Wednesday, November 22, 2006



Major life changes, such as changing jobs, changing domiciles, the loss of loved ones, are usually stressful. Such changes put unusual and possibly difficult tasks on one’s to-do list.

If these changes are unwelcome or unexpected, one can react by blaming the people who precipitate the changes. One thus avoids or ignores the undesirable new tasks on one’s to-do list and expends energy in recrimination and bitterness. I know this from personal experience.

Whether or not someone else is to blame, such major changes really are a normal part of life.

A lesbian teammate cried on my shoulder one evening. She’d been dumped unexpectedly by her girlfriend of eight years. “I thought this was it,” she said, “that me and Jane would be together the rest of our lives.”

It seems to me such an attitude comes from willful ignorance. There is so much in our literature that cautions against such illusion, while advocating the enjoyment of good things while they last.

The notion of achieving a state of lasting earthly happiness is something we hate to give up, but it’s certainly not something we can reasonably expect.

Job loss? Lots of blame and bitterness.

Death of a loved one? Who would have thought?

Hurricane? Shake your faith in God.

The Greeks had it right: Let no man count his life happy, until he is dead.


When I was young and timid I witnessed the sexual chaos that accompanies the end of long cold Lincoln, Nebraska winters.

Among my college age peers there was experimentation, and cheating, and finding out the hard way about the grim dynamics of relationships.

Once I complained to my shrink about all the unnecessary pain and hurt feelings. “The outcomes seem so obvious,” I said, “Don’t these people read novels?”

My shrink couldn’t help himself, “No, Willie,” he said, “some people want to experience life first-hand.”

Cheap-o punch line, but not completely errant.


When my dad retired at age 67 from a 20-year career at CPS, he had a month or more of accumulated unused sick leave.

His peers at work, who were senior management, encouraged my dad to use the sick leave as an extra month of salary.

My dad wouldn’t do it. It was a big deal. He said he wouldn’t take sick leave because he wasn’t sick.

His colleagues thought he was crazy.

My choice of lump-sum cash out at retirement meant that my unused sick leave just went away (if I’d taken a monthly pension, unused sick leave would have been factored in).

I had only about 50 hours of sick leave accumulated. It was so low because of the five weeks of family leave I’d taken when my mom was dying.

People encouraged me to use the sick leave up, which would have meant lying. I didn't bother.


Pud and I felt really bad about the Amish schoolhouse massacre. But we sensed a painful contradiction.

Our hearts go out especially to the Amish because they’re so simple, and gentle, and good.

We were disturbed by the reports that the teachers and other adults in the school, along with the boy-students, obeyed the gunman and exited the schoolhouse—LEAVING THE GIRL STUDENTS BEHIND!

As Pud put it, “They fucking skee-daddled!”

Later, when the gunman’s intent became clear, one of the girl-students told him, “Shoot me first.”

“Now that’s Amish,” Pud said.


Call me corny, but I think Vivaldi was a great melodist. Many of his slow movements make me cry. They are so simple and clear, the tensions build so gradually, the resolutions are so inevitable, it’s hard to believe I fall for it, but I do.

This afternoon, in a moment of repose, I heard a Vivaldi sonata played by guitar and organ, a strange pairing with some unexpected sonorities.

The middle movement was so beautiful that once again I misted up.

Then I thought of a friend of mine who is still struggling with the effects of childhood abandonment. I wondered if he could feel the same way about the Vivaldi piece.

I pictured myself playing it for him, trying to share the profound sense of well being it imparts.

In my thought-experiment I imagined my friend unable to relax and “get into” the music. He probably couldn't have stayed still for more than a few bars. I imagine that the emotional dissonance drowns out a lot of stuff.

When I thought of this unavailability, I cried actual tears.

Those three words, “Shoot me first,” are sweeter than any melody ever written.

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