Wednesday, December 30, 2009


This Johnny Depp movie seemed to come and go, but I never felt the urge to see it. I finally got to see it on DVD and now know why. There are a lot of terrific actors in it, and not just the leads. But the direction and writing are a little less than terrific at times.

It's like the movie can't make up it's mind whether to be BONNIE & CLYDE or ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA. There are bits where the soundtrack's lively and almost light and joyful, ala B&C moving the action and the images along like an upbeat song.

Then there's long drawn out scenes where it seems to take every character three or ten times as long to say their lines than it would you or I in real life, or for that matter, screen actors back in the 1930s, the era of The Great Depression that the movie's set in. And we know we're supposed to be taking these slow scenes more seriously because the music underlying them is either incredibly epic, to the point of almost parodying what old Italian-influenced epics used to sound like, or it's Billie Holiday singing on a recording she made after the 1930s.

But why worry about veracity in a film that has John Dillinger (Depp) as the most wanted man in the USA—Public Enemy Number One—get out of his car with a gun in his hand and walk half way across the middle of a street in the midst of dozens of cops holding machine guns and pause while another one of those drawn out scenes is drawn out some more before he turns and walks back to his car and gets in with all these cops and citizens not noticing an armed non-cop who happens to be the most famous and sought criminal of his day etc.

But there's so many great actors in this flick that I still enjoyed watching it and was just sorry that some of them didn't have bigger parts. There are the obvious ones like Stephen Lang, long one of my favorites and he does a great job, ending up with the last words in the flick.

And of course Depp is always fun to watch work even when the writing and direction don't work so well.

And his co-stars Christian Bale and Marion Cottilard are also fun to watch, though their acting styles are almost exact opposites. Bale being best as the stoic handsome man-of-few words. In scenes where he plays that in this film his work is fun to watch. In other scenes where he's trying to maintain a good old boy accent or a 1930s G-man straight shooter posture, he's almost unintentionally funny.

Cottilard on the other hand plays her mob moll character with a lot more range, but because of the direction and writing, in some scenes she seems like a bright new discovery (even though most of us remember her from her awe inspiring Oscar winning role in LA VIE EN ROSE as Edith Piaf) and in others like she's in the wrong movie, at least to me.

But there are many smaller roles in this attempt at an epic, some that work and some that don't (the actor playing Baby Face Nelson is so over the top I thought I was back in O BROTHER CAN YOU SPARE A DIME? only in that movie it works because it's intentional, in PUBLIC ENEMIES it doesn't because it isn't).

I'd like to just mention three undersung film actors who don't work nearly enough, and all of whom I consider friends even though I haven't seen most of them in years.

James Russo—who blew me away the first time I saw him act (before I met him) in the debut run of the stage play EXTREMITIES—has an almost wordless part at the beginning of PUBLIC ENEMIES as an older convict who helps in a breakout but is shot and literally slips away from the other escapees.

Don Harvey's another terrific stage actor who I did a small film with a long time ago and who I first noticed as an actor before I met him in the film CASUALTIES OF WAR. In PUBLIC ENEMIES he has only one small scene with Depp and Cottilard as an anonymous customer trying to get his coat at a nightclub hatcheck stand. But he plays it totally realistically.

And John Michael Bolger, an actor I've known well for years. He has a relatively big part in PUBLIC ENEMIES, in terms of all the character actors. He plays a crooked Chicago detective who persuades "the woman in red"—as we knew her as kids from the legend we grew up with—to give Dillinger up to the cops in the famous scene at the Biograph. Only in PUBLIC ENEMIES she's the woman in orange and white. Bolger plays his scenes so authentically you wish he had a bigger part.

Man, a gangster flick with those three actors in the leads—Russo, Harvey and Bolger—now that I'd pay some money to see. As it is, I had to be satisfied with watching a too-long attempt to recreate a 'thirties gangster flick without a 'thirties feel for the times and the movies of those times.

PS: As for my post-brain surgery progress, well watching this complicated flick was a milestone for me, though the rhythms of it may have seemed even more uneven due to my still recovering to some extent. And I drove my car today for the first time in a few days but my brain wasn't functioning entirely the way it used to. When I got in and started it the radio was on. I had my friend Sue with me and it was too much stimuli so I turned the radio off. Only I pushed the wrong button (I drive a Prius which is run by buttons) and turned the car off instead, missing the radio button by many inches (and the starter is a big round one the size of a half dollar, while the radio one is a slim little rectangle, not easy to mistake them, which I didn't, my mind just confused what I intended). So, life goes on, interestingly and carefully and joyfully and mildly confusingly.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


This is a great family time, despite all the challenges and usual family problems that most of us face. So I thought I'd share a little beyond my children to my immediate progeny (all of whom have been in my apartment for the past few days, the first time all my kids and grandkids have been with me without their spouses etc.) and beyond.

So first of all, here's a holiday take from my slightly younger cousin Kathi, who has tried to comment on some recent posts and couldn't get it to happen, so I thought I'd quote an e mail she sent me that gives a different version of some of my Christmas stories (she and her sister lived with my Uncle Lydie (full name Michael Lydon Lally) and my Aunt Peggy and my Irish immigrant grandparents down the street from my family's house, where there were six siblings still living including my dear departed sister Joan and next door four cousins that included David, who would become another cop in the extended family):

"Hi My Cool –

If you have forgotten, your Uncle Lydie’s favorite story about your toddler years concerned him dubbing you 'Mike' and you responding to him with your hands on your hips: 'My’s not Mike…My’s My Cool.' I always thought that was so cute because I didn’t know you as a toddler – not yet a sparkle in my dad’s eye - and very appropriate…a harbinger, since I always thought you were the coolest being on the planet. I have been reading your blog and keeping up with your recovery. Amazing how you can now and have been able to analyze your thought processes and intuitive reactions, every day improving. See? Still the coolest guy on the planet. Perhaps someday you will collect all of the blog entries to publish. In addition to the assist such a book might help creative persons figuring out the paths of creativity, it could also help anyone who might be facing their own fear of upcoming surgery. I’m sure the medical industry would be interested in such a book as well.

I have tried [many times] to respond in 'comments' to your blog, but alas…either I am hopelessly technically deficient, or my security system is too damn vigilant. I’ve been crazed with Christmas plans – shopping, wrapping, making fudge and other candies, planning the trip to Connecticut, packing, yadda yadda… and should have responded to your blog sooner via email – but here I am now, so very happy that this brain surgery was successful and not fraught with bad news. I was one of those 'pray every moment' people when Irene told me you were in a bit of trouble.

Reading the last two blog entries about Christmas prompted me to write now – because your memory of standing in the cold waiting for the trees to be bought or donated reminded me of what I like to call the years of insane Christmases on Hixon Place. There was the 'year of the ice skates' when Mickie and I came down to discover brand new white sparkling skates under the tree – only to discover them gone the next day, replaced by hand-me-downs. In Mickie’s case, they were Joan’s gently used ones…and in my case, David’s black hockey skates – hardly used. It seems that your dad had someone in town that 'needed' the new ones more than we did. Hahahha!! Then there was the 'year of the sleds' – where we both saw brand new sleds under the tree – and then they were gone – replaced by our old sleds – painted up to look new. And the year of the 'kitten' which was brought in late Christmas Eve because the only pet grandma would allow was a 'ratter'. The damn thing sprung out of the Christmas tree and attached itself with its little deadly claws to my face. We remember these and other crazy things each year, but not with bitterness or envy, or even a sense of umbrage. We laugh heartily about it all, [a very consistent Lally trait through all the generations] trying to imagine what was going on in our parents’ inner life. They were bizarre, bawdy, and fun and also malfunctioning alcoholics that loved each other passionately yet fought like vipers. Christmas just brought out all of those traits. The piece of my life I am most grateful for is getting to know my father sober for 20 years before he died – and my mother sober for 9 years before she died.

Speaking of this particular Christmas, it was lovely. How can Christmas not be lovely in Brookfield CT, home of Mickie’s youngest, Patrick, his wife Susan, and their two spectacular kids? We went to an afternoon Mass Christmas Eve to watch the youngest grands [John Michael’s kids] in their pageant. Michael Lydon, 4, was one of the three Kings and John Peter, 5, was the innkeeper that had room in his stable. Soooo cute. Everyone was there with the exception of Joseph and his new bride Carrie, who traveled to Kansas to Carrie’s family.

I am still praying for you and I pray that this new year, 2010, brings you even more inner peace. It is wonderful to read how Cait and Miles are helping you in your recovery. How blessed you are to have such caring and loving children. Keep up the good work.


And then this morning I got turned on to another family goodie by my older son who got his 11-year-old boy to show me a little Youtube video he, my grandson, made, so I share that here too, a little grandfatherly chest puffing. (That's his father's, my older son's, classic shoebox Ford in the snow in the early shots.)

Monday, December 28, 2009


I notice I also get tired a lot more easily since the brain surgery. Which has allowed me to skip things that seem too tedious, like articles I'm reading etc. Quite a liberation since I have always had a reading compulsion that made me need to read every word from the front cover of a book to the back cover, or in a magazine etc. Nice to be able to realize I don't want to read something and just stop.

It's like that with a lot of things right now. And for all I know may stay that way, which has its benefits even beyond the one I mention above. Like I watched another DVD sent to me for the awards season, this one of JULIE & JULIA, and like the one for CRAZY HEART, this one skipped too.

But only in two spots and very briefly. In the old days I'd feel compelled to go out and find another copy to see what I missed, but these post-skull-sawed-open days that seems unnecessary. I enjoyed the flick anyway, a lot. I didn't have any problem with the Amy Adams parts as some of my friends did. Although I did prefer the Meryl Streep parts only because as with IT'S COMPLICATED I again found Streep incredibly attractive as Julia Childs!

I don't know if it's the changes in my brain or what, but I never found Streep attractive before. I mean I recognized what others found physically attractive in her and I dug some of her acting, particularly her comic roles, but she just wasn't my type or anywhere near it. But her acting in IT'S COMPLICATED especially, but also in JULIE & JULIA, just made me want to wrap my arms around her and...

Anyway, it's an incredible acting job, and she gets a lot of support from Stanley Tucci playing her slightly unbelievably always loving and understanding husband. But despite the obvious distortions of reality in almost all the characters in this movie, it's still a unique take on relationships, I found, and worth watching if only for that, let alone the Oscar worthy performance by Streep.

Sunday, December 27, 2009


It's been more than six weeks since the brain surgery and the recovery has gone so well I feel almost unworthy of so much good fortune.

But it also seems like a good time to take note of what's still difficult for me, just as a measure of how far I've come but also of how the brain—or at least my brain—reacts to surgery like this and the reason for it.

As anyone who is familiar with this blog from before the surgery knows, I'm an obsessive list maker, especially at night when having some trouble falling asleep or trying to fall back to sleep after being woken up. And many of those lists are alphabetical, because they're the easiest to remember in the morning.

I make lists obsessivley even during the day, common for a lot of poets, because the basic form of many poems is a list in at least some ways, even if only of words.

But, since the operation, that's been different. First of all I've found it much easier to fall asleep and back asleep if I'm woken up. That makes me think that the growth in my brain may have been causing some of my sleep problems interestingly. But second of all, the few times since the operation that I've tried to come up with an alphabet list, I haven't been able to do it! Not even close.

For instance, the other night the back door on this old house my apartment is in was creaking loudly and slamming even more loudly in the wind and rain (fortunately we had a white Christmas before the rain washed most of the snow away). It woke my 12-year-old son up and by the time I got him back to sleep I was wide awake.

So I thought I'd try an alphabet list to help me fall back asleep. I came up with an obvious one (which I've probably done before) of favorite Christmas themed movies. I could only think of three. I expanded it to include movies that just had Christmas in them but was at a loss.

I fell back asleep anyway. But the next day I tried again to come up with more than the initial three and still couldn't.

The whole memory thing is interesting. I notice I don't remember e mails and telephone calls I mean to answer. I don't just forget to answer them, I don't remember getting them. And yet a lot of my memory has remained intact including most short term memory since the operation.

I'm also, as I've been reporting here, still making more than the usual amount of typos when I type and even when I write by hand, and my brain is still having me write different words than I intended to, not typos, not accidents, but distinctly different choices as I've pointed out many times in recent posts.

The same happens when I'm speaking, I'll start to say something and forget entirely what I had intended to say, or will know what I mean to say but can't remember how to say it. I know that these kinds of things happen to everyone at times, but what I'm talking about here are specific problems that I either didn't have before the operation or not to the extent that I do now.

I'm not complaining, just deeply interested in how the brain functions under different circumstances.

There's other stuff too, but my daughter is here with her little girl and my grown son and his wife and little boy are about to arrive at any moment so I'm going to go celebrate a late Christmas with all of them and my little guy now.

Saturday, December 26, 2009


I got carried away with my own rhetoric in that last post. I didn't mean to give the impression I don't dig Christmas. The exact opposite is true. I was just referring to the mixed feelings holidays arouse.

But I love Christmas—or the idea of it and the chance to celebrate that idea again each year—so much that I can listen to some Christmas music anytime. My 12-year-old got in the habit of falling asleep to that Vince Giraldi trio recording of A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS every night, so I fall asleep to its strains as well, or work at my desk to it, or just have it in my head most nights, and I've yet to grow tired of it. The melodies and artistry still give me pleasure after so many repetitive hearings.

I feel the same way about a lot of other classic Christmas recordings, like Nat King Cole's "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire" etc. And I love the lights that people and stores and municipalities put up. And getting a tree (we got ours late this year because of my operation etc. and chose a smaller tree, but my little guy can now carry it and put it up without any help from me!) and decorating it (seeing all the old familiar family heirlooms of family history no matter how broken the families might be or have been, remembering ones now gone, incorporating new ones given as gifts etc.)...

As a matter of fact, it still makes me smile just to think of Christmas and any of its traditions—personal, family, or historical. I know there's other traditions for this time of year that represent the histories of other religions than the Christianity Christmas is based on, and maybe if I wasn't raised an Irish Catholic they would resonate with me similarly.

But maybe not. The giant Channuka candlelabra in the town square where I live just doesn't have the same panache as the fir tree, even this year when the old colored lights have been replaced with a limited set of one-color LED ones to save money and energy. The tree still resonates in ways none of the major religious symbols can because it goes back to an even more ancient tradition or sense of tradition, to a more primitive and basic sense of "holiday" when just the idea of nature represented by these trees was religion enough.

At least that's the way it strikes me. And the other trappings, the music and idea of "peace on earth" and good fellowship and gift giving and taking time off to be with family and friends isn't tied into any specific religious ritual or rite or even belief ultimately, but with a broader concept of what it means to be human in certain seasons and parts of the world, or just in our hearts.

Hopefully that doesn't offend anyone, but even if it does, lighten up. I like the Japanese practical perspective on all this, which basically is—go to the Shinto shrine when a child is born to get the good luck that comes with those rituals and beliefs, get married in a "Christian" ceremony that actually has nothing to do with any Christian beliefs or even traditions but instead with the style and fun of traditional Western weddings with the gowns and feasting and etc., and then when someone dies bring that loss to the Bhuddist temples on the chance that maybe the idea of reincarnation is real...

Our "secular" society, or the supposed secular aspects of it, already has a similarly practical approach to some holidays, including Christmas. Holloween is a strong second, a holiday few realize is related not only to the Catholic tradition of All Souls Day and All Saints Day, but to the even older Celtic New Year. And why should they, since these holidays have become secularized in ways the right deplores but which may just work to "assimilate" all the varying traditions and beliefs into something easy for all the accept.

Friday, December 25, 2009


Yes, and tranquil and easy and nice.

It hasn't always been that way. Nor is it still objectively. But as with most things, it's a matter of attitude.

This hasn't always been the case for a holiday fraught with excess—excess emotion usually from family dysfunction or nostalgic longing or deep disappointment or anticlimactic expectations or social obligations getting in the way of true desires or missed opportunities, but also,thankfully, excess joy and hope and satisfaction from the faces of little ones overwhelmed by the generous bounty of family and friends and even excess love for not just those same family and friends, dysfunctional or not, but for the good cheer and genuine longing for peace that cuts through the commercialism and exploitation, et-you know what-cetera.

I had to work Xmas eve as a kid because my father sold Xmas trees in front of his little home repair shop and someone—me—had to stay for the last stragglers and then wait until midnight when the truck from St. Joe's Orphanage would come for whatever we had left.

And on Xmas Day I worked for the Parks Department when I was a teenager, making sure kids didn't fall through the ice in the always frozen for Xmas in those days (now, rarely, hmmmmm...) duck pond and always snow covered (now also rarely, double hmmmm....) Flood's Hill where kids would try out their new sleds and my job was to make sure no one got hurt including from fights when the tougher kids from Newark and other environs invaded this turf...

By 18 and in love with a beautiful black girl when that wasn't just almost nonexistent but illegal most places in the good old USA, Xmas meant not being able to be with her and her family nor her with mine and getting drunk to drown the sorrow that caused my heart. Later, in the service, more reasons to feel blue on this day, and after that the early poverty of first years of first marriage Xmases with not enough to make it what it might have been (though those Xmases were some of the best I remember, including the gift of W. C. Williams' PATERSON in paperback but nonetheless a treasure for me, so much so I remember the thrill of opening the wrapping paper, which for me and my first wife Lee in those days was the cartoon section of the Sunday paper (a tradition I continued after we split and I raised first our son than son and daughter alone, mostly, and at times in even greater poverty, though there was always something to eat and a place to stay and music to make and dance to and books to write and read and friends to make it all feel joyous (though for the kids there must have been mixed feelings)))...

Right down to the present, it's always meant the sad with the happy, like all reality including the everyday kind. But because this particular day resonates with so much more in the way of expectations for the happy, the sad feels even more deeply difficult to accept. But. But if we—I should say I—can adjust my attitude to accept reality exactly as it is, as I am mostly able to do these days and have for quite a few years, I can surrender my expectations and allow whatever happens to be okay, and then I get to have a Christmas that's easy and tranquil and nice like this one, and to express my gratitude for it (all, especially considering what I've been through these past six weeks since the brain surgery).

Hope the New Year is even easier, more tranquil, and nicer for all.

Thursday, December 24, 2009


The movie I was trying to watch the other night that kept skipping toward the end was CRAZY HEART with Jeff Bridges in the lead.

I was able to get it to skip to the last few minutes of the flick so I know how it turns out, but the climactic scenes before that coda at the end are missing. Nonetheless, I saw enough to know that this is another film for which Bridges should be recognized as one of our greatest and most underrated movie actors.

I've been writing and saying this for decades. I still think he was robbed of many Oscar nominations and wins.

He should have won, for instance, for STAR MAN, one of the greatest film performances ever, especially when you consider that the incremental progress his character makes—as the alien assumes the personality of the human body it has taken over—is shot out of sequence like all, or almost all, movies are. To make such tiny adjustments to the physicality and speech and awareness etc. of that character out of sequence is like Michelangelo painting the Sistine chapel.

Anyway, not to get carried away, but I hate that so many actors who have much less range and consistency, let alone craft, have gotten a lot of attention over the years since Bridges first proved what a great actor he is in THE LAST PICTURE SHOW and ever since.

CRAZY HEART seems created to help him win an overdue Oscar. The story of an over-the-hill (read alcoholic) country singer, it might have critics remembering TENDER MERCIES and PAY DAY, but Bridges makes the sometimes cliched story points in the plot resonate with realism because he embodies this character so completely and fearlessly.

Maggie Gyllenhaal plays the female lead, and even though you can argue with the usual Hollywood age difference (she's thirty as I understand it and Bridges must be close to sixty) she and Bridges are so good they make it work. She's a great match for him, despite the age difference, because she's as great an actor as he is, for my taste, and equally fearless in allowing her characters a physicality that few actors let alone "movie stars" ever do.

Robert Duvall, who also co-produced CRAZY HEART has a small role playing the kind of old codger he was already playing sometimes before he was one. And there are other great performances in this flick as well (though I thought Colin Farrell as a Country Music star was miscast)—but it's Jeff Bridges' movie all the way and he makes it worth every moment of screen time.

No matter how you feel about country music, or stories about alcoholism, or failure-and-redemption, or the life of an "artist" etc.—give this movie a chance and I think you will be not only satisfied by the way it unfolds, but deeply impressed by Jeff Bridges' performance. I hope the awards season voters are equally impressed, because Bridges is so good at being a chameleon and disappearing into his characters he doesn't do that movie star thing where you never forget who you're watching. As a matter of fact, throughout this flick I kept seeing other actors and performers in Bridges, as if I was actually watching Willie Nelson or Chris Christopherson or Chris Cooper etc.

But it was just Bridges being no afraid to evoke the spirit and even the look of someone else, someone possibly even more familiar to most viewers, because Bridges is not worrying about his star status or image.

CRAZY HEART—I wouldn't miss it.

PS: Just to keep current with my progress recovering from brain surgery—it took me a little longer than normal to write the above, because of the more-than-usual amount of typos, but the typos are more obvious and easier to correct and close to what I was doing before the surgery. I also noticed yesterday when writing a note by hand that I made similar mistakes there as well (writing "to" for "so" and "unance" for "nuance" etc.). This experience has left me convinced that most of our troubles come from misunderstandings caused by different "wiring" in our individual brains. Now, what to do about that is the question.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


As my recovery from brain surgery proceeds, and the limitations to my motor and cognitive skills decrease, the clarity and simplicity of my perspective and understanding also, unfortunately, recedes.

I remember that happening after other operations and life threatening situations I've survived. There's always that initial high of enormous gratitude and relief to just be alive. Followed by the kind of focus I've rarely had in my life, which helped me to truly keep things simple, being incapable for that brief period of seeing life in any other way.

The way you see life under those circumstances becomes so clear that most things don't matter much, if at all, except for love and the family and friends you share that love with. I had the feeling, even when I still couldn't read or write after the brain surgery, that the "writing" projects I was working on (always several at a time) should be replaced by a project that came to me and could be done through voice recognition programs or on a CD or DVD recorder. It was crystal clear exactly what that project would be and how I would do it, simplicity itself.

Already I've lost that simplicity of focus. The idea is still in my head, but the clarity is fading and in its place is the usual array of questions, embellishments, other ideas for other projects, more mundane distractions and interruptions and etc.

The simple dailiness of life has taken over. A few weeks ago all I could do pretty much was eat and have a conversation. Yet I felt so happy and grateful, as well as focused and clear, that things that used to mystify me seemed boldly obvious. Now, not so much as I become more aware of more and more.

For instance in the first weeks after the operation I didn't really notice or take into consideration the bookcases full of books scattered throughout my apartment. I couldn't read or not very well and didn't know if I'd ever be able to again so I just didn't think about books, I barely noticed their presence in my apartment let alone life.

The interesting thing was it didn't make me sad or depressed, it actually gave me a certain level of relief and even comfort. Like I said, I had an idea for a book I could dictate into a recorder that seemed like the most important book I could write and also like one that would be "commercial" in ways I've obviously never cared about, or cared to do.

I've always been more into the art than the commerce in anything I've done, even film and TV acting which I thought I was doing almost strictly for the money to take care of my kids and wives and friends etc. but in the end couldn't even do that in a very commercial way but instead would get tripped up by my desire to create something new rather than what the powers-that-be were demanding.

But now I'm reading almost normally again, and just yesterday I noticed my books again in that old way, as art objects and signs of my personal history with deep meaning and resonance just in the printing on their spines, and I felt a deep desire to pick them up, randomly, and look at their covers or open arbitrarily to any page and read a few lines and savor the language and the feel of the book and the design and the memories of what the book is about and what it has meant to me over the years and the connections to other books and friends who gave them to me or wrote them or loved them etc. etc. etc.

A very rich experience indeed, and one I wouldn't want to trade for where I was a few weeks ago for sure, but still, I miss the kind of focus people call "tunnel vision" that I've seen over the years in friends who have achieved their goals often on a higher level (in terms of worldly success and recognition) partly if not mostly because they were able to have that kind of "tunnel vision" focus where I wasn't.

Not complaining just observing, because I was happy and grateful for that simplicity and clarity and focus of a few weeks ago, but I am also happy and grateful for the return of my myriad interests and loves and ideas for future projects. As the popular cliche goes—and one which I normally dismiss in my head as just that, a cliche, but today I see as nonetheless mostly true—it's all good.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


Tried to watch a movie I got in the mail all the way through late tonight (actually last night now) and just in the last few scenes it started skipping, returning to the beginning of the flick. Frustrating. So I just spent a half hour trying to get it to work and finally gave up. Another problem unrelated to my brain surgery.

But earlier in the day I drove for only the second time since the surgery, only this time all alone (the first time a friend drove with me just in case). I haven't been listening to the radio when driving with others, too much going on and since the surgery I like it one thing at a time where possible.

But I thought I'd turn the radio on in the parking lot to catch the weather and then I couldn't remember how to work the radio! In a car I've been driving for several years. Could not for the life of me figure it out. I was getting more and more frustrated, feeling almost like I was being tricked, or punked I guess my 12-year-old would say.

I gave it up and tried again when I got back home and was parked there. Same problem until just before giving up I realized there were buttons for the radio on my steering wheel and I tried them and bingo, it worked and I remembered then how I used to control the stations and volume etc. It all came back and suddenly seemed so obvious.

Like so much of my experiences lately.

Sunday, December 20, 2009


After the snow storm yesterday and last night, it looked like a Christmas card out there today. I couldn't resist taking a stroll through our little village with the idea of doing some holiday shopping.

I went into two little stores, one that sells only things made out of recycled materials, like coasters from the center of old 33rpm records, and another that sells artsy odds and ends which seem pretty unique.

In the first store there was Christmas music playing—Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons singing "I Saw Momma Kissing Santa Claus" in that falsetto voice of his that only a tough Italian kid from Jersey could have gotten away with back then—and four or five customers in a very small shop.

I circled the tiny place looking to see if there was something I might get someone and found one little item and then after going through the whole store decided on another I had seen. But when I tried to find it I couldn't, and as two of the customers paid for their merchandise and one of them took a cell phone call and the music changed and I kept circling the room unable to find this item, I began to feel overwhelmed by it all. I focused on one thing until the other customers left and then asked the store owner to help me find what I was looking for.

In the next shop, just as small if not smaller, there were even more customers, but the music wasn't as distracting and I was able to grab a few small items quickly and a young woman asked if I wanted them wrapped before I even took them to the counter. But as she was wrapping them and I was paying I realized I wouldn't be able to remember what was in them so I borrowed a pen to write names on each one but then stopped because I couldn't remember who I had intended to give them to!

I left there anxious and exhausted and went back to my apartment feeling like I needed a nap. So, not entirely recovered. But still, the reading is almost back to where it was, and writing this has been a lot easier than it was just a few days ago, and I made it through the day with my 12-year-old here this evening with two classmates and another on the phone finishing up a project due in school tomorrow morning and I'm alive and cancer free with almost all my faculties intact, so still feeling enormously grateful and very lucky.

Saturday, December 19, 2009


Yeah, I know, I can't believe I watched it either. Especially after I've been saying that since the brain surgery I don't want to watch heavy, melodramatic, take-themselves-too-seriously kind of movies. But they sent it to me and I was alone and had watched everything else I've gotten to date so...

But afterwards I had to see something else to sort of clean the palate of my post-brain-surgery mind, and luckily FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL was just starting on TCM (how brilliant of Turner Classic Movies to see that FOUR WEDDINGS is already a "classic"). I remember decades ago when the movie CHINATOWN first opened, I was living in DC and went to see it with a bunch of friends. Afterwards I talked them into following it up with another new movie that had just opened, the Hollywood musical classics compilation THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT! I don't know how my friends felt about it, but it helped me avoid some nightmares that night.

Same with FOUR WEDDINGS after seeing PRECIOUS, the full title of which they kept using at the recent Golden Globes announcement ceremony—PRECIOUS: BASED ON THE NOVEL PUSH BY SAPPHIRE. Maybe one of the reasons I could take PRECIOUS was that I had read PUSH when it first appeared in excerpt form in THE NEW YORKER, I also knew Sapphire as a poet and read last Spring with her at that Bowery Poetry Club Hollywood-themed benefit. When Sapphire reads from PUSH, she really pushes the words and dialect and accent so they're more pronounced than in the film, as are the rhythms and the graphic scenes, which makes it an unforgettable experience.

Knowing what to expect, the film was less graphic than I'd anticipated, which helped me watch it, though there were a few moments when I was tempted to turn it off. It's not like I, or any of us (maybe I should say many of us) don't know about the kinds of horrific realities PRECIOUS addresses. But what's the point of bringing horrible stuff up in a movie or any work of art? If it's sensationalism, well, sometimes that can work in a way that adds more to our understanding despite the manipulative and exploitative aspects, especially if we approach the work of art with the expectation of sensationalism.

But if it's presented as an attempt to create a unique work of art, and it's about pain and misery and hardship and oppression and brutality and ignorance and prejudice and etc.—all things most of us know pretty well from at least the news if not our own lives—it has to be done in a way that brings something new to the mix.

PRECIOUS does that, at times. And the attempt to do that, to create a unique work of art, is obvious. Director Lee Daniels tries hard to make this horrendous but ultimately affirmative story work in a way we haven't quite seen before. There are moments in the film that are brilliantly original, but there are also moments that are totally cliched, obviously borrowed from older films that dealt with some of these issues like brutality and sexual and physical violence, or classroom situations or angel-of-mercy types, etc.

But Daniels and screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher give everything enough of a twist to make the overall experience of the film unique. The circumstances of the protagonist alone does that—i.e. Gabourey Sidibe, the "unknown" actress who plays the obese, very dark-skinned, teen aged initially functionally illiterate girl. Obviously we haven't seen a Hollywood movie starring anyone quite like her, though we've seen aspects of this character in recent decades.

I must admit I can't stop replaying scenes from it in my mind which is a sign, for me, of having had a really intense movie experience. I loved Sidibe and only hope Hollywood finds more roles for her and she doesn't become a one movie phenomenon. And I can see why Mo'Nique is getting nominated (my typing has improved enormously over the past few days but as an example of my post-op brain having it's own intentions I first typed "nominationed") and Oscar buzz and making critics' "best-of-the-year" lists. Though Daniels lets her down I think in the last few moments of her last scene in the movie, making it a little too obvious and melodramatic. But up until then, she gives one of the most amazingly intense performances in movie history. Frightening and repulsive, yet compelling.

There are other surprising performances as well, including one by Mariah Carey, an uneven attempt but I blame the director for that, and despite the sometimes wrong choices there are enough perfectly acted moments in her characterization of what looks like a completely make-up free social worker to deserve accolades. Lenny Kravitz does a good job in a small role as well, and lots of others.

But the entire film is uneven, with some things working and some not. And that uneveness is not to be taken lightly. But in the end I have to say I'm glad I saw it, and I applaud the effort the director and everyone else made to bring such an unlikely work to the screen pretty plausibly and in many ways originally.

PS: And, I might add, I'm grateful that I was able to watch it and understand it, even getting a lot of the more nuanced bits (though it's not a very nuanced movie for the most part) and not feel overwhelmed by it in the ways I have been post brain surgery. Either another sign of my rapid recovery, or an indication that the the way the film was made kept it accessible and obvious enough for me to take it all in.

Friday, December 18, 2009


Five weeks today since my brain surgery, and it's amazing how far I've come.

Some of the highlights for me:

The day of the operation, being told later that as soon as I was wheeled into the recovery room, I sat right up and began talking instead of taking the usual hour or more to slowly come out of the effects of the anesthesia. High from the drugs I was saying things like "I can see the atoms in your hand" and "I can feel your thoughts" to my family and friends who were there.

Later that evening and the next morning I was overwhelmed by the joy of being alive and by the work of kinetic art I could see out the window of the recovery room—a view of a portion of the East River with tugboats and other vessels working their way up and down it including under the Triborough Bridge and the overhead trams going back and forth to Roosevelt Island, part of which was also visible (I'm pretty sure, though at the time I could not name anything and felt I was looking out at a scene in Europe).

Those first days in my hospital room where my capacity for speech seemed "normal"—despite my inability to remember certain words and basic math and directions or telephone numbers etc. And the mix up with the hospital room phone because we talked the nurses into letting me take a room with no roommate the first night and then chose the bed nearest the bathroom instead of the one assigned to me so people calling either got no answer or the wrong patient when I finally got a roommate (two different ones over the five days I was in the hospital).

Coming home to my apartment and spending time with my 12-year-old son and my grown daughter and son and daughter-in-law and grandson. Eating hot, home-cooked meals made by my daughter or daughter-in-law or grown son or friend Sue who all cared for me during the first weeks night and day, and others who dropped off food almost every day, and digging these meals more than I ever had (craving, as I still do, warm home cooked meals to anything else now, no more of the daily salads I ate for lunch or microwaved frozen food etc.)

Sitting happily enjoying just being alive in between eating or visiting with someone during the early days when I couldn't do much anything else.

Being overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support from around the country and even the world. Family and friends getting their church congregations and temples to pray for me, or entire convents full of nuns in one case. Feeling humbled and almost embarrassed by the attention and concern.

The first time I could read something, even if just simple directions on the hospital room wall, then reading at home an entire paragraph in a magazine but only able to read it out loud, not silently to myself. Then being able to do that too. Until now, I can read THE NEW YORKER with only the occasional need to reread a word or phrase and even that, this morning, seems to be almost gone (though I do tire more quickly from any of this).

The first movie I could watch all the way through and completely understand and not feel overstimulated or made anxious by—THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY.

The first TV show I could watch all the way through and enjoy—an episode of 30 ROCK, which as I pointed out at the time I had found the humor of a little too broad and obvious before the operation. The first time I could watch THE DAILY SHOW, only a few days ago, whereas before it was too layered in irony and Jon Stewart's presentation too rapid in his physical and vocal and intellectually nuanced interpretations despite the obvious broadness on the surface of his humor.

The first time my brain began to see whatever I looked at as one continuous reality and not a fragmented disparate collection of visceral data too complex and multiple to comprehend or deal with.

The day I got the reproductions of art by Fairfield Porter and Picabia that so mesmerized me with their beauty I felt overwhelmed with joy that I was capable of not only seeing them as complete and whole works of art instead of as atomized pieces of color and texture etc. but that I was able to just dig them as the creative bounty they represented that I thought for awhile might be denied me in my new mental state.

The first time I could listen to music and not feel disturbed by the separation of the musical elements in my brain—a multiplicity of dissonant notes and sounds and parts of sounds etc.—but instead could experience it as a continuous, integrated, complete and comprehensible musical experience.

There's more, but this is getting way too long for a blog post (as I guess is often the case with me, though not in previous weeks when I was struggling just to be able to write anything coherently) so let me end with this: being able to write this much without needing to make endless corrections on almost every word, but instead feeling that I'm ninety per cent back to "normal" with my typing this morning, light years beyond what I could do just a few days ago, let alone weeks.


Thursday, December 17, 2009


Like I've been saying, I'm a very lucky man. Today the neurosurgeon agreed. He told me he'd always remember me as a very lucky patient, maybe his luckiest. The way my particular problem manifested itself made it pretty unusual, and it seemed almost miraculous that it hadn't spread to the rest of my brain and that almost five weeks after surgery I'm on the path to being totally recovered.

I'm typing this after a long day. I'm tired and I'm making mistakes I have to correct pretty regularly, but nowhere near as many as I was making just days ago. And only a few weeks ago it would have taken me a half hour or much more to write a short post (mostly rewrite, over and over again to correct the errors).

Pretty much all my faculties are working almost normally. I do get tired more easily, and I still mistype too many words when I write, I still feel overwhelmed around too many people or too much stimuli.

But I can read and write (even if not as much or for as long) and I can listen to most music and watch most movies and TV shows and appreciate more than ever the art I love and most of all the people I love, which turns out to be even more, a lot more, than I even knew.

And despite the problems that this challenge created and the ones that were there before the brain surgery and still are or the new ones that might, well probably will, present themselves, as I keep saying—I'm an awfully lucky guy.

(Just watched two black-and-white 1940s Hollywood flicks on TCM—CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT and HOLIDAY AFFAIR—that probably evoked that last phrase, or the language of it, and made me smile a lot and be grateful for all that there is in this world and life to supply us with so much joy, especially this time of the year, despite the sometimes sad memories and current difficulties and probable struggles to come.)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


I've never been crazy about negativity including in films. But since my brain surgery, I have an even stronger aversion to the darkness that so many critics and academics and "intellectuals" seem to thrive on and celebrate.

I've written about this before (but finding the post and linking to it is too difficult for me right now, though I address it in the BOOKWORM radio interview there's a link to toward the top right of this blog page), that one of the best examples is the critical treatment of William Burroughs and Jack Kerouac. Misogynist Burroughs, who shot his wife between the eyes in an attempt to shoot a cocktail glass off her head (the way I heard it) and glorified cynicism and elitism and all kids of negativity, was adored by critics and academics and supposed avant-gardists while Kerouac with very few exceptions until very recently was dismissed as some kind of sentimental primitive, even though he had an enormously bigger impact on writing in general let alone on the course of cultural history, and had a much deeper and more realistic (i.e. unsentimental) perspective on so many more aspects of social and political and intellectual and spiritual life in mid-20th Century, so much so that a lot of his perceptions are only now being recognized for their impact and accuracy.

But the point of this post is to say that since my brain surgery and the changes it has caused, some of which are receding, but many of which are not, I feel that my distaste for cynicism and violence, especially in popular culture, has increased to the point of my finding it hard to dig it at all. This has manifested itself most obviously in the films I've been watching in recent days (that I've been sent on DVDs by studios courting voters for the various awards to come in the new year).

FUNNY PEOPLE and BROTHERS are perfect examples of this. There are scenes in FUNNY PEOPLE that are funny, and some that are even poignant or "deep"—but overall, the film came across to me as highly cynical in a way that seemed to be touting an idea of "realism" that equates soullessness and joylessness with seriousness. A total bummer as they used to say in the '60s when there was more joy in the midst of a pointless war for which civilians were being drafted and killed in numbers that dwarf those of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan combined, and when on top of that there was the Civil Rights struggle (which produced its own casualties) and much more that made reality less than happy, and yet there was plenty of joy to go around.

In FUNNY PEOPLE, the premise seems to be, yes it's true comedians are really tortured souls who laugh to keep from crying. A point we've seen made before and sometimes illustrated with a story and characters that evokes sympathy and understanding and maybe even some kind of enlightenment. But in this flick which has tons of comics playing roles small and large, but hinges on Adam Sandler's star turn, the FUNNY PEOPLE of the title can't help revealing themselves as just petty envious small-minded self-centered jerks. It's a pity, because the movie is filled with talented comic actors who have given us some of the funniest moments in recent movie history, but in what seems to be an attempt to expose all that as phony and pointless (except for a few caveats here and there and the very last scene) FUNNY PEOPLE makes a point of the pointlessness of it all.

BROTHERS has a much more noble goal, it would seem, and a much more successfully "serious" pedigree, as it's directed by Jim Sheriden and stars a select ensemble cast that includes some terrific performances. Toby MaGuire has already won a Golden Globe nomination for a performance I found too robotic and un-nuanced for my taste (I would have nominated Jake Gyllenhaal who plays his brother in the film and manages to hit almost every note in any great actor's repertoire), and though at first I resisted Natalie Portman's acting as less than impressive, she won me over in the course of the movie, and Sam Sheperd pulls off one of his most memorable screen appearances in years.

But in the end, the violence and dysfunction of the characters and their world (and the underlying "reality" of so much of the pointless violence of the Afghan War and by extension most if not all wars), as well as the tension that creates, made me want to turn the movie off go see a comedy, like what was popular in the '30s that those Great Depression era audiences flocked to—musical comedies and romantic comedies and Hollywood formula boy meets-girl-or more often girl-meets-prince stories that made it seem easy or likely or at least possible to imagine a world where every one lived like the "swells" in "swanky" joints surrounded by nothing but beauty and luxury.

I won't go that far, and of course there were many movies from the 30s that emphasized the tragic aspects of that period (GRAPES OF WRATH) or the proletarian struggles to overcome the tragic whether successfully or not (PUBLIC ENEMY), but at least in this stage of my recovery, I'll take the more fun movie fare like IT'S COMPLICATED, or at least the less melodramatic less operatic approach to the possibly tragic aspect of these times, ala UP IN THE AIR, over the more obviously heavier fare like FUNNY PEOPLE and BROTHERS.

Maybe it's time to watch SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS again.

PS: As you can probably tell, my writing/typing is continuing to improve. Been working on it in "occupational therapy"—but my stamina in terms of writing is still pretty shortlived. Reading however is returning to close to normal, YEAH!, to the point of my picking up some poetry yesterday and reading a few pages. But no matter where I am in my progress, I continue to feel completely accepting of where I am and am grateful for exactly that.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


First of all, I am one lucky person and I know it. I've heard from—and/or of—so many people who have been through brain surgery and had or are having miraculous recoveries (like I feel I am), but also of many struggling to overcome the limitations the surgeries have caused.

Limitations on one's talent(s) or creativity or physical capabilities or capacity for empathy or understanding or intelligence etc. have always interested me. I remember reading once that Irving Berlin, considered by some to have been the most prolific and successful songwriter in American popular cultural history, could only play in the key of C, so in order to write songs in other keys he had a special device created for the piano he composed on—sort of like a giant capo, that little bar that guitarists strap around the neck of their instruments to make it possible for them to transpose songs into keys they could otherwise not play in—so he could continue playing the notes as if in C but thanks to the device they would come out as being in whatever key he chose to set the device to.

Even though I knew that story and others like it, I was still always hard on myself for not living up to some imaginary standard that always seemed to be out of my reach. Then one day I was laying on a couch in a place I was renting in Santa Monica lamenting the loss of Marvin Gaye who had just been shot and killed by his father when I had this epiphany about my musical abilities. I had always judged myself harshly for not being able to play as uniquely and brilliantly as Bill Evans or Thelonious Monk. But suddenly I understood that if I had only mined the musical talent I had and accepted its limitations and worked within them, I might very well have ended up with an equally unique and maybe even brilliant sound.

It seemed so clear I wondered why I hadn't seen it before. But now, recovering from the enormous limitations I started out with after the brain surgery only a little more than four weeks ago, I understand how easy it is to allow natural or imposed limitations to create a sense of frustration and futility when you're constantly comparing yourself to some implied standard either from without or within.

Fortunately, I surrendered pretty completely to whatever the outcome might be from the beginning of this adventure, which I believe may be contributing to my rapid recovery in some ways. Even if just in attitude. And it gives me more insights into transcending any limitations—health, age, experience, expertise or lack of it, etc. I'm not talking about any New Age-y idea of being responsible somehow for calamitous circumstances beyond our control (like many health problems etc.) but rather of realizing and accepting the reality of whatever limitations might be keeping us from accomplishing something in ways we think we have to and instead using those limitations as a means of achieving whatever it might be we're trying to accomplish.

Like me playing piano only in the key of C or limited to certain ways of using chord changes to reinforce the melody line etc. Or using language that's limited to the vocabulary I have access to at any given time (much more limited four weeks ago, and still compared to pre-operation) and making it achieve my aims anyway (Dr. Suess anyone?), etc.

We've all witnessed or heard stories of people who overcome enormous limitations to their physical or cognitive capabilities after car accidents or war injuries or getting hit by lightening etc. All I'm trying to share is my realization that all our limitations of whatever kind or magnitude can be faced the same way, with the idea of using those limitations to create something uniquely ours from simple nuances of personality to entirely new creations of art or science or etc.

And PS: today's typing was yet again improved even from yesterday's, making writing this post the lest difficult yet. Like I said, I know I am one very lucky person.

Monday, December 14, 2009


More therapy—occupational, physical, an evaluation for speech therapy, vision evaluations, etc.—but also every day I feel more "recovered" and back, or hopefully forward, to my old/new self.

Still tough typing, but better. Noticed this morning I wrote "are" for "our" and "to" for "so" etc. That's obviously a cognitive thing not "motor skills" (wrote that first as "stills") since the letters are far apart on the keyboard so obviously my brain is interpreting my directions as something other than I think I'm intending.

But there's motor stuff too as I often hit a letter on a close by key ("f" for "d" etc.), plus my usual two-fingered speed typing mistakes of just transposing letters (typing "throguh" instead of "through") only many more than usual.

But the reading is almost "normal" except for getting tired either mentally or just my eyes. And my capacity to take in more and more without feeling anxious or like the input is too overwhelming.

Unfortunately along with that complexity comes a loss of the simple clarity of those first weeks when everything seemed singularly special and precisely what it was (though the accumulation of these sensations like I said became overwhelming if I didn't confine my experiences to "one thing at a time"—including people etc.

One of the things that strikes me most about being at this point in the recovery of my mental and physical faculties is how peaceful I continue to feel about it all. I used to have something to read—usually a NEW YORKER or a Sunday NY TIMES—with me wherever I went, auditions, the train, doctors' offices, the gym, etc. I'd read on the treadmill, waiting for be seen by a casting director, etc.

I don't do that now. I couldn't for (I first wrote "more"!) most of the past month, and have no interest in doing it still. So when I find myself waiting in the doc's office or for the occupational therapist or whatever, and time is passing, I just close my eyes and let the time pass as it will, and does. Very peaceful and accepting feeling and I am enormously grateful for it, because as anyone who has known me before knows, I was always naturally speedy and had to work very hard (or do other things very intensely) to slow down at all. Now it seems to come "naturally"—and I don't want to jinx it but even the trouble I normally have falling back to sleep when things wake me up during the night seems to have been relieved, ever since I finished the steroids used for the first week after the brain surgery to keep the swelling in the brain down. Could it be whatever was in my brain was causing the trouble sleeping? I'm hoping, but mostly I'm just accepting the recent reality of not needing to make endless lists to fall asleep or back asleep.

But don't worry, I'm sure my compulsion to make lists will return and manifest itself in some other way soon enough. Meanwhile these posts are their own lists in a way. Including lists of some of the many things I am grateful for.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


Watched another movie I got in the mail for the awards season—UP IN THE AIR. I dug it, though I kept missing a line of dialogue now and then and wasn't sure if that was my brain still having trouble (today's the month marker if you go strictly by the date) or if the movie just requires a second viewing to pick up on everything.

It was another relatively "easy" movie for me to follow, with only a few main characters and mostly confined settings and an at-first seemingly simple and direct plot line. George Clooney carries the film and as always is a delight to watch in action—or inaction.

He is definitely our one true old fashioned Hollywood movie star, the Paul Newman of his generation. And though the movie is close to all surface (I kept thinking of paintings by Alex Katz, no shadows, flat seemingly two-dimensional figures that on a closer look somehow project a greater depth than the surface tension that supports the abstract sense of the way the figures figure in the breadth of the canvas initially seems to support—or something like that—my brain's tired, it's late, but my fingers are connecting to my thoughts and the keys on the computer much better these past few days with fewer corrections being necessary, though till much more than pre-brain surgery) it evokes deeper meanings with every frame.

The films seems to create a paradox that it never resolves, which is how the goal of simplifying one's life can actually lead to creating a more self-centered, selfish existence—or vice versa.

Clooney's main co-stars—Vera Famiga (doesn't that sound like one of those 1940s Hollywood stars who were refugees from the war in Europe or pretending to be—most of whom were never heard from again?) and Anna Kendrick are a great match for him, Famiga not a favorite of mine but nailing this role and Kendrick a revelation. But it's Clooney's show and he doesn't disappoint.

Neither does the flick. Deceptively complex despite, as I said, it's seemingly only skin deep surface tension(s). I'd see if I were you.

[P.S. UP IN THE AIR is a pretty good description of what's it's felt like to go through this recovery from brain surgery, like each day's decisions seem to leave me mostly there.]

Saturday, December 12, 2009


The connection between the ways in which our individual brains are wired and our ideas—and taste and beliefs—is becoming more apparent each day, from studies and neurological research and scientific breakthroughs in the world, as well as for me personally as a result of what I've been experiencing and learning in the four weeks (and one day in a few hours) since my brain surgery.

I've referred to this either directly or indirectly in recent posts (as have some comments on them, including links to one study addressing the differences between the brains of "conservatives" and "liberals").

One of the examples I gave for myself was how because of the limitations on my brain during these recent weeks, my taste in TV and movies had changed some. A week ago I was unable to enjoy THE DAILY SHOW because there were too many layers of irony and wordplay etc. It actually began to hurt my brain after only a few minutes. Too much complexity.

But I was able to enjoy 30 ROCK, despite its own layers of irony and wordplay etc. because the basic premises of the comedy were so broad and applied in an over the top style that made it possible for me to laugh out loud at the basic joke inherent in each scene even if I was missing the more subtle stuff (which I couldn't tell was even there, if it was). (Not that Jon Stewart isn't often very broad in his comedy or over-the-top, but the shifts in topics and approaches to the nuances of political hypocrisy etc. are way more complex to my mind.)

So, it was as if my taste had changed. A similar thing has happened with movies. For a while I couldn't watch them or if I did I couldn't get a lot of what was happening in most movies. But black-and-white old Hollywood ones, with simple and mostly confined sets and only a few main characters, were not only easier to get but so much more satisfying.

What I am able to understand and follow has been broadening every day since the surgery, but it is still limited compared to how I was before it, so it is impossible for me to tell how much of what I'm digging now is a result of my old standards coming back or of the limitations on how far they've come.

For instance, I got a movie in the mail recently for the Hollywood awards season and watched it last night and totally enjoyed it to the point of bursting out in spontaneous applause in response to certain scenes or even just individual actors' gestures or facial expressions. I laughed out loud a lot, and even fell for the leading lady, an actress I have often not liked in movies others loved, and never found attractive though I did dig some of the roles she's played.

The film is IT'S COMPLICATED and the actress is Meryl Streep. Her main co-star is Alec Baldwin, who for my taste—past and present—is always terrific and does great work in this as well (making some scenes he's in worth the price of admittance, if I'd been paying to see it) (and full disclosure, he's an old friend). And Steve Martin has a co-starring role as well and does his usual terrific job (though the friend I was watching it with thought his face looked less expressive than it used to leading to speculation about "face jobs").

But for me the main revelation was Streep. I thought she was way overrated in some of her earlier dramatic films (e.g. THE DEERHUNTER and IRONWEED) but liked her in later comedies (like POSTCARDS FROM THE EDGE). But in IT'S COMPLICATED I love every scene she's in, every nuance of her interpretation of the character she plays, and everything about her physically. In many ways, the movie and the way she plays her role made made me fall in love with her. She's playing a 60-year-old woman, or is one, (I can't remember if the move makes her exact age clear) and to me she wasn't for one second not totally beautiful.

I realize that JULIE AND JULIA is the movie and the role that has endeared her to audiences recently (a film I missed but intend to see as soon as I'm able) and that IT'S COMPLICATED is pretty light fare in comparison to most of her Oscar-nominated roles, and that possibly the limitations I still feel on my brain may be influencing me, but I enjoyed IT'S COMPLICATED so much I'd probably nominate it for a bunch of awards, most particularly for her and Baldwin and Martin.

I cannot recommend this movie too highly, if you're in the mood for a lighthearted though thoroughly adult romantic comedy in the spirit of the Hollywood classics of that genre, though much more contemporary and explicit. (The only caveat I have is that Mary Kay Place has only a few lines in the movie and for my taste she has always been one of our best and most underrated actresses so I wish she had been used more.)

PS: As you can probably tell, the writing is improving every day, as is so much else. I still have to keep things pretty simple, which has always been my goal anyway so being sort of forced to do that is actually a blessing.

Friday, December 11, 2009


And so much has changed in these four weeks. I couldn't read or write or do much of anything besides talk and listen and eat and drink (lots of herbal teas) in the first few days after the operation.

One of the most stunning examples of the ways in which my brain couldn't operate as usual that first week, was when I was on the phone with someone and they wanted to pass on a message to a friend who was in the hospital room with me and though I understood the simple message I was meant to convey and knew what it meant to do that, my brain somehow would not let me. I could not for the life of me just say the few words that would have passed the message on. Just one example of many that illustrate how limited what I could accomplish was those first few days (including reading and writing).

By the end of the first week I could read out loud some but not silently to myself, could only write a few sentences with several corrections necessary in every word and feeling exhausted after only that. I couldn't multiply single numbers or do other simple basic math or touch my nose without missing it or remember certain words etc. etc, And my perceptions were so diffused and atomized I couldn't take dealing with more than one thing at a time (the first few days in the hospital were an exception as I was still coming down from the operation drugs and anesthesia I guess—and still on heavy steroids etc.—so was very speedy in my speech and seemingly not bothered by all the friends and family who visited).

But after those first few days in the hospital, if more than one person tried to talk to me at a time it hurt my head and made me extremely anxious. People were dropping off food at my apartment and they would enter and start to empty bags and talk to me and I would ask them to leave because it was too much for me if there was anyone else there at the same time.

I couldn't watch almost any TV or read or listen to music—all of that seemed overwhelmingly complicated, like the words on the page or the images on the TV or the individual sounds in the music were a cacophony of dissonant and gratingly loud and aggravatingly harsh sounds. The images on TV seemed so distinctly separate that every second's alteration from one moving image to the next was a whirlwind of so much movement and imagery it felt like a universe of discord was fighting for attention in my brain's limitations.

But by the end of the second week, I was reading a little to myself (a paragraph a day was about my limit) and very well out loud. Writing was still almost impossibly difficult and full of odd mishaps like substituting entirely different words for the ones I thought I was directing my brain to write, as in "who" for "now" or "instinct" for "image" or "Thursday" for "operation"! Not to mention the numerous typos and strange reversals and additions that altered the meaning of words or sentences or ideas.

It was fascinating to experience and quite engaging, at least to me. In those first two weeks I spent a lot of time just sitting and smiling (at least to myself) over how contented and unfrustrated I felt despite the fact that there was very little I could do besides eat and have a conversation with whoever was in the apartment with me (and in those first weeks someone was with me at all times, either my daughter Caitlin, or my older son Miles and sometimes my daughter-in-law Jennifer or my good friend Sue (I just wrote that as "god friend"—one of the many interesting typos I still make).

But by the third week I was reading much better, short articles in TIME, and able to watch relatively simple (i.e. black-and-white, two or three character simple premise) movies and TV shows, could write with slightly less problems, mostly just typos, unable to get my mind and fingers to hit the right keys but not substituting entirely incorrect (in terms of my initial intentions) words, and could abide two people in my apartment talking at the same time.

But now, in just the past two days, the writing has improved drastically, I'm typing this with mostly ordinary typos every few words rather than several in one word and tons in each sentence like it was only a few days ago! And yesterday I read an entire article in THE NEW YORKER. When just a week ago I couldn't read more than a paragraph without feeling like I just overloaded my mind for the day. So much has come back, in fact, that most of the time I feel pretty much like my old self.

There are still many things that can improve. A short outing to the store exhausts me, and being confronted with more than one or two people out in public is so painful I have to turn my eyes away or close them. And sounds, when I'm out, still do that diffuse overall cacophony thing that is hard to bear (I noticed last week when I tried being in a room with lots of people every sound to me was equally loud and overwhelming, so someone talking, someone whispering in a far corner, someone unwrapping a package or blowing their nose or walking across the room or sighing [I wrote "signing" for "sighing" at first and then trying to correct it wrote several other incorrect words including "winging"! so my incorrect word substitutions are still happening especially the more I type and my brain begins to tire] or making any sound whatsoever all come across as equally loud as though they were right up against my ear. Way too difficult to deal with).

But I am so grateful for the incredible progress I've made that any improvement or lack of it seems completely okay with me. Again I thank everyone for their love and support and hope that I didn't sound too self-righteous in my post yesterday, as if I'm always perfectly grateful for everything—"good" and "bad"—I'm not that evolved. But I'm working on it.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


My old friend Hubert Selby Jr. gave me some great advice one time when I was stressing out over debt and no work and raising two teenagers on my own and no relief in sight. He told me that if I got a check in the mail for a hundred bucks to get down on my knees and thank God for the blessing. But also, if I got a bill in the mail for a hundred dollars to get down on my knees and thank God for the blessing.

I got angry and told him I didn't see how a bill was a blessing when I was broke, in debt, and worried my landlord would kick me and my kids out, or that I wouldn't be able to pay the electric bill etc. etc. But I loved the guy and trusted his experience with similar troubles. So I tried it. Angrily, sarcastically, and begrudgingly.

To my surprise, it worked. Eventually. The more I did it, the better it worked (though I didn't always do it on my knees, and I'm not even certain that was part of his advice now).

There's no quid pro quo in spiritual practice, and from my experience and beliefs there shouldn't be, but—interestingly, the more I did that, the more my troubles didn't seem so insurmountable and as a result the less stressed I was and the more solutions to my troubles not only seemed possible but probable.

I've been doing that for decades now, and this past almost month (a month since the brain surgery tomorrow) I've been doing it every day and meaning it. Totally grateful for exactly what I was experiencing and being given by life for that day, and it has paid off wonderfully. Not because every day I have been getting better and more and more of my motor skills and cognitive abilities have been returning to me, but because I have been totally accepting of the limitations the operation has imposed on me and genuinely grateful for them and for the whole crazy trip.

I pray that I can stay that way no matter what the future brings—grateful for it all, especially for my old friend "Cubby"!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


The progress has been so impressive the past couple of days, I'm able to type this sentence with only a few typos to correct so far, close to what is "normal" for my decades of two finger hunt-and-peck technique.

Though the accuracy diminishes the more words I write (so that there were only a few typos I had to correct in that first sentence, but I've already had to correct several more in just the first phrase of this one!).

Another telling thing about the brain (at least mine). That initially it seems to function better and better each day since the surgery, but begins to deteriorate (took me fix attempts to finally get that last word right) almost immediately and more so as I and the day go on. So that by evening, when I'm pretty tired, even if I've taken a nap, I'm back several days in my progress. But still further ahead than I was when this all began.

Today's my first day of "occupational therapy" at an institute in a nearby town that I believe is where Woody Guthrie ended his days (and where the young and not-yet-recorded Bob Dylan visited him), as well as Dudley Moore (!).

Many moments of "normalcy" these past few days, the most difficult thing for me now is going out and encountering people more than one at a time. I feel overwhelmed and have to focus on just one. It tires me out as well. But for those worried I'm overdoing it, I'll learn if I am today at the therapy, but also I can feel when it's too much or tiring me and I remove myself from the situation.

[I'm referring to the few times I've gone out to Whole Foods or the pharmacy etc., and always with a friend or family member who's doing the driving and looking out for me.]

Anyway, grateful my progress has been pretty consistent and hope for the same for others going through anything similar.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


Every day brings more progress. I feel so fortunate, especially when I hear of or from people who have had brain surgery and aren't progressing as rapidly as I am or are facing bigger challenges than anything I have or will have to.

As a simple example of the kinds of progress I've experienced: in the first week after the brain surgery, whenever I tried to put toothpaste on a toothbrush, no matter how hard I concentrated, the paste ended up perpendicular to the brush, another words across the brush, most of it falling off.

In the second week I gradually managed to get the paste to start turning a little each day so that it was heading more in the direction of where the toothpaste usually ends up. Until the last few days when it was been pretty much following the pat of the brush except slightly to one side, so that the paste isn't quite all the way on the brush but more half on half off.

For some folks, this might not be a big deal and may happen more often than not. But this was happening to me while I was concentrating very hard to get the paste on in the right direction and entirely on the toothbrush. So last night when I finally got it mostly on the brush it felt like a real triumph, because it was.

PS: the reading is so much better it's almost "normal"—though I get tired pretty quickly from it. And the writing is much better too, though also tiring, even a relatively short blog post. But in terms of the motor skills involved, much much better.

And PPS: I was able to watch a rerun of John Stewart earlier tonight and follow it without having to turn it off or feel like the layers of ironies and subtleties were hurting my brain to follow.

Monday, December 7, 2009


What this whole experience (brain surgery and recovery) is making clear to me is how much our thinking and behavior is dependent on the way our brains are "wired" more than anything else.

My brain was swollen before the operation because of the "mass" that was irritating it and which they took out. That was followed by swelling from the operation itself and from the "handling" of the brain—an unnatural experience for it and which it reacts to with what feels and seems like a kind of cellular panic.

On top of that the brain's reacting to the heavy doses of steroids to help reduce the swelling and various other drugs to prevent infection and reduce the initial pain etc. So all that contributed to my brain functions being extremely abnormal for me.

The great news is that these operations are even possible, something unheard of not that long ago, and that they succeed on so many levels. My "mass" turned out not to be cancerous, but I have read about (before the operation) and spoken to about (before and since the operation) many people who have had numerous malignant tumors in theirs brains and are still alive and functioning for the most part as good as ever and have been for four, five, seven and even fifteen years!

I feel unbelievably fortunate that my experience was so much more benign in comparison. But as my brain returns to its more "normal" state and I go through the stages of recovery (which can last up to a year I'm told before it's completely recovered) I can see so much more clearly how the ways our brains work individually influences so much of what we think and how we behave.

For instance, in the first days after the operation, I couldn't read or add or multiply simple numbers or understand directionally where things were (some of this is still true though improving) etc. which made me realize what it must be like to struggle with some of these simple ways the mind ordinarily works.

My twelve-year-old struggles with some learning problems that it's been a trial to get the school to recognize because he is so obviously bright and capable in so many other ways. Teachers often ascribe his problems to "not making the effort" or even as one recent science teacher said (pre-operation) "He's just lazy"—which I had to restrain myself from overreacting to. This is a boy who spends hours with tutoring sessions and on homework etc.

But I now realize that this is a common mistake. Obviously a lot of learning disabilities have been identified since I was a kid when they actually just called kids stupid or dunces and punished them or kept them back or expelled them for not keeping up etc.

Interestingly, as I became able to read some later in the first week, I noticed that what gave me the most trouble were simple words, especially if they were repeated in a short space. So an instruction on the hospital room wall that used some complex terms in a short sentence without any repetition was easy to get. But one that had two or three "the"'s or "to"'s in it was make me stumble and have to look it over a few times before I understood it. Very much what happens to my younger son sometimes.

Another thing I noticed right away after the operation, almost as soon as I came to, was "how did we get here"—meaning, who did we go from the world I knew as a kid and young man where for the most part logic and reason and scientific evidence and even simple reality were relatively universally recognized as basically consistent to one where obvious lies and delusional interpretations of "reality" that are based on lies etc. are now accepted as versions of some kind of accepted and even objective reality.

There were a handful of people when I was young who still believed the world was flat or the moon walk was faked or the world is only a few thousand or hundred thousand years old etc., but they got no credence in the mass media or the schools or public forums where reality was general agreed upon based on, as I said, logic, reason, scientific proof, etc. My mind couldn't believe, when it began functioning again after the operation that I was actually alive in a world where someone like Sarah Palin could be taken seriously as anything other than either delusional or an outright liar.

But also realized pretty soon afterwards, that it's the wiring. Yes, some politicians and media personalities and ordinary citizens manipulate the "facts" and reality to suit their own selfish or self-centered or whatever nefarious ends, but many more I believe actually think their version of "reality" is true. Reagan probably did believe that he fought in WWII even though he never left Hollywood and mistook movie experiences for real ones.

Just as I am now able to read much more than I was capable of only days ago, but do so somewhat haltingly, having to reread some words and phrases to understand what I'm reading, I understand that that is "normal" for many people. And my inability to do much simple math or figure out which direction a local landmark is facing it etc.—something that came to be without eve thinking before—a lot of people have trouble with all the time.

It's like musical ability. I used to have a certain fluidity with my fingers when I played piano that is lost to me (but will hopefully return as I recover), but my current lack of that kind of musical facility is relatively common for many folks. As is, it's clear to me now, the capacity to use logic and reason to see through the lies and misrepresentations and delusions of so many political and media personalities.

It's obvious that a lot more people than when I was a kid, or at least a lot more influential people in the public eye, cannot use logic and reason and scientific evidence to figure out what's real and what isn't, but instead rely on emotion and personality and group-think etc. to reach conclusions that make sense to them, that it's just the way they're wired.

It's been and continues to be humbling to have survived this surgery and to experience the limitations—temporary or not—that have resulted from it. And it is given me more sympathy, or maybe I mean empathy, for those who live with these kinds of limitations on their metal capabilities all the time.

P.S. I haven't been responding to comments on this blog because typing and any kind of writing as been so laborious given now many mistakes I make and have to correct just to get a simple sentence out, but that has been rapidly improving in just the past few days, so hopefully soon I'll be able to respond more directly with comments and e mails etc.

PPS: I realize rereading this post that there are several mistakes but writing this much was hard enough so I'm going to leave the ones I missed correcting.

Sunday, December 6, 2009


1. As things return more to "normal"—or closer to it I guess I should say—I almost miss the trippier aspects of the way my perceptions were uniquely altered after the brain surgery. But one that will remain I guess forever, is when I take a shower, the sound the water makes as it hits my skull is different for the section where the titanium plate is. Like almost everything connected to this process of my brain slowly recovering its functions, I find this fascinating.

2. Watched a movie on TCM last night I'd never seen before but was perfect for my capabilities right now: RANDOM HARVEST, a black-and-white classic starring Greer Garson and Ronald Coleman. Kind of trippy in its own way as well and having to do with what they used to call "shell shock" and we now call Post-Traumatic Distress Disorder. The main way it was manifested in the flick was amnesia, but though a little overly melodramatic as far as the plot went, Garson's and Coleman's acting was so good and in her case so realistically restrained, it worked. At least for me. And as with most things since the operation, I found it so delightfully satisfying I couldn't resist clapping when it was over.

3. Another great media experience—and easy to follow because it was one-on-one and in a simple setting—was catching a rerun of an Elvis Costello Sundance channel music interview show that featured Bill Clinton. Once again I was knocked out by how smart Clinton is. Cosetello's questions were focused mostly on music, but many of them in relation to the job of president and international politics. Clinton not only answered them clearly but eloquently and humble, I thought, while at the same time displaying a familiarity with such a wide range of musical taste and knowledge, it felt almost like a grad school seminar given by the smartest teacher you ever had. I mean the guy was referring not only to all kinds of popular music with ease, but more obscure and "difficult" jazz and country and swing and etc. and also top world music creators I never heard of and am pretty sure were out of Costello's range as well. Very satisfying little triumphs of cognition I'm grateful for.

Saturday, December 5, 2009


One of the first things I noticed in the first several days in the hospital (and beyond) after the brain surgery was my brain was ticking.

Well actually it was the titanium plate and screws under my scalp where my skull had been opened.

They said it was the titanium adjusting to the scalp and fit of the plate etc. and would subside after a week or so, which it did.

The ticking would go on for several minutes and then stop. During the day no one could hear it but me. So I assumed it was only inside my head.

But one night in the hospital, after the lights were out and the door shut and my room mate had fallen asleep and everything was relatively quiet, but before my daughter, who was staying with me that night, had fallen asleep in the chair that opened into a kind of chaise lounge, the ticking started and I told her. She leaned in as close to my head as she could, and heard it!

"Tick, tick, tick, tick" etc. Like a loud second hand on an old watch that had somehow gotten planted inside my skull!

I almost kind of miss it (though it has come back occasionally since).

PS: The writing is getting better, especially if I type really really really really slowly and deliberately, one letter at a time. Tedious, but less frustrating than repeatedly hitting the wrong keys, which no matter how slowly I go still happens, but much less.

Friday, December 4, 2009


They say that when they wheeled me into the recovery room after the operation, expecting me to be out for at least an hour and then take a few more hours to come to fully, instead I sat right up immediately and began talking.

The art of discourse and conversation was never lost, nor was my appetite—I was hungry as soon as I came to also.

But for the first few days I couldn't do simple math, couldn't read or write or understand how to transfer a simple message from one person to another, and much more I couldn't do.

By the time I left the hospital almost five days after I entered, I could read simple instructions and signs etc. to myself with some difficulty and much more easily out loud. And simple math was coming back slowly. But listening to music, watching TV or listening to NPR, or reading anything longer than a sentence or two to myself or a paragraph or so out loud was still seemingy impossible.

But as you know if you've been reading this blog, slowly over these three weeks, many things have returned. The first movie I could watch all the way through without being overwhelmed to the point of my head actually hurting and my perceptions being erratic and disorienting, was THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY, because it was in black and white, had mostly confined sets, focused on two or three characters relatively broadly portrayed and had a simple, clear, direct message. I loved it as I did the first time I saw it only now even more because I could follow it and enjoy it despite my brain's post-operative limitations.

As I've shared, more and more has come back to me, including finally and only recently a capacity for enjoying music and art again, being able to see them as fully realized and integrated sensual (and sensory) experiences rather than kind of pixilated shards of distinct and separate experiences too varied and busy to contain as one cohesive cognitive experience.

So everything has improved and is continuing to. Writing this, for instance is very difficult but not as much as it was only a few days ago. And yesterday I read, with difficulty and some rereading and stopping and starting, a couple of small articles in TIME. I imagine it's what a lot of people deal with every day, but I never had to until now.

I'm getting out more—took a nice long walk in the beautiful park near my apartment just now—and start occupational therapy soon (probably should have started sooner but the logistics seemed a problem since I'm not driving yet, etc.). There's still many limitations on what I am capable of, including not really being able still to focus on more than one thing at once, two in some cases where they are complimentary.

But I am also still feeling very patient with myself, and others too for the most part. Grateful for it all. And finding the whole process fascinating (like why do my fingers want to type "party" for "part" or "one" for "now" or "or" for "for" or "patoculr" for "particular" etc.).

More will be revealed.

Thursday, December 3, 2009


I didn't read as much the day before yesterday, so found it more difficult to do yesterday. I guess I have to keep exercising my mind.

I also wanted to mention that I forgot another great performance from that Ed Sullivan music special from his shows from the 1960s, a medley of Sly and the Family Stone's "DANCE TO THE MUSIC and EVERYDAY PEOPLE"—knockout live music and performance.

And wanted to note that I always felt I was blessed with a certain amount of physical grace, whether real or just a personal perception. Even as I aged. But that's gone since the brain surgery, at least for now.

I've gone through other operations and physical challenges that have removed that sense of comfortable physical coordination in some ways, but never so extensively. For instance I tried playing the piano yesterday, something that has been second nature to me since I was a child, but I couldn't get my fingers and hands and brain (mostly my right hand actually for most of these challenges, which is the hand that I could do the most with musically) to cooperate so gave up in frustration.

But interestingly, my writing is improved a lot right now as I'm typing this. Fewer typos and reversing of my intended spellings and meanings. Yeah! Hopefully this will last and continue to improve.

I also watched Obama's West Point speech. I was alone so could concentrate on it and easily follow it (any distractions can send my brain into feeling overwhelmed, too much stimuli for me these days means anything more than one, possibly two things at a time).

Not a bad way to live if we could allow ourselves that much space and time to process stuff that simply and with that much undivided attention. (The writing is actually getting a little more difficult as I'm doing it, so more corrections necessary, one of which I wanted to point out because it's so unintendedly interesting, for "attention" I initially wrote "attemption".)

Beautiful day here. I think I'll take a walk and enjoy it. Continued thanks for all the help and support and good wishes I've been getting. One day at a time.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


It's been difficult for me to listen to music since the brain surgery. The sounds that normally blend into a cohesive whole in most recordings, my brain was somehow atomizing into discrete units that made each musical moment sound overwhelmingly complicated—jarringly, gratingly so.

Difficult to explain or articulate. I tried one day on my first outing in my little town where I was being helped by my friend Sue and ran into another friend, the great jazz pianist, Bill Charlap. I was excited to communicate what I was experiencing with music, but I'm afraid I came off as a little out of my mind, which is of course partly what this whole experience has been about.

But yesterday, I tried listening to some music again and it sounded close to normal. I hit the shuffle key on my laptop and the first tune was an old Billie Holiday recording from the early '30s, THESE'N'THAT'N'THOSE (beautiful tone to her voice) followed, as it happened, by Bill Charlap's trio's version of SOME OTHER TIME, as close to Bill Evans as is humanly possible, while still being Charlap. A haunting tune, one of my favorites.

Later I watched a PBS special showcasing "for the first time" musical/video selections from the Ed Sullivan show in the 1960s, the highlights of which included of course the first appearance by THE BEATLES, plus two knockout performances by THE ANIMALS (WE GOTTA GET OUT OF THIS PLACE and THE HOUSE OF THE RISING SUN)—better than the original recordings, especially Eric Burden's vocals and Alan Price's keyboard work—THE DOORS doing LIGHT MY FIRE (and angering Sullivan because they were supposed to censor the lines about "getting higher" but didn't) and THE ROLLING STONES looking almost teenage, with Kieth Richards looking actually kind of goofily giddy and self-conscious.

Anyway, I'm writing a little better, but this still took way too many repeated attempts to correct yaw too many mistakes so I'll stop now.

(I'm leaving that one last mistake as an example of how my brain is still transposing letters etc.)

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


Just took a pretty brisk walk, several blocks, in the cool, crisp, air.

A bright and shiny day, at times almost chilly, but felt so good to be out and feeling stronger.

The caw of a lone crow was so sharp and clarion, it felt like the definition of what it means to be alive.

The last leaves still falling, the endless (we hope) natural cycles.

How wonderful and fine life is when the possibility of losing it becomes so current and realistic.

To be alive, what can disturb the awe of that realization? Today, nothing.