Posts Tagged ‘9/11’

mary’zine random redux: #23 July/August 2002

October 21, 2009

This is shaping up to be a very scattershot issue (scattershot: adj: broadly and often randomly inclusive). I’ve been ricocheting off the walls, shrapnel flying everywhere. Duck and cover if you must, but keep on reading.

longtime companion

This year Pookie and I will celebrate our 15th anniversary. It’s my longest hetero relationship so far—heterospecies, that is. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not into bestiality….

who you callin a beast?

Ah, it’s my better half. Wanna go outside? Wanna go outside? Less go outside!

[exit Pookie]

There, that was easy. He’s got some sort of project going in the back 40. “Back 40” usually means 40 acres, but in our case it’s 40 inches, if that. (I just measured it, and it’s 36.) Basically, it’s a narrow strip of hard ground, 3 x 10 ft, between the concrete patio and the fence. My Danish farmer grandfather would be scandalized that I get by on so little contact with the land. Pookie has been building something behind the honeysuckle that, to my untrained, eye, appears to be a pile of stones. (I can’t help thinking of it as a burial mound and wondering, for whom?) Maybe it’s a Zen thing, a process rather than a product, his own little meditation space, though, frankly, he can meditate just about anywhere. At least that’s what he tells me he’s doing.

I bought Pookie one of those “kitty grass” plants for him to munch on. It was even organic. He could have eaten better than I do. But no, he wouldn’t touch it. So I took it out of its little black plastic pot and put it outside, thinking maybe Mother Nature would take over and do something with it, maybe make a little kitty forest or at least a lawn. Far be it from me to… what do they call it? dig in the ground and… oh yeah, plant anything. But time ran out for the kitty grass, and now it’s just sitting out there, a cube of dirt with bleached-out leaves/blades/whatever sticking out of it. In fact, it looks just like the Wilson volleyball that Tom Hanks painted a face on in “Castaway” after it had been sitting around for about 4 years. It did cross my mind to make a face on the side of the dirt cube, but even I thought that was going too far.

Pookie, of course, can spend hours lounging, exploring (disappearing into the thicket of honeysuckle vines), or piling stones in the back 36 and then come in to do his business in the litter box. That’s OK; better he not get the idea he can go just anywhere. But the other day, after a particularly extended session of rock-piling, he got up on the pile and…

don’t you dare!!! or ill tell them about the time you…

OK, never mind. Let’s talk about our anniversary. I’d say we’ve had a good 3 years. What’s that old joke, “My wife and I have been happily married for 3 years; unfortunately we got married 20 years ago”? But in our case, it was the first 12 years that were kind of rocky. (Hmm, could the rock pile be a metaphor….?) I felt that I never really bonded with him, whereas little Tweeter was the light of my life. But after he almost died of that bladder infection (see mary’zine #2), everything changed. He still throws up all over the place, sheds buckets of hair, shits off the side of the box (“No, Pookie, you’re supposed to think outside the box, not shit outside of it”)… but I feel deeply connected to him. When I  look into his eyes, I feel as if there’s a great intelligence looking back—Pookie and me… in the Mystery. As Krishnamurti said, “When you and another person [cat] are in the same place at the same time, are there really two? Or is there just the One?” (I’m paraphrasing wildly.) So we have these profound, sweet moments, and then I’ll have a little fun with him by rocking him gently back and forth with my foot and saying, “I could crush you like a bug!” in a really cheerful voice, and he’ll look at me deep from behind those luminous, intelligent orbs and he has no need for human speech, it’s all in the eyes. “You talkin’ to me? … You talkin’ to me? … I’m the only one here. You must be talkin’ to me.”

the genius of me

Apropos of nothing (but that’s never stopped me before), here are a couple of my Great IdeasTM. I’d like to run them up the flagpole and see if anybody salutes.

•   Great IdeaTM #1: I wish Ford or one of the other automotive-behemoth-manufacturing companies would have a contest called “Name This SUV” for their next monstrosity. I’m pretty sure I could win with… Land Shark. Think of the possibilities. It would only come in black, with one of those ‘50s-style grills on the front, the ones that look like snarling teeth. A fin on top. And a trompe l’oeil paint job on both sides depicting fish, surfers, and Volkswagens scrambling to get out of the way.

•   Great IdeaTM #2: A store, website, or designer fashion line for Dykes Like MeTM who are tired of trolling men’s departments for simple, comfortable, colorful (or plain) shirts and pants. But these clothes would fit women, including those of us d’un certain âge. What a concept—duds for the non-girlie-girls! You wouldn’t have to be butch to buy them, but it would help. Just think what DKNY could do with this—just scramble the letters a bit. My name for this stroke of marketing genius? Mister Sister.

Yes, I’m brilliant… except when I’m not…. Read on….

war with … huh?

It was July 4, and since nothing closes on holidays anymore, I was out shopping for some Frappucino and other staples. I had just pulled into the parking lot of United Market, and for some reason I had the BBC World News on the radio. I wasn’t really listening, but suddenly I registered the words “… recent attack.”

Of course, I had subliminally taken in all the vague warnings about how the terrorists might strike again on the Fourth of July—as if they would feel the need to attack us on a day that’s meaningful to us, or to engage in symbolic posturing at all. After Sept. 11 there was a flurry of speculation about the numerical significance of the attacks. People played with numbers—flight numbers, dates, latitudes and longitudes—and instead of putting 2 + 2 together to get 4 (they hate us; they really hate us), they came up with… 11. Aha! Eleven! Eureka!

(I can just imagine the terrorists, last summer, trying to book flights that would not only be going cross-country and carrying maximum fuel, but that would provide these numerological fanatics with all the important clues to read the secret message.

“Which flight did you want, sir?”

“Oh, anything going to the coast that would spell ‘Afghanistan’ on a telephone dial.”

But let’s get back to the BBC. The reporters’ voices are agitated as they breathlessly announce that they have just received an exclusive report from New York saying that Hawaii and the Philippines have been attacked! We won’t know for a few days yet if the United States will go to war with… Japan??

My head is in 2002—July 4—7/4—11!—struggling in mental quicksand. “Well, Hawaii is in the U.S.—maybe the terrorists decided to blow up an island. But why the Philippines? And I sure haven’t heard anything about hostilities with… Japan??

And then, of course, I realize I’m listening to a rebroadcast of reports from 1941 about Pearl Harbor! But why now? What a thing to play on Independence Day! Are the British still trying to get back at us for that?

I sit in the car feeling like an idiot. I’ve had my own personal little “War of the Worlds” moment. (“War of the Worlds” was the 1938 radio play that started a panic because people thought Martians had landed in New Jersey.) Well, at least I didn’t run into the store crying, “The terrorists attacked Hawaii!”


This slow-grasping-of-the-obvious may or may not be a sign of early senility, but I’ll tell you what is. The other day I drove up to P’s house in Novato, parked in the driveway, and popped the trunk with the lever inside the car instead of opening it with my key, as I usually do. I got out and went back to get my tennis racket and noticed that the trunk was slightly open. And I thought—swear to God—“Why is the trunk open? Did I drive all the way from home like that?” And then my brain cells kicked in and I remembered that 4 SECONDS AGO I had popped the trunk. By now I’m used to walking into a room and forgetting what I’m doing there—I can handle that—but I’ve been known to get up from my desk chair to do something and forget what I was going to do before I’m even fully upright. I’m beginning to see why old people live in the past—the past is on the hard drive, but the present is on an unlabeled double-sided floppy disk you can’t even read on your Power Mac G4 because it requires high-density… (An unexpected error occurred because an error of type whatchamacallit occurred. Save your work and abandon metaphor now.)

So, while I still have my wits about me (they’re around here somewhere, I just know it), let’s get serious for a minute.

the rough beast returns

One day I was driving home from Woodlands Market (that’s all I do all day, is drive from one grocery store to another), and my radio was again tuned to NPR. Fortunately, the BBC was occupied elsewhere—maybe chasing down old recordings of the Battle of Gettysburg. (Oh yes, serious.) A local left-wing talk show, Working Assets, was on, and the guest was Todd Gitlin, NYU professor, formerly of UC Berkeley. He was talking about the difference between patriotism and nationalism, a distinction that the usually bright politicos on the Left seem incapable of making. Nationalism is the gung-ho belief that your country is superior to all others. But patriotism is about the bond you feel with your fellow countrymen (countrypeople?) and the public servants who put their lives on the line for you every day: your firepeople, your policepeople, your soldierpeople. That seems legitimate to me, and that’s  why I have an American flag sticker on my car—not to rally ‘round the Bush Man’s warlord tendencies and crimes against humanity but to express my solidarity with my fellow (and gal) Americans, who are not predominantly racists and xenophobes and corporate criminals, but regular people who don’t deserve to die for the real or perceived sins of the government.

I was pretty sure I’d seen an article by Mr. Gitlin in the S.F. Chronicle a day or two before. So when I got home I started pawing through the recycling bags. I had to pee, it was way past my lunchtime, but I was determined to find it. When will I learn to clip these things when I come across them? Well, sometimes I do, but those are the ones that pile up on my dining room table and get covered over by Lands End catalogs and coupons for Silver Screen Video and Mr. Handyman until they finally float to the surface, old and faded, and I wonder what I thought I was going to do with “Science makes strides toward relief for restless leg syndrome.”

Finally, voilà! The headline is “Anti-Semitism masquerading as activism”; the article first appeared on I e-mailed the author asking permission to reprint his article, and he replied on the same day:

Thanks very much. I’m delighted that you want to send the piece around and you have my enthusiastic permission.

Todd Gitlin

Professor of Culture, Journalism and Sociology

New York University


“The Rough Beast Returns, by Todd Gitlin, June 17, 2002

“The email sent out last month by Laurie Zoloth, director of Jewish Studies at San Francisco State University, was chilling on its face.

“ ‘I cannot fully express what it feels like to have to walk across campus daily, past maps of the Middle East that do not include Israel, past posters of cans of soup with labels on them of drops of blood and dead babies, labeled “canned Palestinian children meat, slaughtered according to Jewish rites under American license,” past poster after poster calling out Zionism = racism, and Jews = Nazis,’ she wrote—and the details only became more shattering from then on.

