Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Last Ride

"Crystal Lake, Ill. -- Jeff Hornagold loved being a UPS driver. So, when the suburban Chicago man died this week of lung cancer, longtime co-worker Michael McGowan agreed to take him on one last delivery.

McGowan transported Hornagold's body from Davenport Family Funeral Home to Saturday's funeral services in his UPS truck.

Hornagold was a UPS driver for 20 years, and his wife Judy Hornagold described him as 'just the happiest UPS man alive.' She says the special delivery was the perfect tribute."

It used to be (and still may be in some places) a Jewish custom to carry the deceased's body past the places he loved one last time. I don't much care what vehicle carries me to my funeral, but if that vehicle wanted to carry me past a few of the bookstores at which I've spent a ridiculous amount of money, that would be fine.

Of course, if Mr. Hornagold had lived in Africa, he could've been buried in a replica of a UPS truck. There are places in west Africa where people have been buried in their cars. And I did read recently of a man who has already had his coffin made of beer cans, and he sleeps in it.

I understand that. I've instructed my wife not to cover my casket with dirt. Just dump in all the magazines and books I haven't read!


From an interview in Paris Vogue. The person being interviewed is Malgosia Bela, a fashion model.

Quelle lumière pour une nuit d'amour? (What kind of light for a night of love?)

Son désir incandescent et mon aura lumineuse. (His incandescent desire and my luminous aura).

And it just doesn't sound the same in English.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


I hate hot weather. Every year about this time I silently thank those African ancestors of mine who got themselves captured and brought on a slave ship to these shores, thus sparing me from having to curse the African sun. But who knows? Maybe they hated the heat, too, and took their chances that the slave ship was going someplace cooler.

I grew up in Kansas, Arkansas, and Tennessee in the 1940's and 50's when, for the most part, air-conditioning was non-existent. You might think we got accustomed to the heat. We didn't. During these times poor people didn't have refrigerators, and a man would come through the neighborhood on a mule-drawn wagon selling 25 and 50 pound blocks of ice. People would put a block of ice in a galvanized washtub and let an electric fan blow across the ice. It sounded good in theory, but it didn't help. Nothing did. Hot is hot!

A few years ago I was in Maine and happened to see a college classmate. She grew up in Alabama, and when I asked her what she was doing in Maine, she said, "I looked at the map to find a place that was as far away from the heat as I could, and this was it."

I understand. I read a novel that was set in a town that was above the Arctic Circle. I seriously thought about moving there until my wife said that was grounds for divorce, which goes to show that love does not conquer all.

The only thing that gets me through summer is knowing that winter is coming. I just wish it was coming tomorrow.

© 2008 by Julius Lester


Roozles - Wretchedness of mind.

Now, there's a word. Roozles! How do you define "wretchedness of mind"? How do you recognize a "wretched mind"? What would someone say that would cause others to nod and say, "Tsk. Tsk. His mind is roozled." Am I suffering from the roozles because I hate hot weather? Well, I am going to keep my eyes and ears open, and if I come across anything that I thinks reveals the roozles, you'll read about it here.

Friday, July 18, 2008

"Don't believe everything you think."

Bumper Sticker, 2008

Picktooth: Leisurely, as it is in leisure moments that the toothpick is used.

We could all use more picktooth moments in our days. Tooth picks are cheaper than alcohol and tooth picks do not lead to drunken driving and drunken driving can lead to maiming or killing others. Instead of buying a bottle of whiskey, buy a box of toothpicks. The picktooth way of life could be America's salvation from itself.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

"The poor need bread. Did those books of yours solve the problems of the world?"

"Not all problems are economic," I said gently.

Anais Nin


Wuther: The rustling of the wind among tree branches.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

"The universe gives me the creeps."

Willem de Kooning


Lick-for-leather: being at full speed.

My days of going lick-for-leather are over, and I am so glad!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

I Am A Flip-Flopper!

