Tuesday, September 25, 2018

ON TYRANNY, short and wry lessons from the 20th Century to preserve your liberty

"... the precedent set by the Founders demands that we examine history to understand the deep sources of tyranny, and to consider the proper responses to it. Americans today are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to facism, Nazism, or communism in the twentieth century. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience. Now is a good time to do so." --Tim Snyder

"Mr. Snyder is a rising public intellectual unafraid to make bold connections between past and present." --The New York Times

This little book of 126 pages succeeds in connecting our time with what went before. In short essays astute, wry and instructive, it lets you know what has happened, where we are and what one person of conscience can do. Here are snippets from Topics.

Aticipatory obedience is a political tragedy.

Do not speak of "our institutions" unless you make them yours
by action on their behalf.

The parties that remade states and suppressed rivals were
not omnipotent from the start.

The symbols of today enable the reality of tomorrow. Notice the swastikas and the other signs of hate. Do not look away, and do not get used to them. Remove them yourself and set an example for others to do so.

Political leaders set a negative example, professional commitments to just practices become more important.

When the men with guns who have always claimed to be against the system start wearing uniforms and marching with torches and pictures of a leader, the end is nigh.

If you carry a weapon in public service, may God bless you and keep you. But know that the evils of the past involved policemen and soldiers finding themselves, one day, doing irregular things. Be ready to say no.

Someone has to.

Avoid pronouncing the phrases everyone else does. Think up your own way of speaking, even if only to convey that thing you think everyone is saying.

To abandon facts is to abandon freedom

Figure things out for yourself. Spend more time with long articles. Subsidize investigative journalism by subscribing to print media.

Small talk is not just polite. It is also a way to stay in touch with your surroundings, break down social barriers, and understand whom you should and should not trust. If we enter a culture of denunciation, you will want to know the psychological landscape of your daily life.

Power wants your body softening in your chair and your emotions dissipating on the screen. Get outside. Put your body in unfamiliar places with unfamiliar people. Make new friends and march with them.

Nastier rulers will use what they know about you to push you around. Scrub your computer of malware on a regular basis. Remember that email is skywriting.

Be active in organizations, political or not, that express your own view of life. Pick a charity or two and set up autopay.

Keep up your friendships abroad , or make new friends in other countries.The present difficulties in the United States are an element of a larger trend.

Listen to the use of extremism and terrorism. Be alive to the fatal notions of emergency and exception. Be angry about the treacherous use of patriotic vocabulary.

Modern tyranny is terror management. When the terrorist attack comes, remember that authoritarians expoit such events to consolidate power.

Set a good example for generations to come. They will need it.

If none of us is prepared to die for freedom, then all of us will die under tyranny.

ON TYRANNY is a Tim Duggan book available on audio from Penguin Random House.
Snyder Professor of History at Yale and author is a member of the Committee on Conscience of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museumand a permanent fellow of the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna.

Read this book, know the landscape, update your passport!


Saturday, September 8, 2018

Ken Krimstein's witty and profound graphic novel THE THREE ESCAPES OF HANNAH ARENDT

A Thinking Woman's Icon, HANNAH ARENDT, celebrated in Ken Krimstein's witty and profound 
new graphic novel. THE THREE ESCAPES OF HANNAH ARENDT: A Tyranny of Truth (Bloomsbury September)

I read Hannah Arendt's book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, about the former vacuum cleaner salesman, German Nazi SS-Obersturmbannf├╝hrer and one of the major organizers of the Holocaust. He made sure the trains to the gas chambers ran on time packed with passengers. Arendt's account of his trial was a stunning inquiry into the man and the political system he served. Her coverage was controversial, because she depicted not a monster, but a man frighteningly average. 

Ahrendt was an intellectual, a brilliant philosopher, when she fled from Hitler's  terror--from Germany to Paris, from Paris to America.  Coincidentally, it was The New Yorker who asked her to report on the Eichmann Trial and it's the New Yorker cartoonist, Ken Krimstein, who with great intellectual insight and humor, has recreated her life's journey.. Here is the young girl concerned with truth, the young woman obsessed with ultimate truth and Heidigger, her professor--the great philosopher who became compromised by his support of the Nazis. Hannah's ability to assess reality, allows her to stay ahead of her pursuers. Eventually, renowned in New York, she publishes her major  work as a political theorist, The Origins of Totalitarianism.  

In the time of Trump this book, originally published in the 1950s, has again become a bestseller. Ahrendt's thought is, uncompromising and inspired. Krimstein shows us thought as an art form and where it leads her is inspiring. I have read Krimstein's graphic novel twice. It is beautiful, smart, funny, as well as educational. The people she met and socialized with were worlds unto themselves.  Painters, musicians, theorists, filmakers, writers; a glimpse of exiting film director Bertolt Brecht in Germany, Dietrich and Chagall in France, Rothko and Saul Bellow in New York. Krimstein draws parties, soirees, salons and footnotes all these people. You get a sense of her circles--who these people were and how they thought. History is alive and great fun. Congrats to Krimstein for bringing this story to life.  Serious fun. 


Monday, September 3, 2018

Separate but Equal? Homogenity vs. Diversity--Upheavals in Europe and the U.S.

Separate but Equal ?
Individual and Community since the Enlightenment By Richard Herr (Berkeley Public Policy Press).

Richard Herr's book about Individual and Community is academic but accessible and well worth the effort. I read this because I wanted to understand why our Democracy worked in the past and whether our current turmoil seriously threatens that stability. We have "disruption" caused by our government's dismantelling of major institutions, as well as a rise of populist tribalism. It seems sudden that now a homogenous America, led by white males with wealth, are solely entitled to education, health care and national resources as part of their privilege, while  more diverse groups are suspect. Previously, diversity of individuals with all equally sharing resources, was a national ideal. , I look forward to a more inclusive future. So I checked the past. This conflict between a yearning for a homogenous nation vs. a desire for a diverse mosaic of indivuals has happened before.  The origins  go back to the Enlightenment era, the 18th centiury and a French judge.

Separate but Equal? begins with  Montesquieu, an aristocrat who wrote about the 3 basic forms of government, despotism, monarchy, and republic. (Despotism, one man without fixed laws, according to his own will or whim. Monarch, one man following established fixed laws, and a Republic, sovereignty is in the hands of the many.) For each of these he identified the "principle"--the emotion that inspires members of a society to live in harmony and fulfill common needs.

For despotism, the principle is fear-- of the despot whose agents will punish a subject who does not obey his arbitrary commands. Montesquieu believed this wasn't the best system, that a good political system required rule by known laws that precluded arbitrary action. While a Monarchy does qualify, a monarch can be easily tempted into despotism. Montesquieu's solution was nobles, a hierarchy of ranks by promotion and a prince who rewards the service of his subjects. The motivating principle was ambition for advancement or "honor, " and each step up meant advancement for the public good. (Of course, essential to this order is inequality before the law and the tax collector.)

In Montesquie's Republic, there was an aristocracy-- the rule of a few and a democracy, where sovereign power belonged to the people. This Republic had no ranks, for equality is fundamental. Instead of "Honor," there was the idea of "virtue." The few were motivated by this "virtue."You can see echoes of our Founding Fathers in this:

"Virtue in a republic is a most simple thing; it is love of the republic; it is a sensation and not a consequence of acquired knowledge, a sensation that may be felt by the meanest as well as the highest person in the state..."

"This virtue may be defined as the love of the laws and of our country. As such love requires a constant preference of public to private interest, it is the source of all private virtues....The love of one's country is conducive to the purity of morals, and purity of morals to the love of one's country. The love of the republic in a democracy is the love of democracy. The love of democracy is also the love of frugality."

Morality, equality, frugality, love imply the subordination of the individual to the well being of his fellow citizens. But he did realize people could be motivated by selfish ambition, a desire for honor or public esteem, and personal advantage. Yet in his system of virtue all citizens are responsible for the success of their country. Note, he did not believe that democracy could work in a social unit so large people did not know each other.

James Madison updated this "few" with a balance of power between central and local governments to prevent a majority from concentrating efforts against a minority. And, like Adam Smith, he saw the basic motive in human society to be the pursuit of wealth and property.

The French Revolution corrupted Montesquieu's principle of Virtue with the idea of an "other." The farmer and shopkeeper saw the aristocrats as different, not part of their community of virtue. In 19th century England, as well as France and the United States the "other" was the lower class. The unwashed hungry poor in large cities, often immigrants, were considered a threat to the peaceful wealthier classes.

To contain this threat, the nineteenth-century in Europe and the U.S. had drives to create homogeneous national societies by assimilating social minorities into the national culture or, if like African American and Asians in the U.S., they were considered unassimilatable, excluding them from participation. Though the homogeneous ideal grew out of a new spirit that became strong in the Enlightenment combining individual ambition and public spirit, that movment, says Herr, "underlaid the racial, ethnic, and gender discrimination that culminated in the horrors of totalitarian regimes."

Since the end of World War II he explains, Western nations have experimented with different correctives to the problem. How do nations reconcile national identity with a diverse population?  How do individuals reconcile the right to be different with homogenity? Women's liberation and multiculturalism have offered ways of thinking about these issues. 

Are women and men only able to achieve equality in distinct communities?  Is it possible to coexist in a patriarchal community or form one where women are distinctly different but equal? Herr writes, "Androgynous is the term that feminist writing employs to describe this hoped for society where the good qualities would be shared by the sexes."

"In the 21st century, Western countries have been engaged in how to incorporate gays and lesbians into society with equal rights. In Europe acts of terrorism that have killed passengers in a London subway and a Madrid train and murdered journalists in Paris have aroused apprehensions of the danger that disaffected sectors of a marginalized community can present. In the U.S. the continuing biased treatment of nonwhites has led at times to tragic killing of young African Americans by the forces of order and the forced break up of immigrant Latino families has heightened tensions.

We are still faced with the dilemmas of how to create democratic societies that provide justice for all the communities that compose them and satisfy the yearning for societies with an overarching common identity."

In my opinion, an African American president, though a moderate, ushered in a period of tolerance for racial and sexual equality with a focus on public concerns like preserving the environment and affordable health care.. The backlash from businesses that degrade the environment and groups that champion white privilege should not have been a surprise. Yet so accustomed was I to "common values," it was a shock. 

Like Herr, I hope "we may be again an inspiration for the rest of the world, as our championing of democracy and equality has been for two centuries."  But first I think we need to exchange a would-be despot for a President who believes in the "virtue" of Democracy.

Separate but Equal is by Richard Herr, Professor of History emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley. Recommended for it's comprehensive look at the metamorphosis of  political ideas, governments, and the aspirations of peoples.


Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Street Cirque Presents BOUDICCA! Circus and Masterful storytelling NYC Sunday Oct 7th at Dixon Place! See epic tale of Warrior Queen w/circus multitudes!



Street Cirque presents historical epic of the Warrior Queen! @Dixon Place '
Masterful storytelling enacted by Circus Multitudes!  

