Ten distances from their part of the Ozarks

Few Americans know much, if anything, about the Ozarks, where Jaya and Joshua resettle in my novel Nearly Canaan.

Here are some driving times to points from Fayetteville, Arkansas, to major cities.

~*~

  1. St. Louis: 5 hours, 20 minutes.
  2. Memphis: 4 hours, 39 minutes.
  3. Tulsa: 1 hour, 55 minutes.
  4. Dallas: 5 hours, 13 minutes.
  5. New Orleans: 9 hours, 41 minutes.
  6. Kansas City: 3 hours, 32 minutes.
  7. Nashville: 8 hours, 47 minutes.
  8. Denver: 11 hours, 53 minutes.
  9. Chicago: 9 hours, 52 minutes.
  10. New York: 12 hours, 17 minutes.

~*~

Frankly, the Ozarks is more isolated than I’d thought. I’m surprised that its center is almost as far from New Orleans as it is from Chicago or that it’s halfway between St. Louis and Dallas. Looks like a long way to anywhere, actually.

How long does it take you to get to a major destination?

Is this it?

The Covid-19 devastation, already spread around the globe, is poised to inflict even greater damage when it ravages Third World countries, or so we’re reading. The impact is much more than grim death tolls. We’re hearing predictions of the greatest economic depression in a century.

In the United States, the virus is what finally exposed Donald Trump’s house of cards to full view. Not just his own illusions but his party’s, too. You know, the failure to plan. Failure to take responsibility. Endless stream of lies and fabrications. His scorn for fact, truth, scientific reality. Ridiculing and blaming others. Inability to steer a course. And so on. Feel free to add to the list.

For the past three years, I’ve restrained from commenting much on the outrage after outrage being inflicted on our democratic society. With his hooligans and their fellow cultists being so impervious to facts, I sensed anything that might break through their shells had to come from the right. The polarization of the country predates Trump, anyhoo, just look at the Congress dead set on obstructing President Obama from doing the will of the people, regardless of the ultimate impact.

From my viewpoint, what’s seemed obvious is that only something catastrophic might break through their state of denial and bombast. I kept wondering what that would be. What would it take to allow civil conversation again, one based on fact and not bullying and bombast?

In my years in the news business, I saw how difficult predicting public reaction could be. Big issues are commonly greeted with a yawn, while some seemingly trivial account unexpectedly gets everyone stirred up.

So here we are, with a medical crisis Trump arrogantly derided as a “hoax” and then claimed to have “under control” now exploding exponentially before our eyes. As it begins to hit closer to home, even his supporters can no longer poobah the epidemic as “liberal hype” to “discredit” their fuhrer. Not unless they can explain Italy and Spain’s suffering as part of a conspiracy.

Not unless they can explain why GOP senators were informing their super-rich backers of intelligence findings about the brewing virus storm and quickly selling off millions in stock while telling their voter constituents to stay calm. (Isn’t that insider-trading?)

Not unless they can explain why the markets and employers and local and state officials of both parties have independently taken the drastic actions they have, contrary to White House proclamations.

He still doesn’t have a clue, does he? This is the man who offers big aid to China after turning down any help for the most seriously impacted states in America. (Sorry, you’re on your own, guys.) What!

One of the reasons he’s clueless is that none of his incoming staffers who attended a big meeting with outgoing Obama officials eight days before the inauguration took the ebola lessons seriously. At least one future cabinet secretary dozed off during the briefings and their worst-case scenarios. Another reason is that Trump promptly eliminated the emergency preparedness coordinating office Obama had created for cases like this. What Trump touted as streamlining proves to be reckless disregard for reality and an exercise of personal spite. There was no planning, period.

Fellow Republican Susan Collins, a senator from Maine, even prevented epidemic response planning from being budgeted back in 2008. There’s a pattern.

Here we are, after being stuck with Trump’s obsession to spend billions building a useless border wall but do nothing on pandemic prep. Like that wall will stop anything.

I long ago saw that incompetent managers and executives feel threatened by competent people working below them – the very ones who could make their bosses look effective, if given the chance. Do I need to say more?

Smart management is taught to be proactive, not reactive, but that’s not what we’re seeing here.

The illness itself is only the face of the storm as we get glimpses of even bigger economic, political, and social ills that have been long festering.

Oh, yes, high turnover is another sign of mismanagement. Two-thirds of Trump’s team at that epidemic meeting three years ago are no longer part of the administration. Who’s in charge, paying attention to details?

Wall Street may have been soaring, and a “correction” had been long anticipated though not expected to kick in till after the November election, but for many of the country’s working class, full-time jobs – especially those with benefits – have been scarce. Minimum wage rarely covers basic living costs, and health insurance premiums often eat up a third of that income while imposing high deductibles few would ever be able to pay without going homeless or, if hospitalized long, losing their jobs. Many of those minimum wage jobs, by the way, require “reliable transportation” from employees, as if the pay actually covers as much as a clunker to get to worksites far from public transportation. Steps to improve their situation has not been presented from the current administration, even while cutting taxes for the rich and corporations continues.

Well, some of that finally has been acknowledged in the proposed coronavirus aid package, at least for this specific illness. Maybe it’s a start. Those low-pay, part-time jobs are a huge part of the workforce, and if they break down, even for two weeks, watch out.

That’s the real economy.

I could say more, much more, but let’s leave it at that for now. From all indications, this drama’s just starting.

There’s no disputing that bodies are piling up, even in the USA.

