Saturday, April 10, 2021

Behind Her Eyes: Netflix Series Review


Behind Her Eyes


Netflix Series Review

By

Carolynn Kingyens





Warning, some spoilers are mentioned.





Recently, my husband had asked me what I wanted for my birthday, and without hesitation, my reply was simply, “a mom’s weekend.” The pandemic, in addition to remote schooling, has been hard for children and parents alike, especially when you all live in a cozy New York City apartment, including a dog and a cat, with parents who work from home as well. In addition to remote schooling, I’m cooking breakfast, lunch, dinner, and preparing snacks and drinks throughout the day, on demand. Alone time, during the pandemic, has become the ultimate luxury. And watching a trending show on Netflix, a near impossibility.



So with my husband and two daughters away having fun at a water resort in Pennsylvania, I settled into the next 48 hours with a plethora of possibilities. First on my agenda was watching a Netflix show while giving myself an in-home facial, always multitasking. I’d narrowed my choices down to three, which included the new Biggie documentary, I Got a Story to Tell, the Cecil Hotel documentary, what really happened to Elisa Lam anyway? and the much talked about, Behind Her Eyes. It was a hard choice, but decided to binge-watch Behind Her Eyes, a series based on Sarah Pinborough’s psychological thriller of the same name. The series stars the beautiful British actress, Simona Brown, along with the equally beautiful, Eve Hewson, Bono’s daughter of U2 fame, and the handsome British actor, Tom Bateman.





Behind Her Eyes is a bizarre love triangle that begins when Louise (Simona Brown) has a serendipitous run-in with David Ferguson (Tom Bateman) at a busy bar one evening, after her date bails on her. Louise is a single mother to a sweet seven-year-old son named Adam, played by impressive child actor, Tyler Howitt, and rarely has alone time as well. So when Louise accidentally spills her drink on David, she orders him a drink at the bar to compensate. They begin to chat, and there seems to be an immediate spark between the two. When they leave the bar together, they end up sharing a passionate kiss right outside before stopping and then leaving in opposite directions. Harmless, right? That’s what I thought, too, until the next day when Louise sees a glimpse of David with his regal-looking wife, Adele (Eve Hewson) sitting inside one of the psychologist’s offices where she works as an assistant three days a week. She learns from fellow assistant, Sue, actress Georgie Glen, that Dr. David Ferguson is now her new hot boss, and is married. What are the odds?



What the series does so well is the clever way it implants Easter eggs inside each episode. One such Easter egg, in the first episode, hints at David and Adele’s strained ten-year marriage, when after they arrive home from a dinner party hosted by David’s new colleagues, fellow psychologists, they become intimate. I use the word “intimate” loosely here. In fact, when Adele grabs his hand to lead him upstairs to their bedroom, David says something to the effect of just this one time. They start out in the missionary position until Adele tells David she loves him, which makes David stomach turn in disgust, and they soon change sexual positions so David no longer has to look Adele in the face. Ouch!



David begins to have a steamy love affair with his beautiful and very likeable assistant, Louise. Their love-making, simply put, is WOW, off the charts, especially when juxtaposed with he and Adele in the first episode. David’s newfound happiness with Louise is palpable. He begins to sleep in the guest bedroom, and comes home late at night and leaves early in the morning to avoid having to interact with his sad, yet beautiful wife.



One day, Adele bumps into Louise, quite literally, on her way home from dropping Adam off at school, and the two decide to have coffee at a nearby café. Louise continues her affair with David while simultaneously developing an on-going friendship with David’s wife, Adele, unbeknownst to him, with the two of them often working out together, sharing a few laughs and even a few secrets. One such secret Louise shares is her terrifying night terrors, including some serious sleepwalking episodes. Adele opens up a little about her own bout with night terrors, and then gives Louise a blood red-colored journal that had once belonged to her good friend, Rob, who’d struggled with night terrors as well. Rob has cracked the code on how to beat night terrors and written his techniques down in the journal. Adele promises Louise that she, too, will finally have power over them. Intrigued, she takes Rob’s journal back home with her, and begins reading it.



It’s during the reading of Rob’s journal that the origin of Rob and Adele’s relationship is revealed. They’d met at a psychological boarding facility of sorts, a mental hospital more or less. Adele has just lost her parents to a fire and has sleep issues of her own while Rob has a heroin addiction combined with daily night terrors, a bad combination. Soon, Adele and Rob become best friends. And before they go their separate ways – Adele back to her partially burnt castle in the remote English countryside with her dashing Scottish prince, David, waiting for her and Rob back to his shitty life living with his sister and her boyfriend in a small public housing flat, shooting heroin everyday.



Rob’s night terrors always involve being chased by bloodthirsty zombies. Then one day he looks down at his hands, and realizes he is dreaming. He then visualizes an escape door, which he boldly walks right through and finds himself suddenly in his happy place –with pretty Adele in her castle-garden. Rob is finally in control, and he enjoys it very much.



The dream sequences in the series fascinates me since I’ve experienced sleep paralysis on several occasions, which is a whole other animal, but equally terrifying as night terrors. According to the Sleep Foundation’s website, “sleep paralysis is a condition identified by a brief loss of muscle control, known as atonia, that happens just after falling asleep or waking up. In addition to atonia, people often have hallucinations during episodes of sleep paralysis.” Many people, myself included, who have experienced sleep paralysis report feeling an ominous presence in the room with them.



Coincidentally, I’ve recently experienced my first lucid dream. Like Rob, I, too, looked down at my hands in my dream-state, and realized that I was, in fact, dreaming while still inside of an active dream. It’s beyond trippy. I remember walking down some suburban street in my dream when I noticed these dead, dry pointy leaves on the ground in front of me so I scooped them up with both hands and squeezed them, causing me pain. And when I stared down at my hands, after feeling the pain sensation from the dead, pointy leaves, I’d said to myself aloud, “This is a dream.” Then right ahead of me was a foggy mist so I decided to run as fast as I could, then I started to take flight just like Superman. It was amazing. I was flying, free and weightless. But I digress.



From reading Rob’s journal, Louise, too, learns how to control her dreams. She learns about a second door in her dreams, which allows her to astral project. The first time Louise astral projects she goes into her neighbor’s flat across the hall from her own. Her kind neighbor, and sometimes babysitter, is engrossed in an episode of Absolutely Fabulous on the telly, Brit slang for TV. The color of her astral state is a luminescent shade of green. When Adam can’t wake Louise because she’s on the Astral plane, he begins to cry out. Hearing her son’s cries prompts her to race back, in her astral state, to his bed, where she had fallen asleep next to him. She finally wakes up to her young son’s relief.



This is when some major plot twists begin to unfold, and we learn that it’s Adele, not Rob, who can astral project and control her dreams. She, in fact, taught Rob and not the other way around. Rob’s journal contains the secrets that Adele generously shares with him that not only helps him control his night terrors, but later helps him to astral project as well, allowing him to go essentially anywhere, temporarily escaping his shitty day-life. The only caveat to going anywhere is one must have visited the location beforehand in order to visualize it on the astral plane - cue to Adele’s visit to Louise’s flat early on in their friendship, and the odd way she walks from room to room while Louise’s back is turned as if she is scoping out her place.



Towards the end of the series, David wisely warns Louise to stay away from Adele, saying he doesn’t know how she knows everything she does. Unlike David, we’re, by now, clued in on Adele’s superpower, and how she’s able to become quasi-omnipresent. And the final few twists are nothing short of mind-blowing.



If you enjoy a good psychological thriller, and who doesn’t, then I recommend Netflix’s Behind Her Eyes. You will be mulling over this series for days to come, and may find yourself, too, browsing Reddit’s Behind Her Eyes sub-chats at 2 am, obsessively reading over viewer comments, who’d found even more hidden Easter eggs like that lone, sad-looking pigeon with a splash of bright green tint on its neck.

Wednesday, April 07, 2021

Singer dancer and teacher Allison Reyes finds a creative sanctuary in Somerville.


