Tuesday, February 11, 2020

https://www.kindstory.org publishes short stories about extraordinary everyday exchanges


I have a story on this site, Caroline Leavitt has one featured that's very good.
Site is a small way to counter all the reportage focussed on the reverse of kindness.
Adds an experience people might not think about a lot, the exchange of
small or large kindness. What does it mean? Anyway here's mine.
Leavitt's worth reading on site.


A guy sits in a folding chair that's chained to a traffic sign, reading. His gloved hands hold a shallow cardboard box containing a book. His hooded face leans down, totally concentrated; a private act on this popular downtown corner. His battered sign says he's in the beginning stages of a debilitating disease. Yet he has good color. His clothes look okay, his eyes sparkle behind thick glasses when he talks about books.

A couple feet from his chair is a food wagon. Construction workers, arrayed on the sidewalk, wait for coffee, Danish, egg sandwich on a bagel.  I break the line with my water purchase, though resentful looks disappear as I say, "Just the water." The lady in the wagon takes my dollar. (Everyone knows you don't have to wait for water.)

The homeless guy's still fixed on his pages. He's got thinning reddish hair, late 40's maybe, too alert for a junkie or a guy on a permanent bender. Perhaps a working man down on his luck, if not part of a Dickensian homeless ring, an urban legend of a Fagin character who divvies up misery signs and street corners for a percentage. But I suspect no nights on grates for this guy. There's no patina of dirt or smell. Certainly not a con person with a glint in his eyes, grabbing purses or even finagling for money.  He's hardly paying attention to the paper cup between his ankles.

I put a dollar in the cup. Don't think well of me. I am not a generous individual who feels for the homeless, except in passing. Yet sometimes, in my heart of hearts, I, who have spent decades worried about rent, truly feel ‘there but for the grace of G-d go I.’ I'm superstitious. My dollar is to buy off misfortune, reinforce the strange grace that allows me to survive in this city. Even now, growing old with a mate in a decent apartment, we struggle.

Can I spare the dollar I spend on water? No, but the one toward a brownie can go. He says "thank you," makes eye contact. Before he can go back to his reading, I ask what he likes. "Whatever I can find." "But what's your choice?" "Spy books, true stories, conspiracy, adventure." Hunger there. I can relate. I came to this city as a young playwright, worked in the publishing industry, beginning with a test, a press release on a biography of Jim Morrison. I was thrilled to write materials for a department, paid to be a writer. Despite years of plugging books (my own work on the side)--I still loved them, though publishing had proved a one-sided affair.  

Once a professional reviewer, now I was sent books by publishers to r
eview for free. A stack was next to my desk. First I gave him a thriller, then a book about disinformation and a history of the Cold War.  Each time I put a dollar in his cup, though we both knew his 'thank you' was perfunctory before his one-line spot-on reviews. Curious, I gave him my own dystopian novel.

A week later, as I bought my water, he stopped me to say thanks for all the books and especially the future world one.  He said he had never read a book like that and liked it so much, he would keep it on his shelf (he lives somewhere?). I said I was glad, that the book was my own. He said, “I thought that.” (What? Was I so transparent?).  As one writer to another, he told me about ‘a guy who works for a publisher’ who stops by. This person is interested in a book he's writing.

He confides he needs a cable for his computer to finish but is almost done. I am delighted for him. He also confides he's been in prison. I let him know prison chronicles always have an audience. He says the publishing guy also told him that. I encourage him to finish. He says again that my novel was like nothing he had ever read. I glowed from the admiration of a fan (colleague?).

Is the dollar my price of entry? I test that with a hardcover bestseller about an infamous American spy--a true story. He's excited it's a prize winner but then asks if I want it back. I assure him, no, that I got it for free. So amazing he counts the book, I didn’t finish, a treasure!

When next I stop to talk books, I don't hand him a dollar (I am short that day) and apologize. He brushes that off and asks if I can find some Nietzsche and Jung.  He’s intense, like asking for a serious drug.  I am surprised by a request and say I might have some at home. I talk about Jung's Universal consciousness and Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil, sharing that my grandfather showed me that book in high school, said it was important.  He nodded before returning to his latest read.

