Sunday, 10 April 2011


When I wrote my last post I felt this blog needed an indefinitely long break. I had a mind to suspend it permanently (or until I turn 25, whichever comes first). But I had an experience this morning which I feel compelled to share.

I was on my way home and stopped at Dunkin Donuts for coffee. A man outside the store offered to sell me a copy of the Boston Globe. I declined, but then when I stepped out of the shop with my coffee, he and I started talking.

He told me his name was Ed. I gave him my Starbucks name, the one that just about anyone can pronounce regardless of their ethnic and linguistic origins. Ed told me that he had had a long day, but he didn't mind because his new boss had given him a chance to earn some extra money.

Up until last November, Ed used to work over in Brookline. He had another boss at that time and he didn't like the way she treated him. She had a habit of taking 80% of the commission they made from selling papers. "She took advantage of being a woman," he complained, "it wasn't fair." But he made a habit of showing up regularly for work anyway. And he told me that's why he was able to get this new job, with a new boss, right near by where he lives.

The job opened up because his predecessor died of cirrhosis. Ed shook his head sadly as he told me what happened. "He was 62. Too much alcohol, that stuff will kill you." I nodded a little self-consciously as he went on. "I've been sober for two years now." He certainly seemed sober.

It was half past ten on a Sunday morning. Ed explained that he had been standing there since 530am with his new boss, the one he likes. A little while earlier the boss had left him with all the unsold papers, saying "These are all yours. If you sell them all, you can keep all the commission." Ed was grateful for his boss' honest generosity.

If he sold all the papers, Ed stood to make seven dollars.

We talked for a couple of more minutes, about how it was such a nice sunny day, about how I was new in the neighborhood, about nothing at all. Then I went home, still marveling at Ed and his enthusiasm at the chance he'd been given to earn a little extra money on a sunny Sunday morning.

Later in the day I took the Zen Mistress out for a walk. I thought about Ed and I kicked myself. I should have just bought all of his unsold newspapers and sent him home. Opportunity lost, and I feel humbled and ashamed.

I can only hope that Ed didn't have to stand outside that Dunkin Donuts for too much longer. And I am thankful to him for reminding me that we may be imperfect creatures living imperfect lives but we can still find something to be grateful for.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

The converse is usually true

I frequently have theories. My latest theory is that every popular saying is rooted in truth and for every such saying, the converse is often true. And that applies to the very first post ever in this blog. Mystified? Read it and figure it out. The link is on the right.

Want a clue? It's in the very first sentence of that very first post.

Somehow I feel relieved.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Thank you, Morpheus

I feel like I’ve lost a friend. It’s not often that you discover a fictional character so vivid that you feel like you know him personally. I felt that way about Morpheus, the lord of dreams and the principal character in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series. I finished reading the last of the books in the series last week and as soon as I did, I realized I was going to really miss Morpheus. Damn you, Mr. Gaiman!

Since I no longer had new stories about Dream to read, I started to think about the nature of dreams. And thinking about dreams made me think of the world of dreams as a hall of mirrors.

Some of those mirrors distort. I look inside them and see my sleeping self reflect back at me a twisted reality. Sometimes that reflection is shrunken and sometimes it is magnified. But one way or another the image it casts is a familiar one, just slightly pallid and a little out of kilter. These are the dreams seen in funhouse mirrors.

Sometimes the mirror is like Alice’s looking glass. I lean in for a closer look and fall through it into a world beyond imagining. I have dreamt of flying, of feeling the wind touch my hair. I have dreamt of falling and of knowing that no matter how far I fell, I would not hit the ground. I have had dreams where I was suspended in a bubble from within which I explored a world of wonder. These are the dreams that open a portal into the fantastic voyage.

And sometimes the dream is a mirror of crystal lucidity, silvered with the purest self-knowledge. I look at myself, past my eyes, into my own soul. I see in vivid color my deepest hopes, even the ones I dare not speak aloud in my waking mind. I see many futures, colored in colors more true than any limp imitation of truth that conscious reason might scavenge. I look into myself and the naked honesty of that gaze is so piercing, it intimidates. I had such a dream when I was six. I had another such dream last month. And I remember both of them as vividly as if I were in them right now.

In The Sandman, the dreamlord Morpheus induces Shakespeare to write The Tempest. And it’s in The Tempest that Shakespeare wrote

…. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

The idea fascinates me that I was born from a sleep that I will one day fall back into, and that what I experience in between as a life is the most vivid dream of all. I like the idea because if this is a dream, then that is good because in a dream anything is possible. And perhaps the dreams that I dream when I think I am asleep are beacons showing me where my waking dream might take me.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

By way of explanation

I've been asked if the last few posts are autobiographical. Since some of the people who read this blog know me and might be concerned that I'm having a breakdown, I thought it best to respond to the question.

In Greek mythology there are five rivers in Hades. Of these five rivers in the underworld, the waters of Lethe are oblivion. Acheron is pain. Phlegethon is flame. Cocytos is lamentation. And Styx is hate. Any human with feelings has experienced each of these in some small measure. What would happen if the essence of each of these was distilled and amplified to the limit of endurance and then just a little more?

The fortunate among us will never find out.

And no, I'm not having a breakdown.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Epilogue: Styx

I look at you now, and the way you make me feel takes me by cold surprise.

I used to hate your eyebrows. Those dark twins that arched in a mocking display of self-satisfied assurance. You could do no wrong. So I must have been the wrong one.

I hated your eyes. I hated them for being so beautiful and so cruel. You acted as if you did not know what you were doing. But you knew. We both know that you knew.

I loathed your lips. I loathed the careless words they formed for your amusement and my mortification.

Your hair. The tilt of your head when you pretended to listen. The shape of your shoulders when you stood up straight. The curve of your spine when you slouched. Your goddamned voice. I knew them intimately and I hated them all.

You danced capriciously through my consciousness. You laughed your hollow laugh and left behind a wasteland. You twisted the knife with a smile and a glint and walked away. And so there was a time when I hated you with all my heart.

And now? Now I just don't care.

Sunday, 30 January 2011


She knows the taste of sadness. It tastes like Scotch whisky. She pours some in a glass now and holds it to her nose. She inhales slowly. It smells like rain. Then she takes a sip and lets herself feel the bitterness seeping in.

She takes a walk through the forest. It used to be a favorite spot for her, once upon a time when she was happy. It's still a favorite spot for her, because it is a good place for someone who holds darkness in her heart.

Mornings are the worst time of day. She cannot escape the sight of an empty space which was once filled with a living, breathing person. She stands in the doorway, looking at the bed where someone once slept. Her chest feels as if there is a solid mass of sadness swelling inside. She can feel it pressing against the inside of her ribs, threatening to burst them apart.

She is grateful for the comfort of darkness. She looks at the stars. Then she closes her eyes and wills them to go out one by one. The sky turns as black as coal. She lets her shoulders drop. She lets the memories come. She opens her mouth to sob soundlessly.

She feels the comforting cold stab of despair, and she welcomes it into her. Despair is not the enemy; the enemy is hope.

Saturday, 29 January 2011


Let's call him Prometheus. It's not his name, but what do names matter?

Prometheus' face is smooth. His eyes are calm. His lips are relaxed and show no sign of expressing any emotion. He holds his chin in his hands and looks thoughtful. Noone would guess that he is raging inside.

He rages at the rainbow he chased his whole life. He rages at the pot that only holds fool's gold. He rages at the hopes he once held, and the dreams that are now hollow. He rages at the despair of knowing that he is the only one who knows how futile it's all been.

He can feel himself shrinking. For months he has been casting off layers of his personality. And in a strange sympathy his body has been becoming smaller. It's an angry anorexia that has taken him.

What brought this all on? It was a cup of coffee on a late summer night last year.
He sits by himself, looking at a couple looking out of the window. Two men, one in his twenties and one with grey hair. The younger one reaches out and touches his companion's shoulder.

Prometheus watches the couple and tries to hear their conversation. They are having an argument. Their voices are quick and urgent but their words are indistinct. Then, without warning, the older man stands up and wrenches his gaze away to break eye contact with his companion. As he does so, he locks eyes with Prometheus.

For a slow, dizzy second Prometheus looks at a man who could be his identical twin. Then the spell breaks, and the older man (who looks nothing like Prometheus) leaves the cafe without another word. Prometheus lets out the breath that he did not realize he had been holding.

He will never forget that older man's eyes. They were filled with a grey longing. They screamed aloud an old man's despair. They set off a sympathetic detonation in Prometheus' head and the reverberations still deafen his mind and deaden his heart. From that day on he began to tear up every tie with every person in his life.

He can no longer bear the hypocrisy that's the foundation of every relationship. He refuses to lie and pretend to care when he doesn't. He refuses to trust anyone anymore. People lie all the time. It is better to believe everything is a lie than that anything is true.

He has been tearing up every tie and feeding the flames of his anger. When the last one is done, he will have cleansed himself in fire.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Prelude: Acheron

She closes her eyes and feels the pain. It's not physical but it is in her bones. It's the ache of choices made in a life that's so old while still young.

Each choice followed the last. How can so many good decisions add up to something so ragged?

It started with a glimmer. Something bright white and gossamer. There was a boy. Of course. She didn't care for him. Of course. But he wore her down.

There was a child. Then there wasn't. She still remembers the rawness of that.

Then there was another child. That child is her essence now.

How much longing can you distill into one small life?

Saturday, 22 January 2011


He drinks his little cup of medicine and waits for evening to fade out. He turns out the light and looks out through a small, square window. There is a faint glow of streetlights reflecting off snow, and a vague haze that must be the husks of trees.

He turns away from the window, turns into the pillow. It is time to dream.

Hours pass, half-aware. He sees visions inspired by medication, the modern man's muse. They are so vivid, these visions, that he knows he will remember them when he wakes. He wakes then, and on the instant he feels the visions fading away into an oblivion beyond reach of his memory. Perhaps it is for the best.

This happens many times in the night until the night turns into morning. He wakes suddenly. His eyes open onto that little square window again. He sees snowflakes falling from a grey sky. He sees the husks of naked trees. He watches the snowfall for hours. Sounds of human voices wax and wane around him. They are signs of life. He pretends to be severely ill. This gives him an excuse to remain aloof from the human sounds outside. Then, embarrassed by his own morbid imagination, he turns away from the snow and turns into the pillow and sleeps some more.

The dream visions return. This time he does remember them. Friends and strangers pirouette around him in a circle in a stately dance. He looks into their eyes. Their eyes are all made of the same smoky glass and no one can see him. They know where he is but their eyes do not see him. Nor do they see each other; each one thinks they are alone. No words are exchanged. No one has anything worth saying.

He wakes again. He is surprised that the dream has not left him feeling disturbed. It is late into the afternoon. The sun sheds a few final sparks as it sinks behind the twilight. Perhaps there will be stars tonight. But he will not see them.

Monday, 10 January 2011


I've been in a whirlwind of travel for the past several weeks. But now that's coming to a close. Later tonight I will get on the first of three flights that will eventually bring me back to Boston.

Right now I'm in Singapore. For a change I'm here on holiday, not work. So while my evenings and nights have been a high-speed stream of parties and meetings with old friends, my days have been lazy and relaxed.

As I write this I can look out of the open window and see a familiar sight: rain falling on a dense clump of tropical trees. I'm alone in an apartment in a university campus. So the only sounds are a low rustle as millions of raindrops fall on palm leaves, a gentle whirring from the ceiling fan above me, and an occasional swish as a car drives by on the wet road outside.

This is a good place and a good day to be silent and to think.

I'm thinking about the friend in whose apartment I am. We met years ago, when we were in college. We didn't know it then, but we were still children. He is a professor now; if we had known in college that he would be a professor one day, we would have laughed so hard at least one of us would have ruptured an appendix.

It took an impossibly convoluted set of coincidental events for us to meet and to still be friends years later, in countries thousands of miles apart from each other. It fascinates and terrifies me that a hair's breadth of circumstance can make all the difference between someone remaining a stranger or becoming a dear friend.

These are the ways that I came to meet some of my closest friends:
A chance meeting at a concert.
A party where everyone else left early.
Another party where we were both uninvited guests.

I could as easily - no, more easily - have never met them at all. I could as easily have gone to a different concert, or even stood just a few feet further away than I did, and I would have had one less friend.

The professor and I, we tend not to talk much. It's good to know someone with whom you can share silence. When we do talk, the conversation sometimes turns to other people that we both know. Last night we were talking about how they seem to us to have changed much more with the passage of time than we ourselves have. But I'm thinking about that conversation again now, and I think that perhaps we were wrong.

I have only a very, very few people that I consider to be truly close friends. There are maybe five or six people who I think know me inside-out. Oddly, most of them have never met each other. And if they did get together, and if for some reason they got to talking about me, it strikes me that each of them would probably describe a different me.

It's not because of any duplicity on my part, of course. It's simply that each of these people came to know me at a different point in my life. That's probably why the me that they came to know was a different one from the others. Perhaps in a way each friendship is a sort of time capsule, a way of preserving the person you were when that friendship began. And all the different friendships you begin at different times in your life allow you to change while also staying the same.

I'm trying now to imagine what would happen if my few close friends did meet, and what each of them would say about me. I'm trying to hold it all in my head at once and it's oddly unsettling. It feels as if I might have multiple split personalities.

I wonder - am I alone in feeling this way?

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Lessons From The Zen Mistress

Over the past few months I’ve been paying rather more attention than usual to Phoebe. The reasons why don’t matter; or rather they matter a lot but I won’t go into them here. But because of how much I’ve been attending to Phoebe, I’ve realized that there is a lot to learn just from watching her. These, then, are the lessons I learned from her in 2010…

If you really care for someone, sometimes the best way to show it is to simply sit near them. Say nothing, and do nothing, but be there waiting until you are needed.

You don’t always get rewarded for being good. You don’t always get punished for being bad. That just isn’t how the universe works. And that’s okay. Life is for living, not for keeping accounts.

It’s always a good idea to go outdoors, even if only for a little while. No matter what it's like outside, a few minutes spent out in the open will make you feel better.

Age is a state of mind. How old you are depends on how badly you want to go out and smell the grass.

If you are happy to see someone, let them know it. It’s not something to be shy about.

Accidents happen. Get over it.

Never take a good thing for granted. Enjoy it while it’s there. And if it’s gone (when it’s gone) don’t brood about it. Sooner or later another good thing will come along. You need to keep your mind clear so that you can see it and seize it when that happens.

It’s okay to still love the toy you had when you were a puppy. There are some things you will never grow out of.

If you’re happy and you know it, wag your tail.

Actions are a lot less confusing than words.

There's somebody who's going to miss you very much when you are not there. If you know who that is, you are very lucky. If you will miss them too, you are even luckier.