The Knock-On Effect

I'm pretty sure it's not just me. I've observed a level of distress and exhaustion in people over the past few weeks that is rather interesting. Actually, it's worrying, because these kinds of emotions have a way of spilling over in everything. For people to be happy and productive they need to feel that the world is relatively safe, relatively equitable most of the time, and that progress is possible. When enough of these basics are eroded we get depression and gloom. Despair by any other name. The 1% ripping everyone off, global warming, refugees, shootings, the destruction of the middle classes -- all these will bring us down even on a good day. But we struggle on anyhow. But now we have Trump. In almost all the reporting that has swamped us regarding this individual very little has been said about the cumulative effect on the national psyche of those who have to witness this unfolding disaster. Isn't it time we considered this? I wonder if anti-depressants are having a banner year? If therapists are booked up solid? If people are giving up? What do you see?

This week…

...has been a bit challenging.  I've had a low grade version of flu, which has sapped all my energy. I'm feeling shabby and may not make it to see my students graduate. I also managed, the previous week, to trip over a bicycle I was fettling and I twisted my hand badly. Usually when I have a cold I can still potter and do things, but this time I can't. So when I'm in a space of healing, when I can't do all the things I normally do, who am I? It's not an idle question. Joseph Campbell was famously asked "Who are you between two thoughts?" and he found that to be a very revealing inquiry. Who are we when we're not being our habitual selves? For Campbell thinking was what he did most of the time. I've discovered that I miss my old busy self. My Salvadoran friends call me the Bumble Bee because I'm always doing things. Now I can't. This slight sadness is offset by something gentler: I can just be, observe, be gently happy, and not try to do anything. I have no one I need to impress, not even myself. Nothing urgent needs to be done. And in this place the world becomes unimaginably beautiful.

Words to a client…

What I understand is that you love your parents and you also feel you hate them -- and so I have to tell you that actually the hate doesn't matter. It's just your way of saying that your path is different. The task is to keep on loving people and not expect them to change, improve, or be anything except really annoying. Occasionally they’ll surprise you by being heartbreakingly sweet and then you’ll see how much they need love. Accept that as part of the contradictory parcel of life. Love them, and allow them their craziness. Because that's exactly what you’d want from them for yourself. As for worrying about the past, we just have to look back at all those mistakes and laugh, because we simply didn't know any other way to be at that time. Can you look back and see that? If you can then laughter is the only reasonable response. Once we accept that, life becomes so much easier.


Working with memoir and memories - those slippery things we call memories, at least - has led me to some recognitions. Looking at those I work with I can say that, of course, people write memoir in an effort to make sense of things, but there is more. The events that haunt us, that lead us to write about them, all tend to have a type of incompleteness to them. We ask ourselves if things could have been different, and if so, how? And why were they as they were, anyway? We write, to some extent, to try and achieve finality - perhaps to achieve some sort of wisdom about what happened. We write to try and complete what is incomplete, for only then can we let it go. Understanding may not ever arrive in its totality, but completion - the sense that we've said all we can - does arrive. We write to complete what is incomplete. We write to gain freedom.

Silver Linings

The Big Red One let me down yesterday. Actually, to be more accurate, the battery in it decided that it just didn’t want to be a battery anymore. I stopped and – nothing. No steep hills to try a bump start, either, so I ended up pushing her home. It was quite a distance. I sweated and grunted and pushed along sidewalks that were uneven and cramped (how do people in wheelchairs manage??). I arrived home exhausted. A new battery solved the problem. But better yet is this: I’ve had some aches in my arm and back recently. Nothing dreadful, but I put it all down to age. After my prolonged workout yesterday all the aches are gone. Everything, but everything has a silver lining. Never forget that. .Honda


It's that time of year....  If anyone would like a copy of "Spiritual Hunger" for free, gratis, no strings etc, then the first five people to respond to this will have one mailed to them. Write to The only thing you have to do is put "free copy" in the title so the mail isn't flagged as junk.  Also, you must be in the US.

The Elections

Let's try to acknowledge one thing about this up-coming election - and that is the power of the party mechanisms. If Trump is elected (a horrible thought, even to the GOP) we can be sure that the existing GOP will do all it can to render him ineffective. They pretty much tied up every Democrat president over the past 20 years, so tying up one of their own should be easy. Similarly if Sanders is elected - he'll be hamstrung by entrenched Republican/GOP interests. He will be able to get nothing done. Cruz is far more dangerous, since he's almost acceptable to the GOP, and so they'll use him to forward their agenda of gross inequality. That could be ugly. Hillary will face the same barriers at Sanders, except she has a few inside contacts that might allow her to get something done, perhaps. Don't expect anything dramatic, though. While we focus on who gets elected we're avoiding looking at the real problem, which is the stonewalling that has become such a major factor in our political arena. Changing the face at the top will not solve this problem overnight. It might not change it at all.


May 1st is a day that many revere. In Oxford (UK) crowds will gather at dawn by Magdalen Bridge to hear the choir at the top of the tower "sing in the summer" with a 10th century ditty no one can hear; "Somer is y-comen in". It's a decorous occasion based on the old pagan and Roman ceremonies which were probably not quite so restrained. Still, it's quite something to be in a crush of 2000 people all of whom are totally silent, straining to hear the voices of the past, birdsong louder than anything else. May Day or International Workers Day is a holiday in some parts of the world. It's the day airline fares are increased for the summer season. It will also, more personally, be the 30th anniversary of my arrival in the US with the intent to make my life here.

Healthy Breakfast? The Answers You’ve Been Waiting For

As a result of a stringent and utterly scientific survey, conducted over several decades, and including information gleaned from other surveyors (hereafter referred to as "Friends and Neighbors") I have come to a number of conclusions about breakfast cereals. Yes, dear friends, I can reliably report that I have a lifetime of experience in such matters - experience that obviously places me in the expert category. The only reliable way of assessing the healthiness of breakfast cereals, according to the results of this impressive scientific exploration, are always mirrored in the packaging. Ask yourself how easy (or difficult) it was to get your chosen brand of flakes out of the box and into your bowl this morning. If the cardboard box was hard to open, or collapsed under the effort of opening, or the little tuck-in tab at the top tore off - then you are on good ground.  If the plastic inner bag was demanding in its resistance and required you to rummage in the kitchen drawer for the scissors, only to discover they weren't there and that your teeth or a knife were your only options - then you can be sure your cereal was of high quality. You see, large cereal companies are the ones that have preservatives, added sugars (3 kinds) and buy grains treated with pesticides and toxic chemicals. They spend so much money on getting the perfectly-easy-to-open box into your hands that they can only afford to fill the package itself with toxic junk. Poor things, they have to think of their shareholders, who demand more and more return on investment. Sometimes I pity them. So here's the result of this milestone of research: If it's customer friendly to open, it's junk inside.

Digging into the Past

As a memoir writer and memoir coach I often find myself digging into bygone times.  I also read on-line about archaeology, and it seems as if every few days a metal detectorist somewhere finds something startling, unearthing unexpected memorials. What constantly astounds me is that a field that was otherwise simply an open space turns out, perhaps, to be the site of a vast Roman villa (like the one just uncovered on a Wiltshire farm), or perhaps it's a village abandoned in antiquity with gold and silver items hastily buried by those who now lie dead amid the ruins. More and more of life's mysteries are uncovered in this way. And that's fascinating. Yet it also reminds me that many empires have risen and fallen, some disappearing without much trace into the mud of every day. We, in the privilege of the 21st Century, believe in progress. That's good.  But history suggests that progress is never linear, that enormous amounts of care and effort and money frequently go to waste. Cities crumble; fortunes are lost. I think the ancients understood this better than us. When gorgeous necklaces are buried with corpses, for example, these people cannot have been ignorant that the body would decay rapidly and cease to be attractive, leaving the jewelry nestled against the rotting flesh and bones. Possibly that was part of the joy of expensive ornamentation - the knowledge that today, on that beautiful living, lively girl, the necklace looked wonderful. At that moment it was secondary to her beauty.  Tomorrow the situation might be the exact opposite. Cherish the moment. Isn't that what memoir is for, too?