Reading Jane Austen at 37,000 Feet

This is one of my older poems. I wrote the draft of it on a plane on the way to Boston in 2002 to visit cousins and an elderly uncle whom I hadn’t seen in years. It was the first time I had flown since 9/11.

I wasn’t scared, exactly, but I was plenty uneasy.

Flying is not my favorite activity under the best of circumstances. But I was flying in the near-aftermath of the terror attacks, when everybody was on edge, and lots of other things down on the planet Earth below me made it seem as though order was collapsing.

This was the time when a sniper in a blue Caprice was shooting people randomly on Washington DC highways. Chechen rebels held 700 people hostage in a Moscow theatre, and the attempt to rescue them went horribly wrong. Bombs were routinely going off on Israeli busses.

The world seemed a tad nuts.

As it happened, I had assigned Jane Austen’s Emma to my Intro to Graduate Studies students that semester. I brought the book along to reread—and as we always say literature does, it took me out of myself and my worries and transported me into Austen’s world.

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If you’ve read Austen, you know it’s very different from our own. Though her world was also in transition, her characters negotiated the changes with civility and grace

I tried to capture the differences—along with my yearning for a more orderly world—in the poem.

At the time, it seemed as if things couldn’t get any crazier.

Except today, 2020 says, “Hold my beer.”

There’s a new movie of Emma out, and I saw it last night. It was a decent translation of the book to film, with the exception of some casting choices I took issue with. (Note to producers: next time switch the actors who play Knightley and Robert Martin; if you’re going to use the great Bill Nighy, give him more to do).

It reminded me again why great novels like Emma hardly ever make great movies: novels are all about language, and no film can do justice to the sparkling wit of Austen.

But shifting into Austen’s world is still a serene experience as disease, financial catastrophe, corruption, and stupidity rage outside the darkened theatre.

It helps us realize that once there were people who were civil and agreeable to each other. And maybe there will be again.

Hope you enjoy “Reading Jane Austen at 37,000 Feet.”

 

Reading Jane Austen at 37,000 Feet

A voice from the flight deck mumbles—something

about the weather in Boston—as the plane lumbers

into the dawning day above it all,

the sniper’s nest in the blue Caprice, endless

wars, dead hostages, suicide bombers

blowing nailed starbursts through sunblind busses.

 

Jane, how I welcome your astringent lines, sly

as a measured throw of cards on green felt tables,

the ordered games of Hartfield after dinner

while poor cold Woodhouse worries over the dangers

of rich cakes, and pretty Emma schemes.

Sealed in steel dread six miles up, I enter

your safe art gladly, shaking the dust

of crumbling civilizations off my boot-soles.

[© 2005 Donald Levin. A version of this poem appeared in my poetry book, In Praise of Old Photographs (Little Poem Press, 2005; reprinted in Detroit Metro Times, November 23, 2005).]

The Poddification of Everyday Life

[I don’t often subject you to leftovers from my former life in academia, but earlier today I was having a GIF interchange with two friends, writers Andrew Lark and Wendy Sura Thomson, and the movies The Invasion of the Body Snatchers came up (the 1956 and 1978 versions). I was reminded that at one point in early 2000s I was quite taken with the films, and had written a book chapter and several conference papers on both movies, along with the 1994 re-remake. Here’s one of the papers. Unlike many academic critics, I tried to keep it mostly in English. Enjoy!]

“The Poddification Of Everyday Life”

All three of the filmed versions of Invasion of the Body Snatchers—Don Siegel’s 1956 original, Philip Kaufman’s 1978 remake of the same name, and Abel Ferrara’s 1994 Body Snatchers—posit as their central horror the systematic replacement of the real with the simulated that French theorist Jean Baudrillard suggests is characteristic of postmodern life. In all three films, mothers, fathers, wives, uncles, lovers, and friends are replaced with simulacra that look and sound “real,” but have no connection to the human reality they resemble. This paper will examine the original and two remakes to suggest that these films offer a progressively grimmer critique of American culture.

