30 June 2009

Farewell, Shaman Drum

Shaman Drum of Ann Arbor, MI, one of the best independent bookstores in the Midwest, permanently shut its doors today. It is a major loss for Ann Arbor and for book-lovers everywhere.

Independent and used bookstores need your support. Shop at them. Go to their events. Buy their gift certificates as holiday gifts.

Independent bookstores must fight back against the challenging economic environment by doing everything they can to improve their businesses. Here are a few ideas:

-Keep a constant flow of new inventory, and mark down unsaleable material to maintain a high-quality bibliography;

-Follow the lead of chain bookstores in taking full advantage of the "retail calendar" of holidays through decorations and displays of recommended holiday-related books.

-Create a pleasant, shoppable atmosphere. I personally look for classical music and places to sit while I look over a pile of books.

-Stock or display local art and photography as well as books.

-Stock books and periodicals for book-lovers, especially the stuff that is harder to find at chain stores. Out-of-print titles that remain relevant; major and local literary journals and serious newspapers; complete backlists of major, second-tier, and local literary writers.

-Sell coffee from a pot for $1 a cup.

-Become an integral part of your community by hosting frequent author events and becoming a local arts hub. Create a space for gatherings such as writers' groups and reading groups. Stock the newspapers and arts magazines of local high schools and colleges.

You can keep track of the independent book business by reading Indiebound and Shelf Awareness.

Quotes from Bishop, Hayden, Olson, and Melville

From The Man-Moth

He thinks the moon is a small hole at the top of the sky,
proving the sky quite useless for protection.

--Elizabeth Bishop

From Mourning Poem for the Queen of Sunday

Oh who and oh who will sing Jesus down
to help with struggling and doing without and being colored
all through blue Monday?
Till way next Sunday?

--Robert Hayden

From Questions of Travel

Should we have stayed at home,
wherever that may be?

--Elizabeth Bishop

From Maximus, to Himself

It is undone business
I speak of, this morning,
with the sea
stretching out
from my feet.

--Charles Olson

Again: as the profound calm which only apparently precedes and prophesies of the storm, is perhaps more awful than the storm itself; for, indeed, the calm is but the wrapper and envelope of the storm; and contains it in itself, as the seemingly harmless rifle holds the fatal powder, and the ball, and the explosion; so the graceful repose of the line, as it silently serpentines about the oarsmen before being brought into actual play - this is a thing which carries more of true terror than any other aspect of this dangerous affair. But why say more? All men live enveloped in whale-lines. All are born with halters round their necks; but it is only when caught in the swift, sudden turn of death, that mortals realize the silent, subtle, ever-present perils of life. And if you be a philosopher, though seated in the whale-boat, you would not at heart feel one whit more of terror, than though seated before your evening fire with a poker, and not a harpoon, by your side.

Hermann Melville

(Poems excerpted from The Norton Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Poetry)

29 June 2009

Readings from Melville's "Moby-Dick"

