Idle Thoughts

Rants, Raves, and Revelations . . . oh my!

A Memorial to the Past and a Nod to the Present May 19, 2011

This is a community profile I wrote back in March for my feature-writing class at Ball State for Mark Massé.  I decided to do the Near West Side neighborhood of South Bend because of its rich history.  It has a bad reputation sometimes, but it just needs a little TLC and someone to actually care about the people and the area — the whole area, not just the historic part.

On the west side of South Bend, Ind., the

Looking down Thomas Street. Sorry for the picture quality. My camera wasn't behaving. Photo © 2011, Kate Wehlann

sun shines on the remnants of snow as winter reluctantly releases its grip on Thomas Street in the Near West Side neighborhood.  The dingy brown grass, withered by the cold and snow is dotted with patches of green, revealing the silent hope of spring.  A few children, freed from school for the day call out to one another as school buses drop them off.  Nearby, a train whistles and startles a flock of returning birds into flight.  Cars sit parked on the street lined with homes and scattered boutique shops.  Some of the houses are painted bright colors, sharply contrasting their more nondescript neighbors.  Others appear to be falling into disrepair.  Graffiti marks walls and street signs, and a few children play in a fenced-in playground outside the St. Stephen’s School building.  A police siren wails in the distance.

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The Near West Side neighborhood is the city’s oldest neighborhood, containing much of the city’s history.  The Oliver House and Studebaker mansion and its crumbling factory buildings are surrounded by the hundred-year-old homes that once belonged to the workers of their factories.  Other homes in the neighborhood were occupied by workers from the Stevenson Underwear Mill, which produced woolen long johns in a red brick factory along the St. Joseph River.

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The name of Studebaker is no stranger to South Bend.  In the book “Images of America: South Bend, Indiana,” Kay Marnon Danielson says the Studebaker enterprise began as Studebaker Wagon Works, which grew to be the largest wagon manufacturer in the world and the only business of its kind to “successfully switch from horse drawn conveyances to gasoline powered vehicles.”  While no Studebakers are in production today, there is a museum to the brand at 895 Thomas Street, and the mansion belonging to Clement Studebaker still stands in stone splendor on W. Washington Street.  After the home’s completion in 1889, the South Bend Times and Tribune wrote: “The house, in its proportions and appointments probably surpasses anything in Indiana.  It is an embodiment of all the wealth and taste can suggest, and modern skill and invention devise.”

The Studabaker Mansion, still decked out a little for Christmas, if you notice the wreaths. Photo © 2011, Kate Wehlann


My dad worked here for a while. Nice restaurant in a beautiful house.

Throughout its history, it has housed Studebakers and, after having to be sold when Clement’s son George declared bankruptcy, sat vacant for seven years before being used by the Red Cross during World War II.  After that, the home was occupied by the E.M. Morris School for Crippled Children from 1947 until 1970.  Ten years later, the home became what it is today – a restaurant and South Bend landmark, Tippecanoe Place.

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Nearby at 808 West Washington Street, another mansion stands.  Copshaholm is a 38-room Romanesque Queen Anne house and was occupied for 72 years by the J.D. Oliver family.

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The Oliver Chilled Plow Works was the other major employer of the city.  A young Scottish immigrant, James Oliver arrived in the United States in 1837.  The Oliver Chilled Plow Works worked in conjunction with the Studebakers, using Studebaker wagon runners in their factory and products.  According to Danielson, Oliver secured 45 patents for his plow designs, “overshadowing all his other products.”  His son, J.D. took over the business and built Copshaholm for his family in 1895.  According to a video played before tours of the house, they moved in on New Year’s Day 1896.

The Oliver Mansion is a great place to tour through if you're interested in Indiana History, specifically South Bend. Photo © 2011, Kate Wehlann

The home was donated to the South Bend Center for History in the 1980s, and its contents are completely original, even down to the spices in the kitchen cabinet and the jackets in the butler’s closet belonging to the Oliver butler, Oscar, says Tim Jurgonski, a tour guide at the Oliver Mansion.  Catherine Oliver, the only unmarried daughter of J.D., redecorated the house to suite her tastes after the deaths of her parents, leaving many rooms painted “sea-foam green and Pepto Bismol pink,” Jurgonski says, laughing.

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Copshaholm sits on the property of the Center for History, a museum dedicated to South Bend’s varied history, including its industry, sports, academia and role in the civil rights movement.

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In the basement of the Center for History, Kristen Madden works as an archivist.

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“The idea of the chilled steel plow revolutionized agriculture . . . and my family grew up with Studebakers.  Studebaker was a name that everybody was aware of and it would have brought jobs into the area,” says Madden.  The Olivers and Studebakers had an enormous impact on the economy of South Bend.

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Madden recently moved to the west side.  Despite the bad reputation regarding the crime that has steadily increased since the closure of the factories and the suburbanization of those who once lived there, she says she doesn’t feel it to be a problem.

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“I think in a lot of cities there’s always that area that’s a little more dangerous, but at the same time, I know I’ve never felt particularly afraid of being in the area,” she says.

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Noreen Deane-Moran, an English professor at Notre Dame University and president of the Near West Side Neighborhood Organization, agrees.  She lives in the historic section of the neighborhood.  She says the community is split between the historic section, where crime is low and incomes are higher, and the rest of the neighborhood with lower incomes and higher crime.

