― Sven Birkerts, The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age
Thursday, December 20, 2012
― Sven Birkerts, The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age
Thursday, November 15, 2012
Thursday, November 1, 2012
Tuesday, July 31, 2012
Wednesday, June 13, 2012
Saturday, June 9, 2012
Faulkner believed we will prevail, but, I think Lopez believes we will be lucky to merely endure.
Monday, May 21, 2012
This is very good, and Please see me about the grammar. At least I underlined the This is very good. In the end, I know that, well, I still have the original, meaning that he never did come to see me about the grammar, and also, I hope, that I realized my corrections were absurd.
Sunday, May 6, 2012
Friday, April 13, 2012
This is a photograph of my parents that I made last summer on my parents' 59th wedding anniversary in August. My dad looks pretty good, I think. In fact, he didn't look so bad the last time I saw him the last week in February. I was able to convince myself that I would see him again. But I was wrong; he passed away this week.
The piece I've pasted in below is part of a longer piece. I didn't write it to tell my dad's life story, or the story of our family, or anything so grand or thorough. I wrote it in the spring of 2011 after visiting him in Dearborn. He was between chemotherapy sessions and he had come out of the first round pretty well.
I expect I'll have a lot more to say about him later, but this is all I have for now:
I made these travel plans at a time when we had been told to expect the worst. But the worst has not happened. Instead, my father has endured the chemotherapy and radiation with considerable luck and grace, though whether the treatment is actually affecting the cancer remains to be known. In fact, he looks better than he did the last time I saw him. He stopped drinking a few months before the cancer was diagnosed and had lost considerable weight, a good outcome from a bad cause.
The anticipation between the time he was diagnosed and when the treatment began was hard on him and my mother. Over the phone I said, “Well, you’ve had a lot of time to get used to the idea [of chemotherapy]. And he laughed. “That sounds like something I would have said to you.”
One day I was sitting on the dock at my parents’ house on Blue Lake. It was early morning. I was drinking coffee and watching the mist rise off the surface of the water. My dad walks up and sits down next to me.
“What are we going to do today?” I ask.
“We’re doing it,” he says.
My mother, who worked with autistic kids, has said that when I was child I was this close to being autistic. She holds her thumb and forefinger about one inch apart. I’m not saying she‘s wrong, but if she’s even this much (thumb and forefinger an inch apart) right, I’m claiming I got it from my father. The form it takes in him is talking, to no one in particular, in bits of received language that have stuck in his brain: ditties, sayings, punchlines, song lyrics, advertising blips. He’s been doing this all my life and every time I see him there is more. “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride,” he whispers to no one, apropos of nothing.
Although my brother has been (wisely) named financial executor of their estate my father felt compelled to show me his financial paperwork: how much money there is and where it is all located. It was the notebook of man who had put his affairs in order. I wish he hadn’t shown it to me. And it wasn’t necessary, as it’s a well-known fact that my mother is blessed with immortality.
He’s a bit frail and has lost his muscle tone along with the weight. Basically he has been immobile for about six months. He has a feeding tube attached to his stomach, that hasn’t seen use, yet has to be cleaned out everyday. He also has some other needles and tubes attached to his arm. He bathes everyday and avoids all the things the doctors have advised to avoid: people, fresh fruit and vegetables, flowers. Stuff he pretty much avoided by nature anyway.
He was a tough guy, a strong guy, most of his life. His father burned the family furniture in the furnace to get them through the winter in the early 1930s. He played football in college, undersized, in the days before facemasks. He smoked a couple packs of Marlboros a day, back when that was not too uncommon. He drank Cutty Sark and didn’t have much use for golf. When we were in high school he could still hang with us in two-on-two basketball in the driveway. He lived most of his life in Dearborn, a notoriously white community, but was one of the least racist persons I have ever known. He believed in Detroit and the car industry. He owned some cool cars: a clean Falcon with three on the tree, an AMC something or other with a huge oversized engine, and later a Mustang that my brother John opened up to 140 mph on I-94 regularly between Dearborn and Kalamazoo. He started out at Ford and ended up back there, sort of, at J. Walter Thompson who did Ford’s advertising. I believe he voted Republican all his life until recently: unable to morally support Republicans he preferred not to vote at all. Also, I suspect that he no longer subscribes to the concept that what is good for General Motors is good for the country. The only time I remember him crying was trying to say grace at Thanksgiving, shortly after his mother died.
We watched a Red Wings game together and talked about our favorite Wings, mine being Gordie Howe, Federov and Shanahan. It’s pretty hard not to love Nik Lidstrom.
