I can take leftovers for Sunday night supper but I don’t want them for Monday lunch, and that is the way I respond to Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge. What is this? I wouldn’t call it a novel because it jerks this and that way before falling down and apart. I wouldn’t call it a collection of short stories because the stories become dependent one on the other as Olive bitches her way through life. It is not a character study because Olive is strange and a stranger to the final paragraph romp in bed. The publishers wisely identify it as “fiction.” Charles Marlin
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Grant makers’ endowment in America fell by 26%. The number of millionaires worldwide shrank by 15% last year. Charitable giving dropped 5.7% last year. The death toll for venerable arts organizations runs like a war casualty list in a nineteenth century newspaper. Gray to black details are everywhere. The Chronicle Of Philanthropy masthead should be drapped in crape. American philanthropy as lost the push of life.
The push of life is not so hard to understand. If it’s another country’s agriculture we call it subsistence farming. In your neighborhood it is the mom & pop business that is there only because it has been there a long time and now has no place to go. It’s the friend who one week says he is going hicking on the Allegheny Trail and a week later does not know where he is to sleep tonight. It’s an economic sector with an excess of highly qualified unemployed professionals. It’s an arts community in mourning for lost constituents. It’s when everyone knows the glory days are over for at least two if not more generations. In business it may be called a mature market.
American philanthropy will not fade away. There will be the big boys, Buffett, the Gates, Clinton, and Soros, and perhaps others will come to the media’s constant attention. The old established names of the past will continue. There may be expanded governmental participation. The community foundations will continue because we are built low to the ground and have an ability to float in any backwater. Only the really big community foundations ever learned how to inhale so most of us have a negligible carbon output.
The arts community will be diminished and altered in ways scholars will talk about but the current participants will not be present to hear those scholars. The arts are very like temperamental plants. They need attention, money, and expansion without which they die. Unlike the dessert flowers that only need one good downpour to cover the view for miles, the arts are plants that return spotty if at all.
President Obama is high on public service and volunteerism which is sweet. And who does not love the garden the First Lady has going? However, at the end of their White House tenure American philanthropy will be weaker and less innovative than today. Volunteers can do a lot of things, and then they go home or on to paying jobs. Only two things keep an organization together at the same address and they are money in the pot and professionals in the big chairs. Money and the people to sit in those big chairs are the two resources we are losing in small but continuous increments.
The foremost responsibility of community foundations during this open-ended decline is to survive. Serve as you are able but never with our own life blood. If you weaken and die there will be no future, no time of recovery. If wondrous programs close to your heart weaken the heart there is only one response that is correct. The programs must go. Community foundation funds were given in perpetual trust to remain through lean harvest, no harvests, and abundant harvests. If we can not protect those funds we should never have organized as community foundations. Charles Marlin
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Coming-of-age novels are a gutsy genra with challenging standard bearers to match or surpass. Add to that challenge the task of writing with honesty, empathy, and insight about a paranoid schizophrenic sixteen year old boy off his medications and with a violent past, you have overwhelming odds the book will not fly. But this one does. John Wray gives us Will Heller, who is sometimes known to himself as Lowboy. He is joined by Ellen, his past and present victum and girlfriend, Violet his mother, and Ali Lateef a detective trying to find Will either above or below New York City. The chase is messy not merry and it holds you to the very last line of the book. If the other characters were not so well tended the book would be difficult to read but each becomes important and only slightly less mysterious than Will.
There is no sermonizing or great life lesson in Lowboy. It is novel through and through, giving the reader an opportunity to independently consider what it takes to be a professional on the schizophrenic duty line everyday. Neither sympathy or empathy could keep you there. To be detached yet in contact at every moment, never forgetting what is possible and what is beyond reach, must even for the professional drain reserves. T spend a life time in the profession is more than I could give.
Those voices, those many voices, from where do they come? Who are they? Even Will did not seem to know. It must be a fatal car crash that never stops.
I don’t know what American philanthropy has done with this disease but I am sure there is always a local charitable need that goes without ample support. While even more pharmaceutical advances are bound to come it is difficult to expect they will solve everything. There will always need to be people who understand and are ready to professionally help, and individuals and families ready to support that work through endowment funds. Others can not say you should do. Only the sole voice you are blessed with can tell you what is your duty and your opportunity. Charles Marlin
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I keep a life list of birds since Christmas of ’95, and a daily journal since June of ’98. Records are useful for a person who tends to sluff off bits of life and later wonder where he left them. This year we are celebrating the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln’s birth, and I wish I had kept a list of Lincoln books read from grade school on. Probably most were not so great but I don’t remember feeling that way, and my feeling now is there will always be a need for another great book on Lincoln.
For all of my self-anointed skill at picking books I missed this one. A friend rectified my blunder by giving it as a present. Wise and kind of him. Ronald C. White, Jr., author of A. Lincoln: A Biography, does not need any praise from me but he gets it anyway. This is the best biography you will read this year. It will stay with you as a standard by which to measure other biographies as well as other presidents.
White gives us a full Lincoln from his beginning hard luck scrabble to make more of himself than circumstances dictated to a self-educating lawyer and thinker to a consummate politician and public persuader to a president who struggled to first save the Union and then to birth it as a Union fulfilling the promise of the Declaration of Independence. Along this lifeline nothing is treated as unimportant if it was important to Lincoln at the time. It is not the mythic Lincoln in this book but the ugly A. Lincoln who worked each day to make it his own.
Lincoln was so uncommonly more than others that he casts a shadow on all who lived during his lifetime. He remains a constant reminder that we should not be so lenient in appraising the smallness of our thoughts and responses to others, or so quick to accept limits on what we can do. I can not imagine what would have become of the nation if he had not been there to finally be our Father Abraham. I cannot imagine what we could have become if a self-righteous political zealot had not cut him down. We suffered from this lose in the decades that followed and we suffer today. Charles Marlin
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If you are in the senior group as I am and you want your last years to be meaningful and even longer, then you must start immediately working on a greater purpose in life. We know from previous studies that living outside of ourselves is crucial to good mental health as well as physical health, now new research indicates it adds to longevity.
A greater purpose in life means going outside of your small daily needs and routine family visits to something that improves your mind and body and improves the lives of others. Visits to the doctor’s office are good for you but they do not lift you out of yourself. This means you don’t wait for things to come to you, you go to them. You look at what can be done better and resolve to be a part of it at whatever level you can manage. You expand your knowledge. You assist others in an organized way that goes beyond random acts of kindness. You never say you cann’t help because you no longer drive at night or do long stairs, you volunteer by asking what needs to be done. You say, “No, I can not do 1 through 6, but I can do 7 and a bit of 8, maybe assist with 11 and 13.”
Resting on your reputation as a good person and a loving parent and grandparent is giving up on life. It is waiting for the end. Happiness, good health, clear memory, and the energy and will to live may come to some with no apparent effort, but for most of us it means getting up in the morning and working for it. The job is living.
Clarion County Community Foundation, like all nonprofits, is always in need of volunteers. When a person comes up and says “Hello,” the nonprofit’s juices begin to flow. There will be something for you to study and do. If not, tell the nonprofit to get busy and find something for you to do.
The research establishing the connection between a higher sense of purpose and longevity was done by Dr. Patricia Boyle, an assistant professor of behavioral sciences at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. For more details on the topic read Kathleen Doheny’s Have a Purpose in Life? You Might Live Longer, reported at http://news.yahoo.com Charles Marlin
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I would be delighted to meet Precious Ramotswe for a cup of red bush tea at The President Hotel but hopefully not with her assistant Grace Makutsi in tow, no, no, no. If I am lucky Mma Ramotswe will have thought ahead and brought two slices of Mma Potokswane’s fruit cake as a welcoming gift to Botswana. And I must remember to insist that we share in the gift because I know that sharing and generosity are old Botswana values dear to the heart of the daughter of Obed Ramotswe. Our topic I hope will not be on the authority of Clovis Anderson or the sickness hurting Botswana but rather the life and wisdom of her father who was known to all as a good and wise man.
Before she became as well known in America as in Gaborone I enjoyed introducing The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency Series to friends and strangers. Because of the HBO Original Series that bit of pleasure has been stripped from me but I must not fret about what is lost through no fault of my own. Yes, I believe a second cup of red bush tea should placate my wounded pride.
I buy my red bush tea at Sage Meadow in Clarion where as you would expect the tea bags are oxygen bleached, not chlorine treated. Red bush tea is made from Rooibos leaf that grows in the high mountain ranges of the South African Cape region. It is naturally caffeine-free and with less than half the tannins of regular tea. Can you imagine Mma Makutsi pumped with caffeine?
It is said to have a light sweetness to it so Precious drinks it with out honey but I like to indulge myself with a bit of honey. I shall try to remember, however, if I ever sit down to tea with her to drink it straight. Old courtesies and manners are to be remembered in Botswana. Charles Marlin
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I feast on biographies so I know rare prime rib not seen at Sunday brunch. Blake Bailey’s Cheever: A Life is the exceptional prime rib, succulent and complex, excellent from beginning to end. He gives the full measure of a man no one understood during his life time, Cheever the writer, Cheever the alcoholic, the junk yard dog, perpetual child, raconteur, recovering alcoholic, abusive husband and father, family provider, mystifying friend, bitter queen, complainer, literary mentor, victum, braggart, and Cheever. There are enough other characterizations to make a parlor game of John Cheever.
A lesson here is to be careful of what you say about a writer who has the kahunas to move you because the writing, the writer, and the person are always going to be at odds one with the other, and there is no better case than Cheever. That is not to say that he did not draw from his life because everything was grist, but what he lived and what he wrote were never the same. To have been a victum of his life would be awful, but we are all the richer as beneficiaries of his writing.
Usually when I finish a writer biography I have no interest in reading anything by the writer. Enough already. To Bailey’s credit I intend to pick up a copy of Falconer to add to my stack of books to be read in the order they arrive in the house giving me time to relax about the man and enjoy the writing without a drag.
We all make dirty laundry and if a Sharp-Shinned Hawk like Bailey goes through it, we are not going to come out looking good, so it is no surprise that everyone’s parenting and spouse relationship can look bad. Given that commonality I still don’t know how any of those who lived with Cheever came out alive, let alone healthy and happy. So this wonderful biography tells you a lot but not everything. Some things you will have to determine on your own. Charles Marlin
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I read two newspapers online, washingtonpost.com and nytimes.com. I would feel undressed if I went out for the day without getting such outstanding news coverage, opinion, and review; but my best dressed mornings begin with the cartoon animation of Ann Telnaes in the Today’s Opinions of the washingtonpost.com. She is a hoot. If you have not been catching her you can go to the Cartoon Archive for a major injection of AT energy.
She has not gone unnoticed and has more awards than is healthy for a person to keep. If that were not the case I would say she should be given the Presidental Medal of Freedom, but since over 20,000 have been awarded and there is no definitive list of honorees, she may already have one. If any of my readers know her well enough to ask, find out if she has any memory of getting one then let me know. Charles Marlin
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