CATEGORY: ArtsLiterature2

Literature as comfort food…

Our choices of favorite books, those we go to time and again for pleasure, for solace, for inspiration, for – comfort – may be inexplicable, even to us….

You can bet a certain Mr. Twain will be on the menu of my literary comfort foods…

As I continue my rather too leisurely reading of Walker Percy’s classic The Last Gentleman, I find myself scrambling for an essay topic. Luckily, last week I was helped out by  my friend Sam who insisted, rightly, that I wrote something about the new Harper Lee novel, Go Set a Watchman. Then I ran into an article at The Nation which allowed me to discuss two of the current movements in literary fiction.  That made for another nice essay to allow me more time to finish the Walker Percy – which I didn’t do.

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

CATEGORY: ArtsLiterature2

Peter Handke: the truth about sorrow…

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

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It will simply be marriage

WesSupremeCourt2On 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:

WesWeWon

Continue reading

sufferquest

Endurance sports – what is “epic”? The SufferQuest Diaries, vol. 2

In search of epicness—whatever that is. (And if it’s organized, it’s probably isn’t epic.)

sufferquestPart 2 in a series.

SufferQuest is in some ways a misnomer. What endurance athletes are really chasing is epicness.

But what, pray tell, is epicness?

Hmmmm. That’s a tough one. It’s easy enough to list some of my epic experiences.

  • Hitchhiking across the States solo when I was seventeen.
  • Visiting a village in West Africa that was so remote the villagers had to ferry our motorcycles across a huge wetland in canoes was epic.
  • As were many of the times in Louisiana where I worked pipeline construction to earn money for college… Continue reading
sufferquest

Marathons, triathlons, centuries – Sufferquest Diaries Volume 1: Why get off the couch unless you need to pee?

Part 1 in a series.

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

CATEGORY: PersonalNarrative

Friends and acquaintances

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 had a sick feeling the rest of the day. I still do. Continue reading

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A ghost in passing Valencia

Optical tourism in San Francisco’s Mission…

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)

Music and Popular Culture

The great gig in the sky: relistening to Dark Side of the Moon

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

Woman-Power

My gender survey of the bios of S&R staff members – a theory

Scholars & RoguesSeveral 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

ArtSunday: LIterature

The reading and writing doldrums…

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…

EPSON MFP image

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.

Continue reading

WordsDay: Literature

Jean-Paul Sartre: Words with Friends – and Enemies – and, Well, Everyone…

“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 Existentialist was in his late 50’s, The Words 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

CATEGORY: PersonalNarrative

Photography may have saved my life

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

CATEGORY: PhotographyYou 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.

Here’s how it goes. Continue reading

CATEGORY: PersonalNarrative

The twisting, capricious nature of “blessings”

CATEGORY: PersonalNarrativeYesterday was … unsettling. Any time you’re meeting with your physician and the words “brain tumor” come out of her mouth, it’s going to make you sit up a little straighter, even if she’s mostly dismissing it as a possibility. Mostly.

As I have noted before, I suffer from a disorder that causes significant vertigo issues and, commencing in the past few years, a condition called Nystagmus. In 2007 I visited a top dizziness expert at the University of Colorado medical center in hopes of finding some good news. I submitted to many tests and the diagnosis was a degenerative inner ear disorder. It was going to get worse, I was told. Also, people who suffer from diseases like this one enjoy an exceptionally high suicide rate. (Although, perhaps “enjoy” isn’t quite the right word.)

I had been a very active athlete my whole life, but not any more. Continue reading

kamiya bar

Kamiya Bar (神谷バー)

Dedicated to my wife Michele…

…to whom I have been married for 15 years as of today, and who lived and inspired this story and so many others in my heart’s yet unwritten library.

The old timers had been going there for over one hundred years, and I was finally back after more than twenty.

It was Kamiya Bar, in the Asakusa part of Tokyo, and in 2008 it was the oldest western-style bar in the city. Western as in high ceilings, with wood-veneer wall panels, chrome light fixtures and those patterned tin ceiling tiles you see in old saloons in Tombstone, Arizona or Virginia City, Nevada.

But I don’t mean it also had brass spittoons and buffalo horns on the walls.

Continue reading

CATEGORY: ArtSunday

Arnold Gingrich: a well tempered angler

“Actually, though being well read must be a part of the process, an angler is tempered chiefly by practice and experience, by learning and attempting to reach the successively higher goals of his sport, and thus acquiring, through any amount of disappointment and frustration, the satisfaction of knowing that he is doing the simplest thing in the hardest way possible.” – Arnold Gingrich

The Well-Tempered Angler by Arnold Gingrich. image courtesy librarything.com

A slight detour from my pursuit of world literature classics via the 2015 reading list. I’ve had a couple of gifts this past week, both from my son Josh. The first gift is a new granddaughter, Susanna Quinn, our first grandchild and a wondrous new addition to the life of this old writer/professor/musician. Of course, in that endeavor he had notable assistance from his lovely wife Sandra, so credit where credit is due.  The second gift Josh bestowed upon me was a book – you may let your shock and awe begin. We were on our way  to pick up some dinner the evening that the amazing and lovely Susanna was allowed to come home from the hospital and when I got into Josh’s car, there was a book in the floorboard. “Take that, Dad,” he said. “I’ve been meaning to give it to you.” It was a copy of The Well-Tempered Angler by Arnold Gingrich. Having just muddled my way through Andre Gide’s Corydon and just become a grandfather, I was feeling the need for something – shall we say, self-indulgent? The Well-Tempered Angler fit the bill perfectly.

The book is on fly fishing, my favorite sport.  I’ve written about fly fishing, on a number of occasions now. You can read this and this and this if you feel so inclined. I shall probably write about fly fishing again.

I think we have established that I have a certain fondness for fly fishing. So did Arnold Gingrich. For anyone who finds the literature of angling of any interest at all, or for those with a curiosity about how those of the New York literary scene lived back in the heady days of White, Thurber, and Parker at The New Yorker, and Hemingway and Fitzgerald at Esquire, the various sections of this book will be delightful.  Continue reading

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Encountering Mt. Doom: hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing

15 - 2Completing the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in on March 25 was neither what I anticipated nor hoped for. My husband,  John, and I have been planning our trip to New Zealand for months and since seeing the trek described as “one of the world’s top single-day hikes” we had put it at the top of our to-do list.

New Zealand consists of two main islands and Tongariro National Park sits in the middle of the North Island. For people who are not trekking enthusiasts, the way that the park is most familiar is that it was the filming site of the fictional Mt. Doom in Peter Jackson’s adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. There are several volcanic peaks in the park. Mt. Ngauruhoe, an iconic and stark volcanic cone became Mt. Doom–from which the One Ring was forged and to which it had to be returned.

First, let me say that the 19.4 kilometer “Crossing” was more of a “climb” than a “hike.” If I had understood more about the nature of much of the trail in advance–I might have had second thoughts. I read through the website, did some other research, looked at the beautiful pictures. The incredible scenery was all there when I did the hike. But, not surprisingly, there are not a whole lot of pictures of the narrow hogbacks that had to be climbed or descended (probably because few people are of a mind or stomach to stop and pull out the camera under those circumstances).

Continue reading

ArtSunday

Book Review: The Burgundy Briefcase by Roberta Burton

Knowledge in our chosen fields of endeavor is important, certainly…knowledge of ourselves is essential…. 

The Burgundy Briefcase by Roberta Burton (image courtesy Goodreads)

Roberta Burton’s The Burgundy Briefcase is a difficult novel to discuss because it doesn’t seem quite sure what sort of novel it wants to be. It’s part star-crossed love story, part therapeutic confessional, part self-examination. Its settings shift from place to place as its main character, a doctoral student named Lee Lindsey, moves around Tallahassee, Florida where she is completing her doctorate in marriage and family counseling at Florida State University. It moves, sometimes rather blithely, through time from present to past and back again. It has a shifting cast of characters who appear, disappear, and reappear in those weird ways that people sometimes do in life.

Perhaps The Burgundy Briefcase is best described as a picaresque novel about education. The work is filled with various types of educations, and Lee Lindsey, willingly and unwillingly, gets educated in all all of these education types. Continue reading

Woman-Power

For Women’s History Month – women who have won the Nobel Peace Prize, part one

Women working for peace are always especially near and dear to my heart! Here are some winners of the Nobel Peace Prize. Since there are seventeen of them, I will present about half today and half tomorrow.

Oh, before I get to that though, I have to mention that Cindy Sheehan really is my peace activist hero. I was at Camp Casey with her where we camped out under the hot Texas sun just outside of George Bush’s ranch. Just as Camp Casey was winding down because Bush was leaving Texas and returning to D.C., Hurricane Katrina was bearing down on my beloved home city. Cindy and I did a press conference together in which I questioned whether the slow response to the disaster had anything to do with the fact that much of the Louisiana National Guard and much of its equipment were off fighting in a nation that had never attacked the United States. Continue reading

Woman-Power

For women’s history month, women you’ve probably never heard of – Dominique Christina

It is Women’s History Month and my goal is to post about a different woman every day for the rest of March.

Dominique Christina is a poet, artist, activist, educator, author and self-described “colored girl with stars for eyes.”  She is also the only person to hold two national titles for slam poetry at one time and is the only poet in history to win the Women of the World Poetry Championship twice. A former 1996 Olympic Volleyball player, Dominique has over 10 years of experience as a licensed teacher, holding double Masters degrees in Education and English Literature. She conducts performances/workshops all over the country for colleges, universities, nonprofit organizations, and conferences like the LOHAS forum in Boulder, Colorado. She does branding and marketing language for companies like Lotus Wei and Gaia. She is the niece of one of the Little Rock Nine. She sometimes performs with Denice Frohman as Sister Outsider, the duo representing two of the top three female slam poets in the world. Continue reading

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What would it take to get American men into the streets to protest rape? It has happened in other countries.

(TRIGGER WARNING: sexual assault)

A little over two years ago, a young couple in India went to see a movie. They were celebrating the young woman’s completion of her exams to get into medical school. On the bus they took to get home at 8:30 P.M., the male passengers raped the young woman, raped her so badly that her intestines actually came out through her vagina. Continue reading