01. June 2013 · Comments Off on The Other Soul Mate · Categories: N. Staying Alive, The Beast

People have asked me, why didn’t you scream and holler, tell a visitor, or feign illness and refuse to get out of bed?

Why didn’t you steal a stamp, sneak into town and mail a letter?  What is the matter with you?

The scream is inside but it can’t get out.


Detail Children copy


Children of the Red Rain (detail) oil on canvas 1989 by Neil Grayson


Where was your family?

Worlds later, my uncle said that he was told that instead of going on to college I had become a nun.   He said to his wife, que pena, what a pity, but they never thought to question nuns.  To them, religious women were nuns.   They never heard of lay women who made vows and also made up their own rules.

Someone said that if you are thrown off a tall building and you survive, that is your demon.

If you go into the wilderness you will meet your demon.   Actually, you are both there on a date and you found each other on an Inter-dimension Akashic dating site.

At sixteen I was too dumb to know anything that useful.




Minotaur by William Blake

31. May 2013 · Comments Off on Blue Heaven · Categories: N. Staying Alive, The Beast

It has been many years since I left Grailville and graduated from college.  I married my soul mate.  Herb and I are living with our son in the dream house we built in a town we chose.   As the song goes We’re happy in our blue heaven.


Plum Blossoms


Then an impending snowstorm threatens our dinner party and my husband roots for the snowstorm.   He refuses dinner invitations.  Friends come for three dinner parties in a row and then do not want to come again unless we go to their dinners too.


4 R


I take our small son to the Magic Kingdom.  My husband stays home.  I take our son to the city for the weekend.   My husband stays home.




I take our son to Stonehenge, to Loch Lomond, to the Caribbean Islands.   My husband stays home.

I go to the hospital alone.   He empties the mailbox each day and throws away wedding invitations and my friends’ letters.  He forgets my phone messages.

I can see that he is truly sorry.  He makes a new effort.  It lasts for a while.  I think of all the happy things,


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4 R




I count our blessings.

We accept an invitation to a birthday dinner party at the home of very dear friends, Fan and Les.   Their son Fred and Herb were roommates in their fraternity house at the University of Pennsylvania.   They spent a lot of time in each other’s homes.

Fan gave Freddie a department store in Salt Lake City and he moved out there.   Herb has not been in touch with anyone in that family for many years, but they always loved him.  After Fan and Les hear that Herb has married and settled down, they invite us into their lives.

From the moment we meet I feel that I know Fan.   We have something in common that she also feels.

In some way I do not clearly understand, we are like instant family.  I am perfectly at home in her house.  They live at 666 Park Avenue in New York in a maisonette with twenty seven rooms.  The main rooms have 18 foot ceilings

There are several antique rooms which have been transplanted from European houses.  The dining room is English.   The main salon is a pine room from Spettisbury Manor. There are two rooms from the Chateau de Courcelles in France.

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Fan and Les live as though they are still in the New York society that Edith Wharton describes in The Age of Innocence.

They have a staff of two chefs and five Irish maids.   They have a butler.  They have chauffeurs.   They even have their own curator from the Metropolitan Museum.

They dress for dinner every night.   That is black tie and evening gowns.   The long table with a runner of fresh flowers glitters with multiple stemmed crystal glasses at each place setting, surrounded by rows of sterling flatware.

Les says that Fan wants to use her favorite antique china every day, but Lloyd’s of London would not insure it for daily use.  So what you see on the table is an amazing copy of the real thing, which they have to keep protected.

Why am I so at home here?  In the best of times our family in Macau did not live like this.

The Grail had separated me from my family in such a profound way that I simply thought of myself as being on my own.  Yes, there was the memory of my grandmother’s home deep inside me.  Until I was married that was still the place I thought of as “home.”   That’s where I am from, if someone asks.

But too much time has passed.   I do not think of actually going back there again.

After Herb and I get married, my sister becomes interested in my life again.   We correspond.    As in the past, she enjoys having tailors in Hong Kong make clothes for me and now also for Herb.  I send her American inventions and clever children’s clothes.

I never tell her what happened to the college wardrobe she had made for me.  Actually, I do not talk about those years at Grailville with anyone.

My sister and her husband take their five children on a trip around the world, and they stay at our home for two weeks.   Still I do not plan to visit them in Hong Kong any time soon.

Fan young

It is Fan who encourages me to go back to Macau and reclaim my roots.  It is strange, really.

