The search for a ‘peaceful journey’

Last summer camping by the Imnaha River, I had a dream.

Imnaha Blue Hole

the Imnaha at Blue Hole

By Tamara Enz
It was August, but on the river in the bottom of a forested canyon and at elevation in the Wallowa Mountains, it was cold. I slept in the bed of the pickup, curled into my down sleeping bag, with multiple layers of clothing, and a hat. I don’t remember much about the dream except that it terrified me and I awoke as I was about to be decapitated.

Startled awake with the sound of water rushing downstream to join the Snake River, the trees crowding in above me, and the stars brilliantly clear in the gaps between the branches far above, I wondered what had occurred on this site. I lay awake a long time thinking about the dream and whatever energy I had tapped into.

As happens, the year waned. The dream, all but forgotten, left my conscious memory.

A few weeks ago, I was camping by the Imnaha. I had a dream. It was June, but in the river bottom, in an open ponderosa pine park and in the spring rain at elevation in the Wallowa Mountains, it was cold. Continue reading

#blacklivesmatter versus #alllivesmatter

White man ISO white people to explain something to me

I have yet to take a strong stand on this whole #blacklivesmatter and #alllivesmatter and #bluelivesmatter and #enoughwiththehashtagsmatter issue, and I’m fairly certain it’s a privilege thing that I, as a cisgendered white hetero man in farm country, have this luxury. I can’t help that. Continue reading

CATEGORY: UnitedStates

Another Fourth, another episode of blissful national blindness

No red, white, and blue adorn my flagpole. No patriotic bunting arches over my front door. No fireworks await their flaming demise. I no longer enjoy the nation’s formal parting from Great Britain (which was on July 2, anyway).

2f45d-free_wallpaper_patriotic_eagle_american_flag_background-1-1024x768I suppose, at one time, July Fourth carried great meaning to all Americans. After all, because of the acts of the Continental Congress and subsequent versions of it, I can (and do) criticize my government without fear or favor. I can own a weapon. My home and person cannot be searched or seized without cause. I am not obligated to incriminate myself. I can practice the religion of my choice — or decide not to — without government coercion. I can peaceably assemble with others to protest almost any damn thing I want to. I can vote to select who will govern me. And Congress cannot prevent me from owning a press in which I tell others what I see and what I know and what I feel.

I love my country because of the ideals inherent in the Constitution and especially in the Bill of Rights.

But lately, I have come to dislike this overwrought holiday. Continue reading

books narrow 1

Writers of slender acquaintance: Sherwood Anderson

In the beginning when the world was young there were a great many thoughts but no such thing as truth. Man made the truths himself and each truth was a composite of a great many vague thoughts. All about in the world were truths and they were all beautiful. – Sherwood Anderson

Sherwood Anderson (image courtesy Wikimedia)

This is the beginning of acting upon an idea. Whether it will be a good idea only time will tell, but here is a beginning.

As anyone who reads my essays knows, I read a lot of books. Some of the books are newly issued works of promise, some are long remembered, well known classics, some are oddities that for one reason or another have captured my attention and imagination for a least a brief time.

Because I read many books, I encounter many writers. Some of these writers are famous, known by most of the American public even if only as a name that they know.  Some have had great recognition and renown but are not known to much of the American public at all. A few have had some recognition and appeal but deserve more.

As I have thought about this, especially since reading my most recently completed book, Robert E. Spiller’s overview of American literary history, it has occurred to me that someone ought to write a series of essays that look at one other group: writers whose place in the world of literature might be seen as precarious, writers whose work should be “discovered/re-discovered” by a reading public who may be hungry for something a little deeper and more challenging than the standard fare that gets the most attention these days.

Here I go, violating one of the military’s truisms: Never volunteer. Continue reading

ArtSunday: LIterature

Robert Spiller’s American Literature for old fogeys…

Robert E, Spiller’s classic of literary history, The Cycle of American Literature, still holds insights for the serious reader even though he occasionally creaks with quaintness…

The Cycle of American Literature by Robert E. Spiller (image courtesy Goodreads)

Pulled this wonderful old critical monograph on the history of American literature off the shelf a bit ago and have just completed a re-read, my first of this text in, oh, I don’t know, about 40 years, I’d say.  First published in 1955, The Cycle of American Literature is Spiller’s personal, sometimes idiosyncratic (as all good scholarly writing should be) critical survey of the emergence and evolution of American literature as we know it.

Readers old enough to remember the training one received in literature prior to the scholarly culture revolutions of the last several decades which have seen cultural shifts such as the removal of one time bastions of literary study from the curriculum as their places are taken by more “relevant and inclusive” author selections will read this lovely chestnut of “old school” critical thinking with a satisfying “hmm, yes, that’s how we were taught to think about literature.” Those trained since the revolution that made criticism more important than the literature it is supposed to be critiquing may find it shocking at first to have a scholar/critic actually write about writers and their work as if those writers and their work actually matter and are not just products of deep psycho-social structures that reduce the literary artist to a cipher, a tool, an outlet for the historical and cultural forces of his/her time will scratch their heads and say, perhaps, “slightly benighted, but certainly some interesting stuff here.”

As Mr. Vonnegut observed, “So it goes.Continue reading


Asian-American band to SCOTUS: review our trademark victory

by Amber Healy

It’s not often a winning party in a long-fought legal battle asks the Supreme Court in the United States to review a lower court’s ruling that had been made in its favor. But for the Portland, Oregon-based, Asian-American dance-rock band The Slants, that’s just what happened this week.

In December, The Slants won the ability to legally register and protect their band name, something the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office had said was offensive to Asian Americans. It was a victory nearly six years in the making.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, in Alexandria, Virginia, ruled that the USPTO was in violation of the Constitution by rejecting the band’s trademark application by a 9-3 margin. The court found that the section of the archaic and little-known Lanham Act used by the USPTO to deny the application, the “disparagement” portion, could not be used to prevent or deny the application. Continue reading


So you want a ‘robust, independent press’? Good luck with that.

Given fragmentation of audiences, diversity of media platforms, frequently clueless ownership, and devaluation of journalism by the public, what should journalism schools be teaching today?

From time to time, especially during election seasons, this phrase is often uttered:

America needs a robust, independent press.

Examine the critical words. A robust press? Meaning a press “strong, healthy; vigorous … able to withstand or overcome adverse conditions”? An independent press, one “free from outside control, not depending on another’s authority”?

CATEGORY: JournalismIf reasoned people are calling for a robust, independent press, then they must be arguing that America does not have one.

The press, defined by me as journalism practiced primarily by the nation’s daily newspapers, has been eviscerated by changes in technology and ownership over the past few decades — as well as by the erosion of display advertising, its principal revenue machine for more than a century. The press’s robustness and independence are challenged by those fiscal and executive realities.

To paraphrase Bob Garfield, “The future of the journalism we actually consume hinges on the ability to somehow underwrite it.” It’s clear, sadly, and has been for at least two decades, that mass-market advertising will no longer pay the bills as well as allow for investment. Worse, news companies have been giving away news for free. Consumers expect that now. They resist attempts to charge them for news.

So what about this “robust, independent press?”

Continue reading


State of the news biz in 2016? Oh, my god … it’s really bad.

Newsies dread this time of year. It’s when the Pew Research Center releases its annual State of the Media report. And the findings, for print newsies, are bad, bad, bad.

Ad revenue down. Trust measures down. Newsroom staffing down. Circulation down.

CATEGORY: JournalismOh, look — digital ad revenue up. You remember back in the early Oughts when newspapers began to chase that digital ad revenue, right? They were hoping as print ad dollars fell, digital ad dollars would offset the loss, maybe even bring the same high profits. All would be good.

Well, Pew says digital ad revenue is up 20 percent to nearly $60 billion. Wow. Continue reading

Race & Gender

‘Total Frat Move’? More like Total F*cking Misogynists

You may have seen your favorite celebrity like Taylor Swift or Gigi Hadid sporting one of these babies [referring to high-waisted bikini bottoms] on their latest social media post … either way, you’re not them. These girls have the body to pull it off. You do not. Snap me photo proof if you think you can.

By Emily Rosman

Above is an example of one of the unsupported claims by The Therapist, an anonymous user on Total Frat Move, or TFM, in an article called “Why Girls Should Stop Wearing High-Waisted Bikinis.”

CATEGORY: RaceGender TFM, a self-claimed “news and entertainment brand that consists of the No. 1 college comedy website on the internet,” is owned by Grandex Inc. Grandex owns other “entertainment” brands like Total Sorority Move, Rowdy Gentleman and Post Grad Problems. Grandex lists 47 executives on its website — only seven are women.

Misogynistic posts like The Therapist’s litter the site, using derogatory language in most articles and treating women as sexual objects.

