Wednesday, September 19, 2018

ME TOO, DR. CHRISTINE BLASEY FORD

I have a story to tell, in solidarity with Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. It is a story of humiliation and abuse, and one that I am as reluctant to tell as she has been. It explains, in part, how well I understand the reasons for her reluctance. It is embarrassing.

When I was a boy at boarding school, perhaps fifteen years old, I slept in one of aligned rows of beds in a dormitory. The blankets, I remember, we all the same bright red. There was a chest of drawers placed between each bed, where we kept our clothes.

It happened one night after we had all returned from holiday. It was after lights-out. One of the boys, a big bruiser, a little older than myself, was boasting to a bunch of envious and eager listeners about how he'd had sex with a girl while on vacation. No one believed he could have done such a thing. "I'll prove it," he said. "I'll show you." He looked around for a suitable victim and his eyes landed on my bed. "I'll do Clothier," he said.

So they were all excited. "Do Clothier!" they started chanting in a chorus. "Do Clothier!"

So he climbed into my bed and the boys all gathered around with flashlights (torches, we called them, in those days) to watch him perform his feat. And, while the other boys cheered him on, this "Bunter" (that was his nickname) Scott stuck his hard penis between my legs and, well.. raped me.

There. Not an easy story to tell. As I say, embarrassing--not only to me, but perhaps also to family and friends who read this about my past. Well, too bad. I don't care about that. My apologies to anyone who is embarrassed by this embarrassing truth. It helps me to understand a little better what Dr. Christine Blasey Ford went through and why she was reluctant to reveal it.

And it if helps anyone else to understand her a little better, I will feel happy to have told it.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

A NEW BOOK

I'm just beginning to put out word about my new book of essays, now available at Amazon. It's called A Serious Conversation With Myself: Reflections On the Approach of Age, and the title tells you pretty much what the book is about. Once I had put together this collection of short essays--my favored medium--I asked my friend, the artist Marsha Barron, if she would consider contributing some images, and she came up with a truly beautiful series of small paintings; one of them is reproduced on the cover...

Marsha Effron Barron, cover painting
... and several others in the body of the text. My friend Amy Inouye, with whom I have worked before, did a wonderful job on the cover and interior design.

I feel confident in saying that readers who have enjoyed my essays in the past with recognize my voice and my attempts to come to terms with myself and the world around me, and will enjoy this new collection. Several books have been generated by this blog: you may remember Persist: In Praise of the Creative Spirit in a World Gone Mad With Commerce; Mind Work; and Slow Looking: the Art of Looking at Art. You will not find them on the bestseller list of the New York Times--or indeed any other major newspapers--but they have been well received by many readers who find resonance in the thoughts they explore.

Marsha Effron Barron, "Transcendent"

Marsha Effron Barron, "Beyond"
Marsha Effron Barron, "Between"
These books come from the heart and mind of a man who calls himself "an aspiring Buddhist", because I find in only Buddhism the wisdom and the solace I need to satisfy my spiritual aspirations. I am not a religious and certainly not a pious person, and am deeply skeptical of much that substitutes too easily in our culture for true spiritual practice. Buddhism affirms that skepticism; it is, in my understanding, about questions, not answers--the kind of questions that lead me ever more profoundly into myself and the experience of my humanity.

This Conversation is a further pursuit of those questions as I leave behind me all pretense of youth--and even middle age!--and explore what it means to be growing old and needing to consider in all seriousness the prospect of death. I have no earth-shattering observations or insight to share, rather simply the experience of one man who wishes to live a conscious and compassionate life.



INTEGRITY

I have behaved badly. If ever I were to sit today in the candidate's seat before the Senate Judiciary Committee and every detail of my past were to be subject to examination, I would soon be exposed as a reckless and shameless miscreant, wholly undeserving of seat on America's Supreme Court. I suspect there are few among us who would qualify if the unexpurgated truth of our lives as young people were known. We have all done things of which we should be deeply ashamed.

That said, if we wish to live a life of integrity today, we owe ourselves an honest accounting of those things we have done in the past. To be right with ourselves in the present, we must exorcise the ghosts that will continue to haunt us, whether consciously or unconsciously, absent our having confronted them without fear or prevarication. Our true happiness, if we can attain it, depends on our freedom from the damage they can wreak.

So should someone we have offended or wounded in the past show up in our lives and require us to account for our actions, we have no choice but to examine our conscience and, where necessary, make amends. Blunt, out-of-hand denials and counter-accusations or blaming of others suggest that we are not ready to acknowledge or take responsibility for our part in any past wrongdoing, and leave our integrity in doubt.

A man who receives the life-time honor of a seat on the Supreme Court of this country must be one of unquestionable integrity. If the current nominee proves unwilling to listen and respond with honesty to that which he is credibly accused of, even many years ago, his integrity is compromised and he has no claim to that seat.

Friday, September 14, 2018

MY RIGHT HAND

The debilities that come with age are a humbling reminder of our human imperfections. Yesterday my right hand was so painful that I could type no more than a few words. Today, well... it's better.

When I write about such things I wonder how anyone could possibly be interested. Mulling that thought this morning--and realizing that so much of my writing has been about myself--I asked myself why I persist in this peculiar occupation. I have written about others, of course, over the years; I have written about art and artists, books and writers, poetry and film; I have written novels--whose main characters, I am forced to admit, have an uncanny resemblance to... myself! But mainly, looking back over all my work and all my publications, I have been my own main source of subject matter.

(I think with gratitude of those who chose this path ahead of me, from Michel de Montaigne to Jean-Jacques Rousseau to, more recently, say, Christopher Isherwood--a countryman whose books seduced me into writing at the earliest age...)

The answer to my question is a simple one: for me, writing is a way to discover more about what it means to be a human being and how best to live my life. The process of self examination, on matters as large as the experience of aging and as small as the little finger on my right hand gives me the opportunity to find out more about the one human being I can know the best--myself--and, by extension, about simply being human.

The next step, once I see, acknowledge and understand the origin of the imperfections--so many of them!--is to ask myself whether improvement is possible and, if so, then how to go about it; or if not, then how to accept the reality.

It is my right hand that now calls for my attention. Here's the story. For many years I have experienced a condition known as Dupuytren's Contracture--a condition I share improbably with both Ronald Reagan and Samuel Beckett, among others, whereby small knots of tissue gather under the skin of the hand and gradually pull a finger (or fingers) in toward the palm. (The condition is named after Guillaume Dupuytren, a military surgeon who distinguished himself for all eternity by treating Napoleon's hemmorrhoids, and was also the first to surgically remove the contractures named after him). Several years ago I had the contractures on my left hand surgically removed--successfully as it turned out: they have not returned.

They did return, however, more recently, on my right hand. If you have shaken my hand recently you may have noticed how the little finger can slip embarrassingly inside the grasp of the person I am shaking hands with, with a resulting sensation that is strange and unsettling--to me, and I suspect also to my partner in this social ritual. This physical anomaly is not painful, but it has been growing more pronounced in recent months, and has been the source of uncomfortable distraction.

But that's not what took me to the doctor. What took me to the doctor was the sudden, alarmingly painful escalation of an arthritic thumb on the same right hand. It was so painful, one night a couple of weeks ago, that I was unable to sleep. Very sensibly, I took it to the doctor the next day--I was fortunate to get a same-day appointment with my regular physician--who gave me a shot and advised me to consult with a Kaiser orthopedic surgeon who specializes in the hand.

The shot was great. Whatever is was--some kind anesthetic/steroid mix, as I understood it--worked a miracle. The pain disappeared overnight! And a week later I saw the orthopedic surgeon. He was not optimistic about dealing with the arthritis but--back to that other part of my story--he did think it was time to deal with the Dupuytrens. I now have to make a date for surgery.

But the arthritic pain did not return at first. It seemed to have been taken care of with the shot, until... was it the pliers I was using to twist the picture wire with which I attached a hook to hold a new hummingbird feeder in place? The clippers, to cut off the wire to the required length? I don't know, I can think of no other reason, but a couple of nights ago I was back in agony. My hand was reduced to a painful, non-functioning claw. When dawn came, mercifully, I found that I could not stir my morning tea, nor squeeze the little plastic eye-drop bottle that I use to wake my eyes up from their sleep. Worse, I could not even type more than a few words--a dire situation for a writer.

And then, within a day or so, happily, it was gone again. I sit here two days later typing merrily, with only a ghost of the pain in my right thumb. Two-handed once again.

So what do I learn? That certain conditions can be treated with surgery? Others can't? That my right hand is a part of myself that I can ill-afford to lose, being right-handed, and being a writer? That, should I lose it, I would need to detach from that particular identity, which would in itself involve some considerable pain--and some accommodation. I wonder if I would feel the need to find some other identity to replace one I have lived with for so long? Or... that pain--even severe pain--comes and goes, and asks to be heard and respected before it leaves? That it is sorely tempting to accede to its imperious demands for attention, but that I do better with it if I choose to put it in its place? A reminder that pain is unavoidable, but suffering optional?

All kinds of useful things to learn, then, even from the most minor of our afflictions. And--again for a writer--there is always that extra gift: a story to be told.


Monday, September 10, 2018

BE KIND

Have I written this post before? Perhaps.

Many times, perhaps.

I woke thinking again how it all comes down to these two simple words: Be kind.

Be kind if you want to be happy.

Be kind to yourself when you feel the judgment or the self-doubt arising.

Be kind to others if you want them to be kind to you.

Be kind to the natural environment if you wish to contribute to its preservation.

Be kind to those you would be inclined to hate, if you want to avoid being infected by their poison--or your own.

It's simple, really. Take a breath, reach down into the depths of your compassion, and you will be kind.

And you'll feel better for it. Promise.