Quote of the day: BOOKS

June 7, 2017

BOOKS

What do you read for solace? For escape? For sheer pleasure?

I read Alice Walker for solace. I love a great deal of her writing, but I always go back to The Color Purple. When I couldn’t afford therapy, I’d read about Celie and her depressing life that was somehow still filled with hope and color. “This life soon be over. Heaven last all ways.” Just reading those two sentences would make me feel better about my own troubles.

For escape, I read David Sedaris. It feels like I’m always on a six-hour plane ride, and I love to take that time to listen to a Sedaris audiobook. His tales about his family, or living in Japan or France, or his part-time job as an elf during Christmas, whispered in my ear as I try my best to sit still and pretend I’m not smelling a million farts trapped in business class, are very soothing.

I read Zane for straight-up pleasure. She is one of my favorite writers for erotica. I’m secretly a weirdo, and I really like reading about people making panicked love to each other when they really shouldn’t. I feel like a lot of Zane’s stories are about forbidden romance, one way or another, and I live for it! Her books always have interesting titles and covers. I remember when I worked in an office as a phone sex operator, I would read her book “Gettin’ Buck Wild” on the train on the way to work while feeling embarrassed when other commuters would see the cover of the book and wink at me. But also I’d be getting some great ideas about what to say to callers once I got to work. The embarrassment was worth it. I made pretty good money on the phones.

What book might people be surprised to find on your shelves?

I have a picture book of X-rays of different household items that people have gotten stuck up their butts. That’s pretty surprising.

If you could require the president to read one book, what would it be?

The president cannot read.

–Gabourey Sidibe, “By The Book,” New York Times


Quote of the day: HOPE

June 6, 2017

HOPE

And we know that by fighting, against all odds, we who had nothing, not even our real names, transformed the universe. Our ancestors did this with very little, and we who have more must do the same. This is the joyous destiny of our people—to bury the arc of the moral universe so deep in justice that it will never be undone. But all the fighting in the world will not help us if we do not also hope. What I’m trying to cultivate is not blind optimism but what the philosopher Jonathan Lear calls radical hope. “What makes this hope radical,” Lear writes, “is that it is directed toward a future goodness that transcends the current ability to understand what it is.” Radical hope is not so much something you have but something you practice; it demands flexibility, openness, and what Lear describes as “imaginative excellence.” Radical hope is our best weapon against despair, even when despair seems justifiable; it makes the survival of the end of your world possible. Only radical hope could have imagined people like us into existence. And I believe that it will help us create a better, more loving future.

–Junot Diaz


From the deep archives: Midnight Oil

June 3, 2017

Robert Gallagher just pointed out a record review I didn’t realize existed on Rolling Stone‘s website — my 1985 review of the Australian band Midnight Oil. I posted it in my online archive, but it’s short so I’ll just run the whole thing here:


Midnight Oil is a politically conscious Australian band whose music combines the postpunk abrasiveness of the Clash and Gang of Four with the Kinks’ music-hall variety and the pure pop of groups like Cheap Trick. Together with the double-barrel guitars of James Moginie and Martin Rotsey and the stunning presence of bald, seven-foot-tall lead singer Peter Garrett, it’s a heady brew. The references to local politics and history that stud the group’s songs and account in large part for its huge appeal down under may seem exotic or puzzling to Americans who don’t know that Kosciusko is the name of the tallest mountain in Australia or who haven’t kept up with the controversial use of shipyards in New Zealand as U.S. missile bases. But the general sense of antimilitarism, support for political prisoners and other forms of humanitarianism comes through even when the specific references are lost. “Jimmy Sharman’s Boxers” broods about the bloodthirst behind boxing matches, and “Who Can Stand in the Way” sarcastically defines the march of progress in a refrain that applies to many other Western countries: “Who can stand in the way when there’s a dollar to be made?”

Well produced by Nick Launay and the band, the album ranges from the exciting hip-hop tape tricks of “When the Generals Talk” to the chiming serenity of “Who Can Stand in the Way,” from songs like “Best of Both Worlds” that practically sound like heavy-metal anthems to odd little ditties (“Bakerman” and “Bells and Horns in the Back of Beyond”). Some of the slower songs drag on too long, and Peter Garrett’s voice, with its broad accent and exaggerated enunciation, isn’t quite as striking as his appearance. But it’s terrific to hear a good band that addresses itself exclusively to public concerns. Red Sails in the Sunset, as John Lydon would say, is not a love song.


Culture Vulture: Robert Rauschenberg at MOMA

June 3, 2017

(click photos to enlarge)

Friends from London were visiting so I took them on a stroll through MOMA’s new show “Robert Rauschenberg: Among Friends.” We lingered over cappucinos and cookies in the cafe so closing time crept up on us before we’d even gotten halfway through the exhibition. I will go back again and again because few artworks I’ve ever seen in person make me as sick with joy as Rauschenberg’s combines, and this show has a whole bunch of them, some classics and some I’ve never seen before, like “Short Circuit.”

