Saturday, March 31, 2018

Miscellaneous Topics I've Almost Written About Lately

Writing sometimes involves making a lot of false starts; blogging especially so. Here are some topics I've considered writing about, triggered by a convergence of stars and news items, or a magazine article, snippets of a conversation or circumstances.

1. Ethanol again.
Ten years ago I wrote a few blog posts about ethanol (e.g., The Ethanol Fallacy). I have been wanting to do an update on this topic.

2. How To Act When There's No Plan B
It just seemed like an interesting title. I imagined writing about total commitment, whether intentional or no.

3. Revenge
After watching The Merchant of Venice (most recent Hollywood version with Al Pacino, Ralph Fiennes and other big names) it got me thinking about the relationship between revenge and justice, and the problems associated with human efforts to even the score when there is wrongdoing, whether by individuals or by nations.

4. Trouble No More
Dylan's Bootleg #13 features live performances from his Gospel period, 1979-81. I have been intending to write more about this at some point.

5. Ballad of a Thin Man
One of the more difficult songs in the Dylan songbook for man, I have always felt like it seemed clear as a bell. The enigma of Dylan's Mr. Jones is underscored by John Lennon's reference to the song in "Yer Blues" on side three of the White Album.

6. Huck's Tune
Another poignant Dylan song.

7. Florida Drownings
The number of children who die from drowning each year is disturbing, especially 1-4 year olds. In Florida alone nearly 100 children between one and four died last year. The number of children killed by cars backing out of the garage has been around 200 nationally per year. Our government created legislation requiring new cars to have rear-view cameras to reduce accidental deaths. The number of drownings exceeds this number exponentially. When is a problem an issue that needs government intervention and when is it not?

8. Crypto
I like writing about tech themes on Tuesdays and one area of interest to a lot of people is crypto currencies and Blockchain. Writing about things is one way writers learn about them.

9. Historic Preservation
Since I began writing about the Oldenburg House and the Duluth Armory, I've become interested in the manner in which history is preserved, whether art or architecture. There's a lot more here to mull over, to learn and share.

10. The Forward Motion of Time Is Relentless
Seems like there's nothing we can do to stop it, so we must learn how to go with the flow.

* * * *

There's always more to discover. See what tomorrow brings.

Friday, March 30, 2018

The Best Writing Advice I Ever Got and Other Writing Tips

At some point in the past three years I discovered, or was discovered by, Quora. Quara is a question and answer site in which questions are asked and answered by members of a community. It's like Siri and Google in the sense that people ask questions, but it is like a massive international forum in that humans answer the questions and, like Reddit or other forums, humans upvote or downvote answers, and occasionally comment on them.

People who answer questions will then get asked more questions on that same theme, be it philosophy, religion, The Beatles or raising kids. I get asked a lot of questions about Dylan, blogging and writing. Here is one question that I was asked at the beginning of this year.

What was the most helpful, or most memorable writing advice book you've ever read?

The most memorable advice I ever got came from Sherwood Wirt’s book, You Can Tell The World. There were many useful insights in the book. When he died in 2009 I wrote a tribute to him on my blog titled Sherwood Wirt, R.I.P.

HERE is an excerpt, which I considered the most valuable in my writing career:

If we're to produce great work, we must know what great work looks like. The only way is to be a reader of great works.

“Darwin’s Origin of Species, Marx’ and Engels’ Communist Manifesto, Kierkegaard’s attacks on Hegel, Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra, Sinclair Lewis’ Main Street, Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, Kafka’s The Trial, Camus’ The Plague and others.

“These books, the most influential of our time, deal primarily with the scientific challenge and loss of meaning in a mechanistic society. There has been no Christian work written since the novels of Dostoevsky that can honestly be said to match them in boldness, in documentation, in breadth and scope, in vision, in appeal to the human spirit, or in grasp of truth. C.S. Lewis is the only Christian entry in the field. The opportunities are wide open, and there is plenty of room at the top.”

EdNote: I have read dozens of books about writing over the past half century and there are useful pearls in most of them. So, my advice to you then is to gather them and save them so you can review them and share them.

