Unreasonable Words? Steven Wright:

I’ve always loved this joke of his:

“I woke up one morning and looked around the room. Something wasn’t right. I realized that someone had broken in the night before and replaced everything in my apartment with an exact replica. I couldn’t believe it…I got my roommate and showed him. I said, “Look at this–everything’s been replaced with an exact replica!” He said, “Do I know you?”

Reasonable Words: On Reading

Eliazabeth Hardwick, interviewed by the Paris Review:

“As I have grown older I see myself as fortunate in many ways. It is fortunate to have had all my life this passion for studying and enjoying literature and for trying to add a bit to it as interestingly as I can. This passion has given me much joy, it has given me friends who care for the same things, it has given me employment, escape from boredom, everything. The greatest gift is the passion for reading. It is cheap, it consoles, it distracts, it excites, it gives you knowledge of the world and experience of a wide kind. It is a moral illumination.”

In a fine NYTimes obit of her written by Christopher Lehmann-Haupt she relates,

““Even when I was in college, ‘down home,’ [in Kentucky] I’m afraid my aim was — if it doesn’t sound too ridiculous — my aim was to be a New York Jewish intellectual,” she told an interviewer in 1979. “I say ‘Jewish’ because of their tradition of rational skepticism; and also a certain deracination appeals to me — and their openness to European culture.”

I’m with you, Elizabeth, reading, skepticism, and displacement, preferably on the Upper West Side, but for now a coffee shop in Takoma Park will have to do in my particular case.

Poem: David Slavitt

A Cambridge (MA) poet whose work I’ve always admired (and who is hilariously candid in readings, if you get the chance go see him.)

A good example of his style.

Repetition by David R. Slavitt

Somewhere between the rehearsals and reenactments
there must be–we suppose–a performance we either
perceive or whimsically choose and declare as the real

thing to which past and future, knowing or not,
all along referred. That welter of repetitions
turns out in the end not to have been so free,

as meaning imposes or, like the dumb sun, dawns,
and objects that swam in an indeterminate sea
of diffident potential assume their recalcitrant

shapes. So it is with events we thought we knew
rather too well. Beginnings and endings are clear,
but middles, that murk where significance often lurks,

are tricky, and joy, which ought to be easy enough
to recognize, defies the fastest tripping
shutter or eyelash flutter and, sly, furtive,

shy as a timid child, is abruptly gone,
leaving us searching, rummaging high and low,
(those, I’m afraid, are the usual places) looking

for some faint trace or imprint. Exceptional moments?
Diversions, mostly. Experience, where we live,
is lying down each night, disposed the same way

on the same bedding we tidied that morning. The rumples
we smoothed mean more than the wretched or splendid dreams
our souls proposed while our bodies shifted or thrashed.

What’s hard to see is whatever the blasé eye
assumes as we tread our daily round: a flash
of red as a cardinal crosses the sky, we’ll remark,

looking up, and ignore how our path leads gently downward.

Reminds me of Aaron Copland’s idea of repetition as the basic principle in all music: you only have two choices in a piece, do the same thing or something different. So it is in life…

Lists: Books You Don’t Need

I’m fond of the motto of the Montague (MA) Bookmill, “Books you don’t need in a place you can’t find.” A list today of books you don’t need, courtesy of Roger Angell’s Let Me Finish.

Beginning Polo
Music in Geriatric Care
Adultery and Divorce in Calvin’s Geneva
Pray Your Weight Away
Selected Lithuanian Short Stories
Toilet Training in Less Than A Day
Modern Volleyball
The Sexual Christian
The Law and Your Dog
Septic Tank Practices
Successful Fundraising Sermons
The Handbook of Wrestling Drills
The Father of Air Conditioning
Creative Insomnia
What Can I Do with My Juicer?
Hamtramck Then and Now
The Personality of the Horse
Breaking Your Horse’s Bad Habits
The Passaic River
Refrigeration in America
All About Guppies
The Best of Stanley G. Weinbaum
Haikus for Jews
An Essay on Calcareous Manures
Meet Calvin Coolidge
Knitting with Dog Hair

These are all from the bookshelf of the late Gardner Botsford, a longtime editor of the New Yorker. His office, reports Angell, was near where books destined (or not) to be reviewed by the magazine were delivered. Over the years he collected these obscure, yet earnest titles, which, as Angell puts it, “became a solace for him and his colleagues.” Angell’s recollections of Botsford, less well known than other editorial stars of the magazine, including Angell’s own stepfather, E.B. White, are lovely as is the whole book.


In consulting with my mother-in-law about her trip to DC next week (fireworks, museums, lots of long walks, being that I’m the events director and that’s how I roll), I asked which Smithsonian museums she’d like to see.

Her: “I like American Art”
Me: “There is a museum devoted to that, and a George Bellows show is in town at the National Gallery.”
Her: “That’s good.”
Me: “Just go to the Smithsonian web site and click on links for the American Art Museum to see details.”
Dead silence.
Her: “Okay, but what the hell is a link?”

Richard Saiz on Avoiding Potholes

Got the chance to catch up with Richard Saiz at Silver Docs (the Silver Spring Documentary Festival that just wrapped up). Richard is an award-winning documentarian, former ITVS programmer, and script doctor extraordinaire.

His four guidelines for film writers, (unfairly boiled down into bullets, but it’s a blog!)

  1. Theme: Don’t forget about the theme of your story (yes, plot drives it, but everything has to connect to the larger theme).
  2. Characters: Are your characters vivid and interesting enough to inspire viewer interest? (Given that I have wanted to do a documentary on math which would use equations as ‘characters’ I think he’d say I need some help in this dept.)
  3. Backstory: it needs to be there to answer key questions, but not so present that it seeps into the foreground of the film.
  4. Plot drift: Does the narrative move forward or veer into interesting, but off topic, excursions?

Parallel to advice in other types of writing. If it doesn’t earn its place on the page, out it goes. (Not a rule I find easy to follow.)

Two films he holds up as examples of getting it right:

The Education of Shelby Knox and The Cats of Mirikitani

Neither of which I’ve seen, and both of which are on NetFlix Streaming.

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