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Long Years Fade Swiftly into Smoke of a Dying Candle

By Justin Cude

Short stories come from long years of living. I once met a woman who handed me many in a single night. Some I can still recite with my eyes closed, others have fled for now. Some maybe have gone forever, but I won’t know until the end. Others have left nothing in my mind. Maybe they have, I just haven’t heard from them yet. They’re in there dormant maybe just waiting to live. But, I can’t wait around for them to reveal to me anything that may or may not help in my own living. The sun burns out quickly and who knows what year we’re in. Sitting down for a coffee seems like a trip to me. Its one of the few things that brings it all back, then, with a bang bigger than the big one we believe in, expand outwards towards areas I’m led to explore, to visit. Love of a good woman, love of a wild one, both in the same, physical exertion, a read which melts your brain, the occasional hand-rolled cigarette, a few whiskeys or wines have done it temporarily, the wind, a few walks in nature have revealed to me something, feeling breath, an animals stare and affection, travel at times when I’m not looking for it to, a written line which stops me, love towards anything when I try, and coffee, black, sometimes with cinnamon or butter. There are others but I don’t want to taint this with lists. I also don’t want to share everything. A good secret is OK to have long as your soul doesn’t burn you. As long as you’re not scarring yourself. You have you’re own things which reveal to you the world you’re looking for. Don’t copy others. Don’t blind yourself either from the world which actually exists. There is truth in both. The sky remained gray lately, but I’m aware its of our own doing. The air we breath is poisoned with our filth. So to the rivers and the bodies they bleed into. The land as well, but the world fights back. Its has to. Its all it knows. Not in hate but in life and with love to live that life. But our filth is dumped into our DNA and we’ve done it. This is chosen, not fated. It blocks the sun, too. At times I can’t see mountains only kilometers away. I’d say miles but those don’t work here. Not everything works everywhere. Love tries and its damn good at it most of the time, if we allow it to be. If we allow ourselves to be. Love does conquer all, but we’ve made weapons for that at some turning point in our evolution. What an idea. At times I can’t see my reflection in a window an arms reach away. But there are those days when the mountains sit with peaceful calm intensity and my reflection shows compassion for the one it reflects. Those days keep me hopeful. One day the sky was mahogany brown. It was an absurd moment to have passed through. Was if all were drowning in a pond of spoiled red China tea, or mud. We put it there and now we must wear masks to keep from suffocating. Quicksand we’ve submerged ourselves in with small steps towards progress. An oddity of the modern world. Something one day they’ll hopefully look back on in disbelief like we have so many times looking back at others mistakes from the past. Its not a mistake when suffering is packaged and labeled for resale in what we call foreign lands. Its not a mistake when we can see but look away. Humanity chooses and it tends to be against ourselves, like a mouse going for the cheese. Maybe our brains are that simple too. Maybe we can’t see the trap we’re walking into. But, art tells us differently. Art tells us we can see, radically. So does love. More so love. The abstract and the realism. If love was there we’d choose differently. Radically differently. But cheese looks good to a hungry rat. Art means nothing when our gaze is locked on the outcome. Neither does love. But, when the simpleminded have had their hit, and the daze of satisfaction withers, and the cheese is nothing but cheese, where do we find ourselves? What are we so hungry for? Do we really know our own answer to this? Bob Dylan stares at me as I write this telling me with a single look to keep going but only if you have something to say. He wears a harmonica on his neck which reminds me the beauty of music. How powerful that beauty can be and how widespread it’s embrace. “Write that way” he says, and I try. A girl hugs his arm looking for warmth but provides a fire in the snowy streets of Greenwich Village back when the snow use to stick. Another, he’s confident but only in his questioning. He knows its a joke to play with. The next, still confident but with sun glasses on inside after recording attempted answers looking into the unknown of his own, which is also ours. He’s talking to me in still pictures but I hear his words clearly. His words have always whispered to my soul the truths I’ve needed to hear. That there aren’t any written in blood but blood still flows, so follow it. Go where your blood boils, or make it boil if you can. We all know how. Answer me this; what have we all been deprived of? I’d say love. Then I’d ask, why does this deprivation continue? I’d say we allow it to. We block it or ignore it, we withhold or we fear its life, or turn away when light from beneath horizon starts to illuminate the memories. Then I’d know the answer to this deprive. And I’d say love again, but as an action not as a label. There’s little work this morning so I’m looking in. We all have so much to say but it never comes out exactly right. I’m trying just to get it out mostly these days. It doesn’t need to be exactly right. It never is even when you try for it to be. Even when you struggle for it. Just getting it out is enough at times. There’s no wind today either. Here there’s either none or there’s the type which can blow you over. At least it tries to. Inertia will hold you down. The mind can be heavier than those mountains I can’t see at times. It can also be as light as the dust blown in from the desert just over those mountains. Dust from the Middle East reaches the shores of Brazil I read once. I’d rather be blown away or challenge the gods head on. Inertia is only good in meditation. Even sleep is dynamic. Contemplation has blinded be many times. The mind never stops but you can sit with it and watch it go by. And when you do watch it go by, when you can glimpse the light through the filth, when you’ve said what you’ve had to say, exactly how you wanted to or not, when suffering is accepted and not feared, when the air you breath is just air, the moment just the moment, the mountains just mountains, your reflection just that, when you understand how much we make-up, the malleability of stories, the degradation of self, the empowerment of illusion, the anything of everything, the everything of anything, love is all remains, and love is there if we get out of our own way. Short stories can all be summed with a shorter one, and can be learned even quicker before those long years fade swiftly into smoke of a dying candle; love. No story amounts to this, though they’re all trying to say it, one way or another. No words can say it better. No other action contains more truth, though there are so many which happen. Everything comes from this, and everything is just attempting to make its way back home to it. The shortest story in the world makes the most sense, but we write others to hide it, or to attempt to reveal it, to rewrite it to justify our victimhood. To complicate it. That’s what I just did, and I feel good for relieving myself of the clutter, that is a practice worthwhile, but, yet all this gibberish, all this nonsense, all the these words, one after the other trying to say something, leads back to this; love. That’s it. That’s what we’re all really trying to say. That’s what we’re all really trying to do. That’s what we all really just need to do. Just love. You’re allowed to.

