Even in America, home is where (historically) the class is
I grew up in a Southern mill town.
Such towns come in one of three primary flavors: tobacco, textiles, or furniture. My hometown was a textiles town, the home of several major textile companies over its roughly 220 year history. As a fellow writer who’s also an Eden native once put it, most of the population of these towns worked in one “good Bastille” or another. Of course, that’s all gone now. Like most Southern mill towns, Eden, NC, is a town struggling to find an identity even as it struggles to survive. Continue reading →
I was never a William Burroughs fan, but I nonetheless find myself thinking about his 1986 “Thanksgiving Prayer,” surely one of the most caustic (and insightful) takes on our great American holiday. I’m in this sort of mood for a reason. Or two, or three.
First off, you may have noticed all the static around the news that more and more businesses will be open today, getting a jump on tomorrow’s appalling orgy of consumerism, Black Friday. That term originated in the early 1960s, apparently, with bus drivers and the police, who used it to describe the mayhem surrounding the biggest shopping day of the year. Continue reading →
Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant in Bringing Up Baby (image courtest Wikimedia)
I’m in the midst of reading a detailed architectural history of my hometown, Eden, NC, a gift from my lovely and talented mate. While interesting (to me, anyway, since I’m from there), it is a tad on the dry side (though well done as such tomes go) and a slow read as a result. I’ll review that after Thanksgiving. To divert us in the meantime, I’ll do a little of what I’ve complained about academics doing(and which I did plenty of at earlier points in my career) and write a nice little popular culture analysis.
I’m not going to call you Jack, since we don’t know each other very well. But, in a way, I guess I know you better than I want to. You’ve hovered over my life for the past 50 years, and, you know, I’m tired of it. I want you to go away. You’ve taken up too much of my time, and my generation’s time, and you’ve been a bad influence. It’s time to move on.
I know this is hard on you. You’ve been loyal, I’ll say that. That aura you projected that so many people responded to in your lifetime has become transcendent. But that’s not a good thing. It’s been a garden path. Yes, you were transformative, I’ll give you that. You looked presidential as hell, even though you often didn’t act it. You inspired a generation, so I’m told. Many people went into public service of one form or another, inspired by you, I’m told. That Peace Corps thing was great, I admit. It’s still around, doing good work. Continue reading →
Yes, I know precisely where I was when someone murdered John Fitzgerald Kennedy. No, I do not want to hear where the hell you were. Nor do I want to read or watch any “retrospectives” on his assassination. Nor do I want to read or watch orations on what might have been had the shot or shots missed. I’m only concerned with what the hell actually happened in and to America since Kennedy died.
A half century has passed since my infatuation with Camelot. Fifty years have passed since the naïveté of my youth promised me wars will end, peace will reign, and society will be equitable. Even after the brutality of Daley’s thugs disrupted the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago, Camelot sang as my siren. Even after gunfire from the National Guard killed four students at Kent State, I still believed in what the precisely cultivated mass mediations of JFK presented to me while he lived. Even after Nixon and his protect-me politics of Watergate, I had faith in process, politics, and people — even some politicians. Continue reading →
John F. Kennedy in the Dallas motorcade moments before his assassination (image courtesy Wikimedia)
I’ll start by quoting myself – a typically Boomer act of self-absorbed self-reference. First, from an email discussion among S&R writers about whether or not we should write about the 50th anniversary of the John F. Kennedy assassination:
JFK is the story of the Boomers – so many advantages, so much potential, so little realized. That we ended as we did may be a psychological reaction to seeing a guy seemingly about to do big things get his brains blown out. And never, ever getting an explanation that didn’t have logic holes, political meddling, and scary implications about the lie we want most fervently to believe about life – that we can know anything for sure. Continue reading →
Smoky Mountain Trout Fishing Guide by Don Kirk (image courtesy Goodreads)
In an entry written not too awfully long ago, I confessed to one of my great passions and pleasures in life: fly fishing for trout here in my native North Carolina mountains. As you might guess, on my bookshelves reside books related to that passion. Some, like The Orvis Fly-Fishing Guide, might reside on the shelves of any serious angler. But some are specific to the sort of trout angling I do here in NC.
Such a one is the book in this review, Don Kirk’s exhaustive look at trout fishing in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (and nearby environs), Smoky Mountain Trout Fishing. Kirk does a fine job of offering suggestions to anglers about where to find trout, stream sizes, casting difficulties that might be faced by anglers (especially important to fly fishers), and the remoteness of streams as well as the strenuousness required of fishers for reaching them. This is all great info for any angler interested in pursuing that beautiful and elusive creature, the Southern Brook trout, affectionately known to mountain natives as the “speck.” Continue reading →
I have a great idea for a wearable technology app. What if you had a little mobile device you could wear around your wrist, kind of like a bracelet. And it had an app that would tell you what time it was? You could maybe have advanced functionality that would give you the date. Continue reading →
One in six Americans commutes an hour and a half a day. It makes us more angry, less happy, increases back pain and triples our risk of heart attack.
