Sunday, July 29, 2007


We moved to Virginia in the middle of first grade just after Kennedy got shot. I didn’t know it then, but we were moving to Virginia because my father had taken a job in the State Department and was all excited to be part of the Kennedy administration, and then a week or two before we depart Kennedy is killed, so the whole move began, I guess, on the wrong foot.

We stayed two years. I was six and seven and eight, and it seemed like a long time to me then. We lived in five different places during those two years. I had my tonsils out, went to two schools and my mother gave birth to my second sister. A disappointment. I’d been hoping for a brother. My grandmother from British Columbia visited for the birth. My grandparents from Hungary came out of Communist Hungary for two visits, or maybe just one. I played at being a cripple – walking awkwardly on sticks the way the blonde girl, Claudia, walked in our second-grade class. I was envious of her crutches. They seemed exotic, interesting.

The last place we lived was a skyscraper and it felt temporary even to me, a little like staying in a hotel. I had never lived in an apartment before. I liked it. I liked the elevator with the buttons you pressed and the pool downstairs I could go to by myself and I liked the way there was a gang of kids and we could roam around the building, doing what we wanted.

We could buy PayDay candy bars in the lobby. We could meet in the basement and look at Playboy magazines.

I started piano lessons that summer with a woman in the building. I had two books – one for playing, one for learning how to read music.

I practiced on a toy electric organ that I’d had since I was three. The teacher was angry when she heard after a few weeks that this was all I’d been practicing on.

When we left the apartment and came back to our old house in New York, my mother got a second-hand piano with a tall straight back and put it in a corner of the living room by where the stairs went up.

I had asked for a long time to take piano lessons, but now I didn’t want to, but I didn’t know how to get out of it. It was third grade and my father had gone to work in England. I didn’t like being with my mother and two sisters much. My mother could get angry very quickly, very harshly. I didn’t like that. And things were not exciting around my mother the way they were around my father. I don’t remember missing my father, but when my mother asked if we should move to England too, I said yes, of course. I thought it was the biggest non-question I’d ever heard. Of course we should go.

We did. I was nine. I’d just had my first holy communion in church. It happened on a Sunday. I wore my blue jumper with the white smocking and a white blouse underneath. And the priest asked me to come up the aisle first before everybody else came for communion because it was my first time. I was shy walking up there by myself, but I was glad to finally be able to take Communion, the most fun part of Mass, the part you had to be old enough for and now I was old enough and could go up with the adults.

But not my mother because she wasn’t a Catholic. She’d almost become one. For awhile in Virginia she’d gone and talked with a priest – she liked him and talked about him at home – Father Parera he was called, but we moved before it all got finished.

On my birthday I bicycled to the church by myself and after Mass my bike was broken, run over by a car and I had to go back in the church after everyone had left. I had to find the priest, had to knock on the door of the room he went into after finishing Mass. It was terrifying to knock and ask him to call my mother. She told me to wait in the store down the street and I waited all morning before she found me. A dog had leapt at me that morning, barking and growling, as I rode the bike on the way to church and years later my mother held up the coat I had worn that day and said, “Look, the lining is all torn. That dog must really have been biting at you,” as if she was believing me for the first time.

We went to England and my father was there and he brought us to a small little house that he had rented for us, except he wasn’t there very much. He had an apartment in London where he stayed during the week so he wouldn’t fight so much with my mother. He came home on weekends, but I saw that all later.

At first, I just went away to a boarding school. I left my mother and my two sisters just like my father left them and I went away by myself to a school, a convent school, twenty-two black-and-white nuns with not a scrap of hair showing, with long flowing black skirts and long black veils down their backs and a little black sort of cape that hung gracefully over their chests.

I liked it there. Again, it was a little like a hotel, and more exciting than home.

I learned about periods in this school. And about sex. Though when I heard about sex I realized that’s what my father had been talking about on one of our weekend walks back in Virginia when I was in first grade. He’d told me that the man’s wiener goes into the woman’ goo-gah when they are sleeping, but it didn’t seem very likely and I had semi-forgotten about it.

