Friday, September 28, 2007
It seems lately there is a lot of this going around. I don’t know if it is the place we are at in history, when so much sadness seems to have invaded this world. A war that seems endless and was wrong-headed to begin with, an economy that is nearly broken under the weight of that war, lives that are too buys, schedules that are too crowded. Too much information and little actual communication... And now there are all these raving atheists who say God is the problem — if people would get rid of religion all the problems would go away. Sigh.
I don’t really know what to say about religion. Even though I’ve read many books about it and gone to services in many different Faiths I’ve never been convinced that rules and dogma did a lot of good — but that doesn’t mean God is the problem. It just means we haven’t yet figured out a reasonable way to be in proximity to Him/Her/Whoever. The thing I loved most about being Catholic was the sacred spaces it provided. Churches filled with art and light glowing through jewel-toned glass, candles and incense and sublime music. For me that was the religion all by itself for in that environment of sense-saturating beauty I could let go of the world and let go of myself and let my dazzled senses sweep me up into that elevated place, that divine proximity that was what God seemed to be all about. God is a peak experience. We just need help getting there sometimes.
This morning I got up earlier than I usually do and went down to the harbor. I watched the gulls swooping and soaring as the sun came up over the water. There are bluefish running now and you can see the ripple of the water as a pack of them swim by. Soon the seals will be coming back. I went and got coffee and came home and put on Verdi’s Requiem and soon I have to get to work. But, though the days have been stressful lately and I’ve been sadder than I’ve been in a long time, that proximity seems a little closer.
As I work on Each Angel Burns I am spending a lot of time thinking about my mystic priest, and what it means to be a mystic. St. John of the Cross, who wrote so eloquently about the dark night of the soul, was a mystic. He once wrote, “If a man wishes to be sure of the road he treads on, he must close his eyes and walk in the dark.” So, these days I am trying to walk in the dark and trust that I won’t stumble. I don’t know where I am going nor where the world is going but we both have to keep moving.
Sometimes I wish I was content with simple answers and following rules and not questioning everything. I just wasn’t made that way. A lot of people weren’t and it is a tricky business to stay fully-present in life and not retreat into skepticism, doubt, denial, and existential forlornness. To believe, even when believing seems pointless, is a mystery and yet, well, the alternatives seem worse.
The little Spanish monk also said, “The endurance of darkness is preparation for great light.” That is a good thought to hold to on days like today.
Thanks for reading.
Thursday, September 27, 2007
I’m too young to remember the Beats but, like many of my generation, their generation intrigued me. Mostly because I didn’t understand them. I knew they were cool — I just didn’t know why. Later, when I read On the Road and several other books from that period I understood a little more and, after reading the article last night, I finally get it — the Beat Generation was a guy-thing.
The term “beat” itself never meant what I thought it did. I guess I always thought it referred to the music, the beat of jazz. But that’s not it, or so the author says. The word beat was used as it is used in the expression “I’m beat” — wiped out, pooped, tired, fed-up and going nowhere. Somehow it all makes so much more sense.
There were women in On the Road but they were just about as relevant to the story as were the cars that the boys got around in. The particular vehicle didn’t matter beyond serving the purpose it was intended for. A lot of women know what I’m talking about. Men might deny it but, for a lot of them, it’s still like it was for the beat-generation. Women are useful and can get you where you want to go (she says euphemistically) but...
I’ve been wondering for years now if it is asking too much of humankind for the genders to inter-relate too much anyway. I’m opposed to oppression, of course, and sexism but I wonder if we are not just happier and more functional when we accept each other for what we are and what we can share and don’t expect much more beyond that. I’m tired of listening to women complain about men and all that is wrong with them and I’m tired of men who turn 40, 50, 60 and still want women to be (or maybe weren't) when they were teenagers. I think both genders need to figure out who they are without the other one and then, just maybe, we can be content with one another without adolescent posturing and unrealistic expectations.
So this is my On the Road story: Twice in my life I have sold darn near everything I owned, packed what I couldn’t do without into my car, and drove over a thousand miles to a place I had never been before and started a new life. It was tough and it was great. What was tough about it was I did it largely on my own without a partner or a significant other and so, therefore, everything that went wrong was up to me to deal with. What was great about it was the sense of self-reliance that grew from it but even more than that the sense of freedom.
I can remember driving into Maine, a state I had never been to before, by myself on a cool June evening. I decided to get off the highway and follow a two-lane for awhile. I had no particular destination in mind and pretty much everything I owned in my vehicle. I drove along a two-lane that overlooked the ocean where big waves rolled in from Portugal or someplace that I had also never been to. I stopped for dinner in a little diner that I have since seen written up in Gourmet or Saveur as one of the last great diners. I ate alone and then drove down the road a bit and turned into a waterfront motel that had just opened for the season. I checked in and carried my travel bag into my room.
I remember standing in that room alone, in a strange state, headed for another place I’d never been to. It was dark out but I opened the curtains to see the ocean. And there it was. And on a cliff to the left was the a lighthouse with its red beam sweeping out across the rising mists. And I was by myself on the road in America, exhaust, worn-out, beat and happier than I’d ever been in my life.
Thanks for reading.
