Not Writing About Writing

Saturday, 6 December 2014 • 0 comments

Flannery O’Connor in Mystery and Manners:

I have very little to say about short-story writing. It’s one thing to write short stories and another thing to talk about writing them, and I hope you realize that your asking me to talk about story-writing is just like asking a fish to lecture on swimming. The more stories I write, the more mysterious I find the process and the less I find myself capable of analyzing it. Before I started writing stories, I suppose I could have given you a pretty good lecture on the subject, but nothing produces silence like experience, and at this point I have very little to say about how stories are written.



This Way to Pleasure Beach

Wednesday, 12 November 2014 • 0 comments

Eighteen years after the burned bridge cut off access, Pleasure Beach has been reopened. I didn’t manage to go out there via the water taxis that ran during the summer but a Veterans Day expedition confirmed that the pavilion has been renovated, the boardwalk repaired, and amenities such as picnic tables and trash cans provided.

Pavilion at Pleasure Beach, 2014.

I confess I’ve expressed some cynicism on the subject but I suppose nearly two decades is still a short wait to the people who run the DMV. Though everything was locked up for the season, the lights were on and we even met a park ranger — the first time I’ve ever encountered someone out there. “It’s a long walk from Stratford,” he said. Yes, but still easier than loading two kids and a dog on a paddleboard.

The beach is pristine, the sand much softer and cleaner than Fairfield’s. There’s talk of building ball fields and visitors are free to bring their bikes over and ride the old cracked roads. It’s so nice you can almost forget you’re in Bridgeport.



A Connecticut County in Bill Penn’s Grant

Thursday, 30 October 2014 • 0 comments

Wyoming Valley by Jasper Francis Cropsey

I have a story at the Journal of the American Revolution about the absolutely true tale of Westmoreland County, a piece of northeastern Pennsylvania claimed by Connecticut as part of King Charles’s grant creating the colony:

The Susquehannah Company was founded in July 1753, when 152 subscribers adjourned in Windham, Connecticut to pay “Two Spanish Mill’d dollars” to join a new joint-stock venture. Declaring “Thatt Whereas we being desirous to Enlarge his Majesties English Settlements In North America and further To Spread Christianity as also to promote our own Temporal Interest,” their aim was to settle an area of the Susquehanna River beyond New York’s borders. … The Company proposed to settle at Wyoming, on the west bank of the river about 50 miles southeast of Tioga. Its clean soil and the scarcity of Native American settlements made it ideal to the Company members. More to the point, they believed the area was included in the Connecticut grant as per the 1662 charter.

I’ve mentioned before how, in the mid-aughts, I shopped a book idea called Lost States, detailing efforts at American state making that went pear-shaped. The book’s sample chapter, all 18,000 words of it, dealt with the first half of the Westmoreland story; this would have been followed by second and third chapters on the Republic of Vermont (using Ethan Allen’s involvement in the Susquehannah Company to segue into the conflict between New York and New Hampshire) and the resolution of the Westmoreland project. Lost States never went anywhere, and I very briefly sent around a proposal focusing solely on Westmoreland until I finally realized not everyone was as fascinated by the history as I was. Fortunately, the editors and readers at the JAR love this kind of stuff. My article is a distillation of that sample chapter.

Even today Westmoreland continues to mesmerize me, especially the religious angle. Was the Company’s obstinate refusal to take no for an answer a result of the New Light zealotry of its members?



Short News, Autumnal Pursuits Edition

Wednesday, 15 October 2014 • 0 comments

The Headless Horseman Pursuing Ichabod Crane by John Quidor, 1858

Tracking the Horseman. “Irving is pretty specific about the route Ichabod Crane takes while fleeing from the Headless Horseman.” So noted Scouting New York’s Nick Carr upon rereading The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, inspiring him to visit the Hudson Valley town and retrace one of the most famous chase scenes ever put to paper. His photo safari captured the landmarks of Crane’s flight while explaining their historical significance. Unfortunately it seems the site of Crane’s fateful terminus has been lost to time.

Speaking of Hollows. I recently learned a new word: holloway. Also called sunken lanes, holloways are tunnel-like paths so worn by centuries of traffic that they lay below the grade of the surrounding landscape.

Raising Jakarta. Indonesia announced a 30-year, $40-billion plan to save their sinking capital by creating a sea wall and 17 artificial islands. This story notes that rising sea levels aren’t the main source of Jakarta’s flooding problems; instead, “the city has pumped its water out of deep underground wells for years — leaving empty chasms that are now sinking.” This is somewhat reminiscent of New Orlean’s problem, where the organic material in the wetland, preserved in anaerobic conditions, is exposed to air by drainage and construction, leading to decay. The soil, having lost mass, then packs down and the buildings sink.

Pumpkin Spice My Ears. AC/DC, Brian Ferry, and Foo Fighters all have new albums coming out.



Second Circuit Slaps Down Cops’ Appeal

Wednesday, 27 August 2014 • 0 comments

Last week, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued its decision regarding the 2008 tactical raid in Easton, CT that killed Gonzalo Guizan. After homeowner Ronald Terebesi and Guizan’s estate sued the police involved for civil-rights violations, the cops had asked for summary judgment based on qualified immunity, which the district court denied. The police then appealed.

The Appeals Court affirmed the district court’s denial of summary judgment on every point save one: that because “there is no clearly established right in this Circuit to be free from the deployment of a tactical team in general,” [Easton police chief John] Solomon was within his rights to activate the SWERT team in the first place (the town of Easton, probably upon reviewing their insurance premiums after the settlement with Guizan’s estate, appears to have disagreed: Solomon’s contract was not renewed and he was shown the door). But on every other count the court tilted in Terebesi’s favor, noting that the use of stun grenades, being pinned by the officers’ shields, the poor planning and approval of the raid, and even the failure of officers to intervene to stop it are constitutional grounds for a trial.

Read my whole story about it over at Reason.com.



Ignorance Is Bliss

Wednesday, 20 August 2014 • 0 comments

Illustration from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by True Williams, 1876I’m in my second week of a self-induced news blackout. It is neither total nor entire; one cannot escape completely. But after spending a week at my dad’s house where my attention was distracted by canoe adventures, museums, aquariums, and Cape May, I decided upon my return to keep a good thing going. I’ve been off Twitter and avoiding news outlets. Smart choice too, between Ferguson and Robin Williams.

Paddleboarding, running, writing, reading Tom Sawyer to my boys and Moby-Dick to myself — that’s my news.