Archive for October, 2011

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Monday, October 31st, 2011

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Recent Studies Show

Sunday, October 30th, 2011

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser October 2011)

“As far as income tax payments go, sources vary in their accounts, but a range of studies find that immigrants pay between $90 billion and $140 billion in Federal, State, and local taxes. And let us not forget the Social Security system. Recent studies show that undocumented workers sustain the Social Security system with as much as $7 billion a year. Let me repeat that: $7 billion a year.” Luis Gutierrez

Which seems to contradict…

“The Center for Immigration Studies found that illegal immigrants cost the United States taxpayer about $10 billion a year. A large part of that expense stems from the babies born each year to illegal immigrants.” Nathan Deal

Marcia and I both have web sites and use the interweb for research, marketing, entertainment, and communication with the world outside of Mendocino. Her office and mine are separated by a wall through which we occasionally shout at each other, though we can never be certain what the other person is shouting about until one or the other of us rises from his or her chair and walks around the corner to find out; or we send each other emails. It occurs to me that we could call each other on the phone, since we have separate lines, but we never do. That would feel silly.

We both have taken to scanning news synopses and articles on the interweb and exclaiming about various horrors and wonders and nonsense we discover. These exclamations can be heard through the wall and often elicit shouts of “What?” or may cause the hearer to rise and walk around the corner to find out what the exclaimer is exclaiming about. We are particularly fond of reports of recent studies by so-called scientists that may prove or disprove something that absolutely, trust me, does not need proving or disproving, though this lack of necessity never stops the studiers from carrying out their needless studies because, hey, in these difficult economic times what else have they got to do with their time and your money?

For instance, recent studies reported in Epidemiologic Reviews show that people who have been smoking marijuana are more than twice as likely as other drivers to crash their vehicles; and if a person has been smoking marijuana and drinking alcohol, the risk of crashing climbs higher. Imagine how much higher the risk would climb if that person was also talking on a cell phone and having sex.

“Genetic studies in Iceland have found that many of the women who were the founding stock of Iceland came from England and what is now France. Some were probably captured and carried off in Viking raids only forty generations ago.” Keith Henson

Is that a great study, or what? Those English and not-then-yet French women of only a thousand years ago were probably captured and carried off by Vikings and transported to Iceland, probably on boats, don’t you think? I would guess probably it was male Vikings who did the capturing and carrying because even only a thousand years ago I can’t imagine Viking women carrying off English women and women from what is now France but was then…what? France? And the words probably and some suggest that the English women and the women who, in time, would have been French, may not have been captured and carried off, but rather volunteered to go to Iceland or possibly arrived there accidentally to contribute their female traits to the Icelandic gene pool. And, I suppose, English and soon-to-be French men may have been captured and carried off, too. But that’s pure conjecture on my part.

“Harvard Medical School, the University of South Florida, and the American Psychiatric Association have all conducted studies showing that the earlier one begins gambling, the more likely one is to become an addicted, problem gambler.” Spencer Bachus

The implication of this quotation is that one could be addicted to gambling without the addiction being a problem, or one could be a problem gambler but not necessarily be addicted to gambling. I can see that. Sure.

Actually, and tragically, my uncle was problematically addicted to gambling to such an extreme that he committed suicide at age fifty rather than be murdered by the unscrupulous organization to which he owed over a million dollars. His death was a terrible blow to our family and inspired me to read several studies of compulsive gamblers, from which I learned things that may be true and were probably not talked about in those more recent studies conducted at Harvard and South Florida and by the psychiatrists. I was looking for something to explain my uncle’s death to me, something more meaningful than “the earlier one starts gambling” etc. And I found a description of a particular personality that fit my uncle exactly, and this description helped me to better understand my uncle’s fatal compulsion.

It seems that most seriously addicted gamblers are not so much hoping for the Big Win, though they may think they are, but rather they are constantly striving to put themselves in position for the Big Loss—irrefutable proof of their being big losers and unworthy of love. My uncle, an extremely successful attorney, could win with ease when he gambled with lower level gamblers, but it was in Las Vegas, in back rooms playing against high rolling mobsters, where he put his fortune on the line again and again until he lost everything.

