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

The Dream Is Over

I remember where I was when John Kennedy died, riding with a friend in his car by the high school, and, also, just as vividly, where I was when I first heard John Lennon sing “the dream is over” on a street in Brooklyn. For Lennon it had a very personal meaning. He had moulted, shed his skin, and become a mensch like the rest of us. For me, and those of my generation, it meant the end of the hippie fantasy, imagining we had the power to remake the world into a better place.

These past few days, I’ve heard John’s words running through my head again, remembering all the dreams that have died since those heady days of power. I don’t agree that God is a concept by which we measure our pain—I’m basically a happy person—but I sure as hell believe in the rest of it. No one was ever more forthright and courageous than John Lennon. Who will take his place and be as brave today?

Give his song, “God,” a listen on YouTube. There are many versions to choose from. And remember, be brave, keep the faith, it’s not over until it’s over.

God is a concept
By which we measure
Our pain
I’ll say it again
God is a concept
By which we measure
Our pain

I don’t believe in magic
I don’t believe in I-ching
I don’t believe in Bible
I don’t believe in tarot
I don’t believe in Hitler
I don’t believe in Jesus
I don’t believe in Kennedy
I don’t believe in Buddha
I don’t believe in Mantra
I don’t believe in Gita
I don’t believe in Yoga
I don’t believe in kings
I don’t believe in Elvis
I don’t believe in Zimmerman
I don’t believe in Beatles
I just believe in me
Yoko and me
And that’s reality

The dream is over
What can I say?
The dream is over
Yesterday
I was the Dreamweaver
But now I’m reborn
I was the Walrus
But now I’m John
And so dear friends
You’ll just have to carry on
The dream is over.

December 30, 2010   Comments Off on The Dream Is Over

El-Orens

If only you could learn to love the pauses, gaps,
And empty spaces that grow with age,
Those dead zones where desires die,
And feed at this dry teat
Wander these dry paths
Lick in this parched hollow,
You’d be fine—
But I know you cannot—
For you paint your nails, dye your hair, rouge your lips
Like some grotesque maiden, like Lawrence himself,
Forgetting you are old, a husk, a shell
Broken and riven beyond hope,
Forever hearing them call your name,
“El-Orens, El-Orens, El-Orens!”
Imagine you will never die.

December 26, 2010   Comments Off on El-Orens

Mammonism

This coming year I’ve decided to invent a new religious movement, you know, something on the order of Scientology, Rosicrucianism, or Theosophy—secretative, arcane, and plunged in mystery. The central tenent shall be that wealth is the imprimature of god’s grace—the more the better. I’ll call it Mammonism.

It shall be constructed as a paramid scheme. It goes without saying that being at the apex of the organization, I’ll take a percentage of everything. The idea is to maximize membership. The more people new members enroll, the closer they’ll come to realizing the mystical gifts of Christ—fourteen in all—which will be revealed one-by-one based on how much they have earned. Naturally, these gifts were transmitted directly by Jesus Christ, preserved, and kept secret until his “Manual for the Salvation of the Soul” was discovered in a cave in Palastine less than a year ago. How it came into my possession is, of course, a mystery.

To promulgate this new religion, I’ll set up a website with levels of access based on rank. It will be advertised through tweets, social networking sites, and a specially crafted YouTube video, with under-the-table payments to The Huffington Post and The Daily Beast for posts disguised as a legitimate news stories.

There are still many details to be worked out, but it shouldn’t be too hard to flesh them out. There are more than a few examples in history to choose from.

December 26, 2010   Comments Off on Mammonism

Christmas Homily

No matter how much you fake it or pretend you’re different from your authentic self, it is impossible to control how someone will respond to you. You cannot make another person like you. Most of us are transparent whether we believe it or not. Men are a slower to see what is behind the image, of course, but it has been said that women know within 40 seconds whether the person they’ve just met will establish a relationship with them.

This is a painful lesson for most writers, particularly those whose writing is not overshadowed by their images (you know, writers like Bukowski whose image precedes them). When looking at words on a page or screen, judgment occurs even more quickly that a woman evaluating a man. It’s like tasting something you’ve never had before. Either you like it or you don’t.

It is a lesson I’m still absorbing, but one I love. Putting yourself out there and being perfectly all right with how someone responds to you (positively, negatively, or indifferently) is the writer’s path to god.

December 24, 2010   Comments Off on Christmas Homily

Getting Your Way Without Seeming To

A Minnesotan can never be seen doing anything underhanded or nasty—it offends the Minnesota nice code—but he or she can be assertive in a passive-aggressive way. There was a wonderful example of this on my block this afternoon.

