Scott Cawelti

About Scott Cawelti -

Scott Cawelti was born and raised in Cedar Falls, Iowa. He taught writing, film, and literature at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) from 1968-2008, and has written regular opinion columns and reviews for the Waterloo / Cedar Falls Courier since the late 1970s.  He played for years in a folk duo with Robert James Waller and still regularly performs as a singer/guitarist/songwriter. Scott continues to teach as an adjunct instructor at UNI.



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  • Attention All Drinkalotics

    • Posted on Jan 19, 2014 by Scott Cawelti
    This appeared in the Sunday Courier today (Jan. 18) and grew out of personal experience--namely, a terrible New Year's Day.   Radical moderation works for me.  
    Certain acts are illegal and/or harmful, yet vast numbers of us do them anyway.  Speeding.  Littering.  Appropriating employers’ property for personal use. 

    Most of all, drinking.  Alcohol, that is.  Good ol’ Al, my friend and yours.  He’s invited to every party, dinner, celebration, and sports event on the planet.   And he attends them all.  

    No news there.  Except that last week, the Head of the Centers for Disease Control issued a report that flat-out asserts we drink too much.  We’re not alcoholics so much as drinkalotics. 

    We stop long before passing out, but not before feeling really, really happy.  And thinking we’re very, very witty. 

    Until the next morning, when we feel like dog pucky.     

    Here’s the problem, according to the CDC: Few doctors ask patients about their drinking habits.  As long as they’re not passing out nightly, they’re doing fine.  Yet “social” or “moderate” drinkers are often heavy imbibers, don’t admit it, and happy their doctors don’t ask.

    At least 38 million Americans down too much alcohol, according to this new CDC report.

    How much is too much?  Drinkers, listen up:  more than one drink in 24 hours for women, and more than two for men.   If you’re drinking more, you’re a heavy drinker, says the CDC and other studies on alcohol consumption. In the long haul, that’s big trouble for heart and liver problems, cancer, relationships, jobs, lost potential.  

    A dear departed doctor friend of mine enjoyed a glass of wine or three now and then.  As a doctor he used to joke, “an alcoholic is anyone who drinks more than their doctor.”  We both found his definition amusing, since that meant none of his patients were alcoholics.

    He enjoyed his wine—and his life—immensely.   But he did understand moderation, and kept it under control.  We seldom binged, meaning five or more drinks within two hours.  Many drinkers consider that the start of a good night.  

    I have my issues with Al, though.   On a particularly bad morning last year—after a long hearty party, I noticed that everything about me was impaired.   Memory, energy, mood, outlook, all gone dark and negative.  It felt like a nasty case of flu, both physically and mentally.

    Not pleasant.  I made a list of all those impairments and created this acronym:  MEMHOC, to rhyme with “hemlock.”   Memory, energy, mood, health, outlook, clarity.  All seriously impaired or distorted. 

    So why not quit?   If Al makes us sick, why keep him around?  Good question, and easily answered:  He’s fun.  Really fun, and in small doses, even behaves like a health tonic.

    Up to two drinks, that is.  After that, Al’s poison.

    That’s the dilemma with alcohol.   When we drink two wonderful glasses of wine with dinner, a huge desire arises for a third.  And a fourth.  Then pass the fifth.   Then pass out.

    Vast numbers of drinkers actually drink heavily, bingeing several times monthly.  

    For them, in all its ugliness, addiction looms.

    Radical moderation is in order, and oxymoronic though that phrase may be, it’s the only sensible approach to keeping ol’ Al around without major health issues.  

    For all drinkers who think they’re drinking moderately, here’s a two-step idea:  First, quit for seven days.   Cold turkey, and immediately. 

    This will tell you how much you crave Al’s company.  If you feel lost and upset, or just can’t do it, you have a poisonous relationship. 
    Second, if you only miss him slightly around dinnertime, invite him back for short visits. Once, maybe twice occasionally.  Never more.  I guarantee better memory, energy, mood, health, outlook, and clarity.  A better life, overall. 

    Ol’ Al makes a fine friend--but a terrible roommate.    



    Go comment!
    Posted in
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    • Cedar Valley Chronicles
    • alcohol
  • All Stressed Up?

    • Posted on Jan 26, 2013 by Scott Cawelti

    This 34 year-old-column speaks to anyone who struggles with an overstressed life, I think.  Back in 1978, I was overwhelmed with my life--finishing an advanced degree, struggling with a fledging teaching career, newly divorced, etc. etc.  

    TM, or Transcendental Meditation, worked for me then--and I STILL meditate now, twice a day.  I think it's added years to my life, honestly.  

    Any kind of meditation works if undertaken conscientiously, but TM (mantra meditation) was among the easiest and most relaxing.   


    Everyone has a favorite social problem. Some say racism is rampant and deserves constant attention; others insist that capitalism is the root of all evil, with money running a close second. Still others favor drugs, pollution, television, nuclear proliferation, over-population; the list of social problems goes on.

    My favorite problem is stress. Like pride used to be the No. 1 all-time Deadly Sin, Stress is the No. 1 all-time social problem. (We've exchanged social problems for sin here, but that's another column.)

    Just a glance around any roomful of adults will reveal the effects of stress. People are overweight, overdrunk, overtired, oversick, overworked, overdrugged, and too soon underground. Literally everyone I know has some problem with stress. Their work, their schedules, the pressures they feel, the incredible changes they've seen (men have been on and off the moon for almost a decade now!) all make for a definite need to find some effective, healthy way to release stress.

    Sleep, of course, is the one of the best stress-relievers. So is laughing and crying. So if we could sleep, laugh and cry enough we could release most of our daily stresses and feel quite good. Show me someone who can't sleep, laugh or cry, and I'll show you an unhappy soul.

    Other ways of releasing stress are less effective, though probably more attractive: drinking, sex, dancing, (not necessarily in that order) participation in physical sports, and talking with shrinks. Some of these have the side advantage of being fun, too. But the problem with all of these stress-releasers is that they provide highs that are almost inevitably followed by lows that create even more stress. So unless you like roller coasters, these stress-releasers are best avoided, except for the side advantages.

    The only way, I must say, that I have found that really does release stress is meditation. Now wait: I don't mean thinking about something intensely for a long time, nor concentrating on an object like a candle or a belly-button. I'm speaking of Transcendental Meditation, or TM.

    TM is a form of meditation that requires almost no effort, is completely relaxing, and it has actually made me feel less and less stress in my life. I'm getting to the point where I feel relaxed almost all the time. And not glassy-eyed passive relaxed, but simply released from those stresses that kept me from enjoying myself. (Consider: has mental tension ever helped anyone enjoy anything?) My old neurotic highs and lows have been replaced by a deep sense of well being that is itself a high, but is not subject to the lows.

    The TM meditation technique seems to give me two restful twenty-minute breaks everyday, without the fuzzy-eyed hangovers that daytime naps can bring on. Thus I get deep rest that relieves more stresses than sleeping—or crying and laughing, for that matter.

    I would never say that TM is the only way to release stress. It is simply the only way I've found that works for me. Besides, it helped get me off cigarettes, and I had tried to quit for eight years.

    Now I know all the objections to TM—I had them myself. It's expensive, it's a religion, it's the MacDonald's of meditation, highs and lows are part of a creative life. Most of these objections are from people who really haven't bothered to look into TM. I find that just about everyone who actually tries it for awhile knows that it works; stresses begin to disappear.

    In other words, after years of going around all stressed up, TM truly helps people finally get unstressed.  

    It's both energizing and liberating.  

    Go comment!
    Posted in
    • Cedar Valley Chronicles
    • Health
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