Sunday, November 23, 2014
The story can be read in its entirety here.
This essay is one of three dozen that will appear in LOVE: A PHILADELPHIA AFFAIR, due out from Temple University Press next fall. More on that here.
The flocks of geese in these fields made the ground come alive. Their way of feeding and calling made a hum, something steady. "Why are you talking about death?" His face jerked left like a machine, then jerked right. Without looking at his face, I put the dinosaur on his blanket.In a Q and A at the end of Carry the Sky, Kate Gray speaks of the road she took toward publishing. It wasn't an easy one. It required fortitude—eight years to write the book, two years to revise it, a series of rejections, and then the balm of a writing group:
"Why do you like rowing?" he asked. The question was drum roll, cymbal crash, horn.
It was something to do with not wanting to feel pain but wanting to know pain. Like wanting to know fire. You light it in front of you, the colors all over the place, the heat all over your skin, but you don't want to burn or anything. I don't know, but I understand him a little more in the middle of that field, with geese all over everywhere, geese getting along with the swans, and all of us finding a place to land.
After I had written and rewritten a complete draft, received rejections when I sent the manuscript out, my indefatigable partner gathered a group of twelve friends to our house for potlucks once a month, and we read the entire draft out loud. Their questions and insights were invaluable. Reading the whole thing out loud let me hear the gaps, the promise.And so, to a riveting debut novelist, to a brand-new press, to the partner who cared, to the friends who listened, to the rivers that haunt and sustain us — many congratulations on a work of art.
Lottie, like any red-blooded girl, had been taught to get out of the way of things like speeding convertibles and masked men with guns, but she had never expected to have a run-in with a homicidal tree. More than that, and what confused Lottie the most in the split-second she had to realize that she was about to get smashed to smithereens, was that she had not seen any lightning. If she was going to be killed by a falling tree, Lottie thought in that last moment of cognizance, she wished it would have at least had the decency to get struck by lightning first. That would have been a much more dramatic way to go.
This is part of the intoxication, part of the pathology of it all. This is part of what I was learning, from early childhood on—that to journey into the wild spaces where profound questions are given a violent and inexorable response, that to travail through fire and return again—these are the experiences which determine the making of a man. To be a man, I would need to walk into the thunder and hail of a world stripped of its reason, just as others in my family had done before me. And if I were strong enough, and capable enough, and god-damned lucky enough, I might one day return clothed in an unshakable silence. Back to the world, as they say.This spring, my creative nonfiction students at Penn will assess and learn from the poetry of Sgt. Turner.
The Cost of Freedom
Waiting with words trapped within
Ready to burst with irrepressible emotion
Unable to make a choice
For fear of stumbling into regret.
Bonds broken, lives at stake,
Stuck with a feeling of stasis.
Every second, a wasted opportunity.
What stops a fleeting rush toward freedom?
The danger, the worry, the risk of death.
But what really hinders the dreams of life
Is believing that one can exist without freedom.
The promised land is a distant light,My work with these students is not done. My pleasure is ongoing.
A chasm, deep and dark.
Too wide to see where it ends
Crossable, but with a steep cost.
The fear of the unknown: the final barrier.
The trip Florinda and her art major husband will take to Italy before this decade is through.This morning I've asked my sleepy husband to give me a number (each entry had a number). His number correlates with Amy, who said that Florence is, to her, the cement slab that sloped down toward the river (and where she wrote in her journal).
That moment when Sandra Bullock says, in "While You Were Sleeping," "And there would be a stamp in my passport and it would say Italy on it."
A statue of Bacchus.
The stories Hilary's backpacking sister would tell.
The cement slab that sloped down toward the river.
The smell of leathergoods shops on the Ponte Vecchio.
Florence and the Machine.
A woman named Florence who helped Lisa feel hopeful about staying intellectually engaged at any age (and being kind while you are at it).
Outdoor cafes and hot waiters who are working to pay for their art.
The Palazzo Vecchio, the Uffizi Gallery, the Duomo, a city close to the city where George Clooney got married.
Two small gold rings.
An art history class.
The nearby beaches.
The similarities between the Arno and the Schuylkill (woman after my own heart, that Victoria Marie Lees)
A mother, now gone, who lived the dream of traveling Italy.
(And so much more.)
On November 15, one reader/commenter on this blog (see details here) will be named the winner (that sounds like such a big word; let's try recipient) of One Thing Stolen, my novel due out in April 2015 from Chronicle Books. At the heart of the novel lies a ravaging flood that swept through Florence, Italy, on November 4, 1966 and destroyed some of the most important art of the civilized world. The footage above tells the story. The flood is one of three obsessions that I explore in this novel about then and now.
On November 21st, during NCTE, I'll be at the National Harbor Convention Center signing copies of One Thing Stolen at the Chronicle booth. Please come and visit if you can. 3:00 PM is our signing hour.
Again, go here for your chance at an early copy.
I know why the caged bird sings
because I am that caged bird.
My wings are clipped,
my legs are tied,
yet, I will still warble in
this dark, pressing night.
I will walk up to this barrier,
this solid thing that embodies
all forms of constriction.
I don't care, I will fly,
my ropes are loosening,
my wings are growing.
The bird knows its risks.
Yet it flies, it flies.
The bird has one
thing that I cannot attain:
Freedom is on the other side.
Will I jump?
I know why the caged bird sings.
He's telling me to jump.
It's safe to stay where I am.
That's what people say, at least.
It's too risky
To risk the distance,
Defy the borders.
Your life is fine here, easy.
But I don't live to feel fine.
I live to feel alive.
To do what I want to do.
To pursue freedom.
To chase my own dreams.
I don't live to listen to washed-up lyrics
Written by tyrants.
I live to dream.
Mentally, physically, emotionally...
On one side, ideals.
The other, truth.
People have ideals,
A set mind on how they
Want to live.
But then there is the truth.
How they are living ...
If there ideal is their truth
There would be no wall.
The cost of desire is terror—
the Terror you feel when change occurs,
when it does not turn out the way you thought.
like you wanted it to.
You do not know what answer you will get.
What feelings you will have.
What the long-term outcome will be.
But you try and you try
And you hope change will go your way.
They protect but also confine.
They keep out the bad but
also the good.
They protect us from the outside world
but also block us from the outside.
So break down the walls
and let yourself free.
Because the walls can't protect you forever.
And when they break,
make sure you're ready.
LICHTGRENZE from Fall of the Wall 25 on Vimeo.
These past two days, 8,000 lit balloons have been floating above a ten-mile stretch of the original Berlin Wall.
Tonight, 8,000 citizens with keys will each unlock a separate balloon and it will escape, free, to the atmosphere.
It's part of the 25th anniversary of the Fall of the Wall, an art installation by Christopher and Marc Bauder that has been in the works for many years.
My friend Bill sent me this video and article. I am pleased to share it here and encourage you, too, to watch this New York Times coverage of the installation. It's extraordinary art and essential history.
Tomorrow, I will take my Berlin Wall novel, Going Over, into Masterman, a Philadelphia school, and talk about history, risks, freedom, and responsibilities. On Friday the conversation will move to my alma mater, Radnor High.
But today I wish I was in Berlin to see those 8,000 balloons fly free.
More on the wall and what it did, who tried to escape, how much it hurt, can be found here.
Today your job is this: Take nothing for granted.
Write about what risks are worth taking, and freedom is, I prompted. This is what happened:
What is life
but a bundle of risks
a handful of desires.
We get thrown in the mix
of temptations and hopes
but in order to obtain
the things that we want
we must go through pain.
— Mike Lodge
Freedom isn't free.
Yes, that's the irony.
We hear its cry.
We hear its call.
Yet here we are
at an ancient wall.
A wall we cannot live without.
A wall that fills us up with doubt.
And some of us will take a risk.
Some of us will die to have it all.
That freedom filled with irony.
For that I would fall.
It's not impossible,
but it's not clear.
It's what lies in the future that is feared.
But what's life without freedom?
A life of being caged?
The only thing that gives us freedom
— August Walker
Not much is worth risking my life for.
Family, friends, love, freedom come to mind.
Would you risk everything now for a chance at freedom?
If everything could be lost, would you try?
One moment you're there, the next you're gone.
Never to see your loved ones again.
Is it really worth it, for a chance at freedom?
— Samantha Goss
Can you go against the stream?
Fight the system?
Make your own path?
It will be hard.
Blood. Loss. Isolation.
You are a soldier with no army.
You are a lone soul looking for a place
to call home.
To rebel against the evils which control
our very lives.
In hopes to prevail against the wings of Freedom
and its vibes.
These days our right to think different is
challenged by all.
Yet without the help of others our ideas
will surely fall.
What is worth my life?
What is worth my death?
What will hold me back?
What will set me free?
That is all I need.