“Studies have indicated there is a strong correlation between the shortages of nurses and morbidity and mortality rates in our hospitals.” Lois Capps

Here’s a recent favorite of mine. “A study of 33,000 Swedish women indicates that those who ate the most chocolate had the lowest chance of stroke. Women (not men) who ate 66 grams of chocolate per week, about a bar and a half, were 20 percent less likely to suffer a stroke than those who consumed eight grams or less a week, reports the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.”

Well, duh! My own studies show that more studies are done about chocolate than any other substance because chocolate is fun and easy to work with, participants in these studies love eating chocolate, and because the participants are so relieved to be eating chocolate without guilt and in the name of science, that they experience vastly increased sex drives and are much less prone to depression, heart attacks, cancer, and worrying about the future.

Interestingly, a recent parallel study indicates that a diet rich in fruit and vegetables may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. However, most of the participants in this parallel study were also eating lots of chocolate, so no one can say with statistical certainty which of the tasty comestibles was most responsible for improving cardiovascular health.

“Studies have consistently shown that financial hardship is the biggest obstacle to heterosexual marriage, yet the Republican leadership has done precious little to help address the financial hardship faced by American families.” Kendrick Meek

A recent Brigham Young University study concludes “less materialistic spouses are more likely to find themselves in happier marriages than those who dwell too much on money and possessions.” The team of researchers explored “the impact that value differences about materialism could have on a marriage. (Value differences about materialism? Somebody get me Wittgenstein on the phone and have him explain what value differences about abstract concepts have to do with anything.) Previous studies were limited to materialism in itself, and not the importance that husbands and wives placed on material things. (Materialism in itself? I smell the English language rotting in the noonday sun.) Data collected from 1,734 couples may indicate that even among spouses who shared the same materialistic values, materialism had a negative association with marital quality. (Can college degrees be taken away from people for good cause? Please say they can.) And marriages in which both spouses reported low materialism were better off on several features of marital quality when compared to couples where one or both spouses reported high materialism.”

Man: What’s wrong, honey?

Woman: I think I’m suffering from low materialism.

Man: Are you sure it’s not high materialism? In itself?

Woman: I’m not sure. In myself.

Man: Here. Have some chocolate.

Not to worry. In conclusion, the Brigham Young researchers admit they “recognize that personality traits do influence the degree of materialism. Thus it may be the personality traits that are most damaging to the relationship and not materialism alone.” Materialism alone is one thing; but materialism in itself is a whole other can of worms.

“It is still not clear from this study how laughter can directly help the heart, but other studies have shown that laughter is beneficial for every system in the body.” Allen Klein

Okay. So. A new study involving 6,000 Swedish women carried out by the Karolinska Institute suggests that coffee may reduce the risk of breast cancer. Women who drank five or more cups of coffee every day (they didn’t say for how many years or what these women used for downers) lowered their risk of breast cancer by 57%. However, these women were also taking part in several ongoing and cross referencing chocolate studies and were, in themselves, much less materialistic than American women, which may or may not make any difference in how the coffee (unless it was the chocolate) impacted the cancer cells.

“If you look at the studies coming out of the Congressional Budget Office, the number one thing that’s going to blow a hole in the deficit as we go forward twenty, thirty years is government spending on healthcare.” Christina Romer

“Vitamin E supplements may be linked to an increase in the risk of prostate cancer among men (as opposed to prostate cancer among women?), U.S. researchers say.”

Reading beyond the headlines, we find that the motivation for studying the impact of Vitamin E on the prostate was to confirm that taking Vitamin E reduced the risk of prostate cancer, since American medical doctors have for several years now been aggressively prescribing Vitamin E as an important and proven health supplement for men. Oops. Don’t you just hate it when those hard cold facts turn out to be soft hot nonsense? However, the researchers did use that word may in their summary of the results, so, you know, whatever.

