Maine poet writes through terminal cancer diagnosis

Nick Stone is a former corporate lawyer who started writing poetry in his retirement. In August, when he was diagnosed with stage four metastatic prostate cancer and given twenty months to live, he decided to keep writing.

Eighty-nine-year-old Nick Stone has written dozens of pages of “left-brain” work, such as legal briefs and filings, for decades. However, the Portland Press Herald reports that he started engaging the right side of his brain when he composed poetry for the first time after retiring to Maine from his career as a corporate lawyer in Boston. Now that he’s diagnosed with metastatic prostate cancer and has just months left to live, “Stone only wants to keep writing.”

It is almost otherworldly, what comfort writing can bring – even to the dying. Stone’s poetry gives him something to come alive for. No matter how late in life it is – even near the end – a writer’s time can come.

The myth of the substance use-disordered writer

Mark Dery, a columnist for Medium, analyzes the relationship between alcohol abuse and writing. Although he stresses the physical and emotional toll of such a lifestyle, I cannot emphasize enough the danger of this narrative.

According to Luis Buñuel’s memoir My Last Sigh, he perfected his martinis by “simply allowing a ray of sunlight to shine through a bottle of Noilly Prat before it hits the bottle of gin… [as] the generative power of the Holy Ghost pierced the Virgin’s hymen … leaving it unbroken.” A poetically written quote which attests to the depth of Mark Dery’s research as well as the keenness of his prose, the cultural critic deconstructs the connection between writers and alcoholism in his Medium column, “Why Writers Drink – and This One Doesn’t.” While employing a personal essayist’s anecdotal evidence for his own artistic partnership with booze, Dery argues that the field of psychology fails to grasp the unique stress of writing for a career, in addition to the ethereal nature of inspiration and creativity, when scientists “reduce any use of mind-altering substances to a psychological disorder or a genetic predisposition.”

Personally, the “madness and genius” narrative bears no weight with me – if anything, my mental illnesses kneecap my productivity, rather than disinhibit it, because studies show my bipolar I disorder has diminished my hippocampus in size, which leaves me more vulnerable to alcohol-induced blackouts and leads to more debilitating trauma. Indeed, Dery writes, “after one too many scotches, the law of diminishing returns kicks in and you realize, woozily, that everything you’ve written since the tide in the bottle ran out has been drek.” If you’re at risk of becoming one of the ninety-five thousand Americans who dies of substance use disorder, please reach out to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Do you really want a failed biology student for your doctor who’s only in it for the money?

According to The Wall Street Journal, the Class of 2022 make up “the most in-demand college graduates to enter the job market in years.” Will I be one of the lucky ones?

I pulled out my phone this morning to check the time when I saw the notification from LinkedIn. As recently as yesterday, a recruiter had messaged me with a job opportunity, only to reject me minutes after I submitted the application. Hoping for a different outcome, I opened the app and found a headline from LinkedIn News there to greet me, announcing that “new grads” are “in-demand.”

It was a “different outcome” – just not as positive as I would have hoped.

The LinkedIn News piece is excerpted from The Wall Street Journal, which reports that “sixteen percent of employers surveyed in March and April said they’d double up on new graduate hires this year compared to 2021.” What’s more, “fifty-three percent of new grads with job offers said starting salaries surpassed their expectations, reaching six figures in some industries.”

Part of me, of course, embraced this story as welcome news for the Biden Administration, still repeatedly criticized for their handling of the economy even though their progressive policies are demonstrably leading the United States away from a post-Trump COVID recession.

However, I earned my bachelor’s degree in 2015, when Joe Biden was Vice President, and I expect to earn my master’s this December. Unless I find a day job in my field by the end of the year, 2023 will mark an eight-year resume gap for this writer.

It’s not from a lack of trying. As an undergraduate student at Colorado State University Fort Collins, I worked as many as four jobs at a time to build up my portfolio. One of these positions was an editor’s role I filled in less than a year. During the three years of my Bachelor of Arts candidacy, I earned two merit-based scholarships for my journalism, and placed in a national competition as many times.

Employers took note. My clips snagged me as many interviews in 2015 as my online profiles snagged dates, but I must make a poor first impression, because it wasn’t until months after graduation that I found a job and a boyfriend, neither of which were my “type.”

Yes, I shake hands with a limp wrist, but only because I’m gay and gender-queer. No, I don’t make consistent eye contact, but only because I have five diagnosed mental illnesses, four of which are protected classes of neurodivergent disabilities. But shouldn’t a hiring manager recommend you based on your qualifications, not whether they like the cut of your jib?

Even though he’s no Bernie Sanders, I charge every writer in this community to advocate for fewer discriminatory staffing practices under Biden. Climb up on your platform like it’s a soapbox and amplify your voice like it’s a megaphone.

