Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Deaths of Writers

I've been a reader for 50 years and I've seen writers I love die, some naturally and some unnaturally. I've said goodbye to Faulkner, Hemingway, Plath, Steinbeck, Kerouac, Primo Levi, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and Saul Bellow.

The deaths have always hit me hard because the relationship you have with a writer is different from the relationship you have with anyone else. In the secret place you go to when you are reading, you and the writer share dreams and fears and wishes and hopes in a way that is nothing like your relationship with anyone else.

The writer is your lover and your confessor, your mother and your father, your God and your Satan. And you are the same for him. The writer tells you what he dreams and what he fears. When he tells you what he dreams, you help him come a little closer to those dreams. When he tells you what he fears, you help him push those fears away a little bit. And this works the same for you when you tell the writer in this secret place about your fears and dreams.

It's hard when a writer you love dies, but it's only hard for a while. His death begins to fade when you pick up his book again, return to that secret place.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

re: David Foster Wallace and Suicide

I read early this morning that writer David Foster Wallace, the author of Infinite Jest, committed suicide a couple of days ago. His wife came home Friday night to find that he had hanged himself.

I didn't much like his fiction. Its irony and postmodernism seemed familiar, but his essays were sharp and funny, and he was from central Illinois and I spent much of my working life teaching lit and creative writing there, and I feel a kinship with young writers from there.

I'll miss the guy.

What amazes me about him is that he apparently had everything, talent to burn, time to write, a sweet teaching load, people reading and loving his books, and he kills himself.

Like I said, I don't get it, but my wife tells me I'm naive, that people who kill themselves have reasons that the folks left behind don't understand. It's not about what they have, but rather about what they feel they don't have, and you and me will never know what that loss feels like.

I'm sure she's right.

A couple of years ago, Marty Scott, a friend of mine, a terrific writer and a kind, compassionate, generous guy killed himself. I couldn't make sense of that death either, but one thing that helped me was a song by Lucinda Williams that I found right after my friend killed himself.

Here it is:

Sweet Old World

See what you lost when you left this world, this sweet old world
See what you lost when you left this world, this sweet old world
The breath from your own lips, the touch of fingertips
A sweet and tender kiss
The sound of a midnight train, wearing someone's ring
Someone calling your name
Somebody so warm cradled in your arm
Didn't you think you were worth anything

See what you lost when you left this world, this sweet old world
See what you lost when you left this world, this sweet old world

Millions of us in love, promises made good
Your own flesh and blood
Looking for some truth, dancing with no shoes
The beat, the rhythm, the blues
The pounding of your heart's drum together with another one
Didn't you think anyone loved you

See what you lost when you left this world, this sweet old world
See what you lost when you left this world, this sweet old world

(There's a version of this song on youtube sung by Emmylou Harris.)

Thursday, September 04, 2008

The Presidential Lottery

Garrison Keillor wrote an article for the online journal Salon called "Who wants to see Sarah Palin as the next president?"

I read the article and started thinking about how crazy elections and primaries and conventions are. We go through all of that anguish and trauma and anger for months upon months and we end up with presidents like: George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George (the other) Bush, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy C, Richard Nixon and on and on and on.

Really, it's a crazy system we have, and I wrote a letter to Salon offering something a little different.

Here's what I sent to Salon:

The Lottery

Watching the Bush administration treat Iraq like its private AMT for the last seven years, and now faced with the possibility of watching McCain and Palin "bring the pain," I'm starting to think that there needs to be a better way of selecting a president.

Maybe it's time for a national Presidential lottery, a random picking of a president based on only two criteria: you can't be a felon and you got to be at least 35. With our technology, we could easily put everyone who meets the criteria in a big electronic fish bowl and draw a winner.

I know some people will say we already have a lottery. They look at Sarah Palin and say, "She's kind of random. There doesn't seem to be much reasoning behind her selection."

But I think those people miss the point. Palin wasn't picked randomly. McCain must have thought it out, or least thought about it.

Really, we need to get beyond all of this and work on putting in a national lottery.

The biggest advantage is that the odds are we wouldn't get some politico pit-bull, raring to chew off the leg of any Democrat that gets in her way, and we wouldn't get some fuzzy-headed geezer like McCain who unleashed her.

Instead, we'd get some average, random American (like me) who, I'm sure, would do as good a job as McCain or Palin as president without all of the hateful posturing and silly name calling.