I was luck to connect with Somerville's Allison Reyes. This young woman is part of a musical group Testi5, where she sings and dances, she also teaches ballet, and has a strong bond with her church, and the Dominican community.


As an artist--how has it been for you living in Somerville?


Living in Somerville has opened up amazing opportunities for me to grow, I've been able to sing in churches around the city, teach dance teams in those same churches, and met incredible people. I was part of the choir at school, the jazz band, and the dance team. It has been completely different than when I lived in Rhode Island. Somerville has such a tight knit community. It was really surprising when I experienced the opportunities that were presented to me, and to learn and put these things in practice.



I have interviewed a number of Brazilian artists. There is a large community around here. You are from the Dominican Republic. Tell us about the Dominican community, and the artists that work and play in our city?


Since we've only been living here for three years we haven't really had a chance to learn much about the Dominican community here in Somerville. I have met many Salvadorians and Brazilians, but I have only met a few Dominican. Because of this--every Dominican I meet becomes a friend and connection. We are so proud of being Dominicans and we would love to be part of events where people can meet people of different Latino descents-- once everything goes back to normal.


A video of you singing a song (titled "Lléname") takes place in a church. I get the impression that you have a strong sense of spirituality. Tell us about your relationship with the church.


I've been part of the church my whole life, I've dedicated years of my life serving at the church, I danced, sang and even used to work with kids at church. However being part of the church is not what defines me as a Christian, is my relationship with God that is most important to me.


Your Dad has been a big influence on you, and he is the founder of your band, Testi5. Can you talk a bit about this? You have a number of other musicians as well that you work with. How did you hook up?


Ever since I have been conscious my dad was either working or playing for the church. Whenever he was practicing at home, I would go and sing along to the music he was practicing to. It was a lot of fun, he never pressured me to be part of music. I always did it because I wanted to.
My dad met Eddy (the drummer of our band) at church. He was playing with a guest that came over for an event at our church in RI, and my dad went to greet him and exchanged numbers. After that Eddy introduced my dad to Johann and Joel (guitarist and drummer). and they became friends, and that's how it all started.


Describe your music in a few lines... and why should we experience it?


The goal of our music is to reach the hearts of everyone who listens to it. Nowadays we are living in times of uncertainty and fear. With our music we want to bring hope and perseverance. When people go through their toughest moments, we want our music to make them feel safe and reassured that God is with them through every step of the way.


You are a dancer as well--is there a lot of interplay between your dance and your singing, etc...


Before I was a singer I was a dancer, and it is a huge part of me. So when my dad proposed to me to be the main singer of Testi5, I made sure to let him know that dance was also going to be a part of it. A dancer and singer is not something commonly seen in the Christian community, so I really would love to be different , and show those Christians who would like to pursue both careers that it can be done.


You are a graduate of Somerville High. Did you have any mentors there that influenced you?


Going to Somerville high was tough for me for the first year. I had transferred as a junior to a completely new school and since I'm extremely shy so it was really hard for me to make friends. However I did have incredible teachers. My AP US History teacher Ms. Santos was always extremely helpful when it came to anything I needed. She actually came to the first concert Testi5 ever did, and in our first music video called "Dueño de mi Corazón" she was right there in the crowd cheering me on. Another teacher who was always super supportive and really impacted my life was Ms. Massillon, my World History teacher. I used to teach her daughter ballet, she would come to my dance recitals and she would always make sure I was doing well in every aspect of my life. She was truly an angel sent from heaven; I want to be like them when I grow up.

Tuesday, April 06, 2021

Appearance of the Sun, poems by Ron A. Kalman





Appearance of the Sun, poems by Ron A. Kalman

Main Street Rag, 2021 - $12.00, 37 pages

Review by Off the Shelf Correspondent Denise Provost



Ron Kalman’s chapbook Appearance of the Sun is a charming collection of poems, filled with the breath and pace of life as it is lived. The appearance of sun, rain-swept days, wind, in many of these poems links the external with the internal weather of mood and emotion.

In “Winter Day,” It is sunny, /not a good day for a revolution …., but by “Sunday Morning,” whose narrator feels like a crushed cigarette butt and wants to dream of the woman who danced in spike heels, the sun shines with harrowing brightness. In “Greece,” the natural elements seem to shape the trajectory of an unraveling love affair, as inevitably as the forms of the sea-battered rocks below.

“Living with the Famous,” a sestina, delivers cold as an artful end-word in each stanza, served up differently each time: I was your Trotsky, and you were my Sally Bowles/and there was no future, no cockroaches, no cold. Irresolute amorous relationships appear as reliably as weather, as in “Metro-Blue,” and “The Last of Annie,” which leaves its narrator looking out onto a night-lit park/where a guitarist/sat strumming.

Another theme in this collection of quirky, mordant, often funny poems is fame, and the famous. “Poem” presents a rivalrous tension between Frank O’Hara and Robert Lowell at a public reading. Charles Bukowski, William Carlos Williams, and Allen Ginsberg are evoked; Stalin and Sun Yat-sen appear, in statuary form. Among a trio of interesting and charismatic actresses, several of whom appear in multiple poems, only /Charlotte was chosen/to act with Winona Ryder/and Daniel Day-Lewis, achieving an aura as ephemeral as the mist rising from the pool.

The pleasure which can obtained from these poems need not be ephemeral. Buy yourself a copy and reread them; read them to your friends. While not the same experience as eating a freshly baked potato with butter dripping, these morsels will also delight.



Sunday, April 04, 2021

Boston National Poetry Month Festival, 2021: Virtual, virtuoso poets & musicians April 15-17.

 

Somervillian, singer, saxophonist, flutist, actor, Stan Strickland has performed with or opened for everyone from Miles Davis and Aretha Franklin, to three-time U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky.


Boston National Poetry Month Festival, 2021:

Virtual, virtuoso poets & musicians April 15-17.



By Kirk Etherton, co-producer of the Boston National Poetry Month Festival.

************************

The 20th annual B.N.P.M.F. almost happened in 2020. Instead, the 20th Festival is taking place this year, on Zoom.



Certain things change—like everyone saying “Zoom.” One constant is Somervillians being a notable part of this event. I could easily fill the entire page by mentioning everything that Doug Holder (professor, publisher, interviewer, etc.) does for poetry, and the arts in general. But I’ll just say he’s a Festival board member, and one of this year’s featured poets.




2021 is the first year that musician-plus Stan Strickland will be performing. I don’t know exactly what he’ll be doing, but it could be almost anything: besides his collaborative, multi-instrumental work with all kinds of famous folks, his one-man show Coming Up For Air won the Eliot Norton Award.




(NOTE: When I ran into Stan a few months ago in Union Square, he may have said that he was going to be moving. But it’s easy to misunderstand someone when you’re both wearing masks. Plus, I really, really don’t like the thought of our fine city losing someone of Stan’s amazing talent and generosity to some other city. So enough about that.)




OK! Let’s talk about Lucy Holstedt, who has lived in Somerville for about 20 years. Like Stan, she’s a professor at Berklee College of Music. Lucy is a Festival board member and co-producer. She also created the website, which includes bios of all the poets and musicians. Check out bostonnationalpoetry.org




You’ll find singer-songwriter Thea Hopkins’ bio under the “Saturday” tab. Yet another Somerville resident, her work has been recorded by Peter, Paul & Mary, and the Prague Symphony Orchestra. Thea’s voice is perhaps one of the most beautiful things in the world.




I, too live in this unique city. Among other things, I’m one-third of a bi-coastal group, Cedar Gate Writers (Lucy Holstedt is another third). We’re also performing on Saturday.




Here are just five of the exceptionally fine, “outside Somerville” poets: Richard Hoffman, Rhina P. Espaillat, Fred Marchant, Charles Coe, and Martha Collins. (If you don’t know them, go take a look on our website.)




The Festival is proud to be partnering with our new ally and fiscal agent, Writers Without Margins--a tremendous organization that takes literature beyond traditional spaces. They’re led by writer / attorney / film producer Cheryl Buchanan. Learn more by clicking the site’s “Thursday” tab.