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“If you were to look at the census data, you’d find the lowest income, lowest education, highest crime.  However, if you were to look specifically at the historic area, you would find the opposite of all those things,” says Deane-Moran.  “Unless they’re looking for quick drug money, it [crime] is not usually against people they don’t know – they get in cross fires with themselves.”

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The historic area of the Near West Side is classified as a national historic district, which means little.  According to the National Park Service, local historic districts have the highest level of protection, while national historic districts are simply a designation.  “We have no controls, no anything,” Deane-Moran says.  The neighborhood contains many beautifully renovated homes owned by people who love those homes and take pride in their history, she says.  While new neighbors are welcome, the real estate of this side of the neighborhood has attracted some unwanted attention.  “You have every landlord or lawyer in the city who would like to get an old house in a residential situation and change it to commercial and so you have to fight that all the time,” Deane-Moran says.

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After World War II, many of the houses once occupied by factory workers were split into sometimes as many as four or five apartments to accommodate returning soldiers.  There was also a movement from the city to suburbia after the war, leaving behind those who couldn’t afford to do so, and Deane-Moran says this leads to crime.  To combat this progression, many families have worked to restore these homes to single-family dwellings and to bring the neighborhood back to its former state.

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“We changed from lots of boarding houses, crack houses, gambling houses and drug houses,” says Deane-Moran.  “We demolished two or three blocks and that has low- and moderate-income apartments now . . . My own house, I bought for a dollar and we moved it and then restored it completely . . . There are no programs to fix old homes up, so all the renovation is due to blood, sweat and tears because they live without heat or electricity for a couple years and actually put it together.”

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The neighborhood has increased in population 17.4 percent, from 1,583 in 1990 to 1,859 in 2000.  In this neighborhood, it is the Caucasian population that is the minority, with the African American population nearing three times that of Caucasians and more than six times that of the Hispanic.  In 2010, the national percentage of African Americans was 12.6 percent of the population, only a fifth of the percentage in the Near West Side.  With an average household income in 2000 of only $13,410, nearly 40 percent of the neighborhood is below the poverty line.  Aside from John F. Kennedy Elementary School, located in a largely African American section of the neighborhood, the schools that service the area have the lowest standardized test scores and lowest graduation rates.  However, there is still much pride in the area, revolving primarily around history – the houses in the historic area and the Civil Rights Era work in the African American neighborhoods.

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The future of the neighborhood remains to be seen, but it has secured its place in the history of industry and the Midwest.

 

At Long Last May 2, 2011

Filed under: Current Events,Writings — idlethoughtsblog @ 11:31 am
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Posted to the Wall Street Journal Facebook page

“Have you forgotten, how it felt that day? 

To see your homeland under fire

And her people blown away

Have you forgotten when those towers fell

We had neighbors still inside goin’ through a livin’ hell

And we vow to get the ones behind Bin Laden

Have you forgotten?”

~ Lyrics from “Have You Forgotten” sung by Darryl Worley

———

In a word, no.

——-

On September 11, 2001, the American people were introduced to a man who would become the greatest symbol of evil of the 21st Century thus far. He was the face and the order behind the attacks on the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and another location still speculated, killing thousands and leaving a nation grieving and angry. This man, his ideology, and those who followed him sparked a war that has lasted almost ten years, costing the lives of thousands. While the British newspaper, The Independent, and M15 sources claim the terrorists who bombed the rush hour London subways on July 7, 2005 acted independently from Al Qaeda, it isn’t a stretch to think the bombers were influenced by a man I can now, finally, refer to in the past tense.

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I’m ashamed as a journalism major to say that I found out about Osama bin Laden’s death through a Facebook status last night around ten-fifteen or so. According to a Wall Street Journal article, bin Laden was killed in a “targeted attack in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad, roughly 40 miles outside the capital city of Islamabad . . .” As of the last several news reports I’ve found, his body has been dumped into the sea (as if the world’s waters needed any more pollution) at no definitive location to avoid his burial ground becoming an extremist shrine. After more than ten years (another article in the WSJ tells me he’s been running since even before 9/11), he’s finally gone.

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From what I understand, he was on dialysis. Personally, I think it would have been more fitting for him to live on until the end of his days, suffering through a disease than be killed as he was to become what some will call a martyr, but I’m just a college student. What do I know?

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I logged into Facebook this morning again and saw another status among many praising our soldiers for a job well done and expressing happiness that bin Laden was no more. It said “Shame on us for rejoicing over Osama Bin Laden’s death…that’s another soul in Hell. Heaven surley [sic] isn’t rejoicing . . .” I’m inclined to say I agree.

———–

Now, before anyone gets angry and breaks out the pitchforks about this, let me explain. As Christians, I, along with my friend, believe that we serve a merciful God who has no desire to see His creation burn in a place He designed for the ultimate evil, Satan. There’s no true joy in the death of a human being, even one as wicked as bin Laden. However, I can also agree with some of the comments I found when I just went to copy and paste the status. One, specifically.

