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How (Not) to Condole

As some know, and as others have pieced together, we’ve had a death in the family. On July 15th, my brother shot and killed himself. He was 53 years old.

What followed that event was a very emotional and trying few weeks. The family has had to deal with many issues, official as well as personal. Aside from the shock, anger, frustration, and knife-edged grief, we’ve also had to handle the myriad requirements of police, medical examiners, lawyers, funeral directors, newspapers, social media, and professional organizations. We’ve also been trying to hold each other together, comfort one another, and to keep ourselves from falling into the same black hole of depression that my brother fought for so many years.

It hasn’t been easy. Continue Reading »

The Inconstant Guest

Grief is not a constant thing.

Grief is the unwanted houseguest, the itinerant acquaintance who shows up without notice or invitation, steamer trunk standing behind him as he smiles, his obvious intention: to settle in for an extended stay.

When he arrives, I cannot send him away, much as I want to. He is here, and he will stay. So I make up the bed in the spare room, put out fresh linens, and prepare myself to meet daily the constant sadness that has taken up residence in my home.

But it is not constant, this sadness, this Grief.

In the mornings, Grief, still in his dressing gown of paisleyed silk, shuffles into the room, inclines his head discreetly in my direction, moves to an unoccupied chair, and unfolds the day’s newspaper, sipping creamed coffee as he reads.

In the afternoons, Grief wanders the house, inspecting artwork, photographs, the spines of books, the memorabilia of my life. If the weather is fine, he might venture out for a turn in the garden or to sun himself on the porch.

In the evenings, Grief may enjoy a cognac and a pipe near the hearth, or take a book and a glass of port over to the chair beneath the reading lamp.

Grief is like this much of the time. Quiet, unobtrusive, there are spans when I almost forget that he is there, when life seems normal, but then the rustle of his broadsheet or the sandy whisper of a turned page reminds me: Grief still haunts these rooms.

But Grief is not always so reserved.

On occasion, Grief will clear his throat, breaking the silence between us. The paper will fold, the book’s page will be marked, the teacup will clink home in its saucer, and Grief will turn and look at me with an intensity that demands my attention.

“Remember when . . . ?” he might start, or “I wonder why . . .” he’ll begin, and to that he will attach an anecdote about the one who has passed, the death that brought him to my doorstep. The memory he relates might be a happy one, albeit scorched by loss, or it might be of an angry moment that I would rather forget. It might even be a hidden truth, now unveiled, that reveals unknown realities that add confusion to my pain. Insistent, Grief relates these thoughts to me, whether I want to hear them or not, and in so doing, he brings into razor-edged focus the unhealed wound, the lacuna that can never be repaired.

Grief acknowledges the pain he causes. He furrows his brow and nods as if in sympathy, but ultimately he is unaffected by my anguish, unmoved by my feelings. Day or night, at random moments, consistently inconstant, Grief interrupts my thoughts, my work, my dreams, with reminders of loss and recollections of a life extinguished.

But Grief has visited here before.

As with previous visits, I know that, in time, Grief will begin to leave me alone. His strolls out on the grounds will lengthen. He will take meals in his room. He may even enjoy the occasional trip to the countryside.

As the days and weeks that form the months pass by, the timbre of his recollections will change as well, softening as the seasons dilute and cleanse our discourse of its harsher notes, leaving me with memories that are infused with less pain and greater fondness.

Eventually, Grief will find a place of his own and move out, perhaps across town. He will continue to pop in for a quick visit, around a birthday or the holidays, and we will chat and reminisce and raise a glass to the loved one I lost.

And thus we will continue, Grief and I, until I myself am at an end, when Grief will pack up his steamer trunk and take memories of me to someone new.

. . .

 

 

224 Words

224 words 
are not enough 
to hold your complexity 
to describe your life 
to tell your story 

224 words 
discretely categorized 
these on education and profession 
those on the passions that fired your mind 
cannot suffice 

I could write novels 
stories and essays
odes and sonnets 
vignettes and epigrams 
and still not compass 
all you were 
to me 
to any of us 

224 words 
cannot scratch the surface 
of the sadness and pain 
that in the end 
consumed you but 

224 words
are all that fit 
into the columned inches 
to tell the world 
you are gone 

 

. . .

 

Ages ago, when the world and I were young, there came a summer when I was just plain fed up.

Nothing had gone well for some time. Dreams had been dashed. Adulthood was daunting. My summertime gig at the local Jewish community center had ended, and I had a week or so before my classes at SF State started up, so there I was, despondent and idle, despairing of my future. I had little—no car, paltry funds, dismal prospects, no girlfriend—but Pax, my friend and housemate, though he was in much the same mental space as I was, had two things I did not.

He had a car, and he had an idea:

Road trip. Continue Reading »

Out of the Fray

I spent the last week at war.

In the wee hours, late last week, I awoke to email alerts regarding my personal Facebook account. It had been disabled.

My first thought was that one of my more political posts had rubbed someone the wrong way and they’d reported me, but as I investigated, I learned that, no, someone had gained access to my account and had done something that violated Community Standards.

I’d been hacked.

I tried to recover control, but Facebook’s algorithms denied me and summarily deactivated my account. This also deactivated the “author” page I ran on Facebook, where I echo posts from here. As far as Facebook was concerned, I was a non-entity. Continue Reading »

Noah’s Take

When Jon Stewart announced his retirement from “The Daily Show,” I was very disappointed. Jon’s penchant for incisive and relevant analysis wrapped in wit and snark would be a hard mantle to take on. When he announced that Trevor Noah would take the helm in his stead, I was downright unhappy. Noah (I felt) was too young, too green, to fill that spot. The show would founder with this “kid” at the helm.

Noah quickly proved my preconceptions to be unfounded. Though he did bring a more youthful spirit to the show, he also brought a depth of understanding and a global sense of humanity that, albeit different than Stewart’s style and substance, was also an enhancement in many ways. Since those first years, Noah has only improved, and has emerged (in my opinion, at any rate) as a clear-minded observer of American society who is well worth listening to.

That said, when someone suggested I should read his autobiography, I again returned to my prejudice. “Autobiography? He’s just a kid! What could he possibly have to say?”

Silly, silly me.

Trevor Noah’s autobiography, Born a Crime, focuses on his childhood, growing up in South Africa, dealing with apartheid and the effects of that heinous system’s downfall. Told with humor and candor, he shows us, through his experiences, what apartheid intended, what it accomplished, and what it left behind.

Most of us who remember a world with apartheid know that it was definitely a bad thing, a truly evil social construct designed to subjugate a majority population by a tyrannical minority. Likewise, we remember the boycotts, the riots, and the eventual jubilation when that social system was finally dismantled and cast onto the ash-heap. Like Nazism, apartheid was racial and ethnic hatred codified into law on a national level, and we do well to hold them both in similar regard.

But what did I really know about living under it? What did I really know about apartheid’s mechanisms of pressure, or about the myriad tiny rebellions performed by regular folk (of all colors) who lived there?

Nothing, really. Really. Nothing.

This book helped me with that, from Noah’s tales of his mother’s religiosity and recklessness, his father’s legally enforced distance, and the complicated interactions of the government’s often arbitrary assignments of racial class. Through these, Noah illuminates both the absurdity of the system itself and the lasting damage apartheid left in its wake.

More importantly, though, is that in this book, in its stories of an openly and unabashedly racist society, we can see magnified versions of what is currently convulsing America. Our government, our institutions, our law enforcement, and more all carry elements of what was writ large in South Africa’s apartheid, and when you see what the end-state was under that regime, it’s not difficult to see America’s slavery and Jim Crow laws nestled comfortably within it.

However—and I fear I’ve buried the lede here—this book is not a heavy treatise or polemic. Rather, it is a thoroughly enjoyable read filled with unique characters, passion, rebellion, high-jinks, bittersweet romance, danger, growth, wit, and pranks, all told by a self-described “naughty rascal” who, because he really didn’t fit into any of apartheid’s established classes, was able to flit between them, being part of all and part of none, simultaneously insider and outsider both.

Trevor Noah is young, by my benchmarks, but he is not green, and he has a lot to say. I, for one, look forward to reading about the next chapters of his life, and expect I will learn as much about him, about the world, about America, and about myself, as I did with Born a Crime.

k

Some Light Reading

It’s been a tough week for us all, one way or another, and one reason is that it is now obvious that all this . . . [gestures to everything] . . . is not going to end any time soon. In addition, I took my own advice and spent much of the week listening and learning from diverse voices. I’ve been rethinking and reevaluating many long-standing notions of society and America. You might have been doing likewise, and like me, you may have found it both depressing and exhausting.

But this post isn’t about any of that.

This post is about how I’ve been taking a moment here and there to brighten these dark days with a really, really bad book.

After sharing what I previously described as “the worst piece of professionally published fiction I have ever read,” a friend loaned me a book he felt was even worse.

And boy-oh-boy was he right.

It’s a self-published work, so my stance on “Man-Gods From Beyond the Stars” remains unchanged, but while “self-published” is by no means a synonym for “crap,”—I’ve self-published a few works, myself—there is a lot of the latter contained within the former. A whole lot.

And this book, well, it is utter crap.

And it is also absolutely adorable.

Seriously, it’s just adorable. From the mistake in the dedication straight through to the formatting error on the last line, it is chock-a-block with typos, malaprops, misused homophones, and errors of grammar and punctuation. Stylistically, it’s a hot mess. Unwieldy character names abound, used in every line of dialogue and the attached, adverbially enhanced avoidance of the word “said” (e.g., “Not to worry, Gondranth. I’m a trained professional,” stated Ik’nolt greedily). It has (dis)continuity issues that make you flinch and wonder if you’ve just had a minor stroke. And there is So. Much. Telling.

But here’s the thing: it’s just so earnest, so fervent, and so . . . enthusiastic . . . that it’s impossible not to cock your head to the side and say, “Awwww, how sweet.”

I won’t mention the author or title or even the genre here, because my point is not to humiliate the pen that created this trashy treasure. This book is an obvious labor of love, a gift to friends and family, and the author isn’t trying to be famous or “strike it rich” as a bestselling novelist, and isn’t complaining about the heartlessness of the publishing industry. This author just wanted to write a book, an homage to their favorite genre, and share it with others, and I will not make them feel bad about that.

I haven’t, and I won’t read the book in its entirety—frankly, I’m not sure that’s possible—but when I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed by [again, gestures to everything], I will pick it up, open it to a random page, and chuckle at such fervid prose so inexpertly crafted.

We should all be that passionate about something. I’m glad this author found their dream and congratulate them on achieving the goal.

k

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