I’m watching the Women’s March on Washington, and it is very powerful. I’ve already been moved to tears more than once, but I want to say an explicit thank you to Angela Davis, the first speaker since I’ve been watching explicitly to mention antisemitism as one of the oppressions that we need to oppose.

The earth is dry and they live wanting.
Each with a small reservoir
Of furious music heavy in the throat.
They drag it out and with nails in their feet
Coax the night into being. Brief believing.
A skirt shimmering with sequins and lies.
And in this night that is not night,
Each word is a wish, each phrase
A shape their bodies ache to fill—

Tracy K. Smith, Duende

In the old days there was still a considerable literary community in our country, and medicine and law were called "the learned professions," but in an American city today you can no longer count on doctors, lawyers, businessmen, journalists, politicians, television personalities, architects, or commodities traders to discuss Stendhal's novels or Thomas Hardy's poems. You occasionally do come across a reader of Proust or a crank who has memorized whole pages of Finnegans Wake. I like to say, when I am asked about Finnegan, that I am saving him for the nursing home. Better to enter eternity with Anna Livia Plurabelle than with the Simpsons jittering on the TV screen.

Saul Bellows, Ravelstein

In order for sperm banking to become the multimillion dollar industry that it is, sperm had first to be commodified, and since commodification is both economic and cultural, that is neither a simple nor a straightforward process. As Cynthia Daniels points out in Exposing Men, the book I’ve been reading to prepare for a talk I’ll be giving in April, there are two conditions that must be met before something can be commodified. First, it …

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Working on a grant application is at one and the same time frustrating and fulfilling. It’s a pain in the ass to have to articulate precisely what the money you’re asking for will help you accomplish and why accomplishing it is important enough for the granting agency to fund you; but it’s also tremendously useful, since, if you do it right, it gives you a honed and focused lens to look at the work through first when you revise and, second, when you submit it elsewhere.

Or, to put it another way, writing a grant application is a wonderful exercise in reminding yourself—or perhaps truly convincing yourself for the first time—why your work is important enough both for you to pursue and for others to spend time and money making it a part of their lives.

Kids in distressed families are great repositories of silence and carry in their bodies whole arctic wastelands of words not to be uttered, stories not to be told. Or to be told in sketchiest form—merely brushed by. It’s an irony that airing these dramas is often a family's chief taboo. Yet the bristling agony secrecy causes can only be relieved by talk—hours and hours of unmuzzled talk, the recounting of stories. Who listens is almost beside the point, so long as the watching eyes remain lit, and the head tilts at the angle indicating attention and care.

Without such talk by the kids of these families, there's usually a grave sense of personal fault, of failing to rescue those beloveds lost or doomed. That silence ticks out inside its bearer the constant small sting of indictment—what if, what if, what if; why didn’t I, why didn’t I, why didn’t I...

from Marry Karr's Cherry

Two stages of response characterized the social reaction to evidence of male weakness and vulnerability. First, evidence that threatens to disrupt presumptions of masculinity was met with highly charged responses of panic and denial....When evidence of male risk and vulnerability was strong enough to overcome...social and scientific resistance, it was met with social responses of deflection and reinstatement....[These] social processes of deflection functioned to reinstate the idea that men were neither needy nor dependent....

Cynthia R. Daniels, Exposing Men

(Note: The image above was taken by Naomi Ellis, the mother of the family discussed in the Washington Post article I discuss briefly below.) In the context of a discussion we’re having about an essay I published recently on Unlikely Stories called The Lines That Antisemitism and Racism Draw, my friend Nancy reminded me of a conversation a group of us had around the same time the essay published about antisemitic graffiti that was showing up on …

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So I’m reading Saul Bellow’s Ravelstein, which has been on my shelf, I think, since it was published in paperback in 2000. I’m not sure if I like it. There’s something compelling about the narrator’s voice, at least at first. The self-awareness and sense of humor do draw me in, and my interest is piqued by the way the book seems to be an account of a biographer thinking through the writing of a biography—or, perhaps more accurately, figuring out how to make sense of the biography’s subject in order to write the biography; and of course the whole process is both complicated and simplified by the fact that the biographer and his subject, who is Ravelstein, are close friends. But—and I’m just a little bit under 50 pages in—I am already wondering if I want to bother finishing the book, and I am trying to understand why. Part of it, I guess, is that I just don’t find Ravelstein all that interesting. So I guess the question is whether the narrator’s quest to understand his friend—which I imagine will also be a quest for some kind of self-understanding—will be interesting enough to carry me through the entire book.

[William Jennings Bryan's] view on Special Creation were subjected to extreme ridicule at trial, and Bryan went the way of the pterodactyl--the clumsy version of an idea which later succeeded--the gliding reptiles became warm-blooded birds that flew and sang.

Saul Bellow, Ravelstein