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Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Season of Hope


Just one of many great photographs by local Portland photographer, Mark Ford.

(For other great photos, go to MarkForddesign.com)



Thursday, December 20, 2012

And Dream of Big Sur



It's been a difficult week...

It's been a difficult week, having to grapple with the terrible news from last Friday. I can't get it out of my thoughts. It bothers me. Things were sort of looking up since November at least - and then....I don't want to lump this together with all those other tragedies that happened in the year 2012. Why does the year have to end this way? Children dying because of a severely disturbed, unfeeling, angry, vengeful young maniac...Twenty children and six heroic teachers - that's hard to take. Hard to process. A huge pit in the stomach. The weather is slightly warmer this year, but otherwise dismal. Political gridlock and other disappointments continue...Some very relentless ideologues of the gun-toting variety (how they acquired public forums to speak in is beyond me) are hitting all the wrong notes on the topic of preventing more gun violence in America. Not to mention mental illness. It's getting harder and harder to concentrate these days...It's supposed to be a merry season and all, but the world seems a little unhinged. To help cope with all this absurdity - with the help of some basic logic and good will,  I've been looking at: The Trial by Franz Kafka....The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle... A Fanatic Heart by Edna O'Brien...American Prometheus - A biography of Robert Oppenheimer...We'll get through this...There's a lot of good people out there in Newtown and elsewhere...We have to find a way to connect...Literature can help...

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Edna O'Brien on Leaving Ireland

"I had got away. That was my victory. The real quarrel with Ireland began to burgeon in me then; I thought of how it had warped me, and those around me, and their parents before them, all stooped by a variety of fears--fear of church, fear of gombeenism [small-time hucksters], fear of phantoms, fear of ridicule, fear of hunger, fear of annihilation, and fear of their own deeply ingrained aggression that can only strike a blow at each other, not having the innate authority to strike at those who are higher. Pity arose too, pity for a land so often denuded, pity for a people reluctant to admit that there is anything wrong. That is why we leave. Because we beg to differ. Because we dread the psychological choke. But leaving is only conditional. The person you are is anathema to the person you would like to be." - Edna O'Brien.  

 Read more at http://quotes.dictionary.com/author/edna+o'brien?page=1#2q3oJd7UGdg4YtdM.99 



Edna O'Brien - author of The Country Girls, The Lonely Girls, A Fanatic Heart, 
Tales for the Telling, Wild Decembers, A Pagan Place, Time and Tide, Mother Ireland, 
The Light of Evening, The House of Splendid Isolation, and Country Girl: A Memoir.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Small Talk

Small talk is like a warm fire.

You see a crowd gathering around the glowing embers.

Red, yellow orange - you can't resist because you also are cold, vulnerable, alone in winter.

And what fire isn't warm - you ask yourself.

But this is a soothing, hypnotic fire in a plush public lobby.

With a nearby comfortable couch and a braided rug from that store that sends you catalogs.

The fire is blaring and crackling.

And there you are without an invitation.

The others are joining in already.

There is much to discuss: houses, movies, chairs, ceramics...

And perhaps you hesitate because it is all so natural...

Like yoga class without a mat or so you've heard...

Like the bingo party where everyone checks the same numbers on their squares all at once...

And perhaps even like children gathering around a teacher who is handing out prizes...

You also are not immune to this metaphorical bee-hive which is perhaps not at all like a hive so much as it is the cafeteria line at Ikea where people wait to place fresh fruit and Swedish meatballs on a tray...

And perhaps they will make room as well for your big feet and broad shoulders.

And will by subtle adjustments welcome you with muted acceptance...

And perhaps they are even now beginning to roast marshmallows or chestnuts,

Which you avoid impulsively out of fear - on principle that is - because your secret snobbery leads you to regard them as predictable and ineffectual...

(How will such combustibles move the dominant paradigm forward after all?)

This is indeed a ripe feast for listening - almost like unraveling a secret spy code...

Just be careful not to mention zebras, violins, Madagascar or the Chinese economy!

Just be sure to reference weather, football, traffic and grisly local news...

Do not boast of  any esoteric knowledge of insects,  Rothko or sub-atomic particles.

(On second thought, secret knowledge of planetary motions is okay - as long as it relates to love, career and friendship...)

Just be sure to smile and make persistent eye contact.

Do not attempt to crack a joke until you notice someone who laughs at anything.

And now you may draw near and nod politely as you nestle closer to the flames...

With your floppy hat and coat and shaggy torn pants much like those of the other pilgrims,

Hiding the fact that your plaid shirt is pine green interspersed with slight, subtle violet diamonds and brilliant vermillion hexagons... a fact ignored and overlooked by these other non-mathematicians.

So you decide to play it safe and utter a pleasant bromide...

Something about the fire perhaps or your favorite beer...

But instead you say: "I have a theory about  this ghastly dance of the straight-jacketed, manacled reducto absurdum of the langorous surrender to the non-threatening semantic machine - my fellows - my brethren!"

Monday, December 10, 2012

Mid-December Bus Ride...

