Look Through My Window

Look Through My Window

Written by John Philips, The Mamas & The Papas

And the rain beats on my roof

And it does not ask for proof

It’s not that lovers are unkind

She always said there’d come a time

When one would leave and one stay behind

We both knew people sometimes change

And lovers sometimes rearrange

And nothing’s quite as sure as change

And the rain beats on my roof

Look through my window to the street below

See the people hurryin’ by

With someone to meet, some place to go

And I know I should let go

She always said “I’m not like you”

“When love is dead, for me it’s through”

“And I will find and love someone new”

Look through my window, yeah, to the street below

See the people hurryin’ by

With someone to meet, some place to go

And I know I should let go

I must admit she knew her mind

And it will not take her long to find

Another place where the sun will shine

And the rain beats on my roof

If I still require proof

Well, the rain beats on my roof (She’s gone)

If I still require proof (She’s gone)

Well, the rain beats on my roof (Look through my window)

If I still require proof (All the people)

Well, the rain beats on my roof (I love her)

If I still require proof (She’s gone)


I miss my little white dog. I miss his boundless affection and companionship, his burrowing under the covers early in the morning, his sweetness and loyalty. Having been a rescue, he didn’t deserve another separation.


I miss the woman I married now nearly five years ago. I loved her, and I believe, at that moment, she loved me. Or she wanted to believe she loved me.

I do not miss the woman she became.

A year into our marriage she withdrew all intimacy and affection. It wasn’t replaced by rancor or anger or even ill feeling. It just disappeared, without much explanation. When I would hold her hand walking down the street she would quietly slip it away. Our bed became the place only where we slept.

Four years into our marriage she declared her intention to end our marriage. No rancor or anger, only a deadening fog of distance, deeper withdrawal, and sad loneliness.

That woman I do not miss. I’ve searched for meaning, for some explanation that would absolve her, and me. Last night a friend asked me, knowing what I know now, what would I have done differently? Would I have asked her to marry me? Would I have accepted her early withdrawal with the same equanimity? Would I have been content to go on living with not good enough? Would I have expressed myself more, my desires, my fears? Would I have said anything?

All of that is past, and not helpful to recount. It’s just what happened. As she told me, we were never trudging the road of happy destiny together. There was never a together.

More important matters concern me now. As I write, Adam is undergoing his first chemotherapy infusion. My close friend Ray is napping following his yesterday’s chemotherapy infusion. These are real life issues, not the artificial pain of divorce.

My former wife fades into a distant background, isolated in the clarity of her vision. May she be in peace.


Being Here Together

An ordinary Saturday in Oakland.  It was and it wasn’t. I bicycled across West Grand Avenue to Adam’s and together we went to the farmer’s market, shopping for the last of summer’s tomatoes, pluots, peaches, plums. Lettuce appears still to be plentiful. Northern California has a bountiful harvest extending late into the autumn, at least autumn as perceived by an Easterner though not here.

Years ago, though it doesn’t seem like that many, we would go to a different farmers market, in Ossining, New York.  Adam was still in high school and I was still at home.  That was before the final upheaval, when life was only smoldering not yet erupted.

After we finished our shopping we went back to Adam’s and made a light lunch of tomatoes and basil leaves on artisanal seeded rye bread, listened to the somehow appropriate ethereal Sufjan Stevens, before deciding on the spur of the moment, to walk over to the Grand Lake Theater to see Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood. I had seen the movie already, and hadn’t liked the fictional fairytale portrayal of the real-life horrific murders. This time, knowing how it ends, I saw the deep nostalgia, the heart stopping sadness of all that was lost when those four were killed. Something died in America and it wasn’t only four innocent victims and an unborn child.

Adam drove me home in time to coordinate with Bowdoin friends he was seeing for dinner. Life lived as normal, even when it isn’t.

Normal in the face of calamity: this seems to be a theme this year. I lived for five months under a cloud of normalcy, blanking out the thunderous storm of divorce. My storm was a mere squall compared to Adam’s cancerous tornado. Yet we strive for routine to keep the fear and heartbreak away.

I hope my wife is finding all the satisfaction she desired in her dissolution of our marriage. Nature inflicts enough meaningless misery.  I hope the misery she inflicted has some meaning for her, some existential kind of happiness to justify her clarity of vision.

The coming week will be a turning point, the beginning of Adam’s treatment. Let it be a turn towards recovery and health. In which being here together is enough.

Light the first light of evening, as in a room
In which we rest and, for small reason, think
The world imagined is the ultimate good.

This is, therefore, the intensest rendezvous.
It is in that thought that we collect ourselves,
Out of all the indifferences, into one thing:

Within a single thing, a single shawl
Wrapped tightly round us, since we are poor, a warmth,
A light, a power, the miraculous influence.

Here, now, we forget each other and ourselves.
We feel the obscurity of an order, a whole,
A knowledge, that which arranged the rendezvous.

Within its vital boundary, in the mind.
We say God and the imagination are one…
How high that highest candle lights the dark.

Out of this same light, out of the central mind,
We make a dwelling in the evening air,
In which being there together is enough.


Lost, in North Beach

Walking down Columbus Avenue in North Beach early last evening I was dismayed to see so many empty, boarded up storefronts. North Beach was the first neighborhood I grew to know when I moved to San Francisco in 2008. I lived in the soulless Golden Gateway apartments on Battery Street, and North Beach was a short walk away.

Nearly all my favorite shops and restaurants are gone, along with the people who owned them. A few favorites remain: Il Pollaio, with it’s grilled chicken and salad dinners, and Jimmy Schein in his antique print and frame shop on Upper Grant. City Lights Bookstore remains a beacon of literary civilization.

My friend Conor Fennessey abandoned his antique and design shop years ago, a victim of his own fate. Essentially a scoundrel and a thief—but oh what a charming scoundrel and thief!—Conor was blessed with exquisite taste mixed up with Irish wit and an unerring eye to detect an easy sucker to overpay for whatever he was selling.


Nothing in Conor Fennessey Antiques was priced, and everything was expensive. It was commonly understood that Conor would size up a potential customer and price the desired object in question accordingly.

His Yelp reviews were awful. People would come into the shop and ask the price of let’s say a chair and Conor would off the top of his head say $5,500. When the astonished customer would respond with something like, “wow, that’s really expensive,” Conor would look them up and down behind his large black glasses and reply, “well, then I guess it’s not for you.”

Once, when foot traffic and sales were lagging, Conor decided to have a sale, and posted a sign in the front window announcing 20% Sale on Selected Items. As always, nothing in the large store was priced or otherwise marked. Customers would walk in and not seeing any evidence of a sale, ask politely, “which items are on sale?” If Conor suspected the person was merely a tourist walking up Columbus from Fisherman’s Wharf, he would tell them, “the sale is over.” If they looked more promising, he might ask, “what are you interested in?” Then the dance would begin. The customer would point to an item, and Conor would say, “oh, that’s not on sale today.” Or, he might say, “that’s $1,200” to which the customer would come back, “is that the 20% sale price?” and Conor would confirm ,”yes.” All pricing was entirely arbitrary. Inevitably, the customer would become annoyed and muttering some insult, leave the shop.

Eventually Conor’s shady financial dealings with consignees caught up with him and he had to close the store. Nothing was ever the same after that, and too few years later Conor died of a heart attack.

Conor was a special friend, one who showed me a side of San Francisco I would never have known—from the 21 Club bar in the Tenderloin where the Fijian owner would hand me my Diet Coke as cheerfully as serving up hard liquor to the drag queens, prostitutes, and the near homeless regular clientele, to his fancy Pacific Heights friends like Dede Wilsey.

Bill Haskell’s quirky French flea market shop Aria on Upper Grant is gone.


Yone SF is gone—as one Yelp reviewer wrote: Yone is AMAZING!  Seriously, you rarely find places with as much character and uniqueness as this store.  Such a gem.  However, it is the kind of place you should only visit if you have a lot of time and are mentally prepared to fall into another world… totally fairy tale.

Rose Pistola—once the most famous Italian restaurant in the city—gone. So many others, too numerous to relate.

Washington Square is entirely closed and fenced for reconstruction that while not permanent gives the focal point of the neighborhood a desolate, unconstructed air.

I’m told it’s rising rents from greedy landlords, coupled with the length of time it takes to get permitted. The small independent shops can no longer make it.

I’ve been drawn to these tiny one-of-a-kind shops my entire life. And nearly all are gone, the most poignant, and painful, being my beloved Patina Antiques on Bleecker Street in the West Village in New York—gone now for decades.

The size of a shoebox, Patina Antiques was owned by a modest and quiet gay guy and his much younger handsome equally quiet lover. They specialized in small objects of unimaginable oddity and uniqueness.

Years after I left the Village—our apartment was on 5th Avenue at Ninth Street—I learned that the store was robbed and the young assistant murdered during the robbery. The day after, the owner shot himself in grief.

These losses weigh heavily on my heart, some, like Patina Antiques, because of the time in my life it occupied; and others, like Conor Fennessey, because of my friendship with him, and the time we together spent unearthing a city I didn’t know.

And one loss leads to another, the loss of my marriage with my wife weighing me down most recently, and sadly.  Inconstancy comes in many disguises.  When disguised as love, its appearance hurts the most.

Sorrow’s Springs

Tonight I broke down and cried. I’m not ashamed to say so.  It’s the first time since the dissolution of my marriage, and the news of my son’s cancer.  Maybe listening to Susan Graham singing Reynaldo Hahn’s beautiful, and sad, songs wasn’t the right music to listen to while writing to my new daughter-in-law Rachel.

I learned this morning that Rachel’s grandmother Nancy passed away in the early hours of the day, with Rachel there and her family. This wasn’t unexpected, and in so many ways a blessing, ending her slow decline, over several years, from liver cancer.  Nancy was a strong and lovely woman with a huge warm heart. Her passing leaves an irreplaceable hole in her family.  I have the fondest memories of many holiday meals and celebrations at her, and her husband Norm’s, wonderful house in Lafayette.  Rachel and Adam plan to have their wedding, now wedding celebration, there.  I hope they still can.

Still, this is a loss, and this is accursed cancer. It strikes too close to home. Writing to Rachel, knowing all the emotions she’s had to bear, with Adam’s lymphoma news, with her grandmother’s death, with her father’s own, now successful, fight with cancer, the tears just flowed.

I feel very alone here.

I’m thinking of the poem Spring and Fall by Gerard Manley Hopkins.

Márgarét, áre you gríeving

Over Goldengrove unleaving?

Leáves like the things of man, you

With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?

Ah! ás the heart grows older

It will come to such sights colder

By and by, nor spare a sigh

Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;

And yet you wíll weep and know why.

Now no matter, child, the name:

Sórrow’s spríngs áre the same.

Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed

What heart heard of, ghost guessed:

It ís the blight man was born for,

It is Margaret you mourn for.


I, too, am mourning for myself, for what I’ve lost: sorrow’s springs are the same. These are internal states, part of the story I’m telling about myself, and not anything about just what’s happening.  I know this.

Yet, why did my wife have to end our marriage? It’s not really a question but a cry in the dark.  Can’t people be true to one another, in need and loving support, even if love isn’t there?  What does it even mean to say I love you, or…I no longer love you?

It is a failure to accept what’s possible.

I’m lucky, now, to live closer to Adam, to have no other relationship with which to share my time.  A result of being on my own.

What we know and what we feel aren’t the same.

Tonight feelings are overwhelming knowledge.


Free Falling

I’m trying to accept my son’s lymphoma diagnosis as just “what is,” without meaning–and in the language of the Werner Erhard/Martin Heidegger discussion I participated in this morning (A New Possibility of Being Human), a “breach” in the fabric of the petty pace of life: the excessive violence of Being breaks in its appearing, so that this breach itself shatters against Being.

Threatening what’s already there.

“Excessive violence of Being” kind of says it all. Threatening what’s there. No wonder I resist.

Heidegger states that any attempt to analyze Being “constantly has the character of doing violence, whether to the claims of the everyday interpretation, or to its complacency and its tranquillized obviousness”

Trying to analyze my son’s Being has a definite character of doing violence—an exploding question that doesn’t have an answer. There’s no answer to Why.

What I’m working on for myself is to be free from the way I wound up being–thinking of my whole life and this year in particular.

I say “this has been a bad year”– my wife falling out of love, unwanted divorce, dislocation of moving, insufficient income, uncertain prospects, and now my son’s cancer–and I know from the new learning that this is just my story, that there’s no inherent “bad” in this, it’s just what is, and to be free to be and free to act, I have to take all of this, put the past in the past, and create a new future, one that wasn’t ever possible before. To be in a clearing I don’t understand.

And this new “Way”–to be on my Way–has no destination.  It’s the mountain with no top.

What struck me about the Erhard/Heidegger discussion was the proposition that one is inherently at risk when one’s familiar way of thinking is deconstructed, erased, when our subjectivity is rendered “homeless.”  And that risk is the risk of being free to be/free to act.  That’s really risky!

[What would I be, how would I act, if I were truly free to be, free to act?]

To have no home: I feel that literally and metaphorically today, right now. I have no home (not homeless, but having no home) and my future is a question with no answer.

From another part of Speaking Being, the exercise of separating our story from what happened. In my life a lot has happened. The narrative is exhausting.  In some ways erasing the story–the attempt to find language to describe what happened, how I wound up being–is freeing in and of itself, even though it’s hard to accept that this didn’t lead to that in any actual way. What then becomes of autobiography? Much to think about (but not to figure out!)

Why does it still feel like free fall?

Maybe that’s the way it’s supposed to feel. Resisting is futile.

We live in an old chaos of the sun,
Or old dependency of day and night,
Or island solitude, unsponsored, free,
Of that wide water, inescapable.
Deer walk upon our mountains, and the quail
Whistle about us their spontaneous cries;
Sweet berries ripen in the wilderness;
And, in the isolation of the sky,
At evening, casual flocks of pigeons make
Ambiguous undulations as they sink,
Downward to darkness, on extended wings.


Universe Speaking?

I’m sitting in the 2nd floor waiting area at Kaiser Hospital in Oakland while my son Adam is having a chemotherapy port inserted in his chest. It’s unimaginable that this is happening—my beautiful boy diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma a week ago—and yet the step-by-step, procedure-by-procedure regimen leading up to treatment feels weirdly routine and obviously necessary. I’m where I need to be now, and grateful that I can be at his side, now, when he needs the support.

The universe has a mysterious way of speaking. I attach no spiritual significance to it, but is it just coincidence that I’m living here in Oakland, now, close to Adam and all the facilities for his treatment?

Had my wife not dissolved our marriage I would still be living with her in San Francisco. I only moved out on September 1st, a few days before learning from Adam about his condition. Had my good friends Robin and Ken not offered me their house in Oakland god only knows where I’d be living today. Had I not, after twelve years of not driving, decided to get a California license back in June, I would not be driving Adam to appointments. Coincidences? Whatever they are, I’m fortunate to be where I am right now.

Despite the resulting convenience for me, I do not absolve my wife from her decision to end our marriage. She has lost her right to be concerned about me, or my family, however genuine. She gave that away when she gave me away. It still hurts.

Sam came from Boston this past week to cheer up Adam, and me, with his congenitally happy personality and positive spirit. It made an otherwise sad situation joyful and light and filled with cheerful energy—a world of difference.


The peculiar aspect to this is that as the next six months progress, all the chemo, treatments, and new scans will become routine. I hear this from the too many friends I have either undergoing cancer treatment or have done so in the past. Too many. What once was something that happened to other people is now suddenly, from nowhere, happening to my son. And he will deal with it as he must, and we will, too. His intention is to persevere with his 4th year medical school program, with the full support of his faculty and administrators. Everyone is with him.

Soon Adam’s mother will visit, and his older brother David, and perhaps his good friends from high school. His life will be full on all fronts, filled with people who love him.

Best of all he has his lovely wife Rachel, wife as of last Thursday when they moved the date of their marriage up from May 9th, 2020, to right now, immediately following Adam’s biopsy.  Already a physician, Rachel knows what Adam is facing. They face a happy future together.

What is.

What would a parent give of himself to trade places with his child diagnosed with cancer? Anything? Everything? His own life? That I can’t is one of the great tragedies of being a parent.

We look for meaning in illness, some narrative that helps to make sense of the calamity, but there is none. It’s just what is, as serious and unfortunate as what is is. Life can suck big time.

Very, very little in life turns out the way it was promised. So I remember my mother told me if I was a good boy everything would be great in life. I tried it for one day and it didn’t work. People are told that when they graduate life will be wonderful, life will be easy, and it didn’t turn out that way. When you get married it’ll be great but it doesn’t turn out that way. People say when you get divorced it’ll be all right but it doesn’t turn out that way. Most things don’t live up to their promises.

Werner Erhard

When my youngest son Adam called last Wednesday to tell me he had been diagnosed with lymphoma, my insides turned over, my head hurt, my heart hurt; I ached for him, his brothers, his mother, his fiancé, me, all of us. Why Adam. Why my child. Why not me. What would I give for it to be me, not him. Anything and everything. These aren’t questions: they’re cries in the dark.

Strength, courage, positive planning, and doing all the right things–these are the states and steps we need to take. That is what Adam is doing. He and his lovely, supportive fiancé Rachel decided to move up the date of their marriage, to commit right now, and were married in Oakland City Hall on Thursday afternoon. Prudence and love combined to create a memorable ceremony.

The women in my own life have not been there for me. I wonder if my wife feels any remorse at abandoning her husband at a time when a wife’s support would have been gratefully appreciated, and accepted. As for Adam’s mother, her life-long campaign of divisive enmity continues even in the face of family crisis.

We need to be a family united in common cause.

This has not been a good year. The country is in crisis, the world is in crisis, and the environment is beyond crisis. My son’s life is in crisis. My own life has suffered unexpected and unwanted jolts and twists. It feels like free-fall without a landing site.


I followed up with the Vedic astrologer who recently read my horoscope to find out if there were signs of any of this in my chart. He wrote,

The specifics and the severity of the disease would probably be best seen from your son’s horoscope.  That being said, you’re currently running Me Sa (Mercury/Saturn).  In your D12 (which governs children), Me and Sa are both poorly placed.  In your main horoscope, Me rules the house of the 3rd child, and Sa (a natural malefic) is in that house.  Me is also in a nakshatra that can cause problems and is in the 12 house of hospitals.  So yes, unfortunately there is some indications that the third son would be having some problems now. 

That’s no comfort, only interest.


We go from here into the unknown. Not totally unknown, since this disease is treatable and courses of therapy prescribed. More will be revealed next week and the weeks following. All the forces of love and good are on his side.

His brothers will be at his side. His father is at his side.


He who bends to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy;
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sunrise.



I’ve discovered that hands are remarkably sensitive. The dexterity I’ve taken for granted is controlled by a complex network of muscles and nerves that interact with the grace and beauty of Baryshnikov.

I’ve discovered this the hard way. On July 24th I underwent hand surgery on my left hand little finger to correct the tendon tightening disorder called Dupuytrens Contracture. The condition mostly affects men over fifty of Northern European ancestry. Its nickname is Viking Syndrome. [And Niland is a Norse Gaelic name! I guess it was inevitable.]



Hands, like sight, and hearing, and smell, connect us to the world. Hands in so many ways are the most sensual of our senses. We sense hot and cold through touching. Hard or soft. Prickly or smooth.

The sense of touch is the first sensory system to develop in the womb and is likely the most mature at birth.

A man’s hands are more sensitive than his penis. A man loves with his hands. What a man touches he knows.



My surgery was largely successful. Now six weeks out I can move and bend a mostly straightened finger. However, the surgery, and the three weeks of wearing a splint and dressing that immobilized all fingers but the thumb on my left hand, have left my hand with nerve damage that causes pain to my thumb and pointer finger, hand tingling and numbness, and numbness to my entire arm if rested on any surface including being in bed.

I’m on my third support brace to help correct the condition, which hasn’t yet improved very much.

This morning I saw my physical therapist who’s ordered a nerve conduction test to determine whether the tingling numbness is related to my carpal tunnel nerves.  Maybe, maybe not, since my entire arm goes numb when pressured.

What I’ve learned is appreciation for my hands. In Werner Erhard parlance, I’m “out here” with my hands…deep scrutiny of their appearance, sensations, how they bend and stretch, the tightness of my left hand finger muscles, what it feels like to touch different surfaces, hot or cold, my own body. My left hand touch, now, feels entirely different from my right hand, like two different people. My skin feels different to my left hand than it does to my right hand. All those little muscles and nerves playing different right and left hand roles.

I want my left hand returned, back to being synchronous with its mate, and with my whole body: a unified whole of being. Time–and all those hand exercises–is the healer.

Paul Cadmus Tutt’Art@

Free to be


September 1st.

Today I left one life and began a journey to a new life.  Today I left my married life with my wife, a marriage that in truth ended on February 9th when she declared her intention to dissolve our marriage.  Today I moved out of her house.  I will never return.

The warmth of friendships eased the transition.  My friends Barry and Pauline transported my temporary belongings and me across the Bay to Oakland.  My friends Robin and Ken have, with great generosity, lent me their house on Helen Street for four months.  My friends Jeff and Kerri, and their boys Oliver and Cedar, wrapped me in hugs as I left the house.  David called from Mystic, CT to make sure his Dad was doing OK.  Ray called to wish me well on the new path.

The day began, as yesterday, too, with a five-hour live Zoom webinar with Werner Erhard, as part of the Being a Leader/Creating Course Leaders training program.  All participants felt the immense privilege of directly engaging with Werner—at 83, older and wiser.

My dialogue with Werner was about the transition I was making this very day, the end of my marriage and the beginning of new life possibility.  Werner talked about sadness as a fundamental human expression, and the power of poignant sadness to heal the pain of loss.

The quiet of being on my own again also has healing power.  Being within myself, without the causal conversation usual within a marriage, takes getting used to again.  The introspection will be beneficial. I must use this time alone wisely.

I have ahead of me the possibility to create a life that hadn’t existed before.  I cannot repeat the past, the old dependencies that I thought were life sustaining but were instead life constraining: constraints from being free to act, free to be.  Free to live life.  No one shackled me.  I invented these constraints myself, so can free myself, too.

The world has given me this opportunity.  It’s an opportunity to show up and be accountable, be authentic, be myself.  Werner said, “You can’t have a life if you get stuck in trying to figure out the meaning of life, the meaning of your life.”  It’s inherently meaningless.

It begins today.