Speech Before the Last Graduating Class
of L'École du Néant
Today I have decided against giving my "Life is a River" speech --- the one that I crank up so easily, often intone when I am in my cups, the speech that begins:

    Life is a river. Sometimes it goes up, sometimes it goes down. Sometimes it is stormy and rough; at others, calm, smooth, glassy.

    Oh, there are days when the channel narrows, throws up great waves. Later, it will open up, and one can pass as in a dream --- whole months go by when the fresh breezes carry one etc. etc. blah, blah...

My friends and I regularly share meals and, some evenings, these thoughts, and at times, what they call my filosofía, will erupt. As I commence, their eyes turn glassy with wonder at my insights, bodies turn supine as they relax in preparation for my rhetoric. It's Table Talk of the highest order. They swoon with philosophic delight until their heads come to rest in the plates before them.

Today I have determined to spare you la filosofía completa and instead will sum up my eight decades in easily digestible form, a mere fifteen or twenty points, one or so for each of the five years of my time on earth.

At the same time, I want to give you something that you can sink your teeth in to, and that may serve you even more tastefully, if not fillingly, in the future. Thus I include some samples from my forth-coming book, Great Recipes for Geezer Gastritis, which will conjoin the Truth of the Ages with the Tastes of the Aged.

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  • The core message of the play "Peer Gynt" is To thine own self be true. Ibsen neglected to tell us how to find one's "own self." If you are lucky, someone will reveal it to you early on. If you are like most of us, it will come in a blinding flash --- probably when you are well into the age of reason. How will you know? You'll know. Why should you know? So you will be able to ignore its corollary, the old Pennsylvania-Dutch mot --- Ve are too soon alt und too late schmart.
  • If you must eat steak, buy good T-bone, rub it on both sides with olive oil, sprinkle with garlic salt, and broil it as close to the flame as possible. Five minutes max on either side.

  • Good friends are the be-all and the end-all in life. Honor them with your soul . . . but only after you have tested the water. As the Master said,
         Love many,
         Trust few,
         Paddle your own canoe.

  • In twenty-first century America most people are insanely lonely. This is why they do the insane things like starting wars, staring at cellphones, and finding themselves incapable of the basics of finding love. (If you don't love yourself, who in god's name out there is going to love you?) Joyce said, "Throw yourself on the ash-heap," but he didn't know beans about love. Ask Nora Barnacle. The best advice is for you to go anywhere where there are those you know you can love, and vice-versa. From there on, take your chances.

  • Leg of lamb (bone in) should be stuffed with eight or ten peeled whole garlic cloves. Stab the leg with a knife and just shove them in. Coat the whole with lime or lemon juice and sprinkle heavily with fresh rosemary, salt, and freshly ground black pepper. Cook in the oven, uncovered, for two or three hours at 350°.

  • Once in interview author Hubert Selby said that all of life is made up of love and fear. I thought he was going to say "love and hate," but he said "love and fear."

  • Find The Divine even if you choose to call him, her, or it by another name. If the Christian/Muslim god is too much for you, try Buddhism, Quakerism, Hinduism, Sufism, Shinto, Animalism, Nihilism, Transcendentalism or Zoroastrianism.

  • Once you find your own true self, and if it is permitted where you live, go for it. If not, get out as quickly as you can --- go where it is acceptable, across the street, across the country, across the world. This is known as "following your heart."

  • Peel broccoli much as you would potatoes before cooking (five minutes max). And don't boil broccoli or potatoes more than a few minutes. And don't peel potatoes --- that's where all the vitamins are: just clean out the eyes, cut off the dead spots before cooking.

  • Some think that the big chance happening of life is that we are born at a certain time in a certain place. The Buddhists say otherwise. They say that we choose our family. After one death (there are many) we find ourselves flying about in bardo and on the 49th day we see a man and a woman enmeshed in each other's arms and we grow so enraged that we fly down and get trapped between them in yet another life. But each time, there is a difference. Same family, but mother this time around may have turned out to be a brother in the last one, a sister turned father, a brother a daughter, or a distant cousin.

  • After we get to age sixteen or so, the family we chose can become less and less important. If the family you ended up with brutalizes you --- with blows, anger, scorn (or, as destructive, bitter silence) --- find an alternative family that will regale you with gentleness, support, affection, wonder.

  • In the same way, as we grow, chance plays less and less a role in our lives. You're on your own. There are occasional Acts of God: diseases out of the blue, sudden accidents, sudden poverty, sudden deaths. But much of what happens to us comes from within as well as without. If you find yourself with too much Bad Luck, it helps to look in the mirror and see if you can figure out where these devilish problems are coming from. At worst, seek out an exorcist. For example, from you local Catholic priest who will perform the Canticle of our Lady, the Canticle of Zachary, and the Athanasian Creed. There are also Tibetan Buddhist exorcism rites.

  • Good salad dressing should use a quarter-cup of the very best dark olive oil, a quarter-cup cider vinegar --- along with a splash of balsamic and mirin (Japanese sweet) vinegar --- and three or four teaspoons of French's basic mustard. Add a pinch of Kosher salt and freshly ground fresh black pepper. A variation is to use four or five chopped-up cloves of garlic instead of mustard. Serve over Romaine lettuce or iceberg lettuce that has been washed and dried (leaf by leaf) and chopped coarsely with a knife, not hand-torn.

  • The memory of your mother is not your mother.

  • We are all abused children.

  • The body shapes the mind.

  • "How pleasant it is to have money, heigh-ho!
          How pleasant it is to have money."
  • --- Arthur Hugh Clough

  • "I'm tired of Love: I'm still more tired of Rhyme
          But Money gives me pleasure all the time."
  • --- Hilaire Belloc

  • But if you seek it, remember the words of Adam Smith, "A stock doesn't know that you own it."

  • Sex is ... well ... sex is a river. Sometimes it goes up, sometimes it goes down. You can channel it, at times, but it is powerful, and can end up running, or ruining, you.

  • Also remember that an orgasm is not a climax, but an anti-climax.

  • Jack Kornfield speaks of the sign posted in Las Vegas that says, You have to be present to win. One way to learn presence (and peace) is meditation. Another is self-hypnosis. Another is getting off the freeway, or off the bus. Another is psychotherapy in its many forms: counseling, group therapy, AA. Without these it becomes steadily easier, as you age, to go mad --- mad with the sheer weight of the years and lost opportunities that turn us unforgiving, wizen, deaf, blind, and, all too often, miserably alone (figures for suicide among what they so glibly call "Senior Citizens" or "Golden Agers" are through the roof).

  • Peel off the outside leaves of Brussels sprouts. Boil the sprouts in chicken stock for about five minutes; drain, and heat with some butter and three or four pinches of caraway seeds for three or four minutes. Lemon juice and caraway also keep cole slaw from being too bland.

  • William Burroughs said that "Language is a virus from outer space." Believing that words will convey the truth can be compared to smelling a rose with the picture of a nose.

  • Dreams are mystery movies shown nightly in the theater of your mind. The moment you wake up, write them down, for inside their tangled illogical logic, they have much to teach you. You created them, and from them (e.g., from yourself) you can learn powerful lessons. Remember, they are directed by another auteur than your waking self, so they give you a different take on where you have been, and what you think you are doing --- for better or worse --- to yourself.

  • A foolproof spaghetti sauce: cook a half onion, chopped, in a Dutch oven until it just begins to turn dark. Add seven or eight chopped-up Roma tomatoes, and the diced leaves and inside stalks of celery. After five or ten minutes, pour in a cup of dry white wine (not red) and two or three teaspoons of dried chicken stock. Leave the sauce on low heat for an hour or so, then spoon it over thin spaghetti cooked al dente.

  • You have a monster/god floating around inside of you. Some people choose to belittle this being, call it bad names like "The Devil." Labeling it such will cause it to cause the two of you to do devilish things to yourself, and to others. Look at Pat Robertson. It's far better to befriend this creature, stop calling it names (like "monster.") It is possible to discover its needs in order to make peace between you and it and the world.

  • Find your secret passion. It may reside in or next to your monster, but probably not. Dreams will take you there when you are ready, if you are ready.

  • Place boneless skinless chicken thighs --- lightly rubbed with olive oil --- in a square ovenproof dish. Douse with lime juice and Tabasco sauce. Sprinkle with tarragon or rosemary --- preferably freshly picked and chopped and cover with chopped Bermuda onions. Broil in the oven or on a grill, turning every three or four minutes until they are done.

  • Be wary of the systems that run our lives. Seventy-five years ago, Hitler was appointed to office immediately after a carefully-constructed democratic process that brought him close to victory. The people who built the American system of checks-and-balances are now long out of favor, if not dead.

  • Always have a place you can run to. It might be behind your house; it might be a beach some 5,000 miles away; it might be deep in the recesses of your soul.

  • Yellow squash is best cooked the way my granny did it. Chop off the ends and cut it in squares or rounds and boil until it's sluggish. Put in a drainer and squish it a bit to get out the water. Transfer it to a pot with hot butter and freshly chopped basil. Heat a little bit more and grind in fresh black pepper.
  • Hirouki Itsuki wrote, "How can we forget that we are born into this life crying? That when we die, we die alone." Think on death every moment you can. Not to be morbid but to be prepared. It's the only cure for old age. Mark Twain said that death was the refuge,

      the solace, the best and kindliest and most prized friend and benefactor for the erring, the forsaken, the old and weary and broken of heart.

    --- Carlos Amantea

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