Tag Archives: #BHBW

5 Star Review of Nicholas DiGiovanni’s #memoir #MondayBlogs

ManNicholas Dig

5STar

How strange that a book so unrelentingly about death should contain so much life. But that’s what we have in “Man Has Premonition of Own Death,” which stands athwart decay and demands to know why.

The book title copies the headline that appeared above a 1925 story in a Yonkers newspaper about a young man who uttered something of a prophecy shortly before he was fatally injured in a gruesome industrial accident. The young man was the author’s great-uncle, and it’s fair to say that Nicholas DiGiovanni, a novelist, essayist, journalist and poetry impresario, has been obsessed with the sad uncanny tale of Thomas Crooks ever since he found the old newspaper clipping in a family Bible some 35 years ago. Popping up here and there among the dozens of short essays & stories that make up this volume, elements of the Crooks story compose the leitmotif of a man who dies before his time yet somehow knows it’s going to happen. Which is not far from DiGiovanni’s own story.

For the author is himself a man who more or less has come back from near death to tell us about it. A strikingly personal account of fear, despair, hope, love, and above all, family, the book amounts to a premonition of his own death. DiGiovanni, in his 60s, is in recovery from brain and esophageal cancer. As we learn, he twice came very close to dying, once from the cancer before it was surgically removed, and once from massive hemorrhaging due to the effects of mixing chemotherapy with medicine he was taking for a heart condition (which itself was just barely prevented from killing him some dozen years earlier). DiGiovanni has had to confront his mortality repeatedly and with an intensity that many of us will feel only when we’re close to the end. It is the certainty of death and our foggy knowledge of what comes after it that permeate DiGiovanni’s writing.

But despite the grim topic and a necessarily autumnal cast, “Man Has Premonition of Own Death” is engaging as well as defiant, spirited and even light-hearted. This is due to the author’s voice, which is warm, wry, courageous and funny. DiGiovanni’s sense of humor, which only occasionally is of the gallows type, keeps these essays from being depressingly dark. Writing about those who have died among his family and friends, about his fondness for cemeteries and the celebrities and nobodies buried there, about the beliefs and indoctrination of his Catholic schooling, about how the dead are treated, considered, feared, missed — through all of it DiGiovanni proves to be an entertaining, thoughtful and perceptive writer. It is said that philosophy begins with the awareness of death, and that’s the direction in which DiGiovanni ultimately moves, although I wish his book offered even more reflection and metaphysical contemplation of our damned mortality.

Decrying how morticians mute death’s warning to the living through their cosmetic manipulations of the faces of the dead, DiGiovanni writes, “We all would benefit … if we got up the courage to look death straight in the eye.” Indeed, his book helps us do.

Nick

Nicholas DiGiovanni is a novelist, essayist, award-winning journalist, blogger and teacher of creative writing. His novella “Rip,” a modern-day parody of Washington Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle,” was published in 2011 by Black Angel Press. His fiction has appeared in Paterson Literary Review, Identity Theory, The Caribbean Writer, and elsewhere. 

Connect with Nick online: https://nicholasdigiovanni.com

Nicholas DiGiovanni was born at the Fort Dix Army Hospital while his father served in the Air Force at Maguire AFB. His father was then assigned to duty at a base near Lincoln, Nebraska, and his parents moved with their new baby to Fremont, Nebraska, for a year. The author has spent the rest of his life being grateful that his parents did not stay in Nebraska – where he believes he would have wound up as assistant manager of an Agway franchise – and moved back to their home town of Yonkers, New York, a gritty industrial city on the lower Hudson River where DiGiovanni grew up, went to school, and absorbed the history of his family and his city – including the strange and sad tale of his great-uncle, 23-year-old carpet-mill worker Thomas Crooks, who (according to a 1920s newspaper article) had a “premonition of his own death,” falling to his death in a vat of acid just minutes after turning to his bride-to-be after a lunchtime picnic and declaring “I am going in, but I shall be carried out!”

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Misdemeanor Outlaw: #BHBW Author Jim McGarrah releases new #memoir #vietnam @jmcgarra

This article and book excerpt appeared in the Princeton Daily Clarion on May 28, 2017.

JimMisdemOutl

Misdemeanor Outlaw: Princeton native’s 10th book published in June

(PDClarion) Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Princeton native Jim McGarrah’s newest book, Misdemeanor Outlaw, a nonfiction account of growing up in Princeton and his life in the counterculture after the Vietnam War. The book (was) released by Blue Heron Book Works in early June (2017). McGarrah is the author of ten books and has received various honors for his nonfiction writing as well as poetry. In 2005, McGarrah returned to Vietnam to receive recognition for his writing and his work toward peace from The Ministry of Arts and Literature. In 2010, he was presented with a national Eric Hoffer Award for his memoir of the war entitled A Temporary Sort of Peace.

I was lucky. I came to believe the Vietnam War had been a criminal act by my government almost immediately on my return. That belief allowed me to return to the role I felt most comfortable in as a misdemeanor outlaw. Rebelling against the Establishment gave me the opportunity to perform a sort of penance and relieve some of my guilt. Oh, I had problems for many years but not nearly as severe as friends my age who tried their best to justify the war and integrate back into society as our fathers had done in World War II. It took decades for some of them to understand the true cost of these foreign policy adventures urged on by corrupt politicians and controlled by corporate interest. Many Americans ignore this cost still because we have an all-volunteer army to pay it for them.

The true cost of war is measured by intimate knowledge of blood and fire, lifting seared flesh and unattached limbs from the broken rubble of homes and schools, digging graves for mothers and babies still warm in the womb. However, the true crime of war is quantified not by death or money only but through the misery of its living participants after the fact—the emotional turmoil, the survivor’s guilt, the grief, the nightmares, the pathological dysfunction of homeless Veterans, the missing arms and legs, and the vacant souls. The families of veterans often end up broken as well, expecting their returned hero to be the same man or woman who left them for war.

JimPrinceton

I’m a story teller by trade and by spirit. Let me tell you a story. I have a very close friend, a good man, a family man, an intelligent man who paid a dear cost for his service to his country. As a matter of fact, he is paying still. You don’t know my friend and I will not embarrass him by disclosing his name, even though if I did you probably still wouldn’t know him. My friend was a great athlete and might have gone on to some serious university team if he had been blessed with no conscience. But, we were all from Southern Indiana, a place where God was good in 1968 and commies were the spawn of Satan. They hid under every rock. They lurked in every shadow. Like many of us, my friend watched a lot of John Wayne movies and from them developed a celluloid sense of duty. By that, I mean he built an emotional construct based on Hollywood rather than reality. Good guys never died, they just rode off into the sunset with a beautiful submissive woman draped across the saddle.

Believing what he had been taught from infancy forward, my friend fulfilled his responsibility and enlisted in the service. He became an outstanding helicopter pilot in Vietnam, a treetop flyer, skimming over the jungle and bravely out maneuvering the .50 caliber machine guns of the Viet Cong. He had one job, carrying young boys into battle and ferrying their torn, lifeless bodies from the battlefield back to some rear area morgue. Oh sorry, two jobs. Then, he had to flush the blood out of his helicopter with a water hose. Week after week, month after month, his life evolved into days of loading and unloading dead boys and nights of drinking whiskey to forget the days. He never killed anybody that I know of. He simply stacked up men who were already dead like he threw hay bales into the barn loft on those Indiana summer days between semesters of high school.

Coming home, he did what many others did and carried on the illusion of normalcy. He went back to college, got a job, got married, and started a beautiful family. Most of that went on during the day. His nights were given over to the dead and to the one thing that buried the dead for him in Vietnam, alcohol. Years went by; bottle after bottle was drained dry and still the dead refused to stay buried. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder didn’t exist anywhere in the 1970s except in the minds of Vietnam veterans. The government refused to acknowledge it and the VA doctors blamed the nightmares, the rage, the substance abuse and fear of intimacy, the inability to focus, the clinical depression and flashbacks on other non-military causes. It was cheaper that way. My friend didn’t have a problem with his memories of war, not really. He simply couldn’t handle the stresses of his job and his marriage. Stuff happens, right?

Eventually, he drank enough vodka and scotch that leaving for work in the morning was no guarantee for his family that he would return home in the evening. Sometimes, he stopped for a quick cocktail and woke up in a different town three or four days later with no knowledge of where he was or how he got there. Then his liver began to fail. This probably saved his life. By the time he ended up in a VA hospital, various government bureaucrats and medical people had begun to admit that maybe, just maybe, war might create residual problems for those who lived through it. Maybe the mind wasn’t meant to look at what extreme and random violence forced it to see.

I was lucky, as I mentioned earlier. I went back to school but joined anti-war organizations. I became a social activist and then a drug-addled dropout. Something in my brain finally clicked and I took flight in my mind. After years of struggle, I received a bachelor of arts degree and in two more years I completed two graduate programs and began writing books and teaching. My friend, not so much. He was, he is, smarter than me and in many ways a better person than me. But, his PTSD will sometimes not allow him to finish he starts. I don’t know why. No one can answer that, no doctors or preachers or even my friend. He went back to college in mid-life, as I did. He sat in a classroom and made A’s till the last couple of weeks of the semester and then withdrew from classes. It wasn’t a matter of work interfering. He kept too busy thinking about questions that have no answers. How did he live through war when so many men didn’t? Why did he deserve happiness and success? What made him any better than all those bodies he still carries in his mind? This is called survivor’s guilt and it’s part of the cost combat veterans who continue to live must continue to pay. It’s the modern-day result of criminal behavior by cowardly politicians.

I haven’t seen my buddy in several years, but the last time I saw him I was in some Midwest town signing copies of a new book. I met him at a bar. Yes, he was drinking again after ten years of sobriety, but he assured me only an occasional cocktail before dinner and maybe just one or two after. Everything was under control. The kids had survived adolescence and gone to various colleges to form lives of their own. Now that he could rattle around an empty house, putter in the garden, and read books without interruption, he felt well enough in his mind to handle drinking again. This is what he said, but both of us knew the truth. In the absence of the daily chaos involved with raising children and simply living, the dead were beginning to seep back into his consciousness, resurrected by loneliness.

Don’t get me wrong. This seems like a very sad story, but it has good elements along the way. My friend is making it and he’s a pretty happy guy all things considered. This is just a simple analogy on behalf of a new generation of young Americans who have been fighting in wars longer than any military in our history.

Sent into battle by a new generation of politicians, most of whom evaded the Vietnam War draft with phony ailments or by the political influence of their fathers, these young men and women serve multiple deployments in fierce, mind-altering, situations. If they live to return home, they face demons that only other combat veterans can truly understand — the highest suicide rate in military history, an unemployment rate double the national average, overcrowded psychiatric services and unsure treatment methods for PTSD, families that now see them as dangerous strangers, a public almost completely indifferent to their struggles, and a political system unafraid to use them for personal and corporateagendas. This is what real crime looks like, and it is not a misdemeanor. So, by all means, enjoy your Holiday, but please don’t forget that the flame and smoke from your Memorial Day barbeque grill or the pop and crackle of your fireworks signifies something far more important than parades and hot dogs for some.

Jim’s Website: http://jim-mcgarrah.squarespace.com

Jim on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JimMcGarrah.author

Jim on Twitter: https://twitter.com/jmcgarra