Archive for May, 2013

Suzy Szasz Palmer

I like this Q + A with this former author of mine, whose memoir “Lupus – Living with It: Why You Don’t Have to Be Healthy to Be Happy” was one of my best acquisitions as an editor back in the day. Here Suzy explains how she came to write her memoir and discusses her plans for a second book, which might be a sequel to her first memoir … or a cookbook. I would welcome either project with great joy.

(Suzy “appears” in a short post I wrote after her wonderful father, Dr. Thomas Szasz, passed away last year.)

BS, Redux

A long-time correspondent points me to this graduation speech recently published in The Atlantic: “Life Lessons in Fighting the Culture of Bullshit: What politics taught me that graduates need to know.”  The piece is by Jon Lovett, who has written speeches for Barack Obama after having worked against him on Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Lovett’s take on the topic is conventional:

“One of the greatest threats we face is, simply put, bullshit. We are drowning in it. We are drowning in partisan rhetoric that is just true enough not to be a lie; in industry-sponsored research; in social media’s imitation of human connection; in legalese and corporate double-speak. It infects every facet of public life, corrupting our discourse, wrecking our trust in major institutions, lowering our standards for the truth, making it harder to achieve anything. And it wends its way into our private lives as well, changing even how we interact with one another: the way casual acquaintances will say ‘I love you’; the way we describe whatever thing as ‘the best thing ever’; the way we are blurring the lines between friends and strangers. And we know that. There have been books written about the proliferation of malarkey, empty talk, baloney, claptrap, hot air, balderdash, bunk. One book was aptly named ‘Your Call is Important to Us.'”

My correspondent suggests, “I think graduation is too late to introduce college students to the academic literature on bullshit. It should be in the form of a workshop or course in 1st or second year college.” I agree. BS should be forcefully addressed sometime in the first year. To me BS is a form of Rhetoric, which is a fundamental lattice undergirding all academic disciplines; it is the start of knowledge and of discourse and debate.

My definition of BS: It is the use of a message to hide one’s true intentions. It can be a lie, it can be the truth (with some key points left unsaid), or it can be something else altogether, like “changing the subject.” Its ethical possibilities are polyvalent; after all, we cannot live without hiding our wishes and our natures sometimes.

At any rate Rhetoric should indeed be a required first-year course at university. Students need to know how to spot and how to make arguments.

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“You Must Always Be Yourself …

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… no matter what the price. It is the highest form of morality.” – Candy Darling

The life of Candy Darling is inspiring – and is very well presented in the documentary “Beautiful Darling,” written and edited by James Rasin. Chloë Sevigny reads from Darling’s private diaries and letters. And there is lots of documentary footage that I’ve never seen before, including scenes inside the Chelsea Hotel with Darling performing monologues for Dennis Hopper and company. Author Fran Lebowitz provides some remarkably dyspeptic commentary.

The root of beauty is boldness.

(Here’s the documentary’s website and the New York Times review of the film.)

“We Go Walking in the Dark”

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I discovered the singing and writing of Connie Converse via the Facebook page of Mary Lou Lord, a wonderful singer and writer herself, whom I was lucky enough to meet at the “Bottom of the Hill” club in San Francisco back in the mid 1990s.

I doubt I will have luck enough to meet Ms. Converse, though. As Cord Jefferson writes in this beautiful profile of her, “In the summer of 1974, just before her 50th birthday, Connie Converse composed some letters to her family and friends. In them, she applauded the downfall of Richard Nixon and said she was going to head west and take another shot at a new life. She then packed up her Volkswagen Beetle and drove out of Ann Arbor. It was the last time anyone in her family ever saw or heard from her.”

Connie Converse never signed a recording contract. With her friend Gene Deitch she made some rough and very beautiful recordings that he shopped around to labels, getting no bites. Such spooky, soulful work. I’m delighted Daniel Dzula & David Herman have remastered the old tapes to make “How Sad, How Lovely.”

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Here is a lovely video made of her performance of “One by One.”

The last words of her recording of “We Lived Alone” give me goose-bumps. The change in key changes me.

We lived alone, my house and I

We had the earth, we had the sky

I had a lamp against the dark

And I was happy as a lark.

We lived alone, my house and I

We had the earth, we had the sky

I had a lamp against the dark

And I was happy as a lark.

I had a stove and a window-screen

I had a table painted green

I sat on a chair with a broken back

Wearing a pretty potato sack.

I had a rug upon the floor

And roses grew around my door

I had a job, my wants were few

They were until I wanted you.

And when I set my eyes on you

Nothing else would do, nothing else would do.