Commonplace (Sunday morning sermon)

In my old age I’ve gone from attending to what religion claims to know to focusing on how religion copes with unknowing. Sometimes it does this with faith. Other times it engages in practices—dance, song, pilgrimage, almsgiving, confession—that carry our lives forward. This change has freed me to be both a wholehearted practitioner of my own religion and a genuinely fascinated observer of others without any sense that, in so doing, I am flying in the face of scientific fact. If I were a physicist, I could believe just as I now do.

Religion for me has moved from a position of rivalry with science to one of companionship with art and play. I can attend a religious service in which people are burning incense and ringing bells and marching about in funny-looking dress and think to myself, This is ridiculous! But then, all play is ridiculous. Going to a Broadway musical and spending $250 to sit in a too-small seat for two hours and watch people pretend to someone else is ridiculous—and indispensable. We don’t outgrow art. The same goes for religion.

—Jack Miles, in interview, The Sun (March 2016)

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Liquor & leaves #8


Today’s liquor: bourbon & Coke
Today’s book: Cutty, One Rock by August Kleinzahler

Been ages since I had a whiskey & Coca-Cola, or a rum & Coke, or a 7&7, or anything like that, not because I’ve stopped drinking alcohol but rather that I haven’t been a regular soda drinker since high school. I grew up in Dallas, TX, the land of Dr. Pepper and Blue Bell ice cream, so I’m well familiar with sodapop floats and the exquisite pleasure of a frozen Dr. Pepper in a glass bottle on an August afternoon. But I more or less gave all that up the moment I got to college, switching one cold carbonated beverage (soda) out for another (beer). I don’t miss it. I have a Blenheim’s Ginger Ale every now and then, when I’m in a bar but don’t feel like drinking. But that’s rare. I have never regularly stocked any kind of soda in my fridge during my adult life.

But, this past weekend, my brother and his family were in town, and that young trio ached to visit the Coca-Cola Museum in Atlanta. Well, my brother ached. His wife seemed lukewarm, I wanted to check out the Civil Rights Museum, and my two-year-old nephew wanted to gambol around the dead grass and shy dogs of Centennial Park. We went anyway. Coke was calling to us.

And Coke was right. It is a delightful place, cheesy and inspired and sentimental and goofy. People in our tour group came from India, Argentina, and Australia. We took pictures with the cuddly polar bear mascot imaginable. Our tour guide’s voice was so supple, low, and husky that I had trouble thinking straight around her. (I have odd fetishes–but I guess that’s true of everyone.) I really did learn a lot about Coca-Cola. I was overwhelmed by mountains of advertisements, archival documents, devices, photos, cartoons, machinery, old soda fountains, expired syrups, labels, bottles, logos, and other ephemera. I even teared up at the “Moments of Happiness” video short that introduced us to the museum.

All of this is to say that I’m a classic American sucker after all, despite avoiding carbonated sugar drinks for two decades. Coca-Cola is in my bloodstream, no matter what I do. It’s OK to recognize that, occasionally. I laughed out loud watching my brother’s (Russian) wife get increasingly excited, so that, by the time we were in the tasting room sampling over 100 Coke-produced sodas from around the world, we basically had to drag her away… into the gift shop. (“Exit through the gift shop” is exquisitely, obnoxiously American, too.)

August Kleinzahler chafes at, and is overwhelmed by, his Americanness, too. A devotee of the blues (that most American export of all), a Jersey native who fled to San Francisco, a great poet and essayist, he’s truly American in that he hides his sensitivity and sense of beauty beneath a brawling, bruised exterior. He’s a scrapper. Here he is in this essay collection/memoir cutting wise, talking shit about his parents and the Mob, refusing to suffer fools–himself very much included. Tough guy, tough unsentimental prose. Even the title, a no-nonsense whisky with little embellishment, gives you a sense of the man.

It’s a good book, often great once Kleinzahler gets past the need to prove himself and instead gets into the quiet ambiguities, lush descriptions of plants, and the forgiving nature that seems natural to the man. In other words, when he cuts his Cutty with some Coke.

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Commonplace

What I’m saying is that when you try to set yourself apart from other people IN GENERAL, in your own mind, in order to soothe yourself and tell yourself that things will work out just fine for you, in order to reassure yourself that you’re sexier and better than the desperate cookie-cutter girls you see out at bars, it doesn’t actually make things any easier for you. It makes things harder. When you choose to love yourself for superficial reasons, you teach other people to love you for superficial reasons. And when you reject yourself and scold yourself for things that are beyond your control, you degrade your own ability to show up and enjoy your life. You hate your own humanity. You reject yourself for being a fucking mortal.

If you have to be shiny and superior to matter, then eventually you won’t matter at all, even to yourself.

—Heather Havrilesky, advice column (3 February 2016)

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Five for five, 2015 edition

New Year's Eve champagne

As in previous years, and in accordance to a longstanding tradition begun—with two close friendsin the wee early hours of 2002, here are my five favorite moments of 2015. Happy New Year, everyone. Please don’t do anything stupid.
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Buster Keaton #18: The Love Nest (1923)

Love Nest 1 (5)

The Love Nest was the last of Buster Keaton’s two-reelers, before his studio switched over to making features for the next decade. So, there’s an unintentional elegiac quality about the movie, even though it’s rollicking. It has crackerjack comic timing between Buster Keaton and his old antagonist Big Joe Roberts. Roberts, a mainstay of Keaton’s short films, would be dead of a stroke by the end of that year, only appearing further in Three Ages and the masterful Our Hospitality. Continue reading

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Buster Keaton #17: The Balloonatic (1923)

Balloonatic 31 (hanging on #2)

This one’s a photo essay, because I can’t properly put the movie’s beauty into words. Enjoy these glimpses of wonder.

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Buster Keaton #16: Day Dreams (1922)

Day Dreams (4)

Day Dreams ended Keaton’s 1922 on a high note.

I say that knowing that, here, he probably sang just an octave higher, enough to shatter some wine glasses, beyond what we’re now able to hear. As with Hard Luck and The Electric House, considerable chunks of this two-reeler are lost forever. The bits that are missing, primarily, are the lovely Renée Adorée’s daydreams about what her suitor (Buster Keaton) is up to, as he tries to become successful enough to earn her hand in marriage. Adorée’s dad (Joe Keaton) basically wants her boyfriend to shape up or ship out, asking if he can make something of himself. Buster replies in the only way he knows how.
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