THAT OLD EAST-MEETS-WEST CONUNDRUM

Carmichael’s, the restaurant her family owns in my new novel, has me looking more closely at others. The logo of the new Gyro Spot in downtown Dover takes the traditional Greek blue-and-white border and twists it into a G. Or is that Gee!

Decades ago, in selecting a Greek-American family as the closing destination of my first published novel, I imagined its circle of siblings as an embodiment of Western civilization – a bohemian counterbalance to the Tibetan Buddhism my hippie-dippy Dharma bum was carrying back to the American heartland. I intended the fusion of two non-mainstream cultures to suggest the rainbow of alternative lifestyles emerging in the late ’60s and early ’70s and the optimistic possibilities before us.

Frankly, some of what I wrote was semi-autobiographical. After an immersion in yoga practice on a small farm in the Pocono mountains of eastern Pennsylvania, I had returned to a rural corner of Ohio – a small town I call Prairie Depot in some later novels. While our yoga was Hindu-based, the teachings allowed me to explore an earlier interest in both Zen and Tibetan Buddhism – enough similarities exist for me to feel comfortable in that part of my story.

What still astonishes me, though, is my intuitive flash to make the family Greek. I vaguely sense my decision may have been based on a local family-owned restaurant that had undergone a similar tragedy, though I would have known little more than what I’ve just related. Only in the past half-dozen years have I begun to perceive how prevalent Greek immigrants and their descendants have been in the American experience, yet even when they’re as numerous as they are where I now live, their presence is nearly invisible to the general public.

I hope my newest novel, What’s Left, will change that perception.

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FAMILY VALUES

Mrs. Richardson had been yelling at the kid the fifth-grade girl who came around to our door begging money to pay the babysitter Mrs. Richardson yelled at the grandchild for three days, and spanked her then they were crying, in different parts of the building all the while, their phonograph repeated “the angels sing, glory […]

PRELUDE & FUGUE 28/

an elephant with flowers painted around the eyes and painted toenails four zebras sipping water *   *   * luxurious green tent on safari white bone ornaments through noses armed for the hunt and cocktails already served three African bushmen in a field of wrinkled flesh eyelid (the elephant) the rain is needed, sticky or no […]

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THE QUOTATIONS BLUR?

When someone speaks of an event while quoting someone else, how accurate is that quotation? How much is a recasting by the teller, perhaps years after the event being related?

In drafting my newest novel, as I turned to a first-person narrative by someone who never even met many of the characters she’s telling about, I realized that her quoting them was actually a filtering through her own voice. In other words, the precision of their voice was in question. Would it be right to put their input in quotations marks? Or eliminate the quotation marks and let the telling float in and out of some recollection?

I’ve opted for the latter. Will it work for the reader, though? We’ll see.

THE SILENCE IN BEETHOVEN

When it comes to the fine arts, we love our biographies of tortured genius, and Ludwig van Beethoven serves the storytellers admirably. Baptized December 17, 1770, in Bonn, his tempestuous and tragic life was one of failed love affairs, strained friendships, and especially the deafness that accompanied his greatest musical achievements. And yet many of us find him not only speaking for us but also extending inspiration in the quest for fullness and fidelity.

In part it’s a story of the way Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven reestablish the center of classical music, centering it in the German-speaking world far from its Italian roots and the Renaissance genius of Monteverdi and Palestrina.

As I discussed earlier this year, Beethoven’s popularity rests largely on works that he wrote in the second half of his life, past the age of Mozart’s death, the years that encompass what are known as his Middle (or Heroic) and Late periods. The years accompanied by deafness.

For much of my life, I’ve not been alone in finding that what most appealed to me were the works from the Middle period – the Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Ninth symphonies, the violin and “Emperor” piano concertos, the Rasumovsky string quartets – stirring works raging with dramatic struggle and promised victory. With all of their emotional parallels to athletic contests, these have justifiably ensured his enduring public adoration.

More recently, though, they’ve given way in my estimation as the Late period works have risen in preference. Quite simply, these have never been considered all that accessible. Many of them defiantly turn their back on the audience in a pursuit of boldly intricate, often extended, musical puzzles that plumb the depths of human despair, loneliness, resolve, as well as lofty heights. Indeed, for years the assumption has been that these are not for public consumption but are rather reserved for private investigation among the cognoscenti, should they be so honored.

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AND HAVE A GOOD DAY?

In the early days of Friends, they’d often greet each other with the question, “How does Truth prosper among you?” Not “How are you doing?” or even “Good morning.”

Strikes modern ears as puzzling, even problematic, beginning with that verb prosper, which we tend to consider along financial terms rather than thrive or even proliferate. Equally unfamiliar is the idea of Truth being active – alive – rather than static and unchanging.

To further thicken the plot, consider their linkage of Truth and Christ, so the question also asks, “How is Christ alive among you?”

How would you answer that!

~*~

For more along these lines, take a look at Religion Turned Upside Down.