In August 2013 I moved to Seattle to take a new job. I was leaving the city I love, leaving my friends and my life and diving blind into the great unknown. I’ve done this before, several times, but it gets harder as you get older, especially when it feels like you’re running from things instead of toward them. Still, I was optimistic and looking forward to the new opportunity.
Three months later – on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, to be precise – the designated sociopath from the home office in Charlottesville walked into the building, closed the office and fired everyone. Continue reading →
I love almost everything about Colorado. Almost. Sadly, the climate here tends to have very short transitional seasons, and like a lot of people who grew up in my neck of the woods (NC), my favorites times of year have always been fall and spring. I took the long, moderate, invigorating equinox seasons for granted, I guess. Continue reading →
Giving attention to what others write – and what they say about writing – is very enjoyable…but it does keep one from doing what a writer is supposed to do…write….
Thomas Wolfe with a crate of his writing…(image courtesy NY Times)
I’ve been off the radar for a couple of weeks now. Part of this is due to an increase in some of my duties in my job (for those who somehow don’t know, I am a professor of writing as well as a writer – though my professing seems to be becoming more and more eaten up by administrative tasks – not something that makes me happy – these days), part of it is due to some conflicts I’ve been feeling about spending so much of whatever writing time I do have writing about other people’s writing.
Don’t get me wrong. As anyone who reads my pieces knows, I love reading as much as writing. (Sometimes I am tempted to think that I love it more than writing, but that is only the lazy side of me trying to convince me that the hard, painful, rewarding work that is writing can be avoided, when every writer who is a writer knows that only two things cannot be avoided: writing and death.)
I returned home from vacation this morning. I had reserved a lift with SuperShuttle to save a few bucks on airport parking. Never again.
As we landed I flipped on my phone. I had an e-mail from SuperShuttle explaining how to check in on the mobile. Sweet. I followed the instructions and proceeded to the baggage claim. I was to select “Downtown” or “Not Downtown” and submit once I had my bag. Here’s where it went sideways.
I was instructed to go out door 505 on the east side and head over to the shuttles on island 5. I did. Found SS there, gave the guy my reservation number, he says cool, and I hop in.
Once in we got into the “where are you going?” process. Turns out I was in the wrong van. Continue reading →
Americans are writing and publishing more than ever; meanwhile, arguments rage about the inability of Americans to write and what educators should do to address this perceived inability.
Ursula Le Guin (image courtesy Wikimedia)
In a recent interview with Salon, author Ursula Le Guin bemoans the lack of skill she sees in aspiring writers. Le Guin blames the problems she sees in writers – serious, well educated people – on a lack of two sets of skills. First, she notes that she sees many people trying to write who don’t have solid language management skills: they lack solid backgrounds in syntax (sentence structure) knowledge and they have weak vocabularies so that they do not easily see possibilities in sentence construction or word choice that would give their writing imagination and vigor. The other problem Le Guin observes is that the way in which many people attempt to become writers – through creative writing programs – does many nascent writers harm by forcing them to submit to a form of group think.
In a recent Washington Post op-ed, writer Natalie Wexler attempts to explain “Why Americans can’t write.” Wexler’s thesis, that Americans do not get adequate writing instruction, meshes nicely with Le Guin’s observation. One can easily conclude that, if Wexler is correct in her claim that Americans get too little writing instruction, it is only natural that their creative writing efforts would suffer from the sort of grammar and syntax deficiencies that Le Guin mentions.
As with most easy explanations, this one leaves some questions unanswered. Continue reading →
“We are who we are because of who we love,” said my wife, “and it will always be so.”
We were discussing life, and its transience, off of two years in which far too many of those close to us have stopped.
There are a few people who I met via my Livejournal blog, now more than 15 years ago, who became online friends. One of those people happens to have been Sam, who introduced me into a small group that went on to start Scholars and Rogues. The Rogues are similarly part of the fabric of my friendships. Continue reading →
One sign of the change of seasons around here is morning fog. It started this month, and August fog reminds me of a high school buddy, Bob.
Bob and I, and often several friends, unrolled sleeping bags on the ground each Aug. 11, lay on our backs, and watched the Perseids meteor shower. After fog curtained the sky, we rolled over and slept. Our sleeping bags and pillows were dappled with water droplets by dawn.
