Saturday, October 4, 2014

Dead Poets Remembrance Day - Oct. 4, 2014

I read -- or thought I'd read -- that the 2014 Dead Poets Remembrance Day was going to be observed 186 miles from my home on Oct. 4th at various sites in Amherst. I was glad. I love that area of mid-Massachusetts … The Pioneer Valley … the Connecticut River Valley; an area of many esteemed colleges and universities, of culture, of rich rich farmland. I've visited there a hundred times and more; I have dear friends there, both dead and alive, including, of course, Emily Dickinson.

I made a handy little list of the street addresses of seven sites we would visit and plugged them into my GPS. Once near Amherst, I drove way into the sticks to pick up my friend, Lisa, a former co-worker whose regular stops by my desk for fun chit-chat I miss a lot.

Then, with a entertaining passenger, I entered the first address into the Garmain device ... 156 Bridge Street, Amherst.

I love the device's smartness, even if in, say, downtown Boston, your satellite reception might be interrupted by your being amongst too many tall buildings. But this is central Massachusetts, wide open -- it took Lisa and me directly to Bridge Street. Smart as the device is though, it didn't know that Bridge Street's bridge was closed. I'd have to approach the cemetery from the other side of the bridge. This seemed to be a test of Mr. GPS's patience. Recalculate. Recalculate. It didn't help that it started raining. Then it didn't help that it started raining really hard. It didn't help that, as we followed directions, we seemed just to be going in a circle. It did help that Mr. GPS kept mispronouncing Pine ... a street that we came across twice or thrice too often to feel convinced that we were getting to where we wanted to be. Our aimless circles and the mispronunciation of Pine made us giggly. (You should have heard it pronounce Chequessett Neck Road in Wellfleet when I visited friends there this past August.)

But of all that didn't help, what most didn't help was that I had not read the schedule of events carefully. "Are you sure it's in Amherst?" Lisa asked.  She'd wisely brought along a local atlas. "There's a Bridge Street in Northampton too."

Now I read the schedule carefully. Yup, we were supposed to be eight miles away. We were supposed to be on Bridge Street in Northampton. While re-reading the schedule I noted also: "In case of HEAVY rain ...." the gravesite visits would be cancelled; we were to meet at 2pm in the Jones Library in Amherst.

Zip, zip, we're at the library on Amity Street. We might not be parked legally but we're at the library.
***

Google Image
The grave in Northampton's Bridge Cemetery which we never got to was that of Agha Shahid Ali. I'd not heard of him, but part of the pleasure of Dead Poets Society is getting to know new poets and their poems. Agha Shahid Ali was an immigrant from New Delhi. He died in 2001 … young, 52 years old, brain tumor. I've since read some of his poems and learned some of his biography … I'm richer for even the little bit I now know of him, and want to know more.
***
Elaine Goodale Eastman
Being indoors for Dead Poets Day seemed strange, and there were not many people, maybe 12, maybe 14; a semi-circle of chairs set up in front of a table. We're supposed to be tromping through graveyards in the sunshine.

The first speaker was Theodore Sargent who has written a biography of Elaine Goodale Eastman (1863-1953). A book of poems by Elaine and her sister Dora was published (and became a gigantic seller) in 1878 when Elaine was 16 and Dora just 12!

In adulthood Elaine's passion was to educate and better the lives of black people and Native Americans. She eventually married a Dr. Charles Eastman, who was part Indian. Elaine helped him write stories of his childhood and of Indian culture; he became popular on the lucrative lecture circuit. From her biography on Wikipedia: "In 1921, after allegations that Charles had an affair and an illegitimate child, the couple separated, although they never divorced or acknowledged the separation publicly. Eastman did not publish any books after their separation."
I've not succeeded in finding a picture of Elaine Goodale's grave, though it is said to be in Florence, a town adjacent to Northampton at the west.

(Also these couple of biographical details trivialize what was a life of many and various and admirable accomplishments ... if you find her interesting you can always buy Sargent's book.)
***
Rhina Espaillat is pretty and so sweetly-countenanced that I heard someone, upon seeing her, exclaim, "Oh! I want her to be my grandmother!" Born in the Dominican Republic, she's a very accomplished poet, writing in both Spanish and English. After monumental work, she has succeeded in getting a large selection of Robert Frost's poems translated into Spanish, and I heard that the collection will soon be published in Mexico City. She and another poet, Toni Treadway, as announced by Walter Skold, "do polyphonic readings in Spanish and English of some Robert Frost poems," -- just as they'd done two years ago at Newburyport's observance of Dead Poets Remembrance Day.