“I agree with you 100%.  it [sic] is sad that he is burning in hell for eternity. However, we are all given the chance to choose God over Satan and he made his choice. I am not rejoicing that he is burning in hell, but I am happy for all those who lost loved ones on 9/11. maybe [sic] this can give them a little closure. I cant [sic] imagine how they felt on that day or how they feel today.”

When I think of the feelings going through America today, I don’t really think it’s joy, per se, though the expressions and the celebrations certainly make it sound that way. I see it as dark satisfaction, mixed with a sense of closure I think some Americans had given up on.

—————

It’s a morale boost to our troops and our people, and a hit to the morale of Al Qaeda. In a way, it’s a grim breath of fresh air. It’s a historic moment and we can all feel it. We, along with people around the world, are happy he’s dead. It’s one less evil in a world with far too many as it is. It’s one less person of power bent on the destruction of Israel, America and our allies. It’s closure to a lot of Americans who lost sight of what we were fighting for. Oh, we were reminded from time to time that this is a war against terrorism – that our brave men and women are fighting for our right to live without fear of enemy attack on our own soil or elsewhere. We were told there were soldiers sent specifically to track down and put an end to bin Laden, but we hadn’t seen much in the way of results until now. To an even greater extent, it’s, I hope, some closure for those who received word that their loved ones were not coming home again on September 11. It’s, I hope, some closure for those who have received word these past ten years that their soldier is not returning to them at the end of their deployment. That we, really they, the soldiers, got ‘im.

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I think there are a lot of us who don’t really know what to think. It’s all just too surreal. We’ll process it all after a while – after the months I anticipate the news outlets will cover the story and its aftermath, after some time to think – really think – about what this means to the world. It’s by no means an end to terrorism. There are enough independent cells operating throughout the world. There is enough anger at others for hatred that hot to still exist. Bin Laden’s death does not mean an end to this war (see the last two paragraphs of this article for added umph to my statement), though we’re a heck of a lot closer than we were on April 30th. Chances are, this event will put further strain on our relationship with Pakistan and I hope that doesn’t lead to more fighting there. I hope we can bring the soldiers home soon, but I know from what I see in the news from the region and what I’ve read and understood of biblical prophesy, peace in the Middle East will take much more than what we’re seeing right now. And it will only be the beginning to something much darker.

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We’ll have to wait and see.

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I can’t post this without giving credit to where it’s due. Our soldiers have faced great odds far from home and ridicule by some more radical anti-war groups and individuals here in the States.  I’d personally like to send those people to the middle of a battlefield to let them try to get the terrorists to sit down for a spot of tea to talk things over and come out on the winning side. Of course, we’d never see them again. Or maybe we would, considering the fact that our troops’ dedication to their people would never let them go there alone. Maybe I’m just crazy. Anyway.

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So here’s to you, our brave warriors who never lost sight of what you were, and are, fighting for, even when so much of it seemed unclear. Whether or not you were at the site of bin Laden’s death, you were part of paving the way to bring an end to the face of the greatest symbol of evil since Hitler. I can’t speak for the rest of my countrymen, but you have my undying gratitude for risking your lives in service to your people and our nation.

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Thank you.

 

It’s SPRING!!! April 20, 2011

Filed under: Photography — idlethoughtsblog @ 4:12 pm
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So I know I haven’t posted here nearly as often as I said I would and I feel completely guilty and worthless about that.  However, my immune system being what it is, I am not competent to write anything much thanks to the unhealthy amount of cold medicine I’m on right now.  Of course this would happen when I’m actually in the mood to write.  It appears I’ll have to settle with a huge mug of tea and listening to Brian Jacques read Redwall stories to me via the eleven audiobooks I’ve downloaded.  Because I still feel guilty about not posting, I’ve decided to make this a photo post, something I haven’t done yet since I set up this version of the blog.

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Something I miss about living in the woods in North Liberty (Indiana) is the woods and flowers my dad plants that show up in the spring.  However, Muncie, my town (for now) has one thing really has going for it: the trees.  There are flowers blossoming all over the city, many of which are amidst the leaves of trees — pink tulip trees, others covered in little white flowers, and more with tiny bright pink flowers (which aren’t quite out yet, sad day).  Thursday last week, I went with my News 233 partner to get video and photo footage of the Buley Center for our final project.

The kids loved looking through the cameras!

Afterward, I still had the camera for a few hours, so I decided to go shoot some spring pictures around Ball State’s campus.  These are a combination of what my dad has planted up north and what Muncie/campus looks like down here.  Because of weird formatting issues, the pictures of campus and up north are mixed.

All photos Copyright © 2011, Kate Wehlann

 

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Ball State Squirrel!

  

 

  

  

  

 

Red March 23, 2011

Filed under: Writings — idlethoughtsblog @ 12:30 pm
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This is a short story I wrote for my English 285 class my sophomore year of college (considering that was only last spring, it shouldn’t feel like it was all that long ago, but it does).  I like it, though I still think it needs work.  This need for revision is normal for me, but I can’t decide what needs to be done.  My last post merited one reader who commented, so maybe this will, too.  As usual, constructive comments will be appreciated, flames will be deleted, and it’s mine all mine, so no pinching.

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__________

The painting wasn’t particularly famous among most of the people in the town.  Sure, some of the more art-minded citizens were aware of it.  Teachers who had taken their classes to the art museum dozens of times over the years might recognize it, but for the most part, she was left in obscurity.  She waited still on her back wall of a back room for her faithful few admirers as the seasons passed slowly in the world beyond her frame.

jjjjjjjjj

She was stunning – beautiful in a simple sort of way – with her slight, knowing smile and wavy auburn hair that framed her face in light.  Her sparkling hazel eyes spoke uninterpreted volumes without a sound, drawing the viewer into the canvas with her if the patron wasn’t careful.  Behind her, a meadow spread so lifelike that the long green-brown stalks of grass seemed to bend with an unfelt wind and shimmer in the imagined sunlight.  Odd that an artist with such tremendous talent would neglect to leave some name or mark – anything to claim the masterpiece as his own.

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He came to visit her on his lunch break every day.  Daniel Michaelson was fairly new in town, having found a job as a writer at the town newspaper soon after graduating from college.  The museum had never given him cause for more than a brief glance until he was called to write a story about its new manager, the son of a famous photographer in New York City.  The manager had fixed the place up and was as anxious for a new round of publicity as Daniel was anxious for a chance to see his name once again in print.  The manager showed Daniel a selection of paintings he was considering removing to the museum’s vault to make room for some newer photography when she almost audibly called out to the young reporter.  Daniel pointed to the framed canvas leaning against the wall and inquired whether the new manager was sure the picture didn’t merit a spot on a display wall.  The manager responded, jokingly, that he preferred blondes.

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As it turned out, Daniel had not been the first to ask about the painting’s fate.  “It seems to be something of a favorite with some of the regulars,” the manager said.  “I might keep it out if I can find a place for it.”

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And so, the red-haired lady found herself still on display, even if it was still on the back wall of a back room.  Daniel had become enchanted with the image and after a few months, scraped some money together to sponsor a bench in her room.  This was where he could be found between the hours of one and two every day he had to work.  And then a good portion of his available Saturdays became dedicated to the lady in the meadow.

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She seemed so wise, like an ancient guru draped in the body of a beautiful young woman.  It wasn’t long before, as crazy as it sounds, he started speaking to her.  Not out loud, of course.  At least not at first.  It began as whispers in his head and progressed to barely audible murmurs from his lips.  He vented his troubles and frustrations and released his hopes and dreams to his silent friend.  Disappointing months went by with Daniel mentally filling in her responses to the conversations he held with her.  It was almost a relief when he heard a voice besides his own answering him.

—————-

It had been a long week.  Deadlines were looming, with more irons being added daily to his already-overwhelmed fire.  For the first time since high school, he was seriously considering throwing away his career in journalism and finding something else to do.

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“What keeps you from quitting?”

———-

Daniel jerked upright from his slouched position on the bench.  He looked around, but there was no one in sight.  He looked back up at the red-haired lady.

———–

“Did you just –”

————

He couldn’t finish the sentence.  It was too preposterous, even to a man who had been imagining just such an event for nearly eight months.

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“I’ve been here the whole time, Daniel.  Through tough interviews and great ones, the new dog, the old car with new problems.  The death of your mother, the birth of your godson.  You were the one who told me, remember?”

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Daniel was mesmerized.  Even in his daydreams, he could have never imagined such a voice.  It sounded like chimes in the wind, felt like a breeze in summer, and smelled of a forest glade in springtime.  He stood and approached the painting, reaching out against museum rules to touch the canvas.  His arm recoiled in shock.  Her hair felt as real as the hair on his own head.  He touched the grasses of the meadow.  They felt as real as they had in the meadow near the cottage by the lake his parents had rented every summer when he was a boy.  He could almost smell the wildflowers.

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Showing no signs she had noticed the intrusion upon her canvas domain aside from a barely visible twinkle in her bright eyes, the lady repeated her question.

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“What keeps you from quitting?”

———–

Struggling to wrap his mind around the bizarre situation, Daniel seated himself once again on the hard wooden bench.  “Writing’s my only marketable skill.  I’ve been writing since the fifth grade – I haven’t cultivated any other talents.  I have to make a living somehow.”

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“Even at the expense of being happy?”

—————

Daniel had to think about that for a minute.  Happiness was something that had never really occurred to him before – not in his career.  Writing had simply been all he had known.

—————–

As if sensing his struggle to create an answer, the red-haired woman asked another question.

————-

“What makes you happy, Daniel?”

——

“Being here, talking to you.  Writing.  Not the stuff for work, but the other stuff.  The things I’ve told you about.”

=———

If he had not known better, he could have sworn he saw her nod. “I remember.  Your short story collection.  What make you set that aside?”

——-

“I couldn’t make money on it.  No one would pick it up and self-publishing would cost more than what it would make me.”

_________

“Is money so important?”

____________

Daniel paused.  Money hadn’t always been his motivation for his work.  When had it become such a driving force?

—————-

She continued. “You didn’t list money among the things that made you happy.”

————-

Daniel sighed.  His lunch hour was almost up. “In this world, we need money.  It gets us food, clothing, pays for rent.  It’s not really something we can just do without.”

-____________

“What a miserable life you people must live.”

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“Well, we can’t all live in canvases.  Someone must inhabit this world.  Someone must be there to paint the worlds you live in.”

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“Yes, someone must.  Buy why must that someone be you?”

