Monthly Archives: January 2017

This is what 63 looks like

Almost disqualified because she is French (which is cheating), Isabelle Huppert was among the most self-possessed of women at the Golden Globes last Sunday. She doesn’t look “young” or even “young for her age.” Rather, she looks just right: slender, chic, the product of diligent self-care and groomed without looking calcified, which is sometimes the case with older American beauties.

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Isabelle Huppert, age 63: Suits up like a boss

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Isabelle Huppert, age 63: Ice queen

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The Least Wonderful Time of the Year

Dark mornings, the sun not rising until I’m on the train. Afternoons never mustering real heat or light, dimming by four, dark again by 5. Wind slicing through the streets of lower Manhattan. Snow, rain, ice. Maybe it’s because of a cold coming on; maybe it’s the cleanse and I’m actually a boring person without wine. But I’ve felt little inspiration to think, let alone write. Oh January, you’re the worst.

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A postcard to myself

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taking the good with the bad

This is what came in the mail last week. A postcard made at a reunion with my college roommates, aka, the Rapture Sisters (why that name is a story for another time). Linda had the good idea to make postcards to mail to each other at some unspecified day in the future. She brought all the supplies: blank postcards of a very nice stock, pictures and stickers and such for decoration, stamps. Other than that, no rules and I approached it as I do any blank sheet of paper: get started and hope that something will occur to me.

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What confuses me, a little bit, is that I recall making postcards for the four other women. I don’t recall making one for myself. But this is very clearly my handwriting, except for the Happy New Year note at the top.

Whatever, it tracks nicely with a mood I wrote about going back to work last week. Feeling like I needed an external force for motivation and inspiration. Even a postcard from another (or me in another mood, if that’s what this is). Feeling unambitious, unconnected, restless. Feeling like a fraud at work which, I have since learned, has a name: Imposter Syndrome. From Wikipedia:

Impostor syndrome (also known as impostor phenomenon or fraud syndrome) is a concept describing high-achieving individuals who are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud”. The term was coined in 1978 by clinical psychologists Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes. Despite external evidence of their competence, those exhibiting the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be. Some studies suggest that impostor syndrome is particularly common among high-achieving women. 

That’s me! I thought when I read this, feeling vindicated, as one does when one receives a name for a condition, however spurious (sorry, Restless Leg Syndrome Sufferers).

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copyright CARL RICHARDS, the Sketch Guy

Carl Richards, the Sketch Guy, captures perfectly the feeling in one of his napkin sketches, above. Which is a kind of postcard to himself, I suppose.

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The Guest House

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Mary, my Mother-in-Law

Another profile in the NY Times magazine, this one about a doctor who lost three limbs when in college and now tries to bring a “good death” to those who reside in what’s called the Guest House, part of the Zen Hospice in San Francisco.

“Good death” is something I thought about when I visited my mother-in-law, Mary, who lives in a memory care facility in Orlando. She has severe dementia and, after falling and shattering an elbow, was in a rehab that simply wasn’t equipped to accommodate patients with memory loss. We spent a weekend relieving Steve’s sister, Laura, who also lives in Orlando and is mostly tasked with her care. Observing Mary, in pain, in an unfamiliar place, in adult diapers, not remembering not to lean on her elbow, addled by medication, I wondered about sustaining life after the mind goes and the body breaks down.

By most yardsticks, hers is not a good life. Would a “good death” be a better choice? Simply put, it’s not a choice we can make and it feels like heresy even talking about it. And that is exactly what Miller spends his life working at: inviting death into our lives, our relationships, our conversations. He’s looking to “disrupt the death space,” a mission statement that sounds perfect for the Silicon-Valley VC community he solicits.

The article never links Zen Hospice’s “Guest House” to the Rumi poem, but I did, so here it is. Perhaps it’s something of a cliche to rely on Rumi for Life’s Big Ideas. But it continues to amaze me how the work of a 13th-century Sufi poet endures. (Some of his relevance is explained by this New Yorker article.)

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

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Cleanse, Day 6

What people say about me, the cleanse bore, at the office.

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Taking the God out of Good

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Get Right With God

From a profile of Bart Campolo: “Atheists and agnostics have long tried to rebottle religion…to get the community and good works without the supernatural stuff. It has worked about as well as nonalcoholic beer. As with O’Doul’s, converts are few…”

Campolo is a one-time evangelical minister who lost his faith suddenly — or so he thought — as a result of a bike accident and concussion. When he finally fond the clarity and courage to share his loss of belief with friends “they treated me like an obviously gay man coming out of the closet. ‘People were like, yeah we’ve known this for a long time.'”

His story is also about the rise of secular humanism, which neither excludes nor insists on God. Do good deeds, devote your life to them even, but don’t blame yourself if you can’t conjure belief. Crucially, humanism gives ex-believers like Campolo a platform to stand on that’s called neither atheism nor agnosticism. This makes me wonder: why do we need platforms? Why not just be good and do good? Maybe it makes the fall from belief less precipitous. Maybe it makes for a softer landing as compared to the drifting downward into the blackness of atheism. Maybe we just need to call ourselves something.

The article stopped me hard at “supernatural stuff,” an offhand catch-all for things (for me anyway) like Jesus as the son of God, his immaculate birth and miracles, his resurrection. What if Jesus was a prophet who tried to bring people into a more goodly (but not Godly) way of being? What if he was the son of a man, say Joseph, and not the son of God? What if there is no God? Can’t we still believe — in goodness, in helping others, in giving to others?

To read, perhaps: “Good without God: What a Billion Nonreligious People Do Believe” (Gary Epstein, 2010).

 

 

 

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Cleanse Day 2

Last night I felt a stir of temptation as I walked past a cabinet full of wine bottles, one of them gleaming redly at me. I’m open, it said, its cork tipped to one side. His name was Mark West and he stood shoulder to shoulder to another tempting-looking fellow, a Kendall Jackson. My heart beat, redly. My cheeks flushed, redly. But I kept going, into the kitchen, where I poured myself a glass of water.

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Walk on by

I read a profile by the founder of Drynuary – not a fun name, either to say or spell, but it’s not such a fun concept either. John Ore has made a brand around not drinking in January. All 31 days, or so he intends, while freely admitting to a mid-month tipple one year and an “early dismissal” another, due to a dinner at Peter Luger’s (kind of a lame excuse, but who am I to judge?)

Ore sounds nicely non-evangelical, even ambivalent, about his brand. “Drynuary forces us to consider the the role alcohol plays in our everyday lives, especially when its absence is the most obvious or stark. My wife and I don’t hibernate for a month, sipping herbal teas and avoiding glances at the stemware…” he writes. But “by the fourth week,” he says, “I’m sick of whatever it is that used to be interesting about this.”

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ID

Susan Faludi writes about her father, a Holocaust survivor who would change his name, nationality, religion and, at the end of his life, gender. The profile in The New York Times has much to say about identity, with, for me, this being the real question: “Is identity what we choose to be or is it the very thing we can’t escape?”

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On my list of books to read: “In the Darkroom.”

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Why Poetry?

Why now? Why at all? Daniel Halpern’s essay in the New York Times found answers to these questions by emailing notable poets and researching what past poets said about their medium. There are anecdotes that get to poetry’s essential nature. The Greek Poet Yiannia Ritso was jailed, wrote poems on cigarette papers and walked out at the end of his sentence wearing his collected poems stuffed in the lining of his jacket. From Moonlight Sonata (1956) about an old woman in an old house, thinking about death, translated from the Greek.

But who can play this game to the end?
And the bear gets up again and moves on
obedient to her leash, her rings, her teeth,
smiling with torn lips at the pennies the beautiful and unsuspecting children toss
(beautiful precisely because unsuspecting)
and saying thank you. Because bears that have grown old
can say only one thing: thank you; thank you.
Let me come with you.

Then there’s the Ukraninain poet Irina Raushinkskaya, also jailed, who wrote her poems on bars of soap and when she had memorized them, washed them away.

Are these two stories true? Is poetry true? What is true? What is truth? These are the questions poetry puts before you, like leaves on a tree, waving madly, like vivid flags, in the wind, if only you would stop to notice them. If only you could get out of your own thoughts and notice them. From Raushinkskaya’s I Will Live and Survive:

I will live and survive and be asked:

How they slammed my head against a trestle, 

How I had to freeze at nights, 

How my hair started to turn grey… 

But I’ll smile. And will crack some joke 

And brush away the encroaching shadow. 

And I will render homage to the dry September 

That became my second birth. 

And I’ll be asked: ‘Doesn’t it hurt you to remember?’ 

Not being deceived by my outward flippancy. 

But the former names will detonate my memory – 

Magnificent as old cannon. 

And I will tell of the best people in all the earth, 

The most tender, but also the most invincible, 

How they said farewell, how they went to be tortured, 

How they waited for letters from their loved ones. 

And I’ll be asked: what helped us to live 

When there were neither letters nor any news – only walls, 

And the cold of the cell, and the blather of official lies, 

And the sickening promises made in exchange for betrayal. 

And I will tell of the first beauty 

I saw in captivity. 

A frost-covered window! No spy-holes, nor walls, 

Nor cell-bars, nor the long endured pain – 

Only a blue radiance on a tiny pane of glass, 

A cast pattern- none more beautiful could be dreamt! 

The more clearly you looked the more powerfully blossomed 

Those brigand forests, campfires and birds! 

And how many times there was bitter cold weather 

And how many windows sparkled after that one – 

But never was it repeated, 

That upheaval of rainbow ice! 

And anyway, what good would it be to me now, 

And what would be the pretext for the festival? 

Such a gift can only be received once, 

And perhaps is only needed once.

Poetry is personal and for me it makes me read more slowly, stop to notice a frost-covered window, rise above words concerned with politics and celebrity and anything that starts with a hashtag. That’s why.

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New Year’s Resolutions For Me This Time 2017

It’s only fair that I share my list, now that I’ve posted my mostly annual New Year’s Resolutions For Others.

  1. Choose Kindness. Because it is always a choice.

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  1. Judge less.
  2. Write more.
  3. There is beauty everywhere. Find it.
  4. Read poetry. It pretty much explains everything.
  5. Keep working on these things.
  6. Lest this start to sound like a Pinterest board waiting to happen: Stop drinking so much wine, you wino.
  7. Also: would it kill me to learn Spanish?
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