Satori in Brooklyn: Our Shared Spaces

A few days ago a friend told me she was worried about my rage. "You seem upset a lot," she said.

Another friend told me the same thing after seeing my photos of a protest march. This friend says I need to "relax" about Donald Trump, Mike Pence, stolen seats on the US Supreme Court, the global resurgence of white nationalism and fascism, atrocities in Yemen and Gaza, abuse of immigrants and refugees, corrupt hyper-capitalism, environmental ruin. I'm letting it get to me, he says.

I'm glad my friends are concerned about my state of mind. But I'm having a hard time these days figuring out how to respond to people who worry about my level of rage, because I don't think the rage I'm expressing is my rage at all.

This is the world's rage. I hear it loud and clear all around me — here in New York City, and all over America and all over the world. I am a writer, and I am a political activist, and so I write about this rage and go to protests. Maybe some of my friends are confused about what it is that writers and activists do ... because telling either a writer or an activist not to express rage in 2018 is like telling a baseball player not to swing at a fastball. Huh? It's our job. This is what we were put on this earth to do.

When I write about the major problems around the world in 2018, I'm not thinking about my own personal feelings at all. Rather, I'm trying to dwell within a shared space, a place of community. But these shared, social spaces themselves have shriveled and sickened as a result of the political fiascos of the last couple of decades. Confusion, cynicism, paranoia and hopelessness have especially come to define the public mood in the United States, which was still reeling from the shock of the Al Qaeda attacks in 2001 and the disaster of Bush's Iraq War of 2003 when the fiscal crash of 2007/2008 happened, hurtling us eventually towards the racist kakistocracy of Donald Trump. Do we ever stop to mourn the common trust that has been lost within the various societies that enrich and sustain us? I don't think we do. It's hard to mourn and fight at the same time. Instead, we channel this unconscious sense of loss into feelings of anger, dislike, refusal, disgust.

Reflections

I'm in a reflective mood lately. Looking within, through a glass darkly and all that. That's my excuse for the fact that it's March 2018 and this is my first post of the year.

I also have another excuse: I've been working on a really good Litkicks article about opera. If you follow my Instagram (and I wish you would, because I'm really into expressing myself with images lately) you know that I've taken up regular attendance at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City for the past couple of years. This followed a couple of other developments in my life: first, I've managed to transform myself from someone who has to slog to work in an office every day into a work-from-home arrangement, which makes me very happy. I now spend most of my daylight hours coding in a solitary room, which means I get to play whatever music I want in the background while I work. I've discovered that opera is the perfect background music for coding. It's dramatic and dynamic and continuous, which keeps me awake and engaged. But it's also in a language I don't speak, so the words can't interrupt my thinking as they would if I knew what the singers were singing about.

This is why I've been feeding Mozart and Rossini and Bellini and Donizetti and Verdi and Wagner and Puccini and Strauss into my brain at an advanced pace lately. I also happen to be currently crashing in upper Manhattan, with the Met at Lincoln Center just a pleasant walk away. This is why opera has suddenly begun rocking my world. I'm almost ready to publish a really exciting article for this site about the literary, cultural and historical significance of opera. But that article is not ready yet. This Litkicks post is not that Litkicks post, but I have a few other things to share today ...

Dystopia Weekend: America's Ayn Rand Problem

It was only six years ago — but it seems so much longer than that — that I wrote a book called Why Ayn Rand is Wrong (and Why It Matters). This book emerged from a series of blog posts I was composing (under my then-pseudonym Levi Asher) called Philosophy Weekend.

Philosophy Weekend was a wild ride and a big success on Litkicks, generating an incredible number of intelligent comments from highly engaged readers who wished, along with me, to delve deeply into the topic of morality and political ethics. I loved every minute of this, but eventually had to halt this series because work, family and other projects were demanding my attention. I hope Philosophy Weekend is still happily remembered by the hundreds of people who kept up a vigorous debate with me in our comments section — often about hot topics of the day, which we discussed in light of the writings of various progressive social philosophers like Socrates, Aristotle, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Immanuel Kant, Auguste Comte, William James, Dorothy Day, Bertrand Russell, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Carl Jung, Yoko Ono and Abbie Hoffman (all of whom I respect and consider important) ... along with those of several influential materialists or conservative "realists" like Thomas Hobbes, Friedrich von Hayek, Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman (whose asses I tried to kick in these debates).

Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and Chekhov: Russia's Eternal Literary #Resistance

Because I love literature, I bristle when I hear Russia described as my country's enemy.

Certainly Vladimir Putin is our enemy, because he is a tyrant who murders journalists. And certainly Donald Trump is our enemy, not only because he's a racist and a sexual predator and a con-man, but also because Vladimir Putin is clearly his role model, his idea of an effective leader.

But Putin does not own the epic Russian soul or mind, and Russia's historic intellectual achievements have formed bridges of human connection that no crass politician can ever tear down. Even if the entire planet explodes this weekend (as it might, since the ignorant Trump thinks he can solve the Korean problem with nuclear weapons), we will burn in friendship with the land that produced some of the most searingly brilliant writers of all time.

It was 196 years ago that the first of the three greatest of the many Russian greats was born. This is the fire-hot Fyodor Dostoevsky, who somehow found the formula to turn existential expressions of rage about the cruel absurdity of human life into taut, gripping works of fiction. I most recently read for the first time his The Idiot, which brought to me once again the special joys of a Dostoevsky novel: the twisted humor, the irony upon irony upon irony, even the simple gorgeous moments of innocent pleasure that enflame his tortured characters, because these moments tie them to their own tragic lives, and to the faulty, impossible Earth.

Miami Diary, August 2017

I've been communing with a view of the Atlantic ocean all summer.

I don't get to spend as much time out there swimming in it as I'd like, because I'm a workaholic no matter where I live. But the view out my window helps keep me centered. The great ocean sparkles and gently churns as I plug away on endless coding errors, architectural conundrums, bug reports. The gorgeous wide sky beckons to me too, swirls of orange fire in the morning, steady pale blue at noon, dusty maroon and magenta in the late afternoon.

I drifted down to southern Florida this summer for no special reason, except that an empty apartment became available to me, and my remote location job (for a very hip and innovative magazine/digital publishing company based in the Midwest) allows me to work anywhere I want. I'll be back in New York City in September, but I'm enjoying the getaway and the mellow Miami lifestyle. Well, I haven't had any margaritas yet, nor smoked a good cigar ... but I have played a bit of poker, done a lot of swimming and listened to a lot of Reggaeton, and I guess I'm getting a decent tan.

Some of you may remember the memoir of my technology career in the Silicon Alley years that I drafted on this blog several years ago. I got a great response to this work in progress, and I'm still planning (yes, really, I am!) to do a final draft of this memoir and publish it as a book. This autobiography covers my life and work from 1993 to 2003. Since then, I've remained fully in the game as a web developer as well as a literary/political blogger. On the web development side, I guess the technical challenges that vex me and my co-workers have only become more overwhelmingly difficult and paradoxical since 2003.

Ride to Think: The Lonely Journey of Robert M. Pirsig

Robert Maynard Pirsig, author of the great 1974 novel Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, died on April 24, 2017 at the age of 88. This novel was a cornerstone of the late Beat/Hippie literary era, and it continues to touch the hearts of countless readers all over the world.

Though this novel's fetching title makes a big first impression, it's about much more than Buddhist philosophy and combustion engines. As a philosophical novel, it brushes quickly past Eastern philosophy to dive deep into the classics of ancient Greece, and despite all this it's really a novel about parenthood, and about the challenge of staying centered and sane amidst the trials and challenges of everyday American life.

Most of all, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is a personal, autobiographical story about a father worrying about how to raise his son. It's mainly because the novel works so effectively on this raw emotional ground — of course, its clever title and zeitgest-y Summer of Love vibe helps too — that it remains so widely loved by so many readers today.

The Great Lost American Rock Memoir: Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen

The audiobook of Bruce Springsteen's autobiography Born To Run is narrated by Bruce himself. It kicks off with a bizarre, unexpected noise: a slow thundering torrent, familiar but eerily transformed. This is the opening of the great rock anthem "Born To Run" played at half speed: booming drum roll, snaky rockabilly guitar, the surprising ping of a glockenspiel — slowed down to reveal the sonic architecture behind the instrumental chaos.

Well, isn't a revelation like this what a musical autobiography should be all about? And isn't this why I love rock memoirs so much? The uncanny sound that opens Bruce's book prepares us for what we're about to do: slow down musical time, stand still to bask in the ephemeral signposts of subliminal consciousness that bind the listener and the musician together. A great musical autobiography, which is what Bruce's book is, allows us to apprehend the miracle of musical creativity as an act of wonder, a shared journey, a mystery unfolding for reader and author alike.