* * * *

Since retiring in December, I have begun to find a renewed interest in writing fiction. I don't know how far I will run with it, but the pump has been primed, there's water flowing and I'm feeling nourished, refreshed, invigorated.

When I built my first website in the mid-90's one of my aims was to share my short stories. Three stories were translated into foreign languages, and one translated to film. The downside of all that is that when later I sought to publish these stories in literary magazines, I learned that "no previously published stories" included being published online. Alas.

If you're a writer of fiction, one of the best teachers of writing (in my opinion) is the late John Gardner. I strongly recommend The Art of Fiction and On Becoming a Novelist. Here are a few quotes from these two books, followed by a couple final words of advice for writers.

On Writing Fiction: Insights from John Gardner

"Though the literary dabbler may write a fine story now and then, the true writer is one for whom technique has become, as for the pianist, second nature."
The Art of Fiction

"... whatever the genre may be, fiction does its work by creating a dream in the reader's mind."
The Art of Fiction

"Thus the value of great fiction, we begin to suspect, is not just that it entertains us or distracts us from our troubles, not just that it broadens our knowledge of people and places, but also that it helps us to know what we believe, reinforces those qualities that are noblest in us, leads us to feel uneasy about our faults and limitations."
The Art of Fiction

"What the young writer needs to develop, to achieve his goal of becoming a great artist, is not a set of aesthetic laws, but artistic mastery."
The Art of Fiction

"It may feel more classy to imitate James Joyce... than All In the Family; but every literary imitation lacks something we expect of good writing: the writer seeing with his own eyes."
On Becoming a Novelist

"Detail is the lifeblood of fiction."
On Becoming a Novelist

"The study of writing, like the study of classical piano, is not practical but aristocratic. If one is born rich, one can easily afford to be an artist; if not, one has to afford one's art by sacrifice."
On Becoming a Novelist

* * * *

"The main purpose of art... is this, that it tell the truth about the soul, revealing and giving expression to all the secrets one cannot say in simple words. ...Art is a microscope that the artist focuses on the secrets of his own soul, and that then reveals to men the secrets common to them all."
Tolstoy - diary note

"The real rewards of writing are serious and bitter as well as sweet. And they are private, not public."
William Sloan, The Craft of Writing

"One great inhibition and obstacle to me was the thought: Will it make money? But you find if you are thinking of that all the time, either you don't make money because the work is so empty, dry, calculated and without life in it. Or you do make money and you are ashamed of your work. Your published writing gives you the pip."
Brenda Uelland - If You Want to Write

* * * *

If you feel called to be a writer.... "Don't give up the fight."

Thursday, March 29, 2018

A Shout Out To Our Sponsors -- Duluth Dylan Fest 2018

The Eighth Annual Duluth Dylan Fest 
is set for May 19-27, 2018.
Thank you to our sponsors!


A Visit with Harvard Professor Richard F. Thomas, Author of Why Bob Dylan Matters

2017 was yet another good year for Dylan literature. Late fall as I began reading a friend's copy of Richard F. Thomas' Why Bob Dylan Matters, I put it aside till I could acquire my own copy so I could underline passages and write notes in the margins. Every four year the author, a George Martin Lane Professor of the Classics at Harvard, teaches a class on Dylan which is nicknamed "Dylan 101" and called the "the coolest class on campus."

How this came about and what he learned from writing this book is part of what you will read here. It is a privilege to be able to announce that Professor Thomas will be one of the featured speakers at this year's 2018 Duluth Dylan Fest. Details at the end of this interview.

EN: Your interactions with the songs of Bob Dylan were filtered through the lens of one who has been immersed in classic literature for five decades. How did you come to take an interest in the writings of ancient Greek and Roman poets?

