April 14, 2006

Going On Hiatus

Dear friends, after much thought I’m going to have to declare a hiatus on this blog for approximately one month, with great regret. Recently I’ve had less and less time for this activity , mostly because of competing work projects. In addition to the freelance writing that I do every day, I’m beginning at least one, and possibly two, creative writing projects, one on my own and one in collaboration. The one in collaboration is the one that puts real deadline pressure on me; I have to get started on it today.

I can just about always fit in one creative project in addition to my paying work, and for more than a year that creative project has been blogging. I can’t juggle three balls for very long.

Personal life has been adding to the squeeze in the past couple of months. Some of you may remember when I posted about a problem I was having with my emotions. The immediate problem, my newly discovered bipolar syndrome, has been treated effectively, and the turbulent anger has not arisen since, but the karmic wheel does keep turning; the boat sails away but its wake may remain. I hope the wake will diminish over time.

I think that my creativity has not diminished at all in the past couple of months, judging from the posts I’ve written, but the rate of output has declined. You may have noticed that I've been posting less. I just haven’t had the alone-time to think of story ideas. After struggling to maintain my past level of output, I’ve had to admit to myself that I need to set this aside for a while.

My wife and I will be going on vacation in a bit less than a month, and I hope I’ll be able to do some travel blogging from a very wonderful, electronically accessible place. Check back around May 12-13 or so.

Lots of love,

April 13, 2006

Staring Down the Night

She didn’t call it insomnia, because the sleeplessness hit her only about three nights a week. She found it irritating, sometimes even self-critically amusing: another night when she’d have to stay up pointlessly, not enjoying herself, not doing what her body wanted, and sure to get behind on her work the next day. She rarely mentioned it to anyone, and only with a shrug.

She’d tried all the remedies, and trying them had kept her busy for a while. Some pills hadn't worked at all; the ones that had, only worked until she got used to them. A glass of wine at bedtime had made her feel zippy, not sleepy. A cup of warm milk had tasted unpleasantly of childhood and hadn’t slowed her mind down in the slightest. Reading had made her think, made her want restlessly to tell someone her ideas. Television kept her up all night, until it bored her too much to turn on anymore. Counting her breaths seemed simpleminded, laughable.

What she does now is, she just sees it through. She stays up through it. As long as it wants to keep her awake, she lets it, and when it gives up, she falls asleep without knowing when. She sits up in bed, looking at everything that exists around her. She waits it out, eyes open. There is no gimmick. She just sits with whatever is. It is crucial that she not get up.

Here she is, staring at her bookshelves, reading the titles from the other end of the room. She looks at the paint texture on the wall. She looks at the folds of the window curtain. She looks at the shadow of the door. She adjusts the comforter around her legs. She reaches her arm out and picks up the glass of water from the end table, takes a sip. She straightens her posture. She remembers her dead aunt. She refuses to think about her last lover. She vaguely plans her work for tomorrow. She bites her nails. She smooths her hair. She sits still and waits. It would never occur to her that what she is doing is brave.


April 11, 2006

Old Enough to Write It

In his twenties he tried to write a novel about old age, just to show he could. He wrote a draft in a furious three-month burst, and everyone he showed it to said the same thing: it read like a young man’s dream of old age, hitting all the predictable keynotes but missing the quirky illuminations you had to have lived through to know. It was the high-speed fury, he sensed, that had misled him.

In his forties, successful and known, he started again, but only got a few pages into it before the press of all his other commitments made him set it aside. Novels about old people didn’t fit in with the image he wanted to cultivate.

In his sixties, old age was the last thing he wanted to think about.

In his eighties, he knew he could finally do it. He wrote a couple of paragraphs every day, in longhand, and stopped when he got tired, after which he would have some tea and reread an old favorite, something Russian or English and older than he was. Although he felt he was racing against time – just as he had felt in his twenties – he also knew somehow that if he kept up steadily and slowly, time would draw itself out to let him finish. And that is what happened. He put everything in, and never worried if he was overdoing the details. When he wrote the last paragraph, he was lying in the bed from which he would never get up, scrawling half-legibly on the clipboard on his lap.

The paper rattled lightly as it crossed the small space between him and his son. In a flood, all words were leaving him. All he could say at last was: “You’ll see it gets out?”

“Sure, Dad.”

The old man closed his eyes and saw himself at the top of an immeasurably high cliff. It had taken all this time to reach the top, it had all led up to this moment of consummation. He saw distant fields, tiny pennanted castles, and far beyond, a white line of surf, a boundless sea. Down below, he could see his twentyish self, his fortyish, self and his sixtyish self struggling upwards at three different levels of the climb. It made him dizzy to recall how much they didn’t know yet, how much was still left for them to see, and this best of all. It’s wonderful up here, he shouted, but his voice scattered in the wind.

As his hand on the sheet of paper relaxed, he leaned over the edge of the cliff and lifted one foot. And as the paper left his hand, he leaned further and lifted the other foot off the ground and dove into the breathless air.


April 10, 2006

I'm going back to sleep.

I was up till 3 last night, talking and thinking fruitlessly, and I've got a ton of work waiting for me. That story I was going to write this morning -- or last night -- is going to have to wait at least another day. Sorry, folks -- I beg your indulgence

April 07, 2006


I'm going to wish you all a good weekend now, dear readers.

And if you're in the Washington DC area, make sure to see the Hokusai exhibit. If anyone between now and May 14 should ask you, "What is art?", just point them to the Freer and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and they'll see.

April 06, 2006

I Control the Mass Media

Danny Miller put up a post yesterday that says so much about the nastiness of human beings, I'm sick to my stomach over it. Entitled "Can I Be Honest with You?" it starts out as a glimpse of a particularly cruel pitch meeting in Hollywood, but then progresses, in Danny's typically brilliant, sinuous way, to a discussion about an experience he had putting one of his essays on the Huffington Post. That post was about circumcision, and expressed Danny's wish to have his possible future son circumcized. The post attracted a shocking amount of hate mail from Huffington commenters -- not just criticisms of circumcision, which would of course be well within reason, but savage expressions of Jew-hating. Given the forum, I'm inclined to think that many of the commenterers condidered themselves political progressives.

As a commenter supporting Danny wrote, "Welcome to the new American left, Danny, where circumcision is equated with murder, and being Jewish is tantamount to admitting that you control the world as part of a shadowy, secret cabal."

It's that kind of nastiness and self-righteousness and, yes, anti-Semitism, that has led me to move rightward, toward the center, in recent months. I don't understand how people can claim to represent the good and the just, and to be deserving of political power, when they consistently display such sheer viciousness, such rabid intolerance and contempt for anyone who disagrees with them. (Read the comment threads in The Daily Kos or Eschaton and you'll know what I mean.)

To cite another recent essay of Danny's, this incident shows that not only are gays the new Jews, but Jews are the new Jews too.

By the way, my position on circumcision is equivalent to a position many liberals hold on abortion: if you don't approve of it, don't do it.

April 05, 2006

The Celebrity Therapist

He’s a therapist who treats celebrities, and a celebrity himself too. For each appointment he blocks out a whole morning or afternoon, so no two clients will ever bump into each other. For the A-list ones, he blocks out a whole day and, in some cases, goes to their homes.

He wrote that bestseller, Loving Your Shadow. It put him on the talk show circuit, and, ever since, he puts a book out every two years. There’s an endless supply of possible titles == Seeing Your Shadow, Lighting Your Shadow, Walking with Your Shadow -- so he’ll never run out of things to write. At times he’s introduced as “the shadow man.”

At his level of practice, the line between clienthood and friendship sometimes gets blurred, but that’s to be expected: these celebrities are so needy they express it by giving him paintings, buying him vacations, getting his kids into their kids’ schools. Some weekends, on their yachts, he expounds genially on Jung and post-Jung over drinks and cigars.

He’s taking notes for his next book, The Shadow of Success. It’s a subject he knows in his depths, after having to deal with the complexes and stresses that sudden fame brings. He will not tell his readers, however, the thing that most interests him about his celebrated clients: that therapy does not relieve their suffering. This is the work of their shadow, of course: every gain worsens the acquisitive itch. They always want more, more… It’s impossible for such grasping, striving people to achieve the kind of self-acceptance which is one of the attributes of a rooted, flowering life such as, to choose a convenient example, his.

What his clients really need, he often thinks, is not a therapist but a confessor, to deliver them of their sins and make them glad of their trials. But the fact that they don’t improve doesn’t affect his theories. In fact, protracted courses of therapy with little improvement give him more time to find evidence for his ideas. “Healing” them, “treating” their symptoms, “achieving” a “positive” “outcome” – he always thinks such words in quotation marks – seems beside the point when he has such rich analytical material to study.


April 04, 2006

Little Boy Lost

He’s seven years old, just old enough to be ignored for a few minutes and lose his sense of direction. It’s such a bright sunny day – he’s looking out through a window – perfect for running and playing but now this had to happen. His stomach is all queasy, his mouth is dry. Bitter acids rise into his throat. Everything here is strange to him: on one wall there’s a picture of a clown grinning threateningly, as if telling him, “I’m going to get you! I’m going to come alive when you’re not looking!”

Being all alone is kind of fun in a way if it weren’t so scary. Shakily he tells himself not to cry. He knows he hasn’t really been deserted, he knows someone will come for him. Meanwhile there’s a clock on the wall to keep track of how long it’s been, to say to himself, “Someone will come in ten minutes, in five minutes…”

Time gets longer and longer. There are distant sounds of people enjoying themselves, not knowing that he’s here. If only he knew to trust to ask for help! Someone who could tell him how to face this, and which direction to start in.

At last the door opens and his mother is standing there with a TV Guide in her hand, and says, “Didn’t you straighten up your room yet? I told you to do it half an hour ago.”


April 03, 2006

A Bronx Cheer from China

"Ha Ha Ha America" is the title of a 17-minute short at this year's Sundance Festival, and it's basically a 17-minute upraised middle finger aimed at us, boasting that the billion-plus nation is overcoming us in wealth and productivity and that we're in an economic and moral decline. The movie is rude, vulgar, obnoxious, one-sided, simplistic, laden with contradictions, and full of the loudmouthed insecurity of the arriviste, but its taunting hits a nerve. Particularly striking is its sarcastic gratitude toward the Bush administration for helping make China prosperous. Bush has enriched more Chinese than Mao ever did, the narrator claims.

Meanwhile, the NYT this morning says that China is starting to feel a shortage of unskilled labor, a result of its rise up the value chain as its workers are no longer content to be sweatshop slaves; and a shortage of skilled management. Vietnam, they say, is the coming source for cheap labor.

No economist, I await knowledgeable perspectives. Is the movie simply a latter-day form of Red propaganda with a dance beat and an MTV-derived style, or an augury of a shift in the scales of civilization?

April 02, 2006

Why Did I Dread?

I woke up a few minutes ago – less than an hour ago by the time I type the end of this post -- with heart-quickened dread slapping me conscious, pushing me this way and that through the dawn-gray rooms. What’s happened? Nothing as far as I know. It’s Daylight Savings day, I’ve lost an hour in my sleep, maybe that’s it, a symbolic death. But that doesn’t feel like the answer: I’ve been through more than fifty such days, why should this one throw me? Yesterday was a good day, it was someone’s birthday and we had fun: outdoor fun in the afternoon and a good new restaurant last night, dressed up and taking photos to commemorate this piece of passing time. Nothing’s wrong – is that what I dread? Things going too well to remain like this? No, I know by now not to be spooked by that kind of self-dramatizing superstition.

As if to embody what I was feeling, a helicopter flew low and loud overhead moments after I awoke. Police, military? Searching for a criminal, checking security for a dignitary’s visit? I stopped and waited. Was the helicopter the cause of the dread? Did I hear it before waking? The helicopter vanished, it did not enter my life. But the dread stayed.

Or did the dread come from a dream? Unusual, because I love dreams, I love to remember them, even the scary ones entertain me. I don’t expect to be seriously unsettled by a dream anymore unless there’s some dream content I can interpret that comments troublingly on my waking life, and this time I don’t remember any dream content. It’s lost in the darkness and I can’t find my way back to it; it’s evaporated like a sprinkle of rain, it’s been gathered up and carried away like a treasure buried in a cave.

In an illogical leap, a thought comes to me. I don’t know if it’s a thought that was present in my dream or one I’m just making up at this moment. But it’s a thought that carries the dread further into waking life, and, along with a churning feeling, that brings some sense of intellectual satisfaction: a train of thought has been moved forward.

The thought is this: to be scared by a dream is to be scared by fiction, a fiction that rises up in your life and pretends to be real. I’ve spent my life loving fiction but assuming there was a clear boundary between fiction and reality, and assuming that life was the latter. Maybe this phantom dread is telling me that the whole thing has been fiction: everything I’ve thought about myself, all the self-image statements I’ve formulated and held in mind, all the criticisms and categorizations of myself and others, all the goals and hopes and theories and assumptions. What if it’s all been stuff I’ve made up to push myself along, or to stop myself in my tracks, and has no more reality than a fleeting feeling in response to an unremembered dream? And if it’s all been fiction, what’s left?