This evening on the bus returning home from visiting my friend Ray in the hospital recovering from lung cancer surgery I was so lost in dismay I overshot my stop by nearly ten blocks.

Since the 2016 election—if winning the vote but losing the contest is really an “election”—every day brings some kind of bad news. It’s become part of the atmosphere. But this past week has been especially, horrifically bad: thirty-nine dead from consecutive mass shootings; no gun laws and a controlling government unwilling to legislate restrictions; a reprehensible President, stoking fear and violence; the country’s legacy of bigotry, racism, and exclusionary policies coming home to roost. More locally in San Francisco it’s a rare day I don’t encounter either a homeless person on the bus, sadly filthy and stinking from life on the streets, or a raving mad person screaming obscenities at everyone and no one. The streets themselves are littered with refuse, excrement, filth—no neighborhood escapes this fate.

And “returning home” is a euphemism. I don’t have a home. I live in a house I’m moving out of, or more harshly, from which I’ve been asked—no, mandated—to leave. Every day a little bit more of me is packed into a box, awaiting the end of the month when all the boxes get packed in a storage pod and taken away, to await their own time when they can be shipped to some new place on the other side of the country. New place. New life.

In truth, though no fault of my wife, I haven’t really had a home here…a home being a place of comfort, familiarity, family, and refuge. My wife to be graciously made room—more than room—in her house for me to share. I was never made to feel like a tenant (until I was told to move out) but nevertheless I felt like one. I was always conscious of living in someone else’s house, intruding on her space.

In the meantime, my wife and I live side by side in a surreal calm of purposeful compatibility. Apart from my packing, one would never know we are a divorcing couple. There’s no surface tension, no drama; there’s nothing personal. We mostly prepare dinner and eat together. We talk about the dog, the wind, the South End, the people in the nearby park. We never talk about us. But she has withdrawn herself and blames her silence on my writing. So be it. Every day her presence fades just a tiny bit more. Every day she’s becoming someone I once knew, once loved. I truly want to hold those memories.

In twenty days my storage pod arrives at the curb and my life here gets packed inside. A few days after that I leave and this house returns to pre-Niland condition. I want no tearful farewells. I don’t even know what I’ll say.

Will I say,“ I love you still?”

Will I say, “Please say nothing?”

Will I say nothing?  Will I cry?

I don’t know.

More Kindness


I was with a friend tonight who knows my wife well, for far longer than I’ve known her, and he said, “The world needs more kindness, not more division and strife.”

More kindness.

I believe my wife thinks, within the clarity of her decision to dissolve our marriage, that she is being kind. That her agreement to my terms, in exchange for no contest to the divorce, is a kindness, a kindness of process. In truth, this mutual agreement is a money saving strategy, and one that saves a lot of mutual agony, too. Kindness is a by-product, not the motivator.

She told me tonight she no longer talks to me about what’s happening between us because I write about it. She thinks I’ve misquoted her, or taken her words out of context. I have not misquoted. Context is subjective. Perhaps the mirror I hold doesn’t reflect the image she prefers. No one likes mirrors. I didn’t when she told me she no longer loved me, didn’t trust me, and intended to dissolve our marriage. Not a very attractive reflection. It hurt.

Frankly, I’m not that interested in hearing what someone with her uncompromising, fixed, unchangeable worldview has to say.  She epitomizes T. S. Eliot’s quip about Henry James,

‘He had a mind so fine no idea could violate it.” No new idea has ever violated her mind—far from it. It would undermine her rigid idea of herself.

Before that there was only escape, running away.

I only know the few details she permits herself to reveal about what went on in her youth. Her family didn’t listen to her; she acted out. They tried to control her. She bolted. I don’t know how a teenager actually leaves their family, but she did, and moved to California. It took fortitude and courage…and desperation.

In all that I’ve written I have been as self critical as critical of her. In light of her complaint, I’ve taken down many blog posts, but still she won’t talk to me about our relationship. It’s all only conversational small talk: current events rather than authentic conversation.

I think the blog complaint was, in the end, a ruse, a good excuse not to talk. I know my wife is very private about her life. She dislikes most social media, isn’t on Facebook (though posts on Instagram and Strava—so selective.)

Maybe I should be grateful she’s not talking to me. It would inevitably get emotional, especially since she has not once reflected to me about her role in this, her deficiencies as a wife and partner. You don’t withdraw sex from three fourths of a marriage without so much as an explanation (apparently the one she gave at the time was false since when I quoted her words to me about it she accused me of “diagnosing” her.)

I would love to ask her, “what would it be like being married to someone not always trying to please you?”

In my recent course at UCLA we investigated rackets, the rackets we play on ourselves and others. They come with a payoff, but always at a cost.

I wrote this:

Currently I am engaged in the Being a Leader leadership course.  During the course I came to realize that I have been running, what in this course is called, a “racket” with you.  I have come to see this is not a productive way of being and it has actually cost our relationship something I am no longer willing for you or me to continue paying.

While it is probably obvious to you, what has not been working for me, or you, is that my default way of being is being the “good” man in our relationship.  By this I mean I have defined myself as the flexible partner, the one always trying to please and willing to compromise, as though these behaviors were admirable.

What I now realize is that the issue identified above has persisted because there has been a payoff for me in running this racket.

The payoff that I now see is that this racket has allowed me to be right, to occupy a moral high ground that when not appreciated by you allows me to be the wronged party. My racket has been based on the paradigm that there is always a right and a wrong in any situation.

What I have also come to realize is that running this racket on our relationship has cost me your trust, your love, and our marriage.

I leave you with my word that in any new future we may create this racket will be no more.

Love always,


There has been no response to this, not an acknowledgement, not even a fuck you, not anything. I read this in tears to a hundred people and half of them cried, too. But my wife—now ex-wife—says nothing.

One of my young group members—our groups were very personal—when he learned of my situation, wrote to me:

It must be hard for you that your wife did not respond to the letter you wrote for her.

I think that brings me to the two concepts from our workshops regarding integrity and language (communication).

Regarding integrity, it was that though we have to expect ourselves to act with integrity and authenticity, that we are not necessarily guaranteed to receive the same behavior back from those we interact with.  And unfortunately this may be an example of one of those situations.

 I also wonder if her silence may be interpreted as a form of communication (though minimal) through action? Possibly one where she is communicating an unwillingness to discuss matters any further?

Maybe our last month together should remain small and easy.

I don’t need sleepless nights, and neither does she.

Put the past in the past.