Each of the three begins by posing the central question of personal identity—“Who’s there?” as Bernardo demands at the beginning of Hamlet. Relatively uncomplicated readings of these films have interpreted them through the lenses of broad (or global) social concerns current at their times of production. Thus the first has often been associated with what James Monaco called the “political paranoia” of its era (232), in particular with the discourses of communism and McCarthyism, connecting the dehumanization of being replaced by pod people with the “soullessness” of the former and the mass hysteria of the latter. The second has been variously associated with Vietnam and the death of the hippie movement, and critic Roger Ebert suggested the third film might be driven by the spread of AIDS.

And in fact, in each version, the main characters meet the proliferation of people who suddenly believe their loved ones have changed with a search for reasonable explanations that reference elements exterior to the film. In the 1956 version, the main character, Dr. Miles Bennell, first suggests his small town is seeing an epidemic of mass hysteria brought on by worry about world events, and later wonders if the pods result from atomic radiation, foregrounding the prevailing cultural fears of atomic warfare at the height of the cold war.

In the 1978 version, the scientist hero is Matthew Bennell, not a physician but a civil servant who works for the Department of Public Health in San Francisco. He approaches the problem as a public health epidemic, viewing pods as a kind of disease vector; considering its setting, we might see the second film rather than the third as driven by HIV. Later in the film, Nancy Bellicec, who runs a bathhouse in San Francisco, initially thinks the pods are part of a pattern of global environmental damage.

And finally, in the last filmed version, a tentative explanation is first offered within the context of psychotropic effects of the chemicals used in biowarfare.

As the three films offer these early explanations of the invasions, it is tempting to locate these as the heart of each film’s cultural critique. However, an analysis of each film reveals that in each “poddification” becomes a trope for a different, what I might call “local,” cultural discourse supplied by the film itself. While these are related to cultural trends and concerns of the films’ moments, they are more complex and darker in their views of the culture than traditional interpretations have suggested.

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Thus poddification in the 1956 film becomes a metaphor not of the communist or anti-communist menaces, or of concern about larger world issues, as Miles opined, but rather of what the film suggests are the pernicious effects of creeping mass culture represented within the film itself. The events take place within a carefully constructed nostalgic representation of a “typical” American small town, Santa Mira, which appears at first glance to be a kind of Anytown USA, with its city center of small businesses surrounded by quiet neighborhoods and rich farmland, where everyone knows everyone else, children are named Jimmy and one’s childhood sweetheart is named Becky, and when things seem out of joint everyone looks for answers to the kindly, dedicated Dr. Bennell in his small office that overlooks the town square.

As events unfold, we begin to realize that this artificially nostalgic view of Santa Mira also supports a social reality based upon a rigidly hierarchical system of class and gender that the film offers as normal (racial difference having already been erased in the film before it even starts, as all the characters are white). On their way home from the train station where his nurse has come to pick him up, they almost run over a youngster who has noticed his mother has changed; Miles stops to speak briefly with his grandmother, a farmer’s wife whose rough housedress clashes noticeably with Miles’s suit, and even with the nurse’s crisp uniform, marking the class difference immediately. Though his image plays into the nostalgic vision of the dedicated doc who makes house calls, Kevin McCarthy, who plays Dr. Bennell, is anything but the rumpled and overworked country doc. His classic aristocratic good looks, with pinched nostrils, tailored suits, and ever-present cigarette, are all markers of a higher socioeconomic class. He cares for working class residents in his practice but in his private life hobnobs with others on his level at the town’s tony restaurant, and his former girlfriend, Becky, has a pseudo-British accent and elegant bare shoulders in the revealing dress she wears when she first meets him after her return from living in England, where her marriage has broken up. Both Miles and Becky are divorced, which lends to them both the frisson of modern scandal in the staid 1950s small town.

Jack Bellicec, a writer in the film and friend of Miles, is also surrounded by signifiers of upper-crust sophistication. He lives in a house with a wet bar from which he serves up the martinis and bourbon that he and Miles knock back constantly, a pool table in his rec room, foreign-language posters, pottery, and expensive knick-knacks scattered throughout. The film is full of these markers of 1950s caste privilege, as the upper-class characters drink martinis, tool around in new cars, wear impeccably styled clothing, and comport themselves (at least before the pods take over) with an impeccable urban sangfroid.

When the pods do arrive, the first to change are not these members of the higher socioeconomic class, but ordinary working people; the pods enter this community through farmers. As more people change, we realize the class distinctions marked by what the characters wear, do, and value are all being leveled under the relentless onslaught of the pods. Suddenly the pod people come from every class in this microcosm of American society, and the higher-class now mingle with shopkeepers, police, housewives, meter-readers, and gas station attendants in common cause in ways that were not previously sanctioned.

As Santa Mira’s social distinctions are leveled, so, too, do the characteristics that the film supports as essentially human disappear once the pod people begin taking over. These, the film asserts, are foundational to the nostalgic, rigidly stratified social reality the pods replace. The film makes clear that the lovers Miles and Becky resist poddification so staunchly in large part because their transformation will mean the end of the intense emotion they feel for each other. Yet the film also suggests this emotion is only one characteristic pod people will lose. Poddification also means the end of desire, ambition, and faith, arguably the three cultural elements most responsible for the power and status enjoyed by Miles and the rest of his class in the film’s mythic meritocracy of America. When these pillars that prop up their class-stratified society disappear, the discourse of “normality” changes and Miles and Becky lose their privileged status, worth, and material advantages, and literally take to the hills, on the run for their lives.

Only at the end of the film are these distinctions restored, as another man in a suit takes charge at the out-of-town hospital where Miles makes his way. At first believed to be insane, not only because of his story but his dirty, disheveled, sweaty (that is, working class) look, he finally convinces the physicians at the hospital when a truck driver is brought in after dumping his load of pods across the highway. The original ending had Miles wandering through the highway traffic shouting, “You’re next!” as the pod-bearing trucks spread the invasion. The final ending, the outer parenthesis of the frame added on by the studio that felt the original ending would have been too depressing, restores the social distinctions the pods undermined.

Thus this view of the discourse of the 1956 original offers poddification as a trope for the leveling of well-entrenched social distinctions brought about by the mass culture of the modern world then taking shape in post-World War II America. A casualty of this leveling, the film asserts, is the elimination of emotion, desire, ambition, and faith. The “happy ending” halts this, at least temporarily, and the status quo is upheld.

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With no such happy ending, the multi-layered 1978 version asserts a considerably grimmer vision of poddification. Within the local discourse of this remake, the invasion becomes a metaphor for the spread of the antihuman culture of commodification and religious fundamentalism represented in the discourse of the film, and, in a broader frame, the cosmic inevitability of the erasure of disenfranchised groups. The scene switches from small Santa Mira to San Francisco, an urban milieu that has already devolved into the mass culture for which poddification was the first film’s metaphor. Where everyone knew everyone else in the small town America of Santa Mira, the characters in the San Francisco of the 1978 film careen through the anonymous teeming crowds of a modern neon metropolis. In such an atmosphere, human contact becomes all the more important, and the sense that “something’s missing” in the ones we love becomes all the more disturbing (as well as inevitable). The images of starbursts and webs scattered throughout the second version also suggest the extent to which the society has become interconnected, as the visual tendrils of the growing space plants are mirrored in the crack in Bennell’s windshield, and, structurally, in the reappearance in different settings of characters involved in the pod conspiracy as they pass their secret between them. As in the first film, “Who’s there?” becomes the key question, and in the mass culture of the 1978 film that question achieves enormous existential importance. A knock on the door can mean help or destruction.

In such a milieu, the 1978 film targets a number of local discourses, particularly the relentless commodification of daily life. The cost of everything is always among the first considerations in this version, as for example when Elizabeth Driscoll, Matthew’s coworker and friend (and Becky’s counterpart from the first film) early on has trouble getting a pod flower analyzed at her lab because it will cost too much. The smug well-to-do psychiatrist David Kibbner represents the commodification of emotional life as a hustler promoting his newest book on relationships at a book party that is one of the set pieces of the early part of the movie. Time, and everything else, is money in the film’s social reality, which is driven by what Cornell West called the market morality of American capitalist society. Indeed, West’s description of market forces could stand as a description of poddification in general in this remake, noting that “Postmodern culture is more and more a market culture dominated by gangster mentalities”; it is a voracious culture that, like the pod people, “engulfs all of us”.

