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Today is All Saints’ Day (also known as All Hallows, Solemnity of All Saints or The Feast of All Saints) celebrated on November first by parts of Western Christianity, and on the first Sunday after Pentecost in Eastern Christianity. It honors all saints, known and unknown. It is also the second day of Hallowmas and begins at sunrise on the first day of November and finishes at sundown. It is the day before All Souls’ Day.

The Writers’ Almanac
informs me that it is also the day that Pope Julius II chose back in 1512 to display Michelangelo’s paintings on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel for the first time.

Michelangelo, 33 at the time,  had worked for four years on the paintings which are scenes from the Old Testament, including the famous center section, “The Creation of Adam.” The chapel itself was only 25 years old and other painters had been commissioned to paint frescoes on the walls.

When he was given the commission to paint by the Pope, he tried to point out that he was a sculptor, and not really a painter. The Pope insisted and Michelangelo attempted to use his sculpting experiences  to make the two-dimensional ceiling look like a series of three-dimensional scenes. This was a new technique at that time and working from a scaffold 60 feet above the floor, he painted about 10,000 square feet of surface. Every day, fresh plaster was laid over a part of the ceiling. Then Michelangelo had to finish painting that section before the plaster dried.



Michelangelo’s ‘The Creation of Adam’ with Four Ignudi at the Sistine Chapel

Chris McCandless

If you read Into the Wild or watched the well done film version (directed by Sean Penn), you are familiar with the story of Chris McCandless who went to Alaska, somewhat ill-prepared but full of the Romance of the adventure.

Chris McCandless grew up in suburban Virginia and was a good student. He graduated in 1990 from Emory University and broke off connections with his family. He gave away his $25,000 to Oxfam and went “on the road.”

He traveled across the country in that road trip that many of us dreamed and talked about doing during or after college, but never did. Eventually, Chris abandoned even his car.

In April 1992, he hitchhiked to the Stampede Trail in Alaska and headed down the snow-covered trail and into the wild. He wasn’t totally unprepared – 10 pounds of rice, a .22 caliber rifle, several boxes of rifle rounds, a camera, and a small selection of reading material – including a field guide to the region’s edible plants. But he wasn’t well prepared for an extended stay or very knowledgeable about the plant and animal life, food gathering or the topography of the area.

He survived for about 119 days. He is thought to have died on August 18, 1992.

He survived by foraging for edible roots and berries, shooting game from birds to a moose. He wrote in his journal. He took photographs, including self-portraits.

Although his plan had been to hike to the coast, summer was not a good time for that as the boggy terrain made it too difficult. So, he set up camp a derelict bus that others had used as temporary shelter.

He tried to leave in July 1992, but couldn’t cross a snow-melt swollen river. Unfortunately, there was a hand-powered tram just upstream that he could have used. He wrote in his journal on July 30, “EXTREMLY WEAK. FAULT OF POT. SEED. It was interpreted by Krakauer to mean that Chris had eaten the seeds of an edible plant commonly known as wild Eskimo potato. He had been eating the roots (“potatoes”) which are sweet and nourishing in the spring, but when later in the season they became too tough to eat, he started collecting the seeds.

A new article by Jon Krakauer covers new evidence that the seeds theory is more likely to be true.  He might have made it if not for the poisoning by the seeds.

Maybe. Starvation seems like it still may have taken him. Some better maps and map skills and more information about the area and the seasonal changes would have helped, as would better food supplies.

I loved the book and I’m glad that this evidence seems to support Krakauer’s theory.  Not that the actual cause of his death is critical to what I got from reading and teaching this book to students.

My own belief is that Chris was a victim of Literature and Romance and the deadly brew they can be when mixed and taken in by some people. Krakauer describes McCandless’ very ascetic personality as having been influenced by reading Henry David Thoreau and Jack London.

His story is a lesson worth sharing. Though some people read the book and see Chris as heroic,  I don’t. I sided with about half of my students who saw Chris as someone not really prepared for the quest – though admittedly better prepared than most of us.

Did they want to do their own on-the-road questing journey? Almost all of them said they would like to do it in some form. We know that very few, if any of them, ever will.

I will tuck the article into my copy of the book as a footnote, but it doesn’t change the power or the appeal of the story for me.

