Tag Archives: suffering

Madrid al cielo

A window in Vallecas

Look up, man. Not down.

A man with blood on his knuckles and his eyes on some weird kind of crack is riding the Metro. There is a homeless woman swathed in black who asks for centimes. A Peruvian immigrant down the calle Monte Perdido yells at her two sons, making them cry; neither of her children are  wearing shoes in a street with dog shit on every block, smeared in the crevices of paved lattice concrete. A Cerveceria strewn with rolled up, discarded napkins after the morning rush hour of cafe con leche and a bollo is quiet. Old men who gather on a bench infront of the Ajuntamiento, brown and wrinkled from the sun, discuss the end of the bullfight, the problem with “jodidas gitanas ladronas” and the lottery.

“Franco is laughing from the grave!” One says.

There is a paradox here: there is the constant smell of bad sewage and body odor and cigarette smoke mixed with the smell of baking bread and olive trees, lemons and expensive perfumes from the Corte Ingles on rich ladies who shop on calle Serrano. There is a deep, burning beauty in the eyes of a young girl who wears a red flower in her hair and swooshes an abanico in her dark hand. A family that meets at two for comida and a siesta in a city quieted by an afternoon of heat and closed up shop fronts. People are hot from the sun in Madrid. They’re thirsty. Some are hungry, suffering. But the suffering is like a season that lifts when the air is cool; when two young lovers meet by a window open to the sky.


What was it that Elaine and George Costanza concluded about men’s and women’s brains and sex? That men can think much clearer when they’re not having it and women can think much clearer when they are?

Bullshit. Or, I’m loaded with too much testosterone.

Since D, my brain has turned to mush. Literally, it produces nothing but sappy cliches. Too horrible to ever post.

It’s not that I’m thinking less- through the mush I am still having deep thoughts. It’s that I can’t seem to hold on to them long enough to get them on to paper. Or perhaps, it’s just that I could care less. The thought of D going down on me is far more thrilling than any pontificating I could do about anything else I seem to come up with during leaner times.

And it’s not that I am not busy or physically doing less either. My life has changed little in that respect. I’m still running, still reading Grodstein’s book and Spinning Will, still chatting up an intellectual storm with KVM and D and whoever else. But again, thoughts of lust and sex and all that fun stuff have pushed out whatever else might have had the chance to form and grow. And I am left with the “duh” effect. The sad truth is that the overpowering stranglehold of lush, abundant love is growing in my soul like a weed and taking over. And I am slowly being destroyed.


What a tragedy.

And speaking of tragedy, last night I went to see Daniel Mendelsohn read from his book “The Lost” at Rutgers in Camden. The reading itself was no tragedy. Mendelsohn was an excellent reader. The dinner was great. I shmoozed with Lauren Grodstein and Lisa Zeidner and a few others. I had the lovely D by my side. Etc. Etc. What summoned the idea of tragedy was Mendelsohn’s masterful comment on why classical Greek literature is so important to him. “The Greeks understood tragedy,” he said. And went on to add that we have done ourselves a huge disservice by not accepting pain and suffering in life. We take pills to erase our pain. We go to therapy for constant awareness and answers (even he claims 16 some years of analysis). We file lawsuits– all in the hopes of regaining some sort of restitution or peace. We are always looking for compensation for the bad things that happen in life. We want constant pleasure. Constant and perfection producing. This is pure silliness, of course. There is no guarantee that you will be “healed” or repaid or repaired for the suffering you incur. There is no life without pain.

I, of course, applauded his sentiments. I too, believe we have become culturally dependent on the notion that happiness is a right, not, as it were, a privilege. Or perhaps, more likely, that those who are happy are merely lucky.

I have worked a great deal over the past year with very depressed individuals, women mostly, addicted to one thing or another. Almost all of them hit bottom and come to recovery angry and self-loathing, and in pain, wanting to be healed, wanting answers, wanting desperately for the pain to stop. And yet, only a small fraction of them are able to grasp the concept that pain and tragedy happens. That the idea of recovery is not to avoid pain, but rather to deal with it. We have very little control over the suffering that befalls us. Most of these women want to live a Hollywood movie. They honestly believe that that is what a “normal” life looks like.

Professor Tim Martin (English, Rutgers) came up to me last night and congratulated me on having been accepted to the MFA program. “You must be quite talented,” he said. I felt like a fraud, especially considering that I have written so poorly over the past few weeks. I felt like saying, little do you know that my brain has turned to split pea soup and I will produce little or nothing for the Rutgers English department. But I nodded a thank you. Some where deep inside me I am grateful for the opportunity, believe me. And there is a tenth of a part of me that believes I am somewhat talented, if only I worked a little harder for it.

So, Tim shook my hand once more and went on his way.  Moments later there was a pause. D and I stood finishing up the last of our Cabernet before heading out. I pulled him close into me and whispered in his ear, “how many of these folks do you think are going to go home tonight and get laid like us?”

The City

I went over to the University of Penn tonight to have a coffee with Maggie and then go to this info session on a “master’s of applied positive psychology.” I’m glad I went, but..i was largely apathetic. I need something a little more concrete, and no one was really talking in terms of “action words” when it came to discussing the actual application of this knowledge. Sure they said things like, “I created a company that teaches corporations the skills of positive intervention.” But, please. Get out of the ivory tower and describe the WORK of positive psychology.  Give me a title. A name. I “coach.” I “teach.” I “counsel.” “I help people get along better in the workforce.” But nothing like that. Which led me to believe that “positive psychology” is one of those amorphous niches that you must create for yourself, and that Marty Selegman is merely looking for an army of salespeople to go out and sell his amorphous ideas.  

Sure, I’m all about happiness (see Authentic Happiness, Seligman), but these people were just too damn happy, almost to the point of shoving it down your throat. That may sound hostile, but perhaps I am jaded. It’s not the happiest time in my life. But come on already with the fact that we should ALL be HAPPY. Buddha makes more sense: he did not deny that there is happiness in life, but he pointed out it does not last forever. Eventually everyone meets with some kind of suffering.

And speaking of which, I was given a fleeting glimpse, a little gem of a gift, as I noticed a look of absolute frustration and disgust on the director of the program, Dr. Pawelski. He was rather annoyed that his colleague wasn’t following along the format quick enough as he had designed it. You could almost see him mumble under his breath, what are you doing, you stupid fuck. It was kind of funny and really added to his sickly, pale, worn out professor of philosophy look. 

So…it’s back to the drawing board for me. And once again, a change of plans. Perhaps a master’s in creative writing. Much more concrete. Writer. 


KVM called me afterwards. There was a launch party for a new food and culture magazine called Table Matters, and of course, it’s right near 13th and Locust. I wasn’t very comfortable with that. So…we parked in an obscure lot, put our dark glasses on, took a back road down Samson to 13th and made it to Apothecary unseen. Shockingly, who do we bump into but Frank Sherlock, heading in the opposite direction. With signature scarf.

Anyway. It felt good to get out. To be in the city. To see weirdness. I had some horrible drink made with gin. I hate gin. But the people were happy. The food was great. And KVM and I laughed out asses off over the usual. I was home by ten. And now I am bleary-eyed and tired and know that when I wake up, I will pay.

rock bottom

You have never, ever contemplated suicide. But today, the thought occurred to you that something has to be done to get rid of yourself–  there’s no option. It has to be done. But how? You don’t own a gun. You don’t even have aspirin in the cabinet. Most important, you love life! Screw, death, you say. You’ll leave the country. Problem solved.  With your kids, of course. Marrakesh, maybe. The south of France. You’ll leave word with close friends. Send for family. Cash in what little savings you have left and simply abscond. Traceless. You’re on your way to exotic lands…

But before you go, take inventory. You are currently “under the terrible burden of destiny…”

The moment you’d been waiting for arrived, or so you thought.  About a month ago. You dropped to your knees and held your hands up in surrender to the light and said, “I am finally here, Lord. Finally at the bottom!” What a relief. You thought for sure you had done it. Fatefully and systematically  arrived at the bottom. “Rock” bottom, that is. You were thrilled. You craved the bottom for a change. It was time to get spiritual. Time to raise the dead. This would be your chance to show the world that you were a survivor. You’d been so high on the hog for years that it was inevitable, simply a matter of numbers. And your number was up. You crashed right along with the economy.

  • Your lovely boy friend dumped you
  • Your favorite Uncle died
  • You had to pay twentyfivethousands dollars in taxes on money you earned but never saw.
  • You took a 75% cut in pay
  • Your fifth-grader started to suck big time in math
  • your ex husband refused to pay child support and wanted to make sandwiches every day for the boys instead.
  • You had a bad cold that lasted weeks

Could it get any worse than that? Surely not. 

But it did. Unbeknownst to you the very nature of “rock bottom” is that it’s an illusion. Just when you think you’ve hit, the ground turns Alice in Wonderland on you and falls out from underneath you. Surprise! You’ve got farther to go.

  • Oops, you forgot to calculate the oil bill into your expenses.
  • The IRS says you still owe EIGHTY grand in taxes.
  • G pulls his typical disappearing act, just when you thought it was safe to trust him again. 
  • The phone doesn’t ring
  • There’s a leak in the roof
  • Firewood is wet from the rain and it’s cold inside
  • Your kids are screaming for attention and ripping the house to shreds
  • You can’t afford your cleaning lady anymore
  • You didn’t tell the ex you were going away on business. You’ve ruined his plans. He calls you a selfish bitch and says, you’ll never change.
  • Your favorite person in the whole world doesn’t have the guts or perhaps the desire to email you
  • The prozac isn’t working
  • You gained five pounds eating left-over Halloween candy.

And if all that weren’t bad enough, you haven’t been able to rub one off in months…

When you’re at the bottom you begin to dream.

You need an escape of startling adventure. The Island of Santori perhaps. No, too touristy. The IRS would find you. What about Cozumel?  Same thing. Your only option is to live life like a bedouin lost in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains. It’s a little colder than you expected, but you get to paint henna tattoos on your hands and feet and wear black. Your children can run around naked. And you don’t have to use toilet paper. Eating couscous all day could be a problem. But there’s always the bus to Tangiers or Casablanca where you can pick up American provisions. Peanut butter. Pancake mix. Spaghetti O’s. Advil.

Sure. You’re having a blast. Sure. You’ve managed to pick up the pieces of your shitty life. But occasional, dirty sex with nomadic tribesmen has stripped you of your dignity. You miss home. You miss your people. You miss spaghetti and meatballs on Sunday. You miss humidity. And the king-size, pillow top BeautyRest you slept on and loved even in your darkest days.

So you and the kids  pack up your bags, kiss the desert goodbye and go back to Jersey. Back to the turnpike and the mini-van and the crappy American bullshit and the bills and the ex. And you pay your dues to the IRS and feel a little better about yourself. You love life, remember? And so, rock bottom doesn’t seem so bad after all. Especially once you’ve have sex with men that smell like camels.