Locked Doors

We are living in times of a global virus pandemic with no known end, a collapsed economy, and under the spiteful administration of, in the words of The Washington Post fact checkers, “the most mendacious President in U.S. history.”

Yet I dwell on the end of my marriage.  When I come to think I could care less about her—the “her” who forbids her name to be mentioned for fear her identity could reach the future ex-cons whom she’s interviewed over the past few years—something happens that makes me realize what a mistake of judgment I made.

On this past Wednesday my son Adam graduated from medical school, receiving an outstanding student award. Without comment I sent his graduation announcement to my ex-wife, thinking she would be interested in seeing this, especially given the past year Adam endured successfully battling lymphoma. She had once liked Adam, had helped him with advancing his medical prospects, for which both he and I were grateful. She didn’t respond.

There was no need for a response, and I question my emotions for being disappointed.  My own dictum has been put the past in the past. She told me about her resolve to end our marriage that she had clarity of vision, and now apparently her vision clearly tells her never to communicate with me, even to say anything about Adam.  The doors to her heart were never open, and now they’re locked.

She never regarded my family, my boys, as being part of any family unit we shared together. Family was—I assume still is—a charged, unhappy concept for her, especially one’s true family. Still, I had hoped there could have been one last moment of shared happy experience, having nothing to do with us. 

But no.

One Moment

Was there ever a moment when my life was lived outside the walls of the identity I’ve built to describe “me,” the person who “I” am, the person I wound up being?

A moment springing forth from pure being, not from the construction I call myself. A moment of unfiltered bliss. A moment of shocking intensity, unplanned, unanticipated.

This was a question asked by the Forum leader in today’s final session.

A person may only have one or two such moments in life, if lucky. And then that moment lives on in memory as the experience of being alive.

Yes. I relive that moment in my life now and my heart leaps. That perfect moment when suddenly I wasn’t the man I wound up being.

I can feel the warm spring air on Fillmore Street. I can feel the evening; I see the street before me as clearly as the street out my window. I see the Balboa Café, lights gleaming, the street windows open on the warm night. I hear the people inside.


I see E is standing in front of the open café window. We had arranged to meet there following a dinner she had planned with another man, a man she was letting out of her life. It was only the third time we had met. The first time was the fateful dinner party at TM’s house. The second time was for coffee outside in Hayes Valley.

Given the short time we had known one another E had made an unusual request. She had asked whether she could spend the night in my apartment on the night in question. She had planned the dinner in San Francisco and was meant to drive to a rowing competition in Sacramento early the next morning. Staying in the city would eliminate her need to drive home to Menlo Park, and then back through the city again the next morning. I explained that I lived in a studio apartment but had twin beds.

And there she was in front of the Balboa. She didn’t see me approach until the last moment when she turned and without hesitation I took her in my arms and kissed her. I kissed her as I had never kissed anyone before. I have no idea where the confidence, the passion came from. It was a moment of total abandonment.

She responded and everyone seated at the front tables at the Balboa broke out in applause.

In that kiss, that brief moment in time, I was alive. I have never been happier. I had waited my entire life for that moment. I will never again have such a moment. For giving me that respite from the man I wound up being I will love E forever, even though I erased her from my life. That was later.

That warm spring night all the lights of life burned brightly. We walked up Fillmore Street to Gamine. We stayed there briefly; I don’t think E even finished her glass of wine. We went to my apartment, my first apartment in San Francisco, in Golden Gateway on Battery Street. The twin beds lasted for a while. That was the beginning.

Can the memory of that moment out of time be a springboard to a new possibility? Not to be duplicated but to be realized in a new state of being, free to be, free to act? To live a life of my choosing, not constrained by the past, not constrained by my self-defined identity? Can I take that once upon a time spontaneity and project it into my life today? To live without fear? To know there’s no other shoe to drop?

To accept that there’s nothing here but this moment in time, that the past doesn’t exist, the future doesn’t exist, and to accept that this moment is meaningless, and to stand in that meaninglessness and create a future that doesn’t yet exist? To bring forth something from nothing? To declare the possibility of a new way of being? And be it?

The kiss isn’t gone. It’s as real tonight as on that years ago warm spring night on Fillmore Street. E is gone. San Francisco is gone. To be free is also to allow others to be free. To release them from the constraints of how I think about them.

The past is meaningless. Let it go and be free.


Just a boy

Apparently a joke went around in Wuhan during the current virus pandemic:

Client: My wife and I have been quarantined together for 14 days and we’ve decided to get back together. I don’t want to go ahead with the divorce. Can you refund the fee?

Lawyer: 14 days…hmmm….Let’s not rush it: I think we’re still in business.

