Elegy – Part 1: Evocation

•September 9, 2016 • 1 Comment

I knew I’d never be able to write much about my mother while she was alive.  It would be too complicated and potentially wounding to her, potentially destructive to our relationship.  I never wanted to cause her pain, so I imagined it might be another 20 years before I could share anything about her or about our relationship.

But last year she unexpectedly and suddenly died – and, far from releasing me to write – I found that apart from a bit of journaling, I could not write at all – not about her, not about anything.  There was just too much…

It’s now been exactly a year today since her death and I am trying to wade slowly back into sharing words.  I must try to break off small pieces of ideas, so that I don’t get overwhelmed trying to capture so much that words become too flimsy under the weight, finally collapsing, sending me back into silence.


Today is September 8th, the one-year anniversary of my mother’s death.  I am having a hard time grasping that this day has come, because the past year has not felt like a real year of actual time passing.  It has felt like wave after wave of thoughts and feelings only lightly imprinted upon months and seasons, emotional experiences only lightly tethered to time and space.

It was windy today – I was walking through the Commons and the leaves started falling.  It was the first time this year that I could see and really feel the seasons changing.

I have been anticipating this day for weeks – and now it is here and I am having a difficult time knowing how to make it right, how to give it the weight it seems like it should have.

I had this expectation that something would happen today – something more significant than on other days.  It turns out however that I am missing her just as much today as many other days.  So I feel like I am somehow failing her by not experiencing the gravity of her death on more profound level than ever before.

I think that if I want this day to be different from other days, I have to make the effort to infuse it with importance myself.  And so I write.



I have no religion.  I have no tradition.  I have nothing to lean on to tell me what to do or what to believe when someone I love dies.

Since my mother died I have listened carefully when people of different beliefs have talked about the soul.  Several people told me that in their faith the first 3 days after death were so important, because the soul was still connected to the body – but I wanted to reject that idea, because I did not even get to see my mother’s body until she’d already been dead for 6 days. 

Someone else said 30 days, another 40 days, another 100.  I kept bargaining with different traditions for more and more time.  And finally I heard 1 year, and something in me clung to that.

I have held on to that that idea – that she would be hanging around the planet all year – so I could feel like I still had some time left, some months to find a way to her, to learn how to communicate with her, reach her, feel her out there. 


In Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, a memoir of the year following the death of her husband, John Gregory Dunne, she describes a kind of superstitious state of mind she entered after Dunne’s sudden heart-attack.

“I see now that my insistence on spending that first night [after his death] alone was more complicated than it seemed, a primitive instinct. Of course I knew John was dead. Of course I had already delivered the definitive news to his brother and to my brother and to Quintana’s husband. The New York Times knew. The Los Angeles Times knew. Yet I was myself in no way prepared to accept this news as final: there was a level on which I believed that what had happened remained reversible. That was why I needed to be alone…I needed to be alone so that he could come back.  This was the beginning of my year of magical thinking.”

Weeks after his death for example, she gave his clothes to charity but couldn’t bear to give up all his shoes because, she thought, “He would need shoes if he were to return.”   

I empathize with this  dual state-of-mind – understanding loss has occurred on the one hand, but not believing it is unequivocal, feeling instead it is probably conditional.


We can know factually someone has died, but the way we feel can be much more primal, primitive and superstitious. And I have been so grateful for that.  

SUPERSTITION:  Middle English: from Old French, or from Latin superstitio(n-), from super- ‘over’ + stare ‘to stand’ (perhaps from the notion of “standing over” something in awe).

To stand over something in awe.  Part of me stands apart from logic, from chronological time that only moves forward, from death being absolute, and looks outwards, waiting for the awe, waiting for the magic. Not trusting in it completely, but tentatively thinking maybe, yes maybe, oh please maybe, could it be?


It’s in moments like these that I get these flickering reminders of how much of me is rooted in something not logical, not reasonable.  Something deeply fanciful, willfully credulous.

When I was 7 or 8 I read that unicorns ate rose petals – so  I would regularly go to the backyard and pick roses, break break them apart, and fill the birdbath with petals.  Then I would sit in the shadows and wait.

But, as far as I know, a unicorn never came.  I couldn’t allow myself to consider that it might be because unicorns don’t exist…so it had to be through some fault of my own.  I must have not tried often enough, or maybe I went to bed too early, was too impatient, too noisy.

Maybe it was some fundamental lack in me – I wasn’t pure and appealing enough in some way; not the right Maiden Fair. Or maybe I didn’t quite BELIEVE hard enough, completely enough.  Maybe it was the sliver of doubt in me that I could never seem to dislodge from any of the things I tried or wanted, even at that age.

And every day that I failed to attract a unicorn, I wondered how long it would be before I ran out of time.

In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – many sad things happen, but for me the largest heartbreak is the idea that Peter and Susan lived this whole incredible, beautiful, magical life and then go back through the wardrobe doors, and have it all taken away, even the memory itself, as they grow into normal adults, grow up a little too much to believe in magic.

I spent a lot of my childhood in a state of desperation, hoping to find magic before it was too late.

I chased rainbows in a search for leprechauns and pots of gold in the golden, oak covered hills behind my house. I looked for fairies, unicorns and elves.

I tried to fly with paper wings, jumping of tall ledges and the top bunk, so sure that if I believed enough and jumped just right and timed my flapping arms to the moment, that I would take off – that I spurn gravity, rising up instead of dropping endlessly down.

But time after time I found myself on the floor.  And I wondered – did I need stronger materials? Was the timing of my flapping arms off somehow? Or was it just quite simply that I did not believe enough?  Was I already too much like a grown-up, who doesn’t experience magic?  Not because it isn’t real, but because grown-ups aren’t willing to believe in it enough to see it.




Out of all the thousands of words and millions of ways they can follow each other – all the incantations, spells, actions, movements of the hand, movements of the heart – how can you actually know how to break a spell or cast one, how to send someone away or bring someone back?

On the anniversary of her death, I wonder if my mother’s soul is just waiting there, waiting to be invited in – and I either don’t know the words, or don’t believe in them ENOUGH for it to work.

Maybe if I could TRULY suspend disbelief, the door would open.

I don’t want this first year to come to an end because it feels like I will have somehow missed the opportunity – and this day will end, and then some door will have closed forever.  Like growing too old to go through the wardrobe.

I fear that I am letting her slip away, losing her all over again.


Nick Cave’s 15 year-old son, Arthur, accidentally fell off the Brighton cliffs to his death in June, 2015.  Cave just released an album today (Skeleton Tree)- much of which circles around and around that brutal grief, a kind of grief I hope to never fully be able to imagine or understand.

Cave sings:
“I used to think that when you died you kind of wandered the world
In a slumber til you crumbled, were absorbed into the earth
Well, I don’t think that any more”

And in a later song:
“All the things we love, we love, we love, we lose.
It’s our bodies that fall when they try to rise–
Here they come now, here they come 
Are pulling you away
There are powers at play more forceful than we
Come over here and sit down and say a prayer
A prayer to the air, the air that we breathe …
Come on now, come on now Hold your breath while you’re safe
It’s a long way back and I’m begging you please to come home now
Come home now.”


Should I light a candle momma?  Should I say words and wave my hands?  Should I make some kind of sacrifice?  Would you come to me then?

What should I do? What should I say?

What am I missing?

Is this my last chance?  Have I just not tried hard enough – and that is why I lose you in the end?

Did you die because I didn’t try hard enough? Because I never knew the right words to make you want to stay?

I’m begging you please, to come home now.


Dear Momma –

This is the best I can do.

I don’t know how else to make you live again, besides writing. 

Writing about you, about myself, about us…

It’s what I will keep on doing until I learn some other, even more potent kind of magic. 


But is France Also #CharlieHebdo?

•January 9, 2015 • 6 Comments

The hypocritical distance between the idea of France and the reality of France the Nation creates the dangerous illusion that French ideals of liberty and equality and French Nationalism can be one and the same.

I learned about the massacre at Charlie Hebdo in Paris just 24 minutes after it occurred – when in media terms it was still just a “Breaking News Headline”, and not yet a “story.”  The vague word “casualties” had not yet been replaced with the more detailed and horribly final “12 confirmed dead, more injured.” 

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By the early evening, photos were flooding my twitter and facebook feed of people meeting in towns and cities all over France to show solidarity against the killings.  At first it didn’t occur to me that I could go take part; I have grown so used to seeing pictures from various protests – whether it was Occupy awhile back, or more recently protests against police violence that I could only take part in spirit as they were half a world away.  It took me a moment to realize that I could leave my home and head to the center of town to join in.

I learned the Mayor of Bayonne planned a small ceremony at 6:30 PM in front of the Hotel de Ville.  It already was 6:45 PM, but I rushed out of the house anyway, feeling like it was important for some reason be there.

