Turning Living into an Art


download-1

Now that the holidays are over and Christmas tree corpses are littering our streets (ah, our consumer culture…), I have been wondering about how to improve on the art of living.

Besides my resolution not to be lived by the short-term demands of tech companies, but instead, set my own schedule, stick to riding daily and walking and being in nature, (as well as getting rid of all the clutter inside and outside our home since I think this will also declutter my mind), I realize that mindful living is a form of focus that you need to summon every day in order to reap the benefits.

The Sunday NYT had an interesting article about the app WeCroak, which will send you daily quotes reminding you that you too will be snuffed out, i.e. memento mori reminders like the paintings we used to have in seventeenth century Holland, or as the app described it: Find happiness by contemplating your mortality. To some this may seem morbid, but remember how some people, who have been faced by mortality because of an illness or other life threatening situation, will say that after that, they have become better at seizing the day and truly enjoying life?

When Henry Miller transformed into a sage, his writing started to truly inspire, and fed, in part, the Beats and droves of adolescents who decided to “drop out”. This wasn’t because Miller wanted to be hip or be in synch with his time but because he was perfecting the art of living. For him the turning point came in Paris, when he was in his forties: “I had lost my illusions, but fortunately not my enthusiasm, nor the joy of living, nor my unquenchable curiosity — about anything and everything — that made me the writer I am. It has never left me.”

Thus at 80, he penned this famous passage, which, if you are a glass half full kinda gal/guy, you might as well hang over your bed:

If at eighty you’re not a cripple or an invalid, if you have your health, if you still enjoy a good walk, a good meal (with all the trimmings), if you can sleep without first taking a pill, if birds and flowers, mountains and sea still inspire you, you are a most fortunate individual and you should get down on your knees morning and night and thank the good Lord for his savin’ and keepin’ power. If you are young in years but already weary in spirit, already on your way to becoming an automaton, it may do you good to say to your boss – under your breath, of course – “Fuck you, Jack! you don’t own me.” If you can whistle up your ass, if you can be turned on by a fetching bottom or a lovely pair of teats, if you can fall in love again and again, if you can forgive your parents for the crime of bringing you into the world, if you are content to get nowhere, just take each day as it comes, if you can forgive as well as forget, if you can keep from going sour, surly, bitter and cynical, man you’ve got it half licked.

He wrote this in his essay On Turning Eighty, and in it he had some other good advice to savor the art of not only aging gracefully but what goes into living a fulfilling life. Interestingly, some of these wisdoms are now being confirmed by research, such as the importance of friends– who aren’t necessarily echo chambers but who speak the truth.

He also mentioned the sense of wonder, not taking things and yourself too seriously, and trying to live humbly. We cannot convert people who have made up their minds (an oak is an oak, and a pig a pig, Miller said) and there are really only very few people who learn from life or from each other. His line “One can fight evil, but against stupidity one is helpless” I find particularly prescient of our current times. Yet, no matter how depressing the world may get, Miller also said “All we really have is the present, but very few of us ever live it.” And these days, it seems, we don’t read Miller (or any writers anymore) but we need a $1 app like WeCroak to make that nugget of wisdom count…

Some of Miller’s beliefs were already familiar to me as far as Miller’s general outlook on life goes, but there was other stuff I hadn’t read before: his disinterest in competitive sports for instance, stressing that exercise through play is more beneficial than our focus on performance or winning. Nor did Miller believe in health fads or diet: “I want to enjoy my food”. Miller also advocated euthanasia, when euthanasia was much more controversial than it is now: “We were not asked to be born; why should we be refused the privilege of making our exit when things become unbearable?”

In spite of Miller writing that he had had a lifelong disinterest in politics, religion or isms as they tend to get us down, Miller nonetheless (and always) deplored where the world seemed to be headed. In 1972, he missed a general “lack of grandeur, beauty [well, that may have been 1970s fashion and style…], love, compassion and freedom” — again, prescient words…

In closing, Miller said these wise words:

There is nothing wrong with life itself. It is the ocean in which we swim and we either adapt to it or sink to the bottom. But it’s in our power as human beings not to pollute the waters of life, not to destroy the spirit which animates us.

There. We can only save ourselves. But that takes willpower, and well… forget the app.

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The John Muir Spa… Better Yet: We Are Going Home!!!


IMG_3237

Every time I’m thinking that this is my last post for 2017 but this year seems to want to rip open the wound and twist the knife a little while longer. It’s like the party guest that won’t leave, even though you have switched off all the lights and turned down the thermostat.

First an update on Sweet Caroline. We thought she was heading home yesterday and so did she, so her old humor was back, sending me pics of the stool softeners and other hospital regalia. But then came the crashing news.

She had to stay another day.

All her vitals were good, and her pain was gone, so I was mystified by it all. Jon headed over for the day and when I arrived in the afternoon to stay for the night, I realized why: when the nurse suggested they might switch to the oral antibiotic because her poor arm looked like a pin cushion with hives, both doctors vetoed it, indicating IV antibiotics are as good as it gets. I presume they saw so much inflammation in the bowel area that they’re going in with mega bacteria busters, via IV.

This is why they are also holding off on surgery. The next few weeks she’ll be on more antibiotics and they suggested an appendectomy after finishing the Spring semester. We’ll try to find a good internist in Chicago, so that if she even has the slightest symptoms, she gets seen for a CAT scan and what not.

