Friday, November 28, 2014


This is chapter 26 of The Matriarchy, a serial fiction novel on FITK

Edwin’s hands were cool to the touch, with just a hint of a tremor. Mary looked into his eyes, letting her gaze linger, smiling. The old man’s countenance brightened, and he returned her stare for a moment until he turned away, letting go of her hands. Mary thought she could see a hint of a blush in his cheeks.

“Sean and I are getting married Thursday morning. Would you be a witness?” Mary said, surprising herself by her impulsiveness, “At the courthouse. Tina will be there.”

Edwin’s smile faded.

“You’d better ask Tina about that,” he said. There was a pause in the conversation, but Edwin began to smile again, “Of course, I will. But talk to Tina. I’ll be here, just stop by, I’ll be ready.”

“I’ll do that, Mr. Dubble,” said Mary, “And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go. See you on Thursday.”

Mary left the strange shop and walked south, past the courthouse, then west on Broadway Street. She was still processing her encounter with Edwin and making mental notes to ask Tina about him and his relationship with Emily. Mary was surprised at how quickly she was getting used to Emily inhabiting her body, although she still felt a lingering mental haziness, “A brisk walk in the sunshine might help to dispel the cobwebs,” she thought.

She had only walked a couple of blocks before she came across a grand house: Victorian, clad in brick, with sweeping porches and a most curious wall set about the perimeter of the yard. This enclosure was composed of stones of various kinds, as well as fine specimens of coral, numerous geodes and other attractive minerals. As she looked at the house and wall she realized that it had been depicted in one of Emily’s drawings. That drawing had a mark on the obverse side, right on one of the posts flanking the driveway. As Mary walked closer to the post she began to feel a tingling in her fingers. She slowly moved her hands over the post until she found the area where the tingling was the most intense, directly above a quartz crystal in one of the geodes. It felt warm to the touch and it was vibrating in unison with the tingling in her fingertips. She could hear a small ‘ping’ whenever she touched it. At that precise moment, Mary’s mind cleared. She suddenly had a sharp mental image of lines of force surrounding all the crystals embedded in the wall. She then looked around; everything in her field of view seemed to possess an aura. Mary continued her walk, accepting these manifestations was part of her change—a change from the human she once was, she thought, into some new and different consciousness. “It’s like doing mushrooms but without their sillyness,” she thought. After walking a few more blocks, the Whippy Dip came into her field of view.

“Mmm… ”

Sean's email inbox was full. Mostly requests from reporters and others interested in the Billygate affair. This time, however, there was a smattering of requests for money: “The TechCreeper article about my payoff at ADR must have triggered those,” he thought. He deleted them all, except for one. It was from Þora, in Iceland:

     Mr. Sean Carroll:

   Please pardon my English. I am Þora, the woman you met in Iceland a year ago. I am writing you because I have been getting suggestive and unwanted communications from a law firm in Virgina. They have insinuated that you are the father of my child, and that you should be made to pay support. (I received your email address from them.) I don't want my child or me to be involved in any legal activities with these people. I have nothing against you or what we did, some things just happen due to circumstance. The child may not even be yours. Being the primary caregiver, I am unable to leave Iceland to discuss this with you or your lawyers. I am writing to let you know what is happening. If you have any thoughts on this matter and how to stop it, I would be most grateful. I don't have any ill-will towards you. I know that you have suffered real pain and loss in this affair.

   Thank you,
   Þora Sigmundsdóttir

Sean thought about this for several minutes before replying:


    Thank you for your email. I have been reluctant to contact you for I am still under a legal cloud and there are people here in the U.S. who are hostile to me and have been engaged in tactics of intimidation. I am truly sorry for my role in the affair which involved you, I will do what I can to keep you and your child from any unwanted interference. I will let you know if anything comes up. I don't mean to be forward, but have you had a paternity test done? It would, at least, minimize some of the confusion.


    Sean Carroll

As he hit send, Sean immediately regretted not forwarding the email to his lawyers. “I’ll consult with them if it goes any further,” he rationalized to himself, “At least Þora knows that I’m personally dealing with the issue.” He shut down the laptop and closed the lid just as Mary walked back into the coffee shop. Mary looked different to Sean, her visage seemed to be a little wilder although she seemed to be very much in control. There was, however, an incongruous white spot on her upper lip.

“Mary, just a second… ” said Sean, as he dabbed her lip with a napkin. “That’s better.”

“Busted. The Whippy Dip. I was hungry,” she said tersely, “Things are happening, Sean, I’m changing rapidly, let’s get back to the house, I need to talk with Tina.”

“Sure. I’ve got some news as well.”

“I’m going to use the lav—that’s something that’s changing too. It seems as if I have to pee every fifteen minutes now,” Mary said, “And I’ll be needing some new clothes soon.”

“Yes,” said Sean, “Everything is changing.”

