Nonnegotiable Time

Neko Case, a the vocalist in cult band “The New Pornographers,” is one of one hundred artists, entrepreneurs and writers interviewed for “In the Company of Women,” a surprisingly unsappy coffee table book. 

Pictured above is what she had to say about time and making it to make art. I agree. 

Digital Chips

During a dinner where cellphones made an unwelcome appearance, a good friend recommended Dave Egger’s “The Circle.” It’s a 1989-type cautionary tale about Big Internet set in a mirror version of San Francisco. 

The quote above sums it up, although the characters and plot make it worth a beach read. And, it’s no doubt good to be reminded that social media feeds an emptiness that can only be filled by real human interactions, ocurring without the constant need to affirm their occurence. Does everyone on the known universe really need to know we had a taco for lunch? Does telling the world make the taco better? Or does the telling just distract from the actual, real, delicious, ephemeral taco? 

There is a deep contradiction in an indivualistic, progress-driven culture that at the same time is consumed by social media, which is built on caring what the other thinks.  Eventually this contradiction drives an inner wedge. 

One of my favorite quotes of all time comes from the always cheerful Sartre: “L’infer, c’est l’autre.” “Hell is the Other.” To live as individuals swayed by what the Other likes or hearts or stars is no life, because, of course, there is no Other. There is the One, multi-manifested in six billion human minds and hearts. 

The emptiness of virtual interactions comes from the illusion they give of real connection between apparently separate individuals. But true connection is derived from realizing there is no separate. 

In any event, “The Circle” will be a movie so we can all tweet our thoughts. 

Steinbeck Uni

As with sea urchin, it is tempting to lap up good books in an unsighly way: devouring page after page, mouthfuls at a time, no napkin to dab. 

But, as with sea urchin, it is also hard not to stop and savor a really good book right before you gulp it whole. 

To pause at its greatness, it’s complexity, it’s slimy, mucous texture and refined, unapologetic taste. 

The morcel above left me stunned for a few hours this afternoon, unable to read more; it sent me back to normal life with secret knowledge inside. 

And as with sea urchin, good books beckon you back. So, here I am, ready to smack my lips with more. 

Post Partum

For months I’ve considered embarking on my third book of poems. And for months I have not. 

I finally know why: the emptiness that “one feels when one has finished a piece of work that was important to one.”

This is not a small emptiness; it is a big one. Sure, one can decide to promote the hell out of the book and keep it alive. But book parties and book planning are not the same as book writing. They are the opposite, rather, the antithesis. 

What I enjoy is the book writing. But book writing is a self-eliminating process. The more you write a book, the closer you are to finishing it. And once there are no more words to sculpt, the book is gone. 

At first the emptiness was bigger. What Herman Hesse writes in his book, “Narcissus and Goldmund” is true. The emptiness passes, is passing. Perhaps it is time for another bellyful of book. 

Without Fear or Favor

I just spent ten days marveling at Asia. But, despite the magic of travel, no trip I’ve taken has ever been tinged with such sorrow.

Every morning for the past ten days, I read an entire physical, newspaper. Could the news be sadder than it is now? Gay men shocked to death in Chechnya, one hundred thousand people detained in Turkey, another blasphemy killing in Pakistan, another Russian journalist beaten dead, millions of refugees swallowed by the muds and sands of Bangladesh, Lebanon, Jordan, Sudan, a river disappears in Canada, one hundred young recruits blown up in Afghanistan, the total collapse of Venezuela, the sixth year of holocaust in Syria.

Putin, Assad and his pretty-faced wife, Maduro, Kony. The extermination wrought by this short list of names is too much to bear.When asked by a television reporter about the reports of gay men disappearing, dying, Chechen leader Kadyrov responded that the reports were false because there were no gay men in Chechnya, no people “oriented in the wrong way.”

And then there’s Trump, whose full frontal attack on Planned Parenthood and climate change may be the greatest crime against humanity in the news today. No lush diplomatic cake with China can sweeten the smog away.

When you do the math, there is no addition, only subtraction, division. Poverty and violence swallow entire countries whole. To write, and read, “Without Fear or Favor,” as The Japan Times proudly claims to do, is a privilege of the insufficient few.

Apart from donating, voting and speaking out, staying informed is its own form of protest, of empathy. But serious newspapers are suffering as free (often fake) news gains traction. So, today, I decided to subscribe to a few major national newspapers. The New York Times, for example, is on sale. For $1.50 a week you can read every article on their site. The Washington Post gives you unlimited access for $99 a year. A small price to pay to make sure someone is watching.