26 Sept 2011

At The Millions today, the launch of a new monthly feature I’m working on, “Post-40 Bloomers,” which will (to quote myself, weirdly), “highlight authors – living and deceased, new-on-the-scene and now long-established – whose first books debuted when they were 40 or older.”

Check it out, offer suggestions, and, perhaps, if you are a post-40 writer, be encouraged.

19 September 2011

I appreciated Amy Sullivan‘s piece at TIME about questioning politicians on religion.  She wrote in response to Bill Keller‘s NY Times column, in which he challenged journalists to ask “tougher” questions about candidates’ religious beliefs and practices. Sullivan urges journalists to ask not “tougher” questions, but more relevant and informed ones.  Generally speaking, “liberal” journalists have less direct experience in, for example, evangelical or – particularly relevant this year – Mormon communities, and thus often ask questions that, in Sullivan’s words, “compar[e] religious believers to people who believe in space aliens, and refer[…] to evangelical Christian churches as ‘mysterious’ and ‘suspect.'”

For the first time, it seems a real-life political analysis may actually be more hopeful – less cynical – than a TV one.  As an avid watcher of The West Wing, I would often lament real-life politics and wish for Aaron Sorkin‘s version; but in this case, I recall a (very good) episode about religion and campaigning, where the Republican candidate Arnie Vinick (played by Alan Alda) – a non-churchgoing John McCain straight-talking centrist type – says at a press conference: “If you ask candidates about religion, you’re just asking to be lied to.”  Keep religion completely out of it, Sorkin seemed to be saying in this episode; it’s irrelevant, and always disingenuously presented besides. Sullivan is saying, Oh no, it’s very relevant, but not in the way that goofy gotcha questioning is trying to imply.

I especially appreciate Sullivan’s exhortation for journalists to learn, and use, the language of religion(s) more intelligently. She offers the examples of “devout” and being “called” (to a vocation in politics); both terms that she feels are lazily employed in political journalism.

You can listen to Sullivan talk with Bob Garfield at NPR’s On the Media here.

12 September 2011

Watching on TV a good part of the 9/11 memorial ceremony yesterday at Ground Zero, I was struck by (and can’t stop thinking about) how many of the mourner-presenters – who stood to read a portion of victims’ names, then the name of their own lost loved ones along with a brief few words about them – said something about their beloved deceased “watching over them.”

Almost without exception, survivors of 9/11 (and survivors of those family members who died), when interviewed, will talk about how changed they are, how nothing was ever or will ever be the same.  I wonder how many of them believed in spirits or the spiritual realm beforehand, and how/if this in particular has changed.

This of course assumes that nothing strictly script-like (other than a word limit and perhaps some guidelines?) was given to yesterday’s presenters; although, at one point, hearing the repetition, it did almost seem that their words had been prescribed.  For instance, I think almost everyone addressed their deceased loved one directly, e.g. Mom, we love you and we miss you… I’d like to believe that every word came from the heart yesterday; in fact, I am choosing to believe that.  With something as deeply tragic as the loss of someone you love to an event as horrific as 9/11, I can’t imagine that so many people would allow such a specific prescription from an external power.

It made me think about whether or not, if I unexpectedly lost a loved one, I would speak to him or her, in my mind or out loud, as if the person were still with me.  Would I believe the person were still with me?  Or would it be more like talking to myself, to the part of that person that had become, in some ineffable way, a part of me?  Not unlike the question, Would you have stayed in the burning tower, or would you have jumped?  it’s simply and utterly impossible to imagine.  Nothing could ever prepare a person for such horror or devastation or loss.

 

5 September 2011

Like Charles Simic, who muses about his “reunion with boredom” during Hurricane Irene over at the NYRB blog, we had several days of electricity-lessness last week.  What we did have: a rain barrel full of water, a backpacking hand-pump filter, about 5 gallons of bottled water, a lantern and a flashlight, a Smokey Joe, fire wood, a wood-burning stove, a land line (and an analog telephone), Blackberries with spotty connection, a pretty robust first aid kit, a car full of gas.  In other words, we were pretty much just fine, if a little unkempt.  Oh, and we had a refrigerator and a freezer full of food (later on, we bought five bags of ice).

It’s amazing that, really, even with having to boil pots of water in order to wash dishes and ourselves, and ration drinking water, the most significant alteration to our lives was the loss of Internet connection.  It was wonderful, really.  We listened to the wind and the rain instead of the atonal hum of devices; we read and walked and swept the floors and sat on the porch.  We were lucky that the three days following the storm were sunny and beautiful, so we could salvage our plants and trellises and clear the yard of debris in nice weather.  We were not bored.  We were lucky all around – that we had a “good storm” and not a devastating one, that instead of “Biblical wrath” we had “Nature’s kindness.”

I wish we had the discipline to institute Internet-free weekends regularly; we probably don’t.  But as I write this, I am relaxing into the memory of all that dark and quiet and empty, and I’m thinking, well, maybe…

1 September 2011

From Katie Roiphe‘s interview with Nicholson Baker at Slate about his new erotic novel, House of Holes: A Book of Raunch — about which Sam Anderson wrote in the NY Times, ““Hoo-boy, people, get ready for this book. It is going to be Talked About”:

In a funny way he is more exposed in this book than his others because he is laying bare his fantasies. For some reason, it’s almost more intimate and confessional to write about crazy scenarios you find arousing than a more realistic or straightforward autobiographical novel might be. As he put it, “Things are in this book because I found them arousing. I was excited by writing this book. There is no point in doing it if you are not. You know the worry is, is it too tame? Is it too nice? Is it too weird? Is it too Dr Seuss-y? There is a review that says that. I kind of like that.”

My previous post on Baker here.

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