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New Work

Excerpt: from a newly published book

What writer wouldn’t hope that a reader of a new publication would find himself deeply engrossed?  Indeed … on seeing the attached photo of one such (discerning) reader,  a warm glow was cast out in a widening, warming oval!

RANSOM NOTES #2/ RIVERS OF NO RETURN IN FIVE FLAVORS  is the second collection of experimental pieces published by TMI Publishing, Providence, RI. The company belongs to Israeli-born Hanaan Rosenthal, is a savvy fellow whose vast talents include design. The first of this pair of non-conforming books was published in 2022, titled RANSOM NOTES/ TRAVELS IN WORD BRICOLAGE.  Each ransom note springs from a single book either read or listened to during these many, many past seasons of monastic reclusion. As it happened, clusters or themes sprang up of their own volition during these years of book-binging. Entries in #1 relate in some way to travel; in #2, each has a connection to rivers though, in the newest volume, other sources were tapped. Additionally: the life saver candy one sucked on or crunched during (and after) childhood sweetly flavored (and colored) the whole.

The following excerpt is from

Part III-a:

AMUR RIVER Peoples Republic of China, Russian Federation 

ever-changing sandbanks

virgin forest

marshlands of northern Siberia

flowing through taiga forests

past frozen mountain ranges

below forty degrees Fahrenheit

“across sunlit country”

“the grasslands are yellowing into autumn”

“now I realize what Igor sees”

something like homesickness

“in sunlight still”

“the Amur mouth yawns three miles wide”

waves of silvered mud

(based on the book The Amur River: Between Russia and China by Colin Thubron, Harper Collins, 2021)

 

DANUBE RIVER Central and Eastern Europe

Morteratsch Glacier

frozen headwaters of Danube

from the Alps

melting snow

someone’s home

Alpine marmot

as melt waters run on

forests of Bosnia

with miniature waterfalls

over moss

golden shoals

busy trout

the Danube salmon

where there are fish

the trout

trick a trout

in Slovenia

the banks of the Sava

follow the flow

towns, farmland, cities 

outside Vienna

our turtle

the size of a thumbnail

through Germany, Austria, Slovakia

arrives in Hungary

Budapest because

a moving jigsaw

seems slow and sluggish

from the clay

young larvae

only three hours to live

several million mayflies

the Drava, the Jisa, the Saba

Belgrade in Serbia

rapids and whirlpools

enters the lowlands of Romania and Bulgaria

the sturgeon

draining into the Black Sea

through Romania and Ukraine

undisturbed wetland

covered in waterlilies

species of birds

Whistler, Turner, squatter houses

the great white pelican

in giant flotillas

at the end of the Danube

and beyond

benighted by water

(based on Rivers of Life,  BBC films, 2022)

 

BAGMATI RIVER Nepal, south Asia 

pristine drops fall

from the mouth of a tiger

fields of rice

Nepal’s holiest river

Hindus flock to the riverbanks

through the ages

single women

wash the feet of the dead

stacked wood for funeral pyre

Buddhists too

huts, shacks and brick homes

three decades on the stone steps

(based on “Nepal’s Holy Bagmati River from an article on holy rivers  by Caty Weaver, Associate d Press, 2022)

 

LIMPOPO RIVER Southern Africa

in a great arc

through Mozambique to the Indian Ocean

mangrove vegetation

then east

finally southeast

(based on: cpwfbfp.pbworks.com from a website edited  by Maya Rajasekaharan, 2013)

 

OSUN RIVER, Nigeria, Africa 

water has changed color

seen in a flowing white gown

drink or bathe

the river brought her a child

Osun “gets angry”

(based on the article “Nigeria’s Osun River” by Chineda Asado,  The Seattle Times, 2022)

(available on Amazon worldwide)

 

 

 

Covid 19 notes + Last Suitcase notes

COVID 19 notes

March 20th, 2020: lost my sense of smell today … the day before my mother’s 100th Birthday

April 22nd, Earth Day: next door neighbor (Maureen) has died. I only discovered her passing because policemen were standing outside her door. Smell (and most taste) has not returned

May 2nd: am regressing back into childhood in matters of food: eating steak sandwiches, tuna sandwiches, matzoh brie, cheep lemon cake, frozen dinners, pot pies, potato sticks. Thank God for Anton Chekkov! Am swilling his beguiling short stories like a thirsty person might imbibe cold water.Following, a tender morsel plucked from A Story Without a title”: In the fifth century, just as now, the sun rose every morning and every evening retired to rest. In the morning, when the first rays kissed the dew, the earth revived, the air was filled with the sounds of rapture and hope; while in the evening the same earth subsided into silence and plunged into gloomy darkness. One day was like another, one night like another. From time to time a storm-cloud raced up and there was the angry rumble of thunder, or a negligent star fell out of the sky, or a pale monk ran to tell the brotherhood that not far from the monastery he had seen a tiger — and that was all, and then each day was like the next. If words were pillows – I’d like to rest my head on these

5.6.20: found $1.09 in the lobby; ate two white castle burgers for breakfast

5.20: saw Dr. D.B., had test. Could hardly wait to get home so as to remove my bra. Thank God D.E. has arrived to stay … yes … to stay!

