Content Tagged ‘Bob Dylan’

The noble Bob

October 19, 2016 | 12 Comments

The power to charm

January 20, 2016 | 4 Comments

Anthony Lane’s irreverent reviews for the New Yorker of Hollywood blockbusters make me laugh. He’s fun, quite cheeky. But I’m always pleased when he casts his wit and his elegant sentences toward what he admires. Such as his recent appreciation of Todd Haynes’s film Carol about forbidden love between two women in 1952 America. Less than 20 years after that repressed era, David Bowie, with his androgyny and his openness about his bisexuality, helped usher the shift in consciousness that has culminated in America in marriage equality. Among last week’s many tributes to Bowie, surely there wasn’t a finer one than Lane’s for his fellow Brit, “David Bowie in the Movies.”

For a brief essay, Lane’s reflects deep processing and manages a thrilling range of considerations. Like Bowie’s work, Lane’s delights in its own performance but hits you with unexpected emotional force.

If genius is brilliance plus output, Bowie certainly qualifies as one. Even among superstar performers, that rarified group, he seemed one in a million. In an ultimately soaring appreciation, Lane takes a measured view of Bowie’s film work. Most of Bowie’s roles were in minor films, Lane says. He doesn’t crown Bowie as a great movie actor, while noting his performance instinct and impact.

Art is made of emotion and it’s about emotion. Lane’s essay showcases perhaps the highest role of the critic, to be emotionally responsive in turn to art.

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Memoir or personal essay?

July 1, 2015 | 10 Comments

When I first started teaching essay writing I was a reflexive splitter or at least a classifier. In practice this means one who strains to distinguish between a personal essay and a memoir essay. Of course, the memoir is a personal essay. But for students, I felt compelled to distinguish between them in the way Sue Silverman does in “The Meandering River: An Overview of the Subgenres of Creative Nonfiction.”

As Silverman says, “Instead of the memoirist’s thorough examination of self, soul, or psyche, the personal essayist usually explores one facet of the self within a larger social context.” Drawing such distinctions in the varied nonfiction genre can be important for teachers, depending on the class, and especially for college freshmen. Teachers had better be clear about what they want. As an editor, too, I sometimes find that pinning down an essay’s lineage can be helpful. For instance, the personal essayist does employ a persona—and who is telling the story and why is important—but she or he isn’t the main point. Whereas in memoir, s/he is.

But drawing such distinctions can also be crazy-making.

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6 years of unused blog posts

July 23, 2014 | 2 Comments

After six years of blogging, I count 66 items in my “To Be Posted” folder. Duds. Unused quotes, started essays, finished posts. Stuff I forgot or abandoned. Yet I’ve run with many a notion and hated it. Or uploaded flops.

No need to pick scabs here. Well, maybe one—my February 2014 post “Art and Suffering,” in part concerning Philip Seymour Hoffman, which helped me decide I disagree with its implication. I doubt his tough roles contributed to his emotional burden and thus his death from a heroin overdose. Writing can be clarifying if only in that way. State something and see if you agree with it.

Yet I can’t abandon completely the sense that there’s often some relationship between troubles and talent. (What about the sensitivity that made Hoffman an actor in the first place? What about all his money and his acres of down time?) All the same, I heard a writer say this recently about a poet who took her own life:

“Writers don’t kill themselves. People kill themselves. Writing is what kept her from killing herself for years.”

My conflict about this old issue, explored at book-length in Edmund “Bunny” Wilson’s classic The Wound and the Bow—the title refers to the gifted Greek archer Philoctetes, who suffered from an unhealed wound—caused me to abort a similar effort after the Hoffman post because it depressed me too much. And I figured readers would hate it.

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My blog turns six today!

July 17, 2014 | 14 Comments

After my previous post, about quirky personal posts I recall fondly, my blogger friend Shirley Showalter asked me to discuss the benefits and difficulties of blogging in my life. In the past year I’ve struggled for the first time to post—the long energy-producing effort of drafting my memoir over. Plus having to face the What’s next? question. For most people, probably me too, blogging is a phase. For all I know, this is my last post.

So that’s the difficulty part. But the blog has helped me as a writer—kept my prose and my persona down to earth, underscored obsessions, given instant gratification. It has forced me to create something on the fly that turned out to please me and has inspired me to laboriously craft a post that has likewise surprised me. Sometimes I’ve thought, I should have done that for a real publication. But the truth is, without an existing affiliation, like this blog, I wouldn’t have.

The blog made me do it. Paul Thorne, the Mississippi blues-soul-rock musician says it best: “Whatever expression you have in you, instead of thinking about it all the time, do it. Make it tangible, you know? That’s what art is, it’s creativity made tangible.”

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Rock me—publication day!

May 1, 2014 | 19 Comments

Otterbein University, in Westerville, Ohio, is chock-full of the nicest kids I’ve ever known. And Paige Schortgen and Haley Young, former writing students of mine, are two of the nicest. Which makes them, in fact, two of the nicest girls in the entire world. (Good writers, too.) Their geeked-out celebration selfie above is the best reaction my book has provoked so far. (Other readers, your mileage may vary.) Girls, you are funny, kind, and definitely keepers.

Though Amazon began selling the book on or about April 15, the official publication date of Shepherd: A Memoir is today, May 1, 2014.

I’m not sure I can send the treasured photo of my student friends to booksellers as proof they should stock my book. So Shepherd’s review in Kirkus carries a tad more weight in the book world.

With Shepherd’s dribs and drabs of attention, maybe independent bookstores and even Barnes & Noble will stock it. If so, look for it in the gardening or nature section. Although it’s a literary memoir and not how-to (more like how-don’t), it is categorized it on the back Nature and Animals / Horticulture / Memoir. Those are the labels that influence booksellers regarding where to shelve it. I asked my publisher to use such codes because I’ve noticed that memoirs come and go rather quickly in stores, and I believe it may sell if back-to-the-land types come across it.

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Noted: Jonah Lehrer’s downfall

July 31, 2012 | 12 Comments

Yesterday I got around to reading the New York Times Book Review’s full-page massacre of Imagine: How Creativity Works, by Jonah Lehrer, and wished I’d been even more grudging in my own piece touching on the bestseller. Then later in the day the news broke that Lehrer had invented quotes he attributed to Bob Dylan, and I wished I’d mentioned my own reservations about the Dylan material, which appears early in the book. They were these: • Dylan’s use seemed gratuitous in …

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