My parents let Eddie through the quarantine. They always liked him. He knew where the line was with them and stayed just slightly on the wrong side of it. Ed would pretty much say anything that came to mind, and somehow get away with it. My parents were thrilled to see him. He did his usual bit, good naturedly insulting everyone in the room, talked to my dad about Ford, and the buy-out he got from them after thirty years, talked about the work he was doing now at Detroit Diesel. Then he told them he’d drop me back home at 4:30 in the morning and to look for me in the snowbank out by the street. As we left, I could hear my dad repeating his name, “Eddie Schechter, Eddie Schechter” like a mantra, and shaking his head in wonder, as if Eddie were utterly unchanged since the day he first walked into our house in 1967.
The day I left town he checked into Henry Ford Hospital for another week of chemotherapy. I took a photograph of him at the hospital and you wouldn’t know he was sick by looking at it. My dad was up for the fight.
Monday, March 19, 2012
“ . . . the guy locked away on the sun porch who the Young Doctors were taking apart an arm and leg at a time.”
––Mark Richard, “The Birds for Christmas”
I’ve always remembered this line but never, until now, thought of it as referring to me. These cancer surgeries are barbaric—they just cut away chunks of flesh and pray for “clean margins.” I’ve got another one next week.
We’ve got so much snow that even with a late start and probably an early finish (for me) I have skied more than in any other year. This is one advantage of not having skied so much as younger man. I came to skiing pretty late.
I was thinking of all the snow (800+ inches down in Girdwood!) and wondering how the crevasses might be all sealed up, and presumably safe, up in the Alaska Range. I think about that a lot more since reading The Ledge by Jim Davidson and Kevin Vaughn. It’s about these two guys who fall into a hidden crevasse on Mt Rainier. One guy dies and the other barely manages to extricate himself and later, to write the book. The book is chilling because probably hundreds of people had walked over that spot and not broken through the surface. I just count my hours on Mt Rainier and think about all the good luck I’ve had, much of it blind and dumb, as good luck so often is.
From up on Mt Kennedy we could see that down on the glacier below there were dozens of places in the snow where the crevasses were buried. They only were slightly shadowed. They were plentiful and parallel and they looked like shark’s gills. On the way in we had blithely, unawaredly skied right over them. But now we knew they were there. We tried not to think of them as we skied out.
This was the advice that according to Hemingway the Catholic Church gave: “Not to think about it." But, said Jake Barnes, Hemingway’s alter ego, “. . . swell advice, Try and take it sometime.”
Years after our climb, one of those very crevasses below Mt Kennedy swallowed up an airplane, killing the pilot. The climbers, who had successfully done the same route we had, were lucky to have survived.
We were drinking Old Bushmills, neat, on St Patrick’s Day, as is befitting a couple old dudes, and I was telling Charlie Sassara my theory that maybe all this snow would seal up the crevasses and it would be a good year for something in the Alaska Range. He was quiet for a minute and then said. “I kind of liked dry years. That way there was less stuff that can fall down on you.”
Crevasses and avalanches. Fire and ice.
Jim Sweeney’s a cat that has used up all his nine lives and then some. He used up most of them on one trip into the Alaska Range where he got seriously injured and barely extricated from the Ruth Glacier. I don’t think a reader of his new book can be expected to actually count the number of avalanches Sweeney survived on that trip. After eight or nine days they managed to get him off the glacier and into the hospital in Anchorage. The book Sweeney has written about this is called Alaska Expedition: Marine Life Solidarity and will be out any day. It’s about as harrowing a mountaineering book as you will ever read (that’s a long list, too: harrowing mountaineering books). The main thing they could have done differently: not gone climbing at all.
When I first got to know Sweeney a few years ago he said, “I don’t even dream of mountains anymore.” But over the weekend he was telling me of the ski runs he took down Flattop over the weekend (note: Flattop is not lift-assisted). So perhaps, after his hip was replaced and the writing of the book exorcised a few daemons, Sweeney is back to dreaming of mountains again.
Charlie and I are talking about the window. The window within which you are climbing at your best. I forget how this topic came up. Probably we were talking about elitism as it relates to climbers and membership in the American Alpine Club, of which Charlie has recently become president. The fact that today the requirement for getting into the club is having a credit card. Charlie, during his window, was as elite as an alpinist can get.
I tell him that I want to go back to the Alaska Range. The climbs I have in mind are not major. He nods.
“It’s a small window,” he says, “a very small window.”
Do you know the great Grace Paley story “A Conversation with My Father?” It is perhaps the ultimate metafictional story, in which a writer tries to write a story to please her dying 86 year old father. The last words of the story belong to the father, he says: “”Tragedy! You too. When will you look it in the face?”
It’s a rhetorical question, right? And I think about it quite a bit, mostly disassociated from the context of the story. The answer is: “not until I absolutely have to.”
I don’t even want to think about the window, the small window. The surgery––minor, I have been assured––is next Thursday. All want to think about is how many powder days I’ll get in before then.