I had four main friends in boarding school. We were a gang – the smartest, most interesting girls in the class. It was like that for two and a half years and then something happened almost overnight it felt like – my friends turned cruel and mean, they made me feel that I was not as good as them and I asked my mother if I could switch schools.

I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to go back home and start at the school my little sister went to. I knew it was a more ordinary place. It felt more ordinary. I didn’t want to do these things, but I could not stay at St. Mary’s and face my cruel friends.

So I came back to the circle of my mother, my two little sisters, my father on weekends. It surprised me that I didn’t like it when my father came home on Friday nights. He acted like a guest. I had to treat him like a guest. He wanted attention when he came home, wanted me to stop, interrupt, come talk to him, his stilted conversations – teasing that was not funny, questions. I always felt defensive, an under-the-surface anger that felt wrong, pulling to be allowed to return to my room, my book, my game, my TV show. I didn’t want to pay attention to my father like the way you have to pay attention to company when they come for lunch.

My father liked to go riding on weekends. He was no sportsman. He’d just begun to ride, always had a big horse he could ride like sitting on a couch. When my mother took me to ride it was some scruffy pony in a scruffy field. My father liked the stables in Windsor, he liked Mr. Dent – the cranky World War II veteran who wore tweed and hobbled and yelled at the stablehands. Mr. Dent came out with us. He and my father rode ahead of me, side-by-side, talking, down the Long Walk with Windsor Castle behind us. That was riding for my father – a nice way to be outside, in pleasant surroundings, with symbols of wealth and grandeur on the horizon.


My mother lives in a small white clapboard house. When I drove up last week I noticed the paint is peeling. It needs a new paint job. I wish I could offer to have her house re-painted. I remember when it was done a few years ago, how good and bright it looked. I hate the sad way the paint is peeling now, that hopeless sign that there isn’t money to fix it. It hurts me, this sense that she might be feeling any pain at all, and at the same time I know it’s crazy – my mother doesn’t care if her paint is peeling, just like I don’t care much that mine is. Our peeling paint doesn’t make either of us suffer, just my seeing hers does.

There’s a small stretch of grass in front of my mother’s house and then the road and then a large fake-Tudor house directly opposite. Inside the Tudor house lives a couple in their young mid-fifties and their adopted daughter.

The couple is a little bit like my mother’s kids – they often act like a daughter and a son-in-law – and the little girl is the closest my mother has to a grandchild. The girl has real red hair. She is nine years old and pretty big for her age. They’ve had her since she was a few months old.

The woman and the little girl are going to move to Iowa where the woman’s parents live. The parents have each had strokes and the woman wants to go take care of them. She has always at least half-wanted to move back to Iowa and the country land where her original family is. The husband doesn’t want to go. He is going to stay. They will visit once a month. They say they are not separating or getting a divorce.

It makes me a little nervous. I guess because having the couple and the little girl across the street has always seemed to me part of the fragile structure that has come into being almost of its own accord, the structure that takes care of my mother.

When I arrive my mother is ironing for the woman across the street, something she does for pay. She keeps ironing as I sit on the couch and look at old photographs she found lately – pictures of my grandmother back in Uruguay as a teenager. I read a letter my grandfather wrote to his sister in 1907. My mother stands for a couple of hours, ironing. “Do you hate ironing?” my mother asks. “Most people tell me how the one thing they hate doing is ironing, but I kind of like it.”

“I don’t mind it,” I say, absently. “I only iron one thing at a time.”

I wish the woman across the street wasn’t moving away with her little kid. It seems mean, breaking up the family for the sake of her parents. I know the man will miss his daughter terribly though my mother says she’s been hard to raise.

I don’t like the colorless dress that my mother is ironing. My mother holds it up, without judgment, just showing me and it makes me angry, the grey-blue dress with the floral print from the seventies. It makes me mad again at the woman across the street. She should wear things with more style.

I know the couple. The man’s name is Daniel. He chose the house they live in. I remember when it was for sale, almost twenty years ago. I passed it often. “Baba slept there,” people said, referring to Baba Muktananda. I wanted to buy that house. How impossibly wonderful, I thought, to live in a house in which a saint had slept. I was surprised that it took over a year before the For Sale sign came down.

Daniel had bought it. I didn’t know him very well. He worked in the vast Purchasing department of the ashram and I heard he had a real estate license and I asked for his help when I saw the little white house across from him for sale a few years later. My mother had asked me to keep my eyes open for something she could move to. She couldn’t stay for free in the Curry’s garage apartment forever. She’d have to find something cheap to buy and Sullivan Country is about as cheap as you can find.

Daniel bought the house at least partially because Baba had slept there. His wife was never such a passionate devotee. I don’t think the house meant as much to her as it did to him. I slept in the room where Baba slept one weekend when I was housesitting, the weekend I rented Trainspotting, during the years I was getting ready to leave the ashram but didn’t know it, knew only that I was craving hardcore art like movies about heroin instead of just yogic treatises.

For a few years there I’d stuck to a diet of yogic treatises, convinced that I could grit my teeth and tighten my belt for as long as it would take for the cosmic pay-off, and then I started to think that maybe yoga wasn’t about just who could follow the rules better than anyone else, and I started to find ways to have my own things inside the ashram world until it led me all the way out of that world.

I watched Trainspotting in the house where Baba slept.

And then I moved in across the street – not into the house my mother was living in now, but the almost identical one next door – a perfect writer’s cottage – I’d meditate and write and copyedit for money and trust in Feng Shui and live next door to my mother, a nice simple life that because it was so different from what I’d just torn myself away from – ten years on staff in the ashram – seemed fabulous and daring and full of possibility. I knew there wasn’t much going on around me in this deserted corner of New York State, but I’d pump it full of meaning – I’d find art in the smallest places and make this a town worth living in.

But I only stayed six months. The vista of Woodstock beckoned, so much larger and more colorful. It was almost as if I tried to start life over, to keep it small and in the corner, something I could manage with my eyes closed -- just my mother and me and my birds -- and it stayed in place for a few months and then got out of hand all over again – huge and vigorous and consuming.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007


When I left L.A. it was a little like awakening from a dream – at least for awhile. I’d gone to L.A. with Jeffrey because I had nothing else to do and he wanted to be a movie director. I’d stayed there three years. I had often wanted to leave, but that took money and I never had any after pay day. And then my publishing job invited me to go back with the company to New York City. I didn’t hesitate for a second. Yes, I said, count me in. I want to go back to Manhattan. I never liked this palm tree town. And buy my plane ticket and pay for my records and my books and my stereo to all go back with me. It was a dream come true.

It wasn’t so easy getting out of L.A. Jeffrey made a huge fuss. When he didn’t like things I did he had a way of throwing them back to me as crimes, like all of a sudden he loved me in ways I’d never imagined and I must be the most cold-hearted person in the world. So he had me crying a lot and freezing up into depressions, trying to twist my insides so that when they showed they looked right, but I made it out of town because the company was waiting and even Jeffrey couldn’t take on the company. So I flew out of town in February 1981, 23 years old, reading The French Lieutenant’s Woman and seeing someone with a Walkman for the first time on that plane.

I thought it would be so easy. Slide into Manhattan, join the crowds with their brand new Walkmans on the sidewalk. They would propel me along with them.

But the very first night, my first night back in Manhattan, I am in my friend Thea’s apartment. She is out of town and letting me stay a few nights and she’s not that great a friend like I had once thought. She’s a Vogue model now, traveling round the world and buying $500 cowboy boots in Soho when she feels like it. Her apartment is a squalid, dark studio on Sixth Avenue just north of Eighth Street and I’m stranded. I don’t know why. Now that I’m here, it doesn’t seem so easy to go out and join those crowds on the sidewalk. They will not take me in.

I call Jeffrey back in L.A. and there is his sweet familiar gravelly voice, the only person I can say “I feel terrible” to. “You’ll be okay,” he says. He is watching TV. I know he’ll fill up the bong and make dinner on the couch. He will just keep on going. He doesn’t need me for his routines.

I don’t think of the word “lonely.” No, I think of words like: what is wrong with me that all I know to do is to go to bed at 9 o’clock? How come I don’t know how to be part of all that noise out there? I feel like I’m in a foreign country, not home – and I am ashamed and must not let this feeling of being on the outside show.