5.17: test result: positive for covid-19. Am in seclusion

5.29: second test

6.1.: test, negative. 10 PM curfew;  looting and protests out there

6.2: 8 PM curfew now. More looting also riots (curfew seems to be Trump’s idea of a quarantine …)

6.3: night after night helicopters hover. Huge marches. D and I watch from window. I’ve put on 10 pounds since new year.

LAST SUITCASE notes

7.13: removed wristwatch. Can’t stand the constraint

9/19/20: the Farrari-red colored sheets ordered on Amazon have arrived

9.20.20: cracked front tooth in half

9.21.20: sent under construction ms – (12 reunion stories compiled, tentatively titled “We’ll Meet Again”) – to UK (on anniversary of sale of “Found and Lost”)

9.30: had tooth repaired at new dentist near Gramercy Park. An astonishing job was done; that I hadn’t worn a bassiere wasn’t an issue.  Anniversary of Lily’s death also Rie birthdate

11.16:

11.19: ms. of “We’ll Meet Again” returned with detailed, thoughtful, helpful notes

11.22: bought a new jolly (black with red, green and yellow) flowered watchband; attached it, threw away the old one, returned watch to left wrist rather than right

11.24: received a death threat by email this morning from a ‘J S’

12.11: have begun cutting my own hair

12.3: brain fog, rash on both arms near elbows … Eerie not be be able to smell. Wonder – after sweating so much – do I stink? I’ve know way to know.

12.15: cascades of mucus in the middle of the night to the point of retching up a cloud of it

12.16: 5:20am – framed painting of three lemons on wall behind above my bed dropped with a crash. Out of the blue it slid between bed frame and wall but didn’t hit me in the head.  Thankfully. Heavy dark wood frame cracked apart, glass didn’t. It would have done a number on my head and/or face. The brown twine Dorothy used instead of wire (probably 50 years ago) simply dissolved

12.18: Sam and Anne’s silver-plated letter-opener dropped when I stood up; it stabbed my toe

12.19: while washing dishes in the kitchen, a silver fork dropped from my hand and stabbed my other foot

12.20: woke with a black (left) eye. Have no idea how or why or when

12.22: put watch back on this morning … had removed it for the night

12.26: took covid test at a walk-in clinic on 23rd Street.

12.28: result of test – Negative

12.31: ate lobster bisque for dinner, put watch on watch around two in the afternoon. Skyped with AM in Haarlem near midnight Dutch time. Alternating between/among: Episodes of “Spiral” – French detective series – 78 episodes/8 seasons and Wandering Jew: The search for Joseph Roth” by Dennis Marks ( beautiful Notting Hill Edition)

1/1/2021: made french toast with soy milk also fresh bread from Sullivan Street, drizzled New Hampshire maple syrup given by Alice, assume it’s still eatable as syrup has been in refrigerator for a good number of years

1/5/21: special election for senate in Georgia today, everything at stake. Discovered circular medallions of painful fungus under both breasts from sweat. I seem to sweat when I go outside even if it’s icy. Need to find Elie Wiesel’s review of Anne Frank Remembered for SFB, found it: (was in International Herald Tribune on May 10th, 1987): Am struck by it’s power, as I haven’t read it in thirty years … several paragraphs follow: One better understands their rapport by reading the testimony that Miep, in her turn, has just written (with the remarkable collaboration of Alison Leslie Gold).

Having met her by chance, Alison Gold spent 16 months with Miep Gies and her husband Jan — Henk in the book — questioning them on their memories of the occupation. Let us give recognition to Alison Gold. Without her and her talent of persuasion, without her writer’s talent, too, this poignant account, vibrating with humanity, would not have been written.

Miep relates with simplicity and sobriety her ties with the Frank family.  … Thus her book can serve as commentary on, as interpretation of, Anne’s “Diary.” Thanks to Miep, we better understand what the young girl tells us, and why.

.. Who betrayed the Frank family? The informer was never found. Otto Frank did nothing to search for him. He preferred to use the past in order to save the future. Is this the reason why his daughter’s book sustained such enthusiasm in the world? Because the reader wanted to reassure himself? Because he managed to believe, like Anne, that man is good … in spite of everything? Anne Frank has left an unfinished Diary. If she had been able to write in Auschwitz and in Belsen, what would she have said? Would she have manifested the same confidence in man? No one can answer these questions; no one has the right to.

Let us simply remember, in the name of truth, that it was only when Anne wrote the last word of the last sentence, that she entered, mute, into the night of silence.

The review of a lifetime!