Espaillat's own poems can be playful or serious, or, as in the following, both:

                               Bra

What a good fit! But the label says Honduras:
Alas, I am Union forever, yes, both breasts
and the heart between them committed to U.S. labor.
But such a splendid fit! And the label tells me
the woman who made it, bronze as the breasts now in it,
speaks the language I dream in; I count in Spanish
the pesos she made stitching this breast-divider:
will they go for her son's tuition, her daughter's wedding?
The thought is a lovely fit, but oh, the label!
And oh, those pesos that may be pennies, and hard-earned.
Was it son or daughter who made this, unschooled, unwedded?
How old? Fourteen? Ten? That fear is a tight fit.
 If only the heart could be worn like the breast, divided,
nosing in two directions for news of the wide world,
sniffing here and there for justice, for mercy.
 How burdened every choice is with politics, guilt,
expensive with duty, heavy as breasts in need of
this perfect fit whose label says Honduras.
                                 
Newburyport readers Toni Treadway and Rhina Espaillat, Oct. 7, 2012

***
Dead Poets Society founder Walter Skold, can -- so to speak -- dig up the most obscure of the obsure dead poets; today he read from the work of Marjorie Frost Fraser, "whose book of poetry," he said, "was published by her parents after her death at age 29." One of those parents was Robert Frost.
***
An event which was planned to be held at Emily Dickinson's grave -- stories by Jane Wald, Executive Director of the Dickinson Homestead in Amherst -- was next. Anecdotes about the visitors, and, yes, there is a mailbox at Dickinson's grave (though I never saw it the several times I've been there), plus Emily gets lots of mail at the home she lived in, now a museum dedicated to her. (In 1975, a time when the home had not yet become a museum, I took a walnut from Emily's yard, and still have it.)
***

Pictured to the left is Henry Lyman; he interviewed many poets for a 1976 to 1994 series on New England Public Radio; and, along that way, became a friend of poet Robert Francis (1901-1987).After playing for us a tape of Francis reading a few of his own poems we were then invited to drive north about three miles to Fort Juniper, a small house built by Francis himself, and a place where Robert Frost often visited because he enjoyed the company of Francis, whom Frost publicly referred to as America's "best neglected poet."

Fort Juniper has for some time been made available as a residence for artists -- painters, poets, novelists, photographers -- rent-free, for various lengths of time; rarely, I'm told, for more than a year. It's an ideally small place … just the necessities … and I found myself envying Francis for knowing what was best for him and, in 1940, making it happen by buying half an acre of land and building on it a home that wouldn't bankrupt him; nor would it cry out to him for huge maintenance projects. He could be what he needed to be -- a poet -- and he wouldn't need to make a fortune to live in a beautiful place in a beautiful setting.



My friend Lisa later sent me a card thanking me for "a lovely day" and copied out a Robert Francis poem:



False Flowers



False Solomon's Seal? False Lily of the Valley?
Whoever heard of such a villainy --
To call an unsuspecting flower false
Merely because it isn't something else!
To be oneself, this is Original Sin
Whether we speak of flowers or men.


Lisa (my sunshine on a rainy day) inside Fort Juniper.
Thanks for the photo: Walter Skold



***
The last segment belonged to me. Walter had asked if I would read two poems by Deborah Digges, a woman who, right here in Amherst, took her own life on April 10, 2009. I didn't know her poems that well, and sometimes found them difficult to fathom, but had enjoyed the two memoirs she'd written. So, basically, I just grabbed two of her shorter poems from the Internet, interested mostly that they be easy to read.

As we'd left Fort Juniper it was again raining, raining harder than it had rained all day, and the grey sky made it seem that dusk was about to settle in. It turned out that none of the others followed us to Wildwood Cemetery. I had an audience of three: Lisa, Walter, and the beautiful horse sculpture that adorns the grave.



Sopping with Walter


GREETER OF SOULS
Ponds are spring-fed, lakes run off rivers
Here souls pass, not one deified,
and sometimes this is terrible to know
three floors below the street, where light drinks the world,
siphoned like music through portals.
How fed, that dark, the octaves framed faceless.
A memory of water.
The trees more beautiful not themselves.
Souls who have passed here, tired, brightening.
Dumpsters of linen,
empty gurneys along corridors to parking garages.
Who wonders, is it morning?
Who washes these blankets?
Can I not be the greeter of souls?
What's to be done with the envelopes of hair?
If the inlets are frozen, can I walk across?
When I look down into myself to see a scattering of birds,
do I put on the new garments?
On which side of the river should I wait?

DARWIN'S FINCHES
1
My mother always called it a nest,
the multi-colored mass harvested
from her six daughters' brushes,
and handed it to one of us
after she had shaped it, as we sat in front
of the fire drying our hair.

She said some birds steal anything, a strand
of spider's web, or horse's mane,
the residue of sheep's wool in the grasses
near a fold
where every summer of her girlhood
hundreds nested.

Since then I've seen it for myself, their genius –
how they transform the useless.
I've seen plastics stripped and whittled
into a brilliant straw,
and newspapers – the dates, the years –
supporting the underweavings.
2
As tonight in our bed by the window
you brush my hair to help me sleep, and clean
the brush as my mother did, offering
the nest to the updraft.

I'd like to think it will be lifted as far
as the river, and catch in some white sycamore,
or drift, too light to sink, into the shaded inlets,
the bank-moss, where small fish, frogs, and insects
lay their eggs.
Would this constitute an afterlife?

The story goes that sailors, moored for weeks
off islands they called paradise,
stood in the early sunlight
cutting their hair. And the rare
birds there, nameless, almost extinct,
came down around them
and cleaned the decks
and disappeared into the trees above the sea.

It seemed odd to me that in my randomness I chose poems that both used the word 'inlets' and both used strong images of hair.


I eventually got dry.  Even my sheets of Digges' poetry eventually got crinkly-dry. Thanks to all who enjoyed the day with me; I enjoyed everyone I met or re-met and all the presentations; and I thank especially Walter Skold, founder of Dead Poets Remembrance Day, superior organizer, and Digger-Upper-of-the-Obscure Extraordinaire.

And thank you Lisa. You truly did make the day sunshine-bright!

Monday, September 29, 2014

"A Cookie Mueller Encyclopedia"

A woman in Berlin named Chloe Griffin came across a picture of Cookie Mueller (RIP: 1949-1989) I'd taken and, years later, put on my blog. Claire liked it very much, got in touch with me, and asked for permission to use that image. Of course I'd be thrilled to see one of my pictures in a book; Chloe ended up using it and 8 or 10 other pictures I'd taken of various people connected with early John Waters films in her book Edgewise: A Picture of Cookie Mueller, which just happens to be a really admirable piece of work; I'm proud to have a small connection to it, and am looking forward to meeting Chloe at the "book launch" events in mid-October in Manhattan.



And, oh my, do I love Chloe's sweet inscription and lipstick-kiss!




Recently I was looking up the official publication date of Edgewise -- it is tomorrow, September 30 -- because a friend wanted to order it. While web-browsing, looking for Edgewise I came across another book about Cookie which I'd never heard of. I ordered a copy; I love all things Cookie. 


I opened the package, flipped through the pages and my eye immediately caught a picture that looked familiar. It is familiar. It's a picture of my brother and me. He is going to be surprised And there, too, under the encyclopedic entry "George Fitzgerald" is a little story swiped from my blog as well as the great picture of Cookie that first caught Chloe's eye.

It's fine, but I wish Mallory Curley had gotten in touch with me. I have since made the story a little better with more details; plus Mallory Curley mis-identifies the man with Cookie; it is Mark Baker, not John Rubenstein.




A Cookie Mueller Encyclopedia was published in 2010. I've had this barest smidgen of renown all these years without knowing it.

My original post, the one "re-written" by Mallory Curley was on March 2, 2009, here's a link to it. 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Great Cards

Designed by Richard Stine, 1974,
from Smile in a Mad Dog's I

RIP: Jean Bauchet - Cimetière Montparnasse - Paris

I liked this statue marking the grave of one Jean Bauchet (1906-1995),
an entrepreneur who apparently had enough money to have an
exceptional, though unidentified, sculptor mark his resting place.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Three-Part September Jaunt

Part I - Worcester, Mass.

I started off for Worcester Sunday morning with plenty of time to make one of the hour-long tours of poet Stanley Kunitz's boyhood home. I love many of his poems; and I am moved by his seeringly-sad biography -- how about having your father commit suicide by ingesting carbolic acid in a park down the street just weeks before your birth, an event that might have forced Kunitz to poetry, for in what other form could such tragedy be dealt with?

And I'm fond of Carol, the woman who owns this home and graciously opens it to the pubic at least once a year. She and her husband, Greg (RIP), bought the place in 1979, and, over many years and with much sweat and expending of hard-earned money, lovingly restored it to the period --- the early 1900s -- when Stanley lived there, though when they set off on this project they had no idea that it had been the boyhood home of a man who would become Poet Laureate twice.

This would be my fourth or fifth visit.








So with that plenty of time, I went to and strolled around in the Worcester Museum of Art. My favorite thing may have been the rock-star-giant photo on the outside-wall advertising Fifty Centuries of Art. (It's a reproduction of a Joseph Rodefer De Camp painting called "Sally" from 1907.) Not that the place wasn't full of treasures ... I especially loved a room of exquisite 18th century furniture ... but I didn't have enough time to browse slowly; and the museum's current featured exhibit of arms and armor didn't interest me in the least.
When I stepped out of the museum the beautiful bronze steeple of Trinity Lutheran Church across Lancaster Street caught my eye.  (Note: The light blue RAV4 in lower left of photo will, later in this account, be lost.)

And then I arrived at the house where Stanley Kunitz lived as a boy; passing, on the way, the park in which his father had ingested that carbolic acid a few weeks before Stanley's birth. And it is the house where, later, his step-father (who is related somehow to the contemporary artist, Jim Dine) had a massive heart attack while hanging drapes in the living room, and died.








Above: The living room and dining room after Carol and Greg's restoration. So much which you see in the house will lead you directly to one of Kunitz's poems ... for instance, on the small grand piano in the living room, the sheet music for Warum rests. From "Three Floors":

Sister's doughboy on last leave
has robbed me of her hand;
downstairs at intervals she played
Warum on the baby grand.




After the day's last tour, there was "open mic" … I read a poem I'd written. People said nice things about it … a repeated comment was that I'm a good story teller. A woman I met at an earlier event has asked if she could publish this poem in a journal she edits; but still I don't have confidence in my poems; I never spend as much time as they need, and so on my drive home I tore that poem I'd read apart, threw some of it out, tightened it up some, and gave it a new name: "I Carry Melancholy in My Pockets" … now I need to put it back together.

And below is the house cat, the cat who gets to live where Stanley Kunitz once lived. On other visits to this house, she has been merely curled up on a bed, oblivious of the string of visitors tromping into and then out of the bedroom.


Part II - Saugus, Mass.

About ten years ago when I started reading The Huffington Post there was one of those stupid articles: "The Ten Best Glazed Doughnut Shops in America." Number one was a place called Kane's in a small town northeast of Boston. I googled map directions at the time, and have carried that sheet of paper in my satchel all these years. On Monday morning I left my motel near Worcester and drove to Saugus. The doughnuts were better than I'm used to, but not .. alas! .. anywhere near as good as those that were delivered from Fort Wayne (once a week I think) to Frank & Jerry's, one of Mentone's three small groceries.


Part III - Quincy, Mass.


I drove into downtown Quincy, following signs until I reached the Adams National Historical Park Visitor Center. I drove around the block, and then another block; all the parking garages seemed to be for the use only of medical centers or the community college. I finally found a parallel spot on the left side of a one-way street. There was no meter, but a sign indicated a one-hour limit. I supposed that would be plenty of time and headed to the Visitor Center.


 I learned that this modern facade was not shielding the homes of our 2nd and our 6th Presidents, but rather just the place where you board a trolley which takes you to their homes; the excursion lasts two hours. I got a ticket -- free, because I have a Senior Pass for the National Parks. I had 45 minutes to wait for the next tour. I told the young Visitor Use Assistant (as they are called, the Park Service having a penchant for senseless titles; i.e. a lifeguard is not a lifeguard but a Recreational Assistant) that I needed to move my car. He said I could move it into the garage behind where we were standing … a sign said it was for the use of Harvard-Something-Or-Other, but the 3rd floor was leased from them for National Park users. "I can validate your ticket," the young man said.  Free is always good.

So off I went to move my car.  Except I'd forgotten where it was! Downtown Quincy does not have a straight street to its name. Cowpaths! Where I thought my car should be it wasn't. I walked a block this way, another a different way, several in ways I didn't even know which way I was going. It was a hot day. I'm not a good walker anymore; my legs cramp up. I started to panic. Then I saw walking ahead of me a man dressed in dark blue pants and a light blue short-sleeved shirt. "Excuse me, sir!" I called. He stopped and turned around. A friendly smile. A handsome face. The most beautiful red hair you've ever seen. Badge. Name-tag. I told him I had lost my car. "Don't worry," he said, "we'll find it together!" "What's your name?" he asked, and we chatted away. He led us to different streets along which parking was allowed -- none too far away -- but had me describe my car, a light blue RAV4, and then insisted that I wait at the head of the block while he walked along it looking for my car.  Finally, after maybe three blocks, I remembered that I'd parked parallel on the left side of a one-way street, and the young patrolman knew immediately where it was. "I'll lead you to it!" And there it was. "Just leave it here, you don't need to move it. I'll make sure there's no problem."

Wow! What a nice guy! I was falling in love with him, with Quincy, and with the aspect of fate which guided my feet to him.

I had time for a Starbuck's latte, sitting in the lovely sun on a bench near where I'd be boarding the trolley.

I'm not going to say a lot about the Adams families except that they were, generation after generation, admirable beyond admirable. It made me wonder why I am reading a four-volumed (so far, and more volumes to come) novel (it's really an autobiography) by a Norwegian, when surely David McCullough's The Adams Family would be a much richer reading experience. Learning as much as I did about the Adams family from the National Park Interpreters (they were excellent) whetted my appetite for further knowledge of the greatness within this family.  I would say this: if you drive past Quincy 50 or a hundred or a couple hundred times as I have, be sure that you eventually stop for this fabulous National Park experience.


Above is the library of John Adams, built of stone, and fifteen feet or so away from the main house built of wood. This "fire-proof" library was built after Thomas Jefferson's library was destroyed by a fire.


Another view of the library.


Flowers along a garden path.


Front of the main house.


On the right, the main house; on the left, the library.

And, last, a picture of the beautifully shaped shrubbery
in front of the house across the street.
--------------------------------------------------
I did a google search for something to do with Kunitz and up popped a post I did about the 2011 visit to his boyhood home. It is a more attractive word-picture of the house. It's un-nerving and sad to think that just a few years ago I was a better writer than I am now.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Great Grammarians

Menaker, author of a memoir called My Mistake, started our at The New Yorker as a fact checker but rose to become an editor, particularly of short stories.

I loved Menaker's book, especially the several  hilarious anecdotes he recounts, such as, for example, the following few. (Note: Menaker writes in the present tense):

My mother arrives home [South Nyack] from her arduous commute to the offices of Fortune, where she has become a legendary copy editor -- an expert on grammar, usage, idiom. She was a Classics major at Bryn Mawr and knows Greek and Latin. She is beautiful -- she always wears her brown hair in a bun, always acts in a somewhat flirtatious way even with Mike [Menaker's brother] and me, always makes an impression of effortless good looks. She says to me, "When I got off the bus I heard one Negro boy on a bicycle say to another, who wanted a ride, 'Get the fuck up on the bicycle.'"

I have never heard her use those words before. She says, "I wonder what part of speech "the fuck" is in that sentence structure."

***

Before she dies, suffering from metastatic pancreatic cancer … she writes a last entry in her journal: "Is this what I get for feeling so superior my entire life?"


***

[At his mother's memorial gathering] the last person to speak is Greg, my mother's last boarder. He does a bad job, unfortunately -- choking back tears and speaking almost incoherently. It makes me angry.

But then I think how amused my mother would have been by this display, and that calms me down. And then I remember two incidents involving Greg that make my blood simmer all over again. Once, in the driveway at the Nyack house, Greg told me that he had been undecided about whether to take this course or that course at the college. "But I listened to God," he said, "and God told me what direction to follow. I heard His voice saying what I should do, and I felt so grateful." 

