Skip to content

Archive for


It strikes me as ironic that the progressive voice in this country is the one so often reduced to using negative, reactionary language. There’s an anti-Iraq-war movement, various protests against the war on Terror, activist groups opposing global warming, and reactionary flare-ups about everything from wiretapping to airline searches. I understand that these issues might seem like things that need to be stopped, but there’s something both disempowering and desperate about such shrill and panicky responses.

Why can’t we make demands for what it is we DO want? Perhaps it’s the psychologist in me, but I know full well that setting up resistances tends, overwhelmingly, to just make the problem worse. Even if you’re throwing negative energy at the issue, it’s still energy. (Wasn’t it Mother Teresa who wouldn’t particpate in anti-war rallies — she was holding out for a pro-peace movement?) Why can’t there be more enthusiasm for positive changes?

I don’t buy the argument that people would be adverse to the difficulty or sacrifices involved in creating more sustainable communties, or to working, say, on small peace-building groups. This country is obnoxiously gung-ho about self-improvement: from diet books to fitness groups toward generic self-help tomes, we seem to have no problem working to better ourselves. I can’t imagine it would be that difficult to expand this obsession with perfection to a community level.

I’m a terminal optimist, I know. I’m blessed – or cursed – with an idealistic streak that I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to quell. But I don’t think my dreams of working locally, on a small scale, to bring people together and to work toward positive change are either unfounded or misguided. I’m not one for the bumper sticker mentality, but there’s one I saw recently that articulated perfectly what I believe about everything that’s going on in the news: “We’re all in this together.” I think the more that’s done to bring this home – and it can be as small as smiling at strangers or waving at your neighbors in the morning – the better.

We’re all in this together. Sometimes, strangely, I can’t think of what could be more wonderful.

(Also, though I said I’m not much when it comes to bumper stickers and t-shirts, here’s another that I love. Because really: who could argue with that?)


A friend of mine, when I mentioned Simone Weil, reminded me of something else she wrote; namely that, for her, prayer was attention and attention was prayer. For me, this spoke brilliantly to a question Lorianne asked a few weeks back, about how non-theistic people can respond when suffering friends put out requests for prayers. I’ve felt similarly at a loss in the past; I don’t pray, at least not to some benevolent monogod waiting to hear my pleas, but it seems heartless to tell this to someone in pain.

But attention . . . this I’m comfortable with. After all, what higher gift is there than fully paying attention to someone? Words are clumsy vehicles when it comes to grief; so often they tend to prod and poke rather than support, and sometimes even the gentlest phrase hurts. But attention and presence amount to a literal total giving of oneself. While I don’t know how I’d phrase that response, especially, again, in the context of praying, and especially given what I just wrote about the blunt infelicity of language, it’s still something I’d put forth. Or, I suppose, something that would allow me to comfortably tell someone I’d pray for her.



Oh, Beth.


I think it’s time for me to revisit Simone Weil. I was obsessed with her when I was in college – my broken little anorexic self was impossibly drawn to the similar rumors about her abstemious self-denial (she died of starvation at 34) and her penchant for elective suffering – but I stumbled away from her Christian martyrdom for a more pointed selfish variety after graduation. For some reason, recently, though, I started thinking about her again.

I’m not sure how to proceed; I’m not sure how to say why; and so I suppose I’ll just jump right in.

Over the past week or two, though nothing explicit or objective in my life has changed, I’ve been overcome by these absurd washes of love, which come from nowhere and which I can’t explain. I can’t focus on anything for too long or I get choked up by the perfection of whatever it is I’m seeing. It’s at turns absurd and embarrassing and it’s made even meditation difficult. I keep crying in the middle of my sits.

Yesterday, though, I remembered being struck at one point by Weil’s observation about the relationship between love and attention. “The highest ecstasy,” she wrote, “is the attention at its fullest.” I wish I remembered more of her spiritual algebra. I’m curious about the details of the equation.

(I remember something else she wrote that for years I was in a denial too deep to appreciate.

Life does not need to mutilate itself in order to be pure. )

This, though, is not something I’m so concerned with. I’m more interested, again, in the connection between paying attention to something, and loving it, and vice versa. I’m not sure whether or not I should be skittish about revisiting this particular Christian; I’m not sure what perversity in myself still exists that I want to associate mortification and mysticism. Certainly there is something laughable the fact that I still want to intellectualize everything; I want to know how it was she worked the details of this connection. I want the satisfaction of a map.


I’ll consider this a note to myself, then, to come back to this, and to come back soon. Right now I have a paper to finish.


Do go look at this, please. That picture breaks my heart wide open.

I’ve never seen anything so perfect.


A friend of mine asked, yesterday, in another online venue, why it was so much ‘cooler’ to hate things that to love them. She dredged up all manner of legitimate examples: it’s more fashionable to be disillusioned with the government, cooler to make fun of a celebrity or artist, hipper to express disdain at a new trend. I think she has a point, but I don’t think hate is somehow ‘cooler’ than love. If it were cooler to hate things than to love them, then Pat Robertson would be the James Dean of our time.

This is nothing new, I know, but I see hatred as sad. Hate is little more than a sign of insecurity and bitterness and a sense of lack. Our culture places a great deal of emphasis on both ownership and comparison. If you hate something, you don’t need to worry about the fact that you don’t possess it. You don’t need to be envious. You don’t need to worry that someone else has it and you don’t. Love takes egolessness. Love takes self-assurance. To be able to look at something clearly, to see it for what it is, with all its seeming flaws and imperfections, and to love it regardless is a radical act.

I believe this.

But you might not want to listen to me. I’m the one who, at the end of this week, broke down in tears, at random, on the sidewalk, because of how in love I felt with the whole crazy perfect messed-up world.

(And now I wished I’d written about that, because I think in some ways we were shedding the same tears.)


I went to San Francisco last night to see Modeselektor with a new friend (whose last name happens to be Qua. If I weren’t already engaged I might have proposed to him on the spot; Qua is possibly the best surname I’ve ever heard); it was the first show I’d seen in well over a month and the mere sensation of being back in the city at night was blissful. The show – which was held at the Rx Gallery, an art gallery / wine bar not far from Union Square – was excellent; the crowd wove a pleasant intersection of chill and enthusiasm; and I danced my skinny little ass off. I love living where I do – the peninsula is cultured and quiet and in general provides a nice retreat – but those occasional forays into the city make me wonder whether I shouldn’t look more seriously at moving there.

Not that this, now, is a real option. I have two more years of school to go. Still, I do like the reminder of what I’m missing.


I still feel clumsy, writing here; my words used to flow more easily. It’s a delicious clumsiness, though, ripe with the memory of how natural this odd public expression once felt. It’s like a combination of the awkward guilt I feel when I run across, accidentally, someone whom I’ve been meaning to call for months, and the more physical memory of strapping on a pair of skis at the beginning of a new season. Classes will be over at the end of May, and I’ll have a summer of truer writing ahead.

Or so I hope.


Stanley Kunitz died yesterday. I only just found out. Please, read this. It’s fitting.

The Long Boat

When his boat snapped loose
from its mooring, under
the screaking of the gulls,
he tried at first to wave
to his dear ones on shore,
but in the rolling fog
they had already lost their faces.
Too tired even to choose
between jumping and calling,
somehow he felt absolved and free
of his burdens, those mottoes
stamped on his name-tag:
conscience, ambition, and all
that caring.
He was content to lie down
with the family ghosts
in the slop of his cradle,
buffeted by the storm,
endlessly drifting.
Peace! Peace!
To be rocked by the Infinite!
As if it didn’t matter
which way was home;
as if he didn’t know
he loved the earth so much
he wanted to stay forever.

S. Kunitz


I wish I had words for how in love I am. I’m still amazed sometimes that he’s not just some wishful figment of my crazed imagination, or the result of some fantastic mirrored dream. It’s crazy. I wish I could better describe this mutual incredulity.

But life is mysterious and wonderful and strange, and I’m so happy to be sharing it with someone who feels so much the same.


This list of meaningful books – according to men and women – is both fascinating and funny.

My personal list is, or would be, much more close to the male version than the female. I’ve never been able to so much as finish anything by the Brontes’ or Jane Austen, The Handmaid’s Tale I understood to be important but bored me to tears nonetheless, and Toni Morrison has never done it for me. By contrast, Camus remains one of my favorite writers, The Catcher in the Rye was one of those books that I read at just the right time (I wanted to be Holden), and while I place Pynchon above Heller as far as ‘life changing’ goes, I think the two are comparable enough.

But if I were to make a list of books that had changed my life? Off the top of my head:

Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Carl Sagan’s The Dragons of Eden: Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence

Ken Wilber’s Sex, Ecology, Spirituality (also Grace and Grit which was about the death of his wife; also a few of his earlier books)

Robert Nozick’s Philosophical Explanations

George Lakoff and Mark Johnsons’s Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and its Challenge to Western Thought

Earnest Becker’s The Denial of Death

Sartre’s Nausea

I know. Only the last of these is fiction. I’m a little reluctant to recommend any of them, either, because I read these books in high school, and with the rare exception, haven’t revisited any. I want to say that they were life-changing, though, because of how powerfully I remember them all. These are the books that I literally cried over.

Funny, no?

Pirsig’s book in particular I thought was the most beautiful thing I’d ever encountered; I think even today I’d enjoy it. The Nozick inclusion could have, I’m sure, been substituted with any other book on philosophy (in fact, I’d guess that today I’d be nowhere near so smitten with what I know now is a fundamentally libertarian approach), but it was what I had at the time and at the time it took my breath away.

I was such a sad little creature back then. I was so hungry for answers and meaning, and so utterly confused by other people. Intellect and spirituality and the structure of systems seemed so pure and beautiful and safe, and these books seemed to recognize this.