Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas & Happy 2009

Dear Friends,

The big news this year is that our daughter Lillian is going to have a baby come May. In fact, the due date is Mother’s Day! She’d been trying and hoping for this for a long time, and finally all the planets were in alignment this year and she’s expecting. We’re all happy and thrilled and looking forward to having this latest addition to the Guzillo tribe, but there are, of course, some minor complications.

Linda and I are too young to be grandparents, and Lillian can’t decide what to name the baby, and I can’t decide what I want the baby to call me. Linda suggested Bub, but I’m thinking that "Bub" would be a better name for the baby than for me. If anyone reading this has a good idea for what the baby could call me, please don’t hesitate to write.

We’ve been busy getting ready for Lillian’s baby, and we’ve also been busy being retired. We moved to Danville, VA where Lillian lives right after Linda presided over her last graduation as Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at VSU. Since then, she’s been working on remodeling the house. She ripped out an unusable ironing board cupboard in the kitchen and replaced it with a beautiful spice cabinet. Then, she water-proofed the basement and painted every lick of it. That turned what had been a cellar into some very nice space. Her appetite whetted, she called in the contractors, painters, tile men, carpenters, floor men, plumbers, and assorted fellows with heavy hammers. They set to work remodeling three bathrooms, all of the floors upstairs, and the entire kitchen. When that was done, she set to work hand-building wooden cabinets to place over our 19 radiators. And now that our rehab projects are done, Linda is going to move on to helping Lillian set up the baby's room!

And me? I’ve been hiding upstairs writing and re-writing my novel about German soldiers on the Eastern Front (I’m done!) and writing my blogs (I’ve got 4 now) and dreaming about literary fame. I didn’t get the Pulitzer Prize I was nominated for, but I did get a t-shirt from Lillian illustrated with the cover of the nominated book: Third Winter of War: Buchenwald. (Both my books are still available at Amazon.)

When we haven’t been hanging out with Lillian and remodeling and re-writing, we’ve been taking vacations. This past year we went to Las Vegas twice with Mabel and Tony, and they passed on the secret of winning at blackjack to me. We also did a long 9-day cruise in July to the eastern Caribbean. What made it especially exciting is that we were pursued constantly by Hurricane Juliet. She chased us around Haiti and the Dominican Republic and up to Coco Cay in the Caribbean. Linda didn’t have enough cruising, so she talked her mom into going on a 15-day transatlantic repositioning cruise on the biggest and best ship in the world (The Voyager of the Seas—complete with skating rink)! I stayed home and graded papers for my online students.

We’ve also gone to the Great Smokey Mountains with our friends Joe and Carol Glaser and had a series of happy adventures, but please don’t ask about what happened when we got lost while driving and the roads disappeared and the paths we found ourselves on got narrower and narrower and narrower.

We’re having a great time vacationing and keeping the economy strong and are already planning next year’s trips and “arrivals”!

(the photos: Lillian and Santa, My sister Donna and me in a refugee camp in Germany 1948, Linda and her big brother Bruce in Brooklyn in the late 50s)

Thursday, December 04, 2008


The folk singer Odetta died today. I read about it in the NY Times. They said a lot of nice things about her, and about what she did for the civil rights movement in America and how she influenced a lot of singers like Janis Joplin and Dylan and Bruce Springsteen.

She was all that and more, but what I knew about her was that she was a good and kind person, and that she didn't like to see people feeling awkward or out of place.

I saw her at Vassar in the late 60s. I was hitchhiking down to New York from Albany, and I stopped at the school to see a girl I used to know. The girl didn't much want to see me, so I drifted around the campus, and I saw Odetta.

She was just there sitting on the lawn playing her guitar. They had asked her down for a concert or something, and she was just playing a guitar and singing on the lawn.

Her voice was so natural. She saw me standing listening to her, and she asked me to sit down and sing with her, and I was embarrassed. I apologized and said I didn't have much of a voice.

She said that's fine, "If you can talk you can sing." Then she started humming. It was a song called "Nobody knows you when you're down and out."

