Friday, May 30, 2008

Growing Old

I'm learning something new this week about growing old. And please, no e-mails assuring me that at 69 I am not old. I'm proud of these years, and I've earned them. Although we live in a country that glorifies youth and denigrates age, I've always preferred being around older people than younger. But the older I get there will be fewer and fewer people older than me, and with that comes a psychic cost.

On Sunday someone I've known for more than 40 years died. David Gahr was an extraordinary photographer who took the photographs of me on the cover of the two albums I did for Vanguard as well as the jacket photographs of me on a number of my books. He was primarily known as a photographer of musicians - folk, jazz, rock - and if you go through you album/cd collections and look at who took the photographs, I can almost guarantee that you'll see his name.

David was 16 years older than I am and was like my older brother. He was the one who helped me buy my first camera, who let me go with him through the streets of New York when he went out to photograph. If not for David I would not be a photographer now.

A photograph is actually the picture of the relationship of the photographer to the person or object being photographed. A photograph does not tell you as much as about the subject as it does about how the photographer feels about the subject. It was through David's photographs that I learned joy and something about what it is to love. In the early 70's I put together a book of his photographs (and a few of mine)along with poems I wrote based on the photographs. The book is called Who I Am. It has been out of print for decades but I see copies on line. If you want to experience the depth of one man's humanity, look at David's photographs in that book.

But with his death at age 85 I am experiencing not only the loss of an important person in my life but more, I am experiencing the loss of sharing memories that belonged only to the two of us. At age 69 the generation before me is beginning to die, as well as my contemporaries. And with these deaths there comes an increasing loneliness. The older you become the more memories you have, paradoxically, the fewer with whom you can share those memories.

But then I must stop and smile because the older I get, the less I remember, and maybe that's how Nature gently balances the losses we experience in the deaths of those with whom whom we've shared a lifetime.

As much as I will miss David, my gratitude for having him as a friend for so many years is far, far greater.

© 2008 by Julius Lester

Thursday, May 29, 2008

“We don’t see things as they are. We see them as we are.”

Anais Nin


Heart-quake: A trembling of the heart.

How many times a day do you have a heart-quake?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

“Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious convictions.”



Coup de Soleil: A disease produced by the exposure of the head to the rays of the sun.

So that's what the Texas sun did to George Bush!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”

Winston Churchill


Chicken-pecked: Under the rule of a child.

Watching parents with their children, a lot of mothers and fathers I see are chicken-pecked.

Monday, May 26, 2008

“There have been many studies of elite performers — international violinists, chess grand masters, professional ice-skaters, mathematicians, and so forth — and the biggest difference researchers find between them and lesser performers is the cumulative amount of deliberative practice they’ve had. Indeed, the most important talent may be the talent for practice itself...the most important way in which innate factors play a role may be in one’s willingness to engage in sustained performers dislike practicing just as much as others do. (That’s why, for example, athletes and musicians usually quit practicing when they retire.) But more than others, they have the will to keep at it anyway.”

Atul Gawande, Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes On An Imperfect Science


Bouffage: A satisfying meal; from Old French bouffer to swell. Any meat that, eaten greedily, fills the mouth, and makes the cheeks swell.

Tonight my wife cooked lamb in a mustard sauce. It was quite a bouffage!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

How to Apologize

During an interview Friday with the editorial board of a South Dakota newspaper, Hillary Clinton justified staying in the race because “My husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right? We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California.”

One of Clinton's rationales for remaining in the race has been that Obama might make a colossal mistake or something might happen. I guess we know now what she unconsciously wishes to happen. Or, maybe not so unconsciously.

When she became aware of the outrage being expressed on websites across the internet as well as by some pundits, she "apologized", saying, in part, "And I regret that if my referencing that moment of trauma for our entire nation and in particular the Kennedy family was in any way offensive. I certainly had no intention of that whatsoever."

You do not begin an apology with "if". When people are expressing outrage about something you've said, it is obvious that they are offended. And saying your intention was not to hurt anyone is not taking responsibility for what you said.

But, in general, people seem to feel that if they did not intend to hurt someone, then they didn't. But someone was hurt, and it is that hurt that should be addressed, not the intention. Sometimes being so clueless that you don't stop and think that what you're about to say or just said hurt someone is worse than intentionally inflicting a hurt.

