Category Archives: בּ״ה

On Thanksgiving: Watch the 1946 version of The Razor’s Edge, the most influential movie in my life

Premature Publication Excuse: An-as-yet incomplete posting explaining the meaning of life

It is taking me a while to achieve completion because I am writing for readers who may not have heard about Tyrone Power and Gene Tierney.

GeneTierneyandTyronePowerOne problem, of course, is if I were Tyrone Power and Gene Tierney was trying to seduce me so I do not go off to India to find the meaning of life, would I have the spiritual courage to say NO?

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I am goaded into publishing this post prematurely due to the kind permission of Mary Reilly Nichols, a prominent yoga teacher and spiritualist based in New York City to discuss her spiritual experiences..

Here is a link to  Nichols’ website: http://www.meditationmary.com/

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Nichols writes:

“I have been teaching Yoga since 1982, upon completing a five-year stint of ashram life under the auspices of my Guru, Swami Muktananda.

“We didn’t really practice Hatha Yoga in his ashram as a discrete activity. All the branches of yoga were unfolding at all times, so that is the way I teach Hatha: as inseparable from all the other branches of yoga.

“If you sever a branch from the vine, the branch withers. Hatha must be connected to its root, or it is merely acrobatics. Yet it is a foundation for liberation when aligned with understanding.”

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Book jacket of The Razor's Edge featuring the two main characters in the forthcoming movie
Book jacket of The Razor’s Edge featuring the two main characters in the forthcoming movie

The central character in the  most significant book in my life (The Razor’s Edge by W. Somerset Maugham) achieves his understanding of the meaning of life at an ashram in India where he has an out-of-body experience.

Tyrone Power played the central character in the 1946 film version of Maugham’s 1944 novel. Although he died at age 44 in 1958, his fame was so enduring that his photographic appears on The Beatles’ iconic 1967 album cover for St. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band. Sgt__Pepper's_Lonely_Hearts_Club_BandTyrone Power is so perfectly cast in the 1946 version of the movie that although Maugham named his main character: Larry Darrell, I automatically think Tyrone Power.

I find that this cinematic accomplishment helps add validity to Tyrone Power’s out-of-body experiences.

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Nichols has an extensive section on her site describing her out-of-body experiences including those that preceding meeting her guru in India. Nichols, a graduate of Harvard University, had her first out-of-body experiences as an undergraduate.

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“It was the spring of my junior year in college and i was writing my junior thesis, a major term paper, for the anthropology department. I had chosen as a topic the ecstatic religious cults of New Guinea.

“It was about how ecstatic religious movements function to help people adapt to conditions of extreme social stress. Visionary religious experience, arising from the unconscious, transforms the deep psycho social programming of human beings undergoing major anxiety and stress.

“The strain can result from culture contact, especially with a technologically superior culture. But any radical change of environmental or social conditions can render traditional cultural categories irrelevant and unproductive, which is extremely stressful.


“The whole process of writing this paper had been unusually energizing and compelling. I was so excited by the material, and wanted nothing else but to read and write about it.

“One evening i sat at my desk writing, listening to the street music wafting up from the streets of Cambridge. The not terribly brilliant thought occurred:

“Doesn’t my own contemporary Western culture qualify as a society who’s traditions are breaking down due to rapid change? We must be ripe for ecstatic religious renewal.

“At that moment there was an explosion of energy at the base of my spine, energy which wriggled upward with the gushing power of a fire hose to the crown of my head.

“The whole room turned into dazzling white light, myself included. The light spoke clearly to me: ‘A great Being is in a body in your lifetime, and you will recognize him.’ The light conveyed some other knowledge as well.

“After regaining a sense of my physical body, I ran out of there, afraid. Only later would I understand that I had had a classic kundalini awakening, and learn that Kundalini Shakti, subtle energy normally dormant at the base of the spine, rises to the crown center through yogic processes producing states of super consciousness.”

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Not yet prepared to describe my own spiritual experiences that led to a life-altering event when I discussed The Razor’s Edge with my grandmother at age 16, I asked Nichols for permission to cite her account. She granted permission with the cautionary note:

“I have found that reporting those experiences sometimes results in very angry feedback, so share at your own risk! “

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Mindful of Nichols’ warning, the rest of this post-in-progress represents my summoning up courage to explain my notion of The Meaning of Life.

My completion deadline is Thanksgiving.

http://www.dia.org/object-info/c7320601-cd8c-4728-b3dd-78883372d505.aspx?position=1

I will let you know if I complete it earlier given that I am worried about the fate of the Detroit’s Institute of the Arts as a consequences of Detroit’s bankruptcy, the largest of any city in U.S. history.

http://www.e-architect.co.uk/columns/detroit-dying-special-report

Mary Reilly Nichols
Mary Reilly Nichols

Lengthy preparation prior to getting the point (not yet included)

tyronepower

Note 1: It is customary for fastidious movie goers and book readers (who may stray to this site) to be warned that (despite my assertions it does not matter) the following posting is so filled with spoilers it might be prudent to stop reading now.

Note 2: For the rest of you, who actually belong here, I am preparing for Thanksgiving by discussing the most influential film in my life The Razor’s Edge starring Tyrone Power shown here and released 68 years ago—one year before I was born.

Rarely, does Tyrone Power wear a tuxedo in the movie. He stars as Larry Darrell, a man searching for the meaning of life which he finds dressed in second-hand clothes in a cabin high up in the Himalayan Mountains.

Maugham writes about Darrell, “[I]t may be that the way of life that he has chosen for himself and the peculiar strength and sweetness of his character may have an ever-growing influence over his fellow-men so that, long after his death perhaps, it may be realized that there lived in this age a very remarkable creature.”

This preparation for Thanksgiving includes a discussion I had with my grandmother Celia Schneider when I was 16 about Somerset Maugham’s novel upon which the movie is closely based.

bubbieandmother001

My grandmother Celia Schneider is shown here right in an early 1940s photo. Celia is standing next to her daughter Miriam Pell, years before she met my father. As a child, Celia was the most stable adult influence on my life. Her favorite book was W. Somerset Maugham’s 1944 novel The Razor’s Edge.

Mother engraved a quotation from The Razor’s Edge on my grandmother’s tombstone.

The book title (which the author reproduces as an epigraph) comes from a verse from the Katha-Upanishad:

“The sharp edge of a razor is difficult to pass over; thus the wise say the path to Salvation is hard.”

The Katha-Upanishad is a Hindu treatise probably composed after the fifth century BC and it contains passages that suggest contact with Buddhist ideas. I am not sure I agree with the concept that the path to Salvation is hard. [What do you think?]

Talking to my grandmother about life’s meaning changed my life. Discussing this subject seems a useful way to get ready for Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is an auspicious holiday in my life. http://www.joelsolkoff.com/november-2014-motto/

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The book and the film are so closely tied together in my mind, especially the superb casting of the three main characters that I often think about the two separate genres as if they were one.

This is a wonderful movie—a way to getting Thanksgiving rolling toward meaning while providing fun for everyone.

While you have yet to meet the heroine, much fun involves snickering at the third of the main characters Clifton Webb who plays the role of a diverting snob.

Maugham writes of Elliott Templeton, Webb’s character (to whom I shall return as the story does) to effectively lighten up the story’s serious Main Purpose.

“The Paris season was drawing to a close and all the best people were arranging to go to watering places or to Deauville before repairing for the rest of the summer to their ancestral châteaux in Touraine, Anjou, or Brittany. Ordinarily Elliott went to London at the end of June, but his family feeling was strong and his affection for his sister and Isabelle sincere; he had been quite ready to sacrifice himself and remain in Paris, if they wished it, when no one who was anyone was there, but he found himself now in the agreeable situation of being able to do what was best for others and at the same time what was convenient for himself.”

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Parsimonious accolade: I only give the movie four stars instead of five because:

  1. The music is dreadful. Every time something significant happens, a violin plays or two or three or the entire orchestra.
  2. The key spiritual moment is explained away as being caused by God rather than as Maugham described it by a generic spiritual power. (Before discussing this at the dinner table, please pass the cranberry sauce.) [More on God. Before Larry has his defining moment with an Indian guru, Maugham describes a conversation he had concerning God with Isabel Bradley (played by Gene Tierney). The conversation eventually will  appear below, following another photograph of Gene Tierney “Acclaimed,” Wikipedia writes, “as a great beauty.”

GeneTierney

The Plot (as yet incomplete)

W. Somerset Maugham’s begins The Razor’s Edge by denying the book is a novel.

“If I call it a novel it is because I do not know what else to call it…I have invented nothing.” Maugham invented quite a lot .

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Note: Last month, I celebrated my 67th birthday. Increasingly, I find myself eager to communicate with women and men in their 20s and 30s—the age of my two daughters Joanna and Amelia.

One reason I am eager to communication with this specific demographic is because I live half a block away from Webster’s Bookstore and Café where recent friends include the baristas and non-baristas who serve me coffee and organic salads, sell me books, and sit with me and talk about books and life.

websters

Two years ago, Tom Connolly, a musician who is currently playing in a rock band in Philadelphia, shared Thanksgiving with me at my apartment with a mutual friend .While I made turkey (Tom helped), he set up a drum and cymbal set which I later played with great delight.

