One Breath At A Time by Kevin Griffin

The subtitle of One Breath at a Time is “Buddhism and the Twelve Steps.” It’s always irked me that Kevin Griffin broke his anonymity to author this book, but on the other hand, it’s really good information and I and so many people I’ve talked to have gotten so much out of it.

I go back and forth on publicizing one’s 12 Step affiliations–it so often helps people, and in these times, most people understand that it is not the program’s fault if someone slips or is not the 100% 24/7/365 poster child for Alcoholics Anonymous or the other 12 Step programs. It’s helped millions, people get that, and get that a person can help someone even if they themselves are not perfect. Still, taking suggestions and following the traditions is part of the surrender that makes the program work. So personally, if I wrote a book about using the 12 Steps, I would either publish anonymously or somehow keep it generic. I think. Am I jealous that Griffin makes money from the book and his lectures? Maybe.

But 12 step programs also stress “principles before personalities.” I spent a decent sum of money traveling to Denver to attend a retreat let by Griffin one snowy winter. I didn’t love his personality, but the retreat (based on his principles) was good and the discussions with fellow meditators and attendees was energizing.

It’s March 2020 and this book, which I put on pause around Step 6, is still on my night table. I thought, “Am I ever going to fucking finish this book and get back to my Selfish Book Club??” My divorce was final January 16, my home refinance will be completed next week and my new life is underway for the most part, so it’s fish or cut bait with this book. Flipping through it, I came across some great stuff right where I left off in December on Step Seven.

Step Six is “Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.” I find this step impossible and have to resign myself to the fact that it is a bit like peeling an onion, one of my favorite, extremely tired, metaphors. I am so not willing or ready to have God remove all my defects. I’m so attached to so many of them and was even thinking the other day that I’ve been basically dealing with the same four character defects since my teens: overeating/drinking, fear of not enough money, isolating from other people and sabotaging good relationships, and judgment of myself and others. One goes down and the others pop up like whack-a-mole.

Step Seven is “Humbly asked him to remove our shortcomings.” In the chapter on this step, Griffin talks about the fact that indulging our vices makes us crave more of the substance or behavior. What we think will satisfy us makes us want more. Yet another pair of jeans. Yet another cup of coffee. Yet another yogurt.

A few pages later Griffin talks about the three P’s: perfectionism, which leads to procrastination, which leads to paralysis. An extra yogurt can lead to putting off your good eating plan until the next day, procrastination, which could lead to putting it off longer and eventually paralysis.




Food of the Gods by Terence McKenna

I grew up in a windy town on California’s Central Coast that often smelled of broccoli. Later the town became famous for strawberries, and even later for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wine grapes, all fragrant and lovely. But when I was young the dark, slightly sulpherous stench of raw broccoli hitched ¬†on the Pacific breeze from the west like a hobo soul escaped from a corner of hell reserved for flatulent failed farmers. Continue reading “Food of the Gods by Terence McKenna”

Picasso by Norman Mailer

Yo–el Rey. I, the king. Pablo Ruiz y Picasso wrote that three times on a self portrait painted when he was just 19 and about to leave his native Spain for Paris, where he became something more than a king. The funny thing about a grotesquely outsized ego is that very occasionally it is actually representing an equally legendary and outsized talent, intellect, beauty or charismatic personality; the deep flaws of entitlement, narcissism and infidelity such an ego sanctions can be overlooked, even forgiven. Continue reading “Picasso by Norman Mailer”

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe

It was easy to pull Electric Kool-Aid off the shelf after reading the Grateful Dead biography. Tom Wolfe brilliantly describes Ken Kesey’s Merry Prankster scene, of which the Grateful Dead were a major contributor, in this somewhat novelized, novel-length report. Continue reading “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe”

A Long Strange Trip by Dennis McNally

A few weeks ago I found out that a man I’d lost touch with killed himself last spring. He’d been a magnificent influence on me in the early 1990s. We wrote for the same magazine, but his writing was many leagues beyond my work horse prose. Where he would wax romantic, I would wane maudlin, and he wasn’t afraid to tell me so. But he was kind. One late night in his office cluttered with rock specimens, empty bottles of great wines and hundreds of books, he let me recite “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” in its entirety. I was nervous, so he handed me a stress ball to squeeze. That’s a good friend. I’d forgotten his kindness. Continue reading “A Long Strange Trip by Dennis McNally”

Myths to Live By by Joseph Campbell

As I wrote in my unfinished report about Joseph Campbell’s Masks of God, I encountered Joseph Campbell (who I refer to as “the other JC”) in around 1987 after his death and after he had done the famous Powers of Myth interviews with Bill Moyers. Nothing makes me feel more like a water buffalo in a herd than trending with the rest of America after a PBS special. Continue reading “Myths to Live By by Joseph Campbell”

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain & The Last American Man by Elizabeth Gilbert

I read The Last American Man and Kitchen Confidential back to back, which wasn’t planned, it was just that I craved these biographical short books as ¬†transitional material after five volumes of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle. I tried to start My Struggle Volume Six, but my brain revolted. What I needed was an all-American male palate cleanser, make that two, and these books served the purpose well. Continue reading “Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain & The Last American Man by Elizabeth Gilbert”