Wednesday, June 21, 2023

"How Good It Feels"


I know what it's like to be loved

I know how well it feels

I know what it's like to have someone to love

To share the air they breathe

And I know what it's like when they leave

I know what it's like to be young

I know what it's like to be free

I know what it's like to be out in front

I know what it's like to climb trees

And drop like falling leaves

I know what it's like to be hurt

I know what it's like to bleed

I know what it's like to be misunderstood

And know the truth concealed


I know what it's like to be lost

Crying in the swirling crowd

I know what it's like when a hand comes...

And lifts me off the ground

I know what it's like to be found...

- Cat Stevens / Yusuf Islam (2023)

  "How Good It Feels" (Excerpt)


Friday, June 16, 2023

Cat Stevens

I've been listening to a lot of music lately. (Connect the dots.) I mean really listening to it -- as we did in the Seventies. Back then spinning vinyl was done with serious purpose: we treated albums as art and studied them closely.

Most of my current listening has been to half-century old vinyl but today is an exception. Months ago I pre-ordered the latest album by Cat Stevens (now known as Yusuf Islam). It was released today and I got both digital and records versions

There are very few musicians whom I'll buy an unheard album from but Yusuf is one of them. His songs are magical, full of beauty and mysticism.

"King Of A Land" doesn't disappoint. Its songs are sweet and melodic with lyrics that are deep. Yusuf's voice is as strong as ever. You'd never guess he's 74 years old and that it's been 56 years since his first album. Yusuf spent a decade creating this collection of songs and that care shows. Critics (and I) are praising it as mature, interesting work.

Wednesday, June 7, 2023

On Life And Death

One of the great writers of our time, David Foster Wallace, delivered a highly influential speech in 2005. Three years later, when he was only 46 years old, Wallace killed himself. 

Wallace's masterpiece novel, "Infinite Jest," has been acclaimed one of the best novels of the last hundred years. Wallace and his work are universally lauded. A writing class is taught on his ouvre at Harvard, a literary Society and professional Journal are devoted to his writing and a movie was made about his life. When he was young Wallace tried but abandoned a doctorate program at Harvard because it bored him: Wallace explained that philosophy requires only "50% of his brain" whereas creative writing uses "97%."

So what did David Foster Wallace talk about in his famous speech? He advanced two important positions. The first is that our "default setting," installed at birth, is our natural but mistaken belief that we are the center of the universe. If we consider ourselves and our interests as the sole focal point of all experience, we miss seeing reality outside our heads. Wallace illustrates this and how it leads to distorted, numb existence.

His second position points a way out of this dilemma. "I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed. Think of the old cliché about 'the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master'."

French philosopher Albert Camus, of whom I've written in the past, believed the only true question for us is: why not suicide? "There is only one really serious philosophical question, and that is suicide." Camus saw the question arising naturally as a solution to the absurdity of life.

Camus, unlike David Foster Wallace and most of us, witnessed the carnage and destruction of World War II first-hand. He fought the Nazis as a member of the French Resistance. If anyone was entitled to be a Gloomy Gus, it was Camus. Horrifying experiences inflicted existential despair on millions of war-time survivors.

Like Wallace, Camus was also widely admired. He received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957. Two years later Camus died: he was 46 years old, the same age Wallace was at his death.

I have no urge toward suicide. I confess that on dark days I sometimes lose the will to live -- but that's categorically different from actively extinguishing one's existence. I view life as too precious a gift, even when damaged by injured senses, to go to the Return Counter. I'll exploit my opportunity for experience, as limited as it now is, without moaning What Has Happened To Me? (the default setting Wallace warns us about). Let's see what the future holds for all of us.

Saturday, June 3, 2023

Things You Don't Expect

I had two new holes drilled in my head this week. Literally. Two new physical holes were drilled in my head. Their purpose is to create drainage for circulating eye fluids.

This ranks among The Things I Never Expected. It joins removal of a chunk of my tongue (2018) and having a tube jammed into my chest (without anesthesia) to inflate a collapsed lung (2002). As Pee-Wee Herman says, "They don't teach you this stuff in school."

I could tell you about the laser iridotomy but don't have energy or enthusiasm for that. I've been sleeping all day and night since it happened Thursday. While I hope this will be the last eye surgery I need, that's unrealistic: I'll likely need more -- and that stuff is even worse. Right now I want to physically and emotionally recover before facing anything further.  

When I was a child my family ate dinner at a local Chinese restaurant. I was excited to get a fortune cookie that predicted I'd have "an eventful life." If only I'd realized...