Monthly Archives October 2013

Envy and Eternal Youth

Books on aging are all the rage at Amazon. As well they should be, because there are so damn many of us aging Boomers, and we tend to have money to buy the books that tell us how to “age well” and keep our playfulness and maintain our memories and our balance and our joints and our portfolios and our erections and moistness and thirst for life, life, and more life. And still we die.

Can’t someone do something about that?

(Actually, they’re trying—figuring out the exact mechanisms of cell death occupies many learned scientists at our august aging institutes, and when that code is finally cracked and reversed, we can all say hello to the ethical, economic and environmental dilemmas of eternal life. Count me among those glad to bypass the option…)

I was in line at the Whole Foods meat counter recently, standing between two late 20s men and a matronly black woman...

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Age of Vanity: Ali, Whitman, Facebook & Us

Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,
vanity of vanities! All is vanity.


I was a fight fan in my youth.
On Friday nights, my dad would pop home after his arduous work week with a quart or two of Eastside Old Tap Lager in hand—or when he was feeling flush, the slightly pricier Miller High Life—and we’d tune into the Friday Night Fights hosted by Don Dunphy, whose voice remains permanently etched in my memory. (Exactly where, is what I want to know, and how does memory encode itself into my brain matter to so clearly remember a voice?)

Anyway, this was a weekly ritual, my brother and I sipping RC Colas (cheaper than Coke) and sneaking an occasional sip of beer when Dad went to the bathroom. It went on for years, at least as I remember it, until this very brash and intriguing figure named Cassius Clay came on the scene after he’d won the gold medal in the 1960 Rome Olympics.

My dad ...

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The Physicality of Reading

Reading is a most curious and fantastic act. The recognition of ink blots set in a certain pattern on a page, the training to decode those blots (often beginning barely out of infancy, before the basic biological function of controlled toileting is even mastered!).

The oft-times visceral response to those blots as we piece them together, run them through our interpretive sieve, and then find ourselves engaged, body and soul, with the stories they tell.

This ability of the written word to transport us out of time, into another world, another circumstance, another set of characters for whom we come to have a deep regard—if not love—this is an astonishing and even miraculous thing, is it not? It makes me want to sing to the heavens in praise of our brains. (And sometimes wail in despair at their misbegotten use…)

Recently I was reading a magazine article on the novelist Philip Roth and his relationships...

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“Life-Changers”: The Six Kinds of Experience That Blow Your Mind to Bits

In his memoir, My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer, the poet Christian Wiman writes: “If you believe at 50 what you believed at 15, then you have not lived—or have denied the reality of your life.” Wiman is talking specifically about religious belief, but the idea applies just as well to politics, culture, and even our food and drink choices as our palate matures from the narrow simple tastes of childhood to the more adventurous, complex range to which adulthood invites us.

Wiman’s line got me wondering what it is that ignites this evolvement, this integration of more range and nuance, subtlety and contradiction, in our lives. Wherefrom this refinement of our sensibilities? What are the Life-Changers that set us on this often stormy and wind-blown path of what psychologist Carl Jung called “individuation?”

I’m going to posit six such Life-Changers, though there may well be more and...

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Bill Withers and the Banality of Heaven

Earlier this week, I saw a wonderful warm movie about a very nice man. Got me kind of glowing inside, with an urge to write about it here. But as the week progressed with its normal percolation of ideas in the midst of walks and dishwashing and warm showers, the only real idea that came to me was in the form of a question: Why is it so difficult to say anything interesting about a wonderful warm movie depicting a very nice man?

The answer arrived only as I pondered imagery from a new television show my family recently took up, a cold treacherous show about very bad men. (And even a very bad woman in the most recent episode.)

O.K.—a few details and the dramatis personae. The good man is Bill Withers, a 1970s-80s soulful-romantic crooner and songwriter (Lean on Me; Ain’t No Sunshine). And the wonderful movie about him is Still Bill, a documentary that picks up on him and his life at age 70, decades remov...

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