Letters

Letters 10-27-2014

Paging Doctor Dan: The doctor’s promise to repeal Obamacare reminds me of the frantic restaurant owner hurrying to install an exhaust fan after the kitchen burns down. He voted 51 times to replace the ACA law; a colossal waste of money and time. It’s here to stay and he has nothing to replace it.

Evolution Is Real Science: Breathtaking inanity. That was the term used by Judge John Jones III in his elegant evisceration of creationist arguments attempting to equate it to evolutionary theory in his landmark Kitzmiller vs. Dover Board of Education decision in 2005.

U.S. No Global Police: Steven Tuttle in the October 13 issue is correct: our military, under the leadership of the President (not the Congress) is charged with protecting the country, its citizens, and its borders. It is not charged with  performing military missions in other places in the world just because they have something we want (oil), or we don’t like their form of government, or we want to force them to live by the UN or our rules.

Graffiti: Art Or Vandalism?: I walk the [Grand Traverse] Commons frequently and sometimes I include the loop up to the cistern just to go and see how the art on the cistern has evolved. Granted there is the occasional gross image or word but generally there is a flurry of color.

NMEAC Snubbed: Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council (NMEAC) is the Grand Traverse region’s oldest grassroots environmental advocacy organization. Preserving the environment through citizen action and education is our mission.

Vote, Everyone: Election Day on November 4 is fast approaching, and now is the time to make a commitment to vote. You may be getting sick of the political ads on TV, but instead, be grateful that you live in a free country with open elections. Take the time to learn about the candidates by contacting your county parties and doing research.

Do Fluoride Research: Hydrofluorosilicic acid, H2SiF6, is a byproduct from the production of fertilizer. This liquid, not environmentally safe, is scrubbed from the chimney of the fertilizer plant, put into containers, and shipped. Now it is a ‘product’ added to the public drinking water.

Meet The Homeless: As someone who volunteers for a Traverse City organization that works with homeless people, I am appalled at what is happening at the meetings regarding the homeless shelter. The people fighting this shelter need to get to know some homeless families. They have the wrong idea about who the homeless are.

Home · Articles · News · Books · Essayist sets life‘s...
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Essayist sets life‘s questions to music

Elizabeth Buzzelli - April 12th, 2010
Essayist sets life’s questions to music
By Elizabeth Buzzelli
DRIVING WITH DVORAK:
Essays on Memory and Identity
By Fleda Brown
University of Nebraska Press
$24.94

If the unexamined life, as Socrates said, isn’t worth living, then Fleda Brown’s is truly a valuable life. Her new book: Driving with Dvorak: Essays on Memory and Identity, could have been a memoir, except that it isn’t—exactly.
What it is are snapshots -- or maybe better -- X-rays from an ordinary life: father, mother, two sisters, three husbands, children, a retarded brother who dies young, a decaying summer cottage on Michigan’s Central Lake, other American places: east, west, Midwest. Scenes from a woman’s life, a poet’s life, that dive beneath the surface to return with reasons, discoveries, new understanding, new pain, new acceptance -- all the bits of life that make us human beings.
First there is the father, a prominent person in the book and in Brown’s life. In the title essay, he is old, he is angry, and she goads him as she did as a teen. Her sin? She used too much dish soap while washing dishes. She is 44, a grown woman, and doesn’t think she has to tolerate his fits of anger, his penuriousness, his inability to act in his own best interest, and even his self-loathing. She talks back only to have him yell, “By God, I’ll hit you.” Maybe this is where the book begins, with a need to know this man, this husband, this father. Then maybe to learn something valuable about herself.
What she can share with her father is music. Therefore Dvorak, Shostakovich, Tchaikovsky. Not in an intellectual joust but in the silent ways music connects person to person, down in what Brown calls an ‘’inarticulate core.”

TRACING A MELODY
Of all the essays in the book, this one comes closest to posing a question about her life and then answering it. “But look at me now,” she challenges as she drives along, grown, independent, still with the baggage of the past. Again there is music. Adagio to largo; childhood to present time, she traces the melody a family hums throughout time. Every family a different tune, maybe hers more discordant than most. Then she tells us ... art sends you back to memory, where it came from. You can’t have the original which maybe never was the right thing, but you can have this. And soft, the little wisps, rising from the lake: the angels, the annunciation. You have to bow your head, to receive it, all of it, down on you, its sheer trumpets, clarinets, the joy of its French horn.
In “Walls Six Feet Thick” the memories of summer homes is used as a way into knowing her mother. First there was the decaying houses on Central Lake, then on to others in her life. Childhood to age. In one she is a young girl, in another a grandmother. But her mother haunts these pages, this woman ...Who has mostly managed to stay out of sight until now. Her mother is the misfit; the girl who resents her husband’s family for their easy grasp of life, who takes out her anger in pathetic smallness when her sister-in-law is far into dementia, scoffing at her, the woman who no longer knows enough to get under a blanket to keep warm.
Later in the book, the smallness reverberates back on this cringing, crying woman, remembered by her daughter with a mixture of anger and disgust and love. The woman dies alone. The father got the news she was dying but ignored it, didn’t tell his children, until she was gone. And Brown is left, later in the book, facing what he ultimately stole from his children: their last moment with their mother. And stole from her the children bending above her, their last ‘I love you.’

KILLING THE CATS
Of all the essays in this book, “Returning the Cats” touched me most, on level after level. Brown and her husband, Jerry, have taken in two cats. They’ve tried everything to love their animals but the cats are laws on to themselves. They pee and poop in the house. They hide when they have to go to the vet, scratch and claw when their nails are cut. They aren’t warm and loving. They must finally go to the humane society and Brown takes them, confronting one of those horribly painful choices we’re all forced to make from time to time, despite good intentions, despite what we’d like to believe about ourselves. Brown uses the salve of an allergic son-in-law to quell the guilt good people feel when they fall short of their own moral expectations. But she has deeper anxieties over letting her cats down. She has the memory of her father—yet again—as he cruelly kills kittens their mother cat has had because he was too cheap to have her spayed, and then doing worse as Brown cowers in her room, trying not to hear.
That a name is put to why her father is the way he is, so near the end of his life, can’t be made to matter. Anger runs too deep. That he was a tenured professor, took on the largest questions of the world and tried to find solutions, haunts her. At last, wanting to find excuses and finding them too late, or seeing them as too weak, she asks, Who knows what channels may lie in his mind that lead away from pain and toward the joy? He’s smart enough to have figured how to carve them.
Don’t expect morality tales here. Nothing is that easy. Badness is confronted with wonder that it exists at all. Good is savored. In this non-linear examination of a single life, Brown delivers biography through philosophy and a poetic voice never consciously poetic.
Driving with Dvorak is a truly glorious and intelligent achievement; the biography I’ve always wanted to read, where connections are drawn and savored, where academic distance doesn’t take the place of emotion, where layers lie loosely over profound depths that glitter up through the years and hours, through the characters that people and draw the outlines of this single life.

Elizabeth Kane Buzzelli’s next novel, Dead Sleeping Shaman, will be in bookstores in May.



 
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