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  • Gail Wilson Kenna

The Mysterious Two C’s of Life

Updated: Jan 14

A gale outside…and in a house on eleven forested acres in Virginia, this means hundreds of agitated trees. Some are shaking their remaining brown withered leaves while the resilient green Hollies keep smacking against other trees. These sounds and sights remind me of how much I hated wind as a child in Southern California. And only one writer caught in prose the strange and unsettling Santa Ana winds. I speak of the native Californian Joan Dideon and her essay, “Los Angeles Notebook,” in the collection, Slouching Towards Bethlehem. 


Given I’m in Physical Therapy twice-a-week due to age-old slouching, I noted the ironic title as I pulled Joan off the shelf she occupies with Virginia Woolf and Doris Lessing. Then another irony struck me, given the title of JD’s first essay collection.

                                                            *

Husband Mike taped the PBS Newshour last night, and this Saturday morning he was watching it downstairs and called for me to join him to watch an interview between an Iowa evangelical preacher and a PBS journalist. Her old beat was the Senate. Now she’s a regular on the News Hour, and I must say her aplomb with the pastor was laudable. He of self-certified beliefs and an unwrinkled face supports del santo de Florida.  But this pastor will back Trump if he is the Republican nominee. Why? He recognizes DT as the Good Lord’s appointed messenger. In Iowa Republicans and those promising to change their party, will be slogging and sledding to their voting places or more wisely (my bias) slouching at home.

 

(If you read my book, Tennis Talk of a Nobody, you know I take the two C’s, chance and circumstance, seriously. And from blogs, you might remember I employ books as a bibliophile’s filing system.)  Which is to say after the PBS interview, seated at my desk, I opened Dideon’s essay collection.  What fell out? A folded article, yellow with age, and marked on both sides where scotch tape had been. A column by the late Sydney Harris, a journalist for two Chicago papers. The piece in my hand was, “Prophetic Words from Yeats.” And before Didion’s Preface to Slouching Toward Bethlehem, a full page of the famous William Butler Yeats poem, from which Dideon borrowed her title. Then below the famous Irish poet’s two-stanza, 22 line poem is a wink from the late Joan Dideon and a statement from a Hollywood star.


“I learned courage from Buddha, Jesus, Lincoln, Einstein, and Cary Grant.” Miss Peggy Lee

 



From Sydney Harris I borrowed courage until his death in 1986.  His column syndicated all over the USA (era of newspapers) was in the San Francisco Chronicle.  For a decade in the 1970s in the Napa Valley, I taught high school English. I often cut Harris from the Chronicle, typed his short personal essays, and ran them off on a ditto machine!  I used his writing as a model of economy, simplicity, and clarity. Accessible to ‘regular’ students in a way that formal essays in textbooks were not.

The yellowed column in front of me is 316 words and eight paragraphs. (Might be possible to hear an audio recording on the internet of “Prophetic Words from Yeats.)  I will offer a few lines.

Harris begins, “Things fall apart, the center does not hold,” Yeats proclaimed in one of his most famous lines. Prophetically, even more so today, there seems to be no ‘center’ to hold things together.”

“Life is meant to be like a pair of scissors. One blade is the individual, the other is society.  Together they cut the fabric of civilization…. But the scissors are broken, and one blade has been contemptuously discarded—the blade of society, of community, of tradition in its best and blooming sense.” (The Evangelical, Sydney, and I could have quite a discussion about what that best and blooming tradition means.) * If you don’t know the Yeats poem, "The Second Coming," it is easy to find on the internet.

Lastly, I’m grateful today for an unlikely conjunction. Yesterday I had been asked to send in a title and description for a course I’ll teach in the fall. Joan Dideon and Sydney Harris helped me decide to teach, “The Art of the Personal Essay.”

Next time: Thoughts on Memoir and one called A Balanced Life 

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