Last November

It is the last day of November, the last November I’ll be in California. I move ‘back east” in January. I loved California because people I loved loved California. And those people have let me down.


I am more and more convinced, sure in my heart, that filing for divorce is a supreme act of cowardice and defeat. It is the Get Out of Jail Free card of life. Barring guns and abuse, filing for divorce is not trying to learn how to live, how to be a human being, an imperfect, fallible, all-too-human, human being. When filing for divorce unilaterally, inflicting unwanted misery on another person, a person presumably once loved, it is doubly dishonorable. It is a moral failure, a failure of character, compassion, a lack of courage and fortitude.

The law makes it so easy. Yes, it costs money, and time, and many notarized signatures, but in the end, it’s just paperwork. There’s no emotion in forms, and declarations, and lawyer’s conference rooms. The legal assistant processing the dissolution of our marriage was courteous to the point of embarrassment on Wednesday when I signed the ten documents handing over my consent to end our marriage without contest. Perhaps he had some notion of the unfairness, to me, of the entire proceeding; he was after all Brenda’s attorney’s assistant. I was the object, not the subject.

I heard tonight from a man who had been with my wife prior to me. She had ended that relationship, too. I was touched to hear from him, and surprised since while swim club friends, we have never been close, perhaps because of the mutual relationship with the same woman. He reached out to say to me I would be missed once I had moved back east.

I like being a couple; I wanted to be a couple. I like the togetherness being a couple implies. I blame myself for not realizing that being a couple was exactly what my wife did not want to be. She felt emphatically constrained by the very idea of coupledom. She saw it as a violation, a metaphorical rape of her being. She ought never to have agreed to marry me, to be married to me. Perhaps she sought to overcome her own demons.  But she had to end it. She told me never to introduce her as my wife, that it meant she was my property.

When one commits to marriage it is an agreement to find possibility out of the limitless ways two people can discover common and uncommon ground together. To file for divorce is to negate that possibility, to limit connection, to end an experiment in living that has no end but death. It’s not about happiness or unhappiness. It’s not even about sex. It’s about a mountain with no top, the journey not the arrival, with all its twist and turns and dead ends and speedways.

Marriage, too, is a bulwark against a world gone mad. Things have fallen apart. It’s true what Yeats wrote, “The best lack all conviction, while the worst/ Are full of passionate intensity.”

Filing for divorce is a lack of all conviction; it’s a failure of imagination.

It is singular and arbitrary and hurtful. And those who inflict it are singular, arbitrary, hurtful, and wrong. Though she justified her decision based on clarity of vision, it’s blindness not right sightedness.

The prayer I invoke is not for reversal of decisions, or fortune–that time has past–but for eternal regret. That may be a vain hope. My sadness may not be shared sadness. The gulf is deep and wide. She was clear about that.

So be it.


I’m sorry, I loved you.

I’m sorry, I loved you. I’m sorry I loved you. The comma changes everything. Sorry for you, sorry for me.


It’s Thanksgiving 2019. I’m having dinner with Adam and Rachel, and Rachel’s family at her parent’s house. It’s been a tradition for ten years, before I was married, with my wife, and now without her.   In years past, the family gathered at Rachel’s grandparents, her father’s parents, at their marvelous house in Lafayette. Her grandmother Nancy loved holidays—all holidays and especially Thanksgiving. Nancy died this past September, only a few weeks after Adam’s lymphoma diagnosis. It was not unexpected. She had been slowly failing from liver cancer for more than two years, holding on far longer than her doctors predicted. Still, it will be sad this year without her. And sad without my wife.

Will she think of it, too?

We have endured so much change since last Thanksgiving. I was happy then. Yet, on our 4th anniversary the month before, my wife told me she was sorry our marriage hadn’t turned out the way we both had hoped. I said I wasn’t unhappy. That wasn’t entirely true. She said to me in the car as we drove to have an anniversary dinner at Greens, “you’re a good man.” I heard the past sad tense but remained silent.

I should have known then that the end, for her, had come.