Fog always rose from the north, creeping up from the horizon, smothering the Big Dipper and then the rest of the sky by midnight. Continue reading →
My father-in-law passed away a year ago tomorrow, August 8th. The photograph just below of him and my mother-in-law is from the week before he died. I miss him, and one year on I’m not dealing well with his passing. But my mother-in-law is remarkable, and I rarely express my deepest feelings to people very well. But still having her around makes things more beautiful, and bearable.
Hence this essay – more dithering until I get back on track writing about items from the 2015 reading list.
I’ve been thinking for a couple of weeks about this issue, literature as intellectual comfort food. In fact, I’ve already decided that for the 2016 reading list will be devoted to a list composed of at least some of my favorite books. As anyone who reads my drivel is aware, my tastes run to literary fiction. In past years I have also read compendia of scholarly essays, naturalists’ journals, histories, science works, and even children’s books. So here is a list of five of my comfort food books. These will certainly appear in next year’s list where I’ll write about them in more detail, so for now I’ll offer simply brief explanations of why I return to them again and again. Continue reading →
What makes Handke exceptional is his willingness to engage us as well as himself in the difficulty of telling our truths, sharing our sorrows, interpreting our dreams….
A Sorrow Beyond Dreams by Peter Handke (image courtesy Goodreads)
For the last (well, perhaps next to last) work from the “world literature” segment of the 2015 reading list, I return to an author who has decidedly influenced me in the way I write, in the way I think about writing, in the way I assess writing, particularly the writing of literature. I have written before about the great Peter Handke, the brilliant and controversial Austrian novelist, playwright, and filmmaker and about the power of his work to force the reader to reexamine his/her ways of looking at literature and at life. No author of our time has been more relentless in his search for truth, nor has any author been able to say more with fewer words than Handke. For those few of you who know my work, a light bulb has probably just come on. For those of you not familiar with my work, please go buy it so that I can become a rich, vapid celebrity and lose all this delicious artistic integrity I’m always on about.
Handke is relentlessly brave, sometimes foolishly so, in his pursuit of what it means to be alive and writing about being so, so it should come as no surprise that he is equally as brave and equally as relentless in his examination of death and what it means to be so. His brilliant short meditation A Sorrow Beyond Dreams, written in the weeks after his mother’s suicide in early 1972, is vintage Handke: his search for the meaning of, in this case not simply the death of his mother but her death by suicide and the reasons behind her decision to end her life, as well as his search for what her death means to him, is a tour de force: terse, sometimes curt as a news item, sometimes poetic as a Heine lyric. The result is a heartbreaking work of staggering genius that actually is a heartbreaking work of staggering genius. Continue reading →
On Friday June 26, James Obergefell, who was prohibited by the state of Ohio from listing himself as the surviving spouse on his husband, John’s death certificate, was granted a victory by the US Supreme Court in the case Obergefell v. Hodges. He spoke for about four minutes on the meaning of the decision for himself personally as well as for the country. My favorite part of his remarks was this explanation:
“It’s my hope that the term ‘gay marriage’ will become a thing of the past, that from this day forward it will simply be ‘marriage.’ And our nation will be better off because of it.”
Elsewhere in the crowd, in an Arkansas Razorbacks t-shirt and green John Deere baseball cap, my friend, Wes Givens, made a short post to Facebook:
Each year, over a half million people run marathons and another half million do triathlons of various lengths. Hundreds of thousands more run mini-marathons or bike centuries (100 miles in a day.) We’re not talking about the neighborhood July 4th 5K or cycling down the trail at the park, we’re talking about events that take from two to seventeen hours to complete, where the risk of injury is significant, and that require hundreds of hours of preparation.
And the question, of course, is “why?”
In the spirit of full disclosure, let me confess that I’m one of those people. Continue reading →
Thursday morning I opened an email from my university and felt like somebody had slammed my heart with crowbar.
The message was about the wife of my best friend on the faculty. It said she had died Wednesday after routine surgery in Buffalo the day before. I read it again, hoping I’d misunderstood. I spent the next hours in a daze, near tears at times, and my wife was nearly as dazed as I was because she understands the depth of my friendship with this man.
