12 Winters Blog

In memoriam: Jake

Posted in October 2010, Uncategorized by Ted Morrissey on October 31, 2010

Yesterday Jake McNamara would have turned 19, but, as many who read this blog will know, Jake was in a fatal auto accident July 29 at a dark, country-road intersection (where, since then, a four-way stop has been established). In recent days especially, many folks have been talking about Jake and posting new pictures on Facebook, attesting to the positive impact he had on so many in his too few eighteen years. I had the sad honor of speaking at his memorial service. Since so many of us are thinking of Jake on this Halloween weekend (I don’t know for certain, but I suspect he enjoyed Halloweens very much), I thought it might be appropriate to post the words that I read that day, as my main message was that we mustn’t be afraid to speak of Jake and to remember him fondly.

Jake McNamara, 1991-2010

I had the privilege of getting to know Jake in a couple of different contexts:  first, as a student in my speech and English classes; then, as a regular visitor to my home as he became friends with my sons Ethan and Spenser.  To his credit, Jake was Jake no matter what role he was playing.  In both my classroom and my home, Jake was well-mannered, friendly, active of mind, and happy to talk about books, movies and music.  Also, we regularly enjoyed conspiratorial moments as rabid supporters of Barack Obama, long before the bandwagon grew crowded.

Jake’s list of achievements speaks for itself so there’s no question that he was active and successful in school.  What I would like to emphasize though was Jake’s gift with language.  For his creative writing project, Jake shared with me the beginning of a movie script he’d written.  It was very Quentin Tarantino-esque but also very good.  It didn’t have to be a creative writing project per se because Jake’s inherent creativity was reflected to some degree in everything he did, and I have no doubt he would have made his mark in movies or music or in whatever area he focused his intellectual energies.

I must confess my own selfishness and say that as I got to know Jake better and better his senior year, I thought that perhaps the planets had aligned in a very special way that would allow me to achieve a long-standing goal.  For many years now I’ve wanted to see a robot in the cast of characters for Madrigals—a chunky, metallic, 1950s B-science-fiction-movie robot—right there on stage with the king and queen, lords and ladies, serving wenches, jesters, huntsman . . . robot.  And with nothing in the storyline to account for it.  It’s simply there, dancing and singing and wassailing (whatever that really is).  With Jake’s being a senior choir member and, then, king of the Madrigal performers, I talked to him about it on several occasions—and Jake got it, Jake understood.  But alas the inertial forces of tradition were too powerful and it wasn’t to be yet again.

Perhaps, though, Jake’s intellectual maturity was demonstrated most vividly in his genuine appreciation of the greatest film in the history of cinema, 2001:  A Space Odyssey—placing Jake in a special pantheon of my former students, that being students who didn’t make fun of Kubrick’s masterpiece.  With the addition of Jake, that pantheon now stands at . . . three.

In the spring Jake came to me for a recommendation for a poem to be read at the National Honor Society induction.  Being something of a one-trick pony, I suggested the same poem that I’d suggested on the two previous occasions over the years when a student had come to me about a poem for the induction ceremony.  The poem I recommended was “Ithaka” by the early twentieth-century Greek poet Constantine Cavafy.  In the five-stanza poem Cavafy crystallizes one of the central metaphors in Homer’s Odyssey.  Cavafy suggests that the treasure we seek in life is in fact the seeking itself; in other words, no matter how much or how little material wealth we acquire in life, the truest treasure lies in the experiences of living.

My poem recommendation is meant to inspire young people to be open to life’s possibilities as they set sail from their homeport of high school.  Unfortunately, in cases like Jake’s the poem amplifies the tragedy of youth struck down, for our sadness at Jake’s passing is due in large part to the sense that our Jake has been robbed of the opportunity to seek the treasure of life’s experiences.  I know my son Ethan in particular was very much looking forward to experiencing the treasures of going to college this fall with his friend Jake.

However, we should look elsewhere in the great poem that inspired Cavafy to write “Ithaka.”  Homer begins his long tale by invoking the collective memory, the communal memory—quite literally the “memory of the community”—because Odysseus’s journeys were already in the distant past when Homer began recounting them, and therefore Homer’s audience would have known the people and the places and the events already, or, more accurately, each audience member would have known something of them—so through the act of storytelling the poet and his audience, together, bring the people and places of the Odyssey to life.

We must do the same for Jake.  We must remember him well—that is to say, we must be good at remembering him.  And we mustn’t be afraid to speak of our friend for when we do, he is brought back to us again each time.  And Jake will once again make us smile, and laugh, and think—just as he would if he were still with us.

Quiddity fall release gala, and Men of Winter proofs

Posted in October 2010 by Ted Morrissey on October 24, 2010

This past Thursday I attended the fall issue release gala for Quiddity international literary journal and public-radio program at historic Brinkerhoff Home on the campus of Benedictine University at Springfield. As usual, it was an enjoyable and stimulating evening (even though the guest of honor, issue 3.2, was a no-show as its cover was still drying at the printer’s — a not uncommon occurrence at release parties). Most of the usual cast of characters were present: Joanna Beth Tweedy (founding editor and host of the radio program), David Logan (prose editor), Judi O’Brien Anderson (poetry editor), Michael Gammon (layout and web design), Pamm Callebrusco (associate editor), and Marianne Stremsterfer (art editor), plus loyal interns John McCarthy and Stacie Lynn Taylor.

Best of all, there were readings by David Bertaina, poet and translator of Semitic languages; and by Tracy Zeman, “nature poet of the sublime.” As if that weren’t enough, Croatian artist Magda Osterhuber was present to discuss her paintings that were being exhibited in Becker Library Gallery, a short walk from (historic and haunted) Brinkerhoff Home.  Throw in some food and wine and acoustic-guitar folk music, and you’ve got a pretty splendid way to spend a Thursday evening.  Work by Bertaina, Zeman and Osterhuber are included in Quiddity 3.2.  Here is 3.2’s table of contents, which also allows you to hear some of the work included in the issue — a feature that most literary journals don’t offer. The Quiddity radio programs are archived here.

On the Men of Winter front, the publisher sent me the page proofs, which I returned yesterday with corrections — so a release date begins to loom larger and larger, though it isn’t set in stone just yet.  I mentioned in a previous post that the first chapter of my novella Weeping with an Ancient God was published in The Final Page. A new edition of The Final Page has since been posted, and it seems the journal doesn’t archive their older issues — in other words, the excerpt, “Melvill in the Marquesas,” was available online for a few weeks, but, alas, is no more. A couple of editors of other journals expressed an interest in it after it had already been taken by The Final Page, so I may see if someone is interested in “reprinting” the excerpt; or I may just archive it here at 12 Winters Blog. I was really hoping it’d be floating around on the web for a few months, in anticipation of the novella’s publication.

In my novel in progress, the Authoress, I surpassed the 300-manuscript-page mark, and I’m very much enjoying the writing process. I had come to a chapter (the nineteenth) whose function I understood, but the narrative particulars of which were fuzzy, to put it mildly. But I’ve worked through some of those issues and now have a definite bead on the chapter, which is a much better feeling than the murky one I had just a few days ago. I liked another idea, but the narrative timeline just wouldn’t support the development I had in mind — which worked to my benefit as the new trajectory is superior in just about every way. For me, writing a novel is a bit like filling up a hallway closet with stuff, and everything I need to complete the project is in there — sometimes it’s just a matter of sorting through its accumulated contents to find the items I need.

I’m still reading — and enjoying! — Adam Braver‘s Crows over the Wheatfield (though I cheat every now and then, and read some Gogol).


Notes on Poets and Painters; some progress on Men of Winter

Posted in October 2010 by Ted Morrissey on October 10, 2010

This past week I had the pleasure of attending Poets and Painters at the H. D. Smith Gallery in the Hoogland Center for the Arts — a collaboration between two Springfield, Illinois-based groups: Springfield Poets and Writers, and Prairie Art Alliance. The poets and writers were invited to select a work from the gallery for which they would compose an original poem, which was then read at the Poets and Painters event October 7. The president of Springfield Poets and Writers, Anita Stienstra, served as the mistress of ceremonies; the inspirational piece of artwork would be displayed near the podium, then Stienstra would introduce the poet, who read the resulting poem; then the artist would be introduced and have an opportunity to speak about her/his piece. It was a great synergy of artistic expression, taking ekphrasis further than its usual mode, wherein a poem may be published alongside a piece of artwork that inspired it, by having the art and poem displayed together, live, via the artist and poet who created them, and adding an enthusiastic audience into the mix as well — a point that was well-articulated during the program by Ethan Lewis, a literature professor at the University of Illinois at Springfield who read his poem based on Jennifer Davis’s black-and-white photograph Welcome to Highgate. As an added bonus, each poet had his/her poem specially printed and framed, turning it into a piece of visual art as well.

