Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The MOTH True Stories Told Live

When I used to listen to podcasts a lot, my three favorites were (and still are) This American Life, Selected Shorts and The MOTH.  All great programs, all made possible by Public Radio.

The MOTH is a storytelling program open to anyone who can tell a story, live in front of an audience and without notes.  The stories run about 10-15 minutes long and are comic, moving, sometimes heartbreaking and deeply human.

You can listen to The MOTH online HERE or through iTunes and a number of other resources, including YouTube.  I've selected a few of my favorites to share with you.

Joan Juliet Buck: The Ghost of Rue Jacob 

The former editor of French Vogue tells a funny and creepy story of her haunted dream apartment in Paris.

Malcolm Gladwell: Her Way

How the famous author ruined a friendship with a wedding song.

Ed Gavagan: Drowning on Sullivan Street 

Gavagan has two other stories about his near death in NYC that are also worth a listen.

I've often said that everyone has at least one good story (or book) in them. Care to tell your story here?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Brief Musical Interlude

Currently obsessed with nectarines, good, strong green tea and:

Sigur Rós - Sæglópur

Adele - Setting Fire to the Rain

Florence and the Machine - The Dog Days are Over

Bright Eyes - The Arc of Time (Time Code 3)

We Are Animal - Luminous Nights
Pogo - Living Island (H.R. Pufnstuf Remix)
Unkle - Burn My Shadow

Frightened Rabbit - Swim Till You Can't See Land

Friday, June 10, 2011

Summer Anniversaries

One of the best pieces of wiring advice I’ve read was from an unnamed poster on a news forum I visit.  He was a technical writer and said he doesn’t keep a blog or a diary as if those sap the writing he does for work.  Writing has a finite energy output.  Amen to that.  

If I’m writing in one format, I find I have a lot less energy for other outlets, like a blog, facebook, a journal. I’ve always envied those writers who could sit down and release page after page after page of material with little effort, for whom good writing was unforced and effortless.  Usually those kinds of writers end up in some combination of burned out, drunk, crazy and dead so I’ll accept my little war with paper and the keyboard for what it is.

Aside from this blog, I have some writing projects which come and go (usually go). I also keep a journal which celebrated its anniversary just a few days ago.  I started it when on the cusp of 16 and filled it it with the very badly written stuff you’d expect from a 15 year old.  Hey, we all can’t be a good writer as Anne Frank at that age.

In the almost 11,000 days since I’ve started it, my journal has been a place to confide and put a shape the issues I dealt with at various times.  It’s been a confidant, a sounding board, a commonplace book, a dream recorder, a record of my thoughts and creativity and a place for me to practice putting words together.  Mostly it’s been the impressionable record of various periods of my life (which makes it a journal rather than a diary - the daily record of events).

I reread occasionally, sometimes painfully on how badly written is can be.  Even after 3,000 plus pages it still is an imperfect autobiography with the occasional insight or clever phrase but after 30 years I am still wondering who I am writing for. Posterity? Myself? That nameless reader years from now?  I'm never sure.  Until I figure it out I guess I'll have to be my own audience.

(Right: the opening page of my journal for March 11th, 1999.  Poem: "here's to opening and upward" by e. e. cummings)

Recommendations of great diaries or books on diaries:
  • Thomas Mallon, A Book of One's Own
  • Pepys Diary - Samuel Pepys diaries from London in the 1660s.  Still very a very readable account of a likable social climbing, skirt chasing scoundrel. 
  • The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon - millennia old musings and observations of a courtesan in the Japanese Imperial court.
  • Alec Guinness's very funny and well written diaries - Blessings in Disguise, My Name Escapes Me and A Positively Final Appearance.  

Monday, April 05, 2010

The Night I Almost Died

Ten years ago I was living in this cute third floor attic apartment in New Haven.

(Sunny Norton Street)

A decade ago, on April 5th, 2000, I was heading to bed late that night after staying up late going through photos and letters I was sending to Ireland. My family and I were about a month home from my cousin James’ wedding in Newcastle and I was sending off copies of photos I took to the sundry relatives.  Around midnight I realized I had to be up early the next morning and hurried off to bed.  My cat, Pye, was in heat so rather than have her mewling all night, I put her in her cat-tote and went to bed.

About an hour later, I was awoken by noises that sounded like wood being picked apart.  My first thought was of the hippies on the floor below me, who were partying early that night, and that maybe some drunk was trying to get into my apartment by breaking the door.  I put my glasses and slippers on and reached for the lamp by the bed.  When it didn’t turn on and neither did the room light, I grabbed a flashlight I had by the bed and headed to the large closet next to my bedroom that served as a utility closet and storage space and housed the breakers and the hot water heater. I opened the door and BLOOOOM! A cloud of smoke and flame shot out at me - the wall and roof of the closet were wreathed with Fire.

I stood there, dumbfounded for about ten seconds while the concept that my home was on Fire slid into my brain and then a half second of wondering if the water spray nozzle from the sink could have reached here, when the realization that the Fire was in the same room as the gas heater slapped me awake. I ran for the door, grabbing the cat-tote and the cell phone, madly dialing 911.


“My house is on Fire!!!!”

911 told me the fire department was on the way and to get everyone out of the house.  I knew that the Fire probably cut the power so I started banging on the first floor door and then running back up to the second floor and pounded as loud as I could on their door.  Smoke was now descending from my third floor door to the landing on the second.  It could have only been about 60 seconds from my discovery to that moment, but already the smoke was making it difficult to see so when the smoke pushed me back, I headed to the porch.  The girls on the first floor cracked their door open giving me a wary eye until I yelled that the place was on Fire!  (I remember being frantic - they later told me I was very calm).  One of the girls said the hippies on the second floor had gone out earlier so they probably where not home.

We stood across the street.  In the 5 minutes it took the fire department to arrive, thick smoke was now billowing out of my closed windows and climbing skyward.  I saw light on the roof, the roof above my bed, that was the Fire breaking through to the outside.  Suddenly the cold freezing April morning hit me and I wished I took a coat or my keys or a blanket or even my wallet and I stood there shivering in my T-shirt and pajamas.

We watched the firemen pour into the house.  At one point I turned to someone and said “the roof - the roof is on fire!” and laughed at my unintentional reference. A ladder truck dropped men onto the roof where they started attacking the roof with axes.  Inside, they started breaking all the windows.  The shattering of glass with fire axes sounds just like it does in movies. 

One of the hippies’ girlfriend suddenly appeared next to us.  She had been asleep on the second floor and woke up to an apartment full of smoke and firemen.  Everyone in our normally quiet neighborhood was now up.  The old drunk who in the house next to us muttered “ain’t it awful when bad t’ings happen to good people?” before tottering back to his place, next to our still burning house. 

I started to shiver hard now, my teeth chattering, from the cold and from nerves.  A few of the firemen slipped on the front stoop when water from their hoses leaked and froze. A neighbor, who I never met, gave us sweaters and in all that craziness I don’t know if I ever thanked her for that spot of kindness.  And there were a few times I stood there, ready to retch and release that knot in my stomach that kept rising, especially when I saw through my skylight how the fire was all over the ceiling and walls in my apartment.

20 minutes in, the commissary truck arrived giving out water and lemonade to the exhausted firemen.  I overheard one of them talk about how hot and intense the Fire was.  Some of the firemen apologized for not saving things like the large collection of comics I had.  They were all very gracious. They told me they tried to save all the photo albums and pictures I had and took stuff off the wall and put tarps over them to protect them.

An hour later it was over.  They told us that the inspector would be there soon to check out the place and would allow us to go in an get a few things.  I made a call to my parents that started out “Dad? It’s me.  Listen.  I’m all right but my house was on Fire and the cat and I will need to come up in a little while.  No you don’t have to come down.”

About 3 am they let the first floor in.  Then the second.  Then me.

It was a holocaust.  Worse than I thought.  What the Fire didn’t burn nor the smoke did not scorch and stain, the water drowned and axes broke.  I walked around carefully in a daze, stepping through my soggy wet house wondering what to take.  My journals.  My photo albums. My clothes.  Keys.  Wallet.  Coat.  Check book.  Camera.  Glasses. A certain 20 books out of 1200.  I now know the answer to the question of what I would take from a burning building.

When left the house, my parents were standing there waiting for me, having driven down from Bethany to get me.   I lost it then.  Packed my cat and what I had and they took me home.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

April Is National Poetry Month

The Poem as a verbal illuminated manuscript.

I met Amy Clampitt at an underattended reading in college.  She was small and slight, but had such a robust way with words that made her seem bigger.  Years pass, but I can still recall this small woman reciting this poem and letting each image unfold before us, word by word.


The Kingfisher

In a year the nightingales were said to be so loud

they drowned out slumber, and peafowl strolled screaming

beside the ruined nunnery, through the long evening

of a dazzled pub crawl, the halcyon color, portholed

by those eye-spots’ stunning tapestry, unsettled

the pastoral nightfall with amazements opening.

Months later, intermission in a pub on Fifty-fifth Street

found one of them still breathless, the other quizzical,

acting the philistine, puncturing Stravinsky—“Tell

me, what was that racket in the orchestra about?”—

hauling down the Firebird, harum-scarum, like a kite,

a burnished, breathing wreck that didn’t hurt at all.

Among the Bronx Zoo’s exiled jungle fowl, they heard

through the headphones of a separating panic, the bellbird

reiterate its single chong, a scream nobody answered.

When he mourned, “The poetry is gone,” she quailed,

seeing how his hands shook, sobered into feeling old. 

By midnight, yet another fifth would have been killed.

A Sunday morning, the November of their cataclysm

(Dylan Thomas brought in in extremis to St. Vincent’s, 

that same week, a symptomatic datum) found them

wandering a downtown churchyard. Among its headstones,

while from unruined choirs the noise of Christendom

poured over Wall Street, a benison in vestments,

a late thrush paused, in transit from some grizzled

spruce bog to the humid equatorial fireside: berry-

eyed, bark-brown above, with dark hints of trauma

in the stigmata of its underparts—or so, too bruised

just then to have invented anything so fancy,

later, re-embroidering a retrospect, she had supposed.

In gray England, years of muted recrimination (then

dead silence) later, she could not have said how many

spoiled takeoffs, how many entanglements gone sodden,

how many gaudy evenings made frantic by just one

insomniac nightingale, how many liaisons gone down
creaming in a stroll beside the ruined nunnery;

a kingfisher’s burnished plunge, the color

of felicity afire, came glancing like an arrow

through landscapes of untended memory: ardor

illuminating with its terrifying currency

now no mere glimpse, no porthole vista

but, down on down, the uninhabitable sorrow.

- Amy Clampitt