What do you think about your blue-eyed friend now..

Yes, it’s a kind of a stretch and probably a bad paraphrase of the poem by e.e. cummings, but it came to mind after reading this remarkable commentary on Amazon: It’s so good, so insightful — parts of it actually made me cry…

Defying Death — with Humor, July 22, 2017
By Peter P.

Man Has Premonition of Own Death: An Ancestor’s Strange Demise and Other Mortal Matters (Paperback)
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 just that.

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Man Has Premonition…A Vision?

 

Man Has Premonition of Own Death’ is selling copies and I know many are buying it, reading it, liking it, and hopefully will soon rate it and mini-review it on Amazon. But suppose you want it sighed?!
Well, just send me your mailing info, and I will send you a signed and personalized book plate to put inside the book!
So here’s a link to the Amazon page.
Hope to hear from you all soon — and thanks once again for the gfor the enthusiasm and generous praise.

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https://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/0692879374/ref=mp_s_a_1_fkmr0_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1496826637&sr=8-1-fkmr0&pi=AC_SX236_SY340_QL65&keywords

 

The truth about blurbs

Just some thoughts on authors and cover blurbs as publication day approaches for my collection of essays, “Man Has Premonition of Own Death: My ancestor’s strange demise and other mortal matters.”

Authors Christian Bauman (‘The Ice Beneath You,’ ‘Voodoo Lounge’ and In Hoboken’), Greg Lichtenberg (‘Playing Catch with My Mother’) and Michael N. McGregor (‘Pure Act: The Uncommon Life of Robert Lax) all wrote wonderful cover blurbs for my upcoming book.

Yes, I know them all to some degree, from 30 year friend (Chris) to Greg (became friends when we met twice as fellows at the Va. Center for the Creative Arts and Michael (email, as we both knew the great poet Lax).

But here’s the things to remember:
1) Most writers won’t and can’t write blurbs; it takes too much time away from their own writing: It’s not the two or three paragraphs they write; it’s the chunk of time it takes to read the manuscript.
2. Their good names and reputations are on the line. They mayvtruly like your book — or maybe not. If they write a good blurb, and then the book sucks, they damage their own careers. Finally, there is the actual writing of the blurb — try liking something, then describing it in 15-40 words!!!

So thank you – thank you – thank you to Michael, Greg and Chris!!!

Dancing to the music of time


Here’s my latest essay for a book I’m working on for Blue Heron Book Works. The title is ‘Man Has Premonition of Own Death,’ which was the actual headline on a 1920s newspaper article about the tragic death of young mill worker Thomas Crooks, 23, who was my great-uncle.

 

My father’s cousin Carlo and his wife Marie, it seemed to me, would have fit perfectly in a movie made by one of those great Italian movie directors.

Carlo, who came to America from his small mountain village in Chieti province when he was in his late teens or early 20s and was the nephew of my Italian grandmother, was dark and handsome, his hair nearly black and always slicked back with Vitalis or Brylcreem, his cheeks well-splashed with witch hazel, his smile friendly, his voice smooth but foreign. As for Marie, I remember her with a big smile, lighter complexion, heavy but alluring Italian accent, a mischievous twinkle in her eye, and a luxurious mane of long red hair.

It saddens me a bit, even now, to think that they’re both long gone, both passed on to that great Fellini set in the sky. They’re splashing in the Tivoli fountain. They’re cheek-to-cheek in a gondola gliding through the canals of Venice. They’re running arm-in-arm through the Piazza San Marco as flocks of pigeons flap skyward.

Or they’re where I remember them still – in their tiny apartment in south Yonkers, hosting some kind of party – maybe a child’s birthday. I’m seven or eight years old, there with my parents, and I’m sitting in a chair watching the adults dance.

Carlo puts on a record, takes Marie by the hand, and they swirl and laugh as Dean Martin sings “Volare, oh oh/Cantare, oh oh oh oh/Let’s fly way up to the clouds / Away from the maddening crowds…

Some people die but also don’t die. They live on in someone’s memory, the way Carlo and Marie abide on in mine, young and vibrant and beautiful, dancing happily to the music of a hard-drinking Hollywood paisan, dancing to the music of time.

Lonely hunter

 

Here’s my latest essay for a book I’m working on for Blue Heron Book Works. The title is ‘Man Has Premonition of Own Death,’ which was the actual headline on a 1920s newspaper article about the tragic death of young mill worker Thomas Crooks, 23, who was my great-uncle.

—–

There’s a novel by Carson McCullers titled ‘The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.’ It’s one of those books — I own it, but I don’t think I’ve ever actually read it, or at least I don’t remember it. The point is that the title came to mind — even though I don’t know what the hell it means.

It came to mind because it has the word ‘lonely.’

Songs, too. The early Neil Young song about the lonely boy out on the weekend. That crappy song by Paul Anka. That great song by Roy Oribison. And, of course, Elvis, asking ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight?’

The answer. Yes, Elvis.

Dealing with my illness has been and continues to be very hard. The treatments are working, thankfully, but the regimen sometimes wipes me out, physically and, sometimes, emotionally.

Related problems (soon to be fixed) with my vocal cords and voice have left me pretty much unable to speak for nearly nine months — and cut off, in large part, from people.

And I’m not that kind of person.Let’s just say that I could never live the life of a hermit — unless someone was paying me a lot of money.

Part of it, too, is that many of my friends and family are scattered around the country. I do have many dear friends who live nearby and would gladly spend time with me.

But there’s also a sort of self-imposed exile. I just don’t want to intrude on their lives. What’s more, pretty much no one except my family and a few friends has seen me since I became ill  — and I don’t want them to see me until I’m better…and I look like me again.

Usually I’m fine. I go out for coffee, for groceries, for the Sunday newspaper. Sometimes I get in my car and park down by river. I watch the Yankees on YES and old movies on TCM. I read a lot. I’m working hard on my book. And I even just co-wrote a song with my singer-guitarist son.

But sometimes I feel sorry for myself and sometimes I even wallow in it.

So, when Elvis asks his question, usually the answer is ‘No, but thanks for asking.’

Other times, though, I honestly reply: ‘The heart is a lonely hunter…’

 

 

Speak, memory

Here’s my latest essay for a book I’m working on for Blue Heron Book Works. The title is ‘Man Has Premonition of Own Death,’ which was the actual headline on a 1920s newspaper article about the tragic death of young mill worker Thomas Crooks, 23, who was my great-uncle.

 

I used to be able to speak. Some people, in fact, say that sometimes they couldn’t get me to shut up. They say this amiably — but it’s true. I love telling stories. I like to talk with people. I csn’t help myself.

But illness – a tumor, now shrunken and still shrinking, pressed against my vocal cords — did what friends and family and attempts at self-control couldn’t do.

I really haven’t been able to talk since January — eight months of sometimes being hoarse and gravelly, sometimes being barely able to whisper. Thirty-two weeks of living in an alien world of silent isolation. I rarely call people on the phone or answer their calls. When I try to order coffee at the drive-up speaker, the friendly folks at Dunkin’ Donuts have trouble understanding, then act like I’m some kind of invalid when I pull up at the window.
I can’t blame them. I sound awful — when you can even hear me.

But now the offending tumor has shrunk so much that I am able to undergo a relatively routine outpatient procedure to manipulate my vocal cords — and restoring my voice.
It’s scheduled for two weeks from today. I’ll be required to not talk for a day or two, and the throat doctor said it takes to a week for the procedure to take full effect.

After that? I’m ordering coffee. Then expect a phone call. You won’t be able to shut me up.

Sometimes you can’t help but cry…

Here’s my latest essay for a book project I’m working on for friend Bathsheba Monk’s Blue Heron Book Works. The working title is ‘Man Has Premonition of Own Death,’ which was the actual headline on a 1920s newspaper article about the tragic death of young mill worker Thomas Crooks, 23, who was my great-uncle.

I’ve been avoiding mirrors and l look the other way when I pass a plate-glass window, lest I glimpse my reflection. But I just held up my iPhone and accidentally glimpsed a reflection of my puffed up face and bald head and watery eyes — and I cried. Not the loud sobbing kind of crying. Just tears, sudden and unexpected.

All in all, I’m actually feeling surprisingly well. I haven’t lost weight, I’m handling the very intense chemotherapy treatments, and the doctor keeps giving me good news about how well the treatments are working.

But I still worry about what the future holds. So far, so good. But what if something goes wrong again? Two unexpected health crises early on — my initial brain surgery and, one month later, a near-fatal loss of blood — have never escaped my mind.

And the side-effects, albeit relatively minor, are affecting me more and more, mostly emotionally. My feet and legs are swollen, which often makes it difficult to walk, especially walking up stairs. Just in the past couple of weeks, I’ve noticed that food has hardly any taste. My eyes keep watering –because my eyelashes are half-gone. Likewise, I haven’t had to shave for weeks. And I’ve been more or less unable to talk since February, which leaves me even more isolated and cut off from the world — although it looks like a throat specialist, and an out-patient procedure, will finally restore my (melodious) voice in just a few weeks!

So why am I being such a gloom merchant? Why am I succumbing to self-pity?

I’m extremely fortunate that my illness was caught while it was still treatable. Thankfully, my daughters, one in Brooklyn and the other in California, somehow knew that something was wrong with me, and twice got me to the ER just in time.

And I’ve never been blindly optimistic: I’ve faced difficulties before, and I’ve always faced them head-on — and I’m still here to talk about it!

So why was I so weepy tonight? I think part of is my nature. I’ve always tended toward melancholy. I once told a friend that I was optimistic about life, despite all the accumulated evidence to the contrary. And there’s still a part of me that vibrates like a tuning fork when Dylan sings ‘Everyone is wearing a disguise/to hide what they’ve got left behind their eyes.’

But I think it’s mostly that I’m not super-human. Throughout, I’ve been upbeat, and calm, and resolute. I’ve continued to be charming, and witty, and creative, and kind to kittens and puppies, and…the list goes on and on.

Yes, I’m fine now. The mood has passed.

But sometimes it!s just too goddamn much to deal with, and I’m overwhelmed by the reality of things. Sometimes  — not a lot, just sometimes — you just can’t help but cry.