Sunday, January 31, 2010


Talk about original forms that creativity takes. Check out this video of a young (24-year-old) woman in the "Ukraine's Got Talent" TV contest (she won). According to the poet E. Ethelbert Miller, whose blog I saw this link on, it's depicting the impact of the German invasion of the Ukraine during WWII. But whatever the politics of it might be, it's the amazing and crazy talent this woman displays with her art that makes this mesmerizing. Watch it all the way through.

Saturday, January 30, 2010


I recently received in the mail some more examples of what I've written about often on this blog and elsewhere, creative projects by people you may not have heard of but whose work exemplifies the variety of voices and possibilities for originality available in the world today.

Chris Mason has been one of my favorite poets since I first encountered him and his work in the DC area back in the '70s. I've mentioned his early book POEMS OF A DOGGIE on this blog before.

But he's also been involved in music—writing and singing and playing with THE TINKLERS, and along with that proto-"alt-rock" band more recently he's responsible for a group called OLD SONGS, which sets to music Chris's translations of classic Greek poetry.

Chris sent me two CDs from each group not long ago. The newest were SLOWPOKE (The Tinklers) and BRIGHT LYRE FINDS A VOICE (Old Songs). The latter is a collection of Sappho poems translated by Chris with music by a bunch of folks, among them Liz Downing, whose vocals raise the homegrown sound of OLD SONGS to levels of lyrical finesse while her fellow bandmates contrast that with a fearless un-finesse that made me smile in appreciation.

There's a rawness to the music on these CDs. Not the kind of "rawness" critics used to accuse my poetry of having. Chris's is much more childlike and modest in its presentation, but nonetheless totally bold and in-your-face in terms of technique and subject matter and his treatment of it. If that makes sense.

What I mean is, for instance the Tinkler songs on SLOWPOKE evoke the kind of indie playfulness and simplicity of say the JUNO soundtrack with the rawness, or anti-slick approach to playing their instruments and singing, of early punk.

But what makes their songs totally unique above and beyond that rare combination is Chris's lyrics. They're not something you haven't maybe heard of or even thought of before, but never like this. E.g. here's the words to "Up From the Basement" in full:

I was playing with my Tinker Toys
My mother said
Better not make that noise
Your father might be out of sorts
I went and hid in my closet fort
He was in the basement
With bottles rattling
Someone's crying someone's tattling
Who's been bad while I've been gone
I'm gonna teach you right from wrong

I don't want him to come up
From the basement

We would find my father
Face down in the cellar
Most people thought
He was a pretty nice feller
He went to a couple of AA meetings
We never talked about the beatings
I have dreams about
Things with teeth
I have dreams about
Shapes that breathe
Terrible creatures under the water
I have dreams about my father

I don't want him to come up
From the basement

I got married and we had a kid
I would get frustrated
By the things that he did
Little toy trucks all over the floor
Sometimes he'd do it
Just to make me sore
I had to stop him
From making that sound
I had a couple drinks
To try to calm down
I don't want him growing up
Acting like a nut
Sometimes I gotta
Kick him in the butt
Sometimes I gotta
Kick him in the butt

I don't want to come up
From the basement

They're not all maudlin or dark the way this one might be perceived, some are even uplifting or simply playful and oddly jangling (inherently contradictory but not as in irony more as in real-world paradoxically) like this verse from "Mensa Maniacs":

Going to the 7-11
We don't even believe in Heaven
Waiting for the bus
You're dumber than us
We're the Mensa Maniacs!

But you can see that recent indie-folkie-we're-just-doing-this-for-our-own-fun kind of spirit in it, except that Chris was doing it long before the latest indie-alt-rock trends began. I'm happy to see he's still at it.

[You can see and hear him read some of his work at a recent event in Baltimore [woops, DC, see comments], where he still resides, at this link. You have to get through the introduction first.]

Friday, January 29, 2010


After mentioning in a recent post who I still find reading books of solid prose difficult [I meant "why" of course, but I've corrected enough "typos" in this post and thought I'd leave that because it's obviously not a "typo" where I hit the wrong key accidentally since the "y" and "o" are separated by a few keys, it was just my brain doing that thing it now does of substituting another word then I intended, I should be leaving all of them and publishing the results as "language poetry"], mentioning novels and biographies as examples of books I wasn't tackling.

Then I received belated Xmas gifts in the mail from one of my oldest and best friends, Karen, and they were a novel and a biography.

The bio was the new one of Thelonious Monk I intended to buy with a gift card I haven't used yet and read it when I'm able. But now that it's here I couldn't help reading the first few pages. And It's already a fascinatingly thorough take, obviously well researched, revealing details and facts I wasn't aware of, and I've been reading everything I can get my hands on about Monk for my entire adult life.

The other is a novel, LET THE GREAT WORLD SPIN, by Colum McCann that I probably wouldn't have otherwise bought and read. It comes highly recommended so I read the first few pages of it as well and fell for the writing and perspective. Now I intend to give that a try too. I think that's the best policy and probably partly responsible for my pretty rapid recovery—the fact that I started trying to do things that either I couldn't at first or initially found difficult and with almost daily attempts began to re-acquire the cognitive and motor skills I had before the surgery.

But as I also mentioned in that recent post about my recovery, some things are definitely different and one of the most obvious for me that means nothing to doctors or the various recovery therapists or to most people, is my no longer having the compulsion to make lists.

I feel like one of those characters in an Oliver Sachs book about brain injuries and the changes they cause, but instead of being the guy who was hit by lightening or a truck or whatever and then compulsively had to play music or etc. I'm a guy who had a list-making compulsion ever since I can remember and after the operation it wasn't there any more.

Some of my friends think it's a good thing. But I always liked lists. They're the basis structurally for a lot of my poetry, as they were for many poets (Whitman's a classic example) and because my mind is always chattering they were almost a kind of meditation, a way of slowing my thoughts down or at least focusing them in a way that wasn't endlessly repetitive or entirely useless (although some may have found the lists that resulted those ways).

But now and then I try to come up with one while I'm laying in bed before falling asleep and it's useless, I can't. I think of a new idea for what a list might be based on and then begin to make it and I lose interest after one or two items. Unheard of in all my previous life. I made lists constantly. Some of which appeared on this blog or in my poetry, as I said, or even prose, etc. but most of which never left my brain.

I wonder if that will ever come back? I'll try now and then to come up with one and to complete it and we'll see (I redid the lists on my profile here a few weeks ago to only things I've come to consider favorites since the operation, but I noticed even doing that it was kind of a half baked effort and I let it dwindle down pretty quickly and it had no format, i.e. ten top or alphabet or trinities or any of the others I used to do [I've added a few since].

There's other stuff too, like I just got back from the pharmacy and the experience was pretty routine, making me think of how difficult it was to do that even with help only a few weeks ago. But I noticed I signed my name in the wrong spot when they gave me the prescriptions, so had to add an arrow pointing to the line it was supposed to be on, and that was something that was automatic for me over the past few years.

There's more I've observed but this is enough for one post, or even too much. We'll see where I am at the end of twelve weeks.

Thursday, January 28, 2010


91 they say. A good long run. Be interesting if unpublished work is now made public.

As a young man I had mixed feelings about THE CATCHER IN THE RYE and in fact don't have the original paperback anymore, having given it away decades ago.

The whole preppy thing bugged me, but the writing was so tight and right for the subject I couldn't deny his unique genius.

Out of all his published work, which I read more than once back in the day, the only one I kept around and still have is the paperback edition of RAISE HIGH THE ROOF BEAM CARPENTERS AND SEYMOUR AN INTRODUCTION.

I still find the writing in these two long "stories" (to my mind more like excerpts of longer works never finished or never published) truly original, and engaging. Though in my post-brain operation reading perspective, I don't find them quite as easy or as inviting as I did not that long ago. But I still find the language on almost any page I open randomly to impressively his, not so much in the combination or juxtaposition of individual words, but in his paragraphs.

He made his paragraphs—whether one short sentence or seemingly endless pages long—the vessels for his story-telling goods. They carried them into some almost ethereal realm of individual obsessiveness couched as casual conversation.

Or at least that's the best way I can describe what I dig about the two stories in this book, and remember from the others.

Here's a link to the NY Times obit, kind of snarky but fills in some gaps.


Zinn was a political and social activist who used his writing and speaking skills to become one of the greatest teachers this country has ever had. Whether you agreed with everything he wrote and said, his skills as a teacher are undeniable.

His books and lectures in the 1960s taught many how to read the history of this country from a very different perspective than the misinformation that too many previous historians and teachers had passed on to most students. There were what some would call "radical" or "leftist" historians before Zinn, many who influenced him from my perspective and I'm sure his. But the main instrument of Zinn's influence came in his book—A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES.

I remember reading that book in the 1960s and having a copy for years that disappeared somewhere. But according to all the obituaries I've seen, the publication date for it is given as 1980 so I wonder what it was I remember, or if this is just another of those cases where the internet picks up information that is wrong or just off (like maybe the definitive or revised or publication by a major publisher occurred in 1980).