She played it and then she started singing it, but it was more like talking than singing, and I knew the song so I talked it as she talked it.

It was pleasant, like a conversation. She wanted me to feel comfortable.


If you click here, you can see a you tube of Odetta singing "House of the Rising Sun."

Friday, November 28, 2008


When our daughter Lillian was about five years old, she started thinking about the natural end of all the things she knew. She started thinking about dying and death.

I don't know why she did, but she did, and it made her sad and worried. She didn't want to lose her mother and me and her grandparents to death, and she was frightened that she would.

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Because she was a bright kid and a problem solver, she tried to think of a solution, some way around death, and the solution she thought out was her own personal vision of heaven.

Heaven, she figured, would be a place where she and her parents and all the people she loved would live in some perfect place, interacting with all her favorite characters from all her favorite books.

It sounded great, and I used to love to hear her talk about it. She and Linda and I would be in the same perfect place as the characters in Laura Ingalls Wilder and C. S. Lewis. We would have lunch in a park with Laura and Lucy and Edmund and Susie and Peter and Aslan, the compassionate, kind, loving God of this Heaven.

I loved to hear about Lillian's vision because her vision of heaven would have been more pleasant than mine.

My favorite books were Crime and Punishment, Primo Levi's Survival in Auschwitz, Grapes of Wrath, Sound and the Fury, and Toni Morrison's Beloved. Gloomy books, every single one of them.

And I knew that my heaven wouldn't be the golden place Lillian's heaven was. My heaven would be a sad place, a heaven-noir where every day would be filled with rain and snow, misery and grief. In the dark gray shadows of that heaven, we would all huddle around in the cold talking the language of loss.

God would be a penniless peddler with an empty push cart.

Lillian is now 29 years old, and sometimes when I'm thinking too much about Dostoevsky and Morrison and Faulkner, I call her up and say, "Hey, Lillian, remember the time you imagined that heaven was a place where you and Laura and your mom and me would play tag?"

And Lillian says, "Yes, I sure do, I remember when Aslan would ...."

(The photo above is of Lillian and my dad and my mom's brother Uncle Walter.)

Monday, November 17, 2008

Kitchen Remodeling

Linda has been asking me (I won't say nagging) to get these pictures of the remodeling up. Here are the pictures and some words Linda wrote about the project:

Hi, everyone. You suffered with me during the remodeling. Here are photos of the finished project (well, not quite finished, we're still waiting for a shelf, but I am not going to ask again unless I get another bill. Billing stopped a month ago, so I figure I'm somewhat ahead right now on all of this).

John's posting before and after pictues. We did wind up losing my lovely built-in spice cabinet, a project I did myself this summer, but I was willing to lose it to get the rest of the job completed.

Wood floors, granite countertop, built-in microwave, under-the-counter sink, gas range -- we're hoping this will all come back to us when we sell the house. In any case, this is part one of the project. John will do a blog with photos of the remodeled bathrooms after we get this first blog on the kitchen up.

Here are the before pictures:


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And these are the after pictures:




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Saturday, November 01, 2008

Joe Biden Rally

I haven't been as active this election year as in the past. Probably it's because of the remodeling we've been doing and the fact that Linda recently retired and we've been travelling a lot. It's been hard to find time to canvas and answer phones and walk around trying to get the vote out.

But I did do one significant thing this time around that may -- in fact -- guarantee the election of Barack Obama.

I went to a political rally at the community market in Danville, Virginia.

Here's a picture a police officer at the rally took for my neighbor Kelly Brande:

Now, I got to explain what I meant when I said that my being at this rally may guarantee the election for my fellow Chicagoan, Barack Obama.

In my life I have seen three Democratic politicians who were running for president. I attended rallies for John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Bill Clinton. Each one of them became president. I never saw Mondale or Dukakis or Kerry, and -- not surprisingly -- none of those fellows became president.

How can I explain this? Well, really I can't -- it's like so many of the great truths, a mystery from top to bottom, port to starboard.

Truth be told, I did see one Democrat who didn't become president. That was Al Gore, but his not getting to be president doesn't really deny the power of my gift. He did win the election but was robbed.