I know that his story has become Walden-ish for some people. People make the trip, pilgrim-style,  to the bus in the way people go to Walden Pond.

It’s hard to explain what people would expect to achieve by going there, but I understand that desire. I felt that way about seeing Walden Pond and even the reconstruction of the Thoreau’s cabin. It had a kind of museum reverence.

Back To The Wild is a collection of the photographs and writings of Christopher McCandless and includes his original photographs, postcards and journal entries from his two years of traveling throughout the Western United States, Mexico, Canada and Alaska.

J. D. Salinger has been a mystery for more than fifty years. He was an elusive author pretty much as soon as his first book, The Catcher in the Rye, was published in 1951, and he remained so when he died of natural causes on January 27, 2010, in New Hampshire at the age of 91.

A new book and film about him has put him back in the limelight. Jerry would have been pissed off.

When Salinger came home from Europe in World War II, he began work on The Catcher in the Rye.   It was an immediate bestseller.

J. D. SalingerHe wasn’t pleased by all the attention it focused on him and eventually retreated to his Cornish, New Hampshire home.

The book was banned in several countries and some U.S. schools because of its subject matter and obscenities. In the 1970s, several U.S. high school teachers who assigned the book were fired or forced to resign. According to Wikipedia,  a 1979 study of censorship noted that The Catcher in the Rye “had the dubious distinction of being at once the most frequently censored book across the nation and the second-most frequently taught novel in public high schools” (after John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men).

The book remains widely read. It still sells more than 250,000 copies per year and overall has sold more than 65 million copies. I’m sure this year will be a bonus year.

Salinger walled his property from the world and only published three more books. None were novels. His second book was a story collection, Nine Stories.  Franny and Zooey is two long stories and so is the final book was  Raise High the Roof Beam, and Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction.

That last story is presented in the form of a letter from camp written by a seven-year-old Seymour Glass (the main character of  Salinger’s story “A Perfect Day for Bananafish”).

In structure, this is the same as Salinger’s earlier unpublished story, “The Ocean Full of Bowling Balls,” which he wrote more than twenty years earlier.  After the story’s appearance in The New Yorker, Salinger stopped publishing altogether.

There were no more Salinger books and he became even more withdrawn from public life.  Every once and awhile there would be a grainy photo of him in Cornish shot through a long lens or an article about his lawyers trying to stop (usually successfully) reprints of his work and books about his life.

The story was always that although he was in a self-imposed retirement, he was always writing. he just had no interest in publishing.

Salinger told The New York Times in 1974 that he wrote daily, though only for himself. “There is a marvelous peace in not publishing,” he said.

But we never saw any of that writing, so there were also rumors that he could no longer write.

Now that seems to have changed. Since Salinger’s death, two authors have done interviews around the world and have talked to people who had earlier refused to go on the record about their relationship with Salinger.

Their oral biography has resulted both in a book and film .

David Shields and Shane Salerno gained access to more than 100 never-before-published photographs diaries, letters, legal records, and secret documents. Salinger is the new J.D. Salinger biography that came out this month. A film by the same title was also released to theaters. (In January 2014, it will air on PBS as an installment of American Masters.

The authors say that starting between 2015 and 2020, a series of posthumous Salinger releases are planned.  One of the Salinger books would center on “Catcher” protagonist Holden Caulfield and his family, including a revised version of an early, unpublished story “The Last and Best of the Peter Pans.”

Other volumes will focus on Salinger’s World War II years and his immersion in Eastern religion.  Another, referred to as “The Family Glass,” is about the family of Seymour, his parents and siblings, including those found in Franny and Zooey and the later Salinger works.

There were always hints in the early uncollected and unpublished stories. I sought those out in library basements and later online. “The Ocean Full of Bowling Balls” is one of those unpublished stories and it is about the death of Holden Caulfield’s brother, Kenneth. (Kenneth later became Allie in The Catcher in the Rye.) It was a story set to be published in Harper’s Bazaar, but Salinger withdrew the story before publication.

When I was trying to read all the unpublished stories, I found out that just down the road from my Rutgers campus, that story existed in manuscript form at the Princeton library. Of course, you have to read it while supervised behind the closed doors of a special reading room. Salinger donated the manuscript to Princeton under strict conditions and it cannot be published until 50 years after his death in 2060.

