Category Archives: Non Sequitorial

yeah, it’s hemingway, but it’s also ken burns

I was always charmed by the legendary story Papa Hemingway created on a bet, the most succinct yet heartbreaking flash fiction of all time, told in just six simple words:

For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn.

What tragedy! What pathos! But then I found out it was complete bullshit, as the story behind the story couldn’t be substantiated. Still, it was a good tale on both sides, and a good choice of carefully chosen words, and if he didn’t create it then someone else surely did. Moreover, it’s an excellent example of Getting Right to the Point. In a literary sense, that was definitely something Ernest Hemingway was an ace at

There’s certain labels you hang on Hemingway when you think of the man or the myth: adventurer, serious drinker, womanizer, the ultimate in toxic masculinity. I’ve had a hard time thinking about the way he dealt with women, Martha Gelhorn, especially, and the way he portrayed some of his female characters. Still, I’ve always respected the parsimonious way he writes, no flowery Faulkner, he. Just straight-to-the-heart or jackhammer prose. I’ve tried to emulate it it though fail often. Doesn’t mean I’m going to stop trying.

Or miss the new miniseries by Ken Burns on PBS starting next week: Hemingway: The Man. The Myth. The Writer Revealed. I‘m always interested in a writer’s process, as it helps me understand my own. Also because I can use all the help I can get.

SPRING PEEPERS

As I sit here, just coming off of another synchronous online class, my husband walks in with a handful of these lovely blue flowers that just busted through the yard outside. Crocuses — or is it croci? — is what they are, one of the first harbingers of spring, and that perhaps things won’t always stay as shitty as they are now. It’s March 10, and last week we were still shoving aside the snow that collected near our walks and driveways, and now it’s 62 degrees outside. Today, between classes, I ate my lunch out on the deck (standing up, my picnic table still encased in plastic). The sun’s out, daylight savings time comes back this weekend, I have a vaccine appointment scheduled (for May, but at least it’s a date), and a new book to finish. Are things looking up? Those flowers seem to think so. Maybe they’re onto something.

When snow drifts into Chicanery

I’m in Jersey, and this week we had a bit of a snow event that dropped anywhere from nothing to two feet in a couple of days, I’m in the middle part of the state, and we fell somewhere south of center with eight inches. (I must refer to my region as “middle” because if you want contention among North/South Jersey natives, just saying Central Jersey will spark a bar fight right up there with Pork Roll vs. Taylor Ham.) Coming off of this storm I can’t help feeling cheated, because as a college professor, I know that even the threat of a few inches will send the school administration into a frenzy on how soon and how long to shut down the campus.

But in this time of pandemic, most all of our classes are remote, unless you’re taking labs on campus for courses in biology or chemistry, or in the nursing or funeral services program. Which mean an English teacher like me is cheated out of the pleasures of a Snow Day, with business as usual. So where’s the fairness in that?

In The Way the World Used To Work, when College was a living, breathing, tangible experience, a Snow Day would mean the campus would shut down,  and there would be no classes for the day.  We would be awakened before dawn by a campus alert via phone or text, find out the joyous news, then scurry back to our warm beds for an extra hour of sleep, looking forward to binging Netflix in our jammies, building snow creatures, or other such indulgences. But now, in the Alternate Universe, instead of staying home we’re already there, and we get to do the same thing we’re doing every day.

T’int right, t’int fair, t’int proper.

Ah well, one more thing to look forward to, right?

Is it 2021 yet?

Has 2020 all been a bad dream? Or is this a reality I’ve actually been living through? I remember sitting on my sofa around mid-March, when someone on TV said we’d probably be sheltering in place for the foreseeable future. I actually laughed, finding that simply incredible. Well, it was no joke, because after a brief mirage called “summer,” we’re doing it again, and for who-knows-how-long.

And now we’ve come upon the holidays, and there’s nothing about them that seems normal. The only thing that does is the perennial hope the New Year brings, and I don’t think anyone will argue 2021 doesn’t carry extra weight. The next year carries equal measures of portent and potential, and I for one can’t wait to get on with it.

Here’s hoping it’s a good one as I remain, ever optimistic.  See you on the next calendar page.

Hittin the Holiday Film Vault

Movies are my favorite form of escapism, and when I first posted this list a while ago, the only diversion I needed was one from the over-commercialism of the season. How quaint that seems now. Without going into the reasons why, let’s just take these little gems for what they’re worth, a short vacation out of a reality that’s become too grim of late. So get cozy, grab the popcorn and lose yourself in these trifles of holiday storytelling.

1. The Shop Around the Corner ( 1940) – Must be my Eastern European blood calling to me, but I just love this sparkling Ernst Lubitsch romance set in a prewar Budapest gift shop. Starring James Stewart and Margaret Sullivan as two battling sales clerks who don’t know they’re falling in love via the post, as each other’s anonymous pen pal. Stellar secondary characters, including a priceless William Tracy as the cheeky delivery boy, Pepi. The Christmas Eve menu at the end had me salivating.

2. The Man Who Came to Dinner ( 1942) – After dining at a Ohio local’s home during a  lecture tour, notoriously acerbic radio personality Sheridan Whiteside slips on his hosts’ icy steps, and takes over not only their house but their lives. Starring Monty Woolley as The Man and Bette Davis as his aide-de-camp, the snark and sarcasm are so sharp and quick you’ll come away nicked but you’ll be laughing too hard to care. Still fresh over seventy years later, The Man is based on Algonquin Roundtable-er, Alexander Woolcott, his cronies thin veneers of Noel Coward, Harpo Marx, Gertrude Lawrence and all who were definitely in-crowd.

3. Holiday Affair (1949) – No one did heavy-lidded better than The Mitch, and the very fact that he actually made a holiday film piqued my curiosity enough to watch it. Just by the look of this poster you could see the only thing that remotely indicated that it had anything to do with Christmas was war-widow’s Janet Leigh’s sheer wrapping definitely promised presents for someone. Oh, somewhere among the movie’s a plot involving a department store clerk and a retail spy, a sassy kid, a train set, a jilted–oh who cares! Mitch smolders and Janet’s a brush fire waiting to happen.

4. A Christmas Story ((1983) – All nine-year-old Ralphie wants for Christmas is a genuine Red Ryder BB gun, and he’ll do darn near anything to get it. Based on the recollections of storyteller Jean Shepherd’s In God We Trust – All Others Pay Cash, Peter Billingsley had the part of a lifetime that until this day loops every Christmas on cable channel TBS. Darren McGavin ought to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award for one priceless part as Ralphie’s dad who spouts the immortal words, “It’s a major award!”

5. The Holiday (2006) – Don’t ask me why I like this story of American movie trailer maker Cameron Diaz, and English wedding column writer Kate Winslet who swap their respective Hollywood and Surrey homes for the Christmas holidays. Maybe it’s got something to do with Jude Law being tossed into the mix, I don’t know, but the whole thing sure sounds like a good idea to me.

happy effing thanksgiving

Seriously. I mean, what else can happen? Haven’t we already been though the grinder–how many times this year? How much more fucked up can it get before 2020 calls it a day? How many people are afraid of the answer to that? All I know is it’s thirty-six days and counting until we can nail this bastard shut. Then it’s only twenty more days until, well, you know. Hanging on until then.

Happy Thanksgiving to all…well. What else can you call yourselves besides survivors?

RIP John Lewis

I met John Lewis at an author breakfast at BEA in New York in 2012 for his book “March,” where Diana Gabaldon and Chris Matthews were also featured. After their panel, the authors stuck around for to sign the books we all received gratis, his being a thin preview copy. He was the first one I went to, and bending from the stage, Mr. Lewis graciously took the time to talk to me as I told him I’d like to teach his book in my classes. It was so noisy in there, I can’t exactly recall what he said. Or maybe it was just I was so awed as I knew I was speaking to history. The dedication in the book he signed for me still speaks today.

Are you brave enough for video?

I was in a work Zoomer last week, when the first thing I did when logging one was turn on the camera. Out of six people, I quickly found out I was the only one who turned theirs on. So I asked why, and was told since we’re home, we’re being casual. So “casual” means no camera. Got it. So I went to get some consensus from my friends. One of them told me she hasn’t worn a bra since March for her meetings. Another bud told me he usually has a drink in hand. No one wears shoes. Some like to photobomb with their cats, but never with kids.  Meetings are one way to escape them for an hour. I for one always wear make-up and earrings. And I’m no camera wuss. Neh-vah.

Staying physically distant is about as patriotic as you can get

Happy Fourth of July everyone! Feel free to go outside and barbecue in the virus-dispelling air. Swill copious beers to clear your mind from all the bullshit that’s been clogging it these last few months. You also have my permission to have a second hot dog. What the hell–we have worse issues than our salt and nitrate intake. Like COVIDIOTS that think mask wearing is a deep state conspiracy. So you think this virus is a hoax? That it’ll just “go away?” Oh…rrrright, like that crusty oozing bleeding cold sore that comes back whenever you’re stressing. Hey, remember the chicken pox you had when your were six? Wait until it does a scabby revisit all over your body as shingles. They were viruses too!

But who wants to think about them now. It’s a holiday! Party like it’s 2019!