I’m sorry, I loved you. I knew what was then unspoken, but couldn’t admit that things couldn’t change, that closeness might come again, intimacy, touching, saying what needed to be said. I wanted it so dearly. I thought there was hope, closer times ahead.

I’m sorry, I loved you.

Thanksgiving is a day to be grateful. Give thanks. Be with our families, the people we love. On past Thanksgivings with my wife I began the day with the annual South End Thanksgiving Alcatraz swim. I was so pleased to share this, even when she wasn’t swimming. My most memorable Alcatraz—a swim I don’t like very much—was four years ago very early on a cold clear dark morning when the entire crossing was in moonlight. It was magical. Being married to my wife, for a while, was magical.

I’m grateful to be with Adam today, that his early treatment results are positive. The chemicals are working, the tumors undetectable. I would trade my life for him to be well. If it only worked that way.

I’m grateful for Sam and David, and their families. Maybe someday there will be a Thanksgiving when we’re all together. Still, there’s a broken branch even then.

I envy families who have kept it all together. My wife always told me we create our own families who may or may not have a biological bond. I guess I’ve never had that, having only ever conceived of my family as people I’m related to one way or another.

I wonder if she remembers our Thanksgivings together. Of course she remembers, what I mean is with fondness—or just an obligation she couldn’t easily avoid. Thanksgiving last year must have been more poignant than I realized, since she knew then she would ask me to leave. There are no photos of us.

I’m sorry, I loved you. I’m sorry, I think too much about all of this. Yesterday signing all ten marriage dissolution documents at my wife’s attorney’s office my heart beat too quickly, too deeply. The finality of the circumstance hit hard. Ironic the signing occurred the day before the day of giving thanks. Like the irony of February 9th, the dreaded 9th of February, doubly ironic being Bobby Roper’s memorial. Cold water mixed with sadness mixed with heartbreak: a tragic cocktail. I don’t think the irony occurred to her.

For the last three years of our marriage she never let me see her naked, even in bed, the woman who would swim in her birthday suit on her birthday at the South End, who placed little to no value on propriety. Signs I saw, and kept inside.

Good times, sad times.

I’m sorry I loved you.

Darkness in the Daytime


“Perhaps thinking everything through to the end was not a healthy thing to do.” Rubashov. Darkness at Noon.

Thinking the dissolution of my marriage to my wife through to the end is undoubtedly not a healthy thing to do. It becomes obsessive in its search for answers to questions that were never asked. This thinking has become obsessive.

Tomorrow I must go to my wife’s attorney to sign the final papers of marriage dissolution. There are ten documents, each detailing some aspect of the final settlement and judgment. I did not contest the divorce, unwanted as it was. There was little point to add anger and revenge, much less expense, to the process. B did not want that, nor did I. We had both suffered previously at the hands of vengeful spouses.

Still, the finality of the documentation, witnessed by a Notary, cuts deep into my ever-thinner skin. Every ounce of me knows I am better off. The freedom I’m enjoying living on my own, even in these temporary conditions, is telling me what I missed. Just being comfortable in my own space, listening to the music I like, painting, not worrying about toothpaste in the sink or an open drawer, is a relief and a pleasure, all the harsh edges gone.

I miss her companionship, even if we were only roommates sharing a house for most of our time together. I miss our dog. I have fond memories of the times early in our marriage when I think she did love me. I loved her, and some kernel inside of me loves her still. It’s what drives the obsession with questions that cannot be answered.

I do not miss being judged, and found mostly guilty.

Still, I ask why, and try to piece together a narrative that explains it all, like some grand unifying theory.

The Koestler quote at the beginning wasn’t random. There’s a red thread that runs through her life that connects her most formative experiences with what came to pass with me. This is, of course, entirely speculative, based only on the bits and pieces of personal history she chose to relate and what others have told me.

I could be wrong. Maybe she divorced me only for purely mundane reasons with no underlying drama of preordained inevitability: wanting too much togetherness, not enough money, always being there, invasive. Hurtful things, spoken with her clarity of vision. She said I would try to anticipate what she wanted in order to please her, for fear of displeasing her. That was true.

The red thread I see is her adherence to old principles of her second youth.  In its purest form these principles sought to abolish social injustice throughout the world. My wife committed her life and career to this ideal. If social justice could be achieved, what price would be too high? Maybe millions would have to die for a billion to be happy—would that be worth it?

Arthur Koestler wrote, “A … revolutionary is forever damned to do what he loathes most: become a butcher in order to stamp out butchery, sacrifice lambs so lambs will no longer be sacrificed.”

I’m not suggesting she sacrificed lambs, only me.

What I am suggesting is a steely harshness that made compromise impossible. There was no middle way. Loyalty to her principles was more important than acceptance. It would have been “bad faith.”

I saw these principles at work in many aspects of her life, her relationships. I wasn’t the only one to experience their wrong end. I wasn’t blind—even seeing them too late.

I will get through the legal document signing tomorrow, and move on, and away. I’ve booked my one-way flight to Boston, leaving January 4th.

The darkness will remain in the night, where it belongs, and the sun will shine during the day.


I go about life being the way I am always already being: I am always already being Niland.

I am Niland-ing the moment I wake up and when I close my eyes in bed at night. There’s no moral judgment implied. Niland-ing is neither good nor bad. It’s what is, as the way I am always already being.

The idea here for me is to recognize Niland-ing for what it is, to accept it, and also to accept there may be another way of being that creates a future that isn’t predicated on being this always already Niland; isn’t predicated on the way I wound up being.

This opens up a world of possibility.

Internalizing the act of Niland-ing means recognizing, and accepting, that everyone else is going about their lives being the way they always already are being.

What if everyone could drop their always already way of being, and open up to the possibility that their way of being might be a limitation, a barrier to the actualization of potential? Of being truly free to be, free to act?

Being Niland for sixty-eight years has been a comfort, and a burden. Carrying the weight of Niland has been a heavy load. Time to give it up.

Being Niland didn’t work with my wife being herself. (Of course I would go here.)

She was always already herself. She couldn’t be anyone other than the woman she wound up being. She couldn’t imagine a way of being that wasn’t always already who she was. And that woman was a totalitarian state: rigid, inflexible, unbending in what she called her clarity of vision.

Time to give THAT up, too. She’s on her own, as she wanted to be.

The wide open opportunity, the mystery, is discovering who the Niland is who isn’t the Niland who wound up being Niland: the already always Niland. We know that guy. The man we don’t know, yet, is the Niland who’s free to be, free to act. That Niland can’t be figured out from the Niland who’s typing these words now. There’s no future here.

It’s late in the day to be creating a future that hasn’t existed. Better late than never. The future is always possible.

Against my wishes, against my desires, my wife has given me this opportunity to create a future that hasn’t existed before. I don’t thank her for it, but I recognize its occurrence in my life. It’s what’s happened.

It seems I will have to see her in December. I will not sacrifice my own pleasures, my last commitments, because of some Niland-ing emotions causing me to be fearful of seeing her. She is just herself, being herself.

A person I once knew.


Not to Yield


Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’

We are not now that strength which in old days

Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;

One equal temper of heroic hearts,

Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Tennyson was twenty-four when he wrote his famous poem about the aged Ulysses. He foresaw the old man he became, as famed as his hero, and projected the end as he was just beginning.

All times I have enjoy’d

Greatly, have suffer’d greatly, both with those

That loved me, and alone, on shore, and when

Thro’ scudding drifts the rainy Hyades

Vext the dim sea

I am no Ulysses; I am no Tennyson. I am only a man who perhaps like them cannot rest from travel. It seems that’s what I do; it’s what I’ve done…with those that loved me, for a while, and many seas vexed.

I can list the moorings, the stopovers: Pittsburgh, Maine, Dublin, New York, Barcelona, Singapore, Melbourne, Paris, Tokyo, back to New York, San Francisco. And now Boston soon.


I have not become a name. I am only another Bozo on the Bus, as my friend Greg likes to say. Yet…

I am a part of all that I have met;

Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’

Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades

For ever and forever when I move.

How dull it is to pause, to make an end,

To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!

My margins do fade forever, margins that separate the chapters of my life, one following another—too frequently it sometimes feels.