I never got past the guards.

I almost made the pilgrimage to Cornish one college summer to see if I could see Salinger’s house or the man himself. I did find the house, saw the wall, but nothing else. I hung out around town and went to places like the post office that were supposedly places Jerry sometimes ventured out to visit. No action the day I was there.

That story contains a letter from Holden to Kenneth and people have written that this is also the device in “Hapworth 14, 1924.”  That long story (novella?) is a long letter from seven-year-old Seymour Glass while at summer camp. It was  his first new work published in six years. I was able years later to buy a beat up copy of the June 19, 1965 issue of The New Yorker. that it filled up. The story was critically panned and even as a fan, I found it boring.  Not a fan of the epistolary story or novel.

The documentary, Salinger (a film by Shane Salerno), does not name a prospective publisher for all these remaining books or stories.  Salinger’s son, Matt Salinger (an actor), who helps run the author’s literary estate, has not commented on publications or whether Salinger’s publisher, Little, Brown, would offer the new books.

In the mid-1990s, Salinger had actually agreed to allow a small Virginia-based press, Orchises, to issue his novella “Hapworth 16, 1924″ which had appeared in 1965, but after news leaked of the planned publication, Salinger changed his mind and it was canceled.

The Salinger estate, run partly by his son and Salinger’s widow, Colleen O’Neill, has remained silent on the subject since the author’s death. They are two people who did not cooperate with Salerno and Shields for their book or film.

The new book is 700 pages and I haven’t gotten very deeply into it. I have jumped around looking at parts that have always interested me.  I always wondered about his World War II years. I had heard that he met – and was unimpressed with – Ernest Hemingway. The book has an interview with Jean Miller, who, as a teen,  inspired his story “For Esmé – With Love and Squalor.”

Those two areas are interesting. The authors’ take on his WWII experiences is that he was deeply traumatized by war.  And, as was evident in bits of news that came out and then in a several books, he had a fascination for teenage girls that he saw as innocent. I guess he did want to be that catcher in the rye that could stop them from falling off the crazy cliff into phony adulthood. If that Peter Pan idea reminds you a bit of Michael Jackson, I felt the same way.

From Catcher:

“Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around – nobody big, I mean – except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all.”

Teenage girls from Oona O’Neill in the 1940s to Joyce Maynard in the 1970s (who wrote a book about him and their relationship) were certainly a part of his life – and a part that seems pretty creepy.

There is an interview with Mark David Chapman, who cited “Catcher” as a reason he murdered John Lennon in 1980, which I have avoid reading.

I’m sure J.D, would have hated the film and book and would have tried his best to block their publication and release.  Salinger never authorized a biography, but there have been unauthorized books. One of those was written by Ian Hamilton, but in 1987, Salinger successfully blocked release of J.D. Salinger: A Writer’s Life based on Hamilton’s use  of previously unpublished letters. Hamilton turned the legal battle into In Search of J. D. Salinger, published in 1988.

Are all the mysteries solved? No. We still want to see the writing and know why he did what he did. The mystery continues.

Image: NASA

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not Omnipotent.
Is he able but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is God both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?
– Epicurus

I wasn’t sure the video here would remain online when I first encountered it last year, but there is a version on YouTube. It’s from a BBC series and the section below is part one from Jonathan Miller’s Brief History of Disbelief.

This part is titled “Shadows of Doubt.” The series is about atheism but what caught me in this section was that Miller visited the site of the absent Twin Towers in NYC to consider the religious implications of 9/11.

I don’t label myself as an atheist. I would consider myself a deist. That’s more of a topic in itself, but it is defined as s the belief that reason and observation of the natural world are sufficient to determine the existence of God, but that is accompanied with the rejection of revelation and authority as a source of religious knowledge. There is a God who chooses not to be involved in our lives.

Jonathan Miller says he is rather “reluctant” to call himself an atheist because “it hardly seems worthwhile having a name for something which scarcely enters my thoughts at all.”

In “Shadows of Doubt”, we find Miller in the Reading Room at the British Museum describing the purpose of the series. Then he moves to New York City and states that the attacks on 9/11 were “inconceivable without religion”.

