For a nine-pound Maltese, Rosie had a big life. For her first two years, it was her job to keep my sick mother company and refuse to be paper trained.
"You have to say 'No!' like a bark," I’d tell my mother. "Use a deep, sharp voice."
"No!" barked my mother, but still Rosie urinated on the carpet.
She learned to sit for a treat and to run under the bed on command whenever the visiting nurses came. "Heel" and "stay" where not really relevant.
"She's not happy," my mother would say when she phoned. "Can you bring Daisy over to play?"
Rosie lived for our visits, and she and Daisy would play for ten hours straight, and, although she adored my mother, Rosie would beg to go with us when Daisy and I left.
When my mother died, it was Rosie’s job to take care of me. "I can't," I'd moan at the whole mess of life and death, and, cuddled in my lap, Rosie would lick away my tears.
Notes from a Crusty Seeker
For a nine-pound Maltese, Rosie had a big life. For her first two years, it was her job to keep my sick mother company and refuse to be paper trained.
I've had this Signet paperback (pub. 1964) on my bookshelf for decades. I'd read parts of it many years ago, and, in a minute, I'll get to why I recently decided to read the whole book.
The anthology is in three parts: a novel (Wise Blood), a collection of short stories and a novella ("A Good Man Is Hard to Find"), and another novel (The Violent Bear It Away). Since I couldn't remember what I'd previously read, I went from back to front in the hope of sampling the new material first.
Part 3. I was brought up with no religion and in some ways I think that has sensitized me to fundamentalism in many forms—not only religious, but political (including progressive fundamentalism). Fundamentalism is characterized by somebody's absolute certainty that their belief is the only true one and anybody who does not agree is wrong, misguided, an idiot. In The Violent Bear It Away, O'Connor painfully evokes the feeling of being torn to bits by warring sides, of being a confused and helpless angry child without the wherewithal to deal with this level of extremes. O'Connor was Christian and deals with Christian fundamentalism, but the pain transcends the particular story. Reading through all the Scriptural references was a slog for me, since this is not my natural territory, but ultimately I found myself riveted by the basic human drama: a child torn apart by warring adults, and everybody is nuts. I can relate … Unless I completely missed the point and the great-uncle prophet who creates a murdering boy prophet is supposed to be sane. This was the most difficult (unenjoyable) section of the anthology—not easy reading. Read More
It was February 2013. I’d been freelance book editing since losing my magazine job—on a day christened “Bloody Wednesday” in New York publishing—just before Christmas in 2008. Freelancing is a feast-or-famine deal, and I’d had close to a month of famine when a little voice in my head whispered, “It’s time. Pull Mom’s manuscript out of the closet.”
In 1957, when I was six, my mother, Edna Robinson, had written a short story called “The Trouble with the Truth.” After it was published in the 1959 edition of the New World Writing book series, selected as one of the “most exciting and original” stories of its time by editors who had previously introduced the work of Samuel Beckett and Jack Kerouac, Edna’s intensity became impenetrable. I remember watching her burrowed in her study typing. Why was she so mad, I wondered.
She wasn’t mad. As a writer, I now understand the intensity. She was working her story into a novel of the same title. And when that novel was optioned by Harper & Row—and then dropped simply because it was about a single father with two peculiar children in the 1920s and ’30s, and To Kill a Mockingbird had occupied that territory, I believe something in my mother died. Read More
As an editor, you live in the head of a writer, and I became so involved in the life and sounds of those three decades that I wanted to read other work of the time. For several months, I've been reading the master of the short story, John Cheever—his Pulitzer-prize-winning anthology The Stories of John Cheever. Talk about perfect pitch!
For a while I wondered if the music of those decades, 1930s–1950s, had an influence on what people accepted as normal. Both Edna Robinson and Cheever accepted as inevitable the pain and confusion and heartbreak of human life. Not like today where we seek help, actively try to transform, meditate, or complain on social media. Read More
Renowned existential therapist and one of the most distinguished and popular authors writing about psychotherapy, Irvin D. Yalom took the title of his new book, Creatures of a Day: And Other Tales of Psychotherapy (Basic Books, February 24, 2015) from Meditations, the private scribblings of second-century Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius on how best to live:
All of us are creatures of a day; the rememberer and the remembered alike. All is ephemeral—both memory and the object of memory. The time is at hand when you will have forgotten everything; and the time is at hand when all will have forgotten you. Always reflect that soon you will be no one, and nowhere.
Recently I was stunned to hear public radio's Radiolab show The Bitter End about the dramatic difference in doctors' and lay peoples' wishes for medical interventions in order to be kept alive no matter how badly injured they are. After my mother died on a respirator—having neglected to (or chosen not to) transfer her living will from one doctor to another—I did my own living will. However, until hearing the Radiolab piece, I was not fully aware of the torture (something akin to waterboarding and being raped) of being put on a respirator, and now I feel even more strongly about my living will. I have no death wish, but, since death is inevitable, I'm curious: I want to know from people who are dying whatever they want to share: how they feel, what they want—any wisdom they might offer. Yalom's book is a font of that wisdom. Read More
“I’m sorry, but I don’t feel strongly enough about your mother’s book to do a blurb for it,” writes my author friend.
You’d think I’d feel disappointed. I’d given my friend two new books: a copy of my just-released novel (The Last Will & Testament of Zelda McFigg) at my book launch party and an advance reading copy of my mother, Edna Robinson’s, novel (The Trouble with the Truth), written in 1957, edited and doctored by me in 2013, and due out in February 2015 as the debut novel from Infinite Words, a new imprint of Simon & Schuster founded by best-selling author/publisher Zane! My mother is dead and I own the rights to her novel, so it’s my book. I’d suggested that my author friend might actually prefer my mother’s book to Zelda McFigg because the writing style is more similar to hers, but I was wrong; she raved about Zelda McFigg and offered an unsolicited blurb, but she turned down The Trouble with the Truth.
My first uncensored reaction to this rejection: I win! My friend likes my book better than Mom’s. Yippee! Read More
I am sitting in the Good Stuff Diner on West 14th Street across from Nicky Vreeland, a maroon-robed Buddhist monk with deep smile lines. A gifted photographer with an exquisite W Magazine-sponsored exhibit at ABC Carpet & Home to benefit the Tibet Center, Vreeland has mentioned that he finds harmony in his pictures. “Did that train you for life as a monk?” I ask.
“I think that recognizing that [finding harmony is] what I’m doing is something that has happened recently,” he says thoughtfully. “I used to feel that there was some essential quality that I was searching for in composing my photographs, and I’ve come to realize that it’s not a question of there being something there that I have to find. It’s a question of a relationship between the subject, the object, the elements within the frame of the subject, and that I, as the photographer, in my placement and my feeling about the situation, am an integral part of the creation of this harmonious whole. Where you place that lens—the height, the angle, the settings—is an integral part of what you capture. Where I place myself determines my shot. All of these things change everything!” Read More
I interviewed the magnificent artist/animator Signe Baumane for RewireMe.com. Here’s the beginning of the article:
Is it possible to have a tolerable relationship with chronic depression? How does a Latvian artist and animator, working in New York with no funding, realize a unique, noncommercial stop-motion, hand-drawn “funny movie about madness and depression” (in both English and Latvian) and have that movie receive enough worldwide enthusiasm to end up as Latvia’s entry in the best foreign-language category for the Oscars? And how does this artist/animator, who was once diagnosed with schizophrenia—modified to bipolar disorder after her parents paid Latvian psychiatrists a bribe—function and create at such a high level without medication? Read More
I was holed up in my living room watching whatever came on the TV when I saw the man in the space suit attack a woman half his size. She slaughtered him…and a neutron bomb exploded in my brooding, overactive brain.
My conscious reason for wanting to take the self-defense course I’d seen on TV was to exorcise anger. I was angry at everything, and angry at myself for being so angry. Maybe being in a place where it was not only appropriate but essential to express this rage—to make the sounds I was so afraid of making—would finally exorcise the demon inside me. Little did I know what lay ahead. Read More
“My children will know me through my music.” These are the dying words scribbled on a piece of paper by one of the most successful, yet unknown, songwriters of our time, Bert Berns, in the wonderful new musical Piece of My Heart: The Bert Berns Story. Over the course of seven years in the 1960s, Berns wrote fifty-one songs, including “Twist and Shout,” “I Want Candy,” “Hang on Sloopy,” and the title song, “Piece of My Heart.” But when he died at age thirty-eight, he died with a craving—to be known, not only by his children but by the public.
According to the play, he never achieved his deserved notoriety because a wronged partner somehow managed to blackball him. But through Piece of My Heart, Berns's children, Brett and Cassandra Berns, producers of this rousing, beautifully performed production, are rectifying that error in rock 'n' roll history. In fact, both offspring have dedicated their lives to this cause. From Brett's Playbill bio:
Brett has devoted himself to championing his late father. In tandem with his sister Cassandra [performer, songwriter, and music executive], he has led efforts to document his father's canon and remarkable life story. Through these revelations, he has succeeded in establishing the enormity of his dad's legacy. Brett is also producing and directing a documentary film about Bert Berns.
Lucky Us is the story of a patchworked family: two sisters (by different mothers), their “blithe, inscrutable, crooked father,” and their various acquaintances who become new patchworked families — all manipulating and scheming their way through the 1940s US of A.
This is voluptuous American writing. Like the family, the story is patchworked — the pieces, not necessarily linear, but when put together, they tell a more perfect story than tales that are forced into a tight chronological narrative. Events are revealed through a simultaneous tide-in and undertow-out flow of action and letters from the future; the writing voice changes from third person to various different first persons and yet it is never confusing. Why? Because Amy Bloom writes at the pleasure of a muse that is uniquely her own — a truly authentic and organic voice and structure. Bloom’s voice and structure are so naturally honest that they seem easy. But I’ve read writers who I’ve suspected have tried to copy her, and, in their copycat hands, you realize this level of honesty is anything but easy. Amy Bloom copies no one. She writes at the pleasure of her Original Voice. And so few writers find, let alone express themselves in or from their original voices that it seems rare. Maybe that’s just the way it is. An Original Voice is treasure. This book is treasure. Read More
This book is magnificent. Susan Jane Gilman is a master story weaver with perfect pitch—for dialogue, narrative, curlicued paradoxical human responses, and everything that contributes to a literary symphony.
The time structure of this book is inspired—weaving from both the past, forward and the future, back to finally sync up in a central present.
The story of the evolution of Russian Jewish immigrant child Malka Treynovsky into a Jewish Italian American Marie Antoinette/Leona Helmsley/Martha Stewart/Joan Rivers ice cream diva named Lillian Dunkle is both an only-in-the-USA story and a transcendently human tour-de-force of hurt, humiliation, Read More
No matter how crummy or contentious or annoying parents are, most people will still wish them a happy Mother’s or Father’s Day, and many of these children feel dishonest. And the ones who don’t want to lie keep quiet. After all, it is our overwhelming cultural belief that it is normal and healthy to make a family or long for one, and if you don’t, at least join a corporation or street gang. And since our parents did that, we should either lie or keep silent about their suckiness.
Since I have never fallen into the idealizing or family-making/longing or silent categories, I protest. And this year, after reading the four hundredth Facebook post lauding a great or badly missed dead parent on the appropriate national holiday, I had an epiphany: For a more authentic expression of our entire culture, we need a Sucky Parents Day—a day for all the people with abysmal mothers and/or fathers to say “Thank you, Pop. Thanks, Ma. Even though you clearly had no business or talent for raising kids, I’m grateful that you had me because otherwise I wouldn’t be here, which let me tell you, has not been easy, since I grew up feral due to a parenting style referred to as ‘natural growth’ by Malcolm Gladwell in his ground-breaking book about why, despite my near-genius IQ, I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing most of the time.” And If you are a Sucky Parent, you will now have an appropriate holiday to tell your kids how sorry you are that you didn’t know what you were doing, and it’s a crying shame you were drunk so much of the time, but hey, what do they want, you had Sucky Parents too. (I use initial S P caps to subliminally convey the importance of this unserved population.) Read More
Recently a friend posted a Facebook link to an article about the dangers of meditation. In response, I commented that the problem is not with meditation; it's with doing deep meditation and other practices with a lousy teacher or no teacher. I wrote an article a number of years ago that addresses the issue of whether there is such a thing as a safe place in the world of self-help/spiritual workshops ... or for that matter, anywhere. I hope it helps: This Is a Safe Place
I turned 63 this year. How can this be? In my mind, I’m perpetually 30. When I was 30, my innocent look and ageless skin meant I’d still get carded. I was living like a free spirit—taking weird jobs…standing buck naked in the middle of a room full of clothed people. Really.
My joke to myself was that every morning I got up, had breakfast, then got undressed to go to work. I was a young actor and, burned out from a part-time job that had turned into a mountain of hours with humongous responsibility, I decided I wanted to do as little work as possible in my next job. Although I was deeply modest—I didn’t even walk around naked in my apartment—modeling for the Art Students League fit my job specs.
As an actor, I was used to taking risks. Yes, I had stage fright, but I also had a secret “screw-it” switch in my brain.” I’d flip that screw-it switch as I stepped on stage in a play and spoke my first lines, or when I walked into an audition filled with frowning, scary people, or in “trust exercises” when I fell backward from the top of bleachers into the arms of my theater student classmates. What’s the worst thing that could happen? I’d ask myself. Die? Okay, screw it and plunge! It was exhilarating—like a near-death experience but without the risk.
[See the rest at: Rewireme.com]