I finished The Goldfinch last spring, but it was hard to know what to write. I had pretty high expectations for the novel. I’d read and loved The Secret History (Tartt’s first novel), and The Goldfinch was a runaway bestseller, and that wasn’t all — the book also won a Pulitzer Prize.
Yep, so I had high expectations, and I enjoyed the novel, I did, and I’d recommend it; but there were a lot of parts that felt really bogged down to me. Specifically, I spent what I felt to be an excruciating amount of time wallowing with Theo (the narrator and protagonist) in his self-destruction and various drug-altered states of mind. And please note that I happen to be a big fan of exploring altered states of mind. It’s something I’ve written a good deal about — whether it be intoxicants or meditation or heightened states of religious expression, it’s all just super fantastic to me — but in Goldfinch, it all just felt to me a little bit repetitive.
That being said, I’d give Goldfinch a 3.8 on a 5 scale. If you find the plot and premise and subject matter (the place of art in dealing with modern neuroses) intriguing, then go for it.
The Goldfinch sparked an intense and ongoing debate among critics about whether or not this is a exemplary novel, a novel worthy to be held up as “good literature.” I didn’t find myself siding strongly one way or another. I felt I appreciated what Tartt was doing — for me it’s a good novel (read it) but it’s not great — on the other hand, Tartt’s debut novel, The Secret History, was.
Geez. That’s invasive. Yo, I thought the Republicans were the party of small government! Of individual rights! Let a man own a basement full of guns, but he can’t have a gram of weed? I think Jefferson is not so much rolling over in his grave as thinking, “the fuck, man?!”
But I jest.
Let’s put Republican hypocrisy aside for a moment, because there’s something even more ridiculous to what the debunked Trump administration is doing. This is what the 70-year-old Jeff Sessions (Trump’s Attorney General) says about the marijuana crackdown he’s so anxious to initiate:
“Task Force subcommittees will also undertake a review of existing policies in the areas of charging, sentencing, and marijuana to ensure consistency with the Department’s overall strategy on reducing violent crime and with Administration goals and priorities…”
“Reducing violent crime”? If you want to reduce violent crime, dude, like, don’t take weed off the market. Alcohol, for example, leads to far more violence than weed, which from my experience only gives you the munchies, a good night’s sleep, and makes you feel slow and stoney…and may more or may not be the solution to writer’s block. 😉
Dear Jeff Sessions,
Dude, like, chill. Try smoking a bowl and watching the Big Lebowski. Then let’s talk about the link between marijuana and violent crime. Maybe we can save a few government bucks and/or use it for something that matters.
A healthy suspicion of centralized power is a good thing.
Hence, one ought always to be suspicious of the government having too much power. (Liberals, don’t be naive.)
But when you believe “the government always fucks things up!” or “the government just wants to take away my liberty,” well, this sort of dogmatic, religious belief in the evils of government is equally naive.
Like any institution, the government can do good or harm. Take it seriously and, like, get involved.
All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone. ~ Pascal
In last week’s Hump Day Homily I talked about the hack that is my own spiritual journey, the convergence of Christianity and Buddhism. My formative years were exclusively Christian, and I continue to benefit exponentially from the teachings and stories and mythology within the Christian Bible, particularly the life and teachings of Jesus. (Perhaps more than any other biblical figure, Jesus has needed to be extremely sanitized for use in churches and public sermons.)
When I hit my mid-twenties, though, I realized that my ego had been running me up into some walls, and I’d been crashing pretty hard. It seems like this is kind of a thing that happens to many homo sapiens when we are at a certain age, in our mid-twenties to early-thirties. (I’ve heard it referred to, astrologically, as “the return of Saturn.”) We realize that the way we perceive the world is narrow and limited, and we begin to suspect that it’s our own fault, that these limitations largely exist to protect our ego.
I usually don’t see bears whilst on my daily river walk — it’s pretty rare — however, having just found myself in the throes of a close encounter with a bear whilst embarking on my daily constitutional, and having had another close encounter with a bear only the very night before, I thought I’d take a few moments to share these 3 tride-and-true techniques that I myself recently employed (more or less) to safely navigate an encounter with an Alaskan black bear in the middle of the vast wilderness of the Wrangell St-Elias National Park.
I’ve been posting a lot, like, on the daily, which is possibly more than I’ve posted ever in my life, even at the peak of my blogging days way back when I had my Theos Project blog. It’s becoming something of a blogging blitzkrieg, which is kind of surprising, frankly, since I’d thought I’d kind of given up on blogging.
Every year we usually have a gang of armed thieves descend upon our little Alaskan village at the end of the road, these are desperadoes who take advantage of our small town and peaceful hippie ways and rob and pillage our village, leaving us poor and destitute. All of the parts of the last sentence are more or less not true, except that every year we do have a group of, like, really dedicated classic car junkies who band together and drive their antique gems into McCarthy from, like, somewhere, like Anchorage or something.
So, once they get here, then we’ve got all these cars from, like, a hundred years ago, and they all seem quite at home in our little old west town, a town that looks a lot like it did a hundred years back (at least from the outside) back in the days when they were mining the hell out of the Kennicott mines (and making a lot of money for thieves and desperadoes like J. P. Morgan), back when McCarthy was an Alaskan sin city, and back in the days when this little village was one of the prime spots in Alaska, bigger, at one point, than Anchorage, which used to be just a little tent city.
For my most recent weekly hike, I went on my most usual route, which is up to the Bonanza Mine, but as I approached, I could see two figures silhouetted at the top. I kept hiking, but it was clear that they were making themselves comfortable, nesting up in the clouds. Not wanting to share the spot with anyone else — I’m fiercely protective of my personal space when out on a solo hike — I decided to try another ridge line, and, lucky me, it affords me some new views.
I just read about the new Netflix series, Friends from College. From what I’ve read, it’s about Gen Xers who hit middle age and must deal with their own slackerist lives. I’ll probably watch it, and I’ll probably laugh at it. It’s usually pretty easy to make me laugh and after all, it’s my kind of people. I’m rapidly approaching forty, myself, in little over a year, and I’m also a bonafide (though not distinguished) member of the Gen X demographic, a late-born Gen Xer, to be be precise, just on the cusps of what the experts refer to as the Millennial generation — but I’m a card carrying Gen Xer all the same.
So, I’ll probably watch it, and I’ll probably laugh, but there’s something more going on here, more than just a generation that can’t grow up or get serious about their lives. There is, in truth, a certain cultural decay that seems to be more and more obvious every day.
One of the most influential books for me in the last few years is Yuval Harari’s Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. It’s extremely well-written, entertaining even. Praise for the book includes a critic saying that with his Sapiens book Harari is “…making the world strange and new…” This big picture view of human history often includes fairly simple ideas with big implications, things we don’t necessarily always think about but that give us a sense of perspective.
For example, human beings made a huge and fast jump in the food chain as a result of a cognitive revolution some 70,000 years back. Prior to the cognitive revolution, we were anxious animals, as so many animals are, keeping ourselves alert for predators. Then came the cognitive revolution, which was sort of a huge advancement in our brains and minds, and the result was that we were catapulted to the top of the food chain. We ourselves became the world’s top predator, which sort of seems cool, at first, but history has shown that we weren’t really ready for it. We haven’t handled our power very well. For one thing, we haven’t treated each other very well. More importantly, our mental leap has had devastating results for the rest of the species of the world. We became the top dog but carried with us all of the mental baggage of a middle-of-the-pack species, all of the anxiety we had when we had to fear bigger and meaner predators.
I just concluded another round of listening to Joseph Goldstein’s 3 volume extended commentary on the satipatthana sutta, Abiding in Mindfulness, which I worked through at a pretty slow pace, listening to it for maybe like 15 minutes each morning before I meditate. (Taken in total, all three volumes are something like 30+ hours of dharma talks.)
The satipatthana sutta is the Buddha’s discourse on mindfulness (sati = mindfulness), and Goldstein summarized the sutta and all of his dharma talks by saying that the great message of the Buddha was simple:
1) The mind can be trained and
2) It’s just a matter of time
The key is to just start (with a meditation practice), and then after that, just keep going, sort of like, yo, just start walking down the road, dude, and eventually it will take you there.
A few days ago, I found myself explaining socialism — well, it was sort of socialism in a nutshell — and even though I talk about socialism (a lot), I was at a loss for a quick minute. I didn’t want to just provide a dictionary definition of socialism, I wanted to talk about why it mattered, or more to the point, why does socialism matter to me?
To many, the idea of “socialism” seems abstract. Even to my liberal comrades, socialism seems a sort of distant goal. I’ve even been told that it’s a distraction to the current struggle against Trump and the Republican attack on the individual liberties of minority groups. There’s a suspicion of white male leftists like myself: it’s only because of my position of privilege that I can talk about socialism and other rather abstract matters, instead of fighting for the real and immediate dangers that under-privileged groups face.
A few years back, when I spent a few off-and-on years on Kodiak Island, and when my love for craft beer was still young, I remember a particularly satisfying brew from the Kodiak Brewing Company, called Liquid Sunshine — and truly, the sun-god as my witness, it was the closest thing I can imagine to tasting sunshine, at least in the form of a beer. A nice sweet piece of citrus fruit has the effect, for me, of tasting the sunshine, particularly a good, golden mango, where there’s a moment when there’s this sweet sting on the tongue, like a slap from the sun.
(But, well, I suppose that it’s possible that I’m just spacing the story here, over-romancing the past, and it’s possible that I drank Liquid Sunshine not at the Kodiak Island Brewery but at some other Alaskan town, like in Haines, at the Brewery there, because after two off-and-on years on Kodiak Island, I spent two off-and-on years in southeast Alaska. But, okay, a quick Google search reveals that it was Kodiak Island Brewery, because they still have the beer, Liquid Sunshine, described on the site as Pale, hoppy “Steam” or “California Common” style beer. 5% abv. This is interesting to me just now, because I remember the alcohol content as being higher, the effect as being far more potent, but then again I’ve always been a light-weight when it comes to handling my liquor, the fact of which, though, I’m quite happy about, since it has saved me much money over the years.)
I’m back in Alaska for the summer, an unexpected turn of life that now affords me some epic days of hiking. My favorite route takes me up to the old Bonanza Mine, one of the copper mines in Kennicott, Alaska, back in the days when robber barons like J. P. Morgan financed what I believe was the most profitable copper mine in human history.
Here are the ruins (of which a person can still scramble around in):
Forget the idea that Twitter and Facebook are bad for democracy. Bubbles can be beneficial, and help emerging movements unite against the elites
I sometimes fear that I’m some sort of a “slacktivist.” At its worst, a slacktivist is someone who only exerts the most minimal efforts toward causes they deem worthy. A slacktivist may share a meme on Facebook or sign an online petition, then after burning .01 calories in about sixty some seconds of exertion, they hear a distinct and rewarding voice in the back of their heads, congratulating them: you’ve done your part. [pat on the back] Read more