3.23.2021:Elliott born to A. and S! The sight of his little face in the first photo makes me happy … a happiness that begins at my knees and travels up my entire trunk

3.24.21: used a cane for the first time going to the dentist for a deep cleaning on 53rd Street. Seems like I’ve crossed a line when I dusted of this cane.  Can’t remember where I got it … I think I brought it back from Poland or perhaps it was Slovenia. Brings to mind literal lines written in Rome (on 30 November 1820) in a letter to Charles Brown by John Keats: “… I have an habitual feeling of having my real life passed and that I am leading a posthumous existence.”

3.25.2021: can barely walk across the apartment from bedroom to kitchen. Legs stiff, hurting. Tried compression socks and pain went away for an entire day. Once I was an athlete, was awarded best athlete prize when I graduated from Junior High School. I fondly remember all the sports in which I happily participated: swimming stoop ball punch ball canoeing fencing kendo judo volley ball scuba diving 8 ball pig and chicken (never hiking …. always hated hikes)

5.5.1: could it be that my knee issue after tormenting me for months has been divinely lifted? When I woke from nap just now knee and calf felt NORMAL. Dumped cane

7.22.21: Louise Fishman died at dawn. Am in shock. We had a long conversation from her hospital room a few hours before …. she was fearful … due to a dramatic reaction to a steroid medication given after miner heart surgery. It’s a hot summer weekend …the hospital quiet, half functioning since so many doctors are off sailing on their yachts  in the Hamptons. She was totally herself and lucid during our conversation.  It shouldn’t have happened …

12.30.21: helped wheelchair-bound neighbor (C.M., age 90), into her chair so that her sister (B., age 88 once a actress on Broadway stage) could give her an at-home covid test that registered positive. Thus: am in quarantine again for 5 days and won’t be able to help C. get out of bed as I’ve done on consecutive days since last May without missing a day. I hope she can find someone else to fill in  …

December 31.21: set of lime-green-colored sheets arrived. Perhaps the last day of the year is like the last chocolate in a gaudy box. Once its eaten, the box will be empty. It is. I wonder what fate has up his/her sleeve for this new year?

1.1.22: put out my light last night early and listened to Stendhal’s (famous for never altering his daily routine including shaving every day during the retreat of Napoleon from Moscow in 1812) novel La Rouge et le Noir (The Red and the Black).  Listened on and off all night, falling asleep for some hours and then backing up the tape and listening again. Woke predawn and called N to say happy new year, skyped M on Isle of Whyte, then zoomed into a 24/7 meeting in New Zealand first thing. ‘Alvin’ was speaking. I looked at my phone, saw a nondescript middle-aged gent standing in what looked like a park, several other men were sitting on a benche along the side by a wall. It turns out that Alvin was speaking from prison. He explained that he’s 52 years old, has been in prison since he was 17, found alcoholics anonymous in prison and has been sober for 18 years. He’s getting out of prison in 9 days and is scared to death. After Alvin, Wendy from South Africa shed tears as she told the group that this was her very first day.

Later: Re-read Turgenev’s “Bezhin Meadow” from Sportsman’s Notebook (my favorite book of the year … perhaps the decade (translated by Constance Garnett in 1897). Recently I discovered that Turgenev died of syphilis, I can’t remember how. Seems like I’m on a roll with syphilitics having listened to The Most Dangerous Book by Kevin Birmingham on Joyce who, according to the author, suffered all his life from symptoms caused by syphilis including his eye troubles; also Edouard Manet as reported in The Lost Notebook by Maureen Gibbon – didn’t but never finished. Stendhal, Joyce, Manet…. A book for someone to write. Not me

1.2: these months I drink coffee from a glass, never a cup, mug or bowl. The preferred ‘glass’ is my  Bormioli Rocco tumbler from Italy. Have a tickle in my inner ear that defies every Q-tip. Don’t think I’ve fastened on a bra in half a year

1.3: at-home  test – negative.

1.11: Miep died 12 years ago today. Lit a Yehrzeit Memorial Candle. Pat Hemingway also died on this date but 45 years ago. Bitterly cold outside, I love it. It snowed two days ago at last. Listened to Sinead O’Connor’s autobiography Rememberings all day. She, like me, battered as a child by her mother. Got text from D (in Paris) where he’s experiencing unpleasant health symptoms. Is it possible that you have syphilis? I asked him. It’s occurred to me too though it’s probably unlikely, he replied, and added, It was called ‘goujere’ in Shakespeare’s day … known as ‘the French Disease in those days. Probably just a UTI…..

1.16: negotiating contract as ‘consultant’ on 8 part mini-series “SMALL LIGHT IN A DARK ROOM” so as to be available for zoom meetings with ‘writer’s room’ or whomever requests as an informational resource (authority?) during the pre-production, also production

1.21: out of the blue learned that the Dutch film about Hannah Goslar – “My Best Friend Anne Frank” – has come to Netflix. It’s the (made in Europe) feature film based on my book. Yes, they’ve credited the book  although I’d passed on personal involvement wanting remuneration for Hannah to use for her constantly growing extended family – (children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren – about 75 to date) – can always use funds. Had lost track of the film after news of its premier in Amsterdam

1.23: A windfall suddenly. 12 degrees with fresh cold air so delicious to swallow.

1.25: hair falling out in droves. am trying minoxidil spray

3.21.22: mother’s 102 birthday. Second anniversary – loss of smell – though it randomly, briefly, returns. Received query for stage rights to ANNE FRANK REMEMBERED  from two woman in theater, a producer, a director

7.9.22: Gerry Margolis died suddenly … or suddenly to me. I can’t stand it.

9.6.22: breakthrough: at 3:15 a.m. ordered a ticket for $76 to see Allen Cummings & Steven Hoggett do “Burn” on Robert Burns at the Joyce Theater down on 8th Avenue tomorrow.

9.7.22: Walked (bra-less) to the Joyce had perfect seat upstairs on left side.  Wouldn’t have missed it for the world.  Loved everything about it

9.8.22: Queen Elizabeth dead

10.5.22: cut sheaf of Basel from garden. Chopped for pasta sauce and … trumpets please … actually smelled the sublime odor of Basel so so strongly. If this is all I ever smell again … so be it! The smell brings tears

10.9.22: Paul Gies died today.  Totally unexpect. A tragedy.   (His death has come on the same date as Daddy, though Daddy died 13 years ago.) Another coincidence: Paul and I share the same birth date; his in 1950, mine in 1945.

10.10.22

10.28: Hannah Goslar has died

11.21: Marijane Meaker has died, not surprising since she’s almost 93 but still a shock as I’ve known her since 1969-ish and she seemed invincible

May 24.23: ordered set of (crayola) lemon-yellow sheets. Put on watch . Rereading George Orwell’s Burmese Days. The line from it, The moon came out like a sick woman getting out of bed, describes tonight to a T

6.30: why so many sets of sheets piled in the linen closet?

7.12: Dashiell William born to A and S at dawn! Wondrous!

On the summer solstice – 2023

June 21, 2023 is the anniversary of my arrival in Greece on the Queen Anna Maria in 1970. I hadn’t known at the time but it opened a clean page on a new chapter in my life. That day, the arrival, my first meeting with Lily Mack, my future mentor, remain indelible in my soul. Not really “in” my soul but “is” my soul. Fifty-three years later, having weathered over 3 years of

 

a hermits life (with long covid symptoms rampant like loss of smell, covid induced asthma, sudden urgent diarrhea, indigestion,  hair loss among more) …

… the search for a tripwire to facilitate the opening of the next clean page/new chapter is ongoing. My ear is on the ground.

 

 

Looking into the ‘Shadows’ – new publication by Darin Elliott

Darin Elliott, with whom I co-wrote “Elephant in the Living Room” (the family story of an alcoholic intervention for middle school-age kids) got trapped here with me between stays in London and North Carolina. As it ended up, he and I co-quarantined for ten weeks. I got Covid-19, he didn’t, we sent away for and ate a daily slice of Italian Panettone (sweet cake-like-bread totaling seven before we switched to coconut pie) with our tea every day at 4 (at a proper social distance), banged pots, blew whistles, shook cow bells at 7 from the sliding windows of my solarium/terrace on the 12th floor to celebrate and show appreciation for those on the front lines caring for the mass of ill and dying as well as all essential workers out there who kept our society functioning.

In the meantime, ordinary life – work, laughter, meditation, eating, Netflix, etc – bumped along. Darin continued putting the finishing touches on his new novel for middle school kids titled “Elephant in the Shadows” (which happens to be the fourth in his Elephant series, the first, being, our – “Elephant in the Livingroom,” his solo second – “Elephant in the Classroom” – on bullying, his third – “Elephant in the Closet” – on gender confusion), while I inched on with an early draft of a nonfiction whose theme is reunion having the working title of “We’ll Meet Again.”  – a line from Vera Lynn’s war song.

“Elephant in the Shadows” boldly takes on the (often murky, often skewed, often forbidden), subject of death (here, of a beloved aunt), as filtered through the minds and hearts of teen witness Zachary, 13, and his sister Tristan, 15, as well as their ‘rescue” dog – Cassandra – ageless, who has her own (often too frank) views on the subject. These she freely spouts with rye wit and humor.  (Oh: And let’s not forget the cats – Dali and Vermeer – who – I kid you not – also find it necessary to weigh in on the knotty subject. )

Although the nature of the aunt’s ‘malaise’ is blurred at first, the teens (and their pets) finally suss out the truth. Their aunt is dying; there’s no time to wait; her life-light is rapidly dimming; they must come face to face with mortality.

Need to mull on a consequential theme? Need a good read? Need a laugh? I highly recommend “Elephant in the Shadows” available on Amazon as a Paperback or Kindle. Think about the loss of someone dear to you, someone who knew you when you were a child, who coddled you, read to you, brought trinkets for you and was certain that your shit didn’t stink:

“You may have tangible wealth untold;

Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.

