Friday, February 28, 2020

A Visit with Medium Writer and "No Crime in Rhymin'" Curator Joe Varadi

In June 2007 I stuck my big toe in the water as regards blogging. I wanted to understood what it was, and no better way than by doing. From that first June entry to the present I have been sharing here almost daily for 13 years. In June 2018, after spending a year being a top writer on Quora, I stuck my toe in the water on Medium, an ad-free platform for writers who could not only have a soapbox, but get paid for their blogging and self-expression efforts. It's been an interesting experience.

One thing I liked was how easy it was to recycle your other online writing. Ev Williams, founder of Medium, had also been the co-creator of Blogger and Twitter, thus he understood how to do the backstage magic that permitted writers to re-publish their work without being penalized by Google's search algorithms.

It's been a rewarding experience meeting so many interesting writers from all over the world. One of these is Joe Varadi, whom you can get to know here.

EN: How long have you been writing?

Joe Varadi: Since childhood, on and off. I didn't speak a word of English until the age of 10, when my family moved to the United States. I would write long descriptive letters, in my native tongue, to my relatives back in the old country. With five years of English under my belt, I wrote a review of the movie Harlem Nights, as a high school assignment. It turned out well enough that my English teacher pulled me aside and accused me of plagiarism. That's when I knew I had a knack for it. I am a regular -- almost daily -- writer since July of 2017, when I established my Medium account. Let's face it, the social engagement aspect of that platform is wonderfully and deeply addictive.

EN: Are you a writer for a living, or is writing something you do as an avocation or side gig?

JV: I work in banking and technology, and I write 50 emails or more a day, and contribute to documents and slide presentations of all sorts, so writing is an essential work tool. But my creative writing is strictly a hobby, a labor of love.

EN: Is your interest in poetry whimsical or serious?

JV: Is there a clearly delineated difference? I hover on the border of these two realms, my poems tend to be humor-infused, playful and satirical, as a quick way of making a connection with my reader, and when they think the coast is clear, I ambush them with a thought-provoking insight or revealing confessional.

Another major driving force in my poetry is the love of my native language, Hungarian, and its incredibly rich poetic tradition. I began to rediscover this tradition, ironically, when my kids were born, and I began to sing to them children's songs from my childhood to get Hungarian into their ears. It turns out that many popular children's songs are drawn from folk art, or from well-known poets of the Romantic period and the Modern era. They are beautiful, vivid works with charming rhyme and meter. I began making attempts to translate them, challenging my self to come up with works that retained musical, rhythmic qualities.

The year 2018 so far has been my most productive period for translations. I published 33 pieces that year, many of them children's songs which can still be enjoyed by all age groups, and a few more adult-oriented, introspective, lyrical poems:

EN: How long have you been blogging? What motivated you to start?

JV: I've already mentioned Medium -- as my writing, my state of mind, my imagination is deeply intertwined with that site. It has become my second home, my refuge, my choice destination for a happy hour, since I joined two and a half years ago. As for my initial motivation, I was looking for a digital home for an essay I wrote inspired by Pride Week 2017. I published it on Medium, and the next day it got picked up by an obscure publication out of the U.K., before I ever knew what Medium publications were.

As a side note, I really dislike the term blogging. To me it implies a kind of casual, self-indulgent practice of flooding your audience with half-baked ideas, something I termed "word pollution" in my rant below:

EN: Who are your favorite writers of the past 40 years?

JV: This question strikes a nerve -- it threatens to reveal how little "traditional" reading I do nowadays, what with digital channels of information and my ever-growing addiction to producing rather than consuming content. I now read online news and investigative journalism, and my daily dose of essays and poems from fellow Medium authors, but don't remember the last time I finished a novel. When I pick up a book, it is mostly historical, scientific and technical non-fiction.

EN: What are you reading now?

JV: The books on my night stand, which I may never finish, are: Prediction Machines, by a cabal of business and Artificial Intelligence professors at the University of Toronto, and John Stauffer's Giants, about the intersecting lives of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln.

EN: Do you have a big project you’re working on for 2020?

JV: Last year a translation of mine was picked up for an anthology by a British publisher, The Emma Press. I proudly display this little booklet in my home and office, and plan to write more for them. Another children's verse translation I did was accepted into CRICKET Magazine. I am working on securing the rights from the author's estate, and it is proving to be a difficult uphill battle. Stay tuned.

My loftier ambition in the world of writing is to find an agent and eventually a publisher for my original poetry. Call me old fashioned -- I'll continue to pursue that route rather than the rabbit hole of self-publishing.

* * * *
Follow Joe Varadi on Medium @

You can also follow me on Medium @

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Throwback Thursday: Bob Dylan's Tarantula, Revisited

So, I decided to give Tarantula another chance this week. What prompted me was that marvelous scene in I'm Not There in which Cate Blanchett, as Dylan, is in in the middle of a hotel room with white walls upon which a giant tarantula in silhouette is crawling. It's an unforgettable scene. The book itself less so. And yet, it remains in circulation, in spite of itself.

Tarantula has been compared to Kerouac, Burroughs and Ginsberg (The Beats) and Rimbaud, but my first impressions upon re-reading it were James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake and Andy Warhol's proclamation, "Art is whatever you can get away with."

If I were asked when I first picked up a copy of this book I would have said it was when I was in high school in the 60s. The reality is that the book was never "officially" in print till 1971, proof that memory is a faulty and unreliable creature. So I must have been in college at the time. The cover was cool, and the title was cool. But the content? It depends on what lens you assess it through.

