Category Archives: Life Is Good

The Hidden Quaker Role in a Famous Catholic Monastery Cookbook “Empire”

How a solitary monk, known for his soup, united a community
[And how a Quaker helped him start]

Washington Post — September 20, 2022

By Kristen Hartke

As dusk began to fall on Jan. 10, 2001, Ray Patchey just wanted to get home to his family for his birthday dinner.

A lineman with Verizon, Patchey had been sent out to repair telephone lines following a snowstorm in rural Dutchess County, N.Y. Chilled to the bone, Patchey and another technician were just packing up to leave when the door to the nearby farmhouse swung open and a voice called out, “Don’t go, I’ve made some soup for you!”

Looking up, Patchey saw a Benedictine monk, clothed in traditional habit and sandals, standing in the doorway, and thought, “How can I say no?”

Little did he know that the monk was a best-selling cookbook author with legions of fans around the world. That bowl of soup, like so many others that Brother Victor-Antoine d’Avila-Latourrette has shared with friends and strangers alike over the course of several decades while living mostly alone at Our Lady of the Resurrection Monastery, was just the beginning.

Now 82, Brother Victor is the author of some 18 books, half of which are cookbooks that have collectively sold in the millions and been translated into multiple languages, including French, Japanese and Dutch. Born in Lées-Athas, a village in southwestern France’s Pyrenees mountains, Brother Victor grew up eating food that was cooked in rhythm with the seasons, saying now: “There is nothing like the French way of cooking, and everyone I knew cooked well — my mother, my grandmother. Everything we ate, vegetables, cheese,
bread, was fresh and local.” Continue reading The Hidden Quaker Role in a Famous Catholic Monastery Cookbook “Empire”

Hope Fatigue? Is there a remedy here?

[NOTE: I’m usually dubious about self-help lists. But maybe some readers will find this one helpful.]

8 ways to feel less anxious about things beyond your control


Washington Post — Sept. 13, 2022

Hope fatigue is the latest mental health challenge therapists are seeing
By Lesley Alderman, LCSW

Lesley Alderman, LCSW, is a psychotherapist based in Brooklyn.

One of my patients showed up at her virtual psychotherapy session last week looking tired. She had always been ambitious and concerned about injustice. During this session, she sighed when talking about a meeting where her colleagues complained about unfair treatment. She said: “I don’t know why they bother getting upset, when it feels like nothing matters.”

I like taking photos In The Yard

I was concerned by her disengagement. But then a colleague sounded similarly worn down. She had spent the pandemic helping her third and fourth graders with remote school while trying to keep her small business going. She confided to me: “I haven’t followed the war in Ukraine at all, I simply don’t have the bandwidth.”

To an unusual degree, people are weary.

During the spring of 2020, just as the pandemic started, the question my patients asked was, “when do you think things will go back to normal?” Now, no one talks to me about a return to normal. There’s an unspoken recognition that the chaos we are experiencing might be with us for a long time.

Patients who had been concerned about national and world events and visibly frightened during the pandemic, now seem exhausted. The murder of George Floyd was horrific, and mass shootings are increasingly common. Now it feels like we are all in a relentless game of whack-a-mole, but in this case the rodents are existential threats.

I’m noticing that many of my patients are experiencing a deficit of optimism, and are overwhelmed about important issues that are beyond their control.

I’m calling it “hope fatigue.” Continue reading Hope Fatigue? Is there a remedy here?

Garrison Keillor – Autumn is Coming: Prepare to Be Bold

 

She told me out of the blue that she adores me. I was there, in a chair, listening; she was standing by the grandfather clock. She didn’t sing it but she said it clearly. This should answer any remaining questions. But Mister Malaise and Madam Miasma are ever on our trail, skulking in woodlands and meadows, waylaying the vulnerable, requiring us to drink discouragement and despair, and they got me a few days ago, two weeks after mitral valve replacement, walking tall in Transitional Care, transitioning back to normal life when I was hit (in the time it takes to tell it) by abject weakness, dizziness, nausea, and had to be locked up in hospital and tubes put in my arms for blood and antibiotics, and then released in a weakened semi-invalid state. It’s a lousy feeling. I look out at Minneapolis and imagine it’s Odessa, which it is not. I worry the Swiss banks will fail. Water mains will burst. Bacon will be banned, leaving us with vegan substitute

.The body wants to heal and it has felicitous intuitions how to go about doing it but meanwhile I ache and shuffle around like an old grampa and hike the hallways and work at maintaining a cheerful outlook (false). My wife is a worrier and when we promised to love and honor each other 27 years ago, diarrhea and vomiting weren’t mentioned in detail, so I walk carefully. Continue reading Garrison Keillor – Autumn is Coming: Prepare to Be Bold

I Now Know What Happens After We Die. (And Even How Hot Hell Is.)

