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John Palcewski's Journal

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Independence
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Last night Dr. Joan and I had still another in a succession of intense encounters that left me exhausted. During foreplay, or at least my version of it, she suddenly pushed me away, and stared at the ceiling. "Why do you keep your eyes closed when you make love to me?" she asked.

My erection instantly subsided. Oh, here we go again. More questions. Like a stern professor she probes, demands answers, and I am obliged to respond. Her idea of romance.

"Well, to be honest I keep my eyes closed because I want to create the illusion of hiding."

"Why?"

"I'm no longer an Adonis."

Actually I didn't give a damn about how I looked, I was more worried that I would become too aware of what she looked like. But I'm a gentleman, after all, and I would never dream of alluding to the faint liver spots on the backs of her hands, or the lack of definition in her thigh muscles, or the dryness of her skin, or the rough calluses on her heels. Or her hands. Which were not as slim and elegant as those of Elizabeth, my favorite ex-wife.

And that was it. Dr. Joan suspected I was keeping my eyes closed because I was fantasizing being back in the arms of my beloved Elizabeth. Which was not really the case. I hadn't been thinking of Elizabeth lately, I was merely looking forward to getting laid. But I couldn't say that, could I?


Dr. Joan then turned the conversation toward the topic of my lovemaking techniques. Did I know that if a man touches a woman's genitals too early it's a total turn-off? Did I know that a woman requires at least 20 minutes of non-genital foreplay before she's ready?

The questions embarrassed me, because Dr. Joan had told me several times that "most men are lousy lovers," and I always thought she excluded me in that negative estimation of hers. Over the years I'd never gotten any complaints. Until then.

But then I thought, well, all right. I'll be happy to give Dr. Joan whatever the hell she wants. And there's one thing a man can be absolutely sure of, and that is whatever you think a woman likes or wants or needs, it will turn out to be precisely what she does not like or want or need. And she'll keep this information a secret, so when the truth finally comes out you can reflect on how long you've been such a stupid son of a bitch.

Half an hour later I gently stroked her hip--careful not to get genital--and she said, "I can't do this."

I stopped. I said nothing.

"Let's just go to sleep, all right?" she said.

"Okay."

"We'll survive this, right?"

And I said, "Sure."

But at that moment I wasn't sure at all. I lay there for a long time and finally drifted off but then awoke in the darkness. She was asleep, faintly snoring. The room was hot, oppressive, suffocating. I went to the bathroom to take a leak. I let my stream hit the water directly, whereas before I was careful to aim at the side of the bowl so as not to make a noise that Ms. Freud might hear beyond the closed door and then ask me what I meant by all that noisy behavior.

I opened the window, and inhaled the frigid winter air. I stood there until I began to shiver. I closed the window, went back to the bedroom. I hoped she'd wake up because I was ready to talk some more about what had just happened between us. I suppose what I really wanted was to get some relief from the tightness in my chest, the strange anxiety that had its grip on me. But she did not stir.

In the morning Dr. Joan suggested we go to the bistro for breakfast. I said okay.

We didn't say much during the drive in her Mercedes to Bryn Mawr, and we were quiet as we waited for our eggs, hash browns, ham and coffee. She put her purse in her lap, and got out her little notebook and wrote a few impatient lines in it. Then put it away. Then lit a cigarette. Took a deep drag, and stared out the window at the passing traffic on Lancaster Avenue.

I reached over, put my hand over hers.

She pulled it away, rose, and said, "Excuse me, but I need to go to the bathroom."

She came back ten minutes later, sat down. Gave me a smile. But it quickly faded.

"You know," I said, "it's hard for me to believe that just half an hour ago we were in bed naked, fucking out brains out."

"Why do you say that?"

"Because right now you're acting like a stranger, and it's disturbing."

She gave me a cold stare. "Don't you DARE try to pathologize this."

At that moment I learned when a shrink starts turning nouns into verbs, you're in deep shit.


The morning after our first sexual encounter I told Dr. Joan I hoped it was the beginning of an exclusive romantic relationship that would bring both of us some happiness, and she came back with a stern lecture. Such a statement, she said, sounds too much like a "pronouncement" and such pronouncements always trigger in her the wrong kind of attitude, which of course takes her out of the moment.

She explained she needs to explore. Which is to say that she does indeed desire a best friend and lover, but that at this early stage she can't be sure I am that person. I might be, but then tomorrow she could meet a man named Tom, and he might turn out to be the man actually destined to play that role in her life.

If she were to honor my desire for some sort of contract or commitment, well, she would quickly become overly critical of the relationship, testing it constantly to see if indeed she had chosen correctly. And she doesn't want to do that. Even though she fully understands my fears about being hurt again, as Elizabeth did when she announced--out of the blue--that it was time for me to leave.

"The reality," Dr. Joan intoned, "is that no guarantees can ever be made in life. Having said all of that, however, by definition we are lovers."

Ah-ha! I thought. The Ice Queen finally makes a concession!

"Also," she said, "I'm not involved with any other man. And I'd like to continue to explore...to learn more about who you are."

I brought up her tendency to be distant, and I said I imagined that a guy like, say, Cary Grant would breeze into the house and with his enormous grace and charm just brush her distancing aside with a witty comment. Dr. Joan smiled, and nodded. Yes. That would work beautifully. Also what would work would be for me to gently bite her hand, as she had invited me to do in an earlier encounter. "Now that always has a powerful erotic effect on me," she said.

At dinner at The Ritz-Carolton that evening she continued to probe me about my history, my tastes in music and art. Thus encouraged I launched into my private theory about music and its autobiographical aspects, especially Beethoven's. Also there are devices in music that parallel those in fiction. An accented dissonance and its immediate resolution, for instance, is a good metaphor for a promise made and a promise kept.

Even though she studied music for many years and played cello in an amateur chamber group, she said she couldn't relate to these rather strange theories of mine, and she said it in a way that was more than a simple observation. But I didn't care what she thought about them.

I asked her about her psychotherapy practice. She said most of her wealthy clients presented with sexual identity issues, prescription drug habits, mid-life crises, fragile self-esteem and a whole array of run-of-the-mill upper-class neuroses. After a while it gets predictable and boring, but then these people DO need help and do not object in the slightest to her $200 per hour fee.



Abraham Rosenberg, Dr. Joan's father, was a Communist who lived and worked in Greenwich Village in the 1930s, during those exciting days of political idealism. He ran around with people from The New Republic and The New Masses. He knew Jack Reed, and a great number of other gifted intellectuals, writers, artists, and photographers.

But by profession he was a lawyer, as was his dear friend William Kunstler. Both were passionate political activists. Her mother, Isabella, was a violinist for The New York Philharmonic, which led to Joan's studying the cello when she was a girl. All her friends were Julliard students, and members of orchestras and chamber groups, but Joan always knew she and they were not alike. She had to force herself to do all that practice and study.

At Columbia University the department chairman told Joan she wouldn't be invited to pursue a Ph.D. in history. After reading her thesis he suggested she ought to abandon the field. It was poorly written, he said. Deficient in technique. Not the way history is written. She knew perfectly well how to write history that conformed to scholarly expectations, but at the time she didn't want to do it that way.

Perhaps she'd make a better psychotherapist than a historian, she thought, so she got her doctorate in Clinical Psychology from Temple. Five years ago she opened a private practice at her home in Villanova.

On the phone late one night Joan and I talked about "our ghosts." She said we both had plenty. Then she spoke of the importance of our creating a future that we're drawn to, rather than a past we're enslaved by. "We need to always do new things, things completely out of our experience," she said. "It's all about making changes. In that way we grow."

Later I left a message on her machine. "This is not Zen, as perhaps you'd prefer," I said, "but rather Emily Dickinson. Almost the same thing." I read aloud the short poem, "My River runs to thee." Nothing excessively romantic, just a sweet, slight little thing I thought might please her.

Surprise! She didn't like it.

"Why?" I asked.

"The reason is complicated," she replied.

"Tell me."

"OK. When I was a child my father often summoned me to his library and read me a poem he'd just composed. God, I felt terribly pressured. I knew I had to appear knowledgeable about metaphor, simile, rhyme scheme, structure, allusion, symbol, metaphysical implication, and all the rest. Because that's what he always expected of me. And so, yes, I developed a high degree of skill in this area. After a hell of a lot of effort I managed to appear to possess an interest that I simply did not have."

"That's sad."

"Isn't it? When my father presented me his poetry, I did exactly what he expected me to do. But what I actually felt was, Jesus Christ dad! Why don't you ever want to talk with me about ice skating or movies or something, you know? I want to be a ten-year-old little girl and talk to my daddy, I don't want to have to come up with convoluted literary exegesis to CONNECT with you!"

She paused.

"Yet at the same time I adored that my father was a poet, I loved that side of him."

She said all these emotionally charged thoughts came after she picked up my Emily Dickinson message "…in the middle of a day of a million things," and what immediately sprang to her mind was: My God, this man John is exactly like my father!

"So that's why I'm not sure I want poetry recited to me," she said. "I prefer to hear you tell me that you went running through the park, or had an interesting photo shoot, things like that."

Obviously I had erred still once again in a rather big way, and I felt the beginning of a major cold sweat. Christ, here we go again.

"So, should I continue my romantic pursuit of you, or desist?" I asked.

"I don't know," she said. "I'm just giving you information about me. Not to tell what you should or shouldn't do."

"Come on, Joan, tell me. What in hell do you want?"

A long silence.

"I've made a promise to myself to keep sharing information with you, putting it out, rather than going silent and not sharing it. Going silent means crawling into my hole, and I don't want to do that anymore."

"Then don't."

"You are not my father," she said.

"Of course I'm not."

"You obviously are whoever you are and I don't know who that is yet, so I need to find out. I mean, the 'you' that is separate from your past. Which by the way always floods right into the present. Like Elizabeth and God knows who else. So I can either share these things with you or not..."

And one more important thing that I should know about her, she said, is that she is not as intellectual as those magnificent framed diplomas on her office wall might suggest. She grew up having to appear to have the mental capacity and interests that were expected of her by her father and all the other gifted and talented people who drifted in and out of that family sphere. She became skilled at simulating interest in literature, philosophy, poetry, music.

"Yes, these things are of some interest to me, but not to the degree they imagined. Or as someone in the present might expect. Like, uh, you John."
Often she will appear to be interested during a conversation when in fact she is spacing out. She is so good at it. Just another way of distancing. She employs the tactic to mask who she really is.

"Why do you mask who you really are?" I asked.

"Because if anyone discovers the real truth about me," she replied softly, "they won't like me at all."


Saturday, a winter's evening about a week and a half before Christmas, around 7 P.M. We're in Dr. Joan's bed, near a window covered by a lace curtain held up with green plastic push pins. On the wall above us is a large, framed engraving of 16th century Venice with clichéd domes and campaniles and gondolas. And there, by the foot of the bed, on an antique table, is a silver-framed black and white photograph of Abraham Rosenberg, Esq., Dr. Joan's illustrious father, gesturing with both his hands, caught by the camera in the middle of an intellectual disquisition. His glasses are resting at the end of his nose, and he casts his intense, expectant gaze directly at me, and at his daughter lying there so shamelessly and wantonly beneath me.

What do you say, Abe?

Dr. Joan's usual ambivalence was not at all present as we undressed each other. And there was from her--at least this time-- no distancing or spacing out. We moved slowly, enjoying ourselves, on that oversized bed with a white quilted cover and hundreds of pillows of odd shapes and sizes and degrees of softness. I pulled her jeans from her slender legs, and then her white stockings, and then her white silk panties, and tossed them to the floor.

An hour later Dr. Joan reappeared in a white terrycloth bathrobe with a tray bearing steaming cups of coffee and two big hunks of creamy, gooey chocolate cake. She sat beside me and watched as I forked that luscious sweetness into my mouth. I closed my eyes and shook my head slowly back and forth.

"I don't know what I like more…" I said, and she laughed and quickly finished my sentence for me: "Sex or chocolate cake!"

Actually I was going to say, "Chocolate cake or eating pussy." But I thought that might be too coarse for her, so I just nodded, yes, you're absolutely right.

We talked for a while, then fully sated and serene I drifted off. In the morning she told me during the night there was terrific wind, and driving rain, and thunder and lightning, yet I remained soundly asleep all through it. A couple times, she said, she thought of waking me up so I could experience the dramatic natural violence out there in the darkness, beyond the warmth of that room.


A few days later I was walking through Fairmont Park in a cold light rain. I stopped when saw the hawk, not ten yards from the path. His feathers were brown with white speckling, and white feathers covered his legs. He stood calmly, eating the steaming heart out of a gray squirrel. His was a relaxed, extended meal. The bird dipped his head, pulled up a string of bright scarlet tissue, swallowed, then in precise motions he looked to his right, and then to his left. Then he thrust his head down again for another bite.

For twenty minutes in a light drizzle I stood watching, waiting, feeling coldness numb my hands and feet. For a moment the hawk stood still and then slowly raised its tail feathers. Out spurted a short stream of white shit. Then he resumed his leisurely feast, with repeated dips of his head, and his swallows, and his hard gazes off to the right, the left, and then toward me.
I kept watching until finally he flapped his massive brown wings and flew—to my astonishment—directly toward me, as if attacking. I put my gloved hand out, defensively...but when he got close he veered sharply and in a wide arc flew upward, and settled lightly on a horizontal branch of a tall tree.

Such encounters have profound meaning, or at least they did to Native Americans a few centuries ago. I spent the rest of the evening trying to figure it out. I asked myself: What can I learn from that hawk's insouciance? His total lack of fear of me watching him? His choosing to fly directly toward me, as if emphasizing his fearlessness? Or maybe there's a more important question: In this vision who am I? The squirrel? Or the hawk?


Dr. Joan told me about one of her patients. A teenaged girl who was dangerously underweight. Major eating disorder. "And where do you suppose she got the idea that she was too fat? Hmmmm?"

