SILENCE HAS A NAME - Poetry Chapbook and CD, with Music by Mark Hanley

Tuesday, December 24, 2013


          Susan Sontag isn't mentioned in the Collier's Encyclopedia--a row of which fills the lower shelf of a bookshelf that lines a wall in the room where I sleep. Then again, Collier's, which went defunct in the late 90s (I believe), contains few references for women--mostly photographs and stories of men--so it's no wonder there is no entry for Susan Sontag in the book marked "SAN San Francisco STU Stutgart."
         The copyright for the Collier's series is 1960. The second wave of feminism had not yet come; America was flagrantly misogynistic and had not yet been rent by Vietnam, the women's movement or the Black Power movement, and Sontag herself had yet to produce her seminal work: Against Interpretation (1966), Styles of Radical Will (1969), and her monographs, On Photography (1977) and Illness as Metaphor (1977). Her journals are yet another prize many readers may not know so well.
          I am reading As Consciousness is Harnessed to Flesh, Journals & Notebooks 1964-1980, edited by David Rieff, (Sontag's son and editor)--the title is taken from a segment in these journals.
          It's been a while since I read Sontag, and I am awed once again by the range of her curiosity and interests and the intensity of her self-scrutiny. She explored even Buddhism and meditation, on which she muses in entries on August 5, 1966, for example. This is the second of three collections of her journals, and they are composed of fragments, ideas tossed into the void, the facebook of her imagination.
          In his loving introduction, Rieff relays that his mother had spoken of writing her autobiography and that the idea went unfulfilled, although he goes on to suggest that her journals may have filled that void. I would tend to agree.
          This compilation of the great scholar's threads of thought on politics, war, literature, photography, art, happiness, music, her relationships, other writers--most notably, Joseph Brodsky--her engagement with the problems of philosophy, morality, society and even her own contradictions makes this fascinating autobiographical reading, and more--a moving examination of history from the arc of a remarkable woman's life. On March 15, 1980, (at 47), Sontag wrote..."The function of literature lies in the uncovering of the self in history." For her, this was certainly true.
         What strikes me above all as I read Sontag's journals is how much she was--as a woman, Jew and intellectual--the product of a unique time, place and culture now gone that will never come again. The very notion of an intellectual has changed radically since the last century. Since technology took hold, sometime in the 90s--intelligence, which Sontag called "taste in ideas" in her essay, "Notes on 'Camp,'" has been measured less by how well one thinks than by how fast one can do it. It's a virtually inarguable fact that our "taste in ideas" has gone downhill along with our taste in general and that simultaneously the world is now run by nerds. In spite of this, or maybe because of it, we have a greater need than ever for intellectuals in the marketplace--individuals unafraid to explore and divine who we are, where we are and where we are going and who are also capable of sharing their ideas without prejudice or insularity in the realm of technology.

Monday, November 25, 2013


        The Tibetans are an extraordinary people--resilient, tolerant, and amazingly non-violent, given the persecution and oppression they have endured under the Chinese government for more than 60 years now. The oppression has been cultural as well as religious, has involved the loss of more than 1.3 million lives, the destruction of temples, sacred literature, and the imprisonment and torture of countless laypeople as well as nuns and monks. Nowhere that I can think of is religion more central to the life and culture of a people than in Tibet, where reciting mantras and making prostrations are considered as important as eating and taking care of one's family. Although HH the Dalai Lama is no longer Tibet's political leader, he remains at the heart of his country and people and is the primary reason they have been able to perdure. 
         In April 2011, HH the Dalai Lama passed along political leadership of Tibet to Lobsang Sangay, a Harvard scholar who has embraced the legacy of non-violence and deep faith and commitment to compassion and dialogue emblemized by HH the Dalai Lama. Recently, Mr. Sangay called on the Chinese government to soften its hardline policy with Tibet and to take up dialogue as a way to resolve problems in the Himalayan region that have contributed to the spike in self-immolations in protest against the Chinese regime. 
         According to the International Campaign for Tibet website, the first modern-day self-immolation took place on April 27, 1998. Since February 27, 2009, there have been 123 self-immolations. Of these, 122 occurred since March 16, 2011. The most recent was Tsering Gyal, a monk, age 20, who set fire to himself in the province of Amdo. As he was taken away by authorities after the fire was extinguished, it is not known whether he survived. Of those Tibetans who have self-immolated, 24 were age 18 or younger.
         In October 2012, NBC's Ann Curry interviewed HH the Dalai Lama in Syracuse, NY, and questioned him then on the self-immolations. The following is an excerpt from that interview:

Ann Curry: "More than sixty Tibetans have set themselves on fire in the three years, expressing a desire for greater religious freedoms and a desire to be able to speak their own language? Their deaths have brought no change from the Chinese. Have they died for nothing?
His Holiness the Dalai Lama: It is difficult to judge whether these kind of methods are right or wrong. They are expressing in a non-violent way regarding the Chinese policies [in Tibet].
A C: One young Tibetan set himself on fire two days ago left an online statement that read: “If we reflect on the past we can see nothing but signs of defeat, anger, anguish and tears.” What should your people do to express these feelings? Do you support their decisions to set themselves on fire? Do you want them stop setting themselves on fire?
HHDL: I always consider myself as the free spokesman of the Tibetan people, and not their boss. My boss is actually the six million Tibetans in Tibet. I am in free country and quite comfortable. But they are passing through a very desperate situation, so they take these decisions. I am quite certain that those who sacrificed their lives with sincere motivation, for Buddha dharma and for the wellbeing of the people, from the Buddhist or religious view points, is positive. But if these acts are carried out with full anger and hatred, then it is wrong. So it is difficult to judge. But it is really very sad, very very sad."
         Finding out what is happening in Tibet remains challenging due to restrictions imposed by the Chinese government. Nevertheless, the International Campain for Tibet (ICT) remains a very good source to find out news and a good place to offer support to the cause of Tibet. Students for a Free Tibet is another a good resource.

Thursday, September 26, 2013


Some of my friends think that what I write about is sad. This is interesting news to me because I don't feel sad. In fact, I'm a very happy person, even though I sometimes choose to write about memory in a way that evokes a blend of emotions that can include sadness as well as fiction. But I don't feel sad, just creative most of the time. In fact, I am of a mind that you can't really write as well about sad events if you are in a state of sadness.

Although I am not sad, I do have a tendency toward guilt and so, as I may have made some people feel sad recently with something I wrote, this is in an attempt to make those of you who read this at least to smile.

Throughout most of my life, I have lived in houses with people but currently find myself in a situation where I am living on my own. This is mostly a wonderful experience. I love being by myself and doing what I like to do. The only problem I have with this is at night. The fact is I would much rather go to bed with a body than by myself because I really am afraid of the dark.

Please understand, the fact that I am afraid of the dark and would rather sleep with a body than without one does not mean that I long for a relationship. Just a body. Sometimes I think that's it's mostly been confusion and miscommunication that has resulted in couplings and marriages in the past--when really all I wanted was someone warm next to me as I sleep.

You may be thinking to yourself at this point, "Why don't you just get a dog?" Sure, dogs are cuddly, some of them, but they also cost money and have to be fed, and walked outdoors late at night, in the cold, when I for one would much prefer to be doing other things. Besides, these days caring for a decent dog costs about as much as it does sending a toddler to a good school. Too much. I don't want a dog, but a human--just for the night. Just for sleeping.

It's a funny thing about sleeping with another body. It's warmer sleeping with one naked, skin to skin. When I am in relationship with another body, I don't think twice about parading around the house in my birthday suit, even now. But if I am alone, there is virtually no item of clothing that escapes being pulled out of drawers and tested on my body--for comfort and security. Currently, my outfit is a little scary: a yellow neon Victoria Secret shift that was worn alone in very warm weather, but is now topped by a yellow green tee and a black yoga hoodie sweatshirt, black silk underwear from LL Bean and striped wool socks. This brings to mind Dr. Seuss and The Cat in the Hat for obvious reasons.

When I am sleeping alone in a house, the realization that I am alone never leaves my mind once nightfall comes and the television is off and the phone put down. At which point, a list of all the scary films I have ever seen-- from Psycho to Wait Until Dark to Sleeping with the Enemy--runs like a filmstrip through my mind. No matter that the windows and doors are all shut, locked, bolted. No amount of reasoning allays the monsters of the mind.

How much of a scaredy pants am I? Before I get into bed, I must not only lock the door to my bedroom, I must check in the closet and under the bed too before I switch off the light and hop under the covers. Beyond my room is a long valley of darkness filled with cackling possibilities. And I know, even as I fall asleep, that eventually I will have to "go there," step into that well of night before morning to go to the bathroom.

Unfortunately, that time tends to happen at the most dreaded hour before dawn when it's still pitch black throughout the house and world, three or four in the morning. If I'd been born male, I've sometimes reasoned, I could pee into a cup beside my bed and leave it there until morning and not have to step outside my room at all at night. But no such luck. (And trust me, that's the only reason I would have enjoyed being born male). Whenever I have to get up, the night light in the hallway doesn't help at all, as it casts huge shadows, so as I am racing out of my room toward the bathroom, all I see is someone chasing after me in the dark. A quick pee and prayer later, I run back to my room, switch on the light and quickly check in the closet and under the bed before re-locking the door and hopping back under cover. God only knows what number of ghosts and goblins might have invaded my room during my minute's absence!

I always check in the closet and under the bed, even though the only thing that could possibly fit under the bed is an anorectic midget. Even though, bending over to check for anything when you are half asleep and more than 50 years of age, is clearly risky business.

If I am lucky, I go right back to sleep after this. But if it's a night when my imagination is running particularly rampant, the night's over for me no matter what I try to do to return to dreams.

Lately, I have taken to reading David Sedaris's books before going to sleep--Naked and When You Are Engulfed in Flames being two favorites--just to laugh off the dark. Besides, I take comfort in reading Sedaris, who is clearly at least as neurotic as I am and equally capable of making fun of everything, including death and fear. I find myself laughing until I cry when I read his essays and will sometimes find that I have read his work for more than two hours, in which case I am effed, as I may be happy as shit, but I will also be too stimulated to sleep. So, it's an act of balance reading Sedaris before bed, trying to laugh myself just enough into an easy rest.

I was not only scared of the dark as a kid, but always afraid I would be the first to get it and always conniving some way not to be first. Even when we went away to the house in the country in Colombia and my two sisters and I slept next to one another on a big bed, I would spend most of the night crawling over each of my sisters so I would be closest to the wall and therefore the last to get nailed by the bogeyman!

Some things never change is a cliche and truism. While I consider myself brave in a lot of ways, as regards being a brave girl going to sleep alone at night, I remain a child, afraid of monsters in the dark that may leap even out of the toilet when I sit on it at night. No matter what I tell myself about darkness, when it comes sleeping time, all I envision is party time for demons, goblins and the dead.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

JERRY JAZZ MUSICIAN Launches New Jazz Short Story Series

This is the first of my jazz short stories for JJM.
Please check out the Jerry Jazz Musician website. It's one of the best.


Friday, September 6, 2013


"There was something beyond all that, something beyond energy, beyond history, something I could not fix in my mind." - Joan Didion, The White Album

All night I hear them rumbling past my window, sometimes shaking the room in which I sleep, sometimes waking me up. They are that loud. They pass by very late at night or in the wee hours when they think the world is sleeping. When they think they can get away with murder.

I sleep with a fan on, for a fan helps ward off sound, keeps it at bay. Not this sound though, not this caravan of trucks, carting lethal weapons, contrivances of doom through the small city of McDonald toward the next town and the next.

Some trucks sound so heavy, onerous, like metal monsters keening from side to side, carting giant sets of shackles. For whom? For what? Other trucks fly by in the opposite direction toward I-80, their high pitched rattles a sign they have already deposited cargos and ride empty. How many trucks will it take to destroy Ohio? How many trucks to destroy the world?

Even sand is now a weapon, as it is injected along with water into shale in the process of horizontal fracking, the demon devastating Trumbull County, where I live, and aiming its nose now toward Mahoning County. The trucks bearing fracking sand seem so spanking new, so state of the art. Shiny blue cabs and red ones, their opulent silver bodies cloaked with little ladders, as if begging human beings, children even to climb aboard, ride the fun truck--to where? By the time I poke my head out the window to identify them as they pass by, they are gone.

One is tempted to deny their existence and the reality of where they go and what they do. The residents of Westwood Lake Park in Warren have no denial about the effects of fracking however as they have to endure unbreathable air and unbearable levels of noise pollution from a Halcon well burning hundreds of poisonous flares only yards from where they live. Some residents cannot sleep and have to cover their windows and eyes and wear ear muffs at night to sleep, to avoid exposure to the terrible toxic light and noise seeping in. Residents struggle to breathe; some have broken out in rashes; others suffer seizures and migraines. Illnesses vary and hit residents hard, as many are senior citizens who were hoping to enjoy a golden retirement in Trumbull County. One need only look at their faces to know something is dreadfully wrong, and yet their suffering goes unheeded; their complaints go ignored. Authorities tell residents to wear masks, not to fret. After all, there is the belief among those doing the fracking and supporting it that the process reaps rewards even though any sane person knows there can be no gain for those who attempt to get it by raping people and their land and taking resources at their expense. Everyone seems to be complicit in the greed. As if corporations were composed of people with metal hearts, like automatons, like trucks.

Not long ago at a fracking protest, Maria Montanez, a mother and social worker from Youngstown,  lay down in front of a line of fracking trucks, risking bodily harm to slow the caravan of death, and was arrested. People only want to protect themselves, their water, land and air.

More than 109 earthquakes linked to fracking have been documented in Ohio since fracking started. Horizontal fracking has only been in existence a few years, but its effects are already lethal. Because such fracking is close to the surface, gases are more likely to escape and water become poisoned. The toxins released from such fracking harm humans and the environment.

What will it take to stop the caravan of death destroying Ohio, slowly devastating the world?

"Although no complete list of the cocktail of chemicals used in this process exists, information obtained from environmental clean-up sites demonstrates that known toxins are routinely being used, including hydrochloric acid, diesel fuel (which contains benzene, tuolene, and xylene) as well as formaldehyde, polyacrylimides, arsenic, and chromates."

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


Ah Poetry. That's what you hear from anyone who writes it or knows its historic trajectory with the public--this, despite the fact that if you read Poets & Writers, what is for many the premier source for lists of writing markets and articles on the art, there are more prizes and calls for poetry today than ever before. I hold hope for poetry, the good kind, for when it is good, it perdures longer than any other kind of writing.

Friend Douglas A. Fowler, whose poetry chapbook, Condensed Matters and Other States of Mind, was published by Finishing Line Press a few years back, recently let me borrow another chapbook of poems, A Lovely Box by C. Kubasta, published in 2012 by the press.

Kubasta's poetry is intelligent, imaginative, powerful, textured and provocative, the best I've read in years. She combines stories and plays on words with academic observations and notations, poses provocative questions and demands intelligence of the reader. Her poems strive to uncover truth and meaning beneath the layers of lies and expectations woven into a woman's identity. There are multiple allusions to psychology, philosophy and the unholy discoveries of her poetic ancestors, Plath and Sexton, and other artists as she searches language and history and endeavors to pin kernels of the elusive self in a variety of ways and voices:

"Even in my dreams
I'm duplicitous-caught
trying to sort flotsam from jetsam,
which is which.

"Brambles and urging of unsent letters
and not-so-subconscious desires, words
cobble to me like a shoe to a foot: more fairy tales
told in Plath voice."

A Wisconsin native, Kubasta teaches English and Gender Studies at Marian University in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin; her work has been published in numerous publications such as The Spoon River Poetry Review and The Notre Dame Review.

To purchase Kubasta's chapbook or read more about Finishing Line Press, go to finishingpress.com. Finishing Line Press runs out of Kentucky and publishes the work of overlooked and brilliant poets in chapbook form on a yearly basis.

Monday, June 17, 2013

CULTURE Espresso Bar

When I'm getting back into writing, really writing, or when I'm browsing bookstores in the city, or just strolling, there's no greater delight than taking a break at an exciting coffee shop. Culture Espresso Bar is the best in Midtown Manhattan. I'm even drawn to the sign, CULTURE, and wide windows full of light that show people enjoying themselves inside as they sit and enjoy treats on on the long wooden table or at intimate corner tables. The service, fresh pastries and sandwiches, and music combine to make the experience what you want it to be, a surge of happiness, energy and diversity. I recommend the cheddar cheese and veggie sandwich for vegetarians, but I hear the prosciutto sandwich with goat cheese, arugula and fig preserves is also heavenly, as are the chocolate chip cookies. Personally, a chocolate croissant or mango muffin with a frothy double shot of espresso does it for me. I rake off the top of the muffin and savor it, as I bite and sip, bite and sip, then down the rest of my drink of choice. There is also tea for those who prefer a more discreet kick.

Culture espresso bar is at 72 W 38th Street, between 5th Avenue and Avenue of the Americas and is open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekends. The website is www.cultureespresso.com.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


I recently finished reading Dave Egger's masterpiece, ZEITOUN, which accomplished what no other work of fiction or nonfiction has done in years, brought me to tears. It's the point of literature--isn't it?-- to move us to a deeper sense of our own humanity. Sometimes that aim is easy to forget.

ZEITOUN is about the horrors experienced by a Muslim family, particularly the husband and father, in New Orleans in the wake of Katrina. It was a story I could not put down. Carefully written, each word carved with compassion and clarity, ZEITOUN lays bare the grotesque bureaucratic monster that made this tragedy so much worse and epitomized on so many levels what was wrong with our country at that time--when Bush 2 was still in power and many Americans had not yet realized natural disasters are the order of the day not the rarity of tomorrow.

ZEITOUN also lays bare our prejudices and small mindedness, humbling the reader when it comes to her understanding of what the right thing to do might be in times of natural disaster or emergency. Reading this narrative, one quickly comes to realize the survivor of disasters is not so much one who is smart or physically adept as one who is morally strong and wise. Disasters put our bodies, minds and moral fibers to the test. ZEITOUN is the story of a modern hero who epitomizes moral courage and stamina and stops at nothing to preserve the life of his family and community. It is relentlessly gripping and both devastating and uplifting.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


        This March 10 marked the 54th anniversary of the Tibetan uprising against the People's Republic of China in Tibet. In NYC, thousands of Tibetans and those who support them, such as members of Students for a Free Tibet, convened in front of the United Nations to protest continued oppression by the Chinese government in Tibet. In the afternoon, protesters marched to the Chinese Consulate at 520 12th Avenue waving flags and chanting slogans such as "Shame, shame China shame," "China out of Tibet now," and "Free Tibet now." The occasion was particularly solemn due to the self-immolations that have taken place in recent months in and around Tibet.

       Since 2009, 107 Tibetans have set fire to themselves in protest against the ongoing suppression of freedoms by the Chinese government and its systematic usurpation of Tibetan culture and traditions. Among those who set fire to themselves were 93 men and 14 women; 23 persons self-immolators were 18 or younger; 21 were monks; two were nuns.

        At the UN on March 10, I spoke to one Westerner who is a longtime friend of a group of Tibetans in this country. Although she said she has been to Tibet herself, she said, her Tibetan friends cannot go. "Anyone who goes to Tibet now will see that it is virtually unrecognizable. It is completely Chinese."

        Since 1959, approximately 1. 4 million Tibetans have been killed by the Chinese government; hundreds of monasteries and temples have been decimated; and many civilians, monks and nuns have been raped, tortured and imprisoned. Additionally, the Chinese government has prevented Tibetans from practicing their religion, while attempting to usurp the country's culture and traditions. And still the world does not attend to Tibet. And still China practices its unlawful takeover, violating human rights in Tibet.

      As Tibet's spiritual leader (and until recently political leader) in exile, HH the Dalai Lama has helped to significantly raise people's consciousness around the globe about the plight of Tibet. He advocates nonviolence, and his people have followed and continue to follow his spiritual guidance although they now have another political leader. In April 2011, Harvard law scholar Lobsand Sangay became the first Prime Minister of Tibet after being elected to the position by Tibetans in exile. He is in his early 40s and currently a Senior Fellow at the East Asian Legal Studies Program at Harvard Law School and an expert in Tibetan law and international human rights law.

       The International Campaign for Tibet has a fact sheet page on the self-immolations in Tibet and a petition that supporters of the Tibetan cause can sign, listed on the right on this page: http://www.savetibet.org/resource-center/maps-data-fact-sheets/self-immolation-fact-sheet

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Dream of Patagonia

A recent short story publication:

A Satirist's Vision of the World

Last summer I bypassed summer reading lists altogether. It seemed false to me. First of all, the whole idea that you only have time to read in the summer, as if the summer is this vast vacation landscape, the time when we are all rich and unemployed, rich with time at least, is very false, don't you think? On top of that, I was reading too many things I didn't want to share. I can be a stingy reader, not only as regards lending books, but as regards not discussing them. Most of the time, I prefer to digest their ideas alone. Consume their pleasures selfishly. Selfish to the bone.

So, now it is winter, and I am reading madly, thinking unselfishly of sharing some of my pleasures with my audience, because I am reading George Saunders, and he is a very unselfish man. He is not only unselfish, but terribly funny and brilliant, one of the best writers I have ever read, still alive.

He is a writer of short stories mainly and has such a wild way of thinking about things and such confidence throwing about his ideas that you feel you're with some kind of mad gymnast, who uses words in the most awesome fashion, so that he makes you think, right alongside with him, of things you normally don't ponder enough. He is not a gymnast the way John Updike was, so that you are in awe of the man's ability to flip vocabulary, but so you are in awe of his ideas and his original way of reaching both your heart and mind.

Saunders' two collections of short stories are: In Persuasion Nation and the recently published Tenth of December. His fiction is great. I saw him recently on Charlie Rose's TV show and noted that he is also a humble and kind man. Saunders is a writer who is also humble and kind. This was enough to set me straight on a course toward procuring his work. I have done little else but read it in the last three days.

Not surprisingly, as I am primarily a nonfiction writer myself, I have fallen in love with his essays, specifically The Braindead Megaphone, published in 2007. His writing puts me in such a state of alertness and hyper engagement that I am forced to read sections aloud. I paraded back and forth in the living room reading his essay on Dubai out loud, a hilarious and poignant examination of class and luxury, and those who have and those who have not. And I read aloud what is perhaps the most gorgeous essay on the love of writing that I have ever read, "Thank you Esther Forbes."

So, here I am sharing my winter list of one: George Saunders. Read him. You will feel brain and heart fed, alert and more intelligent after consuming his work. This I promise.

Monday, January 14, 2013


A few words on one of my favorite yearly parties, The Golden Globe Awards. I am one of those who enjoys watching beauty contests and award shows, mainly because I like seeing people happy. We know the winners won't be remembered for their success--even by most people who hear of their prizes-- for longer than a day, if that. We all know people and moments are expendable as air. But still, witnessing the joy is great, and the glam, gossip (and sometimes even speeches) divine.

This year was no exception, with its high points, and lows. The high points--Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, and most especially, Amy's reference to "Hillary's husband." And the lovely couple, Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner, who would almost have you believe that you can have a happy marriage (with children along with success) in Hollywood; and Daniel Day Lewis's speech--surely, by all accounts, the most heartfelt and eloquent of the evening. The low points--the dissing of Spielberg's masterful film, Lincoln, save for Lewis's garnering best actor; and Jennifer Lawrence's snarky and totally unnecessary remark when she won: "I beat Meryl."

Jodi Foster's speech about privacy, fame and longevity in Hollywood rests somewhere in the middle. Last night, it left me, and probably a million other viewers, rather perplexed. What did she mean? Were we supposed to switch her off while understanding her "deeply"? Were we supposed to peer close, while pretending not to see or hear her? I wasn't sure what she was saying, except "it's lonely at the top"--Even with all her wealth, success, good health, great looks, mate of 20-plus years, two sons, and very good friends that she thanked last night. Very lonely. And yet, I couldn't muster the pity and compassion she wanted me to feel for her. Poor thing, receiving a lifetime achievement award. At 50.

But at the same time, I can say this is what I did like about Ms. Jodi Foster's moment: Her speech included the invisible folks up in the balcony, appreciation for the much maligned (rightly or wrongly is irrelevant) Mel Gibson, a story about her lesbianism, and reassertions of her defiant wish for privacy in a world where reality shows predominate. These declarations made me feel proud of her, in a way; made me feel she is valiant, sort of. Oh well, in the aftermath of Jodi's acceptance speech, I kind of respect and like her and wish her well.

Kudos to all. Thanks for the laughs, Amy and Tina, and Kristen and Will, who almost did steal the show.