There follows a brief montage of people explaining their atheism: Sir Geoffrey Lloyd, Polly Toynbee, Gore Vidal, Steven Weinberg and Colin McGinn. McGinn says that the word “belief” covers diverse things – from I believe there is a computer in front of me, to I believe in democracy. Questions of belief come up only when one is faced with a question which is debatable. Religion and politics are examples. Miller points out that politics differs from religion in being about what ought to be, while religion primarily deals with what is the case.

The series goes back to the evidence of the first “unbelievers” in Ancient Greece and brings it up to modern theories around why some people have always tended to doubt and also why some believe in mythology and magic.

The series includes extracts from interviews with various academic luminaries including Richard Dawkins, Steve Weinberg, Denys Turner, Pascal Boyer and Daniel Dennett. The series also includes many quotations from the works of atheists, agnostics and deists,

The person who uploaded it says they did so because “this needs to be available as a shining light of the historicity of reason midst the depths and oceans of media absurdity and religious propaganda. So few representatives of atheism provide a compelling and earnest account for unbelief, let alone with the lucidity and intellectual vigor of Jonathan Miller. He is sincere and moving in this attempt to explain and understand the origins of the truth of disbelief of religious superstition and faith.”

In the United States, the series was shown as A Brief History of Disbelief in 2007 in three 60 minute sections: “Shadows of Doubt”, “Noughts and Crosses” and “The Final Hour.” There was also a series of supplementary programs made from material that did not fit into the program as “The Atheism Tapes.” (I’m not sure these ran in the U.S.)

I have been a fan of Jonathan Miller since I saw the TV version of his book The Body in Question where he is more in his medical doctor role. he is interested in so many topics and makes all of them understandable.  I enjoyed his Darwin for Beginners which he co-authored. He also has a beautiful art book, On Reflection, about how painters represent the effects of light on various reflective surfaces.

As another blogger pointed out recently,there are over 3.5 billion web pages, more than 181 million blogs, over 10,000 digital versions of newspapers on the web and the average person sends and receives over 110 emails every day. But you found your way to this article.

Maybe it’s serendipity, but somehow we have connected here in my little town of Paradelle. And this piece is about another little town.

Thornton Wilder’s play Our Town premiered at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, New Jersey in 1938.  I saw it there in the late 1960s on a trip with my high school English class.

It is a play about the fictional town of Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire. Emily Webb and George Gibbs are children together in Act 1. They get married in Act 2 and in Act 3 Emily has died in childbirth and is looking back from beyond the grave with other dead citizens of Grover’s Corners.  Emily doesn’t want to pass on and she revisits the happiest day of her life, which was her 12th birthday.

Our Town ladderA lot of my classmates were disappointed in the play for the same reasons that it is considered radical in its time. Wilder decided not to use any scenery and almost no props. He wanted his play to be more like Greek tragedies without the distractions of sets and props. Those dead citizens of Grover’s Corners are like a Greek chorus.

I was in a production of Our Town. We had a ladder as our set.

After Princeton, the play moved to Boston, where it was a flop. But, two New York theater critics, Brooks Atkinson and Alexander Wolcott, convinced the director and producer to give it another try in New York. It did much better. Our Town won the 1938 Pulitzer Prize for drama.

It is estimated that on average, Our Town is performed at least once every night somewhere in the world.

It connects with people. They see their town in that town. They see themselves in Emily

I think that once you’ve found a person that you’re very fond of… I mean a person who’s fond of you, too, and likes you enough to be interested in your character… Well, I think that’s just as important as college is, and even more so. That’s what I think.

George says this to Emily while they drink ice-cream sodas in Mr. Morgan’s drugstore. No drugstore set. No sodas. George passes on going to college for Emily and love. I wondered about that when I was 16 and watching it. I still wondered about it when I was in college and on the Our Town stage.

Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it — every, every minute?

Emily asks this question of the Stage Manager at the end of Act III after she has gone back to her twelfth birthday.

