(Spoiler alert: If you're planning on
reading one of the three million copies of GO SET A WATCHMAN already printed by
its publisher, you may want to save this blog for afterwards, as it could
possibly be at odds with your enjoyment of a historic best-seller. Fair
solely on reading TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (more than once, more than half a
century ago), I thought Scout might have grown up to be a pretty decent writer.
Instead, she migrated to New York
City, where she lived for several years before returning to south Alabama at
age 26 to marry a high school beau she had not seen in five years and perhaps
serve as nursemaid to her 72 year old father, the much beloved Atticus
Finch. She immediately catches them in
the act of attending not a topless bar or whore house but a White Citizens Council
you believing this yet? Me neither. Jacket photo from GO SET A WATCHMAN
best parts of Harper Lee’s GO SET A
WATCHMAN are those, not nearly enough, in which she conjures up her childhood
pals, all known fondly from TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, charming Winnie the Pooh
version of growing up in the Jim Crow south, if you were white. Tempting as it is, it is not easy to write
from the point view of children. Many
have tried. Most fail. Harper Lee has a flair for it.
Twain is the gold standard for writing in the voice of a child, such as
Huckleberry Finn: “You don’t know about me, without you have read a book
by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter. That
book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly.”
Twain could be a merciless critic. In "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses," http://twain.lib.virginia.edu/projects/rissetto/offense.html: “Cooper’s art has some defects. In one place in “Deerslayer,” and in the
restricted space of two-thirds of a page, Cooper has scored 114 offenses
against literary art out of a possible 115.
It breaks the record.”
I have not totaled the literary offenses in GO SET A WATCHMAN, but they
are numerous and pervasive. For TO KILL
MOCKINGBIRD, a skilled editor held Harper Lee’s hand through several rewrites
and revisions. Jonathan Miller details
in the July 12, 2015 New York Times “The Invisible Hand Behind Harper Lee’s TO
KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.” Throughout GO SET A
WATCHMAN, shallow intellectual argument, even unedited notes, appear more regularly
than fiction. It is easy to imagine the
original submission of Ms. Lee’s manuscript evoking a response such as, “Focus
on the youngsters. Forget the rest.” To her credit, she did.
SET A WATCHMAN is published by HarperCollins, a subsidiary of News Corp., Rupert Murdoch, owner
and master. Prominent among media
properties of News Corp. is Fox News, purveyors of, well, don't get me started,
but I am certainly suspicious when their media products include apologia such
as in GO SET A WATCHMAN, historical distortions, and blatant states-rights,
every man for himself conservatism. If a soft and sweet liberal icon is
besmirched in the process, oh, happy day at News Corp.
(This article appears in the current issue of The Republic --The Republic of East Alabama Artists; Republic for short)
By William Cotter
One personality quiz game on the internet invites the fantasy: What famous character from literature are you?
My wife of 40 years had earned two degrees in English from Georgia State University in Atlanta. What could be more fun than being a famous character? When she answered all the questions, her fictional alter-ego was identified as Scout from To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee of Monroeville, Alabama. I took the same quiz. Nothing up my sleeve, no wagering or side bets allowed. Who was I? Atticus Finch, Scout’s father.
Indeed my wife’s father had been venerated and beloved, the second of four consecutive generations of South Alabama lawyers, the most recent of which had named a daughter Harper, as also had actor Gregory Peck, who won an Oscar for his portrayal of Atticus Finch in the movie version of To Kill a Mockingbird.
A. C. Lee, Harper Lee's father, was a Monroeville, Alabama, lawyer, newspaper publisher, and state legislator.
Gregory Peck won an Oscar for his performance as Atticus Finch in the movie version ofTo Kill a Mockingbird. Peck and Harper Lee became friends, and he named his daughter Harper.
Harper Lee’s novel has sold more than a million copies every year since its publication in 1960, ranking it on the all-time best-seller list along with The Bible and Gone With the Wind, thanks partly to its success with high school English teachers and their students interested in justice and injustice. Still, without explanation and little comment, Harper Lee has published nothing since, until the recent announcement that a sequel will be released this summer entitled Go Set A Watchman. All the more unexpected because Harper Lee is now 89 years old, mostly blind, profoundly deaf, and minimally communicative in a Monroeville nursing home.
For many years, Harper Lee’s sister Alice looked after legal matters. A lawyer, like their daddy, Alice lived to be 100. At one time, they had been hoodwinked into signing away copyrights for To Kill a Mockingbird. Then a lawsuit was filed and ultimately settled but terms undisclosed. Who is looking after Harper Lee’s interest at this time, now that sister Alice has died?
