beautiful comment

I was listening to the original Walter Huston recording of Kurt Weill’s haunting and beautiful September Song (lyrics by Maxwell Anderson), a melody he wrote for Huston’s limited vocal range. Houston’s version is indeed a beauty. So was this comment below the YouTube video, from seven years back.

Why I write everyday

The world doesn’t care very much about any one of us. In fact, it doesn’t care at all. We are fortunate if we have people who love us and treat us with kindness, but as for the world itself, it doesn’t give a rat’s ass about any one of us. It has seen billions and billions of us come and go, often dying violently for no real reason, except that somebody else is angry and takes it out on us in a lethal fashion. The universe itself is clearly indifferent to any individual’s existence.

Hey, that’s a nice Merry Christmas Eve, fella!

That’s not the point, that’s the background. In a universe that is indifferent we have a need to connect ourselves to others who care. And so in this age of the internet, with the illusion of connection to everybody else alive and staring at their phones, we send out our beacon to find others who might have suffered the same things we have, who might care, who might benefit from our thoughts and feelings if we can set them out clearly.

At this moment in history when American deaths of despair have reached these terrible proportions, when millions of isolated people have literally given up on the idea of love, kindness, companionship, decency and fair treatment, voices of calm, voices of reassurance, are so important.

When I write, I feel a connection to people I have never met. It is in part an illusion, since few people ever read these words, but the connection is also real. These posts take on a kind of life, they can be read anytime, they can be found when you might need to find something like them and derive some sense of comfort from knowing that somebody else has gone through things very similar to what you have gone through.

It may comfort you to know that you are not the only person who spent childhood in a senseless war zone, trying to make peace with an insanely implacable foe, and although you are wounded and scarred by this kind of upbringing, it doesn’t have to destroy you.

It may comfort you to know that if you love doing something very much, writing for example, if you do it every day you will get better and better at it. I don’t know that I have much native musical talent, but after half a century of loving to play music I’m a very good self-taught instrumentalist.

Love really is all you need, it makes the world go round. Lack of love is responsible for every terrible mistake that humans make, certainly every act of violence. Loving what you do is a net good. Spend some time everyday doing what you love, you will not regret it.

Thanksgiving and waking up from a bad dream

We all have many things to be grateful for on Thanksgiving, even if the Thanksgiving story we tell our children is probably mostly bullshit.  Yes, local Native Americans may have shown up with gifts and taught the Pilgrims how to survive the winter in the New World (which was to the natives just the world).   Yes, there may have been generosity shown toward the extreme religious fanatic Puritan Europeans.  The rest, as they say, is history.  A history that can only make us feel bad (as fact deniers always insist), so let us feel good about the things we, personally, have to be thankful for.

When you wake up from a bad dream and see that you are still there, unharmed, that it was only a dream, it is a great relief.  You can feel the well-being of waking from a nightmare throughout your body.  Like you dodged a bullet.   Damn thing could have killed me!   But it didn’t, thank God, it was only a dream.  You wake up to a better day as you shake off the bad dream.

Sometimes things we love in our lives, relationships that go back many years, curdle, turn poisonous.  You try your best to fix them, maybe try beyond the point of reason sometimes.  When you see you can’t fix it, that your efforts to resolve the conflict are not being reciprocated in any way — it is time to stop trying to fix it.  You can only do your part, when there are others involved.  If you do your part and still face hostility, denial, anger and blame then accept the proof that something that was once easy, and fun, and mutually beneficial, is not that way any longer.   Otherwise there will be hard work, on your end, and then, when you’ve done that hard work, even harder work, and after that, harder work still.   At a certain point you have to admit defeat, you cannot change what cannot be changed.  Wake up and smell the future.

The future smells different, something familiar that you loved very much is gone.  This is a sadly familiar human reality, it happens with every death of a loved one, happens to us all and to those we must leave.  Since change is the only constant in life, do not mourn those painful things you have to let go while everyone is alive, beyond the initial period when you are processing the sadness of a death during life.  It is a tragedy, yes, but no worse than a terrible dream, if you have truly done everything in your power to fix what is unbearably broken.  

If you want a little sweetness to make the bitter medicine go down easier, consider that all real growth is accompanied by pain, or at least great discomfort.   You have passed the point of discomfort into pain, and have continued forward with good will in spite of the cost to youself.  Be consoled by your effort and don’t fault yourself for not doing the miraculous.  You exerted yourself to your limits and that is more than most people do.   Take comfort from that.

Part of gratefulness, I think, is recognizing that it is good to finally see a terrible thing you have been unwilling or unable to see for a long time and accepting it as it actually is.  You sleep better once you make peace with something that seems too horrible to imagine.  Better sleep leads to only good things.  Like more gratefulness.


Worth thinking about, obvious as it also is:

You deserve friends who make you laugh, feel loved, comfort you when you need comforting, accept your limitations and quickly work out any problems with you when they see you are unhappy.   You deserve friends who always give you the benefit of the doubt, who accept when they’ve hurt you and always do their best to make amends and not let you sit in pain.  You deserve friends who return your best efforts at kindness and friendship with their own best efforts.   We all deserve that. 

We are lucky when we find real friendship and should remember to be grateful for every day of it.  Friendship should never be taken for granted, it is mortal, just like us.

The necessity to lie

There are some relationships that can only be maintained by agreeing to lie, omit, reframe, delete, deny, pretend.  I mean ones where this agreement is a prerequisite for the relationship itself.  I have been forced to oblige in some cases, with my father and a few other close family members

It was always hard for me, but it is unsustainable now, the requirement that I continue to suppress my true feelings to maintain the illusion of love.  Maybe it’s my artistic fucking temperament, I don’t know.  Understanding my feelings and dealing with them is of supreme importance to my life.  My health suffers, my sleep turns unrestful, if the requirement of a relationship is pretending that I’m wrong to feel whatever it is I am feeling, no matter how precisely and reasonably I can describe those feelings.  

Beyond that, we all know in our hearts that a feeling itself cannot be wrong.  It is truly what we feel, whether we deny it or embrace it.  We may feel hurt based on a misunderstanding sometimes, and it’s always a relief to work that out afterwards when it happens that way, but the hurt we felt is just as real, even after we understand we felt that way based on an incomplete understanding.  The feeling itself often disappears once we learn more about why we felt hurt.  A mistaken feeling can be neutralized by the trutha beautiful thing.

Pain, unbearable, terrifying pain, causes people to lie.  I understand that.  Shame and humiliation cause people to blame others for their pain.  I’ve seen it up close, when I was too hurt to see anything else.  It is a bad place to be. Doing it reflexively is a childish way to live

To me, reducing the world to this flat, dry, one choice right or wrong place is a kind of death.   My father stated it succinctly and poignantly, hours before he died “if only I hadn’t seen the world as black and white, winners vs. losers.  I think now of how much richer my life would have been if I’d allowed myself to see all the colors, all the nuance of this beautiful world.”   The poor guy was dead a few hours after expressing this.  More tragic words are hard for me to conjure at the moment.

The personal, of course, is also political.  If you defer to tyrannical demands in your personal life — act like you were never hurt, no matter what — you will be apt to do the same when it comes to political choices.  You compensate by pretending to be the hardest hard-ass in the world.  You accept one lie and the next, and feel righteous in your anger, blaming others for complicated mutual dilemmas.  You can wear a red baseball cap and passionately claim that the elected president is a fraud, an imposter, a lying puppet of some sick, dangerous people.  And your life is great, because you’re not a fucking loser.

The demand that you deny your own feelings launches you directly into an incoherent, intellectually indefensible world.  Everything becomes a reflex to deny, oppose, prevail.   Accede to this demand, accepting as true the opposite of what you deeply feel, and you cease to exist as an agent of your own heart.  You were hurt?  YOU WERE NOT! You are confused?   NO, YOU ARE NOT.  You feel misunderstood?   NO, YOU DO NOT.  In the end everything you feel is reframed to something else, all problems are yours alone and can only be resolved by pretending they’ll resolve themselves if you ignore them.  Does it make sense?  Who cares?  

To which an artistic, self-expressing fuck like me can only say “fuck that.”   It is no way to live.  You can do it short term, to weather some emergency, maybe, but as a long-term plan for love or friendship, it sucks its own crusty ass. 

What history remembers, and why

The incomparable Heather Cox Richardson, doing what she does best:

On October 8, 1871, dry conditions and strong winds drove deadly fires through the Midwest. The Peshtigo Fire in northeastern Wisconsin and parts of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula burned more than 1.2 million acres and 17 towns, claiming between 1,500 and 2,500 lives. The Great Chicago Fire burned 3.3 square miles of the city, destroying the wooden structures that made up the relatively new town, killed about 300 people, and left more than 100,000 people homeless.

The Peshtigo Fire is the deadliest wildfire in U.S. history.

The Chicago Fire is the one people remember.

The difference is in part because Chicago was a city, of course, easy for newspapers to cover, while the Pestigo fire killed people in lumber camps and small towns. But the Great Chicago Fire also told a political story that fit into an emerging narrative about the danger of organized labor.

It was not clear, coming out of the Civil War, how Republicans would stand with regard to workers. After all, the U.S. government had fought the war to protect the right of every man to enjoy the fruits of his own labor. But immediately after the war, workers had started organizing to demand adjustments to the wartime financial policies that favored men with money. By 1866 the Democratic Party had begun to listen to them, and leaders called for rewriting the terms of the Civil War debt, which had been generous to investors in the days when they were a risky investment. After the war, with the U.S. secure, the calculations changed, and Democrats charged that investors had gotten too good a deal.

Republicans were horrified at the idea of changing the terms of a debt already incurred, and added to the Fourteenth Amendment the clause saying, “The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.”

They were also concerned when more than 60,000 people came together in August 1866 to launch the National Labor Union, calling for the government to level the playing field between workers and their employers. They asked for an eight-hour day, an end to monopolies, and cooperation between Black and white workers. In 1867, in what was almost certainly a misquoted comment, stories spread that Republican lawmaker Benjamin Franklin Wade of Ohio had told an audience in Kansas that “property is not equally divided, and a more equal distribution of capital must be wrought out.”

Love without right action

Love without right action is as useless as an expensive friendship card with a handwritten note expressing how important your love is.

Right action reassures those we love of our intentions. We take immediate steps when we see they’re hurt, to comfort them, to protect them.

Love that can’t listen patiently but jumps in to interrupt and object, defensive, deflecting, anticipating hurt, is not the kind of love that can heal anybody’s hurt.

You can declare your love with a torrent of heartfelt words, and with complete sincerity, but only love you demonstrate by compassionate action is worth more than an expensive Hallmark card and an impressively pricey token made of gold.