Archive for category philosophy
Thanks to a tweet by Reuters Bureau Chief in India, Paul de Bendern, I was made aware of a new New York Times article about writer Christopher Hitchens. As I noted when I first wrote about his announcement that he was battling esophageal cancer, while intellectually I have not agreed with Hitchens since about 2001, I still respect him. I sometimes find it odd that I respect him, considering I believe in a God, and he does not. But what the hey, fortunately as I get older I seem to be getting more open-minded.
Anyways, you should go read the piece. Consider this excerpt.
But in most other respects Mr. Hitchens is undiminished, preferring to see himself as living with cancer, not dying from it. He still holds forth in dazzlingly clever and erudite paragraphs, pausing only to catch a breath or let a punch line resonate, and though he says his legendary productivity has fallen off a little since his illness, he still writes faster than most people talk. Last week he stayed up until 1 in the morning to finish an article for Vanity Fair, working on a laptop on his bedside table.
What is International Women’s Day? As noted at WeAreEQUALS.org: “The UN explains it perfectly as, ‘the story of ordinary women as makers of history; it is rooted in the centuries-old struggle of women to participate in society on an equal footing with men’. It’s a day that’s as relevant today, as it was when it was first marked in 1911. Back then, an impressive one million women and men attended rallies in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland all demanding the right for women to vote, hold public office, work and have equal pay.”
To mark the day, the organization had a video short produced. As detailed in this press release: “The two-minute short, specially commissioned for International Women’s Day, sees 007 star Daniel Craig undergo a dramatic makeover as he puts himself, quite literally, in a woman’s shoes.
Directed by acclaimed ‘Nowhere Boy’ director/conceptual artist Sam Taylor-Wood, scripted by Jane Goldman (‘Kick Ass’) and featuring the voice of Dame Judi Dench reprising her role as ‘M’, the film will be screened in cinemas and streamed online in a bid to highlight the levels of inequality that persist between men and women in the UK and worldwide. It is the first film featuring Bond to be directed by a woman.”
Thanks to Dustin Harbin for making me aware of the video.
A couple of accepted facts about Richard Coker‘s music. It’s intended to intellectually challenge you. It’s never gonna be included in anyone’s happy meal or designated to be a best-selling ringtone. Nor would Coker want either of those last two possibilities, but he would be happy to know his music can challenge the listener.
When he and I last discussed his music back in 2009, at one point Coker said: “Modern America suffers from the post-modern malaise of pop culture.” That comment was not directed at me or my interests, but I do think it could apply to me.
Coker is a musician always looking to challenge himself as well as his music. It’s interesting to see that some of the cuts in his new 2011 CD, Taiga, are updated versions of songs he cut for 2009′s Loa [Updated: Coker made me aware that Loa was never actually released; Taiga is the only released version of these songs]. I’ve not had a chance to side-by-side comparisons.
But I know of myself, in recent days I got Bob Mould’s old band, Sugar, in my head. This may surprise Coker, but honestly some of the more intense acoustic guitar-based songs remind me of Sugar–and that’s a compliment in my book. In listening to Coker’s lyrics, at least for me, I have to consider the music and lyrics separately. The lyrics are so complex, you can find yourself almost missing out on the music. After about three or four listens, cuts 4 (X) and 5 (Ymir) are two of my favorite cuts so far. But I bet if you ask me in another week, my answer will be likely different.
If you want to hear samples of each song, be sure to visit this Digstation site for Taiga.
Additional update: After further consideration, I realize that in addition to a Mould vibe, there’s also an element of Dead Can Dance introptopesimism (a mixture of introspective contemplation, optimism and pessimism) and just a smidge of Velvet Underground. His music and lyrics cannot be confined by a certain genre or other classification.
The wheels of my interest in Christopher Hitchens fell off when 9/11 changed his political outlook so drastically. And I’m a little ashamed to admit, I’ve become interested in what he has had to say since he announced he was battling esophageal cancer. OK, honestly the interest returned when I found out he’d written a memoir, Hitch 22, but the cancer announcement came soon after, so consider it a morbid tie.
The video above is an extended web version of an interview conducted by CNN’s Anderson Cooper that partially aired on August 5 (a transcript of the edited version can be found here). I’ve never thought of Cooper as much as an interviewer. This video proves me wrong. It’s insightful and fortunately does not focus solely upon Hitchens’ mortality and cancer (but understandably it’s the main focus).
It’s painful to see how physically diminished Hitchens is. But, despite his disbelief in my faith, I am praying for him to beat this thing. He states that he appreciates the sentiments behind the prayers, but he clearly believes it will do no good. I love how he wards off the possibility of a deathbed faith conversion in this interview, conceding he might convert if addled by the cancer or drugs. Hitchens clearly has examined about every damn angle. Good luck to him. I hope he’s around ticking me off for a very long time.
I always appreciate when a friend of the blog broadens my area of knowledge by suggesting an interview subject. This week, thanks to a suggestion from Allison Baker (of MonkeyBrain Books), I present my interview with self-described strange fiction writer Hal Duncan. Here’s a snippet of Duncan‘s bio: “A member of the Glasgow SF Writers Circle, his first novel, VELLUM, won the Spectrum Award and was nominated for the Crawford, the BFS Award and the World Fantasy Award. As well as the sequel, INK, he has published a poetry collection, SONNETS FOR ORPHEUS, a stand-alone novella, ESCAPE FROM HELL!, and various short stories in magazines such as Fantasy, Strange Horizons and Interzone, and anthologies such as NOVA SCOTIA, LOGORRHEA, and PAPER CITIES.” In addition to discussing his theories on fiction as well as his work in general, he and I also discussed a musical recently produced that was written by him–and the experience of writing a screenplay. I always thank folks when they give me the honor of their valuable time, but I have to give Duncan an extra big thanks for the level of detail and consideration he gave to his answers.
Tim O’Shea: Your first novel, Vellum, was translated into several different languages. How much were you involved in that process? Can you think of any country where you were pleasantly surprised to find readers took strongly to the book?
Hal Duncan: With some of the translations I’ve had no involvement at all; with others there’s been a lot of back-and-forth. They’re not the easiest books in the world to translate by a long shot, I know; there’s all manner of poetic techniques, dialect, wordplay, even a mixture of mythical, historical, and alternate-history settings that means passing references could be authentic history or utterly spurious. I regard my translators with a mixture of shame at what I put them through and wonder at the fact they’re tackling it. So if there’s anything I can do to help, I’ll do it. It’s fascinating to see the process anyway.
I am grateful to my parents for many gifts, but I rank my Catholic education/upbringing and intellectual curiosity as among some of the best. While Evan Howard, the author of The Galilean Secret (released last month), are not of the exact same religion (he is the pastor of the Community Church of Providence [Rhode Island), given that we are both Christians and that he is even more intellectually curious than myself (as well as the owner of a doctorate in theology from Boston University)–well it made for a great interview. In this email interview we discuss his novel–which is described as follows:
“When Karim Musalaha, a Palestinian on the run, seeks refuge in a forgotten cave near Qumran, he discovers a half-buried clay jar that contains a fragile scroll. His quest to discover its origins takes him on a high-speed chase through hostile Jerusalem and West Bank neighborhoods. Caught between his brother’s relentless ambition for martyrdom and the forbidden love of a Jewish woman with ties to the highest levels of the Israeli army, he must choose between honoring his father and betraying him to serve a higher purpose.
The scroll’s message also resonates with Judith of Jerusalem, a first century Jewish woman who, under the cover of darkness, gallops into the desert with the brother of the man she was betrothed to marry. When her allegiance to the burgeoning Zealot revolution pits her against the Roman occupiers and their priestly collaborators, Judith sees the cruelty of war and realizes her mistake. But is it too late for her to escape and find forgiveness? A letter written by a mysterious Galilean rabbi holds the answers, but the Romans have placed a price on his head. Should she risk her life for a rabbi she hardly knows, or risk her soul for a cause and a man whose beliefs she now rejects?
Bound by a letter that spans two millennia, both Karim and Judith will either succumb to hatred, violence and hopelessness, or reveal a wisdom that could save us all.”
I’m grateful to Howard for his valuable time and thoughts, as well as Kelly Hughes for facilitating the interview. Go here to read the first chapter.
Tim O’Shea: Tackling two plots with historical complexities in one book is fairly ambitious. How much revision/aggressive editing was involved in the pursuit of balancing the respective narratives and their unique pacing for both stories?
Evan Howard: The decision to include plots in two different time periods came about unexpectedly. As a first-time novelist I didn’t plan to use this method because of the difficulties involved, but readers of an earlier version of the book (which I had self-published) expressed frustration that I hadn’t resolved what happened to Karim, the Palestinian student who appears in the first chapter, the action of which takes place in the present. Since the rest of the novel happens in the time of Jesus, at first I resisted developing Karim’s story because I thought it would be a very complicated undertaking, but the more I thought about it, the more I saw that having two time periods and multiple plots could make the novel more multi-dimensional and increase its suspense. This process required that I write fifteen new chapters and blend them with the historical material. It took me about seven months to do this and involved a great deal of revising and editing along the way. Once I entered into this process, I found it highly challenging but also a lot of fun—like working on a giant literary jigsaw puzzle. Since there is a lot of action in both stories, the issue of pacing wasn’t a major problem.
I recently interviewed a creative talent who was kind enough to be painfully honest about his struggles with depression. For every person who successfully tackles depression, there are some folks who despite their best efforts (and various attempts to support them, through counseling or medication or other forms of treatment) fall victim to crippling depression and choose to end their life. This September it will be two years since the writer David Foster Wallace committed suicide after battling depression for more than 20 years.
I’m just one of many folks that respects Wallace’s intelligence and lament his passing. He gave a hell of a lot of himself on the written page. I was recently reading his thoughts on life, which he boiled down into a commencement speech, (and which later became the 2009 book, This is Water). Consider this thought on page 48 of the book.
“Probably the most dangerous thing about an academic education, least in my own case, is that it enables my tendency to over-intellectualize stuff, to get lost in abstract thinking instead of simply paying attention to what’s going on in front of me.”
I have to mull that one over for awhile. I may need to hang it on my wall.
I really have nothing else to say, except that–hey, if you know me–and if you’re ever suicidal: Please don’t. I’ll miss you. That’s not an effort to be glib on my part. I hope that someone in my circle of friends remembers that I wrote this sentiment, when they’re feeling overwhelmed. And if you have someone in your life that battles depression, support them. It can be maddening for all parties involved at certain points, but it’s amazing what a little simple moment of caring can do. We can’t stop all suicides. That’s impossible. But maybe if we all pay attention to what’s going on in front of us, we might help someone that we might not otherwise note.
I’m of a firm opinion that Brad Meltzer is always writing, be it in his head or actually writing–or thinking about writing. Known for his numerous bestselling works of fiction, Heroes for My Son, is Meltzer’s first non-fiction book. Here is how the book (released May 11) is described at the project’s blog: “When Brad Meltzer’s first son Jonas was born eight years ago, the bestselling writer and new father started compiling a list of heroes whose virtues and talents he wanted to share with his son. Abraham Lincoln, Rosa Parks, Jim Henson, Amelia Earhart, Mohammed Ali…and so many more, each one an ordinary person who was able to achieve the extraordinary. The list grew to include the fifty-two amazing people now gathered together in Heroes for My Son, a book that parents and their children—sons and daughters alike—can now enjoy together as they choose heroes of their own.” It’s been awhile since I’ve gotten a chance to interview Meltzer, the first time for this blog in fact, and I’m always happy when I get to pick Meltzer’s brain.
