Saturday, August 25, 2007


I was reading the August 27 issue of The New Yorker this evening when this poem, which I have reproduced below (probably illegally, but I'll leave it up until someone tells me I have to take it down) jumped off the page and whapped me between the eyes.

"Whoa," I thought, "I could have written this poem," except that I couldn't really have written it because I don't write poetry -- well, sometimes haiku of the preacher's sermons to stay awake in church, but that doesn't really count.

So, I googled the author, Philip Schultz, and discovered he runs a writing school called The Writers Studio, in which he and other teachers teach beginners and established writers how to write better. And, they have an on-line program, although it is a little pricey at $450 for a 10 week program, it is not out of reason.

Now, I'm trying to decide whether that was God whapping me between the eyes, or is it just a coincidence that I had my 61st birthday last week, came back last week from a trip to the north woods in which I did not get any writing done and sat down to read a poem that speaks to me like few poems have ever spoken. Why, indeed? Here is the poem. You tell me what this is all supposed to mean -- if anything.


is this man sitting here weeping
in this swanky restaurant
on his sixty-first birthday, because
his fear grows stronger each year,
because he's still the boy running
all out to first base, believing
getting there means everything,
because of the spiders climbing
the sycamore outside his house
this morning, the elegance of
a civilization free of delusion,
because of the boyish faces
of the five dead soldiers on TV,
the stoic curiosity in their eyes,
their belief in the righteousness
of sacrifice, because innocence
is the darkest place in the universe,
because of the Iraqis on their hands
and knees looking for a bloody button,
a bitten fingernail, evidence of
their stolen significance, because
of the primitive architecture
of his dreams, the brutal egoism
of his ignorance, because he believes
in deliverance, the purity of sorrow,
the sanctity of truth, because of
the original human faces of his wife
and two boys smiling at him across
this glittering table, because of
their passion for commemoration,
their certainty that goodness continues,
because of the spiders clinging to
the elegance of each moment, because
getting there still means everything?

Friday, August 17, 2007

Last Day of Vacation

Tomorrow we head back to reality. But today is still perfect. This was the beach about noon today and the sunset last night. I'm almost done with The Tin Drum. The fiction remains unwritten. Oh, well.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Camping The Way God Intended

After a rather hectic summer, The Wife and I are getting away this week, camping in the piney north woods of Michigan; a couple of miles north of Pentwater, on the shores of Lake Michigan (okay, about half a mile from Lake Michigan, but, still, pretty close.) The weather is perfect; the temperature in the high 70s, creeping towards 80; not a cloud in the sky nor a client on the horizon. We are eating as you can eat only in Michigan. Fresh lake perch, fried in a light batter. Fresh sweet cherries. Fresh peaches. Fresh blue berries. Fresh sweet corn. (Please try to avoid drooling on your keyboard.)

This is camping the way God intended it, sitting on the deck of a three bedroom; 2-1/2 bath house, with Waylon Jennings wailing on the CD player. (Vivaldi has had his turn on the player; we are nothing if not eclectic.) I am told the cell phone should get reception if I lean over the back deck railing, but don't lean too much because the railing is weak and might give way. Perfect.

I have brought along plenty of reading material. I want to finish Gunter Grass's The Tin Drum for our reading group. (It is amazingly funny and readable. I was expecting something more dour and Teutonic.) I have also brought along Richard Powers's first book, Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance. I first read that many years ago, soon after it came out, but I want to re-familiarize myself with it before he visits our reading group on September 30th. Just in case I run out, I have also brought along several Eric Kraft novels recommended to me by a fellow blogger.

Besides reading, I have promised myself that I would spend two hours a day writing, aside from blogging. I have a memoir (french word for "lying") started several years ago in a cabin in the Ozarks, that I need to work on. I have a short story percolating that I need to get down on a computer screen. I promised my friend, Philip Deaver, that I would at least try my hand at fiction. He thinks if I can write the Aunt Tillie reports, I can compose some Amish fiction. We'll see. I never thought I could, but maybe it's just a matter of doing it.

But not all of my time has been spent lounging on the deck with books and a laptop. We've done some walking; even if it was just to the fruit stand about a mile away. I've looked up at the night sky and was amazed at how brilliant the stars look when there is no light pollution. Last night was a new moon, so there was not even any moonlight washing out the stars. And, we got to the beach last night, just after sunset, to see this amazing sight.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Book Report; "Girls of Riyadh"

If you're into Arabic chick lit, Girls of Riyadh is the book for you. If you're like me, and have never read Arabic chick lit, but are ready for some light summer reading, this is still the book for you.

Girls of Riyadh was first published in Lebanon, written in Arabic by Rajaa Al-Sanea,(left) a 24-year-old Saudi woman, studying to be a dentist when she wrote the book, and now, apparently working in a hospital in Saudi Arabia. The book was initially published in Lebanon because it was banned in Saudi Arabia, but has recently been allowed in that country, as well, and has become a best seller in Arab countries. (It is apparently not a best seller yet in this country, but give it time; it will benefit from word of mouth.)

The book is about four young upper class Saudi women and their love lives. Anyone who knows even a little about Saudi Arabia knows that it is a very conservative Islamic society, where women are required to be covered from head to foot, have very little interaction with men who are not family members and whose roles in society are very restricted. What this book does is show what goes on beneath the gowns and behind the closed doors. Surprise, surprise, people are pretty much the same everywhere. Underneath the gowns, the girls of Riyadh are wearing designer clothes, and spend much of their time dreaming, worrying and talking about men. Although nominally, their families may make the final decisions about whom they will marry, the women have ways of getting who and what they want -- but like people in the rest of the world sometimes discover that who and what they thought they wanted didn't turn out so good.

The book follows the lives of four friends, young women in their early 20s. The book opens by describing a wedding of one of the friends, but the young woman who is the envy of her peers soon discovers her new husband has other interests. Two of the other three women eventually get married, only one happily, and one, like the author, pursue a professional career. These women all come from families with money, and I have read some Arab criticism that it shows only the lives of privileged women, but so what, so did Jane Austin. One gets the feeling of authenticity; that Ms. Al-Sanea is depicting a life that she really knows about.

I am sure one reason I liked this book is because, like the Amish, the conservative Arab society is misunderstood by ordinary Americans, judged mainly by its severe rules and the pronouncements of its most extreme practioners. It is refreshing to read a book that does not romanticize its subjects, but shows their common humanity. This is not the book to read if you're only interested in great literature, although, it has as much claim to being great literature as Jane Austin's books. This is the book to read if you like to educate yourself in a light-hearted way about people you know little about.

I gave the book four stars.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Movie Report: Once

The movie, Once is aptly named. Its title describes how many times is too many times to have seen it. I don't know why the professional critics love it so much. It won the audience award at the Sundance Film Festival and it is generally getting high praise, but not from me.

The story is about a guy (unnamed in the movie) who sings on the street when not helping his father in the vacuum cleaner repair shop and meets an attractive girl. They both have other attachments, but fall in love, write songs and sing together and then go back to their respective attachments.

The movie was made in Dublin, Ireland, where it is set, and one of the many problems is that the actors have a thick Irish accent that make them impossible to understand at times. Like so many English movies, if they are going to show it in America, they should provide subtitles.

The second problem is the music is repetitive and irritating. Every song starts out kind of soft and sweet and winds up with the guy banging on the guitar strings and doing the raspy full-steam heart-felt wailing that Neil Diamond perfected a generation ago. One song sounds pretty much like the next when the guy is involved. The girl sings much better, but still it is mostly the guy who does the singing.

The third problem is there is not much of a story. I kept seeing snippets of a story and wishing they would develop this or that snippet a little more, only to be disappointed. The movie starts out with a very interesting robbery where a thief on the street picks up the guy's money from his guitar case and runs and the guy chases him down. When the guy finally catches the thief, the money goes flying all over and the mugger helps the guy retrieve it and they wind up sharing it. Then what happens? Does the mugger wind up being a down-on-his luck musician, too, who helps the guy develop his music? Nope. The thief disappears and the opening sequence is all we ever see of him.

At another point, we discover the girl has a daughter and while the guy is in her apartment getting used to the idea that she has a child, three guys come in plop down on the couch and start watching her television. This could become interesting, but what happens? Nothing. She explains she has the only television in the building and we never see the guys again, without any further explanation.

There are so many missed opportunities and then the movie ends without any real resolution. Does he make it as a singer? We never find out. Do the guy and the girl get back together? We don't know. I don't like movie endings that are too pat, but there needs to at least be enough there that the audience can speculate and argue about the ending. This movie just ends, 80 minutes after it started and not a minute too soon.

I gave it two out of five stars