We Are Here To Unlearn …

Charles Bukowski

For those who believe in God, most of the big questions are answered. But for those of us who can’t readily accept the God formula, the big answers don’t remain stone-written. We adjust to new conditions and discoveries. We are pliable. Love need not be a command nor faith a dictum. I am my own god. We are here to unlearn the teachings of the church, state, and our educational system. We are here to drink beer. We are here to kill war. We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well that Death will tremble to take us.—Charles Bukowski

Private Voices

House Overgrown with Vines

I haven’t written any blog posts incorporating poems since I moved here to WordPress. To remedy that oversight, here is a gentle poem by Denise Levertov entitled “Aware”:

When I opened the door
I found the vine leaves
speaking among themselves in abundant

My presence made them
hush their green breath,
embarrassed, the way
humans stand up, buttoning their jackets,
acting as if they were leaving anyway, as if
the conversation had ended
just before you arrived.

I liked
the glimpse I had, though,
of their obscure
gestures. I liked the sound
of such private voices. Next time
I’ll move like cautious sunlight, open
the door by fractions, eavesdrop

“Aware” by Denise Levertov, from This Great Unknowing. © New Directions Publishing, 1999. Reprinted without permission.

One place I like to check for interesting poems from time to time is Garrison Keillor’s website The Writer’s Almanac. Every day, rain or shine, you can see a poem selected by Keillor and read out loud in his sonorous voice.


“An Intellectual? Yes.”

An intellectual? Yes. And never deny it. An intellectual is someone whose mind watches itself. I like this, because I am happy to be both halves, the watcher and the watched. “Can they be brought together?” This is a practical question. We must get down to it. “I despise intelligence” really means: “I cannot bear my doubts.”—Albert Camus

Strange Reasoning for a Guy

First Lady Michelle Obama

This is going to sound like strange reasoning for a male of the species, but one of the main reasons why I want to see Barack Obama win a second term as President is my preference for Michelle Obama over Anne Romney.

Not that I have anything particular against Mrs. Romney, other than the fact that she is a blah corporate wife, but that Michelle Obama is nothing short of magnificent. If I were married to her, I certainly would not go canoodling with chubby interns. In fact, I would not mind if she were the President.

Listen to these words from her speech at the convention in Charlotte:

So today, when the challenges we face start to seem overwhelming – or even impossible – let us never forget that doing the impossible is the history of this nation…it’s who we are as Americans…it’s how this country was built.

And if our parents and grandparents could toil and struggle for us…if they could raise beams of steel to the sky, send a man to the moon, and connect the world with the touch of a button…then surely we can keep on sacrificing and building for our own kids and grandkids.

And if so many brave men and women could wear our country’s uniform and sacrifice their lives for our most fundamental rights…then surely we can do our part as citizens of this great democracy to exercise those rights…surely, we can get to the polls and make our voices heard on Election Day.

If farmers and blacksmiths could win independence from an empire…if immigrants could leave behind everything they knew for a better life on our shores…if women could be dragged to jail for seeking the vote…if a generation could defeat a depression, and define greatness for all time…if a young preacher could lift us to the mountaintop with his righteous dream…and if proud Americans can be who they are and boldly stand at the altar with who they love then surely, surely we can give everyone in this country a fair chance at that great American Dream.

Because in the end, more than anything else, that is the story of this country – the story of unwavering hope grounded in unyielding struggle.

Damn! She’s even a better speaker than Barack—and that’s saying a lot!

Compared to her, all the generations of Romneys are stumbling bozos (except maybe for George Romney, whom I respected far more than I do his son).

“All Here Are the Same”

Human beings by nature want happiness and do not want suffering. With that feeling everyone tries to achieve happiness and tries to get rid of suffering, and everyone has the basic right to do this. In this way, we all here are the same, whether rich or poor, educated or uneducated, Easterner or Westerner, believer or non-believer, and within believers whether Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and so on. Basically, from the viewpoint of real human value we are all the same.—The Dalai Lama, “Kindness, Clarity, and Insight”

A Prickly Individual

Alzheimer’s Disease

In 1968, I was hitchhiking on Wilshire Boulevard in West L.A., hoping to get a ride as close to the Los Feliz Theater on Vermont as possible. I forget the movie I was originally intending to see: All I know was that it was a French film.

I was picked up within a few minutes by a guy a few years older than me in a slate gray stick-shift Volvo. Just by coincidence, he was going to see a movie, too, except that his destination was a screening of Splendor in the Grass (1961) with Warren Beatty and Natalie Wood. After a few miles on the road, I decided to go with him, not having seen the Elia Kazan picture and not being averse to the luminescent eyes of Natalie Wood.

My new friend, whom I shall call Marvin, and I became movie-going buddies. We would see a film and then eat dinner, doing the bubble-gum card trading which with us passed for film criticism. Films were either “great” or “a piece of sh*t”—there was no middle ground. Inevitably, we drifted apart, as we were both pretty stubborn in our views. Marvin moved back East and ran a comic book store in Northampton, Massachusetts. And I went on to do the things I did, working in computer software and marketing and eventually accounting.

About twenty-five years ago, Marvin started coming to the film memorabilia and comics shows in Southern California. We reestablished contact. Then Martine started working for him as a helper: Marvin’s hearing was rapidly deteriorating. His hearing aid was about as efficacious as a banana. Fortunately, Martine was able to interface with the customers while passing written notes to Marvin when it required his input.

This year, Marvin came to the Cinecon show displaying alarming symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease. He had forgotten to ship his film posters, which were the big money-maker for him, and instead just sold a few lobby cards, stills, books, and film magazines. He would keep asking me repeatedly what day of the week it was, and then promptly forget what I told him.

He knew something was happening to him. He frequently referred to his requiring a new memory chip. At the same time, he would frequently appear confused and agitated. He even misidentified Dorothy Dandridge in a still from Otto Preminger’s Porgy and Bess (1959). This is the type of mistake which, hitherto, Marvin had never made before; and other symptoms of mental slippage were beginning to appear.

Despite that, my friend was still his opinionated self and took issue with me because I read too many works of foreign literature that were translated into English (he never read anything not in English), and too much history. At the same time he was reading a John Grisham, an author deliberately not represented in my collection of mysteries.

Yesterday, when the show ended, we drove Marvin to the airport and dropped him off at the Delta Airlines terminal. I was relieved to hear from him by e-mail that he got back home safely, if tired. By return e-mail, I suggested that he see his doctor about his memory. With luck (my fingers are crossed) something could be done to reverse or ameliorate what looks like a precipitous decline.

Marvin is a prickly individual to say the least. He lives alone, though he had hopes of linking up with a woman from Northampton whom he knew. Alas, she died last year of taking several medications which didn’t agree with one another. Since then, Marvin has been more despondent than usual.

I’ve known the s.o.b. for forty-four years now, and I sincerely hope that his health improves so that we could continue our contentious friendship..

Gazing Into the Abyss

Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.—Friedrich Nietzsche