Remembering Brent

An Illustration from AustenRecently, I lost one of my heroes.

Dr. Brent Chesley was a professor at Aquinas College and a big influence on the person I became. For a while I even wanted to be Dr. Chesley as I applied and was accepted in a Ph.D. program in Literature at Michigan State University. (In time that didn’t feel like a good match for my skills and I transferred over to the University of Southern California’s writing program where I eventually got my MFA.)

Everyday Dr. Chesley celebrated literature.

Everything was worthy of a discussion and everyone’s opinion mattered. To emphasize this, he would begin each class by welcoming his students as “persons of quality.” If hearing that, even on a stormy Monday, doesn’t bring a smile to your face, I don’t know what will.

After graduation, Dr. Chesley and I stayed in touch. We would meet for lunch once a year or so, where we would discuss writing and maybe Worf on Star Trek. We kept in touch over emails and Facebook messages. Whenever I had a funny or depressing story to share about the world of literature (and my adventures in it), there would be an email out from me followed by a few from him.

The world felt right knowing Dr. Chesley was out there. He was the fan of literature that writers dream of. Someone that will really give your writing a chance (not just skim like someone waiting at an airport) and find the possibility there. For years, he would have me come into his writing courses to speak to his students (you can listen to one of those appearances here) and a part of me always wanted to begin by saying “Do you know how lucky you are to be in this class right now?” We all have those wonders if you can go back and relive certain moments in your life which would you choose. Of course, like most people, I will point to holding my children as babies again or when my wife and I were married, but I would also include being a student at Aquinas College in that list.

When I went off to study writing on the graduate level other students would ask why I went to Aquinas College as compared to a major university. But Aquinas College turned out to be the perfect starting place for me, and the professors that were there then, like Dr. Chesley,  were able to give me the attention and focus I needed. I wasn’t just another student dreaming of publishing stardom. I was unique and special there. And we all like to feel unique and special, don’t we?

Pride and PrejudiceWhen I wrote my novel A Jane Austen Daydream I had to create a series of articles for websites and press releases about the book and Dr. Chesley would always sneak into them. For it was Dr. Chesley, who introduced me to Ms. Austen. As any of his former students will tell you he was obsessed with Pride and Prejudice and considered it one of the greatest works in English Literature. Today, I heartily agree with him, but before his class I would never have considered picking up one of her books. Oh, how wrong I was. It is one of the reasons why I gave him a cameo in the book, acting as the doctor in Jane Austen’s hometown.

It still feels right to me that the doctor in Jane’s hometown is actually a doctor of literature.

A few years after I graduated Dr. Chesley told me I could just call him Brent. It felt weird and then strangely like an honor. How many other students got to call a professor by their first name? It was something I had earned. So when I think of the person that left my life, I don’t simply think of a professor that encouraged and inspired me, I also think of a good friend… and a hero.

Goodbye Brent. Tell Jane I said hi.

Book Review: Burr by Gore Vidal

BurrA new book review today! This time I am taking on the classic work of historical fiction, Burr by Gore Vidal. If you love the musical Hamilton, you will love this book.

You can check out my other book reviews (both for WKAR’s Current State and this website) here.

If you want to check out Burr for yourself, you can find it on Amazon here.

Burr by Gore Vidal

Historical fiction is a dangerous genre.

In the wrong hands it can change a person’s perception of a real event or historical figure, tainting the truth for readers and the public. Debates and controversies in our world have been created out of less! But in the right hands it can inspire a reader to see something from a new light, possibly break out of their normal mindset. Easily the most dangerous, and possibly exciting, historical fiction I have ever read is Burr by Gore Vidal. In it, Gore Vidal tries to make a hero out of Aaron Burr, one-time vice president and killer of Alexander Hamilton.

HamiltonI discovered the book when my family (including my kids) became obsessed with Lin-Manuel Miranda’s fantastic musical, Hamilton. While Hamilton puts many of the heroes of the American Revolution in the wonderful glow of the spotlight; Gore Vidal instead adds a lot of filters and a smoke machine. In Burr, Vidal seems to take a glee out of spoiling our history and understanding around the American revolution. This is not your normal 1776.

In Burr, George Washington is an incompetent general more worried about his image and politics as compared to victories. Alexander Hamilton is shady and driven by power. Even French military hero Marquis de Lafayette comes out as a little bit of a buffoon. Only Aaron Burr steps forward as a hero, and possibly the true father of our country.

Aaron Burr is the voice of reason and all of the decisions he makes are for the good of the country. He rarely thinks of his own self-interest, as he weaves each of his plots that he is certain will help grow the new country he loves. Everything seems to make sense from his perspective, but history will never know.

The novel Burr is told through the voice of Charles Schuyler, one of the few fictional characters in it. He spends his time hobnobbing with the political elites, dating questionable women, and meeting with important members of the New York literary circle, including Washington Irving. Charles is determined to write a book on Aaron Burr and is able to get him to open up and share his experiences. It is through those recollections that both the book and the character do not hold back. For Aaron Burr has a strong opinion about everyone in our revolutionary history and few walk out of his recollections unscathed.

I can’t help but imagine Vidal smiling throughout the writing of this book. Most of it seems to be built out of the rumors and gossip of that period as compared to what our historians will focus on. It is because of this fact that I find the book so dangerous. Yet, even I, a fan of nonfiction and Ken Burns documentaries felt a sense of horror and scandalous pleasure in the reading of it.

Even without Vidal’s wonderful writing, Aaron Burr is a fascinating and complicated character just waiting for a novelist’s pen. Besides the duel with Hamilton, he was once tried for treason, was quite the lady’s man, and was almost President of the United States. The question though is he an American hero? Vidal tries to present him as one and I can’t help but think the idea is a little… well… brilliantly dangerous.

What I want to see…

american-flagNow, please understand I am just a liberal writer with strong opinions. As you can imagine, this election has really shaken up those opinions. For the last few days, as every newscaster was declaring the doom of America, I began to wonder how Democrats and the left can turn this into a positive movement for change. For this new President and Congress can only find success if we stay silent and fragmented.

So here it is…

I want to see a national Democratic conference called. Maybe for as soon as next summer.

I’m not talking a little shindig. I’m saying something on the scale of a presidential convention. It has to be loud, big, and filled with so many celebrities, and musical performances that every news station would want to be there and it will be aired everywhere.

The evenings will be about three things:

  • Showing our diversity
  • Expressing what we will fight for
  • Introducing the next leaders to the public now

Sure, the Obamas, Clintons, Warren and Sanders will speak to the crowds. But their speeches have to be introductions to the next leaders. We need to put faces out there now (the Castro brothers, Booker, Harris, etc.). And the speeches they give have to be powerful, inspiring. Like Obama in 2004, each has to present the image of what we envision the potential of our country.

Finally, I would like the conference to end with an easy to follow 10-point agenda on what all democrats plan to do. These are very easy to follow, straight forward and hard to argue against. Health care, education, women’s right, equality, immigration, climate change, financial oversight, all have to be there. The plan can not disappear. It has to be talked about all of the time. It has to be talked about so often that everyone will be able to recite them, point by point.

After the conference, Democrats have to keep talking about it, sharing quotes from the speeches. Yes, it is like starting up the next election early, but it could help with the midterms and it would put everyone on the same page. We won’t be fighting inside our own circles like in 2016. We will be together. And really America needs our voices more now than ever.

While it feels good for me to write this, it is only an idea right now. It has to spread. So if you like this idea, write about it, share it, talk about it. 

My Favorite Article About the Election Result

clinton-kaine-yard-sign-in-yardAs many who read my site know I have a love-hate relationship with Garrison Kellor’s writing. Sometimes I find it lazy… and sometimes he knocks it out of the park. This is one of the latter.

He wrote this article about the election for the Washington Post and I wanted to share the link here. It helped relax me a bit.

Trump voters will not like what happens next

Typically, I would write more about the election myself, but I feel so numb from it. And it feels a little like shouting off the side of a mountain. It might be therapeutic for the screamer but really doesn’t accomplish or change anything.

Twice in my life now I have seen candidates that would be great presidents win the popular vote and lose the electoral college. And this one is more painful than the last.

This is what I wrote on my Facebook account at around 3 AM last night. I think it captures my confusion around this life changing event.

This means everything, and I mean everything, we know about elections can be wrong. Polls (all of them) can be inaccurate, debates don’t matter, commentaries and endorsements are worthless, conventions are nothing, tax returns aren’t important, political infrastructures and operatives are a waste, representing the majority is ridiculous, forget about being the best person you can be, and the truth… well… who needs it?

I worry for climate change and the environment. I worry for education. I worry about gun control and gender rights and women’s rights. And I worry for the world.

Actually, I think we should all worry about that last one.

10 Things That Prove I Am Getting Old

Father Time1. Sometimes the movies in the movie theater are just too gosh-darn loud!

2. I don’t like emoji’s. I don’t find them cute or humorous. I find them annoying and I’m always sure the sender could have easily typed words in the amount of time it took them to find the blasted image.

3. I rap along with The Beastie Boys each time they come up on my iPhone.

4. I have The Beastie Boys on my iPhone.

5. The idea of virtual reality scares me. (Not because of the technology, it’s just that it is one more thing that will emphasize to me how little I have done in my life and how unimportant I am.)

6. When I read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, for the first time, I related more to the grownups then the kids. Don’t those blasted kids know they are dealing with powerful dark magic! What were they thinking? No dinner! Go to your room!

7. I still think of YouTube as a new thing.

8. I still think of Twitter as a new thing.

9. I was excited about Bloom County coming back… and then had to explain to everyone exactly what Bloom County was.

10. I have a blog

Halloween Redux

HalloweenI’m one of those nuts who thinks of Autumn as his favorite time of the years. Maybe this is a last gasp of Marching Band nerdness (Go Vikings!), but I look forward to the falling leaves, the smells, and the sheer panic we feel around our political system every two to four years. Ahhh… Fall.

My kids really want to get more Halloween decorations for our house, but I’ve never been impressed by the market. Usually everything seems plastic and loud. And I’m definitely not the type of guy to have anything giant and inflatable on my lawn. My line about this kind of stuff is Wayne Manor. “What would Alfred allow?” I ask.

The answer is usually not much.

Over the years I’ve written a bit about this holiday, which you can check out below in the links. I’ve also had the pleasure of reviewing some Halloween and horror stories on WKAR Current State. I thought I would include them as well if you are looking for something a little spooky to read this year. Also, they are fun to listen to because in a few of them I try (badly) to do a scary voice. Who doesn’t need a good and embarrassing laugh from time to time?

Boo!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Uses of This World: Chapter 8

hamlet-and-ghostDenmark 1926. The world is on a powder keg, the old world is in conflict with the new, still recovering from World War I. Jazz and flappers. Cocktails and parties. In this tumultuous time, the king of Denmark is found dead… but his spirit is not at rest.

Uses of this World is the tale of the people around the events of Hamlet, from the soldiers to the royal family. Each is tied to the outcomes around the crown. And the country, as well as the world, is waiting to see what happens next.

Previous Chapters

Chapter 8: Son

For the first time in Prince Hamlet’s life he felt lost. Truly lost. This was not the garden maze of his youth. The well-worn turns and dead ends were now covered with dark leaves and thorns.

Unearthly. Unholy.

These thorns dripped black blood and stank of time and neglect.

Hamlet remembered chasing after the vision of his father, racing down the stairs of the parapet walls, and into the royal garden maze. Then everything changed. Not just in the environment but in his mind. The fog was everywhere, more than covering the ground, sticking to the very air around him, entering him, becoming part of him.

What time was it? How long had he been in the maze?

“Mark me,” a dead voice echoed around him in the air; like a wind, passing by and then racing away.

Hamlet stopped, he felt out of breath. Was he out of breath or was the air so dead that there was little for the living? “I will.”

A path opened up in the maze in front of him; the thorns turning aside, granting passage, with breaks and splinters in the wood and vine. The leaves on this new path were a dark green but eerie bright. The green reminded the prince of the glow of the kingly specter. A nightmare was in front of Hamlet, welcoming him, and he entered. Continue reading

Remembering Cool: Resharing Some Posts for an Old Friend

field

A few days ago I learned that a friend from my college days died.

Sue was one of the heroes in a two-part comedy story I did about my awkward time working in a grocery store bank. Here are the links:

Sue was an artist. She was hilarious with a very dark sense of humor. She was wicked smart. It took me a few months to figure out when she was actually caring about what I was saying or when she was just saving it away for a story she would tell others later. Of course, either way you had her undivided attention.

One of the valuable thing she did for me is show me how someone who is more on the artistic side of things can survive in the real world. And many times since then whenever I was in an office setting I would wonder if I was acting like Sue at that moment.

I lost touch with Sue after college but then a few years ago she found me on Facebook. I verified that everything I said in these two blogpost were correct with her. When she said they were and said how much she liked them I couldn’t stop smiling for days. I felt like that was something I earned. She went on to also read some of my books which made me soar.

Today, I regret not reaching out more outside of Facebook. It would have been interesting for me to see her life since our bizarre banking days. But like most people I always felt like there was more time.

I hope you will check out these blogposts.

Goodbye Sue. You were one of the coolest.

Lawn Signs

clinton-kaine-yard-sign-in-yardI’m going to share with you my one real crime.

And I got away with it completely. There has never been an arrest or a warrant on this one. So the big secret is about to come out. Are you ready?

I once stole political lawn signs from neighbor yards!

Yes, I am a thief. Here is what I would say to a judge:

But your honor, I was young! Only 18! And it was a joke. A practical joke, honest! You’ve done bad jokes in the past, right? Well, that is what this is! Just a simple laugh.

See, I had this friend in high school who had very strong opinions about the election that year (she was one of those souls that has a strong opinion about everything).  She wouldn’t stop talking about it. It drove me crazy! If I wanted to get her goat about it, I would point out that she would not be able to vote, she was only 17. But I would be able to. It actually was my first time voting and I was pretty excited about it.

This was the first election of Bill Clinton, going up against President George Bush and Ross Perot.

The friend detested those who were considering voting for the President. While I was looking forward to voting for Clinton (even though my first choice was Paul Tsongas), that ballot felt like my first step into adulthood. I vote… then graduate from high school… and then enter college. A real American grownup.

Anyway, so one day I had heard enough about her opinion about the election; and after school thanks to a free hour, I went out and collected about half a dozen lawn signs from the yards of strangers. I stuck them all around her mom’s front yard.

That was my one crime and I was never caught.

Judge, can I plead the fifth? I already talked and admitted it? Damn…

Continue reading

The Night I Stopped Being a Model

Originally, I was planning to share five of my worst book reviews. It felt like a fun idea at first, but then I began to imagine what the author might feel if they find the post thanks to a tag or a search. When you put your heart into something, hearing that your art did not work… well… it sucks. And it’s not just a bad review, it would be part of a list of the worst reviews!

Frankly, a bad review can sting. On the flip side, I’ve been the target of a few as well. With sites like GoodReads and amazon, you get the full spectrum of readers and reviewers now. My only thing about a bad review is I want their argument to be clear and well-founded. “Because-I-say-so” is just not a strong argument why a book is worth leaving on the shelf. After one nasty review, I wrote a post on how to write a bad book review. You can check it out here- https://sdsouthard.com/2013/10/07/the-troll-under-the-bridge-how-to-write-a-good-bad-book-review/

So… instead of sharing a pile of nasty, I’m instead going to reshare this blogpost. It also appears in my book Me Stuff which you can find on Amazon (https://amzn.com/B00LEUKLUY). Enjoy!

The Musings & Artful Blunders of Scott D. Southard

ModelsFrom around the age of 8 to about 13, I was a model. Yes, I once worked it.

Before anyone gets overwhelmed by images of catwalks, raining money, national commercials, and maybe bulimia, this was all local stuff; the work was not even unionized. And, to be honest, even locally I was not very popular. My brother was the popular one. He even had an agent before me. He is six-years younger than me, did a lot of local theater and had cute long curly hair.  He played the camera, I stared dumbly at it.

So in a way, I was the twofer. “If you need an older brother for the cute kid, we have one ready for you!”

The first ad, I ever did was for a holiday commercial for Meijer. It was around GI Joe action figures, and for some reason they had me and this other boy dress…

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