Essays and Memoirs
Dick Cheney and the Worship of Torture Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

16577178-mmmain(Counterpunch February 10, 2015)

“I knew what I was doing,” Harry Truman said after the atomic bombs he ordered dropped not once but twice on Japanese cities—140,000 people dead in Hiroshima that night; 80,000 three days later in Nagasaki; many thousands more, slowly of radiation sickness. “I have no regrets,” Truman boasted. “Under the same circumstances, I would do it again.”

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This Shining Night Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

2012 0708 images 15 agee(Solstice Literary Magazine December 21, 2014)

We Are Talking Now of James Agee’s “Knoxville: Summer 1915”

In January 1971, I was living in Columbia, Missouri, where for two years I’d been an undergraduate English major at the University.(1) A surprise to literate me, I’d become pencil-sucking bored with my classes, especially the non-electives “Restoration Drama” and “Chaucer.” What’s more I’d also been struggling to write interior-laden short stories based on literary models that once excited me but now raveled through my head like cotton off a spinning jenny until I felt wire-whisked by their polish and mystery and woe—so, one day, just after my sixth semester began, I quit.(2) Because I had to, I got a job, part-time clerk at the University library. They said I could come in from one to five, work half days. Perfect. My mornings were free for writing.

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The Music Is Always There: Reflections on New Orleans Jazz Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

cid 149db1300543fa90cda(Guernica November 24/25 2014)

A Deviant Nature /

That which we call American music, whether it’s pop, show tunes, Motown, country ’n’ western, or any other mixed breed, is seldom wholly original. It is—it must be, to appeal widely—a sound and a style already known to its composer-musicians, and their audiences, before it’s written. The declamatory songs of Bob Dylan in the early 1960s, for example, owe everything to the then-familiar swagger of Woody Guthrie, talking blues, pentatonic Shaker hymns, and backwoods white gospel. These elements the troubadour kept as a foundation even as he evolved and wrote new material based on a lyric élan all his own. Pre-Dylan, Guthrie’s music binds Appalachian hillbilly tunes to topical story songs, which, themselves, owe their fluency to the broad-siders and the balladeers of eighteenth century Scotland and England. And so it goes, way on back. But there is, as always, an exception to the rule. Cultural critic Stanley Crouch argues that African-American gospel, blues, and jazz—styles that standardized the flatted third and seventh, syncopation and polyrhythms, and the chaotic, improvising soloist—are unique in music. In song, Crouch says, there had never been, with African or American music, such tap-rooted anguish as can be found in “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child,” where the melodic genius lies not on but between the notes.

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The Misunderstood, Abused, Victimized, and Writerly Essential Outline Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

Dove-MeandtheMoon(TriQuarterly October 21, 2014)

For me, the edgiest of the double-edged questions we’ve all asked a teacher, a colleague, or ourselves concerns the “outline”—first, when do I do it, before, during, or after I write, for which the mordant answer is yes, and second, why do I do it, which is harder to quantify because it suggests that planning a piece may be categorically different than writing a piece, as though the pair are maliciously counterbalanced, feathers and lead. I say malicious because such a myth (writing fun, outlining dumb) invites a more emotional query: Does the outline mean that we must succumb to that which is not writing, as though we’ve fallen from rapture to drudge—Lewis and Clark giving way to the Conestoga wagons?

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Mysteries of the Heart #1-8 Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

at-the-core-19351(Psychology Today Blogs #1-8, March-November, 2014)

Cuddling With Mamie

To introduce myself for this, my first blog at Psychology Today, I’m the author of The Sanctuary of Illness: A Memoir of Heart Disease, Hudson Whitman Press, 2014. The book rewinds and unravels my life during and after my three heart attacks.

The core argument of the memoir is a relational one: My recovery, as good as it can get after the damage of three myocardial infarctions, surged once I shared my condition with my long-time partner, Suzanna. In addition, I cut out dairy, ramped up my exercise, and added supplements. A no-oil Vegan and daily walker, I have lost 35 pounds as a plant-based eater, and it’s been three years since my last angioplasty.

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Hopelessly American Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

20140612 114054(An Afterword to Rank 'N' File by John Abel, Summer 2014)

Exaggerate the essential, leave the obvious vague. —Vincent Van Gogh

I admit to struggling with a couple phrases while I tick-tock my way through John Daniel Abel’s latest sad and poignant collection of speaking images. (His previous marvel was The Last Word: Sixty-One American Epitaphs.) The phrases that trouble me are underclass and working-class. Why? Their sell-buy dates have passed. Anymore, such terms as the wealthy, the middle-class (the politicians’ fantasy), the nouveau riche, and other mass descriptors have lost definitional distinction. The problem is, cliché guarantees stereotype: ah, the poor—ignorant, opinionated, desperate, racist, self-abusive. You know the drill. But couldn’t those knee-jerk responses fit any “class”? Aren’t the 1% ignorant, opinionated, desperate, racist, self-abusive?

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Feel Like Funkin' It Up (Homage to Treme) Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

69-og(Written June 15, 2014)

“Feel Like Funkin’ It Up”

In the HBO series Treme, the opening parade sequence, all of 6:46, heralds the program—in its entirety—one that will ripple and storm and flood into 36 episodes over four years. The mise-en-scène depicts the post-Katrina re-jiggering of New Orleans, three months after, as it affects one neighborhood, the Treme. It’s a noisy array of street sounds and band music—a trumpet player oiling his valves, a glaring cop expecting trouble, a man lustily tipping a beer, a van going by blasting hip-hop, a fade-in/fade-out snippet of that wanton lullaby, “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans.”

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