Friday, February 20, 2015

Oliver Sachs on Impending Death

My Own Life

Oliver Sacks on Learning He Has Terminal Cancer


FEB. 19, 2015

A MONTH ago, I felt that I was in good health, even robust health. At 81, I
still swim a mile a day. But my luck has run out — a few weeks ago I learned
that I have multiple metastases in the liver. Nine years ago it was
discovered that I had a rare tumor of the eye, an ocular melanoma. Although
the radiation and lasering to remove the tumor ultimately left me blind in
that eye, only in very rare cases do such tumors metastasize. I am among the
unlucky 2 percent.

I feel grateful that I have been granted nine years of good health and
productivity since the original diagnosis, but now I am face to face with
dying. The cancer occupies a third of my liver, and though its advance may
be slowed, this particular sort of cancer cannot be halted.

It is up to me now to choose how to live out the months that remain to me. I
have to live in the richest, deepest, most productive way I can. In this I
am encouraged by the words of one of my favorite philosophers, David Hume,
who, upon learning that he was mortally ill at age 65, wrote a short
autobiography in a single day in April of 1776. He titled it “My Own Life.”

“I now reckon upon a speedy dissolution,” he wrote. “I have suffered very
little pain from my disorder; and what is more strange, have,
notwithstanding the great decline of my person, never suffered a moment’s
abatement of my spirits. I possess the same ardour as ever in study, and the
same gaiety in company.”

I have been lucky enough to live past 80, and the 15 years allotted to me
beyond Hume’s three score and five have been equally rich in work and love.
In that time, I have published five books and completed an autobiography
(rather longer than Hume’s few pages) to be published this spring; I have
several other books nearly finished.

Hume continued, “I am ... a man of mild dispositions, of command of temper,
of an open, social, and cheerful humour, capable of attachment, but little
susceptible of enmity, and of great moderation in all my passions.”

Here I depart from Hume. While I have enjoyed loving relationships and
friendships and have no real enmities, I cannot say (nor would anyone who
knows me say) that I am a man of mild dispositions. On the contrary, I am a
man of vehement disposition, with violent enthusiasms, and extreme
immoderation in all my passions.

And yet, one line from Hume’s essay strikes me as especially true: “It is
difficult,” he wrote, “to be more detached from life than I am at present.”

Over the last few days, I have been able to see my life as from a great
altitude, as a sort of landscape, and with a deepening sense of the
connection of all its parts. This does not mean I am finished with life.

On the contrary, I feel intensely alive, and I want and hope in the time
that remains to deepen my friendships, to say farewell to those I love, to
write more, to travel if I have the strength, to achieve new levels of
understanding and insight.

This will involve audacity, clarity and plain speaking; trying to straighten
my accounts with the world. But there will be time, too, for some fun (and
even some silliness, as well).

I feel a sudden clear focus and perspective. There is no time for anything
inessential. I must focus on myself, my work and my friends. I shall no
longer look at “NewsHour” every night. I shall no longer pay any attention
to politics or arguments about global warming.

This is not indifference but detachment — I still care deeply about the
Middle East, about global warming, about growing inequality, but these are
no longer my business; they belong to the future. I rejoice when I meet
gifted young people — even the one who biopsied and diagnosed my metastases.
I feel the future is in good hands.

I have been increasingly conscious, for the last 10 years or so, of deaths
among my contemporaries. My generation is on the way out, and each death I
have felt as an abruption, a tearing away of part of myself. There will be
no one like us when we are gone, but then there is no one like anyone else,
ever. When people die, they cannot be replaced. They leave holes that cannot
be filled, for it is the fate — the genetic and neural fate — of every human
being to be a unique individual, to find his own path, to live his own life,
to die his own death.

I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of
gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have
given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written.
I have had an intercourse with the world, the special intercourse of writers
and readers.

Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this
beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and

Oliver Sachs, February 19, 2015.
Sachs’ remark on neither watching the
nightly news, nor paying attention
 to arguments about global warming or
Middle Eastern is understood by me, 
and is something to be ambitioned; His
advice is counter Dylan Thomas’ which was, 
I am sure you know:

Not to go “gentle into that good night,” and that
“Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, Rage against the dying of the light.”

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on that sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Dylan Thomas <

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Democracy and Condominiums

Subject: Democracy

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Today I read an article in the New York Review about a book written by Joel Klein, former Chancellor of Education in NYC.
Allow me to change a few words: 

“Our condominiums were founded to use democratic methods, which are premised on the belief that people of equally good motives can reason from the same set of facts to different conclusions. In the heat of differing opinions, however, some Owners—and some of their more jaded critics --- seem to have lost that essential democratic faith. Each side casts the other not as decent people who might see the world in a different way, but as unknowing fools or biased charlatans. The lack of goodwill and understanding here is palpable. It should make all of us worry the future of Condominiums in general, and also of our democracy.”

