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“Why is Easter?” asked one of my Asian ESL students.

“Uh – it’s the day Christ rose from the dead,” I explained. Thinking: I’m really not the right person to explain Easter to you.

“Christ?” asked my Asian ESL student.

“Jesus,” I said.

“He has two names?”

“Uh. Not exactly.”

“So why are there rabbits and eggs? And candy?”

Because at a time when more and more Americans are trying to implement healthier lifestyles, the sugar industry must reassert its hegemony over human appetites somehow, I thought. But did not say. Instead I said, “Easter is also a celebration of spring!”

“And eating candy is a spring-time activity? Then why is Halloween?”

“So!” I said brightly. “Do you understand that gerund homework I gave you last class? Did you have any questions about it?”


Easter is by far my least favorite Christian holiday. I’m down with the symbolism – the Hanged Man, birth (hence eggs), rebirth. And bunnies are one of my totem animals.

Timing-wise, though, it’s just such an obvious attempt to co-opt Passover.


There was a point in my life when I was paid an enormous amount of money to do something I’m very good at doing.

That gig lasted a few years but eventually fell apart because the media conglomerate for which I was working had an internal culture that might best be described as England during the War of the Roses. Alas! I was Jane Shore.

Most of my adult life, though, money has been problematic. I spent a good chunk of it married to someone who refused to get a job – which added to the financial burden.

These days, I’m mostly o-kay in the $$$ department. My pensions from the media conglomerate and social security are small, but then my needs are small. Really, the only expensive thing I like to do is travel.

Every once in a while, I face a situation, though, where more money would be a good thing. These generally have to do with the car. I suspect I’m facing one of those presently – and I’m thinking, Ugh, and I’m thinking, Do not use the credit card – pay cash! Which means now that tax season is over, I must buckle down and put in a week’s solid labor at the Scut Factory. Maybe even two weeks' solid labor.

Life is about to get incredibly dull for the next fortnight.

There’s really no sense in complaining. It is what it is, and in general life is good: I get to think my own thoughts (which is more than most people do), and in my day-to-day life, I’m surrounded by people who are affectionately inclined toward me – even if they wouldn’t have a clue what I was talking about if I put those own thoughts into words.

I managed to scramble back into the middle class – which considering how far off that track I found myself nine years ago is actually a pretty major accomplishment.

To advance any further than this would have to involve some kind of coup – like winning Lotto (but then I’d have to buy a Lotto ticket!) or writing a mega-best-selling book (but then people would have to want to read it.)


I will reward myself by spending as much time outside as possible as this spring grows daily more fabulous. The light! I could drink the light! And I’m so enchanted by the parade of flowers on the East Coast. In California, you know, everything grows all the time. But the plants always look – I dunno. Dingy. Scraggley.

The trees are showing a crayon-y blur of green at the tips of their branches. Not leaves but those peculiar little tree flowers. (No close-up focus on my camera phone, alas!)

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For Christmas I ate chocolate-covered potato chips, drank limoncello, went on multiple invigorating tramps around the snow-covered parklands of various disintegrating Hudson Valley mansions, and tried to figure out why the death of George Michael was causing such an enormous outpouring of collective grief. I mean, c’mon: Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go?

I also watched the last few episodes of Season 6 of The Sopranos. I’d missed Season 6 when the series was in regular broadcast.

I have mixed feelings about The Sopranos. Yeah, yeah, it’s brilliant filmmaking. It’s also filled with negative stereotypic clichés about Southern Italians that as a Southern Italian myself, make me furious.

It’s always open season on Southern Italians so far as the entertainment industry is concerned.

I remember going into the break room at SRI back in those bleak Ithaca days and hearing this guy go on and on about how funny Jersey Shore was.

“How can you watch that bigoted tripe?” I said.

“They’re guineas,” he said. “Gumbas. They’re funny.”

This guy, by the way, was black.

I digress.

Much like those chocolate-covered potato chips, I didn’t expect to like those last few episodes of The Sopranos, but I did. They were filled with really subtle touches – as for example, in the brief one-shot where the contractor dumps asbestos into the Jersey marshlands, and you hear the quacking of ducks. Ducks, you will remember from the very first episode, are totemic animals signifying the good side of Tony’s nature, so this brief, throwaway scene is a brilliant thematic summation of just how corrupt Tony has become. Brilliant but not belabored: exquisite art-making.


Spoke with the offspring.

Poor RTT’s last paycheck is being held hostage by the simple, sexy, affirmations contractor for whom he worked last summer. The contractor apparently did a substandard job for a roofing client who is the father of one of RTT’s friends. The roofing client refuses to pay him.

“Clint says that if I talk to him, then he’ll pay me,” RTT told me gloomily.

“That’s outrageous!” I said. “Don’t get involved!”

“Yeah, well. If I don’t, then he won’t pay me.”

I’ll send you the amount that would have been in that last paycheck!” I said.

Which really, I can’t afford to do. But you know – my kid! So it’s ramen for me and the cats this January!


Also had another hour-long conversation with Max. The group he was going to go to Standing Rock with had called off the trip – blizzards and the legal turnaround that tabled the crisis at least until the spring. (Not to worry, though: If you contributed to his GoFundMe – which at least one of you did – the money he collected did go to Standing Rock.)

So the group decided to go camping together in Utah instead.

Max didn’t actually know the members of this group very well, and their dynamics were… well… weird.

“I kept trying to get them to address the group process,” he told me. “To dialogue together!”

“Max, Max, Max. Dialogue is not a verb.”

“I can’t hear you, Mom. What?”

“Never mind.”

We then debated for half an hour or so about the merits of making all process between all human beings transparent – he, using phrases like, “I carry my own privilege –“; me, rolling my eyes.

“You know, Max, I’m of the very Victorian opinion that all conversations between human beings are conversations about process,” I said. “This is why I’m such a big fan of small talk! If you’re at all intuitive, everything you need to know about the dynamics between the conversationalists is there in the vocal inflections, in the interstices between words, and stuff like that. And I’m very intuitive –“

I can’t be sure, but I think he actually snorted!

“Well, I get that you and Robin don’t think I’m intuitive,” I said. “However, I’ve had my intuition confirmed by disinterested panels of outside scientists, so I’m confident about it. Anyway, this was supposed to be a lead-in to something that actually happened –“

“Right! Well, two of the guys decided we should have a solstice celebration. And it was just like very weird energy. So finally I stood up and said, ‘I’m not comfortable with the direction this interaction is moving in. Is anybody else uncomfortable?’ And nobody said anything.”

“What? Did those two guys go all Charles Manson on you?”

“Yes! That was it!”

See, Max? I wanted to preen. One well-aimed cultural referent is worth 50 polysyllabic paragraphs of sociobabble. But I didn’t.

Max continued, “So then I said, ‘That’s cool. I’m interested in discussing my own level of discomfort further, but I also don’t want to derail a collective process, so I’m going to go back to my tent now, and if you all are open to it, we can discuss this more tomorrow –‘ And then people started saying, ‘Well, wait a minute: I’m not really okay with where this is going either –‘ “

At that moment, I realized that Max was actually doing something that I do, too!

Namely, he was speaking out against a potentially negative social interaction that he was witnessing.

Except that when I do it, I always have to work myself up into a state of fulminating rage.

He can do it and remain perfectly genial, which means he doesn’t put people on the defensive. This means that he has the capacity to actually catalyze people to change those negative behaviors. Because he's not attacking them. He's merely pointing out the ways those behaviors are negative.

I realize I’m not articulating this at all well. Blame the effects that yesterday’s chocolate-covered potato chip binge are still having on my brain But this was rather a profound insight.

And I was actually filled with a type of awe for my son, "dialoguing" and polysyllabic process analyses notwithstanding. Creating an environment where people feel okay about changing their minds is quite an accomplishment.


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Every Day Above Ground

September 2017

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