class valedictorians and maybe a salutatorian or two."
"I don't get no respect," Ivan said. "Last Saturday I walked into the elevator office and I was singing 'Happy Trails to You.' Ron Griffith said, 'Hey, Gene Autry.' I was trying to sound like Roy Rogers."
"You know, Ludene up there at Paul's Cafe is a darned good waitress," Ivan said. "She never gets flustered, is always pleasant, and is a hard, hard worker. And the thing of it is that the old boys sittin' around the table will tell each other what a good waitress Ludene is, but they never tell her.... So, Ludene, the old boys at the front table think you are a darned good waitress. There, now, I've said it for all of them."
"Where is that global warming and that El Nino when you really need em?" Ivan wondered. "Right now I am looking for that January thaw I used to hear about when I was little. And that Chinook wind. And I am ready to hear those TV weathermen start talking about that unseasonably mild weather that we used to have."
"It's remarkable," Ivan said, "that although Al Frieling has put on a few pounds and a few years, his wife, Kathy, is still as young and vivacious as she was twenty-six years ago. Kathy spends a lot of time working in her garden and isn't it true that time spent in your garden is not counted against you in your span of time here on this earth."
"Ernie Schlatter kinda dated himself last Tuesday afternoon," Ivan reported. "Ernie was talking about his basketball-playing days at Lebanon High School. Ernie said he played 'center.' No centers any more. Post players, power forwards, shooting guards, and point guards."
"Waiter Martin Gretchel," Ivan said, "carried eleven cups in one hand from the dishwasher to the cup shelf... in one hand."
"This is a really old story, but since Bruce and Bobbi Miles have one of them little cars, maybe it bears repeating," Ivan said. "You heard about the guy who had one of them small cars, a Marata or something like that. Well, he pulled up to a stoplight. A stretch limo pulled up right beside him. The driver of the little car hollered over at the chauffeur and said, 'My car has global positioning. Does yours?' The chauffeur growled, 'Yes.' The driver of the little car said, 'My car has got a micro wave in the glove box. Has yours?' The chauffeur snarled, 'Yes.' The driver of the little car said, 'My car has a full-size bed in the back. Does yours?' Just then the light changed and the limo roared off. A few days later, the limo driver saw the little car parked along the curb. The back windows of the little car were clouded over with steam. The limo driver went over and pounded on the little car. The driver of the little car came to the door wearing nothing but a towel. The limo driver said, 'Just wanted to tell ya, I just had a queen-sized bed put in the back.' The little car driver said, 'You didn't have to call me out of the shower just to tell me that, did ya?'"
"Here is something I don't know," Ivan said. "Does water freeze if the wind chill index is below thirty-two degrees or does the actual temperature have to be below thirty-two for water to freeze?"
It stayed fairly warm during the night so I don't know whether any of it has turned to ice.
My wife has turned on the television in the other room, reminding me how much I hate the empty noise of it. I don't know how what I'm hearing advances the day. Sounding gongs signifying nothing, or very little. And it distracts us from what is essential to life - heart beat, breath, rhythm of the day and the season, the play of sunlight in the bark of trees, the tweet of birds when birds tweet. We have the misconception that what's important has to be delivered to us, with advertising. No - what's important can be found on our own. Yet who teaches this? Whoever tries is crushed by the weight of a cynically fabricated American culture.
It is cold enough that the driveway is slick, wet enough it is even slicker. Grey, quiet sky. Yesterday's rain has hardly diminished the snow here at all.
Where water ran down the hill along Main Street downtown, there are very thin sheets or ribbons of ice now. It is difficult to tell where the water ends and the ice begins - there is no clear break between. There is a subtlety of ice this morning, hidden, treacherous, intolerant of motion, momentum.
Perhaps the sun, starting to show itself now, will be intolerant of ice. The shine on the street in Ripon, reflected bright enough to blind me, ought to be evidence of something.
that, in the same week, I received invitations to participate in Brandon Public Library's Authors Festival on September 14 and 15 and to read at the Foot of the Lake Poetry Collective's reading series at the Windhover Arts Center in Fond du Lac on March 6? I mean, one goes for months and months without such invitations, and then receives two of them only a few days apart.
Confirms my theory about the universe's tendency to glob like things together.
In the case of the Authors Festival in Brandon, I had to tell them I would not be able to participate on Friday, September 14, as I had already committed to reading at the Village Booksmith in Baraboo on that date.
Confirms my theory, again, that the universe tends to glob like things together. When the fellow called with the invitation for the Authors Festival, my reading on September 14 at the Village Booksmith was the only engagement on my 2007 literary calendar beyond those in January. (I read at the Pump House in La Crosse on January 18, you remember, and at the Poetry Marathon at Woodland Pattern in Milwaukee this past Saturday.)
My firm policy is "First Come, First Served." That is, I would stand by my commitment to read at the Village Booksmith, even if that meant I could not participate in Brandon's Authors Festival. That's how I want to be treated, so that's how I treat those who are kind enough to invite me to read. It is a slippery slope, I think, if you cancel an appearance at one place in order to read somewhere else that might be more lucrative or better for your career. I grew up in a world where a hand-shake agreement meant something.
Fortunately, it seems that the Brandon Library's Authors Festival can accommodate my prior commitment and will schedule me for September 15th only.
I did read at the Poetry Marathon at Woodland Pattern in Milwaukee this past Saturday, January 27. Because I was later than usual getting signed up for a reading slot, my accustomed hour (3:00-4:00 p.m.) was filled. I read during the 4:00-5:00 p.m. slot.
Fortunately, things were running about twenty minutes behind schedule when we arrived, so I got to see and hear some of my accustomed co-conspirators; and then during the next hour I was introduced to many writers who were new to me. The work of some of them was terrific. Indeed, I have to say that the two young women who came up from Chicago for the Marathon brought some stunning work with them. The first, reading what she called "a five-minute fiction," left you gasping for air; the other read a poem in five parts which she said was about pornagraphy and society and such, and "if that bothers you, you can leave now," yet it turned out to be a lovely ode to that place where a woman curves back inside herself. Terrific and exciting writers, both of them.
It was not poetry that I read for my part of this year's Marathon, but prose passages which maybe could pass for poetry, taken from my memoir, Curlew: Home, passages about: the smell of St. Mary's Grade School in Mallard, Iowa; the poetry of scooping corn; night plowing; and this, from a "Meditation at the Old Home Place:"
You see mile after mile after mile of empty field, the ground worked for another season. There is a time to sow and a time to reap. A time to laugh and a time to cry. A time for the wind to blow, a time for incredible silence. A time for building up small farms, a time for tearing them down. For everything there is a season and a purpose under these shifting Iowa skies.
