Writing Right is a Rite, Wright

There is no such thing as a good writer or writer’s block, in my mind. Even with years of practice, it’s impossible to write the perfect first draft of a news story, a speech, a magazine article, a blog post; you get the picture. (I just changed that sentence twice.) The best writers are actually better editors. Michener always talked about how he would wordsmith a sentence for hours to make sure it connected to the previous sentence and set up the next.  Once done, he didn’t go back.

Writer’s block means that someone can’t write anything. Anyone can write. (I avoided the double negative, “no one can’t write.”) Maybe not write right. My technique when feeling “blocked” is to just start writing. Do a core memory dump about everything I know about catfish farming and then go back and edit it into a centerfold story with pictures in a weekend magazine newspaper insert.

My ability to write right is based on a rite which is uniquely my own, as I told Wright. And when the rite puts you “in the write zone” and everything feels right, as it has this past two weeks, that calls for a “right on.”

During breaks in writing, which is also a right rite for a writer, Wright, I’m pulling together other background material, formatting data, locating and editing photographs and creating maps so that readers have an understanding  of  East and West Side, the black triangle and other landmarks, like the locations of the five Waterloo high schools, Sloane Wallace Stadium where the East-West football games were played during the years covered in The Bridge Between and others. I never knew until a couple of weeks ago when I was mapping the schools that the park across from Columbus was/is called Bontrager Park.

This map is the first draft of describing the location of the 1967 riot on East 4th Street. I bought a used (duh) 1962 city directory on line, and and have used it to verify the location and names of the businesses along the stretch of East 4th which suffered the most damage that week. One of those treasures which pop up occasionally was the stamped name of the directory’s original owner: A.N. Caines, ACLU, in the Black building. Mr. Caines was a member of our church and a friend of my parents. Eerie.

North End Map_Sanborn 1961_BUSINESSES The link below is to a video about the last couple of weeks and some trivia from 1963 when The Bridge Between story begins; 1968, which is in the middle of the decade; and 1973, which is the 10th year. Click on the link and YouTube should open in a separate tab.

LINK:   The Bridge Between Update 20 July 2017

Feedback — good or constructive criticism (is there such a thing as “neutral” feedback?) — is always welcome, here, at my email drnickdebonis@gmail.com or on Facebook, either in The Bridge Between page or as a message.

I hope life continues to bless you.

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What Keeps Me Awake at Night

There are a couple of pieces of information in The Bridge Between which keep me awake at night, because they’ll largely determine whether the book is fiction or non-fiction. OK, I was told a gabazillion times not to exaggerate. These are important data and I’m running them to ground in between the writing.

  1. Smokey’s Row, the Black Triangle, the North End. Among those of you who have said you knew any or all of these names, there’s a wide variation in the name of the area in Waterloo where blacks lived in Waterloo before, during and after the 1963-73 decade and, more importantly, the boundaries which define its size. Secondary resources ranging from the state archives to official reports and research papers about the origin of the black community to newspaper accounts also have a disparity of information about both. After cadging all of the data together, here’s the map which is currently in the draft of Chapter 2 There are Blacks in Iowa? As always, any constructive feedback or criticism is appreciated . . . and the best place to make sure I see it is to me reply to the email from drnickdebonis@gmail.com which has this blog’s link in it.

Smokey Row_North End_11Jul17.png

2. The second major unverified “fact” in dispute is whether the Waterloo school board from 1963-1973 was elected by district or at-large. And if there were districts, where were they and did they change during that 10 years? This is relevant to establishing an important context for Chapter 5 The Years of Activism (1967-70) and Chapter 6 The Years of Discord (1970-73). I’ve been bugging the school district, which has been responsive to a fault, but we’re talking ancient archives in the same vein as the Dead Sea scrolls. Newspaper reports of candidates filing for the seats and the election reports themselves aren’t providing many clues. If you’re an explorer/researcher, any and all assistance is appreciated.

Finally, there have been a number of people who have come forward in the last week to participate. I’m working to get all of you . . . or “them” if you’ve already participated or decided to wait until the book comes out . . . before the end of the week. There may be some spillover into next week. But now that my wife’s business website has launched — http://www.flair-southern-style.com — it’s back to writing as long as I can sit and stay awake . . . .

Hope your week exceeds all of your expectations. And when someone asks us locally how things are going, the only honest response in, “Just another day in paradise.”

Toes in the Water Mar2017   Nick

UPDATE: The Bridge Between

Good Friday afternoon from the Golden Isles of Georgia. The writing of The Bridge Between (TBB) has been going well the past two weeks, with the usual breaks for life’s little unplanned and planned interruptions, and breaks to rest the mind mentally and the legs cramped from sitting on the beach. Chapter 3 is in draft form, and I’ve started sorting your contributions into chapters 4, 5 and 6. That will help me discover the themes in them. 

I’m closing off phone conversations next week so that I can concentrate on writing those “meaty” chapters. While it will still be possible to shoe-horn later conversations into the chapters later, trying to do that while staying focused on the road map for the chapter is a fools’ exercise. If you graduated from one of the five Waterloo, IA,  [TRIVIA ALERT: There are 30 places in the U.S. named Waterloo and I’ve heard from people in a number of them] high schools from 1963-1973 and would like to be one of the contributors. contact me at drnickdebonis@gmail.com or Nicholas DeBonis on Facebook or @DrNick48 on Twitter. Let me know three days next week and the time for each that would be optimal for you and I’ll call. If there’s a conflict with all three, I’ll call and we’ll make an appointment that does work. And pass this information along to anyone you know who graduated during those 10 years and I’ll schedule them as well. 

I’m including the opening paragraphs for Chapter Two There are Blacks in Iowa? and Chapter 3 Guess Who’s Coming to School to provide a look at where the chapters are heading. Chapter Two is still historical background, but with your comments added where relevant.  Chapter 3, without counting words, is probably 90% what people contributed.

Feedback about spelling and grammar are appreciated. I’m an experienced and competent editor, but it’s tougher when you’re editing your own work — you can read things the way you know they should be and miss the way they’re actually written.

Chapter 2 There are Blacks in Iowa?

Iowa. That’s where the potatoes come from, right? – Typical response received by a number Waterloo high school graduates when meeting people not familiar with the state.

My wife was from Southern California and when I started going out there with her, people didn’t know what to say to me. They imagined I lived on a farm. That there was a lot of corn. And nobody from her family would ever visit us until we had kids. They were surprised by what they saw when they did. [WHS 69 white male]

There are blacks in Iowa?Response to a black Waterloo high school graduate introducing herself to people in another state

When I tell people where I’m from, they imagine a white environment. They shake their heads. “Are there whites in Waterloo?” If you only knew. Come to my town and see it ain’t all white. [EHS 73 black male]

The East-West crosstown rivalry began when the town was settled on both sides of the Cedar River. That natural divide became an artificial political and social demarcation which has reverberated in the town through the decades.

There was East-West competition for government buildings, schools and a library. Business also contributed to crosstown competitiveness.

The West Side became affluent, more sophisticated socially, which fostered a sense of arrogance among its residents that was noted by Eastsiders. The East Side was the blue-collar, middle class section of Waterloo, a distinction which engendered its own pride.

Race, racial tension and racial issues with which we high school students in Waterloo 1963-1973 experienced were fated before, during and after that decade. They were foreordained by the influx of black strikebreakers primarily from the South into Waterloo as a result of the 1910 railroad strike. The social and civil rights restrictions imposed on the black strikebreakers was a catalyst for later local unrest like the strike at the Rath Packing plant in the 1940s. Housing covenants and redlining in the 1950s and 60s continued to add to the permanent, scarring dimension of racial separation between the East and West sides.

Guess Who’s Coming to School?