This just in: “A small new study (as opposed to a big old study) suggests that human intelligence may fluctuate throughout adolescence. (But not in middle and old age?) IQ has long been thought to remain stable over a person’s lifetime. (Not by me.) ‘Approximately one-fifth of our sample had very substantial changes such that they moved from above average to below average or vice versa,’ said Cathy Price, senior study author and professor at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging, University College London, U.K. Prior studies have shown changes in IQ in individuals over time. (But I thought you just said IQ was thought to remain stable…) However, those earlier studies were not able to rule out the possibility of chance.”

Aha! Chance. So what these researchers seem to be saying is that people used to think there was something called chance. But the researchers have now ruled out the possibility of chance, so we can say with great confidence (backed up by all this rigorous scientific research): ‘There is no chance. No way. No how.”

From these and many other studies conducted by semi-literate scientists and shameless academics, we conclude that as our intelligence fluctuates, we (which includes you) should eat lots of chocolate, guzzle coffee, stop being such greedy materialists in ourselves, and not drive when we’re stoned and drunk and talking on cell phones and having sex. And remember, in the words of Robert Sternberg, “So long as you restrict your populations, your testing materials, and the kinds of situations you look at, you can keep finding the same wrong thing again and again.”

Whoopsie Doopsie

Thursday, October 20th, 2011

Drawing by Todd

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser October 2011)

“The one thing we can never get enough of is love. And the one thing we never give enough is love.” Henry Miller

A couple years ago I created a catchy blues tune entitled Whoopsie Doopsie, and after I performed the song to the apparent delight of my wife Marcia, I thought I might make a recording of the tune and see how the world liked it. I wrote a note to myself—Whoopsie Doopsie Project—and put the note in the center of my just-cleaned desk, thereby establishing a new bottom layer for the accumulation of papers and books and drawings and letters and bills that would inevitably grow into a high plateau of dysfunction until, in a fit of frustration, I abstained from eating and drinking for several hours until the mess was properly expelled.

Thus time and again over these many months, I worked my way down to a little yellow square of paper on which was writ Whoopsie Doopsie Project, a trio of words that sent me to the piano to bang out the latest rendition, after which I would say to myself, “Yes, I really should record that and see what the world thinks of it.” Then the tides of time and paper would rush in again and submerge the note, and the project would largely vanish from my consciousness, except on rainy mornings when I was practicing the piano, at which times I might essay a version or two of the pleasing apparition.

Feeling especially sad one such rainy morning, I played a very slow Whoopsie Doopsie, and the sweet little love song became dark and plaintive; and I appreciated the song in my bones rather than with my sense of humor. And that very night we went to a dinner party at which the hostess asked me to play, and Marcia suggested I premiere Whoopsie Doopsie for the public, as it were. So I performed a rather timid version of the tune, the piano unfamiliar to me, and everyone in the audience said I must bring out a recording of the song—everyone being four people.

Here are the lyrics, in their entirety, of Whoopsie Doopsie.

Whoopsie doopsie, doopsie do

Whoopsie daisy, I’m in love with you

Whoopsie doopsie, doopsie do

Tell me how you like it,

Tell me what to do

Wanna make you happy

When we’re making whoopsie do

The last line is a not-so-subtle tribute to Ray Charles. As you can see, we’re not talking about great art here. However, we are talking about the artistic process, which I find fascinating and difficult to write about. The difficulty in writing about creative processes, for me, lies in the non-verbal nature of those processes through which original art and original concepts emerge and evolve and are ultimately captured so others may experience those creations. Since there are no words for that which is wordless, the best one can hope for in describing such wordless processes are faint approximations. And the other large challenge for me in writing about making art is to ignore the nagging feeling that I am describing a process that almost always results in mediocrity or crap, otherwise known as failure.

“There are only two dangers for a writer: success and failure, and you have to be able to survive both.” Edward Albee

On the other hand, many great teachers, Buckminster Fuller among them, espouse the idea that there are no failures in the inventive process, that everything we do is a valuable part of the continuum of experience. Failure, these wise ones suggest, might more usefully be understood as a necessary step along the way to discovery and fruition. Two of my favorite quotes about this idea, referring specifically to musical improvisation and composition, are from Miles Davis and Bill Evans. Miles said, “It’s not the note you play that’s the wrong note, it’s the note you play afterwards that makes it right or wrong.” And Bill said, “There are no wrong notes, only wrong resolutions. I think of all harmony as an expansion and return to the tonic.”

