What happened?

Alert readers have noted that I haven’t written a blog post in some time. Several concerned humans asked me if I’m “all right,”  which I took to mean a concern about my health. When you’re 74 and diabetic, you can anticipate a certain fretfulness when you disappear from your own blog for three months.

So the first news is that I’m fine. I’m dealing with the usual depredations of age, but aside from that, everything is hunky dory. Also, I live in the same house married to the same fabulous woman. The children are doing well. So, like, nothing to see here.

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Step one: Do research

But I’m reassessing my relationship with writing. I’ve been a writer for as long as I can remember; I put out a neighborhood newsletter when I was nine. Because it was easy for me, and because I was callow, I didn’t think about my attitude toward writing, and what it meant to me personally. My callowness continued until about eight weeks ago, which is a long time for callow to survive.

We’d been to Cuba (great time! great place!) and I obviously thought I could get a column out of it. So I wrote one, and it was mostly crap. There were holes in it, and I struggled with filling them, and the deeper I got the more bullshit I produced. I decided to wait a day and come back to it with a new eye or a new brain. That day became a week and then two weeks, and I was beating myself up about not being able to finish and wondering if my diminished skills had to do with aging. Dementia! Alzheimer’s! Brain tumors! All three!

So I decided to take a break. After all, I was not required to write. I had no employer and the blog generated no income. So why not? Of course, I worried about my very kind and generous readership, so then I thought; They’re kind and they’re generous, they’ll understand. And so then I sailed along, doing what I always do except not writing anything, beyond the occasional Twitter post. I got retweets! So that was my validation.

So I began to think: Why do I write? Sure, I get to communicate my political ideas, but anybody can do that. Guys in bars do it all the time. Is it to be amusing?  I do enjoy being loved for my writing, because I was convinced that nothing else about me was lovable — or so I thought. Think? Low self-esteem is not susceptible to praise from others. Took me a while to learn that.

And the semi-continuous praise is a decision-clincher. I pick Column A; making money and hearing good things about ME, or anyway about my writing. Seems better than column B, broke and depressed. Better than I thought I’d do.

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Step two: Think outside the box

And I’d like to blame part of my block on Donald J. Fucking Trump. He presents an unpalatable choice for light fiction writers everywhere. If you avoid him, if you try to write about over-priced produce or early-career Lady Gaga or annoying phone scams, you wonder whether you’re part of the problem, providing momentary amusement during the age of rising totalitarianism. Clown shows at the edge of the pit of darkness.

On the other hand, giving in to the temptation to skewer the president (or his cronies) with your terrible swift prose-sword, channeling anger into mockery, well, join the club. Have you seen the New Yorker covers: Trump being thrown out of heaven, Trump turning into a sandwich, Trump gunning down Mexicans. OK, maybe not the last one. The magazine can’t seem to get enough of this stuff, even as its longer pieces add to the general air of gloom. Have you ever read a New Yorker piece on climate change? Did you want to kill yourself right then, or wait until after dinner?

I don’t want to be a traitor to #TheResistance. I want to write penetrating satire, or powerful invective. But (have you noticed?) that field seems to be overcrowded. I’m sure we all want to read big foot pundits’ view of Trump’s transgressions, because — wait, no we don’t. What you can say that has not been said? Besides, in reality, everyone’s waiting for Robert Mueller to take the malefactor on the longest perp walk in history, so we can all spit on him as he walks by. But Trump prose? A chump’s game. On the other hand, non-Trump prose: Diletante! Arriviste! Phony leftist! Understand, all this yelling happens inside my head. It matches in intensity the yelling outside my head. God it’s hard to find a nice quiet place to think.

On the other hand, pure retirement is great. I’ve spent 50 years of my life working against deadline. I didn’t realize how stressful it was. Even now, working without deadlines but still with expectations, didn’t feel that great either. And no, my biggest deadline is trash pick-up and keeping the house stocked with paper products. I read a lot, I watch TV a lot, and I screw around on the Internet a lot. I enjoying traveling. Plus, live music, good meals with friends, big movies in big movie theaters.  I don’t have a retired guy hobby, like woodworking or garden design or hanging around the courthouse trolling for interesting trials. I kinda tried to get a project, but I rejected one of them, and one of them rejected me. I didn’t try very hard, because it’s summer and the garden looks amazing.

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Step three: Meet Santa

Photography by Tracy Johnston

Good vibes and useful suggestions by Michelle Mizera

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105 thoughts on “What happened?

  1. Welcome back, Jon. I’ve got some great news for you: not long ago I figured out that this is all just an eerie extended episode of “The Twilight Zone”, and that soon the episode will reach its satisfying and karmic denouement, and we will all be able go home and eat some crunchy and savory Korean take-out, and then hit the hay for a blissful and totally relaxing period of deep and soul-restoring slumber. So we can just all breathe easy and enjoy each moment. Now please excuse me,,,it’s time for my Brompton Cocktail.

