Tuesday, November 30, 2010


It's a cloudy, chilly, gray day today. Yesterday was colder, but the air was crisp and invigorating, the sky was bright blue with white, puffy clouds. The day before as well. Only the day before my oldest son and his wife and my grandson were all here, with their terrier (my daughter and her family still up in the Berkshires), filling my apartment with the kind of life force I grew up around and my youngest son, here too, hasn't. At least not on a daily basis.

But on all three of those days the economy was pretty much the same, as were the wars going on around the world, not just the ones our troops are fighting in. Whatever basic problems exist in our lives, the daily ongoing kind, didn't change or change much in those three days. Just the weather did, and the configuration of me and some of my progeny's whereabouts.

The better weather brought me pleasure, as did the presence of my older son and his family. The absence of others generated a feeling of nostalgia or even sadness, but that in turn left me feeling good, because to feel is to be alive and I am very very grateful to be alive, especially in order to be there for my little guy and my other children and grandchildren, and friends still around and other family...

My old friend Hubert Selby Jr. used to always say to me when I was going through my usual drama over my love life and finances, "Michael, you can't have up without down, you can't have left without right, so if you're looking for pleasure, you better be prepared for some pain, and if you want success, you have to accept the failure that comes along with it..."

He probably said it better, but you get the idea. Or more importantly, I do.

The idea here being, every day, every event, every person, every every contains the opposites that make up reality. To accept that reality is to know peace, in my experience. To embrace it and be grateful for it, no matter what, is to know happiness. (Woops, I just gave away the secret I meant to put in a book someday!).

Listening and watching the many tributes to Leslie Nielson yesterday had me cracking up in my car or in front of my TV set. As I did from the first moment he appeared in AIRPLANE! and in everything he did thereafter. What a story heh? A guy from a horrendous background, who I had grown up watching and never remembering his name but always thinking him very unappealing in the serious roles he played until AIRPLANE!

And then, by not taking himself seriously and doing it with a straight face, he became one of the funniest movie stars we've had in the sound era. Every line that he said that makes us laugh, or at least smile, to hear ("And don't call me Shirley") is because it was him saying it. What a gift! He'll be sorely missed, but then again not so much, because we can watch his funniest stuff pretty much anytime we want nowadays.

And I can relive moments with people long gone on the physical plane, reread favorite authors and poets many of whom were friends, etc. And I can see the forest despite the trees, as in: the economy fell off a cliff thanks to eight years of Bush/Cheney (with a modicum of responsibility going back to previous administrations, especially Reagan's) BUT it ain't The Great Depression.

And the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and even the Congo and Somalia et. al., are destructive and terrible but they don't even compare to the death and destruction of WWII. The Great Depression was started over eighty years ago, WWII over sixty. Things could always be worse and usually have been.

It's a gray day today, compared to yesterday's golden beauty, but I bet as I go out into it, I'll find a lot to be grateful for and even to give me great joy. Like just being alive in it.

Sunday, November 28, 2010


I'm always adding and cutting and rearranging the blogs and sites I check in on every day or so. Sometimes I remember to mention them and sometimes not.

But just in case you don't notice them on the right somewhere, I'll point out that recently I added the home page for one of my alltime favorite poets Maureen Owen.

You can actually go to this site and read a copy of her totally unique early poetry book THE NO-TRAVELS JOURNAL in its the originally mimeographed typed up form (if I remember correctly, unfortunately my original copy disappeared somewhere over the years and I only have these poems in a later book that included them). If you don't know this series of poems, check them out and remember she wrote these back in the 1970s.

Saturday, November 27, 2010


I missed this editorial a few days ago on Truthout. But it's still worth reading.

Oh, and another bit of contrary news (contrary to the right's perspective that is):

"The Congressional Budget Office this week released its latest report on the effects of the Recovery Act and found that it 'raised the GDP, lowered unemployment, and increased the number of people with jobs." —ABC News

Friday, November 26, 2010


In 2000, at the end of the Clinton administration, besides the surplus he left and all the other accomplishments, the number of terrorist attacks around the word was only 423.

In 2009, by the time Obama was facing the historic deficit and economic collapse, and more worldwide and U.S. problems Bush/Cheney left him, there were 10, 999 (including 4,584 in Iraq and Afghanistan).

So much for Bush/Cheney "winning" the "war on terror"—how about "creating" it.

[The numbers are from the latest issue of Time magazine]

Thursday, November 25, 2010


My condolences to anyone who lost a loved one since last Thanksgiving, but aside from the sorrow of lives lost or terribly injured, I suspect we all have a lot to be grateful for this Thanksgiving.

Starting with the loved ones who are still here. My parents have been gone for many decades, and I started losing siblings before I was born—out of seven of us there is only one sister and me left. But I am blessed with three terrific children, two very grown and my thirteen-year-old still at home(s, he alternates between his mother's and here with me) and two wonderful grandchildren. Thanks for them, and for all family and friends.

Then comes health—spiritual, mental, physical and financial.

As for the latter, I know these are tough times, I'm broke for the first time in many years. And broke for me isn't like broke for a lot of friends I've known over the years. So I'm thankful for the Democratic Presidents and Congresses that made Social Security possible and protected it from attacks from the Republicans over the decades, and who have done their best to protect pension funds, both of which are at risk thanks for the even more virulent strain of rightwing Republicanism now on the march again.

