Sunday, September 16, 2007


I ordered a book secondhand off the internet a month or two ago, a memoir by a woman who had grown up with Krishnamurti being almost her surrogate father. Krishnamurti was originally from India, a boy picked out by the theosophists as an avatar, a holy being, and a man who retained that aura all his life though he put down gurus and spiritual movements in general. It was fairly interesting and I was fully expecting to finish it – not word for word all the way through, but at least a thorough skim – when it disappeared from my living room the day that Mari cleaned the bookshelves.

I did read one line in it though that has stuck with me. A friend of Krishnamurti, not Krishnamurti himself, says to the child that she should not kill anything – not even little bugs. “Their life is as precious to them as yours is to you.”

But I killed the mosquito at breakfast this morning. It had already bitten me once and was hovering, getting ready for more and though I knew it valued its life etc. I killed it.

In yoga they taught us that everybody has billions of lives and that if you kill a bug you can actually be doing it a favor, allowing it to be reborn, hopefully as something with a little more staying power and therefore a greater chance at etc.

I liked that theory, that souls come back in different forms. I still like it. Sometimes it explains things that nothing else does. But, while I used to accept reincarnation as true because they said so, I now admit I have no idea and I don’t think anyone else does either.

I was driving with my friend Yolanda. She was driving. It was a Saturday morning and she had picked me up to spend a few hours at her house helping her organize her office. She does a lot of things to make a living, one of them is to teach hatha yoga, the form of yoga that most people have heard of by now. You can buy sticky mats in supermarkets.

“I have to really watch myself,” she said as we drove down Rock City Road. “Sometimes I hear the things I say in my yoga classes – I have to be careful.” Her voice trailed off.

“I know what you mean,” I said. “I try really hard these days to only say things I know are true.” We talked about what I call New Age Fundamentalism which she recognized immediately and defined as, “You caused your cancer!” and contrasted it to Judaism, which she said was based on asking questions.

We turned into the lane on which she lives. Our mutual friend, Molly, was walking with her brown-and-white sort of fancy cocker spaniel, the dog she acquired sort of to replace the little black one who had been her sidekick for almost twenty years. The new little dog is cute, but somehow I don’t feel the closeness, the inseparability that was there with the first little dog. Maybe I will in twenty years.

Molly looked worn and unhappy. Yolanda paused the car while I said hi through the window. I wondered if Yolanda and Molly were getting along these days – they lived near each other – and I had the impression that sometimes they were better friends than at other times.

It was one of the hottest days of the summer. “Call me,” Molly said, waving me on. It was too hot to talk.

I know Yolanda’s dog had been killed on this lane about two years ago, hit by a car while Molly was taking her for a walk. It was an accident. Cars are always racing down this dead-end road. I don’t think Yolanda blamed Molly. Still, if that’s what I thought of, here on this road with the two of them, maybe that’s what they think of too.

My friend Yolanda wants me to streamline her office which is also her art studio and make it so that all the papers just land in the right places when the mail gets delivered, when she returns from her day with her bag bulging with fliers, announcements, contracts, instructions, magazines, articles. It’s a small, glassed-in porch and it’s gotten to the point where she just has things in piles. I go through the piles while she works on her computer. I bring the piles into the living room and I begin to sort them – bank statements, bills, stationery – and that’s about all I can do – put like things together. Maybe, I say, next time we can look at the space together and think about perhaps picking up some stackable trays – something to help keep things separated – there isn’t room for much.

Fred comes at 12:30 to pick me up. He knocks on the door. I call that I’ll be right out. There really isn’t room for him in here. When I go out into the damp heavy heat Fred and Irwin are not in sight though the car is there. I meet them halfway down the lane. They are talking about the Democrats as they come slowly walking towards me. Only Irwin, I think, would suggest a stroll on a day like this.

Saturday, September 15, 2007


It’s funny how my parents, right from the start, from when I first became aware of them, before the two other children were born, when grown-ups were huge, strange creatures, a different species, when my legs stuck straight out when I sat in one of their chairs instead of folding nicely over the edge so that they could be crossed the way adults crossed them – back then I saw my parents as in conflict, in a battle, straining in different directions and against each other.

I placed the blame on my mother and tried to make up for her limitations. Otherwise, daddy might leave. I knew he wanted to, could sense his restlessness and eagerness to be gone. And he did go. He was the one who got to leave. On business trips. With great fanfare – the luggage, the passport, the airport, his flushed excitement. He was the one who got to leave.

I wanted to leave too. Just like dad. And I did. First chance I got. Nine years old, eagerly showing up for boarding school that was trickier territory than “High Jinks at St. Claire’s” or “More Fun at Mallory Towers” had prepared me for.

So when my parents divorced in their sixties it was meaningless, just a signing of papers. But my father calls my mother every weekend. She sends him Christmas and birthday presents and a little extra cash now and then. They turned out to be together forever, not creating – well, they did create separate lives – but never really letting each other go. Maybe because they’re in separate countries they can be so close.

I posted the first piece I wrote this weekend, the one from Friday evening, up on my random stories blog. I titled it “Harrassment.” Within half an hour two responses had come in, both threatening. One says, “It’s only just begun.”

As I put the mugs out on the counter I noticed my hands were trembling.

I imagined them starting to harangue my mother. I even imagined the stress of it shortening her life. It will freak her out if she gets much wind of all this. She’s trying hard to glide through her last years making the most unnoticeable waves. She might have to take a stand. She might vote with those who think this is all very inappropriate.

Not that I’m not trying to glide through too. I don’t think of myself as a big outspoken person – I think of myself more as someone quite like my mother. Usually, I just want to get along. This has kind of happened by itself. The writing did it, and I do put the pretty much first.

I dreamed a couple weeks ago that an ashram friend greeted me warmly and then drugged me. I felt myself going under, knowing that while I was unconscious the ashram was going to clean out my memory, take my writing away from within me, and I struggled with every possible ounce of strength I had to resist them.

Last night I shot a man in a dream, held a gun, surprised him, pointed it at his throat and shot him right in his Adam’s apple. I thought it would kill him, but it didn’t. I had to kill this man. It was him or me. I beat his head with a pipe as hard as I could three times. He was down, but not dead, and I had to run away at that point.

I don’t dream much usually. Lately, the dreams have been big and real. They kind you always remember.

My pen stops. I lose the thread. I wait. I can’t find it. Should I go back to childhood and the parents, where I started out? But I’m not landing in a scene, just the same ribbon of scenes I always see when I look.

My mother, young, with brown hair, seated on the arm of the sofa, an uncertain smile on her face, two or three guest women on the couch, clutching chunky glasses, laughing up at my father who stands, holding their attention. While one of the husbands, an older man in a suit, shows me magic tricks with coins.

The Armonk house. The dining room table only used on weekends when my father is home, symbol of odd formality. Eating in the kitchen with my mother and sisters is normal life. My father’s arrival on Friday night, he steps in and shifts the atmosphere, puts me on edge, I have to be more careful now. I am watched. “What are you reading?” I know the question comes not out of unselfconscious interest, but because cultured people discuss what they are reading. They exchange ideas back and forth. They debate and I will not. I answer with two words, my shoulders shrugging even as I don’t move. Leave me alone, I am always saying to him without actually saying it – partly because I don’t want to hurt his feelings, partly because I am afraid of his fury.

Or the house in England, the way you could hang over the railing that formed three sides of a square – all of it tiny – and look down into the tiny front hall with its black and white tiles and here I am a child, my mother is alone, my sisters are little, and my father is mostly not home.

My room is red because of the floor-to-ceiling drapes that open and close with a string, my sisters’ room is blue, my mother’s is pink, my father’s dark green. It is a rented furnished house, like a doll’s house with someone else’s reality, a reality where the wife likes pink and has a kidney-shaped, glass-topped vanity table with a pink-and-white striped skirt covering its drawers. I liked that pink-and-white striped crisp shiny cotton. It was pretty. But had nothing to do with my mother who slept next to it alone for five years.

Thursday, September 13, 2007


I was in a workshop recently, an evening organized by some friends and offered to me free of charge. At one point you were supposed to speak as if a year or two had passed and you were bringing people up-to-date on what had happened in your life. “Well, you all saw Oprah, I guess,” I said when my turn came. Yeah, I could dig all that, the big exposure, talking about Authentic Writing while Oprah sits next to me with a make-believe expression of interest on her face. I could dig all that and sometimes it feels like it’s going to happen. “You’re going to be famous!” my friend Dinah said as we sat outside the CafĂ© Reggio, meeting up for the first time in thirty-five years. She had no doubt and when she said it I didn’t either.

I have imagined being one of those people who is famous for a little while and then disappears from view for the rest of their lives.

And the whole fame thing? I don’t know. Yes, I’m reaching for it though not in the way that people who are really serious about it reach for it – like Madonna who is really famous just for being famous.

Some of the emailers accuse me of only wanting fame, and that is so obviously off-the-mark. They aren’t reading what I’ve written. They’re freaking out.

I called Dinah the other day. She lives in New Zealand so I don’t do it often. Her British voice came through on the answering machine – neither she, nor her husband, nor her three kids were home. I’d been feeling down, suddenly devoid of energy, a strange feeling, and I was looking forward to her great comfort. I didn’t tell her that on the message though. It was the day the first real avalanche of bad emails was coming in. Fred was away. I didn’t want to think that the cacophony of witch-hunters had anything to do with how I was feeling that day, but it was hard to ignore the synchronicity.

I had woken up with a muscle inside one of my shoulder blades freezing up so that by afternoon I was having a hard time turning my head. I wandered into town, something I like to do when I’m trying to take it easy. It makes me feel like I’m on vacation and it takes me away from the computer.

I passed by my friend’s little store where she sells her own art work. She’d left me a message a few days earlier, sounding desperate, going through some horrific emotional upheaval, so I came to see her. She said her shrink had upped her meds and she was feeling better. I didn’t contradict. I just listened. She looked defeated, but not as desperate and tearful as she’d been a few days ago. She had been trying to get off the drugs, she said, partially because her boyfriend didn’t believe in them.

I told her about my frozen shoulder and she sat me under a tree and pummeled my back with experienced fingers. “I guess I just have to accept …” -- her voice trailed away. “You don’t ‘have to’ anything,” I answered. I didn’t like the sound of “I have to be different, I have to change.” I wanted my friend to feel okay just as she was. And I could feel the strength surge back into her voice. “You’re right,” she said. “I don’t have to anything.”

I was wearing a bright red tee shirt. I wondered as I walked along the sidewalk if anyone drove by and noticed me walking, anyone from the devotee group here in town, perhaps the person taking the brochures. I thought of Barack Obama, always needing a security detail. How exposed you can feel.

When I came home the key that’s always on the front porch was missing. Someone’s taken it, I thought. Just that morning I had thought that I should hide that key more effectively, and now it was gone and I was locked out. I called Robbie, my friend and neighbor, to whom we gave a key several years ago because she was here so often, watching over Tamar and Mousie while we were away. She was in town, cleaning out the little house she’s going to be moving into in a month, and said she’d be right over.

She didn’t have the key anymore. Don’t know what happened to it – I tried every possible one on her heavy key chain. She’d gone round the side of the house and by the time I caught up with her was half-way through a living room window that I hadn’t been able to open.

“Oh, Robbie!” I was so happy as she opened the kitchen door from inside. “You are the absolute best!” And I told her of my fears that someone had taken the key. I checked my office, the library table – no key. So I hadn’t by mistake brought it in myself.

Then I saw it hanging tidily by the front door. “I’m a jerk,” I said. “Look, it’s right here.” And it was. I hadn’t been prowled upon. Life shifted back almost into normal.

Usually I hate being in the house alone at night and can hardly bear to go to bed. Having Tamar, the black dog, helps a lot, but still I feel vulnerable and paranoid. But that night it was suddenly easy. I turned all the lights out and slept with confidence, and the next day, though I wasn’t at all-systems-go energy, I was much closer to normal, and the frozen muscle had almost completely unclenched.

Monday, September 10, 2007


It was very important to my father what he could tell other people about what I was doing. it seemed to me that he just wanted to be able to say, “My daughter is at Barnard," or "She is an editor," or "She is married and has two children.” Things like that. I could tell by the way he reported on the offspring of his business acquaintances. Big Judy comes to mind.

Big Judy was around in my childhood, the only daughter of a Hungarian couple with whom my parents were pretty good friends. We’d go visit them in Philadelphia and the Poconos. they’d come to see us – in Armonk , even down in Virginia I remember Big Judy coming to stay with us.

Big Judy was three years older than me -- almost precisely – and could beat me at practically everything. She wore glasses. I yearned for glasses, thinking they’d boost my adult qualifications, lying to the eye doctor about what I could and could not see, and even stealing some empty frames when my mother was in the eyeglasses store.

Now Big Judy is a professor of archaic Viking languages at a university in northern England. I haven’t spoken to her for about thirty-five years and my parents have almost lost touch with hers. But my father will mention from time to time Judy’s fabulous accomplishments that are so easy to define and I can feel his sense of something missing when he looks at me, that he is really looking at himself, wondering how on earth to tie the scramble of loose ends that are his life into a perfectly presentable package.

He lives in Budapest now. He has for the last almost twenty-five years. He went there kind of to take a break and think things over and no better option ever presented itself and now he finds himself stuck there, looking at death, planning for it.

In my mother’s note to me last week she said how my aunt – who lives with my dad, her brother – with the assistance of my baby sister – is planning how to prepare for the time when -- my mother details in her note to me – my father will need someone to come in and bathe him, how they might have to install a commode in his room, that so far he can usually manage these things, but.

My father has Parkinsons and is eighty-three. I saw him a year ago. He was still able to hold it together pretty well.

I have really abandoned him. There is really not much I can do to help. I don’t feel badly about this. I don’t think about it too often. It has always been a relief – since I was about twelve – not to have my father around.

He raped you, he raped you, he raped you – one unidentified emailer harangued this week. And I wondered for a moment, seduced by the anonymous intruder, did he? I don’t think so. Though a few days ago I dreamed of him, putting me to bed, leaning over me – oh no, I thought, he’s going to do it again and he comes closer and closer to kiss and I am trying to scream and my voice has deserted me.

I hope my dad dies soon. I know he doesn’t want to die. Of course, he doesn’t. And for that I want him to live. But if he slipped away tonight in his sleep I would not be sorry.

I don’t mind that my sisters have cut me out either. That’s a relief too. Ten years ago I thought of them both as my best friends. This morning I thought of Anasuya saying to me once, “In high school you always wore see-through shirts. You could always see your nipples.” She said it as an accusation, a something I had done wrong, some horrible flaw I had. Or the time I wrote about in the guru book when she said, “Other people thing you’re great. But you’re not. You’re a phony.” And both times I took these statements in as if I deserved them, like the way I dealt with Mukta, an enraged woman I had to work with for several years who screamed at me once, “All the saints say that anger is sacred. I’m just getting my anger out!” And I sat there thinking I had to be the good one, the understanding one.

Now when people write to me about what a bad person I am, how I need therapy and medication, I print out their message for the record then check Reject without the slightest pang of guilt that I should let everyone have their say because we’re all equal in god’s eyes.

Sunday, September 09, 2007


It’s been a long time since I’ve written. About three weeks. My life Is changing shape for the first time in seven years and I am not so often in our weekly groups, working on other projects, some that bring in some direct income, some that promise to.

Yesterday I had to thumb through all the stories I have posted on-line. Not the guru book, but my other blog. I had to go through those stories, ferreting out a small flood of vile comments that landed there, sprinkled amongst the different stories.

I saw all these pages of stories. It made me a little sad for a moment. Like, oh no, my writing life is over. I felt how precious all that writing is. And it’s always different to look backwards and marvel at all the writing that managed to make it through, and to look forward into emptiness. Will there really be more writing? How will I write if I get the full-time job I interviewed for last Wednesday, dressed in that super-sharp navy linen suit that I’d found for $10 at Woodstock’s consignment shop. Even my friend who met me right afterwards for a walk in the public gardens expressed a little surprise when she first saw me. I think I definitely looked like someone who wanted that job.

I do want it, but it feels very strange – strange and exciting – to be possibly on the brink of a full-time job again. I have images in my head of actually worrying about other people’s projects – or, not worrying about them, but suddenly my head being filled with other people’s endeavors instead of my own. I sort of feel like I will be an actor. I will go step into someone else’s play, but it actually feels like a role I’d like. I cold get into it.

They haven’t offered it to me yet, but at the beginning of the interview the woman was saying that she’d be inviting some people back for a second interview, and by the end of my interview she was saying she’d like me to come back. But I haven’t even gotten that call yet. I hope I get it on Monday.

When I spoke to my mother on the phone I told her I was having this interview. I knew she’d be happy that I was doing something as ordinary as looking for a job. In fact, she suggested I could go to Kingston to the unemployment office and check the listings there. She suggested this several times. I said I would. I am polite with my mother, and sometimes genuinely warm. But not so much the last time we spoke.

Somebody had printed out for her a couple of stories from my blog, stories that had to do with my growing up, the family. This person who is supposed to be my mother’s friend and who I once – about twenty years ago – thought of as my friend – printed out these stories and brought them over for my mother to read.

She read them and then wrote to me because she thought I had misunderstood a letter that my aunt had written to me. And she said on the phone, “And you wrote something about how it had been with me and your father and I thought when I read it – wow, that’s so sketchy. I could write much more about that! But then I thought, well, if that’s how you saw it, that’s fine.”

“You should write about it, Mum, that would be great!” I said.

“Well, if I did I wouldn’t publicize it,” my mother said. “Because it’s so, you know, personal.”

“Well, that what I like to write about,” I said, and I think we left it at that.

Except that she also asked at one point. “Weren’t you scared when the ashram said they’d sue you?”

“No,” I said.

I told her about the interview, but I didn’t tell her where and I had a fib lined up if she asked.

My mother has her feet in both camps. Many of her friends are ashram devotees. If my mother knew where I was trying to get a job it might leak to one of the fundamentalists who is trying to do me in and I can see phone calls being made. “Don’t hire her. She’s not what she appears to be.”

After the rain of nasty, distorted emails I’ve been getting from people who do not identify themselves, I am cautious. After noticing that someone is methodically removing our brochures from the local health food store, I am careful.