Posts Tagged ‘love’

Forgiving An Unfaithful Partner Ambivalence Takes Over

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2016

#divorce #betrayal #infidelity #betrayal #marriagecounselling #brokenfamily @childrenindivorce

John J. Hohn - Writer, Reviewer and Commentator

John J. Hohn – Writer, Reviewer and Commentator

Truth in the therapist’s office is an elusive thing. I could go all week convinced that I no longer wanted to return to my marriage. I missed my children very much. But every time I checked in with them they were doing fine. They were so accustomed to having me gone that it was normal for their day to begin and end without seeing me. When my wife started bringing guys into the home, they took it right in stride. I was the only one suffering the consequences of separation, or so it seemed.

To overcome my lonesomeness, I taped pictures of my children on the kitchen cabinets. On returning home one night, I poured myself a stiff one and the cork came out of the bottle. I began to grieve. I’d look at the pictures and miss each one of the kids and the times past when we were all together as a family unaware and unthreatened. We were like a lot of families. We were going from one day to the next, taking life for granted, overcoming the problems that came along, and then we’d awake one day and realize that a chapter had come to a close. The time together then was special and now, in the flow of events, it was somehow complete, encapsulated with a beginning and an end. We could never go back, but we could remember it as we pushed ahead confident of the continuity in our lives.

Clustered as in an era . . .

Someday we’d enjoy recognizing not only that we had all grown older but also that we had lived through something special with one another, something that time and the order of things had taken away from us, but once taken, became incorruptible. Our days and months clustered as in an era, each complete with its own distinguishing character that ran through our time like a theme. Perhaps it was as simple as when we lived in a certain house. Or perhaps it was when we were all happy with the fellowship at the church where we belonged. The times would be recalled in their completeness. “Oh, gee, remember that time we were all so excited about moving to Detroit.”

I missed those days. I knew who I was then. Or at least, I was content in letting the roles I filled with others define me. I had a sense of the future and a sense of purpose. Now confusion reigned. I didn’t know my wife any more. I had seen a side to her that I never knew existed. She didn’t appear to regret the separation. I saw no grief in her brown eyes. We had grown accustomed to sharing our feelings. That was gone. I was alone with the desolation I was feeling.

It was those times, those chapters, that caused me to grieve all alone, alone as I never thought I’d ever be, in a dingy furnished basement apartment instead the home with my children laughing as they prepared for bed. Darkness at the end of the day flooded my musty apartment with futility.

Author's family, 1974 - Two years before the breakup. Front (l - r) James, Joseph, author, Eric. Standing (l - r) Bertha Finfrock, Bette Finfrock, Gregory and RAchel.

Author’s family, 1974 – Two years before the breakup. Front (l – r) James, Joseph, author, Eric. Standing (l – r) Bertha Finfrock, Bette Finfrock, Gregory and RAchel.

For all that, however, I didn’t pine for my wife’s company. She had moved out of my life. I knew she was dating other men. My 12 year old son, in all apparent innocence, invited me into the house one night only for me to find her entertaining a man in the living room. I backed away and left before she knew I was there, though I had to wonder about my son’s motives. Perhaps he wanted to see what kind of trouble could be provoked by my unexpected appearance. More likely, he just didn’t give it a thought. Whatever the case, in those brief moments, I realized our house had become hers. Nothing belonged to me any longer. The new furniture we bought was being systematically shredded by the two household cats, and nobody seemed capable or motivated to stop them. I  shrugged. Why not? The ripped up furnishings struck me as a metaphor. Everything was at a distance, dreary testimonials to the faded life we once enjoyed as a family.

But it wasn’t a clean break, even after all the months apart. I could be alone all week and begin to pull myself together, reach moments of fragile resolve that I would eventually come out of my funk. The panic attacks were less frequent. Then, I’d see my wife’s Ford round the corner, and my heart would leap up as it did when I was a teenager – one of those take-your-breath-away down the spine zingers. That surge of inexplicable feeling meant something. But what? Fear? Anger? Love? I didn’t know. Did those emotions feel the same in a person? It felt, at least for an instant, that my head was in one place and my heart in another.

I never resolved my ambivalence. The chance was taken out of my hands when my wife called a halt to everything. She didn’t want to try any longer .I didn’t insist that she continue. Her final decision came while we were working with our third counselors, a couple of my wife’s choosing who practiced co-joint therapy. After spending weeks with them on her own, I was invited to join in. It was the first indication from my wife that she wanted to work things out. During these last sessions my ambivalence returned. I confessed to the feelings I experienced when I encountered her by chance but I didn’t report my confusion in the counselor office.*

Too much uncertainty . . .

Yes, I’d admit, I wanted things to work out. Yes, I still wanted to work on our marriage. I didn’t admit it to myself, but I didn’t want to be the bad guy, the one to walk away. No wonder the psychologist found working with us a challenge. My feelings felt true in the moment but once away from the therapeutic setting my doubts returned. I don’t know how I would have handled things if we decided to give it another try. There had been a time when rolling back the clock and having all the trouble simply go away was what I wanted. Now, that was unrealistic. Too much fear, too much distrust and too much uncertainty had entered in.

Author with Family, 2009 L-R: James, Rachel, Eric, author (seated), Greg Grandson Baden and wife Melinda

Author with Family, 2009 L-R: James, Rachel, Eric, author (seated), Greg Grandson Baden and wife Melinda Joe not pictured)

Restoring trust in our relationship seemed impossible. I don’t think I have ever known at any point in my life the full extent of my motivation for doing anything. There were those moments of abandon when doing something was a joy, when my self -consciousness evaporated, moments when doubt never entered my mind. Yet here I was negotiating my future in the therapist’s office, and I couldn’t trust my own feelings. I wasn’t fully disclosing. Had I been, I would have admitted something like, “While I’m here I feel one way but as soon as I walk out the door, I know I will feel differently.” I was letting circumstances control me. I needed to commit. I needed closure, as much for myself as for everyone else involved – the children, my wife, even my friends who wondered how long things were going to be strung out. I wanted to hear an expression of regret or sorrow over what had been lost – something that resonated with what I was living through. I wanted to feel safe again. My ambivalence kept me from asking her for anything, whether to stop seeing other guys or for an expression of regret or something as simple as more time. It was not a conscious strategy but I wanted her to do as she felt prompted on her own. Perhaps she sensed my ambivalence and that’s why she walked out.

I knew attraction drives a couple forward in their relationship and culminates ultimately in committing one another. It didn’t appear that it was there for us. We had to move to a different place, a place that substituted hope and good will for desire and trust. We could never again ignore the knowledge we had gained about one another.  It would mean commitment. It would require an expression of remorse and full forgiveness from both of us. Trust would take time, lots of it. Every late night return from work would require an explanation. Every out-of-town seminar, a full report. The only reason we’d take the shot would be that both of us thought it was our best chance at happiness – not for the kids, not for our parents, but for us, selfishly. Putting an end to the pain was not enough any longer. Time would take care of that eventually. We had to make a water rescue of sorts, get pulled from the tempest and dry off back on board again with life going on as it had before the storm overtook us. Neither of us was fully aware of what it would take. Guarantees are never part of any proposition, but promises would have to be kept. I don’t think either of us had faith in a solution once we had lost faith in one another.

If we had a chance at all, a good start would be tot acknowledge and  grieve over what had passed out of our lives – grieve to the point of anguish. Gone forever was the dream that together, despite the troubled beginning to our marriage, we could make things work. We’d be the model couple with the liberal beliefs and the beautiful family. Struggling with the low income, with the unrealistic plans and seeing them fail, we still had the courage to put our hearts into it. We had been dear, trusting friends. We lost our sense of magic – the faith that because we wanted it we could make it so. However laughable that may have been to others, it was purity itself to us. Time eventually would wash away our simple script. We would not have noticed it being slowly carried out to sea and merged with the depths that cannot be recalled in the passing of years. But our lives had collapsed in crisis. We had too much ground to cover and too little time. We were suddenly part of the world we had tried to hold a bay. We had worked hard.  Our effort alone was cause enough to mourn. Our youth was all but spent.  If we could have acknowledged all of it – the richness of the days as a family together that others have a lifetime to release at their leisure – and pulled it back into mind, despite the anger and the hurt, perhaps then we could have looked at one another to see if any hope remained. As it turned out, we walked away, wept alone and moved on.

*Each of the therapists we worked with insisted on confidentiality. I respect their wishes despite the passing of years and the death of my first wife. I believe it would be unethical to quote any statements made by either or us and any observations on the part of the professionals.

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Affairs, Fodder for Comedy, Not a Laughing Matter in Real Life

Sunday, November 6th, 2016

#divorce #infidelity #marriagecounseling #betrayal #affair

John J. Hohn - Writer, Reviewer and Commentator

John J. Hohn – Writer, Reviewer and Commentator

I never thought I’d marry more than once. I remember driving down I-35W in Minneapolis one winter night after my first wife Elaine disclosed she was in love with another guy. I kept saying divorced over and over to myself because I could not get the idea to fit with ny definition of myself . But like a lot of things I never expected in life, it happened.

