"Are you willing ... to own, that probably the only good reason for your existence is not what you are going to get out of life, but what you are going to give to life; to close your book of complaints against the management of the universe and look around you for a place where you can sow a few seeds of happiness ... to make a grave for your ugly thoughts and a garden for your kindly feelings ...? Then you can keep Christmas.” (Henry van Dyke)
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
Monday, December 24, 2007
N.Y. Times notable op-ed pieces of 2007 (See esp. the one by Dick Cavett.)
Top 10 visual illusions of the year
Best book cover designs of 2007
A.O. Scott (N.Y. Times) on the year's best movies
John Pareles (N.Y. Times) on the year's best pop CDs
NPR Critics on the year's best books
Roger Ebert on the year's best movies
Fimoculous: all the "best of 2007" lists, hundreds of them
The best books I've read this year
Ron Carlson, Five Skies
Annie Dillard, The Maytrees
B.H. Fairchild, Early Occult Memory Systems of the Lower Midwest
Thomas Friedman, The World is Flat
Robert Haas, Time and Materials
Ian McEwan, On Chesil Beach
Michael Ondaatje, Divisadero
Michael Pollan, The Omnivore's Dilemma
Richard Russo, Bridge of Sighs
John Williams, Stoner
The best movies I've seen this year
Charlie Wilson's War
The Children of Men
The Last King of Scotland
Letters from Iwo Jima
The Three Burials of Melchiades Estrada
The Valley of Elah
Thursday, December 20, 2007
The older I get,
the slower words come.
I spend my time
for the good ones,
to bring them back
unharmed, still left
with a little struggle
and a strong heartbeat.
O, no iron, o Rio, no
red rum murder;
in moon: no omni
derision; no I sired
but no repaid diaper on tub.
O grab me, ala embargo
Re-Wop me, empower
sinus and DNA sun is
fine, drags as garden if
sad as samara, ruff of fur, a ram; as sad as
Warsaw was raw.
Monday, December 17, 2007
... a photograph has to be specific. I remember a long time ago when I first began to photography I thought, There are an awful lot of people in the world and it's going to be terribly hard to photograph all of them, so if I photograph some kind of generalized human bein, everybody'll recognize it. It'll be like what they used to call the common man or something. It was my teacher, Lisette Model, who finally made it clear to me that the more specific you are, the more general it'll be. You really have to face that thing. And there are certain evasions, certain nicenesses that I think you have to get out of.
This point about specificity reminds me of an anecdote from Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, an account of how a student in his class struggled to write an essay about her hometown until he convinced her that describing a building is easier than describing a town and that describing an individual brick is easier than describing a building. I try to remember that when I teach writing. The power of the close-up.
In 2005 the Arbus archives were on display at the Met. We happened to visit the museum the first day the exhibit opened, and I was delighted to discover it. But then we found that on that day admission to the exhibit was limited to those with special tickets. I had to see it though, so I snuck in through the exit and was able to see it all.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Edith Piaf------------------- Marion Cotillard as Piaf
I've recently watched two films from Netflix: La Vie en Rose and The Namesake. La Vie, direced by Olivier Dahan, is a biopic about Edith Piaf, documenting her tempestuous life--raised as a child in a house of prostitution, discovered as a singer in the bars of Paris, gripped at the peak of her powers by drug addiction, finally rediscovered after rehabilitation but doomed to die young in her mid-forties. Marion Cotillard's Piaf is full of life, humor, and nerve, though deeply anguished in her darker moments--no doubt a true recasting of Piaf's actual character. But in the end I remain more moved by Piaf's songs than the plot of the movie itself. It just seemed to slip too readily into cliche--the talented, charming, sometimes self-centered wastrel ultimately done in by her excesses.
The Namesake, directed by Mira Nair, on the other hand, I find moving and effective. It seems pretty true to what I recall of the novel. It's a gutsy film in the sense that it initially focuses on Asoke and Ashima Ganguli, their arranged marriage, their move from India to the U.S., and tensions in this cultural dislocation, but then moves ahead quickly to their years when their son and daughter are teens and then young adults. So the story line shifts from the parents to the son, Gogol, and his attempts to negotiate between his American tastes and his at first tenuous ties to his Indian culture. Kal Penn is endearing and convincing in this role. And his parents are effectively played by Irfan Khan and Tabu. Visually wonderful, accentuating the heat, clutter, and family chaos of Calcutta as opposed to the frigidity of winter in New York.
My original blog with Xanga.com is still available here. There's not much to it other than some poetry experimentation, which I did along with the poetry class I required to keep blogs.
Monday, December 10, 2007
Excerpt: Writers are often asked: "How do you write? With a word processor? an electric typewriter? a quill? longhand?" But the essential question is: "Have you found a space, that empty space, which should surround you when you write? Into that space, which is like a form of listening, of attention, will come the words, the words your characters will speak, ideas - inspiration." If a writer cannot find this space, then poems and stories may be stillborn. When writers talk to each other, what they discuss is always to do with this imaginative space, this other time. "Have you found it? Are you holding it fast?"
Scathing review of Denis Johnson's Tree of Smoke
Sunday, December 09, 2007
Saturday, December 08, 2007
An article from The Weekly Standard announces Google's plan to digitize 32 million books. This is one of a growing number of developments that are taking the printed word increasingly to the computer screen. Amazon.com has recently announced Kindle, a compact handheld computerized reading device with a large storage capacity (over 200 books, newspapers, or blogs). The screen mimics black ink on paper, easy on the eyes. There are currently over 80,000 books available to buy, most of them 9.99. You can also subscribe to newspapers, magazines, and blogs. The cost for Kindle: $399. Another online reading service is WorldCat, short for "World Catalog," which allows you to search thousands of libraries for books, beginning with libraries closest to you. Some books are available digitally. One response to Google's ambitious online text scheme is the Open Content Alliance, a group of libraries that resist having commercial interests take over the online publication of books. The Universal Digital Library at Carnegie Mellon University is up and running with a number of books currently available. When I tried accessing it, I was denied access because of heavy traffic, but interestingly, I was given the option of trying one of 3 sites in India or sites in China or Egypt. I chose one in India and was able to get to Mark Twain's Life on the Mississippi. For a while, I've been aware of Bartleby.com, which makes available a list of free online books. The basic issue faced by Google, as well as its competitors is the obvious one of copyright violation for books still falling within the 28-year limit (extendable by 60 or so additional years). Apparently, they're seeking permission to digitize books where the copyright is still in effect. Interestingly, book publishers are beginning to face some of the same proprietary issues that have stirred up the music industry in recent years.