You can read for yourself the obituaries on line or elsewhere (here's one), I just want to say that I had the great good fortune of knowing him slightly, as a result of our doing a reading together a few years ago at Cooper Union in New York, on the same stage and using the same lectern that Lincoln used when he gave his anti-slavery speech there. Which was ironic in some ways since Howard liked to quote Lincoln's early campaign statement appeasing the South by claiming that he believed "the white race" superior to the "black" one.

But of course Lincoln came a long way in the few short years between that statement and his Emancipation Declaration, because he no longer had to appease the South since it had seceded and he was now at war with it. Howard used that reality to point out that compromising on basic principles of life and liberty only impeded the true course of history.

And in his later lectures, including the one in his book JUST WAR, he made the case that wars could be eliminated the same way slavery was. That we didn't have to appease those who weren't ready to accept that but instead had to push actively for the end of even the idea of a "just" war.

It's what he spoke about at Cooper Union that night we were both on stage. After I had read the long poem I finished on the eve of our invasion of Iraq and named for that date: MARCH 18, 2003. That book had been recently published in a new edition (hardcover and with several illustrations by Alex Katz added) by the Italian art-book press Charta (in partnership with the original published Libellum), and Charta had previously published Zinn's JUST WAR, a transcription of a talk he gave in Rome in 2005.

The proceeds for JUST WAR were donated by Zinn to the organization EMERGENCY, which helps the victims of wars and which was sponsoring our appearance that night. It was a thrill for me, not just to be reading with Howard but to a large audience drawn by his name and reputation, giving me the opportunity to make the case I try to make in MARCH 18, 2003.

But the reality was that I didn't entirely agree with Zinn. I had come a long way from the pure idealism of my youth to the place I'm still in now which is that I absolutely believe in the ideal of eliminating war and the need for war, and I believe it is necessary that we all actively try to bring that about, but until that happens I think there can be distinctions made between the lesser and greater of two evils (ala Hitler and the Axis vs. the U.S. and the Allies).

I disagreed with Zinn publicly that evening in the Q&A session after I had read and he had spoken. And he accepted that difference in our perspectives as understandable and afterwards was complimentary and wanted to get together and talk more. He came across as passionate and informed and warm and generous with his time and attention and ideas and beliefs.

I admired him enormously and feel privileged and honored that I got to have some personal contact with him. And I salute his accomplishments and attempts to influence and change the course of history. Which his writing and speaking and teaching and activism certainly did.

Even though he was in his eighties when I met him, his vitality and intellectual acuity was still greater than not just mine but probably everyone in that lecture hall that night. May his family and friends and many fans, myself among them, be grateful for having known him and been exposed to his reasoning and arguments for making the world a better place, and showing all of us how to base our arguments for our beliefs on well researched and documented facts, as Howard did, rather than on misinformation or deliberate distortions of reality, as is so often the case in the arguments going on among too many of us these days.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Just a fast update on my progress halfway into the eleventh week since brain surgery.

I have changed. I still have mostly the same personality and most of the same motor and cognitive skills (or lack of them), but there have been big and small changes that may or may not go away, but are with me now.

I continue to have trouble writing, and reading books of prose that are structured as one long story or examination of one subject etc. Broken up prose I can take no matter how dense, though the more direct and clear and well written the better. But novels, bios, memoirs, histories, etc. right now are too demanding.

I tried reading the first few chapters of an extensive memoir I've been working on for years now and couldn't do it. And I haven't been able to write anything more than these posts and comments on this blog and a few others.

I also notice my thoughts are even more unfiltered than ever (see previous post comments). I am still feeling totally fortunate for my recovery and not having cancer in my brain and the wonderful outpouring of sympathy and prayers and well wishes. And I feel almost a constant sense of not just gratitude but joy.

However I have much less tolerance for the lies and distortions and cynical manipulation of the media and public discourse that has made these times so disappointingly irrational and counter productive.

I also continue to be a bit challenged by everyday life. I went to the local Whole Foods today by myself for the second time (I think) since the operation and found myself a little disoriented at times. Nothing to cause worry, just to cause a sense of "Oh, this isn't the way it used to be." [Just to clarify, I was in complete control of my faculties and knew where I was and what I was getting and got it with no trouble, it just seemed kind of strange to be doing it.]

I still have to correct what seem like "typos" in these posts and comments before publishing them, but they're not typos because I make similar "mistakes" when I write by hand (yesterday in a note I wrote "fife" for "life" etc.).

And I continue to want to limit if not curtail my exposure to negativity from any quarter, whether movies, commenters, music, etc. I'll still try to see movies that seem to have something worthwhile going for them etc. but prefer and intend to respond as much as possible to the things that I find uplifting or enlightening in ways that offer solutions or redemption or the possibility, at least, of love.

I thought Conan Obrien's final words on his last TONIGHT show summed up my attitude pretty well. Here's a link to that, but you have to watch until the end to get to the part I mean. He proved himself a class act in the end. I know I always haven't been and always won't be, but I refuse to buy into the cynicism that has been used by the right as a tool to distract and disillusion most voters who don't care about political parties but only about results so that they will become cynical and not vote leaving the small minority that is the rightwing base to sway elections in their favor and when their failures are too blatant to make that happen (ala 2008 election) do everything they can to distract and disillusion voters about their choice so they will give up in frustration and leave the field to the right's candidates and policies, which have damaged this country to badly over the past several decades and particularly the eight years of the previous administration that many have given up.

All you have to know about rightwing ideology is that it led to the Supreme Court overturning almost a century of American law to declare corporations individuals with the right of "free speech" allowing them to spend any amount of money they wish on political campaigns. Changing the interpretation of laws that had been in effect since the very idea of corporations became prominent in the business of this country. Meaning the rightwingers took an activist position, as they would say, to reinterpret the constitution to mean that the founding fathers were thinking of the possibility of huge corporations being considered "individuals" and being given the right to buy elections. Washington and Jefferson and even Adams are turning over in their graves.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


Does anyone know of any rigntwinger who claims to be against the government being involved in healthcare and has proven it by giving up their Medicare? Seems like a lot of those tea party folks are eligible by the looks of them.

Actually, does anyone have the stats on how much of the deficit we could reduce if every rightwinger who claims to be against the government having anything to to with their healthcare gave up their Medicare and any other subsidies the government provides as well as any regulations the government oversees in the healthcare industry?

Man the rest of us could probably have Medicare extended to all of us without it costing anything if only the people who believe in government's role in healthcare and the regulation of the healthcare industry should be zero opted the freak out of all of it and let us have the decent-and-equally-caring-for-all system we want.

Have you noticed (this one's not easy because the "mainstream media" that the right has convinced their followers is "liberal" is actually scared to death of the right) that the healthcare "reforms" being suggested now (on the Sunday talk shows and elsewhere) by the Republicans, who it looks like have been successful in killing the Dems bill, is exactly the same as the ones in the bill they voted against when they were in control of the Congress and presidency?

Just asking. (And before it even happens, we all know the rightwing trolls like "Jim" et. al. will refer to articles from rightwing sources that have as much credibility as Glen Beck recently saying it's the liberals who try to "shout down" their opponents and use horrible tactics like calling people "racists"—forgetting that he called the president "racist" as a way of attacking him and spends most of his waking hours "shouting down" his opponents or would-be opponents and supporting groups like the tea partyers and birthers etc. who use "shout down" tactics as their main strategy).

Monday, January 25, 2010


So Sandra Bullock won the SAG Award for best actress in a movie. Kind of unexpected. Meryl Streep was looking like a shoo-in for JULIE & JULIA. But Bullock's win mirrored Jeff Bridges win for best male actor for his portrayal of a drunk country singer in CRAZY HEART.

In a way they were both winning for a career full of terrific acting that mostly went unrecognized. Bridges I've always considered one of our greatest and most underrated film actors. Bullock I have to admit I usually ended up admiring for being able to play such a broad range of blockbuster movie characters from comic to action etc.

But it wasn't until I saw her in CRASH a few years ago that I realized first of all she had some range I wasn't even aware of and that she was willing to subordinate her star status for an ensemble piece in which she didn't even have one of the bigger roles.

Interestingly she mentioned that role in CRASH as the turning point in her career after her decision to chuck the star stuff and actually audition for a role in what she referred to as a small or little movie or maybe she said independent. Whatever. It was clear in her remarks at the SAG Awards that she changed direction in order to prove her chops in serious drama and CRASH was the first step, THE BLIND SIDE some kind of culmination, or at least fulfillment.

I only saw BLIND SIDE last week and was moved to tears by a story I already knew from reading the NY Times Sunday Magazine article (as I remember it) that the book was based on that led to the movie. It's a moving story. Homeless impoverished basically abandoned young African-American boy is taken in by upper middle-class Southern Christian white family and the diminutive mom sets about getting him a good education and the chance to become an NFL star.

