The authors of this punchy, graphic-filled guide understand that “in the rush to consume life, rather than live it … we sometimes lose sight of what’s important to us,” so they have created this inspiring guide to get readers thinking about what they would like to do with the time they’ve got left. In often stirring, one- or two-page essays, 30-something writers primarily from London and major U.S. cities share their own experiences fulfilling such dreams as “Help save an endangered animal,” “Ask out a total stranger,” and “Build something that lasts.” All 100 suggestions fall under the chapter titles Roots, Explore, Experiment, Challenge, Give, Learn, Express, Love, Work and Legacy, which keeps the tone from becoming too vacation-focused or self-indulgent. Some of the pieces suffer from amateur composition, but many more are inspiring in their simplicity and forthrightness. Thelma, a Californian, writes of a life-long pen pal in Yorkshire, England: “We are now both 71 years old and have kept this precious friendship together for nearly 60 years.” Also helpful are questions that prompt the reader to ponder what their life’s dreams really are (“Who in your life has surprised you with the chances they’ve taken?”; “Which period in history are you curious to know about?”). Though the concept behind the book is simple, it is well-executed and empowering.
I just got home from the Litquake Writers on Drugs show, the place was packed, jacked and wacked, 200 litquakin’ loons crammed into the Edinburgh Castle, where the ghost of Irvine Welch pukes in the bathroom, and oh man the joint jumped, rumbled, rattled and rolled, 9.8 on the Richter Scale. Alan Black the masterful master of ceremonies, was the very model of Scottish hospitality, all nettles and good cheer and the blackest of humor, invoking the dead who’d perished in the Castle from overindulgence and intemperence. What a wag that Alan is, if you’ve never met him, do yourself a favor, introduce yourself at the Caslte and have a blather, he is a true Olde School wit. BTW, Litquke was actually conceived at the Castle, in the front room, i’m not sure what bodily fluids were exchanged but the fetus was made and life began there. From such humble beginnings, Litquake has become such a huge amazing phenomenon. I was very happy to be at the Castle for Drug Night.
Before the show I was hanging out all alone, rehearsing, in the upstairs back room where they normally have readings, when I met another of the evening”s performers, Ed Rosenthal, one of America’s most famous marijuana advocates and a writer and publsiher. He asked me if this was the place to smoke weed. I said I thought this was as good a place as any. He kindly asked me if I would like to join him. I thanked him, and explained that I can’t perform as well when I’m stoned, it throws me off my game. Funny to be performing a drug story in a night full of drug stories, and not be able to be on drugs because it would make my performance suffer. At one time in my life I would have said yes, got stoned, and agonized about it, got all FREAKED OUT, and been all tight and weird and destroy my own self, then fall deep into a funk and go engage in some Behavior, as my AA friends call it, that stuff you do to destroy yourself. I was happy to have evolved enough to recognize what was in my own best instance, and to act accordingly. That made me happy. But when Ed pulled out his pipe and happily lit up, getting quite lit up in the process, I was suddenyl sad. Imagine how great Ed Rosenthal’s weed must be. Later when he went out to perform he confessed in a tiedied stoner voice that he didn’t really remember anything of his life up to about a week ago. He got a big laugh. I was struck by how he had evolved enough to make comedy out of his life. And I thought, ahhhh, yes, that’s why I moved to San Francisco. Ed did a mad rant about how insane it is that the government is sinking all this time and money into fighting the war on drugs when so much else is mucked up in the world, and thanked San Franciscans for helping him make legal history in fighting the evil bastards of the Dark Side. Jayson Galloway, Professor of English author of Viagra Fiend, deconstructed his six favorite drugs, from acid (worst) to ecstacy (favorite), elborating on the pluses and minuses of each. Favorite line: Cocaine is a dillatante drug. Quite right. Fascinating that meth (#4 on his list I believe) got booed. Meth apparently is no longer sexy. Unless you’re on it. Before you crash and just want MORE METH. R.U. Serius, looking deliciously Hobbitty and puckish, read a hysterical story about growing up and doing drugs. Favorite scene: He’s listening to some local dude talk about eating some girl out, and he has no idea what that means, so he assumes it’s about cannibalism and wonders why there were no arrests afterwards. Favorite line: Something he learned that has stayed with him the entire rest of his life: When you’re in a group experimenting with drugs, NEVER GO FIRST.
Then came the break, and I was disturbingly nervous as I did my warm-ups and stretches. They’re going to hate me. I could see it so clearly. Kept flashing on this time I was performing in a nightclub in Edinburgh and they turned on me, I was so bad, I sucked so hard, I bombed, I died, I crashed and burned. It kept recurring, that flashback of the sick cold failure clamming all over me, wrapping its icy fingers around my neck with an ever-tightening chokehold. I fought the image as best I could, using Jedi mind control techniques: I countered the failure flashbacks with memories of when I had fun, when I flowed sweet and easy. At the Assembly Room at the Fringe Festival. Last year at Litquake when Furlinghetti opened (yeah right!)for me. Doing a sketch for HBO where I was a leach lover. Emceeing at Chippendales one Saturday night when I was whipping the Ladies into a frenzied froth. Every time I did, the failure flashback faded. Still, it was exhausting.
So after the break, the music finally gets turned off, and Alan makes the crowd shut up. He’s like a great dominatrix, he just demands respect. So naturally he gets it. They shut up. He’s giving me a great intro, and I take a moment to look out at the crowd, all baited with anticipation, so much human energy waiting to have fun, and I have a profound sense of well being, like where in the world would I rather be? 200 humans just waiting be to entertainment, desperatley wanting to be entertained, and I didn’t have to lift a finger to get them there. I had a deep feeling of gratitude to the universe, so lucky to be there in the now of that moment, and I felt a sense of accomplishment, like I worked so hard to get there, the years of stand-up and the years of writing and writing of writing, and the hours and hours I spent working on this story I was about to read,the revising, the re-writing, the tinkering, the buffing the polishing, it all lead me there. As I looked at the crowd, all those faces, eyes shining, souls hungy for something to wrap themselves around, to transport them, make them laugh and feel and be alive with all these other humans, I felt like part of a long line of history, of people gathering to share their stories, to rejoice in the beauty and terror of being alive on the planet with all the other humans.
I was gonna do some sort of introductory remarks, some witty chitchatty small talk, but feeling the crowd, I sensed that I should just dive right into the telling of the story. It felt like they wanted to be told a story, so I gave it to them. Right from the very beginning I could feel the room come with me. It’s hard to describe how you know that, you can’t quantify or measure it, but my God you can feel it. When a crowd is bored or resistant, or turned off, it’s like when a date goes bad. You can just feel it, and if you’re not careful you panic and work harder to make it better, only that just makes it worse. But when you feel them with you, that crowd, it’s electric, and you feel you can do no wrong. So, at the beginning I was getting laughs from lines that I never got laughs on before in that story, which is always a great sign, but not abnormal, when you have a large jacked up crowd crammed into a small intimate space. But then when I came to the part in the story where a character makes an impassioned plea for everyone to all take acid together before the big hockey game against the hoity toits at Andover, I really let loose, and shouted out the lines with all my mojo flowing, amd the crowd roared eruptingly, man what a krazee rush that was. The best drug of all, I thought, this is the best drug of all, being up here and getting all that laugh love and riotous crowd happiness, riding through my veins finer than the finest China White. I’m getting goose bumpies just stting here typing this, it was so overwhelmingly purely joyful. Addictive? Perhaps. Hangover? Never.
So then I got to the part where we’re on the bus going to the game, as everybody waits for the acid to kick in, and in the story it gets quiet. Scary quiet. I hadn’t planned to, but I lowered my voice to a whisper, and then just stopped talking to let it sink in. Pindrop eery silence fell night over the room. In a club so crowded that kind of silence is stunning, and for me, pure gold, mana from heaven, mother’s milk, possibly better than an orgasm. No, better than an orgasm for sure, cuz you can have an orgasm in your room all alone. It takes 200 other humans to create this spooky silence, where no one is breathing, and even the machines seem to be holding their breath. Again I hadn’t planned this, but I just stopped talking. Let it sit there and sink in. Early in my career I could never have done that. You have to have absolute trust and faith to stop talking like that. To give the moment its full due takes a kind of blind faith. But I felt it. And I just let it be. Trusted myself and my instincts. Trusted the crowd. Trusted the story. It was like a comedy time bomb. After a few stunned seconds of stunning silence, the reality of the moment in the story, where everyone is waiting to feel the acid come on, sinks in to the audience there in that room. And they get it. They are one with me and I with them, and that is when I feel God in that moment of union and communion transcendent and holy in the very best sense of the word. I scanned the room with wide eyes, feeling that feeling from the story fully and truly, of waiting to feel the acid and watching the faces of my teamamtes to see if they were feeling it too. And the more I looked, the more they laughed. It’s just the coolest thing to get that huge a laugh from NOT saying anything. This is when Einstein is revealed to be a genius. Time for me becomes palpably relative. This moment just keeps going on and on and on, the laughter washing over my shores all warm and wet and tall and tan and young and lovely. When I die and my life flashes before my eyes, I hope this is one of the moments I relive. As the laughter faded, I dove right back, and I felt myself riding that crowd like a dragon I trained and made my own, flying through the air, with the greatest of ease, swooping and diving, spitting fire at will. It was just so easy. Effortless ecstacy. The crescendo happened right where it should, we all climaxed together just like it’s supposed to be. To the golden sounds of the crowd giving it up, I floated off the stage and up the stairs, the high on all the love I’m getting.