I grinned. "From the media, of course. If it weren't for Vogue and Cosmo and MTV, why, the problem just wouldn't exist."

"Don't be cute," she said.

She explained that in therapy she tries to encourage women with eating disorders to visualize their dysfunction as a monster. The healing comes with first putting a shape and a face on the beast, and then acknowledging that, despite its ugliness, it has served an important function in the past. But what was once useful may now kill them.

"Such coping strategies over time often become wholly inappropriate and dangerous," Dr. Joan said. "And consider also the relentless bombardment of visual images that glorify slenderness, as if that particular female shape is somehow superior to all others. Which is odd, given that in the Renaissance and even in the 19th century plumpness was an ideal because it represented fecundity, fertility, health."

The disapproving messages these poor girls get from their mostly absent parents, Dr. Joan said, are reinforced by television, magazines and movies. "The primary message is: If you are not slim, you are not good. And all that disapproval is internalized. They believe if they're told they're bad they actually must be. It's a circular, self-perpetuating cycle."

These girls begin each day with: "OK, today I'll be good. I won't purge. I won't eat more than 500 calories." But then they purge, or eat more than they planned. "See?" they tell themselves. "Everyone is exactly right. I'm just no good at all."

Now it's easy to see how The Monster keeps them in the cycle. It's a form of dissociation that keeps them in familiar territory. Why? So as to avoid feeling the pain that's beneath the shame. Which is the original pain of the parental message, reinforced, of course by the bloody media. The message? Badness, worthlessness is what will make your parents abandon you, and you brought it on yourself. It's not their fault, but YOURS. Bitch!

Oh, how Dr. Joan's eyes flashed as she spoke! Her words were suffused with fiery passion. How beautiful she was then! I saw her as a determined, righteous crusader on a mission from God. A noble rescuer. Determined to help those poor girls who are unable to help themselves. Dare I call her my girlfriend? Lover? Partner? Whatever. By God, she's the best!


A week before Christmas she took me to the church of St. Luke and the Epiphany near University City in Philadelphia, to participate in what for her was a holiday tradition: Amateur night. We picked up our sheet music, and we went to our respective groups. She sat in the soprano section, and I was in the tenor. We joined all the others in the singing of Handel's Messiah. I loved the soul-stirring resonance of the massive pipe organ up in the choir loft, and the energy of all those joined voices. Great music it most certainly was not, but nevertheless it felt so good doing it.

She told me afterward that she was watching me carefully, and she was intrigued by my obvious enthusiasm, passion. "You were so utterly INTO the thing, you know? It made me smile."

"And were you into it as well?"

"For me it was merely an interesting to do."

I hadn't been aware of her scrutinizing me so carefully. And I was surprised by how much it pleased me that she had been. I told her, "I really like imagining myself as you saw me," I said. "I like the image. The musical score in my hand, in the tenor section, along with all the others, singing that amazing music..."

"That's fascinating," she said. "Did you know that we form our identities by our reflection in the eyes of our mothers?"

I grinned. "Listen, babe, you are NOT my mother."

"Speaking of eyes, do you remember what happened a couple weeks ago? When I got upset because you always keep your eyes closed when we make love?"

"Yes, I remember."

"That act suggests to me that Elizabeth is in bed with us."

"But that wasn't and isn't the case," I said.

"So what were you thinking about, then?"

"I was in the moment, that's all. It was about delicious sex, and how good it felt."

"Ah, you really know how to depersonalize it."

"What in hell are you talking about?"

"You didn't say how good I felt to you. Just sex. IT. Not me."

"Oh, for God's sake, Joan."

Sometimes she gave me a headache. Literally.



A few weeks later her elbow jabbed into my ribs. "Tell me something," she said.

"What?"

"The exact truth about what you were thinking while you were making love to me this time."

"Oh, no. Here we go again."

"Come on. You've got the gift of gab. So speak to me."

"All right. When I saw your panties they seemed to me like the inside of a seashell. Which in turn reminded me of the famous Botticelli painting of Venus, the Greek goddess who brought love to the world."

"Oh, come on. How do I resemble Venus?"

"Long legs, long hair. A somewhat imperious look."

"You're kidding me, right?"

I sat up in the bed. Turned and adjusted the pillow. I knew this was going to be still another of those interrogations of hers. Which likely would take a while, so I might as well get comfortable.

"Why should I kid you?" I said. "You asked, and I replied. If you don't like what I'm saying we can change the subject."

"You don't have to be so defensive all the time."

"I'm not."

"So the white of my panties reminds you of a shell and the shell reminds you of a painting."

"Exactly."

"What is in the painting?"

"You'd recognize it instantly. Venus stands in a large, open scallop shell. Hovering in the air to the upper left Zephyr and Chloris appear together, embracing."

"And?"

"That's it."

"Come on, there's more. You wouldn't have thought of the image if it hadn't somehow resonated powerfully somewhere in that deep, dark subconscious of yours."

Jesus. This woman just can't get enough! All right. Let's really get deep into it, shall we?

"Zephyr is the Mediterranean term for any soft, gentle breeze, derived from the name of the Greek god of the west wind."

"You mean, like, a whole lot of hot air?"

"Something like that, yes," I said grinning. "Now the figure of Zephyr, with his cheeks all puffed out and his lips pursed, was an image Botticelli used in a subsequent work of art."

"Go on."

"In the fifteenth century Lorenzo d' Medici commissioned Botticelli to execute a series of illustrations for Dante's Inferno. It was to have been 100 drawings depicting Dante and Virgil in their traversal of Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven."

"By any chance are you making this up as you go along?"

"No, this is absolutely true, every word of it. You could look it up."

"How in hell do you know these things?"

"I minored in art in college."

"All right, go on."

"Botticelli executed the drawings with a metal stylus on sheep's parchment, and went over them with a lead point similar to a pencil, and finally reinforced the strokes with ink."

"What does this have to do with our making love and that Venus painting?"

"Be patient, babe, I'm getting to it. You recall the puffed cheeks of Zephyr above Venus?"

"Yes."

"Well, in one of the Inferno drawings Botticelli makes a deliberate visual allusion to it."

"How so?"

"All the illustrations are meant to convey the utter horror and degradation of eternal damnation. So if you look carefully, you will see a demon's raised bare arse. And from the anus embedded within those swelled cheeks comes forth an enormous noxious wet fart, which spews down into the face of one of the condemned."

Dr. Joan covered her mouth with her hand and giggled. "That's awful."

I pinched my nose. "Yes, utterly grotesque," I said, sounding as if I had a cold. "But that's the whole idea of hell, isn't it?"

"Wait a minute," she said. "How do we get so quickly from the goddess of love to the stink of hell?"

"Botticelli's range as an artist illustrates that within him--and indeed in all of us-- there coexist polar opposites. Love, hate. Softness, hardness. Acceptance, rejection. Come here, go away."

I was about to add, "Of all people, Joan, you should know all about that particular topic." But I thought better of it. No sense stirring her up.

"Do you write stuff like this in your journal?" she asked.

"Yes," I replied.

"Even about our having sex?"

"That, too."

"And is your journal where you intend to keep it?"

"Absolutely," I said earnestly. "It will remain our secret forever."

Liar, liar, pants on fire!



Joan put a log into the fireplace, then sat down with her appointment diary and began flipping the pages, and rapidly scribbling notes here and there. I'd brought with me my book of collected poems of Yeats, and was savoring the lines of one of my favorites…

Fifteen apparitions have I seen;
The worst a coat upon a coat-hangar.

Talk about a strange poem! It fit my odd mood. I was still not feeling quite right. I was jumpy, irritable. Discombobulated. I didn't know why. Then she interrupted my reading with an announcement.

"By the way," she said, looking above the glasses perched on the end of her nose, "I can't meet you Saturday as planned because something has come up."

She had to go to New Hope, Pennsylvania. "You're familiar with that little town by the river, aren't you? It's utterly charming. I'm going to Todd's house for an important meeting. You remember Todd, don't you?"

Oh, yes. I remembered. He's the guy who got her the Allentown School District consultation project, which pays $1,500 an hour. The guy who gave her a sacred pipe to help her get through the terror of sweat lodges and her vision quest in the Canadian wilderness. The guy whose picture she keeps in her purse, who wakes her before dawn in the Allentown Hilton and snaps his fingers over and again, which makes her feel so girlishly incompetent but somehow she manages to produce exactly what he wants from her. Todd, a forceful masculine name, similar to Rod, and we fully understand the phallic implications here, don't we? Yes. Todd is utterly phallic and also incredibly intelligent, dynamic, charismatic, and powerful. Did I mention his intelligence? Yes, he's acutely intelligent. She needs to go to New Hope. To his big, lovely house. That has a splendid view of the canal. That house is enormous, awesome, breathtaking...

"Are you aware of all the superlatives you use whenever you mention your precious Todd?" I asked.

She looked up. "No, do I?"

"Yes. Indeed you do. And, frankly, it's annoying."

"Have you given any thought to exactly why it so disturbs you so much?"

Oh, my. I knew we're were about to really get into it. Her tone and manner suddenly was formal, detached, and clinical. Just like a white-coated lab worker peering into a microscope at some disease organism. Which annoyed me even further.

I launched right into one of my extended rants. Her praise for Todd was, I pronounced, almost pathologically excessive. "And such excesses often spring not from authentic belief but rather from deep insecurity."

"What in hell are you talking about?" she said.

"Your endlessly heaping praise upon him is very much like the stuff those proselytizing evangelicals do. They're so energetically seeking converts not because they're so eager to spread the word of the Lord but rather because they need to attract large numbers of other believers. Why? To make them feel less anxious about the ridiculousness of their belief system. Deep down they know it's all absurd bullshit."

"So my association with Todd is absurd bullshit?"

"Tell me, Joan. Just what is it about Todd's great consulting enterprise that might be troubling you on a subconscious level? Is it perchance the obscenely huge amount of money that he pulls in on schemes that sound like a lot of mumbo-jumbo?"

"What?"

"Yes, mumbo-jumbo. And his calling you into his hotel room before dawn, snapping his fingers, laying all those impossible expectations on you. Now who does that remind you of? Let's see, who could it be?"

"Stop."

"Why should I stop? You keep shoving your need for space down my throat, and if that isn't enough you keep shoving this precious Todd of yours down my throat as well."

"That may be how you perceive it."

"Your obsession with Todd is strange. He's smarter than you are, he's more aggressive, he's much more demanding, and there you are, once again pretending to be enthusiastic about something you really don't give a shit about. That's what it says to me, sweetheart."

"If all that is true then why in hell are you pursuing me?"

"Because," I shouted, "I want to be with someone who LOVES me, laughs at my jokes, appreciates my crazy, complex mind, admires my intellectuality--yes, I'm not ashamed to be an intellectual, because that's just what I happen to be, and I don't have to apologize for it, and I sure as hell don't have to dumb down just to make others feel comfortable. I'm me, goddamnit, and if you don't like ME, then I'll get the fuck out of your life."

"But I'm unavailable. Or haven't you noticed that yet?"

"I suppose I'm pursuing you precisely because you are so unavailable. Which is a replay of my childhood yearning for the mother who abandoned me. I'm trying to finally master something that always mastered me. And why not? What difference does it make why we go after each other? Seems to me that our main job is to find a way to make it work. Agree to love each other, comfort each other, affirm each other. I'll make you chicken soup when you get sick, and you can bring me a nice big chunk of chocolate cake after I eat your pussy. We don't need to analyze every goddamned thing, every comment, every dream. Why don't we just fucking enjoy each other?"

"But I need to analyze things. You're an arty intellectual. I'm a therapist. Why do you insist on the legitimacy of your identity, but then deny me the legitimacy of mine?"

"The huge difference between us is, dear, is that I'm using my intellectuality in an attempt to bring us together, whereas you are using alleged analysis to push us apart. Tell me. Is that a fair characterization, or not?"

I thought what I said would infuriate her. But it didn't. She just stopped. And apparently was thinking about the things I'd said. The wheels of her brain were spinning. She looked to me like an astronomer peering into the telescope, focused on a white dwarf or a red giant. Trying to see something out there in space, a zillion miles away, as clearly as she could.

"I need time to process all this," she said softly.

"Listen. I don't want to hear any more bullshit about that charlatan Todd. Fuck Todd. If you want to make money, fine, you're certainly entitled to make a living. But you don't need to keep bringing that Slick Willy up all the time. I'm sick of it."

"Okay. Okay. I got it."

Joan's unexpected acceptance took the wind right out of my sails. I felt like collapsing in a big heap. I felt like crying. Or hiding in the back of a dark, warm closet, like I did when I was a child. But I was damned if I'd ever let her see that. Oh, hell no.

"Fine," I said. And shut up.

Joan resumed her scribbling. I turned back to my Yeats.



New Years Eve. When I arrived she was regal and aristocratic in her long black party dress, and was adjusting her earrings. After a hurried greeting she rushed to the ringing phone and spoke for a long time, while I sat in the chair by the fireplace. She returned and was about to say something when the phone rang again, and she hurried to the dining room to take the call, once again a long one.

"Sorry about that," she said when she returned. "It was an emergency from the father of one of my patients. He thinks she's bingeing again and is at his wits end. This is the very worst time for some people."

And then the phone rang again.

"What's bothering you now?" she asked when her conversation had finally concluded.

"Why don't you just turn the damned phone off, so we can talk. Or something."

Her cold, grim look told me I'd just said the wrong thing. Again.

"Don't you think that's an unreasonable request?" she said. "Don't you think it would be rude of me not to acknowledge all the holiday greetings I'm getting from relatives and friends?"

"There's a biblical saying. Render unto Caesar."

"Oh, for God's sake."

"I get the feeling you really are hell bent on avoiding intimacy."

"And I get the feeling you're just carrying a resentment because I told you that tomorrow I want to spend some quiet time, alone."

"Yes, when you made the announcement it seemed very much like being drenched by a bucket of cold water."

A long silence.

"Maybe I handled that wrong," she said. "But it probably was because I do have some concerns that we ought to talk about, perhaps after our dinner party tonight."

"Concerns?"

"Yes. It has to do with the trajectory this relationship is taking. I'm feeling pressured. Things are moving too quickly for me."

I groaned.

"I don't recall putting any pressure on you," I said. "As a matter of fact I never ask you anything beyond when we might see each other again. Which is rather normal in a loving relationship. Or do you disagree?"

"I'm feeling pressure, that's all."

"All right, fine. I'll work hard to avoid it."

She put on her coat, and we went out to her Mercedes. She asked me to drive, because she wasn't comfortable on wet, slippery roads. I thought of turning on the radio, but then didn't, because I didn't want her to think that…what? That I needed some distraction. That I was avoiding her "putting things out there," which apparently was so important to her.
"I'm wondering if you can allow us to have a good time tonight," she said.

I clenched my teeth.

"Don't worry. We will have a good time."

Dinner with Kent and Helene was pleasant and so was the cake and coffee afterward. I went out of my way to be as absolutely charming, and witty, and engaging as I could. And they all said I was. "Where did you FIND this pleasant, intriguing man?" I overheard Helene ask Joan.

We left shortly before midnight. Joan wanted to park the car, and just walk along the sidewalks of Haveford, past the beautifully lighted store windows. When we heard the sirens and noisemakers and fireworks, we embraced, and kissed. Happy New Year! I said to her, and Happy New Year! she said to me.

Then we drove to her house and resumed the argument we'd started five or six hours earlier.

She said she was walking on eggshells because she feared my reaction if she would express a desire to let a week or two pass without seeing each other. She was also concerned about my anger, my punishing silences, most particularly that flaccidity thing I did to her on Christmas. "It was," she said, "so clearly passive/aggressive that I really wonder where all your rage is coming from."

I said nothing.

"That ugly behavior reminds me too much of my mother," she said, "Who always engaged in the tactic when things didn't go her way."

"Perhaps you might want to take a look at what role your behavior plays in these games. Who provokes whom here?"

"I'm feeling pressure," she repeated.

"If you think I'm getting too romantically attached to you, well, you flatter yourself."

"What if--just for the sake of the argument--I were to suggest you move in with me?"

"No fucking way," I said with a loud laugh. "I'm not THAT crazy."

On and on. She threw one challenge after another, and I fought right back, with stubborn persistence. Finally, at four in the morning, we went to bed and grappled roughly, lustily, with great vigor. I came twice. I think she came twice, too. Great makeup sex, just like in the movies.

Before the sun rose we put on sneakers and sweats and ran two or three miles through Fairmont park. When we got back to her house I took a long, hot bath and read more of my Yeats, then Joan opened the bathroom door and announced I needed to get dressed right away, and hurry, because we're going back to Kent and Helene's, this time for a spontaneous, out-of-the-blue buffet they've suddenly decided to fix for all their friends, "And they just said on the phone they're so much looking forward to seeing that utterly charming John Palcewski again."

After a flurry of hellos and cheek kissing and hugging, and so-nice-to-see-you-guys-again Joan ended up in the corner by the Christmas tree with a big-mustached man wearing a bulky white knit turtle neck sweater. She listened to him carefully, head cocked, while he spoke rapidly and made choppy gestures with both hands.

Yes, there was a Christmas tree in that Jewish household. And what's more, on the mantle was a shining brass menorah, unlit. By that time all nine candles in the menorah on the card I made for Joan were fully lighted.

I stood in the crowd of three or four dozen amiable, chatting folks near a long table groaning with food and drink and greedily ate chili from a plastic bowl, and then chewed eagerly on my first Jewish bagel covered with lox and cream cheese, and then I decided what the hell, it's the holiday, isn't it?, and wolfed down a bowl of mixed fruit, followed by a nice big hunk of carrot cake with cream cheese icing.

Yes, I know. I was self medicating. Exactly. I don't deny the horrid twisted pathology behind all my desperate gobbling. I was stuffing my face to make myself feel better. Or I should say less anxious. And I didn't need someone with a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Temple (or was it Villanova?) to explain it to me. It was obvious, self-evident. Joan was driving me fucking crazy. I had to binge because she left me no choice. So when I eventually got fat and ugly I could tell her it was all her fault, because it was.

Back at her place I was about to put on my coat and go home, because she'd made it perfectly clear that she wanted the rest of the day for some down time. She put her hand on my forearm.

"Would you consider another option?" she said.

"Like what?" I said, puzzled.

"Staying here, and us just crawling into bed together, and reading, or watching a movie?"

"Yes. Of course."

I tried to disguise my astonishment. Which gradually turned into a mild paranoia. I did not trust her sudden reversal of course. I lay beside her quietly as we watched a tape of Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson in "A Few Good Men."

Tom has Jack on the stand. He says he wants the truth.

Extreme close-up of Jack's face: "You can't handle the truth," he scowls.

Hmmmmm. A damned good line, isn't it?

After the movie I waited until I was absolutely sure of her intent, and we had sex. And then we fell asleep.

In the kitchen, over coffee and scones, she wanted to rehash our big New Year's Eve fight, which she said "was actually a great success."

"I'm so glad you think so," I replied.

"I rather liked seeing you so angry,” she said. “Your eyes just blazed with emotion, and you looked so wild and dangerous--I mean in an interesting way. Do you know what I mean?"

I thought for a moment. "When I was in high school the girls seemed to like the bad boys, the outlaws, the guys who didn't take baths or showers."

"Yes, that's kind of like it. The excitement of living on the edge. It gets the adrenaline flowing. It makes you feel alive."

"Actually I prefer sweetness and propinquity. Peaceful coexistence."

"You're no pushover, you know? Usually it doesn't take me long to chew a man up and spit him out. You're extraordinarily capable of holding your own."

“Thanks.”



Weeks passed. Once again she brought up my Elizabeth. Why was I not surprised?

"I sense that some of our problem may be that you haven't yet fully worked through your being dumped. Some of that rage you displayed in our fight may be coming from that. Now, I don't want to be another Elizabeth in your life. Or what you might see as a better version of the mother who abandoned you."

I didn't doubt her sincerity. She believed what she was saying. But I was getting sick to death of her tactic of trying to turn things back at me just to avoid talking about her own issues.

"Joan, listen. When I met Elizabeth she was an emotional basket case after being blindsided by a sociopath who spent a year convincing her he was a normal, loving human being. She was a total wreck."

"So naturally you flew to her rescue."

"I fell deeply in love with her. Totally. She was a beautiful, talented, and acutely intelligent woman. She had great legs and great pipes."

"Pipes?"

"An incredible singing voice. And she played a mean guitar. I mean she was extremely good at it."

"Oh."

"And it was a shock to me, because I hadn't ever felt that strongly toward a woman before. I understood for the first time what real love meant."
"Go on."

"I courted Elizabeth, even though she was on the rebound. I was fully aware that these kinds of relationships almost never work out. But I went ahead anyway."

"Why?"

"Because I was deeply in love with her. What part of that don't you understand?"

"But you said you knew it probably wouldn't work out."

"Yes. For me it was like going to Atlantic City. The odds were stacked against me, but what the hell. I just might win. When I lost, I accepted it. So this wasn't a replay of my mother's abandonment. I know that my love for Elizabeth was authentic. Guess how I knew."

"Tell me."

"I was willing to let her go when she asked me to, because her happiness was more important to me than my own."

For a second I was right back there at the front door of our house, the evening I departed. When I said goodbye to Elizabeth for the last time, I somehow expected her to say, wait, maybe we're moving too fast here. Maybe we should talk some more. But she didn't. And I just walked out to my truck, got in and drove off.

"That's what love is all about," I said.

Joan's face was, as usual, impassive. She casually moved on to another subject. Apparently for her my story was no big deal. It was just one pathetic little recitation among the hundreds of others her boring patients tell her. So at that moment I vowed never to allow Joan to draw me into another discussion of Elizabeth. Elizabeth now was off limits. Period.

During that Christmas/New Year season Joan took me to meet two special friends and professional colleagues who lived in a large red brick house on Birchwood Lane, near the Philadelphia Main Line.

They were Larry and Michael, both psychiatrists in residence at Temple University Hospital, who had been lovers for something like twelve years. Larry cheerfully, unselfconsciously, assumed the role of housewife as he cleared the table and washed dishes and glasses and silverware in the sink of an enormous kitchen with exposed ceiling timbers and brick walls. We all continued the conversation that had started at the dinner table.

"Barbara Striesand," Larry chirped. "An enormously talented woman, a Jew, who makes it in Hollywood. She's not only a singer, but also a shrewd businesswoman, doesn't take shit from anybody. She's aggressive, isn't ever afraid to speak her mind, and what do they call her? A bitch! If she were a man, well…"

Larry raised a wet glass in his yellow-rubber-gloved hand, inspected it carefully, and put it back into the soapy water for a more thorough scrub.
Michael, thoughtful with his pipe and crossed arms, nodded. "But nevertheless she's a total bitch. I can't stand her. What was that movie she made? Funny Girl or something? It was nothing but an unending succession of extreme close-ups of her ugly face."

"She's a delight, I don't care what you say," Larry said.

"John, have you seen the movie American Buffalo?" Michael asked.

"No, not yet," I replied.

"Don't bother. It's a horrid piece of shit, based on Mamet's play, which we both walked out on. Most of the dialog consisted of the word 'yeah.' The rest was nauseating, affected theatrical speech. Do you know what I mean? The way ACTORS often carry on?"

"Yes."

"Well, Dustin Hoffman wanted everyone to know he was doing really serious drama, and was desperately trying to wrest some legitimacy from Mamet's stilted, forced language. But Mamet did absolutely nothing to make his play into a real movie. Like Arthur Miller just did with The Crucible."

Joan excused herself, said she needed to use the bathroom.

"So how long have you known Joan?" Michael asked.

"I'd say it's been about a month."

"You make a good looking couple, I must say."

"Thanks. But I'm noticing that the down side of being hooked up with a psychoanalyst is…"

"She's not a psychoanalyst," Larry cut in. "but a psychotherapist. A big difference."

Yes, he was right. Both Larry and Michael were physicians. Joan was not.

"Well, whatever it is that she's called. The down side is that she just loves to analyze every move I make, every word I utter."

Larry rolled his eyes.

"For instance?" Michael asked.

"The other day she said I was manic and hyperverbal. She wanted to know why. And I said to her, didn't you notice the huge piece of chocolate cake that I just consumed? And the two cups of strong Columbian coffee that I washed it down with?"

Michael smiled. "Tell me, John. Are you manic and hyperverbal without such external stimuli?"

We all laughed. The whole thing was entirely light-hearted.

But then Michael got serious. "Be careful. You must never give Joan that kind of power over you. It's inappropriate. She's an expert--but only with her patients."

I nodded.

Later we four sat together on the couch in the high-ceilinged living room. A roaring fire was going, and the stereo was playing Beethoven's Diabelli Variations. I had to smile. Could I ever have imagined that one day I'd be wedged between a couple of sophisticated gay psychiatrists and that labyrinthine Joan Rosenberg?

Suddenly Larry reached down and pulled Joan's leg into his lap, unzipped her suede boot, pulled it off, and handed it to Michael. With comic exaggeration Michael caressed the boot, put it to his nose. Larry made a big show of massaging Beth's black-stockinged foot.

"I wish I had my camera," I said.

"Use mine, it's over there on the cabinet," Michael said grinning.

I took a shot of my Joan between Michael and Larry. The foot fetishist on her left, the leather fetishist on her right. And me, the detached objective observer. A perfect picture.

Looking back I think that fun-filled little episode marked a turning point in my stormy, convoluted relationship with Joan. Until then I was more or less holding my own. Things weren't ideal, of course, but they hadn't yet reached a wholly intolerable level. I wanted to make it work. Joan still intrigued me. At the very least, she gave me a hell of a lot to write about in my journal. And you know what they say about writers. They'll put up with virtually anything for the sake of a good story.


I put one of Joan's negatives into my enlarger, projected her image onto the white surface of the easel and, with the aid of a powerful magnifier, brought her smiling face into tack-sharp focus. There were a few frown folds between her eyebrows. Many lines radiated fan-like from the corners of her eyes. A blemish here, a blemish there. The hint of bags under her eyes. And the slight but noticeable sag of a wattle under her chin.

The lens of my Bronica was precise, literal, unforgiving. And if I were as passive/aggressive as she accused me of being, I'd print these photographic images straight and show her as the aging woman she actually was. But instead I slid a softening filter into the holder under the enlarger's lens, and in an instant all her physical imperfections disappeared into a gentle romantic mist.

I did the same to the rest of the others she'd selected. Then, as they rolled around on the drum of my dryer, I went to my briefcase and got a photo I'd borrowed from her earlier, and had forgotten about in my nervous anticipation of our meeting with her beloved Victor.

In the picture Joan plays her cello with a slight devilish grin. Her friend Lucy, with a similar look of amusement, plays the violin. Both are as naked as they day they were born. In the background are heavy dark purple draperies flanking a large window overlooking a lush garden. Their chrome plated stands gleam; the yellow covers of the sheet music says BACH. Joan's hair falls down in curls on her shoulders, and her pale skin is flawless, smooth, luminescent. Her breasts are firm with upward pointed rosy nipples, and of course those lovely orbs ride much higher up than they do now.

I'd asked her if I could borrow it. "Why?" she wanted to know. I replied it was such a beautiful and evocative image that I just had to make a copy for myself. And I could make additional copies for her, if she wished. Oh, yes, she said. That would be great. Another nice post-Christmas gift for her various friends.

It didn't take long for me to make a copy negative. Again I framed her image on my easel. My God, she was a stunning beauty 25 years ago! I wondered how that boyfriend of hers kept the camera steady during that shoot.



"Since we have some time on our hands, we might talk about an important issue," she said.

"What important issue?"

"Your sexual jealousy."

"Fine," I said. "Let's discuss it."

She sat on the couch, and she leaned forward, rested her forearms on her knees and clasped her hands. As it happened, I'd recently caught a Dr. Phil TV show on the subject of body language. Dr. Phil had said when a person leans forward and clasps hands like that it means he or she is greatly interested in engaging another person in an intimate conversation.

"It's clear to me," she said, "that my men friends are enormously threatening to you. And I've been wondering--what in the world does that have to do with what's happening between us? I just don't get the connection you keep making."

Before I had a chance to respond, she said that for too long we'd been avoiding this sensitive topic. Which reminded her of the analogy of the elephant in the living room. In a dysfunctional family everyone sits around and pretends the huge animal isn't actually there, even though it's dropping huge turds onto the carpet.

I cringed at her odorous exaggeration. But nevertheless I said, "Go on."

"I need to assure you that while Victor plays an important role in my life at the moment, he is not your rival. He can't ever be, because I do not--can not--think of him sexually. It'll just never happen. You need to accept that reality and put aside your chronic jealousy. Which, despite your hating to hear me say it, is pathological."

"Go on."

"You're so very good at sophistry, putting together long passionate speeches, creating elaborate cause-effect sequences that are merely transparent attempts to justify your irrational thinking. You keep throwing the blame on me, when it's your own behavior that you need to examine."

"Give me an example of my justifying irrationality."

"All right. I'm thinking of how you always react to my colleague and mentor, Todd. Instead of saying to me, honestly, that you're worried he and I have been sleeping together, you instead come at me sideways and call him a charlatan. Argumentum ad hominum."

Sideways?

Well, Joan had a lot of those terms, which sounded to me like the sort of psycho-babble you might encounter in Popular Psychology. That word--like the others she used--had a shining slick surface, but in fact was mushy, imprecise jargon.

"Didn't you mention that during those three or four weeks you spent in the Canadian wilderness you and Todd shared a tent and sleeping bag?" I asked.

“Yes, why?”

"And weren't there sweat lodges? And skinny dipping in the lake?"

"Yes, there were."

"So what's so irrational in my assuming a healthy attractive man and a healthy attractive woman, cast for a long time in that isolated situation, would do what comes so naturally?"

"Even if we were sleeping together, why is it necessary for you to call him a charlatan?"

"Perhaps because that whole Allentown School District thing he's peddling has a phony ring to it. Especially that part about him getting you up at dawn, snapping his fingers at you. Like, you damned well better listen to DADDY. Or you'll be punished."

We went over these themes a few times. She kept telling me I had nothing to worry about, that the only rivals I had were in my tortured, paranoid imagination. But the more she argued, the less I believed her. And the more I talked, the less she wanted to hear.

She looked at her ladies' Rolex. "It's time to go," she said.



Beckett said it best. "I may have a lot of faults, but changing my tune isn't one of them." I was pig-headedly determined to make the thing with Joan work, despite all the evidence that pointed to inevitable failure.

Why?

Because I really missed having a loving partner, as I had in Elizabeth, at least in the early months of our marriage. I loved waking up in the morning and seeing Ms. Sleepyhead snoozing beside me. I loved all those mornings at the Marlane Diner, sitting close together in our regular booth, wolfing down eggs sunny side up, hash browns, crisp bacon strips and cups of strong coffee. Or in the evening going out to Border's on Lancaster Avenue, prowling the aisles like hungry hunters, gathering up armfuls of books, and then sitting down in the café for obscenely rich pieces of icing-covered cake, gobbling them down as if we were starving, and then my sweet beautiful girl saying, "Come on, lover, let's blow this joint," and then we'd go home and lay in bed and read, and make love, and read, and make love. I missed all that. I really did.

So I worked hard to honor all Joan's concerns. Her need for space. Her fear of the "trajectory" our relationship was taking. But on second thought I suppose I should have shared with her what I'd been thinking for a long time. And that was of all the relationships I'd had over the years, this one was unique. Ours was not a steady, gradually ascending curve of intimacy, but rather a crazy waveform, like a noise pattern on an oscilloscope. She'd be open and loving and affirming and sweet. But then, out of the blue, cold and distant and accusing and hostile.

It was hard not to see something--dare I use the word?-- pathological in the whole damned thing.

Joan called some of my behavior passive aggressive. Well, what about the time I bought her a CD of Bellinni's "Norma?" I thought the achingly evocative music would move her as deeply as it always moved me. But what did Joan do? As Maria Callas sang, Joan suddenly stood up. She opened her mouth wide, threw her head up, waved her arms, and danced awkwardly about the living room. Embarrassed by her grotesque mockery of an operatic performance, I didn't say anything. I didn't want to talk about the powerful negative emotions Joan's ridiculing gestures elicited in me.

Which centered around the memory of meeting my mother for the first time when I was nine. I was terrified but that astonishingly beautiful woman in a pastel blue dress gently coaxed me into her arms, and for the first time I felt her warmth and breathed her scent, while "Norma" played in the background. No, I didn't want to get into this because I feared Joan would eventually use it as ammunition against me.

And on top of all that Joan threw sophistry in my face. She reminded me that throughout history tyrants have advanced their murderous theories just by being enormously effective public speakers. Hitler, for example. St. Augustine, for another.

Yes, Hitler very nearly took over the world, and slaughtered six million of her people in the process. And she was absolutely right about that Augustine creep. This was the man who looked into the eyes of an infant and didn't see sweetness, innocence, or the divine spark of life, but rather clear evidence of the essential evil nature of humans. This pervert called it "original sin." That horridly twisted notion soon became the bedrock of Roman Catholic theology. The Encyclopedia Britannica says Augustine had left the world "a toxic legacy."

And it drove me crazy that Joan didn't see her beloved Victor or her beloved Todd as being among these misguided orators, oh no. Her guys spoke only the truth. Me? I was blinded by my abandonment issues.



After four weeks of silence my phone rang. She was at O'Hare on a two-hour layover, so she thought she'd give me a ring. The program in San Francisco was a tremendous success. Lots and lots and lots of important work. Really. Plenty to mull over in the months to come. And yes, of course, we should get together. Soon.

I offered to pick her up at the Philadelphia airport when she arrived, but she said thanks, but she'd made other arrangements. "How about we meet for drinks at Bravo Bistro day after tomorrow?" she said. "Or better yet, the next day? I've got a whole lot of catching up to do, and by then I ought to be free."

"That will be great," I replied.


I was on my second scotch when Dr. Joan finally showed up. She had a nice tan, and she was coolly elegant in her dark pin-stripped suit jacket, over which hung a white silk scarf. Her trousers were sharply creased. Just a few gold accents at the throat, on her earlobes. I thought it might not be a good idea to embrace her because she might interpret it as too excessive a display of emotion in a public place. But then it occurred to me if I didn't, she'd immediately demand to know why I was being so distant. But when I put my arms around her I felt her stiffen.

She wanted her usual, a martini with a pearl onion.

"So tell me about your adventures in California."

"It was absolutely fabulous," she said.

"May I ask you a question?"

"Sure."

"Was Todd there?"

She shook her head. It was more like an expression of disgust than a denial. She didn't say anything. Yes, Todd was there the whole time. To guide her through all that "inner work."

I hadn't planned it at all, it just came to me. At that second. And it wasn't at all dramatic or overwhelming, as I imagined such a thing might be. No, it was more like that T. S. Eliot end-of-the-world whimper. Or perhaps the snap of a small twig.

Our relationship is over. Finished. All I need to do is say it out loud. So I did.

Dr. Joan didn't appear at all surprised. "I kind of knew this was coming, sooner or later," she said.

"Me too."

"So how about we put a cordial, formal end to it? A sort of brief summation and farewell?"

"That's really a good idea," I said. "But excuse me, I need to go to the bathroom. I'll be right back."

I stood at the urinal thinking about what she'd said earlier about excavations. Archeology. What San Francisco was presumably all about. She and Todd shoveling the layered dust of their subconscious. Four weeks of digging, side by side, in the California wilderness. These tortured jealous thoughts of mine are what? Let's see. They are merely another manifestation of…well, you know!

Ah-ha!

I knew what I'd tell Dr. Joan as a parting shot. Yes, indeed. She expects something from me, and by God I'll give it to her. Just a final bit of my rhetoric! Oh, she'll love it.

I'll tell her that in 1945 an Egyptian farmer was digging in his fields and unearthed a big clay urn, which he eagerly smashed open with his pick, hoping to find treasure. But he was disappointed. Inside was just a bunch of leather-bound papyrus books, written in Coptic, which turned out to be the texts of Gnosticism, an ancient religious movement within early Christianity.

I'll tell Dr. Joan that Gnostics claimed to possess what they paradoxically called "knowledge of the unknowable." They proclaimed they understood the hidden aspects of the divine, the cosmos, and--most important--the self.

And, in a famous passage, they insisted:

"If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you."

I know what will happen after I intone my pedantic lecture. She'll give me that regal, superior, detached clinical look of hers and then say: "So what's your point, John?"

And I'll tell her: "In all this, Joan, I don't think you've brought forth one damned thing."

I zipped up my fly, washed and dried my hands, and walked quickly toward the bar. Yes, that'll be my summation, my farewell. Which that tightly-wrapped woman won't likely forget. No sir.

But when I got there her stool was empty. I looked around. The bartender leaned over and said, "Your lady friend told me to tell you, sorry, but she was late for an appointment."

I smiled. "Oh. Thanks," I said.



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You really haven't had a lot of luck, have you?

As a matter of fact, I have. And it reminds me of a great line spoken by a soon-to-be-retired FBI agent in the American TV series "Dexter."

He says, "We get only one great love in our lives, and I've already had mine."

Happy to say she's still with me!

I'm glad. :-)

Mine is yet to arrive, but arrive he will. I'm perfectly content to wait.

While I'm throwing quotes around, here's one of my favorites from Beckett:

I have many faults, but changing my tune isn't among them.

In other words, lass, NEVER GIVE UP.

I promise you I won't. It's not in my nature.

At that moment I learned when a shrink starts turning nouns into verbs, you're in deep shit.

This made me laugh.

Good ending. I know you write autobiographical fiction. Is this fiction or nonfiction?

If the former, you need to distance yourself from your POV narrator. The reader has to assume the only reason he pursues a relationship with Dr. Joan (who he appears to dislike) is some sort of intellectual equivalent of social classism -- she's smarter than he is on paper, he wants to bring her down. There's a Norman Mailer short story that does this very effectively as a matter of fact -- is it called The Time of Her Life? Something along those lines. You might want to read it to see how Mailer pulls it off.

This is taken, almost word for word, from the meticulous journal I kept during that affair. Totally factual. And I'm at the blessed stage of life where I don't give a rat's ass how I come across to the reader.

This is what happened. This is what she said and did, this is what I said and did. Let the chips fall where they may.

I sent her a copy when I finished it. No reply whatever. If she had complained, I was ready. "If you don't like my version, you're free to write your own!"

Oh, okay. I wasn't criticizing the events -- just wondering whether it was fiction or not.

Didn't mean to sound so touchy and abrubt....sorry!

'S'okay. I can see where my remarks might have struck you as presumptuous. :-)

No, your comments were not at all presumptuous, rather you were offering intelligent and perceptive advice. It's been a long morning of proofing, revising, sending out queries, and TOO MUCH GODDAMNED COFFEE!!!!!!

A true pleasure to read. You have genuine talent.

Many thanks, glad you found it of interest.

the hawk. when i re-read the part about the hawk, i made the hawk female...it added a very interesting twist to the end of the story...that is, if it were fiction.

i enjoy reading your words.


I don't visit this place often, but your journal is always one of the ones I check when I do, and it's left me curious about something. It always seems as though your written posts are universally depressing forays into your past, whereas your photo posts can cover a relatively large spectrum of human emotion.

I was just wondering if this was an intentional juxtaposition, or if I were just providing my own bias to the situation--I'm a fairly negative person, and my negativity almost always springs forth from logical rationalization, so it makes perfect sense that more visceral media like photographs would have less of a negative effect on me, but still I wonder. Your almost-chipper responses to the various comments on your stories suggests your memories aren't so nearly as dreary as you make them out to be, so perhaps I'm just missing an important component, here. (I'm quite dense.)

Reading your last few LiveJournal entries this morning I didn’t expect to fall into what may be the most meticulous accounts of hypochondria and suicide I’ve read in a LONG time, but there I was, up to my nose in it, and I felt a flash of recognition, like suddenly seeing a friend or brother among the faces on one of the crowded streets of New York. I was seriously suicidal only once in my life decades ago, but these days I regularly, furiously pump up the natural aches and pains of advancing age into fatal illnesses. Yes, I’m fucking dying and it’s a pity she doesn’t care! Nobody cares! Poor me!

After thinking about it for a while, my writing about ancient history is colored by two traits--cheerful childhood optimism in the face of severe abuse, and a bent for melodrama. “Johnny, you dramatize things too much,” my mother once told me.

For me writing is bearing witness—a wholly conscious process, a matter of carefully recording what I did and said, and what THEY did and said, exactly, no more and no less. Being a witness rather than a participant is, of course, a durable, reliable psychological defense. It works perfectly because it’s just a form of dissociation, or separating, or the state of being separated from pain, abuse, loss.

Writing for me then is mostly an intellectual exercise, whereas photography is automatic and entirely more connected to my subconscious. I believe that creating images is like having dreams. They contain messages from the depths (Suspiria De Profundis!), but they’re written in a complex code, and there’s nothing coincidental about them. There’s always a reason I pressed the shutter button in a particular situation, or in a number of others, and there are no accidents. All images have meaning, and the meaning becomes apparent, but only when I take the time to decode the messages.

I think we share still another thing, and that’s twisted humor. Your “I’m quite dense” made me laugh out loud.

Assay, just a try out

(Anonymous)
Hello. And Bye.

Re: Assay, just a try out

Hello and bye right back at ya!

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