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My husband won’t touch me — what can I do?

I want desperately to have a child, and so does he.

Cary’s classic column from WEDNESDAY, FEB 23, 2005

Dear Cary,

I am married to the man of my dreams — except for one thing: He won’t touch me. I’m not just talking about sex; I mean he’s averse to basic human contact. We’re down to a chaste kiss as he leaves for work, an occasional hug when I ask, and sometimes another chaste good-night kiss before he turns his back to me and falls asleep.

We’ve been together for almost 14 years (we’re both 37) and married for 12. We don’t have any children, although we married each other in part because we thought we’d have great kids together. We met in graduate school and reasoned that we’d get our careers off the ground before trying to start a family. More than a decade later, we’ve stopped even trying.

I think passion and romance are the sweetest stuff of life; he finds them completely unnecessary. When we were dating, he was a reluctant lover, always telling me, “We’ll do it after exams” or “It will feel more right after we’re married.”

For the first several years of our marriage, he blamed my weight as the sole reason we were not having sex. Let me clarify that I am an attractive woman with a beautiful face, long blond hair and a curvy, voluptuous body, which many men find very attractive — just not my husband. He told me about five years into the marriage that he’d felt deceived, that he’d believed I would change and lose weight. Of course, I’ve always said I wished I were thinner. At one point I lost a lot of weight, and nothing changed. However, at some point he did stop openly criticizing my body.

Several years ago, I went against all of my morals and upbringing and had an affair. I told myself it was my husband’s fault that I was forced to get my needs met elsewhere. But I was racked with guilt the whole time, and ultimately I ended it, resolving to try to make things work with my husband. A year later, it was still not working, and I separated from him. Only after the separation did he accidentally find out about the affair, and it was a wrenching experience for us both.

For a year we lived apart; I wound up driving home every weekend to see him. Because we just plain missed each other, we reconciled. But he warned me that his intimacy issues might be even worse than before my affair or the separation. Still, I wanted to try to make it work, and so did he.

Fast-forward three years later. It’s like I’m living as roommates with a best friend who is totally supportive of me emotionally and professionally, but not physically. He is my rock, my companion, the one I want to grow old with. Still, I don’t want to have a platonic marriage.

We went to a marriage counselor after our reconciliation with clear instructions that our objective was to find a way to be intimate with each other. The therapist said that our marriage appeared normal — if we were in our 60s, not 30s! During the second session, the therapist said he would only continue to see us if divorce were on the table. That was the last session we had with him.

Since then, we have near-weekly conversations about how to fix our little problem. We talk; I inevitably cry; he says that he doesn’t need intimacy and he’s sorry that I do, but he can’t give it to me. We’ve tried talking about this at other hours, too: on a Saturday afternoon over a game of Pente, over a bottle of wine at our favorite restaurant, in the car on a road trip as a philosophical discussion.

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Some people might ask if maybe my husband is gay. But he denies that he’s attracted to men and says that he likes to look at attractive women (implicit in that statement is that I’m not included in that group). He says it boils down to the fact that he doesn’t really like to be touched or to touch other people, and that he feels emotionally dead inside. I have a nephew with Asberger’s syndrome, a mild form of autism, which among other things makes people ultra-sensitive to touch. I see a lot of similarities between my husband and my nephew, and I wonder if he might be afflicted with that disorder, too. I do know that my husband’s first and only other love really devastated him when she ended their relationship when he was 21, and I’ve wondered if that was the cause of his intimacy issues. But he said he was like this with her, too.

Every once in a while (three times last year), my husband takes pity on me and says that it’s time to reset the clock. That means we do the deed. Then I can no longer say, “Come on, honey, it’s been three (four, five, six) months since we made love,” since the clock is reset to zero. After such a resetting, it is an unspoken rule that I am not supposed to ask again for a really long time.

Cary, if I didn’t love this man, I would just leave. But he is wonderful to me in every other way. We are great partners in this thing called life, and we really get each other as people. I don’t want to leave; I want to break through these intimacy issues.

Please don’t tell me that I should get my physical needs met elsewhere. I’ve worked hard over the last three years since the reconciliation to rebuild trust. But for all of my self-denial, I feel like it’s getting me nowhere. I’m starting to go a little crazy from being starved for simple affection. And, yes, for sex, too. And deep down, I fear that I will never have a family, something which is extremely important to me (and, I thought, to him).

My heart is breaking over the loss of so many important dreams. I may never become a mother, I may never have a family of my own, I may never again know sweet intimacy between a man and a woman, I may never even have another passionate kiss.

I can roll with things not being perfect. But he turns his shoulder to me every night when all I want is for him to take me into his arms and show me his love. Is this too much for a good wife to expect?

