“Pastel Snowfall” by Richard Marion (c) 2013
See more artwork at www.richardmarion.net
Kerouac wrote that he “always considered writing his duty on earth.” Merrimack Valley Conference writer and sportsman Jay Atkinson has an essay about the endurance of Jack Kerouac in today’s Boston Globe. We’re waiting for Jay to have a regular Sunday column on words and books in the Globe. He’s ready for the assignment. Jay has a book about Kerouac called “Paradise Road” in which he tracks Jack on the blue highways of America, starting in Lowell. Read the Globe piece here, and get the Globe if you want more writing like this.
Jack Kerouac (Tom Polumbo, c. 1956)
Thanks to the more than 50 people who attended today’s Lowell Social Media Conference at LTC which was a co-sponsor of the event. Planning has already begun for the Second Annual Lowell Social Media Conference with a target date of the first Saturday in December.
This morning began with a discussion of Twitter and its place in the Lowell blogosphere. Our panelists each brought a different perspective to their remarks. Emil Kuruvilla who is with the Merrimack Valley Sandbox uses it exclusively for work; Yovani Baez tweets about her personal interests and experiences rather than about work; and Liz Smith, an artist with a studio at Western Ave who also lives downtown, uses both for personal and business purposes. All urged us to use it for two-way communications, meaning between you and others on Twitter, and not just one-way, meaning from you to the rest of the world. Liz said that such one way behavior would be like putting some of your own pronouncements onto a tape recorder and then having the tape recorder show up to a discussion. The tape recorder could not respond to what others are saying and the “conversation” would be pretty dull. Emil said that a good practice was to always include a link to a website in a Tweet to give readers “someplace to go.” Audience members had many questions of the panelists. It was clear that people are intrigued by Twitter and may be familiar with its basics, like how to do a Tweet, but are unfamiliar with some of the more advanced features and techniques like search, hashtags, replies and lists. We will certainly revisit this topic.
The second panel of the day talked about short-form video. Our contributors here were Danielle McFadden, Caroline Gallagher, Phil Lupsievicz, and Jessica Wilson. All agreed that there’s more to video than simply pointing a camera and pressing the record button, but all urged everyone to start with the basics: be sure your audio is good and don’t make it a hostage video (my term) with the subject against a stark wall. Pick a good background. Also when interviewing someone on video, ask your question and keep quiet – don’t interject “ah ha” or “yes” in the middle of the subject’s audio. But by all means, make a video and once you do, load it up to YouTube and share it across all social media platforms. And if you need some help, by all means go to LTC (membership for as little as $30 per year). Not only can you get some excellent training there, but you can also find collaborators to assist you in your projects.
The third panel of the day was the role played by social media in the recent city election. Our two main speakers were Dan Rourke and Derek Mitchell who were both candidates. Both used social media extensively but stressed it is no substitute for the hard work of direct contact with voters. But it is a great supplement to that, especially for “building your brand” and for recruiting and motivating volunteers. Their comments were amplified by Lowell School Committee members Kristin Ross-Sitcawich and Kim Scott who were also in attendance.
The final portion of the event was an audience-wide discussion of how to get people more active in the Lowell community. It’s a challenge but it’s important to be persistent. I served as moderator throughout the conference and so I was unable to take many notes. Hopefully others who attended can supplement this report by adding their own recollections of what was said in the “comments” section. Thanks again to all who participated. We’ll do this again next December, but we shouldn’t wait that long to reconvene those who attended today plus the many others who would have liked to have been there but had scheduling conflicts. Suggestions for similar events are always welcome.
Wednesday’s NY Times included an opinion column by Nicholas Kristof in which he wondered about a lack of empathy in today’s society, especially regarding children in need. Read the essay here, and consider getting the NYT if you want more of this kind of writing.
We have a new poem by Tom Sexton of Lowell and Alaska and Maine.—PM
The Last Sunday Train
Little did I know back then when I walked
beside my father to the old North Station,
after Warren Spahn and Johnny Sain
pitched a doubleheader, that the Boston
Braves would soon call Milwaukee home.
We had tickets given to us by a neighbor.
There were six people on the Buddliner
when it finally pulled out of the station:
a man who missed his train to Montreal
and was spending the night in Lowell,
a woman who I was certain was a maid
because of her black dress and sturdy shoes,
a sleepy conductor with one eye on a man
with a pint of Four Roses not quite hidden
from sight in the side pocket of his jacket,
me waving my Braves’ banner by the window,
and my father who was anxious to get home
because he had to leave for work at 5 a.m.
