Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The darn tables have turned.

As often happens in life, there are reversals of circumstances that are novelistic and almost unbelievable.  Just such a reversal of roles has happened to Gayle and her best friend Oprah.   When Oprah’s talk show was on the air, the relationship between the women had a relaxed bond yet one thing was clear:  Oprah was the wellspring from which Gayle’s celebrity and relevance flowed.  Oprah had created the platform and the celebrity and the power. About five years ago, Gayle King, a woman we only knew as a confident, sometimes annoying sidekick to Oprah, the queen of all media, suddenly showed up on Channel 2, CBS, the Tiffany network once run by William Paley, the man who gave us Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite, Dan Rather and Sixty Minutes.

Yes. Gayle, the spunky Oprah tag along, is now a newscaster and not only a newscaster but a credible colleague of Charlie Rose.  This is the no nonsense PBS Charlie Rose, a man who became iconic when PBS was still the holy network and not flooded with self-help marathons. Charlie interviews diplomats and world leaders and Nobel prize winners and tech titans and even hip hop moguls in a quiet intimate setting without commercial interruptions.

When I first reviewed the Charlie and Gayle morning show a few years ago, they appeared to me as The Professor and The Most Improved Student but now – five years in- Gayle has earned her position.  Whenever Oprah is a guest on the show, it is apparent that their old dynamic has changed.  Gayle has her good serious show and Oprah is just a guest.  The darned tables are turned. 

There is no documentation but I’m sure there was a conversation in the big master bedroom in Oprah’s estate in Montecito that went like this.

Oprah:  I was on CBS this morning. I couldn’t help but feel that something had shifted.  I’m now the sidekick and Gayle is the one who stays on the show after my segment is over.  It felt weird.

Stedman: Were you jealous? 

Oprah:  Not jealous.  After all I have a whole network even though no one can find it.  I have my own network and all the money.

Stedman: But what felt weird?

Oprah: Gayle has something more interesting and more immediately exciting.    She has credibility on a respected network news show.  Gayle has Charlie Rose and I only have Weight Watchers and The Girls Academy and my soul podcasts and a lot of money.

Stedman: Do you wish you had a news show?

Oprah: I don’t know.  Maybe. It just felt weird.

You can imagine my surprise a few Sundays back when Sixty Minutes announced a new special correspondent.  It was Oprah.  Yes.  She was a special correspondent on Gayle’s own network. On the sacrosanct Sixty Minutes.  Don Hewitt must have at least shifted in his grave.  God knows what Mike Wallace is saying.  Andy Rooney would like it. Oprah’s segment was about America’s political divide. 

Life is reliably weird.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

(Be true) "to your own solitude, true to your own secret knowledge."***

If I ever appear smart it is because I allow Maria Popova, brilliant editor of the newsletter Brain Pickings,* to do the heavy lifting.  Maria reminds me that it can be satisfying to think.  She’ll quote a phrase “ fighting the cowardice of cynicism” ** and my mind takes a gleeful u-turn from my diet of vapid.   Of course.  Cynicism is a cowardly and lazy exit.   But I love it so. I'm cynical about everything: marriage, parental love, the flu vaccine. etc.   I wish there was a cooking show that served up irony and cynicism.  Chicken pot irony.  Cynicism alfredo.  Yum.

This week, Brain Pickings  reintroduced me to e.e. cummings, the poet most remembered for using quirky punctuation.  He was much more. Cummings was a slayer of cultural repression, a rebellious son of puritanism.  This is how he mocked Harvard and Cambridge as the epitome of stifling respectability.

the Cambridge ladies who live in furnished souls
are unbeautiful and have comfortable minds
(also, with the church's protestant blessings
daughters,unscented shapeless spirited)
they believe in Christ and Longfellow,both dead,
are invariably interested in so many things --
at the present writing one still finds
delighted fingers knitting for the is it Poles?
perhaps. While permanent faces coyly bandy
scandal of Mrs. N and Professor D
....the Cambridge ladies do not care,above
Cambridge if sometimes in its box of
sky lavender and cornerless,the
moon rattles like a fragment of angry candy

This is almost exactly how Tom Wolfe mocked the New York establishment decades later in Radical Chic.

Cummings became a member of the Lost Generation, following Hemingway and Fitzgerald to Paris and eventually settling in Greenwich Village to capture the Bohemian mystique of literary and sexual experimentation.   He made the establishment angry.

In the 1940’s and 1950’s, not many poets were offering lines like this:

i like my body when it is with your
body. It is so quite new a thing.
Muscles better and nerves more.
i like your body. i like what it does,
i like its hows....

Here is one of cummings’  more annoying poems:










is upon a gra





Someone described this poem as letters falling from a cliff.

Cummings was showcased in Brain Pickings this week along with quotes from Seamus Heaney “involves being true … to your own solitude, true to your own secret knowledge.”and even Nietzsche, “No one can build you the bridge on which you, and only you, must cross the river of life,” because of his enduring message to be yourself and defy any culture that rules through fear. 

This direct quote from this week's newsletter is my contribution to the citizens on both sides of the current political battle that are cowered by fear of reprisal or physical harm from expressing their true selves.

Every generation believes that it must battle unprecedented pressures of conformity; that it must fight harder than any previous generation to protect that secret knowledge from which our integrity of selfhood springs.  But much of it in the century and a half since Nietzsche, and especially in the years since Heaney, is an accurate reflection of the conditions we have created and continually reinforce in our present informational ecosystem — a Pavlovian system of constant feedback, in which the easiest and commonest opinions are most readily rewarded, and dissenting voices are most readily punished by the unthinking mob.

* https://www.brainpickings.org
** Caitlin Moran
*** Seamus Heaney