Thursday, March 29, 2007

List Memoir: very early memories

night, crib, looking up--dim, still shapes (no words in my head then so make your eyes blur all this)

running gleefully down the plastic-shrouded hall in footy pajamas toward mom I'm so proud of you*

hands cupping the extruded rear tail light of a '58 buick making a tunnel to my face it's cold it's cold and so red

in the arms of an uncle I watch the face of an old clock, christmas tree lights haloing through the angel hair#

first snow, Fresno, 1962, so new I squeak and my feet sink through to the green grass--mom' and dad's push in white

*My mother much later confirmed this memory, shrouds because she was painting, proud because I hadn't wet the bed that night.
# Clock from 1918 Sears and Roebucks catalog.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Dinner with friends, Panthers, and a Fisk follow-up

Amy and I had the pleasure of dining with our friends the Mostels this weekend at their home in North Florida, not far from here. The house is wondrous--a spatious, high-ceilinged metal building housing all kinds and eras of art (Toby and Aileen are both artists, as well) and artifacts from their years in Manhattan and Maine, as well as more recent productions and acquisitions, on fifteen acres or so boasting a three-alligator pond and snakes aplenty. They're wonderfully warm and generous people and they've helped make the transition to life in South Georgia easier. And Toby's a fine cook, so I don't mind taking a good bottle of Brunello or Cab there to share (this time a fragrant 96 Casanova di Neri I found locally at a closeout price). The large open front area of the house really belongs to Albert, Toby's chattering parrot, who tolerates the cockatiels and enjoys Toby's devoted attention. Albert loves to listen to him sing and play the two Steinways that sit side-by-side there, and he lets the rest of us hang out as long as we abide his commentary.

We spoke of politics and opera. Well, Toby spoke of opera at length, with Aileen adding an anecdote about a particularly moving final performance by Joan Sutherland at the Met. At any rate, Amy and I listened, since our arcane pop sensibilities couldn't add much here, but we enjoyed listening to stories about opera's golden era, looking at photos of the magnificent staging of Billy Budd.

Finally they also spoke of their encounter with a rare Florida panther. Aileen walks her four dogs, each named after some article of luggage (Trunk, Valise, etc.), every evening. Last week, the dogs went nuts off a scent. A deer caught in a fence was strangling itself, and Aileen tried to help free it, but couldn't before it collapsed and died. Meanwhile, the dogs went into hiding. After failing to free the deer, Aileen looked for Toby to help disentangle the dead deer. He walked down to examine the situation, watched a nearly nine-foot panther saunter away up the roadway, looking back over its shoulder at the prey and the man. Later that week, the dogs treed a panther cub on the property. Whether this is a true panther or a wandering cougar transplanted in a program to expand the gene pool, it ain't supposed to be in these parts. A big cat on their property. We talked about how frightening it is. We talked about how promising it is.

Fisk update: His own article on his visits to Cairo and Valdosta,

Friday, March 23, 2007

Robert Fisk in Enemy Territory

Syria? Iran? Fallujah? No, Fisk brought his realist vision of journalism to Valdosta, Georgia, smack dab in the middle of conservative, biblebelt America, where he prodded local students and progressives to think rationally about the problems of the Middle East--that is, to consider multiple points of view and to avoid drinking the ideological officialese koolaid we get from the minions in the gaggle who spend all their time cultivating "relationships" with all the paid liars, um, "officials."

Among many fine points in his two-hour talk, he says mainstream journalists have stopped asking why things are the way they are, distracted as they are by the how. How those 19 pilots managed to fly those planes into the WTC was covered endlessly. Why? Well, Alan Dershowitz proclaimed the very question an act of terrorism and called Fisk an anti-Semite for asking it (Fisk has it on tape). But he was in the air on the phone to his editor when 9.11 happened, and confessed to profiling passengers on the plane and passing along his news and observations to the pilot as events unfolded. He had interviewed bin Laden three times, had heard him say directly that he was out to make America a "shadow of itself" and knew who was likely behind it. But more important than his initial fearfull response was his desire to analyze all the connections and reasons this happened. He knows the history of the Middle East. He lives there, in Lebanon. He knows that our folly in Iraq is merely a repeat of the British folly there after WWI. He knew before it happened that the Lebanon-Israeli war this past summer was to be started by a kidnapping of an IDF soldier. He knows the players and the angles and the reality of the Middle East, that Israel is involved in an occupation regardless of what you call it, that Syria was (and still is) a dangerous presence in Lebanon, and that we have very little reason to fear Iran. But this is all out there. Read his words. He's an outstanding, lucid writer in addition to being a truthseeker.

