The Bravest Girl in the World

I’ve been recently somewhat disheartened by the “news.” Between humans treating other humans terribly, a government that can’t operate, and self-important celebrities, I can barely open up the browser or a newspaper without feeling frustrated. But once in a while, the world gives us a gem…something that makes us believe in the power of humanity.

Malala Yousafzai is an amazing, resilient, and powerful girl who has turned into quite the hero. I hope my kids one day realize how lucky they are to live in a society where education is a right, and not something they have to fight with their lives for. And I hope they have the inner strength to be as full of light, love and forgiveness as this little girl. She has more grace and intellect at 16 that most people will ever display in their lives. Combining her with John Stewart made for such a beautiful and poignant interview. Enjoy!

Cold-Brewed Crack

I love coffee…for so many reasons. Some days, its the sole purpose of getting out of bed. I typically run down to the local coffee shop, Berlin Bistro, for my favorite $5 drink…Hemp Cappuccino with an add shot.  It picks me up pretty nicely, but its more of the mental pick-me-up.

I’m pretty focused on health…so I get a lot of flack from people about coffee and how “bad” it is for you.  Maybe I’m just selectively focusing on the positive, the same way that many Americans want to deny global warming and continue to drive their SUVs, but I have chosen to believe that coffee is good for you. Observe, coffee has shown to:


Lower your risk of dying?!?! I’m totally in!

Well, if I’m going to live so long, I should probably stop spending $5 on coffee drinks.  That $150/month or $1,825 a year should probably be invested in my retirement.

I have found an incredible method of coffee making. Cold brewing. It does not involve any fancy machines (a plus for the space challenges of urban, condo living!) or even any fancy coffee.  I simply went to Trader Joe’s and bought a $7.99 can of their Colombian fair trade coffee beans. I ground them with the TJ’s coffee grinder, thanks to the help of a 20-something year old employee.

When I got home, I scooped 2 3/4 cups of coffee (half a tin) grounds into 9 cups of water and stirred until all the grounds were wet. Then I went to sleep.

When I got up in the morning, I used a mesh strainer and strained out the coffee grinds and what did I have? The most amazingly strong and flavorful ice coffee I have ever consumed. I added a bit of natural maple syrup to the container of iced coffee. I poured it over ice with some flax seed milk and caffeination ensued. Seriously…I was pretty cracked out.

So for $4, my husband and I had a weeks worth of iced coffee and happiness.   Thanks to Thug Kitchen and my BFF Anna for the motivation.  

“We Must Try to Contribute Joy to the World”

The passing of Roger Ebert was a huge loss to many: the movie industry, the city of Chicago, the throngs of his fans online. But it hit me really hard. I have been watching Ebert as long as I can remember. Being from Chicago, my parents started watching “At the Movies” before I was born. That show was on our TV every Sunday night. I loved their opening credits…where the two reviewers from rival newspapers met at the movies. My parents were much bigger fans of the Siskel half of the duo. They thought Ebert’s opinions were suspect, and would often end up arguing or yelling at the TV when him and Siskel would argue. I was always drawn to Ebert….he was a bit more thoughtful and quirky–the perfect contrast to Siskel’s calculated cynicism.

After Siskel passed when I was in high school, the show was on our TV a bit less. But my parents huge list of to-see movies that still exists today (written on the same sprial notebook it was when we were kids) is a testament to their affection for Siskel, but our family’s loyalty to the show. 

But without his counterpart, Ebert has grown in recent years to be much more than a movie critic. He has been an inspiration to all. We all know the story of his heroic battle with cancer. What was inspirational was not only his physical beating of the cancer, but also his determination to communicate with the world, despite his inability to vocalize like he had for so many years.  He put into the world some of the most wonderful thoughts I have ever read, or, in the case of his TED talk, heard. His dedication to his fans, movies, his wife, and his words was apparent in every movie review, essay or general musing he wrote.

After reading the”Leave of Presence” announcement yesterday, where Ebert announced that he would take a hiatus from reviewing movies as his health took a turn for the worse, the news of his  passing today was even more shocking.  I re-read yesterday’s announcement today with a lot of tears…feeling as though this had happened too soon and that the world was cheated out on so much that Roger Ebert had to offer. But upon reading this essay from his book “Life Itself: A Memoir,” I realized that he has already given us all so much. I’m excited to re-explore it. Read this….I promise you, it’s worth it.  


I know it is coming, and I do not fear it, because I believe there is nothing on the other side of death to fear. I hope to be spared as much pain as possible on the approach path. I was perfectly content before I was born, and I think of death as the same state. I am grateful for the gifts of intelligence, love, wonder and laughter. You can’t say it wasn’t interesting. My lifetime’s memories are what I have brought home from the trip. I will require them for eternity no more than that little souvenir of the Eiffel Tower I brought home from Paris.

