I Married You For Happiness

“There is nothing more scandalous than a happy marriage.”
Adam Phillips, Monogamy

The memories keep coming back, out of nowhere so it would seem, not in any particular order, simply times and places we were together. A day in Paris, a movie we saw, the first time we met.

This is the kind of experience Lily Tuck recounts in her recent novel I Married You for Happiness. Phillip is a mathematician; Nina is a painter. They met in Paris in the 60s while he was on a Fullbright and she studying to be an artist. The novel opens as Nina is preparing dinner, realizes that Phillip has not come down to join her, and goes upstairs to find he has suddenly died.

She spends the night by his side, recalling one experience after another of their forty-two years together. They arrive in short, unrelated flashbacks that are recounted in equally short fragments. It is cold, she puts on a coat he bought her in China, opens a bottle of wine, and lays down by his side.

“Spring. The weather is warm, the chestnut trees are in flower, brilliant tulips bloom in the Luxembourg Garden.”

It does not take long, however, before we learn that their marriage is less than perfect. Whose is? Phillip lectures her on mathematical theory from Fermant to Schrodinger, from the simple to the complex.

“The probability of an event occurring when there are two possible outcomes is known as a binomial probability…A chance event is not influenced by the events that have gone before it. Each [coin] toss is an independent event”

“She does not like his tone. The way he emphasizes certain words to make his point and the way he speaks to her as if she were a child.” Nina begins to realize the extent to which she has ceded her identity to Phillip’s.

And yet this collision of two different worlds is overlaid with deep love. “She can feel his arms around her. … Sweet, teasing familiar. They have a good time together. They laugh a lot. Is laughter the secret to a good marriage, she wonders? They know each other well. Just what I was thinking, she say…They nearly have the same dream once.”

Nina wonders if there were secrets he kept from her. Did Philip have a lover, someone like Lorna, a physicist he knows, would he have married Iris had she not been killed in a car crash? “She believes Philip loves her but how can she be certain of this.”

She had an affair and later an abortion that Phillip never knew about--“Lies of awful omission.”

“How long ago everything seems to her. And how unreal…She cannot imagine a life without Philip. Nor does she want to.”

Lily Tuck’s I Married You for Happiness is a beautiful prose poem of the defining moments of a marriage. It is the third memoir I have read recently written by a woman after the sudden death of her husband. The two others were Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking and Joyce Carol Oates’s A Widow’s Story. Of the three, Tucks memoir is the only fictional account.

I am not sure if this is the reason why it also seems truer than the others to the experience of a long marriage, particularly a couple from two different worlds. Because it is written in fragments, it also seems true to the way memories, the real and imagined, return to us in a seemingly random fashion, like the way probability theory teaches us to expect the unexpected.


Why Keep a Commonplace Book?

Make your own Bible. Select and Collect all those words and sentences that in all your reading have been to you like the blast of trumpet out of Shakespeare, Seneca, Moses, John and Paul.
Emerson Journals July 1836

Recently I published a short monograph on commonplace books, A Commonplace Book Primer. As regular readers of this blog are fully aware, keeping such a collection is an essential component of my reading experience.

In the Prologue I note that most of the readers I know or observe do not keep a record of the memorable passages they come upon in the books they read. The Primer is written in the belief that there is much to be gained by doing so.

There is nothing complicated about this. One need only think of it as a notebook where you record some of the ideas, questions, poems, or expressions that strike you as notable in some way.

The commonplace book concept originated in Greek and Roman antiquity for students and scholars to keep a record of the knowledge and moral wisdom of the day. It was intended as a source to draw upon in writing, speeches, education, and legal argument.

That was pretty much their sole purpose until the development of printed encyclopedias after which the practice gradually became less common and the few that were kept became a personal record of notable passages from a person’s reading history.

This remains its primary purpose today. I am often asked, “Why keep a commonplace book? After all, reading is such a great pleasure, why interrupt it by turning away from the page to spend the time recording a pithy passage?” It is not hard for me to answer.

First, I believe that keeping a commonplace book gives rise to a deeper form of reading. If you stop to think further about something you have read, then mark it in some way, and eventually add it to your commonplace book, you will inevitably read more carefully, more reflectively, and no doubt more slowly than you normally do.

Secondly, memories are fleeting and what we read is quickly forgotten. However, if we have added the quotations, poems, and fragments we wish to save to our commonplace book, they can be preserved and readily reviewed or drawn upon whenever we wish.

Finally, I have also come to believe there is genuine personal value served by keeping a commonplace book. Not only is it a fund of knowledge and source of new ideas, it can also lead to personal insight and understanding. This has been true for me each time I go back to review the entries I have made, as well as in the informal studies I have carried out on my own commonplace book.

In the Primer I review the history of commonplace books, their future in a world where electronic readers are becoming increasingly popular, and the variety of benefits the practice of keeping this kind of record can have for readers of all forms of literature.


Decriminalizing Drugs

“We are not hunted or scared or looked upon as criminals. And that has made it possible to live and to breathe.” Nuno Miranda Portuguese heroin addict

Michael Specter writes in his October 17th New Yorker article, “Getting a Fix,” that almost 1%--100,000 individuals--of the population in Portugal were heroin addicts in 1999. Portugal also reported the highest rate of drug-related AIDS deaths in the European Union that year.

In response to these numbers, along with the failure of all previous efforts, largely punitive, to curtail drug use, Portugal took what Specter calls an “unlikely gamble” and passed a law that made it the first country to decriminalize drug use.

What is the best way to determine the effects of this law? Ideally we would like to have a pre-legislation measure of drug use, then one while the law is in effect, and a final period when drug use was then made illegal again. As is usually the case, it is impossible to employ this design outside the laboratory.

(An exception was the natural experiment of Prohibition in the U.S.—it began with a lengthy period when alcohol consumption was legal, then it was prohibited in 1919 by the 18th Amendment to the Constitution and 14 years later, it was repealed by the 21st Amendment.)

Absent such a design, we are left with a pre-and-post intervention measure of behavior. Again it would be best to have a comparative (control) group, say in another non-European Union country, that received no intervention to assess the effects of several alternative interpretations, usually historical trends, that might account for whatever changes occurred during the intervention.

In the end, Portugal fell back on the usual approach to measure the effects of any large scale social “experiment”—a pre-post test, no control group design.

Regardless of these methodological concerns, what were the effects of this radical Portuguese legislation? Specter provides three outcome measures:

• 37% of injecting drug users were receiving methadone to manage their addiction [in 1999]; ten years later that figure was 67%.

• The number of people convicted of drug offenses fell from 44% of the prison population in 2000 to 21% in 2005.

• The percentage of people using heroin in prison also fell sharply.

More generally Specter believes “In most respects, the law seems to have worked: serious drug use is down significantly, particularly among young people; the burden on the criminal justice system has eased; the number of people seeking treatment has grown; and the rates of drug-related deaths and cases of infectious diseases have fallen.”

But has the law really worked? Could these changes be accounted for by other concurrent events? Specter does acknowledge this possibility.

For example, he notes that the number of treatment facilities increased significantly at the same time the law was passed. Another possibility is that the observed changes were due to changes in European views about drug addiction, as well as wider knowledge of the consequences of excessive drug use. Without comparative data, it is impossible to rule out either of these alternative accounts.

There are also larger issues that go beyond the data, moral and philosophical issues of how a society should deal with drug addiction, an addiction that many claim is in fact a medical disease, more like a chronic illness.

Still, as Specter concludes, citing a clinical psychologist who works with a drug outreach group, “It is a program that reduces harm and I don’t see a better approach.”


American Resistance Heroine

In the late fall of 1943 Virginia D’Albert-Lake and her husband Phillipe were contacted by a local baker in the town of Nesles, France where they were living at the time. He asked the couple if they would come to his shop to meet some strangers.

