You know: in a foolish, undiscriminating way, I've been happy these last few months. I don't know why. I just am. I love my friends; I love my pupils; I love what I read; I -- dammit -- love my thoughts. I love the taste of oranges.
Thornton Wilder in a letter to Gertrude Stein, Aug 14, 1936

Sunday, May 30, 2010


...there is one operation -- perhaps field -- of judgment which a writer must exercise in regard to his work: He must after a time decide whether it is contemptible or not. Where I derive my assurance that my work is not contemptible I do not know, but I think that from that same source comes my conviction that it is not great...I am deep in dilettantism. Gradually I must resume my own meditation on the only things that can reawaken any writing I have to do. I must gaze directly at the boundless misery of the human situation, collective and individual.

Thornton Wilder in a journal entry from 1950.

Thursday, May 27, 2010


My parents were not fans of rock and roll, but for most of my early school years I remember the car radio tuned to KFJZ, a station that played all the hits. KFJZ found its way into our lives because a close family friend, Dave Naugle, worked there, doing announcements and maybe even the news. And so one morning in 1956, as I was being unloaded in front of Meadowbrook Elementary School for another day in Mrs. Garcia's first grade class, Hound Dog was playing on the radio.

I'm not sure how I would have expressed this at the age of six, but I stopped to tell my mother how lucky Dave Naugle was, what with getting to meet Elvis Presley and all. She asked me what I was talking about, and I explained that if Elvis Presley was at KFJZ to sing Hound Dog that morning, surely Mr. Naugle would meet him. My mother laughed and set me straight about the workings of radio. I walked across that schoolyard and into class with a lot on my mind.

I have only a couple of things to say in my defense. My only images of radio came from old movies, shown incidentally on the TV division of KFJZ, that often featured live radio broadcasts, and I had heard both my parents and two sets of grandparents reminisce about listening to live radio. And Dave Naugle, after all, was a live person and he was on the radio. But for some reason I had not figured it out about the music.

Acting, on the other hand, never confused me. At least not that I remember. Perhaps during that same day's walk to first grade class the illusion of character vs actor was destroyed with the domino effect that wipes out the Easter Bunny and the tooth fairy once a kid learns about Santa Claus. But I think I always knew that after each show Buffalo Bob and Clarabell the Clown hung Howdy Doody up on his hook, took off their own costumes, and got on with their lives. The same went for Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Greenjeans. I never broke an arm jumping off the roof to see if I could fly, and I was pretty young when I noticed that each episode of the Lone Ranger had the same shot of galloping horses and that ambushes always took place on the same indoor set with the same big rock. (Actually, I probably didn't know it was an indoor set until sometime later.)

Other friends I have learned had a much harder wake-up call to the whole character/actor situation. We were, after all, the first generation to get plunked down in front of the TV and left to our own devices for hours at a time. And we watched whatever was offered, which were kids shows mixed in with Warner Brothers Cartoons and for the most part Westerns.

The westerns presented a particular problem for my friend Doug, a problem to which he worked out an ingenious solution. Perhaps the body count on these programs was low by today's standards, but in each episode one or more characters took a bullet to the gut and died what we didn't realize at the time was a weirdly bloodless death. But they were dead, and this struck Doug as a serious commitment to the role. Then he figured it out. These men who died were criminals condemned to death and given the choice of either waiting out their time on death row and going to the chair, or appearing on TV and dying in a gunfight. Who wouldn't go for door number two?

Doug remembers no big "Ah-Ha" moment that disabused him of this notion. He never mentioned it aloud only to be set straight by a parent or, in his case, laughed out of the room by older siblings. He assumes he started noticing the same bad guys appearing in other shows and meeting the same fate, and so he adjusted his theory. Which is what kids do all the time.

Television in the 1950's made pre-teen post-modernists of us all. The constant commercial interruptions accustomed us to dealing with meta-narratives and such juxtapositions as the adventures of Robin Hood and the wonders of the Playtex Living Bra. The more advanced concepts were demonstrated on the sit coms. Hollywood stars played themselves when they visited Lucille Ball, who was playing the character Lucy Riccardo who was married to a character name Ricky Riccardo played by her real husband Desi Arnaz. Then there was the whole question of Little Ricky. Characters from one program would sometimes visit characters on another program, and I remember seeing a plot from Make Room for Daddy used the next season on I Married Joan. All this could be genuinely weird, but George Burns set the bar even higher. In each episode of the Burns and Allen Show, George retired to his upstairs study, turned on his private TV, and watched what was going on downstairs, all the while commenting on the action directly to the audience. (Make that, "directly to me.")

This is why so much late-twentieth-century French theory seemed like either common sense or old hat by the time I tried to absorb it in my thirties. George Burns beat Jean Baudrillard to the punch.

Sunday, May 23, 2010



3. Ascetics are often irascible and prone to utter curses.

9. The moon.

10. The lion.

32. The Dandaka was a vast region of forests stretching between the rivers Yumuna and Godavari in central India, inhabited and ruled by the very first nations of India, so to speak. Janasthana was a powerful kingdom, part of an empire ruled by Ravana, probably lying on both banks of the Godavari. Khava and his brother were governors of Janasthana and generals in Ravana's mighty army. Marica was Ravana's uncle who took the form of a golden deer to trick Rama so that Siva would be abducted (see note 48). Surpanakha, literally "sharp-nailed," was Ravana's sister. She fell in love with Rama in exile in the forests of Dandaka; Rama rejected her and passed her on to his brother. who, enraged, cut off her nose and ears.

33. (See note 32.)

42. Sweet, round balls made of milk, butter, sugar, nuts, and flavored with spices.

54. The lotus is the symbol of the blossoming world.

62. Lack of cleanliness in the physical and moral senses.

70. Disgraced and banished; this is a form of punishment meted to both men and women that we see in tales, especially tales whose provenance is southern India. The wrongdoer is seated on a donkey often facing the animal's tail, and chased out of the city gates. An added detail is sometimes present: the culprit's face is painted with black and red dots.

77. A deep, sunken navel is a mark of beauty in India; a protruding belly-button is not.

91. The phrase is rather obscure. Perhaps it means settling or cultivating.

103. Worship of the Kalpaka tree, that grants wishes.

122. Spring creeper, a variety of jasmine; it bears white, fragrant flowers.

126. Fortune pesonified.

133. Milk, melted butter, curds, urine, and dung; the cow is sacred.

143. The god of love, Kama, tried to tempt Lord Siva Himself, who was seated in single-minded meditation on Mt. Kailasa in the Himalayas. The Lord opened his Third Eye (the eye of wisdom and of visioning) and a spark flew out and burnt Kama to ashes. From that time, Love was known as the Bodiless.

150. A contemptuous word for the mouth.

151. Illusion, magic, sorcery.

(From The Five-and-Twenty Tales of the Genie by Sivadasa. Penguin Classics edition, translated by Chandra Rajan.)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Hypothetical Library

Please note the new link to The Hypothetical Library.

Since February, book designer Charlie Orr has been creating book covers and inside flap copy for hypothetical books submitted by real authors. Today's entry comes from Neil Gaiman, titled If You Read This Book the World Will End. On Thursday, May 20, Orr and Gaiman promise the hypothetical audio version of the book.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


This is a choice or forefathers never had to face.

At Whole Foods, which is the more socially responsible, conscientious choice?

1) Organic blueberries from California, 6 oz for $4.99.

2) Locally grown conventional blueberries, 6 oz for $5.99.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


At every stage of my life I have shirked facing my problems in just this same way; and I shall die at eighty before having formed an opinion of myself, or, perhaps, without writing anything that would have shown me what I could do...However, I worry very little about any of this; I live like a plant, filling myself with sun and light, with colors and fresh air. I keep eating, so to speak; afterwards the digesting will have to be done, then the shitting; and the shit had better be good! That's the important thing.
Gustave Flaubert in a letter to his mother
Cairo, 5 January, 1850
(Flaubert was 28 years old at the time.)