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
Some of the guys who tell me this are not convinced. They think I am being too conservative or demure but explicitness has never been my style. I trust that the readers who read my work have active imaginations and do quite nicely on their own with only a bit of prodding from me. I’m content with that.
However, I have written erotica and I recently dug out a story I wrote a few years back.
It’s sort of an interesting story. I had recently begun an affair with the kind of guy who starts out as a dream and ends up as a nightmare — but, of course, I was still in the dream-stage when I wrote the story. He was gorgeous, sexy and romantic. He was also needy, insecure, and promiscuous but that came later.
My friends Skye Alexander and Leslie Wind had been talking about publishing a collection of erotica and asked if I wanted to write something for it. So I wrote a story called “Being Fifty” since the man I was seeing and I had both just turned fifty and were a little obsessed with that. Skye and Leslie loved the story — so did the other friends who read it, including my lover — but the collection never went to press and that was the end of that.
So, the other day I was talking with Susan Oleksiew who had just finished reading The Old Mermaid’s Tale (she said it was “a beautiful story beautifully told” — I may put that on the next printing’s cover!) She said she was pleasantly surprised by the romantic, erotic quality that did not go too far. Somehow we got talking about erotica and I sent her “Being Fifty”. She liked it. So I showed it to two more girlfriends and they also said, “Oooo, what are you going to do with it?”
Well, the truth is I don’t know. I guess I’m just going to keep it. Somehow I can’t quite imagine publishing it anywhere. Maybe it will be one of those treasures discovered among my papers and published posthumously to the chagrin of my great-nieces and nephews.
What do we tell the world when we publish things like that? Anais Nin wrote for an erotica collector who paid her by the page. Erica Jong shocked the world when she created her naughty, spicy Isadora Wing. But these days it’s difficult to be original, let alone shocking. Romance novels as well as popular women’s fiction have become so full of body parts connecting in multitudinous ways that it’s sort of hard to imagine having anything original to say. Well, maybe my story is a little original in the age of its protagonists but somehow I even doubt that.
So, well, it’s a fun bit of writing. I’m sort of tempted to send it to those guys who said I was “chicken” for not writing graphically. But they’d probably think I was trying to flirt with them. Uhhhh. No.
Thanks for reading.
Monday, September 24, 2007
After the tumultuous process of designing the catalog for that exhibition I was pretty tired of it before it even opened but, fortunately, all the bad stuff is past and the exhibition itself is magnificent. Consequently, when I was asked to volunteer a few hours in the upstairs gallery I was happy to do it. Spending the afternoon amid all that art was as pleasant a way to spend a day as I could think of.
Last Sunday they held a high tea in the gallery followed by a lecture by Bill Trayes. Over a hundred people attended and it was, for me, the first time I had seen the upstairs gallery with all the art in place. It is impressive. Photos of the event are online at the NSAA web site.
Yesterday, throughout the afternoon, as visitors came and spent time in the gallery with the art, it was a great experience to talk with them about it and to hear what they had to say. The primary thing I heard over and over was that they had never seen an exhibition of that quality, particularly because the works was a combination of historic works by artists of the past and contemporary painters. It was a good opportunity to talk about the purpose of the exhibition as envisioned by its creator, Betty Lou Schlemm, A.W.S. Her original intention was to demonstrate in a very visible way that quality and artistic integrity is timeless and that much of the work being done today is every bit as excellent as that done by the distinguished artists of the past.
Talking to people about this concept I said over and over “try to tell the paintings done by the contemporary artists from those of fifty or eighty years ago.” People looked around and said, “You’re right. I can’t.” As Robert Henri said, art transcends time and artists are brothers that time cannot separate.
I don’t know what it is about art. John Updike said that there are three great mysteries in life: religion, sex, and art. When I read that I was dazzled because it seems that 90% of what I write is about those three things. For me all three of them are mysterious because, when allowed to blossom and unfold without our personal issues and constraints, they can each take us into that other place, that higher state, that place of transcendence. That place that too many people these days deny the existence of and would kill our longing for if they could.
It is the longing that is at the core of the three great mysteries. The longing for that higher place, that transportive experience of being part of Something and a connection to the Great Unknowable that seems to be implanted in the human psyche. I think that is why people follow religions that make no sense except that they offer a sense of being included and part of something. I think that’s why so many thrilling relationships turn bland after the first flush of wild sex loses its glow. And art. I don’t know. I know that yesterday when the people filled the gallery and lingered wanting to talk more about it there was a sense of something beautiful. A sense of having participated in something elevating.
The exhibition is open until October 26. If you can, go. If you can’t go, find a gallery or museum and spend a quiet hour. Let the art sink into your soul. See what happens.
Thanks for reading.
Friday, September 21, 2007
A couple years ago I talked about the harassment that was going on here on this blog and also in my personal life by a small handful of “haters” who, apparently didn’t have much else to do. I took appropriate actions and it stopped on the blog and via email and that was all I asked for so I have no complaints. However, the nastiness and bullying has continued as a low-key rumble on an internet discussion board that I participate in. Three of the original players can’t seem to get over it.
Recently I was talking with a woman who knows one of the parties. The woman I was talking to said she found it hard to believe that this woman would do anything nasty because she is a “lovely person”. Actually, I have heard that said before about her.
Ironically, within a few hours the lovely person in question got her nose out of joint at me (I had not addressed a single word to her) and posted the following (these are exerpts from longer posts):
Here we have someone who gleefully and frequently engages in that kind of mudslingling and seems to come here often with the sole purpose of picking a fight crying victim of internet harassment. It's a bit boy who cried wolf for me to believe. I would be very surprised if this story of a stalker is true simply because over the years she has accused so many of us of stalking her. In the unlikely event that she is telling the truth she is very, very lucky. Someone who constantly seeks out conflict in such a malicious and compulsive way could very easily find it with the wrong person.
Followed in a few hours by:
Regulars have and new posters do figure it out just like you and (screenname deleted) did. Beyond that, and occasionally speaking up and out there is not much that can be done about it. You can't stop someone hell bent on self-destruction. Just stop and think that every malicious, toxic confrontation that she engages in on this board is punctuated by a plug for her business. How do you think that's working out for her? Karma is such a wicked hoot.
I forwarded the posts to the friend who was telling me what a “lovely person” she was and that friend was stunned. Lovely people can be deceptive it would seem.
It’s fascinating to me that someone whom a lot of people regard as quite a nice person not only is capable of such bitter maliciousness but can carry a grudge for years and years and years. There is, between the lines in those comments, a sort of veiled threat. Since, during the time of the active harassment clients of mine DID actually receive emails trying to discredit me, the remarks about my business are especially noteworthy.
I guess my point is that there are some people who live their lives in a state of duality — lovely from one perspective and seething with hatred underneath. It might be prudent to just stay away from the discussion board that she posts on but, of course, the thing I have learned about bullies is that the don’t give up. And if you give in to them in one arena, they will find another one to vent in.
So I persist in having my say, speaking my truth, expanding my various endeavors, and posting new developments in the ever-fascinating world of anonymous-bullying. As my mother always said, “When they are gossiping about you remember that, for the moment, they are sparing someone else”. Thanks, Mom!
Thanks for reading.
Thursday, September 20, 2007
As I am working on Each Angel Burns, now that the storyline is complete, it is time to go back and refine. One of the things I do in the process of refining is scrutinize my main characters. When I love a character I have a tendency to make them too good and that is not good. This is exactly the situation with Father Peter Black in that novel. He is a priest who is supposed to be nearly unbelievably good, except he isn’t. That’s a tough character to write.
As I was thinking about that I was trying to think of other priests in novels I have liked. Andrew Greeley, being himself a priest, has created some good priest characters. Even though I thought his book Priestly Sins was a bit heavy handed, I liked the main character, Father Herman Hoffman, quite a lot. I did not like Colleen McCullough’s Father Ralph de Bricassart in The Thorn Birds, he seemed like someone who just needed a good hard swat upside the head. Of course my favorite literary priest is Father Lorenzo Quart in Arturo Perez-Reverte’s brilliant The Seville Communion. I was really annoyed when he succumbed to that slut Macarena but he redeemed himself in the end.
So how do I make my Father Peter Black a believable priest? It’s sort of amazing how things work sometimes but while searching through my bookcase I came across a book my father gave me years ago called Priests Are People Too. It is a compilation of essays by Catholic priests about every conceivable aspect of being a priest. I have been reading the essays with fascination and, ultimately, admiration for these men! They talk about everything — things that never occurred to me — and they have added so much to my understanding of what makes a priest like everybody else AND what makes him very different.
Some of the essays have made me think about stuff that never occured to me. One priest confesses to not particularly liking little children and how being a priest has forced him to overcome that. Another talks about the fact that he is terrible managing money and what happened when he was made pastor of his first parish and had to deal with financial problems. Several of them talk about the difficulty of being a patient and compassionate counselor to exasperating people.
There is considerable discussion of their vows of celibacy which amazed me. Things I never thought of. Not the absence os sex per se but the experience of being always alone, of being transferred to one place and as soon as you make a few friends there, being transferred to another place. One priest talked about living with the knowledge that women are going to fall in love with you because a good priest is kind and patient and listens to them attentively when they bring their problems to him. In many cases he may be the first man in their lives to listen to them seriously and treat them with respect. And then the woman falls in love and how does the poor man deal with that?
But more than anything in all of this was the profound sense of absolute joy that many talk about. About the utter joy of the role they have been called to and the little every day miracles they witness. In one stunning essay a priest says he has crashed planes, climbed mountains, and taken adventurous risks and still slept like a baby that night but was also kept awake all night in awe and gratitude when he saw a person in his ministry have a transformative spiritual experience.
These priests have helped so much. My father Black will owe them a deep debt of gratitude for his final personality. And I owe them gratitude for what they have done both for my writing and my faith.
Thanks for reading.
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
The guy I was telling this to said ”maybe I’ll check it out” and then added “but I never read fiction.”
Why not, I asked.
He rolled his eyes and said,”It’s all just stuff somebody made up. I’d rather read something that is true.”
What a pity, I thought, another one.
The fact is that the truest stuff ever written tends to be fiction. As my friend, novelist Joe Orlando, says, “Novels are the truth unencumbered by the facts.” As a trial lawyer who is also a novelist he knows how accurate that statement is. He has been a litigator in many trials that involve fishermen but no one trial, no one story, encompasses the full scope of what one of his novels can. He can take all his years of experience in court and distill them into one storyline that allows him to tell the story of injustice in vivid detail from the perspective of a well-seasoned litigator without stepping on toes or getting tangled up in the extenuating circumstances particular to one case.
This is something any novelist knows about. When I am working on a novel, or even a short work of fiction, I acquire stacks of reference books and files full of pages printed out from the internet. All truths, all facts, that form the background of my stories. It is all this truth and fact that gives a work its credibility and its ring or truth. It’s what makes the book worth reading.
Updike is a brilliant writer. The world didn’t need me to point that out. But in terrorist he is setting up a scenario that exists in hundreds of places for thousands of kids around this country. Kids who are the products of broken marriages and mixed marriages where one parent has disappeared and the other parent is too self-absorbed to see what is happening to their kid. So Updike has a kid who is lonely, angry, lost and also burdened with a certain amount of social stigma.
Is it a surprise that this kid gets snared into the web of manipulative, controlling leader with an agenda? And is it surprising that the kid, for the first time in his life feels part of something greater than he ever has in his short and bleak existence? This story could be told about any number of kids today.
And that is what makes fiction so engrossing and so important. By reading such a story you see a clear and uncluttered portrait of a person who could be anyone. Of a situation that could happen anywhere. By telling the story of a fictional boy Updike is telling the story of many boys. And he is giving us a level of understanding we otherwise would not have.
Fiction is life. Fiction is a distillation of all the components that make the patterns of lives. There is good fiction and, unfortunately, there is bad fiction. But fiction is still important to understanding humanity. Read a novel if you want the real truth.
Thanks for reading.
Monday, September 17, 2007
And I realized something as I was working on the gallery — I LOVE making things but once they are made I tend to lose interest in them. This isn’t entirely true — there are things that serve a useful purpose, like warm shawls and well-fitted garments, but often I get this bright idea to make something and am fascinated by the process of making it but when it was done, well, I’m done with it.
Now that the evenings are dark and chilly I have been knitting more and, typically, I have a half dozen projects started none of which are in any danger of being completed any time soon. But I keep seeing things that intrigue me — a new lace pattern or a clever technique — and I stop what I am working on and, before I know it, I’ve started something else.
Saturday I came across instructions for casting on a picot edge for a knitted garment. It was absolutely adorable and I wanted to do it. So I put down the bed jacket I was working on and dug around until I found some appropriate yarn and I spent the next couple of hours trying to learn this stitch. With my instruction-reading handicap it took longer than it should have.
I figured out the technique and managed to knit a nice little sample but I had clearly picked the wrong yarn to do it in and wound up pulling it out again. So last night, after a lovely afternoon at a high tea at the art association, I got out some different yarn and set to work. By midnight I had the technique mastered but then, of course, I had to see what I could do with it. Consequently I am tired this morning.
But the thing is I know that whatever I do with it will be fascinating while I am doing it but as soon as it is complete and ready to wear it will, most likely, have lost my interest. I don’t know why that is. Maybe it is just that the act of creation is far more interesting than the act of having something which is really a non-act when you think about it.
I’ve never understood people who are terribly into possessions simply because I can’t figure out what that’s all about. I understand useful possessions — my luxurious down comforter and featherbed are treasures. But having stuff just because it is cool to have that stuff eludes me. Even the pretty things I make are only interesting while they are in the being made state.
Unfortunately this carries over into writing in an odd way. When I am actively writing I tend to fall in love with certain characters. But once the book is written and the character is complete there is really very little more to say about him. Sometimes I try to add scenes just to spend more time with him but that never works. My writer’s heart knows when I am being self-indulgent that way.
I don’t know. This creative stuff is tricky business. And now this blog entry is complete and it is time to post it and get to work.
Thanks for reading.
Friday, September 14, 2007
That was before the internet and blogs.
I have known Jane Daniel for several years. She is one of the kindest, warmest, most decent people I know. When she began to tell me about the nightmare web of lawsuits she was involved in I thought she was exaggerating. I did a search online one day and found the Appeals Court Decision in the Social Law Library Portal. Reading it I was shocked on several levels. I could not believe that the things she was accused of could have been done by someone like Jane. But even more than that I was stunned by the hyperbolic and faintly hysterical language used in the report. Accusations that she “drove a wedge” in the relationship between the two authors and that the jury “pierced the corporate veil”. It read like something out of a 1970s true crime novel. A really bad one.
There was a time when such a document would be buried in some dusty courthouse and the losing party would be doomed to get on with life as best she could. But in this era of mass communications such is not the case. Jane Daniel is a brilliant woman, a fine writer, and a meticulous record keeper. She has chosen to deal with the gargantuan judgement against her and all its attendant complications by speaking her truth. She has been working on a book for awhile but publishing it as a blog on the internet is creating a remarkable ripple in the world of independent publishers and in the legal community as well.
Jane’s blog went live on Monday and so far this week she has had close to a thousand hits and this doesn’t count what has gone out on RSS feeds. The blog has been discussed on seven internet discussion boards that I am aware of and articles about it have been published on legal blogs such as Law.com Blog Watch which gets over a thousand hits a day from legal professionals. She has received calls and emails from a variety of both e-publications and paper-pubs asking for articles and interviews. Readers have written to say they are fascinated by her story because they, too, have been involved in horrific lawsuits and have been trying to write about it. There have been many offers to crosslink blogs to broaden the audience. In less than a week readers from literally all over the world are reading her truth as she speaks it.
There was a time when people like Jane who had been involved in such a horrific situation would eventually reached a point where they had no more recourse. They were out of options. Now the internet has provided a vast community of people who are interested, want to help, want to know more.
We are living in an era when independent publishing houses like Jane’s Mt. Ivy Press are springing up everywhere. All those publishers need to hear Jane’s story. We are living in an era when even best-selling authors have to present a marketing plan along with their books to major publishing houses and the thought that a small press could get whacked with a $33 MILLION judgement — especially after getting interest from both Disney and Oprah — is mind-numbing.
And there are so many questions in this entire story. As a small publisher myself the first thought in my mind is whatever happened to the admonish caveat emptor? Why wasn’t Misha, who hadn’t even written a word of the book when she met Jane, not responsible for choosing Mt Ivy to work with? Where is her responsibility in this?
And then there is the question of authenticity. That question has been raised many times. Holocaust scholar Lawrence L. Langer called Misha’s story “preposterous” and historian Raul Hilberg called it “impossible”. What if the entire case that has cost Jane’s family hundreds of thousands of dollars was all based on a lie? Will we ever know?
This is what I believe: when you speak your truth miraculous things happen. Jane is a very brave woman and she has chosen to speak her truth on her BESTSELLERtheBook.blogspot.com blog. In less than a week hundreds of people have read what she has to say so far and are coming back for more. Other bloggers and discussion groups are writing about her. Despite the judgement of the court, many of us have questions and now that this remarkable forum of the world wide web is available to us, we DO have an option. We DO have a place to be heard and, more than heard, affirmed.
Justice Louis Brandeis once said that sunlight is the best disinfectant. And with the internet as a forum there is an entire world of sunlight available to the wounded. Disinfecting those wounds has just begun.
Thanks for reading.
Thursday, September 13, 2007
My first project is a new variation on my Mermaid Shawl which I am calling a Shawl of Falling Leaves and Shooting Stars (left). Because a few knitters have had difficulty with the beginning of the Mermaid Shawl I was careful when I began this shawl and photographed every step. I will post the pictures with the updated instructions. What I intend to do is redesign the instructions for the Mermaid Shawl (in Suri Alpaca and a Rayon/Angora blend) and include the Gypsy Variation (in Tibetan Silk) as well as the Shawl of Falling Leaves and Shooting Stars which I am knitting in Knit Pick's Wool of the Andes in the color they call "Tulip" which is a lovely fushia color. I love that color.
Once the instructions are re-written I will make the complete instructions available in a high-quality PDF file that can be downloaded. I am planning on offering it free to anyone who purchases my novel, The Old Mermaid's Tale, from Amazon. I think anyone who reads a book about mermaids should be wearing a Mermaid Shawl when they do that!
The second project I started is also made with Knit Picks yarn. This time I am using their shine sport in Aquamarine which is the most gorgeous color! I intended to just make a scarf but I love the color so much I am now thinking about another bed jacket (right). The sisitches I am using are a lace pattern called Rowan's Leaves which I downloaded from the internet and a little zig-zag lace to separate the leaves. I cannot tell you how lovely this yarn is to work with. It is soft beyond belief and has such a lovely drapey quality. Plus it is Pima Cotton so can be worn year round. The stitch definition is just beautiful (right) and --- well --- I love it.
Since I have made three bed jackets now, all in the same haphazard manner (beginning in the back and knitting down then picking up stitches to form front, arms and hem) and all of them look pretty good, I am continuing in that technique. I made a blue one last winter that my sister Lisa fell in love with when she was visiting me in June so it now lives with her.
My final project is a little bit of zig-zag lace that will eventually widen into another jacket back. I am working it in that Haitian Silk I bought on eBay that is called "Monet" (left). I swear that for every stitch I knit, I tear out a stistch. I try a lot of experiments to see how things look and if they are going well than I keep working. But if I don't like them - out they come. That has been the fate of this Haitian Silk. I rip out more than I knit but I think I am getting closer this time.
I was sorting through my stash trying to decide what other things I want to try this winter. I have several skeins of Knit Pick's Ambrosia - an alpaca/cashmere blend - in a lovely light blue and think it might be time for me to use that to take a try at that lace pattern called Rose Trellis that has defeated me in the past. The other thing I found was some lovely lace-weight Alpaca Cloud in pale blue and lilac. I think that is destined to be the Forest Path Shawl now that my Lady Eleanor is nearly finished. I'll post photos of that when it is complete. I didn't like the edges of it - they looked too raw to me. So I am working all around the edge in a fine I-cord. What a pretty finish! I was working on it at the art association the night of the big auction and several people stopped and oooh-ed and aaah-ed over it. I bet I could have sold it as a work of art that night!
So that's it from me on knitting for now. Thanks for reading and Happy Autumn Knitting!!!
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
On the morning of September 11, 2001 artist Judi Rotenberg was working in her studio when her husband, Richard Ross, came into say goodbye. He looked at the picture she was painting and said, "You must be painting that for me." She wrote across the bottom of it the words from the Song of Solomon, "This is my beloved and this is my friend." Her husband went to Logan airport and boarded American Airlines Flight #11. This is for Judi and for all the rest who lost their beloveds and their friends that day, five years ago.
The Dead of September 11
by Toni Morrison, written September 13, 2001
Some have God's words; others have songs of comfort for the bereaved. If I can pluck courage here, I would like to speak directly to the dead-the September dead.
Those children of ancestors born in every continent on the planet: Asia, Europe, Africa, the Americas… born of ancestors who wore kilts, obis, saris, geles, wide straw hats, yarmulkes, goatskin, wooden shoes, feathers, and cloths to cover their hair. But I would not say a word until I could set aside all I know or believe about nations, war, leaders, the governed and ungovernable; all I suspect about armor and entrails. First I would freshen my tongue, abandon sentences crafted to know evil-wanton or studied; explosive or quietly sinister, whether born of a sated appetite or hunger; of vengeance or the simple compulsion to stand up before falling down. I would purge my language of hyperbole; of its eagerness to analyze the levels of wickedness; ranking them, calculating their higher or lower status among others of its kind.
Speaking to the broken and the dead is too difficult for a mouth full of blood. Too holy an act for impure thoughts. Because the dead are free, absolute; they cannot be seduced by blitz.
To speak to you, the dead of September, I must not claim false intimacy or summon an overheated heart glazed just in time for a camera. I must be steady and I must be clear, knowing all the time that I have nothing to say-no words stronger than the steel that pressed you into itself; no scripture older or more elegant than the ancient atoms you have become.
And I have nothing to give either-except this gesture, this thread thrown between your humanity and mine: I want to hold you in my arms and as your soul got shot of its box of flesh to understand, as you have done, the wit of eternity: its gift of unhinged release tearing through the darkness of its knell.
Monday, September 10, 2007
But I was listening to a commercial for his program with a sound bite in it in which he is talking in support of his pro-torture position regarding the Abu Gahrib atrocity. In it he uses the analogy if you were the parent of a child who had been kidnaped and was buried somewhere with only enough air to stay alive for an hour and you had the person who did it, how far would you go in torturing that person to elicit information on where the child was so you could rescue it before it was too late.
Well, that’s a very compelling analogy and, of course, a lot of the pro-torture nuts latched onto it and have repeated it endlessly in discussion groups, chat rooms and bars. It is a bit histrionic since it deals with an absolute situation involving a beloved child but there’s something that is more important in my thinking. There is a difference between an absolute situation and a possible or potential one and anyone who can’t see that isn’t far from being a terrorist themselves.
Severin answers his own question by saying “Torture him. Torture him to death if necessary.” But what if you think the person you have MIGHT know where the child is buried? How far are you willing to go over something the person might know but you can never be sure if they do or not? And what if the person you have isn’t the one who committed the crime? They didn’t kidnap the child, they didn’t bury the child. They know where the child is but they are terrified of the person who did it and fear if they tell they might as well be dead. How far do you torture then?
I guess the reason I was thinking about this is because I am sick and tired of the hysterics that pass for political debate these days. Everything is so overwrought and there is so much hyperbole that it seems many of us have lost sight of basic human nature and basic moral decency. It seems that the ancient Code of Hammurabi, “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”, has become our national mantra. People quote it like it is a moral imperative.
I’m tired of meanness and hysterics. I’m tired of shock jocks carrying on like the neighborhood fruitcake who is always up on the latest scandal and running around screaming, “The sky is falling, the sky is falling.”
And the sad truth is the sky seems to be getting a little too close for comfort these days. Not because of what is being done to our country from the outside but from what we are doing within. Consumerism is out of control. Our people are dumber, fatter, ruder, and less informed than ever. There is no such thing as news anymore — it is all infotainment. There are no such thing as great thinkers and great leaders — they are all celebrity wannabes. It’s discouraging.
I wish we would take the time to just think about things. I wish people like Severin, who is far from dumb, that have such a huge forum would be more discerning in their ranting. I’m not asking that he change his position or perspective, I’m just asking that he inject some reason instead of shocking extremist hysterics. We need to understand the shades of gray. We need commentary from people who know that.
Thanks for reading.
Friday, September 07, 2007
At this point many of the authors out there are laughing and saying, “How can I get in on this? My publisher hasn’t done a thing to market my book!” These days authors know that, if their book is going to sell, it is they who are going to do all the work. A few years ago things were, it seems, different.
The case in question was brought by two women, co-authors Misha Defonseca and Vera Lee, against their publisher Mt. Ivy Press and its owner Jane Daniel. It was tried in Suffolk Superior Court and the ruling was handed down in 2000. The book that began the entire controversy was titled Misha: A Memoir of the Holocaust Years and was about Defonseca’s experiences as a Jewish child in Europe during that period. Defonseca was living with her parents in Brussels and they were in hiding. She was seven years old when her parents were captured and she was placed in a foster home from which she escaped. She spent the next several years traveling on foot around Europe trying to find them. She lived with a pack of wolves who took care of her. It was quite an adventure and a book that looked like it had potential.
Jane Daniel had a small independent press that published a book titled Gigolos (which you can still buy on Amazon) and a few other titles. Through her friend, attorney Jan Schlictman, she met Defonseca and they agreed to do the book together. Jane’s best friend and next-door neighbor Vera Lee, a retired French professor, agreed to help because Misha’s native tongue was French and she needed translation support telling her story. While Misha and Vera began the long, arduous task of writing the book, Jane began to market it.
She had worked with the prestigious literary agency Palmer and Dodge (now Edwards, Angell, Palmer and Dodge) and literary marketing gurus, Ike Williams and Elaine Rogers (now with Fish and Richardson), before. They agreed to work with her on the Misha book. Before the book was even written Mt. Ivy had acquired a movie option from Disney who agreed to pay Misha as a consultant on the film. The Oprah show had flown a film crew to Massachusetts to shoot footage of Misha with the wolves at Wolf Hollow in Ipswich. Translation rights abroad were sold. A schedule of speaking engagement through a reputable speakers bureau was set up. This is the kind of promotion that most of us humble authors can only dream of! Disney! Oprah! Foreign translation sales!!! Who gets that kind of marketing? Misha is reported to have received over $200,000 in royalties just from the French edition alone! All the authors I know are salivating over that little fact.
But somewhere along the line the controversy began. Misha and Vera squabbled and Vera claimed she was being damaged by the project. She filed a lawsuit. Misha’s story was being questioned by Holocaust story experts and the Boston Globe’s David Mehegan wrote an article questioning its authenticity. More lawsuits were filed. Disney backed off and so did Oprah. Everything went awry and soon everyone was lawyered up. The chaos that ensued left Jane Daniel’s publishing company and life in tatters. For seven years she has battled to find some equity around this situation. Her family spent hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to help. She lost everything. She spent time in jail. Now they want her house. The nightmare seems endless. But Jane persists. Now that the legal cases are settled and she has nothing to lose she is writing about the case in a blog: BESTSELLER! which will become a book.
If you are an independent publisher — or a publisher of any sort — you need to read this blog. If you are an author you need to read it too. It is the story of a project that went awry and has created devastation. There are currently seven chapters on the blog. More are being added as the author completes them. It is gripping reading. Take a look at: BESTSELLERtheBook.blogspot.com
Thanks for reading.
Thursday, September 06, 2007
In a way their premise is almost touching in its simplicity. Throughout the course of history horrible wars have been fought, people have been tortured and abused, populations have been oppressed all because of God and religion. All of them spend a good deal of time talking about the current jihads waged by sectarian Islamists and the fundamentalist Christians who create their own problems all because “God told them to do it”. I understand exactly what they mean. I agree with them.
I watched a documentary with Dawkins in which he visited the Holy Land and interviewed people from all Faiths and talked in depth about the warring factions that have torn at that land in the names of their various Gods. He makes excellent points.
The thing I kept thinking through all of it — the documentaries and the books — was what has any of this got to do with God? Men are horrible to each other. Mankind kills its own, tortures its own, suppresses its own, acts in unconscionable ways all the time. Isn’t blaming it all on God an easy way to ignore our own responsibility for what we do? It doesn’t seem to me that it is God who drops those bombs and pulls those triggers and flies those planes into the sides of buildings. Sometimes when I read the proclamations of those “religious” fundamentalists who do these things they remind me of David Berkowitz claiming his neighbor’s dog made him murder people. Ooooo-kay...
I don’t pretend to have an answer here. I am a person of Faith and have been for many years. It is not something I particularly asked for at all. Even during those years of college and for awhile afterwards when I was going through my agnostic/questioning phase trying out different religions, belief in something greater was always there. I was one of those “thank God I’m an atheist” types, Finally I realized how stupid my attitude was and I accepted that I was stuck with believing. My life is better now.
Albert Einstein once said, “I want to know the mind of God.” Bold sentiments. But there is something in there. Scientists tell us that we only use a small percentage of our big brains and they don’t know what the rest is used for. We are, clearly, capable of being far greater than we are and, to me, that vast unused territory of the brain is where many of our answers about God and the meaning of all that will eventually find answers.
I know when I am fully engaged in writing or creating something happens and, for me, that is God-presence. There have been times when I have written something and read it later and think “who the hell wrote that!” And that is God-presence. There is Something. I don’t know what but I know there is Something.
Man has tried to shape God in his own image from the beginning of time. I’m always amused by some of those attempts — “well, if God is so good why does my grandmother have arthritis?” Aurgh! Man can be violent, cruel and stupid. Much of the time we are not that far from the cave and then we blame it on holy wars and religious directives. And sometimes we are filled with light and empowered and creatively alive. For me that is being filled with God. I don’t know where that comes from, maybe those uncharted regions of the brain. But I am okay with calling that God. Instead of blaming God for all the failures of mankind to one another why can’t we focus more on our own failures and try to redeem that by giving more of our time to letting in that creative light?
Thanks or reading.
Tuesday, September 04, 2007
Well, in a way he was. For years I eagerly anticipated each new episode of his On the Road series and then, when he was the host of CBS Sunday Morning I made sure nobody bothered me during that time — especially the last fifteen minutes when he would always have a little treat that was invariably marvelous. Sometimes it would be something beautiful — sunrise over a glacier or birch leaves swirling down a mountain stream. Visuals that would make Andy Galsworthy weep. And sometimes it would be a story about a lady in Montana who baked gingerbread cookies that looked like the children in the town or a guy in Alabama who collected old passenger train cars. You never knew what he’d tell you about. I think my favorite was about the guy who had invented a bird feeder that really was squirrel-proof but then found a bear in it.
One of the gifts that Kuralt gave me, and for which I am eternally grateful, was an appreciation of people who are a little quirky — even a LOT quirky — but utterly devoted to their quirks. He was always at his best when he interviewed those people because he genuinely liked them and appreciated what they were doing whether it was building the world’s largest string ball or inventing gizmos that were extremely creative and entirely useless.
Last night while I was watching the program I was struck by how warm and open and accepting he was as a person. That’s something the world needs — needs desperately. I’ve often despaired over the fact that we are living in what Bill Maher refers to as the “Gotcha” Era, when way too many people spend their time eagerly anticipating one screw-up so they can say “gotcha” and then forever dismiss you as a person who screwed up once so can no longer be regarded with any kind of respect. I’m entirely fed up with that attitude. A person can spend years of their life doing good things and then make one mistake and that mistake is flaunted every time that person is mentioned forevermore. Somehow I can’t imagine Kuralt even thinking that way. He had flaws but his imperfections never made him less kind, less sweet, less intelligent or less generous.
He seemed like a person who genuinely loved and appreciated humanity in all its quirks and inadequacies and foibles and, in fact, appreciated people all the more for being imperfect. As I was listening to him last night I was aware of how easily he laughed, how he saw the good in so much, and yet how aware and wise and perceptive he was. The world hasn’t been quite as nice without his warm, generous presence on television. In fact, I pretty much stopped watching television after he was gone. Not that I hadn’t started drifting away before but he was one of the rare reasons I couldn’t quite give TV up. When he died on the 4th of July ten years ago, I could.
So it was a nice reminder watching him last night. He was a positive influence in my life and a good reminder that I don’t have to be like those “gotcha” people. I can remember the funny, the peculiar, the quirky and the downright odd, and not mind a bit because Charlie would have liked them anyway and so can I.
Thanks for reason.
Monday, September 03, 2007
I have nothing in particular against tourists except it will be nice to be able to once again go to my favorite restaurants and not wait in line for a table, to go to the beach and not have it crowded with noisy folks with boomboxes and attitude, to actually be able to drive across town without getting yelled at and cut off by cars with strange license plates. But I remind myself that I live in a town that people save all year to spend a week in so I should be patient.
The Schooner races (left) are another story. They are beautiful. I wish they had them all the time. The Friendship (above, right, with the USS Nitze) was here from Salem yesterday. That is one of the loveliest three-masted, square-rigged schooners you could ask for. Clare and I watched from Jane’s front porch. Jane lives on top of a hill with one of the best views of Gloucester Harbor you could ask for.
But what happened was we started talking about passion and being over-fifty and so on fire with ideas and creative energy that we don’t how we ever lived another way. It was a wonderful conversation.
Clare grew up near New York City and spent most of her life commuting into downtown NY and spending long hours at a corporate job. Three years ago she left New York and moved next-door to me. She took a job that pays half of what her former job did but gives her time to write plays and design. In three years she has written several short plays. One of them, Queer Bent for the Tudor Gent, a satire in Shakespearian verse, has been produced in New York and Sydney, Australia. She is now working on a musical adaptation of a popular fifties horror movie (it’s a surprise) with the permission of the movie’s producer, and she has started a line of products ranging from t-shirts to coffee mugs featuring her original renditions of modern art classics only with cats. Take a look at Modern Art Cats.
Jane graduated from Simmons and worked for years in the Boston publishing industry. She founded her own small press (this is a cautionary tale for other small press owners) and wound up getting sued, twice. The second lawsuit has been a ten year nightmare for her and resulted in the largest settlement against a publisher that she has been able to find evidence of. Her life has been a torn apart and, now that the last of the countersuits has been settled, she is taking a much needed break from litigation worries — her finances devastated — to write a book about the entire experience. I have read a few of her chapters and all the small presses and independent publishers need to read this book! She is beginning it as a blog at BESTSELLER!
I, of course, am still writing, still working, still designing, working on the cookbook blog — broke all the time because of all my passions but happy nonetheless. So we got talking about the joy of transforming all our challenges and trials and disappointments into exciting work that has grown into such intense passion that it transcends what we had to go through to get here. It is exciting stuff.
So on Labor Day I am working — working on my new book, working on the cookbook blog, working on a new secret project. It is work but it is not labor — it is a holy fire, a divine passion for creativity and communication. It is a sacred quest that is constantly fulfilling. I wish you a passion of your own.
Thanks for reading.