I must say, my prose of that farm world I grew up in sounded awfully grounded compared to the work of some few of the other writers who read during the same hour, self-important poets who haven't yet realized, perhaps, that poetry, true poetry, is about something bigger than they are. Perhaps they will come to that recognition, but they haven't as yet. Neither wall-to-wall surrealistic imagery nor L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E G=A=M=E=S will get you into heaven, I'm afraid.
And, I ask you, if poetry doesn't take you to heaven, what does it do?
I have been continuing to hammer mightily upon Peter's Story, the memoir of a Milwaukee childhood during the 1920s and 1930s that I am co-authoring with Peter Pizzino. That which I pulled apart again - the first eight chapters - is now pretty much put back together. And I have sketched out the contents for each of the chapters still needing to be written, Chapters 9, 10, 11, and 12. Chapter 13, the final chapter, is pretty much drafted, as is the short epilogue.
Sometimes I think the writing of Peter's Story might be a little bit like the Wreck of the Old 97: "He was goin' down the grade doin' 90 miles an hour...." I hope I don't get "scalded to death by the steam."
I'll take Chapters 2 and 3 to Peter and will review them with him one week from today.
move in over the weekend; we are expecting freezing rain today. The world re-makes itself again and again. Can we do any less?
Yet we are so slow to change, so afraid that something different may come out to bite us. Evolution is slow; change to our hard-wiring is slow; our desires are fast sometimes, sometimes not. It is best when we can say, and mean it: "Bring it on. Give me your best shot, bring it on." Then roll with the punches, go with the flow, dance with who brung ya.
We went to Dekalb Saturday to visit our daughter. Notation: how soon the Illinois prairie turns to shopping mall and parking lot. When the prairie is so far gone, it's gone forever. Someone makes money. The land moans with sorrow. (It is not the cities only where so much is being lost. Out here houses on big lots in the middle of what used to be cornfields - why?
A wetness to the morning already, just at the edge of ice. All God's critters are hunkered down against the icy dampness. The damned dampness. The damp damned-ness.
A truck hauling potato chips heads south out of Ripon and as I head into town. Each of us to his assigned task. The roads own us. You may want to run away but the roads curve back, you end up where you belong. There is no running away, no staying put. There is only this morning, here.
Admit it: I am not a nature writer. I am not a farmer. What am I? This is not a riddle, but a question central to my work as a writer. When and how shall I explore the question and the possible answers?
It is not pretty in there - a rusted mower up against sun-baked adobe, what's with that? The flat sear of snow against green trees? You don't know what you'll find. Certainly there'll be wind, blowing hard.
My wife says we don't look at the world differently, we inhabit different worlds! I admit to having a tenuous hold on this one, for sure.
I was reminded again this morning how tenuous. You see, I leave notes to myself on the container of instant coffee I approach twice each morning for a cup of start-me-up. Yesterday the note said: "Lunch with Deba." So I wouldn't forget. It works. I make myself a cuppa coffee first thing in the morning, and am reminded of the day's agenda.
If you have visited our house you will have seen my notes to myself on the kitchen cupboard, right at eye level above the sink. I do dishes every afternoon and am reminded of what is upcoming. This makes quite a mess of the cupboard doors, but it keeps me on track, most of the time.
Part of the problem, especially lately, is that I spend so much time wrapped up in my own sentences that I have difficulty remembering other obligations, that I have this doctor's appointment, that lunch date, or a Poetry Marathon in Milwaukee on Saturday. Sometimes I have to put a note to myself in the box I use to take mail to the post office, so I remember to pick up milk or stop at the village clerk's office. Sometimes I move a note from the cupboard door to the kitchen door, so when I leave the house I'll remember why.
I think I live as if I'm in a blizzard and need to follow a rope from house to barn and back again.
It'd be funny if it wasn't so funny.
It's not pretty in there, a poet's mind. Dry weeds shaking in a stiff breeze. The glint of broken glass.
many colors, yet we never see it whole. So easily we get lost in the moment, we don't see how the moment fits some larger pattern.
The world through all the eons has been woven whole-cloth, too. Again, we get caught in the present, we cannot see the warp and woof that made the world just so, and made our lives with it.
If we knew everything, yes, we'd go crazy. Yet sometimes don't we put our heads in the sand? Don't confuse me with the facts, a fellow will say.
So much is lost because we walk past without looking. It is not enough to have been here; you must have made a difference. Otherwise when you are laid in your final resting place the wind will blow the stink of you away and that'll be it, that's all she wrote.
Be someone someone has loved; leave something someone will cherish. Then your soul never dies. Save your piece of the world. Grab someone's heart.
Most of the time, though, we are just too busy, we can't be bothered. Most of the time we just walk away saying "yeah, yeah, yeah."
Snow is promised for later today, one to three inches. We'll see. Monday's rain has been moved to Tuesday and now it might be snow instead. The flag at the cemetery blows straight to the north. Our sky is grey.
When you have swollen joints, aching bones, sore muscles, then you feel the fingers of heat massage and mend. Why are the young given so much energy and strength when often they have no direction; couldn't we save some of that for later in life when we've figured out what we want but the world weighs us down? So often those who have it don't appreciate it and the rest of us are beggars at the side of the road chasing flies from our nose holes.
The snowfall yesterday was all bark and no bite. It amounted to nothing at all, a little whiteness that disappeared by noon. The long range forecast promises rain for Monday. Rain! Ha, ha, winter, you lose.
I wonder what I shall ever make of these pages - anything? There are prayers here, and promises. There are sentences that read like poems and sentences that real like I'm a real cantankerous son of a bitch. Yet as the pages accumulate, they are a full core sample of one piece of ground everyday at the same time. I am not nearly observant enough, but something has been caught in the web I've been weaving. What? What have I caught?
Every time I look, I'm seeing myself in a fun house mirror. I need a little distance yet. I need to continue making my notes, yes, but let the distance work.
We have blue sky this morning, and softness along every visible horizon. The world has texture. It is the kind of day to touch things - the bark of trees, the hard edge of the snow on the ground, the red image of the house. The retreating darkness.
The problem with staying in one place is that you go nowhere; that is also the beauty of it.
There is winter enough that frost clings tight to all the windows of the car. If I stood here an hour it might cling tight to my ears, here in the shadow of the neighbor's house.
Smoke from chimneys in the village hangs low in the suddenness of cold air. The flag at the cemetery hangs down its head. Even ninety six million miles away - the sun. My skin. The warm kiss. Longshadow is lifted.
and spent the time working on Peter's Story with him. The first (and best) part of the visit was sharing a black and white mock-up of the cover with him, a photo of him as a boy on the front cover, his Confirmation photo along the edge of the back cover. I read him the text of the proposed back cover.
Then we got down to business. I reviewed various passages and incidents from the book with him, to establish a clearer chronology in my mind. These passages and incidents are in Chapters 1-8, which I have considered D-O-N-E. Well, they're not done: I will have to do some pulling apart and re-massaging to better represent the actual order of events in Peter's life. The chronology is not going to be totally accurate, because of the nature of the telling, but I need to get closer to the actual than is currently the case. One wishes for perfection, but must settle for the best that is humanly possible.
I also had questions for Peter about specific details I was unsure of - one or two questions in each of the completed chapters. We clarified those issues, and I can make the necessary alterations.
I finished the visit by reading Peter the Foreword, which he hadn't heard before, and Chapter 1, which I previously reviewed with him in an early draft. Peter's eyesight is failing, so it is necessary to read the pages to him, rather than expect him to read them himself. This is also an opportunity for any last minute additions and/or corrections to the text.
We worked together for three hours, this 83-year-old man and I, the 59-year-old young-un. It was three hours of concentrated effort. I was exhausted by the time we finished. I can only imagine that Peter must have been tired, too.
Then we scheduled our next meeting for two weeks distant, when we'll review and finalize Chapters 2-3.
A hug good-bye. Well, a couple of hugs good-bye then, and then I was headed home in Wisconsin's gathered darkness.
Peter's Story - Coming Soon to a Theater Near You.
of my local notions, yet I have not said much about the dark underbelly of the local: the place where localism turns into Republican parochialism. You listen long enough out here in the vast squareness of the middle west and you will no doubt hear someone say: "If it's no good to me here and now, it's no damn good." Drain that marsh, you'll hear. Chop those trees. Drill that well. Dig that ore. We often hide the utilitarian bias of everything we do, the notion that if you don't use it, you are wasting it. You remember President Reagan saying such things; soon we'll be hearing Dubya saying them too. We have to be careful. Despite the long reach to the horizon out here, sometimes we're awfully short-sighted. That's our ugly little secret. Singing the praise of the local, a fellow has to be careful he's not encouraging abuse of the world around him, all those elements he holds dear, because sure as shoot somebody wants to make money of it, however he can. For every good man with a good idea, there's a son of a bitch trying to get rich quick, steal you blind, milk the cow dry when you're not looking. When you think of the local, remember that.
It is snowing. It has not snowed for several days and now it is snowing. I have not heard a forecast but I'll make a prediction - if this keeps up we'll have some accumulation. There are big flakes; they carry the weight of winter's weariness, they are flung at me as if to say: "Take that, you son of a bitch." I say: "Ha, ha, ha."
At Five Corners you have to notice that the flower beds in the northwest quadrant are covered by a four or five foot snow drift due to the snow fencing there. Flowers are a long way from the surface today. Yet though things may look bad, they are not hopeless.
The streets of Milwaukee a little sloppy with slush. Snow still piled up in the parking lane along the curb on Locust Street. I'm parked across the street from the Woodland Pattern bookstore, which is closed. I'm waiting to see if it will open before I have to head off for an appointment. I have brought work with me, and I'm in the car editing Peter's Story. It's Peter I will see in an hour.
It is a mild day compared to some harsher ones we've had recently. I've got the car window cracked open. In the rearview mirror I see a black woman get out of a small car thirty or forty feet behind me. She seems to be fussing with the car, but I can't say specifically why I think that. She walks along the street behind me, beside me, and in front of me, and crosses to the sidewalk at the alley thirty or forty feet before me. She enters the chiropractic office there. Ah, an appointment, I think.
A few moments later, she comes back out of the office, returns to her car. I am working, making progress on my revision. I look up to glance in the rearview mirror. I see that black woman approaching my car. My window is partway down.
"Excuse me," she says to me. "I run out of gas. I wonder if you could help me find a gas station?"
I think of all the times I have been between a rock and a hard place, between Perham and Perdition, as we say in my family, wishing there were some angel to pluck me out of an ugly situation.
"You have a gas can?" she asks me.
"No," I say, "I don't."
"Oh, dear," she says. She sounds somewhat panicked. "Let me see. Let me see if I have one in the trunk. You stay here, please? Would you please wait for me?"
She goes back to her car and returns with a small red plastic gas can. I move a package out of the passenger seat. She opens the door and gets in.
"You'll have to point me in the direction of a gas station," I say. "I don't know where there is one around here."
"Try up ahead," she says.
We're moving in that direction.
"Do you think a dollar's worth of gas will be enough to get the car going and get me home? I have just paid my rent. I only have a dollar left."
She wants to show me her rent receipt.
I think how helpless one is, cast upon the mercy of strangers.
"I'll give you a couple dollars for gas," I say.
There is no gas station ahead. "Turn right," she says at Humboldt.
I know there is no gas station on that stretch of Humboldt.
"Is there a gas station on Center Street?" I wonder outloud.
"Somewhere," she says.
But not between Humboldt and Holton on Center.
"Turn right," she says when we reach the stoplight at Holton. "I know there's one up at Burleigh."
We head north on Holton.
"I can't see it," I say.
"It's there on the corner of the intersection, where that car's coming out."
And there it is. I park at a gas pump. I give her three dollars. She gets out of the car, goes to the window, pays for some gasoline. She returns to the pump and fills her gas can.
"I hate cold weather," she offers as I drive back towards her car.
There is a young black fellow standing beside her car when we reach it.
"That's my nephew," she says.
I pull over, but leave some space so she can get out of the car without having to crawl over the plow bank.
above the time Jake Knight, Johnny Melvin, and Kenny Rogers pushed grade school superintendent Bert Cameron's outhouse over," Ivan said. "You know it was Halloween night and those three guys were always looking for something to do. Jake said they had just pushed over Snipe Cochran's outhouse with Snipe in it. Then they thought it would be a great idea to tip over Bert Cameron's. But Bert was no dummy. He was sittin' on the back porch in the dark when the three came sneaking up to tip over his outhouse. What the three didn't know was that Bert had moved the outhouse off the hole, and Kenny Rogers fell in. He was in deep do do before the other two could say don't don't."
"We were talking about electricity at the As the Bladder Fills Club last Thursday morning," Ivan said. "I'm almost sure that mechanic Bob Carson would check which cylinder was the one that was missing by grabbing the spark plug wires. I don't know if that is it or not, but I remember he used to do something under the hood of a car that would knock most people on their keister."
