Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Unchained Blogger Post

Yesterday, I heard Lydia Davis interviewed on the radio and was impressed. She read from a very short story, which opens with her saying that she has a problem in her marriage which is that she doesn't love the composer Handel as much as her husband does. It ends with her saying that she's heard of a Handel therapist in the area, who she plans to check out.

She writes extremely short stories, occasionally stories shorter than their titles, and yet she's also written a novel. Sometimes her short short ones are reactions to translations of artists who write in very long styles. As I listen to her, Paul Auster came to mind. They both worked as translators as well as being masterful original writers. I Wikipedia'ed her and found out that she was married to Auster and has a son with that last name. The other writer who came to mind was Amy Hempel.

By the end of the day I had heard Ms. Davis speak and purchased her Collected Stories which she kindly signed and dedicated for me.

Leonard Lopate is a talented man. I once heard him on a panel about memoir writing. He stole the show. He is an author and talk show host and it was on his show that I heard the Davis interview. My dentist is lucky because she gets to listen to him as she works every day. Then again, everything is a trade off.

I have a gripe against the New Yorker. I subscribe at a reasonable price and yet I have a compliant. There's too much good writing - particularly fiction (the poetry is generally not to my taste) - in it. And the current issue has not the usual one, but eight short stories. it's like standing before a buffet and knowing you can't (shouldn't) indulge in it all.

Texting and I.M.’ing my friends gives me a constant feeling of comfort,” wrote one student. “When I did not have those two luxuries, I felt quite alone and secluded from my life. Although I go to a school with thousands of students, the fact that I was not able to communicate with anyone via technology was almost unbearable.” That quote comes from this article in yesterday's Times (it's by Tara Parker-Pope who seems incapable of writing any article that doesn't strike me as compelling!) about the effect of technology on people, particularly weens. It opens with this question and comment: Has high-speed Internet made you impatient with slow-speed children? "Do you sometimes think about reaching for the fast-forward button, only to realize that life does not come with a remote control? If you answered yes to any of those questions, exposure to technology may be slowly reshaping your personality." Perhaps I speak only for myself when I say that for me, for one, this does not come as quite a shock.

The same point was made by Judith Shulevitz, author of The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time, at a recent presentation I heard her speak at. Though she doesn't keep all the halachic details of Shabbat she believes it is a day to unplug. And unplug she does; no cell phones, computers, etc. for Ms. Shulevitz on Shabbos. I must say - though no particular line comes to mind at the moment - as an important aside, that I was impressed by Ms. Shulevitz' sense of humor bordering on whimsy. (As an aside to the aside I'll share a coincidence. I have a poem in a book under a pseudonym. My main reason for using another name for that poem was that it is written in a woman's voice and I thought the majority audience of that book would take the poem in better with a woman's name attached to it. The name I chose to use is Chana Schilowitz). (The book is All of Our Lives (a nice anthology, available online now for the incredibly cheap price of $9.99, and the poem is called As Old As You Are).

On a related note, Marc Fisher conducted a one week long experiment at The Washington Post, which he describes thus: "No Web, period. If you need to talk to someone, do it in person or by phone." Go here to read the story.

Did someone ever make a seemingly innocent comment to you in way that felt insinuating and then the idea got into your psyche. Maybe I'm the only one. As I type I'm listening to Pandora with headphone. I'm at home. There's no other person here. The sound was being muffled by the AC so I switched to headphones. But I can't use headphones at home, alone, without recalling a comment someone once made to me: "But you don't use headphones if you're home and no-one else is around, right?" Implication: there's something wrong with that. And it stuck...
Someone who's gone through it asked me just the other day at minyan if I've reached the point yet of being sick of running to make minyan three times every day for kaddish. I didn't know what to say so I just said something that came to mind, and that was OK because the person moved on to tell the story of the one and only they missed during "their year." Is this what it's about, a checklist? I guess in part it is. Sigh.
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This morning at minyan another chiyuv had already started when I got there, so there was no question that he had it and was welcome to go on. He very kindly offered for me to take over from Ashrei at the end. At mincha I got to Shul five minutes early and parked next to the amud. A guy walked by me five minutes later and suited up. I asked gently if he was a chiyuv. The answer was, "Yes," followed by, "Do you have a Yahrtzeit?" followed by a well modulated, "Ashrei..." I never knew till January that Kaddish was a competitive sport. Various people have authored books following "their year," perhaps I'll name mine The Kaddish Wars.

I come in peace. I figure it's more of a zechut for mom if I try to be a mench than if I fight for and conquer the amud.


Blogger MNUnterberg said...

I agree with that last line 100%. I am amazed how that simple, clear and compelling point is missed by so many. Sigh again.

June 9, 2010 at 1:42 PM  
Blogger rabbi neil fleischmann said...

Than kou, I agree with how you put it. I give my parents credit because I know my brother is on the same page as me about this.

June 9, 2010 at 2:38 PM  
Blogger kishke said...

Absolutely true, and I've heard the point made in more than one "gadol story."

June 9, 2010 at 10:19 PM  
Blogger rabbi neil fleischmann said...

Thanks K, glad the idea has backing.

June 9, 2010 at 11:42 PM  

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