After the all-day tournament in mid-December 
where from within the strangely cold, synthetic, white-walled classrooms and hallways
judging rounds, sitting, standing, eating, pacing, ...filling out final ballots - then waiting
until the awards ceremony convenes in the cramped theater
with much fanfare and zany audience participation...
surrounded by young, raucous debaters and theatrical types
speech-makers, performers all - intoning, emoting, opining,
spilling out into the dark and misty, vaguely sprawling parking lot
with their quirky-funny hats, their bow ties, their business suits and shoes that go click
the aspiring smiles, the confident gait,
girls arm in arm laughing, boys sputtering with mirth
the loud banter and spontaneous laughter of future successful adults in the making
this energetic, dressed-up crowd scene
giving way to school buses slowly exiting
the dark patch of nowhere in particular.

Through creeping fog the school bus winds and weathers up hill
on some sad, forlorn, anonymous wet stretch of road
past warm-lit houses a mere stone's throw away from the reach of traffic
their kitchens and living-rooms exposed,
bearing the movements of restless festive strangers within
those who are already enjoying their dinner and "down time" as they amble about
and on their homes, the front facade, the lights
the bright, brilliant glow of red and green and white
of encouraging, enthusiastic, waving snowmen, Santa's reindeer and elves
here and there in a vast commercial montage mystery of humankind's fantasy wonderland of winter
adorning the trees and porches to mark what "everyone" here calls their "favorite season"
making their mad rush for the 25th...
for yuletide amid the dim darkened north
And we, the bus passengers, bathed in perfect darkness
enveloped by the nighttime such as to feel our own oblivion,
but not so much as to note the sad terror of being completely forgotten
draw down (literally sink) into a state of hypnotic repose.

It is strange to lose one's ego at such moments
as when your bodily frame is somehow merged
with the rumble and hum of a bus engine
as if no one knew at all you were there
(or were ever anywhere before that or would be somewhere afterward)
melding into some anonymous perch on a bench seat
this could be the bus ride to forever.
There in that moment of calm
losing all sense of self-image and appearance
or accomplishment or reputation or public glare...
by breathing you mark the absolute fact
that millions are not keeping track of you
have never heard of you, will not inquire of you...
even the whispered remarks of those few, your fellow passengers...
makes you think of the rowdy entourage that just entered a hotel someplace
and proceeded to ask for towels and ice and a king-size bed...
while calmly you sit, forgetful of yourself because others are preoccupied
and by some miracle, this does not induce in you a panic attack
or that moment of terror - that usually you encounter at this dim-lit time of year

How strangely calm, how perfectly natural for one so obscured
to ponder (for long intervals of time) the countless myriads of human beings...
that fill up this world - who enter and depart like so many tourists
playing out so many vast untold stories and adventures
enduring what for many proves to be an agony, a struggle
either a swift succession of predicaments or mind-numbing, slow-moving monotonous rituals of suffering
and what for you are the exponential, boundless unmapped trajectories of sheer possibility...
this too is the sort of calculation you perform in your head almost effortlessly on long bus rides...
It is so calming, so very uncanny to be released from your typical mundane attention span
the closest thing to a mystical out of body experience that one can imagine...
lasting approximately 1 hour and 10 minutes -
And then - the bus ride ends.

You return once again to your familiar car and your familiar self
And you drive home in traffic - inhaling somehow the same wet dark and the night's ether
And with the glare of lights and the radio pounding out random songs,
you find again that you are the exact same person as before:
half awake, unmindful, disheveled, freezing, panicky, exhausted, spent
almost panting while running inside "that someplace" you call home
immune from the nighttime's cloak that wrapped you in a blanket of nothingness
You fetch a glass of water feeling the warm artifice of indoors
You stare at the familiar faces of wife and children who stare back at you with equal wonder on your present condition of spacey disorientation...
You pace back and forth or stop to lean over the counter
this time asking: who are we, the ones who are tired from riding buses on weekends
lost in uncertainty, clutching for answers...

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Fiscal Cliff-Jumping, Anyone?

"Fellow bravehearts, men of iron, you amazing specimens, you, my stalwart congressional brethren - you loyal true-believers, undaunted by satirists, late-night comedians and feckless bloggers,  ready to accomplish any mission, no matter how difficult or messy or unpopular...it's time to go fiscal cliff-jumping! Who wants to be first?"

"Cliff-jumping. Oh, my! I feel faint...'

"Golly...."

"Yikes...that edge is steep, chief!"

"Has the other side made a proposal yet?"

"A cliff! A cliff! My first real fiscal cliff! How exciting, how vibrant, how manly..."

"I haven't felt this level of brinksmanship since the Cuban Missile Crisis...and I don't even remember that episode..."

"Never saw Dr. Strangelove - huh?"

 "Ya. Ya. This is a job for guys like us: the few, the proud, the Super-Uber-Congressmen on steroids!"

"Me first, me first, me first....I want to go first!"

"Who said that?"

"Uhm...on second thought... I was just kidding....we're gonna wait until the 11th hour as usual - right?"

"That's the spirit. Wait until the other side stumbles - then we'll make our move."

"Our non-move you mean..."

"I mean our counter-move to their move."

"Which is simply to negate their forward movement."

"Exactly."

"Leading back to stalemate?"

"Ed - have you ever heard the old saying: don't let the actual attainable good stand in the way of the perfect-utopian-fantasy-dream-world that no one has ever seen?"

"No - I never heard it said that way - is that our new talking point?"

"Weren't you listening to Rush this morning?"

"Mums the word ... here comes an innocent bystander..."

"Gentlemen...I'm confused...What is the meaning of all this?"

"We are doing the will of the people, sir I assure you."

"The will of the people?"

"Yes - the will of the people who gave me this Orwellian headpiece that I'm now forced to wear - with the talking points reverberating in my mind until I just can't take it!"

"And you accept the fact that you're being held hostage by a vast minority of primary voters with no clue as to how a modern economy operates???"

"You're talking massive government outlays intertwined with public sector budgets and private corporate welfare?"

"Of course, for people like us who just lost the election, I can't see what else you'd rather have us do? We have earned the right to be angry, disgruntled and obstinately non-cooperative given our recent showing at the polls..."

"So this plan of yours to not raise revenues in any way and to cajole the other side into making the first move on entitlement reform .... all that will help jump-start the economy then, if we follow you guys on your latest foray into obstructionism and nay-saying?"

"Quite the contrary...it will unleash a series of draconian budget cuts while allowing the prior middle-class tax cuts to expire (something we used to vociferously support by the way) - sort of like an anti-stimulus package - strong enough to plunge the economy back into a major recession thereby further discrediting the incumbent."

"And it that the goal - your only goal?"

"What else would you have us do? We are men of principle after all..."

"Mr Speaker - is that your position also?"

"You know...I was outside just a minute ago...and I saw this little girl holding an American flag...and something about the way she was looking at me...like I was going to do the right thing...like she believed in my sincerity...and did not suspect...for one moment... that there was anything fraudulent about my behavior...it made me get kinda weepy all of a sudden."

[a voice from within chambers]: "Mr. Speaker - your handlers would like a word with you!"

IT happened AGAIN

So I'm minding my own business - not even watching the news when IT happens again. And it's not like I've been keeping track of events like this because - when this type of thing happens, everyone is supposed to come together to find a "solution" of sorts - or at least confront the problem, i.e. admit that we've got a situation on our hands that keeps giving us nightmares in the form of actual, hideous scenes of carnage. This time it was an NFL player who shot (with a gun) his twenty-two year old girlfriend upwards of nine times in front of his own mother and baby daughter, thereby murdering her before driving over to the stadium in Kansas City to inform his coaches/employers and despondently thank them for all they had done for him, prior to ending his own life - again with a gun. Before this it was the angry guy who killed members of the Sikh community in Wisconsin with a gun ; prior to that it was a mentally deranged young man in Colorado who shot up a movie theater with a gun; before that it was another mentally deranged young man who shot Congresswoman Giffords in the head, killing innocent by-standers, including a little girl, with a gun. And in case anyone is starting to think - "well hey, that about does it for recent gun violence," if I happened to include the not-yet-completely-forgotten Virginia Tech massacres (with assault weapons) or the Fort Hood shootings (with a gun), would that get us thinking about the weird continuity of events? Do you happen to see a pattern developing here, folks? Does anyone think it's time we advocate for a mental stability litmus test of some sort to go along with with waiting periods and back-ground checks? Is that too much "gun control" for us to withstand? Maybe this shouldn't even be spun as a "gun regulation" issue so much as a "mental health" epidemic. Everyone has issues with anger, anxiety, stress and depression - and maybe for some of us, a gun is not the best item to always keep ready-to-hand. I've heard the line "guns don't kill anyone without people pulling the trigger," and I suppose that's true enough, but for those who subscribe to this point of view - just out of curiosity -would you not also agree that "people who happen to be using guns kill people more ruthlessly and effectively than people who are reaching for knives and clubs"? Remember that terrible news story about the insane person who went completely ballistic with a kitchen knife in a public place? Hmmm... I don't remember that one either. Or how about the guy who took a sword and took down several innocent shoppers at Walmart? Nope. That doesn't ring a bell.  How about that bloody domestic dispute where the boyfriend grabbed a chainsaw and just went nuts? Or the one involving a disgruntled ex-employee who showed up to work wielding a 2X4 and proceeded to mow down dozens at a stretch? Strange....I don't remember any such case of random violence in America involving those weapons - or at least nothing that can even approach the no-questions-asked availability of guns - as  the weapon-of-choice that people in America reach for when something inside of them "snaps." But now you're thinking: "fine just go ahead and take my guns away and leave me vulnerable to that day when the jackboots start knocking on my door and dragging me away in the middle of the night. How am I suppose to defend myself against a fascistic governmental raid on my person and property???" My response to this sentiment is twofold: 1) if things have gotten THAT BAD in America, it's time to either emigrate to Australia or build a fall-out shelter in upper Montana (as many have already done) and 2) anyone who thinks that owning a single gun or rifle or stockpile or arsenal of automatic weapons would improve their odds in the event of a standoff with the Feds,  (putting aside for the moment all accusations of paranoia and magical thinking) gives indications of actually believing that a person could shoot their way out of what many neutral observers would call death-by-government-search-and-seizure-firing-squad. I admit it. I don't understand THIS LOGIC...

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Turkeys


Something symbolic going on here, folks .... Not quite sure what it is...but tomorrow is Thursday and...

