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Industrial Magic

That Cortez Boy

I sat in a hotel room, across from two thirty-something witches in business suits, listening as they said all the right things. All the polite things. How they'd heard such wonderful accounts of my mother. How horrified they'd been to learn of her murder. How delighted they were to see that I was doing well despite my break with the Coven.

All this they said, smiling with just the right mixture of sadness, commiseration, and support. Wendy Aiken did most of the talking. While she did, her younger sister Julie's eyes darted to where Savannah, my thirteen-year-old ward, perched on the bed. I caught the looks Julie shot her, distaste mingled with fear. A black witch's daughter, in their hotel room.

As Wendy's lips moved in rehearsed platitudes, her gaze slipped past me to the clock. I knew then that I would fail . . . again. But I gave my spiel anyway. I told them my vision of a new Coven for the technological age, linked by sisterhood instead of proximity, each witch living where she chooses, but with a full Coven support system only a phone call or e-mail away.

When I finished, the sisters looked at each another.

I continued. "As I mentioned, there's also the grimoires. Third-level spells, lost for generations. I have them and I want to share them, to return witches to their former glory."

To me, these books were my trump card. Even if you didn't give a damn about sisterhood or support, surely you'd want this power. What witch wouldn't? Yet, as I looked at Wendy and Julie, I saw my words wash right over them, as if I was offering a free set of steak knives with the purchase of a complete living-room suite.

"You're a very compelling saleswoman," Wendy said with a smile.

"But . . ." Savannah muttered from the bed.

"But we must admit, we have a problem with the . . . present company you keep."

Julie's gaze slid toward Savannah. I tensed, ready to leap to her defense.

"That Cortez boy," Wendy said. "Well, young man, I should say. Yes, I know he's not involved with his family's Cabal, but we all know how things like that turn out. Youthful rebellion is all very well, but it doesn't pay the bills. And I hear he's not very successful in that regard."


"He's still young, I know, and he does a lot of pro bono work. That's very noble, Paige. I can see how a young woman would find it romantic--"

"But," Julie cut in, "like Wendy says, it doesn't pay the bills. And he is a Cortez."

Wendy nodded. "Yes, he is a Cortez."

"Hey," Savannah said, standing. "I have a question." She stepped toward the sisters. Julie shrank back. "When's the last time you saved a witch from being murdered by Cabal goons? Lucas did that just last month."

"Savannah . . ." I said.

She stepped closer to the two women. "What about defending a shaman set up by a Cabal? That's what Lucas is doing now. Oh, and Paige does charity work, too. In fact, she's doing it right now, offering two-faced bitches like you a spot in her Coven."


"I'll be in the hall," she said. "Something in here stinks."

She wheeled and marched out of the hotel room.

"My god," Wendy said. "She is her mother's daughter."

"And thank God for that," I said, and left.

As I drove out of the city core, Savannah broke the silence.

"I heard what you said. It was a good comeback."

The words "even if you didn't mean it" hung between us. I nodded and busied myself scanning traffic. I was still working on understanding Savannah's mother, Eve. It wasn't easy. My whole being rebelled at the thought of empathizing with a dark witch. But, even if I could never think of Eve as someone I could admire, I'd come to accept that she'd been a good mother. The proof of that was beside me. A thoroughly evil woman couldn't have produced a daughter like Savannah.

"You know I was right," she said. "About them. They're just like the Coven. You deserve--"

"Don't," I said quietly. "Please."

She looked at me. I could feel her gaze, but didn't turn. After a moment, she shifted to stare out the window.

I was in a funk, as my mother would have said. Feeling sorry for myself and knowing there was no good reason for it. I should be happy--ecstatic even. Sure my life had taken a nasty turn four months ago--if one can call "the end of life as I knew it" a nasty turn--but I'd survived. I was young. I was healthy. I was in love. Damn it, I should be happy. And when I wasn't, that only added guilt to my blues, and left me berating myself for acting like a spoiled, selfish brat.

I was bored. The Web site design work that had once fired a passion in me now piled up on the desk—drudgery I had to complete if anyone in our house intended to eat. Did I say house? I meant apartment. Four months ago, my house near Boston had burned to cinders, along with everything I owned. I was now the proud renter of a lousy two-bedroom apartment in a lousier neighborhood in Portland, Oregon. Yes, I could afford better, but I hated digging into the insurance money, terrified I'd wake up one day with nothing in the bank and be forced to spend eternity living beneath a deaf old woman who watched blaring talk shows eighteen hours a day.

For the first two months, I'd been fine. Lucas, Savannah, and I had spent the summer traveling. But then September came and Savannah had to go to school. So we set up house—apartment—in Portland, and carried on. Or, I should say, Savannah and Lucas carried on. They'd both lived nomadic lives before, so this was nothing new. Not so for me. I'd been born near Boston, grown up there, and never left—not even for school. Yet in my fight to protect Savannah last spring, my house hadn't been the only thing to burn. My entire life had gone up in smoke—my business, my private life, my reputation—all had been dragged through the tabloid cesspool, and I'd been forced to relocate clear across the country, someplace where no one had heard of Paige Winterbourne. The scandal had fizzled out quickly enough, but I couldn't go back. The Coven had exiled me, which meant I was forbidden to live within the state boundaries. Still, I hadn't given up. I'd sucked in my grief, dried my tears, and marched back into the fight. My Coven didn't want me? Fine, I'd start my own. In the last eight weeks I'd met with nine witches. Each one said all the right things, then turned me down flat. With each rejection, the abyss widened.

We went out for dinner, followed by an early movie. My way of apologizing to Savannah for inflicting another witch-recruitment session on her.

Back at the apartment, I hustled Savannah off to bed, then zoomed into my room just as the clock-radio flipped to 10:59. I grabbed the cordless phone, jumped onto the bed, and watched the clock. Two seconds after it hit 11:00, the phone rang.

"Two seconds late," I said.

"Never. Your clock must be running fast."

I smiled and settled back onto the bed. Lucas was in Chicago, defending a shaman who'd been set up by the St. Cloud Cabal to take the fall for a corporate espionage scheme gone awry.

I asked Lucas how the case was going, and he filled me in. Then he asked how my afternoon had gone, specifically my meeting with the witches. For a second, I almost wished I had one of those boyfriends who didn't know or care about my life outside his sphere of influence. Lucas probably noted all my appointments in his Day-Timer, so he'd never do something as inconsiderate as fail to ask about them afterward.

"Shot down," I said.

A moment of silence. "I'm sorry."

"No big—"

"Yes, it is. I know it is. However, I'm equally certain that, given the right circumstances and timing, you'll eventually find yourself in a position where the number of witches clamoring to join your Coven will far exceed your requirements."

"In other words, give it time and I'll need to beat 'em off with a stick?"

A soft chuckle floated down the line. "I get even less coherent after a day in court, don't I?"

"If you didn't talk like that once in a while, I'd miss it. Kind of like I'm missing you. Got an ETA for me yet?"

"Three days at most. It's hardly a murder trial." He cleared his throat. "Speaking of which, another case was brought to my attention today. A half-demon killed in Nevada, apparently mistaken for another who was under Cabal warrant for execution."


"Exactly. The Boyd Cabal isn't admitting their mistake, let alone conducting a proper investigation and procedural review. I thought perhaps you might be able to assist me. That is, if you aren't busy—"

"When can we leave?"

"Sunday. Savannah could spend the night at Michelle's, and we'd return Monday evening."

"Sounds—" I stopped. "Savannah has an orthodontic appointment Monday afternoon. I'd reschedule, but . . ."

"It took six weeks to get it, I know. Yes, I have it marked right here. Three o'clock with Doctor Schwab. I should have checked before I asked." He paused. "Perhaps you could still come along and leave early Monday morning?"

"Sure. That sounds good."

The words came out empty, the elation that surged only a moment ago drained by this sudden glimpse of my future, calendar pages crammed with orthodontic appointments, Saturday morning art classes, and PTA meetings stretching into eternity.

On the heels of that thought came another. How dare I complain? I'd taken on this responsibility. I'd wanted it. I'd fought for it. Only a few months ago, I'd seen the same snapshot of my future and I'd been happy. Now, as much as I loved Savannah, I couldn't deny the occasional twinges of resentment.

"We'll work something out," Lucas said. "In the meantime, I should mention that I took advantage of a brief recess today to visit some of Chicago's lesser-known shopping venues, and found something that might cheer you up. A necklace."

I grinned. "An amulet?"

"No, I believe it's what they call a Celtic knot. Silver. A simple design, but quite elegant."

"Sure. Good . . . great."


"No really, I—" I paused. "It's not a necklace, is it?"

"I've been told, on good authority, that jewelry is the proper token of affection. I must admit I had my doubts. One could argue that you'd prefer a rare spell, but the jewelry store clerk assured me that all women prefer necklaces to musty scrolls."

I rolled onto my stomach and grinned. "You bought me a spell? What kind? Witch? Sorcerer?"

"It's a surprise."

"What?" I shot upright. "No way! Don't you dare—"

"It'll give you something to look forward to when I get home."

"Well, that's good, Cortez, 'cause God knows, I wasn't looking forward to anything else."

A soft laugh. "Liar."

I thumped back onto the bed. "How about a deal? You tell me what the spell does and I'll give you something to look forward to."


"I'll make it more than tempting."

"That I don't doubt."

"Good. Now here's the deal. I give you a list of options. If you like one, then you can have it when you get home if you tell me about the spell tonight."

"Before you begin, I really should warn you, I'm quite resolved to secrecy. Breaking that resolve requires more than a laundry list of options, however creative. Detail will be the key."

I grinned. "You alone?"

"That goes without saying. If you're asking whether I'm in my hotel room, the answer is yes."

My grin broadened. "Good, then you'll get all the detail you can handle."

I never did find out what the spell was, probably because, five minutes into the conversation, we both forgot what had started it and, by the time we signed off, I crawled under the covers, forgetting even the most basic nighttime toiletry routines, and promptly fell asleep, my curiosity the only thing left unsatisfied.
Death Before Dishonor

Come morning, i bounded out of bed, ready to take on the world. This would have been a positive sign had I not done the same thing every morning for the past two weeks. I awoke, refreshed, determined this would be the day I'd haul my ass out of the pit. I'd cook breakfast for Savannah. I'd leave a cheerful message of support on Lucas's cell phone. I'd jog two miles. I'd dive into my Web site projects with renewed vigor and imagination. I'd take time out in the afternoon to hunt down season-end tomatoes at the market. I'd cook up a vat of spaghetti sauce that would fill our tiny freezer. The list went on. I usually derailed somewhere between leaving the message for Lucas and starting my workday . . . roughly around nine a.m.

That morning, I sailed into my jog still pumped. I knew I wouldn't hit two miles, considering I'd never exceeded one mile in my entire running career, which was now in its fifth week. Over the last eighteen months it had come to my attention, on multiple occasions, that my level of physical fitness was inadequate. Before now, a good game of pool was as active as I got. Ask me to flee for my life, and we could be talking imminent heart failure.

As long as I was reinventing myself, I might as well toss in a fitness routine. Since Lucas ran, that seemed the logical choice. I hadn't told him about it yet. Not until I reached the two-mile mark. Then I'd say, "Oh, by the way, I took up running a few days ago." God forbid I should admit to not being instantly successful at anything.

That morning, I finally passed the one-mile mark. Okay, it was only by about twenty yards, but it was still a personal best, so I treated myself to an iced chai for the walk home.

As I rounded the last corner, I noticed two suspicious figures standing in front of my building. Both wore suits, which in my neighborhood was extremely suspicious. I looked for Bibles or encyclopedias, but they were empty-handed. One stared up at the building, perhaps expecting it to morph into corporate headquarters.

I fished my keys from my pocket. As I glanced up, two girls walked past the men. I wondered why they weren't in school—dumb question in this neighborhood, but I was still adjusting—then realized the "girls" were at least forty. My mistake arose from the size differential. The two men towered a foot above the women.

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CATINAT   WE LEFT VIETNAM with a close friend of my mother, Hà, and her parents.

Hà is much younger than my mother. At the beginning of the 1970s in Saigon, she was the perfect modern woman in the American style, with her very short dresses that showed off the slanted, heart-shaped birthmark high up on her left thigh. I remember her irresistible platform shoes in the hallway of our house, which struck me as decadent, or at least gave me a new perspective on the world when I slipped them on. Her false eyelashes thick with mascara transformed her eyes into two spiky-haired rambutans. She was our Twiggy, with her apple-green and turquoise eyeshadow, two colours that clashed with her coppery skin. She was unlike most of the young girls, who avoided the sun in order to set themselves apart from the peasants in the rice fields, who had to roll their pants up to their knees and endure the violent bright light. Hà bared her skin at the swimming pool of the very exclusive Cercle Sportif, where she gave me swimming lessons. She preferred American freedom to the elegance of French culture, which gave her the courage to participate in the first Miss Vietnam competition, even though she was an English teacher.

My mother did not approve of her choices, which went contrary to her status as a well-educated young woman from a good family. But she supported her by buying her the long dress and bathing suit that Hà would wear on stage. She had her practise walking in a straight line along the tiled floor, balancing a dictionaryon her head, as she’d seen women do in films. My mother treated her as if she were her big sister,and shielded her from gossip. She allowed Hà to takeme with her to the chic boutiques on rue Catinat, andto drink a lime soda with her foreign friends. Hàmarched along this street with its grand hotels like aproud conqueror. The city belonged to her. I wonderedwhether my mother envied her this ease thatcame from the compliments raining down on herfrom her teachers and her American colleagues. Thelatter celebrated her beauty with gifts of chocolate bars,hair curlers, and Louis Armstrong records, whereasthe Vietnamese looked on her dark complexion as“savage.” More than once, my grandparents asked mymother to halt my swimming lessons with Hà. I suspectthat my mother disobeyed them and kept Hàclose to us because she hoped I’d learn to be beautiful. Unfortunately, that time with Hà in Vietnam was tooshort—or my apprenticeship, too slow.

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The Uncrowned King

The Uncrowned King

The Sensational Rise of William Randolph Hearst
also available: Hardcover
tagged : business
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Chapter One
It is difficult to say precisely when William Randolph Hearst first hit on the idea of breaking into New York publishing, but it is clear that by 1889 he would not be satisfied until he did. He was twenty-six years old and already a minor newspaper phenomenon. Three years earlier he had been handed the San Francisco Examiner by his father, who had owned it for six years, accomplishing little beyond a string of annual losses. With no more than a few months of professional journalistic experience, the younger Hearst announced himself as proprietor and editor and promptly established the Examiner as the most attractive, intelligent, and exuberant daily on the Pacific coast. Its circulation more than doubled. Its losses evaporated. It rivaled the mighty San Francisco Chronicle as the leading newspaper in the West. The trade journals credited Hearst with a “masterstroke of enterprise.” It seems everyone who knew the Examiner was impressed by it, save Hearst, who was keenly aware that whatever he had accomplished in San Francisco, he had not done anything in New York.

His expansion plans were in fact larger than one city. Hearst envisioned a chain of newspapers, the individual titles of which would share content, management, and other resources, reducing costs and magnifying the proprietor’s voice and influence. But a chain was unthinkable without New York. It was the liveliest and most competitive newspaper city in the world, and the center of media and commercial influence in the United States. New York was a goal in itself.

Out of the blue, on Thanksgiving Day 1889, Charles M. Palmer, an experienced midwestern newspaper executive specializing in circulation, received a telegram from Hearst inviting him to join the Examiner and asking what salary he would expect. Palmer signed on, excited at the comprehensiveness of Hearst’s expansion plans and the prospect of an imminent break into the New York market. He was also impressed by Hearst’s manner, a curious mixture of deference and self-assurance. George Pancoast, Hearst’s private secretary and frequent companion, also learned of the New York initiative around this time. As they were crossing San Francisco Bay on a ferry, Hearst took from his pocket a railway timetable and drew circles around the names of several large cities, saying, “George, some day a paper there, and there, and there.” New York he circled twice.