Here Fan is, living in this grand house with her second husband and a large staff of servants.  Her only son lives thousands of miles away.

She lives surrounded by all these treasures made by artists the world over, with such natural grace.  I sense that though most things here are museum quality, nothing here is for show,

The furnishings and art are all personally chosen and part of daily life.  She reminds me of what that fortune teller said long ago which I could never figure out.  He said that wealth would just flow through me because I have open hands.

He could have been talking more accurately about Fan.  She truly has open hands.

Wealth just flows through her without her grasping it, without her taking credit for anything.  I think one could arrive at that state of grace even if one did not have very much.  But most of us would not be tested by such great wealth.

Like me, Fan had a competent and take-charge kind of older sister.  Her sister worked with their father in his business.   She was the CEO of his department store in Connecticut.   She helped him extend his empire, and in the process built a magnificent legacy for herself.

Fan, on the other hand, shares her inherited wealth quietly and in a very personal way.   When Fan and her sister were girls, their parents took them on extended tours abroad.  Fan developed a deep love for the arts, especially the performing arts.

Fan says it is important for me to go back and renew ties with my family, although many of them have scattered.


Fan42674 copyFan72674 copy


After more than twenty years away, I finally take the trip back.

Now, in spite of Herb’s reluctance to go anywhere, he has accepted an invitation to Fan’s birthday dinner party.   Herb knows that their dinners and their guest lists and even seating arrangements are all carefully thought out in advance.

He knows that Fan and Les entertain purely for their own and their friends’ enjoyment.  He is always relaxed and comfortable with them.

One day before the party I get a call from Les.  Who in Washington is competing with them?  Herb just sent them an impersonal lettergram, of all things, regretting that he suddenly has to go to Washington.  Can’t he pick up the phone?

I cannot hide that I am just as stunned as they are.   They are dismayed.   They know my husband’s history.   This is an ominous sign that his demons have returned.

In one inexplicably cold and deeply insulting gesture, Herb has cut us off.


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Fan NYT 2copy3

30. May 2013 · Comments Off on Paralyzed Arm · Categories: N. Staying Alive

My husband’s father was perhaps the most successful negligence lawyer in New York.   When Herb was a boy, they lived in a mansion in Brooklyn.   At the turn of the century his father had come with his family from Russia when he was still a baby.  He worked his way up and achieved his American dream.


HerbToddler copy

He had even bigger dreams for his own firstborn son.  He wanted him to be a part of America’s history, maybe even a decorated general bringing honor to the family.  He named him Herbert Lee.

Back then, even in prime neighborhoods, boys often fought one another in the streets.   When Herb came home with a bloody nose and black eye, his father said, toughen up!

Herb went to the gym every day.  He learned to fight.   One day, he took on the bullies.  They never bothered him again.


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At eighteen, tall, handsome and broad-shouldered, Herb graduated from Poly Tech Preparatory School.   His mother said that he turned in an essay that was so brilliant his teachers called him in to make sure that he did write an original essay.

Just as his father hoped, he was commissioned as a cadet at the United States Military Academy.  This was in 1944 when World War II was still raging and smoke rose from the death camp chimneys.


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Training was tough.  Hazing was tough.   But the streets had been the real test.  He could take it.

Then someone at the Academy crossed a line.   I never knew what that line was.   Herb did not talk about it.   His mother told me part of the story and his father told me how he saved himself.

In any case, Herb fought back with such fury that no one could stop him.  Just before he destroyed his life, he stopped himself.

He paralyzed his own right arm.



the fighter The Fighter,  oil on canvas, 1991 by Neil Grayson


They gave him a medical discharge from the Military Academy.


manBeingLedAwayMan Being Led Away, oil on canvas, 1993 by Neil Grayson


He was hospitalized and endured shock treatments before there were muscle relaxants.  The treatments broke his wrist.   But he healed without a trace of injury.

Then he rose like a phoenix and flew out of there.

He went on to the Wharton School of Finance at the University of Pennsylvania where three years later he graduated at the top of his class.  Then he got his law degree from New York University, also graduating at the top.

The demons of self-paralysis would re-assert themselves in clever ways.  Demons are Trojan horses.   Once in, they pretend the war is over.  Then they sabotage.   Or they suddenly break out and go viral.

There is no expiration date on demons.

Herb has tremendous resilience and the powers of the phoenix, rising again and again.  But now there is the taste of ashes in all our mouths.