Virginia was a young American teacher who met Philippe d’Albert-Lake in 1936 while traveling in France. Philippe was from a family of substantial means with two apartments in Paris and a home in Brittany. They were married in 1937 and moved to a small cottage in Nesles, north of Paris.

The strangers the baker asked them to meet were several downed American pilots that he was hiding until he could arrange their return to England. He asked the young couple if they could help. They agreed to do what they could.

Virginia and Phillipe contacted the French Resistance to organize their return to England via the Comet escape line, a key part of the Resistance that transported downed airman through France, across the Pyrenees, into Spain and eventually back to England where they could resume their missions.

Returning military servicemen to England was a crucial part of the wartime effort since it took considerable time and money to train new airman. It is estimated that 4,000 Allied airmen were successfully returned to England by means of the Comet escape line before the D-Day landings in 1944. It is also believed that at least 12,000 individuals took part in this highly risky wartime activity.

Virginia was one of three American women who participated in the French Resistance and is thought to be the only one who has provided a first-hand account of her experiences in her diary and memoir An American Heroine in the French Resistance.

In this account she makes it clear that she did not join the Resistance out of any deep political conviction, but rather because she “was simply doing the right thing.” No matter her motivation, she “had a share” in helping to ensure the successful escape of approximately 200 downed Allied airman. Much of this work involved providing the aviators shelter and assistance in Paris, moving them to secret hideouts in apartments there, or at a hidden forest encampment south of Paris.

It was on one of these risky journeys south of Paris that the Germans captured her. At the time she was on a scouting expedition ahead of the group of airmen she was escorting to the hideaway. She spent the next eleven months in one German camp after another finally ending up at the “infamous” Ravensbruck concentration camp where she almost died.

In her memoir Virginia describes a premonition she had just before she was captured:

“Something broke inside me. I knew somehow that it was all over. There was no more reason to hope. The sun that only a few moments ago was so bright and warm, now seemed eclipsed by a grey fog….I had no choice but to stand there in the center of the dusty road, grip my [bicycle] handle bars, and wait.”

While she participated in the Resistance barely a year, the tasks she undertook were both dangerous and significant. After the war was over, she received numerous awards from the Allied governments including the United States Metal of Honor, the Order of the British Empire and the Legion of Honneur, France’s highest honor.

I imagine of equal if not more personal importance to her was the gratitude expressed by the many airmen whose life she had saved, as well as those concentration survivors who after the war testified to her “courage” and “generosity.”

Note: I am grateful to Judy Litoff for the background information she provided in the Introduction to An American Heroine in the French Resistance.


Essays on Elsewhere

The Egypt I craved to return to was not the one I knew, or couldn’t wait to flee, but the one where I learned to invent being somewhere else, someone else. Andre Aciman

Andre Aciman wanders around the labyrinth of his mind like a person who can’t find his way out of the Hampton Court maze. He tries one direction, it is blocked, turns around, goes back over the same route only to come to another dead end. Meanwhile, he wishes he was on the path over the next hedge and when he finally reaches it, he yearns to be back on the one he just left.

This is the way his essays are written. You have to enjoy this way of meandering around your synapses to enjoy them. His latest collection, Alibis: Essays on Elsewhere, consists of eighteen partially linked essays about memory, place, exile, and identity.

Aciman says he always begins his mental meanderings by writing about place. “Some do so by writing about love, war, suffering, cruelty, power, God, or country. I write about place, or the memory of place. I write about a city called Alexandria, which I’m supposed to have loved and about other cities that remind me of a vanished world to which I allegedly wish to return. I write about exile, remembrance and the passage of time. I write—so it would seem—to recapture, to preserve and return to the past, though I might just as easily be writing to forget and put that past behind me.”

In Alibis he writes about New York, where he lives, Paris, where he always dreams of being, Rome where he lived for three years with his family after leaving Alexandria which he also writes about, as well as Tuscany, which may be the one place where he doesn’t dream of being elsewhere-- Barcelona, Cambridge, a bookstore someplace or the Tuscany that he dreamed of being in while living in Egypt.

