August 31, 2020

I meant to write about our last walk.

We had nothing to do but gaze—

Seven years, now nothing but a diverting smile,

Dalliance by a river, a speeding swan…

the misleading promise

to last with joy as long as our bodies,

nostalgia pulverized by thought,

nomadic as yesterday’s whirling snow,

all whiteness splotched.

Robert Lowell

One year ago today we said goodbye in her living room, me behind the leather coach, she standing in the open space reserved for yoga. She said she was sorry our marriage didn’t work out, or a few words to that effect. I said I was, too. That was all. The end lasted perhaps less than a minute. Then she was gone– as I had requested, in order to spend the last night alone before moving out forever on September 1st.  No sad goodbyes at the garage door, at least not sadder than the one we had standing in the living room.  Sad enough.

I saw her briefly twice since that August afternoon: once, fleetingly, when she handed me mail and lied to me at a South End Rowing Club members’ meeting; a second time at the South End holiday party where she refused to acknowledge my presence.

Misleading promises…that might be the swansong of our marriage. Promises never kept. Both guilty as charged. Nothing lasting with joy as long as our bodies. No joy. No bodies.

One year is a short time in a person’s life and an eternity. From that afternoon a year ago, still standing in her house, to today in my apartment in Boston, I chart a journey measured in more than the 3,100 miles that separate us: a journey of renewal.

She always said, “Plan the work, work the plan.” That’s what I did—(though she accused me of inconsistency.) The pieces fell into place, in sequence, on the schedule she allowed me to set: complete the spring teaching semester; acquire a driver’s license; take the leadership course at UCLA; undergo hand surgery; pack up all my belongings; rent and load the Pod; move out September 1st. Clockwork.

Through the exceptional generosity of friends I was given a house in West Oakland in which to live for the remainder of the year, a gesture for which I will be always grateful. The house, combined with my friends’ support, proved to be the transitional respite from the deadening despair of divorce that I badly needed. My friends understood; they knew her longer than I did and saw what I had failed to see.

Days after moving being in West Oakland took on a new significance. It couldn’t have been foreseen. On September 5th I learned from Adam that he had been diagnosed with lymphoma. Treatment was nearby at Oakland Kaiser Hospital. I was able to accompany him to the bi-weekly chemo sessions, drive him home…be there with him when it mattered most.

The autumn sped by: teaching at Hult, weekends with Adam, Adam’s Point farmer’s market, walking to West Oakland Bart, discovering open studios, swimming at the South End.  Sam visited. David visited. Thanksgiving and Christmas with Rachel’s family. Then it was time to move. I was sad to be leaving Adam during his final weeks of chemo. He was in good hands with Rachel, her family, and his Bowdoin friends.

I loaded a final lot of boxes, my bike, odds and ends, into the Pod, stored close by in West Oakland.  It would wait for shipment until I had a place to live. Work the plan.

January/February with Sam, Saga, Miki, and Ethan: a safe and comforting haven.  On March 1st I moved to my apartment in the Orient Heights section of East Boston, directly across from Constitution Beach. Purposeful for open water swimming, a walk to Sam’s, and a lucky choice once grounded by Covid-19.  I’ve suffered little if at all.

It’s the last evening in August, an evening one year ago I spent alone in a house that was never my home, least of all on that night. I had only my packed suitcases to remind me I once lived there. Tonight, while only a rented apartment, my place is truly my home. Maybe it’s the privilege of all single dwellers, that everything is ordered to one’s own taste. Sharing space can be harder than sharing a life.

I’m listening to a classic recording of Victoria de los Angeles singing Madame Butterfly. I found the CD set in a used bookstore in West Stockbridge only a week ago. I’m a sucker for the pure glorious rapture of this opera. I’ve heard it at the Met, the Berlin Opera, and the Munich Opera.  It never fails. I thank my late friend Ray, and his legacy CD collection, for rekindling my joy in music—especially now.