I return to my desk to plug other peoples’ books for my dollars, thinking about a person who wants to read everything. In Borges’ fiction, there’s a library containing every book ever to be written and a librarian outracing mortality. But my guy is not about quantity. Perhaps to find “truth” not the plural?  To me, who’s lost the quest, that's beyond value AND he was kind about my own book. 

He asked again about Nietzsche. I was sorry I couldn't find it but said I would look for my Jung. He said he had read ALL of Nietzsche  ,just wanted to own a copy but  could probably get it free online. I nod. The truth is I won’t look for my copy of Jung. I don’t know where it is but am fiercely affectionate about the content. It’s mine.

I am back to giving him my dollar, when I can. What value I get for it!

Monday, January 6, 2020

PARADISE GARDENS Audiobook more radio play w/Nicole Greevy's voices. Codes here

New! Audiobook. It's a collaboration with wonderful actress Nicole Greevy, brilliant at all the voices. More like radio play than reading. Code good for Audible, ACX, ITunes

"Clever, funny, serious, and prescient, this novel takes us on a heartbreaking journey. Lovers of Huxley's and Atwood's dystopias are in for a satisfying treat."--Sonia Taitz, award-winning author of The Watchmaker's Daughter (code: 5L4Q7R9C5T5TA)

Here is audible link with a description. 


ABOUT Paradise Gardens
about Paradise Gardens. This is the second of my books, finally published in a completely edited and illustrated version by Pelekinesis Press. It was inspired by the Reagan years and grew  to become a dystopian look at late capitalism in an environmentally devastated Earth. In 2250's the last corporations flee underground to Paradise Gardens. The transition to a feudal corporate futureworld is complete. The novel takes place in 2250s and 3011s underground. I thought this Orwellian but not a few people have said it's closer to Huxley, except it's our world..

This book was read in clubs, Dixon Place and Darinka in the 1980s and in the Pelekinesis version 2017. It was run as a serial in an unedited online version in 2014. I have been grateful to Pelekinesis for toiling with me to get this book in the best form possible and to have me illustrate this world. If you want to read, the New Edition is the best experience. The audiobook is perhaps more entertaining but no art.  Thanks for your interest. Some illustrations on FB. 

BLURB from Dixon Place 2017 UNIMAGINABLE WORLDS in Lounge, 7:30 to 8:30. Free admission.

Imagine the unimaginable. You are living in an authoritarian business paradise but don't know it. Or you know real life is nothing like what is presented to people. You are part of the resistance but need your cover. Yet you are in love. That is the situation between Janet McCarthy, claims adjustor at Rudimental Life Co,, and Michael Thorpe, proprietor of a Greenwich Village store specializing in ethnic artifacts. When is romance key to human survival? For answers to this dilemma, in the tradition of Philip K. Dick's paranoid fiction, come visit Paradise Gardens.

“From the infinitely imaginative mind of Susan Weinstein, PARADISE GARDENS spins a fabulous web. Clever, funny, serious, and prescient, this novel takes us on a breathtaking journey. Lovers of Aldous Huxley’s and Margaret Atwood’s dystopias are in for a satisfying treat.”
—Sonia Taitz, award-winning author of The Watchmaker’s Daughter and Great With Child.

"One of the most disturbing yet oddly funny science fiction/dystopian sagas I've ever read. When corporations have wrung every drop out of nature and mankind has no other option but to build entire communities underground, how do you spin it to make it seem like a dream destination? You call it PARADISE GARDENS of course and you sell it like everything else. When we have no natural water, no natural food, and even the wind and the sunlight has been poisoned you will still have hucksters selling whatever is left for top of the line prices. A thought provoking story well conceived and brilliantly executed."

--Patrick King, author of the Shane Cullaine detective series

Here are some codes for free, if you want to try out the audiobook. .









Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Tom Shachtman's WAMC Interview, https://www.wamc.org/post/book-show-1648-tom-shachtman, great context for debates.

Interview with WAMC's Roundtable is now live! Tom's history of THE FOUNDING FORTUNES provides a great context for tonight's debate.

Why THE FOUNDING FATHERS, who were wealthy men, preferred a rich tax to raise revenue. 
And they favored progressive taxation.

NEW! Atlantic Monthly piece by Tom Shachtman on how the wealthy used their money to show patriotism!

