Sunday, April 29, 2007


Tamar had been inside now for two or three days so this afternoon I invited her to come with me. I had a couple of errands to run and I thought I’d drive up to the Comeau to see if she’d like a run. She doesn’t like rain, but I thought maybe it had lightened up enough. Tamar grabbed her ball and dashed to the car. I brought my camera. There was an incredible tree trunk I had passed two days ago that I wanted to photograph. It was gnarled and wrinkled and looked like an old witchey woman’s torso. It never works for me to go back to something I have seen to photograph it. If I don’t catch what I see immediately it goes away, but I wanted to give this a try especially since it was a grey drizzly afternoon and I thought the tree trunk would look good in the rain. Woody Allen said he likes to film on cloudy days best and this has filtered into my own preferences.

Tamar and I drive through the Bearsville Flats. Tamar jumps into the front seat as soon as the car begins to move. She doesn’t like the back seat. There’s a structural malfunction back there that makes it sound like the back seat is going to fall through the floor and she doesn’t like it. So she hops into the front seat and pokes her head out the window that I have opened just for this purpose. but the windshield wipers are squeaking and this is scary too. Each time they squeak, Tamar jumps. She turns toward me, licks my face, but I say some strict words because her timing is bad and she retreats back to her passenger seat. I turn off the wipers. I don’t need them that much.

The tree I saw was on Wittenberg, not far I thought, but of course it’s farther than I remember. There it is, at the foot of someone’s driveway. I slow down and look. Yes, I can see what I saw two nights ago, but the spark I feel before taking a photo is not there and I know the picture will be lifeless. So I turn around and head back.

I’m never satisfied with my tree pictures anyway. I think of that huge gnarled one I took pictures of a few years ago in the Brookly Botanical Garden early one Spring. I tought with a tree like that I couldn’t miss, but the photos didn’t catch the texture, the monstrousness of that animal tree.

there’s hardly any rain now, less than when we left the house a few mintues ago. I have to get to the bank before five, but we’ve got plenty of time for a run up at the Comeau.

Tamar begins barking when I make the turn and as I pull into the parking lot she scrambles into my lap to exit through my door. I let her out before even turning off the engine. She is always in a huge hurry at this point.

We walk out into the beautiful hilltop field from which you can see a horizon of mountains, Tamar running ahead. I see a new sign has been posted on the gate – typed and laminated. I stop to read it. It tells me that it’s now soccer season and time for the Easter Egg hunt and if I don’t want to pick up after my dog to walk somewhere else. I keep walking.

As I approach a line of trees I see Tamar way off in the winter-brown field hunched up in her taking-a-shit position and hear my name called. I stop. I don’t see anyone. Then through the trees I see Dave walking with a pole in his hand. He comes up to me in a hat and rain jacket. “How long have you been out?” I ask. It’s been pouring for two days until just now. “Oh, about an hour and a half,” he says. “I been fooling around with drainage. You know how I like playing engineer.” I try to keep his eyes on me, hoping he will not notice Tamar.

As we talk I wish I could photograph him. He looks so fresh and strong, just out of the rain. I know he would love this photo that I can see as I look at him, but the camera’s in the car and it’s another photo that I will see but not take.

Monday, April 23, 2007


Here’s the background real quick.

In October-November I got hit by a real hard bout of depression. It took me by surprise. It wasn’t the usual sort of bad day gloom. It was thick and black and wrapped itself around me so tight sometimes I’d just stand still and cry. It was the way I used to feel when I was 18 in New York City or 20 and 21 in L.A. when thoughts of suicide were constant companions. Back then I had flicked the switch by hurling myself into yoga and then yoga groups, involvements that took me away from the icy dark sheets of turmoil.

And then this past autumn they were back. Only two things felt good during this time and both I discovered by accident. One was scribbling mad paintings with bright creamy pastels, clashing the colors, blurring them together. It was something I could do without thinking.

The other was reading books by Alice Miller. I’d come across her before but never found a footing. She’s a world-renowned psychiatrist who writes about how widespread and unacknowledged is violence against children – sexual and otherwise. I read her, feeling like I’d found a wise intelligent friend. I felt like someone was on my side in a way I had never ever felt before. It was profound. Perhaps, I thought, I should pay attention. Perhaps there is something way back in my earliest years that led to decades of undiagnosed unhappiness.