Tim O’Shea: Sometimes when folks make “best of” or ranking books of any kind, they have to brace for the readers who ask “why didn’t you include?”. Not only are you braced for it, in fact you are inviting folks to tell you about their heroes. This did not surprise me as you always have figured out ways to get your audience involved in your work. Two questions, are you enjoying getting people’s stories about heroes even more than you expected? When did you first decide it was a priority to get the audience so engaged?
Brad Meltzer: The idea of including a spot in the back of the book for people to include their own heroes solely came from my belief that there are heroes everywhere. I love that fact. And I want to hear more. Why not use the hive mind?
While researching for another interview, I was introduced to Susan E. Isaacs‘ new book, Angry Conversations With God. And I’m glad I found out about it–and even better got a chance to interview her. First some background on the book:
“Angry Conversations With God began when Susan hit hit forty and found herself loveless, jobless, and living over a garage. When a churchy friend told Susan that she needed to look at her relationship with God was it like a marriage, Susan decided to take God to marriage counseling.
Angry Conversations chronicles Susan’s spiritual history, from childhood faith to a midlife crisis, and all the bizarre church experiences in between.”
And now for some info on the author:
“Susan is an actor, writer and comedienne with credits in TV, film, stage and radio, including Planes Trains & Automobiles, Scrooged, Seinfeld, and My Name Is Earl. She is an alumnus of the Groundlings Sunday Company and has an MFA in screenwriting from the University of Southern California.”
My thanks to Isaacs for the interview. Keep an eye out for her this fall, as she goes on a multi-city tour, promoting the book.
Tim O’Shea: Most religious memoirs do not have a tinge of irreverence to them, did you fear alienating your potential audience by going this route?
Susan E. Isaacs: People who don’t handle irreverence or extreme language shouldn’t read Jeremiah, Elijah, or St. Paul. Like in Philippians 3, Paul considers his previous accomplishments “loss” compared to knowing Christ? The original Hebrew for “loss” is a vulgar term for excrement. But we can’t print St Paul’s original intent because we’re Christians. I think there’s a difference between gratuitous irreverence, and irreverence that’s necessary to the character and the story. I took out all but two or three instances of profanity where I felt they were necessary to show the character’s desperation. Like, in one instance I spelled it out phonetically to show how violent my father’s cursing sounded to me as a child.
I’ve been friends with Richard Coker since the mid-1980s. I’m normally not this direct/borderline irreverent when interviewing a person. But Richard is one of the most intelligent and unflappable people I know. I’m fairly certain I could wildly opine that his birth was instrumental in the breakup of the Beatles and he would not blink an eye, plus he’d likely have a balanced challenge of my absurdity. This is not the first time I’ve interviewed Richard for this blog, in addition to his solo acoustic work (which we discuss in this interview) he is also a member of the Crumsy Pirates (aka the subject of the blog’s first interview). My thanks to Richard for his tolerance of my questions and his willingness to discuss his new release, a collection of twelve-string songs, Loa.
Tim O’Shea: You sing with a British accent at times, don’t deny it–and it’s never intentional, I know. Does it annoy you when people think it’s an affectation on your part?
Richard Coker: I’ve loved British music all my life, but I have never purposefully tried to sing with an English accent. No one’s accused me of affecting it, though. Maybe said accusations are lacking because so few people are familiar with my music. However, linguistically speaking, there are far more traces of British Isles speech among Southerners. Appalachians still use Elizabethan words (at least they did before satellite dishes). Perhaps, too, when I’m singing I favor softer, more Englishy, vowel sounds. I like the way they feel when I sing them.
O’Shea: How many songs have you written over the years?
Coker: I’ve been writing songs for over twenty years. I still have lyrics for over three hundred songs. My current acoustic set has about seventy songs to it. If I had to guess, my total song output is somewhere around four or five hundred.