A Tourist in the Ice Age

macari-tourist-circle Throughout human history, our ancestors have been exploring beneath the earth’s surface; they have lived there, made art there, performed rituals there. Ancient myths—think Orpheus and Eurydice—reflect knowledge and memory of the underground, of another world beneath or within or contiguous to our world, where the earth’s membrane is open at places and we can enter at will. And we did enter, leaving art, tools, footprints...

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April is the Cruelest Month

Angel statue April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
- T.S. Eliot – The Wasteland
Eliot was right, at least as far as my family is concerned. On Easter Sunday, April 6, 1996, my brother Bernie went to dinner at the home of family friends. By all accounts he ate well and laughed and left saying he’d see everyone later. Then he went home and hanged himself.

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Aristotle’s Ghost

Aristotles Ghost

Why do the differences among us lead to ridicule, to sneering, even to hate? Is prejudice inevitable? There seems to be a kind of terrible logic operating here, a hateful syllogism: People are different; differences create prejudice; people are prejudiced. As a scientist, an evolutionary biologist, I worry that it could be the way we are made, a hard-wired trap.

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Around the Block

virginia-woolf-bookcover-circleIn her essay A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf says that “a woman must have money and a room of one’s own if she is to write fiction.” And for a while, I had it all.

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Ask the Philosopher: Can We Say What We Mean?

1 thing and 2 “That’s not what I said.”   “But, that’s what I heard.”    “What you heard is not what I meant.” All of us have had similar exchanges. And yet, we often ask ourselves, why does this happen? Why the misunderstanding? The obvious answer is that either the person who was speaking wasn’t clear, or we weren’t listening carefully. But, if the speaker was clear and we were listening, we have just encountered a deeper source of confusion. To understand this deeper level, we have to ask how is it possible to have meaning in our lives at all? How do we recognize meaning?

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Auschwitz, Stutthof, and Remembrance

StutthofJanuary marked the 68th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the Nazi death camp in Birkenau, Poland. It’s estimated that between 1.1 million and 1.5 million people were killed, 90% of which were Jews; but also 19,000 Roma (Gypsies), and 83,000 Poles. Marina Gottlieb Sarles, a regular contributor to Wild River Review, wrote a historical novel, The Last Daughter of Prussia about the death camps in her ancestral homeland, East Prussia. As part of her research, she and her husband visited the first German Death Camp, Stutthof, which opened in 1941.

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Babe in the Woods: F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Unlikely Summer in Montana

Babe In July 1915, a fresh-faced young man got off a train and presented himself at a working cattle-and-sheep ranch in the North Fork of the Smith River, a few miles outside of White Sulphur Springs, Montana. He was slender - about 5'8," 150 pounds - and handsome, with champagne-colored hair and blue-green eyes. He carried himself so lightly on the balls of his feet that his wife later wrote, "There seemed to be some heavenly support beneath his shoulder blades that lifted his feet from the ground in ecstatic suspension, as if he secretely enjoyed the ability to fly but was walking as a compromise to convention."

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Brushing By

sutton-brushing-circle At the conference President Zuma spoke via satellite about economic opportunities awaiting foreign investors in Africa; “The conference serves as a key platform to drive engagement around critical economic issues on the continent and to connect decision-makers,” he said to an audience that included thirty-five Chinese CEOs. Two South African high school students sat primly on stage articulating their goals, one to advance technology, the other to practice law. Graca Machel, Mandela’s wife, spoke about the need for African men to view all women as if they were their own wives and daughters so that entrenched traditions condoning abuse would begin to unravel.

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Drumming & Dancing on the Planet of Women

drums - image for drumming and dancing I have been reading THE BOOKSELLER OF KABUL and READING LOLITA IN TEHRAN. The cover of the former features two figures shrouded in dark blue chadors, or burkas; whatever one calls them they efface female identity. Swedish author Asne Seierstad experienced the suffocating canvas, first-hand. She lived with the Afghan Bookseller’s family and went shopping with his daughters; watched them denied education, and married off against their will.

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End Times Down at the Kingdom Hall

joy-endtime-1-wave-circle Oh, they were swingin’ Down at the Kingdom Hall Oh, bells were ringing’
Down at the Kingdom Hall
A choir was singing’
Down at the Kingdom Hall
Van Morrison

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Excerpt from The Enchanted Desna

Alexander Dovzhenko Alexander Dovzhenko was born into a peasant family in the Desna River area in Northeast Ukraine in 1894. The autobiography of his early years recalls childhood pleasures in this idyllic setting, later disrupted by years of colonial oppression.

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Fire and Blood of Poetry

blackbird The fire and blood of poetry live in the poet’s imagination. This imagination, shaped by past and current experiences, is what gives a poet’s work its special flavor, its uniqueness. Form, imagery, the sounds a poet gives a poem all reflect the poet’s energy, personality, and spirit.