Alice Miller wrote that the best way to get to the bottom of your own experiences of violence – subtle and otherwise – is to find a shrink who can really be your ally. It’s not easy, she says. So many shrinks claim to be on your side, but when it comes down to really upsetting the apple cart, questioning the goodness and best intentions of, say, parents – most shrinks will urge their clients to wrap it up quickly, forgive and move on. In the end, the shrinks will usually protect the authorities. It’s so ingrained. Honor thy father and thy mother.

So I set out to find me a shrink. “Ask a lot of questions,” Alice advises. I had never asked a shrink questions before. I tried a local one and quit after three sessions. It’s not easy to quit a shrink, especially a nice cuddly one with an office perched on a mountain, who’d been highly recommended by a wise, experienced and dear friend.

I found another one. but he’s in Manhattan and he had no time on Thursday to see me, the one day I am in the city. But I went through quite a process to find him – filling out a long questionnaire from an institute that another friend told me about. I reviewed the institute’s web site and they really did seem unusually non-conventional. I was impressed and applied and it took a few weeks for everything to filter down to this one referral. I had to check him out, even if it meant going into New York on a Wednesday.

I’ve seen him three times now. I think I might really like him. He expects you to commit to one year, once a week. The only time he has is Wednesday. I can’t do this, I think. There’s no money for two trips to the city each week. I don’t want to give up almost a whole day to spend forty-five minutes with this guy. I am ready to quit after the second visit.

“I think it’s really important that you do this,” says Fred, and something in me flies up, something that had been invisible and silent while I figured out how I could not see this shrink, this silent invisible part of me flies up to the surface and says Yes, that’s true. So what if I can’t afford it -- all those things – if it’s there and I have found it I shouldn’t discard it, but hold onto it.

So I go see the guy a third time. I got into New York City by myself, paying $30 for a roundtrip ticket with coins salvaged from a jar – two hours there, two hours back – for this forty-five minute session.

I get right into it. I don’t have much time. I’d told him in the first session that I wanted to explore the possibility of sexual abuse, but we get into specifics this time.

I tell him the story of the visit I made when I was eleven, traveling to Switzerland by myself from England, meeting my dad in Geneva – the fancy hotel we stayed in, the bidet in the bathroom – I’d never seen one before and asked, “What’s that?” “It’s where ladies wash their wee-wee’s,” my father said and I was embarrassed – and the next day traveling out to the Alps where we meet a friend of my father’s – a pretty blond woman he says to call Aunt Helga, but she doesn’t look like an aunt to me, there’s nothing cuddly or familiar about her and I know she’s my dad’s girlfriend or at least that he wishes she was – and then in the taxi on the way home how I hear myself talking to my father in a way I have never done before. It’s as if I’ve suddenly learned a new language, like I’m talking in tongues. I’m talking fluently, like a grown-up, entertaining my father, teasing him, being witty and flirty, and he is responding to me, enjoying the game, being witty back. Then I take it one step further. I call him “Mickey,” the way Helga called him Mickey – and then I stop. It’s too scary what I am doing.

The shrink listens. I feel like a fucking idiot saying all this stuff to him, but I have to say it. “That’s profound,” he says. I feel like my crazy words have been taken in, received. It is an unfamiliar feeling. It is like receiving water after years in a desert. We talk back and forth a little more. He doesn’t think I am crazy.

The next day I say to Fred, “I think I am feeling lighter.” I am feeling something new enter. It feels childlike, that feeling of having fun, of being able to enjoy something. I can taste it on my tongue. “Maybe it’s the shrink,” I say.

I fall asleep on the bus the next day, going in again this time with Fred for our evening workshop on East 32nd St. When I wake up Fred says, “I’ve never seen you look so peaceful.”

This thing about going to the city on Wednesdays. My initial sense of how no, I couldn’t do it. It didn’t fit with the pattern of my week. But I feel a bulldozer plowing through my pattern, digging up fresh earth.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


Outside our small white house in England was a quiet residential street. Each house was a little different from the next one and had a name instead of a number. Each stood on about an acre or a half acre. That was on the other side of the street. From our front gate – a small black wrought iron gate that was really only for looks, it was useless to keep anyone actually out – but from that small black useless gate we could see across to two houses, each tucked behind trees and a nice patch of modest suburban grass.

Our side of the street was different. From our house down to the main road was a big open fenced-in empty field. Our house – small and white and very close to the street – stood like a sentry at the end of a grand driveway, the entrance of which, just a few yards from our front door, was flanked by two high curved walls.