Here’s the original:
“Our public schools were founded to teach democracy, which is premised on the belief that people of equally good motives can reason from the same set of facts to different conclusions. In the heat of our (educationally) revolutionary moment, however, some contemporary school reformers—and some of their more jaded critics --- seem to have lost that essential democratic faith. Each side casts the other not as decent people who might see the world in a different way, but as unknowing fools or biased charlatans. The lack of goodwill and understanding here is palpable. It should make all of us worry the future of our schools, and also of our democracy.” Jonathan Zimmerman, New York Review, March 5, 2015

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

I want to avoid the potential indignities of old age. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Life and Death Matters

"Vonnegut said we live too long. He said: 'You had your children. You wrote your book. Now don't be greedy.' Yet we all live with this fantasy of recuperation. We see an old photo of our self, and we momentarily feel like that person again. We think: 'I'm going to get back to that place.' And we never get back there. But that desire gives us the ferocity to hold onto life no matter how bad it gets."
Joe Johnson
Red Wally Music

Perfect circle.  
Perfect Friedman theory – create a emergency daily and anything
can be done.  Perfect economic theory for corporations and religionists
everywhere.  And, the nation goes sliding ever faster into the muck of
unbridled ignorance.  Absolutely perfect.  

And, already well written and buried are the tactics they can use to
suppress the dissenters.   One does not need imagination to believe
this.  Only a basic understanding of some history is required.  But,
we have revisionist history, and little understanding world history to start

Ignorance is a marvelous thing.  It can be relied upon infinitely.
Arnold Lewis 
Nov 2014 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Truth and Meaning

Meaning and Truth have become cultural. The era of Truth as a universal is over. It is the other who forms our view of reality.

Most of us have an operational Truth that we use to move through life. Every leftist and every rightist has his own Truths. As do fanatic atheists and fanatic believers.

Truth, however, is never compatible with dogma.Each of us looks in a mirror when he seeks Truth, but our eyes are blinded by what we have already seen in the past.   

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

In the life of a man, his time is but a moment.... his sense, a dim rushlight. All that is body is as coursing waters.... all that is of the soul, as dreams, and vapors. --

Many grains of frankincense on the same altar;  one falls before, another after-- it makes no difference.

 Marcus Aurelius

Tuesday, July 22, 2014
                                                                   JOE HELLER

True Story, Word of Honor

Joseph Heller, an important and funny writer, now dead, and I were at a party given by a billionaire on Shelter Island.

I said, "Joe, how does it make you feel to know that your host only yesterday may have made more money than your novel, Catch-22, has made in its entire history?"

And Joe said, "I've got something he can never have."

And I said, "What on earth could that be, Joe?"

And Joe said, "The knowledge that I've got enough."

Not Bad!  Rest in Peace!

                                                                           Kurt Vonnegut
                                                                The New Yorker, May 16, 2005       

Friday, July 04, 2014

Lawrence Durrell



I always believed in letting my reader sink or skim...

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Lord Buckley

 Lord Buckley: There's a magnificent pylon in this, there's a torch for the world: that life cannot be as beautiful as it should be. We have the blocks to make up the mosaic of life: the dream - a beautiful, wonderful, warm, unendingly delightful schematic of living. This is the truth. We have all these things to put them together. But the pylon that describes the torch of the world is Browning's "Pied Piper of Hamelin." The story of the broken promise ...

 Lady Elizabeth Buckley: We were having fun having hard times. That was his secret. He knew how to turn anything around. Most people don't realize you have to work very hard to have good times.

The next day the Chicago Tribune ran a more lengthy review: That old saw, "If you can't convince 'em, confuse 'em," readily applies to the performance Lord Richard Buckley presents once each night in Alan Ribback's Gate of Horn, Chicago Avenue and Dearborn Street.

Lord Buckley: It has been a most precious pleasure to have temporarily strolled in the garden of your affection.

Mort Fega: I feel really privileged to have had the opportunity to speak at his funeral. I'd had no time to prepare my remarks, so I'm convinced that Lord Buckley was whispering in my ear as I concluded my homage with this wonderfully appropriate quote of his, "The flowers, the gorgeous, mystic, multi colored flowers are not the flowers of life, but people, yes people, are the true flowers of life. And it has been a most precious privilege to have temporarily strolled in your garden."

Shel Silverstein: Lord Buckley would come in at night, dressed in an old beautiful suit, a fresh flower in his lapel, gracious to all, with hugs, with deep laughs and strange sighs, always gentle, always uneven in the rambling levels of his midnight confrontation with demons and saints. He was vulnerable to near perfection. A quiet legend even before his time was over, he died of starvation and thoughtlessness during the attempt by the city police of New York to prevent people without cabaret cards from making a living, from working at the only thing they knew how to do. This brutality of spirit, inherent in red tape and in the affairs of the state, was the very thing he could not cope with. It is the antithesis of love. And Lord Buckley’s life was full of love

Lord Buckley: Love is the international understanding that each and every one of us exactly the same problems to fight.

Lord Buckley: What a great thing it is to be alive. My Lords my Ladies ... would it embarrass you very much if I were to tell you that ... I love you? It embarrasses you, doesn’t it?

Lord Buckley: It is the duty of any given nation in time of high crisis to attack the catastrophe that faces it in such a manner as to cause the people to laugh at it in such a way that they do not die before they get killed.

Lord Buckley: Make the most of all that comes. Make the least of all that goes.