I hope that doesn't happen again

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Graham Lewis--Forever Came Today

I heard last night that Graham died early yesterday.

I had known Graham for almost 20 years. He was a student of mine at Eastern Illinois University a long time ago. It was a course in Literature and Psychology, and Graham was a student I liked to see in class. He was smart, really smart, and he said things I liked hearing about Freud and Dostoevsky, Jung and Eugene O'Neill. He would spin that Psych theory like a top. Sometimes his life as a student would get in the way of his studies. He was running with Joe Butler for student body president and vice-president, and they were running a pretty wild and unconventional campaign.

Sometimes, Graham would come to class unprepared during the race, but he was always upfront about that. He'd come in and say, "Doc, I'm not going to do you any good today." Then, he would smile and shrug, and you knew that he would get it all together tomorrow or the next day.

Years later, I met him again. He got a job teaching in my department, and he taught there for the rest of his life.

We were both smokers when he first started teaching, and we would meet outside Coleman Hall in all kinds of weather to smoke a cigarette between classes. He was a good person to share a cigarette with. He was always upbeat, always smiling like he did in class long ago when he was a student. You would join him outside with some kind of crazy or sad story about a student's meltdown or failure, and he would smile and shrug, say something reassuring about the student. He was a good person to talk to.

Graham was also a good poet, and I want to post one of his poems here from his book Forever Came Today. The sonnet is from a sequence about a Coles County, Illinois, woman named Marjorie.

Marjorie Walks On Water

She sits talking to the crickets and rain,
the glow of town melting
to the flat black mud of Coles County.
This morning she heard music from the sky,
rolls of thunder teasing her into the fields.
She followed across gulleys and creeks,
each rumble a revelation just out of reach.
Hours later she found herself wet and alone.
When the moon came her breasts ached,
her monthly blood bitter and warm.
She sits rocking, rocking in the darkness,
telling it that always magical story
of how all she ever wanted
was to heal the sick and raise the dead.

You can see more of Graham's poems at the EIU online journal Agora.



Memories of Graham

I received the following note from Jean Toothman, the secretary of the English Dept. at EIU:


I've had several requests to add messages of condolence or memories of Graham Lewis to the brief biography we have for him on the web site. While I lack the programming skills to make that an interactive page, it would be quite simple for us to add your memories or messages to the page.

If you'd like to add a memory or message of condolence to the page, please email it to Ginny (

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Linda and the Contractors

As some of you know, we've been having a professional contractor do some work in our new house in Danville. He's been working on the kitchen and the bathrooms and on the floors upstairs. I've been pretty much trying to stay out of the way. I'm spending a lot of time in our beautiful basement which Linda remodeled and made a fit place to sit and write in. Like Toni Morrison suggests in her novel Sula, "Sometimes, when things are going crazy, all you can do is to just get out of the way."

Linda, however, is in the thick of the work, tracking what's going on with it, and recently, she wrote up a piece about it. Here's her story:

Lillian told me that she read an essay by a woman that compared working with a contractor to having an affair. I know just how she felt, well, sort of anyway. Friday our contractor, Jimmy, was here sweet talking me with promises. We’d sleep in our own bed come Monday. We’d have a toilet and sink right there, finished, to clean up in at any hour of the day or night. The floor would look fabulous, the room would be set back. It would be like a night at the Ritz. Yesterday I started to worry. I got long suffering John to help me put our clothes back in their closets so that Monday morning Jimmy’s crew would be moving furniture only. So we worked and worked and worried some more, but we slept deep in anticipation of this morning’s busy chaos.