Life As A Playwright: A Survival Guide by John Klein

How did you come across the book?

Um… I frequent the drama book shop quite a bit and I picked up another playwright book beforehand, saw this one and knew I wanted to come back for it.

So far, what perspective have you gained from it?

Um… that I’m lucky that I don’t care about money! And… dedication to your craft.

Would you recommend it, and if so, to who and why?

Yeah, I would… it has an interesting perspective that it isn’t so much of a guidebook as it is annotation about experiences. It has a lot of really deep, comprehensive interview chapters with several really well known playwrights. So… I think that gives a really nice perspective on everything.

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable by Patrick Lencioni

How did you come across the book?

So… I…. I’m the director of a nonprofit. Its a national nonprofit I started 37 years ago here in New York City. I now lead the Dallas office, so… I’m from New York originally, but I’m back here for a trip to see family, kids and retreat from the job, so… I go back after Labor Day, but… the book…. long story… long answer… is because I lead a team and I’m new at management. One of my board chairs… actually not one of my board stairs… he says this is a good book for you to read because my team seems dysfunctional at times. So I was like cool. Must be a great book to read. So, here I am. It’s a nice day.

So far, what perspective have you gained from it?

So, well, one… that I’m not a babbling idiot! Seems like… I mean the book is… it says a leadership fable, but its set around an executive team, the whole C-Suite team… and after they tell the story I’m like my team deals with this too. So, it kind of… you know… and to hear it from other people it takes the onus off me that I have to figure this out alone and that I’m doing something wrong. You know. People have natural tendencies of how they hear things, how they be, what they’re afraid of, conflict and how they build their team so… I’m feeling very confident that I can build some new strategies within team. Its a fun thing.

Would you recommend it, and if so, to who and why?

Yeah! Actually, so yeah… one, I’m gonna recommend it to my whole team, cause they need to know what I’m reading and kind of thinking about. Two… I think this is… I mean, it’s just… I’ll say this… I don’t read very well… I read slow… so big books take me a long time. This is like one of the easiest reads I’ve ever had. Say its more than 200 pages. I’ve been reading it a day and I’m half way through. It’s engaging! Once you pick it up its like one of those, “Ok, I’ve gotta finish this story right away!” It’s like a good Netflix series… I’m just gonna binge watch this book! Three… you know, I think anybody in any type of leadership capacity, running any type of… any type of team, you know what I’m saying… I mean this could be a family book. Anybody who has to manage any bunch of… a group of people, so… yeah… its pretty good!

#JustFinished: Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search For Meaning”

By Justin Cude

Early this past Saturday morning, sitting outside Ridgewood’s ‘Boulangerir Patisserie’ coffee shop, in what seemed to be the first sunny day of Spring for the City of New York, I finished one of my current reads; Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search For Meaning.” I will not attempt to generalize or to depict the weight of which this book holds inside of itself, for my attempt to do so will not serve the book, the author, nor the moment in time from which it comes the justice and the respect it deserves. Below however, I will share with you a few passages from its bindings which resonated in me deeply emotional connections with my currently evolving, yet growing, perspective on life, paired with brief interjections of my own undertake. Enjoy…

I consider it a dangerous misconception of mental hygiene to assume that what a man needs in the first place is equilibrium or, as it is called in biology, “homeostasis,” i.e., a tensionless state. What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him.

Though we may sometimes fool ourselves into believing that what we want is in fact a life free from suffering and from toil, in actuality, what we yearn for is the ability to overcome whatever struggle we are presented, for on the other side of this overcoming is a stronger, more resilient, beautifully worn version of ourselves. This act of overcoming brings about meaning but is also derived and endured for the meaning upon which we place on it… ourselves.

If architects want to strengthen a decrepit arch, they increase the load which is laid upon it, for thereby the parts are joined more firmly together. So if therapists wish to foster their patients’ mental health, they should not be afraid to create a sound amount of tension through a reorientation toward the meaning of one’s life.

The meaning of our lives are not always presented to us; In fact, I would argue they never are. We do not simply stumble upon what it is we want in this life, but rather on the contrary, we create the lives we want based upon experiences, struggling, failing, overcoming, and placing meaning upon which what we want to place meaning to. Think about that. What is life if we do not place value upon our own meanings? I am aware of the “stumble upon” moments in our lives which do in fact lead to some sort of deeper understanding of the world around us and of ourselves, but it is still the individual who decides that meaning and learns from it and uses it how they choose.

To achieve personal meaning, he says, one must transcend subjective pleasures by doing something that “points, and is directed, to something, or someone, other than oneself… by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love.

Do not fall for the false heroism of individual pursuit, for it is merely a lonely existence placed upon a pedestal, believed to bring about courage and grit but instead leads to isolation and the yearning for connection. We are people, and we need people; it is that simple. This is not to say that there does not exist room for individual pursuits during the duration of our lives, but they shall not outweigh nor lessen the value of the collective, whatever that collective is to you (your family, your spouse, your relationship, a team, a group, a business, a community, etc.). Do not isolate yourself to be alone while forgetting that you are not. We are here to help and to sometimes be helped.

The choices humans make should be active rather than passive. In making personal choices we affirm our autonomy. “A human being is not one thing among others; things determine each other,” Frankl writes, “but man is ultimately self determining. What he becomes– within the limits of endowment and environment– he has made out of himself.”

We have all heard the saying that “this life is meant to be lived.” It is… but not in the way we are sometimes blindly lead to believe. This statement does not mean that life will present to us the means to our ends or the points to be reached, it simply means to live your life. Not every day will be great and not every moment one to be remembered, that is if we hold expectations for these to be handed to us; that is not how life works. If we want our lives to consist of days which are great and of moments we want to remember, we must first understand this… that that is completely in our control, determined upon our choices, our actions, and our perspective, all of which are collectively intertwined. Though many times throughout our lives we do not choose the environment nor the situation, we do however chose our reaction and our meaning; let that bring you peace. What we take from the moments which make up our lives, what we subsequently learn from them, is ours; observed, analyzed, reasoned, understood and applied uniquely to our perspective and to our meaning.

I do not know why exactly, but I feel the need to end this with a verse from one of my favorite John Lennon songs, “Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)“. Though derived from a different time and from a different nature, contextually it makes sense, as most things do in this life if we stop and observe, simply studying the cohesiveness which exists in our universe:

Before you cross the street
Take my hand
Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.

If I had to put a meaning to it and its relevance to my reading of this book, I guess it would be found in the simplicity of the verses tone. “Before you cross the street”… that is to say before you make decisions in your life, think and provide meaning. “Take my hand”… remember you are not alone and your pursuits should not bring about unnecessary isolation. It’s OK to take someones hand; there is more reward in helping others than in selfishly helping ourselves. “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”… there is a life to be lived, and what we become falls upon the responsibility of ourselves. Not every moment has to have some sort of philosophical meaning, and that makes life beautiful. The meaning may be thought about later, or it may not. Though I understand the contradictory ending to this, understand that that is OK. Enjoy your life, the highs and the lows, and craft your own meaning, accordingly.

#JustFinished: Ernest Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea”

By Justin Cude

“A ship in harbor is safe — but that is not what ships are built for.” – John A. Shedd

Traveling along the Atlantic east coast, up Highway 13 through the small towns of Chesapeake Bay, I finished one of my current reads; Ernest Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea”. The trips initial crossing of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel aided the imagination in the minds fruition of this classics’ main setting; the sea. Needless to say, the tone was right and the book provided a plethora of wisdom and thought. Below I share with you a few of my favorite quotes from the read. Enjoy…

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On preparation…

“But, he thought, I keep them with precision. Only I have no luck anymore. But who knows? Maybe today. Every day is a new day. It is better to be lucky. But I would rather be exact. Then when luck comes you are ready.”

On establishing your own image…

“I wish I could show him what sort of man I am. But then he would see the cramped hand… [bctt tweet=”Let him think I am more than I am and I will be so.”

On the human experience of endure…

“But man is not made for defeat, he said. A man can be destroyed but not defeated.”

On choice of thought…

“Don’t think old man,” he said aloud. Sail on this course and take it when it comes. But I must think, he thought. Because it is all I have left.”

On perspective of situation…

“Now is no time to think of what you do not have. Think of what you can do with what there is.”

On the now…

“He was a fish to keep a man all winter, he thought. Don’t think of that. Just rest and try to get your hands in shape to defend what is left of him.”

On illusion…

“What can I think of now? he thought. Nothing. I must think of nothing and wait for the next ones. I wish it had really been a dream, he thought. But who knows? It might have turned out well.”

On being the captain of your own fate…

“It is easy when you are beaten, he thought. I never knew how easy it was. And what beat you, he thought. Nothing, he said aloud. I went out too far.”

The above quotes only lightly express the wisdom and thought one can extract from the reading of this book. Furthermore, the beauty of reading provides us the opportunity to pull from a book what is unique, wanted or needed according to ones life. If you have read it, or choose to in the future, please let me know what you think, along with sharing with me your favorite quotes in the comment section below!

#JustFinished: Dalton Trumbo’s “johnny got his gun”

Sipping my Americano at the corner of Rivington and Clinton at the Lower East Side’s Marm Cafe, I finished one of my current reads; Dalton Trumbo’s “johnny got his gun”. It is my belief that by being exposed to the darkness every now and then we learn to appreciate the light that encapsulates us, the light we to often neglect and overlook. This book provides a healthy dose of the dark. Enjoy…

Is it possible for anything to resist change, even a mere commodity that can be bought, buried, banned, damned, praised or ignored. Johnny held a different meaning for three different wars. Its present meaning is what each reader conceives it to be, and each reader is gloriously different from each other reader, and each is also changing.

I’ve let it remain as it was to see what it is.

Dalton Trumbo

Los Angeles

March 25,1959

But exactly how many hundreds or thousands of the dead-while-living does that give us? We don’t ask. We turn away from them; we avert our eyes, ears, nose, mouth, face.”Why should I look, it wasn’t my fault, was it?” It was, of course, but no matter. Time presses. Death waits even for us. We have a dream to pursue, the whitest white hope of them all, and we must follow and find it before the light fails.

So long, losers. God bless. Take care. We’ll be seeing you.

Dalton Trumbo

Los Angeles

January 3, 1970

Our Purpose…

… to provide insights into what everyday New Yorkers are reading, through asking them the following questions behind the meaning of their current read:

1) How did you come across the book?

2) So far, what perspective have you gained from i t?

3) Would you recommend it, and if so, to who and why?

Simple in nature, it is my hope that these answered questions will, simply, spark your interest into reading more books!

Enjoy!

CityReads NYC