Remembering Others

I’ve written tributes about people in my life who were special to me. I think it’s important to discharge our debts of gratitude personally, and in some cases, publicly. I’ve tried to walk that out in my own life.

Having written two books about Moxie, the distinctly-different regional soft drink that has developed a cult following in parts of my native New England, I know a bit about the elixir’s history. I also recognize that there have been figures in that history that were essential in keeping Moxie’s brand alive.

If your curiosity about Moxie’s been piqued, I’d point you to a couple of blog posts. This one about Sue Conroy is one I’d highly recommend. Sue got me excited about Moxie and forced me to dig into the drink’s past. And then if you think you are good at math, there’s nothing quite like a little Moxie math. Continue reading

Head On

I’m pleased that copies of I am a Road are being snatched up. I want people to read Mark’s writing because it’s worthy of a wider audience. I haven’t been this busy shipping books since my own collection of essays came out in the summer of 2014. Of course, that may as well have been 100 years ago, given the events of the last eight weeks.

Our son, Mark, was a poet. I should add, an “award-winning poet,” as his walk was being partially funded by a poetry fellowship from the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts. The award likely became a factor, helping him again heed the road’s beck and call.

In 2015, Mark also won the Quarterly West Novella Contest, for Holiday Meat. I enjoyed finding this review by Mary-Kim Arnold, from last summer, and reading her obvious appreciation for the work and Mark’s writing.

Mark was just hitting his stride as a writer and poet. I can’t imagine where his commitment to craft might have taken him if he wasn’t tragically killed January 21, walking along a highway in Florida.

This thought is merely one of many that arrive daily, if not more often. Grief is packed full of questions relative to loved ones lost.

Packing books means that at some point, I need to bring them somewhere and ship them. Since we’re now in Brunswick, I’ve been a frequent visitor to the post office on Pleasant Street.

On Monday morning, I ran across the street after doing my book drop, and grabbed a stack of books about grief at Curtis Memorial Library. Out of six books randomly chosen, two might be rated as moderately helpful. I’m finding that most of the books occupying library self-help sections on the subject don’t offer much in terms of assuaging the pain associated with losing someone, especially a son that Mary and I loved more than life itself.

One book that I grabbed was pretty good, though. It was an older book, published by a small press in New York. It’s title, The Death of an Adult Child: A Book For and About Bereaved Parents. Definitely one that will never be considered an entry for “sexiest book title.” The book, published in 1998, isn’t one of the newer books on the topic, either.

The writer, Jeanne Webster Blank, lost a 39-year-old daughter to breast cancer three weeks after being diagnosed. Naturally, Blank and her husband were devastated.

Books about grief.

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Travel on Foot

In 2010, Mark Baumer crossed America on foot in 81 days. While my research isn’t extensive (or exhaustive), I’m not sure anyone’s completed a coast-to-coast journey across the U.S. sans gasoline any faster than he did six years ago.

Mark is a writer and poet. He chronicled that first trek in a new book that has a very limited print run. The book, I am a Road, will be available to purchase for another week in print form, so don’t miss out.

Two weeks ago, Mary and I learned that our only son was being beckoned by the road once again. This time, his latest cross-country trip will be done for something larger than what motivated Mark during his first walk. Oh, and he’ll be doing this without shoes, too.

Since Mark’s taken the time to articulate and frame it in narrative form (much better than I can), I’ll send you directly to him, so he can explain the “why” of his latest journey.

Mark Baumer will cross America on foot, once again.

Mark Baumer will cross America on foot, once again.

Read a Book

Did you know that today is National Read a Book Day? I happened to catch a segment on the morning news about it and that print books still outsell books downloaded to digital devices.

The key to reading for me has always been having a book worth reading. When you have “that special book,” time stands still and the cares of the world often seem further away.

Being Mortal-Gawande

I spent my Labor Day reading Atul Gawande’s marvelous book, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End. This was the book everyone was talking about in the senior/aging in place world I inhabited back in 2014. Thanks to Miss Mary (who had the book because of her book club), I started flipping through Gawande’s bestseller and before I knew it, I found the book nearly impossible to put down. Continue reading

Jamming About Traffic

I consider reading important—enough so that I’ve remained committed to reading three or four books a month for the past decade or so. It occurred to me recently that being smart and well-informed doesn’t really matter. That’s probably one reason why my reading has fallen off the cliff in August.

Discussions with other readers about books we like and how it sucks when a great book is nearing an end is also part of that reading drop-off—I just haven’t been able to find anything that resonates with how I’m feeling this summer. That was until I stumbled upon a book about traffic.

Since I wrote “traffic” with a “small t,” you’re sharp to recognize that the traffic I’m talking about isn’t the Traffic of “John Barleycorn Must Die,” or “The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys,” although it’s mighty tempting to keep the music blogging going with ruminations about “Little” Stevie Winwood and a post about WBLM that takes me back to the halcyon days at Lisbon High—that’s for another time and another post.

The traffic I’m anxious to riff on today is the story of traffic courtesy of a writer that I sadly just found out about, Tom Vanderbilt, and his wonderful book, Traffic: Why We Drive The Way We Do (and What It Says About Us). Vanderbilt’s type of traffic is the kind we’re all intimately familiar with, whether we like it or not. Because save for a few of us, our lives intertwine with cars, Happy Motoring, and the carpet-like mass of vehicles crisscrossing America at any given time.

The joys of sitting in traffic on American roadways.

The joys of sitting in traffic on American roadways.

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A Bit More About John Gould

[I’m “off the air” for a few days, holed up at an undisclosed location. It’s what guys like me call “vacation time.” While I’m away, I’ll leave you with the transcript of my talk on former Lisbon writer, John Gould, held at the Lisbon Historical Society, Wednesday night.–the j(b)e.]

John Gould is one of a handful of Maine authors that once were known statewide and beyond for their literary contributions. Today, few people outside of a demographic that is likely to be weighted towards card-carrying members of the AARP know who Gould is.

So, who was John Gould?

A thumbnail bio reads like this:

  • Between 1942 and 2003, he wrote more than 30 books.
  • He also maintained a weekly syndicated column for The Christian Science Monitor that ran for 62 years, which makes him America’s longest-running syndicated columnist.
  • He wrote a best-selling book, the book that put him on the map for many, Farmer Takes a Wife. That book reached best-selling status 71 years ago.
  • Gould’s final work, Tales from Rhapsody Home, or What They Don’t Tell You About Senior Living, was released when Gould was 92-years-old. For his efforts to put the spotlight on how many seniors were being mistreated in the twilight years of their life, and paying for that “privilege,” he and his wife Dot got booted out of the home where they were living at the time.

You could say that Gould was the Garrison Keillor of his time and generation. His wry observations, mixed with a contrarian streak, offered a portrait of small-town Maine that few others have been able to capture—Ruth Moore (another forgotten Maine writer) is someone that comes to mind. Ironically, Moore’s book of letters contains several between her and Gould, as he was also fond of corresponding in a fashion that once marked how we kept in touch, long before social media made button pushing the bomb.

Nice turnout at the Lisbon Historical Society to hear about John Gould.

Nice turnout at the Lisbon Historical Society to hear about John Gould.

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Summer Reading Program

May wasn’t a red letter month for me and reading. While I read a couple of books, nothing I ran across seemed to captivate me. The topics were lackluster and perfunctory. I’m sure umpiring 23 games in 30 days had something to do with this malaise.

June hints at hope that I’ve found some new reading choices that will once again reignite my passion for the written word. Great books always do that for me. Better, deep thinkers and prolific authors proffer up a plethora of new options.

I’ve mentioned Neil Postman countless times before. His books critiquing television as well as the power of a medium to affect its message have framed my thinking on the topic. Postman also introduced me to Jacques Ellul, the French polymath.

While searching for someone or one book to kick start my reading heading into the summer months, I learned that no one’s ever written a biography on this intellectual giant of the 20th century. The closest I could come was a book offering up a comprehensive overview of his life and writing (he wrote more than 50 books and over 1,000 articles). This work, written by three Wheaton College (the Illinois-based school) professors, is called Understanding Jacques Ellul. Continue reading

Dreams and Songs

I’m not a poet. Many years ago I wrote some bad poetry and sent it into the college literary magazine at UMO. This was during my freshman year, and my poems got soundly rejected. I now leave the work of poetry to my son, Mark.

I mention poetry and a particular work of poetry for a reason that will soon become apparent.

John Berryman was a popular poet during the 1960s when it seems poetry was ubiquitous in America. That period was many things—both good and bad. It was a time when artists (and poets) had more cultural cred, or so it seems now in retrospect.

"The Dream Songs," by John Berryman

“The Dream Songs,” by John Berryman

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More Than Fried Chicken

Who would you consider our most iconic national figures in the U.S.? In addition to the faces on Mount Rushmore and recent presidents, what 10 to 15 names would you list for people from the past? One name that I’d include would be a man who “arrived” a bit later than most. That would be Harland Sanders, better known as simply, “Colonel Sanders.”

Sanders’ resume is a diverse and varied one. From his very humble beginnings in Henryville, Kentucky, he rose to prominence as an unlikely entrepreneur who refined a recipe for fried chicken, one that became known due his secret recipe containing “11 herbs and spices” that gave Kentucky Fried Chicken its distinctive flavor. It also allowed him to build a business enterprise that he sold at the age of 69, to John Y. Brown (former governor of Kentucky) and Jack Massey, a Memphis financier.

Today, Kentucky Fried Chicken (aka, KFC), has revenues of $23 billion, with nearly 19,000 outlets in 120 countries around the world. Not bad for a recipe for frying chicken that was forged in the backroom of Sanders’ family diner, in 1952.

Southern-fried chicken, corporate-style.

Southern-fried chicken, corporate-style.

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Laughing and Raging

I don’t pretend to know what a writer like Jonathan Franzen’s (or Stephen King’s for that matter) life is like. However, there are glimpses into a writer’s mind offered by others.

In the case of Franzen that look-see comes courtesy of Phlip Weinstein in Jonathan Franzen: The Comedy of Rage, a new book that proposes to be a “critical biography,” joining elements of a biography with those of literary criticism. Franzen may be a writer of fiction mainly, but his fiction emanates from his life. Weinstein unpacks elements of that life—his family and Midwestern upbringing being just two examples—and offers up themes and the motivation for Franzen’s critically acclaimed novels and nonfiction work.

Weinstein developed a friendship with Franzen when the latter returned to his alma mater, Swarthmore College, to teach creative writing seminars. These seminars took place just prior to publishing what would be Franzen’s second novel, Strong Motion.

This period in the 1990s was just prior to Franzen’s move to become arguably America’s best-known literary figure (as opposed to merely, America’s best-known, best-selling writer) at the end of the 20th century and entering the 21st. It was also before Franzen dropped what would become his coming out work, The Corrections, released in 2001.

There’s been a lot written of and about Franzen, from his well-publicized dust-up with Oprah (whom he was critical of), and the invite to come on her show; he ended up being dis-invited as a guest, This was right after The Corrections came out. I mean, who the hell disses Oprah, right? Weinstein details this and some of Franzen’s contrition that came later. I think this and a great deal of other things that he’s written—like his essays for The New Yorker, as well as his stellar nonfiction—has elevated Franzen as a prominent and important cultural player.

Making the cover of Time Magazine.

Making the cover of Time Magazine.

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