Letters 11-23-2015

Cheering From Petoskey While red-eyed rats boil fanatically up from the ancient sewers of Paris to feast on pools of French blood, at the G20 meeting the farcical pied piper of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue thrusts a bony finger at the president of the Russian Federation and yells: “liberté, égalité, fraternité, Clinton, Kerry--Obamaism!”

The Other Mothers And Fathers Regarding the very nice recent article on “The First Lady of Yoga,” I have taken many classes with Sandy Carden, and I consider her to be a great teacher. However, I feel the article is remiss to not even give acknowledgement to other very important yoga influences in northern Michigan...

Drop The Blue Angels The last time I went to the National Cherry Festival, I picked the wrong day. The Blue Angels were forcing everyone to duck and cover from the earsplitting cacophony overhead...

Real Advice For The Sick In the Nov. 16 article “Flu Fighters,” author Kristi Kates fails to mention the most basic tool in our arsenal during Influenza season... the flu vaccine! I understand you might be afraid of being the victim of Jenny McCarthyism, but the science is there...

Keeping Traverse City in the Dark Our environment is our greatest asset. It sustains our lives; it drives our economy. We ignore it at our peril. Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council (NMEAC) has submitted letters of concern to both the city commission and planning commission regarding the proposed 9-story buildings on Pine Street. We have requested an independent environmental assessment with clear answers before a land use permit is granted...

All About Them Another cartoon by Jen Sorensen that brings out the truth! Most of her cartoons are too slanted in a Socialist manner, but when she gets it correct, she hits the nail on the target! “Arizona is the first state to put a 12-month lifetime limit on welfare benefits.” That quote is in the opening panel... 

Unfair To County Employees It appears that the commissioners of Grand Traverse County will seek to remedy a shortfall in the 2016 budget by instituting cuts in expenditures, the most notable the reduction of contributions to various insurance benefits in place for county employees. As one example, the county’s contributions to health insurance premiums will decrease from ten to six percent in 2016. What this means, of course, is that if a county employee wishes to maintain coverage at the current level next year, the employee will have to come up with the difference...

Up, Not Out I would like to congratulate the Traverse City Planning Commission on their decision to approve the River West development. Traverse City will either grow up or grow out. For countless reasons, up is better than out. Or do we enjoy such things as traffic congestion and replacing wooded hillsides with hideous spectacles like the one behind Tom’s West Bay. At least that one is on the edge of town as opposed to in the formerly beautiful rolling meadows of Acme Township...

Lessons In Winning War I am saddened to hear the response of so many of legislators tasked with keeping our country safe. I listen and wonder if they know what “winning” this kind of conflict requires or even means? Did we win in Korea? Did we win in Vietnam? Are we winning in Afghanistan? How is Israel winning against the Palestinians? Will they “take out” Hezbollah...

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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
Essays on Memory and Identity
By Fleda Brown
University of Nebraska Press

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.”

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.’

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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