I hate commuting. Hate. It. Not only is it simply no fun sitting in a rush hour parking lot, I’m stingy about my time. Even if I’m wasting it sitting on the couch, it’s my time. If I have to commute an hour or two a day, that’s time devoted to work that I’m not being paid for. Continue reading →
Online dating sucks, especially for a guy like me. There has to be a better way.
Match.com sucks. eHarmony sucks. OK Cupid sucks. Plenty of Fish really sucks. (Although, it should be noted, at least those last two have the advantage of being free.) I assume that Christian Mingle sucks, although perhaps in ways I haven’t thought about yet.
I hate online dating, and if the comment threads on Lisa Barnard’s much-read post and my own critique of the process from last year are any indication, a lot of you do, too. It’s shallow, it inspires dishonesty and while there are certainly cases where people find happiness with online dating sites, I suspect the most common case is frustration and a general decrease in the ambient self-esteem levels of those participating. Continue reading →
The age of Matthew Arnold is dead: “elitism” vs. popular culture…
Educator, Poet, and Big Time, Professional Literary Critic Matthew Arnold (photo courtesy Wikimedia)
In Part 1 of this discussion of contemporary reading habits, I sought to find some rationale for the domination of “fiction bestseller lists” (flawed as measurement of anything though those lists might be) by works that are, in one form or another, escapism. I discussed the decline of what the old “high culture/low culture” model called “literary experience” – the introduction, chiefly via the education system, of works/authors that could arguably be called classic to both those in elite private institutions and to those of us better classified as the hoi polloi through our public schools.
The genesis of this entire essay, as I mentioned earlier, was my anecdotal experience as a regular visitor (both as author and reader) to the popular social media site, Goodreads. The democratization of culture that the power of the Internet, and especially its most powerful weapon, social media, has been in some ways liberating, in some ways unfortunate. Continue reading →
This is a picture of a dog reading – Cujo, likely, perhaps The Call of the Wild. One might wish it were Travels with Charlie, but let’s be reasonable…
This started mainly as an idle exercise. Each time I go to Goodreads, I am apprised of someone’s latest book which is, I am assured, a triumph of – well, some sort. Many of the books are #’s 3-4-5 in a “series” of books about – this or that currently popular genre. If you are a reader, or play at being one as many seem to do, you know the drill by now: the most successful books are those which appeal to current reading interests. In the second decade of the 21st century, that means one should write something in at least one of the following veins: science fiction (or one of its variations like cyberpunk or steam punk); paranormal thrillers – or romances (zombies and vampires have been quite successful, and wizards have made billions); or apocalyptic/dystopian adventures/romances/thrillers. Preferably any/all of these should be aimed at a “young adult” audience – though the range of that age group seems to be a matter of concern both to those who would censor any thing that doesn’t meet their narrow minded world views as well as to some writers who, silly creatures they are, think adults should read adult books on adult topics – you know, stories that might not end with “something magical” happening.
Our social media activities would benefit from a dose of critical thinking.
A lie can run round the world before the truth has got its boots on. – Terry Pratchett
I had an exchange with my sister earlier about something she had shared on Facebook. If you haven’t seen it, it’s the one alleging that 11 US states now have “More People on Welfare than they do Employed.” Hint number one: cluelessness regarding the mysteries of punctuation. And no, I won’t link to it. Continue reading →
Cover, The Essential Grandma Moses by Jane Kallir (courtesy, Goodreads)
Art books tend to be heavy duty critical affairs like the Arthur Danto work I reviewed earlier this year or large tomes full of beautiful reproductions of a master’s work that have the feel, despite their higher purpose, of coffee table books. The books between seem to err either on the side of wanting to offer historical fiction as analysis of an artist’s oeuvre or oversimplification of an artist’s complexity – reductio ars ad absurdum, one might call it in very incorrect Latin – in order to “explain” art or an artist so that its (or his/her) worth seems undeniable to even the most philistine of audiences so as to help them learn to appreciate and support art.
After years of watching our country claw its way back from the Great Recession, these debt ceiling and government shutdown are foreign to me. Why would we ever want to put our country in the position to default on our loans? Why is this even an argument?
And yet here we are, on the brink of default. From the Washington Post:
“The government will begin Monday with about $30 billion cash in the bank and a little more room to borrow as a result of extraordinary measures launched in the wake of the debt-ceiling crisis. By Thursday, administration officials say they will exhaust all borrowing authority and have only that cash on hand. Continue reading →
I read and reviewed Hemingway’s final book, True at First Light, back in February. In that review I talked about the issues surrounding Hemingway as writer and Hemingway as media creation. One characteristic of the Culture of Media-Driven Celebrity – as we might arguably call the 20th century – which has been noted by media critics such as Simon Frith and Clive James is the tendency (perhaps an aim, conscious or unconscious) of media to undercut artistic achievement by focusing on – and worse, overemphasizing – the celebrity that attaches to a successful writer/artist/musician rather than on the writer/artist/musician’s accomplishments in their field. That undercutting has been one of the tragedies of our time. It makes the task of understanding achievement in the arts (and other fields – let us not ignore celebrity’s effect on scientists such as Einstein or Sagan, for example) more complicated; it also creates an environment where even the most dedicated achiever feels pressure to maintain celebrity status. In too many cases, especially as media has come to dominate how we understand our world, the Culture of Media-Driven Celebrity has made us lose sight of WHY achievers deserve their celebrity. Continue reading →
Cover, Gap Creek by Robert Morgan (courtesy, Goodreads)
Robert Morgan’s Gap Creek is subtitled The Story of a Marriage. This latest entry from the extended 2013 reading list is certainly that. It is also an engaging depiction of an era, a life, and a region.