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  2. Well, Jon, as you must have gathered by now there’s a lot of folks who want you to keep writing — and, frankly, we don’t give much of a shit as to what the subject is. Because, ultimately, the only subject is YOU and when you write and put something out there you declare your presence and that allows for connection — which is really what we all want, isn’t it? So, when you reveal yourself we get to know that much more about you — which leads us to know that much more about ourselves. Which then leads us to declare our own presences to those around us. Get it? Just fucking write!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. TMI: this comes from someone with a history gruesome enough that people literally cannot listen to it. I’ve seen more than my share of shit, and I have not come out unscathed, including diabolically low self-esteem. I can barely take what has happened to me, but it REALLY breaks my heart to hear about OTHER people suffering. It is unimaginable to me that you should have the burden of self-esteem issues. So I want to tell you of at least one moment when I had to get completely over myself. I am one of seven subjects in a documentary called Dialogues With Madwomen. It premiered to a sold-out Castro Theater audience in 1993, was bought by PBS for airing as part of their series P.O.V., and won an Emmy in 1995. The filmmakers, Allie Light and Irving Saraf, naturally had other things to do once they finished the film. When people contacted them to ask them to appear at a screening of Dialogues, they would turn them down and send me instead. So for years I went various places to appear with the film, including Venice, Italy when someone put Italian subtitles on it in 2006. Everywhere, I mean EVERYwhere I went, people told me I was their favorite person in the film, and, being gifted at batting away compliments, I always internally replied, “You would say that to anyone who had bothered to come here and meet you in person.” Eventually I amassed a serious boatload of almost identical compliments, none of which I heard. Finally, one day in 2007, I was contacted by a professor at a college in Boston. He told me he had been showing the film three times a year for the past five years and that I was overwhelmingly the person his students chose to talk about. There were seven of us, and I got about 80% of the attention, with the other 20% split between the other six. NEW PARAGRAPH I finally had to hear that professor, which meant that I finally had to let all those compliments sink in that had been stuck in the trashbin of my psyche: and I could not stop crying for a week. Jon, you are such a treasure. Get over yourself. We love you to itsy bitsy pieces, and if you ever fully grasp that, I hope you can do it without the crying jag I just described. MAJOR HUGS, dude.

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  4. You need to go six months without writing to get kicked off the blogroll at Civic Center. So glad to read your voice again, and having grappled with a few of the same issues lately, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s better to write less and to write wiser, which is foolishly ambitious but not a bad goal.

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  5. Jon, write when you want to write don’t write when you don’t. It’s all good. Bee love your writing when you do. About anything, it’s all good, to us readers.
    No worries. Enjoy life, if you include us great. If not no worries. We’ll miss you but such is life.
    I hope you do continue, but if not enjoy life, you deserve it.

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  6. Jon, I hope you have noticed that the key is how you write, not what you write.

    If you and someone else wrote about the proverbial paint drying, I will wager your writing would be the one I prefer to read.

    You haven’t lost your whatchamacallit, it still there, Cuba piece or no Cuba piece.

    Sooner or later, Orange Roughy!

    Be well, and the problem is bigger the The Trumpet – the real problem is all those idiots who support him because, well, they’re idiots.

    If I run across one of them and they start to speak, I shut up because I know I cannot get through in the slightest way.

    The tree has Dutch Elm disease and there is no cure.

    When you can, give us some words to soothe our soul.

    Thank you.

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  7. Welcome back. Relax. Write a sonnet. Don’t waste your time belaboring Trumpiness. It’s not worth the effort

    Sent from my iPhone

    650.367.9027 One Arthur Lane Atherton CA 94027

    >

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  8. Thank you for surfacing and relaying your present state. As you say, there are no more words re 45. At age 76, I recognize your position — to relax (“ferlax” as my little granddaughter says) or Do Something or in effect retreat to a vineyard with locked gates and pick grapes. It’s hard to reach an equilibrium. You have written your heart out, and we have all benefitted, so I say ferlax now, look to your health, and let us know how you are when you feel like it.

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  9. Gotcher mojo. (It’s always there, Jon, like… like Alexa.). So no worries. No reason to question its existence. It’s just a question of whether you want to summon it. Like Alexa.

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  10. John, this one got me…deep down in the gut area.
    I spent 4 hours and 30 minutes driving home through the Adirondacks listening to the Kavanaugh hearings yesterday. Four hours and thirty minutes of some of the most captivating and alarming words spoken on the current state of our nation.
    Today, I have no idea what to do with myself except to go back to the circus and watch your brilliant daughter present work that is meaningful and touching and deeply, purely human. She gets that talent from her parents.
    So uh…thank you.
    G

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I heard some of those hearings, too. I was actually heartened to hear some of our Congress Critters really doing their jobs. I thought all the ever did anymore was sit around, take corporate bribes, and sell us down the river. Some great speeches, even from “that” side of the aisle. Senator John Neely Kennedy (R-LA) was spot-on.