AFTER THE REVOLUTION...Sans Souci Nightclub
The rise of an American middle class began to fulfill the Revolution's promise that property would not be solely reserved for those who already owned a lot of it.
In Boston both the old guard and the nouveau riche flaunted their finery at the Sans Souci nightclub, where two wealthy women proprietors offered costly foods, wines, and entertainments. The high level of ostentation brought condemnation from Samuel Adams as insufficiently republican, and from Mercy Otis Warren in a satirical play, Sans Souci, Alias Free and Easy, or Am Evening's Peep into a Polite Circle. 
"Damn the old musty rules of decency and decorum...Spartan virtues--republican principles," a proprietress says. "They are all calculated for rigid manners...they are as disgusting as old orthodoxy; Fashion and etiquette are more agreeable to my ideas of life--this is the independence I aim at."
The Sans Souci was not an outlier: In this period the pursuit and flaunting of wealth was first acknowledged to be as thoroughly American as waving the flag

Here is a new feature on Founding Fortunes that begins..."Tariffs, taxes on the wealthy, the national debt, regional disparities, keeping manufacturing on these shores, our leaders' public vs. private interests-these are issues present at the birth of this country that retain startling relevance to today's world."

Here also is a new podcast, great interview at end of show!

About Pendulum swings in government from THE FOUNDING FORTUNES by Tom Shachtman, St. Martin's Press 1/2020

"There comes a moment in every pendulum's arc when it slows to a halt before reversing direction and heading toward the apogee. In the spring of 1794, events signaling such a change in direction included Hamilton's resignation; his acknowledgment that the country no longer needed to keep the debt intact to stay united; Gallatin's persuading of the Federalist-controlled House to withhold funding for certain operations until it received adequate assurances on their financial impact; and his instituting of regular Ways and Means Committee oversight of executive branch financial actions. The old direction toward the benefit of the already wealthy was replaced by a new one whose aim was voiced in a toast given at a young men's Republican Society in New York:"Less respect to the consuming speculator, who wallows in luxury, than to the productive mechanic, who struggles with indigence."

Alfred Gallatin and Hamilton bust 

Today 1/20 is pub date for Tom Shachtman's Founding Fortunes from St.Martin's Press.
Here is article in Daily Beast!

For more info on this page, go to:  https://www.facebook.com/TheFoundingFortunes/posts/


LUXURY and other Problems with democracy; John Adams and Madison cautioned the Framers before the constitutional convention...
“In his opus (A Defense of the Constitutions of Government of the United States) Adams addressed head-on a subject to which he framers only alluded, Adams insisting that it was inherent in a democracy and had to be guarded against: “A free people are the most addicted to luxury of any.” It was part and parcel of the promise of America, where people who had very little always had the possibility of gaining more:
‘In a country like America, where the means and opportunities for luxury are so easy and so plenty, it would be madness not to expect (luxury), be prepared for it, and provide against the dangers of it in the constitution....Luxury, to certain degrees of excess, is an evil....The evil lies in human nature; and that must be restrained by a mixed form of government, which is the best in the world to manage luxury.’
The prevention of luxury’s overinfluence was a prime reason for what Adams called the “tripleheaded balance,” the apportioning of governing powers among legislative, executive, and judicial branches in such a manner that each branch acted as a check on the worst urges of the others, and in the legislature, the balancing of a house that drew its members from the poorer ranks of society with a senate that drew its members from those who possessed much more property and education. “If we will not adopt that,” Adams warned, “we must suffer the punishment of our termity.”
Madison identified and even more basic problem.
“If the multiplicity and mutability of (state) laws prove a want of wisdom, their injustice betrays a defect still more alarming; more alarming not merely because it is a greater evil in itself, but because it brings more into question the fundamental principle of republican Government, that the majority who rule in such governments, are the safest Guardians both of public Good and of private rights.
(Society would always be composed of groups holding opposite views., “creditors or debtors-rich or poor-husbandmen, merchants or manufacturers-members of different religious sects-followers of different political leaders-inhabitants of different districts-owners of different kinds of property. In a democracy the only way to prevent domination of one group was to configure a government to encompass all.”)

Imagine if the U.S. declared a war and then discovered there was no money for the Army and there was such debt, they had to shut down money sources? 
Excerpt, Chapter 7, The Founding Fortunes by Tom Shachtman. (1/20/20 St. Martin's Press-Macmillan)
"We can no more support the Army without cash, than the Israelites could make bricks without straw, Nathaniel Greene wrote to Washington....and he accompanied the observation with a letter to Congress urging a redoubling of efforts to supply the army and resigning as quartermaster general. The states' response to renewed appeals for help was meager.
That the army was nonetheless supplied during this critical period prior to the French sending larger forces to assist the United States is overlooked by many history books. The heroes were not well-known leaders; they were the dozens and dozens of quartermasters and commisssaries who, when government money and credit were exhausted, spent their own money, and then their own credit, and then the credit of their friends and relatives, to obtain supplies:
"My Credit is nearly sunk with the people here from my not being able to comply with my promises to them,"one such quartermaster wrote. "They now declare they will not part with their property in future to the public without the Money (cash) laid down to them." Estimates of how deeply these government agents wehnt into debt on the country's behalf range from one to five million dollars. Most were never repaid.
Three factors exacerbated the supply problem. Two were beyond Congress' power to control: the British naval blockade and the Hession Fly infestation that devestated grain crops. The third was provided by Congress itself, in an attempt to stem depreciation.In late summer 1779, the members had become frightened upon learning the amount of the country's debt, the sum total of all thos omitted Continentals, had reached 160 million. This should not have been news to them, but they acted as though it was, on September 3 ordering the shut down of the of the printing presses once the total reached $200 million.

THE FOUNDING FORTUNES: How the Wealthy Paid for and Profited from America's Revolution by Tom Shachtman (St. Martin's, January 2020)

SO, the Wealthy not only made our Revolution winnable but passed a Constitution to benefit the poor--even at their expense! WHO WERE THESE PEOPLE?

 In 2020, "Tax the Rich" may seem to some people a fair approach to balancing the distribution of our nation's wealth. But as Tom Shachtman shows in THE FOUNDING FORTUNES (St. Martin's Press (January 2020), the United States owes its existence to the wealthy who financed our revolution and, in the 30 years following the achievement of political independence, guided the new nation to economic independence--often at great personal cost.

Our origin story rightfully celebrates such poor and working-class heroes as Sam Adams, Paul Revere, and the brave ragtag farmers of the Continental Army who stood up to the redcoats. We also know about the roles played by that wealthy Virginia planter George Washington and by Boston’s John Hancock but our story often overlooks the other wealthy who contributed a great deal to the birth of our country, some profiting at the same time, others  losing their shirts. Among them were S. Carolina Plantation owner Henry Laurens, who came late to the Revolution, privateer magnate Elias Hasket Derby, international traders Robert Morris, William Bingham, Jeremiah Wadsworth, and the immigrant Stephen Girard. There were fortunes to be made in the Republic's early years. Even Abigail Adams became a skilled currency speculator.

THE FOUNDING FORTUNES looks into the lives of the men, and some women, who practiced an “economic patriotism,” which often entailed giving up profits to support the very long war with Great Britain and then the new government. Some eventually lost everything – Robert Morris ended his life as a bankrupt, and Laurens was not far behind, while others, such as Morris’s junior partner Bingham, made fortunes that lasted into the 20th century.

Why were these economic patriots able to rise above concern with "the bottom line," when others of their merchant class could not?  Shachtman argues that the economic patriots had a sense of the long term, and that "Freedom for all" meant extending to all classes the opportunity to climb the ladder of success. As Kirkus Reviews puts it, the book’s “provocative argument [is] that wealthy men built America and did a good job.”  They constructed a Constitution that balanced the rights of property owners with the need for democratic representation. They also avoided the tyranny of kings by having power shared between the Executive, Congressional, and Judicial branches.
In our era, lawmakers face some of the same problems as the primarily wealthy men of the new republic did – tariffs, taxes on the wealthy, the level of the national debt, the census as it affects finances, the ratio of imports to internally-manufactured goods, and other hot-button economic issues. 

From before the revolution and through the presidencies of Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison, THE FOUNDING FORTUNES shows how nation-building and the economy took shape, stumbled, was righted, and began the foundations of a world-class economic power. In an intriguing critique, the book contends that our history has overlooked the extensive contributions of the Jefferson-Madison years, and Treasury Secretary Albert Gallatin, because of the current popular appeal of Jefferson’s long-term rival, Alexander Hamilton.  

