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Posts Tagged ‘Slate’

Meghan O’Rourke on ‘The Long Goodbye’

April 25, 2011 | by

Photograph by Sarah Shatz.

In 2008, on Christmas Day, Meghan O’Rourke’s mother, Barbara, died after a two-and-a-half-year battle with advanced colorectal cancer. O’Rourke was lost in her grief, which she found overwhelming and unlike anything she had ever experienced. Her book, The Long Goodbye, is her attempt to understand her grief, documenting the years before and after her mother’s passing. In reading The Long Goodbye, I braced myself for the tears (which, yes, did come) but, by its end, discovered that O’Rourke had written a beautiful memoir about a daughter’s love for her mother. We spoke recently about her book; an edited version of our conversation appears below.

How did this book come about?

I started writing things down, for myself, before my mother died. It was a private recording of what was happening. Writing has always been the primary way I make sense of the world. My mother was going through this really intense experience: she had been sick, she had been diagnosed with advanced cancer two years before she died, and she went into a remission that was unusual. Then the cancer came back—it went to her brain, which again was not common for the cancer that she had. It was bizarre to see someone change so radically and so quickly; I had to write it down in order to not go crazy with the strangeness of it all.

After my mother died, I was supposed to be writing my column at Slate, and I couldn’t. I couldn’t focus, I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t read. I couldn’t understand what was happening. I had thought of grief as being sad, but instead it was like being suddenly aware of all the luminous, fragile elements of existence. It was also lonely in its way. My editor at Slate said, “Why don’t you write about what you are going through.” I didn’t think what happened to me was extraordinary. But it was what I was obsessed with, and so I started to shape what I was experiencing into a piece.

I was very unprepared for grief. It was isolating. There was no language for it, and no language around it—but I felt that I was in contact with all of these deeper realities; even the sky seemed strangely bluer. But there is a discomfort that surrounds grief. It makes even the most well-intentioned people unsure of what to say. And so many of the freshly bereaved end up feeling even more alone. I came across a quote of Iris Murdoch’s: “The bereaved have no language with which to speak with the unbereaved.” I thought, What if you could find a language that would describe the experience, with all its mysteries?

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A Week in Culture: John Swansburg, Editor, Part 2

April 14, 2011 | by

This is the second installment of Swansburg’s culture diary. Click here to read part 1.

DAY FOUR

I slip out of the office around noon and walk over to SoHo to check out an exhibition of photographs taken on the Paris Metro by Chris Marker. I am an enthusiastic straphanger—I’m known in the Slate offices as a staunch defender of the MTA—so I was looking forward to seeing Marker’s project, but the photos fail to move me. Marker has captured the drudgery of commuting and the diversity of Paris’s commuters, but the photos are almost uniformly glum; they fail to register the vitality a packed subway car can have. (I’ll never forget the time I saw a guy with Four Quartets and a critical text perched on his lap on a crowded C train. Come on, Marker, where’s the wonder?) A few of the shots juxtapose faces Marker has photographed on the subway with faces from masterpieces of painting. Some of the likenesses are impressive, but it feels like a silly trick; I don’t need to be shown that this woman looks kind of like Mona Lisa to care about her. The Marker exhibition leaves me wanting to see what Bill Cunningham would do with the assignment of spending a week riding New York’s rails.

I have dinner at the bustling John Dory Oyster Bar—yes, more oysters, I swear this week is not typical—with my friends from Port Washington, Long Island1. Among other things, I’ve learned that citizens of Port Washington harbor ill will toward the neighboring hamlet of Plandome, which, despite its tiny size (population 1,272) and proximity to both the Port Washington and Manhasset stations, for some reason has its own Long Island Rail Road stop, unnecessarily adding two to three minutes to the Port Washingtonian’s commute each morning and evening. Weary passengers have been said to exhibit countenances akin to Munch’s The Scream upon pulling into the Plandome station.

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Annotations

  1. My college roommate grew up there, and I’ve since become close with several of his childhood friends and have been granted (by them) de jure citizenship in the town.

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A Week in Culture: John Swansburg, Editor

April 13, 2011 | by

The author radios an Erie Canal bridge operator to request passage for his vessel, Hulberton, NY.

DAY ONE

Uh, oh. My plan was for this culture diary to culminate six days hence in a cheeky dispatch from Charlie Sheen’s “My Violent Torpedo of Truth/Defeat Is Not an Option” tour. I am a ticket holder to his planned stop at the Toyota Presents the Oakdale Theatre in Wallingford, Connecticut. (Syntactically, at least, the event and the venue deserve one another.) But this morning I read A. O. Scott’s devastating report from Sheen’s opening performance, at Detroit’s Fox Theater, and I’m troubled. I’d signed on to see Sheen at the suggestion of two Connecticut-based friends who I don’t see nearly as often as I’d like to. (The three of us have a tradition of dreaming up foolhardy adventures as an excuse to spend time together: A couple of years ago we sailed the Erie Canal from Rochester to Medina, New York, in a vessel with a top speed of six knots per hour, which is about the rate at which an old man jogs. Another recent trip involved us trucking up to Hartford to see what’s left of the Grateful Dead, which is not much.) Of course, I also bought the Sheen ticket because I wanted to see the wreckage up close. Scott’s essay forces me to confront the fact that there’s no way to take in the spectacle without being implicated in its tawdriness:

We [in the audience] profess dismay at Mr. Sheen’s long history of drug abuse and violence against women, but we have also enabled and indulged this behavior, and lately encouraged his delusional belief that he could beat the toxic fame machine at its own game. The price of a ticket to one of his shows represents a wager that it is impossible to lose. The audience that walked out of the Fox could feel righteously ripped off and thus morally superior to the man they had paid to see, who seemed to feel the same about them. Win-win!

