Several recent blogposts notwithstanding, I have never been one to lean on the quotations of others, great or not. I have preferred most of my adult life—but to less effect, I suppose—a more experiential search for wisdom. So I have been surprised at the strength of my appreciation for the series of literary plaques set into the sidewalk near the New York City Public Library.
From the concrete below, a bronze rectangle faces upward to the sky and warns, “The bird that would soar above the level plain of tradition and prejudice must have strong wings.” (From The Awakening, an 1899 novel by Kate Chopin, 1851-1904.)
Lest one think only of race or ethnicity (and why might one not, for it is true there as well), the context for this particular remark is womanhood—the quiet constraints on the freedoms of women at the turn of the twentieth century. It would be two decades before the 19th Amendment to the Constitution finally recognized (not “gave”, as some might say, but recognized) the right of women to vote. That was a necessary step, but a hundred years later we know it was not anywhere near sufficient to dissipate the hard… Continue reading
“Because when I read, I don’t really read; I pop a beautiful sentence into my mouth and suck it like a fruit drop, or I sip it like a liqueur until the thought dissolves in me like alcohol, infusing brain and heart and coursing on through the veins to the root of each blood vessel.”
So says Hanta on the first page of Too Loud a Solitude, a novella by Bohumil Hrabal (1914-1997).
What more could any writer wish than to have such a reader?
And, too, the words are so vivid as to create the very physical sensations of which he speaks.
I considered posting the sentence with only a simple “wow,” but found myself wanting to know more about these words and their context.
I was in for a surprise.
This happy sentence, chock full of the delights of discovery (and the savoring of it) stands out in the novella as brilliantly as a diamond—not so much for the quality of its construction or insight (for that is superb throughout), but in its brightness of mood. Too Loud A Solitude is full of oppression and darkness and even the putrid. And… Continue reading
Five full drafts from conception and one major reorganization later, BOOK OF HOURS: Peter’s Parchment is off to the editor. There is no doubt he will provide a full, insightful and constructive critique with his well-pared quill. “He” is Peter Gelfan, Associate Editor at The Editorial Department.
It is a sequel. In BOOK OF HOURS: Peter’s Parchment, Brother Alphaios and archivist Inaki Arriaga discover an ancient parchment, which,if made public, could rock the very foundations of the Church. Or, if allowed to remain in the hands of its unscrupulous billionaire owner, it could provide him immense leverage against the Church for his own illicit purposes. Either outcome would render their magnificent Book of Hours—to be a gift for the Pope himself—into nothing but a hollow, bitter vessel for a religious scandal of millennial proportions.
How does one preserve history against such odds? How does one enlighten it?
Meanwhile, the same self-serving mogul has his sights set on acquiring for himself the real estate upon which the humble Monastery of St. Ambrose sits, for it occupies one of the most valuable pieces of land in the entire city. How do a handful of monks, who seek only salvation in… Continue reading
In the language of aesthetics, the sublime is “the quality of greatness, whether physical, moral, intellectual, metaphysical, aesthetic, spiritual or artistic. The term specifically refers to a greatness beyond all possibility of calculation, measurement or imitation.” [See footnote.]
But not beyond our accomplishment. And not beyond our appreciation, for the sublime transports us viscerally, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually to a place of great wonderment. Of awe. It leads us to a capacious realization of the heights possible within the human experience. Of the pinnacles within our reach if only we pursue them.
Some accomplishments that attain the sublime are the product of spontaneous inspiration, or more likely of relentless exploration and trial by individuals who have the experience and perspicacity to allow such ideas to pierce the commonplace. I think, for instance, of Auguste Rodin and his rough but powerful statue Balzac, the great thinker standing far back and assessing—some say dominating—the world, his immense energy barely contained.
In Peter’s Parchment, The Beguilement of Brother Alphaios, while walking along… Continue reading
Some time ago, my best friend Liz (now my wife) and I were discussing the burdens of responsibility at work and home, the rush of our lives, the clamor of family. Each of us spoke of a need to be alone from time to time and the quiet pleasure it can bring.
Time alone allows our minds to rest, our emotions and physical bodies to settle, to breathe. For her, to peruse recipes, imagine fine meals and cook them at her leisure—and emerge relaxed and recharged. For me, to let my mind drift and mull.
Peace and relaxed introspection was our common wish.
We could not find a word or phrase that captured the sense of it. “Alone” or “being alone” weren’t sufficient, for they did not carry a sense of contentment or pleasure. And the words “lonely” and “loneliness” convey negative values such as sadness, depression and even anguish—the opposite of what we wanted to express.
Accustomed to playing the occasional word game, we found ourselves working backward from “loneliness”—the antonym, we decided—until it came to us: Drop the first letter and create an entirely new word: oneliness. … Continue reading
On April 18, 2014, The Editorial Department published a guest blog I prepared entitled “What Do I Know?” It gives my take on the old stumbling-block of an adage, “write what you know….” Yes, I have a grasp of several subjects, but what I know best is how I perceive the world around me, emotionally, intellectually, viscerally and visually. And that opens up a world of possibilities. Check it out:
(The Editorial Department’s Peter Gelfan was the editor of BOOK OF HOURS: The Beguilement of Brother Alphaios.)
On April 21, 2014, Lucky Bat Books, my publisher, posted my guest blog “Mr. Kissinger and Me.” It tells a story I heard years ago about the famous Henry Kissinger, the former U. S. National Security Advisor and Secretary of State. No, I didn’t remotely know him, but it posits a very high standard for one’s work—one which I think authors should keep in mind. Here’s the link:
J. S. Anderson
Photo by J. S. Anderson. Chiaroscuro at Park Headquarters, Saguara National Park West, Tucson, AZ
It seems an apt statement for creative writing as well, no matter the form.
I wrote “Blue Notes” several years ago while living in Tucson, but was never really sure I’d finished it. It seemed to leave its subject unresolved, a town (and its people) in slow and silent decline into the dust from which it rose. I’ve felt the poem was missing either the spark of optimism or the mercy of certainty.
Yet sometimes the blues are not just a beat. Sometimes they just don’t end.
I’ve come across another observation about art which I hope applies to this poem. It’s from Paul Gardener (Strength to Love, 1963): “A painting is never finished. It simply stops in interesting places.”
The colors of this town, once vibrant and proud,
Have blanched toward white, tan and brown.
House paint and trim and storefront signs,
Once bright of hue are faded and rimed.
Even the tags of graffiti, once… Continue reading
Its synonyms include “spontaneous,” “extemporaneous,” “impromptu,” and “off-hand”. Have you come across another word whose sound seems so contrary to its meaning?
“On Saturday, we made an autoschediastic trip to the beach.”
“Don’t take offense, John. I’m sure it was just an autoschediastic remark.”
“I don’t have a prepared speech for you today. I’ll be making just a few autoschediastic remarks.”
Is there any other word whose structure and sound are so unlike its meaning?
Agony and antagony: The noun form of this word is agony, yet its direct antonym is antagonism. Seems to me the more symmetrical construction “antagony” should at least be an option. It’s more direct and more poignant. In this form, it is clear emotion. In the other, it’s once removed, a thing. Whatever happened to “antagony?”
And what about “minify”?
Several dictionaries define the word “magnify” as “to make greater in actual size.” For a word meaning the opposite, “to… Continue reading
The word “inquisition” has a Middle Ages ring to it, and a distinctly religious one. Its three best known episodes—the Medieval, the Roman and the Spanish (driven more by royalty than religion) have won a chilling place in Western cultural lore through stories of Catholic pursuit of heresy, machines of torture, and burnings at the stake. Ad extirpanda, issued in 1232 by Pope Gregory IV, was an awful call for the systematic elimination of heretics, and gave papal sanction for the use of torture.
The Catholic Church has not been the only one to use such measures in pursuit of doctrinal purity. John Calvin, the reform founder of what would become the Presbyterian Church, pursued much the same response when his own nascent denomination was affronted by other reformers. (See Out of the Flames, by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone.) Many secular governments, even commercial interests have done the same. Moreover, inquisition is not only history, it is a horrifying but recurrent modern phenomenon as well.
The book God’s Jury, by Cullen Murphy (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012), makes this case convincingly. He cites some recent examples and predicts there will… Continue reading
I’m old-school when it comes to business relationships: I prefer to work with people I’ve actually met rather than some cleverly e-named but faceless entity online. So it was with pleasure that I came across Jude Harlan last summer under a Lucky Bat Books banner at the Northwest Book Festival in Portland, OR. It required repeated trips back to her booth to speak with her, for each time I went by she was deep in conversation with someone else. I bided my time; wisely, it turned out.
After an initial conversation in which we took each other’s measure, we both did some due diligence. She and her co-founder, Cindie Geddes, read a substantial portion of the manuscript. For my part, I contacted three Lucky Bat authors with several questions about the imprint. Jude and Cindie invited me to sign on, and having received prompt and enthusiastic references regarding their work, I was pleased to do so.
I’m glad I did. Lucky Bat Books provided coherence for me in the complex, arcane world of modern publishing, and has delivered a beautiful product.
For more information on Lucky Bat Books, click here: … Continue reading