The Stage Manager says that humans do not realize life. The exception, he says might be “saints and poets.”

our town coverThe play celebrates the value of everyday events, moments of ceremony and consequence, such as George and Emily’s wedding and Emily’s funeral. But the strange thing is that the characters do not “realize life” at every moment. Like almost all of us watching the play, we don’t seem to realize the wonder of what passes before our eyes in the play that is every day.

Emily tries when she gets a chance at a replay of her twelfth birthday to get her mother to really see her and not take her for granted. Emily realizes that she too did not pay enough attention. She missed a lot, did not appreciate her family or her town until she died.

She returns to the cemetery. She passes over to the realm of the dead.

Our Town covers about 13 years, but the play collapses those years into the span of one day. It opens with a scene at dawn and it ends at 11 P.M. It opens with Dr. Gibbs’s delivery of twins and closes with Emily’s funeral in the final scene. Even my high school self saw the symbolism of the cycle, the stages, the movement of our lives.

I found the play very sad to watch. Our life is one revolution of that big wheel, but the world continues to spin.

And somehow, you found this piece about Our Town on the World Wide Web. People already don’t seem to use that term – the World Wide Web – but I always liked it. The web that connects all of us with so many fibers and lines. It’s our town.

I thought of Alfred Hitchcock’s film, Vertigo, three times in the past week. The first time was when I took a hot air balloon ride over Napa Valley in California. Next was while climbing the stairs of a tower in San Francisco, the city that is the setting of the film. Finally, last Tuesday, I noticed that it was Hitchcock’s birthday.

Vertigo is a 1958 psychological thriller that Hitchcock based on the 1954 novel D’entre les morts by Boileau-Narcejac.  The film stars James Stewart as former police detective John “Scottie” Ferguson, who has been forced into early retirement due to his vertigo and clinical depression. He works as a private investigator and is hired to follow Madeleine Elster (Kim Novak) who is behaving peculiarly.

The film received mixed reviews upon initial release, but has garnered acclaim since and is now often cited as a classic Hitchcock film and one of the defining works of his career. it replaced Citizen Kane as the best film of all time in the 2012 Sight & Sound critics’ poll and has appeared repeatedly in best film polls by the American Film Institute.


img-edgeAcrophobia (from the Greek ákron , meaning “peak, summit, edge” and phóbos, “fear”) is an extreme or irrational fear of heights. Of course, most people have some degree of natural fear when exposed to heights. It may not show itself when in an airplane at thousands of feet, but be terrifying at a hundred feet on a ledge with no railing.

Acrophobia sufferers can experience a panic attack in a high place and become too agitated to get themselves down safely. Between 2 and 5 percent of the general population suffer from acrophobia, with twice as many women affected as men.

The term “vertigo” is often used incorrectly to describe a fear of heights. It is more accurately a spinning sensation that occurs when one is not actually spinning. It can be triggered by looking down from a high place, but also by looking straight up at a high place. True vertigo can be triggered by almost any type of movement including standing up, sitting down, walking or changes in visual perspective (e.g. squatting down, walking up or down stairs, looking out of the window of a moving car or train). So, with vertigo dizziness triggered by heights is just part of the problem.

In Hitchcock’s film, he popularized the dolly zoom. It is an in-camera special effect that distorts perspective to create disorientation, The effect is achieved by dollying (on wheels) the camera away from a subject while the lens zooms in, or vice-versa. The effect is that  the background appears to change size relative to the subject. It was Hitchcock’s method of showing Scottie’s condition. As a result of its use in this film, the effect is often called “the Vertigo effect”.

Acrophobia is the extreme, but obviously cautiousness around heights is helpful for survival. Like other phobia, this extreme fear can interfere with the activities of everyday life, such as climbing up a flight of stairs or a ladder or even standing on a chair.

I don’t have vertigo, but I do have acrophobia. It hits me when I climb on a low roof to clean out rain gutters. It stops me from going on many amusement park rides which rely on that natural fear for their thrills.

At one time, sufferers were encouraged to expose themselves to height to overcome the fear. I took rock climbing classes and force myself into situations sometimes. In researching this article, I found that this treatment is now considered questionable.

I actually enjoy flying on airplanes and love looking out the window. I wondered about taking the balloon ride last week because of the open basket. Although we rose to about 2500 feet, I felt no fear at all about the height and it was smoother than the plane ride to and from the west coast.


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