Picking up where his bestselling memoir Never Have Your Dog Stuffed left off–having been saved by emergency surgery after nearly dying on a mountaintop in Chile–beloved actor and acclaimed author Alan Alda offers an insightful and funny look at some impossible questions he’s asked himself over the years: What do I value? What, exactly, is the good life? (And what does that even mean?) Here, Alda listens in on things he’s heard himself saying at critical points in his life–from the turbulence of the sixties, to his first Broadway show, to the birth of his children, to the ache of September 11, and beyond. Reflecting on the transitions in his life and in all our lives, he notices that “doorways are where the truth is told,” and wonders if there’s one thing–art, activism, family, money, fame–that could lead to a “life of meaning.” In a book that is candid, wise, and as questioning as it is incisive, Alda amuses and moves us with his uniquely hilarious meditations on questions great and small.
Praise for Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself
“Engagingly thoughtful and thought-provoking . . . [Alan Alda] candidly shares many stories of his life, so easily and wittily you can hear him speak as you read.”
–Sydney Sun Herald
“Alda is chatty, easygoing and humble, rather like a Mr. Rogers for grownups. His words of inspiration would be a perfect gift for a college grad or for anyone facing major life changes.”
–Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Smart, engaged, funny and observant.”
–San Antonio Express-News ... Read more
Customer Reviews (67)
Wisdom, Character, Humor
There are very few people that I look to for wisdom, guidance or insight in the entertainment business.Alan Alda is one of those few.I read his first book, his autobiography, and HAD to buy his second book as well.I've downloaded countless kindle books and highlighted passages very infrequently.With this book I've lost count of the number of snippets of clarity, insight, and wisdom I've marked.I wish this man were my father, and my childrens' grandfather.I'd love to sit down over a glass of wine and have a long conversation with him about our unique journeys.He's intelligent.He's funny and best of all he's open, honest and feeling.If you like Alan Alda there's no reason not to enjoy this tome.It's one I'll keep in my library indefinatly.
I think it works to have narrative interspersed with quotes from speeches.First, that gives context to the advice.Second, he's quoting himself.When you quote other people you have to explain WHO you are quoting and WHY you are quoting him or her, and WHAT SIGNIFICANCE your quotation has, and very often, your interpretation of what the other person said is going to diverge from the original.It's like taking two lines from a long poem and quoting them, and then people only see the two lines, and not the rest of the poem.The material in the original can lose its meaning and it can be difficult for the reader to go back and forth between the author's "voice' and whoever he or she is quoting.
However, when you quote yourself, you know what you said and why you said it, and you can present portions of what you said in another context, such as in a book where you have more time and space to make points than you do in a speech.
Several of these speeches concern eulogies and that shows that time is passing.I learned that Anne Bancroft had passed away, although Alda focuses more on the 'real" person that she was, with her non-famous "real" name.She was in the Graduate and I bought the Simon and Garfunkel soundtrack ages ago, but I never saw the movie, or if I did, it didn't make much of an impression on me.Although it was nice when they got away at the end.Like everybody else, I remember the "plastics" line.ZZZZZZZzzzzzZZZZZZZZZ(Oh, was I sleeping?)It's never too early to get started in a boring line of work.
One of my major associations to Alda is to two M*A*S*H episodes.Like a lot of other people at that time, I watched the show regularly.The two episodes that made the most impression on me were both kind of sad/gruesome.
The first one is the "Dreams" episode, from Season 8, aired February 18, 1980, and repeated September 1, 1980.Here is a partial description:
"Hawkeye is so exhausted he falls asleep at the table, and he dreams he's back in med school. He has fallen asleep, and his professor takes it out on him by removing Hawkeye's arm (in this instance, a mannequin arm) and tossing it into a river.
When the professor asks Hawkeye what the procedure is to reattach a limb, he can't answer, apologizing for being asleep. The professor responds by removing Hawkeye's other arm, also tossing it into a river. Hawkeye then finds himself, armless, in a boat filled with severed limbs.
He spots a bleeding little girl, and is helpless. He then finds himself in front of an operating table, where a nurse hands him a scalpel. Helpless, he screams into the heavens, waking himself up. Now awake, he sees there are more wounded arriving, and he heads out of the tent.
Later, everyone is back in the Mess Tent. They all plan to go back to their tents and sleep, but when Winchester absent-mindedly quotes, "Ah, sleep...perchance to dream", everyone sits back down for another cup of coffee."
I don't remember if I saw that the first time or as a repeat but that is one of the rare times I can remember staring at the TV in horror, knowing I'd seen an image I was not going to forget.That was Hawkeye in the boat, traveling in the water.I had nightmares about that episode.
