An Emerging Pattern

[In these March letters we seem to have settled into a routine of seeing each other on Fridays while we continue to deal with the frustration, represented by Olf, of our otherwise separate lives.  In this first letter, Carol talks about fighting off a virus while contemplating seeing me on the upcoming Friday.  We both have gotten in the habit of referencing Secaucus, a town in New Jersey  notorious  for the stench emanating from its swine slaughterhouses, as a habitat suitable for Olf.]



A sunny cold day in Brooklyn.  Vit.C to ward off the virus doesn’t work–it’s all a myth so I’m neatly tucked in on the couch, quilt tucked over ,me, West Side Story on the tube, hair in compete disarray.  I’m out of cigarrettes (can’t even spell that right–symptom of an oncoming nicotine fit).  No chance of having them sent in.  I should arrange w/ the kid at the Puerto Rican store–give him a dose of white class feminine ladiness if he’ll bring over a pack of cigarettes when I need it.  I’ll just have to figure out what white class feminine ladiness is. Maybe I should offer him a cup of tea?  No that probably wouldn’t be proper.

Well, no omens for us on Friday–no fog, no omens.  Makes me a little suspicious–like they’re all around but hiding; however, I’m not going to question their disappearance.  I hope you’re not having any unwanted visitors this weekend–maybe they all  got the munchies and went to Secaucus to chow down on dead beef & pork rind. (!)  I have a feeling not.

[The letter goes on with a long description of her playing a guessing game the previous Friday evening with friends connected to SUNY Stony Brook, whom she no doubt had met through her housemate, who rarely makes an appearance in these letters and seems not to be in the Sackett street apartment very often.  She describes a”literary game” she  “played w/ a vicious relishness–such a healthy release of anger for my wanting to be w/you and unable to be.”  The game involves one player thinking of a famous person and offering the others the first letter of the name while the others ask questions they think might attach to the famous person.  She describes winning when out of sheer nastiness she refuses to admit Bob Dylan is a performing artist.  The letter continues with another reference to the mesh poem, bringing her  back to her own musing about being together in a hammock.]

I have your poem securely tucked in my back pocket still & like the shift from silver to gold in there–the golden mesh, burnished, has a nice tactile feel to it & its visual–like swinging in a hammock in the sun w/eyes half open to catch the pinpricks of sunlight on eyelashes, but half closed–enough to feel the peaceful rhythm of swinging.  I was trying to do something w/ the phrase “webs of a different order” yesterday morning.  It’s a catchy phrase (of course, by its nature) work it into an idea & then a piece of writing, whatever form, to send back to you, but couldn’t make it work–probably because it demands inspiration from my own real web here which doesn’t offer much in the way of poetic movement these days.

The Night-walker [previously referenced] is not going to be re-worked.  It’s potential will remain private–your influence.

Well, I should use the next hour or so before work to write to my culturally poverty-stricken sister.  She’s been to see Reds & can’t find a single soul in Farmerville who either liked it or wants to discuss it.  Naturally, I need to get her to New York one of these days

Take care.


[My response, apparently a week later on another Friday night, beginning with our separation that afternoon]

Friday night


I ha a long talk with Olf on the Expressway during which I extolled the virtues of Secaucus, told him  that in no other place on this troubled planet could he find an environment so unremittingly gloomy, and a population so thoroughly depressed–in short, nowhere else could he find a situation more congenial to his disposition.  His beady little eyes sparkled when I described the stench from slaughterhouses, and I thought I had him. I even promised to treat him to another administrative council meeting on Thursday, and he did appreciate the offer.

But he does persist in his attentions, coming to sit at my elbow and mutter in my ear.  He is, however, ill at ease when I write to you, recognizing, I’m sure the weakening of his powers, if only for a moment, and so he retreats to sulk in a corner where he sharpens the cleats on his shoes an waits.

I have found 96.7.  Even Olf is nodding his head to the rhythms which enliven the almost sleeping air with soft shades of feeling, a piano running notes  that move me  to reach for shadows.

Saturday afternoon

Olf has descended from the gray clouds and comes in rain fresh and clean.  He invites me to wrestle, but I pick up pen and paper, and he scowls back into the corner where I have left him a bowl of sour milk and moldy bread. I am, if nothing else, hospitable.

I went looking at new cars today and met Olf’s second cousin on his mother’s side.  A pale imitation of Olf is this one, just wicked enough to provoke disbelief at the numbers on the sticker.  I think I will pay for one more repair to buy time to decide what to do.

The sun has broken through and invites thoughts of beaches, familiar shore lines, and new tracks to be drawn in surf-rich sand.

Sunday night

The quiet so thick it is sensuous, an occasional car roaring briefly, providing counterpoint and echoes of purposeful motion. My mind is too intense for sleep, and so I will close my eyes and gather you to me.


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Reds, Picasso, and a Dash of Olf

A back and forth some time in March beginning with my letter describing a visit to the orthodontist, and then on to the movie Reds.  In these letters, we both play off the word mesh from my poem.

Saturday Morning


I am sitting in the orthodontist’s office, having filled out insurance forms among the buzz of inconsequential conversation, the room packed with children wearing a variety of appliances giving the place the look of some kind of bizarre repair shop.  The adults are about evenly divided between jeans and polyester, more women than men, all very suburban with just a slight touch of university types…but I am more impressed by a guy in his worn volunteer fireman’s coat and equally raggedy running shoes, between which his paunch overhangs like a rising bread spilling over the edge of a baking pan.  Everyone else is talking, reading magazines, or staring.  I catch occasional glances my way, and feel like I would like to recite something obscene–maybe loosen up a couple of retainers.

Sunday morning

I almost saw Reds last night, but instead wound up on the fringe of some inexplicable melodrama in and around the Northport Theater.

[This letter goes on at some length to describe how the theater was emptied because of an unidentified threat, perhaps a bomb, and during the egress a girl wandered into the street and was hit by a van being driven by a volunteer fireman, perhaps the one described in the orthodontist’s office.  I do not know if she survived the accident. It continues below after enumerating the questions left from this incident]

…and all the questions yield to my desire to think about you, to shelter my feelings for you from this frontal barrage of the world’s lunacy, this cunning intrusion into our web of coarse and jagged sliver of the larger pattern  that seems to becoming unglued, as though Olf pumped up to giant proportions were claiming it all his own–but not all–we will not let him have our well-spun mesh, though he howl, gnash his ugly fangs, and chew at the edges of our cloth.

