How To Be Perfect

If I could just escape to some quiet, lonely place where I could think undisturbed, I bet I could come up with great ways to live a perfect life, as Ron Padgett does in his poem How To Be Perfect.

Excerpts from How To Be Perfect

Get some sleep.

Eat an orange every morning.

Be friendly. It will help make you happy.

Hope for everything. Expect nothing.

Take care of things close to home first. Straighten up your room
before you save the world. Then save the world.

Be nice to people before they have a chance to behave badly.

Don’t stay angry about anything for more than a week, but don’t
forget what made you angry. Hold your anger out at arm’s length
and look at it, as if it were a glass ball. Then add it to your glass
ball collection.

Wear comfortable shoes.

Do not spend too much time with large groups of people.

Plan your day so you never have to rush.

Show your appreciation to people who do things for you, even if
you have paid them, even if they do favors you don’t want.

After dinner, wash the dishes.

Calm down.

Don’t expect your children to love you, so they can, if they want

Don’t be too self-critical or too self-congratulatory.

Don’t think that progress exists. It doesn’t.

Imagine what you would like to see happen, and then don’t do
anything to make it impossible.

Forgive your country every once in a while. If that is not
possible, go to another one.

If you feel tired, rest.

Don’t be depressed about growing older. It will make you feel
even older. Which is depressing.

Do one thing at a time.

If you burn your finger, put ice on it immediately. If you bang
your finger with a hammer, hold your hand in the air for 20
minutes. you will be surprised by the curative powers of ice and

Do not inhale smoke.

Take a deep breath.

Do not smart off to a policeman.

Be good.

Be honest with yourself, diplomatic with others.

Do not go crazy a lot. It’s a waste of time.

Drink plenty of water. When asked what you would like to
drink, say, “Water, please.”

Take out the trash.

Love life.

Use exact change.

When there’s shooting in the street, don’t go near the window.

*  *  *  *  *

Well, Ron certainly covers a lot of ground. I really can’t think of anything I would add to help you be perfect . . . Oh, wait a minute! Check your urine every day to make sure you’re perfectly hydrated.


Big Parade: Downtown LA to Hollywood Sign

The Big Parade is a two-day walk through Los Angeles.

Big Parade starts at the famous Angel’s Flight funicular railway in downtown LA and works its way west through LA’s extraordinarily eclectic neighborhoods — you can sample the culture and cuisine of every country in the world without leaving LA.

Day One stops for an overnight campout at the famous Music Box Stairs in Silver Lake — named after Laurel & Hardy’s Oscar-winning 1932 short film.

Then we’ll continue through the stairways of Silver Lake, on to the Franklin Hills and Los Feliz.

We traverse Griffith Park, the nation’s largest municipal park, and finally climb to the world-famous Hollywood Sign.

Along the way there’s music, art, history, guest speakers, and lots of surprises. The Big Parade is 100% free. No donations, no sponsors, no merchandise — just a walk with friends and neighbors.

But the Big Parade is more than just a walk.

The hope is members of each community we walk through will join us. We’ll stop to visit with interesting people and groups along the way. We’ll uncover secret (and not-so-secret) historic and cultural sites.

And we’ll spread the message that Los Angeles is — not could be — a walkable city.

When does the Big Parade happen?

May 19 and 20, 2012, with a prologue walk on Friday, May 18. A full schedule is at

The Big Parade is a two-day walk from downtown LA (top left) to the Hollywood Sign. NOTE: No public access to the sign, and please respect the property of people living near the sign.  The Other Side of Hollywood Sign (click here to enlarge) a photo by David Freid on Flickr

Homonyms, Homophones, and Other Confusingly Similar Words

Homonyms are words that look and/or sound identical, but — Surprise! – they have different meanings

Words that look the same
sewer (one who sews) and sewer (pipe to carry off waste matter)

Words that sound the same
(of your head) and hare (a bunny rabbit)

Words that look & sound the same
tick (recurring click, as of a clock) and tick (bloodsucking insect)

Homonyms come in two flavors:

Homophones are words that share the same pronunciation but differ in spelling and meaning, such as totootwo and their, there, they’re.

Homographs share the same spelling, and sometimes the same sound, but have different meanings. Sow, a female adult pig (pronounced sou), and sow, to scatter seed (pronounced soh), are homographs. Another example is well, as in wishing well, and well, as in well wishes.

And then there’s just plain confusingly similar words, such as adverse and averse, delusion and illusion, and prostate and prostrate.

