Essays and Memoirs
Affinity & Ambiguity: Writing & Music Print E-mail

continuity arthur dove(The Nonconformist April 5, 2021)

I want to be an honest man and a good writer.
—James Baldwin

My affinity for language is a given. But how it was given — and revealed more than other affinities that may have had it out for me as well — is a mystery I’m trying to solve. My hunch is that an affinity for words was present at birth, then snapped-to early on by seductive teachers who assigned adventure narratives and lyric poems, and later the stories of Stephen Crane, the novels of Thomas Hardy, the poetry of Robert Frost and Edna St. Vincent Millay (her marquee name was a poem in itself).

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One Afternoon in the Annals of Marriage Therapy Print E-mail

Quentin Massys 030(Helix Literary Magazine March 12, 2021)

It’s Monday, 1:45, and six men and I sit in a circle with our German-trained psychotherapist, an imperious woman who reminds us that she is here to help or offer guidance only if we get bogged down and that we men need to find our own way through our turmoil, which is the point of the group and the point of each of us paying $3000 per year. I’m fairly new, so before I speak, I’m seeking some level of comfort or commonality among them, and every week I come up short. I’m not yet adjusted and unsure what I should be adjusting to.

Obviously, I don’t know these men. And I doubt I’d associate with them outside this forum or be in a social situation where we’d meet. Case in point, the tanned man (our real names cannot be shared). The tanned man has the time-clocked sadness my father had at fifty-five; the greying hair above his ears, the loyalty to a global corporation and the ease of leveraged investments about him; a man who regards his goldenness as some golf-cart anhedonia, with his deck shoes, velour pullover, browning legs, white ankles, and baggy, bluish shorts; and his marriage run aground, whose chassis has been scraping the gravel for a couple years now.

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Emma's Graveyard Moan: Thomas Hardy's Elegies for his Dead Wife Print E-mail

Hardy and Emma(3QuarksDaily November 2, 2020)

In 1874, Thomas Hardy married Emma Gifford, a woman who never let her novelist husband forget that she was born of a higher class than he, ever his superior in taste and breeding. After her death he got back at her—poetically—in a big way. And she at him.

The pair began with a pre-marital affair, fervent and soulful, as intellectual companions; not long after, they were quarantined in thirty-eight years of a childless and mutually regrettable marriage. When Emma died of a bad heart and impacted gallstones (she wrote treacly poems, many published, and suffered from delusions of grandeur), Hardy at sixty-two composed a loose sequence of verse, “Poems of 1912-1913.” These twenty-one rhyming, pithy elegies, among the finest in English, conjure the ghost of his first wife as the means of grieving his loss in a fatalistic anti-theism that feels downright religious.

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Between the Numinous and Me Print E-mail

cloudscape09

Bangalore Review, September 20, 2020)

Every author gets asked—cornered, perhaps—to say succinctly: What’s your book about? Two ex-cons murder a family of four in Kansas and, after the crime and the criminals are sensationalized, especially by the author, they’re hung. Oh, were it so simple. How do I corner the subject I chose—spirituality and the writer? Because of its unwieldy focus, I can’t reduce it to an elevator speech. Can I keep it to a thousand words?

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Quiet City: A Reverie for New York in the Time of Covid-19 Print E-mail

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(The Sembrich Online, September 11, 2020)

The gestation of Aaron Copland’s Quiet City was anything but quiet. In 1939, novelist Irwin Shaw—later praised for the TV serial, Rich Man, Poor Man—wrote a play with the same title. It was workshopped by Elia Kazan and the Group Theater, a communal ensemble from which the Actor’s Studio later took wing. The “experimental drama” follows a once-idealistic young man who leaves Judaism, changes his name, marries a socialite, and achieves wealth running a department store. His materialist dream, however, leaves him morally empty.

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The Mytheme of Male Desire Print E-mail

waterhousenymphsfindingorpheus

(After the Art June 18, 2020)

“I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men’s minds without their being aware of the fact.”

The Raw and the Cooked, Claude Lévi-Strauss

The greatest stories of mythic love are those most encumbered by ecstatic subjugation. Among them are the romance legends of Tristan and Isolde, Lancelot and Guinevere, and Orpheus and Eurydice. Of Orpheus’s tragic loss and demise, the tale tells of a man’s love for a woman, read princess wife queen Eros, a love so consuming that at her death he descends into Hades to bring her back. His act may grant her a second life or, after a brief flawed reunion, a second and final death. Set aside the male as hero or victim. His outcome matters less than the spell men believe they wield over women who must, to live, desire the salvific power of his love.

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Growing Sugar Beets in Sonoma: Elegy for Bruce Brown Print E-mail

relaxing

(Written January 2020)

Bruce died in April, 2019, and I’ve been mulling a piece to remember him by since then—not so much because of the feeling of loss, monumental to most of us who knew him over his 70+ years, but more because there is too much about him to remember. Bruce was so boisterous, so forceful, so opinionated, so funny, so adventuresome, so story-packed, so definitional or diversionary to phases of our lives, which, like a popular music era or a social movement, he became a centrality—or, at least, he epitomized some hegemony in the culture of the time. I can’t begin to think what it must have been like to have him as a partner (to Mary Dee), a father (to Street), or the eldest son, after his dad died (to his mother).

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