This time, I know that my husband’s demons have escalated the skirmishes and declared war.  With that cold, insulting lettergram he pulled up one of his own deep roots and is leaving it to dry up and die in the sun.  He would retreat into the shadows.

I will not.  Our family is at stake.

Herb does not want couple counseling.  He insists that there is nothing wrong with me and that he alone will go to therapy.  He will handle it.  He has done it before.

It is time to call Dr. Lowen.

When we were newlyweds and living on cloud nine in New York City, Alicia, a friend of Herb’s, comes to see us.    She is so excited, she says, because she is leaving for a new life in California.

She owns a successful art gallery, but she is packing it up.  She has a Modigliani to sell.   The money will help her get started.

She is going to be part of the world of Reichian therapy.  She is going to Esalen.   This is the 60’s.  Body therapies sprout like psychedelic mushrooms in spiked soil.

Alicia goes shopping with me.  I pick her brains.  She gives me a book, Man in the Trap by Ellsworth Baker.

I go on to read Wilhem Reich.   Then I discover Alexander Lowen.   He uses no jargon.  He is clear as a summer sky.  I read all his books.

I see that all that angst about the absurdity of life and the meaninglessness of existence is a cover-up.

The problem is just the opposite.  Life has too much meaning.  It is coursing through our bodies.   We feel and we know.  Sometimes the feeling is so unbearable that we have to stop it.  Any way we can.  The history of our feelings is in our bodies.

Dr. Lowen is not about touchy feely consolation therapy.  He is above all a clinician.   He works with the body as a part of analysis.   He has learned from thousands of patients.  He is tough.

The work is new, but it is not random.  There is a structure.  I think that someday we will map the meaning of the body the way we map the genome.   We will track energy coursing through the body and understand where it has been and what it leaves in its wake.

This energy has gone by a lot of names.  Dr. Lowen calls it bioenergy.   Whatever it is called, uncovering its mysteries is probably more dangerous than splitting the atom.

Well, I think, maybe someday I will undergo this therapy and see for myself.  But someday later, maybe.




My husband does not believe in talk therapy and balks at taking any kind of drugs.  I know he will go to a therapist only to reassure me.  At heart he believes that he can solve his own problems.

He is healthy and fit.  He is used to working out in the gym.  He was a wrestler in college.   I think that a therapist who combines analysis with body work could help him.

I look up Dr. Alexander Lowen, M.D. for Herb and discover that besides a practice in New York City, he is also in nearby New Canaan.   The woman who answers the phone says that he had a heart attack and refers me to another bioenergetics psychiatrist.

Herb goes to therapy every week.  Things do not get better.  Finally, I discover that he has quit therapy weeks ago.  Why?  Well, he says, the doctor said that if his patients had a relationship like ours two thirds of them would not need him.

Then his doctor asks to meet me.  That’s when Herb quits.

We invite his doctor for lunch, after which I go for a separate session.    Herb goes back to therapy.   I also insist that I go for therapy on my own.

Out of the blue,  I get a hunch to call Dr. Lowen again, just in case.   He answers the phone.  No, he says, he did not have a heart attack.  It was only a cold, something minor.


28. May 2013 · Comments Off on The Crusher · Categories: N. Staying Alive, The Beast · Tags:

Dr. Lowen asks me why I have come to him.

What is the matter with me that I find myself in this situation?  I need to know.

Good, he says.  Now we can begin.


Dr. Lowen looks intently at my face.  He has been working on my facial muscles.

Someone terrorized you.   It happened a long time ago, when you were vulnerable.

He makes a malevolent, devilish face at me.


Mephistopheles Faust


No, I say.  That is Mephistopheles.   He is the one that made the deal with Faust.  He is not my demon.  My demon is the one who sits on your chest.


Nightmare engraving Thomas Burke

The Nightmare, engraving after John Fuseli, 1783 by Thomas Burke

In this famous painting an ugly demon squats on a young woman’s chest.   It is facing her.   My demon has its back to me.  It is faceless, anonymous and heavy as a stone wall.

I cannot breathe.  I cannot move.

You think that you are going to die.

I don’t know.

Yes, you are dying.   You can’t move.  You can’t breathe.  If you stop breathing you die.   You are terrified to death.   To death!



Final Figure, oil on canvas, 1990 by Neil Grayson


I don’t want to die.  I shake to my bones.  My body remembers.

It’s okay.  It’s over.  You are safe here.

What do you do when you can’t move?

I pray to the Holy Spirit.

Who is the Holy Spirit?

Love.  The Holy Spirit is the spirit of love.

Then suddenly I can move again.

Dr. Lowen calls himself a secular humanist.  He has had thousands of psychiatric patients, many of them Christians.   Still, his grasp of Christian symbols surprises me.

Then what do you do?

I believe in love.   I look for something to love.  There is always something.

You think that if you do everything well and please everyone they will like you.

I know that some people will never like me.   But I don’t do it for them.  I do my best because that has always brought me good things.  Eventually, things always work out.

That is what kept you there.   It is an illusion.

But there is a darker side.

You are defiant.  They cannot break you.  We will see how you were colluding.


27. May 2013 · Comments Off on Breaking Spirit · Categories: N. Staying Alive

They move me from the House of Joy to St. Brigid’s, past the dairy barn way down the road and off by itself.   It is one of two art centers.  The other one is The Caravansery, a converted old barn near the bookstore where they weave cloth on a loom and make tapestries and liturgical vestments.

St. Brigid’s is a converted chicken coop with a domed roof and skylights.   It is small, but the light is good. The back is partitioned off for sleeping.  It has beds and little room for much else.  There is a cold water hand pump and drain on the concrete floor near the side entrance.  Outside, there is an outhouse.

Helen is in charge of our little group.  She doesn’t use a clipboard.  She just tells us what to do, down to the smallest detail. I clean the outhouse to squeaky clean and carry the tall bucket to a pit nearby.  After emptying it, I sprinkle lye over the mess.  I practically sterilize the bucket.  I remember the reasons for those painful cholera shots.

For showers we go to the bookstore building.  For warmth we keep a stove going in the center of the workspace. Helen takes us to a local workshop to work with power tools like table saws, jigsaws and lathes.

We make benches, stools and crosses. We make silkscreens from scratch and create designs with stencils and knives.   We work with leather.  I make a suede cover for my breviary.

Helen is meticulously neat.  She makes us wash out each brush after using it.  Then we have to soap and shape the bristles and let them dry in shape.  We wash the soap out again before we use the brush. That’s just one little ritual. We save every scrap of leather and every thread long enough to pull through the eye of a needle.  We make our own toothpowder with baking soda and cloves in little tins into which we dip our wet toothbrushes.  We are in a sort of survival mode. I can live with Helen’s ways because I naturally like to put things into some kind of order, but it drives the other girls a little crazy.

Many years later I learn that Helen was told to “break” my spirit, the way you do a wild horse, I suppose.   But she is not really up to the task. She makes me grow my hair.  I have the kind of thick hair that has a soft wave in it that pretty much takes care of itself.  I am used to plunging into the sea and then just letting my hair dry in the sun.   Helen makes me put my hair up in metal curlers.  It is awful to sleep with those curlers, but I get used to it.  She gives up and has my hair cut.

There are other little bothersome things like that.  I suspect they were some of the things Helen suffered as a child that did break her spirit to some extent. When spring comes, Helen takes me to clean out the corn crib.  We discover a litter of pink baby mice.  They are so cute, we leave them alone.  Helen has a soft heart for little things.  I think of Ah Seem and the little pink glass piglets and my glass dragon.


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Helen takes us to find wild flowers.   I love knowing their names like Lady’s Slippers, Dutchman’s Britches and Queen Anne’s Lace.  In my childhood I played with a great variety of plants and flowers, but I knew very few of their English names.


lady slipper




Queen Anne's lace



Helen plants a garden of herbs with the precision of a mandala.  It is a marvel.  From her I learn reverence for the details of nature.  On the other hand, sometimes she prefers things to people. I am assigned to the kitchen staff for the summer.   One afternoon Helen passes by and sees me reaching for the top shelf of the commercial sized refrigerator. There is a ledge at the bottom of the fridge like a running board on a vintage car, and I am standing on it.  There is no other way I can reach that shelf.

Helen berates me for mistreating the fridge.  She orders me to go out to the fields and meditate on my “sin”.  There is no point in arguing.  That kind of punishment is pure central planning.   Helen did not dream it up, she is just following her vow of obedience. The conceit is that if you meditate on something you are told is wrong, God will enlighten you that your leader is right.  It seems to work for them.

I need a break from the hot kitchen anyway, and a walk in the fields is a relief.



26. May 2013 · Comments Off on Leitha · Categories: N. Staying Alive, The Beast

Maybe it is just a way of coping, but I separate the sometimes hurtful things they do from the earnest and talented young women I work with every day.

