On Beauty

I think of beauty as the difference between a thing’s overall value to you and its functional value to you. It varies not only from person to person, but also, for a given person, over time. Its definition is the same as its measure...it has no nameable unit of measure.

Alternatively put, beauty is simply that to which we are attracted for reasons other than those that are purely practical, physical, or intellectual. Say you have a favorite chair. It serves the practical purpose of allowing you to sit while watching television, talking to someone, or having dinner. But you like it for other reasons as well—the way it looks, what it’s made of, the childhood memory of your father making it by hand. To you, the beauty of the chair lies in those things.

What you find beautiful says more about you than perhaps anything else does. A person’s uniqueness can be seen more in the set of people and things he or she finds beautiful than it can be seen in any other set. What I myself am attracted to is ambiance—the capacity of a person or thing to make me feel good in some way. The western end of Boulevard Saint-Germain in Paris, the turquoise waters of Tahiti, the smell of a rose, Liszt’s
Un Sospiro piano sonata, a fine Barolo, and most of all, the look and feel of the face of a woman I love...

Women like Charleen and Alma will always be
something...a lot of something. Their beauty is not simply a function of their appearance, age, and weight. It transcends all criteria, all measurements. If you’re able to see it, it blinds you to all else. I suspect this is true of everyone, and that it’s just a matter of whether you’re the right person to fully see it in any given other person. If you can’t, that’s not a negative reflection either on you or on the other person, it’s simply a mismatch.

Of many things in life you can say
How beautiful this would have been had you given it to me freely.

The surface can go on and on forever, but there may be no depth.

No matter how pretty the box, we still want it to contain something, don’t we?

Physical beauty, whether of a woman, a work of art, or a work of nature, is desirable but common. For me, it’s like a light switch—either it’s on or it’s off, either it’s enough or it’s not enough. And if it’s enough, it doesn’t matter how much more there is; that excess, like all excesses, goes mostly to waste. In this sense, beauty is both everything and nothing. Without it, there can be no love. With it, you still need other things.
Beauty can’t buy you love

What matters infinitely more are the myriad aspects of personality and spirit. These span a range that has no limit. And here it always matters how much more there is...

People spend a lot of time trying to be beautiful. Initially they do it to attract someone, simply because physical appearance is the first thing we notice in others. Later they do it to hold onto the person they’ve already got. But no one will ever fall in love with you because of the way you look, and no one will ever fall out of love with you because of the way you look. That’s a different feeling.

If I don’t find someone physically attractive up front, I won’t over time come to find them physically attractive simply because I’ve discovered things about them that make them attractive in other ways. I have a friend who says this makes me shallow...

What’s alluring about the things that are beautiful to our senses is that their beauty is straightforward and has a simple physiological basis. The limitation of that kind of beauty is that it extends only to what the senses can perceive—what we can loosely think of as the
surface of those things. Because our senses don’t lie, we’re particularly attracted to a beautiful face, voice, flavor, or smell, or to something that feels good to our hands or to our body. The senses don’t lie because they don’t speak to us about what a thing is; they don’t operate in that realm. You cannot make yourself like something that is disagreeable to you. You cannot fool the senses, but you can fool your thoughts by, say, choosing to interpret someone’s meanness as kindness. First impressions are like that, too; we have no history with that person to either inform or misinform our current perception.

Some people, like some paintings, are what you might find to be technically well-made. Others, far rarer, are what you might find to be beautiful. The difference is that the beautiful ones have a value to you beyond their functionality. They trip the circuitry of an archetype in your mind, and therein lies their value…
the ability to flip that switch.

I once met a woman who had the most beautiful smile. I wondered whether she’d ever had her heart broken by someone—really broken, all the way. If she had, I wondered what she’d found that enabled her to smile the way she did now.

When you think of power, you tend to think of destructive forces. When you think of beauty, you tend to think of creative forces. When you think of the power of nature, you think of loud things like tornadoes and erupting volcanoes. When you think of the beauty of nature, you think of quiet things like blooming flowers and reefs teeming with graceful marine life. When you think of a colorful sunrise or sunset, you don’t think of the vast power of the sun, but of its beauty when seen from a safe distance here on Earth.

On the Big Picture

You should always see, and limit your desires to, what’s in the big picture. If you want to eat scrambled eggs but you don’t want to clean the pan, plate, and fork, and if you don’t want to pay to eat them in a restaurant, then you shouldn’t want to eat scrambled eggs because they don’t exist in themselves, only within those two big pictures.

In your personal big picture, virtues and rewards are the same thing.

In the universe’s big picture, there is no chance because things happen for a reason and because there are no external forces.

If your view of things were to be universal in scope and perfect in resolution, you’ll see that
everything follows the path of least action, the path of least resistance. Not each thing individually, but all things taken as a whole. That is the ultimate big picture. Given that at the initial moment of time certain stuff existed, and given that it has nowhere to go beyond the universe, at every subsequent point in time the conservation of energy and matter is equivalent to the minimization of energy and matter.

You can’t
choose to like something; either you like it or you don’t. You can acquaint yourself with it, you can learn things about it and perhaps even come to understand it. But what you’re really doing then is getting a bigger picture. Perhaps it will be one you like, perhaps not.

