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Josh Tillman/Father John Misty

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Most of the songs I post here are old favorites, but every now and then I try to reach forward into the present. I have never been good at following particular musicians or ferreting out new stuff, and I always used to rely on friends for recommendations. I don’t get much of that any more, but, fortunately, I have some former students who are friends on Facebook, and I lurk around their comments about music looking for new sounds. A couple of weeks ago, I picked up on a reference to Father John Misty’s new album Fear Fun.

I’ve also been in the process of adjusting to the idea of my sabbatical being over. I know, big violins, right? Sabbatical has been a miraculous, year-long, hard-working, peaceful, and re-prioritizing time for me. It is hard to see it go, and I’ve been trying to figure out strategies for holding on to some of the peace and humanity that I’ve found this year.

So it was with delight that I found these two songs—the first one, “Year in the Kingdom,” from the J. Tillman album of the same name, reflects a bit of how I have felt about this year, even my sorrow at its passing.

However, Josh Tillman has more recently been recording under the pseudonym Father John Misty. Evidently, with a move from Seattle to Laurel Canyon and a departure from his association with the band Fleet Foxes, he’s come out of a long period of melancholy. His new album has been praised for its variety of mood as well as its musical sophistication in the folk vein, though its lyrics are frequently still dark in tone.

The song below, “I’m Writing a Novel,” with its hallucinogenic sense of humor, points me in a good direction for the coming year. I chose the version to embed because of its bouncy instrumentation. Plus it’s cute to watch the funny dancing. But I also really enjoyed this guitar-only version at the Guardian for its dead-pan delivery of a whacky set-up story about the song’s evolution, and because, if you watch carefully, there’s a little bug that falls out of his hair and crawls across his shoulder in the first seconds (about 42-44 seconds in) of the video. I like these reminders about perspective.

Bloody Thursday

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Bloody Thursday memorial at the ULWU office, Mason & Beach streets, San Francisco, 2009. Photo by Liz Allardyce.

Today is the anniversary of Bloody Thursday, a dark day of San Francisco’s Maritime Strike in 1934. In yesterday’s many noisy proclamations of gratitude for our freedom in the U.S.A., few probably remembered Bloody Thursday. (I myself had barely heard of it.)

On that day, in the midst of a long-term strike, two men were shot and killed by police as the police attempted to break up strike barricades that prevented the flow of goods to and from the port via the Embarcadero. Later that night, the strikers were forced to withdraw by the use of the California National Guard, but sympathy generated by the funerals of the two dead men changed the general tenor in San Francisco, and soon the International Longshoremen’s Association (now the International Longshore and Warehouse Union) was joined in a general strike by dozens of area unions. Although the ultimate settling of the series of strikes all up and down the West Coast did not grant unions every concession they sought, and though there was violence well beyond Bloody Thursday, it is often credited as being a turning point that helped to establish the power of labor.

The ILWU’s “Why We Continue to Honor Bloody Thursday”
A Washington State history site on the overall West Coast strikes of 1934
Trailer for a PBS film on Bloody Thursday

When I was growing up, my parents both belonged to the National Education Association, but to me it was indistinguishable from the many other professional organizations to which they belonged. It was a time when what unions had accomplished in the previous decades was taken for granted, and I was hardly aware that my parents were union members. No more. Unions are now under attack again in our country, and those of us who rely on them to assure our minimally fair treatment and compensation have cause to be worried.

It is also one of those things that makes my jaw drop with disbelief that anyone who is a working person today can speak out against unions. Not that unions are perfect—they are subject to the same kind of corruption and mis-management as any other kind of human organization—but they are indeed a prime support of the so-called “freedom” that we celebrate, unless, that is, we only celebrate the freedom of the wealthy. More and more, it seems that large segments of our population somehow believe that wealth is justification for anything.

The implication of this, of course, is that the wealthy are actually better than the rest of us and deserve what they have. This is part and parcel of the acceptance of Mitt Romney noting that he “won’t apologize for being successful.” But what does it mean that millions of working-class Americans buy this line of reasoning, at least when it comes along with largely fake “conservative” emotional appeals. (See here for a more thorough analysis of Romney’s finances, just out from Vanity Fair.)

I am stumped by this phenomenon, but I also believe it is related to the positive psychology movement that indicates we have a “choice” about everything that happens to us. And it is in this way that I believe that Oprah, who is a big Obama supporter, nonetheless undermines reality-based politics and policies with her incessant, wealthy-woman insistence on the legitimacy of positive psychology. I guess she needs to believe that she deserves all of her wealth and that the rest of us could have it, too, if we only believed in ourselves. She retains one foot in the real-person world based on her modest beginnings, and therefore she can show some sympathy to others, but still… she’s forgotten too much.

In a recent conversation with an old friend, an incident from my past came up. Once, when I was helping to register voters in a poor neighborhood, one older black woman collapsed wearily into a chair as I went over to help her fill out the form. I gave her a pen and asked if she had any questions about anything the form said or asked. She sat back for a moment and eyed me up and down with clear suspicion on her face. “How is it that you here?” she asked me. “A nice, white lady like you—how is it that you on our side?”

Without hesitating, or even really thinking, I answered her. “Ever since I was twelve years old and diagnosed with diabetes, I have known that people don’t always get what they deserve.”

She nodded and turned back to filling out the form, gripping the pen and bearing down hard.

Truly, though, I don’t know. I had parents and a brother who understood this without having had diabetes, and grandparents who did, too. It was an answer, at least, that the black lady filling out the form could believe in, and that has often made me think about how she needed a reason to trust me. Comprehension of her situation without a bridge was inconceivable to her.

Yet, I remain flabbergasted that people buy into the story that everyone gets what they deserve. I want to start a new mantra:

If you are dumb enough to believe that everyone gets what they deserve, then I can’t wait for you to get what you deserve.

Of course, I know that it’s just as likely that you won’t.

Does anyone understand this belief better than I do? Is there any explanation for people who resent their own lot in life but who are willing to point to the even more downtrodden and say they must deserve it? Is there any effective way to point out the delusion inherent in this line of thought?

In my musings on the anniversary of Bloody Thursday, I wonder why so many want to strip away protections from others rather than extending them to more. I wonder why if they don’t feel they have what they deserve in terms of job security and working conditions, they think that others shouldn’t have it either. I wonder that those who have health insurance want it denied to anyone else, and I wonder even more at those without it who don’t want to be “forced” to share the financial consequences of their health risks. I wonder at working people’s susceptibility these days to being divided and conquered by the wealthiest of the wealthy, whose only interest is in maintaining their own power, their freedom to do to the rest of us what they will and to use us for their own ends, their freedom to take away ours.

