Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Doris Lessing Speaks (Nobel Prize Acceptance)

Writers are often asked: "How do you write? With a word processor? an electric typewriter? a quill? longhand?"

But the essential question is: "Have you found a space, that empty space, which should surround you when you write? Into that space, which is like a form of listening, of attention, will come the words, the words your characters will speak, ideas - inspiration." If a writer cannot find this space, then poems and stories may be stillborn. When writers talk to each other, what they discuss is always to do with this imaginative space, this other time. "Have you found it? Are you holding it fast?"

The storyteller is deep inside everyone of us. The story-maker is always with us. Let us suppose our world is attacked by war, by the horrors that we all of us easily imagine. Let us suppose floods wash through our cities, the seas rise . . . but the storyteller will be there, for it is our imaginations which shape us, keep us, create us - for good and for ill. It is our stories that will recreate us, when we are torn, hurt, even destroyed. It is the storyteller, the dream-maker, the myth-maker, that is our phoenix, that represents us at our best, and at our most creative.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Last Night That She Lived

The last night that she lived,
It was a common night,
Except the dying; this to us
Made nature different.

We noticed smallest things,—
Things overlooked before,
By this great light upon our minds
Italicized, as 'twere.

That other could exist
While she must finish quite,
A jealousy for her arose
So nearly infinite.

We waited while she passed;
It was a narrow time,
Too jostled were our souls to speak,
At length the notice came.

She mentioned, and forgot;
Then lightly as a reed
Bent to the water, shivered scarce,
Consented, and was dead.

And we, we placed the hair,
And drew the head erect;
And then an awful leisure was,
Our faith to regulate.

Emily Dickinson

Monday, November 26, 2007

Achebe Reminds Me

Re-reading Chinua Achebe's "Things Fall Apart" reminds me of how indelicate, fool-hearted, sometimes-evil, sometimes-cruel and ignornant, and sometimes-well-meaning Westernizing the native lands of America and Africa has been. It is easy with hindsight to see all the wrong ways European Christianity was introduced to Africa and all the obvious misunderstandings that took place, but having just discussed these things in my literature class, I'd like to move on to a more local and selfish concern about the nature of progress. Please forgive the huge leap from something so serious as the destruction of a people's culture to my own musings about progress in my home.

We cannot stop progress, right? But could we agree that some things, we've gotten right and don't need to improve. For instance, clean air can't really get any better, can it? We need clean air and water, right? That's pretty simple. I really like fresh food, homemade bread, home-cooked meals. We can improve the recipes, but there's a limit to how many machines we need in the kitchen. My friends know that I don't like dishwashers. It's not because I don't like the convenience, it's that I like to have a relationship with my plates and glasses. Oh, look at you laughing. Washing dishes is meditative, too. It's also an excuse to do work with friends or family when they come over for a meal. Just like taking the lawn mower apart might be an excuse for two men to stand around in an oily garage chatting. And, I like using cloth towels to wipe up spills instead of using paper towels. I wish I had time to grow my own food. There's nothing more delicious than the freshly harvested.

I like my p.c. Don't take away the internet, but Word Perfect was Perfect a few downgrades ago. The cell phone is ok (though I wonder if we might've been better off without it). But I don't need it to double as an entertainment device, calendar, or funky transformer.

Movies are great and becoming more incredible, but you still can't beat the experience of a live performance. And, that's just it isn't it? It's about our experiences. I want to be more alive and awake, not less. Sometimes, allowing machines to do things for us takes away the hassle and the pleasure all at once. Sometimes we don't see the pleasure behind the task.

I've been driving through south Georgia witnessing rolling white fields of cotton being harvested into huge square containers. I'm sure cotton pickers are happy to find other work besides the blistering, painful work of picking cotton, but there's something about the mechanical nature of growing something that gives and gives, sending in a machine every season to strip the bushes of their cotton bols. Does a farmer have any reason to walk through his fields any more? What about to write a poem? What about to experience the wind and the smell of his cotton. Hail, to the organic farmer who is setting things right again, who understands what parts of progress to adapt and what parts nature had already figured out.

Then, there's the postal service. I love getting mail. Ok, it's nice that Fed Ex exists as well, but that's all we need. It's perfect. Please don't change anything. Except maybe let's change the transportation (planes and automobiles) from oil guzzlers to something solar or wind powered.

Achebe also reminds me of how the Europeans once had a native, pagan culture before the Romans brought Christianity to Europe and forced a new religion on a people who were living close to the earth and celebrating its seasons. Those Romans, like the European Christians, took their new religion to a people and condemned the old religion and traditional culture. It labeled the native gods as Satanic. The Romans claimed that worshipping the native gods and performing native rituals was heresy. They introduced misogyny to Western civilization, claiming that women who understood herbal remedies, midwives, were witches, and that they needed to be burned alive. They loosened an hysterical holocaust killing and torturing millions of women for practicing their traditional ways.

It is often said that victims become vicitimizers. It seems somehow that this has been true in this larger sense of cultural domination. From Rome to Europe to Africa. That makes me wonder about Rome, but I'll save that for another post.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Not Losing Lessing

This morning, I turned the radio to NPR and caught the end of a conversation about Doris Lessing. I could tell they were admiring her, recounting her influence on fiction, feminism, the female sex, and memoir. My stomach fell to the floorboard.

"No, Doris died," I wailed. Suddenly, I was so sorry I had never written or called her. I was certain she was dead. I had just reread her fictional memoir "Memoirs of a Survivor" this spring and had listed it as one of my favorite books. I had also concocted my next novel as a fictional memoir based loosely on Lessing's Yungian narrative trick. So, I lamented the world losing Lessing. I knew they really didn't know or appreciate who she was.

It wasn't until the afternoon that I learned of her true fate--that she had won the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Imagine my surprise. I guess it's time for me to write that letter.

Congratulations, Doris Lessing!

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Emily, Emily, Emily

In my little kitchen, a fly Buzzes by as I'm reading Dickinson, and I'm thinking about those butterflies leaping off Banks of Noon, swimming away, as the Bird on the Walk glances with those rapid eyes, that Angleworm in his beak, my house, how my windows are the doors of possibility, about that corner where stands my life, a loaded gun, about that slant of light, about how kind and courteous death might be, about how a formal feeling came after great pain and will come again. And until the moss reaches my lips until my windows fail and I cannot see to see, I will tend my fences so they do not flee and hopefully those horses, for me, will also head toward Eternity.

Thanks, Emily.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The U.S. state of free press

A mouthful of a quote and interesting if not also a bullseye slam from William Rivers Pitt:

American democracy ceases to function when people blither their votes into ballot boxes on the basis of opinions and ideologies that are swaddled in the beggar-rags of ubiquitous disinformation and bewilderingly muddled cant, but such is now and has long been this nation's common plight. Today's "free press," however, bears little resemblance to the conceived constitutional bulwark cherished by the Founders."

How do we criticize the religious Islamic regimes who censure free press when we ourselves are blighted by this bug?

He continues:

"The ordinary common sense and sound judgment of the American people was systematically attacked and debased, the psyche of the entire population was ceaselessly pummeled by a paranoid muddle of murky suspicions and nebulous fears, in order to create a population of permanently frightened and thus easily led dupes. The grisly reports of inhuman acts of torture by Americans, the undermining of the Constitution and our rights, the program of domestic surveillance, all this and so much besides, fell by the wayside because Americans became programmed by the news media to accept the unacceptable, lest they be branded as traitors or killed outright by swarming hordes of al-Qaeda/insurgent/shoe-bombers."

I enter: Just because the propaganda machine has taken over, doesn't mean Americans who were fooled should be forgiven. Even a modicum of education should enable the average person to suspect fear-mongering and lies in order to win more power for the power-hungry. The average American continues to dismiss his/her own intellectuals in replace of political perversions of truth.

The beginning of the answer? Go back to literature. Read! Turn off the tube. Name your intellectuals. Why are they thus called? I say because they are not in bed with corporations who profit from their thinking. Because they challenge power structures.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Emmanuel on intimacy:

The need for intimacy springs from that portion of you that has been cast from Oneness. It remembers what Oneness feels like and is trying to find its way Home.

If you are living in the past, you are not present.
If you are living in the future, you are not present.
If you are not present, who is?
Without you, there is no intimacy.

Reading Emmanuel

Sometimes, I open a book, and the words that fall out are too serendipitous. Here's some advice on relationships that Emmanuel gives:

"Do not single out for special attention one human being whom you would then burden with responsibility for your growth. Relationship is not mutual responsibility. It is mutual love and self-discovery. When two people are bound beyond that, there is servitude and false authority. That is the destruction of relationship.

"What can another give you that you, in your essence, do not have? As you look into the eyes of another, your question is really 'Tell me who I am, for I have become so embedded in being the perceived that I need you to be the perceiver.'

"Ask yourself, 'Why do I place self-definition outside myself? Where am I awaiting approval? Where have I given over my authority?' Walk gently, lightly, and joyfully in this life you have chosen--and walk freely."

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Poetry by Ruth L. Schwartz

Highway Five Love Poem
for Anna

This is a love poem for all the tomatoes
spread out in the fields along Highway Five,
their gleaming green and ruddy faces like a thousand
moons prostrate in praise of sun.
And for every curd of cloud,
clotted cream of cloud spooned briskly
by an unseen hand into the great blue bowl,
then out again, into a greedy mouth.
Cotton baled up beside the road,
altars to the patron saint of dryer lint.
Moist fudge of freshly-planted dirt.
Shaggy neglected savage grasses
bent into the wind's designs.
Sheep scattered over the landscape like fuzzy confetti,
or herded into stubbled funnels, moving like rough water
toward its secret source.
Egrets praying in the fields like
white-cloaked priests.
A dozen wise and ponderous cows
suddenly spurred to run, to gallop, even,
down a flank of hill.
Horses for sale, goats for sale, nopales for sale, orange groves for sale,
topless trailers carrying horses,
manes as loose and lovely as tomorrow in our mouths,
and now a giant pig, jostling majestic in the open
bed of a red pickup.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Billy Collins, U.S. poet laureate

Sonnet

All we need is fourteen lines, well, thirteen now,
and after this one just a dozen
to launch a little ship on love's storm-tossed seas,
then only ten more left like rows of beans.
How easily it goes unless you get Elizabethan
and insist the iambic bongos must be played
and rhymes positioned at the ends of lines,
one for every station of the cross.
But hang on here while we make the turn
into the final six where all will be resolved,
where longing and heartache will find an end,
where Laura will tell Petrarch to put down his pen,
take off those crazy medieval tights,
blowout the lights, and come at last to bed.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine

An in-depth analysis by Jane Smiley synthesizes Klein's book more than Klein herself does of 20th century Friedman capitalism. Here's Smiley from her post today, 9/14/07. The whole thing is interesting but this is the highlight: "As Karl Marx pointed out, history and politics are not only psychological, they are also material. This week, the Guardian is running not only four excerpts from Klein's book, but also several commentaries both disagreeing and agreeing with her thesis. Her thesis is this (and if I am slightly inaccurate, blame me, not Naomi): In the fifties and sixties in the US, at least two lines of thought converged. One was about how to change people's minds without leaving marks and the other was about what was the best way of organizing a given economy. The first grew out of experiments in psychological torture (whoops, I mean electrocshock therapy) run by Ewen Cameron in the late 1940s. The theory was that patients could be rid of mental illnesses by "regressing" them to an infantile state, attaining a "clean slate" upon which new patterns of behavior and thought would be etched. Cameron used both electroshock and powerful drugs to attain his clean slate, having no actual knowledge of the chemistry of the brain or how it works -- in other words, he was operating in accordance with a metaphor. The result of Cameron's experiments, for the patients, was often considerable loss of short term and even long term memory and a subsequent lifelong feeling of "blankness" on the part of the patients (apparently, later refinements of electroshock techniques have mitigated these effects). In the 1950s, the CIA redirected these techniques toward torture of political opponents, allegedly to find out information, but really to test the techniques themselves (hello, Jose Padilla!).