I don’t expect to die anytime soon. But it could happen this moment, while I am writing. I was talking the other day with Jim Toback, a friend of 35 years, and the conversation turned to our deaths, as it always does. “Ask someone how they feel about death,” he said, “and they’ll tell you everyone’s gonna die. Ask them, In the next 30 seconds? No, no, no, that’s not gonna happen. How about this afternoon? No. What you’re really asking them to admit is, Oh my God, I don’t really exist. I might be gone at any given second.”

Me too, but I hope not. I have plans. Still, illness led me resolutely toward the contemplation of death. That led me to the subject of evolution, that most consoling of all the sciences, and I became engulfed on my blog in unforeseen discussions about God, the afterlife, religion, theory of evolution, intelligent design, reincarnation, the nature of reality, what came before the big bang, what waits after the end, the nature of intelligence, the reality of the self, death, death, death.

Many readers have informed me that it is a tragic and dreary business to go into death without faith. I don’t feel that way. “Faith” is neutral. All depends on what is believed in. I have no desire to live forever. The concept frightens me. I am 69, have had cancer, will die sooner than most of those reading this. That is in the nature of things. In my plans for life after death, I say, again with Whitman:

I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,

If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.

And with Will, the brother in Saul Bellow’s “Herzog,” I say, “Look for me in the weather reports.”

Raised as a Roman Catholic, I internalized the social values of that faith and still hold most of them, even though its theology no longer persuades me. I have no quarrel with what anyone else subscribes to; everyone deals with these things in his own way, and I have no truths to impart. All I require of a religion is that it be tolerant of those who do not agree with it. I know a priest whose eyes twinkle when he says, “You go about God’s work in your way, and I’ll go about it in His.”

What I expect to happen is that my body will fail, my mind will cease to function and that will be that. My genes will not live on, because I have had no children. I am comforted by Richard Dawkins’ theory of memes. Those are mental units: thoughts, ideas, gestures, notions, songs, beliefs, rhymes, ideals, teachings, sayings, phrases, clichés that move from mind to mind as genes move from body to body. After a lifetime of writing, teaching, broadcasting and telling too many jokes, I will leave behind more memes than many. They will all also eventually die, but so it goes.

O’Rourke’s had a photograph of Brendan Behan on the wall, and under it this quotation, which I memorized:

I respect kindness in human beings first of all, and kindness to animals. I don’t respect the law; I have a total irreverence for anything connected with society except that which makes the roads safer, the beer stronger, the food cheaper and the old men and old women warmer in the winter and happier in the summer.

That does a pretty good job of summing it up. “Kindness” covers all of my political beliefs. No need to spell them out. I believe that if, at the end, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn’t always know this and am happy I lived long enough to find it out.

One of these days I will encounter what Henry James called on his deathbed “the distinguished thing.” I will not be conscious of the moment of passing. In this life I have already been declared dead. It wasn’t so bad. After the first ruptured artery, the doctors thought I was finished. My wife, Chaz, said she sensed that I was still alive and was communicating to her that I wasn’t finished yet. She said our hearts were beating in unison, although my heartbeat couldn’t be discovered. She told the doctors I was alive, they did what doctors do, and here I am, alive.

Do I believe her? Absolutely. I believe her literally — not symbolically, figuratively or spiritually. I believe she was actually aware of my call and that she sensed my heartbeat. I believe she did it in the real, physical world I have described, the one that I share with my wristwatch. I see no reason why such communication could not take place. I’m not talking about telepathy, psychic phenomenon or a miracle. The only miracle is that she was there when it happened, as she was for many long days and nights. I’m talking about her standing there and knowing something. Haven’t many of us experienced that? Come on, haven’t you? What goes on happens at a level not accessible to scientists, theologians, mystics, physicists, philosophers or psychiatrists. It’s a human kind of a thing.

Someday I will no longer call out, and there will be no heartbeat. I will be dead. What happens then? From my point of view, nothing. Absolutely nothing. All the same, as I wrote to Monica Eng, whom I have known since she was six, “You’d better cry at my memorial service.” I correspond with a dear friend, the wise and gentle Australian director Paul Cox. Our subject sometimes turns to death. In 2010 he came very close to dying before receiving a liver transplant. In 1988 he made a documentary named “Vincent: The Life and Death of Vincent van Gogh.” Paul wrote me that in his Arles days, van Gogh called himself “a simple worshiper of the external Buddha.” Paul told me that in those days, Vincent wrote:

Looking at the stars always makes me dream, as simply as I dream over the black dots representing towns and villages on a map.

Why, I ask myself, shouldn’t the shining dots of the sky be as accessible as the black dots on the map of France?

Just as we take a train to get to Tarascon or Rouen, we take death to reach a star. We cannot get to a star while we are alive any more than we can take the train when we are dead. So to me it seems possible that cholera, tuberculosis and cancer are the celestial means of locomotion. Just as steamboats, buses and railways are the terrestrial means.

To die quietly of old age would be to go there on foot.

That is a lovely thing to read, and a relief to find I will probably take the celestial locomotive. Or, as his little dog, Milou, says whenever Tintin proposes a journey, “Not by foot, I hope!”


The Ring Tradition


If you’re reading this, you likely already know that Lauren and I didn’t opt for the traditional diamond engagement ring. You may not fully understand why. It might be easy to assume that we wanted a cheaper or easier route, but that is not the case. Let me tell you first hand that it would have been tremendously easier to purchase a diamond ring- in fact the sapphire stone was purchased from a gemstone dealer in New York as a loose stone, and the ring was created around it.

This is not meant to be boastful or about the sapphire- simply to help the explanation of the deterrence from tradition. Few people would be able to provide an explanation about purchasing a diamond ring for their fiancee other than, “that’s what you do”. I am astounded as to (not excluding myself) how often we all do things without asking why.

As far as diamonds are concerned, I think many of us assume this is an age old tradition, probably dating back to the Middle Ages or Middle Earth even (that’s a real setting in history, right?). But in fact, the prevalence of the diamond engagement ring didn’t pick up steam until the 1950s. As a matter of fact, the engagement ‘ring’ didn’t even become common practice until the 18th century.

Regardless of the meaning on the tradition, what we have come to equate with the diamond is nothing more than a cleverly concocted advertising campaign funded by DeBeers. This article is great for a lot of these issues. This one also talks about the idea that many of us are aware of with conflict diamonds, which is a definitely an issue we were concerned about as well. There is also a common misconception with the ‘rarity’ of diamonds- while they are rarer now than they once were (mostly due to restrictions on mining in conflict areas), the supply was once heavily controlled by DeBeers in the effort to maintain their status as ‘rare’ stones, and thus, the demand was preserved.

But the worst of the diamond tradition is notion that onlookers can perform instant math when seeing the ring and attempt to put a dollar figure on the symbol of our love. Somehow, this number has become a litmus test for the strength of our relationship or the measure of my commitment, and it’s probably worse here in Los Angeles than anywhere else but I’m certain this exists to some extent everywhere. The possibility of removing the ability to do this ‘math’ by purchasing a non-traditional stone was very enticing for Lauren and I. Life is about more than profits, and we try to remember that everyday working for Rupert Murdoch and an accounting firm.

But in all seriousness, what started with a questioning of the ring tradition has snowballed into a questioning of the wedding and marriage establishment every step of the way. Lauren has said since the beginning that she wants us to walk down the aisle together, and it’s amazing how something that seems to make so much sense to me is met with so much confusion, though I’m kinda used to that by now. The aisle isn’t the only thing this pertains to- Lauren’s dress isn’t totally white; we are going to have a ‘formal’ dinner the day before the ‘ceremony’ (mostly because everyone will be traveling); we are getting married on a Monday; we won’t involve a pastor or church (though this is much more common today); we won’t say that I’m taking Lauren or that she’s becoming my bride. We are wedding each other, and becoming one. And we’re doing it our way.

While I realize that we aren’t starting a revolution or that we’re not the first or even 1,000th to question some of the pointless traditions of marriage, I encourage you to question any of the traditional practices in your lives.. I’ve found that the more I assume that traditions are well meaning or have a point, or that people in power make decisions for the common good, the more I am confounded by the actual process.

Do right by yourself and those you love, and you will be rewarded in turn.

I Remember

Our lives are (both merely and miraculously) complete collections of moments. How we choose to store these moments compiles our memories. A memory is one’s recollection of a moment.

So then, life, it would seem, is nothing more than one’s own perception of moments.

This is why I think that most everyone is in control of their own happiness- it’s all about how you choose to look at things. Of course, there are many things that affect how we choose to perceive the moments we experience, and it’s the ability to realize the choice of perception that is important.

As simple as I am making this out to be, everyone struggles with this from time to time, myself included. This is particularly unsettling for me, especially since I’m aware of all the things written above.

While sometimes it’s easy to see why we all have it so great, at times it can be more obvious to understand why some can’t recognize that, whether it’s true or not.

At times, it can be easy to lose sight of how great and precious those moments truly are. And if you don’t have someone around you to help put things in perspective, you might fly off the rails.

But if you’re lucky enough to have someone with you that is as wise as they are beautiful, it’s easy to stay on track.

I love you.