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Cocktail Hour

Lungren’s Lounge: “The Last Magazine,” by Michael Hastings

categories: Cocktail Hour / Reading Under the Influence

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Michael Hastings

Michael Hastings was the personification of a modern day journalistic Zelig. Beginning his career as an unpaid intern at Newsweek magazine, he began covering the invasion of Iraq when his fiancee, working for an NGO, was killed in an ambush that received international attention and resulted in his first book, I Lost My Love in Baghdad. He later wrote a piece for Rolling Stone magazine that described the barely-concealed disdain that high-ranking military officials felt towards the politicians in charge of the war effort. The resultant political and media shitstorm ended with the resignation of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Hastings’ award winning book, The Operators. He next turned his attention to the Occupy Wall Street movement and the secretive surveillance of the movement by Homeland Security, and then penned  a profile of Bowe Bergdahl, long before Bergdahl became the subject of international fascination after his release from Taliban captors in a prisoner exchange. Continue reading →

The Song of Valerie Macon

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The Song of Valerie Macon


In the land of Pat McCrory,

Where we all live Art Pope’s story,

Where we all must praise the fetus,

Or else be damned as an elitist,

Came a poet brave and true.

Came a poet brave and true.


Not some fancy, school-learned bard,

Using words that are too hard,

No! A rhymer for the masses,

(When she wasn’t taking classes,

Or awards she wasn’t fakin’,)

In she strode, our Valerie Macon.

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My Budding Ears, or, On Being an E-Hypocrite

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Dawson, sad about his creek

I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time on Facebook over the last 14 hours (these hours included eight hours of Facebookless sleep) which of course leaves me feeling a little bit guilty, unworthy of the serious writer mantle that I like to wear (except in summer).  Part of this spasm of activity was due to the fact that Salon picked up my “Up Shit Creek” piece and then a few other places picked it up after that. Which is to say I enjoyed the small ego buzz of being noticed while at the same time cringed at the exhibitionist spectacle of yet another author (in this case me) waving his arms around and yelling “Hey, look!”


But that’s not entirely fair–to myself or others–and what I’d like to try to be here is fair, or at least a little balanced, rather than blasting away, in grumbling old man fashion, at all things E.  I’ve been doing a lot of that this summer by the way. Grumbling and cursing. With good reason. As bad as it was back on the campus in Wilmington, it’s much worse in Harvard Yard.  You have to remember that here, unlike in the South, people never said hello or looked at each other in the first place. Now there’s not a chance of it happening. At night they all stagger around the Yard like zombies, their faces lit up by the machines they stare down into. To further insulate themselves, many of them have buds in their ears and talk out loud with no one around like packs of schizophrenics.


And so I have muttered and cursed my way through the summer. One night, with my poor appalled daughter walking next to me, I started actually accosting the i-people, saying things like “What are the orders from central control?” or “What is the robot leader telling you?” “Dad!” Hadley yelled. Until that moment she had through the height of being appalled was the fact that neither of her parents owned an i-phone.


But of course, like everyone else this side of Wendell Berry, I am a big fat hypocrite. In the late spring, training to run a 5k with Hadley, I broke down and bought an i-pod. Maybe I once romanticized running, liking the animal aspect, but at this point it is everything I can do to run 3 Continue reading →

Bad Advice Wednesday: On Getting It All Wrong

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       I re-discovered George Orwell in a Paris bookstore in July of 2013.  I was scanning a case of books about Paris, hoping to find a title that would help me better savor the pleasures of the city, when I spotted a forlorn copy of Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London on the bottom shelf, eclipsed by the glitzier travel offerings.  I brought it back to my hotel and started it that afternoon.


As I read Orwell’s nonfiction account of living and working among the lower classes in two of Europe’s capitals—washing dishes in the basement of a swanky Parisian hotel, sleeping with the homeless in Trafalgar Square, picking hops with migrant workers in the London suburbs—I was astonished at how beautifully and insightfully he captured the lives and conditions of the poor and marginalized members of his time.  His analysis of poverty, its causes and effects, struck me as deeply relevant for today, since Orwell was writing at a time of swelling industrialization and an increasingly globalized economy.


Down and Out sent me into Orwell’s other writings about the poor and oppressed classes of his time.  He chronicled the horrific working conditions of miners in the north of England in The Road to Wigan Pier; he gave an account of sleeping in homeless shelters in “The Spike”; he depicted the oppressed peoples of the British empire in “Shooting an Elephant” and “A Hanging.”  I found all of these analyses equally penetrating and eloquent. Continue reading →

The New Ecotone is Coming!

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The cat is out of the bag. Our summer issue is now at the printer and heading for newsstands soon. Look for new essays by Belle Boggs, Joni Tevis, and Ander Monson; poems by David Barber, Carrie Fountain, Vievee Francis, Margaree Little, Dexter L. Booth, and Melissa Range; and Continue reading →

Serial Sunday: Crash Barry’s “Tough Island” (Episode 28)

categories: Cocktail Hour / Serial Sunday

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Edwin and Nan dropped me off on Route One. My cardboard hitchhiking sign read: “PORTLAND: Poet, will rhyme for ride!” Tall and strong, with long hair and a beard, I looked like a cross between Charles Manson and Jesus Christ. The first ride gave me a lift as far as Waldoboro. Continue reading →

Getting Outside Saturday: Going Deep

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Here is “Going Deep,” my essay on gannets (not ultimate) that just came out in the August issue of Audubon:

Great photo by Andrew Parkinson. In fact, try to take a look at the print issue if you can, to see more of his great shots.


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Bad Advice Wednesday: Balls to the Walls

categories: Bad Advice / Cocktail Hour

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I like to go balls to the walls.  I like to climb slow grinding mountain bike trails that make my heart pound against my ribs.  I like to feel my skin dampen until the wet collects and beads and finally runs in streams down my body.  I like listening to the shrill calls of birds and chipmunks squabbling while I spin my unrelenting rotations and take in the soft rough squish of my tires pushing over rocks and the hard twisting roots of sage and trees.  I like the surprise when a shining doe bounds over my path or freezes into quaking stillness, and we look across the stirring grass into one another’s face and wonder what will happen next.  I like to scan the changing terrain and plan how to ride through a sliver of open space where protruding rocks could catch my pedals and knock me to the ground or off the edge of the hillside.  I like to click through my gears with dead-on precision, meeting the changing grade in exactly the right moment to maintain perfect efficiency as I climb a long steep hill, swallow it’s mineral dust, and rise out over its crest, legs aching, lungs bursting, and no stopping, but ride on past that place to a farther, higher distance.  I like to come apart in the emerald landscape.  Let my bones break and my organs rip open into a gory mess.  I like the relief as my thoughts empty and the wounds I’ve been carrying tight in my gut and the set of my jaw and the muscles clenched around my spine and right there behind my twitching left eye pass out of me into nothingness.  And I say, See, it was all nothing.  See that. Continue reading →

Anxious Bode is not Like Other People

categories: Cocktail Hour / Guest Columns

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Anxious Bode

It was another day of quiet thunder. A day where the sky took notice of what was happening below and prayers rose to all souls glow. For ninety minutes, the star neurologist whom I met once in my hospital inferno days eight years ago, sat with me and my mother, for a visit. He remembered all about me, and smiled as he listened, speaking softly while his mind mapped a multidimensional world of knowledge and possibilities. I had dyskinesia, I moved too much, and we talked about what could be done and he asked what I did, and took note of photography, painting, singing, writing, piano playing and composing.  He said, “You don’t really have inactive periods in your day, do you?” and I said, “you’re probably right.” Then he mentioned a possible deep brain stimulation and explained which part had anesthesia, and I said “There is no global anesthesia for this part, I like it.” He turned to me. “You do?” And I said, ‘Yes, I want to be awake, I want to be there.” He said, “everybody says they want to sleep, that they don’t want to be awake, but you do.” There was a pause. “You’re not like other people.” My mom laughed. Then he reached for a microphone to dictate his letter to my physician, describing in detail what had been said and decided. I was seated, without speaking, not a muscle moving, looking at him and he was dictating the description of my unwanted muscle moves when he realized that all he was describing had vanished. His slowly put the mic down. He said “It’s all gone. Your dyskinesia is gone.” And I said “Yes. When I don’t speak, I have none. I am glad you could see this.” And we talked about art and Parkinson’s, how he wished I could have helped the hospital with their collaborative work with the museum and I showed him my youtube page where I play piano while having the disease and he wrote down the address of my channel and I said, “What you did with the museum, you cannot do again, it’s too much work as you said. But for me, that’s what I do, every day.” When we parted he gave me the program for the past exhibit and set our next meeting in twelve months. It was a day, of quiet thunder and furiously beautiful love. An unbearable grace. Continue reading →

Serial Sunday: “Tough Island,” by Crash Barry (Episode 27)

categories: Cocktail Hour / Serial Sunday

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gimme a ride to my boat

I was walking home on a cold and foggy Halloween night. I’d been up to the Parsonage, where the schoolteacher and his new bride lived, to help stage a haunted house for the island kids. I’d had a couple of drinks and was looking forward to slumber. I was almost to the Lower Harbor when another islander, driving his truck, spotted me on the road. Continue reading →