Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

Smokers Anonymous

The past helped me to improve my future.  I am the historian of the zodiac, Capricorn, gripped by where I’ve come from, preoccupied with everything that I can remember, and I can remember almost everything, and then, captivated by the events of the world that occurred when I was no more than an electrical pulse flashing about the atmospheric heat of Earth looking for a home.  I am more intensely persuaded by the past than I am impelled by the future.  I seem always to be looking behind me, studying, feeling, learning, in my effort to rightly understand who I am today and what this world is today.  This becomes the Capricornian paradox, since the Goat is the sure-footed climber and MUST look forward at the same time to achieve the success that will inevitably be his.

In October of 2008 I was listening to NPR when I heard a Studs Terkel piece from 1974, re-broadcast on This American Life.  Studs was interviewing folks who had survived the Great Depression.  My vitality and my intellect are stirred by all stories of mankind that have suffered under injustice and endured.  These are the people who understand the meaning of life.  I often struggle to experience the essence of existence in this cushy world of consumerism, where I am never in need, never in fear of hunger, cold, danger.  “Okay,” you say, “well, isn’t that a good thing?”  And I say, “Yes, but when I look around me I feel like I am surrounded by the walking stupid; human beings whose brains cannot consider anything that does not exist in that very moment and within their own arm’s reach.”  And to me, that is not life, because, remember?  I keenly bear all the transgressions of history in my heart-lode.  These zombies never palpate with the rooting sensation of true hunger.

And this is how Studs Terkel and the Great Depression helped me to improve my future.  I was so seduced by the words of the subjects he interviewed that I declared I would live a mere 31 days in as close a Depression state as I could think to do in this modern world.  31 days is lousy compared to the near decade of the actual Depression.  But I know myself so well, I made my declaration in an attempt to quit smoking and I knew that I could rise to the challenge and that I only needed one month.

I proclaimed the first month of 2009 “Depression Era January”; a month without all non-essentials.  No fancy groceries, no wine, no dining out, no movies, no cigarettes.  No cigarettes.  The one item that had me in its clutches – the cigarette had begun to romance me long before I was old enough to smoke and when I cam of age I fully kissed that square between my lips in a loyal response to its allure.  I did smoke my cigarettes for 16 years then; longer than any other relationship I’ve ever been in.  No amount of will power, nicotine gum and patches, no drug or logical rationalization concerning my health could loosen the bind I had with tobacco until I determined to respect the wisdom achieved unwittingly by those that lived through the perversity of destitution.  Let me become nothing so that I can become something.  Release myself from all of the modern concepts that repulse me.  I cried and moaned as I rebuked myself for weakness; here is the addict breaking herself.  I looked with hope towards February 1st, when I knew I could choose to smoke again, if I wanted to, which I knew I wouldn’t.  A self-inflicted mind trick only works when you know who you are dealing with.

I would like to thank Studs Terkel, This American Life and the survivors of the Great Depression for helping me to “Dip down, God dammit, dip down“, because that is where the meat of the matter always is.



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If Only

The other night, Jim and I watched The World According to Garp.  I read the book long ago and this was the second time I’ve seen the movie.  Watching it again, at this point in my life, seemed pertinent to two things that are nearly always on my mind but perhaps have been more in the foreground lately: parenting and writing.

My favorite thing about parenting was sharing as much of my knowledge with Mycol as I could and expanding his world to include as many experiences as possible.  I loved teaching him the academics, like reading and math, and I loved talking philosophically with him, at any age, in an effort to get him to consider the relationship between himself and the world.

When Mycol was 13, John Irving was on the schedule of presenters for the Drue Heinz Lecture Series.  Because I’d read nearly every one of his books, I was excited to go and hear him speak.  He was promoting his then yet-unpublished novel Until I Find You.  I took Mycol with me.  A prominent theme in many of Mr. Irving‘s stories is that of an only-child; a son, raised by a single mother.  At the lecture podium he spoke to the audience about the pros and cons of this relationship, which was again featured in the upcoming book.  He spoke about how only-children often get included in adult conversations, and in particular, only-children of single parents are likely engaged in even more still, because the parent relies on the child to be a sounding board for venting daily struggles they would otherwise dump on a spouse.  And to top it all off, Mr. Irving felt that this situation is most exaggerated when the only-child is a boy and the single parent is a mother.  So, there we sat, my 13 year-old son and I, in the Carnegie Music Hall, listening to John Irving talk about how the single mother in Until I Find You treated her son like an obligated boyfriend, and when I looked around the room all I could see were couples, not one single other pubescent child at all.  True, I’d wished my boyfriend would’ve gone with me, but I also felt glad that my son said he’d go when I asked him.  I was proud when he participated in things of that nature without so much as sighing, as if he really had learned to thirst for knowledge and new experiences (from me, of course!).  But when John Irving started to say those things, I felt like a spot-light was on us and I was flushed with embarrassment.  He’d called me out and announced to everyone that it was inappropriate to bring a child to adult programs.  After all, he was (is) John Irving.

Well, thank God, my son wasn’t scarred for life!

It reminds me of how my brother and I grew up in a house filled with books.  I am by far a more avid reader than he is, which I can only imagine is a direct result of the trauma incurred by Richard III when he was merely 3!

Then there is writing.  Another prominent theme in Mr. Irving‘s novels is a main character who is a writer.  A writer who struggles.  Authors are always saying the same thing about writing – that it is hard.  It is so hard to find the necessary discipline to keep at it, to not think everything you write is crap, to stop procrastinating by doing everything under the sun other than write something and just do it.  John Irving had a lot of athletic discipline as a wrestler.  I’ve been inspired every time I remind myself of what he used to do.  He used to get up at 5 o’clock in the morning and sit at his desk to write.  He set an alarm clock on his desk to ring at 8:30 am, at which time he would push away from his desk and lead the rest of his life, which was the life of a father, husband, wrestling coach, and teacher.  Whether he got anything on paper in those 3 hours was not necessarily the most important thing.

I have a slightly different clock than John Irving.  I don’t ever plan to get up before the sun rises, it makes my stomach turn.  But I am pushing myself, challenging myself every day to try harder, to do my best, and looking for inspiration.  Sometimes I think that I could pour all of my parenting energy into writing discipline and I may end up with yet another creation (besides my only child).

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I’ve always had an acute sense of loss and sorrow and this summer has provided a heap of fodder for my analytic brain and thin-skinned heart.  I was going to say that this all began in late spring of this year, but that’s not accurate.  Then I was going to say that this all began 20 years ago, but realized that’s not quite right either.  This all began at least 40 years ago and really, much further back than even that.  Believe me, I think about it . . . a lot.  But a blog isn’t the place for those kinds of tales.  Those kinds of tales play themselves out between the hard covers of a bound treatise.  Or on the 30 foot screen.  So I will stick to discussing my feelings of late, for the sake of the blog . . . FOR THE SAKE OF THE BLOG, I SAY!

Twenty years ago, when I was nineteen, I found out I was pregnant with my son.  I was only one year into my tour with the U.S. Navy.  On May 1st of this year my son turned nineteen, and by the end of that month I’d realized, yet again, that my teenage boy was floundering and I needed to guide him.  The problem was that I was close to the end of my rope.  I mean, how many times and in how many different ways can you try to teach a young man before you just want to quit, because hello? is anybody really listening?  So I suggested he consider the Navy.  He was adamantly against it.  For about a day.  Then he started listening.  This was at a moment in time when he was faced with moving forward with registration for fall classes at community college and applying to four-year universities for next year.  Suddenly, he did an about-face and headed to a recruiter’s office.  What he knew and I didn’t was that he’d screwed up his semester grades royally.  When I found that out, I gave him an ultimatum: by August 1st either move into your own apartment or have a ship date for Navy boot camp.  For one thing, I wasn’t going to continue to provide him with all the luxuries of a free ride if, instead of taking advantage of the opportunity to study enough for straight A’s, he was going to treat me like his proletariat housekeeper while he engaged in some grotesquely modern version of teenage bourgeoisie, complete with social texting hours, social gaming hours, and secret drinking parties made legendary by the cell-phone pics uploaded to the cyber-salon called Facebook.  And so, today is August 18th and this morning I am up early because my body wouldn’t let me sleep in on my baby’s first day as a seaman apprentice in the barracks at Great Lakes Recruit Training Command, i.e., Navy boot camp.  I know from personal experience that he’s been up for two hours already.

