Saturday, March 24, 2018

An Antidote to Being One-Dimensional

Yesterday while working on a project my mind kept returning to a scene from Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes. If you are unfamiliar with the story, it's a worthy read about youth and old age, good and evil. It is somewhat fantastical but has some good life lessons without being moralistic.

A carnival comes to town run by a Mr. Dark, and it is a dark carnival. The story centers on two teens, Will and Jim, and Will's father Jim. The seen I vividly recall, perhaps because when played in the film by Jason Robards it struck me so vividly, takes place in a hall of mirrors. I can't recall whether regret is the trap that captured all the other people lost in that labyrinth. What I recall is that Will's father, on his knees weeping, is wracked by regret because he has looked too deeply into the mirrors.

Here's the thought I had: when one looks into the mirror of one's acts--over a long lifetime of one's acts--it can be difficult, even loathsome, to look too deeply because of those moments where we have behaved badly or hurt people or acted stupidly so that we regret what we said or did. And that this regret is something akin to Chinese handcuffs. Did you ever stick your fingers into Chinese handcuffs when you were a kid? The first time children encounter these finger traps they think that you can escape by pulling, but the more you pull the more you are bound. It's deceptive, and counterintuitive. The path to freedom is to push in, hold it then wriggle your finger out.

This was my thought yesterday afternoon. The regret which Charles Halloway (Jason Robards) encountered in the Hall of Mirrors was a trap, a trap like Chinese handcuffs. It's deceptive because there is nothing you can do to change the past.

This image was brought to mind by one of the ten items in Parnell Thill's column One-Dimentional, which appeared earlier this year in the Pine Journal, the one instructing us to look in the mirror, which you will read below.

* * * *
Parnell Thill is currently Sr. Marketing Manager at AMSOIL INC., but has been an Adjunct Professor of Marketing at one of our local colleges and columnist since the mid-90s for the Cloquet Pine Journal, where this post originally appeared. This spring Parnell was honored as “Columnist of the Year” by the “Minnesota Newspapers Association” for his column, Notes from the Small Pond. His first book, Killing the Devil and Other Excellent Tricks, is available on

Guest Post by Parnell Thill

We are easily seduced. We believe we "get it" and understand the multitudinous and nuanced "Understanding of Things." We shake our heads at those that disagree on Facebook and change the channel to our own when we accidentally hear an opposing opinion. I've said this a thousand times because I'm old.

But seriously.

Here's 10 things to do that everyone should and no one will:

10. Shake the hand of a person who doesn't have a hand, but a hook or another prosthesis, and ask how the original equipment was lost. And listen. Write it down.

9. Interview the oldest person in your family. Ask them about their earliest memory and their most brutal/joyous. Write it down.

8. Go to Pine Valley after midnight and lay on your back in the snow or mud or grass with the wind or the mosquitoes or the ticks and look at the sky and wonder about what the same sky looked like in that exact spot 50 years ago. Five thousand years ago. Fifty thousand. Mind bend. Write it down.

7. Volunteer at a hospice. Be loving to the beloved. Write it down.

6. Find one of those old-school gumball machines and slide your nickel in and crank the dial to extract one of those purple, bumpy, grape gumballs that make your mouth pucker and sucker and douse your mouth with saliva to dilute the sugar your teeth hate. Thanks, evolution. Write it down.

5. Walk on crutches. Humbling. Not humiliating, but humbling. Write it down.

4. Start a fire with no matches or no lighter. It can be done and has been for 40,000 years but hasn't been for a hundred by anyone that anyone knows. Write it the hell down.

3. Eat raw protein, something that used to be swimming or climbing or running or hoping it wouldn't die, but did. Give in to your apex predator. Write it down.

2. Tell yourself the truth. Take a deep breath and stand in front of a mirror and tell yourself what you think of yourself. Chickens--t. Write it, loser.

1. Lie.

Cloquet resident Parnell Thill, former Pine Knot editor, has been penning his "Notes From the Small Pond" column for decades, or at least that's what it feels like. Contact him c/o

Read more of Parnell's columns at the Pine Journal website. 

Friday, March 23, 2018

Flashback Friday: The 1970 Music Scene and Chuck Negron's Three Dog Nightmare

1970 was a great year for albums. It was my first year in college and this was the music everyone seemed to be playing: Bridge Over Troubled Water (Simon & Garfunkel), All Things Must Pass (George Harrison's triple album), John Lennon's first solo album, Let It Be (Beatles last album), Velvet Underground's Loaded, Derek & the Dominos, Deja Vu (CSN&Y), Neil Young's After the Gold Rush, Santana' Abraxas, The Doors' Morrison Hotel, two vinyls by the Grateful Dead (Workingman's Dead and American Beauty), Sweet Baby James by James Taylor, McCartney's first solo album, Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out (Rolling Stones), the Moody Blues' A Question of Balance, and less effective albums by Elton John, Emmerson Lake & Palmer, CCR, King Crimson and the popular heavy metal slammers. Though not near the top of the charts that year, I also had taken a shine to Bob Dylan's New Morning and, with everyone else, the soundtrack from Woodstock, the movie. Bob Dylan's much maligned Self-Portrait also came out that year, and gosh, I liked that, too.

