Wednesday, December 28, 2005
Much more relaxing was a lovely lunch at Mary and Tony's for me and Mom and Joel, with Ryan and Ann there, their green table cloth and beautiful Christmas dishes and everything Christmas and delicious.
Monday, December 26, 2005
Saturday, December 24, 2005
Christmas Eve Day, and I'm cooking and running around getting ready for Christmas! I wrote this for my Books For Readers friends:
Please accept my best wishes for the coming year, and my hopes that you are all enjoying a holiday of family, friends, good food, fires, candles, and whatever is reassuring and hopeful to you in this dark season. My mother and son Joel are here with me and Andy today, and two of Joel’s friends are arriving later (one is his girlfriend!). Tomorrow come three friends from Japan. We will have Christmas with Buddhists, Jews, one serious Christian and a couple of secular humanists, followed by the first night of Hanukkah. This newsletter is all the writing I’ll get to do today, and I don’t expect anyone to read it till after the holidays. When you do get a chance, please get back to me with your suggestions and thoughts.
Meanwhile, Happy, Happy, Holidays!
Newsletter # 78
December 24 , 2005
HOLIDAY ISSUE– FINAL OF 2005
Please accept my best wishes for the coming year, and my hopes that you are all enjoying a holiday of family, friends, good food, fires, candles, and whatever is reassuring and hopeful to you in this dark season. My mother and son Joel are here with me and Andy today, and two of Joel’s friends are arriving later (one is his girlfriend!). Tomorrow come three friends from Japan. We will have Christmas with Buddhists, Jews, one serious Christian and a couple of secular humanists, followed by the first night of Hanukkah.
This newsletter is all the writing I’ll get to do today, and I don’t expect anyone to read it till after the holidays. When you do get a chance, please get back to me with your suggestions and thoughts.
Meanwhile, Happy, Happy, Holidays!
-- Meredith Sue Willis
NOTES ON RECENT READING
I read a contemporary book, THE HILLS AT HOME by Nancy Clark. This is an interesting attempt to create a novel of manners, and it has lots of characters and some really amusing scenes , but it is light to the point of floating away–except for its inordinate size. Some commentary called it a satire, but it is gentle satire, which, of course, means satire with no bite. In the end, how do you satirize a society like ours that is at once self-referential and self-parodying? Jon Stewart on THE DAILY SHOW often does it by simply showing clips of real television news that demonstrate official and media stupidity and lying. THE HILLS AT HOME is just making fun of a family. Much of the time Clark seems to be doing what children do when they have small world play: she created this family and now she makes up stories about them. Some of the stories are terrific fun, but some are tedious and self-indulgent. A couple of the characters, the former school teacher family matriarch Aunt Lily and the middle-aged self-deceiving Ginger in particular, were wonderfully quirky, and also viewed affectionately by the author. There’s also some interesting plot material, especially towards the end, bringing in rapacious land developers and the CIA, but over all there were just too many characters and too many pages.
Which brings me to my recent re-read of Thomas Hardy’s TESS OF THE D’URBERVILLES. As I have said repeatedly in this Newsletter, I greatly enjoy a Victorian novel as the days get shorter. TESS is a wonderful, sad, gripping story. I had trouble getting started because I remembered from my first read thirty years ago that it was going to be tragic– Hardy is one of the world’s experts on creating a terrible sense of foreboding. And you can guess right away where it’s going, even if you weren’t an English major in college at a time when TESS was a major stopover on the Great Tradition. But this time, TESS seemed to me less depressing than– just to stick with Hardy– JUDE THE OBSCURE. In the end, Hardy manages both his tragedy and a brief period of happiness for Tess before she is crushed by the hand of Fate and the Law.