But Hillary Clinton is incapable of taking responsibility for anything, it seems. We know that if Barack Obama had made the same statement, she would be screaming that he was unfit to be president of the United States and would be rallying her supporters to demand that he drop out of the race.

If she understood what it means to apologize she would have said something like this: "I am very, very sorry for my remark. It was wrong; it was beyond insensitive. Those people who are outraged by my remark are justified in their outrage. Regardless of my intention in making an analogy, my reference to the assassination of Robert Kennedy was wrong and could only evoke painful memories for the Kennedy family and all Americans who lived through that tragedy. My reference to his assassination could only evoke fears in all Americans regarding the safety of Senator Obama, as well as anyone who seeks high office, including Senator McCain and myself. I have no explanation for why I said what I did. I can only ask that people forgive me. I am deeply ashamed. I am going to suspend my campaign and take this holiday weekend to make a decision about the future."

To apologize is to take responsibility for having hurt another, regardless of intention. To apologize is to feel the hurt you've caused another and make that hurt a part of yourself. Apologies on this level are difficult to offer because to apologize is to acknowledge that I was wrong, and no one likes to be in the wrong. But all of us are from time to time.

This is one bruzzle Clinton cannot overcome.

©2008 by Julius Lester


Bruzzle: To make a great ado, or stir.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Hillary's Hypocrisy

This week Hillary Clinton and many of her supporters claimed that misogyny is the reason behind the failure of her candidacy, that people prefer to vote for a black man instead of a woman. Yes, this is true of some people, but, hypocrite that she is, Clinton does not acknowledge that some people prefer to vote for a white woman instead of a black man, like the 20% of voters in Kentucky who told pollsters they could not vote for a black man. More hypocritical yet, Clinton has made overt and covert appeals to the racism of white people. But she dares now to play the woman-as-victim card.

If she were honest she would look at herself and her campaign to see what went wrong. She entered the primaries thinking her nomination was inevitable and would lead to her being crowned the First Woman President, a distinction that seems incredibly important to her. By the time she figured out that Obama's people had out-organized the vaunted Clinton organization, it was almost too late.

Equally as important, Obama did not make the mistake Al Gore made in 2000 by beginning every paragraph with "I have a plan...." He did not make the mistake John Kerry made in 2004 by beginning every other paragraph with "I have a plan...."People do not give a damn about plans. They want someone who will speak to their hearts, and this is what the Republicans have been doing.

As much as I loathe their politics, the Republican Party cares deeply and passionately about their issues. Obama is the first Democrat since John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson who is not afraid to be passionate about being liberal. He is not afraid to speak to people's hearts about the issues that matter to him. Clinton tries but her language is hackneyed and, somehow, I, for one, just don't find her believable. I can't shake the feeling that she says what she thinks people want to hear.

Of course there were people who didn't like a woman running for president just as there were people like seeing a black man run for president. This is America! Did anyone expect that misogynists and racists would stop being misogynists ad racists?

But misogyny isn't the reason your campaign failed, Hillary. The sad truth is that the more many of us listened to you say whatever you thought you needed to say to get votes, the more we listened to you pander to the so-called white working class, the more we disliked you.

Now your hypocrisy has reached heights rivaling Mt. Everest. You are threatening to take your insane ambition to the convention to force a fight over the seating of the Florida and Michigan delegates. We know that if Obama had campaigned in Florida and "won," if Obama had kept his name on the Michigan ballot and "won" while you had removed yours, you would be screaming that to award those delegates to him would be unfair and unjust to you who observed the rules. Awarding him those delegates would be just more "proof" of how much men wanted to keep a woman from being the nominee.

Hillary Clinton is showing herself to be as crass a politician as there is in America today. And I thought feminists were supposed to bring a new sensibility and different values into the political arena.

Ironically, the candidate exemplifying the more so-called feminine values is not a woman. That probably begrumples Hillary most of all.

© 2008 by Julius Lester


Begrumpled: Displeased

Thursday, May 22, 2008

“Yes, of course he was in love with Camille, deep down inside, in the unknown country you carry along inside you like some private but alien submarine world. Yes. And so what? Nothing says that you have to put every one of your thoughts into action.”