What have I gotten myself into?

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Staff Picks: David Vann, Chip Kidd, James Salter

January 21, 2011 | by

Last spring our former managing editor and I spent weeks poring over David Vann’s first novel, Caribou Island, when it was in manuscript, trying to find an excerpt we could publish in The Paris Review. Caribou Island is tough, funny, sad, scary, and hard to put down. It has haunted me ever since. The bad news (for us) was that the whole novel is so much of a piece, we couldn’t tease out one strand. The good news is that now the book is out: You can read the whole thing yourself. —Lorin Stein

I love paging through Chip Kidd: Book One, a designer’s history as told through book jackets. Visually stunning, it offers the stories behind the making of some very iconic covers. One of my favorites is a rejected cover for The Illustrated Woody Allen Reader, featuring a large, black square. “I thought it was kind of cute—in an angsty, despairing, Nietzschean sort of way,” Kidd says. —Kate Guadagnino

Encountering James Salter’s A Sport and a Pastime for the first time is like finally springing for that Cabernet your friends have been praising for years and knowing from the first sip the bottle will disappear much too quickly. The novel unfolds in a series of seductions familiar in their outline—lovers, friends, even France itself—but in such exquisite prose that reading each page is to suffer the pleasure of an affair that must end in the morning. Witness the treatment even of a momentary character: “She has been a famous actress, I recognize her. The debris of a great star. Narrow lips. The face of a dedicated drinker. She constantly piles up her hair with her hands and then lets it fall. She laughs, but there is no sound. It’s all in silence—she is made out of yesterdays.” Wow. —Peter Conroy

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Staff Picks: End of Empires, Keep Your Day Job

December 3, 2010 | by

Mary Gaitskill. Illustration by Adrian Bellesguard.

Sometimes you get lucky: You find a used book for five dollars at The Strand by an author you’ve been meaning to read. The cover of Mary Gaitskill’s Two Girls, Fat and Thin, is garish, and its themes—incest, middle-school mean-girl power dynamics, adolescent pseudo-rape—are objectively repellent. But Gaitskill is so dead-on in her examination of the emotional life of her two central characters that I can’t help losing myself in the pages until finding a line—one girl holds “her aloneness around her like a magic cloak”—that when I look up, I discover I’ve missed my subway stop. —Miranda Popkey

I have been reading J. G. Farrell’s Troubles, a historical novel–cum–comedy of manners set during the Irish guerrilla war of 1919–21. The backdrop is a grand, Victorian-era hotel in County Wexford, whose squash and palm courts are gradually going to seed—a charming, if somewhat creaky allegory for the end of empire. But with history about to blow their roof off, Farrell’s Anglo-Irish protagonists contrive to worry about how to replace the shingles. I'm everywhere reminded of Kazuo Ishiguro’s great theme, how the collapse of old orders gives new license to self-deception. —Robyn Creswell

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A Week in Culture: Tim Wu, Professor

November 10, 2010 | by

DAY ONE

11:00 A.M., Oakland University, Michigan

“We don’t actually have wires sticking out of our heads,” I say, “but if you have an iPhone in your pocket and a laptop on your bag you’re pretty close. You’ve already delegated your memory to Google and Wikipedia; Facebook is there to remind you who your friends are.”

I have a bad habit. Whatever I happen to be reading influences me to a degree that is often, in retrospect, embarrassing or ridiculous. You might say I’m a slave to what I’m reading. And that may explain why I’m here with a group of undergraduates discussing whether or not we are, in fact, already cyborgs.

While these are my ideas (sort of), they are more honestly a take on Kevin Kelly’s new book What Technology Wants. I’m obsessed. He has got me talking about weird tech-philosophy stuff, such as whether we are cyborgs (see above) or whether it’s a good idea to quit technology altogether and go live in the wild.

I’m talking to undergraduates because my first book, coauthored with Jack Goldsmith, was selected to be read, campus-wide, by Oakland University in Michigan. For their part, the undergraduates seem to accept the idea that we are already more machine than man without much resistance, proving again that it is hard to shock the young. Perhaps to them, Darth Vadar had roughly the right idea.

7:00 P.M., Ann Arbor, Michigan

I hit up Twitter, where I find that I have said something insane about someone named Dorothy:

superwuster DOROTHY you don’t know shit about SHIT so fuck you.

Someone must have hacked my Twitter account. It is a bit of a surprise to see things written in my name that don’t fully reflect what I think. On the other hand, that was also the experience of rereading my first book.

A little later I notice that in addition to a hacker, I have a Twitter hater, apparently one of the students forced to read my book for school. He writes:

julianmgsantos Fuck you tim wu #crazyrhyming

julianmgsantos #whatreallycheesesme tim wu and dumb bitches

To his credit: At least Mr. Julianmgsantos appears to be enjoying Twitter. Most everyone else views it as a duty, like washing the digital dishes. Nonetheless, my appearance at a student Q & A yesterday prompted a reappraisal:

julianmgsantos Not gonna lie i hated tim wu. Until he showed up to this Q&A fried as hell. Im actually gonna read his book now

Kelly gets credit for that change in heart.

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