Tom Connolly plays as the turkey cooks
Tom Connolly plays as the turkey cooks. See

http://www.joelsolkoff.com/my-mothers-thanksgiving-story-and-my-thanksgiving-letter/

–30?–Not yet. This is the post so far.

https://youtu.be/HqCkc3c1i5U

 

Copyright by Joel Solkoff, 2014. All rights reserved.

 

My mother’s Thanksgiving story and my Thanksgiving letter

Let us start with my mother.

My mother Miriam told me [when I was a freshman at Druid Hills High School in Decatur, Georgia in 1961] of her attempt to convince her Aunt Marcia (Tanta Masha) to have a Thanksgiving celebration in 1933 when my mother was eight years old.

Tanta Masha, married to Sol Demick [a sweet, bald man who worked at a delicatessen] and my grandmother Suschi Schneider’s older sister, ran my mother’s household in The Bronx (of course, of New York City) with an iron hand.

Tanta Masha and my mother did not get along, “Probably,” my mother said, “because we were so much alike.”

Why my mother and grandmother (whom I called Bubbie) lived with Sol and Marcia Demick and their two sons Norman and Alvin (Vremmy) is a story for another occasion. My mother said that in 1933, when Franklin D. Roosevelt became president, Thanksgiving [first established as a national holiday by Abraham Lincoln’s executive order] was not universally celebrated the way it is today.

In fact, my mother said, FDR (whom my mother adored) was responsible for Thanksgiving’s widespread celebration (probably at the suggestion of FDR’s political adviser then Postmaster General James A. Farley) as a way of including the immigrant community into the lumpy American melting pot (and not incidentally securing their vote.)

So taken with FDR’s appeal to celebrate Thanksgiving, my always precocious and astonishingly serious (and beautiful) mother appealed to Tanta Masha to celebrate the holiday complete with turkey and Norman Rockwell-like trimmings.

[Note: Yes, I am aware that Norman Rockwell’s iconographic Freedom from Want painting first appeared on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post in 1943.]

Mother explained that for Tanta Masha, Thanksgiving complete with turkey and cranberry sauce [hint: cranberries will later take on great significance in my life] meant a great deal of unwanted work and expense she and the family could ill afford. [When my grandmother talked about poverty—and indeed when my father did—they spoke with an understanding of pain they could never express successfully in words but the pain came through clearly and on the mark like the early promises of digital sound and flat screen high-definition television.)

“With Tanta Masha, everything was a power struggle,” Mother explained. Then weeping unexpectedly, Mother described how Tanta Masha had outmaneuvered my mother—bitterly angry that Mother’s goal to become a good American had (as she explained it) been stolen from her by an unfair trick.

Tanta Masha asked her sons Norman [who died unexpectedly this year] and Vremmy [about whom more needs to be said than can fit neatly into this section] (Mother’s cousins were really more like brothers than cousins), “How would you like to celebrate Thanksgiving with hot dogs and baked beans?” My mother’s dream of patriotic desire had been robbed from her by what she conceived of as a mean parlor trick.

In the long run though, Mother prevailed (as she always prevailed when something Important was at stake). And so, for me Thanksgiving evolved into the holiday of the year—significant in a way I will try to define, but whose root structure now clearly runs deeply into the ground holding generations fixed in place.

Thanksgiving has become the holiday that defines me as a person, as a father, as a family man, as a citizen in ways no other holiday can. What makes this definition especially auspicious this year (a year of enormous change in my life)….[Let us wait and see what happens next after I have completed cleaning out the oven and stuffing the fresh turkey that is now in the refrigerator.]

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This photograph taken in 1990 is especially significant.

The photograph shows some of the people I love most in life. The six-year-old girl, front row left, is my elder daughter Joanna Marie, now 28 and engaged to be married.

The infant, back row right, is Amelia Altalena, my 22 year-old daughter who graduated from college in May.

The grinning young woman, back row middle, is my sister Sarah Schmerler.

The woman seated is my grandmother Celia Pell, my Bubbie, shown here in celebration for the last time outside the Jewish Home for the Aged in Riverdale where by some miracle my mother Miriam Pell Schmerler top left was able to obtain for Bubbie a private room at the most beautiful home for the aged in the universe–a room overlooking the Hudson River and the George Washington Bridge where there is a collection of art so wonderful it will knock your socks off. Especially notable is the fact that I am shown, holding Amelia in my arms, and I was then able to walk. Four years after this photograph was taken I became a paraplegic. At the time I was merely a procrastinator–a vice sadly that continues to this day.

