Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Duluth Writers Celebrate Their Authorship

David Beard, UMD professor of rhetoric.
Last night a group of authors with UMD Department of Writing Studies affiliations met at the Zeitgeist to share the joys of achievement. After a meal together in the cafe's upstairs back room, they reconvened in the Zeitgeist Atrium for a special program that included speakers and the sharing of treasures including the publication of Remnants of the Disappeared, Sea/Words, the new issue of the Split Rock Review, Clockwork Rhetoric, and many, many more. Professor David Beard served as master of ceremonies for this informal affair.

The mood was upbeat and speakers during the brief program included Terrance Griep, Ava Francesca Battocchio on behalf of Minerva Zine, and Kate Monson of PRØOF. Griep, aka Spider-Baby in pro wrestling circles, read an article he wrote for Lavender magazine as Spider-Baby, the first openly gay pro wrestler and also a former champion. His motto from the ring is, "Boo me for what I do, don't boo me for what I am." He plays the role of a "bad guy" in his wrestling persona but in real life is quite humorous. He noted that pro wrestlers are not exactly famous for being introspective or sensitive.

Prof. Beard next introduced Ava Francesca Battocchio, a longstanding contributor to Minerva who writes under the name 'afbat' "because even my own mother got sick of taking a breath between my compound Calabrese first name and Venetian last name. Despite it being a aesthetically pleasing on paper, it takes a lot of technological training to narrowly avoid typo tragedies."

Ava, a local clothing magnate (inside joke) has been an active participant and supporter of the arts. After apologizing for how loud she speaks (megaphone-strength vocals) she shared a personal story that showed the power of the written word.

Last winter, I published an article about being a survivor of sexual assault. It was the first time that I took back control and transitioned out of that victim role. I was nervous about telling my story but only for how it would alter others' perceptions of me. Shortly after its release, I was trudging my way down that street, and a woman stopped me. We were loose acquaintances, the kind with whom you huddle together for warmth during a smoke while talking about the endless cold weather. She told me that she had read my article and because of that, she was encouraged to report her sexual assault and seek counseling. I had no idea up until then that my voice could have such an impact. It solidified my decision to be a PAVSA advocate. Minerva is about community, expression and inspiration. We're looking for more voices, meaning contributors and more megaphones, meaning sponsors to help facilitate. Thank you to the University of Minnesota Arts and Humanities Grant, David Beard, Zeitgeist, and you, for attending.

Kate Monson of Prove Collective shared about their own publication PRØOF expressing appreciation for past contributors and future. The magazine will problem remain an online production as print costs have been exorbitant for the time being.

Afterwards the writers and friends circulated, looking at one another's works, and making new acquaintances. A rewarding event for everyone involved.

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For what it's worth I, too, had a new book to celebrate. Unremembered Histories went into print this spring after three years as an eBook. Within the coming weeks I hope to see my children's book A Remarkable Tale from the Land of Podd appear in print. This link will take you to all my current books and book projects.

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And don't forget tonight's opening reception at the Tweed. Resurfaced and Reformed: Evolution in Studio Ceramics will be a highlight of the season. 6-8 p.m. Music by the Deja Vu Drifters.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Solzhenitsyn Indictment of the West Still Stands

“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” ― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956

In sorting papers from my files I stumbled upon Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's 1978 Harvard Commencement Address titled "A World Split Apart." I remember at the time it created quite a stir as the great author, now four years into his exile from Soviet Russia, shone a fierce light on the status of our own Western culture.

I recall reading one review which stated that he would never get another speaking engagement. It was a harsh indictment of our way of life, through and through. His biggest concern is that we as Americans were not really ready to lead the world, in part because we have never understood the world and how it sees us.

Part of the problem is due to our arrogance, believing in the superiority of our Enlightenment foundations. States Solzhenitsyn:

Today it would be retrogressive to hold on to the ossified formulas of the Enlightenment. Such social dogmatism leaves us helpless before the trials of our times.

Even if we are spared destruction by war, life will have to change in order not to perish on its own. We cannot avoid reassessing the fundamental definitions of human life and society. Is it true that man is above everything? Is there no Superior Spirit above him? Is it right that man's life and society's activities should be ruled by material expansion above all? Is it permissible to promote such expansion to the detriment of our integral spiritual life?

If the world has not approached its end, it has reached a major watershed in history, equal in importance to the turn from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. It will demand from us a spiritual blaze; we shall have to rise to a new height of vision, to a new level of life, where our physical nature will not be cursed, as in the Middle Ages, but even more importantly, our spiritual being will not be trampled upon, as in the Modern Era.

The ascension is similar to climbing onto the next anthropological stage. No one on earth has any other way left but — upward.

But the author of these words appears pessimistic as he goes on to note our cowardice, our compromises and especially the loss of our moral compass which defines right and wrong as whether it is legal or not.

Western society has chosen for itself the organization best suited to its purposes and one I might call legalistic. The limits of human rights and rightness are determined by a system of laws; such limits are very broad. People in the West have acquired considerable skill in using, interpreting, and manipulating law (though laws tend to be too complicated for an average person to understand without the help of an expert). Every conflict is solved according to the letter of the law and this is considered to be the ultimate solution.

If one is risen from a legal point of view, nothing more is required, nobody may mention that one could still not be right, and urge self-restraint or a renunciation of these rights, call for sacrifice and selfless risk: this would simply sound absurd. Voluntary self-restraint is almost unheard of: everybody strives toward further expansion to the extreme limit of the legal frames. (An oil company is legally blameless when it buys up an invention of a new type of energy in order to prevent its use. A food product manufacturer is legally blameless when he poisons his produce to make it last longer: after all, people are free not to purchase it.)

I have spent all my life under a Communist regime and I will tell you that a society without any objective legal scale is a terrible one indeed. But a society based on the letter of the law and never reaching any higher fails to take full advantage of the full range of human possibilities. The letter of the law is too cold and formal to have a beneficial influence on society. Whenever the tissue of life is woven of legalistic relationships, this creates an atmosphere of spiritual mediocrity that paralyzes man's noblest impulses.

And it will be simply impossible to bear up to the trials of this threatening century with nothing but the supports of a legalistic structure.

These words were written during the Cold War, just before Ayatollah Khomeini overthrew the Western-propped Shah of Iran. The collapse of Communism gave us more years to feel self-confident, but the new challenges in our world are harder to fit into neat little explanations to comfort us.

Last night I watched a video about the collapse of our economy. Someone from Germany recently told me that the global economy is propped on our shoulders, but what if that gives? The speaker in this video stated that he anticipates 25 years of global anarchy, which sounds pretty darn scary to me.

When you read the speech in its entirety, it's sobering.

Meantime, "he not busy bein' born is busy dying."  

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Five Qualities Shared by Balzac, Picasso and Dylan

A lot of my spare time during the first months of summer this year was spent preparing a Tweevenings lecture on the theme Picasso, Storytelling and The Unknown Masterpiece. Most teachers and writers are as invigorated by the process of researching their themes as they are ultimately sharing them with others. The lecture or article assignment becomes the catalyst, legitimizing our time investment in the project.

Research is a bit like mining. Usually there is way more information dug up than there is space or time to transmit it. Once collected, you must choose which gems to present and which to set aside for future polishing.

One evening in late July I had an "Aha!" moment. I'd become aware of many parallels between the 19th century author Honore de Balzac's life and the 20th century artist Pablo Picasso and as I lay them side-by-side I noted that Bob Dylan's career has revealed similar characteristics and attributes. Here are five that especially stand out.

Each left home at age 19 to live in the cultural arts center of the world. And within a relatively short time frame each caught the attention of people who had connections and the power to advance their careers.

Picasso arrived in Paris at the turn of the century, having honed his skills as a painter and draftsman in Spain left his home country to be part of the art center of the world. Dylan similarly left Minnesota for the New York, which had now become the world's arts and culture power center as a result of Europe's WW2 talent drain when many leading authors and artists fled the Nazis and the Continent.

Balzac's real situation was just a tad bit different, though similar. His family moved to Paris when he was in his mid-teens. Paris was the bustling center of culture and arts at the time. When he was 19 his family moved away from Paris to a smaller town outside the city. Balzac's ambition to become an author led him to remain in Paris, leaving home as his family moved away.

Interestingly, all three men changed their names. Balzac added stature to his name by adding the "de" between his first and last names; Honore de Balzac. Robert Zimmerman became Bob Dylan. Pablo Ruiz y Picasso was actually baptized Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Martyr Patricio Clito. Shortening to Picasso, however, reflects more practicality than ambition.

