The Longing for Normal

I have felt a longing these recent fine spring days for a wide variety of pre-virus pleasures, but perhaps none more so than Monut’s, a buzzy daytime eatery in Durham that makes distinctive New Agey donuts and sandwiches with perfectly balanced ratios of condiments to bread to fillings, along with a convivial, clattery atmosphere provided by young hipster servers, Duke students and professors, and friend pairs huddled intimately over tables trying to make themselves heard above the din.

Also: Ponysaurus, a local brewpub featuring my favorite crisp pilsner, where children and dogs romp across lawns dotted with picnic tables through the warm months, above which we climb metal stairs to a veranda, strategically parking ourselves to watch the sun set amidst the ever-changing cloudscape to the west.

These are among a host of local establishments whose “brands” have inculcated themselves into my life, reliable p...

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Chaos, Perseverance, Redemption: José Saramago’s “Blindness”

Cars line up at a traffic signal while their drivers wait for the light to turn green. When it does, one car does not move. Horns honk, epithets are muttered, drivers waiting behind the stationary car finally get out to investigate, then pound on the driver’s side window.

There, they behold a man waving his arms and turning his head side to side. Then they open his door to hear him exclaim, “I am blind.”

So begins “Blindness,” the late Portuguese writer José Saramago’s powerful, wholly original 1995 novel that explores a dystopian world in which blindness descends first on the driver depicted above but in short order engulfs all but one other inhabitant of an unnamed country at an unspecified, though modern time in human history.

At base, the hearty band of seven people we follow through to the story’s conclusion stand as a towering—if humbled to the nth degree—testament to human solidarity an...

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Virus Dreams

You don’t have to be a Jungian psychologist to know that dreams can be the most confounding things. Your long-dead mother is brewing coffee and turns to you with a beatific smile as a torrent of word salad comes out of her mouth, whereupon a parrot flies right through a closed window and hops onto her shoulder to translate it as a long poem by Sophocles, the meaning of which you grasp instantly even though you hate poetry, have never read Sophocles in your life and wouldn’t know him from Maya Angelou.

Then the parrot dons an apron and asks—in Greek, which you suddenly, magically understand— whether you prefer your eggs scrambled or poached.

In a previous post about the impersonality of dreams propounded by the late archetypal psychologist James Hillman, we discussed his admonition not to take dreams too personally. We shouldn’t think they are all about us and our waking lives, Hillman says...

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Mainline to the Heart: A John Prine Homage

I’d been reflecting lately with friends that as bad as the coronavirus is, one glimmer of light is that I had not yet learned of anyone in my personal orbit coming down with the disease, and more widely still, no one in all of my own friends’ and acquaintances’ orbits had either, at least to my knowledge.

But then the news that John Prine had come down with the virus and was in ICU. And now he has died.

I knew John Prine.

Well, not personally—but actually, I did! 

That’s what happens with great artists whom one pays attention to over years. They crawl in through your skin, mainline themselves right to your heart like a powerful drug, move in like an Artist-in-Residence, bestowing their gifts in an endless stream through your life.

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John Prine’s songwriting has always combined humor and pathos, mischief and solemnity, devil-may-care and tragedy in a way that not only few other artists do, b...

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Our Love-Hate With Facebook in a Time of Plague

“May you live in interesting times” has been widely attributed to an ancient Chinese curse, though no reliable sources exist to verify that claim. Nevertheless, someone thought of and expressed the sentiment to someone else, and we owe that someone a measure of thanks as we live today through what, by any metric, meets, with absurd dark ease, the standard of “interesting times.”

I’ve found myself musing on the expression repeatedly in recent years and almost obsessively in recent weeks, as the coronavirus shoves virtually every other concern off the media wires and our own conversational threads with the people in our lives.

And as it happens, Facebook—criticized and reviled (often, with good reason) for its incursions on our privacy and cunning ability to coerce us into frittering our lives away watching endless cat and cute kid videos—has emerged as a primary conduit for those conversationa...

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