Crow's Nest

I tell the students to write without stopping, to keep the pen moving no matter what, even if you must repeat words repeat words repeat words like Gertrude Stein, or write the alphabet a,b,c,d,e,f,g,h,i,j,k, until the rhythm launches you back into the flow like Lynda Barry, even if none of it makes sense because what does make sense, anyway?  It seems that every piece of news these days leaves me baffled. So why not just keep going? Eventually, something interesting will fall from the pen. It may take years, but don't let that discourage you. If you pay attention and relax, even the most mundane things will be as astonishing as the first time you comprehended the distance of a star. That's what they say. But who knows? Relaxing is not easy.  

Marilynne Robinson's Gilead, I remember hearing, was difficult and religious reading, so I avoided it until Heather mentioned it.  I checked out the library's large print edition.  It is full of small profundities: "When things are taking their ordinary course, it is hard to remember what matters." 

I tell the students not to go back and re-read what they have written, not to worry about making it good, not yet, but just to keep going keep going. Still, I pause, lost, and retreat, paragraph by paragraph, desperate to find something decent. On the way to school, I have a vision that sends me running to Phyllis's. She isn't home, so I go get the kids, and tell everyone I run into. I spend the afternoon drawing crows. But the vision fades and now I feel silly, back at home, making dinner, listening to the news on the radio.  


Cluck or Duck?

Is that the question in your community?

It is in ours.

t-shirt design by Elyse Mische
chicken harness made by Heather Urness


The Stories Most Remembered, the Ones Rarest Told

Uncle Sam died yesterday.  My parents called to tell.  When we were children we made outings to Uncle Sam and Aunt Ida’s.  They lived in a neighborhood that was not far from ours, but foreign nonetheless, the houses smaller and set close to the street.  They had a furry little dog that wiggled around our legs, too excited to pet.  As I remember it, Aunt Ida was skinny, high cheekboned, tanned, half moons of color on the lids of her eyes that curved from her head like domes.  She laughed a lot and always smiled even when the smile turned sad.  It felt real easy-going at their house, Aunt Ida’s voice loud and musical, like the star of a sit-com, all oh’s and ah’s.  Uncle Sam was quieter but his voice was gruff and deep.  Dad told us stories that Uncle Sam fought in the thick of World War II. Five landings including Okinawa.  One of his fishing buddies collected WWII books and when the man died the books were passed on to Sam.  One day, one of his daughters was looking through a volume from Time Life when she saw her dad.  The photographer was standing at the back of the boat that had just landed at Palau. Soldiers were on the beach, some running, some, bellies to the ground, shooting into the thick of trees decorated with the flashing of enemy gunfire.  One Marine was turned, looking back towards the empty boat as if to say, isn’t anyone else coming?  That was Sam.

After victory was declared, Sam came home, after four years away.  My dad, just eight, remembers seeing this guy who looked like a movie star in a Marine uniform running up the street, running to see my dad’s Aunt Ida.  My dad and his little sister stood inside Chodak’s house spying through the venetian blinds at Sam and Ida sitting next to each other on the porch swing, kissing.  They had three children.

Sam never talked about what happened in the war.  We knew not to ask.  But late in life, he told my dad about being on watch and one night coming across a Japanese soldier and shooting him dead.  He couldn’t have been any older than Sam.  For days, he walked back and forth on watch, passing the man he had killed.  Then, he started talking to him.  You better get up, Sam would scold, or they’re going to kill you. He knew he was going a little bit crazy.

The last time I saw Sam was at the beginning of this past summer.  He walked stooped, leaning on a cane, pained.  It frustrated him, he admitted, but then he shrugged his thin shoulders, nothing he could do about it.  For some reason, that day, as we picnicked at my parents’ place, Sam talked about the war.  I had some room left on my camera, and I got a little footage of Sam, the very first time I ever heard him talking like that, age 89. 

Everyone there was amazed to hear Sam talking about the war, so Helen called her friend who archives interviews with Omaha Jews, and the man came out to Sam’s, twice because the first time, he forgot to turn on his recorder.  He shot two full hours of Sam telling stories.

It was at Uncle Sam and Aunt Ida’s house that we all got to try our first pair of headphones.  I was littlest, so I had to wait until last, watching my brothers’ expressions, standing there in the silence. Then Uncle Sam lowered the giant muffs over my ears and my mouth opened wide from the sensation, waves of music pulsing from the inside, out. 

Sam and Ida always seemed to appreciate each other.  It was sad to hear about Ida dying, knowing how lonely Sam would be.  He lived without Ida in the house for eight more years, up until two weeks ago.  My dad said he was real sharp through the end, that the doctors offered to do surgery on his gut to keep him alive, and Sam said no, he was ready to go.  He told my dad to make sure the book made it to his surviving daughter.  My dad knew he meant the one with his picture from the war.  He got real weak after that, his breathing fuzzy, his lungs filling up with fluid. His breath rattled and then he completely relaxed and was gone.

 FedmanSam Jan 3, 1924 - Sep 13, 2013

last picture my mom took of Uncle Sam, with my husband, early summer 2013


Journal #34,629G

You always carry a pen and paper even if just an unread flyer from school, blank on one side, folded twice and stuffed in the pocket alongside a pen. Every autumn you find them in your down vest, square bleached leaves with ink smeared from snow that fell as you struggled to hold the pen with an oversized mitten, walking while writing, to keep from freezing.  Of course, today the note makes no sense at all. Do you save it or throw it away? You already have boxes full of similar things. Entire notebooks, big and small, presents some, the remainder, black and blue and red hardcovers, purchased at Borders (when they were still viable) where cheap blank journals dominated the display just inside the sliding doors. You could never leave without buying several, guilty that of all the thousands of books in the store, you chose the ones with nothing inside.

And so you begin to wonder yet again: Why do we think of each other as one type or another?  Why do we feel such permanence in a forever changing world?  Are we never what we seem to be or only what we seem? How easily a stereotype dissolves into its opposite when we engage in conversation. How else to explain evolution if not for these changes of mind. If it weren't for certain habits, would there be revolutions? Why are you afraid of writing in journals that are too pretty and full of expectation? How long until you learn, it's not so much about convincing others as it is about convincing yourself?


Tiny Song #1694 - Silly Little Things

Give me an hour and I'll paint you a song,

Give me a year and I'll write it all down,

Give me a lifetime and I'll make it up you,

Somehow, somehow, I'll make it up to you.

I woke up today to a little Charlie Parr,

Making me cry at the shadows on the wall,

It's a silly little thing to be thankful for,

But it's the silly little things that make our days worthwhile.

Tad Neuhaus, ukulele
Joanna Dane, vocals


Even If I Try to Convince You That It Is, This Blog Post Is Not Important

It is tempting to find something else to do, anything besides sitting here and typing new sentences. Why? Not because I don't like to sit here and type sentences. I enjoy the challenge of ordering words, of attempting to make sense of things, mostly, these thoughts that burden me. But what drives me away from writing more than anything else is the sense that I should be doing something important. We writers and artists and musicians become well versed in telling ourselves and the world how high-minded, necessary, and important our work is. And certainly, the arts are a vital part of a healthy human society. But any individual artist is as expendable as a flower in a field full of blooms.

So the nagging never disappears.

When I was in my mid-twenties and just back from the Peace Corps and living in my parents' attic working on a novel, I spent a lot of time fretting about what people would think of me, wasting so much time, sitting alone, writing words that, most likely, no one would ever read. And then one day, it dawned on me, that the neighbors have much better things to do than to worry about what I was doing with my time. That was a great relief. Yes, the nagging can fade to a near silence, though it never completely disappears.  Some days, it roars: You have spent your morning writing a few paragraphs for your blog when you could have been volunteering at the school or cooking a meal for the homeless or tending your neglected garden or clearing the mess from the basement or writing long overdue thank you letters or communicating with your parents. What a schmuck you are!

But it seems that I'm not going to stop. So, better than berating myself, perhaps it's best to acknowledge that doing something that brings me a great amount of satisfaction and pleasure is good enough. Though it may be easier just to indulge in the delusion that there is nothing more important and necessary than composing this blog post.


Not Just for Dogs: Advice from Trish McConnell

Respect and understand the breed.

Investigate the issue with curiosity.

Provide excellent treats.

Be supportive and fun.

Stay positive.

Be consistent.


Stuff Charlie Parr Said That I Wrote in My Notebook While Watching the Documentary "Meeting Charlie Parr" at the Trout Museum During the Mile of Music Festival

No need to talk religion or politics.

Teach your kids to be satisfied with what they've got.

Pay attention to the music that vibrates you.

Do your best doing what you love and if people like it, great, and if they don't, that's fine too.

Be influenced by everything.

There's something interesting about each and every day.