Yesterday Bob Friedman dropped off advance copies of my latest book, Imagine Yourself Well a book that was a long time in the making. A lot of practical experience went into this one, and I got it into only 100 pages.

first copy 058

I meant for it to be severely practical. Here’s the first part of the intro:

Introduction

In this book you will find simple techniques to improve your health. They are free, they have no side-effects, and they cannot interfere with any medicines you may be taking. You can mix them with whatever form of medical care you prefer. You can do them with your doctor’s blessing, or you can keep them to yourself.

You can use these techniques, no matter how serious your present condition. Are you in continual pain? Seriously injured? Enduring a chronic degenerative condition? Whatever, it doesn’t matter. You can use these techniques.

The only catch is that you cannot benefit from these techniques while actively disbelieving in them. You don’t have to believe, but you do need to suspend disbelief, or nothing can happen. You cannot be open to new possibilities and at the same time be closed to them. It is that simple. And is it so hard, suspending disbelief? If you try and you can’t make the techniques work for you, what have you lost? A little time. But if you succeed, you have more to gain than you can presently guess.

Please note, I do not promise you perfect health, any more than I promise you a life without problems. I have my own health problems, and anyway it seems to me that life could be described as a series of problems to be faced. I don’t think that’s at all a bad thing. It isn’t like we’re victims – as you shall see.

Neither should you get the idea that the state of your health in any way indicates your level of spiritual development. It would be a more convenient world – and a better behaved one – if the people at the highest spiritual level automatically enjoyed the best health, while those at the bottom of the spiritual scale endured suffering and misery. That would encourage people to work on their spiritual life! But your level of spiritual growth and awareness has little or nothing to do with your state of health, and I don’t think it is very hard to figure out why that it. We are all working on different things in these lives of ours, and suffering can be a very powerful aid to growth.

In other words, affliction isn’t necessarily always a bad thing, any more than perfect health is necessarily always a good thing. So much depends upon what is going on within the person, and no one is capable of judging this from the outside. Nonetheless, there is no reason why you shouldn’t acquire more effective tools to improve your health.

Does this book give you everything you need to maintain your health? Well, yes and no. If you come down with a serious disease, chances are you are going to the doctor, if not the hospital. If you have trouble with your teeth, sooner or later you are going to go to the dentist. And sooner or later you are going to die of something, if only old age. But does that mean it isn’t worthwhile to live according to the principles I have named here?

What would it be worth to you, to live in less fear? What would it be worth to be in greater connection to more parts of yourself than you once recognized? What would it be worth to recognize that your health is less a reaction to outside stress than an expression of what you are and what your life is? What is it worth to know that you and your family and friends need not be helpless before accident, and disease, and injury? Most of all, what is it worth to you to learn how to grow into so much more that you can become? Read on, and find out.

Forty years after the first column, Michael Ventura has posted his final column. After 40 years, Letters at 3 a.m. is no more.  I’ve posted his final column on my facebook page; alternatively you can find it at the austin chronicle site.

Michael Ventura’s next-to-last column

MICHAEL VENTURA

LETTERS AT 3AM –

THE WORLD THAT CALLS ITSELF “THE WORLD”

Austin Sun – Oct. 31, 2014
The most significant sentence of the 20th century was written in 1950 by James Baldwin:

“The world is white no longer, and it will never be white again.”

Baldwin knew most of this planet never was white. His declaration was for the world that calls itself “the world” – emphasis on “the.” It was a world that called most of the planet the “Third World.” There was no second. Only a world that called itself “the world” and a lesser world that came in third.

The world that calls itself “the world” is far more diverse now, because, as Baldwin knew, it wasn’t strong enough to have its way, so it had to change.

But it’s still the world that calls itself “the world” – that world reported in media 24/7 by reporters who cover only what their employers permit and only what their news-culture recognizes as newsworthy. Most of them – not all of them – see only what their training allows them to see.

That leaves lots out. Unnoticed or denied by officialdom.

Wars, celebrities, disasters, stock markets, gruesomeness of all kinds, cat videos, terrorism (often unsubstantiated), Nobel prizes, political theatrics – the world that calls itself “the world” presents that stuff as foreground.

No. No. No. No.

A woman at the supermarket with two kids in the shopping cart and two straggling behind: That’s the foreground.

Without them, nothing else happens.

Foreground is the happiest couples I’ve ever seen:

Boston, 1972: two brave and very “out” young lesbians boarding a trolley, on fire with delight.

Austin, 1975: two blind parents holding an infant, cane-crossing from UT to Dobie Mall (not at the crosswalk!), shining love all over everything.

Without what those people radiated, what’s the point?

And the Joe stuck in traffic driving to his second job. He does shit-work. If shit-work doesn’t get done, you can’t have a bourgeoisie or a 1%.

And the weeping next door, heard through the wall: She was the very young mother of a little girl; they’d be evicted in the morning.

They’re the fucking foreground. All of them, by the millions.

The Polish poet Tadeusz Rózewicz fought Nazis and was a lifelong enemy of the world that calls itself “the world”:

“I sat in the door of my house/ that old woman who/ is leading a goat by a rope/ is more necessary/ and more precious/ than the seven wonders of the world / anyone who thinks and feels/ that she is not necessary/ is a mass-murderer.”

Rózewicz stands for what Pablo Neruda called “the world that is ours,” where we actually live and where there is always vitality, possibility,

immediate danger, and what Caroline Casey calls “dire beauty.”

But it is hard to distinguish the world that calls itself “the world” from the world that is ours when most data comes from the world that calls itself “the world,” which insists, as its first principle, that it is the only world, the world that counts, because it finds this and that reason to go to war, or this and that reason to save banks, or declares this book postmodern and that “avant-pop.” Important because it invents the atomic bomb, jargon, and computers.

Noel Coward: “We’ve invented a few small things that make noises, but we haven’t invented one large thing that creates quiet.”

Willa Cather: “Give the people a new word, and they think they have a new fact.”

The real news is that the world that calls itself “the world” calibrates importance by two qualities only: violence and money, which are one and the same. Violence enforces the ways of money; money supports violence.

That is the alpha and omega of economics and politics.

(As for culture: Beauty has a way of finding its way – some of the time.)

The masses are working stiffs (white-collar professionals included), helpless to resist what surrounds them daily with so much force and noise. They go the way of the force and the noise, but they go troubled, uneasy, aware that this is not what they really desire, not how they want to be living.

If only they’d learn not to want what “the world” goads them to want.

When one learns not to, things get easier, looser, freer.

But here’s Jan Kott (roughly remembered): “Shakespeare had no illusions. Not even the illusion that one can live without illusions.”

So I wonder what new illusion I’m cooking up for myself here.

Having a stroke isn’t good for much, but it helps with one’s illusions.

After my stroke, I had an understanding. Wrote it down. Didn’t want it to disappear. (Understandings do disappear, you know – and you don’t even feel it as they go).

The note: “This [the stroke] is about cherishing.”

After a stroke, you are quietly and/or loudly terrified.

You are suddenly and scarily surrounded 24/7 by the world that calls itself “the world” – diagnostic devices, bills, and the massive paraphernalia of linear thinking. Also, it’s noisy. Nothing is noisier, or seems to take longer, than an MRI brain scan.

But when you look at that from “I am one who cherishes,” the medical hoo-hah shifts into slow-mo to be seen for what it is: an earnest, primitive, insanely expensive, stab-in-the-dark attempt to understand.

A stab-in-the-dark attempt to understand – that’s what I’ve done for a living. So, suddenly, the procedures are not alien. Cherishing reveals.

The worst moments these days aren’t about me. The worst moments are when I look around at the world that calls itself “the world” and this hits:

We’re capable of so much – and look what we’ve settled for.

(Mayer just came back from the dead and said, “If that doesn’t break your heart, I don’t want to be in the same room with you.”)

Then I want a cigarette. Then I remember I don’t smoke anymore.

The best thing about smoking was the mixed taste of American Spirit Blues and Bushmills Irish whiskey, when, as the lyric has it, you “just watch the smoke-rings rise in the air.”

Haven’t missed the cigarettes, and the doctors say whiskey is good for me (they really do), but I missed smoke-trails curling in the half-light.

Then I remembered a thing George said: “You don’t need a river to just sit and watch the river.” You don’t need to light a cigarette to watch the smoke-curls rise. You just kind of go to where that happens inside you and let the moments take care of the rest.

