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Wednesday, August 10, 2022

I am cheating today --


Annuals and perennials complement one another.

First out of the chute, if you haven’t already read my most recent post, about Sarah Shoemaker's upcoming book launch, please do so now! September 6 will be an exciting evening, I promise!


My New Way of Dealing with My New Life


This summer I have been working on what I call the Scarlett O’Hara principle. Funny, because years ago an Aries horoscope named Scarlett O’Hara as a “typical” Aries, and I thought, “Oh, no!” I did not want to think of myself as spoiled, vain, and selfish! What I’m calling the Scarlett O’Hara principle, though, has nothing to do with becoming any of those things. I take the principle from her line, “Oh, I can’t think about this now! I’ll go crazy if I do. I’ll think about it tomorrow.” I’ve been doing this with almost everything I don’t need to act on immediately. 

Can’t find something? Stop looking. Think about it tomorrow. More to do than time in which to do it? Do what I can today and think about the next thing tomorrow. 

Because I can’t do everything at once, anyway, so why worry about everything at once? And I must say, this approach – new to me -- has served me well so far this summer.



The Dog!

Patiently waiting....

Sunny continues to be challenging. The instructor at puppy class (two classes to go) recognizes SJ’s high energy level and suggested I “have a talk with [my] vet” (by which I think she was hinting about doggie downers), but we are making progress, and at home my little girl is better and better all the time. Her big hurdle is learning to deal with distractions, because she gets SO excited and overstimulated in the presence of OTHER PEOPLE and OTHER DOGS!!! Not reactive, just overstimulated. But she’s my girl.





My subject heading today refers to the fact that I wrote a long e-mail to a friend about what I’m reading these days and then, after going on and on about the books, told her I would probably use it in a blog post, and so here it is, amplified even beyond the e-mail but definitely springing from and using portions of that message. 


What I’m reading these days:


      At the porch table: BITING THE DUST: THE WILD RIDE AND DARK ROMANCE OF THE RODEO COWBOY AND THE AMERICAN WEST, by Dirk Johnson. Very good! The writing is excellent, and the history, mythology, and reality of the West come through loud and clear, as well as clearly distinguished, as we are introduced to various rodeo cowboys and follow them around the punishing, often lonely and rarely remunerative rodeo circuit. 


      At the other end of the porch: PROGRESS AND POVERTY, by Henry George, a 19th-century bestseller (outsold in its time only by the Bible) that, sadly, changed no government policies in England, the U.S., or anywhere else, as far as I know. Beautifully written, too. I am happy to say that one other friend of mine is also reading it, which is a miracle, as it’s hard to get many people excited about reading economics. After following all the author’s arguments, I have arrived at the payoff, his solution, the one it seems no one wanted to put in place, despite the popularity of his book.


      In the bathroom (doesn’t everyone?): IN PRAISE OF FOLLY, by Erasmus. I’d take Erasmus over Martin Luther, his rival in religion, any day, but the style of this book hasn’t set me on fire. Dante was easier to grasp. The humor is eluding me, but I soldier on – in small bites.


      In the bedroom: AWAKENING FROM HISTORY, by 20th-century journalist Edmond Taylor, an autobiography/memoir that takes its title from a line in James Joyce’s ULYSSES, Stephen Dedalus saying to Mr. Deasy when he, Stephen, goes to Deasy’s office to collect his teacher’s pay, “History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.” Taylor was in high school in St. Louis, MO, during the First World War and after college started into journalism on the ground floor (more like the basement) until he was working as a foreign correspondent and seeing firsthand what was going down in Europe in the late 1930s. Painful parallels to our world today, but I doubt many people would want to read this book, as the sentences are long and convoluted. It’s hard to reconcile journalistic writing, in fact, with the author’s style in this book, but the book is the story of his intellectual and moral growth over the course of his life and career, so while facts are important, the real story is in how he saw certain facts at one time and how he later saw them, i.e., what he learned and when and how he learned it.


      At the bookstore: GUNFIGHT: MY BATTLE AGAINST THE INDUSTRY THAT RADICALIZED AMERICA, by Ryan Busse. This is a book I would dearly love to have every American read, whichever side of the gun debate they’re on, but I know many don’t want to read about guns or politics, and this is about both. But it is very, very readable and unfolds like the drama it is in real life. The author grew up with guns, hunting with his father and grandfather, but the family was very safety-conscious, his grandfather’s best friend and the friend’s father having been killed (intentionally, though, not accidentally) by neighbor with a gun. To Busse, guns meant family and bonding and good times together. The NRA in those days, he says, was all about family, too, as well as promoting gun safety, so he went to work in the gun industry, and while it wasn’t quite what he expected, for a while it was okay. Then the NRA, he says, took a turn toward the dark side. People think the NRA is in thrall to the gun industry, he says, but in truth it’s the other way around: everyone in the gun industry has to kow-tow to the NRA or be squashed like bugs. This book is the story of one man’s awakening political conscience, his loss of naïveté, as well as the story of the NRA taking America hostage, building a political machine on a base of fear and hate. But as I say, imminently readable. The steps in Busse’s personal career, as well as national events are vividly recounted, so that the book reads like a page-turning thriller.


Turtlehead opening its blossoms


Books Read Since Last Listed:


78. Steinberg, Michael, ed. Peninsula: Essays and Memoirs fromMichigan (nonfiction)

79. Alexander, Elizabeth. The Light of the World: A Memoir(nonfiction)

80. Vonnegut, Kurt. Armageddon in Retrospect

81. Emerson, Elizabeth. Letters from Red Farm: The Untold Story of the Friendship between Helen Keller and journalist Joseph Edgar Chamberlin (nonfiction)

82. Jones, R.S. Force of Gravity (fiction)

83. Gibbings, Roberty. Coming Down the Seine (nonfiction)

84. Shoemaker, Sarah. Children of the Catastrophe (fiction – ARC)

Saturday, August 6, 2022

Shoemaker Book Launch in Northport Next Month


Sarah Shoemaker of Northport, Michigan, author of the critically acclaimed Mr. Rochester, has a new novel coming out this fall. Children of the Catastrophe, set in the city of Smyrna in the early 20th century, is, as the author herself describes it, a story of family, love and loss, crisis and survival. The book’s release date is September 6, the day after Labor Day, and Shoemaker will be at the Leelanau Township Library that evening to meet and greet the public. Dog Ears Books will be on hand, as well, to sell books to those wishing to purchase, which the author will be happy to sign. 


In her new work of historical fiction, Shoemaker goes behind the bare facts to imagine two families over the course of years leading up to a tragic real event in history. Early in the novel a marriage is arranged within Smyrna’s Greek community. The bride is one of four sisters, the groom an only child. Parents of the two (especially the mothers) have traditional concerns about qualities they wish to see in a partner for their respective children, but happily for the bride and groom in this case, they are attracted to one another from the start, and soon a new generation of Greeks is growing up in a happy home in Smyrna, little suspecting that their world is about to be utterly destroyed. 


There are, Shoemaker said in a recent interview, 27 million refugees in the world today, and every one of those people represents “a family, a community, a way of life that is forever lost to them.” In large world events – every catastrophe, especially – it is easy to lose sight of particular individuals and families. Yet every war, every famine, every horrendous headline event changes the world forever for people who were up until then, most of them, living very ordinary lives. 


What must it be like to have almost everything and then suddenly to lose it all? How does this affect families, and what differences are there in the responses of different family members? Different generations? These are questions Shoemaker sought answers for in her novel.  


Shoemaker has lived in Greece and also for two years in Izmir, Turkey, the present seaport city on the former site of Smyrna. She knew the history and heard the personal story of one survivor whose entire family was lost in the Great Fire (1922), also known to Greeks as the Catastrophe. So, all in all, she felt this was a story she could write. 


“Every time I see pictures from Ukraine,” Shoemaker said to her interviewer, “our most recent world events that impact people’s lives – seriously -- I see those people now, having written this book, differently, because I see them as individuals who’ve had lives.” She observes that it’s easy to lose sight of individual lives when we see masses of refugees in events not happening to us. But – “This could be us sometime. Or this could be somebody I care about sometime.” What tragic events do to real people’s real lives is what Shoemaker wants readers to take away from her novel. And in this aim, she succeeds brilliantly. 


