December 31, 2009

"Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end."
Semisonic, "Closing Time"

December 30, 2009

"Turn your wounds into wisdom."
Oprah Winfrey

December 29, 2009

"Coincidence is God's way of remaining anonymous."
Albert Einstein

December 28, 2009

"I have learned, that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours."
Henry David Thoreau

December 27, 2009

Some days we forget to look around us
Some days we can't see the joy that surrounds us
So caught up inside ourselves
We take when we should give

So for tonight we pray for
What we know can be
And on this day we hope for
What we still can't see

It's up to us to be the change
And even though we all can still do more
There's so much to be thankful for
Josh Groban, "Thankful"

December 26, 2009

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."
Mark Twain

December 25, 2009

"Happiness is where we find it, but rarely where we seek it."
J. Petit Senn

December 24, 2009

"Life is ten percent what happens to you and ninety percent how you react to it."
Charles R. Swindoll

December 23, 2009

"Tough times never last, but tough people do."
Dr. Robert Schuller

December 22, 2009

"There is no greater loan than a sympathetic ear."
Frank Tyger

December 21, 2009

"I would believe only in a God that knows how to dance."
Friedrich Nietzsche

December 19, 2009

"If we all did the things we are capable of, we would astound ourselves."
Thomas Edison

December 16, 2009

"There are two things to aim at in life: first, to get what you want; and after that, to enjoy it. Only the wisest of mankind achieve the second."
Logan Pearsall Smith, "Afterthoughts"

December 15, 2009

"The most pitiful among men is he who turns his dreams into silver and gold."
Kahlil Gibran

December 14, 2009

"Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with deeper meaning."
Maya Angelou

December 12, 2009

"Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion's starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don't see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often, it's not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it's always there - fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge - they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I've got a sneaking suspicion love actually is all around."
"Love Actually"

December 11, 2009

"Great ambition and conquest without contribution is without significance. What will your contribution be? How will history remember you?"
William Hundert, "The Emperor's Club"

December 10, 2009

"Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans."
John Lennon

December 9, 2009

"A couple of hundred years ago, Benjamin Franklin shared with the world the secret of his success. "Never leave that till tomorrow," he said, "which you can do today." This is the man who discovered electricity. You think more people would listen to what he had to say. I don't know why we put things off, but if I had to guess, I'd have to say it has a lot to do with fear. Fear of failure, fear of rejection; sometimes the fear is just of making a decision, because what if you're wrong? What if you're making a mistake you can't undo? The early bird catches the worm. A stitch in time saves nine. He who hesitates is lost. We can't pretend we hadn't been told. We've all heard the proverbs, heard the philosophers, heard our grandparents warning us about wasted time, heard the damn poets urging us to seize the day. Still, sometimes we have to see for ourselves. We have to make our own mistakes. We have to learn our own lessons. We have to sweep today's possibility under tomorrow's rug until we can't anymore. Until we finally understand for ourselves what Benjamin Franklin really meant—that knowing is better than wondering, that waking is better than sleeping, and even the biggest failure, even the worst, beat the hell out of never trying."
Meredith Grey, "Grey’s Anatomy"

December 7, 2009

"I want more life. I can't help myself. I do. I've lived through such terrible times and there are people who live through much worse. But you see them living anyway. When they're more spirit than body, more sores than skin, when they're burned and in agony, when flies lay eggs in the corners of the eyes of their children - they live. Death usually has to take life away. I don't know if that's just the animal. I don't know if it's not braver to die, but I recognize the habit; the addiction to being alive. So we live past hope. If I can find hope anywhere, that's it, that's the best I can do. It's so much not enough. It's so inadequate. But still bless me anyway. I want more life."
Tony Kushner, "Angels in America"

December 5, 2009

"Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future."
Oscar Wilde

December 4, 2009

"I had always heard your entire life flashes in front of your eyes the second before you die. First of all, that one second isn't a second at all, it stretches on forever, like an ocean of time. For me, it was lying on my back at Boy Scout camp, watching falling stars. And yellow leaves, from the maple trees that lined my street. Or my grandmother's hands, and the way her skin seemed like paper. And the first time I saw my cousin Tony's brand new Firebird. And Janie. And Janie. And Carolyn. I guess I could be pretty pissed off about what happened to me. But it's hard to stay mad, when there's so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I'm seeing it all at once, and it's too much. My heart fills up like a balloon that's about to burst. And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain and I can't feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life. You have no idea what I'm talking about, I'm sure. But don't worry, you will someday."
Lester Burnham, "American Beauty"

December 3, 2009

"The aim of life is to live, and to live means to be aware, joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware."
Henry Miller

December 2, 2009

"I like living. I have sometimes been wildly, despairingly, acutely miserable, racked with sorrow, but through it all I still know quite certainly that just to be alive is a grand thing."
Agatha Christie

November 30, 2009

I need to write this.

I've been traveling alone in Japan for the better part of three weeks now, and it's been so remarkable an experience for me that I can't book a ticket home yet. I haven't spoken very much out loud these days, but I've been thinking to myself in what feels like surround sound. I can see so many things clearly, and feel so connected to myself and the world around me that I need to share the perspective with you.

I'm already aware that when I sing, say or write anything, fifty percent of the response will be in support of it and the other fifty will want to discount it. This blog, though, is directed to one hundred percent of people reading it. If my blog truly does have any cultural effect, then it should be used for more than just pictures of sneakers and funny YouTube videos. (If you don't think my blog has any effect, than you can't by definition be reading this right now and therefore don't have to respond to it in any way. Isn't that tidy?)

What I'm about to write isn't about fame or success or celebrity or the media. That's my business.

This is about us all.

This is about a level of self consciousness so high in my generation, that it's actually toxic.

This is about the girl in her bedroom who poses in front of the camera she's awkwardly holding in her outstretched hand. She'll take a hundred photos until coming up with one she's happy with, which inevitably looks nothing like her, and after she's done poring over images of herself, will post one on her MySpace page and then write something like, "I don't give a fuck what you think about me."

This is about the person trying out for American Idol, who while going off about how confident they are that they were born ready to sing in front of the world, are trembling so badly they can hardly breathe.

This is about me, the guy who walks through a throng of photographers into a restaurant like he's Paul Newman, but who leaves a "reject" pile of clothes in his closet so high that his cleaning lady can't figure out how one man can step into so many pairs of pants in a week.

This is about a young guy who maintains a celebrity blog that subsists on tearing other people down but who has wrestled with a lifelong battle for acceptance as a gay man.