In the intensive cardiac care unit at Virginia Hospital Center, Roger Ramsen was struggling.  His daughter Nora was sitting beside him, her mouth set in a frown. The staff had been unable to stabilize his heartbeat and the arrhythmia of the monitor’s beep was starting to bother her. As she sat, she thought it was getting worse. She was just about to call a nurse when Ramsen’s heartbeat began to race: an alarm went off and in what was only a couple of seconds a team of health workers came over to the bay where Roger was being monitored. As one of the women prepared a syringe, Roger’s heartbeat stopped. The team quickly applied a defibrillator and began their resuscitation efforts. 

But Roger was gone.


By Professor Batty

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Anti-American Writer

Anti-American Wins Nobel Prize
A documentary by
Halldór Thorgeirsson

Last year I received a screener of this documentary—a concise and literate look at the life of Halldór Laxness.  Such notables as Jane Smiley, Brad Leithauser, Günter Grass, Morten Thing and Chay Lemoine expound upon the political intrigues which swirled around Iceland’s only Nobel laureate.

Laxness came into his own as writer right after the end of World War I, a war which had effectively killed the romantic novel. As a spirit of “irrational exuberance” had emerged on both sides of the Atlantic, but Laxness, struggling with personal problems, entered a monastery, an episode which served as the basis for his novel The Great Weaver from Kashmir. He then spent time in Canada and the U.S. where, witnessing the failure of capitalism and, developing an acquaintance with Upton Sinclair, he embraced Socialist ideals which greatly influenced his novels.

The documentary shows Laxness traveling throughout Europe in the 30s, he was  denounced by the Nazis and deceived by the Soviets. Leftist writers in Denmark promoted and translated his work, aiding his ascendance with readers in Scandinavia. In Iceland, his views on class struggle and his push for modernization of the Icelandic language and literature actually caused him to be brought to trial for its ‘incorrect’ use. The occupation of Iceland by the British, followed by the establishment of an American Naval base, was perceived as a threat to Icelandic identity and pushed Laxness toward writing his satirical novel The Atom Station. That novel prompted Icelandic politicians to notify the U.S. ambassador, suggesting that he was a tax evader, and brought attention from the U.S. State Department and the F.B.I.. This caused Laxness to be effectively blacklisted; some aspects of these actions remain state secrets.

The film is a little rough round the edges, some stock footage is not in proper sequence, but the interviewees are excellent, especially Günter Grass, who deftly explains the political situation of European writers in the inter-war era.  It also has clips from Halldór’s humiliating televised renunciation of Stalinism in 1957.

I don’t know where one might be able to see this, although I’ve read that it is for sale in Iceland. I haven’t been able to find any references to it in English. It is an excellent overview of the man and his effect on Icelandic culture. Thanks again to Chay Lemoine who sent me this fascinating video.

Much more on Halldór Laxness here.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 1 

Monday, November 24, 2014

Wanda in Art School

A recent exchange with my blog-pal Shoshanah (concerning powers nimrodic) pushed the noted Artist/Writer/Translator Wanda Gág back to the forefront of my limited attention span. Here are a few images from her college days, circa 1916:

Wanda and her gal pals:

I've read that she was no slouch on guitar:

Wanda in one of her "moods":

On the steps of the Art School (now MCAD):

And, finally, this self-portrait, done on a grocery bag:

Images from Wanda's personal albums and correspondence, The Kerlan Collection.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 2 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Special Effects

This is chapter 25 of The Matriarchy, a serial fiction novel on FITK

After Sean returned from the grocery he spent time going through his mother’s things.

All of her personal effects had been shipped to Tina en masse after her death. He put his mother’s clothes into boxes for the thrift store. Mary and Tina had both looked at them. They were now fourteen years out of date and, even if they had fit, neither woman wanted to wear business clothes from the nineties. His mother’s computer was a relic now. It did boot up, however, and Sean was able to transfer her files to a portable hard drive with an adapter he had brought with him from Seattle. He would deal with her hardware when he disposed of his own college computer. He also put aside a box of his mother’s papers. Mary was napping; she had been asleep when left to get groceries and was sleeping again when he got back. Just as he finished loading the car with his mother’s clothes, Mary came out of the house carrying her laptop.

“Drop me off at the Magpie, will you? I’ve got to get in touch with the law office,” she said, “I think I’ve finally recovered from last night. It’s hard to sleep when you have someone’s grandmother hanging out in your brain.”

“Tina told me that you had had another ‘visit’ from Emily,” said Sean. “Are you going to be able to deal with that?”

“It’s a little unnerving at first, to have someone else living in your head. But she’s on my side. I’ll be fine.”

They drove into town. Sean dropped Mary off at the coffee shop, then went on to the thrift store with his mother’s clothes. He took a stroll around the store; it was a habit from his college days when he would rebuild his wardrobe every few months. Those trips he made in college weren’t about needing clothes, they were about building new identities.  Although his current tastes in clothing ran toward Generic Pacific Northwest Outdoor, he hadn’t dropped the scrounging habit completely. His luck had run out in Seattle; most of the quality menswear he found there was usually worn out.  Decorah might be different, he thought, as he fingered a wool Pendleton shirt. It was his size, but when he tried it on he found that it was cut strangely—looking at the label he saw that it had been made in Mexico.  “Someone else couldn’t wear it either,” thought Sean.

Back in the coffee shop, Mary had connected with her lawyers. Everything was quiet in Seattle, with no further developments in the sale of ADR. The legal team had kept a monitor on activity concerning her naked balcony picture and found that new postings of it had suddenly ceased; it was also disappearing from forums where it had been previously displayed. Her lawyers thought it might have something to do with the fallout from a recent celebrity phone hacking case; no site operator wanted to undergo that kind of criminal investigation.

“Any news from Seattle?” Sean said, sitting down with a cup of coffee and a scone.

“Good news, that is to say, no news,” said Mary, “How was the thrift store?”

“Well, they did take my mother’s clothes. They didn’t have anything that I needed. Can I use your laptop to check my mail?”

“That’s the ultimate test of a relationship, isn’t it?” said Mary,  “We might as well get married now—it’s like using the same toilet. Here, I’m finished for now. I’m going to go outside and check out the town. Be back in a half hour or so.”

“I’ll put the lid down when I'm done,” said Sean.

As Mary left the shop she noticed a storefront across the street. It was apparently an antique store of some kind. There was no proper sign but its windows were filled with miscellany: obsolete machines, broken toys, rusty tools and retro appliances. There were also small paper notes taped on the windows. Hand lettered, they contained rants which concerned religion, politics, and general world unrest. She went up to the door and found it to be unlocked. Opening it timidly, Mary walked inside. The shop’s interior was full of things arrayed as if they had been in a gentle explosion: an explosion strong enough to place them chaotically around the room, but gentle enough that nothing was damaged. Mary started to get a sensation of cold descending around her shoulders again, although this time she remained in control of her emotions.

“Hello? Is anybody here?” Mary said.

She heard a rustling sound coming from the back of the shop, followed by a high, reedy voice: “I’m here, just making a little tea.” An elderly man emerged from the rubble. He was tall, with piercing blue eyes, thin white hair, and pale, almost translucent skin.

“Edwin Duddle is my name, Miss, how may I help you?”

“I… Is this an antique store or is it a museum?” Mary said as she felt Emily’s presence  getting stronger, “I was curious, I hope I’m not intruding. There are so many interesting things here.”

“Well it isn’t exactly a store, but it certainly isn’t a museum. But as they say, everything has its price, doesn’t it?” said the man, “You aren’t from around here, are you? Are you a student at the seminary?”

Mary felt a tightening in her throat. She had lost control of her vocal apparatus and, to her surprise, found herself speaking in Emily’s voice.

“Edwin Duddle, this is Emily speaking. This woman you see before you is Mary, she is going to marry my grandson, Sean.”

“Emily? Is that you, speaking through another?” said Edwin, recognizing the voice. He took this manifestation calmly, almost as if it were something which had happened to him every day. “I’ve been waiting for your return.”

Edwin, will you give Mary the book I left with you?” said Emily/Mary.

“I will do that thing for you, Emily, I will get it.” Edwin hurried to the rear of the store, back into the office from where he had emerged. By the time he returned with the book, Mary had full control of her faculties again. Emily was not present. “Here it is, Emily… ”

“Emily’s gone,” said Mary, “Mr. Duddle? Did you know Emily Carroll?”

“Oh yes, Miss… Mary. I knew her, it was 1946, just after the war. I was just a kid in high school, in the same class as her daughter Tina. That was when she came back from New York and had her second child, Marilyn. I knew Emily, I spent quite a bit of time at the Carroll place. She taught me drawing. She told me many strange things. And now she’s back, in you. It’s her way. Tina knows about these things too… I see that your instruction has begun.”

“It has,” Mary said, and as she spoke she could see Edwin’s head ringed by a faint circle of light—his halo. Mary knew that it wasn’t a physical manifestation, but it was somehow projected onto him from her understanding; she felt it was a sign that she could trust this man.  She looked down at the book’s binding which had some of the same characters that were in the ledger which Tina had given her. Edwin reached out and gently touched Mary’s fingers as he gave her the book. She put it in her purse and said:

“Edwin Duddle, I accept this as a gift from Emily, through you.”

“I’ve been waiting for you, waiting ever so long,” he said.


By Professor Batty

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Sugar Mountain

Pascal Pinon press conference, Reykjavík, 2009

Oh, to live on sugar mountain
With the barkers and the colored balloons
You can’t be twenty on sugar mountain
Though you’re thinking that you're leaving there too soon
You’re leaving there too soon…

                     ~ Neil Young
Childhood’s end is the end of a dream.

In Neil Young’s Canada the end was turning twenty, when ‘kids’ were no longer allowed into a certain amusement park intended for youngsters. I’ve been nurturing my own dream these last fifteen years; a dream abetted by many fine people on both sides of the Atlantic. For me, Iceland’s allure was always more than its considerable natural wonders. Right from that first windy March day when I stepped out of the Keflavík terminal the whole of Iceland—its nature, people, and culture—has held me in its thrall. As I became further immersed in its cultural aspects: literature, cinema, music and theater, I was overwhelmed.

