Monthly Archives: September 2015

Her Inner Life, a short story

illustration her iner life

Her Inner Life

At age seven, Ella began to wonder about her father in earnest.  A picture was not readily available.  She wondered mostly what he looked like — she hoped he was tall and handsome the way her mother said.  By the time she was ten, she didn’t want to take her mother’s word for it any more.  After a year of whining, she wore her mother down — the cracked college yearbook was finally located, at the bottom of a Smirnoff’s box buried under a stack of her stepfather’s mildewed Playboy magazines.  She had not been told of her father’s dead-end acting career.  There he was, dressed as a cowboy; a secret agent; the ghost from “Carousel.”  She did not feel she resembled him in the least, and though she never asked, doubted her paternity.

Another year or two went by before his address and phone number were procured — she paid for the detective herself out of her birthday and Christmas checks, sent by ancient relatives she’d never met.  The detective’s office was over a piano store, next to an Oriental rug dealer, across from the husband-and-wife team of CPAs she occasionally baby-sat for. The CPAs’ house was filthy, but their children glowed with vitality.  Her own house was spotless but everyone living in it wore a glum face, right down to the dog and cat.

As soon as she heard her father’s voice, she was sorry she’d called.  He sounded so superior, teasing her for wanting to be both a veterinarian and a lawyer when she grew up.  She hoped to prove him wrong.  How could she say no when he asked to see her?  No would have been cowardly.

She didn’t know what to wear — she didn’t want to seem too eager – but though she hadn’t seen him since age 4, she didn’t want him to be disappointed in her.  She decided, therefore, to take no special pains whatsoever.  She met him in her gym suit, straight from school.  He had taken no pains either, and she was shocked to find little current resemblance to his old Hollywood photographs.  Since then, he’d gone to law school and joined the counterculture.  His jeans were torn through at the knees, his feet were bare and his beard bright red, patchy at the sides of his face like an animal with mange.

He hugged her and felt thin, bony, and unimpressive.  He wanted to take her out for a meal; she lied and said her mother would not allow it.  They walked around the yard — he eyed her like a snake eyeing a mouse.  She could not decide if she liked him.  He was scary and gave her the creeps, but his hand on her shoulder felt exactly right, weight and warmth she’d dreamed of for years.  She insisted on calling him “Father” when what he wanted of her was “Daddy.”  It was too late for “Daddy.”  She could not tell him about her anger, nor did she know why it flowed from her, spoiling every glance, every word, every touch.  Her relationship with him felt doomed from the start.  What had he ever done for her except ejaculate into her mother?

After she sent him away that first time, all hippies became associated with her guilt.  They looked so pure, so much like him.  He sent her his campaign flyers for Santa Monica city council, on the Communist Party ticket, but he was not elected.  She felt his failure as keenly as her own when she was not chosen for the cheerleading squad despite smearing Vaseline on her front teeth to remind herself to keep her lips up in a smile.  She did not know that years later she would view her failure, and his, as a blessing.

When he visited her again the following year, she could not bring herself to wonder why he asked her to sit on his lap.  She discussed with him her virginity, and he advised her to retain it as long as humanly possible.  He had been a virgin until he entered her mother on the night she herself was conceived.  This endeared him to her in a way, but she was afraid to say so.

She decided the reason he’d let a decade go by without contacting her was that she had been a particularly dull and unimpressive child.  He pointed out her bourgeois, middle-class tendencies with uncanny insight; his pale blue eyes held neither love nor pity but only relentless curiosity.  She knew that her mother was the only woman of European descent in his life — he found African and Asian women exotic, and they seemed more suited to his cause.  She herself was as far from “exotic” as it was possible to be.  The bones in her face were not only unspectacular, but nearly invisible.  Yet for some reason, he decided she resembled him — perhaps it was the asymmetry of her features, neither of them was the same person from both the right and left.

In court, he was a master.  He performed a ballet of cross-examination, each movement of his limbs expressing sullen yet respectful disbelief.  He got all his clients off, even the guilty ones, and she realized this made him feel powerful over her as well.  Yet he flinched when his own clients admired her blossoming body.  He hustled them away from her, radiating his distress.  He took her out for Vietnamese lemongrass soup and steamed dumplings and labeled himself a hypocrite.  “I didn’t want that man to shake your hand,” he said, staring into his fragrant bowl.

Later, when he took her to see the Pacific Ocean, blocks from his house — just the two of them — she flung herself at him like a wave, wrapping her arms around his torso like involuntary tentacles.  She was not a girl any longer — she had become something more complicated, less pronounceable.  She hated to remember how “I love you” had emerged from her throat that day like a poisonous gas.  If she had been capable of forgetting him, she would have.  Gladly.

Her sleep became restless — back home in Florida, his spirit stood silently by her bed at night like an abandoned puppy.  She started not answering his long letters, written in blue ink on yellow legal pads — she stopped trying so hard to decipher his dramatic, lovely yet unreadable handwriting.  The letters only got longer and more frequent.

She didn’t know why he kept after her — why he had suddenly decided she was the most wonderful creature on earth.  She hoped he’d give up.  She kept trying to hurt him.  He moved to her state, then her county, finally her town.  She never called him.  He took a janitorial position at a strip club, for research, he said, and he started interviewing the strippers for a book.  She felt his attraction to her — he took her to Dairy Queen, told her he’d always been drawn to her.  At 19, she could finally believe him, not that these truths brought either of them the slightest comfort.  He planned the rest of their lives; she resented this but kept quiet — it was the closest she’d ever felt to him.  She prayed he’d go back to the west coast and recover his senses.  He listed the bar exams he’d be taking in the years to come.  They’d be roomies, he hoped.

She knew she’d have to get away.  She didn’t know how.  He took to smoking sensimilla and wolfing banana splits; he claimed his health to be pristine.  He’d re-create the past for everyone.  Meanwhile, her mother threatened to call the police if he came to her house.  She suddenly doubted ever residing in that woman’s uterus.  She doubted being content there; no silken, fetal dreams had been hers.

Occasionally she wished all three of them dead.  Their physical cravings appeared to have no other solution.  Every night, her mother ate only spinach and cottage cheese, washed down with cheap jug wine, and then vodka.  She slowly became insensible on the floor in front of the TV.  Her mother also popped pills like Tic-Tacs.  Mom journaled her drug use on small spiral notebooks in her stingy, back slanting Gregg method shorthand.  Her mother yearned most for a man between her legs just as Ella herself had to beat them off with a stick.  She advised her mother to find a man in church, but her mother stuck to bars named Banana Boat and Trader Jack’s.  Mom wept each time she drove past a church spire.  Her mother missed God more than sex.

Ella envied her father his height, his curly hair, his blue eyes, even his penis.  She remembered him showing her the hospital she’d been born in — she imagined his disappointment when no appendage dangled between her plump red thighs at birth.  She remembered doors slamming, voices raised to sharpness, and his long cool fingers driving a pin “accidentally” into her pot belly.  It was the last time she’d loved him with that selfish baby heart.

She composed a letter to him explaining why she didn’t ever want to be spanked again, then never mailed it.  She felt guilty for sleeping with the one woman among her friends she knew he was attracted to.  But she never let guilt talk her out of anything novel.  Only the familiar could be burned away by guilt.

Even fifteen years after he died, she knew why she’d never been attracted to older men, wiser men, men who could have gone to school with her father.  She remembered seeing the top of his autopsy incision over the neck of his plain blue chambray shirt as he lay in his coffin; she remembered wanting, but being too afraid to touch him, settling for touching the starched collar of the shirt instead; settling for less than she dreamed, as she always had and presumably always would.  To profess love was a lie; hate was also a lie.  She didn’t know which lie looked better; she didn’t know and she didn’t care; best of all, she didn’t care.


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Evolve Or Die, an opening manifesto…

illustration evolve or die

Evolve Or Die, an opening manifesto…

I was thinking about stuff, in my weird way, which I often do, because I’m basically weird, stuff like religion and politics and war and peace and men and women and money and love and power and all that kind of stuff, the giant, sometimes-incomprehensible stuff that most people don’t appear to think about all that much, except in a purely academic way, and only if they can get some money or some fame or some power out of it.  So why aren’t we all thinking about things which, logically, are very, very important and create so much human suffering, much of it perfectly avoidable with reasonable effort?

The whole situation we find ourselves in right now really bothers me because, if the average human is THINKING about these problems, problems which appear to have been with us for the entire course of human history, problems which seem as though they are perfectly amenable to being SOLVED, then those average humans should be TALKING about them a lot more, and trying to be part of the solution! Because people are really stupid to be fighting all these goddamned, fucking, idiotic wars, wars that kill people and destroy stuff and hurt children and scar children and make sure children grow up to pass that war meme, that war memory, that war “tradition” along to the next generation, and so on and so on ad infinitum, ad nauseam.

Which makes my stomach hurt, sometimes BADLY.  And then I remember how people in the United States of America seem to have given up voting!  Talk about my stomach hurting!

And, all of my weird thinking seemed rather quietly and suddenly to coalesce, to interweave, to assemble itself into an idea bigger than me.  An inspired idea. An idea from the Muse; from the Universe; from God; from Spirit.  You know, that watcher, or presence, or soul, or place within yourself which is all-at-once creative… imaginative… passionate… compassionate… serene… silly… serious… sad… sublime… that place?  If you don’t know that place, at all, then I feel sad for you.  Not “sorry” for you – that word seems to me that it implies judgment and a consequent feeling of superiority or power which is unhealthy – but sad for you.  The simple sadness a two year old feels when seeing another two year old fall down, scrape a knee, and burst into tears.  That feeling.  Do you remember it?  If you cannot remember it, I feel sad for you again.  It is a feeling we should all remember.  It is the sadness you feel when your mother is ill; the sadness you feel when your dear pet is ill; when your child is ill; when you are ill; when the world is ill.

You know, history is important.  So is IMAGINATION.  Liberal/Conservative, Democrat/Republican, Progressive/Reactionary, Labor/Capital, Open-minded/Dogmatic… call the differences in human outlook whatever you like!  One side fears, or dislikes, or opposes change; the other side accepts, or likes, or promotes change.  That is the essence, the nut, the essential oil, which creates the varietal, sometimes minor, sometimes dangerous differences in our human culture/temperament/society/milieu.  We must start thinking as one planet, one species: not separated by physical characteristics… or wealth… or religion… or language… or country… or region… or clan… or tribe… or any of the myriad ways groups of human beings have managed to “quarantine” themselves from “infection” by other groups! We are not microbes!  We are not supposed to attack each other without mercy.  Survival of the fittest does not mean the survivors survive because they kill everything else; it means evolve, or die.

Human beings are on the doorstep of radical change.  No shit!  Look at our history: though an individual lifetime may, or may not, feel to that specific individual as being lived on the doorstep of radical change, remember, as a species, we have OFTEN been on the doorstep of radical change.  We are always living within – not at the end of – human history.  Which is why respecting the lessons of our past must ALWAYS go hand-in-hand with a thoughtful and imaginative look ahead, to our future!  We are in the process of evolving into another human species.  Don’t forget that!  We are on the continuous “ride” of evolution, of change, of metamorphosis into another species of “human being” – hopefully, this time, a more “humane” human being who is truly wiser than we are, who stops jeopardizing human survival by an unthinking disregard for physical, social, and cultural environments yet who remains flexible enough to survive the inexorable process of change in those environments!

How to evolve?  I’m not sure.  I can rattle off the first things I think of.  Read books.  A lot of them.  Spend some time outside, the more the better.  Spend some time thinking seriously about your life, and the life of every other human being.  Don’t hoard planetary resources which, by simple birthright, also belong to billions of other humans, your (admittedly distant, yet undeniably related) COUSINS through our common ancestors.  Relax, nobody’s asking you to give up the internet.  Simply treat others the way you would like to be treated.  Speak some encouraging words to those who need them.  Help some people in need.  Protect children from harm.  What do you think?  Feel free to edit the list!  We’re all in this TOGETHER.  But, for mercy’s sake… MAKE YOURSELF A LIST.


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notes from september 18, 2001: richard

Memories of 9/11, 2001….

Kimberly Townsend Palmer

illustration rastafarian man

Notes from September 18, 2001: Richard

That morning, I heard my three-year-old daughter wake up and say with delight, “It’s not dark out anymore.” I went in and saw her already sitting up in bed — the brilliant sunlight streaming in through the pink, translucent curtain of her bedroom — and saw how her head was haloed, as usual, by what resembled the pale, disorderly golden floss some people put on their Christmas trees. Angel hair — she was a tousled, blinking pink-and-gold person, recently emerged from babyhood.

“That’s right,” I said. “It’s not dark out anymore. Good morning.” She flopped back down and remained lying in her bed, even after I folded her white net safety-rail down. “What a beautiful girl,” I said, smiling down at her.

“I can’t get up,” she said.

“Why not?” I asked.

“I can’t get up because I’m dead.”

My heart darted out of…

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Kim Davis v. Pope Francis, an essay

illustration kim davis pope francis essay

Kim Davis. Pope Francis. Spirituality. Religion. Compare and contrast. I humbly speak of God to you as you may define him, or her, or them, or it… the way you, as an individual human being making important life decisions define what is good and what is bad… the way you, in your heart, define that force, that energy, that life-giving PRESENCE we have all, at some point in our lives, experienced with joy, or with wonder, or with fear, or with feeling all three of those things simultaneously. No religion carries with it a monopoly on definitions of ethical and unethical behavior!

Kim Davis, professedly a “Christian,” is literally crying with joy over unilaterally discriminating against LGBT people. While at the same time she professes to love “God’s people” with all her heart & soul! Who is Kim Davis to tell anyone, anywhere, whether they are one of “God’s people??” Tell me, what is the difference between Kim Davis & any other extreme religious fundamentalist — whether Zoroastrian, Hindu, Buddhist, Jew, Christian, Muslim, or Baha’i, et cetera? In my opinion, each and every religion spawns its own internal sets of believers who proclaim their personal religion to be the “true,” and therefore the “only,” religion!

For example, extremely fundamentalist Buddhists sometimes enclose themselves into a tomb to starve themselves to death, after spending the previous two years eating only the most rudimentary plant matter — I’m talking bark & leaves! While they are enclosed in that living tomb, they ring a bell every morning to communicate to the world they are still alive. When the bell does not sound, the remaining monks wait a specified number of days, before opening the tomb. Then the naturally mummified (from self-imposed starvation!) human bodies are exhibited as the bodies of saints, or whatever “saints” are called by Buddhists.

It is this sort of practice which has formed my opinion that extreme, literal fundamentalist religion is almost always horrible. It brings out the worst in people, not the best. “Zero tolerance” rules and judgments and penalties, when robotically applied to the human condition, create the opposite of love, the opposite of peace, the opposite of compassion. Extreme, literal, fundamentalist religion is, in essence, a form of necrophilia — summarily dictating to others that religion is dead, carved in stone, that religion cannot evolve, cannot change, when it must. And religion MUST change when faced with new, and undeniable, scientific discoveries, rapidly evolving technology, and physical, planetary changes — all three of which result in “earthquakes.”

These scientific and cultural and literal “earthquakes” bring with them frightening shifts in the primary causes of human suffering. Shifts which must now be dealt with using something more than ancient, beautifully written, but now outdated, and therefore “mummified,” religious, doctrinal texts.

Pope Francis is a good example of someone who is at the opposite end of the spectrum from an extreme, literal fundamentalist. He seems to be actually speaking out against the largest, most pressing, environmental and social evils we currently face. Kim Davis is an equally good example at the fundamentalist end of the spectrum — someone who is not, in any real sense of the word, a spiritual person. She seems to me to be simply an authoritarian, judging person who understands little about love, the human condition, our planet, the vastness of the universe, or the mysterious, ultimately unknowable nature of God.

And I, for one, am already heartily sick of hearing about her.

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