My wife had her reasons, all stuff I didn’t want to hear. She, too, felt as though life was passing her by. Midway through her thirties, she realized she had missed the carefree years. The women’s movement was in full swing. She wanted to be part of it but felt she had forfeited her membership by marrying as young as we did. There was still time. She was still young and very attractive. She also had complaints about me.

I wasn’t an easy man to live with. Selfish. Controlling. My views of marriage were very conventional, sexist in many ways. I had not made her happiness a priority. I was resentful at being held back in my career by family issues and the burden of providing support. My college classmates were all moving up in the world. I was envious. I finally landed a job where I could make up for lost ground and I was consumed by it. I was unavailable most of the time. I traveled a lot and left her with a house full of teenagers to raise. I took too much for granted.

Shared expectations . . .

Elaine did not share my aspirations for financial success. She grew up in a working class home. If anything, she was distrustful of the upper-middle class values, country club membership, and all the trappings. Other than returning to school to get a degree in nursing, I didn’t know what she wanted out of life. We almost never discussed it.

We tried to take a vacation with the children in the middle of everything. I was reeling from her indifference toward me, sensing something was wrong but not knowing the cause. We took a hike with the kids up one of the hillsides near Dillon, Colorado. I was in terrible shape – overweight, no stamina, short of breath from smoking. I stopped to rest while my wife went on with the children. While I waited, I scratched my name onto a gray rock that fit my palm, and I threw it down the hillside as far as I could. The meaning of the metaphor, hopelessly melodramatic as it is, was clear to me at the time, but the impulse that prompted me to act it out was still buried in my subconscious. I had been thrown away. My self-esteem since a teenager had been almost totally dependent on my wife’s affection and affirmation. That must have constituted a hell of a burden for her. Every time I was unhappy, it was her job to make things right. It was pretty much the same job my mom had as I was growing up.

When we finally got to a marriage counselor, there was so much to sort through that, after a couple of initial meetings, our counselor decided it would be better to work with us individually before tackling the tougher stuff that had our relationship all jammed up. “She can see your anger,” the therapist said during one session. The statement struck me as strange. I didn’t know that I had been all that angry. I was a storm trying to find its center – lots of lightning and violent downdrafts of depression. “I feel like a money-making machine with a dick on it,” I said in one later session and was surprised to see my wife react with dismay.

Ever Been Tempted . . .

“Haven’t you ever been tempted,” the therapist continued. “You’ve been away from home a lot. Haven’t there been any situations where you might have done something?”

“I’ve been tempted often enough,” I said, “but it’s a long walk from the hotel bar to my room. I had time to think things over. Besides, I got nervous. It was something I’d never done. I couldn’t do like other guys, just chuck it and make a move.” The therapist was disappointed. She must have wanted me to admit a comparable guilt. I had nothing to confess. Yeah, I lusted after other women. Found myself obsessing over this one or that. But I never had whatever it took to act on the attraction. I’d be the one guy in a thousand who’d get caught and there’d be a terrible price to pay. The moral injunctions of my Catholic upbringing reigned me in. My emotions got all jammed up. My own history was a restraining influence. I had paid enough for the sexual transgressions of my teenage years. I had profoundly disappointed my parents. I threw away any chance at enjoying carefree years to discover my intellectual strengths and preferences. Marrying shaped my life before I was of age to decide much of anything for myself. The little head had ruled once. I was not about to give it a second chance.

The therapist wanted me to see the human dimension in my wife’s conduct. To see it as a frailty that all of us fall victim to from time to time. I get that today, but at the time, her appeal was misdirected. My mind was elsewhere. My life was falling apart. My self-image had been shattered. I had been living a lie. My wife fell in love with another guy. It was an affair. It had gone on for months. I didn’t know what or who to trust any more.

Less the Flailing and Panic . . .

The Author, 1976 "No idea who I was.

The Author, 1976 “No idea who I was.”

Perhaps things would have cleared up a little for me if the therapist addressed my pain, let me express it and talk it out. I might have been able to move to a more settled place, grab hold of something in the torrent to lessen the flailing and panic. As it was, I was so distrustful that I obsessed on nearly everything my wife said. One business trip to Washington, DC, I felt compelled to walk the streets of the city to control my raging doubt, and as I walked, I obsessed on what she had said as I left the house to make sure that I had understood its meaning and could believe her. At work, unless someone shoved something right into my face, I couldn’t concentrate. I’d close the door to my office and brood. I’d burst into tears and embarrass myself.

My wife, meanwhile, went passively along when all the ramifications of what was taking place swamped my thinking. She didn’t move out. She couldn’t afford it. She didn’t ask for a divorce. She was glad when I went off on business. She was in the driver’s seat but refused to put her hands on the wheel. The consequences were clear for me. Daily contact with my children was at stake. I’d need to change jobs so that I could stay home if she left home? I didn’t know whether I could afford to support myself living alone and the family also? I didn’t know how the children would react. I didn’t want them hurt.

For that matter, I didn’t know what I wanted. If Elaine turned to me full of remorse and begged for forgiveness, I don’t know what my response would have been. The months leading up to her confession had been some of the most unhappy in my life; the weeks after, sheer hell. No. There was no easy stopping place. No timeout. No fix-fix, as if it were all pretend. I needed time to decide but anxiety stole every moment from me. For all I knew she was still seeing the other guy. I finally did the unthinkable. I called him and implored him to stop seeing her until I had a chance to do whatever was needed to reorder my life. I pleaded. He agreed.

My wife was angry at her lover’s decision to put their affair on hold. There was a dimension to her rage that I understood. She stormed about two guys deciding what was right for her as if she had no say. That’s what guys do, right? Stay in charge. The male code called for punching the guy’s lights out. But I wasn’t feeling angry. All I felt was a disabling anxiousness, as if I had been hit across the broad of my back with a baseball bat.

Just Watch Me . . .

It took years for me to understand. I was bottled up. Crippled with anxiety. I told our counselor during our first meeting the I was traumatized. My wife’s betrayal was not the only cause for my severe disorientation. My world was collapsing. All of the avoidance and pretense was crashing down. I was 35 years old and had never been through a disappointment in love. My family was my justification for everything. Being a father, a husband and a moral man were huge parts of my definition of myself and braced me from the outside. On the inside, I hardly knew who I was. I was a pleaser. A chameleon. I sought the acceptance of others even to the point of forsaking my own perspective. I was raising a happy family, unlike my father who ruled a stormy home in which fights broke out suddenly and frightened my sister, my brother and me. I was going to earn more money than he without benefit of professional degree. Just watch me was my mantra. I’d make up for all the disappointment. Everyone would say that I had done all right. I’d been a good son after all. But now everything translated into the indictment that I had failed. I didn’t have the ego strength to remain stable and confident of who I was, all of which should have been the product of taking life head on instead of hiding in a marriage. I couldn’t see it then, but most of my anguish was from a crash of my own making, errors in my navigating my way. Many causes were yet to be discovered,  tasks that had been abandoned or never addressed, but for the moment, I had not equipped myself to cope with a crisis.

To be continued . . .

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Marilyn Monroe – A Definitive New Biography by Vitacco-Robles

Friday, July 15th, 2016

#MarilynMonroe  #Movies #Hollywood

John J. Hohn, Writer/Reviewer

John J. Hohn, Writer/Reviewer

Marilyn Monroe is an enigmatic figure in the history of the entertainment industry. Half a century has passed since her death, yet she is remembered today as if she were yet alive. Her story has evolved into legend. Breathtakingly beautiful, talented and charismatic, she begins her career in the heyday advent of the movie industry. The widescreen CinemaScope technology and stereophonic sound present her on the wide screen as sensual, alluring and innocent – the undeniably seductive child-woman somehow untainted by the world. She was so compelling in her portrayals that two of her more successful films (Some Like It Hot and The Misfits) were produced in black-and-white. Other glamorous stars preceded her, but none secured the same lasting impact.

Marilyn Monroe is both the product and the victim of twentieth century America as the country moves into new-found affluence after World War II. The age is witness to the rise of materialism, the redefinition of sexual values, the questioning of the place of women in society and the leaderless rebellion of youth against the established order. Monroe’s name is associated with some of the elite of the era, Carl Sandberg, John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy Frank  Sinatra and Clark Gable among others.  It would only follow that many would try to exploit her memory for personal advantage. Over 600 books have been published about her. Many accounts distort the collective memory to such an extent the task of untangling and clarifying Ms. Monroe’s story takes on monumental dimensions.

Unassailable Credibility . . .

Gary Vitacco-Robles = Author and Biographer

Gary Vitacco-Robles = Author and Biographer

Gary Vitacco-Robles was not one to be deterred from the challenge of making certain truth would prevail. His two volumes, Icon: The Life, Times and Films of Marilyn Monroe, Volumes I and II constitute the definitive biography of the great actress. (See the earlier review of Volume I click here on this web site.) That Vitacco-Robles cares, and cares deeply, for his subject is clear. His compassion and sensitivity are never more obvious than when he addresses the less-than-glamorous episodes in her life. Readers can expect to be impressed with the depth of his research. Every scene is filled with poignant detail. His credibility is unassailable and thus the power behind his narrative flows from genuine empathy for his subject.

