Archive for friends

Waiting for it to start, waiting for it to end …

I like my friend Jonathan Mayhew’s recent insight into procrastination:

Procrastination is the avoidance of a particular emotion associated with a task. It could be boredom, frustration, fear or dread, shame or guilt. The avoidance of the task, though, does not mean an avoidance of that emotion, but it’s prolongation. You are essentially carrying around that emotion with you all the time. Completing the task, then, is a release from that emotion, not its prolongation.

So there must be some positive benefit to procrastination: one could become habituated to that tension and release of emotion, or thrive on the adrenaline of almost missing deadlines.

Professor Mayhew’s been really good on this theme over the years.

Friendships, my own + Ginsberg & Kerouac’s

I received a note from a dear old family friend the other day.

I wouldn’t have noted it, but one of the sites I peruse (“LitHub”) had a piece that last Monday was the 50th anniversary of Jack Kerouac’s death. Which means he’s been gone longer than he was here.  Apparently, the town of Lowell had a small ceremony. I saw a photo of the grave where some folks had thoughtfully left a couple of bottles of booze. (Or thoughtlessly?  He died of alcoholism.)  I suppose they should also have a left a copy of [the conservative magazine] National Review.  

I am reminded, once again, of the beautiful song “Box of Rain,” by Phil Lesh and Robert Hunter (RIP):  “Such a long, long time to be gone; but a short time to be there.”

I replied:

I believe he and [National Review publisher] William Buckley were friends, actually. (One thing about both of them – they had gifts for friendship, Buckley getting an extra bonus point for being friends with his antagonists, too, for the most part.)

My feelings toward Kerouac have gone up and down over the years. He is unique in the Robert Basil pantheon in that respect, where once you’re in, you’re in for good (Barthes, Henry James, Flannery O’Connor, William Carlos Williams …). I once made a disparaging remark about Kerouac’s poetry to a close friend of mine (a Garcia-Lorca scholar and a poet himself), and he gently chided me, taking me through some of Kerouac’s poems phrase by phrase, waking me back up. Kerouac’s prose, it must be said, relies on some vocabulary crutches in ways his poetry doesn’t – but so many of his books are nonetheless absolutely splendid. (I taught Dharma Bums while I was at Stanford.) 

And finally, he really really inspired me as a writer. The first Kerouac book I owned was a copy of The Dharma Bums that [my brother] Chris gave me – I must have been 19 or 20. I read about half of it sitting in the back of a pick-up truck zooming down route 17 to Manhattan, surrounded by fall foliage. One of my happiest memories.

To celebrate my graduation from university – this was a solitary activity, because literally *nobody* other than my girlfriend believed I had somehow graduated from college, having dropped out so often and, when actually enrolled, having spent almost as much time hitching around the country as attending classes – I read “On the Road” for the fourth or fifth time, cover to cover, back to front (how I read novels), drinking Miller Beer “ponies” and lying in bed, finishing at dawn. Another one of my happiest memories.

I want to share with you a quite moving piece from the New Yorker: “Allen Ginsberg: The Day After Kerouac Died.” It annotates some journal entries and a poem from “The Fall of America.” (My friend and teacher Robert Creeley makes a few appearances.)

The New Yorker / Allen Ginsberg piece brought some tears.

Memory Gardens

Covered with yellow leaves

     in morning rain …

He threw up his hands

& wrote the universe don’t exist

      & died to prove it. …

 

… Jack thru whose eyes I

    saw

    smog glory light

    gold over Manhattan’s spires

will never see these

    chimneys smoking

anymore over statues of Mary

            in the graveyard …

 

Well, while I’m here I’ll

      do the work –

and what’s the work?

      To ease the pain of living.

Everything else, drunken

      dumbshow.

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is my favourite holiday, one whose name I obey, happily.

Solidarity

A Labour Day Test from Clarissa: “If you have 3-4 days off for Labor Day, it’s probably not a holiday aimed at you.”

Cyclops

I subscribe to very few newsletters (preferring my news feeds and news alerts), but I am really enjoying one recently recommended by my friend Clarissa. It is called Prufrock: Books, Arts & Ideas. Prepared by Micah Mattix, the daily newsletter has an erudite, literary-philosophical bent, with a paleoconservative disposition. It’s well-written. From this morning:

I’ve finished the final lectures on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. The final two treat friendship and action. Friendship according to Aristotle is the “most necessary” virtue. I won’t go into Aristotle’s types of friendship (those founded on utility, pleasure, and virtue), but I appreciated his view that friendship is one of the foundations of civilization. It is what binds a city together. We see this idea in classical and modern literature, too. Friendship and hospitality (which is welcoming a stranger as a friend) are quintessentially human attributes in The Odyssey, for example, which are not shared by the gods or the sub-human cyclops. These two ideas—that friendship is the basis of civilization and a touchstone of humanity—are also found in Francis Bacon’s short essay “Of Friendship,” which is obviously drawn from classical sources. Whatever “delights in solitude,” Bacon writes, “is either a wild beast or a god. For it is most true, that a natural and secret hatred, and aversation towards society, in any man, hath somewhat of the savage beast.” It’s not that solitude is bad or unnecessary. It is that to live only in solitude is to live a sub-human life. Without friends, Bacon continues, the “world is but a wilderness.”

It seems to me that we’ve lost this high view of friendship as an aspect of human identity, which we now regularly confuse with personality or view as a discrete construction of the autonomous will rather than as something that is composed of universal attributes. So, it is no surprise that our lives increasingly look like those of the cyclops. We live in caves, in fenced-in back yards, and “consume” each other—on television, in movies, on Facebook and Twitter. And because our lives (I’m speaking generally here about American culture) are ordered around maximizing physical pleasure, not virtue, they must end in suicide when the body’s capacity for physical pleasure wanes. The opioid crisis starts with this low view of human nature and won’t end until a grander view is recaptured, which I don’t see happening any time soon.

I have worked hard at friendship all of my life, and have found that honest attentiveness can overcome awkwardness and the various stupidities, if not one’s friends’ arresting memories of these. My friends and I usually can see one another.

Loved

This post moved me.  “Loved.”

Guiding the sick through the system …

kv

My friend Karen Vogel just published a piece called “The Accidental Advocate.” It starts:

Like many patient advocates, personal experience transformed me into a new career. I was prepared and motivated. I had a professional network and confidence that I was smart enough to figure it out as I went along. What I didn’t include in my business plan was ironic shock.

One of my champions was my neighbor Laura, who lived next to me for 20 years. For a while she listened to me whining about my work in health insurance management, my aging parents, the screwed up healthcare system . . . and challenged me to stop complaining and take action. And so I did. The main impetus was my mother’s death. It forced me to become a long distance caregiver for my father, which turned out to be a wonderful adventure for both of us. I quit my soul-sucking corporate job, went back to school and retrained. I started my own company 3 years ago and worried about finding clients. “No problem,” said Laura, “my aunt Jane is sick and needs someone to figure out her insurance.” Client #1.

Four months into my new occupation, on a Friday evening in April 2016, I got a call that Laura was in an emergency room. She had been struggling with memory issues and a coworker dragged her to the hospital under protest. I rushed over yelling “I’m an advocate! Let me document everything!”

Laura had glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) Grade 4, the worst kind of brain cancer, usually terminal within 18 months. On Sunday morning a surgical team was in place to make sure she got a lemon-sized mass removed from her head. Laura became client #7. …

Read the entire thing.

Here is an interview Karen did last year with Vice News on HBO.