The publisher of Go Set A Watchman says the manuscript was discovered attached to a file copy of the original manuscript of To Kill a Mockingbird. Does that make it at best discarded remnants, chaff separated from the wheat, sweepings piled in a corner and now hailed as long-lost by the mill owners?
Monroeville has been designated the literary capital of Alabama by the state legislature, surprise experts on the subject but with the certain knowledge that Harper Lee and Truman Capote were childhood pals, two years apart in age, and next-door neighbors on Alabama Ave., barely a hopscotch from the Monroe County courthouse, where they stowed away in the balcony like Becky Thatcher and Tom Sawyer to watch trials instead of going to the movies.
Mel's Dairy Dream now occupies the lot on Alabama Ave., where Nelle Harper Lee and Truman Capote, childhood pals, played hopscotch. The stone wall remnant is on the property where Capote lived with his old maid aunts.
Half a century without a sequel to Harper Lee's classic To Kill A Mockingbird, this summer Go Set A Watchman appears miraculously, though she is blind, deaf, and minimally communicative at age 89 in a Monroeville nursing home
The historic courthouse has been preserved beautifully and thoughtfully as a museum worthy of Harper Lee’s literary legacy. The Monroeville Chamber of Commerce estimates 30,000 visitors a year, about equal to the permanent population of the county. In the spring, live performances of To Kill a Mockingbird are scheduled for the courthouse, and the Alabama Writers’ Symposium nearby culminates in the Harper Lee Award for some gifted writer. These events are well attended. All the hotel rooms in Monroeville were booked up solid, when I tried to make reservations. I stayed in Evergreen, 22 miles away, at the same exit of I-65.
Some citizens of Evergreen declared they believed the publication of Go Set A Watchman, the sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird, is “a hoax.” However, a loyal fan from far off Post Falls, Idaho wrote to me, “I had just watched the movie again (after many years) a few weeks before this became known…that there was a sequel. I’m sorry the same actors won’t be available for a movie—but I can read the sequel and imagine them.”
The friendship between Nelle Harper Lee and Truman Capote survived into adulthood, after each had moved to New York. Ms. Lee accompanied Capote to Kansas to research the gruesome family-murder that was the subject of his non-fiction book In Cold Blood. Capote enjoyed literary success years before To Kill A Mockingbird appeared. Almost from the beginning, whispers could be heard that perhaps Capote had a hand in the writing of To Kill A Mockingbird. No specifics. No denials. No introductions to publishers, no good advice. Just a smash hit book, followed by over half a century of silence.
On the cover of the first edition of To Kill a Mockingbird, Capote quipped, “Someone rare has written this very fine first novel, a writer with the liveliest sense of life, and the warmest, most authentic sense of humor.” Who would say such a thing, if he were talking about himself?
Harper Lee once said Truman Capote had “landed from Mars.”
I gave myself a birthday
present, a roll top secretary, not a person but a small writing desk. I
took some cast offs to the Goodwill and was irresistibly attracted by the desk,
in great condition, needing only a little wax on the wood slides for the drawers,
maybe a touch up here and there on the exterior stain.
My age now is three score
and eleven. The things that you’re
liable to read in The Bible. Borrowed
time. Overtime. If I had ever suspected for a minute I might
live this long, I would have considered taking better care of myself.
“I do not fear death. I
had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not
suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.” – Mark Twain.
We are all made of the same stuff as the rest of the
universe, the vast spaces, the stars, including the ones you can still see,
even though they are no longer there.
Human life selects from the Periodic Table, which is not a piece of
furniture. One from column A, another
from column B, column C, etc, like choices from a foreign and incomprehensible
According to Wikipedia, “Almost 99% of the mass of the human body
is made up of six elements: oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, and
phosphorus. Only about 0.85% is composed of another five elements: potassium,
sulfur, sodium, chlorine, and magnesium. All are necessary to life.”
Wikipedia does not guess at the composition of the human
soul, whether electrolytes or restless atoms, always seeking to rearrange
themselves and spread the news. Or love, like party balloons filled with the
noble gas helium, lifted to the ceiling or beyond.
After Shakespeare wrote MACBETH, maybe there was not much else left to say about ambition, power, guilt, lust. Then along comes Giuseppe Verdi. Now Anna Netrebko.
Verdi's MACBETH opened the 2014-15 season of the Metropolitan Opera's Live in HD, its ninth of high definition broadcasts to 2,000 movie theaters in 69 countries.
The first encore of the season is scheduled for Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. local time.
Diva Netrebko's Lady Macbeth:
"...a sensation at the Metropolitan Opera, winning roars from audiences...and rave reviews." -- New York Times.