(My rational sense intrudes and wonders how I missed placing Olf and his fangs in the orthodontist’s chair.}


Two simple joys: the discovery that WYRS is now stereo, the rediscovery of this pen, a gift from good friends years ago which had disappeared only to reappear in my daughter’s room.

I jut watched a Picasso show on the tube and now with mellow tones drifting from the stereo, I reflect, projecting my sense of self as artist against the images of  this powerful,  tormented, romantic, giant.  Never mind the ridiculous immodesty of the comparison, the obvious differences between one who lived his art and one who consigns it to the occasional, what do I see of myself in this man who loved/feared women, who was apolitical but painted this century’s most profound political statement in Guernica, who savored his sense of humor, who sought balance between his passions and his intellect, who was a serious artist who earned the kind of money usually reserved for the successful hack, who has much to teach but learned his own lessons by reinterpreting ancient and classical models, who never yielded to total abstraction, always an object or figure no matter how distorted–psychological truth or clever craft?–who loved the guitar music of his native country and saw himself as a clown in harlequin clothes–not so much thoughts, but impressions and feelings running through my mind–his art a precipitate of his emotions, unashamedly personal but transfigured by his imagination  to the universal.

Other thoughts, too, not so simple as jazz, pen, or Picasso, that the strand stretches, transforms from golden thread to finely wrought wire that binds so tight it hurts, a good, almost joyous, pain  that leaves me torn between a scowl and a smile, welcoming even the cold which reminds me of warming before a fire on another cold night when inner ice began a serious thaw.


[Carol’s response starts with her own reaction to Reds and then switches to her thoughts on being an artist.]

Tuesday AM


I took a strong interest in Eugene O’Neill & Louise Bryant.  I don’t exactly know where the movie stopped for you [because of the theater being emptied], but those scenes on the beach were so romantic & of course the scene where they first come together–he wants to know where the Scotch is & she’ll only pour him a little at a time & he says, “If you were mine, I’d put you on a pedestal….My companions at the movie were responding w/ “Sure Jack, just what she needs” w/ the know-it all tones of the mocking cynics, and I just looked at her, looked at him saw romance gather in chemistry & need (& even artistry, maybe) & my politics & cynicism did 180 degree turn & melted.  It wouldn’t have mattered what he said–He could have said, “Louise, you’re really stupid,” or she could have said, “Gene, you’re really a lush.” But as my wise young sister said once, for all her tender years–the body & heart have their own language, & politics & sometimes words just don’t enter it–or can’t.  Personally, I like politics & words that don’t mock the heart.

To protect feelings–consider a finely balanced mesh, gold wires so well wrought they only stroke the skin, toss in a few pillows, tie each securely to a tree, don’t forget the cigarettes & the champagne, & we’ll have to do something about food, & climb in–let Olf & co. snarl & stomp the ground into upheavals (he can’t climb trees because he has an aversion to things that grow by virtue of the sun) & unless it’s an earthquake to uproot trees, we’ll only rock & sway in a mesh made to catch the sunlight–And if our little friend gets really obnoxious, we can always toss him cigarette butts & yesterday’s empty champagne bottle.  What better protection than a shared one?

Well, this idle, romantic soul, needs sleep at 230 in the afternoon  More later–


Thoughts on artists–it seems the more time spent around them or their work, the more it feels like some kind of home–which is odd since until this last year I was intolerant & could thinking of nothing worse to do than go & stand boringly in an art gallery while others oohed & ahhed over form & color & line & space.  I’m not sure still that I have much patience for that & the specifics still don’t concern me–it’s something else–like a mood, or a feel, an intuitive, “Yes, this makes sense,” or “No, that really stinks, I hate it & all  the in- between moods which demand (if the mood is there) a musing.  I think it may be a form of kinship–but not outwardly or elaborately, still preferring my own thoughts over any critic’s analysis of line & color.  Artists, though not all of course, I think must have souls like mine–sensitive, easily disturbed, just as easily amused, but also diverse in their pretensions & independence of mind from  the conservative mainstream like the one I grew up knowing, that I really hate to interject myself into the midst & claim for my own.  Gives me  the heebie-jeebies just thinking about it.  I’ve never had an affinity for groups of anything.  But how could anyone who writes or paints or creates not draw comparisons between themselves & artists like Picasso?  I think it must be the feeling–a kindred soul, the only difference (of course) is he could move that feeling in an expressed, a universal one as you said.  (I feel a sigh welling up here.)  (Sigh).  Some of the similarities between self & great artists are startling.  Some, naturally, are not startling at all (we won’t suggest which ones).  There’s just something about the damned elusive expressiveness–Creativity was never a problem–my coherence is.


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Olf and Some Poems

An exchange of letters some time in March it seems, begin and end with references to Olf, our personification of frustration at our enforced separation.  My letter accompanied a few poems,  to which she responded as well as a reference to one of hers.  I’ve included links to these poems , so if you are so disposed, you can see what we were talking about.

Thursday night


An early attack of Olf, whose presence in the neighborhood has been detected by my neighbor’s CB (although he, of course, remains blissfully unaware, being as he is an individual who by virtue of his congenital life learning disability remains immune to any despair unrelated to the prime interest rate), [an admittedly unkind reference to my then neighbor, a banker] and carried to me along the shadow of a lowering cloud outside my window.

Sunday morning

There have been few quiet moments, or any moments at all.  Maybe this afternoon will provide a little space.

Olf has been asking me to write a poem dedicated to him.  But I’m not sure if the writing would be a exorcism or a flagellation–probably both and neither.  And the little bastard know that.  I will not indulge his fancy–there are far more pleasant thought to seek.

Sunday afternoon

I look outside my window at a thick gray fog, broken by the still brown lines of tree trunks and limbs, and think of the green life waiting to burst through the stolid exterior, while even now the mist from the rain and fog, and the fog itself, stretch wet over the island, encompassing as it does, people in clusters or alone, resting like the tree, some with constrained energy, but most hollow and dry within, so that moisture can only glisten the surface but not find a deeper passage.  For us, there are no omens in the thick mist.  I doubt The Night-walker can find his way, and the crow must have found a sheltered place somewhere, perhaps on a branch on this nearby tree, but in the fog, he can cast no shadow, and his wide and starting eye cannot see or be seen.

Monday morning

Sun bright new day.  I have not had the opportunity to draw out the thoughts filling my mind, and so they must retired to their resting places, and wait a better occasion.

