“Books. Cats. Life is good.” – Edward Gorey

G-lapcatby C J Verburg

I picked my late cat Grusha because she was born on Cape Cod right around the time my friend and neighbor Edward Gorey died. If souls do by any chance migrate, I figured he’d come back as a cat — most likely a delicately etched black-and-white one.

Roo nose-croptEdward embraced all cats. I wish he could share the pleasure of getting to know my new one, Roo. Her harlequin coloring and sweet disposition are happy reminders of every cat who’s shared my home over the years . . . and Edward’s home, too: her nose is George, her bib is Weedon, her face is half Alice and half Thomas, and her back is a pastel Jane. Those are the five cats Edward was down to by the end of his life, each with a plain English name for daily use, and a secret Japanese name from his favorite book, The Tale of Genji.

Diary of a Nobody(George and Weedon Grossmith, among their many talents and enterprises, wrote the comic English novel The Diary of a Nobody. Hugh Bonneville, lately famous as Lord Grantham of Downton Abbey, proved his thespian chops years earlier by starring in a mesmerizing film of that unfilmable book. George Grossmith also pops up in the Gilbert & Sullivan biopic Topsy-Turvy.)

Now an innovative thespian troupe in New York has staged a play written and directed by Travis Russ, in which three actors play Edward Gorey in a life imagined by Russ from his own life plus a lot of reading and mulling. It’s called Gorey: The Secret Lives of Edward Gorey, and it’s playing at HERE, 145 Avenue of the Americas, through May 22. Reviews are strong enough that those of us who can’t make it to Manhattan this month may get another shot.

EGOS_wpMeanwhile, anyone curious about Edward’s real life in the theater can still read/see/hear the whole story in my print and e-book Edward Gorey On Stage. One of my enterprises for this summer is creating an updated edition and adapting the book specifically for iPad.

The Agatha Christie mystery Edward and I once talked about setting at our friend Jack’s breakfast-and-lunch cafe, Jack’s Out Back, became Croaked: an Edgar Rowdey Cape Cod Mystery (also available in print and e- form). Its sequel, Zapped, is in the labyrinthine publishing pipeline. While I’m waiting, I’ve started a novella . . . peering (as I type) over the furry helper who’s exploring my keyboard to assert her proper place as center of human attention.

Books. Cats. Life is good.

Roo yawn


War, WMD, Wall Street, Washington, & the New Reality


by CJ Verburg

“Plenty of people got Iraq wrong, but plenty of people – experts and ordinary citizens – got it right. The problem was that it made no difference.”

So states St. Louis-based writer Sarah Kendzior in “Iraq and the Reinvention of Reality” in the March 28 Al Jazeera.

I’ve been teaching a course on non-Western literature this winter at San Francisco’s Mechanics’ Institute Library, and our April class focuses on Iraq. So lately I’ve been reading a lot of fiction and nonfiction by Iraqis. It’s not an exploration to undertake lightly. Writers in all war-torn countries radiate a deadly consciousness that what they say matters. Some stake their lives on speaking out; some resort to allegory or magical realism or another veiled approach to spread their message before the censors or military police can snuff it. Whatever the tactics, one discerns an unquenchable flicker of hope.

cover-McCarthyYet in contemporary Iraqi literature the dominant tone is bleakness. These are writers – human beings – to whom normal life, as we in the West define it (a morning chat over coffee, checking e-mail, grocery shopping, a sunset stroll) is foreign. If they’ve ever encountered normality, it was long ago or far away.

Rory McCarthy’s disturbing book Nobody Told Us We Are Defeated: Stories from the New Iraq depicts a normality in which shopping or a stroll could very well end in random arrest, imprisonment, torture, even death, for no other reason than that the government’s most powerful and popular tool is intimidation.

Sarah Kendzior pushes that bleakness a quantum leap further.

“The Iraq war is notable not only for journalistic weakness, but for journalistic futility: the futility of fact itself. Fact could not match the fabrications of power. Eventually, our reality shifted to become what they conceived. ‘I could have set myself on fire in protest on the White House lawn and the war would have proceeded without me,’ wrote Bush speechwriter David Frum.

cover-Kachachi“That was the message of the Iraq war: There is no point in speaking truth to power when power is the only truth.”I heard years ago that an aide to President George W. Bush had scoffed at a journalist during the Iraq war for being part of the “reality-based community.” Kendzior sets that remark in context. Here’s an extract from her article, e-mailed by a friend (thank you, Tom Englezos). I strongly urge you to read the whole piece.

 “In 2002, Ron Suskind, a reporter for the New York Timesmet with an unnamed aide to George W Bush who accused Suskind of being part of the ‘reality-based community’. The aide meant it as an insult: this was not the way the world worked anymore.“‘We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality,’ said the aide, later alleged to be Bush adviser Karl Rove. ‘And while you’re studying that reality – judiciously, as you will – we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.’

cover-antoon“In one sense, this quote seems of a piece with its era – with the entry of truthiness into the dictionary, with the rise of whole industries, like reality TV, built on choreographed sincerity. But while we may associate the ‘creation of reality’ with a wildly hubristic administration, it remains the flavour of our time, a manipulation that moves from crisis to crisis. . . .

“We see remnants of this created reality in the financial crisis – the ongoing ‘great recession’ that, like preemptive war, has transformed what Americans will accept. It is normal for criminal financiers to receive record bonuses in an age marked by austerity, it is normal for professionals to work  years unpaid in the hope of someday landing a job, it is normal for one year of college to cost more than the average median income. This is normal, they say – but if Iraq should have taught us anything, it is how easily and brazenly ‘normal’ can be redefined.”

What Iraqi literature teaches us is that literary technique is no mere artistic device. The late Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez, asked about his use of magical realism, answered that he simply described life as he observed it. Any writer living the nightmare described by one of Rory McCarthy’s sources – “Even in my dreams I saw them . . . Every single minute I felt they would take me away for execution” – has crossed the border that for most Westerners protects the reality-based community.

When the United States invaded Iraq, we changed it forever. Iraq, in turn, forever changed reality in the United States and the world.

Want to Dump Your Lover? There’s an App for That….

valentines-dayby Charisse Howard

Romance! It can take so long to find that perfect match . . . and even longer, sometimes, to get out when the thrill is gone.

Take heart, wannabe ex-lovers! With Valentine’s Day vanishing in the rearview mirror, the road ahead is studded with helpful tools to ease that difficult break. Maybe not for your soon-to-be-former heartthrob . . . but hey, if you cared, you wouldn’t be breaking up, right?

In a recent issue of Nextrends, Swissnex’s Zanet Zabarac catches us up in Breaking Up Used To Be Hard To Do.

The app Zabarac calls “Uber for breakups” is The Breakup Shop. Here’s an offering:


Whether you’re the dumper or the dumpee, it can be tempting to cling to (or even stalk) those old memories after the split. To keep your eyes off the past, Zabarac points to Facebook’s new “silence your ex” feature. (Or, as Facebook calls it, “Improving the Experience When Relationships End.”) The ever-resourceful Zuckerberg & Company now let you limit what your dear departed can post or see of your current doings. You don’t even have to search for this function: “When people change their relationship status to indicate they are no longer in a relationship, they will be prompted to try these tools.”

Paul Simon FB
There must be 50 ways to leave your lover.

But is Unfriending and Unfollowing enough? Are you overwhelmed by the prospect of erasing your once-beloved from your Pinterest, SnapChat, and all the other shifting sands still dotted by two sets of footprints? No worries! You can hire a “Social Media Break Up Coordinator.” This specialty, notes Zabarac, “initially started out as a satiric art project [but] has now evolved to a service with an actual market.”

When you’re ready to get back in the game, there are plenty of apps and sites to help you find a new honey. Until lightning strikes, what better way to warm up than a nice hot Regency romance? Here are three James-Bond-meets-Downton-Abbey novellas — all spicy, suspenseful, and passionate, each set in a different exotic location.

LAA-Mar14-finalAReLady Annabelle’s Abduction: A kidnapped bride, a ruthless earl, a ransom that must be paid before sunset, and a persistent spaniel . . .


LBBschoonerAReLady Barbara & the Buccaneer: A pirates’ Mardi Gras is her last fling before sailing for London, but a masked stranger changes her course.


LCCCAReLady Caroline, the Corsair’s Captive: The scourge of the Barbary Coast is the corsair Barbarossa, and his favorite booty is an English virgin.


Dh-wpIf you’re not quite ready to jump into your next entanglement, try the softer romantic suspense novel Dark Horseman: Mystery, Adventure, & Romance in Regency Virginia. A rebellious belle faces the challenge of saving her home and horses in a “battle of stallions” which mixes love, betrayal, fast horses, and Shakespeare.

Happy landings!


Happy Edward Gorey’s Birthday!

EGcakeby CJ Verburg

As always on February 22, favorite lines that Edward Gorey wrote and dramatized at one time or another during our decade of staging theatrical entertainments on Cape Cod have been zipping through my head today like bats.

Life is distracting and uncertain,
She said, and went to draw the curtain.

He meant to have written an epic in Erse,
But all he could manage was greeting-card verse.


‘I am the Bahhum Bug,’ it declared; ‘I am here to diffuse the interests of didacticism.’








I vividly recall how thrilled Edward was when he announced he’d come up with the Bahhum Bug. And the many nights I drove home from rehearsal shivering, peering down empty black roads through my frost-rimmed windshield, waiting for the heat to come on in my car, thinking:

insectgodcoverThrough unvisited hamlets the car went creeping,
With its headlamps unlit and its curtains drawn;
Those natives who happened not to be sleeping
Heard it pass, and lay awake until dawn.

I’m glad to have these memories and so many others. I’m thankful for the extraordinary people I met because of Edward Gorey, and for the creative work and thoughtful (or simply giddy) conversations we enjoyed together (and sometimes still do). I cherish him when I look closely at the intricacies of a drawing, or savor the intricacies of baroque music, or admire the virtuosity of a good mystery writer, or ruffle a dog’s ears or play with a cat.

Happy Edward Gorey’s birthday!

Edward Gorey & the Edwardian Ball

If Edward Gorey could see the diverse and unpredictable directions his legacy has taken, he might be most amazed by the annual Edwardian Ball.

photo by Marco Sanchez

Every January, about a month before his birthday, Gorey fans in San Francisco and Los Angeles gather to celebrate this New England artist’s tongue-in-cheek depiction of the dark side of Agatha Christie’s Britain. Ironic? Edward Gorey visited California just once, on leave from his U.S. Army posting in Utah, to meet up with his Chicago friend Consuelo Joerns, then a student at Mills College. He never set foot in Britain except for a single foray to the Hebrides. Once he moved into his sprawling antique home on Cape Cod, it was a challenge to lure him even to Providence or Boston.

Yet Californians have not just embraced Gorey’s England but colonized it. This just in, via Facebook:

**UPDATE** We were just informed Dark Garden Unique Corsetry has 30 tickets for Saturday night available in-store. First come, first served. Online tickets are sold out. Be sure to RSVP for their Styling Party on January 9th.

EdBall2016_poster_300wAfter Friday night’s global adventure, we return to The Grand Ballroom for the most decadent night of our season! This is the night that started it all, The Edwardian Ball, presented by co-hosts Rosin Coven and Vau de Vire Society.

Ballroom dancing leads way to stunning performances both on and offstage in a collage of fashion, theatre, music, circus performance, and dance. Each year, The Edwardian Ball presents a featured Edward Gorey tale in an original stage performance. This year’s event takes a unique turn, with Edwardian founders Rosin Coven teaming up with longtime collaborators Dark Garden Corsetry in a presentation of Gorey’s ridiculous tale, “The Stupid Joke.” Expect anything but stupidity as these masters of their craft collaborate in an unforgettable tale of a poorly planned joke gone incredibly wrong…

And in the spirit of celebrating all things Edward Gorey, Ball co-hosts The Vau de Vire Society present a series of vignettes throughout the evening paying homage to the most controversial works of the (in)famous illustrator…guaranteed to pop corsets and ruffle coat-tails!

If you prefer (as Edward Gorey did) to enjoy your frissons from the comfort of your own sofa,

  • check out his drawings and books for sale at Pomegranate;
  • read about his theatrical adventures, illustrated with little-known drawings, photos, film clips, and music, in CJ Verburg’s multimedia memoir Edward Gorey On Stage;
  • solve a murder with anagrammatic sleuth Edgar Rowdey in CJ Verburg’s Cape Cod mystery Croaked.EGDetectiveEnters



Sisters in Crime + Mystery Writers of America 12/12 Holiday Party

to share some holiday cheer this Saturday afternoon —

DISCOVER a new favorite author / book / series

MEET your favorite (or soon-to-be-favorite) mystery writer

ENJOY good company, food & drink, and a whole store full of mystery, crime, sci-fi & fantasy books (plus a cool cafe)


2-5 PM Sunday, Dec. 12
Borderlands Books and Cafe
866 Valencia St.
San Francisco CA  94110 USA
415 824-8203
888 893-4008

BART and Muni accessible

Forgotten Inventor of Nature: the Amazing Alexander von Humboldt

southern-hemi-mapIn a new mini-review in Public Books, author and scholar Bettyann Holtzmann Kevles alerts us to a scientific genius, overlooked in 21st-century America, who 200 years ago was exploring the world and 150 years ago was honored all around it. Alexander von Humboldt influenced Thomas Jefferson, Charles Darwin, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and John Muir, among others. A new biography by Andrea Wulf recommends we un-forget him.


In 1869 the centennial of Alexander von Humboldt’s birth was celebrated around the world, including in New York City, where bands and speakers gathered in Central Park to honor his legacy. He was hailed as the most brilliant explorer since Alexander the Great, a scientist equal in stature to Charles Darwin, and a genius who alerted the world to how humanity was destroying the environment. In the century and a half since, Humboldt’s star has dimmed, especially in the English-speaking world. In our era of climate change, when international science and the institutions of global governance present the only hope for addressing the crisis, Humboldt’s scientific and prophetic legacy deserves revival and reevaluation.

Wulf-HumboldtAndrea Wulf’s masterful The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World represents the best of the handful of English language books that have appeared in the last decade focused on Humboldt and his science. Gerard Helferich’s Humboldt’s Cosmos and Aaron Sachs’s The Humboldt Current brought the explorer back into the light, but Wulf’s superb biography reaches beyond Humboldt’s remarkable life to encompass his adventures as the first ecological internationalist.

Read more at http://www.publicbooks.org/briefs/the-inventor-of-nature


Coming in January: Fiction & Nonfiction from Turkey, Nigeria, South Africa, & Iraq

How does globalization look from the other side of the globe? Find out from some of the most exciting literary voices you may never have heard before.

Starting in January, Boom-Books author Carol Verburg will lead a monthly tour of four nonWestern countries whose writers are weaving their own distinctive cultural heritages together with worldwide artistic techniques and political viewpoints.

What better way to brighten these long winter nights than with a tasting menu like this?


Theater artists! Apply by 11/30 for Italy residency Summer 2016

Ellen Stewart International Award now Open!

The Ellen Stewart International Award is now open to individual theatre artist or theatre company whose work promotes social change and community participation with a particular focus on the engagement of young people.
With the support of the ITI (International Theatre Institute), La MaMa New York and Italy and  the Spoleto Festival of 2 Worlds, the recipient of The Ellen Stewart International will receive an artistic residency at La MaMa Umbria to create a new work, and the financial and production support to present the new work at the Spoleto Festival of 2 Worlds, and subsequently at La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club in New York. 
Candidates can come from any country/community in the world. Candidates must exhibit excellence and major achievements in the areas or socially-engaged theatre with youth involvement. We are looking for as diverse an array of candidates as possible. Candidates should be available to spend a residency during the summer of 2016 at La MaMa Umbria in Spoleto, Italy.
Deadline is 30 November 2015
More information:  www.ellenstewartaward.net       estewartaward@gmail.com 
Promoted and Support by:

From Palmyra to Paris: a Collision of Narratives

by CJ Verburg

palmyra-isis-sqWhen the self-styled Islamic State (also known as Daesh) captured the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra earlier this year, destroyed its magnificent monuments, and beheaded their curator, we in the West were outraged and horrified. That must have pleased Daesh’s jihadis. but it didn’t satisfy them. To scare Westerners past horror into terror, yesterday they struck on our turf: Paris.

Our reflex is to strike back. Revenge! But isn’t that the impulse that motivates Daesh? From their point of view, they are not aggressors but defenders. Anyhow, what good is “bomb them back to the Stone Age” when that’s precisely their goal?–to wipe out what we in the West call civilization, and re-establish not just a pre-technological or pre-industrial but a pre-global, pre-rational state of purity?

Eiffel-Tower-Paris-sqThe crowd that filled Paris’s Bataclan concert hall last night, many of whom were taken hostage and/or ruthlessly slaughtered there, had come to hear an American band called Eagles of Death Metal. Afterwards, Parisians showed their defiant solidarity by singing the French national anthem, “La Marseillaise.” Some loosely translated excerpts: “Against us flies the bloody flag of tyranny. Hear the ferocious soldiers roar! They’re coming at us, to slaughter our sons and companions. To arms, citizens! Their filthy blood shall water our fields!”

Striking back is a default response for any creature threatened by attack. What option is there but “fight or flee”? To flee is cowardly; therefore we must fight.

On the other hand: the core tenet of Christianity is nonviolence. In the Bible, Jesus is quoted on this point in the Gospels of both Matthew and Luke:

But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you,
Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.
And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloke forbid not to take thy coat also. — Luke 6:27-29 (King James Version)

This tenet, morphed into Mohandas Ghandi’s technique of nonviolence, enabled India to win its independence from British colonial rule. Martin Luther King and others made it central to the American civil rights movement. Ghandi noted that nonviolence is very different from fleeing; it is a strategy of strength, not weakness, meant to “liquidate antagonisms but not the antagonists.”

Implied by nonviolence is a need to respect one’s opponents–that is, to understand that one’s enemies are not evil demons but fellow human beings, who (like us) make choices which, whether right or wrong from our standpoint, seem wise and desirable to them.

DestinyDisruptedOne approach to this need for understanding is outlined by Afghan-born author Tamim Ansary. In his view, any cohesive group of people (for instance, Muslims, Christians, or Jews) sees itself as part of a historical narrative. “You understand history best if you follow the arc of the narrative.” To make sense of the group’s actions, “you need to [understand] the place that the present has in the narrative that people think they’re living in.” Ansary sees the 21st-century Middle East less as a clash of civilizations than as a crossroads where coherent but distinctive narratives have intersected.

Pankaj Mishra, in his Introduction to Turkish novelist Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar’s The Time Regulation Institute, treats Tanpinar’s story as a response to another such intersection a hundred years earlier. “In the 1920s the Muslim-majority Ottoman Empire was radically and forcibly reorganized into a secular republic by Mustafa Kemal (better known as Ataturk), and everything in its culture, from the alphabet to headwear and religion, hastily abandoned in an attempt to emulate European-style modernity.” The Western narrative seized upon by Ataturk included “the basic assumption…that societies must modernize and become more secular and rational, relegating their premodern past to museums or, in the case of religion, to private life.” Although Ataturk’s revolution was an outward success, it entailed hammering a round peg into a square hole. When Tanpinar’s central character agrees to wear a bureaucrat’s suit, he remarks,

I began to use terms like “modification,” “coordination,” “work structure,” “mind-set shift,” “metathought,” and “scientific mentality”; I took to associating such terms as “ineluctability” or “impossibility” with my lack of will. . . . I began to look at people with eyes that wondered, “Now what use could he be to us?” and to see life as dough that could be kneaded by my own two hands.

To Tanpinar’s characters, this Western attitude seems as alien and bizarre as the Ottoman attitude–“in which idleness, or wasting time, is a source of happiness”–seemed to Europeans. In the 21st century, Turkey’s old narrative has been reasserting itself.

Mishra quotes Dostoyevsky: “No nation on earth, no society with a certain measure of stability, has been developed to order, on the lines of a program imported from abroad.”

As we struggle for answers–How can any human beings do these things? How can we stop them?–we can start by learning more about the histories and self-concepts of groups that don’t share our assumptions about the past, the present, ethics, values, or even the nature of existence. Where to begin? I recommend Tamim Ansary’s book Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World through Islamic Eyes.

CJ Verburg’s books include the international anthologies Ourselves Among Others and Making Contact. Starting in January 2016, she will teach a four-session class at San Francisco’s Mechanics’ Institute, “Windows on the World: Writing Beyond the West,” on contemporary writing from Turkey, Nigeria, South Africa, and Nigeria.