A constellation of consistent emotional incapacities leading to zero-sum relationships which are only conflict free as long as you remain conciliatory. Any conflict, should it arise, will be fought to the death, the carnage blamed entirely on you.

Word to the wise: get out.

A specific use of the word “beautiful”

I am about fifty pages into trying to put this real-life horror movie into book form, this story of cooties in the kindergarten playground, dictated to me, with an air of inevitability I can now almost taste, by a group of old friends, every detail exactly perfect as it happened. If by perfect we mean “beautiful” in the sense certain Ukrainian Jews used to use the word beautiful.

One example of this special use of “beautiful” was the explanation given to a Ukrainian Jew, in 1942, about why a Ukrainian policeman had to shoot a young Jew who had stolen bread. The Jew, who saw the policeman leading the boy away at gunpoint, had sought to save the kid’s life. He tried to convince the policeman, a man he knew, to punish him in a less extreme way, perhaps a beating and a fine. The Jew described how the policeman explained himself, “in a beautiful way.”

Let’s say I fine him,” said the policeman, “and he can’t pay the fine. And we both know he can’t pay the fine, that’s why he stole bread. So if I let him go with a fine that he can’t pay, am I really doing him any kind of favor? Things will go very badly for him in a very short time, with the SS, and I’ll also be in trouble. So by shooting him, I’m actually performing a kind of mercy, it’s better all around, for everybody.”

When I describe the story that a group of my lifelong friends have dictated to me as beautiful, this is the sense in which I mean beautiful.

Message from the Holy Land

Dearest Elliot [sic],

I got your letter yesterday and after trying to read the whole thing a few times, I stopped and just slept on it.

I tried to think about why you were writing it and why to me.

I can’t say I was able to make sense of it, but my heart clearly understood. 

I felt how much pain you are in and how deep your suffering goes. It obviously didn’t begin with the event that triggered your divorce from your bosom buddy and the community that came with him. It began way back within your own family and all the unfinished business you carry like an albatross throughout all your relationships and life.

The letter was more like a purge than an invitation to a conversation. 

I also don’t believe there’s anything I can say to you that will assuage your suffering. If you’re willing to unpack it all, you have to see a professional.  I can tell you that Ilan found his peace many many years ago through meditation. I can attest to the change the man internalized over the years and the impact it has had on our life together. 

If you’re comfortable with just being ‘right’ you’ll spend your life brewing and it will take it to the grave. If you want to find your peace, you know what you have to do. If you want to face your demons you have to find a neutral setting and do all the hard painful work that it takes. You can’t change all the people in your world, but you can change yourself and heal.

Think about it Elliot [sic]. Do you want to throw away the remainder of your years by being angry, by being ‘right’ or do you want to find your peace.

Only you have the answer. 

With much love,


I replied with more explanation of why I’d been so hurt and so forth. That night I had a call from the Flying Monkey, Redacted’s best friend and confidant. After that loving chat, I had no choice but to amend my reply:

Oh, one last thing.  You asked why I sent you the pages you could make no sense of.   A reason I forgot to mention in my previous email is that I consider you perhaps the sharpest and most perceptive person in the circle.  I was hoping for understanding, which, clearly, you could not provide.

In replying to you a few days ago I made the same stupid mistake I’ve been making all along, since that hideous year bookended by two angry Yom Kippurs.  I tried to use reason to persuade someone who had clearly made up her mind, based on the other party to my ugly “divorce” from X/Y having already persuaded everyone we know in common that they behaved perfectly and Eliot is, alone in the history of divorce and every other conflict, entirely to blame for everything that happened.  When he’s frustrated he says the fucking f-word!  And worse!

It was very clear from your moralistic response that you follow that interpretation, only one party has behaved aggressively and immaturely (from my point of view, I am not that party, of course – and I have the receipts, if anyone who has judged me unworthy of friendship were interested in being fair, or empathetic). 

Consider for a second: if I was the enraged person you portrayed in your pitying judgment, would I have reacted as mildly as I did to what can fairly be seen as the judgment of someone who feels infinitely superior to me?  Based on a false account imparted during a successful attempt to assassinate my good name among people I have long loved, listened to, made laugh?   No feelings I might have about being unfairly judged and banished by an entire group of old friends, most of whom I never had a hint of a quarrel with, are appropriate — except as manifestations of a need for intensive psychiatric work?  

When someone you care about is upset, you ask them what happened, you listen to them.  You offer to help, if you can. 

When someone is upset and you tell them they have no right to be upset, that they are wrong, and immature, and irrationally clinging to childhood pain, and unable to get past their previous abuse, are aggressively angry, unforgiving, hellbent on being right at all costs and trying to change everyone in the world but themselves, and are unwilling to do the hard work everyone else in pain has presumably done to become more fully human — well, you really shouldn’t sign that kind of message “much love,” darling.

I’ll leave our dear friend the final word on this ugliness (well, me, actually, but you know how I am).

The only way to flush these hard feelings, dear Seedj, is by having the last word in a quiet battle with self-righteous, toxically clannish pinheads.

Dream from the book

I was sitting in the front row of a good sized theater, like a large university lecture hall, a movie of some kind was playing on the screen. The lights in the room were also on and nobody in the room seemed to be paying much attention to what was on the screen. There was general conversation going on throughout the hall.

In the row behind me sat the adult son of old friends of mine, a good looking young man with a bison-sized head, even more so in the dream. We were chatting amiably when he leaned forward, inclining his impressive head until his chin rested heavily, but affectionately, on my shoulder.

He told me quietly, into my ear, that I’d gotten him into hot water with his parents, by telling them about some homemade cannabis edibles I’d sent him recently. His parents, long time enjoyers of good cannabis, were apparently militantly anti-cannabis these days and I’d compromised him by outing him with my loose lips.

I apologized, assured him that the last time we’d seen each other, his father and I’d smoked a joint together. I told him I was sorry to have put him in hot water by my unintended indiscretion. Then I imparted my own news, his father and mother had withdrawn all meaningful signs of their friendship from me, after fifty years.

Suddenly, cinematically, he was seated in the last row of the amphitheater, covered by the same blue blanket the rest of his college classmates in the seats around him were draped in.

“Are you writing the book?” he asked, his voice as clear and close as when he was seated next to me. I told him I sure was.

We spoke back and forth for a moment until I told him I was uncomfortable having this kind of private conversation by calling across a large, crowded room.

It was good seeing him.

Attachment v. Authenticity

Gabor Maté, in The Myth of Normal, points out that we have a primary need for attachment, that it is impossible to survive as infants or live healthily without close attachment to others.

Our other primary need is authenticity, being true to ourselves, being in touch with what we mostly deeply need. When these things are in conflict… watch out.

As Maté writes “for many people these attachment circuits powerfully override the ones that grant us rationality, objective decision making or conscious will, a fact that explains much of our behavior across multiple realms.”

Dig it.

The right to be heard

Chapter 11 (from a work in progress)

If you are a humanistic person, you probably believe that every child is born with the right to be heard. It is one of those unalienable rights Thomas Jefferson enumerated in the Declaration of Independence (omitted from our Constitution for the practical, profit-driven reason that many men – and all women – were not created equal to their owners, nor endowed with jack shit). A child is born with a right to be heard.

Much of what the child has to say, granted, can be annoying as hell. First it’s crying and screaming about things the parents can only guess about, and unless they guess right, it will never stop. Hungry? Load in the diaper? Feeling neglected? Wet? Cold? Wanting a hug? Who the hell can tell? For some parents, this irrationally complaining baby’s incoherent crankiness will set the tone for the subsequent relationship.

You were belly-aching from the time you were born,” a father will tell his needy son, once the boy is old enough. “I didn’t know what you were screaming about then and I don’t know what you’re upset about now. You have a room of your own, in a nice house, with heat, hot water, all the food you can eat, clothes, sneakers, toys, games – and you know how hard I work to give you all those things. And yet you complain. I have no idea what it is you think you’re somehow owed and not getting… (etc.)”

This may all be true, from the father’s point of view, but none of it is any help to the child, who still wants to be heard.

What is your fucking problem, son? Use your words.”

You don’t listen to me,” says the boy.

“What are you talking about? I’m listening to you right now, son. All I ever hear from you is complaints, if it’s not something you can explain to me, it’s some gripe you can’t put into words.”

You’re not hearing me, dad. When I talk I can see what I’m saying does not go into your head. You never hear what I say.”

That’s insane,” says the father, “I heard what you said just now, right now, five seconds ago. You said I’m not hearing you, that your words don’t get into my head, that I never hear what you say. I heard all that. How can you say I never hear you?”

The son is no match for this adult and his implacable logic and soon gives up, still feeling he is never heard. Why does he feel this way? When he says he’s scared, his mother tells him he has nothing to be scared about. When he tells his father he’s cold, the father tells him the temperature in the house and explains why it’s impossible to feel cold at that temperature. The adults always unite to insist that they have heard everything reasonable he has to say.

You have the right to be heard. If someone claims to love you, and will not listen to what you have to say, take the brutal hint, stop talking and call someone who can listen. If there is nobody around, sit in a quiet place and put your words down on a page. You have the right to be heard, no matter what people who claim to be better than you might have to say about it.

Diane Feinstein, at a very diminished 89

The New York Times headline:

Feinstein, Back in the Senate, Relies Heavily on Staff to Function

The California Democrat is surrounded by a large retinue of aides at all times, who tell her how and when to vote, explain what is going on when she is confused, and shield her from the press and public.

Mmm, not quite ideal in a closely divided Senate, if you hear what I’m sayin’.

The Grey Lady continues:

All senators rely heavily on staff. But for years, Ms. Feinstein’s memory problems have meant that she has needed far more support than other senators. Briefing her on the news of the day requires longer sessions and more background information.

At times she has expressed confusion about the basics of how the Senate functions. When Vice President Kamala Harris was presiding over the chamber last year in one of many instances in which she was called upon to cast a tiebreaking vote, Ms. Feinstein expressed confusion, according to a person who witnessed the scene, asking her colleagues, “What is she doing here?” Staff members have been overheard explaining to her that she cannot leave yet because there are more votes to come. . .

. . . For now, her aides have been left to figure out how to make Ms. Feinstein’s office work as well as it can in the absence of a fully functional senator. They have done so, some of them said, by relying on the senator’s three decades’ worth of policy positions and explicit systems she put in place long ago that were designed to make her office efficient — and which earned her a reputation for running one of the more demanding work places on Capitol Hill.