Essays and Memoirs
Oh Me of Little Faith Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

Caravaggio - The Incredulity of Saint Thomas(Lehigh Valley Vanguard October 3, 2015)

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Not long ago, my artist-friend Johanna and I were talking about why it is that some Christians believe only in the God of the Bible—the flood launcher, the sin avenger, Yahweh or Adonai or Jehovah or the God of Abraham, who watched without remorse, apparently wanting the Romans to nail Christ to the cross—when, in fact, many of the faithful don’t accept that version of the deity at all. Their idea of God is much more benign, Clara Barton-like, more Jesus-y than tyrannical. I knew that Johanna was raised a Christian and that later she rebelled. Anymore, I wasn’t sure how she defined God or even where he was in her life. Had he gone away? For good? Had he returned? With forgiveness? Just how Biblical of a God was he?

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On Medical Authority Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

2106(Guernica August 5, 2015)

Is it just me or do you, too, notice that the preponderance of published and reviewed books about medical matters are by doctors, not patients? Is this just my ego griping, the author of a memoir about heart disease, who lingers, uncalled, in the waiting room of the healthcare debate? Perhaps. But I want my voice heard because patients speak to health and illness as participants and not, as doctors do, as witnesses. It’s a perspective largely neglected in our culture. If the media gatekeepers show any interest in what we write, it’s to question our credentials. What medical authority does the patient have in a system run by experts?

I’ll tell you mine. I’m a survivor of three heart attacks over a recent five-year period in which I was shocked awake to my problems: the deadline stress of a journalist, extra weight, crappy diet, and a lousy genetic hand—all of which caused the disease. I was saved by three angioplasties but I received no nutritional or lifestyle advice, and nary a nod to that health-trade axiom, “patient empowerment.” I got stents, I got drugs, I got fixed, but I felt a divide between me and my overburdened cardiologists. Every visit to the doc, I would count 20 other discouraged people waiting for their precious eight to ten minutes. I put these things in a memoir—a patient’s story. But mine, like thousands of others, has fallen by the wayside, due in part to our media’s imperial deference to doctors and advice-hawkers.

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Dick Cheney and the Worship of Torture Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

16577178-mmmain(Counterpunch February 10, 2015)

“I knew what I was doing,” Harry Truman said after the atomic bombs he ordered dropped not once but twice on Japanese cities—140,000 people dead in Hiroshima that night; 80,000 three days later in Nagasaki; many thousands more, slowly of radiation sickness. “I have no regrets,” Truman boasted. “Under the same circumstances, I would do it again.”

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This Shining Night Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

2012 0708 images 15 agee(Solstice Literary Magazine December 21, 2014)

We Are Talking Now of James Agee’s “Knoxville: Summer 1915”

In January 1971, I was living in Columbia, Missouri, where for two years I’d been an undergraduate English major at the University.(1) A surprise to literate me, I’d become pencil-sucking bored with my classes, especially the non-electives “Restoration Drama” and “Chaucer.” What’s more I’d also been struggling to write interior-laden short stories based on literary models that once excited me but now raveled through my head like cotton off a spinning jenny until I felt wire-whisked by their polish and mystery and woe—so, one day, just after my sixth semester began, I quit.(2) Because I had to, I got a job, part-time clerk at the University library. They said I could come in from one to five, work half days. Perfect. My mornings were free for writing.

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The Music Is Always There: Reflections on New Orleans Jazz Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

cid 149db1300543fa90cda(Guernica November 24/25 2014)

A Deviant Nature /

That which we call American music, whether it’s pop, show tunes, Motown, country ’n’ western, or any other mixed breed, is seldom wholly original. It is—it must be, to appeal widely—a sound and a style already known to its composer-musicians, and their audiences, before it’s written. The declamatory songs of Bob Dylan in the early 1960s, for example, owe everything to the then-familiar swagger of Woody Guthrie, talking blues, pentatonic Shaker hymns, and backwoods white gospel. These elements the troubadour kept as a foundation even as he evolved and wrote new material based on a lyric élan all his own. Pre-Dylan, Guthrie’s music binds Appalachian hillbilly tunes to topical story songs, which, themselves, owe their fluency to the broad-siders and the balladeers of eighteenth century Scotland and England. And so it goes, way on back. But there is, as always, an exception to the rule. Cultural critic Stanley Crouch argues that African-American gospel, blues, and jazz—styles that standardized the flatted third and seventh, syncopation and polyrhythms, and the chaotic, improvising soloist—are unique in music. In song, Crouch says, there had never been, with African or American music, such tap-rooted anguish as can be found in “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child,” where the melodic genius lies not on but between the notes.

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The Misunderstood, Abused, Victimized, and Writerly Essential Outline Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

Dove-MeandtheMoon(TriQuarterly October 21, 2014)

For me, the edgiest of the double-edged questions we’ve all asked a teacher, a colleague, or ourselves concerns the “outline”—first, when do I do it, before, during, or after I write, for which the mordant answer is yes, and second, why do I do it, which is harder to quantify because it suggests that planning a piece may be categorically different than writing a piece, as though the pair are maliciously counterbalanced, feathers and lead. I say malicious because such a myth (writing fun, outlining dumb) invites a more emotional query: Does the outline mean that we must succumb to that which is not writing, as though we’ve fallen from rapture to drudge—Lewis and Clark giving way to the Conestoga wagons?

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Mysteries of the Heart #1-8 Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

at-the-core-19351(Psychology Today Blogs #1-8, March-November, 2014)

Cuddling With Mamie

To introduce myself for this, my first blog at Psychology Today, I’m the author of The Sanctuary of Illness: A Memoir of Heart Disease, Hudson Whitman Press, 2014. The book rewinds and unravels my life during and after my three heart attacks.

The core argument of the memoir is a relational one: My recovery, as good as it can get after the damage of three myocardial infarctions, surged once I shared my condition with my long-time partner, Suzanna. In addition, I cut out dairy, ramped up my exercise, and added supplements. A no-oil Vegan and daily walker, I have lost 35 pounds as a plant-based eater, and it’s been three years since my last angioplasty.

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