“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” Albert Einstein

My favorite composer of classical music is Felix Mendelssohn. Why? Hard to say, for love is as ineffable as creativity. Maybe his use of complex harmonies resonates especially well with my chakras. Maybe the brilliant confluences of his polyrhythms synch perfectly with my inner groove. I don’t know. In any case, I dig the cat. So a few years ago our very own Symphony of the Redwoods performed Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony, and after hearing Marcia practice the cello parts for several weeks, and then being enthralled by the marvelous local rendition, I got out my Mendelssohn books to read about the Italian Symphony.

In Conrad Wilson’s Notes on Mendelssohn, to my great interest, I found that though the Italian Symphony was an instant and enormous success (the composer conducted the world premiere in London in 1833 at the ripe old age of twenty-three), Mendelssohn was dissatisfied with the composition and immediately after its premiere set about “changing the coloring of the andante, adding fresh touches of poetry to the third movement, and considerably extending the finale.” Yet despite Mendelssohn’s great fame, “his revision remained unperformed for a century and a half, and has only recently been issued in a performing version upon which most conductors are turning deaf ears.” I rushed to get one of the few extant recordings of the revised symphony (not readily available in the United States, but gettable from England) and to my ears the revised version is vastly superior to the original.

“The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it.” Oscar Wilde

With the help of Peter Temple, I have made two solo piano CDs in these last year two years: Ceremonies and 43 short Piano Improvisations. While working on those albums I was forever being seduced by a particularly alluring chord pattern I would improvise on for hours at a time; yet only one diminutive piece born of that pattern was strong enough to include on 43 short Piano Improvisations. However, I continued to be enamored of that pattern and felt that one day I might succeed in recording a few longer takes of what I call Mystery Inventions.

Meanwhile, the Whoopsie Doopsie Project was bubbling away on a back burner; and verily it came to pass (driving to town one day, singing nonsense songs to the clickety-clack of our old truck on a country road) that a new and very different version of Whoopsie Doopsie escaped my lips and catalyzed an epiphany: why not make an album composed of several different interpretations of Whoopsie Doopsie, and throw in a Mystery Invention or two, too?

“One must bear in mind one thing. It isn’t necessary to know what that thing is.” John Ashberry

As of this writing (early October 2011) the Whoopsie Doopsie recording project has been seriously (or at least continuously) underway for a month, and save for a slightly menacing a cappella version of Whoopsie Doopsie that came to me in the absence of a piano, nothing is turning out as I imagined anything would. Indeed, I would say the Whoopsie Doopsie Project is currently in creative free fall, and I am not surprised. The song that inspired this undertaking becomes less and less significant with every new Mystery Invention we capture, and new tunes audition daily as I chop wood and plant garlic and pick apples and make spaghetti sauce. Old tunes, too, long neglected, saunter out of the woods, tap me on the shoulder, and sing, “Hey, what about a revised version of me?”

The floodgates have opened. Mazel tov! So long as I don’t panic and attempt to control the flow too soon or too restrictively, there’s no telling what might come pouring out of that mystery reservoir I am convinced was once a river free of dams.

Protesting 101

Thursday, October 13th, 2011

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser October 2011)

“He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

You will recall the famous line from the movie The Wizard of Oz, “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain,” and how, until the little dog opens the curtain and reveals the fraud, Dorothy and her friends do, indeed, ignore the man behind the curtain and remain riveted on a false idol projected on a large screen obscured by smoke and fire. I remind you of this cinematic moment because it brilliantly captures the current cognitive conundrum confronting contemporary crusading consortiums, most notably the much-heralded occupiers of Wall Street.

