My friend Hubert Selby Jr. used to try and get me to see how obvious it is that the concept of left includes the concept of right, that you can’t have up without down or pleasure without pain, or the concept of bad if you have the concept of good.
He helped me to learn to be grateful for it all, to accept the oneness of the whole deal, the fact that it’s all energy anyway, including us.
But still, it’s only human (he used to say “You’re just a people Michael” when I’d get down on myself for doing something I regretted or not doing something I thought I should have been able to or been better at etc.) to want things to be “good” all the time, events, people, the day, the week.
This week wasn’t necessarily more special than any other, but it just felt really good. Another thing it took me decades to understand, that even if the world is going through turmoil (when isn’t it?) and times look tough (when don’t they? at least in some ways) it’s possible to be happy, and vice versa.
As a lot of people do, I used to think my happiness depended on outside stuff, if I got that book published or won that prize or got that woman to fall for me or got that publicity or won that role or had enough to pay the rent for a year, let alone next month, etc.
But eventually, with the help of lots of books I read and many friends, including Selby, I understood that I could wake up one morning to a world exactly the same as the day before, and to circumstances exactly the same, yet feel differently. One morning happy, one morning not.
That was when I finally got that it depends on my relationship to those events and circumstances etc, what my perspective is and what I choose to do about the day, rather than the outside stuff.
So this past week was delightful because I made the choice to enjoy every bit of it and the world somehow seemed to compliment that choice.
It started with me meeting my friend RJ Eskow for dinner in Manhattan at an Irish restaurant near Penn Station (to make it convenient for me, which was generous of RJ).
Catching up in person instead of from across the continent was very nice, and sharing ideas and feelings and stories with someone who is into and understands and has experienced many of the kinds of things I am and have is always a pleasure.
Then it went right on. I won’t bore you with the details, but they included staying for my 11-year-old son’s tap dance lessons one evening and watching him so enjoy himself getting his intense energy out in such a specific and creative way, as well as watching him at rehearsals for a little rock’n’roll band formed for the variety show at his school.
The band performed Saturday afternoon and sounded, well, the only word for it is, “professional,” They sang and played a Sponge Bob song which they learned over the course of one rehearsal and then refined over a few more rehearsals.
My little guy played the guitar, several chord changes taught to him by my friend Torre, the drummer's and the bassist’s father, an accomplished musician who impressed upon me that my son got the chords he taught him (and my son does not take guitar lessons) after he showed them to him once!
His own sons learned their instruments equally without prior instruction and all three boys pulled it off, as I say, like professionals (with two smaller boys joining in the singing and a piano playing cousin of the bassist and drummer).
To watch my 11-year-old on stage enjoying himself and sharing the gift he has of being able to play music and dance fluidly and un-self-consciously and knowing how much he enjoyed it (afterwards he said “I love performing on stage for people”) erases all the confused homework assignments where the solutions to math problems for a fifth grader are written in some kind of new educational jargon that makes it almost impossible to fathom for me, let alone him, and other school frustrations.
If only there were a school that just catered to young kids’ artistic talents (like an elementary school version of the New York High School of Performing Arts). But given that there isn’t, at least not around here, this was the next best thing.
My heart beats lighter and yet more intensely every time any of my children or grandchildren are doing anything that brings them satisfaction and joy. Or friends for that matter. Or even acquaintances, or entire strangers. The delight I get from watching people experience the satisfaction of accomplishment in any way is one of the true blessings of life, at least my life.
Though I think most humans feel that way and that’s why the arts,—even if just the most popular ones like movies and music—garner so much of human attention. But even sports and politics and other human endeavors can give that same kind of satisfaction and joy to onlookers when someone achieves something that seems to personify the best of the human spirit and capacity for perfection, or as close as is humanly possible.
Anyway, it was a good week. Hope yours was too.
[PS: Here's a video of my son's performance posted to youtube. It was taken by a small camera in the audience so the sound doesn't really capture how good it came across (for instance my son's guitar work is hard to hear, etc.) but it'll give you the idea]