Here Are Four Charles Badger Clark Quotes to Read and Remember

Charles Badger Clark was a South Dakota poet I’d never heard of until this Smithsonian Magazine piece by Carson Vaughan.

It’s a good read and will fill you in on Clark’s life. Clark was a cowboy poet who became South Dakota’s first poet laureate.

One of the most fun part of reading Vaughan’s article are the Badger Clark quotes he included in the piece. Four, in particular, stand out to me.

Anyone without a regular nine-to-five job can relate to this Badger Clark quote:

“Lord, how I pity a man with a steady job.”

You’ll like this one if you sometimes wish you lived alone in a cabin:

“The world of clocks and insurance and options and adding machines was far away, and I felt an Olympian condescension as I thought of the unhappy wrigglers who inhabited it.”

Writers can identify with this sentiment:

“If they’ll pay for such stuff, why, here’s the job I’ve been looking for all along—no boss, no regular hours [or] responsibility.”

And this 1954 quote highlights a debt we White Americans still haven’t paid. (I share the quote as published in the Smithsonian article.)

“We still owe the Negro for 250 years of unpaid labor, and we owe the Indian for some three million square miles of land.”

Be sure to read Vaughan’s article on Charles Badger Clark.

Then you can saddle-up to the South Dakota Historical Society Foundation’s website and enjoy some of Clark’s poems. You won’t regret it, pardner.

A Charles Badger Clark quote: "Lord, how I pity a man with a steady job."

Margaret Murie Probably Didn’t Inspire this Mountain’s Name

Margaret Murie may have inspired the naming of a mountain, but probably not. 

That’s the conclusion of a blog post I came across while researching Murie’s Today in Literary History story on Bidwell Hollow. The National Park Service piece tries to determine the origin of Mt. Margaret, a 5,069-foot peak in Alaska’s Denali National Park.

Map showing Alaska's Mt. Margaret, likely not named after Margaret Murie.
Alaska’s Mt. Margaret is a peak inside Denali National Park. It’s likely not named after writer and conservationist Margaret Murie.

“Some have long assumed the mountain was named for the most famous Margaret (arguably) in Alaska’s past: Margaret ‘Mardy’ Murie,” the blog post’s author, Erik Johnson, writes.

It’s a reasonable expectation. Murie is an Alaskan and national legend. 

In 1924 Murie became the first woman to graduate from Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mine, now called the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. Murie was a 22-year-old newlywed when she accompanied her husband, Olaus, on a 550-mile, eight-month expedition studying caribou in Alaska’s Brooks Range.

Murie wrote a fantastic nature memoir, Two in the Far North. And she spent her life championing conservation, leading the establishment of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the passage of the Wilderness Act.

But Margaret Murie is likely not the namesake for Mt. Margaret.

Johnson’s blog post points out that Mt. Margaret appears on a 1921 survey of Alaska. Margaret Murie was a 19-year-old college student at the time, and likely not known to the surveyor, Woodbury Abbey.

Plus, Murie’s kids know nothing about their mom having a peak named after her. (Murie passed away in 2003 at 101.)

It seems that no one knows the Margaret who inspired the naming of a mountain in Alaska. 

You can read Erik Johnson’s article about the mystery of Mt. Margaret’s name.

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Amazing Annie Dillard Quotes From Her Book About Writing and the Writer’s Life

Annie Dillard wrote a book for writers that arrived in my mail a few weeks ago. 

A supportive friend sent it to me as congratulations on giving full-time writing a go.

The book’s called The Writing Life. It’s a collection of anecdotes and insights about what it means to write and be a writer. 

Copy of The Writing Life, a book by Annie Dillard

The Writing Life isn’t a handbook on how to write. It’s more a documentation of what it means to be a writer. It’s a marvelous little book, humorous, entertaining, and inspiring.

Reading it, a writer finds themselves nodding their head as Dillard dissects writing and the writer’s life. 

You should get a copy of the book if you’re a writer. Or, if you have a writer in your life, your relationship with that person could benefit from you reading The Writing Life as well.

Below are some excerpts from the book that shined most true to me. These passages are a tiny dose of the beauty that awaits you when you read The Writing Life by Annie Dillard (paid link).

Amazing Annie Dillard Quotes on Writing

“Writing every book, the writer must solve two problems: Can it be done? and, Can I do it?”

“At its best, the sensation of writing is that of any unmerited grace. It is handed to you, but only if you look for it.”

“On plenty of days the writer can write three or four pages, and on plenty of other days he concludes he must throw them away.”