For as long as interviewers shuffle certain CVs to the top of the pile because their fraternity brothers and sorority sisters memorize the right secret handshakes, then “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” are just so many more buzzwords.

Minnesota man founds writing program for the incarcerated

Before he founded FreeWriters in the fall of 2019, Nate Johnson worked as a prosecutor in southern Minnesota. Now, the free-writing program has raked in more than three thousand pieces of writing from more than a thousand inmates.

During his prosecutorial career in southern Minnesota, Nate Johnson mentored “a highly gifted young man named Joe,” who was serving a probationary sentence after “an extremely traumatic childhood.” While sitting down for an interview with the Star Tribune, Johnson said Joe eventually violated the terms of his probation in the fall of 2019, serving a sixty-day jail sentence with nothing but Bible lessons and twelve-step meetings to accompany him. Drawing from his experience with a workshop at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis, Johnson taught Joe the art of free-writing “to help him stay sane;” this would evolve into the prison writing program “FreeWriters,” which encourages participants to complete three five-minute writing exercises per class.

If you’ve ever jaywalked or loitered in the United States, you’ve broken the law – that’s why Johnson’s efforts are so commendable in a country with the largest prison population in the world, where more citizens are incarcerated per capita than any military dictatorship. More than one inmate-writer claims FreeWriters positively impacted their mental health. “Thank you for getting me outta the unit,” one is quoted as saying.

How to write about gentrification in a setting

Jendella Benson’s debut novel, “Hope and Glory,” takes place in the London neighborhood of Peckham, (in)famous for its gentrification. As she approaches this setting with the same eye for world-building as writers of fantasy of science fiction, Benson learns something new about her own community.

In her contribution to Literary Hub, Jendella Benson dismisses the word “gentrification” as “cliché.” She writes, “It is a flat term that speaks of boxy rooms in new build apartments and nameless hipsters and craft beer.” Instead, her debut novel, Hope and Glory, seeks to characterize the gentrified (Benson herself can’t afford to live in the setting for her own book anymore), whilst acknowledging the systemic and institutional phenomenon of “gentrification” at the same time.

Although I haven’t experienced gentrification as a white American who grew up in the Middle Class neighborhoods of South Metro Denver, I’ve witnessed it firsthand. People can’t afford to live in their own communities, turned out onto the streets after one delinquent rent payment too many, where drugs are their only solace and crime is their only access to our society’s capitalistic resources for survival. I may not be the right one who can speak to it, but I call upon all the Jendella Bensons of the world to do it for themselves.

A writer of climate fantasy faces the future more fearlessly in her fiction

Rebecca Scherm began writing “A House Between Earth and the Moon” while pregnant in 2014 to ease her anxieties about the world her first child would inherit. Much like childbirth, the process was painful, but miraculous.

For many expecting mothers, the world today can strike the fear of God into the heart; for writers like Rebecca Scherm, that dread is an opportunity “not to calm myself, exactly, but to run my imagination all the way out, until it exhausts itself.” Contributing to Literary Hub, Scherm describes the creative process behind her science fiction novel, A House Between Earth and the Moon, which follows a family as they flee the dying planet for a space station in 2033. In forcing herself to research the realities of climate change she’d once upon a time avoided, Scherm writes, “This novel changed me from someone who writes about a need for change into someone desperate to bring those changes to life.”

As loath as I am to regurgitate pull quote after pull quote (especially in a blog post this brief), Scherm is the best writer I’d never heard of before today, and she deserves the same recognition as all the other women authors dominating the post-J.K. Rowling marketplace; Gillian Flynn springs most readily to mind as a worthy contemporary. Anyway, Scherm speaks for herself with more of a voice than anyone else could hope to capture, such as with the course-correction in lifestyle she outlines here: “I started down a path of climate activism through native plant gardening—for biodiversity, for carbon capture, for reacquainting people with the more-than-human world around them—and this path has felt like a kind of salvation.” Sometimes, meaningful action is as deceptively simple as the hope native plant gardening brings to a new mother, and Scherm has her own imaginative literature to thank for that “salvation.”

Pulitzer Prize-winning Anthony Doerr on his planning process

Doerr, who won the Pulitzer Prize for the modern classic “All the Light We Cannot See,” discusses with Julianne Gee of the Boise State University “Arbiter” how drawing engages him to write with greater complexity. Doerr briefly worked with their creative writing department.

After the publication of his latest book, Cloud Cuckoo Land, in September, Anthony Doerr sat down for an interview with The Arbiter in Idaho. Doerr is quoted as saying, “Growing up, you always think good novelists live in Brazil and Buenos Aires or Paris or they’re dead. Every day you have to give yourself permission and say, ‘You know, even though I live right here in Boise, it’s okay to try to make something that people might read in Brazil or in Paris.'”

