White Heat – The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson

White HeatHe had seen men enslaved, and seen death in battle on a terrible scale. So when a young, unknown poet named Emily Dickinson wrote to ask whether he thought her verse was “alive”, Thomas Wentworth Higginson – a critic for The Atlantic Monthly and a decorated Union veteran – knew he was seeing poetry that lived and breathed like nothing he had seen before.

Higginson was immediately awed by Emily Dickinson, and went on to become her editor, mentor, and one of the reclusive poet’s closest confidantes. The two met only twice, but exchanged hundreds of deeply personal letters over the next twenty-five years; they commented on each other’s work, mulled over writers they admired, and dazzled each other with nimble turns of phrase. After she died, he shepherded the first collected edition of her poetry into publication, and was a tireless champion of her work in his influential Recent Poems column for The Nation.

Later generations of literary scholars have dismissed Higginson as a dull, ordinary mind, blaming him for the decision to strip some of the distinctive, unusual structure from Dickinson’s poems for publication. However, Brenda Wineapple offers a portrait of Higginson that is far beyond ordinary. He was a widely respected writer, a fervent abolitionist, and a secret accomplice to John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry; wounded in the first year of the Civil War, he returned to service as colonel of the first federally-authorized regiment of former slaves. White Heat reveals a rich, remarkable friendship between the citizen soldier and the poet, a correspondence from which Dickinson drew tremendous passion and inspiration – and which she credited, more than once, with saving her life.

Brenda Wineapple is the author and editor of five books, including the award-winning Hawthorne: A Life and Sister Brother: Gertrude and Leo Stein. Her essays, articles, and reviews have appeared in The American Scholar, The New York Times Book Review, Parnassus, Poetry, and The Nation. She teaches in the MFA programs at Columbia University and The New School in New York.

Remembering General H. Norman Schwarzkopf

General H. Norman SchwarzkopfI am remembering General H. Norman Schwarzkopf by republishing a review I did a number of years ago of his autobiography.  I first read this book in 1995. I have read it once since. “It Doesn’t Take a Hero” by H. Norman Schwarzkopf takes its title from a quote Schwarzkopf gave during an interview with Barbara Walters in 1991; “It Doesn’t Take a Hero to order men into battle. It takes a hero to be one of those men who goes into battle.”

First, I must admit I am a Schwarzkopf fan. He commanded the 1st Brigade, 9th Infantry Division as a colonel while I was serving as a 1LT in the 9th Division. His third child (son) was born about two hours after my first son at Madigan Army General Hospital. We spent time in the Army hospital delivery room together. Our wives were in beds besides each other in the hospital ward. We were on a first name basis. He called me lieutenant and I called him sir. Prior to his arrival at Fort Lewis he had been the assistant commander of the 172nd Infantry Brigade (Alaska Brigade). The 172nd Infantry Brigade’s commander he served under was Major General Willard (Will) Latham who Schwarzkopf called the toughest general in the US Army. I have been an acquaintance of MG Latham’s for 40 years. Latham’s son Mark was a class mate of mine at University of Texas at Arlington (UT Arlington). Will Latham and I are active members of the Corps of Cadet Alumni Council Board at the UT Arlington. I have discussed Schwarzkopf and Schwarzkopf’s book with Latham. I also am a contributor to the Wikipedia article H. Norman Schwarzkopf.

Schwarzkopf came from an upper middle class family, his father was a West Point graduate, head of the New Jersey state police (who later led the hunt for the Lindbergh kidnappers), and served President Roosevelt on a special assignment in Iran. They lived in the best house in their town, and even employed a maid, but there was a dark family secret… his mother’s alcoholism. His experiences in the Middle East in Iran as a young man, where he lived with his general father, gave him a unique insight into the Arab world that served him personally, and the coalition as a whole. He went to boarding schools in the middle-east and in Switzerland. This helped him develop the cultural understanding and build some relationships that he would later call on during the Gulf War. He was a military brat just like me.

The part of the book that deals with his duties in Vietnam is interesting. He expresses the popular hindsight viewpoint against the stupidity and arrogance of the politicians and ‘Brass’ who ordered young men to lay down their lives in that far away land for no good reason. He became convinced that he had to do something to change the army from within; it was either that or he resigns his commission.

His role in leading the rescue of the medical students in Grenada is extremely interesting. It provided him with lessons that were applied during the Gulf War.

The most interesting part of the book is his telling of the Gulf War, Desert Storm. It is probably true to say that without “Stormin’” Norman, there wouldn’t have been a, successful, Gulf War. He was able to play on the links his father had with Arab Royalty, and then forged his own links with the current Saudi Royal Family, working with Crown Princes on a first name basis to get things done, everything from releasing endless millions of dollars in payments to the US – what is the daily rental on an aircraft carrier?! – to arranging for “tent cities” to be erected to shield the incoming troops from the scorching desert sun.

The most interesting aspect of the Gulf War section was the politics of the coalition, especially in the Arab world, something that was almost completely missing in Colin Powell’s memoir. In this crucial, although mostly unknown area of the War, Schwarzkopf’s experiences in the Middle East were invaluable. Middle Eastern politics are a lethal mine field at the best of times – us Brits have had our fingers burnt on more than one occasion over the years! – and pouring hundreds of thousands of free thinking, free drinking, Western troops of endless religious and moral persuasions into the autocracy that is the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, should have been a recipe for utter disaster!

Schwarzkopf’s deft handling of the endless ‘difficulties’ involving religious services, the consumption of alcohol, the reading of magazines of dubious ‘artistic’ merit, even the receiving of Christmas cards and the erection of Christmas decorations, were handled with a skill and subtlety that one would not have thought a mere ‘soldier’ possible. And then of course there was the Israeli question. The one thing above all else that would have blown the coalition apart would have been Israel attacking Iraq in retaliation for the Scuds that fell on Israeli territory. Although much of the efforts to keep Israel out of the action were handled direct from Washington, Schwarzkopf’s handling of the Saudi’s in particular, on the ground as it were was masterful.

“It Doesn’t Take a Hero” is a fascinating tale, a real inspiration; it shows what one man can achieve through clear thinking, a positive attitude, boundless enthusiasm, and a profound love, not only of his own country, but of mankind. I would recommend it highly.

Thank you General H. Norman Schwarzkopf for your service to our country.

My Writer’s Group

Our writing group! Minus a couple of key members.
Our writing group! Minus a couple of key members.

One way a writer can improve his odds of traditional publication is having an established writer as a mentor. Writing groups can also encourage and mentor. Let me share an example of the influence a mentor.

In 1919 a young veteran returned from World War I. He moved to Chicago moving into a certain neighborhood for the purpose of being close to the author Sherwood Anderson.

The young beginning writer liked the critical praise for Anderson and his book Winesburg, Ohio. He had heard that Sherwood Anderson was willing to help aspiring writers. He worked to met Anderson. The two men became close friends. They met almost every day to read newspapers, magazines, and novels. They dissected the writings they read.

The aspiring writer brought his own works for critique having Anderson help him improve his craft. Anderson went as far as introducing the want-to-be writer to his network of publishing contacts. The aspiring writer did okay with his first book The Sun Also Rises. The aspiring writer was Ernest Hemingway.

Sherwood Anderson didn’t stop there. He moved to New Orleans where he met another aspiring writer. He took the young man through the same steps and paces of the craft. They shared an apartment. He even invested $300 in getting this writer’s first book Soldier’s Pay published. This young author was William Faulkner. Faulkner’s teacher was the encouragement of learning from how others crafted their work.

Anderson would later move to California and repeat the process with John Steinbeck. Thomas Wolfe and Erskine Caldwell were also mentored by Sherwood Anderson. Ray Bradbury says Winesburg, Ohio was on his mind when he wrote The Martin Chronicles. He basically wrote Winesburg, Ohio placing it on the planet Mars.

Only Mark Twain has had a greater influence in shaping modern American writing than Sherwood Anderson. Anderson didn’t do too badly, did he? William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway and John Steinbeck each won the Nobel Prize for Literature and there are multiple Pulitzer Prizes between them.

If you are serious about writing find a mentor or join a writing group. My writer’s group and critique group keep me motivated. My writer’s group and group’s member are the best thing that happened to me in 2012.

Merry Christmas

It’s Tuesday, December 25, 2012. It is Christmas Day. Today is the birthday of my Uncle Vernon May, Val Harper Chatham (member of my Bible fellowship class and friend Jerry’s wife), and Viktoria Tori (RN and friend). It is 45 degrees F at 5:30 AM. A line of thunderstorms moved through DeSoto, Texas at 1:40 AM with heavy rain, hail, and high winds. I am at my 86 years old father’s house for Christmas.

A Winter Weather Advisory was issued at 3:30 AM … Winter Weather Advisory now in effect from 9 am this morning to midnight CST tonight…

  • Timing … rain is expected to change over to snow from west to east today. All snow will end from west to east in the evening hours.
  • Location … this Winter Weather Advisory statement is for the counties of Young… Jack… wise… Denton… Collin… Hunt… Delta and Hopkins.
  • Main impact… snowfall accumulations between 2 and 4 inches.
  • Other impacts… northwest winds of 25 to 35 mph with higher gusts will result in areas of blowing snow. This may result in visibility restrictions of less than a half mile. Bridges and overpasses will be the first to ice over… but some surface roads may become icy by late afternoon in areas where heavier snow falls. Precautionary/preparedness actions… Be prepared for icy spots on area roads and highways by Christmas evening. Check Road conditions before departing if you must travel. If travel is necessary… drive with extreme caution. Some light accumulations of snow and ice are possible… especially on elevated surfaces. Bridges and overpasses will be the first locations where icy spots may develop.

Devotional: Joy to the World

Joy to the World!

The words and lyrics of the old Christmas carol ‘Joy to the World’ were written in 1719 by Isaac Watts (1674-1748). Joy to the World is a popular Christmas carol which is based on Psalm 98 in the Bible. The father of John Watts was a Non-conformist and so extreme were his views that he was imprisoned twice. His father’s influence over Isaac was demonstrated when he choose to attend Non­conformist Academy at Stoke Newington in preference to a University. Watts was ordained as a Pastor of an Independent congregation. He wrote many hymns and Carols and was awarded a Doctor of Divinity degree by the the University of Edinburgh in 1728. The music to the carol is by George Frederick Handel (1685-1759).

Joy to the World
by Isaac Watts

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

Joy to the world, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.

A Visit from St. Nicholas

Twas the Night Before Christmas

It’s Sunday, December 23, 2012. On this date in 1823 the Troy Sentinel (a New York state newspaper) published the poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas”.

A Visit from St. Nicholas
by Clement Clark Moore

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her ’kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap,
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;
“Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Donder and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of Toys, and St. Nicholas too.
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a pedler just opening his pack.
His eyes—how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle,
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night.”

Essay: What if the world ends on Friday? Are you ready. I am. Here’s my story …

What if the world ends on Friday? Are you ready. I am. Here’s my story …

On July 11, 1977 my life changed. If you look up that date in history, you will find nothing historically significant happened on that Sunday. It was historically significant to me. That day was the watershed event in my life.

July 1977 found me on active duty as a lieutenant in the United States Army. I was serving as Battalion Maintenance Office, 2nd Battalion, 47th Infantry, 9th Infantry Division located at Fort Lewis, Washington. Life was good. I had a beautiful, intelligent wife. I had a new son born in January that same year. My career was going great. I had just got a commendable rating during an annual general inspection in maintenance. It was the first commendable rating since the division had returned from Vietnam. I had been named an Outstanding Junior Officer of the Ninth Infantry Division because of the commendable rating. I had been offered a regular army commission.

I always tried to be the best I could be, and do what is right. However, after all of this, I still had an empty, unsatisfied, void, and alone feeling. Beginning in my teen-aged years, I had tried such as social drinking, women, materialism, partying, and hanging with the right crowd to fill this unexplained need I had. I knew something was missing from my life.

I was attending church. I noticed a group of men that seemed to have what I was missing. I attended a Bible study with them. Here I found that God has given us an important manual for life, the Bible. He has the answers to the problems and emptiness we may face. I found out I was here for a purpose, and not by accident. I learned Jesus loves me, and desires to have a personal relationship with me. But, sin separated me from Him.

I realized I had a sin problem. The Bible says: For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Romans 3:23 But no one is perfect! We have all sinned and therefore cannot save ourselves by simply living a good life. Why?

I learned there was a penalty to be paid for my sin. The Bible says: For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23

I learned God gives us a promise. The Bible says: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him shall not perish, but has everlasting life. John 3:16.

I learned that God made provision for me. The Bible says: If you confess with your mouth, Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. Romans 10:9-10

I prayed to accept the gift of eternal life through Jesus. I prayed, Jesus, I know that I am a sinner. I believe that Jesus died for my sins and rose from the grave so that I might have eternal life in Heaven with You. I willingly repent of my sins and ask you to come into my heart and life. Take control of my words, thoughts, and actions. I place all of my trust in You for my salvation. I accept You as my Lord and Savior, and this free gift of eternal life. Amen.

Since then all has not been perfect. I have messed up from time to time, sometime big mess-ups. However, I have had direction and purpose in my life. I know where I am headed. I have the Bible to give me the principles for daily living. I am never alone. I have had real peace for the last 35 years.

You can have this same peace, too. How, follow the same steps I outlined above.