Adultery and the Clock: tick tock

This Labor Day weekend is the sixth anniversary of the day my ex-husband invited me into our garden to “show me something.” I assumed it was a flower or a hummingbird. It was, instead, a 2 1/2 page letter telling me, first, that I was his soulmate and he could never love anyone else as much as he loved me. Second, it told me about the other woman and the apartments he had with her in San Francisco and Beijing. Third, it told me that from that moment on he would spend half a year with her and half a year with me.

Fourth, it expressed that he understood I might have an “initial period of upset.”

What he did not understand – it had never crossed his mind – was that I might leave. I was out of the house with a packed suitcase inside of 30 minutes.

It turned out he had misconstrued my nearly a decade of work advocating inclusiveness across cultures and dialogue across differences. I pointed out that meant between rebels and governments, not between adulterers and spouses.

It went downhill from there.

Yet, I would not be writing about this except for an odd thing that happened. Yesterday, at a birthday brunch I was placed next to a stranger. When we went around the table to tell how we first met our mutual friend, I realized she most likely had worked in an academic program with the second husband of the woman my husband chose and presumably is still with. After the chocolate cake infused with raspberry juice, while people were leaving, I asked.

The shock on the face of this mild-mannered woman soon gave away to not only did she know him but she disliked him. She also knew the woman (the one presumably still with my former husband) and felt the two were a match in duplicity, fraud, and opportunism.

Fourteen years after experience with either of them, she became visibly upset. While I referred to them and my ex-husband as “bad news bears,” she used more explicit words to describe the two people she knows as “deserving each other.”

Their saga reached across to China and he wrote a critically-acclaimed book of their “love affair” that this woman, and others, say is filled with fraudulent information.

While I’ve never met him face to face, he found me on Facebook five years ago. His version of that story (he used even more explicit words to describe his ex-wife) is that he trusted his interviews with her, and that when the book was questioned after publication, they had already separated. She, however, asked to get back together, spent the night, and when he returned from buying groceries the next morning, she was gone and his computer was stripped of the interviews. (There was a second copy with his editor.)

The cast of characters is both juicy and boring. Three people who met her with my husband – people who did not know each other, two of them his friends more than mine – contacted me separately to say she was wearing see-through blouses with no bra underneath and combat boots, which sort of tells you her approach to life.

Note: she was in the first small group of young Chinese women trained as spies, I was told, against American men. While in the group, she secretly and against the rules married a Chinese soldier, had an affair with a married military Colonel, and became involved with the future American husband who would write of their love affair. She was also kicked out of the group. (One touch I like is that she told the American that the Colonel and his wife were her parents and that he should buy the Colonel a watch.)

Point is, if you, dear reader, male and female, are contemplating adultery there are four vital things to do first.

1) Deeply and thoroughly examine if you’re ready to chuck your marriage.

2) If you do not wish to chuck your marriage, then do the work of telling your spouse of any malcontent, and have real conversations. Force the issue. Be a grown up. Good and exciting things might happen.

3) Do due diligence on any prospective “adulteree.” My husband was apparently the only person in Silicon Vally not to get the memo. The number of strangers, including ex-lovers, who found me in order to warn me and to vent about her was impressive. In fact, I had avoided her for years as bad value after I realized she was trying to hook me in with fabrications. At the same time or shortly after he privately committed hundreds of thousands of dollars to her even before the affair began.

4) Get a medical examination to make sure your mental capacities are up to snuff and you’re not predisposed to bad decisions and moral slippage. I am serious.

IF you have wended your way through the above, check in with your moral compass. I am not against ending marriages that are harmful and painful, but I believe ethics have substance and to abuse them can damage not only someone you vowed to love and honor, but yourself.

By the way, her third husband was offered the same deal a few months before me. Half a year here, half a year there. He declined. He didn’t tell me because she told him I knew my husband was having an affair and didn’t want to know who with.

This is actually a sad story. It is a King Lear story, and “King Lear” is a sad play. It is a “power corrupts” story, and power corrupts silently, insidiously. I think it is hard to discern when it is happening to you.

She is unimportant to me, except in that I wish he had chosen more wisely. Strange, huh?

It is a story of lust and greed and privilege and betrayal and love lost. I try to make it a comedy, but the best that can be done with it is a tragic-comedy, one too often played out in one form or another around us.

He was my college boyfriend returned to me after decades of absence. We were together for 18 years. I’ve seen no evidence of that person for the last six years. Betrayal has a strange kind of grieving, but it does run out of steam.

I no longer believe in soul mates. But I believe in love – and feel love – more than I ever would have thought possible, and it is partly due, in ways I cannot decipher, to expecting to see a hummingbird and instead meeting the end of what everyone, except my husband, thought was perfect. Or maybe he did, too, but he wanted even more.

The clock keeps ticking, and things come round. I was less upset than a stranger I met at a birthday brunch.

Compassion is a choice, and pity is unacceptable.



Forever, today

“Forever.” The woman in the street called me “Forever,” proving everything you have ever been or done, or been known as, is still alive. Be careful, girls and boys.

photo 1

She said “Forever” and I turned like an old dog hearing its puppy name. No one has called me “Forever” in more than 30 years. The decade before that everyone did, except my family in Iowa who called me “Patti” and a few others I had abandoned years earlier.

She was probably aided to identify me by my clothes. My wrinkled white linen Eileen Fisher pants and shirt do resemble yogi clothes. (That’s not a typo. Yogi, not yoga.)

But I was wearing sunglasses and walking a large black poodle in a neighborhood that would have a fit-conniption if someone tried to live here in a cabin, yurt, lean-to, or tent, all of which I have lived in – plus a van, once parked outside her house for several days 35 years ago.

She nailed me at 8 feet and had the wisdom to follow immediately with her name. Otherwise, I would have been in that “my, she looks familiar, but from where” limbo.

photo 3Point is not that I lived in a religious commune in NY state and then a valley in Tennessee among musicians and craftspeople for a decade but that . . . what is the point?

I think it is not that people keep track, but that people share histories for instances or years, and those memories are alive in Now.

She and I both long ago divorced our husbands of that time, but we didn’t discuss them. Why bother? My ex-husband, a faux mini-guru, became violent and was a jerk. Her ex-husband tried to fraud me by paying back a loan from me to my divorced husband. That makes him a jerk too. The two of them grew cannabis somewhere in Virginia. For the record, I had nothing to do with it, though I saw the field once. Impressive. Tall plants loving the sun. What happened to the plants after I saw them, I have no idea. I swear.

So the point is, I think, that life is sort of like sour dough bread, the starter contains elements from the beginning of sour dough bread. Stuff continues through time and re-emerges, like, ah,”Forever.”

I may be walking a dog, she may be in my neighborhood to park her car before lunch with a friend. We could have passed each other. Surely we pass people every day who . . . six degrees of separation and all that.

I last saw my ex-husband in a banana grove during a visit to Maui 21-22 years ago. He was looking thin. I’ve heard nothing since. I don’t know if he is dead or alive. His family is all gone, there is no one to ask.

Nor do I know anything about her husband.

Perhaps she and I will meet for lunch, but no reminiscing. They were jerks. It all comes around. I think I want her to continue calling me “Forever.” It has something about it.


What I Learned on Facebook

Things I have learned on Facebook:

1) Some people have only one trick – ranting.

2) Cats can learn tricks.

3) Children can be blown into body parts.

4) Black cats and dogs are rescued less often than other cats and dogs.

5) You can usually tell by the first line if a poem is good or bad, and you can always tell by the second line, unless you’re the poet.

6) Conspiracy theorists are everywhere. I just know it.

7) Some people remain sane in the middle of unfathomable horrors, and can report what is happening with clarity and humanity, and we want desperately to let them know we hear them, we thank them, and we care incredibly deeply.

8) Avocados are nutritious and can be arranged decoratively.

9) All children, when whole, are beautiful, even in the middle of rubble, even when cut up by shrapnel, but not so much when they are starving.

10) Sea lions climb onto boats at sea to snuggle, whales breach to say “thank you” after being rescued from fishermen’s nets, baby bears climb ladders to get out of dumpsters, and deers love water sprinklers.

11) People are protesting around the world in support of Palestine, and the boycott and sanctions movement against Israel is expanding, even though it isn’t in the western papers.

12) No matter how fast the breaking news, someone on FB will let you know first, whether it’s an earthquake in Chile or the autopsy of a young black male shot by a policeman.

13) I have a cousin who seems to belong to the Tea Party.

14) Yazidis must not be well connected to the Internet because hardly anyone in the West knew they existed until they were in danger of extinction.

15) Political committees talk in capital letters, ex. BOEHNER WILL BE FLUMMOXED!!!!

16) Some birds are more beautiful than flowers.

17) Hamas and the Israeli Defense Force want you to see their fighters, uniforms, weapons, and logos. Like other political groups, they know how to find you.

18) Most open carry gun advocates would benefit by leaving their camouflage fatigues and/or black sleeveless tops at home with their guns.

19) Young black men are regularly killed by white cops and, thanks to smartphones, we get to see some of those murders. More on that to come. Stay alert FB friends.

20) We loved Robin Williams more than we realized.

21) Indians make the best short self-satire videos. (Hamas and the IDF could learn something there.)

22) Vacation photos of the sea all look alike.

23) We can mourn and laugh collectively, and support and inform each other, and discover we are mostly really good people, excepting for some trolls.

24) Trolls give you the opportunity to practice zen where your annoyance bandwidth intersects with your compassion bandwidth.

25) Some people give gifts – exquisite music, beautiful selfies, videos of people just being nice to each other, and quotes by MLK, Gandhi, and Williams. They give them especially in the middle of wreckage.

26) I love those people.

27) The crisis in Syria is so horrific few of us know what to say about it. Ditto South Sudan, Congo, Guinea, and more.

28) Relief is sometimes only an “unfriend” away.

29) You can “unfriend” people temporarily as a safety measure for friendship, like until after the killing stops in Palestine and Israel.

30) There are people like you – brilliant, sensitive, right – whom you’ve never met but that you can talk with every day, and you’re so damn grateful.

31) Animals form weird loving relationships: elephants with dogs, raccoons with cats, donkeys with sheep, geese with dogs, porpoises with cats, lions with humans.

32) People on FB form weird loving relationships too.

33) We all like to be “liked.”


Waiting in the garden for lightning

garden at night

I sit in my garden at 1:30 am waiting for an epiphany,
longing, Saul on the road to Damascus, to be relieved.

Even though I don’t believe salvation comes through lightning,
I long for quick and fast.

I believe salvation comes through knowing and accepting,
though I do not know of what or how.

Not tonight but the night before I met a man
who has lived twenty-five years under a large tree in India
where there is snow and a trail to Tibet
where Chinese soldiers have orders to shoot you on sight.

The trail, narrow as a snake, winds along the side of mountains.

The Chinese soldier who saw him, wearing no shoes,
asked his blessing and gave him his combat boots.

He lives off wild strawberries that look like raspberries –
I saw a photo on his friend’s cell phone – and a kind of wild spinach.

And mushrooms that grow only after lightning strikes the ground.

I wait for an epiphany.

In a US city he wear shoes, soft sportive clothes, and a white newsboy hat.
He smiles without end, and seldom speaks.

He glows as someone might who eats mushrooms that grow after lightning strikes.

I wait in my garden with my dog, discomforted.

Three days ago I had lunch with a rare beauty in her early 70s,
enthralled by a rocker, singer-songwriter – enthralled!

They whirl and dance, enchantress and enchanter.
He has wings tattooed on his back.

She calls him panther, he calls her slow burn.
She is famous, on the cover of a magazine right now,
wearing a hat made of a nest with golden eggs.

She writes of their sex life, real and imagined –
she will create a perfume for them and the book.

The perfume will be named “text.” He is 37.

She removed her large black straw hat and blue sunglasses
under the mottling trees. Our lunch was salmon with avocado
and chia seed pudding with raspberries.

I had not seen her in over a year.

“You have ‘Z’ on your forehead.”

“Yes,” she said, “it is a tattoo.”

“You have been struck by lightning.”

Two night ago, I saw my own young lover after months of parting.
He told me he missed me, us, talking, being.

That was not an epiphany, except in being stated.
It was getting things good and right.

He will help “Z” find a perfumery.
Perhaps we will create our own perfume,
something for what we cannot have.

I wait, in the garden, discomforted, for lightning – and rain.

I look to a man who lives under a tree
and a woman who loves madly
and a librettist who may make an opera of a play I wrote
and a once lover who will be a friend forever
and a widower who flees grief, likes bullfights, and touches my heart
and a phalanx of delicate and mighty women who fight demons with me –
and a singer-songwriter (not hers, but mine) who breaks through reasonable living
by the ruckus of his untamed genius.

These people and more sit with me as I sit in the dark,
knowing there is no lightning of reprieve,
understanding, or accepting of what has happened
to the others now with us –

children beheaded in Iraq,
people turned into body parts in Gaza,
the dead from plague in West Africa.

Numbers beyond immensity dead in Syria.

And this is the crux:

How do we dance on the head of the pin during slaughter?
How do we create perfume?
How do we eat chia seeds with raspberry topping?

I cannot put their suffering in a drawer
for after my vacation or rendezvous or lunch.

Symphony of friends and lovers – simplest of lives,
most stylish of lives – lift me lift me lift me.

I am split between ecstasy and pain.

Did lightning already strike? Was I torn apart silently?

A rabbit, a first, just hopped across the end of my garden
– not poetic license. It is a city garden, it is 2:00 am.

Two of us awake in this strange land,
searching for a kind of wild spinach or berry,
or mushroom that grows only after lightning strikes.

Slaughter, beauty, art, and obligation

In the fall of 1950 I arrived to school upset and angry. My parents had not told me we were at war and had been for months. They had treated me like a child, not bothering to tell me the horrendous news of people killing each other. What could possibly be larger or worse than war? How dare they.

I went immediately to the cloakroom where I asked Rosie, Jerry, David, and Tony if they knew we were at war. They did not. I told them it was with Korea, around the world.

Jerry said, “I’m going to be a soldier and I’ll fight and I’ll kill all the bad men.” He was punching his fists in the air. At that moment I realized he was a little boy with no understanding of what war was, that he didn’t even understand what death was. Existential isolation first hit me in the cloakroom of the second grade.

This memory has returned as people kill each other and allow others to kill. We in the U.S. blithely supply weapons for the killing. Death tolls are rounded to the nearest hundred or thousand and the accounting cannot keep up with reality.

But I am not feeling existential isolation. I, like most of us, feel the suffering that permeates our existential commonality. We live together in a world of blood, screams, decimation, death by weapons, hubris, callousness, arrogant self-justification, death close up, death by remote control, convenient self-delusion, and men who fight wars as though they were video games.*

We look for ways to cope, to put slaughter into a context that gives a modicum of relief. We protest, we give money, we write legislators, and we bombard Facebook. We use activism as an antidote to despair.* (I receive more or less 30 posts, videos, photos from Gaza, the West Bank, and Israel each day.)

This onslaught has brought me to a rare place – writer’s block – something I have seldom if ever experienced. This is my sixth attempt to write in over a week. The block does not come from nothing to say, but from too much to say, and that many brilliant writers and analysts are saying it far better than I could.

So what is my part? I cannot bear not helping, but what have I uniquely to give? And if I have nothing uniquely to add, should I simply wait, breath, cry, and pray in the quiet breathing sort of way that I do? It seems impossible to write blogs that are simply amusing.

An answer of sorts has come – a work in progress certainly – that I have only the personal to give. This feels, in one way, like a travesty, an indulgence, an eating of a fruit tart on the edge of a room with body parts in the middle. Do we eat it looking to the floor, to the corner, or to the middle?

Do I exaggerate? No, it feels that strange.

Am I too in-your-face? Perhaps, but at least I am writing again.

And what grants this writing is that I know I am not alone in the agitated distress of those of us who are witnesses. Because we care, we, too, are injured. We hurt.

I have come to that among the things we can do – in addition to protesting, giving money, writing, and other forms of activism – is to remember, even latch onto, beauty and to fiercely participate in creations that transcend devastation.

To state: This is not a time to shop – an obscenity coming out of materialistic responses to slaughter – but a time to embrace, rediscover, and express our creative “better angels” in order to heal and strengthen ourselves and to hold possibility for those who suffer. This is not a time to whimper.

If humans are both savage and divine, we must “activate” our impulses to create harmony and embrace light. We must not be afraid of the startling and cleansing power of light (ours from inside and that that feels as though it comes from outside of ourselves), and we must not feel it is shallow of us to create art or go to a concert when our friends are being killed. Our job is remain conscious of the suffering of others as we tether that suffering to creations offered to us by others or from us to others.

This is a time to write poetry, to create songs, and to paint. This is a time to listen to poetry, to listen to music, to go to galleries. It is a time to make delicate meals, create labyrinths for your children, carry and distribute chocolates, look deeply into flowers, and to dance. These actions may lift us into tears or laughter, but they will help us heal and they will spread. This, in the hands of a master, produces Guernica. This, in the hands of the rest of us, is a power that can change the world.

My grandson told me that humans are the weirdest animals because we talk and we create things. He turned seven two days ago, he is the age Jerry was when he going to kill the bad men. He is smarter than Jerry was, but I do not want him to know people are killing other people. I, like my parents, like all parents, want to protect the children.

Ah, the children. Ah, the children.

We are savages and we allow savagery, but we are also the vessels that divinity has to work with to bring joy and peace.

An Israeli on my Facebook, one of numerous new “friends,” occasionally posts a photo of an Israeli being arrested for protesting against the destruction of Gaza, but more often he posts incongruent beauty – a curve of a violin, a song, the inlaid decoration of a harpsichord. I have come to understand why. Each posting is a candle of beauty that has been, beauty that is, and beauty that will be.

To “never forget” horror is one thing, but to “always remember” our divinity – our better angels – is imperative. It is the stuff of personal and global salvation. We must take it out of the realm of possibility and into the world of reality. We must create beauty, harmony, acknowledgment, love, and forgiveness that can be touched, felt, heard, and seen. We must remind ourselves and others that transcending is something people do. It came in our package. We weirdest of animals can re-create the world for the better.


* “men playing video games” and “activism as antidote” are credited to Jean Shinoda Bolen, MD, author, and Jungian analyst, who called during the writing of this post.