Okay, this initial bit is a scenario:

Death, in Ingmar Bergman’s classic 1957 film, “The Seventh Seal.”

I’m at the keyboard, just finished what feels like a pretty good blog post.  Pressing Return to upload it, I hear a strange noise on my left. That’s my foggy side, a fuzzy mist since the 2019 stroke.  So I wheel around, to face the bookshelves against the wall with the good eye.

He’s standing there, in a solid charcoal gray robe, the piercing  dark eyes, not even the hint of a smile, with a short black cape, topped by a black hood pulled tight around his face, but no long scythe in his hand.

I recognize him.

“The Seventh Seal,” I say. “I’m honored. I was afraid they’d send some murderous termagant from Agatha Christie.”

Does his non-smile twist a bit? I can’t tell, and try again. “Can I just finish this piece I’ve got here?” I nod at the screen. “It won’t take long. The working title is “War and Peace: The Sequel. I’m already on page four.“

The  eye-roll is slight, but makes plain he’s heard this, and all the other stalling-for-time ad libs, likely hundreds of times. No, thousands.

I give up. “Okay,,” I say, “let me just do this limerick.” I type fast, despite shaky fingers:

When the Reaper comes, I won’t get sappy,
I’ll tell him, “Ok, make it snappy.”
And If he shows when I’m writing,
I won’t go down fighting,
Your best guess: I’ll be sorta happy.

Now my eyelids are heavy. I think I’ll just put my head down on the keyboard, facing the back window, with the shade pulled down, sunlight slanting through the blinds, as I’ve occasionally done before, and rest them a bit.

There’s a slight rustle behind me, and the last I remember is the touch of a finger on my shoulder . . . .

Now, a few hours later, a more realistic scene: The Fair Wendy peeps in at dusk, and finds me slid off the chair, crumpled on the floor. She shrieks, but knows what to do: checks for breath and a pulse, then grabs her phone and dials the long-agreed magic number: 911.

Soon an EMT driver barges in, no siren, but red and blue lights flashing in the hall behind him and across the front of the house. He touches nothing until a cop arrives.

The officer checks me and the room: no signs of forced entry, struggle, blood, gunshot, stabbing or choke wounds. No empty pill bottle, or handwritten farewell note among the many visible papers.

Looks like natural causes. An everyday, no-drama demise: the local TV van slides past our neighborhood, seeking a video-friendly scene, maybe with crime scene tape, better a wrecked car that has a bullet-pocked windshield.

Soon I’m zipped up and out of there. Wendy is left to deal with the shock. And in an hour or two, what’s left of me is on the brink of Gehenna, or rather Greensboro, like a COSTCO chicken facing the Rotisserie of No Return.

“Seventeen  hundred,” said Fred. He works for a sizable cremation/funeral service in central North Carolina.

That’s degrees, not dollars. (This is seriously hot: the typical kitchen oven tops out at about 500.) But $1700 is not a lot to pay for a cremation funeral. The rungs on the guilt- and grief-driven spending ladder into the Valley of the Shadow go both ways, deeper than your pockets, and higher than your credit limit,

At its upper rungs, the cremation tchotchkes ladder offers to take a tiny chunk of your Dear Departed and turn it into (And-I-Am-NOT-Making-This-Up) a “genuine” lab-grown diamond, in one of numerous colors. I saw other prices online for these well in excess of $20K each. But whatever gets you through the night.

Now at my other end, $1700 is also a price one can beat. And I was under orders to beat it. The Fair Wendy, who is younger and expected to outlast me, told me flat out, “Chuck, It’s your job to call the funeral place. I don’t want to have to deal with that stuff when you’re dead.”

I could relate. She has agreed to handle my estate, which will be peanuts money-wise, but complicated by my being a writer, with copyrights and such. That’s enough.

Besides, we’re Quakers, with this complex notion we call Simplicity. It was once very stern about death —as a saying goes, “No pomp in any circumstance.”

I’ve visited the Quaker burial ground on Nantucket Island, which for more than a century was a thriving, prosperous Quaker center. The burial ground is a big, uneven grassy expanse, mown but not landscaped, within a low weathered gray rail fence. It’s reliably said to be seeded with the bones of several thousand Friends, rich and poor, devout and nominal.

There’s only a scattering of markers in it, maybe several dozen, planted by renegade relatives who defied the local elders to know where some of their kin were placed. It’s not a gloomy spot, but thought-provoking: a silent Quaker homily on the true human equality, all ultimately alike under the skin, and under the ground.

Is this the other end of the ladder into the Valley of the Shadow?

So I told Fred plainly that I wanted the low end, and had googled “economical cremation” to find it, and him. Although behind him one wall was lined with shelves of colorful burial urns that ran as much as $300, he didn’t skip a beat or apply any pressure.

