It was a more innocent time.
The grounds were not unlike a small college: a circle drive in front of the administration building; two rows of two-story, red brick residence halls; spacious lawns and great leafy trees rising above it all. But in this instance the halls were wards, and the grounds those of the Idaho State School and Hospital—the state’s institution for the mentally retarded. Residing there were six hundred and twenty-seven developmentally disabled children and adults, all of them requiring twenty-four-hour assistance and supervision. Another couple hundred people worked on staff.
A member of administration (in a vaporous position somewhere in the loose space between administrative assistant and assistant superintendent), I had drawn manager duty on that Saturday. It was breezy, jacket-and-scarf cold, and the trees were bare of leaves. It was a weekend day and an inside day.
I was walking from the hospital building to administration (almost certainly with my best hand-carved pipe only just lit) when I saw him. A man I did not know was standing nearly at the center of the campus, two… Continue reading
In my last post, I laid the foundation for an occasional series exploring the sublime—unmatched and unmatchable human accomplishments that rise above all others, that rise “beyond all possibility of calculation, measurement or imitation.” Achievements which transport us viscerally or intellectually, emotionally or spiritually to a place of great wonderment. As examples, I proposed Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin and the sculpture Balzac by Auguste Rodin.
For my next nomination, I ask you to watch a performance of the Barcarolle from the opera by Jacques Offenbach, The Tales of Hoffman. Watch it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=is0Lb4cj_3c. (Yes, my first suggestion for the transcendental requires you not only to listen to music which derives its name from gondoliers, but to watch it on social media, no less.) It will require about three minutes for your first time through, but my guess is you will want to hear it again, again, and perhaps again. I’ve imported a translation from the French below.
Sisters Irina and Christina Lordachescu perform the Barcarolle in what appears to be an anteroom of a concert hall in Budapest. They are accompanied only by a pianist. It’s an informal setting, not unlike having them in your… 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
At the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., there is an impossibly long wall of bronze stars—an abstract but instantly recognizable representation of the heroes of war, the horrors of war, soldiers lost at war.
Each one of the four thousand palm-sized stars standing at attention represents one hundred lives lost. One star, one hundred fathers, sons, brothers, and yes, mothers, daughters and sisters lost at war.
Four thousand stars.
It is overwhelming.
I’d say inconceivable, were it only so.
Up on their wall, the stars are fixed in place. Below, in reflection, they stir about, stretch, converse with each other. They reach toward their comrades and withdraw, reach toward the captivated visitor and withdraw.
Up on their wall, the stars are flotillas, regiments, squadrons.
In reflection, they are souls.
J. S. Anderson
Photos by J. S. Anderson: Field of Stars, World War II Memorial, Washington, D. C.
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
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
In a new blog entitled “Authentic Voice”, Editor Peter Gelfan cites BOOK OF HOURS: The Beguilement of Brother Alphaios as an example of an author with a “strong voice”. His comments are posted on the website of The Editorial Department, at the following link:
Gelfan states in part: “…By the time I was a few chapters into the book, I was convinced that the author had been a cloistered monk whose monastic duties included restoring the illuminations of antique manuscripts—just like his protagonist. This is what I mean by an authentic voice.”
Though considerable and detailed research was required in the preparation of BOOK OF HOURS, Gelfan notes: “Like Hemingway, Anderson doesn’t dwell on the tools of the trade but concentrates on his protagonist’s intent and how he plans meticulously to achieve it. Authenticity seems to have more to do with the characters’ involvement in the setting and props than with the author’s factual knowledge of them.”
Peter Gelfan is a freelance editor living and working in New York City, and author of Found Objects, a novel. When editing my work, he was direct, professional, and… Continue reading