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Car insurance people send me a letter: Your monthly rates age going up ten bucks.

I peruse the 0.1 font print at the very bottom of the letter. It tells me my Defensive Driving Class discount has expired.

Well-l-l-l. It’s easy enough to take another Defensive Driving Class and to take it before the car insurance payment comes due.

But the whole thing just pisses me off massively. I feel like an antelope on the Serengeti plain surrounded by jackals. How hard would it have been for the car insurance people to send me a letter: Be advised that your discount is set to expire… ?

I am a sitting duck surrounded by predatory corporations that see me as prey. That want to wring every last cent out of me.


In other news, I’ve been rereading Brideshead Revisited – yes, you’re missing a book, mystery pal! – and thinking that Evelyn Waugh and Scott Fitzgerald shared common neuroses. Both fascinated by money – not for anything that money can buy but for its mysterious mana; both obsessed with mutability and loss. Both novels are a search for timelessness. Both novels acknowledge that timelessness does not exist.

I am thinking some grad student in English literature could get a very nice PhD thesis out of contrasting Brideshead Revisited with The Great Gatsby – assuming there still are grad students five years hence and that somebody hasn’t already done it.

In the pantheon of Great Writers, Fitzgerald is generally acceded the higher perch.

Part of that, I think, is the dog-preaching effect that Samuel Johnson mentions. (Sir, a woman's preaching is like a dog's walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.) Fitzgerald is an American, yet he has a flawless command of canonical, vernacular-free English.

They were beset by many of the same, uh, life challenges. Fitzgerald’s life, became a total train wreck; but while Waugh’s life as a young man was picaresque to say the least, after he hit 30, he became so stable, you might describe him as stodgy.

Both social climbers: Waugh ingratiated himself with the upper classes by developing a very nasty sense of humor. Fitzgerald preferred to stay the aggrieved outsider.

Both drinkers: Fitzgerald became a drunk. Waugh, it would seem, drank an equivalent amount but did not become a drunk.

Disastrous early loves: Fitzgerald never severed the emotional rope that bound him to Zelda. Waugh shed She-Evelyn without a second’s hesitation and married again the year after his divorce. That marriage took.

Both harbored same-sex crushes: Fitzgerald repressed his homosexual desires. Waugh had numerous male lovers at Oxford, but this seemed to have been a developmental phase.

I suppose one could sum it all up by saying Fitzgerald was hopelessly sentimental, but Waugh was not. Maybe, that’s where Waugh’s Catholicism came in. Maybe if you institutionalize your yearning for redemption, you don’t have to act on it.


I prefer Brideshead to Gatsby. The language in both novels is comparably sumptuous and lovely, but Brideshead has more connective tissue. Also, of course, it’s got religion – lots and lots and lots of religion! And I like religion.

Plus Brideshead gives the rich an out: When I was a girl, Lady Marchmain tells Charles Ryder, we were comparatively poor, but still much richer than most of the world, and when I married I became very rich. It used to worry me, and I thought it wrong to have so many beautiful things when others had nothing. Now I realize that it is possible for the rich to sin by coveting the privileges of the poor.

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Woke up in the middle of the night to the loudest peal of thunder you can possibly imagine. I’d been caught in one of those labyrinthine dreams that are so enveloping, so elaborate they’re like alternate lives, but all I can remember from that parallel existence now is that I was holding a baby. The baby had been hideously neglected; I’d actually caught it when it had fallen off of something. It had the most adorable, serious, earnest little face; it wanted so desperately to please.

Mama, I said to the baby, and its little lips pushed together, trying to make an M sound. Dada, I told it, and it struggled to make a D, all the while peering at me anxiously: Do you like me? Please like me!


When I woke up at my regular time this morning, I was dreaming of Balinese music. Odd. In my 20s, I really loved Balinese music and listened to it all the time. But I haven’t listened to Balinese music in years.


Thunder in the Hudson Valley is like thunder no place else. Something about a valley bisected by a river surrounded by low mountains. A single peal of thunder can go on and on and on for 30 seconds.


I’ve been in a funk for the last few days.

That asshole still hasn’t paid me, and though that hasn’t had a ripple effect on finances in general – and probably won’t have a ripple effect since Scut Factory funds kick in tomorrow – it still had the effect of making me feel absolutely worthless on some essential level because (A) It’s a relatively small amount of $$$ and yet, I’m so marginal that the lack of it has a measurable impact; and (B) because I’m absolutely powerless to make this asshole pay up. He’s apologetic, citing cash flow problems of his own. As soon as he gets his $$$, he’ll pay me my money. Etc, etc. But I don’t give a shit about his cash flow problems. He should have figured out his cash flow problems before he hired me to write his oh-so-boring legal research paper. Which I turned into something interesting.