If I have anything to say at all, it's merely that he isn't the liberal crackpot gadfly he's portrayed as in the conservative and even mainstream media. He's merely a realist, furious that people keep blowing each other up, someone who cheered Syria's abandonment of Lebanon and lamented Israel's incursion into it, someone with friends of all races in all these countries, a man who's seen the carnage close up and who's angry that no one in America or Great Britain wants to see it to think about it or care about the people or the reasoning behind the carnage. He's seen and can elucidate articulately the imperial parallels between America and Britain and Rome. Reuters refused to publish his photos of the initial invasion. They were too graphic, too disrespectful of the dead women and children and old people. Why, asked Fisk, hadn't we been as respectful of their lives?

Monday, March 19, 2007

Influenza Blues and a Birthday Party

A week in bed should be relaxing, but the grippe wrapped its venal tendrils around and among my various alveoli and wouldn't let go. Was well enough today to sort of teach, but it did afford me the excuse I needed to vegetate and watch too many NCAA tournament games. I'm not pulling for anyone but my lungs right now, but I suppose I'd have to claim Florida as the team I want to win now that Winthrop and VCU are out. None of my alma maters (Cal, Fresno State, Utah) are in the mix, so I didn't have to worry about that conflict of disinterest. Amy worked, and, yes, we snuck out to see Lucinda and the HB's, but I generally tried not to spread the epidemiological wealth, as it were. Actually, being able to write archaisms like "as it were" is one reason I started this gig, that and to ultimately begin my list autobiography, which will be my frontal assault on the Creative Nonfiction pseudogenre. Whining done and no wines to wax on about, so it's time to move on to larger matters, as the flu isn't the only thing to choke me up these awful days.

Four years in Iraq and no end in sight.

Happy birthday, Abu Ghraib. Happy Birthday, Mission Accomplished. Happy Birthday, Halliburton (Yes, the presents are all yours). Happy Birthday, WMD. Happy Birthday, dead Iraqi civilians. Happy Birthday, body bags. Happy Birthday, unitary executive power. Happy Birthday, IEDs. Blow out the candles on your yellow cake. Make a wish. Make a wish.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Lucinda Williams w' Heartless Bastards

Pitchfork may feel less than lukewarm about West, the new album, but Lucinda clearly feels it, and if you're lucky enough to hear the new songs laced among your many favorites like "Lake Charles," "Car Wheels," and "Crescent City," they set down like kin among kin, welcome even if they've been rangin' out in the wider world a bit. They pat the dog and rest on the porch just fine. Good stories with wise, direct images of personal heartbreak, loss, and spiritual growth. (The plague of emo-popularity is perhaps making collateral damage of the truly felt, and so I can imagine the Pitchfork reviewer prattling away skeptically after too much MCR and FOB, wishing for something cold and austere--say a Gary Numan and the Tubeway Army boxed set.) The crowd at Tallahassee's Moon, with its fabulous sound system, ate her set up with so much enthusiasm that she played for a full half hour or so after her formal set list concluded with a delicious version of "Joy" as the obligatory encore. She was lovely, her voice clear and curled like a cat around your ankles, and if she wasn't quite home, she knew she was very welcome. The backing band, featuring long-time touring lead guitarist Doug Pettitbone, was tight even if Lucinda had to restart a couple of songs that began off-key or out of tempo (Why else go to live shows?)

BTW: The audience, whether Lucinda knew it or not, was populated by literary stars from FSU and, what--white dwarfs?-- from VSU, including Bob Shacochis, James Kimbrough, Mark Winegartner, and a new colleague here, Deborah Hall.

Heartless Bastards opened, featuring the fearless, soaring vocals of Erika Wennerstrom. She could very well be the answer to the interesting rock what-if question, "What if Grace Slick had sung and played guitar in an alt country band?" She writes well and belts her songs out with passion. She's supported capably by Kevin Vaughn on drums Mike Lamping on the bass. We (Anna, my Amy, and Mike and Carla) were pleased that they accepted Mike's invitation to hang out at Waterworks after, so we chatted about her Dayton roots and Nate Farley while GBV played in the background. A sweet, long night away from Valdosta.

You already know Lucinda, so check out the band she hand picked to open for her.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

100 Point Wines

The AWP conference was its usual gathering of hedonists and post-hedonists, writers and wannabe writers and booksellers and publishers and teachers and all forms of imaginative whores for the word. (I include myself.)

Photos: Madison Smartt Bell and Wyn Cooper front the Skylarks with Glen Phillips guesting on guitar. Photo at the bar with Shawna, Andrea, and Amy in front. A visit to the notorious Clermont Lounge followed. The rest are mental.

Ann Hudson with her lovely smile walking into Salon A for my presentation.

Thom Ward lounging on Kurt Brown's bed while we (Amy, Katie Coles, Scott Cairns, Wyn and Shawna) tasted the fine '96 Casanova di Neri Brunello and the divine '90 Ch. Montrose (RP 100 pts.)

Lunar eclipse ghosting through clouds over Atlanta as Amy and I walked back to the car.