Check out the animated show Bat out of Hell on Kickstarter!

Do fetuses dream of unborn sheep?

*young-philip-k-dick-600x744

An interesting and astute piece on all things “Phildickian” over at Chronicles:

But Dick also had a conservative side, represented by his strong (if heterodox) religious devotion, his distrust of large bureaucratic structures, and his longtime anti-abortion stance. In the last decade of his life, as he finally began receiving substantial amounts of money for his writing, Dick donated thousands of dollars to pro-life causes. He also wrote “The Pre-Persons,” a powerful story in which parents can abort any child under 12. Yet both the speech by Dick-the-hippie and the story by Dick-the-conservative are recognizably the work of the same man—both, in fact, were produced during the same period of his life. The first endorses rebellion, no matter how nihilistic, against a soulless apparatus of power; rebellion, at least, is human. And the story denies the government the right to define who is a human being, arguing that this will only produce a totalitarian system akin to the one the juvenile delinquents in the speech are rebelling against. One need not be pro-vandalism—or pro-life, for that matter—to approve of the underlying point.

*Dick and Percy: Separated at birth?(!)

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Uncle Walt Wrote a Novel!

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Who knew the multitudinous poet had it in him?

Apparently a grad student named Turpin did.

And apparently everyone does…now.

As noted in the New York Times, Whitman once wrote in 1882, “My serious wish were to have all those crude and boyish pieces quietly dropp’d in oblivion.” Later, when he heard someone was interested in publishing his past fiction, he said, “I should almost be tempted to shoot him if I had an opportunity.”

Clearly, Whitman hadn’t expected Turpin…

What came in the mail

Scan 1

Another cold spring again this year…

 

Two Very Short Poems about Favorite Fictional Characters of Mine

007 Escapes Again
As Bond jumped from the plane, some were stunned
to see a parachute fly out of his cumberbund.

Kinsey Millhone Moonlights as a Madame
She started a service (somewhat impolitic)
for very private investigations: “Call a Dick”.

The Last Leaf…

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The following is a longer version of a story which appears in the last issue of The Catholic Times, newspaper of the Diocese of La Crosse, before it ceased publication with the Oct. 29, 2015 issue.

Fostering the Truth and the Word in the truth of words: A look back at The Catholic Times

The towering oak and maple trees outside my window have been all but stripped bare; a leaden sky hangs low over La Crosse this early evening as it rains intermittently with gusts of cold wind turning the landscape into a cold muddy smudge.

If the recent mild weather in the Diocese of La Crosse was Wisconsin summer’s last resistance, today’s weather is an indication that Wisconsin autumn is most certainly here to stay…

At least for a while.

As I look out the window at the skeletal branches dripping with cold rain, I think about all my hours as a staff writer writing up the stories of the people and places of the diocese; I also think of all the miles of travel I’ve undertaken through the rich variety and dynamic faith of the 19 counties which make up the Diocese of La Crosse.

Then I watch another leaf from one of the oak trees as it is plucked by the wind and falls to the ground.

Yes, the leaf reminds me, given that this issue is the very last issue of the Catholic Times, today is an appropriate day to look back on the paper I’ve been honored to serve as writer, sometime editor, and correspondent for these last 15 years or so.

As hard as it is for me (and I imagine many readers) to acknowledge, this Oct. 29, 2015 issue of The Catholic Times represents the last “leaf” of the newspaper tradition in the Diocese of La Crosse, a tradition that began more than 80 years ago as the La Crosse Register began to serve the diocese. It was part of what was then known as the Register System of Newspapers headquartered in Denver.

Because the Denver publication owned its own printing press, it started a national issue of its paper in 1927 which we now know as the National Catholic Register (NCR).

According to a Jan. 19, 2011, NCR story on the purchase of the NCR by EWTN, the Denver paper also produced issues for a variety of dioceses around the country, including the La Crosse Register for our own diocese. Nationwide, the Register system peaked at more than 700,000 households in the 1950s across 35 diocesan editions and the national edition.

In the late 50s, the La Crosse Register became the Times Review – a name it kept until 2002 when it took on its current and final manifestation as The Catholic Times. Somewhat unique among Catholic papers in Wisconsin, The Catholic Times has prided itself on its independence – the Milwaukee, Madison and Superior dioceses all publish their paper under the Herald name, to reflect the publishing partnership of the three dioceses – while the Green Bay Compass also publishes as an independent entity.