The article was better than the movie in some places. There's a lot of smugness in Bullock's character that I found a little irritating at times, and in the script and direction (is it me or are strong, independent successful working black women becoming some kind of target for revenge or at least judgement in a lot of otherwise on-the-surface more tolerant flicks?), especially when it came to the self-righteousness of Bullock's character and the scapegoating of an entire community (lower class "blacks").

But Bullock is such a good actress, or performer maybe, that she pulls it off because she gets you to believe her motives are pure even when the movie itself implies they might not be entirely. It is a terrific performance. And a pretty accomplished transformation. It's easy to accept Bullock as a strong-willed woman, and a successful business woman, but a Southern, blond, politically conservative doyenne of her household turned surrogate mom for an adolescent black giant? To make us believe that, she has to be a terrific actress.

But the real revelation here is Quinton Aaron as Michael Oher, the eventual NFL star. He uses his bulk and his capacity for childlike innocence in the face of enormous emotional trauma so well it's hard to remember he's acting in a movie and not the real Oher.

Jae Head as the littlest wheeler and dealer of the white household Oher becomes a part of is also pretty interesting to watch, even when you get the feeling this kid is almost as "on" as Mickey Rooney always seemed to be. It's still impressive to see a kid work that hard and make that much happen on screen when he's playing off Bullock's experience and talent and Aaron's imposing presence and obvious talent as well.

It's definitely worth seeing, and Bullock deserves some nominations for what she's accomplished in this role, but beating out Streep, let alone so many other women who gave great performances this year that were much deeper and showed an even wider range, not for my taste.

Sunday, January 24, 2010


Just wanted to clarify a few things in response to blog comments and e mails and other responses to the brain surgery recovery process.

First of all, as Martha Gelhorn said (one of my favorite writers) and I paraphrase: we can't do much about most of reality, but we can observe and report on it as accurately as we're able. Bear witness to it, as it were. Which is what I try to do and to stick to things I know something about, like my personal experience (including various "careers" and locations and interaction with historic events and movements, and now, obviously, brain surgery recovery).

Secondly, as I hope I've made clear, I don't feel frustrated or disappointed about my health problems (any of them), or almost never, because I accept them as for the most part out of my control. I do my best to do what I've read and been told can help and what the doctors recommend and try not to waste energy on "if only" or "why me" etc. Especially since I feel I have been amazingly lucky when it comes to any of these issues, like the growth in my brain not being cancerous and being entirely removed and my recovery being so fast.

Nor do I feel frustrated or disappointed by friends and other folks who have a different perspective on what I'm going through. In fact I find their comments and responses very useful. For instance, people saying that some of what I'm experiencing they experience too and they haven't had brain surgery has made me look more closely at my experience to see if they're correct from my perspective.

Like the examples I gave in my last post. I was thinking about that last night while falling back asleep after being woken by my 12-year-old around 5AM because his throat was hurting him (we did a spoonful of honey and it seemed to work). And I realized the actual conversation yesterday with a new friend, Richard, at this memorial would demonstrate better what the lapses in my usual brain functioning are like.

Richard has written a screenplay that got some attention at the Austin film festival and I was sharing my experiences in an attempt to, I hope, give him some support and encouragement (sometimes my attempts come off more like self-centeredness I guess, but I've always believed in the theory that we should stick to what we know best and that is ourselves and our own experience). In the process I was telling a story about an agent I had in my Hollywood screenwriting years who dropped me when I asked for an advance on my next project to help me pay some bills as I was broke and raising two teenagers on my own.

The agent was a friend I thought. His son and my older son were in a band together, his wife was a producer I gave a lot of props to and thought of as a friend (and still do though I haven't seen or talked to her in years), etc. But when I asked for the advance, he said he thought it was inappropriate for clients to request money and as a result he had to drop me and did.

But in the course of telling Richard this, I couldn't think of the word for "advance" though I did have the concept in my head. And when I tried to think of it, instead of that sensation most of us have and I still have sometimes as well, where you think the word is really close, "right on the tip of your tongue" as we say, but in this case it wasn't anywhere on my tongue or anywhere else in my brain or body or even in the area, because Richard suggested "You mean an advance" and I said something like "Is that it"" or "Maybe" or some indefinite response because my mind in that area was completely blank, as I described in yesterday's post, as if it had been turned completely off and could not register anything having to do with the concept I was trying to articulate.

See what I mean? What the difference is? It was only today, while writing this, that the word" advance" started to become clear and I could realize, or accept, that yes, that was the word I was looking for almost twenty-four hours ago but not only couldn't find but couldn't even accept when it was given to me, because my brain just could no longer deal with or address or even have any awareness whatsoever of the concept anymore. It just quit in that department until now, a day later.

Interesting, right? At least it is to me. And because I had a pretty big pool of words in my brain already, from using a lot of whatever brain power I had for reading and writing and listening for all these decades, I can generally find another way to say most things. In fact, I notice I've been using a slightly different vocabulary when writing and speaking than I used to, and with a lot less of a filter. For instance, I used to avoid anything too fancy sounding or too complex because of my roots and not wanting to betray them with any kind of intellectual affectation. But now that doesn't seem to enter into my thinking at all, I notice, and whatever word comes to mind, or replaces what doesn't come to mind, I seem to accept without judgement.

One last thing in response to "Harryn's" question about what the neurosurgeon has to say about my current experiences. They don't say much. They test for basic motor and cognitive skills and are happy if they're working and leave the rest to occupational and speech and etc. therapy, which I did for a while but stopped because I was already ahead of where most people get to and didn't want to seem indulgent. And because a lot of the exercises duplicate or are related to what I'm already instinctively doing, like writing these posts every day and reading more each day and pushing the limits of my abilities every day (while recognizing how far I can go, like I am not ready to try driving on a highway yet).

There are so many people I know who are suffering so much more as a result of their health problems, including brain surgeries that didn't turn out as well as mine or with the same results or are suffering from recurrences of Lyme's disease (like my friend Paul) or chronic fatigue or incurable cancers or clinical depressions or etc. These people are actually suffering much more than I am, or have, and my heart and thoughts and prayers go out to them. I'm not suffering, I'm just slightly inconvenienced by my various health issues. I can think pretty well, read and write relatively well, converse pretty much okay (though in a slightly different way than I used to, including, again, even less of a filter on what I say and how I express myself). And physically I'm not in any pain except the usual, or limited in any ways that keep me from spending a lot of great "quality" time, as they say, with my youngest, and when I can with my older two (at least on the phone now) and grandkids and friends and other family members etc. What more could you ask for?

Saturday, January 23, 2010


I was at a memorial service today for a friend's mother and during a conversation I couldn't remember a word that I've used a million times if once. The person I was speaking with initially brushed it aside as happening to him "all the time." I hear this a lot these days and I appreciate the perspective.

It is true that I have recovered from the brain surgery to such an extent that what I am observing and reporting on here often sounds like "senior moments" or the general forgetfulness we all have when we wonder where we put that thing or what we were on our way to doing etc.

But because it's happening in this single individual's brain, mine, with a history of such forgetfulness that is natural (or the result of earlier personal practices that might have created a few missed synapses) I know the difference.

It's like this—when I forget what I went into the kitchen to get, or where I put my cell phone, or what that person's name is etc. in the old ways, it feels like the record skipped, or like when the satellite or cable connection breaks and the image on the TV screen does that strange cubist kind of break up of the image into odd squares and rectangles etc.

But when I can't remember the word I'm looking for or how to close a bag of cookies with those tabs on the sides at the top or what directions mean in terms of where I live and am familiar with, and it's a result of the brain surgery, it isn't like a record skipping or TV image breaking up, it's like the record player or the TV has been turned off. Nothing. Nada. My mind goes completely blank and feels like an entire area of it has gone missing.

Or another simile, it's like my brain has frozen, as though where there were images and words and what usually makes up most of my mental life when I'm awake or dreaming is turned into a vast white horizonless landscape of white.

I don't know if that helps, but I'm sure anyone with a brain injury will recognize what I'm trying to describe. And once again let me be clear, I know how lucky I am to be able to use my brain at all and the extent to which most of my cognitive abilities have returned. I am so unbelievably grateful for it all, but I am also a writer/observer, and have been all my life, especially OF my life, seeing it since I was a kid as some sort of work of art that I have some control over at the same time I'm also enjoying and critiquing.

Thus this blog and the books and etc.

Friday, January 22, 2010


And I'm wiped out. Spending yesterday rearranging books (there's still piles on the floor around my apartment yet to be dealt with, but oh the pleasure of picking up and handling a much loved tome and maybe reading a poem or some lines from one I forgot and all the memories and sensations rushing back of purely "artistic" pleasure, though as sensual and soul satisfying as any other kind) and this blog page (adding images of some of my books to the right etc.).

And then today spending time at a framer's trying to choose frames and mattes or not etc. for a few pieces I'd been meaning to get off the piles in my little alcove office and behind glass to keep them from getting any more browned by the sun and the air or stained from accidents etc.

Pushing my independence and relishing it, I mean in terms of my recovery, maybe a little too much of a cognitive workout. Found my brain turning off somewhere halfway through the frame(s)-decision(s) session (after having driven right past the place initially, though I knew exactly where it was etc. but couldn't remember suddenly).

So, a more restful and less brain busy weekend is my intention. But not too restful.

Thursday, January 21, 2010


It'll be ten weeks tomorrow since the surgery. I know yesterday was also an anniversary, and I had a list prepared of many of the mistakes and miscalculations and outright lies and distortions that led to the mess this country was in on every level after eight years of the Bush/Cheney administration, especially the six when the Republicans controlled everything, and a list of this administration's many accomplishments in just one year.

But with our cognitively challenged society right now when it comes to politics it seems pointless to even bring it up. If a majority of voters think Republicans are better at protecting our security and winning wars (Eisenhower gave up in Korea and we are still facing the consequences in North Korea, Nixon's party lost Viet Nam AND Cambodia etc.; Reagan made a solid promise he would not abandon Lebanon in its hour of need and after what can be seen as the first suicide attack against the USA in some ways when a Marine barracks in Beirut was blown up and hundreds died he reversed that promise and pulled the Marines out and abandoned Lebanon while choosing much easier targets like the tiny island of Grenada etc.; Bush Senior stopped short of ousting Saddam Hussein from Iraq leaving his son to avenge that oversight so poorly the war there has become the longest in our history and gave rise to a stronger and more widespread terrorist network, not to mention ignored the advice of the Clinton/Gore administration about a coming attack from Al Queda involving airplanes attacking the US etc. so have some responsibility for 9/11!) God bless them.

And if they think the Republicans are better at fixing healthcare, or corporate malfeasance, or the economy (the two greatest financial crises in the last century in this country occurred under Republican administrations), et-endlessly-cetera. God bless'em.

As for me, I'm still having some cerebral troubles, like the ones mentioned in yesterday's post, but I'm still recovering in what I see as miraculous ways. For instance, yesterday I got into rearranging the books in my several book cases while listening to music from the iTunes shuffle on my computer. It made me so happy I decided this might be my idea of heaven.

To pick up a book that I have a deep personal connection to, not just the content but as an object (if not I pass them on) while being surprised by some musical juxtaposition I wasn't expecting (Bing Crosby to Bob Dylan to Lester Young to James Horner to The Band, etc.) and recordings that hold an equally powerful personal connection for me...

especially when only weeks ago I couldn't read or write and had almost no interest in books and couldn't listen to music or only a limited amount etc. etc.

And today I actually did some rearranging on my blog you might have noticed, prompted by my oldest son Miles. It was relatively easy, but I still had a lot of trouble and didn't get it the way I wanted it, but close enough. And it took all day (as did yesterday, I still haven't finished either actually but got tired and took a break, maybe indefinitely!).

But what a miracle it seems to me after these recent weeks to even care about books again (even if I'm still not into reading straight prose books yet) and music (I still have trouble with that too, a CD poet Beth Joselow burned for me for my recovery I still can't get onto my computer in a way that lets me play it). For which I am enormously grateful, as I am for all that the Obama administration has accomplished in one short year, even if I don't like some things still not done or some of the characters he's got working for him (Rham Emmanuel always seemed like the wrong choice for these times and problems). Oh well.

[PS For another brief take on the first year see here and here for another great RJ Eskow take, this one on the Mass. election.]

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Maybe best known now as the mother of Rufus Wainwright, Kate McGarrigle (here's a good obit) and her sister Anna were instant favorites the first moment I heard them sing and perform their music.

The antidote to all the hype and glitz and giant egos of the music business then and now, these two women graced the world with their talent without ever displaying any of the hubris that so many talented "artists" seem to be cursed with, even those who have only a modicum of what the world generally recognizes as "success" (yours truly included).

I only wish we all, and me personally for sure, could not only share whatever talent we have as generously and naturally—truly humbly since humility is nothing but unblemished reality—and lovingly.

May her family find peace and solace from the musical legacy she leaves behind that will long outlast many more obvious examples of "success" in the world, musical or not.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


The novel A SINGLE MAN by Christopher Isherwood became one of my favorite books the first time I read it. I always loved Isherwood, one of the great stylists of 20th Century English. In fact, his way with the written word transformed my deep seated resentment toward most things upper-class Brit and made a fan of me.

I met him in Manhattan in the 1970s when he was visiting and had dinner at his home in Santa Monica Canyon shortly after I moved nearby in the early '80s. The other people there at the time were my then wife, a terrific actress who I had fallen for watching her in a play, not realizing I was falling for a character not the person playing the role, and Chris's...what?

How do we describe a person who Chris had first fallen in love with decades before and had lived with since then and would continue to live with until his death, who was the love of his life but happened to be a man? His pal? His buddy? His "partner" or "lifetime companion" or worse yet—boyfriend?

That is part of the point of A SINGLE MAN, both the book and the movie. The book was quietly revolutionary, appearing in 1964, five years before The Stonewall "riots" that sparked what became know for a while as "the gay revolution"—i.e. the movement to finally grant equality to "gays" and "lesbians" (also terms that don't seem to fit very well the reality that we're all human and "sexuality"—even "gender"—is found on a sliding scale that's not necessarily fixed, and even if individuals feel it is for them their place on that scale is not universal, no matter how much it may seem "the norm" to them).

The book is relatively short, some call it a novelette though I don't like those kind of limiting labels any more than I do the ones above. Short or not it is intense. The portrait of an aging "homosexual" English transplant professor to Southern California who has lost the love of his life, a younger "American" man.

It's passionate, romantic, yet full of irony, criticism of the larger culture including heterosexuals, even rage. It's so tightly packed the single day it covers in this man's life gives any good reader an entire life in that day. Told from his point of view it captures exactly what it meant to be alive in that man's body and consciousness at that time and place.

It was up to then the most honest depiction of what it meant to be "a single man"—a common euphemism at the time for homosexual—i.e. living alone, not married-with-kids at middle age. But also singular, not just in his outsiderness of preferring men romantically and sexually as partners, but as an Englishman in Southern California, a middle-aged man among young students at a time (1962) when "America" was waking up sensually in ways it never had before thanks to "the pill" and the influence of The Beats and what would morph into "the love generation" and its wide embrace of drugs and "free love" that only the rarest of bohemians and artists had experienced previously.

All that resonates in the book in subtle and not so subtle ways, because it was unfolding as Isherwood wrote it in those first years of the 1960s, but only the most perceptive observers were aware it was even happening.

The book is about loss as well, which is its most profound subject, and not just of a loved one. I don't like giving away plots so that's enough about the story.

The movie is something else. The main message still at the heart of it is loss of a loved one who, in this case, the world cannot acknowledge because of the restraints and prejudices against, and actual oppression of, those who love each other but were not allowed to do so openly back when the book and movie are set, and still can't do it legally in ways (marriage!) that grant the benefits others have (as has been pointed out by others, convicted murderers and predators and all kinds of repulsive characters locked up for life behind bars can legally marry as long as the couple are "a man and a woman"—whatever that means).

A lot of liberties have been taken in the movie. Don Bachardy, Chris's love—and a man I consider a friend, as I did Chris—had some input on the movie and gave the go ahead for Tom Ford, the fashion designer/movie director, and his co-writing partner, David Scearce, to do what they had to to make the book work as a movie. A lot of minor details have been changed, and some major ones, but the heart of the story remains the same.

For instance in the book the main character is 58 at a time when that would have looked and felt older for most folks than it does now, including the main character and yet in the film he's played by Colin Firth who appears, at least to me, to be barely in his forties if that. So some of the pain and insight of the book's version of this character has to be portrayed in other ways.

Ford does a pretty good job but, as some have already noted, there is a kind of fashion conscious gloss to some scenes that could undercut the emotional impact for some of what is a very moving movie. There were a few times when I felt like I was leafing through a fashion magazine, enjoying the beautiful models or innovative photography or just the styles displayed.

Like the Bidget Bardot look-alike who has no lines, at least none we can hear, but holds a cigarette like you might imagine a young Sophia Loren might (not to mix international beauties too much here). And the young men are all photographed as if for a spread in Vogue, so much so I figured they had to be models acting for the first time and doing a really good job despite the distraction of the impeccable style, but in fact they were actors who never looked so good because they never had a fashion designer for a director before I imagine.

Julianne Moore, who sometimes I find too cold in her film roles, as if she were acting with her mind more than her soul, is great as Charlotte, another English ex-pat in Santa Monica Canyon. She gives a performance that deserves praise for its courage in some scenes (but she's always been pretty fearless when it comes to the physicality of her characters, it's just their emotional depths that she sometimes seems to be holding back on, or maybe I mean identification with). It's a performance enhanced by Ford's eye for the flaws beneath the glamor (though I felt he wasn't as harsh on his male characters).

But it's Colin Firth who gives the tour-de-force performance, a completely compelling realization of a heartbroken man, but one who is a secretive, protective, upper-class-British-intellectual still able to maintain appearances but not what lies beneath them. It's an extraordinary performance that deserves an Oscar but I doubt will get it.

Jeff Bridges I suspect is the one this year, because he has consistently given Oscar-worthy performances and been overlooked for most of his career, at least as the amazing actor he has proven himself to be every time out. Firth will probably have to wait to get his belated compensation for earlier roles like this one in A SINGLE MAN. But I may be wrong.

A SINGLE MAN the movie is a very separate work from the novel, but you might say both are incredibly singular works of art, maybe not for "the masses" as they say, but definitely for the discerning book and movie lover.

[Just to update my brain surgery recovery now in the first week of my third month after, I had to retype "doubt" a few lines up there several times before I finally got it right because despite what my brain was telling my fingers they kept typing "boudt"—a dyslexic kind of thing which has given me insight into that condition—and last night in trying to close a bag of cookies, actually tiny biscottti squares called "Biscotti Babies" made by a friend of my older son and mine (at 955 South Main St. in Great Barrington Mass.) I couldn't remember how you close a bag with those two thin bendy tabs coming out the sides near the top, it just seemed unfathomable to me, until a friend took them from me and did it and then I thought, oh yeah, of course. Little stuff like that still happening, but over all feeling pretty lucky to be this far along and this close to what "normal" was for me before the surgery.]

Monday, January 18, 2010


I forgot the Golden Globes were last night (post brain surgery I forget a lot more than I used to, even when I write it down, I then forget where I wrote it, etc.). Looks like while we were out watching AVATAR, it was winning big. Well, in many ways it deserves it, as I wrote in yesterday's post.

Though I'm happy to see Jeff Bridges won for CRAZY HEART, Colin Firth in A SINGLE MAN may have given the more challenging performance (more about that soon).

But back to AVATAR. It's being accused, by rightwing fundamentalists, of being anti-Christian because it seems, according to these critics, to be advocating paganism, or more specifically: pantheism. This is because of the age old plot of the "natives" being invaded and exploited and displaced or annihilated by the greedhead imperialists and their troops, often mercenaries (shades of Blackwater) who destroy the natural environment to extract the local resources that can create instant wealth for those in control of the invading country (the French in Haiti, the colonizers in "The New World" etc.).

An old story that unfortunately has mostly ended in the defeat and sometimes genocide of the indigenous people and the success of the invading forces, with a few exceptions (the African-Haitians initially e.g. but only after the indigenous people had been totally wiped out by imperialism). Like most movies with this story line did too. Until the 1960s when the imperialist urge in the USA and the death and destruction it had wrought (and was still causing in Viet Nam at the time) was finally addressed by more than a handful of historians and media outlets and large segments of the population, and then most movies with this ancient story line began finally to favor the "natives".

But in reality, the imperialists usually have a long winning streak (see the Roman empire, the French empire, the British empire, etc.) before finally caving in on themselves from over extension, over reliance on "natives" for troops and mercenaries, deterioration of basic infrastructure and lines of communication, and factionalism and infighting leading to civil breakdown if not civil war etc.

But maybe even more importantly, the decline of empires, from my perspective, can often be attributed to loss of control of the story line. As long as Britain was able to maintain the fiction of the code of honor practiced by the stiff-upper-lip leaders and their minions, the actual underlying inhumanity and cruelty to its foreign subjects could be glossed over. But once it lost control of the story line (the native Irish, for instance, could no longer be compared to monkeys or pigs with impudence, as Princess Margaret found out in the famous incident caught on an open microphone back in the '70s was it?) defeat was inevitable.

That's to a large extent what the right wing nuts are all about, trying to control the story line of American imperialism. And a lot of them are really upset about AVATAR because it portrays the mostly white obviously "American" corporate greedheads and their mercenaries as the embodiment of evil, and the indigenous "people"—the Na'vi—as good and just and in balance with nature and ready to revolt and throw their invaders out.

There has even been rightwing talk of how the movie supports terrorism, and a good case could be made for that since the movie itself has the hero address "terrorism" only from the point of view of the natives being invaded and exploited and displaced and annihilated by the corporate imperialists and their mercenaries. I could see, actually, some "foreign" (to us, obviously "natives" in their own lands) angry young men taking solace and even being inspired by this flick to fight foreign troops (aka us) on their land.

And though it's true to some extent our troops are not fighting in their minds to promote and protect corporate greed and expansion, in the case of many Muslim "terrorists" they are fighting—as the Na-vi in AVATAR are also—to protect their "holy" places (when the US put troops in Saudi Arabia where Mecca is, that's when Al Queda made the USA its sworn enemy) and local resources (it was clearly stated by many in the last administration that one of the benefits of invading Iraq they believed would be access to Iraq's oil fields once again).

But I can also see, and hope for, this movie gaining a worldwide audience that might be inspired by its message of protecting the natural environment and the wealth it represents in the long term from those who would exploit and destroy it for short term gain (ala destroying the rain forests of Indonesia and Brazil etc.).

Which in the end is the true story line of the political turmoil of these times in this country: those who believe short term gains are all or mostly what matters (the continuing exploitation and destruction of the environment for gas to fill up badly designed cars or tearing off the tops of mountains for quick profits for mining companies that then move on leaving polluted streams and a devastated landscape etc. or destroying forests for quick lumber profits and more land for grazing cattle to supply beef for MacDonald's et. al.) versus those of us who believe in the long-term gains, represented by the richness rain forests and glaciers and Pacific reefs and other natural environments provide, and are willing to sacrifice some immediate oil or coal or precious-metal fueled windfalls for the long term rewards of a healthier and more peaceful approach to living in the natural world.


Sunday, January 17, 2010


So I went out to the movies last night for the first time. Saw A SINGLE MAN, more of which in a later post, because before I got a chance to write about that, I took a chance on a cold rainy night (the only weather I don't like is rain when it's in the thirties, or even forties, it should be snowing, I don't mind snow on a cold day or Summer rain or even Spring showers or Fall, anyway) and went with my son and two friends to AVATAR.

I heard it was as seminal a technologically revolutionary leap forward for movies as THE JAZZ SINGER was (the first talkie to wow movie audiences). It's not. More like STAR WARS—derivative, simplistic and even cliched, BUT technologically a very clever leap forward that wowed audiences and influenced the making of movies ever after, at least ones that involved computer technology.

There were computer effects breakthroughs before STAR WARS but nothing as fun or innovative technically as I remember it. Anyway, I was expecting to find the story for AVATAR trite and obvious but to be impressed by the technology. But maybe because I had such low expectations for the traditional qualities of a good movie and nothing but a technology show, I was pleasantly surprised.

I enjoyed it enormously, though I got a little bored toward the end of the second act when a normal length movie would have been ending but we still had almost an hour to go. But the effects were so luscious and extravagant, and the story line, though simple and totally derivative, so actually engaging for me, I found myself thinking that this film maybe should win an Academy Award just for the impact it's obviously having and the movie-going pleasure it's giving to so many.

The acting was good for this kind of action/fantasy flick (I especially dug Stephen Lang who is a terrific villain and Michelle Rodriquiez who livens up the movie in the renegade sidekick role and is the only actor in it who makes her lines resonate with the kind of classic movie wise guy/tough guy attitude I wish she'd been on screen more), but no Oscars should go to anyone here. And the writing is too obvious. But the overall effect of what the technology accomplishes and the ways it is integrated into the familiar story line is undeniably impressive.

It would certainly be a boost to the Oscars and to movies in general if it won.

[Oh yeah, I was also thinking while watching this how silly and racist it is that most movies (maybe all) about the future always have "white" guys (and some women) running everything. The screen is always majority "white"—except for the "natives" etc. (in this case blue). And also wanted to add that watching THE SINGLE MAN was pretty easy in that it's a small cast of characters and mostly confined sets etc., and was expecting AVATAR to present a different challenge for my post-brain surgery sense, but it turned out to be—once I adjusted to the glasses—a successful and satisfying movie experience, and maybe is contributing to my enthusiasm for it.]

Saturday, January 16, 2010


Though I believe he was about my age and I remember him as a lot taller than me, and I'm six feet in my shoes, David Franks' personality and creative work was so impishly mischievous he seemed to me like a little kid.

He lived and worked in Baltimore when I knew him and was still operating in that area when he passed as far as I know. One of the greatest things about him was his enthusiasm. He always made me feel like he was my biggest fan, even using that as an excuse when he totally copped the last few lines of my best known poem of that time (the 1970s) "My Life" for one of his own that he then managed to get more widely circulated than mine for a while!

But it was almost impossible to get angry at him (though I did briefly anyway) because he was such a nebbish (as I understand that term, or do I mean mensch?). He was also handsome and well built, a real movie star type, especially because he had that special kind of charisma that enthusiasts have when they seem to have more going for themselves outwardly than those they're getting all enthusiastic about, if you get what I mean.

He was a conceptual or performance artist as well—or whatever the term is now for a poet who comes up with radically unique and individual ways of expressing their creativity visually and aurally other than just reading their poetry to an audience. And he was a kind of local monument in his dedication to poetry and art in the Baltimore area, which when I knew him best included DC as well.

I'm so sorry to hear he is gone, though it seems for the best as people always say, since he had been suffering from the cancer that as I understand it was the ultimate cause of his passing. His presence was always so vibrant and energetic and positive—and from my perspective happy—that the universe feels a little heavier knowing he won't be around, at least his physical body won't be, to liven up the scene around Baltimore if and when I'm there again and for those who already, or still, are.

Friday, January 15, 2010


There is nothing to say about this tragedy, which is why I haven't.

But there is something to say about preachers and politicians using it to further their agendas (I'm talking about Pat Robertson's dispicable comment about this being the result of the Haitians making a pact with the devil back when they got their freedom from France! or Rush or those other Republican politicians using it to criticize this administration or et-here-we-go-again-cetera).

And at the risk of provoking more ideological comments with no logic or factual basis, I might point out that Bill Clinton was already helping transform Haiti into a more peaceful and on the road to recovery place for the first time in its recent if not entire history, and that Jimmy Cater also contributed and contributes greatly to helping all kinds of devastated areas of the world and their peoples, and what again did Nixon or Reagan do in their retirement from their presidencies?

Thursday, January 14, 2010


Yesterday was a long day, but a good one.

I made my hopefully last visit to the NYC hospital where I had the brain surgery. They say everything's looking good.

This time my friend Sue and I took the New Jersey Transit train into the city and than three separate subway lines to get there and back. It was my first time on a train of any kind and surprisingly not anxiety inducing. There were a few moments of feeling disoriented when I got off a train and wasn't sure which way to go. If Sue hadn't been there I just would have taken more time than usual to recognize the signs and such. Nothing people who haven't had brain surgery don't experience as well I'm sure, though for me, so used to these routine actions after a lifetime of riding the New York subway system, it felt a little more serious than it actually was.

And last night I started back up a poetry workshop I teach in the living room of my apartment. It's an intimate space and there's usually ten people besides me so it's even more intimate. The poems were terrific, the conversation insightful and helpful and the thrill of this little group of passionate poetry lovers being together again priceless. I couldn't have been more pleased. Though it did leave me a little more tired than it used to. I expect that will become less true as the weeks proceed.

I was at a loss for the right word now and then, something that happens to plenty of people who didn't have brain surgery, but a little disappointing to me nonetheless since I once had an almost encyclopedic knowledge of 20th Century poetry so not being able to remember a name or to remember which of two or several names were coming to mind was a change I can accept but a change nonetheless.

Then, because even being tired there was still a bit of that restless energy you feel after doing a job or a performance or something that engages your mind and senses more than usual, I ended up catching THE USUAL SUSPECTS on TV, a film I dug when I first saw it, despite its overdone elements, because it seemed such a great update of the film noir classics of the '40s and '50s. I never bothered to watch it again because once the revelation of its ending is experienced I imagined it wouldn't give that much pleasure again. And it doesn't.

In fact I noticed more that I didn't care for about it, including Gabriel Byrnes performance interestingly. Who would have thought that Stephen Baldwin would come off more interesting as an actor than Byrnes? But that's the way I saw it last night, and full disclosure I knew both these guys in my Hollywood days, though the last time I saw Byrnes he seemed to have forgotten who I was, understandable since I've done the same, but the last time I saw Stephen he not only remembered but was as warm and friendly as he's always been since I first encountered him decades ago (could that be coloring my assessment of their acting chops in THE USUAL SUSPECTS, hmmmm...nope, I don't think so, see for yourself if you find this flick some night when you're looking for some movie action to slow down the rhythm of a day that's coming to an end).

Oh, and another movie I wouldn't want to bother viewing again that I also have a small personal connection to, DRESSED TO KILL (I once spent an evening with Brain DePalma and a few other Hollywood folks, actually more like a night, since a few of us stayed up talking into the early morning hours, but he ended up later characterizing what I experienced as great conversation as a ploy by a bunch of Hollywood types to exploit his fame and fortune to our benefit which he felt he avoided!), a movie in which I had a small bit, an extra kind of bit, and which I never noticed (I knew I was in it but missed my few seconds the only time I saw it) until in switching the channels last night (or was it the night before? I have some difficulty still remembering things and/or remembering them accurately) I realized the scene I had this little walk by in was about to unfold and so I stayed tuned for it and caught myself walking past Angie Dickenson's character as she seems to look at me as I walk away in a "great coat" as they used to call them that brought back fond memories of those c.1980 days.

I bought that coat in England and it was quite theatrical though at the time I wouldn't have seen it that way. It had big shoulders (with epaulets on them) and ridiculously wide lapels (and high collar) and was belted and reached down nearly to my ankles. I also noticed in that short scene a quarter-sized bald spot on the back of my head, which stood out even more because of that darkness of my hair then, at least the way it was photographed, a bald spot I didn't realize I had until I saw myself from behind in the first movie I had done professionally just months before this extra bit (that one I starred in as the hero, a pretty horrible horror movie called DRACULA'S LAST RITES!).

(Here's a shot of me in that coat, though the details are lost in the darkness of it, with composer Rain Worthington, who was also in DRACULA'S LAST RITES and in fact was hired first and turned the director and producer on to me after we, Rain and I, had decided to try acting in films as a way of making the rent since my poetry and her piano compositions weren't doing that, and my now oldest boy Miles when he was still wearing corrective glasses for a few years in grammar school and actually looked pretty cool in them but because of the cold is shrugging his shoulders inside his jacket as well as pulling his hands inside the sleeves and from his size I'd say this is more the late '70s.)

After I moved to L.A. initially for the acting work, make-up artists would put a little dark coloring on the bald patch so it never showed up again, or at least not for another decade or so. I suppose with the new High Definition TVs those painted or inked-in bald patches might look kind of obvious in close up now.

Ah, how interesting life can be, even if it's just watching an old movie on TV.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


Today is the two month anniversary of my brain surgery. If we're going by dates. The operation was November 13th, so today—or these last few minutes of it here on the East Coast on January 13th—makes it two months.

But then last Friday was eight weeks, which is another way of counting two months. So which is it? And is that a peculiarly English language problem or is that just simple math? And am I having trouble figuring out which day—last Friday or today—is the real mark of my making it to two months past the operation a result of the operation? Or would I have had the same trouble before the operation but just never thought about it this way before?

Or did I think about conundrums like this and just can't remember? Do you think about these things? And if you do, which day would you choose to mark the two month anniversary?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


This morning I realized the music I noted in the last post was only the names of some of the music makers I listened to since being able to do that sometime in the second month of recovery from the brain surgery (before that listening to music was too intense and overwhelming because my brain was hearing every note and instrument and sound as equal, something that actually was also happening when I went out somewhere, every sound was equal in my brain, a paper being balled up, footsteps, someone talking, a car going by etc., none of the kind of filtering our brains obviously usually do so that it was all too much and what I imagined many with brain problems experience, and then someone told me there's a word for it and many autistic people experience sound that way).

Anyway, yesterday it seemed too difficult to remember the individual tunes I had listened to that informed that part of the list I made, so today I deliberately tried to, using the alphabet format that became a staple with me over the years when I couldn't fall asleep at night or was trying to fall back asleep after waking up in the middle of the night which occurred often and I attributed to the heart medication I take, although I've been a light sleeper since I was young and attributed it to my sleeping back then in places where I had to be half awake in case something happened—i.e. on the street or in abandoned buildings etc.

So I wrote the alphabet down the side of a page of a yellow legal pad and then began thinking of individual songs I've heard from the iTunes on my computer lately and enjoyed, not skipping over them because they bothered my brain like I'm doing with some songs. This made me realize I was mostly digging music that's "happy"—or at least upbeat in tempo (interestingly many with the same beat as the "ticking" that sometimes occurs in my head as a result of the operation).

I filled in as many of the letters as I could, which wasn't many (before the operation I used to do these regularly, as many of you know, off the top of my head while laying in bed trying to fall asleep, but now I pretty much go right to sleep which has led me to believe maybe the growth they removed from my brain had been keeping me up before) and then I used my iTunes to look up ones I couldn't remember or wasn't sure I had right or just to jar my memory.

So this list is made up of only a few songs I remembered off the top of my head and the rest from using my iTunes library as a source. Using this method I came up with some pretty great recordings. Hopefully sometime in the future I'll be able to come up with lists like I used to just out of my head (I meant lists out of my head but it works with the other meaning as well doesn't it):

BIG YELLOW TAXI (Joni Mitchell's original acapella version with just her guitar—I know the lyrics aren't "happy" but the brilliance of her creation, from performance to composition, is so uplifting and inspiring and she does laugh at her attempt to sing bass at the end so it's a happy song for me despite the realities it addresses)
CAROLINA SHOUT (Fats Waller—early solo version is incredible you can't help tappin') (and just for extra kicks Sinatra's first recording of COME DANCE WITH ME)
DIGA DIGA DOO (Artie Shaw & Orchestra)
EPISTROPHY (Thelonious Monk & John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall)
FALLING SLOWLY (Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova from ONCE—a slower beat but still makes me feel happy to hear it)
GIRL FROM IMPANENA, THE (Stan Getz & Joao Gilberto et. al)
HALLELUJAH (Rufus Wainwright—thanks to my son Miles for turning me on to this version, not such a fast beat but ultimately upbeat even if just from the power of the performance)
IT DON'T MEAN A THING IF IT DON'T HAVE THAT SWING (Duke Ellington, the original recording)
JUKE BOX SATURDAY NIGHT (Glenn Miller Orchestra)
KO-KO (Charlie Parker)
LADY'S IN LOVE WITH YOU, THE (Glen Miller Orchestra—Tex Benecke doing his vocal swing thing)
MILESTONE (Miles Davis—I used to consider this my theme song when I was in my late teens, whistling and scatting it everywhere I went, and then decades later did the same for the role of the cartoon character "Sparks" in COOL WORLD but they had me redo it because they didn't want to be sued by the record company etc.)
NOW'S THE TIME (Lambert, Hendricks & Ross version of this Charlie Parker tune)
OH WHAT A BEAUTIFUL MORNING (Gordan MacRae from the soundtrack of the movie version of OKLAHOMA)
PEACE PIECE (Bill Evans—slow but so lovely)
SALT PEANUTS (Dizzy Gillespie)
TOPSY (Count Basie)
UP ON CRIPPLE CREEK (The Band—couldn't think of or find anything more upbeat)
VIPER MAD (Sidney Bechet)
WALTZ FOR DEBBIE (Bill Evans) (and 'cause it's so mellowly upbeat Nat King Cole's WALKIN' MY BABY BACK HOME)
YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT LOVE IS (Eric Dolphy from LAST DATE—in my mind one of the greatest tour de force jazz improvisations ever recorded)
ZIP-A-DEE-DOO-DAH (Johnny Mercer)

Monday, January 11, 2010


Okay, this isn't exactly old style. Not my usual pre-op alphabet list, or trinity lists, or couplets or any of the others you can find in this blog's archives under lists, but instead, simply a daytime, wide awake attempt to remember, as well as I can, works of art that I've dug since the operation and have given me some joy and satisfaction and a sense of the goodness (yes, goodness) and creative originality, the talent and commitment, the effort and tenacity that goes into making something new that brings pleasure and more (enlightenment even) to those who experience these works of art.

I got a little preparation for this by revising the lists on my profile several days ago to only post-op options. So here's what I can remember (I know there's more) of works of creativity that have opened and filled my heart with gratitude for their presence in my life since 11/13/09, the date my brain was invaded by the surgeon's blade:


JULIA & JULIE (mostly the Julia/Streep parts)
UP IN THE AIR (with a few small caveats)


EAST OF WEST L.A. (photographs by Kevin McCollister)
A PALPABLE ELYSIUM (photos and commentary by Jonathan Williams)
NOT TWICE ENOUGH (poems by Geoffrey Young I began reading before the operation and finished since)
IRISH TINKERS (photos and quotes taken and complied by Janine Wiedel and Martina O'Fearaghaigh
SWING ERA NEW YORK ("The Jazz Photographs of Charles Peterson" with commentary by W. Royal Stokes, almost finished with this)


LEONARD BERNSTEIN (the soundtrack for ON THE WATERFRONT which I have on my computer)
CHARLIE PARKER (early stuff)
LESTER YOUNG (early stuff)
FRANK SINATRA ('40s, '50s & '60s)
MILES DAVIS ('40s, '50s and early '60s)
IT'S COMPLICATED (the soundtrack)
(500) DAYS OF SUMMER (the soundtrack)


(all of the above from reproductions of details of paintings on oversized postcard announcements from TIBOR DE NAGY GALLERY—which if you're in NYC you should check out at 724 Fifth Ave.)
and from books I've been perusing from my shelves:

And three blogs that are basically photography (there are other favorite blogs, see the list to the right, that I love but these are the most specifically "works of art" ones):

[Woops: how could I have left off my oldest photographer friend who is one of the alltime greats, Robert Zuckerman and his KINDSIGHT!]

(and poems that my dear friend Terence Winch has read to me over the phone that he has written since the operation)

PS: Lisa, the ticking in my head from the scalp adjusting to the titanium plate or reattaching to the skull (or whatever causes it) that I thought was gone, hasn't. Ticking away here at the computer this morning. So maybe it will be a year before that's entirely gone as your doctors said. Thank God I find it kind of amusing.

PPS: Though I 'd put in an example of my typing without correcting it. Pretyy good for the most part heh? Certaly a lot better than wherer iI started at.

Sunday, January 10, 2010


Well meaning friends brought me books and magazines to read while I was recovering from brain surgery, before they understood that this kind of surgery doesn't put you in bed for weeks or months the way serious surgeries on other parts of your body do (since there's not much that gets cut through besides skin and skull and the brain itself, which doesn't feel pain), it just makes it very difficult to use your brain, like to read!

So now that I can read silently to myself (the last aspect of that brain function to return) after eight weeks of recovery, I'm finally getting around to looking at some of the reading material folks brought me, starting with the magazines. The first and so far only thing I've read in a Harper's mag someone left for me at the hospital is the HARPER'S INDEX for November 2009 which had this disheartening fact:

"Percentage of Americans who think the government should 'stay out of Medicare': 39"

This is from Public Policy Poling (Raleigh, North Carolina) and corroborates my feeling upon getting a semblance of brain power back after the first few days and realizing I had returned to a world in which the histrionic outright lies of Glen Beck and the bullying lies of Rush Limbaugh, and the easily refutable lack of factual basis or logic to much of Sarah Palin's political pronouncements are actually treated as part of a public debate at the highest levels of government and media as if any false accusation or baseless claim were worthy of not just the public's attention but serious debate!

With my new found limitations post-operation on what I could grasp intellectually or rather focus on intellectually without feeling anxious or strained, I realized that many people just can't grasp nuanced or layered or complex or complicated reasoning, that their brains either just can't accept it or focus on it or comprehend it or it actually makes them feel anxious (which I suspect is a condition that fuels a lot of the tea bagger movement's lack of logic and reasoning based on reality etc.).

I wasn't able, as I posted about, to watch The Daily Show with John Stewart for the first few weeks of my recovery because it would cause exactly those symptoms, uneasiness and anxiety due to the levels of irony and subtleties in what on the surface seemed obvious in its comedic technique initially.

Now that I can watch Stewart regularly again, and find the show brilliant at times, it's once more clear that his is one of the few shows, maybe the only one, that uses real facts and logic to expose the hypocrisy and outright lying that is allowed to go unchallenged in even the mainstream media let alone Fox News etc.

It is a shame that what started with the superior logic and reasoning of the great minds of The Enlightenment, our country has descended into the depths of what has rightly been called an "idiocracy"—when even those who call themselves "progressives" fall for the most reductive thinking and illogical reasoning.

I'm giving those who don't use reason and logic and provable facts as the basis for their political stands and arguments a pass now and as a result haven't really posted on anything specifically political in a while. But I do intend to eventually post a summary of my thoughts from this period in the future.

PS: I was out at a gathering the other night where there were thirty or more people and for the first time since the operation I felt relatively comfortable and could spend some time talking to individual folks without feeling anxious about the other stimuli in the room as I have been up until now or feeling overwhelmed by the lights and the conversation etc. So still making progress. Next will be venturing out to a busy restaurant or movie theater.

Saturday, January 9, 2010


I watched IT'S COMPLICATED again with a friend yesterday. Liked it even more.

I've read critics and have other friends who either think this is a fun but lightweight movie or object to aspects of it. Like the lead character's (played by Meryl Streep) material success, her thriving business and great home etc.

I'm always pointing out and objecting to the false environments most movies are set in, i.e. young people in New York lofts and apartments that only CEOs could afford, etc. But Streep's character owns a business that is making money, a bakery/eatery in an upscale looking town (Santa Barbara), and the fact is many, if not most, successful small businesses are started and run by female entrepreneurs.

And besides, it's a romantic comedy very much in the style of the old Hollywood classic so-called "women's movies" (except for more explicit language and some nudity etc.). Yes, in its way it's a middle-age female fantasy, but if we dig a little beneath that obvious and facile observation it can be said that the story addresses some very real issues about relationships for those who aren't so young anymore.

The dialogue is snappy and witty (there were only two scenes I would have rewritten, and they were small almost extraneous scenes just setting up some plot points), the acting so charming and unselfconsciously brave (especially from Alec Baldwin who has become one of our greatest comic actors for my taste, and yes as I've disclosed before we've known each other for decades now but there's plenty of actors and artists etc. whose work I criticize who I know as well, like I was leaning toward criticizing Steve Martin in this flick, but on second viewing I appreciate what he does here even more) and the directing (by Nancy Meyers), obviously, is what makes the whole thing work.

Just as the classic romantic comedies of the the '30s and '40s bent the truth to give a nation some relief from the tribulations of The Great Depression and World War Two (obviously if anyone drank the way William Powell and Myrna Loy did in THE THIN MAN series, they'd be needing an intervention—is it a coincidence that Alcoholics Anonymous was founded the year the first THIN MAN movie came out?), IT'S COMPLICATED seems to me to do the same for at least me if not "the nation"—provide some relief from The Great Recession and the aftermath of the Bush-Cheney era's dismantling of so much that was so good about this country (and the world for that matter).

It does that with lots of laughs and a satisfying story that deals with some pretty basic human realities, some of which I haven't seen addressed much, if at all, in movies before—and that alone elevates this to much more than just fluff in my book (or blog in this case).

For my taste—and this might still be a result of the brain surgery and my lingering distaste for dark or dreary film stories—IT'S COMPLICATED deserves some pretty high honors for what it achieves.

Friday, January 8, 2010


I got a little cranky in my post yesterday, which is something the clarity and gratitude of the last post-brain-surgery eight weeks has remarkably kept me almost completely free of. So I thought maybe it was partly provoked by my finishing the first book I got on my own since the operation.

I saw it was on sale for ten dollars in the latest David R. Godine catalog, a publisher that consistently produces beautiful books to be cherished as art objects even if you don't dig the contents. [I forgot to add for full disclosure, as they say, that Godine took over the Black Sparrow press and publisher of two of my books: IT'S NOT NOSTALGIA and IT TAKES ONE TO KNOW ONE.] But I knew I dug Jonathan Williams—the late poet and publisher of fine books himself and someone I considered a friend even though I hadn't been in touch with him for years before his passing. A PALPABLE ELYSIUM is a collection of his photographs and commentary, making it easy for me to read (I'm still not up to an entire book of nothing but prose).

Jonathan was an eccentric, quirky, highly opinionated, sometimes cranky original with distinct tastes in everything. He was born to be a "Southern gentleman"—which in that time and place often meant racist as well—but ended up at the unique experiment called Black Mountain College in the 1940s with people like the composer Lou Harrison and the poet/teacher Charles Olson, as well as dancer and choreographer Merce Cunningham and composer John Cage etc. In other words the cream of what would become the avant-garde of the 1950s and beyond.

He was a gay man, in every sense of that word, and completely comfortable with his tastes and himself and took no flack from anyone about any of that for as long as I knew him (since the 1960s) and all his life from what I've heard. He sought out artists and poets and composers and others he found unique in the ways they created and led their lives and made them a part of his life (I was flattered to be among them as we met in person after years of correspondence when he showed up with his "lifelong companion" Tom Meyer at a tiny apartment I was living in in Washington DC in 1974).

A PALPABLE ELYSIUM contains photographs of some of the many friends and acquaintances he made from the 1950s to the 1990s (the book was published in 2002), as well as some of their artwork or their gravestones. The photographs are often as casual as snapshots and sometimes as unexpectedly unique and/or flawed. But with his commentary added to each, they become something much more, something that typically cannot be described any better than Jonathan did himself in the title he gave this collection: A PALPABLE ELYSIUM.

Even if you don't have the same taste as Jonathan, and I sometimes don't, if you read his comments often linking his subjects to other artists and friends and then look up the lives and work of all those he mentions in this book, you will have given yourself an education, on the highest level, in a particularly rare contingent of the avant-garde of the second half of the 20th Century.

For my taste, the book is worth owning just for the quality of its production, let alone the sometimes exquisite images (his photograph of poet William Carlos Williams not long before WCW passed is stunning and one I wish I had a framed print of hanging on my wall). But it's Jonathan's commentary that makes this book unique and worth paying attention to. His fearless judgements, his ribaldry, his appreciation of the lone genius creator whether renowned or unknown (he spent a lot of time searching out so-called "primitive" or "outsider" artists and even gives directions to their locations so you can drive the country back roads of rural Georgia or South Carolina and go see their work yourself!).

Whether comparing Whitman's tomb to Colonel Sanders', recounting a visit between Buckminister Fuller and William Burroughs, or trashing fundamentalists and conformists and the taste and caliber of most of his fellow citizens, every entry in this book is an eye opener in its own way, and totally original. That's the main point I guess I want to make is that this is a collection of photos and comments about unique individuals and art by a unique individual and artist. An incomparable rarity any way you approach it.

Thursday, January 7, 2010


I've just discovered that for years I've been repeating a favorite quote of mine that turns out to be quite a misquote, though there's a correspondence to the meanings of each.

Back in the 1960s I read an English translation of the Nobel Laureate Par Lagerkvist's novel THE DWARF, in which the title character is in the service of one of the Medeci. When Leonardo DaVinci is hired to do some work for his master, "the dwarf" spies the artist and inventor picking up a pebble and turning it over and over in his hand, intently interested in it.

"The dwarf" concludes from this:

"One for whom a pebble has value must be surrounded by treasure wherever he goes."

I know this because I just looked it up in an old record book in which I have written various excerpts and quotes from novels and poems and other writings.

But for the decades since I first read that and wrote it down, I've been remembering and repeating it differently, as I did for a great niece the other night at a family gathering. I told her that after spying Leonardo examining a pebble for what seemed like an eternity, "the dwarf" thought to himself: "What must the world be like for someone who can find a world in a pebble?"

Sometimes I've said: "How rich the world must be for someone who can find a world in a pebble."

This young woman, my grand-niece Sidney, is extremely intelligent and well-educated, and I was just musing on how the kind of knowledge she is acquiring can make life so much more interesting. I said that I feel very fortunate that I'm rarely bored because I've read so much over my lifetime that almost anything I'm presented with or encounter or that's just part of any scene I wander through evokes all kinds of interesting facts and information and connections to or distinctions from other facts and information, etc.

And this was true even in the early days after my relatively recent brain surgery (two months tomorrow) when I could do little other than eat and talk, unable to read or write or do simple math or answer an e mail or listen to music or watch a movie or TV show etc. etc. I still found life incredibly fascinating and observing the limited way my brain was able to operate and the daily progress that it was and is still making became the focus of a lot of that fascination.

Some folks might find that boring or too self-involved or self-indulgent, (especially those who put on their blog profiles that they see their lives, or everything in it from birth to the present, as "boring"), but fortunately for me, I don't and hope you don't either.

PS: I have several friends who've seen the film of THE LOVELY BONES and loved it, so even though I didn't, you might want to check it out for yourself.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


I was about to post last night on the topic of sleep since the brain surgery, about how as I've already mentioned, I've been sleeping much better than pre-op leading me to conclude that the growth in my brain had something to do with my constantly waking up several times in the usual night.

But the day got away from me and other things intruded to keep me from writing that post. And then I woke up at 2AM this morning thinking about one of these things, bothered by the problems in the life of a loved one, and ended up not getting back to sleep until 6AM with the alarm set for an hour later.

So, I guess what I conclude from that is that I can't make any conclusions about my sleeping patterns just yet.

PS: Had a great discussion with a fellow brain surgery survivor today about our various symptoms and recovery and progress and etc. Totally fascinating for me, to see some similarities in the struggles we've had in recovering from the brain intrusion and some distinctions in the ways they're manifested.

For instance she has no trouble with writing, but when speaking does the kinds of things that occur when I'm writing (substituting a word that starts with the same sound—"hijacker" for "hitchhiker" etc. But similar levels of clarity and gratitude and realizing what's important and rearranging priorities, etc. But also how surprised people are at how "good" or "normal" we look and seem. I suspect that's mostly because unliked operations (that's an error I'll leave uncorrected since it's so interesting, of course I meant "unliked"—unbelievable, I did it again, which often happens) in which any other part of the body is opened up, especially anywhere on the torso, opening up the skull doesn't interfere with almost anything (like for instance having an operation around your abdomen would involve all kinds of organs and muscle and tendons etc. which would take much longer to heal etc.). So sometimes it's almost like folks want you to be as okay as you appear to be and don't understand that you've changed, at least for now, in ways no other operation would cause, because how our minds work is about who we are, much more so than how our shoulder works or our appendix or some internal organ, even the heart, though the impact of heart operations can be life changing and even personality changing, but not thought process changing, if you see what I mean.

Monday, January 4, 2010


One of the things I did most obsessively before the brain surgery was make lists. As anyone knows who has read this blog before the surgery, or for that matter most of my books.

The ways I made them varied, but the most common were alphabet lists, because that made them easy to remember, at least for me, The other most common way was to make trinity lists. Being raised Irish Catholic, there were a lot of trinities in my youth, from the shamrock and Jesus, Mary and Joseph to The Holy Trinity themselves.

But I've been unable to finish any list making that comes to mind, or remember later even the partial attempts I have made. So one of these days I'm going to just make a list in a post, not one that's in my head when I'm falling asleep or taking a walk in the park or etc.

I've been compulsively making lists since I could write, so it's been a very strange hiatus for me. I have the urge, but I just can't remember not just the names of whatever comes to mind to write a list of, but the whole point (or even pointlessness) of the thing. My mind just drifts into other subjects and ways of thinking about things.

As usual, I find this pretty fascinating, since it's my mind, and the change is so drastic and there's nothing I can, or want for that matter, to do about it except observe it as it happens and think about the mysteries of the brain and the ways it works and organizes thoughts. Hmmmm.