I make excuses for them.   They are just obeying their leaders.  They trust them.  They don’t question them.   But they have good intentions.

The real soul breakers, I tell myself, can only have come from anonymous central planning.

This stratagem is not working well when it comes to Leitha even though I know that she is not in the top circle of power.  Maybe it is her body language.  She does not even wear that cover-up smile.

Leitha heads the other arts center in the Caravansery, a converted barn near the bookstore.  There they weave cloth on a loom and make tapestries, liturgical vestments and dance costumes.  I am never in her household.    But somehow she shows up at unexpected moments wherever I am.

After my first summer on the kitchen staff they put me in the agricultural household.  It is called Pneuma.  Because of the hours dictated by farm work, we have our own cook, me.  But somehow Leitha is often presiding and reading at our meals.

Singers in long robes, holding lighted candles, wake us up in the middle of the night.  I am in the top bunk.  I sit up, too groggy to remember the sloping ceiling.  I hit my forehead again.  Now I am awake.

We dress and stumble down the road to the main hall for another prayer vigil.  There is Leitha, in charge of things.   I struggle to keep my eyes open.  In just a few hours, at five o’clock, we must go and milk the cows.  I am sure that Leitha planned this.

It is Christmas morning.  Even though I am no longer a year school student I am told to join the new students in the hall.  We are opening our Christmas presents.  Everyone has letters and cards except me.

They distribute the gift packages.  There is a large box for me.  The girls are opening their gifts from home, laughing at the thick woolen undies and sharing their photos and their candy.

I open my box.  Inside there is another box, gift wrapped.   I unwrap and open it.  Inside, there is nothing.  It is a totally empty box without even a Christmas greeting in it.  I stare at this empty box.  I get what they are saying:

Nobody cares about you!

I hear a gasp.  The girls try not to look at me.  I am ruining their Christmas spirit.  I put the top back on the box.  I leave quietly.   This one could only have come from central planning which I am beginning to associate with Leitha.

It is Lent.  We are having a simple supper in the fields.  I am enjoying the thick slice of freshly baked bread and the hunk of cheddar.  I hold a ripe tomato in my hand.  We picked that only minutes ago.  The setting sun casts its last rays of gold across the fields.  It is a perfect tomato.  I take a big bite.  It is delicious.

You do not have the right spirit!  I look up and see Leitha glowering at me.  You are taking too much pleasure in your food.  It is against the penitential spirit of Lent.   But whether it is Lent or not, you should always have something unpleasant at each meal.


I have an idea for a chicken dish which I could not try out when I was cooking in the main kitchen.  There were five of us, and we cooked three meals a day, with strict deadlines, for up to one hundred and fifty people, plus special meals for special people upstairs.

Maria was in charge.  Though she was good natured she did not allow for any experimenting.  But now I am cooking for only a dozen or so, and it is my chance to try out my “smothered chicken.”  The pieces are lightly breaded and fried in butter, seasoned and then very slowly cooked until you could cut them with a fork.

I expect my farm girls to gobble it all up.   But when I see Leitha eat a large second helping I realize why I made that special effort today.  What do I care what Leitha thinks anyway.  It makes me uneasy.

Whatever household I am in, they often pull me out to conduct Mass or sing folk songs.  They just need more conductors than they have, especially when there are many visiting priests.



On Pentecost Sunday I conduct Mass in the parish church.  The hymn Veni Sancte Spiritus (Come Holy Spirit) is sublime.  Everyone loves it.  However, it spans octaves.   I know that.

I should have used my pitch pipe, but I have become so sure of myself that I never even carry it.  I give the choir the pitch.  As soon as we sing the first phrase I realize that I did not pitch it low enough.   Disaster!

At the highest notes Rosemarie is the only one left who can squeak them out.

After Mass no one says anything.  I know it is my fault – it is pure hubris, that’s all.  Yet I am saying to myself, why didn’t Leitha stop me after I gave that too high pitch?  She was standing right next to me, and she has sung this for ages.   She wanted to see me fail.

That’s when I realize with a shock that something is happening to me that I hate.  I am blaming someone else.

It gets worse.

We are required to go to a lecture that Leitha is giving.  It is a special lecture on clothes and woman.  We are not allowed to take notes.

Leitha comes to the podium dressed in a suit and a man’s tie.  I cannot believe the nonsense she says about her subject.   Hasn’t she ever felt the pleasure of wearing pretty dresses and hats and walking around in her mother’s heels?

I should try to understand her.  Instead I think, no wonder she doesn’t want us to take notes.   She suspects her lecture is total rubbish yet she wants us to endure it.

I am back in the main kitchen for a second summer.  Summer is our busiest season with crowds of visitors.  It is a seven-day, all day job with breaks of only an hour or two each day.

Often I am still scrubbing pots so large I could fit into them, and measuring out breakfast coffee long after the lights go out in the other households. This Sunday, amazingly, I am given the whole day off until dinner.

After a festive breakfast with a full dining room, Leitha, who is presiding, says that she wants a volunteer, just one person, who would make the sacrifice of doing all the dishes.

No one volunteers right away.  Leitha scans the room.  Slowly, one and then two hands go up.  She looks directly at me.  I raise my hand.   Doreen, she says.

I just knew she would pick me.  Why am I doing this?  With a sinking heart I see the dirty dishes pile up all over the counters of the washing-up kitchen as people stream out of the dining room.

Even when there is a large group pitching in, it takes considerable time to do all those dishes.  There is no dishwasher.   There is only one double sink.  You scrape, you wash, you rinse, you dry, and you put away dishes for about a hundred and fifty diners.   I am there for almost all the rest of my free time which I really needed.

I have a lot of time to think of what I am doing to myself.  I see why I am doing this.  I am saying YOU CAN’T BREAK ME.

But I volunteered.

25. May 2013 · Comments Off on Collusion · Categories: N. Staying Alive · Tags:

Dr. Lowen says you know that you were colluding, don’t you?

I knew I was losing something of myself.

When did you realize that it was changing you?

It was gradual.  Once I saw that clearly, nothing could keep me there.

How long did it take?

Four years.

That’s when you stopped being a child.

24. May 2013 · Comments Off on Superflumina · Categories: N. Staying Alive

After my third summer in the kitchen they put me in a taxi to Superflumina.   I still insist that I don’t belong.  I am still not wearing the cover-up smile.  No doubt my weariness is plain on my face.

The taxi driver turns to me.  I could go for a soft ice cream, her voice is gentle.  There is a Dairy something nearby.   Can I treat you to a cone?

I want to say yes, she is so kind, but I have forgotten ice cream.  We have a dairy farm and we sell the milk and cream we cannot use, but I haven’t seen ice cream since I came here.

Like an automaton I say no, thank you.   I soften that with I just ate.  My smile is genuine.  You go ahead.  But she decides to get it on her way back.

God, how I miss ordinary people!

23. May 2013 · Comments Off on Bitter Pills · Categories: N. Staying Alive

On my hands and knees I scrub the wood floor till it is spotless.  I wax and polish it to a glow.   Evelyn stares at it.  You did a terrible, sloppy job.

We both know that is not true.  It is part of central planning.  You’re supposed to obey even if you are told to plant a cabbage upside down.  I scrub the floor again.  I feel stupid.

Evelyn tells me that for the rest of the day I must keep my eyes cast down.

Dolores, another leader, arrives.   She and Evelyn have a chummy conversation as though I am not even in the room.  Finally Dolores says in a loud voice, what’s the matter with her that she can’t even look people in the eye?

We have a snow storm.  Evelyn tells me that I must go on a mission of mercy.   I must deliver a small package to an old lady in the town below.   The wind and snow is blowing so hard I can hardly see the steps going down the hill.  I hang on to the hand rails and inch my way down.

I have been wearing the same grey mohair coat for three winters.  Suddenly I feel that it has worn thin.  I have rubber galoshes over my shoes.  Snow is blowing in.  I am wearing the thin cotton stockings that we all wear.  I wish I had knee socks at least.  If I keep my scarf tight on my head, I can make it.

I have never gone down to the town, but the directions are simple.  It is the howling wind and snow that make it a trek through Siberia.

When I get to the house, a woman opens the door.  She takes the package from me.   She does not ask me in.  She does not want the snow to blow into the room and she closes the door quickly.

This is not what a normal person does.  I tell myself that she must have been coached by central planning.

I had another coat.  My sister had intended it for dressier occasions.  It is made of long black mohair, with a lustrous finish.  It looks like a seal coat.  It is also padded for warmth.  It had disappeared immediately.

I was surprised to see my coat hanging in the hall closet here.  It would be warmer in case I get sent into another blizzard.  But when I look in the closet again, the black coat is gone.

Some Grail women have come back recently from their mission in China, and we all remain at the dinner table while they talk about their experiences.  Very quickly the conversation turns into a bashing of colonialists.