.

We are incredibly fortunate to have Martín Espada as our special guest. As a poet, translator, editor, and essayist, Espada has published more than 20 books and won many major awards. He has been compared to Walt Whitman for his ability to make readers feel “an undeniable social consciousness and connectedness.” For me, Martín’s timely, timeless work has a uniquely potent blend of power, passion, and precision. His readings take it to another level. You can experience this for yourself on April 17th.

Saturday, April 03, 2021

Henry Weinfield’s As the Crow Flies





Henry Weinfield’s As the Crow Flies (Dos Madres Press, 2021), reviewed by Gregory J. Wolos

REVIEW BY GREG WOLOS


I have read Henry Weinfield’s new poetry collection, As the Crow Flies, with a certain kind of limited pleasure. There is wit in these poems, satiric allusiveness, clever puns, unexpected rhymes, all delivered in classic (some might call archaic) forms. As I read, however, I found myself measuring the gap between my admiration for the poetic conventions Weinfield cleverly employs and my exasperation at the “straightjacketing” effect these forms have on the thematic and philosophical values he attempts to render through them.

In the collections opening poem, “The Ironies,” Weinfield establishes his poetic modus operandi. Heavily dependent on rhyme, meter, and repetition, the poem is a rumination on the vicissitudes of that determine the course and shape of one’s life: “What was it that you thought you had to say?/--Though possibly you said it anyway:/ It turned out different than you thought./ . . . / The things that you evaded or forgot/Were details deeply woven in the plot./ You couldn’t ever have imagined it.” There is truth in what Weinfield’s asserts in his verse, but it is a truth we’ve heard many times before, as in Robert Burns’s “To a Mouse,” (composed in 1785) in which we are told “The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men/ Gang aft agley,/ An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,/For promis’d joy!” There are disappointments in life we can’t anticipate, Weinstein similarly reminds us: “It didn’t seem impossible to seize/ The golden apples of the Hesperides/Where the eternal verities prevailed.” But, philosophically, Weinstein doesn’t take us much further. His “Ironies” concludes with the limp assertion that we can’t have all that we want: “Like everyone you wanted everything/ (The autumn simultaneous with the spring)—/ For which no kind of medicine availed.” This ending contrasts unflatteringly with Burns’s, who doesn’t merely reiterate our desire to “collapse” time (i.e., deem “autumn simultaneous with spring”). Rather, Burns, by contrasting the human epistemological state with the mouse’s, takes the philosophy to a more compelling conclusion: we are congenitally more miserable than the mouse precisely because we can’t help but distinguish past, present, and future: “Still, thou art blest, compar’d wi’ me!/ The present only toucheth thee:/ But Och! I backward cast my e’e,/ On prospects drear!/ An’ forward tho’ I canna see,/ I guess an’ fear!”

The question remains: does an adherence to well-travelled conventions limit one to equally hashed over conclusions? Does Weinstein’s cleverness in rhyming “seize” with “Hesperides” (while at the same time providing the reader with an allusion to classical mythology) truly enlighten the reader with something new? Or are the allusions and formal conventions simply ornaments to disguise shopworn philosophy? I’d like to believe that Weinfield is, in fact, satirizing the conventions, and that many of his poems are intended to demonstrate what leaky vehicles these forms prove to be for fresh thought. But if Weinfield wants us to take the theme of “Ironies” and many of his other poems at face value, he fails to achieve Pope’s idea of “true wit,” which is to satisfy the reader with “what oft was thought, but ne’er so well expressed.”

Don’t get me wrong—there is much to admire in Weinfield’s ambitious (and often entertaining) long poems, such as “L’Dor V’Dor: Chant of the Jews of Michiana As They Contemplate the Past and the Future,” which provides a capsule version of the Jewish diaspora from shtetls to the Midwest of the United States. But the poet’s insistence on traditional forms too often yields unfortunate rhymes and twisted syntax: “Living in constant fear of a pogrom,/ Not knowing when the Cossacks next would come.” Similarly clever in conception, if not execution, is Weinfield’s “Paradise Lost: A Poem in Twelve Books: The Shorter Version.” The poem is introduced by a pair of epigraphs which inform the reader of the poem’s satiric intent: Samuel Johnson states of Milton’s masterpiece, “None ever wished it longer than it is.” And Milton himself refers to “the troublesome and modern bondage of Riming.” And so Weinfield’s version proceeds, ingeniously compressing Milton’s work, while at the same time illustrating the points made in the epigraphs. But such efforts can be extreme and tedious, as with “Book XI” of the poem, in which eighteen of the first twenty-five lines have end-words that rhyme with “plight.” To my mind, “true wit” is not “expressed” by emulating problematic verse form. As Tom Stoppard’s Player suggests in his play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, establishing a point through verisimilitude doesn’t necessarily yield great art: “I had an actor once who was condemned to hang . . . so I got permission to have him hanged in the middle of a play . . . and you wouldn’t believe it, he just wasn’t convincing! It was impossible to suspend one’s disbelief . . . the while thing was a disaster!—he did nothing but cry all the time—right out of character.” The Milton epigraph seems to be sufficient on its own: it’s both amusing and sobering that he found rhyme to be “bondage.” It’s neither entertaining nor enlightening for Weinfield to prove the point with a flood of rhyme—it’s only boring.

And yet, when Weinfield is at his best, he is a skilled craftsmen and thoughtful philosopher, capable of producing poetic gems that are more than the “gestures of a jester” (my own brief parody of Weinfield’s poems in this collection, many of which are rife with punning). “Fragment of an Injunction to the Poets of the Future” begins with the simple assertion, “There is no God,” and concludes, “Forget the myth,/ The heroic journey to the Underworld./ The underworld to which you have been hurled/ Is this world—here you are and here it is./ You must abandon all mythologies.” Here Weinstein’s rhymes and allusions support his thematic intent: “hurled” and “world” work together in lines that are syntactically straightforward, and the whiff of Dante’s warning at the gates of Hell drives home the irony of Weinfield’s theme. The brief poem “The Afterlife” is clever and thought-provoking without being rendered in torturous diction and uncomfortable rhymes; the repetition and punning are central to the poem’s impact:

“The afterlife/Was after life./ There was no life/ That was not life.”

The poems that touch upon Weinfield’s personal memories are breaths of fresh air in this volume. “To Carla, in Lieu of the Lost Poem I Gave her in High School” reveals an irony that is more than simply clever; it is heartfelt. Regarding his youthful romance, Weinfield writes, “You never let me go too far,/ Wise young virgin that you were/ . . ./ So every afternoon I’d burn/ With longing, which itself was sweet./ It was too soon—we had to wait./ But then too soon it was too late./ For waiting soon became too long/ For so much longing—we were young: / Ours was an old familiar song.” “Old” and “familiar,” yes, but also vivid and poignant, personal, yet universal—the irony in the poem is meaningful, not mere cleverness.

Too often the poems in As the Crow Flies seem like exhibition for exhibition’s sake: rhyme, meter, and allusion are the sparkling things for which his crow seems to be searching. An exception might be found in one of the volume’s later poems, found in the section “From Old Notebooks.” This poem, “George Oppen’s Eyes,” (I think we can forgive in this instance Weinfield’s title pun), reveals without artificial adornment what Weinfield values in poetry: “Among the poets, yours were the only eyes/ That never dimmed themselves in fantasies,/ Or looked to compromise the poet’s craft/ Out of a vain desire to be heard./ The only motive for your poetry/ Was clarity, you said, your favorite word./ I looked upon you as another father,/ And hoped I might find favor in your eyes.” The values expressed in this poem seem to contradict those evident in too many of the others in the volume. Perhaps it’s only a matter of taste, but I prefer the succinct crafting of a poem like “The Afterlife” and the pathos of the personal “To Carla,” both of which provide “clarity” without “compromise[ing] the poet’s craft.



Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Somerville Media Center Director Kat Powers: A Born Storyteller brings us the saga of our city on the screen

 




Like myself, Kat Powers has had a long love affair with the City on the Mystic, Somerville, MA. Kat has a long and accomplished journalistic background, and will continue to bring the saga of our unique burg to the TV screen, through the Somerville Media Center.







Congratulations for being selected the new director of the Somerville Media Center. You are coming in at a time when the station is planning to move, the pandemic has changed the nature of operations. etc.... What is your mission statement--what are your goals?




Thank you! Yes, there’s a lot of change at SMC, but any change means there’s room for opportunity. The pandemic has changed how we relate to each other, and community media has to change too.




SMC has always been the cool place to be, where artists and producers and ideas were thrown together, edited on tape and shared widely. We need to make sure we can support that community with a new center, with new equipment that’s more mobile.




We are all missing that opportunity to bump into someone and learn about the newest project. We’re learning new ways to foster that sense of community virtually, but it will be exciting when we get back to seeing all these producers in person.




My mission is to work with our community to find a path forward, with a new site and stable sources of funding. Community media access centers all over the U.S. are finding ways to adapt to changes in cable funding, but it’s not all doom-and-gloom. Some fund access programming by developing software and selling it to other access centers. Some consolidate into regional centers. Some sell video production services. We need to work together to find our path.




So, that’s a Mission of Message, Members, Money and Moving? Let’s get to work.







You were a reporter and managing editor for The Somerville Journal for a number of years. Community newspapers are disappearing from the map. You will be continuing with community journalism at the Somerville Media Center. Do you think cable/access TV organizations may be the last stand for hyper-local reporting?




SMC has always been part of hyper-local reporting. I’ve been watching the archive process we’re undergoing at SMC. We have hundreds of 20- and 30-year-old tapes we’ve put in our main studio and we’re sorting through what gets preserved for posterity. All those call-in shows? Those local election debates? Those reports from the hot set on local business? That was hyper-local reporting in the 80s before we called it hyper-local reporting. I don’t think coverage of Somerville is going to go away, but I do know it has to evolve to something digital, and SMC is going to be part of that future.




One of the first meetings I had with the Somerville Media Center Board of Directors involved them telling me fantastic stories of what they liked about the Somerville Neighborhood News, and how they’d like it to thrive again. We’ll get there, and we have some pretty awesome partners to work with to build a news network.







You used to live in Somerville, but you are now in Watertown. How does Somerville compare to other cities you have lived in. What makes it unique?




Somerville. It’s magical. Its waters are Mystic.




Somerville, like some of the greater cities of the world, has its land and its streets marked by progress and ambition. Every single group of people in the world have come through and changed it. They chopped hills, burned nunneries, buried the enemy in the street. They planted trees, kilned bricks, set stone, chopped down orchards and built the triple deckers and the trolleys, and then paved their yards to make room for cars. Now those triple deckers are condos and we fight for bike lanes and parks to eat outside.




Somerville is a story of progress – not always good – but every single story in our nation, Revolution to opioid epidemic, had a part of the tale set in Somerville.




I am a storyteller. How could I not love Somerville?




You have a unique knack for picking up jobs. Not the traditional--resume/interview type of deal. Can you talk a bit about this?




I like to build ideas and organizations. I’m told it’s a perspective used in sales … you have a unique problem, let’s reframe in in a certain way and see what solutions fix the problem. For example: I was at the Red Cross and I needed a few volunteers to answer people who reached out to us on social media, and those people had to be nimble enough to also spread the word about what we were doing. No one wanted to be a “social media volunteer.” When I changed the job description to “Twitter Ninja” I had so many applicants I had to turn away free help. I seem to fit in the jobs where you have to take a step back and think about the problem your work solves, and then build the solution.




But yes, I’ve worked for a state senator, I was a journalist leading a newsroom, I was the chief of disaster public affairs for the Red Cross during the Marathon Bombing. But those jobs had something in common: I had to figure out a process to work to move a lot of people forward in the same direction. I also worked as a secretary in a prison and I unloaded trucks at Marshall’s. Those were great examples to me of places that didn’t work, and I saw what happened when people were punished for attempting to fix problems.







You have an extensive background in marketing. How will you market the station? Any new approaches?




Community media is really nothing without its community of artists and producers – and that’s something the pandemic hit. You cannot stick your head into the control room to see who’s taping a show if we all have to stay in our homes. But you take someone like yourself, Doug, or JoJo LaRiccia, folks who have produced shows remotely and engaged others, and it’s just inspiring to watch. Every time I hear a story about a hurdle overcome, or a new member excited to learn, I just want to step up and make sure we preserve access media for everyone.




I’m betting if others hear these stories, others will want to preserve access media too.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Mona by Pola Oloixarac.



Mona by Pola Oloixarac. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York. Translated by Adam Morris. $25.00


Review by Ed Meek

In a short 176 pages, Pola Oloixarac combines elements of a mystery, magic realism and an entertaining satire of writers, writing and our current era. The plot, and I use that word loosely here, involves the narrator Mona going to a writer’s festival in pursuit of a prestigious prize while trying to figure out how she got some painful bruises on her body. As the conference proceeds, an occasional dead animal turns up and someone may or may not be following her. The problem is that a mystery is based on logic (see Sherlock Holmes). Logic and magic realism do not exactly mix well.




Nonetheless, the plot is kind of beside the point because Oloixarac’s focus is really on writing and culture. She is very sharp and witty, her observations provocative and often on point. On literary festivals: “That’s all literary festivals are good for: the memory of them is so repulsive, and you end up so disgusted by the writing ‘community’ that you have no choice but to stay home and write. Seul contre tous.”




Her send up of writers is almost a subgenre in fiction that includes The Wonder Years by Chabon (great book and movie) about an aging writer who can’t finish his second book and the cast of characters who show up for the annual literary publication award, Professor Romeo by Anne Bernays about a writing professor who chases his female students, Old School by Tobias Wolfe, in which Ayn Rand, Robert Frost and Ernest Hemingway visit a private school and get roasted by Wolff. Straight Man by Richard Russo—a hilarious satire of an English Department at a college. Like Michael Chabon, Pola Oloixarac makes you feel smarter just by reading her. At the same time, she lets us know that she is a little smarter than we are. “Mona felt a chill as the phrase fail better crossed her mind. After all, Beckett, like Heidegger, was basically a self-help writer for the intellectual class…”

 

When it comes to satire, she takes no prisoners. Talking about the roles women have to play in our culture, one her characters, Lena, an obese writer talking to her while nude in the sauna says,



“these distortions are a way of being in the world…that’s why we transform ourselves into drag queens…We’re obliged to incarnate these personae…To be a woman and to write is to be trans. That’s why writing is trans, being fat is trans, and this whole entire performance of being a woman is the most trans thing in the world. Ever since Teiresias, who was of course the first trans person ever.”


A character named Sven quips, “I was a journalist for a while, and there was a time I dabbled in literary criticism, but I realized that I’d lose all my friends if I kept at it…” Sounds like good advice to me...
 

Oloixarac also raises serious questions. “How do we create collective forms of resistance in the current political landscape? What can we do anymore, besides tweet?... What I’m saying is that the winds of culture have changed entirely. Now that the leftish culture is mainstream, it means absolutely nothing. Think about it: What does it mean to be a leftist? Eating vegan? Marching against the banks and then posting it online with your iPad?”
 

How many of us marched in resistance to Trump or in the “fight” against climate change? What effect did it have? Then we go home and talk about it online in our safe political silos on FB and Twitter. Meanwhile, the earth continues to burn.
 

The last section of the book leaves one major strand of the plot unsolved and delves into a disturbing explanation about our heroine’s injuries that made me feel like I sometimes did when watching the show Girls, or the more recent I May Destroy You. Mona’s negativity has her ingesting drugs like candy. Still, like Lena Dunham and Michaela Coel, Pola Oloixarac has her thumb on what’s happening now in our increasingly international and diverse culture. Then Oloixarac plunges into magic realism and mythology in a hallucinatory ending which may leave you thinking: WTF?
 

