Life is short: Prioritize the adventure


I wrecked my car back in October (see image below; it does not show how bad it was – car was completely totaled). It was kind of a surreal experience – a learning experience. You know how you sort of know how things work in a country you have always lived in because you experienced it, knew others who had experienced it or saw it on TV (for example, you witnessed emergency vehicles come to the scene of an accident in reality or on a medical drama)? But when you move to a different country, the whole process may be different. Or it may be exactly the same with slight differences. When my car collided with a tractor (yes, a tractor – also visible in the background in the photo), it seemed like everything was moving in slow motion. At no time did I feel fear. No idea why; even the paramedics at the scene and the medical personnel at the hospital kept saying, “You are so calm. How are you so calm?”.


The car spun around completely so it was facing the complete opposite direction from the one I had been traveling in, and the back end of the car was in a ditch. I was able to climb out of the car easily, and the only instantly obvious injuries were loads of small cuts on my legs, which were bleeding, creating a puddle of blood in one of my shoes. Of course the fire department, ambulance and police all eventually showed up, and I was taken to a nearby hospital to be checked out. I had a lot of major bruises all over me from the seat belt, a lot of small cuts on my legs – most of these things are now healed except for some very deep bruising on my inner calves, one of which is still discolored, more than three months later. In this process I found that the whole thing plays out about like it would in the US or on TV shows… but some small things, of course, were somewhat different, such as the car insurance stuff being resolved in about three days, being charged about 40USD for the whole debacle (can only imagine what it would cost in the US) and the police phoning me a week after the accident just to check that I was okay. (I guess it would also be appropriate to say, even though mortality never crossed my mind throughout the entire car-crash incident and aftermath, that these small ‘events’, too, should influence the prioritization of adventure. You don’t really know what’s coming for you – I had just returned from a trip and had no food in the house, dashed to the store, ten minutes from home, and crashed only about five minutes away from my house, a true statistic. It could have been much worse, even fatal, and would any of the stupid rationalizations I routinely come up with to stop myself from doing things I really want to do matter any more? No.)

Where I live, it is not really possible to be without a car, but I worked with the lack of transportation for a while. I was in a bit of shock after the crash and had convinced myself that I immediately wanted to move to a city and started planning to move to Berlin. This meant I did not want to spend money buying a new car. I did not want to drive at all. I eventually realized I needed to buy something at least temporarily, but then I could never quite make myself purchase any of the crap I looked at. In the end, my enthusiasm for Berlin died away, and I bought something else and am still weighing the options on moving to a city (or not). So many things have happened just in the time since I went to Berlin to look at flats that I’ve had trouble making a decision – despite my own dislike for indecision. Oddly, other people’s indecision seems to influence my own ability to make decisions, and this is kind of troubling.

Sometime in the limbo of not having a car, casually looking at car websites, I happened to see an old Honda del Sol for sale in southern Sweden – something that I thought would pique my brother’s interest. It is a car he knows how to take apart and rebuild. He knows everything about it and loves it, having owned two himself since the early 1990s. I did not really think by sending him the link to the car that he would insist that he wanted to buy it, but that is exactly what happened. At the time, when he decided to come to Sweden to see the car, I felt a bit put out because it was really inconvenient and really bad timing. I did not even have my own car but was going to try to help him buy a hobby car? I had to take an expensive taxi ride to the train station, take a six-hour train ride to Malmö and meet him down there and then go look at this car that he might not even want once he saw it. (And then of course he did not have the money in hand when he did want it, so I had to pay for it upfront and that did not go entirely smoothly either, even though it worked out within a day.) In terms of time, timing, finance and transport the entire thing was crazy for me. And why did he need to buy a car in Sweden (to keep at my house) anyway? But that is exactly what happened.

He flew to Copenhagen and then came to Malmö to meet with me, and we bought this car. (Never mind the ensuing inconvenience once he departed – I still had to drive the car home the six hours back to the woods; it was winter but the car has weird-sized tires, so I could not find anywhere that had winter tires in stock. I stayed several days in Gothenburg, halfway home, waiting out the wintry weather, as the forecast called for a warm break during which it would be a good time to complete the drive back.)