A Crematory oven, the way to Ride the Rotisserie of No Return.

The most basic package, he said, includes picking me up, and doing the paperwork for an official state-stamped certificate — in North Carolina, you can stop breathing whenever you like, but you’re not officially dead til the state in its un-elizabethan majesty issues you a properly stamped certificate saying so, and that will likely take weeks, and cost $10 a copy, please.)

In the meantime, however, you do get your Ticket to Ride the Rotisserie of No Return (and you won’t care), where the 1700 degrees deliver a quick and permanent weight loss program guaranteed to leave only 4 to 8 pounds of ground bone and ash to be scooped out and poured into a clear plastic bag, dropped into that fliptop black container, snug in that sturdy cardboard box, ready for pickup in a couple days. (Hmmm. Only a day or two, with actually just a handful of hours on the Rotisserie? Maybe that 1700 degree part is not really Hell, but only Purgatory. Well, that’s okay— I was raised Catholic, and shortening our time in Purgatory was a serious thing then.)

But ”What?” I said to Fred. “Just four to eight pounds at the end? But I’m more than two hundred and—“

Fred cut me off. “Fat all goes up the chimney,” he said. “We do cases of people at 300, 400 pounds, even more, no problem.”

Simplicity: this is part of the basic deal: first, ashes go into the bag; then the bag goes into the black container, which goes into the white cardboard, and then — Relax! No More Thinking Outside The Box!

I eyeballed the black plastic box with what looked like a flip-top lid, noting that it was on a shelf opposite the gaudy pricey urns. I didn’t mind its plainness. But, all (that’s left of) me will fit in that little space?

Well, so it goes. Yet there’s one more step: what to do with the ashes? Many people keep their fancy urns on display, a family heirloom. Hmmmm. Others have themselves scattered; that skips the expenses of an actual burial, which involves dealing with cemeteries and grave markers or headstones. Fred emphasized he was not in those businesses, but knew them well and had many useful money-saving tips to offer (above all, crank up your search engine and shop smart.) As for me, I’d like for the box to be planted, and maybe have a somewhat simple marker, being a somewhat renegade Quaker. (Not too renegade, I hope there will also be a party, and will be sorry to miss it.

But that’s for another day. Now, I told Fred, I was ready to deal. The actual transaction for this, what is called a “pre-need” arrangement, was that I wrote the $795 check to an insurance company, which will actually pay Fred’s crematorium when the time comes.

But what if I hang around for some years? (After all, I mostly feel okay now, with no terminal diagnoses hanging over me, and was doing this mainly so I could quit nagging myself about it.)

The insurance company was way ahead of me here. The policy came with an ALL-CAPS “No Inflation” guarantee, rather a timely fillip. If Fred’s crematorium emporium charges twice as much  when the call comes for me, the insurance company will cover the difference.

So: in one day I beat the funeral racket, stopped inflation, and eased the mind of The Fair Wendy to boot.

And had some interesting dreams. When I jerked awake, the keyboard rubbing against my cheek, the first thing that came to mind was another limerick:

When I go, let me go in  simplicity.
With oppression and war less complicity.
So the man in all black
On the day he comes back
May find in me a certain felicity.

In The Yard: A Labor Day Update & Exhibit.

The calendar may say it’s a holiday, but all around the house, In The Yard, there’s “work going on” today: steadily, indifferently, variously, in dead earnest.

A cartoonist does his best to put climate doom and gloom into striking visuals. There’s no lack of apocalyptic ideas . . .

The summer is drying out: hot, very little rain, parched. Yet there must be underground currents here, because we don’t water much, still most stuff remains green.

To the east, halfway through hurricane season, the Atlantic is spookily quiet; two storms are on the map — Earl and Danielle, but they are swirling far out, aimless and unlikely to bother any land mass. Then to the west, we have large forests, and something like 60 wildfires are burning, but the nearest of those is more than half a continent away.

The eerily quiet Atlantic. How long can it last?
California. Can the sequoias (or anything else) be saved there?
Togetherness? Zinnia-MG rapprochement?? Don’t believe. the MG has wrapped its tendrils tight around the Zinnia’s stem. A consenting couple? Piffle: domination and gaslighting all the way.

in the meantime, there have been some very good regional peaches and not-so regional (Washington state) cherries.

Given this deceptively normal-looking larger backdrop, the annual struggle In The Yard, between the Morning Glories and everything else is about as much drama as we can claim.