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His eyebrows furrowed in puzzlement. “Come again?”

—————-

“Certainly not all people are as unhappy in their lives as you.  Why can’t you leave that world and join ours?”

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Daniel shook his head.  “Because it’s not possible.  I was created in his world and you were created in yours.  We can’t just change universes because we don’t like the one we’ve been given.”

———

“Who’s to say what can or can’t be done?” the red-haired lady asked.  His vision blurred and before is eyes the arm of the painted woman began to move.  “Come, take my hand.  I’ll show you.”

—————-

He never would have thought it of himself, but Daniel found the proposition tempting.  Her voice, her eyes, her very presence could be felt, drawing him in.  He felt his hand rising and his peripheral vision clouded, leaving only the enchanting woman in focus.

————

BREEP!  BREEP!

———–

The alarm on his cell phone went off, snapping him back to the reality he shared with the rest of the human race.  His lunch break was over.

————-

His hand dropped to silence his blaring phone and he bent to gather his briefcase and empty big gulp cup.

—————

“Maybe next time.” He heard her whisper as he hurried from the room, anxious to be away from the odd influence he had just experienced, but at the same time sad to leave the beautiful woman in the painting.

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*   *   *

————-

All that day and into the night, Daniel tried to force the woman from his mind, to no avail.  While walking his dog after work he had almost been hit by a car, quelling his longing to be back in front of her for a few minutes before her face filled his mind’s eye once more.

—————

He did not sleep that night, not even after a double dose of over-the-counter sleeping pills.  After two hours of tossing and turning, Daniel gave up.  He reached for his laptop and for the first time in months, pulled up his word processor to create something other than news copy.

—————-

The sun rose the next morning to Daniel fast asleep on his couch, computer snoozing on his lap with the equivalent of over twenty new pages to finish his collection.

___________________

Thanks to his late night, Daniel decided to take the morning off, something he hadn’t done since college.  The image and proposition of the red-haired lady, still ever-present, had waned in intensity enough to allow him to edit the work he had done the night before, but returned with a vengeance.

——————

Having accomplished what he could before the lady’s presence claimed his concentration and before he had to leave for his half day of work, Daniel pulled his coat and half-jogged his way to his car through the flurries that had been falling since midnight.  On his drive to the office, he debated whether he should return to the museum.  The drug-high feeling had not entirely appealed to him, but he had never felt lighter, more carefree, in his life.  What if the lady was right? he thought.  What if I wasn’t meant to be here?  Can I pass up the opportunity to find out?

—————–

In the end, his curiosity won out and he found himself pulling up in front of the art museum and dropping a dollar in quarters into the meter.

—————-

Aside from an attendant at the front desk, the building was devoid of human life.  The old clock on the wall ticked in rhythm to his footsteps on the hardwood floors as he strode purposefully toward the back room.  Her room.

——————-

“I was hoping you’d come back.”

———

“What’s it like?  In there?  You said that maybe I belonged in there with you.  Why should I leave this world to join yours?”

———

“Your world is so hectic.  Here is simply peace – no wants, no needs.  Just being and, for the most part, being accepted as what you are.  Things you have wanted all your life, are they not?  And did you not say before that you were tired of the ‘rat race,’ as you called it?”

—————

“Could I come back?”

———

“Come back?”

————-

“If I began to miss this world and wanted to come back, could I?”

—————–

“It’s never been done, but that has no bearing as to whether or not it’s possible.”

—————–

Daniel rubbed his face with both hands.  He had spent all of the afternoon pondering what was keeping him from joining her.  His father had died when he was twelve.  His mother had died five months ago.  No siblings, no girlfriend.  He could easily be replaced at his job.  There really wasn’t anyone who would miss him.  His dog.

————

He called his neighbor, a crazy dog lady who had often stopped to admire his collie mix when she saw them together.  Surely she had room for one more four-legged friend.

————–

“Of course I can, Daniel,” his neighbor replied, a tad too gleefully.  “So sad you have to move.”

————

After ending his call, he turned back to the red-haired lady. “If I come with you, what will happen to my manuscript?  Will it just be forgotten?”

————

“Did you bring it with you?”

————-

“Of course.”

——–

“Then it will never be forgotten.”

—————-

Daniel stood silently, gazing upon the world around him, through the windows he could see at the front of the museum.   He wouldn’t miss it – not really.  And what kind of adventure would this be?  How many people had the chance to escape?

——–

“Have you made your decision, Daniel?”

——–

His eyes returned to the woman in the painting.  He felt his head nodding and his hand reaching out in front of him.  “I’m ready,” he whispered hoarsely.

———–

His heart beat wildly in his chest as his vision blurred.  He saw everything as though he was underwater, looking up at the surface.  Through the ripples he could see the porcelain arm of the red-haired lady reaching out to him.  He felt her touch is hand, sending electric shivers down his spine.  Warmth spread down his arm and through his body.  Then blinding white light filled his vision.

———-

*   *   *

————-

Two weeks later, the front page of The Checkerston Chronicle featured a story about a missing reporter.  His apartment was undisturbed, his dog given to a neighbor who hadn’t the slightest idea where he had gone.  The only clue, a thick stack of papers, containing a selection of short stories written by the missing Daniel Michaelson on a bench in front of where his favorite painting had once hung.  Now, a different image, similar enough for one to assume to have been painted by the same artist, was on display.