Hearst’s plans were made public that autumn when the New York Press revealed that he had been “trying to induce his father to set him up in business here, either by buying some old paper or establishing a new one.” A staggeringly wealthy senator from California, the Honorable George Hearst had cheerfully spent his best years in frontier mining camps and scrappy western towns, exercising an uncanny ability to charm metal out of rock. Before taking up politics, he had been instrumental in the development of four of the richest mines yet discovered in America: Nevada’s Comstock Lode, Utah’s Ontario Mine, Montana’s Anaconda, and South Dakota’s Homestake. The Press guessed George Hearst was worth $20 million. It reported that the senator had been in upstate New York over the summer to watch his thoroughbreds run, and that he had this to say about his son’s New York newspaper ambitions: “There ’s plenty of money if the boy really has his heart set on it. But I am in hopes he will conclude after a while that one big paper is enough for one man to run.”
It’s unlikely that Will Hearst viewed his father’s caution as a serious obstacle. The old man was a soft touch. Will also had himself to blame for his father’s “one big paper is enough” reservation. He had been complaining incessantly to the senator about his competitive difficulties in San Francisco. He had started a newspaper war with the Chronicle and, to his surprise and consternation, its owner, Michael de Young, was fighting back. De Young had announced a series of new investments in his paper, including the construction of an impressive new headquarters and Will had pleaded for more paternal support to keep pace. “I am working awfully hard and getting a little bit tired and a little bit discouraged,” he wrote his father. “That damned Chronicle building is a tremendous advertisement and helps them immensely. Everybody talks about it and everybody thinks it is pretty fine and there is great difficulty getting subscribers away from a paper that is doing a big thing like that. The effect upon the advertiser is even worse. Mr. De Young told a friend the other day that since he had started his building his income [from the paper] had almost doubled. . . . How long do you suppose it will be before we can put up a building – a stunner that will knock his endways and make him as sick as he is now making me[?]”

George Hearst’s hesitancy about his son’s New York plans may also have been lip service to Phoebe Apperson Hearst. The senator was constantly reminded by his wife that he had lost hundreds of thousands on the Examiner before it had begun to pay, and that was on top of the hundreds of thousands he was throwing away on his ponies. Though one of the richest families in America, and a small one at that, the three Hearsts were diversely ambitious and variously extravagant; there was not enough money to go around. At the start of 1890, they were spending at a pace of almost $1 million annualized. Phoebe was generally the voice of restraint, seeking to rein in her men not out of prudence so much as out of concern for her own spending and philanthropic priorities. Sometimes the men listened to her; more often, as in this instance, not.

The senator’s misgivings appear to have lasted no longer than it took the Press to get them in print. He was soon reported to have made unsuccessful bids for the New York Times and the New York Sun, as well as a $5-million play for the mighty New York Herald. The accuracy of these reports is uncertain, but any discussions toward the purchase of a New York title would have made Will’s dream seem tantalizingly close. And just then everything changed.

Late in 1890, Senator Hearst was diagnosed with “a complication of diseases” rooted in “a serious derangement of the bowel” – in a word, cancer. He received first-rate medical attention and fought bravely against the illness, but it advanced quickly. Around seven o’clock on the evening of February 28, 1891, he slipped into a coma. Phoebe was called from dinner and was joined at his bedside in their Washington mansion by Will, a family friend, and the household staff. All were present when George died at 9:10 p.m, with Phoebe holding his hand. “So quickly and easily did he pass away,” said one report, “that Mrs. Hearst did not know he was dead until so informed by Dr. Ward.”

George Hearst was remembered fondly as a tall, rumpled man with a great beard, a constant smile, and kindly, genial ways. Eulogies played up the incongruity of his humble origins and lack of formal education, and his spectacular rise to riches and high political office. There was much amusement at his love of horses, card games, and drink. It was said that “only such an amount of culture had attached to him as would necessarily be forced upon a man whose household was presided over by a model wife, who was a society leader having practically limitless wealth at her command.” That characterization of George Hearst has persisted over the years, with much of the warmth wrung from it. He is portrayed in his son’s most recent biography as an “uncouth, loud, and semi-literate” hick who drank too much, neglected his family, and bought his way into the Senate. The recent HBO drama Deadwood presents him as a sociopathic tycoon who murders his way to riches.

Senator Hearst was indeed a child of the Missouri frontier, but he hardly grew up wild. The family was patrician by local standards. George Hearst’s father was a man of means, the largest slave owner in Meramec Township, and a force in local politics. His mother had some education and was known for her cashmere shawls and leghorn bonnets. George did not spend a lot of his childhood in the classroom, mostly because there was no schoolhouse nearby, but he had a good head and he eventually completed enough of grade school to graduate from the Franklin County Mining School in 1838. He was expected to study for the bar, but then his father passed away, leaving debts that George took upon himself to clear. Sufficiently literate to teach himself geology and mineralogy from borrowed texts, George earned his first financial stake by applying the efficient lead-mining practices he learned from books to mining properties considered worthless by experienced Missouri operators.

George Hearst took his knowledge west, made and lost several fortunes, and gained an international reputation as a mining analyst. He also became expert in the bewilderingly complex legal dimensions of his trade (the protection of a single claim could require litigation of twenty or thirty separate suits). His colleagues marveled at his shrewdness and cool judgment, which seemed only to improve in times of uncertainty or crisis. They also valued his personal qualities: he was cheerful, open, unaffected, honest, sensible, independent of mind, and innately dignified. He was a beloved figure in the mining belt. Colleagues sought his advice on personal as well as commercial matters. He dispensed his counsel in “wise, original and homely thoughts and phrases,” flavored with the musical drawl of his native Missouri. His personal magnetism kept him in some of the best company available in the western states. His business partners included California attorney general and U.S. senator William Morris Stewart, U.S. senator James Graham Fair, and Nevada City mayor Hamlet Davis. Among his friends were U.S. Supreme Court justice Stephen J. Field, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of California Niles Searls, and Ninth Circuit judge Lorenzo Sawyer. Mark Twain was a drinking buddy, a business associate, and an admirer of George’s self-reliance and political judgment.

Senator Hearst’s “model wife” might not have registered the precise moment of his passing, but she knew exactly what to do once he was gone. Phoebe was a formidable woman in her own right. Tiny, dark-haired, and handsome in a severe manner, she was given to lavender gowns, antique lace, tight corsets, and show-stopping rubies and diamonds. She was Washington’s most celebrated hostess, the “philanthropic grande dame” of the capital and its “arbiter of unsullied elegance,” by one newspaper report. Just two years prior to her husband’s death, she had opened their Dupont Circle mansion with a costume ball to commemorate Washington’s birthday. TheWashington Post deemed it “by far the most brilliant event of its kind” ever held in the city. The flowers alone were rumored to have cost $25,000 (the reporter who wrote the story would have been lucky to earn $25 a week). The party favors included “reticules of flowered silk, amber and tortoise shell combs and clusters of three ostrich tips for the hair. Those of the gentlemen were silver medals cut with colonial cocked hats and shields, pen wipers of white kid embroidered in flowers and tiny buckets of California redwood in the form of pin cushions.” So never mind that the humble senator might have been perfectly content with a quick drop in a pine box. Phoebe ’s reputation demanded she give him a glorious send-off.

The ceremonies began with George Hearst’s body lying in state for the better part of a week. A memorial service was held in Washington at Saint John’s Episcopal Church, the president and Mrs. Benjamin Harrison in attendance. Afterward, the casket, Phoebe, Will, and a large party of senators, congressmen, friends, and retainers boarded a special train, dyed Titian red, for the week-long ride back west. George ’s body was displayed for four more days at Grace Episcopal Cathedral in San Francisco, attracting thousands of mourners, even in hard rains.

The funeral service was Phoebe ’s main event. The governor of the state and the city’s mayor were among the honorary pallbearers; the widow’s society friends sat in assigned pews. She transformed the church into a garden, with palms and evergreens crowding every niche, and a pair of seven-foot white flower crosses bracketing the altar. Great streams of blossoms hung from every arch and rafter. It was an exhibition of “gems and treasures of the florist’s art such as have rarely been brought together to do honor to the dead,” gushed the Examiner. Will’s daily had made its own contribution to the display. Sitting like a billboard in front of the casket was a blue and white floral representation of the paper’s front page, featuring a portrait of the senator.

After the service, Phoebe left the church on Will’s arm to lead a slow ten-block procession to Laurel Hill Cemetery. The hearse was drawn by four jet-black horses. “The strains of the dirges and the long roll of the muffled drums were the only sounds above the patter of the rain,” reported the Examiner. Fifteen thousand people gathered in the steady drizzle to watch the cortege pass. The crowd at the cemetery gates had to be cleared to permit the family to enter. Sixteen days after his last breath, the senator was finally laid to rest. Pheobe and Will were last to leave the casket.

If Grace Episcopal had been to Phoebe’s taste, the funeral train’s return east sans casket was nearer to George ’s style. An Indiana temperance crusader whose own train happened to be trailing the Hearst party complained that its passengers engaged in a coast-to-coast debauch, fueled by wines donated by California vineyards. The front page of the starchy New York Times reported that privately marked cases of wine and hundreds of empties were loaded on and off the train near El Paso, Texas. Witnesses declared that tier upon tier of wine cases were stacked in the dining car and that the Hearst party “did not have a drip of water on their train but drank wine altogether, using orange wine to quench their thirst.” Congress was indignant at the allegations, especially as it was obliged to pick up the tab. The cost of the trip was a record $21,322.55, which led to legislation limiting government spending on congressional funerals to the costs of embalming and transporting the body home (the bill was never enacted).

In the weeks before the senator’s death, newspapers had speculated as to the settlement of the Hearst estate. Valued at between eighteen and twenty million, it included several outstanding mining properties and perhaps a million acres in land. The betting was that Will, as the only child, would be the sole heir. In fact, he was shut out. Everything regarding the ownership, management, and disposition of the assets fell to Phoebe. The senator had written, “I commend my son, William R. Hearst, to my said wife, having full confidence that she will make suitable provisions for him, but in the event of the marriage of my said wife after my death, I hereby give and bequeath to my said son all of my said property that may remain in the possession of my said wife at that date.”

Will Hearst now had a lot to absorb. Notwithstanding that his father had been away in mining camps for much of his life, there had been a bond between them. Will was his father’s boy in many respects. There was a physical resemblance: the fair hair, the long face, the tall stature and sloped shoulders. Each possessed cool judgment and a powerful mind with a practical bent. Will also had some of George ’s gentleness and amiability (although little of his freewheeling charm). They had drawn close as Will had matured, primarily through their shared interests in publishing and politics. Many people, starting with Phoebe, had held the senator’s simple ways against him, but Will had not. He favored competence and accomplishment over manners and appearances, an attitude he had adopted from George. He loved and admired his father, and his bereavement had to have been profound. It would have especially pained him that George had doubted his maturity and financial abilities, and had not seen fit to leave him an independent legacy. He must have cringed to recall his panicked pleas for another “million or a million and a half or two million” with which to fight the Chronicle.

Will appears to have blamed himself for his father’s decision (a verdict echoed by his biographers), yet odds on a full inheritance had always been slim. The senator’s relations with his son were far less important to the disposition of his estate than were his relationship with his wife and the unorthodox terms of their marriage.

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Dark Age Ahead


The Hazard

This is both a gloomy and a hopeful book.

The subject itself is gloomy. A Dark Age is a culture's dead end. We in North America and Western Europe, enjoying the many benefits of the culture conventionally known as the West, customarily think of a Dark Age as happening once, long ago, following the collapse of the Western Roman Empire. But in North America we live in a graveyard of lost aboriginal cultures, many of which were decisively finished off by mass amnesia in which even the memory of what was lost was also lost. Throughout the world Dark Ages have scrawled finis to successions of cultures receding far into the past. Whatever happened to the culture whose people produced the splendid Lascaux cave paintings some seventeen thousand years ago, in what is now southwestern France? Or the culture of the builders of ambitious stone and wood henges in Western Europe before the Celts arrived with their Iron Age technology and intricately knotted art?

Mass amnesia, striking as it is and seemingly weird, is the least mysterious of Dark Age phenomena. We all understand the harsh principle Use it or lose it. A failing or conquered culture can spiral down into a long decline, as has happened in most empires after their relatively short heydays of astonishing success. But in extreme cases, failing or conquered cultures can be genuinely lost, never to emerge again as living ways of being. The salient mystery of Dark Ages sets the stage for mass amnesia. People living in vigorous cultures typically treasure those cultures and resist any threat to them. How and why can a people so totally discard a formerly vital culture that it becomes literally lost?

This is a question that has practical importance for us here in North America, and possibly in Western Europe as well. Dark Ages are instructive, precisely because they are extreme examples of cultural collapse and thus more clear-cut and vivid than gradual decay. The purpose of this book is to help our culture avoid sliding into a dead end, by understanding how such a tragedy comes about, and thereby what can be done to ward it off and thus retain and further develop our living, functioning culture, which contains so much of value, so hard won by our forebears. We need this awareness because, as I plan to explain, we show signs of rushing headlong into a Dark Age.

Surely, the threat of losing all we have achieved, everything that makes us the vigorous society we are, cannot apply to us! How could it possibly happen to us? We have books, magnificent storehouses of knowledge about our culture; we have pictures, both still and moving, and oceans of other cultural information that every day wash through the Internet, the daily press, scholarly journals, the careful catalogs of museum exhibitions, the reports compiled by government bureaucracies on every subject from judicial decisions to regulations for earthquake-resistant buildings, and, of course, time capsules.

Dark Ages, surely, are pre-printing and pre-World Wide Web phenomena. Even the Roman classical world was skimpily documented in comparison with our times. With all our information, how could our culture be lost? Or even almost lost? Don't we have it as well preserved as last season's peach crop, ready to nourish our descendants if need be?

Writing, printing, and the Internet give a false sense of security about the permanence of culture. Most of the million details of a complex, living culture are transmitted neither in writing nor pictorially. Instead, cultures live through word of mouth and example. That is why we have cooking classes and cooking demonstrations, as well as cookbooks. That is why we have apprenticeships, internships, student tours, and on-the-job training as well as manuals and textbooks. Every culture takes pains to educate its young so that they, in their turn, can practice and transmit it completely. Educators and mentors, whether they are parents, elders, or schoolmasters, use books and videos if they have them, but they also speak, and when they are most effective, as teachers, parents, or mentors, they also serve as examples.

As recipients of culture, as well as its producers, people attend to countless nuances that are assimilated only through experience. Men, women, and children in Holland conduct themselves differently from men, women, and children in England, even though both share the culture of the West, and very differently from their counterparts in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, or Singapore. Travel writers, novelists, visual artists, and photographers draw attention to subtle, everyday differences in conduct rooted in experience, including the experience of differing cultural histories, but their glosses are unavoidably sketchy, compared with the experience of living a culture, soaking it up by example and word of mouth.

Another thing: a living culture is forever changing, without losing itself as a framework and context of change. The reconstruction of a culture is not the same as its restoration. In the fifteenth century, scholars and antiquarians set about reconstructing the lost classical culture of Greece and Rome from that culture's writing and artifacts. Their work was useful and remains so to this day; Western Europeans relearned their cultural derivations from it. But Europeans also plunged, beginning in the fifteenth century, into the post-Renaissance crises of the Enlightenment. Profoundly disturbing new knowledge entered a fundamentalist and feudal framework so unprepared to receive it that some scientists were excommunicated and their findings rejected by an establishment that had managed to accept reconstructed classicism--and used it to refute newer knowledge. Copernicus's stunning proofs forced educated people to realize that the earth is not the center of the universe, as reconstructed classical culture would have it. This and other discoveries, especially in the basic sciences of chemistry and physics, pitted the creative culture of the Enlightenment against the reconstructed culture of the Renaissance, which soon stood, ironically, as a barrier to cultural development of the West--a barrier formed by canned and preserved knowledge of kinds which we erroneously may imagine can save us from future decline or forgetfulness.

Dark Ages are horrible ordeals, incomparably worse than the temporary amnesia sometimes experienced by stunned survivors of earthquakes, battles, or bombing firestorms who abandon customary routines while they search for other survivors, grieve, and grapple with their own urgent needs, and who may forget the horrors they have witnessed, or try to. But later on, life for survivors continues for the most part as before, after having been suspended for the emergency.

During a Dark Age, the mass amnesia of survivors becomes permanent and profound. The previous way of life slides into an abyss of forgetfulness, almost as decisively as if it had not existed. Henri Pirenne, a great twentieth-century Belgian economic and social historian, says that the famous Dark Age which followed the collapse of the Western Roman Empire reached its nadir some six centuries later, about 1000 c.e. Here, sketched by two French historians, is the predicament of French peasantry in that year:

The peasants...are half starved. The effects of chronic malnourishment are conspicuous in the skeletons exhumed....The chafing of the teeth...indicates a grass-eating people, rickets, and an overwhelming preponderance of people who died young....Even for the minority that survived infancy, the average life span did not exceed the age of forty....Periodically the lack of food grows worse. For a year or two there will be a great famine; the chroniclers described the graphic and horrible episodes of this catastrophe, complacently and rather excessively conjuring up people who eat dirt and sell human skin....There is little or no metal; iron is reserved for weapons.

So much had been forgotten in the forgetful centuries: the Romans' use of legumes in crop rotation to restore the soil; how to mine and smelt iron and make and transport picks for miners, and hammers and anvils for smiths; how to harvest honey from hollow-tile hives doubling as garden fences. In districts where even slaves had been well clothed, most people wore filthy rags.

Some three centuries after the Roman collapse, bubonic plague, hitherto unknown in Europe, crept in from North Africa, where it was endemic, and exploded into the first of many European bubonic plague epidemics. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, conventionally depicted as Famine, War, Pestilence, and Death, had already been joined by a fifth demonic horseman, Forgetfulness.

A Dark Age is not merely a collection of subtractions. It is not a blank; much is added to fill the vacuum. But the additions break from the past and themselves reinforce a loss of the past. In Europe, languages that derived from formerly widely understood Latin diverged and became mutually incomprehensible. Everyday customs, rituals, and decorations diverged as old ones were lost; ethnic awarenesses came to the fore, often antagonistically; the embryos of nation-states were forming.

Citizenship gave way to serfdom; old Roman cities and towns were largely deserted and their underpopulated remnants sank into poverty and squalor; their former amenities, such as public baths and theatrical performances, became not even a memory. Gladiatorial battles and hungry wild animals unleashed upon prisoners were forgotten, too, but here and there, in backwaters, the memory of combat between a man on foot and a bull was retained because it was practiced. Diets changed, with gruel displacing bread, and salt fish and wild fowl almost displacing domesticated meat. Rules of inheritance and property holding changed. The composition of households changed drastically with conversion of Rome's traditional family-sized farms to feudal estates. Methods of warfare and ostensible reasons for warfare changed as the state and its laws gave way to exactions and oppressions by warlords.

Writers disappeared, along with readers and literacy, as schooling became rare. Religion changed as Christianity, formerly an obscure cult among hundreds of obscure cults, won enough adherents to become dominant and to be accepted as the state religion by Constantine, emperor of the still intact Eastern Roman Empire, and then, also as the state religion, in territorial remnants of the vanished Western Empire. The very definitions of virtue and the meaning of life changed. In Western Christendom, sexuality became highly suspect.

In sum, during the time of mass amnesia, not only was most classical culture forgotten, and what remained coarsened; but also, Western Europe underwent the most radical and thoroughgoing revolution in its recorded history--a political, economic, social, and ideological revolution that was unexamined and even largely unnoticed, as such, while it was under way. In the last desperate years before Western Rome's collapse, local governments had been expunged by imperial decree and were replaced by a centralized military despotism, not a workable organ for governmental judgments and reflections.

Similar phenomena are to be found in the obscure Dark Ages that bring defeated aboriginal cultures to a close. Many subtractions combine to erase a previous way of life, and everything changes as a richer past converts to a meager present and an alien future. During the conquest of North America by Europeans, an estimated twenty million aboriginals succumbed to imported diseases, warfare, and displacement from lands on which they and their hundreds of different cultures depended.

Their first response to the jolts of European invasion was to try to adapt familiar ways of life to the strange new circumstances. Some groups that had been accustomed to trading with one another, for example, forged seemingly workable trade links with the invaders. But after more conquerors crowded in, remnants of aboriginal survivors were herded into isolated reservations. Adaptations of the old cultures became impossible and thus no longer relevant; so, piece by piece, the old cultures were shed. Some pieces were relinquished voluntarily in emulation of the conquerors, or surrendered for the sake of the invaders' alcohol, guns, and flour; most slipped away from disuse and forgetfulness.

As in Europe after Rome's collapse, everything changed for aboriginal survivors during the forgetful years: education of children; religions and rituals; the composition of households and societies; food; clothing; habitations; recreations; laws and recognized systems of ownership and land use; concepts of justice, dignity, shame, esteem. Languages changed, with many becoming extinct; crafts, skills--everything was gone. In sum, the lives of aboriginals had been revolutionized, mostly by outside forces but also, to a very minor extent, from within.

In the late twentieth century, as some survivors gradually became conscious of how much had been lost, they began behaving much like the scholarly pioneers of the fifteenth-century Italian Renaissance who searched for relics of classical Greek and Roman culture. Cree and Cherokee, Navajo and Haida groped for fragments of lost information by searching out old records and artifacts dispersed in their conquerors' museums and private collections. Jeered at by an uncomprehending white public of cultural winners, they began impolitely demanding the return of ancestral articles of clothing and decoration, of musical instruments, of masks, even of the bones of their dead, in attempts to retrieve what their peoples and cultures had been like before their lives were transformed by mass amnesia and unsought revolution.

When the abyss of lost memory by a people becomes too deep and too old, attempts to plumb it are futile. The Ainu, Caucasian aborigines of Japan, have a known modern history similar in some ways to that of North American aboriginals. Centuries before the European invasion of North America, the Ainu lost their foraging territories to invading ancestors of the modern Japanese. Surviving remnants of Ainu were settled in isolated reservations, most on Hokkaido, Japan's northernmost island, where they still live. The Ainu remain a mysterious people, to themselves as well as to others. Physical characteristics proclaim their European ancestry; they may be related to Norse peoples. But where in Europe they came from can only be conjectured. They retain no information about their locations or cultures there, nor by what route they reached Japan, nor why they traveled there.

Cultures that triumphed in unequal contests between conquering invaders and their victims have been meticulously analyzed by a brilliant twenty-first-century historian and scientist, Jared Diamond, who has explained his analyses in a splendidly accessible book, Guns, Germs, and Steel. He writes that he began his exploration with a question put to him by a youth in New Guinea, asking why Europeans and Americans were successful and rich. The advantages that Diamond explored and the patterns he traces illuminate all instances of cultural wipeout.

Diamond argues persuasively that the difference between conquering and victim cultures is not owing to genetic discrepancies in intelligence or other inborn personal abilities among peoples, as racists persist in believing. He holds that, apart from variations in resistance to various diseases, the fates of cultures are not genetically influenced, let alone determined. But, he writes, successful invaders and conquerors have historically possessed certain crucial advantages conferred on them long ago by the luck of what he calls biogeography. The cultural ancestors of winners, he says, got head starts as outstandingly productive farmers and herders, producing ample and varied foods that could support large and dense populations.

Large and dense populations--in a word, cities--were able to support individuals and institutions engaged in activities other than direct food production. For example, such societies could support specialists in tool manufacturing, pottery making, boatbuilding, and barter, could organize and enforce legal codes, and could create priesthoods for celebrating and spreading religions, specialists for keeping accounts, and armed forces for defense and aggression.

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Yiddish for Pirates

Chapter One

Moishe as a child. He told me stories. Some were true. 
   At fourteen, he left the shtetl near Vilnius for the sea. How? First one leg out the window then the other. Like anyone else. Before first light. Before the wailing of his mother. 
   A boychik with big ideas, his kop—his head—bigger than his body. He would travel beyond the scrawny map of himself, and beyond the shtetl. He’d travel the ocean. There were Jews—he’d heard stories—that were something. Not rag-and-bones shmatte-men like his father, Chaim, always following the dreck of their nag around the same small world. Doctors. Court astronomers. Spanish lords. Tax farmers. Learned men of the world. The mapmakers of Majorca. They were Jews. Rich and powerful, they were respected by everyone. They could read the sky. They knew what was on the horizon and what was over the horizon. Jews had trickled through the cracks of the world and had rained upon the lands. 
   He’d travel the globe. He’d travel to the unknown edges of the maps, to where the lost tribes had built their golden cities, where they knew the secrets of the waters and of the sky. 
   And nu, perhaps along the way there might be a zaftik maideleh or two, or his true love, who knew secrets also. 
   So this Moishe put the cartographer before the horse and left. 
   Luftmensch, they say. Someone who lives on air, someone whose head floats in the clouds of a sky whose only use is to make the sea blue.
The world is wide because the ocean is wide. So, nu, he’d had his Bar Mitzvah, why shouldn’t the boychik sail west on a merchant ship, some kind of cabin boy, learning not to be sick with the waves? A one-way Odyssey away from home, his mother weaving only tears. 
   And where had he heard the stories? On the shmatte cart, making the rounds with his father. The sun rising, they travelled from home. They didn’t fall off the edge of their world, they circled around it, until by nightfall they were home again. Moishe’s old father, the bent and childless man who had taken in the drownedling, spoke to him of the great world that they shared. Moishe’s father, grey beard, wide black hat, stooped back. The world, he said, was a book. A great scroll. Like the Torah, when it ended, it began again. 
   Everything began again. Each week with its Shabbos of silver candlesticks and braided challah. Each year with its seasons, festivals, Torah readings. Child, father, child. It was a Moebius strip. At the end of the story, the story begins again and so we live forever, his father said. His father was a mensch. His mother also. Good people. But though they spoke of it, they never tried to find out "and then what happened?" They knew. Second verse same as the first, a little bit more oysgemutshet worn out, a little bit worse. 
   Before he climbed out the window, Moishe left a letter for his parents. 
   If the world is a book, I must read it all. 
   He had packed only his few clothes, some food, a knife, a book he had often examined when alone, and two silver coins that he took from where his mother had hidden them behind a stone of the hearth. He sewed these into the waist of his pants. 
   He had come across the book by accident, this book that had a beginning and an end. Playing at a game of catch-and-wrestle with his friend Pinchas, Moishe had slid under his parents’ bed and pushed himself against the wall where he hoped he would be invisible behind the curtain of the embroidered bedspread. Breathing hard, attempting to remain quiet and undetected, Moishe felt its shape beneath his hip. When he was eventually discovered—after he’d deliberately released a prodigious and satisfying greps, a gaseous shofar-call alerting his friend to his location—he left whatever-it-was beneath the bed to be disinterred and examined later. He knew it was somehow important and secret, so better to wait until he was alone and his mother out at the mikveh.
   When he unwrapped the old tallis—a prayer shawl—that surrounded it, Moishe was surprised to discover a book. An ancient book. Grainy brown leather with faded gold lettering and pages the colour of an old man’s hands. The script looked like Hebrew but it was the language of some parallel world, gibberish or the writing of a sorcerer. 
   Most intriguing were the strange drawings. Charts that seemed to diagram the architecture of heavenly palaces or the dance steps of ten-footed angels. Mysterious arrays of letters, the unspeakable and obsidian incantations of demons. And, most captivating of all, what appeared to be maps of the parallel world itself, filled with ring upon ring of concentric circles, rippling out from the beginning of creation and the centre of everything, as if one fine morning God had cannonballed down from everywhere and nowhere and into the exact middle of the primordial sea.
   But perhaps, Moishe wondered, these maps represented the actual earth, the alef-beys of cryptic markings, boats floating upon the waves of a vast ocean, searching for the edges of hidden knowledge. 
   It was as if Adam and his wife, Eve, had found a map instead of an apple, there in the centre of the garden. Instead of good and evil, they had discovered a map of Eden, the geography, the secrets, the true limits of Paradise and the Paradise that lies beyond.
Maybe that is why his father kept this book hidden where no one—not the rabbis or the shammes or the other men—could find it. 
   So Moishe took the book and left.

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The Conversations

The Conversations

Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film
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Chapter 1


In the spring of 2000,Walter Murch, at the suggestion of Francis Ford Coppola, began to re-edit Apocalypse Now, a film he had worked on back in 1977—1979 both as sound designer and as one of the four picture editors. Twenty-two years later, all the takes and discards and “lost” scenes and sound elements (carefully preserved in climate-controlled limestone caves in Pennsylvania) were brought out of vaults to be reconsidered. Apocalypse Now is a part of the American subconscious. And in some way this was the problem.Having dinner with the novelist Alfredo Véa in San Francisco, after spending my first day with Walter at Zoetrope, I mentioned what was happening with the re-editing of Apocalypse Now, and Véa immediately launched into Marlon Brando’s monologue about the snail on a razor blade. This was followed, during dinner, by Véa’s precise imitation of Dennis Hopper’s whine: “What are they gonna say about him? What are they gonna say? That he was a kind man? That he was a wise man? . . .” For Véa, who fought in Vietnam, Apocalypse Now was the movie about the war. It was the work of art that caught it for him, that gave him a mythological structure he could refer to, that showed him what he had gone through and would later write about himself in books such as Gods Go Begging. So those working on the new Apocalypse Now were aware that there would be problems connected with their dismantling and restructuring a “classic.” It was now public property.

“It has become part of the culture,” said Murch. “And that’s not a one-way street, as you know from your writing. As much as a work affects the culture, the culture mysteriously affects the work. Apocalypse Now in the year 2000 is a very different thing from the physically exact-same Apocalypse Now in the second before it was released in 1979.”

The idea for a new version grew out of Coppola’s desire to produce a DVD of Apocalypse Now with a number of major scenes that were–for reasons of length–eliminated from the 1979 version. Also, 2000 was the twenty-fifth anniversary of the fall of Saigon, so it seemed appropriate to re-evaluate editorial decisions that had originally been made while the war was still a vividly painful bruise on the nation’s psyche. But rather than have the restored scenes appear in isolation, appended in their own chapter, why not integrate them into the body of the film as originally intended? The problem was that the editing and sound work on the excised material had never been finished, and one scene in particular was eliminated before it was completely shot. Fortunately, the negative and original sound for all this material were perfectly preserved in original laboratory rolls, and could be retrieved, two decades later, as if the film had been shot a few weeks earlier.

And so Walter Murch was now working in San Francisco, in the old Zoetrope building. Mostly he had to collect and reconsider the material for three large sequences that were cut from the film in 1978–a medevac scene involving Playboy Bunnies; further scenes with Brando in the Kurtz compound; and a ghostly, funereal dinner and love scene at a French rubber plantation. In Eleanor Coppola’s book about the making of the film, she writes of this scene:

I heard the French plantation scene is definitely out of the picture. It never seemed to fit right. I am one of the people who liked it, but it did stop the flow of Willard’s journey. Today I was thinking about all the days of agony Francis went through during the shooting of that scene. The hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on the set and the cast flown in from France. Now the whole thing will end up as a roll of celluloid in a vault somewhere.