The mansion to which this driveway entrance belonged wasn’t visible to us and I only saw it once or twice. Our landlords lived there. The matching exit of the driveway was much further down our street, and between the entrance and exit were thick ragged trees fenced in by a right row of tall narrow grey weathered planks. Except for much further down, we were the only house on our side of the street.

Although we lived in the English house for five years, we didn’t know our neighbors, not even the two houses right across from us. We knew that the woman who came down to the field behind our house twice a day was called Mrs. Stephens. She stood at the gate and called to the four or five horses who spent their days in the field, collecting them in the evening, walking them up the driveway to their stables and bringing them back in the morning. I never spoke to her. I never saw my parents speak to her though the gate she used was maybe fifty feet from our kitchen door.

My father was not home much. He came back from London or his travels on Friday evening and left on Monday morning and was hardly part of our life there.

My mother spoke to two or three people. There was Mr. King who drove a large black taxi. He had a round ruddy cheerful face and was just what you’d want from an English cab driver, sort of like a friendly Winston Churchill without the cigar. My parents liked him a lot. I could tell by the ring in their voices when either of them mentioned his name, “Mr. King!” as if he were a cartoon character that belonged to them exclusively. They liked that they could call him and he would come and take care of them – drive my father to the airport or my mother into London.

There was Mrs. Grub who came and cleaned sometimes and a fat woman who babysat us. There was Susan, my favorite babysitter, a teenager with long brown hair down her back who seemed to have stepped fully into the mysterious world of adults and could give me information like if I had an oval face or a round one.

There was Mr. Dent, the bent angry World War II veteran who ran the stable my father liked to ride at, and that was about it.

The phone didn’t ring here. It was mostly my mother, my two younger sisters and me. We read books. My sister and I walked home from school and to the library on Saturdays. We watched two TV programs before dinner. After that there was nothing else to watch. It was all grown-up programs like the news. We ate in the kitchen around a small rectangular table.

My youngest sister was four and five as I became twelve and thirteen. She was adorably cute with round cheeks and curls and I could tell my mother liked her the best. She treated her a little like a doll. There was something soft in my mother around Esther that I’d never seen in her before. It irritated me, made me angry. It seemed fake and unjust. I thought Esther was cute too. I just didn’t like how my mother was so obviously different with her, fussing with her hair.

In summer I hit tennis balls against the one outdoor wall that had no windows.

I had come home to this. I was a little bit an outsider. I was getting to be a grown-up. I could feel it. I wanted a subscription to Jackie magazine that had tips about make-up and stories about girls with boyfriends. I felt separate from my mother. Like my father was separate from her. I was separate from my sisters too. My father always separated me out. He had always made me feel separate from my mother and sisters. He had always selected me.

I had been in boarding school when we first came to England back when I was nine. My father away on business trips, me away at boarding school. Me and my father leaving my mother and sisters at home. That’s where they belonged and we did not.

But I had come home. I had come home, bruised from boarding school, my friends had turned on me, friendships in which I took such pleasure turned vicious and I ran home, though it felt like a comedown, to go back to day school, to live with my mother and sisters again, but I had no choice. I couldn’t stay amongst the girls who said they despised me now.

The new school is terrible. I hate it. It always feels so ordinary and drenched in my own failure. The girls who want to be my friends are not the ones who interest me the most, but I have lost my confidence. I cannot shake this feeling of being rejected even before I start. And so I become quiet, someone I don’t even recognize. This isn’t me. I know it’s not me. It can’t be me. Now I always feels like two people – the one I wish I was, and the one who is pretending, who is doing her best to convince the others that she is that girl, the one she wishes she was.

Sunday, April 15, 2007


I have a few minutes before the violin lesson so I stop at St. Mark’s bookstore to see what new memoirs they have out. I go to the section under new non-fiction marked “Biography” and begin to scan the spines, my head tilted to the side. Most of them I remember from last time. My eyes move quickly past the books that are about other people – the life of George Sand – but stop at a cover I haven’t seen before. It’s a color photograph of a living room and a girl sitting on a couch except you only see the legs and torso. You can tell it’s a girl because she’s wearing a dress. The face is outside the photo, cut off. I stoop to look more closely. Sure enough, it’s a memoir. I thought so. They have a certain look, many of them anyhow. And this one is by Darcey, my advisor at Goddard a few years ago. She’s finally published a memoir, I think, after all those dumb novels. I’m a little jealous her memoir is out before mine. I’ve been writing memoir much longer than she has. I’ll read it though. I liked her memoir stuff. I flip to the back to see her photo and upon seeing it – the tattoo, the blond hair, the skinniness – I remember her, what she looked like. I’d picked her as my advisor because by that time all I wanted was to get my piece of paper with as little effort as possible and get out of there. I’d given up all hope of learning anything about writing at that place.

