Don’t Try.

Poet Charles Bukowski (1920-1994)

Whoever ordered the tombstone for poet and counterpuncher Charles Bukowski knew what he (or she) was about. There is a two-word epitaph: “Don’t Try.” Below it is a silhouette drawing of a boxer with his gloves raised.

The poet’s grave is at Green Hills Memorial Park in San Pedro which I have passed scores of times 0on visits to my friend Peter who lives a couple miles further south. Maybe next town, I’ll stop by and pay my last respects.

On Bukowski.Net, there is an explanation by Bukowski’s wife Linda which sheds some light on he meant:

See those big volumes of books? [Points to bookshelf] They’re called Who’s Who In America. It’s everybody, artists, scientists, whatever. So he was in there and they asked him to do a little thing about the books he’s written and duh, duh, duh. At the very end they say, ‘Is there anything you want to say?’, you know, ‘What is your philosophy of life?’, and some people would write a huge long thing. A dissertation, and some people would just go on and on. And Hank just put, “Don’t try.”

I am reminded of Portuguese writer Fernando Pessoa in The Book of Disquiet, who sees life as a roadside inn where we all have to stay until the coach from the abyss pulls up:

Night will fall on us all and the coach will pull up. I enjoy the breeze I’m given and the soul I was given to enjoy it with, and I no longer question or seek. If what I write in the book of travellers can, when read by others at some future date, also entertain them on their journey, then fine. If they don’t read it, or are not entertained, that’s fine too.

In the days to come, I plan several more posts about Bukowski and what he means to me.

Dancy Dancy

How Convincing Are the Happy Dances, Really?

I cannot help but think that life is grimmer than ever, based on all the happy dances on TikTok and TV commercials. Together with all the pharmaceutical commercials, with their family-happiness-in-the-outdoors tropes, the happy dances are a promise that is almost never fulfilled. How does that delirious couple in the photo above look when medical bills and their mortgage are more than they could bear. Even if they got that great house for the cheap price of a zillion dollars.

The one happy dance which doesn’t bother me is Matt Harding’s “Where the Hell Is Matt? 2008.” That son of a bitch had something to dance about—the sheer joy of life—and it would be my pleasure to join him:

Bibliotherapy

The Last Bookstore in Downtown Los Angeles

There is no question in my mind that reading books can be a form of therapy. Not all books, but certainly those that make you think. Some books could be the opposite of therapeutic, like anything by Ayn Rand or Donald J. Trump.

I read incessantly. Only when I am ill do I not pick up a book. Since September 1998, I have read 2,750 books, ranging from literary classics to poetry to philosophy to history to travel.

Beginning in 1975, the year of my first real vacation (in Yucatán, Mexico), I decided to prepare several months in advance by reading books about my destination. They included archaeology, history, fiction, and descriptions of journeys. That way, when I finally reached my destination, I was there as a person who knew all sorts of things about where he was. That made me feel good about traveling. I didn’t feel like an ignorant interloper.

The therapeutic aspect was there, too. I came to the conclusion that the best philosophy books were written by the ancient Greeks and Romans. Cicero, Marcus Aurelius, and Epictetus had more to say about the human condition than the vast majority of academic philosophers, whose works were by and large unreadable. And it didn’t involve swallowing a whole lot of dogma administered by organized religion.

If you were to read the four dialogues of Plato about the death of Socrates (Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, and Phaedo), you will have read the greatest works of Western Philosophy ever written.

Also worth considering are some of the Hindu, Taoist, and Buddhist texts, such as The Bhagavad Gita, The Tao Te Ching, and the literature of Zen Buddhism. They taught me that desire is always accompanied by suffering. The less one desires, the happier one is. And happiness is not a lasting thing: It goes into hiding and manifests itself only at irregular intervals.

Now if I can only declare my book purchases as medical expenses….

“The Best Is Yet To Be”

I never thought I would be alive at the age of 77. My father died at 74 years old; and my mother, at 79. When I was a student at St. Henry Elementary School, I thought, “Gosh, I’ll be 55 years old when we get to the year 2000.” I passed that milestone at a run.

In the illustration above, I am somewhere between the third and fourth figure. Thankfully, my health is good. I can get about without a cane, though I find going down a flight of stairs to be painful. Kneeling on a hard surface is out of the question.

When I think about aging, I call to mind the first stanza of Robert Browning’s poem “Rabbi Ben Ezra”:

Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made:
Our times are in His hand
Who saith “A whole I planned,
Youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be afraid!” 

I see some of my friends fall by the wayside, some dying, some suffering personality disorders as they age, and some just isolating themselves.

This is not a subject anyone likes to think about. There are, however, dangers inherent in suppressing any important subject.

The times are always bad—and always have been. Yes, what is happening in Ukraine is terrible. But so was ducking under my school desk at St. Henry to practice for a Communist H-Bomb attack. So was World War Two. So was … oh … Genghis Khan.

I always wanted to be a writer. And in a manner of speaking, I am one. I don’t care about compensation or fame. Just sitting down around 9 o’clock most evenings and writing this blog is a worthwhile effort. It makes me feel good about myself.

The Third Degree

Louis Jouvet (Right) Sweating a Suspect (2nd from Left)

The French criminal justice system is very different from our own. I have just finished reading Georges Simenon’s Maigret and the Burglar’s Wife [Maigret et la grande perche] (1951); plus I have just recently seen Henri-Georges Clouzot’s film Quai des Orfêvres (1947). In both works, the investigating inspectors give their suspects the third degree. It is a process of intimidating the suspect until he or she talks, no matter how long it takes. In the film, there was a kind of tag team of interrogation, involving Inspector Antoine (Louis Jouvet) and the two detectives above with cigarettes hanging from their lips.

I wonder if things have changed that much in the last seventy years or so. France’s laws are based on the Napoleonic Code of 1804, in which there is a presumption of guilt rather than innocence, as in English Common Law. Suspects could be held in custody for longer periods of time until the evidence was clear.

In the Simenon novel, Inspector Maigret proceeds with the arrest even before this point, because he is so sure that the evidence is forthcoming. In the movie, the suspects, Maurice Martineau and Jenny Lamour, are convinced they will be framed by Inspector Antoine, who actually frees them when he gets a confession (albeit by sustained intimidation) from the real murderer.

It is interesting to see and read about police procedurals from other countries. In the United States, we have adopted English law. I rather suspect that, in the end, both legal systems are equally fair—or unfair.

How (Not) to Celebrate New Years

A traditional way of celebrating New Years Eve in France is by setting cars alight. According to the BBC, as of some 12 hours ago, a total of 874 cars have been set on fire. I’m sure that’s kind of like a firecracker, but multiplied out, that’s got to be about 10 million dollars in damages.

Far better is a series of two cartoons from Brooke McEldowney in his “9 Chickweed Lane” series. The first cartoon ran on December 31 and was a bit confusing:

It all came clear with today’s cartoon:

I loved this set of images. We make a jump from one reality to another. Actually, it’s the same reality: Just a different template overlaying it. BTW, the look on the little girl’s face is priceless.

So let’s take that leap without incinerating any automobiles, if you please.

The Year in Review? Why?

Every year around this time, the press and the broadcast media like to run stories in which they remind us of the many infamies of the year that is to expire. I say let it expire in peace, without unnecessary commemoration.

It is good that we now have vaccines. If only we had people who were caring enough to take advantage of them. Today, I saw on Santa Monica Boulevard a pickup truck plastered with signs attacking the vaccine as a nefarious government plot to impugn our purity of essence, or some other likely rot. The vaccine would have been a triumph, but not in a nation teeming with ignorant mofos.

It’s equally to difficult to look back at the disasters wrought by climate change: California wildfires, tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, and a steadily rising mercury level.

While the economy hasn’t altogether collapsed yet, it gives dangerous signs of doing so.

So please forgive me if I neglect to celebrate the passing year. Only a fool celebrates the passing of time.

Return to Uayeb Yet Again

To date, I have written five posts about the Maya “month” of Uayeb or Wayeb, which consists of the last five days of the Haab Calendar of 365 days. The Haab calendar has twenty months of eighteen days each, which isn’t quite enough to make up the full complement, so the Maya added a short stub of a month containing the five “nameless days.”

