Quote of the day: GAYDAR

July 16, 2017

GAYDAR

I have a friend whose 15-year-old son seems gay to me. He doesn’t date, and my gaydar is usually on target. I hate to meddle. But this friend also has a habit of saying derogatory things about gay people, often under cover of her religious beliefs. Can I tell her about her son? It may stop her hurtful behavior.BEV

Proceed directly to the nearest phone and dial 1-800-BE-QUIET. I know you mean well. But speculating about anyone’s sexuality, particularly a child’s, can be dangerous and is none of your business. In other breaking news, great gaydar is nothing to brag about; it only means that you’re often a busybody. Of course, none of this stops you from calling out the mother on her homophobic statements. Say, “I don’t agree with you, and I’d prefer not to hear any more of it.” No need to implicate the son to stand up for human decency.

–Philip Galanes, “Social Q’s,” New York Times


Quote of the day: TOSCANINI

July 4, 2017

TOSCANINI

On the night of June 30, 1886, Arturo Toscanini — recently turned 19 — arrived, barely on time, at the imperial opera house in Rio de Janeiro, where the touring company for which he was the principal cellist was about to perform “Aida.” Pandemonium. The unpopular lead conductor had resigned in a huff. His unpopular replacement had been shouted off the podium by the audience. There was no one else. Toscanini, who was also assistant choral master, was thrust forward by his colleagues. “Everyone knew about my memory,” he would recall, “because the singers had all had lessons with me, and I had played the piano without ever looking at the music.” He was handed a baton and just started to conduct. A triumph! Typical of the glowing reviews: “This beardless maestro is a prodigy who communicated the sacred artistic fire to his baton and the energy and passion of a genuine artist to the orchestra.” For the remaining six weeks of the tour, Harvey Sachs tells us in his biography “Toscanini: Musician of Conscience,” the maestro led the orchestra in 26 performances of 12 operas, all from memory. No one offered him a raise, and it didn’t occur to him to ask for one.

–Robert Gottlieb, reviewing Harvey Sachs biography of Toscanini in the New York Times


Quote of the day: WRITING

June 27, 2017

WRITING

One of the few things I know about writing is this: Spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. The impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you.

–Annie Dillard, The Writing Life


Quote of the day: WHITMAN

June 21, 2017

WHITMAN

Walt Whitman passionately adopted the garb of Soldier’s Missionary. He began to develop a routine – the essential infrastructure of any profession. He started, as he said, by “fortifying myself with previous rest, the bath, clean clothes, a good meal, and as cheerful an appearance as possible.” Before he sallied forth, he prepared a grab bag of treats, including candy, fruit, writing supplies, tobacco, socks, cookies, underwear. He would then set forth to the hospital wards and sessions of “visiting” that might last anywhere from two hours to four or five hours. He embraced his work with everything he had. “Behold,” he had written earlier in Leaves of Grass (as if foreshadowing his work in the hospitals), “I do not give lectures or a little charity. When I give I give myself.”

–Stephen Cope, The Great Work of Your Life


In last week’s New Yorker

June 19, 2017

Before even having a look at this week’s issue, I want to make some notes about last week’s unusually good issue.

First of all, I hope Rachel Aviv has a really good therapist. She consistently does in-depth, long-term reporting on some of the most grim topics in American society, exposing herself to endless accounts of trauma and abuse. Her story “Memories of a Murder” is a perfect example. In the tiny town of Beatrice, Nebraska, a 68-year-old widow was raped and murdered in 1987. The crime remained unsolved for two years until a farmer who enjoyed watching crime shows on television took on the job of unpaid private investigator and with the expert advice of a local psychologist succeeded in concocting a story that resulted in the arrest and conviction of six small-town residents, several of them mentally ill or developmentally disabled. Years later a DNA test showed that the blood and semen at the crime site belonged to a juvenile delinquent whose grandmother lived in the same building and had subsequently died of AIDS.  The point of Aviv’s long, absorbing article is that detectives and psychological professionals can be so attached to a narrative that they can convince innocent people that they committed crimes they had nothing to do with. (Online the title of the article is more pointed: “Remembering the Murder You Didn’t Commit.”)But it’s also a dismaying tale about the ignorance and preconceptions that face outsiders in a small town.

To balance out the grimness, there’s David Sedaris writing about his alcoholic mother (“Why Aren’t You Laughing?”) and another brilliant Shouts & Murmurs piece by Paul Rudnick, “Jared & Ivanka’s Guide to Mindful Marriage.” My favorite: “Family is everything. We treasure the special moments, like the time our kids used their crayons to make Jared a construction-paper subpoena. We have game nights, when we play such favorites as Pin the Tail on Whoever’s Out of Favor, Let’s Dress Jeff Sessions in Doll Clothes, and Who Can Hug Mommy Without Touching Her Hair?”

I got through college without having to read “The Confessions of St. Augustine.” Esteemed classicist Stephen Greenblatt, in “The Invention of Sex,” makes him sound even more entertainingly bizarre than I imagined, with his account of a spiritual orgasm shared with his mother and his fixation on how “some people can do things with their bodies that others find impossible. ‘Some people can even move their ears, either one at a time or both together.’ Others, as he personally had witnessed, could sweat whenever they chose, and there were even people who could ‘produce at will such musical sounds from their behind (without any stink) that they seem to be singing from that region.”’ ”


What else? Zadie Smith writes a beautifully detailed and empathetic profile decoding the work of a young black British painter and writer named Lynette Yiadom-Boakye (“A Bird of Few Words”). I enjoyed reading Andrew Sean Greer’s short story “It’s a Summer Day,” though I couldn’t help noticing that it’s the second piece of fiction the New Yorker has published in a month that centers on a writer winning an obscure prize. I admire critic-at-large Kelefa Sanneh’s music writing, though his essay “The Persistence of Prog-Rock” indulges in some historical revisionism. When I was growing up, contemporary bands like Yes, King Crimson, Genesis, and Emerson, Lake, and Palmer were viewed as “art-rock,” a different flavor but related to Zappa and the Mothers, David Bowie, and other arty rockers. And my memory is that the term “prog-rock” was never used in those days. It’s been tossed around familiarly only in retrospect by the people who weren’t even alive then.


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