Mona is Oloixarac’s third book. Her first, Savage Theories, was a bestseller. When it was criticized in some circles, Oloixarac responded: "[t]he book has sparked verbal violence and a sexist uproar precisely because it doesn't deal with the issues that are traditionally associated with 'women's literature,' but instead contains a sociological critique that is both intelligent and satirical, which are apparently traits solely reserved for men." How you identify may affect how you respond to that. Well, it isn’t always easy being beautiful, brainy and talented.


Friday, March 26, 2021

A Brief Brush with Somerville painter Adam Adkison

 




I was fortunate to catch up with Somerville painter Adam Adkison. Originally from the hinterlands of Wyoming --he has found a home in our rich creative hub...

From his website:



Adam Adkison has been drawing and painting for as long as he can remember. One of his first memories was as a 7 year old, digging through crayons or oil pastels from large cabinet drawers at the front of the class, breathing in the heady scent of wax.



Raised in a coal mining town in Wyoming, Adam grew up surrounded the austere beauty of the area. Inspirational places like Adobetown, Castle Rock, and Boar’s Tusk were all within a short distance.



Adam’s work has been called a mixture of realism and impressionism. He tends to steer his work away from feeling like a photograph, preferring to keep brushstrokes visible. He is attracted towards scenes of quiet beauty, finding peace and comfort in them. He works from real life as much as possible, finding that it gives the work more depth and vibrancy.




You were raised in a coal mining town in Wyoming. Now, you are an artist living in Somerville. How has the city been for your creative life?





Coming from a state where there’s about 10 people per square mile to one of the most densely populated cities in the country was a bit of a shock, as you can imagine. It’s been nothing but good here though-- with the Somerville Arts Council, with Open Studios, with Mass Art, the Academy of Realist Art, so many wonderful opportunities to learn and meet some great people.




For me, one of the best events for art has been the Cape Ann Plein Air competition, held every October, although last year was virtual due to the pandemic, of course. But, there’s an event called the quick draw where you get two hours to paint. You pick your spot in a designated location, and with a hundred or so of your new best friends, you summon all your skills and paint your little heart out. Some of the best plein air artists in the region are there, and it’s a delight to be around them while they create these beautiful paintings.






You have been described as both a realist and an impressionist painter. Impressionism is all about light and its transience. How does this play out in your work?




Well, I could get into the technical jargon, talking about lost and found edges and compositional flow, but in the end it’s how I want the viewer to experience the painting. I’m not interested in painting every leaf on the tree, that sounds tedious and dreadfully dull. My goal with a painting is to let the eye move around the canvas in a harmonious way, giving areas of rest for the eye, then areas of rich color and detail to savor. That’s my goal anyway.









You are also a realist painter. How do you define that? Do you ever veer to abstraction?




So, it’s interesting you ask that. I see every painting I do as an abstract painting at its core, because what is abstract work other than large shapes of color? There’s a wonderful article online about the painter Mondrian, where he paints a tree relatively realistic-- early on. As he progresses in his career he breaks it down into simpler and simpler shapes.

When I start a painting that’s what I see, are the large shapes of my subject. The barn isn’t windows, doors and a weathervane, just a red block to start. After I get the blueprint down then the details come in.



What do your subjects tend to be?




It really depends on the season. From spring to fall I like to be outdoors. The Arboretum offers an endless supply of inspiration for me, so many hidden spots. I love older architecture, something this area is rich in. Figurative and portrait work is another area I keep returning to. The human face is a wonderful challenge, our brain can unconsciously tell if a portrait looks like the person or not.




In the winter I turn to still life, antiques, flowers, pottery, fruit, self portraits, anything I can work from real life. That’s the thing about being an artist, you get to spend hours studying cool things.



Where did you train? Any major influences to speak of?




While getting my accounting degree I took every art course I could. Drawing, painting, pastel, whatever was offered. When I moved out here I started taking workshops and classes. The amazing watercolorist Wendy Artin (whose show just ended at the Gurari gallery) was an excellent teacher and I’m constantly inspired by her work.




Going through the MFA it’s hard not to be inspired by the Sargents, the Monets, the beautiful Rembrandt paintings we have here. There is one painting at the Harvard art museum of Rembrant’s, an old man, that is so rich in character and emotion I get speechless thinking about it, there are no words.



One of your paintings I noticed was a painting of Central Square, Cambridge. It seemed like a dreamscape--a misty memory. How do you achieve this affect?




I really wanted to give that rainy, misty day feel and watercolors are perfectly suited for this type of painting. Wetting the canvas, letting the color disperse, it’s a bit up to the canvas what happens, but that’s the magic of it and where the fun is, really.



How has the Pandemic affected you and your work?




Good question. Obviously I haven’t done as much work outdoors. I’d say there’s been more introspection, my paintings have been a little quieter, a little calmer. There’s been some teaching gigs that have fallen through. I was supposed to be over in Morocco next month teaching a 9 day watercolor course which of course didn’t happen. But it is what it is, grateful for the vaccines and to everyone who wear masks and social distance to keep others safe, along with the front line workers.



What is in the works now?




Getting ready for more outdoor painting! Priming canvases, making sure all my gear is in check. I went out for the first time last week, and it was embarrassing how rusty I was, so getting everything running smoothly again is the key right now.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

The Hulk by Claire McCord

Claire McCord is from Westford, Massachusetts and she is currently a junior at Endicott College studying Nursing

 

The Hulk 


My eyes began to ache with fear as they were studying him. Well over six feet tall, buzz cut, chin strap and facial hair. His face was composed of large dark eyes and a tense chiseled jawline. It all made him seem that he was already angry. For this man, strong was an understatement. His white fitted tank top highlighted his arms, which were covered with tattoos and looked strong enough to single handedly beat up everyone on the unit. I am not sure of his name, but let's call him Hulk. After receiving his breakfast he slowly shuffled to his seat while eyeing all of the prey on the unit. Hulk's eyes then locked with mine, and I quickly darted my eyes in the opposite direction, pretending as if I had not just made an entire analysis on his character. “How am I going to make it through this day”, I thought. I have literally just arrived and I feel like I was just thrown into a den of hungry lions. I had heard the horror stories from older nursing students about how terrifying the psych clinical rotation can be. So naturally my senses were heightened and I was judging everyone and everything around me trying to analyze who to avoid. My instructor then thought of the genius idea to drag us into the room with Hulk himself. I scurried to a chunky green plastic chair located as far away from him as possible. I tried to distract myself from Hulk, and I gazed at the rest of the patients on the unit who all seemed pretty harmless and still half asleep. I mean, mandatory breakfast at 7:30 is pretty early. The room’s air was filled with a mix of smells from different breakfast foods, which collectively smelled pretty putrid. My eyes then locked back on Hulk. He was hunched over the table focusing intently on something, but I couldn’t tell what. I shifted my chair and leaned to the left to get a better look. Being strangled by Hulk’s massive hand was a little yellow colored pencil that he was using to meticulously shade in a sunflower. Hulk was completely locked in on coloring a picture of flowers in a meadow. I paused and laughed slightly. I guess I will survive here after all.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Andreza Moon: A Face and Body painter, with a Great Body of Work.




Andreza Moon. A Face and Body painter, with a Great Body of Work.



Andreza Moon is a multidisciplinary artist based in Somerville , MA, since 2003. She is originally from Brazil. She told the Times,
 
“I am a Face & Body Painter, actress, circus performer & theater producer. I have already won nine awards because of my work. I also received a citation from the House of Representatives of the State of Massachusetts, for my dedication to the arts and Brazilian culture.
 
My Somerville connection started a couple years ago, while working as a face painter for Somerville Family Networking, producing plays at the Arts at the Armory and working with a local photographer, as a body painter at the Somerville Art Studios.
 
