• Time to Fold 'em

    • Posted on Jun 03, 2018

    This morning's Courier column, and my last. Moving on, after forty-plus years of columnizing.  


                As Kenny Rogers sang in “The Gambler,” “You got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, know when to run. . .” 

                Great advice, and not just for poker players. Time to fold ‘em for this columnist.   

                I’ve written local columns for the Cedar Falls Record, then for the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, for forty-plus years, beginning in February of 1978.  I’m no quitter.  

                Not that I haven’t thought about it, and in fact did take a few months off when living in Germany and Sweden.   

                But I always returned to commenting locally on anything that caught my brain as needing attention.   Deaths of friends and family, closings and openings of local schools and restaurants, religious and educational issues, politics, strange experiences at home and abroad. Basically, I made a public record of private thoughts.  

                I lost a few friends, and probably angered others who never said anything. Plenty of letters came in, some with advice on where to go after I die.  Happily, many letters were complimentary, offering agreement and encouragement.   

                 Still, why didn’t I just shut up, as a colleague once suggested.  

                Two reasons:  deadline pressures forced me to develop a coherent train of thought and stay with it until hitting the “send” button. It was a worthwhile challenge, and I recommend it to aspiring writers.         

                More important, I got to know readers who otherwise would have remained strangers.  Over the years a fairly sizable group of readers wanted to meet over lunch or coffee to hash over ideas.   That was always stimulating, and occasionally downright exciting.   

                But lately I’ve noticed I’ve been repeating myself. I look through my online collection of a thousand old columns and find that I’d rather read my older version than the one I’m working on.  

                Worse, I feel now that I’m mostly preaching to the choir. Those who disagree don’t bother to read. 

                For this very column, for example, I was going to write about how the whole country has become a dysfunctional family. The head of the family is a raging bully who pits one side of the family against the other, hurting them all. Time for separation and divorce.     

                Great column idea, but it’s more preaching to the choir.                   

                The older I get the more I prefer quietude, reading, meditating, and playing my guitar by and for myself. That’s the life I lead now, and it seems just right.  No need for the essentially narcissistic act of writing in public.  

                So, I’m retiring cheerfully from columnizing, though I hope to write occasional guest pieces as the spirit moves me. You can access a thousand past columns at  www.cedarvalleychronicles.com

                Thanks to Nancy Newhoff and Saul Shapiro, Courier editors during most of my tenure, for their tolerance and good humor.  And special thanks to readers whose responses helped keep me going.  

                It was a good long ride.  





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  • 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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Cedar Valley Chronicles Photo

“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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