This morning came with one worker, a big kid I’d never seen before, and when I asked what he would do first, he answered but I couldn’t figure out what he’d said. Half hour later a short skinny guy who looks a bit like a heroin addict came by, friendly as could be, to do a bit more looking. And right on his heels we get the sanders, here to start their work day.
So I called the contractor’s office to complain that my husband was moving furniture (I am certain they aren’t going to pay John), and where is the crew Jimmy promised me. Many calming words and sweet promises. And then I get a plumber show up at the door. He’s trying to put in a toilet and sink, running up and down the stairs to the basement leaving all the doors open, the cat running every which way, and he’s in one lousy mood since the bathroom is full with furniture, books, clothes, boxes. I ask him if he’s ever had a worse environment, and he says “not lately.” I joke (big mistake) that even is he gets the sink and toilet finished, we won’t be able to get to them and we don’t have a bed up in the bedroom in any case. He grunts, says something I can’t understand, and runs back down the stairs.

John calls me from the front door to say Jimmy’s send someone to check to see if the bedroom is set up for us. I say we took the futon mattress to my study so that we’d salvage somewhere to sleep, but the bathroom is going to be inaccessible since the floors will be wet with polyurethane in any case. He mumbles something about camping, I go upstairs to close the door to the bedroom.
After I come down to gripe at John about it all (he’s holed up in the family room reading emails about his blog), I decide to check the bathroom again.

When I get upstairs I discover everyone is gone, except for the guy with the sanding machine that sounds like a jet engine is revving up in our living room. I run to the front door and discover all the cars and trucks are gone. Here I am waiting. Still no Jimmy. But I do have the check I wrote for his second draw on the work sitting on my desk, and I’ll be damned if I give it to anyone but him, if he ever shows up that is.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Deaths of Writers

I've been a reader for 50 years and I've seen writers I love die, some naturally and some unnaturally. I've said goodbye to Faulkner, Hemingway, Plath, Steinbeck, Kerouac, Primo Levi, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and Saul Bellow.

The deaths have always hit me hard because the relationship you have with a writer is different from the relationship you have with anyone else. In the secret place you go to when you are reading, you and the writer share dreams and fears and wishes and hopes in a way that is nothing like your relationship with anyone else.

The writer is your lover and your confessor, your mother and your father, your God and your Satan. And you are the same for him. The writer tells you what he dreams and what he fears. When he tells you what he dreams, you help him come a little closer to those dreams. When he tells you what he fears, you help him push those fears away a little bit. And this works the same for you when you tell the writer in this secret place about your fears and dreams.

It's hard when a writer you love dies, but it's only hard for a while. His death begins to fade when you pick up his book again, return to that secret place.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

re: David Foster Wallace and Suicide

I read early this morning that writer David Foster Wallace, the author of Infinite Jest, committed suicide a couple of days ago. His wife came home Friday night to find that he had hanged himself.

I didn't much like his fiction. Its irony and postmodernism seemed familiar, but his essays were sharp and funny, and he was from central Illinois and I spent much of my working life teaching lit and creative writing there, and I feel a kinship with young writers from there.

I'll miss the guy.

What amazes me about him is that he apparently had everything, talent to burn, time to write, a sweet teaching load, people reading and loving his books, and he kills himself.

Like I said, I don't get it, but my wife tells me I'm naive, that people who kill themselves have reasons that the folks left behind don't understand. It's not about what they have, but rather about what they feel they don't have, and you and me will never know what that loss feels like.

I'm sure she's right.

A couple of years ago, Marty Scott, a friend of mine, a terrific writer and a kind, compassionate, generous guy killed himself. I couldn't make sense of that death either, but one thing that helped me was a song by Lucinda Williams that I found right after my friend killed himself.

Here it is:

Sweet Old World

See what you lost when you left this world, this sweet old world
See what you lost when you left this world, this sweet old world
The breath from your own lips, the touch of fingertips
A sweet and tender kiss
The sound of a midnight train, wearing someone's ring
Someone calling your name
Somebody so warm cradled in your arm
Didn't you think you were worth anything

See what you lost when you left this world, this sweet old world
See what you lost when you left this world, this sweet old world

Millions of us in love, promises made good
Your own flesh and blood
Looking for some truth, dancing with no shoes
The beat, the rhythm, the blues
The pounding of your heart's drum together with another one
Didn't you think anyone loved you

See what you lost when you left this world, this sweet old world
See what you lost when you left this world, this sweet old world

(There's a version of this song on youtube sung by Emmylou Harris.)

