Daniel Menaker

“The Cockroach of the Gardening World”

Monday, August 26, 2013

I am NOT complaining! My uncle, Frederick Engels Menaker, one of seven sons of Solomon Menaker, six of them named after radicals and utopians, left me his house and land in the Berkshires. Otherwise my family and I could never have had such a place.  Enge (“Rhymes with ‘mange,'” he liked to say) was gay and childless, to my good fortune. In many ways, he was more nearly my father than my father was.  But I remember the year he planted some of what he called “Angelica” around the house–as a ground cover, he said. It bloomed nicely in the late spring and smelled OK. But in the years since his death, it has turned into something you might see on the  SyFy channel’s Horticulture Hour, spreading everywhere, colonizing lawns, crossing the road as Caesar crossed the Tiber, choking off vegetables, overwhelming flowerbeds.  I believe another name for it, goutweed, suits it much better. Here is a wonderful jeremiad about it from a gardening site. It’s terrific writing, from the heart.

“KILL IT, KILL IT, KILL IT !!! This plant is the cockroach of the gardening world, and should never, under any circumstance, be sold in gardening outlets. I have seen tracts of beautiful woodland taken over by this monster, with all trace of native wildflowers forever eradicated. I lost a stretch of beautiful border along a brook to this pernicious beast, and I almost cried as it swallowed a lovely established bed of vinca, cimicifuga, and siberian iris. Those who are happy with it either live surrounded by concrete, or they have little else in their gardens that they care about. Be considerate of others, please and NEVER knowingly plant this thing. Petition all garden stores to stop selling it, too.”

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A Post-Post

Thursday, August 22, 2013

At the Southampton Writers Conference this last July, while playing pitch-and-putt golf on a small private course giving directly on the Atlantic Ocean, Billy Collins and his co-faculty members kept up the kind of banter that those of us who don’t play golf have heard about and maybe envied–a little like poker banter, of which Mr. Collins is also a master. Clubs, looking like a possible flush: “Members only.” Jacks are “Jacquelines.” Etc. On the ultra-green pitch-and-putt gem, it was “Circle of friendship” to signal that the ball of another player lay close enough to the hole to allow the player to forgo tapping it in. But the best–and most incessant–was “That’s what she said,” in response to just about anything.  “It’s a little short,” “That’s a long one,” “It’s getting hot,” “Can you move your ball,” “Well-played,” “I have to improve my approach,” and so on.

These kinds of repeated jokes have three stages. 1. They’re very funny. 2. They’re tiresome. 3. They’re very funny again.

But an equally if not more amusing verbal byplay came from the creeping group realization–and then the overemployment–of the fact that doubled nouns are spreading virally in our language. “My son has his first job. His first job-job, I should say.” “He’s a friend but not, you know, a friend-friend.”  “I like e-books OK but I still prefer book-books.”  “I’d like something to drink but not a real drink-drink.” The same three stages applied to this collective overuse, especially as it spread to adjectives, as in “This is scary enough but not quite scary-scary.” And “You’re hungry but are you hungry-hungry?”

Where did this come from, I wonder.  (That’s what she said.)

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Fall Writers Speak Series UPDATE

Monday, August 19, 2013

This post is an update of my last post about the free public conversations the Stony Brook MFA program is offering in conjunction with the class I’m teaching this fall.  Dates have changed slightly.

From Stony Brook Manhattan:

This Fall’s Manhattan Writers Speak series will be an open classroom, an extension of the Monday evening course “The Uses of Affliction: Reading & Writing Illness” with Daniel Menaker and Magdalene Brandeis.  All guests and discussions will be linked around a common theme: Illness in fiction, Illness in non-fiction, Illness in the culture, and the new emerging theme of Narrative Medicine.

These free public conversations will take place at 7 o’clock at
Stony Brook Manhattan
101-113 East 27th Street, 3rd Floor
New York NY

Monday, September 23
Susan Minot, author of Evening, in conversation with Daniel Menaker

Monday, October 14
Katherine Bouton, author of Shouting Won’t Help, in conversation with Daniel Menaker

Monday, October 21
Robin Henig, contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine, in conversation with Daniel Menaker

Monday, October 28
Rita Charon, Executive Director of the Program in Narrative Medicine at Columbia University, in conversation with Daniel Menaker

Monday, November 18
Fenton Johnson, author of Geography of the Heart, in conversation with Daniel Menaker

All events free and open to the public.
To RSVP, please send email to MFAManhattan@stonybrook.edu

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Fall Writers Speak Series at Stony Brook Manhattan

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Graves’ disease, type 2 diabetes, lung cancer. I won’t give you the full rendition of what I call an “organ recital,” but I will say I’ve fought them all so far and so far am ahead. NO BLOODY JINX, AND I MEAN IT!! So who better to co-teach this course? It looks like “special guest tbd” will be Rita Charron (that second “r” in the last name is fortunate), head of Columbia University’s new course in Narrative Medicine.

Some have bruited about that free steroids will be given to all who attend. That isn’t true. It’s free stereos.

(NOTE: Some dates have changed–see here for the update.)

From Stony Brook Manhattan:

This Fall’s Manhattan Writers Speak series will be an open classroom, an extension of the Monday evening course “The Uses of Affliction: Reading & Writing Illness” with Daniel Menaker and Magdalene Brandeis.  All guests and discussions will be linked around a common theme: Illness in fiction, Illness in non-fiction, Illness in the culture, and the new emerging theme of Narrative Medicine.

These free public conversations will take place at 7 o’clock at
Stony Brook Manhattan
101-113 East 27th Street, 3rd Floor
New York NY

Monday, September 23
Writing Affliction: Author Susan Minot in conversation with Daniel Menaker. (DM: This one’s about … about, um … Let me check. Oh, yeah–dementia, based partly on Minot’s wonderful novel Evening.)

Monday, October 14
Writing Affliction: Katherine Bouton, Shouting Won’t Help  (DM: About hearing loss.  Katherine is my wife.  I wanted the title to be “Say Again?” Mull it over.)

Monday, October 28 or November 4
Special Guest tbd in conversation with Daniel Menaker  (DM–see actual post, above.)

Monday, November 18
Writing Affliction: Author Fenton Johnson, Geography of the Heart in conversation with Daniel Menaker  (DM–I’ll be learning about this, too)

Not included but definite and extremely timely: Robin Marantz Henig, a highly accomplished science writer, with a riveting piece about end-of-life decisions in the New York Times Magazine recently, will also be a guest on one of the other Monday evenings in the fall.

All events free and open to the public.
To RSVP, please send email to MFAManhattan@stonybrook.edu

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“My Mistake”–The Outtakes

Monday, August 05, 2013

To pre-supplement the memoir I’m going to publish in November (My Mistake; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), this blog will for the foreseeable future consist of outtakes from and additions to the book, most of them involving some of the louder quacks from some of the odder ducks I’ve waddled along with during a lifetime of listening.

Thomas Whiteside was a reporter for The New Yorker who wrote tirelessly about the ravages of Agent Orange–the toxic defoliant that U.S. planes dumped on Vietnam during the war in order to be able to spot guerilla troop movements and to kill crops. Whiteside had an odd kind of curiosity, the best example of which that I know involved another New Yorker writer, Maeve Brennan, who haunted the halls of the magazine well after her most productive years as the pseudonymous contributor–“The Long-Winded Lady”–to The Talk of the Town.  Ms. Brennan was homeless or nearly so, unkempt and unpredictable, and often slept in one of the magazine’s ladies’ rooms. One day, for reasons unknown to me and, apparently, Thomas Whiteside, she threw a carton of milk against the closed door of an editor named Pat Crow. The carton split open and milk splashed everywhere. As the fact-checker on one of Mr. Whiteside’s Agent Orange jeremiads, I was in his office the day of the milk bomb, and Whiteside and I were talking about the incident, how sad Ms. Brennan’s general state was.  Whiteside paused for a full minute, maybe longer, and finally said, “I wonder where she got the milk.”

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