Ok -- that bugs me but really isn't so bad. Greg was lucky to have joe traffic-cop God pointing him in the right direction. But then, as he is still babbling and quasi-sobbing, I recall a conversation that my mother had with him shortly after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She said, "I asked him, 'Greg, do you believe that when I die I will go to Hell because I haven't been born again? And he got upset and looked around and sighed and knitted his brow, and then he said, 'Yes, Mary, I'm afraid that that is what God has decreed. You will go to hell.'"

When she told me that story, I said, "What the fuck kind of religion obliges its followers to tell someone with a terminal diagnosis, a very fine and moral person, that they are going to Hell?

My mother said, "That she is going to Hell. Someone is singular."

***

Menaker's uncle left him a house near Great Barrington where, eventually, another New Yorker writer, the film critic Pauline Kael lived. 

She and I become friends up there, now that we have both left The New YorkerI’m visiting her at her house, on the hill above the town, one afternoon, sitting on the wide front porch. She has read a piece I wrote for the New York Times Magazine about Emmylou Harris and gives me a compliment about it. I tell her that once I’d been interviewing the singer, years earlier, backstage at Carnegie Hall after a concert, when we were both in our early thirties. She was in what seemed like a rivalry, a friendly one, with Linda Ronstadt. I’d fancied myself in love with Emmylou Harris, which distinguished me from perhaps four blind, deaf males in America. She turned away to say something to someone else, turned back to me, and said, "I'm sorry, Dave, what was the question?" I said, "It's Dan, but that's OK, Linda." She laughed. Ten minutes later, after circulating in the room, she came back to me and said, "We're going out to have some dinner. Would you like to come?" I said that I couldn't, even though I absolutely could -- because I was just plain terrified. So the point was I absolutely couldn't. Oh, oh, my mistake.

Pauline listens. When I finish, she says, "You asshole!"

I laugh and say, "Thanks, Pauline -- thanks for your understanding after I told you this mortifying youthful tale."

"You have to understand," she says. "I said that because when I was in San Francisco, at KPFA, Duke Ellington propositioned me. I was a young, swooning girl, but I said no too."

"I'm not sure 'propositioned' is the right ---"

"Asshole is."
***

Menaker says that the two stories The New Yorker published in his day [which number, by the way, is down to one now] were chosen out of some two hundred and fifty submitted. "So if, say, twenty-five of those submissions earn more than a cursory glance, then the acceptance rate from even that select group -- of approximately two a week -- is under ten percent."

Daniel Menaker (Google image)
***
I twice tried to be one of that "select group" that gets a story into The New Yorker. I never thought I was good at fiction; and I preferred writing letters to friends anyhow.  But then a friend named Cookie Mueller got a collection of stories called Walking Through Clear Water in A Pool Painted Black published (posthumously, as it turned out, sad as it was. But I love these stories; Cookie managed to make writing seem so effortless … basically just telling anecdotes from her own life, and calling them fiction. I told myself, "You can do that."

I wrote ten or twelve stories and mailed the one I thought had the best shot to The New Yorker. Someone had told me the magazine's fiction editor's name so I even addressed it to Daniel Menaker.  Back came this response:



I was thrilled that even though it was a form rejection, still it had a personal note.

Three years later (I'm really slow) I tried again with the same story, hoping to catch Menaker in-house. Rejected a second time, but also again a personal note and, this time, from "DM" himself.



So, despite having "a lot of energy" and being "lively" "The Snitter" didn't make the cut. It got put away in a box somewhere; I haven't seen it for years.

(And, eventually, I realized of course that you can't write like Cookie Mueller unless you are Cookie Mueller.)

Saturday, April 19, 2014

"The Gutenberg Elegies: the Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age" - Sven Birkets

I just read this book … it is hard to believe it was published twenty years ago … it could have been published last month and still would seem up-to-date. What foresight this guy had. Four or five times I came upon a sentence that made me question that Sven Birkerts would have known this in 1994 and I would go back to the copyright page and check to see if it really did say 1994 … and it did say it every time. 

Here's the last paragraph of the book:

"The devil no longer moves about on cloven hooves, reeking of brimstone He is an affable, efficient fellow. He claims to want to help us all along to a brighter, easier future, and his sales pitch is very smooth. I was, as the old song goes, almost persuaded. I saw what it could be like, our toil and misery replaced by a vivid, pleasant dream. Fingers tap keys, oceans of fact and sensation get downloaded, are dissolved through the nervous system. Bottomless wells of data are accessed and manipulated, everything flowing at circuit speed. Gone the rock in the field, the broken hoe, the grueling distances. 'History,' said Stephen Dedalus, 'is a nightmare from which I am trying to awaken.' This may be the awakening, but it feels curiously like the fantasies that circulate through our sleep. From deep in the heart I hear the voice that says, 'Refuse it.'"

I realize what excellent times I have had the privilege of living through; I do not lament not getting to live far into a future that I am convinced will be far less appealing than, say, 1940 to now has been. 

Monday, March 10, 2014

RIP: Clare Booth Luce - March 10, 1905 - Oct 4 1989

 
When visiting a brother in South Carolina a few years back we went to Mepkin Abbey, a Trappist monastery, and a tourist attraction, northwest of Charleston. We had a picnic sort of lunch as we sat on a bench from which there was a fetching view of Cooper River. It was warm and sunny, a perfect day to eat outside and then walk around some of the 3000-plus acres of the abbey, land which in earlier days had been a plantation.
 
The famous publisher Henry R. Luce and his wife, Clare Boothe Luce, bought the property in 1936.
 
I remember reading her name in the news when I was young; she was a member of Congress, but, before that, she was also a famous playwright -- her most successful play, The Women, from 1936, had an all-female cast numbering nearly forty. She was also an admired fiction writer and journalist. She was beautiful and seductive ... her mother trained her in seductiveness, urging her to frequent places where she might find a rich husband ... and Clare succeeded twice in that endeavor.
 
Credited to Luce are many witty phrases, including: 'No good deed goes unpunished' and 'Widowhood is a fringe benefit of marriage' as well as smart observations such as 'Because I am a woman, I must make unusual efforts to succeed. If I fail, no one will say "She doesn't have what it takes." They will say, "Women don't have what it takes."'
 
Her stint as a foreign correspondent in Europe in the early forties did not impress another wit of the day, Dorothy Parker, who said that Luce's book about the early years of the war should have been called All Clare on the Western Front.

 
In her early years as a Republican Congresswoman, she had some wonderfully progressive ideas, but then, coming to despise Presidents Roosevelt and Truman, she moved further and further to the right. (Today she'd probably be a star of the Tea Party.) When Eisenhower assumed the Presidency he appointed Mrs. Luce as the Ambassador to Italy; she was the first woman to hold an important diplomatic post. Late in his Presidency, Eisenhower appointed her as Ambassador to Brazil. Four days after the appoiintment -- before she'd left for Brazil -- she remarked that Bolivia, where people were rioting, should be divided among its neighbors. This undiplomatic should-have-kept-your-mouth-shut resulted in a hasty resignation.
 
Though I wouldn't have known the word in my younger days, it seemed to me that the name Clare Boothe Luce was onomaipoeiac for snooty or uppity. This is not to say she was; I have no idea. She was probably, except in the political views of Democrats, charming as all get out. 
 
 
Luce Family Cemetery, Moncks Corner, South Carolina
Clare Boothe Luce had only one child, Ann, sired by her first husband. Ann was killed in a car crash at the age of twenty in 1944. Seeking consolation, Clare Boothe Luce found it in conversations with a Catholic priest, and she converted to that faith. One result of this was the donation of most of the Luce's South Carolina grounds to the Trappists in 1949.

Stone marking the graves of Henry and Claire Boothe Luce

Gravestone of Clare Boothe Luce's daughter, Ann Clark Brokaw.
The epitaph is Psalm 45:
Hearken O daughter
and consider \
and incline thine ear
forget also thine own people
and thy father's house
So shall the King
greatly desire thy beauty
for He is they Lord
worship thou him.

Gravestone of Nancy Bryan Luce, daughter-in-law
of Henry R. Luce

On another part of the grounds is the private graveyard
of the Laurens family; the plantation was owned by
the family for several generations.

Our Lady of Mepkin

Also on the Abbey grounds, a memorial to nine Charleston firemen
who perished while fighting a sofa store fire in 2007.