As a reader, one comes to live inside the story, to live inside houses inhabited by people one comes to know. One hundred years later in time and far distant in space, while reading we inhabit the world of early 20th-century Greek Smyrna and feel connected to the characters’ hopes and dreams, sympathetic to their problems, concerned for their lives. In the end, we realize that their tragedy is our tragedy, in that it is a human tragedy, and we are all human beings, despite our differences.

-- Can you tell I am excited about this book? It is going to be an excellent choice for book clubs, too! 

Tuesday, September 6, 7:30 p.m., Leelanau Township Library, Northport, MI: Sarah Shoemaker and Children of the Catastrophe

P.S. You can hear the complete interview with Sarah Shoemaker on the Library Love Fest podcast from Harper Collins, publisher of Children of the Catastrophe. Sarah Nelson, vice president and executive editor of Harper Collins, introduces and interviews Sarah Shoemaker in the podcast.


Saturday, July 30, 2022

Something Accomplished Every Day

Soon coneflowers, later asters

There are days, I’ll admit, when getting the garbage bagged and out to the highway for early morning weekly pickup feels like a major accomplishment. That is, sometimes I feel competent and close to confident; other times life seems overwhelming and almost impossible. But yes, the puppy. Or, as I say when she jumps up and catches a tennis ball in the air after one bounce, “Yes, the puppy!!!” She is very athletic. And she is a reason, every morning, to get out of bed and outdoors, and once we are outdoors, I am happy to hear bees humming in the linden trees, to get busy digging new garden beds between throws of that tennis ball (or a Frisbee or just an ordinary stick), and after we work and play a while in the yard, we go back on the porch for breakfast, and she doesn’t seem to mind if I pick up a book for 15 minutes or so before we go outside again.

We think a deer slept here.

This has been a big week for Sunny and me. For starters, a couple of companies were doing autumn olive removal and eradication in our immediate neighborhood, and I signed up to have my meadow cleared of the scourge. I used to do it myself, spending two full days out there every June (here is a post from back in the old days when I regularly and actively managed the meadow myself), but something (age) happened along the way, and now it’s more than I can manage and three years since I last waged battle. Amazing how much faster four young guys with power tools can do a job than an old lady with hand tools! They were done before noon and did just what I wanted – no mowing, no clear-cutting, only the autumn olive taken out – so my meadow is still a wildlife paradise of native grasses, wildflowers, young trees, and lots and lots of milkweed. If in time it reverts to woodland, I can live with that, but I definitely could not live surrounded by an impenetrable thicket of autumn olive, so it feels great to have that job done. 

For future generations of monarch butterflies --

What does Sunny Juliet care about autumn olive? Why was that part of a big week for her? Okay, you got me there. She didn’t care about eradication of an invasive plant species at all, but she was thrilled to meet the crew! Very excited to introduce herself, so to speak! When she first ran up the driveway to investigate (they were working for the neighbors that day), the guys made jokes about who was in charge, Sunny Juliet or me, but when I got her leashed and sitting and then even lying down, one of them said, “You’ve trained dogs before, haven’t you?” Well, never one as challenging as Sunny, but we are coming along, step by step.

Friends stopped by on Sunday and again on Wednesday, and once again Sunny was challenged -- or I was, more to the point. She is very sociable, which is good; it’s the jumping we need to eliminate. She does, however, sit when told to sit and can be redirected with a toy or a treat, and so, aided by plenty of “high-value” treats, she did much better in puppy class this week than last, too. She is learning not to pull on her leash like a maniac every time the instructor approaches or another dog barks. Progress! Impulse control! 


I am also making progress in my reading of Progress and Poverty, by Henry George, and am happy to have at least one friend as excited about the book as I am. George’s arguments and ideas are different and exciting, but my friend and I are also enamored with his use of language. Here is an example:


Poverty is the Slough of Despond which Bunyan saw in his dream, and into which good books may be tossed forever without result. To make people industrious, prudent, skillful, and intelligent, they must be relieved from want. If you would have the slave show the virtues of the freeman, you must first make him free. 

- Henry George, Progress and Poverty


I’m happy to have discovered recently nature writer Heather Durham and to have in stock now two of her books, Wolf Tree and Going Feral: Field Notes on Wonder and Wanderlust, and I’m also happy to have the new issue of the Dunes Review here at last. Between new books and old, there is something “new” at my bookstore almost every day, so my days are never boring at work – and with a lively young puppy to train, mornings and evenings at home are never boring, either. Exhausting, sometimes, but never boring. 


Then there is my exciting bedtime reading, bound galleys of a novel to be released right after Labor Day, Children of the Catastrophe, by Sarah Shoemaker (you remember her wonder Mr. Rochester), a family story set in early 20th-century Smyrna (site of present-day Izmir), and you will be hearing a lot more about that book from me in the weeks to come. As for Dog Ears Books, which opened down south on Waukazoo Street from its current location in 1993, we are now, as of July 2022, launched into our 30th year. (Sometimes it pays to be stubborn through the hard times, even if it means hanging on by your fingernails.) Please note that this will be the final summer for my late husband's gallery, next door to my bookstore. He died with his boots on, never retired.


Sunday, July 24, 2022

A Different Kind of Summer

Different in What Way(s)?


Somehow a new blog post hasn’t been coming together for me this past week. I started one around the theme of “Falling Down on the Job” (since I was having so much trouble accomplishing the job of writing a post), but though I cranked out several sections, wandering around among local and personal job-related topics, what I got down into a file seemed uninspired. 


My heart wasn’t in it, I guess. As is true for my puppy, Sunny Juliet, my attention has been rather scattered of late. Other than my bookstore and my reading, I focus pretty exclusively on Sunny Juliet and my flowers. 


“Who will we meet today?” the Artist used to ask sometimes in the morning at the start of a summer day. Our Northport summer last year was about the busiest we’d ever seen, with books and paintings practically flying out the door, and in the course of any business day we would have countless conversations, some with old friends, but many also with people we’d never met before. Long, interesting talks sometimes took place only in the Artist’s studio, others stayed in my bookstore, and still others spilled back and forth between our separate spaces. Right next door to each other all day, however, we might only have five minutes together on some days while at work. The separateness of our days gave us a lot to share in the evenings, relaxing during supper on the front porch or taking a slow county cruise out for ice cream -- though sometimes we were too tired to talk much, and that was all right, too. 


This year is very different. There are still conversations during the day, out in the world, but the puppy and I have a pretty nonverbal relationship. Sunny Juliet can be vocal, of course, when she has a point to make, but my admonition to her to “Use your words!” only reminds her that she is supposed to nose the bell hanging from the doorknob, not bark, to let me know she needs to go outside. And in general my chatter to her is unremarkable. Telling her over and over that she’s a good girl and that I love her is not exactly small talk, but it’s certainly repetitious, while my stories about her “daddy” or her predecessors (Peasy and Sarah and Nikki) can’t mean much to her at all. Obviously, I’m really talking to myself….

But she always listens.

Book Stuff

My front porch book at present is Henry George’s Progress and Poverty. The book has been a bestseller since its first market edition in 1880, but if it opened a lot of minds, it certainly failed to change policies. Everyone on the political spectrum, it seems, finds something to love and/or something to hate and fear in George’s ideas. Fascinating reading, nonetheless. I’m almost ready to say I don’t want to discuss economics at all, even narrow questions like affordable housing, with anyone who hasn’t first read Progress and Poverty


…When we speak of labor creating wealth, we speak metaphorically. Man creates nothing. …In producing wealth, labor, with the aid of natural forces, but works up, into the forms desired, pre-existing matter, and, to produce wealth, must, therefore, have access to this matter and to these forces – that is to say, to land. The land is the source of all wealth. 


And thus George traces economic depressions back to material progress, because it is progress that increases the value of land, which in turns leads to land speculation. Land is withheld from production, forcing prices for available land up, checking production, finally throwing people out of work, when demand for goods must fall because though people still desire to buy, they have not the ability to pay.


In the bathroom (doesn’t everyone have at least one book in the bathroom?) I have In Praise of Folly, by Erasmus, an edition with a lengthy and entertaining introduction by Hendrik Willem van Loon (author of, among other things, The Story of Mankind, the very first Newbery prize winner, in the year 1922) and delightful illustrations by same. Any book with van Loon illustrations is a book I will pick up and begin to read – wouldn’t it have been wonderful to receive illustrated letters from him? -- and it’s about time I got around to reading Erasmus, anyway.


I’ve been reading Empire of the Summer Moon off and on at bedtime for what seems like forever because, I must confess, I have set it aside numerous times for something else. My latest detour (Friday night) was a 1953 nonfiction book by Robert Gibbings, a wood engraver as well as a writer, whose books display both talents. The most well known is probably Lovely is the Lee (I say that because it is the Gibbings title I most often see among used volumes), but the one that came into my hands this past week is called Coming Down the Seine, and obviously, were my own Artist still with me, this is a book we would have been reading aloud to each other. The Seine! Magic memories!


These were tranquil days in the boat. There were mornings when, casting off at dawn, I drifted through long cool shadows, watching the sunlight on the trees creep down to meet the water, hearing no sound but the tremolo of the aspens, seeing no one but a chance sportsman and his dog. There were noons with cooling breezes when the forest rang with bird song and the river was a sheet of moving glass. There were nights when, looking skywards, the passing clouds seemed like new continents and islands marked on the inside of a mighty globe.


Neither is everything description. There are digressions into history and observations on what an artist must know.


I incline to think that one of the earliest and most important lessons to be learnt by any art student is the recognition of those qualities most suited to his particular medium, or alternatively of the medium most suited to the qualities he wishes to express. 


As a wood engraver, Gibbings finds little he can use in the “lavender haze above the water … typical of many dawns.”  Precise lines and contrast of light and dark are what an engraver needs. He tells of refusing a commission once for a stone carving because the subject “could only have been carried out in bronze.” 


Gibbings, an Irishman, author of many river books, is buried on the banks of the Thames, another river David had a chance to explore years ago. All in all, I can’t help feeling it not quite fair that we never had a chance to enjoy this book together, but such is life.


The library has been presenting their summer author series this month, and I’ve gotten to the second and third events. Betsy Emerson talked about her book, Letters from Red Farm: The Untold Story of the Friendship between Helen Keller and Journalist Joseph Edgar Chamberlin, and the next week Karen Mulvahill interviewed Gregory Nobles, author of The Education of Betsey Stockton: An Odyssey of Slavery and Freedom. The fourth and final event in the library series will be next Tuesday, with Soon-Young Yoon and her book of memoir essays, Citizen of the World: Soon-Young and the U.N. Quite the stellar line-up this season! And it looks as if I may get around to a book launch come September, so stay tuned for exciting developments on that front. 


About Jobs


Here’s a question unrelated to anything in the rest of this post, a leftover from the post I’m not publishing. Have you ever quit or walked out on a job? If so, why? What to you makes the difference between a good employer and working conditions and something unbearable?


The Artist Remembered in Arizona


Before I left to start back to Michigan at the beginning of May, one of the owners of Source of Coffee, our hangout in Willcox, Arizona, asked if I would bring in one of the Artist’s hats so they could have something to remember him by. This past week the coffee house posted a photograph of the resultant memorial, the work of hatmakers Josh and Theresa – and I need to get a more complete reference for Josh and Theresa’s business. Must add to that to my to-do list.... But I love, love, love that our friends in Willcox are thinking of David and remembering him with love!

Dana in background; presumably Theresa in foreground


Friday, July 8, 2022

Catsup and Puppies and Books and Flowers

HI, there!!! I'm a better dog every day!!!

What do you call it?

Catsup? Ketchup? Catch-Up! When I was a kid, in our family we said catsup. Just what it was to us. (Red catsup, yellow mustard, green (sweet) pickle relish. No onions. "Onions don't like me," our mother always said.) We never specified tomato catsup, either, just catsup, but one year in Kalamazoo I made something called elderberry catsup, a fantastic counterpoint to fall game dinners in Leelanau County. This year? Maybe a little red elderberry catsup again in my near future! 

Okay, that whole line of what the Artist would have called quacking is going nowhere. I just needed an opening paragraph, so there you go. Take it or leave it. 


Puppy Class

We take a lot of stuff to class!

I wrote on June 29 that Sunny Juliet and I were going to our first puppy class the next day, because I hadn’t received an e-mail that would have told me that dogs were not supposed to attend the first session! It was orientation for us “guardians,” as we’re called. Oops! Of the six dogs in the class, one other dog’s owners -- excuse me, guardians -- had also missed the e-mail and brought him, so two rowdy six-month-old pups had to be crated in separate rooms while we humans learned what was ahead for all of us. 


This week Sunny and I went to the first real class. One dog and guardian pair hadn’t showed up, so there were only five dogs total, each in a separate lane, all facing the instructor, two of the dogs barkers. I cannot lie and say that Sunny is the class star. Far from it! (Though two of the young dogs or old pups, whatever you want to call them, have already been through an infant class and had a running start, so to speak.) But Sunny did not bark at all!She pulled terribly on her leash, but she didn’t bark! Big progress from where she started out in Arizona, as some of you may recall. By the end of the hour she had even settled down quite a bit, and the instructor assures me we’ll get to the desired “loose leash” in time. “Baby steps,” she said encouragingly. So I was happy and told Sunny over and over what a good girl she was. She is doing very, very well on responding to command words. Good dog!


The long drive to way south of Traverse City, an hour in a room full of dogs (the high-ceilinged room seems very full when a couple of the dogs are barking!), and another long ride home again takes a lot out of us both, and then I’m in a hurry to get up to Northport to my bookstore for what remains of the afternoon, SJ quite ready for some quiet crate time. In the evening we will be back together again and happy to play in the yard. And so, yes, day follows day relentlessly, the weeks racing by, summer in full blur-speed --.


My Recent Reading


There There, by Tommy Orange, was a novel I had to put aside for a few weeks, after reading all but the last 40 or so pages. Orange is a marvelously gifted writer – no doubt about it. Here is a small part of one of my favorite passages:


…The drum group played on the first floor – in the community center. You walked into the room and, just as you did, they started singing. High-voiced wailing and howled harmonies that screamed through the boom of that big drum. Old songs that sang to the old sadness you always kept as close as skin without meaning to. The word triumph blipped in your head then. What was it doing there? You never used that word. This was what it sounded like to make it through these hundreds of American years, to sing through them. This was the sound of pain forgetting itself in song. 


Tommy Orange, There There



My problem with the novel was not the author’s brilliant writing or his vivid characters or even the gritty urban lives and scenes. It was seeing where it was all going to end and not wanting to get there. What with my husband’s death, memorial gatherings, the ongoing political angst in our country, and never-ending COVID-19 concerns (let’s not even mention Ukraine or monkey pox, shall we?), I chose to postpone reading the final chapters until I felt emotionally able to do so. I will say that, in addition to the quality of the writing, this book is important in that it highlights an urban life lived by many Native Americans today, life that rarely appears in American literature, where it very much belongs. 


There were a couple books that I did not read carefully but skimmed through and skipped around, so they are not on my list at all. One of these was Claire Bidwell Smith’s Anxiety: The Missing Stage of Grief. I gave it a look-through because grief as a subject matter always catches my attention these days, but I have not had the experience of anxiety the author says she found so often among her therapy clients and was only somewhat interested in that aspect because I have friends who, although not necessarily grieving, do suffer anxiety. But Smith makes the case that the anxiety component can come from long-ago, unresolved grief, and to me that sounds a little like some of Freud’s theories, in that supporting “evidence” can always be found, once the premise is accepted, while it seems immune to counter-examples. Who has not suffered some past loss – if not death, then something else to grieve? Handy explanation!  I did appreciate the author’s insight that the well-known attitudinal stages popularized by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross had to do with people facing their own deaths, not those mourning deaths of loved ones. 

A book of letters from and to the artist Mary Cassatt and her circle of friends I read also selectively, not in its entirety. Some of it interested me, some of it not.


I finally read all the way to the last page of The Outlaw of Camargue – mostly for the setting, the Camargue, which I found appealing – though for a while I thought I might not bother. The characters never lived on the pages for me (descriptions of appearance and dress insufficient to make them come alive), the story line was more a thin excuse than a plot, and the defense of royalism left me cold (although heaven knows the Revolution was guilty of violent excess almost right from the beginning), so I set it aside for a while to read the charming God Returns to the Vuelta Abajo, after a couple of nights with Cyrano de Bergerac. The Camargue book is interesting, however, if approached as a travel narrative, so that’s where I have it shelved – in travel and history – though noted as fiction. 


Cyrano – oh, my goodness! I have been reliving my own life lately, not only in photographs but also in letters, and after an emotional couple of hours reading from my own archive, how could I help being moved all over again by Cyrano’s story? And I’d forgotten the heartbreaking ending! Oh, heavens! My own love story was much, much happier --. Again, gratitude!


The list goes on…. as does the garden....


72.      Grann, David. Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI (nonfiction)

73.      Mosley, Walter. Down the River Unto the Sea(fiction)

74.      Rostand, Edmond, trans. Brian Hooker. Cyrano de Bergerac (drama)

75.      Orange, Tommy. There There (fiction)

76.      Keiser, Melanie Earle. God Returns to the Vuelta Abajo (fiction)

77.      Sadlier, Anna T. The Outlaw of Camargue (fiction)

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

We are tested in many ways.


Will Sunny be on trial Thursday morning? It will be our first puppy class! Will the other puppies be younger, smaller, and less obstreperous? Will we "pass" the class, or will she be so wild that we'll be kicked out? She’ll be excited, I know, when we enter the big working arena, as her dog mom repeats a calming mantra to herself to calm her nerves!

At least puppy class will give me a break from Widowland, this strange new challenging country I now inhabit. Some widows tell me, “It gets easier,” while one said the third year was worse than the second, and yesterday I was told, “It doesn’t get easier. It gets worse.” Obviously, experiences vary across the widowed population. One woman could not bear to look at old photographs or read old letters, whereas I cannot keep from what are to me precious and tangible evidence of past happiness. 

Evidence. There’s a concept that brings me to larger national events. Hearings proceed on the January 6, 2021, insurrection at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., and while many Americans are glued to their TVs, just as many (or so it seems) are steadfastly avoiding the unfolding story. I have neither television nor the leisure to watch it nonstop if it were available, but I have tuned in on the radio a couple times in the car and have read news summaries of various days’ presentations. 

I was distressed, though, when one friend said her reason for not watching is that the hearings are a “show trial.” What? The term “show trial” indicates the pretense of a trial (i.e., not a hearing or hearings but an actual staged trial, and a rigged one at that), in which the verdict has been decided beforehand, with evidence often manufactured and confessions of guilt forced. Example: the Stalinist show trials that took place from 1936 to 1938. 


The trials were held against Stalin’s political enemies, such as the Trotskyists and those involved with the Right Opposition of the Communist Party. The trials were shams that led to the execution of most defendants. Every surviving member of the Lenin-era part was tried, and almost every important Bolshevik from the Revolution was executed. Over 1,100 delegates to the party congress in 1934 were arrested.  The killings were part of Stalin’s Great Purge, in which opportunists and Bolshevik cadres from the time of the Russian Revolution who could rally opposition to Joseph Stalin were killed. He did so at a time of growing discontent in the 1930s for his mismanagement of the Soviet economy, leading to mass famines during periods of rapid and poorly executed industrialization and farm collectivization.




My friend did not mention Stalin but pointed to the Watergate hearings, which she finds unproblematic, because “most Americans thought Nixon was guilty.” (If his guilt was assumed beforehand, wouldn’t that have been a “show trial,” if it had been a trial and not a hearing?) The whole point of a hearing is to decide if there is enough evidence to proceed to trial. If the prosecution’s case is weak, perhaps there will be no trial, but if one does take place, the defense at least has a good idea of what it will face in the courtroom. From the little I have heard and read, plenty of evidence that we did not have before (example) has been placed before the public in the January 6 hearings, reams of it now public record. Of course, self-selected segments of the public can choose to avoid looking at the record, lest their opinions be challenged by documented facts....

Then there is … Facebook. Here confusion between hearings and trials reigns supreme, with the addition of those refusing to follow the hearings or dismissing the evidence (without having heard it) objecting to the procedure they do not understand and are not following. Example: One comment on a friend’s Fb thread reads: “This Stalinist inquisition has NO rebuttal or cross examination.” (Ah, there! Someone has brought in Stalin! See above quoted passage and compare and contrast Stalin’s trials to today’s hearings.) Well, it happens that the former president did issue a rebuttal statement, twelve pages, and here it isTypically, he repeats claims already found to be baseless and attacks the current administration’s record, which is not at issue in the hearings. As to cross-examination, that would take place at trial stage, if criminal charges are brought. 

As Abraham Lincoln might say were he alive, in a larger sense America itself is on trial today. Can a nation conceived and dedicated to equality under law long endure, and are we dedicated to the task of preserving our heritage?