"The smoky, covered timbre, expanded to full-throttle volume, and the piercing, steel-edged top were perfect for this single-minded character, driven by an ambition that stops at nothing." -- Wall Street Journal.
"One of the greatest triumphs in Met history." -- Bloomberg.
"What Netrebko lacks in subtlety, she makes up for in bosom." -- Cotterpen.
The reminder of the season:
MoMozart’sLe Nozze di Figaro
October 18, 2014, 12:55 pm ET. Encore: Wed., Oct. 22, 2014, 6:30 p.m. Met
Music Director James Levine conducts a spirited new production of Mozart’s
masterpiece, directed by Richard Eyre, who sets the action of this classic
domestic comedy in an 18th-century manor house in Seville during the 1930s. Dashing
bass-baritone Ildar Abdrazakov leads the cast in the title role of the clever
servant, opposite Marlis Petersen as his bride, Susanna, Peter Mattei as the
philandering Count they work for, Amanda Majeski as the long-suffering
Countess, and Isabel Leonard as the libidinous pageboy Cherubino.
Eyre’s mesmerizing production of Bizet’s steamy melodrama returns with
mezzo-soprano Anita Rachvelishvili singing her signature role of the ill-fated
gypsy temptress. Aleksandrs Antonenko plays her desperate lover, the soldier
Don José, and Ildar Abdrazakov is the swaggering bullfighter, Escamillo, who
comes between them. Pablo Heras-Casado conducts the irresistible score, which
features one beloved and instantly recognizable melody after another.
Met’s effervescent production of Rossini’s classic comedy—featuring some of the most instantly recognizable
melodies in all of opera—stars Isabel
Leonard as the feisty Rosina, Lawrence Brownlee as her conspiring flame, and
Christopher Maltman as the endlessly resourceful and charming barber, himself.
Michele Mariotti conducts the vivid and tuneful score.
James Levine returns to one of his signature Wagner works
conducting this epic comedy—back at the Met for the first time in eight
years—about a group of Renaissance “master singers” whose song contest unites a
city. Michael Volle, Johan Botha, and Annette Dasch lead the superb
international cast in this charming and magisterial celebration of the power of
music and art.
Approximate running time 6:00
Lehár’s The Merry Widow—New Production
January 17, 2015, 12:55 pm ET. Encore: Wed,
Jan 21, 6:30 p.m.
The great Renée Fleming stars as the beguiling femme fatale who
captivates all Paris in Lehár’s enchanting operetta, seen in a new staging by
Broadway virtuoso director and choreographer Susan Stroman and her design team of Julian Crouch and costume designer William
Ivey Long, creating an art-nouveau setting that
climaxes with singing and dancing grisettes at the legendary Maxim’s. Nathan
Gunn co-stars as Danilo and Kelli O’Hara is Valencienne. Andrew Davis conducts.
magnetic tenor Vittorio Grigolo takes on the tortured poet and unwitting
adventurer of the title of Offenbach’s
operatic masterpiece, in the Met’s wild, kaleidoscopic production. Hibla
Gerzmava, Erin Morley, and Christine Rice sing the three heroines—each an
idealized embodiment of some aspect of Hoffmann’s desire. Thomas Hampson
portrays the shadowy Four Villains, and Yves Abel conducts.
Approximate running time 3:45
heels of her triumphant Met performances inEugene Onegin, soprano Anna Netrebko takes on another
Tchaikovsky heroine in the first opera of this intriguing double bill, consisting
of an enchanting fairy tale (Iolanta) followed
by an erotic psychological thriller (Duke
Bluebeard’s Castle). Netrebko stars as the beautiful blind girl who
experiences love for the first time inIolanta, while Nadja Michael is the unwitting victim
of the diabolical Bluebeard, played by Mikhail Petrenko. Both operas are
directed by Mariusz Trelinski, who was inspired by classic noir films of the
stars Piotr Beczala, and Valery Gergiev conducts both operas.
Approximate running time 3:40
Rossini’s La Donna del Lago—Met Premiere
March 14, 2015, 12:55 pm ET. Encore: Wed.,
March 18, 6:30 p.m.
canto superstars Joyce DiDonato and Juan Diego Flórez join forces for this
Rossini showcase of vocal virtuosity, set in the medieval Scottish highlands
and based on a beloved novel by Sir Walter Scott. DiDonato is the “lady of the
lake” of the title, and Flórez is the king who relentlessly pursues her, their
vocal fireworks embellishing the romantic plot in this Met premiere production
conducted by Michele Mariotti.
Approximate running time 3:30
April 25, 2015, 12:30 pm ET, Encore Wed, Apr.