It wasn't till later that I became acquainted with Finnegans Wake, Joyce's 14-years-to-produce language game that made little sense to anyone and struck most common folk as a massive inside joke. Was it a joke on the readers or on his publisher?

So it is that Dylan produced a bit of prose here that was supposed to be something important. Was it also an inside joke? A joke on readers or on McMillan, his publisher?

What probably happened, no doubt, was that in 1966 Dylan had become such a hot commodity that anyone who published anything he wrote would be guaranteed a profit. A pitch was made, contract signed and the deal set in motion.

"Something's happening but you don't know what it is, eh?"

I dunno.

It's a book of historic significance only for the fact that Dylan wrote it, and it has an iconic photo on the cover (I already said that, I know). The back cover (of my copy) says this book "captures the tone and spirit of the turbulent times in which it was written."

Straight up, that's McMillan's marketing copy. His songs did, but nothing in this book really does that.

To capture the times I would suggest Dr. King's Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Eldridge Cleaver's Soul on Ice, Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five or Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Reading James Baldwin's The Fire Next Time is a bracing read as well, and no joke. Michener's Kent State is on point at the end of the decade.

Dylan's Tarantula was an insignificant blip on the period's literary scene and even less in retrospect. It's easy to imagine him saying, "I was funnin' you." Something akin to his 115th dream, though even there there's serious satire taking place. The rambling tripe on most of these pages seems to have no real aim other than to fill pages with ink.

Perhaps it could be said that this was a foreshadowing of Seinfeld, which was essentially about meaninglessness.

Here are the book's opening lines, after the initial chapter heading Guns, the Falcon's Mouthbook & Gashcap Unpunished.

aretha/ crystal jukebox queen of hymn & him diffused and drunk transfusion round wound heed sweet soundwave crippled & cry salute to oh great particular el dorado real and ye battered personal god but she cannot she the leader of whom when ye follow, she cannot she has no back she cannot ... beneath black flowery railroad fans  etc.

Alas. I'm sure there is some backstory on all this, of which I've forgotten or am unfamiliar. It doesn't really matter. Here are a few of the more critical reviews of this book on Amazon.

Three Star Review
If you need to read a review of this before you buy it , you must have no idea about Bob Dylan and this particular book. Investigate thoroughly before you commit. All Dylan fans will want to have it , whether they read it or not is up to them. I tried and couldn't really do it - but I had to "own" it.

Two Star Review
Dylan is by far the greatest songwriter of all-time and perfectly deserving of a noble [sic] prize in literature if ever one is bestowed upon him. However this stream of consciousness book is pure crap. It will be a highly collectible book if you have the first edition, first printing in good condition in about 50 years. Till then read Lyrics 1961-2001 or Chronicles vol.1 instead.

One Star Review
Is Bob Dylan now the pen name of a machine learning software fed hastily written assignments from a one hundred level poetry class? Tarantula is what the software produced.

One Star Review
I really couldn't make sense of this book. I am old enough to blame myself when this happens. I like his lyrics, but this book is unreadable. I wonder if he wrote it deliberately to mock those who say they get it. It is as if you hold up a toddler's doodle to art critic, who compliments it as some work of genius.

* * * *
On the flip side there are many like these five star reviews:

A Masterpiece
Spontaneous bebop prose poem. As with Naked Lunch, I can only absorb 10 pages at a time and then my head hurts gloriously. If you love Dylan, buy it, dog ear it, highlight, and rave.

Good book by Dylan when he was 23
I enjoy reading this as much as I did when I got my first copy in the early ‘70s. As dazzling as Bob’s music.

* * * *
It's probably significant that when you go to Bob Dylan Wikiquote, itself an exceptionally long Wikiquote entry, there are no quotes from Tarantula.

But that's OK. I own it, read it again and am happy to have it on my bookshelf. Do you have it on yours?

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Gravedigger Dave's Halfway House to premiere this Sunday at Zeitgeist

It's Time to Check In at Gravedigger Dave's Halfway House

Matt Rasmussen as Gravedigger Dave
A couple years back (2? 3?) I saw a film short at the DuSu Film Festival here in the Twin Ports. One of the films was titled Boots, a ghost story of sorts involving a haunted house and a contractor. Little did I know that this was a small slice from what would become a much larger film featuring haunted spaces and places here in the Northland.

This Sunday, March 1, will be the opening premiere of that larger film, Gravedigger Dave's Halfway House.

Producer/director Keith Hopkins had this to say about the film.

"In total I’ve been working on this project for 5 years. One of the segments, Boots, screened as a short film at DSFF several years ago. The filming of the documentary segments began in 2019. While I’ve been making videos and working in TV since 2005, I really started working towards being a film director in 2015.

"My premise for Gravedigger Dave’s Halfway House was to present a series of ghost stories, most of which I believe to be true, but some of which are fiction. The audience’s task is to separate fact from fiction as they’re watching the film. My motivation stems from my father, who loved telling ghost stories around the fire. It’s been my goal to channel his storytelling style and put it on the screen."

The GDHH ghost stories all take place in St. Louis County. Many of the stories are semi-familiar but Gravedigger Dave attempts to reconstruct their eeriest features on film.

When I was young the notion of haunted houses and ghost stories was always intriguing. My grandmother had books like Stranger Than Science and questions about what's real and what is not always manage to take root in fertile, open minds. Rod Serling's Twilight Zone fed the hunger for thrills, and today we have Ghosts on Netflix.

In fact, the purpose of my first novel was to create a story that would interest teenaged boys so they would become readers, hence I created a haunted house story, The Red Scorpion.

So Keith Hopkins isn't far from the mark to make an attempt to capture area ghost stories on the silver screen. You can read here the interview we did with Hopkins in November.

Ramona Marozas, who plays the Ghost Woman, said, "Keith Hopkins is sharing fiction and non-fiction ghost stories, and leaving it up the audience to interpret. That's genius. I've never seen anything like it and love it. It creeps me out. It also creeps me out that I myself could be so creepy. It took director Keith Hopkins to pull that out of me acting wise. I come off as someone who needs an exorcism who is stalking real life people."

The lead storyteller Gravedigger Dave is played by Matt Rasmussen a co-worker of Hopkins at KBJR. "I enjoyed every single second of it. It was the experience of a lifetime. I hope the character lives on for generations to come."

When Hopkins and Rasmussen became friends they found out that they both love horror movies and anthology films. "He showed me what he was working on, and we put together a five minute piece (with Rasmussen as Gravedigger Dave) that became huge, one of his best shorts. We did a second which led to this full length movie."

Again, the Premiere is this Sunday at the Zinema / Zeitgeist. Details here:

Related Links
Duluth Armory Becomes Stage for the CW Duluth Television Program
A Visit with Local TV Producer Keith Hopkins About His Upcoming Film Gravedigger Dave’s Halfway House
For more Scary Stuff Visit with The Bleeding Critic

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Important Dates in Major League Baseball for the Month of April

These notes were assembled by the late Robert Lookup, a street person whom my wife and I befriended for the last 10 years of his life. We'd nicknamed him Train Man because of his passion for trains. At the time I was introduced to him he had watched every movie in the Duluth Public Library and rated each on the basis of their train scenes, for accuracy and interest value. All his notes were collected on 4x6 index cards, written in a crimped handwriting style similar to the handwritten lyrics of Bob Dylan's Desolation Row.

Robert was a man quite passionate about his obsessions. One of these was birthdays. He knew everyone by their birthday. He was a savant in that way, not dissimilar from Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man.  He was also passionate about baseball. He loved the stats, and baseball has them in abundance. But, like his other passion, every player has a birthday, and I'm willing to guess that he knew the birthday of every famous player as well as many of the lesser known. (He loved underdogs and the world's nobodies.)

Hence he loved learning as much as he could about the forgotten parts of baseball. He once had me do research to identify how many minor league baseball stadiums there were in the 1930s and how many were still active.

All this is backstory for where these lists come from: Important Dates in Major League Baseball. In sharing them here I have added a date or detail a couple of times, but overall the decisions regarding what to include or leave out are all Robert's.

Tim Gouw courtesy Unsplash
* * * *
* * * *

April 2, 1876
First official National League baseball game. Boston 6, Philadelphia 5

I have two copies of this 1964 Topps card. Will sell one to
highest bidder if interested.
April 8, 1974
Hank Aaron hits Home Run # 715

April 8, 1975
Frank Robinson of Cleveland debuts as first black manager in Major League Baseball

April 13, 1914
First Federal League game played in Baltimore. Baltimore 3, Buffalo 2

April 15, 1947
Jackie Robinson becomes first black Major League ballplayer in 20th century.

April 16, 1940
Bob Feller beats the White Sox 1-0 in Chicago. Only opening day no-hitter in Major League history.

April 17, 1976
Mike Schmidt hits four consecutive home runs for the Phillies to erase a 15-2 deficit to the Cubs of Chicago. Phillies go on to win 18-16 in ten innings.

April 20, 1916
Cubs played their first game at Weedhman Park, beating Cincinnati 7-6. Re-named Wrigley Field in 1926.

April 23, 1999
Fernando Tatis hits 2 Grand Slam Home Runs in one inning, first player ever to do this. His eight RBIs in one inning is a Major League record.

April 26, 1905
Jack McCarthy of the Cubs becomes the only outfielder in Major League history to throw out three at the plate in a single game. Final score: Pittsburgh 2, Cubs 1.

April 30, 1919
Joe Oeschgen of the Phillies and Brooklyn's Burleigh Grimes pitch a 9-9 tie in 20 innings.
(Burleigh Grimes was the last player permitted to legally throw a spitball. He ended his career with 270 wins and was selected for the Baseball Hall of Fame.)

Related Links
Top MLB Offseason Storylines
Remembering the 100th Anniversary of the Negro Leagues 
A Day in the Life of Robert Lookup

Monday, February 24, 2020

Robert Service and the Battle of the Bulge

Robert Service
Last week Medium writer and playwright Steve Newman (no relation) published a brief account of the life of Robert Service. A contemporary of Jack London, though from different sides of the Atlantic, both men had experiences in the Yukon during the gold rush heyday, thereby providing fodder for stories as well as insights about human nature.

It brought to mind a book of poems by Robert Service that I'd read several decades ago, and birthed the notion that it might be interesting to share a poem by the man.

The Poetry Foundation has a wonderful website for fans of poetry, by the way. Nearly every poet of significance is catalogued here, with a brief bio and selections from their works. Robert Burns, Robert Browning, Henry Timrod, Thoreau, Keats, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Langston Hughes, etc. etc. etc.

If you're familiar with Robert Service even just a little you will know he has a comic side that is witty. To be honest, however, I'd pretty much forgotten him other than I associated his name with good feelings. That is, the memories (specifics) were washed into the sea but the feeling of having enjoyed reading him was left behind like seashells on a beach.

So, I found his page at The Poetry Foundation site and read the titles of his poems, looking for somewhere to begin. One of the first my eye spied was The Battle of the Bulge. My grandfather's younger brother Jesse was wounded in that battle during WWII. A piece of shrapnel sliced his face. He was only 20 and a long way from home.

Because of this memory (actually a fond one because when I knew him he was a cheerful, good-hearted older man) I decided to read first the Robert Service poem The Battle of the Bulge, which wasn't about WWII at all.

The Battle of the Bulge

This year an ocean trip I took, and as I am a Scot
And like to get my money’s worth I never missed a meal.
In spite of Neptune’s nastiness I ate an awful lot,
Yet felt as fit as if we sailed upon an even keel.
But now that I am home again I’m stricken with disgust;
How many pounds of fat I’ve gained I’d rather not divulge:
Well, anyway, I mean to take this tummy down or bust,
So here I’m suet-strafing in the
                                        Battle of the Bulge.

No more will sausage, bacon, eggs provide my breakfast fare;
On lobster I will never lunch, with mounds of mayonnaise.
At tea I’ll Spartanly eschew the chocolate éclair;
Roast duckling and pêche melba shall not consummate my days.
No more nocturnal ice-box raids, midnight spaghetti feeds;
On slabs of pâté de foie gras I vow I won’t indulge:
Let bran and cottage cheese suffice my gastronomic needs,
And lettuce be my ally in the
                                        Battle of the Bulge.

To hell with you, ignoble paunch, abhorrent in my sight!
I gaze at your rotundity, and savage is my frown.
I’ll rub you and I’ll scrub you and I’ll drub you day and night,
But by the gods of symmetry I swear I’ll get you down.
Your smooth and smug convexity, by heck! I will subdue,
And when you tucker in again with joy will I refulge;
No longer of my toes will you obstruct my downward view ...
With might and main I’ll fight to gain the
                                        Battle of the Bulge.

* * * *

More poems by Robert Service, courtesy The Poetry Foundation.

Pullman Porter
It's Later Than You Think
The Cremation of Sam McGee

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Democracy's Achilles Heel: Was Madison Right?

Henrik Ibsen, 1870.
In the summer of 2018 I watched a film dramatization of Ibsen’s powerful play An Enemy of the People. Like many influential works, most people have heard of them but never read or experienced them first-hand, and in this case I numbered myself among the majority. Until then.

I’d just finished reading a biography of James Madison, who authored the Federalist Papers and was instrumental in creating the founding documents that formed the foundations of the United States, a beacon for Democracy. Our leaders and representatives are chosen. The people have power in the process of electing a representative government, via the voting booth and caucuses.

Though Madison accepted giving power to the people, he was uncomfortable with this notion. At the time, his belief was that this was only going to work as long as we had an elite (educated) voting public. Once derelicts figured out they could vote for reps who would serve their more base interests, democracy would be in trouble. The elite "knew what was best" and power should reside in "their capable hands."

You can read the rest of this essay here.

* * * *
Related Links
Why James Madison Hated Democracy
Why Democracy Doesn't Deliver
Excerpt: Voters generally favor policies that enhance their own well-​being with little consideration for that of future generations or for long-​term outcomes. Politicians are rewarded for pandering to voters’ immediate demands and desires, to the detriment of growth over the long term.Politicians are rewarded for pandering to voters’ immediate demands and desires, to the detriment of growth over the long term.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Testing 1 2 3: Duluth and Canosia to Test New Voting Technology

I don't know how many days this has been running in the Duluth News Tribune, but it's a pretty tiny announcement, so in case you missed it, I am sharing it here. This appeared in yesterday's paper in that section of fine print where foreclosures and such are announced.

They are testing some new technology that will be used during a township election in Canosia and in the March 3 Presidential Nominating Primary.

Here are a few articles pertaining to the Iowa disaster:

It’s Time to End Computerized Elections 

Iowa App Fiasco Shows Need for Open Source Transparency

Iowa App Fiasco Worries Mobile Voting Advocates

Finger pointing continues over Iowa app fiasco

I may attend one of these meetings to see what's happening.

We already know that many elections have been won by fraud. Illinois has a notorious history in this regard. (eg. The Making of a President, 1960 by Theodore White) And the incidence of fraudulent outcomes is extensive when you look globally.

For years in the Deep South those in power undercut Black voters by making it difficult to near impossible to cast a vote in the first place.

Anyways, this is just a heads up regarding a couple meeting announcements.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Glen Campbell and Stevie Wonder Sing "Blowin' in the Wind"

Creative Commons
In the years leading up to his election, Ronald Reagan would do a daily radio talk, much like people today do daily blog posts or daily podcasts. Wherever he went he carried with him a cigar box which contained clippings of newspaper articles which served as starter material -- kindling -- when he had a daily talk to give but lacked an idea or theme.

There's a sense in which I do the same thing, except I don't store my ideas in a cigar box. Instead, I use a virtual holding tank here on Blogger. It's called Drafts. That is, I begin more blog posts than I have time to complete. I tell myself I will get back to it one day, like unfinished business. As of this morning I have 945 drafts. This one was intended to be a memorial for Glen Campbell, who passed away in August 2017.

As I searched for something special to accompany my memories of Glen Campbell, I found this video of Campbell performing Dylan's Blowin' in the Wind with Stevie Wonder. Which derailed my blog post because as I read a little about Wonder a new story emerged. Then I set this unfinished idea aside, till this morning.

Glen Campbell's career exemplifies being in the right place at the right time. Stevie Wonder's story is about defying the odds.

Campbell, 1967. Public domain.
The cherub-faced Campbell was much older than we thought when he moved from studio musician with the Wrecking Crew to becoming a performer in his own right in the late 60s. Those studio musicians did an amazing amount of uncredited work. According to the Times piece cited above Campbell played or sang on nearly 600 recorded songs in 1963 alone.

In 1969 he got his own show called The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour. Like Johnny Cash and the Smothers Brothers, it became a venue for showcasing up and coming musicians. One of these megastars was Stevie Wonder, with whom he performed "Blowin' in the Wind" which aired on February 19, 1969.

Did you know that Campbell was 33 years old at the time? The Rhinestone Cowboy singer star was born in 1936, a few years younger than my parents. The boy wonder, Stevie Wonder, was born in 1950, and just two years older than myself.

Wonder's story is striking. Born a premie, he was put on oxygen the first weeks of his life. Unfortunately, medical science has since learned that you can damage an infant with too much oxygen as easily as not enough. The result for this little one was detached retinas. In other words, he was not born blind but ended up that way in the first weeks of life.

1973. Public domain.
His hardships didn't end there. At age four his parents were divorced. His mother moved to Detroit, Motor City. Broken homes don't automatically lead to juvenile delinquency and it's apparent his mother's nurturing did him good.

I neglected to mention that his mother was a songwriter, which factors into this story. At an early age he sang in church (age 4) and learned to play piano, harmonica and drums. He formed a group with a friend and performed on street corners and at parties when he was 11. He sang one of his own compositions to one of the Miracles, and soon was connected to Motown.

His stage name, Stevie Wonder, is not his real name, of course. His actual last name is Morris. (Dylan did officially change his stage name to become his real name.) Stevie Wonder was just 19 when he performed Blowing in the Wind with Glen Campbell on the latter's show.

Bob Dylan first conceived this song when he was 19, performing a two verse version at Gerde's Folk City a month before his 20th birthday. The full version was recorded in July and became one of the iconic songs of his iconic second album, The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, which was released the following Spring.

* * * *

Here's Bob, not yet 22, performing this song on television, March 1963.

In the beginning... 
Meantime, life goes on. Make the most of it.
Mucho thanks to Bob, Stevie and Glen for all the Great Music
that has so enriched our lives over the years.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

More Toastmasters Testimonials: Katy, Wulfgar and Yana

When Aeschines spoke, they said, 'How well he speaks', but when Demosthenes spoke, they said 'Let us march against Philip.'

Last week I mentioned that I've been attending Toastmasters the past few months, an organization design to help people improve in their public speaking and leadership skills. In that post I introduced two of the members of our Duluth, Dave Boe and Randine LePage. Here are three more members of our tribe, Duluth Toastmaster Club 1523.

Katy Hursh is currently an administrative assistant for a company here in Duluth.

EN: How long have you been with Toastmasters?

Katy Hursh: I have been in Toastmasters since September 2018. I had been asked to be the main speaker at two separate events and was looking for a way to beef up my public speaking skills. I had never heard of Toastmasters but happened upon it after looking for public speaking on line. I joined Toastmasters for practice and getting some feedback in preparation to speak.

I have gained a great deal of confidence, and how to read an audience and deliver a speech with impact. It's been very rewarding. I appreciate all the roles members are encouraged to be involved in from giving speeches, keeping time, evaluating grammar. All skills add to being a better speaker.

* * * *

Wulf Gar works for St. Louis county in the 911 area, as an administrative person, mainly responsible for time cards and training documents for the 911 dispatchers.

EN: How long have you been with Toastmasters?

Wulf Gar: I started in May of 2019. So it's been 9 months now. Yikes, that doesn't seem like a lot. I think it might seem longer because we pack a bunch of information into every meeting.

EN: What prompted you to join?

WG: A friend of mine kept remarking on my "accidental leadership urges." She pointed out that I can't just participate in something, I have to organize and recruit and lead. And it is accidental. Or at least I'm not intending to do it. She wanted me to explore where this comes from. She wondered if I could hone it and harness it for good. So, she suggested Toastmasters as they advertised Leadership education. The rest is history, as they say.

EN: What have you learned?

WG: Quite a bit. I was the captain of my speech team in high school, so I already had a basic grounding. But in Toastmasters I'm learning timing, tone, and audience engagement. I'm learning how to construct a speech, how to motivate and inspire people, and give and receive proper feedback.

EN: Anything else you would like to add?

WG: I'm having a great time in Toastmasters. The people are awesome, the education is top-notch, and I honestly can't wait to see what happens next.

* * * *

Yana Stockman, a Transition Life Coach whom I interviewed just before Christmas, was born in Ukraine. English is her third language. She is currently club president for Club 1523.

EN: How long have you been with Toastmasters and what prompted you to join?

Yana Stockman: 1 year and 3 months. I joined because of a desire for self-improvement and challenge of being out of my comfort zone. Also, the desire to inspire and empower the audience in order to promote personal development and self-awareness. I believe in consistency and if putting the focus on improvement is the only way to become the best version of ourselves.

EN: What have you learned?

YS: Public speaking is a powerful tool, it could lift you up and bring you down. I am continuously learning and evolving as a speaker meeting after meeting. So far by preparing and delivering speeches, I've learned:
• How powerful it is to deliver the story and how everyone's story is unique.
• Ability in my leadership skills.
• Confidence in public speaking appearance.
• Consistency in improving my speeches.
• Being persuasive as a speaker and team member.
• Not to apologize for my accent. Everyone has an accent when they speak a foreign language, and that is an integral part of who we are.