Fred Vargas Seeking Whom He May Devour


Babies-in-the-eyes: The miniature reflection of yourself which you see in another's

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Ted Kenedy

The news of Ted Kennedy's brain tumor is devastating news for those of us who live in Massachusetts. I know he is the butt of jokes about his drinking and is probably not taken seriously by many people but I love the man, though I've never laid eyes on him.

I love him because he was the ne'er do-well Kennedy brother. After the WW II death of the oldest brother, Joseph, the family hopes came to reside in Jack Kennedy and Robert. Not much was expected of Ted. Yet, after the murders of JFK and RFK, Ted Kennedy, to everyone's surprise, took up the burden of the family mantle. While the drowning of Mary Jo Kopechne on Chappaquidick Island while in Ted's company ended any chance of him ever becoming president, he became the unstinting, unswerving, uncompromising, and often, only voice of political liberalism in America.

Practically every other Democratic Party politician ran when Republicans turned the word "liberal" into a pejorative. Not Ted Kennedy. He was a liberal and was proud of it, and his compassion for that other America of poverty and joblessness never weakened.

To face his death is like contemplating the death of a close family member. For those of us in Massachusetts, Ted Kennedy has always been there. It is impossible for me to imagine the political landscape without his presence.

Well, I know this much. After he dies, and I pray that won't be before his present term ends in 2012, if his name should happen to appear on the ballot for re-election to the U.S. Senate, even dead, he would win in a landslide. A dead Ted Kennedy would be better than a lot of politicians I could name who think they're alive.


Anywhen - At any time.

This is a great word. We use anyhow, anywhere, anywise, why not anywhen?

I'll take Ted Kennedy anywhen over anybody else.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

“Camille rather liked Suzanne, who took verbal crudity to an incandescent intensity that could only inspire admiration – Camille’s mother had taught her to consider vulgarity as a way of coping with life.”

Fred Varagas, Seeking Whom He May Devour by

Fred Vargas is the pseudonym of Frédérique Audoin-Rouzeau, a French historian and archaeologist who is also the author of some of the most interesting and quirky mysteries I've read in a lifetime of reading mysteries (my favorite genre) since starting with Perry Mason and Sherlock Holmes when I was 14. Unfortunately, only five of her fourteen or so novels have been translated. She is a wonderful writer and I recommend her even to those who don't like mysteries. Her characters are always interesting.


Another wonderful book is The Word Museum: The Most Remarkable English Words Ever Forgotten by Jeffrey Kacirk. I'll be quoting from it a lot in the coming weeks. If you, like me, love obscure and obsolete words, you can't go wrong with this book.

Aforcing - Stretching the amount of a dish to accommodate more people.

Monday, May 19, 2008

“If you have a friend who pays enough attention to you to ask the right question, you’re lucky; if you have a friend who listens to the answer, thinks some more, and asks the second question, then you’re blessed.”

Brian Morton, Breakable You


Aflunters (a-FLUNT-ers): In a state of disorder

One cannot grow spiritually unless one is aflunters.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

“After twenty years of listening to people tell stories about themselves, I sometimes think that life is nothing but plot, if you think of plot as the choices we make. You could say that neurosis is a condition in which we think we don’t have choices. And you could say that the goal of therapy is to help someone see that he’s already making choices, and that he could be making different choices.”

Brian Morton, Breakable You


Cabobble (ca-BOB-ble): To mystify, puzzle, confuse.

I've lived in the United States all my life and this country still
cabobbles me sometimes.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

“It’s probably true that you’re forging your own character during every minute of every day, with every decision you make; but there are some moments in which this is more clear than in others.”

Brian Morton, Breakable You


Pilgarlic (pil-GAR-lik): A hapless, bald-headed man.

John McCain is pilgarlic.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Obama's Vice-Presidential Choice

The biggest mistake Barack Obama could make is to ask Hillary Clinton to be his running mate. Just because she has run second to him does not justify her being on the Democratic Party's presidential ticket. Deliberately or unconsciously, the Clintons would do everything they could to undermine the campaign.

However, there will be some who say that not to ask her to be his vice-president would be disrespectful. This election is not about Hillary and Bill Clinton's egos. Far more is at stake than their wounded feelings.

The only way Obama can avoid asking Clinton and upsetting her supporters is to name another woman as his running mate. Just as Obama has energized young and black voters, Clinton has energized a number of women voters. Clinton's campaign has given many women a sense of having a stake in the system. A woman deserves to be his runninig mate, just not Hillary.