Richer than I you can never be –

I have an aunt who read to me.” **

 

** (modified) poem by Strickland Gillilan (1869-1954)

Fools Fold – on Eva Meyer

At first the newly gathered, random phrases, sentences, words grafted into lists from (gorgeously read) talking books were christened Pocket Fractals.  Fractals as in ‘ ... partly random or chaotic phenomena such as crystal growth, fluid turbulence, and galaxy formation. ...’ to be stuffed (for safekeeping) deep inside one’s mental pocket. Shortly after beginning to gather these invented creations, Eva Meyer visited New York. Eva – a valued friend based in Berlin – has freely shared her rye wit and kind heart through many years. As last year’s Eberhard Berent Goethe Chair at New York University, she was in town for a semester. This marvelously tall, dark-haired woman – who could easily have been one of Modigliani’s models – is a philosopher, a writer, a filmmaker. She often collaborates with artist Eran Schaerf who would be joining her. Their esteemed minds are fed by exceptional, imaginations. (They also author radio plays, have had exhibitions around the world, and much more.) Their work – written and visual – transport one up high (usually somewhat beyond my half-baked brain) into the ether.

On a November evening Eva and I walked west on 4th Street toward the Hudson River catching up (as we hadn’t seen each other in several years) while keeping an eye out for an inviting restaurant. When she asked what was new with my work, I told her about the recently published “Found and Lost”  (I had a copy to give her) and mentioned the birth of these Fractals. Passing a Spanish place on Waverly, we spied two terrace tables. Unseasonable, yes, but appealing, so we tightened our scarves and settled in under the winter sky, ordering food and drink. I showed Eva two Fractals – one sprung from Dante’s Inferno, another risen from Virginia Woolf’s The Waves (I think). She read quietly, smiled enigmatically and our conversation moved on to news of mutual friends.

A few weeks later, upstate for the weekend at the splendid Arbor B & B in High Falls, New York, Eva suggested renaming the invented genre ‘Folds’Folds?‘ ‘Yes.’  Folds, in homage to Gertrude Stein who, it seems, had a thing or two or three to say about folds … on folding … on what has already been folded. She offered a copy of a paper she’d authored (first published in parallax journal, 1999, vol. 5, no. 4.) titled “A Matter of Folds”.  In it she quotes Gertrude:

‘”The thing in itself folded itself up inside itself like you might fold a thing up to be another thing which is that thing inside in that thing,”’

Eva’s essay takes one further on, into (or out of or around) the following verbal minefield:

‘And should present time refuse to let itself be defined in theoretical terms, insomuch as the present immediately becomes the past in the process of being expressed, it does allow itself to be arranged in practical fashion into folds, insomuch as the present is the crossover from one fold to the next. Time is the activation of the fold between the past and the future and it must always be considered from the position in order to be realized in the narration of the application being made of it.’

[Fractal – above, Fold – below]      

Who can argue with this? Not me. Thus, these fledgling creations – some brief, some meandering, none longer than a few hundred words – assemblages or collages – of which I should perhaps be considered a curator rather than an author, have been re-christened. Have I

folded

bent

crumbled

been reshaped

gotten gently draped

become enclosed into a pen with other sheep

joined a locus or group?

Have I returned to a fold? Or gotten

crimped

pleated

corrugated

ruffled

creased

crinkled

puckered

gathered

curled

compressed

ridged

wrinkled

kinked

fringed

furled

or fluted?

By now more than twenty Folds have sprung to life. Each is strung like a necklace using bits/phrases/words with no end in mind, no meaning. Each appropriates fragments or phrases lifted from a single work, by such as Gallant, Gogol, Maugham, Woolf, Tolstoy. Sowing happens by day, also by night. Lack-of-sense or cohesion matters not at all, urge is all. Alas: not one reader who has bitten into a Fold has responded well to its taste. Not one cheerer has shared any excitement! (Even relatives.) So be it.

A round-about happy accident: Chanced on a PBS documentary on origami artists titled – Between the Folds. This film an introduction to unimagined worlds of folding, crimping, etc. Beautiful and astonishing. In it revealed and explained, various second and third cousins to my Folds and their amazing creators. While at it: Have a look at one or two of Eva and Eran’s films. Prepare to be transported to somewhere unexpected, where enticement will pull you by the hand toward original images, refreshing feelings, new concepts, stark visuals. [i.e. ‘Europa von weitem‘ (1999)]

 

