No, but I played one in St. Elmo’s Fire

I had to do a triple-take when I read this:

Actor-writer McCarthy named Travel Journalist of the Year

(Romenesko, Poynter Online, via Society of American Travel Writers)

Yes, Andrew McCarthy, Gen X sensitive-character actor who played a budding journalist secretly in love with pearl-necklace-wearing Ally Sheedy in St. Elmo’s Fire, has won the “2010 Travel Journalist of the Year in the Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Competition.”

I know nothing of McCarthy’s writings, but as the overly super-sensitive guy in my formative years, of course I always connected with his characters (my favorite movie of his was 1985’s Heaven Help Us; nearly unashamedly, Weekend At Bernie’s takes place money on my Andrew McCarthy flick list).


RIP Vic Ziegel

Good-bye to one of my favorites from my formative sports-reading and sportswriting years, Vic Ziegel of the New York Daily News.

“The Long Island Press no longer exists. (So what else is new?) When I was still in college, I showed up at the Press several nights a week – eight splendid bucks a night – to take high school basketball results over the phone and write a few paragraphs of roundup, nothing too fancy.

“There were about a half-dozen of us living in this fast lane. One night, much like all the other nights, the scores starting running together. And to keep awake, and because I’m a cunning, vicious SOB, I urged my fellow eight-buckers to repeat the same phrase in the lead of our basketball roundups. The next day, on the high school page of the Long Island Press, in a half-dozen league stories, and another on non-conference games, it was reported that Chuck Lastname or Danny Lastname or Gerry Lastname led his team to victory by ‘performing yeoman work under the boards.’

“Seven times, yeoman work under the boards. And I was back the next night, accepting congratulations, another eight bucks heading my way. What did I learn? That you can get away with a few things in this world. That nobody cares what kind of work you do if you work cheap. That if I ever fell off a roof and landed on my head I could still edit stories about high school sports for the Long Island Press. That people would laugh when I repeated the story.

“Very seductive, the sound of laughter. And so I discovered, in my yeoman period, that if I wanted to continue hearing the pleasing sound of laughter, I could keep writing sports. At least until I discovered what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. Nothing seems to have changed. I can still be found in the sports section, still trying to earn a smile. Makes me think, nights in Pittsburgh, Louisville, the Iona-Siena game, that maybe I did fall off that roof.”

—Introduction to Ziegel’s Sunday Punch: Strawberries, Raspberries, Steinbrenners and Tysons – A Famed Sports Columnist Takes His Best Shot at Sports’ Big Shots, 1991

(h/t to evesmag.com; I have this book buried somewhere in my attic, and damned it I can’t find it, though I can recall the “yeoman work under the boards” line as if I read it yesterday. I never had the gumption to try that prank when I was writing high school wrap-ups. Thanks to evesmag for saving the story online.

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Gen X writers on The New Yorker’s watchlist

Allow me to crow, for a moment, about my generation, even if it’s because of an admittedly arbitrary (and who knows, like most discussions of this sort, could be potentially pointless) list:

The New Yorker Picks Young Writers Worth Watching

“The New Yorker has chosen its ’20 Under 40′ list of fiction writers worth watching, a group assembled by the magazine’s editors in a lengthy, secretive process that has provoked considerable anxiety among young literary types. … All but two … are in their 30s.”

—New York Times, “20 Young Writers Earn the Envy of Many Others,” Julie Bosman, June 2, 2010

As the Times notes, none of these authors were born before 1970. At a time today where trend stories about Boomers and Millennials seem to drive most generational-related news stories, it’s nice to see Gen X writers,  particularly the younger half of my generation (those, like me, born in the Seventies, as opposed to Gen X’ers born in the Sixties) get some due.

They hail from all over and, as The New Yorker editor David Remnick put it, they have nothing in common except their age. But that’s a big thing to have in common. Growing up at the same time as these authors, living through the same world events (if certainly not the same direct life experiences), I’m naturally more inclined to read them, just to see if we do indeed share even part of a worldview because of our similar birthyears.

Of course, I can’t help being a killjoy, but anyone want to take morning-line odds on the inevitable carping? Not from fellow writers, or even from fellow Gen X’ers among the great unwashed masses within the creative underclass? No, from those aforementioned Boomers (bound to say, at that age, they did it better) or from the aforementioned Millennials (bound to say, at their current age, they can do it better). And shit, a mere two paragraphs later, here I go falling into the same pervasive trap I just criticized the news industry of perpetuating. Icepick, heal thyself.


Over-parenting in my generation

Lenore Skenazy and David Brooks (two of my favorite reads, by the way) touch on the tendency of parents of a certain age (mine) toward ultra-over-protection of their kids.

The theory from Strauss & Howe is being borne out today. It goes: since we generally grew up as latchkey kids as children (and perhaps grew up to be Latchkey Men, with a nod to the excellent Wek) and were largely left to our own devices as our parents granted us freedoms (partly out of their own absorption in their own lives), that now, as grown-ups with kids of our own, our generation tends to over-compensate as parents, and thus overprotects our kids to the point of stifling them.

From Brooks:

We’re familiar with talk about how Vietnam permanently shaped the baby boomers. But if you grew up in or near an American city in the 1970s, you grew up with crime (and divorce), and this disorder was bound to leave a permanent mark. It was bound to shape the people, now in their 40s and early-50s, reaching the pinnacles of power.

It has clearly influenced parenting. The people who grew up afraid to go in parks at night now supervise their own children with fanatical attention, even though crime rates have plummeted. It’s as if they’re responding to the sense of menace they felt while young, not the actual conditions of today.

From Skenazy, advocating “Take Our Children to the Park…& Leave Them There Day”:

As you readers know, I believe in involved parenting — teaching our kids the skills they need to be safe and self-reliant. But there’s not a whole lot of chance for a child to put any of that into practice and get good at it,  if mom is by his side for a full 18 years.

As a parent who admittedly trends toward overprotection, I’ve also left 3½-year-old Icepick Jr. in the backyard (which would make me a bad parent, according to the pediatrician in the Daily News article) for a whole 90 seconds while running inside to pee (with the windows open and an infield-full worth of outdoor toys, fully safety-approved, to occupy him). We’re fortunate in that we live less than a city block from the elementary school Junior will eventually attend. I’m looking forward to walking with him to that school someday. And someday later, (gulp) letting him walk there by himself.


Howard Zinn and writing

Howard Zinn died last week, having the media misfortune of passing away the same day as J.D. Salinger. Though I doubt Zinn’s death would have garnered much more notice had he died without being overshadowed by someone else’s passing. As the New York Times’ Bob Herbet put it in a column a couple of days ago: “His death this week at the age of 87 was a loss that should have drawn much more attention from a press corps that spends an inordinate amount of its time obsessing idiotically over the likes of Tiger Woods and John Edwards.”

Maybe it was that Zinn felt comfortable presenting himself as a radical, whereas I never thought of, say, my own personal favorites Studs Terkel or Nelson Algren that way. Maybe it’s because, from what I remember from my very cursory knowledge of him, Zinn was about as subtle as a sledgehammer, and that approach worked for him.

Bob Herbert asks: “What was so radical about believing that workers should get a fair shake on the job, that corporations have too much power over our lives and much too much influence with the government, that wars are so murderously destructive that alternatives to warfare should be found, that blacks and other racial and ethnic minorities should have the same rights as whites, that the interests of powerful political leaders and corporate elites are not the same as those of ordinary people who are struggling from week to week to make ends meet?”

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Algren, Hemingway, outrage and not writing

Happy post-holidays, happy new year.

Mrs. Icepick got me the best Christmas gift this year — the 50th anniversary critical edition of Nelson Algren’s The Man With the Golden Arm. I was mooning about missing a talk this fall at one of the local universities on one of my favorite writers (in honor of Algren’s 100th birthday), so Mrs. Icepick bought me the novel, which of course I already owned and haven’t fully read since college. But the gem of this anniversary edition is the critical notes about post-war Chicago’s bard (even a Chicago that apparently dismissed him for so long, until it didn’t any longer, sort of) with essays from writers like Vonnegut, Mike Royko, Studs Terkel, and others. Russell Banks, who was one of the panelists at the talk I missed, is sadly not included here in this edition — Banks was mentored at one time by Algren and was positively influenced by him.

I was introduced to Algren’s writing by an English professor who had no use for the typical dead-white-male cauldron of Twentieth Century Writers (the first half of the century, anyway). Though she introduced us to some great works not authored by Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner, et al., I missed out on reading those “classic” works. Seems like there should have been two separate courses, because it turned out to be rather easy to graduate with an undergrad English degree with a concentration in American Lit without reading a lick of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner, and so on.

But I digress. Because the happy by-product of this was an introduction to Algren, and for that, I am eternally grateful (plus, I picked up and read from the Hemingway-Fitzgerald-Faulkner nexis on my own, though it would have been nice to have some professorial guidance).

So, where was I?

It may be impolitic, I’ve found, to admit to being both an Algren and Hemingway fan, but there you have me. Hemingway was certainly an Algren fan, perhaps to the bemusement of some Algren scholars, and Algren of course visited then wrote about Hemingway.

(Digression: I loved my gift so much, but I am a piss-poor caretaker. We keep many of our opened Christmas gifts under our tree for the ensuing weeks, partly for reasons of laziness, partly to fill up the space under the slowly dying tree, partly to keep the cat from drinking the water from the damn tree stand (fail). One night, somehow, I managed to over-water the tree stand and not realize it, and the next day I was crushed to find my new book soaked. Serves me right for not putting it away, and the back pages are now all stiff and crinkly from my drying the book on a radiator.)

Anyway, geek that I am, I’m going through the essays in the new book first, rather than the novel proper. I’ve become a sucker for critical analysis in recent years. As soon as I got home well after midnight from a 10:40 p.m. showing of Avatar last weekend (awesome, by the way) I looked up movie reviews online. I do that after watching flicks on cable for the first time, too. With novels, well, who has the time to re-read the whole thing, eh, so I just jumped into the essays. So it goes.

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William Safire RIP

Wow, have I got some catching up to do. As I’ve previously mentioned, yep, I’m a hypocrite. But here are some items I threw up on my Facebook page in the last month that I wanted to include here. So, previously, on Facebook…

  • William Safire, dead at 79: Great lexicographer, I carry a well-thumbed copy of his Political Dictionary in my work bag. May have disagreed politically, but the man was a damn smart writer. A man who knew the power of words and speeches, and despite our political differences (and some of his questionable journalism), a man I enjoyed reading for his love of language.
  • ESPN.com: Selling out more than previously thought possible? To borrow from Sports Illustrated, that week’s sign that the apocalypse is upon us: Bill Simmons, Brought to You by Miller Lite
  • Belatedly (on my part), Happy Labor Day from the execrable Gannett Corp.: The New York Times’ David Carr, writing about  The Journal News of Westchester: “…(R)eporters at The Journal News don’t work in a newsroom, they are part of an ‘Information Center’; they don’t cover beats, they cover ‘topics’; and in a new wrinkle to an old story, the staff was not being laid off, but becoming part of a ‘comprehensive restructuring plan.'”