“I read Zoloth’s words with horror but not, alas, complete amazement. Eleven years ago, during the Gulf War, across San Francisco Bay, the head of a student splinter group at Berkeley addressed a room full of faculty and students opposed to the war, spitting out venomously, ‘You Jews, I know your names, I know where you live.’

“The faculty and students in attendance sat stiffly and said nothing. Embarrassed? Frightened? Or worse—thinking that it wasn’t time to tackle this issue, that it was off the agenda, an inconvenience.

“Far more recently, two students of mine at NYU wondered aloud whether it was actually true, as they had heard, that 4,000 Jews didn’t show up for work at the World Trade Center on September 11. They clearly thought this astoundingly crazy charge was plausible enough to warrant careful investigation, but it didn’t occur to them to look at the names of the dead.

“Wicked anti-Semitism is back. The worst crackpot notions that circulate through the violent Middle East are also roaming around America, and if that wasn’t bad enough, students are spreading the gibberish. Students! As if the bloc to which we have long looked for intelligent dissent has decided to junk any pretense of standards.

“A student movement is not just a student movement. Students, whether they are progressive or not, have the responsibility of knowing things, of thinking and discerning, of studying. A student movement should maintain the highest of standards, not ape the formulas of its elders or outdo them in virulence.

“It should therefore trouble progressives everywhere that the students at San Francisco State are neither curious nor revolted by the anti-Semitic drivel they are regurgitating. The simple fact that a student movement—even a small one—has been reduced to reflecting the hatred spewed by others should profoundly trouble anyone whose moral principles aim higher than simple nationalism—as should be the case for anyone on the left.

“It isn’t hard to discover the sources of the drivel being parroted by the students at San Francisco State. In the blood-soaked Middle East of Yasser Arafat and Ariel Sharon, in the increasingly polarized Europe of Jean-Marie le Pen, raw anti-Semitism has increasingly taken the place of intelligent criticism of Israel and its policies.

“Even as Laurie Zoloth’s message flew around the world, even as several prominent European papers published scathing but warranted attacks on Israel’s stonewalling of an inquiry into the Jenin fighting, the great Portuguese novelist Jose Saramago was describing Israel’s invasion of Ramallah as ‘a crime comparable to Auschwitz.’

“In one of his long, lapping sentences, Saramago wrote in Madrid’s El Pais (as translated by Paul Merman in The Forward, May 24):

“ ‘Intoxicated mentally by the messianic dream of a Greater Israel which will finally achieve the expansionist dreams of the most radical Zionism; contaminated by the monstrous and rooted ‘certitude’ that in this catastrophic and absurd world there exists a people chosen by God and that, consequently, all the actions of an obsessive, psychological and pathologically exclusivist racism are justified; educated and trained in the idea that any suffering that has been inflicted, or is being inflicted, or will be inflicted on everyone else, especially the Palestinians, will always be inferior to that which they themselves suffered in the Holocaust, the Jews endlessly scratch their own wound to keep it bleeding, to make it incurable, and they show it to the world as if it were a banner.’

“Note well: the deliciously deferred subject of this sentence is: ‘the Jews.’ Not the right-wing Jews, the militarist Israelis, but ‘the Jews.’ Suddenly the Jews are reduced to a single stick-figure (or shall we say hook-nosed?) caricature and we are plunged into the brainless, ruinous, abysmal iconography that should make every last reasonable person shudder.

“The German socialist August Bebel once said that anti-Semitism was ‘the socialism of fools.’ What we witness now is the progressivism of fools. It is a recrudescence of everything that costs the left its moral edge. And, appallingly, it is this contemptible message the anti-Semitic students at San Francisco State chose to parrot.

“We are not on the brink of ‘another Auschwitz,’ and to think so, in fact, falsifies the danger. The danger is clear and present, though not apocalyptic. It’s no remote nightmare that synagogues are bombed, including the one on the Tunisian island of Djerba, famous for tolerance, an apparent al-Qaeda truck bomb attack. This happened. It is no remote nightmare that hundreds of Palestinian civilians died during Israeli incursions into the West Bank. This, too, happened. The nightmare is that the second is being allowed to excuse and justify the first.

“Laurie Zoloth wrote: ‘Let me remind you that ours is arguably one of the Jewish Studies programs in the country most devoted to peace, justice and diversity since our inception.’

“But anti-Semitism doesn’t care. Like every other lunacy that diminished human brains are capable of, anti-Semitism already knows what it hates.

“This is no incidental issue, no negligible distraction. A Left that cares for the rights of humanity cannot cavalierly tolerate the systematic abuse of any people—whatever you think of Israel’s or any other country’s foreign policy. Any student movement worthy of the name must face the ugly history that long made anti-Semitism the acceptable racism, face it and break from it.

“If fighting it unremittingly is not a ‘progressive’ cause, then what kind of progress does progressivism have in mind?”


This is where I wanted to tell the story of King Christian X of Denmark, who, when told by the Nazis that Danish Jews must wear the yellow star of David, said that he and his family would wear the yellow star also, and that all the Danish people would be encouraged to wear it—thus expressing their solidarity and making it difficult to identify the Jews. I’ve been known to tell my Jewish friends that “my people saved your people,” because Grandma and Grandpa Larsen came from Denmark. But it turns out this story is just another urban legend. I found the following on the Web, written by King Christian’s granddaughter, Queen Margrethe II:

“One of the stories one often hears about the Occupation, and which I persist in denying each time I hear it, is the story about Christian X wearing the yellow star of David as a demonstration during the Occupation. It is a beautiful and symbolic story, but it is not true. I do not mind it existing or being told, but I will not support a myth, even a good one, when I know it isn’t true, it would be dishonest. But the moral behind the story is a far better one for Denmark than if the King had worn the star. The fact of the matter is that the Germans never did dare insist that Danish Jews wear the yellow star. This is a credit to Denmark which our country has cause to be proud of: I think this is an important fact to remember. The myth about the King wearing the star of David, well, I can imagine that this could have originated from a typical remark by a Copenhagen errand boy on his bicycle: ‘If they try to enforce the yellow star here, the King will be the first to wear it!’ — I don’t know whether this was the actual remark, but I imagine it could have been how the myth started. It is certainly a possible explanation I offer whenever I am asked. To me, the truth is an even greater honour for our country than the myth.”

However, there was a mass escape of Danish Jews from Nazi-occupied Denmark to neutral Sweden, organized by the Danish resistance. So maybe I can stand by my claim that my people saved my friends’ people. And regardless of urban legends, if worse comes to worst, I’ll be out there on the front lines wearing my “Gone Gefilte Fishing!” cap and wielding the souvenir “Danmark” letter opener Mom brought me back from the Old Country—

Gai kakhen afenyam!”* I’ll cry. “Mæke my däy!

*Yiddish for “Go shit in the ocean!”


One of Todd Gitlin’s sentences that really struck me was: But anti-Semitism doesn’t care. Like every other lunacy that diminished human brains are capable of, anti-Semitism already knows what it hates. I think of that sentence when I hear that we have to change our foreign policy so the people who hate us won’t hate us anymore. Which is somewhat like a woman saying, “I must start wearing old rags instead of these provocative dresses so I won’t get raped.” If it were that easy to avoid rape, we’d all dress like me. But the rapist doesn’t care what you’re wearing, and the Islamic fundamentalists, or at least the ones whose handiwork we’ve seen, don’t care what our policies are. It works better for them if we’re Satan’s spawn. They’re not interested in walking hand-in-hand with us to make a better world. Just because oppressed peoples have legitimate claims against our government doesn’t mean that the terrorists are working on their behalf. Can we hold two ideas at once? The Bush administration is fucked AND there are fanatics who will stop at nothing to destroy us.


In a recent column in the Chronicle, Jon Carroll quoted part of a New Yorker article:

“A lot of contemporary culture seems to take the form of the opinion piece: you read the first paragraph—sometimes you read just the title—and you don’t have to continue, because you know exactly what is going to be said. Everything is broken down into points of view, positions on a curve. If you’re off the curve, or if you pay no attention to the curve, no one seems to know how to understand you….”

Carroll was writing about the flack he’s taken for what he wrote on September 12, 2001. He was “essentially the only person in the mainstream press” with his particular take on the attacks:

“I had not trusted the Bush administration before Sept. 11; I saw no reason to change my mind. I feared an unwise war; I feared John Ashcroft; I feared anti-Muslim witch-hunts…. I had not waved the flag and asserted the essential strength of our nation, nor had I called for revenge.”

I was in complete agreement with his column that day and thought it was gutsy of him to write what he did. I thought the same about Bill Maher (even though I can’t stand the man) when he got in trouble for disputing the use of the word “cowardly” for the terrorists who flew into the buildings. Freedom of speech much? I thought that was a given.

But were either of these guys “off the curve”? Seems to me they were on a well-traveled curve—the one that curves to the Left. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) The Left’s curve—conflating mass murderers with oppressed peoples and predicting the death of democracy—is just as predictable as anything the Republicans are saying. The most common ending to letters to the editor decrying our “loss of civil liberties” is “What’s next?” The Domino Theory was a big joke back in the ‘60s—we mocked the anti-communists for thinking that if we didn’t stop the Reds in Vietnam, they’d proceed directly to Dubuque, Iowa. But now dominos are falling all over the place in the minds of the Fuck The War people, who don’t seem to see any difference between Then and Now. Isn’t there a weird kind of low-self-esteem/self-centeredness (“The U.S. is the piece of shit around which the world revolves”) in assuming that the only reason any group or sect would want to destroy us is because we’re BAD? Do we really think the terrorists would back off if we all just marched for peace and learned more about Islam? They’re not negotiating with us. Have they made any demands besides “DIE”?

And because I love the word “conflating” so much, I’ll use it again. While writing this, I realized I was conflating the U.S. terrorism issue with the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Unconsciously, I was seeing the two as the same problem, interchangeable, and maybe they are. Innocent people are being killed all around. And the seeds are certainly the same. When you fight with your neighbor or hate people who are different from you, you’re a freakin’ Johnny Appleseed of violence.

But there’s at least one very big difference between Israel and the U.S.: We are surrounded by (a) water, (b), Mexicans who come here in droves, not to kill us but to work, and (c) Canadians who do the same but walk unnoticed among us. And look who Israel is surrounded by. Like us, Israel is not always true to its democratic ideals, but it’s also not deserving of extinction.


So that’s my rant du jour, my scattershot, my meandering curves, my reactionary politics, my failure to get with the program and condemn the Jews for being racists. I have sympathy for both the Israelis and the Palestinians, I really do. But those activists at San Francisco State have gone too far. With that sweet Scandinavian blood in my veins, I can’t help wishing for all my Danish-descended sisters and brothers to join me out there at 19th Ave. and Holloway, 100,000 strong in our “Gone Gefilte Fishing!” caps, fulfilling the promise that King Christian would surely have carried out if history had gone the other way.

mary’zine random redux: #18 November 2001

October 12, 2009

It’s really hard to maintain your natural humility and lack of pretence when you’re being praised for your articulateness, your humor, your honesty, even your grammatical and typing skills. I’m speaking of Pookie, of course. My condo isn’t big enough for the three of us anymore—me, Pookie, and Pookie’s ego. The way he struts around here, you’d think he was the next Alice B. Toklas. I know he’s thinking, “Don’t kid yourself, they’re only reading this rag for my stuff.” But hey, I’m not proud—whatever works.

I have to admit that when I first realized Pookie was getting into the computer and making unauthorized additions to the mary’zine, I wasn’t too happy about it. One literary genius in the family is enough, don’t you think? Also, it seems to me that his style is highly reminiscent of mine. (Dare I call him a copycat?) I know that imitation is supposed to be the sincerest form of flattery, but he’s never shown any interest in flattering me before. Maybe he just has a highly developed sense of irony and enjoys mimicking my style to show that it isn’t all that hard to do. I’m a little concerned that he might get so good at it that he will gradually take over more and more of the ‘zine and even sign his name to stories I’ve written! If you start seeing a “P” or an “oo” working its way into the masthead, you’ll know something’s up.

But I’m not too worried. After all, who owns the means of production? Who brings home the Eukanuba Moderate pH Nutritional Urinary Formula? Who wears the clothes in the family? I rest my case.

On the other hand, there’s no definitive proof that Pookie, is, in fact, writing those extremely clever and creative passages. We have only his word for it. Everybody knows how easy it is to get writing samples off the Web these days. Now I know how those literary detectives who are trying to figure out if Shakespeare really wrote Shakespeare’s works must feel. It’s quite a puzzle. If Pookie didn’t write Pookie’s works, who did?? Some say there’s a dog in the neighborhood named Francis Bacon who’s been seen wearing a carpal tunnel wrist support, so who knows?

One interesting thing about “Pookie’s” writings is that he tends to lapse into Yiddish whenever he gets upset. I don’t know who taught him “oy gevalt,” but if he starts throwing around words like “farmischt” and “ferklempt,” you’ll know he’s an imposter. I mean, he’s as goyish as I am.

hey I know you kvell when they laugh at my jokes.

OK, buster, I’ve had genoog out of you today. There are important matters to be written about. Say good night, Pookie.

good night pookie.

[Editor’s note: Watch for Pookie’s upcoming column, Mews of the Day. The name was MY idea.]

[And to think I used to call Rita Mae Brown a sellout for giving up her life as a radical lesbian separatist to write mystery novels with her cat Sneaky Pie Brown. Now look at me—mouthpiece of Pookie McKenney. Pookie Pie McKenney? I’ll have to work on that.]

living in the ground ‘00s

I don’t know why, but every time I try to write something serious about the World Crisis, I end up writing about Pookie instead. I guess, in such stressful times, one wants to tap into the timeless… the eternal verities… the cat jokes.

For example, Pookie has been affected by the tragedy in an unfortunate way. He’s taken a sudden dislike to Persian cats. (Thanks to the selfless friend who gave me that line but doesn’t want the credit [or the blame].)

Last time, I talked about my conflicting feelings about displaying the American flag. Well, I finally gave in and bought a decal for the back window of my car and stuck it next to the gay rainbow flag. Then I put a small sticker of the Statue of Liberty on top of the rainbow flag. Thus is my layered and nuanced support of both my country and my chosen cause conveyed in the grand tradition of bumpersticker politics. However, I cut the bottom off the American flag decal where it said “God Bless America”—I couldn’t go that far. It’s not that I don’t want God to bless America, but I don’t like the implication that we’re the only ones who should be blessed. No country is an island (?)—well, we’re not, and 9/11 was definitely our wake-up call.

For years, I’ve had a plastic Godzilla sitting on the back of my washing machine. (No reason—you should see the rest of my house. For example, there’s a life-size plastic skeleton sitting behind a semicircular desk in the living room; it sports a University of Michigan baseball cap, the skull t-shirt I used to wear all the time, and a cross necklace, and its skeletal fingers are resting contemplatively on the book Demolition Angels by Robert Crais.) A couple months ago, when I was decluttering my sand tray room, I decided to put a wooden Buddha on the washing machine next to Godzilla. For weeks they just sat there, passively coexisting as if they were mere objects sharing space. Then it occurred to me to move them so that they faced each other. Suddenly, the spark of truth—the monster of aggression threatening the peaceful monk, and the laughing Buddha raising his arms in blessing and in welcome. The scene struck me as a microcosm of each of us in the world—our aggressive, selfish, survival instincts—the reptilian brain—constantly at war with our transcendent awareness of who we really are (We are stardust, we are golden And we got to get ourselves back to the garden [sorry, I’m having a marijuana flashback]).

When I went back in the house after creating the sticker tableau on my car window, I realized I was holding the sticky “God Bless America” strip from the bottom of the American flag decal. Impulsively, I stuck it on Godzilla’s back. And thus my bumpersticker sensibility acquired yet another layer, another nuance. The special aggression of nationalism (God Bless US) faces off against another way of looking at the world, as maya, as illusion, as beyond the duality of nations and of concepts.

And if you think I’m contradicting myself (“yay America” vs. “America = monster”), well that’s why Art attracts me more than Politics. In Rumi’s famous words, “Beyond right and wrong there is a field; I’ll meet you there….” It’s also what makes this country great—and maddening at times. You and I are free to express our layered and nuanced, sometimes contradictory feelings, whether artistically or politically. (How much do you think I love the phrase “layered and nuanced”?) And that’s the side I have to come down on, when all is said and done.

[Sidebar: A few days after adorning the car window with symbols of my current belief systems, I found the following words [?] written in the dust on the trunk of my car:


This message bothered me for days—what could it mean? Perhaps “I have put anthrax in your gas tank”? or “Down with the California Highway Patrol”? A neighborhood kid told me it means “I am a Guatemalan,” but a Spanish-speaking friend said it’s not even Spanish. I wanted to believe the Guatemalan explanation, the patriotic sentiment of a stranger far from home and thus somewhat in keeping with my sticker sentiments, but I guess it will remain a mystery.]

But to get back to my point, if I had one. Little did I know that the decision to display the flag was the easy part. This isn’t a perfect society, by any means, but I’m finding a faith in “America”—the essential decency of our people and our values—that I haven’t felt since I heard JFK’s “Don’t ask what your country can do for you” speech. (Are they sending patriotism germs through the air????) It’s embarrassing to be having these feelings. I don’t know what to make of them and don’t really trust them. On the one hand, it feels strangely liberating to be set adrift without an ideology to fall back on (Kelly, I’m mixing my metaphors on purpose), because I also don’t want to be thrust into the camp of those who are pro-USA-at-all-costs.

I think a lot of people are struggling with this. I got an e-mail from K, with whom I worked at the Bureau of Business Research at the University of Michigan 30 years ago [gulp], where I used to argue with the faculty about capitalism and where I got in trouble for writing SUPPORT BAM (Black Action Movement) on my timesheet. In her e-mail, K mentions having a conversation with her husband about hanging the flag.

…he had a feeling after 9/11 that he wanted to hang our 4th of July bunting above the front porch (why we even have one is beyond me… plus we live at the dead end of a dirt road a football field away from the dirt road and NO ONE can see our house). I told him that something about that really didn’t sit well with me—the flag and religion were too closely entwined and didn’t he understand that I was a product of the late ‘60s when I was ashamed of my country and its flag and considered moving to Canada?… The arrival of your zine helped me further sort out some of my feelings.

She goes on to say,

By the way, a VERY LIBERAL sister of a friend of mine fell off a ladder on September 12 trying to hang a flag over her cement drive and broke her shoulder/arm in three places.

Let that unfortunate person’s accident be a lesson to us all. It can be downright destabilizing to mess around with a powerful political symbol you’re not familiar with. Would this have happened if she’d been hanging a “Free Tibet” sign?

One of the unnerving things about getting older is that you are sometimes forced to realize that ideas you’ve been taking for granted since your college days might need a bit of readjusting. It’s like keeping the same hairstyle for your whole adult life—making it easy to distinguish the bouffant-haired ‘50s beboppers from the long-haired ‘60s radicals. (My hairstyle only dates from the early ‘80s, so I’m ahead of the game.) It’s especially weird for the “Times They Are A-Changin’” generation to see that all times change, not just the ones you want to be done with.

Personally, whenever I see one of those bumperstickers that say, “Question Authority,” I always write “Why?” on it.

—quoted in Author Unknown by Don Foster

“Question authority” is the classic bumpersticker distillation of my generation’s politics. I’ve been questioning the authority of the U.S. government since at least 1966, but in recent weeks I’ve realized that there are other forms of authority that can be just as insidious. The Left is not always right just because its adherents claim to walk the high moral ground.

It’s not that I’ve changed my basic political inclinations, but I’m finding it difficult to apply them to the current crisis. My point is that those who “question authority” seem to have only one model for what authority is—the parent/high school principal/college administration/government model. But it’s also important to question your own assumptions. My friend Z has a bumpersticker on her car, “Don’t believe everything you think,” and I say Amen to that. If you believe everything you want to believe, you’re going to pass along “untrumors” (now I’m channeling Herb Caen), such as the one that CNN used decades-old footage of cheering Palestinian children after 9/11. The alternative theory is that reporters threw candy up in the air to get the pictures they wanted. This may be true, for all I know, but I think that the desire to believe this kind of thing, the idea that everything’s a conspiracy, should be questioned also. God forbid that people should refrain from dissenting—I haven’t gone off the deep end and drunk the Kool-Aid yet. But all “authority” is not out there.

I have been known to pontificate about how I’m waiting for the concentration camps for gay people to open, because I wouldn’t put it past the Christian right, if they gained enough power, to take such an extreme stand. One fundamentalist’s “infidel” is another fundamentalist’s “queer.” Different scriptures, same bigotry. But I now question this cynical hyperbole on my part. It might be more dangerous to inflate the enemy’s influence than to focus on the essential decency of people. It’s tempting to believe the sky is always falling, but how wearisome to live in a state of such mistrust.

Even paranoids are right twice a day—oh no, that’s clocks.


(Hold your applause till the end.)

Back in the day, another popular saying was “Even paranoids have enemies.” And it was true—the FBI files that came to light after the Freedom of Information Act showed us that they really were spying on us. But I think the reverse is also true: “Even those with enemies can be paranoid.” Panic about anthrax is one thing, but the prevailing panic on the Left about how we’re in imminent danger of losing all of our freedoms seems just as counterproductive. “As long as we still have it, I’m going to make the most of the First Amendment….” I assume Stephanie Salter was speaking figuratively when she wrote that, but still, there’s a lot of this rhetoric going around. Does it mean I’ve been brainwashed if I have more faith in our country than that? Granted, it was chilling to hear the infamous “Watch what you say” comment from the White House, but I do believe that dissent and free speech are so integral to our traditions that they will not be eliminated so easily. I can’t convince myself I live in a police state just because I don’t agree with everything our leaders say and do. There are plenty of real police (or fundamentalist) states in the world that wouldn’t tolerate half the freedoms we have.

America Freaks Out

(The Daily Show’s answer to “America Strikes Back”)

Contrary to popular opinion, 9/11 did not sound the death knell for irony, and humor once again saves the day and our sanity. (One of the writers who famously announced the death of irony later said, “I was misquoted. I said the age of IRONING is dead.”)

On The Daily Show, a cast member is purporting to give a report about the anthrax scare while headlines run under his talking head, as they do on CNN. At first, the headlines are straightforward, and then they get increasingly silly.


Then there’s a “fight” between the reporter and the teletyper, and after a while the report continues and the headlines are back:


OK, so I quoted that whole bit just so I could use the line WHITE POWDER FOUND ON DONUT IN ST. LOUIS.


And who do you not want to be right now? Members of the thrash metal rock band Anthrax. (“When bad things happen to good band names…”)

“Rock me, B. anthracis!”


Some people are still trying to solve the “mystery” of 9/11. One of my editor friends wrote me this:

…got an email a while ago about the numerology of it, how everything comes down to the mysterious number 11:

Sept. 11, or 9/11 or 9+1+1 = 11

Sept. 11 is the 254th day of the year: 2+5+4 = 11

After Sept. 11, there are 111 days left in the year

The Twin Towers, standing side by side, always looked like the number 11

The first plane to hit the towers was American’s Flight 11

New York was the 11th state to join the Union

There are 11 letters in New York City, Afghanistan, and The Pentagon

etc., etc. …

Tup [her husband] chimed in, “Yeah, and the other flight was 77, which is 11 only with funny hats.”

floating down de Nile

I’ve been writing this issue over the span of several weeks, and I find that my interest in political analysis (a fancy term for “trying to figure out what the hell I think”) is on the wane. It’s a new phase. As time goes on, I view the daily headlines about bombing and anthrax scares with a strange sense of detachment. I’m not getting bombed. I’m not getting anthrax. Disaster and grief seem so mid-September. Why is this stuff still happening? Maybe the Zoloft is turning me into a nation of (1) sheep. Or maybe it’s saving me from useless panic and anxiety. I seem to be in denial, and it’s the only place I can be right now. Didn’t the president (note to self: I’ve never called him that before) say we’re supposed to get back to normal? Well, I’m back to normal. Why do I feel so guilty?

In this mood, I go to my weekly painting class, less sure than ever about what is going to come out of me. For those of you just joining us, I paint at a studio ( where the focus is on the intuitive process, not on “making art.” Thus, we don’t plan what we’re going to paint or try to make it look a certain way. We talk about “what wants to come into the painting” or “what wants to be painted.” Sounds kooky, but it works. Sometimes we paint what’s going on in our lives, and sometimes it’s all just a big fat mystery. Sometimes life is a big fat mystery. Since 9/11, I had painted the events only once—a fast painting of people falling or jumping out of the towers, because that image was haunting me. It felt good to paint it—sometimes what we’re most afraid to feel turns out to be more manageable when we get it out on the paper.

So on this day I start a large painting of myself, letting the brush go where it will, going with the flow, as they say, and I’m somewhat surprised when I paint a few small airplanes at the top of the paper. Then I paint some dead bodies at the bottom. I’m just painting, without a lot of (identifiable) feeling. Finally, some “anthrax bugs” come in, flying at my head, along with a couple of “terrorists” shooting me and grabbing me from behind.

On my second painting, I know I want to paint myself standing on top of an airplane, waving a flag. It feels good, feels right. It’s a relief not to have to make sense of it. The plane is red, white, and blue—starred and striped like the flag—and it’s dropping three bombs, one labeled U, one labeled S, and one labeled A. I have a flag in one hand and a bomb in the other, with a short fuse burning. My heart has tubes coming out of it. Bodies are falling from the sky above me—they feel like they’re from the World Trade Center—and underneath the plane, more bodies are falling—these feel like they’re in Afghanistan. When I describe it, it sounds conceptual, as if I were making a (confused) political statement, but I swear, it just happened as I painted and watched.

Now I’m on a roll. I’ve been painting for an hour and a half, and I’m in the zone, just letting it all come. On my third painting, I start with three black airplanes flying across the top, dropping bombs. Dead black bodies are piled at the bottom of the painting, and I’m standing on top of them, looking up, holding an American flag in each hand. Red tears are coming out of my eyes, and my heart again has tubes coming out of it. This time, yellow light is streaming out of each tube onto the dead bodies below. My body is white, heart is red, eyes are blue. Nice symbolism, but again, it just happened. I notice later that the way I’m holding the flags (one up, one down), I look like I’m flagging the winner at the Indy 500. No clue what that’s about, but fortunately it’s not my job to know. Time is up, so I’ll finish this painting next week.

So those are the images, but they don’t tell the whole story. As I said, we aren’t painting to make art or to make a statement but just to be with ourselves, to explore without judgment. When I sit down with everyone in the group afterward, I feel strangely whole in a way I haven’t felt since 9/11. I feel as if I’m everyone I painted—the victims, the terrorists, the bombers, the bombed Afghanis—and, being everyone, there is no need to figure out which “side” I’m on or what I think about “revenge versus justice.” Even the image of me standing on the dead bodies, holding the flags, looking up at the planes—it doesn’t make a coherent political statement, but it says something true, I think, about how we are each “all of it.” Feeling whole, I feel both big enough and open enough to embrace and embody all the contradictions that the mind can’t begin to resolve.

Looking around the studio and talking to my painter friends, I find it fascinating to see how differently the 9/11 events are being expressed—some people are painting fast, violent images of bombs and bodies, and some are painting slow, detailed scenes of men in turbans and rippling flags, or close-ups of the World Trade Center flames, or just pages and pages of black tears. I would love to see an exhibition or a book of these paintings. They’re like the paintings of traumatized children—forget “art,” this is pure response. And yet there is a beauty and a power in these spontaneous images. We paint with the simplicity of children but with the emotional depth and complexity of adults.

I heard an interview on “Fresh Air” with a photographer who’s taking pictures of the World Trade Center wreckage. His aim is to make the pictures absolutely starkly clear and to have them enlarged so much that you see the things themselves without anything getting in the way—no interpretation, staged effects, special lighting, etc. It struck me that we painters are doing exactly the opposite—we’re not trying to capture the image objectively; instead, we’re expressing what’s in our hearts and souls. It’s not about the event “out there” but about our human response. So each painting is individual and yet archetypal, because we’re responding without manipulating the image—so (come to think of it) maybe it’s a little like what the photographer is doing after all. Each painting is a product/snapshot of the human heart, without anything in the way—no interpretation, staged effects, special lighting, etc.

The photographer said something else, about how in late afternoon the smoke and the pink light from the sunset and the red drapes hanging on nearby buildings make this scene of devastation look utterly beautiful. He said he couldn’t fathom how beauty and horror could be so entwined. It struck me as a perfect argument for the existence of God.

Make of that what you will.

chat mystérieux

Scenario 1

I am coming downstairs. Pookie is in the kitchen eating his expensive, pH-controlled cat food, a good 25 feet away. As soon as he hears me on the stairs, he flees the kitchen like a wanted man and either cowers under the dining room table or makes his way around the perimeter of the living room, crouching and scurrying like a Marine on a mission, finally taking cover behind an armchair. If they sold camouflage suits for kitties, he’d be the first one in line.

Scenario 2

I walk into the sandtray/storage/litterbox room to put a bottle in the recycling bin and come face to face with Pookie. A look of stark terror crosses his face, as if I’m the one-armed man and he’s The Fugitive, Richard Kimball, about to go over the waterfall. He makes a mad dash for the door, barely escaping the fate to which I surely would have consigned him. I have yet to figure out what that might have been.

Scenario 3

I am coming up the stairs, carrying a heavy basket of laundry. Pookie is lying on one of the stairs, stretched from one side to the other, taking up every inch of space. As the basket of laundry hovers precariously over his head, and as I grunt in an unladylike manner while struggling to find a foothold on the stair he so lordily (is that a word?) occupies—and failing that, as I straddle the stair and him and attempt to hoist myself and the basket up to the next step, risking life and limb—he looks up at me with the bemused, dispassionate gaze of a direct descendant of Buddha’s cat and begins methodically licking his right paw.

Forget Sneaky Pie Brown. This is a mystery.

By the way, His Royal Highness has informed me that his preferred nom de plume is now Pookemon. I have created a monster.

[Mary McKenney]

mary’zine random redux: #19 December 2001

April 17, 2009

Wartime Edition (rated R for language and brief nudity)

Hello, people. Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition, it’s the wartime edition of maryzine.

When I was in Berkeley a few weeks ago, I saw posters on telephone poles advertising The Fuck The War Ball. To my lasting regret, I didn’t stop to get the details, but those lovely Anglo-Saxon words have been reverberating in my head ever since.

The times they have a’changed, all right. Back in the day, it was Make Love Not War. Now it’s Fuck the War. Where do we go from here? Nowadays, it wouldn’t be enough for John and Yoko to sit naked in bed to protest the war, they’d have to, well, you know, fuck.

But there are still flag-wavers in Berkeley, so I expect The Fuck The War Ball might get some anti-protest protesters. Perhaps a pro-war group will stage The Fuck The Fuck The War Ball Ball, which will in turn be answered by The Fuck The Fuck The Fuck The War Ball Ball Ball Ball. (Notice, in this flight of fancy, how Fuck and Ball keep getting repeated, and The War stays unchanged. That’s about how much effect The Fuck The War Ball is going to have on real life.)

I actually don’t have much to say about the war Out There. (Après la guerre, moi.) I’m experiencing my own warlike symptoms. In some weird way, I seem to be living out a parallel reality in which the armies of the night are gathering in me. Something inside me is raging, but I don’t know what or who the target is. It’s as if all the pent-up anger from my lifetime stockpile is rumbling just beneath the surface. (They don’t call me Mary Mary Quite Contrary for nothing.) I’m at war, and like The Fuck The War War, it’s an undeclared war against an unknown enemy. Am I projecting onto the world, or is the world projecting onto me? I’m a terrorist of my own self, unpredictable, unappeasable. Mentally I’m crashing into my own building, mailing anthrax letters to my own address. I’m on hyperalert for whatever I’m going to do to myself next. My inner President Bush gives stirring, morale-boosting speeches to a crowd of chanting dissidents, my alter egos. Fuck The Fuck The War The War The Ball The Ball, we echo, overpowering the voice of executive reason.

I cry out for something to be done. Call out the National Guard! Patrol the bridges! Arrest the racially profiled! Scare the citizenry! Pull around the wagons! No, that’s the wrong century!

I wanna be sedated.
—The Ramones

Terrorism and war—both the Inner and the Outer—are wreaking havoc with my personal mental health program. The psychiatrist has upgraded my dosage of anti-depressant, anti-anxiety, anti-obsessive-compulsive-disorder-sneezing-aching-coughing-so-you-can-sleep-better-to-feel-better medicine. It is my hope that 75 mg of Zoloft will soon calm the citizenry of my personal nation state. My economy is ailing, and it’s time to get out there and buy. At least I haven’t laid myself off yet.

(You think I can’t keep this up for 10 pages? Watch me.)

It’s like all this roiling, boiling feeling is rising to the top—“Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.” The rage may have been triggered by 9/11, but it doesn’t seem to be about that anymore, though terrorism is certainly a handy point-of-reference/excuse/public domain/mass hysteria kind of deal. It’s almost like having permission, somehow, to feel whatever I’m truly, madly, deeply feeling, or as my friend D says, “Then there are the loons like me (and I think there are a lot of us) who are actually relieved because now the outside chaos matches the inside chaos/turmoil/uncertainty/certainty of imminent death!”

Yet despite the War on Terrorism, terrorism itself has become almost passé. The news people are all: Ho hum, another person has died of anthrax, and it’s a complete mystery because she was an elderly shut-in and never got any mail. Now for our main story, Are Americans going to spend a lot of money for Christmas this year?

On the other front in my personal war against self-induced terrorism is my therapist, J. Dr. P. gives me the drugs, but J has to deal with me. She’s always trying to bring me back into my body, and I’m always trying to escape. The classic therapist question is “How do you feel about that?” but J’s question is “Where do you feel it in your body?” My answer is always the same. “I don’t know!”

Therapy doesn’t follow a straight path. Why would it? Painting doesn’t; life doesn’t. It seems to go in waves—just as I’m approaching a central stumbling block-slash-snake pit in my psyche, like, for instance, my deep and scary feelings of Fuck The World (you’re all invited to The Fuck The World Ball)—bam!—something else comes up, some crisis of relationship or work or health that calls for immediate attention, and I have once again escaped facing my personal war-mongering tendencies.

If the Zoloft were still working—or at least working the way it did pre-9/11—I could possibly escape forever. But no such luck. Actually, Jeremy told me that he’s known several people on anti-whatevers who have had the same reaction. I suspect that the medication calms you down and diverts your attention from trivial frustrations, and then Just When You Thought It Was Safe To Go Back in the Water, your inner Godzilla rears its ugly head. (Godzilla, Jaws, whatever.)

By the way, Terry pointed out the synchronicity of the word “God” in Godzilla, which completely escaped my attention in last issue’s riff about the tableau on the back of my washing machine (Godzilla v. Buddha), but you can’t go home again to already-overblown analogies, so never mind.

Anyway, I was at therapy one morning recently, complaining about my constant headaches and other psychosomatic preoccupations, when I told J how angry I’ve been feeling since 9/11. I started crying, which is par for the course, and got up to retrieve the Kleenex from her bookshelf. She just moved our sessions to a new office, so the accoutrements so necessary to the therapeutic process are not yet in place, including an end table for the couch. I brought the Kleenex box back to the couch and “jokingly” said, “I’ll just put it on the TABLE” and dropped the box where the table should have been. Even as the Kleenex box was falling to the floor, I realized how much aggression there was behind my “joke.”

J is nothing if not sharp as a freakin’ TACK, so she immediately said, “Do that again—but organize it.” My somatic task was to exaggerate the gesture, bring the anger out from hiding behind my sarcastic wit. So I picked up the Kleenex box again and tried to throw it to the floor instead of just letting it drop. This was surprisingly difficult to do. I kept working at it—I must have thrown it down 10 times or more—and discovered that I was afraid to “hurt” the Kleenex (or something that the Kleenex represented?—Après la Kleenex, moi?) The box was starting to get torn and crumpled, and the tissues kept threatening to fall out. It was really strange to see how afraid I was to let my anger out, even against an inanimate object. (But then some physicists think subatomic particles are sentient beings. I kid you not.) (2009 update: That’s probably just as ignorant as Sarah Palin complaining about “fruit fly research in Paris, France, I kid you not.” For all I know, sentient subatomic particles are the Drosophila melanogaster of the physics world.)

So then J decided to give me something to abuse that would be a little more sturdy, so she rolled up a throw/blanket/shawl kind of thing that was on the back of the couch and told me to “beat it.” I started to leave—no—I started to bang it on the couch cushion. She wanted me to really get into it and even say words—whatever came to me—as I hit the couch. At first, little pipsqueak “nos” and “fucks” came out. But gradually, I lost some of my self-consciousness and managed to make a few loud noises, NO, NO, NO, as I beat that cushion into submission.

“What did you learn in therapy today?”
“Watch out or I’ll beat you with this SHAWL.”

When J let me stop, I had little time to be relieved, because then she wanted me to use the beating-something-with-every-fiber-of-my-physical-being VOICE to tell her how angry I was. It didn’t even have to make sense, it was just a way to practice coming from this other place. But that was even harder than beating the couch. All my so-called anger, even when I was making it up—“How dare you not bring me coffee this morning?”—came out in this thin, teary whine that I immediately recognized as my natural voice. I just couldn’t get down in my diaphragm and even pretend to be angry. I kept having an irresistible urge to laugh or make a joke—ah, what is that they say about the hostility in humor?—or I’d start crying again. The experience was mortifying—but then, “else what’s a therapy for?”

As I was trying to summon up my angry voice, this great analogy came to me. (When I’m trying to get out of working on somatic patterns and feeling feelings in my body, I like to impress J with my brilliant metaphorical skills.) I told her that I felt like Moses parting the Red Sea. (Inflated much?) I felt as if my attempt to speak with a clear, angry voice was like Moses parting the waters and then having to walk through the dry path with all his people while the temporarily suspended waves on either side threatened to drown them all. (Dry path = my anger; waves = my whiny tears.) I tried to fit J into the analogy, but casting her as the Pharaoh didn’t go over real well, and I realized she wasn’t chasing me anyway, she was on the other side of the sea urging me on. I said I didn’t know what was on the other side of the sea for Moses, and she said “the wilderness, the unknown.” That sounded about right. She also pointed out that Moses never claimed to know what he was doing, he was just obeying God, and that sounded about right, too—at least the not-knowing-what-he-was-doing part.

The reason this exercise was so hard for me was that I have perfected my mother’s art of “expressing” anger through silence and withdrawal, which had the all-important safety feature of putting her out of reach of a counterattack. The other person (usually me) could use the same tactic back at her, but then nothing was ever aired and no one was ever happy. Conversely, my father, a helpless invalid, raged and hollered all the livelong day and it never got him anywhere, because my mother could literally walk away from him. One time when he was bellowing about something or other—she had taken too long to come back from the store, or she had leaned her breasts on the table while playing Scrabble, and Vince, another guy with multiple sclerosis, had been eyeing them—she hauled him into his wheelchair and wheeled him out of the house, down the ramp, and out to our deserted country road where he could sit and rage at the woods to his heart’s content. Naturally, that stopped him cold. My mother never lost a fight.

Lately, I’ve seen what a dead end this tactic of angry withdrawal truly is, but I’ve despaired of learning new tricks at my ripe old age. It was probably a dead end for my mother, too, but at least she had us kids to pass the silent gene on to. I’ve noticed that my sister’s deepest expression of anger is a heartfelt, sarcastically tinged “Huh.” Since my mother was an aspiring writer, you’d think she would be a natural talker, a creative wordsmith of emotion. (But then my father, the Irish talker, never had the urge to read or write.) But I’m reminded of something Adair Lara wrote: “… you have to be pretty good at language to get the full savagery from silence.”

So my assignment for the next few weeks is to beat the bejesus (bemoses?) out of my mattress and holler like a banshee while I’m doing it. It should be easier to do this without an audience, although I’ll probably worry about my neighbor Kim hearing me through the wall. I just can’t seem to admit to myself that it’s the sound and fury itself that scares me.

This is what I dreamed after that therapy session:

I have a PENIS, which is fairly new, and I’m looking at it and thinking it doesn’t look very big. I remember that most guys measure theirs, so I decide to do that. I feel down at the base of it to see where to measure from, but then I remember that you’re supposed to measure it when it’s erect. As I have that thought, I immediately start to get erect, and the penis gets longer and longer and curves up and touches me between my eyes. I’m so impressed.

I also dreamed that I was really angry at a guy wearing bright orange pants, and I yelled at him and pushed him down and started shoving him with my foot.

Pandora’s Box much?

So, getting back to the world Out There, it’s becoming harder and harder to read the newspaper these days. There’s just too much information to absorb—every day, some shocking new report of a world that has forever changed. Take this headline from the S.F. Chronicle of November 11: “People turn to food to ease terror anxiety.” I was floored when I read this. A proven link between food consumption and anxiety? Get out! I scanned the article for more details about this amazing finding.

People across the country have turned to food—from chocolate to mashed potatoes to peanut butter and jelly—to deal with the anxiety of the Sept. 11 attacks and anthrax scares, according to dietitians and psychologists.

“What’s one more chocolate?” asks Almquist, 24. “It seems a little strange to be obsessing about something like that when there’s so much more going on.”

Zumberge, 49, typically would think twice about indulging his sweet coffee craving. “But now? Not so much,” he says.

[Some] say they don’t need the added stress of carefully watching what they eat. “Why do I want to put myself through that right now? There’s enough stuff going on,” said Johnson, 36, a Newport Beach receptionist.

I skip to the end of the article to see if there is some explanation for this stunning new evidence of the mind-body-food connection.

Clinical psychologist Emanuel Maidenberg said Johnson’s feelings are not surprising. “Food of that kind is typically associated with pleasant feelings—comfort, relaxation, calm,” said Maidenberg.

Whoa. Talk about food for thought. I put down my bag of chips—no, actually, I stuff another fistful in my mouth as I consider this possibly life-changing information. Could I possibly be—gasp—using food as a way to deal with my war-induced stress? I review my food choices over the past couple of months. Hmm. A steady diet of hamburgers, enchiladas, meatloaf and mashed potatoes, popcorn, chocolate, Ben & Jerry’s….. I know I have to take a long, hard look at myself to see if my eating habits have been affected by 9/11. Let me think. Nope, nothing’s changed.

This is how I torture myself. One day I bought a Hershey bar and put it in the cupboard, hoping to forget about it so that when I was desperately wanting a treat sometime, and I despaired of finding anything suitable in the house that would be a good substitute for whatever it was I really wanted, I’d suddenly spring up like Einstein discovering relativity and cry “Eureka! I have chocolate!” The problem with that plan is that first you have to forget the chocolate is there. I wouldn’t let myself have it if I couldn’t forget about it, but if I could forget about it, I wouldn’t have come up with such a ridiculous scheme in the first place. I was in a mental prison of my own making, and a bar of chocolate with almonds was my jailer. The more I rattled the bars of my cage, the harder the jailer laughed. “Eat me!” he cried. (I know it was a he, because it had nuts.) (Oh God. Now I’m channeling the teenage boys who used to torture me with this “joke” when I was working at the snack bar in the park.)

To distract myself from the thought of food, I hurry past the terror-anxiety news to the entertainment section of the paper, where I hope to escape into fantasy. But once again I am faced with shocking revelations:

“Shallow Hal” actress found she wasn’t the center of attention in a fat suit.

You’ve got to be kidding me! I can’t take this!

In this movie, Gwyneth Paltrow, beautiful movie star and daughter of a beautiful movie star and a movie producer, plays a 300-pound woman, a role for which she wears a fat suit.

She donned the fat suit and makeup for a day and walked around the lobby of a New York hotel…. At first she was concerned that the crowds in the lobby would figure out who she was right away. To her surprise, no one did. “People wouldn’t even look at me,” Paltrow says with astonishment. “They wouldn’t make eye contact with me at all. It was awful.”

The actress says she experienced a similar reaction whenever she wore the fat suit on the set. “I felt no sexual energy from men,” she says.

After I pick myself up off the floor, I go straight to the cupboard, fall on the Hershey bar, and tear off the wrapper. I think about saving half, but—ah-hahahahahaha. Later that afternoon, I have that moment I had been waiting for—the moment of despairing of finding anything suitable in the house that would be a good substitute for whatever it was I really wanted. But by then, of course, it’s too late.

C’est la guerre.

I’m going to lick this food thing yet. But first, I have more to say.

I do not seek novelty.
—Kay Ryan, poet

I am an enjoyer of repeat experience. Others are drawn to the new; I’m drawn to the been there–done that–enjoyed that–let’s do that again. I generally order the same food in the same restaurants, and I can identify my menu item of choice in just about every restaurant I’ve ever been in. I’m a serial monogamist when it comes to food. In Ann Arbor one summer, when I was 23 and very much alone, I ate a chili dog for lunch every single day. Peggy can attest that I have been searching for a chili dog of that caliber ever since. Maybe it was my need for comfort, not the chili dog itself, that made it such a tasty, satisfying treat—the old mouth-of-the-beholder theory.

Actually a lot of my favorite comfort food comes from Michigan, which is odd in one sense, because my home state is not exactly a culinary paradise. But I guess the whole point of comfort food is to remind you of your childhood. Except, if I wanted to be reminded of my childhood, you’d think I’d be craving pasties (not the little circles that cover a stripper’s nipples but a horrible vegetable pie that the U.P. is known for); creamed salmon and peas on toast (known to my ex-Army dad as shit-on-a-shingle); boiled New England dinner; a dozen varieties of “hot dish” (hamburger or tuna casserole with noodles and canned vegetables); and lime or orange Jell-O with fruit cocktail suspended inside. True, in the summer there was corn on the cob (13 for a quarter, picked that day from the farm next door), potato salad, baked beans, hot dogs—to this day, my favorite food is picnic food—and my mother was an excellent baker. She made the world’s best pie crust—I have yet to taste its equal, and that goes for all the fancy-schmancy crumbles and crisps I’ve had in Bay Area restaurants. Sometimes, all we’d have for supper was strawberry shortcake, if the strawberries were fresh and that’s all anybody (i.e., my mother) wanted. Sometimes we’d have only rice porridge, a Danish rice soup that was basically dessert by any other name—rice cooked in milk, to which we added butter, cinnamon, and brown sugar at the table.

As a kid, I generally refused to play with any gender-appropriate gifts I got—especially dolls—but I did like the little Easy Bake oven I got for Christmas one year. Down in the basement, next to the wringer washer, I would bake little chocolate cupcakes from the tiny boxes of cake mix that came with the oven. I think what I liked was the miniature size of everything—the oven itself, the little pans and pink spatula, the bite-sized cupcakes—and the privacy, the solo adventure in micro-cookery that seemed almost scientific in its precision. Obviously, my mother had an ulterior motive for giving me this gift, because she kept hauling me up from the basement to the grown-up kitchen, where I was supposed to transfer my newfound culinary skills to making pork roasts and boiled potatoes for the family. I never really made the transition—I had my own ideas about what I was going to do with my life. When I got the Junior Betty Crocker cookbook as another gift (I never realized how pointed so many of those gifts were), I was drawn to the recipes primarily as esthetic arrangements. I wanted to make what looked good in the pictures. I was more interested in the art—the red tomato soup offsetting the white and yellow of the egg salad sandwiches—than in throwing together whatever leftovers were in the fridge.

I also tried out some of my irrepressible religious humor when I made this supper:
“It’s like we’re eating the body and blood of Jesus.”
“I say, it’s like we’re eating the body and blood of Jesus.”
“That’s enough,” says Mom.

I thought of my Easy Bake oven experiences when I read about a panel of professional chefs who competed in the Easy Bake Oven Bake-Off. They had to use all the creativity and skills at their disposal to bake their dessert specialties in the tiny toy oven, which is nothing but an aluminum box powered by a 100-watt light bulb. The winning entries were a huckleberry tart topped with goat cheese ice cream and a chocolate flourless cake. The most surprising thing I read in the article was that the Easy Bake oven “was introduced to the market in 1963.” I figured it must be a typo, because that made me a junior in high school when I was playing cupcake chef down in the basement. And why was my mother giving me such a thing at that age anyway? Well, that’s more understandable. For my 21st birthday, she gave me Pat Boone’s book of advice for teens called ‘Twixt Twelve and Twenty. I guess she couldn’t do the math.

I was going to say that this ‘50s nostalgia thing is really getting out of hand, but I guess instead it’s this early ‘60s nostalgia thing that’s getting out of hand. However, I’m pretty sure paint-by-number was around when I was an actual child. Believe it or not, even that is becoming trendy, in an all-things-kitschy-are-in-again kind of way. Some guy has a huge collection of these paintings and is trying to make sociological/historical/cultural/financial hay out of this supreme example of noncreativity. In the article I read, he was quoted as saying, “Some people actually painted these paintings to hang on their walls,” and I thought, “Yeah, you got my family pegged.” Well, my mother never did that, but my aunt put up the paintings that my cousins did. I am so torn right now between being sarcastic about the condescension of trend-spotters who exploit unsophisticated people for financial gain and getting all condescending myself about the unworldly pleasures of the people to whom I was born. Or maybe I’m not really theirs, maybe they found me in a basket in the bulrushes. (I am inflated much.)

But when it’s all you can do to survive and raise a family and you aren’t exposed to art (except Norman Rockwell—who’s also making a comeback, by the way) or music (except Lawrence Welk, ‘nuff said) or books (except possibly Reader’s Digest condensed books), you really don’t know any better. And that is the eternal shame in being working class (a.k.a. white trash) in this country. You don’t have the right clothes, the right accent, or the right knowledge about the right things, because you never had the financial means to buy yourself 4 years of leisure (a.k.a. college) to become more discerning. If you’re lucky, your kids manage to elevate themselves enough to get an education and come back to make fun of you for your primitive preferences. I could go on and on about class and about what it’s like to have come from that background and then try to fit in with people who assume you had the same privileged background they did, and maybe someday I will.

But for now, I think I’ll call it a day. It’s a day. No comments from you-know-who (starts with “P” and ends with “e”). Our latest noteworthy encounter was when I gave him a “bath” with a waterless shampoo that smells (a.k.a. reeks) of tea tree oil, with which I had had no prior experience. It was frustrating not to be able to explain to him how lucky he was, that it was this or get hauled down to the professional cat shampooers for the full treatment. (They should have a cat wash, like a car wash; just strap ‘em in and run ‘em through.) Afterward, I felt sorry for him, because he kept trying to get away from the smell by getting up off the floor and hunkering down on straight-backed chairs for a few moments before moving on. I knew just how he felt. It’s hell not to be able to get away from yourself when you want to. I’ll have more to say about that next time, I hope—after beating my mattress with a towel every day and yelling FUCK YOU to the universe (The Fuck The Universe Ball, why not), possibly getting myself some bright orange pants in which to haul around my gigantic new PENIS—oh, and I suppose BALLS go along with that. And so we come full circle.

mary’zine random redux #17 Sept./Oct. 2001

March 26, 2009

life goes on within us and without us

You can kill birds. But you can’t kill all birds.

dear friends,

I have started writing this issue many times, in many different moods, and with uniformly disappointing results. Whenever I reread what I’ve written, I see there is no way I can send such disjointed, inappropriate, maudlin, not maudlin enough, one-sided, too-many-sided musings out into the world. You are probably being overwhelmed by points of view just as I am. You are teetering between your own constantly changing states of mind. You are feeling connected and disconnected, close to your heart and far away, back and forth, on again, off again, just as I am. Why should I add to the deluge? I think the answer is simple: I want to take part.

My hopes and expectations for this issue can never be met. I want to strike just the right balance between horror and hope, sorrow and inspiration, with just the right tone—not too heavy, not too light, juuuust right. You’ll note that the word “right” keeps popping up. My way of dealing with most things is to figure out what’s “right” and then plant my flag, so to speak, there. That was a lot easier to do when I was younger, I’ll tell you. Or maybe it’s the nature of what happened, the complexity of an enemy without a face—or with one face that we’ve demonized so we can think there’s a clear target. Regardless of the terrorists’ extreme methods, they do reflect the feelings of a certain segment of the world’s population. “One person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter.”

Sometimes it has felt as if there is just too much to take in—too much sorrow, too much suffering, even too much beauty. I can’t watch the crying firemen anymore, or hear the beautiful stories of sacrifice and love. The tireless rescue effort, the photos of loved ones. The two people who jumped from one of the towers hand in hand. The immense grief, the immense generosity, the immense compassion. My heart resists the workout it’s getting. My brain, too. Every time I turn on the TV or read the newspaper, there’s new input to consider, new tragedies, new strategies, new acts of heroism, new acts of scapegoating, new warnings that we have entered a new world in this new millennium. I am tired of the new.

I see us all creating narratives out of what happened, as if we’re little kids wanting a goodnight moon story before bed. And maybe, at heart, we are. Some people have fashioned a scenario of how Flight 93 went down; it’s just a story, but we have powerful incentives to believe it. In our minds, we’ve already cast the movie—Tom Hanks, Ben Affleck, and Matt Damon, ordinary/extraordinary guys who heroically band together to bring the plane down to save the lives of their fellow Americans.

Other people are trying to “decode the message” sent by the hijackers—September 11 is 9/11, get it?, and two of the flight numbers are eerily close to the latitude of lower Manhattan. I told Peggy about this, and she said, “I think we got the message.”

Everything I read and see gives me a different perspective and wipes out the one I had five minutes ago. My spine unwillingly tingles when I hear “God Bless America.” Some part of me responds to the fist-shaking of G.W. Bush and despairs of the “give peace a chance” crowd who don’t seem to have both feet in reality. But another part of me—the legacy of the ‘60s—will probably never be able to fully embrace the American flag. Too much horror has been perpetrated in its name. Bush’s disingenuous use of the term “bully” to refer to the terrorists strikes me as ludicrously inaccurate. If the U.S. is Goliath, which by all accounts it is, then the stone that David throws at us is not the act of a bully, it is the act—no matter how misguided—of an underdog who sees no other way to bring the giant down. We Americans should understand this better than anyone, we the proud historians of our own revolutionary beginnings. But I suppose that is one of the lessons, that the underdog grows up to be the top dog and adopts the posture of top dogs everywhere: We’ll do what we want—because we can. And those of us who live in the top dog’s kennel (am I getting carried away with my dog metaphor?) have been so complacent, so entitled as “Americans—leaders of the free world.” Like we really deserve all our riches.

I wrote the following to Terry late in the first week:

My feelings and thoughts are all over the map. Mostly there’s just a disconnect and confusion, dotted with moments of anger—no fear, though, strangely. Alternately heart-open and heart-closed, for no apparent reason. Going grocery shopping, I’m half extra-kind and compassionate, and half irritated if anyone gets in my way…. It feels like the best of times and the worst of times. Yes, the best of times. It truly does feel as if good could come of this, though it’s often only temporarily that people realize the preciousness of life and have good will toward their fellow humans. I keep being surprised and not surprised and angry and not angry. I am not about to start flying the American flag. Is that a vestige of my misguided youth, or is it good to keep a level head and not dive right into rabid nationalism? Confused, confused, confused…. I read the widely circulated Canadian journalist’s defense of America (which was written in 1973, by the way, not this week) and I think, yeah, we always help out other countries, rah rah for us, and then I think about all the havoc we’ve wreaked in the world in the name of patriotic zeal and anticommunism—defending our oil interests, making alliances with dictators; we’ve been on the wrong side so often. And now I’m identifying with this “we”? Who are “we”? I’m impatient with both the left and the right, with any politics at all, though I know it must come down to that….

Intermittently, I stop thinking and just let myself watch and feel. Jon Stewart of “The Daily Show” choking back tears as he describes the former view from his apartment—the World Trade Center—and the view he has now—the Statue of Liberty. Dan Rather crying on David Letterman’s show—not discreet, manly tears but a crumbling of his stern newsman face. I’ve never seen so many men cry.

And then my brain takes over again. Dan Rather asserts that this “war” is not a clash between cultures, between religions, or between wealth and poverty—it’s about good and evil. They hate us for no reason. They just want us dead. And so I lose my previous (five minutes ago) certainty and start questioning again.

My questions chase their own tails.

Dust settles, mind does not.
—headline over Joan Ryan’s column in the

It’s unreal. It’s scary. I can forget it; I can’t forget it.
—my friend E in Washington, D.C.

I thought about writing this issue as a series of journal entries so I could focus on what I was thinking and feeling on a given day. But I realized that the entries would have to be constantly updated:

9:05 a.m.—Heart touched by the plight of Afghani refugees fleeing their country in advance of war.
9:10—Anger at people who think they’re the only real Americans because they came here from lighter-skinned parts of the world.
9:15—Grateful for national leaders who emphasize that Arab Americans are—hello!—Americans. At least we’re getting a much-needed education in Islam.
9:30—Anger at headline, “Falwell says U.S. has lost God’s protection because of spiritual void.” Is he HIGH?
10:05—Heart touched by hug from my favorite grocery store clerk.
10:40—Irritated by “violence only leads to violence” argument.
11:15—Fearful of “violence is the only thing they understand” argument.
11:20—Feel I have to choose one argument over the other. Can’t.
11:30—Horrified by images I can’t get out of my head—scads of shoes on the ground from falling bodies. [2009 update: A TV ad (for shoes, I guess) has shoes falling all over a city street, and I gasp: Did the imagery not ring a bell for anyone at the ad agency?]
11:42—Moved by stories of firemen’s heroism and self-deprecation (“just doing our job”).
12:05 p.m.—Up to here with images of wistful beauty and elegiac sadness.
2:10—Sick that this happened after Bush became president.
2:15—Wondering if Bush could be the right man for the job after all—can’t see Al Gore doing much for the national morale.
2:20—Friend I say this to writes it off to shock.
2:21—Realize she’s right.

And so on.

Some of you know that I put the mary’zine on hold this summer because of an unintended side effect of taking Zoloft, the anti-depressant, anti-anxiety, anti-obsessive-compulsive-disorder medication that I have come to know and love (and just in time). No one could have been more surprised than I that I lost the desire to sit on some literary observation deck above my life and describe its ins and outs, its ups and downs, in witty or soulful terms for the edification of dozens. My “new self” no longer felt it had to justify its existence by writing or publishing.

But that was one of the few down sides, and I was willing to give up the ‘zine if I had to, because Zoloft rocked my world. Or I should say, it steadied it. It was as if my brain, body, and soul—victim(s) of brain chemistry or life experience or unexplained personality defects—soaked up this neuron-connecting drug like a parched begonia, leaving me calmer, less self-conscious, less afraid of what other people think of me, less judgmental of others, content to do the little tasks that are required to maintain a household. I first noticed the drug was working when I realized, to my amazement, that I was perfectly happy to be sitting on a stool out on my patio in the morning sunshine washing and laying out on a blanket approximately 5,000 separate sand tray items that hadn’t been dusted in years, from skulls to plastic hearts to spiders and beyond. I had a sublime moment of realizing that there was nowhere to get, nothing to achieve—that doing this task mattered more than finishing it. At last, I knew what it meant to be “in my body” and to simply be without the usual internal litany of “I’d rather be [reading, sleeping, eating]” (not necessarily in that order).

And then the Events of September 11 happened (“Event” is my chosen euphemism, a good substitute, I think, for “first war of the new millennium”). It’s a cliché, but my foundation felt shaken, like after the 1989 earthquake. After a couple days of total shock and media overload, I e-mailed Diane, saying in part,

… by turns I’m a prickly pear and a dish of mush and an unconcerned Zoloftian and a selfish Bay Arean who doesn’t know anyone directly involved and was damn glad to know that you, my chick-a-dee-dee, were driving and not flying on the fateful day.

In her reply, Diane suggested that I had the beginnings of the next issue of the ‘zine. So she was the first to put the bug in my ear, the bee in my bonnet, the ants in my pants to get the ‘zine back on track. I began to hear the call of the blank computer screen, even as I wondered what I could possibly add that would be of value to a world already saturated with expressions of grief, loss, anger, and love.

All week, I kept hearing people in the media talk about how in times of tragedy, everyone instinctively reaches out to make contact with their loved ones. I sat here alone in my home office, editing yet another book about microbes, wondering why my loved ones weren’t reaching out to me. Of course, I wasn’t reaching out to them, either. But I did turn on the ringer on my phone, way up to 4 rings, which is huge for me—to dare to answer the phone without knowing who is there. Eventually, some of my loved ones did reach out, and I want to thank Kerry, Sissypuss, Diane, Terry, and Kate for calling or e-mailing during the freshness and rawness of that first awful week.

A week after the Events, Rob Morse wrote in the Chronicle,

Last week we were slammed over and over again with the most horrendous reality TV of all time. Then the electronic media decided to censor anything that could conceivably trigger memories of the violence they had broadcast.

Some radio stations were dropping any song that referred to airplanes, plus REM’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It.” But besides the contradiction Rob Morse pointed out, protecting us from reminders is a hopeless cause. Most popular songs are about love or loss, so there’s no way to avoid thinking about our own vulnerability. Just being alive is a reminder.

With predictable timing, the pundits began telling us to try to get back to normal. For once, they were right. I felt palpably relieved whenever I turned off the TV and stepped outside to breathe the fragrant, cool air, or when I listened to the blue jay splashing away in the bird bath on the patio. It was good to be reminded of the natural world. Laughing with a friend on the phone eased my heart and soothed my nerves. Going out to dinner at the Lark Creek Inn to celebrate a friend’s birthday felt alternately like a relief and a guilty pleasure. After we ordered dinner, the waitress informed us that there were candles out front in case we wanted to go outside for the national moment of silence at 7 p.m. We didn’t. We had had our fill—one friend had already sung two “Amazing Grace”s and had two moments of silence at the school where she works. It seemed more important right then to be sitting at a table together, waiting for our petrale sole and our heirloom tomato salad and our butterscotch pudding to arrive, talking of little things and big Events and laughing when we could.

My goddaughter Kelly, age 25, was having dinner with us. I told her I might not be writing the ‘zine anymore. She said I couldn’t stop now. Why? “Because you haven’t written about me yet!” So I teased her that I was going to dig up some embarrassing stories from her childhood. She mentioned the time she peed in my bed, which I don’t even remember. But Peggy said to her, “No, she’s going to write about your saying you want her to write about you.” The woman knows me, I must say.

This year I’ve been struck by the fact that Kelly is the same age I was when I met Peggy 30 years ago. Let’s have a moment of eerie silence to contemplate that horrific number. (“Eerie silence” and “horrific” were the terms we decided we were most tired of hearing in the wake of the Events.) Even though my political agenda back then was quite different from hers (she’s an ardent environmentalist, health-foodist, bike rider), I feel the connection of having been, like her, an idealistic young person with a desire to create change.

But what’s also fascinating to me, beyond seeing the similarities and differences between our life paths, is that contemplating her young life puts my middle-age-hood in perspective. It’s interesting to see some of the ancient truisms coming, in fact, true—such as the one that says the older you get, the more you realize you don’t know. That’s not as frightening as it may sound. It even makes life more interesting and less depressing—there is more to learn, more windows of opportunity, more ports in a storm, more facets of every diamond in the rough, more complexity and more grace. More ability to change, rather than less, which is what I used to think. So to all those who fear growing older—you won’t know the benefits until you get here.

In the newspaper the other day, there was a photograph of Ukrainian Americans in Golden Gate Park celebrating the 10th anniversary of Ukrainian independence. One of the women in the photograph leaped out at me. (Not literally—I have not completely lost touch with reality.) Sturdy and rather grim-(or determined-)looking, as if she’d seen it all and then some, she reminded me of my Danish peasant grandmother. Wrapped in a warm coat, her purse on her lap, she held a small American flag. And in that moment I got it about the flag. How it’s the immigrants from poor or war-torn countries who carry the American dream forward, who claim the flag as their own, who consecrate it rather than embarrass it. She wasn’t holding a symbol of world power or hegemony, she was holding a symbol of freedom and all the other American ideals that seem so false and fragile at times. I was humbled by this. In my youth, it was easy to disavow this symbol of America’s hypocrisy. But this woman wasn’t holding the same flag that’s waved by the patriotic jerks who want to bomb a country of innocents into the Stone Age. In her hands, it meant something good and true.

I cut out the picture of this woman and taped it to the side of my computer. At first, I thought I may have to take it down, because the wrenching of my heart every time I looked at it was hard to take. The picture gave me something important, something I valued, but the brain (enjoyer of certainty and habit) fights any attempt of the heart to be open, to let love and suffering coexist in a contradiction that will always be linked.

Soon the picture became part of my desktop landscape, and I had to strain to reexperience what had felt like “too much” only days before. This is the other part of the contradiction: the love, the suffering… and the ability to move on. Thomas Friedman, who has written extensively about the Middle East, said on NPR’s “Fresh Air” that people who live with terrorism every day are either survivors or thrivers. The survivors are consumed by fear; the thrivers are appropriately careful, but they don’t let fear rule their lives. He wished for us all to be thrivers.

One of my friends flew back East 5 days after the Events. Another friend doesn’t want to fly again until she knows what’s going to happen. I wonder if we will ever “know what’s going to happen.” One thing I have not felt much during this topsy-turvy time is fear. It could be the Zoloft working its magic, or it could be the enormity of the Events, the vagueness of the threat, and the pointlessness of being afraid. It seems likely that the terrorists who are still out there won’t target the airlines again—we’ve already rushed to close that barn door after the horse was gone. For all we know, having made their symbolic statement about American finance and military might, they will start planting bombs in random small towns and cities throughout the country—San Rafael, Boulder, Taos, Ashfield—but it’s all too amorphous. Why not just go ahead and worry about Death and be done with it? For me, at least, the Events have not so much struck terror in me (though I could still be in the shock stage) as they have made me realize it’s pointless to fear the unpredictable and the unexpected—which is to say, Life itself. I could die on a hijacked airplane or be hit by a bus or get crushed in the next earthquake. Speaking of which, to quote myself, “They say there’s a 60% chance of earthquake. Well, there’s a 100% chance of death.” Who are we trying to kid?

Overall, I’d have to say that during these last weeks, thanks to the Zoloft, I have been more forgiving of myself than I would have been in the past. I have mostly allowed myself to experience whatever life brings me: the sweetness of the only cartoon in this week’s New Yorker (a violinist with her head bowed, stopping the music, and her cat covering its eyes), the sadness even when it does not bring tears, the irritability when it does not achieve righteous anger, the hardening and softening of my heart in seemingly alternating pulses, the occasional fear, the love, the lack of fear, the lack of love, the political confusion, the selfishness, the compassion. I think I have never before felt so much a part of humanity. I don’t want to give up that feeling—that sane connection with reality—but I don’t know if I can stand it. Sometimes it is just too heartbreaking to be alive, and to feel so much.

Almost last, but certainly not least, Diane sent a group of us the following poem. My first thought when I saw it was, “I don’t want a goddamn poem.” I was already up to here with beautiful expressions of loss, love, and gratitude. But the poem is exceptional, and so I share it here.


with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridge to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water looking out
in different directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you
in a culture up to its chin in shame
living in the stench it has chosen we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the back door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks that use us we are saying thank you
with the crooks in office with the rich and fashionable
unchanged we go on saying thank you thank you

with all the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us like the earth
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is

—W.S. Merwin

from The Rain in the Trees, copyright© 1998 by W.S. Merwin.

And now—I don’t know about you, but I need a freakin’ break. So here is a guest contributor to take our minds off our own species’ troubles.

my life with mare—a work in progress
by pookie (poet manqué)

so i live with this human… they call her mare like a horse haha…. ive been studyin her for about 14 years now… observin her closely takin copious mental notes. i do my surveillance with eyes half closed so she thinks im sleepin but im always on the job.

mary is remarkably unselfconscious in front of me which tells me she has no clue as to my true mental capacity. i play the dumb kitty cat pretty good if i do say so myself. she doesnt even check for my whereabouts when she gets out her magic wand. i have to say, thats kind of insultin, i mean what am i, chopped liver/she thinks i can sleep through that racket/well someone has to maintain the proper boundaries around here so i quietly leave the room and find somethin to do downstairs like visit the litter box… though i usually like to save that for mealtimes, just to get her goat….

i used to enjoy a little self-diddlin myself; she had this fuzzy lavender blanket that i just loved; but as soon as i got my paws on it and got my mojo workin, shed grab it away. but those days are long gone and not even kitty viagra would help me now.

its hell to get old.

i have to admit that not that much happens to me. its a big day if she lets me go out on the patio to lie on the sticker plants. i dont much care for the sticker removal process but its so nice to get a whiff of fresh air that isnt comin from a window three feet above my head. lots of interestin smells out there. i try to hide in the honeysuckle vines, hopin shell forget im there but she never does. ive been studyin the fence, which has a possible way out if i could dig deep enough… but im not gettin any younger….

ok heres the big confession. i was abused as a kitten. i know its very trendy to talk about those things now, but i had to get it off my chest. this horrible man used to throw things at me and even throw me when he could catch me. it was pretty brutal but it was the only life i knew. then mare took me in when no one else would have me and for that im grateful. but there was that time she almost let me die of a bladder infection. for once i wished i could speak cuz she sure wasnt gettin the first clue about how much pain i was in. i have to admit since then her attitude has changed for the better… she pets me a lot more and talks to me in that high, funny voice they all have when they like us, and i gotta admit it feels pretty good.

sorry i was so cranky last time i wrote. thats what happens when you dont get your tuna-flavored laxative when you want it. i gotta admit the spoken vocabulary of my species leaves much to be desired… meow… mew… erkk… there just isnt a lot of range when youre askin for somethin specific. she has this cartoon of a cat lyin on a shrinks couch and hes sayin to the shrink im startin to feel dependent and boy can i relate to that.

anyway i came into her life when i was a tough young tomcat with a chip on my shoulder and a few problems with anxiety and depression… from the kittenhood abuse of course. when i was just startin to get the hang of the new place and still had the strength to jump up on the dinin room table and the washin machine and actually look out the freakin window she brought in a little girl cat that she called tweeter and i called ms priss… oy gevalt… i think mare thought she was doin me a favor but what favor thats what i want to know. ms priss was a connivin little thing actin all sweet to mares face but talkin mighty catty behind her back… meow… she even played this stupid game fetchin little wadded up pieces of paper that mare would throw and then bringin em back and droppin em at her feet lookin up at her all cutesy gag me with a spoon. i tried to get on mares good side by runnin after corks but i was too proud to bring em back so little ms priss got all the best seats in the house like the bed and that damn lavender blanket. i used to pounce on her when she walked by… ms priss that is… what a brainless girly girl she was shed squeal and mare would come runnin.

since ms priss went away life has been pretty uneventful. i eat sleep beg for treats lie on cardboard sometimes walk back and forth between mares legs when shes workin on the computer which is pretty much all the time unless shes stretched out like a corpse on the bed. it’s not a bad life all in all.

well i guess id better skedaddle. til next time yrs truly

p.s. good luck people, god bless humanity and all creatures great and small

[Mary McKenney]

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