And I know people are losing their houses, I've lost two and am doing just fine in my old but comfortable apartment (and when the waste tank overflowed in the basement of the old house its in a few days ago, I could call the landlords to take care of it!).

And physically, how could I be more grateful for having survived cancer and various heart conditions and now brain surgery! So many thanks to many people and developments, how lucky I am to be living now in this age of medical miracles!

Mentally, after the slow recovery of my reading and writing capabilities after the brain op, I couldn't be more grateful either.

And spiritually, let's just say surviving coming face to face with your mortality does something for the soul and leaves you, or at least left me, more certain than ever that love is all that matters in the end, and in the beginning and middle too.

I could go on for ever with a gratitude list, but let's end with an obvious one that I don't hear many people mentioning these days. And that is: thank you thank you thank you that the Bush/Cheney gang are no longer in charge, even though they are still doing all they can to thwart "the will of the people"—in this case the historic majority that elected Obama president, and thanks as well that Sarah Palin is not the vice-president or governor (or president!) of anything, and let's pray it stays that way. Amen.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


Like a lot of people, I'm sure, I've had a love/hate relationship with Frank Sinatra all my life.

I was born into a time when he was challenging Bing Crosby, my tribe's champion, for the bragging rights to most popular crooner. We all loved Bing, I grew up loving him too and grew to appreciate how revolutionary his impact was on the development not only of popular music but on jazz and swing as well (no less an authority than Loius Armstrong claimed Bing as an influence on jazz music).

Several years ago we got a great first volume of a Bing bio (Gary Giddins' POCKETFUL OF DREAMS) that hasn't seen the sequel yet but set the record straight about Bing's early years and innovating influence and did it in a way that had me wanting more.

James Kaplan has done the same with his FRANK: The Voice. Sinatra was equally popular, equally influential in the world of not just popular music but jazz and swing as well. And like Bing their impact went way beyond mere music, as through the movies they elevated our country's sense of its immigrants, first the Irish and then the Italians, as well as a lot of young men's styles (and Bing went right on influencing style 'til the end, only then it was older white golfing men).

Kaplan gets it right, though, when he characterizes Bing's persona and style and music as "cool" compared to Frank's heat. What he means has nothing to do with the slang sense of "cool" (though that too in ways most people might not get) but in the passions these men aroused.

Bing's laid back vocal mastery made an amazing musical talent seem as easy as chatting on the phone, while Frank upped the ante in several ways, including making almost every ballad he sang sound so personal he created that whole swooning screaming teenage girls things because each one felt he was singing just to her and meant it!

And as this book shows, in many ways he did, not just as a Lothario. Bing was a lot more accomplished and brilliant than his image may have let on, but whatever emotional and psychological complexity he may have had, he never showed. Frank expressed his emotional and psychological complexity in just about everything he did and said, and especially in everything he sang.

This too looks like a first volume, as it follows Frank from birth only up until he won the Oscar, his comeback move, for the role of Maggio in FROM HERE TO ETERNITY. Kaplan puts the GODFATHER horse-head-in-the-bed myth to rest, or tries to, but the mob connection is delineated in other ways that make it clear "the boys" were helpful in other ways, including never giving up on him like a lot of others did when he went through the slump before the Oscar year.

The best thing about FRANK, is that Kaplan gets a lot of the artistry correct as well as the reasons why Sinatra isn't just a pop icon or once adored singer or a Hollywood history gossip mine, but actually is one of the few who have truly had an impact on not just his times but on the history of his times.

It's always difficult to explain to someone young who has grown up with the internet or texting or e mail or computers or whatever dominates the ways in which we communicate and create, what it was like when none of these things existed. It's equally difficult to explain what it was like before Sinatra, or to go back even further, before Bing.

No one is really sui generis, there's always past influences and accidents of history that bend those influences toward a new outcome, but nonetheless, not just 20th Century "America" would look different and sound different and BE different without these two men, Bing and Frank, but the 21st century as well. Kaplan's book gives you a few facts to support that argument, as well as a lot of distillation of a lot of other people's versions of the events recorded, including some scholarly and some not so much.

I couldn't put it down. And when I finally reached the end and did, I got a new feeling—I can't wait for the second volume, which I hope Kaplan is finishing up right now.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


Don't know if anyone else noticed this, but U.S. corporations made higher profits this year than ever before in history! And yet...

...rightwing media mouthpieces and the rightwing Republican politicians they represent, or in some cases dictate to, continue to push the myth that Obama is "anti-business" and a "socialist" and all the rest of their obvious lies. And I don't see anyone in the mainstream media pointing this out (Olberman noted this on his MSNBC show). As usual.

But neither do I see anyone in the administration, let alone Obama, pointing it out either (though he did point out the resurgence of GM as a result of the "bailout" that has turned out to be a wise investment on behalf of "the American people"—as the rightwingers always refer to the people who support them, only in this case the President, and I, mean all of us).

Monday, November 22, 2010


Some notice taken today in the main news media of the forty-seventh anniversary of that fatal day in Dallas, but not much.

One of the items in the news though, was excerpts from Sarah Palin's new book, in which she supposedly criticizes JFK for "running away from his religion" when he ran for President in 1960, and praises Mitt Romney for not running away from his religion during his run for the presidential nomination (seemed to me he avoided any mention or notice of his Mormonism).

Sounds like maybe she's positioning Romney for her vice presidential candidate, or maybe she wants to be the power behind his presidential bid, or just get his powerful financial backing and that of his fellow Mormons.

But in the meantime, she's dissing a prince of my people. And misunderstanding, once again, what this country and its "Founding Fathers" stood for—vis a vis the seperation of church and state. As well as misunderstanding who JFK was, and what he stood for. All in all a typical Palin play.

Sunday, November 21, 2010


The only scenes from Sarah Palin's new reality show I've seen, seem about as "real" as Cher's strangely ageless appearance in publicity shots for her new movie. I remember running into Cher at a Hollywood Club back in the late 1980s and feeling a little weirded out by whatever she'd done to her face. Up close it seemed immobile already. I always admired her tenacity and individuality, but that whole Hollywood (and elsewhere now) clinging to youth with botox and plastic surgery thing can be pretty unnerving when it either isn't done right or is done too much.

As John Stewart pointed out in one of his reactions to clips from Palin's "reality" show, shots of her acting like an awestruck kid seeing her supposed natural habitat as though for the first time. He said it'd be like him giving people a tour of his New York and shrieking and holding his ears because car horns were honking.

All of which got me thinking about a documentary I caught part of on the Ovation channel the other night about the "Factory People"—i.e. Andy Warhol's hangers on in the pre-getting-shot-by-Valerie-Solinas (full disclosure, she lived in the commune I was sort of the head of in DC after she got out of prison and the asylum! a much longer story, for a book more than a blog post) period.

What struck me was that a lot of the early Warhol flicks were basically "reality shows" and have a lot in common with the kinds of "reality" shows my thirteen-year-old likes, like that whole "Jackass" thing that's also been turned into films, or shows with aging hotshot skateboarders or BMX X-game champs etc. doing stunts that could get them killed and often get them, or members of their entourage, hurt badly, but always getting a laugh (not from me!).

The shifting cast of people that made Andy's "Factory" their playground, and work place, most days and/or nights and appeared in his films were enocouraged by Warhol and his associates—and each other—to emphasize, and act out, their most outre (and often self-destructive) traits on film, or anywhere for that matter, and the more extreme the better, just like the Jackass and Bam and etc. shows my boy watches.

The illusion of "reality" is pretty much what any photographer or documentarian knows, as do the rest of us these days, a result of editing. All the skate videos my son watches and is awed by are zippy edits of lots of attempts to do amazingly difficult physical moves. All you have to do is get a tres ("tray") flip right once and it's immortalized on film.

Palin, it seems to me, is doing the same deal. As Cher and those who take her route, do as well. Which is—make characterizations out of either people's expectations—or their own, or both—of who they are or what they're about. Sometimes the result is amusing, sometimes, entertaining, even engaging, but a lot of the appeal is watching to see what's gonna happen next, what outrageous thing they're gonna do or say or wear or attempt or seem to pull off.

Pailn's act at the moment seems to be working for someone, as she pretends to be something she isn't, and diminishes all expectations and then surpasses the low expectations that creates. She's mastered the art of seeming victimized by almost everything and then becoming the champion of those victimized like her, by a snooty "lamestream" media that belittles her for claiming to care about her state and her country and her party but then quitting her job running that state because she sees the opportunity to make much more money and fame without having to bother with the consensus of voters and fellow government workers and the whole imposition of democracy at work, and then basically identifying anyone who isn't [woops, meant is] an American who supports her beliefs and politics as not "real" "Americans" contributing to a big portion of the divisiveness in the country she says she cares about, and the same to her party (a good number of the candidates for her party she endorsed ended up losing and keeping the Senate Democratic, etc.).

It's all show biz. It's just that the amateurs have taken over the asylum again, much as in the "Factory" days. The culture and the society go through phases like that from time to time—where craft and professionalism and the qualities necessary for creating the best of something are looked down on and a kind of faux "realism" is preferred (not the "real" realism, ala the early periods of movements that get co-opted, like a lot of The Beats or Hippies, or Punk or Grunge, early one, but the faux type exemplified by Palin's new show, or for that matter her ongoing show of "just folk" phoniness).

Some last longer than others. Let's hope this one doesn't last too long.

[PS: And this isn't to say I didn't dig Warhol's movies, or some of his super-and-not-so-super-stars. I even liked Valerie and we became pretty good friends, as much as she was capable of, especially with a man.]

Saturday, November 20, 2010


This one's a letter in the latest Time magazine:

"In 2008, Barack Obama was elected President of the United States with 69, 498, 516 votes, the most cast for any president in history. On Nov. 2, John Boehner, who has tried to block much of the current Administration's legislation, was re-elected with 139, 254 votes—30% fewer than he received just two years earlier. Yet he now proclaims that 'the American people have spoken.' This dour naysayer, who in 1995 passed out checks to politicians from tobacco lobbyists on the floor of Congress, would be wise to re-examine and check his astounding arrogance."

—Joey Green

Friday, November 19, 2010


Steve was a friend of mine back when we were students at the University of Iowa Writers Workshop in the 1960s. I liked him immensely. He was a decent, stand-up kind of guy and a decent stand-up kind of poet.

Unfortunately I hadn't been in touch with him for decades, but I knew he was out there, seeing his poems here and there over the years since we'd last seen each other or had a regular correspondence. My condolences to his family and friends and students at the University of Arizona where he taught.

Here's an emblematic poem of his I copied from the Poetry Foundation site (it's called "In The House of the Voice of Maria Callas"):

In the house of the voice of Maria Callas
We hear the baby’s cries, and the after-supper
Rattle of silverware, and three clocks ticking
To different tunes, and ripe plums
Sleeping in their chipped bowl, and traffic sounds
Dissecting the avenues outside. We hear, like water
Pouring over time itself, the pure distillate arias
Of the numerous pampered queens who have reigned,
And the working girls who have suffered
The envious knives, and the breathless brides
With their horned helmets who have fallen in love
And gone crazy or fallen in love and died
On the grand stage at their appointed moments—
Who will sing of them now? Maria Callas is dead,
Although the full lips and the slanting eyes
And flared nostrils of her voice resurrect
Dramas we are able to imagine in this parlor
On evenings like this one, adding some color,
Adding some order. Of whom it was said:
She could imagine almost anything and give voice to it.

Thursday, November 18, 2010


I didn't always get why some people back in the day thought she was the most beautiful woman in the world. But I just caught much of ON THE BEACH on TCM and though she wasn't absolute perfection, as they say, in every shot, still, I've just got one thing to say:

Ava Gardner.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


The colors are still vibrant, though some trees have lost their leaves entirely. This past weekend was glorious though, bright blue skies and the color of some trees so intense some streets in my town seemed too beautiful to be true.

Then yesterday it rained and that added to the beauty. Walking to my car over a thick carpet of bright yellow and deep wine colored leaves seemed magical. And today! The wind was blowing the leaves around like some Van Gogh landscape come to life! Clearing the air and skies so that the sunlight seemed to be coming from within everything it shone on, including the trees still holding on to their colors as well as the leaves whipping past the window or surrounding me as I walked.

And all the good news that gets lost in these times of despair and rancor and so many lies. Like GM getting back on its feet, just like their federal bailout intended. The government no longer the majority stockholder as their stock goes on the market, just as Obama made clear the bailout was intended to do. The results continue to prove him right about so much he accomplished and his policies are still accomplishing, those policies soon to be reversed or at least an attempt made by the Republicans in the House.

Do the rightwingers now have to take back their charges of "socialist" since one of their prime examples of their idea of "socialism" was the federal government's "takeover" of GM? Somehow, I don't think that's gonna happen. Anymore than Obama is gonna get credit for his doing what he said he was going to do if elected. But maybe there's an outside chance he and the Dems will learn how to actually communicate in a clear and direct way the nature of what they've already achieved and how all of it helps most of us, even if it ain't perfect. But the way they're going...

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


     "By the time the flames reached their height, the arsonists had slunk off, and only the firemen were left for people to take out their ire on. The result is a kind of political cognitive dissonance. Frightened by joblessness, “the American people” rewarded the party that not only opposed the stimulus but also blocked the extension of unemployment benefits. Alarmed by a ballooning national debt, they rewarded the party that not only transformed budget surpluses into budget deficits but also proposes to inflate the debt by hundreds of billions with a permanent tax cut for the least needy two per cent. Frustrated by what they see as inaction, they rewarded the party that not only fought every effort to mitigate the crisis but also forced the watering down of whatever it couldn’t block.
     Part of the Democrats’ political problem is that their defense, confusingly, depends on counterfactuals (without the actions they took in the face of fierce Republican opposition, the great slump would have metastasized into a Great Depression), deferred gratification (the health-care law’s benefits do not kick in fully until 2014), and counterintuitive propositions (the same hard times that force ordinary citizens to spend less money oblige the government—whose income, like theirs, is falling—to spend more). Another part of the problem, it must be said, is public ignorance. An illuminating Bloomberg poll, taken the week before the election, found that some two-thirds of likely voters believed that, under Obama and the Democrats, middle-class taxes have gone up, the economy has shrunk, and the billions lent to banks under the Troubled Asset Relief Program are gone, never to be recovered. One might add to that list the public’s apparent conviction that illegal immigration is skyrocketing and that the health-care law will drive the deficit higher. Reality tells a different story. For ninety-five per cent of us, taxes are actually lower, cut by around four hundred dollars a year for individuals and twice that for families. (The stimulus provided other tax cuts for people of modest means, including a break for college tuition.) The economy has been growing, however feebly, for five straight quarters. Most of the TARP loans have been repaid and the rest soon will be, plus a modest profit for the Treasury. And the number of illegal immigrants fell by close to a million last year, thanks in part to more energetic border enforcement. The health-care law, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says, will bring the deficit down."  —Henrick Hertzberg

[Read more of this terrific analysis of the recent election in the whole New Yorker "Talk of the Town" piece from the Nov. 15th issue here.]

Monday, November 15, 2010


I sometimes add new blogs to the ones I recommend (in the list on the right) without much notice, but wanted to hip those of you who are movie buffs, as I am, to my dear old friend Robert Zuckerman's new blog (his old one is Kindsight) "Zuckerman's Journal" for some inside info about being the still photographer on a lot of major films over the course of the past two decades. Check it out.

[PS: I forgot to add the Ginsberg blog, ("The Allen Ginsberg Project") so just did that as well. Thanks to Simon Pettet for directing me to it.]

Sunday, November 14, 2010


These two books of poetry—Philip Levine's NOT THIS PIG and James Wright's THE BRANCH WILL NOT BREAK—were not just favorite books of mine since I first read them when they were published in the 1960s, reading them the first time was in each instance a watershed experience.

They became talismans to me, reminders of the craft I had been practicing and teaching myself about for years, and during the period when I discovered them, beginning to study formally with others as well (at the University of Iowa Writer's Workshop back when it was one of the few in the country and the original).

THE BRANCH WILL NOT BREAK was published a few years before NOT THIS PIG so was the first to have an impact on me. I was already in love with Whitman and Williams, and had discovered on my own, or with my first wife's guidance, others poets who inspired and at times influenced me, like Muriel Rukeyser and Gary Snyder, Diane di Prima and Bob Kaufman, among others.

But Wright and Levine represented something else. Not just critically and academically acclaimed poetry, but an approach to the craft and art of writing poems that I had hitherto (wow where did that come from) dismissed as too precious and even dishonest for my taste.

The way they practiced the art though was obviously intended to advance a perspective I could identify with, and in Levine's case, to describe a kind of life and world, and the kinds of feelings, I could identify with. In Wright's case it was the inner life, the quality of the imagination and what it too was describing that got me.

They both came across to me as working men, or at least poets who had grown up in working-class families and neighborhoods. Wright's poem "Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio" was instantly on my list of alltime favorite poems, and I have taught it and reread it and even had it unintentionally memorized for years.

Levine's "Commanding Elephants" held a different sway over me, like the Wright poem it was about factory workers (at least in part in Wright's poem and fully in Levine's) and described the kinds of men I'd grown up around and even some of my own experiences as a laborer.

But Wright was a Midwesterner who also wrote about farm life, or at least farms, and landscapes and life experiences more foreign to me, while Levine's poems almost always seemed more urban and street tough and I thought more direct.

I've reread these books a lot and taught poems from them since the 1960s. And if you had asked me the day before my brain surgery a year ago, I'd have told you how much they meant to me and how much I loved them both. But as with other aspects of my taste, from the day of the operation to now, that has changed.

I know everyone's taste changes over time, but this is one of those abrupt products of the operation. I still love the Wright book. But no matter how many times I reread the Levine one, it leaves me cold. I get the artistry in the structuring and rhythms and language and so on in the poems in NOT THIS PIG, but I just don't dig it, or even relate to it, when for decades it had represented a deep connection with my own roots and past.

Now it just seems like it's trying too hard. And the simplicity and directness and concision of Levine's writing that I always admired seems to not be there in these poems anymore. How can that be? It's just another example of what the changes from that operation have given me insight into—the ways the brain can manufacture its own perspective and taste based on the way the synapses work and the neurons connect and the nerves align and the rest of it. Of course my brain contains my experiences and my personal and genetic history etc., but it also has these chemical and biological aspects that can be altered by various circumstances and in turn alter my (and I'm deducing all of our) perceptions and reasoning and taste.

So, anybody want to make an offer for a first edition paperback copy in good condition of Philip Levine's NOT THIS PIG?

[PS: And I realize you might read these two poems, or these books, or already have, and may have come to the exact opposite opinion. But my experience seems to indicate in both our cases that's most likely a product of the ways our brains work which could be easily altered by a little, or not so little, operation!] 

Saturday, November 13, 2010


As I said in a comment on my last post: "It's always a mix of 'good' and 'bad' ain't it?"

Maybe I should have said "almost always" as there are certainly situations and occurrences that seem sometimes like all one or the other—as in the case of horrendous violence or miraculous escape from imminent demise—and I wouldn't argue with that.

But what I was thinking of, was what my old friend Hubert Selby Jr. used to say to me all the time: "You can't have left without right, or up without down, Michael." By which he meant, and explained to me several times, if I'm looking for pleasure I better expect some pain, and there is no success without failure, or vice versa.

It's the same with any given moment or day or experience or person or... (I know there are exceptions to every rule, Hitler being the usual one when we speak of, as my mother used to say, God rest her soul, "there's a little bit of bad in the best of us and a little bit of good in the worst of us")...a mix of "good" and "bad" as long as we use those terms to judge things and events and people, etc.

So, the point of all this is that there is still some residue from the surgery to remove a growth from my brain. I don't have the energy I had before, it seems to me, and I still make many more mistakes when typing, that I then have to correct, so writing is slightly more challenging than it was before the surgery.

And I've already mentioned some of the changes in habits of mind (no more compulsive list-making for instance) and taste (the whole Meryl Streep attractiveness factor mentioned many times this year) (more about the taste changes in my next post).

And of course there was the initial slow recovery with the inability to read or write or etc. which came back very gradually (for me, though in comparison to others who have had similar operations it may have seemed relatively "fast") and various challenges (not driving for what seemed like months so not getting up to see my older kids and grandkids in their Berkshire habitats, etc.) and changes (I seem to still have more difficulty not saying or writing untactful things at times that I had spent decades learning to have better control over, oh well).

But whatever may have seemed "bad" about having brain surgery and not being sure whether it was cancer (it wasn't, thank God) or what permanent effects that might have, was balanced out by the "good" as in the outpouring of love and affection from so many people, many of whom I hadn't heard from in years or even decades—and the experience of knowing from the inside how difficult it is for some people to learn certain things or understand certain things that have always seemed obvious and easy to me, or had before the operation.

I began this blog because others suggested it was the perfect format for my daily ruminations and list-making and commentary on politics and the arts, or at least the ones I seemed obsessed with. And I believe in many ways that the speed and success of my recovery came at least in part, and a large part, from my lifelong compulsion to write, which remained after the operation, and that I exercised by forcing myself to write a post here every day, or as often as I could, immediately after I was released from the hospital, even though in those early days it often took me a half an hour to write and rewrite one line.

So, as I've said many times, I'm a very lucky man and grateful to the Spirit of the Universe, which I call unconditional love, the power in that concept, and to all those who have sent their prayers and good wishes my way back when I was going through it and since. As we said when I was a kid in my neighborhood: "T'anks a million."

Friday, November 12, 2010


Oh wait, it wasn't a dream! 
Sometimes technology can be your friend,
even though last night there were glitches that kept my appearance via Skype at a group poetry reading at

Beyond Baroque in Venice Beach, California.
from starting on schedule or going smoothly at first.
But eventually it worked.

It was kind of a reunion of a big bunch of the regulars who showed up to read for many of the weekly Poetry In Motion readings that went on for over six years in the 1980s and early '90s. The series was started by Eve Brandstein and myself and she organized last night's reading as the first in a monthly revival of the series out there (we also did it monthly in Manhattan, not Beach but New York back then and she may be doing that back East again next year, which I will hopefully be able to be present for).

It was a terrific crowd that I was tuned into a little late but managed to catch most of. Old friends and a few new ones. When it was my time they couldn't get the image up on the screen correctly but eventually did and I got to read two poems and chat a bit with Eve and the others there in this crazy contemporary yet still futuristic way.

The theme of the evening (we always had a theme for people to write on each week, which some saw as corny or manipulative or not independent enough for the poets we invited, usually the same poets who criticized the series for including "Hollywood celebs" in the mix of readers as if being a doctor and a poet or a professor and a poet or a laborer and a poet or an insurance executive and a poet or a banker and a poet (some of our most famous "modern poets" were all of these and more) is okay but being an actor or writer or director or whatever in movies or on TV and a poet is verboten!) was "vets" because it was veteran's day and in a way all or most of the readers were veterans of Poetry In Motion, at least.

I read the poem on the right in my profile, and for each decade mentioned in the poem I had a photo I put on my computer and printed out. The one at the top of this post is me at twenty, with my boot camp buddy "Murph" (we joked a lot about both being Irish since his last name was Murphy). As you can see it's a photo booth shot of us on our first pass (in San Antonio, Texas) and wearing our dress uniforms for the first time. It was also the shortest my hair has ever been (and this is it after it had grown out over the first several weeks of basic!) and probably the best shape I've ever been in. Ah twenty.

[Woops. Just realized I was nineteen. not twenty in this photo. Close enough.]

As for the veterans who actually have seen combat and those who still are, I know it's basically worthless, but I apologize for not being able to do enough to prevent the wars being fought now or to have stopped the other wars in my lifetime sooner than later. May those still fighting return safely and soon.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


...the deficit's lower than expected and even lower than it was last year but we only find that out after the elections which the right made all about the "ballooning deficit" that they never complained of under the the two previous largest deficits in history, one under Bush/Cheney and the other under Reagan/Bush.

And also after the election the heads of the deficit commission appointed by President Obama, by the way—a conservative Democrat and a conservative Republican—came out with recommendations that included all the things the right was yelling for in the elections as well (tax reduction, cuts in Social Security and Medicare) as well as some the left was (cuts in defense spending) etc.


And in neither case was the main tool for raising revenue for the government even mentioned, i.e. raising taxes on the wealthiest so that they're back to Bush/Cheney levels, not to mention Reagan levels which were even higher, or Nixon era which were even higher, or Esienhower's tenure which were the highest.

Nope, the wealthiest will still benefit most from all the suggestions being officially considered to cut the deficit. And we will continue on the path to "third-worldism" that Arianna Huffington's getting a lot of attention for calling attention to with the title of her new book, though many of us have been writing and saying for years that the growing gap between the rich and the rest of us in this country was eliminating the so-called "middle class" giving us a societal make up, economically, akin to the so-called "banana republics" of yore.

Ah, rightwing Republicanism, ain't it grand.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


"Oh I used to be disgusted, and now I try to be amused."
—Elvis Costello

[PS: Here's the video my older son Miles refers to in his comment. Thanks Miles!]

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


I'll probably post on the day itself, but only a few days away it occurs to me how lucky and how grateful I am for that "luck" of having mostly recovered, at least in the ways that count for most of us.

I still, as anyone who has read this blog for more than a year knows, have almost no interest in making the lists I made compulsively all my life before the surgery. And my taste continues to manifest changes I would never have predicted (as in feeling attracted to Meryl Streep and the young Mitzi Gaynor (!) when I see them in a film on TV even though when not viewing them I still feel no attraction toward them and would deny I did if it weren't for the strange reality of the attraction that overwhelms me when I see their moving image on the screen).

I now and then reread books I once cherished and am having various reactions that swing to either affirmation of my original taste or rejection of it. The kind of thing that might happen over time anyway, but in this case happened overnight, the night of the operation, as I slowly come to realize.

In the meantime, the main revelation of my post-op slow return of my faculties left me dismayed as well as amazed at the state of the political discourse in the USA, and in the almost one year that's elapsed since, that's only been emphasized even more, as in the rightwing media's brouhaha over Obama's trip to India etc.

The clips John Stewart showed last night from Beck et. al. were so ludicrously extreme in their lies and innuendo, anyone coming out of being in a coma for several years would think it was a hoax. Not the kind it actually is, but intended as a goof rather than to move people to anger and rage toward a president who has produced more positive social legislation to help his fellow citizens in under two years, than the last one did in eight years, but not enough to counteract the effects of the crippling or elimination of social policies that help us all by that same last administration's eight year run.

Oh well.

[PS: After I wrote the above, found this Rolling Stone article from a link at Ron Silliman's blog.]

Sunday, November 7, 2010


So exit polls and other polls show "Americans" want politicians in Washington to work together and focus on the economy and jobs, and a majority aren't interested in cutting taxes or even keeping the Bush tax cuts for the rich or the rest of us or repealing healthcare.

What they say they want is the politicians to stop fighting and being divisive and work together on the economy and jobs.

So today on the talk shows, with Fox limiting their guests to strictly Republicans because after all they won the election according to them and the rest of the media, though last time I checked the Senate is still Democratic and so is the presidency, but what did the Republican leaders who appeared on the talk shows have to say about their agenda(s)?

They talked about cutting taxes for the rich, repealing healthcare (though they of course call it Obamacare in their superior manipulation of the language to frame any political discussion) and doing everything they can to keep Obama from winning another term, while making it clear they and only they represent what "the American people" want.

And no one challenged that much either, including most of the political show hosts, supposed "journalists" etc. There should be a rapid response network for all of us to fire off emails to the news shows challenging them to ask the hard questions of the Republican leaders they give so much attention to, whether they do or not, they should be pressured to as much as possible through letters and emails and phone calls.

Saturday, November 6, 2010


I often try to explain certain great innovators in the arts to my son by say playing him what a jazz sax solo sounded like before Charlie Parker and one afterwards. The great geniuses of innovation always impress with their originality, doing something like it's never been done before.

But there's another category of innovation which is basically just reinterpretation rather than reinvention ala Bird. And a recent link sent to me by the poet and Traditional Irish Music creator Terence Winch, reminded me of that.

This is an old song which Terence says was often done in a "schmaltzy" way, or played in the waltz tempo according to his brother Jesse, another trad Irish musician, but never like this to my knowledge or theirs. It perfectly illustrates how something familiar and over-sentimentalized in a cheesy way can be reinterpreted and made into a perfect and perfectly subdued and thereby more powerful work of art. The genuine article.

Friday, November 5, 2010


The mass media for the most part has been harping on the bad financial news and impending collapse of the Democrats for what seems like ever, and yet, since the election a few days ago, I've noticed they've been pointing out the good financial news more, kind of a half full rather than half empty thing.

And as I mentioned before, Newt Gingrich who hasn't held an elected office or any official office even within the Republican Party for many years appeared, and still appears, so often not just on the news but on the Sunday morning talk shows that one statistic showed he'd been on Meet the Press over thirty times more than the recent Speaker of the House while she held that office (which post Newt lost many years ago)!

In fact John Boehner, the projected new Speaker of the House was on the news shows more often than Pelosi while she was speaker. Hmmmm.

And did you notice that in this election, one third of the Tea Party candidates won, meaning two thirds of the most conservative Republican faction lost, and about half the Blue Dogs or most conservative faction of the Democrats lost, but only one percent of the Progressive Democratic Congressional faction lost, yet the only person I saw mention that on any news show was Michael Moore on MSNBC. Hmmmm.

Anyone who believes the media is dominated by leftists or liberals hasn't been paying attention.

Thursday, November 4, 2010


Last night I did one of the things I do when something disappointing happens and I want to remind myself of the good things in life. I went to the movies.

I decided days ago that I'd catch this flick I'd been looking forward to as soon as the elections were over. THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET'S NEST is the last film in the trilogy based on the books by Stieg Larssen.

As in the first two, this one too is compelling movie making for me. If you haven't seen the first two there's enough flashbacks in this one to bring you up to date. But they work best as the trilogy they were intended to be.

What's compelling for me is still the performances, despite the fact that sometimes the subtitles made me laugh because they were either translated so lamely or what was going on onscreen seemed to make them unintentionally humorous. But even those unintended comedy breaks didn't lessen the impact of these films for me, nor did some of the usual over-the-top melodramatic plot points, because the performances come off as so real, they ground any extravagances of the story lines.

Maybe it's just because these actors are still so unfamiliar—as are the locations, even after three flicks in the series—and speaking in Swedish, which at times sounds surprisingly like "American" (a few phrases  and words are actually in English and seem to be used by the Swedes, at least in the films, as a kind of slang) that gives them a veracity they might not have when the Hollywood versions come out (all of which are due out in the near future).

But despite the basic storyline's contrivances and unlikely coincidences and timing etc., the main characters are so interestingly portrayed by the lead actors that I get immediately engaged every time I watch them, as I did with this latest that seems to resolve every plot point positively (as unlikely as that is in real life) but saves itself in the little coda at the end where the two main leads—the crusading middle-aged male journalist and the young female punk techno-and-physical-combat genius—seem as awkward and unable to communicate their feelings as ever.

Nice touch that, and it leaves the ending ambiguous enough to resonate as the reality that is sometimes missing in the other storyline concoctions.

At any rate, it was just the escape I was looking for, along with those little ice cream "dibs" that aren't as good as the ice cream "bon-bons" they sold at Radio City Music Hall when I was a boy, but they'll do for now.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


The good news is that the "tsunami" predicted by the rightwingers didn't occur. Several of the looniest rightwing candidates lost (Paladino, O'Donnell, "Angle," the guy who likes to dress up as a Nazi, etc.) and the grizzlies didn't do so well either (Whitman, Fiorino, Angle, O'Donnell again, etc.).

But I heard some of the right's losers last night and this morning and they still don't get how democracy works. Paladino who got wiped out by Cuomo in what was a true landslide kept talking about what "the people" wanted was his ideas and his attitudes and his perspective, as if he'd won! And O'Donnell, who also got beaten badly, kept talking about how it was someone else's fault and it wasn't her ideas that got beaten but instead they had actually won because she got crushed by a man supported by Obama (!?) in her usual dippy contradictory garbled way.

So now there's some new faces in Congress who believe that taxes have to be cut, but will they acknowledge that they have been cut by Obama and the Democrats for "the middle class" and working people? Or will they continue to hypocritically play the propaganda game and claim the Dems raised taxes? And will they be willing to cut the budget by cutting military bases around the world and bringing to an end both wars we're still fighting?

If they truly want to make the federal government smaller, as only Democratic administrations have done in my lifetime, and cut taxes for the poor and working class while making the wealthy pay at least their basic fair share, as only Democratic administrations have done in my lifetime, will they actually be willing to stand up to the billionaire corporate moguls who funded the ads and campaigns and rightwing think tanks and Tea Party organizing efforts, etc. whose control of politicians in general, but rightwing Republican ones in particular,  has caused most of our problems? Or be willing to get that done with the Democrats they will need to do it?

Whadda you think.

[PS: And here's one of the best responses to the election, from Maureen Dowd in today's NY Times.]

Monday, November 1, 2010


Don't despair.

No matter what the outcome tomorrow, those we love and who love us will still be there, in our hearts and we in theirs.

What we know cannot be lost as long as we pass it on to those who can comprehend it, an imperative too easily surrendered.

In the direst of times, times of repression and oppression, of depressions and recessions, of war and sacrifice and even surrender, art is still made, poetry written and read and performed, movies made, musicals danced and sung, creativity of all kinds flourish even if underground. Sometimes the greatest creativity takes place during what seems like the worst of times.

The permanent rightwing media establishment—with propaganda fueled by the permanent rightwing unthink centers, funded by billionaires and greedy corporations for whom enough is never ever nowhere near enough—will go on.

But so will we, sharing our love and creativity. Some will get it, many won't. It's okay.

My paternal grandfather came to this country from Ireland as a teenager from a thatch-roofed cottage with a dirt floor and lots of siblings sleeping on kitchen benches and the floor of the small loft over the fireplace. He became our town's first policeman and voted Democratic all his life because he understood where his and his large family's interests were best protected.

My father dropped out of the Catholic school his father and other Irish immigrants built in our town, in seventh grade, to go to work to help support his family. He ended up creating several small businesses, each one lost during what he always called "Republican recessions" (during Republican administrations, like the last one) but another always started up under a Democratic recovery (like the one we're in now, sluggish or not).

He became the chairman of the local Democratic Party and brilliantly out maneuvered the wealthy Republicans that had ruled our town for decades and decades before he came along. He was part of a generation that understood what party best served the interests of working families, of immigrants and their children, of those of us either not wealthy at all, or rich but smart enough to know what JFK's dad did when he said he was willing to give up half of what he had in order to keep the other half.

The greedy of our time who underwrite and promote the rightwing agenda don't care about anything but money, as they have made, and are making, clear. So, if Republicans take control of the House, financial reform will stall or be reversed, healthcare for those who can't afford it will stall or be reversed, Social Security and Medicare and other federal programs that help many of us without wealth will be gutted or eliminated or drained dry.

And they will find a way, through the media they control or easily manipulate, to blame all that on liberals and progressives and Democrats and Ivy League elites and East Coast/West Coast elites and whoever they can other than themselves, and many will buy it for reasons from lack of education to unfocused resentment to the ways their brains are wired.

But we will still be able to love and be loved, to create and appreciate the creativity of others, and to carry the message of community and common welfare and acceptance and understanding and tolerance and all the beautiful traits and practices the right now mocks us and those who would represent us for.

One gift the Irish I grew up around gave me for which I am eternally grateful was humor, a capacity to laugh in the face of tragedy and disaster, and to get to work to overcome it or help others to. Not to laugh at the results of tragic disasters—like those brought about by the incompetence of the last rightwing Republican administration and control of all branches of government—but at the folly of those who would try to crush the spirit of people who have been through disaster before and know they can survive it, and to laugh in joy at the gift of life and love that can never be defeated by greed and the love of power exemplified by the right.

Happy New Year!

[PS: After I wrote the above, my friend the poet Bob Berner sent me a link to an article celebrating what would be Dizzy Gillespie's 93rd birthday (and pointing out he ran for president back in the day on a platform of getting out of Viet Nam and renaming The White House: The Blues House) with a link to the video below which perfectly illustrates my point above since this is from 1959, four years before Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech, during the repressive years of the (relatively moderate in comparison to today's Republicans) Eisenhower presidency when things were looking pretty bleak for liberals and progressives and Democrats and non-whites etc.(and he had already gotten us involved in Viet Nam), yet here are several artists, two in particular, showing us how to be joyfully alive despite the odds, performing a song my uncle Lydie (Michael Lydon Lally was his given name) would always be requested to sing at clan gatherings, so it has a double resonance for me on this Celtic New Years Day]

[PPS: Be sure to watch it all the way through to get the full effect]: