Essays and Memoirs
How We Spend Our Days Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

(How We Spend Our Days blog, Cynthia Newberry Martin, October 1, 2013)

On a recent night, my son and I were stuck in ninety minutes of traffic, driving to the East Bay from the de Young museum in San Francisco where we’d been electrified by Richard Diebenkorn’s exhibition, “The Berkeley Years: 1953-1966,” and we were discussing the discipline of this great California artist, who died in 1993 and whose museum-filling retrospective I reviewed in 1998—the question on our minds was how did Diebenkorn create those deliciously messy, uncanny abstractions? I was glancing at a slip of paper, given out at the exhibit, with some choice lines from the painter. “Tolerate chaos.” “Be careful only in a perverse way.” And this: “Do search. But in order to find other than what is searched for.”

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The Social Author #2: Our Multimedial Beginning Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

8538173826 d6ac51c851 z(Guernica September 30, 2013)

Always, however far we travel back in time, we surmise other forms behind the forms which captivate us.The Voice of Silence, Andre Malraux

Here’s a word—and an idea—which, as I develop this series on the social author, I sense arcing across the axons of every writer: transliteracy, one’s ability to interact with others using many platforms and media, from reading and writing to digital communication. The word’s intent is to move past the literate, move, maybe, where we literates don’t want to go. I already hear the author’s grumbles. Where is this beyond beyond literacy is asking we get to? What could be more highly prized than reading and writing, the languages of law, literature, journalism, scholarship, history, as well as religions and their founding documents? Who among the writerly class feels unfulfilled because she’s not transcended literacy?

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The Social Author #1: Writing Seen, Writing Spoken Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

8688336885 7abbfe624d z(Guernica August 26, 2013)

Marshall McLuhan, in his 1962 book, The Gutenberg Galaxy, explored how electronic media, especially television (a prototype of the computer), would push literature away from the linearity of print and return it to spoken and interactive forms. His famous line—“We shape the tools and the tools, in turn, shape us”—noted that any language is dependent on the medium of its expression, a medium that, invariably, the message must adapt to. In the age of digital authorship, this reads like a prophecy.

The work of the writer, published and engaged, is morphing from a self-conscious, learned, literary style to one performative, shared, everyday, heard, and instant—the speaker the equivalent of the writer. What I will examine, in this series of essays, is who and what is lifting writing off the page and making it auditory and multimedial, where this out-loud movement originated, how its performative character is developing, and to what end.

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No Absence Like Water's Absence Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

artwork images 424158133 615452 maggie-taylor(Catamaran Literary Reader June 2013)

Sometimes in winter, if we're lucky, a brawling Pacific storm swoops down on Southern California. Its sudden fury—night winds, roof leaks, street-flooding—masks its belated arrival. Where's this much moisture been? Why so long getting here?

Every winter, I worry the rains won't fall. Another year added to the droughts of the aughts, no doubt. Confirming climate change, each decade ticks into the eon, coming and here, twice at once. At least that's how it felt during a walk I took one August day up a virtually dry mountain riverbed.

I begin in Idyllwild, above Palm Springs and below the San Jacinto Mountains. From a ridge southwest of town I hike down to Strawberry Creek, fast-trodding a mile's descent in ten minutes flat, down a path barely visible beneath blister-leaved poison oak, through scarlet-barked manzanita. My heart pulses in my blood-heavy hands.

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Stress Echo Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

3513174235 2a8a31be88(Yale Journal for Humanities in Medicine, June 27, 2013)

In San Diego, at the hospital, I, a three-heart-attack patient, lie down for my annual check-up, an echocardiogram, a two-stage procedure. My shirt’s off, my chest’s swabbed, the electrodes are attached. First, the echo technologist goops a wand with gel and rolls it across my chest, my heart at rest. She takes four ultrasound videos, close-ups of the four chambers. Next, I walk for twelve minutes on a speed-and-incline-raising treadmill. My heart pumps madly, I stride and push, grasp the bar, a sailboat rail in rough seas. I lie down, and she ultrasounds the organ again. (I’ve pushed my resting rate from 69 beats per minute to an agitated 151.) The moving images record what’s termed “wall-motion abnormality,” that is, my heart-attack-weakened muscle cannot respond with full vigor as it once did.

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The Psychopaths Among Us: A Three-Act Essay Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

ben-thomas-1(AWP Talk, Boston, March 2013; First Published TriQuarterly May 31, 2013)

Time: Late August
Place: Hudson Valley Writers’ Center
Event: A weeklong workshop in “writing the memoir”
Players: Seven writers and me, the teacher

     Act I

A woman writer in her sixties is the last of seven students to share her work. Her title: “The Psychopaths Among Us: A Case Study.”

I present her writing here in the style she adopted, a very clipped textbook shorthand, articles dropped from nouns, and minimal development. I can’t imitate her reading voice, but its tone, hectoring and shrill, is somewhere between Donald Trump and The Nanny’s Fran Drescher.

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Writing While Ill: Pathography, Then & Now Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

VirginiaWoolf(Shenandoah March 1, 2013)

1 /

Virginia Woolf begins her 1926 essay, “On Being Ill,” with a doozy of a sentence:

Considering how common illness is, how tremendous the spiritual change that it brings, how astonishing, when the lights of health go down, the undiscovered countries that are then disclosed, what wastes and deserts of the soul a slight attack of influenza brings to view, what precipices and lawns sprinkled with bright flowers a little rise of temperature reveals, what ancient and obdurate oaks are uprooted in us by the act of sickness, how we go down into the pit of death and feel the waters of annihilation close above our heads and wake thinking to find ourselves in the presence of the angels and the harpers when we have a tooth out and come to the surface in the dentist’s arm-chair and confuse his ‘Rinse the mouth—rinse the mouth’ with the greeting of the Deity stooping from the floor of Heaven to welcome us—when we think of this, as we are so frequently forced to think of it, it becomes strange indeed that illness has not taken its place with love and battle and jealousy among the prime themes of literature.

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