I was impressed by all that I heard and saw, but I have to note in particular Anita Stienstra’s heart-wrenchingly beautiful poem that she wrote in association with Felicia Olin’s painting Blue Blooded. (When I first entered the gallery, I took special note of Olin’s gothic-esque portrait and knew that, if I’d been given the task, I would have chosen that piece as well.) This was the second Poets and Painters event, and examples from the first can be viewed at this blogspot. Do yourself a favor and check out the poems and artwork (Olin has two pieces on display on the site, Girl with Blue Hair and Heroine, both of a similar style to Blue Blooded).

On the creative writing front, graphic artist Julie McAnary sent me a proof for the back cover and spine of Men of Winter. I offered a couple of suggestions, but otherwise I’m very, very pleased. Punkin House Press is still looking at a November release as far as I know. Also, the editor of Pisgah Review, Jubal Tiner, sent me the galleys for “The Composure of Death,” which will appear in an upcoming issue. They look great — I’m impressed with the journal’s professional handling of me and my story.

I continue to read and enjoy Adam Braver‘s novel Crows over the Wheatfield — in fact, I’m going to cut this post a bit short so I can take advantage of this beautiful October day and go read on my front porch.


Filmmaker Jovanna Tosello and a little Gogol

Posted in October 2010 by Ted Morrissey on October 3, 2010

In my last posting I neglected to mention a recent (exciting!) development regarding my forthcoming novel Men of Winter — perhaps it slipped my mind because it’s just too darn cool to be true. A couple of postings ago I mentioned attending the Route 66 International Film Festival and seeing a short animated film, The Magical Porno Theater, that was a real mind-bender. As I watched the film, I started ruminating about the fact that I really wanted to have some sort of video piece associated with my novel (I’ll use the somewhat crass term “a book trailer”), and wouldn’t it be terrific if the Magical Porno filmmaker, Jovanna Tosello, would develop something incredible based on Men of Winter? So I took a chance, found her on the web and hence her gmail address, sent my heart-felt kudos about her film and gingerly floated the idea of her putting something together based on my book, if she had the time and interest (expecting, quite frankly, for her to say thanks, but no thanks). I suspect you can guess where this blog is headed: she said yes. Wow. As I told her in my email, I would rather there was a video out there that drew attention to my book that was also a piece of art in itself, as opposed to any old trailer whose sole purpose in the cosmos is to sell a couple copies of Men of Winter.

Jovanna apparently originally hails from Reykjavik, Iceland, but now lists her location as Los Angeles. According to her website, she has a BFA in character animation from California Institute of the Arts, and she’s working on her MFA in animation and digital art at USC. You can check out The Magical Porno Theater on Vimeo, along with some of Jovanna’s other animated film work — and I highly recommend it. You can also find out more about Jovanna and view her work at her blogger site. To say that I’m thrilled to have Jovanna’s talent and creativity lending their services to my modest novel doesn’t begin to describe it.

In other news, I’ve been reading Adam Braver’s Crows over the Wheatfield, and his work always reminds me of the Russian masters, and as such I developed a yen for some Nikolai Gogol and have been reading a bit from Dead Souls (1842), a novel I’ve been curious about for some time. I wasn’t expecting it to be so downright funny. One of my favorite lines thus far occurs when the main character, Tchitchikoff, and his driver have lost their way at night in a terrible rainstorm, and they come upon a house, immediately to be greeted by some “ill-tempered” dogs — Gogol writes, “[O]ne, throwing back his head, gave a prolonged howl, with as much care as though he had received wages for it” (p. 41, 1966 Airmont edition, trans. Zoe Girling).

Meanwhile, I’ve been working away on the Authoress, my novel in progress, and am feeling very good about the way the narrative is shaping up. The writing is slow, but it progresses. I’m nearly finished with chapter 18 and am at the 290-plus manuscript page mark. It’s all rather nebulous, but I hope to have a complete draft of the novel by next summer, in about another 100 pages or so.