“Why do you never find anything written about that idiosyncratic thought you advert to, about your fascination with something no one else understands? Because it is up to you. There is something you find interesting, for a reason hard to explain. It is hard to explain because you have never read it on any page; there you begin. You were made and set here to give voice to this, your own astonishment.”

“I do not so much write a book as sit up with it, as with a dying friend.”

“It is no less difficult to write sentences in a recipe than sentences in Moby-Dick. So you might as well write Moby-Dick.”

“Write as if you were dying. At the same time, assume you write for an audience consisting solely of terminal patients. That is, after all, the case.”

“One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.”

“Why people want to be writers I will never know, unless it is that their lives lack a material footing.”

“Get to work. Your work is to keep cranking the flywheel that turns the gears that spin the belt in the engine of belief that keeps you and your desk in midair.”

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This Derren Brown Quote Highlights Why LGBTQ Role Models Matter

Looking through my current notebook I discovered a Derren Brown quote I wrote down.

A Derren Brown quote: “Having a big thing you can put up in front of you and say, ‘That’s me’ is a very handy tool.”

“Having a big thing you can put up in front of you and say, ‘That’s me,’ is a very handy tool,” Brown said in an Adam Green New Yorker profile of Brown, a mentalist, from Oct. 2019.

Brown’s talking about a role model, of sorts, someone to whom you can look up. Brown, who’s gay, didn’t have that person when it came to understanding his sexuality.

It’s a common challenge for LGBTQ people, particularly teenagers and young adults. Maybe it’s a little better now than it was when I was growing up. There’s less stigma with being gay, and there are more out celebrities.

But I suspect many LGBTQ youths still feel they don’t have an adult in their life whose life they can model. Hopefully, these young people have patient, loving adults who can guide and be a resource for them.

Representation matters. Derren Brown’s quote, and his personal experience, highlights why.

Growing up gay without someone in whom you can see yourself can limit your personal and professional development. You might struggle to come out and make destructive choices.

Something most people don’t know about me is that I attended five colleges in three states before earning my undergraduate degree. It took me eight years to graduate.

There are many reasons why I went to so many schools over such a long period. That I was identifying and coming to terms with being gay is at the top of the list. I like to think had my coming-of-age years included at least one openly gay person, I might have reduced the years I spent reconciling my sexuality. And perhaps I wouldn’t have struggled as much as I did.

As Derren Brown said, having something you can look at and see yourself is “a very handy tool.


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Shayla Lawson Has a Book Perfect for Our Country’s Current Moment

Shayla Lawson’s This Is Major is the perfect book for this moment.

The book’s a series of essays about Lawson’s experience as a Black woman in America. She takes you from growing up in a predominantly white neighborhood in Lexington, Ken., to living in Portland, Ore., and beyond.

Cover of Shayla Lawson's This Is Major.

This Is Major (paid link) comes out as our country’s having another conversation about race. It’s a worthy discussion from which there has to be action.

We can’t keep putting up yard signs and going about our business. We have to change how the United States of America treats people of color.

We must implement governmental and societal changes to reduce, if not eliminate the impacts of systemic racism. Here’s an example of what our racist nation’s wrought on people of color.

According to the Federal Reserve, 28 percent of white Americans inherited money in 2016. Just eight percent of Black Americans and five percent of Hispanics received an inheritance. That’s disgusting and wrong.

In This Is Major, Lawson focuses mostly on racism in American life, the Black Girl Magic movement, and Diana Ross. Again, it’s the perfect book for our current moment.

Get your copy of This Is Major (paid link). Then let me know what you think!

P.S. Soon, I’ll interview Shayla on Bidwell Hollow.


Disclosure: I support local bookstores. As a Bookshop affiliate, I and independent bookshops earn money anytime you purchase after clicking a paid link. Thank you!

Small Towns Get Fleeced When Big Companies Own the News

There’s a New York Times article about the fleecing of small-town America.

The article covers the fate of The Mercury newspaper in Pottstown, Pa. But to me, the story’s more than the destruction of a local paper.

Alden Global Capital is a hedge fund that owns The Mercury. During its ownership, the newspaper’s shrunk to one reporter, Evan Brandt. He shuffles around town in his Toyota Corolla, reporting on school board meetings and other local happenings.

The article, by Dan Barry, highlights the plight of small-town newspapers and asks what happens to our society when we lose local news?

In my mom’s case, you turn to Facebook.

Her local newspaper, where I once worked as a reporter, is no longer a reliable local information source. She instead checks Facebook to find out what’s happening in her community.

Journalists aren’t sharing updates on Facebook, but friends, family members, and neighbors are. And that’s a problem.

