Monday, September 28, 2009


One of the features of my insomnia is that I sometimes wake up with a word on my lips like a fragment of a dream, and it keeps repeating itself like a song for the hour or two it takes for me to fall asleep again. And sometimes the word will divide like a cell, and two words will then repeat themselves, then three words, and you get the picture—a symphony of mental distractions that can keep me awake far longer than the brief surfacing into semi-consciousness that healthy sleepers experience. Last night, the initial word was facacta, which spawned altecocker, which led to meshugganah. Perhaps it was my unconscious offering an orchestral salute in Yiddish to my Jewish roots in recognition of Yom Kippur.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Know-It-All

I just finished a very silly book called The Know-It-All, about a guy who reads the Encyclopedia Britannica in order to become the smartest person in the world. It was a bit of a slog, but there were a couple of passages (out of nearly 400 pages) that struck me.

A fable recounted to the author by a family friend: "This [Middle Eastern] potentate called a meeting of the wise men in his kingdom, and he said, 'I want you to gather all the world's knowledge together in one place so that my sons can read it and learn.' The wise men went off, and after a year, they came back with twenty-five volumes of knowledge. The potentate looked at it and he said, 'No. It's too long. Make it shorter.' So the wise men went off for another year and they came back with one single volume. The potentate looked at it and said, 'No. Still too long.' So the wise men went off for another year. When they came back, they gave the potentate a single piece of paper with one sentence on it. A single sentence. You know what the sentence was? The sentence was: 'This too shall pass.'"

An excerpt from the encyclopedia entry on Tolstoy referring to Anna Karenina's brother Stiva: "Stiva, though never wishing ill, wastes resources, neglects his family and regards pleasure as the purpose of life. The figure of Stiva is perhaps designed to suggest that evil, no less than good, derives from the small moral choices human beings make moment by moment."

Friday, September 4, 2009

Fourth anniversary

It is my daughter C's birthday—she's 19—and a kind of birthday for me too. Four years ago on this day, I found the tumor that turned me into a prematurely aged gray-haired androgene and sent me on a path into a dark forest filled with spooks and shades. I'm in a clearing now, enjoying the light of health, dancing with NED (no evidence of disease), as they say. But I know that the next visit to the doctor, the next blood test, the next MRI could send me back into the woods.

My daughter's celebrating her birthday with her friends. My birthday is a quieter affair.