April 29, 2007

Writer Without a Story: Who Is Byron Katie?

Funny question. I hear her replying, “The one holding this cup of tea right now,” or, “Who knows?”

All I can tell you is who I heard and saw. At the beginning of each day’s session, without any introduction, Katie walks in and sits in a large gray easy chair on the little stage. There is a folding screen behind her, a large vase of sunflowers, and a small table with a pitcher of hot herbal tea. She appears to be in her mid-60s, about five feet five (165 cm), with short silver hair worn in bangs, and makeup. Rectangular rimless glasses when she needs to read something. She dresses in soft, good-quality natural fabrics, often of purple or pink-beige, and favors large shawls. Her voice is clear, direct, accentless, becoming slightly scratchy if the day has worn on. She does not seem affected in any way.

The bangs give an impish quality that balances her quiet forcefulness and occasional sternness. She smiles and laughs at the same times you or I would, she can be spontaneously funny (she can also laugh at herself, as we saw during a graduation parody performed by the staff), and she’s warm when greeting individuals or groups, but she’s not a smiley-face; she has serious work for us and for herself. She speaks in well-thought-out sentences, some of which sound like things she has said often before (and in many cases are familiar from her books) and which she repeats because they are, for her, bedrock truths. At other times, she says things off the cuff that are startling in their aptness. She responds readily to every question and seems unconcerned whether her answers will please us or not.

Although she never raises her voice and is always a model of courtesy and empathy, at times I think I sense a bit of annoyance in her (this is a projection on my part -- because everything is) when people don’t get it or when they don’t follow the simple directions in an exercise. She can be hairsplitting about the words she has said or the words she has heard a student say. I sense that aspect of her as annoyance but not impatience: she will let you keep on not getting it. She can question a student sharply in exploring the student’s self-justifying stories. She doesn’t buy into victimology. She needs the truth.

“I’m not nice,” she said at one point. “I love you.”

Sometimes tears come to her eyes (I was sitting about twenty feet away) when discussing a student’s pain or sharing pain from her own life. She is evidently exceptionally capable; it is difficult to imagine her at a loss when confronted with any question, person, or situation; yet when she needs time to think of a response she shows it, leaning forward in her chair, brow furrowed, lips tightened, beginning a word and then stopping it. This isn’t hemming and hawing, it’s an open display of a thought process. The furthest thing from floundering: confidence in one’s working-through.

She reveals a surprising amount about her past, sometimes in brief asides and sometimes in full-length anecdotes. She is apparently willing to admit to any sin, any blemish – and she has revealed some doozies. During one session she told us, in detail, exactly how badly she had treated her daughter just before her (Katie’s) 1986 awakening. Then she asked, “Roxanne, honey, will you stand up, please?” Her daughter, we learned at that moment, was in the audience. And Katie asked Roxanne if she would like to give her version of the incident, and Roxanne did, and they discussed it candidly in front of 300 people. Whether they have done that at other Schools or not, I don’t know.

Katie has also told us of times when, heeding her own truth, she behaved towards others in ways that are not conventionally nice. Her cousin called her up one night and told her he was pointing a pistol at his head and would pull the trigger if she didn’t give him one good reason to stay alive. Katie thought and thought about it, the telephone silence growing. Finally she told him she couldn’t think of a reason. Her cousin told her she was the first person he’d called who’d given an honest answer, and I gather he didn’t pull the trigger. But of course, as Katie reminded us, he might have.

During the school, news of the Virginia Tech massacre filtered in. Someone mentioned it in the group session and Katie asked what had happened. A student explained it in a sentence or two. Katie nodded a few times, taking it in, not altering her slight smile, as if to say, Yes, this is what happens. I'm not sure whether she had heard the news already or not.

She sends volunteers to do The Work with sufferers in trouble spots, such as New Orleans after Katrina. She has spent a lot of time bringing The Work to prisoners, meeting them in person, especially at San Quentin. (One of her prison students told her that he and his fellow Katie-ites have to very careful not to hug each other in the yard.) She makes clear that for her, the penultimate goal in spreading The Work is to end war. (What the ultimate goal is –- well, that's my interpretation.) She said, “It’s a peace movement. And it’s a secret.”

