Cry Out In Anguish

So many millions of words have been spoken about the need for gun control, for the end to violent movies and games, or for censoring songs that degrade the other, or call for mayhem. The debate will likely surge in the aftermath of the Aurora, Colorado shootings. The opposition will claim inalienable first and second amendment rights guaranteed by our Constitution. But like selective readers of the Bible who cite passages to promote their own agendas, these people conveniently forget that LIFE is the first guarantee of our Declaration of Independence.

Our nation spends hundreds of millions of dollars each year to watch adrenalin-pumped car chases, shoot-outs against dramatic lighting or slo-mo special effects, choreographed to surging music. We celebrate cryptic, testosterone-laden exchanges. We glorify the torture and the guns and our ability to shock and awe, insisting: ‘This is strength. This is prowess. This is what victory looks like.’

Well, America…. Here is the other side of what we glorify: A desperate father searching for his son in the aftermath of the Aurora shooting. Hours later, Mr. Sullivan would learn that his 27-year-old son, Alex, was among the dead.

This is what anguish looks like.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The Writer Exits

Is there any connection between the creative imagination and depression? Suicide? What prompts an artist to decide that death is the answer?  July 2, 2012 marks 51 years since the Nobel Laureate Ernest Hemingway shot himself to death. In 1984, Richard Brautigan also ended his life with a gunshot. Iris Chang died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in 2004. Hunter S. Thompson put a bullet through his brain in 2005. In 1941, Virginia Woolf drowned herself in a nearby river. In 1972, the poet John Berryman killed himself by jumping from a bridge. Spalding Gray and Hart Crane also chose watery ends. Many opt for medication: Swedish poet and novelist Karin Boye, Jack London, and Carolyn Heilbrun. Charlotte Perkins Gilman took an overdose of chloroform. David Foster Wallace hung himself. John Kennedy Toole died of carbon monoxide poisoning… as did Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton. In 1991, Jerzy Kosinski killed himself by placing a plastic bag over his head. Michael Dorris also died of self-inflicted asphyxiation. Primo Levi threw himself down a stairway. Yukio Mishima ended his life in 1970 by committing seppuku. The list of writer suicides is long. The reasons for these exits are as varied as the means the writers chose. Some left suicide notes. Others may have left clues in their writing, or in conversations with family and friends.

Whatever these writers believed they were leaving— or heading toward— may never be known. But for some insight on depression, I recommend an article by the psychiatrist Michael Brog. You can download the pdf at this link:




Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Thank you, Terry Gross!

A few weeks ago, I heard an interview on NPR’s Fresh Air between Terry Gross and the poet Marie Howe. I’d never heard of Howe…but the poems she read on the air were riveting. I was equally captivated by the interview itself: Howe spoke about her late brother with a tone all weary insight and wise love. I knew I wanted to read her work. But then again, we’re talking about poetry in 21st century America. None of the indie bookstores in my area carried Howe. The same was true of Barnes and Noble. I came up empty at my public library and a local university library as well.

I realize that the phenomenal number of books published each year make it impossible for any one store (or chain) to carry everything. But the absence of Howe had me worried. If not for that NPR interview, how would a reader learn about her? Howe’s last two books were published by W.W. Norton. And, theoretically at least, Norton has established channels for getting her work into the world. But I couldn’t find her locally. If I had missed that interview, would I ever have encountered the work of Marie Howe?

I learned that I could order all three of Howe’s books from Amazon, but was informed there would be a delay in getting a copy of her first collection, The Good Thief (1988), which won the 1987 Open Competition of the National Poetry Series, and was selected by Margaret Atwood. Amazon was my least favorite option. I take delight in browsing bookstore shelves, reading titles, studying the cover art on books, the construction of the books themselves. Amazon doesn’t afford me any of these pleasures. But to their credit, they had the books.

I’ve now read all three of Marie Howe’s collections: The Good Thief (1988); What the Living Do (1998) and The Kingdom of Ordinary Time (2008). These books are wonderful, soulful encounters and I encourage you to discover them for yourself. Below, here’s an excerpt of a poem titled The World, from The Kingdom of Ordinary Time:

“I couldn’t tell which stars were which or how far away any one of them was,           

       or which were still burning or not—their light moving through space like a


 late train—and I’ve lived on this earth so long—50 winters, 50 springs and


and all this time stars in the sky—in daylight

When I couldn’t see them, and at night when, most nights, I didn’t look.”

I also encourage you to download the Fresh Air interview that first introduced me to Marie Howe. Thank you, Terry Gross!

Go to:

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Now…Who Was I?

Ours is a time of hyper-distractibility. Don’t have a smartphone? How do you get your texts? Send your instant photos? Check email, the weather, stocks? How do you know how far you’ve walked since noon? Which way is west? How many friends do you have on Facebook? How many followers on Twitter?  Are you keeping up with everyone’s tweets? Do those 140 characters tell you all you need to know?  Does that 20-second sound bite reveal enough of the daily news? Sure it does. No it doesn’t.  Doesn’t matter. Most of the news is sad and frightening. And besides, what can any one person do? Want to relax? Is that even possible? The stress to conform is overwhelming.  It’s not just what you wear, or the coffee you drink. It’s everything anyone points a finger at. ‘Buy this, get this, be this.’ He who hesitates is yesterday’s news…and the day after that, no one even cares. Does your need for entertainment overwhelm?  Is this a sign of weakness—or disease? Not to worry. There’s always the zillion-dollar pharm conglomerate…. with drugs thoughtfully suggested—their effects dramatized—between episodes of your favorite prime-time show. Available also on cable. Or Hula. Or who knows where. Reality TV is real…don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. No need to peek behind the curtain. Who could make this stuff up?

