Archive for the ‘The sun has gone to bed.’ Category

Rav Kook in London

September 16, 2018

Who wouldn’t want to attend a seudah shlishit with R. Kook?  (Even I would, and I––don’t tell–-don’t love SS!)

Late in the day on Saturdays, Rav Kook would hold seudah shlishit––the third meal of the Sabbath––in the Hasidic style, with singing and evocative homilies.  The meals brought him an eclectic group of followers: Hasidim and intellectuals, East End Jewish radicals, workingmen, pious Jews from Leeds and Manchester as well as from all over London.  On th eShavuot holiday nights, as he had in Jaffa, he would stand all night at a lectern, lecturing on Maimonides’ Book of the Commandments and the roots of jurisprudence.  During zeppelin bombings, he would stand by the door of the communal bomb shelter in Chaikin’s basement, the better to see anyone wandering in the street and call them in.  When they were all safely inside, he would, in a mix of prayer and pastoral becalming, sit and recite, over and over, the six verses of Psalm 43: Grant me justice, O God, and wage my struggle with a faithless nation, from a man of deceit and injustice save me…

Also, how lovely is this?  (From Rav Kook himself.)

When I lived in London, I would visit the National Gallery, and my favorite pictures were those of Rembrandt.  I really think that Rembrandt was a tzaddik.  Do you know that when I first saw Rembrandt’s works, they reminded me of the legend about the creation of light?  We are told that when God created light, it was so strong and pellucid that one could see from one end of the world to the other, but God was afraid that the wicked might abuse it.  What did He do?  He reserved that light for the righteous men when the Messiah should come.  But now and then there are great men who are blessed and privileged to see it.  I think that Rembrandt was one of them, and the light in his pictures is the very light that was originally created by God almighty.



A Romantic Send-Off

October 18, 2017

Two days ago in London the sky was a burnt sienna-color; many outlets called it “Martian,” which is not inaccurate.

“What’s the weather like by you now?” my husband texted me from work.  “My colleague says the sky is yellow because it’s Saharan dust.”

“Apocalyptic,” wrote a friend from her houseboat in Tottenham Hale.  When I said it was allegedly Saharan dust, she responded, “Yes, and Iberian fire!”

Apparently Ophelia, that dark strumpet, had kicked up Saharan dust and Iberian fire and colored the skies here an eerie yellow-red haze.  Don’t you think “Ophelian Sky” is a good name for a musk-y perfume––or maybe “Saharan Dust” and “Iberian Fire” could be the latest in the Dior Homme range?


The Mindful Poet

June 12, 2017


Now I am opening my eyes. Now it is 8:36. Now I am dressing myself.   Now I am eating cereal. Now I am taking out my garbage. Now I am noticing that my garbage smells. Now I drop it in the bin on the corner. Now I am walking to work. Now I see the sky is ominous. Now I am waiting for the tube. Now I am contemplating throwing myself across the tracks. Now I am getting on the tube. Now I am pretending not to notice the woman sitting across from me, who is very pretty, or the man sitting next to her, who is in a handicapped seat but does not appear to be handicapped. Now I am not working hard at not judging him. Now I am arriving at work. Now I am imagining murdering my boss. Now I am entering data into the spreadsheet. Now I am wondering if life is meaningless. Now I am eating the sandwich I packed for lunch: cucumber, smoked salmon, and butter. Now I am thinking cheese would have been preferable. Now I am briefly napping in the toilet stall. Now I am returning to my desk. Now I am listening to two colleagues banter, and wondering why I am not in on the joke. Now I am thinking about checking my Facebook. Now I’m deciding not to. Now I’m sharpening my pencil, despite not needing it. Now I’m wondering what my life would have been like if I hadn’t quit playing the piano. Now I am imagining myself on stage at the Royal Albert Hall, and the audience applauding. Now I am deep in my reverie. Now my boss asks for “that report,” so I snap back to reality. Now I am watching the clock as the end of the day looms: 4:56, 4:57, 4:58, 4:59, 5:00. Now I am entering my local to have a pin before heading home. Now I am noticing my brain getting foggy. Now I am climbing the stairs to my flat. Now I am hearing the penultimate step on the staircase creak. Now I am hearing my neighbors make raucous love. Now I am undressing. Now I am nodding off.

Now I am sleeping. Now I am sleeping. Now I am sleeping.

The Exorcism

December 8, 2016

You guys might remember a few months ago, I wrote about a friend of mine who had died as a result of a long battle with anorexia.  Well, maybe about a year before she died, this friend mentioned in an email to me that she had once been at a long-term Christian treatment program where the other patients attempted to exorcise her.  I became interested in researching this place, and, thinking I might write about it, interviewed my friend about her experience there.  I eventually abandoned the project because I heard another journalist was quite far along in writing an expose of this treatment program (which will go unnamed but probably wouldn’t be difficult for the intrepid Googler to find) although to my knowledge that journalist’s piece has never been released.  I guess the motivation now is because in the wake of my friend’s death, I want people to know about her and her life and what she went through, not for any “awareness” or “stigma” reasons, just because she was a goodhearted person and the ordinary folk of the world don’t get New York Times obits (although sometimes I fantasize about a column that highlights the stories of the non-famous, which can be just as moving).

Describe your religious background, and your personal beliefs, as of then and now.

I was raised Catholic and attended Catholic grammar school as well as high school.   My family and I went to church every Sunday and my faith was part of my up bringing. Everything from holidays to school gatherings to CYO (Catholic youth organization) basketball and Girl Scouts was centered around my Catholic faith.

Did you ever feel personally doubtful of your faith?  Or did you just always accept it?  

I used to always accept it but since being sick I have become doubtful and angry. “Why do I have to have this?” “Why can’t I seem to get better like everyone else” “why can’t I be normal and function” etc…. I still struggle with that.  But as I’ve gotten older (and hopefully wiser) and have had new experiences and met more people, I realize God didn’t do this to me!! I just have to use what I have today and do the best I can.  And even though these past 12 years have been hell, I would’ve never met some great people, traveled to God knows how many states for treatment, and have had some interesting experiences that other people my age and from my background would have ever had or will ever have!

How old were you when you first developed anorexia?

I developed anorexia when I was 12 years old. My parents split when I was very young but we all remained in the same house for financial reasons. Although I don’t think I caused my eating disorder, it definitely contributed to my needing to feel in control in my chaotic head! So my eating disorder started at the beginning of 8th grade while lots of change was taking place. My mom had gone back to work full time. It would be my last year at the grammar school I had grown up in as I would soon be graduating and going into high school. I had hit puberty, got my period, and was starting to develop. I was never overweight but I always felt bigger than my friends who literally had the figures of 8-year-old boys and who didn’t get their periods until high school. I was never teased but was always overly conscientious and uncomfortable in my body. My mom was a big exercise fanatic (tae bo, aerobic, and step classes 4 -5 times a week) and I always felt like if she was exercising, I should, too. Enmeshment much?!   It started as a diet (no soda, fruit instead of baked goods and desserts, more exercise) and spiraled from there.

What kind of treatment did you go through before [this place]?

I had a great deal of treatment prior to the Christian facility (6-7 hospitalizations, and various out patients therapists/nutritionists) but all of which were hospital based inpatient eating disorder programs in the tri-state area. Basically I would spend 30 days inpatient, gain what felt like an exorbitant amount of weight, then sent on my merry way with very little support set up! And as soon as I returned home, not knowing how to cope with weight gain and life outside the hospital bubble, I would spiral downwards again, each times lower and lower.

Who made the decision to send you to this place?

My mom found out about the Christian facility from a family member. At this point my family was desperate and at the end of their rope . They had exhausted their finances on treatment for me and fancy shmancy big name doctors who, while they had their heart in the right place, just enabled me to preserve my eating disorder.

How do you figure “enable?”

At that time I was seeing Dr. Ira Sacker, author of Dying to be Thin. He would promise me that if I gained weight I could join him on TV appearances like Entertainment Tonight and Oprah. He never addressed the issues. I was eventually admitted to Princeton University Hospital, where the doctor demanded to know who was following me as I was in imminent danger of having a heart attack or dropping dead. Well we found out the Christian facility was long term, free!!!! treatment program in [Southern city], that [it] was Christian based. They say that the girls who come there have to come on their own accord.

Let me tell you the admission process was ridiculous!!! It took about six to eight months of filling out papers and interviews to finally get a “date” to go. All of these interviews were basically them trying to get me to say I was so desperate and needed the Christian facility and would do whatever it took. There were many over the phone and there was also about a twenty-page application. I remember crying several times on the phone with them saying, “I’ll do whatever it takes.” But now that I think about it my tears were out of shear frustration!! I was waiting months and months to get help and they had me begging them!!! I was sick and needed help and yet they made me wait and beg.

Did they claim they had no beds?

[No.] They said this was the process. Once I was accepted into the program I still had to wait about 1.5 months for a bed.

[But] I needed help and fast! They did have me go to my GP to get his okay that he felt I was safe in a program with no medical monitoring. He knew I had no insurance benefits left and was like, ” What’s the alternative?”

Can you tell me, in as much detail as possible, what happened during your stay?

I was there in 2007 for a few days. Early October.

My dad took me down to the city. The house is gorgeous and clean. Nothing that would indicate it was a treatment facility. Meals were cooked by the girls and were all healthy and organic. I was able to pick what I wanted to eat but had to have a counselor look it over to make sure I took what looked like enough. And at the end of a meal I was to show them I had finished.

Girls there have a whole variety of issues (depression, teen moms, drug abuse, cutting, etc… ) . I was one of 3 other girls with an eating disorder. Although I hate pass judgment, the other two girls were severely emaciated as well and looked like they belonged in a hospital bed…but again who was I to judge. From the first day I was cast aside from the rest of the girls. Although I have no history of purging I was forced to sit in a common area after meals.  I couldn’t participate in 95% of the groups because of my low weight.

Meaning, participating in groups was a privilege based on your progress, or they figured you were too mentally compromised?

Both. But also things like outdoor time I was too medically compromised. I basically sat on the couch with “readings” they gave me. I felt like I had done something wrong and that is the way they treated those with eating disorders. On more that one occasion I was told the “devil had its grips on me” and I needed to release it. That basically I was choosing the devil over Christ and would never obtain salvation having anorexia. At one point they “prayed” over me (I use that term loosely because I had never seen praying like that in my years of Catholic school!) They were trying to get the devil out and were repeating prayers in a language unknown to me. More like chanting.

Can you remember how this began?

First they started talking and praying. And as I got more certain and adamant that I was leaving they started with the tongues. At this point I was bawling. They thought I was crying because their exorcism was working; meanwhile, I was crying because I was so scared and freaked out and vulnerable and confused.

I would also like to note that we were not allowed to discuss our issues with the other girls. This I found to be just as upsetting as the whole exorcism technique. Here I am in an unfamiliar place, not allowed to see or call my family for months, no television or media, basically stripped of all my comforts, AND I’m not allowed to talk to the other girls about my struggles? I understand they didn’t want us to commiserate with each other and feed each others illnesses but I couldn’t even express my fear of being away from home or ask how they dealt with the initial introductory period. Instead, the girls who had been there for a few month talked a little too happily about Bible passages. I complied for a few days but when I started to question things

What did you question? Do you remember any of their verbal responses?

Why I wasn’t allowed to talk to other girls, why there was no real therapy, why was I sitting on a couch all day, alone and homesick and anxious as hell. Why the other emaciated girls were shoving rolls down their pants but yet were able to do yoga and go out on outings (I was told it was because they had been there longer). Like why I couldn’t go on outings meanwhile I had gotten the ok to come here and I was never told I wouldn’t be able to participate in certain things. They were very indignant with me. They always knew better. I was anorexic and therefore untruthful and conniving.

The no communication with family was by far the hardest thing for me. With nothing to do but read bible verses and being isolated I was going out of my mind. This was not what I had signed up for.

I was shut down right away. I was “tainted” by outside influences.

How was the decision made to leave? Did anyone––your parents, fellow patients, staff members––try to dissuade you?

I demanded I wanted to speak to my parents after the “exorcism” event They said that I was not allowed to make phone calls until the third month I was there and had signed the paper saying I agreed. They tried for the entire day to dissuade me by telling me about the contract I had singed. [But] by this time I was ready to bolt. And it wasn’t “they are feeding me I’m going to gain weight” fear. This was a kind of “this is some kind of cult” get me out of here” type of fear. Long story short I said I was leaving the program and that was that and I needed I make flight arrangements and legally they could not hold me there. They reluctantly gave me a five-minute call to my dad. In that time I not only had to explain what this place was like and that I wasn’t just crying to come home because I was scared of eating and homesick, I also needed make arrangements for a flight home ASAP.

How did your dad react?

He was the only one who listened. He was also the one who dropped me off and had met the staff so I don’t think he got a good feeling to begin with. It took time for my mom to get that I hadn’t come home just because I wanted to remain sick.

I came home for about a week. My mom didn’t believe me when I told her about [what had happened] and cut me out of her life and went to my Grandma’s house for the time being.

I don’t blame her. After almost 8 months of hyping this up and preparing and packing and talking about how this was going to be “it!” And I was finally going to get better, I had come home after three days. She was devastated that this last option was gone. She had lost hope and was so angry. She said she unless I called them to go back I was not going to be a part of her life. I had no idea what to do. For a quick second, out of pure desperation, I called them back up telling them what was going on. They said, “This door is closed.” I had gotten my chance and wasted it. [I was told] there are so many other girls who were dying to come and willing to do whatever it took. Goodbye. Don’t contact us again.

I basically threw the phone yelled some profanities and thought, “How Christian of them.” I still get email and mailings in the mail from them monthly asking for donations.



October 26, 2016

Sorry, sorry, sorry, I KNOW, but I was on vacation!  And I’m sure there are some things I need to recount from that, but I’m about to hit the hay, so I figured I’d recycle a topic I meant to bring up a while back: dreaming!  I think thinking about dreams is coming back into fashion again; in fact, I was semi-recently interviewed by a writer who is working on a book about the science of dreams.  Does this mean the taboo against telling other people about your dreams will soon end?!  Pity, because my dreams have gotten really boring in the past three years or so.  Maybe this means I’m content?  The horror!

Anyway, I was reminded of the dream thing because I stumbled across an old email exchange with my friend KC, in which we discussed starting a blog or something (?) in which we published people’s dreams.  We even had a pitch and our own email address!  I don’t remember the passwords, but I believe the address was  Catchy, no?

Turns out, someone at the New Yorker thought this was ripe for satire.  The opening rejection note:

Dear Mr. Smith,

A dream in which you “do something nasty with a family member”—and particularly a “distant cousin,” which, frankly, we hear about all the time—in no way merits inclusion in our magazine, no matter how arousing you may have found it.

Please see the Frequently Recorded Dreams page on our Web site to determine whether your dream is worthy of submission.


Donald Wembly
Submissions Editor
Dreams Quarterly
American Academy of Dreams

Perhaps even funnier than that, there IS actually an academic publication dedicated to the study of dreams, called Dreaming, published by the International Association for the Study of Dreams.  I would consider becoming a research psychologist just to join the IASD!

Annie Pootoogook

October 13, 2016

Almost a year ago, I interviewed a woman who had spent fourteen years living as an Amish person in an Amish community in Ohio; when she left, she began painting scenes from her time there.  The results were a little unpolished, a little creepy (inexplicably, because the scenes were very bucolic), and yet utterly beguiling.  They reminded me of the work of Annie Pootoogook, a Canadian Inuit artist whose paintings of modern First Nations life (domestic abuse, food shopping, watching Dr. Phil–no accounting for taste) ring similar bells.

Pootoogook drowned tragically last month at the age of forty-seven.  Some salient facts: her mother was an artist, and Pootoogook met with some early career success (a prestigious show at Documenta 12, a hefty grant).  After her death, a Canadian police officer made heinous comments about Inuit peoples (basically, they prefer to drink rather than contribute so why should we investigate her death?) on an online message board.  I hope he was fired.  You can learn more about Pootogook here (among other places).  I considered writing about her for a moment, but then I realized I didn’t have much to say other than “more people should know about her.”


The Joys of Dissent

October 5, 2016

Shit, it’s been a while.  Since I last posted, Elena Ferrante’s been unmasked, Kim Kardashian’s been robbed, and Brangelina has been pronounced dead on arrival (little airplane joke there).  When I came to look at the date of my last post just now, I felt so guilty that I decided I simply must put something up now.  But the problem is I don’t have a ton to say.  Well, here’s one thing: everyone knows I’m something of a contrarian, right?  Maybe this was a personality trait that excited me in the past, but in recent years, it’s proven more annoying than anything else.  If only I could get on board the zeitgeist train, I could write anodyne personal essays about ending the stigma (surrounding anything) and not worry that I’m harsh!

I don’t know if that’s going to happen anytime soon, though.  In the meantime, I’ll just have to find a little joy in reading negative reviews of books everyone else in the world adored.  Case in point: a review of When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanathi in the London Review of Books.  WBBA was gushed over by basically every literary critic and human in the United States, but writer Thomas Laqueur was meh on the whole thing.

“It’s time to confess the obvious: I wasn’t deeply moved by this book.  But it isn’t easy to explain why.  the first thing that comes to mind is that I find the author pompous, and, whether a true or a faux naif, egomaniacally self-conscious in his search for meaning… A larger problem is that Kalanathi isn’t very good at writing.  Having done so little of it, why should he be?  As Julian Barnes wrote in his introduction to Daudet’s memoir, dying doesn’t make someone a better writer, or a worse one for that matter.”

This made a lot of sense to me because of my longstanding aversion to our immediate embrace of suffering narrators (because pain doesn’t make you smarter, necessarily, but it does mean people feel less justified in critiquing you, even when that criticism is deserved, which results in a lot of thoughtless applause).  But it also reminded me of the extended period of time I spent in my mid-twenties working with someone terminally ill (who is now deceased), I was always half-anticipating a big life epiphany, courtesy of the Sick Person, every day, but most of the time it was just the usual drudgery and the Sick Person remained their flawed, human self, right up to the very end.


August 7, 2016

I was away these past two weeks, in case you didn’t notice from my infrequent posting, but I’m back now (hooray!) to post more inane shit.  In the meantime, here’s the door of Tannaz Hazemi‘s apartment…


Snuff Films/Writer Problems

June 15, 2016

So a few days ago, I was working on a piece in which I wanted to insert a little joke about the terrible nineties flick 8MM starring Nicholas Cage, and then I decided that in order to make sure the joke was accurate, I had to re-watch 8MM.  (But I didn’t, really.)  Then, halfway through the film, I was hit with one of those urges to Google something inappropriate.  We all know that feeling: you’re watching Law and Order: SVU, and you think to yourself, “Is NAMBLA really real?!”  And then you go to type in “North American Man Boy Love Association” into your search bar and realized, “Oh shit, what if someone thinks I’m actually looking for NAMBLA as opposed to just, well, verifying that NAMBLA is a thing?”  Or perhaps you’re trying to write a short story about someone who builds a bomb, but you have zero idea how to build a bomb yourself, so you go to the library, but then remember that checking out The Anarchist’s Cookbook might get your name on quite a few government lists.

But the other night, my inhibitions lowered by lack of sleep, and also comforted by the fact that probably a million people have Googled “snuff film” before, I went for it.  And one of the first hits was this random story on Reddit, which I thought, in my delirium, might be true but of course it’s just the ramblings of a horror writer trying to drum up a few readers by pulling the old “it’s true, really!” card.  Still, someone should consider making a movie of it.  Nic Cage could star.

Please, please believe me.

My Dad was an odd man, quiet , reclusive and with a weird sense of humour. But it was a safe strangeness, a slight eccentricity that I assumed all aging fathers had.The strangest thing about him was the fact that his left hand only had a thumb, a forefinger and a little finger. He never explained what happened, and the one time I was to ask – when I was nearing 16 – he very calmly stared at me and told me to never ask again. It was the type of calm that chills you, the type of calm that’s only formed through utter, utter rage. I’d asked my Mum about it and she’d always quietly replied “Ask your father.”. Apart from that he was relatively normal.

My Dad used to stay up late, watching old VHS’ in the attic whilst we (my mother and I) went about our business downstairs, me playing on the computer and her cooking, or whatever she got up to. The room at the top of the House, essentially a converted attic was his domain. My Dad didn’t ask much, but that room was his and only his. My and my Mum were never, ever allowed in. I took it for granted at the time, assumed everyone had their ‘me’ place, and for the most part brushed it off. I was never allowed into the top room – I assumed when I was younger it was because it was his secret lair, though as I grew older I thought he could be watching porn.

The truth is far more sinister.

My Dad never left the house except for working whilst I was at school, he didn’t seem to have many friends and so I never had a chance to see what he was really hiding. I tried once to look for Christmas presents, and once more when I was older… for porn. Both times the door was locked, firmly and the thought of my Dad finding me looking made me terrified. His temper flared rarely, and nastily.

After bunking off school after lunch to finish a project at the fine age of 19 to finally conquer the room, driven by a desire for independence and to satisfy my endless curiousity. I got in today. My Dad was at work, and judging by the half finished bottle of whiskey sitting on the stairs, he’d been drinking. He forgot to lock the door, which was a rarity. The past times I’d tried the door was double locked, but I assumed that in the rush my Dad had simply forgotten to lock it- assuming I’d be out all day. On opening I was assuming something dark and dangerous would appear, I’d see a dead body – or something hiedous, but instead all there was was a box of old VHS a faded armchair, and an old, large TV.

I instantly leapt to the videos, knowing I didn’t have much time and that my Dad would be furious if he was to find me looking through them. I found a large amount of old movies, old taped TV shows – I was about to give up – until I found a tape simply labelled, in childish, scrawled hand ‘PACT’. The reason I noticed it was that it was clean, the white case it was in was dog-eared, but clean. All the other videos were dusty but in pristine condition, and this film hidden at the bottom seemed to have been watched over and over.
Taking a deep breath, and listening to hear if the door unlocked I slipped it into the TV.

This is where it gets weird…


Party Trick

April 15, 2016

I’ve decided that from now on, when someone asks me what I do for a living, I’m going to respond, “It’s kind of complicated.  Have you seen that movie Inception, with Leonardo DiCaprio?  It’s basically that.”