Monday, June 30, 2008

The Winner --- Buona Fiesta!!!

The Ultimate Greasy Pole Picture
I don't know who took this or when but I came across it recently and decided I wanted it on my blog.
All I can say is UM!

2008 Winner:

See Captain Joe's Good Morning Gloucester Blog for more!

It was very loud here the last few days, I am looking forward to some quiet. VIVA SAN PIETRO and thank God that's over!
Jay Albert's Cape Ann Images: Foggy day leftovers !

Thanks for reading.

Friday, June 27, 2008

FIESTA!!!! You've got to have a sense of humor to live in Gloucester...

Me chi samiou, duté muté!?!?!
Sunday, 11:37 pm - Between the fog and the cold, Fiesta 2008 is not the best one ever. Jay Albert has posted a photo essay about the foggy Greasy Pole last night: Cape Ann Images: Foggy Fiesta !
It is, however, loud. There was partying in the street that was still going on when I went to bed at 2:00am. Sounds like things are gearing up for the parade now. Fireworks tonight have been canceled because of the thunderstorms moving in. I haven't heard any sirens in about an hour but Mass isn't over yet....

Saturday, 4:19 pm - Last night was somewhat quieter than most Fiesta Friday nights, mostly because of the weather, but there were people partying the street until 2. Right now I can hear cheers from Pavillion Beach and nearly constant cries of "Viva San Pietro!" I finished Mark Kurlansky's The Last Fish Tale: The Fate of the Atlantic and Survival in Gloucester, America's Oldest Fishing Port and Most Original Town and thought is was excellent --- I'll blog about it on Monday. Until then: VIVA SAN PIETRO!!!

7:15 PM --- High tide is good for Greasy Pole walking but lightning and a tornado is NOT!!! More at Jay Albert's Cape Ann Images!
Friday, 1:48 --- Thus it begins! Our quiet little street has suddenly gotten much louder and St. Peter is going to have his hands full with all the accolades being shouted at him. I went out to run a few errands --- picked up some Scalafani's bread, fresh fennel and mozzarella and swung by Café Sicilia to pick up lobster claws (that's a pastry, not a seafood). The altar in St. Peter's Square is ready and waiting, so are the police and firemen. The ambulances are already busy. I passed three greasy pole-walkers in full body paint who were viva-ing San Pietro all over the place. I hope they make it until 4:45 when the Friday competition begins. As I pulled into my street I could hear more "vivas" being shouted from other directions.I plan to stick close to home but since home is where it is, the party will come to me. Have fun, try to stay safe and VIVA SAN PIETRO!!!


Despite the recent regrettable publicity in Gloucester it is also nearly time for our Annual Bacchanalian Revel, also known as FIESTA! The stage is almost ready and last night I was down at Pavillion Beach and a bunch of young bucks were there plotting their strategy for the Greasy Pole Competition. Saturday I went down the fish pier to watch the International Dory Races between the US and Canada. Both Jay Albert and Cathy Tarr have created excellent photo sites about those.

I'll be posting updates here as the occur to me. Jay Albert (photo above by Jay) over at Cape Ann Images usually has the best photos of Fiesta and he has some from last year online now. Joe Ciaramitaro from Capt. Joe's Lobsters is also documenting Fiesta on his excellent Good Morning Gloucester Blog, which he updates several times a day. Since I live in Gloucester's West End, the heart of the Sicilian community, I'll be keeping an eye out here. The parties go on all around and I can lay on my living room couch and listen to the music.

So, as we wait, please enjoy this video from Don Chavez of last years Greasy Pole event.
Captain Tom Ellis, captain of the Thomas E. Lannon, and buddy take a tour of the harbor (Jay Albert)

Thanks for reading and VIVA SAN PIETRO!!!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Hubert's Freaks and Howard's Boats from Gloucester's Writers

I've been catching up on reading lately which is a good thing. I wasn't able to focus long enough to read there for awhile so I am glad to be back at it. Two of the books that I recently finished, both by distinguished Gloucester writers, are well worth the time spent on them and more.

