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.
The year was 1895. Oscar Wilde was already famous. Married with two children, he was also four years into an affair with 25-year-old Lord Alfred Douglas. When Douglas' father denounced Wilde as a homosexual, the poet, novelist, and playwright sued for libel - and lost. He was sentenced to two years at hard labor at Reading Gaol. At the time of his arrest, The Importance of Being Ernest, was still in production on the London stage. We know him also for The Picture of Dorian Gray, Lady Windemere's Fan, An Ideal Husband, and a highly quotable wit.
In our own time, this thing called "sodomy" is no longer the sin it was in 1895. In fact, the US Supreme Court no longer considers it a crime (Lawrence v. Texas 2003). From the perspective of hindsight, one feels the weight of Wilde's tragedy, the injustice of his incarceration, and a sense of sorrowful compassion for what happened to him. He was to die five years later. His wife, Constance Lloyd Wilde, died two years before him. Only Lord Alfred Douglas survived into relative old age, passing away in 1945 at the age of 74.
We all know about his work on the co-discovery of DNA, which earned a Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine in 1962, which was was shared with Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins (but not female Molecular Biologist, Rosalind Franklin, who contributed critical research to that discovery but had died of ovarian cancer four years before the prize was awarded.)
To celebrate his 86th birthday, here's Watson's Ted Talk from 2005. Somewhere in the background, you can hear the grateful prayers of the 300-plus wrongfully convicted men whose sentences have been overturned because of DNA testing. Maury Povich, your ratings owe a debt of gratitude to Watson, et al, too. But let's not go there.
Born on April 6, in 1929, this music prodigy turns 85 today. He's won a staggering number of awards, is a world-class conductor of classical music, a jazz and classical pianist, and a composer whose work includes an opera based on Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire.
Here is former wife, Mia Farrow, introducing the bio for his 1998 Kennedy Center Award.
One of the all-time "greats" of 20th century jazz, this saxophonist, clarinetist, composer, and arranger was born this day in 1927. If you don't know him, look here for the details. If you do know his music, sit back and enjoy this 10-minute clip from the 1971 Newport Jazz Festival, featuring Mulligan, Dave Brubeck, and Paul Desmond.
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.