The second episode is "Death Takes A Holiday," aired December 15, 1980. In this episode, the doctors are trying to prolong the patient's life to December 26th, because they see a photograph of the patient with his family and they know his family will miss him.The line I remember, which may not exactly be accurate, is that Hawkeye says they don't want the family's wreath to be black.
So after deciding not to further prolong the patient's suffering, Hawkeye moves the time to past midnight so they can look at the clock and record the time of death as some time after midnight on December 26th.
It so happened that 1980, in which both of these episodes were broadcast, was not the best of all possible years for me.
My mother was going through her 7th and extremely dangerous pregnancy.Five of her 6 earlier ones had been very problematic, with only three surviving children, one of whom (me) was almost three months premature, and another one (my sister) who required 4 months of bed rest.Out of 6 pregnancies, my mother had had exactly one "normal" one; that is, without serious complications.
My family is devout Catholic.
Things were looking bad..let's say that.I remember the way she described this pregnancy a few months in and it was with a sense of depression and despair.The doctor was saying, this didn't look good.I was still 11 and my sisters were 8 and 3.
And then, in early September (right around the repeat airing of the "Dreams" episode), my mother went into the hospital with toxic shock (that is correct, not toxemia which while serious is less serious than toxic shock.That is a very serious complication of pregnancy).She was very ill for about two weeks and it was not known whether she would survive.She lived but this experience took a lot out of her and she lost the baby, a stillbirth at five months, a boy, my parents named him James.There was no photograph, no rituals, no "real" way to grieve and no funeral.And finally, just about no support from the Catholic church where my very devout parents spent much of their adult lives.Though they had followed Catholic principles and etc. - I really kind of didn't see that the priests and others were there when we needed them, although some people did help a little.
Many people think those losses don't "count."I mentioned this online once and someone said she did not see why it should upset me, her mother had an abortion before she was born and it didn't bother her.It's a big difference when it happens before your birth and when you remember it, and her mother was not ill and did not have the same sense of despair due to repeated trauma and failures and infant death.My mother had had two previous miscarriages and, in 1970, a baby boy born at about 6 months who weighed under two pounds and lived for two hours.This happened January 1, 1970 and I was 15 months old.I don't remember this of course, but I do remember my mother talking about it in a very "flat" kind of fatalistic way.
Anyone who cannot see the difference between experiences like these and choosing to end a pregnancy is either hopelessly obtuse or deliberately blind.It could be that the woman online genuinely did not understand why I was upset and I read criticism into her tone that was not there.On the other hand, my reactions are colored by the way that the Catholic church showed a very conclusive lack of caring at this time.Oh, they *say* they care.They are good at doing that.But when a woman gets pregnant over and over again which is what tends to happen when couples follow the 'rules' of the Church, and disaster happens, the priests tend to distance themselves, or that was my experience.
There were of course many more "important" things to do.That is the problem with the death of a baby and yes, a stillbirth at five months "counts."Many people don't understand that a death has occurred and life just can't go back to normal right away.American society tends to be hard on people in general who can't keep up the pace of the corporate or other working world.Taking time "off" for grief can be difficult, no matter who died.But some losses are recognized at least to some degree, and others are usually not.That is changing now.
After this my mother was successfully convinced not to get pregnant again.In September, 1980, I turned 12 and my sister turned 9.My youngest sister was 3.None of us including either of my parents can really remember that time.Usually someone would have a sharp memory but here, they don't.My mother was sick and usually either my father or my sister would remember something but really, nobody does.I have some vague memories that are difficult to talk about.
Seeing those limbs, and the doctor's inability to help, was sort of like wondering what happened to the baby's body in the hospital and thinking about various upsetting and awful possibilities.I believe he was baptized and we were told he was in Heaven - at least there was no "limbo" to torment us with.
I was the oldest and I felt responsible.At this juncture, no one in my family was doing well.The following month, October 1980, various not-so-nice people decided to take advantage of my vulnerable state of mind.Various events happened that challenged my sense of resilience.
And then it was Christmas and still, no one was doing well and the birth of a baby boy (include major "festive" season) was not something to get excited about, and being devout there was no way to get away from it.Plus I had some other stresses going on that I found difficult.And then there was the M*A*S*H episode about Christmas.
I can really, really understand why they would not want him to die on Christmas.I can also understand why moving the hands of the clock would be important.Someone asked, why didn't they just lie? - but noting the time of death is crucial.You have to note what you see.Yes a doctor can lie but moving the "official" reality "changes" things in a way.