"There are good days," Ivan said, "and there are bad days and there are days that get you in a dither but wind up great. Such a day happened to Paul and Kaye Seemann. It was the day that Smith Center played Superior in basketball. First off, the Seemanns thought the game started at five. Superior didn't have school that day - nothing to do with the weather; it was some kind of teachers' meeting, I think. Anyhow, the games started at three o'clock. Paul and Kaye thought it was a five o'clock start for the girls' game. They left Smith Center at five, thinking that would get them there for the boys' game. They had an errand to run, so they ran that errand. Got to Superior. Didn't know where the high school was located. No signs, no nothin'. So they went back to a convenience store and asked directions. They went three blocks north and about a mile west. Got to the parking lot. Full. Went to the school and couldn't find the entrance. Finally walked around the building and found the way in. Got inside. Didn't know where the gym was located. Found the gym. Didn't know which side Smith Center fans were located. Got a seat just as their grandson, Matt Seemann got in tthe game. Matt done well and Smith Center came from behind to win the game. Paul thought the win was worth the trip."
"I really wish I understood what was going on in Iraq," Ivan said. "I see our soldiers kissing their small children goodbye so they can go to Iraq to make things better for Iraqi children. I hate to be hard-hearted, but I'm more interested in keeping little kids' dads at home than I am in seeing the fathers going somewhere for something I don't understand. That's as close as you'll ever see me come to a political statement. Because I honestly don't know what is going on in the world today. Now, on the other hand, I know exactly what is going on at the As the Bladder Fills Club. And it's good. I mean, watching those old men eyeball those young girls. That's what men were meant to do."
"I'll tell you how cold it was," Ivan said. "Arden Devlin is a tough old buzzard when it comes to weather, but he said last Friday morning that he had put on his long johns."
"I was tellin' the farmers sittin' around the front table at Paul's the other day," Ivan said, "that this really cold snap would save them one pass through the field with insecticide next summer. My theory being that the cold weather would freeze some of the insects. They looked at me like I didn't know what I was talking about, but I still think it is true. Tell ya what I'm a gonna do. The next time I see County Extension Agent Sandra Wick I'm a gonna ask her and I'll bet she will either agree with me on the spot or she will look it up and then agree with me."
yes. Yet each choice we make is one more cord binding us. We tether ourselves to a certain place, a house and yard and job. The more we go on choosing where we are and what we have, the more bound we are. And, too, the more free. The other side of yes is every possibility. The big red house in Fairwater may be a portal to the rest of the world.
That I think is the secret of the local, the regional: knowing where you are and what you have, you are positioned to see and know the rest of the world.
If one is anchorless - as more and more Americans seem to be - one has no way to gauge the world. What do you compare it to, when you have nothing to call your own? White bread suburbs are no measuring stick for anything.
The other side of having chosen is that we can become red necked - yee-hah, ain't this fun going 'round and 'round in a little circle that goes nowhere. We'll just wear the grass away stepping where we've stepped and thinking what we thought and believing it means something.
What of the good people who do their best, the farmers who plant and sow and accept their lot in life? God bless them.
I'm not always sure where the line is between this and that and the other. So perhaps I should shut up about red neck and suburb and deal instead with my own failures and limitations and my own dumb choices. Perhaps I should sweep my own walk in silence. We who try to preach may be the worst of all, full of sin and telling others how to live.
It is a grey, mild morning. Whatever we fear hides away. We take a full stride into the day, confident.
The weather vane atop Stellmacher's grain elevator says the wind is coming out of the northwest. The flag at the cemetery agrees. Groves of trees in the distance are dusted with a white haze. Far off the farmsteads disappear in the whiteness. As I lay dying, would I remember this.
on Thursday to La Crosse, for my reading at the Pump House Regional Arts Center. I was ensconed in my hotel room before a bit of snow made the streets slippery; and supper was just around the corner, not even half a block.
We met at Buzzard Billy's - poets David Krump and William Stobb and I - and I tried the jambalaya (which was terrific) with a side order of hush puppies. Bill bought my supper: Thank you, Bill.
The Pump House Regional Arts Center was only a stone's throw away. David showed me around the old building briefly before my reading. It was indeed the city's old pump house, and it was rescued from demolition some decades ago when other great matriarchs in town - the Court House and City Hall, I believe - were being reduced to rubble. It is a great enveloping space, and some of the doors and stairs and railings had been salvaged from those other buildings, to gain new life at the Pump House, such that one of the front doors of the place said "Mens" and the door to the little auditorium where I read said "Jury Room."
It was a small but attentive audience. I read for a little more than half an hour, poetry and prose, something from all my voices, some from Curlew: Home and Kissing Poetry's Sister and Sweet Bite of Morning, and - for the first time - some from the run of short poems I put up daily at The Middlewesterner throughout 2006, a manuscript I call "A Mouthful of Wind." I ended with a version of my little essay, "Breakfast in Red Cloud, Nebraska," which can be found here in its journal form.
It was, as I say, a small but attentive audience. As with Guernseys and Jerseys in the dairy business, in an audience for poetry you look for Quality rather than Quantity, and this group Qualified.
After a short break, the audience became the show, with many of them reading their own work for the open mic portion of the evening. There is something very democratic at open mic readings, the community choosing to listen to all its members who wish to speak. I know that is sometimes painful, yet it is also a way for new poets to develop their chops, and for more established poets to report on their progress.
Afterwards we did indeed manage to find a few beers and a quiet place to talk, to the extent that I didn't get back to my hotel room until 1:00 a.m. - well past my usual bedtime, as you can imagine. And yet it was an enjoyable interlude late into the night. I seldom have the opportunity to exchange late night harrumpfication with interesting poets over a few beers, so I took advantage of it. Being that it was only a very short walk back to my room, I got to bed about the same time I would have if I'd chosen to drive home to Fairwater after my reading.
(That, folks, is just the kind of argument a poet will use when he wants to have a few beers with his fellows.)
In the interest of full disclosure, I have to say that, while what I have told you here is the truth, it is not the full truth, because it leaves out a report of David Krump's exchange with the waitress at Buzzard Billy's as he tried to get his leftover hush puppies boxed up to take home. The conversation went south on him at amazing speed. But it was David's experience, so I'll let him release it to the world. I'll just tell you that it was like watching a car wreck.
I had a lovely trip; I was so well treated; and I think I gave a good reading.
if I can, I want to include the vast sweep of geologic time as well as the current small moments, the layering of sediments and the stories of people's lives, the turn of the centuries, the run of our days. Everything is connected to everything, yet in our writing of the places we live we sometimes fail to weave the great web. I want to weave the web. It will not be easy.
Sometimes what was is hidden from us, we cannot see it; sometimes what is - here and now - is all we can imagine. I shall strain to break such fetters.
When I write of place, I want to be able to write of the rhythms of the place - sun and moon and tides, if there are tides; seasons and years; the centuries, the eons. How does one encompass all that in our meager words; the world is so much richer than grammar and syntax can imagine.
Life is such a slow tick, tick, tick, it seems as if nothing happens for great long stretches. Sometimes we are looking so closely at the little pebble on the ground, we miss the glacier passing by at short distance from us.
How can a fellow throw himself into the world so the world will carry him to its wonders. If we cast our eyes down all the time, how much shall we miss?
It is not enough to want what you want - you must throw yourself into the water and swim to get it. The world is such a beautiful place and we spend too much time sleeping, working at foolishness, chasing money.
It has been some time since we've had snow. Below freezing temperatures continue, but the roads are clear. Our driveway is still pretty rough and icy, yet winter cannot win. It can hold on another month, it cannot win.
We have blue sky overhead, sunshine, a thick hoarfrost on the trees. The air is crisp, clean, cold. The hoarfrost comes off some of the trees in large flakes like snow, white patterns on the street beneath the trees. In the country a haze rolls away from us in all directions. It is a wonderful life, it is a beautiful world. The hawk could hide in the hoarfrost of the hawk tree and something would die.
"It would be a good day to die." I understand the meaning of that this morning.
Crow is having rabbit this morning at the side of the road just south of Five Corners. Rabbit goes to heaven.
as humankind will come to the sensation of bird flight, to the climb and dive of it, the tilt and roll, swoop and sweep and stoke of it, hoot and holler. We are mostly water and underwater the wet element is an extension of us. Or are we an extension of it? Is it the dancer or the dance? Why oh why did we ever come out of the ocean? Why did we ever choose to become lumbering land beasts when water is our essence and water feels so much like home?
And the colors! The psychedelic aura of everything. The shine and color and shake. I am 72 feet below the surface, a large fish swims past, close to me, very close, it looks as if it has been drawn and colored by a small child, it looks like a cartoon of a fish come to life. I laugh, and laughing I nearly lose the regulator from my mouth.
We were at Palancar Reef, the outer wall at the edge of open ocean. We are swimming at 55 feet amongst the coral heads there, then the wall falls away and we fall into blue ocean, into an infinite midnight blueness of outer space; there are little blue fishes winking on and off like stars twinkling; the Yucatan channel is 2600 feet deep; it is a great blue abyss and looking into it takes away my breath. I am not seeing God, but it's like seeing God. I have to remember to breathe. We cannot speak the name of God and now I know why. I have to remember to breathe.
The morning is cold. A dusting of snow in the air, a thinness added to the thickness we already have. A vague blueness behind the grey of sky overhead. The flag at the cemetery blows east to west strongly. What does an east wind bring? It doesn't bring the hawk to the hawk tree. Snow that blew across the road yesterday is blowing back today.
of sky at dawn these bitterly cold mornings. It is a gauze stretched tight along the horizon. My view is from the picture window at the front of our house, which faces south; yet with the sun so low in the winter sky, I can easily see the sunrise from my computer desk.
A line of trees brushes the orange band of morning sky, and - as often - a certain heaviness of the air thickens everything.
This cinnamon-colored house is my protection and my home as we hurtle through the universe, and it soaks up the little bit of warmth the morning sun brings us. It has been bitterly cold these last few days. Yet we have electrical power to keep our furnaces operating, which is not the case today across some stretches of the country.
I look at the sun and wonder of the birds and the feral cats and the little wild mice: how do they manage to stay warm in this season? I would be ill-equipped to survive these nights out-of-doors.
I find no clear answer for the question "Why Am I a Poet?" A natural affection for words is only part of the answer. If that were the whole of it, I could make dictionaries. The ringing rhythms of the Sermon on the Mount and the first verses of John's Gospel are only part of the answer. I am not a religious poet. The land? The land, I think, has established what I write about - the local - and how I write about it - very concretely with William Carlos Williams' "no ideas but in things" in mind. Yet the land does not answer the question why I write.
Perhaps the why is that I read a book like Patches and thought someone should speak for my people and my place the way Patches spoke for an earlier place and time. Yet I'd never had such a thought consciously early on; I can see the possible thread of it only looking back.
I know now that I write so these people of mine will not have lived in vain. I know now that I want to speak for them, to tell their stories, to make sure they are represented in the gallery of humankind along with those more widely revered.
I write so that those times, that place, my people, shall not be lost. I can make no good argument for why these should be preserved in words, I have no reason other than the conviction in my heart that it is important to do so. I have no good explanation. Why ask why?
It is c-cold this morning. There is frost tight against the windshield. The eastern sky is a ripe peach. My ears have been nipped by the morning, more than a playful bite. We promise ourselves that spring will come, yet we don't know that for a fact yet.
The low angle of sunlight on the snow changes the color of snow, changes the texture, changes even the taste perhaps - the snow is richly creamy. Some blue sky above. Some haze close to the ground, or a storm of snow crystals picked up and carried away into the blue distance.
North of Five Corners, a red tail hawk sits along a run of trees, morning's warrior.
sledding on a bright winter's day, it always seems so far to the top of the hill. You trudge your way up, and trudge. Then you seat yourself for exhiliration.
Writing Peter's Story has been a little bit like that. The hours and hours of interview, the even longer seige of transcribing the interviews. All that is behind me now. I have been to the top of the hill, and now I'm speeding down the slope.
Since returning from Cozumel, I have drafted another chapter and a short "epilogue," for a current total of nine chapters, a foreword, and an epilogue. There are perhaps four more chapters between here and "The End."
I called Peter yesterday and set a meeting for Monday when we'll work out some questions of chronology and I'll start reading the completed portions to him for his review and approval. Peter's eyesight is bad enough that he cannot read them for himself.
Even if the four remaining chapters each take a week to draft, we are a month from completion. Even if I review only one chapter a week with Peter, we are three months or so from having a final manuscript.
Say it with me: Hallelujah!
In addition, last night I put together the passages I want to send to the magazine in Milwaukee which is interested in excerpting Peter's Story to coincide with publication next fall. A word count revealed that I had 2000 words too many in this initial compilation, so I have started to revise, paring it down to the length I'm allowed. I'll work some more on that today.
Today I also have to put together my reading for tomorrow in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Those of you who follow my calendar already know that I'll be reading at the Pump House Regional Arts Center at 7:00 p.m. tomorrow, January 18. I'll be meeting a couple of La Crosse poets beforehand for supper at Buzzard Billy's. I'm looking forward to some jambalaya and hush puppies from my favorite Cajun/Creole restaurant in Wisconsin.
Now - the question today is: "What shall I read tomorrow?" By nightfall, I'll know.
I'll stay over in La Crosse after the reading, rather than face a three-hour drive home after my usual bed-time. Staying over might allow me to step out after the reading and see if there is any beer in La Crosse. I might even have one.