Gregory Gibson is an antiquarian book dealer in Lanesville. I met him when he spoke at one of our Hovey House meetings a few years ago and he is the kind of guy you love to talk to because he knows a lot of stuff about the strangest things and you never know where the conversation is going to go but that's what makes it fun. His latest book, Hubert's Freaks, is a prime example. Some years back Greg met a fellow book dealer named Bob Langmuir who had a strange tale to tell himself and it started Greg off on an adventure than many of us would envy --- a veritable walk on the dark side of American culture and of the contemporary mind.

Carl Jung wrote about the shadow side, that hidden side of ourselves that we don't always want to acknowledge but that informs much of what we do. As a graphic artist one thing I know is that when you want to make something really stand out and get attention, putting a shadow behind it does a great job. People are like that, too. We might not like or even acknowledge those dark nether regions of our minds but they sometimes add a depth and drama to life that is fairly irresistible. Throughout our history Americans have had a lurid fascination with those dark places and no one was better at capturing that than photographer Diane Arbus. So when Bob Langmuir discovered a trove of Arbus photographs in a lot of sideshow memorabilia that he purchased he was off on a strange and complex adventure.

In Times Square there was once a place called Hubert's Museum, a sort of sideshow which included sword-swallowers, “savages”, human oddities and more. Diane Arbus photographed many of Hubert's “Freaks” and the story of Langmuir's discovery of those photos, the process of authenticating them, and then trying to discover what to do with them, all while doing battle with his own shadow side and all its demon, makes for fascinating reading. The web site for Hubert's Freaks contains many of the photos as well as audio files of the grind tape that was played. Visit the web site, buy the book, take a walk on the dark side --- you'll love it.

Joseph Garland is a true son of Gloucester and known locally for his books on area history. Joe is the one who told me that I needed to write The Old Mermaid's Tale because, as he put it, “not enough people are writing about the Great Lakes those stories need to be told. So I did.

Down on Main Street there is a tavern that I have spent many an evening in. It is called Halibut Point and was one of Mark's most regular haunts. It was a rare night he didn't stop in there for a drink on his way home. On the walls of Halibut Point there are photos of its founder, Howard Blackburn. Though I had seen those photos a hundred times, I never knew his story until I read Joe Garland's Lone Voyager. What an adventure! Blackburn, a 6'2” Newfoundlander, was fishing out of Gloucester in the Canadian Maritimes in 1883 when he and a dory mate were carried off in a winter storm. By the time he returned to Gloucester he was the lone survivor of the trip and had lost all his fingers and most of his toes. But that didn't slow him down a bit. He started a tavern, now called Halibut Point, which still sports the oak bar and brass rails Blackburn had installed, and made his fortune. Then he went back to sea.

The sheer, unmitigated nerve of the man just boggles the mind. Twice he crossed the Atlantic Ocean alone and had a rip-roaring time. He then sailed down the east coast of the Americas, through the Straits of Magellan (a wonderful chapter for us armchair adventurers) and up the west coast intent on cashing in on the Klondike Gold Rush.

In my favorite chapter he sails, once again alone, up the Hudson River, through the Erie Canal, across the Great Lakes, and down the Mississippi --- a journey I can do nothing but envy. I've never thought about sailing across the Atlantic but that is a trip I would love to take. And, in my favorite part of my favorite chapter, Blackburn makes my favorite statement: That of all the bodies of water he ever did maritime battle with, the most brutal was Lake Erie. He said it was tougher than crossing the Grand Banks of the Atlantic to the Azores. Since that is much of the story in The Old Mermaid's Tale it pleased me no end.

Joe Garland is quite a seaman himself and writes with passion about Blackburn's challenges at sea. The book has been around for over 40 years. I am very pleased to finally have read it!

So, as Fiesta starts cranking up today, I have new appreciation of my beloved Gloucester. An appreciation that is much enhanced by two such admirable writers as Greg Gibson and Joe Garland and all they have contributed to the literary world.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Another Gloucester Scandal

Sigh. Everybody knows about it by now. The media feeding frenzy has once again run amok and everyone from Dr. Phil to Tyra Banks and news outlets from Boston to Singapore are flashing the news --- Seventeen Girls in Gloucester High had a “Pregnancy Pact”. This is very depressing. On top of all the issues Gloucester has to deal with from our collapsing fishing industry to our collapsing roads and City Hall, we will now be known world-wide as the town where little girls compete to get pregnant the fastest and the youngest. Wonderful. I blog all the time about our amazing arts community, our wonderful writers, our warm and friendly people --- not to mention the sheer gorgeous beauty of this place. And what makes the international news? Pregnant teenagers. Just wonderful.

And, concurrent with all of that, is the finger-pointing. If you read the blogs and the message boards there is no shortage of opinion on who is to blame: the schools, the city officials, the media, Britney Spears little sister, cheerleading, the Catholic Church, and Beyonce's clothing line for children for a start. Lots of folks know what kind of a lock to use on that barn without any horses in it. I'm considering launching a line of knitting patterns for chastity belts. Who knows, might help.

There are so many thoughts going through my mind about this but the number one thing I have been thinking and saying and writing about is what did we expect when we, as a culture, advanced the idea that there is no such thing as morality anymore? Just because people have rejected religion --- for good or for ill --- does not mean that morals need to be rejected too. Humans are social animals. We live within a society. And to function within a society we need to impose certain standards on ALL members if they want to be a part of that society. Part of that is done through laws and part of that is done through moral behavior. You can make laws around things like murder and theft. It is a little more difficult when it comes to things like adultery and slander. We rely on the greater conscience of the whole to impose social standards in such cases. We rely on a code of moral and ethical behavior to keep us from descending into total barbarism. Some would say we are losing that battle.

When I was in high school in the 1960s there were girls who got pregnant. Nothing has changed there. They left school (it was a Catholic prep school) and went to visit an “aunt” in Milwaukee. Some months later they returned home, sad and embarrassed, and, if the were lucky, finished high school at the local public school. Was this a good way for such things to be handled? I don't know.

Back then out-of-wedlock pregnancy was shameful and immoral because it meant you were having sex outside of marriage. I doubt you could find a handful of people in any high school today who would agree with that but there is another moral imperative here: It is the duty of those who bring new life into this world to support, nurture, and be responsible for it. Having babies you cannot support is --- I'm going to use the word --- IMMORAL. It is immoral and an affront to the society in which one lives to bear children that will not be supported financially, emotionally, and psychologically. A fifteen year old girl who mates with a 24 year old homeless man so she can go to baby showers with all her friends commits an immoral act by getting pregnant. She needs to be held accountable for that.

The media frenzy around this scares me. The message being sent around the country is that getting knocked up at fifteen will get you a shot at Oprah. I have already heard friends of the local girls venture the opinion that these girls will be getting lots of percs thanks to all of this --- everything from their medical expenses paid to free Pampers for life. I doubt any of that has any bearing in reality but that's where kids' minds go ---- “ooooo, she's so lucky to get to go on Tyra Banks!!!” Great. Just great.

Some of the blogs have been merciless. Rachel Banks at Driving the Short Bus to Enlightenment had this to say: I can’t possibly fathom why this situation is a mystery to anyone who is paying attention to popular culture. Frankly, I’m surprised it doesn’t happen more often and on a grander scale. We’ve allowed the rampant sexualization of girls all the way down to toddlers. Britney Spears’ little sister, star of a Nickelodeon show, had a baby this week at the age of 17. Read the article I linked to for that and notice how they act like this is good news and she’ll be such a great mom! OMG, like, she’s so fun! The stigma of being a slut is gone, thanks to Paris Hilton and the like. You can be publicly KNOWN to be a drunken, STD-carrying, wildly promiscuous shit-for-brains and what will happen? You’ll get acting jobs, endorsement work, a fashion line, and hundreds of magazine covers.

And Michele Catalano at Pajamas Media says: This is not an issue about sex. This is a much deeper issue, one about young girls with no direction, no guidance and no boundaries, whose role models are the pregnant classmates who came before them. As much as one wants to point to the economic factors of this struggling, isolated fishing community as reasons why this happened, that’s doing a disservice to every young daughter in that community. It’s a cop out. It’s shrugging your shoulder and saying “we can’t help it, it’s the way things are here.” There are millions of parents out there who are struggling financially and emotionally, whose daughters don’t decide to overcome the hopelessness of their lives by becoming a mommy at 16. It takes education. First and foremost, by the parents, with backup education by the schools. By giving in this disturbing trend and not being outraged by it, the parents of this community are only ensuring that this will no longer be a trend in Gloucester, but commonplace.

All I can say is that I hope that Gloucester can salvage some dignity out of this by serving as a starting point for people to talk about what in heaven's name we have done to our children by abandoning them --- emotionally, psychologically and morally. These children need to know that they matter and that they have a responsibility to society and that we will be there to support and guide them --- not to throw them baby showers and applaud them for their performance on Dr. Phil.

Two excellent blog articles by local bloggers:

Jim Dowd's: An open letter to the people calling me concerned about Gloucester

Marc Randazza's: Gloucester and It's Pregnancy Pact: A Native's Perspective

Thanks for reading

Friday, June 13, 2008

Tristan Couldn't Wait

Every warrior hopes a good death will find him. But Tristan couldn't wait. He went looking for his.” - Jim Harrison, Legends of the Fall

After I read the article in the Globe about Mark yesterday I kept thinking about how he would feel about his medical condition being so publicly flaunted. Mark was very private about many things and medical issues was high on the list of things he didn't talk about very often. I still have mixed feelings about that article. There was good in it but the comments --- especially about him dropping dead --- still disgust me. In some ways the article seems cruel to me. The picture that accompanies it was one I took to send out with press releases about his call from Jason Cahill and the interest from Hollywood. We sent out hundreds of those press releases with that picture. Very few of them yielded any attention for his book. But now, because he is dead, the picture and the story are printed. The bitter irony in that is hard to ignore.

But Mark was his own person and one thing I have learned about rugged, passionate, independent, slightly crazy men who are facing death is that they choose their own terms. When my beautiful, rugged, highly independent brother Jack (left) was in the last months of his life and people would ask how he was doing, he would always say, “Great --- except for this damn cancer.” The last time I visited him I found him in the kitchen of his house on the edge of the woods cooking venison sausages. I couldn't believe how good he looked for as sick as he was. “Yeah,” he laughed, “not bad for a dead man.”

When Mark and I were first getting to know each other we often met out at the end of Pirates Lane in the evening. His boat, F/V Black Sheep, was moored in Smith's Cove there and he wrote most of his book sitting in the cab of his truck while watching the sun go down behind Gloucester's City Hall where the names of the lost fishermen are written on the walls --- the lost fishermen to whom he dedicated his book. It's no secret that, though I had met Mark when he hired me to edit his book, I was falling under the spell of his personality and the hours we spent together talking and watching that same sun go down over and over were becoming increasingly precious to me.

One night we were talking about constructing characters for stories. Mark believed in character-driven story and that, if you had compelling characters, the story would carry itself for that reason. We were talking about characters from books and movies and I said, “You remind me of Tristan Ludlow --- only with lobsters instead of horses.” Mark stared at me with his mouth open and said, “I can't believe you said that.” “Why?” I asked --- I figured he didn't know who Tristan Ludlow was. Mark shook his head as he often did, as though to clear his thoughts. “He's my favorite character of all,” he said. “I've seen that movie a hundred times.”

I'm a big fan of Jim Harrison (below) and I've read most of his books. As I began working on Mark's manuscripts, I often thought of Harrison's writing and I told him that. Mark said he was flattered --- Harrison was one of his literary heroes. Like Harrison, Mark's writing was rugged and passionate and violent but yet there was always that underscore of the poet. At his wake one of his friends was talking to me about the way Mark described Good Harbor Beach in the rain. “It brought tears to my eyes,” the man said, “his writing was beautiful. I never would have known that side of him if I hadn't read his book.”


When Tristan Ludlow was a boy he went looking for a bear --- the bear that finally killed him in the end. He cut off one of the bear's claws and he wore it as a talisman. Mark faced death on the ocean every day but it was his heart that was his bear and, strangely, that comes as no surprise. Once, when we were talking about it, he said, “There's something wrong with my heart.” “Yes,” I said, “it's too vulnerable.” He wore it like a talisman --- and it got him in the end.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Tales of a lobsterman catch Hollywood's eye

Thoughts added later in the day: I've been thinking about this article all day and have received a lot of emails from people asking how I am doing and expressing the sentiment that they hope Mark's book does get made into a movie or HBO special. Then there is a pause with a few people and the question comes: What do you think of the article? I know what they are asking and I want to respond. I believe that Mark was an excellent writer and a somewhat mythic, larger-than-life person. In my opinion he was the stuff that heroes could be made from so from that perspective I am happy people will know about him. BUT I am also somewhat revolted by parts of the article. The comment about him going home and dropping-dead disturbs me and I wonder how his family must feel reading that. I think it was in deplorable taste. AND the detailed discussion of his health upsets me. Mark was very private about such things and now it is plastered all over the paper. I find that distasteful as well. So, above all, my question is what was the point of this article? Why did it have to dwell on his health when he was so reluctant to reveal that part of himself to the world?

I emailed the article to a lot of people and I hope --- if anything --- they will remember him for the tough, independent, yet vulnerable man and writer that he was. But, I have been obsessing about this all day and all I can say is it should not have been written the way it was. And that is a terrible shame....

From today's Boston Globe:

Tales of a lobsterman catch Hollywood's eye

Author dies after book gains fans

Mark Williams, on Eden Road in Rockport in 2007, died last month after a heart attack.
Mark Williams, on Eden Road in Rockport in 2007, died last month after a heart attack. (kathleen valentine)

By James Sullivan Globe Correspondent / June 12, 2008

Gloucester lobsterman Mark S. Williams cheated death, and turned the experience into the work of his life.

Williams named his book after the boat that almost killed him, "F/V Black Sheep." When a trawl line dragged him overboard, his life passed before his eyes.

Constructed as a series of flashbacks, the book recounts the chilling scene of his near-drowning and the memories it triggered.

Writing it all down and then self-publishing, he took to selling copies of the book right out of the cab of his pickup truck.

Pay me the twenty bucks if you like it, he told the curious. Almost everyone did.

Vivid tales of his Gloucester upbringing and his years on the water resonated far beyond Cape Ann. Books were selling briskly not only out of the author's truck and in the local shops, but on, too.

Things were going so well, in fact, that a Hollywood writer was working up a screenplay for a proposed film or miniseries based on the 56-year-old first-time author's work.

A couple of weeks ago Williams stopped by to see John Hilton, owner of Broken In Books in Rowley, to discuss their plans to repackage the book. Williams joked that it would be just his luck if now that he'd achieved a measure of literary recognition, he dropped dead of a heart attack. He drove home to his room at his mother's bed-and-breakfast on Good Harbor Beach, and did just that.

True to form, the rugged "black sheep" of his family hadn't told his brothers and sisters about the extent of his heart condition. They knew about the fishing injuries, said Williams's older brother Ted, who lives with his wife on Rocky Neck. They didn't know about the hypertension or the high cholesterol.

"He was taking 80 milligrams of Lipitor," said the older brother a few days after the funeral. "I said, 'My God, that's a lot. I take 10.' No one knew it was as serious as it was."

But Williams's near-death experience, and the brio with which he relates that and other events of his life, earned him high praise and farflung fans.

Gloucester native Jason Cahill, a screenwriter ("ER," "The Sopranos"), contacted Williams about adapting the book as soon as he read it. With 16 years between them, the two had never met, though they both grew up on Good Harbor.

"Honestly," said Cahill, "if you read the book, you know Mark."

Cahill said his mother sent him "F/V Black Sheep." "She's very fond, like most moms, of sending newspaper clippings," he said. "She also sends books by local authors, and I absolutely fell in love with Mark's."

Though Cahill cautions that any potential adaptation is "still in the very early stages," Hilton and Williams's family say that HBO and Tom Hanks's production company, Playtone, are both aware of the project.

Those who knew him say Williams was a tough guy with a sensitive side, a man who had high regard for men of valor and not much for people who took the easier path.

"Mark was a terrific writer, a tremendous personality, and an enigmatic character," said his editor, Kathleen Valentine.

The author's younger brother, Jeff Williams, is a lawyer and former pro football lineman who flew in from his home in Seattle to attend the funeral.

While his brother's late-blooming foray into writing took the family by surprise, he said, his attention to detail was typical.

"Mark was always kind of romantic, into philosophy. He liked to overanalyze things," said Jeff.

Williams "always had a sage piece of advice, some sort of brotherly comment for me," said Hamilton native J.P. Williamson, one of the author's best friends.

When Williamson went to work on a supply boat in the Gulf of Mexico, Williams, a graduate of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, taught him how to be "sort of a Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court."

Williams, Williamson, and another friend, Coast Guard veteran Mike Moriarty, loved to play croquet on the lawn at the Eastern Point Yacht Club in Gloucester, where the writer's friends worked. They played through the winter, snowblowing the course.

Over beers, they routinely discussed books and politics. They did not spend much time discussing Williams's heart trouble, though his friends knew about it.

"Just admitting it was huge for him," recalled Williamson. "He was not a big fan of the doctor. I think that was the only thing he was scared of."

From his enclosed porch, Ted Williams sometimes spots the Black Sheep and its new owner heading out to sea.

Gazing at the harbor, he noted that he'd just gone through his brother's safety deposit box. Usually people stash their gold and heirlooms.

That's where Williams kept his manuscripts.

Mark Williams, said his older brother, was almost finished with a second book, about his time spent working on the oil derricks off Scotland's North Atlantic coast.

"He was always looking for a little adventure," said Ted Williams.

"More than anything, he respected people who performed great deeds - bravery on the battlefield, or in sports."

Monday, June 09, 2008

My Stash Justifies Its Existence

Lately life has been strange and I am not trying to fight it. You just do what you need to do to get through the rough parts. I find it hard to do many of the things that used to occupy so much of my time. Getting lost in a book is difficult. Writing is impossible. Even knitting has not been good --- too much time to think. But for some reason puttering in my sewing room has suddenly become a great source of quiet, focus, and contentment.

Over the past couple of years I haven't done much sewing --- busy with other things. But that never stopped me from adding to my fabric stash. I'd buy stuff, launder it, fold it into 2 gallon size zipper bags, mark it and pile it up. In fact the piles had gotten so out of control that I was afraid to go in the sewing room for fear of creating an avalanche. But I've straightened most of that up.

So, because sewing quiets my mind and gives me focus I have been sewing. The simple truth is I have two patterns that I am making endless variations on. One is an old, old, old Butterick t-shirt pattern that I love and have probably used 50 times and one is an equally old McCall's pattern for drawstring waist pants with big patch pockets. Both patterns have been used so many times that they are soft and riddled with holes, reinforced with tape in lots of places. But I love the way they fit and I still like the styles so I keep on using them.

Thank goodness for my stash! It has yielded a lot of treasures that, thanks to my two reliable patterns, are going to get me through this summer in comfort and what passes for style with me.

The greatest treasure so far has been a length of black rayon jersey knit. I know I bought it because it is so unbelievably soft. I made the t-shirt with elbow-length sleeves and a deep, ballerina-type neck and I could wear this shirt everyday! It is so lightweight, soft and silky it is barely there. I need more of this stuff. In fact, thanks to Denver Fabrics, I will have more of it in a few days --- in black, turquoise and magenta.

The other treasure was one I knew I had but wasn't sure what I would do with it. An eBay find: 20 yards of snowy white cotton jersey. I made three shirts out of it. My opinion is that in the summer you can't have too many white cotton t-shirts. I varied the lengths of the sleeves and the necklines but all three are going to be well-used.

Then I came across two gorgeous pieces of 100% cotton in ethnic prints. One is a dark brown with a pattern of Navajo symbols in teal, aqua, green, black, gray and white. The other has black white and gold African masks on a deep mustard background. They made up quickly into comfy, summer pants with big pockets and a drawstring waist.

Finally, I unearthed a huge stash of linen I bought in one great lot on eBay years ago. The original lot consisted of five pieces that varied between 2 and three yards each. The colors are incredible. One is a 50/50 linen cotton blend in lilac. One, the only one I used when I bought them, is a 50/50 linen/rayon blend in fuschia that is now a jacket. The other three pieces are pure linen in a deep olive green, a pimento red, and a color called “buttercream”, a soft, yellowish cream. I laundered all the pieces and they are gorgeous. So I decided to start with the buttercream.

The piece was the smallest one but I remembered my thrift, Depression-era grandmother's techniques for piecing scraps and, using what I learned from her, it worked perfectly. They made a lovely pair of pants with big pockets and a cropped leg with a funky, cool treatment at the bottom.

So, I have kept myself occupied and relatively at peace the last week--- and I have three new t-shirts and 3 new pairs of pants as a result. Thank goodness for my fabric stash!

Thanks for reading.

Friday, June 06, 2008

I Want to Be David Attenborough

The last two weeks have been sort of bleak. I can't seem to get much done. I work because I need to but I find my mind wandering and then I just knock off and go do something stupid and pointless. I guess that is what one does at times like these. Lately I've been watching The Blue Planet a lot and finding some strange comfort in the soft but enthusiastic voice of David Attenborough. I want to be like him.

I think I first fell in love with Sir David about thirty years ago when he had a series on PBS/BBC called The Tribal Eye. I loved that show but even more I loved this big, beefy, pale skinned Brit with a delicious accent and a voice that managed to be both soothing and excited at the same time. And I loved that he had the courage to bare his imperfect Anglo physique and don loin cloths in order to courteously participate in tribal rituals that would scare the crap out of most flabby white guys.

Last night I watched an episode of The Blue Planet that was about coasts and tides and beaches and all the creatures large and small that populate them. I have been to the Bay of Fundy and watched the drama of the tides but last night when I was listening to David Attenborough describe the marine life there I thought, Oh gosh, I've got to go back there! It must be wonderful, I think to know so much about the world, be so enthralled by it and have the means and the ability to share that knowledge and enthusiasm with others. He talked a lot about crabs and showed a crab actually abandon his old shell and move on to a new one and, though I guess I knew in theory how that worked, I found myself laughing at the comical appearance of the crab as he wriggled and tugged at his new home. One of the things I love about Sir David is that he can treat each subject seriously but he has a dry sense of humor and isn't so strictly scientific that he can't project a little hint of anthropomorphism on a crab in search of a more comfy and accommodating dwelling.

I've written about the Spring Tides here in Gloucester before and posted pictures of them but last night, listening to him talk about the gravitational pull of the sun and the moon I finally managed to wrap my brain around how those tides operate. And for as often as I have watched the tidal creek along Nautilus Road fill in with the tide or empty out with it --- and watched the remarkable patterns of waves and flowing water formed along the beach and the surf with the movement of the water --- it left me a little breathless to hear him talk about the surge tides in the Amazon that can rush inland for 200 miles when the gravitational tugs are working together.

When I lived in Texas we often took the Bolivar Ferry across the channel to Galveston. It was a wonderful way to cross the channel and sometimes pods of dolphins would show up to guide the ferry where it needed to go. They seemed to be of the opinion it would get lost without them. I remember a moonlit summer night when we rushed to get the last ferry back. We had been drinking sangria on the terrace of the Hotel Galvez and listening to music coming from The Balinese Room on pilings out over the water. It was a beautiful night and the dolphins were in their glory leaping out of the waves and flashing in the moonlight as the escorted the ferry home. I don't know why dolphins do such things though I'm sure Sir David could tell me. There's a thought --- being on the upper deck of the ferry with warm summer breezes and silver moonlight and a soft, slightly husky and ever-impassioned voice explaining dolphin behavior --- or just luxuriating in the wonderousness of it. Either way would work I'm sure. That's the way to see the world...

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

For Shame, Madam...

Order BESTSELLER! by Jane Daniel at Laughing Gull Press.

I've been blogging for months now about the Defonseca/DeWael Hoax mostly from the perspective of the lawsuit against Jane Daniel which is --- or should be --- terrifying to publishers. Especially small press publishers. If a publisher can be found guilty to the tune of $33 MILLION dollars for failing to adequately promote their client's book (especially since Daniel got her a shot on Oprah!) what on earth does that mean for those of us who don't have her talents at promotion? Does that mean we are liable for any book we publish that does not sell well? Frightening thought indeed!

However, in all my indignation over the impact of this case on the publishing industry, I've paid little enough attention to what Defonseca / DeWael did to others besides Daniel. Recently a woman named Karen Schulman has come forward to tell the story of how she, out of compassion for an impoverished Holocaust survivor, took the Defonsecas and their army of animals into her home --- with devastating results. I wrote a blog about that but now Schulman has started her own blog Silence=Permission. It is her hope that others who were taken advantage of by the Defonsecas will come forth and post their stories, too.

Recently Ramona Whitehead, and English teacher in Marianna, Florida, initiated a class project for the high school seniors in her class to write letters to Defonseca. The letters were forwarded to Ms. Schulman who has begun posting them on her blog. They are heartbreaking. These young people read Misha: A Memoir of the Holocaust as part of studying the Holocaust. When they learned that the story was all a lie and that Defonseca was not even Jewish they were devastated. The proof is in their letters.

I feel sorry for the true Holocaust survivors you used to promote your lies, one student writes.

Tell me, why would you do such a thing like write a story that is untrue and could cause more people to believe that the Holocaust didn't happen? It will now cause people who read your book to have second thoughts about other authors who wrote about their Holocaust experiences, writes another.

There are so many people out there in the world that don't even believe that the Holocaust ever happened, and you've added fuel to the fire and it's getting ready to explode, writes a third.

One outraged student included a horrific photograph of a pit full of bodies and one man kneeling, about to be shot by a Nazi soldier. You have treated this as though it were a game, he writes, while six million Jews died and the survivors went through hell.

Powerful letters from high school students whose faith has been damaged by one woman's self-absorbed lies. These students' letters prove that there is yet another dimension to the evil that Defonseca has wrought --- mocking the suffering of the true victims of the Holocaust and lending support to the deniers who would have the world believe the Holocaust was itself a fraud.

Read the letters. Judge for yourself.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Write Anyway...

Writing today has become something of a self-indulgent form of masochism, it seems. And yet, for the writer --- the real writer --- it continues to be necessary and unavoidable. The state of publishing is incomprehensible. The big publishers have become dinosaurs, so large they can barely consume enough to keep themselves alive, so they rely on known names, known formulas, celebrity exposés and self-help books to keep them alive. Small independent presses abound but competition for readers’ dollars is fierce and much of the mainstream press still refuses to review them. The world wide web creates easy access to readers across the nation and in other countries as well but identifying potential readers and convincing them to buy your book is a continual challenge. Getting them to log off and sit down and read is a whole other matter.

And the so-called “author houses” where anyone with a manuscript and a credit card can become a published author are responsible for an epic dimension of literary litter.

Then there is the matter of what is being produced with all these books. I’m convinced that more books about writing and how to write and how to get published are produced and purchased than books of actual literature. The genre books still sell in their respective markets --- romance, mystery, sci-fi, horror. And there are new genres, chick lit, guy lit, and the utterly discouraging and highly popular miz lit. The popularity of miz lit makes my skin crawl. I keep wanting to believe that people are really inspired by these new twists on the triumph-of-the-human-spirit books of yore but I don’t really buy it. Especially in light of the fact that so many of them have proven to be fakes. No, I think there is a high degree of voyeurism in reading them and perhaps something even more unsavory than that.

So where does this leave the contemporary story-teller who has a tale to tell and who wants to tell it well? The simple truth is you just commit yourself to writing anyway. You find a job or a way to make a living that you can tolerate and you do your real work, the work of writing, when you can. You write because you write. you write because you are a writer. You write because there are stories that need telling and you are the one charged with the task of writing them. And then you just trust --- you trust that you will help them to find their way in the world like beloved children that you have created out of love, and nurtured out of faith and hope, and then set free to make their way in the world.

This isn’t an easy world but write anyway. Publishing today is confusing but write anyway. Writing often hurts but write anyway. Money comes and goes, friends help or hurt, love is glorious and painful --- but write anyway. Loss... loss can break your heart and cripple your spirit ... but write anyway.

Thanks for reading.