Quote of the Day: Graydon Carter, Editor’s Letter, Vanity Fair, December 2015

The political arena has always held its attractions for business leaders who believe that wisdom picked up at the coal face of American industry can be applied to civics. On the surface, this seems like a natural transition. But it isn’t. Most people who succeed at business do so with a relentless, single-minded ego thrust that crushes the opposition and tosses aside the weaklings who stand in the way. Wait, that does sound like what it takes to win at national politics.

What’s interesting is . . .  the way voters keep seizing on the idea that someone from the business world (Lee Iacocca? Ross Perot?) is the ideal candidate to lead us into the Promised Land when the only real business titan we’ve ever had as president was Herbert Hoover. And look how that worked out.

Other Graceful Moments

Gracefulness manifests itself as an effortless, subtle harmony between a subject and its environment. — Ben Huberman, The Daily Post

Examples:

Enjoy, dear blog readers.

A Surgeon’s Life

Fascinating review by Joshua Rothman in The New Yorker of 18 May 2015 (Self is sooo behind in her reading!) of a memoir by London neurosurgeon Henry Marsh. It’s an unflinching look by Marsh at his medical career and the failures that haunt him (“It’s not the successes I remember, but the failures.”) Incredibly, so much of his success or failure depends on, not training, not intelligence, not skill, but luck.

Rothman compares a neurosurgeon’s life to a soldier’s. Both are “deeply shaped by” something called “moral luck.” To perform under the burden of this awareness is impossible unless Marsh can successfully control “his own emotions. If he can’t control how a surgery turns out, he will control how he feels. He tries not to let his feelings add to his patients’ fear and unhappiness; at the same time, he tries never to lie. He yearns for feelings that are strong but realistic, fully voiced but even-keeled.”

In writing his book, “Marsh has seemingly violated his code; he expresses many of the feelings that he’s worked very hard to keep hidden.”

Fascinating.

Marsh’s book is called Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death, and Brain Surgery.

Subsequent research on Goodreads shows that it’s garnered a number of nominations and one prize: the J. R. Ackerley Prize for Autobiography.

Stay tuned.

To the Last

Obama:  How do we make sure that we don’t change, even as we protect our people?”

— quoted in The Economist, 26 November 2016

Medicis: Masters of Florence

This is self’s first television series review in, like, forever.

She actually forgot she had a tag marked “television.”

She used to be quite religious about certain shows. Then her schedule blew up. Then America blew up. No, that’s not right. America is still here. Whatever.

Today, she binge-watched a Netflix series called Medicis: Masters of Florence. She must admit, she wasn’t really paying attention to the first episode, especially since Dustin Hoffman was playing a Florentine in an American accent. Then, he died. Which was excellent. Because that meant more screen time with Richard Madden.

There was some angst about Madden’s character (a Medici, of course) marrying a virginal looking woman who nevertheless tells her new husband: Your mother told me all about this other woman, blah blah. And then the nasty mother dies (She was the only person in the series whose death did not come at all as a shock. She had pustules on her face which meant either the Black Death or the Red Death, take your pick)

And self doesn’t know why, but she started paying attention from then on, because she really really wanted to know if Medici was going to leave his wife.

Not to mention, the name Brunelleschi kept recurring, and self really liked that Medici’s mistress flirts with him while he is looking at some architectural drawings, and the mistress’s hair is a kind of red that is set off perfectly by her green gown and green dangling earrings.

SPOILER ALERT!

Anyhoo, she watched all the way until the end (8 episodes) and felt so cheated when it all ends with a grand procession in which Medici is shown looking soulful and torn, and his wife is way back in the procession, self means waaaaay back, and the mistress is shown standing primly to one side with her hands calling attention to a belly that after three months is still as flat as a board, and self ardently wished for more of the series so she could watch more of this triangulation, and actually surmised that the wife might take religious vows and retreat to a convent, while the mistress remains in Medici’s arms and supervises the glory of the Medici name (while giving birth to many children).

She was quite surprised to see that she’d watched eight episodes, back to back (Woo! It helps that it is so cold outside!)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Apple Care Customer Service

Apple Care gets Five Stars!

She was on the phone last night with a young woman named Kanisha who patiently walked self through all the procedures and helped self download stuff that she didn’t even know she needed. The entire call took over two hours, that is how clue-less self is about the latest software!

She decided to call Apple because of her extreme frustration with Hewlett Packard customer service. They pass you on to a third party provider, which is pretty common nowadays but unfortunately that third-party provider started harassing her.

Seven voice mail messages in one day? 10 e-mails in one day? Not to mention the invasion of privacy from the viewcam they switched on without self knowing? It was horrible: self had to change all her passwords and cancel all her credit cards because those vendors were able to get into her laptop so easily, no telling what kind of information they were able to steal before she caught on to the viewcam. And the calls were all like: We just want to make sure you are happy with our service; please return this call. SEVEN TIMES, and plus e-mails. She ended up having to call Verizon and have three numbers that they were using blocked. She also googled the numbers: two were 855, but one was a New York City area code. Go figure.

She thought of telling Apple she’s been a loyal customer for decades and all she needs to do is figure out how to print from a new laserjet printer. She’s had this MacBook Air since 2011 and it’s definitely out of warranty, but she decided it was worth a shot. Maybe they could help her figure out how to connect to a Hewlett Packard laserjet?

The first thing Kanisha did was ask what operating system self had, and that was sooooo out-of-date Kanisha couldn’t even. Kanisha showed her how to download a new operating system, then learn how to navigate it, and that took over two hours.

Self told Kanisha, “I’m sorry I’m really not tech-savvy. This must be the longest customer service call you’ve ever been on.” And Kanisha was so sweet. She said: “No, ma’am. Not by a long shot.”

And today self is so happy because not only can she print (finally!), she also has a brand new operating system that makes her screen so much sharper and everything’s so much more efficient, and when she asked Kanisha how much it would cost for the downloads, Kanisha said, Nothing. No, what she actually said was: It’s free.

It’s free are possibly the two most beautiful words in the English language. Especially at this time of year.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

#amwriting WIP: “Dear Professor”

Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction, therefore the letter-writer Dave Ronquillo exists only in my imagination (P.S. If there happens to be a person named Dave Ronquillo somewhere in this universe, who stumbles on this post, it is sheer coincidence.)

Dear Professor R,

 I do not know how I did not get the memo that the date on the sourse sylabus and the final prompt sheet was wrong but I showed up for the final on wednesday and there was only five people there. If you give me a date when you would like me to take it I would gladly do that. I have already written my first few paragraphs so I could just as easily type the essay up and send it to you. Whatever you prefer is good with me.

 Thanks,

Dave Ronquillo

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Magic 2: Animé in Fort Bragg

This week, make some magic. — Jen H., The Daily Post

For two weeks in March, self stayed at an apartment in Fort Bragg, a place with wonderful deep orange walls, shelves of books, and a collection of animé figurines.

The collector was a lawyer. Next door was a carpentry shop. The books on the shelves were mostly about carpentry and wood finishes.

Here’s the apartment. The animé figurines were discovered at garage sales.

Staying in the apartment was MAGIC.

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The Godzilla piece was her favorite. Every day she’d wake up and perform the same morning ritual: swinging the javelin. For good luck.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Karen Joy Fowler: WIT’S END

This novel was published seven years ago, but it’s about a 2006 mid-term election.

That shows you how long self hangs on to reviews of books she’s adding to her reading list. She will go to a bookstore, armed with her file of New York Times Book Review clippings, she will first search the shelves and then end up asking for help from a bookstore staff person, and that person will look at self’s clipping, then his/her eyes will wander down to the date at the bottom of the page, and they will say (which has happened on at least three separate occasions), in a very offended tone: “Ma’am, this review is dated 2010.” Subtext: Are you freaking nuts?

The last novel she inquired about was Sara Gruen’s Ape House.

What can she say? She’s been living la vida loca for a very, very long time. So long that hyperactivity seems to be the norm.

In an incredible stroke of luck, self is reading Fowler’s Wit’s End the week after the elections. It would seem that, in 2009, there was the same kind of zeitgeist roiling around northern California. Because while reading Wit’s End, it could be 2016. She doesn’t even have to change a single word in a few passages, it reads like 2016:

  • Well, Ohio hadn’t delivered the complete Democratic rout that had been predicted.

A few pages later:

  • “How about that election,” the sushi chef said.

It’s been really hot in San Francisco (Ha, ha, ha — she’ll never complain about San Francisco coolness again! It’s sweltering hot. Like Global Warming with a capital G. W.) Self went to the Ferry Building to cool off. And overheard a woman say: “I’m still traumatized over those election results.”

And then, a few steps further, a vendor was calling out “Sea Salt! Sea Salt!” He beckoned to a young couple passing by and said: “Young lovers, this might be your last shot at happiness! Have a taste!”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Chaos 2: Victoria & Albert; AWP Book Fair, Los Angeles; Manhattan, Night

Embrace the creative potential of disorderly randomness.

— Ben Huberman, The Daily Post

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A Chihuly: Lobby of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London

Below: the controlled chaos of the Annual AWP Book Fair. This year’s was in Los Angeles. Seated: Keith Tuma of Miami University Press.

There have been AWP conferences where self is so buzzed by being surrounded by so many authors and literary panels that she has gone as long as 48 hours with absolutely no sleep.

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AWP Book Fair, Los Angeles, April 2016

Finally: self did a lot of lonely walking in Manhattan last December. The city never ceases to amaze. New York is a grrrreat city for insomniacs!

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New York City: Night, Midtown, December 2015

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

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