Sleeping with the Enemy

A very personal and political piece posted this week on, a little out of the ordinary for me, but the times are anything but:

I have been sleeping with the enemy for more than two years. Rob is a Republican. But on the morning after the election, he held me close as I sobbed and promised, “It will be okay.”

He promised. But he doesn’t know. And nothing that has happened since that morning has made either of us feel better....(continue reading)

The Glass is Half Full

I met a man recently. We were chatting amiably, the way two people do who are testing to see if there’s common ground for deeper connection. Asking what the other person does, where they live, where they’ve been, all the usual things. Somehow the question of optimism came up.


I told him I am an optimist by nature. I believe in the inherent goodness of human beings – that evil acts and evil people are aberrations of the human spirit.

He said he, on the other hand, was very much a pessimist.

I asked him why. I’ve never had anyone tell me that before. Of course, I’ve met people I would consider pessimistic, but never someone who so consciously declared it, with no inkling of regret or sadness.

“I’m Jewish,” he said, “and European. I’m inherently pessimistic.”

As a child, he grew up in a city that had been bombed by the Germans to almost nothing. He experienced the travesty of the Holocaust. Also, he explained, Jews do not believe in an afterlife, so what’s the point of hope?

It’s an interesting perspective, one I confess confounded me.

I was raised Catholic. I grew up believing that something wonderful awaited me, if only I hewed to the values and expectations of Christianity. I would be rewarded with Heaven. While I haven’t considered myself a Catholic in many, many years, hope remains strong with me.

As an American, I hold in my cells the call to independence, to adventure, to seeking a better life and believing it’s there, just around the corner. There’s always something glorious waiting – “the shining city on the hill” – my friend said, quoting Ronald Reagan.
Reagan took that phrase from Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony John Winthrop’s exhortation as he sailed toward the colony aboard a ship in 1630. He wrote: “For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause him to withdraw his present help from us, we shall be made a story and a byword through the world.” (From Life and Letters of John Winthrop, by Robert Winthrop, 1867.)

There have been many references to Winthrop’s “city on a hill” over the years, notably in a speech by Walter Mondale in 1984, and John F. Kennedy cited it in 1961. But it was Reagan’s reference to a “shining city on a hill” in his farewell speech upon leaving office in 1989 that is most remembered today.

Yes, I think my new friend is right: Americans are perhaps ridiculously optimistic. And I agree as well that a Christian influence is at play here. Aren’t we all hoping for some version of the Pearly Gates? But there is something more, a more basic belief system at work.

I couldn’t live without hope. Without knowing that in the end, the basic goodness of humanity will out. Will triumph over evil. Else why would we get up every morning? I have to believe that all will work out in the end. That the good guys will win. It’s not Pollyanna-ish (though I’m sure many would call it that). It’s the only way I could move through the day, could face the hard stuff, accept the disappointments and devastations. I have to believe it will all be okay in the end. It’s how I choose to live. I can’t imagine any other way.

Quote of the Day - Ralph Waldo Emerson

blog rose.jpg

I was strolling through the Old Mission rose garden a couple of weeks ago, and photographed this rose. It reminded me of how much we miss by worrying about things we can't do anything about: This moment is all that matters; do not let it go to waste with thoughts of past transgressions or frets about the future.


"Finish every day and be done with it. You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense."

- Ralph Waldo Emerson  


Living Fearlessly

Sunday’s LA Times op-ed pages carried essays detailing three women’s responses to the recent Japanese earthquakes and tsunami, and what struck me was the thread of fear that ran through them.

Amy Wilentz wrote that despite the assurances of all the experts, she just wasn’t able to move beyond her fear of radiation poisoning from the Japanese nuclear disaster, even though she lived an ocean away in Los Angeles. So she brow-beat her physician (in a manner of speaking) into prescribing potassium iodide pills for her and her family – just in case. This admittedly intelligent woman, a writer, was so wound up about emails she received from non-experts that she did something totally irrational.

I remember enough from high school and college science classes to know about radioactive isotopes and sieverts and half-lives. I’m also a careful reader and a critical thinker. News reports on the nuclear disaster unfolding in Japan repeatedly spoke about the unlikelihood that damaging radiation would come across the ocean and fall in Southern California. Tokyo, only 150 miles away from the site, experienced no significant radiation from the blasts. But thousands of miles away, people in California were freaking out.

A friend of mine in London even sent me an email urging me to go out and buy potassium iodide pills. This, despite the fact that taking such pills when there is no danger of radiation poisoning can actually be harmful.

The other essays, written by novelists Cheryl Holt and Diana Wagman, both of whom live in Southern California, were also rife with fear. Holt’s, it seemed to me, was the most rooted in reality, though. She wrote about living on the Oregon coast and realizing after the 2004 Indonesian quake and tsunami that she would never be able to outrun a tsunami if a devastating quake struck in the ocean near her town. She ultimately moved to Southern California, in part because of that. But she wasn’t irrational about it.

Wagman describes how the world’s disasters, natural and manmade, are ever-present in our media-saturated world. She watches her daughter fall apart in the onslaught, and feels her fear.

Why does it bother me that all these writers are women? I have a hard time imagining a man writing such fear-filled pleadings. Is it the maternal pull, the constant worry that mothers feel over the welfare of their children and families? What happened to the Age of Reason? Why is our culture so woefully incapable of risk-assessment?

Last May I interviewed Barry Glassner, a professor of sociology at the University of Southern California and the author of “The Culture of Fear, Why Americans Are Afraid of the Wrong Things.” He told me then that when people succumb to fear, they are being manipulated by someone who stands to benefit from our anxiety.

“The main advice I give is ask yourself who’s trying to benefit from making you afraid,” Glassner said at the time.

It’s important to keep things in perspective. The fight-or-flight response is triggered in the ancient reptilian brain, but there is opportunity to bring higher thinking to bear, thinking that is based on true risk assessment.

If there is a 1 percent chance of something happening -- say, a terrorist attack -- the opposite perspective is there is a 99 percent likelihood that one will not happen. Yet fear of a terrorist attack is repeatedly recounted as one of the top fears Americans share today.

A little over a year ago, I made a conscious decision to live without fear. I had been through divorce, loss of a business, bankruptcy, and the death of my mother (who lived with me) in the space of a year. Several years of therapy had helped me through. But it wasn’t until I realized I had no control over any of it that I finally let go and started to live for each day.

I guess you could say I’m an existentialist. A fatalist, even. One cannot control the world around us, no matter how mightily we try. So why spend emotional energy worrying about things that may or may not happen? If something awful happens, you have the opportunity at that moment to decide how to respond to it. It’s all about the response. And a critical assessment of risk. But living in fear that something might occur? Life’s too short for that.