opinion

47 posts

Random Thoughts, Election Cycle

trump

It’s been a while since I’ve given the green light to one of my occasional random thoughts posts, probably because I’ve been preoccupied by things political, and this blog is supposed to be more about writing and poetry and (insert British accent) LIT-er-a-chuh. I’ll try to keep it to a minimum, then, but if you are a fan of orange mold (as in forgotten refrigerator leftovers or tenants in the Accent-on-White House), you might want to skip on to the next blog.

  • First things first, WordPress, my longtime host, has switched their software or something, and count me as a definite NO vote for the new methods of posting. Supposedly clicking CLASSIC makes it like the old set-up, but who are they kidding? It’s a different animal. A wild one. Showing signs of rabies.
  • My daughter is encouraging me to jump to my own site with my own name as the domain name. All the writers are doing it, she says. Well, then, if all of them are doing it, who am I to walk to the beat of my own drummer? (Just don’t tell Thoreau I said so.)
  • Meaning: You’ll be the first to know if I move to greener (and more self-absorbed) pastures.
  • Speaking of self-absorbed, Amazon sales statistics turn authors into so many paper towels. They can’t absorb enough of those lower-is-better numbers on the statistical sales tabulations.
  • Pitiful, no?
  • Yes.
  • Good news: my third poetry book will be out in the summer of 2021.
  • Bad news: the pandemic fall and winter will be long ones.
  • Every time I read about Trump’s campaign for “Law & Order,” I add an asterisk and the words “* Except when the laws apply to him.”
  • Writing is not for the faint of heart, true, but it’s REALLY not for the elderly of heart, as in 80- and 90-somethings. “The wait,” one octogenarian told me, “on submissions will be the death of me.”
  • That’s dark humor, by the way.
  • Wasn’t it delicious to see the Snowflake-in-Chief run away when he stepped onto the Supreme Court steps to supposedly honor Ruth Bader Ginsburg? A chorus of boos from the crowd followed by chants of “Vote him out!” sent him running for the exits ipso fasto, so used to screened audiences of adoring enablers is he.
  • Purple and pink. You might consider them a little girl’s favorite colors, but I stepped outside and noted purplish clouds with pink tinges at the edge due to a light fog and a rising sun.
  • As Ernie once said: “The Sun Also Rises.”
  • Nota Bene: He stole that from Ecclesiastes.
  • Spark Notes hint: God’s favorite colors? Sometimes purple and pink!
  • Grammar maven hint: Do NOT italicize the book title if it happens to be the Bible or any of the books within the Bible. (I should know. I just looked it up.)
  • In the last great pandemic in 1918, the second wave — so much worse than the first — came in October. It can’t be good that today is September 27th.
  • One good thing — no, two good things — about October in New England: foliage and apples.
  • Trump has announced that he will not observe the peaceful transfer of power if he loses the election. I figured that would about do it for those saying they’re voting for him, but the polls haven’t reflected that.
  • So I said to a Trump supporter: “Doesn’t it alarm you when, for the first time in American history, we have a ‘man’ who says he will not follow democratic norms, but instead will seize power from the winner? What’s more important to you: your country or your party?”
  • The answer I got: “My party is my country.”
  • You see the problem. And if you once wondered how so many Germans could fall for the likes of Hitler, wonder no more.
  • When patriotic Americans tell me, “If this tinpot dictator wins re-election, I’m moving to Canada,” I have to remind them that Canada won’t have them. No country will, anymore.
  • Book idea: Sartre’s No Exit.
  • Say… isn’t that the book where Hell is other people?
  • This is why you have to lie down, breath slowly, and don earphones to listen to Ravel’s Daphnis & Chloe, Pärt’s Cantus in Memoriam, Benjamin Britten, or Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances. (Just remember to get up in time to vote.)
  • Writerly goal for Oct. 1st: Get through the upcoming month without paying a single reading fee. If you have to pay people to read you, you’re not writing very well.
  • Readerly goals for Oct. 1st: At least two uninterrupted hours of reading daily after at least 30 minutes of exercise (walking is fine!). And keep a pen and journal by your side as you read. Good writing often gives birth to good ideas!
  • Final thought: Town police forces and national military budgets soak up a lot of taxpayer revenue. Therefore, as a taxpayer, you should never trust a draft-dodging tax evader who refuses to share his tax returns, especially when he claims to love the police and the military and the flag (but is too cheap and venal to pay the taxes required to support them). Follow his actions, not his words, and you’ll get the real story.
  • See? That wasn’t bad. Only one or two political thoughts. Or three. Or four maybe.

