The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Boston’

Poe in Bronze, and Other News

April 14, 2014 | by

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The clay model of Stefanie Rocknak’s proposed Edgar Allan Poe statue. Photo via My Modern Met

  • This fall, Boston plans to erect an impressive new statue of Edgar Allan Poe: a raven at his side, a veiny heart tumbling from his “trunk full of ideas,” his coat billowing in the wind.
  • Against the word relatable: “It presumes that the speaker’s experiences and tastes are common and normative … It’s shorthand that masquerades as description. Without knowing why you find something ‘relatable,’ I know nothing about either you or it.”
  • Futurologists are almost always wrong … The future has become a land-grab for Wall Street and for the more dubious hot gospellers who have plagued America since its inception and who are now preaching to the world.”
  • Why are so many young-adult novels set in dystopias? “The complete collapse of the narrative of what a secure future looks like for today’s young people … [has] fostered a generational anxiety about how to cope with overmighty state power.”
  • In case you missed it—last week, “a German fisherman pulled a 101-year-old message in a bottle out of the Baltic Sea.” (It was not, thankfully, an SOS to the world.)
  • “In the recent history of American music, there’s no figure parallel to Tom Lehrer in his effortless ascent to fame, his trajectory into the heart of the culture—and then his quiet, amiable, inexplicable departure.”

 

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Amateur Night

November 18, 2013 | by

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Image via Pod Collective

Instead of attending my ten-year high school reunion I went to a psychic healer. This was the Boston suburbs, on the eve of Thanksgiving. Annually, on the night in question, prodigal Massholes in the eighteen-to-thirty-five demographic flock to the bars in Allston, Brighton, and downtown Boston for both informal and official reunions. Said reunions are marked by blackout binge drinking, vomit-flooded gutters, vomit-mouthed makeout sessions, and less-than-sober car rides back to the suburbs in mom-borrowed minivans. Boston radio DJ’s have euphemistically dubbed it “Amateur Night.”

If this sounds appealing, then we may have been friends in high school—at least in a superficial, pass the blunt kind of way—but no longer have much, if anything, in common. I don’t mean that to sound snobbishly pejorative. I grew up just outside of Boston, in Newton, Massachusetts, a wealthy white enclave famous for Fig Newtons, a high concentration of psychiatrists, and its recent reign as CQ Press’s safest city in America. It is a place filled with driven parents and overachieving children; of the roughly 350 students in my graduating class, nearly a dozen went to Harvard, not to mention all those who attended safety schools like Princeton, Brown, and Cornell. Many of my former classmates have gone on to great success. But high achievement and Frat Boy idiocy are not mutually exclusive. Like Clark Kent, my former classmates slip easily from business attire to superhero casual, removing stiff shirts at happy hour to reveal Red Sox logos. By day they are lawyers, doctors, and titans of industry. By night they drop their ‘r’s and instigate fisticuffs with tough-talking townies. In part, this performance reeks of rich kid guilt—it’s a certain kind of slumming—but more so, I think it speaks to something particularly Bostonian, a product of drinking too much dirty water, or years spent sitting in obscured view seats at Fenway, or a Kennedy-inherited Irish McLiberalism, in which money is disconnected from decorum.

I know all of this—the styles and habits of my former classmates—through Facebook, of course. I have followed these classmates for years online, sharing in their triumphs and tragedies, comparing my sex partners to theirs. In a sense, social media has rendered reunions obsolete; it has killed our curiosity. No longer does one attend a reunion wondering whatever happened to so-and-so, or shocked that the band geek has blossomed into a beauty. And though romantic comedies have emphasized the important role reunions can play in the healing of one’s high-school psychic wounds, the truth, these days, is that life’s winners have already etched their humble brags into our collective conscience online.

But maybe I was just bitter and embarrassed. It’s not that I was in such bad shape ten years on—I’d managed to kick a drug habit (Tylenol PM), move out of my parents’ basement, and trick a wonderful woman into dating me—but that in a group of high achievers, I was definitively unimpressive. After a long period of unemployment, I had moved to New York and become the cliché of a struggling writer, working part-time in a bookstore, publishing occasional TV recaps online, and squeezing into the skinniest jeans I could manage. I’d received a number of rejections on my autobiographical novel about a twenty-something stoner who can’t get over high school. Read More »

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Literary Cultural Districts, and Other News

October 28, 2013 | by

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  • A group of advocates is looking to establish the nation’s first literary cultural district in historically-rich Boston. Says the Globe, “Its proponents don’t know exactly where its borders will lie, or what, precisely, visitors will do, but more significant is this: the very idea that there could be a literary cultural district is recognition that the city is undergoing a renaissance.”
  • A Cleveland house where Langston Hughes lived as a high-school student is on the market, following a foreclosure.
  • Germaine Greer has sold her archive to her alma mater, the University of Melbourne. The feminist’s portion of the three million dollar sale will go to her charity, Friends of Gondwana Rainforest.
  • “Because we are less sure of what fiction is ‘saying,’ we are less preemptively defended against it or biased in its favor. We are inclined to let it past our fortifications. It’s merely a court jester, there to amuse us. We let in the brazen liar and his hidden, difficult truths.” Rivka Galchen on the relevance of fiction. 

 

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William Wordsworth’s “She Dwelt Among the Untrodden Ways”

September 10, 2013 | by

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One recent evening, my father and I were sharing a bottle of wine when our conversation turned, as if often does, to his father. We like to call my paternal grandfather “the Judge,” and we use this moniker in a spirit of camaraderie. My grandfather, who died eighteen years ago, was a forceful sort of person. The discipline that he exercised on my father, his eldest son, bordered on tyranny, but in my life, this seasoned toughness was inspiring, fun, and a recognizable expression of love. My grandfather, Frank J. Murray, was a self-made man. Born in 1904, he grew up in the rough Dorchester neighborhood of Boston and played football at Commerce High, a school for clever, working-class kids. A field goal in the final game of his high-school career caught the attention of a Dartmouth College scout, but he was saved from the Protestants—at his mother’s insistence—by a priest, who secured a place for him at the Catholic Georgetown University. At Georgetown, he was quarterback, although he had no depth perception, due to a childhood accident that had left him blind in one eye. He went on to Georgetown Law, during which period he himself scouted for the Georgetown football team, and—in a series of successes—became a well-respected Boston lawyer, married my grandmother (who came from better circumstances), had three sons, bought a house in the solidly middle-class West Roxbury, sent his kids to the prestigious Roxbury Latin for high school, ascended to the Bench—Massachusetts Superior Court—and, some time in there, was appointed a federal district judge. When my father and I talk about this man, there certainly is a lot to cover, but on this particular evening, we were thinking of the Judge’s love of poetry.

My grandfather did not have an innate sense of good taste, but he could recognize it, and, as one might assume from his career successes, he was a quick study. As an adult, he wore nothing but Brooks Brothers suits, playing it safe; his one fashion adventure, a salmon-colored sports coat, also came from Brooks Brothers. He had a learned poise, and even his accent, which was an acceptable Back Bay Boston, was an acquired thing—the Dorchester snarl packaged away, placed securely in the past. This need to acquire the accoutrements of privilege gave my grandfather the passion of a convert. He wanted you to appreciate the fine wine, the prime rib, the Royal Brougham—but more than all of that, he wanted you to appreciate the great gift of his education, which was not law, but poetry.

As a law student at Georgetown, he had taught both poetry and math to the freshman. For the math, as is part of the legend, he cowrote his own textbook, but for the poetry, he used the standard reference of the time, The Golden English Treasury, edited by Francis T. Palgrave, commonly referred to as Palgrave’s. I remember the Judge—at this point reluctantly retired—bringing this book out on evenings, when I stayed at his house in Cohasset, on Boston’s south shore. Mostly, when I visited him, it was just two of us. We would go out for lobster, then return for tea, and if the Celtics, Red Sox, or Patriots weren’t playing, we’d continue to sit at the dining room table, each with a glass of Gewürztraminer, and he’d read me poems. Read More »

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Light and Dark

July 4, 2013 | by

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It has been almost three months since the Boston Marathon bombings and the riveting manhunt that followed: less than a hundred days, a fraction of the time needed to understand what happened, what will happen. Still, that searing week lingers vividly in our consciousness. A runner crumples on Boylston Street, paralyzed by the blast. Medics rush against the tide of a fleeing crowd. A helicopter outfitted with heat sensors tracks the shadowy movement of a man under a tarp, stowed away in a boat moored in the inland backyard of a place called Watertown. It has all the contours of a dream: precise in some places, blurry in others, tantalizingly real and unreal.

In early May a woman in Virginia with no link to the bombers found a cemetery that would accept the older brother’s body, after many had refused. She had no connection to the Tsarnaevs, or at least no more than the rest of us wrapped up in this unfolding. Asked why she made the effort, she told her interviewer on National Public Radio: “Jesus tells us to—in the parable of the Good Samaritan—love your neighbor as yourself. And your neighbor is not just someone you belong with but someone who is alien to you.” She lives along the same Eastern Seaboard, 550 miles south of Boston, in a state with its own prominent place in the birth of our nation. Read More »

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Thomas Crown’s Global Vision

July 1, 2013 | by

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June 19, 2013, marked the forty-fifth anniversary of the release of The Thomas Crown Affair—the original version, directed by Norman Jewison and written by Alan Trustman. While for most of us the anniversary of a film might not seem like cause for celebration, I find that birthdays ending in zeros or fives have a momentous quality that welcomes grave rumination. And as we enter blockbuster season, a time of rich and disposable spectacle, it is amazing to revisit this high-gloss 1968 potboiler—what once passed for a summer blockbuster—and discover that not only is it still fresh, but, in the context of some of our most pressing contemporary anxieties, it is disconcertingly prophetic. In short, The Thomas Crown Affair is a paeon to the forces of globalization.

In The Thomas Crown Affair, globalization takes the literal form of a blank globe. Whenever I look at this production still—Steve McQueen in business attire resting a proprietary hand on this sphere of power, this atom of capital—I have the same reaction that Ralph Waldo Emerson had when he read Shakespeare: “I actually shade my eyes.” In this photograph, we see a perfect articulation of a deep, ideological commitment to the tenets of globalization: the world reduced to a single, borderless place; a compressed rendering of a new world order. Read More »

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