But how? Genius in the Sperm Whale? Has the Sperm Whale ever written a book, spoken a speech? No, his great genius is declared in his doing nothing particular to prove it. It is moreover declared in his pyramidical silence. ...If hereafter any highly cultured, poetical nation shall lure back to their birth-right, the merry May-day gods of old; and livingly enthrone them again in the now egotistical sky; in the now unhaunted hill; then be sure, exalted to Jove's high seat, the great Sperm Whale shall lord it.
It was a terrific, most pitiable, and maddening sight. The whale was now going head out, and sending his spout before him in a continual tormented jet; while his one poor fin beat his side in an agony of fright. Now to this hand, now to that, he yawed in his faltering flight, and still at every billow that he broke, he spasmodically sank in the sea, or sideways rolled towards the sky his one beating fin. So have I seen a bird with clipped wing, making affrighted broken circles in the air, vainly striving to escape the piratical hawks. But the bird has a voice, and with plaintive cries will make known her fear; but the fear of this vast dumb brute of the sea, was chained up and enchanted in him; he had no voice, save that choking respiration through his spiracle, and this made the sight of him unspeakably pitiable; while still, in his amazing bulk, portcullis jaw, and omnipotent tail, there was enough to appal the stoutest man who so pitied.
Seems it credible that by three such thin threads the great Leviathan was suspended like the big weight to an eight day clock. Suspended? and to what? To three bits of board. Is this the creature of whom it was once so triumphantly said - 'Canst thou fill his skin with barbed irons? or his head with fish-spears? The sword of him that layeth at him cannot hold, the spear, the dart, nor the habergeon: he esteemeth iron as straw; the arrow cannot make him flee; darts are counted as stubble; he laugheth at the shaking of a spear!' This the creature? this he? Oh! that unfulfillments should follow the prophets.
As strange misgrown masses gather in the knot-holes of the noblest oaks when prostrate, so from the points which the whale's eyes had once occupied, now protruded blind bulbs, horribly pitiable to see. But pity there was none. For all his old age, and his one arm, and his blind eyes, he must die the death and be murdered, in order to light the gay bridals and other merry-makings of men, and also to illuminate the solemn churches that preach unconditional inoffensiveness by all to all.
For young whales, in the highest health, and swelling with noble aspirations, prematurely cut off in the warm flush and May of life, with all their panting lard about them; even these brawny, buoyant heroes do sometimes sink.

Hermann Melville

20 June 2009

Excerpts from Czeslaw Milosz's "Milosz's ABC's"

I made it, but I have always tried to remember that I owe it to my lucky star, not to myself, and that right next door are entire neighborhoods of unfortunates. I will say even more: the thought of their grueling labor and unfulfilled hope, of the gigantic prison system in which the unneeded are kept, taught me to look skeptically at (America's) decorations - those well-kept houses amidst the suburbs' greenery.
In our deepest convictions, reaching into the very depths of our being, we deserve to live forever. We experience our transitoriness and mortality as an act of violence perpetrated against us. Only Paradise is authentic; the world is inauthentic, and only temporary. That is why the story of the Fall speaks to us so emotionally, as if summoning an old truth from our slumbering memory.
People go to church because they are divided beings. They wish, for a moment at least, to find themselves in a reality other than the one that surrounds them and claims to be the only true reality. This daily reality is unyielding, brutal, cruel, and hard to bear. The human "I" is soft in the center and feels every moment that its adaptation to the world is doubtful. ...Participating in the Mass we once again deny a world without meaning and without mercy; we enter into a dimension where what matters are goodness, love, and forgiveness.

If to participate in the Mass it were necessary to have a strong faith and a consciousness that we act in life as our religion requires us to, all the churchgoing faithful would deserve to be called hypocrites and Pharisees. In truth, however, strong faith is a rare gift, and as for acts, the liturgy reminds us that we are all sinners. Attending church is not, therefore, for the elect.

The needs of the individual determine church attendance, and knowledge of the catechism or even familiarity with the so-called truths of the faith are not the most important matters, although they are advisable.

Czeslaw Milosz
--Milosz's ABC's

18 June 2009

Quotes from Edward Abbey and John Cheever

We make the coffee with river water, dipping a canful from among the rocks and letting it set for a time until the silt settles to the bottom. For entertainment we have the murmur of the river, the drone of cicada and amphibians, the show of nighthawks plunging through the evening gulping bugs. Afterwards we sit by the fire until the fire gives out, listening, smoking, analyzing socioeconomic problems:

"Look here, Newcombe," I say, "do you think it's fitting that you and I should be here in the wilds, risking our lives amidst untold hardships, while our wives nad loved ones lounge at their ease back in Albuquerque, enjoying the multifold comforts, benefits and luxuries of modern contemporary twentieth century American urban civilization?"

"Yes," he says.

Edward Abbey
--Desert Solitaire

The light there was like a blow, and the air smelled as if many wonderful girls had just wandered across the lawn.

John Cheever
--"The Common Day"

I had already put on the football uniform, and the weight of it, the heaviness of the pants and the shoulder guards, had worked a change in me, as if in putting on these old clothes I had put off the reasonable anxieties and troubles of my life. It felt as if we had both returned to the years before our marriage, the years before thew war.
Chucky Ewing had got hold of a balloon and was trying to organize a scrimmage line in the middle of the floor. The others were dancing a samba. And I knew that Lawrence was looking bleakly at the party as he had looked at the weather-beaten shingles on our house, as if he saw here an abuse and a distortion of time; as if in wanting to be brides and football players we exposed the fact that, the lights of youth having been put out in us, we had been unable to find other lights to go by and, destitute of faith and principle, had become foolish and sad. And that he was thinking this about so many kind and happy and generous people had me angry, made me feel for him such an unnatural abhorrence that I was ashamed, for he is my brother and a Pommeroy.

John Cheever
-"Goodbye, My Brother"

16 June 2009

Transitions: A personal update

No more than three weeks after making my final decision to move to Ann Arbor to pursue an M.A. in Education at the University of Michigan and become a high school history teacher, it is happening: my furniture is being sold or moved, my possessions are being sorted into boxes. Yesterday was my last day at the bookstore I've worked at as a manager since August. On Friday I'll be on the road to Muskegon with a stuffed car and another empty apartment behind me, and on Sunday I'll be in Ann Arbor to begin the next stage of my life.

I feel alive with the movement of it all: "A man gets up, a few strokes of a brush and then already it's evening." (Milosz)

15 June 2009

War: The More We Spend on It, the More We Get

My latest op-ed, "War: The More We Spend on It, the More We Get," appeared on Antiwar.com this morning.

In it, I write:

"President Obama and Defense Secretary Gates’ $534 billion defense budget proposal is aimed at building a "21st-century military," that is, a military designed to fight asymmetrical "small wars," conduct anti-terrorism operations, and battle insurgencies. It shuffles a significant number of pieces around the chessboard, to be sure, but like its predecessors, it is an enormous waste of resources and wealth.

If we took a radically different, need-based approach to defense funding, and asked ourselves about the legitimate, just, and necessary aims of American power, and how much money we must allocate to defense to accomplish those aims, it is unlikely that we would wind up where we are now, with 20 percent of our national budget allocated to defense and accounting for a shameful 45 percent of the world’s spending on war and preparation for war.
Insofar as Obama and Gates are shaking up the military-industrial status quo, they deserve some credit. But the simple fact that their defense budget represents an increase in an already criminal level of funding for warmaking and its instruments demonstrates that whatever special interests are threatened by the new budget, this budget will create new special interests of its own.

What is needed is a dramatic cut in defense spending. To think that this would represent a decrease, rather than an increase, in America’s security is a reflex rather than the product of reflection; the safest world is one in which spending on war is minimized as much as possible."

Read the whole article here.

13 June 2009

For many in Chicago, driving is a necessity, not a luxury

My most recent op-ed, "For us, Mr. Daley, driving to work is a necessity, not a vice" (registration required) was published today on Chicagobusiness.com and will appear in this week's issue of Crain's Chicago Business. You can find the article here as well as reprinted below:


For us, Mr. Daley, driving to work is a necessity, not a vice

Ryan McCarl

It is exceedingly difficult for many commuters living on the North Side to find free parking after they return from work. After an often agonizing rush-hour commute, they must circle around their neighborhood until they find a parking space; if they arrive too late, they must choose between parking at a meter and interrupting their lives every two hours to feed it, or parking a mile or more away from their homes.

But if the North Side parking situation is a nightmare today, imagine what it will look like when the city installs meters along the entire lakefront, effectively eliminating a major artery of free parking.

I commute every workday between my apartment near Belmont Avenue in East Lakeview and Hyde Park. If I drive, I spend around 50 minutes per day, including time spent finding parking, on the road. If I take public transportation, the same round trip can take as long as three hours. That adds an extra two hours to my workday, significantly reducing my time for leisure, exercise, relationships and everything else that is important in life.

In short, for me and for many other commuters, driving is essential to maintaining a high quality of life in Chicago.

Many users of the free lakefront spots are commuters who do not have access to, cannot afford or choose not to purchase a space in a garage or a residential street parking permit. These commuters, like myself, look for free spots to park in overnight.

The new lakefront meters, which are scheduled to be in place by the fall, will mean that thousands of drivers will be competing for far fewer free spaces. Many commuters will spend more frustrated and stressful time on the road driving in circles in search of parking. Some will resort to paying an outrageous price to park in a garage. Others will give up driving and double or triple their commuting time by turning to public transit.

For many Chicagoans, driving to work — and finding free or affordable parking after work — is a necessity, not a luxury. Contrary to the inclinations of Mayor Richard M. Daley and the city, it is not a vice that ought to be subject to endless taxation and fees.

By significantly reducing the availability of free parking in lakefront neighborhoods without creating affordable alternatives for commuters, the new meters will make much of the city more expensive and inconvenient for everyone, including working families. They may boost the city's revenue, but they will do so at the direct expense of the well-being and quality of life of thousands of its residents.

Ryan McCarl is a freelance writer. He has an M.A. in International Relations from the University of Chicago, and he maintains a blog at http://ryanmccarl.blogspot.com.

07 June 2009

Readings from Hemingway, O'Connor, and K. Shapiro

Nick's heart tightened as the trout moved. He felt all the old feeling.
His muscles ached and the day was hot, but Nick felt happy. He had left everything behind, the need for thinking, the need to write, other needs. It was all back of him. From the time he had gotten down off the train and the baggage man had thrown his pack out of the open car door things had been different. Seney was burned, the country was burned over and changed, but it did not matter. It could not all be burned.
The road ran on, dipping occasionally, but always climbing.
Inside the tent the light came through the brown canvas. It smelled pleasantly of canvas. Already there was something mysterious and homelike. Nick was happy as he crawled inside the tent. He had not been unhappy all day. This was different though. Now things were done. There had been this to do. Now it was done. It had been a hard trip. He was very tired. That was done. He had made his camp. He was settled. Nothing could touch him. It was a good place to camp. He was there, in the good place. He was in his home where he had made it.
Nick laughed. It made a good ending to the story.

Ernest Hemingway
--"Big Two-Hearted River: Part I"

The 'heroes of the spirit,' Elijah shows the conventional rabbi Baroka, are not the ostentatiously pious, not even the learned and devout like Baroka himself.... They may appear to be quite ordinary individuals, not even religious in a conventional sense, whose quiet deeds enhance the quality of life around them - the carers, the compassionate, those who use their talents to ease the burden of humanity.

Norman Solomon
--Judaism: A Very Short Introduction

The tide of darkness seemed to sweep him back to her, postponing from moment to moment his entry into the world of guilt and sorrow.

Flannery O'Connor
--"Everything That Rises Must Converge"

But no appeal has yet been made to the vast American middle class, the majority class, to detach itself from our competitive industrial insanity. It is indeed our industrial way of life that lends sanction to militarism and colonialism, Preparedness and suppression of human rights. Our enemy, strange as it may sound to American ears, is the Standard of Living. We worship at the altar of the White Rhinoceros, the American kitchen. Standard of Living is the holy of holies in whose name every other evil is committed. To lower this standard or to equalize it among the peoples of the world is our greatest need. And the first step is to disassociate ourselves from the industrial-scientific madness which rules our lives twenty-four hours a day.
To remove ourselves from the world of competition is of paramount importance to the individual and to the nation. Competition is the most terrible vice of modern society. Competition is the disease of the West and is the source of our violence. Non-violence means non-competition. ...It cannot be employed by governments because governments are by definition committed to violence. Nonviolence is not a prerogative of governments but of men, even of one man. One nonviolent man, like Gandhi or Christ, can change history. Governments can only keep history on the march. Ahimsa can stop history.
Vinoba Bhave, the greatest living disciple of Gandhi, who travels throughout India asking for land for the peasantry from the great landlords and receiving it, says: "I desire to humiliate neither the rich nor the poor..." This is the opposite of communist expropriation or of capitalist competition.
Instead of class war and hatred as preached by the communists or industrial-scientific competition as preached by us, to survive we must behave nonviolently and in the spirit of love.

Karl Shapiro
--"To Revive Anarchism" in Creative Glut