Category General Nonfiction

The Coming Climate Catastrophe in Words and Song

Only the introductory portion of this post will be mine, and I hope the rest of it will ring loud alarm bells in your mind while also causing you to consider for a moment just how ardently you love this earth, and what you might do to defend it.  Two  different sources here: One is a review in the current “London Review of Books” of “The Uninhabitable Earth: A Story of the Future,” by David Wallace-Wells.

I have not read the book but the review itself has put a chill in my bones on this otherwise warming and pleasant summer Sunday morning that will not soon subside. Nor should it, as I trust you will realize soon enough.

The second is from Jackson Browne’s absolutely prescient and heart-rending 1974 song, “Before the Deluge,” written when he was 25 years old, and which I had often sung and hummed along with over the years without ever really picking up on the words’ prophetic power—until today...

Read More

Life, Aging, Death, Self: Atul Gawande’s “Being Mortal”

The problem isn’t so much that in the end, we die. It’s in all the time leading up to the end. Not death, but severe decline is what puts fear in our hearts. A long debilitating illness or just aging that cuts us off progressively (regressively, come to think of it) from all that we love.

We all peak physically at some 30 years of age, but robustness and increased life satisfaction can persist for decades longer as we go about building our lives and come to accept our aging and its limitations with equanimity and often, good doses of humor.

But the decline does march on, as inexorable as fall following summer.

At a certain point, we stop running, then hiking, then walking without assistance, then walking altogether.

We stop driving long distances, then at night, then at all.

No more foreign travel, then it’s no to flying anywhere, then no more leaving our town, our house, and finally our room (except t...

Read More

Wild With Desire: Eleanor Bass’s “Yours Always: Letters of Longing”

I’ve been luxuriating, which is to say, “reading slowly,” through a lovely book of letters on the subject of “longing.” The type that one human being has for another, sometimes reciprocated and sometimes, tragically, not. The editor, Eleanor Bass, an academic from King’s College London, has compiled quite the lineup of literary and cultural all-stars here, most of them at their abject, somewhat-miserable-and-desperate but florid selves, with which anyone who has ever hurtled over a cliff of wild desire for another’s acknowledgement, presence, breath, word, smell, arched eyebrow, anything, can surely sympathize.

Charlotte Bronte, Winston Churchill, Henry the VIII, Franz Kafka, Ernest Hemingway, Edith Piaf, Graham Greene, Marie Curie—all here, plus quite a few more. That includes Richard Burton writing to that woman Liz who so tormented him, then her writing back, joining all the others who...

Read More

A Happy Belated Birthday to Henry David Thoreau

We’re not always up to speed at Traversing. We prefer to slow down our thinking, turning it more toward mulling, pondering, even a dollop or two of old-fashioned cogitating. Sometimes this slowness means we miss observances and even parties (drats!), like the ones that were held in various locales to celebrate Henry David Thoreau’s 200th birthday last July. But when we do miss folks’ big days, we always try to send a cheery “Happy Belated!” card to acknowledge our oversight and wish them godspeed.

So Henry, this card is for you. And given your towering presence in the literary and even spiritual life of our nation, I will go beyond the usual birthday niceties here to include an honest, but I think ultimately compassionate view of our relationship, your life, and the spirits that moved you in the brief time, a mere 44 years, that you walked—and walked and walked—upon this earth.

***

Let’s sta...

Read More

“Are You Somebody?” Lamentations of An Irish Woman Memoirist

How does one write gorgeous, lyrical, haunting prose about topics that reach to the very depths of human sadness?

About the deep grinding poverty of mid-20th century Ireland, land of no birth control and females as baby-producing machines.

About loss and longing, the physical and emotional battering of children, the abuse and oppression of women, the ache of adult loneliness, the vacancy of wanton sex, the invisibility wrought by old age.

About the alcohol and drugs to which so many victims of the above desperately flee.

And about the lifelong search for love, identity and self-acceptance that proves so elusive in the wake of so much tragedy.

You do it how Irish writer Nuala O’Faolain did it in her surprise bestseller, “Are You Somebody? The Accidental Memoir of a Dublin Woman.” With wrenching, sometimes brutal honesty that takes acute measure of all things human and leaves nothing outside the ...

Read More