There are two issues to talk about with this book. The first is the writer’s accomplishment, his execution of his artistic vision. The second is the book as product – product to be marketed, promoted – in truth targeted based on a considerations of audience demographics. This second issue, of course, raises a question about art’s purpose. Despite its simple, heartfelt charm, Gap Creek has a feeling of calculation, of writer being guided by agent, editor or other “professional” with an eye on sales first and foremost.
First, the accomplishment – an admirable one.Gap Creek tells the story of a young woman named Julie Harmon who is living a hard scrabble farm life in the North Carolina mountains. The sudden death of her brother (the baby and only boy in her family), followed shortly after by her father’s passing, places a strain on her family’s situation. Her own unlikely, and sudden, marriage seems yet another jolt to the family’s stability. But the novel shifts, a little abruptly at this point, to the story of Julie and her husband, Hank Richards and we hear of the Harmon family indirectly for the most part after this event.
Julie is a “worker”: she is at her best when working – or planning work. Deep thinking is not her strong suit – but she has a wonderful heart and willing hands. Her husband Hank, who changes profoundly over the course of the novel, seems at first just the sort of strong young man Julie has imagined would make her a good husband. But he has maturity problems (as does Julie, though her dogged nature serves her well as leavening for her occasional adolescent foolishness – she is only 17 and Hank but a year or two older) that lead to problems in both his work life and home life. Continue reading →
“And we are looking for ways to reopen the portions of the government that we agree with.” Jenny Beth Martin, Tea Party Patriots
There it is in a nutshell. The whole national divide summed up in one sentence. So, Ms. Martin, we know you’d like to defund the Affordable Care Act. What else? I’ve met Libertarians in my life who would strip all funding from public radio and television and the arts in general. How about National Parks and monuments? There sure was a stink this week in DC when the World War II Memorial was closed. Rand Paul went so far as to label those who closed it “goons.” But should such a memorial even exist at taxpayer’s expense? Should its maintenance and upkeep be sold off for naming rights? But opening those closed attractions seems to be a high priority for even members of the Tea Party. World War II vets storming the barricades is certainly more photogenic than furloughed meat inspectors or passport clerks. There’s a tropical storm in the Gulf of Mexico–granted a weak one, named Karen. Surely it will cause damage and certainly there will be requests for aid. FEMA was already reactivating personnel previously labeled non-essential. But even in the event of a natural disaster, is the federal government’s assistance really all that essential? After all, a number of conservatives exclaim loudly that the federal government is incompetent. But let a disaster strike, say a fire or flood in Colorado, and even those counties that will be voting to secede from the rest of the state because of its recent too-liberal tendencies line up at the federal trough. Certainly a number of conservatives objected last fall to aid to New York and New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy. It’s a lot easier to say no, to place conditions, to object, when it’s someone else’s state or district or city. Or home. I’ve thought about objecting on those grounds myself. When I see Texas or Alabama in the news for some disaster: chemical plant explosion, hurricane, drought, I think, “No help for you! Let you fix this on your own, since you don’t want to help others.” Briefly. It’s just anger–mine. I realize that. And I know that, in reality. I would never want people to suffer that way just for the sake of a political disagreement. How about you, Ms. Martin? How hard is your heart? Does it satisfy you to see people suffer? Abraham Lincoln said of slavery, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Well, we certainly tested that theory. And three-quarters of a million men died to make the house all one thing. Is there going to be a civil war this time? No. Eventually our representatives will be forced to come to their senses and realize that, when you govern, at least in this country in this century, you don’t get to just operate or fund “the portions of the government that we agree with,” but you have to deal with the rest of it, too. Getting to that point is getting uglier every day. But will there, nonetheless, be a time of reconstruction? A time of binding up the nations’ wounds? I certainly hope so. I can’t see how it’s going to happen. But it has to at some point. Lincoln, after all, was right. Image: Marty Duren.
I hope you didn’t sprain anything or break anything irreplaceable. For what it’s worth, you people have no idea how hard it is to resist the trite “wipe coffee off monitor” quip at this juncture.
Bear with me.
Time and again we hear the GOP, establishment and fringe alike, tell us that we’ve got too much government. Never mind the irony of a party that practices medicine without a license by way of routinely mandating transvaginal ultrasounds telling us what too much government is. Just, um, never mind. Never mind a lot of horribly invasive “small” government ironies.