I remember exactly where I was when I first heard Let It Be, headphones on, after a day at the Cincinnati Zoo. I remember, too, how blown away I was by the inclusion of studio jamming on sides five and six of All Things Must Pass. James Taylor's "Fire and Rain" had an immersive heartfelt quality that touched a lot of us. (It didn't hurt his cred any that he was the first non-Beatle to record on Apple Records. And did Steve Jobs name his fledgling computer company Apple because he was a huge Beatles fan?)

Chuck Negron, 2008 (Creative Commons)
What brought this reminiscence to mind was the re-release of Chuck Negron's autobiograpchical lament, Three Dog Nightmare. His was the voice you heard on "Joy the the world, all the boys and girls, joy to the fishes in the big blue sea, joy to you and me." Unfortunately, he was ill-prepared for fame and he did the John Belushi thing, the Jim Morrison thing, the thing all too many others had done who found fame and fortune on the Big Stage. Not all of them were quite so self-destructive (Jerry Garcia simply became increasingly reclusive) but Negron's experiences were definitely over-the-top and self-destructive in the extreme. Gang members shooting bullets through the walls of your house? Bad dudes shooting your compadres and then deciding you were too wasted to waste bullets on?

Three Dog Night sold 90 million records, produced 12 Gold Albums, 21 hits in a row in the Billboard Top 20, six Numero Unos... They were the epitome of pop for a while. When I saw them at Ohio U my freshman, 1970, 11,000 people filled the Convocation Center and put on a very good show. I remember that night because there is a photo taken of my roommate and I with our dates for the evening. I was decked out in a wide-brimmed hat with some kind o suede vest and other accoutrements of hippie attire. I thought I was cool, but when I was introduced to her father six or eight weeks later, his first words were, "What is this, a clown?" (Early evidence that I've often had a tendency to take myself too seriously.)

Three Dog Nightmare is a candid memoir about the dark side of fame. By age 30 Chuck Negron was a multimillionaire -- rich, famous and talented, with all the female adulation (read between the lines) the rock star lifestyle can handle.

I traded a plush, five-thousand-square-foot, Mediterranean-style villa in the Hollywood Hills with a garage full of Mercedes for a corner of an abandoned building in a crime-ridden Los Angeles neighborhood where I slept on a filthy mattress that was found in a vacant lot. I fought to share dull, dirty needles with a collection of lost, hopeless, pathetic junkies who are probably dead by now. 

Drugs eventually ate the flesh off my bones and poisoned my mind to the point of dementia. I was hospitalized more than a hundred times and was a refugee from more than three dozen drug-treatment programs. The ugly tracks on my arms mirrored the scars on my soul. It was a sick, sad, self-indulgent existence. Eventually, I just wanted to die a junkie. But, for some unexplainable reason, I was saved.

* * * *
In some ways its just another "excess story." I'm curious how much of this is just "the American way." The famous Tolstoy observation comes to mind here: "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Negron's created his own personal hell by being a self-centered jerk, and he did it his way. Now that he is performing again and "living the dream" I pray that it is with a greater sense of humility, with afterparties of a different character than he was accustomed to in his prime.

Meantime, life goes on all around. That is, if you are one of the survivors. 

Thursday, March 22, 2018

A Pair of Poems by Two Great Literary Figures: Borges and Pessoa

I owe my discovery of the influential Argentine writer Borges to a late 1960's edition of Antioch Review. Or was it an audio book with its mind-blowing story, The Garden of Forking Paths?

I owe my discovery of Pessoa, the enigmatic Portuguese literary figure, to an economics professor from Brazil. Or was it an artist from Lisbon who introduced his writings to me?

Each has produced a body of work that is wholly original, that continuously surprises. Here are a pair of examples, the first by Fernando Pessoa.
* * * *

There's no one who loves me.
Hold on, yes there is;
But it's hard to feel certain
About what you don't believe in.

It isn't out of disbelief
That I don't believe, for I know
I'm well liked. It's my nature
Not to believe, and not to change.

There's no one who loves me.
For this poem to exist
I have no choice
But to suffer this grief.

How sad not to be loved!
My poor, forlorn heart!
Et cetera, and that's the end
Of this poem I thought up.

What I feel is another matter...
                      December 25, 1930

From A Little Larger Than the Entire Universe, Selected Poems of Fernando Pessoa

* * * *

I owe a great debt to Jorge Luis Borges, the Argentine author who unveiled for me the possibilities of fiction. I read, and savored, every story.

In addition to being a writer of stories, he was also an essayist and a poet. Here is a poem that takes you to a different sort of place and reveals the nature of his thought.

The Watcher

The light enters and I remember who I am; he is there.
He begins by telling me his name which (it should now be clear) is mine.
I revert to the servitude which has lasted more than seven times ten years.
He saddles me with his rememberings.
He saddles me with the miseries of every day, the human condition.
I am his old nurse; he requires me to wash his feet.
He spies on me in mirrors, in mahogany, in shop windows.
One or another woman has rejected him, and I must share his anguish.
He dictates to me now this poem, which I do not like.
He insists I apprentice myself tentatively to the stubborn Anglo-Saxon.
He has won me over to the hero worship of dead soldiers, people with whom I could
scarcely exchange a single word.
On the last flight of stairs, I feel him at my side.
He is in my footsteps, in my voice.
Down to the last detail, I abhor him.
I am gratified to remark that he can hardly see.
I am in a circular cell and the infinite wall is closing in.
Neither of the two deceives the other, but we both lie.
We know each other too well, inseparable brother.
You drink the water from my cup and you wolf down my bread.
The door to suicide is open, but theologians assert that, in the subsequent shadows of the other kingdom, there will I be, waiting for myself.

Spanish; trans. Alastair Reid

* * * *

Borges was famous for his labyrinthian stories which circle about recurring themes, so it is not surprising to find a short reflection called Borges and I, which elucidates the same notion. And then there is his story The Other, in which he as an older man meets his younger self in a quirked jag of time.

Learn more about this remarkably innovative and influential man whose profound perspectives continue to awaken minds to the possibilities of fiction.

* * * *

"Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash."
--Leonard Cohen

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Almost Wordless Wednesday: Car Wash

If you're not going to clean up your act,
then clean your car. It feels good.
Meantime, life goes on....

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Tech Tuesday: Is Facebook Just a Variation on the Chicken Soup Franchise? No, It Is Probably Worse, the Real Reason Trump Is Being Tarred This Week

In 2002 I attended what purported to be a three-hour success seminar by Mark Victor Hansen, co-author of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. His presentation, demeaning manner and arrogance were more than annoying. For example, he bragged about needing to make two million dollars a year to break even. The experience, which an auditorium of people forked over $75 to each to hear, was so odious to me that I ended up writing a story for The Reader Weekly, "Chicken Soup for the Ripped Off Person's Soul," which I re-published on my blog in 2008.

During his talk he affirmed that he and co-author Jack Canfield were in the Guinness Book of World Records for the speed at which they produced books. But what is the process for feeding this revenue machine? The Chicken Soup books are generated by OPC (Other Peoples' Content).

Most writers have probably seen at one time or another announcements about upcoming themes that Hansen & Canfield are looking for stories about. In 2002 they would pay $100 a story, which has grown to $200 a story today (I believe). In other words, everyone contributes and is rewarded a little while The Machine (Chicken Soup Franchise) rakes in a fortune.

This past week it dawned on me that to some extent that is what Facebook is doing. Except that their machine doesn't pay people to create the content. We all contribute content because our reward is... sharing our photos, our ideas, and connecting with friends. And in the case of FB there are two billion contributors.

How Facebook Differs from Chicken Soup
Now where Facebook differs from the Chicken Soup Franchise (CSF) is in this. Facebook acquires all your information, everything about yourself that you have willingly shared. They have massive quantities of data on each of us, and they sell it to Marketers so that marketers can get very very targeted in their online advertising.

Here's one article: The Price of Free. In fact, here is a whole page of links to articles about how FB uses the info it gathers about us.

So why does the Washington Post make such a big stink a Donald Trump using Facebook data in his campaign to get elected? As anyone in the business knows, the Dems and GOP machinery have maintained data on everybody for as long as it has been possible. Those targeted ads that we see on FB don't show up in our margins because they are guessing.

When Billy Graham died this past month I wrote a blog post (that I ultimately didn't post) about a time when one of his writers gave me a tour of the Billy Graham Association facility in Minneapolis. He brought me in to the Rev. Graham's office and showed me his roll-top desk. I proceeded to do a Google search for pictures of roll-top desks and downloaded a specific image that looked like the one I remembered. From that moment on I have been seeing ads for roll-top desks both on Facebook and elsewhere. This doesn't happen by accident.

Someone shared with me how two years ago Trump's team worked hand-in-glove with Facebook and Twitter to learn how to optimize their marketing efforts in those two channels. It's what all the big businesses are doing. If marketers don't attend those big FB and Google sessions themselves, then they hire consultants who have been in California at the events, building ties to the smartest guys in the room.

The title of this post is my longest ever, and probably could have been shortened to "Much Ado About Nothing." But I'd done that, you might think I'm talking about Shakespeare, and when we talk about Old Bill we immediately go to thoughts about Bob Dylan, and that controversy as to whether he should received a Nobel Prize. So let's not go there.

Enjoy the day.

Related Link
JAN 12—Zuckerburg says FB focus is the user's well-being.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Are We As Happy As We Used To Be? A Glimpse at the World Happiness Report

Because we live in a scientific age, we enjoy defining and measuring and quantifying things. This goes back to Aristotle who, in addition, began by naming things.

At the end of last week a story about World Happiness caught my attention. The two highlights that jumped out for me were that Norway is now the happiest place in the world and that the U.S. isn't as happy as it used to be.

What were their criteria, I wondered. How does one measure happiness?

The organization, loosely affiliated with the U.N., has been studying happiness for only about five years, publishing their first report in 2013. That the research is global in scope intrigued me. Here in the U.S. "the pursuit of happiness" was loudly trumpeted as a one of our inalienable rights in our Declaration of Independence. But what is this elusive entity that we call happiness?

The World Happiness Report evaluates the following main factors when measuring happiness: caring, freedom, generosity, honesty, health, income and good governance.

It's an interesting list. Measuring happiness by ranking countries, though, has certain difficulties because as we all know there are vast differences in every country between those at the top of the heap and those at the bottom. (EdNote: I did not read the report in its entirety, but reviewed the executive summary and sections from the various chapters and appendices.)

That Norway, Denmark, Iceland and Switzerland led the list of happy countries did not surprise me. We've heard a lot over the years about the high levels of satisfaction people enjoy in Scandinavia. (Finland was 5th and Sweden tied for 9th, in case you wish to know.) The other countries in the top ten were Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand and Australia. (EdNote: I've never met an Australian who did not seem happy to me.)

So what happened to the U.S? We used to be 3rd.  Now we rank 19th. The executive summary gave these two reasons for this country's fall: declining social support and increased corruption. By way of contrast, the Nordic countries have increased social support and reduced corruption.

As I skimmed the various sections of the report, one of the biggest factors contributing to personal misery is mental illness, which corrodes happiness in whatever country one finds oneself in. Mental illness is a universal problem without borders, which brought to mind this article from The Guardian regarding assisted suicide. Because of lax euthanasia laws Aurelia Browers, a troubled mentally 29-year-old woman in the Netherlands was by law recently able to legally end her life. The Netherlands law was enacted in 2002, permitting assisted suicide when there is "unbearable suffering" without hope of relief.

As I think about this woman's suffering it makes me sad. But suffering takes many forms. We need more caring and compassion for sure, for we never know what hidden burden another is carrying.*

They say that humans have a remarkable capacity for adaptation, but there sure is a lot of brokenness out there. Things aren't what they are supposed to be. That's why we need to be kind, compassionate, merciful and generous.

Are you happy? Somehow writing about all this happiness today made me sad.

Meantime, life goes on. "Sit, Ubu."

* I used to attribute this to Rumi, but have read here that it was someone else.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Bob Dylan's Scarlet Town Revisited--Professor Craig Grau Scratches Beneath the Surface of a Complex Roots Story

Historic Hibbing High School
When Pulitzer-prize winning journalist David Kinney added yet one more tome to the increasingly high stacks of Dylan literature he needed a new angle, and thus created a study not of Bob but of the various kinds of fans and followers he has generated over the course of a career. The title of his book reflected its angle: The Dylanologists. Categories include the concert-going Front-Rowers, the Tapers, the Scholars and others. Last but not least are the Lyrics-Dissecters, a tribe I ascribe to at times. These categories are not really cleanly drawn boxes, since many of the scholars are dissecting lyrics, and many concert goers collect memorabilia.

Through my association with the annual Dylan Days and Dylan Fest activities here in the Northland I've had the privilege of getting to know many interesting people over the years. One of these is UMD's former Associate Professor of Political Science Craig Grau whom I met through mutual friends, and a former student of his.

When Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize in 2016 Gabriel Rubin, a journalist from the Wall Street Journal, flew in to Duluth to see some of the touchstones of our town associated with the city's Native Son and to meet a few of the people who might shed light on his story. Professor Grau was one of those in attendance as we met in a board room of the Northland Foundation downtown.

At that time he shared several insights about the song Scarlet Town, which appears on Dylan's last album of original songs, Tempest. A few months back Prof. Grau was sharing some of the deeper layers of the song and I asked if he might allow me to share them here. He was initially reluctant as it seemed to him this song is powerfully personal. And yet...

What I find personally fascinating is the way in which creativity works, the manner in which reality is transfigured by imagination to produce art. Here is the song, and a suggested interpretation.

Bob Dylan's Scarlet Town
by Professor Craig Grau, Political Science, University of MN-Duluth.

As an artist Bob Dylan uses allusions and license to create masterpieces of music. Tucked in the center of his album Tempest is the song "Scarlet Town". In a web article from October 14, 2012, Jim Beviglia sets forth interesting elements of this song ( The title and death scene remind one of the centuries old ballad "Barbara Allen" which Dylan was intimately acquainted with. Certain phrases and beat are from 19th century poet John Greenleaf Whittier. And Scarlet Town seems located near Dylan's famous "Desolation Row."

It will be maintained here that Beviglia is guessing correctly. Scarlet Town and Desolation Row are both references to the geographic area where Dylan was born and raised. Scarlet Town is not about Barbara Allen. It is about Bobby Allen (Zimmerman), known to the music world as Bob Dylan.

To begin let's refresh the Barbara Allen story. The British ballad is about a man often called "Sweet William." Who loves Barbara Allen. In the month of May he sends a friend to bring Barbara Allen to his bedside where he is dying for the lack of her love. She empirically notes that he is indeed dying, but does not return his love. When she hears bells tolling to announce his death, however, she feels remorse and insists that when she dies that she be buried next to Sweet William. Eventually from his grave sprouts a rose and from her grave a briar and the two intertwine.

The Dylan Tempest album has a British theme, but it is argued here that "Scarlet Town" can be heard as a Dylan autobiographical song - one with major themes of his life. The first concert that he gave after the album's release was in Winnipeg, Canada. "Scarlet Town" was the only song from Tempest that he sang.

Of course what follows is not definitive. Only Dylan knows of what he wrote, but this author believes he is trying to tell his audience something about the people and places of his youth.

Biographical references come from, among other sources, No Direction Home, The Life and Music of Bob Dylan by Robert Shelton, (New York, Beech Tree Books, William Morrow, 1986); and Just Like Bob Zimmerman's Blues, Dylan in Minnesota, by Dave Engel, (Rudolph, WI, River City Memoirs-Mesabi, 1997.

So let's get started -----

"Scarlet Town" (Boldfaced type -- Written by Bob Dylan) --- (Lighter lines by Craig Grau, Feb. 11, 2013 ©, Revised by Craig Grau, Nov. 19, 2016 ©; Revised and edited by Craig Grau, Nov. 27, 2016 ©.

In Scarlet Town, where I was born

This is a common first line from versions of Barbara Allen, but Bob Dylan was born in Duluth, Minnesota in 1941 and his family a few years later moved north to Hibbing, Minnesota on the Iron Range, with its open pit iron mines.

A mineral form of iron is Hematite. Its red powder has been a source of the cosmetic rouge for centuries. Visitors to the mines of the Minnesota Iron Range may find that they reflect its reddish color. Indeed the year book of Hibbing High School from which Dylan graduated is called Hematite.

There's ivy leaf and silverthorn

While the Barbara Allen ballad speaks of roses and briars, Dylan writes of ivy and silverthorn.

Ivy is the symbol of colleges and Duluth had two when Dylan lived there. Silverthorn can be a symbol of immigrants, which included Dylan's grandparents and many others in the region.


Uncle Tom still workin' for Uncle Bill

In 1946 Bob's father, Abe Zimmerman, was hit by polio and he moved his family from Duluth to Hibbing to be near family members (Shelton, 32).

Abe went to work for his two brothers, Bob's two uncles (Engel, p. 49).

Scarlet Town is under the hill.

The famous Hibbing High School auditorium.
Bob lived near a hill in Hibbing (Shelton, p.32) and under a bluff in Duluth.

Scarlet Town in the month of May
Sweet William Holme on his deathbed lay
Mistress Mary by the side of the bed
Kissin' his face and heapin' prayers on his head

Recall in Barbara Allen in the month of May, Sweet William asked for Barbara's love, but she spurned him. However Dylan adds "Holme" to Sweet William and a Mistress Mary treats him much differently than Barbara Allen. William Holme, who lived in the 15th century, was referred by a contemporary Thomas Thorpe as the "begetter" of Shakespeare's Sonnets. (Shakespeare's last play was "The Tempest")

Abram Zimmerman was the begetter of Bob Dylan.

Governor Dayton honors Minnesota's Native Son.
Interestingly, in Britain in the 19th century there was a William Holme Sumner who had an estate called Hatchlands. The most famous member of that family was granddaughter Beatrice (1862-1946) who was called Beatie. She was strong willed and ended up marrying a very good cricket player and they became well known in the first half of the twentieth century (See The Indomitable Beatie, by Ronald Morris). In the famous nursery rhyme about a contrary young woman the British version begins - Mistress Mary quite contrary ----. (See Tom Thumb's (Pretty) Songbook, 1744) .

In May 1968, Bob's father Abram Zimmerman who had been very athletic before being stricken by polio died. His wife was Beatrice, who had a strong will and was called Beatty (according to Engel she pronounced it "'beat-ee'" ) (Engel, pp. 33-34).

Bob's father enjoyed smoking cigars (Shelton, p. 33). Dylan's mother was an extrovert who did not need her father to teach her how to drive his car (Shelton, p. 28). On the Tempest album Dylan is pictured with his band smoking a cigar.

So brave, so true, so gentle is he
I'll weep for him as he would weep for me
Little Boy Blue come your blow horn
In Scarlet Town, where I was born

Dylan knows that he loved his father and his father loved him. When father Abe died Dylan took it very hard according to biographer Shelton and when his mother needed money since the family accounts were frozen Dylan took care of his widow mother financially Shelton, pp. 60-1). As a teenager Dylan's first musical instruments of choice were horns (Shelton, p. 37). Little Boy Blue is also in the British book Tom Thumb (See Tom Thumb's (Pretty) Songbook, 1744).


The Seven Wonders of the World are here
The evil and the good livin' side by side
All human forms seem glorified
Put your heart on a platter and see who will bite
See who will hold you and kiss you good night
There's walnut groves and maplewood
In Scarlet Town cryin' won't do no good

As life ends those you have known are dying. You offer yourself to others, but accept rejection if necessary. Crying over dead relationships or those who have died does no good.

Walnut Grove in southern MN is was the home of Laura Wilder. Maplewood is a northern suburb of the MN Twin Cities.


You've got legs that can drive men mad
A lot of things we didn't do that I wish we had
In Scarlet Town, the sky is clear
You'll wish to God that you stayed right here

Are the legs those of a woman or a man with polio. Maybe he wishes he had spent more time with his father and stayed in Scarlet Town.

Set 'em up Joe, play "Walkin' the Floor"
Play it for my flat-chested junkie whore
I'm staying up late, I'm making amends
While we smile, all heaven descends
If love is a sin, then beauty is a crime
All things are beautiful in their time
The black and the white, the yellow and the brown
It's all right there in front of you in Scarlet Town

In 1941 the year Bob Dylan was born Earnest Tubbs recorded "Walking the Floor Over You". He was known as the Texas troubadour. Dylan is now known as America's troubadour.

When some of Dylan's maternal relatives lived in Superior Wisconsin it was described in a Dylan biography as the "flat-chested little sister of Duluth Minnesota, inclined to saloons and whore houses" (Engel, p. 17).

He is making up for mistakes of the past.

"Scarlet Town," as does the album Highway 61 Revisited (1965) has references to Dylan's boyhood region. But they are not alike. In the title song of that earlier album Abe is asked by God to kill his son, but in "Scarlet Town" Dylan declares that he loved his father as his father loved him. In Highway 61 "Just Like Tom Thumb Blues" is a scary journey while in "Scarlet Town" Mistress Mary is a caring wife and Little Boy Blue a dutiful son. The concluding song of Highway 61, "Desolation Row" begins with residents of his home town selling postcards of circus workers that had been lynched in 1920. While in "Scarlet Town" persons black, white, yellow and brown are all beautiful where he was born.

The phrase most associated with Bob Dylan is "a rolling stone" who could find "no direction home" as described in the most famous song on the Highway 61 Revisited album. In "Scarlet Town" he declares that the seven wonders of the world are there and one wonders why one left. "You'll wish to God that you stayed right here."

Dylan displays a kinder, gentler, loving Bob. He is still America's Troubadour with his magnificent "never ending tour", but he seems to indicate in this song that as Harry Chapin often sang "All my life is a circle," but perspectives change.

* * * *
Duluth Dylan Fest Update
Duluth Dylan Fest 2018 will feature lectures by two author/professors as part of the John Bushey Memorial Lecture Series. SMSU English Professor David Pichaske, author of Song of the North Country, will open the week on Saturday May 19 at Karpeles Manuscript Museum. Saturday May 26 will feature a talk by Harvard Classics Professor Richard F. Thomas, author of Why Bob Dylan Matters. Stay current on Duluth Dylan Fest activities here at the Bob Dylan Way website or here on Facebook.
Photos on this page taken during Governor Mark Dayton's visit to Hibbing to make a proclaim the day Bob Dylan Day after he was awarded a Nobel Prize for Literature

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Hermantown Art Students Prepare for April Beaners Exhibition, The Illusion of Control

This past Thursday I followed through on an invitation to visit with several students in Robb Quisling's Hermantown High School art class. The students were Haley Zierden, Mya Austin and Eiley Kuhlmey.

The students have titled their April show at Beaners Central  The Illusion of Control. The concepts the students have undertaken to express deal with societal, religious and governmental controls. At the opening on April 5, 6:00-8:00 p.m.,  there will also be a vocal performance by Sophie Peterson at 6:30.

Eiley Kuhlmey's interest in art began in ninth grade. She's found it life-changing. Mya Austin's interests have drawn her to costumes and 3-D design. Haley Zierden produced pieces for the show in several media, including a set of cyanotype photos of her visit to Havana. What impressed me, even more than their learning how to work in a variety of mediums and develop technical facility, was the grasp of conceptual thinking that real artists learn to internalize.

Zierden, who curated this show, shared the following comments on what it would be about. "I wanted to pick a theme that would be relatable to the student population as well as to the adult community. The theme I picked is The Illusion of Control. As budding teenagers, if there's anything we are familiar with, it's control--usually over our decisions and actions. High school is when you really start to feel the pressures of social control, through peer pressure and cultural modeling. This is also often when you start to question the controls and rules you grew up with, put in place by parents, teachers, and other authority figures. Other forms of control seen throughout life and represented in this exhibit are shown in religion, government, culture, and other forms of restrictions put in place by society. Therefore, this is a topic that can be seen throughout the world, across cultures, and in all age groups."

"Art is another form of intelligence, another way to look at the world," one of the other students said.

Mya Austin expressed a mild frustration artists can have when people view their work. "People don't realize that you are telling a story," she said. In other words, many people look at a painting or drawing and see a picture without understanding that it is also a form of communication.

The class instructor Robb Quisling shared how he encourages the students to combine form with ideas, to experiment with various approaches, to try and re-try things until the thought gets fully explored.

The three paintings by Ms. Kuhley aim to challenge an accepted notion in our culture that a woman's value is based on an ideal of beauty. "Girls are taught at an early age that beauty is pain. My art shows how ridiculous this is as an ideology."

The experience brought back to mind some of my own early drawings which were an attempt to express stories, or inner impressions as a reaction to accepted premises of the culture I saw around me.

As I found my way out of the high school afterwards I noticed that student art had been hung in various corridors, perhaps as a way to honor the creative expressions of the students. Most gratifying was knowing that in at least one school district the arts continued to have value as part of the overall curriculum.

Meantime, art goes on all around you. Engage it.

Related Links
I first met Robb Quisling at a DAI show he was part of in 2016.
Last year I also wrote about about his exhibition Common Threads at the Washington Galleries.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Ethical Frontiers: The End of Down Syndrome in Iceland

Advances in prenatal testing now go beyond giving us the ability to know the gender of our unborn children. We're able to learn many other things, one of them being whether our child has Down Syndrome.

George Will's Tuesday opinion piece in the Washington Post has some frightening implications for ethicists: The real Down syndrome problem: Accepting genocide. In Iceland, because of this ability to identify Down Syndrome in advance, nearly all families are aborting the children thusly identified.

What makes Will's piece so striking is the juxtaposition he makes between what is happening there (only two Down Syndrome children in the tiny island nation) and what has happened here, where the Gerber baby food company has selected a Down Syndrome infant to be its "Spokesbaby," a first. His name is Lucas, and he hails from Dalton, Georgia.

By definition, genocide is the deliberate, systematic attempt to erase a category of people.

I can already hear people crying foul, that the State has decided fetuses are not people yet, so we shouldn't compare this to Brave New World. (Does anyone remember how they dealt with this issue in 1930's Germany, or undesirables here in the U.S. at that time?)

When I think of Iceland I think of a photographers' Paradise. It has spectacular and unique vistas you just don't see every day, active volcanoes and winter awe, all of which combined to make me think of this poem by Robert Frost.

Fire and Ice
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

* * * *

Meantime, life goes on...

Photo credit: Gerber publicity still.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Author Marie Zhuikov Talks About Her Life as a Writer

Marie Zhuikov self-describes as a novelist, science writer, poet and editor. Her lifelong fascination with science and writing has taken he across a variety of career terrains. In her day job, Marie is an award-winning science writer and communications project manager, specializing in environmental and medical topics. She has published hundreds of articles, publications, videos and radio programs, as well as coordinated production of many web sites. But like many of us with writing in our DNA there are nights and weekends where the streams of self-expression must find an outlet.

This interview was triggered by the recent panel discussion about writing for money.

EN: As a teen you took an interest in poetry. Who were you favorite poets at that time and did you have other friends who shared this passion?

Marie Zhuikov: Back then, I only knew the poets that I could find in my school library or the local library. I used to type out the poems I liked on my parent's Underwood typewriter so that I could have copies. I still have those copies, even over 35 years later. The poets include Dorothy Parker, William Stafford, Sara Teasdale, and William Carlos Williams.

I don't recall any of my friends having the same interest, so it was a solitary exercise for me.

EN: You say that you have been sitting in front of a typewriter you whole life. At what point did you realize this to be your life calling? 

MZ: I realized I really liked sitting in front of a typewriter when I was about 16 and I was in my room, copying poems. The time just seemed to flow, and I remember thinking, "I want to do this for the rest of my life!" Before that point, I had written a few stories and my own poems. But there was something about studying the poems and immersing myself in recreating them that appealed to me. Later, as a student journalist in college, I still sat in front of a typewriter, but that quickly changed to a computer keyboard once I got a "real" job. And I've been doing it ever since. In my 50s now, I am surprised I don't have carpal tunnel syndrome, knock on wood!

EN: Your writing blended with an interest in science journalism and you ended up becoming an environmental reporter for the Minnesota Daily as well as doing some freelance writing. What were some of the things you learned about writing at that time?

MZ: I learned the hard way about the politics behind some stories and how it can play out when someone in power (like a professor) doesn't like the published piece. That taught me to always keep my interview records (notes, recordings) for a long time afterward, in case I need to prove that my sources said what I reported. In this instance, I did keep the records, but thankfully did not need to use them to justify my story's content. However, it was sure nice to know I had them. I could have been fired if it had turned into a "he said, she said" situation.

I learned a lot about editing, too. When I first started with the paper, I was a night typist. I took the reporters' stories, which were typed on paper, glued together to form a long scroll and marked up by an editor, and typed them into the newspaper's computer system after the 5 p.m. news deadline. Even before I wrote my own newspaper stories, that experience taught me many of the common grammar mistakes reporters make, and ways I could cut extra words to make the story's meaning clearer. Some reporters habitually had way more red pencil editor's marks on their stories than black type. Perfectionist that I was/am, I vowed that when I was a reporter, I would turn in stories edited to the best of my ability so that the typists would have an easier job. I like to think they didn't wince as much when a story with my byline came their way, plus it helped me hone my writing and editing skills at an early stage in my career.

EN: Can you briefly outline your long and winding road to the Northland?

MZ: Well, I was born here, so I started out here. My family lived in the Piedmont neighborhood and I graduated from Denfeld High School. I left for college in Minneapolis, where I lived for five years, but I worked for several summers near Lake Superior. After college, I entered a graduate school program called the Audubon Expedition Institute to earn a degree in environmental education. (It's now called the Expedition Education Institute.) We travelled around the U.S. and Canada in a yellow school bus, learning about environmental issues by talking to local resource people, living outdoors, and going for hikes, swims, and canoe trips. We went from the northern tip of Newfoundland down the east coast of Canada and the U.S. to Key Largo, Florida. From there we went out west to canyon country.

The expedition abruptly stopped in Canyonlands National Park when our bus blew its engine block. By that point, I knew I didn't want to pursue a second year of study on the bus. I wanted to settle down. All the land I had seen made Minnesota look pretty good, so I decided to come back here to find a job and work on natural resource issues and writing. I've stayed here ever since, except for one brief interlude to work in Rochester, Minnesota. Locally, I've worked as a writer and public relations person for the Superior National Forest, Minnesota Sea Grant, the St. Louis River Alliance, and Wisconsin Sea Grant. I've also done a fair amount of freelancing.

EN: When did you first get bit with a desire to write novels?

MZ: That happened during one of my college summer jobs. I worked as a waitress at the resort on Isle Royale National Park. It was the mid-1908s, and the wolf population was in trouble similar to the population issues they are facing now. I lugged a duffle bag full of books with me to the island and one of them was Anne Rice's "Interview with a Vampire." I loved how she gave the vampires their own society and deeper motivations than just bloodlust. I thought it would be fun to do the same thing for werewolves - to show them actually working as members of a pack, not just as singular bloodthirsty beasts. What better place for a setting than Isle Royale? So I combined all those things into my first novel, Eye of the Wolf.

Although I got bit with the idea in the mid-1980s, it took me 17 years to write the novel and to find a publisher, so a long lag ensued between the idea stage and the publishing stage. Part of the reason was that I had a lot of learning to do about fiction writing, part was because I got stuck on certain sections, and another part was that a lot of life happened during those years.

EN: Can you briefly share what your second novel is about?  

MZ: My publisher (North Star Press) calls them eco-mystic-romance novels. They combine ecology, native myths, and kissing! My second novel is a sequel set 11 years afterward. Plover Landing follows the protagonist (Melora St. James) and her love interest, Drew, off the island and into Duluth, where Melora is working to restore habitat on Park Point for an endangered shorebird called the piping plover. After they find a lost boy on the beach, the story begins to take a mystical turn. In helping the boy, Melora and Drew learn secrets about themselves and building community, and they come to terms with their past.

* * * *


Visit the website of Marie Zhuikov
The Going Coastal reading at Zenith Bookstore.
Purchase Going Coastal here.

If you're a writer, write on!
Meantime, life goes on all around you. Engage it.