“The film acquired a body in the absence of these limbs,” said Murch, speaking of those missing scenes. “Now we’re trying to sew them back on, and who knows? Whether the body will accept or reject or find the addition difficult is something we’re struggling with right now. I have a sense of it and it’s actually been going quite well, but until we finally step back and look at the work as a whole, we won’t be able to say whether this will be artistically successful or whether it’s simply going to be a curiosity piece for those who were already interested in the film.”

The three scenes are the major additions in the new version of the film, but there are many other small changes that Murch and his colleagues were making– additions that give a different tone to much of the film. There is more humour, and with the addition of bridges between episodes that had been cut because of time concerns the film has also become less fragmentary. Those previously missing elements, said Murch,“were casualties of the hallmark struggle in every editing room: How short can the film be and still work? Even though Francis had final cut, he was as acutely aware as anybody of the strictures of getting a film into the theatres as lean as it could be.With the new version, that particular drive–for compression above all–is not as compelling.”

Much of our first conversation took place during four days in July 2000, while Walter worked on the new version of the film. Our talk during those days dealt with the “new” scenes but also with the differences and similarities between writing and editing, music, and his feelings about other editors. We talked as Walter worked on the Avid in his editing room at Zoetrope and later continued over lunch at a Chinese restaurant on Columbus Avenue. The new version of Apocalypse Now Redux would not open in theatres for almost a year, and Walter was still uncertain about several changes.

We began, however, by talking about the early days and how he became involved with the world of sound and eventually film.


O: You’re an editor who works in sound as well as picture. You created “soundscapes” for films such as Apocalypse Now. When did you first become interested in this landscape of sound?

M: It was with me from as early as I can remember.Maybe I heard things differently because my ears stuck out, or maybe because my ears stuck out people thought I would hear things differently, so I obliged them. It’s hard to say. What’s true is that if words failed me I would switch to sound effects, I would imitate the sound of something if I didn’t know its name. Back then there was an animated cartoon character, a boy named Gerald McBoing-Boing, who spoke in sound effects instead of words, and he was able to communicate with his parents this way. That was my nickname:Walter McBoing-Boing.

Around that time the tape recorder was becoming available as a consumer item. The father of a friend of mine bought one, so I wound up going over to his house endlessly to play with it.And that passion, which was a kind of delirious drunkenness with what the tape recorder could do, completely possessed me. I eventually convinced my parents that it would be a good idea if our family had one, because we could then record music off the radio and wouldn’t have to buy records. In fact, I rarely used it for that, but I would hold the microphone out the window, recording sounds of New York. I would construct little arrangements of metal, and tape the microphone to them, striking and rubbing the metal in different places. It was fascinating.

And then I discovered the concept of physically editing tape–that you could rearrange it by cutting out sections and putting those sections in a different order.You could record two things at different times and juxtapose them, getting rid of the middle, or you could turn the tape upside down and play it backwards, or flip it over and play it back muffled, or any combination of these things.

O: So did European movements such as musique concrète in the fifties inspire you?

M: Definitely. I came home from school one day and turned on the classical radio station,WQXR, in the middle of a program. Sounds were coming out of the speaker that raised the hair on the back of my neck. I turned the tape recorder on and listened for the next twenty minutes or so, riveted by what I was hearing. It turned out to be a record by Pierre Schaeffer and Pierre Henry–two of the early practitioners of musique concrète. I could hear a real similarity with what I had been doing–taking ordinary sounds and arranging them rhythmically, creating a kind of music on tape. In France at that time, people would go to concerts and a big speaker would be wheeled out onstage. Somebody would come out and turn the tape recorder on with a flourish, and the audience would sit there patiently listening to this composition being played back. Then at the end they’d all applaud. This was the future!

O: You were how old when this hit you?

M: Ten or eleven, something like that. It was intoxicating to realize that somebody else was doing the same things I was.Up to that point I’d thought that this was just my strange little hobby. But here was validation. There were adults in the world who took it seriously. I felt like Robinson Crusoe finding Friday’s footprint in the sand.

O:And these were essentially documentary recordings with an artistic structure?

M: It was an early, technically primitive form of sampling. What’s strange– only in retrospect–is that I didn’t follow through with it. By the time I was fifteen or sixteen, I had relegated all of this passion to my pre-adolescence–I thought I now had to get serious. Maybe I was going to be an architect. Or an oceanographer. Was I going to be . . . what? It was only in my early twenties that I discovered those early interests all came together in film.

O: Did someone like John Cage interest you,were you interested in what he was doing?

M: My father was a painter and tangentially involved in Cage’s world. We would go to some of his concerts. I appreciated them, but I was moved more by the idea of what he was doing–that by taking humble sounds out of their normal context you could make people pay attention and discover the musical elements in them. It was very close to what my father was doing in his paintings: taking discarded objects and arranging them in ways to make you see them with new eyes.

O:Was the interest in editing film something that existed at the same time? Or did it come much later?

M: When I was a student at Johns Hopkins, a group of us made some short silent films, and I discovered then that editing images had emotionally the same impact for me as editing sound. It was intoxicating. You write eloquently about that in Anil’s Ghost, about the state of mind of a doctor in the middle of surgery: You get to a place where time is not an issue at all, and you’re oddly at the centre of things but also you are not.You’re the person doing it, yet the feeling is that you’re not the origin of it, that somehow “it” is happening around you, that you are being used by this thing to help bring it into the world. I felt that way when I was eleven, playing with my tapes. I didn’t know how to interpret it then, but I discovered, when I was twenty, that editing images gave me the same feeling. Then when I got to the University of Southern California as a graduate student, both of those things–sound and picture–came together.

As I’ve gone through life, I’ve found that your chances for happiness are increased if you wind up doing something that is a reflection of what you loved most when you were somewhere between nine and eleven years old.

O: Yes–something that had and still has the feeling of a hobby, a curiosity.

M: At that age, you know enough of the world to have opinions about things, but you’re not old enough yet to be overly influenced by the crowd or by what other people are doing or what you think you “should” be doing. If what you do later on ties into that reservoir in some way, then you are nurturing some essential part of yourself. It’s certainly been true in my case. I’m doing now, at fifty-eight, almost exactly what most excited me when I was eleven.

But I went through a whole late-adolescent phase when I thought: Splicing sounds together can’t be a real occupation, maybe I should be a geologist or teach art history.

O: Did you think of going into the sciences at all?

M: No. Although I was interested in them–and interested in math–as revelations of hidden patterns. What you do as an editor is search for patterns, at both the superficial and ever deeper levels–as deep as you can go.

The fact is that there is always much more film shot than can ever be included in the finished product: on average, about twenty-five times too much–which would mean fifty hours of material for a two-hour film. Sometimes the ratio is as high as a hundred to one, as it was on Apocalypse Now. And films are almost always shot out of sequence, which means that on the same day the crew could find themselves filming scenes from the beginning, the end, and the middle of the script. This is done to make the schedule more efficient, but it means that someone–the editor–must take on the responsibility for finding the best material out of that great surplus and putting it in the correct order. Although there is a universe of complexity hidden in those short words “best” and “correct.”

When it works, film editing–which could just as easily be called “film construction”– identifies and exploits underlying patterns of sound and image that are not obvious on the surface. Putting a film together is, in an ideal sense, the orchestrating of all those patterns, just like different musical themes are orchestrated in a symphony. It is all pretty mysterious. It’s right at the heart of the whole exercise.


O: How did you go from being that boy in New York to someone working in film in California?