Even the best-intentioned among them aren’t checking facts, using multiple sources, or presenting different perspectives when they share a news update. That’s what reporters do. But your Facebook friends are, more often than not, not trained journalists.

Which means mom gets her local news from unreliable sources. And she does so within a platform that makes money by selling to advertisers access to her eyeballs.

Local newspapers failing to serve their communities creates opportunities for behemoths such as Facebook. The social media company based in Menlo Park, Calif., makes money off my mom in rural Missouri.

But that’s not the only way in which small-town America gets fleeced these days. A New York City-based hedge fund owning local newspapers is.

The fleecing of Small Town, U.S.A.

According to Dan Barry’s New York Times article, Alden Global Capital improves its profit margins by making cuts to its newspapers. That’s how The Mercury ended up with one reporter and no office. The hedge fund reduced the paper’s staff and sold its building.

And what happens to the money that Alden Global Capital makes from newspapers such as The Mercury? Most of it leaves the local communities.

Outside of Evan Brandt’s salary and costs for printing The Mercury’s physical edition, Alden Global Capital puts little money back into Pottstown, Pa. Instead, subscribers’ and advertisers’ dollars go from Pottstown to the New York City hedge fund.

The rich get richer. Cities reap rewards at the expense of small towns. It’s a modern-day feudal system in which rural Americans’ money ends up in the pockets of companies hundreds or thousands of miles away.

Facebook makes money off my mom in rural Missouri. Alden Global Capital makes money off Pottstown residents. And neither rural Missouri nor Pottstown receive significant, if any, amounts of that cash.

Local news’ disappearance across this country is alarming for many reasons, some of which Dan Barry covers in his article. What Barry doesn’t mention, which I see, is that America’s local media landscape is another proof point of how we take from small towns to fund our gleaming cities.

The rich get richer. While for news, rural folks log onto Facebook.


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How Can You Improve Your Writing? Look At What You Read

If you’re a writer, you get a lot of advice about how to improve your writing. One piece of guidance writers receive is to read. You can’t be a writer if you’re not a reader, the thinking goes. 

And I agree. How can you be a word peddler if you’re not a word consumer? But what’s often not talked about is what a writer reads. 

The words writers take in mean as much as the words a writer puts down. That’s because to be our best writing self requires seeing the world outside of ourselves. A common thread among the best writers is they know something other than their own lives. 

Exposure and understanding help shape great writers. That’s why we need to be intentional with our reading. Below is a lesson I learned, and how it can help you, too.

Mix up the books

A few years ago, I listed all the books I read that year. Seventy-five percent of what I read was about World War II and written by white men. I was shocked. 

Do you know the writers whose work I had never read? The list included names such as Toni Morrison, Willa Cather, Joan Didion, James Baldwin, and Ta-Nehisi Coates. These are writers who excelled at their craft, and I was not consuming their words. Not to mention, I wanted to write fiction. And yet, the only books I read were nonfiction. 

Nicholas E. Barron quote: "Branching out beyond your comfort zone can help you discover new voices and improve your writing."

We all make choices, either consciously or unconsciously, in what we read. Maybe your bias is in the genre. You like mysteries, and so all you read are mystery novels. 

Or, your bias could be in authors. I didn’t intend to read only books by white guys. It just happens that a lot of books about World War II are by white men. Look at a list of the past dozen or so authors you’ve read. Are they all one gender, race, ethnicity, and so forth? 

We can also be partial in where our books’ settings. Shortly after discovering my predilection for World War II books, I realized I rarely read something set in Africa. Now I rotate into my reading pile books taking place in Africa.

There are many ways we pick the books we read. And we may have the best of intentions in our choices. But branching out beyond your comfort zone can help you discover new voices and improve your writing.

improve your writing by reading diversely

Reading Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room shook me. Discovering Willa Cather changed my understanding of what stories a writer can tell. Consuming Toni Morrison’s work is like crawling into the lap of a master.

Becoming more intentional in my reading has enhanced my writing. I’m a better writer now than when I was reading World War II books. And I understand and appreciate more who a writer can be and what stories they can tell. 

You can have the same experience. Look at the books you’ve recently read. Are there commonalities among them? The authors may be similar, or the books are in the same genre. See if there are ways you can expand what you read.

And, once you do, reevaluate after some time. Two years after I broadened what I read, I realized something. I hadn’t read a book published within that time. Everything I read was older than two years. So, I adjusted. Now I work new books into my reading.

Writers should read, yes, but the words we consume matter. Being intentional about your reading will improve your writing. So, reach beyond your typical reads to discover new authors and worlds. And watch yourself grow as a writer.


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This article originally appeared on Medium.