Having lived under the same roof with my wife for seven months under the dark clouds of impending divorce, the joke is only semi-funny. Maybe it wasn’t meant to be funny, only droll in a sick sort of way. Divorce isn’t funny, ever. And neither my wife nor I saw any humor in the circumstance; it was sad and painful. The lawyer was definitely still in business.

For the past two days, continuing again tomorrow, I’ve been engaged in a refresher Landmark forum for graduates of the in-person Forum. This three-day marathon is online via Zoom, not an ideal platform for such personal work. On the whole it seems to be working well enough.

We’ve been revisiting all of the basic principles, grown “crusty” in our own practice as the forum leader puts it. Rackets, life sentences, always already listening, the way we wound up being, winning formulas, the genesis of identity. The goal—indeed, the title—of this online forum is Free to Be, Free to Act. Only transformation can achieve this. Not knowing anything, or insights, or figuring anything out. Being on the court with the reality of our lives is a lot different than being in the stands. Recognizing that the “I am” we say we are is a created identity, drawn up from our past, described in language.

Much of the material remains fresh in my mind having been core to the UCLA course last summer, and continuing with the bi-weekly reading of the 1978 Forum lead by Werner Erhard, Speaking Being. At UCLA, Werner Erhard led a third of the sessions, driving home the points in his intimate, sometimes confrontational, always compassionate style. It was an immense privilege.

I’ve been revisiting the work I did then, relevant in my life today.  I cry, still, when I read the letter I wrote to my wife about the racket I was running. That she said nothing in response, nothing at all, never acknowledging what I wrote in any way, remains a wound that can’t be healed. Perhaps she thought that any acknowledgement, even a Fuck You, would be providing some kind of satisfaction that she was so very unwilling to provide. She once told me she refused to be compassionate because she knew that’s what I wanted.

I wrote then:


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,

This racket of being the Good Man is my self-imposed life sentence, the way I wound up being. Somewhere deep in childhood I developed the idea that if I were not the good boy, I would be the bad boy. There were no boys in life, only good boys and bad boys. Bad boys lived in bad houses with bad families and did bad things.

I remember once, I must have been in fourth grade, I went home after school with the class bad boy, Eddie Messner. Funny how I remember his name to this day. He lived literally on the other side of the tracks, in a run-down house, with a run-down family. Cars on blocks outside. He was incredibly exciting. I don’t remember what we did, but at some point in the late afternoon his mother shouted out the back door that I had to go home. How I would get home had never occurred to me. There was no one at the Messner household to drive me home (that wouldn’t have occurred to them) so I set off walking in an unfamiliar neighborhood, not sure of where to go. Meanwhile my mother, having learned from one of my other friends where I had gone, had set out in her car looking for me, eventually finding me half way home, in tears. I wasn’t punished—I was never punished for anything—but firmly made to believe that something dreadfully bad had occurred, that I had skirted horrible consequences by the skin of my teeth, that befriending a bad boy like Eddie Messner would only lead to ruin. Good boys didn’t have bad boy friends.

Years later, long after I was sent to a private school where no bad boys went, I came to realize that Eddie Messner wasn’t bad, he was poor. And that to my family associating with a boy who lived in the squalor of poverty was behavior beyond the pale of their self-defined, and fragile, dignity.

To succeed in life, I would need to be a good boy, a refined boy, a reasonable boy. I couldn’t worry my mother by going off with the likes of poor Eddie Messner. At the same time my genteel mother covertly communicated that I couldn’t follow in my father’s footsteps, either. Poverty wasn’t the issue, very much the opposite. He was a handsome, successful businessman, a sportsman, hunter, fisherman, champion shot. He had played minor league baseball. He played golf. Turned out he was philander, adulterer, too. He divorced my mother to marry his best friend’s secretary. Oh no, don’t be like him.

The way I wound up being is to be the good boy, always. Good boys inevitably wind up being victims to their own scheme of life. Good boys try to please, not to provide pleasure but to avoid displeasure. Always waiting for the next shoe to drop, good boys try to anticipate where those shoes are treading, and head them off in another direction.

What I have learned from the women who have been in my life is to be fearful: fearful of their censure, fearful that they will leave. Twice I have been with women who were always already leaving, incapable of commitment. I wanted so desperately to please them, have them love me, have them recognize all the good boy attributes as something to admire, not grow to hate.

Being the good boy among other liabilities didn’t work.

It’s time to move on. No more good boy. No bad boy, either; maybe be just a boy. A man.

Free to be. Free to act.

Loss Upon Loss

We move from loss to loss. This morning I opened Facebook only to learn of my friend Elizabeth G’s death. I couldn’t believe what I was reading, posts from mutual friends, mourning the loss of yet another South Ender.

Elizabeth taught me how to row the club’s old wooden boats, braving the Bay with a novice who needed all the instruction and patience she so kindly offered. Later, Elizabeth was the professional photographer at my wedding, lovingly assembling an album—an album commemorating a happy day that only later dissolved to dust—that I no longer can see. That it should have remained with the marriage dissolver is an irony not worth pondering.

Elizabeth was to have also been the photographer for Adam and Rachel’s wedding celebration scheduled for this past Saturday May 9th. She was excited to carry on the tradition for me and so pleased that we had asked her. Unfortunately, that event was postponed due to the virus lockdown. Would she have been there on Saturday? The news I had this morning was when she was found in her apartment on Monday she had been gone for more than a day.

I look at a photo of Elizabeth, [X], and me, and all I see despite the obvious joy is grief. A person gone. A marriage gone. A time of happiness gone. Those that remain endure the loss. Death is unknowable, yet inevitable. To wield the cruel knife of divorce is a murder of possibility.



These are events in life, in my life, that have happened. They are simply what’s so. By themselves, as events that happened, they have no meaning. I attribute meaning, spinning narratives of loss, and grief, and wrongness. My story. My rackets. I know this.

Every day for the past three weeks I think of my friend Ray, also lying dead to be found in his apartment. His death has left a gaping space in my experience of San Francisco, my connection to a chapter meant to be forever. Ray remains with me in the everyday reminder of the music he loved, having been left his vast collection of cds. Listening to what Ray listened to, distinguishing his taste, what he loved, what he left out of his collection, is a journey of remembrance and connection. I have no such link to my married past, nothing joint to share having been given nothing.

The enforced isolation of the virus pandemic spells too much time dwelling on death, loss, and life’s disruption. I’ve made it to the other side, reasonably unscathed, set down near family and a few old friends. The time will come when visiting becomes possible again. My life of the past twelve years, but for a few lifelong friends, whom I miss intensely, is slowly receding. Today’s news of Elizabeth’s sudden and shocking death is another nail driven ever so quietly into the coffin of that once upon a time life.

Please no more death and dying for a while. The omnipresent horrific national news is bad enough.

Friends, be well, stay with me for a while longer.

Version 4

Sunday Evening at Home

Saturday evening at home, listening to Keith Jarrett playing Handel’s Suites for Keyboard, part of Ray’s CD legacy. UPS delivered four large boxes of CD’s yesterday, hundreds of CD’s, packed and shipped by Ray’s executor Tom, who’s performing a labor of love cleaning out Ray’s so well appointed Pacific Heights apartment, the apartment where Ray lived thirty-six years, with its views of the Bay and Golden Gate off the tiny balcony. The music is Ray’s presence, not a substitute but a comforting feeling of Ray being here in the piano notes. To be the custodian of this musical legacy is an honor I didn’t expect.

I’m home from having had dinner with Sam and family. Sam made for the first time homemade lasagna. The twins were dubious, never having had lasagna before. We told them it was a spaghetti sandwich. Still dubious. Eventually they finished their dinners though not with pleasure, only as a way station on the route to a promised dessert. Sam, Saga, and I on the other hand had seconds.

The otherwise quiet of the apartment, with the Handel piano playing, is peaceful. It’s [x]’s sixty-fifth birthday today. Of course I’m thinking of her, how could I not be. I don’t miss her, though I miss the idea of being married, in the abstract. I can let my imagination conger up the ideal partner, a fiction. Reality is never ideal. Was it ever real? I had ideal for a time. It was brief and it was worth it, worth the heart pain that came later. To have had it remains better than never having experienced that first flush of passion, that first kiss. Maybe there is only ever the one time, the first time, and everything after is a photocopy of the original.

Maybe what [x] offered could never have filled the void left empty and sad inside me. It was different, not less than, simply different. And that made all the difference. I tried to fill it with her, and the very trying was an undoing, an unwanted togetherness that I couldn’t comprehend. The water was too cold.

The man I share with my few guy friends is not the same man who was once with three women. Nor was that man the same man with each of the three women in his life. Different woman/different man. Moments of perfection—perhaps that’s all we get if we’re lucky.

With my male friends perfection, peak experience, isn’t required. With my closest friends—there are only a few—there’s a mental oneness that communicates without words. When I moved to Boston Ray told me he wouldn’t any longer know who to talk to about the things we spoke about, the same line communication without explanation. We simply knew. Charleston. No, not the city in South Carolina. Vanessa Bell’s house. Billy Budd. Benjamin Britten’s opera, not the novella.

The piano music permeates the house, and my memories.

Nothing she ever did evokes similar.