M: I was studying art history and Romance languages in Italy and Paris, in ’63—’64, the height of the French New Wave. I came back to the States buzzing with the idea of film, and then I realized that there were actually schools where you could study it, which I found incredible, delicious, almost absurd. I applied to a number of them, and miraculously won a scholarship to the graduate program at USC. Strangely enough, I only discovered that films needed sound when I got there: it was a revelation to me that the sound had to be recorded separately from the image and “cooked”–edited and mixed–before it was finished. But I immediately saw the connection with what I had been doing twelve years earlier, and that was exciting.

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Feeding My Mother

Feeding My Mother

Comfort and Laughter in the Kitchen as a Daughter Lives with her Mom's Memory Loss
also available: Hardcover
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I remember the first day it happened. I remember the first time she forgot something big. It wasn’t the kind of lapse we all have from time to time—forgetting where we put our keys or our cell phones, or where we parked the car. This was a big sudden void. Right after it happened, that morning eight years ago now, I felt a discomfort insert itself at the back of my throat that hasn’t really eased up since. It’s hard for me to remember what my life used to feel like. It’s hard for me to remember my old mom.

We had been sitting having a visit with my sister-in-law, Lori, talking about life things: the weather, the grandkids, jobs, the progress of our summer garden. Everything seemed perfectly normal. My sister-in-law at some point brought up the subject of her old cat. “I didn’t want to tell you, Joan,” she said to my mom, “but we had to have her put down a few days ago. God, whatever you guys do, don’t tell Duray about it as he’ll be devastated.”

My brother Duray was in jail, as he had been for the last twenty-five years, for first-degree murder—a murder he has always denied committing. He isn’t really up to speed on what is going on around our lives out here in the free world, and he’s very sensitive to anything the least bit upsetting. I’m sure it’s because he feels so helpless. I think that’s why Lori wanted to spare him the news about their cat.

“I would never say a word,” Mom said. Lori went on about how sick the cat had been and that she hadn’t found the right moment to tell Duray she was gone. We talked about it in detail for at least fifteen minutes. Mom seemed to be carefullylistening to the story, consoling and responding in all the right places. Lori repeated again as she walked out the door, “Please don’t say anything, okay, you guys?”

Mom said, “We won’t, Lori. Mom’s the word.” And we all had a bit of a laugh.

Lori waved goodbye, hopped into her little blue compact and pulled out of the driveway. Before the car had even disappeared down the road, Mom’s phone rang, and it was Duray. The first thing that came out of her mouth, was, “You wouldn’t believe it, but your cat died!” I stood there in her kitchen in disbelief.

“MOM!” I waved my arms in the air trying to get her attention.

“What?” she asked with her hand over the receiver. “I’m on the phone!”

“Jesus, you weren’t supposed to tell him that!”

“Tell him what?” She looked at me blankly. She really didn’t know what she wasn’t supposed to
tell him.

“About the cat dying! What are you thinking?”

That was the day. From one single second to the next, my life, my mom’s life, my dad’s life, my brothers’ lives, the lives of all of our friends and family, were altered profoundly. My mom had started the journey down the lonely, confusing road called Alzheimer’s disease.

I would spend the next two years in denial. I made excuses for both my parents over and over again as the memory thieves slowly stole things from right beneath our noses. I chalked the frequent lapses up to garden-variety old age and tried to leave it at that. My dad had had a stroke several years earlier, so we already knew he had severe memory and mobility issues, but my mom was the normal one. She was the glue that held everything together. She dedicated her days to looking after my dad, coordinating his appointments and doling out his medications. She looked after their house and their yard and their meals and all the driving. I desperately needed her to be okay and I was also too scared to think about what was happening.

I must have hoped if I ignored it enough, and wished it away often enough, my mom would start remembering again. But that’s not the way Alzheimer’s works. I have come to think of it as a cruel and haphazard sculptor. It chisels away at a person, one tiny piece at a time, exposing a mind to every form of loss and sadness. Uncovering every nerve and every bone and every vein. It doesn’t stop until it cuts away the last breath. We lived through a small stretch in which my mom knew she was forgetting things. It seemed only a matter of hours to me, but it was actually a short few months where she was aware of things going missing and time being lost and tasks being left undone. She admitted to me once or twice that she knew she was forgetting things. I will never forget her saying to me, “I know I can’t remember the way I used to, Jann. It could always be worse, you know. I hope you never let me become a filthy old lady.” Those words are stuck inside my heart like wet leaves in a gutter.

I have spent the last few years in various stages of grief and fear and frustration and anger. I’m not sure half the time if I am doing things right with my mom, or screwing things up, but I do know that none of that matters. What matters are the moments spent with the people you love. What matters is setting judgement and resentment aside so that tolerance and patience and kindness can move into your soul and live there in their forever home. Life is never dull. That’s what Mom always says. “Life may be hard, but it’s not dull . . .”

Mom’s journey, and my journey with her, is far from over and for that I am grateful. In these last eight years I have learned more about compassion and empathy and forgiveness than I ever thought possible. I’ve learned that something good can come from something bad: facing adversity can make you a much better version of yourself. I’ve learned that having a sense of humour is crucial in order to survive these trying days. I’ve also learned that feeding my mother, making her a great home-cooked meal, provides both of us with grace and solace and peace, that food is so important for our wellness and contentment. You can soothe pretty much any heartache with a loaf of bread and a hot bowl of soup!

And I’ve learned that writing it all down can save me, which is what I started doing when everything around me began to feel unsteady. Seeing what was happening in front of me on the page made it much less daunting. And sharing my thoughts and feelings on social media made all the difference. I guess I wanted to reach out and tell somebody, anybody, about what was happening to my family. I didn’t want to feel alone in a room with Alzheimer’s. I wanted to throw open every door and window and let the light in. I wanted to unload some of the burden of carrying my parents’ secrets. I wanted to rid myself of this weird shame I was feeling because they were forgetting themselves. I started feeling like I was being forgotten too, lost in this pile of nothingness. It all seemed like such a mess, and some days it still does. I was talking with a friend about how I was feeling a few months ago, and she described how she felt orphaned when she lost her parents even though she was a grown-up. I think that’s exactly how I feel, even though Mom is still here physically. I feel like an orphan.

It turned out that sending out an account of my daily adventures with my folks was life-changing. People started writing back, sharing their doubts and fears and frustrations with me. It changed everything in such a positive, wonderful way. I am so grateful to all of them—to all of you. It takes bravery to share your troubles. It takes grit and guts and gumption. Thank you for easing my troubles, for putting your wisdom and pain out there for everyone to benefit from. I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent propped up in my bed reading through the hundreds and hundreds of comments you’ve left on my Facebook pages. I’ve laughed out loud and cried quietly and I have to say, I feel much less alone for having reached out. Losing someone an inch at a time is extremely hard.

This book is a glimpse into my journey with memory loss but it’s also a journey that thousands and thousands of us are on with our mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers and husbands and wives and uncles and aunts and grandmothers and grandfathers and even children.

Alzheimer’s and dementia have always been there, but perhaps families in earlier generations absorbed their elderly folks into the fold of home more gracefully. Many of us these days don’t have the kind of lives or rooted family structures that enable us to cope with parents, or grandparents, who can’t manage on their own, and we have to find nursing homes for them. Some of these places are great, some not so good, some downright depressing and dehumanizing. It’s an agonizing decision and one that can be hard to live with. So far I’ve been lucky enough to have the means to keep Mom at home with me, and ways to meet the challenges that entails. The stories and the recipes in this book are what I have to share about how we’re managing—about the road my mom and all the people who love her are travelling. It was written with humility, and sadness, and fear, and panic, and joy.

What I’ve learned is that no matter what comes you’ve got to wrap yourself in all the goodness you can muster. That’s what my mom does every single day.

Last week as we were driving into town to buy a few groceries, she told me that she was eighty per cent happy. That made me laugh really hard. “Eighty per cent, Mom? Well, that’s way better than me!”

She told me that I would have to work on that . . .

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When She Was Bad

When She Was Bad

How And Why Women Get Away With Murder
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