Previous month:
October 2020
Next month:
December 2020

Graceful Exits

I should have taken the hint. A lover sent me Ellen Goodman's column about graceful exits six months into our 18-month relationship. But I was unable to read, accept and understand it at the time (I was 24, and science says the human mind is not fully formed until age 27).

As we all watch a particularly graceless exit, it seems a good time to consider Ellen's nut graf:

"There's a trick to the graceful exit, I suspect. It begins with the vision to recognize when a job, a life stage, a relationship is over, and to let go. It means leaving what’s over without denying its validity or its past importance in our lives. It involves a sense of the future, a belief that every exit line is an entry, that we are moving on, rather than out."

A year later, I thought my life ended when the affair did. I was wrong; my life began immediately after. But I've tried to remember Ellen's advice ever since, so that when CMP unceremoniously dumped me after 20 years, I knew it was an entry to my next phase: a lovely decade teaching 8th grade US History.

In both cases, I had to be pushed out, but by the grace of God, I accepted that fact that it was time to leave, rather than fighting to hang on past the natural end. The only constant is change.

Gratitude and Thanksgiving

(Due to a small calendar error, I am running this item and the next a week late. Oh well; better late than never)

For 22 years, I have been running variations of the same Thanksgiving column, listing the things for which I am thankful. During the years when I had stopped posting regular blog entries, I started writing regular entries in a gratitude journal, which got me to thinking of the difference between thankful  and grateful. Google isn't much help:

Grateful: feeling or showing an appreciation of kindness; thankful.
Thankful: pleased and relieved, grateful

So, basically, it treats the words as synonymous. I do still give thanks for my health and my family. I am also grateful to have them in my life. I am grateful to be of use, to my family and others. [Turns out service is a Love Language] I am grateful for the love I get and the love I have an opportunity to give. I am grateful that my medical problems are all treatable. Every day, I am grateful to be here, because every minute I have had since January 2007 has been a gift. I cherish that gift. I don't need Clarence the Angel to show me that this is a wonderful life; unlike George Bailey, I have never for a moment doubted that the world is a better place for my being in it. I give thanks for my blessings every morning, and expect to do so for the rest of my life. And, yes, especially on Thanksgiving Day.

Finally, if you feel life has been dealing to you from the bottom of the deck, I recommend the practice of keeping a gratitude journal. Write down one or two things each day for which you are grateful. Big or small, serious or silly. You may find it helps you keep things in perspective; I know it has had that effect on me. Going back and rereading it sometimes can be an interesting and rewarding activity.

Belated Happy Thanksgiving!


If this sounds familiar, it is because, in the great tradition of Herb Caen and Jon Carroll (both now gone from the Chronicle and nearly forgotten), I am recycling my 13 previous Thanksgiving messages from 22 years (including the 2013-2020 gap).

This year we were in Orinda, California, my wife and my older daughter and her husband and their son, and my younger daughter. Peas in a pod.

I know I have a lot to be thankful for. I am enjoying retirement, I have my health, such as it is, and I have my family. I can't imagine why I would bother getting out of bed each morning if not for my wife and my two girls.

My most important role is as husband to Vicki and father to my daughters.

The years I spent full-time with my girls are priceless. The time I spend with them now is priceless as well.

Not everyone can work in a home office, as I did for two decades.

But no matter where you work, the next time you have to make the tough call between the meeting and the soccer game, go to the soccer game. You'll never regret it. I am thankful for my family. Be thankful for yours.

Also give thanks for your friends and your good fortune. Spread that good fortune around in any way you can. I have much to be thankful for this holiday season, as I have had every year of my life.

I am thankful for the many people whose decisions, in their own best interest, led me to a wonderful life in my best interest. Most of them don’t even know what they did for me, but I thank several of them by name in my prayers every morning. I have never met some of them, but I owe them all an unrepayable debt of thanks.

I am thankful for my loving and understanding wife of 40 years, and for the two most wonderful daughters I could have imagined, both of them turning into vibrant, intelligent young women before my very eyes.

I am thankful for every sunrise and sunset I get to see, every moment I get to be in, every flower I try so desperately to stop and smell. I am thankful that I can move closer every day to living a life in balance. Every morning, I am grateful to be alive.

I lost my brother this year, too soon. I am grateful that the pain of his final years has ended.

I am thankful for 230 pounds; down 70 from my peak. I am thankful for the fact that I will still be near that weight next year at Thanksgiving. Especially the last 20 pounds, a pleasant side effect of an exchange of forgiveness this year.

Every week at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Orinda (now meeting on Zoom), the former vicar concluded the service with this homily. The provenance seems uncertain; the Internet lists several attributions. All I know is, it touches me every time I hear it and is sound advice for life:

"Remember that life is short and we have too little time to gladden the hearts of those who travel the way with us. So be quick to be kind, make haste to love, and may the blessing of God be with you now and always."

It has been with me. I hope it is with you. In the meantime, I am thankful, finally, for each and every one of you reading this column. I hope you had a great Thanksgiving!

This and That

Joe Biden at 78
A friend of mine pointed out this blog, shining the light of psychological science on our capacities.

Patriarchy Be-Gon
Hear that noise in the distance?  It is the sound of Joe Biden pounding a few more nails into the coffin of the patriarchy. This from the Washington Post: "Jennifer Psaki will be White House press secretary and Kate Bedingfield will be communications director. It is the first time that all of the top aides tasked with speaking on behalf of an administration and shaping its message will be women." About time.
Deep Fake Donald Trump
Someone made good use of their free time in creating this trailer for Goldenhair.

Positive Psych… Again

I ran Positive Psych, then More Positive Psych. You can tell I thought very highly of the work being done in that area.

The two items brought me some news: my wife, the psychotherapist, is unimpressed with positive psych. My long-time friend Clark Smith is even more unimpressed; “Obviously, Seligman’s annoying questionnaire got me stimulated to articulate my personal position, and perhaps it will do so for others. It would be a shame if anyone took its results seriously at face value,” which, you will have noticed, I did. Clark’s response follows.

Clark Smith on Positive Psych

I found the test philosophically naïve and unenlightened in ways that are worth discussing. It has no sense of paradox, which to me is ever-present when approaching the divine.

The world is indeed a dangerous place as we have learned this year in spades, but that’s not my attitude about it. I feel incredibly blessed and fortunate to be composed of stardust, alive on a life-bearing planet in California in the 21st century, white, male and aware. I concur with undertaker and poet laureate Thomas Lynch (The Undertaking, Bodies in Motion and at Rest) that Americans suffer from their aversion to contemplating their mortality and corruption (the funeral home and the flush toilet being simultaneously introduced in the 1880s), so unlike the Mexican Day of the Dead celebration. In awareness of life’s caprice and ultimate brevity lies our access to aliveness, wonder and bliss (e.g. George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life)

I didn’t know how to answer the question about the world being mostly pain and suffering. Sylvia Boorstein, a wonderful Buddhist writer, summed up her philosophy in It’s Easier Than You Think: “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.”

For example, my working hypothesis in life is that it is entirely empty and meaningless, allowing me to make of it whatever I deem worthy. I share your finding that everything is connected and that the universe will support your declaration of purpose.


W.H. Murray The Scottish Himalayan Expedition

Until one is committed there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative or creation, there is one elementary truth...that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves. too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would otherwise never have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man would have believed would have come his way.


I firmly believe in this couplet from Goethe: "Whatever you think you can do or believe you can do, begin it. Action has magic, grace, and power in it." [Ed. note; possibly a spiffed up translation by John Anster]

I also believe that the essence of spirituality is total acceptance of what is, which is to say abandoning all hope. Hope is toxic, because in its nature, it rejects what is, which in our case is pretty great. I highly recommend Everything is F*cked: a Book About Hope by Mark Manson which despite its obnoxious title is a deep read about a post-hope, non-transactional world view. Simultaneously, (and perhaps unlike you), I find that I have no appetite for contentment. It is in my nature to find something that needs fixing and dive in, just for the hell of it. This is not because the world is screwed up, but because I love the play element, like a good card game in which you and your opponents aren’t really sworn enemies, but you pretend to be because it’s fun.

To sum up, I work from the stance that life is utterly capricious and yet I am the source of all my experience. I don’t think the world rewards goodness – I think it is its own reward.

Internet Pollution: Bad Quotes

Time for me to take another pet peeve out for a walk: the Internet’s terrible record of misattributed and/or mangled quotes.

Mind you, things weren’t perfect back in Bartlett’s day. Buddha did not say “Hate is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies,” dozens of memes to the contrary.

Voltaire did not say “I Disapprove of What You Say, But I Will Defend to the Death Your Right to Say It,” despite the insistence of 1.8 million results in a Google Search. I have fallen in love with the Quote Investigator website, which deals with the Voltaire quote, among many others.

It's been years now since I decided to apply the old journalism rule, “If your mother says she loves you, check it out” to every Internet quote whose attribution seems the least bit dubious. I am as scrupulous as I can be; for me there is no such thing as a quote too good to check out. I am proud of the integrity on my Journalism Quotes page; I will stand by every attribution, especially the ones I heard personally.

Recently I was pointed at the quote “Don’t walk in front of me, I may not follow. Don’t walk behind me, I may not lead. Just walk beside me and be my friend.” [So good I made it an item in This and That].

Despite 234 websites to the contrary it was almost certainly not Camus who said it or wrote it. The Internet’s best guess is that it was a Jewish Camp song, with the added line at the end, “And together, we will walk in the ways of Hashem.” Probably trimmed off because it would cast doubt on Camus as the source (raised a Catholic, he died an atheist/existentialist).

This and That

Quote: Pain and Suffering
Worth repeating, from Clark’s essay elsewhere: Sylvia Boorstein, a wonderful Buddhist writer, summed up her philosophy in It’s Easier Than You Think: “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.”

Trump Library
Plans for the Trump Presidential Library

Orinda Theater
I love the Orinda Theater. If you do too, it’s time to make a GoFundMe donation. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a local theater open when the pandemic is over?

Thanksgiving Humor
Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe has some funny holiday observations: Let’s Talk Turkey.

Flannel Sheets
We just ordered a flannel sheet set. So, now instead of feeling like I am wrapped in metaphorical comfy flannel sheets just 16 ½ hours a day, I’ll feel that way 24 hours a day, 7 ½ of them literal.

Quote: Friendship
“Don’t walk in front of me, I may not follow. Don’t walk behind me, I may not lead. Just walk beside me and be my friend.”
--Anonymous; almost certainly not Camus.