What have I learned during this year away from her, and my life with her, and my life in California?

That the northeast is my home. The golden hills never sparked joy or any sense of belonging. I was always an expat.

That neither Ellen nor Brenda were mistakes. But establishing these relationships as a piece of my identity was.

That my own freedom to be, freedom to act is not dependent on another.

That I love open water swimming.

That my best friends remain my best friends.

That marriage is no longer a desired state.

That being close to the geography I love is important.

That life isn’t as long or as happy as we want it to be.

That happiness begins inside.

That I miss my dog, but don’t want one on my own (as much as a solace he would have been during this novel shutdown).

Now, a year away, I’m glad not to be there. I didn’t feel that then, or even know it was possible. I think the outcome could have been otherwise had there been a will to make it so.  She didn’t have that will, and I realize now the end was inevitable.

I am back where I belong.

Late August Afternoons

The immense privilege of late August afternoons at Midwood, the wide expanse of the upper Hudson River flowing beyond the lawn, the dark hills of the Catskills, and the lady of the house seated on the great porch overlooking a view that could have been painted by one of the luminous Hudson River School artists living just up the road.

The immense privilege of these late August afternoons at Midwood: a respite from all the many ills that afflict this summer of 2020.  The Covid-19 pandemic, Trump, George Floyd and racial discord, protests, fires consuming California—the ancient Anderson Redwood Forest in Guerneville burnt to stumps some nearly a thousand years old. It’s hard to find hope in any of this. Yet, here on the Hudson River in Columbia County, time stands still. Morning mist on the river lifts to sunlit afternoons and dazzling sunsets before the stars come out at night, and the lone green channel marker blinks across the water. No other lights mare the darkness of the night horizon on the farther shore.

The immense privilege of these late August afternoons at Midwood: in this solitude I swim naked in the warm river, snaking through the water lilies to reach open water, the current at times so strong I swim in place. The rare freedom of my unclothed body only matched by the clouds floating above. Free to be, for a moment in time.

Can this be real?

Time can never relax like this again.

I’m reminded of Richard Murphy’s most beautiful poem, The Woman of the House. I’m not writing an elegy here, as he was, but I, too, am writing of a woman of the house, the woman who created this gracious home from a Livingston family legacy, a place where grace resides and beauty is a by-word of everyday living. Every time I’m here I wonder if it will be my last. The lady of the house is ninety-three. And yet another late August has come and I’m here again, participating in the immense privilege of life at Midwood.  Life is slower but undiminished. Time itself seems to have slowed down.

It was her house where we spent holidays,

With candles to bed, and ghostly stories:

In the lake of her heart we were islands

Where the wild asses galloped in the wind.

No wild asses here, but oh the wind did blow on Thursday when the sky erupted in thunder and lightning, downpour obscuring the river and mountains in a tremendous grey blanket of rain. By night the stars were back and dinner on the veranda with friends, to me one old, one new.

And those happy days, when in spite of rain

We’d motor west where the salmon-boats tossed,

She would sketch on the pier among the pots

Waves in a sunset, or the rising moon.

I’m thinking of other times here, times when I brought the women in my life to share this out-of-time experience of hospitality and warmth.  The many shad parties with Evelyn, the one with Ellen, the last time here with Brenda. Did she know then she no longer loved me, would find a way to end our marriage? It was the last thing that would have occurred to me then… but now, when I remember back it’s only the wistful end I see. I see it in her eyes, in the way she never held my hand, or showed any loving affection, the way she never touched me, never held me close. No lovemaking in our bedroom named Washburn, its antique quilt covering only a bed for sleeping.

They are gone, those women in my life. And yet I am here in the immense privilege of Midwood. Does friendship trump love? It’s lasted more than forty years—so the answer must surely be yes.

Maybe that’s love by another name.

This time I’m in the far bedroom, Bamboo, named for the eight-piece craftsman bedroom set adorned with bamboo inspired carving, a charming period piece of whimsical delight. I fall asleep at night to the sound of cicadas coming through the river -facing  windows, broken only by the occasional northbound Amtrak train.

Back in Boston this time away is a healing memory, late August afternoons in my blood. I have jam from Montgomery Place to see me through the winter (peach, apricot, blueberry, blackberry, raspberry, black currant) and a small painting of the Hudson at Midwood to revive what fades in my eyes. I will paint many more scenes myself as the season wanes.

The immense privilege of late August afternoons at Midwood will last when the inevitable more ephemeral days to come alter life in petty ways that must be fought against with all the energy I can muster, a debt repaid every day.

Please one more time. One more afternoon at Midwood, with the lady of the house laying the table for dinner, with friends old and new, civilization realized, out of time, out of place in this dumbed-down, tragic world and time we live in.

Through our inheritance all things have come,

The forms, the means, all by our family ;

The good of being alive was given by them,

We ourselves limit that legacy.

Zoom Illumination

Was she a coward because I was also on the Zoom call, fully visible?  Is that why she never turned her camera on, as everyone else did during the Board meeting? Or was remaining visually anonymous her already always fear of exposure, of commitment?  Of hiding in the name of privacy? That someone might see and see through her moral hypocrisy? Is that why she could only affirm in Chat others’ braver and public—publically visible—comments on divisive topics? Such a small but illuminating example of the way she wound up being.

Why do I care is the better question to ask. Yet I ask these questions anyway. Yes I know it’s obsessive. For god’s sake put the past in the past and forget about her.

She imagines she’s such a revolutionary, wearing her ruby-studded hammer and sickle pin in solidarity with people she never associates with. Meanwhile she married me. Such contradiction isn’t an excuse for hurtful behavior. It must confuse her as much as everyone else.  (But no, she told me she had clarity of vision in her decision to dissolve our marriage, unilaterally, without compromise, without attempting to create a new possibility.)

Meanwhile it will be soon a year since I moved out of her house, out of her life, our life together.  A year. It feels like yesterday, standing in her living room, saying goodbye for the last time, nearly the last words we said directly to one another. The only other time, a few months later, she lied to me when it would have been so simple, so gracious, to have told the truth. A yes rather than no.

Her refusal to acknowledge what I knew to be so summed up a lifetime of avoidance, a lifetime of leaving.

The only other time I saw her she refused to acknowledge my presence. Is this the person she holds herself out to be?

I will never make the mistake again of trying to fit into someone else’s life. Maybe it was a mistake trying to fit into her life. She said it was, that she didn’t want me to fit into her life. though not to have would have been a life so separate as to question its validity as a marriage.  I gained much by fitting in, and was happy to do so. My losing was a loss for both of us that she could never admit.

Never trying again may mean never having another relationship. Never is a long and lonely time. I’m content with that. That doesn’t mean a loss of companionship, or even sex, Where this will come from I don’t know.  I refuse to give up my new freedom to be, to act—or to ask someone else to align with me. The ingredients to such alignment quickly spoil. To her credit she taught me this lesson.

What do I want now? Easier to say what I don’t want.


August 2020

August 2019 was the last month we lived together. It was the seventh month of living under the dark cloud of our marriage dissolving.  Month by month, day by day, without much drama, the life we once had together, thin as it turned out to be, edged closed to exit. Communication ceased. The drawn-out timing was my request to which she reluctantly agreed. It was hard, maybe terrible, for both us.  As I expressed myself here as elsewhere, she retreated deeper inside the protective shell that shielded her from explanation, responsibility.  She feared quotations of the truth and went to extreme, even legal, lengths to suppress any revelation.  The truth can bear only so much sunlight.

August 2019 was a difficult month. Recovering from surgery with a bandaged and unworkable left hand, I had to sort, sell, and pack all of my earthly belongings to be ready to move out of her house on September 1st.  Tension in our house while rarely breaking the surface was in the air we breathed. I have said before thank god we had our dog Bebe-a loving distraction from the lack of love between us. It was a time of unrelenting sadness. Was what could have been ever possible?

August 2020.  I have been gone nearly a year. We have had no communication but for a few lawyer letters summing up the divorce and an impersonal forwarding of my mail. She refuses to communicate. The Covid-19 shutdown and restrictions have undoubtedly not given her the return-to-life-before-Niland she envisioned, though I’m sure she’s happier on her own. A shared life is not in her DNA, as her many marriages and broken off relationships prove. Already always leaving is a thwart to commitment.

I’m beginning my sixth month in Boston. I moved across the country to be away from her, and to be closer to roots and geography I love. The pandemic has slowed my plans, too. I rely on my friends in San Francisco, unable to begin making new friends here. I am lucky and grateful to have family, my son Sam and his wife Saga and twin boys, nearby. Since moving in January one of my three closest friends in San Francisco has died. My best friend Josh remains in close contact and will remain so. We miss one another and compensate with video calls and our book club of two. My other friend Michael while a special presence in my life is occupied with his role as director of City Center at the San Francisco Zen Center—especially consuming in these viral times.

Do I resent her for ending our marriage?  I resent her more for not being the person I thought she was. I’m better off now, on my own, in nearly every way. A loveless, sexless, judgmental marriage isn’t what I ever wanted. The 2019 upending of my life that she caused is past–the past put in the past drawer of life. The logistics all fell into place, with help of generous friends and family who provided shelter, support, and love. I was never alone.

What’s so right now is the continuing pandemic with all its attendant uncertainties; the daily horror of Trump and his sycophantic Republicans; BlackLivesMatter and social unrest. And just last week a fatal shark attack on a swimmer off Bailey Island in Maine!

Amidst this atmospheric gloom, I swim in Boston Harbor nearly every day, teach my students, paint watercolors, read, listen to Ray’s huge collection of classical CDs, attend Zoom meetings, connect with friends virtually. My life is full.

I miss my dog. I miss companionship and the intimacy that love could inspire. I don’t miss her.


What is showing up in my life regarding integrity, being a person of integrity, and being whole and complete, is that I have compartmentalized my integrity, in different ways at different times, in order to look good, avoid conflict, or otherwise not come clean about being out of integrity. This has affected workability in key—in some ways the most important—aspects of my life.

If I look at integrity as an accurately completed jigsaw puzzle picture of my life, there are pieces missing, rendering the picture incomplete, not whole. Some areas are beautifully finished, the picture is stunning; other areas look like Swiss Cheese.

For example, there’s integrity in my work, with my sons, with friends, with my commitment to AA, with the general world around me. Then there’s integrity with my former wife, and with myself.

In the UCLA Being a Leader course, and in much of the follow-up work, as well as in my own intensive, often obsessive, writing, I have dwelled much on the 2019 end of my second marriage. This was not a mutual decision; my wife chose to dissolve our marriage after four and a half years. While it’s been convenient for me to take my wife’s lack of integrity measure, that’s neither my purpose here nor helpful.  My own lack of integrity is what’s at issue.  Had my integrity been whole and complete throughout our time together, would it have made a difference?  I can’t rewrite the past. There were painful consequences.

There were many veils of invisibility, I can see now, at play during those years together: fear of acknowledging, and accepting, that our marriage wasn’t working; fear of not expressing my own unhappiness in a constructive manner that could have led to an honest conversation rather than unspoken resentments; not taking responsibility for not honoring my word about certain financial commitments (no cost/benefit analysis of the consequences); for remaining silent as an alternative to voicing my word, and honoring it.

Had my integrity been whole and complete perhaps my wife might not have fallen out of love, might not have come to not trust me, might not have been clear in her vision of needing to be on her own, not with me. At base, my side of the street would have been clean. I will never know.

Already-always listening

We talk in Creating Course Leaders about climbing a mountain with no top.

What I have discovered about my already-always listenings is that they exist in a well with no bottom.  As soon as one already-always listening is distinguished, another one is revealed, one layer beneath, down ever deeper into the person I wound up being.

I’m reminded of the final lines of Wallace Steven’s Sunday Morning:

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.

Downward to darkness, on extended wings: I experience an expansion of self-awareness as I dwell deeper and deeper in my already-always listening.  I have come to realize that everything I perceive is through these already-always listening multi-layered filters.

I meet another person and before they ever speak I have processed my perception of them though a complex system of signs and codes that calibrate my acceptance of their very being. Speech adds another set of filters. Prior or newly acquired background information about them fills in the gaps.  All this before actual experience.

Years ago I took a two-day interviewing skills seminar and the facilitator claimed that the majority of hiring decisions were made in the first ten seconds of an interview.

One story I tell about myself is that I have escaped the WASP strictures of my privileged white male upbringing, that I have grown into a progressive liberal man free from all the conservative stereotypes that label implies. And while this is true in a political sense, I know, now, that my already-always listening ingrained since birth is grinding away in the background. I know my hierarchies of what I regard as human acceptability.  I have been able to distinguish between openness in my head versus openness in my life.

I realize that while I may say I have few prejudices of race, sex, education, origin, style, or other markers of human potential, my comfort zone of friendship lies in a narrow range of parameters—very particular parameters defined idiosyncratically by the things and characteristics I value most, and aspire to, in my own life.

I once compiled a list of the one hundred books one must have read to be regarded as a civilized human being; and I meant it. I have preferential, already-always listening, hierarchies of colleges and universities, States, musical taste, countries and nationalities, clothes (shoes!), physical size (obese people trigger an automatic negative response: they’ve lost control of their lives), food and dining, the list goes on and on—or deeper and deeper into that bottomless well of already-always listening. All of the boxes are rarely ticked.

While once I might have characterized these traits as discriminating, in a good sense, I realize now how confining these already-always listening filters have narrowed my life experience.

Distinguishing these layers of already-always listening is heavy going, revealing layer under layer. Ultimately it’s liberating, allowing for the possibility that I can be free to be and free to act.

A final story (with due respect for our avoidance of storytelling).

Five years ago I was traveling alone on a month-long trip centered on my son’s wedding in Finland. I was visiting Tallinn, Estonia for a few bitter cold days between Christmas and New Years, having come directly from Finnish Lapland a hundred miles south of the Arctic Circle. There were few tourists in Tallinn, and the nights were long, cold, and dark.  Having spent many enjoyable evenings in old-style, wood-fired saunas in Finland with the brother of my new daughter-in-law, I decided to find something similar in Tallinn.

I located a likely candidate outside the old city walls of the city. I walked through an unfamiliar working class neighborhood to find the place, hesitant to enter given its down-market exterior and sketchy environs. Nevertheless I went in. A group of guys in the undressing area were in the final stages of a drunken post holiday celebration. They paid no attention to me. I showered and entered the dark, exceptionally hot sauna, where about ten men were sitting in silent steamy contemplation.

There’s not much to know about ten naked men sitting in a sauna in a foreign country. Doctors or ditch-diggers? Professors or thieves? Old school communists or progressive reformers? No way of knowing. My already-always listening feared the worst and I was apprehensive.

After a while one guy observed, in perfect English, “you’re not from around here.”  I explained I was from San Francisco, en route from my son’s Finnish wedding. Immediately I had ten new friends: instant chatter about Obama and the American elections; the silliness of Mitt Romney, the emerging dangers of conservative politics. The men wanted to know everything about me and my life—all well-informed, in comprehensible English. With no embarrassment one man offered to beat me with his bound birch leaf branches, and I accepted. I stayed for hours. The evening turned out to be one of the most enjoyable, profoundly human, experiences of my trip.

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.

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