What is the kind of book you want to read?

if you can answer that question you should write that book.

Recently some of my favorite reading has been Twitter threads that begin with a question such as “tell me about someone who was kind to you as a child”, or “tell me about the most embarrassing thing you’ve ever done”. Responses are usually within the Twitter 280 character limit, though sometimes they are mine-threads of their own.

A couple of years ago I wrote a little book called ‘This and That’ which incorporated several social media and other media streams into a nearly coherent story, and I enjoyed the writing, even if every bit of it wasn’t great. It let me talk about the advanced cancer I had just been diagnosed with, in a way that made a lot of sense to me. Mine was just one thread among many, just as easily skimmed through and overlooked, just another little thing happening to somebody somewhere, and after it was all over (the character’s life, that is), all the other threads kept on keeping on, as is the way of the world.

If I were to follow up on this new idea, I’d have to pick the perfect question to ask, one that the various reply threads could include several parallel stories, maybe even some mysteries that could get puzzled over by random strangers, and maybe even solved by some. In the midst of that there would be all of the other replies that miss the point, insult the author, pick fights with other responders, toss in some socially unacceptable rants as well as some pointless feel-goodies (“can you believe that Marianne Williamson is running for president of the United States on a platform of wishful thinking, miracles and love?”).

Tell me about something you no longer believe in.

Tell me about your worst enemy.

Tell me about an unforgettable co-worker. (I just remembered I once worked with a guy who refused to be fired because, as he insisted, “God told me this is the place I need to be right now”. Yes, the police were called)

Tell me about your biggest mistake.

[I guess the book could consist of chapters, one question each, and maybe a set number of replies]

 

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Everything is everything

As a cynical old bastard I surprised myself today by having a universally charitable thought about every human who has ever existed and ever will exist, that they are all, that we are all, equally responsible for everything about human civilization. Even if our only contribution is to be a link in the chain of descendants who contribute in some more substantial way than we ever will, we are just as due the credit, the assist. All of our ancestors are just as equally valuable as any one who ever lived. We all have exactly the same value, the same worth. There is no one who is worth more or less, and there cannot be, because they would not even exist without that long chain of antecedents.

Soccer, basketball and hockey have the concept of the assist, but those only go to the directly connected to the play, although every play there ever was had to be made in order for that one play to even exist. ‘

I have to admit the idea occurred to me from two sources. One was from a line in season two of the great German time-loop show on Netflix, Dark. Everyone was looking for someone to blame, the originator of the problem, the beginning, the source, and one guy made the point that everyone was the trigger, they all had to be in the right place at the right time, and it’s true we all do, every day, in whatever place we are in at whatever time, this is the world now and it is because of us, because of all of us, that it is what it is.

The other source was a source of pride in my son, an excellent person just graduated from high school and on his way out of the nest into the great wide world. He mentioned that he wanted to have some positive effect in someone’s life, that this was an aspiration. But we all have effects on many other people’s lives, and we are all forgotten in time. Nearly everyone who has ever lived is due to be forgotten, and those few names that do survive and are recognized for some centuries are not the actual person but an idea of a person, and not an accurate idea at that. It doesn’t matter. Whether we are seen as precious or important people or of no account whatsoever, we are all absolutely, objectively and necessarily equal.

Watching True Justice on HBO, the Bryan Stevenson documentary, it’s hard not to think of this man as being so much a better and more important person than myself. Here’s a guy dedicated his life to saving innocent people from the cruel, barbaric and racist death penalty in America. I write computer programs that are utterly useless within a few years at best. This is a good and great man, but I believe he’d much rather not be, because then our horrible history and present disgrace would never have happened.

We think of the great individuals, the Shakespeares, the Isaac Newtons, the Jesii, but I think we all know very well that had those particular people not done what they did, someone else would have done something quite comparable at around the same time. It’s a collective effort. We are all in it together. We may be bringing about our own extinction (today it is 114 degrees Fahrenheit in France), and the younger generations are angry at the older ones for burning all those fossil fuels, but it’s a long chain of events that brought all this about. You might as well blame the first one who harnessed the power of fire, who advanced the concept of burning. It’s only the past handful of generations that have wreaked this particular havoc, but we were all working towards it all the time. It’s pointless to try and single out root causes. Humanity isn’t source code. We are a mesh.

A total and complete fucking mesh at that.