— Emily Gibbs
Nabokov said that there are three points of view from which a writer can be considered: as a storyteller, as a teacher, and as an enchanter. More and more, my only goal in writing is to tell stories—tell stories and bring characters to life. If there’s enlightenment or enchantment to be had in what I write, I’ve come to believe that I can’t force it; it’ll show up or not show up on its own.Morton's new novel, Florence Gordon, is about an aging feminist who has just received an astronomical New York Times Book Review, her dangerously affable and endearingly well-read cop son, his perched-to-leave-him wife, and their feeling-guilty-to-grow-up-but-is-growing-up-and-how-we-like-her daughter who is, at the moment, between colleges and assisting her prickly grandmother with research. It's also, as Morton's books are, about New York, where those who master the Manhattan walk may just decide to call the place home.
But of course, patience is still the most necessary thing. Patience, tenacity, perseverance, stubbornness, devotion—in terms of the writing life, they’re all different words for the same thing. I think the only way to keep going as a writer is to find a way to love the writing process in its every aspect: to take pleasure not only in the moments when it’s going well, but to find pleasure even in the difficulties.
Vanessa was a psychotherapist who worked with people in the arts. She proceeded to give a few examples. A painter who, after selling one of his works to the Whitney, began to speak of himself in the third person. A writer who'd so long suppressed her desire for fame, so long suppressed the narcissism near the root of every creative life, that when she finally achieved a bit of recognition, all her hunger for it had come bursting out—a ferocity of hunger that no degree of success could satisfy—and she was plunged into a depression that took her months to recover. Another writer, a woman who'd always seemed a model of tolerance and tact, who, after finally writing a book that brought her a degree of acclaim, felt nothing but anger toward all the people who were celebrating her. Late recognition, Vanessa said, was the stage for the return of the repressed.
Alexandra too believed that success could make you crazy, and she too had a theory. Buried deep in the psyche, she thought, is a sort of lump, a creature that craves nothing except stability, and as far as the lump is concerned, change for the better is just as bad as change for the worse.
FLOW Festival 2014 / Architectural Projection Model from Greenhouse Media on Vimeo.
When the good people of the Fairmount Water Works asked if they might borrow the first prose page from Flow: The Life and Times of Philadelphia's Schuylkill River for a festival finale, I said yes, of course. This movie (rendered here) was projected onto the entrance house facades of the Water Works building as night fell a few weeks ago. The words come from the prose poem, "Rising."
Habithèque Inc.— Creative Direction
Greenhouse Media— Video and Editing
refreshtech and LUCE Group— Lighting
Blair Brothers Music— Original Soundscape
Beth Kephart—The poem "Rising" from her book Flow
In Cicero's day authors ready to launch their newest work would gather their friends at home or in a public hall for a spirited recitatio, or reading. Audiences would cry out when they liked a particular passage. Nervous authors enlisted their friends to lend support, and sometimes even filled seats with hired "clappers." They were keenly aware of the importance of networking to get influential acquaintances to recommend their works to others. The creation of books started off as something both personal and social; the connection embodied in that dual nature is at the heart of what makes books so good at refining and advancing thought. It was just that the practicalities of publishing in the printing-press age made the personal connections a bit harder to see.
He's helping to lead the IBM team now at work on this revolutionary technology in the Cognitive Environments Laboratory. When Jeff describes this to me, he asks me if I remember the film Minority Report, the technologies for which were conjured a decade ago by fifteen scientific researchers during a three-day, Spielberg-assembled think tank.
From the Yahoo Finance article where the video above appears:
Jeff, who was inducted into the IEEE two years ago (and whose children respectively dance and race the Rubik's Cube clock), possesses a mind that seems capable of the impossible. He has to dial his intellect down several notches so that he can communicate with ordinary people like me. He has spent many years at IBM doing various fascinating things—and many nights working until 3 AM or later (on concepts, on coding, on new ideas, on computer screens) to be ready for his team the next day.Using the capabilities of IBM's pioneering Cognitive Environments Laboratory (CEL), Repsol and IBM researchers will work together to jointly develop and apply new prototype cognitive tools for real-world use cases in the oil and gas industry. Cognitive computing software agents and technologies will be designed to collaborate with human experts in more natural ways, learn through interaction, and enable individuals and teams to make better decisions by overcoming cognitive limitations posed by big data.Scientists in the CEL will also be able to experiment with a combination of traditional and new interfaces based upon spoken dialog, gesture, robotics and advanced visualization and navigation techniques. Through these modalities, they will be able to learn and leverage sophisticated models of human characteristics, preferences and biases that may be present in the decision-making process.
Language left him gradually, a bit at a time. One would expect words to depart predictably, in reverse order—the way a row of knitting disappears, stitch by stitch, when the strand of working yarn is tugged off by the needle—but that was not the case.Look for it next June.