Freedom in this country at least theoretically means that people have the opportunities to pursue health and happiness. The growing income inequity impinges on that, as does a lack of basic healthcare provisions for all citizens. We need to make sure that we all have those opportunities, not just a select, self-appointed few.

I think in the future, I will celebrate July 5 right along with July 4. They seem to me two sides to the same coin of freedom–freedom to rise a little bit as much as the freedom to accumulate vast wealth unimpeded.

Franz Liszt’s Orpheus & Travels in Time

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While Bruce and I were in Berlin, I had planned a few posts that I intended to go up while we were away. Alas, my technical understanding was lacking, and they didn’t get posted. One of them was a follow-up to my piece about squabbling over the arts, which I’d illustrated with two depictions of Orpheus before and after he met his untimely death in spite of the beauty of his art. Today I give you the song that I intended to run that same week—this poignant symphonic poem by Franz Liszt on the subject of Orpheus, Part I above and Part II below.

I had also selected this piece because Liszt wrote it while he was living and working in Germany—Weimar to be exact—and in one of those funny coincidences, Bruce and I, much to our surprise, ended up spending a day and a half in Weimar last week. We drove over from Berlin with Bruce’s old friend Kai, who happened to be slated to play in a tennis tournament there. While he played, we toured the ancient city and walked in the footsteps of Liszt, as well as Goethe, Schiller, Bach, Richard Strauss, Hans Christian Andersen, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Walter Gropius, Oskar Schlemmer, and many other artists, writers, and musicians.

Goethe’s garden house in Weimar, Germany.

It’s hard to imagine as you walk the cobblestone streets of beautiful Weimar and stroll through the park along the Ilm River to Goethe’s garden house that just eight kilometers away, the Nazis built the Buchenwald concentration camp, or that after the liberation of the concentration camps Allies forced the citizens of Weimar to tour the remains of Buchenwald on foot. Scenes from that episode in Weimar’s history were recorded and can be seen at the end of Billy Wilder’s Death Mills, a 1945 anti-German post-war propagation film, available in its full 20-minute form here at the Holocaust Museum website. (Warning: this film is largely composed of clips of dead and dying concentration camp victims. It is brutal.)

It’s also difficult to imagine Weimar as an East Germany city. It retains its old-world charm because many of its buildings and monuments were spared from bombing during World War II. However, on the outskirts we found numerous of those concrete-slab high-rise apartment buildings, some of them fallen into decrepitude, typical of the cheap, radically modernist efforts of post-war Socialist architects and builders. They seemed particularly odd in the bucolic hills around Weimar.

We did not visit Buchenwald—time was short, and Kai was more eager to get back to his family in Berlin. But one thing that is true in Germany is that history peeks through everywhere. The Topography of Terror memorial site sits on the location of the former Gestapo and SS headquarters, but is also rimmed by a remnant of the Berlin Wall. Even as I enjoyed the quiet, clean, and plentiful trains that made getting around Berlin so easy and pleasant, I couldn’t help but think how this train system was used and perfected in the transportation of humans to their terrible deaths.

Bruce said that as he walked around Berlin he was constantly wondering, “What happened here? In this exact spot?” It’s a good question for any one of us to ask any day and in any spot. You can bet something happened wherever you are, even if it’s been covered over or obliterated by the passage of time. When I take a moment to let that reverberate in my mind and body, I am enlivened and reminded to choose carefully (and to the extent I can) which kind of path toward the future I might participate in.

Terrorized by the Supreme Court on Healthcare

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“Death of a Sinner,” part of The Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things by Hieronymous Bosch, c. 1500. The Four Last Things are death, judgment, hell, and heaven. I know not everyone agrees, but I’ve always thought that leaving folks to die by the roadside is a sure turn toward hell.

Update: I’m so happy to report that I was wrong, and that today, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. I feel hugely relieved. Good analysis by MSNBC here.

I’m writing this with the fearful expectation that the Supreme Court will rule tomorrow that the health-care reform law is unconstitutional. After all, they’ve once again affirmed their ridiculous and absurd assertion that corporations are people and that, therefore, elections are for sale.

There are, as usual, much greater and more knowledgeable minds than mine that have weighed in on these issues in ways vastly subtle and complex. That’s fine, but I need to express my own sheer terror at what is coming. I am afraid, very afraid.

The main issue that the radical right has trotted out to argue that the Affordable Care Act is problematic is that it requires people to purchase a “product” they may not want, or else pay a fine. As usual, the Republicans turn logic on its head in order to make many of the people this Act would help most think it will harm them or is unfair to them. The Republicans have a real knack for that.

That certain elements in the Republican Party can sucker some of the public into believing their upside-down story is one thing. But that a Supreme Court judge might do so, much less the five that are likely to rule along ideological lines against the health care law, makes me frantic.

Usually, I speak out about health care reform as something beneficial to people who, unlike me, do not have health insurance and who suffer, potentially even losing their lives, because of this situation. Usually, I present my support as a matter of compassion and fairness to those less well off than I am, less protected from the vicissitudes of health.

Homeless and Cold by Ed Yourdon. This man is our stereotype of a person who needs charity healthcare. I’m fine with contributing to the care of such people, but unfortunately far more people besides those living on the streets are dying due to lack of healthcare. They’re just more hidden from view.

By no means are all of these people homeless, shiftless, or undeserving of care (if anyone is). I tell the stories of a few people I know:

* One of my former undergraduate students, a brilliant young man now in graduate school at NYU, suddenly in his senior year of college began having seizures. His working class parents had no health insurance coverage for him. I helped him find the resources to obtain health insurance, but he still carries the debt from a couple of hospitalizations and will carry it for many years to come. His entire future will be affected by this debt—his ability to buy a house, to provide for his children and their education, to start a business, etc., etc. He is not yet 25 years old.

* One friend who worked independently as a hairdresser was suddenly struck with cervical cancer in her thirties. Because she had other well-educated and persistent friends who helped her navigate the system, she got help, but she will be paying the hospital off for the rest of her life.

