Sunday, March 20, 2016

A few disconnected incidents

It was always a matter of wonder to Vandover that he was able to recall so little of his past life. With the exception of the most recent events he could remember nothing connectedly. What he at first imagined to be the story of his life, on closer inspection turned out to be but a few disconnected incidents that his memory had preserved with the greatest capriciousness, absolutely independent of their importance. One of these incidents might be a great sorrow, a tragedy, a death in his family; and another, recalled with the same vividness, the same accuracy of detail, might be a matter of the least moment.
As he looked back over his life he could recall nothing after this for nearly five years. Even after that lapse of time the only scene he could picture with any degree of clearness was one of the greatest triviality in which he saw himself, a rank thirteen-year-old boy, sitting on a bit of carpet in the back yard of the San Francisco house playing with his guinea-pigs. 
In order to get at his life during his teens, Vandover would have been obliged to collect these scattered memory pictures as best he could, rearrange them in some more orderly sequence, piece out what he could imperfectly recall and fill in the many gaps by mere guesswork and conjecture.

-Frank Norris, Vandover and the Brute

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Miriam Toews' Alex Fountain Memorial Lecture

I attended a great event tonight at my alma mater, the University of King's College. Miriam Toews, also a King's alum from a few years before my time, delivered the Alex Fountain Memorial Lecture, an annual talk named for a young King's student who committed suicide. Toews was there to talk about suicide, about the right to die and her writing life, which has been very much entangled in these questions, since she has written books about her sister and her father, both of whom took their own lives. She said she regretted that she hadn't helped her sister go to Switzerland, to end her life in a peaceful way, in the company of people she loved. Instead, her end was solitary and violent. As Rachel reminded me, both Toews' sister and father used trains as the instrument of their death. I was saying to Rachel afterwards that, in all the discussion right now about right-to-death legislation, assisted suicide, etc., something I've never heard mentioned is the trauma that suicide, as a prohibited individual act, visits on others and how giving people a legal, regulated avenue to pursue their own death might mitigate that trauma. I thought of Russell Wangersky's book Burning Down the House, in which he writes so poignantly of the PTSD he suffered as a result of his work as a firefighter. How many first responders have been permanently scarred by witnessing the effects of violent self-inflicted death? And of course, I thought of my colleagues, especially those engineers who become, in a sense, the helpless agents of other people's intentional demise. Just a few months ago, in November, I was on a train full of people that ran over a suicide victim. There were people on board who were profoundly upset by it, even without seeing the body. That person who killed herself, irony of ironies, worked in a hospital. There's debate as to whether assisted suicide should take place in hospitals or in other venues. One thing I know: a gravel roadbed in the dark and the snow is no place for it.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Public Spanking

Daniel Karasik ponders the eros of the online mob.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Rachel Lebowitz, Cover Woman

Hey, lovers of the written word, Rachel Lebowitz's most recently published essay can be found within the pages of Arc Poetry Magazine 79, on newsstands now. Rachel has had an incredibly good rate of success placing these essays and they are getting ever closer to becoming her next book, which will blow many minds when it appears. Very wisely, the good folks of Arc have put Rachel on the cover: