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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  • Star quality is a gift upon which to build: Annabeth Gish

    • Posted on Jul 01, 1986 by Scott Cawelti

    Honestly don't know when this was published, though Desert Bloom was released in 1986. so I'm, arbitrarily dating it July 1, 1986. Annabeth was born right next door, literally, on Merner Street in Cedar Falls in 1971 so she was 13  when she was making Desert Bloom with Jon Voight.  

               

    One of the odder pleasures of life these days involves watching a kid I’ve known all her life become famous.

     Annabeth Gish now has two national media appearances to her credit.  The first, “Desert Bloom,” opens here in movie theaters this weekend.  The second, “A Hero in the Family,” appeared on ABC-Television last Sunday night as a two hour television Disney movie.

    Garrison Keillor told recently of a “star” returning to her hometown.  The whole town turned out to see the movie, some ninth-rate slasher flick, and the hometown girl played a desk clerk or something.  The projectionist had to stop the movie and run it back a couple of times so the townfolk could see her scene.

    After her scene, the “star” left town, and only the couples in the back rows stayed on to watch the rest.

     The rest of the townsfolk went home.

                Keillor’s story illustrates the typical “hometown star” story.  Somebody leaves home, and years later appears as a bit player in obscure movies.  From then on, he/she’s known as a “movie star.”

    None of that fits Annabeth because she really does play major roles.  In both movies she has appeared front and center, with several scenes that would offer challenges to even veteran actors.

    Besides, she’s never left home.  One night you can see Annabeth eating at the Brown Bottle with her parents, and the next night you can see her on-screen as an actress, working with the likes of Jon Voight and Jo Beth Williams.

    No crowds of autograph seekers here – none of the usual folderol that traditionally has make movie stardom such a burden to young stars.  They often become fame burn-outs, seeking refuge in southern California villas.  Many quit before they’re 30, unable to deal with the emptiness of it all.

    Annabeth stays home, probably living as close to the regular life of a high school sophomore as any star in the history of movies.  She’s just Annabeth Gish, who leaves town to work on a movie occasionally, but comes home when it’s over.

    This would have been unthinkable a few years ago.  She would have been spirited off to Hollywood, given a new name, “set up” with prominent boyfriends, given an entourage of photographers and publicists, and sold to the public like soap.

    None of that for Annabeth Gish.  She and her parents know that neither “Desert Bloom” nor “Hero in the Family” is likely to make as much lifelong difference to Annabeth as finishing her foundations – her basic schooling.  It’s called perspective.

    Yet finally what sets Annabeth apart is her presence onscreen.  In the political realm, it’s called charisma.  In old Hollywood, it was called star quality, and people who could recognize it became heads of studios.  Once an audience sees someone with that quality they become fans, and will pay to see their star again, and again.

    Star quality can’t be learned, or bought, or even defined in so many words.  It also seems relatively permanent for those few who have it.  It’s simply a gift, and for many, that gift yields a life of making headlines, mediocre movies, and embarrassing commercials.  So many examples fill screens and stereos these days that they don’t deserve mention.

    For a few, though, the gift yields a life lived productively – and humbly – as actors, musicians, movers and shakers who make a positive difference in the culture.  Stardom remains a means and an effect to them, rather than an end and a cause.  Katherine Hepburn, Willie Nelson, Jane Fonda come to mind.

    And possibly someday, given her foundations and her gift, Annabeth Gish.

    Go comment!
    Posted in
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    • Cedar Valley Chronicles
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  • Poetry in crumbling decay of a bathroom

    • Posted on Jun 01, 1986 by Scott Cawelti

    6/1/86

    June never arrives for the harried homeowner without his/her yearning for a remodeling project.

     After all, the weather’s turned warm enough to ventilate paint and varnish fumes.

     And the crummy kitchen, the decaying bathroom seem even worse when contrasted with the natural green remodeling of the back yard.

     So we’ve come to finally fix the bathroom.  Now there’s something attractive about showering outdoors, under a bucket.  There’s even more joy in the traditional simplicity of outhouses.  No running water, no sweating toilets, no rotting floors.  So what if it’s a long walk and if the ammonia takes your breath away?  It never needs remodeling, only moving.

    All of these doubts about bathroom progress assailed me last week.  For this was no simple beautification project; the floor around the tub hasn’t been completely dry since we moved in, nearly six years ago.

     As we tore down the old shower backing, great jagged chunks of damp drywall came along.  As we ripped out the old cast-iron tub, pieces of flooring shredded away, scattering beetle-like creatures forced to vacate the damp premises forever.

    Emily Dickinson, who isn’t known for her bathroom poetry, actually wrote the perfect poem about the horror we faced.  Here it is in full, followed by commentary on how it applies to the modern American bathroom:

                “Crumbling is not an instant’s

    act,

                A fundamental pause;

                Dilapidations’ processes

                Are organized decays.

                ‘Tis first a cobweb on the soul,

                A cuticle of dust,

                A borer in the axis,

                An elemental rust.

                Ruin is formal – devil’s work,

                Consecutive and slow;

                Fail in an instant, no man did;

                Slipping – is crash’s law.”

    At first glance, the poem seems only marginally related to bathrooms.  It seems more about spiritual decay, about how the soul never suddenly just collapses “in an instant.”  It’s always just a small step at a time, a temptation take here, a white lie there.  The slip always precedes the crash.

    That’s the conventional reading.  Serious poetry lovers by habit seem drawn to the human soul, and they see it everywhere.

    They haven’t remodeled a bathroom.  If there was ever a case of “organized decays,” it’s a bathroom.

    No bathroom is ever completely dry, especially in these humid climates.  Hence we have the “cobweb on the soul,” which Dickinson could easily have meant “on the bowl.”  She was writing in a time of less candor than now, so probably had to disguise the true meaning.

     For the next lines describe the mess perfectly: cuticles of dust, borers in the axis (read drywall) and elemental rust.  It’s the elemental rust that does it, right through to the floorboards.  Nothing stands up forever, not even Masonite and cast iron.

    Of course, the last line brings it all home.  Who hasn’t slipped first, then crashed in the tub?  It’s even more common when trying to haul 300 pounds of dead-weight tub out the door.  We slipped and crashed for most of the morning.

    Read Dickinson’s poem as being about the soul if you must.  But if you’re remodeling the bathroom, the soul-meaning pales beside the physical ruins of a decayed loo. 

    The worst part is knowing that even though the new bathroom’s in place, it’s already begun decaying.

    Consecutively and slowly.

    Go comment!
    Posted in
    • Humor
    • Cedar Valley Chronicles
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