I’ll leave it to others to explain the changing demographics and habits of consumption of the reading public (or whether a viable reading public even still exists!). Our beloved paper today holds its own at 29,000 (larger than many secular papers, dailies included) – and, if praise from within and outside the diocese is any indication, I’d like to think I speak for the newspaper’s entire team when I say that, as we put this last issue to bed, The Catholic Times is going out on top.

As press time nears for the Oct. 29 issue of The Catholic Times, the busy clicking of computer keys falls silent; the lively buzz of the Catholic Times newsroom dies away for a final time; the ringing phones and computer chimes which serve to alert the staff to incoming emails from sources, other news outlets and our readers ceases too. I’ll miss these signs of life – and I’ll also miss my readers.

Eighty years of black and white read all over will be filed away for good – along with the hundreds of thousands of stories that the diocese has delivered to the Catholic faithful to bolster their faith, inform their minds and consciences, while at the same time touching their hearts with the human tragedy and uplifting their spirits with the human comedy.

It is a bittersweet time for this newsman – and yet, I take solace in knowing I’ve executed my duties with aplomb and due diligence, faithful and obedient to the Magisterium of the Church which Jesus Christ our Savior founded, and in full confidence that Christ remains king of hearts, minds, countries and the universe…

In my office here at the Holy Crosse Diocesan Center, tacked to the bulletin board above my desk is a collection of handy phone numbers, schedules, calendars and dates to remember. I also have hanging there in large 26 point old timey typewriter font a copy of Peter Maurin’s “Easy Essays.” A founding member of the Catholic Worker and journalist, Maurin is best known for his work with Dorothy Day in establishing a Catholic alternative to the communist and socialist secular materialism which plagued (and to a large extent still plagues) the modern world.

Maurin’s “Easy Essays” were a series of free-verse poems which Maurin penned as a way to effectively cut to the chase when it came to providing the reader a concise analysis of the day’s issues from a Catholic standpoint. As Dorothy Day herself once said, “Peter [Maurin] was a revelation to me.”  So too the essay “Prostitution of the Press” was an epiphany for this freshman journalist. It is a sharp and concise definition of the need for and ideals of the Catholic press, one which served me well as a sort of verbal “vade mecum” in my travels around the diocese.

I’ve had an excellent formation as a Catholic journalist from the editors I’ve served, including Thomas Szyszkiewicz, Dan Rossini, Stan Gould and Denis Downey, and the tremendous models for journalism I found in the many writers I had the privilege to work with, especially former senior writer Patrick Slattery, and former staff writers Justin Dziowgo and Franz Klein.

No reporter is greater than the folks who make sure the paper gets to press in a timely and well-designed way and so I would also like to mention Paul Rupert, Jean James and Danelle Bjornson, the three production designers I’ve worked with here at the paper, and their excellent visual translation of the stories I’ve sought to bring to the households and parishes of the diocese. I reserve special mention, too, for Pam Willer, a 30+ year veteran of Catholic pressroom management who as much as anyone had kept the paper a dynamic and effective vehicle of catechesis from one news cycle to the next.

I can think of no better way to salute these folks as I end my time here as a Catholic Times reporter than by typing out Maurin’s essay in full:

The Prostitution of the Press

Modern newspapermen
try to give people
what they want.
Newspapermen
ought to give people
what they need.
To give people
what they want
but should not have
is to pander.
To give people
what they need.
or in other terms,
to make them want
what they ought to want,
is to foster.
To pander
to the bad in men
is to make men
inhuman to men.
To foster the good in men
is to make men
human to men
.

It is my hope that for these past 16 years I have done my best, from byline to dateline, lede to clincher, first word and last, to uphold Maurin’s ideal.

A special thanks to you, too, dear readers. As your man in the field, I am grateful and honored to be able to help foster the Good News of Christ as a regular part of your news cycle.

Thank you and God be with you!

Save the date

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Three Very Short Poems about Authors Who Wrote about the Sea

Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski
After years at sea, he adapted a nom
de plume
for English language readers,
still recognized as a Polish phenom,
among the very best of modern writers.

Had He Caught Moby Dick
Ahab would have had to buy a pan
to fry up all that leviathan.

The Man Who Swallowed an Ocean
The flesh eaten right off Santiago’s skeleton
became the villager’s favorite feuilleton,
but who knows what monsters from the deep
swam back to reappear in Papa’s sleep.

Maybe next year, Cormac…

This year belongs to a Belarussian – that is, a bella Belarussian

Svetlana Alexievich

And I have no doubt that Fables of the Dead will soon be up for nomination as well – as soon as it appears in print…

Stalin and Urine

In his new novel, The Festival of Ignorance, Milan Kundera has a character named Charles tell a story about one of Stalin’s closest comrades, Mikhail Kalinin, whose name was later bequeathed to the Prussian city of Königsberg (famous for the Bridge Problem devised by Immanuel Kant, who lived there in what were surely happier times).

“To this day all of Russia recalls a great ceremony to inaugurate an opera house in some city in Ukraine, during which Kalinin was giving a long, solemn speech. He had to break off every two minutes and, each time, as he left the rostrum, the orchestra would strike up some folk music, and lovely blond Ukrainian ballerinas would leap onto the stage and begin dancing. Each time he returned to the dais Kalinin was greeted with great applause; when he left again, the applause was still louder, to greet the advent of the blond ballerinas——and as his goings and comings grew more frequent, the applause grew longer and stronger, more heartfelt, so that the official celebration s=was transformed into a joyful mad orgiastic riot whose like the Soviet state had never seen or known.

“But alas, between times when Kalinin was back in the little group of his comrades, no one was interested in applauding his urine. Stalin would recite his anecdotes, and Kalinin was too disciplined to gather the courage to annoy him by his goings and comings from the toilet. The more so since, as he talked, Stalin would fix his gaze on Kalinin’s face growing paler and paler and tensing into a grimace. That would incite Stalin to slow his storytelling further, to insert new descriptions and digressions, and to drag out the climax till suddenly the contorted face before him would relax, the grimace vanished, the expression grew calm, and the head was wreathed in an aureole of peace; only then, knowing that Kalinin had once again lost his great struggle, Stalin would move swiftly to the denouement, rise from the table and, with a bright, friendly smile, bring the meeting to an end. All the other men would stand too, and stare cruelly at their comrade, who positioned himself behind the table, or behind a chair, to hide his wet trousers.”

from The Festival of Ignorance by Milan Kundera, pp 26-27

I was taken by Kundera’s descriptions of Stalin, here and throughout the novel, that I checked a new biography of the dictator by Oleg V. Khlevniuk to find out if this or any of the other anecdotes Kundera offers are true. I didn’t find the answer to that particular question (although Khlevniuk’s book is excellent—I was riveted for three or four days), but I did come across this story about some of Stalin’s final hours:

The bodyguard entered Stalin’s apartments with the packet of mail and started looking for him. After walking through several rooms, he finally found the vozhd [Вождь; Russian for “Leader”] in the small dining room. The sight must have been extremely disturbing. Stalin was lying helpless on the floor, which was wet beneath him. This last point is important not for reasons of schadenfreude or as an evocative detail but because it affected subsequent events. It appeared to the bodyguard that Stalin was unable to speak, but he did make a small hand gesture, beckoning him to approach. The bodyguard summoned his colleagues, who helped him lift Stalin onto the couch. They then rushed to telephone their immediate superior, State Security Minister Semen Ignatiev. According to the bodyguards’ later accounts, Ignatiev refused to make any decisions and told them to call members of the top leadership: Beria and Malenkov.

Perhaps out of fear, or perhaps out of unspoken ambivalence toward his recovery, Stalin’s comrades rejected the idea that they were facing a medical emergency. After Malenkov and Beria checked on the vozhd and found him sleeping, they proceeded to dismiss what the bodyguards had told them about his symptoms. Had he really had some sort of fit? The bodyguards were not doctors. Their imaginations could have been playing tricks on them. His colleagues probably also remembered that Stalin had recently accused his own doctors of being murderers. Who would take responsibility for call a doctor (or summoning a murderer, as the vozhd might see it) unless he were absolutely sure one was needed? A simple need for emergency medical care was transformed into a multidimensional political problem.