“And this is what I’ve always suspected about Tuscany. It is about many beautiful things—about small towns, magnificent vistas, and fabulous cuisine, art, culture, history—but it is ultimately about the love of books. It is a reader’s paradise. People come here because of books. Tuscany may well be for people who love life in the present—simple, elaborate, whimsical, complicated life in the present—but it is also for people who love the present when it bears the shadow of the past, who love the world provided it’s at a slight angle Bookish people.”

How I wish I had written that for it is precisely the way I feel when I am in Tuscany.

Aciman is Jewish which is to say that his parents were Jewish, the reason they had to flee Egypt. But also like myself, he is and isn’t Jewish. Neither of us wants to be anything but Jewish provided we don’t have to practice it, learn its rituals, or accept its religious tenets. At times he also wonders what it would be like to live in a place where everyone is Jewish but at other times knows it would not be easy.

Aciman cites an exchange or imagined exchange he had with a woman he was hoping to see in Paris, an exchange that is a perfect reflection of the manner in which he thinks or at least writes about the way he thinks or imagines he does. “Since you’re going to Paris, you don’t want to go to Paris. But if you were staying in New York, you’d want to be in Paris. But since you’re not staying, but going, just do me a favor. When you’re in Paris, think of yourself in New York longing for Paris, and everything will be fine.”

All the essays in this collection are written in this manner. Oddly I am one who greatly enjoys reading them, their contradictions, paradoxes, ambiguities, questions, uncertainties, backtrackings, recollections, sometimes true, sometimes false, or partially false, that become true in the writing. I think that is the way my mind works sometimes, but not all the times or the way I might like it to work, since it rarely works that way at all.


"All the Wondering Things and Times We Had"

Hemingway. The almost forgotten writer. The writer who meant everything to me when I first starting reading fiction. The writer who you either cherish or deplore. The writer whose life almost everyone thinks of first instead of what he wrote. James Salter is an exception

In his essay, “The Finest Life You Ever Saw” in the October 13th New York Review of Books, Salter reviews Paul Hendrickson’s recent book, Hemingway’s Boat: Everything He Loved in Life, and Lost, 1934-1961. Part of the book is about Hemingway’s cabin cruiser, Pilar, that he used to fish for marlin off the coast of Cuba and, as some have claimed, hunt down German submarines during World War II. It is also a carefully research personal biography of Hemingway’s life and writing in Havana between 1934 and 1961.

Salter also writes with a sense of reverence about Hemingway's style, the writing that made him great, the one that so many have tried but failed to imitate, only to appear as a parody. Hemingway’s spare writing style is easy to mimic and many have tried. There is even an annual International Imitation Hemingway competition that has been held for over thirty years.

Salter describes Hemingway’s distinctive voice by commenting “…he had his poetic gift and also the intense desire to give to the reader the full and true feeling of what happened, to make the reader feel it had happened to him. He pared things down. He left out all that could be readily understood or taken for granted and the rest he delivered with savage exactness.”

Here’s an example from the start of Hemingway’s short story In Another Country.

“In the fall the war was always there, but we did not go to it any more. It was cold in the fall in Milan and the dark came very early. Then the electric lights came on, and it was pleasant along the streets looking in the windows. There was much game hanging outside the shops, and the snow powdered in the fur of the foxes and the wind blew their tails. The deer hung stiff and heavy and empty, and small birds blew in the wind and the wind turned their feathers. It was a cold fall and the wind came down from the mountains.”

Salter writes about the thousands of letters, estimated between six or seven thousand that Hemingway wrote to his many friends, long letters and quotes from a few. I marvel at this number and think of other writers who wrote just as many letters, if not more, in their lifetime.

Voltaire is said to have written about 15,000 letters in his 83-year life, other writers were dedicated letter writers--Bellow, T.S. Eliot, Henry James, etc. I think how few letters are written today, not just by well-known writers but each of us. The loss to historians in the future who want to know about the eminent is incalculable. The loss to those of us who want to review our earlier correspondence is just as great. I speak from personal experience here.

