Writing in a Moment of Crisis ~ A View From the Keyboard of Greg Olear

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If you know me at all, you know that I am a sucker for kitty cats in the writing space. (Kitty cats anywhere, really.) Greg Olear, the founding editor of The Weeklings and the author of the novels Totally Killer and Fathermucker shares his space with this little guy. And also if you know me at all, you know that I am a sucker for thought-provoking, bold, informative writing. Greg Olear writes just that sort of stuff in his writing space…with his cat. And if you can’t find Greg in his writing space, you will certainly find him on Twitter, where he spends most of his time.

For now, though, here is Greg Olear’s View from the Keyboard:

Olear: I’m cheating a little, but this is my view this morning from my writing space. Titus, our new kitten, is sunning himself. My laptop is about nine inches away from his face. I am lucky because I have my own office in my house. Behind me are three gorgeous wooden bookcases, filled with books. There are also bookshelves built into the wall around the window that Titus is in front of.

I love this space because I can look out the window as I write onto the street, which is not busy busy, but not not busy, either. It makes me feel connected to the community. I’m not a “retreat into the woods by myself and drink whiskey and write” kind of writer. I’m more of the Samuel Johnson “tired of London, tired of life” variety. I write almost every morning, first thing in the morning. After 11am, I’m useless.

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Lately, the fiction writing has been uninspired. We are in a moment of crisis in our country, our republic is under attack, and I am using my meager platform to inform my readers of the Trump menace. I’ve just published a book, on my own hastily-invented imprint, called DIRTY RUBLES: AN INTRODUCTION TO TRUMP/RUSSIA. I’ve been tweeting about this and writing about it for 18 months, and I decided to put it in book form. I did this because I feel it’s my civic duty to do everything in my power to get us out of this mess.

Here is an excerpt:

As I write this, a third of the country rightly recognizes Trump as a clear and present danger. A third will defend him no matter what he does, as a matter of blind faith. Whether the middle third is able to call out the naked emperor standing before us may well determine whether the United States survives this unprecedented crisis.

There are powerful forces working to silence these cries of “The Emperor has no clothes.” The talking heads at Fox News and InfoWars, the editorial writers at Breitbart and the Wall Street Journal, and an army of bots on Facebook and Twitter are adamant that Trump is wearing only the finest threads. Mainstream media outlets insist on giving equal time to the “Trump’s new clothes are fabulous” crowd, despite his indisputable nakedness. To too many evangelicals, to denounce Trump as a naked emperor is to renounce Jesus Christ Himself.

Furthermore, the story, the real story, strains credulity. Are we really to believe that a Russian dictator helped install his compromised asset in the White House, and is now exerting influence over said asset’s key decisions? That is the stuff of bad spy movies, surely; not the AP wire!

And yet here we are.

Trump once boasted that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose the support of his voters. I beg to differ. If he did that, there would be irrefutable evidence of a terrible crime, a literal smoking gun, and that would (I like to think) sway the minds of even the most obdurate #MAGA apologists.

Trump/Russia, however, is not bang-bang. There is no single smoking gun. Instead, there are thousands of them, firing simultaneously, and the result is a noxious fog that hangs over everything, clouding our view.

This book is an attempt to see through the fog.513Whs9XRAL

→Thanks, Greg, for a glimpse into your space and your work. Keep up the good fight, man. And as always, thanks to everyone for reading. ~PMc←

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TBT: Wagon Wheels Day Camp

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First day of camp; I was seven, Roger nine. We wore matching sneakers. I wished we were twins; in a couple of years I would cut my hair short and dress like a boy sometimes, hoping people thought we were.

We waited for the bus each morning at the end of our driveway on Greenwood Avenue, a stretch of road then that was sleepy, a huge, empty field across from our house, and up the block a Sinclair station with that big Dino the Dinosaur in front. A place where you would get free glasses with every fill-up, and where my brothers would buy bottles of soda by the case and sell them at the nearby little league games for a few pennies’ profit. These days Greenwood Avenue is four lanes in front of where our house was, and at the corner a car dealership takes up a complete block. 23cfbbaebb0a1ca4970266aa97b29fb2

Wagon Wheels had a talent show on the last day of camp. I don’t remember what Roger did for it, but I danced The Freddie with a bunch of little girls under the hot August sun.

School was just a month away.

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The Writer’s Handful With Justin O’Brien

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Mondays + Writers = Finally something to look forward to

Fifty years ago this summer, the Democratic National Convention came to Chicago. I was just a little girl in 1968, but I remember watching this on our black and white television: the boisterous goings-on inside the convention center, and the scary, dangerous goings-on outside in Grant Park and up and down Michigan Avenue. My office view today looks over this very spot, but it is hard for me to imagine what it must have been like on those long-passed days and nights. BUT, Chicago Yippie! ’68, by Chicago native–and now Wisconsin resident-Justin O’Brien, puts it all in focus again. This book, Justin’s story and found and snapped photos, is part celebration, part explanation of a time of turbulent hope and essential unrest.

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Recently, Justin was able to take a few minutes away from his writer’s desk for The Writer’s Handful. Welcome, Justin!

Did you write today? If yes, what? If no, why not?download

I’m a dabbler. So, yes, in my odd fashion, I wrote today, as I do every day. There’s the socially obligatory Facebook posts, including fielding questions about my new book, Chicago Yippie! ’68 (garretroom.com), an account of my experiences as a 17-year-old Chicago kid caught up in the Democratic Convention riots of 1968. I also answered a question on an internet forum about  Chicago blues musician Little Smokey Smothers and his connection to the Paul Butterfield Band (I have been writing about Chicago blues music for forty years). Then there are questions I’m preparing for an interview with a Chicago blues musician for a feature article. And I revisited some of my notes on what I hope will be a long piece or a small book on The Beats and what they meant to me and my hitch-hiking friends back in the 1960s and ’70s.
 
What’s the first thing (story, poem, song, etc.) you remember writing, and how old were you when you wrote it?
As part of a science assignment in perhaps the fourth grade, each of us was asked to write about the cycle of a water drop. I wrote a first-person story about a raindrop falling in a lake and being evaporated back into the atmosphere and coming back to the ground somewhere else as snow, and on and on. I remember feeling the freedom and surprise of creative writing. I may still have that paper somewhere.
 
What are you reading right now?
I’m a dabbler, as I said, and I am juggling all non-fiction at the moment: The Rogue’s
March, which tells the story of Irishman John Riley who defected with thousands of other Irish-born soldiers from the U.S. Army to fight with Mexican forces in the 1840s, an annotated collection of some of Mark Twain’s unfinished fiction, and also a book on Wisconsin geologist/naturalist Increase Lapham. As this suggests, I cannot bear current events at the moment.
 
What’s the most important advice you ever received? (Writerly or otherwise.)
“When you know you’re going to meet an interesting person, think of some good
questions to ask them.” My dad said that to me and my brothers in the car one day when we were boys. I think it was when we were on our way to see a client of his who had been blinded by mustard gas in World War I. That was an interesting day, which I have written about.
I wasn’t a great one for taking advice, but I always remembered that bit. And it served me well throughout the years. In my early teens, when I decided I was going to be a writer, a friend and I were always contriving ways to meet famous people, like Robert Vaughn (“The Man From U.N.C.L.E.”), Senator Hubert Humphrey, tap dancer John Bubbles, and comedian Frank Gorshin (the original Riddler on the Batman TV show), who was gracious enough to allow us morons to “interview” him at the Drake Hotel in Chicago as he drank his tea in the dining room. Nothing came of that. But I did go on to interview scores of blues musicians over the years for feature articles as well as for the “Speakin’ of the Blues” interview and performance series that the Chicago Public Library held for many years at the Harold Washington Library and broadcast on local cable TV. I hope I have asked good questions over the years.
 
If your writing were an animal, what animal would it be? Because…
It would have to be an alligator that I am perpetually wrestling. Perhaps a small, tame one, because I don’t feel defeated by the effort—it’s always a good and challenging—though sometimes scary—workout, with plenty of thrashing around, if mostly mental.
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Justin O’Brien is a freelance writer who received his bachelor’s degree in English literature from the University of Illinois at Chicago. For most of his 42-year career, he practiced the craft of typography, a subject that he also taught and wrote about. Concurrent with his 9-to-5 job he wrote extensively about blues music over a forty-year period, and for several decades has been associated with Living Blues magazine of the University of Mississippi. His writing—on blues and other subjects—has also appeared in Juke Blues, Sing Out!, Irish Music, UIC Alumni News, Chicago Parent, The Typographer, Digital Chicago, Southern Graphics, and The Minneapolis Review of Baseball. He was a contributor to the Encyclopedia of the Blues (Routledge Press, 2005), Armitage Avenue Transcendentalists (Charles Kerr, 2009), and Base Paths: The Best of the Minneapolis Review of Baseball (Wm. Brown, 1991).