I write down the title in my tiny notebook – there’s no money for books this week – and drift over to the new paperbacks. Two young men stand right behind me. “There’s Elizabeth’s book,” one is saying. “Where are ours?” asks the other. “Oh, they’re in the back because they’re not brand new,” says the first one. We’re in front of the poetry section so I imagine they’re poets. Published poets, a rare breed. I thought of turning around, but I knew seeing them wouldn’t help me identify them. Instead, I leafed through a large edition of Howl, replications of Ginsberg’s typed pages with his handwritten notes. It would be a neat thing to have. I thought of how my friend Will would love it.

There was a book of new poems by my old friend Charles Bukowski who I got sick of about six months ago. But I opened it up and read a couple of them and remembered why I’d liked him so much in the first place.

I’d looked at pretty much everything I’d come to see. I looked over one last display table. A big volume on Patti Smith. I had considered her one of my people until a few weeks ago when I saw her on TV and she looked so ugly and sounded so bad I thought maybe I’d been wrong about her – without too much interest I began leafing through the pages, especially the early ones with lyrics from the albums that I knew so well. There was a photo of her kneeling like a disciple in front of William Burroughs, a writer too eccentric for me, and a photo of her obviously chummy with Ginsberg, and another of her sprawled in a chair holding a photo of Dylan’s face over her own. I liked the company she kept. For a little while I wanted to be her in those late seventies years – something to do with late nights in New York City and lace and defiance and jeans and sneakers. I came out of my building on Eighth Street late at night to buy ice cream and there she was, walking past with a few others and I just said Hi and she said Hi – and some of those songs – as I read the lyrics in St. Mark’s Bookstore I could hear her wailing voice and the guitars and drums -- just immediately evoked the rooms and places of that time.

I closed the book. Gathered my things. Went back out onto the street to walk the block or two to Catherine’s place. The rain was finally over. She had warned me that the front steps of her building were being worked on so I couldn’t climb them to ring the bell. We’d have to make eye contact through her window which is just above the street. But when I arrived the curtain was drawn. In books and movies, I thought, people are always throwing pebbles at windows to get people’s attention. Now was my chance to try it. I stooped down and found a translucent white pebble. I threw it. It missed the window by an inch or two and bounced off the sill. I started to reach for another to try again, but Catherine had pulled the curtain aside and was waving. She came out through the basement door. “Did you hear the pebble?” I asked, excited. “Yes!” she answered.

Monday, April 09, 2007


Yesterday I saw the new shrink a second time. His name is Martin. He dresses neatly, everything tucked in carefully. He is slim and narrow. I bet he jogs. He manages to blend friendliness, intelligence, interest, questions within very distinct boundaries. His waiting room is New York City narrow, lamps, a couple small tables, a couple of comfortable but not too comfortable chairs – wooden furniture, sort of classy antiquey upper West Sidey, but not ostentatious. The magazines are up to date and lined up perfectly: Harpers, the New Yorker. I love the chair I get to sit in while I talk to him. I think it’s made of leather with a high back, wide enough to sit cross-legged and an ottoman to put your feet on. You can pretty much sit in any position in that chair.

It was hard day for me. Felt like I was battling uphill through the city everywhere I went. It was raining and cold. I didn’t have the right coat. Its wool was good for cold but useless for wet. I scrambled with the tiny umbrella, the violin case and the small bag that held everything else. Worst of all I wore the wrong shoes. Too small, and everywhere I had to go seemed blocks and blocks away from the subway stations.

I have turned my back on my mother. That’s what it feels like. My mother of the $20 bills, of the three $100 bills to go to Hungary with. Even Fred was touched by that. I imagine her wondering what she did wrong. I imagine her thinking I’m bad and ungrateful and too big for my boots.