This brings up Katie’s view of ethics, which differs from the conventional view in some ways and which is, as far as I can tell, thoroughly consistent and grounded in a sort of Buddhist sense of unattached compassion, an unblurred, unsentimental vision of peace. My own vision has not arrived there yet, and I would like to experience it.

She says she has not had a negative thought in twenty years: they’re all positive. In other words, the negative ones are positive too.

What if your plane crashes on the way home from the School, she surmised. “What is the worst that could happen? On the way down, you’ll be thinking.”

Toughness is one of her most evident and surprising qualities, and in this respect I think her own legend and her promotional materials (and two of the three book jacket photos) don’t do her justice. There is a tendency to think of her as a savante naïf who came out of nowhere after a gratuitous revelation in 1986, having received her method in one stroke like Moses on the mountaintop, as if God had pressed his thumbprint upon her forehead. And there’s a side of her that seems to fit that description. After her awakening, she had to relearn many of the simplest acts of everyday social living. Her daughter had to instruct her not to go outside in pajamas. One day she walked into an unlocked house in her neighborhood and sat there, silently smiling, while the puzzled occupants walked around her, stared at her, and finally escorted her out. She would wander into the desert for sustained periods, and when she left her house in the morning, carrying no money or identification, her husband Paul would stick a piece of paper with her address on it into her pocket.

And the claim that she was not versed in psychology or religion is believable to me. At the school, she was unfamiliar with the terms “OCD” and “seasonal affective disorder” when students mentioned them.

Nevertheless, she is clearly a person of high intelligence, supremely poised and competent, worldly and untarnished. She is involved moment by moment with the backstage running of her school and other operations, an enormously complex task which, although refined over the years, is always evolving. A staff member told me this morning that the exercise handouts we received during the sessions were being revised by Katie and her chief assistant, Lesley, in response to the ongoing work of the students, minutes before being photocopied.

She reminds me a bit of G. K. Chesterton’s fictional detective, Father Brown, the unassuming little priest who has seen everything and knows all the sins of the human race and unties people’s knots by telling them startling things that should have been obvious. Except that Katie is at the same time her own fallen parishioner. Unlike Father Brown -- or what we see of him, anyhow -- Katie has untied her own knots in the most painstaking way. She told us that after her big 1986 awakening everything remained the same except that she knew her suffering was caused entirely by her thoughts. After that, the release from suffering took a year of constant self-questioning. She likes to say, “I don’t call it The Work for nothing.” And she makes clear that she developed her method and carried on decades of work in pursuit of her own salvation.

Katie seems ceaselessly energetic yet effortlessly still. When she led our opening meditation each morning, her live image, projected onto two screens flanking her, appeared to be a still photograph -– and then, a couple of minutes later, she would slightly adjust her position.

Such stillness in a person who went from the Barstow real estate market to…to wherever she is. The staffers I questioned for further insights into her personality couldn’t help me, except to say that she seems to be exactly who she seems to be at any moment, and to be totally that and nothing else. What must it feel like to be that? Or to be married to her? (Hi, Stephen!)

I hope I will have many years to learn more.


April 27, 2007

The Opposite of What I'm Talking About...

...is discussed here.

Meanwhile, more about reality tomorrow, I hope.


April 25, 2007

Writer Without a Story: The Man-Woman Thing

A middle-aged man wearing a conference nametag walks through the lobby of a hotel, a grateful smile on his face, tears flowing unrestrainedly down his cheeks in full view of airline pilots, flight attendants, bellhops, concierge, and arriving guests. What does he think he’s doing? What kind of New Age foolery have I gotten brainwashed into?

It could be that I’ve been working on my shame. Or my fear and terror. Or the accumulated pain of being a husband, an ex-husband, a father, a son, a brother. It doesn’t matter what has unlocked my tears. It doesn’t matter who I think I am or what particular hairpin turns and long straightaways have driven me here. I’m here, that’s all, I’m letting the tears flow in plain sight for the first time in my life. You look at me. Are you disgusted, worried, embarrassed, amused? Good. That’s what I want.

Let’s say we’ve been working on the man-woman thing. A lesbian has stood up and said that for the first time in her life, after doing one of our exercises, she has felt trust in men, and she invites any man to walk up and embrace her. A stunning woman in expensive clothes and perfect makeup has stood and told us what it has meant for her to be unapproachable, to be dependent on the armor of her face. A young man has stood and told us that when he was a child he molested younger boys. A man with an earring and a prim voice has told us he knows we think him effeminate, and he’s been thinking of himself that way all his life.