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Jill McCorkle



The renowned author of such short story collections as Crash Diet and Creatures of Habit along with her superior novels: Ferris Beach, Carolina Moon and Tending Toward Virginia.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Joseph Conrad - Prose Stylist


"The moon had spread over everything a thin layer of silver - over the rank grass, over the mud, upon the wall of matted vegetation standing higher than the wall of a temple, over the great river I could see through a sombre gap glittering, glittering, as it flowed broadly by without a murmur. All this was great, expectant, mute, while the man jabbered about himself. I wondered whether the stillness on the face of the immensity looking at us two were meant as an appeal or as a menace. What were we who had strayed in here? Could we handle that dumb thing, or would it handle us? I felt how big, how confoundedly big, was that thing that couldn't talk, and perhaps was deaf as well. What was in there? I could see a little ivory coming out from there, and I had heard Mr. Kurtz was in there. I had heard enough about it, too -- God knows! Yet somehow it didn't bring any image with it -- no more than if I had been told an angel or a fiend was in there. I believed it in the same way one of you might believe there are inhabitants in the planet Mars. I knew once a Scotch sailmaker who was certain, dead sure, there were people in Mars. If you asked him for some idea how they looked and behaved, he would get shy and mutter something about 'walking on all-fours.' If you as much as smiled, he would -- though a man of sixty -- offer to fight you. I would not have gone so far as to fight for Kurtz, but I went for him near enough to a lie. You know I hate, detest, and can't bear a lie, not because I am straighter than the rest of us, but simply because it appalls me. There is a taint of death, a flavour of mortality in lies -- which is exactly what I hate and detest in the world -- what I want to forget. It makes me miserable and sick, like biting something rotten would do. Temperament, I suppose. Well, I went near enough to it by letting the young fool there believe anything he liked to imagine as to my influence in Europe. I became in an instant as much of a pretence as the rest of the bewitched pilgrims. This simply because I had a notion it somehow would be of help to that Kurtz whom at the time I did not see -- you understand. He was just a word for me. I did not see the man in the name any more than you do. Do you see him? Do you see the story? Do you see anything? It seems to me I am trying to tell you a dream - making a vain attempt, because no relation of a dream can convey the dream-sensation, that commingling of absurdity, surprise, and bewilderment in a tremor of struggling revolt, that notion of being captured by the incredible which is of the very essence of dreams. . . ." - from Heart of Darkness


Sunday, October 21, 2012

More Black and White Photography






What Politicians Never Say in Public...

At this point in the political process - in the days right up before the election - one finds it harder to ignore a tendency some would call the most annoying and disturbing tick of political discourse in general, which is the necessity of avoiding at all costs any direct reference to most obvious, messy and controversial truths at the heart of a particular issue. Well of course, some would say...how can politicians be expected to utter incendiary remarks on issues as untouchable as: unemployment, the economy, the housing crisis, budget deficits, tax reform, entitlements, foreign relations, the Middle East,  foreign intervention, immigration,  gun control, etc. I mean - wouldn't it be weird (and therefore absolutely great, wonderful, wacky, downright surrealistic) if someone just ambled up to the podium for once and let loose a stream of unfiltered remarks:  "For starters, voters are out of touch and misinformed... The media has sold its soul to the gods of entertainment...Pundits never apologize....everyone contributes to pollution (and plastic bags aren't helping things)....Snobbery (or should I say "class conflict") is alive and well....Who the heck isn't part of a "working family?"...War is costly....it creates budget deficits, casualty lists, funerals and rising health care expenditures - not to mention increasing numbers of head trauma patients and suicide rates... We don't want it...we don't need it...there is no win-win, zero-sum game involved and there never was...." And just when the audience starts gaping with alarm, they hear: "Sorry to mention this folks, but we seem to have a surplus of 'automatic' as in 'meant-for-the-battlefield-only' type weapons in circulation...we might have to prevent mentally unstable people from stock-piling these things..." Huh? You can't be serious... "There are too many adults who are shirking their responsibilities as spouses and parents..." - stop, stop, I can't take it -  "Marriage in this country is broken and we might want to start having a conversation about how to fix it..." - I won't listen to this! - "the prison system in America is not presently doing an effective job of rehabilitating people...in fact it is damaging them further... in some cases beyond repair" - No more, I beg you. I can't handle the truth! -  "the drug war cannot be won until we get a handle on the 'demand' side of the equation..." -  "....the only way to permanently fix the budget crisis - in lieu of 4% GDP growth per annum - is to alter entitlements like Social Security and Medicare - which would mean raising the retirement age and regulating (i.e. cutting back on) extreme resuscitation or life-preserving measuring for terminal patients." Scary, I know.  This all sounds rather callous, brazen, impertinent and insanely blunt - doesn't it? One would be tempted to take it all back or make it all go away, but there's more - "we will never ameliorate poverty in America until everyone owns up to the fact that they fear it like the plague....and while we're at it, can we for once face up to our extreme ambivalence toward wealth and success... why do we celebrate, venerate, admire, exult, literally worship anyone who "fits the bill" as a celebrity, VIP, beautiful person - showering them with praise for howsoever them came to their 15 minutes of fame... while at the same time excoriating and disparaging other, less-famous but equally successful people for their fine educations, their arduous career-paths, their academic excellence, their job-related accomplishments, their intellectual pedigrees, their cultural sophistication? Why do we want our leaders to tell us that they've grown up in log cabins and scraped by for years living from paycheck to paycheck (which isn't exactly the case) until luck and good fortune allowed them accidental entry into the middle class - in the same breath extolling the bling, the clothes, the luxurious homes and decadent habits of glitterati set?

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Herman Melville - Between Faith and Doubt

It's hard to think of an American writer with whom I have more sympathy with than Herman Melville....the decades of anonymity that this man endured for the sake of his forgotten art!

"A week ago last Monday, Herman Melville came to see me at the Consulate, looking much as he used to do (a little paler, and perhaps a little sadder), in a rough outside coat, and with his characteristic gravity and reserve of manner.... [W]e soon found ourselves on pretty much our former terms of sociability and confidence. Melville has not been well, of late; he has been affected with neuralgic complaints in his head and limbs, and no doubt has suffered from too constant literary occupation, pursued without much success, latterly; and his writings, for a long while past, have indicated a morbid state of mind.... I do not wonder that he found it necessary to take an airing through the world, after so many years of toilsome pen-labor and domestic life, following upon so wild and adventurous a youth as his was.... He is a person of very gentlemanly instincts in every respect, save that he is a little heterodox in the matter of clean linen.... Melville, as he always does, began to reason of Providence and futurity, and of everything that lies beyond human ken, and informed me that he had "pretty much made up his mind to be annihilated"; but still he does not seem to rest in that anticipation; and, I think, will never rest until he gets hold of a definite belief. It is strange how he persists -- and has persisted ever since I knew him, and probably long before -- in wondering to-and-fro over these deserts, as dismal and monotonous as the sand hills amid which we were sitting. He can neither believe, nor be comfortable in his unbelief; and he is too honest and courageous not to try to do one or the other. If he were a religious man, he would be one of the most truly religious and reverential; he has a very high and noble nature, and better worth immortality than most of us. -- Nathaniel Hawthorne - Notebook Entry, November 20 1856

Saturday, October 13, 2012

LIbras and their Qualities


I've heard these qualities ascribed to Libras before...but is it really true that some (?), many(?),  most Libras are charismatic, gentle, kind, easy-going, stylish, romantic, intuitive AND good-looking all in one?  More power to us if it's true, fellow Libras. It didn't say anything about our flaws...Do we have any? Oh well...maybe vanity,  perhaps...

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Mo Yan Wins Nobel Prize for Literature




"Life-Altering" Novels and Novellas

The Castle by Franz Kafka (Czech Republic)

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (United States)

The Melancholy of Resistance by Laszlo Krasznahorkai (Hungary)

My Life by Anton Chekhov (Russia)

The Devil by Leo Tolstoy (Russia)

The Middle of the Journey by Lionel Trilling (United States)

The Red and the Black by Stendhal (France)

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins (England)

Billy Budd by Herman Melville (United States)

Swann in Love (Part 2 of Swann's Way) by Marcel Proust

Chance (featuring Marlow, the irrepressible narrator) by Joseph Conrad (England)

Black Boy by Richard Wright (United States)

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Recommended Short Stories - World Lit

"Day of the Butterfly" by Alice Munro (Canada)

"The Doll's House" by Katherine Mansfield (New Zealand/England)

"The Third Bank of the River" by Joao Guimaraes Rosa (Brazil)

"No Dogs Bark" by Juan Rulfo (Mexico)

"The Secret Lion" by Alberto Alvaro Rios (United States)

"The Balek Scales" by Heinrich Boll (Germany)

"In the Ravine" by Anton Chekhov (Russia)

"Ward #6" by Anton Chekhov (Russia)

"Four Meetings" by Henry James (United States)

"Investigations of a Dog" by Franz Kafka  (Czech Republic)

"The Book of Sand" by Jorge Luis Borges (Argentina)

"Gryphon" by Charles Baxter (United States)

"Poor Fish" by Alberto Moravia (Italy)

"The Black Sheep" by Italo Calvino (Italy)

"The Last Judgment" by Karel Capek (Czech Republic)

"Rhinoceros" by Eugene Ionesco (Romania/France)

"An Encounter" by James Joyce (Ireland)

"No Witchcraft for Sale" by Doris Lessing (Rhodesia/England)

"The Prisoner Who Wore Glasses" by Bessie Head (South Africa)

"Once Upon a Time" by Nadine Gordimer (South Africa)

"Another Evening at the Club" by Alifa Rifaat (Egypt)

"The Happy Man" by Naguib Mahfouz (Egypt)

"The Swimming Contest" by  Benjamin Tammuz (Israel)

"Wanted: A Town without a Crazy"by Muzzaffer Izgu (Egypt)

"Saboteur" by Ha Jin (China)

"Tokyo" by Fumiko Hayashi (Japan)

"Swaddling Clothes"* by Yukio Mishima (Japan)

Note: Most of these wonderful stories can be found in an anthology entitled Reading the World: Contemporary Literature from Around the Globe.   If you happen to be a teacher searching for new materials or are just someone who loves short stories (glad to know you're out there!), I would highly recommend this volume

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Richard Wright & Harper Lee


Considering how many 9th graders across the country get their first taste of "protest literature" of sorts by sampling Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird wherein they glimpse into the old world of the deep south through the eyes of a precocious young white girl named Scout Finch, as a high school English instructor who has taught TKAM for many years now, I keep wondering about what other work of American fiction to pair with this work so that readers might be shown a similar set of circumstances, but through the eyes of an equally perceptive youthful narrator who doesn't happen to be white. The most obvious nominee, for my money at least, would be Richard Wright and his great memoir, Black Boy, the time-frame of which actually precedes Lee's novel by several years and, in my humble opinion, offers a wider swath of territory, nuance and prescient insight...


