Ken Smith

Michiana Chronicler

Ken Smith writes about algebra, bikes, con artists, donuts, exercise, failure to exercise, grandparents, harmonica, introverts, jury duty, kings of long ago, Lipitor, meteors, night fishing, Olympic athletes, peace and quiet, rattlesnakes, silly sex education, Twitter, unpaid debts to our fellow human beings, the velocity of an unladen swallow, World War II, extroverts, Young People of Today, and the South Bend Zoo.

Ways to Connect

The two of us were at the Multiplex, seated in Theater 11, row G, halfway up the dark bank of padded chairs, swaddled by surround-sound, digging into our snuck-in Toffifay, and preparing to see a comedy about two studious nerds who, having declined on principle the debauchery of the American movie version of high school, finally notice that good behavior has gotten them exactly nothing, eg., Harvard or Yale, that the debauched high school kids around them didn’t also get.

Ken Smith

I came across a small, inspiring story this week, and then another, and another. I did not expect this. In our troubled times, with the climate rattling us up and down like a roller coaster we can’t get off, and politics pelting us like bad weather, I don’t often catch the aroma of fresh-baked inspiration. When I do, I slow down to take a look. First I noticed a page-long chapter in a memoir* by James Rebanks, a quiet episode where at the age of 17 he decided not to buy the car he’d been saving for. Interesting!

Ken Smith

I confess, I was seated at my mother’s dining room table not far from a big tin of Christmas cookies. There were tell-tale shortbread crumbs near me on the purple tablecloth, and a bottomless cup of coffee. From the living room TV came the muffled thunder of volume-turned-low Ghosts of Christmas Past, then Present, then Future, each one Hollywood made wilder that the last, but I ignored them. Much more interesting spirits were spread around us on the table. Not the cookies. We were sorting through a big box of family photos.

(Don't) Stay In Your Lane

Nov 16, 2018

Used to be you’d hear about news first by turning on the news. But this week’s “Stay in your Lane” episode unfolded on Twitter a day before it jumped to traditional magazine and radio journalism. However, none of it involved the ordinary way we use those four emphatic words.

Something Happening Here

Aug 10, 2018
Toledo Blade

A friend was traveling on a crowded train in England, in the midst of their endlessly divisive Brexit political turmoil just before this summer’s drought struck that country. She had to stand in the aisle with no view really of the passing green valleys and hills, so she pulled a paperback out of her bag, hoping to read. A woman seated nearby spotted the title: How Democracies Die. My friend noticed an acknowledgment in the other traveller’s face, the tired way eyebrows furl and the measured, involuntary intake of breath that together signify recognition and weariness, fear and grief.

Mending Window

Jun 22, 2018

My friend is rehabbing a two-story brick house in the big city, renewing that sturdy old beast and contributing something of his own to an urban neighborhood that is making its comeback. I stop by once in a while to check out the progress. Cooler than cool but almost invisible are the twenty new solar panels up on the flat roof, with their web app that graphs how much electricity each panel generates on sunny as well as shady days.

At the Climbing Wall

Apr 27, 2018
At the climbing wall.
Courtesy of the author.

Driving south in the early spring is an excellent kind of time travel. In Michiana last weekend the magnolia buds were just thinking about opening and the tulips weren’t even close. But down in Bloomington on Saturday bulbs rioted on the street corners, the spring-flowering trees reached out gaudily on almost every block, and the grass needed cutting. Walkers and saunterers were out, uh, walking and sauntering, stylish patrons stood in lines in front of restaurants for the open-air seating, and I put on a baseball cap so I didn’t get a sunburn up there. 

Ken Smith

In the long echoing hallway between the O’Hare parking ramp and the airport terminal, a busking violinist’s sweet melody amplified my hopeful mood, so I dropped a little bigger bill than usual into his instrument case, for the karma. Upstairs, our guest writer and I shook hands, two strangers squarely on a first-name basis, James and Ken. It slowly dawned on me that the two of us were launching into an old-fashioned American road trip, just like in the movies. Only we didn’t rob any banks.

 

We Built This

Jan 19, 2018
James Rebanks

Long ago, when we’d drive around town, my grandfather would sometimes point to a particular highway bridge and say, “I built that.” And he wasn’t kidding. He and his crew of carpenters built the wooden forms that molded the poured concrete into sturdy bridge pillars. When I drive over that bridge today, I think of his proud words, “I built that.”

Ninety-nine days out of a hundred I’m too busy to notice, but if I tune out the modern static and take a long walk through town, I catch glimpses of our history and I hear voices. I start thinking that our past is just barely past.

On the way

Sep 22, 2017

We’ve got a nature-oriented guest coming to town who I suspect has never seen a bald eagle. I’m pretty sure he’d really enjoy the sight, so I’m on a quest to learn how to see this beautiful white-headed, wide-winged bird in the wild right here in northern Indiana, or at least to increase our chances.

It’s curious, isn’t it, to remember a moment of silence in a college classroom nearly forty years later? To recall what took place during that silence, something of the words that were spoken next, and the young man who spoke them. He was an international student studying for a bachelor’s degree here in the Midwest, and he remains a ghostly presence in my mind. When his homeland is in the news, as it has been in many sad, even brutal circumstances over the years, I remember him.

Ken Smith

It was likely the harshest six-word movie review I will ever hear, and it came from the slender, grandfatherly gentleman who walked out of the theater ahead of me. Behind us in the dim cavern the credits were still scrolling up the front wall, but here in the westward-facing lobby the evening sun glared in our faces. His white-haired friend pushed through the doors into the summery air, saying, “That was pretty good,” but I heard a question in her voice. As he followed her out I caught his matter-of-fact, but crushing six-word reply. “She took too long to die.”

It’s curious, isn’t it, to remember a moment of silence in a college classroom nearly forty years later? To recall what took place during that silence, something of the words that were spoken next, and the young man who spoke them. He was an international student studying for a bachelor’s degree here in the Midwest, and he remains a ghostly presence in my mind. When his homeland is in the news, as it has been in many sad, even brutal circumstances over the years, I remember him.

Why Poets Rhyme

Feb 17, 2017
Ken Smith

My hobby last year was writing little six-line poems. That was a surprise. Even more surprising was that I wrote ninety of them. They each have a rhyming pattern modeled after a very moving poem by W. H. Auden called “Epitaph on a Tyrant.” Auden wrote it in the 1930s about Hitler and Stalin and Mussolini. He was trying to figure out how a tyrant’s brain works. His poem goes like this: Epitaph on a Tyrant. Perfection of a kind was what he was after, and the poetry he invented was easy to understand.

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