Say you’ve always liked steak. You like its taste and its texture—the way it feels in your mouth. Then you see a documentary on the living—and dying—conditions of the livestock that become your steak. Perhaps it sickens you to the point that you no longer like steak. Perhaps that knowledge, those images, even cause the taste of steak to be disagreeable to you. It all depends on what you’ve associated a thing with...
the bigger picture. The farther away you are, the smaller the picture.

Our life is like a series of points, each being what we’re feeling and doing at one particular moment in time. In that way, life is linear—not the simple straight line of geometry, but a line nonetheless. Each point, in its own time—when it was your present time—could have been the end point of your line, of your life. In that sense, all points along the line have equal weight, have equal validity as the end of your life.

It’s not the case that the entirety of your past has led you to where you are now, but rather that each point in your past has led you to the next point—what was then your present time.

And yet some points carry more weight than do others. Either they change us more than other points change us, or we simply remember them and refer back to them more often than we do other points. These are the points that dominate and define segments along the line of our life, and out journey through life is the broken line connecting these segments; the other points are, at least to us, just filler. The thing to do is to have the smallest amount of filler in your life, to have it all be special.

The past and the present are equally valid because the past was once the present. But in the present, the power of the past depends on how much of it you’ve carried forward within you—not how much it meant to you then, but how much it means to you now.

On Religion

Religion is a stopper for a lot of people in that it keeps them from believing and doing things they would otherwise find to be reasonable and valuable. For years it kept many people from accepting or at least further investigating the emerging fact that it is the earth that orbits the sun rather than the sun that orbits the earth. The same thing happened hundreds of years later with the theory of the evolution of life and with establishing the age of the earth . A thing is what a thing is, and you’re not going to get to the truth if you don’t allow investigation and if you don’t accept that which is demonstrable.

The problem occurs when religion tackles issues on which it cannot speak authoritatively. When I want a mathematical or scientific fact, I consult a mathematical or scientific source; when I want a historical fact, I consult a historical source; and when I want to be exposed to thoughts on the nature of knowledge or values, I consult a philosophical or theological source. Each has its own domain, and outside its domain it is a source of lesser value.

Most of the religions I’ve had some exposure to have a commonality of core values. Where they differ is in their facts, their particulars. You can feel a pull toward honesty and kindness no matter where you live, no matter what culture you’ve grown up in. But you’re going to think in terms of Jesus or Muhammad or Vishnu only if someone has told you about them.

People the world over can agree that
two plus two is four. People the world over can agree on what it means to be a good person. But people the word over cannot agree on religion. Why fight over the particulars when there is so much of a larger nature in common?

You have to respect everyone’s sincere religious beliefs until you can prove them wrong. Even though you yourself do not believe, you can respect that they do believe. But you can’t respect someone’s belief that
two plus two is five because that can be proven wrong.

I feel that if God wanted us to believe a certain set of particulars about Him, He’d tell us what those are. By that I mean He’d tell us directly and He’d tell us now, not through some other person and not many years ago. Some people can read the Bible and believe, others need evidence. You can’t choose to believe in something; that’s merely acceptance, and we try to stay away from that. If our child has a learning disability, we expect the schools to provide special education. Why would we not expect the same of God? That He be a perfect communicator?

Say Jesus really is divine. When it comes to your belief in that, how much of an advantage would it be to have known him personally, to have seen his miracles, rather than having to hear about all of it from some other source, a fallible human source, two thousand years later? What about Doubting Thomas, who went on to become a saint, and St. Paul? They were given what they needed in order to believe.

Say you’ve fallen on hard times, that you’re homeless and addicted to hardcore drugs. You’re at death’s door, and along comes someone who shows you great kindness and helps you to get better and to turn your life around. He says he’s doing it because he loves you just as Jesus loves us all. Such an experience might make you believe in Jesus, but it would make me believe in human kindness. My human savior may be doing what he does because of his belief in Jesus, but my belief would be not in Jesus but in him. Now, if Jesus Himself came to save me, that would be different. My view of things may be wrong, but it’s simpler in that it doesn’t include entities that aren’t demonstrable and that aren’t necessary in order to explain the situation. In this case, my human savior’s belief in Jesus was necessary, but Jesus Himself was not necessary.

I have faith in things commensurate with my experience of them. If I don’t know you and if someone else I don’t know said you’d stolen something from them, I’d have to fall back on my general experience of people’s truthfulness and people’s thievery. But if I’d known you a long time and had always known you to be honest, I’d believe you hadn’t stolen that thing. That, for me, is faith: I don’t know you haven’t stolen this time, but I believe you have not. The gaps in one’s imperfect knowledge are filled in by one’s belief, but there has to be a credible reason for that belief...

One of things that’s particularly attractive about Christianity is the dogma that Jesus is God and yet, for a period of time, He was a man who suffered. Normally, you’d think God could never suffer, unless perhaps He chose to. Then again, perhaps that wouldn’t really be suffering. But if God were to really suffer, that would make Him more like us. Perhaps He could then understand us better, but perhaps, being God, He could understand our suffering without ever having had such a feeling Himself. And when His suffering was for us, that makes it all the more attractive. So, are Christians in a sense happy that God suffered? Happy is probably not the right word here, but God’s suffering gives them one more thing to worship Him for, to feel uplifted about.

Catholicism had a rather awkward beginning. Before Jesus, there was one or more forms of present-day Judaism but there was no Catholicism. Then with the coming of Jesus, those of the Jewish faith were expected to become of the Catholic faith. It all seems unnecessarily complicated. Why couldn’t Jesus have been there from the beginning? Imagine how difficult things would be for you if you actively believed in and participated in the religion you grew up in, that your parents and their parents grew up in, and then you had someone walking among your community claiming to be God and telling you to work him into your faith as God?

I never thought to ask these questions in all those religion classes in high school or college. Religions make sure to get to you before you develop the ability to ask the right questions. On the one hand, you should be exposed to religion as soon as possible; but on the other hand, when you’ve matured enough to be able to properly consider religion rather than simply accepting it, you should be given answers other than that you should simply fall back on the faith you acquired in your early years.

No one but an egomaniac believes in a religion that’s going to send them to hell. That’s why religions have penance and forgiveness. But how strong is your belief if you have to fall back on that? If I’ve got a gun constantly pointed at your child’s head and I follow you through life, here and there saying
Thou shalt not, you’re not going to do that thing because your belief is both present and strong. Compare this to what you feel when you do something you believe is offensive to God. Is it just that you’ve forgotten Him then, that He’s too distant? It must be, because it doesn’t seem possible that a sane person could fully believe in a religion and yet do something against its code of behavior. By definition, if you believe in God then you would esteem Him above all else and you would feel closer to Him than to any other thing.

It’s convenient for us that God stays at a distance. Imagine if He were always at your side, telling you when you’ve done wrong and then punishing you. That would get tiresome, wouldn’t it? It’s easier to put all that off to the afterlife, isn’t it? But if your faith were strong enough, you would always know when you were tempted to do wrong and you would stop yourself.

It’s easy to say you’re sorry for the wrong things you’ve done. At the time you did those things, you wanted to do them more than you wanted to be good. After that desire has been satisfied, it drops down in your hierarchy of desires, making it easy for you to truly be sorry for your behavior...until the next time that desire ascends your hierarchy of desires.

God has never told me He wants me to worship Him, or that I should worship Him. Only people have told me that I should worship God. And indeed it would seem unworthy of God to create people whose main purpose in life and beyond is to worship Him. Would it not be better simply to love Him? When people who are extremely beautiful or intelligent want the rest of us to worship them for their special attributes, we find that petty. And they’re just people. For God to do that...well, it’s hard to get the human mind and heart and body around that, and those are really all you’ve got to go with in life.

I don’t care much for the idea of saints. There are thousands of them in the Roman Catholic Church alone, but still sainthood seems inegalitarian. It implies that some people are made better than others, and it’s based on the fact that some people are given better opportunities for sainthood than are others. In the years following Jesus, there was a lot of martyrdom and a lot of opportunity for sainthood. Both situations still exist today, but on a smaller scale; there’s just not the same level of recognition now. It’s one thing for someone to be made better than you in terms of intellect or athleticism or physical beauty or some aspect of personality. But for someone’s soul, in essence, to be made better than yours...that just doesn’t seem right.

On Business

What is it that allows people to become rich? Sometimes it’s simply that they find gold or oil on their land. Sometimes, particularly in less developed countries, it’s simply through using the physical power of the government or of the military to exploit other people. Sometimes it’s through investment, but there you need the rare ability to consistently see things more clearly and more fully than do other people. Often it’s through creating or producing something, such as soft drinks, for which there is a large and ongoing market...a lot of pennies here and a lot of pennies there.

But mostly it’s through having the ability to create what I think of as excess demand for a product or service—demand that causes people to pay more for a product than what it costs to produce that product. Art is a good example of this, but not many artists become rich. Designer apparel is another good example; people pay enormous amounts of money for certain brands, amounts that go far beyond the cost of the materials and workmanship, however fine. Walk down the Magnificent Mile in Chicago sometime and look at all the $300-and-up men’s cotton dress shirts. I like fine clothing, and I’m discerning as to materials and workmanship, but I’ve yet to pay more than $125 for a shirt, and that was a rare exception—a fine-wale corduroy dress shirt that was impeccable in every regard.

At most large corporations there are employees making anywhere from less than $20,000 per year to more than $20,000,000 per year. The person at the top is making one thousand times what the person at the bottom is making—a differential of roughly one hundred thousand percent—and in most cases it seems simply to be an entitlement, what you have to pay to get someone to hold that position. Can those at the top be worth that much? In some few cases, sure, but not in the majority of cases where they’re just average performers. And then you’re always hearing stories about how the CEO got fired and was given a golden parachute worth tens of millions of dollars in severance pay as well as a lifetime of benefits and perks that go way beyond what we think of as a pension.

And then there are all those the stories where the CEO gets fired and then the new CEO comes in, looks things over a bit, and then shuts down a few lackluster operations. Any reasonably intelligent person can do that. If you want to be worth a $20,000,000 salary, find a way to keep all those workers profitably employed.