Richard F. Thomas: I started Latin at the age of 9, Greek at 13, in New Zealand, over five decades ago. I liked the challenge of the languages, and eventually came to appreciate the literature of these two old worlds. I was also attracted to movies back then that brought the Greeks and Romans to life, Ben Hur, Spartacus, Last Days of Pompeii, The Robe. These were the same movies that Bob Zimmerman was seeing in his uncle’s movie house in Hibbing, where Dylan also did a year or two of Latin and had contact with Roman history in the Latin Club at Hibbing High. Those ancient civilizations speak, and have always spoken, to the imagination of curious minds across the centuries.

EN: When did you first take an interest in Dylan? What were his first songs that spoke to you?

The author in his youth.
RFT: I’ve followed Dylan from the beginning, since my teens. ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ of course, ‘The Times They Are A-Changin'', for different causes in a different time and place, as they worked in Washington DC last week when Jennifer Hudson sang the second of these songs at the March for Our Lives rally to 800,000 people. Then as I got older the songs about love won and love lost, ‘Love Minus Zero/No Limit’, ‘Boots of Spanish Leather’, everything else.

EN: You've been teaching the classics, but then started teaching a class on Dylan. This was while you were at Harvard, right? How did that come about?

RFT: My Harvard dean asked me to teach a freshman seminar in the early 2000s. I had for years been thinking the lyric genius of Dylan was pretty much in the same stream that would eventually flow down to Dylan. When he started incorporating my favorite Roman poet Virgil into his song, specifically into ‘Lonesome Day Blues’ on Love and Theft in 2001, I thought ‘Why not a seminar on Bob Dylan?’ Since 2004 I’ve taught it every four years, fourth time around in the fall of 2016, including a meeting on the day of the Nobel Prize announcement on October 13 of that year.

EN: What were your biggest takeaways from writing Why Bob Dylan Matters?

RFT: As I wrote the book, I came to grasp in a broader sense what genius is, and to understand in a more deliberate way that Dylan’s genius is, at the end of the day, like any literary, musical, artistic genius. To have lived in the time of Bob Dylan is a gift. I have spent much of my life as a scholar and teacher explaining why the greatest poets of the last two or three millennia have continued to appeal to those who have ears to hear and eyes to read. I see Why Bob Dylan Matters as a book that is completely at home with the books and articles I have written on the great classical poets of the past

EN: I personally believe Dylan will still be studied in a hundred years. What do you think? Are there any other contemporary songwriters who will be looked back on as a significant voice for the 20th century?

RFT: This is a tough one. Each time I teach the seminar three or four of the twelve 18-year-olds are as knowledgeable about Dylan, all of Dylan, as you or I are. They know why songs written before their parents were born are here to stay--at least for them. So that’s promising as we think about Dylan’s legacy. In my field the death of the Classics (Homer, Virgil, the rest of them) has been predicted across the ages, but they stay with those who discover them and are enriched by the discovery. Dylan will be the same, however small the community of those who understand what happened may get. Other contemporary songwriters? That’s invidious. Songs last forever once they’re written down. The question is what songwriter/performers will have the same longevity. There are a few. I’d just add Leonard Cohen for now. Blonde on Blonde and Songs of Leonard Cohen were the two albums I took from New Zealand to the US back in 1974.

EN: Of Homer, Virgil, Ovid, and Cicero... do you have a favorite? (or some other contemporary of these writers)?

RFT: I love them all, but Virgil is my favorite. Next week I’ll see Dylan perform in Mantova (Mantua) in Italy, the hometown of Virgil. The English poet Tennyson wrote a poem for the people of Mantua in 1881, celebrating the 1900th anniversary of the death of their poet in 19 BC:

I salute thee Mantovano, I that loved thee since my day began
Wielder of the stateliest measure ever molded by the lips of man.

That goes for Virgil, but would also go for Dylan. You could even keep the same meter by replacing “Mantovano” with “Minnesotan”.

* * * *
The schedule for this year's 2018 Duluth Dylan Fest has been established beginning with the first of two John Bushey Memorial Lectures featuring author David Pichaske, Saturday May 19. His lecture will be on the theme Songs of the North Country: A Midwest Framework to the Songs of Bob Dylan.