It’s like when I was in high school and I did not know how to join in. Now I’m in New York City and it’s the same. I don’t know how to join in.

Thank god for the office. And that’s what I hate most of all. That I need that 9-5 corporate office to get me up in the morning, to give me a place to go like everybody else. It’s all I have, that warren of offices for people with no imagination.

I like walking to work though, wearing sneakers with my skirt, walking so fast in the fresh morning air that I feel like a sprinter, my body elastic –and I feel a tremendous new energy surge through me at times that I know has nothing to do with my old life with Jeffrey, an energy that only runs free when I am away from him because such things are too wholesome to interest him.

But more than anything , I must find a new boyfriend. I can’t bear that Jeffrey will be with some new girl – I am sure it will not take him long, he likes so many girls – I must beat him to it, must find someone just so he knows I am strong and happy and independent – and so I know it too – but even the one or two boys who come around, the ones I corner at parties where I don’t know anyone – maybe they look cute for a minute or two – but they never feel like home the way Jeffrey feels like home. I don’t let myself call him though I long to.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


During the last of my three years living in L.A. with Jeffrey a book came out called Sugar Blues. It was about 1980 when this book came out, a paperback with a dark blue cover. Jeffrey told me about it. “Maybe that’s why you’re depressed all the time,” he said. “You should try not eating sugar and see if it helps.” Jeffrey was a repository for new-frontier psychological theories.

When I first met him, a few years before when he was 19 and I was 18 he suggested I go see a shrink. The possibility had never ever occurred to me. But Jeffrey said he saw one and I could too, and it wouldn’t cost anything if I went to the school clinic. Jeffrey was a Psych major. Not because he wanted to be a shrink but, I think, because it was an easy major and he was mostly interested in things like the effects of hallucinogens. He liked being told how people’s minds worked and being able to explain things. His sister – almost his twin – was getting her PhD in Psych, on an unambivalent express path to becoming a shrink. She added generously to Jeffrey’s stock of theories.

I was about 23 when Jeffrey told me about Sugar Blues. No one had ever said anything bad about sugar before except that it made you fat, of course, and gave you cavities. But depression? That seemed so weird.

“You have to stop eating any sugar,” Jeffrey said, throwing a bottle of coke into the freezer, and of course I had to try. Otherwise, it would look like I wanted to be unhappy. Maybe it was that simple too. Maybe I just had to stop eating sugar.

I reached for crackers at the office, then thought to look at the list of ingredients. They had sugar in them. Most of the things I picked up to eat – even if they weren’t sweet – ended up having sugar in the list of ingredients. I thought if I swallowed any at all I’d be guilty of welcoming depression.

I got up early in the morning to be at work by 9. Jeffrey stayed in bed. He didn’t have an office to go to. He could spend all day in this one-bedroom cottage with the wall-to-wall lime-colored shag carpet, but I had to put on a skirt and panty hose. I walked out to my car that was parked on the street. No one was around. It was L.A. and early morning. The street was lifeless. I drove one block north to the huge supermarket on Sunset that was open 24 hours a day. I went in and bought a large bag of cheese doodles and ate them as I drove to my office. There was no sugar in cheese doodles so I could eat as many as I wanted, but it felt wrong, like masturbation, something I wouldn’t want anyone to see, me driving, eating a whole bag of cheese doodles before 9 o’clock and feeling finally spent as I park my car – not in the office parking lot because that cost money, but several blocks away.

My car is an orange and white Pinto that a friend of Jeffrey’s gave me. They say they blow up if you get rear-ended. It is not insured. I know nothing of insurance. It leaks oil. I don’t take it to a garage to have it fixed because I am certain this will cost money it would be impossible for me to pay. The only money I have is the paycheck I get every two weeks and every penny of it is gone by the time the next one comes. I keep cans of oil in my trunk and pour one in every day.

I walk to the skyscraper where my office is up on the 22nd floor. There are two skyscrapers in this part of L.A. – Century City – and my office is in one of them. When earthquakes come the buildings sway and if you’re in them it feels like you’re on a ship.

I have my own office. This was a triumph. When I first came I was a secretary with a desk outside the office of the editor-in-chief. Now I’m an editor. It’s the first time I have my own office and my own business card. I get to write copy now and I see the words I have written on paperback books in stores.