Ambiance discovered

My visitor from Santa Fe (Melissa) and I, decided to meditate mid-morning before drinking coffee. (Our second  cup of the day, a splurge, carried upstairs in cardboard containers from one of five local coffee-joints on or near my corner ranging in cost from $1.25-$5.00.) That morning we set the timer for fifteen minutes and – for a change – add an ‘ambient sound” that (we assumed) would be a ‘soft murmur washing away distraction’ of which there are many … distractions, that is … in my neighborhood: police and fire sirens, ambulances screaming up or down avenues, gardeners blowing fallen blue Hydrangeas blossoms, basketball games in the adjacent schoolyard, an occasional gunshot or barking dog. Melissa chose an ambience titled “Enchanting”. We assumed we would hear something like this [ambient sound] Enchantment #1 or [ambient sound] This! Instead we heard what could be likened to

a humming air conditioner

a far-away dentist grinding down a molar

a power boat heard while under water

a 4th of July digestion

a kitten crawling inside a piano

grinding of teeth

a knife sharpener

a hovering hummingbird amplified

Charlie Chaplin’s little tramp waddling into the sunset

but most precisely, it turned out to be likened to

a playing card pinned to the spokes of a bicycle held by a clothes pin.

Here’s what that sounds like

[thththththth]

Strange as it seems – we enjoyed the childish ambient murmur  that underscored those fifteen minutes sidelines from our busy day.  Now: Melissa has gone home to Santa Fe to the opera (“Doctor Atomic” by John Adams] and I’m (with my desk cleared) back at work on two novella’s

“Loving the Unlovables”

otherwise known as “Unprotected”

and

“The time when things would be better”

Wish me luck, please. The heat, the humidity, my talking books, fb, netflix, garden, bathtub, my coffee drinking are all quite distracting.

Once upon a brand

I was invited to contribute an essay to a publication called “Once Upon a Brand” – a short reverie about a brand I believed in. My dear friend Dom, its editor, wrote: “… We are now working on Volume Two. The hundred or so contributors will be leaders, achievers, influencers and game-changers from all (well many) areas of life. Would you care to contribute with a story about a brand that has touched you, connected with you in personal and evocative ways? First thought, obviously, is Anne Frank, but your choice of course.”  I said no to Anne Frank, disregarded Dom’s flattery, and wrote the following short piece. I’m posting it today (30 June) as a tribute to two memorable drinks consumed forty-three years ago at 10:30 in the morning at a White Rose Bar on 3rd Avenue. One was a double vodka martini, the other a double Jameson whiskey. I can almost taste them still …. drippingly racing down my throat …

BRAND: ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS

Alcoholics Anonymous at first sight: ruby-haired, sultry Susan Hayward (playing torch singer Lillian Roth) drinks too much in the 50s movie “I’ll Cry Tomorrow.” She drags her mink coat along the floor while wailing/slurring “Sing, You Sinners.” Helping her rise from collapse, stalwart Eddie Albert (as Burt McGuire, once also brought to his knees by whiskey), offers a steadying cup of coffee, guides her to a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous. More meetings follow. When renewal, along with a happy, sober life results, Susan changes her tune, sings “When the Red, Red Robin …” in a clear, majestic voice:

Wake up, wake up, you sleepy head
Get up, get out of your bed
Cheer up, cheer up; the sun is red
Live, love, laugh, and be happy*

Affected by Susan/Lillian’s transformation in my raw youth, the power of Alcoholics Anonymous lodged in the back of my mind though I hadn’t even gulped the first of many gin and tonics, nor dragged my own coat across a dance floor. Time passed, destiny danced, quietly waiting in the wings hovered the cost-free fellowship that remains apolitical, international, multiracial, interdenominational, intergenerational. As it had for Susan/Lillian, its long open arms remain ever-ready to enfold all in need of help. Including oneself.

Begun in 1935 by a failed stockbroker and a doctor, AA has since provided sanctuary for many millions of shaky folks in more than one hundred-eighty different countries around-the-world. The organization’s covenant with privacy/anonymity at a personal and public level discourages self-identification, but, as “Sing, You Sinners” warns, if one is

…wicked and depraved
And you’ve all misbehaved
If you wanna be saved …

earthy Alcoholics Anonymous – its always empty chair, its offer of support by those who came before, its never-empty pot of coffee – is there. In the same way that a Life Saver promises a fruit-flavored circular candy, Alcoholics Anonymous (its triangular brand logo – service, unity, recovery – enclosed within a circle) envisions a life raft upon a tumultuous river; the brand reflects the culture, aims and overall integrity of a unique, ego-free, self-help organization.

I’ve been a witness to AA’s miracles, seen ruined lives salvaged, the sick get well, watched the hopeless find hope, outcasts come in from the cold. Had it not been for the modesty of anonymity, I might describe the pale-yellow silk lampshade I wore on my head, the golden child I neglected because another martini took precedence, the amorous inappropriateness undertaken on the S.S. Christoforo Columbo, the seizure had in a Greek island pine grove, but, I needn’t. Suffice to say –

Sobriety is a jewel

That I do much adore;

And therefore keep me dancing

Though drunkards lie and snore

O mind your feet, O mind your feet

Keep dancing like a wave

And under every dancer

A dead man in his grave.

