Likelier to be a Dirty Astronaut: Five Admissions


It’s the last day of March, and I am not fond of listening to most English accents. I admit it. I have gone from an adolescent anglophile to… well, this person who just does not want to hear it. I like to joke about it and imitate it à la “You don’t know me at all. I don’t need to be drunk to talk dirty.” (Because one of the only words that sounds best in English-English and can really only be taken seriously from the mouth of an English person is “dirty”.) Admission number one.

Admission number two. Watching movies in which a character finds out she is pregnant and then has to tell someone else she is pregnant (especially someone who has a stake in the pregnancy, i.e., the father), sort of freaks me out emotionally. Seeing these reactions – fictional though they may be – the processing that takes place… the characters’ place in life – some wanting a baby, some not at all, some shocked or horrified, not even thinking “baby” is on their life’s radar when it comes into being. Watching these reactions makes me think about how I doubt I will ever have this kind of conversation – and up to this point would not have had this conversation even in the event of pregnancy. It occurs to me right now as sort of sad because I have been determined to go it alone. No illusions, no expectations, no surprises – the hard work would be mine alone.

I think this all hit me the other night when I watched the film Short Term 12. The main character (played by the suddenly-everywhere Brie Larson) discovers she is pregnant and eventually tells her boyfriend. His surprise, initial reaction (which seemed almost as though he was stunned – negatively – gave way to a lot of joy and support), interested me as well. The actor’s face registered such shock and surprise in that moment… the reality dawning on him in just a few seconds – I am not sure I have seen a purer reaction in a film before. (Incidentally, I had never really seen the actor – John Gallagher Jr before except in the often-grating and thankfully almost-over The Newsroom, in which he portrays one of the only likeable characters.) I am, and I say this with a tinge of regret and wistfulness, more likely to become an astronaut than a mother at this point in my life.

Admission number three. I am always – always – too curious about things and particularly about people, which almost never ends well. When someone seems really out there and bizarre, I find that I want to get to the heart of their pathology – or at least their deep-seated irregularities. Several years ago, I briefly talked to/had a few conversations with someone who was, for lack for a better or less repetitive term, way out there and completely fucked-up. His proclivities and perverse predilections (insofar as I knew the extent of them, which, as it turns out, I didn’t. What I knew was only the tip of the iceberg – and not illegal) were so bizarre that it was like watching a building collapse in slow motion. He slowly revealed things about himself that were disturbing and sad – but did not even begin to reflect what would come later, long after I no longer knew him. It was a brief acquaintance that ended almost as soon as it began. But my too-curious mind Googled him after a couple of years and found that he had apparently been arrested for something very serious, tried to commit suicide, was put on house arrest and then disappeared before his court date (or something resembling this chain of events). He thus ended up on his state’s most-wanted list of fugitives. The whole thing was rather shocking but satisfied (or even overly satisfied) my curiosity. Then, the other day, after a couple more years had passed, I looked up his name again to see if he had been captured or if anything new had come to light about the situation… only to learn that he is dead. Apparently he died on the opposite side of the country from where he was a wanted man, using an assumed identity – and died of pneumonia!? From the little I knew of him, he was someone who wanted to die and therefore took all the risks a person can take. I am not surprised to learn that he is dead, but it still rests uneasily in my mind – like what a horrible end. What a horrible life, really.

Admission number four. I have often laughed at Swenglish – the fluent but strange Swedish-English concoction that escapes Swedes’ mouths when they quite ably speak English. One of the things that gets me, much more than the “yoy” rather than “joy” and the “shat” for “chat”, is the tendency to form a “dju” sound at the beginning of words that start with a “u” sound when combined with some other preceding sound. You will thus hear something like, “When we worked in the UK” as “When we worked in the Ju-Kay”. Recently I heard someone say, “The views that we works with” but it sounded like “The Jews that we work with”.

Admission number five. “I love everything about you.


Delirium for creativity


Not too long ago, I was having a workshop with a few colleagues – all of whom are creative and thoughtful people who are willing to color with all the crayons in the box when it comes to throwing out new, different ideas. But for the most part, we are working in an environment where “innovation” and “creativity” is enforced – that is, we are required to be in a bunch of workshops where we are supposed to be creative on demand. Between noon and five, come up with all the ideas, as if ideas and creativity happen with a gun to your head or with deadlines. When you are in “work mode” you are also in a different frame of mind. Never mind that “corporate creativity” is a bit, um, unreal. (And company-mandated brainstorming shows no evidence of working or leading anywhere except to maybe wasted time.)

Apart from creativity and unusual ideas popping into my mind randomly and unexpectedly, I have learned that the weird, outlandish and sometimes best ideas come when I am deliriously tired. A Washington Post article I recently read about the best time of day to be creative captured this thinking.

“A key aspect of solving “insight” problems is being able to overcome an impasse in your head. To come up with an original idea or novel solution, in other words, we must be able to approach it from a different perspective. During our “non-optimal” times of day, we’re more influenced by distracting information, and are less blinded by an initial solution that, when we’re more clear-headed, might seem obvious but turns out to be wrong.”

Many people just have brains wired to think differently – they see the world in a completely different way. For the rest of us, we have to find other strategies for tapping into creativity. For me, exhaustion lowers all the rational boundaries in my head that would automatically discard ideas. And I should know – I push myself to exhaustion more often than any rational person should.

Other Selves: Understanding the Difference between Privacy and Secrecy


Privacy is the endangered species in between two extremes of secrecy and transparency.

I stumbled across an article about the nature of affairs – how happily married people often “cheat”. It was an interesting article in general, but what struck me fundamentally were the ideas that underpin so many other aspects of life – not just romantic relationships. I debate quite frequently, as I have written about before, about the difference between privacy and secrecy and where that boundary is. What kind of information – how much information – do I owe someone just because they have asked, just because of the nature of our interaction (i.e., do I tell a potential employer X, do I keep Y private, do I reveal those same Xs and Ys to my husband or wife or potential husband or wife?)? Is total openness and transparency required – and what are the rules governing this? Are there any? In my case, there are a lot of things that are deeply private for me, but keeping them private is not always all about me if I have invited someone else into my life.

“Transparency is the whole culture. The way a regular person tells everything about themselves on television. The way technology allows us to find out anything—99 percent of the people I see, their affairs are discovered through email or phones. But transparency is also our organizing principle of closeness these days. I will tell you everything, and if I don’t tell you it means I don’t trust you or I have a secret. It doesn’t mean I choose to keep certain things to myself because they are private. Privacy is the endangered species in between two extremes of secrecy and transparency.”

Of course some private things are personal and don’t involve anyone else. But then other people and their expectations and feelings are a part – is there not some responsibility there? As this article on affairs – and the reasons underlying affairs – argues, there is “…a distinction between cheating and non-monogamy. Cheating is about a violation of a contract. People misunderstand me because they think I’m saying affairs are OK. No! But I do think examining monogamy is our next frontier.”

Is examining monogamy really the next frontier? The article explains the researcher’s point of view – that at one time, premarital sex was also considered to be wrong and not a topic for consideration or debate. Is this the next logical step? Maybe not just monogamy but in a broader scope, marriage. What is marriage, how is it defined – not just by society but by negotiation between an individual couple?

Today, as the article discusses, “We have this idea that our partner is our best friend, that there is one person who will fulfill all our needs, which is really an extraordinary idea! So by definition, people must transgress because something is missing at home. We think, if you had what you needed at home, you wouldn’t want to go anywhere else, instead of thinking that marriage is at best an imperfect arrangement.”

Maybe nothing is missing from a relationship or marriage at all that leads a party to the relationship to cheat. The most important takeaway from the article, actually, is a point that is applicable across life’s activities: Affairs are often not about wanting someone else but wanting to be someone else ourselves:

“Very often we don’t go elsewhere because we are looking for another person. We go elsewhere because we are looking for another self. It isn’t so much that we want to leave the person we are with as we want to leave the person we have become.”

This being me, I immediately think of a poem.

I Can Not
-Anna Swir (Poland)

I envy you.
Every moment.

You can leave me.
I can not leave myself.

Is that the feeling behind these urges to have affairs? Not to leave one’s partner but to leave oneself? Or the oneself one is or has become within that particular relationship?

Past All Accident – Older Love and Weirdos


“Antony and Cleopatra
were right;
they have shown
the way. I love you
or I do not live
at all.”*

One of my early conversations with my love, my firewall – an all-night affair that turned to the obscurity of poetry’s meaning in the early hours of a winter morning – focused on William Carlos Williams’s “The Red Wheelbarrow”. Me being the amateur poetry connoisseur, I talked with him about how difficult it was for high school kids to be forced to read and analyze poetry. I shared the tales of how the most literal guy I knew (a guy named Frank) was forced to perform analysis on this Williams classic. Granted, I love poetry, but I failed to see the genius of that particular Williams piece. I can spend time now discussing it, even if it is only to argue for or against the (artistic) value of this poem, but at 16 or 17, the William Carlos Williams oeuvre was fairly meaningless and easy to dismiss.

That’s the beauty of poetry, in any case. Something that has no meaning or feels totally pretentious at one point upon initial reading may take on a whole new meaning later when seen through the filter of life experience. Sometimes poetry sinks in. I find that certain lines stick with me and then fit so perfectly as descriptive postscripts to life’s experiences. Poets are poets for a reason – they can almost magically capture something succinctly – ineffable feelings and thoughts. Thus, although I might want to express whatever it is I think or feel, a poet (or songwriter) has undoubtedly done it before me and better.

That said, I still don’t love the wheelbarrow poem, but I have long been in love with Williams’s poem “The Ivy Crown” – its meaning (or my interpretation of it) becomes more impressive to me all the time (impressive in the sense that it leaves impressions). It too has taken on variable and deeper meanings for me as I get older. It captures for me the cynicism I have always felt about the idea of love and romance while not negating it or throwing it out entirely; indeed, at this middle-age mark only finding the somewhat transformative “business of love” actively at this point, the whole theme is rather topical for me.

“Romance has no part in it.
The business of love is
cruelty which,
by our wills,
we transform
to live together.
It has its seasons,
for and against,
whatever the heart
fumbles in the dark
to assert
toward the end of May.
Just as the nature of briars
is to tear flesh,
I have proceeded
through them.
the briars out,
they say.
You cannot live
and keep free of
“At our age the imagination
across the sorry facts
lifts us
to make roses
stand before thorns.
love is cruel
and selfish
and totally obtuse—
at least, blinded by the light,
young love is.*

“Older love” must be a kind of weird thing. You bring half a lifetime of past experience (some would argue baggage) into each new relationship. I feel like I have very little of the traditional baggage since I was never married, never had kids, no complicated stuff from the past. I have glided through my own personal life as I have glided casually into and out of other people’s lives. I never wanted to be much more than a “guest star” (as on The Love Boat – but I am not Charo) in most people’s lives, so hooking up with married idiots or people who were otherwise unavailable to me in the long term or in some greater capacity than a casual weekend has been my modus operandi.

I discussed with my brother how the weirdness of this creeps into your self-awareness and creates a strange kind of doubt. You may have chosen this lifestyle (as I did) but at some point, you start to feel a distance from humanity, want to be alone more than is really healthy and start to feel out of step with basic norms, and it becomes the status quo. Your own perception of normal. It feels like it will not change, and you don’t expect it to. You become more withdrawn, and as such, you are more invisible – so it is a self-perpetuating cycle. It’s not like there is no chance that you’d meet someone who could love you or even like you a lot – it is just that you can’t if you’re not open to it. The weirder you feel, the more closed you become.

But “older” does not mean there are no surprises, as I have found at various turns. Time and age actually don’t make any difference. It’s a matter of attitude and willingness.

“But we are older,
I to love
and you to be loved,
we have,
no matter how,
by our wills survived
to keep
the jeweled prize
at our finger tips.
We will it so
and so it is
past all accident.”*

*Excerpts of “The Ivy Crown” by William Carlos Williams

Learn flying blind: The in-between world of the between creatures


Being experienced but not an expert is like living in the in-between world forever as a “between creature”. Sure, maybe I am an “expert” compared to some, but not objectively. I think of this a lot when I think about poetry. Going through the whole world’s poetry and really feeling it, feeling that I have a grasp on it, spending more than 20 years immersing myself in it as an amateur aficionado, I have a grasp on it that no layperson would have but will never have the kind of in-depth knowledge to be more than a dabbling dilettante or to become a professional academic/expert in this area. Every field has a technical or depth threshold that I have never had much desire to cross. It is like being a journeyman forever.

Much of life is lived in this “in-between” place. Never fully in one place or another. Never fully done with the past, always looking toward the future – so never fully in the present.

Naturally this too reminds me of a poem.

Marin Sorescu (Romania)
It is time to learn from the bats
The between-creatures
Who can home in the dark.

Learn flying blind.
Dispense with the sun.
The future is dark.

In Between DaysThe Cure

Busyness: One’s almost lover


“Are you too busy? You should be, and you should let people know in a proud but exasperated tone.” A recent Slate article about people claiming to be busy and thus wasting time and driving themselves mad with the assertion (because they probably really are nowhere near as “busy” as they claim) hit the nail on the head. People love to masquerade as the world’s busiest, most put-upon and wear this distinction like a badge of honor. The article asks a question I ask myself all the time: “If the time squeeze is so miserable, why do people brag about it?”

There is no real mystery behind it, though. If you know people – even if you generalize about them, you know that people need, want, crave and will put themselves through hell to get just a shred of recognition – some kind of recognition. People want to brag about misery and be acknowledged for suffering through it, regardless of whether it is self-created. The Slate article echoes these fears, citing a book called The Busy Trap by Tim Kreider, “Busyness is a virtue, so people are terrified of hearing they may have empty time. It’s the equivalent of being told that you’re redundant or obsolete.” People love to suffer and brag about it.

An article in the Washington Post excerpted another article on the subject (both articles I cite refer to a book on the subject written by Brigid Schulte), states, “And life, sociologists say, became an exhausting everydayathon. People now tell pollsters that they’re too busy to register to vote, too busy to date, to make friends outside the office, to take a vacation, to sleep, to have sex. As for multitasking, one 2012 survey found that 38 million Americans shop on their smartphones while sitting on the toilet. And another found that the compulsion to multitask was making us as stupid as if we were stoned.”

Considering the business of being busy, the PK Page poem “Suffering” immediately rushed to mind.

Man is made in such a way that he is never so much attached to anything as he is to his suffering.” –Gurdjieff

confers identity. It makes you proud.
The one bird in the family bush. Which other, ever
suffered so? Whose nights, whose days,
a thicket of blades to pass through?
Deeps of tears. Not ever to give it up
This friend whose sword
turns in your heart,
this o-so-constant clever cove-care-giver
never neglectful, saying yes and yes
to plumed funerary horses, to grey drizzle
falling against the panes of the eyes.

Oh, what without it? If you turned your back?
Unthinkable, so to reject it, choose instead
meadows flower-starred
or taste, for instance – just for an instant – bread.
The sweet-smelling fields of the earth
goldenly dancing
in your mouth.

suffering is sweeter yet.
That dark embrace – that birthmark,
birthright, even.
Yours forever
ready to be conjured up –
tongue in the sore tooth, fingertip
pressed to the bandaged cut
and mind returning to it over and over.

Best friend, bestower of feeling
Something to suck at like a stone.
One’s own. One’s owner.
…One’s almost lover.

Baby talk


I wanna take you home, I want to give you children, and you might be my girlfriend…” -Pulp, “Babies”

This is how women get taken in. Even a woman who does not sit dreaming about babies or children or family life or any of that.

A woman falls in love with a man, and that man wants, dreams of and discusses children. He tells little stories about these imaginary souls, giving them names and personalities and attributes he cleverly culls from both him and her. It triggers something. The womb, the ovaries, even the rational brain that says, “But my life is comfortable here at the doorstep of 40.”

He may joke, turning the tables on the ever-melting-marshmallow-goo that he is softening her up to be, that she is using him to get a baby before the twilight of her childbearing years is over. And laughs, casually stating that the using is mutual – he wants a Green Card he knows he will never actually get.

But in reality, he talks the talk of wanting these imaginary babies, and her resistance, her doubts – all of that melts away, even in light of all the gigantic obstacles to this.

And what fresh hell is the aftermath?

Mal à la tête – Headache blues


I spent almost all day racked by a headache that kept my eyes closed and brain dizzy. It is a bit better now, but these feel like completely wasted days when this sort of thing happens.

I watched the penultimate episode of How I Met Your Mother, and main character Ted says something like “Love is the best thing we do”. As he himself pointed out, it sounds cheesy – but when you really think about life, what are the best things we do? We love.


Uniting Power of Hate – Ouagadougou to Timbuktu


When I was an insolent adolescent, my father, in a period of midlife-crisis-enlightenment-seeking, went through a New Age phase, in which he adopted a New Age guru who walked him through past life regressions, chakra balancing and, perhaps his favorite activity of all, chanting. It was an awkward and transitional time, probably for everyone involved. During this hazy period, my father decided to try to address my permanent “Oscar the Grouch” take on life:

Dad: “Erika, why are you so hateful?”
Me: (rolling eyes, sarcastic tone) “Gee, I don’t know”
Dad: (enlightened tone) “Well, your mother and I could teach you some neat things.”
Me: (rolling eyes again) “Like?”
Dad: (even more enlightened) “Like… how to chant!

Check it out – “Nasty Dan” from Johnny Cash visiting my dear Oscar the Grouch on Sesame Street! “Say, aren’t you Johnny Trash?” “Cash. – Have a rotten day.” “Wow, there goes my kinda guy.”

So, the hateful thing goes back a ways. While I won’t go so far as to say that I seriously hate anyone or anything, I readily admit that I am easily annoyed and enjoy sarcasm and complaint a great deal. I derive joy from this kind of casual and idle hatred and dismay/disdain. It is not often that I meet kindred hating spirits in the world; that is, people with sour attitudes who find something to dislike about almost everything but who still actually are quite sweet people who find a lot of things to like and even love as well.

I don’t look at my attitude as sheer, unproductive negativity the way many do – I think of myself as a realist and sometimes a pessimist. It’s hard to live in the world and see reality without rose-colored glasses and not be a bit pessimistic at times, even if there are always rays of bright sunlight here and there. This approach and attitude has been polarizing and divisive at times and has brought about the demise of a few friendships (and I won’t pretend that that didn’t hurt).

On rare occasions I met up with people with almost as dark a view on the world, with as many complaints and who reveled in sharing complaints, with similar dark senses of humor, with similar misanthropic and impatient tendencies. But I had never quite met my match until now. My heart – be still, dear heart – has been stolen by someone who told me that he makes mental lists of all the things he hates while he is walking to work.


I once advised a girl who had had rather iffy relationships and made iffy relationship choices to stop accepting and settling for stale crumbs and to only accept the “the whole cake”. I knew I had my whole cake already – but when I heard about this hate list – and knew that the person behind it could also laugh about all the annoyances on the list, I knew I had the icing on the cake as well.

All this is not to say that I think real, visceral hatred and anger is healthy. I don’t like to waste energy or in-depth thought on any of it, which is why I think it’s great to make a mental list or voice the little complaints here and there – it is a means of just letting them go and moving forward. Save the real anger and hatred for bigger stuff – the major injustices in the world. The sexism, racism, abuse and all the other real travesties. I mean, yes, a group of people walking side-by-side taking up the entire width of a sidewalk is really damn annoying and virtually impossible to get around without running into road traffic, but it’s not the end of the world or particularly destructive.

It’s a pick-your-battle kind of war, really. One man in my … sphere of influence (haha – I make myself sound so mesmerizing!) complained heartily about racism and racial stereotypes, and how he is so tired of them he might just move back to Africa one day so as to not hear these things any longer. And I thought, yeah, but I suspect you will hear different stupid things in Africa and maybe get Ebola. Okay. Probably not – that’s just one of my ignorant attempts at being funny. (I had been watching the news and saw that Guinea is facing its first-ever Ebola outbreak.) My serious point was that it makes little sense to abandon an otherwise comfortable life just because you don’t want to hear things that are unpleasant to live a less comfortable life and probably just hear a different set of annoying generalizations. Of course, I don’t have to bear the weight of racist (inadvertent or otherwise) commentary all the time, and it may well feel much more powerful and daunting than just being “unpleasant” to someone exposed to it all the time.

Naturally all of this made me think once more of the elusive idea of “Africa”. Mostly because I talked to someone about African place names that sound foreign to our western ears, and for example, as children, we scarcely know that they are real places – they sound so exotic that they could be figments of someone’s phonetically rich imagination. Timbuktu came up a lot when I was a kid – and when I ask people these days what they associate with the word “Timbuktu” now, they rarely name a place, mention Africa or – heaven forbid – mention the country of which it is actually a part (Mali). Same goes for Ouagadougou (capital of Burkina Faso). When I mentioned “Burkina Faso” to my mother, she too just said, “I don’t know what that is.”

Television – Someone Shoot Me


Someone shoot me – there is a handful of TV shows that are just too stupid to keep watching, and they keep getting dumber and worse… but I cannot stop watching them.

The worst of the bunch is The Following. I cannot even describe how this descends into ever-greater stupidity. I never liked Kevin Bacon much, and this does not help. The FBI in the show is made up of bumbling idiots who are always about ten steps behind the criminal mastermind of the show. But the criminal mastermind/cult leader is actually just as stupid. Everyone is stupid. And totally unlikeable. And the only remotely interesting part (but not enough to keep watching) is questioning how it is that all these people are brainwashed (or something?) enough to follow along with this cult leader. The words that signal stupidity, more than anything else, are some variation of, “Let’s not do anything stupid.” Or “We need to be smart here.” This always signals that they are already knee-deep in the boiling shit of stupidity. No show is better at sending this signal than The Following.

But right up there on the list – Helix. I wanted to like it and kept trying to – but I hate the show. Nothing changes that.

Likewise, I am none too impressed with the repetitive crap inflicted by shows like Grimm but I keep watching.

I did at least finally cross The Crazy Ones off my list of weekly viewing, but I need to force myself to mark these other crappy shows off the list, too. I need to refer to the “Fuck, yes” rule when watching tv as much as I do about every other aspect of life. Lukewarm reception – don’t waste any more damn time!

Meanwhile I have been enjoying the crass and mullet-filled nonsense that is Eastbound & Down. It is rather funny in this politically incorrect, some other section of society way. But then I realize I have actually known people who are not too terribly different from Kenny Powers, the dubious anti-hero of the show. The show has a varied and quite stunning soundtrack.

Not including or to be confused with the Jerry Reed song that shares the same name as the show.

Loads of other TV viewing but don’t really feel like chronicling the stuff that was actually decent.