[T]he prince must consider…how to avoid those things which make him hated or contemptible….It makes him contemptible to be considered fickle, frivolous, effeminate, mean-spirited, irresolute, from all of which a prince should guard himself as from a rock.
—Nicolo Machiavelli, The Prince
Rereading the paper afterward, I found the authors warning that doctors would sometimes have to go farther than just interpreting people’s wishes in order to serve their needs. Wants are fickle. And everyone has what philosophers call “second-order desires”–desires about our desires. We may wish, for instance, to be less impulsive, more healthy, less controlled by primitive desires like fear or hunger, more faithful to larger goals. Doctors who listen to only the momentary, first-order desires may not be serving their patients’ real wishes, after all….At some point, therefore, it becomes not only right but also necessary for a doctor to deliberate with people on their larger goals, to even challenge them to rethink ill-considered priorities and beliefs.
–Atul Gawande, Being Mortal
I haven’t been posting a lot on this year’s election, mostly because I’m willfully ignoring it, mostly because the whole spectacle makes me queasy. I feel like ever since 2000, I’ve plunged myself in these roller-coaster elections and tried to influence the course of events with my willpower alone. Now the whole thing seems kind of a waste of time. I know who I’m voting for. No one and nothing will change my mind. And so, watching people I detest say detestable things in debate after debate seems masochistic in the extreme. I know a lot of people like the reality-show absurdity of the whole process, but I for one don’t enjoy watching horribly unqualified people bloviate and then having nightmarish imaginings of said people in the Oval Office. I don’t need the extra stress.
And yet sometimes, even when trying to avoid politics, I find a lovely moment in my fickle reading that manages to put everything in perspective. This passage comes from May Sarton’s journal At Seventy, written in 1982, and therefore does indeed bring with it that security that comes from knowing that everything that’s happening and is going to happen will do so from the safety of the past. You can be the judge as to how much things have changed since then:
There is never any depth in Reagan’s perceptions of the world. He behaves like an animated cartoon, wound up to perform futile gestures and careless witticisms. It made me feel sick when his reaction to the despair of blacks about this administration was to engineer the other day a visit to a middle-class black family who had been threatened five years ago by a burning cross. So the TV cameras were marshaled, and Reagan and Nancy were shown kissing the family one by one. He made a few remarks about “this sort of thing” not tolerable in a democracy. But what is not tolerable is such a cheap ploy. Meanwhile, forty-eight percent of young blacks are jobless, and the administration offers no help. The black family behaved with perfect dignity, but the whole false “scene” was shown up clearly for what it was, a public-relations media event, an insult to the black community, neglected and shoved under the rug.
Hey, Fickle Readers! I’m back with a smidge of an update. I’ve been wrangling with all kinds of health crap recently (did I mention lupus sucks?), but I wanted to give all you writing and reading types out there a heads-up about one of the best poets, editors, and people around: Karen Craigo. She’s the former poetry editor of Mid-American Review and an amazing author in her own right. Her latest book of poems, No More Milk, is coming out in the summer from Sundress Publications, and she further has one of the best writing blogs around. Right now, she’s even becoming something of a viral sensation with this excellent post on the inner workings of Submittable, every writer’s favorite site to check obsessively. There is seemingly nothing Craigo can’t do, and for that I send her a virtual shot of tequila.
A toast and my best envy to you, Karen! Keep up the excellent work! God knows we all need it.
I don’t know, Hypothetical Corinthian Woman Who Drew a Portrait of Her Lover and Thus Invented Art. I kinda like the impermanent feel of charcoal…
Pencils are all very well, but our Corinthian artist would probably have rejected graphite. She was, we can assume, not out for profit but for permanence, and she was most likely looking for a nice stable ink instead of a fickle charcoal or an erasable pencil. Ink would be far more symbolic of the longevity of her love and, of course, would also be particularly useful for writing letters to her sailor on his foreign travels.
–Victoria Finlay, Color: A Natural History of the Palette
Hey, Fickle Readers! It’s time for some blatant self-promotion! Those of you not among my personal cadre (and therefore not privy to my various lunatic rantings and blatherings) may not realize that I’m not only a creative writer, I’m also (surprise!) a budding book critic. I’ve just signed up for another year of reviewing at Hippocampus Magazine, an excellent all-creative nonfiction online journal. I’m also determined to write up more of my glorious opinions on Goodreads, because I really really want to keep getting free books to review. Really.
So here’s the latest on my fickle reading adventures:
One book you should definitely read, especially if you’re into creative nonfiction of the most intense, transformative kind, is Cynthia Barnett’s Rain: A Natural and Cultural History.
This is a book that steals into your life with a simple premise that, you soon realize, has gigantic, perspective-changing implications. Also, the title was long-listed for the National Book Award in Creative Nonfiction. Tragically, it didn’t move on in the process, even though I wish it had. (Admittedly, the field was probably more competitive than usual this year. Hard to beat Ta-Nehisi Coates.)
Despite the awards game, though, this is book is worth every minute you spend with it. Go forth and read.
I wish I could say the same for Jeanette Winterson’s The Gap of Time. Vintage Books has commissioned a whole bunch of high-profile authors to write novel adaptations of Shakespeare plays (it’s called the Hogarth Shakespeare Initiative, in case you’re interested). When I heard about the project, I was so thoroughly excited I signed right up to get an actual physical review copy of the book and I GOT ONE, sent to my actual real-life address. I felt so validated I just sat around appreciating the cover for a while.
Much to my dismay, the book itself isn’t all that great. Granted, you may have to take my opinion with a grain of salt, since I have sunk a lot of time and energy into studying The Winter’s Tale, on which Winterson based her novel. And granted, it would probably give someone with little to no familiarity with the play a pretty solid introduction to the original. The problem is, if that uninitiated person ever got to read or see The Winter’s Tale, he or she would probably be ready to set the bear on Leontes right from the beginning. Because Winterson’s Leo is just that awful. He’s vicious, self-centered, and whiny and deserves none of Shakespeare’s (or anyone’s) much-vaunted forgiveness, which the original play is also known for. If you’re curious, I’d say get this book out of the library. Otherwise, wait for Margaret Atwood to write her adaptation of The Tempest.
The past 24 hours or so have been really shitty. That’s what I get for trying to have a life. My oldest and dearest friend Donna and I went to see Paul McCartney on Sunday. We spent major bucks to get a seat on the floor, and it was 100% worth it. Now, though, I’m barely functional. And whenever that happens, the fear starts creeping in:
I’m all alone. I’m going to die. I have to take care of myself, my son, my house, and there’s no one around to help me.
It doesn’t make matters better that I’m terrible at asking for help. I’m a bona-fide loner and always have been. I hate the fact that I can’t earn a living like everyone else. I hate the fact that my husband has to be the sole breadwinner. I hate the fact that when I’m laid out, my husband has to do everything after a long day of work. I hate the fact that death happens and separates us all from each other. And I really, REALLY hate the fact that what should have been a transcendent, once-in-a-lifetime experience sitting twenty rows away from Paul McCartney has to wind up with me lying on my back wondering what it’s going to be like when I’m completely debilitated and my entire family is dead. (Okay, yeah, that’s not really going to happen. That’s the lupus sinking its teeth into my psyche. Still, it’s hard to talk myself out of this sort of thinking when it really gets going, and the juices of depression and fear just won’t let go.)
Anyway, today I’m doing something I’ve never done before: I’m posting one of my creative pieces on my site. I wrote this about fifteen years ago. It never got picked up by any of the literary journals I sent it to, probably because it’s too long and rambly and sometimes it’s a little too cute as well, the humor a wee bit forced. I want to post it here, though, because I can’t submit it anymore, I can’t work on it anymore, yet I still want it to be out there. We lupies don’t really have a pool of literature, and we need one, if only to make people understand how confusing and lonely lupus can make you feel. Also, I don’t want to feel like I contributed nothing, have no written legacy anywhere, except for a few poems and essays and a little tiny chapbook that only sold 100 or so copies. For a self-absorbed writer like me, that completely sucks donkey balls.
The essay is under Miss Fickle’s Lupus Story now. Please read if you’re interested.