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  11. I experience the EXACT SAME conundrum.

    I feel like making important social commentary such as “Where on earth can you get a burger for $2.89?”

    But I realize, due to my special status as a vegetarian, I don’t care.

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  12. Hey Jon, Been missing you. Very glad you and all those whom you love, are fine. As a retired 75 year old, and blogger myself, I understand. I think you might relate, as I do, to this quote written in the year 1340 by a Japanese poet and court official named Yoshida Kenko.Voila:

    “To while away the idle hours, seated the livelong day before the inkslab, by jotting down without order or purpose whatever trifling thoughts pass through my mind – verily this is a queer and crazy thing to do.”

    Blessings,
    Metta,
    Michael

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  13. Jon, you are quite right. There are already more than enough people bitching and moaning about Trump, and calling it “resistance.” I have the perfect topic on which you could write instead. It will cause controversy, piss off a whole lot of people, get you reviled and screamed at, maybe even death threats – a pleasant change from boring old adulation, I should think.

    It is this: look into how the DNC elites, the Clintons, et al worked, doggedly, to get Trump into office. They might even have meant to do it, although most likely the plan was to get Clinton in there, and it backfired. This is not wild-eyed conspiracy theory. It is right there in the damned emails that were leaked. Look up “pied-piper candidate.”

    The part that is so damned frustrating is that they have managed to distract, obscure, and obfuscate their nefarious deeds from the public eye, merely by making a huge stink, blaming “the Russians” for leaking that info. So what if they did – they revealed the truth. The extent of their “election inference,” if that is what they did, was to reveal the truth. And people have fallen for it. Gah. I don’t understand people. Sometimes, I really hate neurotypicals 😛

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  14. Chime in whenever you want to or don’t, you’ve earned the write, Jon. As Gurdjieff or Ouspensky once said, we are continually presented with ” the sheer terror of the situation. So, oi vey! damned if we speak out, damned if we don’t. By none other than ourselves. So , as your druthers and wont, , speak to our dilemma. I truly enjoy your rumination.

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  15. Hello Jon,

    Yes, it has been a while. I used to go to the Chronicle website pretty much every day, to read your column and there used to be news,too. I don’t go there much anymore because it’s too depressing.

    I’ll bet you write for the same reason I write — so your words will live after you’re gone, and people will read them and your thoughts and values and your you will continue to enlighten and entertain people. A nice thought, no? This is my biggest concern right now; I’ve got 35 years worth of writing to edit and an unknown but steadily shrinking amount of time to do it. The day will come when I won’t be able to do many things I do now, quite possibly including reading and writing. I know people who are going blind. So, I’m trying to focus what energy I can muster on getting my work ready for forever.

    Glad your health is holding up. It may not be true for you, but I’m pretty sure it’s not my choice to keep writing or quit. I’ve never had a problem with writers block — I just wait until I start writing again. But I’m not on deadline. I probably told you this before, but the word deadline comes from low security prisons in the southern US where they didn’t waste any money on fences, they just chalked a line on the ground or used pegs and string. If you stepped over the line, they shot you dead.

    Cheer up, Trump’s going down, and he’s gonna throw the biggest tantrum in recent world history. Take care, bro’,

    Mike Goldenberg

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  16. Thanks for letting us know you’re all right, Jon. I loved this post. So many of us have been depressed, really depressed, since the Cheeto in Chief took office, and you describe the phenomenon perfectly. I’ll remind myself when I’m “yelling in my head” to take a break – sit out on the deck. snuggle with our kitty, watch dumb TV.

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  17. I’ve always appreciated your writing, though I haven’t been a regular reader for some time, I do pop over to your blog here and again, almost out of homesickness.

    I grew up reading your column in the Chron, when I became old enough to consider reading the words there on the other side of the funnies. I enjoyed your columns, and looked forward each day to your thoughts on the events of the day, the Giants, your cats, the circus, and the seasonal mondegreens/untied way/etc.

    I kept reading the column into college, where it gained the extra value of becoming a vocabulary booster– you would invariably include a word that I hadn’t heard before, I would look it up and my vocabulary would grow a bit.

    I sent you an email once, which you then published the text of in your column. This remains a prized memory and an enormous event in my life– you may not even remember, but it was a big deal for me.

    The point I’m clumsily trying to make here, is to suggest another motivation to write (one closely related to the joy and affirmation of accolades from your generous readership); that your writing has a real impact on people’s lives. If you wind up choosing to hang up your pen and call it a day your impact will remain, undiminished; but if you carry on writing, you are likely to keep on positively affecting people’s lives, as you did mine.

    Thanks for all the words Jon, I’ve appreciated them.

    Joe

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  18. I do so enjoy your rantings and musings, but completely understand the need to continuously find who you are today, which may be drastically different from the you of yesterday. Your gift has given me many fine moments, and I am grateful for all that you share.

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