Mrs. Heartbroken

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Dear Mrs. Heartbroken,

It sounds like what you are going through is very painful. I know how desperately you are seeking a solution. But I do not think that a solution will arise until you look at the situation in a new light. I suggest that you ask not how you can get your husband to give you what you need, but what the meaning of your suffering is and what you are being called upon to do. Once you discover what you are being called to do, and accept that as your fate, you will find it easier to surrender, to stop fighting, to do what has to be done.

What your suffering means, I think, is that life wants to come through you. You are stopping it by remaining with your husband. That is why it hurts you so much. That is why you are suffering. It hurts to deny life. Of course it hurts. It’s meant to hurt. That’s how life tells you what it wants. You’re leaning into a wind full of needles. You’re defying something that wants to be born.

There is a baby that wants to be born, but there is also a happiness that wants to be born. There is some contentedness that wants to be born. And there is a man somewhere who wants to make you pregnant and raise a child with you. He’s banging on your window but you can’t hear him or see him because you’re frozen hard to your husband. Until you tear yourself away you will remain stuck, deaf and blind to your destiny. Of course, it is your choice whether you leave or not. I know you have said that divorce is nonnegotiable. I also know that nothing we say is irrevocable, and we cannot know the future or our own capacity for sacrifice and pain.

I think you will leave your husband eventually, or you will collapse around the emptiness. I only think you should leave him while you still have a chance to raise a family. It will hurt to leave your husband — it may tear some of your skin off, as though you were frozen to a January lamppost. But it would hurt more to stay. And I do not see that you have any choice, if you are to accept what life is asking of you.
Perhaps you feel that leaving your husband for purely personal desires might seem irresponsible. But these are not personal desires. These desires are universal. They are transpersonal. It will be easier to see that if you think in terms that transcend the individual self. Consider the awesome force that wants to move through you, to use you as its avenue of fruition; consider your needs for intimacy and affection as the way this force expresses itself. Think of the child who desires to come into existence.

Why is that so far-fetched a notion? We happily grant that when someone dies it’s beyond our control. Yet when life insists with a terrifying power on having us for its purposes, when some unknown being insists on disrupting our plans in order to be born, we find that strangely mystical and abstract. What is abstract about the force that through the green fuse drives the flower? Why is it so far-fetched to imagine that life wants to move through you, but that you are blocking it, and that is causing you pain?

It seems a shame that you and your therapist were unable to continue beyond two sessions because the question of divorce was deemed nonnegotiable. Shouldn’t everything be on the table in therapy? Isn’t the purpose of therapy revelation and change? How can the unexpected be revealed if you think you know what you want, and if you rule out certain options? I think if you rule out certain conclusions, you undermine therapy’s capacity to surprise, to unearth unexpected meaning. But perhaps that therapist did not have the right approach for you.

Divorce needn’t mean that your husband disappears from your life. If the bond between you is spiritual and familial, as it sounds like it is, you can maintain that bond. Your relationship needn’t simply end; rather, think of it as being transformed by grand, elemental powers. He will probably want to know this child and to remain your lifelong friend. Perhaps he can be like an uncle to this child.

Why life chose you, who knows? But I can’t see much profit in resisting it. It’s obvious that, painful as it may be, you have to leave this man and seek someone you can raise a child with.

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Adventure calls me but not my boyfriend

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I have an offer to study in the Arctic, but I’d have to leave my boyfriend behind.

Cary’s classic column from TUESDAY, MAY 2, 2006

Dear Cary,

I am at a crossroads in life and it is difficult. I have been working since high school, building my résumé. I finished my Ph.D., and have had a difficult time getting a job. I am a bit picky — I like romantic jobs, in certain geographic areas (generally the West and/or Alaska). I like adventure. Anyway, I’ve been offered such a job, studying what I want, in Arctic Canada (a village of 600 people, not a lot of English spoken, no roads to get there, $3,000 flight to get there). It is a job that will give me the experience to then go and get a better job; it is a great steppingstone. A ton of awesome experience. However, it is cold, dark (50 percent of the time), lonely, dry (no wine), not English-speaking, no fresh produce, dangerous (10 people have died on similar jobs since the 1970s), requires “barging” in food supplies, and it is far away from friends and family.

And then there is my boyfriend (of two years), and I love him. He is sweet, generous, kind; we love to talk to each other and cook together. We get along, it is very comfortable. This is the best relationship I have ever been in. He said he would rather pull out his teeth with rusty pliers than go to the Arctic. He hates the dark — he has seasonal depression. However, he does not really have career ambitions, and doesn’t have many suggestions on how we will earn a sufficient living for our family in the future (I think the Arctic gig will set me up for a good academic job that will be beneficial for our future). He says, do what you want to do for your career; I say it’s not just for my career, it’s for my spirit, my love of adventure and unique opportunities, and my disdain for suburbia. He says, “I don’t want to be blamed for you not taking this job.” I want him to say, “I love you, I don’t want you to leave, we can work something else out.” But instead, he says, “I love you, I can’t handle being the reason for you not to take this excellent opportunity, but, Sweetie, I don’t want to go up there.” So, I have to make a decision.

