Category Archives: ultimate questions


It was just a turn of phrase. A Donald Trump construct. Never mind the context. It’s a powerfully evocative notion. Aren’t we all listening – with all our senses (not just ears) to the Internet?

We’re steered and shaped and activated by the non-physical reality that has become, for so many of us, the ultimate link and connector.

Will the next evolutionary step for humans be some kind of hybrid between the world wide web (remember that?) and our individual molecular selves? Will we become like “Tron,” living inside the infinite byways? And will we know it? Are we already there? Is our experience of being in the world and having three dimensions just an embedded shared fantasy?

What if we stop and listen really carefully? Will we hear the sound of nothing? Of one hand clapping? Or of gears turning?

Does it matter?

Okay, don’t succumb to the ennui and disconnection. Fight for your right to party. In this chancy and frivolous world where nothing can ever be certain or reliable, you must create your own shape. And to do that requires virtually (pun intended) continuous effort. Sleep is seductive. Passivity is easy (or so we think).

Do the hard thing. Engage your brain and your awareness. Live.

FYI: my new science fiction novel, RAYMÒN AND SUNSHINE, is available on It’s about the relationship between an autistic man and a female android three hundred years in the future. Here’s the link:

You can find more information about me and my books at

The absence of terror

When I heard about the horrific events in Brussels today, I felt deeply sad. But worse, far worse than the sadness, was the resonance of expectation. “Ah, yes, another one. Of course. One of many more to come.” If my instant reaction could have been put into words, that’s close to what they would have been. How many of us have come to expect the violation of our safety, the safety of other democratic countries, the safety of any country, city, public space?

Does that gruesome familiarity with mayhem and murder lead to a loosening of our defenses? It cannot. We must, as a nation, as a people, as humanity, join our better forces and defend ourselves until we are, once again, the authority which controls our borders – both the physical and the metaphysical. Until we can promise our children that everything will be okay.



You don’t have to be religious; you can be an agnostic or even a full-on atheist. Invoking “the grace of God” or sending a silent message in his direction is what humans do when they feel the stiff wind of dread. The old saw that there are no atheists in foxholes is true in a much wider realm. Whether a loved one is ill, or you just bought twenty-five Powerball tickets, summoning the intercession of a higher power springs reflexively to everyone’s lips. Is this wish, hope or belief? Or an amalgam of all three?

Even those with a hard-nosed refusal to buy into anything spiritual, harbor a secret desire for there to be SOMETHING that would cause this weird world to make some sense. Isn’t it innate for humans to want their lives to have meaning? Well, there’s the meaning you create and the meaning that is inherent. It would be a comfort to feel like you are worthy from the get go.

And so we have the hucksters or, to put it more nicely, those who are peddling human potential. What are they really selling? I think they’re selling the grace of God.

Coolie Coolstein IS the Grace of God

 Now, how inflammatory is that? Very, I hope. I just need you to read on.

Here we have a boy – I call him that because his spirit is so young and unbowed by the weight of the collected disappointment or sly corner-cutting most people accrue over time. He stays pure of spirit; Brownstein makes sure of that, as does his primary overseers: Mothership and DaddythebigDaddywhoseyourDaddy. Mickey and Blue are not in any conscious way trying to shape Coolie; but their joie provides ballast.

The extraordinarily cool one is a liver. Not calf’s; not chopped; no – although he enjoys a cracker with some of Sylvie’s world renowned whenever possible. He is a liver of life; he relishes each consecutive moment of now – not in an aggrandizing way, not in a stupidhead way, but in the most natural way of the child. He’s been up; he’s been down. He’s been lost; he’s been found. But he’s always the truest Coolie he can be. Can I get an “amen” here?

Alors! Civilized People of the World

Saturday, in the wake of Friday’s terror in Paris, I attended the Metropolitan Opera. It was to have been a lovely cultural event, to be shared with my daughter and grandson. And, in truth, it was that – but that was not the most salient part of the experience.

As soon as we all were seated, a hush came over the sold-out crowd. It was apparent that all the singers had quietly assembled on stage and, without any announcement (none was necessary), the audience joined some of the best voices in the world, led by Placido Domingo – who was also leading the orchestra. Together we sang La Marseillaise. We all stood. Those who did not know the words were assisted by an insert into the program. As one we sang, our hearts full, tears streaming down cheeks. When it was done, shouts of VIVE LA FRANCE! catapulted across the great Met space.

These were moments of the true spirit of humanity, in contrast to the heart-rending moments of the previous day’s descent into bestiality. We must be our better selves. And we must fight and do whatever we are called upon to do, in order to insure that the forces of evil do not prevail.

Allons! Vive l’humanité.

SURVIVAL in three notes: Of the species, of the fittest, of adolescence.


