Charlie is Antiviral

Washing the dishes with the best seats in the house.

“This is how we’re going to get through it. Looking after our neighbors. I guess we’re all neighbors now.”

– Charlie Parr (March 25, 2020)


I was on my computer when the governor started his press conference today. He said there are 243 ICU beds in the whole state. The population of Minnesota is 5.6 million people. 243 beds. I thought about the hospital scenes in Italy. A priest died after he sacrificed his respirator so a younger person could have it. Thousands are dying around the world. More will die.

I freaked out a little and went for a run. I ran up past Holy Rosary through the snow. Up to Bagley to the little platform overlooking the city at the high point. A ghost town. People crossing the street so they don’t have to pass each other on the sidewalk.

We’ve had some troubles this year. Some health stuff. A death in the family. But, it can always be worse. I know people with Parkinson’s. Multiple sclerosis. People who had a child die of cancer. Our issues have been routine in comparison. I’m 52, but I just learned something this last year. I knew it in my head, but I finally knew it down in my plums: Every single person you meet has troubles. Burdens you can’t imagine carrying. You’d think I’d have learned that by now, but hey, better late than never.

Then this virus hit.

I got back home from my run in the deserted streets. It was eerie. At one point, I ran down the middle of the road past UMD. No people. No cars. Outside with fresh air, sure, but I felt unhinged.

As my little family unit sat around the table for supper, I remembered that Charlie Parr was doing a livestream concert, safely alone, broadcast from Duluth Cider. Anybody who knows me, knows I’m Charlie’s biggest fan. (You’re a bigger fan? I will fight you.) We hooked up my wife’s phone to a Bluetooth speaker. We started to eat right as he started “Heavy” which is my favorite song from his latest album. Maybe because I just learned how to feel empathy about burdens.

I know it’s heavy, she said
But you gotta go
And take it with you
Down the road

and then

The future ain’t tomorrow
It’s happening now
Listen to the changes
Feel it in your power
And I know it’s heavy
But I gotta go
And take it with me
On my way home

But you gotta go
It’s heavy
Just bring it home

Something in me broke. I’m not sure why. I’m untouched by trouble. Maybe it was the drumbeat of bad news. 243 beds. Empty streets. My kids doing classes online. Standing six feet away from people. People losing their jobs. People struggling to breathe. People dying. This shit is fucked up.

I know it’s heavy, she said. But you gotta take it with you. We all do.

We kept eating and kept listening. Charlie didn’t get any real time feedback in an empty venue. But trust me, Charlie: You done good. Someone on Twitter said it was the concert of the year. Yes, maybe of a lifetime. From that silent, livestreamed, empty cider hall. For people that needed to feel togetherness. At one point, the screen said 2300 people were watching the performance.

All four of us washed the dishes while Leo the dog hoped we’d drop something and Charlie sang “Temperance River Blues.” It’s a little love letter to Duluth and the North Shore. I’ve even learned to play a crappy version on my own guitar. The chorus tonight made me realize something. I don’t want us to feel togetherness out of fear. I want us to feel togetherness out of love.

Duluth is lost in a mist

that escapes from underneath the streets

and hides faces and doorways

and makes the lake seem loud

the waves roll and crash and retreat


My home is where my love abides

My home is where my love abides

My home is where my love abides

My home

He closed the concert with a song called “Jaybird.” Then he packed up and said goodnight. He joked that maybe he should do everything on YouTube. “I could be a YouTuber,” he said. “I could make ‘content.’ I could go viral. No, wait that’d be bad. I want to be antiviral content.” The socially-distanced person at the back of the room made a one-man call for an encore. Charlie balked under the circumstances. I knew why he was nervous.

I’ve seen Charlie Parr in concert dozens of times. He often ends with an a capella version of “Ain’t No Grave Gonna Hold My Body Down.” I’ll never forget the first time I saw him stomping his foot and hollering that song. It was the ballsiest thing I’d ever seen. Well, he belted it out tonight, unsure if it would work. I wasn’t sure either. By himself in an empty hall. Topic maybe too close to the bone.

There ain’t no grave
Can hold my body down
There ain’t no grave
Can hold my body down
When I hear that trumpet sound
I’m going to rise right out of the ground
Ain’t no grave
Can hold my body down.

Charlie Parr first destroyed me, then made me proud to live here, and, at the end, built me a spine. I’d say the last song worked.