Volume II covers the turbulent years from 1956 to 1962, the year the star died of a tragic, accidental overdose. By 1956, Ms. Monroe has gained star status. The Seven Year established her securely as a box office draw. Successes followed including The Prince and the Showgirl, Bus Stop, and arguably the greatest comedy of all time, Some Like It Hot. The world comes to know the screen persona of the actress. What becomes central to the spiritual and psychological plight for Ms. Monroe is that the world does not know her for who she truly is. “Do you want me to be Marilyn?” she teases one guest. In private the actress finds the adulation, addressed as it is to a characterization, void of the affirmation she desperately seeks. She struggles with depression, the anguish of bipolar emotional swings and the unfulfilled yearnings with their roots in a deprived and abusive childhood. Vitacco-Robles has the professional credentials to state his own analysis, but he remains objective and quotes other authorities who knew Ms. Monroe whenever he wants to write about her tormented mental state. Throughout, the author is even-handed and balanced in presentation; neither apologist nor critic. He treats the actor’s professional growth in the same manner. Monroe’s contemporaries observe that she is at the height of her talent and growing as an actress at the time of her death.

Marilyn Monroe in the  Iconic Publicity photo for The Seven Year Itch

Marilyn Monroe in the Iconic Publicity photo for The Seven Year Itch

Several persons emerge from the author’s narrative as major influences in the star’s life. Arthur Miller’s emotional withdrawal from her while they are married leaves readers questioning the depth of artistic sensitivity. Joe DiMaggio’s devotion to her throughout her life is moving. Lee and Paul Strasberg seem to thrive on keeping Marilyn dependent rather than helping her move toward a more autonomous self-sufficiency. Readers may also conclude that Psychiatrist Ralph Greenson is guilty of cultivating a dependency. Monroe was on the verge of firing him at several points.

Approaching Ridicule . . .

Surprises await also. Ms. Monroe’s performance of Happy Birthday at JFK’s party can be seen on You Tube today. It may appear to be spontaneous. Not so, however.  It was rehearsed and she was very nervous before the performance. It was suggested that she appear in a more modest formal gown, but she decided to surprise the President and those attending with something of  her own choosing. The dress she selected was sewn on her. She wore no under garments. Emcee Peter Lawford, who was instrumental in bringing Ms. Monroe and JFK together in his home, built his introduction of the actress on a belittling patter that approached ridicule.  The “audience roared,” the author reports, when she crossed the stage.. Her seductive presentation borders on travesty, especially in the face of the rumors that were flying about her and the President. Public values were very much in transition at the time, but even today, many would see her act as an affront to the decorum expected in the presence of a head-of-state. “That was poor form on her part,” Mort Viner, Dean Martin’s manager said. Many would agree. The President, in acknowledging her performance, observes with humorous sarcasm that he enjoyed being serenaded in such a “wholesome” manner and the line drew a laugh from the crowd. Sarcasm is always a mixed message. Audience members may have roared at her appearance but for the most part it was at her expense.  One wonders whether she realized at some level that she may have discredited herself. At the very least, she was not well served by those who rehearsed her. Nothing highlights the dichotomy between the performing Marilyn and the private Marilyn as much as this short historic appearance. The author does not report that private Marilyn drew any satisfaction over how her performance was received. “I  liked it,” she said in response to a direct question about the party by reporters afterward.

Her Own Glittering Mist . . .

Arthur Schlesigner, Jr., JFK’s biographer, made a journal entry that speaks for most when he wrote, “I do not think I have seen anyone as beautiful. I was enchanted by her manner and wit, at once so masked, so ingenuous and so penetrating. But one felt a terrible unreality about her-as if talking to someone under water. . . . One never felt her to be wholly engaged. She receded into her own glittering mist.”

Icon: The Life, Times and Films of Marilyn Monroe, Volume II - Cover

Icon: The Life, Times and Films of Marilyn Monroe, Volume II – Cover

Vitacco-Robles, as an author, refrains from moralizing and passing judgement. Readers, however, will find the story he has presented as moving and tragic, so much so that one may feel Marilyn Monroe’s legacy looms much larger than her artistic achievements. Her performances will attest through the ages to the depths of her enormous talent. Given her kindness to others, her generosity and her forgiving nature, she stands, however, for so much more. It is not too difficult to imagine that she would have done everything within her power to make certain no child would ever again experience the horrors that she endured during her early years. Her memory needs to be invoked in every effort to assure a better world awaits the birth of every child than the dreadful circumstances she was born into. The psychological damage and painful disorientation of her early years remained with her throughout her life. It crippled her, locked her in “her own glittering mist” as she searched for fulfillment and true happiness. Her life is proof that no amount of fame or fortune can compensate for the loss of the nurturance, love and affirmation every child needs to establish a thriving, healthy sense of self and a belief in his or her essential worthiness.

Turning to conditions under which Ms. Monroe worked, the author provides insight into the workings of the major Hollywood studios. Marilyn Monroe was a money maker for them but she was never treated with the respect she deserved. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton were driving the studio into bankruptcy with their self-indulgent behavior and shoddy performances on the set for Cleopatra. Yet they were coddled and catered to. Ms. Monroe may have had problems with punctuality and keeping her commitments to appear but her performances were always exceeded expectations. Yet she was ostracized and threatened with termination. The harsh uncharitable treatment kept her mindful of her the painful abandonment and abuse she experienced as a child.

Vitacco-Robles’s writing style is sturdy and straightforward. There are moments when the author could have moved his story along more efficiently had he used footnotes to provide background data. On occasion the central story all but surrenders to detail and the trail of the narrative fades. The author includes an appendix that provides a synopsis of each of Monroe’s films. Extending the practice to include background information on some personalities and events would have served equally as well. These are the minor shortcomings of an impressive work of unflinching objectivity. Marilyn Monroe’s talent and memory deserved a biographer who brings to his task a dedication and skill that is worthy of her as a subject. Vitacco-Robles had done just that. He has paid her the highest possible tribute in completing this most memorable biography.

This review initially appeared in somewhat condensed form on the web site bookpleasures.com

Thanks for visiting my web site. Look for an interview with Gary Vitacco-Robles to follow this review. While you are here, please let me invite you to check some of the other pages of my site. Please feel free to enter your comments on this or any other feature in the area provided below.

The Honeymoon – A biographical novel of the life of George Eliot

Friday, May 6th, 2016
John J. Hohn, Writer and reviewer

John J. Hohn, Writer and reviewer

 

#georgeeliot #marianevans #engishlit

George Eliot’s Silas Marner was required reading in English lit when I was a sophomore in high school in the 1055. Written in the previous century, there was no way we guys would admit to liking the book. It was so old. Nothing in the days of George Eliot had any bearing upon our current time. Richard McCormack was our teacher, a gentleman through and through. We nicknamed him “Silas” because of his affection for Eliot’s novel. (I wonder if he ever found out.) By the time I began teaching sophomore high school English in 1962, a profession I undertook thanks to men like McCormack and my senior year teacher Richard Bisbee, Eliot had been dropped. Thorton Wilder‘s The Bridge of San Luis Rey had taken its place along with Hawthorne‘s Scarlet Letter (“How come she had the baby if she wasn’t married, Mr. Hohn?”) and an abridged version of Melville‘s Moby Dick.

I suppose the change was for the better. Kids took to the new selections readily. But I remembered McCormack and Silas Marner. My senior year in college, I represented my school at the annual Minnesota English Majors Convention and delivered a paper on George Eliot’s Middlemarch which is revered today as one of the great novels of the English language. I hoped I could produce a copy of my paper in preparing for this post, but alas, it vanished somewhere along the way. Prof Stephen Humphrey* helped me prepare the work for presentation. At the end of the conference, he said, “Your ending was especially strong.” I was surprised. He had never seen the ending. I had gone over most of the paper with him on at least two occasions. But the ending,  I had written it in my pajamas the morning of my presentation.

Prof had reason to be pleased with my ending, or at least relieved. The year prior, a senior with the first name of Paul  presented a paper on Shakespeare‘s King Lear at the convention and pretty much embarrassed Prof and the school by failing to draw any conclusion in his report or resolve it with closing remarks. “That’s it,” Paul said unapologetically as he stopped without abruptly with his unfinished paper.  To this day, I thought Prof should have checked Paul’s work. But then he never checked mine to make sure I finished it. I can only guess that Prof trusted us as scholars to do our utmost. Why I postponed writing the last two-and-a-half pages until the very last minute mystified me for years. Now that I write frequently, I have come to realize that I learned a great lesson from the experience.

Cinch Everything  up . . .

George Eliot - Marian Evans

George Eliot – Marian Evans

Much of writing is exploratory, a poking and probing in the hope that the ideas just beyond my reach are viable and worth my time to run down. Once into a piece, however, I know that it must go somewhere, not ramble along like this posting is at the moment. I have learned patience. It is important to yield to impulses, apparent non sequitors that actually do lead somewhere after all. Some become sequitors, but like so many random articles throughout the house, all the ideas need finally to be rounded up to a conclusion. Readers expect closure. Sustaining ambivalence can lead to madness. So, as a piece feels as it wants to close, as I find myself exhausted of whimsy and inspiration alike, I try to embrace everything that found its way onto the screen (yes, the screen; not the paper – ah technology). Then, like a draw string on a large plastic bag, I cinch everything up. Pull it together with a knot of finality and pitch it out — out in front of others for their judgment.

I’m not there yet with this posting.

Prof Stephen B. Humphrey was a major influence on my choice of the teaching profession also. Students admired him. He taught courses in the modern novel and in modern poetry. Both were favorites. We called him the “silver fox,” hardly original, but word reached us that he was pleased. His choice for his class of an early novel was The Way of All Flesh by Samuel Butler. Anthony Trollope also worked his way into the syllabus, although I can’t recall which of his novels we read (a bad sign, I’d say). Trollope, however, was cited by George Eliot as one who had tremendous influence on her and she said Trollope’s Barchester Towers inspired her to write Middlemarch, which brings me  full circle and back to the real topic of this post.

I was pleased recently to note that a new book has come out on the life of George Eliot. Richard McCormack would be pleased,. may he rest in peace. Dinitia Smith’s wonderful new book The Honeymoon, recently released, is a biographical novel of the life of Marian Evans.

Whisperings . . .

Dinitia Smith, Author

Dinitia Smith, Author

The Honeymoon opens with Evans as a wealthy widow at age 60. Evans gained fame as a novelist under her chosen nom de plume, George Eliot, during a time when women writers could not expect to be well received. Johnnie Cross, an elegantly handsome bachelor of 39, moved gracefully among the better circles in London society. Never much of a ladies man, whisperings drifted about whether he might be a “Nancy man” in the terms of day. Johnnie kept a secret certainly, one few knew. He withheld it from Evans even after they married.

Author Dinitia Smith sets up her biographical novel with the two unlikely newlyweds starting their honeymoon in Venice. Readers sense immediately that something is going very wrong. The stench of the canals, the sweaty, sneering gondolier taking them to their hotel, brown knots of feces bob in the water, all register with Evans. The canal is an open sewer – hardly a romantic setting.

When they arrive at the hotel, the manager recognizes Evans as George Eliot, the famous novelist, and the anonymity she hoped would keep their time together private is shattered. Cross becomes angry. He begins pointing out the sites of the city to his bride. He is so obsessed with the task that his wife cannot coax a smile to his lips. The next morning, she awakens to find him still in his evening dress (they slept in different rooms) which he insists on wearing to the beach regardless of how inappropriate his apparel may be. When he wades into the water fully clothed, Evans pleads with him to return to shore. The honeymoon is turning into a nightmare. With the irony of her title established, author Smith leaves the newlyweds and backtracks to explain how this mysterious state of affairs came about.

The Honeymoon = Book Cover at Amazon

The Honeymoon = Book Cover at Amazon

Marian Evans was born on the estate that her father manages for the wealthy owners. She and her father were very close. Very bright, Evans’ finds herself at home in the company of some of the greatest liberal minds of the time. Her androgynous physical appearance leaves her yearning for love, especially after her father dies. Free love is in fashion among the literati of England. Evans yields to several men, but as they have other alliances, she is abandoned, heart broken and lonely. Seemingly resigned to her fate as a single woman, she begins to write, first for periodicals and eventually publishes a novel which becomes popular and favored by critics. She meets George Lewes, who is married, and the two leave for the continent where they set up household and pass as husband and wife – a la Mary Godwin and Percy Shelley a generation earlier.  Lewes becomes the love of Evans’ life. Smith presents their relationship with poetic sensitivity, a fulfilling relationship for both of them.

Evans is devastated when Lewes dies,. She returns to London to find whatever comfort she can among friends who include the greatest minds of the time. Her novels are praised by Turgenev, Ruskin, Dickens and Spencer, to name a few. One who attends her during her grief is Johnnie Cross.  He pledges his love to her and vows to devote himself to taking care of her. Evans has misgivings because of their age difference, the awkwardness likely in any physical intimacy and sends Cross away. He persists, however, and she eventually agrees to wed and the stage is set for the honeymoon.

The Honeymoon is compelling, compassionate biographical novel, a story best told by a woman of Dinitia Smith’s abundant talent and insight. The author describes her protagonist’s experience in finding the joy of her own writing voice as “. .  . arriving at the point where the words became a melody, took on life, filled the page, became, finally, a symphony.” The phrase could only come from another writer, one who knows the joys of gaining entry to the flow a piece, and the same phrase applies to The Honeymoon as Smith demonstrates her mastery of the language. Her phrases flow. They entrance. She slips into her heroine’s thoughts so unobtrusively readers do not recognize the change in perspective. Evan’s thoughts and feelings pour out onto the page with stunning authenticity. Smith transports her readers with the sights, sounds, scents and textures of her scenes. Marian Evans’ life story is well worth the read. The author’s style in presenting The Honeymoon is a masterpiece of contemporary writing – a study in itself.

Fifty-five years have passed since I delivered my paper on Middlemarch. There something very reassuring in realizing George Eliot’s work remains under discussion and that she as an author still commands the attention that she deserve.

* An internet search produces nothing on Stephen B. Humphrey except notes on the theater named after him on the campus of St. John’s University. Prof was very self-effacing. It is a credit to St. John’s that they honored him by naming the theater after him. Nevertheless, somewhere amid all the historical photos, one would hope to find a photo of Prof.

This review first appeared in bookpleasures.com in a somewhat condensed version.

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Michael Sears’ “Saving Jason” Doesn’t Raise the Bar

Friday, January 22nd, 2016
John J. Hohn, Writer and reviewer

John J. Hohn, Writer and reviewer

Saving Jason by Michael Sears is a faced-paced, contemporary mystery that most readers will find hard to set aside. Sears covers all the bases for the genre in this, his fourth novel. Jason Stafford, his hero, is a wealthy New Yorker with a tragic past. His first wife, a model (of course), was murdered, leaving him to raise their autistic son who carries his father’s name. Stafford himself is an ex-con, having done time for some shady brokerage dealings. He handles his wealth with ease, and upon his release from prison finds himself another model to take up with. She becomes pregnant and he gets on board again with an old boss at Becker Financial who pays him seven figures just poke around and make sure nothing is beginning to smell like trouble in the firm.

Stafford encounters a suspicious aroma in the small brokerage firm, something to do with penny stock, which true to its name, usually sells for less than a dollar a share and is not subject to oversight by the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC). Stafford’s boss, Virgil Becker, is not convinced anything is out of line but gives his super snoop free rein to follow his instincts. Stafford checks in with the firm’s compliance officer to make sure that he is not at cross-purposes with them. The courtesy puts him in the presence of yet another beautiful gal, who despite her svelte looks and manner, is really a tough cookie who runs a tight ship. She’d rather Stafford just stay out of her way.

Michael Sears, Author of Saving Jason

Michael Sears, Author of Saving Jason

Stafford, however, is his own agent. Compliance be damned. The trading activity in penny stocks bothers him, although on the surface everything appears completely legit. He quickly discovers that there is more than what meets the eye to the suspicious transactions. Nosing about, he gets chased out of a Long Island pasture by two bull bison, his life threatened by thugs he doesn’t know and stalked by a politically ambitious District Attorney who insists Stafford knows more than he is letting on. Truth is, Stafford doesn’t know all of what’s going on. His investigation is spelling trouble for everyone including Virgil Becker who’s arrest in a sham publicity stunt by the DA but scandalous enough to put Becker Financial in play as a takeover. It’s a perfect storm and Sears orchestrates everything magnificently.

In the middle of everything, Stafford maintains his relationship with his pregnant girlfriend. She’s a physical therapist and a looker that might have a guy consider throwing his back out. Marriage is not in the wind, not with an independent contemporary New York City woman. She helps Stafford care for his seven year old autistic son, and it is the relationship between the father and the son that becomes the soul of the story. Sears is at his best with it. The crusty, cynical exterior to Stafford gives way to a genuinely caring, nurturing father. The son, referred to as “the kid,” is realistically depicted with just the right touch of humor and a large measure of compassion and understanding – and endearing picture of both.

Saving Jason - Book Cover

Saving Jason – Book Cover

To escape the threats and harassment, Stafford and his son are taken into the witness protection program. They are whisked out the wide open spaces of the southwestern dessert. The plot, complicated as it is, bogs down a bit as this point, or perhaps it’s Stafford’s own boredom at being so far away from the action that makes it feel that the story has come to a standstill. But wait. Whoever wants a piece of Stafford is on to him and his son. They are found in hiding and are forced to move — just what the book needs to keep the story going. And if being charged by bison seems a stretch, or a throttle-to-the-firewall chase of semi-trailer tractors (Stafford had never driven one before), how about a herd of javelinas (forty-pound stubby wild dessert pigs) charging the shooter drawing a bead on Stafford. The little buggers knock the guy down. He misses his shot, and to top it off, the dude breaks his leg in the attack so he can’t continue in pursuit. Javelinas have been known to attack, but the timing on this is too contrived. Sears charges on with detailed machinations that have one hacker genius cause the stock market to drop. It’s fiction, right? The concepts and the terminology are all there, but bank ownership of penny stocks on margin and an artificially induced drop in the market to trigger margin calls? Sorry. (Too much for this retired stock broker.) Authors fail anytime a reader is forced to recognize that a story is fiction

None of the credibility issues matter, however. Why? Because Michael Sears can write. He has Stafford coming off as a well-rounded, completely credible protagonist. Sears’ narrative is fresh, sensitive, full of humor and human understanding and thoroughly engaging. Saving Jason is a very entertaining novel by a writer who has the capacity, talent and the insight to produce a classic. For all of its charm, however, Saving Jason slides under bar rather than forcing it to be raised.

