Friday, February 18, 2011


Often in my life I have internally hugged myself with joy for the blessing of being a writer, of getting to do what I love doing, of find an audience for it, of never running out of words, of always learning new ways to express myself. I was recently reminded of how lucky we writers are when I caught an interview on the PBS NewsHour with essayist, novelist, playwright, and professor at Stony Brook University, Roger Rosenblatt.

Rosenblatt's new book follows his writing class for a semester and is called, Unless It Moves The Human Heart: The Craft and Art of Writing. During the interview, the author, who often has done video essays for the NewsHour, says he has found four reasons to write:

"To make suffering endurable, evil intelligible, justice desirable, and love possible."

Rosenblatt then said, "The most important is love. That after all the suffering, all the evil, all the injustice one sees in the world, if you can rise above it and make it beautiful and thus loveable, then that's worth a life."

But what fascinated me most about this seven minute segment was a fact it brought out. That despite the terrible state of the publishing industry, where getting fiction published is increasingly difficult, and nonfiction not much better, and book sales are way down--the number of people enrolled in writing classes has surged to new highs. More and more people want to be writers, and Rosenblatt notes that most want it for the sheer art of doing it rather than any expectation of being published or earning a living at it. An offshoot of this phenomenon is of course the amazing number of bloggers out there. Estimates are that there are over 100 million blogs worldwide, and 30% of these are in the U.S. Which would mean almost 10% of the men, women, and children in the U.S. write blogs. Mind boggling to say the least. And all of this is driven by the desire to express oneself through writing.

Roger Rosenblatt says the ultimate criteria for success as a writer is whether what you do is useful in the world, useful to other people. This certainly could be the standard for all of us in whatever we do. A good question to ask ourselves therefore is, "What do I do that is useful to other people?"


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Monday, February 14, 2011


Well, another Valentine's is here. Counting my prison term, this is the 15th one I've spent alone--without a romantic partner. And what amazes me is that this thought wasn't even in my mind until I started writing this blog post. I am not upset or depressed or even feeling deprived. This is either a sign of inner peace, or rampant mental deterioration. I prefer thinking of it as the former.

Not that I'm really alone. I've had some lovely contact via phone and email with the beautiful Rupa in Vermont. And I sent out over thirty e-Valentines to some very special women. Mostly friends, a few former lovers, and some merely warm acquaintances with the promise of future friendship or whatever.

This continues a habit I formed way back in the 1960s of sending out about 100 Valentines each year. I didn't send Xmas cards, so this was a way for me to keep in touch. Then as now, they didn't only go to romantic interests, but to women I found nurturing in all sorts of ways, including a couple of my favorite cousins and some colleagues. NBCs Andrea Mitchell got them for several years, when we were colleagues and friends at KYW in Philadelphia. When we were close and all involved in the Inside Edge leadership support group, cards went out to Louise Hay, Barbara De Angeles, Susan Jeffers and other new thought leaders and authors.

Having lived in Philadelphia, Miami, New York, Richmond, Virginia, and Los Angeles, a few cards went to each of those cities--and to London and Toronto. For many years, I created my own original cards to send out--and put a lot of time and effort into this practice. One girlfriend was quite upset with my putting so much attention on other women and asked me to promise to never include her on the list if we should ever end our relationship. I never made the promise and she just got one of my e-cards, several decades after our romance ended.

As I get off parole this year, I suspect that this is the last Valentine's Day I will be spending physically alone--so I am going to thoroughly enjoy it, cuddled up with some stunning memories, with a few more phone calls thrown in.
Alas, my MacBook Pro is in the shop, having a new hard drive installed, so I can't do the video phone thing as I am using my spare non-camera equipped IBM Thinkpad to write this.

And the thought just popped into my head that it's a bit incongruent to have the holiday known as Valentine's Day. Shouldn't it be known as Valentine's Night? That's when the candy and flowers and hugs and kisses are usually delivered--unless you're into office romance or adulterous nooners.