Prof. Thomas will be presenting his lecture from 1:00 to 2:00 p.m. Saturday May 26 at Karpeles Manuscript Museum Library, also as part of the John Bushey Memorial Lecture Series. His theme, Why Bob Dylan Matters, likewise promises to be enlightening, informative and engaging.

Related Links
Professor Thomas' Why Bob Dylan Matters is available here at Amazon.
Professor Pichaske's books can be found at this link.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

It's Alright, Ma: Dylan's Scathing Look at Contemporary Culture Through Jaundiced Eyes

Dylan at his best. Dylan at the height of his powers. Dylan as Dylan.

Bringing It All Back Home is the first of a trio of albums Dylan released in the mid-Sixties, the albums that many would argue changed everything, and certainly affirmed Dylan's place in rock history. Little did we know then that he'd still be performing more than half a century later, and what's more, he was still performing this song 50 years later. (Though recorded in 1965 he wrote and first performed it the summer before.)

I like this commentary on the song from the Songfacts website:
Dylan vents about subjects such as commercialism, hypocrisy and warmongering in this song. In the book, Bob Dylan, Performing Artist, author Paul Williams states this song sees Dylan acknowledge "the possibility that the most important (and least articulated) political issue of our times is that we are all being fed a false picture of reality, and it's coming at us from every direction."

Williams adds that Dylan portrays an "alienated individual identifying the characteristics of the world around him and thus declaring his freedom from its 'rules'." *

Dylan has performed the song 772 times in concert and has publicly called it out as a favorite. I have likewise, many times, called it a personal favorite. It was this song, used in the soundtrack for Easy Rider, that pierced me like no other, expressing things that were rattling around inside me but that I was not yet able to articulate.

Like a book of aphorisms or proverbs, there are so many one liners here that have been repeatedly asserted and affirmed since they were penned.

"he not busy being born is busy dying"

"and sometimes even the president of the United States must have to stand naked."

"Meantime, life goes on all around you."

I wish I were able to find the time to dissect this masterpiece. Life does indeed all too often get in the way. For a thought-provoking take on the song I once again defer to Tony Attwood's Untold Dylan. Attwood notes that the message here is bleak, and I suspect that it's not a very appetizing message, yet for me it was an arrow to the heart. Someone was saying something that I completely identified with. Writes Attwood: We can protest for ever, the master says, but “There is no sense in trying” because all the words are wasted. Why? Well you have to wait until the last line to find out, but of course we now know why. Because this is how it is.

There's been a lot of enthusiasm generated by the national student protests regarding gun violence in the schools. It's probably good for young people to be idealistic and hopeful. I was out of step at the time, and probably still out of step.

I've occasionally compared the events of the Sixties to a head injury causing a mild, or maybe not so mild, concussions. The JFK assassination, the realities of racism in the deep South, the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King assassinations, riots in the streets and, of course, the ubiquitous reality of Viet Nam. 

To borrow a line from a later Dylan songs, "I been hit too hard, seen too much."

For what it's worth, I thought I might highlight or underscore some of the passages from this song that spoke to me back in 1969.

What’s astonishing is how relevant the song continues to be today. And today again, as when it was released in 1964, there’s nothing like it being played on the radio, absolutely nothing that so tells it like it is so vividly, with such poetic precision. It's the Yin of our culture's manufactured Yang.

It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)

Darkness at the break of noon
Shadows even the silver spoon
The handmade blade, the child’s balloon
Eclipses both the sun and moon
To understand you know too soon
There is no sense in trying

Pointed threats, they bluff with scorn
Suicide remarks are torn
From the fool’s gold mouthpiece the hollow horn
Plays wasted words, proves to warn
That he not busy being born is busy dying

Temptation’s page flies out the door
You follow, find yourself at war
Watch waterfalls of pity roar
You feel to moan but unlike before
You discover that you’d just be one more
Person crying

So don’t fear if you hear
A foreign sound to your ear
It’s alright, Ma, I’m only sighing

As some warn victory, some downfall
Private reasons great or small
Can be seen in the eyes of those that call
To make all that should be killed to crawl
While others say don’t hate nothing at all
Except hatred

Disillusioned words like bullets bark
As human gods aim for their mark
Make everything from toy guns that spark
To flesh-colored Christs that glow in the dark
It’s easy to see without looking too far
That not much is really sacred

While preachers preach of evil fates
Teachers teach that knowledge waits
Can lead to hundred-dollar plates
Goodness hides behind its gates
But even the president of the United States
Sometimes must have to stand naked**

An’ though the rules of the road have been lodged
It’s only people’s games that you got to dodge
And it’s alright, Ma, I can make it

Advertising signs they con
You into thinking you’re the one
That can do what’s never been done
That can win what’s never been won
Meantime life outside goes on
All around you

You lose yourself, you reappear
You suddenly find you got nothing to fear
Alone you stand with nobody near
When a trembling distant voice, unclear
Startles your sleeping ears to hear
That somebody thinks they really found you

A question in your nerves is lit
Yet you know there is no answer fit
To satisfy, insure you not to quit
To keep it in your mind and not forget
That it is not he or she or them or it
That you belong to

Although the masters make the rules
For the wise men and the fools
I got nothing, Ma, to live up to

For them that must obey authority
That they do not respect in any degree
Who despise their jobs, their destinies***
Speak jealously of them that are free
Cultivate their flowers to be
Nothing more than something they invest in

While some on principles baptized
To strict party platform ties
Social clubs in drag disguise
Outsiders they can freely criticize
Tell nothing except who to idolize
And then say God bless him

While one who sings with his tongue on fire
Gargles in the rat race choir
Bent out of shape from society’s pliers
Cares not to come up any higher
But rather get you down in the hole
That he’s in

But I mean no harm nor put fault
On anyone that lives in a vault
But it’s alright, Ma, if I can’t please him

Old lady judges watch people in pairs
Limited in sex, they dare
To push fake morals, insult and stare
While money doesn’t talk, it swears
Obscenity, who really cares
Propaganda, all is phony

While them that defend what they cannot see
With a killer’s pride, security
It blows the minds most bitterly
For them that think death’s honesty
Won’t fall upon them naturally
Life sometimes must get lonely

My eyes collide head-on with stuffed
Graveyards, false gods, I scuff
At pettiness which plays so rough
Walk upside-down inside handcuffs
Kick my legs to crash it off
Say okay, I have had enough, what else can you show me?

And if my thought-dreams could be seen
They’d probably put my head in a guillotine
But it’s alright, Ma, it’s life, and life only

Copyright © 1965 by Warner Bros. Inc.; renewed 1993 by Special Rider Music

Here's a live performance of the song. It's not just lyrics, it's the way he delivers them that just rivets you. While Dylan was writing this, Mr.  Tambourine Man, Gates of Eden and Subterranean Homesick Blues, The Beatles owned the top of the pop charts with She Loves You and I Want To Hold Your Hand. 

Postmodern deconstruction? Existential angst? Or siimply Dylan being Dylan?

** This song, as noted, has been performed continuously through 2014, with many presidents, and this line ever relevant.
*** I was too young still to "despise my job" but I read recently that 70% of Americans hate their jobs according to one poll. That feels high to me, but job dissatisfaction is a fairly widespread phenomenon.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Tech Tuesday: Miscellaneous Musings on Facebook, Cambridge Analytica and the Current Database Scandal

"Today in the United States we have somewhere close to four or five thousand data points on every individual... so we model the personality of every adult across the United States, some 230 million people."
--Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix, October 2016

As anyone paying attention already knows, Facebook and Cambridge Analytica have been on the hotseat this past week. Initially the focus was on the President's use of private information gather through clandestine means. But as I pointed out last week in my blog post about the social media giant, this is just the way social media works. You give them your information, and they use it to generate profits by selling (or licensing or sharing, or whatever) with marketers who generate precise messaging for their target prospects. It's what they do.

To quote CEO Nix again, "It’s about understanding what matters most to that person - what they care about, what they worry about..."  (Telegraph, Nov. 2016)

* * * *
Using the latest digital technology for political purposes is nothing new. Both POTUS and Hillary were campaigning in the virtual sim world Second Life in 2016. And I recall that President Obama was active on social media during his 2012 campaign.

