Pathos and Redemption: An Analysis of Lorrie Moore’s “Terrific Mother”

Ocean Watcher by Magdalena Roeseler

A mid-30s woman, childless, told repeatedly what a “terrific mother” she would be but beginning to doubt it and even growing awkward and unsure around babies, has one thrust into her hands at a backyard Labor Day party by a solicitous mother, whereupon the picnic bench she is sitting down to with the infant cracks and the baby flies out of her arms and smashes its head on the cement, dying a short while later. Our protagonist, Adrienne, then retreats to hole up in her attic apartment for seven months, too dark and deranged to even feign an interest in living.

This is the setup for a short story, Terrific Mother, that rarely goes a page without a laugh-out loud moment of insight about the foibles of human beings, followed by profound, sometimes tender but always incisive probing into the behavior and compensations that keep us psychically afloat amidst the need for near constant forgiveness of both self and others.

Fusing all these elements into a compact 40 pages as the concluding ...

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Bell Lap

Liberty Bell by Jason Coleman

I’ve never been much of a front runner. Too much vulnerability out there alone, everyone focused on your back as they draft along behind you, ready to pounce when you’ve grown tired from all the attention and headwinds that you’ve fought on your own.

Better to tuck in mid-pack for most of the race, unobserved, one of the crowd, carried along en masse, never at the rear but careful about spending too much, too soon and having nothing left when the race takes its final shape and the true leaders emerge.

In a mile race with its perfect four laps, each with its own strategy and tasks, my preference has always been to launch a long acceleration at the end of lap three, picking off those who have foolishly gone out too fast while discouraging those behind from even thinking about mounting a final frantic sprint that will demand too much of them.

So here I am, right about at that point in my life, coming into the bell lap, the jostling of the crowded early laps done, some of my energy s...

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My Mom’s Eulogy: A Mother’s Day Remembrance

Susan Hidas Mature

Who in this land can resist thinking about their mother today? My own mother has been gone nine years now, but I suspect you already know the answer to the question of how many days since then that I have not thought of her: a big fat zero.

So in observance of Mother’s Day, and as tribute to my particular mom and all the moms and moms of moms I know whom we honor today, I decided to revisit the eulogy I presented for my mom at the time of her passing at age 80 in 2006, abridging it just slightly to get to the heart of the matter—which, of course, was that great big heart that guided my mother’s life and loves through all her days.

What a life. It never ceases to amaze how much sheer living can be packed into one mortal life, particularly in the historically turbulent era our parents lived through...

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A Meditation on Thinking

Clouds in Water by Andrew Hidas

What could I have been thinking? It’s a question we ask ourselves with regularity when we have acted like dunderheads, making some half-baked decision on a purchase or a course of action, a relationship, a career move or a business deal. It can apply when we have done something we shouldn’t have or not done something we should have, and it can always apply—probably more easily, given how we’d rather point the finger outward than at ourselves—to others.

What were they thinking? (Bush and Cheney invading Iraq, Clinton with Monica, every person who consents to being grilled on 60 Minutes, all karaoke singers everywhere…)

It’s a beautiful question, so aptly and succinctly does it frame, with a dose of sardonic humor, the human tendency to act really, really stupidly on occasion. And no one is immune.

Shrewd and worldly, lowly and dim, middle class midwest or upper class upper east side: you’d need to live 24/7 in a high-tech, hermetically sealed straitjacket with tubes running ...

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Bruce Jenner and the Conundrum of Self

Bird of Paradise By Cliff

There was quite a bit that Bruce Jenner was unsure and halting about in “his” landmark interview with Diane Sawyer last week. He didn’t claim to know many of the hows or whys of his still emerging transgender identity, hadn’t yet come to terms with what happens from here, how it is all going to evolve.

But there was one aspect of his interview responses that was striking for its calm serenity, its obvious and apparent level of settled self-knowledge. It was when he referenced the inner female he had always identified with and seen himself as from his very earliest memories. That’s when his face glowed, his voice softened, and his body seemed to settle into the couch where he was otherwise squirming and shifting under some very uncharted conversational territory—before an estimated audience of 17 million.

“For all intents and purposes, I am a woman. People look at me differently...