Balzac, Picasso and Dylan were all innovators. Balzac re-shaped literary fiction by bringing a new attention to detail to every aspect of life in every aspect of society. Picasso was on the forefront of many avant garde movements, most famously cubism, but also collage, the incorporation of African influences, surrealism and others, ever exploring and redefining classical and cutting edge methods with his own keen sensibilities. Likewise Dylan took the music scene in new directions

Lee Marshall, in his book Bob Dylan: The Never Ending Star, explains. “Dylan is the foundational figure in rock culture. Dylan’s shift to electric music brought to the mainstream the political authority and communal links of his folk past while his song-writing skills offered the exemplar of what could be achieved artistically within the new form.”

Balzac, who died at age 51, wrote 90 novels, novellas and major stories. His masterwork The Human Comedy filled 26 volumes. Picasso was similarly prolific, producing 50,000 works of art in his lifetime, including 1,885 paintings; 1,228 sculptures; 2,880 ceramics; 18,095 engravings; 6,112 lithographs; and approximately 12,000 drawings, as well as numerous linocuts, tapestries, and rugs, not to mention his letters, poetry and plays. Dylan's output has been equally ceaseless, having recorded more than 600 original songs, 34 albums, plus paintings, sculpture. His performances have been an art form in themselves with more than 100 original concerts a year for more than 25 years.

Balzac's influence was extensive. Marcel Proust, Émile Zola, Charles Dickens, Edgar Allan Poe, Eça de Queirós, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Gustave Flaubert, Benito Pérez Galdós, Marie Corelli, Henry James, William Faulkner, Jack Kerouac, and Italo Calvino, and philosophers such as Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx all cite Balzac's influence. His simple story The Unknown Masterpiece influence avant garde artists decades later, including Cezanne, Matisse and Picasso, who at one point lived in the house that is the setting for part one of the book, the very studio where Le Guernica was painted, his own masterwork.

Picasso's influence is too pervasive to cite. All modern artists acknowledge a debt to him. A recent retrospective by the Metropolitan Museum of Art reveals the magnitude of Picasso's influence.
Comparing Dylan to Gutenberg as I did in a recent blog entry may have been overstating the case, but there's no denying that Dylan has been an significant force in contemporary culture these past fifty-plus years.

Illustration for The Unknown Masterpiece.
Balzac, Picasso and Dylan found inspiration from their relationships with women. The Muse appears to have been most actively engaged when each was in an enlivening relationship. During his early career Balzac's relationships with society women enabled him to gain a deep understanding of the interior landscape of women, knowledge which was not wasted on the aspiring author. The stories of Picasso's muses are all part of the Picasso legend, woven into modern art history. Much of Dylan's music details the same relational longings and anguish over estranged relationship. Though he's gone to great lengths to keep his private life out of the public eye, he is a high profile person in an intensely media-driven world.

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A sixth characteristic of the three men is the manner in which their names stand alone, revealing their signatory power. Balzac. Picasso. Dylan.

* * * *

Much more could be said, but the five notions are out there...

How about you? Which of these qualities do you share? As Balzac once wrote,
"It is easy to sit up and take notice, What is difficult is getting up and taking action."

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Insurance Salesman Sketch


The Insurance Salesman

Lily: So, why can’t I just get one policy that covers everything?

Sam: I realize it’s complicated. That’s why you need a salesman who understands your needs. We live in an age of specialization, so nowadays you need multiple policies because no one policy covers all your needs. It’s like shampoo. There used to be dandruff shampoo and regular. Now it’s fine hair, greasy hair, dry hair, with conditioner, and without, with and without aruba oil, gluten free… You know how it is.

Lily: I get it, I think.

Sam: Right. So, I recommend you start with the liability policy from Standard, because that one is required by law. And then you will want the passenger rider.

Lily: You mean liability doesn’t cover passengers?

Sam: Not any more. Only the other people you hit, like pedestrians and passengers in other cars.

Lily: Oh… o.k. What about kids on bikes.

Sam: That’s an add-on, but you should probably do it. And then you’ll want the add-on for people in your own car if you get hit while you’re not driving.

Lily: You mean like when I’m stopped at a light.

Sam: No, no, that’s considered driving. Like when you are parked at the curb. If you get hit, say like by a man who lost control because he was having a heart attack, well, you’ll be liable if someone else in your car gets hurt.

Lily: Do I need coverage for if they get hurt after they get out of my car?

Sam: Haha. That’s funny Miss Kenton.

Lily: Lily.

Sam: And then you’ll naturally want collision insurance, since you’re still making payments on that car, which is…?

Lily: Expensive. It’s an expensive car.

Sam: Yes. And just so you know, you don’t have to get full collision. You can get a reduced rate if you choose city collisions over rural collisions. Will you be doing any rural driving?