I had a good but disturbing conversation with one of my favorite people yesterday. She’s under 30; I’m rounding the next to last bend of my 60’s. Despite the apparent divide of our ages, we saw eye-to-eye that, in life, anything can happen at any time. One minute you’re in, and the next minute you’re out. We acknowledged that as a species, we are not nearly as tough as we think we are. Even those mighty mountain men are just a natural or unnatural disaster away from being overrun. We talked 9/11 and survivalists and the things she is stockpiling just in case. We laughed about how proud I was that I had ten gallons of water and a dozen candles in the house.

After a while, we came to another understanding. It’s just not feasible for (most of) us to dwell on all the potential horrors that could befall us. It would shut us down and neutralize our power. So where is the balance? Ah – isn’t that inevitably the question?


We have all learned about natural selection in school. Well, at least up North we have. The notion of “the fittest” seemed pretty straightforward in that context. Eat or be eaten. Run fast or get eaten. Big brain trumps fleet of foot. But what constitutes the hierarchy of fitness in our present-day world? Reason and cleverness and fortitude and perseverance – they have all been the traditional building blocks of achievement and staying on top of the food chain.

There is, however, a new – but very old – soul-chilling trend. To foreswear the value of life here on earth, and to act in order to bring on the next world…that seems to be a powerful force that threatens to undermine all we think we know about our path toward survival of the species.


Which, oddly, brings me to adolescence. Often, the question of survival is the one parents of teenagers are challenged with. How to get through those years of hormones and brazen acting-out? I know some current teenagers (that category actually extends from 11 or 12, past 20 or so these days), and I know some parents of adolescents.

I would like to offer a word of hope. It is the very balls-to-the-walls nature of these in-between childhood and adulthood folks which ensures that we will prevail as a species. For every young suicide bomber, there are countless tens of thousands who are so narcissistically driven that they will do almost anything to guarantee that they are in the midst of the full-on experience of life. Yes. They often do some very stupid things. But they are in love with life. And isn’t that just what we need in order to ensure our continuance?


Mixed feelings about that. Really? you ask. Here’s why…

The day in question is the one where all those screen-freaks we (read, “you”) have come to take for granted,  agree to have chips implanted so they can be in instant communication all the time. Except for me. And a few other hardy souls who have resisted the mass impulse to chat or read each other’s chat every waking moment.

As I write, my partner in crime has whipped out his iPhone (has to be that, of course) and is checking on his virtual world – having been out of the loop for a good 35 minutes. OMG!

Yesterday, I sat with a trio of family members: one so-called adult, one adolescent, one pre-, who compulsively and continuously texted, checked and received what must have been the great words and thoughts of western civilization, during 90% of the visit.

Fie on them all, I say.

So, when chip-day comes, I expect most of my community to say, “Yes sir, please sir, may I have two sir.” Naturally, every sci-fi writer worth his or her salt (myself included) has anticipated a wireless, mind-connected future. But judging by the slack focus of the minds I already see around me, this is more of a dystopian than utopian outcome.

Will there still be chip-free enclaves? Will it be something like witness protection? To choose freedom at the expense of the loved ones (in theory) one has lived amongst?

I’ve always wished to live forever. Yes. I’ve even asserted that I would. Don’t get the net quite yet. It was based on my observation that in my lifetime, life expectancy kept extending. I, therefore, extrapolated that it would continue to do so – infinitely. Okay. End of that digression. I think I would now prefer to take a sidestep into some alternate universe (see how I’m hedging), rather than live in the valley of mindless linkage. Well, let’s see how it goes, shall we?



Hey, Coolstein fans, just taking a blog break. There are those who beg for a return to the original blogging format. Throwing them a bone (sorry Brownstein).

In life we tend to notice losses. They are – emotionally speaking – loud and in your face. When they collect a bit, we feel bereft and oppressed. The job you got fired from (or never got in the first place), the girlfriend or boyfriend who dumped you, the shoes you had your eye on that are now not available in your size, and – the big one, of course – death. You don’t need me to address the pain and misery inherent in loss. It is, for sure, the human condition. Some say that’s what makes us human.

I think there is another side to this coin of living. It’s what is found. The unexpected, believed to be gone forever, never even knew it existed, and the much yearned for. All can be found.

You hear from someone after twenty years. The connection is there – easy and warm, just like it was before. You’re cleaning out your basement and there are your school yearbooks, replete with random cherished objects and notes stuck between the pages. You thought they had been trashed fifteen years ago. A friend asks you to go with her to the Humane Society. The liquid eyes of a silent puppy, who has almost given up on getting adopted, meet your own. And you find each other. Love. You find love: in a friendship, a romance, a long lost cousin, a new beloved pet.

Your life is fuller than before and the scales now have more weight on the side of hope.

Look around in your life; look past the losses to that which you have found. Turn the coin over.

COOLIE DISCUSSES BESHERT or “meant to be.” An unexpected bit of pondering.