It is not as simple as pro and con lists. It is not as simple as listening to my instincts, my gut, either, because honestly I can’t tell what they are saying. Do you have any insights?

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

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Dear Should I Stay,

You say you don’t know what your gut is telling you, but I think you do.

Hold the picture upside down. Then you’ll see. You didn’t say there’s this guy you really, really like, who fits into your plans for the future, who utterly fascinates you, who is in fact just the kind of boyfriend you have been studying about for years, who in a certain way is key to your spirit, who attracts you even though he’s cold, dark and so dangerous that 10 people have died on him since the 1970s. You didn’t say that about your boyfriend. You said that about this village in the Canadian Arctic. That is where your passion is. That is where your life is headed.

Your boyfriend is not an adventure. Your boyfriend is a trip to the store. He may be a trip to the store in a comfortable automobile, but he is not the aurora borealis, or a pride of polar bears, or a village where people are living the way they have been living for a thousand years, or a rare lichen that thrives without light and heat like something from another planet.

The crazy thing is, this crazy thing you want to do is not even all that crazy. It’s squarely in your career path. Again, hold the picture upside down: If you had said you had been working toward a certain career your whole life and then suddenly got this crazy notion to travel up to a village in Canada, it would seem you were running from something or hadn’t thought things through. But this makes perfect career sense. It’s simply a case of your big dream finally starting to come true.

Dreams have a cost. Dreams sometimes mean saying goodbye. I think you should say goodbye. Maybe he will still be there when you get back, but if you love adventure, soon there will be another trip that he doesn’t want to go on but doesn’t want you to turn down on account of him. I think it’s an unfortunate pattern that could hamper your prospects for happiness. So say goodbye and go.

There may be one more lichen up there waiting to be discovered.

Find it.

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I can’t control my murderous thoughts

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Cary’s classic column from THURSDAY, FEB 22, 2007

Someone took a dump on my early-’90s blue subcompact. I feel targeted and I don’t know what to do with my anger.


Dear Cary,

OK, so a couple of weeks ago, somebody took a big, runny dump on the hood of my car, parked on the street near my house.

Gross. Really, really gross. I assumed it was just a disgusting yet random act, donned rubber gloves and cleaned up the best I could.

But then I go out after a snowstorm and someone has obviously urinated on the snow on the hood of my car. It’s not a great car by any means — just a little blue subcompact, circa 1990. But still, I feel targeted and I don’t know what to do with this anger at an anonymous pooper who has decided I deserve this harassment.

For background, I own a home in one of those white-ethnic working-class neighborhoods that time forgot; last year people filmed a movie that took place in the ’70s and all they had to do was move the cars. “The pooper” is no doubt one of the many Kevin Federline look-alikes found on every corner; the brown-stained wife-beater undershirt he left behind says as much.

I’m friendly with a few people on the block, but I don’t exactly fit in. One neighbor calls me and my fiancée “the quiet couple.”

But I still don’t know what I could have done to deserve this.

I guess this isn’t a big deal; my house is now sold. My fiancée and I are moving to a bright, sunny house in a diverse, progressive middle-class neighborhood in a few weeks. But it’s not just the pooper that’s got me down. I want to hit somebody and I don’t know whom to hit.

What do I do with all the anger that piles up from all the anonymous jerks who make life so unpleasant?

Feeling Pooped On

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Dear Feeling Pooped On,

I had a 1959 Chevrolet Apache long-bed pickup truck. It was rusty and didn’t run well and I loved it. It didn’t fit in my garage, so it was always on the street. It was beautiful like a sculpture. I’m no mechanic. I tried to keep it running. My friend and I had gone in on it together, $400 apiece, so we would have a pickup truck to use on occasion. As it turned out, we hardly used it. It wasn’t too reliable.

One day I had parked it near the beach and went out to move it for the street sweeper and both the right-side tires were flat. They had been slashed. I had to replace them. It was expensive. Then the same thing happened the next week — well, this time the air was let out of the tires on the curb side. I had to have AAA come out and pump them up. Then I went away on a trip and so parked it in another part of the neighborhood, and when I came back the air had been let out of the front right tire again.

There wasn’t much I could do. Someone was doing this to me. I had to let it go — the truck, I mean. And I had to live with the mystery of who did it and why, and was it the same person — even in a different part of the neighborhood? — and was I somehow to blame, was there something wrong with parking a beat-up truck on the street, and if so what did I just not understand about life?

