Monthly Archives: June 2012

Ode to the garbage collectors









Hail, intrepid garbage men!

Orange jumpsuits, sturdy arms

Swift, strong legs,

Driving your orange truck

Emptying orange cans

Into grinding metal jaws

Picking up stray pieces

Of paper, plastic bags

Leaving the street clean

Running to catch up

With the truck as it

Slowly moves toward the

Next group of cans and bags

You come in the dead of night

And I often wake up to the

Roar of the engine and grinder

I’ve even been known

To go to the window and watch…

There’s something so, well,

Dependable? Comforting?

Orderly? Clean? Energetic?

Well, yes, all of those…

I always go back to sleep

With a feeling of contentment.


Filed under poetry, Rio de Janeiro

What’s in our hearts

What am I in the eyes of most people — a nonentity, an eccentric, or an unpleasant person — somebody who has no position in society and will never have; in short, the lowest of the low. All right, then — even if that were absolutely true, then I should one day like to show by my work what such an eccentric, such a nobody, has in his heart. That is my ambition, based less on resentment than on love in spite of everything, based more on a feeling of serenity than on passion. Though I am often in the depths of misery, there is still calmness, pure harmony and music inside me. I see paintings or drawings in the poorest cottages, in the dirtiest corners. And my mind is driven towards these things with an irresistible momentum.  — Vincent Van Gogh

Have you ever seen yourself as a nonentity, an eccentric, or, God forbid — an “unpleasant person?”

Here Van Gogh is telling you to never mind all of that, because you have a heart. And whatever you do, you can do it with love and your heart will thank you for it. You don’t need to resent the name-callers, even the silent ones. Do they really know what you’re about? Do they honestly feel what you feel? What you’re feeling right now? Do they understand it?

So, Van Gogh tells us, we can be calm and serene, because even in those moments of sheer despair, the music is still there. It wants to come out, and it will if we let it. Let’s be visionaries like Vincent and see beauty in the most seemingly insignificant things, let’s ferret out the true thoughts, the true harmony behind them that just can’t help shining through. This is genuine. It’s authentic, and we all have it in us.

Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.  — Henry David Thoreau

But you and I don’t have to. We can write the song, and sing it, too.


Filed under art, individuality, spiritual

Making things

As I mention in my book, my sister Bertie and I loved to make our own playthings. For instance, we were in love with the TV puppet show, Kukla, Fran and Ollie, and we made replicas of all the puppets and put on our own shows. Ma got us some got fake leopard fur to make Ollie the dragon, and we made Kukla’s round head from a hollow rubber ball.

Ma had taught us how to sew by hand, and how to make a doll out of a sock. Bertie and I had endless hours of fun making dolls out of our old socks and then making clothes for them. I had some brown socks and made a doll I named “Cocoa.” Once I pretended she had her period and made her a miniature Modess sanitary pad out of cotton and gauze. I even put a little piece of blue thread down the middle to show which side was up, the way they did with the real pads back then. 

Later on Ma taught us how to use the sewing machine too, and by the time we were in high school we were already making some of our own clothes.

I remember one Halloween there was a costume contest at a school party. I went all out to try to win first prize. Ma gave me some old white sheets and I dyed them red and painted designs on them with gold paint. I sewed them into a Balinese dancer costume. I made everything myself, including the headdress, and I thought it looked really great — I was sure I was going to win. But on Halloween night, much to my disappointment, a cute little blond girl wearing a store-bought witch costume from Woolworth’s won first prize. But even though I was angry and thought it was unfair, I didn’t let this squelch my natural desire to create things from scratch.

When Pop was home and more or less sober and in a good mood, he taught me and Bertie how to use a hammer, a saw, and a wood plane, and that was another creative outlet for us. We learned how to make little boxes and boats, and we built our own puppet stage. A lot of the skills we learned stood us in good stead later on, too, when we grew up and had our own homes to furnish and kids to dress. To this day, I love trying to make “something” out of “nothing” or a “silk purse” out of a “sow’s ear.”


Filed under my history, the book, toys

The secret in the field

When my sister Bertie and I were growing up in Connecticut, we liked being outdoors more than just about anything else, all year long. Our yard was a whole acre of mowed grass, and it was surrounded by fields, woods and rustic stone walls.

When we first moved to the country in 1947, the road that ran in front of our house and barn was unpaved. It was very narrow and had a strip of grass running down the middle. It was rare for a car to pass by, but once in awhile when we were out in our 1936 Plymouth with Ma at the wheel, we’d see another car heading in our direction. Eventually both cars would stop, face-to-face, and a variety of hand signals would indicate which car would wait, and which one would back up until there was a space where it could pull off the road and wait until the other passed. Later on the road was paved, but I missed our old narrow dirt road.

On the other side of the road there were fields divided by stone walls. They ran up the side of a shallow hill, so they were slanted. At the top was the Holcombe’s house. They were our landlords, a wealthy, very nice couple who always had a bunch of dogs that Josephine Holcombe took for a walk every day past our house. The Holcombe’s house was ultra-modern with floor-to-ceiling glass windows and a fireplace right in the middle of their huge living room, whose floors were covered with the tiniest tiles I’d ever seen. Sometimes the Holcombes would have a party at their house and invite Ma and Pop. They would take us, too, and Mrs. Holcombe would put us to bed in one of their bedrooms. We’d never sleep, though, and would sneak out of bed and open our door a crack so we could see all the couples dancing to exotic Latin American music.

Bertie and I loved to play in the fields that ran from the Holcombe’s house down to ours. Sometimes we’d play baseball, even though the baseball diamonds we created from bases made of old burlap bags were slanted because of the hill and the grass was hard to run in because it was so deep. There was always a lot of snow in the winter, and we’d slog across the un-plowed road and into the fields, where we’d make snow angels and have snowball fights.

Sometimes, when Pop was still living with us, we’d go for a walk in the fields — all four of us. I remember one time some friends of Pop’s were visiting and we all decided to take a really long walk through the fields parallel to our road, and see how far we could get before we got tired or the fields turned into woods. We ended up walking through some fields we’d never been in before. Bertie and I ran on ahead, while Ma and Pop strolled behind us, chatting with their friends.

Suddenly, Bertie tripped on a rock, or something that felt like a rock, under the long field grass. I ran over and pulled the grass away, and what we saw left us absolutely stunned. Under the grass were four or five (I can’t remember any more) life-sized stone statues, lying side-by-side in the field, face up. They looked very old. We shouted for Ma and Pop to come see, and they came running with their friends. We all stood around staring at the statues, and the grownups tried to guess how they got there and where they might have come from.

Since we couldn’t move them, I think (to the best of my memory) that Ma called a museum and they came and picked them up. That was the last I ever heard about the statues, but I can still see them lying out there in the field as if they were waiting for something or someone. After that, every time Bertie and I went out in the fields, I hoped we’d stumble over some more statues, or something equally mysterious, but we never did.


Filed under my history, Uncategorized

Pass the machete, please

My wonderful editor has done a thorough read-through of my book. As a result of her generous, perceptive, brave, loving comments, I’ve cut the equivalent of two whole chapters. That’s right, slashed and down the toilet. 

Don’t worry — you won’t miss them. The book was too darned long anyway, and now it’s down to a reasonable size. But the main reason I removed so much was because I learned to make a vital distinction between necessary criticism and gratuitous criticism. What I mean by necessary criticism is that there are situations in my story where I couldn’t gloss over some negative things about another person (don’t want to let the cat out of the bag here!), because these perceptions really added to the book and revealed something important about me and my life.

But then there’s gratuitous criticism: the parts where I simply “got off” on somebody because they rubbed me the wrong way or whatever. My grousing really didn’t add anything to the story line, so what’s the point?

My editor also pointed out that the book was more interesting and flowed better when I was writing about things from the more distant, rather than the more recent past. She felt that the newer situations could easily be left out of the book, and it would be better to leave them out because I might very well feel quite differently about them a few years from now (do I feel a sequel coming on?) and even regret something that I’d said. I say amen to that.

So now I’m in the middle of another read-through and still catching some of those unnecessary little digs, along with some other things that needed either embellishment or the opposite. When I’m done I’ll send it back to my editor for a final read-through while I pick out some photos that I think would add to the story.

Sometimes I think wow, is this really gonna happen? It’s starting to look like it is!


Filed under the book

But . . . what about them?

A couple of days ago, a Brazilian Facebook friend wrote this response to my blog post, “Fear not” —

“Happiness, I think, is one of our deepest fears as well… what shall we do if our soul feels complete and the other people’s around us does not? what shall we do with our guilt for being happy if most of people doesn’t allow themselves of trying it even for a bit? . . . let it be, let them be, let us be light, enlightened, blameless, fearless, shiny . . . Once, on a TV programme, Joseph Campbell, the author of “The Power of the Myth” and other wonderful books advised the viewers to “follow your bliss”. . . I never forgot that phrase, it kept echoing in my mind, it still does . . . ”

So yes, what about that? What if we’re happy and fulfilled and the people around us aren’t? That’s a tough one, especially when those people are really close to us, such as family members.

After decades of trying to make other people happy, I discovered the answer: It’s impossible. That’s right, impossible. You can do something with someone and enjoy your day with them and they’ll feel happy, but fundamentally you can’t make someone into a happy person. That’s their job. No matter how hard you try, you really can’t change anyone, and you’ll often end up not only wearing yourself out, but making yourself unhappy, too.

I agree with Joseph Campbell. We have to follow our bliss, do what makes US happy. And this, contrary to the opinions of some, is NOT selfishness. It’s really following the divine plan that has been individually crafted for you. But when I say happy, I don’t mean just a temporary feel-good solution. If you want that, you can go smoke some weed. I’m talking about a genuine, deep-seated happiness that comes from knowing who you are and doing what you know you were meant to do.

I agree with my Facebook friend: let’s be light, enlightened, blameless, fearless . . . and best of all, “shiny!”


Filed under individuality, spiritual

What’s special?

There must be some of you out there who have secretly felt that you were special — maybe even more special than most people. You have proof of it because people are drawn to you more than they are to others. Maybe you’re even famous, and this further convinces you that you’re different and special.

When you discover this, you might feel quite comfortable with it, bask in it, and enjoy it. Or you might feel embarrassed, unworthy and try to hide it.

Does being special mean that you’re “better?”

Imagine a field. In the field there is grass, clover, and various types of weeds. Nothing really stands out. But over there, along the stone wall, there is an absolutely magnificent splash of colorful orchids. They definitely stand out. You could say they’re special — the most special thing in this field.

Let’s say a group of people are walking through the field. Do they stoop down to look at the grass and weeds? No, they immediately rush over to the amazingly beautiful orchids. Does this mean that the orchids are somehow better than the grass or weeds, or more essential and necessary?

Of course not. But the orchids definitely do attract more attention. And so it is with people. Some naturally attract attention and seem more special than others. But of course, it all depends on how you define “special.” Certain people seem to be  completely unknown or ignored, and yet they’re expressing themselves in ways that no one, or very few, ever see, and who knows? They might just be a magnificent force that is changing the world for the better, right along with the “special” ones.


Filed under individuality, spiritual

Fear not


Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.

Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.

We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant,

gorgeous, handsome, talented and fabulous?

Actually, who are you not to be?

You are a child of God.

Your playing small does not serve the world.

There is nothing enlightened about shrinking

so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.

We are all meant to shine, as children do.

We were born to make manifest the glory of God within us.

It is not just in some; it is in everyone.

And, as we let our own light shine, we consciously give

other people permission to do the same.

As we are liberated from our fear,

our presence automatically liberates others.

–       Marianne Williamson

Many of you are probably familiar with this wonderful poem. I thought it might be a good follow-up to my previous blog post about leaving our comfort zones.

Funny thing, how we minimize and belittle ourselves sometimes without even realizing we’re doing it! It’s so easy to listen to the voices of others and almost unconsciously think that they know more about us than we do about ourselves. It’s such a temptation to give power to people we consider “authority figures” or “mentors” when they are just human beings like ourselves.

The fact is, we’re more than human, and even if we think we have no particular spiritual inclinations, if we ponder the matter deeply enough, we’ll see that there actually is something very grand and wonderful inside us. There’s a little voice in there telling us who we really are. But sometimes it scares us.

I had a wonderful friend many years ago, an extraordinarily talented bass player (I swore I would never find another like him, and I never have), who was also a heroin junkie and an alcoholic. I watched as he slowly destroyed himself — it was like watching an angel tearing off its wings, feather by feather. Somehow he managed to live to be 50, but he could have lived much, much longer. I once asked him why he took drugs and drank, and he said, “I’m afraid of my own talent.”

So there you go . . . let’s not be afraid of our own talents. Let’s honor them, cherish them, develop them and never, ever be afraid of being wonderful and excellent. Remember, it’s only natural, and it’s our native state. Let’s be comfortable with that. Fear not.


Filed under individuality, spiritual

Go ahead, step out

A comfort zone is not a good place to be.

If you don’t get out of it, you’ll get booted out.

That’s what happened to me.

It could happen to you.


What do you do when something safe

Starts to look and feel like a curse?

Especially when it’s your life?

Did that ever happen to you?


Can you see the signs or are you blind?

I couldn’t see the signs or even feel them.

Seems they had to hurt first

Kind of like a kick in the pants.







Then I got rattled enough to do something.

Get me out of this humdrum existence!

Put your damn toe

Outside the chalk circle!


It wasn’t nearly as bad as I’d expected.

In fact it was quite, well, interesting.

I started to see real me

Get to know real me.


So go ahead, get out of the comfort zone!

Everything’s OK out here, it really is.

You might even find out

The gem you really are.


Filed under poetry

Rubber chicken

No, I’m not talking about the ones you buy at the joke shop.

I’m talking about chicken cooked by me. The only way I can get a chicken to come out unrubbery is to roast a whole one in the oven. Any other chicken recipe, be it baked or fried or even boiled, comes out rubbery.

Over the years I’ve asked myself: Is it the chicken? Should I have bought an organic one? Maybe it’s breasts vs. thighs? Or maybe I cooked it too fast? Or too slow?

I’ve tried everything, and my chicken still comes out rubbery.

I finally stopped eating chicken for quite a long time, which was probably a good thing because I’m practically a vegetarian anyway. I stopped eating beef so long ago I can’t remember, and to be perfectly honest, eating animals kind of grosses me out. I can still eat a couple of kinds of fish, or tuna from a can, but I’m even a little squeamish about that.

The thing is, chicken and fish and even red meat still smell good to me when they’re cooking, especially if they’re fried or roasted. It’s a very seductive smell, and I think I’d have to say that I actually like the smell better than the taste, so I guess it’s that smell that makes it hard to quit cold, er, turkey.

Recently I tried cooking some chicken breasts, after my long hiatus of not eating chicken. They came out rubbery. Then it came to me: I cook chicken too long, and the reason I do it is because I basically think it’s gross and it just seems less gross overcooked. I remember being in Paris once and ordering chicken in a restaurant and it was undercooked. When I cut it, pink (read: bloody) juice came oozing out. That was such a turnoff that I knew I would never eat chicken again unless it was really, really WELL-COOKED.

I can’t be 100% sure if that’s why my chicken is rubbery, but it seems logical. I’m also pretty sure that my squeamishness about, as the vegetarians would say, eating “anything that has a face” will eventually lead me to eschew ingesting critters altogether.

And here’s a special offering from Roger Aldridge today!


Filed under food