Thursday, September 04, 2008

The Presidential Lottery

Garrison Keillor wrote an article for the online journal Salon called "Who wants to see Sarah Palin as the next president?"

I read the article and started thinking about how crazy elections and primaries and conventions are. We go through all of that anguish and trauma and anger for months upon months and we end up with presidents like: George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George (the other) Bush, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy C, Richard Nixon and on and on and on.

Really, it's a crazy system we have, and I wrote a letter to Salon offering something a little different.

Here's what I sent to Salon:

The Lottery

Watching the Bush administration treat Iraq like its private AMT for the last seven years, and now faced with the possibility of watching McCain and Palin "bring the pain," I'm starting to think that there needs to be a better way of selecting a president.

Maybe it's time for a national Presidential lottery, a random picking of a president based on only two criteria: you can't be a felon and you got to be at least 35. With our technology, we could easily put everyone who meets the criteria in a big electronic fish bowl and draw a winner.

I know some people will say we already have a lottery. They look at Sarah Palin and say, "She's kind of random. There doesn't seem to be much reasoning behind her selection."

But I think those people miss the point. Palin wasn't picked randomly. McCain must have thought it out, or least thought about it.

Really, we need to get beyond all of this and work on putting in a national lottery.

The biggest advantage is that the odds are we wouldn't get some politico pit-bull, raring to chew off the leg of any Democrat that gets in her way, and we wouldn't get some fuzzy-headed geezer like McCain who unleashed her.

Instead, we'd get some average, random American (like me) who, I'm sure, would do as good a job as McCain or Palin as president without all of the hateful posturing and silly name calling.

Saturday, August 09, 2008


A couple of days ago, my friend poet Christina Pacosz sent me an article entitled “Rich Begin Feeling the Pain in Down Economy.” It was written by Mark Jewell for the AP, and he got me thinking about rich people.

What always amazes me about rich people is how little contact they have with the rest of us.

I'm 60 years old, have lived in America most of my life, have been educated here in private and public schools, have a PhD from a major university, have taught in American universities for 35 years--and still I have never met a rich person, I mean a really rich person, somebody with a yacht or a jet and a personal assistant to manage his lunch dates.

Where do the rich keep themselves?

I've met unemployed people, farmers, doctors, artists, factory workers, peddlers, homeless folks, business people, writers, lower and middle class people by the thousands, but I have never met a rich person.

Where are they?

Do they live on special islands off the coast of America?

I sometimes suspect that may be true. One time I went to St. Mary's Island off the coast of Georgia for a vacation with Linda and some friends from Valdosta, and that island was connected to another island by a bridge. However, you couldn't get across that bridge unless you were one of the rich folks living on that island.

How do I know this?

There were armed guards (security professionals) stationed at the foot of the bridge. I asked one of them before he told me I couldn't go any farther.

Am I the only one who has never met a rich person?

I don't think so.

When I used to teach F. Scott Fitzgerald's THE GREAT GATSBY, the discussion in my class would sometimes turn to Fitzgerald's statement that the "rich are different from you and me," and I would ask my students at Eastern Illinois University if they had ever met a rich person. These students were pretty much a cross section of the population of Illinois with students from all over the state. So I always figured I would run into a student who had met a rich person. But that never happened.

Once in a while I would come across a student who had met someone who had met someone who had met a rich person, but pretty much most of the students hadn't met a rich person or met anybody who had.

So I guess Fitzgerald was right. The rich are different from you and me.

They are invisible.


Sunday, June 22, 2008


Today is my birthday. June 22nd. I'm 60.

A lot has happened in the last year. I published two books of poetry (Lightning and Ashes and Third Winter of War: Buchenwald), got nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for the latter, finished a novel that an agent was really interested in and then lost interest in, celebrated my wife Linda's retirement, moved to Danville, Virginia to be closer to our daughter Lillian, and got shingles.

All of those happenings were on the plus side--except for the shingles.

Really, shingles have made this birthday special.

Before the shingles, I always felt pretty good. Beside doing a lot of writing and reading and all the things I mentioned above, I was getting lots of exercise. Two or three times a day, I would run or ride my bike or lift weights or nordic track or do yoga. Like I said, I was feeling pretty good.

Then I got shingles right after the move to Danville. At first there was burning and stabbing pain, what one doctor called "lightning pain." It hit about 5-6 times an hour. Now there's just burning pain--pretty much all the time. I was taking about 3 kinds of pain killers and using lidocaine pain patches. All of that medication zonked me out--made me sleepy, dizzy, nervous, short-tempered, confused, and it didn't do much to get rid of the pain. Doing all those meds made it impossible to do much of anything. So now, I try to take no more than one pain pill or patch every day.

But slowly, it's all getting better. Very slowly.

I've started writing again, and I've started reading again, and I've started exercising again.

I figure pretty soon I'll be 59 again.

(If you want to read my 59th birthday post, just click here.)

Monday, May 12, 2008


We are finally moved. Sort of.

Two Saturdays ago, we loaded up all the furniture and boxes that we had been packing for the last two months. Two Sundays ago, we drove the 570 miles from Valdosta, GA, to Danville, VA, in a caravan of two 26-foot long U-Haul trucks and three cars. If you're wondering how Linda and I were able to do all that caravanning, we had help. Our friends Ari Santas and his son Michael and Michael's friend John Reed helped us load and drive. They also-- along with our daughter Lillian -- helped us unload. We pulled into Danville about 7 pm Sunday night, and we immediately started unloading. By 230 am, we were done.

Except for the unpacking.

Ari, Michael, and John had to get back to Valdosta, so they got into Ari's little red car and drove.

Then we started unpacking.

It was all going smoothly until I came down with shingles. It's an illness with a funny name. I mean, I used to snicker when people said that they had shingles. No more. The pain around my heart and lungs was so strong that I thought I was having a heart attack.

The doctor gave me a shot of some kind of anti-shingles drug and a shot of B-12 and three prescriptions for a pain killer, an anti-inflammatory, and an anti-shingles drug. The drugs are knocking me out, making me dizzy, sleepy, and dopey. I’ve also been running a temperature and getting the chills.

Linda at one point took some photos of the two wide, red bands of rashes across my back, and we were going to post them on this blog, but we both decided that the world doesn't need to see how bad these rashes are.

Anyway, Linda and Lillian are unpacking while I sort of sit around and nap and try to keep from shaking with the chills.

Thursday, April 24, 2008


I've been tagged by my friend Sara who has a blog called AND THE COW SAID MOO.
I'm not sure what tagging means but she sent me some rules:
1. Pick up the nearest book.

2. Open to page 123.

3. Find the fifth sentence.

4. Post the next three sentences.

5. Tag five people, and acknowledge who tagged you.

Here goes:

This is from Kolyma Tales by Varlam Shalamov. He spent 17 years at hard labor in Siberia. This is a book he wrote about that.

"You've been exposed, Merzlakov," the neuropathologist said. "But I put in a good word fror you to the head of the hospital. You won't be retried or sent to a penal mine. You'll just have to check out of the hospital and return to your previous mine--to your old job."

I'm supposed to tag people now, 5 of them. I'm going to tag 5 people who have absolutely no time for this: Marty Williams, Tania Rochelle, Jeff Newberry, Joe Glaser, Linda Calendrillo.
Nothing's easy. That's the moral of Shalamov's book and Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment and Tadeusz Borowski's This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen.
Life tests us and we always fail, and the penalty is always the same.
Don't ask.

Monday, March 17, 2008

12 Fotos of Mustaches

My friend Jamie Harmon is an artist and photographer who occasionally sends me postcards he makes himself based on photographs he's taken. The cards have haiku like poems on the back side too. Both the photos and the poems are first rate and always inspiring.
I got the most recent card this last Saturday. The card came just as we were visiting with Linda's parents Tony and Mabel, her sister Laura and her husband Bill, and their son Christopher and his wife Christine and their infant daughter Nicole.
I asked them each to play with the postcard, and then I took some pictures.