————–

The meadow, as lifelike and glorious as before, was the same, but where once only a red-haired lady had stood, a couple could now be seen.  A man with dark, wavy hair stood behind her, arms wrapped around the woman’s shoulders, face buried in her long, flowing hair.  Her slight smile had broadened into a frozen laugh.  A picture of happiness. A man and his love, finally brought together through the bizarrest of circumstances – but there were only two people in existence in this world or any other one who would ever know.

 

*Looks Sheepish* February 24, 2011

Filed under: Writing — idlethoughtsblog @ 2:56 pm
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So the whole write-every-day thing has more than flopped.  I mean, I’ve been writing, but it’s all been homework, the likes of which no one outside of that class would want to read.  Recently, I’ve written a four-page paper analyzing Do Not Go Gently Into That Goodnight by Dylan Thomas, putting more thought into the piece than I’m sure Thomas did.  I’ve begun gearing up to write a five to seven page paper on a segment of Marjane Satrapi’s memoir Persepolis. I’ve written bits and pieces of news and five 500-word-plus analyses for feature articles.  I’ve completed French homework and worked on multimedia projects and done news editing worksheets.  None of which stands in as an acceptable excuse for not writing every day.

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Was it not just last semester, when I was just as rushed, stressed, and harried, that I completed a novel in two months?  Just the rough draft, true, and one I realize needs an incredible amount of work (especially after a talk with my professor from that class, Cathy Day on Tuesday), but a novel nonetheless?  What’s happened to me?  I’m inclined to believe it has to do with the fact that I am no longer writing for a class and I am not receiving the same amount of encouragement I got from being in that class twice a week, but still.  Why isn’t my own need to write kicking in and making myself do it? Is it being squashed by all the academic writing I’ve been having to do?  And what can I do about that while remaining in school?
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Currently, I’m in ENG 307, the class that was supposed to be a prerequisite to the novel-writing class.  We aren’t writing “Big Things” in 307, like last semester.  We’re writing little things — short stories, my take on which has baffled me since I started writing them.  Why is it that every time I sit down to write a short story, I head toward the surreal?  Right now, I should be marking up short stories by my fellow classmates for workshop tomorrow or working on my own piece — a story about a woman whose late grandmother’s garden is guarded by butterflies, which are really ghosts of dead ancestors (I promise it’s better than I’m making it sound).  Where on earth did this come from?  And is it going to sound like all I do is read/write/and watch sci-fi like some of the other writers I’ve read in that class?  Is it possible to write something resembling sci-fi and still be taken seriously by the world at large?  Is this really just a piece of crap that I should just give up on?  I mean, I don’t want to be read by just sci-fiers.  Is this just me wanting to be some great writer someday and not seeing reality for what it is?  I’m loathe to post more stuff on websites like FictionPress.net because I’m paranoid and not very good at writing summaries, apparently, as I never got any hits in the past with places like that.  Also, there’s no guarantee that the people commenting have any idea what they’re talking about.  Do I have any idea what I’m talking about?  I know this blog has approximately zero readers, but I’ll pose the question anyway.  Aside from paid-for workshops, how can fledgling writers get real help with their work?

 

Thank you, Mr. Jacques February 8, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — idlethoughtsblog @ 11:33 pm
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How is it that the death of someone you’ve only met once can make your heart jump and bring you to tears?

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Brian Jacques, author of the Redwall series and many other books, related and otherwise, has passed away at 71 and left us for the “sunny hillsides and still meadows” this past weekend after a heart attack.  He left behind a wife, two sons, and millions of fans across the world to mourn his loss. There’s an excellent article in the Telegraph talking about his life and his accomplishments, but this is my memory of the man who started everything for me.

Photo by David Jacques (found via Google)

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — this was the man who taught me how to write. My passion for writing and storytelling was kindled by my grandfather and Mr. Jacques. My grandfather could pull stories from the clear blue and Mr. Jacques appeared to write them in very much the same way, though I would later learn that a writer’s job is much more difficult than that. To this day, I have a shelf dedicated to Brian Jacques.  His work really isn’t the type to put away.  I began rewriting his novels, adding a character to each one (not that they weren’t already perfect), teaching myself from his work, how to work with scene, dialogue, and character development. Later, I moved on to what is considered fan fiction before leaping off that terrifying yet exhilarating cliff of writing my own story — not from someone else’s characters, but from my own mind. I may have become a writer one day without Mr. Jacques’s influence, but it certainly would not have happened when it did and I certainly wouldn’t be what I am today.

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I remember the first time I ever met the man back in 2002. Somehow, I had managed to find myself in the possession of a flier advertising a reading by Brian Jacques at Notre Dame, which I lived less than five minutes from, assuming first that it wasn’t a home football game weekend, which would have stretched the trip out to a good hour thanks to the traffic that took over Roseland, a suburb (maybe) of South Bend. Fortunately, this took place on an October Sunday afternoon, so no worries about football. My mother had never read the books and was probably much more interested in napping the afternoon away than taking her near-spastic-with-excitement daughter to Notre Dame, but she did. I should probably call and thank her again for that.