TESS is in many ways a novel about belief systems that are too rigid: Tess’s husband thinks he is a liberal thinker, but his philosophy is even more destructive than his father’s strict religious beliefs. Tess too chooses a bad religion – total faith in one individual man. Not that conventional religion would have saved her from the forces of society and the Victorian emphasis on technical purity for women. Hardy’s landscape description is stunning, and the details of farm life beautifully highlighted. Hardy’s laborers, unlike those in books written by Victorians with roots in the upper classes, have rich lives. There are interesting details such as how laborers have one day a year when they switch jobs, whole families on the move, and an almost festive atmosphere as they move from farm to farm. A number of Tess’s working class friends live vagabond lives, and the varieties of working class experience are refreshingly displayed as background. Tess’s tragedy unfolds from her father’s discovery of probable aristocratic roots. It’s a lovely, sad story. Yay, Thomas Hardy!
I also finished THE COLLECTED STORIES OF JEAN STAFFORD, which has some real knock-out wonderful pieces. I finally know why people speak of her as a writer’s writer, incredibly skillful. I liked the stories set in Colorado best– the ones about Manhattan and the northeast are in their own way as grim as Hardy with huge amounts of drinking and depression. But all beautifully written, and the Colorado stories were superb.
READING FOR WRITERS
What do those of you who write read to help you write? Greg Sanders says “It's hard as hell to find the time to sit down, get in that 20 minutes we need to get the thoughts rolling, then actually attempt to write. I've been reading in the interstices--the COLLECTED STORIES OF VLADIMIR NABOKOV (humbling, so very humbling), Stephen Dixon (to inject me with frenetic dialog juice and darkly sardonic whit, and fearlessness), and I've started a collection of Gogol short stories, THE OVERCOAT. Wonderfully weird stuff--and esp. ahead of its time when you consider how long ago he lived (1809-1852).”
SOME ARTICLES ON READING
Don’t miss a piece by Phyllis Moore on how her parents encouraged her to read: http://www.rednecromancer.typepad.com/mouth_of_the_holler/
Also, this newspaper column by Georgia Green Stamper tells about her first visit to a library plus the books that have meant the most to her in her life: http://www.owentonnewsherald.com/20051116/community/georgia.asp
And if you enjoy that essay, take a look at Stamper’s about the day Kennedy died: http://www.owentonnewsherald.com/20051123/community/georgia.asp
SPECIALLY FOR WRITERS:
Brighid's Fire Books specializes in First Fiction: http://www.brighidsfirebooks.com/
For writer- run workshops in NYC – see their web page at http://www.newyorkwritersworkshop.com/ or call 212-479-7383.
Ellen Bass gives poetry workshops in all kinds of interesting places. Coming up soon is her February 11-12, 2006 Poetry Workshop at UCSC Extension in Santa Cruz, California. Go to
Services for self-publishing and other things at Novel 2 Go Publishing: http://www.novel2gopublishing.com/
Ellen Bass reports that her mentor Dorianne Laux has just published her fourth, “amazing”
collection of poetry, Facts About the Moon. Read more at http://www.curledup.com/factsmoo.htm.
Greg Sanders has a story called "Choco," about a retired circus bear in Moscow, coming out in Pindeldyboz #6 (www.pindeldyboz.com/issue6.htm) plus a story called "Port Authority, Part I," coming out in the next issue of Lit (Winter or Spring '06).
INTERVIEW WITH NANCY CLARK
There’s an interview with Nancy Clark, author of THE HILLS AT HOME at
BEAUTIFUL BOOKS– SWAMP PRESS
This company makes books by hand with a letter press– so beautiful they count as art objects. They don’t seem to have an online presence, but you can call them at 413-498-4343 or write Ed Rayher 15 Warwick Avenue, Northfield, MA 01360
DON’T FORGET THESE GREAT WEB SITES
Jane Hicks is at http://cosmicpossum.com/
George Ella Lyon’s new website is just up. It is for everyone, but has special appeal for kids, as she writes many books for children: http://www.georgeellalyon.com/ .
NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS BRINGS BACK CLASSICS!
The NYRB Classics series (http://www.nybooks.com/nyrb/) reintroduces some of the many remarkable books that have fallen out of print or out of sight in recent years. The series, now entering its fifth year, currently includes more than 100 titles, from Richard Hughes's dazzling tale of childhood, A HIGH WIND IN JAMAICA, to Edward Gorey's illustrated selection of ghost stories, THE HAUNTED LOOKING GLASS; from the complete works of J.F. Powers, brilliant comic chronicler of the ways and woes of Midwestern priests, to such blazing singularities of the literary universe as J.R. Ackerley's MY DOG TULIP and Robert Burton's THE ANATOMY OF MELANCHOLY. It features an exceptional roster of international authors, too, including Alberto Moravia, Robert Walser, Colette, and Álvaro Mutis.
MORE THOUGHTS ON READING FROM PHYLLIS MOORE AND CAT PLESKA:
From Phyllis Moore: “I once read that sailors in submarines were observed craving cottage cheese. Later, research shows it contains nitrogen, a substance needed in the closed environment they were in. Books are the same, it is my belief readers of all ages find what it is they need to read and should be allowed to read it.”
Cat Pleska adds, “My mother never believed in age appropriate stuff. It was the times, I'm sure. Mothers didn't hang over us so closely. But she was not one to censor in any case. I owe much of my free-thinking to her. Bless her.”
Still giving information about the small and tiny presses– look for the new editions of the ever-useful Dustbooks publications at http://www.dustbooks.com .
Thursday, December 22, 2005
Here's a poem I like a lot by Halvard Johnson, one of the Hamilton Stone Co-opers:
-- Halvard Johnson
Old Virginia Trees
Here's one called "Only Our Chagrin Remains"
standing alone in the middle of a cow pasture, forsaken
by its leaves, left starkly branched against a partly clouded sky.
Another called "Liberation of the Mind" hunches
over the road to the highway, dropping its late fruit
on passersby. A nearby copse cries out, "Come!
Join us! We, united, shall prevail!"
Our refusal does not stop there. It is insatiable
and knows no bounds. Our leader, thinking beyond
the limitations of space and time, says, "At the hour
in which I write, new tremors fill the air above the field.
We must be brave enough to face them." His collected works
wave from his branches like tiny hands. His name,
we think, is "Poverty is Not a Crime."
"The hand that writes," he says, "is worth the hand
that ploughs." And we all say, "Amen." Our revolutionary
will is strong in us. We wish the transformation
of the world to be as radical as it can be. On this mental
slope, the mirrors of inconstancy do not disturb us.
What, indeed, could they expect of us? Everything leads us
to our belief that "The Last Days of March" will be our savior.
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
Another all day Coalition Day yesterday, interviewing for the Executive Director position, the Village Trattoria in Maplewood last night, a lovely solstice event today at Ethical, and Mom went to the Prospect Presbyterian church. Then she and I came home and built a gingerbread house from a Costco kit, and now I'm in desperate need of a nap, but I think I'll walk instead..
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
We've got single digit temperatures this week! My mother visiting, Joel not coming till next week, Andy working till all hours. Last night Adrienne Bolden and I spoke to a mixed group at Wincester Gardens, mixed of League of Women Voters (it was their yearly party) and Wincester Gardens residents. Except for major problems with their PA system ("Speak UP!!!") it went very very well. I so enjoy these public outreaches. Give me an audience and I'll be high as a kite. Adrienne said her cold felt better after speaking!
Friday, December 09, 2005
Wednesday, December 07, 2005
Sunday, December 04, 2005
The first serious snow of the season! Just a couple of inches, but enough to have to shovel (Andy got out his new Big Blower). There will be more tomorrow night, they're saying, my last class at NYU. Also the day the Provost says he's going to lower the boom on the graduate students who are striking to have their union recognized. Bad days for workers uniting, I'd say.
Boe did a nice Colloquy on Acceptance today at Ethical. Buddhist quotations about how we will do harm, so the objective is to do as little as possible. Also a fable about a woman who goes to a fortune teller and is told that she will have ups and downs for six months, and beyond that, the fortune teller says, she can make out nothing. The woman is terribly anxious for the full six months, and then, at the end of the six months, the fortune teller dies. This isn't quite as good as Appointment in Samarra, but it's good.