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Peter Schjeldahl and Ada Calhoun

About two years ago, I posted about Ada Calhoun and one of her books here. At the time, I did not know that she was the daughter of Peter Schjeldahl, the art critic and essayist. He wrote a phenomenal essay about his cancer diagnosis three years ago and died last week. Only a month ago, I read Calhoun’s latest, Also a Poet, which was, in large part, a tribute to her father and their less-than-perfect relationship. She writes about the struggles of wishing you had had parents that were, for example, more attuned to you, prouder of you, but then also understanding this: you get what you get and good things can come from difficult bonds or even bonds that do not feel strong. Noteworthy for me that Schjeldahl was Norwegian-American. I recognized the unwillingness to praise one’s child, a trait my mother certainly demonstrated. I also recognized the frustration of having parents that seemed perfect (or close to it) to the outside world, while being only human at home. Rest in peace to Schjeldahl and may his daughter continue to write.

Lovely Reader Comment About my Book

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.

Nice Reader Comment…

…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!