Attacking the Pile of Stuff: The New Yorker of Dec. 2, 2013

From the Talk of the Town, p. 24:

In Warsaw, the other week, a Filipino diplomat sobbed while addressing the U.N. climate summit; he had family in the typhoon-ravaged country.  “We may have ratified our own doom,” he said, alluding to the slow pace of negotiations for curbing international emissions.  He announced that he was starting a hunger strike, for the duration of the summit, and was given a standing ovation.

From Ian Johnson’s “In the Air,” an account of “China’s most polluted cities”:

Handan is a city “two hundred and fifty miles southwest of Beijing” with “an urban core of 1.4 million inhabitants . . .  It abuts the Tailing mountains” which, “thanks to rich deposits of coal and iron ore,” have made the region “one of the world’s great centers of steel production . . .  One of the provinces that border the Taihang range . . .  accounts for ten per cent of the world’s output.” The locals grow vegetables under the smoke billowing from factories.  It’s one of the dirtiest environments in the world.

There’s a poem by Mary Jo Bang that self really likes:

All Through the Night

The rotational earth, the resting for seconds:

hemisphere one meets hemisphere two,
thoughts twist apart at the center seam.
Everything inside is,
Cyndi Lauper and I both fall into pure emptiness.
That’s one way to think: I think I am right now.
We have no past we won’t reach back –
The clock ticks like the nails of a foiled dog
chasing a faster rabbit across a glass expanse.

The Annals of Law essay, by Rachel Aviv, concerns the way Social Service agencies have made a deliberate choice “to err on the side of overreaction, because the alternative could be devastating.  Social workers recognize that if they recommend returning a child to a deadly home “it will be a career ender.”  Thus, they “choose a knowable tragedy, the separation of a parent and child, in order to prevent an unknowable one.”

Heartbreak, right there.  The article focuses on a mother, a Kuwaiti immigrant named Niveen, who’s been accused of child neglect.  Her three-year-old son, Adam, who was in Montessori pre-school, fell and “his tooth came loose, making it painful to chew.”  Naveen took several days off from work to feed him herself.  After missing several days, her boss says, “With you it’s always something.”  Here’s the rest of that paragraph:

Then she imagined the way her boss would look at her the next time she came, and felt suddenly ashamed.  She got up, brushed her teeth, put some snacks in a ziploc bag, gave them to Adam, and left the house.  “It was mechanical –  I wasn’t thinking anymore,” she said.  “Things were upside down, but I kept everything to myself.  I was just trying to survive.”

Her son “had been alone for ninety minutes when police officers arrived . . . ” It’s a gripping article (as almost all The New Yorker Annals of Law articles have been), one that really tries to see things from the mother’s point of view.

Stay tuned.

The New Yorker Remembers Philip Seymour Hoffman (Feb. 17 & 24, 2014 Issue)

Anthony Lane’s piece on Philip Seymour Hoffman is in the current issue (Feb. 17 & 24, 2014) of The New Yorker.  Below, a few excerpts:

Leading man, character actor, supporting player:  really, who gives a damn?  Either you hold an audience, so tight that it feels lashed to the seats, or you don’t.  That is why the distinction between Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor, at the Academy Awards, grows ever more ludicrous — essential, of course, to the smooth structure of the night, but untrue, Read the rest of this entry »

La Serenissima Forever

Because self fell in love with Venice way back in the late 60s (That long ago?  Indeed, self is old), she jumped at the chance to share an apartment with Margarita D, for three weeks in April and May.

Great cranes were doing things near the old churches.

The maps were no help.

There were no places in the city itself selling those open-faced sandwiches with a fried egg on top that self remembered loving as a child.

But she still did love the outlying islands:  Murano, Burano, Torcello.

She loved riding the vaporetto up and down the Grand Canal.
Read the rest of this entry »

Zadie Smith: What Money Meant to This Writer

An excerpt from Zadie Smith’s essay, “Love in the Gardens,” in The New York Review of Books (Nov. 7, 2013):

When my father was old and I was still young, I came into some money.  Though it was money “earned” for work done, it seemed both to my father and me, no different than a win in the lottery.  We looked at the contract more than once, checking and rechecking it, just like a lottery ticket, to ensure no mistake had been made.  No mistake had been made.  I was to be paid for writing a book.  For a long time, neither of us could work out what to do about this new reality.  My father kept on with his habit of tucking a ten- or twenty-pound note inside his letters to me.  I took the rest of my family (my parents having separated long before) to a “resort” back in the “old country” (the Caribbean) where we rode around bored in golf carts, argued violently, and lined up in grim silence to receive a preposterous amount of glistening fruit, the only black folk in line for the buffet.

It took a period of reflection before I realized that the money — though it may have arrived somewhat prematurely for me — had come at the right time for my father.  A working life launched when he was thirteen, which had ended in penury, old age, and divorce, might now, finally, find a soft landing.  To this end, I moved Harvey from his shabby London flat to a cottage by the sea, and when the late spring came we thought not of Cornwall or Devon or the Lake District but of Europe.

Outrageous thought!

*     *     *     *

Also today, specifically this morning, self finally made it to the Redwood City Library to pick up a book she had requested from another branch:  Aleksander Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago.  What absolutely bowled her over was how massive it was.  It looked at least six inches thick.  Just imagine self lugging around a book about a sixth of her height.  Ixnay!  She stiff-upper-lipped it and hefted it home.  But she resolved never to bring it outside of the house.  She will only read it indoors, in the living room, dining room, or bedroom.  In deference to her gimpy neck, which sorely misses the masahistas in Bacolod . . .

The next book on her reading list, after Solzhenitsyn’s, is Gulag: A History, by Anne Applebaum, and that too is — oh, oh, oh, self!  Expire right now.  It is even a tad thicker than Gulag Archipelago.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Reading from the Pile of “Stuff” : The New Yorker, 9 September 2013

This morning, self is reading “The Return,” an essay by David Finkel, about “the traumatized veterans of Iran and Afghanistan” :

If war is accidental, so is what happens afterward.  Two million Americans have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Most of those who have come back describe themselves as physically and mentally healthy.  They move forward.  Their war recedes.  Some are even stronger for the experience.  But studies suggest that between twenty and thirty percent of returning veterans suffer, to varying degrees, from post-traumatic stress disorder, a mental-health condition triggered by some type of terror, or a traumatic brain injury, which occurs when the brain is jolted so violently that it collides with the inside of the skull, causing psychological damage.  Every war has its after-war:  depression, anxiety, nightmares, memory problems, personality changes, suicidal thoughts.  If the studies prove correct, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have created roughly five hundred thousand mentally wounded American veterans.

The article focuses on the experiences of a war veteran named Nic.

“Nic had been taking forty-three pills a day –  for pain, for anxiety, for depression, for nightmares.”  His pregnant wife wonders:

“Were there fewer pills now?  Was he still having flashbacks?  Thrashing around in his sleep?  Sleepwalking into closets, looking for his rifle?  Could he start telling her what had happened during the war?  And could she tell him about what was happening to her?  The other night she dreamed that she had given birth , and for some reason she took the baby and put it into a pressure cooker.  Could she tell Nic that soldiers aren’t the only people who have nightmares?”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Way Behind on Her WSJ Reading

Even though the Wall Street Journal is very gung-ho about bombing Syria (“We can’t recall another President suggesting his goal was to miss his military target.  But assuming he does want to hit something and have a military impact, our suggestion would be to take out the regime’s air force.” — Opinion, Friday, Aug. 30, 2013), she still reads it.

But the past week has been brutal.

How brutal?  Tonight, midnight, is the deadline to leave comments on the six stories in her group in Sixfold, and though she’s read and ranked them, she hasn’t been able to leave comments on a single one.

Today, though, things seem to be calming down.

So she settles on the couch and reads about how, on Aug. 20, a “popular North Korean singer” who’d been arrested just three days earlier, was executed in Pyongyang “along with a dozen members of her orchestra.”

Naturally, no one remarked on this, because we have all been soooo distracted by the VMAs and Miley Cyrus’ shenanigans during.

According to the Wall Street Journal, “the charge was that she had made a sex tape, later released in China, with another musician and, incongruously, that they also had Bibles in their possession.”

The executions were reported by a South Korean paper, Chosun Ilbo.

“They were executed with machine guns while the key members of (their bands) as well as the families of the victims looked on,” the Chosun reports . . .  The families of the executed were then sent to prison camps.”

*  *  *  *  *

Pause, pause, pause for shocked reaction.

*  *  *  *  *

Paul Moses has a piece (also in the Opinion section of the Wall Street Journal of Aug. 30, 2013) about Catholicism and his Dear Departed Father.  Moses calls himself “a liberal Catholic” and explains why he “won’t heed calls from the left and right to leave the church.”  It’s a very moving piece.

Self had never heard of Paul Moses before, but his bio describes him as “a journalism professor at Brooklyn College/ CUNY and the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi’s Mission of Peace.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Reading, Third Monday of August (2013): GULF COAST, The “Issues” Issue

Self thinks the cover of the Gulf Coast “Issues” Issue is PRETTY FABULOUS!

Gulf Coast Summer/Fall 2013

Gulf Coast Summer/Fall 2013

The table is made up of wooden blocks, each of which are labeled with a particular “issue”, like so:


The artist is Skyler Fein.  What. An. Absolutely. Great. Name.  Why couldn’t self be named “Skyler” instead of a word that means a) a soup; or b) fat?

Skyler’s bio reveals that at age 37, he moved “to New Orleans six weeks before” Katrina destroyed the city.  “Worst of times.  But hurricane leaves much wood in streets.  What can be done with it? he wonders.”

The issue contains a Latino Writers Roundtable (“The Cinnamon Tsunami Is Here”) that addresses, Editor Zachary Martin states:  “silence, privilege, identity, gender and solidarity.”  There is a piece called “Thalassophobia,” by Jamaal May, that deals with “fear of the sea.”  Craig Reinbold’s “Holding the Plank” is an essay about “male beauty and bulimia,”  Other topics:  “Eric Weinstein on sleepwalking, Kimberly Williams on racist nuns and Michael Copperman on learning disabilities.”

Self will bid adieu for the moment.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.


The Life Unlived: Adam Phillips’s MISSING OUT Reviewed in The New Yorker (Feb. 25, 2013)

Self’s Pile of Stuff is such a mess!  None of her magazines are arranged in chronological order.  Anyhoo, today she is reading The New Yorker of Feb. 25, 2013, the Joan Acocella essay on Adam Phillips.

Phillips, according to Acocella, is “Britain’s foremost psychoanalytic writer.” (How come self never heard of him before?  Clearly, there are large gaps in her reading, especially of contemporary British books).  The main idea of Phillips’s Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life seems to be this:  “Instead of feeling that we should have a better life, he says, we should just live, as gratifyingly as possible, the life we have.  Otherwise, we are setting ourselves up for bitterness.  What makes us think that we could have been a contender?  Yet, in the dark of night, we do think this, and grieve that it wasn’t possible.  And what was not possible all too easily becomes the story of our lives . . . ”  In other words, “our lived lives might become a protracted mourning for, or an endless trauma about, the lives we were unable to live.”

The first chapter is “On Frustration” :  “Frustration makes people real to us,” he says, “because, in our lives, they are usually the sources of it.  Indeed, frustration makes reality itself real to us.”

Chapter Two is “On Not Getting to It” :  Phillips maintains that “Perhaps understanding is one thing we can do with each other –  something peculiarly bewitching and entrancing — but also something that can be limiting, regressive . . .  The illusion of knowing another person creates the possibility, the freedom, of not knowing them; to be free, by not knowing them, to do something else with them” — free, that is to say, to “mistreat them.”

But, Acocella writes, “the error Phillips addresses most feelingly is our wish to be understood.  This, Phillips says, can be “our most violent form of nostalgia.”  It is “a revival of our wish, as infants, to have our mother arrive the instant we cry out from pain and hunger.”

Self, you must get this book!

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Italian Cities

Ca' San Toma.  Self barely saw any tourist wandering the neighbordhood.

Ca’ San Toma, Venice. Self barely saw any tourists wandering the neighbordhood, not until later in her stay.

For approximately three weeks, earlier this year, self was in Venice.  She was there because Margarita Donnelly, founder of Calyx, had found a two-bedroom apartment in Ca’ San Toma.

She’d been in Venice once before, when she was 11.  Self remembers being entranced.

Venice today is a little grim:  the art is overpowering, getting someplace is always daunting.  In the future, when self goes back, she will stick to the canals.  The interior streets of Venice are a maze:  self would find a shop she liked and resolve to go back at some later point, but she’d never be able to find the shop again.  Maps are useless.

One day, self happened upon a costume shop called Flavia’s.  She spent an enchanting time donning all sorts of masks, promised Flavia she’d be back, and never again found that street or that shop (Good thing Flavia’s masks are sold on eBay)

She is thinking of this as she reads a review of Waiting to Be Heard, Amanda Knox’s memoir of her trial for the murder of her British roommate, Meredith Kercher.  It’s in the latest New York Review of Books, the Aug. 15, 2013 issue.  The article was written by Nathaniel Rich.  Here’s a passage close to the beginning of the piece about a dinner Rich had with some fellow journalists.

We met at a restaurant called, appropriately, Altromondo (Otherworld).  It was underground, like so much of Perugia, including the courtroom where Amanda Knox and her boyfriend, Rafaelle Sollecito, were tried and convicted for Kercher’s death.  In Perugia, you almost always feel like you’re underground, even when you’re outside.  The medieval city descends a steep hill in crooked, claustrophobic side streets that cross each other at absurd angles.  The narrowness of the streets is enhanced by the tendency of the city’s ancient buildings to lean forward, as if about to fall on their faces.  The sun doesn’t shine on most streets for most of the day.  The mood is relentlessly clandestine, conspiratorial, paranoid.

There’s more:

In February 2012, it was reported that Knox, who had never given a formal interview to the press, had signed a book contract worth nearly $4 million.  The 461-page memoir was written with the assistance of a journalist, Linda Kulman, in about six months.  It was published this April . . .

Knox’s only “serious boyfriend before Sollecito had a Mohawk and wore a kilt.”  (How appalling of the boyfriend.  Mohawks and kilts simply do not belong together –  ask anyone in the country where kilts originated:  Scotland.)

In the memoir, according to Rich, there are repeated assertions of Amanda’s “former naiveté.”  To cite just a few examples:  “I was too naive back then . . . “, “I was naive, in over my head . . . “, “I was too naive to imagine that . . . “, “As naive as I now realize this was . . . “, “How am I still this naive?”, “I was very naive and not remotely courageous . . . “, “I was naive.” (Given this, self thinks “I was naive” ranks right up there with “You know nothing, Jon Snow” as most annoying phrase of all time.)

Rich writes:  “. . .  the shattering of Knox’s naiveté is the memoir’s central and most gripping narrative.”

Self thinks she will add this book to her reading list.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

“Manhattan in the 1980s was a gritty place” – Tracy Cochran

Manhattan in the 1980s was a gritty place.  I used to think of it as having dark glamour but no more.  A few years before, I had come to Manhattan like someone drawing close to a fire.  I wanted to be warmed, enlightened.  But nothing turned out the way I hoped, not love, not work, not life.  I pictured myself a waif huddling along in a bleak neighborhood, bringing her own pasta to dinner.  The image was so pathetic that I savored it, a fragment of a modern Dickens tale.

–  Tracy Cochran, “The Night I Died” (in Parabola, the Heaven & Hell issue, Summer 2013)

Since self thinks the cover of this issue –  Summer 2013, the magazine’s 150th (Congratulations, Parabola!) is pretty fine, she snapped a picture of it:

The Magazine's 150th Issue:  Self thinks the cover is pretty fine.

The Magazine’s 150th Issue

It did remind her vaguely of the work of a Flemish artist, she wants to say Brueghel but isn’t sure.

Later, she comes upon the title of the second piece in the issue:  “Emanations of Divinity:  The Cosmology of Hieronymus Bosch,” by Lee van Leer.

Yes, of course, that’s whose work she thought of when contemplating the cover.  Bosch, not Brueghel.  Accompanying the essay by van Leer are details of Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights.

The Bosch work is a triptych.  It hangs in the Prado in Madrid.  This is an astonishing piece of work, dear blog readers.  The left and right panels, especially.

Stay tuned.

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