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. 
     





     
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  • Vacation Photos a Mixed Blessing

    • Posted on Jun 07, 2015 by Scott Cawelti
    Here's this morning's (6-7) Courier column.  I returned Tuesday from Europe with a suitcase full of dirty clothes, a healthy respect for jet travel, and 1,833 photos, mostly taken with my trusty Sony a77II--an amazing camera that never lets me down.  

    But--1,833 photos in ten days?  Isn't that a bit more like an obsessive need rather than a happy time off?  Well, yes, and I write about it here.  

    I do have powerful, lasting memories, but they all occurred when I put the camera away. 

    Still, a few of the photos came out well, and I will post a few  soon on this blog, as soon as I  choose and edit.   I hope to find maybe twenty really good ones.  

    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    Just returned from five days in London, followed by five more in Southern France.  We traveled with 35 local folks, visiting British and French museums, a fine French winery, as well as historic sites from Roman Baths to Stonehenge.   

     A nice mix of Dionysius and Apollo, as they say—with some days a bit more Dionysius, thanks to the celebratory nature of these bi-yearly May tours with Humble travel and Gary and Linda Kelley.     

    It was a magical trip, a highlight of the year.  At least.  

    I did return with a question, though, and it’s been on my mind for awhile:   
    Has vacation photography gotten out of control?  

     Stonehenge, that ancient monument to prehistoric builders that stands as an unexplained phenomenon, seemed inundated by paparazzi posing as tourists.  Virtually everyone (including me) was clicking away, taking hundreds of shots from every angle, almost afraid they would miss something if they stopped snapping.  

     Even as I was compulsively seeking the right angle and light for the best photo, I felt something was wrong.    

     In fact I was missing the actual experience of just being there, observing what was right in front of me.  My camera was doing the work of my brain.   

     Though it was fun and challenging playing with my camera, it was also turning Stonehenge into a two-dimensional experience. I was creating postcards rather than taking in the real thing.  

     Only when I put my camera away and we paused to really look did we create a genuine memory.  My wife and I stood quietly, absorbing the wonder and strange majesty of the prehistoric circular arrangement of stone monoliths.  I was finally awestruck, and it happened because I was camera-free.  

     Another morning we walked slowly and quietly through Westminster Abbey with no photography or cell phones allowed. Because the Abbey is a working church, both are forbidden.  

     This remarkable structure was built beginning in 960.  It serves as a record and centerpiece of an entire culture—a single site where most major events have been marked and celebrated.  

     A thousand years of vivid history are displayed here, with graves of kings, queens, prime ministers, artists, politicians, musicians, and writers, beginning with Chaucer, along with a large stone monument to Shakespeare.  

    You literally cannot leave the Abbey without passing the “Coronation Chair,” where every English monarch has been crowned since the beginning of the British empire.    

     I felt moved to tears, over and over, by the tombs, markers, sculptures, and inscriptions, including a large floor grave of an unknown WWI soldier—the only grave on whom it is forbidden to walk, and upon which heads of state from all over the world have placed wreaths. 

    Had I been snapping away, I would have missed the intensity and grandeur of that structure.   The entire morning moved me so deeply because the experience was direct, not interfered with by shutterbugging.  

     A few days later in France, a few of us were touring an old chapel that had been restored as part of a modern art museum near a small French walled city. Though photography was allowed, the little domed chapel seemed to invite quiet and contemplation.   

     Then a couple of us began singing, and stone structure resonated with harmonies almost from another world.  Probably it was due to overtones echoing from the hard stone, but we were all moved in ways that cannot be captured by photos or videos.  

     I came away from those ten days convinced that photography should not be excluded from vacations, but the best memories arise before or after cameras come out. 

     Wise travelers would do well to shut them off more often and absorb the three-dimensional wonders before them.   
     



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