We study Doerr extensively in the Master of Arts program for professional creative writing at the University of Denver; he is, without hyperbole, one of the most gifted authors working today, and you could do far worse than learn from his comedic timing in his sentences, or the grander storytelling structures he erects out of this acumen for the micro level. Like all masters of the written word, he knows how to make it appear as though he comes by this skillset naturally, but, during the prewriting phase for Cloud Cuckoo Land, he reveals he scaffolded the outline with a diagram. As for what inspired him to write with such wealth and depth, Doerr attributes it to his grandmother’s Alzheimer’s disease – “I just thought I’m going to try the most complicated thing I can try right now, while I still can,” he says.

The rhizome concept is represented as a tangled web of roots in this sketch.
This drawing of a “rhizome,” or underground root system, mirrors the intricacy of Anthony Doerr’s own “map” for “Cloud Cuckoo Land.” (Image Courtesy: The Arbiter).

“The Los Angeles Times” ranks Ennio Morricone’s ten greatest film scores

Randall Roberts of The Los Angeles Times writes, “Serving as sort of whimsical, opinionated Greek chorus — one that could turn dark and sinister in a flash — his work played a co-starring role.” (Image Courtesy: The Los Angeles Times).

Ennio Morricone died yesterday in Rome at ninety-one years old, according to The Los Angeles Times. Staff writer Randall Roberts describes him as not only “the most important film composer of the twentieth century,” but “also the busiest.” Roberts lists his top ten scores as: Sergio Leone’s Trilogia del dollaro; Gillo Pontecorvo’s La battaglia di Algeri (1966); Sergio Sollima’s La resa dei conti (1968); Dario Argento’s Il gatto a nove code (1971); Bernardo Bertolucci’s Novecento (1976); Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven (1978); John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982); Roland Joffé’s The Mission (1986); Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables (1987); and Quentin Tarantino’s The H8teful Eight (2015).

Hulu review: Isao Takahata’s “Grave of the Fireflies” (1988)

Studio Ghibli is not all soot sprites and fire demons dubbed by Billy Crystal – indeed, Isao Takahata’s Grave of the Fireflies (1988) is one of the most devastating films you will ever see, anime or otherwise.

If you don’t know what to watch next, Grave of the Fireflies is available to stream on Hulu. The animated war film is based on the semiautobiographical short story of the same name by Akiyuki Nosaka. It stars Tsutomu Tatsumi, Ayano Shiraishi, Yoshiko Shinohara, and Akemi Yamaguchi.

Set in Kobe, Japan, around World War II, the movie opens September 21, 1945, with a teenage boy named Seita (dubbed by J. Robert Spencer) starving to death and his spirit joining that of his younger sister, Setsuko (dubbed by Corinne Orr).

Several months earlier, the two children are orphaned after a firebombing destroys most of Kobe and kills their mother (dubbed by Veronica Taylor).

Upon moving in with their aunt (dubbed by Amy Jones), Seita and Setsuko face the brutal reality of growing up as refugees in wartime Japan.

Studio Ghibli is known for its antiwar themes. For example, Hayao Miyazaki’s Howl’s Moving Castle (2004) is heavily influenced by the filmmaker’s childhood in postwar Japan.

Grave of the Fireflies is the dream factory’s most powerful tragedy, though, its young characters developed in such a way that only Ghibli would know how.

To be sure, it is because of the studio’s family-friendliness that Grave of the Fireflies is so mature and heartbreaking. Seita and Setsuko are childlike in a way that transcends across cultural as well as artistic boundaries.

That they are cartoon characters does not detract from their characterizations.

But the nationalistic, toxic masculine intent behind the picture sullies it somewhat. After all, Japanese audiences interpret Seita’s decision not to return to his aunt’s as a wise one, even though the consequences are deadly.

While there are cultural differences at play, Seita’s pride in himself as an imperial Japanese male should not be more important than life itself.

But intentionalism is a critical fallacy – there have been many filmmakers throughout history who did not mean to shoot unethical works but did so anyway – so the director’s interpretation is no less subjective than that of the viewer.

Eddie Redmayne and Daniel Radcliffe respond to JK Rowling’s transphobic tweets

Fantastic Beasts star Eddie Redmayne has joined “Harry Potter” himself, Daniel Radcliffe, in condemning JK Rowling’s recent transphobic social media posts, according to The Guardian. Redmayne – who played Lili Elbe in Tom Hooper’s The Danish Girl (2015), the first known person to undergo sex reassignment surgery – says, “Respect for transgender people remains a cultural imperative, and over the years I have been trying to constantly educate myself.” Similarly, Radcliffe says, “Transgender women are women. Any statement to the contrary erases the identity and dignity of transgender people and goes against all advice given by professional health care associations, who have far more expertise on this subject matter than either Jo or I.”