* My friend, a sweet and talented young woman who worked on an academic project with me—on grant funding without benefits—suddenly deteriorated into a psychotic state over a period of a few weeks. Several friends and her boyfriend rallied around and got her committed to the charity mental health hospital, where the only expertise anyone seemed to have related to drug and alcohol addiction. After her premature release due to a lack of health insurance, her boyfriend and brother took twelve-hour shifts watching her, but one night she managed to slip away. She went to a friend’s house—one who didn’t quite understand her state of mind—and after everyone went to bed, she tied a concrete block around her waist and drowned herself in a swimming pool. She should have still been in the hospital.

* In November 2009, a man walked into an office building here in Orlando and shot six people, killing one young father. His mental illness had responded to treatment in the past, but, as his mother-in-law reported, after he lost his job and his health insurance, he couldn’t afford to pay for his medications and treatment.

These cases have had a local impact on me, but they are not at all unusual. They happen on a daily basis all over the country. In a 2009 study by Harvard Medical School, researchers estimated that 45,000 deaths a year occur in the U.S. due to a lack of health insurance. That’s one every 12 minutes, and it doesn’t even count the ones like the young father who was murdered. These are my motivation for supporting universal healthcare and, short of that, Obamacare.

However, as I have contemplated the purported unconstitutionality of the “individual mandate” for most Americans to purchase health insurance, I must admit that I see where the right wing is going now, and it makes me tremble with even more fear.

The only way, in fact, that I can see the health care system as being something that “consumers” should be able to opt out of is that they will agree or be forced to opt out of it in a very dramatic and severe way. This article notes that the Justice Department countered the arguments about health insurance being a “product” that some might not want by saying “that since every American will need medical care at some point in their lives, individuals do not ‘choose’ whether to participate in the health care market.”

I couldn’t agree more, and I hope this logic will prevail. Lately, when I have one of those right-wingers get in my face and say, “Just don’t force me to buy insurance,” I now counter, “Then just don’t force me to pay your emergency room bills.”

I don’t really feel this way, but I could also add that I am very tired of having my own medical bills inflated to cover the costs of people who never pay theirs and who don’t carry health insurance to help them do so when it would be possible for them to do so. In other words, all of those people walking around with no health insurance are being carried by those of us who more regularly participate in the health care system. We have been paying for them for a long time.

Democrats don’t emphasize this side of the argument, because they can see, I’m guessing, exactly what I’m seeing in the future. There are also plenty of Republicans who do have health insurance and what they say often is, “Just don’t force me to pay for someone else’s health care.” If the Affordable Care Act is ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, then we are really opening ourselves up to a kind of divide that will allow more and more people to die. We are opening ourselves more and more to those who believe that if you don’t have health insurance, it must be your own “responsibility,” and that if you get sick that is somehow your own fault as well. Would that we could sort out those at fault and those not. But the Tea Partiers who don’t have health insurance are insane, that much I know.

The 45,000 a year estimated to die from lack of health insurance will continue to rise. That number is already up from an estimated 18,000 deaths in 2002 due to drops in the rates of the insured. Nearly a million lost their health insurance between 2007 and 2008 alone, and “public hospitals and clinics are shuttering or scaling back across the country.”

In other words, those radical elements in the Republican Party who have expressed their willingness just to allow the sick to die are going to get their way. That our high court may be laying the groundwork for this abandonment of the public good is appalling. I don’t know how anyone can support this political agenda. It is cruel, immoral, stupid, and Dark-Ages-like. I hardly recognize my own country in this debate. I’m a dedicated American, but this issue more than anything makes me wonder if I will always continue to feel that I belong here. It is far more subtle than the Holocaust, and the Rwandan genocide, but we are being set up for a slaughter nonetheless.

Tea Party march on Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, DC, 2009, by Patriot Room. One woman sports a sign that says, “Hello Obamacare, Goodby Grandma,” an example of the kind of mischaracterizations (lies) so common on the right. Maybe we should determine admission to the ER without insurance based on voting records. I’m reaching the point where I’m ready for these folks to put their money where their mouth is and not receive healthcare if they don’t have insurance or the cash to cover it.

Gratuitous Violence About Fiction

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Louis Bouquet, La Mort d’Orphee, 1925-1939. Orpheus, torn to shreds by the Bacchantes, a sad symbol of what havoc jealousies and distractions can wreak on artists.

My apologies, readers: I had scheduled my next three posts to automatically appear while Bruce and I were visiting Germany, but, alas, something went wrong with my understanding of WordPress. I’ll try to catch up over the next few days. Maybe by now you all can bear another long post about clubby creative writing battles. I hope it doesn’t bore my non-writer readers. As this indicates, I am bored too, but my OCD side compels me to speak when readers of the New York Times have devolved into this kind of bickering. Friend Harold made me realize in a comment about last week’s manifesto about not restricting myself to creative writing that I nonetheless often do focus on these narrow issues. I promise to get away from this again soon, but it’s been an artsy month for me.

The New York Times is following in the footsteps of the tabloids, attempting to ratchet up controversy to get readers, at least that’s how it seems in this instance. The Times recently published a collection of articles in its Room for Debate series under the collective heading of “Is Fiction Changing, for Better or Worse?” Six very short articles then assaulted us with their inevitably epigrammatic brevity in attempting to answer the headline question.

The writers of these answers—six men and one woman in the finest discriminatory tradition of the major publications—can’t possibly win. Answering this question in the 300 words each was apparently given is an impossibility. But they try, mostly intelligently with perhaps one or two notable exceptions that I’ll save for last. One or two of them even make interesting points, bless them.

Still, the entire atmosphere around these mini-essays is one of contention and rivalry, with a plethora of nastiness directed all over the place, including at the poor authors themselves. Here’s a sampling of the befuddling attacks and counter-attacks in their mini-essays and mostly in the online comments that follow [with my observations in brackets]:

Comments on Jane Smiley’s “An Exercise in Empathy”

“While the quantity of books has increased there is certainly a decrease in the percentage of great novels being written.” Chris Wilson, Boston [Um, has he read them all? How does he know this with such certainty? Did this comment have anything to do with what Smiley said? Um, no.]

In response to a commentator who noted (albeit incorrectly) the overwhelmingly white and male composition of the panel of writers, this diatribe: “Get over it… no wonder there is racism. Because people like you insert it into every possible situation, whether it belongs or not, which in this case it most certainly does not.” Kafen ebell, Los Angeles [Again, I marvel at this person’s prescience, in this case the ability to know whether or not racism influences this situation. It certainly seems to have influenced this remark.]