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My mom didn’t want me sitting apart from her with the other young fans up front, so we sat in the back of the lecture hall. This would probably be a good time to mention I had neglected (knowing my 12-year-old self, probably on purpose) to wear my glasses, so the stage was a blur. Fortunately, I discovered that, if I looked through my camera’s lens, I could see everything clearly, if not in a miniature version. I fidgeted with the sleeve of my purple sweater, craning my neck for any sign of his appearance on stage.

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“What time is it?” I asked my mom, who was reading a book she had brought along.

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“Two minutes after the last time you asked,” she tells me, not even looking up from the pages.

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I sighed, frustrated. She didn’t get it. Mr. Jacques was pretty much the most important non-family member person in my world. I had been deep in the Redwall series for a few years at that point as was as in love with a man old enough to be my grandfather as a kid could appropriately be. And on top of it, he encouraged kids to read. And not some puny 150-page kids books, either. He had gotten fifth-grade me and millions of others to read books consisting of 300 pages or more. As far as I’m concerned, the man’s a hero.

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A man in a blue dress shirt stepped onto the platform and the auditorium went silent. It was time. “It is my great pleasure to introduce . . . Brian Jacques!”

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A roar of applause erupted from the audience and he stepped out from behind the stage. He didn’t look as tall as I had expected him to be, but other than that, he looked just like his picture on the backs of his books.

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The man was a rock star.

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He was about sixty at the time, with a tonsured head and white hair. His wrist was in a brace due to tendinitis from typing on an old typewriter, his preferred method of getting words on the page. He talked about his life, how he had gone to school with Paul McCartney and how his teacher had accused him of cheating when he wrote his first story about a bird who cleaned the crocodile’s teeth.

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He told us about the numerous jobs that led him to being able to write such varied and believable characters and locations, where he got his ideas for characters and plot lines, his hobbies that play into the world he had created. He told us how he writes all the songs he put into his stories, how he has written recipes for the food he had invented.

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He spoke about how the Redwall series began — as a gift of story to the students at the Royal Wavertree School for the Blind in Liverpool, where he volunteered while he was driving a truck as a milk delivery man.

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Then he opened it up for questions. There were many questions about specific characters and whether or not he would write another book (to which he responded, “As long as you will read them, I will write them,” an announcement that brought a round of applause from the crowd), and if he would use their names for characters. Possibly the most important question (one I’m sure, looking back, he got all the time) was not asked until later in the talk – What is the greatest advice you can give for young writers?

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“Paint with words,” he said. “Everyone must follow their own path. Write what is true for you and paint pictures with words is my best advice. I found that I didn’t just start to be an ‘author’ one day. I worked for many years as a writer in lots of different fields.” (This probably isn’t exactly what he said, but this is a quote taken from the Q and A section of the Redwall website and is, therefore, still his words in answer to that question.)

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The line of people waiting to have him sign their books was enormous. I was fortunate enough to get in line with a number low enough to merit the signing of more than just one book. Some of the people behind me were only be able to meet him, which, to be honest, I would have been more than happy with and I couldn’t believe I’m getting more than that. But my world was about to be rocked once again.

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My mom took my camera from me as we get to the front of the line, figuring the best she could do is get a picture while he signed my books. His wife, Liz, was with him and must have noticed my mom with the camera ready, because I saw her tap his shoulder mid-signature and whisper in his ear. She gestured to me to kneel beside him and he told me to put my arm on his shoulder like we were old friends going for a pint at the pub. I could tell by the look on my mother’s face that she wasn’t pleased about the pub statement, but I honestly didn’t care. I’d do the damage control later necessary to make my mom all right with him, despite the fact that she thought he had just encouraged her thirteen-year-old daughter to drink. My mom took about four or five pictures and I shot up to cloud nine. I had been given the gift that day of meeting my idol, if I can say that reverently, a joint gift from my mom and from Mr. Jacques.

I guess he did his best to live up to his promise to continue writing as long as we would still read. I think he might have known that that promise could never have been kept. People who love books will pass on their favorites to their children and to their friends. It’s how writers achieve immortality. He could never have lived long enough to see the last of his readers, because, hopefully, someone will still be reading them to the end of time — maybe not in printed book form, but in whatever comes after the Kindle.

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Others’ condolences and memories of this man are their own, so there’s not much left for me to say except . . . thank you. You’ve touched many lives and changed many more who will never have the opportunity to meet you or tell you so themselves. You’ve inspired a new crop of writers and enchanted your fans, from Dibbuns to elders, with your stories of courage found in both the smallest and greatest of us. You will be missed.

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Note:  His twenty-second Redwall book, The Rogue Crew, will be in stores in May.  Who else is buying?

 

RAIN, RAIN, Come Again! January 27, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — idlethoughtsblog @ 10:40 pm
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I had a major case of the Mondays this week and was fully prepared to spend the hours after school sleeping and maybe working on one of the, perhaps, three papers due sometime in the near future. But then, just as I was settling down for a long Monday nap, my phone dinged. I got an e-mail from the university.