It used to be more exciting In The Yard. For several years the city’s yard cops tacked citations on our door, telling us our yard was way too unruly, not sufficiently square or trim or bourgeois for local regulations.  But the Fair Wendy went to bat for us, arguing (backed up by a thick notebook/photo album, with lots of Latin names), that one person’s weeds were another person’s cherished free-range “home meadow.” They held off on imposing fines, but there was more to come. A true “grass roots” movement is underway, with people ditching the pre-astroturf for lots of bushes and flowers and stuff bees and other critters like.  Last spring we spent a few hours driving around the ‘hood and we soon discovered at least a dozen “wild yards,” recognizable but all different, within a mile or so radius of our small house.

So, what was The Man gonna do? Confiscate our garden gloves and lock us all up? Really, your excellencies, compared to the folks who swagger in the streets waving their bare nekkid AR-15s around in front of Gawd and everybody, we’re much less a danger to civilization. All we want to groom is our postage stamp gardens. And when “We say ‘Gay,'” we might also be talking about mums or peonies, fer pity sake.

But anyway, the heat seems to have backed off; summer’s just about over and there have been no more citations, and the only serious clashes seem to be silent struggles between the Morning Glories and everything else they try to strangle.

A fine regional peach; it makes many other things bearable.

But I just noticed today that there are some areas In The Yard where there are no MGs.

A fine solo zinnia, utterly unmolested by the MGs. What’s keeping them at a distance?

Yet why not? What or which (or whom?) is holding the MGs back? Some difference in the soil? Another rootweb system pushing back without showing above ground? Some anonymous bug? (As to insects, which I don’t much follow, their disappearance is their most visible feature this summer.)

This will soon be the second autumn with no sign of the black & yellow spiders who colonized the southern wall of the house. They always looked vigorous enough, and we didn’t use any insecticides.

But they’re gone, along with the honeybees and others, including most of the mosquitoes, whom I do not miss.

I forget the name of this spider; took it for granted it would always be there. Looked big & tough. Well, not as tough as us, I guess. (Update: Friend Kathleen Beasom of Asheville NC says it’s called a yellow garden spider, which pretty much nails it.)

Even on this comparatively tiny scale, I continue to get hints at how much in this most familiar quarter acre  is completely unknown to me. Meantime, I continue to fall for their obvious late season propaganda of flowers, which by tradition will be followed by turning leaves and all that, to distract us while the cold sneaks back.

Another zinnia, seemingly safe from MG assault. The dark orange berries are asparagus, which yielded a couple stalks awhile back. And cactus fruit, which I’m not brave enough to try to eat.

U. S. Methodist Church Splitting Over LGBTQs & Gay Marriage

Schisms over slavery, women and now, sexuality: A history of fractures among Methodists

Raleigh NC News & Observer

Un-united Methodists

The church has long delayed an anticipated split over LGBTQ issues — until now. It’s not going to be easy. As some in North Carolina look to disaffiliate from UMC for more conservative theology, others must grapple with their own stance on how to move forward.

The clash United Methodists face today over gay weddings and ordination is not the first time the denomination has fractured. The original Methodist church was founded out of a split from the Church of England. Methodism has evolved over the centuries in a series of fractures and mergers.

“It’s not the first time we’ve split. It’s not the first time we’ve reunited,” said the Rev. Jennifer Copeland, executive director of the North Carolina Council of Churches and a United Methodist minister.

HISTORY OF SCHISMS

Methodism was founded in the 18th century as a movement by John Wesley to reform the Church of England from within, according to the UMC. The Methodist Episcopal Church split off and established itself as an autonomous church in 1784. Continue reading U. S. Methodist Church Splitting Over LGBTQs & Gay Marriage

Pumpkin Spice Is Back. Again.

Pumpkin spice won.
It’s time to accept it and move on.

Washington Post

By Emily Heil
 — September 1, 2022

This week, Starbucks began selling its seasonal pumpkin spice lattes, an annual event that has become the symbolic starting pistol of the crisp, floating-leaf, cable-knit autumn of our collective imagination. Never mind that, back in the right-side-up world, summer sweat is still rolling down our backs.

But something feels different this year as we peruse the aisles of the grocery store, already laden with an ever-expanding assortment of cookie dough and cocoa mixes and candles scented with clove and allspice. The vibe, it seems, has shifted for pumpkin spice. Or rather, it seems pumpkin spice is no longer a recognizable vibe. Instead, it’s just inevitable. Like death, taxes and new Taylor Swift albums, pumpkin spice is now merely a part of the human condition.

 

So goes it with pumpkin spice, which used to be seen as part of a lifestyle choice, a signifier of the flavor’s most ardent acolytes: women (mostly White, mostly with flawless highlights) who loved brunch and cozy sweaters and pick-your-own apple orchards and painted signs in their kitchens reminding them to dream. Now pumpkin spice season arrives like any other meteorological phenomenon. It’s here for everyone, like it or not.