Lily: Yes, I…

Sam: You can save quite a bit if you don’t drive out somewhere you might hit a cow, or a deer.

Lily: My mother lives out toward Grand Rapids.

Sam: For sure you don’t want to hit your mother.

Lily: I meant, I’ll want to visit her sometimes… like on her birthday, and for the holidays.

Sam: You can call her. Save quite a bit on gas, too.

Lily: Just put it on there. Anything else?

Sam: Hail damage is extra. Broken windows extra. And if your car gets dinged in a parking lot, that’s extra.

Lily: Why is that extra?

Sam: Why ask why? OK, here’s one more you’ll want. I sell it to everyone because I care about my customers and want them to sleep better at night. Insurance for the insurance policies, just in case you get a policy where they don’t cover you when they say they will.

Lily: Why would you sell me policies for companies that don’t keep their word?

Sam: I didn’t say they don’t keep their word. I’m not permitted to say that. But it’s a good policy. Covers everything, except acts of God.

Lily: What do they consider an act of God?

Sam: Well, you know, if you’re a religious person who believes God is omnipotent and controls everything, everything is an act of God.

Lily: So nothing is covered? You mean, you’re selling a policy that covers nothing?

Sam: I’ve already sold you policies that cover everything else. You might as well have one that covers nothing. All things considered, the price is very reasonable. Should I put you down for one or two?

* * * *
With apologies to my friends who sell insurance. 

Friday, September 26, 2014

Seven Books By Ed Newman

I sold my first book to Thomas Nelson in 1993. But it was the seventh book in a series that never went beyond the first four. Though paid, it would have been more gratifying to have seen the book in print. It's always awkward to explain that your "first book" was really your second, but the first wasn't published.

What follows here are brief descriptions of my first four eBooks, one of which has been converted to print. It's my hope to convert the other three in a reasonable amount of time (as in, hopefully the coming year.) You can also read about my other current book projects as well.

The Red Scorpion
A haunted house story with a supernatural twist. Lord of the Flies meets Stephen King. One Amazon reviewer called it "a good mystery/suspense/science fiction thriller... carefully crafted and realistically portrayed." A Nook reader wrote, "This book kept me reading straight through till the end. It kept me guessing and wondering what would happen next."

Available on Kindle or here on Nook.  

Unremembered Histories
The paranormal becomes the common denominator in these six original stories. An Amazon.com reviewer wrote, "If you value the short-story form, written in a way that entertains, informs, and prompts you to think, then there's a lot to appreciate in this little gem."

In the 1990's one of my favorite stories, Duel of the Poets, was translated into Croatian to be a cornerstone for a poetry site there.

Also available as an eBook for the Nook.

Newmanesque is my second collection of original short fiction. This set of stories includes The M Zone, A Poem About Truth, The Unfinished Stories of Richard Allen Garston, The Nose, and Terrorists Preying, which has been translated into French by Aude Fondard. One reader of these stories wrote, “My very first impression is that there's a certain style in some ways similar to Franz Kafka which is good and intense… very mysterious for one doesn't know where the whole thing is going to go, but it's sure that there's a message to be captured from the many moments stated in the short sentences that are all poignant to the story."

Purchase a Kindle version of the book here.
It is also available for the Nook here.

The Breaking Point and Other Stories
This, my third collection of short stories, features my winning 1991 Arrowhead Regional Fiction Competition story "The Breaking Point" plus four other stories. The stories here are more conventional, with the usual twists. One reader wrote that the stories "contain insight into relationships" with "subject matter regarding love relationship's emotions, expectations, illusions, and delusions in the most mundane characters." In the midst of their ordinary lives there is a decisive extraordinary event.

Most of the drama in peoples' lives is on the inside. We see blank expressions or listlessness, but there's a cauldron beneath the surface and occasionally it bubbles over into actions others are forced to take notice of. "I never knew... He always seemed like such a nice guy." 

Available as an eBook on Amazon.com here.
It is also available for the Nook here.

COMING SOON! (Very Soon)
A Remarkable Tale from the Land of Podd
The good people of Podd are a strange lot. Everyone in the kingdom thinks himself or herself to be somehow odd or weird—and considers everyone else to be perfectly normal. Some worry they have funny hair; others don’t like the shape of their noses; and still more think their eyes look strange.

When an enemy threatens to march his army into Podd, the king (who thinks he has very odd-looking feet) looks for a hero to defend the country. But everyone he asks refuses to lead Podd’s army, arguing their problems make them too weird to save the kingdom. Will the citizens of Podd learn to accept themselves for who they are and find the courage to defend the realm, or are the land of Podd and its people doomed?