This is about us all. Every one of us. Who all seem to know deep down that it's incredibly hard to be alive and interact with the world around us but will try and cover it up at any cost. For as badass and unaffected as we try to come off, we're all just one sentence away from being brought to the edge of tears, if only it was worded right. And I don't want to act immune to that anymore. I took the biggest detour from myself over the past year, since I decided that I wasn't going to care about what people thought about me. I got to the point where I had so much padding on that, sure, I couldn't feel the negativity, but that's because I couldn't feel much of anything. And I think I'm done with that.

I'm not the first person to admit we're all self conscious, Kanye was. But what I want to do is to shed a little light on why we're all in the same boat, no matter the shape of the life we lead: because every one of us were told since birth that we were special. We were spoken to by name through a television. We were promised we could be anything that we wanted to be, if only we believed it and then, faster than we saw coming, we were set loose into the world to shake hands with the millions of other people who were told the exact same thing.

And really? Really? It turns out we're just not all that special, when you break it down. Beautifully unspectacular, actually. And that truth is going to catch up with us whether we want to run from it or not. The paparazzo following me to the gym ain't gonna be Herb Ritts and the guy he's following ain't gonna be Bob Dylan. It's just a matter of how old you are once you embrace that fact. And for me, thirty sounds about right.

What now, then? I can only really say for myself: enjoy who I am, the talents and the liabilities. Stop acting careless. In fact, care more. Be vulnerable but stay away from where it hurts. Read. See more shows. Of any kind. Rock shows, art shows, boat shows. Create more art. Wear hoodies to dinner. Carry a notebook and hand it to people when they passionately recommend something and ask them to write it down for me.

Root for others.

Give more and expect the same in return, but over time.

Act nervous when I'm nervous, puzzled when I don't know what the hell to do, and smile when it all goes my way. And never in any other order than that.

And when it's all over, whether at the end of this fabulous career or of this life, which I hope takes place at the same time, I should look back and say that I had it good and I made the most of it while I was able. And so should you.

I'm going quiet now.
John Mayer

November 26, 2009

"If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, "thank you," that would suffice."
Meister Eckhart

November 25, 2009

"Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes."
Walt Whitman, "Song of Myself"

November 24, 2009

"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to confront only the essential facts of life and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."
Henry David Thoreau

November 23, 2009

"Begin each day as if it were on purpose."
Mary Anne Radmacher

November 22, 2009

"You need only claim the events of your life to make yourself yours. When you truly possess all you have been and done, which may take some time, you are fierce with reality."
Florida Scott-Maxwell

November 21, 2009

"Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive."
Howard Thurman

November 19, 2009

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Robert Frost, "The Road Not Taken"

November 18, 2009

"Whatever limits us we call fate."
Ralph Waldo Emerson

November 17, 2009

"May the wind always be at your back and the sun upon your face.
And may the wings of destiny carry you aloft to dance with the stars."
George Jung, "Blow"

November 16, 2009

Will Phillips isn't like other boys his age.

For one thing, he's smart. Scary smart. A student in the West Fork School District in Washington County, he skipped a grade this year, going directly from the third to the fifth. When his family goes for a drive, discussions are much more apt to be about Teddy Roosevelt and terraforming Mars than they are about Spongebob Squarepants and what's playing on Radio Disney.

It was during one of those drives that the discussion turned to the pledge of allegiance and what it means. Laura Phillips is Will's mother. "Yes, my son is 10," she said. "But he's probably more aware of the meaning of the pledge than a lot of adults. He's not just doing it rote recitation. We raised him to be aware of what's right, what's wrong, and what's fair."

Will's family has a number of gay friends. In recent years, Laura Phillips said, they've been trying to be a straight ally to the gay community, going to the pride parades and standing up for the rights of their gay and lesbian neighbors. They've been especially dismayed by the effort to take away the rights of homosexuals – the right to marry, and the right to adopt. Given that, Will immediately saw a problem with the pledge of allegiance.

"I've always tried to analyze things because I want to be lawyer," Will said. "I really don't feel that there's currently liberty and justice for all."

After asking his parents whether it was against the law not to stand for the pledge, Will decided to do something. On Monday, Oct. 5, when the other kids in his class stood up to recite the pledge of allegiance, he remained sitting down. The class had a substitute teacher that week, a retired educator from the district, who knew Will's mother and grandmother. Though the substitute tried to make him stand up, he respectfully refused. He did it again the next day, and the next day. Each day, the substitute got a little more cross with him. On Thursday, it finally came to a head. The teacher, Will said, told him that she knew his mother and grandmother, and they would want him to stand and say the pledge.

"She got a lot more angry and raised her voice and brought my mom and my grandma up," Will said. "I was fuming and was too furious to really pay attention to what she was saying. After a few minutes, I said, 'With all due respect, ma'am, you can go jump off a bridge.'"

Will was sent to the office, where he was given an assignment to look up information about the flag and what it represents. Meanwhile, the principal called his mother.

"She said we have to talk about Will, because he told a sub to jump off a bridge," Laura Phillips said. "My first response was: Why? He's not just going to say this because he doesn't want to do his math work."

Eventually, Phillips said, the principal told her that the altercation was over Will's refusal to stand for the pledge of allegiance, and admitted that it was Will's right not to stand. Given that, Laura Phillips asked the principal when they could expect an apology from the teacher. "She said, 'Well I don't think that's necessary at this point,'" Phillips said.

After Phillips put a post on the instant-blogging site twitter.com about the incident, several of her friends got angry and alerted the news media. Meanwhile, Will Phillips still refuses to stand during the pledge of allegiance. Though many of his friends at school have told him they support his decision, those who don't have been unkind, and louder.

"They [the kids who don't support him] are much more crazy, and out of control and vocal about it than supporters are."

Given that his protest is over the rights of gays and lesbians, the taunts have taken a predictable bent. "In the lunchroom and in the hallway, they've been making comments and doing pranks, and calling me gay," he said. "It's always the same people, walking up and calling me a gaywad."

Even so, Will said that he can't foresee anything in the near future that will make him stand for the pledge. To help him deal with the peer pressure, his parents have printed off posts in his support on blogs and websites. "We've told him that people here might not support you, but we've shown him there are people all over that support you," Phillips said. "It's really frustrating to him that people are being so immature."

At the end of our interview, I ask young Will a question that might be a civics test nightmare for your average 10-year-old. Will's answer, though, is good enough — simple enough, true enough — to give me a little rush of goose pimples. What does being an American mean?

"Freedom of speech," Will says, without even stopping to think. "The freedom to disagree. That's what I think pretty much being an American represents."

Somewhere, Thomas Jefferson smiles.
David Koon, "A boy and his flag: Why Will won't pledge"

November 15, 2009

Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.

As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.

If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter,
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals,
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.

Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life,
keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.

Be cheerful.