“Misogyny now has become so normalized,” said Paul Roberts, author of Impulse Society. “It’s almost like we’ve gone back to the Mad Men days.”

Continue reading

Moment of #Mansplanation


I just had a chance to read this op/ed from last year’s NYT: What makes a woman? The subject is still timely, especially thanks to hijinks like those coming out of North Carolina’s statehouse. And I’ve riffed on it before, if with more vitriol. I was a meaner person back then. Now I can just rest on the laurels of my cis-gendered white male privilege, look at this modern debate and all those hoity-toity post-modern nonsensilists and be snide. It’s an important debate, exactly because it’s in the courts and involves human safety, but dammit people, bring your A-game.  Continue reading


Book Review: A Rising Tide of People Swept Away by Scott Archer Jones

How will we respond to the children? – Scott Archer Jones

A Rising Tide of People Swept Away (image courtesy Smashwords)

We live in a world of diversity, of change, of uncertainty. The new novel by Scott Archer Jones, A Rising Tide of People Swept Away, explores what Dr. Johnson might call the “interstitial vacuities.” A small boy from a troubled family, a family part Hispanic, part Anglo, becomes the “adopted” child of a group of troubled people in the Albuquerque Bosque area. The story of how he is saved while they are lost is the focus of A Rising Tide of People Swept Away.

I think this is a significant book for a couple of reasons. First, it is a novel that addresses what is happening to too many in our country: people who are pawns in the machinations of government working in concert with wealthy forces interested in increasing their wealth do their best to fight back against adds that are so stacked against them they are doomed from the start. Second, and this is the real story and power of Jones’s novel, this is a story of how human love and kindness persist in the face of the forces mentioned in the first reason. Continue reading

The Slants

The Slants, or Washington’s NFL team, might soon go to SCOTUS over their names

By Amber Healy

Just as The Slants prepare to release a new album with a new singer, it might be time to prepare to face the U.S. Supreme Court. Sadly, this won’t come as a surprise to the band.

The Slants

The Slants

In December, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) was in violation of the Constitution when it rejected the band’s application to register its name as a trademark. By a margin of 9-3, the federal court ruled the “disparagement” portion of the Lanham Act — a 60-year-old and little-understood law — could not be used to prevent the band from its right to trademark its name. Continue reading

Columbine: 17 years ago today



April 20, 1999. I remember exactly where I was, exactly what I was doing. My co-worker at US West, Joe Lopez, turned to me and said “hey Sammy, there’s been a shooting at a school down in Littleton.”

“Find out everything you can,” I said. I’ll go tell Marti. Marti was Marti Smith, our VP, and thus began some of the hardest days those of us in Colorado have ever had to confront.

It was also the moment when I realized that North Carolina, the state I grew up in, was no longer home.

This piece – “Columbine and the Power of Symbols” – chronicles my reaction to the events of 4/20/99 as well as the days that followed, as we all tried to make sense of utter senselessness. It’s still one of the three or four best things I have ever written. And it’s still so very hard to read, even after all these years.


Prayer in schools: What god? Whose god? Who decides?

By Carole McNall

Once upon a time, a little girl was going to a public school. Her school began each day with all the students reciting The Lord’s Prayer. (This was a very long time ago.)

3561505_f260But the little girl was confused. She knew The Lord’s Prayer, but she had learned a very different ending. Is this the same prayer? she wondered. Was she remembering it wrong? All her classmates and her teacher were saying this other ending.

So she asked her mother. And her mother, who knew about these things and many others, told the little girl there were actually two versions of The Lord’s Prayer. One was the version she was hearing in school. The other, which was also right, was the version she had carefully learned.

Her mother even had a solution to what to do about this different ending. “Just say ‘Amen’ where you always have,” she told the little girl, “and let everyone else finish it the way they’ve learned.”
Continue reading


2016: so far a bleak year, fettered by anger

anger_quoteI began 2016, the year in which I turned 70 years old, so damn angry.

More than sufficient reasons exist for all that anger. I, like many of you, am unwillingly steeped daily in the raw, heavily mediated sewage of billionaire-induced partisan politics; increasing and intolerable economic inequities; a deeply flawed educational system; conflicts in law, society, and government spawned by religion-fueled hostility; assaults on racial and ethnic sensibilities; the slow, agonizing death of democracy; and the decades-old rise of greed-driven, power-hungry oligarchy.