Recently, however, I’ve been losing the spark.

Icelandic pop music, always quirky, is an acquired taste, but a taste that needs to be nourished for it to thrive. If it weren’t for a few reliable sources I’d be starving. My limited impressions of the recent Iceland Airwaves music festival (from what I was able to see on line) wasn’t encouraging: in the span of four years since I last attended it appears to have morphed from a mix of unique, artistic, and very musical acts to a uniform parade of post-punk screamers. Of course, I wasn’t there, and subtlety never goes over very well in video clips. Still, it was a marked change: music made with an emphasis on shock value, more of a unpleasant burlesque than an expression of the human spirit. In other words, a freak show. Looking back, I was spoiled and/or lucky in my Airwaves experiences (2006 and 2009). In 2012 I did attend some good shows in Iceland (not in Airwaves) but some of the acts, although polished, were exercises in cognitive dissonance, i.e., Icelandic bands playing in a faux American style. I won’t despair of Icelandic musicians yet: there seems to be a trend of them becoming astute social commentators and political activists.

Iceland is a literary beacon, and it that area it continues its appeal. The problem here is dilution. The market demands more Icelandic mystery fiction following in the vein of Arnaldur Indriðason’s successful Inspector Erlendur series. What the market demands, the market gets. I’m guilty of it myself. But after reading the third or fourth work of mediocre Icelandic fiction in a row (generally by non-Icelanders) I find the whole genre to be losing its appeal. The more esoteric works still captivate me. I won’t give up on Ice-Lit quite yet.

Icelandic films, when I can see them, are still excellent, but the economic hardships imposed on the industry since the Kreppa has reduced their amount and distribution. Again, the world cinema market in films is over-saturated. I find it hard to choose anything to watch.

Nothing lasts forever. The most poignant example of this is the musical group Pascal Pinon (pictured above, at the age of fifteen) who created a body of work which perfectly expressed the dilemmas inherent in a girl’s coming of age. Of course, now that they have matured, they can’t continue to play ingenues. The idea of adult women performing songs of their adolescence is mortifying. I’m grateful for that which they have accomplished.

The medium of “blogging” (does that mean anything anymore?) has changed as well; it’s hard to keep a fresh approach to something with a limited audience, and sometimes life just gets in the way. That said, I’m still amazed at Alda and Auður’s contributions over the past ten years: establishing world class portals that are the entry points into their wonderful, strange and troubled island. Auður, in particular, is going above and beyond what anyone expects of a blogger. In contrast, I’ve noticed that my Icelandic posts here have dwindled recently and, unfortunately, a return trip to recharge my batteries, seems unlikely. The continuing economic hardships in Iceland haven’t helped diminish my sense of pessimism either.

I’m now twenty three times over, and then some, but Iceland still casts its spell.

And I’m thinking that I’m leaving there too soon.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 3 

Monday, November 17, 2014


Minneapolis, 1997

Kelly was a refugee from art school who worked in the photo lab with me for a few months. There were a lot of people in and out during that time: lots of jobs available, not much chance of advancement in the photo biz, therefore: easy come, easy go. While she worked there she did throw a party with music and a good mix of people. It was held in a very nice 1920s architect-designed house located in what was then a sketchy neighborhood which had seen better days.

The flow of the party had definitely ebbed when Kelly began to read to us. Not poetry but pornography. It was some classic, literate, porn. It may have been The Story of O. Kelly proved herself to be an excellent interpreter; we were spellbound.

A short time later Kelly and her husband left the city for a life on a dairy farm in rural Minnesota.

It is unknown if she reads to her cows.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

Friday, November 14, 2014


This is chapter 24 of The Matriarchy, a serial fiction novel on FITK

“Mary’s still asleep?” Tina asked of Sean, who had just entered the kitchen.

“She had a rough night. She was up for a while, I don’t know how late it was when she came back to bed,” said Sean, “She’s sleeping now, I didn’t want to wake her.”

“We’re just about out of groceries, would you be a dear and run into town for me?” Tina said, “I've got a list.”

“No prob,” Sean said, “is ice cream on it?”

“Get what you like dear, enough to last us through the week. You have any idea how long you’ll be staying?”

“Oh, I don’t know. It’s up to Mary I guess. She has to talk to her lawyers this afternoon, something may have come up but I hope not, not before Thursday at the least,” Sean said as he picked up the shopping list, “Is Fareway still the best store in town?”

“It’s the only real store unless you want to drive all the way to Prairie Du Chien.”

