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Okoboji Day Six

I went back to the nature preserve with a camera. I took pictures of a bunny, a deer, a bridge, and lots of flowers and trees.

An agent is willing to read my entire novel “Liberty.” I’m more nervous now than before I sent it. I felt the same way after turning in term papers. One of my term papers for Exeter was 75% of the grade for the class (Critical Theory) and after I turned it in I was halfway back to the dorm when I had a panic attack and thought I might hyperventilate. There was no way I wanted to tell my Dad I’d need $20,000 to say in England another semester because I flubbed one paper (as it turns out, I “passed with merit” which is the English version of a B). You can imagine how nervous my Chinese friends could be, since studying abroad for them is a more significant economic investment. I don’t feel that nutty right now, but it will be preying on my mind for a while.

Day Seven
In the realm of being careful what you wish for, the temperature dropped so far overnight I woke up with a sore throat and had to go in search of a blanket. However, if you don’t include poems I wrote for my novels, I have written 43 poems since returning from Vietnam. I’m a little surprised by myself, but it’s only ten poems a month. When I lived in Portland hanging out with poets, I wrote 25 poems a month, but they weren’t as good. In the six months I lived in Vietnam, I only wrote eleven poems, but I was pretty distracted by novels and teaching. They absorb a lot of brain power.

Since it’s raining outside, the Internet is slow, and the TV sucks, today promises to be an exercise in resisting boredom. Thus a running tab of my writing seems in order.

Before breakfast: 1000
After breakfast: 800
Before lunch: 900

I finished reading “The New American Philosophers” by Andrew Reck which I’ve been reading on and off for a month or so. It was published in 1968 so “new” isn’t quite true anymore, but if you are looking to read an American philosopher or theologian this book is a nice guide to whose books you might want to read.

The dust in this cabin is getting to me. Dust in the comfy chairs, dust in the curtains, and now dust in my nose so I’m blowing it very quarter hour.

After lunch: 500
Did the dishes
After dishes: 600
Goofed off with family. Haven’t played Candyland in years, but my nephews like it. It was a short game due to kids’ “rules.”
Before dinner: 1400
As much as I like my parents, it is nice to have the house to myself for awhile. They are at a tea leaf convention hanging out with people who are also interested in antiques. So for a week I don't have to listen to the shrill, televised opinion page that is MSNBC's Morning Joe or anything at all about Donald Trump. Mika Brzezinski is a limo driver stuck driving a clown car. Without her, "Morning Joe" would be a bunch of guys shooting the breeze and joking around; they might as well film the show in a cafe.

I finished writing a short story about the lines between dreams and illusions. It's already 17,000 words and the only changes I can think of would make it even longer. Sometimes I think I have the writer's version of a death wish: the drive to write stories no one wants without being good enough to make them want it anyway.

Okoboji Day Five

I took a 90 minute walk, an hour of which was in the nature preserve. Not much in the way of animal life, but lots and lots of green and shade making for a comfortable morning walk. When I got back, I had to time my shower for when everyone else had left because I don’t have any towels big enough to cover the territory.

I’ve finished my writing goals for the week, so I kicked back and read “The Great War of our Time” by Michael Morell and Bill Harlow pretty much straight through. Morell spent thirty-three years in the CIA and his book is well reasoned and interesting version of events over the last twenty years. He is generally positive about his colleagues and both President Bush and President Obama, seeing his job as apolitical but also expressing opinions in the book. He believes the State Department and intelligence communities are underfunded and blames both parties for that. I think he sees our political partisanship as our biggest weakness; he comes across as a reasonable conservative but got racked over the coals by Republicans during the Benghazi hearings.

Okoboji Day Four

I found a nature trail, but it took so long to get there I only walked along a bike path. Tomorrow I’ll set aside more time.