29, 6:30 p.m.
most enduring tragic double bill. Marcelo Álvarez playing the dual tenor roles of Turiddu inCavalleriaRusticanaand
Canio inPagliacci.bbb Eva-Maria Westbroek (Cav) and Patricia Racette (Pag) sing the unlucky heroines, and Met Principal
Conductor Fabio Luisi is on the podium.
Joshua Thompson, grandson of my sister Ouida, took this wonderful photograph of the old growth forest nave in Seward Park, Seattle, Washington, where we scattered some of my wife Annette's ashes on her birthday, which is Joshua's birthday as well. I chose this sight, because it reminded me of a song Annette had written years ago, when we lived in Nashville, and she was a staff writer for Polygram Music.
Out Where God Is By Annette Cotter
My daddy was a born again bible reading Christian. Problem was that Sunday was his one day off a week. So daddy explained to Mama even Jesus loved his fishing. And me and him would hold an early service at the creek.
Out where God is, where the meadow lark Proclaims the living word. Out where God is Where the spirit whispers in the grass And sings in every bird. Out where God is....Out where God is.
Joshua's girlfriend Amy flew in from Panama City to surprise him on his birthday. Charlotte, Joshua, Amy, and I scattered ashes in the eternal forest. We offered readings from poems and songs, even sang some.
Mary By Patty Griffin
Mary you're covered in roses, you're covered in ashes
You're covered in rain You're covered in babies, you're covered in slashes You're covered in wilderness, you're covered in stains....
Mary she moves behind me She leaves her fingerprints everywhere Everytime the snow drifts, everytime the sand shifts Even when the night lifts, she's always there....
Long Afternoon at the Edge of Little Sister Pond By Mary Oliver
As for life, I'm humbled, I'm without words sufficient to say
how it has been hard as flint, and soft as a spring pond, both of these and over and over,
and long pale afternoons besides, and so many mysteries beautiful as eggs in a nest, still unhatched ....
There is hardly time to think about
stopping, and lying down at last to the long afterlife, to the tenderness yet to come, when time will brim over the singular pond, and become forever....
END OF DAYS By Marge Piercy
always with cats, the end comes creeping over the two of you— she stops eating, his back legs no longer support him, she leans to your hand ....
Then there is the long weepy trip to the vets, the carrier no longer necessary, the last time in your lap. The injection is quick. Simply they stop breathing in your arms. You bring them home to bury in the flower garden, planting a bush over a deep grave.
That is how I would like to cease, held in a lover’s arms and quickly fading to black like an old fashioned movie embrace....
I want someone who loves me there, not a doctor with forty patients and his morality to keep me sort of, kind of alive....
We read these in the forest, Out Where God Is.
Charlotte Cassady, daughter of Annette's sister Pat, sang the great southern classic, "Will the Circle be Unbroken," a beautiful interpretation, with her dedication: "This song is for the woman who taught me to sing it and to believe that the human spirit trumps all else." Charlotte explained, "When I was 12 or 13 years old, Aunt Annette began teaching me to play the guitar. I had to learn to read chords. While she and Bill and Mama visited in the living room, I sat in the back bedroom with the Takamine guitar Annette had picked out for me and practiced from a songbook she gave me. The first song I learned was "Banks of the Ohio." I called Aunt Annette back there to the back bedroom to hear it. I played one or two stanzas and, before I even finished, Aunt Annette ran out into the livingroom and yelled, "goddamn, Pat, Charlotte can sing. She's got a good voice. She has a sense of the song." From then on I felt confident about this. I was sure Aunt Annette was saying this because she believed it to be true, and so I believed it to. And all my life, singing would be a source of pleasure and uninhibited expression for me."
After scattering Annette's ashes, Joshua, Amy, Charlotte, and I sang together, "Happy Birthday to you. Happy Birthday to you. Happy Birthday, dear Annette. Happy Birthday to you."
I fired up the grill for my Fourth of July cookout. Ground lamb patties, turnips, Portobello
mushrooms. Maybe that is what you’re
having, too. Maybe not.
The Declaration of Independence, which we celebrate:
IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united
States of America,
We hold these truths to be self-evident,
that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with
certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--
It does not say, “pursuit of hamburgers and hot dogs.” It says, whatever floats your boat. Is this a great country, or what?
Among the signers of the Declaration of Independence were Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. Each became Secretary of State, then
President of The United States. They
were lifelong friends, sometimes political rivals. Estranged for years, they reconciled
before their deaths, within hours of each other in 1826, on July 4. Jefferson is
often quoted on his deathbed asking, “Is it the Fourth yet?”