The rest of the show was a blur to me, but Kate Braverman, transplendent and noirish in black, and Michelle Tea were amazing. Michelle read from Rent Girl. I was reminded again what a great reader and writer she is, which is rarer than hen’s teeth, (as my poor dead mom used to say) and she’s so styly to boot.
As we were leaving the club Arielle turned to me and said, “Boy you coulda gotta lotta pussy tonight.” I smiled at her and said, “Honey, I’ve got all the pussy I want right here with me. ” And I gave her a big wet sexy kiss. I guess we’re just a coupla knuckleheaded romantics. The one sad note of the evening was that I invited a writer who I’m working with to come and talk and network. She’s got, irony rearing its fat head, a terrible drug problem. She showed up wacked out of her skull. Didn’t even stay to watch my part of the show, never mind let me introduce her around afterwards. She called my cel phone while I was actually on stage. In her message she said she had a headache. Headache, my eye. The fact that she had to self-medicate herself to the point of stupification made my heart sink like a sad loadstone. She couldn’t do what was in her own best interest. And she’s such a talented writer. I want so much to help her, but then I wonder why should I bother if she can’t show up. It’s not enough to be talented and to to want it. You gotta show up. It’s nearly 4am now and I should be sleepy but I’m still so high and wired from my performance. I guess I’ll go read Crime and Punishment. I started it about a week ago, and man, that bastard can really write. Thanks San Francisco, you made my night.
My mom loved National Public Radio. Lived for it. Died with it. She was always calling me to tell me about some fabulous story she’d heard on This American Life, or some new Peruvian musical group she thought I’d love, or some unbelievable new writer Terry Gross interviewed. That was my mom all over. She loved getting all excited about things, and sharing her joie de vivre with those near and dear to her. It wasn’t enough that she got jazzed, she wanted you to be jazzed, too. It is a terrible thing that the world has been deprived of the excitement she generated on a daily basis.
So when I got an e-mail from a producer at NPR asking if I’d like to read a piece I wrote about my mom’s sudden, gut thumping death and the resulting grief, I was overjoyed. Then plunged into yet more grief, as I imagined how excited she would have been, how she would have told all her friends, how proud she would have been, how she would have spread all the love around thickly. That night I had a dream in which we were all sitting around playing cards, which was one of her favorite things to do. And she was her usual self, concentrating so hard on the cards that her lower lip curled up over her upper, giggling like a kid, smiling and laughing and telling everyone about me and NPR. What a happy dream. Up to that point I had been unable to shake the image of her on her death bed, head on fire from radiation, unable to speak, scared and wracked, gasping for air when her spirit was barely even there anymore but that sturdy Geordie body just not giving up the ghost. I was horrified to think that this would be the image I would have of my mother for the rest of my life. It was a depressed prospect, and seemed the opposite of honoring the laughing, joyful, fierce, thoughtful, fearless person she was. But that dream seemed to break the ice, and after I awoke with a smile, my images of my mom changed to happy ones.
When I went into the studio, the lovely and talented producer, Mark Trautwig, was so nice and generous. He too has suffered. Sharing our stories made me feel so much better. So not alone in me in my pain, a solo freak drowning in my agony. The recording itself was so easy. I did what I thought was a warm-up take, then saw the technician wrapping things up. I wanted another take. Before I could ask, they discovered I was 6 seconds long. So I got my second take, and as I did it I could really feel my mom with me, filling up the room, flowing through me, into the mic, and into the giant recording device. I was all lit up from the inside, the words flowed with no effort, and by the time I was done, I was floating in ecstasy. The second take was exactly the right amount of time. I’m including it here if you wanna take a listen. It’s only 2 minutes. Exacty 2 minutes. http://www.kqed.org/pgmArchive/RD62
One of my mother’s goals when she got sick was to go to New York and see “Spamalot” on Broadway. She was a great theater and Monty Python lover, both of which she passed on to me and my sibles. She just loved the Python’s wacky brand of saucy, sassy, silly highbrow lowbrow comedy. In fact, “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” became her theme song. Sadly, she died before she could see it. But we all decided, what the hell, we’ll trek to New York and see it in her honor. So me and Arielle, brother Craig, his wife Steph, their kids Ruth and Sam, and her life partner Judy went to watch King Arthur battle rude Frenchmen and a killer bunny. My mom loved to laugh, and this show was hysterical, in the best sense of the word. As the audience tittered, snickered, chuckled, guffawed, bellowed, and roared in laughter, I could hear my mom laughing with them, with me, with us.
And during the grand finale, when the whole cast comes out and sings “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”, while the rest of the audience applauded, I burst into tears of sorrow and joy. And when I looked down our row, my whole family was crying, while the rest of the packed theater was clapping and laughing. I think my mom, would have liked that.