Also, I'm part of the Omolu production from Robson Lemos. Omolu is a play that deals with Brazilian/ African culture. I am also starting my fashion brand --Moon Tribe.
I also have a 3D Art Show online called - Papillon here's the link:
https://artspaces.kunstmatrix.com/en/exhibition/1805257/papillon "



Tell us a bit how Somerville has been for you, as a place of creative expression?




It is the best city for any immigrant/ artist to live. The city always embraces us, and gives us opportunity too.




Among other things you are a body painter and you started out as a face painter. Where did you train for this? Why did you progress to the body from the face?



I started this whole face paint idea, when I decided to open my own business “Kids Party Entertainment.” So, I started looking for some schools and I found out about an event that happens every year in Florida. I went for the first time in 2008. This was the first time I saw this type of body paint and fell in love with it, and I started my practice in 2010.




.

Why would someone want their body painted? How long does it last?




Body paint is a celebration of the body. Human bodies are canvases. People who bless us with their bodies in the name of art understand this-- the real meaning behind it. The paint last only for couple hours, because the paints are water- based. .

.

You are an actress as well, and you are appearing in a play “Omulu” by Somerville- based playwright Robson Lemos. Tell us a bit about the play and your role as an actress, and in production.




- I'm an actress and theater producer. With “Omulu” I will not be acting, but I will be responsible for the marketing and promotion of the project.

.

I know your work must be enjoyed by the Brazilian community. How about outside of it?

-Most of my body painting projects were all made with Americans. I had the luck to also to work in fashion shows, and collaborated with very amazing photographers in photo shoots. I have been working since 2010 with Ikonas Photography based in the Somerville Brickbottom Artist Studios.

.

Has anyone expressed concerns of the morality of painting nude bodies?


I am a professional. I try my best to educate people about body paint. As body painters we celebrate the bodies and its parts as art, not pornography. I personally don’t like to body paint men or naked girls.

But if I have a professional photo shoot, with experienced models and photographers, they understand the art‘s meaning and purpose.

.

Tell us about your latest art exhibit.

- My 3D art show on-line “Papillon” was made with body paint and Digital Art. I tell my viewers about the formation of a Butterfly-from her caterpillar stage through the adult phase.

When she finally becomes a butterfly, she starts to fly. Like a dream come true; we can become butterflies too, and achieve our highest spiritual levels.


Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Boston National Poetry Festival April 15 to 17 2021

 




Boston National Poetry Month Festival
presents:



A Virtual Performance of Poetry and Music

April 15th,16th & 17th


Featuring:


 Martha Collins, Writers Without Margins,
Christle Rawlins-Jackson, Tomas O'Leary, Rhina P. Espaillat,
Alfred Nicol, Ed Meek, Doug Holder, U-Meleni Mhlaba-Adebo,
Cedar Gate Writers, Kathleen Aguero, Richard Hoffman, Fred Marchant,
Charles Coe, Lauren Marie Schmidt, and special guest Martín Espada.
~Audience Q&A with the poets~


Plus Music by:   Stan Strickland, Julian Dinwoodie,
Claire Mulvaney, Beatrice Green, and Thea Hopkins

Friday, March 12, 2021

How to be A Good Creature by Sy Montgomery.



How to be A Good Creature by Sy Montgomery. 200 pages with illustrations. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. $20.00.



Review by Somerville Off the Shelf correspondent Ed Meek



Have we been looking at animals the wrong way? Sy Montgomery thinks so.



For much of our history, animals have been thought of as sources of food or game or as pests. In recent years, science has “discovered” that many animals are sentient and even intelligent. This has led to a rethinking of the value of animals based on how close they are to being human. Coco the gorilla, for example learned to use sign language and was able to teach other gorillas to sign. But as we learn more about the complex society of bees, or the ability of octopi, a shift in perception is taking place. Sy Montgomery, in How to be a Good Creature, expresses this new and evolving attitude toward animals.



From this perspective, animals are not valuable because they taste good or because they are almost as smart as humans, but because of their own unique characteristics. Montgomery delves into her experiences with thirteen animals including her four dogs, three emus, a pig, an octopus and a few exotic creatures from Guyana. She finds that she is able to communicate with all of them and that if she shows that she cares about them, they respond in kind. The emus show her where they secretly sleep and allow her to camp with them. An octopus grasps her hand with seeming affection. Her dogs bring her daily joy on walks and games of frisbee. Sy Montgomery suggests we try being a good creature when we interact with animals and our efforts will pay dividends.


Monday, March 08, 2021

A Tribute To Hugh McGowan: Somerville Music Legend

 

article by Somerville Times correspondent Jennifer Matthews.


I've been trying to make sense of a very dear soul and friend who suddenly passed away six days ago. Hugh McGowan was an amazing person and musical artist, who touched the hearts of countless people with his gorgeous voice, incredible songs and plethora of talent. He literally embodied music and it seemed his every breath was for it. He had a long caravan of musical artists he supported, cheered on and played with.
 
I met Hugh 23 years ago when I played at his Open Mic at the Burren and over the years he touched my heart so much with his enthusiasm and encouragement, and he was always a blast to play with. Some gigs he played drums with me, others he played guitar. He always had a smile on his face, which no words could express the sweetness of. He was pure love and light, and my heart is broken that I didn't get a chance to see him this past year.
 
Hugh, I have no doubt you are with the angels soaring on crescendos of the highest melodies. But please know that I too am in the boat of so many-- who are wishing they had more time with you, and will miss you so much. Your sweetheart spirit, your music, your dearness, your friendship and your gorgeous sea blue eyes will forever be with us. Until we meet again, may your journey onwards be as beautiful as the gift of you that we were all blessed to know and love.
 
Here is a link where you can listen to his music which is so rich with elegance, purity, sophistication and gorgeousness.
Love you Hugh McGowan
https://hughmcgowan.bandcamp.com/?fbclid=IwAR2FTikz4zhudsKL5YAi_34-JkQOjgnXEerUkN7upYYMW-_qYwfaHPagND0


Jennifer Matthews is a singer./songwriter who lived and played music in Somerville for many years...

Sunday, March 07, 2021

Interview with Michael Seth Stewart: Yours Presently: The Selected Letters of Jo...

Under a White Sky by Elizabeth Kolbert





Under a White Sky by Elizabeth Kolbert, Crown, New York, 2021. $28.00.

REVIEW BY ED MEEK


Channel 10 Boston recently did a story on “managed retreat from the coast” based on the notion that a quarter million people living in eastern Massachusetts are at risk from rising water as a result of climate change. You might remember a “Massive Nor’easter” two years ago that flooded the streets of Boston. Maybe that’s why Elizabeth Kolbert lives in Williamstown. Kolbert is the author of The Sixth Extinction, a must read for our current era. In that book she informs us that there have been five previous mass extinctions on earth and that it appears as if we are at the beginning of the sixth extinction. The difference with this one is that we are in what scientists call the Anthropocene period in which we are in charge. Yes, we are number one on the planet. The problem is we have been too successful! We are threatening the extinction of many species, some of whom we depend on for our survival like say, bees. At the same time, due to developments in agriculture and healthcare, nearly 8 billion of us now cover the surface of the earth. Fossil fuels have enabled us to thrive. Meanwhile, we have altered our atmosphere, raising the average temperature by two degrees Fahrenheit which doesn’t seem like much until you consider all those wildfires in California and Australia, and the droughts and floods in the Mid-West and the flooding in New Orleans and Atlantic City and New York and Boston while glaciers retreat and ice melts at the poles and in the mountains.




Ants are what is called a superorganism. Each ant knows its role and they all work together in the colony. Humans, on the other hand, do not always work well together. We are tribal. That is just one of the many reasons dealing with climate change is difficult. Nonetheless, there is a growing awareness of the problems we have created and attempts to begin to deal with them. Elizabeth Kolbert explores some of those attempts in her new book Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future. The white sky in the title refers to what happens when we use chemicals and particles to dim the sun in order to cool the earth. Nature and the natural world have already been permanently altered. There is no returning to nature. Instead, we now have to intervene in order to save ourselves and whatever remains of nature.




