Showing 31 - 40 of 298 annotations contributed by Aull, Felice

Alice Neel

Neel, Andrew

Last Updated: Feb-21-2012
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

This documentary is a film biography of American artist, Alice Neel (1900-1984), directed by her grandson, Andrew Neel. The film utilizes interviews with art historians; comments and interviews by Alice Neel herself; comments by her two sons and other family members; interviews with some of those that the artist painted; still photographs and other archival materials; and most spectacularly, displays of many Neel paintings. There are annotations of several important Neel paintings in this database. This film or sections of it would make a good accompaniment to discussions of those works.

Neel was a complex person and the film pays attention to this complexity. She lived what was considered to be a "bohemian" life, not following social conventions of the times and determined to pursue her art. There was early tragedy: marriage to a Cuban artist eventually disintegrated but produced two girl children, one of whom died as a baby and another who was kept in Cuba by the father and his family. These events were catastrophic for Neel and resulted in psychiatric hospitalization. For many years her life was one of poverty. In the 1930s she was funded to paint by the Works Progress Administration and later survived on welfare in Spanish Harlem while raising two sons born "out of wedlock". There she painted neighbors, and others who lived in that community. During the McCarthy era in the 1950s she was under investigation by the FBI for her occasional association with the Communist Party. She struggled to have her work recognized: although her paintings date back to the 1920s, it was not until 1974 that a retrospective exhibit of her art was presented by an important museum, the Whitney Museum of American Art. By that time she was painting portraits of well known individuals like Andy Warhol.

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Summary:

This is an anthology of poetry by poets who have disabilities. The book's sections are ordered more or less chronologically, although the editors have identified other groupings as well: "The Disability Poetics Movement," "Lyricism of the Body," and "Towards a New Language of Embodiment." Also included is a well organized preface by editor Jennifer Bartlett and an informative "Short History of American Disability Poetry" by editor Michael Northen. An essay by or about each poet prefaces that poet's work. The book makes no pretense at being comprehensive but offers a large selection of poets with a variety of physical impairments (e.g. cerebral palsy, rheumatoid arthritis, dystonia, blindness, deafness, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, stroke). It presents important figures who have contributed to current thinking about the disabled body and social and physical constraints imposed on it, as well as poets who do not/did not identify themselves as disabled in their work.

The first section, "Early Voices" presents poets no longer alive who wrote in the mid to late 20th century and rarely forefronted their disability (Larry Eigner, Vassar Miller, Robert Fagan, Josephine Miles-- and  Tom Andrews, who DID write about his hemophilia). Their work took place mostly during a time when disability was stigmatized and kept hidden. Michael Davidson's essay on Larry Eigner's work is particularly informative, showing how the poet's severe cerebral palsy, which kept him housebound, pervaded his work although he made no overt reference to his condition.

"The Disability Poetics Movement" highlights poets ("crip poets") who openly celebrate their unusual bodies. These are poets who emerged shortly after passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act in 1992. Some, such as Jim FerrisKenny Fries, Petra Kuppers became disability rights advocates and educators in the field of disability studies. Editor Michael Northen speculates that Fries "may be the single most powerful representative of this group" because he rejects both the medical and social models of disability and is "asking instead for a redefinition of beauty and of the way that disability is perceived" (20-21). Other poets in this section are Daniel Simpson, Laura Hershey, Jillian Weise, Kathi Wolfe, and John Lee Clark.

Ten poets contribute to the section, "Lyricism of the Body," most of them unknown to me (Alex Lemon, Laurie Clements Lambeth, Brian Teare, Ona Gritz, Stephen Kuusisto, Sheila Black, Raymond Luczak, Anne Kaier, Hal Sirowitz, Lisa Gill). Their prefatory essays are particularly helpful in providing context for their work. The final section, "Towards a New Language of Embodiment," is more experimental than the rest of the collection. "Rather than explaining an individual story, bodily condition is manifested through the form" (17). Poets are Norma Cole, C. S. Giscombe, Amber DiPietra, Ellen McGrath Smith, Denise Leto, Jennifer Bartlett, Cynthia Hogue, Danielle Pafunda, Rusty Morrison, David Wolach, Kars Dorris, Gretchen E. Henderson, Bernadette Mayer.

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Summary:

As the film opens, Gianni (Kim Rossi Stuart) prepares to meet for the first time the child he fathered 15 years earlier. The boy, Paolo (Andrea Rossi), was born with cerebral palsy and is of below average intelligence as well as being physically handicapped. Paolo's 19-year-old mother died when he was born, and Gianni could not bear to see the baby, or to have any subsequent contact with him. Paolo has been raised by his uncle, the dead woman's brother. Now Gianni, who lives in Milan with his wife and baby, prepares to take Paolo to a rehabilitation facility in Germany.

Paolo is trusting and does not question Gianni's long absence from his life. He manages to walk with the help of a cane, and tries to function as independently as he is physically capable of. When Gianni tries to feed him with a fork, Paolo responds by feeding Gianni instead. Many such small gestures that Paolo makes towards Gianni loosen Gianni's reserve, and each begins to respond to the other with affection.

In Germany, neither Gianni nor Paolo understand the language--in this they are equally disadvantaged. Gianni meets Nicole (Charlotte Rampling), mother to a teenage girl whose palsied speech impairment makes her unintelligible to anyone except Nicole. From the way that Gianni interacts with Paolo, Nicole senses that Gianni is Paolo's father, although Gianni at first denies it, claiming he is a friend of the family. When Gianni finally is truthful with Nicole, and worries about how Paolo will survive as an adult, she warns him that suffering is inevitable for the parent of an impaired child.

Gianni is horrified by the intensive physical therapy regimen to which Paolo is subjected in the German rehab facility, and removes the boy from therapy. He decides to bring Paolo home with him, but as they are driving back to Italy, Paolo "acts out" and Gianni realizes to his great sorrow that Paolo wishes to return to his uncle and live as he has for the first 15 years of his life. He has the keys to the house he grew up in and doesn't want to give them up.

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A Question of Power

Head, Bessie

Last Updated: Nov-18-2011
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In this autobiographical novel, written while the author was under severe mental strain and as she recovered from psychotic breakdown, Head tracks the protagonist Elizabeth’s struggle to emerge from the oppressive social situation in which she finds herself, and from the nightmares and hallucinations that torment her. Elizabeth, like Bessie Head, was conceived in an out-of-wedlock union between a white woman of social standing, and a black man--a union outlawed by her country of birth, South Africa.

Like the author, Elizabeth leaves South Africa with her young son--but without her husband, from whom she is fleeing--to live in neighboring Botswana, a country that has escaped some of the worst evils of colonial domination. But in rural Botswana she is once again faced with a constricting social system as the African villagers are suspicious of her urban ways and frown upon her individualistic behavior. Further, they bear her ill will on racial grounds because she is light skinned like the "bushmen" who are a despised tribe there.

Elizabeth suffers not only social isolation but intellectual deprivation as well. One of the few people with whom she can converse as an intellectual equal is the American peace corps volunteer, Tom, who acknowledges that "men don’t really discuss the deep metaphysical profundities with women" (24). During the four years in which Elizabeth is plagued by tribal suspiciousness, terrifying dreams, economic hardships, and two hospitalizations for mental breakdown, it is Tom, and her own love for and obligation to her young son that help her to survive this ordeal.

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Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Sherwin Nuland has had a distinguished career as a surgeon on the faculty at Yale University and as an author with interests in history of medicine, medical ethics, and medical humanism. In this memoir we become acquainted with a different side of Nuland, that of son to a widowed, immigrant father with whom the author had a complex and difficult relationship.

We learn also that Nuland has suffered from depression on and off since he was preadolescent, experiencing a major breakdown in midlife. This book attempts to make sense out of the family dynamics and the depression. At the same time, it describes the insular world of Russian Jewish immigrants living in New York City's Lower East Side and Bronx in the first half of the 20th century.

Nuland explores, frankly and openly, his ambivalent relationship with his father, Meyer Nudelman, and contrasting adoration of his mother, who died when Nuland was 11. The young Sherwin (Sheppy) Nudelman lived in fear of his father's strict rules and unpredictable anger. Further, Sheppy was required to assist his father whenever he went out of the house because Meyer Nudelman had an unsteady gait that made walking difficult and that became increasingly severe. Although the boy initially enjoyed these neighborhood jaunts with his father, he was increasingly resentful of them as his father's condition deteriorated and as his own interests focused more on people and activities outside the home. His father's strong Yiddish accent, strange gait, and sloppy appearance were a major embarrassment.

The last third of Lost in America--chronologically the era of World War II, the Nazi atrocities, and after--concern Nuland's maturation and his path toward the profession of medicine. As he and his brother, Harvey, were contemplating a future in the world of Gentiles, they decided to change their last name from Nudelman to Nuland. Sherwin Nuland was accepted to medical school at "Waspy" Yale and chose to enroll there, deliberately distancing himself (on the surface) from his father and his culture.

In medical school Nuland realized that Meyer Nudelman's physical symptoms were caused by late stage syphilis. The initial shock and disbelief of that discovery dissipated; Meyer's growing helplessness and tremendous pride in the accomplishment of his son allowed for a measure of understanding and affection between the two.

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Townie

Dubus III, Andre

Last Updated: Oct-13-2011
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

This memoir spins out in detail the despair and violence that emerges from a childhood of poverty and parental absence. When Dubus was preadolescent, his writer father of the same name (see Andre Dubus), took up with a student of his, and the parents divorced. Andre's mother became a social worker, working full-time with no support system, exhausted. Although Andre's father lived nearby and paid child support, it was never enough to keep the four children and their mother out of poverty. They moved frequently, always to the rough sections of depressed Massachusetts towns on or near the Merrimack River. The memoir describes vividly the smells of the polluted river; garbage strewn lawns; smoky, raucous bars; afternoons and evenings spent aimlessly watching television and, in adolescence, neighborhood kids and punks doing drugs and sex in Andre's home - before his mother arrived back from work each evening  .

At school, in bars, and around the neighborhood, kids and adults beat each other up - violence was a constant. Andre was slight and fearful but also drawn to watch the frequent fights. He avoided direct involvement when he could, was beaten up when he couldn't, and loathed himself in either case. He felt like a non-person: "There was the non-feeling that I had no body, that I had no name, no past and no future, that I simply was not. I was not here" (78). Finally, after being unable to help his brother during a fight, Andre resolved to build himself up physically--lifting barbells, bench pressing, and eventually taking boxing lessons.

Now when there was the threat of a fight, he plunged in quickly, inflicting damage. He could defend himself and those he cared about. But always there was the need for vigilance and the need - frequently actualized - to explode in rage. Later, he came to realize that being quick to jump into fights was a way "to get out what was inside him. Like pus from a wound, it was how [I] expressed what had to be expressed" (191). Gradually Andre came to think there might be other ways "to express a wound."

In the second part of the memoir, Dubus writes of how that other way evolved into creative writing. Training for physical prowess had imposed some discipline in his life, which meant being able to concentrate in school, do homework, and read. There were stints in and out of college (eventually he graduated from the University of Texas in Austin), making ends meet as a gas station attendant, construction worker, fast food manager, bartender, and later-- halfway house counselor. At the local Massachusetts college he attended for a while, he overheard himself being called a "townie." He navigated at the interface of the old neighborhood where he still lived and the life of the more privileged. He became more self-aware, more interior, and at the same time, more interested in the larger world. Threaded throughout this period is a developing relationship with his father, whose writing he admired and whose approval he craved.

In spite of the author's ambivalence toward his father - "where were you when I needed you?" (333)--one probably cannot overestimate the role that the senior Dubus played as a writer model for his son. Dubus read and admired his father's stories. He saw the discipline required to write, even though Dubus senior's weekends were often spent unwinding in bars (sometimes with the younger Dubus). Andre met his father's academic colleagues, met other writers, met writers who had stable relationships with a spouse.

He even learned that a writer can be a sports fan (Boston Red Sox), and avid sports participant (jogger). One of the most moving chapters in the book describes the first baseball game Dubus ever attended or watched - at age 13 - (with two tickets from his father), to see the Red Sox play the Yankees in Boston. Dubus went with a friend who explained the game to him as it unfolded. Dubus was stunned: "Every time one of them walked up to home plate with his bat, hundreds of men and boys would yell insults at him I couldn't quite make out, just the tone, which I knew well, but it wasn't directed at me or anyone I would have to try to protect, and I felt relieved of everything, part of something far larger than I was, just one of thousands and thousands of people united in wanting the same thing, for those men from our team to beat the men from the other team, and how strange that they did this by playing, that one beat the other by playing a game" (161-162).

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Legend of a Suicide

Vann, David

Last Updated: Dec-09-2010
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

A series of interrelated stories that include a novella (Sukkwan Island), the book is a semi-autobiographical tale of the impact of a father's suicide on his teenage son.  The author, David Vann, represents his fictional self as Roy Fenn, and his father as Jim.  In the first story, "Ichthyology," Roy is born on an island "at the edge of the Bering Sea" of Alaska and then he and his family move to Ketchikan, on an island in southeastern Alaska.  Roy's father is ever restless and that includes an interest in women other than his wife.  When Roy is about five years old the marriage breaks up and Roy moves to California with his mother.  At the end of this chapter, Roy's father kills himself with one of his own guns.

"Rhoda" is the story of Jim's second marriage to Rhoda who becomes Roy's stepmother, until that marriage also ends in divorce.  "A Legend of Good Men" relates how Roy's mother was courted by various suitors following her divorce.  These narratives are told from Roy's perspective.  The next and largest section of the book is "Sukkwan Island."  It is on this Alaskan island that Roy spends an extended visit with his father, in a simple, isolated cabin where their only other human contact is with a supply plane that comes periodically.  Life is primitive and difficult and reflects the relationship of father and son, which is uneasy and foreign to Roy.  Jim is depressed, obsessed with his former wife Rhoda and often cries at night, which Roy finds sad, scary, and eventually despicable.  Life on the island takes a bizarre turn, which I will not reveal here.

In "Ketchikan" Roy at age 30 returns to the town of his early childhood "the place where my dead father had first gone astray [with Gloria, his dental receptionist], the place where this father and his suicide and his cheating and his lies and my pity for him, also, might finally be put to rest" (209).  The last story, "The Higher Blue," is a mixture of fantasy and narrative reality; comments about Jim made by Roy's mother serve to bookend the novel.

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My Life as a Doll

Kirschner, Elizabeth

Last Updated: Oct-27-2010
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

In this collection, which is really a poetry memoir or lengthy poetry sequence, the speaker develops her narrative of a tormented childhood and adolescence, psychological breakdowns, and ongoing struggle in a more "normal" present.  The poems are labeled only by section, of which there are four, and are separated simply by their spacing on the page.  Section 1, "Cuckoo," reveals the origin of the poet's "life as a doll": "After my mother hit the back /of my head with the bat's /sweet spot, light cried / its way out of my body. . . . I was  . . . a doll carved out of a dog's bones . . . my life as a doll / was a life of waiting" (4-5).  Mother was an abusive alcoholic (there seems to be no father ever on the scene).

Section 2, "An Itty Bitty Ditty," concentrates on the speaker's adolescence, which was one of promiscuity and parental neglect.  "Pretty, said Mom / on the night of the prom . . . Pretty, she said as though / I were a ditty, an itty bitty / ditty not even God would pity. / Ditty gone silent.  ditty gone numb" (27).  At age 19 the poet/speaker "took a razor to my wrists"; she was pregnant with an unwanted child at age 20: "Cold walked into me and through me . . . How do you undo someone who's / already undone?" (32-33).

In the third section of the collection,"Tra-la-la," we are whisked ahead to the time when the poet is married and has an 11- year-old son.  At her son's birthday she has a psychotic break and her husband brings her to the hospital.  "When I / stepped out of the car, I sang, /  "tra-la-la," as if I were / Cinderella going to an enchanted ball"  (41).  This section is concerned with her institutionalization and psychotherapy with "Dr. Flesh."  The poet is not enamored of Dr. Flesh, who puts her on display for a group of students "who wanted to be  / just like Dr. Flesh  / who was special, / very very special / unlike me" (43) and who yawns during therapy sessions (44).  The poet also satirizes her diagnostic workup -- a 500 question survey:"Do you like golf? it asked / and when I wrote 'no' / I was diagnosed" (49).  The final section, "O Healing Go Deep," is both a railing and incomprehension about the way the poet's mother treated her, and a plea for sanity: "enough I say of my careening / craziness, of being /a thing in thin wind / running away from Mother" (59).

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Dancing After Hours

Dubus, Andre

Last Updated: Jul-28-2010
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

This story is told from the perspective of Emily, a forty-year-old spinster and former high school English teacher, who tends bar in a Massachusetts town. Emily has built a "disciplined" life, seeking to protect herself from the emotional pain of earlier failed romantic attachments, and from the cynicism that propelled her out of teaching--a cynicism born out of the apathy with which the students responded to her own passionate love of poetry. She has held herself aloof from the cautious social overtures of Jeff, the bar manager.

One night, a white man in a wheelchair and his black male attendant drive up to the bar. The arrival of this pair leads Emily to examine and re-assess her life. "Emily had worked [t]here for over seven years, had never had a customer in a wheelchair, and had never wondered why the front entrance had a ramp instead of steps." The disabled man, Drew, is quadriplegic (the result of diving into a wave at age 21, as Emily later finds out). But he and his attendant, Alvin, seem to be comfortable in the bar and with each other, and Emily relaxes.

As she observes Drew and watches how Alvin helps him, she tries to imagine their lives. "She thought of Drew . . . learning each movement he could perform alone, and each one he could not; learning what someone else had to help him do, and what someone had to do for him . . . So, was anyone boundless? Most of the time, you could avoid what disgusted you. But if you always needed someone to help you simply to live . . . you would . . . become disgusted by yourself."

Emily also imagines Jeff's life as a divorced father, and she can even empathize with Jeff's former wife, who left him. Jeff, she learns, had had a friend who became quadriplegic, the victim of a land mine during the war in Vietnam--hence the ramp entrance to the bar. As the story ends, Emily agrees to let Jeff cook lunch for her.

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Your Tired, Your Poor

Mueller, Lisel

Last Updated: Jul-28-2010
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

Mueller traces the path from forced exodus/immigration to struggling with a new language, to the eventual day when "you dream in rhyme, in a language / you never wanted to understand." In this evocation of diaspora and eventual acculturation, speech and language are important metaphors.

The poem is in three sections. Part 1, "Asylum," (14 lines) is enclosed by quotation marks, perhaps because the speaker describing a border crossing is still articulate in her native tongue. This section is highly personalized, written in the first person, and speaks of homesickness, dislocation, abandonment--"the life you say I must leave . . . bundled and tied . . . for the trash collector."

Part 2, "English as a Second Language," (15 lines) is written in the third person and describes the state of estrangement from meaning that accompanies unfamiliarity with a new language and culture. Letters of the alphabet become "crushing crossbar[s]" and "spying eyes." This section ends, however, with some hope that understanding will develop: the letters for the word "tree" might become intelligible, "could take root, / could develop leaves."

The final 16 line section, "Crossing Over," is written in the second person and marks the day when the transition to the new country and the new life and the new language is as complete as it ever will be. Now fully able to comprehend her surroundings, the speaker feels compelled to name the details of her environment, finds herself "humming the music you stuffed your ears against" and notices a certain strangeness when she communicates with those she left behind--"voices from home arrive . . . bent by the ocean."

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