We’ve had record snowfalls and parking has been restricted to only one side of residential streets. My neighbor has had a large Ford truck with Arizona plates belonging to a stranger parked in front of her house for a week. It’s been very annoying since she and her husband have two vehicles. It also means the street is never properly plowed. Of course, she cannot call the city and have it towed, since that would be too direct and too obvious. So, instead, she left her car on the other side of the street just behind the truck in such a way that other cars could get through, but the city plow could not.

She had created a classic Minnesota cul-de-sac.

When the plow got as far as the parked truck this afternoon and could not get through, my neighbor ran from her house in her shawl and buttonholed the driver, asking what could be done about the trunk. Of course, she wanted assurances that it would be towed but couldn’t say this directly. So, instead, she asked about city policies, etc. They chatted for about five minutes. Finally, the driver assured her that the offending truck would be removed.

At this my neighbor shook out her hair and smiled. She had set her trap and won. Only then, as a seeming afterthought, did she offer to move her car. I was impressed. I’ve seen her in action before, of course, but in my estimation this raised passive-aggressive behavior to a new high.

December 22, 2010   Comments Off on Getting Your Way Without Seeming To

310

Exotic orchid
With opulent foliage,
Never once in bloom.

December 22, 2010   Comments Off on 310

309

Afterimages
Of children playing at dusk
When time was endless.

December 21, 2010   Comments Off on 309

Widerstand der Wirklichkeit

Weeks passed when nothing I read satisfied. Everything I picked up failed to engage my attention. Was it ennui? Lack of attention? Resistance to reality? Or is it simply more difficult to find something interesting these days? My standards are not impossibly high. The work must be literary, well written, and engaging. That shouldn’t be difficult, should it? But less and less I find these qualities merged in works of fiction.

But then Stefan Zweig saved me.

It was a small story that did it, his novella Journey into the Past (Widerstand der Wirklichkeit), in which a younger man and older woman who have been desperately in love for nine years are reunited. Recently published in the United States by NYRB, it is a lovely work of art, made all the more interesting by the effete, cultured, and tragic life of the man who wrote it, perhaps the best German writer of his time.

To fill up space, an Introduction was added and an Afterword. Amusingly, the Introduction not only contains spoilers but includes the entire plot of the novella. Interestingly, it doesn’t matter. Zweig is so brilliant that I found myself reading the story with rapt attention even though I knew everything that would happen.

Why Zweig and his second wife committed suicide together in Brazil is a mystery (even though he left suicide note). The leading theory is that he could not stand to live in a world destroyed by the barbarism of Hitler. I understand such logic (there should have been mass suicides after Bush was appointed President by the Supreme Court), but deplore his decision.

What happened to the two lovers? you wonder. Well, hell, you’ll just have to read the novella and find out.

December 21, 2010   Comments Off on Widerstand der Wirklichkeit

Ingmar

Ingmar Bergman was, of course, a force of nature. His power over actors and actresses was legendary. So were his visions. Perhaps that’s what real genius is—dreaming dreams that have the power to mold and influence others in profound ways.

Bergman foreshadowed many of the psychic changes that took place in the 60’s and 70’s, although we did not see the connection, just felt it as a premonition. He was the first to have a vision of being human without sin, guilt, and fear and tried to let us know. This telling reached a crescendo in the film, Persona, in which he demonstrated that our boundaries are leaky, that our personalities are much more fluid than we imagine, and that under the right circumstances even core identities can be passed between persons like playing cards.

This is an uncomfortable truth, and perhaps it is this—dimly felt but greatly feared by conservative personalities—that created the huge backlash against hippies and led directly to the Bush years and the oligarchy we now have for a government. The reason is simple. It wasn’t so much that hippies challenged the boundaries of accepted values in politics and personal relationships, as that the idea of love, real love, strikes at the heart of the fascistic soul, sending out shockwaves of terror that can only be stilled through complete domination.

December 21, 2010   Comments Off on Ingmar

The Good Wife

One of our favorite television series is The Good Wife, in which the poker-faced Julianna Margulies, always made up in stark black and grey tones, plays a long-suffering political wife who is, herself, a lawyer. With her unique perception and logic, she solves impossibly difficult cases with the help of Archana Punjabi, a female investigator with few scruples, all the while fending off one of the principals of her law firm, who is in love with her. It’s all very formulaic, but never fails to deliver intrigue, romance, and a steady look into the mind and character of a strong woman. Highly recommend, but not for anyone having marital difficulties themselves.

December 20, 2010   Comments Off on The Good Wife