That’s just the background noise obscuring intelligent discursive signal about so many more problems — local, national, global — that the billions of us ruled by oligarchical forces sense are beyond our control or, often, our comprehension. Continue reading

WordsDay: Literature

H. E. Bates and the pleasures of fine writing…

H. E. Bates writes about war, romance and that delightful thing we know as English eccentricity with equal facility and with skill that makes one understand what is meant by the term “fine writing.”

H.E. Bates (image courtesy Wikimedia)

As I have made clear, I am a great fan of the writing of Somerset Maugham. He represents a school of English – and American – literature that daintily dances along the line dividing deliciously readable middle brow fiction of the sort I’ve written about here and here. Whether he’s detailing the muddle between high brow and middle brow literature or skewering a self-proclaimed “magic man,” Maugham delivers eminently readable, often profound observations on the human condition. He also inspired a number of younger writers to follow in his footsteps.

One of the best of these “sons of Maugham” is H.E. Bates. Best known to the American audience, perhaps, because of Masterpiece Theater’s broadcasts of London Weekend Television’s adaptation of his novel Love for Lydia, an adaptation well known for helping launch the careers of actors such as Jeremy Irons and Peter Davison, among others.

I was fortunate enough to find a copy of New Directions Publishing’s re-issue of Bates’s A Month by the Lake and Other Stories recently at my favorite used book shop. As I hoped, it is a delight. Continue reading

african mask

Harry Potter and the Racist Subtext

african mask“We know your hearts are good, but even with good hearts you have done a bad thing.” – Leo Quetawke, Head Councilman in charge of law and order for the Zuni people

Cultural appropriation is a difficult concept to understand for those of us who belong to the majority culture. We see the world as one unified whole. We measure the sun by Greenwich Mean Time, the seasons by the calendar of Pope Gregory XIII. For us, an African mask in a shop is a decoration, divorced of cultural significance. We congratulate ourselves on our enlightenment and modernity because we can recognize its beauty.

This state of affairs does not make us bad people. It does not make us responsible for colonialism or slavery, any more than African American or Indigenous American genes make their owners victims or losers. On the contrary, it presents us with an opportunity to rise above our past, to forge a new global fellowship built on trust and open communication. As with any educational pursuit, this requires hard work. Continue reading


Art and commerce, art and communication

“No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.” – Dr. Samuel Johnson

I was going to write today about Hilary Masters’ novel Cooper which I finished a couple of Anthony Burgess (image courtesy Wikimedia)days ago, but I started another book and the introduction to that book has been rattling around in my head since I read it, so I think I’ll write about that. You may ask, what could deter this disciplined professorial writer of literary fiction from his appointed rounds?

Well, the guy to the right of this text can. I had picked up a copy of H.E. Bates’s A Month by the Lake and Other Stories in the New Directions edition. The introduction to Bates’s collection is by Anthony Burgess, a name known to most people in association with his most famous novel, the brilliant and nightmarish A Clockwork Orange. The theme of Burgess’s introduction, which is both a wonderful appreciation of Bates and a screed of sorts against the literary world, is worth, I think, some consideration. Continue reading


Book review: The Accidental Salvation of Gracie Lee, by Talya Tate Boerner

The Accidental Salvation of Gracie Lee resonates like a National guitar with the voices of great Southern literature….

The Accidental Salvation of Gracie Lee by Talya Tate Boerner (image courtesy Goodreads)

Talya Tate Boerner’s novel The Accidental Salvation of Gracie Lee echoes with the history of Southern literature. There are the voices of the gothic South: Faulkner, Harper Lee, and certainly Eudora Welty. There are also suggestions of the “dirty South” of Carson McCullers, Harry Crews, and Richard Ford. This is all good and it gives the novel a gravitas that its subject natter deserves.

There is another school of writing that Boerner’s debut novel owes a debt to. This is what Joe David Bellamy terms “lifestyle fiction.” It has some notable Southern practitioners including Lee Smith, Kaye Gibbons, and Dorothy Allison. Boerner’s pre-teen narrator owes a good bit especially to the latter two authors mentioned, Gibbons and Allison. The Accidental Salvation of Gracie Lee, then, walks a narrow, meandering path, sometimes veering in the direction of Welty and Lee, sometimes in the direction of Gibbons and Allison.

An observant reader sees Boerner torn between which of these directions makes most sense for her work and that gives the novel a sometimes infuriating but always undeniable charm. Continue reading