The Hazards in Speed Back or Feedback for Dollars

roadrunner

Submitting your work for publication? You and a few million others, it seems, and with increased submissions comes increased response times comes new ways to separate a writer from his or her money.

Let’s start with the ironies of time. We all know how tempus has a habit of fugiting, especially when it comes to that person in the mirror you see every day. You know the drill: a few gray hairs here, a few wrinkles there.

Wouldn’t it be nice to slow time down for yourself? Hey, I’ve got an idea! How about redefining your body as a poetry submission? Voilà! The process of aging slows to a turtle’s crawl.

Business being business and mankind being mankind, there are always ways to cut the long line when submitting your work. But it’s going to cost you, of course. Like everything else in our times: Be prepared to pony up some money (or, in some journals’ cases, more money).

Which leads us to the world of “expedited responses” where your disappointment arrives much quicker and your wallet grows much lighter. My advice? Unless you’re 99% sure of acceptance (and who is?), don’t do it.

Like the reading fee, the expedited response temptation is a drain best defined by tracking it. Trouble is, most writers don’t. It’s similar to coffee drinkers who stop to buy a cup of java on the way to work each morning. Considering these drinks can cost $3-$5 (especially the iced variety with sweeteners), most people wisely leave their purchases untracked. Imagine that “little” cost multiplied by working days per year! Nice money if you can get it! (And to think, you actually had it, but at least you can argue you got some satisfaction from it.)

The other pocket hole to watch for is the feedback fee. Though I’m guilty of a few “expedited dice rolls” (all turning up “snake eyes”), I’ve never done the feedback option. In this scenario, a journal offers a critique on your work for a reasonable (in itself) but sizable (when multiplied by the habit it feeds) fee.

The problem here? There’s no telling who is offering the feedback and what his or her credentials are. Sure, if it’s a name-brand poet doing the reading and feeding, I might pay for my church supper and take a seat. But the responses are mostly from folks like us… people who like poetry, read poetry, have opinions in poetry. Sometimes an intern. Sometimes a reader. Or even an editor (which you or I could call ourselves if we decided to throw up an online zine tomorrow and open a Submittable account).

When it comes to feedback, then, mileage may vary, quality-wise. For the offering journal, however, mileage will surely accrue. It’s Finance 101 come to the Arts. In a numbers game (even one based on words), both speed and opinions translate into dollars made and dollars lost.

As for the market for such practices, it’s primed and ready due to the flock’s size. After waiting from 6 to 12 months for responses and receiving boilerplate rejection notices that give no clue as to any of the thousand reasons “why” work is rejected, writers with a little cash (or plastic) are remarkably vulnerable.

Proceed with caution, then. And repeat this pithy aphorism after me: “Unless there’s an extenuating circumstance guaranteeing more than free disappointment, patience is a virtue (not to mention a savings strategy).”

Signed,

Ben Franklin trying not to be Poor Richard

Of Masks, Poetry Contests, and the Quarantine Fifteen

masks

It seems I’ve been missing dates with this blog lately. You’d expect that in the busy season of summer, but not in a Covid Summer where one is supposed to be holed up in the heat (or ac) more than usual.

Thing is, summer this year is conflicted in its way. On the one hand, a lot of people are doing the same things they do every summer. “Bubbles” have expanded to Herculean size. Friends and family are considered safe by dint of the simple fact that they are friends and family. This is less science and more Fox News in logic, but it’s part and parcel of “Covid Exhaustion,” which takes more chances than its more reticent cousin, “Covid Fear.”

On the other hand, going to the supermarket is strangely unique from past summers. Everybody looks like they’re ready to stick up a bank or perform open-heart surgery. Masks, masks everywhere. There’s a certain comfort to wearing a mask when everyone else does, too. After a few minutes and the usual confusion of “choice fatigue” in the cereal aisle, the masks become invisible.

