Friday, August 29, 2008

Republican National Convention (A Poem)

Friday morning,
and the Cities are bracing for the RNC
like a city in Central Asia
in the thirteenth century
awaiting the arrival of Genghis Khan.

Rumors fill the streets.
On towers and walls
people scan the plain,
looking for the first scouts
or a cloud of dust at the horizon.

Maybe it will work out.
Maybe he will leave
our fields unburnt
and our houses standing.

Surely, the merchants say,
business can be done,
even with Mongols.

But the news from other cities
is not good;
and in the market place
frightening stories change hands
like silk or lapis lazuli.


As for me, I feel a sudden affection
for all the people of my home cities:
the African American man at the bus stop
who is trying to flirt with a Hispanic,
though she won’t meet his gaze;

the woman across the aisle
with a City of Minneapolis name badge
sleeping her way to work,
while the ragged college kids next to her
talk a mile a minute and cuddle.

All of us – the guy in the Red Wings jacket
and the woman with a Hindu caste mark,
the bus driver with dangling earrings
who is probably gay --
belong here. This is our home;
and we don’t live in the thirteenth century.

The Republicans will come and go.
We will still – heaven willing –
have our ordinary lives
and our problems to solve
by working together.

I thought I ought to label the above as poetry, since it sounds rough and not entirely poetic. I need to tinker with the line breaks.
On the plus side, Rage Against the Machine are playing at the Target Center in Minneapolis during the convention; Steve Earle will be at the Labor Day Picnic at Harriet Island in St. Paul; there's going to be a nice sounding peace and justice concert at the Fitzgerald Theater in downtown St. Paul, with many local musicians; my left-of-center local coffee house is planning a two-day block party; there will be a march for peace and a march against poverty; and free bicycles will be available for use throughout the two cities.

It could be a nice week with lots of good music.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Niagara Falls

Patrick and I are flying east next week. The past few trips, we have driven and seen Niagara falls. This time we will miss it, unless the plane flies over it. Here are some photos of what we will miss, taken on a lovely, cold, grey November day... It really was lovely...

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Down Time

I'm going to slow down on the blog for a while, unless something gets me interested. I'm involved in two group blogs: Wyrdsmiths and Ambling Along the Aqueduct. I may go over to them for a while. Kelly McCoullogh is writing about writing on the Wyrdsmiths blog. I have an entirely different take than he does, and I'm trying to decide if I should comment or if commenting would be destructive.

The vegetation along the freeway is looking dry, and it seems to me there are fewer sunflowers blooming than there should be.

Friday, August 15, 2008


I turned 65 in December and have been thinking that I ought to make some changes in my life.

So I joined the Y and hired a personal trainer, a very nice and encouraging young woman.

And I have taken a couple of classes at The Loft, which is a local center devoted to writing. My idea has been to go into these classes as a beginner, without dragging my history as a writer along, and see what happens. Maybe I will discover new things about myself.

The first class was on poetry. I wrote more poetry than I usually do, and at least one poem that was not my usual kind of work.

The second class was on overcoming "Writer's Resistance." I took it partly because it was at a good time for me, and partly because I don't think I write enough. I wouldn't call it writer's block. It's more like writer's sluggishness. I suspect the main cause is working 30+ hours a week.

But I also suspect there are other reasons why I drag my heels when it comes to writing. So the class seemed like a good idea.

I found it very hard to follow through on the teacher's good suggestions, and I'm still trying. She feels that making commitments and keeping them is really important. Tell yourself that you will write at least 15 minutes every day and then do it, come rain or shine. Make the commitment small and manageable, rather than large and scary. You can do extra, if you want to. But always do the 10 or 15 minutes you said you would do.

Doing the writing, which she calls product, is not easy. I'm writing a fair amount right now, but not according to the pattern I have committed to, as part of the class. I seem to be deliberately not following the teacher's suggestion. "Here's a story, but -- hah! -- I did it without following the rules."

Even harder are the other commitments she suggested: time spent at 'process,' work done playfully, with no intention of getting any kind of product; and time spent at 'destruction,' which she suggested might be cleaning, getting rid of clutter, or pulling weeds in the garden.

I don't have a garden, but I certainly have plenty of files that could be gone through, both paper and electronic. Boy, is it hard for me to spend even 10 or 15 minutes clearing that stuff out.

'Process' is a problem for me, because I am not playful.

Her final commitment is 'self-care,' and this is easy right now, because I am going to the Y.

I think she is on to something, so I am trying to keep a list of what I'm doing every day in the way of self-care, process, product and destruction, aka cleaning. None of it is easy, but I am ending with a cleaner home. Though I am still avoiding the files.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Jerome Liebling

I bought a book of photographs by Jerome Liebling a couple of weeks ago and looked through it quickly, without reading any of the text. Tonight I looked at the photographs more carefully and read the text.

Liebling is photographer with an impressive reputation. I Googled him and found a lot of museum exhibits, then checked him on Artnet, which is a source of information about art prices. I found only one photo -- a stunning one -- with a price. It was $10,000. I'm not going to buy anything of his.

According to the text, he came to Minnesota in 1949 at the age of 25, hired
to teach photography as part of the fledgling studio-arts section of the University of Minnesota Art Department... Liebling became one of no more than a handful of artists in the entire country permitted to teach photography, then still sneered at by art historians and critics, as a fine art. The founding of a national society of college teachers of film and photography lay several years in the future (he was a founding member), and for a few years, Jerry Liebling alone in Minneapolis and probably the entire state represented the embattled medium. It was not until the 1960s that photography began to experience the phenomenal rise (to the) prestige and prominence it now enjoys in galleries, museums and colleges everywhere.

The inclusion of fine art photography in the University of Minnesota program of study had a certain local and regional import as well. It was part of the rise in the value of culture in the region, especially the Twin Cities, in those relatively prosperous postwar years. The flowering of the Walker Art Center as a gallery for modern art, followed by the establishment of the Guthrie Theater, were signs that those with power in the city believed that culture made for civic prestige...

To me, there is a missing name in this, and it isn't the name of anyone with civic power. My father, H. H. Arnason, was the head of the U of M Art Department from 1947 to 1960. Given the dates, he must have hired Liebling. He was also the Director of the Walker Art Center from 1949 to 1960; and I have clear memories of him working on getting Tyrone Guthrie to bring his theater to Minneapolis.

I find it interesting that he was involved in all the innovations that the text describes.

I knew my father had done a lot of things that strike me as worth doing, but I didn't know that he was ahead of the times in treating photography as a fine art. He was, by the way, an art historian, but not a man who did a lot of sneering. He loved contemporary art and was fascinated by artists, especially living artists.

The Liebling book is good. The text doesn't talk about Liebling's politics or his class sympathies. I'd say, looking at the photos, that he didn't like the rich and did like working and poor people. If my mother were still around (she'd be 99) I'd ask her about her memories of Liebling.

Politics in SF

This is a quote from Lois Bujold, which I found on the Aqueduct Press blog, Ambling Along the Aqueduct:
I expected to learn a lot about romance through writing one, and I did. I was more surprised to learn something new to me about fantasy and science fiction -- which is how profoundly, intensely, relentlessly political most of the stories in these genres are. The politics may be archaic or modern, fringe or realistic, naive or subtle, optimistic or dire, but by gum the characters had better be centrally engaged with them, for some extremely varied values of "engaged". Even the world-building itself is often a political argument. And, oh boy, are the political aspects of the fiction ever valorized in the reviews. I had not noticed this the way a fish does not notice water. Only when I'd stepped onto the shore of the neighboring genre and breathed a contrasting air did I discover there even could be a difference -- and what a difference it was...

In fact, if romances are fantasies of love, and mysteries are fantasies of justice, I would now describe much SF as fantasies of political agency. All three genres also may embody themes of personal psychological empowerment, of course, though often very different in the details, as contrasted by the way the heroines "win" in romances, the way detectives "win" in mysteries, and the way, say, young male characters "win" in adventure tales. But now that I've noticed the politics in SF, they seem to be everywhere, like packs of little yapping dogs trying to savage your ankles. Not universally, thank heavens -- there are wonderful lyrical books such as The Last Unicorn or other idiosyncratic tales that escape the trend. But certainly in the majority of books, to give the characters significance in the readers' eyes means to give them political actions, with "military" read here as a sub-set of political.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


I was trapped in my apartment today, waiting for maintenance people. By the time they were done, it was mid-afternoon. Since I couldn't go anywhere, I spent the day writing and was finally able to send "Mammoths of the Great Plains" to my agent. This is an alt history story. I decided after I had gone over it three times, making small revisions, that it was time to let go of it.

Then I revised an essay that needs to go to Timmi Duchamp in the next week or so, then moved on my Brer Rabbit story and wrote some more of it. Now it's time to quit. Six hours of writing is pretty much my max.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Bird Watching

Patrick and I went to Crex Meadows on Sunday. This is a nature preserve across the river in western Wisconsin. It's mixed marshland and prairie and a good place to bird watch. There is a self-guided auto tour through the preserve on two-lane asphalt and gravel roads. A sunny day, not too hot, with lots of wild flowers blooming -- white waterlilies in the open water and lots of flowers I didn't recognize along the road.

We saw two pairs of trumpeter swans, one pair with three half-grown cygnets, as well as 30 to 40 sandhill cranes. This is the most sandhills I have ever seen at one time. Ten of them were scattered here and there in the preserve. 30 were in a flock, standing gracefully in a field and looking like cranes on a Japanese screen, though the landscape looked far too midwestern to be Japanese.

We stopped at an overlook to watch them and walked around a dirt parking lot with a pool of rainwater in its middle. I noticed deer prints around the pool and looked for wolf prints, since we were told there was a wolf pack in the preserve. By golly, we found prints that looked like wolf to us.

A satisfying day. Patrick bought a new feedcap and a book on identifying grasses. I simply looked around the Crex Meadows shop.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008


I went to Diversacon last Saturday and stayed all day: 13 or 14 hours. As with Fourth Street, I am having trouble writing a con report. The people at Diversacon are old friends. I like them a lot. But I am not enjoying cons as much as I used to. Other people had a good time, so the problem is with me.

Maybe I need to vary my cons more. I'm planning to go to Worldcon in Montreal, since I have never been to Montreal, and it sounds like a town that should not be missed.