It all worked out… and upon reflection, it is a valuable, even treasured, memory and experience. I spent quality time with my brother, who is one of the closest people in the world to me, had a true adventure (and that is another thing I learned/experienced for the first time – I had never purchased a car privately, only through dealerships, so I found out how easy that – and getting a car added to insurance – is), and appreciated the moment, despite, or maybe even because of, its inconveniences. It was only a short week or so later that our uncle died; we knew when we were in Malmö together that the end was coming, and this impending loss made us feel all the more appreciative of our time together and all the adventures we have prioritized having. Our mom and her brother were as close as my brother and I are, so she has been suffering. And even if/when my brother and I face that same kind of loss of each other, we at least will have our memories of travel adventures together.

(Oh, and certainly it goes without saying: don’t prioritize having an adventure like crashing your car. It is not worth it. Haha. I did not end up buying a replacement car until mid-December, and then it was another road trip adventure (for me alone) – car was in Stockholm (really far away).)

Free: Hit the nail on the head


…rambling… trying to sort through some thoughts and feelings… all seems trivial given the state of things in the world, but i can’t change the running commentary in my head…

Some days, you are just going along, getting stuff done, and someone reaches out after ages – years even – and says/writes something offhandedly that strikes a nerve, hits the nail on the head… and it happens to come at a timely moment. It might not have registered at all any other time – and in this case not all of it does – but the fear and the preference for being alone stuff certainly does. But it also prompts thoughts that finally move you beyond the confines of the walls you’ve lived inside and how you had been thinking but didn’t realize as well as ways you’ve defined yourself and let yourself be defined, even unconsciously.

“I know you are a nice person, but for sure many people would say you are wild, weird, lonely, and maybe more weird. But I know you are just protecting yourself from suffering and especially from men that can wish to play with you. You are genuine, you dare to say things, maybe much more with family, unknowns or friends than with your own partner. You would love to share, but are too much on the defensive as you are scared of bad endings.

I believe you have everything to scare a man. Intelligence, intellectually independent, financially autonomous; either you attract men who want to play with you and very quickly you kick them out of your life, or I’m so sure that so many will run away from you as they cannot reach you. They are too macho and only want to have power on you, but they do not understand that you are not a weak woman, so they run away or you get rid of them.

I was wondering what can be wrong with you. It happened to me to think you were probably too selfish, too independent and really too wild. But I’m sure you are not. This is what people can see from your outside. That is not you at all, you are just tired of wasting your time with stupid men and prefer to stay alone.” -French guy

These impressions from someone who never knew me that well – but apparently knew me better than I imagined – made me mope around a bit. Yeah a lot of this stuff is true – I recognize the pattern (and have been stuck in this “going through old papers and being struck by patterns” mode of late), but there is a bigger picture that I do suddenly see. I have known, of course, as I am relatively self-aware, that I am defensive, that my brain erects walls for me that I am not even aware of any more it’s become so automated, and that I prefer to stay alone … but only partly for those defensive reasons. I prefer to stay alone because I like to be alone. It is, most of all, my way of being free – and living most authentically (Camus), even when it is painful. And to want to not be alone – it takes something tremendous and almost otherworldly to make me want it.

I have occasionally tried to tell myself that being with someone else – the right someone else – might enhance who I am (and who they are). But more often than not, being with someone else, it is frustrating, and I end up suffocating the part of me that I like most – the part that probably attracts others to me in the first place. (I have witnessed this same syndrome in friends when they pair off and find themselves miserable and wonder what happened. This is what happened: You inadvertently kill the free person that you – and they – love(d).) You don’t mean to; you just do. Is it possible, if you are this kind of person, to be with someone else and keep that free person alive and forgo subsuming yourself and your needs somewhere within or beneath theirs? If so, I have not yet figured out how.

This carefree, spontaneous, open person who takes risks and action and moves forward no matter what can become stifled, bogged down in things that are not even mine, completely without conscious realization. It just happens. I have written about it before (both the caretaking side that takes control and agonizes before the eventual and the inevitable indifference monster comes calling as well as the seeming one-sided nature of these things, as evidenced in the mismatch among people’s words, actions and obvious priorities. And of course the “fuck-yes test”, which I think I would benefit from returning to again and again to remind myself) without fully appreciating what I was stating. Here and here and here and here and a whole lot more.

Half of me is an inveterate caretaker with nothing or no one to care for (which I guess is why it is so easy to shift from just being generally supportive to letting emotions be overrun by caring about someone else when they are going through unpleasant and confusing stuff). In another person’s worries, cares, indecision and flight from or fright of whatever is going on in their own lives and heads, the me who lives freely becomes too wrapped up in the minutiae of caring about them, trying to make sure they are not drowning, absorbing their doubts and worries. This part of my nature – the stable caretaker – takes over and becomes hesitant, reserved, emotionally idle – “always afraid to say more than it meant” (Auden, “The Letter”) or afraid to say too much, not being able to take it back. Too careful.

Nothing wrong with any of it except that when I take on that role, I become someone else, someone I do not like very much, especially if it starts to consume me or become the primary focus of the interaction with the other person. The marshmallow of my well-hidden insides starts to melt while an almost passive-aggressive, gooey pain seeps out of my pores. And it’s no one’s fault. Not the other person’s. Not mine. It just is: On the surface a feeling of being like – or fearing being like – an auxiliary but subjective amateur therapist who will offer true and deep understanding and care, along with observations, advice and opinions. Underneath, it is clear that I perform these tasks – willingly and lovingly – despite knowing with a reasonable amount of certainty (and simultaneously fearing and wishing it were not so) that I am merely a stepping stone to whatever comes next in a person’s life. I may be a one-woman transition team.

And it’s this deepening realization on being free (and what it means to me) and the role(s) I play in other people’s life dramas that relieves me of recent little agonies, confusion and worries, that frees me finally from the definition I had lived by but had never actually defined.

I have a choice (and somehow never felt like I did). Both of these parts, conflicting or not, are equally part of me. With or without doubts, I don’t relish the idea of looking back on my life and thinking I had abandoned either principle: my freedom or care/love/compassion. It may be difficult to strike, as all balances are, but is it not worth “a little hour or more/To add yet this: Once you, a woman, came/To soothe a time-torn man…” (Thomas Hardy)?

“In any situation, no matter how confining, you have a choice. To believe you do not, is to choose not to choose.”

“If we seek to lose ourselves in the world, we are eluding. We are seeking a diversion from knowing ourselves or tending our own soul.”

“We must choose to live in this world and to project our own meaning and value onto it in order to make sense of it. This means that people are free and burdened by it, since with freedom there is a terrible, even debilitating, responsibility to live and act authentically.” -Camus

Photo (c) 2008 Jon Mitchell.



The beauty of being older is that you may experience pain but you know it’s only temporary. You will float right out of it eventually. You have all the evidence in memory and sometimes even in writing that all the things that so wounded and destroyed you when you were younger, and continued to do so over and over, will keep happening, and you will get over all of it. You will come right out the other side of the pain and feel almost as good as new.

Reading notes I’d jotted down from 1996, 2001, 2011, and various other points throughout, I see my pain splattered all over the pages, remembering exactly what I was doing, where I was sitting, even how I was breathing or crying or wringing my hands or writhing in physical pain, when all these catastrophes occurred – real catastrophes and crises or just those minor dust-ups that inveigle the heart – and I can even smile at this repeated pouring out of the fucked-up muck of life. All that agony, frustration, keeping up appearances, feeling used, tremendous loss, self-torture, deconstructing so many illusions, treading water, fecklessness, justifications: all of it felt like something once but eventually becomes something you don’t consciously remember.

Photo (c) Paul Costanich.



I marveled all month at the fact that it had not snowed. This is the only January I have lived here without snow. I expected every single morning to get up and look out the window to be greeted by a fresh blanket of the stuff, but it didn’t happen. Until this evening.

A lot of thoughts and feelings about all kinds of things brewing – I am contending with the battle I often fight with myself: let some things go or observe, wait, report (you know, the whole credo of the security guards of the world: observe and report). It seems like the wisest choice is almost always the former – just let go. But the former tempts the overly curious, glutton-for-punishment side that immerses itself in can’t-win situations and revels in the “how do I get out of this now?” machinations.

But since when has it ever been, when you see all the writing on the wall, a wise course of action to do anything but let all actors and factors that are not contributing, are deleterious or detrimental, are stress or anxiety inducing, go?

Photo (c) Paul Costanich.

new reality


I have been writing a lot about my own feelings and thinking and blahblahblahblah, which of course has bearing on my daily life and how I proceed through it.

But it is so insignificant. We are barely more than a week into the new political reality. Since Trump’s inauguration, it is as though he started so many huge fires that we – the public, the media, anyone paying attention – cannot even keep track, cannot focus and shine enough light on any one thing long enough to develop a sustainable plan of attack against any of the brutality and inhumanity of it. Bombard and divert. This is exactly how he ran his campaign – ramp up the hate speech, the crazy, the threats to ever-higher levels of insanity day by day so that the daily new level of shock topped whatever came before (and made us forget the previous affronts as we focused on yet another new one) but also inoculated us to the shock, meaning that we became numb to it all or… just incapable of believing that THIS somehow could be what we would end up with.

“This is the result of a manipulation strategy described long ago by historian and cognitive scientist Noam Chomsky: “Keep the adult public attention diverted away from the real social issues, and captivated by matters of no real importance.” Leftists such as Chomsky argue that this is what capitalist elites do, but I know it as a common tactic of kleptocratic regimes such as Vladimir Putin’s in Russia.

There’s even a term for the tactic: “diversionary conflict.””

And somehow, believing in the institutions of the democratic America we have long been brainwashed to believe in, we did not realize they were as fragile as America’s crumbling infrastructure. That all it would take to topple these institutions is one demagogue lunatic and too few people willing to believe from the get-go that he would unilaterally push through his changes without using the democratic process. All the arguments about checks and balances keeping him in line, all the discussion on how the sheer overwhelming nature of the office of the presidency would temper him… who really believed those things? How is anyone surprised by any of the things unfolding right now?

Photo (c) 2011 Adrian Scottow

Mental sorbet: Live out, outlive, feel, unfeel


A short exchange on how strange Danes can be – or at least their language – and I recall a Danish man who thought that to “to live out” and “to outlive” meant the same thing.

And yet, I live out my life in outmoded ways – or with outmoded views – that have outlived their time. If they ever had a time.

My life has made me be the person who favors the scrappy stray mother cat scrounging through garbage in order to feed herself and her kittens rather than be the person who fawns over her adorable little litter. Always the one who looks past the surface, I value her experience and tenacity over the fleeting cuteness of her kittens.

My life has also made me be the person who sees someone who is lonely, something of a misfit, hurting, ostracized, struggling or troubled, and I feel a need to reach out to them, help them – sometimes in misguided ways (particularly when I was young and very shy myself – hard to step outside of my own confines to intervene in someone else’s being). This never necessarily works out well, but I always thought my heart was in the right place. I somehow imagine(d) that what you put into the world is what you get back from it. But this is naive: even if you put out compassion, you are likely to be met with disappointment. You have to learn either to dismiss the urge toward compassion or dismiss the disappointment that often follows.

I see and feel the rarity of my way. I am not a surface-level person (other than the initial cold read people may get from me). The surface always has the power to sway and seduce. Most people don’t look beyond it.

But then, it depends on what they’re looking for. Mismatched intentions can be crushing. Initially of course I think of my own crushed feelings throughout life’s less triumphant moments, but I recognize that it can work both ways. In my supposed compassion, I might, as I did as an adolescent, reach out to someone who had no friends, spent his time hanging out with the school’s science teacher, and try to be friendly, boost his confidence – and in doing so, give him completely the wrong idea. My actual intentions were entirely different from how he received my intentions, and the situation did not end well.

Even when your intentions match up with someone else’s – those intentions can shift, creating unstable ground. It could be that I, like most, hope to be blindsided in amazement at the unconditional and expansive love and understanding that another person can give/show. Because that is how I am (or strive to be). (But this never happens – it is not part of the surface world we live in and, in all honesty, opens up the person who shows this kind of expansive love and/or understanding to some vulnerability.)

But it could just as well be that I, in my insensitive, less than impeccable or admirable moments, wonder if a person is, disposably, just a sorbet, a palate cleanser, making way for some other main course – or perhaps that person is the main course, and I pass on it, claiming not to be hungry?

…I know what is good, and conversely, not good for me, and I know what I need to do. Live out my days and outlive my usefulness. But do I act accordingly?

What form of akrasia is this?

It is only partly true that I act against (or for) my own best interests. I often compare the ‘doing versus thinking’ concept because I am both a thinker and a doer. And most other people seem to be much better, more active thinkers but not great doers. One day, I said to someone who insisted he would take action but frustrated me for years with his all-talk, no-action behavior: “You will have many hurdles to jump to become a doer like me, and I am not even half-motivated. But for you, it’s probably a priorities issue. Some things, some people, are important, and some are not. If you really wanted something, or someone, or wanted to do something, you would do it. The end. Someday maybe you will be a doer, and that will change my mind about you. But today, and for as long as I have known you, you have not been a doer unless it required absolutely zero effort or thought on your part.” In truth, as I could see plainly in that moment: if there is no feeling behind the doing, why should it ever go beyond thinking?

I rarely add ‘feeling’ to the equation. ‘Doing-thinking-feeling’. But would most people feel motivated to think and then do without that spark of feeling to push them to take action? I take plenty of risks and live freely in the thinking and doing realms. Ultimately, I may not make the riskiest choices from the heart’s standpoint. It makes me think a bit about school days, when teachers would tell certain kids that they really have a lot of potential but no follow-through. I was always the thinking-doing overachiever but had “a lot of potential but no follow-through” when it came to feeling, which is not to say I did not feel: Only that feeling did not, and could not, come first, lest it crush me. Perhaps I have always felt much too deeply.

Even this, I sometimes think, is not entirely true. My life has made me a person who prefers to be alone, who is mostly not interested in personal intimacy while at the same time being overly curious about other people’s personal intimacy. That is, I am less a partner or lover and more a would-be, unqualified, armchair therapist, wanting to know people deeply and intimately, but only from an observant and almost clinical distance (but not entirely dispassionately).

I am still trying to figure out whether – or how – feelings just leave, like a flock of birds migrating away for winter, or whether feelings morph into this “observant-supportive-caretaker” mold that I seem to adopt. I am not afraid of feeling now; I do not suppress it now. But no longer trying to control feeling, I find that feeling is much more unpredictable than I would have imagined. Yes, I knew feelings like love, as an example, were uncontrollable, messy, sticky, and up, down and all over the place, but I did not fully appreciate that they could be as fickle as they are. That, for example, one could be completely in it one day and wake up the next morning feeling absolutely nothing. Is it some unseen barrier that the inner, protective self builds? And if so, how can the lack of all feeling – this indifference – feel as real and as deep as the love once was? Did feelings, however briefly they lived, outlive their expiration?

Photo (c) 2008 Angela Schmeidel Randall

Constant corporate Kool-Aid


I could never bear to drink so never lived (or died) by the cult of corporate life. But it is certainly a journey, often surreal, when you’re in it. It seems mostly the same everywhere with certain exceptions and differences across cultures. It is a softer place, the Swedish corporate world, than say, America, but it’s no less filled with bureaucracy, blame shifting and euphemism. And much more filled with Swenglish.

The constant back slaps and pats on the head for stuff that people supposedly did or achieved that never actually happened or came to fruition. Yes, hiding behind and getting credit (and subsequent promotions and accolades) for never-implemented ideas that lingered on people’s lips and in countless PowerPoint presentations and Excel-bound plans but never lived a day outside the planning phases. It’s never the results – it’s the planning process that is rewarded.

The constant outflow of talent when actual talent realized they were being indoctrinated into a cult rather than going to a job – and needed to escape. At the big goodbye-speech event (of which there were many), filled with cake and other local pastries, the “lifers” standing around the kitchen making hollow speeches about having had “the really good pleasure of working with” so-and-so, who could always “walk the talk”?!

The constant admonishment from middle management to “prioritize right”, “using our strategy as a filter”. What does that even mean? If they understood the strategy or how strategy works, they would not use it this way, as a fluff-filler to leave their employees to their own devices in figuring out, “What the hell am I meant to prioritize?”

The constant self-praise of the middle manager, proud about the growing size of her team, as if “size is everything” and a vote of confidence in her (non-existent) leadership abilities. No, in fact, if enough competent people leave, and you are one of these lifers, floating along and not making waves, eventually you will secure yourself a relatively senior position based only on seniority. “We have to put her someplace”: A senior position (on paper) that has no teeth, of course, and about which no one actually cares. But a comfortable senior position in a creaking and decrepit old-way-of-doing-business organization, so there are still some perks.

The constant need of every person in every meeting, every department, to chime in with their “reflections”. I don’t know where they got the word “reflect” and its variations, but they have taken it too far. “Reflection” is constant, when what they really ought to say is “thought”, “observation”, “criticism” or even “mental fart”. But no, it’s always, “I reflected and…”, “my reflection is…”, or better yet, to Swedify, “One reflection we all did was…”. No, you don’t DO a reflection.

The constant and classic, in keeping with the self-important need to voice every “reflection”, interrupter. The middle management “leader” who constantly interrupts her “underlings”, because what she has to say is most important (never mind that it’s babble), often to repeat herself, and even well after she seemed to be finished and someone wants to make a point and starts talking, and she interrupts to snap, “Let me finish!”

In finishing, she delivers a speech on how everyone now needs to get to know each other on a personal level in order to process all the organizational changes. Because we don’t know what is going on in another person’s life away from work, or how they handle change or anxiety, we should become friends to ease this process. Poured liberally throughout this touchy-feely talk – references to glasses of wine. “This activity will be fun, especially with a glass of wine.” This of course must be her not-so-hidden “thing”. Drinking. If not wine, the Kool-Aid. Or, in corporate life, perhaps they are one and the same.

Photo (c) 2009 Greg Pye

As expected


“What makes us human is that we’re the only creatures on this planet that can fuck ourselves.” – The SympathizerViet Thanh Nguyen

I finished reading The Sympathizer, which I enjoyed more than I even anticipated.

I reflect on how precarious dealings can be (much like life itself). Somehow the subconscious mind seems to know the instability of certain things as well as what can be counted on. It understands on some deeper level when things are working and when they aren’t and thus doesn’t allow you to make any real plans and commitments that hinge in any way on anything that betrays the slightest instability or vacillation. It adopts a brisk, yet sympathetic, ‘moving right along’ mentality: low stress, high success. Ready for anything. Still, though, still – eminently able to fuck ourselves.

Silencing and finding the voice


Some time ago, apparently in 2013, I wrote the following – but then only put part of it in my blog. In fact, looking at it now, I see it might even have been a part of a letter I had written – I just don’t know. I imagined, upon finding this document, that I had published the whole thing. It comes up again now as I have had so many discussions about writing and how one lives as a writer – or accepts the label or distinction of being a “writer” – what separates those who call themselves that, those who really do it, and those who actually write something useful versus something good? And does it matter if it’s good? Is anything objectively good? And when or how, if at all, do you throw off the doubts, insecurities, past argumentation, excuses and just write and see what happens?

From Valentine’s Day 2013 (?) – Writing, friendship, finding and silencing a voice

Thinking a lot about writing. I have always been prolific and productive … words just pour out. But nothing better than mediocrity. As a child, as soon as I was capable of writing, I was writing. But nothing I wrote was careful or measured. Not that you expect an 8 year old to produce carefully crafted, well-thought-out, plot and character-driven stories. No, but I was even more careless than that. I hurried through everything in life as though it were some kind of race. Every activity in school, I wanted to get ahead, get there quickly and be finished. Finished with what, I don’t know… there was no finish line and things just went on and on. (I have only reached a place in life now – almost 40 – where I don’t feel like everything is a race.)

Spilling over into adolescence, I met a girl who was to become my best friend for several years. She declared very quickly after meeting that she wanted to be a writer and was working on a story of which she seemed rather proud. I remember the first time I went to her house, she shared the story with me. I don’t remember the story very well – only that the main character was a girl named “Kyle” (my brother’s name), and upon reflection I get the feeling this character was a lightly fictionalized version of her troubled self. I suppose like most people who invest any time and effort into writing and stake their identities and reputations on it (even if they are kids), I felt intimidated by other people’s writing, another conceit and insecurity that has fallen away with years and thicker skin. I, too, considered myself something of a writer. Both of us had apparently been tagged with this moniker from youth and had attended all the young writers’ conferences and writing courses offered to people our ages.

I suppose like most “writers” I also felt fraudulent. I was 12 and I had nothing to say. No experience. No insights. Just some random feelings and a cloudy, guessed-at grasp of what I imagined adult reality and experience might be like. I was still plagued by that sense of hurrying up – finish – move on to the next thing. But added to this was the desperate desire to be liked – not by just anyone but by this would-be best friend. I spent every evening dashing off lengthy but at-best mediocre stories for her benefit. I wanted her to read them and love them – we were the thinly veiled protagonists of these ridiculous stories. I wanted to come to school each morning and deliver a new story for her entertainment and her praise. Not because I fancied myself a writer or thought it would lead anywhere but because I wanted her to be happy.

But it didn’t matter. While she loved the stories, and I was eventually counted as her best friend (which had been my dubious, feverish-teen-girl aim – a number of us were competing for this dubious honor. No idea why – this is the adolescent girl way), the whole productive force of what I had created intimidated her. She felt insecure and suffered a crisis of confidence about her writing in the midst of the universal crisis of confidence – adolescence – because she could not keep up with the avalanche. (How many times have I hit this wall of “I can’t keep up with you” reasoning?) The sheer volume of what I had created silenced her. She believed somehow that what she imagined and created was no longer good enough because it did not exist in the same abundance.

We were 12. We did not know about “less is more” and “quality not quantity”.

The strange thing is… this is still a thing. The friend is no longer in my life. I have no idea if she later realized these truths and picked up pen and paper or a computer again and started capturing her thoughts in writing. I hope so. But I find that I have made my entire career on this ability to rapidly churn out reliably decent, mediocre text in which I have little to no personal stake. It’s called B2B marketing, and it is soul-sucking and dry and maybe just a couple of steps above used car salesmanship.

And because I produce a lot – the productivity fools a lot of people. I am somehow “so good at my job” because I create a lot of material quickly. Is it good? Not in the way I consider things good. Yes, it displays an understanding of the discipline/industry/field about which I write. Yes, it’s decent and correct. Would it win any awards (even within the marketing industry)? No. It all does its job and is better than anything a content mill produces.

But it is this volume question again that gets to me. People are deciding that I am good at what I do because I am quick and take on a massive workload.

But is that good?

Back in the years of adolescence again… I recall that I earned this reputation among all the teachers in the school and eventually the school district as a “writer”… and eventually I suppose that intimidated me and made me feel boxed in, in much the same way as my friend had felt boxed in by my productivity. Were these adults not just humoring me? Encouraging me to do something because they are teachers, adults, would-be mentors and have to encourage us? Could my writing actually stack up to anything else in the real world? Eventually I came to resent this “title” and moved away from it. I spent very little time in high school writing for enjoyment. I wrote a lot of research papers, essays, letters – in fact I still wrote all the time, for different audiences and different reasons. This continued in college. Most of my professors echoed the sentiments – that I was a really good writer. But even if this seemed more truthful and objective than earlier applications of this title, I, by then, felt out of practice. I had been writing letters and essays/analysis for so long that I had no idea how to write a story any longer.

To think that I used to write 30 or 40 pages every night without even thinking.

And maybe that is the key – without even thinking.

You can think and edit later. But for now, just write. Get all the words out, let the story flow. Follow it where it goes. But for such a long time I had been writing carefully crafted paragraphs that supported only what my evidence could prove. And this is not creative. It IS what makes me successful in B2B marketing and other similar content creation. But it is not what will lead to a readable novel.

Rilke exposure


If the neverending New Age books brought me nothing else (but in truth, they did bring me more than this), they connected me to the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke, whose works I had glimpsed only only through his correspondence with Marina Tsvetaeva and Boris Pasternak (writers much more in my milieu for so much of my life).

Most beautiful, the Duino elegies (Duineser Elegien).All thought-provoking, but on this particular occasion, it was the eighth that struck me:

“We are, above all, eternal spectators
looking upon, never from,
the place itself. We are the
essence of it. We construct it.
It falls apart. We reconstruct it
and fall apart ourselves.

Who formed us thus:
that always, despite
our aspirations, we wave
as though departing?
Like one lingering to look,
from a high final hill,
out over the valley he
intends to leave forever,
we spend our lives saying

But it renews my objections to and troubles with translation. I read several translations of the elegies – all are quite different, and create quite different impressions. I could easily immerse myself in these differences for days, for weeks, as I once did with Akhmatova translations.