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November 30, 2002

Eric Chaet

Blei by McCartney

Eric Chaet suffers the plight of many self-made American writers: nobody knows his name. Well, some of us do. But not nearly enough. Eric has set a simple task for himself: To change the world.

He presently lives in the backwaters of DePere, Wisconsin and writes in that time-honored tradition of American rebels (Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman Ginsberg, Kerouac. et. al.) who have miles to go before they sleep, a world of things to say about the human condition, whole philosophies to examine in darkness and light, spewing forth words and ideas in a kind of rambling monologue/dialogue that doesn't necessarily fit the classic domains of neat novels, stories, essays, poems or books. He's one of those American writers bigger than any form can hold.

I first met Eric via Wisconsin Public Radio when he called in on a program I was doing with Jean Feraca concerning the American poet-rebel, Kenneth Patchen, and surprised me with his knowledge of Patchen's life and work. I later met him for coffee in Green Bay, invited him to read and discuss his life at one of my classes at The Clearing, and for the last three years or so, kept in touch with him and his work via e-mail.

He is someone I have always wanted to feature in an essay-profile, but since I have my own deadlines, not to mention battles with local/state publications, wallowing in the same-old, same-old, unwilling to give me the column I need, the small price it takes to feed a writer, the space to develop full-length profiles and pieces, writing-on-the-web-whenever will have to do, for now. Though I encourage newspaper, magazine, and radio people on my public and private e-mail lists, to take a look at the story-potential of Eric Chaet and give him the exposure he needs. He's as American as apple pie, as revolutionary as the local anarchist down the street who goes to church every Sunday. And truth-to-tell, this country is in dire need of his kind of thinking these days.

His latest book is: PEOPLE I MET HITCHING ON USA HIGHWAYS. 192 pages, which can be purchased from, (or by sending $15 which includes shipping & handling, to Turnaround Artist Productions, 1803 County ZZ, De Pere, WI 54115. It's okay, too--but a bit less reliable--to ask for it at your local bookstore or library, and let them do the ordering.)

About which, none other than the eminent English writer herself, Doris Lessing, had this to say: "... attractive addition to that by now old and honourable American literary genre, footloose and oddball people driving and hitching... around America, encountering every kind of person... doing the kinds of work not often described in American writing" --Doris Lessing

Eric claims to be approximately 7,000 years old, and has worked at dozens of jobs--odd, odder, & not odd enough--in a variety of industries & professions; hitchhiked 5 years; & not-frequently-enough gets consulting assignments regarding industrial & agricultural equipment, logistics, & safety; space exploration; commerce & corporations; government & political-economy.

Other recent work includes How to Change the World Forever For Better (non-fiction, 96 pages, $10 from Turnaround Artist Productions), and Poems for Uprising Ypsilanti Marlon Gillespie, 16-page stapled booklet ($5 from Turnaround Artist Productions).

Current stories & poems occasionally are posted on-line at
uXu, Niederngasse, & StickYourNeckOut.

Eric caught my attention again a few days ago, when he responded to a number of letters and essays I circulated among a network of personal friends and readers concerning our country's current situation regarding Iraq.

His response, I thought, serves as a fine introduction to the man and his writing:

Norb -

This is in response to some of the political articles you have forwarded my way--which I do appreciate:

WHAT YOU CAN & CAN'T DO -- 10/2/02

A person can't control what happened in the past. One can't control what happened to one when one was younger, nor what one did when one was younger.
It's past.

It's too late to do anything about Ghengis Khan or Atilla the Hun, Nero, Caligula, Cortez, Pizarro, Hitler, or Stalin; about slavery in Dixie, Jim Crow, or ethnic cleansing of the tribes of North America. It's too late to do anything about the slave trade, or the British East Indies Company. It's too late to do anything, positive or negative, about the First World War, the New Deal, Mao, the disappearances in Argentina, the Reagan or Clinton administrations.

Likewise, a person can't control what almost all others are doing in the present. You might be able to prevent one person from doing evil or doing good, by hitting or killing that person. (There will be secondary consequences, of course, though.)

Otherwise, you can only control what you are doing, while what goes on in your state legislature goes on, while what goes on in Israel and Palestine goes on, while the people who administer the government & armed forces of the USA and the people who administer the government & armed forces of Iraq do what they do.

That doesn't mean you are helpless, by any means, or that what you do or fail to do or refrain from doing has no effect. It has its effect. But it doesn't have MORE than its effect. And what everyone else is doing, or failing to do, or refraining from doing--& how it's done--is having its effect, too.

Knowing this, staying real, you can maximize your effect in the near & deep future. Instead of flailing around, as though you could have effects you can't possibly have, as though you had more power & more clout than you actually have, as though you have capacities that you don't actually have--you can develop your capacities; more carefully allocate your physical, mental, & spiritual resources, including your time, energy, & attention; & become more & more capable of influencing greater & greater situations, without allowing your own particular situation to collapse around you.

If you had been born the son of one who became president, you would be in a different position, maybe--but you weren't, were you? If you had been inclined to be a soldier in your youth; & then were inclined, ruthlessly, to ride the crest of revolution to power, at no matter whose expense, you'd be in a different position than you are now--but you weren't, were you?

So, you have to get over your fantasies, & even over your indignation, & over the expectations you have learned were unrealistic; & do what you can do; to be the best person you can in the situation in which you find yourself, to defend yourself & those you live with from evil & from the workings-out of stupidities you are not capable of causing to disappear; & to prepare yourself to be more capable in the future, & to exert yourself & your newly-developed capacities, more & more, in that future, for the amount of time you have left, before your capacities diminish, then end.

Keeping current may be a good idea, & so might learning the history of the current situation. Becoming more & more healthy, if possible, is always a good idea--& developing physical skills might prove useful, given opportunity. Likewise, mental skills. Likewise, spiritual skills, such as balance, grace (e.g., under pressure), patience, pro-activity, friendship, & generosity with simultaneous discrimination among people's motives. Likewise, technical skills: horticulture, cooking, sewing, understanding & repairing machinery, production & distribution, medicine, law, engineering, finance & accounting, recovery & recycling of what would otherwise be waste, etc. Accumulating useful tools, without becoming overwhelmed by what you have accumulated that you can't or won't use, is a good idea. Developing your strengths is good; but also humbling yourself, & learning about what you are ignorant of, & correcting what you incorrectly assume, & learning to do what you can't do currently, are good, too.

I say all this, knowing full well that, at this moment, many people of good conscience are reeling with the effort to balance everything they must do, while those who control the government they have believed was theirs, or almost theirs, irreversibly commits that government to being a force in the world they do not wish to stand behind--&, if they speak out, their words are dismissed as foolish, childish.

I don't like the attitude of those who control the government. (Nor do I like leaving alone those whom those controlling the government have decided no longer to leave alone--some of the terrible criminals who happen to run states, or who happen not to run states, among all the terrible criminals in the world who run states or don't run states.)

But those who are dismayed to see what is happening, & to discover that speaking out, now, against it, has as little effect as it has, are indeed being childish, foolish. (No shame--or at least only momentary shame--if they catch themselves, & become more realistic, then more capable than they were til now.) Yet, even speaking out, no matter how much it is dismissed, has its effect. Only, it is an effect among many effects, & in Time. And a great deal depends on what is spoken when one speaks out, & how one puts it, & how one gets it into circulation.

A lot that is said sounds so much like fragments of what everyone paying any attention has already heard. How can that do anything but add to the din, thru which those in a position to do so, act without further speaking?

In the future, people simultaneously good & capable will be as precious & hard for other good, capable people to find, as they are now. I'm pretty sure of that.

What happens in the world that is good--that originates among humans--will depend on them.

Eric Chaet

Further bio on Eric can be found below. Give him your time-and support.

You won't be disappointed.

Eric Chaet was born in Chicago in 1945, and raised on the South Side, just west of the Black ghetto, just south of the largest concentration of Poles outside of Warsaw, in what was sometimes called Little Lithuania. He is not Lithuanian.

His mother & father were in fundamental disagreement about both means and ends. He attended public schools, which left a good deal to be desired, educationally - and also were violent. He worked his way through college as a laborer in a box factory, and as a mail-handler for the U.S. Postal Service. While a student, he demonstrated against segregation as a member of the Congress of Racial Equality. He is not Black.

During the U.S. Indochina War ("Vietnam War"), he was a graduate student (on fellowships), studying literature and philosophy, mostly - and demonstrated against the war. His doctoral dissertation was rejected as "an anarchist tract." If he is an anarchist, he is surprised. He has, all along, tried to be a good citizen. Presumably, to be a good citizen is to be an anarchist, from some people's point of view. He admits that being a good citizen has proved to be a nearly impossible task.

He hitchhiked, mostly around the USA, doing odd jobs, and writing the poems in OLD BUZZARD OF NO-MAN'S LAND (1974, Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Coach House Press), the stories in UNRAVELING SMOKE (1975, self-published), and the songs on the vinyl LP album SOLID AND SOUND (1977, Lee's Summit, Missouri, USA: Tick Crick Records), for about four years. Then he taught for most of several years, in Michigan, Nebraska, and on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona.

Next, he attempted, unsuccessfully, to record an album with a Los Angeles (national, at least) record company. The attempt consumed five years, during which time he taught elements of bookkeeping and algebra at a business "college," led a research team for a swanky law firm, and performed at sleazy nightclubs. (He didn't like the clubs, and the patrons didn't know what the hell he was doing, acting so un-glamorous, un-cool, un-hip.)

Since 1986, he has been posting (mostly on utility poles) "signs" that he silk-screens. He also has worked as a laborer installing factory equipment - and done research for an engineer as an expert-witness in products-liability cases, and also for a space-commerce trade association. In 1990 and 1994, he put out editions of his HOW TO CHANGE THE WORLD FOREVER FOR BETTER. In 1997, he began producing 16-page booklets of his stories, poems, and essays. He lives with his wonderful wife, Brenda ("Where's the part about the wonderful wife?"), in an old house in a rural area of northeastern Wisconsin (USA), between Green Bay and Appleton, that is rapidly being engulfed by suburbanization.

He continues - but excruciatingly slowly - to produce works of fiction, poetry, and philosophy; songs; and posters and post cards - and uses the mail and the Internet, primarily, to get them into circulation.

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