One of the most stunning memories I have of this holiday is that in all the years that have gone by, I have never had a sad or upsetting Valentine's. I have loved and been loved through a lot of them by the beautiful women who make up the colorful tapestry of my interpersonal life. And as I look forward to once again being free to travel, to the romantic promise of Vermont, or London, or Panama, or Florida, or even right up the road in San Francisco, I realize that whatever wonderful events occur, my life up to now is going to be a very hard act to follow.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


All over the cities and townships of South Africa in 1989, when I was doing a series of seminars in that nation, these were the signs one saw: "Vote your hopes, not your fears." They were put up by the emerging Liberal Party in preparation for the coming election. Apartheid was still happening, though clearly about to end. Mandela was still in prison, but clearly about to be released. And there was an aura of hope in the air as I talked to South Africans of all political stripes and colors.

It seems to me that there is a narrow but powerful movement in the U.S. right now to get people to vote their fears rather than their hopes. This is largely centered on, but not limited to, the right in terms of politics. The latest so-called document I received in this regard fear mongers on the subject of Muslims, citing the dangers of Muslim populations increasing in a nation:

> When Muslims approach 10% of the population, they tend to increase
> lawlessness as a means of complaint about their conditions. In Paris, we
> are already seeing car-burnings. Any non-Muslim action offends Islam and
> results in uprisings and threats, such as in Amsterdam, with opposition
> to Mohammed cartoons and films about Islam. Such tensions are seen
> daily, particularly in Muslim sections in:
> Guyana -- Muslim 10%
> India -- Muslim 13.4%
> Israel -- Muslim 16%
> Kenya -- Muslim 10%
> Russia -- Muslim 15%
> After reaching 20%, nations can expect hair-trigger rioting, jihad
> militia formations, sporadic killings, and the burnings of Christian
> churches and Jewish synagogues.

A well-crafted propaganda piece worthy of some of the stuff turned out by Joseph Goebbels for the Nazis warning of the threat of Jewish hordes taking over the world, it goes on and on. It even includes that old canard whereby we're supposed to be afraid because "the others" have a much higher birthrate than we, the "us" in "us" versus "them" do. It says if the Muslim birthrate continues at its current pace, they will become 50% of the population by the end of this century. So, I suppose we should begin quaking in our boots every time another Muslim baby is born, and really panicked about their numbers projected for 2099. Of course, these doomsayers want to have it both ways. They warn that increasing terrorist attacks will destroy the world long before 2099, which would mean we wouldn't need to be concerned about anyone's birthrate.

This propaganda piece goes on to cite as evidence of a Muslim takeover the recent appointment of two "devout Muslims" to Homeland Security posts, with comments about having foxes guard the chickens, etc.

This is not to say I don't think we shouldn't be vigilant about threats from extremist Muslims, or extremist fanatics of any religious persuasion. There is danger when any religious group considers all other religious groups as infidels. Labeling someone an "infidel" makes his or her life less valuable, less worth preserving, and quite naturally leads to violent acts against the perceived enemy. The teaching of hatred is much more prevalent, for instance, in the many thousands of madrassa schools in Pakistan. We are going to have to confront that issue sooner or later. But there are seeds right now in our own culture that could sprout into such intolerance and rabble-rousing.

Do I have a solution for all this? Not really, but I do have a suggestion for a first step. It is simply that all of us do something to fill in the huge gap in our knowledge of other peoples and other religions fostered by our inadequate educational system. Reading the Koran might be a logical start. Most people citing that holy book as responsible for terrorist acts haven't read it.

Or, you might read some of the works of the most popular poet in the world, the 13th Century Persian mystic Rumi. For example these words on the whole "us versus them" mentality:
"One went to the door of the Beloved and
knocked. A voice asked, 'Who is there?'
He answered, 'It is I.'

The voice said, 'There is no room for Me and Thee.'
The door was shut.

After a year of solitude and deprivation he returned and knocked.
A voice from within asked, 'Who is there?'
The man said, 'It is Thee.'
The door was opened for him."

-- Jelaluddin Rumi

Rumi was a Sufi muslim, incidentally the same form of Islam practiced by Iman Rauf, whose proposed Muslim center near Ground Zero in New York stirred up such anti-Muslim controversy.

Finally, I'll quote one of my favorite lines from Rumi as a motto for voting our hopes instead of our fears.

"Ours is not a caravan of despair."