I have two suggestions. The first is Kathleen Sebelius, two-term Governor of Kansas. Any Democrat who can be twice elected governor of a Republican state like Kansas knows something about how to appeal to "red state" voters. She has been married for 33 years, has two sons, and is the daughter of a former governor of Ohio. Given Ohio's status as a "swing" state, her ties to Ohio could be an asset. She is also a Catholic, and though she has been banned from receiving communion for her support of abortion, her Catholicism would be a counterweight to those white people who want to believe Obama is an Arab Muslim.

My other suggestion is House majority leader Nancy Pelosi. She is a woman of Hillary's generation, married with five children, a Catholic from California with its 55 electoral votes. In addition she knows how to play the politics on Capitol Hill, and I'm not sure Obama does.

A real test of Obama's being the representative of a new politics will be his vice-presidential choice. The primaries have demonstrated that a woman deserves to be on the ballot with him. I, for one, will be very disappointed and more than a little disillusioned if he chooses a man.

© 2008 by Julius Lester


Quaestuary (KWES-tyoo-er-ee): Profit-oriented; money-making.

The United States' fatal flaw is its quaestuary political philosophy.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Clinton & Obama

When the Democratic Party primary season began I was a Hillary Clinton supporter. After Obama's victory in the Iowa caucuses, I started paying attention to him. Clinton's victory in the New Hampshire primary found me still supporting her but not as much.

It was the injection of race into the South Carolina primary by Bill Clinton that made me anti-Clinton, and my antipathy to her has only grown since. In the recent West Virginia primary she became the Great White Hope, saying in not so subtle ways that white working class people will not vote for a black man to be president. What Hillary Clinton has failed to mention is that only 35% of the white working class voted for Bill Clinton, that neither Al Gore 2000 or John Kerry in 2004 carried the white working class. The white working class is not going to vote for the Democratic candidate, white or black.

But this is only one of the many examples of the dishonest and pandering campaign Hillary Clinton has run. Equally disappointing is that her ideas are old. She's 60, and she sounds like she hasn't had a new thought in the past 40 years. I say this as someone who is 9 years older than she is, so I know an old idea when I hear it. I listen to her and all I hear is the same ol' tired politics I've been hearing since Richard Nixon was president. If by some miracle she becomes the Democratic Party nominee for president, Americans will have to choose between Old and Older.

Even worse, however, is her pandering to white racism has made us a far more racially divided nation than we were before her march to the White House was stopped by Barak Obama. I cannot ever forgive her for that.


Bedrabble (bed-RAB-ul): To befoul with rain and mud

There have been sunny days when I've felt bedrabbled!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Oxford English Dictionary

"I use dictionaries as a reference to life. I see the dictionary as a kind of poem about everything - it's every story waiting to be told....Through language we make ourselves up. And if it's a reflection of us, it's also the means through which we become ourselves and share ourselves. So I suppose this massive dictionary is a sculpture of us somehow."

Fiona Banner, Another Magazine, Spring/Summer 2008


Pingle (PING-ul) - to nibble or pick at food; eat with little appetite.

How I could have used this word when my children were little. "Stop pingling!"

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

“Listening was her art, as challenging and beautiful and impossible to master as any art worthy of the name.”

Breakable You by Brian Moore


Belamour (bel-a-MOR): A glance of love

Monday, May 12, 2008

A few days ago it occurred to me that if Barack Obama is the Democratic Party presidential nominee, there are some blacks who may campaign for McCain. I know that sounds ridiculous, but hear me out. The blacks in this category are those who have built their lives around seeing all white people as racist. These are the people who, if anything goes wrong in their lives, it's the fault of "racist white people." I sympathize with them because when a white store clerk is rude to me, I don't know if it's because she or he is having a bad day, or if they are being rude because I'm black. If you're white and a clerk is rude to you, you know it's not personal. If you're black, you're never sure. So while I understand blacks who see racism everywhere, I don't care enough about what an underpaid and harassed store clerk might think of me to get upset.

But for those blacks who see racism on the face of every white person, they are going to be in big trouble if Obama becomes president. Think about it. There is no way he can be elected president with getting a majority of the white votes. If the majority of white people vote for him, to any black person who accuses them of being racist they can say, "I'm not racist! I voted for Obama!" And for that matter, whites who didn't vote for Obama can say they did in order to claim non-racist status. The day after Obama is inaugurated, there won't be a racist white person in America! And that will be very confusing because racism will be as alive as it ever was.

