Bob Reads Two Books (Part Two)

Headin’ My Way

Thomas Farber is a 73-year-old, Berkeley/Honolulu-based, author/editor/teacher. Boston-bred to a physician-father and poet-mother. Harvard educated, with 10-days of Yale Law School, quit for a more sizable hit of outlaw/adventure/romance, abetted by a Guggenheim, a Fulbright, Here and Now (El Leon Literary Arts. 2015) is his 29th book (novels, short stories, non-fiction, epigrams and more), a collection of 16 pieces, the shortest three pages, the longest 21, a mean of five.

It opens in 2014, with Farber looking at a snapshot of his parents, taken when he was five, his father now dead 40 years, his mother nearly 30. They “do not know…,” he thinks, “how they will age, how they will die – all that their strength and love cannot spare them.” It closes with him – recently confronted by a street crazy bellowing, “Do you want to die right now/” – facing major heart surgery, hoping to survive to write another book.

Farber did. This is it. But that assault was the event which fixated his mind upon the fate that had not yet reached him – but inevitably would.

Which will reach us all.

Mortality is all over “Here and Now.” Farber totals his days (25,609), the breaths he’s expelled (550,872,085), the  heart beats he’s managed (2,560,946,042). He has, he states, “lived more than a few lives.” Deceased friends are recalled. Those still ticking at 80 or 90 are marveled at. In one of his two magnificent lengthy pieces, on a “walking meditation” along a Honolulu beach, he observes a post-funereal scattering of ashes, recalls drownings he has known, calculates the life span of jelly fish, is reminded by a monk seal of species extinction. In the other, walking through North Berkeley, “permanence” balances against the cycles of a student town. The abundance of flowering plants is countered by the numerous assisted-living homes, the traffic control signs attempts at limiting vehicular slaughter, the major thoroughfare (Martin Luther King, Jr. Way) bringing to mind an assassination, the pan handlers advertising bone cancer and strokes as an inducement to charity.

Farber has been educated by Harvard, unaffiliated nbooks and the doings of his day-by-days. His prose is rich with quotes ranging from Dovide Draaisma (who?) to the Allman Brothers, Ecclesiastes to Eldridge Cleaver. He breaks his lines with excursions into the origins of words he’s chosen to form them, “regard” to “affront.” And he doesn’t shy from the occasional, unexplained “corvids,” “claustral,” “polycarpic.” The result, though an occasional thumb-in-clarity’s-eye, and stumble-to-rhythm’s-flow causes no permanent impairment so much as they occasion a blink, a pause, a re-sharpened focus and re-attention to meaning, There is value to all he sees and thinks and says. There is intelligence and humor, wisdom and resignation (which is wisdom too).

Within Farber’s symphony of transience, other strains of interest play. His relationship with his “several decades younger” Chinese wife. The still-existing pull of confining, repressive, “status-ridden” Boston and his quest for “freedom” therefrom. The skeptical, not-for-him but tolerant nonetheless eye he casts on those seeking ease through the spiritual. The  coping mechanism of his own crafted profession/persona. (Throughout the book, he is, whether at rest or in motion, “the writer.”) He has, he tells us, “for decades” dressed the part, in black, from shoes to watch cap. His credo, which applies to more than what he puts to paper: Ignore “audience”; “pursue only… (the) absolutely vital.”

All of which catches the attention of this 75-year-old with his own foot-long scar marking his own chest’s unzipping.

This essay began here.