Alan Alda has gotten kind of an undeserved reputation as "Mr. Nice Guy" but to me, that episode doesn't support that.It is an act of rebellion to decide to let someone die without prolonging the suffering, even for a few minutes, and yet also keep the family's needs in mind, and move the hands on the clock and there - problem solved.It's not good having a family member die on December 26th.If you celebrate Christmas, it is not anywhere near as bad as having the death occur on the 25th.People who say that just shows pathos or is some abstract victory in war are saying things not quite as I see them.It is a small act of rebellion on a personal scale and this stuff about "any victory over war" gets hopelessly too-large-scale for me.
Actors are not their characters, but I had good reasons to be thinking about death during Christmas, 1980 through August, 1981, only some of which I have detailed in this review.That sentiment, to try to help someone but then decide not to cause useless suffering and then be "flexible" about the rules sounds like it's more like who Alda is than some nice guy who might never think to change the time in the first place.
My life started to stabilize on September 19, 1981 when Simon and Garfunkel did The Concert In Central Park.The following day, I turned 13.I hoped for a better year.Another death had happened in August.Those two losses "bookended" my experiences in that terrible year.
Here are some other things I learned from this book:
1.Commencement has several meanings including: "The ceremony of conferring degrees or granting diplomas at the end of the academic year."
2.He really loves his children and his grandchildren.And he appreciates the family dog.
3.Curiosity is important.
4.You can find inspiration for speeches from unexpected places and people.
5.It is hard when friends die and then there is pressure to say something eloquent about them.
6.In some ways, fame really sucks.
7.He's been messing around with various devices like watches and etc. since a young age.(Kind of interesting b/c he altered the time in that episode that meant a lot to me.However the story told in this book was a bit different.Teeth marks were involved.)He says he doesn't quite "really" know how to understand how this (some aspects of science, including some vocabulary?) all works, for lack of a better way of saying it.I believe he understands a whole lot more than he thinks he does, or perhaps than he portrays himself as seeing.He might want to compare notes with astrophysicist John C. Mather, who started taking the doorknobs off the doors when he was three years old, to see what would happen.
8.Drama, or maybe it's tragedy, has a way of somehow playing with or challenging people's expectations.There are some dramatic descriptions of life on the stage when violence is involved, and then you eat lunch.
9.Friendships and love can last a long time.
10. Feminism is important to him (see above for why I consider that significant).
11.To repeat a couple of lines from "Dreams:"
"Later, everyone is back in the Mess Tent. They all plan to go back to their tents and sleep, but when Winchester absent-mindedly quotes, "Ah, sleep...perchance to dream", everyone sits back down for another cup of coffee."
Sleep, or maybe it is some sort of willed unconsciousness, can be a terrible thing.Sometimes terrible dreams just "happen" but other times people put themselves or find themselves in situations where life and maybe death as well are all kind of a bad dream, and a really surrealistic demented theater of the absurd on top of that.Maintaining awareness in those situations can be critical and life-saving.Alda talks about that when he says a life of drinking and sleep is not for him, b/c most of that is unconscious, and he contrasts that with learning, awareness, and creativity.
Sometimes you can't avoid the bad dreams but it's important not to raise the risk.Unconsciousness can produce dismemberment and severing, in many ways.Sometimes sleep is essential, but other times it's better to have the coffee.
Alcohol can produce unconsciousness.I have seen what can happen when violent young men with bad substance-abuse problems drink a lot of beer.The substance abuse does not cause the violence but it can lower inhibitions.This was enough to swear me off beer for 10,000 lifetimes.Rarely, I will have some form of alcohol.If I have a few drinks a year, that's a lot.
It's a great book.
Like chating with a close friend
Every time I see Alan Alda -- whether film or TV -- I think to myself: "This is a man I would love to have a long chat with over coffee or dinner or whatever." And that's what reading his book makes me feel I'm doing. Alda shares his life experiences as though his readers are close friends -- with a sense of humor, intimacy and sincerity that comes through on every page. Pick it up, it's a treasure.
A good book by a good person
Alan Alda actor and storyteller reminisces and ruminates in this book about his own life and its meaning. He presents through it a series of college - commencement addresses he has given, and comments on those. He tells stories of his family of his career and of the many interesting people he has met on the way. He shows throughout the work a curiosity about and appreciation of others. He has a fairness and modesty about himself, and also a light touch and sense of humor. The book provides insights into the world of acting, and some of the best passages are Alda's description of the meaning of acting, and the special ecstasy it provides him. It is clear that Alda isa good and decent person, very caring about his family and very conscienscious in his work. He is also a serious person about the life of the mind. This is a good book by a good person.
So much wisdom
Alda's first book was funny and full of adventures. This one is filled with wisdom and I am in awe at how thoughtful he has been about his life and humanity, and how well he writes. His advice is certainly relevant to us all.
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