party_animals_e0.gifI share today with Sarah ‘Fergie’ Ferguson, Duchess of York (1959), chef Emeril Lagasse (1959), director Penny Marshall (1942, and yes, I remember when she was an actress), Linda Lavin (1937, also an actress), businessman Lee Iacocca (1924), novelist Mario Puzo (1920), Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. historian (1917), economist John Kenneth Galbraith (1908), writer PG Wodehouse (1881), philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844), and poet Virgil (read The Aeneid in high school; 70 BC – Virgil’s dob, not my year in high-school), to name just a few.

According to Cafe Astrology the ruler of our Sun is Venus. Secondary rulers of our decanate and quadrant signs are Mercury and Mars, respectively. We are determined and responsible persons with good heads on our shoulders and a great attachment to the place (and the people) we call “home”. We possess charm and our personal popularity helps us in life–although not as much as our own strength of mind. Partnership is important to us, and we value our personal relationships more than most.

Now, in a million years

I was talking with a friend about my interest in Zen philosophy and my inability to meditate (‘monkey brain’ swings from thought to thought and won’t turn off). I remember attending a seminar about spirituality and illness where a Zen master spoke of pain and discomfort as existing only due to a lack of acceptance. You want something other than what is, i.e. don’t accept what is, then that dissatisfaction is the root of the pain – physical or mental.   He seemed to be saying that if you accept the pain, or illness, or whatever, then it no longer hurts. No doubt I am oversimplifying, perhaps completely distorting what I think I heard, but it is an interesting line of thought, particularly when applied to life as a whole.

An old song is replaying in my head — I can’t get no satisfaction. I have too many things on my to-do list and not enough time to do them. Then I question the importance of these tasks, try to prioritize my time and weigh the benefits. What I am doing wrong? Why can I never reach “the goal” – Where’s the brass ring? Why can’t I find the key? Maybe I am at the wrong door? So I go back to the drawing board, trying, trying, trying, to get somewhere, but the truth is that I am no longer sure where that somewhere is. I’m beginning to think that maybe, just maybe, I am already there. That there, the somewhere, is here…and now.

There are oodles of apt sayings and aphorisms, the one that springs most readily to mind being life is a journey, not a destination. At one time or another, most of us question the meaning of our lives — this happens most often to those who survive life-threatening events or illnesses. Why were we spared? Were we so deserving or given a proverbial second chance to get it right this time?  “What now?” I remember asking myself in October 1996. I didn’t know it then, and perhaps I am still clueless, but I suspect that the key lies within the question itself, specifically in the three-letter word NOW.

These thoughts are nothing new — to me or to you I imagine. Be they philosophers or just plain folks, people have pondered these questions throughout history. Alan Alda may not qualify as either plain or philosopher, but his latest book tackles the issue head on. According to NPR’s morning Edition, “Things I Overheard While Talking To Myself” is about the meaning of life.

Wondering if his life has had meaning, Alda concludes, “It’s really a crazy question to worry yourself over. Meaning has come to mean to me a lasting sense of satisfaction, a feeling when you get to the end of it that you haven’t wasted your time. And, for me, it’s noticing it while it’s happening.

WHILE IT’S HAPPENING. That would be now.

Reminds me of a joke. This one is in a book titled “Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar: Understanding Philosophy through Jokes” by Cathcart & Klein — I haven’t read it, but I saw Nancy Yanes Hoffman’s review on Writing Doctor’s Blog

“A man is praying to God…’Lord, is it true that a millions years to you is but a second?’
‘Yes, that is true.’
‘Well, then, what is a million dollars to you?’
‘A million dollars to me is but a penny.’
‘Ah, then, Lord,’ says the man, ‘may I have a penny?’
‘Sure,’ says the Lord. ‘Just a second.’”

I guess NOW is a relative term.

The Influence of Music

I wish I had written this. The following is an excerpt from Jazz Messenger, an essay by Haruki Murakami in The New York Times Book Review (July 8, 2007).

…Whether in music or in fiction, the most basic thing is rhythm. Your style needs to have good, natural, steady rhythm, or people won’t keep reading your work. I learned the importance of rhythm from music — and mainly from jazz. Next comes melody — which, in literature, means the appropriate arrangement of the words to match the rhythm. If the way the words fit the rhythm is smooth and beautiful, you can’t ask for anything more. Next is harmony — the internal mental sounds that support the words. Then comes the part I like best: free improvisation. Through some special channel, the story comes welling out freely from inside. All I have to do is get into the flow. Finally comes what may be the most important thing: that high you experience upon completing a work — upon ending your “performance” and feeling you have succeeded in reaching a place that is new and meaningful. And if all goes well, you get to share that sense of elevation with your readers (your audience). That is a marvelous culmination that can be achieved in no other way.

Practically everything I know about writing, then, I learned from music. It may sound paradoxical to say so, but if I had not been so obsessed with music, I might not have become a novelist. Even now, almost 30 years later, I continue to learn a great deal about writing from good music. My style is as deeply influenced by Charlie Parker’s repeated freewheeling riffs, say, as by F. Scott Fitzgerald’s elegantly flowing prose. And I still take the quality of continual self-renewal in Miles Davis’s music as a literary model. One of my all-time favorite jazz pianists is Thelonious Monk. Once, when someone asked him how he managed to get a certain special sound out of the piano, Monk pointed to the keyboard and said: “It can’t be any new note. When you look at the keyboard, all the notes are there already. But if you mean a note enough, it will sound different. You got to pick the notes you really mean!”

I often recall these words when I am writing, and I think to myself, “It’s true. There aren’t any new words. Our job is to give new meanings and special overtones to absolutely ordinary words.” I find the thought reassuring. It means that vast, unknown stretches still lie before us, fertile territories just waiting for us to cultivate them.

Haruki Murakami’s most recent book is a novel, “After Dark.” This essay was translated by Jay Rubin.