From time to time, the question is asked: What book changed your life?
In a public forum, my answer might be:
- Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s A Coney Island of the Mind
- Allen Ginsberg’s Howl
- T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land
But in private, my honest answer is: a little self-published book by a psychiatrist from Palo Alto whose name I forget (Gerald Hill, I Googled it), but the book was Divorced Father. It was published earlier in the year in which Warren’s mother left. At a time when I thought I might never see my son again, that I would have to give up my house and move somewhere, anywhere, else, that I would have to pick up the pieces and start my life over, this book convinced me that the most important thing for me to do was to commit to being father to my son. To suck it up, face the in-laws up and down the street, to hang on to the house and provide him a home, as much as it hurt, as difficult as it was, day by day.
It was the best decision I ever made, and that book helped me make it.
The final line of Bridge on the River Kwai – “Madness! Madness … madness!”
Hope is not a strategy.
Thoughts and prayers are not a solution.
Donny, Paul, Marco. . . what are you going to do about the madness?
P.S. Fuck the NRA.
NYT has an opinion piece (published Friday) titled “The American Dilemma: Why Do We Still Watch Football?” We know it’s violent, we know the players are setting themselves up for years of brain damage, yet we still watch.
I’ll watch. If I do move as planned, this might be the last time. And here’s my take: if the NFL was truly dedicated to reducing CTE among its players, instead of giving them even more padding they would instead take away their helmets and shoulder pads. The players would figure out in a matter of days how to stop before hitting, how to not lead with their heads, how to avoid the worst collisions. Would the game be less interesting? We won’t know until we try; the results would be instructive.
I have long said that the “meaning of life,” to the extent that there might be a meaning, is that life is hard, and we’re here to help each other. That’s it: We’re here to help each other. Which, it turns out, fits nicely with Buddhism in general, and Zen in particular, which might even be why I was drawn to Zen in the first place. It’s not that Zen somehow makes sense to me, but that it fits the way I live anyway.
Now it turns out that my philosophy was described in 432 pages by someone named T.M. Scanlon around 20 years ago in a tome entitled “What We Owe To Each Other.” Which found a life-changing place in the finale of season 2 to The Good Place. As summarized in a nice little review in GQ,
We shouldn’t be good for the sake of a hypothetical cosmic reward [“moral dessert”]. We should be good because it’s good for other people. It’s difficult to be alive, and one of the only ways we can actually help other people is by doing what we can to improve and enrich their lives. . . [Quoting Chidi] “We choose to be good because of our bonds with other people, and our innate desire to treat them with dignity. Simply put, we are not in this alone.”
There it is. We are not in this alone; we are here to help each other. And I didn’t need to read Scanlon to learn that.
Back some time in November, Streetlight Records announced a contest to win Charlotte Gainsbourg‘s new album, Rest, in vinyl, along with a signed photo. I signed up, never expecting anything to come of it.
Well, today I got the call from Paige at the San Jose store: I won!
Why do I care? Well, for one, I’m listening to a lot of French pop music to augment my efforts to learn French, which means hearing Charlotte’s father, Serge Gainsbourg, and sometimes her mother, Jane Birkin. For another, I’ve seen her in a couple of films (Lars von Trier seems to like her), and find her intriguing. So this should be fun.
When neighbors and acquaintances learned about my son JJ’s condition, they would sometimes say “But, he’ll be OK, won’t he?” That’s what they wanted to believe, because the alternative was clearly, inconveniently, painful. And my answer was always, “No, no, he will not be OK. He will never be OK.”
And when he died, I remember thinking that I would never be OK, either. Not that I ever was — OK — but I never would be. That was 14 years ago, in 2003. The same year that John Gregory Dunne, Joan Didion’s husband, died, and also the year in which Joan’s daughter Quintana got ill, went to Los Angeles to recover, hit her head disembarking her flight and went into the coma from which she never recovered.
Watching the Didion documentary The Center Will Not Hold (Netflix), with descriptions of The Year of Magical Thinking (book and play) and conversation with Vanessa Redgrave, whose daughter Natasha died of another head injury, I wander into consideration of loss, and the possibility of losing another child, and thinking no, I will never be OK. I will be functional, I will be capable, I will be productive, and occasionally happy. But I will never be “OK.”
And I’m OK with that.
P.S. More than a small part of my interest in both Didion’s writings on California and those of Eve Babitz is that they write about a time in which I was “coming of age” in the same milieu: suburbs of Los Angeles. Specifically, Didion and Dunne lived in the Portuguese Bend community of Palos Verdes at the same time I was in middle school on the other side of the peninsula; lived in Hollywood as I was in high school (Rolling Hills HS, now Peninsula HS), then Malibu while I left high school and went off to UCSD. It took more than 40 years for me to discover and start reading both authors.
. . . or, really, what I am doing:
- Finished digitizing the last of my LPs, and packed the keepers (Zappa, Beefheart, Tull) away in LP-sized storage boxes
- Nearing the end of ripping CDs
- Since Tuesday, watching Dr. Who marathon on BBC America (via Sling), leading up to the Christmas Special on Christmas evening (which again conflicts with the start of the Sydney-Hobart Race)
- The History of Modern France, by Jonathan Fenby
- What Unites Us, by Dan Rather
- Saw The Last Jedi yesterday, in 3D because that’s what screened at the earliest available showing, 10:30 a.m.; bought tickets via Fandango and learned how to pick it up from kiosk at the theater (Cinelux Capitola)
For the third — fourth? — winter break in a row, I am making time to digitize my collection of LPs. Why? Mostly because I expect to move some day, and I’m not going to move three big boxes of 400-500 vinyl records. They weigh a lot, and it’s not going to happen. So I’m turning them into ones and zeroes on some big hard drives, and backing up to the cloud.
This time around, I’m pleasantly surprised to find that there are not as many albums left to record as I thought. Right now, it’s Ali Akbar Khân’s Ragas of India (Book of the Month Club edition).
Once I’ve finished with the LPs I’m willing to part with, I’ll deliver them either to Streetlight Records or Metavinyl in downtown Santa Cruz. Then get back to ripping the remaining CDs; I sold perhaps 200 to Streetlight last weekend.
P.S. Recording Clear Spot from Captain Beefheart, and it’s really good!
I’m not a big fan of Christmas. The sugary promotion of emotion turns me off, the forced generosity makes me gag. I’ve developed a routine of gifts for the kids: books, videos, trinkets, and a stocking full of miscellany. Good enough.
That said, it wouldn’t be Christmas (yes, even as a Buddhist, Christmas is what we celebrate in the U.S.) without three flix:
- A Charlie Brown Christmas. It’s the classic that sets the mood.
- White Christmas. I still gag at some of the maudlin military camaraderie, but it’s not Christmas without it.
- Scrooged. Bill Murray is indeed scrooged, until he gets it, really and enthusiastically gets it. Plus Bobcat Goldthwaite, Karen Allen, and Carol Kane’s “Nutcracker” fairy. Gets better each year. Just don’t staple those antlers on the mouse.