I’ve stuffed the envelope with some poems.


The following, which ends with a direct response to the poems I had sent, begins with a reaction to “Shoot the Moon,” a movie whose plot parallels our situation to some extent. I don’t recall the movie, if ever I saw it, but it apparently impressed itself on her



I’ve just been to see Shoot the Moon and I’ve given myself a little,  though perhaps not a decent, amount of time to recover from the emotional impact, but decided to write you before my usual restraint takes over again.  I’ll tell you about it when I see you because some of the effect is important.

What I really want to say, and I’m racing the clock here, because if my wonderfully functioning rationale gets to the pen first, too much, as usual will go unsaid–is that I seem to find myself, afterwards, having babbled to you on the phone about inconsequential things when what I really wanted to say is that I missed you & will spend the next 2 days & 3 nights  in dire frustration WAITING while I go about the daily busy functions of being an Excellent Working Student–that’s EWS for short, as in sheep–a placid , gentle creature of no ill repute & certainly no true wisdom in her head, much less her bones.  (No discussion   on true wisdom).

I’m drinking J. Walker Red more potently loaded than usual–probably a normal shot for normal people–so if I become sentimentally foolish, you can speak to J.W. Red about it & toss this in your 4th pile–or is it the 5th, you know the one to the right, a little bit behind your right shoulder. [A reference to my on the desk filing system of sorting stuff into designated piles.]

Your poems come across w/ an underlying strong current–can’t place my thoughts on it, but as of a force pushing forward & out. I probably wouldn’t hesitate too much to say it’s an emotional force that seems as if it’s going to break through the words & paper shredders, restless steel, & January’s anger flying in a 1,000 directions. [References to Stiletto Poem and Highway north]  My poetic intuition can’t write it out, but it can sense–

The paper shredder poem got me to thinking about myself as a scarred war veteran–also another effect from the movie–& your words: “heart wrapped in a wrinkled manuscript,” a “palsied grip.”  The poem & the movie made me write a short thing on Mark–a war veteran at the age of 24, a life veteran in a wheelchair at the age of 29–One of my few male friends I get along w/ infamously–an unspoken shared feeling.  I don’t know what it’s like to be in that wheelchair, but I do know, and he knows that I know, but I can’t say how on any of it.  I feel like a life veteran–the same wonderfully rational mind that demands restraint around you because it understands the groundwork for your circumstances (as much as it knows) is the same rational mind that locked my heart away in steel bars years ago.  The force in your poetry brings to mind my own similar and yet different.  My own force slamming against the steel or wanting someone to come & take the bars down or pining in a corner & then eventually growing quiet.  Now it’s roused up again–poetry & writing to you are the singular cures.–And so I’m writing now while the bars of restraint are lowered because Olf has a mean streak–(especially when the bars are down).


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Crisis Moving Toward Resolution

[In these letters, I tell Carol how I am delaying the fatal step of leaving my marital home while she deals with her growing frustration.]

This first mentions a “truce” in my marital home as conditions there had been something like a war zone.

Thursday afternoon,


Sitting here in my office among unsorted piles, feeling very mellow and loose–two Black Russians with lunch….Wondering if I’ll see you tomorrow when maybe I  should be wondering what I’ll do in my class in 1/2 an hour.  Past wondering about the second–can always do something–and about the first, wonder isn’t quite the right word, even in my temporary mellowness.  More like needing, wanting, willing you out here.

The true is getting very ragged.  Prediction–it will not survive the weekend, if it makes it ’til then.  Will try not to provoke, but will not bend too much.

My mind is moving very slowly, now, calmly, and I need to get the blood circulating a little.  Take a walk and then teach.

Friday morning

Again at my desk among clutter, just enough room for pad and coffee cup and ashtray, perched precariously atop one of the piles, waiting for a certain phone call, not wanting to be bothered with anything else….

The truce predictably, but no less sadly for the predictability, shattered last night, was patched together, and then fractured (not a complete shattering) again this morning.  Holding it together will require a great deal of energy, even for a limited time, but to that much I am committed, admittedly a holding action that has its destructive components, and potential for rending fracture.  A logical question, of course, it why the commitment–to which there is no logical answer.  But I am still rational enough to know that reason will not, finally, provide answers in this situation.  Bones will, and do  talk clearly and unambiguously, and they tell me right now that they want to squeeze yours, hard, and long.

Carol responded in two ways to what she perceived to be my situation, my staying in an untenable and destructive home environment: an attempt at understanding and then a shedding of her conscious attempt to not appear to be urging me toward a divorce.

First, a short note, which I pick up after the first few lines, accompanying this photo..


…I discovered this old picture Jane [sister] took in ’79–a modern version of Leda & the swan–and lacking any inlet to expression w/ this here pen, gave up (momentarily) on creativity via pen & paper for a short description of woman & swans.

Here you have the swan w/ his family fleeing into the refuge of the bay from Leda.  Leda looks like her fantasy has just left her for better places–so much for modern Trojan wars.  The swans are a little ways off shore but it may give you an idea of their size–especially the male.  Notice how he’s positioned himself between this threatening human (!) and his family  His wings are slightly raised to fend off any seeming child-nabbers, not an uncommon experience for them.  The little ones have a history of getting eaten alive by weasels, extra-large fish (there’s some out there in that bay) or, if small enough, by snakes.  He’s right, the male, to be wary, but poor Leda has only admired.


A fanciful, sort of tongue-in-cheek version of the classic Leda and the swan story, in which Zeus in the form of a swan (don’t ask) rapes Leda, producing Helen the casus-belli of the Trojan War.  In Carol’s version, as expressed in her note, she is Leda, admiring the children being protected by the male swan, that is by me.  She characterizes herself as the threat, the (!) the male is aware of while declaring she “only admired.” 

I read this as her correct recognition that my children were the major impediment to my leaving my marital home.  In another very long letter, which I have edited for length and focus, she confronts my stalled movement out of my marital situation much more directly.  First by comparing it to her own experience, albeit with very different circumstances, no children, no property, but overcoming similar inertia before extricating herself from a disastrous first marriage, and then by declaring without ambiguity what she wants me to do.

Tuesday evening


I skipped class this evening for the sheer joy of being outside in spring weather.  Antique clothing shops turned up futile this time & I’ve come back to the ap’t, to eat a dinner (quietly by myself–joy in itself) of tuna fish, Ritz crackers & cheese & wine.  It’s so fulfilling to sit here & write to you & eat a simple dinner as if this was all I ever needed (almost) (not quite). (There’s you).

After commenting on my situation as I had described it to her, she moves on to her marriage.

So I’ll tell you the underlying story.  I did what you’re doing–the same way, the same thought  that it’s the best way. [He] of course was insane to begin w/ but never in a bad way (not horribly bad anyway) and your wife seems to have a measure of sanity.   But the pattern’s the same  The end goal may not be–she may reach a form of resolution; but then she may not, also.  The pattern between them is not a particularly similar one, but the pattern between you & me is  too similar for comfort, maybe that’s why I’m writing….

I waited five years to file for divorce…I’m done.  Now you know a part of my story & I’ve tied it all in w/ yours & no doubt unjustly.  You’ll probably come back & tell me it’s not the same, not similar & granted I’m not there watching the proceedings.  But I see you playing the passive partner for your wife’s sake & listen to you now say “if” interchangeably w/ “when” when only a few weeks ago, it was “when.”  And a bottom line: maybe I’m saying all of this because I sincerely feel you’d be better off out of that situation, that marriage…Let me end this w/ a better line: how long will you try to steer the boat upstream when it wants to go down & you want to be on a different river?

And since I’m feeling feisty–this next is from an old letter never sent that we spoke about on the phone Tuesday.  If I ever thought you were even considering staying in the fold & thinking you should forget about me, you’d find me standing outside your office door w/ a wicked brilliant anger the next sunny morning & you’d see a side of my nature you’ve only sense so far–a rage that would shake you out of everything you’d ever known & demand to know what the hell you thought you were doing, giving up me for a simple sense of domestic continuity (hardly simple, but still…)


The windows are o;en on the front of the ap’t. & the rain on the pavement seems timeless, endless.  Parts I don’t understand: people who know nothing of you, nothing of my situation, send pictures of my marriage; a long gone lover calls in the late evening hours; a gentle, pervasive no sends it all away.  For the first time, there is no longing for them, no wondering if all that former warmth & intimacy could revive itself, forget the best parts & relive again.  There is no desire on my part to bring back what should always (& has) remained nostalgia.  There is only this rain–a constant, a sad constant, because no matter how I work my life or what more independence I see for myself in the future, you re inextricably bound up in it, & yet still–there aren’t any answers, except feelings–

even ;ater

Could hardly let that last part fall into your hands w/out a positive emphasis of some kind or another.  Now, lying in bed, I feel the resurgence of progression–sort of like fate, only fate as such a negative connotation.  More like a line drawn–a forward, mobile, progressive line.  Independence, as mentioned above, is only a surface word for one of the parts of the line.  I want two things: I want that line, and I want you.  I have no idea…how to bring the two together  That’s the nature of the sadness….

[The letter went on, but I do not have another page.|

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The Beast and Plans for a Weekend

Starting with this post, the upcoming letters deal with the movement toward my leaving my marital home.  They are thus intense

I have found that sequencing during this period s difficult because postmarks on envelopes are unclear, often unreadable for the date of the month, although I can make out the latter.  So while I can be certain that a particular letter was sent in February, I have to use context to get a sense of the back and forth of our correspondence.  My solution is to look for narrative threads and present them without regard to precise dating.  With that in mind, the following is my response to the ending of Carol’s letter in the last post, with its reference to a “beast,” she thinks lurks beneath my surface.

Sunday night


Certain things are clear, at least at first thought, but others are not, and these threaten to draw shadows over what had been plain and uncomplicated.

The shadows first, where lives the beast who rattles his chains and paces restlessly toward the bars, but rarely tests them ,meditating instead about the identify of his keeper, scratching shapes of likely candidates with razor sharp lines on the stone floor of his cage, unable to dismiss the possibility that he who dangles the keys  to the cage door is the same as he who prowls inside, but this too could be false and maybe there is no cage but of the beast’s imagining, nurtured by him into the idea of imprisonment, an idea that is, on some level, as tangible as iron bars.

Whatever the nature of the cage, the beast live within, for he has thrown himself into Olf’s embrace, has invited him into the cage to break dry bread with him, to watch him turn sweet wine to vinegar.

What is clear is that the beast for some time has yearned to exercise his sinews, and that for too long he had subsisted on an insubstantial diet, which he mostly rejected, but the hunger remained in his belly, a hard knot of need that sustained him even in his hunger.

In shadows or light, the beast draws breath, and he does not seek idle conversation or empty pleasurings.  He hopes he has found someone to trust, someone to/with he can express himself.  Deception not his nature, his changes nothing but the range and moment of his presence.  I’ve been studying  this beast for many years and know his habits and his traits.  He is sometimes shy to show himself, but he needs to, and he will emerge, wants to, and must, the course the same as yours–feeling and meaning–for without these there is no beast, no keeper, and the cage holds nothing but its own sterile air.


At this time in my professional life, I was involved in the SUNY Council on Writing, a newly formed organization aimed at improving the teaching of writing across the State University system.  What I find in letters from that time is a plan for Carol to join me for a jaunt upstate for a committee meeting I was to attend.  The meeting would be for a couple of hours but my absence from home could reasonably extend for a couple of days. The opening paragraph of this next letter refers to the possibility of that trip together.  The end of the paragraph alludes to a visit to a counselor [the witch doctor] undertaken at the urging of my wife, hoping that intervention would refocus my attention homeward.

Thursday morning


At my desk with 2nd cup of coffee, having just dropped off my car to be shod with two new tires, flushed and filled with new oil, and generally made ready for a ride up to Binghamton.  Tonight I go to the witch doctor, perhaps to be flushed and refurbished as well…..

I’m about to go off to a meeting,  to be followed at 3:30 by another, both of which will, I think, concern budget problems, and therefore will be attended by great moaning and gnashing of academic teeth, a very special kind of gnashing  that is more like a constipated whine.

Played tennis last night but think that my strokes were much better last week–might have something to do with my partner, or the court….

I’m planning on using my car, just to round off a thought, next week because one person already called seeking a ride in the college car I have reserved  I said I had business in the city  I’ll tell the next person that my business is a doctor’s appointment to determine if the medication has cured my bubonic plague.  Can’t leave anything to chance….

I’ve just picked up my car on the way back from lunch.  It is ready, and so am I, very ready.

More later.

Thursday night

Have managed to obtain sanctuary of spare room after having been kicked out of bed at 4am last night accused of heavy and disruptive breathing.  I was probably dreaming of you.

[That incident was probably the continuation of dinner time discussion concerning what the marriage counselor and I had talked about that afternoon.  What follows is my summary of that meeting.]

Counselor seems pretty good, and I left in up mood. At this stage, he didn’t offer much reaction, a few pointed and precise questions and observations  He agrees the situation is grim and will be difficult to sustain.  I talked about you, some, and said that you are the woman I would have picked, if I had any sense at 22.  Described my marriage in reasonably objective, but depressing detail.  Did not talk about some important things, like kids.  Next appt. is Monday afternoon.  I asked if he thought that were too soon under the circumstances thinking that perhaps a time for internalization might be recommended, but he said no, under these conditions, not too soon at all.

I expect to talk to you tomorrow and so will stop now.

Toward the end of a long letter about reading Plato’s Republic, Carol turns her thoughts to joining me on my trip.

I’ve been thinking about your committee meeting.  Unless you’ve already set it up, I can’t seem to justify missing two days of school and work, and think that the better plan would be the second one you suggested of coming here to the apartment.  The margin for the apartment being “encumbered” [as with housemate] is great the second week of March, but very slim the first and third weeks.  So slim, I think, that something monumentally irregular would have to occur for me to even begin to worry about it.  But you decide; as I said before, I think the time and need has come for a long night together.

[I have found this undated poem by Carol which seems to fit this situation. Her letter continues below]

Somewhere I can feel little electrical impulses playing with my enjoyment switch about to switch to “off.”  That’s a good indication that one of two are about to be turned on.  One is marked “cigarettes” which begins to flash intermittently if I haven’t gone to the corner store yet, bought smokes yet and had my daily mis-discourse with Italian machoness yet; and the other is marked “Plato,” (another case of missed discourse).  Enjoyment is best, and now I’ve written you a letter, and the other two are outstandingly demanding this morning so I’d best be off to hit the switches myself or the impulses will have a day of it.  Take care–


[I remember attending that committee meeting, and I recall a trip upstate with Carol before we were living together, but I do not now know if these memories are for the same event.]

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Some six months or more into our relationship, the strain of our circumstances, the inability to be with each other, begins to show itself as it does in this letter from Carol in February, reflecting our separation after an afternoon together.  The reference to “Wed.?” might indicate a regular telephone call.



It wasn’t the time & distance, after all.  It’s the feelings. (I call them the breath of the beast).

My feelings: I’m dropped off rather abruptly to wait 15 minutes in the rain for a train that’s going to be 15 minutes late anyway, and it’s not the rain that bothers me or the train, it’s the look on your face when we parted.

Your feelings (?) You looked like you were either embarrassed or ashamed to have spent the afternoon w/me.

Will you tell me what’s going on w/you?  If you feel things that you think would be rude for me to hear (about us) (or about you)–deceiving me is the worst thing you could do.  I’m left feeling angry and confused about what this whole thing means to you.  I’d rather know than try to interpret looks. –(Wed?)

Emotions are like the stuff of volcanoes are made of: usually just earth & water–until some huge blast in the earth’s depths begin to tremble & move and the volcano erupts w/ the breath of the beast: the combustible elements of fire & air–Best to discover the nature of the beast.


Here is my response to her letter.

Monday, late


Another cigarette and the smoke curls its riddle into the quiet room turning my thoughts back to me in thin gray strands before disappearing, but I can read a shape there, somewhere between red ember and smoke, the figure in the curling wisps, of a woman in the blue of a late afternoon, eyes fixed to mine, marking a beginning, and then another puff, the figure reforming on another late afternoon beneath low clouds, and the eyes, troubled  this time, but only memory tells me this clearly, as sharply etched now as the harsh glare of the lamps–too stupid, then, to understand that good-byes should be allowed to breathe if only a sigh against the rain and the cold and the distractions, feeling more now the distance unwittingly lengthened, the need forced beyond imperfect words that seem as cluttered and useless as these ashes, and as labored as my breath–inadequate to tell the nature of the beast that finds life in soft moments, but floats at others on the swiftly moving surface waiting to dive toward bottom to ride the slower and more powerful currents to find feelings stirred even n0w by the wisp of smoke that gathers in a subtly bending form in front of my eyes just a whisper from my lips, and near enough  to lean a little closer to draw it in again, gently taste its richness once more and perhaps instruct myself how better to cherish it.


Carol wrote an extremely long (fully four handwritten sides) response which I think worth being presented in full, not least because it reveals how close we were to a tipping point that might end our relationship, something in the midst of the turmoil that was my life at that time I likely did not see.  This letter includes a reference to “Olf,” an incarnate representation of frustration.  It is her word, but I can’t recall when she first used it to describe our situation.

Wed/ PM in the lib.

Somewhere I think I went wrong –thinking it easier for both sides, if I kept quiet.  Easier for you w/ your complex life & easier for me because then I wouldn’t tangle myself in insolvable complexities of emotions.  I should’ve caught the word “easier right off, knowing from long necessity that things are only easier when they’re somewhere you can look at them–not hidden, pushed back into the murkiness of the unexpressed internal mud.  Easier comes after extraction, & w/clarity, not before.  It’s a false easiness that comes before & I’ve known that & ignored it thinking it easier.  Nothing looks easy at the moment  (the hour, the day, the week….)

There’s a man crying at the next study table I’m not usually moved by strangers’ emotions, except, perhaps, sympathy occasionally, but this crying–this quiet crying so that no one will hear him (* by its quietness is even more pervasive) is the saddest sound & I think that I’ll start too if he doesn’t leave off, but the emotion, w/ a subtle twist of complexity becomes sad & bitter in me at the same time & I think ‘You too’–It seems to be a good evening for it & the bitterness is just a little too bitter for no reason–no seen reason. Just a sad one.–

You said once (a long time ago) that you lead a fragmented life & that there’s a necessity for it–to separate (for example) home & professional life.  I couldn’t see why then & it perturbed me (the thought of fragmenting one’s life), but I see why now.

I’ve never led a fragmented life ’til now.  If I became involved w/someone before, it was an open act–perhaps almost political, a declaration of freedom. It was ridiculous, & unnecessary of course,  because it hurt the people I was close to.  In my seeming need for simplicity (to balance, naturally what was never simple) all the pieces & parts of my life had to fit together in some whole manner & openly.  An escape, I think but that’s another thought.  My understanding of the “system” I had set up for myself changed, but the system remained & when I met you I came into supreme conflict.  I still could not justify an act unless it’s an open act, except (the mind circling itself again & again offers a resolution of sorts) the act itself has great meaning & feeling.

That’s where I went wrong.  I mistakenly thought that if we don’t go through any emotional shenanigans & simply enjoy the conversation & the physical, that  that, of sorts, would suffice.  It would be my declaration of freedom & I wouldn’t be pulled apart by entangling, interweaving emotions .  It would be enough, but it’s not that kind of act.  That kind of act has no meaning–or very little–for me.  It’s the emotions, as entangling as they can be, that give substance to the conversation & the physical.  As difficult as it is to separate my life into parts & fragment it, it’s better than trying to live w/out emotion & w/out meaning.  I should’ve known I couldn’t life w/out these two & that it would eventually start to tear me apart.

I knew something of all this, but not coherently, from the start  I knew it better a few weeks ago when I figured I couldn’t continue seeing you w/out feelings beginning to show themselves.  So I made a not small decision–Olf had just shown up in full force & a decision of some kind definitely had to be made.  The decision was to trust you w/growing feelings–knowing it might not be wise w/ all the other responsibilities of your life demanding your attention, thinking that this relationship could very well just be conversation & physical for you, & thinking that you might become resentful if I tried to move it into something that you didn’t want it to be.  So I kept quiet.  (Fear is the calling card–one of–for Olf).  But I was trusting intuition that you didn’t seem to be the kind of person who would live any part of your life w/out feeling or meaning.  But there was uncertainty.  (What is the nature of the beast that lives almost completely out of sight?)  Could a person, you, live part of their life w/out feeling or meaning–but have feeling or meaning–or only a surface meaning–but have feeling & meaning in other parts?  I didn’t know for sure–just thought not.

And the day came–my silence on the subject more glaringly obvious than ever–an outrageous mistake on my part because I was left (by my own volition) to intuit a situation that looked uncompromisingly bad.  I had felt good being w/you on Friday, as I always do, but the distractions on your part were interpreted as unconcern: a lack of feeling & meaning in at least this part of your life & a quick dismissal to back it up.  And I thought by my own uncertainty that I was wrong about you after all: that you could not only fragment your life easily, but live a part of it w/out feeling or meaning.  I felt that my trust had been betrayed & I had been deceived & that after all that decision-making & the growing feelings & the struggles with Olf that there was nothing at all–that I had been wrong again–there was only conversation (good conversation) & the physical (good intimate physical) but nothing more for you–no depth to us, no feeling, no meaning.  I couldn’t live like that or continue seeing you if those were the conditions.  (I thought for a moment, in my last letter, that I could, but I’m wrong–I can’t).  Driven on by my fondness for you I thought somewhere–underneath that surface something grows & shakes its furry coat & stretches a giant lion’s claw toward other human beings to enfold, embrace, to touch, a need for even this creature–? whose own beast stretches, incomprehensibly sometimes, the long distance between wind-blown Ariel & the more deeply embedded lioness who trembles quietly below the surface, who erupts occasionally, bewildered then by her own intense leap for the surface–the need to embrace, to touch & feel & give meaning–the growing recognition of feelings that were already growing important–& she discovers that there’s no other beast in sight–just her own fur ruffling in Ariel’s breeze.  A bitter lioness & a very sad one.

But I was wrong on that score too–& right the first time about the kind of person you are.  Your letter show hints & wisps of need & want & (w/ a little clever detection) I sense just the softest touch of fur on the lion’s back.  But who is this beast–why does he hide so close to himself–like mine, out of fear?  Or has he not been stroked in a long while?  Has no one embraced him because he guards himself too well–the claws, though retracted, still sharp against another’s breath on his cheek; or is there more (which I surmise) that’s not up for offering?



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On Cats & Despair

Carol responded to the cat on the birthday card I sent her with a long meditation on her cat Infinity.  I’ve edited it down for length.  She also included a handwritten note to which I responded with a poem.


Your friend on the cover of the card is just like a cat I had once named Infinity.  I had her for the entire three years I was in Minneapolis and she was the smartest cat I ever knew.  All my various housemates always had a lot of cat and none of them survived.  They were lost to the frozen city–either ran away, were kidnapped.  One of them Infinity took a dislike to and took it for a stroll one day; you can guess who came back and who didn’t.  I always left my window open no matter how cold or dangerous (actually it was open only so far) so she could come and go as she wanted.  We co-existed.  Neither one of us was given to these affection embraces, cuddling, smooching or petting that cats and caretakers are given to doing with each other.  It was a most unique relationship.  We both demanded our freedom and distance, but both needed each other.  She, for me to feed her and me for her company, as quiet and aloof as it was.  This cat reminds me of two things she used to do.  One is that whenever someone brought a new cat into the house, Infinity would go through her act of “you don’t love me any more” and would promptly go out in the middle of the street (fortunately not a very busy one) and lie down and wait for cars to run over her.  She’d wait until they got right up to her ears and then rush away–not back to the house through the window, but up to the nearest stranger and this was the look she gave strangers: no one loves me; want to take me home?   The other shit, she never would have gone with them (they tried sometimes).  The other thing is that she’d go, in summer, and lie in the middle of the neighbor’s garden.  They had flowers…some beautiful, beautiful exotic, some beautiful, just ordinary.  Infinity would lie right on top of them, immerse herself in the scent, and then, in anticipation of some wonderful juicy game flitting by like butterflies or crickets or even just bumblebees (her favorite, even though they used to sting her in the mouth when she caught them) she’d honestly, sincerely believe she was invisible–that nothing was aware of this pure black cat in the middle of a garden of pastel colors.  Well naturally, when I took her to the farm and she discovered the exotic aroma of my father’s greenhouse, she promptly refused to come to New York.  Itwasn’t anything she said or did, it was simply a look in her eyes  that very plainly stated that unless we were on our way  to a tropical flower jungle she was not coming along.  She has since taken up residence underneath the night-blooming cereus, the most exotic, potent flower in the greenhouse, and is probably snoozing right this minute in anticipation, dreaming of when the greenhouse doors will open in the spring and she can go out about the business of bee-catching….
Well, this is a long way around to say I like your car.  Thanks for the inspiration–

[I never met Infinity, but some years later I bought a black Burmese for Carol, which she named Sappho, who lived with us for some twenty years.  What I recall about that cat is that she would hide and refused to show herself for some days after we returned from a trip
In the same envelope, Carol sent this note:


To which I responded with this poem:

You ask
if ever I wrestle with despair
and I suppose you mean
(in my egocentricity and utter lack
of seemly humility)
do I ever despair of holding you in my arms,
of tasting the sweetness of your tongue,
of melting your flesh into mine,
of feeling the brush of your hair on my skin,
of stroking your soft places, and your
strong places,
of lying sweetly by your side,
(in whatever nameless place,
at whatever timeless time),
and yes,
I do despair,
but I know that
I need you,

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January ’82

For this post, I’ve edited down a very long letter from Carol, which begins  by placing herself for some reason in a building at SUNY at Stony Brook (SUSB).  It’s likely that the friends she mentions visiting toward the end of the letter had some connection to that university.

6:45 Friday


I’m sitting upstairs in the chem bldg @ SUSB watching a very quiet, very frozen campus.  A few people trickle out of the elevator occasionally–they all look very purposeful, carrying briefcases w/a sturdy walk & sturdy looks.  They glance at me, my back against a brick wall, Descartes’ meditations on the floor beside me next to two cigarette stubs, one knee pressed against a cold windowpane, pen poised–a pause as they go by that anyone would be here but me.  I think they look at me & think nothing.  I look at them & wonder what academic forces bring them here to invade my space (how could they?)

The letter moves on to recount a meeting she had with a very good friend, whom I would meet down the road  The meeting occurred at Reese’s, a name that means nothing to me.

My tail bone hurts from sitting on a wooden plank over the radiator @ Reese’s, gnashing my teeth at Marsha.   Two stereotypically  true artistic temperaments hard at work trying to make a damned good, difficult relationship work.  All ended nearing well.  I think NYC must be filtering something into my blood these days–relationships get more difficult & complex & a hell of a lot more rewarding.  They always were to some measure before in my life but this! Between you and Marsha I keep wondering if I was saner before I knew either of you, or if I’m saner now because of both of you.  I feel like I’m testing myself, especially w/ you, but for what purpose?  If it was just a test would it be to see if the rewards could match the difficulty?  I suppose if it was just a test, that would be a good answer, wouldn’t it?  But I think Friday morning gave me the sweetest moments I’ve had in a while & tucked away a lot of indecision.  I can be so self-righteous sometimes, you know–why should I (Supreme Indignant Being) have to put up w/all this nonsense?  As if Indignant Being didn’t know an answer was lying softly side by side that morning.  Next week (week of Feb. 1st) Stony Brook starts again.  Best times for conversation are Tue. eve late–after 9–Wed. til ‘3, Wed. night late–9:30 or 10 or later.

I’m not out job searching yet—you can probably reach me Tues. & Thurs. days ’till I start working.

In case I can’t tell you over the phone this week, I had a rather exciting time after I saw you last.  Went Sun. evening to see a friend (football time) & about 45 minutes later was in the emergency room @ Mather for severe abdominal pain….

She describes the procedures she underwent in some detail, at one point comparing the experience to being in a Woody Allen movie, perhaps Sleeper because of all the technology involved.  Promises that she will tell me about the “chandelier effect” caused by the examination leading to a diagnosis of severe Pelvic Inflammatory Disease for which she received “massive doses of penicillin, prescriptions for antibiotics & codeine

,,,& four hours later I went back to friend’s (fortunately having missed the football game, but they got to watch it in superb color at the hospital.  Anyway, I don’t think it would concern you physically–the dr. said he couldn’t say for sure until my cultures come back on Friday.  They don’t know how long I had it before it erupted–but considering we’d been together Fri. & Thurs. I’m sure I had it then.  So if you develop some kind of symptoms it might be worth checking out.  The nasty side of this is that occasionally, depending upon the kind of bacteria, I can transmit it.  Anyway, although I don’t like this nasty side of it, I thought I should certainly tell you about it just in case–Well, another ailment to add to my increasing list of ailments for a person whose worst sickness used to be an occasional hangover….Well, I’d best be off to dinner–there are advantages to being ill I think, like lying on the sofa listening to music, writing to you, while dinner is being cooked w/out my participation.  Not a too small joy that one.  Talk to you soon.


Don’t know who was cooking the dinner, perhaps Marsha, but the comment reminds me that neither of us particularly enjoyed that job.

  I imagine we managed to talk about this incident on the phone.  Fortunately, the infection was not transmitted to me.  It would have been interesting trying to explain its source.  Our next correspondence is pictured below: the card I sent  for her birthday on the 30th:


Jan. 82

My warmest best wishes on your birthday.  I think my friend on the cover catches part of  what I want to say to you.

Preview: Carol’s typewritten  meditation on cats , accompanied by a brief handwritten note followed by my poetic response to it.

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Brooklyn and Two Poems

The correspondence I have presented thus far is one-sided because my letters to her, to which she refers, were sent to her parents’ house in Old Mission during her annual summer visit there and before she moved to Brooklyn.  I have no doubt she kept them, but they remain hidden.  Among Carol’s strengths, an orderly filing system of her papers was not one of them

This post begins with a brief letter for which I do not have an envelope. It is clearly from September, 1981 as she has started taking classes at New York University.  In it she describes an early semester encounter with a professor from whom I had taken a graduate course some fifteen years earlier. 

She provides  her new Brooklyn phone numbers as well as the best time to call.  No doubt these times correspond not only to her own schedule but also to when her house-mate would not be home. .As she states in the first sentence, circumstances  obliged us to carry on our relationship through “pen-palism.”

I  wrote my dissertation at NYU on Edward Taylor, a seventeenth century New England poet and minister.  I guess she was checking up on me now that she was also attending that university.



Well, it looks like pen-palism is the going thing here despite all my protests.

Harrier is just who you said & more.  He wouldn’t let me in to the first class because I wasn’t “approved.” (By whom?)  I had the feeling he would like us all to be ordained as emissaries of the Great English Author gods before daring to tread on his carpet.

I wanted to give you my phone #: 212/624-1693.  Tues. & Wed. eve’s are good times to find me here.

And who is Edward Taylor?


The date on the envelope of the following poem is unclear except for the year of 1981, so I received it that fall. In the poem she seems to be both celebrating, and struggling with, the implications of our developing relationship.


I wrote many things & tossed them before I knew I had to write it in poetry.

w/a world of difference
and a world of similarities–
it couldn’t be any different
if I tried to put it in novel form–
instead of poetry.
Where it’s going
I don’t know–
a difficult beginning
(I sensed you waiting)
just a middle
w/little to offer
but conversation
in words
but a conversation
that has always excited me
satisfied me,
When the physical side came
it was like another conversation
exploring the mind of the panther
–my body would not be controlled–
it trembled
w/a passion unbounded by restraint.
That panther’s eyes,
though it was male,
were my eyes
staring deep into my own reflection–
the reflection
changed by the element of water
what the panther could not see
w/out it.
A poetic nature–
but also strong
very much its own.
I wondered what place I had in that reflection
because it was not just me,
but him,
at his own reflection.
And I think
w/constant reflection
what good could we possibly do each other–
each our own Narcissus
settled in curious yellow eyes
hugged by a taut cat’s body,
always ready
springs regarding every action–
Restraint not my nature–
Is this creature just a function
of my imagination–
a body that wants to restrain mine,
a curiosity that doesn’t exist?

I don’t  know when I received that poem, but my poetic response was sent in late December.  The brief letter,  mailed to her Brooklyn address, is self-explanatory.  As for the poem, it begins with a kind of self-mocking of my ambition to move up the administrative ladder, a possibility at that time.  Fortunately, I was passed over for a deanship, and I wound up working for the rest of my time at Suffolk, as I had started, as a classroom instructor on a satellite campus a much preferable alternative.  The poem moves to a recognition that our relationship was bringing me back to myself.



Still rough (the writing, not the feelings).  We’ll know next week about the “three-piece suit.”

Hope you have a Happy New Year.

See you soon.


Even before
(and if, after, it will continue)
the three-piece suit sealed
the accommodation,
the deal had been made.
Even before,
the surface had been trimmed,
the manner almost perfected,
like a chimpanzee wearing an usher’s
peaked cap,
ridiculous, yes,
but plausible.
Even before,
the disguise had worn thin,
and a hairy paw would protrude
through a frayed cuff,
or a lunatic gleam in the eye
signaled the life within
was not dead,
but only in chains of softest thread,
and then finding
an energy, at least as strong
as its own,
capable of waves of intensity,
an excitement
almost forgotten,
an all consuming gulp
from a yet full vessel
that caused the suppressed
song to reach
its own liquid
hot note
in celebration
of chance and circumstance
and fretful overtures
and scales played
to tune,
the rough melody
discovering its ebb and flow.

Constrained by time and space,
the ineffable moment snared
and worth more,
by far,
than the endless warp and woof
through which are stitched
the colorless days,
a shared rip in the web
rends the useless fabric
and asserts itself,
a healing wound,
a letting of good blood,
an unstopping of blocked passages
and constricted ways,
to be cherished,
the waters no longer flow.

But the ocean always
moves to the moon’s rhythms,
and only fools
rest content
in the full and sterile glare
of the sun.

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Late August, 1981

This follow-up to her description of  working with her family on the cherry harvest offers a meditation on woman and machine as well as a paean to her roots.  My guess is the machine in question is a cherry shaker, as she was proud of her status as the first woman shaker driver on the Peninsula.  Monk, in her closing, is a character in a series of my short stories.


I’ve been covered w/ grease & dirt & working in  the HOT orchard sun for two days trying to erase the winter’s wear on this piece of hulking technology that seems to be my responsibility.  I think there’s a story here somewhere on the strange & intimate relationship between woman & machine.  It begins w/ the ultimate emotion of frustration & digs into those stranger feelings brought about by a broken fan belt on a highly sophisticated machine that is entirely irreparable by the intuitive process. I think the story ends with the inevitable: machine continues its life span on into the future (where it belongs) & woman, in 95 degree temp. dies of HEAT.

In the cab of the cherry shaker

But Lake Michigan, in its purest form is only 15 steps from my parents’ front door & midnight swims cure most ills.  It’s 2AM now & the house &  inhabitants sleep while the lake & I ponder or perhaps I’m untrue to the lake–it always does–personification uncalled for–& I write.

If you’re into writing letters, send a letter….If you’re writing fiction instead of letters, send some fiction in an envelope–Monk’s latest tale?


This one, which is dated August 27th, has Carol writing from Lake George in upstate NY where her house-mate’s family vacations.  It opens with a reference, again, to a letter I don’t have.  In it apparently I mention the publication of a fun opinion piece I wrote on the “Personal Notices” in Newsday, the major Long Island newspaper.  And I must have responded to her critique of the chapter in my novel.  Her humorous comment toward the end of the senility she hopes to attain at  60 is bitterly ironic considering the early onset dementia that shortened her life.  She mentions her desire to write a novel, an ambition she never lost.  She started and worked persistently on one dealing with the French fur traders and natives in the 17th century and another set during the riots in Detroit.


A second reading has deciphered your scrawl–except for one word on the last page which may demand more thought before it offers up its meaning.

Hard labor is not compatible w/writing, is compatible w/sleeping, and is exhausting.  It’s only invigorating for two days and then effort is the key to maintaining an acceptable form of sanity.  Staying w/my family for a month may lead me gently toward the edge too.  I seem to thrive on isolated or semi-isolated households.

I’m at Lake George again–no relatives this time.  Have been to the city & secured an apt. in Carroll Gardens in Brooklyn.  ….I may be on Long Island again for a couple of weeks since the apt. doesn’t open up until Oct. 1.  If so I’ll give you a ring….

I can imagine it must be frustrating to follow the Personals in Newsday.  Are you making a comment on public opinions of Newsday writers?

You are right of course about the importance of sexuality.  It’s very easy for me to wander around the walls of justice when it comes to women and forget about human emotions.  Lois is in perfect character form as a prostitute.  I’m not sure what that has to do w/making love that inspires aspiration, but then it is not my novel, and to change her character  in my mind would be for me to write my own novel of someone like her and the two men.  I find more & more that I want to write a novel, but it’s that fact about myself that still stops me  The narcissistic walls of justice are sometimes too high to see over.  Or in truer terms, my own high-blown ideas don’t often make way for other people’s thoughts or a different way of seeing.

Congratulations on being 39.  I hope you celebrated well.  I’m waiting to turn 60 (a few years or more) so that I can feign senility at which point I will be excused for my earlier irrational disorder….

Take care.



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