Tribute… 4/04/2013

I will pass away sooner than most people who read this, but that doesn’t shake my sense of wonder and joy


I do not fear deathRoger Ebert (Credit: Twitter)
Roger Ebert was always a great friend of Salon’s. We’re deeply saddened by reports of his death, and are re-printing this essay, from his book “Life Itself: A Memoir,” which we think fans will take particular comfort in reading now.


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!”



Happy St. Patrick’s Day.  I suppose I should be wearing green – everyone’s Irish today, right?  I’m remembering a St. Patrick’s Day way back when in NYC.  I was coming home from work and it was around 4pm.  I got out of the subway holding a box of cupcakes left over from work.  There were tons of people on the street and half of them drunk already.  I slammed right into one of New York’s finest and he bashed the box I was carrying.  I was none too happy right then.  I was so surprised, too, cause I was pretty sure he’d been drinking along with everybody else.


12/21/2012… now what?

So, the world did not end.  It’s raining, but that’s hardly a cause for concern.  Unless I see Noah heading to the lumber yard, I’m thinking we’re okay.

I never considered that it might end.  I know it will someday, not only for me in this life, then somewhere long down the road, for the planet itself.  But it’s a curious thing to be thinking about this morning.  What if the world had ended last night?  Then what?  And now that it, so far, hasn’t ended, what do we do about continuing?  Perhaps it’s time for a new start as some are saying.  It wasn’t the ending the Mayans were talking about – it’s the beginning.

We could certainly use a new awareness & consciousness in this world.  I think for me, this means looking at the big picture.  Not getting caught up in the day to day mishegos & living life with blinders on, only seeing what’s directly in front of me.  There’s so much more to it.  It’s hard sometimes.  Often.  It’s often hard.  Depression can be like that.  Robbing you of joy.  Stealing your motivation.  Making it seem like this is all there is & it’s pretty shitty, at that.

Deep down – and when I’m feeling okay – I don’t believe that.  The Universe is so much bigger, much more complicated, than we can ever imagine.  And everything matters.  Even the smallest gesture of love.

12/17/2012… what’s wrong with this picture?

It saddens me that so many people can hate so much & spew that racist hatred about POTUS on Twitter.  This morning I read far too many Tweets from TV viewers who were upset with President Obama for interrupting their Sunday football game.  And how dare he want to bring solace to a mourning community & country – when the Patriots are playing!  I just don’t get it.

There was a terrible tragedy in Newtown, CT – a mass shooting – & the lives lost there & the lives affected by this massacre are not even registering on these sports enthusiasts’ minds.  WTF?!

If you’re gonna be mad, be mad about the killings.  Be angry that the laws are too lax or aren’t being enforced, allowing someone with mental problems to obtain guns.  Be angry that assault weapons are for sale to the public!  There is no reason for anyone to need an assault rifle that fires over 100 rounds/minute.  Instead of just talking about gun laws, people, let’s do something.  C’mon Congress… you can do this.


MOTN 11/28/2012

Once again, insomnia rears its nasty head.  I just talked about these sleepless nights with my doctor and she said, Don’t do that.  Think she meant don’t take naps during the day.  And probably, don’t allow your cat to get you up in the middle of the night to be fed.

Only this time, it was me just waking up.  Not the cat.  In fact, I woke her up.

I try to go back to sleep but it doesn’t always work.  So then I get up and write or read or play on the computer.  Tonight I did all three.

Well… cheerio.  WTF?  Who says cheerio at 2am?  I heard it on NCIS tonight and it stuck in my head.  ‘night.

MOTN 11/17/2012

Can’t sleep.  Hungry.  Thinking about the night’s events & how I made people laugh – even when I wasn’t feeling particularly up, myself.  But laughter is good medicine.  Somebody said that once.  Think it was a section in Reader’s Digest from my yout(h).


Morning 11/09/2012

Just got a wrong number phone call & the man said, I’m very, very, very sorry.  And he sounded it, too.  I wanted to hug the guy.  It’s okay, it happens.  But I did appreciate his politeness.

Reminded me of how I always say I’m sorry.  I’m sorry for not knowing what to do.  I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings.  I’m sorry I can’t pay you back right now.  I’m sorry for being me.  Not the highest self-esteem on the block, have I?

But it makes me wonder why I’m always sorry.  It’s got to be some issue from childhood.  Don’t you think?  I’m no psychotherapist but I’ve been to enough to know this sort of thing starts early. 

Yeah, go ahead, Loren.  Blame it on your parents.  They did the best they knew how. 

I know.  I’m sorry.

Don’t let it happen again.


And don’t write posts when you haven’t had much sleep, cause they’re neither insightful or funny.  They really are gonna lock you up someday & throw away the key.

I know.  I’m….


MOTN 10/19/2012

Can’t sleep.  The desk lamp & computer screen hurt my eyes.  All kinds of feelings coming up, but i prefer to focus on the 1 1/2 avocados rotting away in the fridge.  I tried to eat them but they got ripe too fast.  Is that a metaphor for something in my life?  Aging avocados… you are a mystery.  Avocado… why don’t you come to your senses?  And let somebody eat you before it’s too late.