Love this...Excited to see!'


Street Cirque takes the historic tale of Boudicca to the circus, with dance, and acrobatics punctuating a story of family, rebellion, and perseverance. Twenty years after the initial Roman invasion, the largest advocate for peace, Boudicca’s husband, passes away. What was supposed to be a smooth transition quickly turns into a violent power grab by the Romans. Boudicca, her daughters, and the neighboring tribes, are forced to act as they contemplate what future is worth living for.


Street Cirque began in 2016 with an adaptation of Moulin Rouge which kickstarted our focus on blending traditional spoken theatre with circus arts. Dancing is everywhere, circus can be as well, and it’s our hope that by blending these two mediums we can provide a unique opportunity for both audience member, and performing artist. Want to stay in the know? Email streetcirque@gmail.com or follow @StreetCirque on social media for updates. Want to lend some support? We accept donations via paypal.me/StreetCirque


General Admission
$15 in advance
$20 at the door and for seniors, students, NYPD
Estimated Runtime
90 Minutes

Rachel Weekley
Kate Brandenburg
Madelyn Wiley
Sara Minisquero
David Baxter
Owen Hayden
Anton Kurdakov
Chelsea Rodriguez
Hannah Colonnese
Katharina Schmidt

Lauren Elizabeth
Kimberley Kreps
Natalie McFancy
Leana Macaya (Poster Design)

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Trump's sidelined In Suzan-Lori Parks' wise & entertaining 100 Plays for the 1st Hundred Days


Day 63: March 23


Former Russian MP, Denis Voronenkov, an outspoken opponent of Vladimir Putin, was shot dead outside a hotel today. He had fled to Kiev in fear of his life and to help with inquiries into Russia's incursions into the Ukraine.

The 45th
I thought your plays were going to be about me? This doesn't have anything to do with me.

It will. Just wait.

Trump's sidelined in Suzan-Lori Park's wise and entertaining 100 PLAYS for the FIRST HUNDRED DAYS (Theatre Communications Group. In this slim, 93 page book, we, the thinking public, are the main attraction, while Trump skirts the sidelines perplexed he's not the mainattraction.

In this intelligent darkly funny book, people of good will with humanist values assumed to be universal, find themselves in dystopian land. Stunned like Alice, we identify this strange new place, trying to define the shape of things to come.

Yet Parks, Pulitzer prize winner of TOPDOG/UNDERDOG takes the long view. Like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, she tries on the idea that politics is a pendulum, not about right or left or leaders. Parks' astute examination of who we are now and how we got here, concludes with an optimistic assessment of "WE THE PEOPLE."-- The American character in the larger sense.

I found this book a refreshing antidote to the senseless 24-7 assault of Trump News. Parks has written a kind of Pilgrim's Progress through our current psychological plague.

 I have often wished the newsmedia might consider taking control of their medium. Suppose at say 7PM, they programmed a half hour of Trump news, rather than alerts throughout the news day. Without burnout from the day's choreographed distractions, people might actually tune in for a real news perspective.


Monday, July 16, 2018

MY LIFE WITH JOHN STEINBECK by Gwyn Steinbeck, NYC Partylife! Xmas 1943

Steinbeck's range of writing was rich and varied.He honed his craft on a number of short stories, which were published in magazines as was the fashion at the time.In this way he built up a following which enabled him to break through as a writer.Surprisingly it was one of his 'little books' that provided his first success Tortilla Flat.His agent thought it was 'trivial':his then publisher turned it down,but Pascal Covici, who became his long time publisher and friend did publish it in 1935: the critics liked it and John Steinbeck was on his way.
NYC Partylife Xmas 1943
Gwyn lore 5, Excerpt from My Life With John Steinbeck
That first Christmas as Mrs. John Steinbeck was a sensational one, day and especially the nights. We were both quite passionate. During this festive holiday season - and Christmas and the New Year is always somehow special in New York with excitement, and snow- we went to one celebration that was out of this world. Mildred Bailey and her husband Red Norvo, the great musician threw a party. What a blast! I shall never forget it, nor, I imagine did anyone who was there. Everybody in show business was there. In the crowd was Humphrey Bogart, Virginia Mayo, Burl Ives, the Robert Ruarks, George and Mimsi Frazier, the great pantomimist Jimmy Savo, and all of Red Norvo's band. Hazel Scott was there, too. She later married Adam Clayton Powell. Perhaps I may have been ahead of the times in those days: we did not care about color, just friendships and talent.
It was a huge party, and every singer, entertainer, and great jazz musicians performed. Mildred had invited a whole gang from Harlem, including the great negro keyman, Eddie Heywood. Mildred was working at Cafe Societt then, so naturally, she got up and sang. That evening was the first time, too, that I met Robert Capa, who was John's partner when they did A Russian Journal. John adored those kinds of parites. If you loved life, music, good friebnds, who wouldn't?