“You are bound to run into something pumpkin-spiced — maybe pancakes or a seasonal drink,” says Melanie Zanoza Bartelme, who tracks food trends for market-research firm Mintel. “You can’t avoid it, so you don’t have to be embarrassed about enjoying it. It’s here — it’s all around us.” Emily Contois, an assistant professor at the University of Tulsa who studies food and media, likened the flavor’s mainstreaming to that of Uggs, those fluffy-lined boots that make their wearers look like they have baked potatoes for feet. Ultra-trendy in the late 1990s and early aughts, they were soon written off by the fashion elite only to be ironically revived every so often. . . . “But then these boots became part of our lives.”

Some cynics inevitably still scorn those who embrace #pumpkinspiceSZN with Instagram gusto, but along with the mockery on social media, there’s another strain of thinking that seems borne of the near-universal slog of the last few years: Maybe just … let it go? If a PSL isn’t your thing, just order your regular latte. Or don’t. Do you. As one proponent of that attitude warned on Twitter on the day of Starbucks’ PSL debut: “Y’ALL, listen to me. There will be NO pumpkin spice slander today. Today we are going to let people enjoy things!!!!”

Thomas’ pumpkin-spice-flavored English muffins are among the numerous pumpkin spice breakfast foods on store shelves this year. (Scott Suchman for The Washington Post; food styling by Lisa Cherkasky for The Washington Post)

Throw pumpkin spice into the pile of things that once served as cultural markers but now read as neutral . . . . Punk music now sells minivans.

It’s not your imagination — pumpkin spice products really are proliferating. They accounted for more than $231 million in sales over the last year, according to NielsenIQ data, which is nearly 27 percent higher than the year before.

This season, Oreo is offering a limited-time pumpkin spice flavor for the first time since 2017.

The flavor is especially concentrated in the breakfast category, which makes sense given its barista-borne origins. You can find it in cereals (including Special K, Frosted Mini-Wheats and Cheerios), baked goods (Thomas’ bagels and English muffins and Pillsbury Grands) and yogurts (Chobani, Oui and Siggi’s). Coffee creamers and cold brews abound. In my late-August, Washington-area shopping rounds, I didn’t see any of the novelty products that marked the heyday of Peak Pumpkin Spice. No Spam, for instance, or potato chips, which I took as a sign of the flavor’s journey past trendiness.
. . .

Let’s go back for a moment to the olden days of 2003, when Starbucks introduced its seasonal latte spiked with the warming flavors of baking spices. As its popularity spread on then-nascent social media feeds, “pumpkin spice became the ultimate symbol of basicness,” as my colleague Maura Judkis noted in 2017. Eventually the Basic Beckys of the world embraced it as their totem, celebrated on T-shirts and mugs with sayings like “Leggings, boots & pumpkin spice.”
[From the archives: I used every pumpkin spice product I could find for a week. Now my armpits smell like nutmeg.]

Nearly two decades later, we’re in pumpkin spice’s fourth wave, where one can order a pumpkin-spiced cold brew without a side of baggage or irony — thanks to those early pioneers, of course, but also thanks to the vagaries of human nature and the food marketers who understand it. It seems there was an opportunity for an early-fall flavor, lodged somewhere between the bright fruits of summer and the looming array of holiday tastes, from peppermint to gingerbread.

Nature — and capitalism — abhors a vacuum. “There was an opening,” Bartelme says. Having a flavor to gravitate to when summer is ending can be comforting, she says. “It’s sort of compensation — pumpkin spice says, ‘Warm me up, hold me in your coffee arms and tell me everything is going to be okay.’”

Contois offers a grimmer explanation for that seasonal appeal. . . .
“We have these brutal summers that are uncomfortable and dangerous, and so we’re yearning for the cool air and crunchy leaves,” she says. “That yearning is real.”
A more straightforward reason it has caught on? Well, pumpkin spice, with its blend of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, ginger and allspice, is actually pretty good as far as a flavor profile goes.

In late August, I started skimming grocery shelves, seeking out the telltale burnt-umber tones of pumpkin spice packaging. I amassed more than a dozen items and sampled them over a few days, hoping that the husky spices and warm-me-up textures they promised would somehow transport me from my current reality, where the AC isn’t quite strong enough for the soup-humid, 90-plus air around me and the last word I’d use to describe my attitude is “reinvigorated.”

It turns out that while pumpkin spice is perfectly good, it doesn’t necessarily elevate whatever medium is conveying it. I’ve always liked Frosted Mini-Wheats; the seasonal version, though aggressively colored with orange frosting, was a nice change. I’m a fan of Greek yogurt, and I enjoyed Chobani’s nutmeg-forward version. A buttered Thomas’ English muffin and a mug of Harney & Sons tea — both spiked with gentle baking spice sweetness — was a lovely afternoon snack, one I might have picked for a cool afternoon even if I wasn’t on this bizarre mission.