Salter concludes his review with a statement made about Hemingway by the wife of the journalist George Seldes: “Forgive him anything, he writes like an angel.”


Democracy Now

Democracy Now is an independent, daily, ultra-progressive news program that can be viewed on some cable television channels, the Web and on devices that have its app. Its reports and analyses are presented with a refreshingly liberal perspective compared to other media news programs.

If you have time this weekend, I encourage you to listen to its video interview with Stephane Hessel, the author of Indignez-vous that I’ve been writing about. I believe it will be well worth your time, both to hear and see Hessel speak about his convictions and the incredible life he has lived.


A Call to Action

The motivation that underlay the Resistance was outrage. We, the veterans of the Resistance movements and fighting forces of Free France, call on the younger generations to revive and carry forward the tradition of the Resistance and its ideas. We say to you: take over, keep going, get angry! Those in positions of political responsibility, economic power and intellectual authority, in fact our whole society, must not give up or let ourselves be overwhelmed by the current international dictatorship of the financial markets, which is such a threat to peace and democracy....

It is up to us, all of us together, to ensure that our society remains one to be proud of: not this society of undocumented workers and deportations…not the society where our retirement and other gains of social security are being called into question; not this society where the media are in the hands of the rich.

The worst possible outlook is indifference that says, “I can’t do anything about it: I’ll just get by.”

These are the words of Stephane Hessel in his powerful manifesto, Indignez-Vous, that was first published late last year in France as a short, stapled pamphlet. Indignez-Vous is a French term that literally means be indignant. I think of it more as a mandate to express your outrage, especially outrage against injustice.

It can now also be read in various English versions under the title Time for Outrage. Charles Glass, the London publisher of the book, writes that it was “a publishing sensation on its first appearance, and since then has provoked a heated debate about social justice, the power of protest and how to harness our common indignation.” The Guardian reported the essay topped the Christmas best-seller list in France last year.

No wonder: what could be more timely! Stephane Hessell is a remarkable person. He is almost 94, a hero of the French Resistance, captured by the Germans and sent to concentration camps where he was tortured, and was only able to avoid being hanged at the last moment. He finally managed to escape and soon thereafter met up with the advancing American army. After the war, he participated in drafting the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Late last month Hessell spoke to students at Columbia University about his book. The Columbia Spectator reported the book’s message is widely “applicable: Hessel’s book is a call to action.” You didn’t have to look far down the street to realize his message is being clearly heard and above all practiced.

During his talk to the students Hessel urged them to find their own personal outrage and then do something about it. “You will find something, and when you find it you must commit.” It is entirely too easy to do nothing. Hessel argues this is not a time for apathy, rather this is a time for outrage. “Never give up, never be indifferent.”

I write about Hessel because of my own failures to act at various times in my life. It isn’t that I’ve been indifferent. Rather it’s that my beliefs, my convictions even when they were strong, were never followed by actions.

Yes, I made my share of contributions to the organizations I believed in. But that was easy, too easy and I was never really able to break away from the work I thought I needed to do. Individuals, like Hessel, who have more courage, more commitment to their convictions than I do, forcefully remind me that while important, outrage is not enough. It is also necessary to act.


Female Agents

On the night of April 24, 1942 Lise de Baissac was parachuted behind German lines into occupied France near the town of Poiters, south of the Loire. De Baissac was an agent for England’s Special Operations Executive (SOE) established by Churchill to work with the French Resistance. Her mission was to set up a safe house for a group of British trained agents to be sent to France.

She returned to London on August 16, 1943 just before the Germans discovered her “circuit” in Poitiers. Undeterred, she returned to France in April of the following year to work with another SOE group. A leader in the British Special Forces group of World War II wrote that in risking her life every day she played an indispensible role in aiding the guerilla groups of the French Resistance who inflicted heavy losses on the German forces.

Lise de Baissac died in 2004 ago at the age of 98. Her exploits were the inspiration for the film, Female Agents (Les Femmes de l’Ombre) that I saw recently. The film is reported to have won critical praise in France for recognizing the role of women resistance fighters during the War. The film’s director said, he first thought of making the film after reading de Baissac’s obituary in The Times of London.

The plot is complex but in a word four women are parachuted into occupied France in May of 1944 on a mission to protect the details of the forthcoming Allied landing and kill a colonel in a German counter-intelligence unit who is on the verge of learning its location. The Germans have captured an English geologist who had studied the beaches of Normandy and might therefore be forced (i.e., tortured) into revealing the plans.

They join a fifth woman who is already undercover with the Resistance. There are failed night-time shootouts, regroupings, the suicide of the captured brother of the group’s leader, harrowing torture scenes, the capture and subsequent killing of four of the original group of five women, and finally the successful assassination of the German colonel by the woman playing of role of Lise de Bassac, the only surviving member of the original group.

I write about this film out of admiration for these individuals whose convictions meant enough to them to put their lives at risk. In fact, I marvel at such individuals. The fact that they were women is less important to me, although it is clear they never achieved the recognition that men did.

Lise de Baissac was one of the few to be recognized. She was awarded a Legion d’Honneur, the highest decoration in France, and the Croix de Guerre, a French military decoration. In Britain she was honored with a MBE, a member of the Order of the British Empire.

The film ends as the fictional de Baissac lights four candles in a church in remembrance of the four who didn’t survive.


The Art of Simplicity

Here’s to the crazy ones. The rebels. The troublemakers. The ones who see things differently. While some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius.
Apple’s 1977 “Think Different” Advertising Campaign.

Steve Jobs went to Reed College where I taught psychology throughout my academic life and was a student while I was there before he dropped out after his first semester. For a while after, he continued to hang around the department, primarily in the heavily electronic physiological lab and audited several of our classes.

And it is true, as he noted in a graduation speech he delivered at Stanford several years ago that he was troubled by the fact that it cost his parents so much to send him there. I doubt, however, that was the only reason he dropped out.

I write about Steve Jobs not only out of respect but also because he and his original team at Apple brought the computer world to me. Throughout his life he remained extremely generous to Reed. After the first computers were produced at Apple, he gave each faculty member one and he continued the practice with each succeeding version of their personal computers.

I never would have learned to use one were it not for the simplicity, for its user friendliness as it is called, of these computers. That feature is characteristic of all Apple products, They are designed to be models of simplicity.

It was simple matter to learn how to use them, something I had previously found impossible with other computer operating systems around then and still do with complicated Windows-based computers. In a way, the early Mac with its graphic interface opened up a new life for me, gave me a better and clearer way to express myself, and eventually with the development of the Web and the Internet expanded the sources of information and the ease of obtaining them regardless of where I am.

You have to remember when this was, otherwise it makes no sense given the electronic world of young people today. It was in 1984, twenty-seven years ago, that the first Macintosh computer was produced. The picture above is what it looked like and something like it sat on my desk at Reed not long after it was manufactured.

I wrote my first book on it, a book on promoting energy conservation, with a word-processor known as MacWrite. Since my handwriting is atrocious, completely unreadable even to me, I never could have written such a heavily documented book without it.

Everyone once it a while I stop to think about the larger implications of the new products that Jobs and his group at Apple have developed—the iPhone, iPod, the iPad. I’m not entirely certain they represent the positive contribution the personal computer does.

Haruki Murakami wrote about life before and after the development of the electronic revolution recently. I was reminded of what he said about this issue in thinking about the death of Steve Jobs and his enormous influence on society.