In truth I admit that I was propelled to the center of town for several reasons, some more noble, some just very human.  On the one hand, as a writer and a journalist and a Californian, I deeply cherish the idea of freedom of speech, the idea that we should feel at least physically safe to express our ideas and opinions even if they are controversial, tendentious, or offensive.  Satire is such a fundamental part of this freedom – the right to joke about society, politics, culture, religion – to knock the powerful down a bit via the amazingly undermining power of laughter.   Criticism of the expressed opinion of others is also an essential ingredient to that freedom, I might add, but criticism should of course never, ever be violent.  These ideals were embodied for me in the phrase spreading around France and the world, “Je suis Charlie.”



On the other hand, there was some ego-driven section of me that wanted to feel close to something shocking.  That part of me enjoyed knowing that I had been around the neighborhood of the shooting just days earlier (although of course that means absolutely nothing… but that kind of knowledge gives one the feeling of living close to the edge, of somehow having experienced a close shave, etc.).  It’s the same part of me that still feels a bit disgustingly self-important when somehow 9/11 gets brought up and I have to reveal that I was in Manhattan at the time.

So as I walked towards the center of town, I felt academically if not quite emotionally moved by the idea of freedom of expression, and somber about the murder of writers, artists, and thinkers.  I headed over the beautiful bridge that spans the Adour that is lined with the flags of the European Union, and entered Petit Bayonne. I could see the Nive, and across it the Hotel de Ville perched close to the banks, but I could not see people.

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I felt an increasing bizarre fear that I would miss or had already missed whatever was happening, that the moment would pass, and whatever feeling of unity that had been there would swiftly disperse. I imagined that by the time I arrived at the plaza it would be sad and empty, and everything, all that unity, would feel hollow and I would feel alone and disconnected, separate from everything and everybody.  It was one of those classic moments of my subtle creeping fear of the gaping maw of nothingness represented by the potential failure of all human effort to connect with one another, or at the very least the failure of my own effort.

But as I approached step by step, the shapes of people began to form themselves from the shadow, and it soon became clear that the entire plaza was full of people.

It was in this moment that I finally felt the emotion I’d been tentatively poking around for all day.  Up to that point I’d felt a kind of empty sickness,  but it felt more like that uncomfortable ache just past hunger than like grief.  I felt that numbed sort of thudding of horrible things, shocked but not surprised, because we are used to horrible things.  Appalled, disgusted and disturbed, but feeling these things more in my head than in my heart.

That changed when I saw the people gathered by City Hall.


Hundreds of locals from our town standing in the cold night air, just to be together and share in the collective shock and outrage, and to express solidarity with the victims and their families, with one another, with all those around the country and the world who feel the same, who condemn this disgusting act of cowardice and brutality.  I felt this intense wave of a joyful sadness.


I was overcome in that moment by the beauty of the act of congregation, and both the amazing power and vulnerability it represents.   I couldn’t help but acknowledge how easy it would be to hurt so many so quickly in space like that (how could one not at least fleetingly consider that possibility on a day like this), our squishy unprotected bodies, nothing blocking our organs but one another.  And yet the power of a crowd with an idea is one of the biggest forces in the world, for good or ill.


I wandered around, listening in on conversations.  It was not a particularly emotional crowd per se, but one gathered for the sake of an ideal – some there believing in that ideal passionately, others more out of habit.  At some point a group of people in their early 20’s holding signs that said “Liberté” and “Democratie” started to sing the French National Anthem, the Marseillaise.  I was immediately struck by how out-of-place it sounded in this moment, like the singers were at a sporting event rather than a gathering acknowledging the recently murdered.

I was surprised but impressed that crowd at large did not pick it up the tune, and the anthem almost petered out and died altogether, only held aloft in the end by a few embarrassed looking young people singing softly, aware that they’d gaffed somehow but probably not quite sure why, and one particularly tone-deaf man (in two senses of the word) who defiantly sang louder, no doubt feeling superior to the rest of the crowd, sure he was one of the only true patriots present.

I felt like this moment perfectly encapsulated the crux of a problem here in France – the chasm between France the Nation, and France the Idea.


France is one of the countries that holds its thinkers and artists in the greatest esteem, and Charlie Hebdo is a French institution, a standard-bearer for French secular culture.  The magazine represents some of the very things that the French hold dearest – wry humor, anti-establishment intellectualism, defiance against institutions, government, religion, the right to thumb your nose at the powers that be, the right to be irreverent, etc.

This concept was iterated in a speech made by the French President Francois Hollande yesterday evening.


In this brief speech Hollande both lauds the influence, irreverence and courage of those killed at the paper, and reiterates the concept that France IS liberty.  Liberty IS French culture.  That the very idea of France and the concept of liberty and freedom are inseparable, and in fact is the true meaning and definition of the nation itself.  He implied that therefore in attacking a representation of French culture, this attack was on the very beating heart of France itselfIMG_4308.

Hollande suggested in this speech that France is not so much a country, but an idea.

The problem is that France is not just an idea, France is also a real place –  a country full of citizens of varying levels of education, varying political beliefs, varying religions, but who on average according to polls and voting records are increasingly fearful, protectionist and xenophobic.  France the Idea is defined by liberty, while France the reality is a country that is mostly afraid of change, is gloomy about the future and its waning global influence, and resentful of a past that brought it to this point where change is being foisted upon it.  As opposed to France the Idea, the concept of liberty in France the Nation is slowly being watered down by many who would prefer to keep liberty for white French people(those immigrants, the rest of Europe and the world be damned).

The French incapacity to SEE the real France behind the fiction is one of the things at the heart of Islamic extremism taking root within the country; many French people’s individualism, their fear, their casual racism, and their COMPLETE lack of awareness about the effects of this racism is helping to create deep wounds, and backlash that bubbles up occasionally in violence.

While the attack on Charlie Hebdo WAS an attack on freedom of speech, an important component of the Idea of France, it was also an attack on the behavior of France the nation – a country that pretends at equality and fraternity while holding its own citizens at a distance, the France that only sends troops to fight for global justice and liberty where there are resources or beneficial relationships to be gained to make it worth the effort, the France that is in part starting to hear the siren song of separatists and xenophobes who say they want “France for the French.”

The far right party, the Front National, is steadily gaining popularity, feeding on the fears of people who believe that most immigrants, Muslims in particular, are dangerous and do not belong in their country because they aren’t really “French” and won’t ever assimilate to the culture, to French values, to the Idea of France.  These same people cherish the high ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity as their own.  They believe France the nation and France the idea are one and the same – and therefore believe that in the act of defending France the nation against the enemy and keeping it for themselves, they are upholding the virtues of France the Idea.


People all over the world were horrified by the news yesterday, not just because it was a vicious massacre of innocent people, but because it was an attack on that which so many of us hold dear – the right to express our thoughts and opinions. This I believe is what most people in the square were there for – to stand up against oppression, terrorism, and to stand up for writers, artists, thinkers, journalists, and the freedom of thought and of opinion. To stand up for France the Idea.


But a few were there to stand up for France the Nation, and that had a very different sound to it, the sound of a very awkward, pitifully sung national anthem.

After the Marseillaise trickled to an end, I heard a woman remark to her friends that it was “a poor choice, in bad taste.”  So it’s in bad taste to sing the national anthem when your country has been attacked?  Really, why’s that?

Oh right…  because your national anthem is in fact a war song about killing the enemy, the barbarians that threaten to invade your land.  Because your national anthem contains a resounding chorus that entreats young soldiers to spill the “impure” blood of their enemies into the furrows of French soil.  Yes, on second thought that song in particular might have been a rather insensitive choice.

In 1992, and again a few years ago, the idea to change some of the words in the anthem to make it less bloodthirsty and racist while maintaining the admittedly rousing tune was floated around, but ultimately rejected.  It would seem France still at heart loves to sing its war song, and beat its war drums, and think of the world in terms of enemies and fighting to protect the fatherland, despite how much the Idea of France might deny or try explain its way around this.

The Marseillaise reminds us of a different idea of France, a France from not all that long ago, a France of battles, of blood, of nationalism.  A France for whom liberty meant defiance, not fairness.  It reminds us of the violence of French history, a history where the very idea of liberty itself is highly complicated by colonization and war, where the idea of kingdom or empire or nation was almost always more important than true liberty, which was often poorly thought through and even more poorly applied.

That moment when that handful of people attempted to sing the national anthem was so horribly awkward because there seemed to be an uneasy awareness in the crowd that this was not the right moment for nationalism – but a time to grieve the attack on the high ideals of France.  There seemed to be at least some vague, uncomfortable awareness that the xenophobic brand of nationalism, the protectionism, conservatism, fear, racism and traditionalism increasingly endemic to this nation was in part to blame.


From all appearances, this attack did not look like a passionate, spontaneous, angry response to what was perceived as offensive heresy, so much as an attack carefully designed to set the French people even more at odds with each other than they already are. It looks highly calculated to inspire anti-Muslim resentment while stoking the self-righteous belief that “superior” Western culture/civilization/philosophy/ideals are under attack.  Simultaneously it could help inspire young disaffected French Muslims to feel even more alienated, misunderstood, vilified and rejected by their home country, which might drive them to seek community elsewhere, namely Islamic Fundamentalism.

Here we see the great danger in allowing the very different Idea of France and Nation of France to be interpreted as one and the same thing.  If these two separate things become more and more intimately equated by those that feel oppressed by France the Nation, they might also feel oppressed by France the idea – oppressed by these values, or at the very least feel deep convinced in the their hypocrisy, and not be able to personally identify with them.

(In December a suicide bomber attacked a French school in Afghanistan where the French Cultural Centre was hosting a theatre performance.)

The marriage between culture and nation is also deeply problematic because it gives racist nationalists the conviction that they have the moral high ground; it justifies bigoted opinions by allowing people to self righteously believe they are on side of all the good stuff like liberty, like freedom of speech, whereas the other side is for murder and oppression. After an attack like this it’s very easy for people like this to believe that “they” (in this case ALL Muslims) are against the idea of liberty, of justice, of freedom, equality, fraternity, etc – when really Muslim anger is mostly coming from oppression, racism, far-right extremism, and a commonly held belief that France is supposed to be for white people, and that anyone else is an invader, is not truly part of the “culture” not truly part of the nation (and despite all these very legitimate grievances for the vast, vast, vast majority would still never culminate in an act of violence).

For people who believe they are on the side of liberty and nation, it’s so easy to see themselves as the good guy and the other dudes as the bad guys, dehumanizing and vilifying the “other.”  It also makes it increasingly impossible for them to notice that their own side also frequently oppresses and murders, and when they do notice such things, they justify this behavior as being all for the sake of the Ideal, all in “defense of liberty.”

We see the same thing in the United States – the espousing of these ideas of liberty and justice simultaneously with racism, bigotry, protectionism, and so many close-minded, fear-based, selfish ideas. The United States also suffers from a dangerous dichotomy between the idea and the reality…


Powerful countries with great histories of eloquence, and a military to back up their narrative, seem to very easily dismiss the idea that words and actions should somehow be aligned.  A country is not an idea, or not just an idea, but also collective actions.  Or perhaps a country is both the idea and the reality, and the two never quite meet.  The idea exists in the minds of the people and it carries its own narrative power, creates its own history and conflict and dreams and despair.  The country as a verb, as collective action, is often something else entirely, and our incapacity to look at the two simultaneously and see the distance between one thing and the other is at the heart of a great deal of modern conflict and misery.


We could collectively benefit from learning that freedom of speech is not one size fits all – and in defending the freedom we do not have to agree with the speech itself.  But the line between what is harmful hate speech and what is just opinion is one we are constantly having to navigate carefully.  There is no hard fast and steady rule making the concept of freedom of speech itself problematically murky.

When we say “Nous Sommes Charlie,” We Are Charlie – it is important to make the distinction between Charlie the Idea and Charlie the actual publication, between what the publication espoused to express versus what it actually did.  The idea that I think most people are standing behind when they “Je Suis Charlie,” is their fundamental belief in the freedom of expression for all.  But we must not therefore confuse this belief in the freedom of expression, with the kinds of messages that Charlie Hebdo often expressed – which were coming from a place of white majority privilege, often insensitive and occasionally racist or sexist, attacking the already marginalized.  Believing that this magazine has the right to express its perspective, is not at all the same thing as supporting the ideas contained therein.



We are constantly dazzled by fake enemies who we think threaten our freedom, while we allow more real and present dangers to freedom to sneak right by us. People who think differently than us do not have to be the enemy, and freedom of the press is not in fact threatened as much by terrorism and fundamentalism as it is by the capitalism that it (barely) survives off of.  Censorship is much more of a reality due to the politics of money and the money in politics than the threat of attack.  The biggest enemies of liberty and equality are not outside our culture but a part of it.  This is what we must consciously struggle against as we move forward from this horrible tragedy.

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Jennifer Lawrence Who?

•November 5, 2014 • 3 Comments

Last night my husband David and I watched American Hustle.  As the credits rolled at the end of the film, we had an odd conversation that went a bit like this:

Pacifica:  You know the sad thing is that the woman played by Jennifer Lawrence actually killed herself a few years after all this.

David: Jazzlyn?

Pacifica: Rosalyn?  Yes Rosalyn.

David: Jozelin, the red-haired one?

Pacifica: There was no one named Jozelin.  Rosalyn, the one played by Jennifer Lawrence.

David: The actress killed herself?

Pacifica: No I mean the person that the character was based on.

David: The red-haired one.

Pacifica:  No, Jennifer Lawrence!

David: Jennifer Lawrence killed herself?

Pacifica: No! The woman she was playing!

David: Who is Jennifer Lawrence?

I found this conversation humorous on several levels.  For one, it was yet another conversation I can add to a lengthy list where our communication makes me feel like we are inhabiting a Monty Python sketch:

It was also hilarious that David had just watched a two-hour film and still had no idea what any of the characters were called, and could only roughly identify them by hair color. (Good thing there weren’t two redheads, or that conversation might have gone on a lot longer).

The third thing that was odd to me about this conversation was the realization that my husband has absolutely NO idea who Jennifer Lawrence is.  I asked him if he had recognized the blond in the film at all, and he said, nope, never seen her before.

How is that even possible?


Before last night’s revelation, I had been under the impression that being on the internet, at least in the Western-centric media landscape, was inseparable from at least recognizing Jennifer Lawrence. She is one of the most internet-meme-making, GIF-spawning, article-inspiring stars out there, and you’d have to be a serious internet ninja to manage to avoid her.  Because she is likable, intelligent, talented and hilarious – a far wider variety of people are interested in clicking on things about her than say clicking on articles about Paris Hilton or Lindsey Lohan.

And then of course there’s the contingent who have made her even more widely ‘seen’ this year by sharing stolen pictures of her naked.  If (like me of course) you did not see them, you surely read about the sharing of them in what was a media frenzy about privacy, celebrity culture, women’s bodies as public commodities, hacking, etc., etc.

Or then again, maybe you didn’t… !

It was refreshingly adorable to have my husband prove that might still be possible.


I’m rather sad – because now David DOES know who Jennifer Lawrence is, making his brain just the slightest bit more full of the same stuff that’s in so many other people’s brains.

Don’t get me wrong – I think Jennifer Lawrence is great.  What I have a problem with is the increasing homogenization of information, culture, experience and opinion.

Often lately David or I will start talking about something we read or saw online, and the other person will cut us off saying, “Yeah I know, I already saw that.”  This is happening with increasing frequency as our two sets of social media circles have begun to share more and more and more of exactly the same thing, regardless of whether the people are from the United States, or Venezuela, or Europe, or somewhere else.

Remember back when we thought the internet was going to give us access to EVERYTHING, removing all the middle men that were holding things back, making all things accessible to everyone all the time – liberating and democratizing information?

There was this sort of brief golden age in social media when everyone who was online was sharing different things.  But then a funny thing happened…there got to be too much information – which meant that there was a lot of amazing stuff out there, but it also meant there was even more crap and misinformation and stupid stuff.  We got so overwhelmed trying to find the stuff we really liked and were interested in that we began to use middle men again to filter for us.  And then things started going viral.

And now?  Most of what we consume online is stuff that has already gone viral.  What does this imply? It’s starting to mean that people are mostly only seeing and hearing all the same things that everyone else they know is seeing and hearing.


When you live with someone a problem you can run into is sharing too many of the same experiences.  If you’re in a good relationship this doesn’t mean you talk any less about stuff – but it can mean that the pool of what you have to talk about is smaller than people whose lives are more separate.

The internet is making that phenomenon worse.

While it can be a bit frustrating within a relationship if you start to feel like you’ve both already seen and heard and learned exactly the same things, it’s far more depressing when you start to feel like that is becoming true on a much larger scale – within the entire circle of acquaintances with whom you share information.  More and more, we are all-seeing, reading, and watching the same things.  We are probably often even responding and thinking in the same ways about the same things .

This is boring. And dangerous.

It kind of reminds me of what we’ve done to produce.  We waste the energy and money to transport foodstuffs from all over the world – bananas from Ecuador, grapes from Chile, avocados from Kenya, salmon from Norway, yet our food choices often remain surprisingly homogeneous.   (Did you know that 5000 varieties of potatoes still exist today?  How many of them have you ever seen let alone tried?) You find the same-old same-old varieties of apples, potatoes, corn, etc,  in most grocery stores  – because the space is filled by the things people easily recognize, and are the most bright and shiny and “normal” looking.

This is kind of how people end up clicking on links too…

Limiting diversity in our crops not only narrows down the variety of nutrients we consume but also puts populations at higher risk of suffering from disease or famine.

I feel like the way we have begun to share and reshare information online is also making what we consume less and less diverse and nutritious.

Ideas need to be mixed and thrown together in odd and surprising ways – we need constant new strains of thought, just like we need new genes in the breeding pool to improve our diversity and potential for future survival.   We need new to be around new ways of seeing and doing and making things, to help inspire us to create more robust, diverse and interesting ideas in the future.


When I was about 11 or 12 I was talking to my best friend, and somehow the song “When the Saints Go Marching In” came up – and she had no idea what I was talking about.  This baffled me.  To me this was a song everyone knew.  I wasn’t even sure why or how I had learned it – but I felt that spoke to its ubiquitousness more than anything else.  I mean come on – this was a song that was one of the preset tunes on my 22-key Casio keyboard!  I could play that song on the recorder AND the ocarina! How could she not know that song?

“When the Saints Go Marching In” seemed so inescapably American that it was a strange shock to realize that someone who I grew up with and was seemingly exposed to so many of the same things as me could have somehow had no contact with it.

But she and I often shared new things with one another.

She had parents with decidedly different backgrounds than my parents, and we were exposed to fairly different cultural references.  As we grew up we began sharing the things we’d seen or heard at home that interested us – she brought things passed to her from her parents like Peggy Lee, amazing classical records, films like “The Russians Are Coming,” and memories from Cape Cod and Israel  – while from my house and family I brought her things like the Grateful Dead and all sorts of other classic rock ‘n roll, tales from Alaska, Renaissance Faire paraphernalia, and flavors of the spiritually esoteric.  And we both brought in lots, and lots of books. 

This mixing of the cultures of two such different families, plus our own two distinctive brains and curiosities developed into a passionate quest to learn about new things to share with each other.  This wonderful cross-pollination that occurred over many years, (and continues today) completely shaped who we both are.  It’s one of the things I am most grateful for.    

It’s that kind of sharing that I miss.  But is it even possible to have anything that resembles that online? Very little of what I see online reflects anything much about any of the uniqueness of the people I know and what they think and have experienced, but rather the common denominators of the hive mind.


Going viral, and companies like Upworthy and Buzzfeed who exist specifically for the purpose of making content go viral, have made the internet a much more boring and homogenized place.  Everyone is sharing the same video, talking about the same issue, gossiping about the same scandal and giving to the same charity.

Viral content has a nasty ripple effect as well – once something has gone viral, every major news source feels the need to cover it and have a take on it, trying to ride the viral wave and catch a few of those clicks.  If one newspaper has a story discussing the complexity of a twerking issue, everyone has to have their angle on the subject,  whether it’s the New York Times or the Daily Post.  If one magazine has an article about an actress appearing to have had eyelid surgery, significantly changing her trademark look, absolutely everyone has to have their say about it, whether it’s the Atlantic or TMZ.

If we want better than this, I think we might need to take it upon ourselves not to do the easy consumption – to seek rarer strains of information and share THAT with one another rather than the things we are being fed so easily.

Maybe that sounds like a waste of time – but the more we make an effort to take in new and different information ourselves and then share it with each other, the more organically new conversations, new thinking and new connecting can happen, and the more inspiration, sudden strange ideas, and eureka moments can be had.

As people on Facebook, on twitter, and on other social media platforms, I believe it’s our responsibility to take a bit more time to think about what we are sharing.  I don’t mean that we shouldn’t be sharing silly stuff, or funny stuff, or stupid stuff – that is part of the fun of the internet.  But I think instead before we hit the share button, we should think about whether or not something is already widely spread – and if so, maybe consider looking for something more obscure but equally interesting to share instead – to do our part and encourage the biodiversity of the web

Let’s try as consumers and sharers and producers of information, to be more a little more interesting ourselves.  Because in the viral culture, a little bit of interesting can go a long way.

Robin Williams: The Death of Our Imaginary Friend

•August 13, 2014 • 10 Comments


Imaginary friends populated my youth.

In childhood, my sister and I each had an invisible elephant (one pink, one blue) that we’d ride around the col-de-sac.  Mythical creatures inhabited my backyard and the trees all had names.

As a pre-teen my entire family became obsessed with the Addam’s Family because they seemed like the most apt pop-culture-parallel to our own familial experience.  One day my mother and her boyfriend came home from the video store with a life-size cardboard cutout of the Addams – a promo from the film.  From that day on, they became members of the family.  They stood in our living room for years and it became hard to imagine the house without them.  Last year when my childhood home was foreclosed on, we found them up in our asbestos filled attic.  It felt wrong to throw them away after all we’d shared – so we left them there for the new owners to discover.

In high school, my mother was in love with a rock star who she was sure was in love with her.  Although they never met, he became a fixture in our lives – he and every member of his band were discussed daily, referred to by first name, like dear, well-known friends.

It was only today, when I woke up to hear the shocking news, that I realized just how much Robin Williams, in all his incarnations, was also a part of that odd, motley, imaginary crew for me and my sister both.


Unlike people in the western hemisphere, I didn’t hear about Robin Williams suicide (I still can’t believe those words could fit together as I type them) until I woke up on this morning.

At first I just felt strange.  And then the numbness slowly left me, and I realized “oh, that was shock.” Then I felt gut-punched.  And it’s weird…I keep bursting into tears.  And I am struggling to understand why.

I feel sad at celebrity deaths, but usually in that vague way of stuff that you know is sad but doesn’t quite hit a true nerve, doesn’t quite pull a string deep in your heart.  Usually it’s kind of an intellectual sadness.

But this is different.

It’s strange to feel such intense emotion about someone I don’t know, and at first I felt a bit confused and almost creeped out by myself.  I am not a celebrity worshipper, and I tend to not be impressed by fame.  Why do I feel such a deep, deep sense of loss?


I think people born in the 80’s have a very particular, special relationship with Robin Williams.   His face, voice, gestures and humor became part of the fabric of lives.  He became a kind of secret magical friend that kept reappearing in new forms, whether as a genie, or a man trapped in a board game, or a frog prince in green spandex, or a lost boy stuck in a man’s body, or a nanny, or a penguin, or Theodore Roosevelt.   It felt like he might pop up at any moment again, just like the genie.

My sister just wrote me this in an email:

“everything about this is totally devastating. and it’s hard to feel so … grief stricken about a personality, a celebrity. but I do.

but when you think about it… when you add up all the times I watched Mrs. Doubtfire and Aladdin and the Birdcage and countless others.. when you add up the endless hours I spent feeling better because his face and voice and energy were coming through the tv to me… that’s probably more up close face time than I’ve had with most of the people I’ve ever known except my family and closest friends. So that’s weird to think about. and maybe explains it a little.

it’s like losing part of that imaginary family we were just joking about a couple days ago. “

I remember being perhaps 13-years old, sitting with my best friend in her living room watching “Dead Poet’s Society.”  Everything about that movie struck deep into our sensitive, literary, awkward, misunderstood sweet little adolescent souls.  From that day on we would loudly chant “Then I saw the Congo, creeping through the black, Cutting through the forest with a golden track” pretty much whenever we were excited about anything…or wanted to be loud and weird (which was often).  We’d chant it faster and faster and louder and louder until we could no longer breathe and we’d collapse in a satisfied, euphoric heap of laughter.

And still the phrase Oh Captain, My Captain makes me feel connected to the inspiring mentor I always hoped I would find, but never did.  Another imaginary friend.


But it’s more than just that.

This particular death and all the details of it hits so close to home in a lot of different painful ways.   My mother is bipolar and self-medicates in an effort to numb her pain, insecurity and crippling fear of not being loved.  She has flirted with the idea of suicide and the fear of her depression and the possibility of her  death has been a theme throughout my life.

But it’s more than just that as well…

I am from Marin County, the place where Robin Williams lived and worked and rose to fame.   So he was not really an elusive mythical celebrity for me, but a real person who lived where I lived and knew many of the people I knew.  In high school for example, my boyfriend (who also had bipolar and in later years ended up deep in drug addiction and on the edge of suicide) and his family were close with the Williams family; spending time at each others’ homes, sending gifts around the holidays.

When I think of him, it’s in the context of all that was once home and the familiar. He belonged to my community

And it’s more than that too…

There is also a shock in the passing of someone like this, in part for how tremendously, vibrantly, frenetically alive he seemed.  He exuded so much spirit, so much life, so much energy. And so very, very, very much heart.  He gave SO MUCH of himself and was so honest and wide open.  He was more available in many ways to us than many real people – and he made us laugh, cry and feel good.   He made us feel alive.

Story after story online right now is about nice things he did for people, how kind and generous he was, and how good he  made everyone feel.  He had time and energy and words and warmth for seemingly everyone that crossed his path.  It seems he was incredibly empathetic – very, very aware of other people’s emotional states, and able to immediately understand when someone was down and in need of some kind of pick me up – and then he took it upon himself to be the pick-me-up.  You get the sense that he was that empathetic because of how familiar he was with pain.

I saw a little clip of an interview he did with Ellen Degeneres – where he was talking about the open-heart surgery he had in 2009 – and how vulnerable,  and emotional he felt afterwards.  Though, as always, he’s reeling off jokes a mile a minute, there are a few sentences where he’s really revealing how he feels before leaping back into being entertaining.  In that brief moment you can see right into that heart and see how big it was and how sensitive and how fragile.  And how complicated his relationship to life was – he didn’t just suffer life, but also was deeply in love with ‘the whole catastrophe.’

You can imagine how his genius for comedy helped him protect himself – his sensitive, loving, vulnerable, probably insecure underbelly. These kinds of clips just make me want to wrap him up in warmth and love, and somehow keep him safe.  But in the end no one could do that for him.  The horror of suicide from depression is that you kind of know that if that August 11th had gone just a bit differently for him, if the timing had been different somehow, he might not have followed through on the impulse, he might have found his way back to a safe place in his head, as he had probably had to do so many times before.

And you also know that for him, some days were better than others – and that on the good days he loved life, felt joy, treasured his friends and family and felt GRATEFUL.  It’s just that the hard days can be so very hard.  No matter who you are, how well loved, how “successful” or what gifts you have to offer…life can be so difficult to bear.


But there’s more …

I cried the hardest when I saw that the last tweet Robin Williams sent was one wishing his 25-year-old daughter happy birthday and sharing a photo of them together when she was just a toddler.

It made me realize that beyond everything else, this is hitting me in my gut because Robin Williams has always reminded me in some ways of my father.

I’ve seen a lot of people say how they feel like they’ve lost their weird uncle.  But for me the weirdest one has always been my dad.  My dad has always been part alien, part Rain Man, and part  soft, squishy loving heart.  He’s the sort of person who can get along with just about everyone, and yet also seems separate… different from everyone, often on his own special little planet (that I sometimes get to visit).


Robin Williams, ready to Ride

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My father, biking through Southern Spain

Robin Williams and my father are around the same age, and shared other random things as well – like a passion for cycling.

Robin Williams even looks a little like my dad…

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Dad taking selfie with a fish in front of posh restaurant in San Francisco

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Dad with aforementioned fish


Dad’s Birthday Present Impression


My parents divorced a few years before the movie Hook came out.  At the time we were learning to navigate the complications of having a father living on another side of the country (Alaska).

On top of that my father was/is a workaholic – who owns his own company and is responsible for an entire salmon empire.  Though he tried very hard to make time for us, he was a very busy man with a lot on his plate.

When Hook came out, I think both my sister and I were very emotionally affected by it.  Although the quality of this film now is dubious, the emotional relevance at the time was unquestionable.  For us, this movie was both painful and therapeutic.

Robin Williams as Peter Pan reminded us of dad at the time  – in his business man armor which often hid the boyish, whimsical heart.  Peter struggled with fatherhood, not really understanding what it was that his children most needed from him. The pain of Peter’s children mirrored our own pain, and tapped into our feeling of not quite knowing how to reach our father, how to find him, how to connect.

Hook helped us work through these confusing feelings somehow, when it cracked open the hardened shell of the distant father, allowing his heart through, allowing his children to believe in him again.  And it went both ways – when Peter was able to see and feel their love and belief in him, it helped him remember how to fly.

I think I liked the idea of a Neverland where we could have our father be all heart, and all to ourselves, with all the time in the world to learn to fly together.

Many of Williams’ movies contain the concept of the flawed or absent dad  – especially Hook and Mrs. Doubtfire – and those of us who felt pain and longing in our relationships with our own dads, connected some of that pain and that love to Williams himself.  So my feeling of loss is most tied into the loss of a father-figure.  And it really does hurt.

And that’s really why, beyond everything else, when I see a picture of Robin Williams I find myself crying – because I see the father.

33rd Annual People's Choice Awards - Arrivals

At the heart of it, it’s because he’s a dad with a daughter near my own age, a young woman who must love her father just like I love my father.  The grief and pain his children must be feeling right now is beyond  what I can even try to imagine… it’s just too much…

This event has triggered my deepest fears of loss.

My father, thankfully, doesn’t suffer from depression.  But that doesn’t make him invincible or immortal.  Just like anyone, he could disappear at any time.  And that terrifies me. Any time would be far, far too soon.

I can’t help it, I want him to be here forever … all I can think today is Daddy please don’t ever go…

I love you papa.


And I love you too Robin Williams.  Thank you for always being my imaginary friend, mentor and flawed father figure.  I’m really going to miss you.

Here to Give Ourselves Away

•August 8, 2014 • 1 Comment

It  had been a very long time since I’d been alone in a cemetery.


I was walking down a hill into the village of Gavarnie in the middle of the Pyrenees, looking for a good place to sit and write… IMG_3349

when I glanced over a wall into the church graveyard. IMG_3381

I was held where I stood by three faces staring at me. IMG_3359

Actually before I even saw the faces, I saw the uniforms: three young soldiers killed in World War I.  I had forgotten how much I love graveyards for all the stories they have to tell, but these faces reminded me. IMG_3358 So I went inside.


Graveyard walking is to search for clues; it is to remember that these were once real people and therefore be constantly searching for the power somehow to breathe life into them and let them stand once more, say a few words, tell us a bit about themselves and what they saw, what they knew, what they felt.

Most graves give very little information – but even just the name, age and year of death is its own little story.  The first thing I learned in the graveyard of Gavarnie is that if you survived youth in this village, you tended to have a very long life.  The majority of the graves were for those who were very old – people in their  80’s, 90’s and even one woman who had reached 100; these were hardy people.  I could imagine most of them lived a quiet mountain life, perhaps rarely or never leaving the region.

I also saw a lot of young men.  There were many of course that died in war, but later there were also those that had challenged the mountains to take them, and mountains had won.  It seems that even here, the audacity of youth can be dangerous.IMG_3369 - Version 2 IMG_3365 - Version 2IMG_3367IMG_3370 - Version 2

And then there was Madeleine.  She died in 1955 at the age of 17.  There are indications to suggest she may have been a nun in training at Lourdes, or perhaps went to Lourdes for healing.  They call her sister in a way that suggests “sister of the cloth” not the flesh.  Perhaps she went there and devoted herself to god, believing she would either be cured or else die in grace. IMG_3373 IMG_3376 IMG_3377

While most of the graves in Gavarnie are granite – smooth, polished and geometric, there are also some graves marked by just mound of earth. These have their own special impact because they gives the sense of a body under there, taking up space; it reminds me of how we look when we bury each other in sand as a game at the beach.  Just a body in earth.  It makes the once-upon-a-time flesh seem closer.   IMG_3372 - Version 2

There is something disconcerting yet poignant about a grave without a name – knowing that something that was once someone is there, but knowing no moret.  Yet knowing just that much is something. In that earth lie bones, that once contained life, consciousness.  And now those bones are an empty, derelict house, hinting at the life that was once inside. For me a ghost is just that: the consciousness that has gone, and the trail it has left behind. Even without a name there are still traces of what once was.  In my mind, a ghost can live in the idea of a person that has vanished.


My grandfather died a long time before I was born.  It is always so weird to me that someone who played such an fundamental role in my own father’s life, is someone who I actually cannot imagine at all.  I have seen pictures and heard stories about him but I know that no matter how much more I learn I will never be able to actually imagine anything close to what the real man was like.  For me he remains two-dimensional, limited to the space within a faded photograph, and the confines of conflicting anecdotes.

I know I’ll never be able to reconstruct him, but there’s something in me that is always wishing I had more to work with.  I keep thinking that if I just had a bit more information – if I could hear his voice, or see a video with him in it, so I could know how he moved his face, how he laughed, a bit of how he expressed himself, I could come closer somehow.

I knew very little about him when I was growing up (besides how much he loved the outdoors, camping, hiking, etc.) so I found my own way to give him a voice.  When I read Steinbeck as a teenager, for some reason I decided that his was a good voice to give my grandfather.  In putting a writer in that surrogate role I think I was expressing the desire, more than anything, to know how my grandfather thought about things, to be able to hear his interior monologue.  Lacking access to that, I found the voice that most closely matched the image I had constructed.  When I told my father this he laughed.  I think he laughed because I am not sure he ever really knew how his father felt about things either…


The gravestones that move me the most are ones that give me enough information that I can bring an idea of a human to life.  A young nun dying of a wasting disease in Lourdes, young soldiers from a mountain village who know nothing of the world, who finally leave, only to see the outside world in a time of war, and never return.  The young athletic 20-year old, dead from a fall, dead perhaps for trying to pack too much living in.

The combination of the information on and around the grave, and now sometimes even the very face itself of the person creates at least a ghost of a form.  I know it does not come close to the people themselves  – but in a way does it matter?  Even famous historical figures about whom we have endless information still elude us when we try to reconstruct them.  No matter how much information you have there is still something missing – perhaps the sound of the voice or the way they crinkle their eyes when they smile.  And yet it’s still alway worthwhile to try to imagine…

I was thinking how archaeologists must feel something like this all the time – the way they reconstruct bones and try to imagine civilizations through the contours of broken pottery, and yet  know they can never fully recreate what was.  Or paleontologists imagining dinosaurs and other ancient animals – yet always wondering if perhaps they were an entirely different color.

There’s the beauty of the reconstruction – and the frustration at your distance from what actually WAS…and how you’ll never know far that distance actually was and what part of the picture you were missing entirely.


The massive medieval citadel of Carcassonne in the Languedoc region is one of the most visited places in France; a UNESCO heritage site, it supposedly furnishes the tourist with the vision of a proper medieval city.

Carcassonne - Vue aerienne (2)

The thing that most tourists don’t know is that in the  in 1850’s the French Government decided to restore the Cité de Carcassonne,  hiring architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, to oversee the renovation. Viollet-Le-Duc decided to remake it to match his idea of what this medieval fortress should look like rather than attempting to restore it according to what had already been there.  Carcassonne for him was not supposed to just be what it had been in the past – but stand for something about France of the present, a kind of conversation about France over the ages.

“Viollet-le-Duc’s aim in restoring the Cité was to reintroduce meaning into a set of ruins — meaning, of course, for the culture of nineteenth-century France. For us, therefore, Carcassonne stands as a meaningful architectural monument of the nineteenth century, speaking for its nationalist passion for history. The restored Cité fundamentally expresses the architectural interests and thought of an architect in the 1850s. As architectural intervention is never neutral, as it is always an exercise in interpretation, it deserves as much attention as the original object. From the perspective of our day. Viollet-le-Duc’s restoration is as expressive of the architect and his time as were the medieval remains of their era.” –  Francesc Xavier Costa Guix

So many elements of the restoration of Carcassonne say way more about the mindset and aesthetic and ideology of the 1850’s, than of the medieval era.  For example – the famous towers that circle the city are pretty much Viollet-le-Duc’s interpretation of medieval – their conical tops that give Carcassonne so much of its particular flavor, were completely imagined by him, and had never existed previous to the restoration project.


People visit this impressive place and leave feeling they’ve seen what a medieval city looked like when in fact they are seeing what an 1850’s architect decided a medieval city should look like.

But is it important that they know this?  Or is it really just as good that they carry away the simpler version of the story, and walking through those streets and imagining them just like that a thousand years ago?


I have never seen faces in a cemetery before – but there were so many in Gavarnie.

Here is the Family Germain Bordes.



Baby Philippe Bordes was buried here. He was exactly 1 year old – born December 17th, 1961, Died December 17th, 1962.  A beautiful baby.  It was disconcerting to see that face, his smile and chubby cheeks, in this place of death.

And then there was Serge Bordes.  Probably Philippe’s brother – born in 1959.

IMG_3364We see him pictured, as a handsome young man – who died 19 years after his baby brother – at the age of 21 or 22.  A year before, it seems his Grandfather Justin died, aged 74.  We see him in his beret and traditional mountain clothes.  A man who lived a full life, next to his kin who lived such short lives.

I felt strange taking these photographs, like there was something grotesque in the stealing of these faces, much more problematic than photographing a headstone.  It felt so much more intrusive.

What right did I have to read these names and dates and look at these faces and create something out of them that was so far from the truth known by those that truly loved them?  What right did I have to imagine them, stereotype them, make assumptions, take pictures, and carry pieces of them away for my own purpose?

But their loved ones put their faces there so that people would see them and remember them.  I don’t think they would be there otherwise. I think maybe part of the purpose is to be able, years later, to have someone walk by these graves and be able to look at these faces and get some small sense of the human however faint and inaccurate, and take it with them.  I think a graveyard represents the desire for those traces of of the dead, the ghosts of them, to continue to have a voice, albeit distorted, and thus still have some impact on the living world.

And maybe those men are now not just who they were – but now they are also the picture on a plaque in a cemetery and the imagined human ghost in the head of an American woman passing through and taking their image with her.


One day when I was in Paris I was walking along the Rue Mouffetard during market day.  A man walked by me and handed me a rose and then walked on.  I stood on a street corner there, holding the rose to my face, delighting in the ridiculous romance of moment.

A few moments later I spotted a tourist with a large camera trying to secretly photograph me standing there with my rose to my cheek – stealing an image of me, an idea of me. He probably thought I was French and he’d just managed to catch some minute inhale and exhale of the city.  Whatever he thought, he stole some piece of me and made it into something new, whatever he believed it to be.

And I think that is beautiful.  We are here to give ourselves away to each other in one form or another, maybe even after we are gone.  We shed pieces of ourselves like skin cells – in the form of people’s impressions that they carry away – the smallest gesture that they inflate into a new form. This form may not resemble us from our own perspective, but perhaps we are so much more than what we think we are from our own perspective. Perhaps we are all these things that people take away from us too, even the things that we’d argue are wrong.  And these assumptions, misconceptions, and perceptions tie us all to one in another in the most complex and amazing web of ideas.

We don’t have to be dead for people to steal our faces and fill them with new thoughts, new personality, new motivations.  It happens all the time every day.  We are all body and brain snatchers, writing the world around us like a fiction.  We turn living, breathing humans into ideas.   And in doing so, we hope to understand each other in a way that, despite not being accurate, is still somehow true.


When I write here I struggle to express feelings and get them translated somehow into thoughts. I never quite know what ideas I am actually transmitting, and how closely they resemble what I was hoping to communicate – but that isn’t so important.   Because once words are let go, just like images, they take on their own life.  I think that’s why it feels so necessary to release them.


Staying Alive: Time for a Change

•July 23, 2014 • 7 Comments

I don’t think I know very many people who aren’t struggling a lot of the time to feel alive.

Sometimes the days, weeks, even months drain by, but they don’t speak to us – they almost don’t say a word.  They pass, but we are not quite sure how, because we did not often stop and step back and take notice.  If they do speak, we are usually not there to listen.

Television. Net-surfing our free time away.  Lethargy.  Compulsive snacking.  Food that lives in plastic.  Hours spent in traffic.  Bad posture.    Cell phone and email addiction.  Obesity.   Prozac.  Distracting ourselves to death or at least away from life.  Modern life in all its glory.

More people are on anti-depressants than ever – trying to escape the vacancy that they feel when they do step back and pause and look around and don’t see anything but the abyss, but the big question why, or don’t feel anything but the numbness – the lack of feeling alive. Where is the joy lying hidden?  Where is the sensation?

Most of the time it’s not so bad because we distract ourselves just enough to feel like everything is ok, maybe even mildly pleasant, certainly bearable.  We live for tiny tidbits – the increasingly diminishing ups and downs – like the high: the buzz of receiving a text message, versus the low: the glum feeling of having no one like a Facebook status you posted.  This is what life is getting reduced to for so many people so much of the time.  Life getting narrower and narrower and the feeling of being alive is less and less common.

Things that have become an integral part of many people’s lives – television, internet, long commutes, cell phones, fast and faster food, social media, text messages, apps, long work hours – things that on the one hand we are often grateful for, also are the things that are helping drain us of sensation.

We forget how a live band sounds, how a real ripe, summer fresh, garden grown tomato tastes, what cool, unpolluted mountain air smells like, and how a sea breeze feels.  We forget how to dance, how to skip, how to run.  We don’t play anymore.  We even start forgetting the deliciousness of a hot shower though we take one every day, or the intense pleasure of taking a bite of food when we are really hungry, though we have to feed ourselves regularly, because we so often aren’t awake when we do these things at all.

We become willing to accept less and less as we accumulate more and more.  Music piped through a crappy speaker compressing all the sound into something tinny, all the complexity and depth lost – but we are willing to take it because it reminds us of the real experience.  Until eventually we stop noticing the difference.

In fact I think at a certain point we start becoming afraid of feeling truly alive.  Because feeling alive can mean all sorts of things – yes it can be beautiful and pleasurable, but it can also be deeply painful and shocking, when we are shaken into momentarily realization of our tininess or helplessness or briefness.  It can be when we see the fragility of the balance that’s holding things in place; the constancy of change and the very instability of the ground we are walking on that we are pretending is so solid.

Because feeling alive can mean letting go of what we have loved and held onto – and letting ourselves start from scratch from time to time.

I think at a certain point people become willing to exchange feeling truly, intensely alive, for feeling comfortable, safe, secure, having the sense that they know what’s happening and what will happen, what to expect, to have the illusion of some control, to feel they are shutting the door on uncertainty.  I think a lot of people call that growing up.


We have lived in Pau for 4.5 years.  I never really thought that at this age I’d have lived anywhere that long – let alone a quiet French town in the middle of nowhere that I don’t fit into and don’t connect with.  I don’t dislike it per se – but I don’t madly love it either. We thought we’d be here about 2 years – but when my husband David’s company switched him to a new position (as they do every 2-4 years) it happened to be …in Pau…again.  We thought we’d have spent a few years in Uganda or Brazil or Angola by now.  But nope, we’re still here.

Still in the same apartment, still with the crappy white Ikea furniture that was here when we moved in, and the chipped yellow dishes that I hate, and no frames on the wall.  We’ve lived all this time as though we’d be moving soon, as though it were temporary.

I have wanted to move for years – but it hasn’t happened.  When we found out a month or two ago that David might not be switching positions again for at least another year, we decided we should just move anyway.  We wanted to feel like we had some control over our lives, to remind ourselves we actually have some choice about where we want to be.

We began thinking about moving to a city called Bayonne, in the Basque region near the Atlantic coast, about an hour from Pau. We could live in a new place, have a change of pace, be around a different culture, be close to Spain, close to the beach – and in a really, really lovely, fun area.

Last week we went to look at an apartment there. When we saw it we loved it.  I was ready to move that instant, totally enthusiastic, charmed, persuaded, READY.

But then I got back home to Pau and I started feeling doubts.  I slunk back down into thinking that maybe it would be better to do what is easier – and just stay in Pau until we know we HAVE to move. I slipped into some weird idea that there’s too much I love about our apartment to let it go – (when in fact a lot of things about it drive me absolutely crazy every day).

I felt a hesitance, a lethargy, a gravity, thinking how HARD it would be to move.  I felt sad and unsure thinking about how I’d have to give up having both my gym and the farmer’s market just 1 block away.  How I’d be farther from my friends and maybe not see them enough.  I started fretting about how much smaller the new apartment would be, how it didn’t have a view of the Pyrenees like we have now, or a big balcony like we have now, or a bathtub like we have now, or lots of light and a big living room like we have now, or a window that looks at the sky and sings the rain like we have now. Suddenly all those things seemed VERY important.  Essential maybe.  Certainly too nice to just give up on a whim.

But I have had all of these things now for 4.5 years. I have had the view, the space, and the light, the gym and the market.  Will MORE time with them make the difference – will I appreciate them anymore? Will I really squeeze any more life or joy out of them?


I have never actually been good at letting go.  I’ve always been afraid or unwilling to say goodbye – whether it’s to a person or a place or a piece of clothing or a stuffed animal or even some silly scrap of paper that somehow connects me to a memory of an experience I once had.

Every time I’ve said goodbye to a place I’ve always told myself it was temporary and that I’d be back soon. Even though that was usually not true.

I have almost never actually ended relationships – instead I just sort of faded away from them. I drifted towards other things but never actually put them to rest. Never actually told someone a definitive goodbye.

I guess I’ve liked to pretend that there is always a way back – and let other people pretend that too.  Maybe that’s what made it easier somehow to become a world traveller, a gypsy sort with no permanent residence.  Because I thought that I could always go back someday to whatever I’d found along the way – whether it was a love or a home.  But I’ve learned the hard way that this is not the case.

You carry things with you or you leave them behind.  There is not much middle ground.  Because when you go back, you go back changed and often find what you left has changed as well.


Given that I am not even all that content or comfortable in Pau, what the hell is holding me back?

What is it I am afraid of?


I feel myself weighted down by habit lately – and strangely, uncharacteristically faltering around the idea of new experience.  It makes me feel not quite myself.

But maybe it’s because I’ve finally learned that letting go really means saying goodbye and closing a door.  Maybe now that I can’t pretend that the door stays open, it is making it harder.  Maybe I have to learn a new way of seeking new experience.  A more honest way.

I think part of the problem is a fear of scarcity. One feels a need to hold on to what one has, fearing that somehow it isn’t replaceable.  Comfort zones have a tremendous gravity.  Pau represents what is easier and therefore safer.  More comfortable in the short term even if in the long term it’s keeping me from feeling quite as alive.

But look at this big bright crazy world – so many place to live and things to try. So many apartments to enjoy and homes to make in different places. Would I rather just hold on tight to one thing? Or experience more and more?

Do I ever wish I had just stayed home instead of going on a trip?  Do I regret any of the places I lived, wishing I’d lived somewhere else longer instead? No…I don’t…I’m glad for each diverse experience – because each new thing enriched my life and my understanding and my perspective.

So here I must face myself and what I really want from life. Do I want to just keep what I have because there are some things about it I like – or do I want to try something new?


Humans are all so different.  We have different affinities and needs and things that suit us or don’t suit us at all – different things that make us feel more or less alive. It is up to us to find those things and live our life in accordance.

Some people are happier living in a familiar place – staying close to home.  Others, like myself, thrive on new experience and start feeling rusty and creaky if they’ve been stationary too long.

But I see that lately I have actually been weighted down, tethered by the idea of comfort over the idea of experiment.  The idea of “it’ll do” versus “let’s try something else.”

But I am not willing to get tied down by the siren song of what is easiest anymore.

I want to fall back in love with adventure and moving on as a lifestyle choice.  I want to practice the lightness of touch. Practice the willingness to let life be about endless endings and beginning, hellos and goodbyes. Loving and leaving. Practice not being afraid of opening my heart up and letting things come to an end. Practice not being so afraid of what is actually inevitable – change.

And I am strong enough to carry that which is really important with me always – my friendships, my family and my memories.

Because I know that the willingness to sometimes let go of what you have loved is what makes life rich, abundant, surprising – by opening up new space and allowing life, in all its complexity, mystery and color, to come rushing in.

Time to do what it takes to feel more alive again.  One way or another, it is time for a change.


To Be Continued…


“Nostalgia has no place for the woman traveling alone.  Our motion is forward, whether by train or daydream.” – the great travel writer Mary Morris

World Cup Showdown Part 3: Sporting Subjectivity and the Fun of a Little Hate

•July 18, 2014 • 3 Comments

This is Part 3 or a four part series narrating the entire story of the 2014 World Cup as a game fought between the Beautiful Game and the Ugly Deception.  I invite you to read (or at least skim!) Part 1 and 2 first for a bit of context.


It’s halftime!  

Now for some commercials…

Just do it…Impossible is…Everywhere you want to be…people are going to hear…sound matters …Hello tomorrow…be good to yourself…i’m lovin’ it…just…buy it. Buy it…just buy it…just buy it…

Cup O’Noodle Soccer Samurai

Just Buy It.

Nike…Adidas…Emirates…McDonalds…Beats…Sony…Visa…and on….and on…

The money involved in football is beyond fathomable.   World Cup Brazil will generate $4 billion in total revenue for FIFA – the vast majority of the money will come from the sale of television and marketing rights.  FIFA’s major partners reportedly pay $25-50 million per year for the privilege.  While life-changing and even life-saving technologies have trouble finding funding, subsidies for the arts are drying up and become a desert landscape, education and healthcare get continuously leaner fare – sports grow ever fatter.  But we understand – money likes to hang out where money already is… it’s a demographics thing.

And some World Cup related news…

US Right Wing Pundits Say Growing Popularity of Soccer is Clear Sign of National Moral Decay and Government Conspiracy 

One of the best things about the World Cup this year was hearing right-wingers like Ann Coulter froth at the mouth about the degradation of American culture evidenced by the increasing interest in soccer or Fox News pundits suggest the World Cup was a clever ploy designed to distract Americans from Obama’s leadership failures.

“I am suspect because, here’s the thing. Why, at a time when there are so many national and international issues of such prominence — I’m a little suspicious of yet another bread-and-circus routine. Let’s roll out the marijuana, pull back the laws, and get people even more crazy about yet another entertainment event.” – Dr. Keith Ablow

I have found the increased interest in and passion for the World Cup in the United States exciting.  It’s not often that  my country of birth takes part in something as just a regular country.  No reference to that whole awkward Superpower thing.  The US in the sports arena sometimes seems like a spoiled only child that never learned how to play with others, and has gotten used to having its own sandbox all to itself.  So it’s really pleasant watching the country play with the other kids around the block and learn how to share the glory.

Algerians So Happy To Get to Round of 16 That They Burn Cars

We have to admit – usually sports are a far less harmful way of competing than warfare.  Standing behind your team and hating the other competitors is a relatively harmless method of finding something to love and hate, something to care about, something that stimulates emotion.  The exception is when the hatred becomes genuine and translates into the real world. When anger over a loss turns into violence, or happiness over a win becomes an excuse for vandalism, rioting or worse.

Violence in the name of sports is not often actually rooted in the sport itself.  It usually has social, economic, historical and sometimes racial or religious reasons that stretch far beyond sports but end up intertwined with them, using them as an excuse for agresssion.

Research has linked the World Cup not just to general violence, but to domestic abuse.  One study revealed that in one force area in England and Wales, violent incidents increased by 38% when England lost – but also rose by 26% when they won.

Men don’t abuse women because of soccer. Men don’t abuse women because of what the women have done, nor do they abuse them because of what their team has done -these are excuses.  People become abusive because of complicated histories, childhoods, brain chemistry, and/or perhaps a general rage against the machine etc.  But that rage wants an outlet and looks for any reason.  Sports fuel intense emotion and allow people to push past restraints within themselves.  This means people weep and laugh and scream and bounce up and down because of games.  This also means they are more liable to beat their partners or attack people and property.

The ills are deep, and football can push the poison and pus to the surface in grotesque and terrifying ways.

But figures from Surrey Police saw a 15 per cent reduction in the number of domestic violence incidents reported during this year’s World Cup compared with the tournament four years ago.  So…umm…yay…?

Cameroon are to investigate claims that seven of their players were involved in match-fixing at the World Cup

Cameroon’s soccer federation announced late Monday that it would investigate its World Cup team for match fixing, paying particular attention to a heavy defeat by Croatia in the opening round.  “Last year Europol alleged that more than 380 professional matches in Europe and more than 300 matches played in Africa Asia and central and South America were under suspicion as the scale of the activities of match fixing gangs from eastern Europe and Asia became clear.”

There it is – the real dark underbelly of this sport.  When the curtain is drawn back at moments like this and you see into the world of match fixing, mafias, corruption and so much money moving around it’s easy to get a bit dizzy, a bit spun around.  Is this a real sport or a reality show with actors playing athletes, referees and coaches.  And who are the directors, the invisible puppeteers?  How much is real and how much is just for show?  And if this is not a true sport, if money is the thing that is deciding the outcome so often, why do we still care?  Why do we still feel so much?

Well it’s a good thing all of this news went down at the halftime, or the Beautiful Game would be suffering another goal concession.  As it is – no one seems to be paying much attention…

And we’ve returned for the second half!  Brazil has the ball – but the players aren’t moving it at the moment.  They appear to be collectively kneeling on the ground, praying, gesticulating to the heavens.  

Is God a sports fanatic?  Does God think football is important enough to nudge one way or the other?  Maradona and all of Argentina think so.  And apparently Brazil does as well – they have been the most flamboyantly religious team in the cup so far.  Perhaps they think that buttering God up is the only way they really have a chance.  But if God won’t help out- maybe FIFA will.  

I think it’s hilarious when both sides – both the teams and the fans – are aggressively praying. How can God possibly choose sides?  Does he tally the prayers up and base the winner on quantity – strict number of fans praying for a goal? Or are there some points for style as well?  Gesture and facial expression points, flowery words, what about a bit of singing?  Surely a corner at least for singing of prayers.

The Dutch take to the field – horned helmets on, teeth bared – ready to do battle and win, whatever it takes.

I really try to be fair-minded.  I really really do try see things from multiple, complex perspectives.  I don’t always succeed – but I do almost always try.  When Zinedine Zidane famously head-butted – I didn’t want to villify him so much as understand what on earth drove him to that level of confrontational anger and physicality in such an important moment.  With Luis Suarez I am curious about his childhood and his fears and what wells up inside of him and gets unleashed when he stops thinking and impulsively bares his teeth down into another human being’s flesh.

But…every now and then I enjoy giving my empathy muscles a little break.  I let myself get comfy and squat down in some arbitrary and probably pretty unfair dislike for something or someone.

Because sometimes…sometimes it’s really fun to just let yourself hate someone for awhile.  Not think about the complex human being under the 2-dimensional media creature.I love to be allowed, briefly to have an enemy.

There’s some kind of cathartic release in being AGAINST someone or something.  Football occasionally provides me with this opportunity.   I love being able to believe in a bad guy and hope for his comeuppance.

Every World Cup there is one team or two that gets to be that bad guy for me.  The Dutch have held that place of honor now for not just this World Cup but the last World Cup and Eurocup as well.  They have become the team I love to hate.  Whether it’s for their nasty brutal physical tactics meant to damage the other players or at least make them fall or whether it’s the theatrical Oscar-worthy diving, or whether it’s the hyena like speed and the feeling of true danger that they produce in viewers when they make a break for it down the field.  Yes the Dutch win my award for Most Loathable Team.  And Robben for most loathable player.

Mexico is dominating the game folks and the previously formidable Dutch haven’t found a way to strike.  Time is running out… oh and there it is, the classic Dutch move – the one they’ve drilled time and time again, and tried already so many times this tournament.  Let’s see if they can pull it off…Robben runs run to the penalty box, dives and screams…and YES!  The Referee has been moved by the tormented anguished flopping Robben has practiced so diligently.  It will be a penalty kick…and GOOOOOOOL GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOL FOR THE UGLY DECEPTION.  CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS?  A goal for theatrics!  An oscar-winning goal!  The score is now 2-2!

I was sitting in a bar with two Venezuelans and a Dutchman.  The Venezuelans and I were rooting for Mexico and the Dutchman was of course decked out in orange and rooting for his team.  When Robben scored the 2nd Dutch goal, this man did not smile but shook his head sadly.  He said, “I do not like winning that way. Yes of course, like anyone I want to see my team win, and continue into the next round.  But no, it doesn’t feel good, winning this way.”

Costa Rica doesn’t lag in whisking up the ball and whizzing past the Greeks .  The Greeks can’t seem to do much of anything. And now it’s too late.  The Greek fans in the audience are weeping.

I admit it – I love watching people cry at the World Cup.  Ok not the kids.  But yes the grownups.  Not because I am happy to see them sad – actually it usually makes me cry too.  But I do really value seeing people expressing grief openly for all to see.  I think collective grieving is healthy and it’s not something we partake in all that much in most cultures anymore.

This is particularly true for men. When else do we see men openly weeping?  Tears streaming down their faces?  Players who have just lost a game and know they are going home, heads bent to the earth or tears falling on each others shoulders as they embrace?  Fans wailing gushingly, the flag colored paint dripping down their faces in little colorful rivulets?

The World Cup creates an environment in which riotous joyful celebration and terrible, wracking, gut-bursting grief are totally acceptable forms of expression.  There is no shame to the expansiveness of these feelings.  In fact there is a certain pride in them – that fans care so much and feel so deeply.

That’s part of my theory as to why people love sports – it allows them to feel and express more heightened emotions than in their daily lives.  It’s a kind of high where they feel more alive than usual.  There’s something almost holy, almost divine in that.

I just wish men could weep outside the arena.  I wish people could get this collectively passionate about living their real lives…and let the joy and sorrow fill them and move them.  So that they could feel THIS alive more often.  And over things that really, truly matter…

Algeria has appeared from nowhere and seems to be making a challenge against the Germans.  Well this is a surprise – they are pushing, pushing towards the goal.  The Germans don’t seem to quite know what to make of the situation nor how to respond.  

The team that was considered to be one of the weakest in the tournament is putting up one of the biggest challenges to perhaps the best team in the tournament.  You just never know.

You can have two good friends that are kind and mild-mannered – but when they meet rub each other the wrong way and bring out the worst in each other.  Every boyfriend or girlfriend or friend for that matter that you ever have will bring out different facets of your personality and vice versa – highlighting certain things and shading in others.  We are not just ourselves but ourselves reflected in others.  We all transform each other in every interaction.  We are fluid creatures, tuned to the vibration of the people around us, sounding different notes and different melodies as we play through life together.

And football teams are no different.  The World Cup is gorgeous in this way because the personality of each team – their skills and weaknesses and then the specific lineup chosen by the coach that day, the injuries, the moods – all of these things mix in strange and sometimes unpredictable ways.

Germany was a different team with Algeria than on any other day.  They had to really really work for the win they finally achieved, and Algeria could walk away knowing that they had held their own on the world cup stage and shown that ranking is always relative.

Argentina and Switzerland pass the ball around and finally the Uglies steal it and shoot .  The ball glances right off the goalpost. That should have been exciting but the fans don’t seem to notice because they are snoozing.  

Sometimes football is boring.  Sometimes it’s really, really boring.  Sometimes neither team does much of anything and 90 minutes later you wipe the drool off your chin and wonder what you are doing with your life.  Sometimes trying to get interested in a game is like trying to drag yourself into a really dense novel where the first 30 pages are mostly dates and names, no plot , no story, no movement.  Argentina has played a lot of games like this this World Cup unfortunately.  This kind of soccer where words are traded but nothing is said, is perhaps the worst kind of soccer.  At least with the diving and grotesque cheating and violent movements there is some drama, some spectacle, something to get worked up about.  This kind of game does the opposite of make you feel alive.  It is anything but beautiful.

But again that’s part of the fun of soccer – you never know what you’re going to get!

Thankfully for our lagging attention and spirits, the game seems to be heating up a bit as Switzerland leaves the field, passing the ball to Belgium.  And oh wow…they are pushing, they are on fire, they are charging down that field again and again.  The US can’t seem to get hold of the ball.  

This is an amazing game full of excitement.

Oh wait, no.  This is actually a frustrating horrible game where one of the teams never seems to get a foothold and the other totally dominates.

It always looks different depending on your seats.

So much about the game depends on how much you as a viewer are willing to put in it. So much of it depends upon what you want to see

During one and the same game a person might accuse the referee of being too lax, while another might praise his forbearance.  One person might say the game was one of the best and most exciting games they’d seen in a long time because there were so many shots on goal, so much action, so much drama, so many closeups of Tim Howard’s sweating, focused face.

Others might say that while it was an exciting game it was frustrating.  It was one-sided.  The other team’s midfield was a mess and they didn’t succeed in getting and keeping the ball.  Exciting, but in that sort of miserable, pummeling way, like being stuck in undertow is exciting.

Shot after shot…the attack just goes on and on 

There is something difficult and wonderful about caring about something and yet having no control over it and not actually being able to guess the outcome. Not having the story on paper yet. The beauty of the unwritten, unpredictable and unfolding.

Well it was inevitable – there’s only so long Tim Howard could hold out against a frenzied drive like that.  The US is leaving the pitch.

And it’s over!  The World Cup is over!  Or at least that’s probably how most US fans feel. A lot of them aren’t quite up to watching the whole thing yet…

I was disappointed – but I felt a lot worse for some reason when other teams were knocked out.  I think sometimes I feel more pain over other people’s suffering than my own, imagining how absolutely horrible they must feel.  My own disappointment in comparison is quite manageable.

Water break!  It’s hotter than ever here in Brazil.  These players need some time to cool off after this rather second half.  

It’s getting tense out here in this very close game… tied 2-2!  There’s still plenty of time left for either team to win.  It’s truly still anyone’s game… stay tuned for the Fourth and Final portion of the World Cup Showdown.  




Part 1 and Part 2 of the World Cup Showdown can be read here: