210/ Adverbs

I say happiness is a state of mind and one can choose to be and stay in it. For 2016, I choose happiness and I choose love to take me there.

For starters, here’s Daniel Handler’s “Adverbs”—where characters, story lines, and magpies bleed from one chapter to the next without orienting the reader.

This is love, and the trouble with it: it can make you embarrassed. Love is liking someone a whole lot and not wanting to screw that up.

I want to love you and take you pretty places. Yes, I have things wrong, but also I can walk through walls if you’ll let me show you.

“Adverbs” is not the most inspiring and exciting love story out there (sleep-inducing comes to mind most times) but it has interesting moments. The chapter called “naturally” is the best, where this comes from and it feels so real: “This is a love worry, of course. It is the trouble all the time with love. You see the person and you want to cry…But all the time you know the depressing thing: she doesn’t even know you exist.”


209/ Nicholas Nickleby

It’s Hallowe’en! This passage from Charles Dickens’ “Nicholas Nickleby” I find most chillingly appropriate:

There is a dread disease which so prepares its victim, as it were, for death; which so refines it of its grosser aspect, and throws around familiar looks unearthly indications of the coming change—a dread disease, in which the struggle between soul and body is so gradual, quiet, and solemn, and the result so sure, that day by day and grain and by grain, the mortal part wastes and withers away, so that the spirit grows light and sanguine with its lightening load and feeling immortality at hand, deems it but a new term of mortal life—a disease in which death and life are so strangely blended, that death takes the glow and hue of life, and life the gaunt and grisly form of death—a disease which medicine never cured, wealth warded off, or poverty could boast exemption from—which sometimes moves in giant strides, and sometimes at a tardy sluggish pace, but, slow or quick, is ever sure and certain.

“Nicholas Nickleby” also tells us that, with hard work and beauty and grace, there’s no difficulty that cannot be overcome. Dickens essays: “Poverty should engender an honest pride, that it may not lead and tempt us to unworthy actions, and that we may preserve the self-respect which a hewer of wood and drawer of water may maintain—and does better in maintaining than a monarch his.”

There are people out there—a porcupine’s a featherbed to them and they’d be happy to bed you with them. Say no.


208/ Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt

Yet I was coming to understand something of the greatest importance: all stories were part of one great story, the story of who we were. I hadn’t seen it so clearly before, but now it was so clear that it thrilled me.

I was expecting “Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt” to be irreverent. Or flippant at the very least. It’s after all Anne Rice re-imagining the supposed lost years of The Divine Savior.

The Vatican has nothing to fret about though. For “Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt” is almost the missing Gospel of the New Testament. This here is Anne Rice the Believer—respectful of the Christian Faith, careful of historical details, thoughtful of Jesus’ humanity.

More than intriguing and dumbfounding, Jesus coming to terms with his divinity is quite affecting. There’s that heartbreaking moment when He was in so much pain because he could not understand why His birth goaded Herod into effecting unspeakable violence against the first-borns of Jerusalem. Understand that Jesus was only seven years old here, still delicate and impressionable as any human babe. And here one must appreciate Mary, Joseph, and Cleopas for being constantly and kindly around Him—Joseph especially, because no one, even those from his own tribe, could claim Jesus being bar Joseph; for which reason his name was ridiculed and his wife derided. Yet Joseph loved Jesus like any protective father would a son.


207/ The Old Man and the Sea

Then the fish came alive, with his death in him, and rose high out of the water showing all great length and width and all his power and his beauty. He seemed to hang in the above the old man in the skiff. Then he fell into the water with a crash that sent spray over the old man and over all of the skiff.

At 40, by today’s sickening standards of youth and beauty, I’m already Santiago. Sometimes I catch myself thinking of and looking for who would be my Manolin. Most times I dream of solitude—being at peace with myself and happy with what I have.

But I’m not quite there yet. I still have to meet and vanquish my own Great Big Fish. I imagine it would be a Farm. The soil will bend my back, burn my skin, and make my fingers gnarled and knotted. Yet I will have peace. Unlike Santiago, though, I hope my harvest will not be put to waste. I will love my Farm, but I will not kill it.