He is an English professor about a dozen years older than I am, and he has been teaching at the university for decades. His students past and present love him. I took a graduate course from him many years ago, and it changed the way I see the world. I tell my academic advisees they should not graduate before they take a course from him.
I was about to photograph an oddly-painted van, but this scooter passed in front of me and what I got was an image of a corporeal woman optically shifted into a lovely ghost of blurred speed and bent light…
(Picture taken on Valencia Street in San Francisco, California on May 30th, 2015)
Dark Side of the Moon. Image courtesy of WikiMedia.
A friend told me last week that she had spent one night doing nothing but playing her guitar, working out the intro to Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here.”
I don’t have much Pink Floyd in my musical library, and what I have is predictable: “Wish You Were Here,” “Shine on You Crazy Diamond,” “Comfortably Numb” and the entirety of Dark Side of the Moon. Until last week, I hadn’t listened to Dark Side for years—decades, even—probably because I bought it when it came out in 1973 and had grown tired of it.
My friend’s work on “Wish You Were Here,” though, prompted me to listen to Dark Side again—with headphones, of course. It has held up well. A little too well. The song “Time” brought back a series of memories, none of them pleasant. Continue reading →
Several weeks ago, I was asked to provide a biographical entry on myself for a staff profile on S&R. I put some thought into it, wrote it, submitted it.
It just so happened that at the same time, I was deeply into rereading Carol Gilligan’s “In a Different Voice,” which is an important work about which I will eventually write much more here. Bio written, I picked up Gilligan and was immediately struck by something. Expressed in various ways throughout the book, a primary theme was that women tend to define themselves primarily in terms of relationships they are in. Continue reading →
Even the most avid reader, and the most dedicated writer, and I think I qualify as both, occasionally hits the doldrums – whether from a slow book, personal distractions, or the impositions of silly stuff like work…
The author, much younger, engrossed in a favorite pastime.
I am still making my way through Jose Saramago’s Baltasar and Blimunda, a book I began about a week ago and which I’m only two-thirds through. Saramago is a Nobelist and a brilliant writer,but reading him is a slow business. Whether that is due to his leisurely pacing or to the density of his writing (Baltasar and Blimunda is a novel of ideas as well as a historical work), I’ve found myself slogging through a very fine and engrossing novel.
So maybe it’s not my fault that I’m not writing a book essay yet again. Maybe I’ve just run into one of those writers whose work one simply can’t race through.
“For a long time, I took my pen for a sword; I now know we’re powerless. No matter. I write and will keep writing books; they’re needed; all the same, they do serve some purpose. Culture doesn’t save anything or anyone, it doesn’t justify. But it’s a product of man: he projects himself into it, he recognizes himself in it; that critical mirror alone offers him his image. ” – Jean-Paul Sartre
The Words by Jean Paul Sartre (Image courtesy Goodreads)
Back to the 2015 reading list for a book I did not expect to like and have found myself liking a great deal. Jean-Paul Sartre’s The Words (Les Mots) purports to be an autobiography, albeit a most limited one: written when the great Existentialistwas in his late 50’s, TheWords covers only the first ten years of Sartre’s life. But, as we shall learn, the first ten years of the life of one like Sartre, sifted through the the mind of one like Sartre over 40 years later, is no ordinary autobiography. As one can and should expect from Sartre, it’s part memoir, part philosophical inquiry, and part pretentious bullshit disguised as profound insight.Continue reading →
One of the symptoms of depression is an addiction to rumination. The vicious cycle of negative thinking that strips us of energy and desire. It is precisely our obsession with working out what makes us unhappy that makes us unhappy. – Chris Corner
You don’t walk away from something that was central to your very being for 35 years without … thinking about it.
Three or four years ago I wrapped my fourth book of poetry and hung up my quill, as it were. I wrote about it at the time, but no matter how self-aware or introspective or pensive or reflective you are, you simply will not fully understand this kind of momentous decision until you’ve had a chance to get away from it and develop some distance and perspective.
Lately I believe I have come to a deeper realization about my relationship with poetry than I ever had, ever could have had, before. When all is said and done, I believe poetry was killing me. Or rather, poetry was the weapon with which I was killing myself.