Some (homophone: sum) of my favorite homonyms, homophones and confusingly similar words:

close proximity to
close  shut, not open

ewe  female sheep
yew  tree
you  pronoun

groan  deep sigh
grown  increased in size

holy  pure, sacred
wholly  completely

idol  image
idle  unemployed
idyll  poem

literal  true to fact; not exaggerated
littoral  of or pertaining to the shore of a lake, sea, or ocean

peak  the pointed top of a mountain – or tip-top of anything, really
peek   to look furtively; to peer through a crack or hole or from a place of concealment

refuse  no! I don’t want it!
refuse  trash, garbage
Steve of Upland is the Internet’s refuse, many browsers refuse it

toe  one of the digits on your foot
tow  pull along with a rope, chain, or tow bar

way  thoroughfare
weigh  to ascertain the heaviness of
whey  thin part of milk

weak  lacking strength
week  seven days

See my master list of all the homonyms, homophones, and other confusingly similar words that I’ve posted to date.

The Homonym Name Game

an indefinite article:  the form of a before an initial vowel sound

bob make a quick, short movement up and down

drew past tense of draw

flow to move along in a stream

frank open, honest, and direct in speech or writing

gale  a very strong wind

grace  simple elegance or refinement of movement; courteous goodwill

hairy  covered with hair

hew  to uphold, follow closely, or conform
hew  to make, shape, smooth, etc., with cutting blows 

john a toilet or bathroom

joy emotion of great delight or happiness

loo water closet — a toilet

may  the verb may expresses possibility — It may rain, and also denotes opportunity or permission:  You may enter.

mic microphone

nick  make a notch in, indent; just catch in time

pat  touch quickly and gently with the palm of the hand

patty a thin, round piece of ground or minced food: a hamburger patty.

fill  to put into as much as can be held: to fill a jar with water

fillip  something that adds stimulation or enjoyment

randy sexually aroused; lustful; lecherous.

sally to rush out suddenly

sandy containing or covered with sand

stew a dish of meat and vegetables cooked slowly in their own juices

sue bring a civil action against

tony fashionable among wealthy or stylish people.

I know there must be many more names for my Homonym Name Game list. Can you think of any? Maybe your name is a homonym. Leave a comment!

Hey! I just thought of another one:
brandy strong alcoholic spirit distilled from wine.

Reality Bites, History Sucks, Part I

My wife Lizzie is schizophrenic.

Lizzie is a real sweetheart (sometimes …  sometimes Lizzie’s mean, angry and demanding).

Taking care of her – bathing, dressing, feeding Lizzie– can be a royal pain-in-the-ass. “What a life I’m having,” I tell myself, with maximum self-pity, as I’m scrubbing Lizzie’s rear end and she farts into my hand.

“Ain’t life grand?” Lizzie says as she smiles up at me, ignoring the fact that I’m applying Preparation H to her hemorrhoids, after treating her psoriasis, injecting her with insulin, and making sure she’s taken a handful of prescription drugs.

I can easily make Lizzie laugh. She finds joy in the smallest things.

This time of year, I clip a California golden poppy from our backyard and place the flower in a vase by her bed. Lizzie, because of her disabilities, spends most of her time in bed.

At night the poppy closes up tight, dies. But in the morning, as the sun pours into the bedroom, the poppy opens, springs back to life. Spreads its vibrant, buttery-orange petals.

Each morning, Lizzie is full of wonder. “God’s glory,” Lizzie says. “The flower’s smiling at me. God is smiling at me.”

But when Lizzie is in a schizophrenic episode (as she is today), when the meds don’t work, her life is torture.

The poppy shuts down; God’s glory ceases.

Lizzie can’t control her thoughts. She hears voices. The voices constantly criticize and taunt her.

She can’t tell me exactly what the voices say.

I can’t imagine what goes on inside Lizzie’s head, but I know it’s bad.

In your mind, in your mind 
One foot on Jacob’s ladder 
And one foot in the fire 
And it all goes down in your mind 
In Your Mind lyrics, sung by Johnny Cash

Lizzie is paranoid, anxious, angry — every minute of every day the episode lasts.

All I can do is hold Lizzie and tell her I love her. “I know … I know,” I whisper in her ear, even though I really don’t know.

Holding Lizzie doesn’t help her much (well, maybe it helps me).

Lizzie’s schizophrenic world is ugly, brutal, threatening. No rest. No peace. No safe, quiet place.

The not-so-funny thing is, this may be the way the world really is

I sometimes think the mentally ill see life stripped of illusion. They’ve lost that buffer the sane have against stark, cold reality.

Without that buffer, reality hits heads on.

It’s a train wreck.

No wonder Lizzie is anxious, angry, disturbed.

On that happy note, let me say something about Truth:

I don’t like it.

I’m comfortable with my illusions, my fantasies, my myths.

I think we have religion, God, a Higher Power to help us deal with Reality, deal with Death, deal with uncomfortable Truth.

After a couple of days, the poppy petals fall off and I toss them in the trash.

Where is God’s smile now?

Where are the snows of yester-year? Things come and go. Death takes all.

Why is Lizzie mentally ill? How does her cruel mental illness fit God’s Grand Plan?

Lizzie has no free will. Her mind is not her own. In an episode, Lizzie can’t make responsible decisions. If there is an afterlife, how will Lizzie be judged? What does her life mean if there is no responsibility?

