Monday, November 20, 2017

Book Review: Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad

We are introduced to Jim (later, Lord Jim) at a time when he was working as a water-clerk for a ship-chandler firm in the Far East. It was menial work, but Jim seemed fairly happy, and everyone liked him. They knew him simply as "Jim." Yet, as the plot unfolds, with Conrad's skillful analysis of Jim's character, we gradually realize that Jim was not "merely" Jim; he was "one of us."  Indeed, the author make a point of letting the reader know that what Jim does in his moment of weakness, could happen to any of us. The question, is how many of us have the strength and courage to fight for redemption?

Later, after Jim earned the rank of Ship’s Mate, on a dark night in the Arabian Sea, Jim’s ship ran over some floating wreckage and was badly damaged. Jim discovered the damage and saw that the sea was pressing in on a bulkhead, which walled in the hold, where several hundred Asian passengers were asleep. The bulkhead bulged. It could not possibly withstand the pressure. Jim was convinced that within minutes the sea would rush in and the passengers would all be killed. With too few lifeboats and no time, there was no possible salvation for everybody on board.

The captain and crew abandoned the ship, leaving the passengers to drown. In a moment of confusion, Jim leaps into the lifeboat to save his own life, rather than stay to help the passengers. That one act of cowardliness begins a journey of shame and redemption, and also a story of true friendship with the one person in the world who believes in Jim’s character, Marlow, the story’s narrator.

One of the more interesting aspects of this classic, is that it’s not only Jim’s shame and redemption we are reading about, but also the shame of the white race for how they mistreated Asians, and the feeble attempts at redemption by some.

The story has a slow tempo and an overly descriptive, in-depth narration that is more often beautiful than tedious, but the story line ultimately delivers in the end.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Relating to Others Compassionately

When meeting people for the first time, I try to approach them from a standpoint of the most basic things we have in common. We each have a physical structure, a mind, and emotions. We are all born the same way, and we all die. All of us strive for happiness and try to avoid suffering. We all want respect, and to be treated fairly. We are all driven by the environments we live in, and we all strive for a better future. 


Seeing others from this standpoint rather than emphasizing secondary differences such as race, sex, nationality, religion, political viewpoints, or financial status helps me to feel that I’m meeting someone who’s the same as me, no better and no worse. I like to think that all humans have 98% in common, and only 2% differences. I find that relating to others on this level makes it easier to communicate with them compassionately, and respect their place in the world.

Monday, November 13, 2017

One Of The Hardest Lessons To Learn


I can, of course, only speak for myself, but in my years of practicing Zen, one of the lessons I have to relearn and relearn is that of choosing to stay positive.  Sounds easy, right? Oh so wrong…

We all have many choices to make every hour of the day. What to eat. Who to spend time with. What to wear. How to do our jobs. How we commune to work. Which movie to watch. The list is endless. Hardly a minute goes by without us making some kind of choice.
I’ve heard many people (especially couples who have children) say, “I have no choice but to work where I do, there are no others jobs available.” They complain that they have few choices because need drives every decision, and they must do whatever must be done for the children, or for this, that, or the other thing.
In my view, these people are making excuses in order to avoid taking charge of their lives. 
I am often amazed at how easily people (and I include myself in this) surrender the right to make choices that have a profound impact on their lives. They simply fail to realize that when they give up their right to choose they give up the opportunity to choose their life.
All of the choices that people give up, none is more devastating than giving up the choice of their attitude. Often people let other people and events determine whether they are in a “good mood” or not. Well, folks, “good mood” or bad, what you project looks a lot like an attitude to the people around you.
What I’ve learned is that I cannot control the attitude of others. I cannot always control the events that make up my day. What I can and must control is how I respond to them. THAT will determine my attitude. 
Here’s my choice, and it’s one I get to make multiple times everyday. Will my attitude be a thermostat that sets its own “temperature” or will it be a thermometer that reflects the temperature of those around it?
The most successful people understand this profound fact: No one and nothing can take my positive attitude away from me unless I let it happen. 
It’s my choice. 
The choice to maintain a positive attitude in the face of trying people and problematic challenges does more to improve the quality of my life than any other single thing I can do. 
Some days it is a battle to maintain that attitude, but I’ve found that it’s a war worth fighting because it gives me control of my life. One huge weapon I used in fighting that battle is forgiveness. It’s hard to have a negative attitude toward someone once you’ve truly forgiven them. 

The alternative is to give up control and be carried along by swirling emotions caused by outside forces. The choice is always mine (and yours) to make.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

What Is It Like Being A Writer?

While reading Memoirs by Tennessee Williams, I came across this passage:

What is it like being a writer? I would say it is like being free. 

I know that some writers aren’t free, they are professionally employed, which is quite a different thing.

Professionally, they are probably better writers in the conventional sense of “better.” They have an ear to the ground of bestseller demands: they please their publishers and presumably their public as well.

But they are not free and so they are not what I regard a true writer as being.

To be free is to have achieved your life.

It means any number of freedoms.

It means the freedom to stop when you please, to go where and when you please, it means to be a voyager here and there, one who flees many hotels, sad or happy, without obstruction and without much regret. 

It means the freedom of being. And someone has wisely observed, if you can’t be yourself, what’s the point of being anything at all?


I think there is much more to being a writer than what Mr. Williams pens here (at least a good writer), but if this is a valid definition of a writer, then I am, unquestionably, a writer. I fit this description perfectly. I am a voyager loose upon the world, who travels four to six months each year, loving each place I stay and having no regrets when I depart for the next destination. And I craft my stories in my voice the way I damn well want, giving little thought to publishers or audience. If nothing else, I have achieved that freedom in my life, and I wouldn’t give it up for a NY Times bestseller, a Pulitzer Prize, or an Oscar.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Palm Springs Pride Celebration

To cap off the Palm Springs Pride weekend, our good friends gathered for pre-parade brunch at Jake’s restaurant, and then we enjoyed the two-hour parade. The parade itself was rather bland this year, but spending the day with friends made everything special.










Friday, November 3, 2017

A Night of Celebrating Friendship

To kick off the Palm Springs Pride weekend, our good friend and traveling companion, Ben Wong, came into town and we gathered our mutual friends for a some outdoor dining at Copley Restaurant, formerly estate of Cary Grant…followed with a live performance at the Palm Canyon Theatre—Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. It was a fun, upbeat performance and we were humming the catchy tunes all the way home. For Herman and I, it was just the thing to pull us out of our recent sadness.






Monday, October 30, 2017

Another Loss, Another Dear Friend Gone

Six weeks ago, Herman and I lost one of our dearest friends, Steve, to cancer. From the time he went into the hospital to the time he passed was only three weeks. We thought that was the end to that tragedy, but we were dead wrong.

We found out today that Steve’s surviving spouse, who is also a dear friend, Lee, has committed suicide. Herman and I are both gut-shot. We had talked to Lee over the phone several times, and were planning to drive up to San Francisco in two weeks to help Lee get his affairs and paperwork in order.


I can’t help thinking that if we’d gotten up there sooner, this might not have happened. I can’t remember a time when I’ve felt so empty.