I received a terrific message from the son of one of Norman’s fellow soldiers – his batman, actually.
I have stood at your uncle’s grave quite often. I spent a year in Paris as a student 1978-79 at the University of Paris 1 (Panthéon Sorbonne).
That year my dad and mom came over to Paris for a week to visit. We drove to the Normandy beaches, and we visited the Canadian War Cemetery at Bretteville-Cintheaux.
Dad, mom, and I stood at your uncle’s grave for the first time. Prior to driving back to Paris, I inquired of Dad as to where (location) he was wounded. After some searching, we found the Ferme Saint-Hilaire and Hill 195. We walked up hill 195.We were able to pinpoint the location of the 88 shell that exploded and killed your uncle and wounded my father to within approximately 100 feet…Each time we travel to the farm, we stop at the cemetery and look at your uncle’s grave. My dad was his batman and the platoon runner. My father thought very highly of Lt Christopherson.
I commend you for your effort at publishing your uncle’s letters. They are witness to what life was like in those very difficult and trying circumstances.
It means so much to me to have received this email.
This is me, trying to finish another book during lockdown:
The science fiction writer Jon Courtenay Grimwood sees the irony: “It’s weird as all hell. We spent our lives saying if only we could be locked away in a cave then inspiration and deadlines would be no problem and then it happens and it’s a disaster.”
Very funny piece. Funny, because it’s true.
…about my book. The woman writing is the daughter of one of Norman’s university friends.
They [the letters] are amazing. And I had no idea about the poems. They all put my concept of Norman in a completely different light. I had always thought about Norm’s death as so tragic — as an extinguished candle. But that he was able to write what he did, explicitly to reflect upon and articulate his life and his relation to others so fully, makes me feel less the tragedy and more the celebration of a life astonishingly well lived and, in the Socratic sense, well-examined. I was amazed at his ability to write “yet my heart and life are whole” — so beautiful! — and then to follow it with “I hope” — which returns us to grounded life as he lived it, and to the humility that he showed alongside his amazing strength of character. It left me speechless. He lived so well. And the letters to Rigmore are amazing — the love for a sister, but also a sort of fellow artist, wanting her to know the truth without having to experience it all. Alcohol, the comic version, and wolves — those were just great — and how he wanted her to be honest in confronting life while protecting her from it. And that letter to his parents … Not many people, however long they live, ever get to put into words what he was able to write. These words of his, which live on, which you have preserved and offered to the world, really changed my whole picture of what it can mean for a life to be cut short. Too short, yes — but also lived so fully…Whether or not you issue further editions, what you have done in offering these letters to the world is wonderful beyond words. Your book so honors Norman and all the hopes and spirit reflected in all that he wrote — and so many other men (and women) who were part of his story, and beyond it.
Thank you, dear reader!
Dear readers, I have published a book based on my uncle’s letters and it is now available on Amazon (various Amazons). It should be on Kobo in the coming days. If you are so inclined, please read it and give it a good review – and if you feel you can’t do the latter, then remember what our mums taught us: if you have nothing good to say, don’t say anything.
July 21st would have been Ernest Hemingway’s 121st birthday. I am a fan of his writing, though many Women’s Studies’ majors have told me I oughtn’t be. No, I don’t like the bullfighting and hunting scenes in his stories, but I love his view of life, the need for courage and acceptance, his understanding of fear and the vicissitudes of love, and I do so appreciate his unpretentious writing. And, of course, I love his love of Paris and his worship of cats. I found three links about him that are worth your time, dear readers: his Nobel Prize acceptance speech; a letter of advice he wrote to Scott Fitzgerald (wence came the title of this blog post) – a rather macho letter, but so endearing, so preferable to the usual weasel words we get from others; and his list of essential reading for aspiring writers. Sorry to say I have still not read all of his recommended books, but I am getting there.
A story of mine on Medium. If you are a member, please “clap” (ugh! silly terminology) for it and please follow me. Sadly, one of my sibs got into quite a snit about this piece – not sure why, as it is merely an affectionate tribute to my recently-deceased brother. And to the power of talented writers like Nevil Shute, Gore Vidal and others. Ah well, families…such fun! Such fun! (If you are a fan of Miranda, you will get that reference.)
Dear readers, I am currently in the thick of this amazing book, Hope and Memory: Lessons from the Twentieth Century, by Tzvetan Todorov. Here’s an eminently sane Romain Gary quote from the book:
The bombs I dropped on Germany between 1940 and 1944 maybe killed a Rilke or a Goethe or a Holderin in his cradle. And yes, if it had to be done over, I would do it again. Hitler had condemned us to kill. Not even the most just causes are ever innocent.
Ada Calhoun has written a book called Why We Can’t Sleep: Women’s New Midlife Crisis. Despite the cringey title, I really liked the book and Calhoun is a terrific writer. It was recommended to me by someone who knows that I (often) can’t sleep. Of course, sleep is not Calhoun’s main focus. Her focus is GenX women and where we are at, as we navigate middle age. I’ll highlight a couple of points that I thought were observant and bittersweet.
First, Calhoun makes a reference to the “infinite tolerance” policy of the parents of GenXers when it came to bullying and the “conviction that kids should fight their own battles.” Oh yes! And what a lousy idea. This was true in the general sense, at schools and in recreational activities – kids were nasty and you got crushed and adults did nothing. For me, it was true on a local and personal level – I had a brother (still have him but thankfully, have nothing to do with him) who made my life a living hell when I was a child and teen. He was twelve years older than me, and an adult when the real cruelty began (though I remember him beating me and tormenting me when I was, like, three and he was 15). Did my parents help? Don’t be silly. They helped him by joining in or by looking away. And my siblings (all older and many of them also adults) pretty much did the same.
A very peculiar approach to raising one’s children, yes? There must be a happy medium between fixing all your kids’ woes and simply neglecting them. (Note about said brother – he continued to try to bully me well into my adulthood, but thanks to the glories of the “block option” on email and on social media, he gave up and – so I’ve been told – found other prey.)
Second point I loved: Calhoun writes about a woman whose mother went from preaching Gloria Steinem’s famous “a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle” to behaving like Mrs. Bennet from Pride and Prejudice. Hilariously funny and totally my mum’s trajectory, as well, bless her. I even wrote a poem about her Mrs. Bennet phase.
I thank Calhoun for the book – I felt less alone and less nutty after reading it.
I try to take a long walk each day, usually while listening to an audiobook – I learn and burn calories! I occasionally select books I have already read, especially if I remember enjoying them or taking in a lot of information from them. One such book is Niall Ferguson’s Civilization. Here’s a relevant to today’s news (and to other things) paragraph (and a bit):
For some reason, beginning in the late fifteenth century, the little states of Western Europe, with their bastardized linguistic borrowings from Latin (and a little Greek), their religion derived from the teachings of a Jew from Nazareth and their intellectual debts to Oriental mathematics, astronomy and technology, produced a civilization capable not only of conquering the great Oriental empires and subjugating Africa, the Americas and Australasia, but also of converting peoples all over the world to the Western way of life – a conversion achieved ultimately more by the word than by the sword.
There are those who dispute that, claiming that all civilizations are in some sense equal, and that the West cannot claim superiority over, say, the East of Eurasia. But such relativism is demonstrably absurd.