Stalin: New Biography of a Dictator, by Oleg V Khlevniuk

Fiction Submission

The following story was submitted to me in hopes of having more work published by Korrektiv Press. I explained that we really are a boutique publishing house, an elite group of writers catering to an even more elite group of readers (alas, you read that correctly), and that it would take some time—not to mention a long, hard look by our editorial staff—before his stuff ever saw it through to print. The fellow responded that this was just fine—suited him to a t, in fact, since he was looking for as much feedback as possible. To which I thought, well, why don’t we just post it to the blog, opening up his work to whatever commentary our good readers choose to provide. So … Have at it, folks.

Debita Nostra

Sedately, a hand as though Michelangelo’s Adam’s stretched toward the bulletproof window, outside of which sprung April’s sweet shoots, this man’s hand anticipating no divine spark, reaching instead for infinite space. Garrett stared there, almost praying in spite of it all, sing in me muse of many harried years, I am a man unskilled in the ways of contenting, lax index finger then firming to flick an ant—exiled or escaped from the anthill’s very brotherhood—not utterly destroying it, but doing a crippling work on the hind legs. Dominion over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. Should tell someone here. Insecticide. Black dots distracting work that could be done. Contrary to all efficiency and decency. Not that he cared but they would wouldn’t they. Black dots better than black plague, better than the oriental rat flea that gorged on blood and spread it across Europa, eliminating at least one hundred million in seven years, 1353-1346, as though yesterday, danse macabre, dance my little wounded ant, skeletal epitome of eternal mortality, set us dancing again, mon Dieu, Dominus. Dominion. Dominus vobiscum.

Garrett brushed back his black bangs that when hanging ceased just before they reached the eyebrows. Covering it. The broad forehead. That’s how God fits the brains in there, Uncle James had said more than once, often upon introducing him from afar but within earshot—and here he is, broad-forehead-big-brained bullox, pressing blood-blanched fingers against the off white keyboard, trying to formulate a response to client ZX3820 and failing, yet carrying on the slow-motion slog against the debt, stacking his hecatomb against the mortal god who sent summons biweekly: $123,000 total, for which reason we would like to offer you the payment plan option of $1,230 per month, which, o man, measured against your Cosmoception wages of $2,500 per month, leaves you $1,270 per month. Forget not the old cafe job that brought in $1,300 per month at best, if tips bespoke the jubilee generosity, that as dictated by that little known book of Leviticus and insisted upon by the prophet Isaiah, for the faint spirit shall become a mantle of praise enunciated by otherworldly unction.

Still failing to settle the right syntax for client ZX3820. Not for lack of sample form letters provided during orientation, but because not a single one fits. Refusing the forms as inadequate. Aristotle refusing Plato’s theory of the forms–if the father of all philosophical footnotes had one single one anyhow. Failed to figure how this world holds order also not only other-world Forms. Some semblance of home here. My father has many dwellings. Not is only in heaven but as it is, otherwise why the comparison? Client ZX3820—you enter the numbers and the computer program inserts a name which you, the staff, are unable to see, privacy—wants foundation. A shade of peach, non-scented, but can get it cheaper at even the convenience store. He heard now-departed father say have your convenience and hang all to not-yet-widowed mother when she suggested they purchase an eighty dollar keychain by which the doors would unlock and lock by your remote finger’s command. Garrett straightened his spine, felt a click or crack at the base of his back, wrote Have your convenience and hang it all as a draft, then deleted it posthaste, else that $2,500 departs like nymphs leaving you in the wasteland again, leaving no address for anyone, The yellow fog of debt that that rubs its back upon the window-panes, collectors licking their tongues into the corners of the everything.

The nymphs are departed,
And their friends, the loitering heirs of city directors;
Departed, have left no addresses
.

Departed, have taken with them the luggage of panic, for if deadened from dull days at work at least there no worried pacings punctuate the evenings as in the elder days, before this big break job, no heart kicks at every door knock as though Loan Co. Himself was on the other side, knocking. Dithyrambic pound with each envelope delivered, even sweepstakes nonsense sometimes looked like loan bills to bloodshot eyes. Taking more hours at the cafe, more coffee cups filled and customers humored over steaming pink salmon, seizing on others’ sick days almost as a parasite and still failing in spite of this to meet monthly payments, readying for default until an entirely oblique conversation with Loan Co. led to a letter that read “ . . . pleased to inform you that your loan has been rescheduled,” which meant, his Uncle James told him over the phone, reduced monthly payments by means of a second loan to help pay off the first which meant increased interest rates but extended repayment schedule so that at least the monthly interest and a bit of the capital balance would be in the hands of the bank every thirty days.