Written by Ed Newman and illustrated by Ian Welshons, A Remarkable Tale from the Land of Podd uses wry Seussian humor, rhyme, and captivating illustrations to teach an important lesson about self-awareness and self-worth. No matter how we perceive ourselves, we can make the most of what we’ve got—and others probably won’t even notice what we don’t like about ourselves anyway.

Writing Exercises
How to Teach Writing and Prepare Your Favorite Students for College, Life and Everything Else.
Good writing skills are essential to success. The philosophy for teaching writing that I have outlined in this short book are guaranteed to make a difference in your child’s life. I honestly believe that. This is a book was written to help home school teachers but is actually for anyone interested in helping kids improve their writing skills. Essentially the book offers an original teaching approach that helps unstop critical barriers that inhibit young students. The exercises are designed to teach critical skills and tactics, and to make writing fun.

I am currently in search of a publisher. I believe this book offers something that is potentially invaluable.

In the spring of 2012 I was involved in an exhilarating collaborative art project called Artist Kamikaze IV. This was my second year and I was initially paired with clothing artist Patricia Mahnke. The project we undertook was ambitious so we didn't waste any time meeting to outline a plan. What we decided was to create a character and costume, whom I would then paint. Eventually this evolved into two characters and costumes.

As the project evolved we had the good fortune of being able to obtain a third partner, Kate Dupre, who brought photography and Photoshop skills to the project. I found the completed project so cool that I felt it shouldn't be such a temporary piece. With assistance I had the story and images re-assembled into an eBook which is available Free on iTunes.

You can read the beginning of the story here without downloading.

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I've written a few more books besides these and have several projects in the works, but the seven above are my current projects. Let me know what you think.

Meantime, keep reading. It's one of the great gateways to life.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Items of Note for the Weekend Ahead

“The person who appreciates a great work of art has the feeling that the work grows in him as he becomes involved in a prolonged capturing of emerging marginal meanings. He feels that he, too, is creative, that he himself is adding to his experience and understanding. Moreover, he wants to confront the work of art many times. He is not easily tired of it, as he would be had he read a purely logical statement. He realizes that the work of art does not merely transmit information; it produces pleasure.” ~ Silvano Arieti

It's that time of year when Mother Nature pulls out he paint brush and begins splashing colors across the landscape. All shades of red, yellow and orange will be predominant, but a few years back I captured a photo with all colors of the rainbow on a single tree.

This weekend is what is often labeled the "peak" for this annual spectacle of color. Our North Shore is such an eyeful of wonder each year that people come fairly long distances to be here at this time of the year, driving that most scenic Highway 61 up the North Shore of Lake Superior from Two Harbors to Grand Portage. Lake views along the way are always breathtaking, but if you get the weather right, it's glorious in all every direction you look.

The region is so beautiful that it is only natural that artists would make their homes here. What's not so common is that many of these artists decided to use the occasion to open their studios and share their work, and sometimes their homes, with people who have already proven they appreciate beauty.

Thus was born the Crossing Borders Studio Tour.

Tomorrow, September 26 through October 5 you're invited not only to drive our beautiful North Shore, but you're also invited to visit some of our many artists along the way. We have printmakers, potters, painters, sculptors and other artisans who not only make wonderful work, they are interesting people as well.

And the weather forecast is looking pretty good. Here's the map to help you along the way.

Saturday evening there will be another multimedia event featuring the St. Paul's Zeitgeist New Music Ensemble, composer Kathy McTavish and poet Sheila Packa in a Duluth performance of the new chamber work: høle in the skY.

The event/installation is being held in the gymnasium at Trepanier Hall, the former YWCA at 202 W. Second Street in Duluth.

Guests are invited to bring their devices to this immersive, live performance & installation ... You'll have the opportunity to wander / drill down / traverse / write to the screen. This is a form of interactive performance art and a Happening.

More information and tickets here.

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There's really much more to share than I have time here this a.m. Pick up a Transistor or a Reader for more art to see. The Tweed has a great ceramics show now, and you really must see the Duluth Art Institute galleries right now.

Then again, from time to time it's just plain good to get back to nature. Whether you bring a camera or a journal, it's up to you. Just do it.

* * * *

Unremembered Histories, my volume of short stories with a supernatural twist, is available at Goin' Postal in Superior and (soon) Beaners Central in Duluth.  If you live elsewhere, it's getting good reviews and is available everywhere through Amazon.com.