There is also a Maya god named Uayeb, who is the god of misfortune. That sounds about right.

The Cartoonist Scott Stantis Has an Intuitive Understanding of Uayeb

Here is a link to my previous posts on the subject:

Below is the Maya glyph for the “month” of Uayeb, or Wayeb (kind of looks like a tiny-headed god flexing his muscles, doesn’t it?)

In his comments to last year’s post, my friend Mudpuddle noted that “the glyph looks like a surfer headed for muscle beach!”

I am amused by how well a Maya calendrical belief fits in so well with our civilization, in which the days between Christmas and New Year and almost universally considered as dead time.

So don’t make any big plans until the New Year. But you kind of knew that anyway, no?

Grinchlike … But No Grinch!

I am no Ebenezer Scrooge (post the three spirits), dancing with joy, dispensing gifts, and in general comporting myself around Christmas time with uncomely glee. Today, going to lunch with Martine, I encountered scores of stressed-out drivers in the process of driving in such a way that easily merited a serious car crash. (Also, I encountered far fewer drivers who drove with courtesy and watchfulness.)

Christmas as a religious holiday gets my respect. I myself am unaffiliated with any official religion, but I can understand the significance of the Incarnation for Christians.

It’s Christmas as a secular holiday which is out of whack. You should see the frenzied shoppers trying to fit into the Culver City Costco parking lot around noon. I imagine many had to roam the lot for upwards of an hour before they found a spot. For many, this weekend is the optimal time to get those last-minute gifts.

Well, I’m not shopping for gifts this Christmas, though Martine and I did send out a number of cards—both religious and secular—to our friends and relatives.

What’s wrong about the holiday is the whole secular mythology: Santa, the Xmas tree, stockings by the fireplace, the f—ing “Elf on the Shelf,” Christmas parties, yearly attending the Nutcracker, reindeer antlers on car windows, those stupid Santa hats…. Need I go on? What we have year is a recipe for distress. It’s damn near impossible to have a perfect Christmas with all the trimmings and cancer-like accumulated practices

My Christmas, Chanukah, and Kwanzaa wish for all my readers is simple: Enjoy, but when you begin to stress, PULL BACK! It’s not worth making a nightmare out of the whole thing. Above all, survive in good spirits!

The Alliance

What makes you YOU? Is it a single thing? or an alliance of upwards of 30 trillion things working together? According to an article in the April 2021 issue of Scientific American:

The human body replaces its own cells regularly. Scientists at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, have finally pinned down the speed and extent of this “turnover.” About a third of our body mass is fluid outside of our cells, such as plasma, plus solids, such as the calcium scaffolding of bones. The remaining two thirds is made up of roughly 30 trillion human cells. About 72 percent of those, by mass, are fat and muscle, which last an average of 12 to 50 years, respectively. But we have far more, tiny cells in our blood, which live only three to 120 days, and lining our gut, which typically live less than a week. Those two groups therefore make up the giant majority of the turnover. About 330 billion cells are replaced daily, equivalent to about 1 percent of all our cells. In 80 to 100 days, 30 trillion will have replenished—the equivalent of a new you.

In a strange way, every human being, every animal, every plant is an alliance of micro particles. In my lifetime, I have given birth to and sloughed off untold trillions of tiny pieces of me. Yet I still see myself as a unified being with certain likes and dislikes, certain patterns of thought.

When it comes time for me to die, it’s like Better.Com firing 900 employees on a Zoom call. Except some 30 trillion parts of me would be abruptly cashiered—without benefit of unemployment compensation. I would like to think that my mental processes would continue somehow, but that’s getting into highly disputed territory.

So far my alliance has held together pretty well. The whole coronavirus situation has been like an invasive plant or insect species. Undoubtedly, I have ingested perhaps thousands, perhaps even millions of Covid-19 viruses, but never enough to disturb the majority population of the alliance, which, by the way, itself includes billions of non-threatening viruses of various sorts.

When you look at yourself as an agglomeration of tiny living things, it makes you feel humble. And it makes you laugh at a lot of the things that make people worry.

I feel good about myself because, as of now anyway, my 30 trillion parts are a kind of parliamentary democracy in which all the components still work together, peacefully for the most part.