Caroline was still quite down when I walked in the room last night, which is why decided to stay. I told her about one of my favorite authors Flannery O’Connor who struggled with lupus and who was in and out of the hospital. I can’t remember the exact quote from one of her letters but she talked about how lonely the landscape for the sick is. The moment you put on that ugly hospital gown, you seem stripped of your identity, your life, even the landscape outside your hospital room. You become a number, a specimen, get poked and prodded by doctors and form a collection point of vital signs and more numbers. The bland hospital environment adds to this sense of isolation and sensory deprivation.

I don’t want to knock our care at John Muir which is consistently voted one of the best hospitals in the state and country (and how lucky we even are to have insurance and don’t have to join the even bigger lines at a County Hospital) because, as always, I’m blown away by the professionalism and expertise of medical folks in this country, but well, yes, staying overnight in a hospital, any hospital, sucks.

The interrupted sleep, which I remember so well from my own hospitalizations, doesn’t really add to the level of recovery and Caroline’s IV machine had a tendency of beeping on and off. We tried kicking it but that just set off more alarms, which at least made the nurses come faster (I’m being facetious).

Thankfully, I brought my iPad and we had excellent WiFi, so that got me totally hooked on Netflix’s The Crown, which I was binge watching till 3 AM. I resisted this series for a long time because I think Elizabeth II and Philip always have been a bunch of stuffed shirts, but now I’m fascinated. I also want to know: Was Philip really such an emasculated bag of dicks or is it the actor playing him that makes him look so utterly unsympathetic? And by God, I hope the actual Elizabeth finally got the memo that it’s OK for her to retire, and vital, in fact, for Charles must be as emasculated as his dad by now. Good thing he ended up marrying the love of his life to whom he once confessed he wanted to be her tampon. I’m not making this up.

As I was typing this up, the doctor walked in, telling us today is the day to go HOME! To celebrate Caroline ate some cold pizza (which I had brought in last night; sometimes junk food has a purpose to make you feel less sick) and I was ready to get some espresso through an IV myself.

2018? Bring it on!

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Happy New Year!


IMG_3222

Brother and sis

I realize I owe you another update after a concerning Facebook post about Caroline. I appreciate and want to thank everyone who has reached out. After blood tests and an EKG she has been referred to a rheumatologist and cardiologist (Jan 2nd and 3rd) so hopefully we know more by then. She’s worried, I’m worried but I’ve learned from life that pre-emptive worrying makes you miserable, so I’m not going to run ahead of or second guess any possible diagnoses. Our bodies do their thing and sometimes react in ways that are unpredictable, as well as unexplainable, and I think our ER doctor on Christmas Eve was spot on in saying: “I’m concerned but not alarmed.”

Our Christmas was low key and Will gave me above pic, made by his girlfriend, while we were all in Chicago and I LOVE this picture, so I’m sharing it here.

Also, through ROVER, the dog sitting service I’m now a host for, we’ve had an absolute blast with our dog guest THE FONZ, a golden retriever, who should really be a therapy dog. Here are some pics:

I’m telling you: IF ALL PEOPLE WERE GOLDEN RETRIEVERS WE’D HAVE PEACE ON EARTH IN NO TIME…

The Fonz forces me out of the house, so we have been going on walks and, in addition, I’ve been biking which has been very good for the soul. The bike rides have consolidated my resolutions for the New Year.

While in the past, I’ve been contracting for tech companies, jumping in my car whenever there was a contract somewhere, I’m going to be more selective with my clientele to reserve time for the clients who pay the proper rates, but also spend more time on college essay coaching, writing the damn Henry Miller book, and making sure I get my rides in for health and oxygen to the brain. It’s my fantasy to ride parts of California this Summer and/or Fall, so I hope I can manage to sustain the kind of discipline that will facilitate that.

Finally, I think the last year we’ve all been frazzled by social media and the rate at which Twitter manages to enter all our living rooms and minds but I’m beginning to think there’s a very dark side to it that is addictive, and, clearly, it divides us and erodes human interaction. We need to take a step back and dictate our own lives rather than have others dictate ours (Obviously, I use the word “dictate” on purpose here). Put your phone down and give social media a rest.

Moreover, I encourage you all to take a walk in the woods and listen to your deepest and dearest desires. Don’t put them off and live under the illusion that there will be “some day”. As I have said so often: you might as well live– but more important: live NOW.

Now go kick ass in 2018 and hug your family and loved ones. It’s OK to be stingy but never be stingy with love and affection. Any golden retriever can teach you that… Besides… the best things in life are free: savor them!

Peace.

xo

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

A Christmas Wish…


 

This has been a strange and stifling year, but the earth keeps spinning on around the sun, and, having come to the midlife point myself, I’m making a serious effort every day to welcome the dawn, bask, if only for a little bit, in the winter sun, savor my meals, love generously, speak the truth, cherish my family and friends, support my kids, reach out to the less fortunate, fight the good fight for justice, truth and freedom, listen to the sound of silence, take care of the elderly, and learn from those who have dedicated their lives to helping others.

The joy of Christmas lies in the joy of giving, but not just at Christmas but giving something every day. We have lost our way in this country and while I don’t want to turn this into a political message, I do believe that Jesus was a socialist at heart and not a capitalist. Greed is never good. Buying things provides a fleeting thrill, while giving gives oxygen to (the) living.

Henry Miller liked the Portuguese proverb that said something to the effect of “If shit becomes valuable, the poor will be born without assholes.”

We are at a crucial juncture in this country and while we can’t change the world overnight, a revolution starts with a change in you. Scale down your ambitions, and be the best possible person you can be to others, and the world will be a better place. Give, love and open your heart to those in need.

When I wrote my book Ontwaken uit de Amerikaanse droom (2004), I interviewed several homeless people. There was a recurring theme there. They understood that people didn’t want to give money. What they didn’t grasp is that people no longer made eye contact with them. “We are America’s invisible– and it hurts… every day,” said a woman with a sleeping baby in her lap. Mary and Joseph had to sleep in a stable to give birth to Jesus. I guess they knew what being invisible meant…

The poor in this country still have assholes, yet it’s the assholes who won’t dignify the presence of the poor with the simple gift of eye contact.

So here’s my Christmas wish for you.

Give, and give generously.

It’s not about the money.

Sometimes it’s as simple as making eye contact or asking that one question: “How can I help you?”

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Extremism in the Defense of Liberty?


497130052_1280x720

Long before I moved here and barely even knew what America was or stood for, I heard people say: Everything is so extreme in America: Hurricanes that rip out trailers with the people and pets still in it, earthquakes that rattle the West Coast, fires that destroy entire cities and flooding so bad that you’re a fool not to get any flood insurance. We have Death Valley, the hottest and driest spot in the world and we have lakes so big (like Lake Michigan) that any European might think it’s an ocean instead of a lake.

We also have insanely big fridges, big people and for the longest time, we have said bigger is better.

And now, we’re not just big and extreme, but we’re also a little extremist…

I’m not referring to Il Duce, but I’m referring to the #metoo movement.

Like you, I have been baffled with the number of women going on the record and the number of men who got fired. Like overnight.

In spite of an almost militant second wave of feminists who told us to burn our bras and ditch the patriarchy, we somehow allowed ourselves to be touched and groped and kissed and raped. Did feminism actually do something for women at all, if women felt they couldn’t speak out and when they did, they were often not heard, or worse: discredited? Did feminism fail us all? Maybe it did, and maybe this is why we’re now seeing such a pro-women swing of the pendulum where men are accused and fired and… discredited.

I consider myself a feminist but I also love men and I know many men, and this is probably a solid majority, who do not engage with women in what seems like an epidemic whip-out-your-dick-gate. News flash: this doesn’t turn women on, and if you’re doing it in front of a co-worker whose boss or superior you are, you have a perverted sense of yourself and the woman you’re trying to “impress”, intimidate or sway. Besides, most dicks are misshapen Smurfs and when they’re erect, they look like leaning Towers of Pisa without the gift shops and no, women don’t see them as irresistible popsicles. If you do think so, you have watched way too much porn. Mind you, vaginas are, on the basis of mere aesthetics, overrated too and I think fig leaves were there for a legitimate reason.

Suffrage, feminism came about because women wanted equal rights. Women still don’t have equal rights but we’ve come a far way. Hell, I think my daughter is ten times better off than both my grandmothers were in terms of equal rights, but equal rights are important here because if a man is accused, he has the right to apologize but he also has the right to defend himself and be acquitted if the accusation is false or not substantiated. We are throwing some men under the bus, while others stay in power because they deny the allegations, and a man, any man, in the patriarchal universe of things, is as good as his word…

But I’m also worried about backlash—about women not getting hired because they might blab or the kind of man-hating agenda that may be considered an overcompensation or “correction” of women having been oppressed, and I don’t think that’s right. It may even be a little extremist—extremism under the guise of liberty. Also, men may feel under siege too, and that, in itself, can lead to more sexism and a strained relationship between the sexes.

The vilification of men (as well as the sexual drive) is something that I’ve come across time and again in some second-wave feminists… and for them, someone like Henry Miller was the ultimate bad boy and sexist-in-chief. You’d think that, over time, feminists might have changed their tune, if even just a little bit, but I was surprised to find a New York Times Book Review of 2012 by Jeannette Winterson that kicked Henry Miller to the curb once again. In the review, which is not even a review of the Tropic trilogy itself, but a review of Frederick Turner’s book Renegade: Henry Miller and the Making of Tropic of Cancer, all the feminist furies are unleashed in a character assassination attempt to paint Henry Miller with the broad brush of woman hater and nothing else.

Almost half a century after Kate Millett’s blistering attack on Tropic of Cancer in Sexual Personae (1970), Winterson really adds nothing to Millett’s venom, or maybe I shouldn’t be so categorical, for while Millett actually engages in some textual analysis, Winterson just condemns Miller as if he were her stalking ex whom she’d like to wash out of her hair once and for all.

She starts with name calling à la El Trumpo (Hopeless Henry, Heroic Henry, Hungry Henry) and makes sure to weaponize Miller’s biographical details to prove he was a scumbag (deadbeat father, abandonment of daughter from of his first marriage) and a “kept” man (financially sustained by June, and then by Anaïs Nin). “Miller,” Winterson writes “was obsessed with masculinity but felt no need to support himself or the women in his life.” Biographically this is inaccurate. Though Miller was penniless for most of his life and mooched off of women, he also mooched off of men, but the moment he had any money, he would spend it generously on his friends, including the women in his life.

And anyway, what does that have to do with the work?

