Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Bagels

Einstein’s Bagels kindly agreed to give us all their leftover bagels on Friday for our Gathering of Writers on Saturday. At the last minute, though, we found out we weren’t allowed to take any of our own food into the venue.

What to do? I felt kind of dumb calling them up and saying we didn’t need the bagels, after all and I thought it would be rude to just not show up. How many bagels could there be, I thought. I’ll just pick them up and we can all take some home and freeze them.

I got there. There didn’t seem to be that many, some of the trays were empty. But when 5:00 arrived and the employees dumped them all—along with probably a dozen plastic cups with “bagel poppers”—in them, they filled a gargantuan garbage bag. One of the guys had to carry it out for me.

Within five minutes my whole car smelled like garlic.

Anyway. We had the Gathering of Writers the next day, at which the caterer provided those crummy little wrapped muffins that get all sticky from sweating in their cellophane packages.

Nonetheless, Marian University was a lovely place to have our event and a good time was had by all. Elizabeth Stuckey-French gave an inspiring keynote, tailor-made for this year’s theme, “Unlock Your Voice.” Tom Chiarella, Skip Berry, Alessandra Lynch, Jill Christman and others gave sessions on fiction, screenwriting, poetry and the memoir.

Cathy Day’s session jolted me out of my confusion about the novel I recently started—at least temporarily.

Of course, I brought our fabulous prize wheel—featuring photos of the day’s presenters. Elizabeth was the best prize, a tee-shirt. I got to be a notebook!

As always, the best part for me at Writers' Center events watching writers connect with one another.

The evaluations were overwhelmingly positive.

The bagels, however, were still in my car.

I’d bought a box of bags and I opened up the hatch and sort of bullied people into taking bagels home with them. I made up a bag for our freezer, then took some to my daughters.

My son-in-law, Jim, packaged up the rest to drop off at a shelter the next day. Which, I know, is what I should have done with them in the first place.

Still, they made an such an amusing little subplot for the day that I can’t quite make myself feel guilty about it.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Monet & Me

For the past few years I’ve needed glasses for reading and I wear them, sometimes, for driving—especially at night. I’ve never had to wear them all the time, though, and can’t quite get used to the idea that maybe I should.

Lately, I find myself misreading posters and headlines because of my less than fabulous vision. A few recent examples:

“E-mails show chubby IURC, Duke.”
Instead of “E-mails show clubby IURC, Duke.”

“Onward Christian Monguls.”
Instead of “Onward Christian Moguls.”

“Can I receive joints?”
Instead of “Can I relieve joints?

“Don’t hyperventilate.”
“Don’t hyphenate.”

The thing is, I kind of like my versions better. It amuses me to think of chubby bureaucrats and CEO’s, Christian marketers with the brutal savvy of Ghengis Khan, an arthritis sufferer seeking marijuana to ease her pain, someone hyperventilating over punctuation.

Okay, it’s a stretch—but it occurred to me that this shift in my spelling universe due to growing older is a little bit like this poem I love, in which Lisel Mueller imagines Monet explaining to the doctor why he’s decided against a cataract operation.

MONET REFUSES THE OPERATION

Doctor, you say there are no halos
around the streetlights in Paris
and what I see is an aberration
caused by old age, an affliction.
I tell you it has taken me all my life
to arrive at the vision of gas lamps as angels,
to soften and blur and finally banish
the edges you regret I don’t see,
to learn that the line I called the horizon
does not exist and sky and water,
so long apart, are the same state of being.
Fifty-four years before I could see
Rouen cathedral is built
of parallel shafts of sun,
and now you want to restore
my youthful errors: fixed
notions of top and bottom,
the illusion of three-dimensional space,
wisteria separate
from the bridge it covers.
What can I say to convince you
the Houses of Parliament dissolve
night after night to become
the fluid dream of the Thames?
I will not return to a universe
of objects that don’t know each other,
as if islands were not the lost children
of one great continent. The world
is flux, and light becomes what it touches,
becomes water, lilies on water,
above and below water,
becomes lilac and mauve and yellow
and white and cerulean lamps,
small fists passing sunlight
so quickly to one another
that it would take long, streaming hair
inside my brush to catch it.
To paint the speed of light!
Our weighted shapes, these verticals,
burn to mix with air
and change our bones, skin, clothes
to gases. Doctor,
if only you could see
how heaven pulls earth into its arms
and how infinitely the heart expands
to claim this world, blue vapor without end

The world flux.

Yes.

And astonishing, no matter what your eyes reveal.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The War Nobody Notices

Last night, journalist Doug Wissing presented a lecture entitled "Finding Truths in Afghanistan: An Indiana Writer Talks about War," during which he observed that the U.S. has been trying for years to be involved in a war that nobody notices—and seems to have achieved this with the war in Afghanistan.

Booking this lecture as part of the Writers’ Center of Indiana’s Clowes Craft Lecture Series, “Be a (Better) Writer” seemed like a no-brainer to me. What serious writer wouldn’t be interested in knowing about how your personal experience under fire finds its way into stories, what responsible American citizen wouldn’t find it interesting and necessary to hear, first-hand, from a person who’s been in the thick of it—from living with soldiers in the field to eavesdropping on policy wonks in Kabul?

But only about twenty people showed up at Central Library to listen to what Wissing learned while embedded one of the Army’s Agricultural Development Teams, unfortunately proving his point.

So, do I just do a rant about that? I mean, it’s a temptation. What’s wrong with people, anyway?

But been there, done that—and, mainly, it makes me weary and depressed.

Instead, I’ll just say—you guys missed a truly enlightening event.

Against a changing backdrop of slides portraying the ADT team, the Afghan villagers, and the harshly beautiful landscape of Afghanistan, Wissing introduced us to some of the ADT team and talked about their good work with respect and admiration, but also described the tangle of graft and corruption that results in all too much of the billions we’ve spent in Afghanistan falling into the hands of unscrupulous politicians and contractors—not to mention the Taliban.

He described the virtual training soldiers undergo—like living in a video game. He talked about the relationship between women soldiers and the Afghans, the complex negotiations that must occur for each baby step of progress that’s made there, what it’s like to wake up and find yourself under fire. He talked about the increasing concern about after-effects of mild brain damage in Afghanistan vets and the failure of the military to acknowledge and provide much-needed treatment.

“Remember Agent Orange?” he said.

Notice: the title of his talk was “Finding Truths in Afghanistan,” not “Finding the Truth in Afghanistan.” As he so brilliantly illustrated, there are countless truths in Afghanistan—many of which are contradictory.

There is no one simple answer to the questions we all should be asking, a few of which are:

Should we be there?
Can we win if we stay?
What is the cost in dollars and integrity and heartbreak?
Can we afford it?


The important questions we encounter in life—whether they are personal or political—never have simple answers. Some (maybe most) don’t even have answers. All you can do is face a problem honestly, seek reliable information to help you see it more clearly, and then form an opinion, staying open to adjusting that opinion as new truths emerge.

I learned a lot last night, some of my opinions about what’s happening in Afghanistan shifted based on the story Doug Wissing told about his experiences there. He raised many questions in my mind that I feel compelled to explore.

Too bad so few people were curious enough to come out and hear what he had to say.