Impossible Letter #1 Big Surprise…

Impossible letter, indeed.

A few days ago (a mere 70 hours) I sent a short email to the daughter of longtime close friends, asking for her address so I can print out and mail a letter to her.  I told her I thought the letter might be useful to her. I wanted to mail it, rather than send it electronically, to give her a few moments of privacy with it before forwarding an electronic version of it to the family board of refutation.  (Here is a slightly redacted version of that letter.)


Her father had told me over and over, before withdrawing his friendship forever, that no matter what I said about our conflict, he wasn’t going to change his mind about anything.   He’d told me that he’s walked away from friendships for less than what I’d done to him (whatever that may have been — he never elaborated).  He told me I’d never seen him really angry, and that, trust him, I didn’t want to. As for anger, it was unfair, and totally wrong, to call his wife’s rage at me “rage”, it was just ordinary anger and she had apologized for allowing herself to be so provoked by my threatening aggressiveness.  He reserved the right to get indignant, over and over, as we ‘worked out’ our differences (I was hurt — no you weren’t!).   He spun every hurtful encounter, no matter how destructive to our friendship, into “progress”.  When I presented him with stark facts, he went silent, for a month, then called to see if I had learned my fucking lesson.  He concluded I hadn’t and that’s that.

I told my physical therapist that the adult daughter’s solution to having grown up in this kind of home was to openly declare her parents gods.  At every New York performance she would take a moment to salute her parents, her idols, and announce that her mother is a goddess.

“That’s creepy,” the therapist said, stretching my leg.  I nodded.

“Creepy, but smart,” she said, and I chuckled at how astute that was.

Big surprise that my final offer to tell the young woman what I thought would be helpful to her — not to blame herself because her parents had forced her into musical regimentation at a critical time in the young prodigy’s development out of ignorance, they didn’t know musical geniuses like Paul Simon couldn’t read music — fell again on deaf ears.  I thought I could help, relieve the kid of the burden of blaming herself for everything painful between her and her difficult parents, but apparently I can only hurt, now that I’ve brutally, gratuitously tortured and decapitated both of her godlike parents.

So the thing she learned from her upbringing in a house of absolute right and absolute wrong is the thing she does by reflex.  I get it.   As long as she remains sober, she’s ahead of the game, I suppose.  Like Eric Clapton.

Impossible Letter # 1

Dear T:

This note will have to stand in for the conversation I’d hoped to have with you for the last fifteen years or so.  Writing to an excellent writer makes me a little more hopeful that you will take in the message I am trying to convey.

The summary version: you need to let yourself completely off the hook for harmful childhood conflicts that were not mostly your fault.   Forgiveness is a great gift to give yourself, I can’t recommend it highly enough and I hope to convince you how indispensable it is.  It comes, in part, from looking clearly at the past and drawing honest, merciful conclusions about life.  It comes from an understanding that is often impossible to come to on our own.

My need to tell you this was kicked into high gear a few years back when a concerned C referred me to your final piece on that website you worked for.  In that emotional essay you painted the picture of yourself as a problem child who had inflicted great harm on your family by being an asshole. Why you felt that way is understandable.  For one thing, your parents, as I have now seen up close, are pros at presenting a united and unyielding front, no matter how strong the merits of the position they are opposing are.

Making this letter a bit more ticklish to write is the indigestibly tragic fact that your parents have judged me a person unworthy of their love (I know, in their version I did that to them).  A year or two ago this letter, making a simple point about self-mercy, would have come from a beloved family friend.  Not the case today. The short history (which omits occasional thoughtless treatment over the years that I never made an issue about) is that after a few days of an increasingly stressful Yom Kippur holiday in Woodstock, your mother lost her temper at me.   

In her mind she was being considerate to me and my arthritic knees by giving me the choice of two hikes that would begin at 10 a.m. the next morning.  To me, she was micromanaging the ‘vacation’ in a maddening way that was wearing me out.  In addition to the unacknowledged, escalating tension in that beautiful rented house, I’d been doing everything on short sleep as is my custom when hanging out with others, ignoring my circadian clock for a few days for the sake of spending more time with friends.  Feeling that I was resisting her at one point, she glared at me with a laser beam of hostility I have only seen on one other face: my abusive father’s.

Note how easily the entire “conflict” could have been avoided had I made it clear that everyone was free to do whatever they wanted in the morning, my feelings wouldn’t be hurt by not being there, I’d be glad to sleep until rested and see everyone when they got back.  Sadly, I hadn’t made this clear and, of course, that ship has now sailed forever.

A few hours after she stormed off to go to bed, insisting we had to leave at 10 a.m. and not 11 (your father had offered that compromise), I found myself retraumatized.  I was a 65 year-old adult, treated to a rage I saw frequently in my deeply damaged father, an unreasoning reflex to rage that he was bereft about as he was dying.  The sharp pain I felt in my lungs was identical to the familiar emotional punch in the chest from my childhood.  How was it possible to be treated this way, as an adult, by a dear friend I loved, who loved me, who I’d never had a cross word with in 50 years?  I’d been unable to close my eyes when I finally went to bed.  I didn’t want to wake Michele, I paced the house, unable to go outside because it was raining all night.  Of course it was.

In the morning, around dawn, your dad came into the living room to daven.  I was sitting in a chair, we nodded at each other and I turned aside to give him privacy to pray to HaShem.  He went back to his bedroom, came out shortly afterwards with your mom, who looked haggard and beaten.  I could hardly recognize her.  She told me she needed to talk. I told her I hadn’t slept, needed to sleep, was too upset to be sure I wouldn’t say something hurtful, something I wouldn’t be able to take back.  She insisted that she needed to talk right away.  I didn’t argue with her.

Her apology was painful to her, clearly, maybe even humiliating, but crabbed as it was, her desire to make peace felt sincere to me.  I told her I accepted her apology.  When she said at the end, uncharacteristically, “I need a hug” I hugged her and kissed her and went to get some sleep.

During her problematic apology (she made it clear she was apologizing not because she’d done anything wrong, but only because my aggressive, threatening manner had caused her to fear me, hence her bad reaction) she mentioned that I had made her feel the way you used to during your many fights.  And, BINGO.

Like you, I was the “genius” of my tormented little family, and also, the eternal adversary of a prosecutorial parent who needed to “win” every conflict, in my case my father.   On the last night of his life my father was filled with regret and was finally vulnerable enough to acknowledge that he’d been aware of the many times I’d tried to make peace with him over the years.  He beat himself for being too fucked up to reciprocate.  I did my best to reassure him that he’d done the best he could, that if he could have done better he would have. 

I think he was grateful for my merciful attitude, and I was grateful to hear him apologize for the first and only time in his life.  But what a tragic fucking “healing” it was, I closed his dead eyelids as the sun was setting the following day.

In the aftermath of our mutual trauma in Woodstock, two days later, your mother did something thoughtless, suddenly walking out while I was preparing the lunch she’d just brought me the ingredients for (she’d unilaterally decided she wanted something else, was taking Michele into town to go shopping).  After nervous peacemaker Michele kept anxiously asking me what was wrong with me, why I was so upset and so forth I finally exploded for a moment, uttered the dreaded fucking f-word, and the rest is history.   

Directing the word “fuck” to your loved one, in your parents’ eyes, I learned, is as unforgivable as beating her with a stick and repeatedly kicking her in the stomach.  My immediate apologies were weak tea coming from an abusive wife-beater, they weren’t sure they could ever really forgive me for that.  They remained upset for some time over my brutality, likely they still are today.

All of this should have been relatively easy to untangle.  Old loving friends, a couple of misunderstandings that could have been easily avoided (in hindsight), tensions nobody could talk about (I still don’t know what exactly is going on between your folks, they didn’t trust us enough to share anything specific) erupting into little outbursts of understandable frustration.  

It only becomes impossible to resolve when the need to feel justified, perfect, beyond criticism comes into the picture, becomes the entire picture.  As you sagely said at the second seder “never disagree with M.”

This letter has taken a slight detour from what I’d intended to convey to you, so let’s shift the focus back to your childhood and what I set out to tell you.  You were a musical prodigy.  Your parents didn’t want you to have the miserable, high-pressure life of a child star, they wanted to prevent you from becoming a monster and having an unhappy adulthood.  Their solution, classical piano lessons, was not a particularly good one, but it was done with good intentions.  

I’m sure your parents were unaware that Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney (and the other Beatles), Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, Taylor Swift, Aretha Franklin, Django, Jimi and other musical giants (I suspect Joni, too, but couldn’t confirm it) can’t read music. Reading music, to your parents, was essential to being a competent, professional musician and songwriter.  Therefore, classical piano lessons and a succession of frustrating, frustrated, piano teachers.   Sadly, your parents didn’t understand that love of music, and playing and inventing it purely out of love, is the best way to develop a talent like yours.

I was at the dinner table at 181st Street when you sat on your dad’s lap.  V was there too, and recalls this also. You were a curly haired two or three year-old.  Your eyes twinkled as you got my attention across the table.  It was like you were saying “watch this, are you ready?” Then, a moment later, almost with a wink to me, you instantly sent your father into a spasm of anger.

Soon thereafter he went into therapy to learn how to avoid becoming the kind of angry, destructive parent his mother had been.  When he was satisfied he wouldn’t traumatize you the same way, he stopped therapy.

I’ll try to give you the schematic view now: whatever happened to H [T’s grandmother] to make her H (the dark side of her) led to her short temper with your father, her lack of control as she slapped him hard in the face whenever she got angry.   All very bad shit, no question, terrible and inexcusable.  

I’ve told your father the story of my eventual breakthrough in therapy (aided by my father’s first cousin who gave me the heartbreaking image of my father, as a toddler, whipped in the face repeatedly by his psycho mother) that allowed me to, not exactly forgive, but come to a useful understanding.  

I saw that my anger at my father was only hurting me (and certainly not helping him, though fuck him).  Bad as it was, he’d done the best he could.  I was still pissed, but, fortunately, I had enough emotional distance and understanding to be present and compassionate when my father was suddenly on his deathbed.  I was no longer going to reduce him to the sum of his inadequacies as a parent.  I had no axe to grind, only sorrow.  Luckily for both of us, we had one great, decades-overdue, honest conversation the last night of his life, and then he was gone. 

I kept urging your father to work toward this point in his feelings about his mother, while there is time.  It is a fucking tragedy to have this kind of deathbed reconciliation and to be left thinking of all the wasted years of senseless warfare that could have been avoided by mutual forgiveness, all the love foolishly lost.  

So much for a schematic view, here’s another shot: Your father can’t forgive his mother.  As a partial result, he can’t forgive himself.  Even as he understands it comes from his mother’s irrational demands, he feels he needs to be perfect, anything less is a torment to him.  None of us are perfect. 

When we hurt people all we can do is apologize and try to make amends.  It is the same with ourselves.  When you’ve done everything possible to fix a broken relationship, for example, and nothing is helping, in the end you have to let yourself off the hook or you go mad, turning the anger on yourself.  The only thing to do when someone you love is truly sorry about something they did to you is to accept their apology, forgive them, as you forgive yourself.  Can’t forgive yourself?  Can’t really forgive anyone else, or really love them. 

Would you have been a more prolific, protean composer if you hadn’t had those years in the straitjacket of involuntary classical piano?  Who knows.  We are all responsible for our own lives and our actions.  That’s not the same as taking the blame for things that are beyond our, or possibly anyone’s, responsibility and ability to fix or make right. 

I was tortured for more than a year trying to make peace with your parents.  The days before the following Yom Kippur, it turned out, were not right for the honest conversation we needed to have, your father got angry that I pressed for it, stormed out of the restaurant.   I kept thinking there was something more I could do, some big life lesson I still needed to learn.  More patience, more kindness, more goodwill, more benefit of the doubt, more dispassion, more love. 

One day I read Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer, an excellent, thought-provoking book about Mormonism and the hazy boundary between genuine religious inspiration and psychopathy.   At the sentencing phase of the trial for a Mormon who claimed he’d killed his wife and daughter because God commanded him to, the guy’s lawyer made the case that he was mentally ill and shouldn’t be executed.  Krakauer quotes the defense attorney:

When narcissists are confronted by people who disparage their extravagant claims they tend to react badly.  They may plunge into depression or become infuriated.  When narcissists are belittled or denigrated they feel horrible.  They have this sense that they’re either grandiose, perfect and beautiful people, or absolutely worthless.  So, if you challenge their grandiosity “they respond with humiliation or rage” (DSM IV).

Fuck me, I thought.  That’s where the ongoing, defensive displays of indignation and anger come from, a desperate fear of humiliation.  To your mother, who seemed freshly enraged that her humiliating apology was seemingly ignored when I got upset at the next thing she supposedly did, and your father, neither of whom I’d ever imagined might be narcissists, there is no middle ground.  They are either good, perfectly admirable people, or they seem to feel utterly worthless and humiliated.  No wonder they kept getting angry whenever I tried to talk painful things out with them.  In their zero-sum world our falling out HAD to be my fault, 100%. If I didn’t accept that, I was leaving the door open to a terrifying nightmare for them, that they had done something wrong that deeply hurt someone they loved and that therefore they were unworthy of love themselves.  That was not going to happen, and they’d do everything necessary to make sure it didn’t, including killing our long, deep friendship.  Hell of a price to pay, no?

Maybe my estrangement from them, and the insight that finally made me stop flailing against it, adds a compelling dimension to this letter.  Something that should be fairly straightforward for old best friends to fix “Eliot, we understand why you were upset, why you lost it for a second, why it was so hurtful to you when we couldn’t accept your apology, why you needed to say what we would never let you say, it was wrong of us to angrily shout you down, not to mention not showing any appreciation for you reacting in friendship instead of anger each time one of us snarled at or threatened you…” proved impossible for them.  Now that I had that framework from Krakauer I had a way to understand the life or death stakes that made it impossible for either of them to say anything like that.

Enough about me, (although my recent experience with your folks might resonate with your own) this letter is about you.  You recall that powerful moment from Goodwill Hunting when Robin Williams, as the psychiatrist, keeps repeating to Will “it’s not your fault.”?  It’s not your fault, T. 

We all sometimes, in some ways, act like assholes.  The assholes who can calm down, do their best to make amends and can truly forgive themselves, without conditions, love themselves (and others) the best.   I don’t mean forgive yourself no matter what and fuck trying to do better and everybody else. I mean, ultimately, when all the thinking and analyzing are done, and every demonstration of good will is exhausted, realizing you did the best you could, if you did, or, if not the best you could, maybe the best you could have done under those bad circumstances, is key. 

Years ago my parents’ best friend, Arlene, took me for a walk at sunset, on a beautiful hill overlooking a verdant river valley soon to be “developed” by “developers”.  She lit up a tiny pipe, we each took a couple of hits, and she laid something heavy on me that turned on a light in the universe for me. She told me to put what she was telling me in my pocket, think about it, that it might take a while to sink in.  

“You know your parents are my best friends,” she said.  I did, there was never more laughter in our house than when she and Russ visited.  The laughter would come up the stairs to our bedrooms when we were children, along with the smell of smoke from Arlene’s chain smoking.

“I know you carry the burden of feeling like you are a disappointment to your parents, that you feel like youre the cause of their unhappiness and have to do something remarkable with your life to make them happy.  You need to know that your parents are very unhappy people, having nothing to do with you.  You don’t need to carry the heavy weight of their unhappiness.  You should put that burden down, it’s not your fault and it’s not yours to carry.”

No need to put that one in my pocket.   It was like she’d reached up and pulled a string to turn on the light.  We need to see what is our’s to own, and try to fix, and what is not.  The simple truth of it, obvious as it also was, almost immediately illuminated the start of a long path out of a particular misery that had always been completely unnavigable.  

I have wanted to pay that blessing forward for forty years.  Whether I have done so now is up to you.  

If you get back to me, remind me that there is one more piece of this puzzling turn with your parents that I want to run by you and your brothers.  While it is almost certainly impossible to resume our friendship (the breezy social version I offered at D’s wedding apparently infuriated them), for the reasons I’ve set out above, I still care about them and have a specific concern about your father’s health, which doesn’t belong in this letter.   Not that there’s anything I can do about it, except bounce it off his kids.

My best to J.



context for Impossible Letter # 1, The Genius

My two dear friends had a daughter with remarkable talents.  The first she displayed was an amazing ability to provoke her father to rage.  She angered her mother too, but her father was so worried about inflicting harm on his provocative little daughter that he went to therapy to learn how not to become the destructively angry, violent parent his mother had been to him.  

His mother’s readiness to fly into a rage and her angry slaps stung him decades later, sting him to this day.  He was determined not to do that to his daughter.  He made good progress in therapy and left once he felt he’d learned to keep his temper under control.

As a young girl she revealed a remarkable gift for playing the piano by ear.  Her grandmother’s upright piano was soon moved to her house where she quickly developed an amazing independence of hands, her left hand and right hand moved as if they belonged to two different musicians playing in perfect time.  She could play entire classical pieces by ear, a remarkable thing, particularly in a child so young.  She was a prodigy. 

I recall her, at perhaps six, demonstrating her discovery that you can play different classical melodies over the same left hand accompaniment.  Her left hand never stopped playing, a steady heartbeat, even as she looked over her shoulder to talk to me as she went excitedly from one melody to the next.  

She also loved to sing, and once a teacher of her’s praised her for it, she began singing everywhere.  I had a message on my answering machine once, from her, at maybe seven, telling me excitedly that she was going to be on the radio at a certain time.  I tuned in and heard a remarkable a cappella vocal and then an interview with a supremely poised kid, who turned out to be her.

Her parents feared that becoming a child star would turn their already difficult daughter into a monster and mark her for the troubled life so many child stars seem to experience when they grow up.  They decided that instead of letting her perform (outside of school plays) that she would study music.   This, they reasoned, would have the collateral benefit of using her love of music to instill a sense of discipline in her.  They hired a series of classical piano teachers to instruct her, teach her to read music, hone her talent the traditional way. 

They did this with the best of intentions, neither understood that many great musicians and composers can’t read music. The long list includes Paul McCartney (and the rest of the Beatles), Bob Dylan, Billie Holliday, Stevie Wonder (obviously…), Django Reinhardt, Taylor Swift, Aretha Franklin and many others.  They also didn’t get that pure love of making music, the joy of invention, is what made these folks such great musicians.

The piano lessons were a constant source of stress and the succession of teachers was a testament both to the girl’s resistance and her parents’ insistence.   She didn’t need to practice, quickly mastered reading music and every new assignment, reversed hands as she played, without missing a beat, (out of boredom and contempt) and drove each teacher to distraction.  She did well in school and taught herself to play the flute, in her spare time. 

The fights with her mother continued, and as she got older, she got the better of every argument, with her excellent memory and ability to marshal the facts, and logic, to support her case.  Her overmatched mother was very frustrated with her opinionated, challenging little bitch of a daughter.

I watched her musical abilities change over the course of the classical piano lesson years. Eventually she could not play along to anything without counting in, knowing where each beat was supposed to go.  The regimentation of classical piano lessons had taken much of the joy and spontaneity out of music for her and she spent years afterwards recovering some of her unselfconscious excitement and native creativity.  Meanwhile, she turned to alcohol and a succession of mind-altering drugs.

Unsurprisingly, she turned out to be an excellent writer.  She got a job writing a column for an on-line magazine.  Her column was remarkable.  It explored her inner world in a compelling way.  After a few excellent posts she was somehow let go.  Her final piece was powerfully emotional and shocking, filled with harsh self-recrimination.  She wrote that she had been an asshole as a girl and adolescent and caused her parents and her brothers a great deal of pain.  She gave a public account of her drug addiction that included the excruciating detail of waking up on a bus from another city, groggy from ketamine, without her panties or any recollection of how she got there.

Knowing her since she was a fetus, and being one of her parents’ closest friends, I had watched the entire course of her life up until that point.  I had a perspective her parents couldn’t give her, and one it might take her decades, if ever, to come to on her own.  A friend of my parents, with a relatively simple observation about them, had accelerated my understanding of my life by many years when I was around her age.  I intended to pay this gift forward by providing the tormented young woman with some very good reasons to let herself off the hook. I made the offer several times over the years, and she was always initially enthusiastic, but she seemed to grow wary and the conversation never happened.

This wariness is a characteristic of people who have experienced childhood trauma.  I don’t know why I am not wary this way, since I experienced prolonged childhood trauma (perhaps it was my mother’s unerring sympathy for my point of view, in the end), but I recognize that many traumatized people are filled with distrust, even of people they love.  Anyone, we learn as young children, can inflict terrible pain, even without meaning to, and pain inflicted by those we love and trust hurts worst of all. 

I thought I’d put all this in a letter to her, but she never texted me her new address, as she’d cheerfully promised to do the last time I saw her.   Making the letter even more impossible than it was a few years ago, it will no longer be coming from a dear, cherished old family friend.  After an unforeseeable, brutal falling out with her folks,  the letter will now be coming from a vicious, angry, unforgiving, aggressive, sadistic, threatening, stubborn, lawyerly, satanically smart, twisted, unloving betrayer of love, which is how my old friends now see and portray me.   

Try that one on for size, impossible letter writer!

(impossible letter to follow)

Impossible letters

Certain personal matters eat at our souls and rob us of rest.  Misunderstandings so brutal and unfair that we need to explain ourselves, injustices that burn and demand redress, mean things, done by reflex, that chafe us until we cry out.   What do we do, in a world that largely doesn’t give a rat’s buttock about any one of us?   Sometimes we sit down and write an impossible letter, to set the record straight, even as we know there is no record and straight is the most relative of terms in the emotionally fraught world of homo sapiens.

We work on the letter imagining that our words will open a heart that’s closed to us, restore communication where it has been shut down, allow a whiff of mercy, insight or sanity into a room that’s been sealed off from those things.  In our mind the simple facts, and a bit of history, expressed as clearly and non-judgmentally as we can, will work their magic, allowing the other person to shake off the fog they’ve been living in and step back into the light of Reason.   An impossible letter.

The person you are writing to is not the ultimate recipient of the letter, perhaps.  Writing this kind of letter allows you to put very difficult things into perspective.  It helps you chart an intelligible path through the sometimes disorienting terra incognita that is our emotional world.   It’s fair to say that we write these letters primarily to ourselves and to anyone else already sympathetic to what we have to say.

It seems impossible that people we love, who have loved us for many years, will metaphorically kill us for some transgression they feel we’ve committed.  There is no forgiveness, no matter how consistent our efforts to make amends, only anger, and it extends indefinitely into the future, while everyone involved is still alive.  How the fuck is that possible?  Was this person always insane enough to kill the people they love the most just to “win” an eternal argument? Was our intimate friendship just the wishful dream of a foolish heart?

I will provide the set-up, a short version of the context that makes each letter seem necessary, and impossible.   Then I will write the impossible letter, as I have done a few times in recent years.  These letters get no response, because they can’t, since what they require is impossible.  Impossible as the idea that one day the lights go out for every one of us and that’s that.   

The idea of reconciliation is beautiful, a vision of heavenly justice, and the rareness of it makes it even more splendid. We don’t pursue the impossible out of perversion alone, we do it out of faith, love and an unquenchable, though often unrealizable, human drive for justice and reconciliation.

Context to follow for impossible letter number one: the genius.

Gentlemen’s agreement — no lies

My father hated liars.  Lying was a line he wouldn’t cross himself (partly because he didn’t need to, as I will explain in a moment) and something he didn’t forgive in others.  I saw very early on that if you made up a false, childish story to hide something from him, he’d see through the lie and label you a lying piece of shit forever. 

I understand that a lie can make a lasting impression of lack of character, or sometimes no impression (if the lie is minor and doesn’t really affect you).  The trouble is, before you lie you never know which way it will go.

The obvious problem with a lie is that the person you are lying to  can be holding the proof of your lie in his hand.  “Did you ever write a letter denouncing me to Child Protective Services as a ‘vicious monster unfit to raise children’?” my father could ask.  If you said it never happened, and he was able to pull out your childishly pencilled letter to Child Protective Services, point to the verbatim quote right there on the lined paper, that would be it, for the rest of your life, the verdict: fucking liar.

I actually did lie to him once, about having taken mescaline as a teenager.  “Did you ever take mescaline?” he asked the sixteen year-old version of me pointedly.   I denied it, weakly, and he pulled out a letter I’d written to a girlfriend, written in mercurochrome, which might as well have been blood.  The bloody looking scrawling, with plenty of ghoulish drips and glops, was a raving love letter to psychedelics and included a vow to take a lot more of it in the coming days.   

“Shit,” I thought, when he disgustedly pulled out the letter “I never mailed that letter to Barbara, must have fallen behind my parents’ bed when I was sleeping in there for the AC when they were out of town…”   My lie was a one-off, my father recognized, and no big referendum on my character resulted from it.

Not so for other people we knew who lied to my father, even once.  My sister, when she was maybe seven, hatched a caper with her seven year-old accomplice, Jefferey Seigel, to break into my little cash register-shaped piggy bank and use the illicit proceeds to buy candy.  The plan went perfectly, until I came home and found the little cash register pried open and empty of its perhaps 80 cents in coins (this would have been 1965 money, probably $5 or $10 in today’s candy buying coin, shit, maybe more — a Milky Way cost maybe a dime in those days, I think) and the list of culprits was quickly narrowed down to my little sister.  She rolled on her henchman, after a series of the seven year old’s best attempts at lies was brushed aside by my prosecutor father. 

He never let her forget this childish act of piracy on the high seas, made a hundred times worse by the lies about not being a childish brigand.  Anytime he got angry at her, the first salvo would be about how she lacked character, stole from her own brother to buy candy, AND LIED ABOUT IT.  A little thief, AND a liar.

A lie can be maddening, it’s true, and I’ll never know the roots of my father’s hatred of lying, but the reason people lie is also usually understandable.  People don’t often lie without a reason.   The reason is most of the time to avoid feeling bad, to avoid having to take responsibility for a mistake, to avoid punishment. 

This makes the whole exercise kind of ironic: you lie to avoid telling the truth, to make yourself feel less vulnerable, and this places you in the category of ordinary, very vulnerable, fucking liars.  If the lie can be shown to be a lie, you’re a proven liar, and often, in the eyes of many, mostly honest, people, a weak and contemptible person.

My father was an angry brute whenever he felt he needed to be, in the privacy of his own home.  He’d never confront people in the street, or at work, but around the dinner table, with just the four of us there, he was fearless and fierce in protecting his turf and asserting his dominance and superiority.   In this way he was like many other narcissistic people with terribly painful wounds doing his best to feel like a whole person, in the face of unbearable early life humiliation.   I don’t even hold it against him any more.   The thing I’m thinking about now is his basic honesty, the way I almost never knew him to lie.  As I said, he didn’t need to.  Check this out:

If you can control the conversation at every stage, you can change the subject to whatever you want to talk about, before there is any reason to lie.  A lie is told when the liar finds himself in a corner, nowhere to go.  The truth leads to an electric shock, a lie might get you off without the voltage going through you.  The trapped rat chooses option two, sometimes avoids the sting of electricity.  My father mastered the art of never finding himself in a corner.  No corner trap, no real urgency to lie.  He was very good at reframing every argument to quickly turn it back on the person he was trying to cow.

You can say, big man, reframing and gaslighting his own kids!, and sure, when my sister was seven and I was nine, it looked pitiful enough to see this brilliant adult using sophisticated tools to argue his children into submission.  He did the same when we were twenty, thirty and forty.   I eventually went to law school, in a misguided attempt to do something to please the unpleasable old man, and only after graduating and passing the bar did I fairly easily beat him into silence during our last argument, about two years before he died.

But, check this out, if you lack the adroit mind of my father, and find yourself in a heated no-holds-barred argument with someone in command of the facts, with a clear memory of events, who cuts through your rationales quickly and decisively, you will likely feel cornered.   The first line of defense might be just reflexive defensiveness:  no, you say I hurt you, but you hurt me, that’s why I did it, because you hurt me, you merciless fuck!    A second line, change the subject, to anything.  Why are you still talking about this when I’m now talking about that?   See, you won’t talk about what I want to talk about, what I need.   HOW ABOUT WHAT I need?!!!!  You selfish fuck.

If the relentless argument continues, and the attempts at reframing, misdirection, gaslighting and everything else are not working, you find yourself in a corner and there is only one card left: lying.  What you said I said I never said and even if I had said it it was only because of what you said, but you are lying, I never said that!   In fact, I remember exactly why I said it and I was completely right to say it, even though I never said it!

In the end, one party can shake its head sadly, regarding the liar with a shaming expression on its face.  “Dude, at least I never fucking lied to you…”

The person who lied, if humiliated enough to lie and then be caught in the lie, and, the ultimate shame, being name-called a liar?   They’re not going to be arguing with you ever again.   Neither are they going to do you any more favors, or laugh at your jokes, or invite you to dinner or take any chance of a repeat of the horrific shit that just happened, even though you were completely wrong and they never lied, and, even if they did, it was your fault for backing them into that corner of the cage and putting the electrodes on them, and what trapped rat wouldn’t lie under those merciless conditions, you sick fuck?

My father never found himself in this position, never had to bend the truth at all, because he was a master at his craft.  He never found himself cornered.   To him, lying during a conflict was contemptible, it showed you had no fucking game. 

So, during our long, senseless war, I accepted his perverse gentlemen’s agreement:  we fight to the death, and that’s the way it has to be, but we will not consciously lie to each other during our fight to the death.   I shook on that deal, for better or worse.

The Age of Narcissism

I read a fascinating book, at my sister’s recommendation, Jon Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven.  It is an exploration of the Mormon faith, framed by a grisly murder two devout, fringe Mormons committed after one of them got a revelation from God that the two victims (his wife and daughter) had to be “removed.”   The book explores the hazy boundary between true religious inspiration and justicially cognizable insanity. 

At one point the lawyers for the murderer are making an argument to keep him from the death penalty.  The lawyer tells the court that someone who has suffered severe early life injury to their self-esteem sometimes compensates by becoming grandiose.  When this happens the person has an overriding need to believe that they are superior, special, perfect, beautiful — on pain of feeling humiliatingly inferior, worthless, fatally flawed and ugly —  and constructs a black and white world view accordingly.  The condition the lawyer claimed had disabled his client is called Narcissism.

It was an illuminating insight to me, since I’d long struggled against my father’s black and white worldview (a severely limiting view he lamented greatly as he was dying) but never made the connection to what I knew about narcissism.  In order to feel superior, you must subordinate others, blame them for your incapacities. 

A person who has not suffered enough shame to become a narcissist can admit a mistake, take blame for a thoughtless and hurtful thing they’ve done, sincerely apologize.  For a narcissist, these things are almost impossible, since it makes them feel terrifyingly worthless, vulnerable and deserving of not being loved.

What I realized recently, having had an otherwise exemplary father (another recent realization that surprised me, how much valuable parenting my father also did, how much better he did than was done to him) who was narcissistic, is that many of my oldest friends were also narcissists.

I knew I’d been attracted to very smart, sardonic, darkly funny, damaged people (as I myself am), knew that they resembled my father in key ways, knew I was trying to work out problems with him through surrogates.

Having the frame “narcissist” suddenly made a lifetime of conflicts with this same type understandable to me.  The end of each of these friendships was inevitable once conflict began to escalate, I see now. 

The connection I had with my father was far deeper than with anyone I met and became longtime friends with, a final split with Irv was always unthinkable to me, and in the end, my painful work in therapy paid off in us being able to have an important, candid chat, finally, hours before he died.   The mutually blessed talk that last night of his life came about because I understood the awful hand he’d been dealt and realized he’d truly done the best he could, as I kept reassuring him as he whipped himself over having been “a horse’s ass” for his whole life. 

We’re living in the Age of Narcissism, it seems to me.  A zero-sum game composed of only absolute winners and contemptible losers, where one side plays for keeps and the moral qualms of the other side are easily weaponized for use against them.   My new personal stake in it, how it shaped my life now that I see my father was largely this way (though, of course, with a capacity for self-reflection and self-criticism missing from most narcissists, plus a great sense of humor) and being vilified by people who profess to love me, has made me grapple with the larger issue of autocracy/democracy on a visceral level.   

It’s easy to recognize in someone like Donald Trump the malignant narcissist, someone so obviously and deeply damaged that their only survival mechanism is belief in an absurdly comical superiority.  When this claimed superiority is treated as the grotesque comedy it truly is, these folks, seeing the world as zero-sum and kill or be killed, have no hesitation to do whatever they feel they need to do to prove they are not worthless, weak, pathetic victims. 

They all want to be “strongmen.”  A psychiatrist who worked with violent felons in prison wrote “every act of violence is an attempt to replace humiliation with self-esteem.”  We all know what these types are capable of, and will do if given the chance (look at Putin, destroying the archive that commemorated WWII war crimes on all sides and unleashing legions of raping mercenaries to execute civilians).

Anyway, not to go down the dark, apocalyptic fascism-on-the-global rise rabbit hole.  Just to say that I feel my personal learnings, coming sharply into focus during this last hellish year with my old friends, help shine a light for me on the larger forces, the narcissistic, arrogant, mediocre, insanely influential sons and grandsons of wealthy sociopaths:  D. Trump, C. Koch, E. Musk, J. Kushner et al.

Understanding is only the first step

You finally understand the painful difficulty you are up against, from an unforgiving narcissistic parent to a global movement marching violently toward international authoritarianism.  It’s a great step, to understand, at last, the nature of the actual monster you are up against. 

You feel a certain relief mixed in with your horror, to know finally what you are actually at war with, and that you did the best you could have done against an unreasoning force that is pure will.   It is important for your mental health, and future prospects, to confirm that it is not only your fevered imagination at work, these things are actually out there, acting against you with every stinking breath.  They will not be fixed by even unlimited goodwill, compromise and extension of endless benefit of the doubt.  That understanding is huge, though it is the first step on a much longer journey.

It’s hard to believe in the existence of evil until you see a willingness to actually kill you up close.  It is easy enough to see disturbed, angry people as suffering from weakness, deformed by damage done to them by others that takes these nasty, deadly shapes in the world. 

It is not important whether you see it as evil, it’s crucial to grasp how it works, why it works that way, how to get out of its clutches, how to neutralize the threat to others.  Understanding the nature of a thing intent on subordinating you, even killing you, if necessary, is not an easy thing, since the force is constantly crushing you, attacking, vilifying, accusing you of cruelly victimizing them.  

To take a recent political example — look how the Covid-deniers scream, they are the victims, US health officials, not corrupt and incompetent hacks working for a malignant narcissist, are responsible for the disproportionate US deaths from Covid, 1,099,866 souls, when the number was last updated by lying Deep State cucktards at the CDC.  The supremely spineless Kevin McCarthy just appointed Trump’s former doctor, now in Congress, to head the investigation into how Anthony Fauci murdered more than a million Americans with his constant lies about the Chinese hoax that put Biden into office illegally.  Justice won’t be served until the retired government doctor is publicly nailed to a cross and mocked by the survivors of his treachery.   

A coherent, evidence-based case can be made that Fauci, at every step, followed the best evolving scientific understanding of a highly infectious, unpredictable deadly worldwide plague.  Coherence and so-called evidence, of course, can go fuck themselves when Marjorie Taylor Green blows her hot opinions into a microphone, next to the compromised Speaker of the House, nodding grim agreement to anything she spouts.    The incoherent message will be hammered home to believers a hundred times a day, until it makes sense that the antiChrist, Fauci, must meet the same gruesome fate as the Prince of Peace, but, obviously, for much different reasons.   

In your personal life zero-sum battle lines may be even harder to see.  Love, long history and faith in lifelong ties will blind you sometimes, to another’s willingness to shove things down your throat until you suffocate.   “How did I not fucking see this before?”  you will wonder, and raise the whip over yourself when you realize you’ve waded deep into an unsurvivable swamp.  Understanding will come slowly, if you are fortunate and persistent in looking for it, and honest with yourself and everyone else.  

Honesty and a willingness to discuss things, it turns out, is only one response to conflict.  A more common reflex is to become incoherent, constantly change the subject, lie, attack, become defensive, blame the other for your defensiveness, admit nothing, fuck you, I’ll kill you, grrrr grrrr grrrrr!   The contest, you understand too late, is zero-sum, only one will live, the other must die.  I will do anything to be the last one standing, so fuck you!

Alien to your way of thinking?  It is also alien to mine, but this mode of kill or be killed survival is in operation all over the place.    Understanding it, seeing it clearly for what it actually is, is crucial, but, depressingly, only the beginning.  How to counter the damage it has done and prevent repeats going forward is a much deeper, gnarlier question.   It is also the most pressing question at this perilous moment in history.

Any ideas?

The sometimes subtle nature of psychological harm

My father, I learned late in his life, was whipped in the face by his mother, regularly, from the time he could stand.  The last night he was alive he told me that his life was basically over by the time he was two.   Grow up whipped by your mother, who also whips your father, in dire poverty, with undiagnosed 20/400 vision that makes you appear moronic, unteachable, once you get to school — unable to speak English when you start kindergarten — it leaves a humiliating mark.   Best to hide all that shit as best you can, collapsing it all into “grinding poverty,” spoken like a seething Clint Eastwood.   

Grow up in a comfortable middle class home, never knowing want of any kind, raised by a mother and father who are both smart, funny and well-educated, and emerge with lifelong disabilities and, you know… kind of pathetic, no?

Unlike physical beatings, which are easily understood as violent and scarring, psychological beatings can be devilishly subtle, and just as destructive.

How do you describe the pain inflicted by silence, maintained eternally, starting at the exact moment you ask for an answer?  An implacable glare can have the force of a hard punch in the solar plexus.   Sarcasm, arguably innocent humor, can be used to great effect, if deployed at just the right moment, and in front of the right people.  These techniques have the virtue of perfect deniability, turning any objection to them into the viciously unfair whine of a sniveler.  

“Now you say I hurt you by keeping my mouth shut?  I can’t win, can I?  I held my tongue, but that’s not enough for you.  You can say whatever you want, make any accusations you like against me, but I can’t even remain quiet without being attacked?  You have a real problem there, you know that?  The whole world is against you, even silence hurts your delicate feelings.  You need help.”

The worst of this kind of untender treatment is that you begin to blame yourself, question your right to feel hurt at all.  Maybe I was being kind of unfair, asking a question that was so difficult to answer.  Maybe my timing was thoughtless, I put them on the spot at the worst possible moment.  Why do I keep making people feel so defensive, so angry?  What is wrong with me that I keep upsetting people like this?

You can sometimes cross a barrier, deep into the unseen private wounds of people you have known and loved for years.  There is no coming back from this, as far as I know.   Mutuality can be destroyed in a moment, though it can take much longer to understand that mutuality has been destroyed.  “I hurt you?  You fucking hurt me, you merciless fucking fuck!”  An argument like that cannot be won.   How did friendship suddenly turn into war?  “You humiliated me by making me feel like a terrible person… you are a terrible person.”

The wife was only trying to make everything perfect for her quietly angry, stressed out husband.  He may be impossible to please in certain ways, but that only makes her try harder.  Then she’s faulted for micromanaging a vacation, as if everything being out of control is better than methodically organizing everything.  Her husband likes order.  How is that her fault?  Then you overreacted to her frustration, which was caused 100% by you resisting her perfectly understandable, laudable desire to please her husband. You insist her sudden “anger” hurt you, but you’re not looking at the full picture, just focusing on what you absurdly claim was a glare of rage and an angry refusal to discuss options or compromise in any way.  How can you not see that you are the angry asshole who caused all of the bad feelings, the one who unilaterally ended our long friendship? 

You understand too late the depths of your old friends’ damage.  See how tricky well-covered up psychological wounds can be?   

In these situations I often think of the four temperaments from Pirkey Avot.  Quick to anger, quick to be placated — loss offset by gain.   Slow to anger, slow to be placated — gain offset by loss.   Slow to anger, quick to be placated — a righteous soul.  Quick to anger, slow to be placated — evil.

Sounds a bit judgmental, perhaps, to frame the ability to forgive as good or evil, but, truly, once you have apologized to the best of your ability, expressed understanding of why what you did hurt the other person, vowed to do better going forward — the reason a dear friend would not forgive you is a deep need to feel superior, to hold the weapon of unforgiveness against your head.  Or, evil.  The pain they experienced is so deep and abiding, and the current hurt brings on the unbearable sting of former abuse so acutely, that the jury will be out forever on whether you deserve to be forgiven.  You will live on probation, with strict rules governing what may be mentioned again.  If you want forgiveness you must earn it, by long penitence.  Even then, the jury will remain out, because you’ve already shown you are the hurting type, the kind who deserves punishment.

We are drawn, perhaps, to people who have suffered similar things to what we have suffered.  It gives us an instant unconscious basis for understanding each other’s vulnerabilities, and fosters a feeling of comradeship, having survived similar mistreatment.  At the same time, it puts us close to an explosive force, one that can easily go off when the stress is turned up.

“What stress?  You claim there was stress, there was no goddamned stress, until you caused it.  Everything was fine until you reverted to despicable form and started resisting every reasonable thing I proposed.  How dare you blame us for your uncontrollable stress?!   The world is endlessly unfair to you, poor little misunderstood genius.  You feel superior to everybody while demonstrating your inferiority every day.  That’s the real problem.  You think you’re great, and you’re angry all the time, and we did nothing to you — you are the one who caused all the bad feelings.”

In an unguarded moment she will tell you that you made her feel like her daughter, an actual  genius, often made her feel.  Challenged and overmatched.  “So good with words, and such command of memory, you both are, that I have to fight to defeat you by any means necessary.  You make me fight you to the death, how does it feel to try to kill me, you murderous black hearted bastard?”

It is impossible to measure the depth and breadth of these wounds.  And futile.

parent and child

When I was a boy my father’s colleague at the NYC Board of Education’s Human Relations Unit, Evelyn, became a regular visitor to our family.  My mother, also named Evelyn, was fond of her.  My sister and I loved her.   She was funny, irreverent, a good athlete, a folk guitar player with a beautiful voice, had a “retarded” dog, a black cocker spaniel named Twosie, and she seemed to love hanging out with us.  My sister had prominent, slightly bucked teeth (as they called it in those days) and so did Evelyn (picture a young Joni Mitchell).  Evelyn taught my sister to stick out her teeth and hold her hands up like paws whenever she called “Beaver Patrol Report!”  The two of them would do the Beaver Patrol salute and we’d all laugh.

It turns out Evelyn had survived a horrific childhood.  In hanging out with her smart, irreverent, darkly funny colleague and his family she got to experience what seemed to her (before her eternal falling out with her friend and colleague) a healthier version of family life and childhood.   She was as much an older sister to my sister and me as an adult.  

After my own troubling childhood I often found myself in the position Evelyn was in, hanging out with the children of my friends.  I was paid a great compliment by one of my friend’s children when he was about five:  Eliot’s not a grownup, he’s more like us.  I was.  I am.   I am never far from the most life-affirming feelings of my early life, when it comes to imagination, creativity, having fun, drawing, playing music.  I love to play, and why should I not?

Because, the adult will say, work is far more important than play.  Work is what gives meaning and value to life, a sense of self-worth, productivity, respectability.  Play is for vacation, maybe.  I honestly pity the average workaday motherfucker, too tired out by grim responsibility to be playful.

There is a certain point to the adult view, of course.  If I had ever tried to sell any of my writing, had any literary success, had sold several books, I’d be a published author and that would be my career, turning my daily practice into a monetizable, recognizable job.  When people asked me what I do I’d just say “I’m a writer” and it would be true, since I made a living by my words.  Instead, I play at writing, which is more fun, but far less lucrative and practical.  In the eyes of the world I’m just one of a hundred million would-be writers, “publishing” my work, gratuitously, in cyberspace.

I think of my father, hours before he died, telling me his life had been basically over by the time he was two.  A very sad thing to hear your father say the last night of his life.  It explained why he acted like an inconsolable two year-old so often, but, damn, it was hard to hear.

I have the two haunted photo portraits of his maternal grandparents.  I can hardly look at them, in their beautiful convex oval frames.  One or both of these long dead ancestors created of their youngest daughter a savagely angry religious fanatic who whipped her first born across the face from the time he could stand.  No doubt, it had happened to one or both of them, with their parents.  And before that, the parents of their parents and so on down the endless tragedy of history.

I think of this whenever I think of parents and children.  It is easy enough to blame the parent, or the child, but that’s a game for suckers.  To me, the real action is getting some goddamned insight and making some positive changes in your life, before you sorrowfully confess to your oldest son, right before you die, that your life was basically over before your great-grandfather was two.

Answer to a lifelong riddle

An old friend suddenly shows you an implacable face, as hurt turns into disagreement, which turns into a conflict, a standoff and finally an all out war.   

No compromise, no more of your fucking feelings, I won’t even hear what you’re upset about, how dare you challenge me, I’m the one who’s been wronged here!   

You protest, call to mind past compromises, a long mutual friendship, a history of two way empathy, honest conversation.  

“No!” you will hear, the jaw set, eyes boring into you to chill your blood, to cow you.   

“When did my old friend become a terrible two year-old?” you wonder to yourself, as you reel yourself back from telling the enraged person to go fuck off.   What is clear is that someone you cared deeply about is now treating you with cold contempt.

This has happened to me a few times over the years, and I am somehow never prepared for it.  It was always a mystery that I knew was somehow related to my troubled father, but I had little grasp of what the connection was exactly.  I had no concept to understand where this sudden implacable anger comes from, this need to blame you for making them feel bad, no matter what actually took place between you. 

The riddle of this confounding rigidity, this angry refusal to bend, has been mindfucking to me for many years.  It was only very recently that I grasped a concept that explained this bad behavior and made the unfortunate pattern sensible to me.

The context of the era we are living in offered me a giant clue I was slow to put to good use in my personal life.  The recent hostile attitude of dear friends was sickeningly familiar, and horrifically Trumpian.  The incoherent story constantly changed, all in a mighty effort to avoid talking about any feelings but their’s and why they were so brutally hurt by me!  My longtime closest friend, someone whose friendship and integrity I never had reason to doubt, seconded every aspect of the shifting story, no matter how implausible the blame narrative became.  The runaround, the noise and fury in response to an expressed need, was familiar as any headline I’d doom scrolled recently.

We Americans have endured years, seemingly a century, of a malignant, compulsively lying narcissist whipping up hatred and division.  Right or wrong, he’s always right.  Facts are bullshit!  What does he do when confronted with his wrongdoing?  Double down, in that now despicably common phrase.  Blame his enemies, attack investigators, judges, diplomats, his intelligence agencies, his military leadership, the sick and dangerous child blood drinking cannibal fucks who traffic and molest children — while running the deep state — the celebrity who insulted him twenty years earlier.   He does this, of course, because he’s a narcissist.

We are living in the age of narcissism.  I just didn’t understand it until very recently, though the number of celebrated current day public narcissists, admired by millions, is huge.  You see them literally everywhere, our greatest, most important citizen influencers.

What is the narcissist’s driving dilemma?  How to preserve the all-important feeling of being in the right when confronted by someone important to them they’ve hurt, or by any mistake they’ve made.  It can’t be their fault, it’s obviously the fault of the thin-skinned, needy prick who’s making them feel bad — on purpose!

I was reading a book by Jon Krakauer a couple of months back and came across this, which was like a light going on, in terms of explaining something I was at a loss to comprehend.

That is exactly what happens with anyone who has survived deep childhood injuries by becoming a narcissist.  They live in a world of agitated semi-recovery where theyre either perfect, beautiful, and admired, better than almost anybody else, or they’re plunged into the unbearable pain of feeling utterly worthless, humiliated, contemptible.  

There is no middle ground for a narcissist, no grasp of the human condition — we all fuck up sometimes, it’s perfectly human to be imperfect.  One of the things the non-narcissistic learn to do is accept responsibility, make amends, do their best to set things right when misunderstanding or conflict arises.

The world, to narcissists, is an instrument to protect them from feeling the agony that bears down whenever they feel vulnerable.  The world is full of souls of infinite worth, each unique, exotic, with a mischievous expiration date.  The narcissist doesn’t buy this pie in the sky bullshit, the world is about never being hurt.  If you don’t make yourself vulnerable, it’s harder to be hurt, though a narcissist’s invulnerability comes at a high price.  If youre hurt, hurt back twice as hard to make them back the fuck down.

This zero-sum worldview is the essence of narcissism.  The narcissist’s world is a demented see-saw.  There is only victory and defeat, nothing else.  I win, you lose.  If you win, somehow, I must lose, and that is intolerable to me.  So no matter what, you must lose.  If I have to assassinate your good name, and throw aside our long, close friendship, it’s a very small price to pay to defeat somebody who will not capitulate to my need to be perfect and beyond criticism of any kind. 

Though they seem strong, nobody is weaker than the narcissist.  The tension they live under is tremendous, the pressure they put on everyone around them is relentless. 

All you need to do is admit that I’m right and you’re wrong, no matter what.  How hard is that to do?

Mary Trump said that her uncle Donald is the weakest man she’s ever met.  His genius, she notes, is finding people even weaker than him, to do his bidding, to take the fall whenever needed.

Narcissism is a zero-sum game.  My father was a narcissist, it’s painfully obvious to me now.  He saw the world as black and white and, I realize now, from his point of view, he actually could not change, which was the tragedy of his life as he lamented at the end.  My little sister followed in dad’s footsteps.  He was her role model for strength in the face of terrible pain.  I’m sad to say, but like with her father, cross her and you’re fucking dead, though she might not tell you that for a few decades.   

The willingness to kill does not make you tough, or strong, it just shows a desperation never to feel like an utterly worthless piece of shit.  No amount of belated love can save you from that terrible fate, if you can’t somehow see your own way out of there.