Along with over 60% of the world’s population, I watched the Olympics last summer. For me, lonely athletic greatness is the ultimate tear-jerker. And I am a sucker for painless ways to cry. But, I just couldn’t get behind all the flags, all the anthems, all the medal counts. Each awards ceremony felt oppressive, itchy, and, yes, embarrassing.
As much as I enjoyed crying when the first Puerto Rican heard her national anthem on the Olympic podium or when my few fellow Colombians felt the weight of gold around their necks, I much more enjoyed watching them do their thing on the court, field, pool, track. I much preferred witnessing that sudden instant of triumph, like when Simone Manuel realized she had won gold, than watching jump-suited athletes choke back orchestrated tears on the stage. For me it’s ultimately a “don’t love the game, love the player” kind of thing.
Classifying athletes by nationality feels off. It feels old, even creepy, as if a third world war is somehow looming around the corner. One obvious reason is that not all countries deserve so much credit. Sure, most nations pay their Olympians a per win bonus. In the case of Colombia, for example, each gold medal winner gets 165 million pesos, which is a respectable amount of local currency. But, really, this sum is nothing when placed on the other side of the work/time equation.
An even bigger question for me is why athletes jump at the chance to give their countries so much credit. Is country really a reason to hit the gym in the morning? Or, is there simply no better way to classify athletes other than birthplace?
Classifying them by humility would be great. Or by kindness, by altruism. Then the Olympics could really own the claim of hard win over easy bad, instead of diluting itself into another day of the US v. China thumb wrestling medal grounds.
Almost now, immediately, I feel certain I must read Joyce’s “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” once again. Just saying.
I came across The Journal Gallery while walking around Williamsburg earlier today and have thought about this name eight times since.
“Journal” is such a good word, such a good name. Good things should be called Journal Things. The Journal Gallery, for example, is a good gallery.
“Journal” comes from the Old French “jurnal,” a book of daily prayers. But it also sounds like “journey” and “jour,” currently the French word for “day.”
And so it is the journey taken in a day.
I came home tonight from a long trip and, once in bed, picked up the first book I found to land my mind.
It turned out to be Philip Larkin’s “Collected Poems,” which I’ve barely rustled. The stunning excerpt above is from his poem “Coming” and made me feel like I’d come home.
From Hemingway’s, “The Snows of Kilomanjaro.”
I wanted to thank all those who pre-ordered my book mid-life, published by Finishing Line Press.
For those who are wondering where their book is, I wanted to offer assurance that, no, I am not running a poetry racket. Finishing Line Press is simply (way) behind on its publication schedule. They expect mid-life to ship out sometime in September.
In the meantime, I am planning a book launch party in Miami for the Fall. More info to follow.
After going through some 250 pages of its 500 total, the only passage I’ve highlighted in Zadie Smith’s “White Teeth” is pictured above. And I only highlighted it because it is a spiritual fun fact, not because the writing is somehow stunning.
Since this year I’ve committed to only reading spectacular books, I decided to drop “White Teeth” altogether. No, “White Teeth” is not bad, I just feel like I’ve already read a better version of it: Salman Rushdie’s “The Satanic Verses.” And, to be honest, I would rather reread Rushdie than read more of Smith.
Of course, the Southeast Asian/UK immigrant story has a lot more flight than that given to it by Rushdie; my qualm with Smith is not rooted in a tired story. My problem with Smith’s novel is that half-way in, I cannot even begin to imagine what her point is. Rushdie’s point, no matter how wacky his story line gets, remains clear: yank the Persian rug from under Islamic extremism, leaving it with no cultural underpinning upon which to stand.
In a way, Smith’s writing reminded me of Junot Diaz’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” a good book that I forced myself to finish. Both Smith’s and Diaz’s work marry over-the-top sentences with semi-fantastical plots and twirl them into exuberant landscapes, à la Gabriel García Márquez. But. They. Have. No. Point.
I do have to admit, though, that I am grateful to Smith. Her novel helped me understand that my problem with most of the books I’ve recently read is not with the act of reading itself, but with the actual books. I was beginning to fear that I’d lost my love of reading!
But, no, my problem is with fancy footwork that leads nowhere, intricate stories that circle away from a center they never establish. This problem has a ready solution, however. It’s time to pop some Steinbeck, Hemingway and Ferrante.