If we are to believe Martha Gellhorn, Hemingway was a liar and a cheat, stealing others’ work (including hers) and impossibly hard to be married to, but does that mean college kids shouldn’t be reading A Farewell to Arms?

Miller’s anti-Semitism gets thrown into the mix as well, even though Miller also spoke warmly about Jews and none of it seems to have been part of his later work. Yes, he was anti-Semitic, just like TS Eliot and Ezra Pound were but Pound’s Cantos and The Waste Land are still part of the canon the last time I checked. Likewise, Twain’s use of the N-word doesn’t disqualify him either from being Middle School fare (and to aggravate matters, I recently read Twain had a strange fetish for little girls… must be a Southern thing?)

But I digress.

My biggest objection to Winterson’s assessment is that she’s a bit of a one-trick/one-issue pony, as she reduces everything to being a women’s issue. There is a complete and utter reluctance to see Miller’s oeuvre holistically. Nor does it occur to her that the sex in his early work may actually have had an aesthetic function. One only has to explore Surrealism, a tradition Miller was clearly influenced by and working in: Surrealists, Gay Louise Balliet writes in Henry Miller and Surrealist Metaphor (1996) lauded the “Freudian Id, i.e. the libido or life’s energy, the center of sex” just as “Henry Miller exalted the sexual, instinctive part of us and felt the purity of sex could transcend and enlighten the individual out of the dark suppressive society” (9). Instead, Winterson calls Miller’s prostitutes “body slaves” whom he likes to get “as cheaply as possible,” in addition to arguing that all the women only enter the narrative as half-witted “piece(s) of tail”.

On the subject of prostitutes, I do want to get the following out of the way. Most feminists condemn prostitution as they see it as a commodification of women, but coming from a place like the Netherlands where prostitution has been tolerated since the seventeenth century because it had a public function and kept the streets safer when the ships rolled in, I strongly feel that the legit prostitutes (take forced prostitution out of it—and when you sell your body for drugs that is, in my book, forced prostitution as well) in Amsterdam have a certain pride in their profession. Many of them may tell you that they’re “social workers” not “sex workers”. In fact, if we were to describe them as mere “sex objects” or “victims”, they might take offense. They made a professional choice, and if they weren’t enjoying a part of it, they wouldn’t be doing it. And they’re adults—and as adults they’re responsible for their our own choices, even though others may see it as “sin”, “demeaning to women” or the commodification of women.

Furthermore, Miller’s description of prostitutes as mere pieces of tail, is a misconception—Miller is down and out with them. They are all the dregs of society, the hapless products of a world in decay, darkness and dirty alleys, and, are as such, the archetypal metaphor of a Spenglerian vision that so many of the modernists embraced. Finally, if women/prostitutes are so one dimensional as Winterson seems to argue, why is it, that in Miller’s first serious piece of fiction (“Mlle Claude”), he portrayed a prostitute with such warmth and romantic tenderness, that we simply cannot make blanket statements about Miller portraying women, or prostitutes, as mere sex kittens or brainless vaginas. To give you a flavor of that story, he ends it with:

When she cuddles up to me—she loves me now more than ever—it seems to me that I’m just a damned microbe that’s wormed its way into her soul. I feel that even if I am living with an angel I ought to make a man out of myself. We ought to get out of this filthy hole and live somewhere in the sunshine, a room with a balcony overlooking a river, birds, flowers, life streaming by, just she and me and nothing else (The Wisdom of the Heart, 150).

However, for Winterson, Miller has no redeeming qualities whatsoever. And she takes it a step further, for she ends her review with a damning condemnation of men in general: “The question is,” she cries out in indignation, “Why do men revel in the degradation of women?”

The answer is: many do not. Nor did Miller. But this is the danger if we adopt extremist views to make up, or so it seems, for the oppression of women in the past… which doesn’t take anything away from my belief that the sexual revolution is far from over…

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Why I Love My Bike…


This year has been intense. If we aren’t watching the news, we’re on social media and nowadays it seems that every little bit of white space is devoured by noise. This can’t be good for the soul. And it wasn’t good for me.

Now, I have the luxury of working from home which is great if you want to write a book on the side, because when work is slow, I turn to Henry Miller.

Recently, however, I noticed I was becoming more distracted. When work was slow, I’d be on Twitter, or reading the newspaper or doing laundry or taking Teddy for a walk. Basically, I wasn’t getting my Zen time. I was reading but not ruminating and we need to ruminate in order to write.

Henry Miller was a big walker but he also loved riding his bike, and he said this:

After a time, habituated to spending so many hours a day on my bike, I became less and less interested in my friends. My wheel had now become my one and only friend. I could rely on it, which is more than I could say about my buddies. It’s too bad no one ever photographed me with my friend. I would give anything now to know what we looked like.

So I resumed my biking schedule (I used to ride to Berkeley when I was still working there). Now that I have access to the library, I’ll just hop on the bike and ride into Berkeley. It’s a beautiful ride through Tilden Park, with quite a climb onto Grizzly Peak:

What’s great about it is that after ten minutes or so, I really get into a zone and some of my best ideas come during riding my bike. There must be something about the exercise and being in nature that stimulates the brain. Sometimes, when I have a knot mentally, the knot gets undone when riding my bike. And afterwards, I feel so much better. Endorphins for sure…

So for the new year, I’m going to try and keep up this rhythm of riding — even when the weather feels cold and unwelcoming, like this morning. But look at these shots. Here you see Mount Diablo in the distance, from Inspiration Point:

IMG_3160

And here’s the view from the Brazil building this morning:

IMG_3161

Now mind you, I’m riding with my laptop in my backpack so I didn’t want to add to my load by adding a heavy lock (and you need a good one in Berkeley), so I joined BikeLink which gives you access to those bike lockers that you may have seen at Bart stations. It’s great because you can put other stuff in there as well, like your helmet, bike shoes etc. Total charge for five hours? 25 cents! That beats parking fees or getting a ticket (because they ticket like crazy over there).

Best part of all: I got a real nice, new “study”, and an inspirational place to work:

IMG_3163

This is the Morrison Library which feels like an old men’s club (wooden paneling, couches, Christmas tree) and it has always been my favorite part of Doe Memorial Library. Best part of all– coming off my bike and sitting in that room, it did focus the mind and the writing was good. From riding to writing.

We all need more white space, space to think, move our feet and yes, a room of one’s own.

Allow yourself to become very quiet, even if it’s once a day. Better yet, do it in nature and you’d be amazed. And well, it sure beats Twitter…

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

I need your help and this is why…


This has been a bit of a roller coaster of a weekend because my recent visit to UC Berkeley brought back bad memories of what I experienced at the University and I wrote an emotional blog about it. It was too emotional, I realized, so… let’s stick to the facts.

My close colleague Jeroen Dewulf seemed to be a sexual predator, who didn’t only prey on and use undergraduates, graduate students, staff women and lecturers, but he also copied lines from Wikipedia entries and other scholars for the book he got tenure with. In addition, he took credit for other people’s work (including my work). Like I said: it’s all part of the same pathology. You take something that’s not yours without asking permission for it. Every pussy grab is in fact a power grab.

I went on the record with the University several times and I realize now, talking to a close confidante, that universities are not like the media where suddenly, women’s stories are believed and change seems to be happening overnight. Also, I was one of the few who stepped forward — and I did so out of a maternal instinct, wanting to protect vulnerable female students but… and here’s the problem: some of those students themselves have been afraid to come forward or thought one single incident was too trivial to come forward with — so, in the end, it was probably his word against mine, and this is also why sexual power play is the perfect crime.

The more things change, the more they stay the same?

This weekend, this editorial came out in UCB’s Daily Cal and seems to confirm what I’m trying to tell you here.

That said, the plagiarism still stands, just as this troublesome and creepy picture– a picture that the University apparently didn’t see as any evidence of anything at the time. (?)

GetAttachment

I posted the same picture in my #metoo blog and felt I had gone to far.

So I wanted to play fair and be a decent person, and I took it down.

Thing is, however, Mr. Dewulf never played fair with me and was, if I am to believe the stories, indecent in many ways. For that he got promoted. In the meantime, I’m still living with the aftermath of his secrets and unethical behavior. If I truly want to move on, I need to share this story with the world and get it out of my system.

So after some conversation and consideration, I’m putting above picture back up, serving as a reminder for all those women (and men) who have some story to tell but felt afraid/reluctant/disinclined to do so. 

And it’s not too late. I went on the record with the University one last time over the weekend, but my word against his may not be sufficient.

If you have a story, send them to the Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination: ask_ophd@berkeley.edu

At the time, you may have thought, “Oh, but it was just one weird comment, one touch, one awkward hug, one weird proposition– who would complain about that?” Thing is, together, these stories form a pattern of a pussy grab pathology that may still be fully functional and operational as the man in this picture is still teaching at UCB and may be going after his next victim.

And if you’re scared, ask for anonymity, but that you really want to tell your story because it was a story in which certain teacher-student/faculty-staff boundaries were violated. Boundaries that shouldn’t have been crossed at a fine institution like UC Berkeley.

Not sharing your story is maintaining the status quo, and… someone else might get hurt.

In closing, I once wrote this:

Academia is one of the last patriarchies still standing in which scandals get pushed under the rug, perpetrators get promoted and, if necessary, victims and whistleblowers get smeared if they question or jeopardize the status quo. Its inability to innovate, and question itself and its practices when questioning lies at the core of its raison d’être is as absurd and short-sighted as the Catholic Church that won’t see the correlation between the promotion of celibacy and the fondling of altar boys.

Let’s see if our voices can crack the status quo, setting an example for others to do the right thing, i.e. speak out when things really smell fishy, or don’t feel quite kosher.

Finally, this is not an act of vindication or me having some martyr complex. I simply want students to feel safe in the place they call the classroom and school. Is that too much to ask?

Can I count on you?

See also: https://inezhollander.wordpress.com/2014/08/30/why-i-left-academia/

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

DREAMFEST and Alicia Keys


Don’t ask me how I got into Dreamfest last night, but I did. For the uninitiated: Dreamfest is the big Salesforce conference in San Francisco. Read: Nerd Central, with people swarming the city hanging out their Salesforce badges and swag like they have just won the membership lottery to a very special club.

Tickets for this conference go for $2000 a pop, and money did go to Children’s Hospital, so I ain’t going to knock that. The Salesforce CEO is one of the most altruistic of geeks and setting an example for others to shed some of their wealth and give it to charity rather than hide it in shell accounts.

downloadWhat the hell. I just wanted to see Alicia Keys who was the featured artist last night in AT&T Park. She didn’t come on until 10PM but when she entered the stage, she knocked it out of the park. Pregnant with her third child, she was owning the stage like a diva and a queen. Loads of charisma and a voice that makes your spine tingle. But it was 10PM and, to our consternation, we saw streams of people leaving the park, as if she were the after party instead of the hottest ticket in town.

What was wrong with these people? It felt sacrilegious and… could Alicia see it from the corner of her eye? I mean people were leaving as if word had just got out they would miss their shuttle bus to their hotel, and might have to sleep in a cardboard box in the Tenderloin.

Jon and I tried to make up for this lack of respect by draining our lit phones like teenage idiots and singing along until our voices got hoarse. Have some respect, I wanted to tell those sheep leaving in droves, for the pop icon had a message for all of us, speaking of love holding us together and winning (and it did, in Virginia last night). And for god’s sake, she hauled her pregnant ass onto that stage to entertain all of us– I’ll stop there.

When it was over and Jon and I walked out with the inebriated crowd, a guy asked me if I were from Finland (?!). He was obviously tipsy and Jon thought he was hitting on me and he may have been right because when I said: “I’m with him”, pointing to Jon, he said: “You’re with him?!” Conversation over.

We didn’t hit the sack until 2 AM. I’m too old for this.

Yes, yes, now I know why those people left early… They may live longer and happier lives as recent sleep research shows that getting your 8 hours in will help you fight disease, promote weight loss and make you more productive. So I will die prematurely and fat and utterly unproductive (as this blog bears out) but WTH, I saw Alicia Keys in concert and no one can take that away from me.

You might as well live…

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Henry Miller’s Gob of Spit and Why I Need Your Help!


“This is not a book, in the ordinary sense of the word. No, this is a prolonged insult, a gob of spit in the face of Art, a kick in the pants to God, Man, Destiny, Time, Love, Beauty… what you will. I am going to sing for you, a little off key perhaps, but I will sing.”

~ Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer

download

When I wrote my first novella (Euro Trippy, check it out on Amazon), which was faintly inspired by my exposure to Henry Miller over the years, I happened to check how well, or how poorly, Henry Miller was represented in our (US) public libraries and I was shocked by his total absence on the shelves.

For the sake of comparison, if you were to check Irish public libraries for James Joyce, or British public libraries for DH Lawrence, you would find that Joyce and Lawrence, both of whom wrote about sex in their works in a way that was equally shocking for the time, are fully represented whereas Henry Miller, in our country is not.

Miller’s vanishing from the public discourse and canon corresponds with a total and utter neglect of Miller in English departments. In one of the more recent biographies of Henry Miller, Mary Dearborn writes: “Miller’s writing is difficult to evaluate; he has, for instance, received almost no serious academic criticism. His works strike a kind of emotional raw nerve: readers tend to be passionate in their responses, either positive or negative.”

That said, five biographies were written about Henry Miller but these books shy away from a full assessment of the work, the life taking precedence over the oeuvre. Of the critical works, there are about two dozen, whose scarcity shows Miller is indeed fading from the American literary landscape.

Having been trained as a literary historian by GAM Janssens whose efforts put many forgotten American literary figures on the map, by means of dissertations and biographies that were published by American university presses, I was, at first, convinced, that I needed to write another Miller biography, but I changed my mind, fearing that Miller’s colorful and interesting life in Paris and Big Sur would once again overshadow the merit of his most important work.

As I dug deeper and pondered my defense of Henry Miller, or rather, my investigation into his oeuvre, I realized I needed a multi-pronged approach, surveying Miller’s canon “worthiness”, his legacy and his American/European predecessors and heirs.

Secondly, there should be a chapter on Miller and the gender politics in the US, and in particular, the second wave of feminism, which damaged his reputation significantly. As a woman writing about Miller, I can feel the attacks coming, for how can I reconcile the misogyny of Miller’s work with my own gender identity as a woman?

Thirdly, I need to discuss at length how Miller fits inside the literary and aesthetic traditions of both Europe and the US, and in particular, his affinity with Modernism and Postmodernism, making him not only a member of the avant-garde (in a way that his more famous contemporaries were not) but also a trailblazer for genres such as creative fiction, memoir, New Journalism and the anti-novel.

Fourthly, I need to survey the theme of Henry Miller and sex, but also sex and gender identity in American literature and sex in American (popular) culture. As a European, but also as someone who grew up in the Netherlands where attitudes towards sex are vastly different from the American reality, I hope to prove my thesis that from the beginning of America’s founding, this country has had a repressed and squeamish attitude towards sex, which has led, on the one hand, to a kind of sexlessness and notion of an almost pathological obsession with temperance/abstinence, and on the other hand, to a level of excess and the commodification of the act of sex, which shows America’s adolescence in this area. We may have had a sexual revolution, Woodstock and a Summer of Love, but in some ways, America still hasn’t grown up around the issue of sex, which complicates and blocks our understanding and assessment of Henry Miller and his legacy. This plays straight into Miller’s neglect by the American academy. In a context where classrooms have been turned into “safe spaces” and where professors may have to warn their students for shocking passages or texts, Henry Miller remains a fringe author, even though his early work stood up to the scrutiny of figures such as Ezra Pound and TS Eliot.

Finally, part of Henry Miller’s obscurity lies in the unevenness of his work. While his early work has, in my view, the artistic merit that equals the merit of authors such as Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, and Samuel Beckett, his later work was a departure from his Modernist roots and, influenced by his growing interest in Buddhism, attained a rather soft focus. While inspirational and interesting, Miller adopted the identity of the sage and life philosopher, which made these works less interesting from a canonical or aesthetic perspective. And then again, a work like Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch was what Walden was to Thoreau, so I feel obligated to address some of the later work to round out the artistic identity and importance of Henry Miller as a mainstream and important author of twentieth century literature.

But…

I need your help. While my GoFundMe campaign is there to keep me going and fund the most basic need(s) to keep this project going, I am an independent scholar and that can be a handicap. As an academic orphan I’m trying to find a host institution, whether in Europe or America, with whose English/American Studies department I can affiliate myself as a guest scholar (no salary/stipend). Writing in isolation without a sounding board can also be problematic, so I’m looking for an academic peer or mentor (in that department) who is willing to read my stuff and give feedback where possible. Please contact me if you have any leads, suggestions or ideas in this area.

To give any prospective takers an idea of my work thus far, here is a list of my publications and related academic work:

PUBLICATIONS

Books

Dutch for Reading Knowledge. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 2012

Euro Trippy, A Novella About Midlife Crisis, Henry Miller and Living Large, Amazon, 2012

Verstilde stemmen en verzwegen levens: Een Indische familiegeschiedenis. Translated and adapted for the Dutch market by Inez Hollander, Amsterdam: Atlas, 2009

Silenced Voices: Uncovering a Colonial Family’s History in Indonesia. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2008

Ontwaken uit de Amerikaanse Droom (memoir), Amsterdam: Archipel/ Imprint Arbeiderspers, 2004

 The Road from Pompey’s Head: The Life and Work of Hamilton Basso. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1999

Articles

 – “Social Media Scripts in The Chinese Wall.” Short Film Studies, volume 5, number 1 2015.

– “De vergeten vrouwen van de Nederlandse literatuur,” De Gulden Passer, Fall 2011.

Book Review of Eric Jones’s Slaves & Concubines: A History of the Female Underclass in Dutch Asia, Oxford Journals, Spring 2011

“Een nieuwe dageraad in Amerika,” Radio Nederland (Wereldomroep), 2008

– “Verstilde stemmen en verzwegen levens: Een Indische familiegeschiedenis,” Biografie Bulletin, Summer 2008

“Between Memory and Myth: Thematic Connections between Novels of the Dutch East Indies and the American South” in Dutch Studies conference proceedings, 2008.

“The New Emperor’s New Clothes,” Consortium News, May 11th, 2007.

– Profile Hamilton Basso (1904-1964) Louisiana State University Press edition of Southern Writers: A Biographical Dictionary, Ed. Joseph M. Flora, 2007.

– “Een immigrantenidenteit is een badge of honor: allochtoon zijn in Amerika,” Idee,

(magazine of Dutch political party D’66), September 2006.

– “Dutch Disease or European Dilemma? The Geert Mak Lecture Tour,” The Netherland-America Foundation Newsletter, Fall 2006.

“Homelessness Hits Home,” In The Fray Magazine, August 7th, 2006.

– “We Dig Gerard Reve,” NRC Handelsblad, July 4th, 2006.

– “The East-West Divide: Is Multatuli’s Max Havelaar a Topical Novel Anno 2005?” Berkeley Language Center Spring 2006 Newsletter.

“Learning Dutch the Fast Way: a Review of ‘Home in on Holland’, the Direct Dutch Methodology”, Dutch Crossing, A Journal of Low Countries Studies, Winter 2005.

– “Martha Gellhorn: Femme Fatale of American Letters,” Re-reading ”The American Century”: Essays on Twentieth-Century American Literature, Culture and Biography, Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2004.

– “Staren naar het plafond,” Zaterdag Bijvoegsel, NRC Handelsblad, March 8th, 2003

– “Haunted,” The Philosophical Mother (webzine), 2003.

– “Food for Thought,” Coloring Book: An Eclectic Anthology of Fiction and Poetry by Multicultural Writers, Pittsburgh: Rattlecat Press, 2003

– “Thomas Wolfe and Marcel Proust: The Importance of Smell in Look Homeward, Angel.” Thomas Wolfe Review, 2001

“Anne Sexton.” Lexicon: Post-War Literatures in English. Groningen: Martinus Nijhoff Uitgevers, 1998

– “Paris in My Own Backyard: Hamilton Basso.” Literary New Orleans in the Modern World. Ed. Richard S. Kennedy. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1998

-“Carson McCullers.” Lexicon: Post-War Literatures in English. Groningen: Martinus Nijhoff Uitgevers, 1997

– “A Tale of Two Cities: An Analogy Between Thomas Wolfe’s Exile in the American City and European City.” Thomas Wolfe Review, 1996

– “Home is Where the Heart is: Small Town Experiences in the Fiction of Thomas Wolfe and Hamilton Basso.” The Small Town in America: A Multidisciplinary Visit. Ed. Hans Bertens and Theo D’Haen. Amsterdam: VU University Press, 1995

– “In Search of Hamilton Basso: Rediscovering Forgotten Authors.” The Pursuit of Happiness en de paradox van de vrijheid. Ed. Hans Bak. Nijmegen: Nijmegen University Press, 1994

– “Thomas Wolfe and Hamilton Basso: A Story Never Told.” Thomas Wolfe Review, 1993