EN: Tell us more about your career.

YS: I am Transition Life Coach and Motivational Public Speaker. I help people to navigate through life transitions and one of my intentions in joining Toastmasters was to enhance my message with confidence, empower with persuasiveness and share my story.

EN: Anything else you would like to add?

YS: It is very important to explore goals and know how Toastmasters could help you meet them. It starts with the vision of what you want and what is your "why" when it comes to public speaking. The real prize is what we learn and who we become in the process.

* * * *
To quote the early 19th century newspaper editor and poet David Everett: 
"Tall oaks from little acorns grow."

Duluth Toastmasters Club 1523 meets on Thursday evenings from 6:15 to 7:30 PM. Guests are always welcome, and tonight we're having a special guest. Come a little early and find out what we are about. 

For more information visit 

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Almost Wordless Wednesday: Butter Pecan Ice Cream Showdown

This had been my favorite for the past couple years.
For the longest time Dean's has been my favorite butter pecan ice cream brand. The flavor of the ice cream and the pecans all worked well together. When you've found something you like, something that always satisfies, you know what to expect. I like routines. No surprises.

Then one day while looking for my Dean's I noticed some of the other brands that touted a butter pecan ice cream. As a result, I broke my routine, caved in to that curiosity that nudges us into a new experience. I purchased a little tub of Breyers.

Breyer's has a good name and a good reputation. The picture on the container is accurate.
The pecans are large. And though it is a good butter pecan ice cream, I felt it wasn't strong 
enough to displace Dean's.

The next time I went to purchase ice cream I intended to buy Dean's.
But then I became curious. My eye fell on the Stone Ridge brand
and next thing I knew I was curious again. Wow! I love it. 
Both the flavor and texture are sweet.

Kemp's will be next. I'll keep you posted.

Do you have a favorite?

Wendy's Magic Carpet Ride: My First Experience with the SolTec™ Lounge.

I can't remember when I first met Wendy Ruhnke, other than it was through one of the events associated with Dylan Fest a few years back. The first time we talked at length was at one of the annual Winter Dance Party events in support of the Duluth Armory. It was probably then that I learned about her business, selling SolTec™ Lounge systems.

When she described it to me I could only envision a vibrating chair with music. I felt unable to write a blog post unless I actually had a chance to get in the chair. The experience itself was nothing like what I imagined at all. Comparing it to a vibrating chair would be like comparing a 2 x 2 inch Polaroid photo of the Grand Canyon that's been through the wash to the Grand Canyon itself.

A view of the speakers beneath the mattress.
Seven years ago Wendy was asked by Dr. Dan Cohen to try his latest invention, the SolTec™ Lounge. Using cutting edge technology it was designed to produce a profound state of relaxation/stress reduction and induce a meditative state.

All I can tell you is that it was quite effective at transporting me places and putting me in the zone.

At SoundVibration, Wendy facilitates sessions with the SolTec™ Lounge and also sells them for personal use in your home. She also assists others in becoming distributor partners or practitioners.

I pulled this portion of Wendy's testimony off her website.

Having used the SolTec™ Lounge now for over six years, I often get asked the question, “What changes have you noticed in yourself?” So I thought I would answer with this post. The first change I noticed was that I was happier. I nicknamed the chair the happy chair. That feeling has grown tremendously. I am contented, growing spiritually, and just more fun to be with in general. I smile most of the time and laugh a lot.

This feature of the machine produces magnetic
stimulation beneath your lower back.
I didn't know Wendy till the last few years, so I can't say whether her happiness level was elevated by the chairs, but I can certainly tell you she's an exceedingly upbeat woman and I don't doubt her story. I would love to have one of these chairs in my home.

She has four chairs in hers. They're located in a near octagon-shaped room that reminds me of a home I painted in Minneapolis years ago. It's actually a wonderful house with a rich history, hardwood floors, built in 1891. But you don't have to have a historic home to own a chair though.

The chair's S-shaped design is not unlike my own easy chair at home when in recliner mode. Before lying down she pulled back the four-inch cushion to show me the speakers and magnetic resonance system so that I might understand the technical aspects of this SolTec Lounge

As I situated myself in the Lounge she said, "The more you surrender, the better it will be. Be with the music, don't listen to it"

I couldn't help listen, of course, because I'd been planning to write this description of my experience. Even so, I couldn't help but think of John Lennon singing Tomorrow Never Knows.

Turn off your mind relax and float down stream
It is not dying, it is not dying

The space has a relaxing vibe.
A tapestry from Ecuador.
Wendy herself slid into the comfort of another chair, instructing me to take three deep breaths and shift my awareness to my body. What follows is my weak attempt to describe my experience.

The sound track was more like several layers of translucence, with different things happening on each layer, but that which was beneath would slowly rise as other layers receded. The sounds were multi-cultural. I recognized one layer at the beginning as something akin to atonal African music. Some of the music was New Age-like but infused with colors--mauve and polyphonous patterns of sound. Then there were thunderclaps at times, with that fractal type of sound, a-rhythmic rather than a regular beat, accompanied by a-rhythmic pulses from the chair. The variety and intensity was quite striking.

I was instructed not to listen to the music but to be carried away by it all. In doing so I had all kinds of images and memories float through my mind. I thought of relationships I'd ruined, and peaceful places I'd been. At one point I had the strange sensation that my socks had wriggled off, which wasn't the case at all.

During the entire experience it seemed as if the sounds were interlaced with colors and vibes, and frequently I had thoughts that I wished to write down but chose to let go of.

At the very end, as everything else receded, there was a plinking piano melody--if I remember correctly--that reminded me of Randy Newman, who has done soundtracks for ever so many Hollywood films including Toy Story. And I felt myself luxuriously at rest in a waking dream.

* * * *

Start Doing More Things You Love
Wendy noted that many of the people who come in to use the beds do it as a group. She has a few local bands that come in together and drift into their individual spaces communally. Some come in once a week Some have liked it so much they bought their own chairs. One couple that did this is part of our Duluth Dylan Fest circle.

The price is $40 for a session, though you get a discount the first time. You also get a discount each time you bring someone new. Whether as an aid for meditation or a tool for. finding a much needed "state of rest" in the midst of a hectic, busy life, this may be just what you are looking for.

Related Links

SolTec Lounge

Wendy's Website
Schedule an appointment.
Wendy Ruhnke, SoundVibration, LLC

This was not a vibrating chair, it was something far more complex and actually quite effective. This blog post has been my weak attempt to describe the experience.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

New Painting by Frank Baker Holmes Echoes Classic Themes

‘Still Life with Vermeer Postcard’
16”x20”, o/c
The Narrowsburg art scene is not my usual beat, but having just seen Frank Holmes' latest painting, it seemed noteworthy enough to draw attention to it. The 16"x 20" piece bears the straightforward title "Still Life with Vermeer Postcard," though it's anything but straightforward. You can find this painting at the River Gallery on Main Street in Narrowsburg, New York.

For those unfamiliar with Holmes, the story begin at the Pratt Institute where he received his Bachelor's degree in Brooklyn. Seven years later he came to Athens to work on his Masters at Ohio University. I was an art student there and, like many, impressed with what he was doing.

Vermeer detail.
In the early 70's the art scene was in a swirl because of the power of all these surging forces: the New York school, Pop Art, minimalism, conceptual art, and Happenings. It was an invigorating time for young artists, though simultaneously confusing, especially students looking for a clear path into the future.

In truth, there's never been a clear path. You have to draw or write or paint what feels authentic to you, and this is what Frank Holmes was doing, following his own inner muse.

The end result was his being honored with a Prix de Rome in 1973. You can read details of this experience here: Veteran Painter Frank Holmes Discusses His Prix de Rome and Life as an Artist
Detail. Hardwood floor, carpet, pedestal obelisk.
Some of the elements in this painting have been recurring in Holmes' paintings for half a century, most significantly the the patterned wallpaper designs, the hardwood floor and the references to classical art history, in this case Vermeer's "The Girl with a Pearl Earring" which I had the privilege of seeing when it was at the National Gallery circa 1995. It's one of the most famous paintings of history, comparable to DaVinci's Mona Lisa in stature.

Like Salvador Dali before him, Holmes is acknowledging or paying tribute to the Dutch artist whose technical expertise is widely revered and nearly unequaled.

Another common denominator in Frank Holmes' paintings is the originality of the composition. To produce a painting is an investment of time, and the subject matter must be of sufficient interest to maintain interest. In addition to engaging the viewer, it must of necessity engage the artist as well. The visual effects--the play of light, the illusion of depth, shape, substance--are all in play here.

Priced at $3,000 this painting is a steal.

Related Links
A Most Unusual Portrait: The Sarcophagus by Frank B. Holmes
Frank Holmes' Agony and Ecstasy: 20 Images from the Ohio Theater Project 
Frank Holmes Studio Tour, 2018
21 Frank Holmes Paintings On Pinterest

Monday, February 17, 2020

Black History Month: 100th Anniversary of the Negro Leagues

When I was born, my baby crib included--besides me--four Teddy bears. The unique feature of these bears was not their looks, since they varied in color and size, but rather their names. My parents named my Teddy bears after the Cleveland Indians starting rotation, which include three pitchers who would later be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

One of these pitchers was fireballer Bob Feller. (The other three were Bob Lemon, Early Wynn and Mike Garcia.) Feller, who was my favorite, had a white torso with black arms, legs and head. I can still picture myself carrying him around by that skinny, black arm.

Feller was one of many great ballplayers who had their careers interrupted by doing service in the U.S. military in World War II. Despite three years lost during his prime, he was the winningest pitcher in Cleveland Indians history.

I mention all this because of his role in becoming a bridge toward the integration of Major League baseball.

After the war, Feller came up with the idea of assembling a team of players for a barnstorming road tour in the off-season. Perhaps he was in it for the money, but the hunger for baseball was strong and if he could deliver an all-star show people would fill the stands to watch their heroes.

For opponents, he contacted the well-connected star pitcher of the Negro Leagues, Satchel Paige. Feller had seen Paige pitch back in the Thirties and knew he could muster up a team that would be competitive against the white pros of Major League Baseball. Feller chartered DC-3 planes to ferry the players to the 34 games he arranged. He also hired a doctor, a trainer, a lawyer and a publicity man.
Pittsburgh Crawfords. Satchell Paige third from left, back row. (Public domain)
While segregation was a shameful period in baseball history, the Negro Leagues were a resounding success and an immense source of pride for black America. Though Jackie Robinson is famous for having been first to cross the color barrier, I thought Satchel Paige was the coolest of the cool, and the Cleveland Indians became among the first to be peppered with black players from the Negro League.

I've not seen a lot written about it, but this year happens to be 100th Anniversary of the Negro Leagues. According to this story by Rob Ruck in the Chicago Reporter, on February 13, 1920,  "teams from eight cities formally created the Negro National League. Three decades of stellar play followed, as the league affirmed black competence and grace on the field, while forging a collective identity that brought together Northern-born blacks and their Southern brethren. And though Major League Baseball was segregated from the 1890s until 1947, these teams played countless interracial games in communities across the nation."

Ken Burns' fabulous documentary series on baseball was profoundly important because of the respect he showed for the Negro League and that other side of baseball history, some of it shameful, lest it be forgotten.

Larry Tye's 2010 story in the Cleveland Plain Dealer noted how those exhibitions featuring Bob Feller and Satchel Paige helped advance integration in baseball. No doubt this contributed to the Indians becoming leaders in welcoming people of color into the locker room.

Everyone remembers the name of Jackie Robinson, the first player to cross the color barrier, just as everyone remember Neil Armstrong, the first to walk on the moon, and George Washington, the first president. The second Negro League player to wear a Major League Baseball uniform was Larry Doby of the Cleveland Indians. The year I was born he led the majors in runs scored and home runs.

Interestingly, my observation above (about being second means being forgotten) was first stated by Bob Feller himself.

Second black player to play in the Majors.
Of Doby, Bob Feller later said, "He was a great American, served the country in World War II, and he was a great ballplayer. He was kind of like Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the moon, because he was the second African-American in the majors behind Jackie Robinson. He was just as good of a ballplayer, an exciting player, and a very good teammate."

The years after Larry Doby joined the team the Indians added more Black stars, Satchel Paige and Minnie Minoso. I remember seeing Minnie Minoso when I was a kid. Sometimes I liked players just because they had cool names. My grandfather used to take his grandsons (my brother Ron and I) to numerous Indians games in the 50s. There are baskets of memorable moments stored in our craniums.

I feel a measure of pride knowing that of the first 20 Negro League players to cross over into the Majors from 1947-1951, six were recruited by the Cleveland Indians. The New York Yankees did not recruit a black ballplayer until 1955, Elston Howard being their first.

I don't recall how old I was when I saw Elston Howard for the first time, but I remember him. I saw numerous Yankees-Indians double headers in the 1950s when the Indians were perennial also rans. (They did win the pennant in 1954,) What I remember was a game in which we had box seats directly behind home plate. Elston Howard was the Yankees catcher that day, and I remember observing how big he seemed.

He was also a powerful hitter, and in each game of that doubleheader he slammed a game-winning home run over the center field fence. They were impressive blasts, Cleveland having one of the longer center field fences.

These memories were all stirred when I saw the book at the top of this page on a shelf a Zenith Books last week. If you live here in Duluth, check it out.

Related Links
The Short Story of Satchel Paige
by Roman Mikhail on Medium

Satchel Paige Quotes

Major League Baseball: Some Things Have Changed, Some Haven't

More Memories of the Great American Pastime

Bob Feller dreamed up the idea of barnstorming with the Negro team during his long shifts manning anti-aircraft guns on the USS Alabama during World War II. He knew that getting other major-leaguers to join him would be easy, and he signed up the best. It was a unique time in baseball history, just before the color barrier came tumbling down. It would still be years before African Americans could live where they wanted. The Civil Rights Act outlawing discrimination wasn't passed until 1964.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

So Many Books, So Little Time: New Acquisitions at the Duluth Public Library

Reports of the death of reading are greatly exaggerated.
One of my favorite pasttimes at the library is perusing the shelves where New Acquisitions are displayed. At our Duluth Public Library the non-fiction new arrivals are upstairs on the shelves located just beyond the help desk and before the magazines.

The new books are organized by categories, much like the library itself. Biographies, of which there are always an ample supply of new volumes, are on the right side, near the 921 section where all the rest of the biographies reside.

Today as I walked past this set of shelves I decided to take photos of books that I would like to take out and read, except that I have all kinds of other books already in progress. The variety of subject matter is quite compelling. Maybe something here will catch your eye and it will lure you in to fetch it.

Considering the size of our city, I'm somewhat surprised the library isn't busier. There are seldom lines at the checkout desk. The staff are exceedingly friendly and perpetually helpful. And you can't beat the price. It's all free. They've even eliminated the fines now.

Podcasts have become a major thing these days. Are you interested in podcasting?
Whatever new skill you want to learn, there are books for you. Starting a business? Investing? Coaching? Marketing? Running? Parenting? Learning how to live a better life?

Here are some of the new books that caught my eye.

It's never too late to start, some people say. This book will give you the lay of the land.
* * * * 
I hear this is an epidemic. 
* * * *
I was an adrenaline junky to some extent. Sooner or later you learn that
dying for a rush isn't really worth the price. 
* * * *
There are quite a few books addressing contemporary issues. This is one of them.
* * * *
This book is especially directed to women.
 * * * *
Life isn't just about money. Unfortunately you can't get far without it,
so we need to find balance. 
 * * * *
It's Black History Month. This looks like a good place to play catch-up.
* * * *
Applewhite is a TED speaker, as are a couple of the others. Evidently being a TED speaker
gives one cred in the publishing world these days. I need to polish up my speaking a bit.
This book is a manifesto against age discrimination and the degree to which
our culture is youth-obsessed. You can find reviews here on Amazon.

* * * *
This book is about the damage that has been done throughout our history
due to our excessive xenophobia.
 For just one example, see my article on the interment of 
Japanese Americans during WW2:
* * * *
This looks scary and all too real.  
* * * *
I lived in Puerto Rico in 1979. Things have changed.
* * * *
As I'm oft fond of saying, "Too many books, too little time."
That's a better problem than the reverse. 

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