30 January 2012

This month, my Post-40’s Bloomers column at The Millions features Daniel Orozco, whose story collection Orientation will (in my humble opinion) both engage and inspire you.

…I’ve been thinking about you.

And I admit it bums me out that — after such an intense and real togetherness that we all shared, hope and change, etc — you gave up on President Obama, and sometimes you stink-talk him publicly.  I am not discounting your disappointment.  Maybe there was a particular issue, dear to your heart, and you feel that the President reneged on a campaign promise.  Or maybe you’re frustrated by his cautious pragmatism.  Or his pie-in-the-sky ambition.  Or his radical liberalism.  Or his moderate centrism.  Or his capitalism.  Or his socialism.  Maybe he is too black for you, or not black enough.

Maybe it’s much closer to home, i.e. you or someone you love is currently an unemployment statistic.

I am not discounting any of this.  I can name a major issue or two that the President is not addressing the way I think he should; and my daily life is directly affected by the mortgage crisis, lack of access to credit, the cost of health care, and big-business exploitation of the environment.

But look: on what are you basing your conclusion that it’s all the President’s “fault”?  On media bytes about how “the President clearly can’t run against the Republicans based on his record, because  look at how terrible everything is”?  I just ask that you look closely at the complexity and depth of the disaster(s) President Obama inherited.  Do some more research on what he’s actually attempted to do (and why he failed), everything he’s succeeded in doing (and how he managed that), and what he plans to continue doing in order to achieve the most General Good possible.  I myself, on a basic level, still trust that this President’s definition of the most General Good is both smart and noble — not perfectly so, but as comprehensively as anything we’ve seen in a long time.

Read Ryan Lizza’s profile in the New Yorker of Obama’s thorough, thoughtful, and disciplined decision-making process over the last two years for a sense of both the goodness and the imperfection of that process.

Obama’s first three years as President are the story of his realization of the limits of his office, his frustration with those constraints, and, ultimately, his education in how to successfully operate within them. A close look at the choices Obama made on domestic policy, based on a review of hundreds of pages of internal White House documents, reveals someone who is canny and tough—but who is not the President his most idealistic supporters thought they had elected.

I’m not sure why this assessment should/would make Obama supporters abandon him; and it disappoints me that it does. If Obama had not become supremely “canny and tough,” if he had not looked squarely at real obstacles to his most General Good agenda; if he had remained what many feared he was, i.e. all poetry and no prose, inspiring and appealing but unqualified to govern — it seems to me we’d be in much worse trouble now.

We elected him because he’s no dummy, and because he got into this with a genuine vision for productive politics.  He is not a monarch; has 4 to 8 years to accomplish things (with half of that time really being sucked up by campaigning).  We should grow up and stop acting like he is operating in a no-limitations political system with all the time and magical influence in the world.  We should recognize that when faced many times a day with deciding between get-something-good-done-at-the-cost-of-something-else, vs get-nothing-done-in-order-to-appear-consistent-or-principled-in-a-simplistic-way,  you do the best you can; you are making very difficult decisions, you hardly ever feel satisfied with them, and you need the support of your supporters.  Keep him accountable, sure; but please, reconsider your easy dismissal and stink-talking.

21 January 2012

An exhibit at Tibor deNagy of Elizabeth Bishop‘s art — both her original art and art she collected — reminds me that the creative process is constant.  Writing, painting, collecting too – these are all acts of seeing.

I love the inscription of “Happy Birthday” here – no one knows to whom Bishop wrote this, some speculate that she wrote/painted it for herself.


43 King Street in NYC, where EB lived not too happily (for a year or so, I believe).  She was never able to feel at home in New York.  “I’ve never felt particularly homeless, but, then, I’ve never felt particularly at home.  I guess that’s about right for a poet’s sense of home.”


EB did not have an easy life — she was adrift, suffered heartbreaks and isolation — but she made her own way, always finding ways to live where she wanted, and how she wanted (Maine, Key West, Brazil) — as an artist.  A rare and beautiful thing.

16 January 2012

I worked through most of MLK day, but I did enjoy wandering the Studio Museum of Harlem for an hour or so.  It’s a privilege to live in this neighborhood, to partake in its culture, present and past; and I forget it too easily.

I found this photograph utterly arresting and beautiful.  I failed to photograph the plaque with the artist’s name, but I’m working on tracking it down.

Kira Lynn Harris‘s homage to Romare Bearden‘s “The Block,” part of the Romare Bearden Project, celebrating the centennial of his birth.

If you’re a New Yorker, be sure to make the trip uptown; if you’re an uptowner, be sure to get over to the Studio Museum sometime if you haven’t. It will  be worth your while.

14 January 2012

Thanks, Lisa Peet at Like Fire, for alerting us to The Next Best Book Blog — a site devoted to highlighting and reviewing the best books published by indie presses.  Woot woot!

11 January 2012

Two things: an essay and a blog post.

My essay on James Salter, “In the Light Where Art and Longing Meet: My Day With James Salter,” is in the current print issue of Tin House Magazine.  I couldn’t be more tickled.  The project began almost exactly two years ago(!) — with my piece at The Millions (on sex writing by “great” male writers), a stunning email from JS himself, and an ensuing correspondence over the following year.  Other amazing authors in this issue, themed “Beauty” — Marilynne Robinson, Michel Houellebecq, Eric Puchner, Paul Willems, Michelle Widgen, Aimee Bender on artist Amy Cutler, and more.

I also have a blog post, “Living and Learning in Bookstores,” as part of Tin House‘s “Book Clubbing” blog series — wherein I describe the independent bookstores in NYC that I love, and the unassuming bookstore in Seattle where I embarked on my literary education, many lifetimes (although really not that many years) ago. Enjoy!

10 January 2011

We’ve been obsessed with the Republican primaries and debates here.  I suppose that means I’m not  as cynical as I thought I was; I keep looking for candidates to break through with a true voice, to stray from pre-packaged message message message.  Newt and Dr. Ron are the ones to watch in this respect, although John Huntsman showed signs of life on Sunday in NH.

Romney‘s electability strategy is clear: I’ve run businesses, I’ve lived “in the real economy,” that Obama guy hasn’t.  Another strategy that I imagine the Romneyans will pursue might go like this: I’m a doer, not a hand-wringer, we need real-world action; this isn’t a time for “nuanced thinking,” for professorial passivity.


With the departure of Obama’s Chief of Staff Bill Daley, this dichotomy of character comes up again: Rahm Emanuel was a “ball-buster,” a guy who “got things done.”  Again, he wasn’t known as a thinker, a ponderer, but rather a guy with a short fuse and sharp, goal-oriented focus.  This is apparently what a good Chief of Staff needs to be, what Daley wasn’t (not enough, anyway).

But what about in the rest of life? I wonder often if we’re all destined to be one or the other, in a final-accounting-of-your-life sort of way, i.e. thinkers or doers.  People of process or people of results.  An obvious answer is, “Of course not.” Weirdly, the older I get, the more I think (in an unnuanced way), maybe so…