Part of me is ashamed that I am so not an artist that I have an office in a skyscraper – while Jeffrey who is unquestionably an artist can stay home all day and be happy. He always know what to do with himself. He gets high, watches an Errol Flynn movie on TV, goes out to buy a new fish for his tropical fish tank, plays some tennis with Leonard, an actor who lives next door. When I am home I don’t know what to do. I wait for the weekend all week and then I become desperate because I can’t do anything. If I just get high and go to the movies with Jeffrey I don’t have fun the way he does. I feel a clock ticking inside of me like a bomb: empty time, empty time.

It disgusts me that I sometimes catch myself taking comfort in the office. I cannot roll up into a ball here. I cannot stare at the wall. I am grateful to have things to do here – photocopies, phone calls, chit-chat – though here too I hear the tick tick tick in my ear. I want every minute of my life to count, but it is rare that any minute feels well spent. And so even without sugar the despair remains, unabated.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007


Yesterday I began a memoir written by a woman who was a child in Ojai, living very close to Krishnamurti, almost as his daughter. Her parents were his best friends, her mother his secret lover. I am glued to the book. It’s well written. I feel myself in responsible hands.

Krishnamurti has been one of my companions since the mid-eighties. Natvar, my first cult leader – a smalltime guru of Greek heritage – became the yoga teacher for an upper- class Greek upper-Eastsider whose mother swore by Krishnamurti. Natvar got in very tight with this family and we all began reading Krishnamurti’s books and watching his videos.

Krishnamurti was still alive then and we went to see him speak in Madison Square Garden. I listened respectfully, fighting to stay awake. He was a plain, old gentleman who sat on a simple chair on the large empty stage, speaking in a monotone as he always did.

Natvar and Nellie – the mother of the upper-Eastsider, a short round woman with a round face, bushy grey hair and mischievous eyes, would have long conversations in the lobby after dinner, after the small group of yoga students had left, while Mark and I did the dishes and Tracy put the girls to bed – Nellie smoking her cigar out the window – she and Natvar lounging back on the silver crushed velvet sofa that had once belonged to my father. We would join them when the work was done and sit on the lush burgundy carpet that had just been installed over the bare splintered boards we had been laboring over for months.

Mark, Tracy and I sat on the floor, listening with the raptness of devotees. I could not follow their conversation – sometimes it went into Greek, but even when Natvar and Nellie spoke English they leapt so far into abstractions I could only listen and hope that one day, if I worked hard enough, I’d be able to talk like that.

Krishnamurti I found almost impossible to follow too. I struggled through his books and tapes. But still I liked him. He was so unflashy, his face so serious and beautiful, he had to be trustworthy.

Years later, in my last years at the ashram, I bought one of his books again, heretical though it seemed. And still, although difficult, I trusted him. He was unique amongst philosophers. He refused the guru title.

And now I read of Krishnamurti, the man. Not the celibate holy man. Another man, another human being. It’s an important story for me.

I even visited his home once in Ojai, a remote and charming stone cottage with a lawn smaller than my own, and plump roses, the whole place perfumed by the groves of orange trees below in the valley. It was such a simple place, closed that day so we couldn’t go in, but I felt that a good person had lived there. He was dead by then.

And I am learning what a human human person he was. I have stopped believing in saints.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


I keep thinking about calling Philippa and Daniella, the two friends who visited me last week after we hadn’t seen each other since we were fourteen.

I keep thinking about calling them – Philippa about six hours ahead in Rome, Daniella about sixteen hours ahead in Melbourne. I will call them, but I am nervous.

How to recreate that intimacy we had last week? Is it possible?

I keep imagining them retreating from me, finding reasons why not to be friends anymore. Maybe I shouldn’t write the things I write for instance.

I think of calling Philippa and Daniella because I experienced so much love from them last week it was intoxicating and in these difficult days I want to go back to that, and I am afraid it won’t be there.

And I feel needy, like I’ll call them just out of that need and there’s something wrong with that.

These are the thoughts I have, but I know I will call within the next few days.

This morning I was thinking maybe I should just clean the house and cook and do the laundry and stay out of the business side of things.

With surprise, it reminded me of the time in Athens when Natvar declared that I would be the maid from now on. I’ve remembered this before, but what I remembered today was how although it was degrading, there was some relief for me there too. Natvar was saying I couldn’t handle the complexities of dealing with his yoga clients, that I was not like him and Mark and Tracy who, he implied, were plugged into some adult understanding that I was too crazy for, or too damaged for. It felt like he was giving me permission to turn half my brain off and just keep the floors clean, and for brief periods of time I took refuge in that.

It was strange though to hear myself think these same things on my own: maybe I should just cook and clean.

My mother trying to entice me now into confiding in her. My mother is a nice person. That’s the trouble. She’s a nice old lady. I don’t find it easy to criticize her. I’m not even that interested in criticizing her, but I have to say a few things.

You can’t coax someone into confiding in you. Especially after fifty years. Especially after you’ve read ten chapters of their memoir – not their novel. And you can’t tell them in one breath that they don’t have enough tact in their writing, and in the next invite them to talk openly with you. Take your pick.

My mother should be smart enough to see at least that much.

I think, well, I’ve never been a mother so what do I know.

But my mother wants to get away with just doing her jobs – taking care of elderly people younger than she is and paying her bills. She wants to slip out of this life easily. I should think about all the fun times we had at the ashram and not mention that we were all – at the very least – under somebody else’s large thumb.

I guess “mother” – even when she’s a little old lady in Sullivan County – is still spelled with a capital M.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007


A few days ago I got a letter from my mother. She was sending me an old photograph of myself that I had sent her almost thirty years ago. I knew because I turned the photo over and there was my cheerful Christmas greeting from 1980 when I was twenty-three years old, living in Los Angeles, thinking of suicide most of the time. My mother was sending me the photo because, she said in her letter, she doesn’t want to leave a “big mess” behind when she dies. Not that she shows any signs of going any time soon, but she’s preparing.

Her letter went on to say that she’s read a few chapters from the book I’ve been posting on-line for the last couple of months. I write about my years in an ashram with a guru, a place and a person that my mother knows well. She says in her note that my writing is too “serious” for her, that she was grateful to the ashram because it was such a respite from losing her house to bankruptcy and the awful chaos of her life at that time.

Then she writes for a page about having to clean out her fridge because a new one is being delivered.

So I called her up. It was time for a call anyway. After a few sentences I took the bull by the horns, “So, you’re reading my book?” This said in a nice cheerful tone.

“Yes,” says my mother, her tone almost forbidding. I know that tone, or where it can go when it’s full-blown. I feel fear. “You’ve ruffled a lot of feathers, Bim,” my mother says. “I think it’s important to have some tact.”

“Oh?” I say. I am polite. The only thing I don’t do is make this easier for her. I also don’t say, “What the fuck are you talking about?”

Somehow the conversation goes into other things, the usual things. As we are about to end the conversation my mother asks me how I am. I give some kind of stock answer which is what I have always done. I have never told either of my parents how I am. My mother has called me “private.” She says that now. “Oh, you’re so private,” she says. “You know you can tell me if things are rough. I can take it.”

My mother knows that I have wanted to be a writer all my life, that there has never been anything that I have ever wanted to be. And I have written a book. It is not my first book, but it is the first one she knows about.

It scares her, this “ruffling of feathers.” Not that I’ve written anything terribly damning. I write my story about being in a cult very gently. I go through it slowly.

My mother has mentioned a few times in recent years that I don’t confide in her. Here it is, my memoir. It happens with my sisters too. They don’t like what they see. They don’t like this Bim. They like the other one. The one that joined in the masquerade that this was just a happy, jolly family. With a loser of a father of course, but the women were wonderful – they were all best friends: imagine that. Three sisters and their mother. How quaint.

I read this morning about covert incest and immediately recognized myself as a victim of this. It begins with a parent who abdicates, a “shadow parent.” My first memories of my mother are of her in the shadows of the kitchenette in the little apartment I was born into in Yonkers, New York. And then the other parent turns to the kid for what they need. And boy did I give it. Boy was I good at that.

This memoir that’s on-line right now? It’s just the beginning.