Grand Contested Election and Unbearable Loss

Entry begun on Friday, May 23, 5:20 am

I can’t go back to sleep so I may as well begin this entry. In the opening chapter of Moby-Dick, the narrator imagines a program drawn up by “those stage managers, the Fates” in which his own “Whaling Voyage by one Ishmael” appears as a “sort of interlude” between “Grand Contested Election for the Presidency of the United States” and “Bloody Battle in Affghanistan.” The grand contested election for me this summer is the one in Kentucky in which Alice Lundergan Grimes is challenging Mitch McConnell for the U. S. Senate seat in which he, as the minority leader of the Senate, has essentially tried to nullify the last two presidential elections, the ones that elected Barack Obama in 2008 and reelected him in 2012. Obama had no chance to win Kentucky’s electoral votes in either of those elections, winning only about one third of the popular vote, so I spent much of each campaign in Hamilton County, across the Ohio River in Cincinnati, whose huge grass roots effort helped Obama win each election in Ohio and in the nation. Grimes and McConnell each won their primary election by a wide margin on Tuesday night, she against four competitors who all finished in single digits, he against Matt Bevin, a Tea Party Republican who lost to McConnell by a 2-1 margin.

alison 1

Alison Lundergan Grives at Bellevue Vets May 22, 2014

After seeing the respective acceptance speeches of McConnell and Grimes on Tuesday night, I was thrilled to hear that Grimes was coming to last night’s Campbell County Democratic Party Unity Rally here in Bellevue, the town in which my wife Joan and I have lived since 1980. The rally was at the Bellevue Vets Club, about four blocks from our house. Alison Grimes arrived right on time, at the beginning of a rally that introduced a full slate of Campbell County Democrtic candadates for this November’s election. We had a full house, an ample potluck dinner, and a candidate who has an excellent chance of defeating McConnell in the fall and sending him home after 30 years of partisan obstructionism in Washington. He in his acceptance speech on Tuesday had tried to tie her tightly to President Obama, who remains unpopular in the state. Earlier in the campaign he had snidely called Grimes an “empty dress.” In her appearance at the Bellevue Vets tonight she was young, statuesque, flexible, bright, resourceful, pragmatic, personable, and inspiring. Speaking a few feet from us for about fifteen minutes without notes, she touched on many of the points she had made in her acceptance speech Tuesday night. She emphasized that President Obama is not on the ballot in Kentucky (“our election in November won’t change who is in the White House, but it can change who is in the Senate”) and she declared most elegantly that “I am not an empty dress and I can think for myself.” It’s great to have a national race on this side of the river to work for.

One of the pleasant surprises of last night’s rally was to see Ashley Tongret of the Cincinnati Opera, with whom I had worked in arranging a public screening of the PBS Great Performances broadcast of Heggie and Scheer’s Moby-Dick opera at my university last November. She had heard that I will be on this summer’s whaling voyage and said that Jamie Jones, one of her friends from graduate school, now teaching in Michigan, was to be on a similar voyage that is departing from somewhere in Connecticut soon. She checked her smart phone and found that Jamie is on the first leg of the Morgan’s 2014 voyage, scheduled to leave New London for Newport, Rhode Island, on June 14.

Shawn Buckenmeyer with I & Q

Shawn Buckenmeyer with I & Q at Celebratoin of Student Research and Creativity, April 14

I can’t write about my excitement from the visit of Alison Lundergan Grimes to Bellevue last night without writing about the death of Shawn Buckenmeyer (Daniell) less than a mile away in Newport, Kentucky, on Saturday, April 26, our Training Day at Mystic Seaport.  Shawn Buckenmeyer (1977-2014) had been born in Groton, Connecticut, where the tug boat Kingston II had already served the naval boat yard for decades.  Shawn was a student in my graduate class on Moby-Dick and the Arts during the Fall 2013 semester. Her final project for the class was a painting she called A Story of I & Q in which she expressed the love between Ishmael and Queequeg in the form of two female figures joined across the body of a white whale. I took the photo posted here at NKU”s Celebration of Student Research and Creativity on April 14, eleven days before Shawn died suddenly in her sleep. At the Celebration, she presented her I & Q along with Moby-Dick art by three other women from my most recent Moby classes, all of whose work will be featured at our exhibition Moby Comes to Covington in April 2015.

