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Archive for the ‘Arts & Letters’ Category

Trent England of Save Our States Interviews Allen Mendenhall

In American History, Arts & Letters, Books, Conservatism, History, Humanities, Pedagogy, Philosophy, Politics on May 31, 2022 at 7:00 am

Review of Benjamin and Jenna Storey’s “Why We Are Restless”

In Arts & Letters, Book Reviews, Books, Conservatism, Historicism, History, Humanities, Philosophy, Scholarship on May 26, 2022 at 6:45 am

Reviewed by Allen Mendenhall

This review originally appeared here in the Journal of Faith & The Academy.

Almost 2500 years ago, Aristotle posited that what distinguishes humans from the animals is not only our judgment and rationality, but also our unique capacity for love, affection, and bonding. The coronavirus pandemic is frustrating because, among other things, it forces us to suppress and neglect the very qualities that set humans apart from the rest of creation. Enforced isolation and social distancing deprive us of the opportunity to gather and fellowship, hug and touch, cultivate community and family. Alienation and quarantine are contrary to our nature as free and social beings.

For over a year I wondered whether I would embrace my 85-year-old grandmother again. She was confined to a nursing home just outside Atlanta; no family could visit her until recently. Restricting guests was for her own protection, but it didn’t feel right or good. Because the coronavirus isn’t sentient, doesn’t possess moral properties or exercise an agency of its own, we can’t get angry at it, punish it, argue with it, or condemn it as wrong or unfair. Hence our anxiety multiplies.

The pandemic only worsened an already pervasive problem, namely a growing sense of restlessness and unhappiness even as we in the United States enjoy widespread economic opportunity and astounding material prosperity. Benjamin and Jenna Storey, married professors who run the distinguished Tocqueville Forum at Furman University, diagnose this condition—societal malaise—in Why We Are Restless, the latest in a fascinating book series edited by Robert P. George and published under the imprint New Forum Books of Princeton University Press.

Their answer to this question about restlessness? It’s complicated.  

Short-term thinkers might point to the opioid crisis, social media, political parties, climate change, work hours, around-the-clock news, police brutality and so on to pinpoint root causes. These are merely symptoms of larger problems, however. Long-term thinking, an understanding of centuries of philosophical and historical trends, free inquiry, a willingness to adapt when new evidence presents itself, facility with foreign languages and difficult texts from different times and traditions—these make for a rational and dispassionate examination of the social ills of our moment. And the Storeys are adequately equipped and prepared for the task. They have selected four modern French intellectuals—Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592), Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), and Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859)—to guide readers on a “quest” (the Storeys’ term) for contentment, which is, according to the Storeys, antithetical to restlessness or malaise.

The narrative goes something like this: Montaigne’s ponderous essays are, on the whole, about learning how to die, or coming to terms with the irrefutable reality of mortality. He developed the concept of “immanent contentment” to refer to the good life to which reasonable and thoughtful people should aspire. “Immanent contentment” involves “moderation through variation,” affirmation and friendship, and stability or equilibrium with some diversity of experience thrown in for good measure. Pascal came along to refute “immanent contentment,” suggesting that humans by their sinful nature are, unhappily, divorced from God. A proper life, in his paradigm, seeks reunion with the divine, or wholeness. Rousseau wasn’t much cheerier, acknowledging as he did the inevitable sadness of the human condition as well as the unavoidable futility of the relentless pursuit of happiness. His so-called “sentiment of existence,” however, posited ways we can enjoy the experience of being alive without despairing. Tocqueville, alas, located the industrious chase for immanent contentment within democracy and majoritarianism, social and political categories connected with labor and materialism. The Tocquevillian risks much suffering from the constant drive for happiness. Why? Because that drive makes the lack of contentment feel like failure, as if we tried but couldn’t succeed when in fact no amount of effort would have changed our lot.  

So where does that leave us? Perhaps with an amalgamation of instructive perspectives. Montaigne teaches us “to learn to be at home within ourselves and within our world, and to cease measuring our lives against any transcendent goal or standard.” Pascal renders the “restless unhappiness at the core of the modern soul, sadly seeking to absorb itself in a form of contentment not capacious enough to meet the demands of its self-transcending nature.” Rousseau imparts that “we cannot quiet our restlessness by going to either extreme”—the “natural and solitary” on the one hand and the “social and artificial” on the other—because “both are only parts of what we are: human beings are as social as we are solitary, as historical as we are natural.” Studying Tocqueville, we discover that we’re “[g]eographically transient, and never knowing what to expect from others in a social world always in flux.” Moreover, we “crave the reassurance” of our “fellows’ approbation, which proves to be as allusive as their whereabouts.”

The Storeys’ analysis of these four Frenchmen doesn’t lead inexorably to any one political platform or position. Conservatives and liberals, right and left, are equally wrong, reductive, and simplistic, according to the Storeys, because human complexities defy crude caricature. “Conservatives,” they tell us, “see liberals not as people earnestly if misguidedly working to alleviate entrenched injustice but as insular cultural elites signaling their virtue; liberals see conservatives not as people sincerely if mistakenly working to preserve traditional morality but as rich white men perpetuating their privilege.” Elsewhere the Storeys state, “The case our right makes for free-market economics assumes that perpetual economic growth is self-evidently good, an assumption little challenged by human beings accustomed to thinking of happiness in terms of immanent contentment, to which an ever-proliferating variety of goods and services is useful.” By contrast, “[w]hen our left argues for the redistribution of the same kind of resources, its position often rests on similar assumptions about the kind of flourishing our political arraignments should support.” The Storeys add that “the social aim of unmediated approbation frequently underlies both the celebrations of familiar intimacy dear to the right and the defenses of free erotic connection dear to the left.”

The Storeys’ copious endnotes are a store of knowledge and wisdom. One could spend an entire decade following the numerous lines of inquiry drawn here. That’s before one exhausts the extensive bibliography that rounds out this handsome hardback.

There are no throwaway lines in Why We Are Restless. In fact, this book is difficult to review because each of its sentences is carefully crafted, and each of its chapters contains memorable axioms and nuggets of insight. For instance, from the chapter on Montaigne: “The human problem lies not in our failure to cultivate our distinctly human faculties but in our misbegotten and doomed attempts to rise above ourselves.”

From the chapter on Pascal: “Modern human beings can follow their passions and pleasures, indulge idle or even voyeuristic curiosities, accumulate wealth and achieve ambitions with less shame or need for apology than their forbears. But doing so seems only to add to the mounting pile of evidence that the decisive obstacles to immanent contentment do not lie in the laws and moral norms modern peoples so relentlessly critique and overturn. The unhappiness that remains when such liberations have succeeded must have its source not in our laws but in ourselves.”

From the chapter on Rousseau: “Man’s fall is an accident of history; indeed, it is the accident that brings history into being. Our misery is of our own making; we are wicked only because we have adulterated ourselves. And yet we knew not what we did.”

From the chapter on Tocqueville: “The very hold the sentiment of human resemblance has over democratic human beings often prevents them from noticing just how remarkable it is. Human difference, after all, is more visible than human resemblance: our eyes see big human beings and small human beings, males and females, dark-skinned and light-skinned, the fine tailoring of wealth and the dishevelment of poverty. We never see a human being simply, which is an abstraction; we always see this or that human being, who has qualities that differentiate him or her from others.”

Some of these lines are summaries of the subject author’s texts or claims but articulated in the Storeys’ unique voice and vocabulary. That these passages are unoriginal—restating established sagacity—does not make them any less profound.

If you’re looking for self-help therapy, specialized research, pop-psychology, or easy-step prescriptions for success, grab another book. The contentment that is the Storeys’ subject is elusive, achievable only through difficult work, deliberate solitude, serious contemplation, deep learning in the liberal arts, and the kind of hard-won discernment that enables one to make good choices.

Allen Mendenhall Interviews Chris Shaffer, Author of “Moon Over Sasova”

In Arts & Letters, Books, Creative Writing, History, Humanities on January 12, 2022 at 12:28 pm

Time for a New University?

In Academia, Arts & Letters, higher education, Humanities, liberal arts, Pedagogy, Philosophy on November 24, 2021 at 6:25 am

This piece originally appeared here in Law & Liberty.

Higher education in the United States is in dire condition. Priced Out, a report by Neetu Arnold of the National Association of Scholars released earlier this year, describes several problems afflicting colleges and universities: profligate spending, administrative bloat, exorbitant tuition costs, massive student loan debt, mission drift, student radicalism—the list goes on.

What can be done to fix these challenges? Is it time to build parallel schools to rival too-far-gone institutions? Is there room for new colleges and universities predicated on the serious, unbridled pursuit of truth and open inquiry, free from the rigid orthodoxies, anti-intellectualism, and close-mindedness of wokeism and identity politics?

We might find out. This week brings word of the University of Austin, or UATX, a residential, brick-and-mortar, startup liberal arts institution backed by some of the sharpest, most independent voices in the public discourse. Its board of advisors, for instance, includes Arthur Brooks, Ayaan Hirsi Ali (also a founding faculty fellow with Peter Boghossian), Leon Kass, Robert Zimmer, Steven Pinker, Jonathan Haidt, Nadine Strossen, Joshua Katz, John A. Nunes, Vickie Sullivan, Jonathan Rauch, Stacy Hock, E. Gordon Gee, David Mamet, Glenn Loury, Sohrab Ahmari, and Wilfred McClay.

The founding team consists of Pano Kanelos, formerly the president of St. John’s College who will serve as president; Niall Ferguson of The Hoover Institution and Stanford University; Bari Weiss, who made headlines in 2020 after resigning from The New York Times; Heather Heying, an evolutionary biologist; and Joe Lonsdale, a tech entrepreneur in the field of wealth management.

An impressive group. How will they ensure that UATX differs from the typical university, the kind that Arnold decries? For starters, they are steadfastly committed to free speech, robust debate, and unfettered questioning. “Our students,” Kanelos intones, “will be exposed to the deepest wisdom of civilization and learn to encounter works not as dead traditions but as fierce contests of timeless significance that help human beings distinguish between what is true and false, good and bad, beautiful and ugly.” He continues: “Students will come to see such open inquiry as a lifetime activity that demands of them a brave, sometimes discomforting, search for truths.”

Second, Kanelos et al. will distinguish UATX from legacy institutions by devoting their efforts to six principles (open inquiry, freedom of conscience, civil discourse, financial independence, intellectual independence, and political independence) and three pillars (open inquiry, a novel financial model, and an innovative curriculum). The repetition of “open inquiry” as both a principle and a pillar emphasizes the importance of that concept to UATX’s distinct mission. UATX is not about rigid orthodoxy or ideological conformity, but about curiosity, exploration, and self-examination.

Translating these lofty ideals into practice could prove difficult. Ralston College, which generated buzz for its similarly ambitious mission and curriculum, has never taken off. Back in 2010, Stanley Fish heralded Ralston College as “Back to the Future!” for its exciting, innovative approach to traditional learning and classical curriculum. Over a decade later, that prospective college hasn’t enrolled a single student. What will Kanelos and team do to ensure that UATX does not suffer the same fate?

I learned a few possibilities last month at the fall meeting of the Philadelphia Society, where Kanelos publicly announced the creation of UATX, and then at a three-day “co-creation” summit in Austin hosted by the Universidad Francisco Marroquín and the American Institute for Economic Research. At the latter, I discussed UATX with Kanelos at length, and the whole point of the summit was for inventive leaders in higher education to “crowdsource” or “workshop” pioneering ideas for improving university costs, governance, administration, instructional models, tuition—in short, anything that our large group could come up with. Some measures are simple: outsource or streamline anything extracurricular like athletics or clubs. Others involve partnerships with wealthy investors and businesses keenly interested in UATX’s success. For example, the young and wealthy Joe Lonsdale, an entrepreneur and philanthropist, is helping to fund and develop UATX. The missional obligation to abide by principles of truth-seeking and constructive disagreement guards against undue influence that donors might have on academic freedom.

UATX is in embryonic stage and, therefore, receptive to unique and imaginative suggestions, such as courses regarding sound money and cryptocurrency, yet it has a plan to ensure that its business model is viable and that its mission remains uncompromised. It aspires to launch a summer program in 2021, a graduate program in Entrepreneurship and Leadership in 2022, and graduate programs in Politics, Applied History, Education, and Public Service in 2023. By 2024, it will have established an undergraduate college with a rigorous liberal arts program that students must complete before choosing between different tracks, each organized under the aegis of a different center of academic excellence. My guess is that, although the ideas for these centers are mapped out, their design remains fluid, not fixed, and their rollout will require some practical flexibility.

Predictably, the media commentariat is apoplectic about UATX. Tom McKay intemperately refers to the university founders as “a sampling of the nation’s most intolerable contrarian columnists, right-wing pundits, and other stuffed shirts.” Without citing evidence for his opinion, Daniel W. Drezner emotes, “If its faculty even remotely resembles the board of advisers, the school would be assembling the most cantankerous, egotistical assortment of individuals since the Trump White House.” Claire Goforth claims that the announcement of UATX “comes from the minds of the nation’s most prominent reactionary bloggers and thinkers, who have become iconoclasts for their desires to break with the ‘woke’ movement they believe is brainwashing elite American academic universities and trickling down to the rest of the country.” Harsh words!

Writing for The Daily Beast, Noah Kirsch says, “Buried in the school’s FAQ section: it does not actually offer degrees, nor is it yet accredited.” Accreditors often require startups to operate for a period, even to grant degrees, as a prerequisite to accreditation. I do not know the policies of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board or the Higher Learning Commission—from which UATX will seek accreditation—but the fact that UATX isn’t accredited yet should come as no surprise.

The foreseeable ranting and naysaying among journalists and scribblers isn’t an impediment to UATX. The chief challenge for UATX, in fact, will be recruiting students. How will a UATX admissions office convince high school seniors and their parents that attending there can yield measurable returns on investment, that UATX has the staying power and credibility to endure inevitable criticisms and to flourish amid a rambunctious culture increasingly fractured along political lines. To make recruitment more manageable, UATX is starting backwards: with summer programs and M.A. programs before operationalizing the undergraduate program.

UATX must also be wary of faculty and staff seeking to abandon their posts at legacy institutions to seize on this new opportunity. “Hundreds of college professors pleaded to join [UATX],” reports Fox News. These professors must be carefully vetted lest they attempt to bureaucratize UATX along the lines of other universities, or, worse, sabotage the whole project. Even well-meaning academics have been acculturated to working and business conditions that, by and large, aren’t subject to market pricing mechanisms. UATX should hire in the manner of Hillsdale College, requiring interviews not just with each department but with the provost and the president as well.

UATX is that odd combination of traditional and innovative, pouring old wine into new wine skins. Its success could usher in a new era in educational reform. The stakes, it seems, are high. But my hopes are even higher.

Allen Mendenhall Interviews Author Christy Alexander Hallberg

In Arts & Letters, Books, Creative Writing, Novels on October 7, 2021 at 7:00 am

Excerpt from Bruce Craven’s “Sweet Ride,” published by Codhill Press

In Arts & Letters, Books, Creative Writing, Humanities, Writing on August 12, 2021 at 12:16 pm
Bruce Craven

Bruce Craven teaches a popular MBA/EMBA elective, Leadership Through Fiction, at Columbia Business School. He has also been a member of the Columbia Business School Executive Education faculty for 30 years where he teaches workshops in resilience, flexible thinking and emotional intelligence.    He also co-runs Craven Leadership LLC with his wife and business partner, Sherelle Craven. He published the novel, Fast Sofa, in 1993 and co-wrote the script for the film adaptation in 2001. His leadership book, Win or Die: Leadership Secrets from Game of Thrones, was published by Thomas Dunne Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press, in March 2019. He also published a collection of poetry, Buene Suerte in Red Glitter in 2019 with Red Dirt Press. He studied politics and literature at the University of California at Santa Cruz and received his MFA in Writing from Columbia School of the Arts. He lives with his wife and two sons in the Coachella Valley in California.
​ 

This book is available for purchase at this link.

Part One: Dirty Martini, Excerpt from Chapter 7: Wild Child

Context: struggling screenwriter, George Nichols, with the help of his financially successful fiancée, a Hollywood film-industry manager, Nicolette Amberson, has flown to New York City in the late Nineties to pursue a screenwriting project about surfing, a sport George finds terrifying.

George arrived in New York on the red-eye, and exhausted, met Australian fashion photographer Mick Tanner, and a woman living downstairs in George’s building: Lilly Lejeune. Late that same night of his first day in town, George has arrived at a nightclub at Lilly’s invitation, with the plan of having drinks and talking more with Mick. 

Two muscle men in purple stretch-knit shirts and black dusters flip through clipboards and survey the people. At dramatic moments, the muscled guards remove the braided robe, unclasp the brass hook and allow the significant or the long-suffering to enter the nightclub. The security have ear-pieces and mumble into microphones. Black velvet curtains block the front of the club. A sign in blacklight reads “Haute Densite.” George joins the crowd, checking his wristwatch as if he’s in a hurry and people are waiting for him, both true.

  One hour later, George stands by himself. George is alone, except for the bouncers in black and purple. George’s bourbon high has dimmed to a grinding ache in the front of his skull. George wonders what solution could leverage him into being inside the nightclub instead of here outside on the street. The nightclub doors open and George gets a blast of the shattered rhythm of the inside: voices and laughter spilling out with music. George continues to stand near the two muscle men who think about Creatine, whey and egg whites, and dream of their next tuna wrap, packet of almonds, and pump session, maxing out in front of the mirrors, flooding their muscles with high reps at low weight.

   George nods at one of the doormen. Pick me…

   A sharp whistle snaps George to attention. It’s Mick on the other side of the braided rope. “What are you doing out here, mate?” The two bouncers look at Mick and look at George as if he just appeared from a cloud of smoke. They unhook the braided cord’s brass-plated hook from the stand and motion for George to step forward. “C’mon,” Mick slaps George on the back. “I’ve got this pretty waitress Eve waiting. She might join our venture, handle some of the office production. You been writing?”

   “Yeah,” George lies. His head hurts. This day has not ended for two days. He follows Mick down the hall, entering the crowded lounge area where there are purple banquettes, a long mirror behind the bar and a floor-to-ceiling painting of a Maasai warrior, gripping a spear. The carpet is blood red. An opaque partition of beveled glass reminds George of the glittering martini glasses stacked on Lilly’s bookshelf.

   A glass of fire passes in front of George in the hands of a man wearing a suit made out of shimmering white material. The man hands the red glass to a girl George has seen on a magazine cover.

   Mick introduces George to Eve, who sits on a circular lounge pod upholstered in wine-colored leather. Her purple dress is crushed velvet and her hair is tossed around her shoulders. Mick looks at George, “This Eve is something. She might be the gem in the crown. She said she’s on board with TNP.” Eve’s legs are crossed. She watches the room with amused calm. Eve’s cigarette hovers above a blue ashtray on an ebony table that has legs that are carved like hooves. Mick takes one of Eve’s cigarettes. “I told you about George…he just flew in today.”

   “Oh, sure,” says Eve, “The surf writer.”

   Mick heads to the bar to buy a round of drinks.

   George watches Eve smile at Mick as he turns and slides into the crowd. “Long day?” she asks George, still watching Mick.

   “I don’t have to say anything intelligent, do I?”

   “I doubt it,” Eve looks around the club. “Just arrived?”

   “This morning…but it feels like this morning was two weeks ago.”

   Mick sets the cocktails on the ebony table, “Eve has experience in…is it theater production? In Montana?”

   “Missouri,” says Eve. “I majored in theater.”

   Mick leans back, sips his pint of beer. “Then it’s settled. Hey! There’s Lilly.”

   George tries to turn casually, but his bourbon splashes on his wrist. He raises the glass and takes a strong sip of cold liquor. Lilly shines in a white cocktail dress rippling with sequins. She points a black cigarette holder at the faces of the men that surround her and pencils them in. Her eyelashes are heavy with mascara and her eyelids are lined with rhinestones. A man offers Lilly a cigarette. George remembers the photo of Audrey Hepburn in a black cocktail dress, the photo taped onto Lilly’s bureau. Lilly is a reflection in white, with a sequined clutch that has a silver clasp tucked under her arm. Mick and George watch her place the white cigarette in the long black stem and smile as the man lights her cigarette. The silver locket on Lilly’s neck, her shoulders sculpted, her white dress clinging. Lilly reminds George of a shimmering goddess. Lilly touches one of the men. He leans close to her. She turns to Mick, holds her hand up in a half-wave. “Be there in one minute,” she says across the noise and people before leaning back to address the circle of men.

   “Do you know her?” George asks Mick.

   “Know her? You could say that. I’m the lucky man that discovered her down South in Alabama. Lilly was a wild child. Still is.”

   “Discovered her?”

   “I was clipping away on editorial work, top-end material, on location in what the locals call the ‘Redneck Riviera.’ It was couture gear, all willowy crap no one could wear in the heat without sweating through it like tissue. My assistant was winding film when made a sound in his throat.” Mick laughs, “I thought he’d lost control of his bladder or was choking on a lozenge, but it was just Lilly he saw walking down the beach. He said, ‘There’s a lovely one.’ I thought I better have a look, professional responsibility and all. Lilly was on the sand, walking toward us. I was working with the Pentax 6X7, instead of the Hasselblad 120. My assistant was loading the second camera. He was in a foul mood since we had the scrim on the sand and couldn’t roll it. Two of his tall boys were trying to hold this 20×20-foot backdrop. I switched lenses and looked out near the water and focused on this young woman, late teens, in a bandanna top and cut-off jeans. Lilly was licking an ice-cream cone, one of those ice creams with the swirly vanilla inside the hard chocolate. The ice cream dripped on her wrist as she walked and I snapped a few shots out of curiosity. Lilly licked the ice cream. I got the snaps. The air was thick that day, high humidity. Our models were losing their patience and here walks this girl who just shimmered, licking the ice cream off her wrist, with a bandanna tied across her breasts and her sandals in one hand.” Mick stops. “She was breathtaking.”

   Eve crushes her cigarette, “How Beverly Hillbillies.”

   “I actually was convinced she was with one of the agencies. I knew right away I wanted to shoot her. My assistant walked over to introduce himself. You never know when a skinny local girl might break in big.”

   Lilly makes her way through the crowd.

   “She’s only skinny in the right places,” Eve says. “It’s not fair.”

   Mick says, “She’s got nothing on you, Eve.”

   Eve blushes. “My dad back in Kansas City would call her a ‘looker.’”

   “Us Aussies are vulnerable to beach girls.”
   “Men are just vulnerable,” says Eve.

   “Touche’,” says Mick. “My assistant brought Lilly over that day and she sat in the shade and watched us finish the shoot. I developed the shots back in New York and could tell she had something, but for all I knew, the girl was living in a trailer park in Baton Rouge or Memphis. I didn’t know my assistant had slipped her a card. Six months later Lilly drops by my loft on a go-see.”

   Lilly continues to sidle toward them through the crowded nightclub. She pauses under the grip of a man. Her eyes flash down to his hand on her shoulder. She smiles politely and wiggles free, poking her burning cigarette in the long holder toward the man’s hand in a mock threat, smiling. Mick says, “I set her up with some contacts. Worked to get her going in the business, but Lilly didn’t last. Hit a few road blocks…and created a few.”

   “Like what?” asks George, watching Lilly slide between two women, who hold black purses on gold chains, in black pants and white blouses. The women with flipped U’s of over-bleached hair and red mouths sip from matching glasses of chartreuse. One of the women, the shorter one, tugs at the blouse of the taller woman. Lilly’s eyes register a tall handsome man, with a narrow waist and a wide chest under his white open-collar shirt. He leans and kisses Lilly on each cheek. The taller of the two women grabs the handsome man, but his eyes are on Lilly. The man watches Lilly as he escorts the two women with dead hair and green cocktails to meet someone. Their gestures emphasize that they must meet now. Lilly watches the handsome man follow the two women into the crowd. The handsome man smiles at her and shrugs.

   “Her hands didn’t help,” says Mick.

   George’s eyes go right to Lilly’s mitts, manicured and clutching her sequined clutch with the silver clasp. Not freakish, but thick—her one visible imperfection.

   Eve says, “She is quite beautiful, but I see what you mean.”

   “Fashion isn’t the most-forgiving business,” goes Mick. “Still, Lilly could have worked more. She has the personality, but Lilly doesn’t have the discipline of the best girls. When she first walked into my loft, I felt here was a girl that would do what it took to make it, but I was wrong. What is it you Americans say? You can bring a horse somewhere?”

   “To water,” says Eve. “You can bring a horse to water…”

   “But you can’t make her drink,” says Lilly, running a finger across Mick’s neck. “Hey, Mickey…” Lilly skooches her sheathed butt onto George’s purple leather lounge pod, scrunching him to the edge of the fat crouton. George has to keep his shoes anchored to the floor to keep from sliding off the leather lounge pod and falling on the floor. George balances against Lilly who tosses everyone a big smile. “What’s up with the horses? You been hitting the OTB again, Mr. Tanner?”

   Mick and George look at Lilly.

   “Off Track Betting,” Eve says. “The lady would like to know if you’re playing the ponies, Mickey?”

   Mick smiles, “Hello, Lilly, it’s great to see you.” George’s jet lag gone, he sips his icy glass of bourbon. Lilly’s sheathed white dress presses against his arm, and George smells a fragrance he remembers from a long time ago.

   Lilly holds her hand out to Eve, “Lilly Lejeune, pleased to meet you.” The women shake hands. “You must be a friend of Mick’s?”

   “Yes,” says Eve. “I guess I must me.”
   “I know Mick’s type,” Lilly says.

   Eve waits for Lilly to continue. “All I mean,” Lilly explains, “is that Mick has exceptional taste. I hope I didn’t over reach…you know, speak out of line?”

   “Put your foot in your mouth?” asks Eve.

   “Right,” says Lilly and smiles. “Exactly.”

   “No problem,” says Eve. “Compliment accepted.”

   “Eve and I are just getting acquainted,” Mick says. “I invited her to join my company. We’re going to pull together a feature film, and I want someone to manage the office…George here is writing the script.”

   “A surf story,” George adds. “That was the meeting I was rushing off to this morning.”

   “A surf story?” says Lilly, without missing a beat. “All I know is that it better have teeny-boppers and hot-rods!”

   Mick looks at George, “Teeny boppers and hot-rods? What do you say, George?”

   “Why not…,” says George. “Vroom, vroom!” He raises his glass. “It’s really…” George has no idea what to add.

   Mick clinks his glass against George’s glass. “I can’t wait to read it, George.”

   “George looks so handsome when he’s writing,” Lilly touches George on the arm, “Doesn’t he, Eve?”

   “Yes,” Eve says, “If tonight is any indication…he must look very handsome.”

   Lilly pecks George’s cheek with a kiss. “My upstairs writer…”

   Mick looks at George. George shrugs at Mick. “I guess I’m the writer that lives upstairs…”

   The handsome man walks up to the four of them. He places his hand on Lilly’s bare shoulder. “Excuse me,” he says. Lilly’s hand touches his, their fingers fold together.

   The man disengages and nods to a man in traditional Saudi white robes and the red and white shemagh headwear. The man walks over to the Saudi with the same hand extended in greeting.

   George watches the handsome man. George doesn’t enjoy envy, but envy enjoys George. Envy finds George in coffee shops, behind the wheel at stoplights or even here in a nightclub in Manhattan. Envy holds up the mirror, and George tries not to look at himself.

   “Who needs a drink?” George asks, “This round’s on me.”

Two Poems by Amy Susan Wilson

In Arts & Letters, Humanities, Poetry on July 12, 2021 at 10:14 am

Amy Susan Wilson is the founder and editor-in-chief of Red Dirt Press (www.reddirtpress.net). She is an Oklahoma native and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia University. A Pushcart nominee, her work has appeared in numerous publications, and she is the author of Fetish and Other Stories (Balkan Books) which was named December 2015 Read of the Month, Southern Literary Review. Her fiction and nonfiction currently chronicle the rural South in the Covid era and the 1980s punk era. (reddirtpressandforum@gmail.com)

The Retarded Boy

lived in a barn

his Daddy a DOC guard

women’s penitentiary.

Like those pictures

of Jews, Auschwitz,

the DHS worker said

when she found him

near-starved

hunkered over

his own skin and bone.

A salt block

for cows

bucket for water

shoved in a 4X4 space

that was caged

as if for chickens

not human boy. Four locks:

two key two combination.

Dark as night all day.

His mama snuck him beets

carrots, Payday candy bars.

II.

When the State came

he learned his name

age fourteen: Cameron.

Elk River Residential Home

tan linoleum floor,

central heat and air

a place where he learns

to eat with a spoon,

always has tube socks

orange Jell-O galore.

Twin bed

white sheets

Lysol-clean,

his Daddy, brother Wilfred

chase him in dreams

lock him back in the barn cage

his mama sneaking

cabbage, M & M’s

green ones.

May 1981

Dwayne Worley

struck by lightening

fishing at Lake Okataloa

in his cousin’s canoe.

His body never found.

Gators dumped

from Lincoln County

when they got too big

for baby pools and bath tubs.

Mrs. Stokely

Okataloa High School

physics, trig and calculus teacher

face frozen in not a frown

nor smile

not mean nor kind

giving out awards

in the new auditorium.

Posthumously

she announced

his name

Best mathematics student,

Young Scientist Award,

scholarship to M.I.T.

Voice cracking

a sniffle

glazed eyes

she called allergies

and apologized

as if the weight

of grief

could cause the dead

to rise.

Is Intellectualism Gone?

In Academia, American History, Arts & Letters, Books, higher education, Humanities, Liberalism, Literary Theory & Criticism, Philosophy, Western Philosophy on May 5, 2021 at 6:45 am

Three (More) Poems by Bruce Craven

In America, Arts & Letters, Creative Writing, Humanities, Poetry, Writing on April 29, 2021 at 10:09 am

Bruce Craven is a member of the Columbia Business School Executive Education faculty in New York City. In addition to directing and teaching in a variety of executive programs, he teaches graduate business students his popular elective Leadership Through Fiction.  His book Win or Die: Leadership Secrets from Game of Thrones, was published in March 2019 by Thomas Dunne Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press.  The book is currently being translated into Russian and Turkish. He wrote the novel Fast Sofa (1993) which was published in Japanese and German. He also co-wrote the script for the film adaptation, starring Jennifer Tilly, Jake Busey and Crispin Glover. His collection of poetry, Buena Suerte in Red Glitter was published by Red Dirt Press. He lives with his wife and two sons in the Coachella Valley in California.

Bee Spears Talks Illicit Substances

No snow, no show.Seventies slang, but in ’69, rural

Tennessee was all about speed, weed, booze. “Peyton Place.

that’s what happens with whiskey & amphetamines.” Mural

of venues as the band burned miles. Spears, the bassist,

said the Ridgetop place was “wild as hell.” Mailbox read:

Willie Nelson and Many Others.” It was a commune,

before the honky-tonks heard the term hippy said

about locals. Bee learned to play the tunes

on a steep curve: twenty-eight gigs, twenty-eight nights.

“I snapped real quick that Willie plays bass lines

on his guitar.” Bee backed him low. Lucky Strikes

were still Will’s three-pack habit, and now weed. Nine-

teen, Bee was hired delivering mota to the band.

Then coke hit. Will: “You’re wired, you’re fired.” Shotgun’s drug stand.

Dred Scott

Part One:  SCOTUS & Freedom

Fred Douglass voted for a Republican,

John C. Fremont. His vote supported more

pragmatic views, like free soilism. Veteran

of the battle for freedom, Douglass knew war

might happen, also knew the Radical 

Abolitionist Party’s overly firm stance,

while right, could lose the 1856 Electoral

College struggle. He thought Fremont’s chance

against Buchanan, the Democrat, Slave

Power fan, might prevail. Fremont lost. Hope

cratered when the Supreme Court gave Dred Scott

and all black Americans up. The scope

of Chief Justice Taney’s ruling was clear:

blacks were inferior. Their future? Fear. 

Christian Property

Part Two — The Shape of a Heart

“My poor mother,” Douglass wrote, like many

other slave women: she had children,

but no family. She could be lawfully

sold off or raped, and not live within

a distance to visit or protect,

teach or love the child she created. Legal

sales could steal a husband. Owners select

to beat and abuse her. The child? Her meager

hope might be to walk all night once a year

and surprise her son with a small sweet cake.

Harriet dying at Holm Hill, the sheer

suffering to Fred. No chance to make

his way to visit. “No striking words of

hers treasured up.” He ached for her love.

Writers on Writing

In Arts & Letters, Creative Writing on October 14, 2020 at 6:45 am

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