My wife says there are people in the world who think an old beat-up truck parked on the street brings down property values and that making such trucks go away, by any means necessary, is a high civic act. She didn’t especially like that truck, but I don’t think she slashed the tires. She just claims to be able to see into the minds of people unlike us.

I hear what she says but it doesn’t register. The way I look at it is more like this: Whales and old men have scars and barnacles. They carry their history on their bodies — things they have brushed up against, parasites that have attached to them, places they shouldn’t have gone but went anyway and got stabbed or shot or just roughed up. An old man will lift his shirt and he’ll have at least one nasty old scar somewhere, from an appendix operation or heart surgery, or a bullet wound or knife wound, or a scar above his eye from a fall or a bad car accident. And if ugly old whales could talk I think they’d say, Here’s where a shark took a chunk out of me off of Port Angeles! Here’s where I got run over by an Evinrude!

If you stick around long enough you’re going to get some scars. You’re going to get your stuff stolen out of your locker or out of your car. Somebody is going to insult you at a party and you’re not going to have a comeback. People are going to shit on the hood of your car.

Can you retaliate in a meaningful and satisfying way, and is retaliation wise? Some would say you can and that revenge is sweet indeed, and they will show you how in books available on the Internet and in certain bookstores. But maybe you believe in karma — that the heavens house a large but remarkably efficient bureau of eventual retaliation and just humiliation, where experts of arcane arts transform princes into pigs and embezzlers into moles.

If you’re in an organized religion or have any moral program or philosophy that works for you, then I guess you follow that. But no matter what you do, whether you believe things are always taken care of in some way without your personal intervention or not, whether you believe that “everything happens for a reason,” you’re still going to have some uncharitable feelings toward persons unknown who have fucked with your stuff in the dead of night.

How do you deal with that? Thinking doesn’t make such feelings disappear.

You just have to live with it. That’s the best I’ve got. There are numerous ways of living with it — ways to regulate the mind and the passions, ways to channel it, such as exercise and taking your mind off it and meditating about it and going shopping and throwing the ball out in the back yard and chopping some wood and a million other activities to capture the mind in its darkest, most vengeful moods. Whatever works. But there are going to be times that for whatever reason, your heart is just full of murder. You just have to be big enough to carry it.

Everybody carries murderous thoughts; everybody carries big scars.

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Shorter, Newer, Differenter

We changed the WordPress theme. You noticed? Also:

Cary Tennis is writing a new, different Since You Asked column:

  • More questions
  • Shorter answers
  • Mostly about writing and ideas but also other things
  • Basically: It’s way differenter!

Why?

  • Who’s got the time?
  • Long sentences: hard to read on phone
  • The kid just wants to do new things

The “Since You Asked” advice column ran on Salon.com for 12 years. It was a rare and beautiful thing. Like all rare things, it arose from rare circumstances. Circumstances change. Really: That’s done.

Now stimulate Cary’s intellectual and literary interests by writing letters to him about the most interesting things you are doing and the practical obstacles you encounter and how you overcome them.

Write about writing and books and poems and technology and the business of publishing and also about:

  • Urban Planning and Traffic
  • Real Estate Prices in San Francisco
  • New poetry
  • The Ocean Beach/Outer Sunset neighborhood
  • Paris
  • Tuscany
  • Great short story collections
  • Fiction and poetry readings
  • Cool bicycles
  • Alternative energy sources
  • Other things I might not know anything about but am still interested in, like … shoes!

See, Cary  grew up reading Faulkner and Henry James. So long sentences come naturally. But he always thought, I’ll never become a stodgy old guy. I’ll always try to adapt and participate.

Who knew culture would change so much so fast? But it did. So stay nimble, big guy. Stay interested. This is an amazing time to be alive.

Sure, some changes suck. Feel free to write about changes that suck.

But life is short. There’s always breakfast at Outerlands.

What else was great this morning:

Music at the Medieval Festival

On being invited very late to events that have been planned for months

That headline will lead some readers to expect a mild rant on the order of “don’t you hate it when people don’t have the courtesy to invite you to their events with sufficient lead time?” when actually it is a bald, guilt-free confession of precisely that transgression. And a more or less bald recitation of the reasons why. And an attempted refutation thereof. In toto. Ahem.

Norma says people need a few weeks’ notice. But the actual decision about whether to go to a party can be done in, like, one second. Wanna go? Yes or no.

What we are actually doing when we schedule parties weeks or months in advance is not so much what you think it is —  allowing people sufficient time to decide, or  to put it on their calendars, etc., so that it does not become superseded by something else.

I refuse to believe that people are that booked up, and if they are booked up, God help them for being so booked up, it must be an awful condition and if I am ever that booked up I hope I shoot myself because I will be monstrously unhappy having so little time to myself to sit and watch TV or read or just lie around plucking the guitar!