Excerpts from Preface by Jay Parini, Steinbeck biographer on MY LIFE WITH JOHN STEINBECK
John Steinbeck (1902-1968) was, with Hemingway, Faulkner, and Fitzgerald, among the small handful of American literary giants of the twentieth century; the author of such classic novels as OF MICE AND MEN, THE GRAPES OF WRATH, TORTILLA FLAT. CANNERY ROW and EAST OF EDEN. His achievements were recognized with the Pulitzer Prize in 1940 and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962, among other awards.
When he accepted the Nobel in Stockholm, he declared with typical eloquence:’ The writer is delegated to declare and to celebrate man’s proven capacity for greatness of heart and spirit–for gallantry in defeat, for courage, compassion, and love. In the endless war against weakness and despair, these are the bright red flags of hope and emulation. I hold that a writer who does not believe in the perfectibility of man has no dedication or any membership in literature.’
There is, of course, oftyen a dramatic, even jarring difference between a writer’s art and his life, between what the writer puts on the page and how he conducts himself in human affairs. as a man, like most men, Steinbeck had inconsistencies in character, some of them glaring.He drank too much, often to the point of complete inebriation; he could be thin-skinned and spiteful, hated all forms of criticism and was (in his first two marriages) unfaithful in his relationships. These early marriages failed in part because of ways he behaved, without much consideration for his spouses…..
I found in writing my biography it was impossible to get a good take on Gwyn. Steinbeck had been wildly attracted to her: she was beautiful, tall, and willowy. She had a lot of energy and intelligence, or so I gathered from various accounts. But as she had passed away, it was impossible to know how she felt about her famous husband and what that marriage was really like. Did Steinbeck value her? Did he treat her well? Did they have much in common? Was he a consistent husband, someone she could trust? What sort of effect did she have on his writing life, and why did the quality of his writing often seem to waver in the forties, fifties, and sixties?
…MY LIFE WITH JOHN STEINBECK is a memoir of her marriage to Steinbeck by Gwyn….To a degree, it answers these questions, and it’s a compelling story, with many biographical details, asides, and, anecdotes….Published here for the first time, it’s a genuinely significant literary discovery. Her memoir sheds light on the part of Steinbeck’s life that has been in shadow over half a century. Aa readers will discover, Gwyn’s voice is passionate, radiant and clear, and it tells us a lot about why Steinbeck might have fallen in love with her.

9/6/18! Lawson Publishers Ltd. are pleased to announce
the historic first publication of Gwyn Conger Steinbeck's

MY LIFE WITH JOHN STEINBECK by Gwyn Conger Steinbeck
As told to Douglas Brown.
ISBN: 978-1-9996752-0-2 Paperback, $18.00
978-1-9996752-2-6 e-book, $7.00
978-1-9996752-1-9 Hard cover $25.00
Pages: 272
"... a compelling story, with many biographical details, asides, and anecdotes that make it well worth the price of admission. Published here for the first time, it’s a genuinely significant literary discovery. Her memoir sheds light on the part of Steinbeck's life that has been in shadow over half a century."
Jay Parini, author of John Steinbeck: A Biography
20th December is the 50th anniversary of John Steinbeck’s death (1968),No one knows what will be revealed when the records are unsealed at his instruction.
Gwyn's revelations, published 9/6, beat that timing.
It was in our house that I almost lost John Junior before he was born. John showed up with some agents. John said, "Take them through the rest of the house." It had been an exhausting day. It seemed as if I had climbed the five flights of stairs up and down a dozen times. I was completely tired out and just did not have any energy left.
"I cannot climb another flight of stairs today," I said smiling. John looked at me as though he would kill me. We were standing on a landing. He swore at me and tried to kick me down the stairs. I fell about five steps. I grabbed the rail as the agents stood with their mouths open.
:Come on," he said, "I'll show you the place." They followed him meekly and I sat on the stairs until they came back down. I was so angry with him but knew that my refusal caused the anger.

GWYN Lore 2, Excerpt from Gwyn Steinbeck’s MY LIFE WITH JOHN STEINBECK
“That evening at Tim Costello’s is a famous part of Carlos Baker’s book, where he described John Hersey, Bob Capa, John Steinbeck and Mrs. Steinbeck. But he does not say which Mrs. Steinbeck. That was the night, too, when Hemingway broke the blackthorn over his head and ordered John O'Hara out.
The way Baker put it is not quite the real story. The blackthorn happened to have belonged to John’s great-grandfather, and John had given it to Tim who was hanging it over the bar. Also contrary to what Baker said, O'Hara did mot leave the place in a huff. He stood outside looking through the window, whimpering like a child. That is the truth, and when John and I left, there was O'Hara, eaving back and forth in the middle of Third Avenue.
‘Let’s do something,” I said to John.
“Oh that poor sonofabitch, that poor sonofabitch,” he said,“he’ll get into a fight, don’t let’s get near him because he’ll want to start a fight.’
We left another merry writer and tottered home. John had yanked me by the arm and said, 'Leave O'Hara alone; and we moved off for home on 51st Street after what had been an eventful dinner at Costello’s. John and Hemingway were quite cordial (the drinks helped.) It had been a fun evening, enhanced not only by the company of great men of words but by our fresh corn on the cob.”

"John was finally allowed to return to the room where I was covered and ready for surgery. "I don't want you to worry," he said."I'm terribly disappointed."
"I;m disappointed in myself," I said.
Then John said, 'I chose you as the woman to bear my children without problems, and here I am, working on a book, working with my editors, and you have complicated my life."
I was sure he loved me, but I did not know what to think. I did not believe he even knew what he was saying. I was wheeled away to have our baby.

Excerpt--"John continued to work on Cannery Row, but I knew he was becoming his old restless self once more. As for me, I had the post natal blues and was still ill and very thin. Fortunately, we now had Ms. Diehl, who took over in her most efficient German way. She was so organized that John began to hate her, and even wanted to get rid of her. I did not, and she stayed. John returned to his daily work on Cannery Row, to his routine with his ranch coffee breakfasts and hot baths at the end of the day. He was never much of a domestic man. "I'll always take pride in the fact that I will never learn to pin a diaper," he remarked.