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Now, usually, I ignore the vast majority of these emails, deleting them without reading, something that, as a reporter for the Daily News, I should probably stop doing as it’s rare enough as it is that I have story ideas to bring up at the meetings.  This e-mail was reminding students that the group RAIN, a wildly successful Beatles cover band, would be on campus for one night only and that students could purchase tickets for the 7:30 show for only $5.  I, myself, had purchased my tickets in August, as soon as I found out they were coming.  RAIN had been in South Bend a year or so before and my dad had told me that, if he had the money to buy tickets to their show at the Morris, he would like to go.  Being a fellow Beatles fan, I called him as soon as I saw the ad in the school paper.  He wasn’t sure what Notre Dame would be having him do that night (or day before or day after), and told me to get the ticket for myself and enjoy it. I was disappointed about this, as it would be nice to go to something with someone else rather than play the unicycle again, but, hey anything’s better than being a third-wheel at this point.

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I jumped out of bed and threw myself into the shower.  It was about 4:00, which meant I had about two hours to be ready and looking at least halfway decent before I had to leave.  If live in a college town, you know why I had to leave early.  If you don’t or have little experience with college campuses, you need to leave about an hour before the event you want to go to starts so you’ll have time to make it if you have to walk from one of the ridiculously-placed commuter lots should all the nearby parking be taken.

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I was lucky enough to find a close spot (relatively, all things considered) to Emens Auditorium, where the band would be playing.  The lobby was very crowded with people, primarily baby boomers, which shouldn’t have really surprised me, considering the concert.  After what seemed like an eternity for a claustrophobe like me, they opened the doors and we found our seats.  Everything was fine until a group of two couples came up and sat in the seats in front of me.  This would have been fine had the women sat on the ends of the group.  Instead, the men did, giving me a spectacular view of a large gray head attached to an even larger body instead of the center stage, where, because RAIN was mimicking the Beatles, about 95% of the action was going to be taking place.  It was too soon to ask for an empty seat as it appears that there are always those irresponsible enough to arrive fifteen to twenty minutes late and there were assigned seats.

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The lights came down and the announcer asked for cellphones and cameras to be turned off and put away or at least put on silent, as taking pictures or recording the band was strictly forbidden (more on this later).  Everyone settled down and quieted, a blessed relief from the people who spent the past twenty minutes or so screaming across the aisles to friends or co-workers who happened to be at the concert, too.

Photo courtesy of Google Images (Click for better quality)

The two screens on either side of the stage played old commercials and news clips from the sixties, eventually showing the four men who would take this country by storm emerging from that plane in February 1964.  As the sound of the raving girls on the tape died down, the curtain rose, revealing Steve Landes (John Lennon), Joey Curatolo (Paul McCartney), Joe Bithorn (George Harrison), and Ralph Castelli (Ringo Starr) looking much like their prolific counterparts did when they first arrived in the states – black suits, white shirts, black ties, and tame hair, lit by stage lights and forbidden camera flashes, which continued all throughout the concert, despite the previous warning.  And, even better, they sounded almost exactly like the originals.  I could have played my Beatles 1 CD right along with them and they would have been almost indiscernible.  A wave of nostalgia swept over me as I leaned over at a 45-degree angle to see around the gentleman in front of me and remembered the first time I remembered hearing the Beatles.

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It was my dad’s fault, really, if “fault” is the right word.  Any time he was driving, the oldies station (94.3 FM out of Plymouth, IN) blared from the car speakers first from his old (OLD) white, rusty rabbit, then his Chevy pick-up (probably just as old when he bought it as the rabbit was when it finally died), and then in his Honda Civic hybrid.  It was the only time I ever heard my dad sing.  And it was in the car that I was told about this group that took America by storm about twenty-five years before I was born.  I laughed at the name, but not for long.  The Beatles 1 CD was the first CD I ever bought, along with the Rugrats in Paris soundtrack, one of my less-wise music choices (anyone remember Aaron Carter?  Neither do I.).  I can only imagine what it was like for the people there at Emens who remember seeing these guys in person or being around when they were on Ed Sullivan or hearing them on the radio or hiding the records from their stricter parents.  I could see and hear these baby-booming once-hippies dancing in their seats or when the audience was standing, hear them screaming at the group just like they had for the Beatles those days so long ago.  I laughed to myself.  And these people had trouble seeing how their kids and grandkids could scream for guys like Justin Timberlake or Justin Bieber.  Come to think of it, so do I, but that’s another story.

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Throughout the concert, as the music changed from their earlier stuff to more recent songs, their costumes changed as well, including the colorful get-ups from the “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and “Little Help From My Friends” and again as they went towards the Abbey Road years and their lyrics got more political.

During intermission, thank goodness!, I found some vacant seats and managed to spend the rest of the concert in the full, upright position, much to my and my neck’s relief.  In front of me, there was a tiny woman – I thought she was a little kid at first – too tall for a dwarf, but too short to not have had her growth stunted by something.  By the way she was dancing, I would assume LSD in copious amounts sometime in life.  She looked about old enough to have been of-age during the Hippie movement.  I tried not to laugh, and more or less succeeded.  Baby Boomers rock hard, even if they need to sleep for hours afterward.

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Photo courtesy of Google Images (Click for better quality)

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I couldn’t help but think that my dad should have been there.  This guy who doesn’t always seem to know how to relax should have been able to relive his youth with the rest of these people.  Maybe it would have put a smile on his face for a little while.  I called my dad tonight and told him, next time, we’re on.  And there’s nothing he can do about it.