Benjamin Franklin collaborated with them as the committee
that wrote The Declaration of Independence.
Jefferson “ought to appear at the head
of this business," they agreed. “Reason
first: you are a Virginian….Reason second: I am obnoxious, suspected and unpopular. You are very much otherwise. Reason third: You can write ten times better
than I can,” Adams said to Jefferson.
56 signatures on the Declaration of Independence:
Thomas Heyward, Jr.
Thomas Lynch, Jr.
Richard Henry Lee
Thomas Nelson, Jr.
Francis Lightfoot Lee
Robert Treat Paine
The Founding Fathers,
Who would all hang together, or surely they would hang
My wife of 40 years died four days after my 70th
birthday. Maybe I am old enough so that I
can almost stand it. Almost. Still, it is the worse thing that has ever
happened to me, so far. She had lung
cancer. “Winstons taste good, like a cigarette should.” Fifty years of them will kill you, not
necessarily before your time but painfully, slowly, with mixed memories of a
cigarette and a cup of coffee, or while studying for an exam, or after something
pleasurable. An addiction from the devil.
In hindsight, I missed my two best chances to die by
surprise, no long-suffering before the inevitable, bitter end, for anyone,
family or self. I was in a meningitis coma
for weeks eight years ago, two years ago, a heart attack and quadruple
bypass surgery. In
death, surprise is the way to go.
I learned how to write an obituary when I was barely 18
years old working for The Atlanta
Jourrnal. I did not know anything
about death, had no first hand experience with it. Every obituary begins with the who, what, when,
where of basic journalism. Add some
biographical information. Let the facts
and circumstances speak for themselves. Everybody dies. As the real Hank Williams said, “you’ll never
get out of this world alive.”
Annette Powell Cotter died
Tuesday at home in Pine Lake, Ga.
She was 73. Born in Andalusia, Alabama, of a dynasty of lawyers, she graduated from Andalusia High School, attended FloridaStateUniversity
briefly, HuntingdonCollege longer, and then graduated from GeorgiaStateUniversity,
where she also earned an M.A. in English.
She was the first editor of
CREATIVE LOAFING. As anyone knows who
ever sat at her table, she was a skilled, talented, and creative chef.
She was a poet and songwriter
and lived for many years in Nashville,
Tn., where she was a staff writer for Polygram Music. Songs of hers were
recorded by George Strait, Pam Tillis, Colin Raye, Linda Davis and other
She is survived by her
husband, William Cotter; sister, Pat Cassidy; brother, Ab Powell; son, Chauncey
Ward Hall, III; daughter, Heidi Carroll; niece, Charlotte Cassidy;
grandchildren, Shannon Hall and Chance Hall; as well as beloved step-grandchildren.
In lieu of flowers, the family
believes Annette would be pleased with contributions in her memory to any
local shelter, support, and rescue of children and other defenseless
In her final days, Annette experienced spasms, morphine hallucinations,
conversations in which I could hear only one side.
She lifted her head off her arms long enough to say, “I thought I would
run into your momma and daddy” (both long dead). “I may have been in the wrong place.”
I said. “Look for Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings. That’s the right place.” She actually laughed.
I have traveled outside the United States just enough to have little
or no excuse for ignorance of world geography and history. My first ride on the Paris Metro from Gare de
L’Est or perhaps Gare du Nord en route to Left Bank destinations Boulevard St.
Michel, Saint-Germain des-pres, or Jardin du Luxembourg, the Metro station with
the un-Francophonic name of Sebastopol caught
my attention. In those days, “the
library” was still where I went to look up information in the World Book Encyclopedia and the World Atlas. No Wikipedia.
No Mapquest. No Map Crow to tell you the distance between Sevastopol and Sochi (which few Americans ever heard of before the recent
Winter Olympics from Russia)
is 315 miles via the Black Sea or its northern coast.
The Russian Black Sea Fleet makes its home in Sevastopol, the strategic port
of Crimea, sometimes considered the Ukraine,
sometimes not. Russian Prince Grigory
Potemkin built not a village but a naval fortress at the harbor for Czarina
Catherine the Great and named it Sevastopol in 1784, half a decade before George
Washington became President of the United States, four decades before James
Monroe’s State of the Union address articulated to Congress the doctrine that interference by European states in the Americas would be considered hostile
acts against the United States. According to the
Putin Doctrine of 2014, NATO, the EU, and the U.S. are not welcome on the northern shores of the Black
The Black Sea, about 168,500 square miles, connects to the
Mediterranean via theAegean Sea through the Bosporus, the Sea of Marmara, and the Dardanelles.
Sometimes. Water flows in and out of the Black Sea
from both directions. Levels can reach
lows that interrupt navigation all the way to the Mediterranean and turn the Black Sea into a lake, albeit twice the size of The Great Lakes of North America, Superior,
Michigan, Huron, Erie,
and Ontario, which cover an area of 94,250 square
miles along the U.S./Canada border, and the Atlantic Ocean can almost always be reached through
the St. Lawrence Seaway.
Back in the U.S.S.R. days, Nikita Krushchev, well-known
champion of democracy, liberty, and self-determination, transferred the Crimea
to the Ukraine
“La vie en rose”
were the first words I ever heard in the French language. It was love at first hearing. Those were lyrics of a song, but to me words
in the French language are always musical.
The word for “song” in French: chanson.
I turned 21 in France, courtesy of the U.S.
Army. I should have taken more advantage
of the opportunity. Years later, I lived
in Belgium, a bi-lingual country
because of tight quarters with its neighbors, France and Holland.
By then, I had a family. We took
a weekend, the American Thanksgiving holiday, and rented a cabin in the
Ardennes and kayaked a few miles of the LesseRiver
past les chateaux high on the banks
to Dinant. Afterwards we feasted at a
restaurant offering lapin, caille, canard, cuisses de grenouille. When we returned to the cabin, we watched stunned
and puzzled at the reports on French television of the cyanide laced Kool Aid suicides
in Jonestown, Guyana, that day. Serious doubt plunged our language skills to to the level of failure, because we could not comprehend the acts about which we thought we
I will be 70 years old my next birthday. Maybe.
At 62, I was hospitalized with meningitis and in a coma for three
weeks. I suspect that is as close as
anyone gets to dying, then can tell about it.
I am telling you, it was painless and trouble free for me. For my loved ones who had to watch and wait,
it was not. Since then, I have also had
quadruple bypass heart surgery. If I had
known I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of
“La vie en rose.” Non, ce n’est pas. Of course.
Parents sometimes get to bury their children. It is not supposed to work that way, but even
the expected sequence of events is not much better, “Hush, little baby. Don’t you cry. You know your mama’s bound to die.”
Songs are poems, with music.
The oldest poems were all songs. Oh,
how I love poets and songwriters.
Edith Paif, chanteuse,
made “La vie en rose” famous
worldwide. Her style was charismatic,
Afternoon at the Edge of Little Sister Pond By
As for life, I'm humbled, I'm without words sufficient to say
how it has been hard as flint, and soft as a spring pond, both of these and over and over,
and long pale afternoons besides, and so many mysteries beautiful as eggs in a nest, still unhatched
though warm and watched over by something I have never seen— a tree angel, perhaps, or a ghost of holiness.
Every day I walk out into the world to be dazzled, then to be reflective. It suffices, it is all comfort— along with human love,
dog love, water love, little-serpent love, sunburst love, or love for that smallest of
birds flying among the scarlet flowers. There is hardly time to think about
stopping, and lying down at last to the long afterlife, to the tenderness yet to come, when time will brim over the singular pond, and
and we will pretend to melt away into the
leaves. As for death, I can't wait to be the hummingbird, can you?
The American Foreign Service Association maintains a
memorial at the west end of the diplomatic lobby, the C Street entrance to the U.S. Department
of State in Washington, D.C.
On plaques are the names of Foreign Service personnel who have lost their
lives in the line of duty. The latest
listed include Ambassador Chris Stevens and his telecommunications officer Sean
Smith: “Terrorist Attack – Libya 2012,” say the inscriptions. Secretary of State was Hillary Clinton. President was Barack Obama.
The first name on the memorial is that of Revolutionary War patriot
William Palfrey, lost at sea in 1780 on his way to France to serve as consul-general,
by unanimous appointment of the Second Continental Congress, of which John
Hancock was president. The American
Foreign Service at that time consisted mainly of John Jay, Benjamin Franklin,
Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams.
AFSA currently lists 244 names from deaths in 64 foreign
countries and at sea. Assassinations,
embassy bombings, yellow fever, cholera have claimed lives of Foreign Service
personnel, those who work at embassies, consulates, and missions worldwide,
some locations lovely and/or exotic, some not.
Earliest victim of violence appears to have been Harris E.
Fudger, murdered in Bogata,
1825. Secretary of State was Henry Clay
of Kentucky. President was John Quincy Adams, Secretary of
State for the previous President (James Monroe) and son of the second President
of the United States
Many Foreign Service civilians died in Vietnam, along with 58,000+
military. Secretaries of State included
Dean Rusk, William Rogers, and Henry Kissinger, Presidents Lyndon Johnson and
The suicide bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon,
1983, killed 63 people, many of their names engraved on the AFSA memorial. Secretary of State was George Shultz. President was Ronald Reagan.
U.S. Foreign Service Officer David Foy was specifically
targeted in an attack on the consulate compound in Karachi, Pakistan,
in 2006, the third in the same number of years.
President George Bush was scheduled to visit in two days. Condolezza Rice was Secretary of State
Jacque’s daughter Mandy asked me, “Do you have any pictures of Pawpaw in his
Marine uniform?”Her son Michael has
recently completed Army training at Ft.
Jackson, S.C.Mandy’s father was an Air Force NCO, a
“I certainly did once upon a time. A
handsome devil he was, too. It may take
me a couple of days to put my hands on the pictures, but I will be happy to
scan them and post them to you.” It took
me a month. (Why are things always in
the last place you look? Maybe you just
stop looking once you have found them.)
looks to me like a Boot Camp pose.Paris Island, S.C.,
A good girl like Flannery O’Connor was easy to find. In Milledgeville,
Ga., she attended morning mass daily
at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church, where she was a devout parishioner. Somewhere else, on somebody’s Victrola or
Philco, she heard Sophie Tucker or Bessie Smith sing the blues: “A good man
nowadays is hard to find.” Flannery
O’Connor transformed that lyric into the ironic title of what has become a
classic of southern literature. In her
story “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” a Georgia family of five, parents,
children, and grandmother, embark upon an automobile vacation to Florida but
encounter a gang of escaped convicts, led by “The Misfit,” who concludes of the
grandmother, “She would of been a good woman, if it had
been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.” Internet images illustrating this
story, with bodies on the ground and splotches of bright red, are not hard tofind.
Virginia artist Martha Dillard paints a different response to the stories of Flannery
O’Connor. Her painting based on “A Good
Man is Hard to Find” depicts the family seen though the back window of their
automobile. They are tranquil, scrubbed,
all dressed up with someplace to go, clueless.
If anything, the Dillard painting is even more chilling than the violent
and grotesque story.
O’Conner was an occasional painter herself.
Ms. Dillard’s paintings were displayed alongside those of Flannery
O’Connor at a special exhibit in Milledgeville. Ms. Dillard’s one-person exhibit based
on the short stories of Flannery O’Connor has traveled through the South. I was originally introduced to Ms. Dillard’s work at the
Childhood Home of Flannery O’Conner in Savannah.
In addition to her interest in Flannery O’Connor, Ms. Dillard has two artistic passions, “painting abstractly and painting landscapes.” Abstract art “gives me the freedom to splash,
drip, pour, squeegee, scrape, print, spray, explore, discover and play. Going back and forth from realism to
abstraction helps keep me fresh and offers challenges to learn and grow.” Ms. Dillard’s move to the country in 1998
provided her “the daily opportunity to appreciate the wonder of light, fog on
the mountain, the glory of spring from the top of the meadow, a sunset over the
tops of distant trees, an old house, a favorite view down the road, and the
ever-changing expanse of sky.”
Ms Dillard graduated from AustinCollege and Virginia
Tech. She also studied at workshops with
Wayne Thiebauld, Darby Bannard, and Susan Shatter and at Arrowmont and PenlandSchools
of Art and Craft. Her work is in public
and private collections throughout the U.S.
Image of painting
copyright by Martha Dillard. All rights
reserved. Used here by permission.
Chris Matthews, formerly of The San Francisco Examiner and currently host of MSNBC's Hardball, may be the closest thing remaining to the sort of old fashioned journalist I grew up wanting to be. As he has mentioned several times on his television show, he has written a book about John F. Kennedy. He avoids using the term "Camelot," but his memory of President Kennedy is certainly admiring. Matthews, in his youth, joined Kennedy's Peace Corps, as did others of my and Matthews' generation, many males of whom changed their hair styles to resemble that of Kennedy. Include Chris Matthews himself. Also Jack Kemp and Newt Gingrich. Me, too. Sales of "greasy kid stuff" went the way of the buggy whip.
Chris Matthews nominates remembering Kennedy on his birthday or the anniversary of his civil rights speech in 1963. I could propose some other special dates: that of the Cuban Missle Crisis or the brutal murder of the South Vietnam President Ngo Dinh Diem 20 days before Nov. 22, 1963.
You can see in the photo of JFK and his wife Jacqueline arriving in Ft. Worth on their way to Dallas. He wore a handsome smile. She wore a spotless pink suit.