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Shmo’s 2019 Writing Review

The coolest thing I did last year had nothing to do with my own writing: I learned how to facilitate a writing workshop. I met Blake Rondeau at the War, Literature & the Arts (WLA) Conference at the US Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, CO in 2018. He works for the MN Humanities Center with the Veterans’ Voices program. Along with Charlie Sherpa, he facilitated a one-day Warrior Writers workshop in Duluth in the spring of 2019. I was an attendee, but I took a lot of notes about how they led the workshop. In October, I went to St. Paul and got trained to be a facilitator for Warrior Writers workshops. Blake and Lovella Calica, founder of Warrior Writers, were there to teach us. Jay Moad and I (and many more) were there to get trained up. World keeps getting smaller. I first met Lovella at AWP in 2017 and sat on a panel with her at the WLA Conference in 2018.  First DC, then Colorado, and then Minnesota. Amazing how paths keep crossing.  (The training session was pretty special when the afternoon “practice” turned out to be an actual workshop. Baptism by fire. A shock, but we certainly got to try out our techniques right away.) Blake is coming to Duluth, July 9, 2020 to put on a free Warrior Writers workshop. I hope to help out as a facilitator. I look forward to the powerful moments that will occur as veteran writers build community right here in my town.

I wish to write now about only that which is high-stakes for me—that is, what matters to me, and what matters is what scares me, infuriates me, disturbs me; what matters is what I am trying to figure out about life while there is life. 

— Dan O’Brien

The above quote is from the best thing I read about writing last year. It’s from a piece Dan wrote for The Paris Review called “The Drama of Conflict.” If you write, in any genre, you should read it. Powerful.

And, yet again, this inspiration comes from somebody I met through my network of veteran or “veteran-adjacent” writers. I met Dan at that same WLA Conference. I met Abby E. Murray there, too. Later, I had four poems that needed a home and I remembered her Collateral Journal. She published them. Jay Moad, who lives down the road in Minnesota, mentioned me to Catherine Parnell as somebody who reviews poetry. She gave me a shot at reviewing Persephone Blues by Ukrainian poet Oksana Lutsyshyna for Consequence Magazine online. My gateway drug to this network several years ago was Randy Brown aka “Charlie Sherpa.” He invited me to write a piece for an anthology called Why We Write this year. My essay sits alongside those by National Book Award winners and Pulitzer Prize winners. I’m grateful to know these supportive people. Who else is going to prop up this niche category if we don’t support each other? Like the old joke, nobody here but us chickens.


I get support in the other parts of my compartmentalized writing life. I also write about outdoor recreation. The Outdoor Writers Association of America (OWAA) has been supportive of my work. Local writers like Shawn Perich, Sam Cook, and Michael Furtman provide constant examples of great outdoor writing and encourage my pursuits. In my Walter Mitty life as an outdoor hero, I get the same kind of encouragement as I do from the Military Writers Guild and my veteran writer friends. Same goes for my local cohort of writers in all genres, Lake Superior Writers. You sit alone at your desk, but you’re not really the only person wrestling with all those damn sentences. I went to the North Shore Readers and Writers Festival in Grand Marais with two of my Lake Superior Writers friends, Marie Zhuikov and Felicia Schneiderhan to do a lunchtime reading of our work. Who says there’s no such thing as a free lunch? It’s motivational, educational, and inspirational to have all these writer pals.

You know how it is. Ups and downs. Good things happen, sometimes the same day as the bad things. It’s like the old “Yay – Boo” fighter pilot song from Vietnam:

You won a writing contest! (Yay!)

Actually, we made a mistake. It was somebody else. (Boo!)

Your collection is one of three to make it to the judge, Tobias Wolff. (Yay!)

You weren’t even blurbed in third place. (Boo!)

The editor got your poetry submission. (Yay!)

He said it was a “slog” that “few people would undertake.” (Boo!)

But, no worries. I’m going to stick with it until I finally get all the words in the right order.

2019 Writing Goals Review:

  1. Finish draft of Outside Duluth for publisher.
  2. Finish draft of memoir.
  3. Accomplish #1 and #2 to learn lessons on how to create a book-length project.
  4. Map essay, Memory essay and Poetry Project X. (Yeah, I don’t care if you know what #4 means)
  5. Read at least 2 books per month.

I accomplished #1. A publisher expressed interest in an expanded version of my Outside Duluth manuscript…in 2017. After procrastinating for two years, I finally assembled an 80-story collection of my magazine articles about outdoor recreation and sent it off. Thanks to writer friends Felicia Schneiderhan and David Chrisinger, and their editing help, I have an introduction to the book that makes me proud. Now I sit here biting my fingernails until I hear what the publisher thinks.

I didn’t finish a draft memoir. But since I managed to cobble together 70 thousand words and 260 pages of my Outside Duluth story collection, I’m going to give myself a win on #3 (learn lessons on how to make a book-length project.) The biggest thing that helped me was using Scrivener. Instead of having a single Microsoft Word document, I had a word processor that allowed me to see the structure of the whole project. To organize it and move chunks of it around easily.

I finished one of the three items in #4: Poetry Project X. Throughout 2018, I wrote a haibun (prose and haiku) after every single time I exercised. Every time I skied, paddled, ran, or biked. I took 45 of them and made a book out of them. (Using Scrivener, I might add). I sent the book off to several contests and publishers and look forward to the rejections. Another notch in the “book-length project” belt, regardless. 11 of the 45 poems have been picked up for individual publication, with more out there getting chewed on. A good sign, I hope.

