CATEGORY: CATEGORY: ArtSunday

Reading Chekhov during the malaise…

In Checkhov’s writing and in modern America, feelings of frustration and helplessness abound.

Doctors and kind-hearted relatives only do their best to make humanity stupid, and the time will come when mediocrity will be considered genius, and humanity will perish. – Anton Chekhov, “The Black Monk” 

Anton Chekhov (image courtesy Wikimedia)

Anton Chekhov (image courtesy Wikimedia)

There’s no escaping the hum of troubling discourse pervading America these days. Mouthpieces for the current PEOTUS and Twitter aficionado Donald Trump rally around their man and argue vociferously for positions such as “facts don’t exist anymore” while members of his base rail at anyone who isn’t just like them as “racists.” Meanwhile, supporters of Trump’s opponent Hillary Clinton vacillate between feverish (and likely unrealistic) hoping that a recount will miraculously create a reversal of fortunes and feverishly gathering and posting apocalyptic visions of the future of Trump’s America on social media.

Welcome to our America – land of Donald’s tweets and home of malaise.

As for me, I’m reading Chekhov’s short stories in in the Modern Library edition. Reading Chekhov feels right these days. His stories are populated by characters suffering their own malaise.   Continue reading

trump-voters

Trump voters and the need to feel superior

Faulkner was wrong. Mankind will not prevail.

trump-voters

Part 2 of a series

After weeks of pondering, I think I finally understand the election.

Full disclosure. I am an older white male. I grew up in the projects in the South, which was several social rungs below a trailer park because it meant living side by side with negroes. We were impoverished, living from paycheck to emergency loan to charity to government assistance to paycheck. I grew up in a family of virulent racists, proud that our ancestors had fought for the Confederacy and ridden with the Klan. My mother never finished high school and no one in my direct family line had ever completed college. I’ve been married 38 years to the same woman, have children and grandchildren and live in rural Indiana.

Trump’s tax plan will save me about $12,000 a year and will save my kids over a million dollars in inheritance taxes. I should’ve been a Trump supporter. Continue reading

Trump voters

Do Trump voters really think they’ve won?

There’s good news and bad news for poor white Trump supporters.

Trump votersPart 1 of a series

I’ve now gone through my seven stages of grieving over the election. But I’m not at peace. Instead I’m left with a nasty black residue like the stuff on beaches after an oil spill. It’s best summed up by an old joke.

Two guys show up at the gates of Heaven. St. Peter meets them and says, “I’ve got some bad news. Heaven’s a little full right now. We’re sending you back. We’ll come get you when we finish the new addition.”

He turns to one. “Now you’ve been a great person. You’ve been kind and generous. You’ve never done anything bad to anyone. You weren’t rich or famous, but you worked hard and maintained your dignity. I’m going to give you a $25 million dollar head start.” Continue reading

CATEGORY: American Culture

woMAN; Woe, man; Whoa! Man.

By Tamara Enz

CATEGORY: American CultureWhen I was in third grade, the elementary school principal came into our class to speak with the students. I don’t now remember what the primary reason was for his visit; what I remember is only a fragment of his lecture.

He stood at the chalkboard and wrote in large letters:

M A N

Stepping to the side so everyone in the class could see the letters, he said, “Without man,” he stepped back to the board and wrote “wo” before completing his sentence, “you cannot have woman.”

On the board was the word:

wo MAN

Almost 50 years later, I can still see this man saying these words, spewing ignorance and sexism across a new generation of children. Continue reading

ArtSunday

The World’s 100 best short stories, sort of… volume 10: humor

Statistics prove that there are 25 bathtubs sold to every Bible… and 50 to every dictionary, and 380 to every encyclopedia… proving that while we may be neglecting the interior, we are looking after the exterior…. – Will Rogers

Will Rogers (image courtesy Wikimedia)

Will Rogers (image courtesy Wikimedia)

And now we reach the last volume in the collection The World’s 100 Best Short Stories. The subject/theme of this volume is humor. There are some well remembered writers such as P. G. Wodehouse, Will Rogers, George Ade, and, oddly enough, Emile Zola. There are some not so well remembered writers such as Emile Gaboriau, Charles Brackett, H. C. Witwer, and William Hazlett Upson. And there are some figures whose literary legacy is either based on a single work (Frank R. Stockton, mentioned previously) and Booth Tarkington, a writer extraordinarily popular in his time whose reputation is now all but eclipsed.

