Archive for January, 2013


January 29th, 2013

To all of you who have bought a copy of To Join the Lost, I am sorry to report an error.  Page 178, line 1 should read “Archimedes” not “Aristotle.”  Can’t imagine how I let that slip through!  To all of you who have not bought a copy, what are you waiting for?  You can order one right here.

Nothing New Under the Sun

January 25th, 2013

Truly, there is nothing new under the sun.  I’m sure you will remember the law recently proposed and nearly enacted in Virginia that would have required a woman seeking an abortion to undergo an involuntary invasive ultrasound procedure.  The other day, a friend of mine shared on Facebook a satirical proposal that men’s penises should be similarly probed.  Bearing that in mind, Sherman, set the Wayback Machine for 1759, and chapter 20 of Book One of The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman.

Just in case you cannot immediately recall to mind exactly what transpires at that juncture of Mr. Laurence Sterne’s novel, let me assist you.  Tristram, the narrator, is busy instructing the reader that said reader should have deduced that Tristram’s mother was not a Catholic (or, as Tristram would have it, a “papist”), from the fact that Tristram’s mother said that it was necessary for Tristram to be born before he could be christened.  Not so for Papists!, says Tristram.  He cites – well, quotes in full, actually, in French – a purported 1733 opinion of the Doctors of the Sorbonne, then a Catholic institution, that in certain extreme cases an unborn infant could be baptized sight unseen “par le moyen d’une petite canulle… sans faire aucun tort à la mere.”  Mr. Shandy, speaking one presumes for Mr. Sterne, goes on to suggest that a similar operation might benefit the “Homunculi” which were at the time supposed to be the male contribution to conception, “par le moyen d’une petite canulle… sans faire aucun tort au pere.”

I hasten to add that I am unable to verify the authenticity of the Sorbonne Doctors’ opinion.  Sterne might have made it up.  In any case, I am sure it does not represent present-day Catholic teaching regarding baptism!  It’s comforting to know that at least some things change.  It gives one hope that some day all men will respect women’s bodies as they do their own.

Be There or Be Square

January 15th, 2013

On Saturday, February 2, the Vermont Writers Co-op will host its debut presentation of “Off the Page,” a series of literary events featuring the best of local authors. The premier event will take place in Studio B at the North End Studios, 294 North Winooski Avenue, Burlington at 7 p.m.

Vermont Writers Co-op is a newly created group of writers who are working to build, support, and integrate a community of writers and readers while reveling in the possibilities of different voices and forms. The co-op creates opportunities for current and developing writers to respond to each other’s work, and welcomes writers and readers to participate in presentations and other events.  The intention is to include among our audience those who think of themselves as keepers of “the word,” as well as those who have only imagined themselves as writers, and all lovers of literature.


The evening will include four innovative acts, some offering opportunities for audience participation. Additions and playful twists to readings of Co-op members’ work will make for a refreshingly new kind of entertainment: Mark Pendergrast invites feedback on his novel-in-progress; Susan Weiss rouses a roomful of writing; Seth Steinzor dazzles with a Dante update; Mary Fillmore shares Holocaust prose and poems.

Help! I’m stuck in this box!

January 7th, 2013

Listening to the radio the other day, I heard a man being interviewed about his income.  He was a bit coy about the amount, but allowed that it was over $450,000 per year.  When asked if this made him wealthy, he said no, he considered himself middle class.  My reaction was a compound of emotions: disbelief, amazement, anger, contempt.

Last night I watched the opening episode of the third season of Downton Abbey.  It revolved around Lord Grantham’s discovery that he had squandered the family fortune through an ill-considered investment in Canadian railway shares, with the likely consequence that his estate and manor house would have to be sold.  Considering this possibility at the dinner table, Lord Grantham’s mother, wonderfully played by Maggie Smith, envisions her future as a member of the impoverished nobility.  “I could keep a shop, I suppose,” she says, expressing her character’s sense of the utter unthinkability of any such thing actually happening and her simultaneous wise, rueful recognition that in a long life the unthinkable will be encountered from time to time.  My reaction was one of empathy for her predicament.

Interesting, the many directions in which the mind would like to run off, given this fuel.  The particular constellation of feelings with which I greeted that upper-class yob’s misestimate of his socio-ceconomic standing is one with which I have become boringly familiar, ever since Ronald Reagan acceded to the presidency in 1980 and forcibly made me aware that this nation is governed far more by mean-spirited greed than by the ideals I had learned about in elementary school.  So I responded to the interviewee, a living person, as an abstraction, an annoying manifestation of obnoxious political tendencies.  By contrast, safely removed by time and circumstance from any actual acquaintance with the type of hidebound parasite so charmingly and ably represented by the actress Ms. Smith, I responded to her fictitious impersonation with warmth and sympathy.

I think that the moral here has to do with the limited ways one responds when one’s responses are faithful to the context in which they occur.  As a wise man used to say to me when I would make an undeniably true but overly definitive statement about myself, “Yes, and so much more!”  May you and I greet the new year and all it brings with the untrammeled freshness of our open hearts.  Maggie Smith’s dowager countess may charm and appal us all at once, as may that poor deluded two percenter who thinks himself the common man.  Oh, poor thing, I wish I had said when I heard him.