WRITING

 

When I was maybe three years old, I wanted to write. I didn’t yet know what being a writer meant. I just wanted to take a pen or pencil and say things with it that other people could read.

Magic.

I remember trying to copy the shapes of words and letters off of my father’s can of shaving cream. I remember making wavy squiggles with a pen and asking the lady next door to tell me what they said. “Water, water, water,” was her reply. And yes, I remember scrawling my name, in lurid crayon colors, on all my big sister’s books. (She did not find that particularly profound or cute.)

To me, writing is as powerful as it was for the druids. Despite any New Age or King Arthur legendary stuff about shape changing and crystals, the real magic of the Celtic druids was their ability to write. This gave them the power to do amazing things, such as keep records of someone’s property and put down for posterity the shenanigans of some chieftain, thus ruining his reputation.  The fact that one druid on the east coast of Ireland could make marks that another druid on the west coast of Ireland could read and understand was truly magic. And it still is.

Philosophical treatises, mathematical theorems, wills, census records, stories, letters, poems – everything written down has the power to go through time and space to connect people’s minds.

My first success as a writer came in fourth grade. I wrote the class Christmas poem, which was about a snow fairy. It “borrowed” a lot from Longfellow and “The Night Before Christmas,” as I recall.  By fifth grade I was onto more adult stuff, writing a story about a sleek and beautiful black-haired woman standing on the stone balcony of some mansion, caught between the raging sea below and a handsome man in a tuxedo pouring champagne in the room behind her. Deciding between the two, she threw herself into the sea. Ahhh – what prophecy! But that’s another story for another day.

To have a passion for writing is different from having a passion to make a living as a writer – very different. It’s a good thing I didn’t develop the latter, since I couldn’t make a living on what I earn as a writer. Anyway, I love my paying job as a teacher. And so I’ve been able to shamelessly write what I am compelled to and passionate about. Some of it isn’t good. But I’m still glad that I wrote it.  I always try to learn something from the process of writing, and I do, even if it’s learning what constitutes bad writing.

Mostly what I want to learn is what is noble. That seems like an old-fashioned word now, something with the scent of class and snootiness.  But I use the word “noble” to describe someone who has integrity and tries to act, even live, according to it – no matter what.

Teaching and traveling and hanging with friends, in these things I have to put my actions where my writing is, and I don’t always come through in a noble way. So without these worlds outside of writing, I wouldn’t have much to say and might get fooled by my own bullshit.

Every now and then, I get a crippling sinus headache that not much can be done about other than starting a regiment using items from Walgreen’s larder and lying in bed. These headaches are less frequent now, but when one hits, I’m doomed to about 24 hours of non-action.

During the last bout of pain I listened in the dark of my room to a wonderful reading of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. Thanks to my friend Catharine, who lives near Walden Pond, I’ve swum in its waters, stood on the site where Thoreau noted the sounds and sights and thoughts the rest of us could experience through his work long after he died. He wrote, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

In today’s vernacular, “Oh – My – God.”

I wish for all of us to dive fully into what inspires us, whether it be painting or food or children or tennis or singing or whatever, and that we do not do it to make a living, but to live, no matter how exhausted we are from making a living.

Writing is where I live most fully.  And I’m glad I can be a demented old woman and still write, even if it’s back to “Water, water, water.”

 

STRESS

 

 

My cat is pulling out her own hair. I find it in clumps and see the results on her balding backside and tail. It’s stressing me out.

In fact, she and I are both stressed out, like two creatures who are running around, fleeing some perceived threat and then running into each other and screaming and running away. She goes under the kitchen table to pluck out tufts of fur. I go to the computer and google “cats pulling out fur” or scroll down facebook or play word games on my iPod until the tips of my fingers are sore.

What a world. I could list the things that increasingly stress me out, but it would be easier to list the things that don’t stress me out. Wait – I can’t think of anything that doesn’t stress me out.

Okay, so the list of what does rattle me starts with global news about the death of innocent children and ends with a piece of popcorn dropped on the kitchen floor. Somewhere in the middle of all that is traffic.

Traffic is both where stress is triggered and, when I am alone in the car, released. For example. I was going to get my blood pressure checked yesterday (you can see the irony) and the parking garage for the clinic was full, yet still there were about five cars, some of them big fat SUV’s, sharking the waters for a parking place. Some IDIOT WITH A BIG TRUCK had parked over the line of the space next to him (or her) so that no one could use it. I said a lot of things I would be arrested for if I shouted them in a kindergarten class and vowed to write a note to the driver that would explain why he (or she) should not procreate.

My blood pressure was higher than either I or my doctor was comfortable with, and when I explained about the truck, she said, “Well, just check your blood pressure when you’re calmer.”

Right. And when would that be? At home where my balding cat huddles under the kitchen table? Or when I wake up in the middle of the night bathed in sweat thinking that the new spot on my upper arm is in fact cancer?

I’ve read enough Jungian psychology and done enough Zen meditation to get that my cat and I are mirrors of each other. Being a cat, she’s not likely to puzzle this out and start meditating more or channel her fur plucking into some creative project, such as making a sculpture out of the dead birds she brings in.

I however, am human. And though some humans get tragically addicted to food, drugs, alcohol or  “Throne of Kings,” I want deeper contentment and peace that cannot come when one is desperate for the next fix.

In fact, desperation of any kind, whether quiet as it was in Thoreau’s time or incredibly noisy as it is now, is stressful by definition. Whatever we desperately want is what stresses us out; and if I desperately want no popcorn to ever fall on the floor or all big trucks to have huge bumper stickers on them saying, “My penis is tiny,” then I’m never going to find peace.

If I want my cat to stop ripping at herself, the best thing I can do is stop ripping at myself, which means to follow the old Bill Murray advice from “Meatballs.” Whatever the issue, I can chant “It just doesn’t matter; it just doesn’t matter.” There is so much, on facebook and elsewhere, that teaches us, implores us to be stressed out and desperate, so we’ll buy some product or engage in some group drama. And wouldn’t it piss people off if all my responses to their angst was “It just doesn’t matter”? I’ll keep that to myself, because I’m smarter than the cat.

I am smarter than the cat, right?

 

 

 

Wake Up and Smell the Dead Chicken

My 60th year on planet Earth sucked. Or to put a gentler spin on it, it was challenging. I’m glad it’s over. I’m glad I’m 61 now and am done with that year.

The main theme was facing reality. Here are the key aspects of reality that I slammed my face against. And maybe someone out there can get it over with before I did. Sixty years is a long time to wait before facing reality.

Reality #1) I will keep getting older and older, and everything that I thought was cool about my appearance has already drooped, dropped off, developed a growth, had to be removed, or caused pain. All the stuff I pitied old people for going through is happening and will continue happening to me. I am not willing or wealthy enough to do some Jane Fonda “Oh, my God – she’s 70 and still sexy and young looking” thing. And then I will die.

Reality #2) The world is not what I’d hoped it would be. It is a stupid world, and technology has made its stupidity more widespread, compelling and noisy. People who truly listen are rare. Intellectualism is dying. The days of the likes of Gore Vidal and Norman Mailer being as huge a draw on “The Tonight Show” as vapid celebrities are gone; the days of films based on novels like “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” are gone, leaving us with a third “Iron Man” movie. I am not going to be held aloft by a crowd of literate philosophers who appreciate my existential insights and teach my work in lecture halls crowded with students who ask questions like, “Could the Dark Energy of the universe actually be aspects of consciousness?” Or “Was ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ the most powerful anti-war novel ever written and ignored?” No – there are not enough literate philosophers in America to hold aloft a large dog, and I have obviously not successfully tapped into them, wherever they are. And in most lecture halls students are staring at their own little personal screens and texting questions like “What R U doing?”

Reality #3) I cannot depend on family and friends to fuel me up with support and motivation to keep following my bliss. Nor can I depend on guys wanting to lie with my naked body to pretend that everything I do is profound and special.  I either have to charge myself or be stalled in self-pity. I could single out those who have indeed read my books and listened to my music and thank them – deeply – but then those who haven’t and don’t intend to would be more pissed off at me than they already are, and I don’t need that. Besides, I don’t have a pristine record of following up on the successes and applauding the efforts of many of my friends and relatives, though I do try when it feels like I have a genuine respect for what they’re doing – which brings me to believe that many of my friends and family must not have a genuine respect for what I’m doing, and well, that feels shitty and makes me seriously doubt myself. So I’m going on to the next item.

Reality #4) I have a tendency to betray myself and my deepest convictions. The lifestyle I honor and that makes me feel good does not include playing games on the internet, listening avidly to news stories about mayhem and idiocy that I can do nothing about, or rolling through scores of vapid motivational rhetoric and useless political rants on facebook. And yet I do all those things regularly. Meanwhile, the cello has a gray layer of dust on it and writing projects lay dormant in the dank shadows of my hard drive. At some point I saw life’s absurdity as freedom. And secretly, I still do. I’ve just been stumbling around, blind-sided by realities #1 through 3, and then this one:

Reality #5) I’m going to be permanently sad about my son’s death. I will never get over it, move on, get on with life, be soothed by the fond memories, or any of that stuff. I will be sad. Forever. Not depressed, sad. And there’s a difference. As I said, I have a pretty deep and abiding certainty — thanks to many artists, philosophers, and personal experiences — that there’s a huge freedom underlying all of this craziness. And I am most grateful that, for some reason, I have a passion for facing reality.

James Baldwin and a lot of Buddhist teachers have recommended facing reality, as opposed to bitter disbelief about corrupt and racist societies or woozy delusions about somehow finding the rainbows and unicorns hidden in old age, sickness and death.  Facing reality means you might actually get to work with it; otherwise you’re scowling, crouching in life’s musty corner, muttering about how things should be. “Psssst, hey buddy – yeah, you. Come over here so I can tell you what a piece of crap life is. No wait. Come over here. Ahh – fuck you!”

As Pearl Jam said, “I’m still alive.” It’s not too late for me to work with reality. It’s not too late to play with it, roll in it like a dog rolling on a dead chicken. He gets up, smelling like death, wagging his tail with a look on his face that says, “What? You don’t like rolling around on a dead chicken? You oughta try it!”

Maybe someone makes you wear the dead chicken around your neck, and then it’s not so fun anymore. That was my 60th year. But I’m 61 now.

 

 

GENITALS AND LOST FAITH

 

 

Zen Buddhism. It has been a constant source of strength for me since I was 19 and so frazzled by anxiety that I didn’t think I would survive my own mind.

Alan Watts, an openly hedonistic part of the Beat Zen scene in northern California, was my gateway “teacher” via a book called The Meaning of Happiness. I can remember where I was standing – in the bookstore of the University of Richmond – when I saw and bought the book. I had dabbled in Zen via existentialism and absurdist art, notably the work of playwrights Eugene Ionesco and Samuel Beckett. But with Watts’ brilliant explanation of Zen, my path was a little clearer and perhaps a little less bitter than the existential angst of Sartre and Camus.

I became a Zen tourist, making pilgrimages to this or that workshop, learning meditation from Roshi Philip Kapleau who wrote The Three Pillars of Zen, and from one of Sasaki Roshi’s senior students, Genro, when I came to New Mexico in 1976 and went to the Rinzai-ji Zen Center in the Jemez Mountains.

For a few years, I veered off into the Tibetan-flavored Buddhism of Chogyam Trungpa, until I could no longer sit with his devoted students’ support of a teacher whose alcoholism and womanizing were sad and blatant contradictions to the Buddhist precepts. At one point, when I was challenging one of Trungpa’s senior students with the logic of his teacher’s hypocrisy, I got pushed into a clump of bushes.

Back to Zen, where I thought at least dishonesty and bullshit are less likely to occur in a path so fiercely dedicated to experiencing reality. Unfortunately, it is also fiercely and persistently dedicated to a Japanese patriarchal mythology.

When I finally made the commitment to take on a teacher, I went much more intensely into practice, attending sesshins (Buddhist meditation retreats) and even considering ordination as a nun. I was appointed to the board of my teacher’s center, which eventually meant that I had to participate in firing that teacher. One woman and then others came forward to claim that he had engaged in inappropriate sexual conduct with them.

The list of Zen teachers in America who have engaged in inappropriate sexual conduct is long – ridiculously and pathetically long — as long as the list of Catholic priests who messed with little boys and politicians who fathered children with women other than their wives.

For me the list of lying, horny, predatory Zen “masters,” ends with the latest allegations against Sasaki Roshi, whose organization Rinzai-ji  oversees the Zen center I’ve been sitting with on and off for the past 35 years. The details have been in the The New York Times recently and are playing out in a sickeningly familiar battle involving lawyers, outraged students, and strident devotees.

What is thoroughly disgusting about this to me is the senior students and inner circle of devotees at Rinza-ji and their zombie-like defense and enabling of their “master” for 50 years in America. Most of them men.

I think that some of those monks actually admire the old man for his sexual manipulation of women who came to him for spiritual guidance — women he would select, women who would be brought to him in a room where he lay ready to have his genitals attended to. I think that some of the men who continue to support this 105 year old Jabba the Hut’s status as an enlightened, albeit “retired” teacher, consider his sexual exploits to be part of his greatness, though they will never admit that.

And then there are the women who willingly and eagerly have affairs with these predators, some of them being the initiators of such encounters, despite the fact that they are victimizing the teacher’s wife. Some of these women are teachers themselves now.

This is all bullshit. Pure and simple.

One of the most obscenely irrational arguments in support of these primate shenanigans is that the teacher is showing us that he is human.

Really?

Well, I think a fart or sneaking out for donuts, or maybe even one affair might do the trick.  I know a lot of humans who don’t set themselves up in the role of spiritual guide and then sexually molest people. I don’t need them to go that far to show that they’re human.

Happily, I continue to do the practice, to do zazen and feel its power. Happily, I believe in the wisdom of the precepts, including the one that calls for “right sexual conduct.”

Sadly, I am unable to tolerate the lineage crap and the rituals that go along with it, whether the teacher is a man or woman, just as I am unable to believe that the Old Testament is a scientific explanation of the development of species. Sadly, I have no faith left in the institution of Zen Buddhism, especially in America, where the intoxicant of hierarchy gets teachers drunk on power, including financial and sexual power.

Sadly, people will continue to seek refuge in religious institutions that are traps. Those lured in will find themselves asked to financially support some teacher’s lifestyle, whether it be humble or require Rolex watches, a new S.U.V., and include a sexual addiction.

There are enough books on Zen meditation and philosophy to help someone begin a practice of zazen. There are enough fellow practitioners to form group meditation support. And any teacher, anyone who is kind enough to share his or her experience on this path, should see him or herself as a servant, not a master, as a person who drives a bus or practices law for a living and teaches as a voluntary effort to help others who want to sit down and shed their delusions.

The emperor of American, maybe all, Zen Buddhism as an institution with boards of directors and marketing experts, has no clothes. This emperor is telling you he’s got a fine set of robes on that can help you find bliss and freedom, if you’ll only just stroke the cloth a little, you know, just to feel how fine it is.

When your own eyes and your own brain tell you, “This guy is naked,” you’re on your way to a fearless confluence with the truth.  And that is Zen.

 

Solitude

Think of the stereotype of people who are alone– the depressed woman in raggedy house slippers, t.v. on, some cats sprinkled around the room.

Or the teenager who’s too fat or too skinny or too weird and sits alone at the end of a cafeteria lunch table.

Or the paranoid man peering out of the peephole of an apartment door afraid to go out or let anyone in.

Or someone on facebook with one of those blank blue silhouettes and maybe eight friends.

It’s hard to imagine that there are people in this world who actually enjoy being alone sometimes, phone and computer off.  I’m one of them.

I’m not sure why – maybe because of some in utero mishap or lack of proper socialization – but I have always treasured, sometimes a little too desperately, my alone time. Maybe it’s because I grew up in a sweet bedroom all to myself, where I could read and dream and listen to music and pretend I was in tune with all kinds of profound stuff.

I didn’t (and don’t) want to be alone all the time. But when I’m around people for long stretches of time without any solitude, I start to feel creepy.

A few friends were golden pals throughout my girlhood. We conjured adventures together, stayed outside until dusk on summer nights, imagined treasures and elves and later true hippie love as we made gods of the Beatles and Bob Dylan. My best memories are of one on one connections and spacious moments of reflection. When I was ten years old, I saw the 1962 movie version of “Hamlet” with my friend Bitsy and her father. I watched him in the dim light of an ornate old movie theater in Richmond, Virginia, as he recited the lines along with Sir Lawrence Olivier. Mr. Perry died when I was in 7th grade; I think of him whenever I try to impart my love of “Hamlet” to my students.

In high school, I went straight from the margins of the preppy world to hot hippie chick. But my favorite times weren’t at the parties where I drank too much and flirted passionately. My favorite times were when I came home to my room, by myself, buzzed, and listened to music or lay in bed thinking about some guy.

I only lasted six weeks at Boston University with a roommate in a skyscraper full of people. Before dropping out, I often borrowed the single room of a girl across the hall, who got that room by convincing administrators that she was mentally messed up.

That must have been me – a mentally messed up person who yearned for a base of solitude.

I tried mightily to be a wife – three times.  It was not meant to be.

For years, decades, I’ve felt envy and shame around “everyone else” being able to cohabit, travel and party in large rollicking groups; to endure and ignore the constant noise of others in their space; to live nonstop for and with their families: always busy, always with projects.

Then at my friend Steve’s wedding, the Zen priest read a line from a Rilke poem: “in marriage we protect each other’s solitude.” Wow.

“…we protect each other’s solitude.” I can think of nothing more intimate and generous.

There are certain people in my life, loved ones, friends and family, who respect that notion. They are with me. I am with them. Even when we are alone.

Now the phrase, “I need my space,” isn’t a break-up line; it’s an explanation of how a relationship can work for me, and it wasn’t until I realized that and accepted the same insistent desire for autonomy in the man I live with that hope for a genuine partnership began.

Zen practice is a perfect manifestation of shared aloneness: people together in fervent isolation. We are all sitting in the same room, not speaking, sharing a private effort to get to the kind of solitude that includes everything and everyone.

I still have some envy of people steeped in a life with large and boisterous families, but I can take only so much togetherness before I have to drift away for a while.

And I don’t think I’m alone in this.

 

 

Open Letter to the Taliban

Dear Taliban,

If your fear of women and their freedom compels you to kill, kill me. I’m a sixty- year-old American woman. I probably consume too much of the world’s resources, and I’ve had a chance to live six decades. Plus I’m a Buddhist, and I know you hate Buddhists, because you’ve  destroyed irreplaceable and magnificent Buddhist art in Afghanistan.

I understand that you are cowards and like to attack schoolgirls, but consider my offer. If you have the urge to shoot women who want an education, I’d be a good choice. I have a Ph.D.

Young women like Malala are just beginning their brilliant lives, already wise and with years ahead of them to acquire knowledge and skills to brighten the world. I understand that they scare your pants off.  In your dim mind you know they’re already smarter than you are. But really, you’re wasting your time trying to kill all the girls in the world who want to be free, who feel their intelligence ready to bloom like a strong flower. You are far outnumbered by them. They will prevail.

So the suffering you’re imposing on these eager and innocent lives is intensely and horribly ignorant.

You do not represent Muslims; you do not represent Arabs. You are ignorant and inhumane destroyers of life and hope, the same thugs we’ve seen throughout history, those of us who have been educated about history – the thugs who use religion and ideology to support their insane agendas.

Tolerating your policies is not political correctness; it’s cooperating with the most dangerous combination there is: stupidity, fear and violence.

May all your daughters go to school! That is your only hope.

Sincerely,

Kate Horsley

 

Authors Foreword from New Book

[Below is a copy of the foreword to X&O: Short Works by me, Kate Horsley]

 

This collection of short works comes from and is about vastly

different stages in my personal and creative life.

 

“Rat” is about my childhood world in Richmond, Virginia, and

some of the major events that haunt me still.

 

“A Day at the Beach” is fictional but based on my experience

of the post-hippie world when idealism had pretty much gone

down the drain, leaving hedonism behind like the somewhat disgusting

crap left in the sink after the dishes have been washed.

 

“The Flight of the Luna Moth” was written in the same decade as the previous

two, the 70’s, but has been updated and is sadly still relevant in

terms of the tragic hardships children suffer due to adult stupid-

ity and economic shenanigans.

 

My adult life is starkly divided between the before and after of

my son’s death in April, 2000. The last six pieces in this col-

lection are from the “after” period.

 

“The Oracle: A Short Play” was one of eight plays selected in a national competition staged

at the Vortex Theater in Albuquerque, New Mexico, for its

2010 WomensWorkx production.

 

“Marla in Empty Space” cannot be explained.

 

“One Dentist, Many Frogs” was published in the online literary

magazine Pif and has been chosen for an anthology of its best

short stories.

 

“X and O: A Short Play” was written under an ongoing influ-

ence of theater of the absurd, including Beckett’s plays. I enter-

tain myself just thinking about this work.

 

“Stories for Leroy” was composed amidst horrible sickness

and raucous laughter as I hung out with Leroy, a patient in the

University of New Mexico palliative care program.

 

“The Buried Life: An Excerpt” is a work in progress based on

my relationship with a woman who died in 1921.

 

I want something in this collection to entertain you, the reader,

as my side of a conversation we should have about all the

absurd and poignant aspects of the human condition. I haven’t

figured it all out yet. Have you?

 

 

 

THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS

Remember Blanche Dubois in the play “Streetcar Named Desire”? Okay – maybe you don’t. Anyway, she says at some point, in her southern drawl, “I must rely on the kindness of strangers” – as though it was the most pitiful thing one could do.

Poor woman, she didn’t have a man to rely on. So sad.

Well, recently, I was traveling on my own to the East Coast. I didn’t have my man with me, and I was not feeling very strong or functional.

The first stop was Boston, where I got to hang out with two friends I have known for about 45 years. These are among the dearest people in my life, and we know each other very well. In fact, they have heard my angst – pretty much the same angst but with different details – for a long, long time, over and over again.

At some point, even I can hear myself telling the same story, tediously, like I’m a bad Beckett play where the second act is just like the first act, with the same scrawny tree on the stage, the same futile desire to change things without really changing things.

I had some great distractions from my tired script, thanks to my research in the Massachusetts Historical Archives on some awesome women who worked in a nursing corps during World War I; and thanks to my dear friend Catharine taking me for a swim in Walden Pond, among other things, and her super fine brother Vernon giving me a cello lesson. All great.

But then I would go glum, scared of my life as a sixty year old woman who felt frail and alone and like a burden.

I almost could not make a scheduled departure from my friend’s cozy home nestled in a leafy cul-de-sac. She practically had to hold my hand as I got on the train at the South Boston station.

More excellent distractions ensued, including a walk along some river in Connecticut with my nephew, his wife and two little boys, and a joyful golden retriever who leapt into the water, paddling fiercely to get that stick, yeah – get that stick, no matter what, get that stick. Ahh, to be so focused and sure.

Because once I was back in my beautiful guest room, the bed full of big pillows and sunlight, I was telling myself those stupid stories again, the same ones that I did not want to yammer on and on about to the people I loved. I gripped my cell phone, but did not open it.

Various relationships back home seemed to be disintegrating. My partner and I had had one of the worst blow-outs I can remember in a long list of blow-outs. My band was splitting up in a bitter confrontation that I felt responsible for. People I cared about were in depressive seclusion. All, all of it because  — I AM A BAD PERSON.

That’s the basic theme of all the stories that may initially go on and on about how cruel or stupid someone else is,  but inevitably teeter hysterically on the notion that KATE IS A BAD PERSON, SELF-CENTERED, WEAK, FUCKED UP. (It’s all about me, me, me — see how awful I am????!!?!!?)

I managed to get myself from Greenwich to Grand Central Station in New York City – a train station that starts off as a metaphor for a dark maze of filthy, noxious vapors because you get off the train in a dark maze of filthy, noxious vapors. And then up into the street, full of strangers. Nothing but strangers for as far as the eye can see – walking, sitting against buildings, trotting across streets, running up and down subway stairs, hundreds and thousands – even millions of strangers. Including the Senegalese cab driver who said, “Sure I can take you to Brooklyn.”

Now, the cab driver whose wisdom changes your life has become a cliché. This isn’t quite like that. It’s more about forgetting my shit because here’s somebody who has some shit, too, only he’s happy. And he tells good stories – not about how mean his wife is or about how much he struggles in life and is getting nowhere. No – his stories are about not taking the night shift because he wants to be home with his wife and kids. He even has a story about some good New York City cops – amazing and miraculous all by itself – cops  who helped him out when some drunk lady he took to Brooklyn said she didn’t have any money and couldn’t pay him. The cops found $250.00 on her and gave the cabbie $100.00 – a lot more than the fare, for having to put up with her shit and then sit around dealing with it while he could have been picking up more customers. When they asked him if he wanted to press charges, he said, “Let her go. I don’t want to go through the hassle of filling out reports and all that.”

“Poor lady,” he said. “She was just drunk. She didn’t need any more trouble.” Kind of like Blanche Dubois, I’m thinking.

He also told me about some old guy from Jersey years ago who told him he was in New York for the same reason he always came to New York – to see the Yankees. When the fresh from Senegal cab driver asked him “Who are these Yankees,” the old guy told him to pull the fucking cab over, threw what he owed through the driver’s side window and said, “I ain’t driving with no fucking cabbie who don’t know who the Yankees are.”

Speaking sometimes in French, which I love to do, we declared our faith in Obama and how fine it was that the Supreme Court upheld his health care plan. We discussed the NBA finals and how it was too bad the Celtics didn’t pull through.

By the time he put my luggage in front of the flat I was staying in, the world seemed a lot bigger and a lot more interesting than my repeated tales of, “And then he said ….and I don’t think I can handle…..”

This stranger had safely taken me from the dark maze of filthy, noxious vapors to the funky refuge flat in Park Slope that I stay in whenever I come to Brooklyn.

Right there on the sidewalk, in a city full of strangers, I hugged the Senegalese cab driver I’d only known for about twenty minutes. Another crazy fare. But he patted my back and laughed softly.

He was just doing his job efficiently while sharing stories about the somehow endearing madness of life, with its drunk ladies and pissed off Yankee fans from Jersey, with its Justice Roberts surprise votes for the right side, with devotion to wife and children, all this while letting me believe I could actually speak French. He didn’t know about how bad I was or about the band and the traumatic fight with the boyfriend. And I had no compulsion whatsoever to tell him.

All this was a simple, subtle but immense act of kindness, in no way pitiful.

 

 

WHAT I CAN’T WRITE ABOUT

Virginia Woolfe wrote an essay called “The Angel in the House,” explaining that women have to kill the angel voice inside them in order to be powerful writers. Truman Capote didn’t have any problem with that voice. He wrote about anything he felt like writing about with scathing and scalding clarity.

Virginia Woolfe never wrote about what many speculate was childhood sexual abuse. Maybe that restrictive angel, the one who advises women to hide unpleasantness, would not die. At 59, Woolfe killed herself.  Truman Capote died at the same age of liver disease; he had poured gallons of alcohol over any censoring angel inside him, allowing him to release some of his demons before his liver succumbed.

I believe that many writers today, mostly American and mostly women, are pulling punches, letting their most powerful blows be either held back by that old “Be nice” angel or the new “Be numb” Prozac mentality. But one cannot write strong literature without risking being disowned by strangers and loved-ones alike. One cannot write strong literature while wanting to be liked by everyone. The gift a writer gives is some truth that will expand a reader’s mind and heart.  Pretty lies don’t do that.

I hide in historical stories. I put my experience with sexual abuse in the 19th century in New Mexico. I put shameful and painful aspects of my relationships in 6th century Ireland or 19th century Paris. I put my own immoral and dishonest traits in a man taking a train from Boston to New Mexico in the 19th century. I put my years of promiscuity and the trauma of my son’s death in 14th century Ireland.

So I’m much more of a coward than Truman Capote. And I’m certainly not as successful as he was.

What I can’t write honestly about are the people in my life who wield power over me, whose approval I want, and even more futilely, whose unceasing affection I want. I can’t let fly with their stories and my reactions to them. I sort of did that once, in a fictional context in which only the person targeted knew what was going on, and I got a psychic and emotional whipping for it. I couldn’t stand the heat.

What I can’t write about is the suffering I’ve caused to innocent people, even animals, because of my unresolved and out of control rage. I can’t write about the Iago-like evil I’ve felt capable of – how I’ve wanted to ruin lives out of resentment. And that’s another reason I’m reluctant to go after the objects of my obsessions in writing, because I very well may be doing so out of resentment rather than out of a desire to reveal truth.

The catharsis of writing can be so powerful and purging, if one is willing to deal with toxic levels of anger and coldness.

Disdain, contempt, backs turned to me, icy glances and exclusion – those are the elements of my nightmares that keep me huddled in a corner of potential.

I also can’t, or don’t yet have the nerve to, write forthrightly about my spiritual experiences, because I am not yet willing to endure them being ridiculed, or even ignored.

Currently, I’m researching a woman whom I plan to write about, either in non-fiction or in a novel. She is the subject of the song I wrote and that my band The Vagibonds performed on a You Tube video.  I haven’t been able to go beyond the ballad of her experiences on the Titanic, though I spent three weeks in France researching her time as a medical volunteer on the French front during World War I. And the reason for this particular writer’s block is that to really say it, I will have to come out of one of my closets, because half-truths are no gift to readers.

How I came across this woman goes against all the cynical intelligence of a large number of people who matter to me. It has convinced me of what Hamlet said to his dearest friend: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,  than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

Vehemently contradicting the philosophies of others and exposing oneself to ridicule and rejection are not easy. Go ask Virginia and Truman; look at the lackluster, easy reading that has become American literature today. Increasingly, my students write about vampires or romantic failures due to a chronic lack of caring. Their vapidity isn’t so much a result of the angel in the house as it is of the cynical adolescent in the house — the one who seems to be running the publishing world.

Yes, I’m bitter. My last two manuscripts haven’t found a publisher. That also adds to an urge to give up, have a drink, pop a pill and hang out with the angels.  More compelling than that, more compelling than fear or even pride – much, much stronger – is the urge to write. But for me, that means I need to keep digging when the hole gets darker but the treasures get richer, no matter who reads or doesn’t read, likes or doesn’t like what I bring to the surface.

The Religious Assault on Women: Enough Already

 

Morally weak heterosexual men have two strategies for getting laid: rape and religion.

Rapists are straight-forward worthless criminals.

Men who use religion to justify their control of women are delusional lunatics and/or diabolical bullshitters able to create entire cultures.

Take Joseph Smith for example. He was alone in the woods when an angel came to him and said, among other things, that polygamy was not only okay, but God recommended it. Joseph was really happy to hear that, and so were a lot of other men he told his story to. Though upstanding members of the Church of the Latter Day Saints now rebuke the idea of polygamy, there are large numbers of Mormon men who have not forsaken Joseph Smith’s original inspiration to have God-sanctioned access to as much ass as possible.

But I don’t want to just pick on the LDS.

All Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), as well as many others, such as Hinduism, are righteously patriarchal and lend themselves to the blatant notion that women need to be controlled by men. This is a very convenient dogma for guys who, before DNA testing, hated that women were the only ones who could be absolutely certain that they were the parents of their children.

Males are hardwired to want certainty that their genetic stuff is going to thrive.

To this end, a chimpanzee basically gets buff, fights off other males and then waits for the females to bend over willingly for him. Chimpanzees don’t quote scripture to ensure their dominance.

Men who concoct religious support for satisfying their libidos don’t like the idea of leaving their success up to women. They spout righteous reasons to control women’s choices, including biblical stories about women being reckless and evil. They’re evil because they look good, forcing men to want them; plus, the whores just might have sex for their own reasons and pleasure. So, husbands, brothers and fathers need to have exclusive access to them and make sure they don’t have the freedom to go around being evil and reckless.

But not in America, right?

Good Christian men in America are now slithering out into public view — in this nation where women are doctors, lawyers and political leaders – to question a woman’s right to have access to birth control; or to mandate that women undergo vaginal penetration with ultrasound probes against their consent before they can exercise their legal choice to abort a pregnancy. And there’s no doubt that many men in the religious right end of this country want to reverse Roe v. Wade, making abortions illegal. All of this without input from women themselves.

And is it any coincidence that the urge to impede a woman’s autonomy over her own means of reproduction is manifesting publicly at a time when the number of women choosing to have children without having husbands is increasing, steadily and shamelessly?

There are seriously sick consequences to the systemic, religiously based, support of men’s desperate desire to control women’s sexuality. Here’s a partial list: female genital mutilation, stoning an allegedly adulterous woman to death, using women as property – selling and trading them, throwing acid in the faces of girls who want an education or dare to refuse a man’s proposal, marriage and fornication with 12 year old girls; and this is a list of activities that go unpunished and are in some cases openly legal.

Women are not victims of this assault because they are weak; they are targets of it because of their strengths. Women have the potential, given control over their reproductive lives, to frustrate the hell out of men who want them to put out on demand, not run a country or focus on raising a limited number of children well. Women have the potential, given control over their reproductive lives, to clean up this sorry world that patriarchy has trashed, and motivate men to join them in bed and in running the world using intelligence and integrity.

Women are not weak. Women have a lot of power that they too often fritter away on buying shoes, checking their hair for split ends, or talking about their neuroses. Women need to realize that the assault on their reproductive autonomy could branch out to limit the number of shoes they get to buy and to a mandate to cover up their hair and get the hell out of law school.

Women who buy into the very religions that support their subjugation have sometimes been able to use scripture and Mother Mary to dance around the patriarchal premises.  But the power of women, which is badly needed in our world and clearly under attack, is greatly shackled by dogmas created by and for men who do not want women to believe in or use their strengths and wisdom.

In the 9th century the Catholic Church outlawed women being warriors. Too bad for the men they’d been fighting beside. And in subsequent centuries, strong women got branded as witches to be used as fuel for public fires.

Women were brutalized for insisting on their right to vote in the early 20th century.

But guess what? There are women who fight beside men; there are strong women whose wisdom is put to use for nations; and women have the vote, birth control and the right to choose to abort a pregnancy.

Let’s not lose ground; let’s not let religious propaganda take away one of the greatest hopes we have for a saner world: autonomous women.