One of the most interesting elements of Malcolm X's short life and career was that he did not hesitate to change his thinking when he learned more about a particular issue. The Malcolm X of the Nation of Islam was not the Malcolm X who was killed in 1965. He had moved from a defensive black superiority to an inclusive world view that did not revolve around a black sun.

Why is it that changing one's opinions has become a negative in American political life? Four years ago the Republicans successfully defined John Kerry as a "flip-flopper", and they're trying to do the same to Barack Obama. I never understood why John Kerry did not say, "Yes, I am intelligent enough to change my views when I am presented with information and knowledge I did not have previously. It is regrettable that President Bush does not exemplify the same intelligence."

But to call someone a flip-flopper because he changes his mind is a thinly veiled attack on intelligence. Many of us laugh at George Bush because he seems incapable of speaking in coherent sentences. However, many Americans find this aspect of Bush reassuring because it makes them feel like he is one of them. Bush and Kerry were contemporaries at Yale, but Bush was proud of not having been a good student. Many Americans who never made it to Yale were also not good students, and Bush redeemed their lack of academic achievements.

My fear is that Barack Obama can lose the election because of his obvious intelligence, his preference for nuanced thinking rather than polarizing positions on issues, and his willingness to rethink what he advocates and change his mind accordingly.

Intelligence should not be an object of contempt in a presidential campaign. But it was four years ago, and it is threatening to be so again.

It's time to stand up, people! Someone needs to make bumper stickers, T-shirts, and buttons so that we can proclaim loudly, "I'm a Flip-Flopper. I Think!"

© 2008 by Julius Lester

Monday, July 14, 2008

"A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people."

Thomas Mann


Slotter: To make a noise with the palate while eating.

I fell in love with a young woman once, but when I took her out to dinner, she slottered. I didn't know then that's what she was doing. All I knew was that she chewed with her mouth open. In China slottering is a way of showing appreciation for the meal. This woman would have been a prized dinner guest in China. Now, you might say that if I had truly loved her, her slottering would not have made any difference. But you didn't hear her. I did. Love can conquer a lot of things but not slottering. Except in China.

© 2008 by Julius Lester

Friday, July 11, 2008

Today I bent the truth to be kind, and I have no regret, for I am far surer of what is kind than I am of what is true."

Robert Brault


Wuzzle - To mingle

You might learn a lot about yourself if you divide your friends into those you like mingling with and those you like to wuzzle with. Wuzzling sounds much more erotic than mingling.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Jesse Jackson & Barack Obama

It must be painful for Reverend Jesse Jackson to watch Barack Obama succeed where he failed, i.e. become the first black to be the presidential candidate of a major party. It must be painful for Jackson to watch Obama win the Democratic Party's nomination without any help from him who was the self-appointed spokesman for black Americans for so many years. It must be painful for Jackson to feel that he has been pushed aside as irrelevant, though he's been irrelevant for a long time and doesn't seem to have gotten the news.

Thus, it is not entirely surprising that on Sunday, July 6, Jackson was waiting to be interviewed on Fox News and an open microphone overheard him whisper to a guest, "See, Barack's been talking down to black people. I want to cut his nuts off."

Jackson was referring to Obama's Father's Day speech at a black church in which he criticized black fathers: "We need them to realize what makes you a man is not the ability to have a child -- it's the courage to raise one." Jackson thought Obama's context was too narrow in that he failed to mention the effect that high levels of unemployment, home foreclosures and violence have on black men. "We have some real serious issues -- not just moral issues," Jackson contended. But this is not the first time Jackson has attacked Obama. Last fall he criticized Obama for "acting like he's white."

When I learned of Jackson's ugly and self-serving remark, I thought of Hillary and Bill Clinton. I remembered the various comments and outbursts by Bill Clinton that certainly hurt his and Hillary's esteem in the eyes of blacks. At the time I thought that, unconsciously, Bill was trying to undermine Hillary's campaign.

Our behavior as humans is not always governed by what we think we believe. The Socratic admonition to "Know thyself" is daunting because knowing ourselves means seeking to be aware of what is unconscious within us. Jackson's unconscious envy and resentment of Obama led him to express it where there was an open microphone.

While I can understand the political expediency in Obama having the Clintons campaign for him, I fear what lies in their unconscious. I fear that their anger and resentment that Obama ran a better and more well-organized campaign will find expression when there happens to be an open microphone around, that they will find some way to sabotage Obama as I think Bill sabotaged Hillary.

The simple fact is that Jackson and the Clintons had their days in history. They should be satisfied that they did their jobs as well as they could, and that they helped prepare the way for someone like Obama.

But Jackson and the Clintons ceased to grow in their thinking, ceased to expand their visions of what it means to be an American in 2008. They don't seem to realize that fifty years have passed since 1968. Believe it or not, the nation has moved from "We Shall Overcome" to "We Are Overcoming."

© 2008 by Julius Lester

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

"Life is short and we do not have too much time to gladden the hearts of those who travel with us, so be swift to love and make haste to be kind."

Henri-Frederic Amiel

IN MEMORIAM, New York Times, July 3, 2008

WEILER, Gerald

Gerry, love you and miss you. Please help the Yankees.



Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Julius Lester,

My name is Ronald Kipchirchir. I read somewhere today about your contest on the usage of the word mundivagant. I am a student of Kenyan descent partaking of pre-law studies here in America. Despite the fact that you do not know me, I just want to say that I, too, love words. I suppose the contest became stale long time ago but I would love to contribute, nonetheless.

"I come to invoke your spirit of good-samaritanism; not as a mundivagant beggar with a bowl in hand and kneepads upon my knees, but as a wounded friend, seeking not an ordinal sedation, but a lifelong immunization from the agonies of life and anomalies of history."

Actually, I used the sentence about two months ago in a speech contest. The speech was a calling on people of goodwill to help salvage my beloved country from the jaws of death (in regard to the post election chaos that had engulfed Kenya during the month of January and February).


"Let us not look back in anger, nor forward in fear, but around in awareness."

James Thurber

Monday, July 7, 2008

Obama's Rightward Turn

One of the dilemmas any Democrat running for president faces is that he or she must appeal to the party's liberal core to win the nomination. However, to win the presidency that Democrat must move to the center to win the votes of America's conservative majority. And by conservative I do not mean those reactionary Republicans who have sullied the word "conservative". These Republicans are not conservative but are as radical as the Left was in the sixties. Both sought to remake America in its image.

The majority of Americans are conservative because their primary interest is in conserving their way of life, its virtues and its sins. However, unlike reactionary Republicans who are wedded to an ideology and seek nothing less than the triumph of that ideology, conservatives are willing to change when events force them to. The civil rights movement of the 1960s succeeded in its primary goal of desegregating public life and insuring voting rights because the conservative majority was convinced by demonstrations and riots of the need for change.

It is this majority to whom Obama is now introducing himself, not as a political liberal but as someone who shares and understands the legitimacy of their concerns. And if he is elected president, this will be part of his responsibility. On inauguration day the president takes an oath to serve the American people. The overriding arrogance of George W. Bush was to lose the popular vote and govern as if no one mattered except those who shared his political philosophy.

I am reassured by Obama taking positions with which I disagree because it indicates that he wants to be president of the American people, not just of liberals who can be as ideologically dense and obtuse as reactionary Republicans.


Gubbertushed: Having projecting teeth.

I once had a crush on a girl who was gubbertushed, and I thought she was very cute.

Friday, July 4, 2008

From My Reading Journal - Always Wear Joy

Always Wear Joy: My Mother Bold and Beautiful by Susan Fales-Hill

What a wonderful, delightful book! I came to it out of curiosity about Susan Fales-Hill. I had seen her picture often in the New York Times and in fashion magazines at various dinners and charity balls attended by socialites, and she was almost always be the only black person. So, I wondered who she was, came across a mention of this book somewhere, and got it.

