The End of An Era

I don’t want this to be a long entry, as I have many things to do today, but to not mention this at all, and the impact it will have on the literary world, would be a gaping hole on a  literary blog.

After 2011, The Oprah Winfrey Show will be no more.

Sure, she might have another talk show on the new network that she’s starting up, but that will be on cable, which doesn’t reach as many people as the public airwaves do.  Why ending her show will have such an impact on the literary world not only has to do with her book club that she started in 1996 (which, several years ago, she relegated to classic books–and I have to admit, I had to smile upon seeing a new translation of Anna Karenina top the bestseller list over a hundred years after Tolstoy wrote the original), but also with the opportunity her show allowed writers to discuss their work.  Quick!  Name other talk shows that have writers on as guests (cannot include famous people who have written books).  See what I mean?  There’s Glenn Beck for popular fiction (heaven help us), and Charlie Rose, The Daily Show, and The Colbert Report for books on current events, but for “serious” fiction, there’s only Oprah and NPR (though I prefer to call popular fiction “entertainment” and serious fiction “art,” and no, they aren’t mutually exclusive).

As for myself, this means that I have precious little time to finish my novel and hope that I am interviewed on one of Oprah’s last shows.  Minus winning a prestigious literary award, that would be the highlight of any writer’s literary career (well, maybe not Jonathan Franzen’s–I kid!).  For me, I would want to be on her show if for no other reason than to thank her for using it to support writers for all these years.  Then again, I have published a poetry book…

(Click here for an excellent summation of the show and Oprah’s impact on the world.)

Life Lessons

Note: I wrote this blog on Saturday, but didn’t publish it till today.

I read much concerning the achievements of Ted Kennedy from the day he died to now, which I write as his funeral motorcade winds its way to Arlington National Cemetery. Besides his legislative accomplishments, many of the articles pointed out his personal ones, often in contrast to his personal failings. He could have given up after the Chappaquiddick incident. Indeed, a lesser man would have wallowed in his grief at being, at least, partly responsible for a young woman’s death, if for no other reason than that he drove the car that claimed her life. He could have chosen to deflect blame. He could have decided that his actions in not reporting the accident until the next day would define him for the rest of his life. Perhaps, in a way, they did. That is something that only Teddy would know. But whether it was the memory of his brothers or the memory of Mary Jo Kopechne, something drove him to serve for so long, and with such distinction, in the U.S. Senate.

Searching reactions from others concerning his death, one notices two things: 1.) all of the positive comments are by people who knew him, or had direct contact with him at some point in their lives, 2.) all of the derogatory comments are by people who didn’t know him, who lambast him for Chappaquiddick and his behavior before he met and married his second wife–before she saved him, as he put it. And, out of those positive comments (for negative comments by strangers are as useful to me as criticisms of a movie by a random audience member), I can understand why the man was so beloved.
He truly cared about people.
He cared about his constituents. He cared about his colleagues. He cared about his friends. He cared about his adversaries. And, most of all, he cared about his family.
As for his success, that can be explained, too. He became this century’s greatest Senator (if greatness is to be decided by the quality of bills that one helps to pass and/or author) through hard work. Hard work and a great staff. It wasn’t due to talent, though he had talent. It wasn’t due to the strength of his arguments, though he made them as strong as he could. Hard work, combined with his love of people, respect of people, translated into the passage of major bills. The Civil Rights Act. The Immigration and Nationality Act. The Americans with Disabilities Act. And many, many more.
But it’s his life that we can learn the most from. Here was a man who had one brother die in combat and two more assassinated, whose nephew died with his wife and her sister in a plane crash while heading to his cousin’s wedding, and another who died in a skiing accident. A man who, at the end of his life, battled brain cancer for fourteen months before succumbing to it. And yet, during all that time, he served the lowest, served with the highest, and befriended many, both low and high. If there are lessons to be learned from Ted Kennedy’s life, they are these:
1.) Don’t let tragedies define you, whether they are personal tragedies or national ones.
2.) If you don’t have the talent of others, work harder than they do, and you’ll succeed.
3.) You can compromise the details, but don’t compromise your convictions.
4.) You can disagree with someone and still be friends with them.
5.) A sense of humor always helps.
6.) Give to those who have less than you do. Help those who need it more than you do.
Rest in peace, Teddy. A nation mourns your passing.

The Passing Of Michael Jackson

In a few days, I will post the rest of my adventure to Wesleyan, but I would be amiss if I did not comment today on the passing of Michael Jackson. Besides him, we lost two other giants recently: Farrah Fawcett, and Ed McMahon. Of the three, though, MJ’s loss was the most shocking, and indeed, the only one of the three that I can comment on personally.

Michael Jackson was the first pop star that I listened to on purpose. What that means is that I (or, more likely, my parents) went out and bought his albums, put them on the record player, and would listen to them again and again, rather that come across them on the radio by accident. One of the first albums I ever owned was Bad, followed by a couple of Jackson 5 albums, a Motown Legends album that included the Jackson 5, and finally, Thriller. In addition, one Christmas I received some 45s of his music, including not only his solo work, but some of his work as part of the Jacksons (maybe some from his Jackson 5 days, too). I also own his Moonwalker video (on VHS) and played the video game of the same name on my friend’s Sega Genesis.

While I still think that his best work was done with the Jackson 5, I was a fan of “Heal the World” (off of Dangerous) and many of the tracks off of his Thriller and Bad albums. I didn’t buy Dangerous, nor did I listen to all of the tracks on it, but from what I’ve heard, and what happened to his career afterwards, that album can be considered his last good/great album. Then he got weird.

Today, if you go back and listen to the music, or see his many music videos (including the seminal Thriller video), you’ll see the reasons he will be missed. He may have been too eccentric for some of us in his later years, but who are we to judge, who never had his talent, who never had the pressures forced upon us that he had forced upon him, and at such a young age? Maybe the talent left him as he got older, or maybe he knew that he could never top what he had done previously–though it should be pointed out that he was planning a comeback tour in London at the time of his death. In any case, as with any artist who dies young, we should be happy that he left us so much of his art, and a blueprint that other artists trying to be as big as he became still try to emulate.

But try as they might, there will only be one Michael Jackson.