Finally got George’s old riddle. (He just came back from the dead laughing: “It took a stroke for you to figure that one out!?”)

Stillness. Stillness. Without it, we pass ourselves by.

Nothing is more rare than stillness in the world that calls itself “the world” – for it is a vast machine that attacks stillness and instigates fear.

And does so for profit.

In its grip, this happenstance does not happen – a note written pre-stroke, when I still smoked:

“Hey, about 2am this morning, after a long day’s work, 10 hours, WAY straining myself, probably just to prove I still could, I sat here alone in the half-light listening to wistful music composed by Charles Chaplin, sipping my whiskey, and smoking a couple of cigarettes, while one thought led to another until I found myself sort of standing outside myself and laughing, laughing as hard as ever I’ve laughed — at myself. For no particular reason. Just laughing at myself, as though I’d just gotten the punch line of a joke heard long ago.”

 

MICHAEL VENTURA

LETTERS AT 3AM –

THE FUTURE DOT-DOT-DOT

Austin Chronicle – Oct. 17, 2014

 

You get accustomed to the nonsense that passes for commentary. It functions as the political equivalent of elevator music. You get so saturated with empty views that when, say, The Economist editorializes a whopping absurdity, it buzzes right by until you stop in your tracks and ask aloud, in a public place, “What can these pallid motherfuckers possibly be thinking of?”

To wit, The Economist, Sept. 27: “America … seems swamped by the forces of disorder, either unable or unwilling to steady a world that is spinning out of control.”

Control of whom, by whom, and for whom?

(more…)

Michael Ventura is retiring from writing his Letters at 3 a.m. column.  I can’t begin to express how sorry I am to hear it.

http://austinchronicle.com/columns/2014-10-03/letters at 3am-a-long-goodbye

 

 

 

A pleasant surprise to find myself quoted within a column written by someone for whom i have had the highest respect for the 30 years since i first discovered his work.

LETTERS AT 3AM –

Austin Chronicle – August 22, 2014

 

A 19-year-old shot an archduke.

That happened on June 28, 1914, in a country that was then called Austria-Hungary and is now called Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Almost instantly, many dots collided and connected. As usual, most leaders expected a quick, predictable war. As usual, that was nonsense.

(more…)

There is a Will Smith movie called “I, Robot” in which the cop says to the computer guru, in exasperation, “you’re the dumbest smart person I know.” That’s us.

Michael Ventura’s latest “LETTERS AT 3AM” column:

VULNERABILITY/CONNECTIVITY – Pt. 1

Austin Chronicle – August 8, 2014

 Dark Angel premiered October 3, 2000. Created by James Cameron and Charles H. Eglee, the Fox series pilot opened with eerily crew-cut children in their jammies fleeing in the snow and getting shot. Cut to Jessica Alba on a motorcycle in a dilapidated Seattle with drones patrolling overhead.

Alba narrated: “They used to say one nuclear bomb can ruin your whole day. It was sort of a joke until the June morning when those terrorist bozos whacked us with an electromagnetic pulse from 80 miles up. You always hear people yapping about how it was all different before the Pulse – land of milk and honey, blah, blah, blah, blah – with plenty of food and jobs, and things actually worked. … Americans really thought they had it dialed in, money hanging out the butt. But it was all just a bunch of ones and zeros on a computer someplace. So when that bomb went klabooey, and the electromagnetic pulse turned all the ones and zeros into plain old zeros, everyone was like, ‘No way!’ America’s just another broke ex-superpower looking for a hand-out and wondering why.”

(more…)

MICHAEL VENTURA

LETTERS AT 3AM –

HITTING THE STREET

Austin Chronicle – May 30, 2014

A street kid – I was a street kid. (No. There is no “was” to the street. Still a street kid, down deep.)

If “street kid” conjures in your mind a tough, svelte, hip urchin – well, street kids like that exist, but they’re the ones the street kills first. For every movie-worthy street kid, there were dozens of us hanging out in the background, alert as cats – fire escape kids, rooftop kids, alley kids who knew how to blend right into the bricks and survive.

