Mar 072017


‘What difference does it make,’said the dervish, ‘if there is good or evil? When His Highness sends a ship to Egypt, does he worry about whether or not the mice are comfortable on board?’

Voltaire, Candide


I think I am the last person on earth to find out that Sylvia Plath was an incest survivor. I read The Bell Jar, yes, but maybe she didn’t spell it out? Did she? I read The Bell Jar a long time ago . . . circa 1988. Maybe I need these things spelled out. The light bulb went off for me in December, when I read an article in a lit journal.

(those are from the Writer’s Chronicle, “Towards a New Creative Writing Pedagogy” by Fred D’Aguiar)

Somehow when I read these little bits of goodie, it hit me that Plath was a trauma victim, and an incest survivor.
So she didn’t just stick her head in the oven for artistic reasons.
Except maybe trauma is the original artistic reason?

I never considered myself an expert on Plath, but I did memorize the poem “Daddy.” I used to go around chanting it to myself.
you do not do
you do not do
anymore black shoe
in which i’ve lived like a foot
barely daring to breathe
or achoo

that’s from memory. but i didn’t fully understand the poem. obviously. didn’t want to?

Another favorite book at the time for me was Sybil, immortalized in the made-for-TV movie by Sally Field, who portrayed the “multiple personalities” with hair and wardrobe changes. ROLE OF A LIFETIME, until Forrest Gump of course. Researchers have since suggested that we all have multiple personalities, more or less.

Here are Sybil’s selves, as laid out on the Wikipedia page for the movie.

Peggy: A nine-year-old girl who believes she is still in the small town in which Sybil grew up. Peggy holds the rage Sybil felt at her mother’s abuse and frequently expresses her anger through temper tantrums and breaking glass. Like many of the selves, she enjoys drawing and painting. She fears hands, dishtowels, music, and the colors green and purple, all triggers to specific instances of abuse.
Vicky: A very sophisticated and mature twelve-year-old girl who is aware of all the other personalities and knows everything the others do, though Sybil does not. Vicky speaks French and claims to have grown up in Paris with many brothers and sisters and loving parents. The dominant personality and the only personality to undergo hypnosis.
Vanessa: A young, vibrant, red-haired girl about twelve years old, she is outgoing and full of “joie de vivre”. Falls in love with Richard and helps Sybil build a relationship with him, until he moves away.
Marcia: A young girl obsessed with thoughts of death and suicide, who tries to kill herself (and thus Sybil) on several occasions. Dresses in black.
Ruthie: A preverbal infant. When Sybil is extremely frightened, she regresses into Ruthie and cannot move or speak.
Mary: Named for and strongly resembles Sybil’s grandmother. When Sybil’s grandmother (the only person Sybil felt loved her) died, Sybil was so bereft that she created Mary as an internalized version of Grandma. Mary speaks in the voice of an old woman and frequently behaves as one.
Nancy: A product of Sybil’s father’s religious fanaticism, Nancy fears the end of the world and God’s punishment.
Clara: Around 8–9 years old. Very religious; critical and resentful of Sybil.
Helen: Around 13–14 years old. Timid and afraid, but determined “to be somebody”.
Marjorie: Around 10–11 years old. Serene and quick to laugh, enjoys parties and travel.
Sybil Ann: Around 5–6 years old. Pale, timid and extremely lethargic; the defeated Sybil.
Mike: A brash young boy who likes to build and do carpentry. He builds bookshelves and a partition wall for Sybil’s apartment, frightening her badly when she doesn’t know how they got there. He and Sid both believe that they will grow penises and be able “to give a girl a baby” when they’re older.
Sid: Younger and a little more taciturn than Mike, he also enjoys building things, as well as sports. Identifies strongly with Sybil’s father and wants to be like him when he grows up.

That’s 13. It seemed like a lot when I first read the book.
Now 13 seems like a round, reasonable number.

I think it was suggested or even proven later that the therapist, Flora Rheta Schreiber, who made a killin’ off the book and the movie, was in some way exploitative. Beyond just making a killin’. I think Schreiber was accused of making shit up?

Another illuminated mass-market paperback I loved in my early twenties was Will There Really Be A Morning?. That’s the autiobiography of actress Frances Farmer, who was awarded with a partial lobotomy for her emotional excesses.
On that note, the next book on my desk:

Digging into the ups and downs of therapy and therapists. There’s an anti-psychiatry movement on the rise, and an anti-diagnosis movement. But I don’t know enough about it to say much here. I can tell you that I’ve known a few therapists in my day. I can tell you that. Both from the couch and just in my day-to-day ramblings. I’m not married to one, though. And neither of my parents was a psychiatrist, psychologist, or psychoanalyst. We had other problems.

One last link, further reading on Job if that appeals to you. Oh, Jobbie. Poor thing.
Misery: Is there Justice in the Book of Job?

Apr 292014


“Whenever I’ve tried to free my life from a set of circumstances that continuously oppress it, I’ve been instantly surrounded by other circumstances of the same order, as if the inscrutable web of creation were irrevocably at odds with me. I yank from my neck a hand that was choking me, and see that my own hand is tied to a noose that fell around my neck when I freed it from the stranger’s hand. When I gingerly remove the noose, it’s with my own hands that I nearly strangle myself.”

—Fernando Pessoa from The Book of Disquiet

Marie moved to the Bay Area on her own. Her friend had offered her a place to stay, in a big fancy mansion owned by a world-renowned, wealthy male artist. The artist was friends with Christopher Walken, who was sitting there at the dining room table when Marie arrived. So Marie had a late lunch with him while her friend went out to run an errand. Marie was immediately drawn to Walken’s magnetic sexual energy. They sat on the couch after they ate and pressed the soles of their bare feet together. His feet were tinted orange, like he had a liver disease, hepatitis or something, and he was pretty old and frail but Marie wanted to have sex with him anyway. He had somewhere to be, though, so Marie took a raincheck. After Walken left, Marie realized that her friend, who had invited her there, had not returned. She had said she’d back in a few minutes.

Marie explored inside the mansion, which had a bizarre vibe. All the bedrooms had multiple beds and mattresses, and bunk beds, like it was a commune or a cult or something, but there was no one around. So Marie started getting scared; maybe she was going to be expected to have sex with a cult leader or the famous male artist or something in order to stay at the house for free. And where was her friend? Marie tried to settle on an unused bed and a place to put her suitcase. She was thinking maybe she would be safest in the top half of a bunk-bed in a corner of a room on the third floor, but the top bunk was pretty high, abnormally so. What if she rolled out while she was sleeping and fell to the floor?

Then she looked out the window and saw that the back yard was full of hot tubs and a big swimming pool, but she only saw men out there. Lots of them, with beards and long hair. It was some kind of mineral-bath healing center. Marie shivered. No, this was not going to work for her. Then she remembered that she had plenty of money, and she could afford to stay in a hotel until she found her own place.


Sep 052013


“A thing there was that mattered; a thing, wreathed about with chatter, defaced, obscured in her own life, let drop every day in corruption, lies, chatter. This he had preserved. Death was defiance. Death was an attempt to communicate; people feeling the impossibility of reaching the centre which, mystically, evaded them; closeness drew apart; rapture faded, one was alone.”

—Virginia Woolf, from Mrs. Dalloway

Let’s say you have to give something up in order to get what you want. The wanting is proportional to the sacrifice. In other words, the more you want it, the more you have to give up. So first figure out what you want.

Like this: “I want a job that pays well, that makes me feel good about myself, and that allows me to be creative.”

Okay, that’s a pretty big want. Now, what kind of giving up are we looking at? Your leather Burberry pants? They were expensive, sure, but they don’t count as a sacrifice. Look at the size of your want.

Your car? Well, now we are in a catch-22 because you will need a car to get to your amazing new job. You can’t give that up.
So. Think about it. What will you give up?