Or maybe sitting in morning meditation I felt hands clutching my arm and then a woman’s forehead leaning between those hands, and I put my free arm around her and held her, eyes closed, for half an hour as she shook and cried, my arm cramping, and I knew I would have stayed there till my arm fell off. And afterward she wrote me a letter and told me it was the first time in her life she understand what it felt like to be breathed by another human being.

Or I had sat on a lawn in the southern California springtime and shared worksheets with a woman who had been terribly hurt by a male relative as a preschooler, who told me that being with me was the first time she had ever felt free of her belief that men were shallow and harmful and untrustworthy, and then I’d watched as she stood in front of three hundred people and said so.

“It was like falling in love,” I told my roommate, and he said, “I would drop the ‘like.’” I didn’t know her last name or where she lived or what she did for a living. It wouldn’t have mattered if I hadn’t known her first name, either, or if we’d never exchanged a word. We worked together for an hour or two and shared a special meal. We looked into each other’s eyes and saw ourselves. Then we parted. And it didn’t matter if we never saw each other again, never spoke again during the school, although we did. We had gone through the entire course of a relationship, from first meeting to inevitable ending, in two hours.

Those women helped me as much as I them. The lesbian taught me that I am not suspect. The stunning woman taught me that I do not have to be either covetous or intimidated. The woman who leaned on me taught me that I am everyone and I don’t care who sees it. The woman I shared a meal with taught me that love arises and falls away and lasts forever at every moment.

And if I honor her and treasure her memory and wish her joy for all her life, how much more shall I do so for the woman who lived with me for sixteen years and bore my children and raised them with me and taught me and traveled with me and suffered from me, and who parted from me with the greatest honesty and kindness and wisdom?

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April 24, 2007

Writer Without a Story: Prologue

I had a fantasy of what it would be like at The School for the Work of Byron Katie (which, as I found later, should have been called The School for the Work of Richard Cohen). About a hundred people would gather in a large meeting room and spend the day doing worksheet exercises using Katie’s method, as well as exercises going beyond the worksheets to challenge our limits, a sort of emotional and interpersonal Outward Bound. At the opening session Katie herself, the big guru, would give us a speech and after that most of our lessons would be given by the staff. We’d get a glimpse of Katie again now and then when she stopped by to give us a canned inspirational talk and make sure things were running smoothly.

Then the socializing! In the evenings I would hang out in the hotel bar, where, sneaking off for meat meals, I’d buy drinks for lustful, neurotic divorcees in my age range. One or more of them would come into focus as favorites of mine and we’d go to bed together, perhaps renting a separate room in order to eliminate the roommate problem. We would bare our souls by longingly telling every bit of personal information about ourselves. As a couple or in a group we’d explore Los Angeles by night and drive into the desert during free daytime hours. At school’s end we would exchange contact information, but I’d be wary of getting entangled with my former bedmates. Either I wouldn’t want to see them again and would have to fend off their emails and phone calls, or I’d want to turn my life over to one of them and would have to figure out how to persuade her to move to Austin.

This part of it was true: we gathered in a large meeting room and spent the day doing worksheet exercises using Katie’s method, as well as exercises going beyond the worksheets to challenge our limits, a sort of emotional and interpersonal Outward Bound. And at the end we exchanged contact information. That’s it. That’s how much of my fantasy life turned out to be real. Everything else was just a movie I produced to amuse myself. A feelgood movie, a feelbad movie –- who knows? Lots of talent went into it. Writing, acting, and directing all of professional quality.

Here’s a more realistic treatment:

It was more like three hundred people, and Katie sat in front of us in an easy chair for, oh, about ten or eleven hours a day, tirelessly answering our questions, hearing our stories and self-questionings and sometimes telling us hers. (I’m not counting mealtimes, which Katie took in private and students took in a large white tent on the hotel grounds. Meals were part of the work too, so I’m estimating that the average school day was fifteen hours long.)

Katie did all the group teaching herself sitting in the same easy chair in the same casual position, answering innumerable questions and unstintingly sharing what she knows, except that she took one evening off near the end the week. And except that every one of us was both teacher and student at every moment. (More about Katie’s apparent personality in a future installment.)

And the socializing? Well, most of what I saw and experienced was pairing up for after-hours work, students sitting in corners facilitating worksheets for each other, talking, crying, hugging, and in some instances screaming. Or sitting solitary, writing in notebooks and three-ring binders, staring into themselves, sipping the everpresent herbal tea, thinking, remembering, weeping.

I made dear friends I will either see again or not. I spent the entire time in love, breathing air saturated with it, the love of three hundred people who were all wildly, unpredictably, frighteningly different and all one lover loving itself. I met individual women, too, whom I embraced physically and mentally, and the thought of going to bed with any of them in that time and place scarcely occurred to me. The act would have been a betrayal of them, of Katie, and of myself. My luck was better than that.

I never hung out in the bar. I didn’t have a single alcoholic drink the whole time. (I’ve never had what’s called a drinking problem –- I average one drink per day or less-- but somehow this seems like a significant detail.) I didn’t taste meat for nine days (I’m a devout carnivore). I didn’t spend a cent, in cash or credit, except for tipping the chambermaid and buying some of Katie’s materials as gifts. I didn’t pay attention to the news. I didn’t touch a computer. I didn’t read the novel I’d brought for downtime. I didn’t even read it on the flight home.

Nor did I see LA, except for one outing that was very much part of the work. We were in the hotel the whole time, an undistinguished, adequate, midlevel, airline-crew hotel in walking distance of the airport. A beautiful neighborhood. It had everything we needed.

From what I observed, a culture of “didn’ts” held true for my classmates too. I saw one couple nuzzling after pairing up overnight, but I can’t be sure they weren’t spouses. I heard gay and straight people wryly joking about how good it would be to return to sex back home.

What could we possibly have been doing if not indulging our large and small vices, our one-size-fits-all vices, and sneaking off to kick away the day’s constraints? We were kicking away the constraints all right, not of school but of the rest of life.

One of the mottos of The Work is, “Who would you be without your story?” That’s what we were doing -– shedding our stories and, we hoped, not settling for a new story but instead doing without a story to whatever extent a human being can. Correction: not shedding our stories but simply looking at them, smiling to them, welcoming them as they came and went. Knowing that our stories are stories.

When I put it that way, a problem that’s been worrying me disappears. What is a writer without a story? Can a writer enlighten himself out of a job, like a policeman in a crimeless society or a doctor in a disease-free future? If I have loosened my stories’ grip on me, will it hurt me in my life’s calling?

Well, I guess I’m writing something now. And let’s face it, I’ll always have some story or other. If I welcome them rather than pushing them away –- oh, what stories I could tell!

Indeed the phrase “writer without a story” has a double meaning for me. In addition to fearing that I’d lose my creativity if I became too sane, I’ve feared that I didn’t have enough of a story to tell in the first place: that I hadn’t lived enough to gather material to work my gifts on. That I was a writer without a subject, whose story was so ordinary and uneventful that few would want to hear it.

That story, too, deliquesces in the very act of writing this.

There are things that cannot be said except sentimentally. The fault is in the words, not the things.

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April 11, 2007

I'm Ready for My Closeup

Or to put it another way, I'm headed for Los Angeles. I'll be there ten days starting tomorrow --- I'll be back Monday April 23 (Shakespeare's birthday and deathday).

"What will you be doing in LA, Richard?" Well, not making a movie, I'll tell you that. I'm going to attend Byron Katie's School for the Work, a nine-day intensive program that's a kind of psychological Outward Bound, from what I've heard. Nine days of concentrated emotional and interpersonal exercises developed by Katie as stimuli for transformative change, based on what she has learned through her own transformation out of despair into permanent joy.

I first wrote about Katie in this post last year, and whatever impact the post may have had on my readers, it had an overwhelming, astounding effect on me. You see, Katie learned about me through our mutual friend Dilys at Good & Happy, one of my favorite blogs of yore. Unbeknowndst to me, Dilys showed Katie my post and Katie was so moved that a few months afterward, her husband, the great translator Stephen Mitchell, emailed me to invite me to the School as their guest. Something I had dreamed of saving up for had landed in my lap for free, out of the blue! It is the most wonderful act of generosity I have ever received. And it's typical of this enlightened person from whose magisterially simple self-questioning technique I continue to learn so much.

I hope to tell you lots about the School, but not during the nine days themselves. I'm going as a full participant, not an observer or commentator. To do otherwise would be to sabotage the experience by setting myself at a distance from it. I'm not taking my computer. Katie urges us to have as little contact with the outside world as possible during the School. I'll take my cell phone to call my kids, and that's it. (She also urges us to eliminate alcohol, caffeine, and sugar from our diet two weeks before the School, which isn't a problem for me.) Ten days without a computer -- I wonder what that will be like. And nine days with a random roommate -- a diabolically instructive part of the School experience.

So this will be my last post until April 24, and during that time I won't be able to read your blogs either, or comment on them, a loss that grieves me more than a break from blogging for myself. In the meantime, blog well!

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A lot of this stuff is less autobiographical than it seems. Some of it, anyway.

For instance, I don't think every person is an equation. In fact I know a couple of marriages in which the woman cares about equations and the man cares about songs.

I think every equation is a song.

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In which I make $146,000 more than someone 4 inches taller than me.

Or something like that. Actually I don't make $146,000 more per year than anyone, unless he's draining money. But this is the dubious statistic I just read in John Tierney's article about contemporary dating preferences. It seems that some researchers at MIT and the University of Chicago have joined forces to set up their own speed-dating service wheere they can count customers' clicks and snoop at their messages in order to analyze the psychology of attraction. (Sounds like a Big Store game to me, but it's all for science...)

These intrepid explorers of the Country of the Mind have arrived at some astounding discoveries:

• that people are picky about who they go out with
• that women are pickier than men
• that men are more interested in prospective partners' appearance than women, who are more interested in income, profession, education, and ... height.

In addition:

• People like to feel that they're unique and special.
• People sometimes pair up with others when they find that the other looks down on the same people they themselves look down on

Well, some foundation sure got its grant money's worth with that one! Tierney has fun with the study, but it seems to me he's a bit credulous about statistics. That height thing is what bugs me, if you really want to know. The article, along with Tierney's accompanying blog post, tells you how much extra money you need to earn per year in order to make up for a height disadvantage in dating. In you're only five feet four, you need to make $229,000 more than your six-foot cubicle neighbor in order to equal his dating success. (Oddly, for a woman the height disadvantage goes in the opposite direction. A five-six woman needs to make $50,000 more per year than a five-four woman to match her theoretical attractiveness.)

How am I supposed to get a date if I have to rustle up an extra $146,000 first? That's more than any restaurant I've ever eaten at. Am I going to be left at the back of the pack when all those six-footers steam ahead toward the nubile finish line?

Fortunately, however, I rely on a more accurate measuring tool than voyeuristic pseudoscience: experience. So I'm not worried.

I can't imagine why I'm thinking about this stuff at this point in my life.

UPDATE: A notorious typo has now been corrected from "a five-dix woman" to "a five-six woman." The s and d keys being right next to each other, you know...


April 09, 2007

Point of Agreement

He thinks every person is an equation. She thinks every person is a song.

They both think every couple is a war.

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April 08, 2007

A Movie I Cried at Yesterday

Bridge to Terebithia.

I haven't heard that much sniffling from all corners of a theater since Shadowlands.

It was the mothers who were weeping -- the mothers and me. The kids had all already read the book, or else heard about it from their friends.

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April 06, 2007


We sit in the living room, both of them with their heads deep as well buckets in the latest fantasy series, the nth and xth volume of the such-and-such saga, while I’m running my hand over old phonograph records (Sinatra, In the Wee Small Hours; Monk, Monk’s Mood; Charles Lloyd, Forest Flower), or hauling stray balls of dust to the garbage pail in the kitchen, or rushing to the study and lifting the lid of the computer to find no emails. We hardly talk. Or else they laugh and try to kick each other off the couch while one is challenging the other to name the clans of all the feline warriors in one of their books, and I’m telling them Don’t kick the furniture, and I’m telling them again Don’t kick the furniture, or else we’re deciding which Monty Python disc to watch and taking turns doing the silliest walk. But sometimes I drift away, I check the rice and linger in the kitchen putting dishes in the dishwasher and flipping through the movie listings and forgetting that the boys are a room away, with me for a short time only. I might even take a book and a glass of Lillet to the front porch and read in the rocking chair while they’re out back, a whole house away, throwing dodgeballs into each other’s guts. Then I ask myself, Why aren’t I with them every possible second? Why aren’t I seizing and storing every vanishing glimpse of them? I only have them less than half the time now, and their childhoods will soon be ending, the older one’s almost twelve, a year from now he might be a whole different creature, one who doesn’t stretch up from his bed to throw his arms around me and tell me I’m the perfect father for him, some other kids wouldn’t be as good a match with me. Sometimes I think I ought to run back and tell them, I didn’t forget you!, and fix my greedy stare on them and not let an instant go by.