When my son turned 19 years old in the spring I became prone to musing about my 19-year-old self.  I remembered how fresh and wide-eyed I was then and how I thought the world was my oyster.  Sure, I’d made mistakes, especially concerning college, but then I found the right path.  I was in the Navy, stationed in beautiful San Diego, California and paying my own way.  I was nervous and unsure about my original plans to follow through into an officer’s program.  Was I good enough?  Did I like the Navy enough to want to serve after they sent me to college?  I thought maybe I should just give my four years and use the G.I. Bill to go to college on my own when I got out.  I wasn’t sure of anything, but I felt good about the possibilities.  The beauty of the situation was that it was exactly what I’d been screaming about for the previous 5 years; “I know what to do for myself!  You can’t tell me what to do anymore, I can figure it out!”  I was the master of my own destiny no matter what that may be.  There were so many, many possible paths to take, it seemed like the world was spinning quickly around my head so that it was a complete blur.  If I could just reach out a finger and stop it from spinning, but when?  Where?  In the meantime there was a boy who was directing his attention towards me and despite my uncertainty about everything else in the world, I knew I wanted a boyfriend.

When I started this post by pointing out that this all began more than 40 years ago, what I was thinking of is how my mentality, my perspective on life, my desires are directly rooted in the existences of my ancestors, up through to the family members that raised me.  (And those that didn’t.  Voids can be just as influential.)  Them and television, actually.  And my being has a direct affect on the existence of my son and will affect my grandchildren and so on.  None of us lives in a vacuum.  That is why I was always offended when my elders expressed utter disappointment and disgust in the things I did “wrong”.  I mean, my behavioral patterns were based on something, right?  What I am getting at here is that, in a nutshell, I knew from the time I was 3 years old that I wanted to be a wife and a mother but by the time I was old enough to consider those roles in reality, I hadn’t attained the knowledge of what is required to be a successful wife and mother in a successful relationship.  I’d grown up in a single-parent household.  Our extended family was small and I was the eldest grandchild, so there were no examples to follow.  In fact, it never even occurred to me that anything more than the desire for these things was necessary, I mean, it looked so easy (and joyful) on tv shows.  So when I found myself pregnant, though I was surprised, I never wavered from what had to be done.  My son’s conception is what stopped my world from spinning.  His existence was like a heavy anchor, dropped to the bottom and keeping me grounded.  In a sense I have considered that he was just what I needed to keep me from making any more mistakes.  On the other hand I have often wondered what I could be, where I could be, who I could be if I hadn’t changed the course of my life to raise him.  These wonders were made more poignant by the fact that when his father and I divorced, his father chose a distant role.  3,000 miles distant.  His father put himself before his child, and was free to do as he pleased.  My dreams and expectations of life changed the instant I understood that I was a mother because I was filled with love and commitment beyond my self.  I found sacrifice challenging and natural at the same time.  I had anticipated sharing the duty with a like-minded husband, but it was not to be.  The resignation of my personal choices and prospects was something that continued to exist in my mind, and possibly my soul, like an old chair in the basement, badly in need of a thorough cleaning and new upholstery, acquired for a song from some wealthy old neighbor years ago, which has the potential to look as if you couldn’t have afforded it, but there is simply never enough time or energy to devote to the project of restoring it; after all, it would please no one but me.  When my son made the decision to join the Navy this summer, I was given all the more reason to mull over the last 20 years in anticipation of living alone in this house where I raised him and wondering what to do next.

Specifically, I felt the first thing on the agenda would be to breathe a sigh of relief.  I was still stinging from curse of my son’s teen-age years.  He’d been a complete joy before 14 but starting in the middle of his freshman year he became a regular pain in the ass.  His defiance, his mistakes, his disrespect, his dishonesty, made me question my strength, my abilities.  Had me asking why?  Where is the joy in this?  What is the reward?  So, bitter-sweetly, it seemed the reward would be the relief that would follow his departure. But that is not how it was supposed to happen!  The folks on Facebook praise their children up and down, posting daily affirmations of their undying love for their perfect children, “thank god for my perfect little sally (or johnny) – everything I ever wanted in a child”, and so on.  I am left thinking the worst about my situation.  I feel like I never had any business having a child and bringing him into this disadvantaged existence; no father, an ill-equipped mother (obviously, otherwise he’d have been perfect like everyone else’s children).  I feel like karmic retribution has occurred, for he reminds me exactly of myself and I see-saw between believing that he will be okay and cringing at the realization that I have sent him off into the world without a mature inkling of how to succeed; the flip-side of believing that despite how awful I was to my elders as a teen, I turned out okay and then calling “bullshit” on myself because if I think this is success, then I have another think coming!  I have to be reminded by caring and logically thinking friends that those parents on Facebook don’t share their trials online; that they are all “keeping up with the Jones'” in a neighborhood where nobody even knows where the “Jones'” really live.

I don’t know if you are still reading this, but it is now August 22 and this evening concludes my son’s 5th day at boot camp, away from home.  The first few days after he left I felt pride and happiness mixed with fleeting moments of shock, together under a veil of surrealism.  Any and all ill feelings have evaporated into thin air.  Before he left I decided that I would do “boot camp on the home front” as a challenge to myself and as a symbol of solidarity with my son.  I left for Navy boot camp myself on August 21, 1989, and I love to test my mettle.

I am much older now and out of shape, but yesterday, after meditating and 5 yogic sun-salutations, in the swelter of afternoon heat I ran my “beginner’s mile” and did 20 push-ups and 50 sit-ups.  As I ran I recalled my days at boot camp in Orlando, Florida, running in formation on the macadam.  I wished for my son to find strength when he needs it during this demanding time in his life.  Then I got home from my run and I cried because I miss him so dearly, that kid.  I love him more than anything and that is why it is easy to say that he has been the perfect child, for me.  I wouldn’t change a thing.

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Feelin’ Good

On this day thirty-nine years ago a woman gave birth to her first child, a son, and he would become my best friend.  The world is indeed a wondrous place.  Consider all of the possible outcomes with the actual results and wonder: how?  why?  And be amazed.

Every person is a bundle of possibilities and he is worth what life may get out of him before it is through. — Harry Emerson Fosdick

Last night we went out for a celebratory glass of wine.  A toast to life, love and the pursuit of happiness, which is what we have been doing heartily since we joined forces: living, loving, and pursuing happiness.

We went to Ava Lounge to enjoy the jazzy notes of Howie Alexander’s Interval Jam.  What is happening here on the jazz scene is the making of history.  Having just recently lost a hometown jazz gal, Lena Horne, whose career spanned the test of time and whose beauty and music touched many beyond the borders of this steel town and the Hill District scene, I like to imagine that someday Yim and I will be talking about how we used to rub elbows with none other than the jazz greats of the turn of the century, just like those who hung around the Crawford Grill would have spoken about Lena.  We will fondly reminisce about Howie, Doc Nelson, Roby Supersax, Chris Hemingway, and my favorite Sean Jones.

In between sets on Monday nights, JMalls spins throwback vinyl.  Last night, as Yim and I raised our glasses and enjoyed each other’s conversation, another fateful thing occurred.  A familiar voice rang through the lounge.  Who knows, perhaps it was at the very moment in time that this woman went into labor . . . Yes, Yim‘s mother’s voice sang out from the deejay booth, like a birthday reminder and gift from the source.  And we were all “Feelin’ Good”.  So, now, for your listening pleasure . . . ladies and gentlemen, Lynn Marino!

There’s a divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will. — Shakespeare

And one more thing . . .

Happy Birthday, Yim!

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Last year Yim and I were at Barnes & Noble and there was an author of children’s stories at the store signing books.  I cannot remember her name, but she was blind.  Yim, who loves to strike up lengthy conversations with everyone and at any time, got involved in a talk with the author and her husband on the discipline of writing.  I, who feel I must be in top form in order to get on with talking to strangers, reluctantly walked over to the three of them that evening.  I’d browsed the stacks long enough and I could no longer avoid the inevitable.  Yim would introduce me to the author and her husband and I’d be forced to make small talk when I was not even close to interested.  But as unfortunate as I felt at the time to have to put on airs of enthusiasm, I can now be grateful for the advice I was given.  That author, whose name I cannot recall, suggested that I read Bird by Bird by Ann Lamott.  I remembered that title, Bird by Bird, and eventually looked up Ann Lamott online.  I watched a video clip of her speaking and I was intrigued because she is so strange and funny and smart.  So I bought the book, 6 months later.  Yim couldn’t even remember the blind author at Barnes & Noble by that time, let alone the book she’d recommended.  And then, as is prone to happen in my life these days, Bird by Bird sat unopened on my coffee table for another stretch of months.  Until last week when I finally peered inside at the first few pages and began to read.  Oh, so far I’ve only read the introduction and the first 28 pages beyond that, but I am enthralled and inspired.  Everything I’ve read thus far is true, true, true!  It’s uncanny.  Does she know me?  Or, damn, I’ve just realized that I am not special at all, but indeed, just like all the other writers or wannabe writers in the world.  Still, to read your thoughts put on paper by someone else, someone you’ve never met, well, it’s affirming.  I have excitedly told Yim about the book and what I’ve read.  When I am finished with it, I will pass it along to him.  In the meantime, however, I am glad to read to him interesting passages from its pages.  Just last night when we spoke on the phone, Yim shared with me his frustrations with writer’s block.  I asked if I could read to him over the phone, and when I got to this paragraph my eyes welled up with tears.  For the second time.  These words from Ann Lamott‘s book give me a feeling of awe and inspiration.  I said to Yim, “I must really love books!”

“Because for some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth.  What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you.  Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave.  They show us what community and friendship mean;  they show us how to live and die.  They are full of all the things that you don’t get in real life — wonderful, lyrical language, for instance, right off the bat.  And quality of attention:  we may notice amazing details during the course of a day but we rarely let ourselves stop and really pay attention.  An author makes you notice, makes you pay attention, and this is a great gift.  My gratitude for good writing is unbounded;  I’m grateful for it the way I’m grateful for the ocean.  Aren’t you?  I ask.”  — Ann Lamott, Bird by Bird

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Now this is what I am talking about folks: COMMENTS AND REQUESTS!  Ha!  Ask and you shall receive!

UB, to answer your question, “By the way do you know who is playing that alto sax in your photo?”, yes, I do.  I must admit I only know now because you asked and I did some research – which took about 4 seconds.  That is Paul Desmond, who actually wrote “Take Five”.


And by the way, did you know that you could click on that ‘photo’ and play the video clip of The Dave Brubeck Quartet with Paul Desmond playing “Take Five”?  Try it, UB, I know you’ll like it!

And now, because Zia, UB and E-Beth have all requested the story of what happened with Rock and the bird, here it is: (E-Beth, chime in with more detail if I am forgetting something here…)

Rock used to wear one of these all the time:


That’s a batting helmet for the best team in the league!!  Okay, so I think Rock’s helmet only had one little hole in the center of the dome, rather than two as in this image, therefore cutting the chances of something randomly dropping from the sky onto his scalp in half.  Right?  Right.  And as we, E-Beth, Rock and I played on Broughton Street, running up and down, jumping and climbing the mulberry tree on the edge of the property, somehow a bird dropped it’s, well, it’s droppings, straight through that little 1/4 inch diameter hole in the center of Rock’s batting helmet.  INCOMING!!!

And everyone knows that getting hit with bird poop is good luck, right?

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Last Saturday Lord Mycol and I went to lunch at La Feria.  It was his birthday, it was our third choice restaurant, and we were short on time.  Sausalido doesn’t serve lunch on Saturdays, the line at Primanti’s in the Strip was out the door, Oakland was packed with graduation traffic and we knew we’d get a good meal at La Feria with little to no wait at all.  And we did!  The only problem:  I forgot to tip our server.  At La Feria you take your bill to the cashier at the counter as opposed to waiting for the server to pick it up at the table.  I was so caught up in the moment; admiring the Peruvian wares they have for sale and on display on every available surface other than the actual dining tables, getting our leftovers boxed, getting home in time for lemon cloud tart I made for Lord Mycol, and paying the bill at the cashier’s counter, that I utterly forgot to leave a tip on the table.  I didn’t think twice about it until 8 pm that evening.  All of the sudden I was seized by the memory of having walked out without leaving a tip, therefore causing the waitress to wonder what she’d done wrong, or worse, what kind of bitter person I might be.  Neither of which, of course, is true.  Since then I have been trying to find the time to get over to Walnut Street and leave the tip for that waitress at La Feria.  Every day since Saturday it was lingering on my mind.  I was certain I would do it just as soon as possible.  Then the universe stepped in and saved me a trip.

On Thursday night Yim and I went to CJ’s in the Strip to get our dose of jazz.  Roger Humphries and RH Factor are there every Thursday and we love it.  On that particular Thursday Howie Alexander was sitting in on keyboard.  Yim and I love the scene at CJ’s.  The tables are dressed with burgundy tablecloths and set with numbers that remind me of a club from the 1950’s.  As the band struck up “Take Five” I noticed a familiar face walk in.  “Hey, that’s my waitress from La Feria,” I told Yim, who knew the details of the forgotten tip.  I thought to myself that if there were any doubt in my mind that I would take the initiative to get that tip to La Feria that here was fate stepping in to nudge me.  I could choose whether the tip was important, after all.  I mean, the waitress didn’t know me.  I go to La Feria maybe once or twice a year, chances are she’d never recognize me again.  And even if she did, would it matter?  Was this really a karmic opportunity or not?  Well, as soon as I recognized her I knew that I was going to go and give her the tip.  It feels good to do the right thing.  When I approached her she was puzzled at first and then truly happy.  She gave me a hug and exclaimed, “I love people like you!”  See how good that felt?  Now go out and see if you can work some good karma into the world today!

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