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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  • Will Change Come to Charleston?

    • Posted on Jul 05, 2015 by Scott Cawelti
    Today's Courier Column on what we observed the day of Clementa Pinckney's funeral in Charleston. Charleston came to a halt for several hours that day (June 26) as the whole world watched a national mourning ceremony for nine victims slain purely because they were African-Americans.  The Bad Old Days of the apartheid South had reared its murderous head.  
    Here's King Street, Charleston's main shopping street looking northwest that morning. Normally it would be packed with traffic and shoppers: 


    And here's Mother Emanuel church, where Clementa Pinckney was pastor.  This is about as close as we could get, given the crowd and the blocked-off street:  

    The South Carolina legislature will meet in special session next week, hopefully 
    to start a series of actions that might lead to real dialog and change, beginning with removing that Confederate battle flag on the statehouse grounds.  

    So there we were June 17, waiting to meet relatives in Charleston when our niece texted that eight people had been shot within walking distance, and the killer was on the run. 

    Needless to say, we dropped everything to watch Charleston TV news reports. 
    A decade ago, my wife and I chose to vacation in Charleston for two months a year.  The “Holy City” became our second hometown, and I navigate that peninsula about as well as I do the Cedar Valley. 

     It’s not home, but it’s familiar and comfortable.  Until now.     

     Now it’s a shocked, grief-stricken populace, struggling to deal with the raw hatred and violence that comes with racists who act on their beliefs.  No Charleston street violence broke out in response, thanks to city, police, and church leaders who were on the scene immediately, offering condolences and explaining their search for the killer. 

     He was arrested before noon the next day. 

     Mayor Joe Riley deserves much credit for being there every step of the way, and for articulating the racist horror that had shaken Charleston.  So too with the police chief and several church leaders.  

     Yet there’s still anger, showing up as defacing local Confederate statuary, both on the Battery and Marion Square, a block from the site of the murders.  That statuary, which celebrates “The Noble Defenders of Charleston” and staunch slavery defender John Calhoun now must be protected 24/7 against such vandalism. 

     We walked up to Marion Square the morning of Clementa Pinckney’s memorial service hoping to hear some of the service from inside. The nearby basketball stadium, where the funeral was held, had filled long before we arrived.  Outside in sweltering heat, we felt a somber city standing still, seeking hope beyond sadness and dismay.    

     Store window signs on King and around Calhoun streets near Mother Emanuel church read, “Pray for Charleston,” and “No matter how dark the nights, the day will come” and “Love Wins Every Single Time.”   

     Needless to say, no Confederate flags were waving in Charleston, though they’re on serious display in the “Daughters of the Confederacy” museum downtown, along with hundreds of other Civil War relics.  No one protests that museum, nor should they. 

     The Confederate Flag on the statehouse grounds in Columbia did get removed for an hour last Sunday by a pole-climbing protester, but quickly replaced.
    The South Carolina legislature will meet soon to discuss whether the state should continue its celebration of the Confederacy via the flag. 

     I’ve observed dozens of city monuments around downtown Charleston and even more in nearby Magnolia Cemetery.  Scores of Confederate soldiers lie there, some with elaborate markers and celebratory commemorations. 

     To my knowledge, no cemetery or city monument adds the words “Even though the cause was wrong . . .” Or “Blinded by their beliefs, they fought nobly for the continuation of slavery.”  

     To do so would, they say, dishonor their sacrifice, or even misstate it, since they were “really” fighting for states’ rights.   However, most historians believe that “states’ rights” is code for legalized human enslavement based on race.      

     As President Obama said during his eulogy for Reverend Clementa:  Removing the flag from statehouse grounds “would simply be an acknowledgement that the cause for which they fought—the cause of slavery—was wrong . . . .It would be one step in an honest accounting of America’s history; a modest but meaningful balm for so many unhealed wounds.”  

     The President’s larger point was reconciliation, a move toward an “honest accounting” so that healing can begin.  Healing begins with that honesty. 
    It takes humility and grace to admit you were wrong.  At a terrible cost, Charleston and South Carolina are about to do just that.   

     After 150 years, it’s time. 

    Go comment!
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  • What Really Matters?

    • Posted on Jun 21, 2015 by Scott Cawelti
    This morning's (Sunday 6-21) Courier column--about what really matters.   Not 
    an easy subject, given the shock we've suffered this week--and I'm in Charleston (my second home city) right now, struggling with the unvarnished reality of race hatred that led to the cold-blooded murders of nine Charlestonians in their church.    

    Still, the idea that there's a larger reality that really matters is what's helping people get through that hatred and move toward healing.   

    Summertime, and the livin’ is easy, wrote Gershwin.  It’s true, at least 
    when summer vacations roll around and beaches and mountains loom.   
    Time for a change of scene, for easy relaxing and pondering.  

     Ponder what, you ask?   

    What really matters, that’s what.  It’s the best all-around question to ponder during those days without deadlines and pressures. 

     Everyone will answer it differently.  

     Winning matters hugely for some, meaning being first and best at everything.  The competitors, we might call them.  

     Others spend serious time finding and nurturing a soul-mate, a love of their life, and that’s what matters most to them.  They’re romantics, bless their moonstricken hearts.   

     Fame, for others, so that everyone notices them, seeks them out, makes them the center of attention.   “Look at me!” their lives seem to say, and cameras beckon to them like moths to flame.  They’re narcissists, and they’re everywhere these days. 

     Wealth, for still others, so that they never have to deny themselves a new Luxemobile, a granite-countered house, a fast boat, a perfect vacation.  They’re high-enders who seek big bucks.  

     For still others, friendships, near and far, supportive and intimate. They spend hours cultivating friendships, lunching, writing, catching up on social media.

     They delight in lending a hand or shoulder to those they’ve gotten to know, love to be
    counted upon for favors, and seek to maintain old friendships.  They’re our friends, and thank heavens for them. 

     We all belong to some of these groups, and derive satisfaction from the undeniable benefits that each provides. 

     So, is that all?  Once you’re winning, famous, rich, soul-mated, and surrounded by friends, have you found everything that matters?  Does your happiness at that point know no bounds? 

     Alas, no. We all know such seemingly fulfilled people who still rely on therapists and happy pills to calm their frayed nerves.  They’re still seeking something that really matters.   

     And what might that be?    

     Dylan’s 1979 song “You gotta Serve Somebody” points toward it:  
    "You may be an ambassador to England or France
    You may like to gamble, you might like to dance
    You may be the heavyweight champion of the world
    You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls.
    But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
    You're gonna have to serve somebody,
    It may be the devil or it may be the Lord
    But you're gonna have to serve somebody."

     As Trish, the character who tries to commit suicide in that great film “Educating Rita” laments, “I’m not enough.”   

     If you live for furthering yourself and meeting your needs only, you’re headed for disappointment and suffering.   Truth be told, none of us are the complete center of anything.  Our egos don’t really matter. 

     Realizing this amounts to growing up, and the sooner the better.  

     This is not easy, especially with our little digital screens tempting us to believe that we are the center of everything. 

     Granted, a strong, confident self does help you succeed. But that’s not what really matters.   

     Religious folks get at what really matters through worship, faith in some supernatural power, and prayer.  

     Non-religious folks do it through wonder, curiosity, contemplation, and seeking enlightenment through in-depth awareness.  

     I’m among the non-religious, and have found what really matters is a spiritual path that’s stimulating, endlessly challenging, and ultimately satisfying. 

     If you like pondering what really matters this summer, and you’re leaning toward the non-religious, let me suggest two books I’ve found helpful:  Tara Brach’s 2005 “Radical Acceptance” and her more recent “True Refuge.”  She’s a clinical psychologist and an American Buddhist teacher who has been pondering what matters for 35 years.   

     If you’re curious and open to new approaches, these books make perfect summer reading. 

     I can’t imagine a summer without spending daily time seeking and pondering.  
    That’s what really matters. 

    Posted in
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    • Religiosity
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