Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Genre and Literary

Second go-through of a much-beloved genre novel is interestingly disappointing to me. My first reading, I could not slow down, I yearned to get back to it, woke in the morning thinking of it. This time, since I know how so much of the story comes out, the devices are more obvious, and sometimes creaky. Is it just that I know which characters will die? I notice interesting threads that seem to have been dropped.

This may be what it means to be a really tremendous writer of story and narrative: everything in the end is in service of momentum, so there is less available for the second reading. This, then, a tentative definition for literary: that there is still plenty there when you read it a second time.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Asbestos Bye-bye

The asbestos is really gone! We found out shortly after the six days' power outage that we needed a new boiler-- and before the boiler, the asbestos had to go, and before the asbestos-- the basement had to be cleared of rubbish. All of which is one of those famous blessings in disguise. As of today, the rubbish is largely gone-- and now the asbestos too! Three or four guys (trucks say "Renovation") working all day, and I don't know how they do it because I saw nothing, having no intention of going down there-- warning signs on the basement door-- but they cleaned that place up beyond belief: and painted the pipes white-- apparently part of the abatement.

I am again amazed by how someone somewhere can do anything: all those enormous tasks like rolling boulders uphill in my mind-- can be done by trained workers. Hail, Labor! Why don't Americans respect it?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Beaautiful weather

Thanksgiving has come and gone, and we're in a spate of really gorgeous weather-- up into the sixties Fahrenheit, and the sun absolutely glaring with most of the leaves gone. Had the trees been like this three weeks ago, there would have been no six days without power.

We had Thanksgiving at Andy's sister Ellen's in Clinton, Connecticut, also his brother David, wife Ann, and Leah, plus Ellen's boys Greg and Jonathan plus Bethany. Joel and Sara are still at her brother's wedding in Mexico; my mom in Ohio with her nephew's family.

I'm happy to be finishing off some projects-- a promised book review, a holiday letter. Everything low key, sunny, at least for another hour-- sunset will be coming at us very early

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Celebrations and Change

We're coming up fast on Thanksgiving, with various appointments aimed at getting the boiler fixed in the next two days. Meanwhile, Joel and Sarah made it safely to Mexico for her brother's "destination" wedding.
I had my Novel I class at NYU last night, and now I'm on the short vacation for five days.
I’m working on my holiday letter, short this year, having decided I’d rather use the space for some pictures– snowy branches the day before Halloween– the day the electricity went off! I’m still waking in the morning thrilled that we have heat (albeit, heat with the steam escaping through rust-vents in the aged boiler that we’re about to get replaced.
The good news about that particular debacle is that it has forced us to clear the basement and abate the asbestos.
And meanwhile, around the world: occupations, expressions of dissatisfaction and worse for the powers that rule us. Tahir Square again in Cairo, Berkeley and Davis. Change coming will he, nill he.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Week That Is

We have had quite a several days-- all the usual professional work, plus making preparations for a new boiler-- that is, before the boiler, getting rid of the asbestos on the pipes and before that, cleaning out the basement-- and then the world intrudes: our daughter-in-law was on the premises of her graduate school when a gun-wielding crazy appeared.

Everyone fine, except the gunman, who was shot, not killed. And then we heard that a young friend had just joined Occupy Wall Street in time to get arrested in the wee hours Tuesday.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Barbara Kingsolver Festival

Emory & Henry College, left to right: Linda Wagner-Martin; MSW;
Barbara Kingsolver; Steve Fisher; Sandy Ballard
September 29 - 30, 2011 was the festival celebrating Barbara Kingsolver at the Emory & Henry College's 30th Literary Festival. I was honored to be invited to give a paper on Kingsolver's The Lacuna as a political novel.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Two First World War Poems For Veterans' Day,

In Flanders Fields
By John McCrae

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders Fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Dulce Et Decorum Est
Wilfred Owen

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of disappointed shells that dropped behind.

GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!- An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime.
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, -
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Joel's Marathon!

November 7, 2011

The heat has been on for a couple of days, and Joel and Sarah are on their way home to Berkeley. He ran the New York Marathon yesterday, and I have pictures!

There's Joel on Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn having a great time with all the smiling runners. Mile seven, he felt great, and was about to dodge off course to kiss Sarah!

This is after the race, and he feels terrible, and I'm hugging him.

Later than same evening, he feels pretty darn good, all things considered. Sarah on his right, holding the Finisher's medal.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Marathon Day!

We're off to try and spot my son among the 47,000 running in the New York Marathon! We've got elaborate plans for where to watch, sent electronic messages to be flashed as he runs by-- Andy drove him to Giants Stadium at 5:30 a.m. to pick up a bus to Ft. Wadsworth in Staten Island (foot of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. Big Day!

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Back in the 21st Century-- Electricity!

After 5 and 3/4 days-- we once again have electricity. A week ago today, the October snowstorm hit and trees and tree branches came down everywhere, including on the line that feeds houses on our street. No heat, huddling in the kitchen with gas flames and candles, listening to a crank radio, going to Andy's office or the library for Internet. Amazing.

But-- notice along with candles and unseen gas burners warming us up, I'm reading my Kindle, so we stayed in touch with our century at least a little bit.