Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Annette Powell Cotter b. 8/11/40

I celebrated 40 birthdays with Annette on August 11 in Atlanta, Ga., Cairo, Egypt, Brussels,Belgium, Poolesville, Md., and Nashville, Tn.

Happy Birthday to you.
Happy Birthday to you.
Happy Birthday, dear Annette.
Happy Birthday to you.    

Saturday, July 25, 2015

It's a Sin to Mock a Mockingbird, Opus 2


 (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 warning.)

Based 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 meeting. 

Are you believing this yet?  Me neither. 


Jacket photo from GO SET A WATCHMAN

The 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. 

Mark 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.


GO 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.  

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

It's a Sin to Mock a Mockingbird

 (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 of To 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.”

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Birthdays and Beyond

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 menu.   



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.  

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Lady Macbeth

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’s Le Nozze di Figaro

M


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.
Approximate running time 3:50

 

Bizet’s Carmen

November 1, 2014, 12:55 pm ET. Encore: Wed., Nov. 5, 2014, 6:30 p.m.
Richard 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.
Approximate running time 3:40

Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia

November 22, 2014, 12:55 pm ET. Encore: Wed., Nov. 26, 6:30 p.m.
The Met’s effervescent production of Rossini’s classic comedyfeaturing some of the most instantly recognizable melodies in all of operastars 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.
Approximate running time 3:25

Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

December 13, 2014, 12 pm ET. Encore: Wed., Dec. 17, 6:30 p.m.
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.
Approximate running time 3:00

Offenbach's Les Contes d'Hoffmann

January 31, 2015, 12:55 pm ET. Encore: Wed., Feb. 4, 6:30 p.m.
The 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

Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta /
Bartok's Bluebeard's Castle—New Production

February 14, 2015, 12:30 pm ET. Encore: Wed., Feb. 18, 6:30 p.m.
On the heels of her triumphant Met performances in Eugene 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 in Iolanta, 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 1940s. Iolanta also 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.
Bel 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

Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana /
Leoncavallo's Pagliacci—New Production

April 25, 2015, 12:30 pm ET, Encore Wed, Apr. 29, 6:30 p.m.
Opera’s most enduring tragic double bill. Marcelo Álvarez  playing the dual tenor roles of Turiddu in Cavalleria Rusticana and Canio in Pagliacci.bbb Eva-Maria Westbroek (Cav) and Patricia Racette (Pag) sing the unlucky heroines, and Met Principal Conductor Fabio Luisi is on the podium.
Approximate running time 3:30


Thursday, August 14, 2014

Out Where God Is


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. 

Excerpts:.


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."

 
 

Friday, July 4, 2014

Pursuit of Happiness

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.

The 56 signatures on the Declaration of Independence:

   Button Gwinnett
   Lyman Hall
   George Walton
   William Hooper
   Joseph Hewes
   John Penn
   Edward Rutledge
   Thomas Heyward, Jr.
   Thomas Lynch, Jr.
   Arthur Middleton
   John Hancock
   Samuel Chase
   William Paca
   Thomas Stone
   Charles Carroll
   George Wythe
   Richard Henry Lee
   Thomas Jefferson
   Benjamin Harrison
   Thomas Nelson, Jr.
   Francis Lightfoot Lee
   Carter Braxton
   Robert Morris
   Benjamin Rush
   Benjamin Franklin
   John Morton
   George Clymer
   James Smith
   George Taylor
   James Wilson
   George Ross
   Caesar Rodney
   George Read
   Thomas McKean
   William Floyd
   Philip Livingston
   Francis Lewis
   Lewis Morris
   Richard Stockton
   John Witherspoon
   Francis Hopkinson
   John Hart
   Abraham Clark
   Josiah Bartlett
   William Whipple
   Samuel Adams
   John Adams
   Robert Treat Paine
   Elbridge Gerry
   Stephen Hopkins
   William Ellery
   Roger Sherman
   Samuel Huntington
   William Williams
   Oliver Wolcott
   Matthew Thornton
The Founding Fathers,

Who would all hang together, or surely they would hang separately.


Saturday, June 14, 2014

Fragile as a Butterfly’s Wings

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 Florida State University briefly, Huntingdon College longer, and then graduated from Georgia State University, 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 country artists.

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 animals.

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.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Why Argue?


I try not to argue with people who:

--Know less about the subject than I do.

--Vote against everything I vote for.

--Have not lived long enough.

--Do not know the difference between a fact and a wish.

--Need to watch horror movies to experience fear.

--Are still learning the basics.

--Have more money than I do.

--Have less money than I do.

--Are taking mind-altering substances.

--Should be taking mind-altering substances.

--Have not read a book since school let out.

--Do not have children, pets, or other dependents.

--Won’t eat something they can not spell.


Who else is there?

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Sevastopol on the Black Sea

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 Sea.

The Black Sea, about 168,500 square miles, connects to the Mediterranean via the Aegean 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 in 1954.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Je Ne Regrette Rien

“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 Lesse River 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 were hearing.

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 myself. 

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, brave, ironic. 

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

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 become forever,

and we will pretend to melt away into the leaves.
As for death,
I can't wait to be the hummingbird,
can you?



Sunday, March 2, 2014

Foreign Service Memorial

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, Colombia, 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 (John Adams).

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 Richard Nixon.

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

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Paw Paw Bill, Sr.

My sister 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 20-year career. 
I replied, “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.)
This one looks to me like a Boot Camp pose.  Paris Island, S.C., about 1943-44.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thankfully Flannery O’Connor: Art Begets Art

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.  
Martha Dillard has launched a new blog FlanneryO’Connor: A Good Painting is Hard to Find The blog will feature her paintings based on the writings of Flannery O’Connor.  She has painted eleven of these and now plans more.  She invites suggestions of your favorite Flannery O’Connor story. 
Flannery 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 Austin College and Virginia Tech.  She also studied at workshops with Wayne Thiebauld, Darby Bannard, and Susan Shatter and at Arrowmont  and Penland Schools 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.

Friday, November 22, 2013

November 22, 1963, Not-So-Golden Annversary



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.

Matthews argues that Kennedy should be remembered for things other than his assassination on November 22, 1963. However, there are those of us who can never forget, because our world never looked the same to us again after Kennedy in Dallas, with Oswald and Ruby.

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.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Cameras Prohibited in DeKalb Farmer's Market

By Annette Cotter

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.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

I'm Deaf, Not Stupid

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 cochlear implant. 

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.



 

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