Monday, October 1, 2012

War and War by Laszlo Krasznahorkai


László Krasznahorkai was born in Gyula, in southeast Hungary, in 1954. He is probably best known through the oeuvre of the director Béla Tarr, who has collaborated with him on several movies. Mentions “Werckmeister Harmonies.” In “War and War,” György Korin, an archivist and local historian, travels to New York, finds lodgings with a Hungarian interpreter, and begins to write the text of the transcendently important manuscript. Slowly the reader confirms what he has suspected from the start, that “the manuscript” is a mental fiction, a madman’s transcendent vision. Krasznahorkai’s most recent work in English is not a novel but a collaboration between the writer and the German artist Max Neumann. “Animalinside” (translated by Ottilie Mulzet, and published jointly by New Directions, Sylph Editions of London, and the Center for Writers and Translators at the American University of Paris; $20) is a series of fourteen exquisite and enigmatic paintings, with paragraph-length texts by Krasznahorkai. Resembling, in form, Beckett’s “Texts for Nothing,” Krasznahorkai’s words often seem to be a commentary on late Beckett. Krasznahorkai is clearly fascinated by apocalypse, by broken revelation, indecipherable messages. His demanding novel “The Melancholy of Resistance” is a comedy of apocalypse, a book about a God that not only failed but didn’t even turn up for the exam. The pleasure of the book flows from its extraordinary, stretched, self-recoiling sentences, which are marvels of a loosely punctuated stream of consciousness. - from "The Very Strange Fictions of Laszlo Krasznahorkai" by James Wood (article abstract)

Read more http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/atlarge/2011/07/04/110704crat_atlarge_wood#ixzz28zt7Ff68

Hello, October


Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Incorrect of the Political

The following is experimental fiction only (you've heard of irony, right?): Out of the blue, and somewhat abruptly, a young boy from wealthy parentage and a privileged background was told by his liberal-minded mother not to walk down a certain street all alone in a crowded area of town, so he decided to ask an obvious question: "Why not? Are there bad people there who will hurt me?" - "It's not that," the mother replied vaguely, "it's just that I'd rather have you walk down a different street." - "But mother!" the boy protested,"I can't think of a quicker way to go to the Children's Museum. So why can't I go there if I promise to walk fast?" - "I know, I know," the mother said, stalling for time. "I know it sounds harsh, but I want you to be safe, that's all." "But if anyone tries to be mean to me, I'll just tell them that I'm on their side. Because you always say that we're on the side of the people who live on the not-so-nice streets even though we live on a much nicer street, and we live in a very nice apartment and can see Central Park from our 10th floor suite.  Isn't that what you always say, mom?" "Yes, yes, that's right. We are on their side. We DO want the best for them..." "Then what's the problem?" "Well, you see, dear, despite the fact that we try our best not to flaunt our advantages, sometimes we get mistaken for the evil trolls who (by their insane political backwardness) are making life so difficult for the people on the not-so-nice-streets and then they look at us and get angry, and they end up resenting us just as much - if that makes any sense?" "Oh. We kind of look like the bad guys, the evil trolls - even though we dress and talk much better than them." "Yes - unfortunately - no matter how hard we try - even though we smile more and show real compassion, andvote the right way in every single election and show solidarity for the downtrodden masses at rallies and fund-raisers and every charity-event under the sun - they just think that we're not with them - because we enjoy such amazing benefits, because we have good jobs, and nice houses and condos, and 5th avenue apartments, and because we take long vacations, and have reliable health care plans, and advanced educational degrees and because we're culturally literate and we never shop at Walmart - not that there's anything wrong with that..." "And do the evil trolls (who are politically backward) hate us as well for having these amazing benefits?" the boy shrieked, almost breaking into tears. "I'm afraid so, dear, the backward evil trolls and upwardly-mobile evil trolls (those with a special bug up their bonnets!) despise and revile us very much and resent us, while the wealthy evil trolls only think of us as soft and foolish. The world isn't very fair, is it? We just can't win..." And the mother herself began to cry and wandered about aimlessly for some minutes while questioning her basic assumptions, until finally finding her bearings, she began to lead her child down the forbidden street....


Innocence Learns from Experience

I - Hey "E". I'm having one of my panic attacks again.  I'm getting worried about people again...

E - People again, huh?

I - Well, if not a full blown panic attack, then at least kinda nervous.

E- Sure.

I - You don't think I'm nuts.

E - No. Just incredibly naive. Please continue.

I - It's not everyone. It's certain types of people.

E - Certain types of people? Let me guess, you mean like dangerous criminals and other miscreants?

I - Yeah - sort of. But I'm really getting worried about the average young person out there...

E - Yes. They do pose a problem don't they? Average young people. Not the stand-outs, the mediocre ones. An annoying bunch - not like you and me. But....what can one do? That's why they invented b-movies, I suppose...

I - But you know I've been thinking about how, like, if certain "average young people" who are already, shall we say, a bit high-strung to begin with...well, let's say one of them decides to get "high."

E - Perish the thought! High on drugs, you mean, not high on life?

I - I mean high as in they took a weird pill or smoked a banned substance?

E - We're talking beyond clove cigarettes here.

I - Oh - way beyond.

E - Okay, so we've got high-strung person who is high on crystal-meth. Then what?

I - Well let's say that same average, high-strung drug-user goes back to his posse - I mean - a group of his closest peers...

E - Yes I know!

I - And some of these same friends who already can't tells the difference between fantasy and reality - start to unveil this stash of weapons that they just happened to find.

E- You mean plastic squirt guns, I hope...

I - No real ones. Switchblades or -

E - What are we talking here - West Side Story?

I - Not just switchblades  then.

E - Yeah.. so like where did they find them?

I - Find what?

E - The weapons!

I - In somebody's father's closet....I guess....

E - (somewhat incredulously) - Okay? And? What are you getting at?

I - Well and then just imagine that some of these intoxicated young people (everyone smoking meth at this point) now start to mess around with these dangerous weapons at which point another one of the hooligans hatches the crazy ideal of dressing up in para-military garb and egging the others on to go jump in a car and -

E - So you're saying we're got a carload of drugged up teenagers with weapons driving around looking to get their kicks...

I - I'm just sayin' it could happen. Don't you think, the police should be on the lookout for this sort of thing?

E - I hate to break it to you kid  - but stuff like that happens all the time.

I - No way!!!

E - Way. That's life in big city.

I - But E. If we don't keep an eye out for this kind of behavior, I mean, things could get out of hand.

E - With young people you mean?

I - Sure. I mean young people grow up.

E - And some of them form dangerous habits - right?

I - Yes, I for one am concerned.

E - Me too, kid. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm wanted back on planet Earth...



Thursday, September 20, 2012

On the Road by Jack Keroac



....started reading On the Road by Jack Keroac at the Curtis Memorial Library on a whim...I made it to chapter 3 and by then, Jack had already met and parted (temporarily) with Dean Moriarty, then made it past Chicago into Iowa or Nebraska (was it?), but was still desperately trying to get to Denver, while debating whether to sample Ogden, Utah, before meeting up with one of his many mad/crazy compadres in good ol' San Fran...eating ice cream and apple pie all the while...


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Short Stories of Katherine Mansfield


For starters, check out "Revelations" - "The Doll's House" - "Something Childish but very Natural" - "Prelude" - "The Daughters of the Late Colonel" - "The Garden Party" - "Miss Brill" - "An Ideal Family"- "The Canary" - and "A Dill Pickle."

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Ghost of George Carlin


What can you say about George Carlin, the still-recently-deceased (2008 was it?) larger than life presence whose spirit lingers on with us in so many ways...a brilliant quick-witted, lover of language (and de-constructor of curse words in particular), a social commentator and former hippie who pressed the envelope back in the day after many stints on the Ed Sullivan show; in recent years, a misanthrope and much-needed curmudgeonly sort of fellow, the "old guy" with a chip on his shoulder, someone prone to go apoplectic at a moment's notice if someone allowed logic and reason to slide out of the conversation, someone not prone to leaps of faith of any kind, a critic of politics who thought America was owned by greedy corporate mandarins, a radical skeptic, non-believer, non-participant, atheist/agnostic with regard to God and religion, a quintessentially lapsed Catholic, embittered but with a heart of gold...George was "scary funny" in a lot of ways...he wanted to lead us to the edge of the cliff and make us take a look at the abyss...I couldn't always follow him as far as he wanted us to go...He was "out there" on a number of levels, a definite gadfly, but apparently loving life in the midst of all his comical muckraking and shooting arrows at the overlords of the cave...it's hard not to admire him for being an original...

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Flying Under the Radar...


Every once in a while, I begin to wonder about all the people and places that never get mentioned on the evening news, which takes on an even more surreal irony when we consider how few people still obtain their daily dose of headlines from the traditional television outlets. Whether it's the nightly new summaries or the morning shows, I can't help but notice a vast reservoir of missing stories, vast regions and populations that the anchors have nothing to tell us about. How can that be so? You'd think that after five minutes of national politics, five minutes of random international news and the latest round-up of celebrity gossip and that much-anticipated, hourly health tip, there would be time for something more - not just a cloying, glib, feel-good puff piece to balance out the tabloid fodder. You'd think. But hey - the formula brings in ratings and the formula's only been like that for the past 40 years or so. And besides, oh most loyal drone-like traditional news junkie, do you ever remember anything "big" or "officially noteworthy" ever happening - aside from unforeseen weather events - in states like South Dakota, Nebraska, Montana, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Delaware, Rhode Island, North Dakota, Kentucky, West Texas, Mississippi, Maine, Vermont, Idaho, Ohio, Oregon, Nevada or Kansas? Having lived in certain remote locales myself, I know the feeling of being overlooked or at best, referred to "in passing" and it occurs to me that this neglect is a major factor in the polarization that is currently crippling our politics... Because believe me, people in the "fly-over states" feel it - that sense of being overlooked, marginalized, forgotten, ignored, ridiculed, condescended to... Sure, the news is great at covering a hard-times economy in various places (when plants close down, when towns go bust), but there are many other pieces to the puzzle that go under-reported: i.e. outsourcing, shifts in demographics and employment, job training or lack thereof, the state of our schools, health care, hospitals, outpatient care, medicine and the elderly, mental health, prisons, youth crime, the justice system, the ongoing housing crisis, the silent traumas faced by military families,  marriage and courtship, divorce, child-rearing, daycare, today's teenagers, science, the arts, guns, religion, nutrition, the state of Main Street U.S.A....

Friday, September 7, 2012

A Final Soliloquy of Wallace Stevens...


"Light the first light of evening, as in a room
In which we rest and, for small reason, think
The world imagined is the ultimate good.
This is, therefore, the intensest rendezvous.
It is in that thought that we collect ourselves,
Out of all the indifferences, into one thing:
Within a single thing, a single shawl
Wrapped tightly round us, since we are poor, a warmth,
A light, a power, the miraculous influence..."
- from "Final Soliloquy of the Interior Paramour"


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Castle by Franz Kafka


The greatness of this unfinished novel continues to amaze me. This is a book with the strangest of ripple effects, generally positive, although I don't know of any imitator who is up to par with Kafka.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

While Walking About These Quiet Streets...

While walking about these quiet streets of north Deering much in the vein of W.G. Sebald in his famous trek around the east coast of England, aimlessly strolling,  flaneur-like, mindful of summer's end, with August-fading, brooding upon fleeting dusky images of houses and yards,  thoughts merging with scenery, the curve of the road, the overwrought oaks, front porches, mailboxes, cracked sidewalks, frayed lawns, familiar street signs, eluding the occasional traffic on Summit, taking the path down off of Sumac near Lyseth, traversing the school grounds, cutting across toward the CVS or going the "long way" around...on that same walk I have taken day in and day out, knowing in advance what will happen before it arrives; trudging past the same trees and shrubs and parked cars until reaching my destination at the shopping center where Shaw's grocery and Starbuck's hold sway; yet somehow connected with this secure sense of a predictable outcome is an inkling of weird alternative scenarios, of what might have happened if sudden rage or hysteria or impulsiveness or crazed emotion had taken over or if all inhibition fell by the wayside. Would I have simply wandered off somewhere else? Or commandeered a random bicycle to abscond with? Or shop-lifted bubblegum for no apparent reason? Or chased squirrels into the woods? Or staged a very real emotional melt-down? Or feigned a panic attack just for fun? Or pretended to be my favorite super-hero undergoing sudden metamorphosis?Surely none of this could-have ever really happened...in all likelihood...except as a glaringly remote "logical possibility"...And yet...this sense of foreboding over the odd and extreme "what-might-have-occurred,"  the infinite bizarro-world possibilities, hiding behind the average-everyday, is, I believe, at the root of our late-historical, romantic consciousness whereby mundane reality is infused and inflated with all manner of free-floating subjectivity in the form of fantasy, whimsy, day-dreams, reveries, supernatural happenings, comic-book heroics - that is to say - wild scenarios that hide about within the mundane, haunting us...those events that could perhaps, by-a-long-shot, in the extreme rare case almost happen, but never do - or should I say - rarely do since when they break into reality - the destruction and insanity and chaos factor is always immense...

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

from The Circus Animal's Desertion

I sought a theme and sought for it in vainI sought it daily for six weeks or so.
Maybe at last, being but a broken man,
I must be satisfied with my heart, although
Winter and summer till old age began
My circus animals were all on show,
Those stilted boys, that burnished chariot,
Lion and woman and the Lord knows what.

What can I but enumerate old themes,
First that sea-rider Oisin led by the nose
Through three enchanted islands, allegorical dreams,
Vain gaiety, vain battle, vain repose,
Themes of the embittered heart, or so it seems,
That might adorn old songs or courtly shows...


- William Butler Yeats 

Monday, August 20, 2012

A LOST Cornucopia


Finally getting to the end of this intriguingly original series thanks to Netflix. So many themes and motifs come to mind when thinking about any one episode...

Fans of the show will recognize the following catalog of references:

polar bear, black smoke monster, handcuffs, the caves, the hatch, the orchid, the swan, the temple, the statue, the others, fake village, Roger Workman, Dharma Initiative, unlucky numbers, (4, 8, 14, 16, 23, 42) lottery jackpot ($156,000,000), Locke's wheelchair,  "Don't tell me what I can't do!", con artists, problematic fathers, mentally deranged mothers, Danielle and Alex, Claire and Aaron, pregnancies, Sawyer's book references, "Son-of-a-B_",  Freckles, Sawyer's nicknames, Boone's death, "The island demands a sacrifice..." Jack vs. Sawyer, Jack vs. Locke, Miles' psychic powers, Jacob's cabin, candy bars, torturers, "Live together, die alone...", Our Mutual Friend, Mr. Whitmore,  Desmond and Penny, Penny must die, fake plane wreck, Richard Albert, Oxford, time travel,  "He fixed me!",  Mr. Cluck's, the monster, "move the island", "we weren't supposed to leave...",  madonna statues, plane crash, slave ship, 1977,  blue and white volkswagen vans, Drive Shaft, "You All Everybody,"  Mr. Eko, Walt, Vincent,  Boone, Anna Lucia, Ethan, Sydney, Australia, L.A.X., "What happened, happened." "Nothing is irreversible." "Time to move on..."


Saturday, August 18, 2012

Paintings by Susan Ulrich






Struggling through Martel's Life of Pi


I've been struggling mightily to appreciate this novel - but it's hard when the middle section is so unmistakably implausible besides being a somewhat monotonous, extended soliloquy. Shades of Robinson Crusoe and Moby Dick...Only one problem: the tiger, hyena, zebra and meerkats can't really serve as satisfying characters. They are all-too-obvious symbols, sure, but that leaves the middle section literally "starved" for character interaction and suspenseful dialogue! The ending is much too overt - using an almost "connect the dots" approach. If he would have only hinted at an "alternative account," he could had added immensely to the earlier symbolism.