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Green Heirlooms

Green Heirlooms From the sharp eyes and skilled hands of my great-grandmother, Rose Wilson Ware, or just Maw, come herbal remedies from slavery time. Born into bondage around 1851 near Partlow, Virginia, Maw lived until 1964, 113 years. For Maw and many another enslaved black folks, herbal medicine meant survival. The doctor was called only in desperate cases, Maw used to say.

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I’m Not a Psychic But . . .

photo by Eric SteginskyThere are a few things I know with utmost certainty. Most of this knowledge has been revealed to me during the last decade or so of my life.

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Ice and White Sky

dogA truck pulled up to my neighbor’s house this morning; four men descended and installed a black wrought-iron fence seven feet high around the property. A screen of pines and birch obscures their house from ours, and already we don’t speak, we know our boundaries. These prison bars going up around the most benign cottages and colonials perform a reverse function: Good fences keep deer out. Deer amble down Main Street, munch pansies by the front door, and dictate the selection of shrubs. My dog plods by them on his leash and fails to recognize their presence as though the natural laws have changed; the chase is gone.

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Israel

Ben Gurion and Gunter DavidAfter miles of desolation, green fields appear suddenly, like a mirage, in the heart of the Negev desert. And beyond the fields lives David Ben Gurion.
The ride from Tel Aviv had been a long one—three hours by car, and much of it through desert. Although it was April, when the dry season had long begun in Israel, it rained almost the whole way, and when it did not rain, the skies were almost black.

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Jesus and the Guinea Pig

Jesus and a guinea pig: words you rarely find together in the same sentence — or in the same religious encyclopedia, for that matter. But in the convent of San Francisco in Quito, Ecuador, I not only found them in the same sentence muttered by passersby, I also found them in the same painting.

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Lean Forward, Stand Back

Lynn Margulis in Mexico “In the arithmetic of life, One is always Many.” – Lynn Margulis
Lynn Margulis, biologist and Distinguished Professor of Geosciences, composed a grand and powerful view of the living and the non-living. Integrating the work of obscure Russian scientists, DNA pulled from cell organelles, computer-generated daisies, and the hindguts of termites, her vision was wider in scope and more profound in depth than any other coherent scientific world view. At the time of her death on November 22nd, 2011, it was and is a vision that remains misunderstood and misconstrued by many scientists.

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Me and Cancer

Me and Cancer And so… And so… I have breast cancer. Nodes are involved so chemo and radiation for me. It will take a week or two to sort out exactly what kinds of Draino to use, how many, how often, where, etc. but it’s clear it means a no guilt lazy couple of months. It’s generally a good sign that I’ve been napping a lot and luxuriating in it. If I was near death’s door I imagine myself as the kind of person who would realize she would never feel better and cheerfully go out dancing or swim the English Channel. It’s such a relief to just cuddle up with a good book and listen to the rain. It has rained an awful lot lately hasn’t it? Or has it been one long day?

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Me and Edvard Munch

Me and MunchOne spring morning my friend Mary Lou and I went to see the Edvard Munch exhibit at the National Gallery of Art. It was a blockbuster show of 240 paintings. I knew Munch from THE SCREAM and not much else. The exhibition notes were chilling: “For several years I was almost mad…” Munch said, “You know my picture, ‘The Scream’?’’ I was stretched to the limit–nature was screaming in my blood… After that I gave up hope ever of being able to love again.”

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Not Fade Away

from Not Fade Away album cover The bodies lay in a snowy field for nine hours before anyone found them. By then, they were certainly frozen. It was 18 degrees when, just after midnight on February 3, 1959, pilot Roger Peterson, disoriented by darkness and blowing snow, powered his red-and-white Beechcraft Bonanza at 170 mph into an Iowa stubble field. Peterson died in the smashed cockpit, but his three passengers were thrown clear. The Big Bopper lay about 40 feet north of the plane. Ritchie Valens was on the south side, 17 feet away. And Buddy Holly rested nearby in his yellow leather jacket, partially covered by snow that had been falling softly all night.

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Octopuses and Ink, Lightning and Lightning Bugs

lj-octopuses-circle Anyone who takes writing seriously knows it’s like making laws or making sausage: we know too much about what goes into it. There is no such thing as a writer who has not faced his or her job with a mixture of fear and loathing.  As the great sportswriter Red Smith put it, “Writing is easy. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.”   It gets worse. Consider the nature writer Annie Dillard: “I do not so much as write a book as sit up with it, as with a dying friend…I hold its hand and hope it will get better.”

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Of Hitchhikers and Writers

short-story newcomer Nam LeWhen is a hitchhiker like a writer? What happens in the moment one decides whether or not to pick up that hitchhiker? Or pick up a book, for that matter. These brainteasers and other burning questions were addressed at an intriguing Pen/World Voices event at New York’s Morgan Library on a rainy, windblown afternoon. Billed as a “writers’ conversation” about the art of the short story between much-honored veteran novelist, essayist and short-story writer Richard Ford and much-lauded short-story newcomer Nam Le, it was more of an interview than a conversation.

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Orlando’s House

Orlando My sister Alicia takes out a small stack of old photographs. They are glossy enlargements and Havana’s humidity has curled their edges. Alicia has been waiting twenty-four years for me to come visit this island and identify the people her mother, my father’s ex-wife, never talks about. “Do you know whose faces these are?” Alicia asks. “Are they related to us?” They are; I recognize them immediately. “ÁSí! These are pictures of Yolanda and Nibardo’s wedding.” I begin to point everyone out, starting with the bride in her fifties style balloon-sleeved, white dress. Yolanda married my paternal grandmother’s youngest brother and emigrated to the United States with him.

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Our First Language

Students learn poetry and laughI believe poetry belongs in every kid’s backpack. Poetry came to me through stories read by my parents at night, songs learned on the playground, and my first grade teacher, whose poetry curriculum was also a primer in paying attention and speaking with purpose. For me poetry is akin to my favorite garden shovel: always on hand for fun and difficult work alike. I use poetry to dig through questions. On October 31, 2011 our world population passed 7 billion, and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon posed us these worthy queries: What kind of world has baby 7 billion been born into? What kind of world do we want for our children in the future?

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Peace Among Cousins?

Peace among Cousins imageAs Israel and the Palestinians sit down yet again to discuss plans for a possible renewal of peace talks after years of failed negotiations, one needs to recall memories of friendship once enjoyed by these Semitic cousins, Arabs and Jews. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced recently that any agreement between Israel and the Palestinians will have to be approved by his country’s voters. Government approval won’t be enough, he said. This procedure could complicate matters, possibly hindering a positive outcome. Years of wars and on-and-off negotiations for peace tend to overshadow centuries of the past.

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Place Amongst the Stars

schimmel-stars-circle

“The East belongs to God
The West belongs to God
north and southern lands
rest in the peace of His hands,
He, the sole just ruler,
intends the right things for every one,
Among His hundred names
– be this one glorified and praised
Amen.”

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Political Mythology and Other Illusions

Political Mythology The American political landscape is littered with illusions. For example, take the misconceptions surrounding the word socialism. Many Americans think the label is the coup de grace, a self-evident condemnation, a foreign import with no place in our history. They regard it as a system encouraging a nation of layabouts hanging on to the state which grabs the goodies of industrious self-reliant citizens and distributes their money to the lazy.

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Producing Peltier: The Hollywood Pitch Meeting

Producing Peltier 1 Like a merit badge for any self-respecting creative, I like to remind myself that I once actually lived in Los Angeles. Yes, smack dab in Hollywood. Our neighborhood was tucked against the base of the enchanted hills, a checkerboard of crack head hovels and lavish apartment buildings, filled with multi-talented hipsters, way too young to be such a deep shade of jade. I once got enthusiastic help lifting a refrigerator up the stairs of my building from a bona fide rock star, who apparently had been surreptitiously hiding in the nearby bushes.

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Producing Peltier: Walking the Red Road to the Red Carpet

Producing Peltier ...Let it be known that Leonard Peltier is a spiritual warrior who shares the heart of our ancestors who fought for the rights of our people, such as Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull. As a Sun Dancer, he has sacrificed his life to the People, so they may have happiness and peace once again. I pray that his words become etched in the minds and hearts of all people and that the wounds on his soul heal. And I ask those who continue to inflict such pain and suffering on him to see the error of their ways.... From Introduction by Argol Looking Horse - Leonard Peltier, Prison Writings: My Life Is My Sun Dance

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Punch a Hole in the World

Active Dreaming book cover To understand dreams and reclaim the practice of imagination, we must look to the master teachers: our inner children, and the children around us. When very young, children know how to go to Magic Kingdoms without paying for tickets, because they are at home in the imagination and live close to their dreams. When she was four years old, my daughter Sophie had adventures in a special place called Teddy Bear Land, where she met a special friend. I loved hearing about these travels, and encouraged her to make drawings and spin further stories from them.

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Reclaiming Friday the 13th

Kali

In any age, whether we consider it modern or not, we can rest assured that for our species superstition trumps intellect. The next time you’re in an elevator try to press the number 13, although more than likely you won’t find it. For a split second you’ll be glad it’s not there because unspeakable horrors await anyone who alights on that floor: Demons and witches and blood baths.

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Science: What is the God Particle and Why Should I Care?

