Lunchtable TV Talk: Pamela Adlon


I woke up this morning feeling cold, cranky and unwell, thinking to myself, “I am so tired and so done.” I was overwhelmed by the exhaustion of extending myself too far, from bending in every possible direction to always show others I love and support them, in particular when it’s so thankless and often feels one-sided. It’s easy to get mired in feeling sorry for yourself.

And then I remembered: oh yes, Pamela Adlon‘s Better Things returns with a new season today, and despite the intentional decline in my television viewing, this is something I am genuinely excited about. Dealing with all manner of topics from being a single mom to three children to being the daughter of a challenging parent to menopause to dating and sex after 50, the thing I keep coming back to Better Things for is the deep wells of love and compassion that Adlon’s main character draws from and shows without reservation. Thinking of Adlon’s boundless love (and talent) kind of helped me get out of bed this morning.

For whatever reason, the picture Adlon has painted, and imprinted so that I continually return to it, reminds me vaguely of a Japanese poem, “What a Little Girl Had on Her Mind” by Ibaragi Noriko. It ends with (italics mine):

“The little girl grew up.
She became a wife and then a mother.
One day she suddenly realized;
the tenderness
that gathers over the shoulders of wives,
is only fatigue
from loving others day after day.

I suspect, since she writes and directs the show, that its heroine isn’t too different from Adlon herself. I suspect that she, like the character, receives frantic calls for help from her kids, from her friends, at all hours, and despite the agony she feels (and she makes this look realistic, painful and heartfelt), no matter how busy or tired she is, no matter the annoyance and anger she may feel in equal measure, she is overwhelmed by the need to love and support and take care of. Sometimes it’s so palpable in watching her that I almost hope she won’t respond with love, care and understanding. (Take care of yourself, lady!) But she always does. The woman knows what’s important, and I can’t think of a better thing to spend my time watching…

Never mind that I love Adlon and have since she was very young in films like Grease 2, of all things. She was one of the most enduringly brilliant parts of Californication. Don’t get me started on the voiceover work. And even if all of this was lovely, she’s really come into her own and owns this quiet but revolutionary space that is Better Things. She is in control; she runs the show (figuratively and literally in this case); she (Adlon) and her character balance toughness with vulnerability and abundant love. It’s remarkable.

As a side note, I’ve written about my strange, down-the-rabbit-hole viewings of actors interviewing actors, and one of my all-time favorites, which I stumbled on two or so years ago is Sterling K. Brown in conversation with Adlon. I loved what a giddy, respectful fanboy he seemed to be. Imagine my utter delight when I saw that Adlon turned up in a recent episode of Brown’s This Is Us as his new therapist. It was perfect.

what would be meaningful?


“Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident.” –Corelli’s Mandolin, Louis de Bernières

Writing a letter I questioned what exactly would be meaningful, in response to a friend’s lament that she cannot get used to being alone. Sometimes being alone is the same as being with someone… but so much more easily controllable. When communication breaks down, imperceptibly, when we take for granted those with whom we are meant to feel closest and safest, and most like ourselves, are we not drifting further from meaning? When we have felt more understood than we have ever felt before, does this not erode when we get lost in our daily lives, become fearful and start tiptoeing around openness? And in the casual and slow ‘closing up’, we end up alone again even when we aren’t. Which is better? Can we guard against that feeling of being alone when we’re not?

In that inability to ever let go of mistrust or to trust in another completely, do we then turn to something else to find meaning? Do we try to discover the gentlest way to live in the world – to leave the lightest footprint?

will never be


“You had to work hard to prevent your mind from sabotaging you by its looking hungrily back at the superabundant past.” –Everyman, Philip Roth

How do things shift without warning? And when they do, how is it that one continues with what has now become a charade? Why go through the motions? How is it that one leads, at least temporarily, a dual life, protesting ardently against the selfsame thing? Indecision? An inability to confront the past with the weaponry of the future – or living in a constant present-day limbo, hoping someone else will make all the decisions and demands?

I cannot answer these questions. But speculating and regulating lead me away from the things that are not and will never be.

who’s keeping score?


As the year ends, I feel compelled to tally up what I’ve done versus what I aimed to do when the year began. Of course life isn’t quite the linear thing that smoothly hands over what we ask for or think we will do, see or accomplish. Even what we want (or think we want) can change so fast, can be led along by circumstance, or a sudden need for dramatic change, that it’s almost silly to do things like set ‘resolutions’. Sillier even than watching 40-year-old, late-night reruns of The Love Boat or Only Fools and Horses, which has been my rough introduction to peri-Brexit Britain. (I certainly didn’t choose the wisest time to put down stakes in that neck of the woods.)

I had no idea when 2018 began that I’d spend half the year in Glasgow, immersed in intensive psychology studies. I also had no idea that I would try to balance that with work/job and the simultaneous completion of a thesis from a previous, almost-finished MA from another university. I had no idea that I would (mostly) have the discipline to follow through on almost all the goals I set for the year, somehow managing not to disrupt them despite the otherwise disruptive nature of the chaos I sprung upon myself by moving from place to place in a more itinerant than normal (for me) fashion.

“That life is not for me. Clearly I did not inherit whatever gene it is that makes it so that when you linger in a place you start to put down roots. I’ve tried, a number of times, but my roots have always been shallow; the littlest breeze could always blow me right over. I don’t know how to germinate, I’m simply not in possession of that vegetable capacity. I can’t extract nutrition from the ground, I am the anti-Antaeus. My energy derives from movement—from the shuddering of buses, the rumble of planes, trains’ and ferries’ rocking.” –Flights, Olga Tokarczuk

Hands-off, ears-off

Sadly, there is no new soundtrack for this month. But you can revisit the musical archives that date all the way back to 2004.

Emotional turmoil

On a less physical, hands-on level, though…

I had no idea, at least not consciously, that I would continue to dig deep into reserves of patience I had no clue I had, trying to patch up holes that are completely bottomless. They cannot be fixed.

I had no idea that I would finally try to come to terms with myself as a too secretive person, completely lacking in transparency when it comes to myself. I pretend to be open, but I’m open to you and your problems; I’m listening to you; I am reflecting you; I am flexible to and for you; I am absorbing your misery and anxiety.

But I am not being me with you, and I never have been.

(This “you” is everything and everyone.)

And this, rather than getting better, is getting worse. Much of what I did this year was to try to go against the grain, to stop doing this insofar as I recognized it. I did not succeed; instead I… recede.

Or could I have known that I would continue to love, to love more deeply than I could imagine possible, that being lovestruck, despite its implication of being immediate and fleeting, can continue and deepen? And despite the distance I put between myself – my self – and another? I could not come to trust it all because I have found the physical world is not to be trusted.

Yet others – all others – continue to tell me all the things contained in the vulnerable underbelly of their lives, their pasts, their hidden desires… their urge to share, to confess, to scrape out all the gelatinous globs of all the things they could never, ever tell anyone else too strong to resist, even if in the immediate aftermath they realized, Ah, now things will never be the same. 

Knowledge: Reading and thinking

“Reading furnishes the mind only with materials of knowledge; it is thinking that makes what we read ours.” ― John Locke

In terms of reading, I read a whole lot more than I set out to read – and a whole lot more than I expected. And in many cases it’s been an elusive and esoteric pursuit. As I’ve written through the year, a great majority of this reading in the second half of 2018 was academic/scholarly/empirical, but there were quite a few other things as well – mostly dominated by poetry whenever possible. (And many of my “lists” of what I’ve read don’t reflect a lot of the academic stuff.)

When 2018 started, I’d set a goal – read 26 books, all of which had to be in non-English languages. I started off strong but first found myself lured into a whole lot of English-language books (novels, poetry, contemporary non-fiction), and then into the required readings from academia (a lot of BS/masturbatory theory, i.e. an academic citing a previous academic, citing a previous academic/philosopher/theoretician, not actual theory on masturbation). In the end I only managed… well, 20 as of 12 November 2018. Still better than I thought, thinking back to spring when I found that reading in Russian again was so slow-going that I’d never make the kind of progress I can make in English. Reading Russian has also become bittersweet – so intense the memories of the time when it was the most important thing in the world to me, and so fresh the knowledge that one of the closest friends I had at the time died two years ago. She had not been in my life at all since 1995, but it still hit me to learn that she is really gone. I read Marina Tsvetaeva, for example, which is something she and I talked endlessly about, in a wholly different way.

In any case, this whole exercise required a re-evaluation of what progress is in this context. What am I doing this for if not for the qualitative experience of living, loving and grappling with languages, words, concepts, constructions, time periods, perspectives that are not even close to my own? In the digestion, interpretation (literal and figurative) and comprehension of these particular reading challenges, reading feels like a new endeavour, different from the much-loved near-obsession I experience with own-language books. Novel and difficult, and truly as worthwhile as I had hoped. Still I set such a goal when I had a fraction of today’s deadlines to meet and ‘achievements’ to unlock.

I’d be remiss not to reflect on these things even though I feel empty of the ability to truly reflect. Outside of my own little world, everything has been so ugly and contentious I can’t bring myself to think about it.


Press(ure) button: love


Sometimes the squeeze you feel is like being in a trap, and all the mind can focus on is running – both figurative and literal. Running away, to anywhere, and literally … running there. Being unable to focus and fix oneself to one place, one destiny – to commit to one nature, one path. Jenny Erpenbeck writes in Visitation, which focuses on one single property that has changed hands over many decades:

“Someone who builds something is affixing his life to the earth. Embodying the act of staying put is his profession. Creating an interior. Digging deeper and deeper in a place where there is nothing.”

I thought about this a lot after reading the book, feeling closer to the idea that I could, rather than dig deep and plant roots, fill holes and run toward ever-greater nothingness. It could well be a case of feeling down, and thus inappropriately feeling sorry for myself. This will pass.

For a long time, my idea of running toward nothingness, or possibly emptiness, was to numb my mind with television. I mostly quit this vice, but there are still things I consume in this way – either as a process of multitasking or to disconnect briefly. Part of distancing myself from the unmemorable haze of visual opiates was the sense that I should reconnect with feeling, wherever that took me.

Perhaps, though, this sometimes makes me feel too much. Sometimes this is not a bad thing, and oddly, the ‘messages’ delivered are entirely unexpected. A show I am currently viewing, Counterpart, is a kind of sci-fi-ish thing that, while enjoyable and entertaining, has not offered a single episode that hasn’t in one way or another dealt with the concept of love and how unconditional love should be. Many characters have been playing roles with each other, hiding significant aspects of who they really are, and living lies. The recurring theme, though, is that to truly love someone, maybe you have to (learn to) love the lie.

The person you love is someone you may not truly know at all. Maybe you love the person they wanted you to love, the person they want to be, the person you want them to be. You may know the whole truth, live with some variation on that, but (choose to) love anyway.

“She’s human. She made mistakes. We worked through them. … I love her. I love her for everything she is and I love her for everything she isn’t. An in the end that capacity for love, the ability to love someone unselfishly is the only thing that will separate me from you.” (Counterpart)

This theme, weaving itself persuasively into the body of the show, is what makes me keep coming back for another episode. It’s thinking about this ability to love – and commit – to someone no matter what – and stick around for what happens, whatever unfolds, that brings me back to my first points. I do love unselfishly and unconditionally, but my own selfish desire to run, not to dig deeper and deeper into one place, keeps me from sticking around for what happens.

The languages we speak


The late poet Derek Walcott wrote: “To change your language you must change your life”. I’ve thought about this statement many times over the years, and usually find that the inverse is also true – truer even: “To change your life you must change your language”. And we speak many different languages, literal and figurative, to fit our lives.

Literal language

There are the obvious ways in which this is true. For example, in the life of a migrant, you only become integrated to a limited extent without changing your language, but you can make inroads with the literal changing and adopting of another language. The more immersive it is, the more it shapes your life (so these statements work in conjunction with each other: language changes life, life changes language).

I spoke at some length with a friend about whether a language inherently contains a power structure. We were discussing that the US and UK have buckled under the weight of crumbling infrastructure and insufficient provision for managing natural disasters/bad weather. He shared that a friend in Massachusetts boasted about how her new generator switched on automatically five times that winter, leading him to ask (once again), “What is it about Americans that makes them twist the shortcomings of the place they live into things to brag about?” I always go back to the same answer: they don’t know any better. Many everyday things (for me or for him) sound futuristic to people in America (and to some extent, the UK). “Empires”, if we could call America one, crack and crumble from within. My friend wondered if the English language contains a built-in predilection for “shitty societies”. I did not agree with this statement but thought a bit about the built-in attitude of English. He posited that something in the language creates fear and anger in its speakers that is masked by arrogance.

I admit that although I have analyzed the language – and language in general – from many points of view, I had never taken it on from this angle. I have, though, thought about the imperialism and spread of language, which then gives native speakers a sense of entitlement. He posed the question: “How else to explain why both London and NYC are crappy in similar ways?” I figured it is not so much something within the language itself so much as in its ubiquity and power. (Both places driven and developed by the original British imperialist way of thinking, the dominance of English, even among large populations of immigrants who end up united by this one powerful lingua franca, contributes.) Within the language itself, though, is it a magnet for the best or most useful elements of other languages? Has it not only overtaken other languages but plundered them for its own needs? Does the dominance of English come from how and where its imperialism ended up (North America, India, other parts of Asia, Australia), in places where dominance also meant colonization and the “conquering” people staying put and taking power – as opposed to “resource grabs” like those in Africa, where French colonialism was alive and well? Could it be the result of English having such a vast and even superfluous vocabulary.. another way of dominating just by sheer volume of words? (And we can’t even say there is one “English” – its spread and ubiquity have created all kinds of variations.)

I don’t know the answers to these questions, but the questions are fascinating.

The language of self-help and personal identity

Then there are increasingly less obvious languages. For example, the language of self-help: you are told to frame yourself and your issues in a new way. The frame changes perception and eventually the language used to describe that perception. That is, you are what you think. You are the language you use. This came to mind most recently when I was listening to a young colleague who is often cuttingly direct in the language she uses, and I wonder how she would respond to softer, more diplomatic language. I also note that she notices keenly when others are as direct as she is. Would she be as effective in her role if she were softer? No. But if I were as direct and abrupt as she is, it would not suit me or work for me. Each of us, thus, forms our own (kind of) language – by which we are identified and through which we craft our own identities.

The language of failure?

Similarly, in pop-self-help and some broader psychological discussion, “failure” isn’t used when something might just be a setback. Here I think of alcoholics… do we really want to say that because someone had 90 days of sobriety and then fell off the wagon that those 90 days are a loss, a waste or a step back to square one – and their attempts a “failure”? Does the language we apply imply judgment and set the groundwork or pace for the next “slip”? That is, for an alcoholic each day sober is a success, and even if they build toward longer periods of sobriety, is their success (or failure) measured cumulatively? Maybe AA or other people measure this way. But for the person dealing with it, the language needs to be more forgiving or less judgmental.

Language of experience

Maybe certain experiences we live through do not change the literal language – the words you use – but change the whole approach, so your set of sociolinguistic approaches and cues becomes different. Maybe experiences forge within you a different person, with different eyes, who can no longer speak the same language, with the same tone you once used before the experience. This is applicable in many cases, but I think in particular about consolation, grief and the expectation of it.

How little I understood when I recently read Eduardo Sacheri’s The Secret in their Eyes how prescient two takeaway quotes would be:

“…perhaps the man’s fate, a life destroyed by tragedy and grief, provided me with a chance to reflect on my own worst fears. I’ve often caught myself feeling a certain guilty joy at the disasters of others, as if the fact that horrible things happened to other people meant that my own life would be exempt from such tragedies, as if I’d get a kind of safe-conduct based on some obtuse law of probability…” – The Secret in their Eyes, Eduardo Sacheri

“I believed I understood that the reason we’re sometimes moved by another’s grief has to do with our atavistic fear that this grief may get transferred to us, too.” – The Secret in their Eyes, Eduardo Sacheri

These thoughts stuck with me after reading the book, which I was reading as I consoled someone through and after the death of his mother. While being supportive and compassionate to him, I turned to someone else for my own kind of consolation, and discussed at length the particular kind of grief that punctuates the loss of one’s mother. He only realized then, as if becoming prepared for grief, how very devastating his own loss would eventually be when his mother passes away. It seems especially cruel and unusual that he didn’t have to wait long to be confronted by the potential for this grief: his mother suffered a fairly catastrophic setback only a couple of weeks later, which has not resulted in her death – but has opened the floodgates and made him see that his entire approach, logically, was flawed, that he could not control or know what the loss would mean or do to him. Sacheri’s points on how we are moved by another’s grief – because it is so close to what we ourselves may soon experience – was applicable.

And yet, language cannot contain this kind of grief, the fear (or confusion) it creates and the mirror it holds up to us and how we live and feel.

Language is equally inadequate for consolation. But in such cases, it’s less a spoken language and more a listening language: giving the time, patience and love to listen.

He “…went on to assure us there’s no Devil, no Satan, no Hell. There is—(maybe)—Heaven but it isn’t anywhere far away or anything special. And we demanded to know, why isn’t Heaven anything special? (You always hear of Heaven being so special.) And Daddy said, because Heaven is just two things: human love, and human patience. And all love is, is patience. Taking time. Focusing, and taking time. That’s love. This was disappointing to us! This was not anything we wanted to hear. We were too young to have a clue how special human love and human patience were, how rare and fleeting…” –A Book of American Martyrs, Joyce Carol Oates

Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash


“kisses crushed in our mouths”


Better to have kisses crushed in our mouths than cheesy poofs covered in the dust that makes up Trump’s skin pigment.

Imperfection of love in middle age, as we hit (anti-)Valentine’s Day.

Gate C22
Ellen Bass

At gate C22 in the Portland airport
a man in a broad-band leather hat kissed
a woman arriving from Orange County.
They kissed and kissed and kissed. Long after
the other passengers clicked the handles of their carry-ons
and wheeled briskly toward short-term parking,
the couple stood there, arms wrapped around each other
like he’d just staggered off the boat at Ellis Island,
like she’d been released at last from ICU, snapped
out of a coma, survived bone cancer, made it down
from Annapurna in only the clothes she was wearing.

Neither of them was young. His beard was gray.
She carried a few extra pounds you could imagine
her saying she had to lose. But they kissed lavish
kisses like the ocean in the early morning,
the way it gathers and swells, sucking
each rock under, swallowing it
again and again. We were all watching–
passengers waiting for the delayed flight
to San Jose, the stewardesses, the pilots,
the aproned woman icing Cinnabons, the man selling
sunglasses. We couldn’t look away. We could
taste the kisses crushed in our mouths.

But the best part was his face. When he drew back
and looked at her, his smile soft with wonder, almost
as though he were a mother still open from giving birth,
as your mother must have looked at you, no matter
what happened after–if she beat you or left you or
you’re lonely now–you once lay there, the vernix
not yet wiped off, and someone gazed at you
as if you were the first sunrise seen from the Earth.
The whole wing of the airport hushed,
all of us trying to slip into that woman’s middle-aged body,
her plaid Bermuda shorts, sleeveless blouse, glasses,
little gold hoop earrings, tilting our heads up.

Photo (c) 2018 S Donaghy



And give me news of him now and again,
so that I will not have to ask strangers
who wonder at my boldness, and
neighbors who pity my persistence.
You whose hands are more innocent than mine
stay by his bedside
and be gentle to his dream.” -Vesna Parun

When every word and statement appears as though it had been engineered to extract information manipulatively and surreptitiously (the listener is too suspicious to fall for that), a conversation is always a cat-and-mouse game. Zij wanted nothing more than to pump hard for information but knew she could not get any if she went for the hard sell. No, it had to be subtler, a conversation in which casual half-remarks might pique the listener’s interest and cause a careless offer of more information than intended. Zij attempted at times to lull the listener into loose-lipped revelation through flattery, searching out all the buttons that would stroke even the ego of a person so tightly controlled they didn’t seem to have an ego. The listener, connected in some feverishly imagined way to a place Zij wanted to get back to, calmly responded in an academic and dispassionate way to all comments.

When Zij did not get what she wanted, she changed tack.

“You are “better” than me in so many ways,” Zij said to the listener. “A more high-minded being.”

Why should such comparatives arise at all? It made no sense to compare: the listener is no better or worse than Zij. Either Zij wanted to be reassured that it wasn’t true, or she really must have self-esteem that low. So uncomfortable was Zij that she was unable to focus her love on herself or those who had proven themselves to love her unconditionally. No, there was always the increasingly hard pushing-away, boring in to gather ammunition while at the same time diffusing attention across as many sources as possible, to find solace temporarily where there really was none.

Thinking these thoughts, the listener listened. Why should the listener constantly be compared against this phantom from the past, by that phantom herself? What was the purpose of this exercise? In response, the listener finally replied coolly, “No, ‘better’ is not the right frame for this. It’s just different. People, as simple as it sounds, would not be interesting if we were all the same.”

When the listener proved to be responsive only to talk of her identity and bouts of mania, and this did not produce information – or even a reaction, Zij tried another approach:

“That place – that island – is so completely different from every other place on earth. I didn’t appreciate it when I was there, but it was unique and nothing else can rival it in the world. I should have loved it for what it was but didn’t. I was careless, making a mess of this land, inviting equally unappreciative strangers there, stripping and commoditizing this oasis.”

The listener remained silent, knowing a contradiction was coming.

“But I don’t understand why the island grew so inhospitable. I am sure that any other place in the world would have accommodated us forever – because that’s what places are for – that is what they do!”

The listener considered this, finally answering, “Can you really have appreciated the island for its real qualities if you never really knew them? If you used it for your own purposes but didn’t understand its ecology, what sustained it? And now, so many years later, can you be trusted as sincere in your regret at abusing and trampling all over the island and pushing it to the brink, if it appears that your regret is only about what you lost – and not about what the island lost or didn’t have in the first place, or didn’t get from letting you run rampant all over and through it? If your regret for the place and how you mistreated it were real, wouldn’t you step back and respect that it needs its own oxygen, it needs time… it can’t regenerate as long as the weeds and vines of the past continue to overgrow and overreach everything?”

Zij was silent, if only briefly. She did not like this answer at all. Attempting to regain the upper hand, completely forgetting any pretension of composure, she changed strategy yet again. Wanting to elicit… what? Anger? Jealousy? Curiosity? Insecurity? Uncertainty? To drive a wedge?:

“Do you have any idea how many people want desperately to visit that island now? For some reason it’s completely off-limits, but even people who have exclusive access to every other place in the world, who have piles of invitations they could accept… they want to go to THIS place but are denied. Why is it that you are welcomed there… and they aren’t? What is it about you that is so special?”

Underneath these words, the listener could hear a childish, deafening and always-growing-louder refrain: “WHY YOU? WHY YOU? WHY YOU?” underpinned by a whispering and desperate, “And why not me?” The listener again failed to react, immediately, thinking of the inherent immaturity of this line of questioning, wanting to quote the simplistic Bonjour tristesse: «Vous vous faites de l’amour une idée un peu simpliste. Ce n’est pas une suite de sensations indépendantes les unes des autres…» But knowing there was nothing that could be said to reliably explain anything. No explanations were required or owed.

It seemed once more, or still, that Zij asked the wrong questions of the wrong entity, diffusing all her pent up frustrations, regrets and feelings to all the wrong people. And the listener could only feel sad compassion for a life spent idealizing a past that kept her from fully living in the present.

Renewable energies


“He experienced the singular pleasure of watching people he loved fall in love with other people he loved.” –A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara

Going through life … evaluating all along, sometimes it takes many years to come face to face with the realities of the things you have done, the people you have hurt, the people you have left behind, the people who left you behind, the unfinished friendships, the unspoken words. Looking backwards there are so many missteps, misdeeds that cannot be taken back or redone. Yet, how we choose to live each day now – and how we choose to treat others – can perhaps be a form of renewal. We can generate a field of human renewable energy through our actions. (Never mind my telling someone that a hard-on is also a renewable energy.)

Yes, we can focus our full attention on the person in front of us. No devices, no distractions and no treating them more generally as though they are generic distractions from our otherwise busy and all-consuming lives. I try very hard to practice this, not always successfully. But it sucks to be a distraction to someone. On both sides of that equation: both in being the distraction, feeling that we are taking them away from something and in being the distracted, that feeling that we are just using someone else to pass the time or escape whatever is happening in our life. The worst part is: we are all so distracted on a regular basis that we don’t even realize we are doing this.

We each have our own version of these distractions. People we call when we’re bored, for example. People we meet because there is some lull between activities or significant events. We often cannot discern who our own distractions are unless they are actively making demands of us, acting in their capacity as the distraction who is bothering us, not when we seek them out to pass our otherwise unfilled time.

Life, though, is one of the few things that cannot be renewed. Yes, we can renew our hard-ons. We can renew our commitments to treating everyone we engage with with courtesy and compassion. We can renew our sense of humanity. We can be spontaneous. And, most of all, we can keep renewing love and enjoy how it multiplies. I keep writing about jealousy and possessiveness. How bitter people become when they try to tether and limit love, closing themselves and those closest to them off from the possibilities they each have. Opening up to these possibilities is one of the most renewable energies of all.

Gone away: 23 May


Today would have been my uncle’s birthday – my uncle who died last year in November. As with all losses and the mourning that follows, it has been rough, especially for my mom, his sister. I’ve written various bits about the loss and all the things you lose along with the person (the shared memory, or, as my mom put it the other day, “I was the person who had him in my life the longest of anyone alive” – in a sense this is true. As the older sister, she was there, 1.5 years old, when he came into the world, and with both of their parents gone, she is the only one who was there, and up close, for the rest of his life).

But in losing someone like him, we gain a deeper appreciation for who he was, and more than that, for what he taught without even trying. As I wrote at the time of his death: “the man collected everyone who came into his life, from “stray” people, to new friends, to ex-wives and ex-wives’ future families to new loves and their families and friends” – and this is always the thing about him that stuck with me during his life and now “post-life”. Perhaps because it is the thing I aspire to most. I find that somehow he was able to make it work, but I just encounter the most stubborn and traditional of barriers. I touched on the thought the other day: why are we so territorial and stingy with our love and acceptance?

Sure, I am a dyed-in-the-wool misanthrope, a come-to-life Oscar the Grouch (my hero, my idol), but it’s not actually who I am inside. Like my uncle, I am curious and my capacity for wanting to love people and show them compassion is boundless. When a former partner, who became a close friend, moved on and met the woman he has hitherto spent his life with, I was elated for him, but I lost the friendship because she was too jealous about its continuing to exist. When I got twisted into a mercifully brief emotional vise earlier this year, I swiftly got over the disappointment of it and thought we’d be friends – I tried to at least leave the door open to friendship on his terms but got burned by the partner/ex-partner/who knows now what she is/was because that became a question mark. Those details don’t really matter – I understand why these people got jealous, angry, irritated, upset. I just don’t think they had to – I have at least as much care and compassion for them as for the other party (the ones I actually knew directly). They have no way of knowing this and probably would not care because I guess there’s some intoxication or self-righteousness to be had in directing hatred or frustration toward perceived threats or annoyances. And all I can think is: I am sorry. I don’t think that holding onto hostility – or feeling hostile in any sustained way at all – is a way to live.

That is not to say I never get annoyed or hostile (often reactions to feeling hurt). But these things mend, and I look at situations and people (even virtual strangers) to see the good in all of them, to see what they must have gone through or experienced. If I could, I would be like my uncle and “collect” these people, too, into a distant but extended kind of network of people – like-minded or not, I am sure that if someone I cared about, even remotely or briefly, loved these people, they must be remarkable in some way. I’d venture to guess we all have a lot more in common than not.

Confronting mortality – both one’s own (and one’s own brushes with death) and others (so many losses, some obvious, some hidden) – it has always seemed ludicrous to be so insular and self-absorbed about love and particularly about welcoming and accepting people into your heart. My uncle, may he rest in cycling adventures and untold numbers of over-the-top characters and events on whatever plane he travels now – today, his birthday – and for all eternity, managed to live this challenge and invite others to live in this way too.

He taught by example, sure, but I really wish he were still here to ask him how he did it.

Photo (c) 2006 John/Johnny Grim used under Creative Commons license.