Thursday, February 26, 2009


We're having a pretty impressive winter storm: a lot of wet, heavy snow and rising winds this evening. It took me two hours to get home from work. The trip is usually an hour.

The plows are out. I watched five guys -- three white businessmen and two black working guys -- push a stuck car in downtown Minneapolis. Winter used to bring us together in Minneapolis: we pushed each other's cars and helped each other dig out. The winters have been too mild lately to encourage cooperation. It feels good when it happens. It was enjoyable to see those guys push that car. It made them happy. They were smiling and laughing, after they got the car going.

Bill Holm

Bill Holm, the wonderful Icelandic-Minnesotan poet and essayist, died yesterday. I knew him slightly through my friend John Rezmerski, who had been friends with Bill since graduate school. It's hard to describe Bill. Garrison Keillor did pretty well. This is what Keillor wrote:

Bill Holm was a great man and unlike most great men he really looked like one. Six-foot-eight, big frame, and a big white beard and a shock of white hair, a booming voice, so he loomed over you like a prophet and a preacher which is what he was. He was an only child, adored by his mother, and she protected him from bullies and he grew up free to follow his own bent, and become the sage of Minneota, a colleague of Whitman though born a hundred years too late, a champion of Mozart and Bach, playing his harpsichord on summer nights, telling stories about the Icelanders, and thundering about how the young have lost their way and abandoned learning and culture in favor of grease and noise.

He thundered with the best of them though he had a gentle heart. He was an English prof who really loved literature and he could buttonhole you and tell you he'd just finished reading Dickens again and how wonderful it was. He got himself into print pretty well and anyone picking up his "Windows of Brimnes" or "The Music of Failure" or "The Heart Can Be Filled Anywhere On Earth" will get the real Holm.

He hated Minnesota winters and maybe that's what killed him, flying back from beautiful Patagonia to the wind-swept tundra and thinking about having to shovel out his house in Minneota.

I'm glad he got to see Barack elected, which restored some of his faith in his countrymen. I wish I'd been there to catch him as he fell. I hope his Icelandic ancestors are waiting to welcome him to their rocky corner of heaven. I hope his piano goes to someone who will love it as much as he did. I hope that people all across Minnesota will pick up one of his books and see what the man had to say.

An amazing guy. The first time I went to Iceland, it was to take a writing workshop led by Bill and the very fine Icelandic-Canadian writer David Arnason. The second time I went, John Rezmerski and I ran a science fiction writing workshop in northern Iceland, near where Bill had his summer home; and our workshop visited Bill and his workshop in Hofsos. I keep planning to go back to Iceland. I expected to vist Bill in Hofsos.These have not been good times for Icelanders lately, either the ones in the homeland or us in the west.

Where Have I Been?

I haven't posted for over a month and am wondering why. My current excuse is pneumonia, which I've had since the first week of February. I don't know how much longer I had it, since it was mostly asymptomatic. I had a backache and then a fever and went on-line to read about backaches. Backache and fever is not a good combination, so I went to the doc.

I'm on my second set of antibiotics. It's way down in my right lung, and Patrick says it's hard to treat when it's burrowed in so deep.

There is a coffee shop next to my clinic, which serves quite amazing cinnamon rolls. I have stopped in a couple of times after a visit to the doc. The cinnamon rolls reminded me of Robin McKinley's quite wonderful fantasy Sunshine. The heroine is a baker at a coffee shop, who makes cinnamon rolls "as big as your head." Sunshine the only vampire-baking novel I have ever read. (The vampires do not get baked, but the baker acquires a vampire.) Anyway, I bought the book and reread it. It really is very sweet and strange. I recommend it.

I am currently reading Last Rituals, an Icelandic murder mystery about witchcraft. The last time I was in Iceland, over four years ago, Patrick and I visited the witchcraft museum in northwest Iceland. Icelandic witchcraft is different in that the people accused of being witches were almost all men.

Northwest Iceland is amazing -- mostly empty of people, but with plenty of sheep and eider ducks. The ducks sleep along the shore, and the black and white males look like deflated soccer balls.