The picture they are painting is one where greedy foreigners went to China with the sole purpose of exploiting the native population.  Soon everyone else at the table is on the side of the super good people and piling on.

I have never encountered so much hate at the dinner table.  I don’t know any sophisticated arguments on the subject, but I know certain things.  They are talking about the world I grew up in.

My mother’s family has been in Macau for hundreds of years.  There has been a mixing of races through the years and the culture is a complex hybrid.  Anyway, I do not personally know any men who fit their description of the rapacious colonialist.  But that isn’t what bothers me.

The picture they paint of the people as oppressed victims, as though their lives are pathetic until these women come and save them, just galls me.  I think that it is insulting to be seen that way.  I think of one person in particular, Ah Seem, my nanny.

Ah Seem was a truly good person.  She loved life and people.  She was naturally kind, and she was loads of fun.  After she became the second wife of a rice merchant she went to live in his town. When she came back to visit me and brought me gold earrings she was the same happy person.

Then she didn’t come anymore.  Why? I asked.  They tell me that the country has changed.  Her husband is a landowner, and the new people resent landowners.  It doesn’t matter that she has been poor all her life – to them she is a landowner’s wife.   She and her husband are taken away.    No one sees them again.

I feel the same sense of unfairness in the way the Grail women are lumping together people like Ah Seem.  They leave no room for her individuality.  They are using her as a prop.  Yes, she was a servant, but she was not a victim until some local people actually victimized her along with her husband.

So, in the most polite way I know, I speak for her dignity.  I say, “Our servants were happy.”

That is a conversation stopper.  People around the table give me condescending looks or look away.  Dinner is over.  Right after, Gertrude takes me aside, lectures me and insists that I apologize.

I will not.  I say I have only spoken the truth.  Later I am told that I need to meditate on Gertrude’s words.  I am made to kneel on a cold floor the entire night.  I fight to stay awake and kneeling straight.  The cold room helps and I manage it.




22. May 2013 · Comments Off on Stratagems · Categories: N. Staying Alive, Take Bull by Horns · Tags:

Dr. Lowen says here you have one female and two males.  Send your son to boarding school.   He’ll come into his own there.  That’s what saved the British aristocracy.

I don’t know about the British, but it is working for us.  Herb says he doesn’t want to go to therapy anymore.   I ask Dr. Lowen to see him for one session to evaluate our situation.

After that, Herb says we don’t need therapists anymore and I should call Dr. Lowen and quit.  I say no, I must tell him in person.

It has been a year since we started.

Dr. Lowen says people go to therapy the way they approach life.

Your husband does not believe that therapy will help him and that he must solve his own problems.

In your case, you think the therapy will succeed if you put your whole effort into it.  You know, I’ve had patients that I work with for years to get them to fully accept a painful truth before they can move on.

With you, as soon as we uncover something you accept it and then you present me with the next step.

I say I’ve read all your books.  They are very clear.  Then I describe my own case.  Am I accurate?  He nods.  You remember everything.   You should write.  Not philosophical tracts.  The most interesting thing you could ever write about is your own life story.

Oh no, I could never do that!  Think of all the people involved!

Not now, he says, you’re too young.  You have years to enjoy life fully.

For what you came to do, I must say that we are done.   Never again will you fall for a man who sabotages himself.

Your fantasy was to be chosen by a king.   (In Dr. Lowen’s terms a king is a man who has come into his own as a man, who is his own man.  Every man has the potential of being a king.)

Your husband is a king.  Your father was a king too.

But your husband is a wounded king.   He is in a bind.   He has a tremendous life force which up to now has maintained his defenses.  But he did not use his energies to go forward with his own achievements – to take his place in the sun.

I have to say that as sick as he is he really loves you.  You gave him a place in the heart.  But for a man, that is not enough.  He cannot live through you.

I still love him.  I want to stay with him.

Dr. Lowen will not tell me what to do, but I can sense his disappointment.  It is as though I went through rehab and just said that I am going back to drugs.

You have a right to your own happiness!

We have a dispirited back and forth.

Finally, he says that he has to warn me.  It may be years, he says, but as he gets older your husband’s defenses will break down.  If he so much as pushes you in anger, you have to leave.  If he turns to violence against you he won’t be able to stop.

I say goodbye, but I don’t do goodbyes well.  This is one of the worst.  I leave Dr. Lowen with a heavy heart.

21. May 2013 · Comments Off on Breaking Down · Categories: N. Staying Alive · Tags:

Nine years later, Herb’s defenses start to break down.  I escape from my home.  My husband stubbornly refuses to go for medical treatment.   He just wants me to come home.

It goes on too long and to break the impasse I file for a divorce.     My divorce lawyer complains that I am not helping him and am asking him to defend me with his hands tied behind his back.

I have dreams of being caught in a tsunami.   I have dreams of water rising and floating my house away.   I have dreams of getting lost and having to find my way back to Fifth Avenue though I never lived there.

Then I have a dream where I hear someone singing

When I grow too old to dream I’ll have you to remember

And I see Dr. Lowen.

What he warned me against has come to pass.  It is a comfort to see him, even in a dream.

I write him a letter letting him know what has happened.



AlLowen88backDr. Lowen Voice

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Herb has a breakdown.   He accepts medical treatment.  I stop the divorce proceedings and I go home.

20. May 2013 · Comments Off on Broken Magnet · Categories: N. Staying Alive

Lydwine has come back from a year’s grand tour of South Africa.  She is the president of the Grail in the United States.  She is coming to Superflumina to inspire us.

They ask me to memorize a passage from scriptures to add to the evening.  I choose the Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians.  I already know it.   It has been my favorite since Mother Paulinus assigned it.

If I speak with the tongues of men, and of angels, and have not love, I am become as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal.  And if I should have prophecy and should know all mysteries, and all knowledge, and if I should have all faith, so that I could move mountains, and have not love, I am nothing.  And if I should distribute all my goods to feed the poor, and if I should deliver my body to be burned, and have not love, it profits me nothing.

I stand up to say my lines.  The staffers are gathered around Lydwine.  She looks at me expectantly.  I start to speak.  I choke on the words and nothing comes out.

After a few awkward moments of silence, Lydwine says you should have taken more time to learn this.

I remember what Mother Paulinus said about the magnet that pulls me forward.  My lifeline.   If you lose the connection to it, she said, it is your fault.

That night, I write a long letter to Lydwine, or maybe it was to any one of the powers that be.   After some convoluted stuff about art and the distractions of the world, I say that I want to enter a Carmelite convent.

The gist of it is you are not saintly enough for me.

No one acknowledges my letter, but the next day I am sent back to Grailville.

They are having a new theme emphasizing the arts.  I am back at St. Brigid’s helping Trina reproduce her statues.


Manger card



I design and silkscreen Christmas cards which they then print and sell at the bookstore.

Jeanne has taken over as my spiritual adviser.  She says nothing about my letter either.  She asks me to write down everything I am thinking.

I make a four page book of paintings illustrating this quote:

The world is so full of a number of things

I think we should all be happy as kings

I give it to Jeanne.  Years later she said that she liked it too much and Lydwine took it away from her.

Angela and I take a train to Boys Town in Nebraska.  At the station, she buys us soft ice cream cones.  We are going to a conference on liturgical music.


Boys Town copy


Father Vitry is teaching the course on conducting Gregorian Chant. Most of the participants are nuns or heads of college music departments.  Father Vitry does not leap around here, I do it for him.  I am serving as his demonstrator.  His classes are still the most fun.

There are lots of young men at the conference, not all of them priests.   Some are big shot composers.  Angela gives a folder of her music to two of them.  As she walks away, I hear one of them say, “Cute.”  He wasn’t talking about her music.

I think Angela is in turmoil.  In any case, I am told that I am taking her place as the Director of Music for the summer.  That is Grailville’s busiest time.  I will be in charge of the music which involves at least one Missa Cantata every day, prayer vigils and folk singing.


Lyrics booklet



They send me to Loveland to buy some skirts and blouses at the general store.  Instead, I go a few blocks away and blow the budget on a pair of shoes like the ones I used to wear.


DCwith dog

When I come back with the new shoes they say, what’s that?  They know the difference between these beautiful shoes and the ugly laced up hand-me-down clunkers I am wearing.  They don’t ask me to take the shoes back.

They find some decent skirts and blouses for me.  I guess they can’t have me facing the world looking like Little Orphan Annie except for my new shoes.


I think they are changing tactics because they want to keep me from asking when do you send me to the Carmelites?  But they say nothing.

At the end of summer, they send me to Gabriel House, their city center in Cincinnati.  There are no locked doors.  I can walk anywhere.  It is a shock.

As with Jonah, the whale has spit me out!




Chagall Epreuve


Epreuve d’Artiste, lithograph by Marc Chagall