Strive to be happy.
Max Ehrmann, “Desiderata”

November 13, 2009

"From our orbital vantage point, we observe an earth without borders, full of peace, beauty and magnificence, and we pray that humanity as a whole can imagine a borderless world as we see it, and strive to live as one in peace."
William C. McCool, Astronaut

November 12, 2009

You think you own whatever land you land on,
the Earth is just a dead thing you can claim.
But I know every rock and tree and creature,
has a life, has a spirit, has a name.

You think the only people who are people,
are the people who look and think like you.
But if you walk the footsteps of a stranger,
you'll learn things you never knew you never knew.
Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz, "Colors of the Wind"

November 11, 2009

"I won't regret 'cause you can grow flowers from where dirt used to be."
Kate Nash, "Merry Happy"

November 10, 2009

"I will listen to you, especially when we disagree."
Barack Obama

November 8, 2009

I'm laying in my London hotel room in one of my least favorite scenarios: the job is done today but the plane takes off tomorrow. The European tour was an absolute blast and I think I speak for the band and crew when I say that all sights are set firmly on the US tour and making it the best ever.

As a 30-year old with an eight-year mainstream professional music career, I couldn't be happier (and more thankful) to still have a gig. All I can think about when I'm on stage these days is how terrible it would feel to have learned how to make the most out of each and every show after the gig was up.

It's a funny time to be alive right now, in that I'm not quite sure we're celebrating like we should. I don't mean the "Hand me your keys, Dan!" celebrating. I mean the very innate act of celebration; human appreciation. Group reveling. A general sense of "This is my tribe and this is our fellowship." Like a concert.

I know I've written along these lines before, but do you know why it matters? Because someday you're going to be old, and things are going to change. Your body is going to turn on you. I already know where the L-5 and L-6 discs in my back are, because they're wearing down a little, and when I ask the doc how we lick this, he says "It is what it is. You're not 18 anymore." I have 3 gray hairs that I insist are "mutant clear hairs" but they're not. They're just gray. And right on time.

Chances are you won't get hit by that proverbial bus people always talk about when they're smoking a Lucky Strike and tipping back on their chair. Odds are also on your side (thank God) that you won't ever get the news from your doctor that you have only months left to live. But you know what he may very well tell you? That you need a new hip. Nobody ever says "live it up because someday you might need a new hip" but it's the truth. They don't say "Be good to one another because in time we'll all know a medical lab technician on a first name basis" but it happens every day.

My point is that whenever that someday comes, when I slide into the MRI scanner and the thing starts spinning up, spitting lasers and screaming into my ears, I may very well say to myself "I wish I had just one more of those summers."

Being a young man is kick-ass. Being a young man who knows that being a young man is kick-ass is what it's really all about. And as a musician, I'm finally learning to distinguish the notes that matter from the ones that don't. I'm also getting better at knowing those notes as a person, too. I'm excited to bring it all on stage, and even more excited to see you all out there.

Thank you for another one of those summers.
John Mayer

November 7, 2009

"True religion is real living; living with all one's soul, with all one's goodness and righteousness."
Albert Einstein

November 6, 2009

"To dream anything that you want to dream. That's the beauty of the human mind. To do anything that you want to do. That is the strength of the human will. To trust yourself to test your limits. That is the courage to succeed."
Bernard Edmonds

November 5, 2009

"It is important that you learn early in life that failure is not the end. Indeed, if you have not yet failed, you probably have not yet risked enough."
John Sexton
Fordham University Commencement, May 2005

November 4, 2009

"We live in an era when the great world has grown small. What happens in distant places is known, and more importantly, experienced almost everywhere, by almost everybody, immediately and unavoidably. The central challenge of your collective lives will be developing ways to manage in this miniaturized world of immediacy a vast richness of race, of faith, of culture, of thought. If you are to avoid the kind of destructive balkanization that can threaten to shred the fabric of civility on a global scale, you will be forced to create pathways of comprehension and communication across traditional divisions."
John Sexton
New York University Commencement, May 2006

November 3, 2009

"We all live with the objective of being happy; our lives are all different and yet the same."
Anne Frank

November 2, 2009

"If you would be loved, love and be lovable."
Benjamin Franklin

October 30, 2009

"The tragedy of life is not that it ends so soon, but that we wait so long to begin it."
W.M. Lewis

October 28, 2009

"When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. That is my religion."
Abraham Lincoln

September 16, 2009

"You don't have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.”
C.S. Lewis

September 10, 2009

"Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer."
Rainer Maria Rilke

September 9, 2009

"Sometimes I get lonesome for a storm. A full-blown storm where everything changes. The sky goes through four days in an hour, the trees wail, little animals skitter in the mud and everything gets dark and goes completely wild. But it’s really God—playing music in his favorite cathedral in heaven—shattering stained glass—playing a gigantic organ—thundering on the keys—perfect harmony—perfect joy.”
Joan Baez

September 8, 2009

"Tomorrow is the most important thing in life. Comes into us at midnight very clean. It's perfect when it arrives and it puts itself in our hands. It hopes we've learned something from yesterday."
John Wayne

August 13, 2009

"The best thing, though, in that museum was that everything always stayed right where it was. Nobody'd move. You could go there a hundred thousand times, and that Eskimo would still be just finished catching those two fish, the birds would still be on their way south, the deers would still be drinking out of that water hole, with their pretty antlers and their pretty, skinny legs, and that squaw with the naked bosom would still be weaving that same blanket. Nobody'd be different. The only thing that would be different would be you. Not that you'd be so much older or anything. It wouldn't be that, exactly. You'd just be different, that's all. You'd have an overcoat on this time. Or the kid that was your partner in line the last time had got scarlet fever and you'd have a new partner. Or you'd have a substitute taking the class, instead of Miss Aigletinger. Or you'd heard your mother and father having a terrific fight in the bathroom. Or you'd just passed by one of those puddles in the street with gasoline rainbows in them. I mean you'd be different in some way -- I can't explain what I mean. And even if I could, I'm not sure I'd feel like it."
Holden Caulfield, "The Catcher in the Rye"

August 8, 2009

"I expect to pass through this world but once; any good thing therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now; let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again."expect to pass through this world but once; any good thing therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now; let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again."
Ettiene De Grellet

August 5, 2009

"Inside every adult lurks a graduation speaker dying to get out, some world-weary pundit eager to pontificate on life to young people who’d rather be Rollerblading. Most of us, alas, will never be invited to sow our words of wisdom among an audience of caps and gowns, but there’s no reason we can’t entertain ourselves by composing a Guide to Life for Graduates.

I encourage anyone over 26 to try this and thank you for indulging my attempt.

Ladies and gentlemen of the class of ‘97:

Wear sunscreen.

If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience. I will dispense this advice now.

Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Oh, never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they’ve faded. But trust me, in 20 years, you’ll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can’t grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked. You are not as fat as you imagine.

Don’t worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4 p.m. on some idle Tuesday.

Do one thing every day that scares you.

Sing.

Don’t be reckless with other people’s hearts. Don’t put up with people who are reckless with yours.

Floss.

Don’t waste your time on jealousy. Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind. The race is long and, in the end, it’s only with yourself.

Remember compliments you receive. Forget the insults. If you succeed in doing this, tell me how.

Keep your old love letters. Throw away your old bank statements.

Stretch.

Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t.

Get plenty of calcium. Be kind to your knees. You’ll miss them when they’re gone.

Maybe you’ll marry, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll have children, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll divorce at 40, maybe you’ll dance the funky chicken on your 75th wedding anniversary. Whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either. Your choices are half chance. So are everybody else’s.

Enjoy your body. Use it every way you can. Don’t be afraid of it or of what other people think of it. It’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own.

Dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but your living room. Read the directions, even if you don’t follow them.

Do not read beauty magazines. They will only make you feel ugly.

Get to know your parents. You never know when they’ll be gone for good. Be nice to your siblings. They’re your best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future.

Understand that friends come and go, but with a precious few you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle, because the older you get, the more you need the people who knew you when you were young.

Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard. Live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft.

Travel.

Accept certain inalienable truths: Prices will rise. Politicians will philander. You, too, will get old. And when you do, you’ll fantasize that when you were young, prices were reasonable, politicians were noble and children respected their elders.

Respect your elders.

Don’t expect anyone else to support you. Maybe you have a trust fund. Maybe you’ll have a wealthy spouse. But you never know when either one might run out.

Don’t mess too much with your hair or by the time you’re 40 it will look 85.

Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.

But trust me on the sunscreen."
Mary Schmich, "Advice, like youth, probably just wasted on the young"

August 4, 2009

"The world only spins forward."
Tony Kushner

August 3, 2009

"Some see things as they are and ask why. Others dream things that never were and ask why not."see things as they are and ask why. Others dream things that never were and ask why not."
George Bernard Shaw

August 2, 2009

"Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in.  Aim at earth and you get neither."
C.S. Lewis

August 1, 2009

"Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings. And once you have achieved a state of happiness, you must never become lax about maintaining it. You must make a mighty effort to keep swimming upward into that happiness forever, to stay afloat on top of it."
Elizabeth Gilbert, "Eat, Pray, Love"

July 31, 2009

"When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace."
Jimi Hendrix

July 30, 2009

"See you in the funny papers."
Floyd Beckman

July 28, 2009

"Dream as if you'll live forever, live as if you'll die today."
James Dean

July 27, 2009

"Those who wish to sing always find a song."
Swedish Proverb

July 25, 2009

"Words! Mere words! How terrible they were! How clear, how vivid, and cruel! One could not escape from them! They seemed to be able to give a plastic form to formless things, and to have a music of their own as sweet as that of viol or of lute. Mere words! Was there anything so real as words?"
Oscar Wilde, "The Picture of Dorian Gray"

July 24, 2009

"What a strange machine man is! You fill him with bread, wine, fish, and radishes, and out come sighs, laughter, and dreams."
Nikos Kazantzakis

July 22, 2009

"As I've gotten older, I realize I'm certain of only two things. Days that begin with rowing on a lake are better than days that do not. Second, a man's character is his fate."
William Hundert, "The Emperor’s Club"

July 20, 2009

"We were together, I forget the rest."
Walt Whitman

July 19, 2009

"You never know, lightning could strike."
William Parrish, "Meet Joe Black"

July 18, 2009

"Having dreams is what makes life tolerable."
Daniel "Rudy" Ruettiger, "Rudy"

July 17, 2009

"The scoreboard said I lost today, but what it doesn’t say is what it is I have found. And over the last 21 years, I have found loyalty. You have pulled for me on the court and also in life. I’ve found inspiration. You have willed me to succeed sometimes even in my lowest moments. And I’ve found generosity. You have given me your shoulders to stand on to reach for my dreams, dreams I could have never reached without you. Over the last 21 years, I have found you and I will take you and the memory of you with me for the rest of my life. Thank you."
Andre Agassi

July 15, 2009

"Well done is better than well said."
Benjamin Franklin

July 14, 2009

We are the music-makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
And sitting by desolate streams;
World-losers and world-forsakers,
On whom the pale moon gleams:
Yet we are the movers and shakers
Of the world forever, it seems.

With wonderful dealthless ditties
We build up the world’s great cities,
And out of a fabulous story
We fashion an empire’s glory:
One man with a dream, at pleasure,
Shall go forth and conquer a crown;
And three with a new song’s measure
Can trample an empire down.

We, in the ages lying
In the buried past of the earth,
Built Nineveh with out sighing,
And Babel itself with our mirth;
And o’erthrew them with prophesying
To the old of the new world’s worth;
For each age is a dream that is dying,
Or one that is coming to birth.
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
And sitting by desolate streams;
World-losers and world-forsakers,
On whom the pale moon gleams:
Yet we are the movers and shakers
Of the world forever, it seems.

With wonderful dealthless ditties
We build up the world’s great cities,
And out of a fabulous story
We fashion an empire’s glory:
One man with a dream, at pleasure,
Shall go forth and conquer a crown;
And three with a new song’s measure
Can trample an empire down.

We, in the ages lying
In the buried past of the earth,
Built Nineveh with out sighing,
And Babel itself with our mirth;
And o’erthrew them with prophesying
To the old of the new world’s worth;
For each age is a dream that is dying,
Or one that is coming to birth.

Arthur O’Shaughnessy, "Ode"

July 13, 2009

"The thing is to become a master and in your old age to acquire the courage to do what children did when they knew nothing."
Henry Miller

July 11, 2009

"The most important thing in life is your family. There are days you love them, and others you don't. But in the end, they're the people you always come home to. Sometimes it's the family you're born into and sometimes it's the one you make for yourself."
Carrie Bradshaw, "Sex and the City"

July 9, 2009

"Stuff yourself full of poems, essays, plays, stories, novels, films, comic strips, magazines, music, you automatically explode every morning like Old Faithful. I have never had a dry spell in my life, mainly because I feed myself well, to the point of bursting. I wake early and hear my morning voices leaping around in my head like jumping beans. I get out of bed to trap them before they escape."
Ray Bradbury

July 8, 2009

"Like everything else, there's two options: you lay down or you keep going. The second option sounds better to me."
Andy Roddick

July 7, 2009

"Who gets to determine when the old ends and the new begins? It’s not on the calendar, it’s not a birthday, it’s not a new year, it’s an event—big or small, something that changes us, ideally it gives us hope, a new way of living and looking at the world, letting go of old habits, old memories. What's important is that we never stop believing we can have a new beginning, but it's also important to remember amid all the crap are a few things worth holding on to."
Meredith Grey, "Grey’s Anatomy"

July 6, 2009

"Our care should not be to have lived long, but to have lived long enough."
Seneca

July 5, 2009

There's a place that I travel,
When I want to roam
And nobody knows it but me.

The roads don’t go there,
And the signs stay home
And nobody knows it but me.

It’s far, far away and way, way afar,
It’s over the moon and the sea,
And wherever you are going,
That’s wherever you are
And nobody knows it but me.

Patrick O'Leary, "Nobody Knows It But Me"

July 4, 2009

"For score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation: conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war…testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated…can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war.

We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate…we cannot consecrate…we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.

It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us…that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion…that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain…that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom…and that government of the people…by the people…for the people…shall not perish from the earth."

Abraham Lincoln

July 3, 2009

"We are what we pretend to be."
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

July 2, 2009

"Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing. Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it."
Helen Keller

July 1, 2009

"It opens the lungs, washes the countenance, exercises the eyes, and softens down the temper. So cry away."
Charles Dickens

June 30, 2009

"And now, cried Max, let the wild rumpus start."
Maurice Sendak, "Where the Wild Things Are"

June 29, 2009

"Hope for the best. Expect the worst. Life is a play. We’re unrehearsed."
Mel Brooks

June 28, 2009

"Thank you Mr. President, I had forgotten how crushingly dull these ceremonies are. Thank you.

My best to the choir. I have to say, that song never grows old for me. Whenever I hear that song, it reminds me of nothing.

I am honored to be here, I do have a confession to make before we get going that I should explain very quickly. When I am not on television, this is actually how I dress. I apologize, but there’s something very freeing about it. I congratulate the students for being able to walk even a half a mile in this non-breathable fabric in the Williamsburg heat. I am sure the environment that now exists under your robes, are the same conditions that primordial life began on this earth.

I know there were some parents that were concerned about my speech here tonight, and I want to assure you that you will not hear any language that is not common at, say, a dock workers union meeting, or Tourrett’s convention, or profanity seminar. Rest assured.

I am honored to be here and to receive this honorary doctorate. When I think back to the people that have been in this position before me from Benjamin Franklin to Queen Noor of Jordan, I can’t help but wonder what has happened to this place. Seriously, it saddens me. As a person, I am honored to get it; as an alumnus, I have to say I believe we can do better. And I believe we should. But it has always been a dream of mine to receive a doctorate and to know that today, without putting in any effort, I will. It’s incredibly gratifying. Thank you. That’s very nice of you. I appreciate it.

I’m sure my fellow doctoral graduates—who have spent so long toiling in academia, sinking into debt, sacrificing God knows how many years of what, in truth, is a piece of parchment that in truth has been so devalued by our instant gratification culture as to have been rendered meaningless—will join in congratulating me. Thank you.

But today isn’t about how my presence here devalues this fine institution. It is about you, the graduates. I’m honored to be here to congratulate you today. Today is the day you enter into the real world, and I should give you a few pointers on what it is. It’s actually not that different from the environment here. The biggest difference is you will now be paying for things, and the real world is not surrounded by three-foot brick wall. And the real world is not a restoration. If you see people in the real world making bricks out of straw and water, those people are not colonial re-enactors—they are poor. Help them. And in the real world, there is not as much candle lighting. I don’t really know what it is about this campus and candle lighting, but I wish it would stop. We only have so much wax, people.

Lets talk about the real world for a moment. We had been discussing it earlier, and I…I wanted to bring this up to you earlier about the real world, and this is I guess as good a time as any. I don’t really know to put this, so I’ll be blunt. We broke it.

Please don’t be mad. I know we were supposed to bequeath to the next generation a world better than the one we were handed. So, sorry.

I don’t know if you’ve been following the news lately, but it just kinda got away from us. Somewhere between the gold rush of easy internet profits and an arrogant sense of endless empire, we heard kind of a pinging noise, and uh, then the damn thing just died on us. So I apologize.

But here’s the good news. You fix this thing, you’re the next greatest generation, people. You do this—and I believe you can—you win this war on terror, and Tom Brokaw’s kissing your ass from here to Tikrit, let me tell ya. And even if you don’t, you’re not gonna have much trouble surpassing my generation. If you end up getting your picture taken next to a naked guy pile of enemy prisoners and don’t give the thumbs up you’ve outdid us.

We declared war on terror. We declared war on terror—it’s not even a noun, so, good luck. After we defeat it, I’m sure we’ll take on that bastard ennui.

But obviously that’s the world. What about your lives? What piece of wisdom can I impart to you about my journey that will somehow ease your transition from college back to your parents’ basement?

I know some of you are nostalgic today and filled with excitement and perhaps uncertainty at what the future holds. I know six of you are trying to figure out how to make a bong out of your caps. I believe you are members of Psi U. Hey that did work, thank you for the reference.

So I thought I’d talk a little bit about my experience here at William and Mary. It was very long ago, and if you had been to William and Mary while I was here and found out that I would be the commencement speaker 20 years later, you would be somewhat surprised, and probably somewhat angry. I came to William and Mary because as a Jewish person I wanted to explore the rich tapestry of Judaica that is Southern Virginia. Imagine my surprise when I realized "The Tribe" was not what I thought it meant. In 1980, I was 17 years old. When I moved to Williamsburg, my hall was in the basement of Yates, which combined the cheerfulness of a bomb shelter with the prison-like comfort of the group shower. As a freshman I was quite a catch. Less than five feet tall, yet my head is the same size it is now. Didn’t even really look like a head, it looked more like a container for a head. I looked like a Peanuts character. Peanuts characters had terrible acne. But what I lacked in looks I made up for with a repugnant personality. In 1981, I lost my virginity, only to gain it back again on appeal in 1983. You could say that my one saving grace was academics where I excelled, but I did not.

And yet now I live in the rarified air of celebrity, of mega stardom. My life a series of Hollywood orgies and Kabala center brunches with the cast of Friends. At least that’s what my handlers tell me. I’m actually too valuable to live my own life and spend most of my days in a vegetable crisper to remain fake news anchor fresh.

So I know that the decisions that I made after college worked out. But at the time I didn’t know that they would. See college is not necessarily predictive of your future success. And it’s the kind of thing where the path that I chose obviously wouldn’t work for you. For one, you’re not very funny.

So how do you know what is the right path to choose to get the result that you desire? And the honest answer is this. You won’t. And accepting that greatly eases the anxiety of your life experience.

I was not exceptional here, and am not now. I was mediocre here. And I’m not saying aim low. Not everybody can wander around in an alcoholic haze and then at 40 just, you know, decide to be president. You’ve got to really work hard to try to…I was actually referring to my father.

When I left William and Mary I was shell-shocked. Because when you’re in college it’s very clear what you have to do to succeed. And I imagine here everybody knows exactly the number of credits they needed to graduate, where they had to buckle down, which introductory psychology class would pad out the schedule. You knew what you had to do to get to this college and to graduate from it. But the unfortunate, yet truly exciting thing about your life, is that there is no core curriculum. The entire place is an elective. The paths are infinite and the results uncertain. And it can be maddening to those that go here, especially here, because your strength has always been achievement. So if there’s any real advice I can give you it’s this.

College is something you complete. Life is something you experience. So don’t worry about your grade, or the results or success. Success is defined in myriad ways, and you will find it, and people will no longer be grading you, but it will come from your own internal sense of decency which I imagine, after going through the program here, is quite strong…although I’m sure downloading illegal files…but, nah, that’s a different story. Love what you do. Get good at it. Competence is a rare commodity in this day and age. And let the chips fall where they may.

And the last thing I want to address is the idea that somehow this new generation is not as prepared for the sacrifice and the tenacity that will be needed in the difficult times ahead. I have not found this generation to be cynical or apathetic or selfish. They are as strong and as decent as any people that I have met. And I will say this, on my way down here I stopped at Bethesda Naval, and when you talk to the young kids that are there that have just been back from Iraq and Afghanistan, you don’t have the worry about the future that you hear from so many that are not a part of this generation but judging it from above.

And the other thing…that I will say is, when I spoke earlier about the world being broke, I was somewhat being facetious, because every generation has their challenge. And things change rapidly, and life gets better in an instant.

I was in New York on 9-11 when the towers came down. I lived 14 blocks from the twin towers. And when they came down, I thought that the world had ended. And I remember walking around in a daze for weeks. And Mayor Giuliani had said to the city, "You’ve got to get back to normal. We’ve got to show that things can change and get back to what they were."

And one day I was coming out of my building, and on my stoop, was a man who was crouched over, and he appeared to be in deep thought. And as I got closer to him I realized, he was playing with himself. And that’s when I thought, "You know what, we’re gonna be OK."

Thank you. Congratulations. I honor you. Good Night."
Jon Stewart
College of William and Mary Commencement, May 2004

June 27, 2009

"To love with all one’s soul and leave the rest to fate."
Vladimir Nabokov

June 26, 2009

"To seek after beauty as an end is a wild goose chase, a will-o’-the-wisp, because it is to misunderstand the very nature of beauty, which is the normal condition of a thing being as it should be."
Ade Bethune

June 25, 2009

"And in the end, it's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years."
Abraham Lincoln

June 24, 2009

"Find expression for a job and you will intensify its ecstasy."
Oscar Wilde

June 23, 2009

"Where words are scarce, they are seldom spent in vain."
Shakespeare

June 22, 2009

“It’s a delightful thing to think of perfection; but it’s vastly more amusing to talk of errors and absurdities.”
Fanny Burney

June 21, 2009

"I think the willfully unimaginative see more monsters. They are often more afraid."
J.K. Rowling
Harvard University Commencement, May 2008

June 19, 2009

How many miles to Babylon?
Three score miles and and ten—
Can I get there by candlelight?
Yes, and back again—
If your feet are nimble and light
You can get there by candlelight.

It is easy to see the beginnings of things, and harder to see the ends. I can remember now, with a clarity that makes the nerves in the back of my neck constrict, when New York began for me, but I cannot lay my finger upon the moment it ended, can never cut through the ambiguities and second starts and broken resolves to the exact place on the page where the heroine is no longer as optimistic as she once was. When I first saw New York I was twenty, and it was summertime, and I got off a DC-7 at the old Idlewild temporary terminal in a new dress which had seemed very smart in Sacramento but seemed less smart already, even in the old Idlewild temporary terminal, and the warm air smelled of mildew and some instinct, programmed by all the movies I had ever seen and all the songs I had ever read about New York, informed me that it would never be quite the same again. In fact it never was. Some time later there was a song in the jukeboxes on the Upper East Side that went “but where is the schoolgirl who used to be me,” and if it was late enough at night I used to wonder that. I know now that almost everyone wonders something like that, sooner or later and no matter what he or she is doing, but one of the mixed blessings of being twenty and twenty-one and even twenty-three is the conviction that nothing like this, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, has ever happened to anyone before.

Of course it might have been some other city, had circumstances been different and the time been different and had I been different, might have been Paris or Chicago or even San Francisco, but because I am talking about myself I am talking here about New York. That first night I opened my window on the bus into town and watched for the skyline, but all I could see were the wastes of Queens and big signs that said MIDTOWN TUNNEL THIS LANE and then a flood of summer rain (even that seemed remarkable and exotic, for I had come out of the West where there was no summer rain), and for the next three days I sat wrapped in blankets in a hotel room air conditioned to 35 degrees and tried to get over a cold and a high fever. It did not occur to me to call a doctor, because I knew none, and although it did occur to me to call the desk and ask that the air conditioner be turned off, I never called, because I did not know how much to tip whoever might come—was anyone ever so young? I am here to tell you that someone was. All I could do during those years was talk long-distance to the boy I already knew I would never marry in the spring. I would stay in New York, I told him, just six months, and I could see the Brooklyn Bridge from my window. As it turned out the bridge was the Triborough, and I stayed eight years.

In retrospect it seems to me that those days before I knew the names of all the bridges were happier than the ones that came later, but perhaps you will see that as we go along. Part of what I want to tell you is what it is like to be young in New York, how six months can become eight years with the deceptive ease of a film dissolve, for that is how those years appear to me now, in a long sequence of sentimental dissolves and old-fashioned trick shots—the Seagram Building fountains dissolve into snowflakes, I enter a revolving door at twenty and come out a good deal older, and on a different street. But most particularly I want to explain to you, and in the process perhaps to myself, why I no longer live in New York. It is often said that New York is a city for only the very rich and the very poor. It is less often said that New York is also, at least for those of us who came there from somewhere else, a city only for the very young.

I remember once, one cold bright December evening in New York, suggesting a friend who complained of having been around too long that he come with me to a party where there would be, I assured him with the bright resourcefulness of twenty-three, “new faces.” He laughed literally until he choked, and I had to roll down the taxi window and hit him on the back. “New faces,” he said finally, “don’t tell me about new faces.” It seemed that the last time he had gone to a party where he had been promised “new faces,” there had been fifteen people in the room, and he had already spelt with five of the women and owed money to all but two of the men. I laughed with him, but the first snow had just begun to fall and the big Christmas trees glittered yellow and white as far as I could see up Park Avenue and I had a new dress and it would be a long while before I would come to understand the particular moral of the story.

It would be a long while because, quite simply, I was in love with New York. I do not mean “love” in any colloquial way, I mean that I was in love with the city, the way you love the first person who ever touches you and you never love anyone quite that way again. I remember walking across Sixty-second Street one twilight that first spring, or the second spring, they were all alike for a while. I was late to meet someone but I stopped at Lexington Avenue and bought a peach and stood on the corner eating it and knew that I had come out out of the West and reached the mirage. I could taste the peach and feel the soft air blowing from a subway grating on my legs and I could smell lilac and garbage and expensive perfume and I knew that it would cost something sooner or later—because I did not belong there, did not come from there—but when you are twenty-two or twenty-three, you figure that later you will have a high emotional balance, and be able to pay whatever it costs. I still believed in possibilities then, still had the sense, so peculiar to New York, that something extraordinary would happen any minute, any day, any month. I was making only $65 or $70 then a week then (“Put yourself in Hattie Carnegie’s hands,” I was advised without the slightest trace of irony by an editor of the magazine for which I worked), so little money that some weeks I had to charge food at Bloomingdale’s gourmet shop in order to eat, a fact which went unmentioned in the letters I wrote to California. I never told my father that I needed money because then he would have sent it, and I would never know if I could do it by myself. At that time making a living seemed a game to me, with arbitrary but quite inflexible rules. And except on a certain kind of winter evening—six-thirty in the Seventies, say, already dark and bitter with a wind off the river, when I would be walking very fast toward a bus and would look in the bright windows of brownstones and see cooks working in clean kitchens and imagine women lighting candles on the floor above and beautiful children being bathed on the floor above that—except on nights like those, I never felt poor; I had the feeling that if I needed money I could always get it. I could write a syndicated column for teenagers under the name “Debbi Lynn” or I could smuggle gold into India or I could become a $100 call girl, and none of would matter.

Nothing was irrevocable; everything was within reach. Just around every corner lay something curious and interesting, something I had never before seen or done or known about. I could go to a party and meet someone who called himself Mr. Emotional Appeal and ran The Emotional Appeal Institute or Tina Onassis Blandford or a Florida cracker who was then a regular on what the called “the Big C,” the Southampton-El Morocco circuit (“I’m well connected on the Big C, honey,” he would tell me over collard greens on his vast borrowed terrace), or the widow of the celery king of the Harlem market or a piano salesman from Bonne Terre, Missouri, or someone who had already made and list two fortunes in Midland, Texas. I could make promises to myself and to other people and there would be all the time in the world to keep them. I could stay up all night and make mistakes, and none of them would count.

You see I was in a curious position in New York: it never occurred to me that I was living a real life there. In my imagination I was always there for just another few months, just until Christmas or Easter or the first warm day in May. For that reason I was most comfortable with the company of Southerners. They seemed to be in New York as I was, on some indefinitely extended leave from wherever they belonged, disciplined to consider the future, temporary exiles who always knew when the flights left for New Orleans or Memphis or Richmond or, in my case, California. Someone who lives with a plane schedule in the drawer lives on a slightly different calendar. Christmas, for example, was a difficult season. Other people could take it in stride, going to Stowe or going abroad or going for the day to their mothers’ places in Connecticut; those of us who believed that we lived somewhere else would spend it making and canceling airline reservations, waiting for weather-bound flights as if for the last plane out of Lisbon in 1940, and finally comforting one another, those of us who were left, with oranges and mementos and smoked-oyster stuffings of childhood, gathering close, colonials in a far country.

Which is precisely what we were. I am not sure that it is possible for anyone brought up in the East to appreciate entirely what New York, the idea of New York, means to those of us who came out of the West and the South. To an Eastern child, particularly a child who has always has an uncle on Wall Street and who has spent several hundred Saturdays first at F.A.O. Schwarz and being fitted for shoes at Best’s and then waiting under the Biltmore clock and dancing to Lester Lanin, New York is just a city, albeit the city, a plausible place for people to live, but to those of us who came from places where no one had heard of Lester Lanin and Grand Central Station was a Saturday radio program, where Wall Street and Fifth Avenue and Madison Avenue were not places at all but abstractions (“Money,” and “High Fashion,” and “The Hucksters”), New York was no mere city. It was instead an infinitely romantic notion, the mysterious nexus of all love and money and power, the shining and perishable dream itself. To think of “living” there was to reduce the miraculous to the mundane; one does not “live” at Xanadu.

In fact it was difficult in the extreme for me to understand those young women for whom New York was not simply an ephemeral Estoril but a real place, girls who bought toasters and installed new cabinets in their apartments and committed themselves to some reasonable furniture. I never bought any furniture in New York. For a year or so I lived in other people’s apartments; after that I lived in the Nineties in an apartment furnished entirely with things taken from storage by a friend whose wife had moved away. And when I left the apartment in the Nineties (that was when I was leaving everything, when it was all breaking up) I left everything in it, even my winter clothes and the map of Sacramento County I had hung on the bedroom wall to remind me who I was, and I moved into a monastic four-room floor-through on Seventy-fifth Street. “Monastic” is perhaps misleading here, implying some chic severity; until after I was married and my husband moved some furniture in, there was nothing at all in those four rooms except a cheap double mattress and box springs, ordered by telephone the day I decided to move, and two French garden chairs lent me by a friend who imported them. (It strikes me now that the people I knew in New York all had curious and self-defeating sidelines. They imported garden chairs which did not sell very well at Hammacher Schlemmer or they tried to market hair staighteners in Harlem or they ghosted exposĂ©s of Murder Incorporated for Sunday supplements. I think that perhaps none of us was very serious, engagĂ© only about our most private lives.)

All I ever did to that apartment was hang fifty yards of yellow theatrical silk across the bedroom windows, because I had some idea that the gold light would make me feel better, but I did not bother to weight the curtains correctly and all that summer the long panels of transparent golden silk would blow out the windows and get tangled and drenched in afternoon thunderstorms. That was the year, my twenty-eight, when I was discovering that not all of the promises would be kept, that some things are in fact irrevocable and that it had counted after all, every evasion and ever procrastination, every word, all of it.

That is what it was all about, wasn’t it? Promises? Now when New York comes back to me it comes in hallucinatory flashes, so clinically detailed that I sometimes wish that memory would effect the distortion with which it is commonly credited. For a lot of the time I was in New York I used a perfume called Fleurs de Rocaille, and then L’Air du Temps, and now the slightest trace of either can short-circuit my connections for the rest of the day. Nor can I smell Henri Bendel jasmine soap without falling back into the past, or the particular mixture of spices used for boiling crabs. There were barrels of crab boil in a Czech place in the Eighties where I once shopped. Smells, of course, are notorious memory stimuli, but there are other things which affect me the same way. Blue-and-white striped sheets. Vermouth cassis. Some faded nightgowns which were new in 1959 or 1960, and some chiffon scarves I bought about the same time.

I suppose that a lot of us who have been very young in New York have the same scenes in our home screens. I remember sitting in a lot of apartments with a slight headache about five o’clock in the morning. I had a friend who could not sleep, and he knew a few other people who had the same trouble, and we would watch the sky lighten and have a last drink with no ice and then go home in the early morning, when the streets were clean and wet (had it rained in the night? we never knew) and the few cruising taxis still had their headlights on and the only color was the red and green of traffic signals. The White Rose bars opened very early in the morning; I recall waiting in one of them to watch an astronaut go into space, waiting so long that at the moment it actually happened I had my eyes not on the television screen but on a cockroach on the tile floor. I liked the bleak branches above Washington Square at dawn, and the monochromatic flatness of Second Avenue, the fire escapes and the grilled storefronts peculiar and empty in their perspective.

It is relatively hard to fight at six-thirty or seven in the morning, without any sleep, which was perhaps one reason why we stayed up all night, and it seemed to me a pleasant time of day. The windows were shuttered in that apartment in the Nineties and I could sleep for a few hours and then go to work. I could work the on two or three hours’ sleep and a container of coffee from Chock Full O’ Nuts. I liked going to work, liked the soothing and satisfactory rhythm of getting out a magazine, liked the orderly progression of four-color closings and two-color closings and black-and-white closings and then The Product, no abstraction but something which looked effortlessly glossy and could be picked up on a newsstand and weighed in the hand. I liked all the minutiae of proofs and layouts, liked working late on the nights the magazines went to press, sitting and reading Variety and waiting for the copy desk to call. From my office, I could look across town to the weather signal on the Mutual of New York Building and the lights that alternately spelled TIME and LIFE above Rockeffeler Plaza; that pleased me obscurely, and so did walking uptown in the mauve eight o’clocks of early summer evenings and looking at things, Lowestoft tureens in Fifty-seventh Street windows, people in evening clothes trying to get taxis, the trees just coming into full leaf, the lambent air, all the sweet promises of money and summer.

Some years passed, but I still did not lose that sense of wonder about New York. I began to cherish the loneliness of it, the sense that at any given time no one need know where I was or what I was doing. I liked walking, from the East River over to the Hudson and back on brisk days, down around the Village on warm days. A friend would leave me the key to her apartment in the West Village when she was out of town, and sometimes I would just move down there, because by that time the telephone was beginning to bother me (the canker, you see, was already in the rose) and not many people had that number. I remember one day when someone who did have the West Village number came to pick me up for lunch there, and we both had hangovers, and I cut my finger opening him a beer and burst into tears, and we walked to a Spanish restaurant and drank bloody Marys and gazpacho until we felt better. I was not then guilt-ridden about spending afternoons that way, because I still had all the afternoons in the world.

And even that late in the game I still liked going to parties, all parties, bad parties, Saturday-afternoon parties given by recently married couples who lived in Stuyvesant Town, West Side parties given by unpublished or failed writers who served cheap red wine and talked about going to Guatalajara, Village parties where all the guests worked for advertising agencies and voted for Reform Democrats, press parties at Sardi’s, the worst kind of parties. You will have perceived by now that I was not one to profit by the experience of others, that it was a very long time indeed before I stopped believing in new faces and began to understand the lesson in that story, which was that it is distinctly possible to stay too long at the Fair.

I could not tell you when I began to understand that. All I know is that it was very bad when I was twenty-eight. Everything that was said to me I seemed to have heard before, and I could no longer listen. I could no longer sit in little bars near Grand Central and listen to someone complaining of his wife’s inability to cope with the help while he missed another train to Connecticut. I no longer had any interest in hearing about the advances other people had received from their publishers, about plays which were having second-act trouble in Philadelphia, or about people I would like very much if only I would come out and meet them. I had already met them, always. There were certain parts of the city which I had to avoid. I could not bear upper Madison Avenue on weekday mornings (this was a particularly inconvenient aversion, since I then lived just fifty or sixty feet east of Madison), because I would see women walking Yorkshire terriers and shopping at Gristede’s, and some Veblenesque gorge would rise in my throat. I could not go to Times Square in the afternoon, or to the New York Public Library for any reason whatsoever. One day I could not go into a Schrafft’s; the next it would be the Bonwit Teller.

I hurt the people I cared about, and insulted those I did not. I cut myself off from the one person who was closer to me than any other. I cried until I was not even aware when I was crying and when I was not, I cried in elevators and in taxis and in Chinese laundries, and when I went to the doctor, he said only that I seemed to be depressed, and that I should see a “specialist.” He wrote down a psychiatrist’s name and address for me, but I did not go.

Instead I got married, which as it turned out was a very good thing to do but badly timed, since I still could not walk on upper Madison Avenue in the mornings and still could not talk to people and still cried in Chinese laundries. I had never before understood what “despair” meant, and I am not sure that I understand now, but I understood that year. Of course I could not work. I could not even get dinner with any degree of certainty, and I would sit in the apartment on Seventy-fifth Street paralyzed until my husband would call from his office and say gently that I did not have to get dinner, that I could meet him at Michael’s Pub or at Toots Shor’s or at Sardi’s East. And then one morning in April (we had been married in January) he called and told me that he wanted to get out of New York for a while, that he would take a six-month leave of absence, that we would go somewhere.

It was three years ago he told me that, and we have lived in Los Angeles since. Many of the people we knew in New York think this a curious aberration, and in fact tell us so. There is no possible, no adequate answer to that, and so we give certain stock answers, the answers everyone gives. I talk about how difficult it would be for us to “afford” to live in New York right now, about how much “space” we need, all I mean is that I was very young in New York, and that at some point the golden rhythm was broken, and I am not that young anymore. The last time I was in New York was in a cold January, and everyone was ill and tired. Many of the people I used to know there had moved to Dallas or had gone on Antabuse or had bought a farm in New Hampshire. We stayed ten days, and then we took an afternoon flight back to Los Angeles, and on the way home from the airport that night I could see the moon on the Pacific and smell jasmine all around and we both knew that there was no longer any point in keeping the apartment we still kept in New York. There were years when I called Los Angeles “the Coast,” but they seem a long time ago.
Joan Didion, "Goodbye to All That"