This is the weakest volume in the entire collection. There are reasons for this and we’ll explore them.

But first, a digression. Continue reading

2f45d-free_wallpaper_patriotic_eagle_american_flag_background-1-1024x768

We all live in bubbles that distort our perspectives of America – rich or poor, rural or urban

Every bubble distorts our understanding of America

2f45d-free_wallpaper_patriotic_eagle_american_flag_background-1-1024x768Updated 11/25/16: added Footnotes section break at the bottom for clarity

I always knew that being white, male, straight, and educated meant that I was living in a bubble that distorted my perspective on the world. But it wasn’t until Election Day, when 62 million (as of 11/22/2016, according to USA Today) of my fellow Americans voted for a fascist (or proto-fascist) that I realized just how distorted my view of America had actually become. Since then I’ve started second-guessing myself on a host of issues that I thought were universal American ideals that have, it seems, turned out to merely be universal among my friends and family.

One of the mental adjustments I’m still trying to make is to recognize that 62 million people didn’t care that Donald was spouting rhetoric that was anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, racist, sexist, and homophobic rhetoric. 62 million people were OK with bigotry and borderline incitement of violence, behaviors and values that I thought were fundamentally un-American, values defined by the United States Constitution itself1. But while I’m certainly living in a bubble, I’m not the only one. The fact that many of Donald’s supporters are also living in their own bubbles was brought home to me in an NPR story I listened to on my way into work a few days ago. Continue reading

ArtSunday: LIterature

The World’s 100 Best Short Stories, sort of…volume 9: ghosts

Perhaps it’s all just a cock and a bull. But it’s a great one.

“There is neither ghost of earl nor ghost of countess in that room; there is no ghost there at all, but worse, far worse, something palpable….” “The worst of all things that haunt poor mortal men…and that is, in all its nakedness – Fear!” – H. G. Wells

Edward Everett Hale (image courtesy Wikimedia)

Edward Everett Hale (image courtesy Wikimedia)

This, the penultimate volume in The World’s 100 Best Short Stories set, takes as its subject matter/theme ghosts. As has been the case with other volumes in this series, the editor has chosen to interpret his choice broadly. Certainly in every story the characters find themselves haunted in some way, but this comes in most of the tales as a result of actions or circumstances rather than from any supernatural force.

The list of authors in this volume represents the most canonical or near-canonical group of any of the volumes thus far. Besides the above quoted Wells, Alexander Pushkin, Washington Irving, Sir Walter Scott, Prosper Merrimee, and John Galsworthy are all represented. There are some now forgotten (by contemporary audiences, anyway) writers, too, such as Johan Bojer, Stacy Aumonier, and James Hopper.  Then there’s the pictured Edward Everett Hale, known to generations of American school children for his story “The Man Without a Country” which is part of this collection.

Hale is the most fascinating of this latter group because he is known for a single work. Like Richard E. Connell (whose “The Most Dangerous Game” was discussed on my essay on volume 1) or Frank R. Stockton (known for “The Lady or the Tiger?” who will be discussed in the next essay of this series (though for  a different story), Hale’s literary legacy, though he was critically well regarded in his lifetime, hangs on that single story. This the topic for another essay, however, so let’s move on to the works in this collection. Continue reading

CATEGORY: UnitedStates

A letter to my nieces, November 2016

By Amber Healy

CATEGORY: UnitedStatesIn the early afternoon of Election Day 2016, I traded messages with a good friend, heart swelling with hope.

“To think … maybe, just maybe, the kiddos we love who are little right now …they’ll never know a world where a person of color or a woman couldn’t be president.”

Within hours, I watched the country turn a deeper red, crimson spreading from coast to coast, revealing the true colors of the United States.

Despite winning two million fewer votes from the American people than his opponent, Donald Trump secured more than the required 270 Electoral College votes to secure the presidency, effective January 2017.

It was not supposed to be this way. Continue reading

WordsDay: Literature

The consolations of literature…

 

Life is a jest; and all things show it/ I though so once; but now I know it. – John Gay

It’s just words, folks, just words…. – Donald Trump

John Gay (image courtesy Wikimedia)

John Gay (image courtesy Wikimedia)

Friends ask me with some regularity why it is that I spend so much of my free time reading and contemplating and writing about literature. I forswore writing about politics several years ago. (I think it was about 2010 that I gave up trying to say anything useful on the topic. I may have let slip the odd veiled or not-so-veiled reference in the essays I write about literature, but my active days as a critic of this, that, or the other political activity or politician are over.)