I think. I saw in my mind a lonely shore, the sand beach, waves lapping the edge of it. The last bird. The end of the world. My immense loneliness. It was summer vacation, I was home from high school in Sioux City, I was writing a poem. I did not know where the poem was coming from. My lonesomeness ached. I wrote, and an image was hung with all the meaning I could give it. I was surprising myself. Was I becoming a poet? I knew no poets, I had no model. I pushed forward, alone, and I've kept pushing.
The next Christmas break I make a bus ride home from Sioux City, a bus ride back. I have a notebook with me. I am writing in it. The steam of breath in the bus, the smell of poor folks traveling. I feel like a writer. I feel like I'll be the fellow with the Great American Novel in the pocket of his bib overalls. I don't care if people think I'm a hick. I don't know enough. Yet I push forward. I've kept pushing.
They can't truly love you or hate you if they don't know you. Ignorant criticism is hollow.
You ache, you don't know what it means, you poke long enough, you bleed something. Poem? Essay? I still don't know how or why I've come to writing.
This morning there are school children on the street waiting for the bus - a fog of breath in front of them. Grey sky. Not bitter cold, but not melting. A slow flap of flag at the cemetery, from west to east. A taste of winter in the morning air - wood smoke and diesel fumes and a sweet cold bite of sky. Morning light trying to sandpaper its way through the dome of cloud. It will take all God's elbow grease today. Go, God, go!
Well - maybe God doesn't want me cheerleading on his sidelines (or hers).
an expression that I had never heard before. Jim Tharp was describing a person, and he said, 'His shadow moves faster than he does.' Now that guy moved slow. Jim grew up in Monroe, Louisiana. I wonder if that was an old Louisiana expression."
"Casey Edell bought coffee and rolls for the entire As the Bladder Fills Club last Friday," Ivan reported. "Casey's birthday was actually on Saturday, but he opted to buy Friday because he knew there would be a bigger crowd on Friday. Casey was 83 years old on Saturday. He has kept his figger better than the other members of the As the Bladder Fills Club. He looks exactly like he did in high school. The rolls had nuts on em, with lots of gooey topping. They were good. I asked Crystal, the waitress, how to spell cinninnimmon. She said C-I-N-N period. So the rolls were cinn. rolls."
"Back when I was playing basketball," Ivan said, "the gymnasiums were not near as long as they are now. Down at Harlan they had a heat radiator right up above the basket at one end of the court. You had to shoot the ball almost on a flat trajectory to keep from hitting the ceiling. Not only that, you had to figure the windage, because the wind blew through the building."
"One more basketball story," Ivan said. "At Athol, they played in the community building. The heat was from a coal furnace in the basement. It would get red hot. The grate that let the heat into the hall was located right under the east basket. Those Athol players would undercut opposing players that were going in for a set-up. You would land on the furnace grate. One time I was going in for a set-up and Bud Conaway undercut me. I landed right on that furnace grate and had a waffle brand burned on my butt and leg clear up into July."
"If you were looking for knowledge last Friday morning," Ivan said, "Paul's Cafe was not the place to be. The conversation mostly centered around Kendall Nichols and Dennis Reinert discussing the profit margin derived from buying cattle feed versus raising your own cattle feed. The way it sounded to me was - if you raised your own feed, you still had to figure in your own time and the cost of feed even though you had raised it. It was too complicated for me. I wanted to talk about K-State playing football the night before. No one wanted to talk about that. You want to remember that wasn't any of the new coach's recruits who were playing. So give him a chance. But if he wants my advice: you can't have an offense when you have your quarterback go back six yards. Hand the ball to a standing running back and run behind a mediocre line."
"Friday it was kinda rainy and damp," Ivan said, "a perfect day for shelling some seed corn and oiling harness. I got all ready to oil some harness but I couldn't find any neets foot oil."
"At the last monthly meeting of the Lutheran Ladies at the Second Cup, Pastor Reep gave a personal invitation to attend church. But she preaches at both the Smith Center and Athol churches, and I didn't think flipping a coin was the scriptural way to determine which church to go to, so I just stayed home. But I know in the Bible they did cast lots for something.... But I don't have lots to cast."
"When I was in high school," Ivan said, "my speed was deceptive. I was much slower than I looked."
"Gene Conaway said the New Year's Eve dance at Hastings was short of dancers due to the weather conditions," Ivan reported. "But that didn't stop the midnight kissing from being performed with exuberance and enthusiasm."
"I would suggest," Ivan said, "that Gene Conaway get in the habit of wearing his glasses when he eats. Last Thursday morning at Paul's Cafe, he got his eggs all cut up just the way he likes to start eating them. Then he picked up the salt shaker. He shook a bunch of salt on his eggs. Looked at his eggs and shook more salt on them. He thought he had picked up the pepper shaker and he couldn't see any pepper on his eggs, so he gave it another shake. That's when he discovered he didn't have the pepper shaker. Gene don't like salt. Then he had trouble getting any Tabasco out of the bottle. But he wasn't about to blame anyone but himself. He managed to choke down two salty eggs, toast, and jelly. Without Tabasco sauce."
"During the discussion of just what Western Plains residents would do in case of a power outage," Ivan reported, "Larry Pennington said, 'You just have to call a friend with a stove and stay at their place.' Betty McDonald spoke up and said, 'What will Ivan and I do? We don't have any friends. All we got are relatives.'"
"Ivan and Laura Burgess bought coffee for the As the Bladder Fills Club last Wednesday," Ivan said. "It was their sixty-third wedding anniversary. On their wedding night, a slat fell out of the bed. On their anniversary, the bed remained intact."
"I found out something I didn't know at the As the Bladder Fills Club last Friday morning," Ivan said. "Bob Kastle and a friend were there. Bob said his next hunting trip was to be somewhere for sheep. After he left, someone asked, 'Where did Bob say he was going next?' Jack Benn said, 'It was one of the "-stans."' Bill Grimes said the place used to be part of the Soviet Union. He said that '-stan' means 'land of.' So like if you lived in Kansas, and Kansas used to be a part of the Soviet Union, it would be Kansasstan."
"Now write this down," Ivan said. "Had a historic first at the As the Bladder Fills Club last Friday, the fifth of January. Someone asked Stan Hooper a question and Stan said, 'I don't know.' That was a historic statement, one that no one had ever heard Stan say."
"It was a bad day for Mary Beth Lambert," Ivan said. "She was working at the Second Cup. She forgot to bring Dick Stroup his toast. When she did bring it, you could hear Dick mumble something under his breath about cold toast. Someone also said that Mary Beth was in charge of the calendar, which hadn't been changed yet. Those other guys kept it up and they just about got Mary Beth to where she was going to give them the finger. They could tell that they had gone far enough, so they backed off and started talking nice to her."
I come back to my old habits - rising at 4:00 a.m., spending three hours at my desk, showering, coming to these pages heading to work. The clock of habit ticked even while I was gone. I was afraid getting up early might be harder than it is. Proof is not in the promise, it's in the performance - but we knew that.
I feel a bit like Peter Pan - "I won't grow up, I won't grow up," he said. I am denying winter, despite the obviousness of the white evidence. "No, no, no," I say. Yet winter's greyness will not be denied; it hangs overhead, thick this morning.
This is the toughest winter we've had in several years. I suppose one should not complain, after the mildness of the past three. We have to face the music.
Though you may want everything, you cannot have everything; you could not handle it. That's the way it is.
The skateboard memorial at Five Corners is covered with snow. The white cross pokes through the plowbank. This is where two young people died. That it is so hard for us to let go - that's part of what makes us human. We choke on the words "good bye."
In January 2001 we made our first trip to Cozumel for scuba diving, which explains the long absence of entries in the Morning Drive Journal. Well, here now I have returned to Wisconsin. The jounal continues.
You saw that girl,
didn't you? She was so young still: she had the answer for everything. Wait til she's older, I said to myself, wait til she has answers for nothing.
Mexican time is the middlewestern sensibility pushed to the extreme of where it will go: they each have their jobs, each will do his job, none will do the other fellow's; these things take time, all things are planted and tended and reaped, all things come to fruition in their time; go with the flow, do not fret that it is not yet done.
It is some shock to come from temperatures in the high 80s and low 90s to even mild middlewestern winter temperatures. The change from walking in sea water to walking in snow is fairly immense.
Yet it is good to be home. I am glad to be home. I did better than my mother who gets "homesick for the chickens" after a couple days away; yet two weeks in Mexico was enough.
There is a need to come back to the familiar, the reliable, the old habits, old comfort. I am glad to be home.
There is more snow here now than when we left. There has been some melting, but the plowbanks have not receded much. Quite clearly we are still deep in winter, however much we might wish it were otherwise.
The white stuff is not beach sand. Out in the country, the expanse of it rolls into the distance. The road is clear. Some plowbanks are heaped higher than the top of the car. The world is scruffy only along the edges of the road. The trees wave Hello, Hello. We don't often think about trees as friends.
Nothing changed much while we were gone. The world did not miss me.
We arrived home late on Wednesday night, and I spent yesterday playing catch-up - washing the smell of the ocean out of our diving gear, washing the smell of sweat out of our leisure clothes, looking at the accumulated mail and e-mail, and making a meal, a ham and chicken jambalaya.
Highlights of the trip: the Cozumel Trifecta, of course; three shore dives for me, and shore dives and boat dives for Mary; some hard work on Peter's Story; and a special tamale supper at La Altenita (which I also wrote about last May, here).
First, the Trifecta. Everybody wants you to add their favorites to your Trifecta, of course. I encourage them to create their own Trifectas, and to pursue the challenge as vigorously as I pursue mine: "Come on, people, if you're coming with me, ya gotta keep up!" For those of you who are unfamiliar with my obsessions, the Trifecta is - all on the same day - the best fish sandwich on the island from La Altenita; a grande bowl of pozole from Los Utates; and the best beef taco on the island from Johnny Bravo's. I am pleased to report that this Trifecta was successfully completed the very day we landed on the island. With room to spare, I might add.
Mary did more scuba-diving than I did, since I'd promised myself some days of hard work on Peter's Story. I got out to dive the Parasio reef from shore three times. There was strong current for all three dives, so it was hard work out-bound and we flew back. My air consumption has improved, so I wasn't as much of an "air hog" as I used to be, though I still use more than Mary, who was, I think, born in the water. On her boat dives, Mary saw sea turtles, southern sting rays, a variety of moray eels, and other interesting critters.
As I had promised myself, I spent a lot of time re-working the foreword and first eight chapters of the Peter's Story memoir I have been working on these past three years. I ended up one chapter shy of making three and a half passes through the manuscript. The prose will read considerably better as a result. Eight chapters done, five more to write....
And, as I promised myself, I spent a lot of that work time in the company of one cool libation or another - usually fresh-squeezed orange juice which I obtained in three quart allotments each morning at "The Market." Si, three quarts, gracias. And regularly, by late afternoon, I would crack open a Mexican cerveza from Mary's supply. I sat in the shade at the table in the courtyard of the Hotel Pepita and worked; and as I worked the hotel's maids worked too, soaking sheets and towels and removing spots from them. And what did they use to remove those spots, you ask? Apparently half a lime works as well as anything. Ancient Mexican secret.
The most special part of the trip? A tamale supper prepared especially for us on Monday night. We'd gone to La Altenita for another of those terrific fish sandwiches, and the fellow in charge, Moises Xix Cahuich, recognized us as the group who had enjoyed a great batch of tamales there when we were in Cozumel last May.
"We'll make you tamales special again," he said. "On Saturday, Sunday, or Monday. Which? How many?"
"On Monday," we said. "Make us thirty."
And so on Monday Moises' wife made the tamales, wrapped in banana leaves rather than corn husks, and when we arrived at the appointed hour the tables were pushed together for us. We ordered our drinks and two or three tamales apiece. Folks, this is as close to heaven as you are going to get. Real food in real Mexico, prepared by real people and served with real care. We were honored to be able to eat these tamales. After supper Moises and his wife and children came out to stand at the end of our table so we could get a photograph and, when Moises' wife stepped into place, we broke into spontaneous applause, a little tribute to her great tamales.
The Happy Feasters at The Great Tamale Feast, La Altenita, San Miguel, Cozumel.
Moises Xix Cahuich of La Altenita, and his wife and children, with the Happy Tamale Feasters.
Moises and family at La Altenita, with our waiter for the evening to their right, your left.
La Altenita is located at the intersection of Av. 15 Norte and Av. Benito Juarez. Moises told us that it stands at the site of the first grocery store along that stretch of Av. Benito Juarez, and takes its name from the grocery store. History is a living thing, you see. The business is a family operation. Last year it was Moises' sister who prepared the tamales; this year his brother-in-law waited on us for one order of fish sandwich or the other. If you go to Cozumel, be sure to take a meal at La Altenita, a meal or two or five. Tell 'em Tom sent you.
All good things come to an end, and we had to step aboard an airplane about 12:05 p.m. on Wednesday for the flight home. I had feared that perhaps Mary might make an ugly scene when it was time to board - she REALLY likes Cozumel - but she walked aboard peaceably enough. Soon we were headed home.
are packed. Most of our attention would be focused on getting out of here, except for all the weedy things of life, like Mary having to go in and work for part of the day. Yet this afternoon we'll head to Milwaukee and find our diving compatriot, The Honorable Almost-Doctor-Bob, and locate some supper; and then we'll drive down to our hotel near O'Hare. The plane for Cozumel leaves at 5:50 a.m. on Wednesday and we'll be on it.
