I fondly remember, mostly, the 1988 Super Bowl. I called in sick to my office in Shibuya, and secured a 750ml bottle of white tequila and a two-liter jug of Diet Coke. I don’t remember what teams played that day, but I had the game on my TV with the SAP decoder giving me the American color commentary. So, for hours that morning my little apartment in Yushima was a haven of boozed up football stupidness.
(I lived at AD. Homes, #402, 3-28-18 Yushima, Bunkyo-ku Tokyo 113. Note the H.R. Giger poster on the wall. I still have it.)
Jane Kirkpatrick’s historical novel A Sweetness to the Soul does a fine job of giving the reader historical information about Oregon pioneers in the second half of the 20th century; it struggles, however, with whether it wants to be a novel or history….
A Sweetness to the Soul by Jane Kirkpatrick (image courtesy Goodreads)
The first book from the 2016 reading list is a historical novel from one of our many bookshelves, a book that my Carol asked me to read. A Sweetness to the Soul details the lives of an Oregon pioneer couple during the latter half of the 19th century. As with most historical novels it is long (though it covers only the lifetime of one generation) and it offers a mix of historical fact and fiction. As one would expect with a novel set in the 19th century West, Native Americans, Chinese immigrants, and Hispanics play significant roles in the narrative. Interestingly, since this novel relies on historical accuracy, there is almost none of the “traditional” sort of violence one associates with Westerns. There are, however, the sorts of natural disasters one expects for pioneers living in a wilderness: forest fires, floods, and blizzards.
(Dedicated to Edgar Allan Poe, some 207 years removed from the day of his birth.)
Almost a year ago, I drove into Cypress Lawn Cemetery in Colma, California. I was running an errand in the area, and I like cemeteries so visiting one just for fun is something I am naturally inclined to do. I didn’t really know what to do with these photographs until I thought commemorating Edgar Allan Poe’s birthday this year in a monochromatically macabre fashion seemed like a good idea.
Is José Mourinho an all-time great, or merely the greatest of a generation?
Imagine the following scenario.
After last year’s Super Bowl win the New England Patriots enter the 2015-16 season as strong contenders to repeat. However, for reasons that aren’t immediately clear, they come out of the gate slowly, losing a series of games they’d be expected to win. As the middle of the season approaches, things have grown dire. The Pats are 1-6, rumors swirl that Bill Belichick has lost the locker room, and nobody except the weakside linebacker is playing worth a damn. Linemen can’t block, all-pro receivers have forgotten how to catch and Tom Brady has thrown 20 interceptions against zero touchdown passes.
Bob Kraft finally throws in the towel and fires Belichick. In the next game, with the secondary coach acting as interim head coach, the Patriots look like their old selves as they roll Cleveland 35-3.
Insane, huh? But that’s more or less exactly what has happened with English Premier League Champions Chelsea FC this season. Continue reading →
I’m a skinny, knock-kneed, white girl from a small farm town in upstate New York. I have blue eyes, pale skin, brown hair. I’m quiet and usually buried in a book. I’m average.
Imagine people’s surprise when I began dating the 6-foot-7-inch Division I basketball player. The black one.
I can’t count the number of times people asked me what it’s like to date a black man. The only thing different about dating a black man is people asking me what it’s like to date a black man.
Those same people usually asked if I was okay, too. Am I okay? Not with people being blind to their own ignorance.
They may have been blind, but they certainly still saw color.
During a visit to my hometown, my boyfriend and I went to pick a friend up from a party. There, I hugged other friends I hadn’t seen in months, excited to finally introduce them to my boyfriend. Continue reading →
Her boyfriend, Jackson Ricker, 18, placed his arms around [Miranda Shilter’s] waist and his chin on her shoulder and noted that Ms. Schilter had witnessed a different shooting a few weeks earlier when a heavily armed man shot and killed a bicyclist and two women in the downtown. “The first time she cried,” said Mr. Ricker, looking at his dry-eyed girlfriend. “She’s a veteran now.” (link original)
Let that process for a minute.
Over the course of the last three weeks, Miranda Shilter was a bystander to two different shootings, and “she’s a veteran now.” Continue reading →
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.