My rating: 5 of 5 stars. Not unlike Kay Redfield Jamison’s excellent Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament, Lincoln’s Melancholy is a holistic consideration of how temperament shapes us, our thoughts and deeds; how the cultural assignations of “genius” and “affliction” are complex, mutable, and very often two sides of the same coin. That the Great Emancipator was, in fact, shackled in his early years by the back-and-forth lurching between despondency and hypomania is certainly food for thought. That he settled into his destiny, using this great range of emotion to right the ship of our listing nation, that’s why he’s still a hero.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars. Raw but not strident. Raw not in the sense of underdone, half-baked: in fact, these stories are superbly crafted and in control, sentence to sentence, page to page. No, they’re raw in the best way: the way that shows us our obscenities and absurdities, in the flesh, and makes us feel like laughing, feel like crying, feel like screaming. All three at once and then some. This is a book that stays with you long after you put it down, and if you’re a writer, it will make you want to write, to write like you really mean it this time.
(1) October in Alabama. | (2) October anywhere, really. | (3) My Strong Sad t-shirt. | (4) Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan. | (5) Goodreads. | (6) MAD Day @ ASFA. | (7) This time next week, I’ll be in Florida, playing golf. | (8) This time
last week two weeks ago, I was in North Carolina, playing golf. | (9) Staying connected with my college buds, albeit intermittently. | (10) Hanging out with my colleagues and students in Linn Park. In October. In Alabama. All impromptu, like. | (11) Not watching the Pitt-Virginia Tech football game because I knew what was going to happen. And it happened. (Okay: I winced through three plays or so, here and there, but mostly I watched my DVR-d episodes of Beat Bobby Flay.) | (12) Grilled tomatoes. | (13) Smoked paprika. | (14) Romaine hearts. | (15) Dill! | (16) Homemade tzatziki sauce. | (17) Taking a risk in class and having it work. | (18) Just taking Saturday, you know? Like, it’s just mine. I’m going to read and cook. Earlier, I was out in the mild sun. The windows are open. My feet are bare. My dog is fed and dozing. Tonight it will be 47º. Clear skies. Ebola can’t touch me. Not on such a Saturday as this. | (19) Tom’s of Maine bar soap. I’m not, like, a hippie or whatever. But it smells good and soothes my skin. | (20) All these dreams I’ve been having with my mother in them. Bootstraps dreams. Boy-get-your-ass-in-gear dreams. It’ll-be-fine dreams. | (21) Getting older. | (22) Exhorting people. | (23) People saying they appreciate being exhorted. | (23) Grilling the bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs. | (24) Saffron. | (25) Chasing Avery. Who is chasing Emma. | (26) Michael Fassbender. | (27) Liam Cunningham. | (28) Making Stuart laugh. | (29) Making Don laugh. | (30) Helping Iris when she needs it.
Glassner’s thesis — that the “if it bleeds, it leads” media culture not only feeds but creates outsized and irrational fears that don’t reflect the society’s real and pressing problems — makes sense to me, but what’s even more interesting about it is that he posited it in 1999. Before Bush v. Gore, the so-called Red State/Blue State divide. Before September 11. Before Afghanistan and Iraq. (Before, for that matter, American Idol and Facebook and Twitter.) It may be tempting to say that these new realities have fundamentally changed the underlying dynamics of the situation. The culture Barry Glassner is describing is gone, so goes this argument, replaced by something altogether different — and now, in many cases, it’s legitimately scary.
It’s more accurate to say that these new fundamentals are not new at all. They are, in fact, iterations (or byproducts, really) of Glassner’s main point. We are very good—too good and getting even better — at recognizing the symptoms of our collective dysfunction(s) and making a public show of wringing our hands over them. We are, on the other hand, pretty bad (and getting worse) at digging out the root causes, which are the same as they have always been:
How we teach kids.
How we establish and enforce rules of justice and commerce.
Whether we make sure everybody can eat, drink, and breathe safely in perpetuity.
How (if) we take care of our sick people and old people.
The savvy (or lack of it) with which nation states advance their interests in the world.