Airbrushed from History
John Steinbeck (1902 -1968), supreme writer and storyteller, led millions, who had never before read fiction, to read his novels and magazine pieces – stories of ordinary characters told in a home-spun way. Despite his critics, Steinbeck’s books still sell in tens of thousands worldwide and his 1962 Nobel Prize was well earned. A critic at the time, on hearing of the $50,000 prize, sniped at Steinbeck saying how long did it take him to earn it? ‘Forty years’, was the gruff, yet succinct reply.
Of his three wives, Carol, Gwyn and Elaine, Gwyn has been totally and perhaps deliberately forgotten. Steinbeck pursued her. She was introduced to him by his childhood friend Max Wagner at just twenty years old. Gwyn was bright and beautiful and taught Steinbeck to enjoy life. It was a relationship doomed to fail, but it lasted eight years.
Age difference, his indifference and the dislike of Gwyn by Steinbeck’s sisters (he was the only boy amongst the siblings) meant their union was ill-advised. Yet she met celebrities like Robert Capa, Ernie Pyle, Burgess Meredith, Charlie Chaplin and Ernest Hemingway, in an alcohol fuelled war and post war era.
Eventually, partying and travel did not compensate for his affairs, unexplained absences, constant restlessness and indifferent, sometimes brutal behaviour toward her and their children. Then there was Steinbeck’s soul mate, Ed Ricketts, who contributed to a relationship that was “a bit crowded”
When Gwyn divorced Steinbeck, he was astounded and spent the rest of his life hating her, even demonising her as Kate, the wicked villainess and brothel owner in East of Eden. Steinbeck could hate with a passion – and did.
Gwyn never remarried and in later life, according to Douglas Brown, suffered from terrible asthma, not eased by her constant smoking and periodic heavy drinking-a legacy of her time with Steinbeck. She died in 1975, aged just fifty-eight. This is a story never before told. Was she treated fairly? Did Steinbeck value her? Was she thwarted in her ambition-a victim of attitudes at that time?
Before her marriage to John Steinbeck, Toby Street, Steinbeck’s long-time friend and lawyer told Gwyn’s mother, known as Big Gwen, ‘Carol was a sweet girl too, but John made her into a monster. If he gets Gwyn, he will make her into a monster too.’ Perhaps he did. Read her memoir, a missing piece of his private life, and make up your own mind.
Bruce Lawson, Publisher
MY LIFE WITH JOHN STEINBECK by Gwyn Conger Steinbeck

"... a compelling  story, with many biographical details, asides, and anecdotes that make it well worth the price of admission. Published here for the first time, it’s a genuinely significant literary discovery. Her memoir sheds light on the part of Steinbeck's life that has been in shadow over half a century."  --Jay Parini, author of John Steinbeck: A Biography

Discovered--GWYN CONGER STEINBECK. New book relates love and adventures of the "forgotten wife," muse to the Nobel Prizewinning author of American classics
MY LIFE WITH JOHN  STEINBECK: by Gwyn Conger Steinbeck The Story of John Steinbeck's Forgotten Wife

Who was Gwyn Conger Steinbeck? Unlike Steinbeck's first and third wives, she's unmentioned in standard editions of  classics, such as The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men.  But that's about to change with the publication of MY LIFE WITH JOHN STEINBECK: by Gwyn Conger Steinbeck, The story of John Steibeck's Forgotten Wife. (Lawson Publishing Ltd. Sept. 6th.). The ms, lost since 1972, was recently discovered in Wales. The book includes her introduction, that of journalist Douglas G. Brown and the acclaimed John Steinbeck biographer, Jay Parini.

The book reveals the missing voice of  Gwyn,  "the forgotten wife," mother of his two sons, during a 6-year marriage that included the tumult of World War 2. When she met Steinbeck in 1939, Gwyn was a professional singer, working for RKO radio and CBS in L.A. She was an independent young woman, lively and radiant in her love for the great man wooing her--14 years her senior. He was impressed by her beauty and magnetic presence.  For women of her era, many of whom had to leave jobs after the war, marriage was considered a woman's true career--love was life. This journal is her story of that adventure, often "on the road" with a restless Steinbeck, criss-crossing continents and making homes. She later wrote:.

"Tremendous love existed between us....Sometimes, love made us better than we were, it does that with everyone. My love for John was such that I had no hesitation in giving up everything I had for him, which I did. That was a mistake. Although out relationship brought happiness, it also brought unhappiness. At one point, I became the Indian woman, walking three paces behind the master."

My Life with John Steinbeck is on target about people and places. A newlywed on 78th St in NYC., Gwyn was alone after John suddenly decided to go to war. But later they enjoyed snowstorms and high society, carousing with the  Robert Benchleys and Burl Ives among others. They moved to Monterey for sojourns with Steinbeck crony Ed Ricketts in his eccentric Lab. There were treks to Mexico, a story of an elegant party at a Russian Embassy, and one about being pregnant and sick by the side of a road.. 

Gwyn says Steinbeck was "in love with love." But for much of their time together, she was completely in love with both the great writer and the flawed man. She gave him complete quiet to work and, when needed, her full attention. The Moon is Down, Cannery Row, The Pearl, The Wayward Bus were written during their years. Gwyn  tried to be the "Amazon" Steinbeck expected; until their sons' births which she linked with the mysterious "death of their love." When she asked for a divorce (finalized 1949) she could  no longer live with him. He may never have forgiven her. Considering the character of Cathy in East of Eden, is said to be modeled on  Gwyn, that may be so.

How often do we hear about the costs of being with a famous man? When is trading up self-abandonment? Gwyn’s story is an enigmatic look at an "Everywoman" of her era, who took marriage as her vocation and  enabled a great man to pursue his work.  Yet the ideology of giving "all" came at a steep price.  I was moved by the pathos of her efforts to make home--not one but many--an attractive place of comfort, if not security. Just as she was putting down roots, her home was gone, lost in another unfathomable whim. 

2018, the 50th anniversary of John Steinbeck’s death (12/20/68), may be the year of the woman. How fitting for Gwyn Steinbeck's journal to be published.  

Lawson Publishing LTD is located in Powys, Wales. Publisher Bruce Lawson is pleased with the release of GWYN CONGER STEINBECK: My Life With John Steinbeck in  the U.K. and the United States.

Douglas G. Brown, Editor

Douglas G Brown was a British and American journalist, feature writer and one-time columnist who became editor of the Palm Springs Desert Sun. His brother, John Brown, who inherited the manuscript for My Life with John Steinbeck, decided to publish it with Lawson Publishing Ltd as his late brother’s legacy.

Bruce Lawson, Publisher
Bruce Lawson was born and educated in Kidderminster. After working in Ireland and Jamaica, where he became a rugby international, he returned to the UK to run his own Chartered Accountancy Practice. In 2013 he wrote and published Charles Rolls of Rolls-Royce. Bruce now lives in Montgomeryshire and is the director of Lawson Publishing Ltd. He has made an extensive study of Steinbeck’s early life and worked for two years, bringing My Life with John Steinbeck to publication..


Gwyn Lore.

GWYN LORE--Recounted by Jeffrey Archer
Jeffrey Archer (now Lord Archer) wrote Cain and Abel, Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less and many other thrillers, wrote in a short story about a journey where Kelley, a student at Stanford, hitches a ride with an elderly gentleman. She talks of her ambition to write the Great American Novel and how Hemingway, Steinbeck, Bellow and Faulkner are the “modern giants of American literature."
Driving his pre-war Studebaker, the old man urges her to “get as much experience of the world and people as you can before you sit down and put pen to paper." He refers to Ed and his first wife Carol who “lasted thirteen years before she was replaced by Gwyn who managed just five. But to do her justice, which is quite difficult, she gave me two great sons.”
Continuing, the driver went on “when I got home (from being a war correspondent) I discovered my wife (Gwyn) had shacked up with some other feller. Can’t say I blame her."
He continued “soon after, I married Elaine. I can only tell you one thing, I know for sure, Kelley, three wives are more than enough for any man.”
At the end of the journey, the elderly driver brought the car to a stuttering halt, outside Stanford College gates.
“Thank you for the lift, John,” said Kelley as she got out of the car. She walked quickly round to the driver’s side to say goodbye to the old man as he wound down the window. “It’s been fascinating to hear about your life.”
Taken from Tell Tale by Jeffrey Archer, 2017 ISBN: 978-1-4472-5230-6
Bruce Lawson--Publisher of MY LIFE WITH JOHN STEINBECK

Doug Brown info

Douglas G Brown 1939-1997

Douglas Brown was born and educated in Enfield near London in England.  After receiving a degree in journalism from the University of London, he joined the Royal Air Force and was eventually assigned as Secretary to the Consul General of the British Embassy in Washington DC.
  In 1960, he decided to try his luck in Hollywood.  Taking the train west, he interrupted his journey to see Palm Springs.  Thirty- seven years later he was still enthralled with the magic of that desert oasis and became a dedicated promotor of the resort.  As both editor of the Palm Springs Desert Post and as a feature writer and columnist he covered the entertainment and social scene for the Desert Sun, the Key Magazine and Beverley Hills Courier. Doug Brown was also Art Editor for the popular Sand to Sea magazine.  He authored two books and headlined his own radio show, as well as establishing his public relations firm. His many clients and friends held Doug in high esteem, appreciated his charisma, energy, personal warmth and unique European charm.  He was a gentleman’s gentleman who sadly died far too young.
One friend quoted of him “Whenever one met Doug Brown, one’s day became a little brighter…”
He said he met Gwyn Steinbeck in the early seventies, when she ran a small art gallery and lived in a modest, two-bedroom house in Palm Springs, California. She had many mementoes of her time and travels with her then husband John Steinbeck, but following his death in 1968, Gwyn lived modestly, as Brown understood it, on a low fixed income.
She related her story, both the early promise and later tragedy, describing it as ‘but a fragment of John’s life.’
The result is a memoir that delivers a unique and controversial portrait of the great American writer, John Steinbeck. Lost since 1972, and recently discovered in Wales, My Life with John Steinbeck allows Gwyn Steinbeck - John Steinbeck’s second wife and the mother of his two children – to tell her story for the first time in 46 years. It is the compelling story of a woman’s love for a man hailed by the world for his literary genius. A man who, in Gwyn’s own words, “was not a hero. He was only a tremendously complex man who could be very beautiful one moment and then change into something very un-beautiful.”

Bruce Lawson

Monday, June 25, 2018

Lonz Cook's A LOSS TOO GREAT, when "happily ever after" is DOA., a man's love story

A LOSS TOO GREAT (Elevation Books, May) begins with Tom's arrival home to discover his beloved Mary dead on the floor.  How she got there and what happened to the "happily ever after" of this attractive hardworking couple is a kind of parable for men about the fantasy of romance vs. real-life love.  Lonz Cook unfolds a story that reminded me of Erich Segal's iconic "Love Story,” but  shows how loss changes the man. This husband and father is tested and his strength changes his connection to life. in profound ways

In the beginning, Tom and Mary, a happily married couple, are looking forward to "empty Nester" status. Tom eagerly looks forward to  exploring new places, bike trips in nature, concerts and ,most of all, hot  romance with Mary, his ideal soul-mate. He's smitten with her incredible beauty, undimmed by the years, her intelligence and intuitive understanding. His fantasies are a glossy brochure of "the good life," beautiful hotels, cruises, beaches and woods filled with happy couples sipping wines.

