Douglas Hesse

Mountains, classrooms, and concert halls

Postcards in the Age of A.I.

I’ve uploaded the full text and images of a lecture on artificial intelligence and writing that I gave at Georgia Tech, October 5, 2022. I was going to wait until I published full final version, as part of a book in progress, but given the current fervor, I thought I’d post now. (Thanks to Melissa Ianetta, Kelly Ritter, and colleagues for the speaking invitation). “Postcards in the Age of AI: Writing as Burden, Writing as Craft” will take you to a PDF that will take some time to load and will benefit from a large viewing screen; it has has lots of images. It was a talk. It is not polished. The lecture takes a somewhat different slant on the topic, exploring the question not of “how good is AI writing” but rather of why people want AIs to write. I explain (and I hope rather more illustrate) that writing is often a deeply human activity that people want to engage for reasons of building relationships and writing themselves into the world. They want to write even when it’s hard, in fact maybe especially when it’s hard. AI cannot–and should not–replace that kind of meaningful, self-engaged, writing. The lecture also touches on Artificial Reading, Sandy Koufax, and building mandolins by hand.

Note: I started casually following artificial intelligence and writing in 2005, then again around 2012, and most recently since 2017. It’s been interesting to watch higher education and much of writing studies finally, in fall 2022, pay more attention to what entrepreneurs and the popular press, most notably The New Yorker, started covering years ago.

“Postcards in the Age of AI: Writing as Burden, Writing as Craft.” (Note: this link takes you to a PDF that will take awhile to load and will benefit from a large viewing screen; it has lots of images.)

Founding the National Day on Writing

Doug Hesse

Larry Schiller, Toni Morrison, Doug Hesse, Bonnie Sunstein, Susan Reece; 10/20/2009 NYC

I was a member of the committee that formed NCTE’s National Day on Writing. Following is part of my forthcoming chapter, “Creative Nonfiction Accents the National Day on Writing,” which will appear in a book I co-edited with Laura Julier, Nonfiction, the Teaching of Writing, and the Influence of Richard Lloyd-Jones.

[Excerpt follows. Please don’t reproduce without permission.]

The National Day on Writing was born in an 800-word proposal that Kent Williamson brought to the NCTE Executive Committee in August 2008, as Agenda Item 22 of its summer meeting. Kent explained having been contacted by a staff member from the National Association of Secondary School Principals, who wondered if there was such a thing as a national writing day. The answer was no, but the idea generated interest among some NCTE leaders and staff, enough that Kent roughed out a few thoughts. President Kathi Yancey put it on the agenda for formal consideration, and the Executive Committee approved the concept and asked for preliminary planning. 

With an initial desire to have a national day devoted to writing occurring as early as late January 2009, time was rather of the essence. Kathi and Kent put together a committee consisting of Sharon Floyd, Jennifer Ochoa, Kathi, Kent, and me, with NCTE staff including Barbara Cambridge, Millie Davis, Mark Rowe, Sharon Roth, and Mila Fuller. Charged to bring a recommendation to the Executive Committee by September 1, we had our first phone call on August 19, which I took from a Denver kitchen in shambles from remodeling. The group brimmed with ideas that quickly organized around two poles. One cluster was the day itself, which would feature having people write, of course, but also other activities: advocacy, celebrations, and the like. The other cluster concerned possible activities leading up to the day itself. 

In his early proposal, Kent speculated that, “the Council could reach out through its membership to invite not just teachers/educators, but all whom they touch (including students, parents, and other community members) to post their writing through the NCTE website to a national log or archive.” He mused, further, that we might “mine the [resulting] database of collected writings to draw instructive lessons for policymakers during the 2010 Advocacy Month, and may well use the project as the rallying point for our first policy symposium or press conference in DC . . . cultivating grassroots support for future legislation or public initiatives that NCTE may choose to sponsor on 21st century literacies or writing” (Williamson, National Writing Day). Our committee embraced this general idea. One line of conversation focused on whether to have a theme for all this writing or simply make an open call. The other line focused on logistics and frameworks. I suggested that, rather than an archive or database of writings, we might use the language of a National Gallery of Writing, replete with halls, wings, and salons. Maybe we could have different people open and curate different parts of the gallery, their main job being to encourage submissions and provide some minimal screening. 

Email for Jo Anna Wisniewski on behalf of Kathi Yancey and Kent Williamson, 8/15/2008

We ended that first meeting by agreeing each to do quick writing, which Kent gathered and circulated before a second meeting (Williamson. “Agenda”). During that second conversation, we settled on recommendations to the Executive Committee that included creating a National Gallery of Writing. We also, not trivially, settled on The National Day on Writing—not “of.” The chosen phrase struck many as clunky, but our reasoning is that we didn’t want to imply people should write that day alone; in fact, one emerging interest was in bringing to the national consciousness how thoroughly writing pervaded all daily life, every day. The preposition “on” was to signify that this day would call attention to writing, that writing would be its feature and focus. People very well might write that day, but we wanted people on that day to think about writing. Years later, I’m not sure our subtlety was worth the effort. 

By the time Kathi Yancey delivered her president’s remarks at the November NCTE convention, much of the framework was established, as was the day’s purpose. Kathi explained:

This project affirms individual writers at the same time that it creates a major resource showcasing writing at the beginning of the 21st century. . . . [It] places the knowledge of NCTE members at the heart of a very dynamic, large-scale enterprise. Second, it allows us to serve a much wider public while also gaining recognition as a community that has much of value to offer society (and needs to be supported!). And finally, it has the potential to “de-mystify” writing for those who don’t think of themselves as writers while subtly making the point that writing is a skill that no segment of society can do without. (NCTE, “Minutes” 6)

With the help of Verizon and other partners, NCTE created,[1] an ambitious portal for gathering and displaying writing, and began building the national infrastructure to gather submissions. A brochure published in spring 2009 explained “three types of display spaces.” One was The Gallery of the National Council of Teachers of English, “a broad mosaic of writing” hosted by the Council. A second was The Gallery of National Partners, several spots hosted by the many corporate and educational partners who joined the enterprise, from Verizon to the National Writing Project. Third, and most capaciously, was The Gallery of Local Partners. Any group could apply for a salon in this last gallery, the brochure inviting families, classes, schools, churches, clubs, workplaces, cities or whatever. For example, I formed a Colorado Gallery of Writing, which I explained in an op-ed for The Denver Post, published October 17, 2009, inviting all Coloradans to send their writing. As you can see, NCTE’s impetus was radical openness and inclusivity. In fact, a key point of the National Day on Writing was to make visible and celebrate writing in all facets of life, from the grand to the mundane. We wanted everyone to recognize themselves as writers. Kent asked me to write a few invitational words for the launch brochure and the website, and I embraced the vision and, a little pretentiously, the voice of Walt Whitman. 

Let’s imagine America writing. 

Let’s imagine essayists and auditors, poets and nurses, tweeters and technicians, blogging beauticians, church bulletin scribes, advocates and analysts, authoring. 

Let’s imagine memoirs and memos, rants and remembrances, oral histories, letters to the future, postcards from the past, profiles profane and sacred, instructions, directions, reflections, retorts, factual and fancied. 

Let’s imagine a living American gallery of writing checked with salons, fitted by school or site, by genre or by identity, but most importantly by you, salons in which a homeless man’s story hangs next to the finance major’s wedding vows. 

Let’s imagine school kids linked to college students, teachers to professors, and all to city halls, shelters, board rooms, all linked by writing. 

Let’s gather writers who’d never thought themselves that: mothers, bus drivers, fathers, and veterans. Let’s have sharings, coffees, contests silly and celebratory, so that the national gallery of writing has myriad outposts, local and physical. Let’s open our writing centers to our communities. 

Let’s imagine October 20 and all this embodied in a National Day on Writing, a day when we cut the digital rope on our Gallery, when the Norman Mailer Writers Colony gives creative nonfiction awards to high school and college writers in a gala ceremony sponsored by famed New York writers, students whose work has been supported and selected by NCTE members. Actually, that day is planned. What’s needed to make it happen is you. Please help. 

—Doug Hesse, National Council of Teachers of English member, former chair of the Conference on College Composition and Communication, and director of Denver University’s University Writing Program

After a complex series of emails, October 20 emerged as the celebratory day itself, with a strong factor being the Mailer/NCTE Writing Awards, the logistics of that star-studded day creating a very narrow window. While the day had been set by early spring 2009, it received extra imprimatur October 8 in U.S. Senate Resolution 310, sponsored by Robert Casey (D-PA), which declared October 20, 2010 as the National Day on Writing and called on “educational institutions, businesses, community and civic associations, and other organizations to promote awareness of the National Day on Writing and celebrate the writing of their members through individual submissions to the National Gallery of Writing.” Barbara Cambridge, in NCTE’s Washington office, was fundamental to this effort. Several of us around the country garnered similar resolutions. My colleague Geoffrey Bateman persuaded Governor Bill Ritter to establish October 20 the National Day of Writing in Colorado, his staffer drafting the proclamation making known their preposition preference.

The day itself was a whirlwind. NCTE had set up the day’s activities in studio space at the New York Institute of Technology, at Columbus Circle in New York City. At 4:00 that afternoon, Kathi Yancey and I were live, doing a webcast on college writing. With naive faith in America’s airlines, I flew into LaGuardia earlier that afternoon and barely had time to check into a hotel on 57th Street to walk over to NYIT. Kathi and I talked about current developments in college writing. Prior to our hour-long session, numerous NCTE luminaries were live, including Cathy Fleischer and Linda Adler-Kassner, Lucy Calkins, Carol Jago, Ernest Morrell, Marilyn Valentino, and Bonnie Sunstein, who share a video, “What is a Writer.” Interspersed throughout the day, which ran ET 9:00 AM to 8:00 PM, hosts shared postings from the National Gallery of Writing.

But a few outsiders spoke, too. The featured presenter at 11:00 AM was listed as “Presidential candidate Obama on the important of writing (10 minutes) [sic]” (Williamson, “just to give you”). After the broadcast, I went back to my hotel, changed into a tux, and walked a mile south to Cipriani, on 42ndStreet, location of the Mailer Gala. Cipriani was an impressive space with marble columns, inlaid floors, lofty arches, and dramatic lighting, designed for the kind of ostentatious impression befitting the building’s origins as the Bowery Savings Bank and well repurposed for lending grandeur to events. I was barely in the door when the evening’s architect, Larry Schiller, introduced Bonnie Sunstein, Susan Reece, and me to William Kennedy and Toni Morrison. Morrison told us she’d once been an NCTE member.”

[1] This website no longer exists. All the writing gathered in the gallery seems lost. 

Once More to the Base

Pattern of life indelible. —E.B. White

I’m sitting on the patio in my son’s backyard, on an oddly cloudy cool June Saturday in Downers Grove, Illinois. I’ve just helped Andrew get ready for grandson Ollie’s sixth birthday, putting ice in coolers, spreading cloths on tables, placing an extra tank of propane, just in case. Party favors of sunglasses, bubbles, and small toy cars stand next to cupcakes and hot dog buns and Dixie cups of blueberries The driveway is strewn with trikes and scooters and foot-push conveyances. The yard beneath the elm offers two soccer goals and a slackline taut between mulberry trees, American Ninja Warrior obstacles overhead—and of course the standard slide and swings and monkey bars.

“The Chicago Cubs are on the air.”

In my childhood, Vince Lloyd and Lou Boudreau opened every WGN radio broadcast with that declaration. Starting the summer I turned ten, when I used to run my Dad’s bait shop, the Cubs’ first pitch at 1:10 pm (in those day-game-only days) relieved the boredom. The Cubs were the soundtrack of summer, a pattern repeated through Andrew’s childhood. Painting the William Drive house? (One side every year, in a four-year endless cycle owing to the paint-defying properties (neither latex nor oil) of cheap siding.) Cubs. Weeding? Sealing the driveway? Washing the car? Cubs.

Of course, twenty plus years ago, Boudreau and Lloyd were long dead, so it was Pat and Ron, Hughes serving wry humor to Santo’s hearty enthusiasm as an unabashed homer. As Andrew and I sit on that patio, beers in hand, the broadcast wafting from a garage speaker, there’s the voice of Pat Hughes still, even calling to his partner Ron. For a moment, history flickers, but Ron isn’t the reincarnated Santo, instead some guy named Coomer. I know none of the Cubs players and have to rely on quick appraisals from Andrew. Still, there is instant, easy familiarity in the sounds from Wrigley Field, just a couple dozen miles east toward the lake. There, I’d seen my first major league game with Dad and Uncle Jan, a double header against the Dodgers, when the infield was Banks, Beckert, Kessinger, Santo, and Hundley, when Billy Williams played outfield and hit a ball onto Sheffield.

Time passes, folding onto itself. Andrew is my age sitting next to some old guy lost in nostalgia. There comes the tradition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” at the seventh inning stretch, continued by a succession of guest singers after Harry Carey’s death, from Bill Murray to Ozzy Osborn, in a famous Roseann-Barr- national-anthem grade performance. Carey died 25 years ago. When your guest singer is the University of Oklahoma basketball coach, maybe you need to retire the ploy.


Birthday guests started coming around 4, except for a surprise early family playing with a more fluid clock. Soon the yard was filled, four dozen people, an energetic swarm of kids two-years-old to ten, plus their parents, both Ollie’s friends and Isaac’s. Andrew grilled burgers and hotdogs, and I sat to the side with the other grandparents, thinking of my Mom and Dad a quarter-century older than everyone each time they attended a party, performance, or ceremony for one of my kids, rarely missing anything even with a three-hour drive. I’d become them.  I felt the need at one point to circulate, so I wandered the yard (did I fancy myself host?) and struck up conversations, learning about, for example, life as a real estate photographer. (It was interesting to hear how every professional photographer suddenly in the pandemic fancied themselves in real estate once the weddings, events, and portraits dried up—to the insult and financial detriment of longstanding pros in that field.) I learned about the state of pub trivia in Chicago’s west suburbs and even chatted about the films of Stanley Kubrick.  

But at some point, something switched. I realized that, duh, Andrew and Molly were among friends bonded through children, church, school, and neighborhood, people to whom I was an outsider, an apparitional elder. At most, I’d cross paths with some few in the unpromised future. A Christmas concert. A graduation. I figured out my role was simply to be there and that I’d moved imperceptibly into the previous generation, a representative of the past, come to give context. I could do that, just as my parents had done, as my Grandma and Grandpa Gribbon had done and my Grandpa and Grandpa Krukow. Grandpa Krukow spent the end of his life, an amputee blind from diabetes, in Ida Mae’s nursing home in Calamus. He was a White Sox fan, and I remember visiting him with Mom at night, listening to the Sox on a transistor radio in a darkening room. “Now pitching, knuckleballer Hoyt Wilhelm.”

The yard was pure kinesis, kids chasing one another, inventing contests on the fly. There were boasting and climbing, shouts and feats of derring-do, games of chicken with next-generation Big Wheel-like machines. There were trips and falls, including some that took kids a few seconds to figure out if there was an advantage to crying. Only one band-aid needed deployment, for a mashed finger a little girl first tried to hide. A boy sobbed a half hour, clinging to his mother, face buried in her blouse. Ollie, the soul of empathy watched with silent worry.  I figured the worst, perhaps sudden shunning by friends who’d evolved a new Lord of the Flies class system. But no. It was revealed his mother had told him to eat some blueberries before having a cupcake, and this was simply punitive and humiliating. Despair beyond hope. 