Kibbner is also responsible for much of the localized cultural discourses for which poddification is a metaphor. His language is a mélange of psychobabble about the dangers of “shutting down feelings” (with massive irony, of course, since emotions are the first to go when one is replaced by one’s pod replica, and Kibbner becomes a malevolent agent for the pod transformation), relationships, 1970s therapies, and, most importantly, once he is revealed to be a pod person, fundamentalist religion. If Matthew and Elizabeth would only give themselves up to poddification, Kibbner tells, them they will be “born again into an untroubled world, free of anxiety, fear, and hate”; he cautions them, “don’t be trapped by old concepts . . . you’re evolving into a new life form.” Kibbner’s use of the religious discourse of being “born again” explicitly connects poddification with religious transformation in addition to the market culture noted earlier; both religion and capitalism appear to result in the loss of what makes us most human.

The religious association gains resonance near the end of the film, when Matthew hears bagpipes playing “Amazing Grace” by the docks when he is looking for an escape. He discovers the song is only on a radio playing as pods by the hundreds are being loaded onto a ship for distribution to far ports. The transformational salvation the song describes becomes an ironic false salvation that is no longer possible in the new, poddified world.

The metaphor of birth assumes additional importance in this film as the remake uses birth imagery to mark how women’s insights, ways of knowing, concerns, and especially bodies are replaced with a crushingly brutal cultural and cosmic imperialism that is clearly associated with power and patriarchy. The film begins on another planet, with a series of striking images of the original space seeds. The seeds are shown as gelatinous and sperm-like, and gradually break away from their seedbed on the alien world to enter the solar winds exactly as microphotographs show sperm being ejaculated and rushing on their way to fertilize an egg. After they reach this planet (round as a human egg, contributing to the visual metaphor of cosmic fertilization), they fall to the ground in rain, an obvious image of fertility, and are shown clinging in seminal lumps to vegetation on the ground.

Later in the film, the large pods are seen in great detail as they break open and expel the replicants in visual images that exactly duplicate birth. The heads of the pod replacements gradually protrude through the cervix-like opening of the pods, and the plant creatures being expelled into the world reproduce, ontogenetically, the development of a human from wet squirming newborn to adolescent to full grown pod person in a matter of minutes.

The meaning is clear: pods replace women’s bodies as the source of the race’s regeneration. The need for the replacement of women is clear considering that, since women are the first to notice the changes in their loved ones in all three films, women seem to be more attuned to emotional nuances than men, and in a new world without emotion, they must go. Furthermore, in this film women are the repository of not only emotional intuition but also the important impulses for caretaking; a woman, Nancy Bellicec, speaks one of the film’s most emotionally resonant lines: “We’ll watch over each other when we sleep,” she says, voicing the key human impulse to care for each other. While the original conflated emotion with ambition and faith as American values, in the first remake these have been commodified and poddified and what is at most stake, what makes us most human, are what Cornell West calls the “nonmarket values—love, care, service to others—handed down by preceding generations” (27). These are precisely the communitarian values that West says the market culture (like the pods) overwhelms.

What is left at the end of the 1978 film is a social reality dominated by men. Not only do men change first, but men who occupy positions of social control: health providers (Elizabeth’s boyfriend Jeffrey, a dentist, and psychiatrist Kibbner both become agents of poddification); police, who, as in the first film, are among the first to become complicit in the pods’ work; even the ubiquitous garbage collectors who haul away the desiccated husks of the replaced humans, are all male. From the first images to the last, the film suggests this dominance is a matter of cosmic, not simply cultural, imperative.