If your corporation is in need of some retooling, give me a call. I’ve got an economics degree so I know about this kind of thing. For $250 per hour, plus expenses, I’ll give you some solid recommendations—to sell or to spin off a particular operation because it doesn’t fit economically into your big picture, to explore a particular new market or product, or as a last resort, to shut down a particular operation—within three to four months. I’d do it for $200 per hour, but that’s only $8,000 per week and I like the sound of $10,000 per week. And even that’s cheap compared to about $10,000 per hour for a typical big-time CEO, and you won’t even have to fly me first class or put me up in the penthouse suite of a five-star hotel. Then again, I’d need a full-time staff of three—someone intimately familar with your business operations, an accountant, and a researcher—so it might be cheaper to fly us around in a corporate jet. Besides, I’d like to try that one time. Imagine being able to sleep in a real bed way up there in the sky. I prefer a queen-size, but a full-size will do. And since you’re probably wondering, I’ve already made love on an airplane at 35,000 feet so that’s not going to be a draw for me. Just a good night’s sleep...

We could even make a new reality television show about it. I don’t have the name recognition of celebrities like Martha Stewart and Donald Trump, but I’ve got a lot of depth, I’m good for some witty one-liners, and I’m about as hard-but-fair as it gets in life. Let’s see, we could call the show
The Axe Man and see if we can use an altered version of Taxman, by The Beatles, as the theme song. Or maybe The Tin Man; he was the one with the axe in The Wizard of Oz, looking for a heart. It’s a start, but I’m sure the creative staff at the television studio could come up with something better.

The goal of the show, though, would be to avoid using the axe as the method of improving the corporate bottom line. It’s similar to how, before there were stiff regulatory penalties for improperly disposing of toxic waste from the manufacturing process, all kinds of bad stuff ended up in the water and in the atmosphere. Then it was the cheapest way of doing business, now it’s not, but it’s been wrong all along.

I thought about why the salary and severance packages are so high at the top, and I believe it’s simply because those at the top want as much as they can get while they’re employed, and they know they’ll probably get fired someday so they want as much as they can get when that day comes. So all over the corporate world, the people at the top are greasing the wheels for each other. Most of us would do it, too, but only the ones at the top have the unchecked power to do it. Sure, when one CEO gets a salary increase, all the other CEOs get angry and offended, but they know their turn is coming. They’ll steal corporate secrets from one another, they’ll engage in ruthless business tactics, they’ll conduct false or deceptive advertising campaigns, but they’re all in collusion when it comes to the salary and benefits of those at the top. Is it so hard to be satisfied, if not happy, with getting what you’re really worth?

On Food

Try new things, taste new flavors...

I’m particularly fond of Prosciutto di Parma, the gently earthy and almost sweet dry cured ham from Italy, and its Spanish counterpart, jamon serrano. On market days in Europe, you can still get the good stuff that’s been air-cured by small producers in different geographical areas. The flavor of each ham takes on the characteristics of the winds wafting over the surrounding terroir—the plants growing nearby, the breeze from the sea or from lakes and rivers—as well as taking on the characteristics of the pigs’ diet. I like that concept, and I like the way they’re hanging from the ceiling and walls of every cafe in Spain. But some people won’t eat them because they’re cured rather than cooked. I feel a similar way about eating organs; for me, most of them have an unpleasant texture and flavor, but even if they were wonderful in both regards, they’d still be organs and I can’t get around that.

For me, each kind of food is best when cooked a particular way. Most vegetables are best when grilled, but potatoes are best when boiled and mashed; beef and seafood are best when grilled, pork is best when roasted in the style known in Puerto Rico as pernil; poultry is best when rotisseried. It comes down to which cooking method results in the best balance of the appearance and texture imparted by the cooking method, the flavor inherent in the food but brought out by the cooking method, and the flavor imparted by the cooking method.

It’s also the case that certain combinations of foods are virtually perfect, and that adding or subtracting anything only detracts from the cuisine. For example, a sandwich made of freshly carved rare roast beef on light rye bread seeded with caraway is perfect just like that; those two flavors come together wonderfully. If you add fresh horseradish, Dijon mustard, cheese, or lettuce and tomato and onion, the sandwich is still good but it’s not as good as before.

Often the order of ingredients—in terms of either when they’re added or where they’re placed relative to other ingredients—in a recipe is important. If you’re making a stir-fry with a bunch of different vegetables that are cut into different shapes and sizes and thicknesses, and that may have different cooking times on top of that, you have to add everything in just the right order so that it all ends up cooked just right. If you’re making a cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato, and grilled onion, the cheese should be on the meat and the grilled onions on top of that; if you put the grilled onions on top of the burger and the cheese on top of that, it’s not as good. The proximity—the sequencing—of the ingredients can create a symphony of tastes and textures, or it can create something more like a cacophony.

I’ve been experimenting with panini lately. The ones you get in restaurants tend to be pressed too tightly, and all the ingredients end up flat and smooshed together. At home I’ve got a cast-iron grill pan that has a deeply ridged base and a separate inset lid that is flat and very heavy; the lid presses the sandwich down on the grilling surface, but not so much that the sandwich get overly compressed. Try this: heat the pan itself, but not the lid, over a medium stovetop burner until hot; in the meantime, split a real baguette (such as those by Labriola in Chicago or Bread Oven in Omaha) lengthwise; drizzle the inside of the bottom piece with olive oil and crack on some black pepper; working in some fresh spinach leaves here and there, add some vertically sliced green onion, halved artichoke heart, sliced poblano pepper, sliced zucchini, and peeled and sliced eggplant, all of which have been lightly sauteed in a small amount olive oil; add a layer of sliced Monterey Jack cheese; top with the remaining piece of bread, its cut inner surface facing the vegetables; cook the sandwich for a few minutes in the pan, using the weighted lid on top as a press, then turn it over and cook a few minutes more, again using the weighted lid; remove the sandwich from the pan, pace it on a plate upside down, take off the top piece of bread (the one without cheese), add a generous layer of arugula and mixed lettuces on top of the vegetables, add back the top piece of bread, and turn the sandwich right-side up. It’s not much in the way of protein, but what a flavor and what a smell...

Both the flavor and texture of a baguette are at their best when the baguette has just come down to room temperature after baking. Its smell is at its best straight out of the oven, though. So be sure to always enjoy its smell straight out of the oven. And as for eating it, when you mostly want its taste or texture, eat it at room temperature; when you mostly want its smell, eat it straight out of the oven.

In contrast to, say, a dried piquin chile pepper, which is at its best when combined with other ingredients, you cannot improve the flavor, texture, smell, or appearance of a baguette in any way. A baguette is perfect just as it is. But it’s good other ways, too, and sometimes, for variety, you want those. And yet it would be unfortunate if you could enjoy it only with butter or olive oil or in a sandwich or dipped into a bowl of soup.

I live in Chicago, and lately every new pizzeria mostly offers only the strangest combinations of ingredients. Stuff like smoked salmon and goat cheese and walnuts and slices of pear. Some of the newer offerings are quite good, though: grilled radicchio, grilled fennel, grilled zucchini, grilled eggplant, and pesto sauce. If I ran a restaurant, you couldn’t get things like barbecue sauce or fruit or nuts or poultry or any kind of seafood except octopus, which somehow works because of its texture and flavor.

What are the minimum requirements for a pizza? It’s a matter of personal preference, but for me they are: either a typical pizza crust or a baguette, not a flour tortilla or a corn tortilla; a liquid topping, either a red or white sauce or even something simple, such as olive oil; some kind of cheese, preferably a combination of one or more melty cheeses, like mozzarella or Monterey Jack, and one or more dry cheeses, like Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano or Asiago, but fresh mozzarella works well on its own, too; and at least one vegetable or meat topping, preferably
grilled hot Italian sausage or pepperoni or whole oyster mushrooms. If you don’t have a topping, it’s just cheese bread with sauce...

The old American standard, mac-and-cheese, is going the same way, too. It’s getting harder and harder to find it straight-up. Everyone’s putting stuff like bacon in it or stuff like toasted bread crumbs on top of it. Mac-and-cheese is one of those rare dishes that’s best done on the cheap and not messed with. You can’t use real cheese, you’ve got to use either the powdered stuff or, better still, the liquid stuff. Mac-and-cheese is a comfort food; it’s supposed to be warm but not too hot, free of spices and other flavorings, and everything in it should be soft and gooey. If you want real cheese or
al dente pasta, look elsewhere; they’re wonderful in most dishes, but they simply wreck mac-and-cheese. Once I thought a bit of paprika or ground ancho chile would be a good addition; neither was. You’ve got to know when to leave a thing alone, when to simply make it well in the way it should be made rather than to get creative and try to improve it. Not too many things in life fit into that category, but mac-and-cheese is one of them.

On Art

It seems that a lot of the major works of art of the last hundred years have focused on originality in subject matter and in style to the detriment of quality of workmanship. For minor works of art, either one will do, but major works of art should excel at both. I’ve been to the Musée Matisse in Nice, France, and I thought most of his stuff, particularly those blue-and-white paper cutouts that look like paintings in art books, were almost childlike in workmanship. When I saw Picasso’s enormous
Guernica at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía (MNCARS), I couldn’t believe the poor workmanship—here a dribble of running paint, there a pencil line visible from underneath paint that had been applied too thinly. Artists of the caliber of Matisse and Picasso should never produce such poor work. Art is in both the idea and the execution.

If you visit MNCARS, be sure to also visit the nearby
Museo de Arte de Thyssen-Bornemisza and the world-renowned Museo Nacional del Prado, which has, among many other fine works, Velázquez’s
Las Meninas. This painting, in contrast to Guernica, is a masterwork of composition, color, facial expression, and workmanship. It’s generally regarded as the finest painting in the world; I don’t know enough about art to weigh in on that, but an art aficionado can easily while away half an hour looking at it.

Then when you’re done with all that artwork of mankind, visit the Real Jardín Botánico and the enormous Parque del Retiro, both nearby, to see the artwork of nature. They are both simply superb. The botanical garden, while unlike those typical of Ireland and the United Kingdom, has a splendid selection of trees, shrubs, herbs, and bonsai, and it’s a wonderful place simply to exist quietly for a while. The park has beautifully landscaped open areas, perfect for a picnic or for meeting people, as well as secluded forested areas, a lake, and numerous statues and sculptures. The long walk around the outside of its walled and gated perimeter is also quite enjoyable.

And when you’re done with all that, off to the cafés! It really is a wonderful way to spend a day...art, nature, and humanity.

On Other Things

Looking back on your life, what is the difference between the people you’ve left and the people who’ve left you? What is the difference between remembering the people you’ve left and remembering the people who’ve left you?

There have been five great learning epochs in my life. The first was my time at Stanford, 1978-1982; it awakened my mind. The second was my time with my children when they were very young, 1987-1993; as anyone who has children knows, that experience is its own thing. The third was my time with Charleen, 1994-2001; it awakened my heart. The fourth was my year of travel, 2004-2005; it was a kaleidoscope of everything—it was deep and it was just plain fun. The fifth was my eighteen hours with Julie in France, 2004; it let me know that it was possible to love a second time, and that is the answer to the biggest human question of all time.

These are my happiest larger memories in all of life:

Going on hikes as a child with my dad on holidays. We’d find a walking stick and just walk along the rural railroad tracks, killing time before the big dinner. I think it was simply that these times were somehow different than the rest of my life, a time that made reflection easy.

Being with the two women in college for whom I felt warmth. With the first, it was more of an emotional experience. With the second, it was more of a spiritual and intellectual thing. There was some overlap in my time with these two women, and that made my life even better—not through some cumulative effect between the two feelings of warmth, but simply through having more moments of warmth.

Playing with my children when they were very young.

My years with Charleen. It was a time of love.

My hours with Julie. It was a time of falling in love, a time of being warm, of being together, of being content.

My lunches with Anita. For me, it was a time of warmth. I now know that for her it was a time of simple attention and money, but that doesn’t change the way I felt then.

My months with Alma. It was a time of togetherness and contentment. There was some overlap in my time with Anita and with Alma, and that made my life even better because the feeling I had for each of those women was different.

Some people think, for reasons having to do with religion or science or just their personal preferences, that homosexuality is wrong. Some people go further and say it’s a choice. That’s absurd. If you’re a man and you’re sexually attracted to men rather than to women, that’s not a choice. Whether or not you act based on that attraction can be thought of as a choice, but why would you not do what comes naturally to you? I’m a man and I’m sexually attracted to women, but not to all women. It’s not by choice that I’m attracted to women in general or to certain women in particular, it’s just the way I am. And I act based on those attractions.

If someone were to tell me my attractions were unnatural or were contrary to the code of behavior acceptable to society or to a particular religion, I wouldn’t care because I can’t accept and follow a code I don’t intrinsically believe in. For example, if I thought it was good to lie, I’d do it all the time. But I think it’s generally wrong, so I don’t do it often. And yet sometimes I choose to lie because it’s an expedient to a larger purpose, such as not hurting someone’s feelings over something I feel is unimportant. The point is that it’s not because of some external code that I choose not to lie, it’s because I
feel that that’s the right behavior.

Imagine the internal stress of having to continually suppress your thoughts and actions in order to live by an external code that is contrary to something
in your nature. If you’re a homosexual and a Roman Catholic, I suppose you have to tell yourself that you were poorly made and you just have to struggle on as best you can. This is a different situation than, say, when you lie in order to get something or to make things easier for you. Lying isn’t in anyone’s nature, we’re just tempted to do it when we think it will improve our situation in life. Then we remind ourselves that it’s wrong, and we in fact believe that it’s wrong, so usually we can avoid lying.

What if it could be proven that you’d live ten years longer if you ate only raw food? What if it could be proven that you’d live five years longer if you made love only once a year? What if it could be proven that you’d live fifty years longer if you never lied or at least took back by a lie as soon as you said it? What if it could be proven that you’d a hundred years longer if you were at all times kept in a small box, fed intravenously, and shown movies and television for entertainment? How far would you go simply to live longer? What joys would you give up in order to have more time with your remaining joys?

A thing is what a thing is and it is not something else. This is the single greatest truth in all of life.

The parts and the joins...
they’re all just parts.

Some things have a
roundness to them. Your perception of them is not immediate, but instead develops over a period of time. Some cuisine is like that; one flavor leads into the next, and the blurring between them provides the roundness. Some feelings are like that, too. Well-being, happiness/sadness, warmth/coldness, and love are all feelings that engage you; they have depth. But pain and hatred are more like afflictions; they have no depth, just a sharp linear shallowness.

timesmith...someone adept at passing time, someone doing nothing of consequence.

Time can heal only that which can be replaced. The other stuff, you eventually either forget about it or get numb to it.

Memories...the great treasure of life, the great landfill of life.

What causes a feeling of love or of warmth to evaporate? It depends on how much of a feeling is there to begin with, but basically it happens because that person no longer trips your mind’s circuitry of that archetype—either because that person, or simply what you see of them, has changed a certain way, or because you have changed a certain way. As for my own feelings, I’ve never had that happen with love, and with warmth I’ve had that happen only when I found that Anita was a friend just for free stuff; I felt all that warmth for her because of my raw impression of her, and when I found out what she was really like, that stopped the warmth. As for the other person’s feelings, I’ve had that happen only when Charleen fell out of love with me. I think that happened because she got used to the love—loving and being loved—and then the top spot in her hierarchy of needs went to something I wasn’t good at, some kind of day-to-day compatibility. But my own hierarchy of needs, except for those related to the physical necessities of life, always has love and warmth at the top. My need for love and warmth can be sated by being with the right woman, but it can never be displaced from its position at the top of the hierarchy. It’s similar to how oxygen is always you uppermost physical need...you need it at all times, and to be without it for even a short interval is too much.

If you’re happy, you don’t want to die; you want to continue being happy. If you’re unhappy but have been happy at some time in life, you don’t want to die; you want to be happy again. It’s only when you’ve never been happy and when you’ve come to have no hope for happiness, that you want to die.

It’s not so much that nothingness lies at the end of all things. It’s more that it’s been there all along, behind all things.

People are always trying to turn their urges and drives, their basic needs, into something fuller and richer, something that involves more of their heart and mind and senses. They want a fine meal with an engaging companion in a nice setting, not merely not to be hungry. They want to make love to an exotic and beautiful woman wrapped in perfumed silk bedcovers, not merely to have sex.

What are the things we want from, or want to give to, other people? Love, beauty, sex, family, money, power, safety and comfort, entertainment and other things that make life interesting, recognition, respect, understanding, pain and fear, domination and degradation…
all the things of the world.

When you want to change something about your life, don’t think
I don’t want to die like that, think I don’t want to live like that. It’s a more productive timeframe...

Sometimes our thoughts are clarified or extended by words, other times they’re limited or obscured by words. I wonder if it’s not really the same thing...

Complete knowledge tell you everything and it tells you nothing. In a way, they’re the same thing; the starting point is the same as the ending point. It’s only in incompleteness that there are degrees of difference.

The answer to a properly formatted question does not matter; only the question itself matters.

Sometimes if you simply hang around data long enough, if turns into information. A piece falls into place and you see a thing for what it is, or at least as something recognizable. Other times you have to prod it along to get it to go there. And some people need more pieces in order to recognize the whole...

The things you have to lie about in order to get or to keep seldom work out. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have had to lie in order to have them. Lies create stress within a living structure in the same way that, say, using a substandard bolt creates stress within a bridge.

Your head can be turned by a certain kind of attention, but if it comes too soon, it’s because you’re just a type to that person. They don’t yet know you, but they know your type.

You can measure the value, to you, of a relationship by what you get out of it relative to what you put into it. In a word,
profit. The value of the material stuff is easy to measure, but the value of the feelings is difficult and has to be calculated separately because there’s no unit of measure common to material stuff and feelings. And you have to include not only the value of the feelings the other person causes you to have, but also the value of the feelings you cause yourself to have by doing and feeling things for the other person.

There are four things in all of life which in some way or another I’ll never be able to get over: the ending of Charleen’s love for me, not staying with Julie in France or taking her away with me, being unable to feel that last drop of warmth for Alma, and losing the warmth I felt for Anita. These things will be with me forever, and it’s such a long, long forever...

It’s not that these things have somehow damaged me, but simply that they’re unique and significant events in my life. Each is its own thing and cannot be compared to any other thing. That makes them special.

There are things that enable your life and there are things that enrich your life. A dollar is a dollar, but some of them merely enable you to continue living, whereas others enrich your life by allowing you to do the things that, for you, go beyond mere living.

I’ve never known I woman of whom I could say I wanted to date her more than I wanted to be her friend. There can be no good dating without there also being good friendship.

Over time, people forget how to act, even how to think, with their heart rather than with their mind. It happens because they come to mistrust their heart, and the hearts of others, more so than their mind and the minds of others.

There are too many one-sided feelings floating around in the world at large. Most men would be interested in sleeping with a beautiful woman even if she didn’t want to sleep with him; that’s why there’s prostitutes, rohypnol, and lies.

With some women you meet, you can tell that all you’re ever going to want from them is sex. But since you can’t ever have just that, you shouldn’t get involved with those women. That’s what prostitutes are for—that’s all they expect you to want from them, and it’s their line of business.

People rightly expect you to want them for more than just their body or their money. To another person, your money is just
stuff. And while you think of your body as inseparable from the rest of you, another person can easily make such a separation. A woman is dancing with a man she’s just met on the dance floor, then his hands are all over her and then he’s kissing her. He doesn’t know her at all, but for his purpose that’s enough.

If I’m plain looking and you’re beautiful, what do I want it to say about me that we’re together? I want it to say that perhaps I’m not so plain after all, or that, while I concede my plainness, I have some fine qualities that make up for my plainness.

If I’m beautiful and you’re plain looking, what do I want it to say about me that we’re together? I want it to say that I’m discerning enough to see in you, and to appreciate, some fine qualities that make up for your plainness. I already know you know I’m beautiful, now I want you to know there’s more to me than just that.

For me, the success of busting a move on a woman is in getting to know more of a her, not in getting her into bed. It often leads to that, but it’s hard to fake that larger interest; you can only fool women who want to be fooled or who are extremely naïve. It’s ironic that, outside of celebrities, the men who get the most sex are the ones who aren’t looking for it, the ones who are instead looking for a natural progression in a relationship. If that leads to sex, good. If not, that’s good, too, because it wouldn’t have been right for either of you.

One time I was sitting at the bar in an Italian restaurant. I was having a glass of wine and doing some writing. When I do that, I generally spend a lot time look looking off into space as I think about things. I happened to notice a woman sitting at the far end of the bar, around the corner so that she was facing me. She was having dinner and a glass of wine, sometimes reading, sometimes checking what appeared to be a planner or notebook. Every now and then she’d look at me, and every now and then I’d look at her. Most people look away when you do that, but she didn’t. She kept looking at me, as if she found something of interest in me and was thinking about it. I wanted to find out what that was, so on my way out I paused next to her, looked down at her plate, and said, “Well, it doesn’t look like you’re going to get a gold star for cleaning your plate.” She laughed and asked if I’d care to join her. I said I’d like that, and I did get to know more of her, so the move was successful. But I wonder what I would have said if her plate had been empty...

For me, there are three feelings in life for which there is no comparison—a parent’s love for their children, romantic love, and warmth.

You never know what is in another person’s heart...

It’s not so much that the world is often a cold place. It’s more that your lack of a close connection to most of the people and things in the world leaves you feeling cold. Like all the other things you feel, the coldness is already inside you; you just have to be in touch with yourself enough to able to feel it. That might not sound like a good thing, but it is.

The things that will become problems in the long run rarely become problems in just one night, so if you can enjoy sex just by itself, that’s always an option for you.

Seven words:
Why can’t we all just get along? Appreciate the differences, appreciate the similarities, and don’t hurt other people. That’s all any of us needs to do in life.

There’s not enough time left for negative feelings.
There never has been...

Advice for life: live large…make the big decisions right…talk to a variety of people, learning what you can from, and giving what you can to, each of them…cultivate the ability to think broadly and analytically…know when you don’t yet know something…and think enough to have opinions, but keep an open mind.

The thing to do is to live your life with as much abandon as possible while staying within the boundary of the big picture you have of your life and of your self. It’s a minimax strategy—how to get the most out of your life. Not just today, not just in your retirement years, but all of it.

You should be true to your dreams. Not your nighttime dreams, but your waking dreams. These are where you are most free. You’ve got to have the right dreams, though, and to do that, you have to know yourself—what you really want, what you’re really capable of.

Life, Growth, Power. Life meaning that you enjoy living, that you find it fulfilling. Growth meaning that you’re always becoming more, becoming better. Power meaning that you have the ability to withstand threats to the goodness of your life. They’re listed in descending order of importance.

Don’t look in other people for the things you lack in yourself. Instead, look for the keys to what’s already inside you.

Religious people often do better—eduationally, economically, and socially—in life than do nonreligious people. It’s not because God favors them, it’s because religions often stress charity (being of help to others) and discipline (being of help to yourself). Sometimes you’re on the receiving end of the former, and you’re always on the receiving end of the latter.

The only requirement I have in friends is that I find them interesting or that I feel warmth for them. That, and that they are a friend in return. My friends don’t have to be beautiful or good or wealthy; they don’t have to be either like me or different than me in a complementary way. That’s why there’s a place in my life for so many friends. If it were just a matter of the other qualities, it would be enough to have one friend possessing each of those qualities. But then it would be the qualities, not the people, that mattered...

I’ve found only two feelings in life that work perfectly well in one direction. For me, love, sex, and friendship have to be two-way, to flow between me and the other person. But warmth, and the love I have for my children, work perfectly well flowing only from me to the other person.

Archetypes and fantasies…the best fantasies involve situations that cannot be made to work in reality. Some of these things can, however, be made to work in a fantasy; all it takes is a little tweaking here and there. If it can work in reality, you should pursue it in reality. If not, you should leave it in the realm of fantasy——not pursued, just free to come and go on its own.

stopper can be thought of as something that prevents you from having a particular kind of relationship with someone. It could be something in the way they look, something in their personality, or something you can’t put your finger on. It works by stopping up the circuitry of your mind’s archetype of love, or warmth, of any kind of relationship.

When you fail to see the whole person, you’re tempted to change the things that, for you, aren’t quite right…because, for you, the other person is just a set of attributes. But the whole person is something else entirely. Such a person, for you, rises above all those things—the ones that are right for you as well as the ones that are wrong for you.

I was in a bar the other night and a woman said, “You’ve got such a faraway look in your eyes.” I said, “You wouldn’t believe how far...how much time and how many miles.”

It reminded me of the time I was on the train coming home after work a couple years ago. I was thinking long thoughts and I happened to notice a young girl sitting on the other side of the aisle, facing my direction. Every now and then she looked at me as if she found me unusual or perhaps interesting; other times she was writing in a small notebook. I was feeling particularly cold then, and the coldness was settling into me and engulfing me. It happens every now and then. Eventually I felt tears welling up in my eyes. I was wearing sunglasses so I didn’t bother to wipe away the tears. Then suddenly the tears reached critical mass and broke free from each of my eyes at the same moment. The girl was watching me then, and as my tears slid into view below my sunglasses, she started to write. I wondered what she was writing...

It’s hard to get your mind around dying. In your entire life, the one constant is you. You change over time, but you’re still you. People and places and things come and go, but you are always there. When I think of being dead, it’s like I can’t breathe. But it’s not really going to be like that, is it? For the first time, for me, I simply won’t be there.