Tuesday, June 24, 2008


I do my best to write fiction. I really do. I know I haven't written a great short story in awhile, but I'm always trying. However, this morning I saw how far I have to go.

Originally printed in the New Yorker 60 years ago, Vladamir Nabokov's "Symbols and Signs" is so good it will take your breath away.

The story is simple (only 2200 words), and easy to follow, yet there is so much going on underneath the surface. It is about a Russian immigrant couple going to visit their insane child in an institution. I shook as I listened to it. It's that good.

The New Yorker did a podcast, with Mary Gaitskill reading, and then discussing the story with a moderator. You can listen to the story here. (The entire podcast is about 30 minutes, but only the first 17 minutes are the story. The discussion is illuminating too, though.)

If you simply refuse to listen, there is also a text version here.

I know you're busy, people, but if you care about powerful literature in a simple story, you owe it to yourselves to make some time today for Nobokov.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Robert Heinlein: This....I Believe

Edward R. Murrow used to have a five minute radio program called "This.....I Believe." One of his guests was Robert Heinlein, who wrote these words for the program in 1952. They were re-read aloud by Heinlein's wife when she accepted NASA's Distinguished Public Service Medal posthumously for her husband in 1988.

Heinlein was one of the most forward-thinking people ever, as witnessed in this thought-provoking and ground-breaking science fiction. Yet, in some ways his words here speak to a more innocent and less cynical time. Other than the politics one, though, I think he may be on to something.

"I am not going to talk about religious beliefs, but about matters so obvious that it has gone out of style to mention them."

"I believe in my neighbors."

"I know their faults and I know that their virtues far outweigh their faults. Take Father Michael down our road a piece --I'm not of his creed, but I know the goodness and charity and lovingkindness that shine in his daily actions. I believe in Father Mike; if I'm in trouble, I'll go to him. My next-door neighbor is a veterinary doctor. Doc will get out of bed after a hard day to help a stray cat. No fee -- no prospect of a fee. I believe in Doc."

"I believe in my townspeople. You can knock on any door in our town say, 'I'm hungry,' and you will be fed. Our town is no exception; I've found the same ready charity everywhere. For the one who says, 'To heck with you -- I got mine,' there are a hundred, a thousand, who will say, 'Sure, pal, sit down.'

"I know that, despite all warnings against hitchhikers, I can step to the highway, thumb for a ride and in a few minutes a car or a truck will stop and someone will say, 'Climb in, Mac. How how far you going?'

"I believe in my fellow citizens. Our headlines are splashed with crime, yet for every criminal there are 10,000 honest decent kindly men. If it were not so, no child would live to grow up, business could not go on from day to day. Decency is not news; it is buried in the obituaries --but it is a force stronger than crime."

"I believe in the patient gallantry of nurses...in the tedious sacrifices of teachers. I believe in the unseen and unending fight against desperate odds that goes on quietly in almost every home in the land."

"I believe in the honest craft of workmen. Take a look around you. There never were enough bosses to check up on all that work. From Independence Hall to the Grand Coulee Dam, these things were built level and square by craftsmen who were honest in their bones."

"I believe that almost all politicians are honest. For every bribed alderman there are hundreds of politicians, low paid or not paid at all, doing their level best without thanks or glory to make our system work. If this were not true, we would never have gotten past the thirteen colonies."

"I believe in Rodger Young. You and I are free today because of endless unnamed heroes from Valley Forge to the Yalu River."

"I believe in -- I am proud to belong to -- the United States. Despite shortcomings, from lynchings to bad faith in high places, our nation has had the most decent and kindly internal practices and foreign policies to be found anywhere in history."

"And finally, I believe in my whole race. Yellow, white, black, red, brown --in the honesty, courage, intelligence, durability....and goodness.....of the overwhelming majority of my brothers and sisters everywhere on this planet. I am proud to be a human being. I believe that we have come this far by the skin of our teeth, that we always make it just by the skin of our teeth --but that we will always make it....survive....endure. I believe that this hairless embryo with the aching, oversize brain case and the opposable thumb, this animal barely up from the apes, will endure --will endure longer than his home planet, will spread out to the other planets, to the stars, and beyond, carrying with him his honesty, his insatiable curiosity, his unlimited courage --and his noble essential decency."

"This I believe with all my heart."

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Idea of Harmony

"Park Sculpture. Idea of Harmony" by Tatyana Fedorova

Click on picture for larger size. See closeups of various parts of the painting (including the faces of the girls, which are amazing in detail) by clicking here, here, here, here, and here.

And whatever happened to Tatiana Thumbtzen?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Big Brown

I was talking to my brother Friday evening, trying to talk him into watching the potentially historic Belmont on Saturday afternoon, to see if Big Brown might win the Triple Crown. Achmed was not interested.

“First of all,” he said, “I have no interest in rooting for a horse whose name derives from the two most obvious physical characteristics the horse has. Secondly…”

“Achmed,” I interrupted, “you have it all wrong. You see, the owner of the horse is into anal play and…”

“Shut up!” Achmed exclaimed. “You had me at analo.”

( Get it? It’s a combination of “anal” and “hello,” from Jerry McGuire. Zheesh. Do I have to explain everything to you?)