Sally O'Donnell closed her suitcase. She had spent the previous night in a flurry of activity, copying files and emails from Roger Ramsen’s computer, visiting the hospital where Roger was in intensive care, talking with Roger’s daughter Nora Clarkson (the wife of Senator Clarkson) and making arrangements to fly back to Seattle, where she had a condo. The prognosis on Roger was grim; if he did recover at all he would be significantly impaired. Sally knew that Nora would consolidate her control over Roger’s estate. The two women had never been close and since the disaster of ‘Billygate,’ Sally had felt a profound chilliness from Nora. As Roger’s mistress, Sally doubted she would be in line for anything, after she found Roger’s will on his computer, she knew it. The USB drive that she had filled with Roger’s files was her only insurance against getting blamed for any of Roger’s misdeeds—his criminal activities which Nora would be only to happy to pin on her. Sally was a partner in a company operating on the west coast giving self-help seminars to failing real-estate agents. It wasn’t a complete scam, and the seminars had done very well after each housing bubble burst. Sally thought her role in them was to be a cheerleader for the losing team.

Tina was making coffee.

“Is Sean around?” asked Mary.

“He’s in town picking up some things,” Tina said, “Are you hungry? Can I make you some eggs? I don’t have any bacon or bread. Or would you rather have cereal? He told me that you had a bad night.”

“I’ll take some eggs, and the cereal,” Mary said. “I was up reading some of those letters to Emily that we found yesterday. Tina, do you know who ‘John’ was? He evidently wrote the letters, but the return addresses had been torn off of all the envelopes.”

“He was probably one of her sugar daddies,” said Tina, “Emily was discreet. It could have been anyone with the money to support her in style. I took a look at those dresses you unearthed. I doubt she could afford that kind of wardrobe with money she earned from her paintings.”

“Tina, about Emily… ” Mary said, quietly, “Emily came to me last night. It was as if she was in me, somehow. I heard her voice.”

“I know what that is like. Let her help you, but don’t let her take over. She’s only as powerful as you allow her to be.”

Mary ate her shredded wheat in silence as Tina scrambled four eggs. When they were done, Tina placed the plate in front of Mary and said: “Take it all, you’re eating for two now.”

“More like eating for three,” said Mary, “What do you think Emily wants with me? What is the purpose of all the revelations I’ve been experiencing?”

“What is the purpose of any revelation?” Tina said. “What good has any prophecy done? We’re all still down here on the ground, crawling around as if we were ants on a rock. Overall, nothing ever changes much. Changes? Indoor plumbing, now that was a change for the better.”

“When she’s with me… and even before that, ever since I became pregnant, in fact, I’ve felt that I am on the verge of a greater understanding, a new awareness, something that could change the world.”

“Be careful, Mary. I’m not saying that to discourage you, I just don’t want you to end up the way Jesus did. Or the way Emily’s grandmother did.”

“Well, I’m not the son of God. I’m not even a blessed virgin, so at least that part of the story will be different. I’ll be careful, but I won’t be timid.”

“Be true to your nature,” said Tina.

Sean approached the supermarket checkout line with a full cart. The tabloid magazine cover stories were all about media stars—television, movies, music. The iceberg lettuce of culture, he thought, to be grazed upon and forgotten with no nutritional value. Still, it was hard to ignore. Sean’s own taste of fame had been exceedingly bitter: “Arugula,” he thought. He could understand why many celebrities eventually became hermits.

“Hi Sean,” said the cashier, “Do you remember me? Suzie Johnson? I heard that you were in town.”

“Ah, oh yeah, Hi, Suzie. It’s been a long time. How on earth did you recognize me?”

“I followed that story about you, when you were in Iceland, you and your half-brother. Who’s that woman who’s here with you? I mean, I’m not trying to be nosy, but… you know, people talk, and you’re probably the most famous person from Decorah.”

“Mary is my fiancee,” said Sean.

“Oh… ” There was a long pause in the conversation as Suzie finished scanning his groceries. “What brings you back to Iowa?”

“We’re in town to help Tina sort through my mother’s things. She’s selling the farm and moving into town. Last winter was pretty hard on her. How about you? What are you doing these days?”

“I’m married, with a seven-year-old,” said Suzie, “She’s great. Life is pretty good, I guess, no international adventures. Just a regular life. I never got out of Decorah.”

“It’s good to hear that you’re doing okay. Nothing wrong with having a regular life.”

“Forgive me for asking, but when are you getting married?” Suzie asked.

“Any day now… maybe Thursday.”


As Sean put the groceries in the car he thought about the way his life had played out so far, how different his path had been from Suzie’s. The play-acted ‘wedding’ which he and Suzie had performed when they were children had been silly, but was, in its own way, perfect. It was a moment of happiness; the moment that everyone is searching for. And no matter how long the happiness received from it lasts, it remains but a moment in time.


By Professor Batty

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Young at Heart Records

One of the things I used to look forward to whenever I went through Duluth was a stop at Young at Heart Records, established in 1959. Richard Wozniak, the proprietor, was in his sixties when I first discovered the store (while touring with The Explodo Boys) and he kept the shop open until he was well into his eighties.  All the musicians who had gigs in the Duluth area knew of the store. It was a little shy of the newest releases but was a treasure trove of older country, 40-80s pop, soundtracks, spoken word and other arcana. Richard was a friendly man, especially if he could connect with your interests. Averse to vulgarity, he wouldn’t stock off-color records. I heard a story about a collector who would only be in town on a Sunday; when he called Richard and explained that he’d only be in town for the day Richard said he wouldn’t open “on the sabbath”, although he did relent when the collector guaranteed to purchase $500 worth of stock.

