Two Homers, Three Helens and a Sailboat on Blue Water
It may be true that there is no hunting like the hunting of men. But that is a small thing compared to the hunting of one’s ghosts. Or the hunt for one’s self, which is harder still.
I first thought seriously about the hunting of men during the search for newspaper heiress Patty Hearst. I was very young and very green, and I covered the story for the CBS television station in San Francisco. We were all interested in the hunt for Patty and her kidnappers back then. At the time, it was called the story of the century, having surpassed the Lindbergh baby kidnapping of 1932 in the public mind. That is what happens when four decades pass between notorious events. The public mind shifts. Hardly anyone remembers the past. Fewer still learn from it.
It was not up to me to find the heiress or her abductors. My job was to wear nice clothes and wait in an RV parked outside the Hearst mansion in Hillsborough, California. Sooner or later, the people who were hunting for Patty—the FBI and the police—would find her, dead or alive, and make some kind of statement in front of the family home. All I had to do was appear on camera each night and say something—anything—to keep the story alive.
Except for the extra income and attention that came from an assignment like this, it was the occupational equivalent of a quarantine. One afternoon, in order to pass the time, I picked up a magazine and read a reprint of “On the Blue Water,” Ernest Hemingway’s Gulf Stream Letter of April, 1936. That’s where he talks about the hunting of men. And how once you get a taste for it, you never really care for anything else thereafter.
You have to admire the piece, whether you like this kind of talk or not, because this particular Gulf Stream Letter contains a nugget of something greater than itself, the anecdote that eventually became The Old Man and the Sea.
And if you are a young reporter writing piffle about a rich white girl when hundreds of black and brown girls get raped or go missing every day with nary a thought for their whereabouts or well-being, you realize reading Hemingway that you are wasting your time. And if you don’t do something to change your life, you may wind up with a fair amount of money some day—but no soul.
Oglethorpe University's 'Spring Awakening' Carries 'Mature Content' Warning & Pushes Boundaries Where They Need Pushing Most
A few years ago, I was sure I’d never set foot on Atlanta’s beautiful Oglethorpe University campus again. That’s because Georgia Shakespeare, which staged its productions at the university’s Conant Performing Arts Center, finally gave up the ghost in 2006 after nearly three decades.
This was not the fault of Oglethorpe by any means. But without Georgia Shakespeare, there seemed no reason to return to the campus. The end of those fine productions was a great loss to the city’s cultural landscape, and I kept hoping it might rise from its own ashes, a Phoenix like Atlanta itself. So far that has not happened. But last weekend I found myself making the familiar turn off Peachtree Road onto the school's Brookhaven campus for a decidedly non-Shakespearean production of the Tony-Award-winning musical Spring Awakening.
If I’d taken the time to investigate further, I probably wouldn’t have driven through Saturday’s horrible rainstorm for what turned out to be a student production. Purchasing the tickets online was a knee-jerk decision. I clicked “buy” only because veteran actor and director Richard Garner, co-founder of Georgia Shakespeare, was listed as director. I’d seen plenty of his work on the university campus, most of it featuring Equity actors, and that’s all it took to clinch the deal.
When you hear what I have to say about what happened at the courthouse that day, you may decide that I'm racist. After all, it's not the kind of charge one can easily deny these days. Not even if you're the least racist person in the world. But the truth is, there's no way to relate what happened without brining race into it. In a way, the whole thing was about race. And it all began before the jury was selected. Before the defendant was even arrested.
The place is Georgia. The month, August. It’s hot, and we’ve been stuck here since 8:00 AM. For most of that time, it’s been impossible to ignore a young white woman who’s been flitting about, laughing and chatting since we got here. Her laugh is infectious. She’s added a certain levity to the day. A lift even the espresso I got from a vendor couldn’t quite compete with. Then near the end of the day, she says this:
“Oh my God, I think I might have bought drugs from this guy back in high school.”
Did Agatha Christie Steal from Another Writer?
If you were to ask any ten people if they knew who wrote Orient Express, all ten would likely say, "Why Agatha Christie, of course." And they'd be wrong.
That's because two years after Graham Greene published Orient Express, the novel that put him on the map in 1932, Christie published a far more popular novel with a similar name. In the UK, there'd have been no confusion over the two. The original title of Greene's book was Stamboul Train. It was only when his novel was published in the United States that its title was changed in 1934.
I've owned Orient Express for several years but only just got around to reading it. Still in brand new condition, it practically leapt off the shelf demanding to be read. This is one of the nice things about having actual books around. They say things as you pass by to gather dishes or switch off the lamp.
Don't get me wrong. I enjoy my eBooks in part because I can carry ten or twenty of them on a jet without having to pay extra for another bag. It's also nice to look up an unfamiliar word by placing your finger on it. I mean, that's cool. But once an eBook is stored away inside your eReader, it's out of sight and mostly out of mind. It doesn't jump off the shelf, reminding you of the day you made the purchase. The things that were going on in your life at the time. The reason you chose it in the first place. What you hoped to find between its covers. Demanding to be read if not now, when?
Since Greene's book was published first, I wondered if Christie had taken a rib from his novel to create her own. Did she believe, as Picasso did, that it's alright to steal from another artist if you think you can do it better?
There is, for instance, a significant snow delay in both. Each involves a murder. Both include a diverse ensemble of characters. And there is a shared interest in foreign police to one degree or another as the train penetrates the east European hinterland.
But beyond those similarities—and the fact that both stories take place aboard a train—the two books are as unalike as Ice-T and Ice Cube.
Although some would argue that one of these Orient Express novels is superior to the other, I am not here to play that game. My purpose is to say simply that I was deeply affected by Greene's novel. And I want to tell you why.
Nabokov's Nymphet Remains Misunderstood by a Culture that Winks at the Sexualization of Children
I don’t care about Jeffrey Epstein. I care about the girls. I see the term “Lolita Express” in the news alongside passenger logs that include the names of rich and famous men, most of whom are white, and the only relief I feel is that Epstein did not have the audacity to give that name to the aircraft himself. The reference to Nabokov's famous novel came from the press, as did the nickname for the 72-acre island he owns in the Caribbean—"Orgy Island."
Cute, but it's not funny
Lolita is a tragic figure. She is completely undone by the lust of a sophisticated, well-educated adult, who by possessing the object of his desire transforms it into something entirely different, initiating her demise. The novel is a double tragedy. It is the story of Lolita's ruin and that of her putative stepfather and abductor Humbert Humbert.
Consider what it means to call Espstein's airplane "Lolita Express." Especially when the alleged sex trafficking of underage girls is part of the equation and an alleged open secret.
A Black Poet, a White Politician, an SNL Parody - and How to Avoid the Danger of Being Too Sure
Lucille Clifton, Richard Nixon, Steve Martin. It’s not every day you’ll hear these three names mentioned in the same breath. But we live in a world of unusual juxtapositions. Look no further than postmodern art by Romare Beardon and Robert Rauschenberg. Or any city skyline with a Rennaissaince style church shadowed by a glass skyscraper.
Sometimes groupings like this are ironic. Others are accidental or focus on incongruity or commonality. But I’ve handpicked my threesome to make a point about the ‘perception trap’ — the perilous belief that your particular way of looking at things is the right one. There’s a lot of that going around these days. Almost no one seems immune. In American and UK politics, for example, it’s led to extreme polarization fueled by social media platforms that turn anyone with a smartphone into an instant bullhorn.
It’s only human to perceive the world around you and draw conclusions based on the information you’re processing. But it’s pure folly to pretend yourconcepts are the only correct interpretation.
So I’ve concocted a mental flu-shot comprised of life hacks gleaned from the lives of three iconic individuals from entirely different walks of life, chased by a little something extra to top it off — the pièce de résistance, if you will.
Three Lovely Things to Think On: Rilke, Paul Gauguin & Music from Wong Kar-wai's 'In the Mood for Love'
Shortly after the 2016 presidential election, I spoke with an educator who told me about an essay written by a 16-year-old student. Like the advice Nick Carraway received from his father on the opening page of The Great Gatsby, it's something I've been turning over in my mind ever since.
Donald Trump won the election, the high-schooler said, because he only thinks positive things about himself even if they're not true. But that's not all he did. He also managed to get everyone else to think negative thoughts. You can't win when you get negative. You just can't.
This was one of those insights about which I could only say, "Out of the mouths of babes." Surely there were many quantitative factors that led to the election's outcome. Systematic, carefully orchestrated help from Russia, for example. An electoral college system that permits a minority vote-getter to secure the Oval Office. James Comey's ill-timed statements about the Clinton email investigation. And many more. But the words of that 16-year-old essayist seemed to get to the heart of the matter. They also reminded me of her famous 20th-century precursor.
In 1903, James Allen wrote a significant little book which says, "As a man thinketh, so shall he be."
I've been reflecting on that line lately because I've taken a few days to absent myself from the news. Funny how a little adjustment like that can make a difference in the way you feel. Not that I've got my head in the sand. You can't do that entirely.
But backing away from the daily mayhem seems to have improved my overall sense of well-being.
I've heard it said that you can't solve a problem by focusing on it too much. That only makes the problem larger and more difficult in your mind. Solutions come when you step back far enough to see the big picture.
It also helps, I've found, to bear in mind what St. Paul said about thought. You know the line. "Whatever is true, honorable and right, whatever is pure, lovely, and of good repute--if there be anything excellent worthy of praise, let your mind think on those things."
To that end, dear friends, here are three things that seem to fit Paul's paradigm. They make me feel better. Maybe you'll get something from them too.
'You're a Woman, Ain't you? Well, this is a kitchen.' Why Tara Westover's 'Educated' Will Remain a Must-Read for a Very Long Time
Ellen DeGeneres read it because Michelle Obama told her to. Bill Gates said it’s even better than you’ve heard. Barack Obama put it on his best books list. So did Amazon. Time Magazine named its 32-year-old author to its Top 100 list. I read it for all these reasons and because a retired high school headmaster, one of my best friends, encouraged me to.
You might not think a book about going to school would read like a page-turning thriller. But Tara Westover’s Educated does just that. It is without question one of the most extraordinary books I’ve ever read.
Even if you have to wait twenty weeks to get it from your local public library (as I did)—here’s why you should read it. Westover’s story is not just about getting a highfalutin degree. It’s about her multi-leveled struggle to become herself against insufferable odds. This is what Jungians call individuation. It’s what Dr. Wayne Dyer referred to as “leaving the tribe.” You think that’s easy? Try it.
But Westover’s memoir is more than that. Raised by survivalist parents on an Idaho mountain, her obstacles include the people she loves—her family. They involve received ideas about God and religion—the Mormon fundamentalism she was brought up with. She must climb over a wall that includes unquestioned loyalty to male power figures. You’re a woman, ain’t you? Well, this is a kitchen.
I like big books, and I cannot lie. My background includes talk radio, newspapers and TV news. I've hosted a morning-drive classical music program on the California coast and published nationally in Reader's Digest, the Christian Science Monitor, and Playboy. I've won awards for my journalism and my fiction. One of my essays even made it into an anthology for college English courses. For real? Yes, for real.
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