Somehow the Morgan Library forgot to invite me.

Posted January 23rd, 2011
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There is a new show at the Morgan Library and Museum, in NYC, that appears to be retrospective of the human being and his centuries old need to present himself and his life through the keeping of diaries.  From the review I read in the N.Y. Times, it looks  like an exhibit I would love. The show appears to contain everything from a fifteenth century ” first printed edition of St. Augustine’s ‘Confessions,’ and that book’s 18th-century secular heir, Rousseau’s “Confessions” to the hand written  musings of assorted luminaries such as Sir Walter Scott,  Emily Bronte, and Nathaniel Hawthorne and his wife (see below). There are also contributions from that old diary perennial Anais Nin as well as  musings from Bob Dylan, Tennessee Williams and a policeman at the site of the World Trade Center during 9/11. All appear to share the amazing details of being alive in their particular moment. Somehow everyone seems to know instinctively how to create the kind of entry that deserves to be placed upon the sands of time and burned in to the pages of history.

But speaking now as someone who has been keeping diaries since I was in the third grade,  I was a little stung that I wasn’t asked to contribute.  Yes, yes…of course I am aware that I don’t exactly occupy the same space and weight in the world as a Sir Walter Scott or a St. Augustine. But still…does not every life matter equally in some a kind of a basically incomprehensible quantum physics kind of way? That was what I was telling myself as I  went in to the closet to fish out my earliest diaries and examine them for relevance.  What, I was wondering, might I have been  able to contribute to the exhibit had I only but been allowed a chance?

My instincts were correct.  What I found were the richly rewarding texts written by  my younger self as I documented daily life at the beginning of the sixties.  The excitement of that decade’s rebellious  spirit of  social upheaval comes alive on every page, as we clearly see in my first entry below which was written when I was in the fourth grade. Its interesting to note how  l  reject the constraints and gender expectations of a post war American middle class,  while also predicting the coming  feminist wave . In a follow up entry written just several days later,(not shown) I go even further down this path as I  boldly dismiss ever having anything  to do with the whole idea of menstruation, entirely. 

Illustration two, written a few weeks after that,  shows an oddly prescient sampling of the change in consciousness that this tumultuous decade would eventually bring.  The truth is that  every page of this amazing diary is such a treasure trove of  textured insights, it was hard for me to pick just a few pages to highlight for this summary. Nevertheless, I will close with one that  offers a tantalizing glimpse of the woman I would one day become as it tells the engaging tale of my attempt to triumph in  a contest  being held by a local television show called The Jim Dooley Hour. Then, as now, I was overcome by a heart felt desire to win a personal visit from a chimpanzee. (illustration 3)

Summing up,  I would like to say that there are many many many other pages just as worthy as these.  And since The Morgan exhibit doesn’t even close until May, there is  plenty of time for them to give me a call.  (Note to curator : Also available upon request are diaries from the fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth grades.)

Don’t introduce me to your new love until after a year.

Posted January 20th, 2011
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I kind of like cooking. Therefore I like cooking dinner for my friends on special occasions.  But on this, the twentieth day of the first month of a new year, I am making a new house rule:

Do not bring your brand new one true love to my house for a home cooked meal until you have gone with them at least a year.

I have a number of friends who are currently engaged in the difficult, sometimes barbaric, seemingly endless search for the right person. They have my sympathy.  I was dating my brains out for years and  am still so so sick of the whole idea that  the thought of having to return to that moment again makes me shudder the way I do when I imagine voluntarily making trips out to the coin operated laundromat now that I own a washer and dryer. Thats not a good analogy.  Dating is so much worse than the laundromat.  Though the laundromat  still gives me nightmares.

But here is what I learned about dating: You can not tell who it is you have become involved with until around month four. It is just impossible.  The first three months are a honeymoon period where both parties put on a great big fake show for each other.  Then, after that, it takes at least another 8 or 9 months to gather enough information to guess whether or not  this new relationship is going to last.  That year will turn out to be a combination of exhilarating (Hey! Hot new sex!!) and frustrating (I can’t believe what just happened last night!)  This is all just par for the course.   That’s the way a new relationship works.

The only thing I am saying is that during this sometimes exciting and frequently tumultuous period, there is no real reason for you to bring this new person over to meet me. Because in at least 90% of cases, it will turn out that you are only weeks away from sitting me down to listen to you deliver a speech where you will want my empathy and sympathy as you explain in detail how the afore mentioned new person turned out to be a total asshole.

Obviously I am going to want to give you that empathy and sympathy.  You are my friend.  I want the best for you in all circumstances.  All I am asking is that you restrain yourself from making it my responsibility  to cook dinner for someone who is about to ruin your life, before the fact.

Its a lot of work cooking dinner. I search through recipes.  I fret. I have to drive to the store ten times.  Then we clean the house and sweep the porch and wash the tablecloth .   Its expensive and exhausting.  And don’t forget all that energy spent dressing up before hand and  cleaning up afterward. And then, of course, we have to lock the dogs in the back of the house so they won’t eat all the snacks or get hair all over the guests. And boy, they hate that.

Though I don’t mind doing it for people I like. Because I love when they do it for me.  But here’s the thing: I absolutely mind doing it for people  I am not only going to never see again, but am going to  later  find out are personality disordered cretins who have treated a friend of mine badly.  Call me crazy but I don’t want to work hard to help an amoral vindictive monster have a lovely relaxing afternoon or evening.  Which brings me to the stress of searching for topics of conversation to engage a person who, in a few weeks, we will all have agreed was mentally ill and all decided we hate. I don’t want to serve them horsd’oevres and wine and find out where they are from.

I guess I should mention at this point that I have several friends who have brought more than four such relationship candidates over for a long long evening. In one case, five.

Or just as bad: what if I end up bonding with this new person? And then later find out that YOU are the one who acted like the big asshole?  I chose my friends pretty carefully. And I don’t need or want that kind of information about someone I thought was my friend.

So go ahead and fall in love briefly with whoever you chose.  Obviously you don’t need my permission . If you want to waste your time and money and  dreams on  fantasies about this new person, before you have any real idea who they are…well, its your life.  You alone will wind up with the cocktail party anecdotes and the short story rights to whatever crazy thing unfolds. Just do me the courtesy of not insisting that I  join you as  captain, chef and entertainment committee on your  voyage before the whole ship capsizes.

As my friend John Hodgman likes to say at this point: That is all.

Learning to love a kindle.

Posted January 3rd, 2011

On this, the eve of the release of the brand new novel by Snooki, I am thinking about my new kindle.

I just bought one a few months ago, after a lot of contemplation and quite a few recommendations from smart friends.  I wasn’t sure how I felt about the whole idea but I did know that lack of shelf space was becoming a problem in my house.  Also, my local library was down for remodeling…not that I used it that much since buying books on impulse was one habit I have never figured out how to curtail.

So I bought a kindle.

Once I got it hooked up, I began to debate with myself what to read for my maiden voyage. Which books was I willing to spend money on but didn’t care if I owned in 3 D?  So I downloaded Room by Emma Donoghue and Glass Castle  by Jeanette Walls, two books I had been thinking about reading but for some reason hadn’t gotten around to yet.  And it was very impressive how, in seconds, there they were. Or should I say, there were their titles on my kindle…more quickly than I can sometimes open a g-mail.

Right away, I read both at the speed of light and enjoyed them. Everything seemed perfect, including how happy I was not having to store either volume on a shelf when I was finished. I loved how I was able to hold a kindle in one hand, with no pages to restrain or to dog ear. The reading surface was nicely lit. It was all very manageable, convenient and easy.

But as I continued forward in my kindling pursuits,  it began to occur to me that there are kindle books, and then there are the ones you still probably have to buy. And of course, when I say you I mean me.

For example, it wasn’t that much fun to read a play.  The dialogue doesn’t print in the same organized fashion as on the page of a play. The stage directions are kind of discombobulated and hard to follow . I mean,  it wasn’t all that bad. But having a standard play book is better.

It  was the next book I tried  that  brought the problem front and center.  This one, recommended by a friend, was the kind of book that takes  a little time to get in to.  I could tell from the first page that eventually it would be an enjoyable, satisfying read. But it wasn’t an instant page turner. That was when I started sensing  the kindle problem  .

When it comes to  a book that is a little bit challenging, it helps to have the object there  in 3 D. At least, its helpful to me. I want to shuffle thru the pages and find that part two pages ago that I  must have overlooked or something.  I want to stare at the cover and/or the author’s picture and ruminate on whether the book is worth reading.  Challenging books are by definition more of an experience. And an experience is supposed to exist in 3D.

The kindle amounts to a different version of the same problem that I have  reading articles on line. Or should I say ‘not reading articles on-line.” Because I never invest the same kind of time when I am reading electronically. For me, at least, reading on-line is more about skimming than anything. On-line reading is about headlines. The content is often bullet points about things that exist in real life. So the idea is to grab the big points and then get distracted and go off to check your Facebook page. (In fact, whoever you are, now reading this…you probably haven’t read  more than half of what I’ve written. And come on, dude…. its only a few sentences long.) (But hang on. This is almost the very end. Less than ten sentences left!)

I guess what I am trying to say is that seems to me,  the kindle is  made to order for page-turners.  Its perfect for the kind of best seller that you want to have a look at but really don’t think is important enough to own. Or one you are ashamed of yourself for buying in the first place.

On the other hand, challenging, carefully written books are meant to be absorbed in a more physical way.  Having an actual book with  hundreds of printed pages between two covers sitting on your lap is by definition a more demanding encounter. A 3 D book doesn’t let you off the hook so easy. It asks you to  persist when you get restless. It asks you to go back and re read that part two pages ago that apparently you didn’t get the first time. It reminds you that you spent money on this damn thing and owe it a  little  respect.

And know what else?  Its easier to get a crush on a real book.  If you’re enjoying yourself, a 3D book gives you a lot more to bond with. As far as I can tell, it is no fun at all to hug a kindle.

Therefore I think, in the future, I will always be making a choice between ‘Book or Kindle?” And I will be using the  kindle  for the kind of books I don’t really want to keep. Because in a way, having them on kindle is  not like having them at all. They take up no space in your life. So its a little like all the stuff that you read on-line yesterday. Where is it now? And what was all that stuff anyway? (Also, no pictures on a kindle. Tho no doubt that is the kind of thing that will be corrected in the next generation of e readers.)

And having said all that,  as far as I can tell, the category has yet to be invented that adequately fits the purchase of something written by Snooki.