The heart on the threshold was only the beginning of his hand-made heart-themed decorations: lots of recycled doilies, valentines and magazine and promotional materials pasted on boxes and pink walls:

Many of his handmade display bins ended up in the Minnesota History Museum.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

Monday, November 10, 2014

In Her Own Words

Joni Mitchell
In Her Own Words

Conversations With
Malka Marom

ECW Press, 2014

Another bio of Joni, this one based on taped interviews from 1973, 1979, and 2012.

The author is a musician and a professional interviewer who was also an early fan of Ms. Mitchell from the time they were both playing in Toronto in the mid 60s. She has remained friends with Joni over the years and the relaxed nature of these edited conversations show it. In addition to these conversations the short excerpts from other musicians (which Malka includes) are helpful in explaining Joni’s unique collaborations, especially in the 70s ‘jazz’ albums. The three interviews overlap in subject matter: her childhood, in particular, is dealt with in detail, as is her relationship with Leonard Cohen. Her life in California, which has been extensively covered elsewhere, is given less coverage compared to other aspects of her career. In filmed interviews Joni can appear testy but the printed page serves her words better, her wide-ranging intellect is on display here without the distraction of visuals, the interviews are edited extremely well.

The book is also filled with extended excerpts from her lyrics: fine for the well-known songs but they can become somewhat esoteric on her more obscure titles, although always pertinent.  There are just enough photos and glimpses of Joni’s artwork to compliment the text; the entire book is beautifully designed. If you were to read only only one bio of Joni, this would be the best choice.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 1 

Friday, November 07, 2014

Love Letters

This is chapter 23 of The Matriarchy, a serial fiction novel on FITK

After he left Mary put her hands on the commode’s marble top and closed her eyes. Again she saw nothing but she held her pose, trying to quiet her thoughts in the hope that Emily would make herself manifest again. Mary opened her eyes and began to look closely at the commode. It was well made, with distinctive joinery on the edges of the drawer fronts. She carefully lifted the marble top off and set it aside. Empty, and with the top removed, the commode still seemed heavier than its appearance suggested. On a whim, Mary turned the piece on its side, exposing its bottom. The wood there was smooth, it was flush with the bottom edges of the sides and back.  Something about it didn’t look quite right.

“Even an expensive piece of furniture wouldn’t be finished like this on the bottom,” Mary thought, “There should be blocks of wood glued here. What’s behind this?” She gave the panel a rap: it responded with a muffled thud. Looking at the perimeter of the panel, Mary noticed that there was a thin gap where it joined the sides and the back. On the front, however, the panel was rabbeted into the kick-plate and the joint seam had been filled with a line of glue.

It’s another drawer,” she thought, yanking on the kick-plate. It made a cracking sound but didn’t yield.

Sean walked in with some cardboard boxes.

“What’s up?” he said, noticing the upended washstand.

“I think there is another drawer in this thing; behind this panel. Set it down again. Good. Now, on the count of three, give that bottom board a yank on your side as I pull on the other side.  One… two… three…”

The front board released with a loud ‘sprong’ and, just as Mary had suspected, revealed itself to be the front of a shallow drawer, cleverly held in place by flat springs.  It was full of envelopes containing handwritten letters. All of them were addressed to Emily Carroll.

“Treasure.” said Sean.

After the EMTs had wheeled Roger Ramsen out to the ambulance, Sally O’Donnell returned to Roger’s office to notify his daughter with the bad news. She picked up his phone and searched the phone’s directory for Nora’s number. Finding it, she placed the call. As she waited for a reply Sally came to the realization that Roger’s computer, which he had never allowed anyone else to use, was still on. When Nora finally answered, Sally told her of Roger’s attack and where he was being taken. Nora said that she would be at the hospital in an hour.

After Sally hung up, she rifled through his desk where she found a new USB drive in an unopened package. She unwrapped it and put the drive in the computer’s USB slot.

Sally took a deep breath and began to search through his email.

“The only thing left is the trunk,” said Mary, “Will you do the honors?”

“This has been a day full of surprises,” said Sean, “Can we take any more?”

“Just open it, Sean.” Mary said, impatiently.

Sean lifted the heavy trunk lid and opened it all the way.

“More old newspapers… ” said Mary, as she peeled them away, “… tissue paper… and beneath… My God! It’s full of clothes. These must have been Emily’s. Oooh… designer labels!” Mary lifted up a red satin gown. She draped it over her body, “And just my size!”

“Thinking of going retro?” asked Sean, handing her a stunning black and white art deco outfit.

“God, these are all stunning!” said Mary, her eyes widening.

They began to pile the garments, interleaved with tissue paper, on top of the commode. At the very bottom of the trunk, they found a garment bag. Sean held it up while Mary opened it.

“It’s a wedding dress!” said Mary.

“It’s your wedding dress,” said Sean.

That night Mary, who had been unable to sleep, went gone down to the parlor with a box that held the letters that she and Sean had discovered. The events of the last few days had left her with an urgent desire to learn everything she could about Sean’s grandmother. Mary was just as keen on figuring out what her role in this strange plan would be: she felt that it was something great and mysterious and profound, a thing bigger than she could imagine. Mary thought that she’d see if the letters held any answers to these mysteries.
Miami Beach
June 3rd, 1939

Dearest Emily,

   I live in a dream of impossible visions. Visions of your body, your lips, your acceptance of me into your most private domain. I had hoped that this reality would come to pass but the fact that it has come true is almost more than I can bear. To-night a brilliant moon lights my little tropical paradise. The caress of the waves on the shore reminds me of our passionate embraces. If I have inspired your life of art, you have lifted me in my mundane world of commerce. I work here with a joy which comes straight from you. I am going to plan a trip in the winter and this time I will bring you down here with me. You would be enthralled by the scenery. I could work with you around dear. You are inspiration for many things. Please answer this my gipsy love.

   Let your light in the window of love shine on me.

   Your darling,

It wasn’t what she had expected.

June 11, 1939

Dearest Emily,

   Our boat leaves for the mainland early tomorrow morning. I am hoping upon hope that I will find your return letter. In the same way the waves lap against the shore of this island I wish I my lips and tongue could kiss your skin—sometimes with the softness of a quiet enfolding; other times with a rush of passion—in the same way each wave contains an underlying savageness then alternates with a recession, only to recoup its vigor for another thrust.

   Dancing with you was exquisite joy… as your nude body met mine in that most ancient embrace. Your quiet acceptance of me during the rest of that day was also a joy. I felt that I belonged to you – in the way that a dog wants to be firmly owned. Our days together, the trip to Harlem - all was fun.

   Of the prosaic things of life let me write but little. My work progresses speedily and well. On this desert isle the main occupation is work - the next is swimming followed closely by fishing, but these pursuits are diminished by your absence.

   Good night darling - when you took me you threw a lighted match into a hayrick and this conflagration is the result.


Mary put down the letters. She thought about the distances that had existed between Emily and her lover—not just space, but time as well. Modern life, with its instant communication, shortened the time needed to allow feelings to develop. When nothing is anticipated, nothing has value. Does anyone even write love letters anymore?  Modern life was sorely lacking in romance.  She resumed reading:

July 6th, 1939
Dry Tortugas,

Dearest Em:

   Two of your letters arrived yesterday and I have read them over and over. You have filled up my life; filled a void I never knew existed. Emily, I have a habit of keeping my friends. It is important to keep the sweet, clean
streams of friendship clear and unpolluted with the mud of commonality. Our rivulets of love have merged to create a beautiful river; the river becomes a torrent—an unstoppable force of nature. The memory of your song and your lithe body dances through my brain. The reality of our passionate night returns in all its glory. The coming of the dawn was merciless as it rendered asunder the engulfing fabric of the velvet darkness. Your pearly body—as beautiful as a fawn’s. Your arms–a softness that bespoke tenderness. Your embrace—a strong grip on life. A life—where nothing can keep us apart. A love—beginning the first night I saw you.

   About this strange island I find myself ‘stranded’ upon: a long sliver of sand, drenched in sun, surrounded by azure seas, beautiful for bathing. Animals: rats and a few goats, beautiful blue herons, a comical pelican. Plants: various cacti, coconuts, scrubby cedars, some incongruous white lilies. I found a new specimen of flora, “The Moon Flower”, nestled in a secluded spot. Closed during the day, I discovered it open during the last full moon. The plant had turned its face so that the the lunar orb was shining down on the blossom; a beautiful sight. It reminded me of how you looked down on my upturned face with the light of desire, that grace followed by the offering of your breasts held up for me to kiss: first one then the other—a mental picture which elicits a new surge of blood—my erection is the only proper compliment. I hold the memory of that scene as my inspiration. You cannot fail me dearest one. The years ahead hold no dread for me if they increase as love has: my love for you and yours for me.

  Good night, and a kiss rides the moonbeams north…


Mary shivered with expectation. Mary’s sense of time had begun to dissolve: sitting in Tina’s parlor, surrounded by antique furniture, reading love letters from one of Emily’s lovers—she began to feel very close to the woman. It was if the year was 1939, she felt as if she was Emily. She picked up the next letter:

July 28th, 1939
Washington, D.C.

Dearest Emily,

   I returned to an orgy of work. Some of my projects have suddenly became insistent and I am tied hand and foot now. It will be impossible for me to go up to New York on the 3rd as I had hoped. If I am upsetting your plans let me know. I have to be in Washington on the 4th for at least three meetings with government officials, probably more, which means I cannot possibly take any time off for at least three weeks. The situation in Europe is changing rapidly: the Germans are looking to invade Poland which means war between them and France and Britain. I fear the USA will be not be able to keep out of it for long.

   My next scheduled trip to New York is on the 23rd of August. On the 28th I leave for Boston for meetings on the 29th. I will remain there until Thursday the 31th then head back to New York. It looks as if the best time to get together is Saturday the 26th. If you can make it then we will dance together—some place in New York, perhaps Harlem again—just you and I—and after that we will go somewhere to finish up the night.

   We were so delightfully intimate on my last trip. I feel as if I am finally beginning to know how the little girl, who you were, grew into such a delightful woman. I certainly wish I had a photo of you when you were young. You must have been charming—still innocent and gentle—yet always containing the possibility of a volcanic eruption, a cataclysm hiding underneath an untroubled surface. A paradox of tranquil compassion and violent passion. The gentleness which flows from your hands is like the softness expressed in the way a baby plays with its mother’s breast as it feeds. It has always been one of my regrets that my hands are not soft enough in caressing you - there is too much desire in them. I cherish the softness. One of the special things about our relationship is that in it we both can escape into our simpler selves. I feel tired when I leave you but I feel a new self within me—at peace with the forces in the world which trouble me and rejoicing in the world I've found in you. For the next five weeks I must work like a fiend. Drop me a line soon, dearest…

Mary returned the letters to the box. Waves of confusing emotions swept over her: desire, revulsion, sorrow, exhilaration—all these sensations were intermixed with a growing sense of connection with Sean’s grandmother. As the feelings grew, they began to overwhelm her. She started to cry. At first in simpering sobs, then full on wailing. Mary’s tears poured out without restraint, supplanted by wordless convulsions as she gasped for breath, causing her body to be twisted in anguish. In a break between spasms, Mary could feel a coldness wrapping itself around her. She thought she heard a voice; at first indistinct, but it quickly became clear. It was a woman’s voice, the voice of a stranger, but Mary knew whose voice it was.

“Do not weep, my dearest Mary, for in all these things you shall prevail,” said Emily.

And Mary was comforted.


By Professor Batty

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Meat Cheese Beer…

… Milwaukee cuisine defined in three words, although “meat cheese” might be a flavor of beer. Across the the street from the Usinger’s famous sausage building was Maden’s, a German restaurant established in 1905. I had the Rheinischer Sauerbraten: Marinated roast beef served with ginger snap sauce, topped with sour cream, toasted almonds, golden raisins, served with spätzle and red cabbage:


Note: the cabbage had been properly fermented, and the spätzle was perfect—not the usual tasteless doughy mass. I’m not big on German, but once in a while it satisfies the cravings of a certain part of my DNA. Mader’s has posted a long list of celebrities who had dined there going back to movie stars of the thirties as well as several presidents. After dinner we stopped in at The Red Elephant, an overpriced truffle and ice cream shop:

It looked better than it was. We ate out at several forgettable places, however I did manage to have the best beer of my life—and it was from San Diego! During the day I happened across this chilly busker:

What she lacked in virtuosity, she made up for in attitude. On Sunday we managed to take in the surprisingly anemic collection of the Milwaukee Art Museum:

Over all, my strongest impressions of Milwaukee came from its architecture which has retained many of its classic 19th century buildings; urban renewal left this gem intact:

By Professor Batty

Comments: 1 

Wednesday, November 05, 2014


Street Art, Milwaukee

I can can almost smell the aromatic Wisconsin Dairy Air in this picture of a piece of street ‘art’ which is a far cry from yesterday’s entry from Minnesota. Milwaukee is actually full of architectural wonders, including this re-purposed office building:

An astounding Public Library:

Even the lift—bridge towers were masterpieces:

More tomorrow…

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Wisconsin Road Trip

Street art, Winona, Minnesota

Now that I have your attention, I’d like to present a few images from my recent journey into Wisconsin. There is a lot of good natured kidding between Minnesota and its neighbor to the east but, except for state politics, it really isn’t much different.

Well, actually is it a lot different, but in subtle ways. I’ll be exploring them in the next few posts.

We stayed the first night on the outskirts of Sparta, in this pleasant log cabin which was located on a hillside, overlooking a working farm:

Very homey, although I can’t imagine staying in it during the winter (it wasn’t properly chinked—you could see right through the walls!) The next day we went into Sparta, a nice small town with this picturesque stream running through it:

   The biggest surprise was Wildwoman’s Vintage Apparel, an amazing retro clothing store located in an old cinema. I was soon lost in a sensory overload (can you spot the professor?):

More pix tomorrow and Wednesday, The Matriarchy will return Friday, I promise (it’s already written, I just like to make Jono wait.)

By Professor Batty

Comments: 5 

Monday, November 03, 2014

Uh Oh…

   Recent screen shot from the FITK site meter:

Could this be the start of a blogging tax?

Or is one of my links a money laundering operation?

This bloodless turnip doesn’t have any cash invested in FITK, and I certainly haven’t earned any money from it.

I’d like to think that the IRS is only interested in my literary efforts, but that doesn't seem too likely.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 3 

                                                                                     All original Flippism is the Key content copyright Stephen Charles Cowdery, 2004-2024