I finished a book called “No Lights, No Sirens,” a memoir of a police officer who get so addicted to the rush of catching criminals he will “test-i-lie” to lawyers, give drugs from a busted dealer to another dealer for tips, and generally run amuck. The addiction ruins his relationship with his wife and she leaves him just as the FBI and Internal Affairs are closing in on him. He only gets out of the mess he’s in by catching a serial rapist and a drug dealer confessing to the murder of another dealer the officer is suspected of killing. According to the epilogue, he seriously cleaned up his act after that.

We had lunch a place called “Barefoot” where the main draw appears to be that you can ride a boat up to their dock and walk to their large patio area. I wouldn’t want to bring a date there because the food is quite average and I wouldn’t want to bring kids there for fear of having to explain the humor of their décor, but the business gets along. Thanks to my diet, I had the taco salad and the beef dressing, I don’t know what else to call it, was a little slimy.

After getting back from lunch, I read “Kingfisher” by Patricia A. McKillip. Of course the prose was lovely, hers always is, but I had the sense that more characters were important to her than to the plot, so some of them were involved in a side plot all their own. Both plots had to do with magically powerful women being abandoned, one by a son and one by a lover, but all that was required for restoration was for those men to return. There were weak magical barriers, but a shortage of emotional ones. And the characters were more likely to be manipulated by magic than make decisions of their own. It was oddly funny how McKillip set up a fantasy world in which there had been technological progress, so a thousand years after the magical war had been won, there were knights on motorcycles, nobility on a quest in a limo, and someone faced with a magical monster blocking the highway and calling his mom on a cell phone to make sure she hadn’t summoned it.

Okoboji Day Three

I’ve been walking each morning for exercise, and having trouble finding the nature trail I used last summer, but there are enough twists and turns among the lake houses and rental cabins to make for a pleasant walk.

I finished reading a book called “Soldier Girls” by Helen Thorpe, which should be required reading for those thinking about joining the military. The three point of views are real life women with screwed up lives and lower economic backgrounds who tried to turn it around by joining the National Guard for enough cash and scholarships to go to college. Then 9/11 happens, and soon both their family lives and educational ambitions are collateral damage. The book covers sexism and sexual abuse, outdated training routines, serving in Afghanistan with its burning summers, freezing winters, and love/fear relationship with the local population, and serving in Iraq after liberation had become an occupation. It becomes just as hard for them to recover from serving in the military as it was to recover from the lives they had joined up to escape.

Most of all, it covered the damage to their relationships. Resentful children, PTSD, and cheating, cheating, cheating. At my old college there was so much cheating in long distance relationships that I was quite comfortable telling my Chinese students to never trust Americans in one, yet the amount of cheating in the army was truly epic. You could make it a soap opera if any network would dare put something so unpatriotic on the air. And having the Pentagon issue orders against it is a joke, since the officers were more likely to have girlfriends on the side than the soldiers (mostly due to women finding officers more attractive).

And people wonder why I have trust issues.

Okoboji Day Two

An easy day of reading and writing of course, which was most productive when my brother’s hyper but good natured kids are distracted by fishing and swimming. Four thousand words in two different stories. I’ve also been reading a collection of famous letters in history, including zingers like when Virginia Woolfe wrote that all her novels were perfect until she wrote them down.

I heard a lecture once about why people don’t write great letters anymore. He didn’t blame the telephone or the Internet, he blamed the decline of our education in the humanities and leisure time to actually write a good letter. How can we turn a poetic phrase if we don’t study poetry? And good poetry needs time for invention.


Okoboji Day One

The cabin we are staying in is pretty tight quarters. Sure it has four bedrooms, but the living room and kitchen are the same room and the shower barely has enough room for me to turn around in. Nevertheless, it is quiet, relaxing, and mostly deprived of television which have always been my favorite parts of going to the lake. I get a lot of reading and sometimes even writing done.

Speaking of which, I’ve been reading a book about the militarization of police, mostly a history of SWAT teams. The two most enlightening parts are also pretty discouraging. There’s pretty much a whole chapter about the lies the Nixon Administration told to make more aggressive policing look more effective than drug treatment programs. And once the SWAT teams get going, the militarization is combined with the police being allowed to confiscate not only drugs but the profits and property of drug dealers. Once police departments realized how much money they could make off confiscation, they started with dubious practices. They might wait to arrest a drug dealer until after he sold his product so they could then sweep in and confiscate the money, which they could keep for their departments, instead of the drugs they would have to eventually destroy. Or they would let owners of land where pot plants grew off criminal charges in exchange for giving up acres of valuable land.

From a historical perspective, it was also interesting how in America and England policing had developed bottom up from local to national while in Europe policing was developed top down. Back when police departments first started, England and America didn’t have many external threats, so policing was a local community affair. This probably explains the confusion of our own vast layers of policing. And the London police was the brainchild of one of England’s wisest Prime Ministers, so got off to a good start, while some of America’s first police forces existed to control immigrants, political protesters, and slaves so … not so much.
Political Pep Rally

Hillary Clinton had a rally at Lincoln High School today, where I graduated. It’s the largest high school in Iowa so it made sense and there was just enough room for everyone to fit into the gym. More people sat in the bleachers behind the podium than stood in front of it because the cameras had to be in front. Of course my parents chatted here and there since they are politically active and actually know people.

It was like a pep rally for grown-ups. When I was in high school, I didn’t really get pep rallies. I had some friends, some good teachers, and some good times, but I didn’t care about sports and that’s what pep rallies are usually about. But this pep rally had purpose. I knew why people were there and why I was there.

Down ticket candidates spoke first, a little about themselves and why they were running. Patty Judge is running for Senate saying she was a Judge that Senator Grassley can’t ignore (he’s one of the GOP senators holding up confirmation hearings). The opening prayer was given by a Muslim and sounded nondenominational. I don’t know how to spell his name but I’ve heard he’s been very brave standing against drug gang violence.

There were several other speakers, and by the time they finished I cared more about my flat feet killing me than what they were staying, most of which was either Dump Trump or reminders that it doesn’t matter if we elect Clinton as President if we don’t give her support in the Congressional races, too. I had a “Stronger Together” sign and tried to wave it at thematically appropriate times.

Then we had to wait awhile while listening to rock music. I kept shifting my weight from foot to foot; I walk better than I stand. I started thinking that if a date kept me waiting this long I’d probably go home, but then the Secret Service started doing another sweep which I took as a sign that Clinton would be up soon. You don’t realize how big most of these guys are until they walk past you. I guess when your two most important duties are tackling and taking a bullet you want some beef on your frame.

Senator Harkin and his wife shared an introductory speech, which was a more personal version than the others since he knew Hillary and isn’t running for office. I think the best line was when Ruth Harkin said, “They can’t build him up, so they tear her down!”

Then the music “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” started playing and everyone was standing and cheering and I felt this weird thrill, like mild electricity under your skin, and then the crowd settled down and there’s Hillary Clinton, looking vital and ready to rock. She looks happier running for office than she ever did running interference for Bill.

Her speech was a more positive version of Sanders’ progressivism, less about the one percent and more about her goals. She wants unions to be the pillar of the middle class they once were. She talked about wind power in Iowa being a model for job growth and clean energy. She wants people to learn to work together so they can be strong together and bolster education so they can work better.

And I really hope Trump debates Hillary. She’s not the public speaker Obama is, but she’s still way ahead of Trump in polish, policy, and just plain grammatical prose.


Buddha stripped away everything
I had been told about money,
So I built a castle out of coins,
With penny walls and nickel towers.

Buddha stripped away everything
I had been told about women
And I slumped to the floor
Next to a woman on the couch
And wondered if I was allowed
To touch her feet.

Buddha stripped away everything
I'd been told about God
And I still read
And I still wrote
But a little faster
To finish before the end.


There’s Always Something Smaller

by Me

Hurricanes, storms, rains, tears.
Cells, molecules, chemicals, atoms.
One, one half, one third, one fourth.

Zeus, Ares, Hercules, Achilles.
Thor, Beowulf, Viking, Aryan.
Nixon, Reagan, Bush, Trump.




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September 2016



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