The Writer's Life: Film & Book Reviews, Observations, and Stories
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Posts from — January 2010

Bach’s Motets

Heaven is listening to J. S. Bach’s motets on a cold, sunny winter day. Why are they so emotionally moving?

Did you know that the Bach’s copy of his two volume Bible commentary by Lutheran theologian Abraham Calov was discovered in the 50s in a barn in Minnesota? In it he marked the texts for his cantatas. Of course, now it’s impossible to see them, because they’re kept in innermost archives of Concordia Seminary in St. Louis.

Luckily, this isn’t a problem with Bach’s music, which is accessible even to the most tone deaf of humanity. Who can listen to Bach and not think of God?

January 30, 2010   Comments Off on Bach’s Motets



Cabinet, a Brooklyn-based periodical which bills itself as a quarterly of art and culture, is filled with wonderful photographs and illustrations and strange, off-the-wall articles. Kind of like Wired for the arts. It’s very much like something Jorge Luis Borges might have edited. For me, it helps pass the time pleasantly while I take a dump and has the distinction of being the mustiest smelling publication in existence because of its use of soy inks. I suppose if I really tried I might learn something from it, but these days my attention span has shrunk to mere phrases. I’m hoping one day to morph into a mensch, though I wish god would hurry up with it. Time is running short.

January 30, 2010   Comments Off on Cabinet


The cat slinks away,
Her anger is not assuaged,
The sky turns stone gray.

January 29, 2010   Comments Off on 249

Alice Neel

Alice Neel had a tough time of it throughout most of her life, though it was far worse for her daughter and two sons, which is painfully evident when you watch the documentary Alice Neel, directed by her grandson, Andrew Neel. She was a kind of female van Gogh, painting in obscurity and poverty until the woman’s movement discovered her, making her one of its icons, a distinction she exemplified but never embraced. Neel is best known for her raw, in-your-face, revealing portraits of models, lovers, and acquaintances, like this famous one of Andy Warhol. The portraits are more real than the people themselves, which you can readily see when the subjects stand next to their portraits.

As a female American artist, Alice Neel was a pioneer, living fully for her art regardless of circumstances. Near the end of her life, she finally found the recognition and fame she desired and basked in it like a sea lion in the sun. It made me wonder if it would have been worth it to her if had she died in poverty. Going against the grain is never easy, especially when no one recognizes your efforts. Luckily for her, she was “found,” and deservedly so.

January 29, 2010   Comments Off on Alice Neel

The Process of Seeing

There is a kind of perception that takes place as our brains decide what it is we are actually seeing. You can actually watch this process of settling upon the right image if you look for it. It is especially pronounced if the brain can’t immediately decide what it’s viewing. For example, if you see something in the distance you can’t quite make out. The gestalt changes from image to image until the brain is satisfied that it is the correct one. Try to catch it sometime. Today, for example, I saw a man with three arms driving toward me. Perhaps it was that he had a cellphone stuck in his ear. Perhaps I had been thinking about a hydra. Who knows? In any case, we see what we have been taught to see. That is, the process of seeing is learned from the time we are infants. This is basically why all of us see the same things, and why anyone who doesn’t is considered crazy. Artists have long played on the edge of perceptions that are not readily available to the rest of us. Impressionism is a good example. These artists realized that light affected color and form in unimaginable ways (at that point in the history of art), and painted impressionistic scenes so the rest of us could also see them. Of course, now most of us do, if we allow ourselves to. This really is the essential point—allowing ourselves to. We are much more resilient and stable than we imagine. We can all handle more uncertainty than we imagine. Just because we see or think something out of the ordinary does not mean we’re insane. It’s a normal part of perception.

January 28, 2010   Comments Off on The Process of Seeing

The Men Who Stare at Goats

Amusing film about the American military’s attempts to use psychic powers on the battlefield. Thirty years from now even average Americans will look back on this era of our history and view the military as a bunch of schlock Nazis in a bad sitcom or Broadway play. Sort of like “Springtime for Hitler” only worse because it was real. What they (average Americans) don’t realize (or, if they do, don’t care about) is the fact that the rest of the world views us in this fashion right now. But since Fox News is rated as the most reliable source of news in the States, it’s going to take thirty years, a depression, turning us into a banana republic, corporate control of everything, and an almost complete breakdown of our government for most of us to figure it out.

Don’t get me wrong. Terrorism is a real threat and must be contained. But the solution is not to patrol the entire known world or to turn our country into a totalitarian state to do so. These solutions seem the most obvious only because the military and CIA already have such a major influence over our government. Military men adopt militarist solutions.

January 28, 2010   Comments Off on The Men Who Stare at Goats

Winged Avenger (Not!)

After a season of listless play in which they drove their supporters mad with frustration, Manchester United finally came to life last night. It took Carlos Tevez’s taunts to do it. It was most amusing saying that Gary Neville crawls to Fergie and licks his boots. Probably unwise in retrospect. Not even Steven Ireland (of grandmother fame) with his tatooed wings could save City. But what an exciting display of football in the second half. The best ever. Maybe the slumbering giant has finally awoken.

By the way, Tevez and Neville were seen shaking hands at the end of the match. It just goes to show that all’s fair in love and football, but in football (unlike love) good sense finally prevails.

January 28, 2010   Comments Off on Winged Avenger (Not!)

Free Microwave To a Good Home

Our old microwave had been taking orders from Northwest planes flying overhead for years, beeping like ET to its masters in the sky. Over time it gradually became less responsive to human interaction, and now refuses to follow directions of any kind. When I stuck my cup of coffee inside this morning to warm it up, the keypad registered nothing. I tried unplugging it to reset it. Poor ET is now totally incommunicado. Not even planes can get a beep out of him. Anyone need a slightly used microwave?

January 28, 2010   Comments Off on Free Microwave To a Good Home


Blossoms so heavy
On the long, extended shoot
They fall to the ground.

January 27, 2010   Comments Off on 248

Hugo och Rosa

Very touching documentary about a brother and sister living out their final years on the family farm in Sweden. Religious and unrelentingly cheerful, Hugo lived to 101 and Rosa, just as joyful and godly, almost as long. Of course, the film reminded me of the community of Scandinavian immigrants where I grew up in Minnesota, my old relatives, the small Lutheran church in my village, and the family farms I visited as a boy with their wizened old farmers who still spoke with brogues. The point of Hugo and Rosa is that these two lived full and complete lives because their existences had meaning and purpose, something that can hardly be said for the rest of us.

I beg to disagree.

Most of the farmers I knew were nasty bastards who beat their cattle and hated their lives of endless drudgery. I never saw one example of anyone who lived with joy and peaceful satisfaction. But then, I never met anyone who had not been scarred by the Depression, who did not have a television set in a prominent place in the living room, and who did not constantly want more and more of everything.

My opinion is that Hugo and Rosa were exceptional individuals with kind and loving temperaments who truly liked and respected one another (probably because they were brother and sister and not husband and wife), who enjoyed hard work, were naturally religious, and had strong and loving parents. It is a mistake to romanticize their lives or the period in which they lived, no matter how strong the temptation to do so.

January 27, 2010   Comments Off on Hugo och Rosa