I love that the show revolves around Rauschenberg’s collaborations and friendships with fellow artists because they’re so central to his life as an artist. Check out this great photo he took of a young young Cy Twombly.

I’ve never been a big Jasper Johns fan, but I loved this piece, “Target with Four Faces,” especially knowing that the face is that of the late performance artist Rachel Rosenthal.

And then there’s just the whimsy of this little corner of the men’s restroom.

 


In this week’s New Yorker

June 3, 2017

It’s the annual Fiction Issue with the theme of “American Jobs,” and there are two short stories that I liked very much. I’m a big fan of Sherman Alexie, and “Clean, Cleaner, Cleanest” doesn’t disappoint. (In an online-only feature, Alexie talks about how he knows about a motel maid’s experience partly because his sister had that job but also from his own observation: “I have spent hundreds of nights in motels and hotels of widely varying quality, and I pay attention to the lives of people around me, especially the folks who are working in service. I am the guy who will clean and organize his room—towels piled in the tub, garbage in the bins, stray hairs gathered—before checking out so that the maid has it a bit easier. She will spend less time in my room, so she’ll have more time for the messes left behind by the inconsiderate guests. I also tip ten bucks for each night I have been in the room.”)

I started out annoyed with Curtis Sittenfeld’s “Show Don’t Tell” because it seemed to be another insufferably insular tale about writers, set in what I’m guessing is a thinly disguised version of the Iowa Writers Workshop (correct me if I’m wrong), but the author (a woman named Curtis!) takes it in some surprising directions and won me over.

The centerpiece of the issue, though, is one of those classic New Yorker pieces that every caring person should read: Margaret Talbot’s “The Addicts Next Door.” It’s long and deeply depressing article about the opioid epidemic playing itself out in West Virginia. Here are just a few passages reflecting the gravity and hopelessness of the situation.

Talbot spent a lot of time in Berkeley County, WV, following around emergency paramedics Michael Barrett and Jenna Mulligan. “Barrett sometimes had to return several times in one day to the same house—once, a father, a mother, and a teen-age daughter overdosed on heroin in succession. Such stories seemed like twisted variations on the small-town generational solidarity he admired; as Barrett put it, even if one family member wanted to get clean, it would be next to impossible unless the others did, too. He was used to O.D. calls by now, except for the ones in which kids were around. He once arrived at a home to find a seven-year-old and a five-year-old following the instructions of a 911 operator and performing C.P.R. on their parents. (They survived.)”

At another house, the paramedic rescued a man who’d overdosed by treating him with Narcan. “The next week, Barrett’s crew was called back to the same house repeatedly. The man overdosed three times; his girlfriend, once.”

“According to the Charleston Gazette-Mail, between 2007 and 2012 drug wholesalers shipped to West Virginia seven hundred and eighty million pills of hydrocodone (the generic name for Vicodin) and oxycodone (the generic name for OxyContin). That was enough to give each resident four hundred and thirty-three pills. The state has a disproportionate number of people who have jobs that cause physical pain, such as coal mining. It also has high levels of poverty and joblessness, which cause psychic pain. Mental-health services, meanwhile, are scant. Chess Yellott, a retired family practitioner in Martinsburg, told me that many West Virginians self-medicate to mute depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress from sexual assault or childhood abuse. ”

“‘The Changing Face of Heroin Use in the United States,’ a 2014 study led by Theodore Cicero, of Washington University in St. Louis, looked at some three thousand heroin addicts in substance-abuse programs. Half of those who began using heroin before 1980 were white; nearly ninety per cent of those who began using in the past decade were white. This demographic shift may be connected to prescribing patterns. A 2012 study by a University of Pennsylvania researcher found that black patients were thirty-four per cent less likely than white patients to be prescribed opioids for such chronic conditions as back pain and migraines, and fourteen per cent less likely to receive such prescriptions after surgery or traumatic injury.

“But a larger factor, it seems, was the despair of white people in struggling small towns. Judith Feinberg, a professor at West Virginia University who studies drug addiction, described opioids as ‘the ultimate escape drugs.’ She told me, “Boredom and a sense of uselessness and inadequacy—these are human failings that lead you to just want to withdraw. On heroin, you curl up in a corner and blank out the world. It’s an extremely seductive drug for dead-end towns, because it makes the world’s problems go away. Much more so than coke or meth, where you want to run around and do things—you get aggressive, razzed and jazzed.’”

” In 2012, Macy’s opened a distribution center in the Martinsburg area, but, Knowles said, the company has found it difficult to hire longtime residents, because so many fail the required drug test.”

It’s not all gloom and doom. Talbot also meets three women who started the Hope Dealer Project, their volunteer effort to drive people to detox facilities all over the state, and a doctor who gives free public classes to anybody who wants to learn how to reverse overdoses with Narcan. Selfless service, so strong and honorable and moving.

Does it go without saying that, like every other county in West Virginia, Berkeley County voted for Donald Trump?

 


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