"All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players."  --William Shakespeare

Entries in personal history (6)

Saturday
Oct082011

A Eulogy for Jane Winslow Eliot (9/27/26 — 7/31/2011)

9-15-11 

Time and space do not exist.

I heard these words as I washed the breakfast dishes this morning.

I was thinking of Jane Eliot.

It had been just over 40 days since she died.

I wanted to try in meditation to accompany her through the bardos.

But I couldn’t.

Maybe it’s that I do not experience death the way that Tibetan Buddhists do.

Or maybe to some extent I do, but I don’t have the inner stillness to stay on that journey for long.

Or maybe my sense is that Jane had already moved through a panoramic review of her life while she was alive.

I remember her deep honesty in her memoir, “Around the World by Mistake.”

 

 

9-19-11

It’s extraordinarily difficult to say who someone is, to approach describing their identity.

What is her effect on you? Is it lightening? Darkening?

Does he give you energy? Take it away?

Maybe we know others mainly through their effect on us, inspiring or disheartening.

Richard and I came back to Paris from the joyful celebration of our friends’ Loire Valley wedding, and heard from a mutual friend that Jane Eliot had died.

It often seems to happen this way. A great upsurging of joy, then sadness, sorrow breaking through.

I left out what happened at our wedding in Crete. Alex and Jane had encouraged our notion of being married there, because Ancient Crete was one of the last partnership cultures. 

 

 

During our wedding dinner, one of my relatives said to our friends that she wished their oldest daughter had been there. Both parents were storm-tossed with sorrow at her sudden death in her early 20s. Steve wept at the table. Rain ran into the nearest bathroom. Some of us followed her. Some of us comforted him.

And one of my family said, softly, “Oh, I wish they hadn’t ruined the celebration this way.” But no, I thought, and said, There are always these parallel channels of grief and joy. The day is richer for their tears.

And Jane Eliot? Her death was different. Her life was long and rich, fulfilled.

I’m circling and circling my memories of her.

Whatever you brought to her, she greeted it, surrounded it, examined it, enlarged it or lovingly tossed it away, laughed or seriously addressed it.

 

 

9-20-11

I’m circling and circling memories of her:

In the very first week of blossoming love between Richard and me, when we discovered that we lived only four blocks from each other in Venice, California, he invited me to a neighborhood block party at the home of his friends, Jane and Alex Eliot.

There was an odd symmetry to where they lived in relationship to Richard’s place. He and they each lived in a house on the same block of Paloma Avenue, each one house away from the end of the block.

The block party was the first social event, besides the poetry readings where we’d met, to which we’d gone as a couple. Jane and Alex, a generation older than we, instantly became the couple with whom we were closest.

 

 

What did we talk about at this party? Not the neighborhood. We talked about our love for myth. Alex had written a number of books on myth. We talked about the mythosphere, a term Alex coined for the place where myths live, where the stories of the soul dwell.

In those first days of our new life together, Richard and I discovered much about one another through the mutual passions we shared with Jane and Alex: mythology, especially Greek myth, Greece and the Greek islands, Venice Beach, poetry, art, a marriage of kindred souls that included lively spiritual and intellectual dialogue, writing, room for solitude for writing, as well as for romance, a contempt for mean-spiritedness.

 

 

We laughed at the same things, especially dumb, pompous human behavior and dismissed the same things as a waste of time.

We saw each other at our home for dinner and parties, and at theirs for the same. Jane’s specialty was a smorgasbord of meze.

We met at Figtree’s Café on the beach for breakfast, or the Rose Café for lunch or Lula’s for Mexican dinner.

During the three years that we and three friends ran a weekly poetry reading series at the Rose Café, I don’t think Jane and Alex ever missed a single reading.

When I think of Jane, I hear her laughing—a merry boisterous laugh which delighted in generosity, surprise and beauty, and had a touch of scorn for human idiocy. 

Jealousy? She understood that she was unique and so is everyone else.

Jockeying for power? She and Alex had been at the pinnacle of power in New York City and gladly given it up for creative freedom and time.

 

 

Greed? What does anyone need beyond food, shelter and time for love and creativity? And adventure!

