Which Do You Want First, the Good News or the Bad?
No, I'm not talking to YOU. The greeting on this post is from an email I received shortly after the indispensable Dr. Anthony Fauci announced that it's the elderly—people in their 60s, 70s and 80s—who are most at risk for serious illness and death due to COVID-19.
The email was from a college buddy who lives in Greenwich Village. Back in the day, I knew him by nicknames that no longer apply, most of which referred to his Beatle-esque mop of brow-covering red hair. A fine mane if ever a mane there was. His appearance has changed over the years (bye-bye boyish bangs), but his curmudgeonly sense of humor has not abandoned him altogether. Not even after a worthy career on the frontlines of education. "I hope you survive the plague," he wrote. And with that his email came to an end.
Although it's always good to hear from college pals, I was surprised to find myself on the distribution list for such a message. After all, I'm not elderly. How could I be? I look in the mirror and see a man in the prime of life. Which I suppose is exactly how the subjects of Tom Hussey's famous "Reflections" see themselves. That's the photography series where people of advanced years gaze into a looking-glass seeing only younger versions staring back. But surely I'm different from those folks. I really am in my prime, even though I have passed Miss Jean Brodie chronologically
Nevertheless, I trust Dr. Fauci more than anyone on the White House Coronavirus Task Force. And it turns out that I really do fall within the purview of COVID-19's hit list. Dr. Fauci is 79 years old and runs 3.5 miles a day. Proof enough that age is just a number. Unfortunately, the coronavirus is a poor mathematician. It slices and dices at will. And it does not discriminate.
It's not as if you can challenge COVID-19 to a chess match like the late Max von Sydow in The Seventh Seal. This sucker don't play no games.
That's the bad news. ..
A Black Poet, a White Politician, an SNL Parody - and How to Avoid the Danger of Being Too Sure
Lucille Clifton, Richard Nixon, Steve Martin. It’s not every day you’ll hear these three names mentioned in the same breath. But we live in a world of unusual juxtapositions. Look no further than postmodern art by Romare Beardon and Robert Rauschenberg. Or any city skyline with a Rennaissaince style church shadowed by a glass skyscraper.
Sometimes groupings like this are ironic. Others are accidental or focus on incongruity or commonality. But I’ve handpicked my threesome to make a point about the ‘perception trap’ — the perilous belief that your particular way of looking at things is the right one. There’s a lot of that going around these days. Almost no one seems immune. In American and UK politics, for example, it’s led to extreme polarization fueled by social media platforms that turn anyone with a smartphone into an instant bullhorn.
It’s only human to perceive the world around you and draw conclusions based on the information you’re processing. But it’s pure folly to pretend yourconcepts are the only correct interpretation.
So I’ve concocted a mental flu-shot comprised of life hacks gleaned from the lives of three iconic individuals from entirely different walks of life, chased by a little something extra to top it off — the pièce de résistance, if you will.
Before we get too carried away by the fit-unprintable events in today's headlines, let's take a moment to enjoy the latest uplift from the world of coffee. Apparently, it can help you lose weight! But you've got to be careful. No more than three cups a day. And no java past 1:00 PM if you want to get the much-needed deep sleep that keeps you healthy, wealthy and wise. That's because caffeine stays with you for six hours. Yikes! Here's the skinny in a two-minute summary via Gayle King and pals on CBS This Morning.
We can't just let that kind of news sit there without celebrating--can we? So let's raise a cup in joyful gratitude with this fun version of Bach's Coffee Cantata, the gritty heat of Beth Hart and Joe Bonamassa, the cool piano of Ray Charles, and a Paris DJ set from Black Coffee himself. Because after all--whether you like it hot or cold, espresso, pressed or dripped--there's no time like the present to acknowledge the bean without which life would be as dull as a "shriveled-up roasted goat." (Watch Bach's hilarious cantata with English subtitles to catch the reference.)
Three Lovely Things to Think On: Rilke, Paul Gauguin & Music from Wong Kar-wai's 'In the Mood for Love'
Shortly after the 2016 presidential election, I spoke with an educator who told me about an essay written by a 16-year-old student. Like the advice Nick Carraway received from his father on the opening page of The Great Gatsby, it's something I've been turning over in my mind ever since.
Donald Trump won the election, the high-schooler said, because he only thinks positive things about himself even if they're not true. But that's not all he did. He also managed to get everyone else to think negative thoughts. You can't win when you get negative. You just can't.
This was one of those insights about which I could only say, "Out of the mouths of babes." Surely there were many quantitative factors that led to the election's outcome. Systematic, carefully orchestrated help from Russia, for example. An electoral college system that permits a minority vote-getter to secure the Oval Office. James Comey's ill-timed statements about the Clinton email investigation. And many more. But the words of that 16-year-old essayist seemed to get to the heart of the matter. They also reminded me of her famous 20th-century precursor.
In 1903, James Allen wrote a significant little book which says, "As a man thinketh, so shall he be."
I've been reflecting on that line lately because I've taken a few days to absent myself from the news. Funny how a little adjustment like that can make a difference in the way you feel. Not that I've got my head in the sand. You can't do that entirely.
But backing away from the daily mayhem seems to have improved my overall sense of well-being.
I've heard it said that you can't solve a problem by focusing on it too much. That only makes the problem larger and more difficult in your mind. Solutions come when you step back far enough to see the big picture.
It also helps, I've found, to bear in mind what St. Paul said about thought. You know the line. "Whatever is true, honorable and right, whatever is pure, lovely, and of good repute--if there be anything excellent worthy of praise, let your mind think on those things."
To that end, dear friends, here are three things that seem to fit Paul's paradigm. They make me feel better. Maybe you'll get something from them too.
Why We No Longer Hear Angels - and a Few Words about Tennis, Chess, Prison & the Healing Power of Classical Music
If you’ve ever visited the circus or a city like San Francisco, then you know a barker is someone who stands outside a theater or sideshow and calls out to passersby to get them interested in what's happening inside the tent. The word comes to mind just now because there seems to be a lot of barking in the public arena these days. And a lot of braying too. All of it a distraction from the things that probably matter most to you—if you haven’t been too distracted by all that noise to figure out what that is.
So, let me depart from my usual commentary in order to share a few things I found touching recently, which you may find interesting too.
WHY WE NO LONGER HEAR ANGELS
The following clip is from Faraway, So Close—a beautiful 1993 film by Wim Wenders, which I heard about this year from a writer friend on Twitter. At only two minutes and fifteen seconds, this bit of dialogue gets to the core of why all that barking can be harmful. It depicts a telepathic conversation between two angels, Raphaela (Nastassja Kinski) and Cassiel (Otto Sander), as they consider why it’s so difficult for their guidance to reach us the way it used to back in the day.
Why 'The Green Book' with Its Echoes of Greek Myth, Huckleberry Finn & Cyrano de Bergerac Is a Must See Movie of 2018
One critic calls it Driving Miss Daisy in reverse. But for my money The Green Book goes a lot deeper as it takes a long, hard look at what ails us—and hints at what’s required to heal our national divide. Even though it’s set during the early 1960s before passage of the Civil Rights Act, the movie’s themes could not be more relevant to today.
If you’ve never heard of the actual Green Book, which gives the film its name, you’ll learn during this two-hour excursion that even high-profile African-Americans were not allowed to eat or sleep in “whites only” establishments when they performed in the American Deep South. The film won’t tell you this, but it was a Harlem post-office employee, Victor Green, who published the book. Between 1936 and 1966, the Green Book was the essential guide for black travelers, providing a city-by-city list of restaurants, hotels, and gas stations where you would not be humiliated or harmed.
The first time I heard Lucinda Williams sing “Blue,” emotion kept me from getting the lyrics right. Instead of hearing, “We don’t talk about heaven, we don’t talk about hell,” I heard: “We don’t talk about heaven, we talk about hell.” Even now, whenever I listen to "Blue" that’s how I hear it. I remembered the wrong words and made them fit my meaning.
I like big books, and I cannot lie. My background includes talk radio, newspapers and TV news. I've hosted a morning-drive classical music program on the California coast and published nationally in Reader's Digest, the Christian Science Monitor, and Playboy. I've won awards for my journalism and my fiction. One of my essays even made it into an anthology for college English courses. For real? Yes, for real.
If you’re reading this website, think of me as a troubadour standing on the street corner, strumming a guitar and singing a few songs. Not everyone who comes this way is able to make contribution. But if you’re one of the passers-by who can, then feel free to drop a little spare change in my hat by clicking either the Donate or the Become a Patron button below.