By setting the story [“Town of Cats,” published in the New Yorker] in 1984, before cell phones and e-mail and the Internet had become common, I made it impossible for my characters to use such tools. This in turn was frustrating for me. I felt their absence slowing down the speed of the novel. When I thought about it, though, not having such devices at the time—both in daily life and in the story—ceased to be an inconvenience. If you wanted to make a phone call, you just found a public telephone; if you had to look something up, you went to the library; if you wanted to contact somebody, you put a stamp on a letter and mailed it. Those were the normal ways to do those things. While writing the novel (and experiencing a kind of time slip), I had a strong feeling of what the intervening twenty-seven years had meant. Sorry to state the obvious, but maybe there’s not much connection between the convenience of people’s surroundings and the degree of happiness they feel


Serialized Commonplace Book

“All educationalists taught that reading was to be carried out pen in hand, ready to note in the margin metaphors, similes, exempla, sententiae, apophthegms, proverbs, or any other transportable units of literary composition. These were then to be copied out into one or more notebooks, divided either alphabetically or by topics, and to be reused in one’s own writing.” Brian Vickers

The Berkeley Daily Planet is a free local newspaper published in Berkeley, California. It began as a daily but now publishes twice a week on Tuesday and Friday.

It has a progressive, liberal outlook (this is Berkeley, after all) and, wonder of wonders, a regular “My Commonplace Book” column written by Dorothy Bryant.

Bryant’s column consists of an excerpt from a printed book, as well as comment explaining why it captured her interest. This is rare in virtually all other commonplace books. Here is her last entry and annotation dated October 4, 2011.

Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its color.

—W. S. Merwin, b. 1927

Three lines—one homely, familiar image—the sharp point of a needle piercing my being, dragging the thread of a loved one’s absence, stitching the “color” of this loss through me and into “everything I do.”

Exactly. Using abstract, even vague terms like “absence” and “separation,” Merwin opens us to the widest possible range of loss, great or small, brief or permanent. In sixteen words, clear to any reader, he says more than hundreds of pages can tell about the loneliness, loss, and grief—of brief or long-term physical or psychic distance—or of the ultimate separation: death.

Not that we learn something new, but that we are reminded of something that, at a deeper level, we already know.

And, somehow, we are profoundly, paradoxically, comforted. He has stitched our losses into a color, a texture added to us.

That’s why we need poets.

In a way Bryant’s column is rather like the serialized novels that used to be published in English newspapers during the Victorian era. Then it was the practice of popular novelists including Dickens, Conrad and George Eliot to publish their new works of fiction in installments, usually in very affordable newspapers.

There are a few commonplace books that appear on the Web, if not on a daily, at least a weekly basis. But few are accompanied by commentary as Bryant’s is in her weekly and sometimes bi-weekly column.

Only in Berkeley.


Occupy Wall Street

The Wall Street protests continue and are spreading. It is both gratifying and surprising. Here are some recent developments.

Protests and action meetings are occurring throughout the country in such cities as Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, etc. For a complete list of both national and international support sites see the Occupy Together website.

There is a very active community forum on the protest movements on Facebook.

The media is paying increasing attention. The Times has published a number of articles about the Wall Street Occupiers and has shown video interviews with some of the participants on its website. An older woman said she had been there every day but one, and wanted to help “these kids do what my generation never did.”

Professor Cornell West has spoken to the group, as has Michael Moore. Noam Chomsky sent a strong message of support to the activists.

A food station has been established in the park where the protestors have gathered. Information stations, recycling and media centers, as well as a power generator have been set up. There is even a library at one end of the park with boxes of donated books. The Times reports there are also therapists on location.

The group is now publishing a, free weekly newspaper, The Occupied Wall Street Journal.

Up until recently it has relatively peaceful protest. However, last weekend there was one ugly incident in which an officer pepper sprayed a number of female protesters. The episode is currently under investigation by the police department and Manhattan district attorney.

And during the past weekend 700 demonstrators were arrested as they tried to cross the Brooklyn Bridge on the roadway, blocking traffic, while those who used the walkway were not.

The New York Police Department continues to deploy hundreds of officers on the edge of the park. To date, there is no sign they will attempt to put an end to the protest.

The movement seems to be leaderless, without structure, an end-point and or concrete goal, other than voicing discontent at the varieties of economic injustices in this country.

The development of similar protests throughout the major metropolitan centers of this country is truly remarkable. No doubt it reflects a widespread and perhaps growing support of the movement’s protest against the nation’s economic inequalities.