Kolbert starts out on the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal which was created in the early 1900s to prevent sewage from the Chicago River draining into Lake Michigan which provides drinking water for Chicago and is a fishing resource. The canal diverts the water to the Mississippi. The Chicago River is toxic and heavily traveled. But in this water, weeds and algae get in the way of the boats so in the 1970s, Asian Carp were introduced because they consume weeds and algae. The problem is that the carp have been so successful that not only have they taken over the river, they’ve invaded both Lake Michigan and the Mississippi. In response, the river has been electrified by the Army Corps of Engineers in order to kill the carp.




Kolbert then heads down to Plaquemines at the southern end of the Mississippi, one of the “fastest disappearing places on earth. In southeastern Louisiana there’s a “land-loss crisis.” The Army Corps of Engineers have created canals, a spillway, and levees in order to control the flooding. This area, Plaquemines, “was devastated by Katrina and then by Hurricane Rita. New Orleans of course was nearly destroyed by Hurricane Katrina which killed 1800 residents and turned the city into a lake. Although New Orleans was high ground when it was founded in 1718, it has been sinking like Venice since.




Kolbert goes from there to the Mojave Desert where a rare species of tine beautiful pupfish has so far been saved from extinction and then she’s on to Australia and the Great Barrier Reef where coral stretches for 135 miles and contains as much as 20% of the species on earth. “If there’s a more spectacular place on earth,” she says, “I’m unaware of it.” The outlook for the Great Barrier Reef as determined by the Park’s administrators has recently declined from “poor” to “very poor.” Nonetheless, scientists are working on a type of coral that is resistant to climate change. Meanwhile, Australia has made a deal with an Indian developer for a 16-billion-dollar coal mine project.




There are two major responses to our climate problem that Kolbert delves into: bioengineering and geoengineering. The former includes CRISPR and addresses “the nature of the future,” the latter refers to “the white sky” that comes from giant projects that remove carbon or dim the sun. What could go wrong? CRISPR as you’ve no doubt heard, gives scientists the ability to manipulate genes. This could be put to good use eliminating diseases. Perhaps we could use it to develop bodies that are better at processing heat. On the other hand, bullet-resistant soldiers could be created by the Chinese. Geoengineering involves either removing carbon from the atmosphere or blocking the sun by doing things like spraying aerosol from a plane or launching reflective particles into the sky.




Under a White Sky starts with the premise that we have already altered the world we live in—there is no going back. Now we are trying to correct some of the mistakes we’ve made and to come up with new ways to engineer our way out of this crisis of our own making. The consensus among her subjects is that we will have to completely change our lifestyle to achieve zero net energy and we will have to employ science to ensure the planet remains user friendly.

As Bob Dylan says, “The hour is growing late.” Fortunately, there’s plenty of time to read Elizabeth Kolbert’s great new book.



Thursday, March 04, 2021

Consummately Plenty and More in SOULJOURNER, the new ‘Karmic crime’ novel

 





Consummately Plenty and More in SOULJOURNER, the new ‘Karmic crime’ novel

by Paul Steven Stone


article by Michael T. Steffen, Correspondent for Off the Shelf




Tucked in with a good deal of intimations of immortality, in a suggestively boundless discourse on Eastern philosophy, underscored by a belief in reincarnation, with many references to the teachings of Bapucharya, the actual narrative of Paul Steven Stone’s new novel, SOULJOURNER (ISBN: 978-1-912526-4-9, Fahrenheit Press) by contrast beds the loftiness of the protagonist David Rockwood Worthington’s consciousness in the halting mundanity of his current life circumstances, serving a life sentence in a federal prison, haunted by the memories of three failed marriages—the last by murder, hence the prison.




The scope of the novel, in these terms, between the summits of cosmic wisdom and the abysses of human betrayal and depravity, brings up comparison with literary greats like Dante. Not that Stone would lay claims to such an aspiration, nor would the lack of a clearly intentional design in the novel. Importantly, nevertheless, SOULJOURNER does propose and relate a powerful belief in the stakes and eternity of our spiritual lives, with the twist, heralded by the book’s epigraph from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin—




We are not human beings on a spiritual journey. We are spiritual beings

on a human journey.




In a sense, it’s not the discerning fortitude of the protagonist that sugars David Worthington to the reader’s taste, but his vulnerability, which we in our times uphold as definitively human, in the long vein of the modern and post-modern antihero. It has the psychological leverage of turning the same criminal-heads-side coin to its tails-side of victim, with the incidents of Worthington’s unstable mental state due to blackouts ensuing the death of his daughter, Maggie, from his first marriage, to the dazed recollection of being himself strangled in bed by Anna, his third wife, and so acting in self-defense strangling her.




Along with the labyrinthine narrative threads are woven psychic pressures from the “other world” by David’s rather sensible if bothersome alter-ego, Sam the Muse, and from the diabolical Karma of his deceased second wife Roza Rostova. Add in numerous bizarre occurrences, including an out-of-body experience in an elevator, an in-prison IRS audit, visits with an endeared prison physical therapist, an inimical prison psychologist (who inserts session notes into and is ultimately responsible for curating Worthington’s narrative after having the prisoner’s pc taken away), and we have everything and more, including stashed fortunes and dustings of political and geopolitical furniture, to keep the highly versatile Internet-age reader busy. That, “busy,” with “wide-ranging” and “unpredictable” characterize the novel and set it on those edges likely to lose or keep readers, between credence and curiosity.




The great virtues of SOULJOURNER lay in how Stone manages the complexity of his enterprise sentence by sentence simply with deft and vivid writing, as in the description of Roza’s ridicule: “the cackle would always shrink and wither behind her fingers into a shrill hyena’s laugh that would quickly vaporize.” (p.28)




The author is able, moreover, as already pointed out, to reveal the higher inner spheres of the sensitive reader’s consideration. Stone sets forth didactic intentions, a classical primary function of writing which has been largely eschewed and difficult to approach plausibly in “creative” fiction since perhaps Dickens. The author’s self-proclaimed nonce one-sentence first chapter hints at this didactic intention, conferring the enlightening labor to the reader, as a reader of one’s own life in the semiotics of a former existence:




CHAPTER ONE



This is a warning from the previous incarnation of your soul.




It must be said there is an equal effort on behalf of the author to entertain us as we go along, from glimpses of the ordinary, sharing a bucket of chicken wings, to awakening sensible insights: “the power of intention has surprising potential to shape reality.” (p.77) This is no small pronouncement in our age of vast communications—intentions—with their scarce, tip-of-the-iceberg “reality” which we lack and so dread and crave. That is, we are prone to the credulity of our easily expressed intentions.




Far from standing us on firm psychological ground, SOULJOURNER invites us to the difficulty of acceptance in realms high and low at the brink of our considerations, to both expel and manifest our deepest fears, those beyond our control, residing in higher powers and our own strained and reactive subconscious. At the same time, toeing down to earth, in the disappointing carnality of lovers and lawyers and mobsters, the novel stiff-arms any pretention at riding one’s ideals beyond the time’s determinations and data. It has aptly been described as “light-hearted, weird and charming” in its complexity, and proves consummately to fulfill a good book’s task of keeping the pages turning in its reader’s hands.


****** author Paul Steven Stone is a member of the Somerville Bagel Bards

Tuesday, March 02, 2021

Why I Never Worked at Hustler By B. Lynne Zika

 

Photo by Ben Dufeck





Why I Never Worked at Hustler

By B. Lynne Zika




How I came to interview with Hustler is a circuitous tale involving the requisite heartache of extramarital affairs, replacement lovers, overdue rent, a history with Playgirl, and a stint in public relations. The replacement lover (she replaced me) was an Art Dept. bigwig at the magazine and set up an interview for me. It was my consolation prize.