This review first appeared in slightly altered form on the web side bookpleasures.com.

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Elephants, Mankind’s Last Innocence Endangered

Monday, December 28th, 2015
John J. Hohn, Writer and reviewer

John J. Hohn, Writer and reviewer

When Cecil, a magnificent twelve year old male lion, was killed by Walter Palmer, a dentist from Minnesota, the world took note. Finally, a cowardly act so outrageous in its cruelty gave rise to an outcry from thousands. Perhaps now, in the anger and grief, attention will be focused on the barbaric slaughter of the animals of the wilds of Africa. One person who has taken up the cause in a persuasive and powerfully eloquent manner is Mary Baures. A psychologist, Baures pours her clinical knowledge and compassionate nature into her book, Love Heals Baby Elephants: Rebirthing Ivory Orphans. Her depiction of the plight of the elephants and rhinoceros is impassioned, poetic, poignant and compelling. She describes Cecil’s death in a manner worth repeating to keep the horror of Palmer’s cruelty well in mind.

His (Palmer’s) Zimbabwe guides tied a dead animal to the back of their vehicle and lured Cecil, a beautiful, black maned lion with twelve cubs to protect, out of a safe area in Hwange National Park. They chose him because he was massive, a warrior with big black chunks of dreadlocks. They shined a spotlight on Cecil to blind him, then Palmer shot him with a bow and arrow. Cecil was injured from the first shot but escaped and fought to live forty-four hours while the crew tracked him and killed him. The team . . . tried to destroy the GPS tracking collar, probably visible when they led him out of the park and into the spotlights before the kill. Palmer butchered an Oxford University research subject ….

Author Mary Baures

Author Mary Baures

To drive her point home that Palmer is typical of the sport hunters who are the scourge of the savannas that are home to the beasts of the wild, Baures at one point observes. “Palmer’s treatment of his victims mirrors those of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer.”

Baures also mentions Jimmy John Liatuad whose obscene pictures depicting him standing two-thumbs up on his kills, including an elephant and a rhino, should inspire a boycott of his Jimmy Johns restaurant chain. Liatuad is a coward, a bully and a mindless killer.

Baures’ plea is all the more powerful because she brings her trained eye to her subjects. She cites examples of creatures working out of a sense of compassion for one another. Baboons, in one situation, drop mangoes from the tree tops to an orphaned baby elephant so that it can survive. In another, a hyena protects an orphan baby elephant from attack by a pack of her own kind. Her descriptions of the nurturing and rebirthing of the tiny orphans is especially moving. The newborn of the elephants, like humans, take much longer to reach maturity than other mammals. The horror of seeing the mothers slaughtered in front of their eyes is traumatizing, just as it would be for a human child. They need to recover physically and psychologically. Most, tragically, do not. Only about one-third of the orphans are ever rescued. Some die after rescue because of the severity of their injuries and the shock of seeing their mothers butchered. Those who do recover must learn to trust again, most of all the humans, representatives from the same species that killed their mothers. The miracle is that the tiny creatures, with the support, nurturance, and affection of the rest of rescued herd, eventually learn to accept others again, find a home and learn to play among the their new found friends. Eventually, and probably with greater discernment than most humans, they find a way to accept the attention and love of their human keepers.

We have stepped outside of nature . . .

Men are capable of outrageous cruelty toward their fellow beings because we have stepped outside of nature. The author quotes Albert Einstein observation that the task for humans “is to widen ‘our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature.’” The enormity of our crimes against our fellow beings is staggering. “Fifty years ago,” the author reports, “there were 450,000 lions. Now (2105) there are only 23,000.” At one time, three million elephants roamed the African savannas. Their number has been reduced to 30,000. Yet the slaughter continues.

Elephants at the water hole. Once they numbered 3,000,000, Poachers and reduced their number to 30,000.

Elephants at the water hole. Once  3,000,000 strong, poachers have reduced their number to 30,000.

The ivory trade funds organized crime who attack with helicopters, off-road vehicles, rocket launchers and rapid-fire semi-automatic weapons. To prevent detection, they use gun silencers and sedation to capture their prey who they butcher in the field and leave the caucuses to rot, often with their babies clinging by the remains, vulnerable and alone. Baures supports her statements with facts. She writes, “The illegal wildlife trade is the world’s fourth largest criminal activity, with annual profits of $20 billion.” She reports that 1,200 rangers from thirty-six countries have been killed in the line of duty. Rangers are charged with the task of protecting the wildlife in their area.

Baures’ reporting is balanced. She justifiably rails against the cruelty, insensitivity and horror of the hunting and harvesting body parts. She balances her righteous condemnation with insight into the wonder and awe of the creatures she observes. Elephants have brains four times as large as human brains. Their capacity for memory is not a myth. They exhibit psychic abilities far beyond those known to most humans. They have an inspiring capacity for love, compassion and sharing affection. One event report was especially moving:

Mystical knowing . . .

When Lawrence Anthony, the elephant whisperer, died in March 2012, thirty-one elephants from two herds arrived after traveling 112 miles. The marched in a solemn line for hours to pay their respects. . . . They were led by Nana, the matriarch, and had not been to his (Lawrence’s’) reserve at Thula for a year and a half. They continued their grief vigil for two days before heading back to the bush. Their knowledge of his passing speaks of the mystical knowing of elephants. (Reviewer’s note: Nobody told the elephants of Lawrence’s death.)

“They are loving,” Baures writes, “wise and peaceful. Perhaps the telepathic abilities of elephants come from their rootedness in the Earth and their collective sense of self.”

“Unlike us,” the author observes in a later passage, “they don’t conceive of themselves as separate from other creatures or from the vast universal mind. Love melts away the boundaries between self and other creatures and may explain elephants’ extraordinary knowing.”

“You are our last innocence,” Baures writes.

A young elephant, probably an orphan. Look at the eyes of the intelligent animal.

A young elephant, probably an orphan. Look at the eyes of this intelligent animal.

Readers are urged to buy the print versions of Love Heals Baby Elephants because of the many wonderful pictures included in the text. This reviewer found the Kindle format too confining and lacking in detail when viewing the photos. The book has a casually rushed feel to it which is completely understandable. Given the Palmer horror, the time was at hand to get the word out. The flow of the book is almost conversational. Also, the title is a bit misleading because the book is not confined to discussing only elephants. Wait until you read about the ostriches Pea and Pod and the great fun they have playing among the behemoths of wild. The plight of the rhinoceros also falls within the author’s concern. Black rhinos have been driven to near extinction in malicious harvesting of their horns in the false belief that powder made from them is an aphrodisiac. (The horns consist of tissue much like fingernails, with no food or  medicinal value.) Ms. Baures has a straightforward, easy to read literary style. While her subject at times becomes somewhat technical, her explanations are in the language of a layperson and easy to follow. Her poetic nature shines in passages, some planted like gems and set out as pleasant, insightful surprises for the reader.

Years ago, Rachel Carlson wrote Silent Spring which became a bestseller. Mary Baures deserves that same recognition for the power of her compassionate message. Hopefully she will be as instrumental in forcing a long overdue change and that as humans everywhere we grow in our awareness that we are sharing our Earth with our fellow creatures. They deserve our respect and compassion. We diminish ourselves every time we forget our relationship with them.

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Philip Kenney’s “Where Roses Bloom”

Sunday, December 13th, 2015
John J. Hohn, Writer/Reviewer

John J. Hohn, Writer/Reviewer

Where Roses Bloom, Philip Kenney’s recent book of poetry, is an impressive body of work, especially when the poet’s novel, Radiance, is included in any consideration of the author’s output. The title might suggest sentimentality in his approach. “Roses,” as a word, has many connotations. But do not be misled. Kenney’s work is fresh, challenging, and poignant.

Kenney is thoroughly at home in the contemporary poetic aesthetic that decades ago abandoned traditional form, rhyming and meter. Readers invoke more subjective standards in judging a poet’s work. The two measures that come to mind immediately for Where Roses Bloom for this reviewer are accessibility and perspective. Kenney’s work is immediate. Readers are engaged and enthralled rather than mystified or perplexed. Kenney wants to reach his readers. His work evokes feeling through freshly moving scenes and situations that ring with authenticity.

As for perspective, Kenney places himself as the poet staunchly into his verse. He has a unique voice. He has not hidden behind convention, intricate conceits or gimmicks. Perspective, after all, helps the reader establish the author’s proximity to the concepts and feelings of a work. At one extreme, the poem can stand alone as a work of art saying little or nothing about the poet. Some of the greatest poetry in the language represent the standard in this regard. John Donne, Alexander Pope, John Milton. William Carlos Williams. The poet is in the work by implication as the mind and heart behind the composition.

