On the Road
To follow up on yesterday’s post…
“I’m telling ya, this is going to be the death of liberals. this nit-picky, intramural attacking of friends for insufficient purity. Compulsively cleaning up a little corner of the room, that’s already quite clean…while there are giant piles of shit everywhere else.” – Bill Maher
I indeed felt picked apart, shouted down and ridiculed by my own party’s speakers and leadership this week, and I know there’s a huge pile of shit in Libya for one place. It troubles me to no end than none of my (formerly) fellow liberal Democrats want to address it. They’re really okay with thousands of dead Muslim civilians and more to come under Hillary (most likely Tehran). They just won’t talk about it, sort of like CNN. Even Bill Clinton skipped right over Libya last night during his pep rally. US Prez is the most powerful person in the world so we can’t just say yes but she says pretty things about Muslims here at home, and all we care about is what happens here at home. We’re okay with thousands of dead civilians as long as they’re brown and live far away, and as long as Hillary says she’s pro-choice and pro-LGBT rights here at home. How disturbingly narcissistic are we? This is its own kind of isolationism and she too is a demagogue.
Hillary was also pro-TPP until 5 minutes ago to appease Sanders supporters and I still don’t believe she won’t switch right back if elected. Trump is also pretending to be anti-TPP. Trump is also now pretending to be pro-LGBT.
All of my liberal Dem friends have spent years opposed to the Iraq invasion even though under Bush it labeled us pro-Saddam. Hillary fell right in line with Bush back then and we disliked her for it. Now that Trump is saying the same thing we’re all siding with Bush and Hillary Clinton by default, or just saying nothing and avoiding the subject.
If we take the stance that politicians say all kinds of crazy things during an election year, then all we can go on is their actions. Let’s try it. Trump might say horrible things. Clinton does them. Trump might want a temporary ban on Muslims. Clinton attacks a sovereign nation and murders thousands of them. And when they devolve into a 3-way civil war and ISIS invades she can only call the situation “unfortunate” as we send in 250 Special Forces troops to keep the oil roads open. Don’t forget that’s what this is still all about, y’all. The oil.
Hillary’s got until election day to win me back and only one thing will work: promising to name Bernie Sanders her Secretary of State. Until that fairy tale occurs I’m a Jill Stein supporter right along with Cornel West and I hope you’ll check out his inspirational and factual words here –
A sampling: “This November, we need change. Yet we are tied in a choice between Trump, who would be a neo-fascist catastrophe, and Clinton, a neo-liberal disaster. That’s why I am supporting Jill Stein. I am with her – the only progressive woman in the race – because we’ve got to get beyond this lock-jaw situation. I have a deep love for my brother Bernie Sanders, but I disagree with him on Hillary Clinton. I don’t think she would be an ‘outstanding president’. Her militarism makes the world a less safe place…Clinton policies of the 1990s generated inequality, mass incarceration, privatization of schools and Wall Street domination. There is also a sense that the Clinton policies helped produce the right-wing populism that we’re seeing now in the country. And we think she’s going to come to the rescue? That’s not going to happen…The American empire is in deep spiritual decline and cultural decay. The levels of wealth inequality and environmental degradation is grotesque. The correct response to this is: tell the truth about what is going on.”
And here’s what Jill Stein herself had to say this week –
A sampling: “Despite her penchant for flip flopping rhetoric, Hillary Clinton has spent decades consistently serving the causes of Wall Street, war and the Walmart economy. The policies she fought for – along with her husband and political partner, Bill Clinton – have been foundations of the economic disaster most Americans are still struggling with: the abuses of deregulated Wall Street, rigged corporate trade agreements, racist mass incarceration, and the destruction of the social safety net for poor women and children. The consistent efforts of the Democratic Party to minimize, sideline, and sabotage the Sanders campaign are a wake up call that we can’t have a revolutionary campaign inside a counter-revolutionary party. Sadly, Sanders is one of a long line of true reformers that have been undermined by the Democratic Party…Each time a progressive challenger like Sanders, Dennis Kucinich or Jesse Jackson has inspired hope for real change, the Democratic Party has sabotaged them while marching to the right, becoming more corporatist and militarist with each election cycle. Millions are realizing that if we want to fix the rigged economy, the rigged racial injustice system, the rigged health care system, toxic fossil fuel energy and all the other systems failing us, we must fix the rigged political system, and that will not happen through the rigged Democratic Party. Right now we have a real chance to change our rigged political system, and we must not squander this opportunity by pledging allegiance to a corrupt political insider who the majority of Americans do not like, trust or believe in.”