Also examined are the economics of the slave trade as brought to the colonies by the British and the role of slavery in the economic calculus of the Revolution. Though castigated by every president as an evil that needed eradicating, slavery was nevertheless tolerated in an awful compromise that ensured the adoption of the Constitution. 

Today, as the United States re-examines the nation's direction and how to deal with the accelerating gap that separates billionaires from the vast majority of citizens, THE FOUNDING FORTUNES provides new insight. Our country’s creators, among the wealthiest men of their time, worked to establish the economic and political structures of a new nation. While fine-tuning a society dedicated to protecting their property, they also provided economic opportunities for people at all levels of income. The wealthy and the non-wealthy united in common cause.  Has that value, so esteemed by our forefathers, gone completely out of style?  Or is it a clarion call for America’s future in the 21st century?  THE FOUNDING FORTUNES is both provocative and wise.


Tuesday, October 29, 2019

POKRASS' Flash fiction, magic of loved and lost, humans and creatures.

THE DOG SEATED NEXT TO ME by Meg Pokrass (Pelekinesis, September 15, 2019.)

Pokrass' flash fiction has the magic of loved and lost, humans and creatures.

Imagine Flannery O'Connor would enjoy the dark wit of Meg Pokrass' THE DOG SEATED NEXT TO ME (Pelekinesis, September 2019). Here the usual mysteries; love, youth, age, the games people play with themselves and others, the texture of time and our bodies, are given strange life. Pokrass often writes about us as creatures. The wilds we are and inhabit may refer to "familiars." Canine, avian, insect qualities are guides of sorts for the women relating stories. One shelters under her lover's wing. Another disappoints her husband when she falls for a blue tongued squink instead of the idea of a new baby.  Some samples below.

The Rescue

He told her how his parakeet died, all at once, in the middle of a regular day. A bird holocaust. She could see, behind his words, such gorgeous, frantic color that she held his hand. There were so many stories he'd never tell her about other departures. He was busy trying to make her laugh, reaching for a joke, and it would work! She'd laugh her fluttery heart out, hand it to him from the tip of her tree.


There was a large cockroach living in my heart, clinking its tender little legs, plotting escape. People's hearts are heavy with bugs they won't admit. Mine remembered everything--the early days of my marriage, dreams of growing old while holding fingers. Driving to Monterey, after his affair, I told my husband about the cockroach. "Smart, but not very optimistic," I said.

There's something about driving to a beautiful place, not looking directly at each other, watching the highway. He said, "I understand. There's a cockroach inside me too."

That night, I felt the tiniest part of me scurrying out, eager to be seen. His sudden disclosure had made my head spin. Under the motel sign, I heard two hearts chirping. We made love for the first time in years, the angels trying to bring us back to each other--as if we recognized a friend in the dark.

For those asking 'What is flash fiction?'  Wikipedia defines as  ..."a fictional work of extreme brevity that still offers character and plot development." Microfiction is an old form employed not just in English by Chekhov, H.P. Lovecraft, Hemingway, Cortazar, Vonnegut, P.K. Dick, Bertolt Brecht and Franz Kafka.

There are many writers in Spanish, including Oscar Esquivas and Argentina's Ana Maria Shua. In the Arab speaking world, there is Nobel Prize winning Egyptian author Naguib Mahfouz. Oddly, only two women, Shua and Lydia Davis were mentioned, though I believe Flannery O'Connor wrote microfiction.  Peter Cherches' minimalist stories in Condensed Book (1986) are clever enigmatic fun.  

Take a look at THE DOG SEATED NEXT TO ME (Pelekinesis)


Saturday, October 26, 2019

Quiet Enjoyment by Richard Curtis, NY Real Estate dramedy to November 3rd!

Quiet Enjoyment by Richard Curtis
Directed by Marcus Gualberto
October 18 to November 3rd, Playroom Theater

If real estate is God in New York, it rules few neighborhoods as ostentatiously as the Upper East Side, the zipcode of landed wealth; bejeweled wives, hipster mistresses, and much real Chanel. Perhaps less fashionable these days than Downtown's arty tech money but for durable property value--no contest.

In Quiet Enjoyment Richard Curtis takes on a ritual of this God, a "closing" on a 5 million dollar penthouse, which goes farcically wrong. Directed with sly humor by Marcus Gualberto, the transfer of a co-op between husband and wife becomes a contest of "Karma", also the name of the husband's mistress with a mission to disrupt.. As played by Megan Simard, Karma's a cosmic goldigger, whose sexual power, divinely derived from Kundalini yoga, makes real sparks.