 [“Red, Red Robin” words and music by Harry Woods, 1926]

[Sing, You Sinner music by W. Franke Harling, lyrics by Sam Coslow, 1930]

[William Butler Yeats, 1869 – 1939 – “A Drunken Man’s Praise of Sobriety”]

 [http://onceuponabrandstory.com]   

[http://www.davidroth.com/brandstories

Finally published – “When We Were Almost Young”

When I was twenty-five (1970) I stumbled off a Greek ocean liner named the Queen Anna Maria at the port of Athens, Piraeus, Greece. I was meant to spend a month on a romantic, free-spirited Greek island with friends – Hydra – but ended up spending two consecutive years there, and have been returned since for the past forty-five years. Am proud to announce that a piece I wrote is included with thirteen other delightful remembrances in a new anthology that’s been in the works for quite a while. It’s called – “When We Were Almost Young: Remembering Hydra through War and Bohemians” and is available as a paperback original on Amazon.com and will soon also exist as a Kindle. It’s compiled and edited by brilliant and stylish Helle V. Goldman (whom I first met as a five-year-old on the Isle of Hydra), who has carved out an impressive career as a scholar, anthropologist, editor, writer, woman-of-a-million talents presently based above the Arctic Circle in Tromsø, Norway. Following, a description of the anthology hot-off-Tipota Press:

The Greek island of Hydra was once famous throughout the Mediterranean for its prosperous sea captains. When fortunes turned, it became an island of humble fishermen and sponge-divers. In the 1950s and 1960s, word spread of Hydra’s unique beauty and incomparable light, and its unconventional community of painters, writers, socialites and other wanderers. Seeking or escaping, they stepped onto Hydra’s horseshoe-shaped harbour and found something that bound them to the island. Some went on to reap global acclaim for their art. One of these was Leonard Cohen, whom Hydra brought together with Marianne Ihlen, inspiration for his timeless songs “So Long, Marianne” and “Bird on a Wire.” Others never entered the limelight. What they shared was an eagerness to forsake the modern rat-race in exchange for a simple life without refrigerators, telephones or cars.

This anthology of 14 short memoirs, spanning the 1940s through 1980s, offers the reflections of the contributors on their tender younger selves and the exhilaration, heartbreak, light and darkness that transformed them on this island. The contributors include award-winning author Alison Leslie Gold and London Times and New York Times bestselling author Daniel Martin Klein. Additional material includes a collection of private letters sent to Marianne Ihlen by her friend Sam Barclay in the early 1960s, and a bibliography/filmography of books and feature films about or set on Hydra.

Here’s a photo (right) of Marianne, her husband Jan, and myself – utterly unreflective on our “almost old” selves, on Hydra a few years before Marianne died – still having fun, still inspiring each other, still tender and exhilarated.  Also (below) a photo of Helle’s remarkable Danish mother sitting with her equally remarkable (Norwegian/American) daughter Zoe on Hydra, in spring a few years ago. Life couldn’t have been sweeter! Oh if we could only have frozen time on that almost perfect afternoon!

Following, an excerpt taken from my piece in “When we were Almost Young”  set in Autumn, titled –

What I come back to

Finally the drowsy days of rain end, a rim of sunset can be seen against the soft curves of the Peloponnese. Lemons from my neighbour’s tree have fallen onto my road and steps. Doors have swollen from the rain. The door to the old part of the house won’t open; the door to the front gate won’t close. During the downpour, the leak under the metal spiral stairway to the newish upstairs studio – built when my neighbor erected a second story that obscured my sea view and broke my heart – stopped, but water from the kitchen ceiling dripped onto the table where my papers and fresh bread are.

When the sun has dried everything, I fill in a crack in the terrace above the kitchen with acrylic sealant shot through a tube with a kind of cocked gun left over from the recent cleaning, resealing of my cistern, and listen to goat bells high up in the hills. My neighbour stops by to bring me a sack of fresh lemons. The third in a week; enough lemons for an army. After scrubbing my dirty laundry in the red plastic tub with soft cistern (rain) water and soap, I hang it piece by piece on the line that’s strung across the terrace. A couple of indigo-coloured plastic clothespins crumble when I pinch them, exhausted after doing their work through a long, baking-hot summer. The sun is still strong, though it is now October. If I can get myself to put on my bathing suit, I’ll go for a swim. Almost before I finish hanging the last bits on the line, the first have already dried.

Olympia, the hobbling tabby cat, hasn’t visited once. I’ve seen her at two different tavernas, fat and swaggering, oblivious to my lack of affection at last. Perhaps it is because I still pine for Vigilante, also a tabby, that I haven’t warmed to Olympia, who is most likely Vigilante’s second, third or fourth cousin.

One time I glanced over at Tassos’ café from the Pirate (my latest station of the cross) and saw Tassos’ crusty old father sitting in his usual chair at a side table, sipping something. I commented, “Amazing that Tassos’ father is still alive,” to be told, “Tassos’ father died twenty years ago. That’s Tassos you’re looking at.” Begrudging: After shaking her head – “Tipota!” (Nothing!) – a fatuous smile at the corner of her mouth, the bling-laden, hard-working employee at the post office shrugs and thumbs through the poste restante bins. She finds mail addressed to me from someone who has been dead for at least three years.

Inescapable: The volume of normal meowing increases to a howl, piercing, screeching, bawling, doleful, whining caterwaul. Which cat is this? I peer into the black velvet, polished night, shine my torch, glimpse only a cat’s raised rear end, tail curled, the cat unidentifiable, the grating yowl, frequent, urgent, persistent on and off through half the night. Why not! Cats can always sleep all the next day. …

Waterfall in the right eye

Attachment-1-7Cataract: 1. a large waterfall 2. a medical condition in which the lens of the eye becomes progressively opaque, resulting in blurred vision.

Had the ‘waterfall’ in my right eye removed on monday, 17 July with surgery done on West 23rd Street, 7th floor.

The white paper on which I’m writing today (two days after the operation) is whiter than anything I’ve become used to seeing. I return to my mother’s kitchen in my childhood: there were comparable whites on the table, in the sink, on the shelves. And those whites of paper and porcelain and enamel contained a promise which this white paper today recalls.

Let’s be clear about the implication of what I’m saying. Clearly, during many decades after my childhood, I saw sheets of white paper as white as this one. But gradually the whiteness dimmed. And this afternoon what’s happened is not that I realize this with my intelligence, but that the whiteness of the paper rushes toward my eyes, and my eyes embrace the whiteness like a long lost friend.[From – ‘Cataract’ by John Berger with drawings by Selçuk Demirelwww.nottinghilleditions.com*]

My sister led me out of the o.r. after the surgery, then into a taxi. There was a covering over my right eye. It was eerie to need to hang onto someone that much to get in and out of a taxi, up my elevator. I did not like it but my sister made it as painless as possible.

I needed two Advil’s in the night.

On 18 July, a tuesday, I began the aftercare:  Ciprofloxacin hydrochloride-solution/drops 0.3%. 3 times a day. Shake well. Prednisolone acetate ophthalmic suspension 1%. One drop in operated eye 4 times a day. Shake well.  Bromisite ophthalmic solution 0.075%. Use one drop in operated eye once a day. Shake well. ALL DROPS 5 MINUTES APART.

Not hard to keep them straight. But … forget to shake well.

Enlight15

Doctor, my eyes

Doctor, my eyes have seen the years
And the slow parade of fears without crying
Now I want to understand

I have done all that I could
To see the evil and the good without hiding
You must help me if you can

Doctor, my eyes
Tell me what is wrong
Was I unwise to leave them open for so long

‘Cause I have wandered through this world
And as each moment has unfurled
I’ve been waiting to awaken from these dreams

People go just where they will
I never noticed them until I got this feeling
That it’s later than it seems

Doctor, my eyes
Tell me what you see
I hear their cries
Just say if it’s too late for me

Doctor, my eyes
Cannot see the sky
Is this the prize
For having learned how not to cry

[Written by Jackson Browne • Copyright © Universal Music Publishing Group]
On 19 July I bent down to retrieve my shoes. I’d forgotten that I’m not to bend. But I’ve remembered not to lift. Not to get water in my eyes. Not to have sexual activity. Not to drive. Have ignored information from friends and/or neighbors, especially urban legends. I am elated by the success of my right eye so far – the pure blue, the white-white – and shocked (when I shut my right eye and look at the world with only the left eye) by the sad layer of yellow shellack that has been covering the world.
The removal of the cataract is comparable with the removal of a particular form of forgetfulness. Your eyes begin to re=remember first times.And it is in this sense that what they experience after the intervention resembles a kind of visual renaissance. [also from John Berger’s ‘Cataract’ – Notting Hill Editions* UK]
All true for my right eye. On 8/8 the cataract in my left eye will be removed.
[*Notting Hill Editions will publish my new non-fiction in Autumn of 2017. Information pending. Keep at least one eye pealed for updates]

Editing

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My new book (to be published in UK in October 2017, and USA in March 2018) is presently undergoing the process of editing, proofreading, layout, subtitle-invention, copy editing, typesetting, font choosing, cover art decisions etc. etc. Back and forth between UK and me, Paris and me, UK and Paris, UK, Paris, me.

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The enigma of editing

pull quote

visuals

Oxford commas

cream coloured text rather than white

‘Characters and Correspondents’

Dramatis Personae

typesetter

Prologue, not underlined

track changes

‘occasional pseudonyms’

second proofs

trial PDF

signing-offs hanging over to the other page

widows/orphans issue when there’s no room for sign-offs

text shifts

indexes

new format

cover visuals

PDF B

suggested edits

word-breaks

letters not justified

edits/corrections

uncorrected proof

trial3 PDF

small caps

smaller caps

red italic for fragments

pause for thought 

more context

revised Epilogue

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