Ten places I’ve lived

  1. Dayton. Inside the city limits but with a working dairy farm a half-block across the street.
  2. Bloomington. On the Indiana University campus, and later at the edge of town.
  3. Binghamton. In the ‘hood, then on a hippie farm near the New York-Pennsylvania line.
  4. The yoga ashram. Out on a yoga farm in the Pocono mountains.
  5. Fostoria. In a loft downtown, over St. Vincent’s charity store, in what was once Ohio’s Great Black Swamp.
  6. Yakima, Washington. Including three years in an orchard.
  7. Warren, Ohio. We bought a lovely arts-and-crafts bungalow in an industrial city in economic collapse.
  8. Baltimore. Downtown in the trendy Bolton Hill neighborhood and then out in suburban Owings Mills.
  9. Manchester, New Hampshire. By the Merrimack River, then atop the tallest hill.
  10. Dover, New Hampshire. A mile from downtown. The longest I’ve lived in the same house, by the way.

And one other place that never really counted.

~*~

Tell us something good or bad about someplace you’ve lived. Like maybe your favorite?

Spending nights at the opera on my laptop

When I graduated from college 50 years ago, I expected to wind up living and laboring in a major metropolis like New York, Chicago, or Seattle where nights at the opera or symphony would have been part of the package. As you can see, my life took a much different direction. In fact, working weekends and nights along with the bottom-tier professional wages of my profession curtailed much of my attendance where I was, even for the Metropolitan Opera’s Live in HD showings in local movie theaters.

Surprisingly, now in the midst of our Covid-19 cloistering, I’m relishing in daily free online streaming of past performances from the Met’s series, and what a revelation they are.

Each show gives me a fuller awareness of the stellar productions than I could ever get from listening to the Saturday afternoon radio broadcasts – incidentally, available where I live only by streaming. Well, that’s another rant, though I’ll send out a shout to both Harvard’s student-run FM station and New York’s WQXR for their participation.

The university I attended was acclaimed for its opera department, with a show every Saturday night and, as I recall, seven productions during the regular school year. Each of these was in English, which I found made the experience feel more like going to a Broadway musical rather than an esoteric ceremony. It was pointedly called opera theater, with an emphasis on blending music and showtime, abetted by stage directors like Ross Allen who insisted on historically correct motions for the periods being presented. A woman wouldn’t have shown her ankle while dancing, for instance, or sat in a particular posture, that sort of thing. As for facial expressions or delving into the psyche of a role? That wasn’t widely valued in earlier incarnations of the art form. But today?

Back to the Live in HD.

Imagine a Hollywood movie being filmed straight-through in a few hours like this, rather than gleaning only a minute or two of usable film a day, as is standard in the cinema biz. There’s no room for retakes in a live performance, and yet what I’m viewing is cinematically gripping. The acting is extraordinary, and the stars are visually and vocally convincing – something that wasn’t often the case when I got hooked back in the ’60s. I’m enthralled simply considering the camera work (and planning) behind each of these. (I have a feeling we’re deeply indebted to NFL and MLB technology and practice on this front – think of those crisp facial closeups shot from the other side of the field.) As for the lighting? Wow.

Opera is often discussed as the pinicle of the arts and their muses – vocal, choral, and instrumental music conjoined with drama, dance, poetry, scenery and costumes in the theater itself. It’s a collective enterprise, the way movies are. Well, I often consider it as the movies of the 19th century and, let’s not forget, the distinctively operatic singing style evolved to project into a hall long before electronic amplification existed. The vocal style is not as frilly as you might think but is actually quite flexible and expressive, even if it’s often an acquired taste.

As I was saying about these productions?

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What do you know about rocks?

In my novel Nearly Canaan, their neighbor Todd is a geologist. You know, a rocks guy. The Ozarks is where he and his wife Lucy meet Joshua and Jaya.

The place is a mineral-rich geological wonder.

Here’s part of the attraction he’d have where they are in Arkansas.

~*~

  1. Lead. The major ore that was mined. Still is.
  2. Zinc. The other major ore.
  3. Vanadium. Used in metal alloys.
  4. Diamonds. Mostly of industrial grade.
  5. Barite. The main source of barium.
  6. Tripoli. Used mostly as an abrasive in polishing and buffing compounds and as a filler in a variety of products.
  7. Quartz crystal. Used in electrical products, glassmaking, and for hardness in abrasives – in addition to its popularity in metaphysical healing circles.
  8. Gypsum. Used in a number of construction products.
  9. Chalk. Its range of uses include toothpaste.
  10. Bauxite. Used in the chemical, steel, petroleum, and cement industries, it’s also the principal source of aluminum.

~*~

What do you know about rocks?

Whatever happened to apprenticeships and mentors?

The conversation turned to a current problem many face in finding the right job.

Employers seem to demand college degrees for even the most basic positions, and then expect years of experience as well for what’s lowly paid entry-level work.

How does anyone get that requisite experience in such a setup?

That’s had me thinking of bosses who see something in a candidate and hire them, regardless of the credentials, and then guide them in their development. I’ve certainly had some fine examples as well as some crucial (paid) internships.

It’s also had me reflecting on the great inventor Charles F. Kettering, who once said that if he faced a metallurgy problem and had a metallurgist and a biologist on his staff, he’d hand it to the biologist – because the biologist would be more likely to solve it.

Why? The biologist wouldn’t know all of the things that weren’t supposed to work, unlike the metallurgist.

Of course, this is not just about jobs. I’ve noticed that we need mentors in the many diverse skills of living and in the practice of our own niches within it.

These days, I’m also realizing I’m at an age where I might be expected to be fulfilling the mentoring role, not that I often feel that capable. What I am noticing, however, is the gap in the circles I travel, where individuals in their twenties and thirties are scarce. A wider look finds them scarce in general, and those I know openly admit their puzzlement about connecting in real life with their peers. Where are they, outside of the Internet?

I can name a long list of mentors in my journey to here. Some were teachers or bosses, others poets or Quakers or Mennonites, even fine arts painters or folks a generation younger than me.

Who’s filled a role of mentor in your life?