Time Travel for Fun and No Other Reason

My idea here was that the story would be about someone who just wants to see some legendary concerts in the past, so they travel back to 1929 to some roadhouse in Mississippi to see Robert Johnson play, or they go back to 1972 to see a Grateful Dead show of which they’ve heard the bootleg tape, or maybe they want to see the little boy Mozart give a concert to a king. They go, have a good time, maybe dance a little, do some drugs, come back home and go to bed. No harm was done. They don’t even tell anyone about it. It’s just their little secret.

Replacements: An Idea for a Story

I haven’t had an idea for a story in quite a while – my writing brain is still missing in action – but here is a seed, maybe.

It begins like an ordinary cop show – our buddy partners are tracking down a mysterious series of murders. They’re hot on the trail of the killers. One by one we’re introduced to the bad guys, each one seemingly worse than the one before. The victims – oh my the victims. So undeserving, so innocent, such a shame. We feel so sorry for them, cut down in their prime by these evil bastards. Except we find out, somehow (sorry to be so sketchy on the details) that the killers are only doing their job. There’s a new shipment coming in, replacements, and the old stock has to be gotten rid of before they arrive. The shelves must be cleared. The victims were past their due dates.

Appropriate Opiates

“all progress depends on getting the masses hooked on the appropriate opiate”

I tweeted that today so there …

I got to thinking about the classic Marxist quote about religion being the opiate of the people, and it happened to be the same day that the final episode of Game of Thrones was airing on the TV. How was that not an opiate of the people? And why does it have to be a bad thing that people have opiates? Maybe people need their fucking opiates? Not just one, and not just the same one all the time, but a steady stream, an infusion if you will, a drip drip drip of engaging, absorbing, emotionally satisfying and possibly intellectually engaging opiates all the time.

Music is a drug. We know that. And it’s a good thing.

Religion, politics and every other kind of delusional magical thinking, they’re all opiates.

What you want (assuming you are the Machiavelli out to herd the sheeple) is appropriate opiates. If you want eyeballs like HBO, you do a Game of Thrones. If you want ‘engagement’, you do a Facebook. If you want to suck everybody into your whirlpool collective of data-driven advertising, you do a Google. One-stop shopping? Amazon. Design-driven cult following? Apple. The party with the best opiates is the party you want to be at. Hell, you might as well party like it’s the end of the world. Get your plastic straws while the planet’s hot.

 

Money I Have Wasted: A Memoir

Ok, it’s not really a memoir because I couldn’t even begin to list all the money I’ve wasted. I just know it’s probably been a lot of money and a lot of things. The first things that come to mind are a certain futon, a propane-fueled generator and a car that blew up on the Bay Bridge.

I am currently in the process of moving, and that always involved a forced inventory of all the crap one has somehow accumulated since the last move, an army of items large and small. Why do we have two staple removers, especially since we can’t recall the last time we needed to remove staples? Where did that harmonica come from? Who thought that enormous paella pan would be a significant life-changer?

We compost. We recycle. We think we are helping the planet but what a delusion that is! We are constantly accumulating future landfill. Our very existence is part of an ancient feedback loop, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, Walmart to Ox Mountain Sanitation.

Our species can be thought of as the one that intakes sand and excretes glass and cement. We didn’t just pave paradise. We paved inferno as well. We paved every goddamn inch of this floating rock and if our billionaires and other assorted visionaries have their way, we’ll be paving all the floating rocks from here to the great black hole at the center of everything.

I just wasted money on a hard-shell glasses case so I don’t break the extra pair of glasses I just wasted money on last week.

I just wasted money on a cardboard shredder so I can add the shredded cardboard from the Amazon boxes delivering all the other things I waste money on to the compost bin BECAUSE IT’S GOOD FOR THE SOIL.

A friend of ours just wasted some money buying us matching baseball caps from the university our son is about to go to that say ****UDad and ****UMom and we can’t even wear them because they are the same color red as the fascist MAGA hats.

I wasted money on the compost bin because at the house we’ve been renting we can’t just toss the vegetable peelings into a pile in the yard. Now that we’re moving we have to decide whether to junk the thing now or when we get sick and tired of it next year.

I remember an extremely ugly green sofa bed that ultimately proved a waste of money but since it was my only furniture for about three years was it really such a waste? Especially considering that I couldn’t afford any other furniture and it came from a goodwill store and cost about ten bucks?

It’s in a landfill now.

I never understood the thing about heaven, about how you get to be with all your loved ones, but at what ages? What age are you? What age are they? The ages they want to be or the ages you want them to be? If everybody gets what they want, then how many heavens are there? One apiece? Is there a multiverse of heavens?

In my version, you are reunited with all the crap you wasted money on. All of it. And you have to live with it forever in an apartment way too small, and you are never allowed to acquire anything else. You bought it? You got it.

 

 

Memory is life, or is it not?

My (61M) father (92m) is still going, albeit with dementia which, as the song says, is just a hard way to go. Most days he doesn’t remember that his wife of 68 years (my mother) died two years ago, and being told of it makes him grieve anew every time. It is very sad.

I have not seen him for a few years. My brothers make the trip, one a month, but I am not only much further away (California v. Pennsylvania) but have also been kept busy with my own health matters. The truth is that it hurts. The last time I saw him, we were sitting together at the kitchen table, having a conversation that repeated every five minutes like clockwork. I got up to go to the bathroom and I was no sooner out of site than he said to my mother, in a seriously frightened tone, ‘Elsa, I think there’s someone in the house!’

My father was a distinguished sort of fellow, a university professor, a Ph. D., highly regarded in his field, and a therapist’s therapist. He founded and ran an institute that trained other therapists.  An ex-girlfriend of mine once said of him, rather uncharitably but nevertheless with accuracy, that his true calling was to be a cult leader. It didn’t happen though. He wrote several books but in a peculiar vocabulary all his own that very few people understood. One such memorable title was “Undoing the Clinch of Oppression”. He was a true radical of the mid-twentieth century Marxist-Freudian-Franz Fanon-Paul Goodman-counter-culture variety and did some truly good and socially conscious work. I grew up being taken to all sorts of marches – anti-war, civil rights, women’t lib, you name it – and was always proud of my parents, who somehow ended up raising their four boys in the middle of a very traditional, right-wing, Republican, white supremacist, highly segregated suburb of Philadelphia. We were not the most popular family; not only Jews but commies as well.  They were intellectuals, and lived a vivid life of the mind. And now, today, where is that mind? He is not who he was.

It’s generally considered good advice to “live in the moment” but in practice it’s something else entirely. When you have little to no memory you have no choice but to live in the moment, and what is that moment? Is it life? Are you living? How could you tell, and what is your past life now that you have no choice but to live in the moment? As another song says, we’ve been spending most of our lives living in a past-time paradise – our memories, the stories we tell ourselves, the life we invent and re-invent continually and constantly.

I was thinking of this today because of a prompt far more trivial than my father’s dementia. My son (17m) told me how he’s been listening to an album a day lately. I’ve mostly been listening to a random shuffle of my online songs and hadn’t listened to an entire album in a while, so I thought I would do that today on the way to work. The album I chose was Stevie Wonder’s ‘Songs in the Key of Life’ (I do have a long commute!). While listening (and thinking, wow, this is brilliant, what a great work of art) I remembered that last year I was listening to the audiobook version of Keith Richards’ autobiography, and he mentioned a concert that I actually went to, in Philadelphia, in 1972 at the Spectrum. I was 15 and went with my best friend and all I really remember is 1) the music was so loud and the acoustics so bad that I couldn’t tell one song from another and 2) we had to wait for what seemed like forever for my friend’s older brother to come and pick us up in the middle of the night. What I absolutely do not remember is that the opening act for that show was Stevie Wonder, who even came on later to sing a duet with Mick Jagger at the end.

I remember wishing, many years later, that I had been able to see him in his prime, because I never did again and believed I never had. I have recently talked with my old friend, who clearly remembers the show, and I just can’t. I remember the opening acts of all the other shows we went to see together around that time: For Hot Tuna the opening act was Brewer and Shipley. For Creedence the opening act was Booker T and the MGs. For E.L.O. the opening act was Al Stewart. That summer for Peter Frampton the opening act was the J Geils Band. So why can I not remember Stevie Wonder, whose music I love?

Maybe I was too busy living in the moment. It’s impossible that I didn’t know who he was at the time. I was a huge R & B fan. I loved Al Green, Harold Melvin, Marvin Gaye, all the Gamble & Huff Philly sound records of the time. It’s a blank but it happened. July 21, 1972. It doesn’t really help to know that.

What is the life you don’t remember? Is it even yours?

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