 I walked past a group of Isaac’s friends sitting around a cold firepit behind the garage. One said, “Let’s do the dark magic,” and I looked to see that they all had slim foot-long sticks—wands, I imagine. Later they were all digging industriously with bigger sticks and sharp rocks. Maybe they’d found worms? Pretty soon Isaac went into the garage and came out with a trowel, followed by another kid carrying a garden claw. Things were getting serious.  I retreated to the grandparents’ zone and my now-warm beer.

Ollie’s teacher arrived with a toy Tesla, his favorite. He didn’t know what to make of a teacher out of context, this collision of worlds. Would he hug Ms. Lynette? Uncertain. Another of Ollie’s classmates, a girl with cerebral palsy or something similar, was sitting in large stroller, and when she saw Ms. Lynette, her big grin could have lit Wrigley’s left field. At one point, the two big dogs, Chad and Chloe, burst from the basement, a new element of chaos. No hot dog was safe. 


Then everyone was gone but for family and grandparents. We gathered the sparse uneaten food and unclaimed favors, bagged the trash, and carried presents into the living room for opening. This was only the second time I’d been with Isaac and Oliver in two pandemic years, a quarter and a third of their lives respectively, and in the relative quiet, I watched the easy familiarity with which Joy and Dawn interacted with them. They’d been regular parts of the kids’ lives in ways I’d not, owing to a thousand miles and my own choices. I felt more longing than jealousy, more regret than longing.

Andrew had kept the radio playing the summer soundtrack. I had lost the station.

Toward the end of the evening, Molly’s sister Flynn facetimed. She’s an avid Cubs fan, too, and she chatted about the earlier victory, noting that it was just the first game of a doubleheader. The Cubs were leading in the second. For a moment I imagined we’d turn on the radio, just in the background, just loud enough to confuse time.  It would be my son’s birthday, and we’d have been to Ash Park pool, and we’d hear Ryne Sandberg hit a double and Harry Carey sing, and there’d be another game tomorrow, and the day after that, an inexorable schedule of possibility, unbroken from present to future to past, this year’s 162 joining last year’s and the years’ before, Sandberg to Beckert, backyard to bait shop, nothing urgent, always a game tomorrow.

But I was boarding a plane to Denver at seven the next morning, and no number of extra innings would change that or the choices I’d made so many years ago.

Mentor and Models, Paul and Dedra

An Iowa City Backyard, 40 Years Ago

On Monday, in Delaware, I received an email from Wilson Diehl that her father, Paul, had died, and I immediately regretted having lost track of him and Dedra over the years.  Paul directed my master thesis in nonfiction at Iowa, but beyond that he modeled how a professor might live a life, for a student who was a slow learner.

Paul and Dedra lived on Brookland Park Drive in Iowa City, tucked over south of the hospitals and the fieldhouse, on a short, quiet street cantilevered with tall trees.  Theirs was the second professor’s home to which I’d ever been invited, the first being Dee Morris’s, who hosted my small undergraduate class in her apartment, where I met her very young daughter. Ellen, I think.

Coming to a professor’s home meant a lot to a first-generation, working-class college kid who was intimidated by all professors—including Paul. I’d met him in one of my first graduate classes in 1978, a class focusing on style and writing and including Elgin and Grinder’s Transformational Grammar. In summer 1979 he hired me to score student essays for a research grant. Thousands of Texas high school students had written arguments in response to a scenario about whether to build a recreation center. Near the end of the summer, I crawled with Charles Cooper on Paul and Dedra’s living room floor, inch-deep in piled paper. We were analyzing T-Units. That will mean something to maybe 200 people in America these days.

But none of that is the point.  Paul had had childhood polio (at least as I remember now), and he walked with a slanted amble that made certain tasks impossible. One was installing window air conditioners, and he asked one summer if I might come over to carry units from the basement to an upstairs bedroom and to a downstairs window.   So started a twice-yearly ritual of putting in/taking out.  I’d ride my bike across town from Riverside drive, across from Mabie Theatre, propping it against a tree in their front yard. It was an orange Centurion, and later I learned that Wilson (at that time six or seven and going by Amy) associated that bike’s presence with mine. 

The air conditioner operations took but five minutes, but they garnered lemonade and cookies and, best of all, conversation, welcome and reassuring time within a family like one I imagined perhaps someday to have. I deeply appreciated Paul and Dedra’s gracious, down to earth hospitality, kindness, and southern ease. Astonishment: professors could have children! And those children could be cutely precocious in all the best ways! Amy and Ethan. But Ethan is dead now, too, just recently of an infection, something Wilson let me know in Monday’s message.  

After I taught three years in Ohio, I came back to Iowa City for my PhD. Dawn and I rekindled a friendship with Paul and Dedra. Monica was two and Wilson was older, and she occasionally babysat short stints.  Years later, during my first years at Illinois State, Wilson stayed with us a few days in Bloomington; we met the Diehls in Galesburg for a kid transfer, and they came to our house on Towanda eventually to pick her up.  But I was too stupidly busy (or so I so stupidly thought) to keep up an obvious friendship, one of the lessons I’d failed to learn from such good teachers.  Twenty years after that, I met Amy again, now Wilson, in a hotel suite in Washington DC, where I was interviewed teaching candidates for the new writing program I was starting at Denver. Dense me hadn’t figured out the name until she walked into that room and introduced herself. That 30-minute interview was overladen with so much that couldn’t be put into such a circumstance. Some years after that, I read one of her essays in the New York Time’s Modern Love column.

From those idyllic visits to Brookland Park Drive so long ago, one stands clearest. In my Denver kitchen are two recipe cards in Dedra’s handwriting, one for flank steak teriyaki, the other for a zucchini/cheese casserole.  These are from a summer evening in their backyard, when Paul dad grilled steaks and Dedra served Pim’s Cups along with the casserole. Kids played in the grass. So much seemed easy, so much seemed possible that night under the trees. So much was, but I wasn’t paying attention. At evening’s end, we asked for recipes and Dedra wrote them on cards I’ve now carried forty years. I have those tokens of the past, and I have the distant memories, and for the latter I’m grateful. But why aren’t there more memories, and why did I misplace so much time from family and friendships to ephemeral professional pursuit? I had a mentor and model for both. I learned half his lessons, right away. Others took longer.

On Carl

Hanging above my office desk

I’m standing in front of a vending machine on the third floor of the English Philosophy Building at the University of Iowa, in November 1975. I’m a sophomore, in my first semester as an English major. Standing beside me is my very first writing professor, a man who inspires and intimidates me, the two perhaps comingled, bushy eye-browed, wearing a heavy cotton blue and white striped shirt, sleeves three-quarters rolled.  “He’ll judge what I buy,” I think, and the judgment matters somehow. So I buy a box of raisins, strange choice for me, and offer him some, shaking into his palm. He makes a small-talk comment, and I feel as though I’d received Isaac’s blessing. It is a momentously silly thing.

Carl Klaus was my first writing teacher and, with Susan Lohafer, one of the two best. The first course I took as an English major, having given up chemistry when I figured someone making B’s in a subject matter ought to understand what he was doing, was Carl’s 8W:10 Expository Writing, and the texts were Walker Gibson’s Persona and Scholes and Klaus’s Elements of Writing, a slender book on style and effect that included grand 16th and 17th century periodic sentences by writers like Hooker, Brown, and the like. We spent the whole first class talking about a single sentence and doing things to it, adding, subtracting, substituting, rearranging: “Revision, in its root sense, means to see again.”

Our first homework assignment was to produce four revisions of that sentence, and then write an extended commentary on the effects of each version and how it achieved them. I copied my final version in my best penmanship in blue ink on lined paper, and a week later, Carl returned a half page of typewritten comments about my comments, reading me as closely, it seemed, as we’d read that sentence.

In that first exchange, I grasped that there was something inexhaustible about writing and about language, something important and holy. I found what I wanted to do with my career.

I took more classes with him as an undergraduate and as a student in the nonfiction MA program. Among them was his magisterial “The Art of the Essay,” conceived and taught in the 1970s, long before creative nonfiction became fashionable in MFA programs. Addison and Steele, Charles Lamb, Virginia Woolf, George Orwell, E.B. White, James Baldwin, Joan Didion. When Philip Lopate’s anthology came out in the 1990s, I irrationally begrudged it. Klaus and his Iowa colleagues had lived there long before latecomers re-staked the land.

That element of Carl’s intimidation never disappeared, and I was perpetually awkward around him, desperately wanting to please but figuring myself not quite worthy. When I came back to Iowa for the PhD in the mid 1980’s, I wrote a dissertation about narrative strategies in essays, 18th century to the present, The Story in the Essay. Carl would have been the obvious person to direct it, but I knew he’d expect so very much—reasonably so but more than I could then give with a wife, a four-year-old and a one-year-old living in a cement block apartment. So I asked Susan instead, with Carl on the committee.  Susan was terrific, of course, but I think over the years how I might have come differently through Carl’s refining fire.

It’s been nearly a dozen years since I was physically with Carl, though I’ve been many times with his five books published since then, with his emails, and with his spirit. In November 2010, he was reading from The Made Up Self at Prairie Lights in Iowa City. They’d printed seventy five broadsides for the occasion, a very short essay, five paragraphs (nothing was by chance with Carl), “Childhood Selves: A Personal Essay.” I purchased #28, and it has hung above my desk since then. It’s a sober essay, intensely personal and yet oddly removed, talking about his having become an orphan at age six. At one point he realizes that “seemingly out of nowhere I developed a deep and long-standing conviction that there was something so special about me that I would never die,” only later to come to the more profound realization that “death might, after all, be something devoutly to be wished for. A distinguished visitor to be welcomed and embraced with a proper sense of warmth and ceremony—relatives, friends, and neighbors bringing exquisite dishes to commemorate the occasion, as they did, I’m told, when my parents died so many years ago.” He thus ends with long, eloquent sentence fragment, an afterthought, it seems, but with the profoundest punch. Completely finished.

Carl died February 1, 2022. Many of us really thought he’d never die, could never die: He was too important to our formations and identities as writers and writing teachers, to our lives. He has burned in the hallways and backrooms of my own prose nearly fifty years. You will forgive me if his death seems less like a distinguished visitor than like a rude thief taking an exquisite life.

Carl Klaus, Doug Hesse, Laura Julier, Ned Stuckey-French.
Iowa City, November 2010.

Denotations of Bread Terminations: An Empirical Study

Douglas Hesse
The University of Betty Crocker
Principle Investigator


An opportunity survey of 73-75 respondents (the author lost count) revealed that most folks grew up calling the end of a loaf of bread “the heel,” although there were variations. This disappointing finding, no doubt indicating lax upbringings and/or the influences of Mayonnaise v. Miracle Whip, may derive from geographical or other factors. Or it may not. The author was too lazy to press the issue.


Are you kidding?

Conflicts of Interest

The author believes “crust” is the more honorable name; however, he swears he was impartial.


In 1976, the author, having grown up in DeWitt, Iowa, and then a student at the University of Iowa, moved into an apartment with Dennis P. Mott, William H. Davis, and Kaj A. Jensen. There he heard Mott (Paulina, Iowa) refer to the end of a loaf of bread as “the heel,” which shook his reality, as the author had understood it always as “crust.” Around 2 pm on 1/15/22, the author took a loaf of wheat bread out of the office and suddenly was struck by memory of that fateful day.  Wondering just how anomalous his childhood was, the author set out to survey whomever was wasting time on Facebook on a Saturday afternoon.

Review of Literature

Yeah, right. Look up some stuff about the fight over “soda” v. “pop” and get back to me with what you found. Get a life.


The author posted a single question on Facebook, around 2:30 PM MT: “Research: What did you call the end piece of a bread loaf when you were growing up?” He chose the delightful aspen tree background. Then the author went hiking around Genessee Mountain.  When he came back, he was astonished to find a total of 101 comments, with 73 responses and a little cajoling. He counted the number in each category and, had he not been lazy, he’d have figured percentages and other stuff.  But he was and he didn’t.


What do you call the end piece?

The heel                      48

The crust                     8

Heel or crust      4

It Depends                  3

The end                        5

The butt                      4

The Stump                  1

The Toot                       1

Janice                           1

Some respondents were either shiftless or bilingual (as with Sandy H. (English and Minnesotan)), referring to the piece interchangeably as “heel” or “crust.” No wonder people storm the Capitol.  Other respondents (see Dennis B.) had conditional names dependent on whether the bread came for a bakery or a home oven or it was store-bought, aka, Wonder Bread, aka, “you can smoosh a piece into the size of a raisin. “


The author and about 80 separate respondents have way too much time on their hands.


King Arthur Flour. Dremel. William Wordsworth.

Pressed Life

Card sent me by Patti Stock, made by her mother.

A month ago I bought several old books from the American Alpine Club, which has its offices and library in Golden, Colorado, in a fine building that used to be Golden High School. Pre-pandemic, I spent a fair amount of time there, ostensibly taking notes (used in a couple of pieces I published) but just as often looking at mountaineering books and magazines from decades past. The AAC has duplicates of some publications and occasionally sells them to make space or raise funds. My recent purchase, for example, included a 1922 mint condition issue of Trail and Timberline, the Colorado Mountain Club’s longstanding periodical; this particular issue was devoted to the death of famous climber Agnes Vaille on Longs Peak, during a winter ascent.

But what really caught my attention and credit card was an offhand volume, Challenge: An Anthology of the Literature of Mountaineering, edited by William Robert Irwin (Columbia UP, 1950). Written on the page facing the front cover were several inscriptions, including “Happy birthday, Papa, June 1949 ~ Klaus” and a note that the book had been on the shelves of the Timmerhaus Ski Lodge in Winter Park, CO. Curious, I looked up to find that the (now Americanized) Timber House Lodge still operates, with its most usual description being “unpretentious,” just a notch above the fear-inducing “rustic” or the more ambiguous “quaint.” Paul Timmerhaus owned this namesake lodge, and Klaus, his son, was a noted Professor of Chemical Engineering at the University of Colorado. In 1949, he’d have been working on his degrees at The University of Illinois. This was all interesting stuff, and as someone who rarely minds chasing textual threads (or procrastinating), I enjoyed sleuthing.

Then I noticed something more remarkable.

Inside the front cover was a small address label, the kind I get every other week from Defenders of Wildlife or the Audubon Society or St. Jude or Unicef as a teaser to donate. The names: “David & Gudrun Gaskill.” I recognized I was holding an even more interesting piece of Colorado History. Gudy Gaskill, whom the Denver Post memorialized as “a force of nature,” is revered as the driving energy in forming the 567-mile Colorado Trail. I’ve been at the bridge and Trailhead dedicated to her, on the Middle Fork of the South Platte River, between Foxton and Deckers. It turns out that Gudy was Klaus’s sister. I speculate she got the book from her father at some point, then donated it to the American Alpine Club at some other point. I was holding a book she’d owned. Very cool.

Then I noticed something even more remarkable–something to the theme (finally) of this essay. Flipping through the book, I found dried flowers pressed between pages 394-395. They were ghostly white, with faint tinges of green and blue, though maybe my imagination and desire have projected color where there was none. A far more skilled naturalist than I am could probably identify the flowers–along with other ones pressed between pages 24-25, 120-121, and 152-153, all the same species.

Who had placed them? I’d like to imagine Gudy Gaskill hiking a high Colorado meadow in the Lost Creek wilderness, picking striking flowers, moving them from her pack to the heavy pages of Challenger. Maybe, she’d had dozens of flowers, and over time the best had been replucked and repurposed for letters or shadowboxes. These were but remnants. Or perhaps Gaskill had idly thumbed the book over the years, each encounter with withered blooms reminding her of that high mountain day.

Of course, it’s just as likely a summer guest at Timmerhaus had picked the flowers along Cooper Creek in Winter Park and pressed them, with great intention, into the heaviest book he found in the lodge library. But in the hustle to make the train back to Denver, he’d forgotten. Perhaps knew, even at the picking and the pressing, that whatever floral essence might remain would mockingly fall short.

Or, just maybe, the thought all along was to leave wispy smiles to future readers: to the family from Omaha to Gudy Gaskill to me. Instead of millennia-dead people chasing around Keats’ Grecian urn, here were fragile traces of life–plant and picker/presser–long gone yet preserved.

About this time, I received a card from Ann Arbor, Michigan. I’d sent my longtime friend Patti Stock some postcards printed from my mountain photographs, and she was replying in creative kind. Actually, Patti had gone better, for her card, pictured in the first image atop this essay, was fronted by a pressed flower, still brown, still yellow, held against paper by some film and process I couldn’t figure, delicate and whimsically strong.

But it wasn’t just any flower, any card. Patti’s letter inside told how her mother had fashioned herself a flower press, now passed on to Patti. With the press were flowers her mother had saved, and with them these were still a few cards Mom had fashioned, years ago. Patti trusted one of those cards to me. I was delighted and honored, humbled and a little choked.

My father passed away three months ago, following my mother by a year, leaving my sisters (mostly) and I to go through countless boxes of ephemera: photographs, of course, but also diaries and documents and knick knacks and bric a brac from wooden duck decoys to a set of straight razors from a grandfather’s barbershop, Dad’s Dad killed on Christmas Eve when Dad was eight. There were letters and school programs and Mothers Day cards and birth announcements and old tickets and locks of first haircuts: a vast welter. Much of it was loose, occasionally clumped by rubber bands, occasionally thematically congregated. An impressive fraction was gathered into albums and scrapbooks, sometimes with captions, sometimes not. In my sister Joellyn’s living room, we paged through 90 years of two lives, a small portion put into order, on one hand colorful and vibrant, on the other fixed and faded. It was plucked and dried from Mom and Dad’s full lives, each photo or artifact a flower gleaned from vast meadows of experiences gone, gone, gone. Mom and Dad had preserved scattered flowers of decades. Now they’d come to the children.

One could call this foolishness. How vain to hope that this columbine or that cinquefoil, pressed into pages–into memory–could at all capture that bluebird day when white aspens stood against the quartz outcropping, when the Cooper’s hawk whimpled and the mountain drew your heart up a still-snowed couloir! How desperate to put pretty flowers in the flap of a backpack! To what end, really? Desperation? Common advice about pressing flowers is to choose ones with low moisture, even if they’re a little less colorful. In drying faster, they retain more of whatever color they have. Lusher flowers desiccate to brown. A sensible person, then, would go for the dull, knowing the futility of trying to keep the vibrant. A sensible person wouldn’t, in fact, put plants in books or presses.


The goal is never perfect rendering. Justice to life as lived is impossible, and that’s not the point. When I’m surprised by Gudy Gaskill’s flat alpine vestiges, when my breath catches at Patti Stock’s card with her mother’s embodied hand and heart, I’m moved not because they are perfect but because they exist at all, because a particular person at a particular moment decided this I’ll preserve, however hopelessly inadequate, imperfect, and ultimately dimmed. It is the care and the caring.

The evening my father died we were celebrating my youngest daughter’s wedding, a thousand miles away. We’d known from sisters back in town that he was down to final hours and I’d left a lengthy phone message that I’d like to imagine Dad heard when Joellyn played it. I learned near the end of the dance when he passed. Late that night I pressed my boutonniere between the pages of a notebook I’d brought with me, and three months later this morning I looked to see how they’d dried and what colors remained.

A Father’s Toast

Paige and Armand

September 24, 2021 | Audubon Sanctuary | Chevy Chase, Maryland

My heartfelt greetings to all here gathered.

In a more perfect world, I wouldn’t be giving this toast. That profound delight would fall to Paige’s father, Tim, whose love for her was clear and boundless.  Tim’s spirit is here today, and he rejoices.

When Paige came into my life through Becky—and into Monica and Andrew’s lives, too—she was was five or six, inquisitive and passionate. Her characteristic move was to come up forehead to forehead and look into my eyes. It was impish but also implied, “I’m committed. Are you?” I’ll demonstrate.

Paige was and always has been deeply empathetic and artistic.  I remember endless living room costume dramas.  They started in rehearsed scripts but morphed into improv. I’ll confess sometimes slipping out before curtain.

Paige is also fiercely independent and resilient. She moved alone, carless, to LA, taking the bus from Koreatown at three AM to one radio job, commuting to Pasadena and KPCC for another. There she met Ashly and, of course, Armand.

Our family’s first meeting with Armand is legendary. We were renting a house off Franklin Avenue over Thanksgiving.  Armand peddled up on his bike with a 20-pound turkey in his backpack and pots in his panniers.  It was a bold move.

Every Thanksgiving we’ve spent with him since then has featured Armand’s day-after gumbo, the divine mysteries and ministrations of the dark roux.  I’ve come to appreciate his interest in Soviet history and art. Who else owns a Nikita Kruschev nested doll?

Together, Paige and Armand have the capacity to find deep interest and care in everything, large or small, including each other. They’re a perfect match.

And so a toast.

To guests here gathered, California to Connecticut Avenue.

To fathers and loved ones absent but present.

To Becky, to Elizabeth, to Mo.

To families joined and joyous.

To arts and artistry.

To compassion and care.

To Armand, beloved son.

To Paige, beloved daughter!

Donald Glenn Hesse 1930-2021

Dad, 2020

Donald Glenn Hesse passed away quietly in the presence of family on September 24, 2021, at Maggie’s House in DeWitt. He was the loving, devoted husband of Coral Krukow Hesse, a caring father, a self-made businessman, an accomplished outdoorsman, and a wry storyteller.

Don was born in Donahue, Iowa, on September 5, 1930, to Gladys Gertrude (Holcomb) and John Willis Hesse. His father was killed in an accident on Christmas when Don was eight, leaving him a child of a single mother until many years later, when she married Bill Gribbon. During the Great Depression, he lived with families on farms across Clinton and Scott counties, doing chores and attending various schools, developing the kind of stoic resilience that became a hallmark of his life. He graduated from DeWitt High School.

Don served as a combat engineer on the front lines of the Korean War, running heavy equipment that helped establish beachheads, bridge rivers, and open mountain passes. Until his later years, he spoke of his military service with great reluctance. He had been the longest continuous living member of the DeWitt American Legion.

On September 14, 1955, a Wednesday night, he married Coral Ardis Krukow, the love of his life, at Grace Lutheran Church.  They were married 65 years until Coral passed away in October 2020. Don and Coral enjoyed going out to dinner, taking long drives, having picnics, participating in church activities, serving the Central Community Historical Society, and following Iowa sports.  They devoted vast energies to their children and grandchildren, faithfully attending any child’s event–large or small–within driving distance, phoning or writing if circumstances prevented..  They kept a trim Victorian house on 6th Avenue, where Don planted extensive flower beds of red Salvia. In later years they valued neighbors Jim and Sue Foote. 

After maintaining roads for Scott County, Don established Hesse Oil Company in the late 1950s, delivering fuels to farms, homes, and businesses, sponsoring a bowling team by that name. In the 1960s, he opened a small bait shop in DeWitt and worked night shifts at Caterpillar. In the 1970s he and partner Fred Behr created B&H Sanitary Service, picking up trash in DeWitt, rain or cold, sickness or injury, until his retirement in 1995.

During many of those years, he was a member of the DeWitt Volunteer Fire Department, where he served as Chief.

To say that Don was an avid fisherman is to say the sun rises and sets. For many years, his garage featured a dedicated blender for mixing catfish bait and a refrigerator for storing it. Every week would find him on the Wapsi or Cedar Rivers in his custom flatbottom boat, joined by a succession of fishing partners and close friends, most notably Gabby Fletcher, Ray Cole, and John Camp. In earlier years, he trapped and hunted, including as a member of the Teal Club. His euchre skills were unsurpassed.

Don was a man of quiet, pragmatic, effective action rather than words, although his word was his bond, and personal integrity and self-sufficiency were his heartfelt values.

He is survived by six children: Doug (Becky) of Denver, Colorado; Joellyn (John) McDonnell, of DeWitt; Susan (Terry Frahm) Hesse, of DeWitt; Kathleen (Rick) Miller, of Leander, Texas; Barbara (Doug) Range of Lilburn, Georgia; and John of Cumming, Georgia. He is further survived by 17 grandchildren, Monica (Rob Cox) Hesse, Andrew (Molly) Hesse, Paige (Armand Emamdjomeh) Osburn, Shannon (Phil) Schroetter, Josh (Nicole) McDonnell, Jason (Sarah) McDonnell, Adam (Jill) McDonnell, Sean Hunter, Katie (Ryan) Rebers, Austin (Jessica Miller), Courtney (Dusty) Lozano, Nathan Hesse, Jade (James) Helm, Jacob Range, Jenna Range, Jared Hesse, Justin Hesse, and 14 great-grandchildren. His stories and values live through them.

Visitation will be from 2:00 p.m. until the service time of 3:00 p.m. Saturday, October 2, 2021, at Grace Lutheran Church, DeWitt, The Rev. Eric Obermann officiating. Burial will follow at Elmwood Cemetery, DeWitt. 

Memorials may be sent to Kids Fishing Foundation, Honor Flight of the Quad Cities, or the DeWitt Fire Department.

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