Birthday Girl Gang

From left, my wife Darlene on her 48th birthday, her ace interior designer Kathy, her former Marine personal trainer Kira, her friend from Denver, Peggy, and her friend from Boulder, Karin. To celebrate the day, these hearty souls ran and walked 4.8K along Cherry Creek and afterward were rewarded with peach bread pudding at Cafe Colore on Larimer Street. Posted by Hello

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Under Construction

Dr. Mitchell Baris, a psychologist I know in the Peoples' Republic of Boulder, visits with clients in a 5th-floor office looking out at the mountains and a construction site. He enjoys the intimate view of girders, cranes, trucks and workers. Bit by bit, day by day, month by month, the new building takes shape from what began as a deep hole in middle of downtown Boulder. Posted by Hello

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Bly v. Hall

I'm listening to a fabulous conversation between Robert Bly and Donald Hall, the debut of Garrison Keillor's "Literary Friendships" series. I know these two, because they were the pet luminaries on the Bennington campus when I did my MFA there. I loved how cranky they were with each other and how their five decades of friendship, which began at Harvard, has mellowed to near perfect acceptance and affection for each other, without either giving an inch on what he believes and what he believes is ridiculous in the other. "He gets everything wrong," Hall is saying on the show, "and I get everything right." They are scrapping even now, leaving no room for Garrison to interject the next sage question. They are laughing about pouring beer on each others heads.

Bly always irritated me with his Luddite pontifications against the internet, and now he's at it again, decrying how writers these days send e-mails to each other instead of letters on paper. And they delete the messages! Horrors! Well, actually, the messages are probably gently piling up on the writers' hard drives, and the back and forth in words is performing the exact same role that Bly's and Hall's thousands of letters served: to connect and challenge and support. Good for Garrison for thinking up this way of highlighting the un-solitary part of the writing life.

Reading at Random

W. S. Merwin in 1997 answered a fan letter I had written him. Among other things, he wrote this:

Read, read. Jarrell said "read at random". It will stop being random.
I have carried this advice with me ever since, but in checking the letter just now, I see that my memory somewhere along the way tricked me into thinking the "read at random" part was Merwin's own phrase, not a quote from Randall Jarrell. I haven't been able to locate the quote itself on the web or in my Bartlett's, so I will have to trust Merwin's memory of it.

Lately I have morphed the "read at random" concept to where any stray suggestion is enough to start me on a book. On St. John, the propietor of a painted-clothing store named Sloop Jones spontaneously gave me a fading paperback book, Texaco, by Patrick Chamoiseau, translated from Creole and French in 1997--which I see now is the year Merwin wrote me the letter. (Calm down, blogger boy, it's only a coincidence.) The novel recreates a threatened Martinique shantytown named Texaco, and I have not been able to stop reading it, even though its pace is often too slow for my jumpy mind, and I want to move on to other books in my TBR pile. In this passage, Felicite Nelta brings a healer, Papa Totone, to help Nelta's lover and the book's protagonist, Marie-Sophie Laborieux, rediscover the life in her eyes:
in Papa Toton, Nelta had perceived a power--a bit like the one you feel when great storytellers tell their tale, or when the men of power appear in your life at a time of bad luck that the church can't fix. (p. 265)
I feel shy admitting how randomness prompted my latest purchase. I read in today's Financial Times about a book titled The Purpose Driven Life, which has sold 22 million copies, more than twice the hardback total for The Da Vinci Code. I was surprised I'd never heard of it, and that element of surprise was enough to prompt me to buy a copy on my way to a meeting downtown. I was running late, so I grabbed the book and paid for it without reading the cover, only to find as I left the bookstore that the author is pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California. Uh-oh. We're not in the land of high literature blurbed by Derek Walcott--"a great book has been written," he wrote of Texaco-- anymore. No, we have Billy Graham touting this one. But the frontpiece, wouldn't you know, contains this bold (albeit self-serving) ode to the divine power of randomness:
This book is dedicated to you. Before you were born, God planned THIS MOMENT in your life. It is no accident that you are holding this book. God LONGS for you to discover the life he created you to live...
Now, if W.S. Merwin had written this to me in a letter, substituting a bit of Zen for the God parts, I would have swallowed it whole.

I love Merwin. I love the very idea of Merwin--his sojourns in France, his living by his writing outside of academia, his wispy white hair, his lush garden on Maui, his arch environmentalism. I have set him up as an icon for my love of writing, my longed-for home in the world of letters. In the nine years since I left a corporate job to write, I have ridden a Harley, then a Vespa, and now a Segway. I named each one Merwin, because each took me where I wanted to go in style. William Merwin--and Alvaro Cardona-Hine, who introduced me to his poems--are men of power who appeared in my life at a time of bad luck that neither my corporate job nor the church could fix.

I am reading at random, living at random. Although I believe there will be a time when reading and living stop being random, I am in no hurry for that day to come.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

A Dazzling Denver Pol

City Auditor Dennis Gallagher is a legendary Denver politician and a scholar of Latin and Greek. Each year he serves as Master of Ceremonies for a conference at Regis University on the Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins. Yesterday Gallagher gave an ecstatic, over-the-top reading of "Pied Beauty." He brought a lemon and honey to the classroom, the better to make funny faces declaiming the words "swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim." I suspect that if we all enjoyed what we do as much as Dennis Gallagher does, we could get elected to anything.

Posted by Hello

Sunday, March 20, 2005

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