Who?  An opossum named Pogo offered a conclusion from another generation: “It’s us.”

Amid this clamor and shove, St. Louis recently attempted the truly subversive: a time out to listen…to think about context. It gave people the opportunity to ask questions…and develop a personal response… to discuss a course of action. It took the form of a two-day humanities festival—free and open to the public. While the events could have been better publicized and better attended, they served as a very respectable start to what’s been promised as an annual event.

On April 13 and 14, in conjunction with the Missouri Humanities Council, the University of Missouri—St. Louis (UMSL), Webster University and the Center for the Humanities at Washington University in St. Louis hosted events at their campuses.

The Saint Louis Humanities Festival opened with a presentation by Shelton Johnson, a novelist and Yosemite park ranger of African American and Native American descent. He gave a presentation: “Gloryland: Literature and Interpretive History as Tools for Social Change.” Johnson’s appearance at UMSL featured readings from his novel, Gloryland (2009) about African American members of the US Calvary, known as “Buffalo Soldiers,” in the segregated U.S. Army. The book is a fictional memoir of a Black Indian from South Carolina who becomes a Buffalo Soldier assigned to patrol Yosemite in 1903. In writing the book, Johnson called upon years of research as well as his own understanding as a ranger of Yosemite National Park to give voice to these men and their struggles.

The second event on April 13th featured Brian Turner, a poet and veteran. His introduction by David Clewell, former Poet Laureate of Missouri, professor and Director of Webster University’s Creative Writing program, was a full foot past riveting and in the best tradition of oral storytelling. Turner read from his 2005 collection, Here, Bullet as well as his second poetry collection, Phantom Noise (2010). Turner holds a MFA from the University of Oregon and also served seven years in the US Army, including one year as an infantry leader in Iraq and deployment to Bosnia-Herzegovina. Turner was joined by three other US veterans who participated in Missouri’s Warrior Writers Project, sponsored by the Missouri Humanities Council. After their readings, the veterans joined Turner in a panel discussion to talk about their experiences as soldiers and writers. Imagine: turning to the humanities to find the way back from war…the way back to the self.

The third and final event of the two-day festival was a screening of the documentary, “Battle for Brooklyn,” followed by a Q&A with filmmaker Michael Galinsky.  The film chronicles the fight between the residents of Brooklyn, New York and the developers behind Atlantic Yards, a massive urban project that threatened to destroy their homes. “Battle for Brooklyn” was produced and directed by Galinksy and Suki Hawley, whose previous documentaries include  “Horns and Halos” (2002), “Radiation” (1999) and “Half-Cocked” (1994).

Didn’t make it to the festival? Read the books.  Watch the movie.

Log on and listen to the event at Webster University.  The pacing is humane, the dialogue, personal. Once you’re past the administrative welcomes and intros, you might be amazed by what you hear:

And after that? Do something truly subversive today: take time to think. For yourself. Keep it all a secret until you need it again.  Until you think you recognize a cultural behavioral disorder.

It’s not too late to remember who you are.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Faith and Proof

This past weekend I spoke to a chapter of the Missouri Writers Guild, a group that goes by the name of Saturday Writers. In case you live near St. Louis, they meet the last Saturday of the month in the Saint Peters, Missouri Cultural Arts Centre, inside Saint Peters City Hall.  (You can check out their website and blog at When Jennifer Hasheider, the group’s 2012 president, extended the invitation, she told me that Saturday Writers encompasses diverse ages, interests and experiences. Her enthusiasm for the group was obvious. On Saturday, I understood why.

My appearance coincided with Saturday Writers’s 10th anniversary. Three of the group’s founding members were present—along with dozens of more recent members and a few attending for the first time. The celebration offered one-on-one opportunities for conversation. I met: a father and his teenage daughter who are collaborating on a series of fantasy novels that also include the daughter’s illustrations; a woman who reviews writing “how-to” books (and brought advance copies of recently reviewed titles for interested members); a former vice-president of public relations and college adjunct who writes essays and novels; and a woman who founded a small press with her husband that has published dozens of authors. Members ranged from writers with Pushcart nominations and numerous publication credits to those in the early stages of their writing lives.  The group’s vitality emerged in the diversity of writing efforts: during the business part of the meeting, one member announced an upcoming “writing marathon” for site-specific writing experiences. Another announced winners of a short story contest…while someone else shared guidelines for an upcoming competition. One woman who writes mysteries handed out a sheet of links and helpful resources she recently discovered. Everywhere, it was clear that these men and women love the art and craft of writing.

In  Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, Anne Lamott wrote: “I heard a preacher say recently that hope is a revolutionary patience; let me add that so is being a writer. Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up.”

The tag line of the Saturday Writers is “Writers Encouraging Writers.”  Somebody say ‘Amen.’

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments