Baseball Zen

Posted in Events, Life in general, Writers at 7:29 am by Marion


This weekend marks the true start of what’s called March Madness but what is, in fact, a marathon race of college basketball games, one on top of the other for the next few weeks … great games … great coaches … courage, loss and hope. Count me in the startling line up.

My friend Charlie, however, has nothing to do with basketball (I know, he’s from New York). He is generous, as those New Yorkers often are, and left tickets for an East Carolina University baseball game on my porch over the weekend.

Now yesterday was a crush of busy … deadlines and calls, emails and a doctor’s appointment squeezed in there too. The game was at 5 p.m. and I couldn’t have been more in the weeds.

Yet Greg and I agreed that sometimes you just have to make a decision to do something spontaneous and irrational. We packed up and walked out.

From the minute we arrived, we were surrounded by peaceful karma. The parking lot guy ushered us to a beautiful space that looked like it was usually reserved for faculty. The afternoon sun was perfect, the temperature moderate. As the sun set, the temperature went down, too, giving us a wonderful “spring ball” feeling.

Sitting there watching the game, everything slowed for me. Now if you know baseball, you know it’s a patience game … waiting, watching and taking chances on a dime.

I felt the crazy Zen of baseball settle over me and all those worries gradually diminished.

The game was tied until the bottom of the eighth, when two super runs came in and pushed the Pirates over the top. We walked out of the stadium happy, talking and feeling human again.

When I returned to work at 7:30 p.m., I was clear minded. Though I was tired. I managed to finish a feature article I’d been struggling with for several days. More easily than I’d have thought possible.

It showed me, once again, that the human mind and spirit is complex, and so is the human experience. When you have a chance to bathe in that complexity, do it.


Tibet: 50 Years of Exile

Posted in Buddhism, Events, HH Dalai Lama at 6:26 am by Marion


Today marks 50 years since the peaceful Tibetan uprising that resulted in the exile of His Holiness the Dalai Lama from his homeland.

Yet even today, China continues its brutality against the Tibetan people, and has launched more harsh crackdowns


The Dalai Lama has spoken on behalf of his Tibetan brothers and sisters on his Web site.

Today is the fiftieth anniversary of the Tibetan people’s peaceful uprising against Communist China’s repression in Tibet. Since last March widespread peaceful protests have erupted across the whole of Tibet. Most of the participants were youths born and brought up after 1959, who have not seen or experienced a free Tibet. However, the fact that they were driven by a firm conviction to serve the cause of Tibet that has continued from generation to generation is indeed a matter of pride. It will serve as a source of inspiration for those in the international community who take keen interest in the issue of Tibet. We pay tribute and offer our prayers for all those who died, were tortured and suffered tremendous hardships, including during the crisis last year, for the cause of Tibet since our struggle began.

In Dharmsala, India, in the north of that country where the Dalai Lama has taken refuge for a half-century, the Associated Press reports great sadness on his part.

China has launched a “brutal crackdown” in Tibet since protests shook the Himalayan region last year, the Dalai Lama said Tuesday in a speech to mark the 50th anniversary of the failed uprising that sent him into exile.

Tibetan culture and identity are “nearing extinction,” he said in this Indian hill town, where the Tibetan spiritual leader and the self-proclaimed government-in-exile have been based since shortly after fleeing their homeland. “The Tibetan people are regarded like criminals, deserving to be put to death.”

“These 50 years have brought untold suffering and destruction to the land and people of Tibet,” he told about 2,000 people, including Buddhist monks, Tibetan schoolchildren and a handful of foreign supporters. The group gathered in a courtyard that separates the Dalai Lama’s home from the town’s main temple, and monks blowing enormous conch shells and long brass horns heralded his arrival.

Among the most unsettling news of all is a report that another Tibetan monk living in Tibet has set himself ablaze to protest the oppression.

Visit www.dalailama.com for more information.

Photo by Ng Han Guan / AP


Mailable … or Not

Posted in Figuratively Speaking, Life in general, On writing, Press at 7:37 am by Marion


There’s no doubt about it … if we followed rules issued by the U.S. Postal Service 100 years ago today, many of us would never open another letter. Maybe not even a bill …

The U.S. Postal Service declared that

Every obscene, lewd, or lascivious book, pamphlet, picture, paper, letter, writing, print, or other publication of an indecent character … is hereby declared to be nonmailable matter.

These days, that covers just about anything worth sending — or receiving. My Rolling Stone magazines violate just about every provision above, and I’m a pretty conservative gal. Who knows what other folks are reading.

Of course these mail standards at some time would have also included Madame Bovary, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Lolita and Grapes of Wrath.

Which brings me to the observation that in some ways prompted today’s entry — at the grocery store a couple of days ago, I ran into my former mail carrier, whose name is Bob. He has a remarkable memory … and is a genuinely nice guy.

He works in the university community here and has walked the same route for decades (he was also my postal carrier in the early 1990s).

As we were talking, he mentioned that though he’s in the same area, his routes and those of others he works with are experiencing considerable shifting and reworking because the mail volume is off so sharply. Advertisers aren’t sending us so much junk mail (a good thing for us) … but for the Postal Service, that junk mail decrease translates into lost business.

Folks just don’t send letters anymore, and we even pay our bills online.

It reminded me of when I was a little girl, growing up deep in the countryside of Edgecombe County … with corn fields in front of me … tobacco fields behind me … and mom’s daylilies farm everywhere else.

Each week in the summer, my days were unstructured and dreamy as I read novel after novel, discovered Edgar Poe and Jane Eyre; A Tree Grows in Brooklyn; biographies and dinosaurs.

In those days we had only one or two TV channels and magazines and other junk culture were not pervasive, at least not in Edgecombe County.

The highlight of those summer days … the clearest joyful moment in those sun-washed hours … came when I made the trip across the street to the mailbox. For inside would possibly be a letter from a pen-pal; a rare ordered item; or, best of all, My Weekly Reader.


That four-page newsprint reader brought me such happiness and opened so many doors of my imagination. It had simple stories about far-off places, games and puzzles and suggestions for activities. I was always a little sad when I had finished reading every word … and the hopeful waiting began for the next issue.

And it came in a mailbox.

BE SURE TO LISTEN today at noon to the Down East Journal on Public Radio East for a Figuratively Speaking commentary!

Thanks today to Jeffrey Kacirk for his calendar, Forgotten English, which gives FD such food for thought each day.


‘Sirius’ about the iPhone

Posted in Computers & Technology, Events, Music, Press at 11:29 am by Marion


So many updates this week … not sure where they will lead … but here they are … first Sirius XM has announced it will release a new, FREE app for iPhone that will allow subscribers to listen through their phones.

Now this news is not as simple as it seems: Only days earlier, Apple moved to block another satellite radio app being offered by another company, NiceMac. These guys are dedicated satellite radio fans (as I have become) and their app was in development for some time. It was expected that it would be costly, however … I’ve heard close to $20.

So here is our beloved Sirius XM staring bankruptcy in the face … with a trump card, the free app for iPhone. It could help in Sirius XM get out of its financial hole, though I’m not sure how (?) (Probably some kind of ad revenue, or the hope of new subscribers.) It would appear Apple would rather deal with the big guys at Sirius than the little guys at Nicemac.

Meanwhile, the guys at NiceMac are left in the cold.

Note — I apologize for all the links and frankly can’t make sense of it, but some folks out there in Fiction Dailyland may be able to untangle it. If so, please report!

Meanwhile, Sirius will start charging addition fees each month for Internet streaming. That’s in addition to the $17 or so each month for the radio service. Yep, that takes it to $20 a month.

Now some people would say, Hold your horses, circle the wagons … why would you pay for radio?

I say, just give Sirius-XM a listen and you’ll know why. For someone who loves music as much as I do, it’s not a hard choice. I’ll give up shoes before I give up music.

TOMORROW: Figuratively Speaking Friday asks the age-old question, When are words superfluous?


‘The Pale King’

Posted in Book reviews, Events, Writers at 9:32 am by Marion

A moment to pay tribute to the late writer David Foster Wallace … a deeply perceptive writer … author of Infinite Jest, the 1000+ page opus from the 1990s. He died last September, at his own hand.

He was working on another large novel, The Pale King, which was about one third finished. His long-time publisher will issue this unfinished novel sometime in 2010, the New York Times reports. The novel explores the business of a group of IRS agents somewhere in the Midwest. It will be published by Little, Brown and Company.


Meanwhile, the New Yorker has published an exhaustive portrait of Mr. Wallace in its March 9 issue. (I stopped reading the New Yorker after it published a slanderous article about His Holiness the Dalai Lama by someone interested in taking him down for the pettiest of reasons. The cover cartoon of Mr. Obama sealed the deal for me: No more New Yorker.)

What interests us about David Wallace is his incredible energy, turned inward — into the minutia of our lives and decisions. He has boundless interest in the hidden recesses of the human mind, tosses off the weight of convention and connotation, strips language and humankind to a cleaner, clearer layer.

His stories, essays and novels, therefore, are not for the faint of heart.

I struggled with Infinite Jest because it contains so many identifiable cultural references. My preference is to use vague settings without commercial intrusion. Yet as I understand it, Mr. Wallace wanted to document, in his novel, the effects of these commercial infusions into our lives.

My experience with his writing began in the 1990s with his benchmarking essay, A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again (“Shipping Out” in 1996 Harper’s Magazine). It deconstructed a cruise “vacation” and revealed it for the infantile experience it was.

Another memorable essay was “Consider the Lobster.”

Mr. Wallace manages to humanize this sea insect … and for me, the connection has always been there … he dissects our fascination with this freshest food, and even, in the pages of Gourmet magazine, asks if it is morally justifiable simply to satisfy our morose culinary whim? (He gives props to PETA, too, pretty darn remarkable in such an august, and decidedly not animal-rights-friendly, publication.)

So I will be anticipating the release of The Pale King, along with the rest of us devoted Wallace fans.

Photo of David Foster Wallace by Marion Ettlinger


How Free America?

Posted in Events, Life in general at 9:51 am by Marion

In the New York Times today, a chilling article revealing that the previous president and his administration sought — and got — the power they wanted to turn the nation’s military on its own people. The president and his team also obtained the power to conduct raids without search warrants.

The legal rulings have now been made public as part of the Obama administration’s steps toward removing secrecy and skulduggery from the highest office — and restore the nation’s rights as set out in our constitution and bill of rights. Moreover,

The opinions reflected a broad interpretation of presidential authority, asserting as well that the president could unilaterally abrogate foreign treaties, ignore any guidance from Congress in dealing with detainees suspected of terrorism, and conduct a program of domestic eavesdropping without warrants.

One official, Steven G. Bradbury, who headed the Office of Legal Counsel, said it was important to acknowledge in writing “the doubtful nature of these propositions,” and he used the memo to repudiate them formally, the Times says.

Even after the events of September 11, 2001, it was critical for us to retain our identity as the city on the hill, a beacon for humankind. Instead, we threw our dignity to the wind, ran for cover and cheerfully relinquished everything we care about out of fear.

Now that those dark days are behind us, we can evaluate where we were, what we became and how we managed to survive — and reclaim our values. These values are what separate us from the entire course of human history. They are our strength.

Freedom of speech, freedom from religion, freedom to choose our leaders openly, right of accountability for them — these are precious and even in times of danger and darkness, we cannot give them up to anyone. Especially not a president whose unstated goal even before Nine-Eleven was to expand the executive branch and create a new order in the Middle East.


Out of my Depth

Posted in HH Dalai Lama, Life in general, On writing, Writers at 8:01 am by Marion

It’s back to work today … Monday arrives with a vengeance … and with it, a familiar lament that often, for weeks (years) at a time, work obligations keep me from the novel. So much energy goes in to getting back in the soup of writing that once I’m out of it, I just stay out. There are writers who say they plug away at their work an hour each day … I find that in an hour, I’m able to remember my characters and roughly what they were doing when we last spoke … then it’s time to get back to the professional work.

There’s also the energy that goes into writing. It’s widely known that some people have nearly boundless energy … these folks took 18 and 21 hours in undergraduate school, while I kept with 12 and 15. That relates to my approach to any topic … I will dig in and root my way back to the surface, from the inside out, until I know everything about the topic. My grades were generally high, which reflects my thinking about knowledge at the time: Quality over quantity.

These days, I’ve learned to skim through some things. I’ve learned to clean the house quickly. I’ve learned to tear through some books at a clip, as well. It’s because these days, I have more of a base of knowledge to start from.

At the same time, other books take weeks to read. Anything by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, for instance will take a long time. His ideas are complex, and generally require time away from the book to absorb them and work them into my views and habits.

At the same time, many books I can pick up and get the gist of. Some books aren’t worth picking up (sorry, dear authors, but you know it’s true).

So today as the week opens, I’m likely to be pacing myself through many writing tasks, some of them with depth and passion, other, leaner assignments, with a view to getting them completed. In neither case do I spare quality. It’s an approach, a manner of competence, I certainly didn’t have 30 years ago.

« Previous Page « Previous Page Next entries »