To the goon who sashayed into the restaurant of Dekalb County Farmer's Mkt. yesterday with an ammo belt and gun strapped to his waist...and sat down two tables from me: So you felt it necessary to demonstrate here at lunchtime, that at any moment you could take out that gun and kill anybody in the room. Me. The little girl in the princess dress who ate everything on her plate. The old black man praying over his lentil soup. And we have to deal with this. We do not know if you are sane. We do not know if you have a mental age of 9. We do not know if you are angry at some group or other. Or if you are a self appointed vigilante/messiah here to protect us against other gun-toters who might have some of the above listed problems. If you were wearing a policeman's uniform, or a Sheriff's uniform, or a military uniform, we would know something about you. We would know that you had been screened and found mentally balanced, not a drug addict, and that you had received instructions on the proper use of firearms and the heavy responsibility that goes with their possession. But dressed in your T-shirt and jeans we can surmise only that you have been screened by some seller at a gun show and the test you passed was simply to have enough money to purchase the gun. Am I afraid? A little. Am I nervous? Yes. Am I angry? Furious! YOU HAVE NO RIGHT! Oh, you say the second amendment blah blah blah. Stand your ground blah blah blah. You give me bad law. You give me a foolish and wrongful interpretation of the constitution handed down in a time when the inmates have taken over the asylum and wisemen stand in the corner with their backs turned. You want your country back? What country is that? The one where a black man cannot be president? The one where a woman's place is in the home? The one where gays are in the closet? No! No, I want MY country back! I want to eat lunch and shop for groceries free from worry about your flaunted ability to kill me if you take a notion. I want my country back for myself, for the little girl in the princess dress and for the black man praying over his food. I want my country back for all Americans who have agreed to go about our daily lives happily and without fear and who feel no need to shoot anyone dead.
Most expert advice is not as insightful or useful as the
first article I read in 2006 after I was hospitalized with meningitis, in a
coma for three weeks, and woke up 100 percent deaf in both ears. “So you’ve had meningitis and now you’re deaf,”
the article began. “Boy, are you lucky!”
First person accounts of being deaf are scant enough that if
you Google the subject, you may even find some of my own limited distribution
writing. I am now a member of several
deaf groups on Facebook, where I learned about a memoir from a writer, deaf
from childhood as a result of meningitis.
Henry Kisor, former book review editor of The Chicago Sun-Times and successful writer of mystery novels in his retirement, entitled his memoir of deafness, What’s That Pig Outdoors? Lip-readers and hearing impaired experienced with
assistive listening devices will understand the joke.
The actual sentence represented by that nonsensical question was “What’s
that big loud noise?” Best guesses are glasses
always neither half full nor half empty.
They’re just glasses with something more or less unidentifiable inside.
Henry Kisor lost his hearing to meningitis as a toddler, but
his parents were strong, intelligent, and dedicated to his success in the world
as they knew it, the hearing world. They
found him a teaching system by which he would learn to read and write standard
English, speak it and even understand it when spoken by others. In his childhood, little in the way of
special education was available for the deaf.
What there was, did not meet with much approval from his parents or him
as he grew up.
Certainly, every deaf person's experience is unique. The scarcity of first hand
accounts only contributes to stereotype.
American Sign Language (ASL), cornerstone of deaf culture, has its own
syntax and grammar, according to those who know, which does not include me. When I read entries on some of the Facebook
deaf groups I have joined, it is difficult for me not to stumble over the
errors of case, tense, and noun/verb agreements, no worse than I would make in
any language other than English. I also often
read the justifiable retort: “I’m deaf, not stupid.”
A couple of years ago, I was working inside an apartment I
own, remodeling it for the next tenant.
Busy and deep in concentration, I heard a noise I did not recognize. Eventually, my peripheral vision saw people
peering in the window. At that point, I
realized what I had heard was the sound of the doorbell, distorted by my
When I answered the door to a group of five, I said, “I
apologize. I did not hear you. I am deaf.”
Immediately hands began to flutter all at once. Someone said, “Us deaf, too.”
I thought they were mocking me, and I was very embarrassed. They were not. One applied to rent the apartment. The others were just along to help and support
their friend. I constructed a
strobe-light smoke detector for my new tenant.
Like me, she had a cochlear implant.
Not like me, she was born deaf.
She had received the cochlear implant as an adult. After trying it for a while, she abandoned
it, because the sounds were too unpleasant and bothersome. I do not disagree.
Yamaha has recalled 20,000 pianos due to a problem with the pedal sticking, causing pianists to play faster, resulting in a dangerous number of accidentals. There were reports of speeding through "The Minute Waltz," clocked at under 55 seconds. The sticky pedal also makes it harder for pianists to come to a full stop at the end of a piece, while The Fat Lady just sings and sings and sings.
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