Yesterday I met a man who I’ve known peripherally for a few years. I’ve never liked him much, but he’s familiar and friendly and we say hi a couple times a year. He used to call himself a jewelry designer, but he always seemed like a small-time business man to me. Once or twice I saw a piece of “jewelry” he had “designed” – hideous, ugly, machine-made. Anyway, I ran into him yesterday morning, both of us getting on the New York City bus on a mid-week day when the tickets are cheaper and he said business was bad and he was thinking of taking a workshop with me and Fred. “Years ago,” he said, settling down in his seat across the aisle from me, “back in the sixties, I had an idea for a screenplay, and someone passed on the idea to Ron Howard, and Ron wanted to see a treatment, but of course, I never wrote it.” He’s a little trim man with graying baby-boomer hair who wears pressed jeans and could even be handsome if he had a different personality. “I’ve always thought I was a good writer,” he continued, “though I haven’t been TRAINED ~ so I thought maybe I’d take your course and write that screenplay.”

“We’re pretty anti-training,” I said pretty quickly. I wanted to set him straight real fast. We’re not a place to come do that screenplay you’ve been meaning to do for years, we’re not a place to come when you want to make some money quick – I didn’t say that – I talked about ART and PERSONAL writing and as I spoke I started thinking about the energy that is created when you write, when you make the commitment to write down what you know, and in the process of writing – of choosing what to say and what words to use – not choosing in the sense of thinking about it, but choosing the way you do when you write, moving quickly, taking this path not that one -- there’s a friction between all that could be written and what you actually choose to write, and I think that friction really is life-giving in some way. I didn’t say all that, but I was thinking it. I hadn’t thought of it quite like that before. Ric said that sounded great and started making cell phone calls.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007


Last week was my birthday and I turned fifty. We said we’d have a party.

When my mother visited a couple of weeks ago, sitting in the shadows of the little room I call the library, sitting there on a cheap hardback chair I got from her actually sometime last year when she was giving away a bunch of small furniture that she’d been storing for a friend of hers – a woman who’d lived in the ashram for years and years – had children there and everything – a pretty woman with dark skin and a South African English accent – she stored her stuff at my mother’s for years after leaving the ashram, then decided she didn’t want most of it and Fred and I got first dibs – so now my mother is sitting on one of those chairs in my library on a Wednesday afternoon. We are drinking tea. Fred is there, though sometimes he gets up and leaves the room which I don’t do, I guess because it’s my mother and she’s driven fifty miles to see me. It was her idea.

She asks me if I’m going to have a party and I say I’m not sure, I don’t know. I have been quite quiet during her visit, not going out of my way to entertain her. When I speak with her a few days later she comments on that. She says, “You were a little quiet. Is everything all right?” and I say it is and feel guilty because here she is, showing concern, right? But I cannot take her seriously, cannot for a moment consider revealing anything of my actual life to her. “Well,” she says with a wry laugh, “I’ve come to realize I just have to let my kids have their own life.” I make some kind of noise that seems appropriate. I am faking everything here.

She sends me a card a few days before my birthday. I open it. My main interest is to see if there is a check in it. There is. $50. $25 less than last year.

Part of me breaks at the thought of my eighty-two-year-old mother sending me anything at all, let alone a check.

I sweep the kitchen floor, make lunch, thinking about inviting her to the party after all. It's only two days away now.

I ask Fred to call her. He’s been making all the party calls. I hear him speaking to her on the phone. I listen from the next room with big big ears. The conversation is surprisingly short. No extras, just when and where.

Fred comes into the room. “How was it?” I ask. “She didn’t say much,” he says. “That she’ll come if she can.”

I thought it would make her happy to be invited. I like the thought of making her happy. but there was no resounding response to this late-issue invitation.

Then I kick the whole thing out of my head. Whether she comes or not, whether I should have invited her or not – I kick it all out of my head and feel ready to go with whatever happens.

She calls the day of the party, leaves a message on Fred’s phone, she can’t make it.

It’s unusual. My mother usually so happy to have an invitation.

I call her the next day, the day before my fiftieth birthday, a time when usually things would be as smooth as silk, I feel a distance, as if she is holding me at arm’s length.

It’s as if someone has told her that I have been writing about her and me over and over again, and posting these stories on the blog – they are not private anymore – these stories are out there, words about my mother – I think my sisters have finally found them, I think they’ve said something to my mother, something like, “Don’t be so nice to Bim.”

Bim is crumbling. Good old Bim who was so nice to have around. Oh my god, she’s disappearing. I think it’s good. I think it’s good.