Sunday, December 31, 2023

"A man loves to review his own mind"

The flyleaf of my 2010 journal, when I was reading the Loeb Seneca and Boswell's "Life of Johnson"

     Ever since this column passed its first decade mark last July 1, I occasionally glance at what was written here 10 years ago. To remind myself, and sometimes post a memorable essay in the "10 years ago on EGD" section at the left side of the page.
    So yesterday, I noticed that, 10 years ago today, I wrote a longish essay on keeping a journal, on the occasion of embarking upon my 30th volume, "You do something for 30 years, you should ask yourself why." Which means tomorrow I open the 40th.
     What's the difference between 30 years of journals and 40? That's easy. There's certainly more spark to an endeavor in your early 50s than early 60s. Whatever I write now won't be as complicated, either because I've already said it once, or finally seen the value of brevity, or I'm simply tired. 
A.E. Housman's "The faintest of all
 human passions is the love of truth,"
alas will probably prove handy in 2024
 My handwriting certainly grows worse.   
     Since I don't want to replicate the piece, I glanced at a few journals, and quickly noticed an aspect completely overlooked at the close of 2013— not only did I write down my own thoughts, such as they were, and happenings of the day, but also record quotes from others I've stumbled upon, admired, thought might be useful, and wanted to hold onto for ready reference. 
     Grist for the mill. In the flyleaf of the journal for 2018 are two passages. One, a line from Brecht: "don't yet rejoice in his defeat, you men/Although the world stood up and stopped the bastard/the bitch that bore him is in heat again."
     Under it, a second quote: "He 'never did or thought of anything but deceiving people," credited to Canto VI p. 192 Dante's Divine Comedy."
     That was referring to
 Pope Alexander — Dante was a passionate hater of popes — but I hardly need to tell you who those quotes struck me as describing. Though I never had reason to use them, probably because I promptly forgot about them. It's so easy to forget stuff. That's why I write it down, hoping I'll stumble upon it again.
    The Brecht quote, by the way, is from a play, "The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui" that I never saw or read. I must have lifted the quote, second hand, from The New Yorker probably, though looking at the following description of it, from a CSU production, makes me wish we could lure Bob Falls out of retirement — he stepped down from the Goodman in 2023 — to produce it: 
     "Brecht’s shudderingly accurate parallel between Hitler and his henchmen on the one hand, and the old crime lords of Chicago on the other, is a vigorous eye opener that was produced on Broadway with Christopher Plummer. The Cauliflower Trust in Chicago is in need of help and turns to a racketeer by the name of Arturo Ui to begin a 'protection' campaign. His henchmen look astonishingly like Goebbels and Goring. Their activities include 'accidental' fires and a St. Valentine’s Day massacre."
     Some of the quotes did inspire columns — the always-apt remark of Samuel Johnson about society being "held together by communication and information" was the starting off point for a column on Johnson six years later.
     And some turned into 2016's "Out of the Wreck I Rise: A Literary Companion to Recovery," written with Sara Bader, whose entire premise is that these dusty thoughts are useful in running an ordered life. Mental coins to rattle around in your pocket.
     Some years are blank, others full, like 2006, where I wrote, not on the flyleaf, but the page facing the title page: "Journalism is a fleeting thing, and the man who devotes his life to it writes his history in water," crediting H.L. Mencken, the exception who proves the rule. 
     Next to it, in the same vein: "But stay unregenerate. Life knocks the sauciness out of us soon enough," Clifford Odets, in "The Country Girl's Last Links,"no doubt again  found in The New Yorker. Plus a second Odets passage: "I am seething and swollen, lumpy, disordered and baffled, as if I were a woman fifteen months pregnant and unable to sleep or turn, crying aloud, 'Oh God, out, out, out!'"
    Well, that isn't very pleasant — remember in 2006, I was fresh in recovery, and writing "Drunkard," not to mention 30 pounds heavier than I am now, so that sounds about right. The last one, oddly, has no citation, just "Don't heed the distant calls and hold tightly to the golden door. There, beyond it, is hell, longed for." I'm sure Mr. Google can fix that. From "Solitude," by Rilke.
In places, as in the 1991 journey, it was easier
to just cut out than copy.
    Only two on 2003: "Dietrologia (Ital.) the art of finding dark motives behind obvious decisions," which seems a word we could use in 2024, and "Communications have reached their numbing roar," T.H. White, Making of the President 1960, p. 26. If that was true more than 60 years ago, how to describe the blinding wordstorm now? One hesitates to contribute a single additional syllable. But what choice is there, at this point?
     Okay enough. I think that will do, both for sharing not-quite-random quotes and trying to make sense of the year 2023 through words, a task we'll now leave to historians. On deck, 2024, speaking of history. I wish I had the foggiest idea how it'll unfold — my bet is it'll be 2020 on steroids. Or not. Whatever it becomes, dull it won't be, unfortunately. (Doesn't a dull year sound glorious about now?) Whatever is coming, we'll face it here together. Happy New Year. Don't drink and drive. See you tomorrow morning, bright and early.




  1. I am grateful for the passing of time and the approaching end of mine.

    I,ve a stack of notebooks full size spiral, of many colors as well as a few dozen pocket size . Filled mostly with numbers, to do lists and sketches. appointments and phone numbers. Occasionally a note to self. record albums I'd like to buy and books I'd like to read. Hand dated , printed, no cursive since I graduated high school. Dont know why I've kept them?

    28, 386 emails ,- allread- a box of letters and several of printed photos ,none more recent than ? 2000?

    It's the photos that tell the best stories, without words. I'm most satisfied with those snap shots , They speak only to me.


  2. thought i'd throw in another clifford odets quote, this from the great cynical movie "the sweet smell of success", which could bring to mind any number of politicians.
    j j. hunsecker to sydney falco: "sydney, my left hand hasn't known what might right hand has been up to in years".

  3. I've been recording the daily minutiae of everyday life since I was twelve. Six years of page-a-day diaries from 1960 through 1965, then those pocket term planners in college, then the little spiral-bound books with seven spaces a week on facing pages...1972 through 1980. I learned to write extremely what my then-wife, a graphic artist, called "mouse type"...I just called it "teensy."

    After that, I used calendars...a decade's worth of the ones issued by the CTA, and...since 1993...electric railroading calendars...the last fifteen years of them exclusively from the San Francisco transit system.

    That means I'm well into my seventh decade of documenting the adventures and misadventures of my so-called life. I know what I've done...or not done...nearly every goddam day for 64 years. Where I went and what I did and how the weather was. About half of them pithy little entries in 1 1/2-by-2-inch calendar squares: "Get up and Bogey: Casablanca at Cleveland Museum of Art. Jazz at Bop Stop. Y2K in Public Square." (December 31, 1999).

    Why? Who the hell knows? Just to be able to know for sure when I saw that performance or took that train ride or that road trip or heard that band? Or just to obsessively and compulsively review my own life and to see where I've been and how I felt? Excessive contemplation and self-absorption? I can always blame my folks, for sending me to the shrink who got me started. It was like handing a kid in junior high that first cigarette.


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