Snobbery? She didn’t see people in hierarchical terms at all, much like my father. If you are really aware of each person’s uniqueness, how can you put anyone above you or below you?

Unkindness? A sure sign of unkindness towards oneself.

 

 

I called her Athena. She was a Libra, and shared that sign’s affinity for the goddess of peace, earthy intelligence, inventiveness and fierce strength. Nike!

Wherever you walked with Jane, she exclaimed over the beauty of her natural surroundings—birds, trees, the sea.

 

 

Well into her 70s, she’d walk down Paloma several blocks for a swim in the Pacific Ocean, which is colder on winter mornings than you can imagine. (Or so I hear.)

What Richard and I loved best to do with Jane and Alex was to sit at Figtree’s or the Rose Café (whose names, naturally, come from nature) and talk. Really talk. Talk that ranged all over the world—the earth and her creatures, humans they had known—Dali and Gala, Frida and Diego, for starters, or their noisy neighbors—and spirits of the mythosphere.

To Jane, the invisibles were as real as birds, as people. You felt relieved in their company to escape the tiny cage of rational materialism.

 

 

With Jane—and Alex—I could talk about the mythical vision I’d spent years discovering. When Richard and I shaped our combined mythical knowledge into a workshop at the C. G. Jung Institute, Jane and Alex were in our first class of students. (Oh, the irony, "teaching" these two masters of the mythosphere.)

Alex and Jane had lived all over the world, been top journalists in NYC. She had worked at CBS for Edward R. Murrow and at Time magazine; he had been Art Editor for Time, until his pension and a Guggenheim Fellowship allowed him to retire early and take his family to Greece. For four years they’d lived in Greece with their two young children, writing, home schooling the children, and exploring sacred sites.

There was only one respect in which they seemed to be bound by the conventions of their generation. Alex continued to write and publish books on art and myth, and now was working obsessively on a poetic memoir.

 

 

Yet she, when we first met them, was not as disciplined a writer as he.

She had published a book on children’s education, Let’s Talk, Let’s Play and written a highly original cookbook, Beyond Measure; A Cookbook for People Who Think They Can’t Cook, and published other books and journalistic articles in such magazines as The Atlantic, Smithsonian, Horticulture, Travel & Leisure.

But the assumptions of her generation mostly held: the woman would care for the home, children and relationships, while he worked.

Yet you could hear in the leaps of imagination, the sensory precision of Jane’s conversation that there was a longer story she needed to write.

And then she suddenly did it: created a studio for herself on the top floor of their duplex (so that was why she never managed to find the right tenant), and wrote, edited and published her memoir, Around the World by Mistake.

The title delighted us, containing all her qualities of humor, adventurous spirit, trust in serendipity, and largeness of experience. And the story itself unfolded in sparkling, sensuous prose, a vivid sense of weather and the sea, absolute clarity about others’ character, and the most brilliant example imaginable of how to inspire children.

 

 

The memoir tells the tale of how, in the summer of 1963, the couple, with their two young children, signed on for a trip around the world. The Yugoslavian freighter was scheduled to deliver goods from Yugoslavia to Osaka and back, a trip of seven months with sixteen passengers. But this is no ordinary trip. They discover that they are in extraordinary danger. But I won’t spoil the story, when you can order it and read it yourself. That’s Jane on the cover with a seagull on her head.

And then, Jane listened with great sympathy and understanding to my account about the last few years of my father’s life, his deepening dementia. She understood my longing to stay connected to his soul, beneath the dismantling of his rational mind.

 

 

And she rejoiced with us that my father was able to die at home, most certainly aware of his family’s love.

Jane’s mind, which was so alive, original, and warm—began to fade a few years after my father’s death in 2006.

By then, we had moved to Playa del Rey. In the sad way that driving distances separate people in Los Angeles, we saw Jane and Alex less often. They didn’t like to drive at night. One of us didn’t like to drive at all.

We’d bring dinner to Jane and Alex’s or meet at the Rose Café. Her mind wandered in conversation, but Alex, and we, assured her that it didn’t matter, she was still Jane.

And when we walked back to their house on Paloma, always, always, she pointed at birds, trees, the sea, with love and glee.

She was my wise woman. Magnificent Jane.

After the first sorrow, after the tearful call to Alex, a strange thing happened: I haven’t mourned Jane at all. It’s as if she hasn’t died. She is present, alive, vivid, much as my father continues to be.

Honestly, I don’t think we know a single thing about death. All I know is that Jane is still here, and oh, how we loved her. How we keep on loving her.

 

 

 

Wednesday
Aug032011

Wedding in Elounda Beach, Crete

 

This weekend we attended the three-day wedding celebration of two friends in the Loire Valley. Marriage ceremony in an eleventh century church, reception at a restored chateau, two parties at family homes. More on that in a later Paris Play, but it set us thinking about weddings. Here's how we were married three times in Elounda Beach, Crete:

 

Holed up in the Mirabello Bay hotel

the night before our wedding, we ask the gods,

What shall we do for our wedding vows?

When you summon them, how swiftly they speak!

 

We wake at three a.m., envision

a circle of gods and goddesses around us,

twelve of them, played by our guests

speaking our vows, which we will repeat.

 

 

We run to Ayios Nikolaos, find playing cards

with images of the twelve, dash home to write

and paste the words of the vows over the numbers,

diamonds, clubs, spades and hearts.

 

Crete is the shape of a woman with bare breasts,

belled dress—Ariadne, the Cretan Aphrodite.

We gather in the crook of her neck at the Elounda Beach hotel

at the edge of the Aegean sea.

 

My parents’ wedding gift: five days in white casitas

with curved walls, woven Greek bedspreads,

rooms open to sapphire water, June sky,

a horseshoe of mountains beyond.

 

Father, mother, sister, brother, sister, sister.

two nieces, and brother's fiancée.

Married friends of 30 years, their daughter.

Twelve guests are here.

 

Sister Ann brings the boxes with wedding rings

we’d given them to take from Arizona.

“We lost the gold ones,” she says,

“so we replaced them.”

 

 

I open the box. A smaller ring

with a yellow plastic duck, a larger one

with a red and black ladybug,

both lucky charms. We slip them on.

 

An hour before the ceremony

I sit with arms and feet outstretched

in white lace nightgown, with

lovely young attendants, nieces

 

who paint my nails, give me

my first pedicure. I feel like a queen.

“Now I must dress,” I say like a queen.

They laugh, “Isn’t this your wedding dress?”

 

My father comes to the casita, in striped peppermint shirt,

walks me to the chapel. My sandals are delicate,

earth-gold, worthy of Aphrodite, and hurt my feet.

I think of Yeats’s line about women, “we must labour to be beautiful.”

 

Through purple bougainvillea, shimmering heat,

we walk the path. My father says, “This man

is a treasure, a jewel. Treat him like one.”

I will, Dad. I will.

 

    

My father and I stop across the Dionysus courtyard

from Richard. He stands with radiant face

outside the east door of the chapel,

as Greek grooms do.

 

The hotel pianist noodles romantic tunes.

My father’s face is shining.

We wait. And wait. My brother snaps photos.

Two men dash across the grounds,

 

one with patriarchal beard and long black robe,

the other in the last madras shirt in the Western world.

Richard consults with them.

The hotel manager translates.

 

“What is your religion?” asks the priest,

“Catholic or Orthodox?”

“Neither,” says the groom; “we honor

the ancient Greek gods and goddesses.”

 

Father Ted looks confused.

The manager tries to translate.

“Which of the two are you?” he insists.

Again Richard states our beliefs.

 

 

Father Ted slaps his forehead.

Pagans!” he cries. And then,

“I can’t take money for this—

it won’t be a real wedding.”

 

“That’s okay,” says Richard.

“We were already married legally at city hall.

We simply sought the blessing of a local holy man.”

The good priest grudgingly agrees.

 

 

The piano man begins the wedding march.

My father escorts me into the Orthodox chapel.

Saints and angels and whirling circles

are painted along the walls.                                            

 

My mother wears shell-pink linen,

and a necklace of many-colored beads.

Her face is tender and open. My father

places my hand in my beloved’s.

 

We tremble before the sermon

Father Ted bellows in Greek.

His madras-shirted cantor translates:

“You were born in sin, and will burn in hell!”

 

Is this a special Bible treat

especially for pagans? We float out of the chapel 

amazed, shocked by the spiritual violence,

gather in the Dionysus courtyard.

 

“Where did you find this jacket?” asks Suki,

stroking my sleeve. It is white silk ribbon with a labyrinth

design. “On Mykonos,” I say, remembering

my joy at finding it in the maze of shops. 

 

 

“The bride talks too much,”

the hotel manager says.

A proper Greek bride 

should be Orthodox and silent.

 

We walk to the stone jetty

that juts out into the Aegean sea.

It ends in a circle with canvas wicker chairs,

several hotel guests at the open bar.

 

A white sail forms a roof,

open to cobalt sea and sky,

and mountains like Arizona beyond.

Our guests form a circle around us.

 

 

The gods of water, Poseidon, Dionysus and Artemis to the North;

the gods of air, Hermes, Daedalus and Athena to the East;

the gods of earth, Hestia, Aphrodite and Demeter to the South;

the gods of fire, Ares, Apollo and Zeus to the West.

 

My mother, Betty, Artemis, opens her envelope, and reads:

I will protect and nurture you.

My niece, Bayu, as Hermes, is next:

I will strive to deeply understand you.

 

After each, we echo the vows.

My brother, Jon, as Daedalus, says,

I will guard your creative solitude.

 The gods and goddesses weep.

 

 

Jon’s fiancée, Leatrice, Athena, says,

All my resources are yours.

I will build a home with you, says Steve,

representing Hestia.

 

Aphrodite speaks through his daughter, Robin, 

I will walk in beauty with you.

Her mother, Rain, is Demeter:

I will nourish you and protect your health.

 

I will travel the world with you, says Ares sister, Ann.

Sister Suki, Apollo, says, I will live with you in harmony

and celebration. Sister Jane, as Zeus says:

I will be grateful every day for the gift of you.

 

Her daughter, Rachel, Poseidon, says,

I will protect your sleep and honor your dreams.

My father, Sam, as Dionysus, ends with:

You are the mate of my soul in life and in death.

 

 

Everyone cries except my mother, Artemis,

who dry-eyed says, “This should be a film.”

A young Greek woman approaches from the bar, asks,

“What is this beautiful religion?” “Yours,” we say.

 

We sit on the banquettes,

gazing around at the mountains and sea.

This is where we wanted to be married,

Ariadne’s island of beauty and love.

 

 

We walk in a procession to the Dionysus courtyard

for the feast. Long white-clothed tables form a T.

Red roses in glass vases. A menu of

Aphrodite’s Appetizers. Fillet of Fresh Fish Poseidon.

 

Lemon Sorbet Artemis. Rack of Lamb Ares.

Fresh Fruit from Demetra’s garden.

Hestia’s homemade chocolate cake.

Coffee a la Hermes. Dionyssos’s digestives.

 

The air is warm. We sit under the umbrellas of olive trees.

The sculpted white chapel where we were hectored

in sin is behind us. We sit with family and friends,

ablaze with love.

 

 

 

Saturday
Jun182011

Hawk

 

 

We haven’t seen a hawk yet in Paris, but we’ve seen pictures.

Just before you die, everything in your character seems to become reduced down to its essence.

In cooking, a reduction means cooking a liquid until some of the water evaporates and the remaining liquid is thicker and has a more intense flavor.

As a boy, he was home-schooled by his mother; they covered eight grades in six years. When he entered a private high school at the age of 12, he was smaller than the other freshmen. He made an astute decision: he would have no enemies in his life. Instead he would make friends.

He changed physically, grew tall and handsome, but that decision formed the core of him. Everyone would be his friend, no one above him, no one below.

His Amherst College roommate had a blind date one night with a girl from Mt. Holyoke, a blonde beauty, with brains, spirit and character.

When the roommate returned, he asked him if he’d mind if he asked her out on a date.

That was fine, the roommate said. He’d only just met her. She didn’t belong to him.

 

 

Hawks are the swiftest of birds.

He and the blonde beauty were engaged before long, and the roommate saw that he’d been too slow to recognize what his friend had instantly seen.

They married in Massachusetts in 1943.

Few Americans doubted then that fighting the Axis was a just cause. He joined the Navy and was soon commanding a sub chaser in the Pacific.

English (and Irish, Welsh and French) by ancestry, he was born and bred in New England.

After the war was over, he and his bride settled in Massachusetts.

They wanted a family, and one, two, three years later, they had three babies.

They were focused in life, and focused in work. He found a job in a pre-fabricated housing company, doing what he loved to do from the time he was five years old: building something.

No one is lucky all the time, even a man who is strong, focused and kind.

The company went bankrupt.

But he’d married a fearless woman.

 

 

Let’s go west, she said.

They drove across the continent in a Ford sedan, looking for job opportunities in Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and California.

They sat on the beach in Santa Monica, looked at each other and said, All the doors were open in Arizona.

They moved their young family to a small house in Phoenix, bought with a GI loan.

He worked for other contractors.

She sewed curtains for their house, clothes for her children and tiny clothes for the two girls’ dolls.

Then, with the right partner, he started his own construction company.

She helped him as the company secretary.

Do it right the first time, was their motto.

 

 

Get to the goal swiftly, like a hawk.

Vision and passion, strength and focus—these are qualities one needs to find the right livelihood, choose the right mate.

But what if at the core your intention was to be a friend to everyone?

Wouldn’t you then approach the business of constructing buildings and houses in an open and generous manner?

Wouldn’t you offer jobs to those whom others tried to exclude?

This he did, being among the first to hire Native Americans, blacks and Latinos in Phoenix.  

Wouldn’t you offer employees the chance to buy shares in your company long before it was common practice, simply because, if your profits were increasing because of their good work, their profits should increase, too?

 

 

And if you were married to a woman who was not just smart, but had X-ray insight (the first time she saw Richard Nixon’s face on TV, she said, “He’s a crook”)—wouldn’t you listen to her, really listen, when she argued against the Vietnam War?

Wouldn’t you, a Republican businessman in a Republican state, have to re-think your convictions?

Wouldn’t you even have to admit that the Democratic Party was a better friend to everyone than the Republican, and change parties, even though almost every business associate and friend you had was Republican?

And when you and your wife, who now had five children, traveled through China in the ‘70s, and you saw how humane the Chinese were by providing on-site childcare at work, on returning home, wouldn’t you offer it to your employees?

And wouldn’t you laugh good-naturedly when you showed people slides of your China trips, and they called you and your wife “Commie pinkos?”

Was there anything that could obstruct or discourage your friendly approach to the world?

I never saw it.

Not when your powers failed you one by one.

Not when you could no longer work.

Not when you had to give up driving, mobility in the world.

Not when your memory started to go.

Not when it was mostly gone.

That sweet core of goodness, the kind treatment of others—that was there till you took your last breath.

 

 

You looked so much like a hawk, the slight curve of your nose, like the beak of the peregrine falcon on your family’s ancient coat of arms.

The morning after eleven of us gathered around your bed to say goodbye, all of us loving you deeply, a large hawk appeared outside your home, perched on a palo verde, looking fiercely in at the place where you and she used to sit and eat breakfast.

He looked in at your blonde beauty and your two youngest daughters.

He swiveled his handsome head to look at your two oldest daughters in the guest room.

He looked south towards the place where your son lived.

And then he flew away.

Mother had never seen a hawk so close to your home before.

She guessed that it was a Swainson’s.

I called Richard in Playa del Rey. As I told him about your beautiful death, a hawk circled the courtyard of our home. This was the first time he’d seen a hawk anywhere close to our house.

Later, you circled overhead when we walked by the sea.

Here in Paris we haven’t seen you soaring yet. But we are looking.

 

 

 

 

Wednesday
Jun082011

Sex and Surrealism, America and France

 

Life is surreal. Oh yes, it is.

In a state close to dream last night, I finished Henry Miller’s “Quiet Days in Clichy,” his alter-ego, Joey’s, rambunctious accounts of sex with prostitutes and a 15-year-old girl whom his equally goatish roommate, Carl, picks up wandering the streets of Paris.

Joey comes home one night to find Carl with Colette, whose virginity he has just plucked from her as casually as the god, Hades, plucked the girl, Kore, from a meadow (where she was herself plucking flowers), and took her down into the underworld with him.

The homeless girl turns out to be so sexually ravenous that Carl begs Joey to help him sate her appetite on nights when Carl is away at work in a newspaper office.

But Colette, whom the two men agree is “dumb,” is not Joey’s type. He prefers women who have something interesting to say. Besides, they could be thrown in jail for having sex with a minor. (Though sex is legal in France at the age of 15, or at least is today, the two men at first believe that the girl is 14.)

 

 

Joey begs Carl to find Colette something to wear beside the transparent Japanese shift he’s provided for her, or he may find himself raping the girl against his will.

One day, Colette disappears. The next day at noon, when Carl and Joey are both home, someone knocks on the door. It’s the police, with the girl’s parents.

 

 

The mother is so beautiful that both men wish they’d found her first. “The mother! says Carl later. “Did you have a good look at her? She was not only beautiful, she was divine.” But the mother is mostly quiet while the police and the father, who looks like a barrister, question the two men about the girl’s missing watch.

When the mother examines a stack of books on Carl’s work table, Faust, Blake, Lawrence, Shakespeare—good literature—and hands the last volume of Proust’s great work to her husband, the man looks at Carl with new eyes. Carl then discusses the essay he’s writing on the relation between Proust’s metaphysical vision and the occult tradition, and Joey is revealed to be a famous writer. The attitude of the parents changes from accusatory to respectful.

(This was first written in New York City in 1940, and rewritten in Big Sur in 1956.)

It is fascinating to read this account of untrammeled male sexuality by an American artist, a writer, in Paris, pre-Women’s Liberation.

The only woman in Henry’s accounts of his sexual adventures who seems offended by what some might see as insensitivity to a woman’s inner life is a beautiful young Danish woman. But that’s after she and Joey and Carl and an acrobat named Corinne have a four-way sexual romp after dinner at the men’s apartment.

Those Viking babes can be so difficult!

 

                                                *

 

 

The next morning, Marley and I read The New York Times over breakfast. The big news: Anthony D. Weiner (really, that’s his name?) was caught sending snapshots of parts of his body to various young women over the Internet. He had excellent pecs that must have taken many hours over many months at the gym to develop, so you can hardly blame him for wanting to show them off.

I didn’t get the opportunity to see the shot of him in his boxers, though it seems to me that he might be confusing what turns women on with men’s love of viewing body parts. But what do I know?

 

 

What knocked me out was the photo of him in bed with… Marley! Really. It was our cat, white with fawn ears, sleeping soundly beside him, so I knew immediately that Anthony, though not, perhaps, a man of good judgment, was certainly a man of good taste.

(A little aside here: Richard came home the other day from l’Alliance Francaise and told me that his French teacher had informed the class that they must not pronounce the “t” at the end of “chat,” when referring to a cat. Just as in English, in French, a pussy may refer to a cat. Or it may refer to a woman.)

Anthony, too, uses the two words interchangeably, calling this photo, “Me and the pussys.”  

 

 

But then I read that not only is Anthony married, but he’s been married less than a year. His wife happens to be a personal aide to Hillary Clinton, which perhaps suggested to Anthony that if Hillary accepted Bill’s indiscretions, her aide might do the same for him.

Furthermore, Anthony seemed a likely candidate to replace Michael Bloomberg, the current mayor of NYC. And those political hopes, it seems, have now been extinguished.

I watched a video in which Anthony confessed that yes, he had sent texts of photos of his body, along with flirtatious messages to several young women on the Internet. At several points he broke down in tears.

What has happened in our world between Henry Miller’s lusty joyous relish of sex with prostitutes, 15-year-olds and indignant Danish beauties (who nevertheless, surrender to his desires), and the sexual scandals that have erupted lately in the news?

The contrast between these two New Yorkers, Henry Miller and Anthony Weiner, seems to me to be utterly surreal.

Perhaps it’s the difference between what is permitted an artist (or rather, what an artist permits himself to do) and a politician.

Perhaps it’s a difference in space, of geography, between France and the U.S.A. (The parents of the 15-year-old shifted their attitude entirely when they learned that they were addressing a famous writer. Writers are that deeply respected in France.)

 

 

Perhaps it’s a difference in time, that certain changes that occurred in the 1960s—the birth control pill, sexual freedom, books such as Simone de Beauvoir’s “The Second Sex” and Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique” and the rise of feminism—changed what women accept, and thus, what the culture condones.

However, I think another element is at play here.

There was a brief time in history in which one generation (in America, at least) was free to experiment and live out our sexual fantasies completely. There was a period after the birth control pill and before AIDS, when men and women could live as freely as they chose without fear of getting pregnant or catching a deadly disease.

Not everyone participated. But those of us who did had a rocking good time.

And listening to Anthony Weiner talk, I thought, Poor guy, he just wasn’t born at the right time. He didn’t get to live out his sexual fantasies before getting married, and this can be a big problem for highly-sexed (but repressed) people.

Artists and libertines have been sexually expressive at all times in history. But for other folks, who are socially or religiously programmed, sex may be a guilty pleasure that must be alternately repressed or furtively engaged in.

 

 

And yet, it’s the very essence of the life force. As the philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, said, “The degree and kind of a man's sexuality reach up into the ultimate pinnacle of his spirit.” 

In Henry Miller’s writing, he often gives the impression that he’s oblivious to the effect he’s having on the women with whom he has sex, whereas Anthony Weiner’s tears of regret at hurting his wife (as well as his more political concern about disappointing his constituents) seemed to me to be genuine.

This seems like a cultural advance, a man caring (at least in retrospect) about his effect on the woman to whom he’s married.

Yet all that magnificent lusty life force that Henry had! What I love about Henry Miller, what Nietzsche himself would have admired, was the way that Miller’s sexuality and spirit were not divided. It was all of one piece, in all its lustiness as well as crudeness and lack of sensitivity.

What seems sad to me about Anthony Weiner is how divided his spirit is from his sexuality. That seems to be the inheritance of Judeo-Christianity—the body divided from the spirit. And what a sad and tortured story that creates.

 

 

 

 

Wednesday
Jun012011

Three Short Stories

Story #1: 

 

Since we’ve been in Paris, we’ve met more than a few American women who’ve lived here longer than we. In response to our question, “What brought you to Paris?” we’ve heard more than a few answer, “I fell in love with a Frenchman. But we’re no longer together.”

 

Story #2:

 

We’ve also heard a few people say that they don’t believe in the inner world, the spiritual, the Invisibles, the gods, the stars, magic or myth.

Each of these is a story.

A story that someone has lived.

A story that someone tells him- or herself.

 

Story #3: 

 

Both these stories make me think of a third story, a story I lived, which is related to both these prior stories.

In 1994, I was living by myself in an apartment in Venice, California, with a view of the sea from Malibu to Marina del Rey. I had moved there during the Los Angeles riots of 1993. As I moved in around Halloween, I watched the terrible Malibu fires from my windows, an orange snake slithering along the black mountains.

In early 1994, the Northridge earthquake struck my building so forcefully that I leapt out of bed and under my pine dining room table before I was fully awake. I thought the building would collapse and that my life would end there.

 

 

And a love relationship ended there as well. I looked back on the two of us and wondered, What was I thinking? He wanted to live in the country; I in town. He wanted more children; I wanted none. He liked constant movement and social life; I liked a balance between going out and staying in. He rarely read; books are as real to me as people and just as important. He was a hearty drinker and smoker; I cared about health. He had no interest in his own inner life; I’d gone as far as I could in exploring my own.

We weren’t suited. Yet we’d stayed together for several years.

 

 

Didn’t I know who I was by now? Didn’t I know what I needed in a partner? I felt such weariness, despair, in imagining ever going through this entanglement and breakup again with another man, when anyone looking on from above could have told us: Impossible! Out of the question!

I needed some invisible being who knew all about such things, an expert in love, someone like… Aphrodite! Yes, I needed to have a serious talk with the goddess of beauty and love.

 

 

That night I wrote in my journal 100 things I wanted in a mate.

I awakened the next morning with the thought, “Too greedy. Narrow it down to ten.”

It was surprisingly easy. I wrote the following ten things I wanted in a mate in one steady flow:

 

 

* Mutual chemistry.

* Mutual adoration.

* Fidelity.

 

 

* Communication.

* Has done some serious inner work in healing childhood wounds.

 

 

* A reader.

* Preferably a creative type who is capable of being as much of a muse to me as I to him.

 

 

* Counter-cultural roots.

* Does not want children, or at least any more than he already has.

* Wants to travel the world.

 

 

I said to Aphrodite: “Please bring me a man with all ten of these attributes, or else, if it’s not meant to be, I’ll have the richest life a single woman can have.”

“In the meantime, I’ll work on overcoming my stage fright, and find a place to read my poems in public in Los Angeles.”

I then forgot about the prayer, and began focusing on poetry.

Three Fridays later, I went with an acquaintance to a reading in a Santa Monica bookstore called Midnight Special. (Like so many independent bookstores, it no longer exists.)

I saw a man in a white shirt and Levi’s in the far right of the front row. He looked familiar, but I wasn’t sure from where.

He, who was hosting, stood up halfway through the lineup and read three poems. One about horses, one about a former love, one about taking his dying father to Paris.

 

 

I fell back in my chair, barely stopping myself from falling over completely.

“What just happened?!” said my companion.

“I don’t know,” I said. But I did. An arrow had hit me right through the heart.

This is not a metaphor. I felt an arrow pierce my heart with such force it knocked me backwards.

After he read, this poet mentioned that every Saturday afternoon, there was a poetry workshop at Midnight Special that three poets took turns leading. It was free, he said, and all were welcome; he’d worked on his own poems there.

 

 

That night I wrote in my journal that I would marry this man.

The next day I awakened early and canceled several appointments. I opened my journal to a poem I’d written about driving through Navajo country in northern Arizona on one of my journeys to pick up paintings as an art dealer between New Mexico, Arizona and California.

I shaped and edited this poem for hours, then drove to the Promenade for the poetry workshop. It was led that week by the very poet whose work had knocked me out the night before.

I had had a better track record as a muse for male artists than I had received from them. So I was nervous when it came time to read my poem.

Richard—for that was his name—began talking about my poem as if he were an x-ray technician of poetry. He said that in the poem’s central metaphor, the unraveling of love being like the unraveling of your own DNA, I'd woven a braid between the three strands of the natural, human and spirit worlds. He then said something so humble that I found it hard to believe: “You’ve done something here that I don’t know how to do, that I’d like to learn how to do.”

 

 

Darling one, I said, silently, we have many things to learn from each other, and I for one, will be your glad and willing student and teacher.

There were other poems discussed that day, but I don’t remember them.

After the workshop, our ritual was to all walk down the Third Street Promenade to the Congo Square coffee house. When a group of poets get together, the stories fly.

He and I were startled to learn how many of the same places we’d lived, the same events we’d attended— demonstrations, rock concerts, art events—in the late ‘60s and early '70s in the Bay Area, and later, film and writing conferences in the '80s and '90s in L.A. How was it possible that in more than twenty years we’d never met? Yet this explained why he’d first looked so familiar to me.

Just as it took three weeks from the time I’d sent my wish to Aphrodite to meeting Richard, so it took another three weeks for the romance to burst into bloom.

One Friday night at a Midnight Special poetry reading, I showed him two poems and asked him which I should bring for editing to the Saturday workshop.

 

 

“Either,” he said, “Yours are always wonderful. Let’s go get some dinner.” He took my arm and we strolled two blocks to the Broadway Deli, and that was it for him.

Love came aurally for me. For him it came through touch.

In another three weeks we were talking marriage.

What does this story have to do with stories #1 and #2?

 

 

Story #3 happened because I do not believe story #2, that the Invisibles do not exist, and because I asked an Invisible, the goddess, Aphrodite, for a story that was not story #1, a story of infidelity and heartbreak.

Richard, it turned out, lived four blocks away from me, on Paloma Avenue in Venice.

Aphrodite is associated with the sea, scallop shells, dolphins, bees, honey, apples, pomegranates, myrtle, rose trees, lime trees, clams, pearls, sparrows and swans. And doves.

And you probably know that paloma means dove.