WBEZ | cabin fever http://www.wbez.org/tags/cabin-fever Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Local writer helps commemorate Iraqi casualties of war through art http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/2011-09-07/local-writer-helps-commemorate-iraqi-casualties-war-through-art-91603 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/segment/photo/2011-September/2011-09-07/353222945_92c84aa697_o.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>The events of September 11, 2001 unleashed a myriad of sentiments for artists. In his new memoir, <em><a href="http://tommontgomeryfate.com/cabinfever.html" target="_blank">Cabin Fever</a></em>, <a href="http://tommontgomeryfate.com/author.html" target="_blank">Tom Montgomery-Fate</a> wrote about his participation in an art installation that reflected on that tragic day and how its effects are still felt 10 years later.</p><p>Why am I lying here wrapped in a sheet in the middle of a huge city on a busy work day, just a few feet from the honking congestion of Dearborn and Adams? Why am I pretending to be dead?&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p>The die-in was an art installation. The organizers were artists; I was a piece of art. Our 40 bodies and 40 white sheets and 40 red carnations were arranged on the cement canvas into a death grid; a grave yard.&nbsp; We symbolized the number of Iraqis who died every day from the war. We sought to create the antithesis of war––art––and through it, a reverence for life.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p>I still remember: On September 12, 2001––after the skies were emptied of planes and we were assured the Sears Tower would not be hit––I had an urge to visit the Chicago Art Institute, to counter the tragedy in New York with O’Keeffe’s voluptuous lilies, Hopper’s gritty streetscapes and Pollack’s wild spatters. But parts of the city were closed down and so were some parts of me––lost in the spiral of sadness––so, I settled for a coffee table book of Marc Chagall’s paintings. As I leafed through the stunning images, while the grainy towers fell over and over on TV, I wondered how Chagall would have depicted the absurdity of the planes-turned-missiles, of the people leaping into the flaming canyon: What would he have seen, and created, in the face of the destroyed?&nbsp;</p><p>I had only been dead for a few minutes when someone dropped a long-stemmed carnation on my chest. The soft, sudden weight of the flower was an epiphany, a moment of attention that connected me, reminded me that I belonged to everything and everyone; that we are all related. I felt it deeply––the flower, the sun, the wind––their quiet resilience and forgiveness.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;<br> A gull screamed. I imagined the feathered, flattened M coasting high above me; glowing in the sunlight, then veering to the east—a white silhouette pumped through a four-block corridor of skyscraping shadows, which finally opened onto the lake and sky––a watercolor painting that had no borders, no endings. From under the white sheet, I imagined the lake at a great distance: a shimmering blue body whose fingers touched other lakes, whose branches fed into rivers, which emptied into oceans, which reached around the world and touched the soil, the homes and the daily lives, of every enemy we ever appointed or imprisoned or shot or carpet-bombed in the name of freedom or God. Whether we called them collateral damage or terrorists or people, we were closely related; closer all the time.&nbsp;</p><p>A woman with a cheap microphone and little beat-up amplifier began to sing the names of the dead. She nursed vibrant and haunting tones out of the cracking, echoed sound system: Rafid Naji Hasan, 9 years old; Jumma Ibrahim, 14 years old; Fadhel Mohammed al Dulaimi, 45 years old. The names went on and on.&nbsp;</p><p>I was dead a long time before I finally caught the sweet, delicate scent of my carnation—just a trace, and only for a second.&nbsp; Then a little girl––one of the children of the temporarily dead—started giggling about something. Her clicking shoes skipped through the odd labyrinth of flower-adorned bodies.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p>I thought of my own kids and began to wonder about the time. But I couldn’t lift my arm to read my watch without disturbing the art. I needed to leave right at 2:00 p.m. to make it to Lincoln Elementary by the first bell to meet my son, Bennett. My daughter, Abby, had to be taken to soccer, and Tessa, her sister, needed a lift home from a cross country meet. What the hell: I slowly turned my arm and raised it so I could see that I had been lying there for 10 minutes; it seemed like an hour.<br> I’m not even sure why I went to the demonstration. I needed to go grocery shopping and I had stacks of papers to grade. Was it guilt? Yes, partly. The belief I was making a difference?&nbsp; No, I don’t think so. The hope that this theater of the absurd would help alleviate the suffering of the Iraqi people? No, that was unlikely. My motivations were less noble, less clear: I was just trying to learn how to believe in something; how to see in the dark.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p>It was Thea, the 11-year-old girl, whose name I could not let go. My daughters are 10 and 13. I saw Thea skipping rope in the red clay dust behind her home in Najaf, perhaps munching on a sour green mango with a friend. Thea: I saw her exasperated face when her parents said her bombed-out school would not be reopened. Thea: I saw her lithe body running wildly away from something—what was it? What was she running from? Thea: I saw the name wheeled up toward the sun like a dove that has been released so it can return home. Thea: The enemy. A dead little girl. Her. Me. Us.<br> <br> <em>Tom Montgomery-Fate teaches creative writing at College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn. This essay is excerpted from his new memoir, Cabin Fever, which was released in June.</em></p><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Wed, 07 Sep 2011 14:23:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/2011-09-07/local-writer-helps-commemorate-iraqi-casualties-war-through-art-91603 Writer Tom Montgomery Fate reflects on cabin fever http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/2011-04-12/writer-tom-montgomery-fate-reflects-cabin-fever-85068 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/segment/photo/2011-April/2011-04-12/cabin.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>As summer approaches, folks are dusting off their flip flops, heading out of hibernation and even acting a tad friendlier toward one another on the streets. But some, like writer <a href="http://tommontgomeryfate.com/author.html" target="_blank">Tom Montgomery Fate</a>, long for a bit more solitude with nature.</p><p><br> Tonight on my walk back to our little cabin in the Michigan woods – the full moon, and the stars – spilt like sugar across the black abyss of the heavens – kept reminding me what I was: a creature, one of billions, slowly making his way across the surface of this big blue spinning marble. Yet, it was less a sense of isolation than of belonging. With the corn fields and vineyards glowing in the moonlight all around me, and the wind playing familiar hymns on the oak and elm, I felt more at home and less alone at that moment than I had for a long time. But that sense of belonging, or relatedness, began to wane as I kept walking. And by the time I reached the cabin I was more lonely than alone, as I made my way through a familiar darkness.</p><p>At dawn the next morning I wade back into my work: I’m trying to read Henry David Thoreau’s classic book Walden.&nbsp; Today it’s the “Solitude” chapter – a brief ten pages, but troubling.&nbsp; It’s so full of the elation his aloneness brings him in the woods that I don’t quite believe it, or want to. “Nothing can rightly compel a simple and brave man to a vulgar sadness,” he writes. “While I enjoy the friendship of the seasons I trust that nothing can make life a burden to me.”</p><p>Being neither simple, nor brave, this kind of sadness I understand.&nbsp; I look straight ahead, stare blankly at Thoreau’s words, and then at the woods, unable to read either.</p><p>Cabin fever is defined as the anxiety caused by physical isolation in a remote natural setting – the intense desire to return to the comforts of technology and human interaction.&nbsp; How ironic that I contracted it in the cozy little abode we built as a retreat from the chaos of normal life. And how odd that the term “cabin fever” may have originated during the era of my guru of solitude – Thoreau.&nbsp;</p><p>In the nineteenth century, Midwestern homesteaders lived literally “off the beaten path,” and much farther from an actual road. These families were so isolated from commerce and community that they could be snowed in their cabins for months at a time, their sanity tested as they waited for the spring thaw. But this kind of cabin fever – physical isolation in the natural world caused by weather and roadlessness – has all but disappeared in the U.S.&nbsp; And ironically, the one small thing I and many other overwhelmed Americans have in common with Thoreau is that we go to the woods seeking isolation in nature. We are not snowed in. Our solitude is chosen, carefully planned. We flee the material comfort and frantic convenience of our&nbsp; hi-tech lives. We don’t trust that the digitized GPS voice in our cars will tell us where we need to go. We are looking for something else.&nbsp; Something we cannot purchase at the mall or order on the internet.&nbsp; But what is it exactly?&nbsp;</p><p>I still don’t know. I’m still searching….</p><p><br> <strong>Tom Montgomery Fate teaches English at College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn. His new nature memoir <a href="http://tommontgomeryfate.com/cabinfever.html" target="_blank"><em>Cabin Fever</em></a> will be released by <a href="http://www.beacon.org/productdetails.cfm?PC=2198" target="_blank">Beacon Press</a> on June 7.