September 28, 2016 | by Ann Beattie
No, not dying. Not just yet.* But already, still at home, the feeling of jet lag begins. Time seems omnipresent, yet too brief. Birthday presents are opened early. I stare at the bag from the pharmacy. Is this any time to try the antipsychotic? (Prescribed for sleep. All doctors hate Ambien, and respond to hearing the name of the drug the way bushmen respond to the scent of wild boar, unless they’re otherwise occupied by appearing on a reality show.) Required reading has been abandoned; already playing hooky by substituting reading one writer for another. I believe myself to be the only writer now reading John O’Hara instead of Peter Taylor, which says nothing about either man, much about me, and has nothing to do with the antipsychotic, as I have yet to work up the courage to ingest a pill.
Fondly, I observe the hummingbirds in the garden: “Greenie” has been feinting during its swirl upward, plotting its faux midair crash into “Blackie” (we aren’t very original in our nicknaming). They sink rapidly, like floaters in opposite eyes, then rise again, in a complex spiral. We’ve been stumped about what to call the almost equally dark hummingbird who has two white spots on its back wings, if you call them wings. This one, we merely call, “the one with white.” (Move over, Wilkie Collins.) Read More »
March 5, 2014 | by Ann Beattie
The sounds of Key West.
What do writers want? (Forget whether they’re women or men, Uncle Sigmund. Forget money and fame.) They want quiet. Where do they go? They gather in Key West, Florida.
Sure, the subtlest sounds—the personally groaned sounds—begin with deep sighs, as other people discuss pools being dredged by the jackhammering of coral next door, leaf blowers switched on at eight a.m., drunks on the sidewalk talking to themselves even more animatedly as the police car pulls to the curb. Last night I hung over my balcony to hear a staggering gentleman informing the officer that he did have a destination. He was “gonna shuffle off to Buffalo.”
In the background, birds express opinions from people’s shoulders on late-night walks (“Pretty but what else?”—a bird clearly meant to call one’s life into question). All around the island cell phones go off, their ring tones arias from operas or a hip-hop version of “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Dogs bark, cats hiss, and the bird on the shoulder of the guy in the trilby continues to wonder aloud what to expect after “pretty.” Maybe the fire truck, or the ambulance that makes just a few high-pitched noises, as if the vehicle itself is dying. As it races away, it’s sure to set off a car alarm. Read More »
February 21, 2014 | by Ann Beattie
Bob Adelman’s amazing photographs—the majority of them black-and-white prints—fill the second floor of the Museum of Art in Fort Lauderdale, where they will be on display until May 17. He photographed what came to be significant moments in the civil rights movement as they were happening. As a photographer for CORE, SNCC, Life magazine, and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, he was on the scene for moments both momentous and not, to photograph Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. and also never-to-be-famous individuals, families, children—people we wouldn’t have seen again, had Adelman not been there to show them on the sidelines as well as in the forefront, their eyes their own camera lenses, looking back; exiting “White Men Only” bathrooms at the courthouse in Clinton, Louisiana; and then kids who climbed up in a tree to view the memorial service of Dr. King, attended by Robert Kennedy (what a portrait of grief), who’d be dead himself only months later. As a documentary photographer, nothing stopped Bob. It was dangerous work, as was pointed out by one of the speakers at the January 19 museum opening, but Bob found inequality inexplicable and insupportable. In his college years, he studied philosophy to try to figure out the point of being alive. In the civil rights movement, he found his answer.
Don’t miss (not that you could) the enormous enlargement of the contact sheet from when Bob was first focusing on the police’s attempt to blast away protestors in Birmingham by aiming fire hoses at them. It gives you a chance to see the photographer’s mind at work, frame after frame, and is unforgettable as an image, the people holding hands, some with their hats not yet knocked off, in Kelly Ingram Park, struggling to remain upright in the blast, a fierce, watery tornado that obliterates the sky as it seems to become a simultaneously beautiful and malicious backdrop that obliterates the world. The large photograph in the museum took two days to print. Dr. King, upon first seeing Bob’s photograph: “I am startled that out of so much pain some beauty came.”
Ann Beattie’s story “Janus” was included in John Updike’s The Best American Short Stories of the Century.
August 12, 2013 | by Ann Beattie
Like every other person in school, I hated footnotes. That was what you’d be quizzed on and lose out, having watched the soaring bird while forgetting the gnat. They were a trap. Boring. Even the texts were boring (I thought then, along with my teachers being bizarre). I’m not kidding about this: to avoid classroom giggling (or worse), my high school English teacher referred to Melville’s book as “Moby Richard.”
Of course, now I’m a convert. Recently, there’s been a trend for writers to footnote fiction (Nicholson Baker; Tim O’Brien)–it’s the idea of footnotes as a continuation of the text, or, sometimes, perhaps a preemptive strike, using the gnat-gems to discourage academic pedants.
I’ve just finished reading (belatedly—it was published in 2007) a book I love, The Grand Surprise: The Journals of Leo Lerman, that wouldn’t be the same book without the footnotes, though they are not Lerman’s, but made by his former assistant, Stephen Pascal (apparently, with help from Lerman’s nearest and dearest, Richard Hunter and Gray Foy), when Pascal put the book together posthumously. In a certain world (primarily New York), at a certain time (from the forties on through 1993), there was hardly anyone Leo didn’t know, or know of, and that is in large part why he had the career he did, at Vogue, Mademoiselle, etc., which were not then the magazines they’ve become. Here, I must digress and say that along with a new enthusiasm for footnotes, I also love the use of brackets. Consider this, from Lerman’s book (brackets added by Pascal), about a once much-discussed writer who resists paraphrase but whose reputation always existed in anecdote, so what the hell: “[Writer Harold] Brodkey came to Diana Trilling bringing [his] forty-page manuscript written in ‘defense’ of her, against critics of her Mrs. Harris. He insisted she read this; she retaliated with the first chapter of her memoir. Harold then told Diana that she had no taste, she lived with ‘mail-order’ furniture, and a collection of ‘cheap’ third-rate drawings and Japanese woodcuts typical of academe house furnishings. He ended, as he left, saying out of nowhere, ‘Give my love to Leo Lerman!’” Read More »