That about covers it. It’s a finite but interminable set of problems. It’s called civilization. Much of the work of addressing the problems of a civil society is and always has been boring and exhausting and it’s usually pretty thankless. Most of us, says Glassner (and he’s right), would rather be entertained, even if that means turning the free world into a horror show.
Politics is people and people don’t change. Not that much.
To wit: Twain wrote his masterpiece in 1884 during a time when American society was frayed at the edges. Technology was opening up the world at a breakneck pace. Electric lights. Gas-powered cars. Steel-frame skyscrapers. And railroads. Lots of railroads. American life, especially in cities, was transforming. As a result, so was the economy, but, in a few short years, it would begin a precipitous decline brought about in no small part because of shaky banking practices. And, of course, America was riven by race. Twain embarks in relatively good humor, writing what appears to be a slightly grown up sequel to Tom Sawyer. Then we get on the river and the more people we meet, the sourer the mood turns. What starts out as an idyllic float down the Big Muddy turns into a dystopic vision of what’s to come in the near term, a reflection of Twain’s growing gloom over human nature and the health of the American body politic. Fast-forward to 2006, when Cormac McCarthy published The Road. A boom lurches toward bust. Deep social divides — this time not so much black people and white people but so-called Red States and Blue States. And then there’s the specter of terrorism, the inchoate fear that, wherever you are, the world around you can, without warning, erupt into a blur of shrapnel and/or deadly germs and/or falling buildings. Both books present us with a man and a boy trying to navigate their way through the maelstrom their society has made of itself. Both books end in something like a simple affirmation — if qualified and impermanent and still a little ambiguous — of the best human beings can offer one another. Which — and here’s the punchline — is the most we can ever hope to get from our politics as well.
Marx is basic: the folks who got it want to keep it; those who don’t, want to get it. That double-sided brand of self-help is one of the biggest cogs in the global socioeconomic machine, and it always will be unless there’s some kind of revolution. Marx believed that sort of revolution was inevitable. So far it hasn’t materialized with any staying power, but who knows? Maybe that’s what the internet is for after all, a way for the information age workers of the world to unite. The hunch here is that’s not going to happen either, but, you know, maybe…
(1) Chorizo. | (2) Teaching people who are more talented than me. | (3) Jalapeño. Raw. Pickled. | (4) Still Life with Woodpecker by Tom Robbins. | (5) Talking to a big group of people. | (6) Candied ginger. | (7) Me and You and Everyone We Know. (Still.) | (8) Cast iron. | (9) Winesburg, Ohio. | (10) Wing Biddlebaum. | (11) Thyme. | (12) Kindnesses. From people who don’t owe them to me. | (13) Which is to say: JHM. | (14) GR. | (15) TBK. | (17) De-activating my Twitter account. Amen. | (18) Making something. | (19) Other people making something. | (20) Black coffee with honey and cinnamon. | (21) Pomegranate juice with cinnamon sticks and lemon. Just, like: to drink. | (22) Seafood stock. I mean: I would drink it but mostly just to cook things in. | (23) My red shoes. | (24) Long-sleeve t-shirts, even though it’s still too hot. | (25) Fried chicken skin. | (26) Texture. | (27) Mouth-feel. | (28) Sleeping in. | (29) My resilient, aged dog. | (30) Peanut-butter + butter sandwiches.
(1) Hwy 82, from Tuscaloosa to Greenwood, MS, and back again. (Mississippi’s growing on me.) | (2) My new haircut. | (3) TurnRow Book Co. | (4) Jamie & Co. @ TurnRow Book Co. | (5) My friend Andrew. And & Co. (@ TurnRow) | (6) My friend/kindred spirit, K–, who (still) puts up with me and my antics/oddities and who even (still) sometimes seems to get a kick out of them. Is she laughing with me? At me? Usually the latter. But she likes laughing at people, so it’s okay. And, more important, she likes good people, and I think she (still) likes me, so. I’ve got that going for me. | (7) Listening to “Races” by Glen Hansard. On Hwy 82. And then listening to it again. (“Will you come walk beside me / To the end of this story / And I’ll let you go gently / Among your own kind…”) | (8) Answering questions about something I’ve written. Not perfectly. Or smoothly. Or perhaps even correctly. But still: feeling like said answers are at least true to me and to what I’ve written. Which, I mean, makes sense: I’m never perfect or smooth, and I’m often incorrect. | (9) The fried alligator (w. fried jalapenos) at the Delta Bistro in Greenwood. | (10) Starkville, MS, oddly enough. Turns out it’s the Blacksburg, VA, of Mississippi. Which, I mean, makes sense: cow college. Middle of nowhere. Foil to the upscale flagship to the north. A best-kept-secret sort of place. | (11) College towns, generally. | (12) Oktibbeha, the word. | (13) Kickball in the park. | (14) My work life. | (15) TFA people. | (16) A long-but-not-too-long Sunday drive. | (17) A Sunday, period, yawning in front of me. | (18) A summer yawning before me. | (19) A plan for how to fill it. | (20) Buzzards on the side of the road. | (21) A fractionally clearer sense of how not-no operates in my life. | (22) How not having a couch is a not-no, how TV is too, and nostalgia. Not these things themselves. Knowing their not-no nature. (How making no sense on the internet is a not-no…) | (23) Hawks. In the sky. Gliding, riding the current. | (24) A Separation by Asghar Farhadi. | (25) True Love: A Practice for Awakening the Heart by Thich Nhat Hanh. | (26) Postcards from Martone. | (27) Sitting, quiet, waiting for all 30 things to reveal themselves. | (28) Writing 30 things out by hand, on a single sheet of unlined paper. | (29) Writing 30 things out by hand, on a single sheet of unlined paper, and, as I’ve done with increasing regularity lately, keeping it to — saving it for? — myself. | (30) Writing 30 things out by hand, on a single sheet of unlined paper, and (still) sometimes sharing it.
Be there or be square. 5 PM. I sign. (I have good penmanship.) I read. (I sound like Tobey Maguire.) I juggle cats. And chainsaws! In Greenwood, Mississippi. Amen. Fun. Times.
(1) Hymn for the Black Terrific by Kiki Petrosino. | (2) Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery by Tim Earley. | (3) Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott. | (4) Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer. | (5) Martin Scorsese’s The Blues: A Musical Journey. | (6) Ken Burns’s Jazz. | (7) Which is to say: time to read and re-read, watch and re-watch, consider and re-consider. | (8) People-watching. | (9) Specifically: all the bleary-eyed but — no, and, therefore — beautiful people in the coffee shop on a Saturday morning. (Where are you going, where have you been, etc.) | (10) JB Lenoir. | (11) Skip James. | (12) El Barrio. | (13) Murals. With sun. | (14) Misplacing my phone. For a time. Not losing my phone. Losing my phone sucks. But having a vague idea of where it might be (and where it might be if it isn’t there) — and being out of earshot of these might-be places. | (15) Writing bars at Andrew’s behest. | (16) Horns. | (17) Horn-rims. | (18) The theme song to Rocky. | (19) Occasion to remember, fondly, Memorial Stadium in Baltimore (see above). Which is to say… (20) Cal Ripken, Sr. smacking fungoes to his sons. | (21) Mike Boddicker’s curveball. | (22) Watching George Brett when the Royals came to town. | (23) Thank God I’m a Country Boy. | (24) Fred Lynn running into the centerfield wall every single opening day. | (25) Jim Trabor. The prototypical John Kruk. | (26) Joe Orsulak. The prototypical Joe Orsulak. | (27) 1989. (Why not?!) | (28) Floyd Rayford. | (29) Rene Gonzalez. | (30) The bumper-to-bumper drive all the way through the Charm City (in what then seemed to be its vast and interminable entirety), listening to Chuck Thompson’s pre-game on the radio, then, finally, the slow tectonic shift into the (also bumper-to-bumper) gravel parking lot outside the stadium, this whole procession perfectly paced to build the unbearable tension in anticipation of that first magical glimpse, from the concourse, through a portal, of the impossibly bright green grass in the outfield.