-“From Riches to Rags: A Literary Reading of Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France.” Tropes of Revolution: Writers’ Reactions to Real and Imagined Revolutions. Ed. Cedric Barfoot and Theo D’Haen. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1991

 

Papers Presented at Conferences

 

– Keynote: “The Indo Dutch Fate at the 70th Anniversary of the Ending of WWII: Footnote or Legacy?”, The Indo Project, UC Irvine, 2015

– “In the Dutch Mountains”, Berkeley Language Center Colloquium, UC Berkeley, 2014

– Keynote: Bronnentaal in Praktijk, University of Amsterdam, 2013

– “De uitdagingen van Nederlands als bronnentaal,” IVN Colloquium, Antwerp, 2012

– “No Longer Lost in Translation: Developing a Dutch for Reading Knowledge Method and Textbook for the 21st Century,” AANS Conference, UNC-Chapel Hill, 2008

– “Reading Max Havelaar Anno 2005: Does Multatuli Have Anything to Say to Dutch Liberals in a Time of Political Upheaval and Extremism?” presented at the Netherlandic session at the MLA, Washington DC, 2005

– “Between Memory and Myth: Thematic Connections Between Novels of the Dutch East Indies and the American South” presented at the Berkeley Dutch Studies Conference for Dutch Literature, Berkeley, 2005

– “Thomas Wolfe and Marcel Proust: The Importance of Smell in Look Homeward, Angel.” Thomas Wolfe Conference, Asheville, North Carolina, 2000

– “A Tale of Two Cities: An Analogy Between Thomas Wolfe’s Exile in the American City and European City.” Thomas Wolfe Conference, Asheville, North Carolina, 1995

– “Paris in My Own Backyard: Hamilton Basso.” Presented at the MLA Conference, San Diego, California, 1994

– “Home is Where the Heart is: Small Town Experiences in the Fiction of Thomas Wolfe and Hamilton Basso.” American Studies Conference, Roosevelt Study Center, Middelburg, Zeeland, The Netherlands, 1993

– “In Search of Hamilton Basso: Rediscovering Forgotten Authors.” American Studies Conference, Catholic University of Nijmegen, Nijmegen, The Netherlands, 1993

– “From Riches to Rags: A Literary Reading of Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France.” Tropes of Revolution: Writers’ Reactions to Real and Imagined Revolutions. Conference organized by the English Department, Leiden University, Leiden, The Netherlands, 1989

Translated Books (English to Dutch and Dutch to English)

  • Dutch translation of Steven Rosenfeld’s Dance for Survival, an account of Ben Bril, a Jewish boxer who survived the death camps by boxing for and against the Nazis. Amsterdam: Cossee, 2015
  • English translation of Theo van Engelen’s young adult book, Classroom at War about a group of teenagers and close friends who are caught in the politics of the German occupation in the Netherlands during WWII. Nijmegen: Radboud University, 2015
  • English translation of Sander Francken’s screenplay Hard & Soul, which will be produced in 2018
  • English translation of Jasper Houtman’s first biography of coffee entrepreneur Alfred Peet (due out in 2018)

 Honors and Awards

IES Award for Dutch Language Instructio                                                                 2012

Foreign Language Travel Grant, UC Berkeley Institute of European Studies            2010

Taalunie Research Grant (Dutch for Reading Knowledge)                                         2009

UC Berkeley Professional Development Grant                                                           2008

Foreign Language Teacher Grant, UC Berkeley Institute of European Studies           2008

William B. Wisdom Award for the best research proposal on Thomas Wolfe                1993

Fulbright Fellowship for archival research relating to Hamilton Basso                            1991

Harting Scholarship for M.A. studies in Great Britain                                                    1988

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

For Caroline, on the Eve of Your 19th Birthday


Dearest Caroline,

I’ll tell you a little secret:

Before I had kids, I thought I just wanted to have sons.

No drama, no PMS, no mother-daughter strife–

For in every mother-daughter relationship Electra will lurk in the shadows…

But then I had you,

And part of me wished I had ten more of you…

Because daughters are sacred,

for noticing things, for being there and for commiserating about the female condition.

In the past 19 years, I have watched you evolve

from being a rambunctious and, at times, bossy toddler,

to a strong and funny woman.

There was no drama or PMS but continuous comedy, an impeccable sense of timing and a way with words that has turned you into a witty writer.

My mother always said that mothers and daughters couldn’t be friends– that there had to be boundaries, and respect and a certain distance…

Instead, I have found closeness, respect and a sense that we understand each other on many levels. Friends maybe not, but a mother and daughter who share and listen and who are not afraid to utter taboos or tell a dirty joke to each other.

We can laugh and cry together, and for that I’m very grateful, too.

And being mutually comfortable when one of us is feeling vulnerable requires more than friendship anyway… I think it’s what we call love.

We both talk from the heart and, at times, may wear our hearts on our sleeves, for better or worse…

My little fellow Scorpio– you turn 19th on the 26th, but in my mind you are 21 already: a woman and a queen at the beginning of what could be a very exciting career. And if not… you’ll just write about it, lol. Remember, as the great Nora Ephron said: Everything is copy…

Both your grandmothers couldn’t be here to wish you happy birthday, but I hope to channel them both through me and tell you how proud we all are of the woman, leader and writer you have become. Don’t go changing, for we like you just the way you are.

Wish I could be there on your big day, but we’ll see each other soon!

Love you, miss ya, wish you were here…

xo

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment