When Doug Bauer read the essay, Tenacity, from his new collection What Happens Next: Matters of Life and Death earlier this month, you could hear a pin drop in the upstairs room at the South End library. No surprise, really, as the author's observations of tenacity illuminated and brought home forcefully the physical expression of it in this finely woven tale: the tenacity of his widowed mother living alone, who fell, and took 12 hours to crawl the 15 steps to the phone to dial for help; the tenacity of the homeless men at the Pine Street Inn he used to volunteer at who, years later, still are alive on his street corner despite the 'dog years' of abuse from alcohol, weather and drugs; and the tenacity of his own aging body shown from the inside on the doctor's office's video monitors, revealing the miraculous sloshing of his heart's rhythmic pumpings "working away on my behalf, without notice or complaint." All of it was suffused with Bauer's delicious details of place: Iowa, where in his family's cemetery gravestones rise up "like a bumper winter crop;" the South End, with its collection of artists-occupied warehouses right next to the scattering of homeless shelters; the doctor's office, where the "oddly intimate and deeply alien sensation" of the technician navigating a jelly-slathered device over his chest seems "like impossibly cautious sci-fi foreplay."
Bauer told his audience he doesn't keep journals, for the most part, but trusts his memory for the details which may not be "exactly true," he said. Writing from memory, he had a couple of hundred pages of materials for the essays, using every scrap to make them fit cohesively into the narrative's 'collage.' Audience questions ranged from literary technique to specific health-related questions to advice on future ventures. "Any suggestions for our mothers?" an audience member wondered after reflecting on the details of Bauer's mother's fall and subsequent death. "It's an inspiring book on the subject of women's health," said another. "You have such a soothing reading voice: have you ever done books on tape?" a third one wanted to know.
The author is currently working on a novel, his fourth.