English muffins.
Won’t work, the gods know that you hate English muffins.

Ice cream? You’ll stop eating ice cream?

Is that all you care about? Food?
To you, it seems like an impossible thing, giving up your favorite food. I understand.  But this is hardly the meaning of sacrifice.

What about giving up someone you love?
I know, don’t even think about it. Makes you sick.
This is why the ancient cultures slaughtered bulls and goats.
Took them to the altar and slit their throats.
We cannot talk about giving up people you love.
Whatever that means.
It doesn’t have to involve an altar, of course.

Let’s try a different want. Let’s shrink the size of the want.
“I will give up my afternoon coffee and cookie if the gods will bring me a friend who makes me laugh and truly wants what’s best for me.”

Coffee and a cookie?
You get nothing for that.
I keep telling you. Foods don’t count.

Would you throw away your cell phone?
Ha ha just kidding. That won’t get you jack. The gods hate cell phones.

A friend who is funny and really wants the best for you, all the time?
Wow. Another jumbo want. Better think smaller if all you can spare is your afternoon snack.

“I will give up my leather pants that fit me like a glove and that I have wanted my whole adult life if the gods will clean up my Facebook stream and remove all posts that make me feel excluded or inferior. As well as all posts that make me feel that life is so boring and phony, it’s not worth living.”

There’s a Facebook setting for that. You don’t need the gods. Besides, the gods say “Get off Facebook if it makes you so unhappy.”

“I will give up my entire iTunes library as well as the ability to ever purchase any more downloads if the gods will let me wake up every day with a blank mind.”

Wait a minute.
Wait wait wait!
A blank mind? What?
What the hell are you asking for anyway?

You’re not ready for this.
Game over.
Besides, you already have it. That thing that you want.




Aug 262013


“This life is a test—it is only a test.
If it had been an actual life, you would have received further
instructions on where to go and what to do.
Remember, this life is only a test.”

–Jack Kornfield, from A Path with Heart


What you should bring:
Two sharpened pencils
A calculator
A small snack

What you should expect:
Hundreds of questions. You won’t know the answer to any of them.

(Just kidding. You’ll know some of the answers.)

What you should do when you don’t know an answer:
If you are pretty sure, then take a guess.
If you kind of know, skip it, then circle back once you’ve dealt with the easy stuff.
If you really have no clue at all, move on quickly and hope you never see anything like that again.

Tips for success:
Look out for trick questions and confusing directions.
Get a good night’s sleep.
Smile at the proctor, but know that he/she can’t help you.
Get born smart.

Above all, don’t be nervous.


(photo credit: Maps and Mapping by Ben Butterfield, c. 1966.)

Jul 112013


“A subject would leave at midday with a variety of goals—withdraw money from the bank, buy dinner supplies at the grocer’s, pick up laundry at the dry cleaner’s, and so forth. But, typically, if she arrived at the bank and found a long line, the woman would stand at the end rather than choosing to move on to the next task. She might make a commitment to the bank task, stand behind twenty people, advance, say, to the fourth spot from the front, and then abandon the line when she notices that it’s almost time for her [lunch break to end.] She would then return to the center without having accomplished any of what she had set out to do. So often did this phenomenon repeat itself that the researchers hypothesized half-seriously that the odds are that the last three people in any long line are chronically depressed.”

from Listening to Prozac, by Peter D. Kramer, M.D.


Don’t let me catch you standing in any lines.
And when you go to a party, you better not be nervous.
Don’t stand there by the food table shoveling cheese into your mouth.
I expect you to walk right up to the person you are most afraid of and introduce yourself.
If he turns away, tap his shoulder and try again.
Do you think Madonna would lurk over by the bookshelf, browsing titles?
Madonna doesn’t wait in lines.
People with bodyguards know how to mingle.
So go ahead. Mingle.
Worst case, you get rejected. Rejection can’t kill you.
What’s that? You’re sensitive?
Sensitive is the new depressed.
Go pinch someone’s ass.
video clip source: The second annual Breakfast At Tiffany’s fundraiser sponsored by Colonial Jewelers, Frederick, Maryland,
audio clip source: charles bukowski interview

Jun 212013


“Of all things, hard work has become a virtue instead of the curse it was always advertised to be by our remote ancestors. Our children should be prepared to bring their children up so they won’t have to work as a neurotic necessity. The necessity to work is a neurotic symptom. It is a crutch. It is an attempt to make oneself feel valuable even though there is no particular need for one’s working.”