"At the same time, Milton Friedman was coming up with the idea that if only an economy could be purified of any kind of restraints on the free market (for example labor unions or socialized medicine or history), then the free market would be able to perfectly gauge the value of any type of good or service, and therefore an economy would balance itself, and, most importantly, inflation would be controlled (also, as you can see, a metaphor, or, perhaps, an extended analogy).

"According to Klein, it soon became apparent that all powerful shocks to a system had a similar effect, whether the system was a human body or a national body, and this was to temporarily disable the system's defenses. The US government, the CIA, and the free market economists began to act on this insight, to collude in larger experiments. The first of these was the right wing coup, in Chile, led by Augusto Pinochet, in 1973. At the time, Chile had a functioning leftish government and economy, and the voters had already rejected Friedman's pure free market troika: privatization of government functions, an end to social spending, and deregulation.The new economy was dependent upon outside investors and highly profitable to them -- let's call that the allure of globalization. Pinochet set about instilling terror in the population (that's the shock therapy) using death squads, exemplary killings, and torture. Taking advantage of this, the economists installed the new free market way of doing things within days of the coup. But Friedman's ideas did not work -- inflation rose. In the eighties, the Chilean government tried again, this time by inducing a profound economic crash -- essentially impoverishing the populace in order to bring them to heel. Ultimately, the Chilean "miracle" (Friedman's term) did nothing for the population, but it did enrich the top ten per cent and put 45% below the poverty line. It turns out that as far as the economists were concerned, this was a good thing.

"The Shock Doctrine traces what the US, the CIA, the economists, the Neocons, and the multinational corporations learned from the Chilean experiment and subsequent ones (Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Poland, Russia, China, England) and finally makes its way to Iraq (this is a 590 page book, and the print is small). Essentially, they learned that a small economy is easier to "regress" than a large one, that the shock has to be brutal, and that the free market doesn't work as Friedman said it would (automatically assigning appropriate value), but that it sure does make a few people rich beyond their wildest dreams, and that these people were Friedman's (and his students') benefactors and paymasters. They also learned to lie lie lie in order to sell what amounts to a program of inhuman greed to voters who have other needs, wishes, and ideas.

"For our purposes, the more interesting section of Klein's book is about Iraq, where she traveled in the first year after the invasion, and this section forms part of her series of posts at the Guardian. She believes that the Iraq War was intended to not only steal Iraqi oil, but also to impose a radical free market on an unwilling populace, and that that was what was behind the installation of Bremer as the capo of Iraqi reconstruction. She believes that, thanks to the resistance of the Iraqis and their deep resentment at being used and exploited by the Americans, this effort has failed. However, a parallel effort, to shock the US economy into absolute deregulation, privatization, and an end to social spending, has been and is succeeding. What this amounts to is the fleecing of the American taxpayer in order to enrich the war making industries. The byproduct, as in Chile, is the gutting of the rule of law and the American political system as we have known it. Why did Bush and Cheney go to war? Well, where do they get their fortunes? The Shock Doctrine works perfectly for them. As for that 45% below the poverty line, well, once the globalizing manufacturers exported the well-paying US jobs, then the globalizing financiers moved in and sold the newly impoverished working class a few sub-prime mortgages guaranteed to take whatever else they had. Then the financiers screamed for a bailout, and Bernanke gave it to them. The free market, you might say, is working perfectly now, at least according to its shock principles." Jane Smiley, The Huffington Post, September 14, 2007.


Sunday, July 1, 2007

Pat MacEnulty's Essay in Stella Magazine (U.K.)

First person

I drove along Interstate 75 towards Tallahassee, where my friend Kitty was dying of breast cancer. She was 33 years old; the first time she had cancer she was 14, and she'd had a leg amputated.When I met her she was in her twenties, wore rhinestone glasses, carried vintage handbags and sometimes dyed her hair pink.

She adopted my worshipful daughter and almost never missed spending a Hallowe'en with us - even after we moved eight hours away.

As I sped towards Florida I couldn't think. I hadn't slept the night before. I was like a migrating bird, flying on instinct and nothing else, wings steadily flapping.

Before I left home I had grabbed an old cassette, a home-made compilation, including Elton John's Candle in the Wind and Laura Nyro's Been on a Train. Not the cheeriest of tunes, but they got me through most of Georgia.

Then I got off the interstate and drove past field after field of dead cotton plants, a few brown stalks still clinging to a tuft of white.

Side two of my tape was devoted to Rickie Lee Jones. I listened to one particular melancholy song over and over as I drove down the nearly deserted highway through small towns with pre-war mansions and abandoned petrol stations.

The sky slowly greyed. Rickie Lee Jones sang about missing someone's company, while a few hours south my friend's body was being devoured by cancer.

It was dark when I got to Tallahassee. I drove to a friend's flat. He was gone but had left the door unlocked for me. I used the bathroom, checked the fridge and called home to say I had arrived safely.

After hanging up I stood in the flat, alone. The silence pressed against me like the palm of a giant hand, and I knew I couldn't stay. An urge to keep going, a feeling that my journey wasn't done, propelled me. I wanted to see Kitty. Right away.

Many people loved Kitty, and I wasn't 'scheduled' to be with her until the next day, but perhaps it would be OK if I stopped by briefly.

I got back into the car. I wasn't even sure how to get to the hospice but, a few minutes later, somehow, there I was. I parked in front of the building. Then I went inside, wondering where to go, and finally found someone who directed me to Kitty's room.

The hospice was so quiet you could hear yourself breathe. I peeked into the room and saw a nurse adjusting Kitty's drip.

Several people stood around the bed. I didn't recognise anyone, which seemed odd. I knew all of Kitty's close friends, I thought, and most of her family.

A pretty teenage girl stood at the back of the room, preoccupied with a book.

I felt as if I had stumbled on to a film set and didn't have a part to play. I backed out. I sat down on a cushioned bench in the hallway to wait. The air seemed lifeless. I stared down at my hands and didn't know what to do.

Just then someone called my name. It was the girl, a friend's daughter I'd known since she was five and simply hadn't recognised.

'Pat,' she said, 'come in the room.'

I stood up and went inside. The people in the room weren't strangers at all. My heart leapt as I recognised these old friends of mine - Debbie, Frank and Valerie. I hadn't got close enough really to see Kitty yet.

I came to the side of the bed. The room was lit by a single lamp in the corner. Kitty's skin was so pale it was almost blue.

The end of the bed was raised and her head lay back against the pillows. She seemed semi-conscious. Perhaps because I had just spoken to Kitty on the phone two days earlier, I was stubbornly obtuse about what was transpiring.

I looked at Valerie. We'd been in writing groups together over the years, and had grown up in the same part of Florida.

'How you doin'?' I asked, as if we had just run into each other in the supermarket. She gently ignored my question and turned to Kitty.

'Kitty, Pat's here,' she said. 'Can you hear me? Pat's here.'

Kitty's eyes were shut, but she nodded. Debbie and Frank exchanged looks. I didn't understand anything.

Suddenly Kitty tugged at the gown on her thin, scarred chest as if she were burning up. Frank took a cool cloth and placed it on her skin. I stood at the side of the bed, helpless.

The others all operated as if in a choreographed dance. Some silent communication passed among them, unintelligible to me. I looked on, stupefied.

Finally, Valerie turned to me and said, 'Hold her hand, Pat. She wants you to hold her hand.'

And at that moment I finally understood. I took Kitty's hand in mine, and a few moments later she was gone.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Jane Springer's Dear Blackbird,


If poetry is not your thing, Jane Springer will change your mind. Dear Blackbird, is a must-read! It also won the Agha Shalid Ali Prize in Poetry.

Here's what one reader had to say:
"Most new poetry I read
nowadays seems decorous in its
austerities or its
embellishments:
willed, over-plotted, dry. Not Jane Springer’s. Her work
leaps to its tasks with a heady extravagance. Dear Blackbird,
is her letter to the world, as eerie as Dickinson’s. Its
pages don’t depend on a sequence of neat stanzas but
are a surge of incantatory phrases and feelings. The skin
of each poem quivers with the mind’s contradictions, the
heart’s panic. It is risky, not merely reckless; rapturous,
not merely rapacious. Memories spill over fantasies,
Southern lore collides with hipster know-how. This book
is the most exciting debut in years, and when we remember
that “d├ębut” originally meant to score first in a new game,
that is just what Springer has done: taken on a new set
of terms and struck first, struck gold.” J. D. McClatchy

Also see: http://www.janespringer.blogspot.com

You can order Dear Blackbird, here:
Http://www.amazon.com

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Sudye Cauthen, Southern Comforts: Rooted in a Florida Place

Sudye's memoir is a moving meditation on what Florida has lost and still stands to lose.

Here's what Janisse Ray had to say:
“Along the North Florida byways a storycatcher roams. Sudye Cauthen returned to her native Alachua County, Florida, land of live oaks and longleaf-pine churches, searching for something unnameable. Her book is a personal history told so beautifully, layer upon layer, that even James Agee would be undone… Folkloric and spiritual, this uncommon study is a monument to a place that was.” –Janisse Ray, author of Ecology of a Cracker Childhood


“The Florida I love is perishing,” says Sudye Cauthen. In Southern
Comforts, this fifth-generation Floridian blends memoir, oral history,
and cultural geography to explore the tensions between
community and environment in America today and her own
ambivalence about Alachua, the place just north of Gainesville
where she was born and reared. Cauthen raises a cry for all
that is lost as Florida’s—and America’s—landscapes and traditions
are replaced by interstates, condos, shopping malls, and
the new way of life they represent.

Part self-reflection, part meditation, and part social analysis,
Cauthen’s work threads through the stories of blacks, whites,
and Native Americans—men and women—including her
own family members. Through their words and hers, Cauthen
explores northern Florida’s unique history, culture, and geography
while she seeks a greater understanding of herself and her
surroundings.

Cauthen’s journey takes readers down dirt roads and city
streets, to her people’s tobacco fields and churches. She
sifts sand at an archaeological dig for the lost Spanish mission
of Santa Fe de Toloca, peers into an aboriginal grave, and
everywhere marshals evidence for the primacy of place in
determining who we are. One story takes us on a fox hunt;
another reveals lingering racial problems. Permeating the book
is the ever-present menace of growth and development and
what it holds for Cauthen’s Florida.

Sudye Cauthen, founder of the North Florida Center for
Documentary Studies, directed Florida’s first Folk-Arts-inthe-
Schools program. Her awards include a state of Florida
Individual Artist Fellowship in Literature. Her work has
appeared in such publications as the Chattahoochee Review,
Florida Review, International Quarterly, Kalliope, and The New
Encyclopedia of Southern Culture. Cauthen lives on the Suwannee
River near White Springs, Florida.

To Order Southern Comforts: Rooted in a Florida Place
Call the University OF Georgia Press
Phone 800-266-5842

It'll be out in August 2007

Cloth, $29.95t
Or order from Amazon, this ISBN #:
ISBN-13 978-1-930066-58-8
or click here:
http://www.amazon.com/Southern-Comforts-Rooted-Florida-Place/
(www.americanplaces.org)