“Fiction creates empathy in a way that nonfiction cannot. It places the reader in the head of someone else, feeling their feelings.” Anniken Davenport, Harrisburg [What an odd way to characterize the supposed superiority of fiction—by attacking just the quality that memoir is known for.]

“Truth is, our present-day writers, most of them urban liberals, have effectively repelled the sort of readers who used to admire Steinbeck, Wolfe, Faulkner, Algren, et. al. Really, could anything be more objectionable than, for example, the sort of Manhattan-approved good thinker who confesses that while Iowa might be all right (barely) for children, yet it remains so horribly provincial, don’t you know, for more elevated souls.” Tito Perdue reactionary novelist, ‘Bama [Huh? Talk about a comment that comes not from the article but from a predetermined, always-present agenda. This is prime.]

Comments on Robin Sloan’s “Welcome ‘The Sopranos’ and Twitter”

“I checked out the excerpt from Mr. Sloan’s novel, and it expresses everything one needs to know about the current strain of reductive techno-cheerleading infesting our culture. I highly recommend he stick to ‘inventing media,’ whatever that might mean.” Ilya Leybovich, Brooklyn, NY [While I agree that I was not sucked into Mr. Sloan’s opening page, I’m not sure that Ilya’s position represents anything but some vague resentment at techies, even though he seems to be a news editor for an online PR magazine, hardly the purest or most art-obsessed role in life. Perhaps he is also a frustrated novelist.]

“Today’s ‘novel’ has become the pointless snippets people post of their daily lives on social networking sites.” Evan Lockport, IL [All of them?]

“Such slapdoodle, the very kind of thinking these superficial media encourage.” An Ordinary American, Prague [I don’t disagree with this person, just perhaps with his/her harshness. But I had to include this one because of the use of the wonderful word “slapdoodle” and because of the combination of “an ordinary American” and the location of Prague, where all ordinary Americans no doubt hang out.]

Comments on Matt de la Peña’s “Novels Have Become an Escape”

De la Peña’s piece is an anti-positive psychology note in itself, and was my favorite of the six for that very fact. Perhaps for that reason, he received by far the most commentary on his article. But, of course, the comments became an argument between those who insist life is indeed sad and those who insist it isn’t. Of course, it is both, and some commenters acknowledged that well, but I quote here some of the deniers and other nasties, my point being that discussions on the internet so often devolve into this oppositional absurdity.

“why are multiple posters quoting this same kafka phrase/ did the nytimes include a quote in their assignment? is this high school English class?” j, LIC, NY

“So far, the only living American novelist with anything to say is Corum McCarthy [whoever that is, or, I mean, sic]. The rest is filtered out by the agent-seeking-money people and the bean-counters-seeking-money from the publisher’s financial group headquarters. Most of your commenters sound like they recently got theit [sic] writing MFA which teaches lots about technique to those with not much to relate.” anonymot, CT [Another MFA basher, and I hope he/she does have something to say since there’s no expressed need here to say it well or to even give any evidence for claims. Some people just have to get the MFA-blame into whatever they say.]

“Although I disagree with Mr. de la Peña, I can forgive an intelligent young man who has enough intelligent-young-man arrogance to think his [sic] has enough perspective to judge his own time against what came before.” J, R [Funny, he never really says what he disagrees about per se. Oh, well, a put-down is always effective, right? The condescension blew me away.]

“only in genre fiction can the half-stereotypes we all rely on be explored safely, because lit fiction, which is supposed to be addressing these, is only interested in one side” John, Brooklyn, NY [I’m pretty sure this is not what Mr. de la Peña meant. In other words, John is always looking for an opportunity to say what is already on his mind, no matter what.]

“I think you mistake a few elites for an entire ‘audience.’ Jane Austin [sic] and Shakespeare and Hemingway and Oscar Wilde and others were popular because they were entertaining not because they were literary.” ro, nyc [Etc. etc. with “ro” and “anonymot” dissing the “elite” “decision-makers” who unfortunately promote “serious” writing. Totally incoherent, really, but the readers and writers of junk fiction are always aggrieved, by golly. They get all the money in wide sales, but that’s not enough for them. They want also the literary recognition that they trash so much.]

“A session with current fiction, even an extended one, turning thinly-worded [sic] post-modern pages requires that we reach for the next while the current one is coming to a close. They’re pills in paper back.” mm, albuquerque [Again, I think that the commenter is blaming books that de la Peña doesn’t mean to blame.]

“Life is not sad. It is what you make of it…. Yes, we are all going to die but that is not what is important here. What’s important is living a life that serves each one of us.” Susannah, France [I’m glad she knows what’s important for all of us.]

“People do care. They are not always hiding. I think this is a good thing and invite you into a positive world.” Jack R. Williams, Atlantic Beach, NC [Because, of course, this very successful young writer must be in a bad way just because he points out the contemporary aversion to life’s hard side. This private citizen would like to give him advice about his life. Does that seem fitting to anyone?]

“What a load of waffle.” TV, CT

“Agree that intellectual challenge has downshifted, but strongly disagree regarding sadness and self reflection, the preoccupation with which seems to have become pandemic. Also, the memoir, an exaltation of self if ever there was one, may be supplanting the novel as a popular idyll.” marymary, Washington, DC [OMG, let’s beat up the memoir again. Who cares that the subject here is the novel, some people just have to bash the memoir.]

“as a person who suffers from clinical depression, the idea that bouts of melancholy can be ‘beneficial’ makes me want to throw my laptop through the window. Where does the Times find these people?” gobot90, new york [De la Peña distinguished what he was talking about from clinical depression, but this person just missed it, I guess.]

“The idea that the novel should be ‘serious’ is a 20th century invention, as James Gunn points out. Mr. de la Peña needs to study his literary history.” gobot90, new york [Above, he notes that the Times gets unqualified people to write these, but only after he has here cited one of the other panelists—with far fewer credentials as a writer—as a better expert. In other words, the popular fiction folks are angry again. I can just never figure out why.]

Comments on Thomas Glave’s “Stories and Readers Change Together”

This piece garnered only 3 comments, all rather disconnected from what he wrote.

“A well crafted novel has the potential to tell far more truth than non-fiction and, in an aesthetic manner. Art goes farther than imitating life—it can capture its essence.” David Chowes, New York City [Another hobbyhorse inserted willy-nilly: the superiority of fiction over non-fiction. Boring, boring, boring.]

The next two articles I found in themselves objectionable. As scholar-critics rather than writers, they felt a need to pass judgments that seemed to me ill-founded.