She is the daughter of Josephine Premice, a black actress and performer whose name I remember from the black newspapers and magazines of my youth. Her father is a white man from a wealthy background. Fales-Hill belongs to what I would call black royalty because she grew up knowing many black and white celebrities - Belafonte, Diahann Carol, her mother’s best friend, Richard Burton, with whom her mother had an affair, Roscoe Lee Brown, Sammy Davis, Jr., Lena Horne, and on and on. She went to the Lyceè Française and spoke French with her mother, Italian with her nanny, and possibly Creole because her maternal grandparents were from Haiti. She grew up in a world where dressing well was taken for granted, and thus the ease with which she moves today in a world in which haute couture is taken for granted.

One of the key elements in liking a book is whether or not one likes the writer, or perhaps I should say, the voice in which the book is written. I absolutely adore the voice in Always Wear Joy. She is very funny but also sensitive and honest in talking about the negative qualities of her parents as well as her own.

“Mom, what do I put down on the school form where it says ‘Mother’s Occupation’ when you’re not acting in a show?” – Enrico Fales, age 8
“Tell your teacher, ‘My mother’s an unemployed legend.’” Josephine, age 41

“Your baby is beautiful. His father was white?” Roman woman to Josephine.
“I don’t remember.” Josephine to Roman woman.

“My mother’s packing motto has always been, ‘If you can’t decide, take it all.’”

“We had devoted countless hours of our lives as mother and daughter to pondering the eternal question. For us this was not, What is the meaning of life? but, What are we going to wear?”

The quotes do not do justice to all that is in this book, especially the descriptions of the racism encountered by black actors. Fales-Hill was a television writer for some years working on the Cosby Show, “A Different World,” and others. Her stories of the racism in television were infuriating.

This is a wonderful book. I enjoyed spending time in Susan Fales-Hill’s company.

© 2008 by Julius Lester

Even though the contest to use mundivagant in a sentence is over, I received a
wonderful sentence from Edi Campbell who teaches English in Taiwan:

"I live a mundivagant life based upon hopes and dreams with no concrete plans to steady my step."

I like that phrase "...to steady my step." There've been times my step needed steadying and I hadn't had anything to drink, either.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

“Love does not exist, only demonstrations of love.”

Jean Cocteau


Gumbled: Awakening in the morning, the eyes are said to be gumbled.

Awakening, she looked around with gumbled eyes, decided to call in sick and went back to sleep.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

From My Reading Journal - The Secret Life of Bees

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

This is the kind of book I think of as popular literary fiction. It is well written, lots of nice turns of phrases, figures of speech, etc. But there is something about it that comes close to sentimentality, i.e. a very skillful avoidance of the harder realities.

The novel is set primarily in South Carolina in 1964. Lily, the teenage heroine, lives with three black sisters and ends up having a crush on a teenage black boy. He drives around with her without any sign that he could be lynched. That is simply not how it was in the south in 1964. He shows no hesitation or fear about being seen in the trunk with a white girl beside him. And, in a climactic scene, he drives into town with her in the truck, gets arrested and no one wonders why he is with a white girl. This simply would not have happened in a southern state in 1964, the summer when Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner and James Chaney were murdered in Mississippi.

There is also a glaring historical error. There is a reference in the book to a metaphor used by Martin Luther King, Jr., “drum major for justice.” However, this metaphor wasn’t used by King until a few weeks before he was killed. He used it in a sermon and a tape of that part of the sermon was played at his funeral.

The book was a good read but not a good book because of its disregard for the social and political truths of the time. But I underlined some things.

“Stories have to be told or they die, and when they do, we can’t remember who we are or why we’re here.”

“…it washed over me for the first time in my life just how much importance the world had ascribed to skin pigment, how lately it seemed that skin pigment was the sun and everything else in the universe was the orbiting planets.”

“…you can be bad at something, Lily, but if you love doing it, that will be enough.”

“…it’s something everybody wants – for someone to see the hurt done to them and set it down like it matters.”

“There is nothing perfect….There is only life.”

“Drifting off to sleep, I thought about her. How nobody is perfect. How you just have to close your eyes and breathe out and let the puzzle of the human heart be what it is.”

“Not just to love – but to persist in love.”

© 2008 by Julius Lester

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

From My Reading Journal - 2004

E.E. Cummings: A Biography by Christopher Sawyer-Laucanno, 543 pp., excluding notes.

Not sure why I bought this. I’ve never read that much Cummings and the poems I like are the ones anybody likes of his. Part of it, I suppose, is a New York connection. Though Cummings died the year after I moved to New York, I walked past Patchin Place, where he lived in Greenwich Village, more times than I can count. There was also a tree in Washington Square Park to which Cummings would speak, and I always wondered which one it was. I can’t say that I have understood Cummings’ poetics, and don't have much more of an understanding after reading this biography, and that’s not the fault of the biographer.

But, even after all these years, I am still fascinated by the lives of creative people, and I am still seeking insights into my own creative life. I did not find Cummings's life to be very satisfying. However, I do envy him the early exposure to languages - Greek, Latin, French - all of which he knew fluently.

Reading the biography I became aware of how much of I have lived and created alone. I have stayed away from having writers as friends, perhaps because I have never ego-identified with writing. Writing is something I do; it is has never been who I am. I have never taken myself seriously as a writer in the way that the writers of Cummings’ generation did. I have never believed that literature and art have an enormous impact on the way things are; I have never seen poets as “the unacknowledged legislators of the world,” as Shelley proclaimed.

However, reading the biography took me back to my days at Fisk [the small black college in Nashville, Tennessee, from which I graduated in 1960] and the excitement of discovering so much literature and so many writers. What an exciting time that was reading Joyce, Faulkner, Camus, Sartre, de Beauvoir, Andre Gide, and so many others for the first time. And there was also the excitement of talking about existentialism and the Beat Generation with classmates and teachers.

But I think religion has engaged my soul in ways literature never has. It was and is the spiritual journey I identify with, that is, at root, my passion. Maybe this is why photography is so important to me, because through images I can more directly express the fruits of my spiritual journey than I can in writing. There is a dimension of the spiritual that only begins where words end, and it is this which can be expressed in the silence of a photograph.

What I found unsatisfactory about Cummings’ life were the ways in which he never grew up. He never held a job and lived primarily off wealthy friends and his mother. And he did not take responsibility for his relationships. It was rather shocking to read about his daughter, Nancy, and how she grew up thinking someone else was her father. Cummings told her the truth when she was an adult and promptly had little more to do with her. She is 80 now and lives in London and will probably read this biography with great curiosity and interest, or not read it at all. So, there are fundamental ways in which Cummings did not mature. He devoted his life to poetry and art, but I did not get the sense that there wasn’t room in his life for taking responsibility. He simply chose not to.

I don’t condemn him but it is not a life I would want. Some quotes:

“Concerning Mr. Derry [his high school Greek teacher], let me say that he was (and for me will always remain) one of those blessing and blessed spirits who deserve the name of teacher: predicates who are utterly in love with their subject; and who, because they would gladly die for it, are living for it gladly. From him I learned (and am still learning) that gladness is next to goodliness.”

“Eater of all things lovely — Time!”

“Sound emerges from& retreats with silence.
Every sound has its own peculiar silence!”

“...the ponderous ferocity of silence.”

God, I love that line!!

“but from the endless end
of briefer each our bliss —
where seeing eyes go blind
(where lips forget to kiss)
where everything’s nothing
— arise,my soul; and sing.”

© 2008 by Julius Lester