Thursday, July 13, 2017

Why I Don't Mourn My Friend's Death


Over a year ago, I wrote the following in the wake of something I wrote even earlier:
Sitting at the bedside of a good friend who seems, for reasons I don't fully understand, to be virtually comatose and close to death from cerebral hypoxia associated with an advanced stage of Alzheimer's. What an awful, cruel disease Alzheimer's is!
Three nights ago, my friend’s decline ended unceremoniously in a senior care home bed. It was the first time either I or my wife had ever watched anyone die “up close and personal.” My friend lie in bed, unresponsive to his environment, unblinking eyes wide open, gasping in a strange, rhythmically spasmodic manner for breath. And then after a what seemed like ten or more seconds’  interruption in breathing, he breathed in and out a couple more times, closed his eyes briefly and opened them again, and then stopped breathing altogether. A hospice nurse arrived a half hour later to officially pronounce him deceased on July 10, 2017 at 11 pm.

I wish I could say I was struck by the momentousness of a life passing before my eyes, but I’d be lying. I felt almost nothing except sadness for my friend’s wife who, after taking tender care of her virtually comatose husband for over a year with almost superhuman diligence, lost the considerable monetary benefits she would have qualified for had he been able to hold on for just twenty-two more days.

Maybe one reason why I felt so little is because it seemed to me that my friend actually died over a year ago. Certainly, the shell of a person who lie helpless in that bed virtually unconscious for all those months requiring total care from his wife and other caregivers was not the man who watched TV with me at my house several times a week two or three short years ago and intelligently discussed politics, international events, religion, philosophy, and the copious personal adventures of his rich and varied life.

If I were to have felt anything besides sadness for his wife, maybe it should have been elation over the fact that my friend was now “free at last...free at last, thank God almighty [he is] free at last!”

Yet perhaps that possibility was tempered by various considerations such as my uncertainty of whether a fully dead or non-conscious entity can be better off than a conscious one any more than a rock is “better off” than a starving child, and of whether, if my friend’s consciousness continued in some posthumous condition or place, he actually suffered less when lying virtually comatose on this mortal plane. Suppose he died and passed on to some excruciatingly hellish afterlife or wandered alone and fearful in some strange new dimension.

Or maybe my friend’s death and death in general mean little to me anymore because life has come to mean little to me. The older I get, the more I see life as a pointless, futile exercise. My friend seemed to think of it that way too. In fact, we seemed to think a lot alike about a lot of things. Maybe that’s why we were friends.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Why Today?


As a boy and young man, I sprained my ankles so many times playing basketball and doing other things and stretched my ligaments so far that my doctor told me, umpteen sprains ago, that if I sprained one of my ankles again, it would probably require surgery. However, although I stopped playing basketball decades ago, I've managed to walk and bowl and get around just fine for years without a single ankle twist of even the mildest degree. Until today, that is.

I was walking home from the store and twisted my left ankle for no apparent reason. There might have been a slight indentation or other deformity in the sidewalk, but it wasn't a big deal. I've walked that same route and far worse countless times and never had a problem.

Fortunately, the sprain doesn't seem to have been a big deal either. When I used to sprain my ankles playing basketball, they'd go numb and then hurt like hell and throb and swell up to twice or more their normal size. This one felt only slightly numb for a minute or so and barely hurt afterward, and I see no visible signs of swelling more than an hour later.

Still, it makes one wonder what confluence of factors came together to produce such an anomalous event and whether I can do anything to forestall them from reassembling to cause a possibly worse sprain that might even force me to have the threatened surgery I've been fortunate enough to avoid for decades and decades.

Time will tell with this as it does with everything.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

No Brain for Poker


A friend of mine is playing poker in Las Vegas. He just sent me a short video of him or someone apparently winning a poker hand. I say "apparently," because I don't understand the first thing about poker, and I think it would be difficult if not impossible for me to learn. I've never been good at learning these kinds of things. He, on the other hand, learns these and many other kinds of things easily. And he's a pretty good poker player from what he's led me to believe.

I don't know if I'm better or worse off not understanding anything about poker and probably being unable to learn. However, I think I'm much worse off being apparently incapable of learning so many things that many if not most people seem capable of learning quite readily. It makes for a very narrow range of activity I can hope to perform and enjoy with any potential competence.

I wish I wasn't so limited in what I can do. But I'm still grateful that I can do some things reasonably well. For one thing, I think I can speak and write better than most people.

I've read articles that say the printed word will increasingly give way to multimedia communications that rely more on imagery and audio than text until text becomes virtually obsolete.

I hope that never happens. But if and when it does, I guess I'll be obsolete too, if I'm not already. But maybe it won't happen until after I'm dead and won't care.

Monday, June 26, 2017

China Set to Emulate Black Mirror's Nosedive Scenario?


Last night I watched a Black Mirror episode titled "Nosedive." It was about a social media-driven dystopia in which everybody is constantly being rated by everyone with whom they come in contact in physical or electronic space, and their overall rating can have profound implications for where they can work and live, what they can buy or which services they can receive, and with whom they can associate in order to maintain or boost rather than lower their rating and enjoy the rewards or suffer the consequences thereof. This turns almost everyone into approval-seeking phonies compulsively and anxiously on guard against being down-rated by anybody in any social situation.

This Orwellian nightmare scenario seemed plausible enough in the not-too-distant future, but, judging from this alarming article (the full article is behind a paywall, but be sure to check out the video), something disconcertingly like it may already be coming to China in the form of an ominously named "social credit system," and it may come here sooner than we could have ever imagined. Be concerned. Be very concerned!

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Meryl Streep's Incredibly Beautiful Photo

I’m much more of a verbal person than a visual one. So, I tend to get much more excited about beautiful words than about beautiful photographs.

But today is Meryl Streep’s 68th birthday, and when I saw the photograph above of her on a Facebook friend’s page, I couldn’t take my eyes off it. I don’t know who took that photo or when they took it, but I don’t think I’ve ever been as struck by a photograph of anyone as I am of this one. I think it’s absolutely stunning. Meryl looks so incredibly beautiful and alive in it. It’s almost too much to bear. But in the best of ways.

Happy Birthday, Meryl. Your amazing photo has certainly made my day a happy one. And I suspect that it's brightened the day of virtually everyone who's seen it. Everyone, except, perhaps, Donald Trump or his supporters.

Monday, April 17, 2017

RIP Allan Holdsworth, Guitar Colossus


"I think Allan Holdsworth is the John Coltrane of guitar. I don't think anyone can do as much with the guitar as Allan Holdsworth can." ~ Robben Ford

Though I've never played an instrument, music has been a vital part of my life for as long as I can remember. And for decades, Allan Holdsworth has thrilled and inspired me like no one else with his astonishingly fluid and impossibly complex virtuosity and steadfastly uncompromising musical sensibility.

Frank Zappa called him one of the "most interesting" guitarists on the planet. Eddie Van Halen said he was simply "the best." John McLaughlin quipped that he'd steal Holdsworth's licks if he could understand them. The praise went on and on from guitar luminaries the world over.

But Allan Holdsworth died yesterday at the age of 70. So, there will be no more soul-searing guitar lines and otherworldly chordal phrasings from those magic fingers. A giant who perhaps stood taller than any other in the prodigiously demanding genre of guitar-centered "fusion" has passed on.

While it was well-known that he was in poor health, Allan's death still comes as something of a shock. A friend of mine saw him perform just a little over a week ago. And, despite his not having practiced much for a long time, he was still in virtuosic form.

Sadly, Allan never prospered from his music. In fact, he was apparently in pretty dire financial straits at the end. For while serious guitarists and hardcore guitar fans idolized him, most of the public never even heard of him. And if they happened to chance upon any of his music, they probably cringed from the strangeness of it.

I confess that, huge Holdsworth fan that I was, I found some of his music pretty "out there" too, and some of it left me cold. But then there was this solo, my favorite guitar solo ever, and this rare, hauntingly pensive and beautiful acoustic guitar piece on an album he despised and tried to suppress.

I was blessed to see Allan perform in person a couple of times. One such time was in the early to mid-80's at a local nightclub in Palo Alto, CA. This song, in particular, enraptured me and is probably my favorite song that he himself composed. I wish I'd been able to see more of him.

Fortunately, his recorded music lives on, and YouTube abounds with his live performances and this lovely tribute. RIP, Allan.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Resonance of Paterson


I saw a movie trailer months ago and knew I had to see the movie when I could. Today I could and did. And I know it will linger in my heart and mind for a long time.

It's a Jim Jarmusch film called "Paterson." It's a quiet, contemplative film about a young guy named Paterson who lives and drives a bus in Paterson, New Jersey. He wakes up every workday to the clock alarm in his head, kisses his wife, eats his Cheerios while composing poetry in his mind or notebook, and dutifully walks to work. He sits in his bus before his shift writing poetry until his beleagured boss comes along and reminds him it's time to go to work. As he drives, he listens attentively to the conversations of disparate people around him. When he gets off work, he walks to a secluded place and sits on a bench by a waterfall writing more poetry. Then he walks home, greets his endearingly ditzy wife, eats dinner, and takes his bulldog for a walk, and leaves him parked outside a cozy neighborhood bar while he ambles in for a leisurely drink and quiet conversation with the bartender-owner and an assortment of fellow patrons. The next day, it all begins, progresses, and ends almost exactly the same way.

Never before have I seen a film that resonates so powerfully with my sense of the trivial repetitiveness of life. Life's pointlessness has been acutely on my mind over the past year or so, and "Paterson" drives it home. Not in a depressing way. I'm not depressed, at least not most of the time, by seeing life as "a tale told by an idiot," even when its "sound and fury" gives way for me as it does for the film's protagonist to quiet, purposeless reiteration.

And never before, perhaps, have I identified so much with a film's character. Paterson is the guy I would likely be if I were even as bold and capable as his very unassuming and mediocre personage. For one thing, I now understand the lure of a neighborhood bar the way I could never fathom before. And if I were a little more outgoing than I actually am, I'd probably end my numbingly repetitive workdays with a trip there to sip a mug of beer and talk pensively with others while cool jazz played warmly and unobtrusively on the jukebox in the background.

And, like Paterson, I would write before and after work. Not poetry but nonfictional prose. And, because of my similar lack of ambition and/or confidence, I would do no more than Paterson to get my work published for pay or recognition.

The film also conveyed to me an acute sense of how alone we ultimately are, even if we're married to someone who truly loves us and we're surrounded by chattering people all day long. My philosophy may tell me we're all interconnected with each other and with the whole shebang of kosmic existence, but my heart feels existentially separate from every one and every thing. Yet I don't find this feeling depressing so much as simply and resignedly factual.

But it's also a fact that once in a blessed while a special film comes along that makes the idiotic tale of life and aloneness glow with rare and poignant beauty that leaves me happy to be alive, in part so I can experience such affecting works of cinematic art and bask in their affirming afterglow. "Paterson" is one such film for me.