A new chapter is soon beginning: I hadn’t expected it; I hadn’t wanted it. I resisted it when I thought there was a kernel of hope that the old chapter could continue. Someone else decided it was over.

Life piled on life

Were all too little, and of one to me

Little remains: but every hour is saved

From that eternal silence, something more,

A bringer of new things

I’m looking forward to that bringer of new things. Age doesn’t diminish the quest for new. Perhaps it even enhances that desire, speeds it up. There is less time left to enjoy all the new things that may come my way. The end is closer than the beginning.

I wish my wife hadn’t ended our marriage. I feel pathetic writing that, given all I experienced, what I sacrificed, how my life’s been changed. It would have been a grander plan to enjoy new things together. But little remained, and in the end nothing remained.

And this gray spirit yearning in desire

To follow knowledge like a sinking star,

Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

I do yearn in desire. Last night at dinner Adam asked me if I wanted a new relationship in my life. I’m unsure. I do yearn for the warmth of touch, of intimacy. It wasn’t there anymore before. Desire was removed in my marriage. Yet, to risk love again is to open myself to potentially much joy and potentially much pain. They seem to come in equal measure, for me.


Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;

Death closes all: but something ere the end,

Some work of noble note, may yet be done,

Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.

My Ayurvedic horoscope foretells spirituality and service to others as my next phase, beginning January, when I move East. I like that, and whether it’s a prediction or a wish, it doesn’t matter: some work of noble note. It’s a lodestar.


Come, my friends,

‘T is not too late to seek a newer world.

Push off, and sitting well in order smite

The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds

To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths

Of all the western stars, until I die.

I’m sailing to sunrise—maybe a more appropriate destination. I love that my college’s symbol is the sun: Bowdoin sitting on the coast of Maine being the first college the sun’s rays touch each morning. It’s a warming, heartening thought. Despite the cold and snow and dark Novembers, Massachusetts will suit me. I feel it. It’s a return to where I’ve been happy.


It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:

It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,

And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.

The journey out continues. May the gulfs recede. May I reach the Happy Isles.


I am I am

All the things I had ever heard, and read, and all those hours of practice, suddenly fell into place. It was so stupidly, blindingly simple that I could not believe it. I saw that there were no hidden meanings, that everything was just the way that it is, and that I was already all right…I realized I was not my emotions or thoughts. I was not my ideas, my intellect, my perceptions, my beliefs…I was simply the space, the creator, the source of all that stuff. I experienced Self as Self in a direct, unmediated way. I didn’t just experience Self; I became Self. Suddenly I held all the information, the content, in my life in a new way, from a new mode, a new context…I am I am.                                     Werner Erhard

Everything that shows up in life is living.

It’s just the way that it is. Everything else is storytelling.

I am working on internalizing the concept that I am not my emotions, my thoughts, my ideas, my intellect, my perceptions, my beliefs. That I am only the space where all that stuff occurs, without meaning. That I am already all right. All right with the world, and with myself.

A lot has shown up in my life this year. The dissolution of my marriage. Moving from my house and living in temporary lodging. Downsizing. Losing my dog. My son being diagnosed with lymphoma. Planning to move across the country. Hand surgery. Accepting the finality of the woman I married no longer loving me. Being alone.

Obviously of all these occurrences, my son’s cancer is the most concerning. My dislocation is minor, and temporary. He appears to be responding well to treatment; time will tell. Still, this shifts the earth in an unanticipated and unwanted way. Nothing that’s happened this year has been “wanted.”

Last night I dreamed of my wife, and our dog Bebe, for the first time since moving out. In my dream we met unplanned on the street. At first Bebe didn’t recognize me but then suddenly he did and was overjoyed with doggie emotion, leaping onto my chest, licking my face. My wife was just there, a bystander. I didn’t want to talk to her.

I don’t want to talk to her. I don’t want to see her. Let her live her life alone away from me. She has been the cause in the matter, inflicted the damage, no doubt saving me from the tranquillized obviousness of our passionless, sexless marriage. I don’t need her to remind me. I dread accidently seeing her.

But then, this too is only my internal state: sulky emotions, bittersweet regrets, fears and anxieties. (She always told me I was an anxious man.)

Nicolas Kristof in the New York Times today wrote about loneliness:

Loneliness increases inflammation, heart disease, dementia and death rates, researchers say — but it also simply makes us heartsick and leaves us inhabiting an Edvard Munch canvas.

Heartsick. Yes, that’s what I’ve experienced this year. I’ve recovered from a far worse case before, and will again. Friends help; my sons help.

I don’t fear living on my own, though enjoy the companionship of living together with someone. I enjoyed living with my wife, even when she was not for me, not really with me. She was with me only a very short time.

I want to be reunited with my books, my things, the stuff that makes my daily life mine. I am grateful for where I’m living now, but I’m housed, and yet homeless. My mail will be screwed up for a year.

I am I am. I am the man I am. I can’t be another. Aging scares me, as it should. I see too many people dying. Adam’s chemo nurse told me the cheery news that at our age, a third of the people we know will die before we do. Likely of cancer.

Still, I strive for selfhood. To experience Self as Self. And not all these emotions. All this storytelling.

I’m tired of the story.


A Different Journey

Leaving San Francisco for Boston in January inevitably means leaving people behind, friends I have made over the past eleven years. Good friends will remain good friends. They always have in my life. And with Adam here in Oakland my returning to the Bay Area is certain, and likely frequent. My close friends will stay close in my orbit.

Still, many friends will be left behind, and in time fade into people I once knew.

I often think about the sets of friends I’ve made here, associated with chapters of my life, the circle of friends that came with EL for example—people I saw all the time for a year or two, and then never again. They were friends of hers, and I was merely the accompanying guy, the guy who came along with her, never the main event.  A few I thought were actually my friends, too, or came to be. They didn’t last, even when we had other connections outside of my relationship. A few were disappointments.

It’s entirely my decision to leave, to go back East as they say here. I could stay, and have reasons to stay. While I believe my decision to move to Boston is the right decision for me now, I’m apprehensive. It’s another new start, a beginning when I thought I was on a path of forever ending, of spending my years together with the woman I married, the woman I loved, in this city by the Bay. I never contemplated a different journey.

Is it her fault? The rupture to my life’s plan was not my decision. It was entirely hers. Maybe we could call her the combustible spark, the explosion that blew up my life. My decisions after that ending are mine.

A large piece of my decision to move away is to be away from her. I don’t think she understands this. We have too many points of possible intersection, too many friends in common, the South End, shared likes. I thought I might be able to be “friends.” I haven’t seen her for two months and as the weeks pass the thought of seeing her upsets me. I don’t want it. I was in our old shopping neighborhood today and before venturing into our favorite grocery store I carefully checked out the aisles before wandering around. I’m not going back there again. There are two occasions coming in December where I could see her, and one I will definitely avoid even though my presence is requested. I don’t need the reminder of the hurt and dislocation she has inflicted.  I’m fine without it.

Yet, to move away from her, I also move away from many friends who have become part of my life here: my guys at Cow Hollow; my friends at the South End. Friends I’ve made though work. Maybe I use the term “friends” too loosely. My wife often corrected me when I would refer to someone as a friend, and she would say, no, he’s just an acquaintance. I know, even as her husband, I had “no equity.” She told me so.

I look back at all the friends I’ve had and lost, people, now, I just once knew. I guess that’s the way life is, or at least contemporary life. We don’t stay in one place. Relationships are unstable and don’t last. Commitments aren’t commitments. There’s no social glue; many weak ties. No love that’s true.

On a brighter note, I’ve discovered through this year’s unwanted experiences—the end of my marriage, Adam’s cancer—that my true friends, wherever they are, are truer than ever. Time and distance have no relevance. I am immensely grateful to them. I am lucky to have them with me, now. They will remain with me always.

Maybe this is my future. My friends are spread out over the map of the world. I wish I could see them more often, and perhaps less encumbered I will be able to do so. Still, we are friends, real friends, more meaningfully than many whom I see all the time.

My world will grow larger.

It’s a different journey.