One Tuesday in March I drove myself to a glitzy office in Century City, California. Larry had been shot by then, and Althea was running the show. A twenty-something, good-looking fellow fetched me from the reception area and led me to the throne room. An areca palm waved from the eastern corner directly opposite the usual walnut credenza crowned with an amber liquid in cut crystal. Althea looked up from whatever papers she was absorbed in and indicated I should sit. That command was delivered with an imperious thrust of an almost-dimpled chin. The good-looking minion took his place behind her right shoulder. Rah.

My interview consisted of the usual questions and answers. Nothing remarkable. Except...

Althea used every opportunity to demean and castrate her assistant. Men in power have been diminishing women for centuries. Althea was turning the tide. Each time she grabbed the fellow’s figurative <ahem>, he tensed, then oh-so-slightly ducked his head. She commanded; he complied.

Althea asked me about my position at Playgirl. I had been Photo Editor. Yes, I had enjoyed it. Magazines, like newspapers, have a put-to-bed moment soon followed by an actual product, something you can pick up, read, keep in your professional hope chest (portfolio). They're tactilely gratifying.

The queen scanned, queried, whacked her assistant, queried more, and the interview was over. They'd be in touch. The minion, a kindly fellow when safely out of her range, escorted me out.

It can be a long fret between interview and result. Hustler was surprisingly gentle on me. The minion called me the next day.

Althea wanted to know if I would come on board as their Director of Public Relations. I'd been in PR before, but I knew the real reason she offered me the job.

During my interview, Art Dept. had brought in a layout for her approval. An enormously busted blonde stretched, squatted, hunched, pooched, and splayed. Althea looked it over, said, "No, we need more pink," glanced up at me to gauge my reaction, and handed the layout back.

I hadn't flinched. My mother's training in Act as if Everything Is Fine held me in good stead in the world of public anything. Althea liked my staunchness. Apparently she believed I could be unflappable for Hustler.

I remembered the matter-of-fact bludgeoning of her male assistant. I remembered something else. Althea sat at her executive desk in short sleeves. Midway between her wrist and inner elbow was a tidy, geometrically designed track mark. There was a center line with straight tree limbs branching off in regular formation. At the end of each branch was a dot, the pop mark. Althea was a junky, with enough money at her disposal to satisfy a long-term habit.

Did I want to work for a rich, castrating junky who ran a porno magazine? I turned down the offer.

At the other end of the phone the minion sputtered. "But she said you could name your salary." I thanked him, declined, and got off the phone.

The next day he called again. Althea wanted to make certain I understood that money was no object. A private office and executive privileges went without saying. I thanked him and declined again.

It was clear by his silence that I'd astonished him. He didn't know what to say. Maybe he was anticipating his exchange with Althea when he had to go back and tell her he'd been unsuccessful with me. He finally voiced a baffled "Okay" and said good-bye.

Another art director friend—Baily—told me when he heard the tale that I'd made a huge mistake. His counsel: "Never say no to opportunity."

Time weighed in on the issue. Baily didn't say no to drugs and alcohol and died. Althea had enough money to say yes to all the smack she wanted. She died.

Forty-plus years later I can look back on it. Some opportunities are opportunities for disaster. I don't regret that I never worked at Hustler magazine.

Friday, February 26, 2021

How To Wash A Heart By Bhanu Kapil

 

How To Wash A Heart

By Bhanu Kapil

Liverpool University Press

www.liverpooluniversitypress.co.uk

ISBN: 978-1-789-62168-6

52 Pages


Review by Dennis Daly


Hospitality confers a plethora of emotions upon both host and guest. Some of these sensations, like empathy and gratitude, seem obvious. Others, like intrusiveness and resentment, seem less so. Cultural hospitality evolved historically as a survival trait, inhabiting the very center of tribal society. In her new collection of poems, How to Wash a Heart, Bhanu Kapil examines this interesting phenomenon with intimacy and tough-mindedness.


Nothing, if not original, Kapil sets her collection up in five sections of eight untitled poems apiece. The compositions are twenty lines long in the first section and twenty-two lines in the remaining four. She telescopes in and out, engaging in stories, images, scenes, and speculations of an Indian immigrant. Most of the lines are short and they work well lending emphasis and exposing drama.


Kapil is not the protagonist, yet the poems are so deeply personal, so confessional that you wonder at her precise knowledge and the sensitivities conveyed by the narrator. The poet herself was born in Britain and both of her parents were Indian immigrants. She currently resides in both the United States and Great Britain.


Feeling a little like a hoax, Kapil’s protagonist, identified as K, a valued refugee, gets her gratefulness out in the very first poem of the collection. This begins a counterpoint of dueling emotions, which frames the forward motion of the host/guest plot as it unfurls,


Its inky-early outside and I’m wearing my knitted scarf, like

John Betjeman, poet of the British past.

I like to go outside straight away and stand in the brisk air.

Yesterday, you vanished into those snowflakes like the ragged beast

You are.

Perhaps I can write here again.

A “fleeting sense of possibility.” –K.

Keywords: Hospitality, stars, jasmine,

Privacy.

You made a space for me in your home, for my books and clothes,

And I’ll

Never forget that.


Uneasiness pervades K’s guest status. Sexual innuendos appear and disappear. She reaches out to determine her limits and the rules of her new foreign home. Her writing begets a sense of comfort and belonging, but that does not solve the problem. She explains,


As I write these words, stretching out

These early spring or late winter

Mornings with coffee

And TV.

I don’t remember the underneath,

Everything I will miss when I die.

It’s exhausting to be a guest

In somebody else’s house

Forever.

Even though the host invites

The guest to say

Whatever it is they want to say,

The guest knows the host logic

Is variable.

Prick me.


Before arriving, trauma clutched this refugee. The truth in detail cannot be forgotten, and only temporarily sidestepped. Kapil weaves in the details of K’s past life before, and as she fled the violence endemic to her country. Consider these telltale lines,


When our neighbors

Said go, we fled.

Our hearts beating

Like fish.

Hello, sang Lionel Richie, on the taxi’s orange

Radio.

My grandfather burned his notebooks

Then scraped the ash

Into a hole

He could button up.

Don’t ask me to remember

The word for zip.

My secret is this:

Though we lost all our possessions

I felt

A strange relief

To see my home explode in the rearview mirror.


Liberal altruism most often needs recognition of good deeds and applause, all of which result from actions closely fitting expectations. Real world venality must suppress itself and conform. The performance should match this insipid world outlook and follow the stage directions as the plot unfolds. Kapil’s protagonist cannily does this at first. Here she dissects her own situation,


Like a thing of beauty

In the pudding basin

Of tap water by the door.

Was I your art?

My involvement with your family

Was an act of volition

And consensus.

The political face you showed

To your neighbors,

For example, was contra-

Regime.

My links to the community

Of writers I had been part of

Had broken overnight.

And so, I smiled

And laughed when you did.


K details her experience from “treasured pet” to exotic disappointment. She explores “the link/ Between creativity/ And survival.” K gets to the point in the penultimate section of the collection. She says,


So many of my experiences

Were about waiting,

Noting the reserve,

Anxiety and palpable fear

In those guarded

Rooms.

Perhaps you know

What comes next.

Perhaps you don’t.

Perhaps you have lived your life

Without error, fortitude,

Or end.


The more especial the relationship is between guest and host the steeper the denouement and the fall. Western liberality extends only to the border of its precious narrative. Guests who do not live up to presumptive notions break a sacred trust. It’s almost a religious test. Far from the survival origin of neighborly sanctuary (found in throwback cultures of say Afghanistan and Pakistan), the sponsor strikes out in sneering colonial fashion,


The host’s gleaming hair

Responds beautifully to the shampoo

She has set out for us

To share.

What’s mine is yours,

She says with a sweet

Smile.

I don’t want you taking her out

Without asking me

First, she continues,

Holding her daughter tight

Against her side.

I can smell your body

Odor.


Kapil’s poetic sequence concludes in prosaic melodrama. The ending gives a topical and political edge to the collection. It does fit the loose plot and even some of the surreal images. However, the remarkable uniqueness of the book becomes really clear through the reading-trek itself, its ambivalent protagonist, and her definitive, if uncomfortable, relationships.