Friday, August 29, 2014

Excerpt from a work in progress

Here, below, is an excerpt from a work in progress, a set of essays on the state of our nation. This book was started quite a while ago, and as my calendar is clearing, I've started picking up some of those manuscripts, updating them, and putting them up on kindle, nook, and smashwords as e-books. This project is several weeks, or maybe a few months, away, but here is a sample:

But this constant barrage of affront over the state of our nation and our world rarely if ever addresses the fundamental issues that now face the United States, namely, energy dependence, scientific ignorance, and global human population rapidly evolving into everything foreign, if not downright frightening, to our archetypical American. Every day we are bombarded with an emotionally wrenching mixture of our heroes’ deaths and dismemberments (American soldiers in Iraq; reporters beheaded by ISIS), misbehavior on college campuses (Duke lacrosse), the malignant disintegration of our nation’s system of higher education (Ward Churchill at the University of Colorado), and mysterious, probably violent, usually sickeningly so, death and disappearance, usually of attractive and innocent young women (Natalie Holloway). Every such day also takes up another of Earth’s revolutions during which humans destroy, probably for the foreseeable future, 72,000 acres of tropical forest (= most of the genetic information that spells life on Earth), produce an additional 232,000 of themselves and bury over 150,000 (3,300 of them killed by other humans), consume 76,000,000 barrels of oil, and harvest 380,000 tons of seafood from the world’s vast oceans.

Sometimes I wonder, if we could time travel back 20,000 years and sit down around the fire with a Cro-Magnon clan, whether we’d be listening to tales of a baby’s death, or a man’s violation of tradition, or how an earthquake killed a fine hunter, or whether the elders would be seriously discussing what Cro-Magnon might become when the mammoths were all gone. Was anyone thinking about how their lives might be changed if they could only make some plants produce fruit or edible seeds when and where the people wanted them to instead of when and where some gods directed this food to appear. For some reason I always end up imagining the former conversations instead of the latter—the mourning of a child’s accident, the bragging about having killed a particularly angry bison bull, the stupidity of a neighboring clan, instead of a careful plan to diversify resources, a serious talk about the factors that actually determine the level of satisfaction with their lives, and the cost of belligerence in general. Maybe Bill O-Reilly, and Fox News are actually in our genes. Or at least some of our genes. Among the Cro-Magnons, somebody crawled hundreds of yards through narrow passages to find a place where elegant drawings could be made, drawings that stand the test of time, millennia, in fact. Maybe that somebody got tired of listening to Og trying to impress the women with tales of how he killed a bullock single-handedly and decided to explore the meaning of the clan’s relationships to wild animals in the only literary way he knew: red ochre on a rock wall.

See smashwords and kindle for a list of my e-books. The latest one, BERNICE AND JOHN: FINALLY MEETING YOUR PARENTS WHO DIED A LONG TIME AGO - is a pretty good one, especially if you're from Oklahoma or have any interest in the gasoline that powers your automobile.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Football season begins - (with a post from last December after some embarrassing sideline antics)

(Post from December, 2013, following a media uproar over his sideline behavior.)
John Janovy, Jr.
The short answer to this question is: nothing; let him be himself and do the best he can in this high pressure job. The long answer is: let him work through his current contract then replace him with someone who is not such an embarrassment to the UNL athletic program and to the university itself, especially to those faculty members who, for a variety of legitimate reasons, need to act like dignified professionals in front of an audience. Getting rid of an embarrassment is not worth whatever it costs to buy out Pelini, perhaps along with his staff (estimates range up to $20 million). If you’ve ever tried your hand at creative writing—or, for that matter, anything else involving artistic efforts be it music, painting, or dance—then you know that embarrassment is simply part of the game. After all, even world class figure skaters fall on their butts periodically and college football is probably the one activity where it’s really easy to embarrass not only yourself, but rabid fans under the illusion that a coach’s record on the field is a direct reflection of those fans’ self-worth.
We all want Huskers to win regardless of the contest and the venue. That desire applies to programs other than football, of course. So what do we fans do when those desires are frustrated, as they must always be, eventually, regardless of the competition? Again, there are two answers, a short and a long one. The short is: nothing, shrug it off; the sun will come up tomorrow, even if hidden by clouds. The long is: get really mad, rant and rave over every social medium available, pretend you know more about some sport than a coach making obscene amounts of money, surround yourself with a bunch of like-minded buddies, and thank God for something fun to talk about so that you don’t have to lose friends by discussing those subjects forbidden in polite company, namely evolution, politics, and religion.
Now, however, let’s admit that the guy really doesn’t have much of what we’d normally call “class.” He doesn’t handle press conferences very well, does not come across on television as being particularly smart and articulate, he does not appear comfortable in front of a camera, and he tends to drop four-letter words in places where they get picked up by listeners with electronic ears. If all those expletives were aimed at the opposing team, officials, NCAA rules, and the weather then we’d be right there with him; but not a few of those bombs were aimed at Nebraska fans. In other words, he’s telling us that he doesn’t care about us, lumping the pathologically faithful with fair-weather folks who actually have to search for their red underwear on Saturdays. So let’s live with Bo Pelini for the next few years. If, after that, university officials have not learned enough about human nature to hire the right person for this highest of high-profile positions then we probably don’t have much choice but to be proud of a 9-3, or 8-4, season and a trip to the Rural Kansas Bowl.
The one thing Bo does have going for him is player admiration. As far as we can tell from quotes in the media, the boys who participate in this exceedingly violent game love their head coach and even tolerate the proselytizer Ron Brown. This observation is important, a lesson for anyone in a leadership position: stand up for, and stand behind, those who are working as hard as they can, using all their time and talents, to make you rich and famous. You’ll never hear Pelini use an expletive to describe one of his players, one of his assistant coaches, or even a fake punt call on fourth and three when you’ve had second and three two downs before and Imani Cross on your team.
But it’s also important to remember just how cloistered is a major football program. We fans are separated from the gladiators in many ways, not the least of which is the fact that we’re in the stands instead of on the field. We are not a party to Bo’s teaching techniques, his insider analysis of games past, his decision-making processes, his worries, and his personal life. Instead, we summarize that entire program by the use of his name, routinely tie our sense of what it means to be a Nebraska resident to the Husker football win-loss record and national rankings, and assume that our impression of a team’s performance is indeed a true reflection of coaching skills. None of those three behaviors can be justified by the facts: a major college program is exceedingly large and complex, your personal mental well-being has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with football unless you’re part of the team and staff, and nobody can completely control a game played by a bunch of college kids.
I’m not excusing Bo Pelini for an 8-4 record in 2013; he’s evidently doing what he’s been hired to do about as well as he can, although maybe not up to everyone’s expectations and hopes. I am saying that no matter how public his job is on a few fall Saturdays, most, indeed perhaps 98%, of what he does or does not do is hidden from the public simply because that’s not only the way these programs operate, it’s probably also the way these programs must operate in order to be even 67% successful (8/12 = 0.6666). And let’s be honest: he has had a slew of injuries to deal with. When a senior lineman who’s been on the practice squad sees duty in the last game of the season, and not because he’s a senior being done a favor for his parents but because he’s needed, then you know the coach has human resource management problems, not all of them a result of his decisions behind closed doors.
But the cloister has its dark side, as we’ve learned from the Joe Paterno et al. story. The rarest of all revelations in college football may indeed be discovery that some Division 1 coach actually reads serious non-fiction, can talk intelligently about art, is more scientifically literate than his state’s elected officials, listens to opera in his new Nissan Armada (supplied via tax deductible donations from a booster), and is just as sensitive to non-football compliance issues as some assistant professor in biology who’s filled out a 17-page form in order to dissect a frog and knows enough to keep his office door open when a student is in there crying about a grade. So given that Mr. Pelini is a University of Nebraska-Lincoln employee, if not the UNL employee, if not the public face of the institution, I have a couple of answers to the question: what should we do about Bo Pelini?
First, send him to sit in some adjunct English prof’s freshman class for three hours every time he loses a game in which he calls a fake punt. Actually, send him to such a class for three hours every time he loses a game, period. Three hours is about the length of time fans are patient with what they interpret as poor coaching, whether it is poor coaching or not. After the second hour over in Andrews Hall basement, students will get over the fact that it’s Pelini in the room and he’ll start getting some perspective on the difference between his salary and that of the other person who’s also expected to be a superior teacher and is worrying about his/her students just as much as Bo worries about his players.
Second, either send him to charm school or make him take a speech class where he’s up in front of a couple of dozen students who evaluate his performance—posture, clothing, choice of words, rationale, etc. When Bo apologizes for some on-field outburst he actually sounds reasonably civilized, at least as quoted in the newspaper; we give him the benefit of the doubt by concluding that he delivered those words without a script prepared by a staff member. So maybe he can do it after all. And tell him to ditch the hat after the game; I know, we see hats even in nice restaurants in Lincoln, but that doesn’t mean your mother, or your date, approves of them. In other words, if Bo is the face of UNL for half the year, then we want him to at least look and talk in a way that would make him seem like part of the crowd in a room full of well-educated professionals.
Third, pay some faculty members a bonus to go over to the cloister and spend an hour a week educating Bo and his staff on current events, economics, media, advertising, military mis-adventure, pop music, information technology, organization of the university, what the ACE program (Achievement Centered Education, the UNL liberal arts curriculum) is supposed to accomplish, and UNL assets such a Morrill Hall, the Sheldon Gallery and sculpture garden, and Ross Film Theater. In other words, get him out of the cloister and bring him into the fold. If he’s being paid an ungodly sum to be the symbol of our institution, then expect him to actually be a part of it. If he’s being paid an ungodly sum to be the face of American higher education, then let’s help him act the part. Who knows, by the time his current contract is up, a miracle may have occurred.
Speaking of miracles, it’s entirely possible that by the time Pelini’s contract is up, Nebraska will have won a Big Ten championship, if not a national one. For newly hired regular faculty members, six years is tenure time; that’s the year your department colleagues decide whether to award you a lifetime’s job, along with annual evaluations, minimal pay increases, access to group health insurance, and contributions to your TIAA/CREF retirement fund. At UNL, you also get the opportunity to buy football tickets. Has Bo done well enough to warrant the D 1 version of tenure, namely a contract extension? The question is not relevant; he’s already been given one. He has a winning record; if bowl games can somehow be equated to publications, he has enough; his players love and respect him; a few of his students are now professionals. By loose analogy, that’s more than I can say for some current tenured faculty members.
Finally, so get off his case. Nobody except the players and coaches truly know whether he’s doing the best job possible at the University of Nebraska. The vast majority of us has never played college football and never will, and even those who have played are usually years past the experience. College athletics are neither immune to nor isolated from the cultural and technological changes that are sweeping through our nation and the world, but college coaches often act like that is the case. It’s not. Grow up, coach; pick a couple of role models and start trying to behave the way they do. If she’s still alive, your mother will be happy that finally, by middle age, you’ve developed into the kind of child she dreamed about having when you were born. And in the best of all worlds, you end up being one of those deities in the same Heavenly realm as Devaney and Osborne.
Now, for those of you who want a peek into the future of Nebraska football, order TUSKERS as an e-book from kindle, nook,, or as a nice paperback from The movie script for TUSKERS is also available as an e-book from

Thursday, August 21, 2014


This excerpt is from a chapter entitled "Landscape." This chapter is an interpretation of a painting given to my mother as a wedding present in 1935 by the mother of Elizabeth Cooper, my own mother's best friend, a painting that hung in the house where I was born. The painting is used as a device for exploring all kinds of aspects of early 20th Century Oklahoma history. The book itself is available as an e-book on kindle, nook, and from smashwords.

The excerpt:

The place is deserted. No people walk the banks of this stream, nobody labors in the nearby fields digging or cutting or harvesting or planting, no animals, either wild or domestic, singly or in herds, predator or prey, walk, or graze, or lurk, or slink, behaviors depending on their sizes or roles or immediate needs. Only those white elongate blotches that might be dragonfly wings, or, alternatively, reflections off water, hint at the presence of animals. But the plants tell a story without talking. They stand in groups: two, close by, on the left; three, also near, on the right, although it’s possible two of the three are just separate shoots from the same trunk; fifteen, a little further away; five in a clump beyond those but on the left; ten or eleven, it’s hard to tell exactly how many from this far away, straight ahead. Like a place you visit again and again, the trunks seem to be repeating this tale, begging you to listen and understand what they’re telling you: we’re new, as trees go, and we’re all about the same diameter.
Don’t you know what you’re seeing?
Don’t you understand what the landscape is saying?
Don’t you understand the larger lesson, the timelessness of these observations, the overriding generalities manifested in the highly specific?
Don’t you know that your eyes are functioning like ears; your brains giving substance to our voices?
No; you don’t; so here it is, the story, our history, laid out in plain words: if you know what to look for, and how to interpret your visions, then you can see ghosts. The ones who lived here before, they are gone, washed to the sea. We all came here about the same time. We started from seeds left over after The Deluge. The waters came and stripped everything clean. Then the clouds drifted away, having done their damage, and the sun warmed the wet mud, and the crabgrass started there, quickly, sending out those runners, grasping, competing with neighbors, lying flat, reaching, always reaching and going as far as they could reach and going while the sun got hotter and hotter, and steam started coming out of the ground, and sandpipers landed and walked along the banks, poking for worms, defecating out parasite eggs, then flew off without stopping to somewhere far in the north. Crabgrass is like a Devil; it comes and takes whatever space is there for the taking; an idle mind, like idle mud, is a perfect place for crabgrass. But even one runner suddenly makes the world a little more complex than it was before, and casts a tiny ribbon of shade where once was only hot clay, a break, caused by the Devil, in homogeneity delivered by a “cleansing” Deluge—the tiniest hint of this timeless contest between good and evil.

Friday, August 15, 2014


Like an amoeba; just like a goddamn running, yelling, but worst of all, touching, amoeba, she thinks, as she watches children flow out of the long yellow bus. The amoeba moves up the marble steps toward her, a multi-colored mass of smelly little bodies herded by a heavy-set teacher in run-down shoes. The sweaty brats will stink; the teacher will be exhausted from a long climb in the unseasonably hot last week of school. Why did I volunteer to work at the museum, she wonders; why did I ever agree to give tours? Because that’s what women in my situation do, she answers herself. They don’t work as clerks in dry good stores; instead, they serve as docents in local museums. They give of themselves because their husbands can buy anything they want.
Out in the parking lot her new white Mercedes gleams in the hot sun. Her high-heeled lizard shoes match perfectly a stylish belt and complementary earrings. She has her script memorized. Thank God there are no American Indians or blacks in this group. She never felt she was able to say anything meaningful to black kids, and the Indians embarrassed her. She feels most comfortable playing like an expert on arrowheads and flint scrapers when the group is all white, and especially if the girls are nicely dressed. Nor does she mind the Hispanics; they are mostly Catholic, and consequently quiet and well-behaved, although still not very receptive to her spiel.
Inside the building, the teacher smiles, wipes her forehead, and pushes the children into a group, speaking harshly to a few, and finally gets them all facing the docent. Around each neck is a yarn loop holding a name card. Good; she could ask questions by name: Michelle, now why do you suppose these people painted their stories instead of writing them? A dozen hands go up. They didn’t care what Michelle supposes; they just want to tell their version of some experience that pops into, or out of, their minds. I painted a story once! My brother painted a story once! Hey, lady, one time we were out at my grandpa’s farm and we found a arrowhead (“err’haid”)!
Michelle? Michelle is shy, sucks on her finger. I know, ‘cause they didn’t know how to write! A freckly-faced redhead blurts out Michelle’s answer. His friends laugh. You cain’t write neither! Douglas, be quiet! says the teacher. Michelle, can you answer the lady? I don’t think the Indians knew how to write back then, says Michelle softly. That’s right, Michelle; written language had not been invented, so they kept records with pictures and stories. Good! What else hadn’t been invented, Michelle?
Atomic bombs, answers Michelle, and television sets, and cars, and cell phones, and assault rifles, and telescopes, and computers, and electricity, and improvised explosive devices, and . . . and . . . and.
That’s enough, Michelle, says the teacher; that’s enough.
But I think they made pretty pictures on their teepees anyway, continues Michelle, ignoring the teacher, and they probably had good ideas.
And they used them hatchets to bash in each other’s skulls! says Douglas. His friends laugh. Yeah, Douglas! And they’d shoot you in the ass with one o’ them arrows (“errs”)!
The docent is ready to shoot Douglas in the ass with an arrow herself. If she’d been able to get into the glass cases she’d probably have done it. She looks at her watch. Need to hustle these kids on. Supposed to meet a friend for lunch before her tennis lesson. The group moves on, but Michelle stays behind, staring into the case.
Why did one of them paint a picture of a raccoon? she asks. Nobody is around to answer. Her teacher calls; come, Michelle, we need to move on. But Michelle does not move on. Something about that raccoon behind the glass keeps her attention fixed. I wonder, thinks Michelle to herself, why a raccoon was important enough to paint its picture. The question sticks in her mind. When she gets home that night, she gets on the Internet to learn as much as she can about raccoons.

DINKLE'S LIFE is available on kindle, nook, and smashwords.