Saturday, January 31, 2009
I am thrilled with your photography of the fine city I call home. Thank you for lending your expertise to your art, and sharing it with the city at the Museum of Contemporary Photography.
A curious thing occurred to me, though, as I looked at your work. Several years ago, while still living in the 'burbs, I longed for the city because of the fact that it's much harder to be isolated in the midst of a huge mass of people. Community--or at least a forced proximity to the lives of other people--seemed a foregone conclusion to the premise of city living, and that appealed to me.
But your work shows that this is not the case; it is still possible, albeit more difficult, to find isolation in the midst of city living. Indeed, Thoreau put it well: "City life is millions of people being lonesome together." Your thousand-word-photo puts it more succinctly though, juxtaposing the density of humanity with its isolation.
I cannot understand the flatness you use in so much of your urban photography. It seems to be at odds with the personality, meaning, action, emotion, and purpose that are constantly peppering your photographs. Perhaps it is because you are trying to highlight the repetition of the city--the similarity between each of us that emerges when we're standing next to each other.
But that repetition and flatness doesn't hold true in my mind. Take, for instance, the photo I refer to as 'The Girl and the Foot.' There is emotion here--the girl is seeking something, and the man she cannot see seems to be hard at work behind the curtains.
And it's not as though you are forced to use this flat perspective in your photography. Others have photographed the city without it, and have done so to great effect. So you certainly could have described Chicago without this flatness.
Indeed, it is this emotion-on-display that seems to be the highlight of your work. Sometimes when we are in our homes we assume a barrier between us and the rest of the world, ignoring our own exhibitionism. Yet our lives are out there for anyone to see, if only they would look. Is that the true isolation then, that we are offering ourselves, but nobody else is looking?
Thank you for creating this work that highlights the contradictions between our co-location and human isolation; our emotional pleas for attention and our unwillingness to offer sympathy; the flatness and fullness of city life. I hope that your exploration of other American cities will help you further explore and expose the personal lives we have each made apparent in Chicago, our Transparent City.
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
I know that I just wrote, but I had to drop you a line when I saw all of this on the news. Fire! At the old homestead.
Yes, I know it has been a long time since you lived here, since anyone has lived here, and yet, a part of a person's heart grows attached to a place where one spent childhood years. It doesn't go up in smoke without causing just a little part of it's former dwellers to singe also.
The paper said,
McCarthy, who was born in 1933 in Providence, R.I., moved to Knoxville with his family in 1937 when his father got a job with the Tennessee Valley Authority. When his family bought the house and its three-acre lot in 1941, it was advertised as having 10 rooms, two baths, and "automatic heat."
Well, this week that automatic heat caught up with the house. The bamboo and honeysuckle that shielded the house from the street was lost too.
My childhood home was in a little neighborhood, not unlike South Knoxville. I remember little bamboo-like growths and honeysuckle havens that afforded protection to small children from the wind and heat. I know that I loved to crawl between the stalks, with or without a book, and enjoy their sweet embrace. Did you huddle like that in front of 5501 Martin Mill Pike? Have I ever told you about the time I crawled beneath one of my favorite brush shields and found a dime? It was a magical moment. Imagine. I thought that surely no one else had discovered this hideaway. And yet, here, a sign of human life, and not just that, a treasure to boot.
So now, the last remarkable treasures of your childhood are up in smoke. Knoxville heritagers are shaking their heads. A tourist trap, lost forever, before it had even been renovated. "This was a senseless loss," said Kim Trent, executive director of the nonprofit preservation group Knox Heritage. And he had tried to preserve your place. It was at the top of the "Fragile 15" list. Let's hope that the Eugenia Williams' home fares better.
Well, as we get older, I suppose places like childhood homes and honeysuckle live better in our imaginations than they do at ground level. And this week, in Knoxville, it was certainly no country for old men.
Sunday, January 25, 2009
I have always liked the name Naomi. My grandmother's name was Ruth. My mother's name is Naomi. When I was young, I learned many stories in Sunday School, but one had personal impact because of the names of the women. Naomi had gone to a foreign country. Her travels were not like those I have taken to foreign places, with trips that included planes and hours watching movies from the relative comfort of an air seat. She traveled from Bethlehem to Moab a place in what is now Jordan, watched her sons marry women of that country, watched her husband die and sons die, and returned home with one of daughters-in-law, a woman named Ruth.
So I have liked your name for several reasons.
You, I have read, are one of the leaders of Machsom Watch. One of your members produced the video that I posted on inauguration day, a video letter to Obama. Machsom means barrier, doesn't it? And your organization is watching the great barriers or checkpoints that pepper the landscape of your land, that for many represents the heart of the middle east.
If Naomi and Ruth were trying to return to Bethlehem today, I doubt they could get there without being searched at a checkpoint. They might have to suffer great indignities. They might have to wait in a line all day. They might not be able to reach their destination at all.
I wanted to thank you for your efforts and the efforts of the Israeli women in Machsom Watch who are committed to peace and justice and decency and safety for those women and men, who, like Ruth and Naomi of old, are just trying to get home, or trying to get to work, or trying to get to the hospital, or trying to get water to drink.
The MachsomWatch.org website says:
MachsomWatch, in existence since 2001, is an organisation of peace activist Israeli women against the Israeli Occupation of the territories and the systematic repression of the Palestinian nation. We call for Palestinian freedom of movement within their own territory and for an end to the Occupation that destroys Palestinian society and inflicts grievous harm on Israeli society.Each day you stand and watch and record entries in your books, describing what is happening, so that the world will know. On the 13th of January, this happened:
Two youths turn to us for help. Two horses have trotted over the Schoolchildren's Gate away to the security road. They can't go and get them because they are not allowed to pass through the gate. One of the youths says that being a minor he hasn't got an ID card. The soldier insists that they shouldn't have let the horses gallop freely and that they did it on purpose. (Why would they though? It's not likely that they would want to lose the two horses). Finally it is agreed that a military vehicle will chase the horses back to the village.
And many times they do not want to gallop away, but they become fearful at some of the strangest things. Mine fears butterflies and flapping tarps. He can get quite upset at the sight of a fresh roundbale in a field, which was not there the last time we passed by. The sound of a firing gun makes my horse quite upset. And he will run. But usually he wants to return. Last week he slipped his fence, quite inadvertantly, grazing quietly through a break in the fence. Upon realizing his freed state, he pranced and whinnied hoping for rescue from the great beyond. I think, the Palestinian horses would have done the same, except, perhaps for the sight of the guns and angry soldiers.
Horses are the same, the world over.
At any rate, Naomi, thank you for all you do, keeping some Palestinians and some horses, safe in the Holy Land.
Thursday, January 22, 2009
Don't you hate reading the critics? Right or wrong they overstate to the point of nausea. So here am I writing a critique. "I'm sorry," as Papa said over and over and over again in your book.
I rather liked what this guy said. “The Road is the logical culmination of everything [McCarthy]’s written. It is also, paradoxically, his most humane and compassionate book . . . The question that the novel implicitly poses–how much can you subtract from human existence before it ceases to be human?–takes on heartbreaking force . . . One measure of a good writer is the ability to surprise. Terse, unsentimental, bleak–McCarthy’s readers have been down that road before. But who would ever have thought you’d call him touching?” –Malcolm Jones, Newsweek
"Down that road before". . . his pun "intended". But what a metaphor it is. I don't think any of us tire of the journey of life, so how can we tire of the symbol. I was very taken with this story, for I am a perpetual student of life and have actually surveyed the subject of The Good, the Summum Bonum of life, and this book tackles it so "head on" that I could hardly fail to love it.
My cousin Geoff says he knows you, that he used to drink with you in a bar somewhere in the Southwest, maybe in Mesilla near where routes 180 and 85 separate but before route 70 joins 180 going west. You know that little place? That was long ago, for he has not been to the Southwest for a long time. He liked you though. Maybe I have seen you. Do you ever come back and visit Knoxville, disguised to avoid Knox News reporters, disguised as a University of Tennessee professor who has tired of wearing orange. I think Knoxville is a good place to live and work and write blogs. You are welcome to come back any time.
The roads of Knoxville have always been an important part of the place. I remember talking with this woman who lived in Cosby. Her daddy was a moonshiner. He carried his shining goods back and forth along "Thunder Road" to Knoxville and beyond. She may or may not have followed her father's liquid tradition, but she could play a lick on a dulcimer. She knew the roads of the Smokies well. I've spent some time with a few of the Old Timers too. Old Timers are the folks who had actually lived on the land that is now the Smoky Mountains National Park. And Old Timers knew how to survive, and knew how to trail through those mountains with no more than a deer path to guide them.
The people of the Smokies were a unique breed of folks. They cleared a very rough land. And a successful year barely got them through until Spring. The wild vegetation would spring up so quickly that it reclaimed the south 20 'bout as fast as the settlers claimed the north 20. Yet they remained hopeful and found unique expressions in singing, and story telling, and such. You can still join with a group that does shape note singing--I saw the next sing advertised in this week's papers. I suppose they need new members to survive these days so they put it in the papers. Next thing you know they'll be on YouTube.
Passing on things to our children is one of the things The Road talks about isn't. It is one of the goods we have to offer our loved offspring. The Smoky Mountains were always good for a story. One of the great story tellers was Wiley Oakley. He called himself the roaming man of the Smokies. He could have, I suspect, entertained Papa and the boy had they come across him while walking through those mountains.
This was Wiley.
I remember one mountain oldster showing me the trees that now stand on the home site of his birth. His pathos reminds me of the losses that your characters faced. It was a different set of circumstances, less dire of course. Yet the Old Timers of the Smoky Mountains felt a great loss when they lost the land where they were birthed. And many never strayed too far from where they had been born . . . even now. Close enough, they've stayed, to visit the graves at plots now only reachable by vehicles with special permissions and assists. Graves slowly being taken by the soft reaches of the biospheric multiplicity that is the Smokies. At least that was not lost.
Have you, (I'll bet you have) ever sought out morels? Yes? But they are hard to find even in the best of times. Hidden, camouflaged in the greys and ripples of the earth. They have always been a precious find like the one you described in The Road, and one that was always a great secret. It was never polite to ask where an Old Timer found their morels. That kind of prying just wasn't done.
What was in your mind?
Not place so much as theme, I bet. What makes 'good' in a human soul? What fires 'hope'? Salvation? What does that mean when we are stripped done to two people plus 'love'? You have drawn a good landscape for us to enter and think about those things.
You spent part of your life near Knoxville. I spent part of my early life near Pittsburgh. I read that the movie version of your book was set in the Pennsylvania environs. Yes, there is a bleak cast upon the face of Western P.A. (When they say PA, they say the P separately from the A). Coal and steel fired through that area and burned it up. Pittsburgh took a big hit. Fortunately, for hope, the city has rebounded and is doing better these days. Perhaps that will happen to your post apocalyptic world. Will morel mushrooms survive, thrive, and feed the sparse population of earth? Or is that even necessary for hope to live and fire the souls of even the last earthy citizens?
The Old Timers of the Smokies hoped and lived on little. They never wasted bread or bullets or friends or love or even many words, except for Wiley Oakley. But the ones I've met personally, Wiley's sister, Lucy (I think it was), Glen Caldwell, one of the park rangers, and others--they met life with a kind of fire that could survive on little and they brought to that life a great respect for land and people, continuance and love. That, there, is the Road, post apocalypse or not.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
I cannot watch the inauguration live today. I must do something else. I must go to a street corner on this cold snowy day and stand.
On this great day, we are reminded of much history. You have focused our attention on the past. That attention is deserved. You have made us look to Abraham Lincoln whose inauguration you are mimicking and whose inauguration was fraught with security issues, as yours is, for a great Civil War was about to begin.
Lincoln placed his hand to take the oath of office on a Bible that had been purchased by the clerk of the Supreme Court and whose inscription on the flyleaf attests to the fact. You are using that one, too.
There are other things to remember today. Awful things are there that we could remember. I searched the internet to remind myself. I saw a picture of a slave who had run away from Mississippi and joined the Union troops at Baton Rouge. He had run away previously, been caught and whipped mercilessly. Still he ran again, not just to find freedom, but to aide the Union troops in bringing freedom to all the people of his race. This is worth remembering, too.
Tuesdays, women in Knoxville put on black clothes and stand on the street corner in front of the federal building. They do it rain, snow, or shine. They do it because freedom isn't finished. Below is a letter from an Israeli woman. It explains why she stands in Israel, at a Palestinian checkpoint to guard whatever remnants of freedom exist there. We stand because it is all we can do from this point on the globe, to call for a kind, and dignified, and peaceful solution to the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. I'm writing you today because during the next four years you will be able to do more than I will. I'm asking you to do it.
Congratulations! May this day, for you, be one of joy and remembrance.
Woman in Black
Thursday, January 15, 2009
But, if I am going to nominate a contender for the Ellstrom award, it would have to be. . . Life of Pi. It was the best book I read this year. And it was not only enjoyable, but discussed deep Spiritual ideas and issues. I have always been partial to these types of stories. A boy on a boat and his tale of survival. Very Robinson Crusoe or Old Man and the Sea. It was great, and although I don't know if Pap Ellstrom would have liked it, I think he would have appreciated the writing and the topic.
This year, as last, I've decided to keep a record of books I've read and significant pieces of music that I have listened to.
I am not a fast reader, so this list won't grow quickly. However, I like keeping a record. Perhaps, this year, I will add brief reviews as I build the list.
I'm rather committed to keeping most of my reading on a classic level. By that I mean that I am way behind in my reading of the best literature in all the world, so I am trying to catch up. Plus, I really do prefer books that have a lot of substance, even when I miss some of the points, which I often do.
Other readers sometimes help me understand, and for their insights I am grateful. Regrettably, I don't have too many musician friends to help me with my musical passion, save Elizabeth who occasionally helps to keep me on my operatic track.
Note: It will be from this listing that the Ellstrom Award for Literature 2010 will be chosen. The 2009 award is soon to be announced. (See 2008.)
Seraph on the Suwanee by Zora Neale Hurston
The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
So You Don't Want to Go to Church Anymore by Wayne Jacobsen and Dave Coleman
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
Falling Man by Don DeLillo
Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster by Svetlana Alexievich
20th Century American Fiction (Part II) by Arnold Weinstein
20th Century American Fiction (Part III) by Arnold Weinstein
Omon Ra by Victor Pelevin
Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy
Blink by Malcolm Gladwell
20th Century American Fiction (Part IV) by Arnold Weinstein
Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Glory by Vladimir Nabokov
King Lear by William Shakespeare
The Well of Lost Plots by Jasper Fforde
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Henry James' Portrait of a Lady - Lecture series by Elliot Engel
Beowulf by ?? but Translated by Francis B. Gummere
The Hamlet by William Faulkner
The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx.
Nostromo by Joseph Conrad
Shiloh by Shelby Foote
Slaughterhouse Five or the Children's Crusade a Duty Dance with Death by Kurt Vonnegut
The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man by James Weldon Johnson
My Day by Jean Rhys
The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East by Sandy Tolan
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
The Hammer of God by Arthur C. Clarke
The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy
Breakfast of Champions or Goodbye Blue Monday by Kurt Vonnegut
The Quest of the Silver Fleece by W.E.B. DuBois
Miss Liberty? by John Digby
The Rabbi's Cat by Joann Sfar
Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser
Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges
Bayou by Jeremy Love
A Day of Pleasant Bread by David Grayson
Giving Up: The Last Days of Sylvia Plath by Jillian Becker
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
Everyman by Philip Roth
Mother Courage by Bertolt Brecht
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Other Jazz Age Stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Winter's Gift by Jane Monroe Donovan
My Cousin Rachel by Daphne Du Maurier
The Birds' Christmas Carol by Kate Douglas Wiggin
The Story of the Other Wise Man by Henry Van Dyke
Maus a Survivors Tale: My Father Bleeds History Vol I by Art Spiegelman
Barber: Prayers of Kierkegaard/Bartok: Cantata profanna/Vaughan Williams: Dona nobis pacem by Samuel Barber, Bela Bartok, and Ralph Vaughan Williams
La Rondine by Giacomo Puccini - This live in HD broadcast from the Metropolitan Opera was most beautiful with a stellar cast, both the lead singers Angela Gheorghiu and Roberto Alagna, but also the comic secondaries Lisette Oropesa and Marius Brenciu with Samuel Ramey as the not too wicked foil to boot. The best know aria of the opera is sung by Gheorghiu here-Chi il bel sogno di Doretta.
Erwartung by Arnold Schoenberg with Jessye Norman
Lucia di Lammermoor by Gaetano Donizetti
La Cenerentola by Gioachino Rossini (Take a listen: http://www.metoperafamily.org/metopera/season/audio_pop.aspx?id=253)
The Saint of Bleecker Street by Gian Carlo Menotti
Christmas Oratorio (L’Enfance du Christ) by Hector Berlioz
Friday, January 09, 2009
I noticed, today, a flurry of readership during December from your neck of the woods. I find Google Analytics to be a fascinating source of entertainment. This little piece of code tells me all kinds of things, like the fact that in the middle of December you visited me quite a few times.
What are the folks in Slovenia, I wonder, interested in--Christmas Carols? Peace? or perhaps both. Your visits spanned postings on Spanish carols and Israeli refuseniks. Whatever your interest, welcome.
I know little about Slovenia. Just that it is nestled there near the top of the boot of Italy, there near where Atlas' left pinky finger might rest if pulling the boot onto his foot. Browsing around I found this picture of your hometown and I was quite charmed.
May I come for a visit? Not just a virtual visit, but one that includes a little mountaineering?
As far as peace goes, I've read that the official Slovenian position on Palestine and Israel is:
I agree. I wish so much that dialogue would take place. It seems to me that any talking that does get done is more like a series of monologues than dialogue. Oh, that someone would begin to listen.
Slovenia supports political dialogue and the fostering of good relations with the Palestinian representatives who meet international requirements and are committed to peaceful efforts in resolving the conflict with Israel.
Slovenia also supports the Palestinians' legitimate efforts to reach a sustainable and fair solution of the Palestinian issue by political means, as well as the emergence of an independent, democratic Palestinian state, the Foreign Ministry said.
Meanwhile the US Congress offhandedly passes resolutions supporting Israel's recent offensive in bi-partisan unanimity. Am I the one who is crazy? I certainly am not in favor of Hamas violence, but the complexity of the situation in Palestine in no way calls for such lock-step and unreflective politicking. My friends from Women in Black are holding vigils and prayer services, but even we know that the path to peace must be a two sided affair and one that recognizes the need for aggressive peacemaking, not aggressive retaliations. Oh dear, oh dear. Though you are far away from Knoxville, TN, would you like to join us in prayer tomorrow? We will be here:
An Interfaith Gathering of Reflection and Prayer Regarding the Middle East will be held on Sunday, January 11, 2009 at 4:00 p.m. at Westminster Presbyterian Church, located in Knoxville at 6500 Northshore Drive at the intersection of Lyons Bend. Prayers for peace from the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim traditions will be offered. There will be time for silent reflection and meditation. Musical offerings for peace will be included. The public is invited to attend this approximately one-hour service that welcomes all peoples and all traditions in the spirit of peace.
Will you join us in prayer. I think it's at 10 PM your time.
Saturday, January 03, 2009
I have squeaked through yet another Yule season, I think. It is Saturday and tomorrow is the last Sunday of Epiphany. So I am near.
The book jacket of Dubliners talks about your use of the negative epiphany. I suppose this year hinted at a bit of that, but as far as that goes, I have not quite concluded my revery, like Gabriel in The Dead, deciding whether to turn my back to the window and the falling snow, or face it, since the snow is so general.
What is it that these holiday times reveal in a burst of laughter, in a slice of goose, in a stamp of galoshed feet? And what makes us turn, if we do, to the Gabriels of our better selves and speak with a kinder word than we had intended, to seek that something which may take us, well, through another year?
If the catholicism of Ireland was the gayly wrapped vocabulary you received beneath the Christmas pines of your youth, then mine is the talk of fundamental protestantism. For you, the Trappists tucked at night in their coffins held mythic content. For me, not so much.
I listened to my mother chat with my friend M., mom quite unable to gain the revelation that M. might indeed be seeking authentic spirituality.
"I went on a silent retreat. No one talks, except if they choose to enter a speaking room."
"Why would they do that?"
"We retreat from the confusion and sensory overload of our world."
Later she explained to me, "When I think about spiritual things, I have to talk with someone about it."
No epiphany, negative or otherwise, here.
Yet there were moments of light, father watching the birds and the river from the panel of glass in our kitchen rather than the "dog grooming channel" on television. There were glimmers of the new, a fresh, 17 day baby in my arms, resting, resting, unaware of the either the the palaver or hullabaloo. There were mentions of the old, reverently, as you say, "and if they are gone beyond recall let us hope, at least, that in gatherings such as this we shall still speak of them with pride and affection, still cherish in our hearts the memory of those dead and gone great ones whose fame the world will not willingly let die." For me the great ones are those who taught me to fix rye bread and pickled herring, who began the tradition of gift tags that make us laugh. (Who would have thought that Blue Man Group would remember my husband with such a nice gift this year?)
And you, James, set the back drop for the end of my year, with the stories of the good folks from Dublin. Enough for more than one epiphany.
Now, another year, and I am glad I'm not dead. Not yet. Nor am I paralyzed, I hope, either by tradition or cold. Not paralyzed by past or tradition, but very grateful for them and waiting with anticipation for more.