“Street sense” is not like in the movies – it’s not digging the score about every badness on the block. Street sense is knowing any shadow might hurt you. Street sense is respect for those shadows, with the knack to spot capital-C Crazy from across the street, and even from around the corner. Knowing how to go from here to there without getting your ass handed to you.

(more…)

For some reason this remembered column has been on my mind, so I thought I’d share it once again.

Letters at 3AM

Screenworld

By Michael Ventura

Friday, February 27, 2009

Screens, screens, screens – everywhere, screens. Right in front of me, in arm’s reach, are three: the three computers accessible from this chair (often I work on two at once). Another screen’s across the room – the TV. My cell phone, also in arm’s reach, has a screen, even though I bought the simplest device possible – it cost 10 bucks, but it can take and transmit photos and movies. You see screens at checkout counters, restaurants, laundromats, waiting rooms, and on the dashboards of cars. Millions preen for screens on YouTube and Facebook, marketing their images like politicians or starlets. What with BlackBerrys, iPhones, and my 10-buck cell, few Americans go anywhere anymore without a handy screen that connects to every other screen in some way or another, linking to any event, broadcast, or data source anywhere, including satellite photos of every address you know. The screens disconnect, as well: I work where I live, so, theoretically, I need never leave my apartment – I can order shoes, pet food, people food, parts for my car, and lingerie for my girlfriend right here on this screen, to be delivered right to my door. Now that I think of it, it seems half the people I know met their present significant others via the screen.

The power of these interconnected screens is such that a virtually unknown woman can step before the media on a Friday and by the following Wednesday be a superstar nominated for the vice presidency of the United States. Conversely, a man touted as a promising presidential candidate uses the obscure racial slur “macaca,” someone videos the event with a cell phone, within hours every news outlet replays the video, and the viability of a presidential hopeful evaporates into Cyberspace.

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Bruce Kallsen posted this on Facebook, and I took the liberty of re-posting, and I share it here. All these damn wars keep taking their toll, years — decades — after they are officially won or lost or abandoned. Bruce Kallsen’s brief moving story of one man’s re-awakening gives us the slightest glimpse of the awful reality. 

Bruce Kallsen

Memorial Day has finally become a special day for me. I had never honored the day, until MD of 2006. For whatever reason, I decided that weekend to put out a flag to recognize the holiday. My wife Becca has strong opinions about her Victorian house, and my placement of the flag didn’t meet her expectations. I immediately went into a rage….so strong that it was obviously inappropriate…even, or especially to me. It had finally happened. The ghost I carried inside had finally raised its ugly head, and in a manner which made it very recognizable.

In 1972 I crashed upon landing on the USS Midway after a night mission over North Vietnam. My Bombardier-navigator, Bix, and 5 others were killed. Bix ejected and went over the side of the carrier, probably drowning in an unconscious state. Five others were struck by my aircraft or parts of other aircraft I hit, or ingested fuel when their refueling rig was broken by the contact of my aircraft.

As I rode the aircraft up the flight deck, trying to power it off and into the air in order to eject, it became apparent the aircraft wouldn’t fly, so I shut it down and rode it out. My awareness was incredibly accelerated, and it became apparent to me my little piece of the cockpit would end up between two aircraft. The plane might be destroyed, or nearly so, but where I was headed looked safe. I rode it out. Some very courageous flight deck fire fighters followed right behind me extinguishing the flames from my critically damaged aircraft even as I was still moving. As they got closer to my aircraft, their vision was obscured by the flames and smoke of my aircraft. The Air Boss, in the tower, talked them closer to extinguish the fire.

The next day we held services for those killed. I attended, but experienced no emotion at all. I was flat-lined, no feeling, and it was immediately apparent to me this was inappropriate. PTSD wasn’t a term in the normal lexicon in 1972. But I knew I should have feelings, very strong ones, and wondered how to bring them forth. The flight surgeons were only interested in how soon I could fly again. I started flying combat flights 10 days later.

But now it was Memorial Day, 2006, and my rage told me the ghost had finally arisen. Five years followed of recurring anger, therapy, and inner search. I am very thankful to report that Memorial Day finally has the special meaning for me it should always have had.

Here’s to those we’ve lost, and to those still with us who are lost in their inner conflict. We lose 22 veterans a day to suicide, more to remember on this special day.