Sunday, October 6, 2013


The word convivial has a number of potential meanings, most of which stress good company and animated conversation.  A communal meal and or drinking are frequent presences in an atmosphere of conviviality, conjuring up steaming dishes, chilled bottles of wine or ale, equally chilled bottles of plain and carbonated water.  Not to forget a bowl of fruit, built about a platter of cheese.

The elements seem to interact with a symbiosis of their own, one element, say a pear being sliced into quarters, triggering a round of conversation, another element, say the delight at biting off the top of an heirloom tomato, triggering another vital aspect of conviviality, the seeming reflexive desire to share, to thrust it forth, "Here, try this."  A few moments later, "Here, try another."

You've considered forebears from the distant past, getting on fifteen or twenty thousand years ago, being convivial under the circumstances of a large animal, a woolly mammoth perhaps, being brought down, butchered, barbecued at an open fire, bonding a group with the assurances, at least for a time, of survival.

Today was well given over to conviviality, beginning with breakfast with friends, lunch with a cat remarkable for his social eclat, then, after a brief time at a semblance of work, yet other measures of being social, celebrating in one form or another the miracle of survival.  Your celebrations included coffee, ale, a splendid entire sea bass, asparagus cooked with a flavorful firmness that defined asparagus yet again for you.  

Most of all, these elements trigger the chemistry and warmth of friendship, of companions with whom to indulge moments of appreciative silence, of exchanges of news, opinions, and the kinds of affection that produce teasing and gentle recognitions that each presence is a building block of knowing you were in the right places today, among the preferred tiers of available company.

You are fast approaching an anniversary of a kind of survival.  Treatment of cancer often begins with some form of surgery, wherein something or things become excised, tests are made, then, based on the results of the test, choices for additional therapy are weighed, then acted upon.

You are nearing ten years from the day you were acted upon by a doctor named Alex.  In a literal sense, he knows you as well as many of your friends; he spent pretty much an entire working day inside your being, performing the surgical equivalent of editing your body.  You see Alex now under different circumstances, at the Peet's Coffee Shop off La Cumbre Road, where he tells you you're looking pretty good and to keep up the good work.

There are a few incidents you'd experienced in your years before Alex opened you up for editorial revision where, on reflection, you could as well not have survived instead of the present result.  You have no way of knowing how many incidents of potential fatality you have survived in addition to the few you think about from time to time.  

This unknown factor makes you even more appreciative in retrospect because you realize how fraught the two worlds in which you live are in fact.  The world of Reality, the jungle of "It's a jungle out there," is immense and impersonal.  It does not have, you believe, any agenda of a personal nature against you, nor does it bend over to support you.  Reality simply is.  To date, you could find it possible to personify or objectify it by observing how it has been pretty good to you.

Days such as today, convivial days, days of coffee, text messages, actual conversations, questions about your comfort zones and your spectras of interest, these serve as the equivalent for you of the barbecued woolly mammoth or thousands of years past.  You are connected to survival, to a potential history of sunsets, of assignments due various publishers, of the kinds of assignments you give yourself because of your curiosity to see how a line of thought will lead you to some discovery.

One of the individuals you saw today is someone you've known since your early ventures into publishing, where you met each year at the then ABA (for American Bookseller's Association) Convention at the Shoreham Hotel in Washington D.C., or at his office on Fifth Avenue, at Bantam Books.  All the persons you were convivial with today are persons with whom you share on a level beyond food and drink:  you share whoever you happen to be at the moment with whoever they happen to be, the common denominators are delight, expectation.

Of course there is story in conviviality.  There is story because of your habit of looking for it in everything.  The story in today's conviviality, because of the persons involved, is about survival, the irregular pattern of Reality before us.  Among such persons as you were convivial with today, there is an awareness of the jungle out there, the potential of things taking an unexpected turn.  Among the persons you were with today, there is a relief at first sight of them and an occasional running of your eyes over them as a scanner reads a bar code, wishing to imprint, say a slight scar on an arm, a souvenir of a cancer, on your memory sensors to have close, a small but individualized definition you knew to hold dear the moment you first saw it.

With such persons, there is scant sense of introvert or extrovert, rather a sense that among the many with whom you interact, care about, are more than merely polite to, these individuals of today are your tools of survival in order to work away at the work that has found you and in the process nudged you toward the survival of conviviality.

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