To be sure, there’s a lot to be learned from Ernest Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea”. But, for me and for now, it’s this: be careful what you wish for, be more careful what you do with it.


206/ Getting Even

When to take Woody Allen seriously? When comically?

“Getting Even” is funny, the laugh-out-loud and rolling-off-the-chair-then-on-the-floor variety, chiefly because of the outrageousness of The Gossage-Vardebedian Papers and the hilarity of Mr. Big.

But then Woody, without fanfare, pulls out cerebral punchlines like these:

The universe is strictly phenomenological. Nothing’s eternal. It’s all meaningless.

The manifestation of the universe as a complex idea unto itself as opposed to being in or outside the true Being of itself is inherently a conceptual nothingness or Nothingness in relation to any abstract form of existing or to exist or having existed in perpetuity and not subject to laws of physicality or motion or ideas relating to non-matter or the lack of objective Being or subjective otherness.

Death is an acquired trait.

Man does not bring on his own happiness, and suffering is really God’s will, although why He gets such a kick out of it is beyond me.

It’s settled then. Woody Allen is to be taken for being both, smart and funny. I don’t think he can be one without the other.


205/ Motherless Brooklyn

There is something Tourettic in the way Jonathan Lethem sums up the premise of “Motherless Brooklyn”:

Minna Men wear suits. Minna Men drive cars. Minna Men listen to tapped lines. Minna Men stand behind Minna, hands in their pockets, looking menacing. Minna Men carry money. Minna Men collect money. Minna Men don’t ask questions. Minna Men answer phones. Minna Men pick up packages. Minna Men are clean shaven. Minna Men follow instructions. Minna Men try to be like Minna, but Minna is dead.

Lionel Essrog emits impulsive barks and counts like a one-man freakshow. But it’s not his explosive tics that impress. What does is his single-minded persistence to make sense of Frank Minna’s murder. It’s touching how he makes the most of his Tourette to go after the murderer of and vindicate his mentor.

Tourette’s teaches you what people will ignore and forget, teaches you to see that reality-knitting mechanism people employ to tuck away the intolerable, the incongruous, the disruptive—it teaches you this because you’re the one lobbing the intolerable, incongruous, and disruptive their way.

I wonder what it’s like to have a Tourette. It’s probably akin to perpetually scrabbling infinite letters for words that perfectly make sense except for all the rest of the world.


204/ F. Scott Fitzgerald A Short Autobiography

If you believe in anything very strongly—including yourself—and if you go after that thing alone, you end up in jail, in heaven, in the headlines, or in the largest house in the block, according to what you started after. If you don’t believe in anything very strongly—including yourself—you go along, and enough money is made out of you to buy an automobile for some other fellow’s son, and you marry if you’ve got time, and if you do have a lot of children, whether you have time or not, and finally you get tired and you die.

James L. W. West III (editor) is so right. There’s nobody who can write about F. Scott Fitzgerald better than F. Scott Fitzgerald. His writings offer insights into his genius.

Indeed, “F. Scott Fitzgerald A Short Autobiography” teaches important life lessons. Consider what Fitzgerald essayed:

About the ideal writer: “The wise writer, I think, writes for the youth of his own generation, the critic of the next and the schoolmasters of ever afterward. Granted the ability to improve what he imitates in the way of style, to choose from his own interpretation of the experiences around him what constitutes material, and we get the first-water genius.”

On embracing poverty: “We’re too poor to economize. Economy is a luxury. We could have economized last summer—but now our only salvation is in extravagance.”

And his wishes for the young blood: “He’ll have then, I hope with all my heart, these five things—a citizenship in the world, a knowledge of the body in which he is to live, a hatred of sham, a suspicion of authority, and a lonely heart. Their five opposites—patriotism, modesty, general enthusiasm, faith, and good fellowship—I leave to the pious office boys of the last generation. They are not for our children.”