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Category — Language


I am the least racist person you will ever meet.

This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period.

I have assembled the best cabinet in the history of the world.

People have given me credit for having great chemistry with all of the leaders.

Never has there been a president….with few exceptions…who’s passed more legislation, who’s done more things than I have.

Ah, the fine art of humility as practiced by the Leader of the Free World.

Let us, please, not become numb to the vanity, the hubris, the narcissism, the self-aggrandizement, the heart-stopping lack of perspective – the amorality – of all this because we hear it everyday, because it has become part of the political canon, the cultural canon. Because egomaniacal statements like this are the stuff of funny memes and clever Facebook posts and witty Shouts & Murmurs columns. We laugh. Okay, laugh. But do not forget: This is not normal. This is not good. This, in fact, erodes the soul.

You know what feeds the soul? Humility.

Humility is not self-doubt or self-deprecation. It is not meekness. You do not give up “pride” in yourself when you are humble. You give up being prideful. “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.” (The quote is attributed to, among others, Christian philosopher C.S. Lewis and Islamic theologian Waleed Basyouni. Point taken.)

Humility is a recognition of who you are and your place is the world. (Carl Sagan famously said, “We are like butterflies who flutter for a day and think it’s forever.”) Or, should you want to be even more humble, your place in the universe. (as in “tiny speck”). It’s worth considering that the term “humility” comes from the Latin word humilitas, a noun related to the adjective humilis, which may be translated as “humble” but also as “grounded” or “from the earth,” as in humus (earth).

And so, drowning in this sea of bloated, inflated, self-serving rhetoric, let us swim toward land. Let us plant our feet, stay grounded, from the earth, humble.

(Well, okay, Ali WAS the greatest.)



August 9, 2017   1 Comment

Bunk, balderdash, malarkey

Lest you think this post is akin to Nero fiddling while Rome burned (which he didn’t, by the way: The fiddle wasn’t invented yet.), I will say pro-actively and in my own defense that I DO, in fact, think and care about MUCH MORE IMPORTANT things than the subject of this post. But, frankly, I am all Comey-ed, Trump-ed and Session-ed out. Oh, that’s yesterday. Today there’s a horrific fire, yet another crazed shooter. These neural pathways need a momentary rest. And so I am allowing myself to feel righteous indignation about something else. Something small. Like these stupid sayings. I am calling bullshit on these sayings.

“That’s like comparing apples to oranges” – meaning you can’t compare the two because they are so different. What? They are both fruit. They both grow on trees. They are spherical. They are both in the top five most-consumed fruits in America. Why the hell can’t you compare them? Apples are better than oranges. See. I just compared them.

“Everything in moderation.” Seriously? Like love your children in moderation? Like be moderately creative? Moderately empathetic? Moderately generous? I. Don’t. Think. So. Be excessively loving. Burn with creativity. Open all the gates to empathy. Be generous to a fault. Because it’s not a fault.

“One picture is worth a thousand words.” Speaking as both a writer and a photographer, let me say: Bullshit. Still images can have enormous power and emotional resonance. It is possible to read subtext into an image. But not 1000 words of subtext. Or text. Words also have power and resonance. Aside from communicating emotion, which images do quite well, words can communicate what happens or happened outside the frame: backstory, context, inner and outer motivation, relationships, nuance. In fact, my friends, one word might be worth a thousand pictures. Love. Trust. Respect.

“Don’t sweat the small stuff.” First of all, in the scope of things in this world, in the universe, in the ether of time, it’s all small stuff: your divorce, your kid’s shitty report card, the 45th president. Small stuff. Second, of course sweat the small stuff. From a writer’s point of view, it’s all about sweating the small stuff: laboring to find the single right word, cogitating over the use of a comma, spending an hour crafting a single sentence that sings. It is the culmination of sweating all the small stuff that leads to the good, big stuff. Now if I could only find the single right word for stuff.

“Live every day as if it were your last.” Okay, I don’t know how YOU would live your final 24 hours on earth, but here’s what I’d do: Plan A: All-day hike among the early summer wildflowers in Kootenay National Park, British Columbia, fueled by multiple generous handfuls of high-quality gorp. Plan B (should I be physically incapacitated on my last day): Binge watch every Thin Man movie while eating chocolate éclairs (maybe a cannoli or two thrown in) and having my feet rosemary-oil massaged. So, really, I can’t live every day as if it were my last, can I?

Your turn.

June 14, 2017   2 Comments

Liar, Liar, President on Fire

What we are seeing, what we are in the throes of, my fellow Americans, is part Huxley, part Orwell – and a whole lot of Leon Festinger.

OK. So Huxley is obvious. As in Brave New World, we are seeing the construction and manipulation of a “state” based on the principles of obedience, homogeneity and consumption. Indoctrination is not via hypnosis but rather tweet blasts and bald-faced lies masquerading as “alternative facts.”

And then there’s Orwell, literary creator of a dystopia controlled by privileged few and headed by a leader who enjoys an intense cult of personality. (Um…?) Remember newspeak and doublethink? War is Peace. Ignorance is Strength. Black is White. A true believer not only proclaims black is white, but believes black is white and forgets that anyone ever believed the contrary.

But who the heck is Leon Festinger?

Leon Festinger was an American social psychologist best known for developing the theory of cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance occurs when you are faced with reality that goes against what you firmly believe. For example, you firmly believe – you have been led to believe (you voted based on the belief) – that the Affordable Care Act is “imploding,” and that Trump’s plan will, as promised, insure more people, giving them more choice, at a lower cost.

Then you are faced with the reality of that Plan: that millions of people will lose their coverage or not be able to afford coverage (so choice is not an issue) and that the cost for those who most need insurance – hint: not the young and healthy – will increase (and I use this word advisedly) astronomically. And that you, working-class, rural, Red state supporter, are in the crosshairs.

What do you, true believer, do with that information?

Leon figured that one out back in 1956 – it’s known as “belief disconfirmation” — when he and colleagues wrote When Prophecy Fails. Here’s what happens: In the face of patently contradictory, inarguable verifiable information, your original belief is…deepened. Or, slightly reconfigured to make room for the clearly contradictory information without that new information materially changing your original belief.

You may have heard about the famous study that underlies this finding. It had to do with an apocalyptic religious cult, members of which had given up homes, jobs, material possessions — and left their families – in preparation for the end of the world. The world was ending because of Sodom-and-Gomorrah type corruption (like, oh, being able to use the bathroom of the gender you identify with). Only the self-sanctified members of this cult would survive, spirited to the planet Clarion by an alien spaceship. No, this is not the plot of a 1950s sci-fi pot-boiler.

The world would end (big flood) right before dawn on Dec. 21, 1954. The rescue spaceship would arrive at a predetermined place on the stroke of midnight.

The cult assembled. Midnight stroked. No spaceship. The disconfirmed prophecy caused them acute cognitive-dissonance: Had they been victims of a hoax? Had they foolishly given up everything? What Festinger found was that to resolve the dissonance between apocalyptic, end-of-the-world beliefs (oh, let’s just call them Trumpisms) and the earthly reality (oh, let’s just call it reality), most of the cult restored their psychological consonance by choosing to hold a less mentally-stressful idea to explain the missed landing. Instead, they decided to believe the alternate facts their leader presented: The aliens hadn’t arrived not because the prophesy was false but because the aliens had given planet Earth a second chance. In the face of the prophesy-that-didn’t-happen, people did not leave the cult. People did not stop believing in the corruption of the world and their own sanctified status. In fact, they got out and proselytized.

As Festinger wrote, “If more and more people can be persuaded that the system of belief is correct, then clearly it must after all be correct.”

March 15, 2017   4 Comments

Take back civility

BeavisandbuttheadLife’s a bitch. Don’t vote for one.

She’s a cunt. Vote for Trump.

Better to grab a pussy than be one.

Don’t be a pussy. Vote for Trump.

I wish Hillary had married OJ.

Where did all this foul, despicable, inexcusably vile rhetoric come from? How did we devolve to such base, crude, violent, sexist sloganing? Putting aside, for just a moment, ideology and political passions, forgetting (ha) gender and class and race, why should any of us engage in such degraded, loathsome speech?

Some of us would like to think these slogans (all seen on t-shirts and placards at Trump rallies) are “just” the product of the angry fringe, snarlings emerging from deep within the basket of deplorables. But you know what? Incivility has become a part of everyday American life –not just tolerated but accepted, normalized, embraced. Lashing out with name-calling, turning disagreement into rudeness, crudeness and bullying…Mr. Trump did not invent this.

I blame us – all of us – for the debasement of dialog, for our inability to argue a point without an “oh yeah, well you suck” comeback, for the failure of imagination and intelligence (not to mention garden-variety decency) that leads us to criticize a person by invoking a body part or by suggesting murder.

Anyone who’s ever scrolled through the comments section of a news site has seen (for years now) this deplorable behavior, this resorting to insult instead of engaging in debate, this crude name-calling. One study that analyzed more than 6,400 reader comments posted to the website of the Arizona Daily Star, the major daily newspaper in Tucson, found that more than 1 in 5 comments included some form of incivility, with name-calling as the most prevalent type.

More than 4 years ago — back when Mr. Trump was merely a billionaire developer reality TV host and not a candidate for the highest office in the most powerful country on the planet – Psychology Today ran a long story about the rise of incivility in American culture, pointing to – that’s right — reality TV.

We became inured to it long before Mr. Trump stirred the pot. We watched (and laughed at) the crude idiocy of Beavis and Butthead. We tuned in to bullying chefs and insulting, hot-headed talk show hosts and back-stabbing/ trash-talking “Housewives of…” It was entertainment. Just as we at first thought Mr. Trump was entertainment.

We were wrong.

And now, as we watch Mr. Trump lose, we need to pull ourselves out of the mire. We need to take responsibility and reclaim civility in American life.

We are capable of intelligent conversation. We are capable of passionate, informed and respectful debate and disagreement. And if you don’t think I’m right, then fuck off.

October 19, 2016   3 Comments

The REAL Elena Ferrante

GetFileAttachmentTo write, to write with purpose, to write better than I had already. And to study the stories of the past and the present to understand how they worked, and to learn, to learn everything about the world with the sole purpose of constructing living hearts, which no one could ever do better than me…

These are the thoughts of Elena Greco, the narrator of Elena Ferrante’s  stunning four-book series of Neapolitan novels. But this is also the author herself, proclaiming her purpose. It is every author proclaiming her purpose, setting her intentions.

And that’s why, as I read the novels, I was content not knowing who “Elena Ferrante” really was. I knew who she was. She was a woman writing. She was a woman giving voice not just to her narrator but to every woman who is bold and then doubts herself, who works for success and then questions whether she deserves it, who is wary because that’s what a woman has to be in this world, who pretends and knows she pretends and beats herself up for pretending and then pretends again. A woman whose interior monolog is richer and deeper and darker than anyone can imagine.

The author, despite extraordinary international acclaim, chose privacy. She chose to remain cloaked in a pseudonym, and I loved that. I loved it because it allowed me to feel the work, to be fully immersed in the work. I loved it because, at a time when every author (myself included) lusts for media attention and shouts me me me on any and all social media channels, this author was letting the work speak for itself. This author put the characters first. And the setting. And the force of culture and history.

And then…the revelation.

An Italian investigative reporter, who apparently had nothing more pressing to do (may I suggest, for starters, investigating the stranglehold the Camorra has on Naples? Italy’s astonishing unemployment rate?) took it upon himself to paw through financial records and real estate records and unmask the “real” Elena Ferrante.

Asked why he would want to delve into the identity of Ms. Ferrante, whose readers value her anonymity, the journalist, Claudio Gatti said he was just doing his job.


If his job is making a name for himself. If his job is (temporarily) one-upping the most widely read, most respected FEMALE novelist of our time. He is like so many of the male characters in Ferrante’s novels – loud voice, small mind, clueless about and simultaneously jealous of the power of a woman.

He wants to steal Elena Ferrante from us. But we know who she is, and we won’t let him.

October 5, 2016   2 Comments

not-so Truisms

Apple_and_Orange_-_they_do_not_compareI’ve been thinking about our dependence on tried-and-truisms that are actually, if we stop to think about them, just bad advice wrapped in clichés.

Here’s a few I question – and soundly reject:
Take baby steps.
Absolutely not! Be audacious. Take big bold steps. Lengthen your stride, especially when you’re feeling the most timid. One giant step really can lead to another giant step.

Play to your strengths.
Really? Why would you want to do that? You already know how to do that. You’re already good at that. Why not play to your weaknesses? Why not explore those underdeveloped parts, open some doors you’ve never opened?

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Seriously? You mean don’t dream up cool new things just because the old things are working okay? Don’t tinker and fiddle? So, speaking as a writer, does this mean if the prose is serviceable, don’t mess with it. I. Don’t. Think. So.

Write what you know.
If this is meant as a warning to not write from a position of ignorance, then sure. If this is an invitation to write about only what you’ve personally experienced and understand at the moment, I reject it! Writing about what you don’t already know means you have to go learn about it, research it, think about it, stretch yourself to understand what you don’t already understand. So write what you don’t know. Think and write yourself into a place of knowing.

This next one is not bad advice, just a cliché I hate so much that I’m going to grab this opportunity to rant about it:

That’s like comparing apples to oranges.
This is supposed to mean that the two things being compared are so different that a comparison is ridiculous. Actually, the saying is ridiculous. It’s pretty easy to compare apples and oranges. Fruit. That grows on trees. Spherical. Little seeds you spit out. Makes good juice. Lunchbox favorites.

The idiom is not unique, but other languages are more inventive in their “don’t compare” comparisons. My favorite is the Serbian expression: “That’s like comparing grandmothers to toads.”

In case you’re interested (and even if you’re not), this metaphor for dissimilarity began as “apples and oysters,” first published in 1670 in a collection of proverbs.

So there.

I invite you to write in with your truisms that aren’t.

July 6, 2016   No Comments

Ooey-gooey niceness

beavis_buttheadI have long blamed our 21st century plunge down the gullet of potty-mouth on Beavis and Butthead. The dialog – if you could call Beavis: “You monkeyspank.” / Butthead: “Shut-up fart knocker!!” dialog – was rude, coarse and well, bone stupid. Note that I carefully selected a bit of repartee that did not include the all-but-ubiquitous (I almost wrote all-“butt”-ubiquitous, hehe) bunghole, cornhole, schlong, boner, etc. Our conversation is, I fear, forever changed by these two asshats. See, I did it. The art of the elegant insult is dead.

I am now looking to assign blame for what I see as another 21st century fall from grace: the epidemic of insincerity, the virulent outbreak of inauthenticity (not sure that’s a word, but now it is), the wholesale inability to be genuine, the thick, gooey layer of pretend niceness that is being slathered over everything.

Well, not everything. Political rhetoric – while spectacularly insincere – is certainly not ooey-gooey nice. (An aside: Remember “nattering nabobs of negativism”? Now that was a great Pre-Beavis/Butthead insult uttered by a politician, the crowning glory of the inestimable Spiro T. Agnew, Nixon’s Veep.)

Back to “inauthenticity.” What do I mean by that? I mean the inability to be real, to either say what you think or not say anything. Being inauthentic means not just hiding your true feelings but pretending you feel/ think otherwise. It means obscuring your true feelings, your authentic response, under a veneer of happy-smiley-talk: the super-perky delivery of a faked compliment, the “love” button response to a post you actually haven’t read; the sending of an email with “congratulations” followed by the requisite two or three exclamation points….

…when really you (choose one, or several): don’t care; don’t know anything about it; don’t think the accomplishment is actually much of an accomplishment; don’t really like and/or respect the person; have, in fact, been trying your hardest to secretly undermine this person for years.

News flash: This pretend niceness is not fooling anyone. What it is doing is legitimizing emotional dishonesty (if you are the fake-compliment-giver) or casting doubt on the honesty of all responses (if you are the receiver). I am not suggesting we start insulting people. I still believe in “if you have nothing good to say, say nothing at all.” I am suggesting that sincerity should be a pre-requisite to compliments and congratulations.

If everything is a “good job!” then nothing is.

June 8, 2016   8 Comments