–discussion in a 1940s Psychiatry magazine

You make shoes for women, you clean people’s teeth, you teach driving (with your own brakes), you run a wedding chapel in Las Vegas, you sell houses, you pray with people, you clean corpses, you review ballet, you pick fruit (you are spiritual, oppressed), you invent products seen on TV, you manage a second-rate drugstore with dusty shampoo bottles, you answer phones at a prison, you clean hotel rooms (for cheap, nasty guests), you collect garbage on the beach, you tweet for a celebrity, you are a line cook, a prep cook, a rebellious chef, you sell herbs at a Farmers’ Market, you drive a bus, you translate, you dictate, you fight wars, you mix drinks (switching bars often), you recycle batteries, you take passport-sized photos, you sell socks at the airport, you repair refrigerators, you deliver babies in bath tubs, you write warranties, you hang rope-swings over rivers for people who like to take chances.

Image is/was “Hasty Entrenchment,’ gouache on paper, by Frederic Remington (1861-1909)

Jun 102013



“How does a pearl develop in an oyster? A jagged grain of sand makes its way into the oyster’s shell and makes its life unbearable. The oyster exudes slime to cover the grain of sand and the slime eventually hardens into a pearl. The oyster nearly dies in the process. To hell with the pearl, give me the healthy oyster!”

Bertolt Brecht, from the play Galileo

Remember that little kid in Brooklyn who was walking home from school alone? He asked a man for directions and instead of getting help he got suffocated and chopped into pieces.

Remember those ladies in Cleveland who were walking home and the bus driver pulls over and says, “Want a ride?” Then he imprisons them for a million years and does unspeakable things.

What’s wrong with me? Sitting around thinking about bad people, bad things that happen. Actually, let’s just say evil. Sitting around and mulling it over. Evil.

Well, maybe I have to. Call it the urge to make sense of horror.
We do like talking about it. We need to know that evil villains are out there, and we need to know just what the hell they are doing with themselves. But Michael Moore convinced me that absorbing the stream of frightening news stories makes me a consumer chimp. We get scared, and then we go out and spend money. And SO many things scare us. It can be liposuction malpractice. It can be a tornado. It can be government spies.
So if I don’t inform myself, then I also won’t have to numb myself. With shopping, for example, though there are many mind-numbing activities and behaviors available.
But I have to inform myself. If I don’t, then the whole world will just slip away.
Actually, that’s pretty tempting. The entire world. Gone.
No, that would make me exotic, irresponsible. None of my friends would approve.
So I will just have to be scared. Or numb.
Tough choice.

May 312013

Clark_I Do_Stephanie Berger4_partnering-thumb-480x318

“Tactlessness is a pain-giving failure to hit upon the right moment; your tactless man will accost a busy friend and ask his advice, or serenade his sweetheart when she is sick of a fever. Should you be but now returned from a long journey, he will invite you to a walk.” –Theophrastus

It must be relaxing to be a buffoon.
No one expecting tact from you.
No one expecting to actually like you.
No pressure to like anyone in return.

You are relaxed, dear buffoon.
You are an idiot.

Good for you. It’s exhausting over here with the non-fools.
We have to say and do the right by everyone all the time.

We fall down. We say something stupid.
Me, it’s when I’m nervous.

I agree that the object of my tactlessness has the right to resent and despise me,
to judge me, to run me down in mixed company.

The village idiot. What a relief.
about the image (above)

May 272013

tasting copy

Virtue and vice, or pleasure and pain are not my heritage,
Nor sacred texts, nor offerings, nor prayer, nor pilgrimage:
I am neither food, nor eating, nor yet the eater am I—
Consciousness and joy incarnate, Bliss of the Blissful am I.

Atma Satkam (Song of the Soul), from Light on Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar

I am looking at these people. They want me to look at them. They put themselves in a fitness magazine. See? These people were fat once, scary fat, and now they are not.

Here they are before. Here they are after.

This one does Zumba. That one is a gym rat. And this one does triathlons with her son and daughter. She had never even exercised until she was almost sixty. Yeah, this one. See? There she is before. Here she is after.

Sitting around day after day on a vinyl couch in a semi-dark room watching bad TV. Eating Funyuns and ranch dressing, Ruffles and Stouffers, Chips Ahoy. Sonic burgers in the mid-afternoon. Milkshakes. (Life is endless). Baretta, Gunsmoke, CSI, Law and Order, Jersey Shore.

And then something happened and they were no longer in before, they were on the way to after. They left the befores behind them.

This first one was a dancer in high school and college. She then had two autistic kids, which is insanely stressful and completely unfair. She was busy and exhausted. One day she had a breakdown while eating a piece of chocolate cake. She went and took a Zumba class. She said to herself, if I get down to 153 pounds, I’ll sign up for the Zumba certification course. Now she teaches at the mega-gym that publishes the fitness magazine.

The other guy, his moment came when his teenaged son tried out for varsity tennis. The guy was worried that his kid was too fat to make the team. So the dad said “Kid, you gotta get in shape.” His son said, “I will if you will.” Look at this photo, the dad is an after now. Sadly, the son is still a before. (Plenty of time.)

The third woman went to watch her son compete in a triathlon. She stood at the finish line holding a sign for him and she simply had a thought. I could do this. See? This is a photo of her on a stationary bike.

But let’s get back to misery. What does it look like? Trenches? Warfare? Mustard gas, face masks, mudholes, barbed wire. Yep. War is hell.

So is a trip to Foodtown.

Some people don’t have to deal with a cultural revolution, work camps, brainwashing, KGB, ethnic cleansing, poverty, civil war, discrimination. They get to play mini-golf and eat taffy, lick ice cream cones by the sea forever. Lucky!


Source/Inspiration: “Experience Life”

Apr 302013

We all have different experiences that influence our attitude toward something, but the fact is that the world’s most knowledgeable art experts would not disagree very much on which are the best paintings. You can say, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” or you can say “That’s your opinion,” but once two people know all about a subject, they almost always agree. We disagree on things when one person knows more than the other.” –Andy Rooney

I don’t get electricity. I know it comes from the conversion of force into energy, through burning fuel or harnessing the power of water, wind, sun, fission. I just don’t know what happens next. It goes to a transformer and it gets transformed? Then it travels magically through “live” wires into my house. And with all this electricity around, why don’t more people get fried? Electrocution is a phobia of mine, thanks to Rick Moody and Ang Lee (See The Ice Storm).

–I don’t get “The Masters.” Golf. As a spectator sport. Especially televised. Is this a sleep aid? A form of meditation? A well-heeled walk-about in the hot sun under enforced silence. A practice similar to living in a cave, eating gruel, wearing a burlap dress. Perhaps it is the way.

I don’t get social one-upmanship among relative nobodies. Once you have met someone, let’s say twice (to be generous)– why put so much effort into avoiding acknowledgment of any sort? Why not nod, smile, or just say hello? Afterwards, you can keep walking, shopping, or sunbathing behind your mirrored shades. I will not abduct you.

I don’t get grown men in diapers. I’m not talking about Depends. I understand what’s going on with those poor guys, and I feel for them. I don’t get grown men who symbolically wear diapers. Grown men who want to be taken care of in a sort of mundane way. For example, a man who refuses to pick up his dirty socks from the floor. (See Byron Katie’s spiritual awakening.) Is it because of a mother issue? Maybe I do understand this one.

–I don’t get grown women who play with dolls. (See above.)


Apr 102013

DIANNE: What’s that called when they run around in a movie and live life to the hilt while the music plays?

ADAM: A montage.

DIANNE: That’s it. They’re both in this montage where time passes and music plays. They have kids. One second, the kids are tiny. The next, they’re old enough to go shopping by themselves. The next, they’re leaving home to start a montage of their own. . . . They’re happy. They smile. Time passes. Music plays. Its worse than murder.

—from the play “Square One” by Steve Tesich

blow up grow up show up
row up know up
slow up        slow down
go down know down low down
so down show down 

blow up grow up show up
row up know up
slow up        slow down
go down know down low down
so down show down

blow up grow up show up . . . 


and so on.


Feb 072013

“I stop in front of the bus station, look in on the waiting people, and think about all the places they are going. But I know they can’t run away from it or drink their way out of it or die to get rid of it. It’s always there, you just look at somebody and they give you a look like the Wrath of God.”

from “A Room Forever” by Breece D’J Pancake  ♠The Stories of Breece D'J Pancake (Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1983)


film clip is from My Own Private Idaho by Gus Van Sant; song is “Jim Dean of Indiana” by Phil Ochs

These are summaries of short stories by Breece Pancake, West Virginian. (1952-1979)

A guy is sad because his dad just died. The guy is around twenty. He likes looking for special rocks. Fossils, arrowheads, etc. He tries to grow sugar cane on the family farm, but the crops fail. Blight. So his mom has to sell the land. The guy hates himself. The good news is, he is learning to stand up to bossy women.

A man drives a snowplow for the highway authority in a mountainous county. The man’s son is a missing person and he makes a big show of looking for him; but it’s possible that he killed this son and fed him to the hogs. Because he is a serial killer. He picks up a hitchhiker in his plowing truck, the perfect victim. But he decides not to kill the hitchhiker at the last minute. Because the killer is too tired to make the effort, and he doesn’t want to have to clean the blood out of his truck. Also the hitchhiker is polite.

A woman wants to be pregnant but she hasn’t found out if she is or not. She thinks she probably is not pregnant but she’s not sure. This is happening in the nineteen-sixties when medical professionals actually killed rabbits to detect pregnancy in women. They injected human blood into rabbits’ veins. The woman is pretty sure she’s not pregnant, but she’s holding onto a sliver of hope. She goes to the state fair and sees a side-show of monkeys mating, having sex. She later finds out she is not pregnant. She blames the monkeys.

A man works on river barges: one month on, one month off. He is in a river town waiting for his barge to arrive so he can board it and go to work. He is lonely. It’s New Year’s Eve. He hires a “chippy,” or prostitute. She is very young and tragically new to the business. She is traumatized by their transaction. Angry, guilty, put-out, he returns to his rented room.

A trailer-tractor driver pulls into the town where he spent his childhood. He has decided to visit his “family,” who he hasn’t seen in years. The trucker was a foster child, and the family who fostered him had two bad-natured children of their own. These kids did things like burn bees alive and stab puppies in the heart. The family’s real son tried to scare the foster child/trucker—this all happened way in the past—by doing a doughnut in his father’s car on a highway bridge. The bad son wrecked the car and was paralyzed in the crash. The foster child/trucker survived with no permanent damage. A few itchy scars. The whole family blamed the foster child and they hated him deeply from that day on until he left and went to find his own way in life.

As it turns out, the family still wants him to burn in hell, and they tell him so. He gets back on the road immediately, though they had invited him to spend the night.

Jan 102013


Tenth month, 1753.
23. Indulgence in bed an hour too long.

Twelfth month
17. An hypochondriack obnubilation from wind and indigestion.

Ninth Month
28. An over-dose of whiskey.

29. A dull, cross, cholerick day.

First month, 1757.
22. A little swinish at dinner and repast.
31. Dogged on provocation.

Second month
5. Very dogged or snappish.
26. Cursed snappishness to those under me, on a bodily indisposition.

Third month
11. On a provocation, exercised a dumb resentment for two days, instead of scolding.
22. Scolded too vehemently.
23. Dogged again.

–from A Spiritual Diary and Soliloquies, by John Rutty, M.D., 1777


First month, 2012

1. cursed the resolutioners on Facebook
4. scolded tennis partner, cried
7. indulged in all of Moneyball late-night on Starz
8. ignorantly failed to maintain furnace
9. abused Google calendar
10. swinish at Whole Foods pudding bar


Jan 042013


“There is a life-sized bronze statue of Woody Allen in Spain. (fact)
Onion comes from a Latin word meaning large pearl. (fact)
There are more chickens than people in the world. (fact)
The models for Rodin’s The Kiss were his parents. (crap)
Venus spins in the opposite direction of all the planets. (fact)

taken from cards for the game Fact or Crap, c. 2009 IMAGINATION GAMES


This was back in the early days of corporate therapy, back when “life coach” wasn’t considered a legitimate career. Ted was at a management seminar with his boss. God, he hated his boss. Even his kids hated his boss. And the gooey therapy lady at the conference made him fall backwards into his boss’s arms. An exercise in trust, she called it. Ted stopped himself with his back foot a few times, and he was ready to give up, but the therapy lady fluttered over and drew everyone’s attention his way. So he said to himself– I’ll do this thing –and he closed his eyes and fell back. Of course, his boss caught him, and flashed his yellow teeth and gleaming eyes. Applause. The lady gave Ted her business card. Him in particular, like he was some special case who couldn’t trust his own boss. And then his boss fired him, a month later, half a year shy of Ted’s pension guarantee.

Ted called the therapy lady and told her how he lost his job. She implied that his chronic lack of trust had probably contributed to the negative situation.
He said, “Would you trust a toothless hitchhiker in a surplus army coat?”
“I would if he were my high school sweetheart.”
“And what if he were just some random guy, down on his luck?”
“I’m sure he has a high school sweetheart somewhere.”
“Maybe not,” said Ted. “Maybe he killed her.”
She chuckled, but there was pity in it, he could hear it through the phone.
“You’re sure of yourself,” he said.
“You don’t trust anyone?”
“Yes,” he answered. “I trust my best friend, Jerry. But I don’t leave him alone with my wife.”
“That’s sad.”
“But it’s true.”

Oct 292012


“The old dog barks backward without getting up.
I can remember when he was a pup.”

–Robert Frost, “The Span of Life”


My boyfriend’s older brother was twenty-one. We were seventeen at the time, so twenty-one was a glamorous wedding with destiny. But “Russ” just sat there all day in the TV room, an extra bedroom on the second floor of his mom’s house. He watched back-to-back Kung Fu reruns. To me, watching Kung Fu was like watching televised golf. Why would a young person with a living brain do such a dull thing to himself? If you are going to do something to yourself, let it be graphic and bloodcurdling and real. Go out and behave in a way that will cause you deep remorse. GO out.

One time we dragged Russ to the beach, which was a coup. He drank too much beer, though, and passed out on his scruffy bath towel. We weren’t paying attention to him. We were too busy killing time and inner pain by being asses to each other. We just left him in the sand in his denim cutoffs, and he got burned to a crisp. We felt badly about it later, but not as badly as he did.

There is a faux-spiritual overtone to those old Kung Fu episodes. Guy on a mission comes to town, spreads enlightenment as he metes out justice. Wise traveler brings a higher purpose to the 7-Eleven hot-dog-eaters.

Russ had a fantasy of growing a long braid down his back. He had Chinese fighting stars lined up with his beer cans on the coffee table in the TV room. He cracked brilliant, wicked jokes and he played the drums. Sadly, he died young.

And now even Disney makes martial arts movies for tweens. Throw a wig and a miniskirt on a stunt double and you’ve got yourself a blonde, valley-girl, Shaolin warrior.

They say your time has come. They say this is your battle with destiny. They say watching televised golf can kill you.

Respect your elders.

Oct 012012


The Agents of Outrage: An embassy attacked. Diplomats murdered. The new calculus of violence against America.

Brooklyn is Finished: Or has it only just begun?

You call this an election?

Could China and Japan go to war over these?

The Adventures of Genius: True Tales of Brilliant Heroes

–headlines in the checkout line at Whole Foods magazines in order of appearance: Time Magazine, New York Magazine, The Atlantic, The Economist, Mental Floss


I went on a silent retreat once, and I meditated for four days. I did not have a meditation pillow or anything that might work for meditation, so I borrowed a big floor pillow from my landlady. She had a new dog, a puppy that wasn’t right. It was just one of those “lemon” puppies, and we could all tell within a few weeks. But what can you do in that situation? That’s why I like mutts, but my point here is that I borrowed a pillow from my landlady. Then we went to the meditation retreat.

The first morning, during our “sit,” the Buddhist teacher explained that only in extreme emergencies could we raise our hand. Then her assistant would come over to help us, but only by exchanging written notes. And then we sat. And sat. I was sitting there and it started to dawn on me that I was going to be sitting like that for not just hours but days. We really, truly, would not be allowed to talk. The other “retreaters” wouldn’t let me talk, even if the teachers had pity on me. They went there to get away from conversation. There was no one to talk to.

I looked down and there were all these little worms crawling out of the pillow I was sitting on. I want to say they were worms. Weevils maybe? Honestly, at that moment they looked like maggots, but that may have been a result of my heightened awareness. It occurred to me that Buddhists don’t like to kill living things. I smashed a couple, but they actually bled, so I stopped. I looked up and everyone was meditating, so peaceful, and the worms kept crawling out of my pillow. Yes, I did raise my hand. I did. And the assistant took my pillow somewhere and did something nonviolent with it.

I think I may have mentioned the American spiritual teacher I met in India who wore a JC Penny vest and had a big handlebar mustache. I am not going to say his name because though I don’t personally have a problem with him there are those who do. Anyway he was picking on this woman during one of his talks, a European woman who had actually become a Buddhist nun and meditated for twenty years. The teacher informed us that the nun was still hugely neurotic and worried constantly about the most trivial things.

“Right, Maria?” he said. “Meditation doesn’t work, does it? Your mind still chatters away and tortures your soul. Right, Maria? Right?”

Then he held his watch up in front of his face and said that most of us can only see that much of reality, it’s like each of us has a watch in front of our eyes, really close, so it’s all we can see and we think that’s all there is. I liked the way he used his watch; it was the only prop he had handy. But I didn’t like his vest. Vests are hard to do. You have to really know what you are about to successfully wear a vest. Any vest.

Oh, and my husband went on that silent retreat with me and we did not really talk it through before we went. He had done these retreats before, but I had no idea what I was getting into. We had separate rooms, and once the retreat started he would not make eye contact with me at all in the cafeteria, or if I passed him in the meditation room on my way to my new pillow. He was acting like he didn’t even know me, and that sent me into a sort of tailspin of rejection and uncertainty. Of course, he was only following the retreat protocol. Maybe I was being devoured by worms when they explained this protocol, because I had no idea why he was treating me like a stranger. We were newlyweds at the time and I was quite confident of his love for me, but I started to suffer the worst kind of heartache. Why wouldn’t he look at me? Was he mad at me? What had I done? I cried myself to sleep that first night, and then I went into a brooding rage. My meditations weren’t going well, to say the least. I finally slipped a desperate note under his door, in violation of the rules. He snuck up to me on a path and hugged me quickly, asked me if I was crazy. Someone witnessed the hug and reported us.

There is a funhouse ride I remember from when I was a kid and could ride those things without vomiting. It’s a haunted house with the spinning, tilted seats that carry you through on tracks. At the end, in a dark room, the seat suddenly spins around and brings you face to face with a huge mirror. And in the mirror, between you and the other person in your car, sits a ghost. A green wispy thing. Laughing at you.

Right, Maria? Right?