Phil Kenney, Poet and Novelist

Phil Kenney, Poet and Novelist

At the other end of the continuum, verse is inseparable from the poet. The writer’s thoughts and feelings are presented as such. The writer is in the poem in person. Disaster can lie at either end of the continuum ranging on the one hand from self-indulgent, narcissist compositions to cerebral esoteric works on the other that come off as clinically precise but fail to give readers a handle or buy in.

Kenney is in his poetry. Readers can feel his presence.

Where Roses Bloom is almost three books in one based upon the subject matter and the approach Kenney takes. The first is a short collection of longer poems about others Kenney has observed. These poems struck this reviewer as a in the tradition of Edward Arlington Robinson (Richard Cory, Mr. Flood’s Party) in that the focus is on appearances and the extent to which people will go to maintain an image, or if not an image, a state of apparent composure. Kenney is a psychotherapist. He is a seer. In his Preface, he carefully explains that the personalities depicted in his poetry are composites and do not represent any one person or character. As he writes of himself in The counselor: A self portrait

To me I resemble the tavern keeper

All day behind the counter

Not knowing who will drop by,  I listen

And fill the classes.

In the same poem, he writes:

Next to the wisdom that is yours I sound abstract,

Contrived, while yours is the beauty

Of flowers blooming on a desert floor.

In Toes, Kenney draws one man’s story to the end as follows:

He never spoke a word of those toes,

Though for years they had not straightened,

For years they tucked their heads

Under the ball of his foot,

Like frightened snails in a shell

And never came out.

Observations as captured in the imagery in the passage above set Kenney’s verse apart. Metaphors represent thought and feeling in a way that is emphatic and powerful. In some passages, as in the above also, the poet may work a little too hard for his reader and economy is forfeit. The repetition of “for years” is superfluous and the passage could effectively ended on the penultimate line after the word “snails.”

Philip Kenney is a father, a husband, a son, a brother and a pet owner. In this second group, he writes about all. He seems at his exuberant best when writing about his two sons. Saturday, for example, is “The day of bacon and French toast: Hoping the boys will sleep in.” In Make me into something, he writes:

Once upon a time, when they were little boys,

A collection of wiggles and shrieks,

I threw them to the couch and made each into pizza pie.

It was a dramatized game of tickle, which is

Travel to the outer limits of pleasure.

Some of the longer works really are prose poems. The generous phrasing takes the reader by the hand to assure nothing slips past. A few lines later in the same poem, he continues:

Rolled out the dough, rolled it back I into a ball

Kneaded it with my fingers (this killed them)

Flipped it high in the air, twirling like a galaxy,

Spread it out on the board, gingerly applied the sauce

And cheese; pepperoni sent the squealing to heaven.

Any man who has been a father to sons feels the fun and laughter in this piece. His poem Georgio, Georgio, Help! is filled with the same glee. The passage quoted is but one of several moving poems Kenney has composed and dedicated to his sons. They are full of fun, whimsy, tenderness, and, yes, love.

Of his elderly mother’s efforts at signing a birthday card, he writes, The failed attempts stained a happy greeting. They lay on the paper like dead inchworms Dried out and curled up. The poet’s mother is the subject of another moving piece, Her last possession, which closes with the stanza below:

You and I can’t comprehend

Existence without memories –

But there she is

Walking down the corridor,

A smile, that determined look,

Her last possessions.

For all the intimacy conveyed – the preciousness (at the risk of using the abused word) – readers will come to know Kenney as an observer of all the life around him. He relates to his everyday surroundings. The squirrels, the birds, the moon, the sun, a daddy-longlegs, even a fugitive from justice are all in his world with him. Readers find him immersed rather than standing apart. He writes of being nearly overwhelmed, and if not that, of bringing his perception of his own life down to the smallest things that are close at hand and real for him. Touchstones. In the refining and narrowing of his focus, readers come to know a man who is very much aware of himself, the mystery of his existence, and the joys that are available to him every day. Humility enables vision just as pride or avarice diminish it. There is no grandiosity in Kenney’s work. He is a keen observer.

Kenney’s wisdom shines in several of his poems. In a third grouping of compositions, his tone turns more pensive. His subjects, more universal. His comments about what troubles about the world today are often oblique, as in Hours of Blue, he writes:

We the tall strangers, oblivious

To the blisters on our skin

To the eruptions in our brains

Lost wanderers, fearful of dying

Fearful of longings, unable to stop the plunder

Unable to listen, or be quiet.

Or more allegorically in What the cats trust

Instead of believing in the forgiveness of God

Why not recognize the absence of judgement?

And stop setting up rituals of repentance.

And when the hand of being

Picks you up from beneath the wheels of a car,

Don’t swipe at this with your claws.

Where Roses Bloom - Cover as Presented on Amazon

Where Roses Bloom – Cover as Presented on Amazon

All of Kenney’s poems seek a reassuring resolution. He is no cynic. That said, readers will not come away from his work with an understanding of his beliefs or admonitions of faith. The poet stands for peace. Peace within. Peace in the world. If anything, he urges movement away from trouble, tension and distress toward acceptance, contentment, and serenity. But he doesn’t preach. He demonstrates. He urges. He portrays. The scope of his work spans most of the stages of life – childhood, the ages of love, of parenthood, of the diminishing years, of old age and passing beyond. His work could be tighter. He could leave more to the reader than he does. Pagination orphans lines at times that can result in a poem being misread if the reader is not alert. He could find alternatives for words like rose, precious, cherish – typical stock response evokers, but his integrity and the authenticity of his vision is never in doubt. His images are fresh and arresting. He knows his subject. He doesn’t talk about anything but of it. Where Roses Bloom needs to be read and reread. For the book is indeed like a bloom itself and it opens to yield more every time it is shown the light.

Thanks for visiting my web site. Philip Kenney’s books are available at Amazon. Simply search under his name. While you are here, I invite you to look through the other pages of my site. Please feel free to enter a comment in the area provided below. May the joys of the holiday season be with you.

Powerful, Profound Novel Looks at Racism in America Today

Friday, October 2nd, 2015
John J. Hohn, Writer

John J. Hohn, Writer

#leonardpittsjr #grantpark #racism

Malcolm Toussaint is a haunted man. He was in position to save Martin Luther King from assassination but failed to move fast enough get The civil rights leader out of harm’s way. Only nineteen years old on that fateful balcony in Memphis in April, 1968. The tragedy lodges in his subconscious. Its sting charges back into his awareness whenever he feels he hasn’t tried hard enough – which is most of the time. In his role as an internationally recognized Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for The Chicago Post, Toussaint exhausts himself trying to bring enlightenment and understanding into the racial strife rampant in the United States. Forty years of trying wear him down. Frustration finally wins out.

Grant Park by author Leonard Pitts, Jr. follows Malcolm Toussaint, a young, bright African-American, along with several of his contemporaries, through the decades beginning with the King assassination and culminating in Barack Obama’s 2008 triumph as the first African-American to be elected President.

The book begins on the eve of the election. Convinced Obama cannot win, Toussaint rips off a column that screams of his despair with white America. When his white editor, Bob Carlson, refuses to print it, Toussaint goes over his head to Lydia Barnett, the African-American Editor-in-Chief. “ Do not play more black than thou with me,” she scolds, realizing the Toussaint piece is too inflammatory. Toussaint storms off, downs a few beers and returns late at night, armed with Carlson’s password to the composition room, and plugs his column into the front page despite his editors’ rejections.

Pulitzer Prize Winning Author and Columnist Leonard Pitts, Jr.

Pulitzer Prize Winning Author and Columnist Leonard Pitts, Jr.

Readers, especially those whose first vote was cast for JFK, will be gripped immediately by this fast paced story. Toussaint’s inflammatory column may leave some liberal oldsters wondering why the fuss. Haven’t we all tired of the bullshit? Perhaps that’s easier to write in 2015 than 2008, but for those dreadfully disheartened over Ferguson, Baltimore, Eric Garner, the continued rash of police shootings, Toussaint’s column speaks for everyone who has hoped for more.

The paper reacts by firing Bob Carlson, the 59 year old editor who gave away his password. With Carlson, Pitts begins another compelling story. Carlson, an idealistic, fundamentalist Christian, white kid from Minnesota, falls in love with a beautiful, bright African-American girl, Janeka Lattimore, and the two work diligently to increase voter registration. Both are children of the 1960’s, the kids that Pitts describes as:

Young men and women with big Afros and Jewfros and long blonde locks and strident voices singing songs of peace and love and revolution, a whole generation of them, fresh and raw, untainted by the failures and compromises of their parents’ generation, utterly convinced that they were something this old world had never seen, a new people thinking new thoughts that had never been thought before.

In 1968, their relationship required courage. Yet, many things go their way. Carlson’s family is gracious, supportive and accepting. It is not enough, however.

“I have to be with my people,” she shouts in breaking up with Bob.

“I thought I was your people, too,” he replies.

Janeka doesn’t break up with Carson, instead, as Pitts writes, “She breaks him.” Carlson never engages in any kind of romance again. He becomes an “inside the lines” kind of a guy. Pitts writes, “His faith seemed to have gone the way of his empathy.”

Grant Park -- Book Cover

Grant Park — Book Cover

Pitts is a master of timing. Just when the reader expects Toussaint to face his editors about the way he shanghaied the front page, he is abducted by two white low-life racists who plan to explode a bomb in Grant Park when President-Elect Barack Obama appears to make his acceptance speech. Thus begins the first probing explication of one dimension of the racial conflict examined by Pitts; i.e. bottom of the barrel whites versus top of the barrel blacks. The first bottom of barrel white introduced is Clarence Pym, a huge man because of gigantism. Pym metaphorically represents rampant, irrational, bloated white racism. Pym is the part of racism white America does not want to do anything about. All the more indicting is that Pym actually has a conscience. He befriends his Toussaint, his captive, by conversing about the neutral subjects — the no-race zone — of sport and popular music. The choice of character’s name must be deliberate. Pym is so close to Prim (as in prim and proper, a connotation reinforced by the image presented of the man’s home fastidiously maintained by his mother) it suggests that friendly banter, as exchanged between Pym and Toussaint, cannot be taken as an indication that all is well. Prejudice lurks beneath the pleasantries. Ostracized most of his life because of his bulk, is the pawn for nasty, deranged Dwayne McLarry. McLarry is the irrational, murderous side of white racism, incapable of empathy. These two severely limited human beings form the WRS, the White Resistance Army, and hold up Timothy McVeigh as an idol.

Lower economic level blacks are represented by Toussaint’s father, a Memphis sanitation worker whose singular demand is to be treated as a human being. His protest sign proclaims, “I AM A Man.” His son, a black power advocate, derides his father’s efforts as anemic. The march by the sanitation workers in Memphis bring father and son together, and though they differ with regard to how the protests should be conducted, they become reconciled. The old man says, “Seem like just recently here, first time in my life, I done finally figured out who I been mad at all the time.”

Pitts dramatizes all the diseased levels of the conflict between the races when Toussaint makes his explanation to his African-American boss, Lydia Barnett. Barnett, being black, understands what it is that has so exhausted her columnist.

Pebble in Your Shoe . . .

It is the near instinctual recognition that we differ, and the difference, despite all evidence to the contrary, is not to be trusted. Or as Lattimore explains, “It’s like walking around your whole life with a pebble in your shoe that you know you can never remover.” It is the reason the lab technician let you wait in the lobby. Why the cabbie passed you by. Why you did not get the promotion. It is still there, every day, living in the minds of white and black alike and differs only in degree. “Black people,” Malcolm reflects, “often cited race to explain stuff race had nothing to do with.” Pitts demonstrates repeatedly that the same holds true for whites.

In the same setting, Lattimore confronts the white complacency in Carlson, ” . . . white people always think having a fine car or nice clothes or money or social standing puts you beyond racism — and it doesn’t. That’s the whole point. That’s why its racism.”

Grant Park is a brilliant work. The only detracting flaw is one most readers will not notice. Park fails too frequently to maintain the integrity – the metaperspective – of his narrator. An omniscient narrator speaks about characters, but never for them. When, for example, the vicious, white-supremacist McLarry wants to shoot a cab driver, a sentence reads: “He really wanted to shoot the prick.” The sentence is in the author’s voice until the word “prick.” “Prick” is McLarry’s word. McLarry jumps the narrator’s line – hijacks it. Characters jump the narrator’s lines again and again. The result is distracting and weakens the authority of the narrator’s voice.

A thoroughly credible plot is marred only when readers need to assume that McLarry, high on meth, knows Carlson on sight when he finds the editor lunching with Lattimore in an upscale restaurant. The deranged killer didn’t know editor’s name hours earlier at the newspaper office.

Pure Poetry . . .

As to his power, Pitts rises frequently to the level of pure poetry. Consider one example: “A fatigue older than rivers rode the curve of a closed smile.” Readers are treated to lines like this throughout.

His description of the riots in Memphis from, not one, but three points of view, is riveting. Lattimore and Carlson run for the safety. Toussaint’s father despairs at the chaos that is ruining his protest. Toussaint joins in the vandalism only later to regret his actions. Pitts’ characters are believable, deep and richly human. He writes with confidence in the voices of his young, his old, his white and his non-white characters.

Grant Park is a monumental work, so all-encompassing in scope that reviewers will be hard-pressed to do it justice. Pitt’s passion for a solution holds strong to the end of his novel even as his central character seems to give up. Readers will find Grant Park is real. From beginning to end it shows us an illness that seems to defy a cure. Perhaps as our children play together, the day will one day arrive when, despite even our slightest misgivings, we will recognize the humanity in one another. Pitts is there. He, for one, has shown that we are the same.

This review appeared initially in a somewhat condensed form on the web site bookpleasures.com

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Toxic Relationships are Painful to Endure

Sunday, June 21st, 2015

#c0-dependency #toxicrelationship #selfesteem

Toxic relationships. In this article, I  refer to one party of a toxic relationship as the toxic person, or TP. He or she is the individual you cannot let into your life without inviting in a lot of anger, resentment, ridicule, hateful harangues, and exasperating evasions.

John J. Hohn, Writer

John J. Hohn, Writer

Ever wonder why a certain relationship never works. It may show promise from time to time. An affable level can be reached at intervals to accommodate  exchanges about the weather, sports and other breezy subjects, but even at those times, it’s an illusion. There is no neutral ground  in a toxic relationship. It’s a mine field. One false step – a wrong word, a careless observation, an inadvertent facial expression – and all hell breaks loose. You’re distressed. You work  hard to explain yourself and to correct what you see as the misunderstanding. But all your efforts are to no avail. If that has ever happened to you, especially if it’s a pattern and happens again and again with the same person, you’re probably in a toxic relationship.

The relationship is usually an important one – a family member, a relative, or worse yet, a spouse. You feel obligated to remain on good terms. Toxic relationships thrive on an imposed obligation of some sort. Toxic personalities have no confidence in their own ability to attract love and hold others dear. They rely on external pressures on the relationship, the rules of engagement as it were, to bind others to them. It’s an older or younger sibling. It’s a boss you can’t fire or customer you can’t afford to lose. It’s an associate at work or a neighbor you cannot get away from.

When conflict erupts, the TP will find reason to blame you. He or she refuses to understand. Expect attacks on your character with a viciousness that can be disarming and hurtful. Make no mistake. For however strong you feel in standing up to the attack, your self-esteem is at risk. You may begin to doubt yourself,  your self worth. You are tied up in knots because you can’t make mollify the TP, and what’s worse, you can’t let it go. You feel impaled on your own good intentions and compelled to try harder.

Start with Yourself . . .

The best place to start in dealing with a toxic relationship is an examination of your own motives. First, it’s important to recognize that you are not bound to the relationship. You can walk away. It may mean changing jobs, separating from a spouse, moving your residence, or isolating yourself from a family member. It may seem unthinkable, yet others do it all of the time and find happiness and fulfillment . You may need to contend with censure and criticism from family and friends.  No matter what, in order to find the strength to break the strangle hold a TP has on you, you must see yourself as a free agent, someone capable of changing his or her circumstances regardless of how difficult it may be. Marshall your support. Prepare in advance for taking the step. Look at what you do as final. Most of the time, the step away is lasting and that’s a far better thing than staying exposed to damaging attacks on your mental health.

Stop seeing yourself as a victim. The toxic relationship is painful. Don’t translate the pain into “poor me.”  The toxic person wants you to feel one-down. He or she wants you to feel guilty, hurt or misunderstood. That’s how the toxic person maintains power in the relationship. If you’re sorry, if you’re penitent, if you whine about not being understood, the TP laps up. Stay centered. Continue to be diplomatic. Be as thoughtful as you can be. Above all, do not let the toxic person push you into the victim’s position. Accept that he or she has misunderstood, perhaps intentionally. Accept that there is nothing you can do about it and move on.

Another reason that you want to avoid the victim position is that victims often end up seeking revenge. Hurt converts to anger. Anger fuels the need to get even. Getting even means lashing back, and when that happens, you have just put another rock in the TP’s pile to fire back at you. Apologize to set your own feelings right and then move on. Until the nature of the relationship changes, nothing you do will make any difference. The only thing you can control is your own own behavior — your feelings, your thoughts and your actions.

More Instinctual than Thoughtful . . .

The toxic person lives a life very different from you. He or she lives in conflict with several people almost all the time. It feels normal to them. Anger and resentment are close to the surface at all times. It is unrealistic to think that the toxic person wants the same tranquility and peace of mind that you seek. He or she may say as much, but the key is to watch what they do. He or she wants to win; wants to come  out on top. The toxic person’s interactions are more instinctive than thoughtful. Don’t expect a TP to recognize the impact of his or her actions and words have on others. The toxic person is steeled against the reactions of others. They react only as they perceive a threat.

Avoid being trapped into thinking that you can make it right. You may still feel like you should be able to get along. You may still think you can make it work. Maybe by finding the right words, somehow a better approach, you will break the bonds of conflict, free yourself of the pain forever, and you and your problem person will enjoy a full and joyful friendship the rest of your lives. Wrong. That’s not going to happen. Unrealistic expectations are a harmful piece to bring into a relationship. They are your contribution to the conflict and to your own hurt. Let them go.