</strong></p><p><em>Music Button: Midwest Product, "Motivator", from the CD World Series of Love, (Ghostly International)</em></p></p> Tue, 12 Apr 2011 14:36:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/2011-04-12/writer-tom-montgomery-fate-reflects-cabin-fever-85068 The serenity of a walk in the snow http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/2011-02-08/serenity-walk-snow-81976 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blizzard 2011_getty.JPG" alt="" /><p><p>It was by foot and not car that most of us made our way through last week&rsquo;s blizzard. Writer Tom Montgomery Fate revels in those moments of motion. <br /><br /><br />I walk along the edge of the woods on a cold sunny day, until I arrive at one of the poetry boxes.&nbsp; There are six such boxes placed along different walking trails here on our farm. They always remind me to slow down and to attend&mdash;to all the words waiting in the woods amid the frozen tomb of winter.&nbsp;&nbsp; <br /><br />Each 16 by 20 inch wooden box is mounted on a small post a few feet from a split log bench.&nbsp; The boxes look like lecture podiums and have hinged lids that flip open to hold one book of poetry, a journal, and a pen.&nbsp; We put the books and journals into Tupperware containers, because it turns out that bugs like poetry too.&nbsp; Some spiders are spending the winter nestled with Pablo Neruda in the poetry box near the river.&nbsp; A caterpillar I know, however, prefers Carl Sandburg and the box beneath the apple tree. <br /><br />But when I flip up the lid of the meadow box I remember: The paper wasps love Mary Oliver.&nbsp; Last summer when I opened this box a dozen of her devotees tried to scare me away from their literary queen, and one stung me.&nbsp; Today, however, there are only two wasps, and they&rsquo;re in cold weather stupor.&nbsp; They stay in their cracks while I pull out the book: Why I Wake Early. I&rsquo;ve read it before, yet am always drawn to one poem: &ldquo;Where does the Temple Begin, Where does it end?&rdquo;<br /><br />Given Oliver&rsquo;s Temple image, I suddenly imagine the poetry box as a little pulpit.&nbsp; So I walk up, stand behind it and read her poem aloud to the captive community&ndash;&ndash;to the barren, creaking oak trees, and the icy buckthorn and blackberry canes. <br /><br />No one responds to my reading of scripture.&nbsp; No nodding or swaying.&nbsp; No one drops an affirming leaf or a confetti of seeds.&nbsp; So next I try a silent prayer&mdash;the kind that can go on forever.&nbsp; Perhaps if I wait long enough the pastor and the rest of the congregation will arrive.<br /><br />They don&rsquo;t.&nbsp; But the liturgy continues:&nbsp; a honking Canada goose rises in the silence, along with the hollow mechanical rapping of a woodpecker, and the wind whooshing up through the soft whorls of the white pines.&nbsp; Then comes confession: the hard, grinding whir of a chainsaw, and the sad drone of the semi trucks roaring down the distant interstate.&nbsp; Overhead a jet slowly draws a white line across the blue grey bowl of the sky, as it carries 200 people to some place they need to arrive very soon.&nbsp;&nbsp; I wonder where they&rsquo;re all going. <br /><br />Then the latecomers arrive.&nbsp; Two bluejays drop in nearby and peck around for seeds.&nbsp; Then, finally, the pastor shows up:&nbsp; A wild turkey, which I must have startled, comes sprinting out of the woods all bothered and anxious like a character from an old Disney cartoon.&nbsp; He pauses on the edge of the meadow looking crazy&mdash;like he&rsquo;s both terrified and wants to scold me&ndash;&ndash;then tears back into the trees without giving his sermon.&nbsp; <br /><br />Twenty minutes later comes the offering, or maybe it&rsquo;s communion:&nbsp; A red-tailed hawk appears soaring high above our odd little church.&nbsp; Four feet of wing, three pounds of&nbsp; blood and muscle, and with binoculars for eyes&ndash;&ndash;a red tail can spot a mouse from a mile away.&nbsp;&nbsp; And he can tell right now whether my eyes are closed or opened.&nbsp; Though when I look up at him I can&rsquo;t see anything clearly&ndash;&ndash;except the wind, which he makes visible. <br /><br />Soon the sun dips under a cloud and the hawk&rsquo;s slow gliding shadow disappears from the weeds. Then the hawk breaks his circle and drifts away.&nbsp; His beak becomes the curved tip of a wide, strong-winged arrow pointing toward home.&nbsp; And this is our benediction.&nbsp; <em><br /><br /></em><br /><em>Tom Montgomery Fate teaches creative writing at </em><a target="_blank" href="http://home.cod.edu/"><em>College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn</em></a><em>, and is the author of </em><a target="_blank" href="http://www.beacon.org/productdetails.cfm?PC=2198"><em>Cabin Fever</em></a><em>, a nature memoir forthcoming from </em><a target="_blank" href="http://www.beacon.org/"><em>Beacon Press</em></a><em>. </em></p><p><em>Music Button: Leo Kottke, &quot;Accordian Bells&quot;, from the CD One Guitar No Vocals, (RCA Victor) </em></p></p> Tue, 08 Feb 2011 15:27:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/2011-02-08/serenity-walk-snow-81976