• A Remembrance and Appreciation of Loree Rackstraw

    • Posted on May 17, 2018


    Loree Rackstraw died Tuesday, May 8 at Mayflower Retirement Center in Grinnell. 
    She would have turned 87 in June. 

    In 2011, just before she moved to Grinnell, her family held a celebration of her 80th birthday, and friends were asked to offer a few remarks.  I thought I would reprint mine here as a remembrance and appreciation of my much-admired colleague, and beloved friend.  She is much missed.  

    At that celebration, I took photos, a selected few of which are posted below too. 

    For Loree’s 80thBirthday

    A Belief in Moreness 

    June, 2011


                Loree, we’ve been friends since before the end of the Vietnam war.  Forty and more years.  How many friends do I know that I still see more than once a year from that time?  None.  You’re it.  

             You’ve become part of my family, the older sister I never had. 

             That means more than I can say.           

            Thirty years ago, at your fiftieth birthday party, in this place, on this day, you provided an occasion for Winter Ridge Handy’s first gig. Waller, Waterman, Schultz, and Cawelti, trying their best to make their peculiar kind of eclectic music.    Thank you for that opportunity, and for all the other musicians, artists, poets, and writers you’ve helped over the decades.  It gave us a perfect start, and we played five more years at dozens of venues.    

             Fifteen years ago you retired, and Angeleita and I were happy to help celebrate that occasion with a night we still remember. Champagne, a limo, music, speeches, and a glow that lasted the rest of the year.  

             Ten years ago in September, several of us gathered to honor your ancient and much lamented giant boxelder tree.  I still remember the bittersweet feel of that farewell and thanks, which echoes today.  By then, you had become a pacha mama, an earth-mother goddess with ties to Peruvian indigenous shamans.  

             So here we are, celebrating your 80th, which is sweet, and your leaving Cedar Falls, which is bitter.  Your leaving is bittersweet for sure.   

             You’ll be more than missed, your absence will leave a hole in our local culture and hearts that won’t be filled. 

             For me and dozens of others, you’ve been a sounding board, a right-on critic, a supporter of creativity wherever you find it, an always ready ear, and a great laughing partner.  I’ve laughed more with you than anyone, excluding Angeleita and D. Terry Williams, two of the funniest people alive.  You’re the third. 

             Most important for me has been a shared world view, a common sense of omnivalence.   I don’t think we’ve discussed this word,  but it describes what you’ve known and lived, and in fact what I came to understand, thanks to you.  

             “Omnivalence” is a coinage from John Briggs’s wonderful study of creativity, FIRE IN THE CRUCIBLE. Roughly, it means “moreness.” There’s more to everything, you know, from the tiniest grains to the monster stars.  There’s more to all of us, more to every poem, more meanings lurking in every piece of music, every human expression, every expression of nature from trees to pachamamas to grandchildren.    

             Years ago, you joined with me in “Oxherders,” a once-a-month book discussion group consisting of local seers and seekers that focused on writings about enlightenment—mystics, physicists, religionists, historians, futurists.  We were seeking the ox of enlightenment, from Philip Kapleau’s Three Pillars of Zen

             We read works such as Ray Kurzweil’s The Singularity is Near,Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, Karen Armstrong’s In Defense of God,  Sam Harris’s The End of Faith, plus books on quantum physics, such as Gary Zukov’s The Dancing Wu Li Masters, about how physical reality is --neither. 

             Through all those hours of intense discussion, you consistently revealed wonder, curiosity, and an unshakeable belief in moreness  that only a few people understand—among them Kurt Vonnegut, who expressed it in humor and satire, and musicians, who reach it through melodies and rhythms that transport listeners to another dimension.   

             So I’m here to offer thanks to a world citizen, an 80 year old sister who has lived a life of seeing and believing in the moreness in everything.   

             And for that, I’m profoundly and forever grateful.


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  • Advice to Graduates: Do Follow Your Bliss

    • Posted on May 13, 2018

    Today's Waterloo/Cedar Falls Courier Column:  Advice to newly minted graduates.  STEM and following your bliss: Teaching, transforming, and transcending.  

    Another May, another month of country-wide graduation ceremonies bringing free advice for graduating seniors. Here’s mine, worth up to maybe two cents.   

     “Follow Your Bliss,” insists philosopher Joseph Campbell, who wrote “Hero With a Thousand Faces,” “The Power of Myth,” and a half-dozen other ground-breaking books on mythical truths. Campbell believed that living a productive, happy life means following one’s bliss wherever it may lead. 

    But what if your bliss involves the creative arts? Music, painting, sculpting, theater, fiction, poetry, promise bliss for those talented and motivated enough to do them well. 

    One problem:  bliss doesn’t pay much.  Only a few find careers in the creative arts, so follow the money.   

    That’s the popular argument for not funding creative arts in school curricula, public art displays, or college course work. Seeking and creating mere beauty and wonder is play, not work, and therefore can’t be serious. 

    Stick with STEM, goes that argument:  Science, Technology, Engineering, Math, and leave your bliss for weekends and holidays. 

    It’s a powerful argument, and contains enough truth to sway young minds. 

    But I reject it. Graduates of the Class of 2018, if your bliss lies in the creative arts, go for it.        

    Here’s why.  Engaging in the arts leads directly and inevitably into levels of teaching, transforming, and transcending. These are the “why” of art and artists.         

    Everyone engages in these activities on one level or another. That’s what makes them so essential and universal.  Creative artists just do them more directly and more often. 

    Teaching:  Humanity would get nowhere without teaching and being taught. Whether we humans teach indirectly by our actions, or directly with stories and lesson plans, our creations help move humanity toward deeper understandings. 

     Most of us can trace our life knowledge back to either some powerful experience, or a film, a piece of music, a painting, a novel.  I remember understanding “totalitarian” deeply after reading Orwell’s 1984 in junior high.             


    Transforming:  Just as important, we’re changed by what we do.  Life transforms us, and the creative arts gives perspective to our transformations, revealing insights not available elsewhere.  Consider Huck Finn, Twain’s memorable portrayal of a young boy confronting racism before the Civil War, forcing him to grow up. 

    Transcending:  The heart of the artistic enterprise is transcendence. We need to get over and beyond ourselves into the larger universe that’s really out there.  But we experience it only when we leave self-relishing behind, and at their best the creative arts show the way. Kubrick’s iconic film 2001: A Space Odyssey takes viewers “beyond infinity,” provoking awe and wonder.  

    Here’s the kicker, graduates:   Creative artists can bring bliss to whatever they do.  If they become engineers or mathematicians, they can still teach, transform, and transcend as artists with math.   It’s a different mindset that begins with creative arts and artists.

    They can live the “why” of creative artistry in any profession.   

    So, graduates, whatever else you choose, follow your bliss.             

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    • Hot Button Issues
    • Graduation
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“Even before the advent of the Internet, Cawelti’s columns went 'viral' in the Cedar Valley… the role of a columnist is to be thought provoking, to take tacks that shed a different light on an issue or possibly cause a reader to reevaluate a position. At the very least, it should bring clarity to a particular perspective, whether you buy into the commentator’s worldview or not.

Scott's work does just that.  Enjoy this collection of his writing.”

-Saul Shapiro, Former Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier Editor
Read Shapiro's entire introduction.


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