Selected Feature Articles by Michael Bouman
I wrote the impromptu pieces in this collection for the E-Passages monthly newsletter. E-mail newsletters require a more personal voice than printed newsletters. The medium is more immediate, and the subject matter that suits such a voice is often personal.
Most of my new pieces are on a blog called "Creating Interest." The pieces below begin in 2003 and run in chrolological order.
Singing Messiah with Itzhak Perlman
In one of my "other lives" I'm a baritone in the St. Louis Symphony chorus. In December of 2003 I had the privilege of singing Handel's Messiah under the direction of the renowned violinist, Itzhak Perlman.
Encountering "Lewis and Clark: The National Bicentennial Exhibit (February 2004)
After years of anticipation, it was one of the peak experiences of my career to be present at the Missouri History Museum in St. Louis for the grand opening of the national bicentennial exhibit.
The Music Festival in Pitten, Austria (September 2004)
Between 1994 and 2004, my wife and I were on the artistic faculty of the "Pitten Classics" International Music Festival in the wonderful small town of Pitten in Lower Austria. Our longtime friend, David Neiweem, organized the festival in 1992 with a close circle of musical friends. David had attended graduate school in Vienna and had made friendships that led him to notice that the town of Pitten had a remarkable number of spaces and venues that would be ideal for a festival of about fifty participants. He and Sandra Bouman were colleagues at the University of Vermont at the time, and after we heard about the success of that first season we became participants the next time he organized it in 1994.
On Driving to the Funeral of My Friend, Dick Black (October 2004)
October 1, 2004 would have been the 60th birthday of my friend, Dick Black, a Vietnam veteran, a descendant of the Keetowah Band of the Cherokees in Oklahoma, an advocate for Native American rights, and a man of justice. The drive to Dick's memorial service at the Providence Baptist Church in Half Rock, Missouri prompted a flood of thoughts which I pulled together in an essay about "Farmers and Decency."
Cultural Citizenship and the Process of Election (November 2004)
Despite the fatigue of spin-overload, and the extreme relief of being done with political campaigns for a while, I was moved to write a few lines about citizenship as it applies to forms of community service having to do with "heritage preservation." My essay includes mention of the museums in Marble Hill and Poplar Bluff, with a lovely picture of an Edison phonograph and a story of three people who made such an object socially constructive.
Advertising, Reading, and Mom (February 2005)
This is a little Valentine about family reading for my mother.
Homer and Dylan (April 2005)
Sometimes I have nothing better to do than read books. My winter and early spring in 2005 were dominated by two poets who have been large presences in my mental life for a long, long time. I've written an essay to try to interest you in Robert Fagles' translation of The Odyssey and in Bob Dylan's quite fascinating memoir, Chronicles, Volume One.
Motherless Child (July 2005)
Some thoughts about mortality and "eternal life." I had lost my mother-in-law in February and my mother in June.
Ten Years at MHC (October 2005)
I'm not one to observe anniversaries in a job, but my colleagues threw a little surprise party for me in honor of my completing ten years here. I've written a piece on a decade that began with fears of the elimination of Federal support for the arts and humanities and ended with a hurricane that shaped our conceptions of homeland disaster.
War Requiem (November 2005)
"The light streaming through the trees this morning got me to thinking about some music I've been studying, so when I got to work and read Barbara Crafton's Almost-Daily eMo from The Geranium Farm*, I picked up her theme and wrote a piece on All Saints' Day regarding sacrificed lives."
*The Geranium Farm is a web site of spiritual meditations written by an Episcopal priest in New York City. http://www.geraniumfarm.org/dailyemo.cfm?Emo=563
Life at the Azkaban Historical Museum (December 2005)
"When I began to read the Harry Potter stories last July, I had no idea how these books would overtake my imagination, not to mention my time. Now, six books later, I am eagerly awaiting what J.K. Rowling says will be a last book in the series.
"There is no Azkaban Historical Museum in the Harry Potter books, but in my journal entry, I have placed such an institution right in your back yard, or garage, to be more precise!