What is really going on with the absurdly long lead time for a party, IMHO, is we are selling it to our friends.It is a form of advertising and persuasion. In advertising it is said that people need to hear something at least three times before it becomes real to them. And I think to myself, does something that is purportedly a fun thing you would go to anyway actually need to be sold?

Yes! Absolutely! It certainly does. Who actually wants to go anywhere? Not me. I have many strong and vigilant defenses against leaving the house for any reason, and they need to be overcome by a long and persistent campaign or I will not go out.

The first time I hear of a party I think, Oh, no, another thing to go to. What is it this time? Oh, our friends? The ones we actually like? Oh, that is the worst. If it were friends we don’t even like we could say, well, I think we have something else planned for that night, geez, let me check, oh, the relatives, we must visit the relatives, you know how that is, and they go oh yes, we know about visiting the relatives, how necessary  that is, how unavoidable, when the truth is that we don’t really want to see each other at all because they don’t like us any more than we like them but we must go through this ritual of persuading each other.  And so it makes it harder to claim you have a prior engagement when it is six months out. So it claims a place on your calendar, and thereby wears down your resistance. You go, well, it is on our calendar, so I guess we will not be able to make any excuses. Now, if only they would invite us like two days before we could claim we already have plans, which of course we don’t because we never do but they don’t need to know that, because apparently everybody pretends to have these “plans” so we can pretend to have them as well.

So I’m just saying to hell with all that. I have known about this party since some time back in June but I prefer not to tell anyone about it until about 48 hours until it happens. 48 hours! That’s plenty of time!

And so some people will say, damn you, Cary, we would love to come, but you give us so little notice! And I will say yes, I am a wretch, I keep doing this, and thus keep not seeing my friends, yes, it is awful. Unconsciously I’m sure I’m just making things difficult for everybody and calling attention to myself. I haven’t changed since I was 8. And yet, I am letting you off the hook, too! I could put these things out months in advance and then you would feel you have no way out. And then you would have to wait until the last minute and then think of some excuse. This is much easier. Now it is absurdly easy to say, What? An invitation with only 48 hours notice? We couldn’t possibly …

And I think: What about the Army? They’re always ready to go. Ten minutes, off to Pakistan. Let’s go. But we’re not in the army, are we? Plus we live in the Outer Sunset, which is farther away than Pakistan if you’re coming from the Mission.

At any rate, we will be here as usual, playing music and hanging out, and maybe somebody will get up and read some poetry or a rant, and we will talk about current events, and soon we will get tired and start thinking, gee, soon, we can go to bed! What an exciting party!

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My boyfriend lied about his debts and now he’s couch surfing

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Cary’s classic column from

But he’s an artist. Should I boot him?


Dear Cary,

My boyfriend and I have been together for over a year — my longest and best male/male relationship. Right before we met, he quit his lucrative job in retail to go back to school in photography, a longtime passion. He simplified his life: he bought a motorcycle outright, moved into a cheap downtown apartment and got a part-time job that would be flexible with his class schedule. I think this was brave and admirable. He made the right decision, such is his obvious talent. He’s 31 and I’m only 25, we’re both artists, and both getting started in our careers.

A month ago he came to me and told me that he’d incurred some reasonably large debts, and that he was being evicted from his apartment. He cried through most of the discussion. He’d known about the debts (some was money due to the IRS for a year, some was more recent) and hadn’t told me. In fact, he’d hidden them from me. When I first heard of the “possible but unlikely” eviction, he attributed the trouble to a party we’d thrown at his place that had upset the neighbors — a party I’d thrown for my birthday. But he was evicted for simply not paying his rent. His lies (he says he never lied, just didn’t offer the information) were instantly forgiven. His raw emotion took me over (I love this man!) and I switched into my “solve it” mode.

One month later, most of his stuff is in storage and he splits his time between living with me and driving his now impractical motorcycle 35 miles to his family’s home and sleeping on the couch. I live with a roommate and — though I feel guilty about it — I haven’t told him of my boyfriend’s eviction because I’m afraid he’ll be angry and say he doesn’t want to live with two roommates (which he’d have every right to say). My boyfriend allowed me to plan a $1,200 vacation to visit my family, so now he owes me money he can’t really afford to pay back either (I feel guilty taking his money when I know he still owes a landlord). Basically, I feel guilty all the time.

After four years living in a big city and making just enough money to survive, I’m finally making enough to go to out to dinner every now and then. But this relationship is financially draining me. My credit card debt has grown to a level it’s never been at before, and I’m making more money than ever. I love this man and I know he’s being sincere when he says if the roles were reversed he’d take care of me in any way he possibly could. But I can’t have him living with me in this situation and I feel guilty when I make him drive to a house I know he hates. Worst of all, he just doesn’t get it. He thinks, with all his heart, that love conquers all. How can I make him understand that this is tough for me, too, when things are absolutely 100 percent tougher for him right now? Am I just a selfish person?

Selfish and/or Guilty

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Dear Selfish and/or Guilty,

You feel guilty because you’re doing something wrong. Isn’t that wonderfully simple? You’re allowing this person to lie to you, steal from you and mistreat you. It’s wrong to allow that. You know it’s wrong to allow it. That’s why you feel guilty. You’re not helping anyone by letting it continue. On the contrary, allowing him to continue makes you an accomplice. Standing up for yourself in such a situation is the farthest thing from selfish: It’s a selfless act of courage, a gift to the world. If you stand up for yourself, you stand up for your roommate and for your families. When you stand up for yourself you stand up for us all. You stand up for the weak, the elderly, the frightened, the codependent. You set an example of strength, moral clarity and courage. You add to the store of goodness in the world. You teach others by example. Even for your boyfriend: By standing up to him, you also stand up for him — for the good part of him who needs to know that what he’s doing is wrong, and can only lead to debasement.

It was courageous of him to go back to school and follow his talent. But it’s wrong of him to lie about his debts and become a mooch. His art can only suffer. If he quit a lucrative job to go back to school, he’s going to have to learn to live cheaply on his own. He already has an obvious problem telling the truth about money. Do not play into it. Do not feed this problem of his.

Do not think of what you personally may lose. Think of all the other people he is manipulating, and act on their behalf, not your own. The only power he has over you is your fear that if you stand up to him you will lose him. That is your weakness. You must think in larger terms: of your very self, your pride, your sense of fairness to others, your place in the world of family and roommates and friends.

Being a creative person does not mean that right and wrong do not apply to you. Because you have a larger, more profound gift for the world does not mean you get your bread for free. We should not pamper our artists and our stars. The more we pamper those we admire, the more we rob them of their belonging in the world, the more we feed their addictions, the more we blind them and render them ignorant, and thus destroy their ability to tell the truth through their art.

So do us all a favor. Stop letting this guy walk all over you. Tell him to pay his debts and get a place of his own.

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What a tragedy it would be if City College were to close

On Thursday nights I play music with some friends while my wife, Norma, takes a singing class at City College. Norma has taken classes there for years. She has studied painting, Russian, Italian and other things. City College has been a great life-enriching place for her. She is smart. She knows the value of a community college in a city as rich and varied as San Francisco. She has taken full advantage of it. Our lives have been better because of it.

So on Thursday, March 13, I picked Norma up about 9:30 p.m. at the Ocean Avenue campus and she told me that her singing class had gotten a late start because the police had broken the bones of some singing students earlier. Her instructor was talking with another instructor before class about the beatings and that delayed the class. Students had occupied a building and police had come in and bones had been broken and students had gone to the hospital. These were voice students. It’s oddly poetic, isn’t it, that in a fight for free speech and access to low-cost education it should be the voice students whose bones are broken by police?

Since July 2013 I had watched this controversy out of the corner of my eye. I now endeavored to learn what I could. I began to look into it. It didn’t take long to form a clear and passionate impression. It boils down to this: The ACCJC sucks. That is, in quickly reading the available information about its requirements and the current legal process and the correspondence sent to schools that have been sanctioned, and its own account of its purpose and its methods, and some legislative testimony and the various lawsuits pending, I came to see that the ACCJC is a troubled institution granted wide powers to act in secret and capable therefor of wreaking great harm. Their approach appears philistine and heavy-handed and inappropriate to an educational institution.

In other words, the ACCJC sucks.

More could be said and no doubt will be. More reporting must be done to expose the true long-term strategy of the people behind this move. The true story will no doubt involve power and money. It will involve ideology and infighting. It will involve public vs. private education. It will involve capitalism vs. democracy. It will be seen that some ACCJC’s rulings seem to favor private for-profit colleges at the expense of publicly run ones. A full, detailed picture will no doubt reveal our current cultural battle at its most venal and ugly.

Lest we forget: No fight about money and power and politics in San Francisco can be without real estate money. Wherever there is land, someone stands to make a fortune. There must be real estate money somewhere in this tale. And there must be clueless zealots and venal operators and ideological nitwits and the settling of old scores and backbiting and striving and all the great human passions that make life in California so interesting and so maddening.

Such is the ongoing carnival of human folly. If it were not dangerous, one would like to just let such folly play out. One would just like to watch with a mixture of horror and glee. I was content to do so until it appeared that the ACCJC’s actions may not be harmless at all. Now it appears urgent that the public become informed and take action. The loss of City College would be a tragedy for the city of San Francisco.

See These Links:

ACCJC: A Troubled Institution. An illuminating piece by independent journalist Rick Sterling (rsterling1@gmail.com) about deficiencies in the accrediting organization itself.

For a chilling look at the mindset of the people doing the accrediting, there is no better example than their own prose. I don’t know about you, but I am quite sensitive to how the quality of a person’s mind shows in the style of  prose he or she uses. ‘Nuf said. Just take a look at the PDF.  If you aren’t howling in laughter you will be howling in pain.

Accreditation Watch. Again: ‘Nuf said. This comprehensive site will give you a quick sense of the magnitude of the ACCJC’s shortcomings, and there is enough depth here for days of reading.

Hashtags on Twitter are #ACCJC and #CCSF.

Thought you’d like to know. Trying to remain civil about it, the breaking of voice students’ bones notwithstanding.

 

 

 

Hooray! I’m covered! (by Covered California)

Wow. I just completed my online application for health insurance in California, and I am amazed how easy and trouble-free it was. And now I can’t believe so many Republican politicians worked so hard to deny me this. As a person who survived a potentially fatal cancer in 2009, who had surgery and a long recovery, who has fought to get the care I need and was concerned after losing my job at Salon that insurance would be too costly or unavailable, I was worried.

But Covered California is awesome. I feel so relieved. Also I feel angrier now, actually, toward the foes of the Affordable Care Act than I did while the debate was going on. When I had good medical care through Salon, the issue was important but didn’t affect my own survival. But after leaving Salon, it really came home to me personally. So now, having just this minute completed my California Care enrollment, and getting healthcare for me and my wife, which will cover our familiar UCSF Medical Center, for about $420 a month, I’m feeling like it’s a political victory that is pretty unreal. Pretty amazing.

So: Thanks, Obama. Thanks, California.

And screw you, Republican scrooges, who would rather see me go bankrupt or die of cancer than see the country join the rest of the civilized industrial world in providing all its citizens with health care!

El Farolito

Below is a short piece from Cary that we included in today’s newsletter. When we originally decided to publish a weekly newsletter, we never intended it just to promote our workshops and writing retreats, but rather, we wanted it to be a place to share Cary’s non-advice-related writing, his ideas and enthusiasms, and writing from other authors that we find exceptional. From here on out there will be a literary component to the weekly newsletter. Most pieces will not be re-published on this website, so keep and eye out.

Judith, abstract expressionist, El Farolito on 24th Street in the Mission for lunch after the meeting, talking about William James,  the God thing, William James says, Look, we are scientific men, Christian men, honest men, and we cannot deny what we see: People are having experiences; they have these experiences of another world and then they change. What are we to call this? How can we, as scientific men, pretend that this is not real? So something is going on, basically, is what Judith and William James and I agree about in the Farolito on 24th near Florida Street.

How did she get 33 years sober, hanging out with de Kooning in New York, marrying Steve Lacy because he needed a wife even though she preferred women, and living in that apartment at 24th and Potrero since 1979, watching the giant construction cranes across Potrero at SF General Hospital, and my plate of al pastor, and the uncanny feeling of holy rescue one feels sitting across from somebody who rampaged through 1950s New York art scene fucking everything that had a can of cadmium yellow and a canvas stretcher, everything that had a gallery show even a group gallery show and a collection of Chet Baker records not too many because he didn’t make too many because he died young and pretty and messed up, toothless and beat up and strung out in the Fillmore … thinking how does that familiar miracle happen to this woman who is nothing but trouble for years just fucking up everything until finally one day she gets it and stops the bullshit and just keeps painting every day for the last 33 years in her studio at Hunter’s Point until the abstracts are piled up to the ceiling and still she keeps going because it’s the only way to God for her, it’s the only way to know herself, her raspy, Winston-ravaged throat, her New York by way of Chicago combination of exasperation and exultations, half the time having no idea what she’s really saying but agreeing, as we agree about William James and what he was seeing in 1890, that the old religions are crumbling yet people are having these experiences of something beyond, something other, something anti-rational that says everything you believed up till now was wrong, relax, surrender.

Let the impossible happen. Let what you don’t know guide you.

Me and Judith in El Farolito. She talks incessantly about dying. How she’s ready. How it’s a pain in the ass. How people are taking care of her. People are taking Judith where Judith needs to go. People are buying Judith lunch. People are driving Judith to AA meetings. This is community.

This is how community works, a loving community around a single person without any blood relatives nearby, this is how we close ranks around someone who tore through New York in the 1950s and is still painting abstract expressionist and still listening to jazz LPs on her turntable in her Hunters Point studio and still wearing those khaki painters’ pants the hipsters wore in New York: that faded black-and-white photo of her on the door of her Hunters Point studio: Who is that woman she’s with, her lover? A friend of de Kooning’s? Who is that woman? How did she get there? And how did we get to this table at El Farolito?

We moved into her building in 1990 and she said, “I’m the one with the great flat. You’re the ones who got the not-so-great flat.” We became friends. We went to demonstrations together.

I am giving her rides. We are taking care of her. We are closing ranks around her as she threatens to slip away from us.

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Cary’s weekend archival column: Sept. 15, 2010

 

Visiting my family gets me down

Every time I see them I’m depressed for a week

 

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Dear Cary,

First, thank you for being persistent with your crazy wisdom, and for not giving up. I enjoy your column.
I need a new way to think about this situation, and I’m hoping you can help. Here is a bit of background, in case it helps.

I live in a separate state from my family, and visit about five or six times per year. My relationship with my parents was dicey for a long time, but it is now more even, as I started simultaneously sticking up for myself more, and caring about their approval less. I’m in my mid-30s now. After a wandering employment history (two different careers), I am now underemployed in some ways, but happy to have a job, and try to be useful. Married, have some pets that I adore. I have a history of depression but am managing for the most part. No children because I spent a long time not feeling good, and now that I feel more OK, I don’t want to ruin it (not that I dislike children, I just want some internal peace and am too old to have a bit of peace and then have children).

My problem is that every time I visit my family, I feel like shit for three to four days afterward. I don’t feel bad while I’m there (anymore). In fact, things are better than they’ve ever been. But this shitty feeling, it is on the inside, and it takes me days to shake it off, even when I try to talk myself into a better place. I try to get at exactly what this feeling is about, and the most I can tell is that I feel like a loser when I’m there. It’s kind of an extension of the more pervasive feeling I have that I somehow just don’t fit in, that there is something slightly “off” about me.

The strange thing is, my parents aren’t all that successful or well adjusted. If anything, I’m slightly more adjusted than they are, unless I just have no objectivity and am fooling myself. My sister and her husband are more successful in that they both have careers and a more standard life, by American standards. When I ask myself if I’m jealous, I am not so much envious of their standard lives as I am of their seeming feeling of “fitting in.” In other words, I don’t necessarily want what they have (my parents and my sibling), but I want to feel like they feel. This is true not only of my family, but of society in general—I don’t really admire the lifestyle I’m told I should want, but I want the part of the dream that has me feeling good about myself. It’s just, for some reason, that this part that I lack is more pronounced when I’m with my family.

Anyway, I do not want to stop seeing my family. They’re basically good people. But this does affect my willingness to visit for extended periods, since it is really inconvenient to feel shitty for a week afterward. I’m embarrassed that I still feel this way well into my 30s. Is there anything I can do about this, or is this just how it is?

Confused

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Dear Confused,

Your family is never going to be the family you wish you had and they are never going to give you the feeling you wish they would give you and you are never going to fit in the way you wish you fit in and the sooner you realize this and get angry about it and shout it out and bang your fists on the floor and scream at the gods about it and grieve it and fully accept it and let it go the sooner you can be at peace with yourself and your gifts and the way you are loved now.

The way you are now is the way you are loved. Those who love you do not love this other person you wish you were. They do not even know who that person is. The way you are now is the way you are loved.

You think there is some other person you might be if you were only different but even if she showed up on your doorstep you wouldn’t know who she is because she would be lacking the full code of you. There is only one person who has the full code of you. There is only one person who can be loved as you and it is your job to keep being that person.
Why are you sad after being with your family? Because you start pretending to be somebody else because you think somebody else deserves their love. And then you lose your bearings. It takes days to put yourself back together. So remember:

It is you whom the people who love you love. They don’t need you to pretend. When you pretend they just wait for you to come back.

(Here is one reason I am a writer and not a therapist: If I were a therapist I would start making stuff up just to have something new to say. So I will not say for the umpteenth time to read Feeling Good by Dr. David Burns even though you probably should read it anyway because it seems to help with things like this.)

To sense that your family does not really love or approve of you hurts but it doesn’t mean you’re supposed to be somebody else. It means you’re supposed to bear that sadness with dignity; it means you’re supposed to bear that loss as a wise person would, knowing it’s just the tension between your capacity for dreaming and your capacity for acceptance.

Some people are fine because they don’t think about the infinite possibilities but some of us do think about the infinite possibilities which would be fine if that were all we did but then we also think about how much it sucks that these infinite possibilities do not all come to fruition although if you think about it there must be a natural cap on the number of infinite possibilities that are brought into being just as there must be a finite number of partners at Goldman Sachs.

You are here to do the one job no one else can do and that job is to fulfill the destiny written on your skin in a place you cannot read without turning inside out. Take several deep breaths. Stop what you are doing.

What is the source of your sadness?

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Xmas_smallInterested in more holiday-related columns? Check out Cary’s collection of holiday columns, That Special Time of Year.