Archive for Books

More Tears in Heaven…

This is an update of an article I wrote during the first year of the Trump presidency,. It’s even worse than I imagined.

In Franz Kafka’s short story Metamorphosis, Gregor Samsa, the traveling salesman, wakes up one morning to find himself transformed into a giant insect. The rest of the story deals with his attempt to manage the transformation and explain it to his family.

In The Trial, another Kafka character, Joseph K, finds himself on trial for no discernable reason. “Someone must have traduced Joseph K., for without having done anything wrong he was arrested one fine morning.” Traduce is an arcane, seldom used verb, that means “to tell lies about someone so as to damage their reputation.” It should be in current usage. It’s so Trumpian. read more

The Five Stages of Grievance…

Most of us are familiar with Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ Five Stages of Grief– denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Kubler-Ross’ list is a handy reminder that grief and the time it takes to run its course don’t always follow a straight line.

Stages of Grief

Grief comes from the Anglo-French word gref meaning injustice or calamity and the Latin word gravis meaning heavy. The dictionary defines it as a “deep and poignant distress caused by or as if by bereavement.” Grieve, is related but comes from the Latin gravare, to burden but also gravis or heavy, and its dictionary definition is “to feel or show grief.” read more

Scatology vs. Eschatology in Today’s Politics…

Detail from Hieronymous Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights

I’ve been thinking a lot about death and Ricky Gervais lately, because I’m losing friends at such an alarming rate. Their obituaries often say, “Died of natural causes,” but Stuart Nuland in his book How We Die says the death certificate should probably read “Died of old age,” although he acknowledges that we’re not quite there officially. At my age, it’s natural to be thinking of death, but I’m trying to be cool about it. As Ricky Gervais says, “Death is like being stupid; it’s only painful for others.” read more

Nerdy Ol’ Me…

Donald Trump exhausts me. He’s the train wreck I saw coming but couldn’t look away from. His mind-numbing ignorance and faux-gravitas would be hilarious if he/we weren’t in a death spiral of his making. He may be time-limited, but four years is an eternity when Pudgy-Wudgy, the village idiot, has the keys to the nuclear launch codes.

Part of my exhaustion comes from my wife’s insatiable need to watch the scum circling the drain–all day every day on two television sets. She and I are different. She is able to work, read, and listen to the competing news sources without missing anything. I’m not good at tuning in and out. I’m too easily pulled into the breathless Breaking News on MSNBC. Ever watch your 8-year-old grandchild when the TV goes on. I’m like that. Or like Joseph Conrad, who used to have his wife, Jessie, lock him in his upstairs study in the morning and not let him out until lunch time. He didn’t have the will power to stay and write without restraint. Neither do I. I’m Conrad’s Mini-Me. read more

Words, Words, Words…and Jargon

Poets use them almost as a concentrate…a few here, a few there…liberally sprinkled down the page. Of course, I’m talking about words. We all use them, but they are the hammer and nails of a writers toolkit. Some use them masterfully, and I’m in awe of the great ones, particularly poets. They set a high bar by showing us how with economy and precision we can all become better communicators. Poets teach us to be miserly, to condense, and concentrate our thoughts in order to clarify and intensify our meaning. read more