Be realistic about what is possible. You can only control your half of any relationship. If the bully TP relies on making others feel guilty, or hurt, or inadequate to gain power in a relationship, he or she is not going to change just because your tactics are different. At best, keep your cool, stay centered and don’t get sucked in by all the negatives thrown at you. Set goals that that enable you to exit the relationship with your self-respect intact. Respect your own vulnerability. The toxic person wants a relationship with you as an arena to fuel a need to win out over others. Love is not part of the pay off. Expressing love will not make much difference. It will not prompt the toxic person to treat you differently.

Nothing in Second or Third Place . . .

Your goals for any encounter, or for the relationship itself, almost never  coincide with the toxic person’s goals. You may want to reach a reasonable understanding on an issue  or establish a basis for better communication going forward. The toxic person’s goal in all encounters, consciously or unconsciously, is to defend and protect his or her badly damaged, fragile core self. That comes first. There is nothing in second or third place.

The toxic person’s arsenal of rhetorical and psychological weapons arrayed and ready for conflict are truly impressive. Remember, your problem person has been refining his or her skills for decades. He or she has survived by them. The toxic personality is challenged by intimacy. They are too well defended to allow anyone to get close. Opening up to another means acknowledging his or her own inadequacies, grieving over losses, purging anger once and for all – all tasks that are best completed in the hard work of psychological counseling. Letting people get close, as it does for all of us, means being vulnerable and open to hurt. Do not expect the toxic person to open up. Chances are your have never seen him or her cry. You rarely see them joyful, relaxed and having fun. Most of the time, the toxic person does not live in the moment. He or she is a prisoner of past hurts and disappointments, the painful passages in life that toxic person has not yet made successfully.

Playing in the Fast Lane . . .

If you do not have the credentials and an expressed, mutually agreed upon contract to deal with the toxic person’s psychological and spiritual problems, get the hell out of the way. You’re playing hopscotch in the fast lane. The best you can do is prepare yourself by studying the tactics the toxic person is likely to use against you and learn to deflect them. Additions can be made to any list, but here are some of the most frequently encountered.

Refusing to accept an apology or even acknowledge it.
Holding grudges even after you have apologized
Betraying confidences
Re-framing a discussion – changing the subject
Refusing to forgive
Refusing to reason – playing dumb on the simplest concepts
Never apologizing
Creating a sense of obligation
Using guilt
Never allowing the benefit of the doubt
Character assassination – killing the messenger and ignoring the message
Indifference
Lack of empathy and compassion.
Emotional expression confined almost entirely to anger.
Intolerance
Judgmental view of others
Imputing motives to others
Assuming authority
Fixed, inflexible views on politics and religion – not open to other ideas
Rarely displays uninhibited joy and laughter; or grief for that matter
Rationalizing
Psychobabble
Righteous indignation and defensiveness

It’s an impressive array and challenging to go up against. Don’t let your pride be hurt if you turn and run. It may be the wisest thing to do. Watch this web sites for more discussion.

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Self-Publishing Offers Many Rewards

Sunday, November 9th, 2014
John J. Hohn,Writer and Reviewer

John J. Hohn,Writer and Reviewer

#self-publishing #writing #print on demand #writing

Self-publishing has become affordable through automation. Any writer who can design and format a cover and the interior of a book can get published without straining the family budget. Lacking design and layout skills, writers can hire specialists who are masters in these crafts and get a book in print for less than $1,000. Where once several hundred books entered the market each month, now tens of thousands get dumped out to the reading public. Few sell as much as 100 copies. Yet writers keep looking for their creative efforts to be rewarded. Fame and fortune lie just one more  review away.

I have posted several articles critical of the self-publishing industry and the disappointments that await the unwary and idealistic. That is not my purpose here. I applaud the rush to print. Writing is a good thing. A literate society hopefully becomes a more enlightened one. What I want to suggest is that most aspiring authors are looking in the wrong place for gratification and fulfillment.

The swallow thronged loft . . .

In his poem Fern Hill, Dylan Thomas has the wonderful line:

. . . time would take me
Up to the swallow thronged loft by my by the shadow of my hand.

Young Short Story Author, John J. Hohn

Young Short Story Author, John J. Hohn

The poet describes a passage that happens to all us. We ascend, as if unaware, out of the carefree days of childhood and into adult life with all its preoccupations– disorienting distractions that can send a person scrambling wildly off course in life.

Writing has been the sextant and compass for me throughout my life. It has kept me on course. When I have wandered – and I charged wildly of track at times – writing brought me back to myself, to those I love and to my life as I felt it was intended for me to live it.

My journey began early. My boyhood was joyful. I got caught up in the games and the play, but I also realized I had an ear for the wind and the sounds of the day. A robin chirping in the dusk. The street sweeper passing under the hackberry tress in front of our home in the morning. I felt the mud between my toes when I waded in the lake and the hot dust when I ran barefoot along paths on shore. I could lie down at night with my head on the bedroom window sill and look up at the moon and the stars and feel the cool night air brush against my face. I treasured the sights and sounds of my days as much as my pals did their stash of marbles or bottle caps.

I began writing almost as soon as I could spell. I specialized in short stories. I wrote them on postcard size tablets that came with varied colored pages. My subjects ranged from fishing with my dad to exploring along the banks of the creek near my home. My parents praised my efforts, Mother especially. The affirmation I received set me free for the rest of the life to enjoy my creative pursuits and to be at home with my imagination.

John J. Hohn, Age 18 Senior Class Picture

John J. Hohn, Age 18 Senior Class Picture

During adolescence, the loft became a frenzy. I ducked and dogged as I tried to make my way, but my interest in writing held steadfast. I wrote for the school paper and the university literary quarterly. I decided upon an English major and took several courses in writing. I remember agonized struggles to get my thoughts on paper for my classes. My college days and the years that followed taught me the most valuable lesson about writing – that writing is a tool for self-discovery. Whether it was an idea that I could not tease out into understandable form or a painful personal dilemma that I wanted to resolve, the discipline of writing helped me to think more clearly. It helped me mature.

As I move among my friends, golfing buddies, and neighbors, I can see that a lot of folks rely almost exclusively on oral communication. When people converse, there is always room for a speaker to correct a misinterpretation on the part of listener. I fear that people who do not write, and this is all the more true for those who do not read, live broadly unexamined lives. They fail to equip themselves with the tools for rational exploration of what is going on within themselves and the world around them. Rather than reasoning and compassion, they rely too readily on prejudice and beliefs to guide them, both of which serve all too frequently as a means to avoid analysis and reflection.

Dozens of small parts . . .

Writing is always between me as the author and the idea or situation that is my subject. What I write must stand distinct and complete. I need to make the subject clear in my own mind before I can present it on paper. Writing is like having dozens of small parts of a fine watch spread on a table. The object is to assemble the pieces to create an efficient, reliable timepiece. That same challenge is rarely confronted in oral communication. The serious writer faces it every time he or she sits down and gains from the experience again and again.

John J. Hohn, Teacher

John J. Hohn, Teacher

After I graduated and began teaching English at the high school level, I published several poems in literary quarterlies. Raising a family of five did not leave much room for writing. I concentrated on short stories and poems. The shorter pieces gave me the satisfaction of completing a work from time to time. When I didn’t have time to write, I thought as a writer. Stories swirled around in my head. Characters popped up in my mind like toadstools after a rain. My file cabinet almost bulges with novels on which I had written only the first several chapters. Folders are stuffed with all kinds of poetry; some of them problem starts; some of them, inspired beginnings that need more work.

I retired from my working career but never from writing. At last I had the free time to concentrate on longer pieces and getting published. Not quite seven years have passed since I quit going to the office. Those years produced two full novels, several award winning poems, and more than 160 non-fiction articles published on the internet or my own web site. I always have a project or two going.

The pick and shovel . . .

I find that writing enables me to undertake a disciplined journey in discovering the self. It is the pick and shovel for mining into my life. As I work at my writing, I realize that the deepest sense of my uniqueness to myself and to others is ultimately immutable. It is there to approach, to know, to respect and to love. It remains always just beyond my deepest introspection.  The finding I  remains the seeker, always greater than the found me. My self-knowledge and my self respect have deepened. Introspection while I write strips away the artificial in life that hampers my yearning to connect with my inner self. That connection, regardless of incomplete or tenuous, helps me achieve a better understanding of human nature and of those who I choose to draw closer to me. Writing also leaves a trail, intellectual bread crumbs along the way, and I can go back and see how my view of life has changed and I with it. I can see how my knowledge of my craft has changed over the years.

Fame and fortune may always elude the best in any trade or artistic pursuit. Destiny makes its inscrutable choices. My urging to others new to the craft of writing is that they find the joys in self-discovering reward enough. Further, that we enjoy the technology that enables us to span the world in search of kindred spirits. The community of writers is welcoming, gracious, generous and affirming for those who enter.

The swallows, to be sure, will forever swoop and dart about. But writers, I submit, have a better chance than most at finding their rightful place, and therefore a measure of peace, among them.

Thanks for visiting my web site. While you are here, I invite you to thumb through my other posts and pages. Please feel free to comment using the facility provided on the “Contact” page. Your observations are welcomed and I will respond to each and every one. Both of my novels are available in all eBook formats and paperback versions can be ordered at your local book store or online.