Do you like Oreos? Then you’ll probably appreciate their autumnal incarnation, whose spicy scent clung to my hands long after I polished them off.

All told, my experiment didn’t leave me comforted, just cold. Not temperature-wise, of course — as I write this, I’m scooping my hair up into a damp topknot and contemplating fetching a fan from upstairs. But it did offer me a lesson: However appealing, pumpkin spice cannot mask the true nature of anything. Its spell isn’t even enough to convince me that cooler, more pleasant days are just ahead. But I’m okay still marinating in the late-summer heat and its foods . . . .

And while I savor those, I’ll just enjoy pumpkin spice as a bit of popular monoculture in these fractious times.

I’m not alone in that thought. Recently, Bartelme spotted a service station near her home offering “pumpkin spice oil changes,” and it made her smile. “We’re all in on the joke now.”

Emily Heil is a reporter covering national food news and trends. Previously, she co-authored the Reliable Source column for The Post.

Arizona’s Unbroken Election Hero: Rusty Bowers Speaks

The Guardian — Sun 21 Aug 2022

Interview
Ousted Republican reflects on Trump, democracy and America: ‘The place has lost its mind’

Ed Pilkington in Mesa, Arizona

Rusty Bowers is headed for the exit. After 18 years as an Arizona lawmaker, the past four as speaker of the state’s house of representatives, he has been unceremoniously shown the door by his own Republican party.

Last month he lost his bid to stay in the Arizona legislature in a primary contest in which his opponent was endorsed by Donald Trump. The rival, David Farnsworth, made an unusual pitch to voters: the 2020 presidential election had not only been stolen from Trump, he said, it was satanically snatched by the “devil himself”.

Bowers was ousted as punishment. The Trump acolytes who over the past two years have gained control of the state’s Republican party wanted revenge for the powerful testimony he gave in June to the January 6 hearings in which he revealed the pressure he was put under to overturn Arizona’s election result.

This is a very Arizonan story. But it is also an American story that carries an ominous warning for the entire nation.

Six hours after the Guardian interviewed Bowers, Liz Cheney was similarly ousted in a primary for her congressional seat in Wyoming. The formerly third most powerful Republican leader in the US Congress had been punished too.

The thought that if you don’t do what we like, then we will just get rid of you and march on and do it ourselves – that to me is fascism
In Bowers’s case, his assailants in the Arizona Republican party wanted to punish him because he had steadfastly refused to do their, and Trump’s, bidding.

He had declined to use his power as leader of the house to invoke an “arcane Arizonan law” – whose text has never been found – that would allow the legislature to cast out the will of 3.4 million voters who had handed victory to Joe Biden and switch the outcome unilaterally to Trump.

Continue reading Arizona’s Unbroken Election Hero: Rusty Bowers Speaks

Damn. Garrison is Definitely Losing it. I’ll Let Him Break the Bad News

The Column: 08.19.22

It was a week of crazy change, a couple of big wallops, and here I am still standing, head bowed but marching forward. An ace ophthalmologist broke the news that my dimming eyesight is the result of glaucoma, which makes me grateful that I’m 80 because if I were young this would be very bad news but at my age I can see a way around it.

And on the same day, the University of Michigan found out that its prized Galileo manuscript is a fake, in which Galileo noted his observations of Jupiter, which led him to challenge 17th-century dogma that the universe revolves around Earth, which made him a heretic — it’s the work of a 20th-century forger — which means (Yes!) that the universe does revolve around Earth and that FBI agents attempting to distract the nation from the Galileo hoax planted top-secret papers at Mar-a-Lago in hopes of unseating the one truly elected (by a landslide) president, Mr. Trump, who is the center of the center of the universe.

If you step outside and look at the night sky, you see clearly that indeed we are the center. Anyone who thinks otherwise is a loser.

The glaucoma news was definitive and I was glad to have it. No need to sit in more ophthalmologists’ chairs, chin on the chinrest, looking at the doctor’s earlobe as he or she peers through the scope into my dilated eyeball — I have the answer: I am (very) slowly going blind. So look to the future and make the best of the deal.

I never was a sight-seer. I know too many amateur photographers who compulsively take pictures of dewy meadows, sunsets, sunrises, wildlife, birds, more birds, and they bring out portfolios of pictures and you’re required to glance at each one and sigh — well, they don’t pass their portfolios to a blind man. He is free of it.

My wife loves fine art. I don’t. Andy Warhol exposed the art world for the sham it am and who needs it? When I gain my blindness, I’ll accompany her to the Met and I’ll wait in the coffee shop and overhear young women discussing their relationships. Mark Rothko is an empty shell compared to women’s descriptions of their partners. They know more about humanity than Van Gogh ever guessed at.

I’ve always preferred music and conversation to the visual arts. Dance is a bore, all the extensions and twirling and dippy-hippy moves. Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lakeis all you need to know, and Mahler’s Fourth and the Brandenburgs and some Chopin. Listen to them in the dark and you feel the emotional force full-strength.

My new career, beginning now, is octogenarian stand-up performance and I look forward to the day — in ten years, maybe twenty — when I walk onstage wearing black glasses, carrying a cane, and feel a wave of sympathy from the crowd and I sing:

The blind man stood in the road and cried,
Crying, O Lord, show me the way to go home.

The song is so heartfelt, people get teary-eyed and no longer do they see a white man of privilege, they see a fellow sinner in trouble, and when I have them on the verge of anguish, I go into my storytelling. Homer was a blind man who gave us the Iliad and the Odyssey and in his honor, I shall proclaim:

Speak, Memory, of myself the hero,
Lost time and again, at sea, confused,
Blinded by reckless ambition, and now,
I the wanderer have, by loss of sight,
Regained my memory and found my way
Home to my wife.

It’s a great opening. I’ll tell of my own history — I’m 80, I’ve got buckets of it — and recite poems and sing and when needed go into some blind-man jokes, many of them dirty. A sighted man couldn’t tell them, he’d be lynched, strung up, only a blind man can tell them, so I will.

Blindness is an opportunity, not a problem. Other writers give readings; I don’t. I have no paper, I let memory speak and it does and I’m amazed at what it recalls. My Crandall ancestors were driven out of the colonies in 1776 by my wife’s ancestors, the Spencers and Holmans and Griswolds, and my grandpa James Crandall came to Minnesota where his descendants crossed paths with my wife’s Holmans, and ancient enmity was buried and I fell in love with the family that stole our silverware and drove us to Canada.

So when my blindness is complete, so long as the sun keeps going around the Earth, I’ll be the greatest glaucomedian of all time. You read it here first.

 

A Motown Genius Is Now Immortal

The Guardian – Lamont Dozier: the  Motown master craftsman who created miracles under pressure

As one third of a legendary songwriting and production partnership, Dozier produced a slew of indelible hits that expressed the joy and frustration of a whole generation

Lamont Dozier, Motown songwriter, dies aged 81

Published: Tuesday, 09 August 2022

Lamont Dozier was not a man much given to discussing the mystical art of songwriting and inspiration. You might have thought he would be. There’s certainly something extraordinary about the sheer quality of the songs he wrote with Brian and Eddie Holland in the 60s and early 70s:

Baby Love, Nowhere to Run, Stop! In the Name of Love, Reach Out I’ll Be There, Heatwave, I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch), Band of Gold, You Can’t Hurry Love, You Keep Me Hangin On and Bernadette among them – a catalogue that meant Holland-Dozier-Holland stood out even amid the riches of songwriting and production talent assembled at Motown. There’s a fair argument for calling this collection of songs the greatest in the history of pop.

And it wasn’t just that these songs were hits – they were the kind of hits that became indelibly imprinted on the brain of anyone with even a passing interest in pop music. But Dozier took a very prosaic attitude to it all, presenting himself not as the genius he clearly was but as a man who’d simply worked hard, “banging on that piano”.

“There’s no such thing as writer’s block,” he contended a few years before his death. “That’s just being lazy. That’s just something you put in your own head. ‘I don’t feel it today’ – that’s bullshit.”

Perhaps that was just the attitude one developed in the hothouse hit factory environment of Motown where, Dozier recalled, songwriting sessions could last for 18 hours straight and founder Berry Gordy was given to announcing “so-and-so needs a hit because they’re going out of town and they need something right away”.

The more successful the label got, the more Gordy seemed to pile on the pressure: in 1965, at the height of Motown’s golden age, he issued an edict: “We will release nothing less than Top 10 product on any artist. Because the Supremes’ worldwide acceptance is greater than the other artists, on them we will release only No 1 records.”

‘No such thing as writers’ block’ … Holland Dozier Holland with Smokey Robinson.
‘No such thing as writer’s block’ … Holland-Dozier-Holland with Smokey Robinson. Photograph: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

It was a challenging environment to which Dozier and the Holland brothers responded in the most incredible fashion. Each of them had started out as a performer in Detroit before being brought together by Gordy. Dozier thought they worked so well together because of their shared background in the church and a mutual love of classical music.

They were, by all accounts, as determined and tough as their boss, and not above provoking the artists they worked with in order to get the best out of them. Diana Ross fled the sessions for Where Did Our Love Go in tears: she hated the song, which Dozier just maintained gave her vocal “the attitude it needed to become a big hit”. Their relationship with Marvin Gaye was also frequently volatile, the singer feeling provoked by the trio deliberately writing songs in a key he felt was too high for him, in order, Dozier said, “to be a little more imaginative, reach up to a falsetto”.

However much trouble their methods caused around Hitsville USA, you couldn’t argue with the end result. Holland-Dozier-Holland were skilled at drawing out performances of startling intensity from artists. Listen to Levi Stubbs’ voice on the Four Tops’ Standing in the Shadows of Love. Or his cry of “Just look over your shoulder!” on Reach Out (I’ll Be There). Or the 1971 single You Keep Running Away, where the singer’s agonies – “Just look at me, I’m not the man I used to be / I used to be proud, I used to be strong” – chafe against the ebullience of the musical backing.

Meanwhile, the Supremes may have been painted as Motown’s poppiest and sweetest group, but there’s a genuine desperation about Ross’s lead vocal on You Keep Me Hangin’ On that is startlingly powerful when combined with the music’s churning relentlessness, the pounding drums, the one-note morse-code guitar.

Holland-Dozier-Holland’s songs occasionally contained a darker undercurrent than was immediately apparent. Martha and the Vandellas’ wonderful 1967 single Jimmy Mack was inspired when Dozier attended a songwriting ceremony in New York where the mother of the songwriter Ronnie Mack – who had died aged 23 from cancer – accepted an award on his behalf for the Chiffons’ He’s So Fine. It takes on a noticeably different hue if you consider that the subject of the Martha Reeves’ pleas to return might be dead.

Standing in the shadows of love … Lamont Dozier
Standing in the shadows of love … Lamont Dozier Photograph: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Although never overtly political, Motown’s golden age played out against a backdrop of turmoil in America, much of it connected to the civil rights movement. And without ever making it explicit enough to harm their commercial chances, Holland-Dozier-Holland frequently seemed to be sending out coded messages to their black American audience.

As the writer Jon Savage subsequently noted, the tense, Bob Dylan-influenced Reach Out (I’ll Be There) “offered advice and sustenance to communities … under extreme duress”. Martha and the Vandellas’ Nowhere to Run, meanwhile, presents itself as a love song but in reality was inspired by the state of America. Dozier later said its claustrophobic atmosphere had more to do with seeing tanks on the streets in the wake of riots and teenagers being shipped off to Vietnam than with romance.

Immediate, accessible pop music that is emotionally impactful and rich with meaning: it was an incredible trick to pull off, but Holland-Dozier-Holland did it again and again. It wasn’t enough to save their relationship with Motown. Promised and then denied their own sub-label, and angry about the way money was distributed in the company, they first went on a go-slow, then left entirely in 1968. The ensuing litigation went on for years, and forced them to use a pseudonym – Wayne-Dunbar – when writing for artists on their own labels, Invicta and Hot Wax.

They had more hits – Freda Payne’s Band of Gold; Give Me Just a Little More Time by the Chairmen of the Board – maintaining the same breathtaking standard that they’d kept at Motown. But Dozier became disillusioned: he claimed the Holland brothers passed on the chance to sign both Funkadelic and Al Green, and their rejection of the latter pre-empted his decision to leave, and another lawsuit.

He pursued a successful solo career as a performer: 1973’s gorgeous Take Off Your Make Up and the following year’s Trying to Hold Onto My Woman suggested songwriting powers undiminished by the break-up of the partnership, and the Afrocentric 1977 album track Going Back to My Roots enjoyed a long afterlife thanks to multiple cover versions. Somehow his friendships with both Berry Gordy and the Holland brothers survived the legal disputes: “Business is business,” he shrugged, “but love is love.”

Lamont performing solo in 2009.
Lamont performing solo in 2009. Photograph: Paul Morigi/WireImage

He moved to London in the 80s and kept writing: he was behind Alison Moyet’s 1984 hit Invisible, and collaborated with Mick Hucknall, who one suspects couldn’t believe his luck, on a string of tracks for Simply Red. Sometimes he dealt in material that nodded to the classic 60s Motown sound, such as the Four Tops’ Loco in Acapulco or Phil Collins’ Two Hearts. None of it was ever likely to supplant Holland-Dozier-Holland’s 60s output in anyone’s affections, but clearly his hitmaking touch was intact.

In his later years, he dabbled in musical theatre, taught courses at the University of Southern California and seemed happy to give interviews in which he reflected on Holland-Dozier-Holland’s peerless achievements; the pressure they’d worked under at Motown; the havoc it had wreaked on their personal lives; the way they’d come up with this song or that song. Ultimately, however, every interview seemed to come back to the same unassuming theme. “It was blood, sweat and tears,” he told the Guardian in 2015. “We just worked and worked … until we came up with things.”