Objectionable quotes from William Deresiewicz’s “New Forms, but People Will Always Read”

* “As for political fiction, Sozhenitsyn and Steinbeck were important figures, but they weren’t necessarily good novelists.” [At least he talks about specific novels, but this is ill-advised in a column where you have no space to define exactly what you mean.]

* “’The Jungle’ may have sparked reform, but I daresay ‘Mrs. Dalloway has changed more people’s lives.” [Unfounded speculation.]

* “Stunted attention spans, Internet cacophony, consolidation and collapse in the publishing industry, the professionalization of the arts and the questionable influence of the writing programs, the long shadow of modernist greats: the novel’s facing headwinds, as it surely always has.” [Deresiewicz is, of course, a former literature professor at Yale and Columbia, now turned essayist, but basically a scholar and critic, so, of course, he has to slip in that the influence of writing programs is “questionable.” The MFA canard again.]

Comments on Deresiewicz

“To suggest that Mrs. Dalloway ‘changed more lives’ than The Jungle is wishful thinking at best. The Jungle resulted in reform that affected millions of people over decades whereas if Mrs. Dalloway was read even by 20,000 people I would be surprised. The market for Lit Fic is miniscule and supported mostly by libraries without which, the ‘genre’ of Lit Fic would collapse. ECW, Forreston, IL [The scholars hate the creative writers, even those of a literary bent, but the popular fiction aficionados hate both the scholars and the literary writers. Go figure.]

“[H]is conclusion is pure evidence-avoiding pollyanna.” Dudley, Saunders [I don’t disagree, but, still, the invective.]

“In the cities, on public transportation, in parks and restaurants, people can read what they really like without the fear of public censure once they abandon the lurid covers of conventional publishing and enjoy the anonymity of e-readers. Unless one is right on top of the e-reader, they can read whatever crap they want without having to suffer the smirk of social critics. On the other hand, it’s hard to attract that special someone on the bus when they can’t see the pretentious tome you are pretending to read.” richard kopperdahl, new york city [This one wins the award for a paranoid sense of aggrievement. I mean, really, since when did people hide their popular fiction? Really, it’s a funny thought.]

Objectionable quotes from James Gunn’s “Look to the Fringes of Fiction”

Another critic, who must pass judgment, but this time it’s a former English professor who no doubt felt that his research on science fiction wasn’t taken seriously enough in the academy. So he founded and directs the Center for the Study of Science Fiction. He has a huge axe to grind. I should just paste his whole little diatribe here, but I will select only a portion.

* “A century ago H. G. Wells had a public debate with Henry James about the uses of the novel. Wells, ever the pragmatist, thought the novel was a device to make an emphatic point about life or society or human nature. James, ever the esthete, maintained that the only purpose of the novel was aesthetic. James prevailed, according to the critics, and the literary novel has been judged ever since on aesthetic grounds…. Wells is still read…; James, not so much.” [Of course, he has to set this up in oppositional fashion, and he has to base his entire argument on something he can’t prove. The greatest novels, of course, both make a point about “life or society or human nature” and also pay attention to aesthetic issues. It’s not as though The Turn of the Screw says nothing about human nature. Yeesh.]

* “[T]he literary novel has never been a place to look for social or political protest, and the writers who dealt in such matters—Dickens, Sinclair, Wells, Stowe, Zola, Orwell—were never considered ‘serious’ writers in their own times.” [Really? And what about Morrison, Baldwin, Ellison, Wright, Faulkner, Dos Passos, Gaskell, etc. etc.?]

* “The most effective social documents these days are genre novels—crime novels, for instance, but particularly science-fiction novels.” [I know the stupid 300-word form creates a tendency for the unsupported generalization, but isn’t this just an example of self-justification? It’s just so easy to trot out numerous counter-examples on every side of this issue—“serious literary” fiction that does take up social issues and science-fiction that doesn’t question the status quo at all. Just another angry devotee of popular fiction, wanting what he ostensibly despises.]

Comments on Gunn

Thus ensued in the comments a debate about the relative merits of Wells and James more than anything else, with the added current of “science-fiction is underappreciated.” Um-hm, yup, that’s why so many people read it and almost all university English departments teach it. Um-hm.

I couldn’t agree more with one commenter on Gunn’s post who referred to the entire endeavor this way:

“So wrongheaded! But what can one expect? These Room for Debate features seem to parade ‘experts’ who have bizarrely random claims to the title—you’d want to say they therefore spoke for an interestingly random sampling of views if they didn’t mostly seem to have some very particular axe to grind. – So this guy was chosen as the pro-sci-fi, non-canonical view? But why should that view be helpful or interesting (especially when he makes such blatantly incorrect factual assertions, as if James has been relegated to the dustheap while Wells has become widely embraced and beloved)? The topics for these Debates are so large, and the response pieces so frustratingly narrow, brief, and thin (based on opinion or assertion rather than fact), that the whole thing just becomes an exercise in head scratching rather than debate.” sd, ct

George Cruikshank, Old Blucher Beating the Corsican Big Drum, 1814. Gebhard von Blucher, a Prussian field marshal, carried an irrational degree of hatred for the French and over and over again flogged the populace and its leaders to go to war.

In fact, I find that these four childish battles are a large part of what’s wrong with writing and reading these days:

* MFA vs. no academic support for writers

* popular and genre fiction vs. literary fiction

* entertainment vs. “serious” fiction

* fiction vs. non-fiction, especially memoir

These are indeed shibboleths and hackneyed distractions, and I am sick of them. I wish we could move our discussions of literature and writing beyond them. Surely, there is something more interesting about what we do than these hobbyhorses that repeat themselves ad infinitum in the press. In spite of the fact that bifurcation is almost never a smart way of thinking, people keep these oppositions alive, perhaps because they are easy and draw “controversy.”

I hereby declare that there is no controversy on these topics. In spite of the continuing echoes of irrationality, the jury is in:

* The MFA does not harm writers. It has its pros and its cons, and it is not all things to all people. But it helps some writers find a way, and it supports many others. This is a good thing. That so many people want to study writing is also our best hope for a continuing culture of reading and writing and our best hope against an illiterate society.

* Neither the genre aficionados nor the literary aficionados should trash the other. There should be room for both in the world. That the publishing industry is shutting off the oxygen to literary writers is true, and I decry this, but other opportunities in small press publishing and inexpensive online literary venues are going to keep the literary alive. The fucking genre people have no complaint, and they need to give up feeling discriminated against. Once upon a time they might have had a legitimate issue, having been subject to the disdain of critics, but they don’t any more, and truly great work in science-fiction and other genres regularly is attended to with literary awe. People read it, too, and its popularity is secure. So, what’s the problem?

