The Daily

First Person

How to Keep a Journal

July 15, 2016 | by

A history of the discipline, and of myself.

Samuel F. B. Morse,Susan Walker Morse (The Muse) (detail), 73 3/4 x 57 5/8,  1945.

Samuel F. B. Morse, Susan Walker Morse (The Muse) (detail), 73 3/4 x 57 5/8, 1945.

A few months after I turned sixteen, I began to keep a journal. I labeled it VOLUME I and titled it Journal of the 16th Summer of Alyssa Jean Pelish—anticipating posterity, if only in the form of my older self. I wrote in this journal daily, diligently, the only way I knew how. I had no models beyond the very general Protestant work ethic it is possible to glean from children’s picture books and Saturday morning cartoons and after-school reruns, which taught me that you win approval by, say, training your horse every single day, or, once you have planted a seed, by never ceasing to pull up the weeds and sprinkle water over the ground. Unstinting repetition was, therefore, my MO. Read More »

Via Activa

July 12, 2016 | by

When physical fitness meets the literary life.

From a poster for the Works Progress Administration’s Recreation Project, ca. 1936.

Young people are a mess. They eat the crappiest fast food, make a point of drinking only to excess, barely sleep, indulge in all sorts of chemicals—and yet, given even a modicum of activity, their bodies bounce back with all the manic exuberance of a Super Ball in a many-angled room. Growing up, I made a thorough test of this proposition. Through high school and college, I neither participated in team sports (unless you count the bong-hit team) nor pursued any type of systematic exercise, and in fact I don’t recall anyone ever suggesting that doing so might be beneficial. What kept me from the obesity that has become epidemic among children today was a fast metabolism and sporadic bursts of movement: I was an avid skier, over the fifteen-odd days a year that skiing was possible for a kid growing up in Maryland; and on occasion I’d play tennis, go hiking, or ride my bicycle. Read More »

Mr. Brooks

July 8, 2016 | by

From the cover of In Pieces.

I saw Garth—that’s what we called him, just Garth—with three friends when we were in the fourth grade, maybe fifth. He was touring in support of 1993’s In Pieces album. A Nashville native, I had been listening to country music for as long as I could listen, but Garth was the artist that had turned me from a passive listener into an enthusiast. My grandfather had had Johnny Cash, my parents Alabama. But Garth, Garth was mine.

As far as they were concerned, I could have him. When the guitar arpeggio at the start of “Friends in Low Places,” his first hit, came over the radio, my parents would switch the dial from 97.9, which played Top 40 country, to 95.5, which played the classic stuff. “Blame it all on my roots / I showed up in boots,” Garth sang, in a lyric that seemed to announce a changing of the guard, “and ruined your black tie affair.” Read More »

One Night Only!

June 23, 2016 | by

The implosion of the Riviera’s Monaco Tower

Casino-implosion

All photos by Gene Blevins © 2016 Los Angeles Daily News.

“Used to be I could get a free pack of Marlboros at the blackjack table when I was nineteen,” said a deep voice behind me, on the bus from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. “Now you can’t even get a hot dog.”

“You heading to town for the Riviera implosion tonight? Should be a good fireworks show, a good blast. Careful of that dust, though. Lot of asbestos. Yeah, they don’t give a shit in Vegas.” Read More »

Habitat for Humility

June 22, 2016 | by

Voluntourism in Lesotho, Africa.

Via Pixabay.

Lesotho landscape. Image via Pixabay.

Lesotho is a tiny country surrounded completely by South Africa, and that’s about all I knew about it when I arrived in the summer—their winter—of 2005. I was a college sophomore, and I’d come with fifteen or so classmates for five weeks of volunteer work and research, or what passes for research among college sophomores. I was minoring in Africana studies in those days, originally as an excuse to read more James Baldwin, but the prospect of actually traveling to Africa enthralled me—it didn’t matter where. The paper I produced at the end of the trip, with feminist intent but offensive result, was titled, “No Bras to Burn: A Time of Change for Basotho Textile Workers.” Read More »

Gunplay

June 20, 2016 | by

Illustration by Eric Hanson. Click to enlarge.

Indianapolis, 1964. My younger self owned a bandolier full of bullets; three revolvers, two with bone handles to fit a holster; a rifle; knives; a sword; a full Civil War uniform; a genuine U.S. Army helmet. From age eight to ten, I fought and died a thousand times for fun. My friends and I knew all the best ways to fall down dead, exhaling sighs of pleasure. Awaiting nuclear annihilation, we acted out gun ballets like period folk art. Here, in America’s “Gun Belt,” boys used to get their first squirrel rifle at eight, nine, ten years old; now they get pint-size assault rifles. Get them early, so they can learn to handle the violent kick of firing, learn not to hold the part of the weapon that gets so hot it smokes. And it’s not just boys. Parents can purchase special pink assault rifles for their junior misses.

In my own backyard, I was always alert for enemies. I moved with a stooped, serpentine grace, darting, pausing, looking around for people to shoot before they shot me. There was something adorable about it. We had very convincing submachine guns then. They were made by Marx out of hard molded plastic and came in black—the conventional color, suitable for playing Chicago gangsters or warriors in the European theater—or brown-and-green camouflage, for war in the tropics. There was a knob along the side to unleash a machine gun rat-tat-tat whenever we encountered the enemy. I was unaware of the irony in the brand name: we were training for our turn to halt the march of Marxism, but we were unfamiliar with Marx the mastermind. Every Friday I looked forward to the latest photos of the Vietnam War, counting the dead in LIFE magazine. Read More »