Great days – or if the Chinese curse is more apt, interesting days – are upon us, however, and while I can and do find comfort at times in Lord Byron’s flippancy:

I would to heaven that I were so much clay,
As I am blood, bone, marrow, passion, feeling—
Because at least the past were passed away—
And for the future—(but I write this reeling,
Having got drunk exceedingly today,
So that I seem to stand upon the ceiling)
I say—the future is a serious matter—
And so—for God’s sake—hock and soda water!

I find that as I contemplate the changes likely to be wrought in my country with the election of the author of one of the epigraphs that begin this essay, that I must find more – and healthier – consolations than the one the 6th Baron of Newstead Abbey proposes.

And so I turn to literature.  Continue reading

Image Credit: Getty

Next time, ask the Reagan question before you vote

On January 1, 2019, as President Trump approaches his third state of the union address, people in America should pop the Reagan question: Are you better off than you were four years ago?

Those in the United States should ask, for example:

“Is my health insurance costing me more out of pocket than under Obama? Am I getting better, more affordable benefits?”

“Can I still get health insurance?”

“Have work restrictions been placed on my Medicare benefits? Has my state limited Medicare benefits?”

“Has my property tax bill gone up or down?”

“Has the rusty bridge carrying my daughter’s school bus been fixed?”

“I live in a city. Has my child developed asthma in the past year?”

“What’s the interest rate on a new car now?”

“Do I have to pay more for my prescription medications?”
Continue reading

Not merely with or beside you, but for you.

I wore a safety pin on my shirt today

Wearing a safety pin is a mark of “I will protect you with my own body if necessary.” Wearing one is a responsibility, not a symbol of solidarity.

Not merely with or beside you, but for you.

Not merely with or beside you, but for you.

I wore a safety pin on my shirt today.

I thought long and deep about whether that was a good idea or not.

Wearing a safety pin on my shirt means that I’m self-identifying as a safe person – someone whom anyone can approach, for any reason, and expect help, without question or judgement. It means that, if I see bullying or bigotry or abuse, I’m obligating myself to step in if asked, to get involved on behalf of the victim or victims.

But it also means that I have to give anyone I’m with fair notice that I might have to put our plans on hold to help a stranger. And it means that I might get threatened or even seriously injured in the process of assisting someone who needed help. Continue reading

Journalism

Action plan #1: buy a damned newspaper

Image1 for post Journalism in an era of onerous deadlines? Not so good anymoreUnless you’ve missed every headline and item in your social media feed, you might have noticed that there’s a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth today. That’s okay. Get it out of your systems. But for the love of all that you hold dear, try to keep it brief, okay? We need action more than tears. And we need it sooner rather than later.

But what action? Where do we start? Well, as a person with a long history of bitching and moaning instead of acting, I’ve had enough. I don’t want to keep being the person who shows up only to complain. So I’m going to start pitching ideas for action. Some of them will suck. Some will be amazing. They should all be prompts for you, Dear Reader, to do the same. Come up with plans for action. Do them. And pitch them to your friends and anyone else that will listen so they can do them, too.

So what’s this great first idea I’m pitching? Buy a damned newspaper. Continue reading

#HopeTuesday—Election Day Special

At the polls it wasn’t ‘us’ and ‘them’, just us…

When you went to the polls today you didn’t just vote on your own behalf, you voted for all of us. You voted for people you don’t know and will never know, people like the folks I encountered in passing today while earning my own miniscule piece of the American Dream as a substitute high school teacher.

Mary works at Macy’s and sang with Sal Carson’s big bands for 21 years

(7-11, El Camino Real @ South San Francisco High School)

Continue reading

budweisertemporarilyrenamesflagshipbeer-hifibq6vtbl

The war over words

Politicians have always sought the power to control the meaning of language. But now this open warfare has raced past reprehensible to dangerous for democracy.

language-has-powerIn the vicious descent to American unexceptionalism that politicians and their rich supporters are hellbent on winning (common folk and consequences be damned), the election has become a continuing chase for the authority to control language.

That’s what modern power has become: the ability to define a word, and to prevent others from doing so. Politicians rarely make coherent arguments any more; they instead try to co-opt the meanings of words. That’s why debates have been nonsensical: Candidates may utter the same words, but the meanings they assign to those words are vastly different.

Consider just one particular word. Continue reading

ArtSunday: LIterature

The World’s 100 Best Short Stories, Sort of…Volume 6: Courage

“It can never be said…. Because there’s no guide for the search and no definition for the thing found. There’s only the necessity…for man to go beyond himself, to go beyond reason, even beyond truth….” – Dana Burnet

Nicolai Gogol (image courtesy Wikimedia)

Nicolai Gogol (image courtesy Wikimedia)

This, volume 6 of The World’s 100 Best Short Stories, has as its theme courage. I think that it’s the most frustrating volume of this collection that I have yet read. (With the exception of a classic tale by Gogol, none of the stories are memorable.) When I was searching for a quote, for example, to use as sub-heading, I probably spent the better part of two hours fumbling through the volume trying to find any quote that would work as a stand-alone. I had hoped to use a quote from the Gogol classic, “The Cloak” (you likely know it by its more common English translation, “The Overcoat”) mentioned above. No luck – whether it was the translation or the late hour when I was searching, no usable quote appeared from the only canonical author in this volume.

So I find myself using a quote from a popular author of the time, one Dana Burnet.

And here we go. You may, at this point, like those guys in Holden Caulfield’s Oral Expression class, begin yelling “Digression!”- but, as Holden says, “I like it when somebody digresses. It’s more interesting and all.”

I couldn’t find a picture of Dana Burnet. Burnet was a highly successful writer who wrote for Broadway and for Hollywood (including at least two screenplays for Jimmy Stewart movies). And so you see a picture of Nicolai Gogol.

Because you can’t find Dana Burnet’s picture. On the freaking Internet. Continue reading

Be school

“Let us go forward together with our united strength.” #HopeTuesday

So my teaching assignment on Halloween was to manage five periods of world and American history. Toward the end of second period, around 10 a.m., one of my students whipped out this mask, put it on, and just sat quietly at his desk. And since he had finished the classwork anyway, I let him roll with it. And Churchill didn’t seem to mind.

Yes, yes, I know, Guy Fawkes was a treasonous bomber whose religious motivations seem uncomfortably plausible in our current age of terrorism. But he’s come to represent a righteous, anti-oppression kind of protest, and to see some affinity for that in a modern-day American high school is kind of what #HopeTuesday is all about.

(I’m a substitute high school teacher. The photograph is from my pictorial teaching diary. See it here.)

20160812_201750

The old school World Series

20160812_201750On my way out of work this afternoon, wearing my husband’s Indians jacket from 2001, I stopped to shake hands with four Cubs fans and welcome them to Cleveland. One of our teams is going to break a very long losing streak and the other will once again say, “Next year!”

For Clevelanders, we almost don’t know how to behave this fall. Especially today.

This evening the Cavs will hang their championship banner at the Q and receive their rings. Actually, everyone who works for the Cavs will get a ring–right down to the guards and the people who sell you beer.

While that is still going on, the Cleveland Indians will host the first game of the World Series across the street at Progressive Field. Continue reading

ArtSunday

The World’s 100 Best Short Stories, Sort of…Vol. 2, Romance

“Only a moment; a moment of strength, of romance, of glamour — of youth!… A flick of sunshine upon a strange shore, the time to remember, the time for a sigh, and — goodbye!” – Joseph Conrad

Thomas Burke (image courtesy deeprootsmag.org)

Thomas Burke (image courtesy deeprootsmag.org)

This second volume  (volume 1 here) in the collection The World’s 100 Best Short Stories takes as its theme “Romance” and, thankfully, treats with that term in its classical sense “the fascination with far off places and times” rather than focusing on its more recent interpretation as “boy meets girl and complications ensue.” That is something of a relief, the latter variation on the term having been pretty completely spoiled by young adult fiction of one kind or another.

As a result, the stories in this second book take the reader from the American Wild West to the France of Louis the 15th to (kinda sorta) ancient Egypt to the slums of London.

There are a couple of interesting issues to discuss concerning this collection of stories, some related to the stories as stories, some related to the stories’ adaptations by other media. That brings up the old issue of the experience of fiction vs. the experience of the re-interpretation of fiction as visual art.

So. To a few of the stories…. Continue reading

teachingdays-124-1

A lunch lady blues

Show her some respect…

I am the goddess

you never pray to.

I am the mother

who forced your father to suckle you.

I give you food,

every day,

I feed your arrogance.

Continue reading