Essays and Memoirs
Authoring Ourselves Print E-mail

shelved_1(Fiddleback August 2011)

The cover of The New Yorker, October 18, 2010, by Roz Chast, is titled, “Shelved.” The cartoon features a young man, whom I’ll call Jimmy, sitting in an overstuffed comfy chair, a laptop opened on his knees, headphone buds stuck in his ears. What’s Jimmy doing? Reading? Listening? Watching? Perhaps all three. All three at once. Whatever Jimmy’s absorbed by, the eight-and-one-half shelves of books above and behind him are reacting. Faces on spines (the eyes-nose-mouth motif) are angry, indifferent, surprised, chagrined, shocked, curious. Many of the books appear to have their personalities, perhaps reflecting the book’s contents, captured in their gaze. For every enraged expression (How dare you! This is a library) there’s another look which seems powerless—after all, what can books do to counter the realm Jimmy occupies other than bemoan his disinterest or their fate?

Roz Chast’s comment seems obvious: the books have been shelved, forgotten, abandoned. Their grand era is no more.

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Now, Where Was I? On Maggie Nelson's "Bluets" Print E-mail

Jet

(TriQuarterly February 2011)

The author Maggie Nelson, born in 1973, has authored half-a-dozen books, among them poetry collections, memoirs, and nonfiction. Bluets may be her finest work. It is a set of two-hundred-and-forty loosely linked fragments. Each numbered fragment is either a sentence or a short paragraph, none longer than two-hundred words. The book totals some nineteen-thousand words. The work hybridizes several prose styles and verges on the lyric essay. The themes of lost love and existential aloneness come to dominate, bathed in a kind of blued longing.

Nelson utilizes memoir, philosophy, quotation, analysis, scientific exposition and query, meditation, and more, each in stylistic miniature. Subjects include an ex-lover and a friend who’s been paralyzed, but the majority of the text features her analyzing her reading, often deferring to others’ comments (including Leonard Cohen, Joseph Cornell, and Joan Mitchell) on blue. She’s not the only one so smitten by a color. Nelson combines spiritual inquiry with erotic obsession, searches for beauty and gets hung up on memories. As she criss-crosses sorrow and wonder, doubt and desire, her tone darkens.

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Music and War's Grief Print E-mail

Platoon_village_scene(San Diego Union-Tribune, Veterans Day, November 11, 2010)

The degree to which we mourn our war dead as a nation is matched by the music for mourning our composers have given us. In America’s case, it’s virtually none. The reason our composers have been so stingy with writing elegies—contrast this with the Irish ballad or the fiddle dirge, keening traditions that go back 1,000 years—is that our culture has not demanded they write sad music.

We attend to public loss with private grief. We have a funeral, a memorial, a wake; we pay tribute, shed tears, tell stories and play a brief, favorite tune to remember the departed and to evoke a modicum of sorrow. We grieve not for the dead. We lament the individual who lost his or her life. If the remembrance has a religious bent, someone sings “Amazing Grace.” If it’s military, the tune is “Taps.” We watch the casket lower or the ashes scatter, and return to our separate lives, changed only in personal ways.

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The Saddest Music Ever Written: The Story of Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings" Print E-mail

Graham_Jackson_Warm_Springs_FDR_DeathIf you feel that you cannot complete your paper from scratch, professional academic writers at CustomWritings will write an essay for you, according to your requirements.

Adagio for Strings: Leonard Slatkin, BBC orchestra, September 15, 2001, perhaps its longest and most emotional performance ever.

The Saddest Music Ever Written: The Story of Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings," Pegasus Books. Hardcover, September 2010, paperback, March 2012.

A YouTube video of my one-hour "Saddest Music" multimedia presentation at Warwick's Bookstore, La Jolla, CA, Tuesday, November 30, 2010.

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Love Song to a Psychostimulant Print E-mail

Tergrugghen_Flute_Player(Written February 2010)

What is it that’s so annoying about VH1’s “Celebrity Rehab”? It’s the reality show that features the good-souled Dr. Drew who ministers—and really listens—to those fallen stars, mostly talent-less one-hit wonders, throwaway children like Mackenzie Phillips or love-starved sex toys like Heidi Fleiss.

What’s so annoying is their helplessness. Being on drugs or being off drugs doesn’t matter. They can’t function; they’ve got addictive personalities; nothing works. The two stock dramatic bits are will he/she pass the drug test or will he/she bolt before the “treatment” is over. They’re forever unstable because life on drugs or in treatment is a hell of denying the self what it wants. Watching adolescents in adult bodies is the saddest thing of all.

It’s also irksome that the cameras roll on and on, “catching” the celebs off-guard, when, in fact, this clan (Dennis Rodman, Tom Sizemore, et alia) is so media savvy and comeback-minded that it’s obvious they crack up or cry on cue, which is hardly caught-in-the-act. Maybe we should have a show called “Film Rehab” for those who emote only when a camera’s present.

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Leaving Music, Leaving Marriage—A Memoir Print E-mail

dead20wolf(San Diego Reader February 24, 2000; Revised 2006-2009)

I was trembling, tearing open the biscuit-colored envelope, its official return address, University of California, San Diego, Department of Music, Graduate Division. "I am happy to inform you," it began—but didn’t I know the rest, hadn’t I known it in my gut for months, ever since I kissed and mailed the application, that my (our) westering dream would come true?—"The Department of Music is recommending that you be admitted," and then I couldn’t see the words since I was crying and running to tell my wife Annie and four-year-old twin sons: we’d be leaving Santa Fe, our home since 1975, and moving to southern California.

I didn’t say that last bit right off. I read out the very sweet "offer": full tuition scholarship, a teaching assistantship at $5,000 a year, and the Ph.D. track in composition. In five short years, I’d be a bona fide Doctor of Music!

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Fiction, Fact, and Faked Memoirs Print E-mail

Triumph_of_Death_Bruegel(New English Review July 2009)

Never let the truth get in the way of a good story is the claim every storyteller is admonished to believe. What our ten-thousand-year-old tale-telling tradition (most of it oral) instructs us to do is to be good dramatists and let the story have its sway. This law of the tale, and our drama-loving DNA, is why the Bible has survived so long: its well-told stories were the means by which its morally sound messages were delivered and, tellers and scribes hoped, stuck. When disputes about a story’s authenticity arose, the Bible authors were less keen to preserve history or embrace veracity. Instead they made the drama central, via legend, fantasy, parable, and the fictionalized life, based on Egyptian mythology, of Jesus Christ. The Bible is a work of narrative literature and a work of fiction. But, the problem is, its fiction has almost always been thought of as fact.

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