Monday, February 16, 2015


I am currently reading Twyla Tharp’s book, The Creative Habit. In it she talks about barriers to the creative process, namely fears and distractions. To be sure these things create barriers for more than our creative lives, but focusing on distractions, I realized that these are particularly difficult for an enlightened hedonist.

Think about it, many of the distracting tasks we engage in, we do because they provide us with some amount of pleasure. Whether that’s the rush of getting a Facebook “like,” or just relaxing in front of the TV set. Little pleasures – isn’t that what hedonism is all about. If I enjoy watching TV and thus decide to spend my life watching it, isn’t that an application of hedonism as pure as it gets?

And I hesitantly have to answer, “yes, but…” And here is where I make that distinction on what makes one’s hedonism, “enlightened.” While truly you might experience pleasure from TV watching, couldn’t you do better than that? Would you look back and regret missing the other things you could have been doing?

Personally, I have to answer that I would not be satisfied with that life of just watching TV – the pleasure turning to disappointment. But here I also have to acknowledge that our decisions and journeys to living a fulfilling life are personal and subjective. Consequently, there may well be a person whose most fulfilling life is one sitting in front of the TV.

The calculus of hedonism is easy when you’re viewing it as a choice of pleasure over suffering, but more often than not; we are navigating our lives through choices of different pleasures. Enlightened Hedonism comes from a state of abundance  - survival is easy, fulfillment is more difficult.

With our lives on earth being finite and limited, each choice negates any alternate path. Distractions can be a dangerous seduction to a hedonist thus something to be mindful of.

For myself, most of my distractions come by way of LCD screens. Early on I knew I had to avoid video games. Playing the SIMS, 3AM rolled around and I realized I was more worried about my virtual character getting enough sleep than myself. Social Media is another distraction for me with the added seduction of creating the illusion of connecting with other people. I turn off most notifications, block certain feeds that I know will just annoy me, and try to limit my time in general. Still,  more often than not, I spend more time there than I would like.

But this is what it is to be an Enlightened Hedonist, to periodically question yourself and your desires, to take inventory, and make changes to suit your current circumstances. Its not enough to be experiencing smooth sailing; you have to ask yourself if you are you actually getting closer to your intended destination. While they still may be subjective, not all pleasures are equal. Distractions can be a sirens call to abandon your journey to experience the most fulfilling life. We must plot our course accordingly.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Circles in Time

Long before she passed, my mother gifted me a collection of 3x5 index cards, with at least one card for each day of the year. A prolific diarist, my mother had always filled her calendar books with notes about each day. These were not the sort of diary entries wrought with internal dialogue, emotional outpourings, or philosophical handwringing. Rather, they were simple one-line affairs, often remarking on the weather– were it particularly hot, cold, or stormy – but also including tidbits of events, births, deaths, or who she may have visited or called that day.

Eventually she transcribed these entries onto index cards, so as each day passed she would look at the card for the day, see the events that had happened on that same day years past, and make her new entry.

At some point she duplicated her cards for me, telling the story she had captured from my point of view; “dinner with Chris” in my mom’s version, became “dinner with mom.” I’ve had these cards for years and finally decided to make them a project of my own – to put them in some electronic format that I can read and follow along, and also update as my own days pass.

I too, have kept journals. Unlike my mother though, mine are full of haphazard exposition often written in deliberately obscure hand writing. An entry might include several pages of repetitive introspection followed by weeks, sometimes months, of blank pages. Yes I’ve filled volumes over the years, but they paint a timeline that is admittedly rather hard to follow.

Here is the brilliance of what my mother had created – while my journals assemble a sort of linear timeline one might expect in telling one’s story, my mom created a sort of circular, or spiral timeline, in which the past is revisited in regular intervals. In these cards a sort of rhythm is revealed. The spikes of activity in holidays and birthdays are evident and it becomes clear how these are events we normally use to anchor our memories.

In addition, I’ve found that my mom’s simple capture of the day’s events in a single sentence, can also be powerful triggers. As I recently flipped through the cards and saw the words “Dad is ill” I knew that was the day my father could no longer get out of bed, his brain tumor finally causing his immobility. That event forever changes the entire dynamics of our family from that point forward. Three words, no pages and pages of tearful resentments necessary.

I understand this is a code decipherable in many cases only by me. My First concert is recorded on May 19, 1979 as “to LA with friends to see Camelion and whiskey a gogo to see rock group” –my friends would refer to as the day of Cultural Suicide. It included seeing the play “Pygmalion” at the Music Center, the Movie Jubilee at the Nuart, and The Screamers at the Whiskey.

Then There’s February 8, 1984, “opening of winter Olympics in Jugoslavia” – Sure a historic event easily Googled, but for me this marked the start of a three week period of decadence with my soon to be wife eating chocolate, and downing shots of slivovitz anytime a medal was won, or a jump was landed. These simple sentences are memory seeds waiting to sprout and grow into full blown remembrances.

As this project continues I’m slowly learning my mother’s simplified methods of distilling a day into a sentence. I know I’m consciously trying to capture the things that will become my future memories, but I also wonder about those events whose significance only reveal themselves in time. Points in time, points on a circle. I’m enjoying this journey through my forgotten anniversaries.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Adventures in Hedonism - A Night on Broadway

This adventure was a bit of an accident – or happenstance as it were. Invited by a friend to see Wilderbe perform, we planned for dinner and a show – a night in downtown LA. I don’t get to downtown as much as I like, but every time I do it seems the place is a little bit more reclaimed as a destination.

Like any other city whose citizens fled for the suburbs decades ago in search of space and quiet neighborhoods, Los Angeles’ downtown suffered from neglect. Events like the Downtown Art Walk have slowly brought activity to the downtown nights. Starting only with one night a month, new restaurants and galleries have emerged and their success seems to have this slow but steady momentum.

We should have had a clue when every restaurant within 3 blocks of the Theater District was booked solid. Somehow we managed an early reservation at Industriel, which worked to our advantage – Valet parking for $7. Besides the food, I was amused by their teaser frosted windows on Grand allowing voyeuristic peeks into their kitchen.

After dinner we strolled to the venue and came upon a street closure. It seems, the show we were going to see was a small part of a greater event celebrating the revitalization of LA’s Theater district. I think something like seven different theaters were open free to the public, with Broadway blocked off, filled with food trucks, and a street party. It seems this was year seven of a 10-year plan to reopen the closed theaters of Broadway

The hallmark of the even though as the Los Angeles Theater – stepping into it was like walking into a time machine. Celebrating it’s own 84th Anniversary, The Los Angeles Theater retains all the elements you’d expect stepping for a night out on the town circa 1932. The Neoclassical details are just what you’d expect from Hollywood’s opulent heyday. No wonder this shuttered theater still makes its way into the movies as a readymade set.

My pictures don’t do it justice, the entrance is grand. The stairs to the balcony take you past a fountain (filled on this occasion by two mermaids). Downstairs, a bar that begs making a perfect Manhattan, and a Ladies room that boasts an oval sitting room with individual vanities, perfect for powdering one’s nose, and a full size, three-part mirror at the exit, to make sure you are looking good from all angles.

We of course made even deeper archeological digs using our cell phones as flashlights to check out the adjacent kids playroom, with a circus tent ceiling, and wall freezes of giraffes, elephants, and clowns. It is a crime that this place is not in regular use, but at the same time it’s a treasure and a time capsule that surely would have been renovated into nondescript functionality.

Seeing the theater alone would have made the evening worthwhile, but seeing it in use, with Wilderbe was all the more spectacular. A contemporary dance, performance art piece might seem out of place in such a theater, but in an aesthetic that makes new from old, the theater itself was a great found object. Wilderbe was a fun amalgamation of tribal circus dance puppetry and theater, a nice sampling of their talents, and capabilities.

After the show we wandered the neighborhood trying to see as much as we could before the theaters all closed. We slowly made our way beck to the restaurant and our car, but stopped along the way to check out PershingSquare. I tried to create a chess set out of things I could find in my pocket, but it seems even Pershing Square has a closing time and a security guard sent us on our way.

There are three years left on this ten-year revitalization plan. I hope this theater is both put to good use and preserved for future urban archeologists.