The Adventures of Coolie Coolstein: Episode 12

First of all: you must be wondering…what happened to Coolie’s hat? It seems to have disapparated, right? I must acknowledge that it hasn’t been appearing with him recently. Explanation to follow.

But second (and now first), Coolie has something to say:

How do I know if I’m following the coolest path…the one that is beshert? You knew I had a philosophical bent, but you’re really impressed right now, aren’t you? You know how it goes: things seem right and then they can turn out to be exceedingly wrong. Right or ratchet. (That’s “rat shit” – for those of you who aren’t Bevy Smith and the Fashion Queens fans. They are coolness personified.)

As a man of the cosmos, I’m inclined to go both with the big bang and the big silence. Like when I was deciding whether to date Blue. And by date, I mean fall into step and just keep walking. I needed a sign that this was the right thing, so I listened. To what? How the hell should I know? I’m just some cool guy trying to figure stuff out. Just like you. Except for the cool part.

Anyway, I was in listening mode for quite a number of seconds. This was, in fact, one of the most serious choices I’d ever made. And then I heard it – the sound of a garbage truck crunching through some high-density trash. The message was unmistakable. It said – “go forth and hit the babe.”

I took the universe’s note under advisement – as I recommend you all do. Look for signs. They are everywhere. And remember…Karma doesn’t speak English.

The ultimate question that prompted this train of thought was: Are you, the Coolster, in the groove, or is the record going to skip? He heard it on the wind.

Now, about the hat. It lives, you will be happy to hear, but Coolie’s not sure about it. While it certainly conveys, he is ambivalent about that very communication. Is he really a hat person? This is another question that occupies the Coolstein mind. Answers are much harder to come by. As we know. So he wears the hat only during months that don’t start with “J” or, sometimes, he only wears it during months that start with “J.” You’re starting to get the picture, I can tell. The hat makes him a little crazy. Not necessarily a bad thing.
Oh, look, he just put it on.

Having put to rest two of the biggest existential questions in the universe, the well-hatted Master Coolstein and Miss Blue Thing walked off into the slightly stinky post-dawn, pre-garbage-pick-up haze of the West 70’s. They had spent the night alfresco, on a cozy bench in Central Park, under Mothership’s long protective arm (which you would see as a multicolored bale of thousands of tendrils of light). She was keeping an eye. (Well, again, not literally an eye – more like a Geiger counter.) They were now off to see the wizard, if he happened to be in town.

Bonus: you regular readers deserve a little extra…so here’s something that will brighten your day. Look for Coolie…


“You never know how strong you are until strong is your only choice.”

Bob Marley said this, but I heard it from a dear friend.

It gets to a truth about us all that we can draw strength from – as well as sadness. In everyone’s life (at least everyone I know) there are challenges. Some of them at the most extreme edges of what we can bear. Some just reflect the usual morass of living. At any end of that spectrum, however, we can feel stopped and overwhelmed. This is too much to bear, we say and believe. How can I go on? How can I stand the pain, the feelings, the unknown?

We are magnificent in so many ways, and one of them – or maybe the deepest way – is our capacity to rise: to the occasion, to fight the good fight, to go into the darkness with only our inner light as a guide, or – for those who are graced with belief – trust in a higher power.

Ultimately, we are, I think, the source. Of that extra mile we go, down the road that scares us and promises nothing but that it will end.

I am honored and grateful to know the people who have stepped into that terrible land of fear, but who hold their heads high and maintain their spirit. Daily, minute-by-minute, for as long as it takes. Even if that is for the rest of their life.

Thank you for allowing me to see who you are.


On the street in Brooklyn we said, “Give me a fuckin’ break!” Around the Passover table with my Austrian ex-in-laws it was, “Zu viel ist zu viel,” which literally translates as: too much is too much.

I’m thinking about one of my favorite people – a beautiful (in all ways) woman with whom I just had a long conversation. She’s gifted on so many levels and has also had much hardship in her young life. Now there’s more. She spoke of the grave health issues that a close relative is grappling with; she spoke of her feelings and her efforts to mange what is manageable in this dire situation. She’s the kind of person who leaves no stone unturned in her pursuit of making things happen. She’s an activist for those she cares about. And she is being true to herself in these trying circumstances: doing what she can to take care of things. But I want to take care of things at an entirely different level.

I am angry on her behalf; angry at God or the gods or the fucking universe that, in all its mindless glory, deals out the ingredients which so often make it into a shitshow. Can there be some cosmic intervention here? Can I call in whatever chits I have accrued and set the boat of healing on a strong course on her behalf?

Or am I just railing against the mindless winds of random chance? Is there no oversight? No benign or even malign energy, just neutral stumbling happenstance?

I know I don’t know the answer or answers. I don’t expect I ever will. But that doesn’t stop me from imploring whatever force might be to provide a happy ending to this tale; to bring this woman and her family out the other side to a place of peace and well being.