* Serious fiction, however, is indeed different from a lot of popular fiction. Some of us are even “entertained” by something more serious than formulaic fare. But there is no hard and fast line between them. We need to get used to this and debate only the merits of individual texts, not entire categories. The categories do not serve writers, and barely serve readers—they are largely enforced by the publishing companies, bookstores, reviewers, and critics, who are all classifiers at heart. Their classifications are convenient for all of us sometimes, but they are not sacrosanct.

* Likewise with the ridiculous claim that fiction is always and necessarily superior to non-fiction and that memoir is a degraded form. This is just patently false and almost always asserted out of self-promotion or some other slightly less obvious self-serving belief. There are bad novels just as there are bad memoirs. And there are good in both genres. If you want to start a tally list and go through all of literature to demonstrate otherwise in any convincing way, then, as my mother used to say, “Go ahead, gourd head.”

Would that the squabblers would hear my song.

Karoly Ferenczy, Orpheus, 1894. Orpheus before everyone started fighting over him. Better days, no doubt.

A Year in the Blogosphere

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Joyous Crybaby has readied me to keep my eyes on that horizon while I plow that soil. (Photo by Lisa Wild for the Geograph Project [http://www.geograph.org.uk/].)

Actually, it’s more like 13 months in the blogosphere now, and I’ve been thinking since I passed the one-year anniversary that I should post another reflection on this endeavor. Thinking about it at the six-month mark helped me further define my purposes and bask in an admittedly self-satisfied glow that I had kept it up that long.

In the next few months, I’ll be facing new challenges as a blogger—the end of sabbatical, a return to full-time teaching, and deadlines for a major book project. I remain uncertain of the continuing viability of Joyous Crybaby, even though the reasons are shifting and even though I feel all the more devoted to her. I still feel as though she’s doing me good.

She’s not a work project, though, and I am employed in a demanding field where I’m not supposed to spend much time doing anything but what will further my career. Academia more and more is judged by business models, and this involves an increasing obsession with quantifiable results and quantifiable justifications. Every year, we are required to turn in the dreaded document called a Faculty Annual Report, and each department chair is required to turn in the larger version that supposedly proves quality and intellectual achievement by the number of grant dollars, publications, and “seats in butts” (or student credit hours) that we have produced, collectively and individually. Our departmental budgets and our individual merit raises are determined by such numbers (not that the raises offset the pay cuts we are experiencing via means such as lower retirement contributions). Whether institutions with such a myriad of purposes and such a myriad of considerations is best served by this constant quantification is debatable, of course, but it’s a fact of almost any academic’s life these days. Here’s one great write-up of a blogging academic who kept track of his work time.

Therefore, every week, day, half-day, or hour I spend writing a blog post—and finding supporting resources, references, and appropriate copyright-free illustrations, and then formatting and linking everything on the blog itself—I wonder what the heck I am doing spending so much time on it.

I’ve also had occasion to wonder why I didn’t at least focus my blog on creative writing—my area of professional expertise. There are many academics who do gain some credit for their profession-related blogs and who at least spread the word that they are experts in their fields by narrowly focusing on a professional sensibility in a more or less narrow field. In other words, though they may practice a more general-reader style, their blog personas directly reflect their professorial research. Mostly they are not very personal. There are indeed many such blogs in the world of creative writing—almost all literary magazines these days have a large web presence, many literary magazines are fully online and function as community blogs with selection requirements, and there are dozens if not hundreds of blogs about the writing life, craft, “how I became a writer,” publishing tips and advice at both magazine and book level, finding an agent, various genres and styles of writing, and so on. Some of these blogs and online literary venues are fabulous, and I read a lot of them avidly if not regularly.

Maybe the sheer plethora of existing creative writing blogs made me choose instead a wider focus and one rooted in issues in another field entirely (my starting point of my negative reaction to positive psychology bromides). However, as the year has passed, I’ve had to justify this choice to myself.

There are many reasons I’ve thought about, but perhaps the most important is that I wanted to engage with the wider world.

Another characteristic of a life in academia is a great deal of specialization. You’re not just a chemical engineer, you are a chemical engineer specializing in air pollution modeling and incineration. You’re not just a professor of Italian, but you specialize in Italian travel and immigration literature with a focus on Giuseppe Antonio Borgese, Mario Soldali, and Emilio Cecchi. (Two real examples from the UCF website.)

I have already bucked this trend to a certain degree by working across the creative writing v. scholarly writing divide and by writing in not just one creative genre, but in fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. (And my undergraduate degree was in studio art.) This has had its downside, and it may be true that I am a master of none of these forms. So, I understand why my peers in academia often focus much more narrowly than I do in their work. It’s a habit that is rewarded in the system, and it suits some people just fine.

I believe, however, that writers do have a responsibility to respond to the world beyond the confines of narrow specialties. It’s a different point than the one that I criticized Marjorie Perloff for making about academia rendering writers’ work repetitive and mediocre, though it is related. (It’s also a point that I would apply to all those in academia, even more so to many scholars compared to many of the creative writers.)

This all leads me to another influence on my blog choices—that we live in a time when being a “professional” writer often seems to involve more time tending to the business of writing than to writing itself. At six months, I mentioned how I felt a need to get back to my own roots as a writer exploring the world rather than as a writer being an expert. I needed to find my way back to “beginner’s mind,” as the Zen Buddhists call it. As Zen master Shunryu Suzuki is often quoted as saying, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”

And I do have to admit some boredom with a lot of creative writing blogs. It’s not because the content isn’t often useful, even insightful. What in a professional sense is no doubt seen as “focus” or “coherence,” however, frequently becomes too self-reflexive and insular for my taste. Even though some creative writing blogs go beyond the purpose of promoting a given writer’s publications, reviews, and lectures to include discussion of issues in the field, they all seem to me cut off from the rest of the world. These blogs remind me of the kind of creative writing workshops where a focus on “craft” does not include any concern with intelligence, personality, or soul (admittedly difficult things to “teach” and touchy to even discuss). Even though I have a passionate interest in many of the issues they raise, I need to embrace a wider horizon.

Is that a strong enough statement to be considered a manifesto? I’m not sure, but I mean it as one. Graduate school for me opened new universes, but over the past few years in the academic grind, I have been engaged in a battle for my own soul and self—to keep from becoming what I consider too narrowed by academia. For a long time, I was losing that battle, shriveling, becoming bitter, obsessing daily about fundamentally trivial things, wearying of it all. Though I had gained tenure and a wonderful husband, I had lost involvement in politics, gardening, cooking, animal rescue, friendships, family relationships, the great outdoors, exercise, and my own health.

Joyous Crybaby has been part of a multi-faceted process that I hope will help me face the next academic year and my return to the classroom with a sense that maybe I can keep my eyes up even as I labor with my fingers in the dirt of the academic field. As an alter ego, she provides me with a reminder that I need: that no profession—and no other person—defines me. All too often, we forget even ourselves beyond the surface judgments, caught up as we are in what others think of us. JC has been a great lesson in character beyond stereotype. It seems to me that this sense of mystery about what comprises human beings is vital to the writing endeavor, not to mention the endeavor of being a decent human being.

Little Murders

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I happened to mention to someone yesterday that I had written my previous post about dog poop, and that person exclaimed, “Oh, like Elliott Gould in Little Murders. He plays a photographer who has made dog poop his subject.”

I had never seen Little Murders, a 1971 satirical film directed by Alan Arkin and adapted by Jules Feiffer from his original play. The movie featured cameos for Donald Sutherland and Alan Arkin and starred Elliott Gould and Marcia Rodd as Alfred and Patsy, a pair of mis-matched lovers. When I looked it up, I just had to watch the whole thing, and it’s all available on YouTube, albeit in 16 installments.

The installment I’ve included above occurs early on in the film and features Albert meeting Patsy’s family and explaining his career choice to them. It’s a great little mini-commentary on the commercial art world. It also distills the main conflict of the first half of the movie—the fact that Alfred is a devoted “apatheist,” whereas Patsy wants to inspire him to feel again and to “fight” against a world gone sour. It’s a classic “optimist” vs. “pessimist” argument, and makes fun of both extremes. It is striking, however, that, at least for the first half of the film, Alfred, though the pessimist, seems more at peace and more sanguine than the passionate, smiling Patsy, who spends a lot of time yelling and pushing at him.

Little Murders is set in the time it was made—the early nineteen-seventies—when New York really seemed to be at low ebb. The dark atmosphere that can’t keep Patsy from waking up with a smile is filled with random murders (including that of one of her brothers), assaults in the street (Alfred is regularly beat up), power black-outs, frequent threatening anonymous phone calls, and the constant wailing of sirens. Patsy has to take Alfred out to the country to teach him to have fun.

But it’s also a time of social upheaval. When Patsy and Alfred decide to marry, they have to cast about to find a minister who will agree not to mention God in the ceremony, and it ends up taking place in a broken-down shell of a church with sitar music as accompaniment and the “outing” of Patsy’s brother, Kenny, as gay. Donald Sutherland, as the minister, delivers a hilarious talk about marriage, which I include below to honor my recent anniversary.

After that, the film takes a darker turn. It becomes the kind of comedy that doesn’t make you laugh. It’s funny, but painfully so. I won’t include any spoilers, but the latter part of the film (segment 14) includes a speech by Patsy’s father that seems more relevant today than ever, at least because of the contrast between how it must have been received then and how we live now. It’s a speech about how crazy the world has gotten and how he wants his freedom back—through the use of video surveillance and a system of fences around the block and IDs required for passage in and out (we didn’t really have the term “gated communities” back then). At the time, I’m sure that struck everyone as hilarious—to invoke security measures as a return to freedom—so it struck me now that now we actually live in that very state. We have given up our privacy for our safety and can no longer think of the possibility as humorous and far-fetched. It’s reality.

No doubt that’s a sad trade. Little Murders, however, notes other trades we’ve been willing to make. The characters in the film in the end are all corrupted by the violence around them, and the satire points to the absurdity of “fighting” in order to be happy, perhaps even of a certain kind of limited happiness (as expressed by Patsy’s mother at the very end). It doesn’t provide any easy answers to the conundrum, and this is one reason why it is such a fine piece of satire, which, in spite of its obvious time-limitations, still has a lot to offer.

Three Stories About Poop

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From an 1899 edition of The Emperor’s New Clothes, illustrated by Helen Stratton.

Today, I take a turn from the sacred and beautiful (kd lang, Leonard Cohen, Maya Lin, Pablo Neruda) to the profane and silly. It is time for a summer change of mood.

I have always loved Hans Christian Andersen’s The Emperor’s New Clothes. In my younger years, I identified with the child who cried out, when no one else would, that the Emperor was “wearing nothing at all.” Now that I am older, I sometimes still identify with the child who finds the b.s. absurd and sometimes with the naked Emperor—if only the world could see my finery even though it exists mostly in my mind, if only I didn’t wish to believe in a more wonderful version of things than what is true.

As a writer, I am always fascinated by the vagaries of human behavior, and the way that expectations interact with interpretations often rises to the top of the list. Saturday, when Bruce and I drove around Orlando doing errands, we stumbled into a set of humorously-themed reminiscences about this very thing and had a good laugh.

* * *

Much can be disguised with chocolate.

When I was growing up, we fortunately had lots of books around the house, and one story from one of these books came back to me when I was broken-hearted by a hapless fellow during grad school. I recalled the story from one of Willie Morris’s memoirs about growing up in Yazoo, Mississippi—probably his first, North Toward Home. Morris would later become well-known for his book and the subsequent movie My Dog, Skip, but even earlier he was fond of tales of rambunctious shenanigans from an earlier era. He particularly loved dog stories.

The vignette involved a schoolteacher or some other figure of authority who had punished Morris as a boy. He struck upon a perfect revenge, and wrapped up a beautiful package that he sent as a gift through the mail: he filled the pretty little box with dog shit from his faithful companion pet. Appropriate hilarity ensued.

I never acted on my own desire for revenge—such pranks are no longer considered harmless—but I spent a good bit of time fantasizing about taking cat turds out of the litter box with toothpicks, slicing them up, and dipping them in melted chocolate so they would look like fine homemade candies. I just knew that if I left a pretty box of these bon-bons on my ex-boyfriend’s front porch, he and his housemates would dig right in. This household of men-boys had several female “friends” who would leave homemade goodies and farm produce for them in a hippie-cool people-alternative culture version of the age-old adage that a way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.

