Friday, August 28, 2015

All the things I would miss

I thought I would miss it
the adrenaline rush (daily)
the pace of the crises multiple
times a day
the conflict, the collaboration
the meetings, hallway talks,
all the ways work happens

I thought I would miss
the routine of the commute
arrival and departure
the occasional journeys,
and talking about the politics
of the politics of the workplace,
the office, the village of cubicles
radiating through pixels
across the planet

As it turns out, I do miss the people,
the ones I worked closest with,
but as for the rest of it,
I don’t miss it at all

Photograph by Paul Brennan via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Dashiell Hammett’s “Return of the Thin Man”

Noir detective fiction reigned supreme in America in the 1920s and 1930s, and remained popular through most of the 1950s. And the author who was the acknowledged master of this genre was Dashiell Hammett (1894-1961).

The former Pinkerton detective turned to writing detective stories when he was afflicted with tuberculosis, a disease that would plague him most of his adult life. He wrote stories for “the pulps” – popular detective magazines and a series of novels that set the standard for noir fiction, and in fact likely still set the standard.

He published Red Harvest in 1929, followed by The Dain Curse that same year. Then came The Maltese Falcon in 1930, The Glass Key in 1931, and The Thin Man in 1934. The novels are written tightly and concisely, and are full of action, unexpected turns, and a fair amount of violence. (One of Hammett’s fellow noir writers, Philip Marlowe, gave this writing advice to authors facing writing blocks: “When in doubt, have to men come in the door with guns.”) A group of his stories was published as The Continental Op.

Hammett posed for the cover of The Thin Man.
Hammett’s influence on writers – and on the movies – extended far beyond noir fiction. He’s considered so influential, in fact, that Library of America has published a volume of his novels and a volume of his short stories.

My first awareness of Dashiell Hammett was watching The Thing Man movies of the 1930s and early 1940s on television. Starring William Powell as detective Nick Charles and Myrna Loy as his wife Nora, the movies were widely popular when they were first released. If you’re familiar with the movies at all, it’s almost impossible to see anyone but William Powell when you read the Hammett novel.

I discovered Hammeett as a writer in the 1970s, during a resurgence of the novels of the glory days of noir fiction. I also discovered the Dashiell Hammett who was in love with playwright Lillian Hellman and the Hammett who went to prison rather than divulge names to a congressional committee during the Red Scare of the late 1940s and early 1950s.

In the last few years, additional writings have turned up in archives and various closets, including two “movie books” written for the scripts of “After the Thin Man” and “Another Thin Man,” both commissioned by MGM Studios. Movie books were essentially novellas written to help the scriptwriters develop and finalize a script. Both of these movie books, and related materials, never previously made public, were published in 2012 as Return of the Thin Man.

Dashiell Hammett
The stories are less novellas than they are movie and Dashiell Hammett artifacts. They even contain periodic filming instructions and parenthetical statements instructing the scriptwriters how to develop particular scenes. Accompanying the stories are headnotes and afterwords by the editors, Richard Layman and Julie M. Rivett.

The stories reflect the public tastes in movies in the time period they were released. They often seem formulaic, with “thugs and dames” getting themselves mixed up with the wealthy (and, in one of the stories, even with Nora’s very proper family). The genius of the stories lies not so much in the stories themselves as it does in how Hammett developed the interaction between and relationship of Nick and Nora Charles, which steal the story and also stole the movies. The dialogue involving their back-and-forth is still fascinating today, underscoring how much Hammett could communicate by what wasn’t said as much as by what was.

For fans of noir fiction, it’s a must-read. For those interested in how a master writer developed dialogue, it’s also a must-read. For those of us fascinated with the genre and the period, not to mention what Hammett achieved, it’s a significant contribution to understanding.

Photograph: Myrna Loy and William Powell in The Thin Man.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

My First Grandfather Story

I have no grandfather stories.
My mother’s father died of a ruptured appendix when she was 12.
My father’s father died when I was nine months old, when my family was preparing to move to Florida. My father had taken a job in Jacksonville and was already working there when he got the call that his dad was failing fast. My father drove like a maniac to New Orleans to get us and then on to Shreveport. By the time we arrived, my grandfather could barely recognize anyone, but he kept asking for the baby. When they placed me on his bed, he touched me and smiled. He died a few hours later.
To continue reading, please see my post at The High Calling. This week, the final week for essay content, The High Calling is featuring “Best of the Editors,” stories selected by the editors themselves as favorites. This one of mine was originally published in 2010, a few months after the birth of my first grandson, Cameron. My second grandson, Caden, was born in 2012. And Jacob arrived in May of this year.

Photograph by George Hodan via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

The Hiding Place: Misery, Tedium, and Kindness

As Corrie ten Boom describes in The Hiding Place, after their arrest in Haarlem in February 1944, members of the ten Boom family are trucked to Gestapo headquarters in The Hague. From there, they’re taken to nearby Scheveningen, the site of what had been the Dutch federal penitentiary but is not a prison used by the Nazis. The women are divided from the men, and she sees her elderly father sitting in a chair, brought by a guard out of respect for his age.

It is the last time Corrie will see her father.

She’s separated from her sister Betsie, other family members and anyone else from Haarlem. Corrie is still sick, trying to recover from the flu.

There in Scheveningen, she discovers the misery of prison life, not the least of which is the tedium. She also discovers occasional kindness, such as when she’s transported to a doctor and a nurse slips her some soap and four gospel tracts.

She will learn through the prison grapevine that, of all the ten Boom family members arrested, only she, Betsie and their father remain in prison; the others have been released. She will also learn that the “watches in her closet” – that is, the Jews who were hiding in the concealed room at the ten Boom clock shop – were all able to escape. They were not found by the Gestapo. She will receive a message from Betsie: “God is good.” And she will find out that her father died 10 days after the arrest.

She reads her gospel tracts. And Corrie discovers something.

The gospels are stories of – initially – a defeat. Jesus is arrested, interrogated, beaten, forced to carry his cross to Golgotha, and then crucified. For his disciples, the spiritual and emotional darkness that followed Jesus’ death lasted for three days. Most if not all of them were in hiding. It appeared as if Jesus’ ministry had been destroyed, and they were all marked men, without a leader, a teacher, or anyone to guide them.

What Corrie discovered from the gospel accounts was surprisingly simple, and something she might not have realized before she was in prison.

Defeat wasn’t the end.

Defeat was the beginning.

Led by Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter, we’ve been reading the hiding Place. To see more posts on this chapter, “Scheveningen,” please visit Sarah at LivingBetween the Lines.

Photograph of a prison cell bathroom by Ken Kistler via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission. The cell occupied by Corrie ten Boom at Scheveningen wasn’t as well lit or as well furnished as this one.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Poetic Voices: Molly Fisk and Miriam Bird Greenberg

Strong, vivid imagery is a hallmark of good poetry, and indeed all good writing. Two poets with recent collections demonstrate the value of imagery in developing a theme and creating a story.

Molly Fisk’s The More Difficult Beauty is filled with poems that use strong imagery. Whether she’s writing about women turning 40, the Truckee River, Junior Mints and other candy, or Joe’s Taco Lounge in Mill Valley, the images she uses are strong and striking, and also advance the story she’s telling.

To continue reading, please see my post today at Tweetspeak Poetry.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Making a Difference – Poem by Lynn D. Morrissey

If you’ve seen my Saturday Good Reads of the last few weeks, you know I’ve been including the ongoing release of the Planned Parenthood videos by the Center for Medical Progress – even though they are more of an “urgent” read than a “good” read. The subject of each successive video has been getting progressively worse, with the seventh video (posted last week) covering the subject of the process of “harvesting” of a baby’s brain in a late-term abortion.

There are no “key message points” from Planned Parenthood, its allies in “medical research” or the press secretary for Obama Administration sufficient to justify what I can only call a horror – an evil horror. So far, my two U.S. Senators from the state of Missouri have responded as expected – with Sen. Claire McCaskill supporting Planned Parenthood and Sen. Roy Blunt opposing it. At least Sen. Blunt is on record for opposing this evil.

My friend Lynn Morrissey, whose poem “Charleston” I published here in July, has written another poem. It’s not about the videos, but it is about Planned Parenthood, and it asks questions, heartrending questions.

Making a Difference
In recognition of the work of Planned Parenthood
August 2015

by Lynn D. Morrissey

Before the babies’ demise,
did the good doctors
hear the chilling cries of women
in the inchoate aftermath of their non-pathological operations:
their legal abortions?

Did the doctors warn them that the savagery
of surgery could invite hemorrhaging or ravage them

Did they advise about the post-abortive risk for breast-cancer or suicide?

Did they abide professional protocol to lessen their gut-wrenching pain
from near-disembowelment with a dose of two Extra-Strength Tylenol
or a sympathetic pat on the hand,
and assure them that their pain was all in their head?

Did they avert their eyes
and rationalize that those who shook and sobbed uncontrollably
were just having a bad reaction to sedation?

Did their gaze penetrate the masks of those resolute Stoics?
Did they see that they had absolutely shut down their emotions?

Did they high-five the nonchalants, applauding their cavalier demeanor—
for now?
Did they sing their praises with a laid-back, “Good job, babe!”?

Did the doctors practice good patient follow-up through the years
(and years and years),
and prescribe barbiturates—pretty palliatives to deaden unpalatable dreams
about human dismemberment
and to hasten sleep?
Did they keep oft-resulting alcoholism and drug abuse at bay with timely referrals to AA?

Did the doctors  prepare their patients for PAS, those frequently assaulting flashbacks
that rear up unexpectedly like wild stallions,
with swift kicks to the gut to
keep the memory alive?

Did the doctors cradle the broken disconsolates,
whose arms ached to rock desolate cradles?
Did they remain conscious of women’s impossible-to-abort consciences?

Did the good doctors do all this as professionals,
committed to the well-being of their patients?

Did they do all this to show how much they cared?

Did they do all this to make an indelible difference in the lives of those under their care,
in a world-turned-cold?

Photograph by George Hodan via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Three Envelopes - Poem by Jared Gilbert

Jared Gilbert is a friend of mine (online and in-person); we both serve on our church’s Board of Deacons. And we’re both interested in poetry.

Jared posted  this one today, entitled “Three Envelopes.” This is how it starts:

The envelopes sit on my desk, addressed and stamped.
stamps, which never lose value. A promise
that this letter will reach him,
no matter how much time has passed.
Or what change.

You should read it all, and you can by visiting Jared’s blog, Total Depravity.

Photograph by Claudette Gallant via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.