Shawn was to have been married to Chuck Heffner next Friday, May 30. They had planned a honeymoon in Italy. Instead we will be having a Memorial Art Exhibition of her work at the York Street Café in Newport tomorrow night. I have written a tribute to Shawn for the electronic art journal AEQAI scheduled to be posted today. I’ll complete this entry after our event for Shawn tomorrow night.

Entry continues on Saturday, May 24, 10 pm

Untitled painting in Shawn's Memorial show, May 24

Untitled painting in Shawn’s Memorial show, May 24

We had a moving celebration of Shawn’s life tonight. The third floor of the York Street Café was packed with people who loved her, the great majority of whom I had never met.   Tonight ee who know her during the last two years in the M A. program at NKU became keenly aware of what a relatively small, though deep, part of her life we had known. The walls of the room, and a few of the tables, were packed with her art. Before tonight I had only seen I & Q and the one work she donated to an auction to benefit AEQAI at a Cincinnati gallery on April 17. I loved seeing the bright colors, the bold figures, the raw emotions, and the challenging themes of her art. Yes, most of her figures were female, and a great many of them were unclothed, but this led to more variety than sameness in artistic treatment. The spirit and the flesh wrestled in a long dance throughout the room, the viewers winning. She had a subject, she had a palette, she had a touch, and she had a voice. I could see an eroticized face from Eduard Munch in one painting, and a female pleasure zone from Vali Myers in another, but Shawn’s touch and voice were unmistakable throughout.

Untitled painting at Shawn's Memorial show

Untitled painting at Shawn’s Memorial show

I was happy to see I & Q just inside the door. Shawn’s mother Suzzana and her fiancé Chuck had chosen what they considered the best of her works, most of which were untitled and undated, and it was fun for me to wonder if the six or seven I liked best were the most recent. Many, like I & Q, were not for sale, but those that were, were going fast, the proceeds going to the Shawn Daniell Memorial Fund for the Arts that Chuck has already set up to benefit students at NKU ( Chuck and his mother had asked if I would speak, which I did. I emphasized the exceptional growth I had seen in Shawn from the time I met her as a student reporter in February 2011 to the day she presented I & Q at NKU’s Celebration event in April 2014, a framework that had also guided my tribute to Shawn that was posted on AEQAI today ( The evening’s other speakers were the young man who had served as matchmaker for Shawn and Chuck; Daniel Brown, who had been grooming Shawn to become the editor of AEQAI when he retires; and her brother Fred. We each addressed different facets of the exceptional woman we had known, and we all did our best to sustain the spirit of celebration more than the loss.

In a special session for Shawn at our English Department Graduate Colloquium at NKU on May 3, my colleague Jen Cellio read a short story Shawn had recently completed for a writing class. I had never heard her fiction before.  This story, about a young girl’s response to relentless hazing by her classmates, was honest and compelling. Shawn had just begun to work on the graphic novel that would have been her M A capstone project. With her unique abilities in visual art, her newly found talent as a writer of fiction, and her deep understanding of the relation between image and word, her graphic novel was likely to be fabulous. All we can do now is be grateful that we knew her. A number of our graduate faculty attended tonight, and so did many graduate students who loved her deeply and cherished both her creative and editorial work. Three of them, Nicci Mechler, Lauren McGee, and Minadora Macheret, are with Chuck in front of I & Q in the photo posted here.  Each of the three had presented creative projects from my Emily Dickinson class at previous Celebratoin events.

Nikki, Lauren, Minadora, and Chuck with I & Q on May 24

Nikki, Lauren, Minadora, and Chuck with I & Q on May 24


One thought on “Grand Contested Election and Unbearable Loss

  1. Pingback: Political Kick-Off Visit | Dickinson and Moby-Dick in 2015

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