What I do not recall is any coverage by major media of the Obama campaigns alleged indiscretions when it came to using illicit means harvesting data on Facebook users in 2012. According to this Investors Business Daily editorial opinion the Dems "encouraged supporters to download an Obama 2012 Facebook app that, when activated, let the campaign collect Facebook data both on users and their friends." oh the games people play.

Some people have been jumping all over Cambridge Analytica for breaking the rules FB establishes to protect our privacy, but as marketing people (listen to Ad Contrarian Bob Hoffman) pretty well know, the data is out of the bag. What torques a few folk on some of the forums I've visited is that the Obama campaign not only did the same thing, they even bragged about it. (MIT Technology Review, Dec. 2012)

Here's another 2016 article in MIT Review regarding how Facebook learns about your Offline life, by acquiring info about your from other sources that you were unaware of.

There's so much background noise these days that stories like this tend to get lost in the wind. Until now. It's a mob driven soap opera, and you never can tell how a mob is going to behave.

*Funny, When Obama Harvested Facebook Data On Millions Of Users To Win In 2012, Everyone Cheered; IBD, 3-19-2018
In the interest of airing both sides, there is plenty of forum fodder being widely distributed in all directions, and who knows what the baloney is really made of, but I suspect that at the end of the day everybody knows more about everybody than anybody ever imagined was possible.

"Don't follow leaders, watch the parking meters." --Bob Dylan

Monday, March 26, 2018

The Gumshoe Harrison Writing Prize & Two Other Fiction Competitions

The 2018 Gumshoe Harrison Writing Prize 
is now open for submissions.

Gumshoe Harrison
Gumshoe Harrison was a famous Welsh detective created by suspense writer Blake Bradley, a.k.a. Liam O'Toole. When O'Toole died in 2004 half his estate was put in trust for the purpose of carrying on his name with a $5000 annual writing prize that includes a month-long residency on a small island off the coast of New England, accessible only by boat.

When the boat returns at the end of a month, the winner -- a widow from Marietta, Ohio -- has disappeared. Foul play? Or something else? An advertisement is placed inviting professional detectives to solve the riddle. Three throw their hats into the ring. Has there been a crime? If so, who dunnit? If no, where did she go? And why?

Smiley Wilcox is first to arrive on the island. He's already determined that the suspects are two in number, the person who has created the contest and the boat captain.

Detective Lawrence Donovan decides that he might be able to obtain clues by interviewing the previous winners of this contest. He does, in fact, learn something. None of the former winners can be found.

Minnie Minosa, herself an author of crime fiction, poses as a detective in order to study the workings of a real investigation. She finds it a curiosity that the actual police have not yet been called.

* * * *

Submission Guidelines
Original work only.
500 word count, maximum
International submissions allowed, English only.
Multiple submissions are allowed, but each story must be accompanied by a $50 reading fee.
Just kidding. NO READING FEE. (This year.)
Submit by email to ennyman3 AT gmail DOT com. (If you can't figure out the emil address, then you should not be writing detective fiction.)
No simultaneous submissions.
All entries will also be considered for publication of Ennyman's Territory.
Deadline for 2018: May 15, 2018
Winners will be announced by the end of June, if not sooner.
EdNote: If you are able to work Bob Dylan into the story you will create warm feelings in the judges' hearts, though it will probably increase your chances of winning.
In the event of a tie, I will call for assistance from an authority from Down Under.
All judges' decisions final, even if the rules change.

Grand Prize: Publication at Ennyman's Territory.
1st Prize: Shout out on Ennyman's Territory.
2nd Prize: ditto
3rd Prize: ditto
4th-10th place winners will be placed in a lottery. Loser will be sent to an island for a month and disappear. All expenses to be paid by next of kin.

OK, you stuck with me this long. Here are links to a pair of real contests. If you enter and win, I want to hear about it. Thanks!
The $2000 Desert Writing Prize
The Lascaux Prize in Flash Fiction

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Milton's Hell, the Prequel to Genesis @ Karpeles

Blake-inspired ceiling detail: home of Aethelred Eldridge
In April Karpeles Manuscript Museum Library is hosting an interesting set of events with historical roots in John Milton and William Blake, along with a series of paintings by local artist Kathryn Lenz, Milton's Hell: A Prequel to Genesis. The opening reception will be Tuesday April 3 at 7:00 p.m. which will include a video presentation of Milton's Hell in voice and imagery. Preceding this opening reception there will be a lecture at 4:00 p.m. featuring Susan Sink, Oblate of St. John's Abbey, at UMD. The following Sunday Sam Black and friends will perform the Music of Rebellion and Divine Creation at 3:00 p.m. with a video preceding at 2:30.

Paradise Lost, was composed by the blind and impoverished Milton from 1658 to 1664. A portion of this epic has been translated into images by Kathryn Lenz. In addiition to Lenz's paintings there will also be reproductions of William Blake's artwork inspired by Milton's epic poem by the 17th century English poet.

The first version, published in 1667, consisted of ten books with over ten thousand lines of verse. A second edition followed in 1674, arranged into twelve books (in the manner of Virgil's Aeneid) with minor revisions throughout and a note on the versification. Considered Milton's major work, it solidified his reputation as one of the great English poets of his time. The poem concerns the Biblical story of the Fall of Man: the temptation of Adam and Eve by the fallen angel Satan and their expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Milton's purpose, stated in Book I, is to "justify the ways of God to men."

The visionary poet and painter William Blake (1757-1827), author of Songs of Innocence and Experience, later illustrated Milton's work. A portion of Blake's work on Milton's theme has been reproduced and will also be on display at Karpeles in April.

Illustration by William Blake
What interested me in part were some of the recollections it generated from my four years at Ohio University. One of the associate professors in the art department from the late 1950's till 2014 was a Blake enthusiast, Æthelred Eldridge. If I remember correctly, his home was featured in the magazine Home and Garden. He welcomed people to visit and swim in his rural pond/small lake. According to Wikipedia he is best known "for his black and white art accompanied by esoteric writings inspired by William Blake, and the founding of a "Church of William Blake" not far from his home in Athens, Ohio."

What I best remember is that Seigfried Hall, home to the art school, had a wide arch  upon which Eldridge a few years earlier had painted a massive mural that sprawled overhead and down to the top of the entrance. There were evidently complaints about the mural so that by the time I attended school in 1970 he had whitewashed it and covered that with a lengthy script which probably no one read in its entirety without a neck injury, but that evidently satisfied the authorities.

I asked Kathryn Lenz, whom I met through one of Kathy McTavish's events, what prompted her to do this series of paintings on Milton's Hell. She replied that "several years ago, my sister Karmen Lenz, a professor of English at Middle Georgia State University, employed an image of one of my cartoon paintings in a class-activity to get reluctant students to write. I found this very appealing and wanted to collaborate with her on a project that would have an educational application for her as well as serve as a catalyst for my development as an artist. She often includes parts of John Milton's "Paradise Lost" in her courses, but it is heavy reading and can be difficult to follow. Images could potentially help students understand Milton's origin story for Sin, Death and Hell. I have found the epic to be full of passages that spark my imagination and challenge me artistically."

Lenz began working on her first sketches for these paintings three years ago. "I started working on the first of these paintings two years ago," she noted.

Additional events have also been slated as well. Wednesday April 18 at 7 pm. Peter Spooner will give a presentation on William Blake's art, especially his "Paradise Lost" illustrations, and his influence on visual art. After his presentation we will again show the Milton's Hell video.

Friday April 20 at 7 pm. Professor Kevin Quarmby, Saint Scholastica English Department, will give a presentation on Milton, Shakespeare and the Origin of the Specious in Paradise Lost. After his presentation we will show the Milton's Hell video.

All of the above are free and open to the public.

Related Links
Milton's Hell in Paradise Lost.
Aesthetic Rapture Between Heaven and Hell: William Blake Illustrates John Milton’s “Paradise Lost”

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....

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