African Americans in the North lived in a strange state of semi-freedom. The North may had emancipated its slaves, but it was not ready to treat the blacks as citizens. . . or sometimes even as human beings.[i] — Africans in America (PBS)

Put 10 healthy babies with the same birthdate from 10 different ethnicities and cultures in a bassinette row, and the only differences between them would be physical appearance. What are the odds that any of us could correctly identify the race or ethnicity and culture of any of them? They all make the same noises, the same kinetic movements, their eyes track bright objects in the same way, they respond to tactile and aural stimuli the same way. “. . . babies the world over, each exposed to thousands of disparate languages from birth, reward their mothers with roughly the same first word starting with the letter ‘m’. . . .”[ii] “. . . the genetic difference between individual humans today is minuscule – about 0.1%, on average. . . .”[iii] “Ultimately, there is so much ambiguity between the races, and so much variation within them, that two people of European descent may be more genetically similar to an Asian person than they are to each other.”[iv]

Babies are race and ethnic and culture and skin-color-blind.

That’s an extremely simplistic explanation, but it sets up an understanding that babies begin to recognize familiar faces and different ones as early as three months old. And by four months, their “brains already process faces at nearly adult levels. . . .”[v]

Awareness of differences between self and others is inevitable; humans are different in myriad ways. Many of us remember our first experiences of recognizing these differences and even pointing them out. For example, recognition of skin-color differences happens at a younger age for some than for others.

Our individual attitudes, opinions and beliefs (behavioral dispositions)[vi] about differences become more or less important or unimportant to us because of learning and reinforcement, positive, neutral or negative.

This learning process includes both enculturation – how the values and norms of a society are passed on to or acquired by its members without direct, deliberate teaching — and socialization – deliberate learning promoted by family; social groups like peers and churches; schools, including our elementary and junior high pathways to high school; and the mass media.[vii] While enculturation and socialization are somewhat vicarious, our behavioral dispositions are also affected by our first-hand experiences.

By the time we entered high school, our behavioral dispositions about race and ethnicity were already formed.

[i] Race-based legislation in the North 1807 – 1850. People & Events. PBS: Africans in America. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part4/4p2957.html. Africans in America Narrative Writers. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/credits.html.

[ii] Why every baby around the world’s first word starts with the letter M. (September 16, 2016). Quartz: Tongue Ties. Retrieved from http://tinyurl.com/y9shreo8.

[iii] Genetic Evidence: DNA. What does it mean to be Human? Human Evolution Research. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. Retrieved from http://humanorigins.si.edu/evidence/genetics.

[iv] How Science and Genetics are Reshaping the Race Debate of the 21st Century. (April 17, 2017). Chou, V. Science in the News. Harvard University: The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved from http://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2017/science-genetics-reshaping-race-debate-21st-century/.

[v] Infants process faces long before they recognize other objects, Stanford vision researchers find. (December 11, 2012). McClure, M. Stanford University: The Stanford Report. Retrieved from http://news.stanford.edu/news/2012/december/infants-process-faces-121112.html.

[vi] ”Behavioral dispositions” refer to tendencies, acquired in socialization, toward particular acts, such as evaluating or acting toward a particular object, e.g., person, or a particular process. They’re forces that channel consequences like human perception, categorization, organization or choice, for example. A Theoretical Note on the Differences between Attitudes, Opinions, and Values. (1998). Bergman, M.M. Swiss Political Science Review, 4(2), pp. 81-93. Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/j.1662-6370.1998.tb00239.x/pdf.

[vii] Enculturation. Sociology Index. Retrieved from http://sociologyindex.com/enculturation.htm. Enculturation and Socialization: Expert Answer. (13/6/10). Rawat, P. Ask & Answer: meritnation. Retrieved from http://tinyurl.com/ycuavsqm.

I hope that the rest of the summer exceeds all of your needs and expectations. Remember, “life’s what happens when we’re busy making other plans.” (John Lennon)

nick, East 66 [100th graduating class of Troy]

Toes in the Water Mar2017