PS. Jamie Harmon's got a great web page where you can see a bunch of his photos and a lot of other things:

By the way, here's a picture of Jamie and me. I'm the guy smiling.

Saturday, March 01, 2008



Someone should write a history of it.

Think about it. Probably for the first million plus years we were here on earth, we were up to our ears in solitude. We'd watched the sky and the horizon for a bit of smoke, listen for the turning of a clumsy wheel or a whistle coming from some tall grass. Anything that might signal that our solitude was about to end.

At night, we'd sit in a tree or a cave and practice our smiles and handshakes on the off chance we'd meet somebody the next day coming toward us through that grass. We'd also practice our “company’s coming” talk, "Hi, I'm Abel from this tree here, glad to meet you. You just passing through? Like to stop?"

Sometimes you see a bird all alone on a tree, turning his head this way and that, pausing and listening the way birds listen to the sounds in the wind when they're all alone. We were probably like that bird most of the time we were on earth--maybe up to about 15,000 years ago when we learned to hunker down together.

It was probably a good break from the solitude and what was behind it and always coming closer, the loneliness.

A person gets tired of sleeping with his back exposed to the wind and the weather. He wants to have someone behind him keeping his back warm. It was probably that way when he was a baby, his momma pressing his back into her warm belly. You miss that kind of loving and go searching for something that will break the loneliness and the fancy Sunday-dress version of loneliness, solitude.

But then something happens, and we start getting a little too much of that pressing.

Maybe it's the growth of cities or the rise of the merchant class or the start of the industrial revolution with its ugly factories, and all we got then is people pressing into us, some pressing in a loving way but more just pressing, just pressing a little more each day until we start thinking down into our DNA and remembering the solitude we had so much of so long ago, and we start missing it.

(Photos: The first photo of a field in Illinois is by the poet and photographer Michael Healey. The photo of Walden Pond 2007 and the Bellagio Casino/Las Vegas 2007 are by me.)

Thursday, February 14, 2008

AWP 2008 Update!

After I wrote my previous blog about the AWP, I started hearing from people I saw or didn’t see at the conference, and I started remembering stuff I wished I had put in the previous blog, but early on I promised myself I would never revise blogs. Period means period.

So I’m getting around that promise by doing another blog.

First, I wanted to mention the people that I saw that I didn’t mention earlier.

My first AWP blog made it sound like I was pretty lonely there (and I was), but that probably had as much to do with my own general gloominess as it did the conference. Beside all the people I did mention in the previous blog, I saw two others I wanted to get in.

I ran into David Radavich, one of my EIU friends, about five times at the AWP Bookfair. He was usually going one way and I was going another. We nodded and shook hands and said this and that, but I guess I was too discombobulated to say to David, “I’m lost, let’s have coffee.”

I also ran into Thad Rutkowski who I recently read with in DC. We did have coffee (Starbucks) and talked about how confusing the conference was. He gave me a copy of his book Tetched: A Novel in Fractals.

(If you are reading this and saw me or talked to me at AWP, please drop me a line at jzguzlowski [at], and I will be sure to post your name in my next AWP update.)

Then there are all the friends who I didn’t see but who I found out later were there: Jean Braithwaite, Irene Willis, Sheryl St. Germain, and Jeff Vasseur.

I ran into Jeff at La Guardia Airport when I was heading back to Valdosta. I said, “I didn’t know you were at the AWP,” and he said, “I didn’t know you were at the AWP.” We grinned and shrugged, and talked about the general confusion at the conference; and then he said something that really stuck with me. He said (and I’m paraphrasing here), “Being at the AWP is like being on Mars.”

I’ve thought about that a lot and figure that that gets to the heart of it as well as anything. It’s like we’re astronauts in separate little personal rockets aimed at Mars, and NASA hurls our souls – as Bruce Springsteen would sing it – into that “great void” beyond, and some how most of us make it, and then we start wandering around Mars looking for other little personal rockets with poets and writers inside.

We find some of those other astronauts but others we don’t. It’s a big dusty planet, and we have other things on our mind.

And of course some of us don’t make it to Mars.