I myself struggle with decisions. My thoughts may not be my own. Am I under the influence of illusions, delusions – the protective barrier I keep against hard, cold reality?

Is illusion what I need to survive, to stay sane? Is this what our species needs to not simply give up in despair, to continue on so we can pass our genes from one generation to the next?

Is God anthropological or real?

A struggle between faith and what my senses tell me. A struggle between the human and the divine. A struggle between hemorrhoids and poetry. What does it all mean?

Which is why I’m so upset with Lucretius, a poet and philosopher who lived more than two thousand years ago.

Lucretius strips God’s smile from Lizzie’s poppy. What are we left with?

The Roman philosopher Lucretius explains the whole enchilada of existence in an exquisitely beautiful poem written a few decades before the birth of Christ. The manuscript, after a thousand years of neglect, resurfaces in the 15th century, and changes the course of human thought.

I came across Lucretius in a book I’m reading, The Swerve by Stephen Greenblatt. This is from the book’s preface:

The stuff of the universe, Lucretius proposed, is an infinite number of atoms moving randomly through space, like dust motes in a sunbeam, colliding, hooking together, forming complex structures, breaking apart again, in a ceaseless process of creation and destruction.

There is no escape from this process.

When you look up at the night sky and, feeling unaccountably moved, marvel at the numberless stars, you are not seeing the handiwork of the gods or a crystalline sphere detached from our transient world.

You are seeing the same material world of which you are a part and from whose elements you are made.

There is no master plan, no divine architect, no intelligent design.

All things, including the species to which you belong, have evolved over vast stretches of time.

The evolution is random, though in the case of living organisms it involves a principle of natural selection.

That is, species that are suited to survive and to reproduce successfully endure, at least for a time: those that are not so well suited die off quickly.

But nothing – from our own species to the planet on which we live to the sun that lights our days – lasts forever. Only the atoms are immortal.

For Lucretius, this bare-bones understanding of the world we live in opens new, exciting possibilities.

Lucretius thinks his epicurean philosophy is liberating.

Wonder did not depend on the dream of an afterlife; in Lucretius it welled up out of a recognition that we are made of the same matter as the stars and the oceans and all things else. And this recognition was the basis for the way he thought we should live—not in fear of the gods but in pursuit of pleasure, in avoidance of pain.
Stephen Greenblatt, author of The Swerve

The meaning of life, says Lucretius, is to pursue happiness. Happiness found during our short time on earth not in the struggle for power and wealth but in friendship and the tranquility that comes from contemplating a universe where no miracles or gods exist, only the immutable laws of nature.

Imagine there’s no heaven, above us only sky
John Lennon

Lucretius’ poem, De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things), was lost for more than a thousand years.

When the manuscript of On the Nature of Things was discovered and circulated in 1417, Lucretius’ provocative ideas helped spur the Renaissance, jumpstart scientific inquiry, and shape the modern world.

That’s what Stephen Greenblatt’s book The Swerve: How the World Became Modern is all about, how Lucretius’ poem was found in a remote monastery in southern Germany and how On the Nature of Things, a radically secular poem, influenced great thinkers through the subsequent centuries.

Lucretius was a favorite of Machiavelli, Montaigne, Sir Thomas More and Thomas Jefferson, who had five copies of Lucretius in his library. That’s why, in the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson wrote the famous phrase, “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

I see the spirit of Lucretius in the video of physicist Richard Feynman explaining the transcendental beauty of science and the natural world. (View this incredibly moving video here).

Lizzie in the arms of Jesus

Someone else, who also lived two thousand years ago, gives far more meaning to Lizzie’s life (and mine) than Lucretius does.
“Where, oh death, is your victory? Where, oh death, is your sting?”
1Corinthians 15:55
…a triumphant view which bursts upon the soul as it contemplates the fact that the work of the second Adam has repaired the ruins of the first, and man redeemed; his body will be raised; not another human being should die, and the work of death should be ended. Barnes Notes on Bible

The poppy will flower again, when the sun fills the room.


History Sucks

History is the trick
Played by the 
Living on the Dead

What is history
but a lie agreed upon?

I’m getting to be an old man. I get uneasy when myths I’ve cherished since childhood are shattered.

And that’s why another book I recently read also shook me up.

Freedom From Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945 by David M. Kennedy

Freedom From Fear is a comprehensive and colorful account of the most convulsive period in American history, excepting only the Civil War – a period that formed the crucible in which modern America was created.

But you’ll have to wait for Reality Bites, History Sucks, Part II, to learn more – and I guarantee a Big Surprise.

I thought World War II was the Good War, heroically won by the Greatest Generation. I also thought there was a God, who so loved people He sacrificed His only Son so that we could find redemption and life everlasting.

I’ve got to stop reading books like Freedom From Fear and The Swerve, if I want to preserve the myths.