“His voice had once been so musical that when he recited passages like, ‘Before Abraham was, I am,’ it must have been nothing short of the sound of God.” Ben Cohen remembers Reynolds Price.
All of you — men not exempted — must read it. Here’s an excerpt:
The phrase “dick for a day” used to be bandied about quite a bit by me and many other women I knew, mostly fellow writers, back in the 1980s, when we were young and ambitious but unsuccessful, our tone somewhere between wistful yearning and pugnacious wrath: “If I had a dick for a day, I’d show them” — “them” being overrated male writers, ex-lovers who’d treated us badly, and, frankly, men in general. They had all the luck. We were stuck being women.
It would probably be funny if I hadn’t grown up in absolute terror of being Left Behind. Okay, it’s funny anyway, as long as I don’t have to be sober.
My latest piece for The Awl is about the convergence of my fortieth birthday and Harold Camping’s predicted May 21 Rapture, but it’s also about a lot more, including fervent agnosticism, existential dread, interesting passions, and how happy I am to be back in touch with my (former preacher) mother.
Photo credit: mementosis.
When I was a Sunday-school scholar something more than sixty years ago, I became interested in Satan, and wanted to find out all I could about him. I began to ask questions, but my class-teacher, Mr. Barclay the stone-mason, was reluctant about answering them, it seemed to me. I was anxious to be praised for turning my thoughts to serious subjects when there wasn’t another boy in the village who could be hired to do such a thing. I was greatly interested in the incident of Eve and the serpent, and thought Eve’s calmness was perfectly noble. I asked Mr. Barclay if he had ever heard of another woman who, being approached by a serpent, would not excuse herself and break for the nearest timber. He did not answer my question, but rebuked me for inquiring into matters above my age and comprehension. I will say for Mr. Barclay that he was willing to tell me the facts of Satan’s history, but he stopped there: he wouldn’t allow any discussion of them.
In the course of time we exhausted the facts. There were only five or six of them, you could set them all down on a visiting-card. I was disappointed. I had been meditating a biography, and was grieved to find that there were no materials. I said as much, with the tears running down. Mr. Barclay’s sympathy and compassion were aroused, for he was a most kind and gentle-spirited man, and he patted me on the head and cheered me up by saying there was a whole vast ocean of materials! I can still feel the happy thrill which these blessed words shot through me.
Then he began to bail out that ocean’s riches for my encouragement and joy. Like this: it was “conjectured” — though not established — that Satan was originally an angel in heaven; that he fell; that he rebelled, and brought on a war; that he was defeated, and banished to perdition. Also, “we have reason to believe” that later he did so-and-so; that “we are warranted in supposing” that at a subsequent time he travelled extensively, seeking whom he might devour; that a couple of centuries afterward, “as tradition instructs us,” he took up the cruel trade of tempting people to their ruin, with vast and fearful results; that by-and-by, “as the probabilities seem to indicate,” he may have done certain things, he might have done certain other things, he must have done still other things.
And so on and so on. We set down the five known facts by themselves, on a piece of paper, and numbered it “page 1″; then on fifteen hundred other pieces of paper we set down the “conjectures,” and “suppositions,” and “maybes,” and “perhapses,” and “doubtlesses,” and “rumors,” and “guesses,” and “probabilities,” and “likelihoods,” and “we are permitted to thinks,” and “we are warranted in believings,” and “might have beens,” and “could have beens,” and “must have beens,” and “unquestionablys,” and “without a shadow of doubts” — and behold!
MATERIALS? Why, we had enough to build a biography of Shakespeare! Continue reading…
A heartrending autobiographical essay about the mess Sam Lipsyte made of his life before age twenty-five has echoes in his fiction, Philip Connors says.
If you’ve ever been in therapy and liked, trusted and worried about losing your shrink, Emma Forrest has lived your nightmare. Three years ago, her psychiatrist died of lung cancer she didn’t know he had. This was the man who rushed to her side at St. Vincent’s after she downed a bottle of pills, who sang show tunes—”It’s just his neurosis that oughta be curbed / he’s psychologically disturbed!”—with her in sessions, and who tried, with no hint of salacious intent, to confiscate a fashion photo she showed him of herself, bleeding from self-inflicted cuts, in her underwear. With Dr. R’s help, she “fell out of love with madness” (as he put it); just months before his death, she published an essay empathizing with Britney Spears’ descent into mania and praising him for saving her from a similar fate. And then he was gone, leaving behind not just a devastated Forrest but a host of bereft and rudderless clients. Discovering the others’ outpourings in the guest book underneath his New York Times obituary was, she writes, “like growing up and realizing that other people have read The Catcher in the Rye, not just you.”
Forrest’s new memoir, Your Voice in My Head, which traces the long history of her depression and evokes her struggles to stay sane without Dr. R, is so intense and compelling, so dark, hilarious and wistful, and so likely to be picked up, highlighted and worried over by every neurotic I know, I almost feel sorry for New York City’s mental health practitioners, who probably should have had some sort of advance warning that it’s coming. It’s a testament to the author’s empathy that she’s able to incorporate other patients’ eulogies into the book without robbing them of their power or giving off the slightest whiff of gimmickry. When I marvel, in an extended email interview, at how naturally their stories and hers coexist, she says, “I think of all us disparate lost souls who sought solace at East 94th Street as a Robert Altman movie, with intersecting lives and sorrows.”
Head over there for the rest, but you might want to pour yourself some wine, water, or coffee first. It’s long.