Under Covid of Darkness

I’m on Day 12 of Covid, contracted I think on the New York City Subway System, being the only masked person around coughers and sneezers; or else in the brief unmasked walk from Port Authority to the subway entrance on 7th Avenue. However one gets it (only 5 days into my bivalent vaccine, I wasn’t yet efficacious) it’s been a helluva bedridden ride of waves of all the various Covid symptoms I’ve read about. As a result of the positive test (taken a few days prior to heading to Virginia for my 40th high school reunion, with a sore throat and runny nose, oh shit), I’ve found myself living in bed and relying on the kindness of my friend Cathy and her husband and son, who check in daily, pick up takeout for me and a few groceries. I’ve been subsisting on V8, apples, brown rice, beans, some Chinese soups, and tea. And The Graham Norton Show via YouTube. I tested positive again after five days, and again after ten (though a lighter line), so I’ll try again on Wednesday, which will be a full two weeks plus one day. I’m running out of tests. But at least I’m dressing for the day again.

Recently I (in my return to social media after a three-month hiatus) saw that above quote on Harvey Fierstein’s Facebook wall in the context of gaining sobriety, but I truly appreciate this in the context of Covid recovery. I have not been living my life properly in the past few years. I am a recluse agonizing over rising fascism, without intelligence or talent enough to do anything useful to stop it. As of November 8, when the Republicans take over and impeach Biden and Harris, install the Speaker of the House as president, hang Pelosi, and deploy the military to overrun the liberal cities and imprison all of us…because I think that is more likely than not to happen should Republicans take the House and Senate…it will be too late to do more. Ain’t that a kick in the head?

Amidst the coming end of democracy as a concept, I’ve also been thinking about age, how we change, or don’t. It’s all part of the mix of my brain fog.

Reflections on the High School Reunion I Missed 

My friends Mark and Carl urged me to go, so I signed up, and then I got Covid, as I somehow knew I would, so I kept myself awake that night to find out who they got to see.

The boys sweetly texted me pictures of the kids (who are all 58), many of whom I’ve known since childhood—the Arrington twins; Juanita the piano prodigy and probably the smartest kid I knew. Then there was Janet, who was voted most talented from a high school senior class of 1,000—still a tall drink of water, same long blonde hair, a toned and tan former gymnast who could still fit into her show choir ensemble and her high-kick team dress and wow them all with a smile, the one who gives you hope. Lots of people for whom high school may or may not have been a blast, as they say, were there, too.  

Prior to the reunion, I posted on our page the following memory, wondering if everyone was hoping we’d “sing”:

Lisa O’ and Mark Robinson, ca. 1981, promoting the Junior Variety Show we hosted, and more recently.
Friends since 2nd grade, or thereabouts, Mark and Carl and I were always somehow involved in music, our last outing together ca. 2018 found us singing karaoke, “I Love the Nightlife,” in Rehoboth Beach. As Mark reminds us, three separate people said we were great. So.

I sent along to them a sickbed selfie, and it caused me to reflect on aging; when I attended a group 50thbirthday party years ago, my brother Jeff took a photo. When I posted it on Facebook, my friend Jen said, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but you were born to be 50.” I think I was. However, it was the last photo in which I looked like myself, a Lisa O’ anyone would recognize. A couple of years ago I became old—see sickbed selfie. It was time.

Miss O’ at 18, 58, and 50. I blame lovers of Trump.

I loved all the pictures Mark was sending, but I didn’t understand his constant texts: “EVERYONE is asking about you!” I responded first with a “Ha!” comment thingy. But he persisted. And I couldn’t understand this sentiment because I was such a dull kid, not a standout at anything; just kinda skated through school, tried to be helpful, did my work, did a few plays, stayed out of trouble, head down, big laugher at the jokes of funnier people. 

And you realize that all of us, whatever we thought ourselves, were part of one another’s stories, and that we are somehow still dear to one another, part of one another’s memories. We all can’t be beautiful or stay young, whatever that is, and what is even the point of the concern? In the end the Republicans will gun it down.

I recently read this definition of Beauty: “the adherence to the balance and structure of the Universe.” Seen that way, most of us can feel just fine.

Vanity: Reflections of a Royal Philosopher, from Ecclesiastes, 2-11

It’s Sunday, so here’s a little of the Bible that most American Christians (given their actions in favor of dead mothers and gunned down children and their worship of a narcissistic, unapologetic adulterer, conman, and cheat) clearly haven’t read, but a surprising number of my Jewish, agnostic, and atheist friends have.

The words of the Teacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.

Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher,

vanity of vanities! All is vanity.

What do people gain from all the toil

at which they toil under the sun?

A generation goes, and a generation comes,

but the earth remains for ever.

The sun rises and the sun goes down,

and hurries to the place where it rises.

The wind blows to the south,

and goes round to the north;

round and round goes the wind,

and on its circuits the wind returns.

All streams run to the sea,

but the sea is not full;

to the place where the streams flow,

there they continue to flow.

All things are wearisome;

more than one can express;

the eye is not satisfied with seeing,

or the ear filled with hearing.

What has been is what will be,

and what has been done is what will be done;

there is nothing new under the sun.


Is there a thing of which it is said,

‘See, this is new’?

It has already been,

in the ages before us.


The people of long ago are not remembered,

nor will there be any remembrance

of people yet to come

by those who come after them.

The friend who posted this on her wall asked: “So, like, what EVEN is the point.”

The existential questions are the worst. What I’ve never understood, when I look at all the guns and people threatening people over their race or gender, for example, is that if this is all we know—this time on earth, this life—why would anyone choose to spend it glorifying themselves, playing the lottery, and spreading misery? And that leaves the rest of us in a power struggle with those people, scratching for our bits of joy where we find them. There’s a great play called Every Brilliant Thing I saw a few years back at Barrow Street in Greenwich Village, about a little boy who goes on a quest to try to help his depressed mother—and he finds the joy in himself. Love people, find the joy, eat the chocolate. Do your best.

We all have regrets and most of us know that those regrets, as excruciating as they can be, are the things that help us lead improved lives. Or, rather, there are certain regrets that, as they emerge, can accompany us on the incremental bettering of our lives. Regrets are forever floating to the surface… They require our attention. You have to do something with them. One way is to seek forgiveness by making what might be called living amends, by using whatever gifts you may have in order to help rehabilitate the world.” – Nick Cave

This quote can be found on the website The Marginalian, curated by Maria Popova. She shares ideas from artists, their quotes, and then her own reflections. What Cave got me longing for, or reminding me of, is the idea of being an artist. I really wonder what that must be like. (Whatever light I have in potential, I learned years ago, must be kept hidden or it upsets too many people; you have to trust me on this.) At least my one real joy as I age is that I can still enjoy art. 

Art does have the ability to save us, in so many different ways. It can act as a point of salvation, because it has the potential to put beauty back into the world. And that in itself is a way of making amends, of reconciling us with the world. Art has the power to redress the balance of things, of our wrongs, of our sins… By “sins,” I mean those acts that are an offence to God or, if you would prefer, the “good in us” — that live within us, and that if we pay them no heed, harden and become part of our character. They are forms of suffering that can weigh us down terribly and separate us from the world. I have found that the goodness of the work can go some way towards mitigating them.” – Nick Cave

In my search for more about suffering and surviving it, I happened on a couple of TED Talks that only pissed me off. On Being with Krista Tippett, now defunct in terms of its old format but still out there, is a good bet. Still, when I go hunting to try to understand all the shit, I find things that exhaust as well as inspire. 

Ultimately, Bruno Latour (1947-2022), the scholar who passed last week, took nothing for granted: not science, not society, not even “reality” or “existence.”

The Nation header on Facebook

And I realized, reading that banner, how TIRED I am of reality and the lunacy of existence—the realization that we’re all stuck in an overwhelming cycle of …

In the meantime, life goes on, somehow. 

Preoccupations on Reflection

In my last blog post I paid tribute to the remarkable theater artist and teacher Maureen Shea, who died unexpectedly in September of this year. Shortly after posting, my old Virginia Tech friend Todd located and “liked” this Facebook post from 2020, I guess because of the attached photograph he must have recalled. Todd was very close to Maureen, too. Here is the post, in full:

Miss O’, ca. 1987. I’m posting it because I have always hated this picture, but kept it because mentor Maureen Shea is in the background, on the left on the hill, in a cast, and it does capture a moment in time. Oddly, this is often other people’s favorite photo of me whenever, back in the old days, we’d flip through one another’s photo albums.
Similarly—and stay with me here—while I was the favorite and most beloved teacher of some students, I was just as often the most reviled and dreaded teacher of other students; and still others didn’t even remember being in my class when I’d say hello to them as seniors. Think of them as pro / no / undecided voters.
Here’s my point: Yesterday I saw the “well, I’m not voting for Biden if it’s Harris” posts begin. Here we go, I thought, 2016 redux, “but her emails,” any excuse to not vote a woman into office. Because I believe, truly, however evolved people think they are, that that is what it comes down to. These folks can rationalize it all they want, but it comes down to misogyny. They’d rather end democracy, keep Bill Barr and Trump and Miller, and destroy the Supreme Court and even the planet, for the rest of their children’s natural lives, than vote for a woman—for whatever her “sin” is, it’s always one hundred times worse than the sins of the men who are caging children and denying a pandemic and allowing Russians to own our elections and put bounties on the heads of our soldiers in the field.
America, don’t do that; don’t be that voter all over again.
Because let’s face it: I’ve always hated this photo of myself, and yet I now have to admit I am adorable in it. All those years of self-loathing, and for what? 

It’s 2022, and here we are AGAIN. Voters, Americans, for fuck’s sake: Do the work, love the people, be good to the earth, find a purpose, appreciate art. Get over yourself. And vote Democrat. 

Until they take it away, use what you got.

The World of the Play in the World

Four Saints in Three Acts by Gertrude Stein,
performed by David Greenspan (photo by Miss O’)

Three Acts

“What is the world of the play?” Maureen Shea would ask in our Introduction to World Drama and Introduction to Directing classes at Virginia Tech, where she taught me back in the ’80s. Whatever you wanted to do to a play—change the location or time period, say, or modernize it, or cast it in a nontraditional way—you had to be true to the world the playwright created. Your first task as a director was to immerse yourself in that world. Even if something didn’t seem to make sense, you had to make it make sense. That was your job. The playwright as artist takes precedence; the director’s first job is to serve the play. The director’s next job is to guide and shape the actors’ performances in service to play; and then to negotiate a design plan with the scenographer and costume designer, the crew, the management. Directing is an interpretive art, and an interpreter has sometimes the hardest human job of all the artists, which is to put it all together so that the director’s work disappears. And yet, directors have a signature. There’s no way to hide it, not if you are an artist. 

Maureen Shea, who died unexpectedly on September 20, 2022, was an artist of the first rank. I’ve spent a week trying to process this loss. I’m writing this essay—what am I trying to put together? Here’s what I wrote on Facebook to our Virginia Tech theater page:

Lisa Novitsky and I talked this morning; I called Richard Rauscher, texted and got a message from Cindy Babson…it’s hard to process. Maureen taught us, drove us, called us out on anything that got in the way of our artistry. Moment-to-moment work, transitions, connection, authenticity—all of it mattered, every detail. I knocked myself OUT for her. Every time. (I was not always successful.) When we did Museum, I was cast in a couple of bit character parts, but I came every single night of rehearsal and sat and watched her work. I saw every performance of How I Got That Story; I auditioned for Fen because she asked me to, saying, “Lisa, you’re perfect for Fen“; and even though I was student teaching and losing my mind trying to finish my education classes, I did it—because Mo said I was perfect for something. My last week in Blacksburg in 1987, after doing Alice in Wonderland with her at the Summer Arts Festival and before heading off to my first teaching position, we went out one night and closed down Maxwell’s as she gave me a master class in how to teach poetry. I was lucky enough to see her in NYC in 2018 and caught her show, Sugar, on 19th St., and we had a long, leisurely brunch the following Sunday, one of the best talks I’d had in years. Loved her so. This is hard. Thanks to Bo Wilson for sharing the Mo Quotes. Miss and love you all. Lisa O’

P.S.  One more Mo Quote: Around 3 or 4 AM before leaving Maxwell’s, perhaps one scotch short of a DUI, Maureen riffed on Alice in Wonderland and my future career in education: “When you think about it, the only difference between a teacher and a mad person is that every once in a while, a teacher says, ‘You see?'”

Phrases and directives come back: The actor’s beat. The director’s beat. Beat change. The cap on the beat. Stakes and obstacles. Theater is life, life is theater.

Over the years I’ve realized that theater, for me, is church. I learned in this memoriam piece that Mo, who had spoken at a hearing in Boston to save a theater, saw it the same way.

“Maureen got up, had nothing prepared, and just started speaking from her heart. After she said something about responsibility of stewardship of these historic buildings, she started crying. She said, ‘I know you don’t understand, but for us, to turn a theater like that into a dining hall is like having to watch people eat french fries in church,” said Hickler. “And I watched the entire board … change their minds at the moment. Afterwards they were giving her hugs.”

When theater is your church, all the details of the show that is the service matter. I used to drive my old directing colleague, Ann, insane with my attention to details, but I knew they mattered. I always slicked down the boys’ hair with Knox gelatin for period shows, for example, and that detail is the difference between a Guys and Dolls that looks professional and one that looks like a high school show. (You might not even be able to put your finger on what’s wrong, but trust me, it was the dry hair.) “The coffee is hot,” Mo’s colleague and my acting teacher, Gregory Justice, would remind us. “The luggage is heavy.” Play that. “You are coming from somewhere.” 

These notes were given to me in rehearsals for a play, Bad Habits by Terrence McNally, one act of which, “Ravenswood,” takes place at a sort of mental health spa/asylum. At my first entrance, I was pushing the wheelchair of the head therapist of the place, as if we have been touring the grounds. We performed the play in a black box with only small screen from behind which to enter. (My acting teacher, Greg, directed the play, and told me “the coffee is hot” note so many times that finally, one morning when I had tea, I studied what happened to my lips, my face (from the steam), my hands, all of it, until I could do hot cold.) But the “you are coming from somewhere” was Maureen, from watching her direct. After seeing the play, my friend Scott asked, “Is there another room back there?” He was convinced I had walked a long distance before coming on stage. He also asked me, “How did they keep that coffee hot for you?” See? All that detail. Maureen took this teaching to her next gig, too, at Emerson College in Boston. One student shared this:

Deaderick remembers a classmate in Shea’s class directing a short piece that took place at a diner. A character ordered coffee with milk, but when the server came back she poured black coffee, brought no milk, and the character drank it anyway.

“’In the critique later, Maureen was livid about that: no one who takes coffee [with] milk would just drink it without! They’d remind the waitress,” Deaderick said. “The problem wasn’t one of realism. It wasn’t about being accurate. It was that the audience would keep wondering about the milk. Which I had when I watched. It was Chekov’s gun, but with dairy.

“I carry that lesson with me in all my storytelling. Never leave your audience wondering about the milk.”

If you don’t know about Chekhov’s gun, he famously said in a letter to a friend: “One must never place a loaded rifle on the stage if it isn’t going to go off. It’s wrong to make promises you don’t mean to keep.” This principle is often stated now as, “Don’t have a character handle a loaded gun in first act unless it’s going to go off in the third.” The audience worries, you see* (*Miss O’ as teacher, not mad person). And how irritating is it when you find you’ve worried through a whole show for nothing?

(Now you might think, But Miss O’, your friend Scott was wondering/worrying why the coffee stayed hot. He wondered/worried what on earth was back there. Actually, he didn’t think about any of it until afterward, when we were talking, when he realized how real it all seemed.) 

What seems unreal to me is Maureen not being here anymore. In this grief, I find gratitude that Greg was the one to message me on Facebook, and my dear friend and classmate Lisa Novitsky was the one to call first. Social media is only any social good at all if it’s about human connection. An emoji isn’t enough, a like, a heart—what I needed and found was the source, the authenticity, of our relationships, in the sharing of our common grief. That we could use words mattered. That we had details to share.

The world of our collective play didn’t change; a key character died. It doesn’t make sense. Now our job is to make it make sense. The playwright has spoken.

Four Saints

“There can be no peace on earth with calm with calm. There can be no peace on earth with calm with calm. There can be no peace on earth with calm with calm and with whom whose with calm and with whom whose when they well they well they call it there made message especial and come.”

~ Gertrude Stein, Four Saints in Three Acts

Stein said of her own play, “If you enjoy it you understand it.”

“There can be no peace on earth with calm with calm.”

If I were speaking this line, I’d score it thus: There can be no peace on earth / with calm / with calm. In other words, without a willingness to lose calm, we cannot create peace on earth. The making of peace, says Stein, is a noisy business. I think Stein says this. 

She goes on: “This amounts to Saint Therese. Saint Therese has been and has been.”

Has Saint Therese been peace on earth? Has she been calm? Without calm? Has she simply been and her being gone on and on, much like Celine Dion’s heart?

“It’s too easy to assume—we have to find out. Ask questions, nose around.”
~ Maureen Shea, ca. 1984 (as recorded by playwright Bo Wilson)

This week was the 100th anniversary of the publication of T.S. Eliot’s long, challenging poem The Waste Land. What does it mean? Why does it matter? To find out, I’ve been watching some old YouTube-sourced videos about it, and corresponding via email and enjoying a phone conversation with another beloved mentor, master English teacher Tom Corbin, on the effects of Eliot on poetry. Eliot and Stein were modernist contemporaries. Both writers, along with another contemporary, James Joyce, took pleasure in being unreadable. The boys, at any rate, relished the idea of academics chasing meaning for centuries, digging up all the clever literary allusions, writing the papers, making an industry of interpretation. Stein, by contrast, was trying to write in the complete present (something Joseph Chaikin and The Open Theater would try to replicate on stage in the 1960s in performance; it was Chaikin’s style that Maureen assigned to me for my final directing project my senior year, a style I found harmony with and used to create four original one-act plays with my students), allowing too for the ways in which humans continually repeat lines while telling a story (listen for it). 

Eliot “never repeated himself,” one scholar says, and in doing that he “made it a myth that this is how a poet should behave.” I started thinking of the idea of repetition—what it means to stay with an art form and still find something new to say within it, and a new way to say something.

And I think of living on earth. How we must continually find something new in it to enjoy—I mean, for example, the clouds always change; the sky is always changing. I saw a grasshopper on 44th Street in Queens the other day, first grasshopper sighting in nearly 20 years in New York. That was new. And when we are feeling untethered, that grasshopper on the cracked pavement by the rusted out car on 44th Street might be the only thing that keeps us from falling off the earth, at least in that moment.

When I went to see Stein’s rarely performed play Four Saints in Three Acts on Friday night, I found myself, after an hour of travel from Queens, at a subway stop for the R Train (en route to Bay Ridge); and that was new. To get to the theater, in Sunset Park, I walked a long residential block, crossed a 12-lane boulevard under a highway, and headed into warehouses, all at sunset in Sunset Park, curiously enough, where I managed to find a yellow door with an 8” x 10” paper stuck to it, that said, simply, “Four Saints in Three Acts.” It was a miracle I found it. That paper and the address. (Later they put out a little table; see opening photo.)

Sunset Park, Brooklyn (photo by Miss O’)

And it’s a miracle that I was lucky enough to see it, only because I was blind enough to order a ticket before I realized that while the Lucille Lortel Theater was presenting it, the show was not in fact in Greenwich Village but, as noted, in Sunset Park, because if I’d known I don’t know if I’d have gotten a ticket; and how stupid and lazy would that have been? What has happened to me? Covid agoraphobia? Age? I don’t know. But I don’t like it. 

There is no way to describe the work of David Greenspan, who performed this play as a one-man show, but the reviewer from this week’s New Yorker, Helen Shaw, pretty much nailed it. Her review ends,

All this means is that the show is occasionally difficult, just as a church service can be. Nearly a hundred years after Stein wrote it, “Saints” has not staled or softened. Even though I am bewitched by Stein, and by Greenspan, and by Greenspan doing Stein, I still found myself needing to enforce some mental discipline. About an hour into the performance, my attention started to slacken. (In my notes, I wrote, “Recommit!,” and then kept underlining it.) This is Stein’s and Greenspan’s way of using time, or, rather, of teaching us to use time. It’s theatre as meditative discipline. One must deliberately choose the show over other temptations: one must choose to listen. So we chose. We were choosing there. In a way, we are still choosing, with a great many saints there, who are choosing there together.

There is a point, isn’t there, in every sermon every play every workout every life, when the thing becomes hard. It’s hard. It’s too hard. It feels too hard and we just want it (the pain the grief the confusion the boredom the thing) to end, but it doesn’t end, and we have to keep doing it and staying with it and when we stay with it and the end does finally come, the reward comes. The joy comes. The reason comes. The arrival arrives. And we were there.

“It must become inevitable.” ~ Maureen Shea

To live in the world and in the play, attention must be paid. You must be here. Have this experience. Be in this world. Look up. (In how many blog posts have I pleaded for this? A prayer to myself.) The coffee is hot. Beat. The luggage is heavy. Beat. You are coming from somewhere. Do that. The cap on the beat.

The world of the play of the world was, in the early 20th century, a mess; the world of the play of the world in the early 21st century has also proved, also, to be a mess. Where people used to look to the saints and the poets for guidance, we seem to look instead to celebrities who most certainly aren’t artists or even very good people usually but are distractions from a with calm that is not the with calm we are supposed to be doing without to create peace on earth, if you see what I mean. (You see?)

The world of the play, this world play, our play, finally, has to be continually remade, and reinterpreted, and grieved, first of all, first and foremost, really; then connections must be reestablished, love renewed, our promises to one another recommitted, sinners and saints all; then if we are to repair this play on earth and ourselves on this earth, we have to give every moment the attention it must have. Before we can do that work, we also have to agree that this life on this earth, as it is, is the world of our play.

“We can find a million reasons for what’s wrong or why something doesn’t work, but that’s not our job. Our job is to make it work.”

~ Maureen Shea, Theater Artist (in memoriam)

Miss O’ and Mo Shea, 2018, New York City

(Let’s also leave off with life, Mo’s beloved Joni Mitchell in rebirth at this year’s Newport Festival, “The Circle Game.” Love to all. Miss O’)

Desert[ed] Solitaire

Miss O’ in New Jersey ca. 2012; photo by George Lightcap

Yesterday evening I emailed short notes to two of my dearest friends to 1) apologize for not writing much, as one does; and 2) to ask after their life events. (Not to keep you in the dark: one set of spouses, in their eighties, has had loads of health issues this year; the other set of spouses, hovering around age seventy, just sold their longtime California home and closed this week on another, even drier, California home, one that is smaller, one-story, much less land to tend, and in walking distance to simple amenities, like a grocery store.)

I expressed to both halves of these respective spousal sets that I have felt, for want of a better word, deserted. Is that the word I want? I feel deserted as at a railway station, as if I’m supposed to be headed somewhere and there are no trains, or as if someone has forgotten to pick me up after a long journey; deserted by things as disparate as companionship, comradeship, an artistic muse, a sense of mission, original ideas, and the national shared practice of democracy. That’s quite a list. 

When I wrote this to my friend Anna, she suggested I write a short blog post on the subject of desertion, and that felt exactly right. 

­­­­­­­­­Other Desert[ed] Places

First of all, I feel deserted by the practice of writing letters. Just so, long and deep conversations have deserted me. Other than Tom and Anna (my friends noted above), everyone else I’ve been in regular contact with for years tends to speak in memes and emojis, maybe links to articles at most. I respond in kind, mirroring what I receive. I know that many people are pressed for time in general and have dozens of people with whom they are in communication, whether friends or family or work colleagues. I never want to assume I should be somehow special. (Many of us have felt deserted by even our closest friends once they married, had kids, and made new parent friends.)

“Didn’t you see my post?” Deep connection has been supplanted by observational strings, er, threads, on Facebook. Several friends noted that it’s just easier to share their lives all at once rather than in individual letters to, say, me. In my own posting life, general observations shifted from “life in New York” to “politics all the time” when 1) Humans of New York started up, doing what I did far better and more deeply than I was, and with pictures; and 2) I saw the coming of a deep fascism with the election of the black president. (Big Tell for me: At President Obama’s first State of the Union Address, Justice Samuel Alito, who was in view of the camera, on several points about threats to our democracy, shook his head and said, “That’s not true.” I’d never seen a partisan justice at such a speech. Related: then-Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) wouldn’t look at the president, saying in an interview, “I can’t even look at him.”) All that open racism shocked me. Racism was, truly, the only explanation. I had to go on the offensive, deepen my understanding of racism, post like hell. Right?

In 2012, I voted for Obama’s re-election, Mitch McConnell (R-KY) became Senate Majority Leader, and a month later I released by e-book compilation of social media observations, Easier to Live Here: Miss O’ in New York City.

Now what? The nation was growing in chaos, and my sense of joy at living in New York began deserting me. This was 2013. My playwright’s lab disbanded; my first professional work project as a staff member at my work went to press and I felt sort of “done” with that job after seven years but couldn’t afford to leave; I was assigned to Grand Jury Duty at Kew Gardens in Queens for the entire month of September (with the disheartening revelation that Miss O’ may well have been the smartest person in the room, and that shouldn’t ever be the case), and that same month I began a deep but doomed love affair that would consume my heart for the next nine years, until learning, belatedly after a final breakup, of his death. (One of many blessings of this dear but complicated man was that he was not on social media.)

Desert[ed] Depths

The joy of knowing others doesn’t really come about in 140-character or 280-character posts, memes, emojis, GIFs. All these little sparkly things are fine, I guess, once you have a long-standing relationship of some kind—all good friendships develop their own shorthand, and in that context these digital digeridoos seem to me to be the equivalent of my friend Cindy’s old habit of looking at me, dropping an eyelid, and miming a cigarette to the lips when someone was about to pontificate or otherwise be an asshole. Without a word spoken, I would double over with laughter. I often act out the same gesture as a touchstone. A good meme can do that, too, and it’s funnier when you know the sender from your heart; but if I’m honest, it’s empty when that’s all there is. 

Second of all, I feel deserted by stillness. This morning, for example, I woke before dawn to find the all-night party music from somewhere was still on in full force. The school playground next door now has LED stadium lights that are blinding our complex in the name of “security.” I can’t seem to find calm. (Tell it to Ukraine. See what I mean?)

just a mass of contractions

I miss a mind quiet enough to read longform New Yorker articles in one sitting. I miss a body quiet enough to sit still and play a new album all the way through, listening to every song. Then playing it again, this time reading lyrics and liner notes and credits. Then playing it through a third time. Vinyl was even better because you could play the A-side three times, and then the B-side three times, and then listen to the whole thing once through. My friend Lynda Crawford, a playwright, wrote on Facebook that she missed listening to records the way we used to—one friend would buy the record, and everyone would come over and sit on the floor and we’d play it, and talk about it. I remember doing that with a 45 RPM of Helen Reddy’s hit “Think I’ll Write a Song” on the A-side, and then playing “Angie Baby” on the B-side, and my mom, Lynne, coming upstairs and saying to me and my friend Peggy, “Who is that? Is that still Helen Reddy? Now that is a good song.” She was right. But we all had to hear the song three times.

Now, I hear you saying, “But Miss O’, you can still do those things.” (Still. Hmmmm.) Yes, I can, in theory. But I have Twitter to scroll. I might miss something. I have Facebook to check. What if a “friend” liked my post? What if no one liked it? (Should I edit it?) What if someone died and I didn’t realize it? What if what if what if what if what if what fucking IF. FOMO. (I’ve had to look that acronym up I think each time I’ve seen it in New York Magazine, which feels less and less relevant each issue. The best one in the past few years was an issue dedicated to Jerry Saltz and his quest to be a great artist. More of THAT.) Where was I?

The truth in all this is that I am deeply sick of feeling deserted by…something…somehting I cannot seem to touch with my soul, my heart.  

Desert[ed] Hearts

Friends have lost family in the past two years. Last year, a poet friend lost his beloved wife to a stroke; two weeks ago a dear neighbor lost his brother suddenly to a heart attack; this week, another friend lost his beloved wife to lung cancer. Part of this is, we are all aging, my friends and neighbors and I. But the loss isn’t less. The feeling of desertion stings.

President Biden, who lost a son to brain cancer seven years ago, gave a speech Thursday night—possibly one of those historically great ones—defending democracy against fascism, and the three major networks and PBS deserted him and the American people by refusing to air it. (The next day, as if to reinforce this sense of desertion, newspapers seemed to support the wounded fascist MAGAs over the 70% of Americans who want to preserve the democratic union.)

And when all this happens, all this sudden and deep emotion, I seem to shut down. I don’t know how to help anyone, to help the country. I feel deserted by my mind.

In her deep empathy, Anna said in response to my feelings of desertion and perpetual waiting, “Seems like a lot of us are waiting for an unknown something. I wonder if we should just act as if what we’re waiting for is going to arrive or has arrived.” 

That’s what President Biden has chosen to do—to act as if the People want democracy, are willing to vote to preserve it—and meanwhile, he is just legislating like hell, bringing down inflation, addressing global warming, championing women, the whole bit, like tomorrow is not only coming but is already here.

So, to paraphrase Helen Reddy, I thought I’d write this blog, one in which I act as if what I was waiting for was the impetus to write a blog. After all, the worst thing we can do is nothing.

Take a memo. 

A handy meme from johnpavlovitz.com

The Bouncing Balls of Eunuchs

Sex and the American Nazi

Ballsy. This is a product (one of a number of other such actual products in 2022 America) being hawked on television commercials for the shaving of men’s ball sacks. And the mechanism doesn’t leave a “ball smell.” Huh? “Save Your Sack from Summer.” (Whatever happened to, I don’t know, bathing?)

It’s not that I’m squeamish. A child of the 70s, I spent my youth being bombarded with ads for Massengill Disposable Douche (a useless product designed to dupe women into thinking they can simply rinse out semen to prevent pregnancy; as well as for men who fear the smell of menses) and Kotex (a very necessary product). But ads for Venus by Gillette, now showing women, quite graphically on television commercials, using a razor to shave their pubic hair (another purely cosmetic thing), is really troubling me. Oh, and Bush Balm. So I sat down to write to figure out why. 

Here it is: It’s 2022 and a 10-year-old rape victim in the Midwest cannot legally obtain an abortion since the overturning of Roe v. Wade. And child marriage is back on the table. Child labor, too. See also, the other extreme: The forcing of the aged back to work and the ending of retirement thanks to “Sen.” Rick Scott (R-FL).

The United States in 2022

Note to readers: It’s gonna get really ugly now.

Follow Middle Age Riot on Instagram and Twitter, if you want.

The end of Roe v. Wade is another “beginning of the end” situation in the U.S., sure. And the smoothest sacks and pubes in the world won’t change that. But that’s not totally what’s eating at me, not just the power over women and the hygiene distractors. There’s a larger, deeper sickness happening. The other week “Rep.” Matt Gaetz (R-FL) said that ugly women don’t have to worry about abortions. Hearing that brought up in me tears of rage—that level of open misogyny from a man accused of child rape who has yet to be indicted for it, though is wingman has taken a plea and gone to prison (and when called out on it the next day, he doubled down).

“Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz, who is under federal investigation for alleged sex trafficking of a 17-year-old girl, is under fire on social media after making fat-phobic and misogynist remarks about abortion rights activists to an audience of college students on Saturday, calling people protesting in support of abortion “disgusting.”

“’Have you watched these pro-abortion, pro-murder rallies?” the Florida congressman asked the teenagers gathered at the Turning Point USA Student Action Summit in Tampa, Florida.

“’The people are just disgusting. Why is it that the women with the least likelihood of getting pregnant are the ones most worried about having abortions? Nobody wants to impregnate you if you look like a thumb,” Gaetz commented.

“’These people are odious from the inside out. They’re like 5′ 2″, 350 pounds, and they’re like, “Give me my abortions or I’ll get up and march and protest.” And I’m thinking —march? You look like you got ankles weaker than the legal reasoning behind Roe v. Wade,’ he said to a cheering crowd.”

This is a U.S. Statesman of the Republican Party in 2022.
New motto: “Odious from the inside out.”

Speaking of insecure male U.S. Republican statesmen: Back in the spring, “Sen.” Josh “Runs with Fist” Hawley (R-MO) denounced child pornographers so vociferously and so weirdly out of context and proportion during the Judge Ketanji Brown hearings, that it caused Miss O’ to wonder when Anonymous will hack into Hawley’s home computer.

Runs with Fist
Shits with Bricks (seen on the internet)

Meanwhile, Ghislaine Maxwell, a convicted sex trafficker, is moved to a cushy minimum-security prison with yoga. Because otherwise I guess she releases the names of all those powerful white, male johns.

New Republican Motto: Men gotta be MEN, and real men can only get it up for trafficked young girls, ammirite?

And all of this hateful humping hubbub is from a bunch of schoolyard bullies who don’t feel “manly.” Who see everything as a threat to their “masculinity,” from balls that aren’t smooth and tan, to erections they can’t hold, to games they never understood and couldn’t play.  

But indoctrinating actual armies of white supremacists is not the actual problem.

And it only gets creepier every day.

Poke Her with the Soft Cushions

I awoke this morning remembering a summer day when my parents repurposed the feather-stuffed cushions on my mom’s fancy sofa—this light sort of champagne brocade-upholstered sleeper in the upstairs living room of our small split-level house with no real room for romping, so that room was sort of the place to do Play-Doh and draw on the walls (which we also had to help scrub), so naturally that fancy sofa from my mom’s days as a single naval officer got ruined in pretty short order; but rather than throw out the whole thing, my parents figured they could buy those zippered pillow cases made of striped ticking and stuff them (they went on to use these pillows for probably 20 years, by the way). I was a kid, maybe 9 or 10, when they laid out old sheets in the backyard, my dad split the cushions with a knife, and they tried to figure out how to transfer the feathers—millions of teeny tiny gray feathers—into the ticking. We kids chased the feathers that flew, but impressively most of them made it into stuffing, enough for four pillows, I think. 

I don’t recall my dad wondering aloud if this activity—or for that matter, diapering his babies, cooking family meals, or reading the paper—supported and even glorified his “masculinity.” I feel confident, too, that my dad, who worked six days a week, sometimes two jobs, and yet always made time to make popcorn and play with his kids, had no time for shaving his balls or worrying about their smell. He’d have to wonder about men who had that kind of time on their hands.

That feather pillow stuff was around the time my mom got into decoupage, making all kinds of projects, burning edges of paper prints, gluing and varnishing them onto prepared painted and antiqued wood plaques or stools. It was really nice. And I remember a lot of felt crafts for Halloween, too, and making Christmas ornaments (at school and at home). My dad, a meat cutter (there’s your masculinity, Tucker), got into making his own sausage (!) and used to bring casings home from work (he could buy them wholesale), and we’d do that once a month or so. 

So at age 10 I remember going to a lot of local carnivals, fort-building, making a treehouse; all us trying out being tough with toy cowboy guns and holsters; Malibu Barbie vans and building blocks, and Tonka trucks in the dirt, while my parents made food for cookouts in the backyard or a Prince William National Forest; neighbors coming over. Beer and soda. Good Humor Ice Cream treats.

I don’t remember getting raped, is what I’m saying. I don’t remember people getting shot all the time, and never entire classrooms full of children. Sex, rape, semi-automatic slayings—even when reported, none of this was remotely normalized for casual conversation among our elected leaders in the 1970s. I’m not saying bad things didn’t happen. I’m aware that my white parents worked hard to make the shift from working class to middle class in America and faced fewer obstacles doing it than their black and brown counterparts; and I’m also aware that plenty of my classmates grew up in trailer parks or in otherwise reduced circumstances. I was often shocked by white porcelains toilets the bowls of which were stained brown; layers of dust on the white oak floors, grease and grime on all the surfaces in the kitchen. And you heard about things, you know; you heard yelling, you had to wonder.

A girl relative of mine, who was white, was raped at the age of 9 back in the 1960s; being prepubescent, the perpetrator had to split her with a knife to enter her. She told her mom, “A man peed in me.” The police didn’t put much effort into looking for the man, who was most certainly a white school janitor, so no one was prosecuted; her family moved instead. Girls have never been valued much, unless their victimhood could serve as an excuse to lynch a Black man or shoot someone. (Men are so emotional, you know. Is that masculine? I think it’s shit.)

So I don’t want to sound absurdly naïve. When we look at the historical Republican Party (and forget Dixie-crats, who only went Democrat to veer away from Republican Lincoln), they totally and loudly advocated for the mass murder of Black children; the mass rape and murder of Black women; the mass lynching or incarceration of Black men to use as legalized slave labor.

See its present spokesman, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA)

Lately, however, these same Republicans have upped the stakes. We now have an entire political party, on TV and in the newspapers in 2022, pushing for the normalization of child rape (er, marriage), child sex trafficking, child labor. I can’t recall an elected representative in my childhood defending child mass murder, but that’s the case now. It’s not as if I didn’t see violence on TV, but the violence was often righteous, however a news anchor framed it: Black people tired of being targets, being kept down or segregated into project housing, being kept out of power; hippies protesting the war in Viet Nam; workers striking for fair wages; women out in force demanding equal rights; gays demanding to be seen in Pride parades.

The work never stops.

But here was a turning point: I remember when the “anti-abortion movement” started, ca. 1977 or so, and young Catholic school friends went to march on Washington, girls all, girls who’d never even been kissed. They’d cry abstractedly about unborn babies, these girls who were barely of age to babysit. I found it baffling.

Found on the internet; sorry I can’t credit the meme genius.

And that “pro-life” movement, I’ve come to believe, moved the idea of sexualized children (and not the prosecuting of Catholic priests for the molesting of boys; because it’s never been about what they did to the girls, even though the kids I knew who were molested by their priests were girls, but girls don’t count, see), rape, incest, and the oppression of women front and center in the news, and began normalizing the fucking of children and girls and women of childbearing years as both something of prurient interest and something to punish through forced birth; while simultaneously othering the sex of consenting adults of whatever gender.

So. Sick. Of. Male. “Leadership.” So over it.

When I was 10 years old, I played with dolls, acted out my own versions of I Dream of Jeannie and The Brady Bunch; had a crush on David Cassidy; ran barefoot all summer jumping off swings; when my arms and legs got sticky it was from melting popsicles rather than a man’s semen. And I know this kind of growing up is still possible. About the best parents I know are two gay men who limit their kids’ access to television, social media, video games, and sitting around. Their kids play. I texted them to say hi and see what was up. The boy, in middle school, was devastated because his favorite frozen treat, Choco Taco, had been discontinued. (Meanwhile Greta Thunberg gave up her childhood to protest the inaction of governments to stem global heating.) If it were up to Republicans, this sweet kid wouldn’t exist at all.

Full Frontal with Samantha Bee was CANCELLED suddenly
by TBS under new management.
That’s the price of being a popular woman with a strong voice in America.
WOMEN: Start your own networks. OTHER WOMEN: Support them.

Why do Republicans want our women to have no autonomy? Our kids to have no childhoods? Our citizens no vote? Our people no freedom? Why do they want America to be a hellscape of mass murder and rape; floods and wildfires? Why do Republicans mock the very real problems and those who wish to solve them? I think they are diseased. They need help. But first, like any addicts, they need to admit they have a problem. We all know that men who have to pay for sex most likely aren’t any good at it; they know nothing of love, of intimacy, of seduction. They want to “take” a woman, rape a woman, and it makes them feel “powerful.” (Matt Gaetz, an alleged predator of teen girls, seeks children, doesn’t he, because they won’t know how bad he is at sex? Do all these Republican men have to use Nazism to rule because they are really bad at leading?)

Fascists pretend and propagate their inflated, insane idea of “masculinity” because they have no idea of the work it takes to be fully human. It’s not about masculine and feminine, guys. It’s about being a connected human being. It’s about leaving eighth grade, about growing up.

It’s at times like this that I want, at the age of 58, to be able to cross my arms out in front of me, flick my head, and blink all the toxicity away. Instead, I’ll be seeing you out on the streets and at the polls. Because that’s what adults should be doing, when they aren’t, you know, too busy shaving their balls and pubes for the sex they aren’t having. 

From Instagram.

Objects Found and Lost

It’s Hot Up Here

Miss O’s childhood sidewalk, summers ca. 1960s to ’70s (skates, bike, and bare feet not pictured)

New York City, like most of the planet, has been enveloped in a heat wave for the past couple of weeks. Until around 4:30 this morning, at 82 degrees and 68% humidity, I’d managed to avoid turning on my air conditioning (I know this sounds pompous, but fuck it: I figure it’s the least I can do for the earth). But yesterday, walking to and from the farmer’s market, I heard or saw a half dozen ambulances, and not counting Covid or other catastrophes the only other times you experience that here are during heat waves—heat stroke victims who live on the eighth floor, say, and can’t afford to own or run an air conditioner (55%-70% of our incomes are spent on rent here). Friday evening I was pulling garbage to put out for my co-op apartment complex (only 17 units, could be worse with a super on vacation), and even with help and being fully hydrated I had to stop to get more water, rest, breathe. And I had to wear a mask for the smell, and latex gloves (that became filled with sweat), so that didn’t help. The air quality is bad, too. Oil, engines, machines. I awoke in wee hours today, as I say, hearing my 88-year-old mother’s words on the phone yesterday, “Don’t die,” and broke my vow. Sure, I’ll live another day in the mid to upper 90s, but to what end?

In the trash room, Miss O’ fights with the bad recycling.

Calm My Ass

Scrolling through the ol’ Instagram at 5 AM as I drank ice water and waited for the cool air to kick in, I came across an ad for a popular meditation app. There are three signs, it flashed up in meaningful words, that I might be “emotionally detached”:

  1. Neglecting your needs or depriving yourself of pleasures
    [Warning: lack of parallelism coming up. -ed.]
  2. You are numbing yourself with social media, food, or alcohol
  3. You feel inadequate and alone

So…Tuesday? Because isn’t this everyone on the planet who is guided by love, at this point? (Note: All kinds of five-star ratings and quotations came up, too, encouraging me to “face my fears” and “become a new person”…by, what, shutting off?) I mean, did you watch the eighth Jan. 6 hearing? I think Rep. Elaine Luria (D-VA) summed up the week’s news well with this tweet:

Take a lesson, people.

This app ad got me realizing that in fact I don’t want to be peaceful. Far from it. I want a fire in my belly. I want to feel engaged, alert, excited. I’m tired of feeling tired, sick, inert. This world is on fire. I want to make the dogs bark.

Angela Sidney, Life Lived Like a Story, 1990, p. 156
University of Nebraska Press, 1990. These women are true warriors.

The Voice

Question from a friend and blog reader: “All your blogs have a very specific rhythm and pattern. Is that intentional?”

Answer: Yes. [Shakes head.] (Also, No. [Nods.])

I also responded, “I’m not sure it’s pleasing. I play with moments.” 

I think a voice one “hears” in a letter or blog (which for me is a kind of letter) is as particular as a speaking voice. I think there is an expectation with writing that writers will mix it up a little. Certainly, in my speaking voice, I can become a little bit Southern (from my Virginia background), or a little Midwestern (my folks), or randomly Cockney (natural mimic), depending on my mood and who I’m with. But really, Lisa O’ has one speaking voice. And over time, I’ve developed one writing voice, and I find it only varies when I am writing, say, dialogue for characters. I think it’s okay. (I knew a wonderful professor, Andrea Lunsford, at Bread Loaf who introduced herself at seminars by saying, “As my granny used to say, ‘Andrea, you have a loud but by no means pleasing voice.'”) I mean, you always know it’s a Keith Haring work, or a Georgia O’Keeffe painting, no signature required. And I don’t think you have to be that level of genius to have your own style and say many things within it.

A few years ago, a friend’s son (and he’s my friend, too) and his boyfriend at the time visited my home in Queens. He later told me that I had a very specific aesthetic. When I asked what it was, he paused and thought (we were standing in the Brooklyn Museum, looking at the Judy Chicago installation “The Dinner Party”) and he said, “Dimly lit whimsy.” He smiled. 

I think that describes me, my life, my talents, and my writing, too.

Dimly Lit Whimsy

I play with moments. My home aesthetic is born of arranging found and received objects, such as cards and gifts and rocks and pins and books, into vignettes. I play with moments, dimly lit. (I’m not sure I illuminate anything.) Each item in my place came to me at one moment or another, and I assemble and reassemble these moments on my shelves like a story, as I do in my mind, or in a blog post. If I make any “art,” this is about it. I’m not sure there’s any there, there, to paraphrase Gertrude Stein. I wish I were capable of greater depth, of making real art, for example, but I’m limited to the appreciation of, and at best the arranging/displaying of, the art that others make. (Flashing Sign #3, in red, “inadequate and alone”; very few people see it.) 

Miss O’ at home, with foot.

Whenever I look at pictures of Georgia O’Keeffe’s home in Abiquiu, New Mexico, however, I find myself dreaming that I was that person, content with one lovely stone, a clean old bone, a simple wood slab of a table, white walls, bright natural light, maybe two wooden chairs, a desk, a sculpture, one painting.

From Architectural Digest

The way I live, in reality, couldn’t be more the opposite of that. I’m not entirely sure why. Something about a need to feel cozy, to not lose a single memory.

More dimly lit whimsy, with original art from all over, arranged just so.

When I started blogging several years ago, on Blogger, I made it my weekly task to hold in my mind all the disparate things that caught my whimsy and use the writing task to arrange a sort of pastiche/synthesis (since the post-modern world is essentially collage) to see if I could find the connective tissue (sorry—mixed media, mixed metaphors) to somehow point to solutions for the troubles of the world. It all came down to education. Everything does. Not merely knowing a lot or being smart, but rather making connections among the things we learn to try to do something with it, to use it, to put in service to something. 

I’m not sure that I accomplish anything, and yet I persist, as I’ve noted before. I had a high school friend who always introduced himself with his IQ, 185, and when I reconnected with him decades later, he was still doing that, as if stuck on a tape loop. (Am I stuck on a tape loop? See also, “feeling alone and inadequate.”) Where do we find the inspiration to grow and change?

Speaking of tape loops, I often return to this little gem. Sir Peter Brook died 7/2/22 at age 97.
(For best results, substitute “Life” for “Theatre.”)

Dimly lit whimsy: More and more I find myself writing in the dark.  Less and less to say. Amidst so much chaos, so much violence, so many opinions, causing, ironically, so much isolation, where to? And like me, I suspect we all desire not so much “quiet” inside ourselves as stability in our outer lives.

From Instagram.

I believe this is important. Without stability in our most basic living, it’s hard to become outer directed. And if we don’t create a stable center and combine with a contained fire of purpose, the nihilists win.

Seen on the web. People are funny.

In the meantime, as that fucking app reminds us, we eat, we drink. Possibly we read. We watch the January 6 hearings. We vote. Stream a show to binge watch. But there has to be more inside us. And it wants to come out.

So here’s a call to action, to us good, caring folks who need to get off our asses and do what needs to be done, somehow. Right after this heat wave passes.

Lawn chair in O’Yard, ca. 1970s. Doodle by Miss O’, who reminds you
to conserve energy and stay hydrated. For all of us.

We Don’t Go to the Movies

Miss O’s bathroom reminder not to be late. For whatever.

Pass the Data

The other day I heard a learned philosopher discoursing on self-knowledge. While we used to engage in self-exploration through meditation, sports, or art, for example, Yuval Noah Harrari asks what it means, then, “when this process is outsourced to a Big Data algorithm?” That line stopped me hard. Where Eliot’s J. Alfred Prufrock measured out his life in coffee spoons, how many of us measure out our lives, our wellness, and our worth in “likes”? in “steps”? in money earned, spent, and saved? in mileage on the bike? in states or countries visited? in our biometric numbers for sugar, cholesterol, weight, percentage of body fat, calories consumed, points earned? lays sought and found on a sex app? books read? shows seen? tweets twatted? MAKE IT STOP.

One way I measure out my mental health and self-worth is through the laughs I generate in others, and judging from that last few years of meager blog posts, posts on social media, and reactions the few times I’ve seen others in person, I am in rough shape. I don’t think this post bodes well for wit, and for that, one of my three or four readers, I apologize.

The most important measure of my mental health for me is my capacity to weep at beautiful songs, singers, poetry, movie moments, pictures, and other acts of human decency. I was just listening to the Barbara Streisand/Judy Garland duet “Happy Days/Get Happy” and found myself in tears. So, check. (I hadn’t thought about the ways in which I might bring others to tears, but I think that happens out of my capacity to irritate more than, you know, move someone by making something beautiful.

You Laughed at an Image

My first boyfriend*, from back in high school, got back in touch recently. He has been with his wife, a fellow artist, happily for 32 years. When they eloped after living together for almost a decade, I mailed them a toaster. They totally got it. He began reaching out to old friends, he said, in the wake of Covid, and on the cusp of age 60 next year. I told him that I myself have actually paid for a ticket to my 40th high school reunion. I am going with two buddies of mine since second grade; my old bf’s was last year, and he said, “MAGA vibe, super spreader event; pass.” Probably true here too, but friend Carl promises it’s really a reunion of friends from elementary and middle school, and it will be fun. Okay.

The best part of the reconnect has been the ART share, in multiple texts; the meme share; the political jokes. According to the data, I laugh and heart a lot, so that must be good. My inner life, I mean. Should I dig deeper?

*Note: I never had any boyfriends. Sure, I went out with two guys in high school, and steadily, and talked about marriage with another guy, but I was ABOVE BOYFRIENDS. And still am. Why? Dunno. Let me ask an algorithm. “You laughed at an image.” I guess I’m fine.

Weekly Report: Your screen time was down 11% last week.

Weekly Report: Your sense of self-worth was down 25% last week and continues to plummet.

Weekly Report: 99.9% of Republicans blame all girls under age 11 who are pregnant for being too hot to resist.

Weekly Report: Humans are fucking up the planet and are fucking fucked but only about 25% of Americans fucking believe it’s fucking true, and YOU are one of them. 

Weekly Report: 100% of meals in America contain tough nuts.

Anything else to REPORT? I mean, there it IS.

Work It Out for Yourself

My Queens basement flooded again yesterday afternoon. Only one inch of rain in an hour. What the hell? Last September my last chance for a vacation for the foreseeable future (and what would have been my first in three years) was swamped over by drain overflow in the wake of Hurricane Ida. My last real vacations were in 2018 in California, Lake George, and here in NYC when friends came for a week to visit. The year 2019 was WORK, the year 2020 was WORK + Covid; 2021 same. But Labor Day week friends and I were going to make a break for Lake George again…and Ida. Since then, my parents, while still sharp and okay, have grown frailer. I spent 5 weeks there this spring to help my dad after a surgery, and help my 85-lb mother, too. Lucky to be able to do it—the sad residual benefit of the pandemic is that we have this new way of working, remotely. And wow does it make me feel remote—from others, from myself. A lot of us are at the point of wondering why we work at all—so many of our jobs are just humans trying to plug the holes and reduce the problems inflicted on humans by the humans who are doing the jobs in other companies and institutions and there is no bottom. Why aren’t we just growing food, singing a little, dancing, and cooking again? What happened? Boredom?

And don’t get me started on the rat infestation at my co-op building, or the super going on vacation and the back-up falling through and me being the only person not afraid of the rats, so this gray-haired fat lady will be sweeping up (including the dead rats) and hauling garbage out for the next two weeks. And temps in the 90’s. This is how I will die. And so what, really?

The opening phrase of the first poem of my friend Jean LeBlanc’s latest collection of poetry, our pitiful metaphors, is, “Work it out for yourself:” and the first time I read it I just about threw the book across the room. I was so tired, you see. I don’t want to be challenged or taunted or berated. I don’t want to work it out for myself. Just tell me my horoscope, give me the meds, the diet plan, the answer. Why is this hard?

“we inflict upon the cosmos our pitiful metaphors.”

I reread the collection this morning, after putting all the flood-soaked towels in the laundromat washer, which sounds like a pretty easy task, until you factor in moving all the shit in the basement mudroom to get the heavy duty cart out, lining it will a big plastic bag, filling it in four trips from bathroom shower to trash alley carrying the drenched textiles, heaving the laden cart up the stairs, locking the gate (dragging it over swollen concrete—is nothing just a thing?—and pushing it all to the facility; followed by returned the cart to the basement, etc. It’s laden with sadness, this poetry collection; arguments, missed connections, and loss. I find myself wrestling with all the terrible beauty. I contrast it with our friend Anna’s collection, Buoyant, about the joys of scuba diving, the poems’ speakers filled with wonder; and our friend Katrinka Moore’s latest collection, Diminuendo, which returns again and again to the sensation of floating, hovering, and the feeling of being connected tenuously by the thinnest of strands. 

“When at last the great animal arrives/ out of the primordial past, mouth wide” (“Grace”)
“but I make my way out. when/ I can. The fetch of space” (“Thin Places”)

There are moments these past few years when I’ve felt held together by only the thinnest of strands; known that I am forever and always having to work it out for myself; and also given a reprieve with moments of wonder, as this week with the first color images from the Webb Space Telescope.

I made the mistake of texting my despair post-flood yesterday to a friend who said, “Fuck, Lisa. Get help. Call 988.” I remembered the first time I went to therapy years ago, my therapist Goldye said, in response to my skepticism about going to a therapist when I have friends: “Our friends don’t care about our pain. They will say whatever it takes to make you okay so we can all go to the movies.” 

Walking in Midtown Manhattan. Look up.

And this is why you walk your neighborhoods, write stuff, draw a little, and don’t share your pain with anyone, not even friends; why we have to turn to the poets, the artists, the musicians in our darkest hours. People have their own shit to deal with, and they don’t need yours. It’s a lonely truth in a lonely world.

Sending love and poetry, somehow. Bless those poets.

Miss O’s desk. Queens.

Word Clouds

A commercial for an orange tube-y snack food shows a hip hop artist waving his fingers across bricks in an urban landscape and a colorful mural appears; he passes a child playing plastic buckets and the boy is now sitting at a red and chrome full drum kit. The plain glass buildings all begin shimmering in color. 

Because in America, at least, you can’t enjoy anything, not even a junk food treat, unless you are changing the world. And it’s not enough to have a tasty bite. You have to gorge on a whole fucking bloomin’ onion, loaded nachos, and whipped cream on the dessert, with a table filled with family or friends, or why did you bother to go out? 

And it’s not enough to enjoy the 4th of July with a sparkler; you need to listen to the incessant sounds of explosions all over Queens and watch the aftermath of a mass shooting of 30 spectators watching a parade in a small town in Illinois.

Art by Rebecca Morgan, as seen on Instagram

And I don’t know about you, but this kind of “go big or go home” bullshit is starting to give Miss O’ more than hives.

What’s the Meaning of All This?

Back in 1964, philosopher Marshall McLuhan famously said: 

“The medium is the message. This is merely to say that the personal and social consequences of any medium – that is, of any extension of ourselves – result from the new scale that is introduced into our affairs by each extension of ourselves, or by any new technology.”

Fifty-eight years ago, McLuhan also said, “Ours is a brand-new world of all-at-onceness.” Director Mike Nichols, in an interview in the 1990s, talks about how much McLuhan got right, though McLuhan seemed to be dropped from our consciousness. (I say “to be dropped” because we live in a disposable culture.) People used to receive information at different times, Nichols noted, and in different forms—newspapers, letters, magazines, telegraph, newsreels. News used to reach people weeks or months, or years, after an event occurred. The Emancipation Proclamation, signed in 1863, did not reach enslaved people in Texas until June 19, 1865, and deliberately so—the goal being to keep this from them for as long as possible so the farmers could get another harvest out of the enslaved for free.

With TV, we all saw the Kennedy assassination aftermath play out immediately, for example. Nichols, speaking of the challenges of directing new scripts, pointed out that because exciting real events—from assassinations to the moon landing to wars—come to us in real time, fiction just can’t measure up. And so now instead of deep, simple human stories to sell tickets, we reach for Superheroes and Armageddon for entertainment.

Nothing seems to be enough to sate us. The news media and its audience now hear of mass shootings and barely register an “oh, god,” just before the yawn; you see that it’s getting increasingly harder to satisfy our sensory desires. Overloading on porn and all its vulgar unrealism is why all those Incels (involuntary celibates) can get no pleasure from sex with women. The medium is the message: sex isn’t about intimacy, but rather gratification and power.

“We shape our tools, and then our tools shape us.”

~ Marshall McLuhan

Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man 1964

Miss O’ Wonders

Query: What message are Americans told, by one another, is the message of America?

Response: Freedom.

Query: If your culture’s primary tools (or mediums) are guns, unmediated information highways, evangelical Christianity, and self-proclaimed “influencers,” what is the actual message?

Miss O’s Current Response: The message is that one ideology pushed by a lone individual’s power to kill or influence others is the single most valued aspect of the culture.

It’s a question of lenses.

A philosophy professor of mine once taught about hedonism. He said people misunderstand it, thinking a hedonist is someone who debauches and can’t get enough of pleasure. In fact, Prof. Smith said, “A hedonist is supposed to get an orgasm from bread and water.” Hedonists in fact set up a philosophy with forced, unsustainable expectations for actual humans. Bread and water will never be orgasmic, however nourishing, unless you are first dying of starvation and thirst. 

From Instagram

In its latest attempt at a national philosophy, America has set up a forced, unsustainable set of messages for Americans through the medium of video, meaning we all see and hear these messages. 

  • First, we are supposed to place the needs and desires of the individual above society, unless that individual is Black/brown, poor, and/or a woman. 
  • Next, we must yield to the power of guns and ones who wield them over any individual’s freedom to speak, assemble, worship, or report news, unless that person is a white male with shit tons of money. 

If the medium is an unmediated Medium, is the message that we are living in Babel?

I often spend whole mornings just deleting email junk so I can free up my email storage for more junk.

If the medium is an unstoppable garbage bin of random communications, is the message that there will be respite from the noise of humans and technology?

I have seen tweets of mine go mini-viral and had panic attacks.

I have tweeted, blogged, or posted on my wall things that I find vitally important and not one person agrees with me in even the form of a like.

I begin to value myself based on the mediums.

Which medium are we going to amplify? Which message will sound off and win in the end? Is there an end?

Is there anything duller and less surprising, however continually shocking, than American politics? Republicans can only stay on brand by grabbing power and rejecting anything democratic; the Democrats can only stay on brand by rejecting revolutionary progress and staying steady. 

If the medium is the message, what is the proper medium for politics? What is the MESSAGE of our political life?

I keep getting stuck on these questions. “Stalemate” comes to mind. “Bartleby the Scrivener,” too.

Because a stable democracy is dull copy for our hundreds of 24-hour cycle “news” outlets, whether on a cable network, local television, or a newspaper, the Big Stories I see are almost never to do with public good so much as public titillation for ratings or sales. (And now this commercial message.)

The collective message is what exactly? Consume mass quantities and die already?

I awoke this morning, the Fourth of July, 2022, as I have every morning for months, in a pit of despair. Between the climate crisis-induced collapse of an Italian glacier and the invasion of Ukraine, along with the naked Republican attempt at every level of government over the past three years to end our constitutional democracy—and a press that does little more than pass the popcorn—it’s hard to write anything, create anything, feel there’s any point. And as I stood in my hallway after the coffee, half naked, holding a bra, vacillating between putting on real clothes to leave my apartment so as not to listen to the lone skateboarder on the asphalt playground who decided to practice his tricks right next to my little abutting porch (knowing that will also be in for an endless night of illegal fireworks); and falling into a ball of lonely weeping, as I do rather a lot these days; I mercifully remembered I have friends. I texted everyone I love and care about that piece of art by Rebecca Morgan, up there, because they all would instantly get it, and they did. And they answered.

My friends Carl and Mark, buddies of mine since 2nd grade wrote back too. Both of them are gay. Carl lives in our home town; Mark lives in Delaware with this husband. In response to our group, Carl said, “Not feeling celebratory. Low key chill here. Cleaning and organizing.” Mark said, “America doesn’t deserve a birthday celebration this year 😤.” I said, “I’m writing a blog.” Carl said, “Excellent.  I hope you include my disappointment.” Mark sent his love, calling us, “MY FAMILY.” And that just broke me up. You know? That sudden burst or wave of love. And if I hadn’t broken the grip of depression, pushed past the despair by becoming outer directed, I suppose I would have started drinking wine at 10:30 AM and not really looked back.

And wine is a lousy medium for any message. Here are some better ones:

  1. Honeysuckle
Photos by Miss O’
  • Postcards to SCOTUS
Miss O’ uses up some postcards.

Most of our important commentary anymore comes through in the medium of satire, including comics, cartoons, and Comedy Central’s The Daily Show and TBS’s Full Frontal. The medium is the message: We treat our existential truths like jokes. The “breaking news” of the NYT is often the equivalent of “What happens to Jolly Ranchers when they stay all day in a hot car?” The medium—the paper of record—is the message, and that message is “accentuate the trivial and don’t mess with existential truth in between.”

Like millions in the world, I write what’s on my mind and post these ideas for free for all to see. I have no mediators. No one, not a partner or friend and certainly not a paid editor, is around to read behind me, suggest where I might improve, strengthen, or refocus. Nor does any publisher or advertiser pay me for my thoughts. 

And it’s still only one voice trying to mediate all the other voices and create a message that is coherent and true.

I still don’t know how to do it. Nevertheless I persist.

Miss O’ Makes a Word Cloud

On Turbulent Flow, Part 2

Ordinary Life, Queens

I wrote the paragraph below around March 5:

It was nearly 60 degrees in Queens yesterday; it’s snowing this morning. This has happened two weekends in a row. I’ve been thinking a lot recently about turbulent flow, the reasons for which I’ll get to, but first I’d like to open with an apology for my own flow: I used to be funny. I used to have a capacity to write about things in an energized and witty way. And then that one guy became “president” in 2016, the world turned upside down, as Americans started voting against their own best interests, hell, their senses, and in direct opposition to their self-proclaimed Christian faith, and called it righteous; Earth started turning on us in earnest in response to our neglect of our responsibility to be stewards of the planet, i.e. to not shit where we eat, and our abject failure to do this. I can’t walk down the aisle of a supermarket, department store, or dollar store and not think, “All this is heading directly to a landfill, and there are millions more aisles like this of packed shit none of us need, not a bit of it,” and I start weeping. 

Tile adorning my bookshelf, gift from Colleen Cosgrove 2022

Written around the same time:

This past Monday I spent part of the day chasing down a running toilet. I heard the telltale hiss, on for 15 seconds, off for 10 seconds, through some stack in my kitchen; down in the basement it was louder. It wasn’t my toilet—the source was somewhere else in the building. Around 8:30 AM I emailed my immediate neighbors in my small complex, and they too heard the hiss. A couple next door heard it at 11 PM the previous night, and all night, but had been too tired to do anything about it. Next, I sent a group email to the other 16 units: Hi, everyone…anyone got a running toilet? Some replied that they thought is was related to our dysfunctional boiler and steam heat hit and miss; but the fuel company guys (whom another board member—that’s right, I’m on the Board! —chased down at the same time) assured us there couldn’t be any connection. Running toilets are more than just annoying sounds; it’s a water leak and the money adds up. In a small complex like ours, it’s not something you can ignore, but we all want to, don’t we? So finally the culprit revealed herself in a private email to another Board member. Sheesh.

Later that week:

At the supermarket this afternoon, I introduce a little turbulence into the normal flow of a cashier’s day: My order comes to $21.86. I have a $50 bill I want to break, but I already have a lot of ones and pennies, so I give the cashier, a Muslim woman around age 40, I’d say, $52.01. She has finished bagging my groceries, placing them in the bags I brought (this act used to cause turbulence, but not any more, so that’s progress), and as I hand her my odd cash I explain, “I’d like even change.” She looks confused and says, as I suspected she would, “But your total is $21.86.” All I could say was, “Trust me.” “Okay…,” she says, and taps in 5-2-0-1. She turned to me with wide eyes after seeing “30.15” come up on the little screen. “How did you do that?” she asked. “I used to be a cashier, and back in my day we had to figure out the change up here,” I explained, gesturing to my head. I took my 10 and 20 and nickel and dime and put them in my wallet as she said, “I always tell my kids, you got to learn the math,” and I agree, saying, “This is when it comes in handy,” and we exchange “have-a-nice-days,” and I hope we will. Turbulence as magic.

Back to the present, March 20, 2022, the first day of spring. 

Tasks of Note:

Got my taxes done this week. For many years it was the EZ form for me—small income, no mortgage, as I was a lowly public schoolteacher who would never see $60K. Now in NYC, at a corporate job and with a co-op apartment, so many forms, I needed help. But what used to take me forever in the way of finding and pulling all the forms is just another task anymore, whatever the technology needs are to make it happen.

Washing coats and scarves, another task this week, used to be an event to me; now in my late fifties, I just wash the coats one day. Hang them up. Go on to the next task.

Baking sourdough bread and keeping up with a starter was something I found arduous in my twenties, since I moved a lot back then; in my late fifties and in one place for nearly 19 years, I think nothing of making my own bread with a starter. Toss in various kinds of flour, water, molasses, salt. Knead it, stick the round in a greased bowl, let it prove a couple of days. Feed the starter, keep it out to grab yeast from the air, stick it in the fridge. Stir it once in a while and feed it in preparation for the next loaf. Bake a loaf, cool, slice, freeze. Bread for a month. (Thanks to Anna’s husband Michael.)

How Ordinary Becomes Precious

Now imagine all those necessary complex and simple tasks under fire. Imagine the work of your everyday world under mortar shelling, your papers and photos and textiles destroyed, that collapse, life reduced to huddling in a basement for weeks on end, little water, little food, no power. I should have really imagined all this long ago—it should never have seemed “other”—but until Trump’s improbable rise and Putin’s recent mental crack-up, I guess I just didn’t realize how possible The End is now. How probable. And what’s worse is 40% of my own fellow citizens would take Putin’s side and kill people like me with abandon. Seeing the footage from Ukraine, in cities that look like New York, it’s surreal and all too real.

You’d think, with all the natural calamities that flesh is heir to, that in 2022 we’d have just fucking stopped war, that we’d unite globally to save the planet that we have trashed. Every generation, though, seems to become simultaneously more evil on the one hand and more evolved on the other. The divide widens. The turbulence increases.

On his death bed, the physicist Werner Heisenberg is reported to have said, “When I meet God, I am going to ask him two questions: Why relativity? And why turbulence? I really believe he will have an answer for the first.” (It’s quoted in Chaos by James Gleick, but I’ve read that the quote is probably apocryphal, so I guess that by continuing to possibly misquote or mis-attribute such a quote we only add to the chaos. We do not, however, lose the intelligence or humor of it, so does it matter? Dammit.)

Being in this Moment

I, the pagan Miss O’, follow blogger John Pavlovitz, a pastor and writer, who is himself a devout Christian whose political writings rail against the co-opters of faith as a means to destroy others and gain money, power, or fame for themselves. In one his blogs from 2020, “I Don’t Want Unity with Hateful People,” he writes:

I am not morally bound to make peace with a heart that dehumanizes other human beings because of the color of their skin, their nation of origin, their gender, their orientation. And to have embraced Donald Trump now, is to unapologetically brandish such a polluted heart; to be actively perpetuating inequity and stoking division and manufacturing discrimination in this very moment.

I steadfastly refuse such an alliance. I am a loud, conscientious objector in their war against the world.

More recently, Pavlovitz wondered why it is that all these “Christians” believe God will protect them from a deadly pandemic without the need for masks or vaccines, but somehow still feel the need to carry a concealed weapon everywhere they go. I mean, which is it?

The trick for the rest of us, then, the ones who wrestle with it all with compassionate hearts, is how to keep the flow of life going on a planet inhabited by not only good people but also by hateful, hypocritical, destructive people. In these moments of despair, many people turn to faith, but faith as a concept let alone practice has never appealed to me. So your Miss O’ has been doing some digging lately to better understand why that is.

Krista Tippett, who has been suggested to me so many times by dear friends that I have become a regular listener, replayed an episode from her podcast On Being which featured the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, who died recently at age 95. Hanh was such a powerfully popular figure in spiritual circles that I decided I should give him the respect of a listen. In the interview, he explains that suffering—all this agony and despair—is part of the point. In Christianity, for example, people are promised that in death they will be sent to a place where there is no more suffering. Hanh does not accept this in his mindfulness practice.

Thich Nhat Hanh: Yeah, because I could not like to go to a place where there is no suffering. I could not like to send my children to a place where there is no suffering, because in such a place they have no ways to learn how to be understanding and compassionate. And the Kingdom of God is a place where there is understanding and compassion; and therefore, suffering should exist.

Tippett: That’s quite different from some religious perspectives, which would say that the Kingdom of God is a place where we’ve transcended suffering or moved beyond it.

Thich Nhat Hanh: Yes. And suffering and happiness, they are both organic, like a flower and garbage. If the flower is on her way to become a piece of garbage, the garbage can be on her way to becoming a flower. That is why you are not afraid of garbage.

(So, Miss O’ understands him, turbulence, suffering, garbage—it’s all part of the experience of living. )

Hanh continues:

I think we have suffered a lot during the 20th century. We have created a lot of garbage. There was a lot of violence and hatred and separation. And we have not handled — we don’t know how to handle the garbage that we have created, and then we would have a chance to create a new century for peace. That is why now it’s very important for us to learn how to transform the garbage we have created into flowers.

Tippett: I look at the violence that marked the world in the period when you were a young monk — there was the Cold War; there was a certain kind of violence and hostility. A lot of that has changed, has gone away, a lot of the terrible threats and the sources of the worst fighting. And now in its place we have new kinds of wars and new kinds of enemies. I’d be really interested in, as you look at this period of your lifetime, is there any qualitative difference between the violence that we have now and the violence that we had then? Is there anything like progress happening, or is it the same pattern that repeats itself?

Thich Nhat Hanh: Yeah, you are right. It’s the same pattern that repeats itself.

Tippett: And does that make you despair?

Thich Nhat Hanh: No, because I notice there are people who are capable of understanding, that we have enough enlightenment, and if only they come together and offer their light and show us the way, there is a chance for transformation and healing.

(And within weeks of the replay of this podcast, it’s worth noting, Putin invaded Ukraine, upping the garbage quotient exponentially.)

Miss O’s own qualm with the art of mindfulness is that it seems, somehow, incompatible with joy, humor, ecstasy, agitation, and fun, and synonymous with silence, chanting, bells, quiet, slowness, and dullness. This is not fair, and surely not accurate, but I’ve never heard an interview about the need for mindfulness that includes even one chuckle. And the second I hear Eastern chants and gongs, I think to myself, No.

And so it is that I’ve come to understand that humor is, essentially, a response to inner turbulence; that without this turbulence there would be no reason for humor, no reason to laugh, and life without laughter is…what? And where does faith fit in? And what about the role of art in our lives?

And like MAGIC, my friend Kevin Townley, a practicing Buddhist and teacher as well as actor and writer and Met Museum tour guide, came out this month with a wonderful, funny, deep, personal, and insightful book to help guide me to a new understanding: Look, Look, Look, Look, Look Again: Buddhist Wisdom reflected in 26 Artists. I’m only a third of the way through, because I’ve found I have to read it with my pencil. The best books require that—so many observations to underline and reflect on. “Most people who embark upon a spiritual path don’t do so because they’re feeling fabulous,” he writes. And I laughed out loud. And so I came to see that the reason religion or a practice of any kind seems negative to me is that people seek faith for a release from depressive habits and feelings. So it makes sense, really, that it was hard for me to equate Buddhism, as I said, with joy. Kevin manages to link his irreverent humor and love of art with his spiritual practice, and in writing about it he threads in joy and creates openings for skeptics like Miss O’. Thanks, Kevin.

Miss O’ holds her very own copy, and you can, too, if you want!

Why relativity? Why turbulence? Artists often seem to hold the key. There is a Ted Talk on the unexpected math behind Vincent Van Gogh’s The Starry Night, a painting I have seen in person at MoMA here in New York, but it’s usually so crowded I’ve never had a chance to really see it. This talk, written by Natalya St. Clair, will blow your mind. In turbulence, “Big eddies transfer their energy to smaller eddies, which do likewise at other scales…,” and scientists have discovered “that there is a distinct pattern of turbulent fluid structures…hidden in many of Van Gogh’s paintings.” Gogh know! Artists are the reason to live.

“Seek and Ye Shall Find, and then

…when you find, you will become troubled; when you become troubled, you will be astonished, and rule over all things.”

The Gospel of Thomas (one of the Gnostic Gospels that the papal crowd decided to pull out of the New Testament; because god forbid a person feel empowered without a pope to lead her)

So I have to wonder: could the purpose of turbulence be that there is beauty in turbulence? And without turbulence we have no beauty? That Hanh is right, that without suffering there can be no joy?

Last week I noticed the bird’s nest under my neighbor Bob’s second floor air conditioner, a nest that has been there every year for the past 18 years; the chirping heralded spring, and I remembered: baby birds are coming. Then two days ago I looked up and the nest had vanished. Wind? Rain? It’s happened before, somehow the nest is gone, but miraculously, resiliently, the house sparrows are not. There they were, out flitting on the fence, and I saw one fly back up with a small twig in its beak. Rebuilding.

Ukraine will be next. And the earth after that. Take a memo.

Card by Turkish paper marbling master that reminds me of the symbolic colors of Ukraine.

On Turbulent Flow — Part I

Turbulence, in science, is a chaotic fluid motion, unpredictable, as you see in the ocean surf or fast-running streams and rivers. My common sense tells me that all that wildlife in the water would help create that chaos, movements inside of the flow, but in any case, mathematically, there is no clear reason such a thing should occur. Why does turbulence exist?

I might well ask this question of life on Earth. Why are there psychotics? Why do some people create and believe in conspiracy theories that undermine forward motion and foment insanity in otherwise decent people?

Turbulence happens all the time, even in small ways. Every time a kid walked into my classroom, slamming books, grunting; or during class a kid called out, “this is a waste of my tax dollars,” the flow of the lesson was ruined. 

A friendship flows along, and then one friend neglects another in time of need. Or grows jealous.


Why is there turbulence?

A (now ex-) friend (a racist, homophobe, and xenophobe with no capacity to grow one inch over thirty years, so I have limits), used to complain, “Life should be gossamer!” I used to counter, “I think that’s heaven, right?” Life is brutish, nasty, and short, full of trials sent to test us, suck it up, etc. I accepted that. 

Miss O’ ponders the Big Ideas.

So Why Can’t Everything Ever Just Calm the Fuck Down?

Now I’m stuck on this unsolvable mathematical problem, “Why turbulence?” Why is it that this one utterly unpredictable thing (as far as we know) cannot be solved or answered for? 

No, Seriously, What in the Actual Fuck?

So I begin here with an admission: Despite the turbulence of continuing life in Covid-land, I enjoyed 2021. Well, the first part of it. Lockdown or no, once Biden was inaugurated and the American Rescue Plan was passed, and positive things were in MOTION, progress, repair, I could breathe. For the first time in five years I could breathe.


It’s 2022.

Manchin and Sinema and the Barr and Pompeo Rehabilitation Tours.

Trump has announced his candidacy and is out on the rally circuit.

All these seemingly paid Russian agents, like Carlson and Gabbard, are getting a media pass. A DOJ pass.


The left, so-called, is losing again.



The planet, the country, the voice. 

And now Ukraine, a struggling and young democracy, is under assault by Russia out of Putin’s desire to recreate the Soviet Empire and to take its resources and thwart its democracy. As of this writing President Zelensky, a Jew, has asked to meet Putin in Jerusalem to try to broker peace. Putin does not want peace. He wants to rule the world. Putin is reportedly firing and arresting everyone around him, from ministers to generals, who has failed him, and he will doubtless have them all executed, er, report that they fell out of windows, with plenty more to take their places. You know, we all dream of a separate planet for all of them, while they dream of the annihilation of most of us, who are good, decent people. It’s the same old story. It’s Star Wars. Only now too many leaders of our planet root for Darth Vader without shame.

As Seen on the Internet.


Singer-songwriter Dan Bern opens his song “Jerusalem” (which you can listen to here):

When I tell you that I love you
Don’t test my love
Accept my love, don’t test my love
‘Cause maybe I don’t love you all that much

It’s such a charming and funny opening to a song, and it’s merely a hint of greater things to come. While the song dates to the ‘90s, it may as well be written now. After a bit of a journey (and I hope you listened to it), the speaker offers the Big Reveal:

Everybody’s waiting for the Messiah
The Jews are waiting
Christians are waiting
Also the Muslims
It’s like everybody’s waiting
They been waiting a long time
I know how I hate to wait
Like even for a bus or something
An important phone call
So I can just imagine
How darned impatient
Everybody must be getting
So I think it’s time now
Time to reveal myself
I am the Messiah
I am the Messiah

Trump’s supporters, as we witnessed, came all over themselves (and that’s not vulgar hyperbole, as I saw women on camera saying that they’d welcome being raped by Trump, which isn’t rape then, is it?) and continue to do so when they found their Messiah in Trump, which is beyond baffling to sentient people. (Not really is this the case for all-powerful Putin, because he’s not interested in being a Messiah so much as being Voldemort.)

Oh, that Internet. (Sub in Picture of Donald Trump. -ed.)

So here is where Trump channels Dan Bern’s speaker in the latest media tours and rallies:

Yes I think you heard me right
I am the Messiah 

I was gonna wait til next year
Build up the suspense a little
Make it a really big surprise
But I could not resist
It’s like when you got a really big secret
You’re just bursting to tell someone
It was kinda like that with this
And now that I’ve told you
I feel this great weight lifted
Dr. Nusbaum was right
He’s my therapist
He said get it out in the open

Even the speaker of the lyrics has, like Trump, a fake doctor’s note of “all clear.” And, to make matters worse, Trump’s “message” is ever amplified by Right and Left alike, because everyone is, in fact, waiting for the Messiah. Everyone except those of us who just want to roll up our sleeves and for the love of fucking god do the WORK to SOLVE PROBLEMS.

What Is a Messiah?

If you, like me, ever found yourself in an Advanced Placement class or in some other Highly Challenging class, like Aristotelian Philosophy (which I, a theatre arts major, took in the hopes that we might talk about the Poetics, but if we ever did I was lost by then), you know the Boys Who Ruin Everything. They are the “smart,” or let’s say for the sake of accuracy, schmart boys, the boys obsessed with derailing every lecture, changing the subject to something they feel expert in (say, Plato, Pink Floyd, or Reagan), or comment derisively just because; and the teacher or professor of said course invariably proved incompetent to get the class back on anything like a sentient track. We see this behavior played out in today’s media in a frenzy, almost exclusively by the right-leaning Schmart Boys, whether it’s Cucker Tarlson on Fux or “Lincoln Republican/Never Trumper” Wick Rilson, have one thing in common: They have exactly zero ideas for how to make life better for anyone or for the planet. Zero! Nada! Ha, ha! Their joy—and it’s all over Twitter, all over Fux Nooze, is their GLEE at either supporting or amplifying via decrying the voices of hatred, doom, and Big Power. And also to knock down smart, capable women like Hillary Clinton (what larks! who does that skirt think she is?)—and maybe only Hillary Clinton—who are focused on solving actual problems, women who, as people in government, believe that government should identify and face a problem, discover the causes, and seek solutions that benefit the masses. How dull, these Schmart Boys shriek. (And yet if we need anything in government it’s more dull wonks who solve problems.) Let’s throw out “truth” bombs that make us look schmart!

Thanks, Internet. Because she really was.

And, right on cue once again, in 2022, despite the improvement in Covid numbers, the great jobs report, you name the success, the American news media are amplifying the voices of Trump, via Bill Barr and the American fascists via coverage of the trucker convoy and Russia’s Putin, and only criticizing Joe Biden and the Democrats.

Even Trevor Noah on The Daily Show joked (?) that the UAE wouldn’t ever have refused a call from Donald Trump, as they have from Biden, because Trump’s such a wild card, ha, ha! But now the Right is using this as a meme in their Twitter feeds (framed with a picture of the Black man back when he was “clean-cut”), further legitimizing Trump’s power and his right to take it back.

There are a few so-called “remorseful” Republicans, the faux-apologists (for not voting to impeach or convict, right, sure) like Rep. Adam Kitzinger (R-IL) who are only apologizing as they prepare for a run of their own, I suspect; and who still voted AGAINST the John Lewis Voting Advancement Act, the Violence Against Women Act, and who also are against a woman having control of her own body, and who have no problem with book banning.


I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say we are in the midst of a global nervous breakdown. Putin is behaving like Dr. Evil in an Austin Powers movie and the media legitimizes him by calling him “president,” a self-conferred title, and by using Putin’s objectives to frame all their headlines, rather than the pain being felt by the Ukrainian people.

Republicans and Fascists and Authoritarians preach the Gospel of the Messiah. Their followers drink it like wine, munch it like manna. They convoy around it. They fall prostrate before it, and all the while their Messiah screws them up the ass, they weep tears of gratitude. 

You know who’s NOT a Messiah? President Zelensky. President Biden. President Obama. President Carter. Hillary Clinton. These are people ON THE GROUND, doing the work, fighting for right. So why aren’t our American Democrat politicians praised for their heart, focus, and hard work?

Because there’s a Messiah problem on the Left, too.

Democrats are ALSO looking for the Messiah. That’s how Obama got elected, and talented though he was, he wasn’t, SPOILER, a Messiah, and so many people were so disappointed! And who can forget the Bernie Bro cult that went on to derail Hillary Clinton’s election? Because if a candidate isn’t “likable” or “perfect,” which is to say “male,” and if the candidate isn’t anointed by the press and Dems alike, fuck her and let the world collapse. (Meanwhile Republicans get a total media free pass to thwart good work. It’s their accepted role as the Evil Nemesis to Good!)

Until we on the so-called “left,” which is almost “right-center” anymore, reckon with our own messianic desires and dispense with them, this absurd pattern of annoint-or-derail won’t change. Until we admit of and celebrate the humanity, fallibility, and glorious possibility of our talented Democratic candidates and move past the plea for perfect alignment, we destroy all hope.

At the close of Dan Bern’s “Jerusalem,” the speaker returns to the opening lines, but now he is speaking not as a man but as the Messiah:

When I tell you that I love you
Don’t test my love
Accept my love, don’t test my love
Cause maybe I don’t love you all that much

Anyone who calls himself a Messiah, is anything but. And maybe it’s the concept of a “messiah” that really is the greatest mind-fuck of all. Messiahs don’t have to accomplish anything; they just have to flatter to promote themselves. They don’t love anyone, really. Especially not you.

(Next time, Part II of Turbulent Flow will accentuate the positive. In the meantime:)

Precedented Times


I Started a Joke

Years ago, when I taught in rural Central Virginia, I lived in a little yellow house with a red tin roof, situated by a pond, down the grassy hill from the owners, Chester and Margaret, who lived in a lovely brick home. Shortly after I moved back to Northern Virginia, Chester had a heart attack and had to undergo surgery. I arranged to stay with our mutual neighbors, the Claboughs, and as soon as Chester was home, I drove down for the weekend to do whatever I could. Mostly I spent the two days sitting with Chester on their glassed-in back porch, where he moaned and felt hopeless, old, and sad; I listened, tried to entertain him a bit with funny stories of my new teaching life in a different school system, and fluffed pillows or got him a glass of water. This gave Margaret time to do whatever she needed to get done—laundry, cooking, running errands, what have you, at least for a couple of days. Mine wasn’t much in the way of help, but it’s what I could do.

While Chester napped in the bedroom that first afternoon, Margaret and I sat together on the porch. She said at one point, “Lisa, people say ‘Let me know what I can do’ but they don’t mean it.” I asked what she meant. “Well, for example, a woman from my church called and said, ‘Let me know if I can do anything,’ and I said, ‘Well, I’d like to give my niece Debbie a break, so if you could sit with Chester while I run into town for an hour, that would be wonderful.’ She said, ‘Oh, I don’t know if I could get out there…but if you need anything, let me know.’ And all I’d wanted to do was get my hair done—Chester hates my gray roots—and it was too much to ask.”

But don’t people mean it sometimes? I asked.

“You are a real helper,” she said, “because you don’t ask, you just show up. You say, ‘Here I am, put me to work.’ Even if it’s for an hour, or for the weekend, you just do it. Most people, they really don’t care to help. They just want to feel good about themselves for saying, ‘Let me know if you need anything.’ It’s a shame.”

I’ve held on to this theory of Margaret’s for over 30 years now, and it hasn’t been wrong yet. The key part of this is the person in need of help isn’t asking for the moon; she or he is asking for an hour of your time, 20 minutes, something to help make light work of a tiny piece of a heavy burden.

Now: to be clear, I’m not talking about, say, help with lawn or yard maintenance for a home you own and chose to buy. When you need that kind of help, all you can do is call your family. Family will do that kind of help because you have that kind of reciprocity built into the DNA of kinship. Even with something like moving, there are really very few people beyond family who will help with that, except friends who have become family, and those are rare.

I’m talking about the need we have to turn to our social friends—friends with whom we go out and see shows or go hiking or get a beer—in times of crisis. Occasionally needing to count on our fellows in unprecedented circumstances is part of living: following a surgery, say, or an act of god. And what we find at times like this can be something of a shock.

Mine was a week of unprecedented disappointment.

Check that. It was precedented disappointment–I’m 57 after all. I posted that picture—an image of a tee shirt sent to me by a military friend who is trying to help Middle East peace for the 3000th year—and another friend took me to task (in the Comments) for the post because I didn’t seem to understand that all the events of 2021—pestilence, tyrants, fools—have centuries of precedent, but we have been too dumb to see it. “I know,” I sighed to myself, “but I just thought it was funny.”

Even a moment of levity is too little too late for actual smart people. It’s lonely at the top.

And in the flood waters.

On the night of September 1, 2021, my Queens apartment basement was overcome by a rush of water courtesy Hurricane Ida, a gush of city drain overload that I would call “unprecedented,” but which my friend back there would say has plenty of global precedent, so I am not allowed to experience this event as a shock, loss, or other horror. I’m trying to be smart enough to see that my problem isn’t a problem, because I really am a smart person, very good at perspective, I think; so are my very smart friends. As a result, no one really saw a need to help me recover from Ida. Because life. That is who we are in 2021, post- and mid-pandemic, post-despot, post-Katrina.

Basement during Ida flood event.

I’d say that this help-vacuum was unprecedented, but surely other people over the many millennia of life on Earth have experienced this lack of support, so even my disappointment in this case must needs be denied.

I hear myself sounding like a dick, but I am truly smarting over this.

Coincidentally, to clarify the timeline, I was going on vacation for the week (a trip upstate to Lake George cancelled, obviously), and my boss graciously gave me two days to start the clean-up, so I was just beyond grateful that I would have time to dive in, as it were, to restore what I could during the coming week off. (Poor me, you hear me saying; but I’m not, really.)

So here’s where it got weird.

Despite the posting of pictures on social media of the flood experience and the damage—which I did for the news value rather than pity, truly—I was gradually astonished to find that not one of my friends offered to come over to help or offer aid right away. On Thursday, two friends in the neighborhood texted a picture of a fan they had (for drying) that I could come and get—they would meet me part way. I just stared at the text. “I’m good,” I replied, “but thanks!” The exclamation point belied my stunned feeling: You can’t bring it to me? Seriously? Did you see what just happened? That I didn’t sleep all night? That I don’t want to walk three quarters of a mile to get a fan and walk three quarters of a mile back carrying it by myself? Then on Sunday, three days after the flood and the sending out of pictures, two city friends on a group thread finally texted to see if I needed anything, and I asked if they wouldn’t mind coming over to help me remove salvaged items from the basement and bring them up to my first floor; in exchange for which I would cook them a meal of farmer’s market green beans and ham, with potatoes and carrots, and a side of fresh-baked corn bread. And they came, and I fed them. The work that would have taken me at least three hours on my own (I have arthritis in my back) took about 20 minutes with the three of us. 

The three hours of work on my part, which I did indeed do, was spent preparing the meal, sharing it in the company of two friends, and cleaning up afterward. It was work time I was more than grateful to spend, no question.

Another friend, one of my best, upon hearing me express gratitude for the aforementioned help when we met up on Labor Day, took a couple of beats before saying, as he stared into the middle distance, “Let me know if you need anything.” 

And beyond that, crickets. Margaret was so, so right.

Just to rub salt into my wound: I had to cull books, bedding, clothes, and office items for donating in order that I may make my life fit onto one floor for the foreseeable future; and even sharing this dilemma, I couldn’t help noticing that a nearby friend (who checked out the store walk with me in real time) with a car didn’t offer to drive me over to the Goodwill Store. Instead, I pulled my heavy pushcart from the basement (which journey I’d already done three times with several soaked rugs, towels, and blankets to take to the laundromat) through the trash alley of my apartment building and up the stairs and parked it outside. I filled it with a load and proceeded to push it up and down hills along 48th Street for 10 blocks, make a drop off, and return with the cart in the summer heat those same 10 blocks and refill for another load. I took the same walking trip again for 10 blocks, and back 10 blocks. I opened the trash alley door, thunked the heavy cart down the stairs, pushed it along, and returned it to my mudroom. (And to be fair, I’m the hoarder of the guest bedding, the books, and shit I donated, so.) Locked up the basement, the alley, and went inside (in prep for starting back to work tomorrow) to tend to the cooking of food for the week.

When it comes to that, no one has so much as offered me a meal.

Except Richard, who lives in New Jersey with his husband and twins. (Sixteen years ago he drove the moving van when I moved into my apartment, and he helped me unload–only the two of us, as no one else showed up.) Richard (my best friend from college) invited me out for the day, and we all walked and played, and cooked out, and made s’mores, and watched Disney’s Million Dollar Duck with Dean Jones and Sandy Duncan (her first film!) for their outdoor movie night with the neighbors. In exchange, though not needed, I brought some long-coveted framed pictures, scarves, and items I thought they and the kids might enjoy. We had a grand day, and I felt so grateful for the break, I can’t tell you. It replenished me for the work to come.

However much I sound like I’m whining or complaining, I’m really not feeling whiny. I’m trying to understand what in the hell is going on.

Decent, good people are not acting like decent, good people. They are instead acting like indifferent, selfish narcissists. (Is that redundant?) They are not, these people whom I know well, in fact indifferent or selfish or narcissistic. They wouldn’t recognize themselves in this essay were it not for the specific situations I mentioned. They are caring people. Is it me, that they dislike me? I don’t think so. So what’s going on?

I now have to turn the tables and train a bright flood light on myself: When one of the fan-offering partners had out-patient surgery a few weeks ago, for example, did I go over there with a meal? No, I did not. Why not? Because we live in New York City, during a pandemic where we are good at lockdown as we work from home, in the age of Seamless, of which these friends happily avail themselves. And they have each other, whereas I am alone. But when I checked in several times and said, “Do you need anything? What can I do?” I know that I fucking meant it.

Unprecedented Times

Whatever the protestations of my very smart and enlightened friend in her comment on social media over “precedented times,” all events are unprecedented for the people who live them for the first time. Sure, we should learn from history, and our (ostensibly) more knowledgeable leaders should act on that history, meaning they should be anticipating the future and planning for that (see also the Seventh Generation mode of living for the Native Nations in the U.S.). But for the individuals experiencing a pandemic for the first time, a Flash Flood Emergency for the first time, or a surgery for the first time, the times are unprecedented for us, the ones enduring the times. It doesn’t mean we lack imagination or intelligence, but rather that that there is no way to fully enter the emotional experience of the moment unless you are there.

Which is why my very decent friends have been for the most part utterly unhelpful to me in a moment of real crisis.

I mean, watching that flood water coming in, without any warning, through the basement toilet and shower and knowing there is no way to stop it, that all you can do is move all the stuff onto the guest bed or up the stairs as quickly as you can despite your arthritic back while wading barefoot through sewer water, is just fucking scary. It just is. And it’s totally new in feeling.

When we ask for “precedented times” (see tee shirt picture), we are asking for a level of comfort and predictability that any sentient person would desire. Sure, it’s too much to expect, but in the words of Mary Chapin Carpenter, it’s not too much to ask.

And neither is a little help cleaning up a flooded basement.

While Margaret’s theory may have precedent that dates back to time immemorial, it’s hard to overlook the very recent influence of the Republican Party and Donald Trump, who ushered in the Age of Narcissism and Selfishness. I think this rampant nasty behavior might be a tad unprecedented, just a little, isn’t it? And even the most seemingly immune by virtue of liberalism may have fallen sway to it. Aw, hell, that’s just me being dumb again, probably. But I’m too tired to do the research.

So before I sign off sounding like little more than an ungrateful prick, I close by sending infinite gratitude to the following people:

My sister, Sherry, who texted from North Carolina, “Oh, I wish I was there to help you!” and you could feel her meaning it with all her heart.

My friend Debbie Andrews, also based in North Carolina, for texting, “Oh, I wish I could be there to help you!” and who meant it like mad.

My friends Anna and Michael in California, who would have been here like a shot, as seen with Anna instantly emailing me, “Do you have time to talk? Can we get on a call?” because she wanted to be here to help.

And finally to my next-door neighbors Craig and Charley, who had the same experience I did, and whom I do not know all that well, and yet who have been the most fabulous neighbors you could ask for, offering me their shop vac and a dehumidifier (they bought TWO), and who sent me their floor man to give me an estimate on replacement floors, I want to say I am sorry all I could do for you was buy you wine.

Overarching message: Every LITTLE BIT helps. It really, really does.

Be a helper. Be a real friend. 

Do something to help your neighbor. It’s the difference between existing and living, the difference between despair and hope.

(P.S. This memory came up on Facebook as I posted this blog: “Last night I was reading a book on acting by Stella Adler, her section on Chekhov, her favorite writer. She explains how Stanislavsky and the Moscow Art Theatre made playing Chekhov possible, teaching actors not to work in isolation to be, you know, dazzling, but rather to speak to and listen to and respond to the BEING of the other characters, because Chekhov was writing life. Sharing this today, via my brother Mike, because it’s beautiful and also a beautiful coincidence. If you aren’t keen on the idea of all of us “in it together,” why not open up one by one by one, see how it goes? Love to all. “)

How’s that for truth? Love to all.