A fair question and an honest article and my honest, if not entirely fair, response…
Why are 22 of the 24 new Amtrak writing residents white?
This year, a majority of those selected members are white, and many creatives aren’t happy about it.
Amtrak writes that “the residents offer a diverse representation of the writing community and hail from across the country.” There certainly is some representation of different backgrounds—lots of women, some LGBT writers, and some disabled writers, too. However, 22 of the 24 selected are white, and there is not a single black writer…
PS – Here’s the full text of my response:
Hi Jaya, I can only speak for myself as an individual judge. Indeed when I saw the photos of the winners yesterday for the first time when they were announced my heart sank. As you’ve said it’s diverse in so many other ways but there are no black faces. Obviously this wasn’t done intentionally. As a judge I had no clue of an applicant’s ethnicity, appearance, or with which affinity group they identify, unless they state it in their bio, artistic statement, or any autobiographical pieces they may have included with their writing samples. Judges aren’t given specific guidelines. Speaking for myself, I was looking first and foremost at the artistic merit of the sample, then their publication history that might qualify them as a professional writer pursing a writing career in earnest and not just as a hobby, and their statement on why this residency would be beneficial to them. Should the application be modified for future applicants and judges instructed more specifically to weigh race in the application process? Maybe so. These are issues faced by every theatre organization with which I’ve been involved as a board member, every screenwriting contest I’ve ever judged, any college admission portfolio I’ve been asked to evaluate. I can’t speak for Amtrak but I would suspect they’d be wide open to suggestions for best practices for how to improve the diversity of the judges as well as the applicant pool. Feel free to shoot me any followups. Happy to talk more.
Now it can be told. This year I served as an Amtrak Writers Residency judge after being a recipient of a residency the previous year. The winners have just been announced. Last year I believe I was the only one of 24 writers who self-identified as a playwright or screenwriter. You’ll notice that this year there are several in the mix, not that I was the sole impetus for this but I was in there swinging. Some are recognizable heavy hitters and some are early career. Overall a good mix I think. If you’re a writer and haven’t entered this thing yet–why? I urge you to do so next year. It is unique and worthy and I’d love to see it continue to grow in scope and acceptance as an incubator for new work in all media.
Amtrak Residency Program Selects Writers
WASHINGTON, July 14, 2016 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — During the next year, selected members of the literary community will travel on Amtrak routes that crisscross the country and spend the time working on their writing projects, providing a unique journey and workspace as part of the #AmtrakResidency program.
This is the second group of writers selected for the program, which offers a travel experience with amazing scenery, an environment that fosters engaging connections, and the ability to explore and be inspired by the diversity of landscapes America has to offer.
“We are excited to build on the success of the residency program and offer a second group of writers a creative environment to focus on the work of their choice,” said Julia Quinn, Amtrak director of public relations. “Whether traveling for business or pleasure, passenger rail helps travelers avoid the frustrations and hurdles associated with other modes of transportation – continuously making Amtrak the smarter way to travel, which we are confident the writers will find inspiring.”
A diverse group of writers were selected for the residency program. About two writers per month will travel round trip on pre-selected (based on availability) trains, and cover all 15 of Amtrak’s long-distance routes. A complete list of selected residents and bios can be found on the Amtrak blog.
Applications were reviewed by a panel representing the literary community including published writers and former Amtrak Residents Lindsay Moran and Jeffrey Stanley, Amtrak Senior Vice President of Government Affairs & Corporate Communications Joe McHugh and writer and teacher Jessica Gross.
Gross, a Manhattan-based writer, traveled on the Lake Shore Limited as a trial run of the residency program and her support spurred the launch of the formal program in March 2014. Her piece, “Writing The Lake Shore Limited” was published by the Paris Review.
“My 2014 Amtrak residency from New York to Chicago and back was peaceful, contemplative, and so fruitful for my writing,” Gross said. “I’m delighted to have played a part in sending a new crop of writers on the rails this year.”
Otherwise the section on Boneyards and me in this National Journal article by Simon Van Zuylen-Wood is accurate except where otherwise noted, which is everywhere. Ever feel icky and used by a fellow writer?
…LAST YEAR, AMTRAK LAUNCHED an odd initiative called the Amtrak Writer’s Residency. The idea was to send 24 writers wherever they wanted, on a long-distance train, where they would basically stare out the window and type on their computers. The program was bashed by conservatives and lightly mocked on the Internet; yet an astonishing 16,000 people wound up applying. Among the eventual winners were several high-profile media figures, including the writer Jennifer Finney Boylan and the public-radio host Marco Werman.
In mid-March, I met up in D.C. with Jeff Stanley, a 47-year-old Amtrak resident writer who would be taking the Capitol Limited to Chicago, before heading to San Francisco on the California Zephyr. Stanley, who wore an Ed Hardy–style Western shirt, is a playwright, performer, and adjunct professor both at New York University and Drexel University. A fan of all things occult, he staged his latest production in the basement of a South Philadelphia synagogue, where he used a Ouija board and a martini shaker, among other instruments, in an attempt to connect with the dead [see Boneyards].
“Now, supposedly, the old station at Harpers Ferry is haunted,” Stanley tells me, as we approach West Virginia, sitting in his sleeper car. He goes on for a while about a ghost called Screaming Jenny, [Um, no. I spent about 30 minutes between DC and Harpers Ferry explaining to this writer that I had visited Harpers Ferry many times due to my love of history. I told him that the Capitol Limited runs the route of the former B&O Railroad, and that many times I’ve stood outside the small building that was the Federal arsenal which was seized in 1859 by radical abolitionist John Brown and a group of 20 followers including his son and five African-Americans. They holed up in the arsenal and were thwarted by a detachment of US Marines under the command of a young Robert E. Lee. In 1865 as the Civil War ended, Storer College opened in Harpers Ferry to educate recently freed slaves. Years before John Brown’s raid and Storer College, Meriwether Lewis came to Harpers Ferry and waited while a local iron worker created a collapsible canoe according to his specifications. Lewis started out from here in 1803 in a Conestoga wagon following almost the exact same route that is now the very train line we were following. Lewis met up with Clark near Pittsburgh to continue their journey West. Talking about the Lewis & Clark expedition got me thinking about Thomas Jefferson who funded it, and I mentioned to the writer that one of the many reasons I admire Jefferson is that whenever a slave in Virginia sued for his freedom Jefferson would represent them pro bono. All of the above got boiled down by the writer to “but, anyways.” See below. (continue reading…)
Cell phone video shot by yours truly.
This posting is a promised addendum to my 3/17/15 seance and EVP session held in room 551 of the Hotel Colorado on a two-day stopover during my Amtrak Writers Residency trip across the US. To learn about my encounter with the Most Adorable Ghost-Hunting Family Ever, a Disney Channel reality show waiting to happen, I urge you to read the full entry here before proceeding. (If you’re looking for the Bachelors Grove Cemetery EVP session and slideshow they’re here).
The Hotel Colorado in Glenwood Springs, CO was built in 1893 and is considered by many to be haunted. Supposedly, the hotel’s ghosts include a young girl in Victorian clothing seen playing with a ball, a woman who hovers over sleeping male guests, and a man who roams the hallway on the fifth floor (where I stayed). Both of the primary haunted rooms, 325 and 553, were booked, so the clerk kindly put me as close to one of them as possible, which wound up being room 551 which also has its share of haunting tales.
One popular story about room 551 regards a ghostly interior decorator. In 1982 an attempt was made to replace the wallpaper. The morning after contractors put it up, all the paper had mysteriously rolled off the walls and was in the floor. They reapplied it but the next day it was found on the floor again. After a few more tries, the contractor got the idea to leave several wallpaper samples on the bed overnight. When he returned the next morning all of the samples but one were on the floor. They papered the room with the choice left alone on the bed and the wallpaper stayed in place. Also, there is supposedly a high level of electromagnetic energy detectable in the hallway between the door to 551 and an unmarked door across from it which leads to the attic.
All caught up? Good. As I explained in the aforementioned posting, as soon as amazing Iowans the Warren-Powell family and I entered my room on my second night they all fanned out with tablets and smartphones and began snapping away at every square inch of the place. I told them not to bother as I had already done that and seen nothing unusual. The words were barely out of my mouth when high school senior Cody interrupted. “You’ve got a little boy in the bathroom.” Huh? Sure enough on the pic he had just snapped we could make out what seemed to be the solid figure of a short person (let’s say roughly a 10-year-old) leaning halfway in the bathroom doorway right where we were standing, yet it wasn’t visible to the naked eye. Are you getting chills yet? I was. Here is the original photo and a closeup of the mirror (click on any photo to enlarge it):
(News Flash: Jeffrey Stanley’s BONEYARDS reincarnates in Philly this June at the Art Church of West Philadelphia as part of the 2015 SoLow Fest. Tickets and full details here.)
This posting is a promised addendum to my 3/14/15 visit to Bachelors Grove Cemetery, a brief stopover during my Amtrak Writers Residency trip across the US. To read about my witch encounter and see my Bachelors Grove Cemetery slideshow read the full entry here. (If you’re looking for the Hotel Colorado ghost photos and EVP session they’re here).
Now for the audio I recorded live from my P-SB7 spirit box at the Fulton family grave. As usual I have slowed it down but maintained the original pitch, boosted the volume and applied a little noise reduction. I stress again, as I’ve done here in the past and in my Washington Post story on this subject, that I remain agnostic about the existence of ghosts, and also view the spirit box as a form of surrealist art; an aural version of the old Exquisite Corpse game created by the Surrealists. That said, a transcript and my interpretation follow: (continue reading…)
This morning while hurtling across western Pennsylvania I enjoyed my final Amtrak breakfast. I sat next to a uniformed Amtrak police officer en route to a meeting at our final stop on the Capitol Limited, Washington, DC. From there I’ll take a two-hour ride to Philadelphia on the Amtrak Acela Express and be home in time for dinner.
Across from us sat two elderly women from Pittsburgh and Baltimore. The officer had spent 26 years on the Chicago police force before retiring into a much less stressful “second career” working for Amtrak.
After a few minutes of instinctively probing their names, destinations, life stories, I sprung it on them that I’m a (continue reading…)
A chilly, snowy, slushy day in the Windy City. Awoke to falling snow and a forecast that had increased to 3 to 6 inches.
Another 10-mile run along Lake Michigan was out of the question so I ran 10 miles on a treadmill in my hotel’s fitness room. That might seem like a desperate act but after a 2 and half days of being sedentary on a train I had to sweat out some toxins and burn off the crazy.
Got up with the rooster crow — or in Amtrakspeak the ear-blasting 6am breakfast call — to see off the Warren-Powells who hopped off in Osceola, IA at 7:40am. I then wrote until an early lunchtime (the last meal aboard my beloved California Zephyr before it concluded its run in Chicago) during which I met a pair of retired micro-brewers, Wendy and Don Littlefield. The better half is completing her first novel, a murder mystery that I look forward to reading. They also hipped me to Philly Inquirer food writer Craig LaBan, whom I should have known about as I’m now a Philadelphian, but I didn’t. Now I do. We also talked about our shared appreciation for August Wilson and the fact that they’ll be seeing Two Trains Running in Chicago soon. This was the second time on this trip that August Wilson came up.
I spent my final few hours aboard the Zephyr (continue reading…)