Her foil is not the betrayed wife Juliana (Jamie Lee Kearns) being compensated by the property at zero cost,but legal associate, Meredith Cudlip (Samantha Mercado Tudda). Mercado Tudda's Cudlup, is the aspiring soul of this proceeding. Earnestly, compulsively she enacts the sacred ritual of much legal paper. With hilarious self-control, she invests the signing with a solemnity for the legal system and her own future. Her martial arts maneuvers, stunningly choreographed by Ruth Guimera, are akin to a palace guard in a Samurai movie.

Jaime Lee Kearn's Juliana, entitled and neglected, succeeds as a poignant straight woman, unappreciated for the value she's added to her husband's life. As beneficiary, she might seem ridiculous as the "wronged" wife--but she realilistically fears eviction!  Kris Paredes as Dana, Juliana's sister and lawyer, appears all about sisterly protection.  Paredes plays her as both vulnerable and a force to be reckoned with.

The women in Curtis' dramedy seem defensive with good cause. Their male antagonists, Peter (Mark A. Daly) and Bimsky (Mario Claudio) wear male privilege like a second skin. Peter, the moneyed white male with mysterious and perhaps disastrous business in the Cayman Islands, is played with madcap befuddlement by Daly. Bimsky, an outrageous "natural" man, a substitute for Peter's lawyer,
is marvelously played with a sense of truth and embarassment as he revels in his physical ailments and appetites.

The deux a machina in this cauldron is Paula Gates, who plays both Tammy, Peter's Assistant, and Martha, Meredith's boss, head of the lawfirm. Without her, the play could not go on or end. And she's played as a kind of comic anti-goddess, a relief in the churning activity. Quiet Enjoyment may be a legal right of a lease holder, but there's no guarantees...


 Mark Daly, Jaime Lee Karns
 Megan Simard
 Samantha Mercado Tudda, Mario Claudio, Simard
 Simard, Claudio, Kris Paredes

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Don the Con: A Kid's book of Trumpian Humor for Adults! Very fun. See video on Kickstarter page

I have never before posted about a Kickstarter book but this one is so fun. By award winning children's book author Roseanne Greenfield and wonderful illustrator David Juarez, this is both original and very familiar!  Perfect for 2020 and the adult child in your life!  

Don the ConA Kid’s book of Trumpian Humor for Adults!
 “With facts, our boy was not too picky.
War is peace…let’s not get sticky!”

Dive into a ‘swamp’ of tantrums, misdeeds and muddled understandings as a schoolyard bully embarks on a steep learning curve that takes him all the way through high school—only to discover what most learn in kindergarten! This wickedly-witty parody sings with lilting rhyme and is illustrated with satirical spice!  Woven into the text are current political mainstays: immigration, border walls, climate change, Russian collusion, fake information and more!  “He was soon loaded down with pounds of bling. These Russian kids are the genuine thing!”’

This is a call to endure the last year of Trump’s tantrums with the best armor we have at our disposal:  humor, wit, and a democratic ending!  Visit us at: 


to help publish this 26-page soft cover picture book that delivers THE BEST LAUGH OF 2020 that will carry us through to next November!

About the author     
Roseanne Greenfield is an award-winning author of 16 children's books that celebrate diversity and multiculturalism. Roseanne’s awards include New York Public Library’s 100 Best Books List, Chicago Public Library’s Best of the Best, USA Today’s Best Holiday Book for Kids, California Reading Association Honor (Eureka!) Book, Best Latino-Themed Picture Book and more.  Roseanne teaches and has given author talks and writing workshops in numerous cities in the US and abroad.  You can see more of Roseanne’s books at www.greenfield-thong.com 

About the illustrator     
David Juarez is a storyboard artist, concept illustrator, and educator who enjoys sharing the joy of artistic expression in his community and beyond. He has studied at Pasadena's Art Center and in England.  A seasoned visual storyteller, he has lent his talents to the advertising and entertainment industries, helping craft the stories for striking campaigns and enthralling narratives.  David is a strong believer in "Doing what you can, where you can" to help those in need.  He sees this project as a great opportunity to address today's important issues through art and comedy.  You can reach out to David via his website. https://robotspaceninja.blogspot.com/

For more info:  www.donthecon.com.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

GARDEN PRAYERS: Winter, Artist T.M. Givens paints life's rebirth in Botanic Garden

T.M. Givens, like his favorite poet Rilke, enjoys experiencing nature directly and making art from his impressions. Rilke's query; how do humans reconcile existence--beauty, suffering, life and death was answered in lyrical poems that begin in nature. Below, he  deals with the end of summer. (The last part reverberated with me, a city-dweller.)

Day In Autumn--Rainer Maria Rilke

After the summer's yield, Lord it is time
to let your shadow lengthen on the sundial
and in the pastures let the rough winds fly.

As for the final fruits, coax them to roundness
Direct on them two days of winter light
to hale them golden toward their term, and harry
the last few drops of sweetness through the wine.

Whoever's homeless now, will build no shelter
who lives alone will live infinitely so,
waking up to read a little, draft long letters,
and, along the city's avenues,
fitfully wander, when the wild leaves loosen.

I paint in my spare time and was fortunate this summer to be able to retreat into nature. Losing myself in existence without people can be more than peaceful, even transcendent.

It was with great pleasure that I received GARDEN PRAYERS: Winter by T. M. Givens. (Pelekinesis). This book's drawings form an extraordinary meditation of winter, moving toward Spring (which is the next volume). The earlier ones, with color edging out of  white space, seem to be life asserting itself. In the later ones, color dominates the white space. Maybe winter receding?

In his intro Terry Givens said  "After many long hours of wandering, I realized that not only did I enjoy this but over time I found some inner peace."

This kindred soul is an artist from Claremont California. His subtle beautiful drawings were done in the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, which exhibited his work in a changing exhibition in 2018 entitled "Terry Givens 100 Garden Views."

For those curious about my ramblings, in NYC, I like St. Luke's Garden, the West River, in summer I love Long Beach Island, N.J. 


Wednesday, September 11, 2019

COLD WARRIORS, how writers' words were weaponized in war for "spheres of influence"

The Cold War was first an earsplitting siren, my first grade teacher urging us to crawl under our worktables and cover our heads. Hiding from "Nukes" was only a drill but real to me. Our teacher standing tall was very brave, as she waited--for what? The end of the world, wasn't a concept but many of us had seen mushroom clouds on TV, unsure what the images meant. We learned the BOMB brought peace, that our government protected us. But it was scary, threatening, a weird weapon in some global Western--bad guys behave or else?   Ideas are powerful after the unthinkable.

COLD WARRIORS: Writers Who Waged The Literary Cold War by Duncan White (Aug. 27, 2019, Custom House/William Morrow) is an  exciting read of huge scope, showing how literature was weaponized by both sides in an ideological conflict (western capitalist vs.eastern communist). Establishing "spheres of influence" meant survival for competing systems of government.

The information battlefield: "Operatives inflated ten-foot balloons, armed them with their payloads, waited for favorable winds, and launched them into Poland..These were not explosives or incendiary weapons; they were books. At the height of the Cold War, the CIA made copies of George Orwell's Animal Farm rain down from the Communist sky....This was one campaign and there were front organizations that produced tens of millions  of books, leaflets, pamphlets, posters and hundreds of thousands of balloons flying them in."

COLD WARRIORS begins in Spain in the 1930s,when a fateful bullet through Orwell's neck might have changed the course of the world. That fraction of an inch was the difference between him being another promising novelist fallen in the fight against Franco or a writer who fulfilled his potential. The book moves from Spain to Moscow's "show trials," and New York, where Mary McCarthy, found herself isolated for her lack of symathy for the Russian "experiment." Later, she will report on Vietnam's endgame. The circular plot follows five major writers (American, British, Russian)-George Orwell, Stephen Spender, Mary McCarthy, Graham Greene and Andrei Sinyavsky--through time and geography. The book ends in 1991 with Greene, Solzhenitsyn and  LeCarre in Moscow (1986-1991).

Writers suffered severe consequences for their words. In the West, depending on your politics, a writer, like Richard Wright, who fled to France, could find his voice silenced--his work unpublished. Yet Orwell's voice was amplified in global editions. And politics made strange literary bedfellows: "the dynamics of the Cold War made the U.S. government the champion of difficult elitest art--that of James Joyce, Jackson Pollock, and William Faulkner--in large part because it was banned in Moscow.. Unknown to many of these artists, these organizations that published challenging literature were U.S. backed. Modernist writers must have felt it as validation instead of collaboration."

In the Soviet Union,  a writer, such as Pasternak, embraced by the official writers union, celebrated by his countrymen, made a good living, and traveled abroad. But if he spirited a controversial work (Dr. Zhivago) to publication abroad, he became invisible. No longer able to support himself, new publications pulped, he was hounded by surveillance, and often banished to a Siberian work camp. The poet Anna Akhmatova was applauded by thousands in public readings and then abruptly banned when a poem offended Lenin. Deprived of a living and her son, who was sent to Siberia, survival became an act of will. But Isaac Babel, shot in the head, purged in an anti-semitic paroxysm, had no such option. Uniquely, Solzhineitzyn weaponized the publication of his books. As an international figure, he became untouchable--until forced into exile..

One side's loss was thought to enlarge the reach of the other. And, among the literary giants in this book--Solzhenitsyn, John le Carre, Richard Wright, Ernest Hemingway, Boris Pasternak, Gioconda Belli Arthur Koestler, Vaclav Havel, Anna Akhmatova, Isaac Babel Howard Fast, Lillian Hellman, Mikhail Sholokhov--some had serious effects on outcomes of conflicts; such as the surrogate war in Vietnam, Poland's Velvet Revolution, the Sandinista victory in Nicaragua.

I especially enjoyed the sections in COLD WARRIORS about spies and writers. Driven by patriotism, ideology, personal experience or demons, these men and women were also often attracted to the dark glamor of the secret life. Philby, who became a master double agent, lived the life. Graham Greene and LeCarre, who acted as spies, were fundamentally writers. Philby in Cordoba, Cambridge, Vienna and London (1934-1942), Greene (1941-44) in Freetown, St. Albans and London, and Castro's female agent in Washington's inner circle, give a fascinating look at lives lived in fiction and fact. When reality became muddled, the consequences were irrevocable.

One of the things I loved about this book were the facts, fairly unknown in the U.S. On the end of the Vietnam War: "In the spring of 1968, polls showed that after the Tet Offensive, opposition to the war was widespread in the United States. On April 1, the bombing stopped. The previous night McCarthy listened on Voice of America as Johnson announced the end of aerial bombardment of North Vietnam and that he would not be standing for relection in 1968. Domestic dissent had worn down the Johnson administration. In October 1967, one hundred thousand protestors had gathered at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, and roughly thirty thousand of these marched on the Pentagon."

Many people today have no idea of this history, because much of our media focussed instead on drugs and sex of the 1960s counter culture--the first generation to work with the entire population to stop an unpopular war. Those marches were a coalition of groups with a common cause, including the Vietnam Veterans Against the War and other Veterans Groups. Young and old, housewives, feminists, retirees,  Republicans and Democrats, politicians and clergy.. Colleges were closed as students throughout the nation knocked on doors with info about the March; including a copy of the U.S. Constitution about a citizen's right to end an unjust war. I was a witness to what national unity can accomplish.

But the focus of COLD WARRIORS is on the writers. They shaped an era of warring ideology which changed the borders of a post war world. Ironically, the era ended as a "zero sum game," defined as  a mathematical  proposition "where each participant's gain or loss of utility is exactly balanced by the losses or gains of the utility of other participants."

Today it might be useful for young writers in the U.S. to consider how literature can regain its impact on our culture. We could of course blame our short attention spans on internet immersion or actually look at the kind of censorship we take for granted--a kind of economic censorship. Years ago as now, truly controversial novels, books about our political ideas and what they lead to, would not likely be published in the U.S. If they are critical of capitalistic or even "neo-liberal" values, they would be deemed "uncommercial." Those works are okay, often lauded if about another country.  Our home-grown Dreisers and Dos Passos don't get published.

We are getting closer to having no choice but to get serious. Rapid climate change gives us no choice. Personally, I am a fan of  university and genuine small publishers. My own, Pelekinesis, published new editions of my political novels, The Anarchist's Girlfriend and Paradise Gardens.  I recently released a pdf of PG (a cautionary tale set when the environment is uninhabitable and unbridled capitalism has led to feudalism) a few places so perhaps my words might "gain utility."