"If I had to recommend a choice between my essay and one of the Harry Potter stories, I'd go out and buy or borrow one of the books! Start with book 1, though, and work through them all in sequence, remembering what it was like, once upon a time, to be in middle school and then high school."
Girl Riding Into Town On A Pony (March 2006)
When my father died at the end of September in the year 2000, my mother continued to live independently (in a broad manner of speaking) in their house in the Lutheran Haven community between Orlando and Sanford, Florida, and my sister and brother-in-law made increasing and increasingly tiring trips from Sanford to mitigate her anxieties and her needs for a sense of controlling events around her.
Ultimately, they bought a house five minutes away from Lutheran Haven, which allowed them easily to include Mom in the daily activities of their household. Mom was losing her sight during the last decade of her life to macular degeneration, she the payer of the household bills and the avid reader of publications designed specifically to stoke the fears of the elderly. I thought it a blessing and a bane that she could read less and less; a blessing because there was less access to material I thought unfit for human consumption. But that is another essay...
When my wife and I visited her in March of 2001 there was less to do, and so I began to fill those visits with a form of "oral history." I asked her about her childhood and made copious notes in a spiral notebook. I had helped her organize her family's genealogy a few years earlier, but I was unclear about many of the family stories and was ignorant about the bulk of them. This way of passing the time seemed good for Mom. I enjoyed it very much.
Later that year, wondering what sort of Christmas gift to give to someone who couldn't read, who didn't want anything, and who was allergic to flowers, I decided to write a little piece about her childhood.
On Telling a Big Story in a Small Space (May 2006)
I've been wondering and wondering for a long time about communicating the essentials of something in a short time. Within organizations, there is a discipline of working out an "elevator speech." It's what you would say to a stranger during an elevator ride when they ask, "what's the Missouri Humanities Council." You have to work out a 30-second version for yourself.
Imagine if you were asked to do this, not for an organization, but for a people. That's the challenge of the Sac and Fox heritage exhibit, and that's the theme of something related to that, concerning something of the problem of thinking about, and then expressing, the essentials about a people.
On the Variety of Chautauqua Performers (August 2006)
I spent part of August finishing a national directory of Chautauqua talent, a project begun by my former colleague, Kathryn Ballard and some of her counterparts around the country. It's such fascinating work, I thought I'd share some of what's going on in this mother lode of the public humanities.
"Ears," An Appreciation of Daniel Woodrell (October 2006)
I read Daniel Woodrell's Winter's Bone for the ReadMOre project and couldn't put it down. Here's a little essay on his ear for nuances of language.
The Bluesy Literature of Spam (November 2006)
Like most people I know, my e-mail box is glutted with over a hundred spam messages every day, and I'm lucky to have such a low number. Spammers don't care about my gender, so I am invited to read all about any number of products or "services" that are of interest to males, females, people down on their luck or with money to burn. The subject lines of so many spam messages are non-rational nonsense. It's a time-tested advertising gimmick to get you to open the message. (I suppose there is such a thing as "rational nonsense," too. Unfortunately, you can't be vaccinated to protect you from that at the clinic!)
Two or three times a day I go into a spam folder and make sure it doesn't contain a "real" message from you to me. In the process I notice the potential for a warped kind of poetry in those non-rational subject lines.
I think the blues are appropriate for such annoying influxes of e-hail, so I collected four days' worth of subject headings and wrote a blues in the style of Bob Dylan. The hail metaphor comes from one of his new songs, "Nettie Moore." He wrote a line that goes, "Blues this mornin' comin' down like hail/Gonna leave a greasy trail."
The italicized words and phrases in my blues are direct quotes from the subject lines in my spam folder.
Visitor-Centered Thinking on a Garden Tour (July 2008)
I've been preaching the virtues of visitor-centered thinking in museums for several years. This time I got to try the principles in my friend's garden. He was on an advertised tour, and with visitors flowing in for six hours one gorgeous day, he needed an assistant to greet them all and help them enjoy the "collection." It was fun to treat the garden as a small museum! The time passed very quickly.