The photograph was taken in my mother’s apartment in Inwood, a neighborhood at the northern tip of Manhattan Island. At the time my mother, a Hebrew educator, was a newly enrolled graduate student–then 65 years-old–at the Jewish Theological Seminary where she later received a doctorate in Hebrew letters after completion of her thesis on the Roman Catholic Church’s significant decision to change its theological doctrine so that today the Jewish people are no longer blamed for the death of Jesus Christ.

In my mind’s eye, I think of this photograph as being taken at Thanksgiving. But by November of 1990, my former wife Diana, my two daughters, and I had relocated from Washington DC, where I lived and worked for 17 years–many of them heavily influenced by Edward R. Murrow’s Thanksgiving Day broadcast “Harvest of Shame” which I had viewed in my grandmother’s Brooklyn apartment and which changed my life (as if I were on the road to Damascus). In November of 1990, we relocated to Durham, NC where I began a new career as a senior technical writer for Northern Telecom–a career that I loved.

Not shown in this photograph is my favorite (and only) nephew Asher Benvenuto Simonson, now 11, who was not yet a gleam in his father Robert Simonson’s eye.

What compelled me to write this Thanksgiving posting is one consequence of this month’s Hurricane Sandy. This posting begins with my mother’s attempt to have a real Thanksgiving overruled, among others, by her brother-like cousin Vremmy (a nickname from the Yiddish name Abraham Meyer), one of the most influential people in my life, publisher of Arts Magazine, who arranged for publication in The Washington Post of an advertisement for my book Learning to Live Again, an advertisement which appeared in the book review section with a photograph of Joanna, then one, and me.

Vremmy died shortly after the advertisement was published leaving his widow Theresa Demick, an elegant and cultured delight in my life and that of my family. Theresa, one of the victims of Hurricane Sandy, was on the 16th floor of her apartment building when the storm hit wiping out the electricity.

Somehow, Theresa managed to get to the street where she wandered around aimlessly, taken to the emergency room of a nearby hospital, diagnosed with dementia. Now, thanks to the efforts of my sister Sarah, my brother-in-law Robert, and others, Theresa has found a safe berth at the wonderful Jewish Home for the Aged in Riverdale–the wonderful wonderful place where my grandmother lived out her final years with pleasure and respect. Although Theresa suffers, her knowledge of art remains in tact and Sarah feels confident that Theresa will be able to work with the home’s magnificent collection–Theresa safe from harm.

Not shown in the photograph is my sterling prospective son-in-law Jade Kosmos Phillips because Joanna did not meet him until 22 years later when they met while Joanna was working as an ambulance driver–the romance beginning in typical Joanna fashion when she insulted Jade who is a firefighter/paramedic.

The photographer is my now former wife Diana who blessedly drove up from Durham to New York with Joanna earlier this week to comfort Theresa–which should serve to reassure Amelia who also was close to Theresa and who is celebrating Thanksgiving in rural Spain near the Portuguese border, where she is teaching English.

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Tom Connolly, my drumming teacher and friend just arrived and we will now celebrate Thanksgiving, cooking and playing the drums. Tom has invited beautiful women over who are younger than Amelia but who, if they come, I will flirt with shamelessly as I have in the past. After celebrating, making music, and flirting, I will return to you to post my Thanksgiving letter of thanksgiving (or wait for a more auspicious occasion when I have completed work interrupted by an intense case of the flu which has caused me to feel as if I live on another planet).

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Noisy Thanksgiving November 22, 2012

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The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release
November 20, 2012

Presidential Proclamation — Thanksgiving Day, 2012

THANKSGIVING DAY, 2012

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BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

A PROCLAMATION

On Thanksgiving Day, Americans everywhere gather with family and friends to recount the joys and blessings of the past year. This day is a time to take stock of the fortune we have known and the kindnesses we have shared, grateful for the God-given bounty that enriches our lives. As many pause to lend a hand to those in need, we are also reminded of the indelible spirit of compassion and mutual responsibility that has distinguished our Nation since its earliest days.

Many Thanksgivings have offered opportunities to celebrate community during times of hardship. When the Pilgrims at Plymouth Colony gave thanks for a bountiful harvest nearly four centuries ago, they enjoyed the fruits of their labor with the Wampanoag tribe — a people who had shared vital knowledge of the land in the difficult months before. When President George Washington marked our democracy’s first Thanksgiving, he prayed to our Creator for peace, union, and plenty through the trials that would surely come. And when our Nation was torn by bitterness and civil war, President Abraham Lincoln reminded us that we were, at heart, one Nation, sharing a bond as Americans that could bend but would not break. Those expressions of unity still echo today, whether in the contributions that generations of Native Americans have made to our country, the Union our forebears fought so hard to preserve, or the providence that draws our families together this season.

As we reflect on our proud heritage, let us also give thanks to those who honor it by giving back. This Thanksgiving, thousands of our men and women in uniform will sit down for a meal far from their loved ones and the comforts of home. We honor their service and sacrifice. We also show our appreciation to Americans who are serving in their communities, ensuring their neighbors have a hot meal and a place to stay. Their actions reflect our age-old belief that we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, and they affirm once more that we are a people who draw our deepest strength not from might or wealth, but from our bonds to each other.

On Thanksgiving Day, individuals from all walks of life come together to celebrate this most American tradition, grateful for the blessings of family, community, and country. Let us spend this day by lifting up those we love, mindful of the grace bestowed upon us by God and by all who have made our lives richer with their presence.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim Thursday, November 22, 2012, as a National Day of Thanksgiving. I encourage the people of the United States to join together — whether in our homes, places of worship, community centers, or any place of fellowship for friends and neighbors — and give thanks for all we have received in the past year, express appreciation to those whose lives enrich our own, and share our bounty with others.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this twentieth day of November, in the year of our Lord two thousand twelve, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-seventh.

BARACK OBAMA

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Tom Connolly plays as the turkey cooks

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Katie Gates, PhD., transient brain statistician, Washington, D.C.

Click on Memo to hear the After Pumpkin Pie Trio perform: “Thanks. Giving.”

Memo

 

File:Kerouac by Palumbo.jpg

The spirit of Jack Kerouac (as photographed by Tom Palumbo) returns with our song to wish us all a free-spirited conclusion to Thanksgiving Day, 2012. Kerouac is my daughter Joanna‘s favorite author as she takes an after dinner drink in Durham, N.C. before returning to her nursing school studies.  For daughter Amelia Altalena, where her computer is broken in rural Spain, it is now 3:18 tomorrow morning; celebration must wait for Skype repair as all my dear readers for whom I am thankful, will await the writing of the forthcoming Thanksgiving Letter.

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Afterthought. The idea that I was able to celebrate Thanksgiving appropriately–including, of course, a prayer of thanksgiving–comes as a surprise now that my guests have left. Tom, whom I met at Webster’s Bookstore and Cafe, across the street from my apartment, is relocating to Philadelphia to pursue a music career. State College, sadly, has not yet developed the resources to support musicians serious about their work. The idea of getting together was a spontaneous thought Tom had earlier this week.

Katie’s presence surprised both Tom and me. She was in town visiting friends. Tom was sure she would not come–not recollecting clearly that he had invited her. Neither Tom nor Katie could remember how they knew each other–perhaps through a mutual musical connection. As I helped Tom load his many drums in the car, where Katie accepted Tom’s offer to drive her to her friend’s apartment, I told Katie I do not understand how she arrived here; it is almost as if she never existed at all, but she certainly quickly warmed to the spirit of the occasion, banging drums with enthusiasm. Childlike percussion noise-making now goes on my list of Thanksgiving rituals.

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I end this posting for tonight with the words I first heard Edward R. Murrow broadcast on television after Thanksgiving dinner in 1960 (words I recall each Thanksgiving):

“This is CBS Reports Harvest of Shame. It has to do with the men, women, and children who harvest the crops in this country of ours, the best-fed nation on earth. These are the forgotten people, the under-protected, the under-educated, the under-clothed, the under-fed. We present this report on Thanksgiving because were it not for the labor of the people you are going to meet, you might not starve, but your table would not be laden with  the luxuries that we have all come to regard as essentials. We should like you to meet some of your fellow citizens who harvest the food for the best-fed nation on earth.”

These are the words that inspired me to publish a book on agriculture policy. These are words that cause me concern in the all-too close seasons and months ahead as I view with alarm the world’s adverse weather conditions, short supplies of soybeans and grain, astonishingly high future prices, and by calendar year 2013, a world where people will starve (not because, as has been the case for decades, they do not have enough money to afford food), because there will not be enough food to feed the world’s population.

Yes, automation and other developments have changed the visual portrayal that came to my grandmother’s living room television in 1960. In this global economy, the men, women, and children who harvest our food may not be U.S. citizens or they may not be harvesting in the United States the food we have on our Thanksgiving table.

In Spain, where my younger daughter is currently teaching English, the agricultural attaché at the U.S. embassy in Madrid told me that organic vegetables are a major agricultural export from Spain to the United States.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.