Being in this kind of funk paralyzes me on some basic level. It leaves me absolutely unable to focus, shrinks my already microscopic concentration span to something that approaches Alzheimer’s levels. I crave distraction. I’d love to get drunk or high. (I’m scrupulously avoiding alcohol and consciousness expanders because I don’t think the impulse to get drunk or high when I’m feeling like this is a mentally healthy impulse.)

It’s kind of like being trapped in dead space.


I should just pull out one of the current projects and do eeeet.

‘Cause you know. It’s never any more mystical or more complicated than that.


Samir talked to me for a long time about djinn this morning. Apparently, everyone who lives in the Atlas Mountains believes in djinn, even if they’re deeply immersed in programming projects that require the use of the VHSIC Hardware Description Language, which is the easiest way to get integrated circuits to communicate with one another.

I like scientists whose thought processes are not constrained by the empirical model.

“Yes, I think you are the type of people djinn talk to,” he said, but when I asked him to elaborate upon that remark, he shook his head and laughed.
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Dreamed I was hosting some sort of party for Max at a VFW hall. Max was sharing his guest-of-honor spot with another guy who was a real soldier and much beloved by the Hare clan – Bill and MaryAnne kept sneaking off to interview him, and when I asked, “Oh, can I watch?”, they said, No! I lacked the proper credentials.

This refusal made me feel edgy and insecure.


Of course, yesterday I felt edgy and insecure all day. Mostly because a sizable client payment was missing in action, and I’d spent the entire contents of my Rainy Day fund 10 days before on car repairs.

The money will come, and I won’t do any work for this particular client ever again.

But in the meantime, this kind of grasshopper behavior and financial mismanagement on my part fills me with self-loathing. Why am I always ending up in this position? Why can’t I learn? Yes, yes, I always make clients sign contracts, but in truth, enforcing that kind of contract is problematic: He lives in another state.

Really, I need to vet clients more systematically.

But more really, years and years and years ago, I should have figured out a way to stash six months of living expenses in a bank somewhere just like Suze Ormond – another alumna of the Buttercup Bakery! – recommended.

I figure it’s probably too late for this ancient gadfly to retune its antennae, so I’m doomed to live out my remaining days in this precarious cycle of mini-boom and bust.

I should toddle off and watch reassuring documentaries about outsider art, right? Henry Darger. Vivien Meier. Now they were losers.


The other reason I felt edgy and insecure was A’s apology.

Because as hard as it may have been for him to write – and I know it was hard for him to write because most of the apology actually consisted of how hard it was for him to write! – I’m simply not that interested.

And that’s making me feel guilty.

I mean, shouldn’t I be giving him positive reinforcement for these faint, faint stirrings of personal growth on his part? Am I not acting like a complete and total bitch if I don't participate in his karmic IEP?

But the fact is that rekindling any sort of friendship with this person would involve having the type of meta-conversation that would result in intimacy.

And while I would be okay going back to the kind of light-hearted activity partnership we shared for a couple of years, I do not want an intimate friendship with him. That ship has sailed.

Really, he should have just blown me off and stuck with it.


And speaking of blowing off, I cannot blow off doing lots and lots and lots of remunerative work today! The way I did yesterday because agita made it impossible for me to focus.

I must get my sorry ass on the trail while it's still cool enough to exercise, and then I must get down to work.
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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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Helas! This week’s payoff was not enough to get the brakes fixed.

Next week.

It is not the end of the world.

Plus Benito came running upstairs while I was hanging out with L in the kitchen. “Did you say you were moving out?” he asked in a tone of genuine distress.

“No!” I said.

“Thank goodness!” he said. “You’re my favorite person in the world to have long rambling intellectual conversations with. I don’t know what I’d do if you weren’t around to have long rambling intellectual conversations with. By the way, you can borrow my incredibly messy car any time I’m not using it.”

Since Benito never uses his car except to drive twice a day to the Culinary Institute, this gives me a practically unlimited pass.


It’s a money problem. But not a money crisis. Still. It immediately plunged me back into black depths of anxiety and self-loathing, something I haven’t wallowed in for three years now. Just imagine that: Three whole years of mental health!

I liked Nothing Left Unsaid, but all the while I listened Gloria Vanderbilt with her perma-smirk and her childlike affect repeat over and over again in that breathless Jackie Kennedy voice, “I’m a survivor,” I kept thinking: You haven’t survived anything.

Husband’s death? One son’s suicide? Another son’s abandonment? Just imagine going through those things without a big plushy pile of money to cushion the blows. Just imagine the husband dying, the son taking his own life, and living in a dumpy apartment with cockroaches and bad air vents circulating the smells of other people’s boiled cabbage and bathroom dumps into your living space. ‘Cause that’s the reality for most people.


As for me, clearly I made my own choices. I had plenty of opportunities to live a life other than the one I’m living. For whatever reasons, I turned them down. Maybe I wouldn’t turn them down today, but they’re not opportunities likely to be offered me today. My biggest bargaining chip throughout most of my life was an amazing, otherworldly physical beauty. I never identified with it at all, it was always external to who I felt myself to be, but it was what 99% of the people around me saw and reacted to throughout most of my adult life. Physical beauty is a super-power. Like being faster than a speeding bullet. Like being able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.

Now I’m just an old woman with incipient crepe neck and the beginnings of arthritis. I have my personality, and God knows, it keeps me entertained. But my personality was always kind of a mixed bag. The people who like it, like it very, very much. The people who don’t like it really don’t like it. I wouldn’t say the latter group necessarily outnumbers the former group, but I would say that the older you get, the more invisible you get, so even my personality has now become more-or-less irrelevant.

Much of my self-loathing in dark moods comes from the sneaking thought that consistently, throughout my life, I’ve made the wrong choices.

But life is a learning process.

And it’s never too late to learn how to make better choices.


“You need to get a credit card,” L told me bluntly. “It would make your life a whole lot easier.”

How to explain to L the debilitating waves of shame and despair that choke me, that paralyze me, every time I so much as think about checking my credit score? I once owned a business! I once had a spectacular credit rating! Multinational corporations begged for the opportunity to loan me money.

“That’s just ridiculous,” L said. “Life is just what it is. You have another 30 years on this planet at least! You can’t spend it hiding out.”

L and I must have been sisters in a previous lifetime. She says things to me that other people, ostensibly closer, do not say to me. Or will not say to me.

We are not at all alike, but we get on famously.

“Going out, having adventures – it’s in your DNA,” she said. “You’re making yourself absolutely miserable by tying that in to some sort of boom-or-bust earning rhythm. It’s a process. You start small. A year from now, you’ll be bigger.”

You’d think that process would be something that as a writer, I’d be familiar with. All 587,000 words of War and Peace started when Tolstoi locked himself in a room one day, sat down at a table, picked up a pen.

But, no. Even as a writer with some experience behind me, I still subscribe to the fantasy that the best writing is something that comes to you in a lightening strike, which you then spend 48 hours or so grinding your teeth and transcribing. I hate the slow, incremental process.

My financial solvency fantasies are like that, too.

But the slow, incremental process is life.

I took L’s advice, though. Checked my credit score. It’s bad – but not as bad as I thought it would be.

And I tracked down a bank that works with individuals who are seeking to rebuild their credit.

I’m not going to let this situation happen to me again.

A year from now, who knows? I may even be a real human girl again.
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My revenue generation has fallen short of my goals but may still be sufficient unto my little gray mouse needs.

Here’s hoping.

It really is not possible to live out in the country without a car.

I’m still thinking brakes don’t suddenly go down to metal without warning, and that therefore the grating sound I heard driving back through the Catskills is somehow connected to the exhaust system, which should still be under labor warranty, but who fucking knows?

I’m still operating under the Big Black Cloud that descended upon me – ulp! – eight years ago when I lost my business, my house, my everything.

It has occurred to me, though, that I’m now past whatever dark stains blotched my credit report since credit reports, like skin cells, magically regenerate every seven years.

If I applied for a credit card, I’d probably get it.

And I probably should. Credit cards were made for putting the costs of car repairs on.


In other news, I watched the Anderson Cooper/Gloria Vanderbilt documentary Nothing Left Unsaid.

I was prepared to hate it. Gloria Fucking Vanderbilt! The name that crammed a million fat asses into overly tight designer jeans back in my salad days!

But, in fact, I liked it a lot.

She quotes Mary Gordon: A fatherless girl thinks all things possible and nothing safe.

[Waving hand wildly] That would be me!

Although wealth beyond the wildest dreams of avarice and life that turns into a mythology practically the moment it's lived is not me.

I really liked the fact that Vanderbilt’s son, Anderson Cooper, was the person who was interviewing her.

My own kids are utterly uninterested in my life. They love me! Of that, I have no doubt, and Max, at least, is very conscientious about staying in contact with me. We have interesting conversations. But they’re never about my life.

Recently, Max was applying for some sort of… something.

You may consider discussing how your background, life or work experiences, culture, and perspectives would contribute to the diversity of the entering class. You may also describe any adversity that you have overcome, including discrimination, linguistic barriers, or a personal or family history of educational or socioeconomic disadvantage.

“So! Should I go for Deep Springs, growing up in a divorced home, or my relationship with Fletcher*** ?” Max asked me.

*** The privileged bosom pal of Max’s youth who fell into oxycontin abuse, deceit, and ruin, despite the many expensive rehabs his parents were able to place him in.

“You should write about none of those things,” I said. “I’m pretty sure Deep Springs these days is viewed as a bastion of male privilege, and lots of kids grow up in divorced homes. And though Fletcher was your close friend for a long time, ultimately, he passed out of your life.

“I think you should write about what you talked about a couple of weeks ago with your therapist – what we talked about on the phone. That there’s a history of undiagnosed mental illness on my side of the family, and the effects it had on me and subsequently on you. Intergenerational PTSD. That this legacy drew you to social work and ultimately into law school when you realized you wanted more agency.”

He liked the idea, so I emailed him about 20 pages from my journal – keyword: Mother.

But I doubt very much that he’s going to read them.

In fact, I doubt very much that either of my kids is ever going to read my journal, even after I’m dead.

Which makes me start wondering what I should do with my journal. For after I’m dead. Whether I should make any plans for it. I have been keeping it for more than 50 years. Maybe it has some kind of value as a historical document.
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So, I had a perfectly fabulous time in Ithaca.

But then as I was catapulting homeward through the Catskills, my left front brake began making a grinding noise whenever I stepped on the pedal. Came on very suddenly, which was odd. Yes, definitely, new brake pads are in my future, but I’m also wondering whether the heat shield got bent somehow and whether it’s still under warranty since I had the exhaust system replaced just last month. Not that I know a damn thing about auto mechanics.

Anyway, this put me in a baaaaaaad mood. Which is a pity: I was in such a good mood leaving Ithaca.

Oh, well. It’s only money, right? And I have a coupon for 10% off!

But it did serve to underscore something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently.

For a reasonably intelligent human being, I’ve been singularly bad about accumulating money in my lifetime.

I mean, I did have a stretch there when I was earning in the five zeroes.

But I never quite grokked the essential notion that money is what gives one agency in this human world.

Why did I prefer not having agency? Because I don’t think for a second that I was incapable of earning money.

And money lets you travel, eat delicious food in great restaurants, buy art supplies, get your brakes fixed without turning a simple maintenance and upkeep operation into a cause for existential despair!

I can only suppose it was part of a no-less-concerted for being completely unconscious campaign to make sure I stayed an outsider no matter what. Simply put: I like being the stranger at the party.


Ithaca is changing fast. No longer a counterculture Brigadoon, though it still has its fair share of Cornell and Ithaca College graduates with $150,000 degrees working at the local organic food coop.

Svante Myrick, the idealistic young Millennial elected my second year there, turns out to have been a whiz bang at biz dev deals. Four new deluxe hotels under construction downtown! A complete overhaul of the Commons – they took out all the trees! I think the new Ithaca Commons looks hideous, but apparently the remodel was necessary to modernize the underground utilities so that they’d support all those deluxe new hotels plus several hundred new pricey condominium units. Myrick retains his cred with the aging hippie idealist and student radical crowd that elected him by lobbying hard for marijuana legalization and supervised heroin injection sites, refusing to learn how to drive, and describing himself as “biracial” rather than black.

Trumansburg, in marked contrast, remains sleepy and unchanged:


Ben and I got along fabulously. Three days of banter, watching bad television, intricate conversations about the nature of politics, the economy, and the universe. What could possibly be more fun?

It was very odd driving up there. The weather said Spring! but the trees are all bare. That’s the aftermath of all that snowfall and cold weather earlier this month.


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Every Day Above Ground

September 2017

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