Hadron colliderSo much sound and fury over the Higgs Boson, signifying what? A complete understanding of the fundamental constituents of the world in which we live? Of the universe of which we are an integral part? No … and yes. High-energy physicists at CERN, the European Center for Nuclear Research, home of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) announced last week they are closer than ever to detecting the apparently hallowed boson — or possibly it is called God Particle merely for mass consumption. Its quantification would at once provide breathtaking insights into the infinitesimal domain affecting Earthly life and to the composition of the entire universe, a broad range, indeed.

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Sending Joan Didion a Friend Request

Sending Joan Didion a Friend Request

So, you’re looking at the number of friends you have on Facebook and it’s, well, pretty scant. Some of those in your circle have, like, a thousand friends and you’re feeling pretty down about it and you think you’ll add to your list and so you decide to see if Joan Didion has a Facebook account.

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Song Lyrics as Literature

Song lyrics as literature Lyrics are flash stories; they are poems, they contain elements of memoir; in some cases, they address personal themes, at times universal. Lyrics reflect the individual journey or cultural observations of the songwriter. They are a serious art form. But are they literature? Although there are many definitions of literature, my bookshelf copy of Webster’s New World Dictionary offers the following:

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Stay Lucky

train

One rainy evening in April as I headed through Philadelphia on the West Trenton local, a very large man bent over me and asked in a very small voice if he could sit next to me. “It’s only three stops,” he said.

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The Extraordinary Lives of Lorenzo Da Ponte and Nathaniel Wallich

DaPonte and Wallich Being Jewish in a Christian world has always been fraught with difficulties. The oppression of the Jews in Europe for most of the last two millennia was sanctioned by law and without redress. Valued less than cattle, herded into small enclosed districts, restricted from owning land or entering any profession, and subject to random violence and expulsion at any time, the majority of Jews lived a harsh life.1 The Nazis used this ancient technique of de-humanization and humiliation before they hit on the idea of expunging the Jews altogether.

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The Margulis Variations

Lynn MargulisWhile I wrote much of this essay, I played Glenn Gould’s interpretations of Bach’sGoldberg Variations. Lynn listened to only classical music and introduced me to Gould. The radio in her kitchen was always tuned to WFCR and stayed there as long as the programming included classical music. The volume was typically loud and it was on whether she was home or away from the house. And so, watching and listening to Glenn Gould reminds me of Lynn.

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The Unpossessed Country

Kythera In the early autumn of 1969 I spent a month on Kythera, an island off the southern Peloponnese. Here, with my wife, Lili, I wrote my first play while Lili translated a novel by Anais Nin. I was in flight from an America in the throes of the Vietnam War and under the grip of Richard Nixon. Greece itself was in the third year of a CIA-sponsored military dictatorship. We traveled afterwards around the Mediterranean, a journey that forms the remainder of The Unpossessed Country. Robert Zaller

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There Used To Be a Township Here

Katrina aftermath How can a Mississippi town hammered by Hurricane Katrina lose its physical assets — it’s homes, schools, shops, parks and buildings — but not lose its sense of community and its cultural identity? In fact, how can it have any hope at all?

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Three Myths about Art and Success

from Baby Can Dance video My five-year anniversary of professional musicianship passed in August, and I was too busy making a record, touring, and driving back and forth to New Orleans to notice until now. I guess that’s as it should be. Five years of doing this thing – and I mean REALLY DOING IT, pouring in all of my time and energy and passion and nights-and-daydreams – has given me a whole lot of thoughts, feelings, and surprises. Below are some of my favorite myths, and the myths that begot them.

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What We Can Learn From the Summer of 1915

dejong-what-circle One hundred years ago this month, a 5-year-old boy spread a quilt and lay with his parents on the grass of the backyard of their house in Knoxville, Tenn. On this summer night, he listened to the music of the evening — the murmur of neighbors talking on porches, the clop-clop of horses on the street, the hissing of hoses watering lawns, the rasping of locusts and crickets, and the flopping of a few frogs in the dewy grass. He watched the last fireflies flicker out and he wondered who he was.

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Wisdom from Our Foremothers: Brenda Ueland and Katherine Anne Porter

Katherine Ann PorterWild River Review’s proposal to launch a Slow Web Movement has struck a chord with me. I know that slowing down is important, but I find myself thinking, “I don’t have time to slow down.” My husband is working eleven hour days often on the weekends, my kids, ages six and eight, seem to require more of my time than ever; and there is always something demanding my attention, anything from volunteer commitments to preventing our household from slipping into complete chaos. And let us not forget emails and the constant intrusion of technology eats up hours of our time, if we let it.

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Write on the Wall

Write on the Wall image

I am a lover of words, a logophile. Fancier yet, a linguaphile - lover of language and words. And I'm fascinated with graffiti, and the new kid on the block, murals with words or phrases; universally meaningful and/or entertaining words on a wall, sometimes with artwork. Graffiti and murals can be found on the overpass, the railway station, the subway car, and the wall. Words for eyes wide open. They’re ugly, beautiful and fascinating.

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