I read 20 books this year, not quite the number I wanted. But I bogged down on Nussbaum’s The Fragility of Goodness for a solid two months. Worth it, since I was researching luck, but it was a tough read. Learned a lot about the Greeks, so my self-directed education proceeds. I’ll just internalize the two books a month goal from here on out. Easy to monitor and seems to be my limit in the context of my life.

So, in summary, I accomplished two, was very close on two more, and failed on one. Feeling pretty good about it, since I knocked off the highest priority which was hanging over my head for several years.

2020 Writing Goals:

  1. Finish draft of memoir.
  2. Write map essay.
  3. Write memory essay.
  4. Write curiosity essay.
  5. Support and promote writing by others.

Top 3 Shmotown Posts of 2019:

  1. The Files are IN the Computer?
  2. Sisyphus on a Skateboard: A Review of To Keep Him Hidden by Ryan Vine
  3. Why We Write book release on December 10!

20 Pieces Published in 2019:

9 poems:

– 5 in online journals

– 3 in anthologies

– 1 in print journals

Topics: 7 military-themed, 2 outdoors


11 non-fiction:

– 6 in magazines

– 3 in online journal

– 1 in anthology

– 1 online

Topics: 6 outdoors, 2 general interest, 2 book reviews, 1 military writing


6 publishers in 2019:

6 print publishers:

– 1 magazine

Northern Wilds

– 3 book publishers

Middle West Press (Why We Write anthology)

The Poetry Business (The Result is What You See Today anthology; UK)

Southeastern Missouri State University Press (Proud to Be anthology)

– 1 literary journals

The Talking Stick

The Deadly Writers Patrol


6 online publishers:

– 1 website

Perfect Duluth Day

– 5 literary journals

Sleet Magazine

Line of Advance


The Wrath-Bearing Tree

Consequence Magazine online


2019 Reading List:

On a little bit of an absurdist kick this year. Also, the best novel I read all year was The Hunters by James Salter. Lincoln in the Bardo was a close second. It blew the top of my head off. The best poetry I read was Here, Bullet by Brian Turner. Especially the poem “Sadiq.” Brutal.

Image 1-10-20 at 4.39 PM

For the full list of books I’ve read, visit my Goodreads bookshelves.

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Why We Write book release on December 10th!



I’m proud to belong to a group called the Military Writers Guild. I’m even prouder to have an essay included in the upcoming anthology titled Why We Write: Craft Essays on Writing War (Middle West Press, 2019). The official launch date for this 250-page book is December 10th, 2019. You can pre-order the Kindle e-book now:

This book is powerful, filled with work by writers who have won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. Over 60 writers have contributed to this book and if you, or anyone you know, want to learn about the craft of writing about war, this book is for you.

The Military Writers Guild is an inclusive community-of-practice of writers, comprising writers of non-fiction and analysis, journalism and history, literary and genre fiction, and even poetry and plays. “Military writing” is a big tent, that includes all of these forms and formats.

You can learn more about the Military Writers Guild and this book using the following tools:

Hashtag: #WhyWeWrite

The guild on Twitter: @MilWritersGuild


Meanwhile, like we say in the airlines, sit back, relax, and enjoy a short excerpt from my essay in the book. For the whole essay, where I explain why I write, please consider buying a copy of the book.


Excerpt from “It” Shoots: Zen and Writing


Eric Chandler


You bound yourself to the ejection seat with a lap belt and shoulder harness. You plugged your G-suit into the airplane to keep blood in your brain. You plugged your comm cord into the airplane so you could speak and listen. You plugged your oxygen hose into the airplane so it could help you breathe. You plugged an umbilical into the airplane so your helmet-mounted sight fed you information no matter where you looked. In his memoir Fighter Pilot, Robin Olds wrote something that rings true after you spend so much time connected to one piece of machinery:

Man merges with machine; he doesn’t simply use it. You don’t climb into an aircraft and sit down. You strap the machine to your butt, become one with it. Hydraulic fluid is your blood; titanium, steel, and aluminum, your bones; electrical currents, your nerves; the instruments, an extension of your senses; fuel, the food; engine, the power; the control surfaces, the muscle. You are the heart, yours is the will, yours the reasoning power. You are something more than earthbound man. You are augmented and expanded by the miracle of the machine. You are tied to it physically and you are part of it emotionally.

“Yours is the will,” indeed. The machine made anything possible. Flying was easy. It was using the machine for combat that was hard. Knowing all the tactics. Knowing all your weapons. Applying the knowledge in practice. Running a tactic properly with a formation of four airplanes, eight airplanes, even as a mission commander of 80 airplanes (not just F-16s) took a lifetime of training. I can only hope I was at least average.


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