I live in a Jekyll-Hyde state and travel between the personalities fairly regularly. Maine has but two districts — the heavily-populated small one to the south (color it blue) and the sparsely-populated one to the north (color it red). In the southern towns, you can expect near universal compliance to the governor’s rules regarding Covid. In the more conservative, Trump-friendly north, the record is spottier.

District 2 compliance depends on the store. Many smaller ones do not require masks, so if you walk in, some folks are belligerently mask-free so you can better see their belligerence (they’re like walking, all-CAPS Tweets in that sense). For all I know, some of them think Covid-19 is a hoax and fake news, two of their fearful leader’s favorite terms. If anyone has masks in these stores, it is more likely women, the fairer and more intelligent sex. The men, apparently, feel threatened by it, as if wearing a mask were akin to donning a tutu.

So, yeah. Similar but different. Meanwhile, waiting for a vaccine is like waiting for Godot, at least for now, no matter how  you pronounce the word “Godot,” which apparently sounds different in French and English.

Poetry-wise, life goes on. Are the markets slower to respond? Yes. This summer, I’ve also pondered the merits of poetry contests. I’ve tried a few, but am beginning to see them as mirror images of the regular submission process.

Make that fun-house mirror images of the regular submission process. You’re more likely to be rejected, as is true with competitive markets that attract the work of established poets (who have a scorched-earth policy when it comes to taking up bandwidth in paying-market presses), but the contest game is more expensive by far.

What does this mean? It means you’re really making a charitable donation. You’re supporting the purse which will eventually  go to the winner, and you’re paying the poor staff that has to wade through all of these submissions, many of them poor.

Do you feel noble doing this? Maybe you do, but do it enough and you will no longer be a member of the noble class. At $25 to $50 a pop, these contests will bleed you like George Washington’s doctor (who many think killed the father of our country — and you thought the butler did it).

What you want, then, is a contest with less competition. One fewer poets have heard of. But just try finding one. You put your ear to the ground to hear its hoof beats and all you get is crickets. If a little-known, well-paying poetry contest falls in a forest, does it make a sound? That is your koan for the day.

Finally there is the issue of weight. Everyone keeps talking about the “quarantine fifteen,” the trouble being that quarantines seem forever ago yet the fifteen remain quite current. I’m lucky in this sense, only carrying around a no-longer quarantining (or rhyming) five. Getting rid of it is doable, if more difficult during ice cream season.

Did you know that New England is the number one ice cream consuming area of the country? You might expect the South or the Southwest, but if you did, you’d be sadly mistaken. This is the place to be if you are addicted to ice cream and have a phobia about bathroom scales, so enjoy.

Then write a poem. Then write a weighty poem about it. Just don’t enter it in a contest. Your wallet will lose a quarantine fifteen. Or twenty-five. Or fifty. Ipso fasto.

Just Another Random Thoughts Saturday

will shake

What? Time for another “Random Thoughts” post? I thought so.

  • Just finished James Shapiro’s Shakespeare in a Divided America: What His Plays Tell Us About Our Past and Future.
  • The answer to that title? A lot. Starting with race, moving on to gender, class warfare, immigration, marriage, same-sex marriage, adultery, and left vs. right.
  • I loved the chapter on Lincoln, who loved Shakespeare over all else. I was probably attracted to the fresh air of a president who not only reads, but memorizes vast stretches of great literature, which he wanted to discuss with people.
  • President Lincoln’s Top 5 Favorite Shakespeare plays: King Lear, Richard III, Henry VIII, Hamlet, and especially Macbeth.
  • Being a fan of effective repetition, he liked to recite the “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow” speech from Macbeth.
  • John Wilkes Booth loved Shakespeare every bit as much as his eventual victim, only JWB was partial to Julius Caesar and loved playing the role of Brutus.
  • Can you say “foreshadowing”?
  • No surprise: Booth was a white supremacist.
  • Around 10 days before his assassination, Lincoln told close friends of a dream he had: he got up from bed, walked to the East Room of the White House, and found a corpse guarded by soldiers. When he asked who it was, he was told, “The President. He was killed by an assassin.” A burst of grief from mourners woke Lincoln up from his nightmare.
  • Can you say “foreshadowing” twice in one day?
  • It’s May and states are slowly opening up, depending on the state. Here it amounted to barbers and hairdressers, but my hair had already met its match in the form of the Good Wife with clippers.
  • I hope crew-cuts are back in style.
  • On the plus side, I’ve read a lot of books since Pan came to demic all over the place. On the negative side, I’ve also watched way too much Netflix.
  • In a word: “Overrated.”
  • Watching prime time news for my daily dose of depression, I came to this conclusion: “Imagine the money we’d save on prescription drug costs if Congress banned Big Pharma from airing these #*&$%*&@ drug commercials.
  • You know, the ones that include, in rapid-fire voice-overs, warnings about that little side effect known as “death.”
  • For sanity’s sake, people need to get out of the house, apartment, condo every day, even in the rain (which is kind of fun). Nature is behaving the same as it always has. The bonus? You don’t have to antisocial distance yourself from it.
  • Unless you choose the same “nature” (e.g. the beach on a sunny and warm day) that a thousand other cabin-fevered sorts have.
  • Have you memorized a poem or a slice of Shakespeare (ring on deli) lately? If not, why not? As good as remdesivir, I swear.
  • I know weekends and weekdays have jumped in the smoothie together, but if you’re out of work and reading this at home: Have a great weekend!
  • For old time’s sake, I mean.

 

Taking Stock: What the Pandemic Hath Wrought

shaggy

Covid-19 is all-encompassing. Every aspect of every person’s life (country borders matter not) has been affected. Some of it I see reflected in newspaper articles, some not. Some of it everyone would agree upon, some not. Let’s take stock:

  • Long hair. The 60s are back, man, as all the barber shops are closed. Men all look like Shaggy from Scooby-Doo (think: shaggy Hair-Doo with a little chin music).
  • Weight gain. Try as you might, or try as you did until Easter treats, you just can’t keep the weight off. You are walking static to the pounds’ lint. The bathroom scale is either overworked or banished. Meanwhile, you employ rationalization to finish that ham, mac and cheese, chocolate bunny and, God save us, box of Peeps.
  • Time amnesia (or “timenesia,” as I call it). No one’s quite sure what day it is, anymore. Tell me, quick. You had to think about it, no?
  • Insomnia. Move over, Seattle. The whole world is sleepless these days. Perhaps it is that lack of movement and physical exercise? Stress? Unemployment?
  • Dreamy. A corollary of being sleepless is the increased amount of REM sleep. This means everyone’s dreaming more. Weird dreams. Really, really weird. But you won’t remember a thing unless you keep pen and pencil bedside and write it down.
  • Back to school. More than one parent feels like they are going through middle school again, small thanks to “online learning,” a term that once seemed harmless. Once.
  • Food, food, food. People are thinking about food too much. What are we having for lunch? How about dinner? What about tomorrow night? When are we going to the supermarket again? Who’s going this time? Are we really having tuna sandwiches again?
  • Bathroom, bathroom, bathroom. A corollary of food, food, food. Some people are actually hitting weird stores like Walgreen’s and Staples and Target in hopes of scoring some toilet paper. Some newspaper articles love to excoriate shoppers for this obsession, saying everyone should switch to bidets, but hey, a good bidet is expensive (including the plumber, if you want warm water), and who wants a plumber in the house?
  • Masks. Overheard at the supermarket this week…Husband: “I hate this f–‘n mask. I can’t breathe wearing it.” Wife: “So take it off and shut up, why don’t you?”
  • Moral of the Story: Family members are driving each other crazy, and the next exit is 156 miles away. (“Are we there yet?”)
  • Skin problems. Hands especially. Rawer than steak tartare. All together, now: Clean, rinse, dry, repeat!
  • I see the light! Blue light, to be exact. It’s a corollary of insomnia, the way people are logging so many hours on their screens and wreaking havoc on their circadian rhythms.
  • Crazy-ass politics. Politicians, in their entirely predictable ways, are shamelessly using a world health crisis to consolidate their power. In the U.S., a president is looking in the mirror and seeing a king. He is also, per usual, pointing fingers for everything gone wrong while claiming credit for anything gone right. Also, in case you’re wondering, every move he’s made has been perfect. None of us claims to be perfect. Ever.
  • Logic None-Oh-One. If a Trump voter’s kid acted like that, they’d send him to his room and tell him not to come out until he’d smartened up. If a Trump voter’s spouse claimed to be perfect and blamed the wife or husband for every thing that went wrong, they’d be thinking divorce. But for Trump to do it? That’s OK, seems. If you don’t believe it, watch the spin doctors on Fox “News.”
  • Creativity. For some, a burst of coronavirus-related creativity has bloomed. Covid-19 stories, poems, books, (ahem) blog posts. Some readers are anxious to read it, others are sick to death of it.
  • Guilt and reading. What to read? Some feel guilt for reading dystopian books (too similar to current events) while others feel guilt for reading escapist books (too selfishly oblivious to current events). Let the guilt go, people!
  • Rising stars. I imagine this is true in many countries. Here in the States, some superstar governors are emerging as the voices of sanity. Of course, contrast works to their advantage (enough said).
  • Social distancing. Some are very good at it. Others not so much. Some talk a good story, but don’t really apply the moral of the story to themselves because (here we go again) “bad things happen to other people, not me.”
  • Opening the economy. Anyone’s guess. Start a pool with dates, why don’t you. Make some money.
  • Vaccines. Somewhere over the rainbow. Sitting next to Dorothy and Toto.
  • Hope. Remember Pandora’s box? Remember laughing at Bob Hope?
  • Socialism. The perennial big, bad wolf of American politics is looking pretty good along about now as Covid-19 continues to expose the rigged economy of the wealthy.
  • Charity. CEO of Twitter Jack Dorsey donated one billion (a third of his wealth) to the cause. Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg? The equivalents of a dollar, given their extreme wealth.
  • Celebrities. Anyone else sick to death of TV ads with (also wealthy) celebrities telling us to “stay safe” and serving up clichés like “we’ll get through this together” from inside their swank homes? These ads are little more than self-promotion at the worst of times.
  • Ditto to the networks and cable channels serving up their “stars” with these concerned commercials, which always include the title of the star’s show somewhere on the screen. Bad optics. Really bad.
  • Ad for our Times: You know the one. It resonates now more than ever. Punchline: “What’s in your wallet?”
  • Answer: “Not” and “much.”