Before sleep on Wednesday night I intend to complete The Cozumel Trifecta - a fish torta at the little fish taco stand along the sidewalk on the way to the grocery store; a grande bowl of pozole at that terrific pozole stand a few blocks from Hotel Pepita; and one of "the best beef tacos on the island" from Johnnie Bravo's for dessert.
And then nothing but a week of laziness. Mary's brother does not have a dozen students with him this year, so I won't feel like a camel helping to haul equipment and tanks for them. This year we won't have much of anything to haul but ourselves, and I don't intend to over-do in that department either. Isn't the point of a vacation to vacate? That's what I am going to do for the week: vege-vacate. The homefront will be suitable cared for, so truly there'll be nothing for us to do but relax.
Well, except that Tom will be looking at the drafts of the first eight chapters of Peter's Story he is taking with him.
Did you notice how casually I dropped in that first eight chapters...? Yep, I have kept my shoulder to the wheel these past weeks, and my nose to the grindstone; and, yep, that position was pretty uncomfortable, yet I was able to complete drafts of the first eight chapters and have them to take with me. I'll work on them and sip cool libations (notice the plural) while sitting in the courtyard of the Hotel Pepita. Yep, eight chapters drafted; four or five to go. Cool libations.
You can be sure, folks, it won't be all work and no play.
We will return late on January 10.
In the meantime, nothing will be posed here, not even the old reliable "Morning Drive Journal," for we have entered that portion of the journal where Mary and I took our very first diving trip to Cozumel in January, and there is no "Morning Drive" to report. This is our sixth trip.
We'll be back on the air by January 12, I suppose. In the meantime, good people, relax and talk amongst yourselves.
In January of 2006, our daughter Jessica and I set a goal that we'd each walk or run 1000 miles during the course of the year. I am happy to report that we have successfully met that challenge, in spite of a round of major surgery and follow-up treatment for Jessica in September and October. We are setting a further challenge for 2007, another 1000 miles of walking/running for each of us, and Jessica will also bicycle 1000 miles. Yu-haa, here we go.
And, yes, we do expect to walk/run at least two marathons during 2007: The Colorado Marathon in Fort Collins, in May; and the Fox Cities Marathon in Neenah-Menasha-Appleton in September (our third time).
We'll keep you updated on our progress during the course of the year. Here's the final tally, and next year's goal:
2006 Individual target: 1000 miles. Tom, actual: 1160 miles. Tom, miles remaining: 0 miles. Jessica, actual: 1003 miles. Jessica, miles remaining: 0 miles.
Team target: 2000 miles. Team, actual: 2163 miles. Team, miles remaining: 0 miles.
2007 Team target: 2000 miles walking/running & 1000 miles bicycling. Tom: 1000 miles walking. Jessica: 1000 miles running and 1000 miles bicycling.
1. Team Montag has completed its 2,000 miles of walking for 2006, and I intend to walk my thousand miles again in 2007. That my daughter, Jessica, completed her portion of the challenge has been heroic, as she was sidelined by major surgery this fall. I'm sure she will be running a thousand miles in 2007, and bicycling more than that. We may conference and post our plans later this month.
2. Jessica and I, and Jess's husband Tait, will participate in the Colorado Marathon in Fort Collins in May. Jess and Tait will run it, and I will walk (though I will have to walk fast enough to finish in six hours, as they'll be closing the course - Highway 14 through the Poudre Valley - right behind me). And I will participate in the Fox Cities Marathon in September for the third time; it is possible that Jessica could run it this year.
3. I will complete the manuscript for Peter's Story, which will be published as an MWPH Book; and I will have it to the printer in June, with the official "publication date" set for October.
4. I will perfect my collection of essays about place and places and people in place, The Idea of the Local, and will have it ready, too, for the printer in June, with official publication in October. This is another MWPH Book.
5. I will expend some considerable energy promoting Peter's Story and The Idea of the Local, with as many talks, readings, and book signings as I am able to arrange. I am hoping the two books will attract audience for each other. I may do a "book tour" once we have the books in hand, but in my experience book tours are brutal - at least the way I've done them. Yet I have found that the single best way to sell books is face-to-face with readers at readings.
6. We will be scuba diving in Cozumel January 3-10, 2007. Yes, I know - that starts the day after tomorrow! We'll be packed and ready by the time the plane leaves. We will. We really will....
7. We will canoe again in Canada early in August. I hope it will again be at Little Caribou Lake near Armstrong, Ontario, and that we'll have the same three women from Thunder Bay sharing their pickerel with us.
8. I would like to think that I'll start sending out my poems and essays to the literary magazines again, though I have to confess that the imprimatur of publication in the journals means less and less to me. More and more, I feel that my mission is writing, not getting what I write published in the magazines. We'll see how far I go in overcoming my reluctance.
9. I want to begin exploring which passages in my "Morning Drive Journal" might make a book, and what kind of book it would make. I am frequently astonished by passages from that journal as I load them to The Middlewesterner: "I wrote that?" I say to myself. I wonder if a selection of such passages could be stitched together into something meaningful and useful for readers other than myself.
10. Yes, folks, I know. I have got to get back on the Vagabond trail. Once I have Peter's Story safely tucked away in final manuscript and I am confident that I have crossed all the t's and dotted all the i's in The Idea of the Local, I'll fire up the Vagabond-mobile and hit the road. I really do like visiting my focus communities; and I fear that some of them have forgotten who I am because it has been so long since they've seen me. I'll get back to it soon. Soon. I promise. West Point, Nebraska, here I come! Gwen, I mean it. Watch out, Redfield, South Dakota! And, Ivan, save me a chair with the As the Bladder Fills Club in Smith Center, Kansas! Here I come!
11. I come onto the board of the Wisconsin Center for the Book as of today, and I want to serve that organization well during my three year term, and to promote "the book," an artifact which in its many and various manifestations has enriched my life immensely, both as a reader and as a writer. It is time to give something back.
12. I would like to do more readings and especially seminars in the coming year, which means I'll have to do more to promote myself. I recognize that I have a lot of experience as a writer that I can share with budding authors, yet promoting myself as a speaker and teacher is very difficult for the Iowa farm boy. It is something I'm going to have to get over, for I have learned writing by writing, and how I did that would be useful knowledge for others who want to write. And I'd like to share it.
13. Oh, yeah, and I resolve to stop biting off more than I can chew....