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Jesus and the Estate Tax

Corcovado Jesus Doug Wheller

What would Jesus think—and how readily would he climb a hill to discourse upon—last week’s vote by Congressional Republicans to repeal the estate tax?

I raise the question through the “What would Jesus do?” prism because of the surpassing irony that most of the “aye” votes came from self-proclaimed and often ardently professing Christian congressmembers who wear their faith heavily on their sleeves (and on the campaign trail).

This group often cites religious imperatives for their views on issues of the day that are dear to their hearts (such as fierce protection of gun rights and regular huge increases in the military budget). The fact that their vote was intended to provide tax-free wealth transfer to the top .02 percent of the population, affecting only those who inherit more than $5.4 million if they are single and $10...

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Our Need for Heroes

Heracles by Mary Harrsch

We got a letter the other day inviting our family to a banquet honoring my daughter’s high school’s “Students of the Month.” My daughter was so honored in the fall for unhesitatingly stepping forward to hold, comfort and prevent further injury to a classmate as the girl suffered a seizure and fell to the floor as the teacher summoned help. My daughter was pleased a few weeks later when they honored her as a Student of the Month in recognition of her compassionate, forthright response. Her classmates, in typical enough youthful human fashion, had recoiled in a kind of frozen discomfort.

And my daughter’s response to the banquet? “Do we have to go?”

Then she went on to say something very interesting, and perhaps more mature even than her action to help her classmate. “I only did what any human being should do; it’s not really that big a deal.”

She’s right, of course. It shouldn’t be that big a deal...

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Reading T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland” on Good Friday

Bare Tree By Andrew Hidas

“April is the cruelest month…”

Those first five words of T.S. Eliot’s seminal poem The Wasteland are quoted with regularity this time of year, often with ironic humor, given their almost bitter stance that ascribes cruelty to the burst of flowering beauty across spring landscapes through much of the world. It’s something we Californians might jocularly offer via text message to friends in the East who are stuck with a foot of snow on the ground while we’re making plans for Easter picnics.

Much of what follows in The Wasteland, however, can come across as an arduous slog through obscure literary references, many of them in foreign languages with no translation offered. This is one reason why the poem has long been a kind of feasting ground for academics to offer dense and convoluted interpretations for each other’s sometimes indignant argumentation, with the common reader left out in the cold.

That is a pity, because for all its dark obscurantism, The Wasteland is also an as...

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Your Epic Life

Jetty By Interior Photos

I have probably always—or at least frequently— tried too hard and said too much and stayed too long at the party. My struggle has been to dial back my ardor, let things rest, temper my essentially romantic spirit, not make too much of things, quit being so extravagant.

But jeez: life is important and colossal and epic, isn’t it? Mine feels like that, and when I listen to you talk about yours, I could swear yours is, too! Your challenges, visions, conflicts, frustrations, triumphs, desires to live more fully and do right by yourself and those you love—what’s not epic about that?

When you get right down to the nub of things, your life is of fundamental, earth-shattering importance to you, isn’t it?

Isn’t that true even if you’ve dedicated your life to helping others? Heck, if you’re dedicated more to others, you had better consider your own life important. No you, no helping them!

But: are you a tad embarrassed about the importance you place on yourself? Are you someti...

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Music and Spirit: OneRepublic’s “I Lived”

Ilsanjo Sunrise By Andrew Hidas

It’s easy to feel old in this world. Hearing 30-year-olds in the adjoining booth going all nostalgic for the foolishness of their 20-year-old selves is just the beginning.

Then there’s hearing a song via your 16-year-old daughter from a band you’ve never heard of that’s been a huge star in the pop rock firmament since their 2007 hit “Apologize” broke records at the time and has since gone on to sell a zillion records, and you ask, “Are they new?”

No, “OneRepublic” isn’t new, though their song, “I Lived,” is a recently released (late 2014) monster hit that we heard at least 20 times on the radio last weekend while car-tripping to Los Angeles. That kind of frequency would have been annoying if the tune weren’t so infectious, the vocalization so urgent and the lyrical snippets I managed to absorb so intriguing.

So consider me a new fan of this band and this song, which lead singer Ryan Tedder apparently wrote as a kind of anthem for the future of his 4-year-old...

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