Over and over, I imagined the horrified surprise on the faces of those guys—the way they would smugly accept the anonymous gift, thinking it their fine lot in life to have such offerings at their doorstep, how whoever found it would show it to the others and they would gather around for the greedy unwrapping, how they would ooh and ahh, and then one would reach out with his long fingers and pop a candy in his mouth. I even thought that perhaps I could make the turd bits small enough that it would take a few bites for reality to dawn.

Sometimes, even I, all Miss Genuine though I generally am, see the advantages in creating mistaken perceptions. This little idea made me laugh enough to get me through a tough time.

* * *

“It’s too big to be a dog’s.”

My step-granny’s face expressed genuine horror one morning when she returned from a short walk before breakfast. One summer week in the sleepy year before I finished high school and went off to college, Billie and my granddad were visiting from Middle Tennessee. She stood in the kitchen with her mouth open in disbelief.

“What’s wrong?” my father asked her.

It was as if she had lost the ability to speak. She started and stopped a few times. Finally, she shook her head, and said, “Well, I don’t know how to say this. But apparently someone—some person—has taken a crap right out in the middle of the street in front of the mailbox. It’s too big to be a dog’s. Who would do such a thing?”

“What on earth?” My father frowned and looked at my brother and me, as though we would know. Shocked horror went around the table. My brother and I were “good kids,” and we’d grown up in suburbia, not a Willie Morris small town.

“I didn’t know what to think,” Granny Billie said, her pretty mouth pursed. “I’ve never seen anything like that.” She shook her head. Since Billie was a nurse, we knew she had seen her fair share of human excrement and should be a good judge.

After breakfast, my father went out with a spade and bag to clean it up. He eventually returned to the house as stunned as Billie. “It looked as though someone just dropped it right there,” he told my mother in hushed tones.

The incident haunted us all for several days—a tiny bit like having a cross burned in your yard, I thought at the time. Who could hate us so much? Since we didn’t have any real candidates on a list of enemies that bitter, we speculated that someone else had been out walking and just had an overwhelming urge, barely getting their trousers down in time. But we couldn’t imagine that they’d leave it there or not at least dash behind some shrubbery. Billie quit taking morning walks, and we all stayed just a little closer to home, the mystery hanging in the air as thickly as any smell.

A few days later, however, we learned the truth—our neighbors the Griegers had just gotten a new German Shepherd after the death a few weeks earlier of old Blitz. The dog evidently was adjusting to a new diet with prolific poops and was still oriented toward using a paved kennel-floor for his business rather than woods and leafy ground.

The question remained, of course, why the Griegers, perfectly respectable folks who we knew quite well, had left it there. I have to say that we always wondered. I still do.

* * *

Since Marcel Duchamp’s 1917 Fountain, it’s hard to determine the bounds of art.


One semester when Bruce was living in New York city on a sabbatical from Augustana College where he taught, his friend Keith visited him from Alberta. They embarked on a tour of numerous art galleries, painting being Keith’s profession, and gallery walks being one of their favorite city activities.

At one point, they stepped into a vast, echoing gallery space and began walking around. No one seemed to be there—not a gallery clerk in sight—but a large pile of what was apparently dog poop sat neatly in the middle of the floor, still seemingly steaming.

Bruce looked at Keith, and Keith looked at Bruce, and they both looked at the pile. There were several sculptures scattered about the room, and they looked to see if any of the others had kinetic properties such as steam or smell. They leaned over the pile to see if it might be made of anything but the real stuff.

Was it dog poop or was it art? They didn’t feel quite sure and laughed over the conundrum.

Soon enough, the gallery host returned to the room and came toward them with the usual slightly officious style. As he crossed the expanse of floor toward Bruce and Keith, his eyes encountered the pile, and he jumped back with a gasp.

“Oh, my,” he said, “how awful.” He ran to the back for a roll of paper towels and a mop.

* * *
Sometimes, I try to remember that even mis-apprehension can be productive, as long as it makes us wonder about the world around us. This week, I’m going to remember these stories and try to take a closer look around. Even though I am a devotee of something called “the genuine,” it is good to remember that it’s a wonderful and often hilarious part of life that things are not always what they seem to be.

Hallelujah

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A beautiful song for the third anniversary of my marriage to Bruce. This “Hallelujah” was written by Leonard Cohen, whom I posted about just the other day, and is sung here by kd lang, who Bruce and I saw in concert here in Orlando last Sunday.

So many thoughts—

One reason why this song is perfect for today is that Bruce, like lang and Cohen, is a Canadian. “Canadian content” is one of our short-hand phrases for pointing that out—the distance from which we came together.

Another reason is that the love of people our age is complicated. Just this morning, I woke up with a low blood sugar and burst into tears over anxiety about our upcoming trip to Berlin—all my fears of not being able to keep up because of the arthritis in my foot and needing to rummage around in his friends’ kitchen for low-blood-sugar juice in the middle of the night and of my stomach getting upset over unfamiliar foods… Bruce and I had to talk it all out, and I told him after I realized what day it is that maybe I should wish him an unhappy anniversary. But, no, he loves me—and I love him—in spite of all the flaws of our human condition. “All the perfect and broken Hallelujahs have an equal value,” Cohen is quoted as saying about the song, and that seems appropriate today, even though I would not call my love a cold or broken hallelujah. Quite the contrary.

But even the kd lang concert the other night gave me much food for thought. Beyond the beauty of lang’s voice and the sheer pleasure of the concert, I have to note that it was not particularly well attended. Bruce and I—and no telling how many others—had gotten free tickets in a last-minute promotion, which was no doubt inspired by poor ticket sales. The Hard Rock Café concert space was even so only about 2/3 full, and I felt bad about this. Lang gave a terrific performance, and I know that non-sellout shows must be a standard feature of the musician’s life, but it was hard for me to believe that someone as distinguished as kd lang hadn’t filled the place up.

Bruce noted that there’s really no great way to keep up with events going on in Orlando, and several friends commented later that they, alas, had not realized she would be here. We ourselves had missed a John Prine concert just a few days earlier in spite of the fact that I’m his fan on Facebook and would have loved to be there. (I first saw him in concert in about 1977, and perhaps we should label him with “Appalachian content” to also indicate the different roots Bruce and I have.) It’s just hard to keep up, and we are distracted from our “entertainment” options, even the profound ones, by our work.

Such is the unpredictable and accidental nature of fame, art, love, and human life. Today, I am grateful to be experiencing all that together with him.