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The third film, Ferrara’s 1994 Body Snatchers, takes this cultural erasure of women further. Set in the aftermath of Gulf War I, it strips down the setting, characters, plot, and title to focus the film’s purpose more clearly. Gone in the third version is the playful postmodern intertexuality that enlivened the second film. Body Snatchersinstead zeroes in on the cultural characteristic that predominates in its world: the violent male imperialist culture of the military.

The film establishes the rhetoric of replacement immediately as the narrator and main character, the teen-aged girl Marti Malone, talks about her stepmother as the woman who replaced her mother. The third film establishes a binary between the vulnerable anti-authoritarianism of the young, displaced Marti and the brutal world of affectless military automatons. This is seen most clearly on two occasions, once when she falls asleep in the bathtub and is almost replaced by a pod and a second time when she is taken to the base infirmary and again is almost replaced; in both scenes she is nude, and the frailty of her slender body is in stark contrast to the fully clothed soldiers whose presence is everywhere. The representation of poddification as a sexual crime of aggression is also most evident in these scenes, where the tendrils snaking out from the pods to envelope, overwhelm, and replace the sleeping girl is a kind of rape that quite literally sucks the life from the victim.

The general setting is one of violence simmering below the surface of daily life as the screen alternates scenes of Marti’s family life with images from the discourse of war: helicopters, jeeps, guns, looming soldiers in camouflage, all relentlessly controlled by military protocol. While admitting women into the ranks as desexed soldiers, this is a world of men at war. In this case, the literal war is for the perpetuation of a race of creatures from a dying world; the credo of the warrior is the soldier’s credo: the race, not the individual, is important. Ultimately, the conformity of life on a military base filled with the looming silhouettes of impassive soldiers becomes indistinguishable from the conformity of the pod people who replace the humans.

The third film offers the harshest vision yet of a poddified America “purified” of dissent and difference. In the first two films, the systematic distribution of pods moves out from the towns to other cities (working through families and friends), yet in the third film the pods are distributed through military bases. This not only literalizes the metaphor of poddification as a war against humanity, but also suggests that a ubiquitous military culture is what will survive, a notion with particularly disturbing implications for post-9/11 America. The film sees the proliferation of pods as a trope for the relentless militarism and endless state of war of post-Gulf War I America. Concerns over what is lost in poddification—whether emotion, ambition, faith, or simple human kindness—disappear as the fight becomes one against an implacable imperialist force bent on domination.

At the end of the 1994 remake, Marti and her pilot escape to an army base in a big city, where, in the film’s final chilling image, they are met by an anonymous and ominous figure of a soldier looming over the camera. The implication is that, as in the second version, resistance to poddification is futile; there is no place to run. This remake is a far more straightforward, bleaker, and devastating vision of what local discourse poddification becomes a metaphor for. Though the society of the end of the 1978 film is purged of communitarian values, the outward appearances of the culture remain essentially as they were before the pod invasion. People go to work, children go to school, government functionaries still go about their business clipping newspaper articles, and except for a regimentation evidenced in the penultimate sequence where the public health employees all march off to some common destination, things will go on as they have been.

In the 1994 version, however, the vision we are left with is of the world as armed camp. Thus from the “happy” ending of the 1956 version, to the black hole of poddified hero Matthew Bennell’s shrieking mouth caught in freeze-frame at the end of the 1978 film, to the figure of the soldier blocking the sun in the final image of the 1994 version, each view of the culture that remains following the Invasion of the Body Snatchers becomes progressively more desolate. The pernicious effects of mass culture that the first film resists become embedded in the second film, and by the time the final version of this important cinematic artifact ends, the outward appearances of “normal” daily life have been totally eclipsed by the strict militaristic control of poddified life during a time of endless war.

The latter is all the more terrifying, of course, for its remarkable resemblance to the conditions of life in the early years of the twenty-first century, when the uncertainties facing Miles and Matthew Bennell and Marti Malone—determining what is real, what we value, and who really is there —have become our most urgent questions.

Indie Monday

Today’s guest: Thomas Galasso

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Every other Monday, I’ll be featuring other authors on my blog—authors who produce quality work outside the boundaries and strictures of the traditional mass-produced, mass-marketed commercial publishing world and traditional bookstore shelves.

Today’s featured guest is the multitalented author, musician, actor, and teacher Thomas Galasso. Thomas received his bachelor of arts in English from Wayne State University, and eventually earned a teaching certification in Secondary English, Speech, and Drama. He also received a master of arts in English from Marygrove College. He has been teaching in Detroit Public Schools for over twenty years. He worked on another certification, and now teaches kids with Autism. His “serious hobby” is playing guitar, bass, a little harmonica, and singing. Thomas is the author of a novel, When the Swan Sings on Hastings (Aquarius Press, 2017), described in detail below.

Recently I posed some questions to Thomas. Here’s what he told me.

DLThomas, welcome. Could you tell us a little about yourself?

TG: I was born and raised on the East Side of Detroit. My grandparents were immigrants from Italy and never spoke English fluently. My mother at five or six years old, remembered pulling into Ellis Island and got so excited, she started ringing the ship’s bell. My parents never graduated from high school, but they were serious about education. They sent my sister and me to Catholic school for twelve years. Early on in grade school, I was an avid reader and I used to make what is now considered graphic literature. My first story I ever wrote was in third grade. It was about a kid who wakes up and has a head of cabbage instead of his own head. I won some contest in school for it. However, I stole the idea from a similar story I read at the neighborhood library and then put my own spin on it. At the time, I didn’t understand plagiarizing or its crime, but I certainly was not going to say anything.

When I got to be a teen, we took the bus downtown to J.L. Hudson Department Store and I fell in love with exploring downtown. We also spent a lot of time at Belle Isle, as well. I took Creative Writing classes at Wayne State and then got involved in theater. After doing a dozen plays or so, I spent one year making a living on just acting. I joined Actor’s Equity, the Screen Actor’s Guild, and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, three unions I no longer belong to since I stopped paying dues. I studied acting at the University of Detroit and with famed actress/acting teacher/author, Uta Hagan, both here in Detroit and at her old HB Studios in New York City.

DL: Tell us about your latest book and works in progress. Where did the ideas for those come from?

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TG: My debut novel, When the Swan Sings on Hastings, is under the genre of historical fiction. It’s about a group of black and some white businessmen, numbers runners, hustlers, and Hastings regulars who face the destruction of their beloved neighborhood to make way for I-75 in an age of segregation. The neighborhood was razed from Gratiot all the way beyond Warren Ave.

The novel has a very interesting upbringing. It started as a bunch of dramatic monologues and then morphed into a one-act play that I wrote and directed for my drama class. It was performed at Detroit Northern High School where I taught. A year before I wrote the play, I was teaching drama at a DPS middle school. We put on a show every year for Black History Month that would include my drama class, the vocal music class, and the school band. The vocal music teacher, Ms. Rosalind Stearns-Brown, is also the daughter of Turkey Stearns, the Hall of Fame outfielder who played for the Detroit Stars of the Negro Leagues. His plaque is on the wall outside Comerica Park. (Ms. Stearns-Brown also sings the National Anthem every year for the Negro League series game at Comerica. Recently, she sang it at Keyworth Stadium in Hamtramck where the Stars once played.)

For Black History Month one year, she wanted to do “something about my dad” for our annual presentation. I wrote some monologues of three Negro League ballplayers, Stearns, Cool Papa Bell, and Jimmie Crutchfield as older men reminiscing about the old days.

Segue to a year later, and I rewrote the monologues into a one-act play that takes place on Hastings Street in Detroit’s historical Paradise Valley. I did research on the Negro League players and on Paradise Valley for the play.

This mash-up of Negro Leaguers and Hastings Street came about from my befriending blues musicians who played on Hastings. I bartended in Greektown in the ‘90s, and when I got off work I would go down to the now defunct Music Menu Bar on Monroe to listen to music. They had some great bands playing there. Through the great Detroit drummer, R.J. Spangler, I met Johnnie Basset, the famed blues guitarist who played on Hastings. I also met the extraordinary blues vocalist, Alberta Adams.

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Hastings Street in Detroit, ca. 1960. Photo credit: Detroit Historical Society

When they took their breaks, I was lucky enough to corner them at the bar and they would tell me stories about Hastings Street and its lively music scene and nightclubs and after-hours joints. One thing led to another, and I decided to bring the Negro League guys into the world of Hastings Street. I also decided a novel was more accessible to an audience than a play; one can read a novel anywhere, even on the other side of the world. (Actually, I know someone who read it in South Korea.)  So I took a deep breath and said, “Well, I think I can write a novel. We will see one way or another.”

My work in progress is a series of short stories—a dozen or so that have to do with “working Detroit.” Two, however, are set in San Francisco. Three of them will be published in a few months along with stories from three other Detroit writers, Diana Wolfe-Popa, Ryan Ennis, and Michael Schwartz, in a collection.

I pull my art from my work and life experiences. The characters in my new batch of short stories are all working people—waiters, orderlies, assembly line workers, and actors trying to scruff their way through. I am also working on a screenplay of my novel, When the Swan Sings on Hastings. I am co-writing it with Heather Buchanan, producer of AUX Media. We have a short film of the same name showing at the Royal Oak Main Theatre on August 28 at 7p.m. We are going to show the film and play some blues with a little band I put together. I play a numbers runner in the film. But I am most excited about the cast. Arthur Ray and Grover McCants, two acting veterans from Detroit, star in it. Shahida Hasan, a dynamic actress/vocalist, plays the “Aretha” role and sings her heart out.

DL: Why do you write? What do you hope to accomplish with your writing?

TG: I write because it is who I am. Creating is very important to me, be it playing guitar, acting, or whatever kind of creative activity. I could take a more spiritual stance and say it is a gift from God, which I believe. It would be wasteful if I didn’t create. Ever since I was a kid, I was an avid storyteller and it is natural for me. In terms of accomplishment, I hope to give my readers a fulfilling experience that leaves an impression after they put the book down. I want to take them “there.” I want them to feel something—visually, emotionally-—I want them to touch, smell, and listen to the world I am creating for them. I want to take them to a place that I have living in my head and in my heart. I want them to get inside someone else and feel their joy, pain, or other emotion. I believe when we read, we see the world better, and not just from our own perspective.

DL: Please talk a little about your writing process. What is your favorite part of the process? Least favorite?

TG: My writing process consists of rethinking incidents that I experienced in my life and finding the “literature” or the “story” in them. Everything in our mundane moments in life contributes to a bigger canvas or movie. I used to do a lot of writing with a glass of red wine or a pint of beer or at times a joint and sit in a corner at a bar and scribble away. Jack Kerouac called it “sketching.” I would sketch physical aspects of a room or people or conversations I overheard. I would scribble them down and then go home and within hours, maybe days or even weeks, I would take them and put them in a story with more meaning.

Then, there is the craft of the art. What can this story tell? What do I want my reader to feel? I love rewriting something I wrote months ago. I like to write and let it sit for a while and then come back to it with a clear head. A writer should not fall in love with one’s own words too much. Use only what drives the story. Pruning, cleaning up, watering, nourishing-—that is what I love. When I have nothing in the well, I stop. I play guitar and do other things, maybe act.

I can’t think of anything I don’t like about the writing process except forcing myself to write when I should be doing something else.

DL: Could you reflect a bit on what writing or being a writer has meant for you and your life?

TG: Ever since I was a kid, I was told I was a good storyteller. I never looked at it that way. I just said, “Man, lemme tell you what happened today.” After reading bios on Hemingway and Kerouac, I found how we can take our everyday moments in life and make them something bigger than that moment. There is so much to be found in our simple daily lives. The beauty of literature is that it takes these simple moments and makes them so much more important, psychologically, emotionally, and intellectually. Every second of life is holy. There is a story in everybody and that is what makes being a writer so precious, exciting and yeah, HOLY.

DL: Many thanks for joining us today. What is the link to your book’s web site so readers can learn more about it?

TG: Thank you for giving me this opportunity. Here is the link to the Amazon page for When the Swan Sings on Hastings: https://amzn.to/2LKL4Gk.