May 052013

If men could skip from 10 to 60 the world would be a lot better off.

What does an atheist say to someone in crisis? I’d pray for you but God frowns on hypocrites.

No matter how long you live, it’s still too short.

They say the perfect is the enemy of the good. But to achieve the good we must strive to be perfect.

People ask, when will we end racism? The answer, sadly, is never. We should strive always to do better, to make progress in all things, and we will. But we will never end slights and micro-aggressions, intended or not. It’s life. If no longer brutish and short, it can still be nasty and is always imperfect.

Certainty is almost certainly a mistake. Absolute certainty is almost certainly the worst mistake.

Make every mistake once–but only once. That shows you’re trying–and learning.

A vacant mind is not just placidly unoccupied. It’s a mind actively waiting for trouble.

In the scale of the universe, we hold an exact intermediate spot, looking down at the unfathomably small measure of the quark and up at the unfathomably vast measure of the cosmos, and we are as children who wonder at the sky and the grass, that we can marvel at the incomprehensibility of both.

What’s the best time to die? When you’re so old you don’t even know you’re gone.

I want poetry to be easy — it isn’t. I expect relationships to be hard — they are.

Advice to the elderly: Living to a ripe old age is a privilege, and in fact, the odds of being born at all are astronomical. So quit your belly-aching.

Sleep, bah, it’s overrat…

The difference between a blowhard and a sage is that the former is a boob while the latter is the opposite.

If sex with a loved one is holy, then teenage boys are the high priests.

Those who cut corners will find corners cut them.

Why do old peopler mutter? To remind themselves what they’re thinking.

Time has to be in one direction, otherwise we wouldn’t know if we were coming or going.

I fell asleep at a lecture on entropy, thereby disproving it.

Winter is kind of like death: once you get used to it, it’s not so bad.

Write fast, edit slow. Think fast, speak slow.

Don’t blame your kids. Where do you think they got it — their bad behavior, bad judgement, bad anything? You and maybe a few generations up the family tree, from which the genetic apple does not fall far.

The only sensible explanation for existence is that it’s an accident. Any other — religious, philosophic, mythological — makes no(n)sense.

It’s not how smart you are, it’s what you do with the smarts you have.

When you’re cut, I bleed. When you cut, you bleed.

Details outweigh emotions, which is why anxiety overwhelms joy. The remedy is to stay in the world, not in your head.

Well-meaning fathers try to harden their boys, only to weaken them.

Living is full of fearsome perils. And yet we cannot stop from living, for that is the most fearsome peril of all.

Consciousness is the perception of life the brain throws up on the screen of our perception to reflect a reality that would otherwise be far too complex for us to manage.

Habits don’t take long to break or make / Once the mind sets out to undertake.

Novelist Joy Williams: “Life is ludicrous and full of cruel and selfish distractions. Honor is elusive and many find the copious ingestion of drugs necessary. Our ignorance is infinite and our sorrows fearful. We have made an unutterable waste of this world, and our passage through it is bitter and unheroic. Still, the horror can at times be illuminating, and it is necessary that the impossible be addressed.”

Me: Ms. Williams, clearly you have been hanging out with the wrong people, perhaps ingesting too much Joyce Carol Oates or Cormac McCarthy. Time for some new role models.

Most of what we do, good and bad, comes from wanting to make something of or in our lives – a memory or a legacy – to stand up to death.

We study history not only to know the past but to wonder at the vast expanse of time – and our inexplicable absence from most of it.

Advice for Better Living: look up when you walk. Looking down makes you appear morose and invites introspection, usually negative. Looking up brings the bright outside world into clear focus, where it belongs. Plus it’s better for your posture.

Why is there gravity? Because without it, everything would fly apart and life and even existence would be consumed by chaos. That may have been what happened – millions or billions of attempts before all the elements were in the right “place” and “time.” In this hypothesis, there were many Big Bangs, but only one – ours – took hold, gravitated into existence, like someone flicking a lighter until it flicked on.

Is anyone so free of transgression that he would feel comfortable revealing everything about himself?

One purpose of dreams is to allow us to escape to and operate in a free-wheeling world where the rules of logic and consequence barely apply, a kind of getaway and sanctuary from waking life.

Trees in summer flaunt their lush greenery, but it’s only in winter, when they’re stripped bare and in gaunt relief, that you can see their true beauty. So with people.

You know you’re old when…you find yourself thinking more about death than sex.

News item: “Biologists now believe that much of what makes us human depends on [gut] microbial activity.” This is good news, because we all know that it’s mind over [fecal] matter.

Dreams are so vivid and colorful when you’re having them, then scamper away like ghosts as soon as you wake up.

Always have someone to look up to. Always have someone who looks up to you.

We all have so much more in common than apart. Yet it’s the differences that people focus on, because they make life interesting and challenging. But it’s the great deal more we have in common that makes life beautiful.

The secret to success is never to be satisfied. The secret to happiness is to be satisfied enough.

The days go slowly but the years go fast.

Your Happiness Quotient (H.Q.): Important to measure, even more important to grow. It consists of good, even temperament (20%); abundant humor (20%); inclination to see the bright side (20%); health and wellness (20%); and smarts, looks & luck (20%). If that’s true, and it seems as reasonable a formula as any, it’s good news, because most of it is under our own control. Good, even temperament: practice meditation, cultivate perspective. Abundant humor: enjoy the seemingly random if not perverse nature of the universe. Inclination to see the bright side: accept that light and dark emanate from the same source – how we see the world – and we are (almost always) free to choose. Health and wellness: stay active, exercise daily, eat right.

Modern humans are only about 200,000 years old, not long enough apparently to iron out the rough edges.

A harsh winter makes for a tranquil summer.

The dying have much to teach the living – about courage, dignity, perspective and the value of life.

To all the world’s perceived slights – other people’s thoughtlessness, selfishness, ugliness and all the other messy -nesses – it’s best to cultivate a marvelous indifference.

The smartest people I know are fierce conservatives. The most compassionate are bleeding-heart liberals. Where is the Solomon who can join them together?

A day feels better, at the end, if you have used every minute of it. A life feels better, at the end, if you have used every day of it.

People need to be ruthless in examining, questioning and understanding their own motives and behavior. It’s bad enough to deceive others but totally self-destructive to deceive oneself.

Fame and riches are best enjoyed and most easily squandered early in life, and best savored and appreciated late in life.

The reason economics is such an inexact science is that it’s so dismal at understanding the vagaries of human nature. Take pricing, about which people are supposed to be so sensitive. When I order two lattes, a banana and two paninis at Starbucks, I don’t run the calculations in my head, and I snap to attention only if the barista rings it up above a certain, call it the “alarm price point,” in this case maybe $20. But anything in the teens sounds “about right” and I pay and leave without giving it further thought. And I think that’s how people are with most inexpensive purchases: they have a vague sense of the “right” amount of money to pay, within a certain range, and only above that do alarm bells sound.

Bach and Beethoven are twin towering peaks, and which is the grander depends, on any given day, only on how our emotional clouds are blowing.

How odd that we apprehend the universe through a neuron-filled cabbage atop a three-foot stalk of cartilage.

The idea of time travel is always fun and intriguing, but it doesn’t teach us much about ourselves. We’d learn a great deal more if we could propel a few cave people to the present. They would surely admire our science – and be frightened by our culture, aghast at our obesity and slovenliness, stunned at our war-making capacities and dumbfounded that human nature has not progressed whatsoever.

Even under the worst circumstances, it is possible to prove oneself the master of fate, even if it is only to show grace and perseverance in handling whatever fate dishes out.

The body’s propensity to grow must be very strong indeed if kids can double in size in 15 years on a steady diet of Pepsi, pizza and Pop-Tarts.

We are of course products of our genes, our environment and our upbringing. But we are not captive to them. The human capacity for growth and improvement is almost limitless.

Acceptance of, even contentment with aging, rather than raging against the dying of the light, is the gift the old give the young.

Magnificent in scope, ever-changing and free as the air, passing clouds are an art form with only one requirement: look up to the sky. To appreciate cloudscapes, we’ll need to develop a whole new sensitivity and vocabulary that can describe, analyze and comprehend their colors and textures; shapes and patterns; and velocity and volatility.

The bright white glare of today never seems as golden as the sepia-toned glow of yesterday, yet it is real, here and now, the best we have.

Death is “the one misery that makes us more miserable than all other creatures,” said Martin Luther. Yes, but it should make us more ecstatic, too, about the beauty and evanescence of every hour and every day.

Rx for immortality: disturb little, observe much. Coastal redwoods grow just an inch a year and some of them live to be a thousand.

The best antidote for sadness is hard work, diligent study and minute attention to the physical world, where every blade of grass and mote of dust reminds us of the primacy of objective vs. subjective reality. In here is just us; out there is everything else.

The key to a long and strong partnership is not through the heart, nor even the loins. It’s the funny bone. Laugh together, love together.

Has there ever been a time when the mass of humanity looked more slovenly? Not really: even Neanderthals dressed better than we do. But there is a possible upside to our slobbishness. After seeing countless gruesome muffin top midriffs, waterfall cleavages, hairy butt cracks and three-day beards, we become increasingly inured to and even jaded about the “lure of the flesh.” Maybe the result will be a more objective, dispassionate and mature view of attractiveness and sex.

In the future nearly all our retail spaces will be occupied by fast food franchises, health clinics, nail salons, drug stores and banks. You can eat bad food, get sick, get well, get your nails done and pay for it all at the same shopping mall.

It’s one of the central conundrums of our existence that those who tread lightest usually leave the least impression, while those who tromp through life often make the heaviest impact – for good or for bad.

I have discovered a new force in the universe, which I call anti-mass. It accounts for the disappearance of anything that gets dropped.

Death is nothing, and dying is the great spiritual journey to this acceptance.

One-sentence book review of God Makes the Rivers to Flow by Eknath Easwaran: The title tells you everything you need to know.

The thing about recreational drugs is that they make you stupid AND they make you feel good about feeling stupid.

Most if not all prejudice is irrational: it reflects a confusion or pathology in the hater rather than any quality inherent in the hatee. Same with the phobia against obesity, of course, but for some reason despising heavy people remains socially acceptable and even popular.

T.S. Eliot: “I will show you fear in a handful of dust.” Nah, disorder and disintegration, maybe. Messiness, yes. Just like real life, like us: dust and dirt and clay and carbon.

Kick your feet up while you can, because before long you won’t be able to lift them off the floor.

On seeing Ibsen’s “Hedda Gabler”: What I enjoyed most about it was trying to figure out why I disliked it so much.

The worst transgression is hurting people, and often the greatest challenge to one’s ingenuity and ego is to figure out how not to.

Why does summer seem so evanescent, like a dream, while winter seems like the cold hard fact of life?

If you grant that all actions follow from the actions that precede them, then in theory everything that will take place from now until the end of time is precisely predictable. In practice such determinism is impossible since it would require predictive powers larger than the universe itself.*  Thus, as a practical matter, we continue to operate with freedom of will in a world of chance and spontaneity. God may not play dice with the universe, but we do. (*But maybe that’s where God comes in, i.e., Greater than the Overall Design.)

The meaning and purpose of life? Nothing less than to stay alive as long and as happily as we can, to bring humor and comfort to our friends and family, and to bear witness and solace to the world.

If by God you mean a supernatural design or intelligence, then there is no God, because life is so demonstrably random and unintelligent. But if you mean a life force, something more than the sum of our particles and chemicals, then there must be a God, since particles and chemicals alone cannot account for the beauty of Bach and Ellington, the power of Beethoven and Shostakovich, the truths of Rembrandt and Shakespeare.

The “confusion” of old age is not so much the result of declining faculties as the crowding into our minds of all the things we’ve done and still want to do, learned and still want to learn, seen and still want to see, and the realization there is less and less time to do it – like the increasing turbulence of a train rushing into a tunnel. (Several weeks after posting this, a study reported the same conclusion: “The Older Mind May Just Be a Fuller Mind,” January 27, 2014, New York Times.)

No better day than a day we make coffee, make music, make friends, make amends and make love.

The quotidian is the meridian.

New Year’s resolutions: Fun to make’ em; fun to break ’em.

Youngsters have an astounding intelligence, seeing the world afresh.

To appreciate how many shoulders we stand on, imagine our ineptitude if we were suddenly swept back twenty thousand years. Our only genuine skill would be telling tales of an amazing and disquieting future.

We love, honor and value others, and that exalts them not just in our eyes, but in theirs and for all the world to see.

Embrace each day tightly, because it’s never coming back.

We are born as a glass, and our job is to fill the glass to the top.

Regarding life, there are answers for every question and questions for every answer.

Ode to a Long Marriage: How do I disappoint thee? Let me count the ways.

Difficult people? Not usually, just regular people looking at life from different perspectives and backgrounds.

Corollary to Murphy’s Law: Anything that can get lost, will.

One of the greatest gifts we can have and give is an appreciation of life’s beauty, because it is everywhere and inexhaustible.

Making sense of the world is the challenge of a lifetime.

We should conduct every day so that, should it be our last, we will exit thinking we have lived kindly and well.

If criticism is wrong, ignore it. If it’s right, welcome it.

The body is the shell; the mind is the soul. As the shell ages, the soul gets  lighter, larger and ever more capable of soaring. When we die the soul lifts off and takes flight into the greater universe.

Cultivate eternal wonder.

Kids grow naturally. Adults must push themselves to grow.

To try and fail is to succeed.

No one knows why we’re here, but helping others seems a good place to start.

People are like glasses of water that are impossible to fill up or overflow. The human capacity for growth and knowledge is limitless.

The hardest thing is to think like another, yet it is the most important.

Jewish wisdom: It’s bad luck to talk about your good luck.

Useful work is inherently and always dignified.

Better to laugh at the stars than howl at the moon.

If it looks impossible, try looking from another angle.

As far as I’m concerned, there can’t be too many surveillances cameras. Then maybe I could figure out what I did with my keys.

View the glass half full and you’ll never be thirsty.

One good thing about being dead is you’ll never have to fold laundry again.

People inveigh against the slippery slope. But all of life is a slippery slope: there are no bright lines in nature.

Work is good when you are doing good work.

Life is incomprehensible. And while we struggle to understand it, in the end we can only accept it.

A colleague told me once that his mother had a saying about life: there should always be more to look forward to than to look back on. I call it Mrs. Buxton’s Rule. That gets harder as we get older – the miles pile up in our rear-view mirror – but it’s worth striving for and requires us to aim always for big, worthy goals.

Asparagus refutes solipsism, the notion that we imagine the world. Who would imagine that smell?

Formula for happiness: Life is like a sine curve, up and down, and the gentler the slope, the happier the life.

Happy wife, happy life. Happy husband, so verblunget.

Laziness is the worst of the minor sins, because it deprives the sinner of ambition and the rest of us the fruits of that ambition.

There is so much to be grateful for; why then is happiness so hard to embrace? There is so much pain and suffering, it’s a wonder we find  joy at all. That is the human dilemma.

“Nothing is worth more than this day.” – Goethe


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