Four Roses squinted at me and said, “Many
years ago the Braves were the Beaneaters.”
He said it as if he was telling me a secret,
which caught the attention of Montreal,
who thought Beaneaters might be an insult
aimed in his direction, like peasouper was.
He glared at Four Roses, and the maid moved
to the back to be closer to the conductor.
My father suggested they pass the bottle
around, and everyone seemed to like the idea.
He glanced at me and passed the whiskey
to the conductor without even taking a sip.
Before long, led by a now-smiling Four Roses,
they were swaying with the car past
dark station after dark station, field after field,
singing “Spahn and Sain and pray for rain,”
almost a lament, or so it seems to me now,
as we rode our earthbound comet toward Lowell
and its depot that was soon to be demolished.
—Tom Sexton (c) 2013
The following letter was sent to the Lowell City Council, City Manager, Conservation Commission, Planning Board, and Lowell Historic Board–PM
On behalf of the executive committee of the Lowell Heritage Partnership, I am writing to City of Lowell officials to request that they make every effort to protect a unique historic structure and cultural artifact in Lowell. The Jerathmell Bowers House is a valuable piece of Lowell’s heritage. The c. 1673 building is the oldest in the city limits and one of the last physical links to Lowell’s pre-industrial past. in 1994, The Bowers House qualified to be included on the National Register of Historic Places, an inventory of rare and significant architectural resources in America. It is considered to be a fine example of First Period Houses of Eastern Massachusetts.
In 1978, the Congress of the United States and President Carter acted to created Lowell National Historical Park, signalling to the nation that Lowell has a special and significant place in American history. The elements of the Industrial Revolution that are commemorated in Lowell exists in a continuum of history. The glacial formation of the river valley, the generations of native inhabitants, the colonial settlers from Europe—these elements are the preamble to the prodigious mill era that put Lowell on the map. It is important that we preserve existing physical connections to prior times when possible for those who will come after us. The actual structures, objects, and places help us understand our roots. There is also a sense of generational responsibility in this mindset. What others endeavored to make has value, just as we want our work today to be valued by our descendants.
The Bowers House, a modest 1 and 1/2 story cottage, stands for a time when pre-Lowell was a region of farms and villages. Our part of the Merrimack River Valley was one of the earliest settled areas as immigrants from Great Britain pushed inland from the coast of Massachusetts. At one time the Bowers House was part of a 150-acre farm. Jerathmell Bowers was a captain in the local militia, with his house serving as “garrison house” during conflicts with the native people in the late 1600s. Nearby, the Middlesex Canal ran in its stretch from then-Chelmsford to Charlestown, Mass., 31 miles. This district became known as Middlesex Village, with glass factory, sawmill, and grain mill by the early 1800s. The Bowers family witnessed these changes.
The Lowell Heritage Partnership, an alliance of more than 20 representatives from historical, environmental, neighborhood, and cultural heritage groups, urges the City of Lowell and the private sector parties seeking to develop and use the Bowers House property to work together to find a way to preserve the historic value that exists in the building. Our board of directors pledges to assist the effort with the knowledge, resources, and passion that we can bring to the challenge.
Paul Marion, President, Lowell Heritage Partnership
We need beauty. We need it badly. On a day when we grappled with our grief over the enduring evil of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, on a day when we learned more from the media about the heinous attack on a young teacher, Colleen Ritzer of Danvers, Mass., on a day when we made our daily deal with the commonplace threats that we know are out there—on such a day more than 600 people gathered in Durgin Concert Hall at UMass Lowell to celebrate the good brought to us by a young president whose vibrant spirit burns like the eternal flame at his grave. The UMass Lowell Music Department’s University Orchestra, University Choir, Chamber Singers, and special guest narrator state Senator Eileen Donoghue of Lowell presented “Remembering JFK: 50 Years.” For the occasion, conductor Mark Latham loaded up the program with a Super Bowl of composers: Beethoven, Gershwin, Mozart, Martini, Brahms, and Copland.
We need water more than we need art, but art is basic to our humanity. At a minimum art can level off our angst for a while, and we all have a measure of dread because of our human term limit. At best, art raises us to orbits above our working rounds, giving us an experience of beauty, harmony, balance, grace, emotional release—even a brush with eternity in the form of the perfect, reached through superb composition and expression. All this was in play last night on stage and in the seats at Durgin Hall. I have been to many cultural events in Lowell in the past 40 years; last night’s concert was one of the most inspiring I have been fortunate enough to witness.
The evening’s program culminated in a dramatic performance of Aaron Copland’s “A Lincoln Portrait,” with guest narrator Sen. Donoghue, whose reading of the profound text moved everyone in the hall. A slideshow of images prepared by Patty Coffey of UMass Lowell accompanied the music. The piece built toward the concluding words of the “Gettysburg Address”—”. . .That we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain. That this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom and that government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the earth.” Every selection was a highlight, leading to that powerful finish, from Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 1″ and Gershwin’s “An American in Paris” to the astounding joined voices carrying Brahms’ “Ein deutches Requiem.”
Speaking at the dedication of the Robert Frost Library at Amherst College in late October 1963, President Kennedy said, “I look forward to an America which will reward achievement in the arts as we reward achievement in the arts as we reward achievement in business or statecraft. I look forward to an America which will steadily raise the standards of artistic accomplishment and which will steadily enlarge cultural opportunities for all of our citizens. And I look forward to an America which commands respect throughout the world not only for its strength but for its civilization as well. . . .I look forward to an America which will not be afraid of grace and beauty.”
The morning began with dark purple clouds bumping in the sky lanes above a sherbet-rinsed sunrise of raspberry and peach. Wind kicked the brittle leaves every which way, and the frigid air made you feel extra alive in your skin. All good for a big day in Lowell. Spirits were up for an event that doesn’t come often in a lifetime: the dedication of a permanent bridge over a serious river.
It was no ordinary time at 10 am at the northernmost curb on Merrimack Street. These folks could have been gathered for the launch of spaceship. The scene turned majestic when the milling-around crowd of hundreds was signaled forward by the construction workers who waved everyone ahead towards the middle of the span where a podium was set up for the ceremony. What a collection of people: political figures, public administrators, writers and reporters, photographers and filmmakers, ardent citizens and family members of the honoree, university personnel, neighbors from the Acre and Pawtucketville, the bridge builders themselves, state transportation agency officials, the kids kept out of school, along with the proud, the curious, and the devoted locals.
City Manager Lynch said this bridge has been coming for decades. Decades. He reminded us that former City Manager John Cox and his team outlined a vision for this bridge at the head of Merrimack Street. It was fitting that the man who in January is expected to be the community’s next mayor, City Councilor Rodney Elliott, had made the motion to name the bridge for Richard P. Howe. History was cycling in the wind.
Today we honored a man who became a kind of monument in front of our eyes as Chancellor Meehan praised his courage and integrity, describing how he had saved local control of the city’s school system at a critical moment, Rep. Kevin Murphy extolled his legal acumen, Rep. Golden brought congratulations from state Sen. Donoghue and saluted him as the true dean of city’s political brotherhood and sisterhood, Rep. Nangle thanked Mary Howe for sharing her husband with us and counted out the 2,000 Tuesday nights on which he made “government” an action word in the Council chamber, Mayor Patrick Murphy spoke for every citizen in recognizing the contributions of an uncommon man, Congresswoman Tsongas sent a flag flown over the dome in Washington DC—and his daughter Martha called him a living bridge for the public work he had done as a representative of the people and a leader of the people. She said his example illustrates how politics can be a noble profession. All this was said about a high-grade baseball player, honorable family man, and dedicated attorney who made time in his life for civic duty. A record of 40 years of service, including four terms as mayor of his city, shows up about as often as a new huge blue bridge across the Merrimack.
In my mind I keep coming back to the crowd. What a tribute in the form of showing up. Not only quantity, but quality. Talent attracts talent, and the senior Dick Howe brought out a highly enriched collection of admirers. None of us there today will probably ever stand again in the middle of that bridge, which for its first few open hours was a scenic overlook. We feasted on spectacular views of the rushing rocky river, the new Saab building for emerging technologies on the north campus of UMass Lowell, and the glassy University Crossing under construction on the opposite bank. At our backs was the long stretch of Merrimack Street as far as we could see. On the open roadway, we, the people, occupied the structure, railing to railing, lingering a bit to remember what it felt like as a pedestrian way. Once the cars and trucks get at it, the vehicles will shape the experience of going over the water. This is something new for Lowell. We have been cutting a lot of ribbons these past few years. Historians will notice the beginning of the 21st century in this city. We got a new bridge today. We dedicated it to Mr. Howe of Lowell.