A Little Good News in a World of Bad News

cardinal

Talking to friends and family on the phone (and neighbors outside—at a distance), I hear the same refrain: These are awful times.

Of course we state the obvious with these four words, but there are two things to consider: These could be worse times, one. And there are silver linings even in the worst of times, two.

Let’s start with the first. As any reader of dystopian fiction can tell you, a pandemic could be much worse than what we are presently experiencing. While Covid-19 kills at a much higher rate than the usual flu viruses (Types A & B) that infect people each winter, imagine where we’d be if the coronavirus were more lethal still.

In Emily St. John Mandel’s novel, Station Eleven, for instance, 99% of the world population is wiped out in short order by a virus. Before we leave that sobering number, consider how ill-prepared we were for the present pandemic. Will nations of the world learn their lessons once a vaccine is found for Covid-19 and be better prepared for the next crisis, or will they slip back into complacency and cut programs designed to stockpile and ready ourselves for something even worse?

Now that I’ve depressed you (I fear we each had the same answer to that question, given the “leadership” we’ve seen in the present pandemic), let’s move to the silver lining.

One of the eeriest memories I have from 9/11 is the empty skies. I looked up and it was nothing but God’s blue. No silver specks slowly moving across the celestial vault. No contrails stitching sky. No distant drones of airplane engines.

These past few weeks, I’ve noticed something similar but much less eerie. I go out on long walks and our street, typically semi-busy, is all but empty. Completely empty, if you go out between 6 and 8 a.m.

The dog and I walk the middle of the road like it’s a wide pedestrian path. Instead of the sound of tires on tar, the sounds of nature are magnified. The cardinals, nuthatches, and flickers. The chickadees. Ducks from the pond. A red squirrel chittering. Spring peepers from the bog.

The lack of competition from man-made sound has gifted us with the sounds of nature our forebears once enjoyed, sounds with no competition from human invention. The quiet, even interrupted by the tapping of a Pileated Woodpecker, seems so…gentle. And lovely, too.

Maybe it’s not much, but in awful times like these, we have to reach for “not much” and cherish it. Humans hunkered down means nature unleashed, as if our surroundings have, overnight, become game preserves and nature conservancies, all magnified by the rites of spring.

That’s right. Spring. A budding branch of normalcy populated with “life is as it should be” actors who go about their usual rituals.

Take it, I say. It’s good for the soul and nourishes the body. Silver linings like that shouldn’t be passed up.

Getting Mad as Hell and Not Taking It Anymore

cut

One weird development (of many, trust me) in this Year of Living Virally is what people are doing with extra time at home.

Yes, you’ve read a lot about people Netflixing but not chillin’. Eating. Taking up a hobby. Eating. Painting a room and ceiling. Eating. Reading War and for the hell of it, Peace. Eating. Getting in touch with one’s “Who’s a Nerd Now?” spirit and riding one’s overpriced Peloton bike. Eating. Baking, and even though it hasn’t gone in the oven yet and there’s egg in the dough, eating.

But I’m talking about getting mad as hell about something that’s disappearing like sand through our fingers: money.

Let’s start with the elephant on your television: cable TV. These clowns pretend to offer savings via “bundles” (as in “bundles” of money into their coffers and out of your wallet), but they take home some $180 a month or, in many cases, more.

And for what? Hundreds of channels, of which you watch, maybe, eight. Oh. And there remain dozens of channels STILL that cost EVEN MORE because you have to pony up more lucre comma filthy if you want to see them.

But the big driver in the piggish profits of cable companies is sports. Pity the non-sports fan paying for cable. All that money to watch a sappy Christmas Hallmark movie in April (recently ruled “cruel and unusual punishment” by the World Court at the Hague).

Major league sports, with their major league player salaries and their major league millionaire / billionaire owner profits cost a lot of money to broadcast. They are Culprit #1 behind bloated prices in the cable industry.

But what about now, with no live sports to speak of being televised and none scheduled for a very long time (unless you want to watch close-ups of Covid-19 viral proteins jousting with the armies of people’s immune systems)? Has cable television responded to the complete absence of sports by lowering your monthly bills?

That would be a “no,” as in big-time “no,” as in “it is to laugh” no.

I remember years back when a landscaping company sent notices to all of its customers saying it was raising prices on lawn-cutting jobs by $10 because of a horrific spike in the cost of gasoline.

Guess what happened months later when the gas prices went back down? You got it. Nothing. Telling us that, in this country, what goes up does *not* necessarily come down.

So, yes. Some of you sheltered-in folks have smartened up, become mad as hell, and called your cable company to tell them they can take their bloated cable box and…

Oh, wait. This is a family blog. Let us draw the curtains of courtesy over the remainder of that line and start streaming stuff on our TVs with something cheaper and a little less greedy and sports-driven.

Moral of the Post: Now that we’ve lost our jobs and the social fabric as we once knew it, it’s high time we think about ways to save ourselves a little money, starting with the most bloated offender in the house, cable television.

Cut the cord, then celebrate your savings by having something to eat.

Everything’s Gone Viral (And Other Sad Thoughts)

seuss

It’s been a while since I did a “Random Thoughts” post. On this gloomy, rainy, viral Friday, maybe it’s time to open the stream of consciousness anew…

  • Looking at rain drops wobbling down the window glass always reminds me of Dr. Seuss’s book The Cat in the Hat, which I read frequently as a kid.
  • In fact, I often refer to rainy days as “Cat in the Hat Days.”
  • I feel like saying this is Day #___ of the coronavirus slash Covid-19 hunkering-down slash shelter-in-place slash lockdown crisis, but really, who knows where this really “began”?
  • I’ve a friend who has started a pool on when it “ends,” but again, this means we need to make like Webster and define “ends.”
  • Supposedly the virus has brought on a resurgence in reading.
  • And family sniping.
  • And eating.
  • A lot (thus the toilet paper shortage).
  • Helpful Hint: Food for Thought (packaged in books) brings zero calories. Compare to the nutrition panel on the side of ice cream half gallons.
  • Oh, wait. They don’t make half gallons anymore. Whatever smaller size it is, then. Packaging shrinks. Prices rise. To the tune of “America the Beautiful (Corporatocracy).”
  • It’s times like these that bring us together as a world. If the virus has no use for nationality, religion, race, or class differences, why should we? We’re all in this fight together, and hopefully, when it ends, we won’t forget its lessons.
  • Main lesson: People everywhere just want to be happy, to love their families, to live in peace. They have little use for leaders (of their country or others) who have other ideas, ones that have to do with power, war, and corruption.
  • April is National Poetry Month. Can you feel the joy? I received my final issue of Poetry, the magazine, this week. I let the subscription lapse because I wasn’t feeling a lot of joy over the editorial selections there.
  • That said, the April issue does include a new Ocean Vuong poem.
  • Which includes a stanza that reads: “Once, at a party set on a rooftop in Brooklyn for an “artsy vibe,” a young / woman said, sipping her drink, You’re so lucky. You’re gay plus you get to / write about war and stuff. I’m just white. [Pause.] I got nothing. [Laughter, / glasses clinking.]”
  • Sic semper artsy young white woman writers from Brooklyn. Vuong can be both funny and edgy.
  • Speaking of poetry, have you ever noticed, should you happen to get two acceptances in a row from poetry markets, that you feel invincible, like you’ve finally been “discovered”?
  • “Fool me once…”
  • Or how about those contests you occasionally enter. When you still haven’t heard back and the “decide by” date is but two days away, you conjure a big, shiny conference table surrounded by editors discussing the three finalists, one of which is your baby.
  • “Fool me twice…”
  • It’s hard being creative and flattening curves at the same time. (See previous reference to ice cream.)
  • On rainy days like today, I get my exercise by walking up and down the stairs for 20 minutes.
  • Helpful Hint: It goes much faster to music you like. Your brain focuses more on the rhythm and beat and less on the dog at the foot of the stairs staring at you like you’re some plain fool.
  • Easter approaches and, for many of us, we will be hamming it up alone with our spouses (pass the horseradish). Nearby family might as well be far away family when each person you used to hug and kiss is the sum of every person he or she has met in the past 14 days.
  • Man, do I hate doing math like that. Welcome to 2020, the Year of Living Dangerously.
  • With the libraries out of business, I’ve been scouring my shelves for books I own but haven’t read. A New York Times article on books to read during the Coronavirus Captivity recommended Goncharov’s Oblomov, a book I actually own. “Huzzah!” I said (because I so seldom get a chance to say, “Huzzah!”)
  • The excitement didn’t last, however. The book I am presently reading: Anton Chekhov: A Life in Letters, includes a screed where Chekhov tells a friend that, after rereading Oblomov, he found it entirely lacking.
  • Even dead men can take the wind out of your sails.
  • Poor Chekhov. I cringe every time he coughs up blood and tells his brothers or sister not to tell Mama or Papa!
  • As I sip my morning sanity: Thank God there have been no coffee bean shortages.
  • (Shhh! Don’t give anyone ideas.)
  • Stay safe, be productive, and be kind.

 

Can “Hygge” Still Work for Us?

hygge

Forget bird. Forget Grease. Hygge is the word. Thing is, can the word survive a pandemic?

For those of you who think Danish is something you wash down with coffee, hygge is pronounced by the consonant-happy Danes like so: “HOO-gah.” In English, it translates to “cozy.”

Right out of the gate, I prefer the sound of hygge over cozy. When I hear “cozy,” I think of overpaid realtors who love the wimpy euphemism to describe a cramped apartment. Hygge, on the other hand, sounds like something privates might bark in reply to a drill sergeant (hoo-gah!). Or something a runner might hawk up and spit out to clear his air passage (hoo-gah!).

I first discovered this word in The New York Times via this feature. What it all boils down to is comfort at home. Nothing’s rotten in Denmark if you’ve got a fire blazing, a few dozen candles flickering, a cup of hot coffee, and, of course, big warm socks to fend the cold from your most distant provinces.

You’ll want some porridge, too (you guessed it—Goldilocks was Danish). Hearty stuff with ingredients like rye, barley, black lentils, and bits of pumpkin and turkey. And if it’s late in the day, you can dispose of the coffee and substitute in. You know. Something appropriately Nordic (read: “alcoholic”) like glogg.

What I liked least in the article was it’s not so subtle advertisements for a couple of books on the topic. And its headline, telling Crazy Marie Kondo, the neatnik apparatchik , to move over and give hygge its 30 seconds of fame.

Blah, blah, blah. If you’re hyggelig (the adjective form, pronounced HOO-gah-lee) and you know it, you don’t need no stinking books. Just sort of take the article’s cue and grab the things that make you feel home for the holidays (“holidays” meaning “any day you’re not at work,” which, in March of 2020, translates to “every day of the week unless you’re a UPS driver”).

This is all guaranteed stuff, this hygge. The Happiness Institute (yes, Virginia, it does exist) has proclaimed the Danes princes of world happiness year in and year out. How do they do it? A whole lot of hygge. That and bacon.

Alas, 2020 has hygge on the run. Can we take pandemic-induced cabin fever and turn it into hygge? Is the happiness of it all that potent?

And while we’re at it, I might as well ask this: If hygge is the word despite everything, will we have enough toilet paper to survive all that fireside eating and quaffing, especially if some of our considerate neighbors have stocked their entire basements and attics with the stuff?

OK, one better and a finishing thought: Do you have the mental discipline to enjoy hygge when it is a government-enforced hygge with nary a Dane in sight (unless you’re reading Hamlet)?

Not easily answered, any of these questions. But still, if you can make a punch bowl of lemonade from an entire crate of lemons, you can find some value in this entire concept.

If home is our lot, let’s love it a whole lot. In kid parlance, let’s play “Pretend” and hygge until the cows come home.

Returning to the Scene of the Crime

dhl

We readers play by certain rules. Some happily abandon books that don’t interest them after (fill in the blank) pages, others plow on to the end no matter what. Some only read the genres they love like comfort food on a cold winter’s night, others force themselves to sample a wider variety of styles. And some refuse to go back and reread a book they cherished as a child or teen, while others venture where angels fear to tread.

I thought of this recently while reading a review of D. H. Lawrence’s Women in Love. As a teenager, I thought Lawrence was great stuff and read a bunch of his books. He lived on the edge, it seemed, where sexuality was always under the surface of his characters’ lives (and, in some cases, out in the open). To an adolescent of literary bent, what could be better than that?

Now, however, questions abound. Was my reading pleasure more about Lawrence’s talent or more about me, age 14? There is one way to find out: reread one of his books as an adult, umpteen decades later. As is true with many things, there is an argument for and against such a decision.

For: I might find something new in Lawrence’s book, something I could not possibly have noticed or enjoyed in my callow youth with half the brain I claim to operate now.

Against: I might destroy another icon of my youth. You know, read it and wonder what was wrong with this punk reader known as “me.” It’s almost a bullying scenario–the seasoned reader scoffing at the little guy, dismissing his “reader’s perspective” as unworthy, as laughable even. And just like that, a happy memory from the 70s would become a relic of history. No trace left. Just the hint of a smoldering foundation, maybe.

Although I don’t do it often, I have reread childhood literary icons with good results. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, for instance. I first read it as an adventure tale hampered by some slow stretches. Many decades later I came back, catching all the racial nuances and controversies (though the last half of the book didn’t hold up as much as the first).

Then there’s The Catcher in the Rye. I thought for sure this old chestnut, with it abuse of the word of the word “phony,” would burn in the fires of cynicism, especially given the fraught character of Holden, a kid many modern teens dismiss as “a whiner.”

But the center held. I appreciated Salinger’s choice of New York City, of the Christmas season, for his commentary on what Twain might have called “the damned human race.” I even forgave him the precociousness of little sister Phoebe. Precocious characters and I are a bad mix, typically, but if ever a character needed a foil, it would be Holden Caulfield.

So, it’s a draw. A book-by-book decision. To reread or not? Maybe the bottom line is yes and no. Reread some and keep others as souvenirs of the lad I once was. Memory plays tricks, yes, and often sifts out the bad––but no harm, no foul, right?

Every childhood deserves a museum with a few precious artifacts behind glass or a red felt rope.