The Holiday Ham: For Christmas and/or New Year’s --- it’s so good that you just might want to make it twice in a week --- this is our go-to recipe.
2011: The Bad and the Beautiful
“The first cure for illusion,” Philip Slater wrote, “is despair.”
This was the year in which certain things became clear to me.
They were an invitation to despair.
l) There’s no political solution to what’s broken. (Well, there is, but it’s not forthcoming.)
2) There’s no economic solution to what’s broken. (Well, there might be, but again --- not happening.)
3) Most media is not right or left. It’s corporate. With corporate priorities and limitations, so it’s hard to trust most of the “information” we get. (The exceptions: a rare publication, some Internet media.)
4) We’re on our own.
“We’re on our own” is a neutral statement --- though there are politicians who believe it’s dandy punishment for the likes of you and me --- but it certainly sounds chilly. We like to think we live in some kind of community, that there is a safety net, that we matter. Well, maybe not.
These thoughts were front of mind for a large part of my year. I’ll spare you how I worked through them to a happier place, but I do want to share the bottom line with you.
1) I’m adjusting the kind of books/movies/music I cover here to reflect a bleaker reality. The idea is: even better. I’m looking for more protein in the protein-rich choices. And, at the other end, more amusement in the stuff that’s about entertainment and diversion. I’m very aware that many --- okay: some --- of you trust my judgment and buy what I suggest. In 2012, I want to provide better value.
2) How you think about challenging times is really your choice. The title of the Paul Simon CD has it right: "So Beautiful….or So What.” Despite all I know, despite all I fear, I’m voting for “so beautiful.” Who wouldn't, really?
Krishna Das, “Heart as Wide as the World.”We’re not Hindus. But we go to see Krishna Das every time he comes to town. This time we took the child. She did not say: “This is weird.” After an hour, she fell asleep --- as many kids did --- with her head on her mother’s lap. Such a peaceful evening; nothing this year came close.
Most Unlikely Sentence in an E-Mail
I sent the book that will become my next e-book to India to be converted to digital files. Manoj just wrote me: “Considering the Christmas holidays, will it be ok if we return the completed word files by 28 December?” Yes, it will --- but does this Indian company only hire… Christians?
Most Illogical Headline
"Etta James Battles Terminal Illness.”
Best Recent Exchange with Our Child
ME: “If you draw the line, what color do you use?”
SHE (with no need to think): “Revenge Red.”
Sexiest Man of the Year
Salon.com picked Gregg Breinberg, founder of the P.S. 22 chorus. Meet him --- and his 10 year-old-old singers --- here.
The canonization of Christopher Hitchens. For a fearless contrarian, he took on easy targets: Kissinger, Mother Teresa, God. But he looked good and sounded better, and with a cig in his mouth and Johnny Walker Black near at hand, he didn’t need a trench coat --- he personified Journalism. On America’s invasion and occupation of Iraq --- the key issue of our time --- he was loudly and enthusiastically wrong, and although he changed his mind on many things, he doubled down on this. There were journalists and pundits who got Iraq right, and got it right from the beginning. You’ll never see them on TV. You saw Hitch though, and often. With reason: he was a Brit, with the gift of gab and all of literature at his command --- he was never not interesting. “Charm kills,” Waugh wrote, and Hitch is the literal proof; the drinking, the smoking, the long nights and writing-as-performance were very likely why he died too young. Along the way, it seems also to have killed, if only momentarily, the critical thinking of a great many smart media professionals, who didn’t want to see this sad, slow-motion suicide for what it was.
Bon Iver, ”Calgary”, in performance. And at the very end, a Tibetan prayer bell.
Video of the Year
Hard Times Generation: Families living in cars.When “60 Minutes” showed up in Seminole County, Florida, a fantastic teenaged named Arielle Metzger was living with her father and brother Austin in a truck. She called it “an adventure.” Said it’s “it’s only life --- you do what you need to do.” Her dream: get an education, become a lawyer, working for kids. No way you watch this without buckets of tears. Which is what happened when the segment aired: viewers gave $1 million to help the homeless in Florida, and Arielle and Austin were given college scholarships. Nice, but there are still 16 million homeless children in this country, a crime for which no one will ever be indicted.
Department of Gratitude
For my family, especially the too-good-for-me wife, the what-is-this-amazing-kid-doing-in our-house daughter, my almost-95-year-old-but-still-sharp mother and my genius brother. For the editors who tolerated my lurches toward perfection. For Carol Fitzgerald, who makes “business partner” an honor. For Paige Peterson, artist at every level. And for you, every last one of you. Bless us all.
In the short story, "Omelas" is a word made from the reverse of Salem, Oregon. So it's at least ironic to hear from Fred Leonhardt about it: “Your mention of Omelas struck a nerve: Here in laid-back, hip Portland, the elites of the city -- the proverbial pillars of the community -- once covered up for the mayor, Neil Goldschmidt, as he repeatedly raped and sodomized a young girl for years, beginning when she was 13. He went on to serve in Jimmy Carter's cabinet and as governor of Oregon. I was his speechwriter.”
Fred wrote an op-ed for the Portland Register-Guard, using the LeGuin story as the spine. It is..well, just read it.
Sometimes life serves up an amazing story. And it gets told. Again. And again. Richard Babcock --- the greatest magazine editor who ever threw it over for writing --- has taken that situation, set it in a marriage, and turned it into a short story that Alfred Hitchcock would happily have turned into a half-hour drama. My Wife's Story can be downloaded for 99 cents. Cheap thrills, indeed.