I have carefully skimmed numerous articles by people criticizing the protestors for not having a clear and unifying agenda, and skimmed other articles praising the protestors for not having a clear and potentially divisive agenda. These articles reminded me of my involvement in the protests against the invasion of Iraq in 1990, and my involvement in protests against the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq in 2001-2003 following the event known as 9/11, and how almost everyone involved in those protests paid no attention to the men behind the curtains, and insisted on railing against idols obscured by smoke and fire—the George Bushes, Senior and Junior, and their more public allies.

Wall Street, and by that I assume the protestors mean the for-profit financial system of the United States symbolized by the financial district of Manhattan, is not the cause of our current economic crisis, nor will Wall Street provide the cure, just as the Bushes did not cause the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. The cause of our current economic, social, environmental, and political crisis is, in my opinion, our collective infatuation with false notions of reality. One such false notion is that most of the money in America is concentrated on Wall Street and that if only those greedy billionaire bankers and amoral stock traders would give a chunk of their money to our government, then all our problems would be solved. Yet nothing could be further from the truth, since only a few short months ago our government gave those bankers trillions of dollars.

“Let’s form proactive synergy restructuring teams.” Scott Adams

I admit to active cynicism about systems that focus on attacking symptoms rather than dealing with underlying causes. My father, a medical doctor, had heart surgery late in his life and I was his nurse for some weeks after what turned out to be a nearly fatal and wholly ineffective bypass procedure. One of my jobs as his nurse was to make sure he took a mind-boggling array of drugs several times a day, twenty-three different medications, each purveyed by a pill of a different color, shape, and size than the other twenty-two pills.

One morning, five days after his surgery, as my father was surveying the great mass of pills he was about to ingest, a quizzical frown claimed his face. “Hey, wait a minute,” he said, holding up a pale pink pill, “I was only supposed to take (name of drug) for two days following surgery.”

“Good,” I said, eager to eliminate one of the four pink pills in the mix. “Let’s discontinue that one.”

“Only…” My father’s frown deepened as he held up a dark green pill, “I was taking (name of second drug) to counteract the side effects of (name of first drug), along with (name of third drug) because (name of second drug) is extremely dehydrating, so…”

To make a long story short, I called the surgery center, put my father on with a post-operative consultant, and a half hour later my father’s ingestion regimen was reduced from twenty-three to fourteen drugs, and three days later from fourteen to seven, but only because my father was a medical doctor and had some understanding of why he was taking which drugs for what reasons, not because the medical system was designed to take good care of him.

Now…along with thousands of people camping and marching on Wall Street, imagine millions of people all over the country protesting in front of hospitals and medical clinics to demand that American doctors stop behaving as American doctors are trained to behave and start behaving in more humane and comprehensive ways, free of the control of insurance companies and amoral pharmaceutical companies that extort trillions of dollars from people who feel powerless to resist them. Oh, wait. That would mean insurance companies would have to be kicked out of the medical process, and the pharmaceutical companies would no longer be allowed to charge criminally high rates for their drugs. Oh, wait. That would result in a Single Payer healthcare system covering everyone in America, a not-for-profit system paid for by an equitable tax system. Oh, wait. That would mean changing the current system of county, state, and federal taxation. And to do that, we would almost surely have to change from a two-party system to a parliamentary democracy wherein if the Green or Pink or Blue Party gets five percent of the vote, they get five percent of the government. Oh, wait. That would be, like, democracy.

“In some cases non-violence requires more militancy than violence.” Cesar Chavez

I pose the question: what would Martin Luther King Jr. say to the Wall Street protestors if he could speak to them today? I think he would congratulate them for their zeal and courage, and then he would ask, “What are the boycott components of your protest?”

And when he learned that the protestors did not have a boycott strategy, he would say, “So why do you think that these people in positions of power over you will change their behavior if you do not pose a threat to their profits and comfort? Out of the goodness of their hearts? You are naïve.”

“It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it, and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.” Aung San Suu Kyi

On a more personal but entirely related note, I just turned sixty-two, so in lieu of a big paycheck from the corporate-backed cultural mafia, (yes, I know it’s hard to believe, but another year has gone by without my winning a MacArthur Genius Award) I applied for Social Security. And soon, barring total economic collapse, some six hundred dollars will be deposited every month directly into my checking account by the government of these United States. However, in order to receive that vast sum, I promise not to earn more than eleven hundred and eighty dollars a month, else I will be deemed too rich and therefore undeserving of such lavish government support. Let’s see, eleven hundred and eighty times twelve is…fourteen thousand dollars a year. And the official poverty line in America is…

To clarify: I have agreed with the government adjudicators that if I earn barely enough money in a year to pay for grossly inadequate health insurance, I will forego the six hundred a month; which brings me to yesterday.

“Irony is jesting behind hidden gravity.” John Weiss

So I’m standing in line at the Mendocino post office, one of my favorite places in the world, a place threatened by evaporation through governmental retardation and corruption, when the woman ahead of me in line turns to me and says, “I read you in the AVA.”

“Oh,” I say, ever cautious about what that might mean. “Well…good. I hope.”

She nods minimally, which I take as a kind of approval if not a compliment. Then she says, “So are you gonna go join the protestors?”

“Where?” I ask, looking out the window. “Have they made it all the way to Mendocino? Far out.”

“No,” she says, glowering at me. “Wall Street. Los Angeles. San Francisco. They’re having protests everywhere. You could write about it.”

“Oh,” I say, certain now that my interlocutor has no sense of humor, “you know, I would be there already but I suffer from a fear of traveling. Even going to Fort Bragg is extremely stressful for me.”

“I’m sorry,” she says, grimacing sympathetically. “I have a friend who has the same thing. That must be awful for you.”

“Well, fortunately, I don’t really want to go anywhere, but I’ll tell you this, when the protests come to Mendocino, I’ll be there with bags of homemade gluten free cookies for my comrades. And we will occupy Main Street until those people give us what we want.”

“Main Street?” she says, horrified. “Why Main Street? And…which people? And…what do you want?”

“Everything,” I whisper conspiratorially. “For everyone.”

What Lasts?

Friday, October 7th, 2011

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser October 2011)

“You are the music while the music lasts.” T.S. Eliot

Long ago, in a time when records were big round vinyl things activated by spinning them on turntables while running needles through their grooves, when marijuana was highly illegal, and long before the advent of personal computers and cell phones and digital downloads and peak oil and whole sections of grocery stores being dedicated to gluten-free products, when my hair was plentiful and not yet gray, I performed a song of mine at a party where other songs were performed by other people hoping to become famous, or at least solvent, through their music.

Following my performance, a woman in black leather approached me, and by her gait and the slurring of her words, I deduced she was drunk. “Your song,” she shouted, “was good as anything you hear in grocery stores.”

“That was like…a classic?” said a woman in green paisley, her every statement a question. “Like…I already knew it before you played it? Even though I’d never heard it before? Like…Bonnie Raitt should cover it?”

“Your voice is decent,” said a frowning fellow in blue denim who took a long drag on his cigarette between each of his proclamations. “Reminds me of Chet Baker, who I dig, but I hated your song. It grabbed me at first. It did. But then it felt phony. Like it wanted to be deep, but it wasn’t deep. I mean…the way you sang it made it seem deep at first, but then it didn’t even last as long as it lasted.”

“I’ve put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant, and that’s the only way of insuring one’s immortality.” James Joyce

A teenager said to me, “The only reason Shakespeare lasts from generation to generation is because people keep putting on his plays and making you study him at school.”

I was facilitating a discussion among ten ambitious young writers, our subject What Lasts? Along with discussing the topic in general, each of the writers was making a case for a current song or book or movie being widely sung or read or watched four generations hence. Why four generations? Because in my estimation, the great fame of an artist may keep his or her creations whispering in the public ear for one or two or even three generations, but for a work of art to remain vital for a hundred years in a swiftly evolving culture, it must have tremendous intrinsic value.

And I think the teenager and James Joyce were quite right to declare schools and professors prime factors in the longevity of cultural artifacts, Joyce being a good example of a writer whose works would probably vanish in a few decades without the persistent intervention of academics. Shakespeare is a much more complicated matter than Joyce, Shakespeareism being a global academic-theatrical religion, four-hundred-years-old now, dedicated to perpetuating the collected works of a literary deity under whose name were compiled the prototypical plots and characters composing virtually all of Anglo-Celtic-Judeo-Christian drama and fiction.

“Friends are relatives you make for yourself.” Eustache Deschamps

I cannot say with certainty that any current part of what I am will last beyond this particular incarnation, but as I grow older I feel less and less certain about certainty. Science, the one currently holding sway in the so-called Western world, suggests that after my body dies, most of the molecules I am made of will go on being themselves but not with each other, and eventually those molecules will combine with other molecules to form particles and parts of the greater web of life; but there will be no forming of another person or animal or plant with my personality or any part of my memory.

I beg to suggest that current science may be wrong, and that something particular to each of us, our unique spiritual essence, may survive our physical death and become part of the operating system of a new physical body, possibly a person, possibly a honey bee, possibly a pelican. And before our spiritual essences gain purchase, so to speak, in new physical bodies, we hang out for a time in a parallel dimension, or in an invisible part of this dimension, with other spiritual essences, some of whom we have hung out with before, some of whom we have incarnated with before, and some we are meeting for the first time. And as we hang out, or float about, or possibly zoom around with these other essences, we connect with each other in unimaginably compelling ways that incite us to reincarnate together during the same time window. How we accomplish our reincarnating, I don’t know, but in my theory we do accomplish the feat of returning.

This theory presented itself to me as I was pondering why it is, those few amazing times in our lives, when we meet a person on the beach or at a party or in the pickle aisle of the grocery store, never having laid eyes on each other before, and we fall into conversation about ospreys or D.H. Lawrence or who makes the best kosher dills, we are both overwhelmed by a powerful awareness that we have known each other before—because we have!

My theory also explains why, on that first day at your new school, in the middle of fourth grade, when you were so miserable about having to move away from your best friends, and you were scared to death of what might happen in that new place, and you walked into the classroom and not one but two of the kids looked at you and smiled these amazing smiles of recognition, and you felt as if you were being greeted by old friends—because they were old friends!

“Mona Lisa looks as if she has just been sick or is about to be.” Noel Coward

I have only been to Europe once, when I was sixteen. I am now sixty-two, and according to the science currently holding sway in the so-called Western world, all the cells in my body have died and been replaced several times since I was a teenager. Thus, cellularly speaking, some other body went to Europe, not this body holding the pen writing these words. Be that as it may, I remember going to Europe, and I particularly remember skipping excitedly through the galleries of the Louvre en route to see Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.

Well…it is a little painting. Small. Dark. They keep it behind glass, and they don’t let you get too close, and in the glass, obscuring the little dark painting, are reflections of other paintings and lights and walls and the faces of people jostling each other to get glimpses of the dark little painting, the paint of which is cracked and cracking. So, actually, the only good way to see the painting is to look at reproductions, not at the painting itself. Which means, honestly, that the painting is not what has lasted. Copies of the painting have lasted, and copies of copies. Indeed, one could well argue that when we say “the Mona Lisa” we no longer mean that painting, we mean the iconic form and the iconic smirk. Yes, that form, that silhouette, and that smirk are the things that have lasted, while the painting itself is now a misrepresentation of what it has become.

“Every tooth in a man’s head is more valuable than a diamond.” Miguel de Cervantes

I went to have my teeth cleaned a few days ago, after which my excellent dentist, Chris Martin, gave me a thorough exam and informed me I need yet another crown sooner than later, with two or three more crowns looming on my event horizon pending further developments of the degenerative kind. One of the many things I appreciate about Dr. Martin is his candor and wry sense of irony.

“We could,” he said, using Second Person to discuss my options, “replace that filling that shows signs of leakage (a euphemism for murderous assault by voracious decay) and it would hold for a time, though not as long as you’re going to last, or we can do a crown that should take you all the way to the finish line.”

“You mean the crown will last until I die.”

“Yes,” he said, smiling wistfully. “That’s the goal.”