However, if on Election Day you notice that John McCann got elected because he received the majority of the black vote, you'll understand. There were simply too many blacks who wouldn't know who they were if there weren't racist whites to hate. With John McCann in the White House, the identities of these blacks will be safe and secure.

Hmmmm. It just occurred to me that white racists will vote for McCann to keep their identities safe and secure.

It's obvious -- McCann wins in a landslide!

© 2008 by Julius Lester


Barr (bar): To utter an elephant's cry.

Which is what black and white racists will do if Obama becomes president.

You may have noticed that the look of the blog is changing. I got bored with the previous look. I want to add a comment feature to the blog so readers can comment
directly, but, for reasons I can't fathom, the comment feature is not appearing, even though I have checked all the right boxes indicates. Equally, the little envelope enabling people to e-mail me directly has disappeared. If anyone has any suggestions as to what I should do, I'm listening.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

"“You have to be honest. You have to try to move through this life with integrity, even when you don’t want to.”

Brian Morton, A Window Across the River


Eumoirous (yoo-MOY-rus): Lucky in being happily innocent and good.

My wife and I have been together 17 years, and I finally found the one word that describes her.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

"Indifference to the sublime wonder of living is the root of sin."

Abraham Joshua Heschel, In Search of God and Man


Emacity (ee-MAS-i-tee) - An itch to buy.

The U.S. economy depends on its citizens being in a constant state of emacity.

Friday, May 9, 2008

"Truth is often gray, and deceit is full of splendor. One must hunger fiercely after Truth to be able to cherish it."

Abraham Joshua Heschel, A Passion for Truth


Viraginity (vir-a-JIN-i-tee) - Masculinity in a woman

And if you think I'm thinking of a certain person who should stop running for the Democratic presidential nomination AND stop wearing ugly pants suits, you're right.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

"We do not see the world as it is but as a projection of ourselves, and so we are prisoners of delusions that hold us in their spell even after we become aware of their deceptiveness. Gradually pretensions are converted into certainties, rationalizations become entangled, and madness sets in."

Abraham Joshua Heschel, A Passion for Truth


Nod-crafty - Nodding so as to appear wise.

Universities are filled with nod-crafty people.

I should know. I nod-crafted my way through a lot of meetings.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

"Ours is an assembly of shock, contrition, and dismay. Who would have believed that we life-loving Americans are capable of bringing death and destruction to so many innocent people? We are startled to discover how unmerciful, how beastly we ourselves can be. So we implore Thee, our Father in Heaven, help us to banish the beast from our hearts, the beast of cruelty, the beast of callousness....In the sight of so many thousands of civilians and soldiers slain, injured, crippled, of bodies emaciated, of forests destroyed by fire, God confronts us with this question: Where art Thou?"

Abraham Joshua Heschel, speaking in 1967 against the war in Vietnam


Arreptitious (ar-rep-TISH-us) - Given to raptures; possessed or mad.

I never knew there was such a pretty word that described me.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

"The cruelties committed by our armed forces...were made possible by an unprecedented campaign of deceiving the American people....The hour may have come to realize that falsehood, deception, is at the root of evil."

Abraham Joshua Heschel, speaking in 1972 about the war in Vietnam.


Footle (FOO-tul) - to talk or behave foolishly.

For eight years we've had a president who has done nothing but footle.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Monday May 5, 2008

"It is not enough for me to be able to say 'I am'; I want to know who I am, and in relation to whom I live. It is not enough for me to ask questions; I want to know how to answer the one question that seems to encompass everything I face: What am I here for?"

Abraham Joshua Heschel, Man is Not Alone: A Philosophy of Religion


Aosmic (ay-OZ-mic) - Odorless.

I miss the days when magazines were aosmic. (And I do!)

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Today's Quote, Today's Word


What is the meaning of my being? My not for theoretical knowledge about myself....What I look for is not how to gain a firm hold on myself and on life, but
primarily how to live a life that would deserve and evoke an eternal Amen.

Abraham Joshua Heschel


Convivencia (Spanish) “‘…living together with others,’” i.e. the quality of a society where citizens get along by practicing tolerance and mutual respect.