But I let myself stay away. Because when they’re out back and I’m on the front porch, I’m still with them. When they’re in their feline warrior fantasy worlds and I’m a Royal Navy ship’s doctor in 1803, we’re all in the same place without hovering over each other, without turning every gesture into a photograph, without videotaping every word for a future when we’ll have nothing to do except look back. If we put a frame around ourselves, if we lit ourselves with stage lights, we’d be starring in a re-enactment of our lives rather than living them.

This is the life of a family. This self-absorption, this shared separateness in the same room, this silence and slow time. We are three galaxies expanding side by side, we are entangled particles at lightyears’ distance. We are connected by superstrings.

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April 05, 2007

Driving, Joking, Growing

Yesterday I was sitting in the car waiting to make a left turn onto my street, watching the stream of traffic approach in the other direction. The traffic moved at a uniform pace except for one car that wove in and out in order to get to the front and pull away. What a fool, I thought, where is he rushing to? He had to be a skillful driver in order to use that style, and he probably enjoyed getting the better of the other drivers, whom he must have considered pathetically conformist, but didn’t he see that his style of driving was dangerous to himself and others?

Then I realized: that’s exactly how I drive.

I learned to drive in the Bronx and it shows. Many more people drive like that there than here. It’s a video game: you try to get to the finish line first, not by speeding but by superior handling in close quarters. Some people have joked about my driving, or even expressed concern. It’s puzzled me how they could mistake good driving for bad. Yesterday I understood when I saw my own actions from the viewpoint of an observer.

I have other patterns that have been more harmful to me than aggressive driving (no traffic accidents, thank God), and I learned them in the Bronx too. One is a practice I’ve been painfully unlearning over many years, the practice of yelling and cursing. I think I’ve finally got that one unlearned after it caused more damage than I want to tell you about.

But clear away a rock and you’ll stumble over a root. Over the past months several incidents have brought home to me an awareness of how I use words not only as a defense but as a weapon. I use wit to wound others, sometimes people I’m close to, sometimes strangers. I’m a witty, incisive, verbally adept guy, it’s my great strength, and I’ve resisted any effort to restrict my use of it. Undoubtedly it compensates for strengths I’ve felt I don’t have. (Whether I actually don’t have them is another issue.) Sometimes I’m with someone and I’m so taken with my own insight that I blurt out something hurtful. Or I write something and I’m so intoxicated with my clever inspiration that I don’t see the nastiness behind it. (Oh, I’m not completely blind to the nastiness, even as I’m indulging it, but I permit myself to be carried away in the rejoicing over power.) I throw a spear of criticism and try to shield myself with the fact that it’s comic. There was an incident twenty-odd years ago when I alienated a friend by amusingly telling him how ridiculous his profession was. A small case, but telling.

I’ve been agonizing because I haven’t known how to excise that malignant part of me without destroying who I am. Am I supposed to go the rest of my life without wit, without comic perceptiveness? It would feel like being lobotomized. Not to mention that I’m a writer. Witty insight is the scalpel I use on the world; should I turn it against myself?

This is something I’m in the middle of thinking about so I don’t have a final answer. All I understand at the moment is that I need to be more aware of the harmful effects on others of some of the things I say, and I have to be aware before I say them, not just after. The saving grace is that I don’t do it frequently. (But when I do, it undoes many good things.) If I can isolate my laser on those few occurrences and cut them away, I can be as witty and insightful as I want when it doesn’t hurt others.

They say you should become friends with your shadow. That’s a metaphor I’ve never understood how to put in practice in literal living. It sounds nice to say and hard to do. My idea now is that I need to use words and insight on a higher level to unlearn the misuse of them on a lower. At least I can feel secure that words and wit really are my friends in a way that yelling never was.

My solution has always been more thought, more thought. I have a feeling that’s only part right.

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April 04, 2007

Holy Week Greetings

Whenever things look darkest and I can't imagine how I'll possibly find anything to post ever again, something calls along and fills the need, and thankfully this time it came in the apparently innocuous form of a mass email forwarded from a friend. (Thanks, Diane.)

Undoubtedly someone will tell me it's beeen circulating the Net since 1998, but I haven't seen it before so I expect that at least one of you hasn't either. Those of you who've seen it before, shut your eyes.

An atheist was walking through the woods. "What majestic trees! What
powerful rivers! What beautiful animals!" he said to himself.

As he strolled along the sparkling water, he heard a rustling in the bushes
behind him. Turning quickly, he saw a seven-foot grizzly bear charging toward

He ran as fast as he could up the path, but looking over his shoulder he
could see that the bear was gaining on him. When he looked again, the great
beast was even closer! Just then he tripped and fell to the ground.
He rolled over frantically trying to arise but saw the bear towering over
him,reaching for him with his left paw, right paw ready to slash with
terrible claws!! He screamed, "Oh, MY God!!"

Time stopped.

The bear froze.

The forest was silent.

As a bright light shone from the sky, a deep voice thundered, "You! You
deny my existence for all these years, teach others that I do not exist,and
even credit creation to cosmic accident! Do you really expect me to
help you out of this awful predicament ? Am I now to count you as a

The atheist looked into the great light. "No, it would be hypocritical of
me now to suddenly ask acceptance as a Christian, BUT perhaps you could
make that BEAR a Christian?"

"Very well," said the Voice. And the light went out. The sounds of the
forest came alive again. And the bear dropped his right paw, and he brought
both paws together, and bowing his massive head, with great reverance, spoke,

"Bless us, oh Lord, and these thy gifts, which we are about to receive from thy bounty, through Christ our Lord, Amen."

I also like this from The Anchoress. Make sure to read the italicized part uunder "More nun stuff."

PS: For those who wonder, I'm not a Christian. I've tried and it hasn't worked. I'm not an observing Jew either (though I am a pretty observant Jew). I try to recognize holiness when it appears, though.


April 02, 2007

There's No Looking Back Now

Just turned on the air conditioner for the first time this season. I wanted to hold off longer, but it's warmer inside the house than outside and I don't have good cross-ventilation, so it stay 80 degrees all night otherwise.

Still, it's not as hot as Phoenix or Las Vegas.

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April 01, 2007

Sunday Follies

"I have now spent fifty-five years in resolving: having, from the earliest time almost that I can remember, been forming plans of a better life. I have done nothing. The need of doing, therefore, is pressing, since the time of doing is short." -- Samuel Johnson

Fortuitously,that was the first Johnson quotation I found while looking for this more famous one:

"Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully."

Because I was thinking that when a man's way of life has been whisked out from under him, that too concentrates his mind.

I have been thinking about how much of the pain in my life (which, I have to immediately add, has very probably been less than an average amount) can be traced back to not thinking clearly. Ironic, in someone who has lived by his mind and by his and others' words.

How odd that I have so often chosen the wrong ideas and words to latch onto. If I had thrown darts at a bulletin board posted with mottos, wouldn't I have done at least as well?

The idea that I can alleviate a problem by making a joke out of it.

The idea that if I act destructively, people should understand that it wasn't really me who did it.

The idea that I need to be the smartest person. (This is something I should have had knocked out of me at age sixteen, except I ducked out of places where it would have been. This in itself shows I wasn't so smart.)

The idea that if I think something in here, I'm automatically living it out there.

And...the idea that there's something wrong with me. It's been many years since I first realized that the only thing wrong with me is that I think there's something wrong with me. (A paradox this post illustrates.) Alas, I've known it in here but haven't lived it out there.

I try to think my way through the maze. That's not wrong, but what I haven't done is notice the other people stuck in the maze with me, all making their wrong turns and bumping chaotically in the dark and clutching on to form a human chain that will stretch from entrance to exit to show us all how to get through. The chain breaking whenever someone falls and the gap being filled by each person who arises. And, since it's all taking place in the dark, it's in no way dependent on how anything appears.