As newlyweds, he had surprised her with keys to their Baltimore fixer-upper, they worked side by side restoring the place to an elegant home. He was the sole bread winner but loved how appreciated she made him feel with great meals and always looking great, even after a day of chores and coaching Tom, Jr. Now, he surprised her again with a realtor's keys on a trip to San Francisco.  He was taking their gracious married life to a new setting. But Mary balked at the notion of a new lif, when Tom Jr's room was in Baltimore. Tom was thinking of heights they could achieve now that their son, who had eschewed college for the Army was away. An Army man himself, he didn't see a problem, but somehow Mary wasn't on the same page. .

Love amid luxury travels, their rekindled great romance, all tom's expectations were cruelly upended with news of their son's death. Mary's paralyzing grief meant Tom's love  transformed. Soon he was the caretaker, working with her psychologist,  patiently working for her to come back to him. When he is offered a promotion to San Francisco, Tom gives her the key to the Victorian. But the hard working success oriented, man who seeks perfection in his life, now has to take life day by day and hope she improves in a new city. Grief is a sibject he knows well, he's studied it.

In a “Hallmark Special” kind of way,  Tom meets many kind good natured people who helped him, because they respond to his friendly people-oriented approach to life. He's fun, has a good sense of humor.  He's also a can-do employee revered by his employer. But in his new role in a new city, he overdoes this, being watchful of his ailing wife. His efforts do pay off, he allows himself to think she's returning to herself, when he finds her on the floor. 

This loss is too Great. Tom's entirely changed, Unable to imagine life without his wife, he avoided personal contact. He's completely withdrawn, uninterested in what he used to enjoy. His hold on life is tenous, when Mary is everywhere. When he takes a leave of absence, he goes in search of  what he doesn't know. He starts with a bike trip, painful without her following, but the trees are still beautiful. He tentatively tries to find interest in women and is surprised to find it's still there and feeling is reciprocated. He tries his drive as an athlete and finds he's good.  Slowly, he brings himself back to life, but he's a different man.  

A LOSS TOO GREAT is about the way a man loves in fantasy vs. the deeper love that evolves through real life.  I liked that Tom was an intellectually curious and sensual man. Through his love for his emotionally fragile wife, he is able to change. He gave his all to win her back to life. And when he lost, challenged himself to see if life without her was worth living. This is a serious romance with a resonance for men and the women who love them.



Friday, June 8, 2018

ALTERNATIVE REMEDIES FOR LOSS, a young woman's grief drives journey to maturity in this novel, sad, funny and true

Olivia, Joanna Cantor's narrator in Alternative Remedies for Loss (Bloomsbury Publishing, May) is  twenty-two, pretty and privileged. Her family isn't rich but comfortably middle class. Sharply aware and self-critical, Olivia knows she's cushioned by her family and yet is unable to stop herself from messing up. She tests her limits in a spiral less coming-of-age, than a struggle to manage the emotional turmoil after her mother's death. She wonders what would happen if no one helped her pick up the pieces--like her mother did. She is profoundly alone, trying to figure out not just her place but what, if anything, has value.

Olivia's angst reminded me of The Sorrows of Young Werther, Goethe's autobiography.She is a heroine just as self absorbed and overly serious. But she possesses a wicked sense of social mores and a meter for hypocrisy equal to Austen's Emma. Olivia's ruthless perception spares not her brothers, complacent in their relationships, nor her father, who shortly after the funeral introduced his new woman and even asked her on the family trip. Planned by her mother as a cultural trip and now a remembrance had become a meaningless diversion. Her mother had always wanted to go to India, and had included  a visit to a real ashram. Her father arranged for shopping and restaurants like home in an Indian setting. Olivia's alienation deepened, when she returned to New York City.

Through her brother's connections,Olivia had an entry-level job at a film company and, though she worked hard, her sideline was dabbling in dubious affairs. Though Olivia questions her behavior, she lets it go and decides to ditch school and work after the summer. Her father, angry when he learns she's not going back to Vassar with one year left, is over the top, when she loses her job for an unfathomable offfense. Numb with grief, Olivia faces being without an income, apartment or boyfriend with huge self contempt and escapisim. She's a party girl adrift on temporary couches.

With nothing else to do, she helps her brother clean out her mother's things and comes across a mysterious photo of her mother with a letter signed by an unknown man.. She thought she knew her mother? Her world already rocked, Olivia goes on a quest to learn more. The trip will take her back to India, to the shallows and depths of her soul. And what emerges in the end is knowledge bigger than herself and a new sense of being whole.

Olivia's passage is moving and shocking and unpredictable, as the life she's reclaiming. Nothing works out, because in the end, nothing is expected until she discovers what is true and matters. She's a great character and her coming of age happens on a couple levels. Her mother's passage underlies this journey.  Recommended.


Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Torn Page's HAMLET, alive and tribal in an intimate setting. Access Theatre, June 2nd & 9th

There's been a fashion of  professional theater performed in apartments but until this HAMLET, I hadn't experienced this. A real surprise  how unexpectedly alive and vital this production was in an
intimate chair-filled livingroom where actors and spectators were on the same level. This wasn't experimental as much as a classic restored to the bones of what's essentially a family play--dysfunctional to be sure but a moving discovery in this audacious show.

The lead (Melissa Nelson) is a young woman, who looked like a Danish boy yet within minutes commanded with a rational self-possession that trumped her torment. Despite the many cries of "Madness!" and her circumlocutions of language, you question that charge. Relentless as any prosecutor, Hamlet investigates her stepfather and mother, accused by her father's ghost.

Though you know the stages of her investigation, the process and outcome, this performance, rational and impassioned, is riveting. Also surprising is how, possessed by her mission, she slipped over
chairs to turn on music without a pause.

The rest of the cast is equally adept. Though the ostensible logic hinges on Hamlet's "madness," and denial of the crime of The King and his Queen and you know it's false, ( Khari Constantine) King Claudius was so personable, it was hard to believe him guilty. He also slipped into the role of the "Player King", undetected by me. (Gayle Staffanson) his lady Gertrude, was so sensual, pleasure seemed a natural right. It was horrifying to see her try to manipulate her son back to "normalcy."

Laertes, the much wronged brother of Ophelia and son of Polonius, is played convincingly by another young woman (Kiran Rhe). Noble and manly in a decent way, you a feel loss, that he's a victim of  Hamlet's one "Mad" act in this play. (Bruce Barton) Polonious was perfectly matched in both dignity and foolishness, as was (Gigi Coovrey, also the Player Queen), his daughter's sensitive but not neurotic Ophelia.

(Andrew Gonzales) Hamlet's only genuine friend, is steadfast, seeing through subterfuges of the spies around his Prince, such as Nicholas Cocks' Guilderstern, who's a less than guileless betrayer. He and Rosencrantz make a contrasting pair.

Last and most surprising is (Vincent Santvoord) the Gravedigger, whose language is a knowing counterpart to that of Hamlet. The Prince well understand's this "fool"s  barbed double meanings. The two are most alike in this play. The Prince's fateful truth and the Gravedigger's humor are two sides of the same question.  Santvoord's words challenging the Prince and the reality underlying all human deeds, heroic and otherwise, is completely entertaining.

In the intimate setting of this show, sounds underscored tribal feelings. Drums, didgeridoos and voices, alternated or exclamations,evoked some medieval hall with a lot of spilled mead as the saga unfolded. The production was adapted and directed by Matthew Gasda.

I saw May 20th weekend but Torn Page will again offer HAMLET June 2 & 9 at Access Theatre.
380 Broadway.



Friday, May 11, 2018

Meet Jex Blackwell, a gritty teenage post punk heroine with a genius for medicine by P. William Grimm

Jex Blackwell Saves the World (Pelekinesis, May) by P. William Grimm was both refreshing and a complete surprise. Grimm an American writer and fillmaker, has written novels and short story collections--The Seventh and Counselor, Valencia Street and Sick Sense of Hubris.
He 's published in lit blogs, like Eclectica Magazine and HTML Giant. His influences are Kurt Vonnegut, Joan Didion, Charles Bukowski, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett. So he likes the truth, outrageous or otherwise, and a mystery with soul and style.

Grimm's final inspiration is  Encyclopedia Brown, a series of kid's books about a boy genius. Grimm thinks of Jex Blackwell as a "Dadaesque homage" to that series. So this is kind of an adult YA mystery, written like an underground graphic novel with a heroine (not unlike orphaned Anne of Green Gables or headstrong Jo in Little Women). Jex is aware of her potential and completely invents herself at aged 16. She wants to do good in the world, while she can't resist the siren song of unfettered adventure (Tom Sawyer anyone? Substitute the black top roads of L.A. for the River).

Jex's turf is underground culture, especially the music scene of  Los Angeles. Here's a description, "Tonight the best band in the world is a Macedonian anarchist punk collective, banging away in a sweaty, sultry basement somewhere in the middle of Echo Park. There is no stage and so the band is eye level with the crowd, which consists of maybe two dozen people. All four band members are consumed with their music,the guitarist particularly animated, dancing up and down with abandon. The female singer twists and turns with the music, wrapping the microphone cord around her body like a cocoon, yelping loudly in Macedonian over the chug of the rhythm section, bass and drums."

And where does this scene take us? To Jess diagnosing a sick musician who faints and helping him  to recover. As her sidekick tells someone "Jex is a total bad ass. She can figure out what's wrong with anyone. And I mean anyone. I have seen the craziest shit and Jex is just cool as balls and totally figures it out-like out of nowhere. She's punk Sherlock Holmes for sure, but for, like, medicine."

In her gritty environment, Jex navigates with zen cool and just when you may think this is  predictable urban territory--drugs, squats-- the story shifts to a baby in trouble and how Jex quickly figures out the problem and aid. It's not just the story that's unexpected but the girl. Jex is  a person of complex contradictions even for a teen. She's sophisticated but pure, completely practical with superb timing, yet impulsive and artsy. Jex cares about no one and everyone. She sees through people and wants to save everyone. And you believe she might--if she grows up.

Jex Blackwell Saves the World is an inspiring book. While teens may like it because she inhabits the "outsider" world of a kid without parents or school, they may admire her real ambitions and how she works to change her world. Parents may sneak it out of their room for Grimm's gift at spinning outre atmospheres and truthful emotion--all too reminescent of youth.

When in fiction has there been a girl this independent--this heroic? Jex does what she wills and takes responsibility--while trying to suss out the big picture. If she saves herself from all the wayward temptations of a footloose punk, she could do anything--even rescue and heal our planet.

Recommended for the fun of it.