Saturday, April 13, 2019


Photo: Matt Flumerfelt



“Look, it’s snowing!”
I turned around and around,
but saw only a shimmering
emptiness in the air.
My father laughed: Prima aprilis!
The First of April, the fools’ holiday.

I chanted it all day long,
my new incantation:
prima aprilis, prima aprilis.
Some children twisted it to
prila aprila. I enunciated precisely.
With such a headstart in Latin,
I went on to ask my mother
what phallic meant.

Still, I never liked the game.
I was a born April fool.
“You wear your heart
on your sleeve,” a man told me.
“That’s a polite way
of saying you’re a sucker.”

Maybe it’s the persistent
April of my mind,
the world so magical
anything’s possible.
“An iceberg is drifting
along the coast of California” —
and I stand open-mouthed,
silly with wonder.

I fall in love
even faster than that. 
Look, it’s snowing.

~ Oriana 


Perhaps that April "fool's holiday" is truly the artist and writer's  holy day, in that creation requires not only the capacity for wonder but its expectation. An attentive "readiness" to see and recognize connection, resonance and necessity can make room for the kind of revelation that inspires. That "stillness in the midst of chaos" the quiet attention, listening, waiting, allows and invites the dance of words, images and sounds that becomes a poem, novel, painting, song. There must be an open, active sense of "listening" to make space for something other than the constant petty distracting chatter of our daily lives.


Yes, there must be that inner listening, the mental space for it, and the holy fool’s readiness to accept whatever surprising connections come up from the unconscious. What I find most destructive to creativity is having to take care of a gazillion of practical concerns. And then yes, the daily chatter, which these days includes Facebook and the overwhelming craziness of the news. We must remember that silence is holy.

Hence the wisdom of those who establish a creative routine and make it a priority. For me, that includes “gazing at the world.” Larry Levis noted that his students wrote obsessively only about themselves, so he required that they go somewhere and describe what’s out there. Nature imagery is especially conducive to drawing the unexpected out of our minds. The Chinese poets are great teachers here.

Odilon Redon: Cloud Flowers, 1903

~ “As a young man Rilke made a pilgrimage to Russia to see Tolstoy. As I have heard the story, he followed the impatient old man around filling his ears with his problems about writing. Tolstoy couldn’t bear it. He had exchanged art for religion and all this seemed very trifling to him. “Vous voulez écrire?? he said. “Eh bien, écrivez donc! Écrivez!” [You want to write? Oh well, then write! Write!] What else is there to say? Do it if you must and don’t fuss so about it.

Nevertheless there are certain distractions. ~ Saul Bellow, in “Distractions of a Fiction Writer”

~ I wonder whether there will ever be enough tranquillity under modern circumstances to allow our contemporary Wordsworth to recollect anything. I feel that art has something to do with the achievement of stillness in the midst of chaos. A stillness that characterizes prayer, too, and the eye of the storm. I think that art has something to do with an arrest of attention in the midst of distraction. (The Paris Review)

~ The essence of our real condition, the complexity, the confusion, the pain of it, is shown to us in glimpses, in what Proust and Tolstoy thought of as “true impressions.” . . . The value of literature lies in these intermittent “true impressions.” . . . No one who has spent years in the writing of novels can be unaware of this. The novel can’t be compared to the epic or to the monuments of poetic drama. But it is the best we can do just now. It is a sort of latter-day lean-to, a hovel in which the spirit takes shelter. A novel is balanced between a few true impressions and the multitude of false ones that make up most of what we call life. –from Bellow’s Nobel Lecture, 1976” ~

"Have you ever said Yes to a single joy? O my friends, then you have said Yes too to all woe. All things are entangled, ensnared, enamored." ~ Nietzsche

Bacchus and Ariadne by Guido Reni, 1619-1620, Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Ariadne certainly knows about woe at this point, but her eye-roll may be Reni’s little joke.

“One feels inclined to say that the intention that man should be ‘happy’ is not included in the plan of ‘Creation’. What we call happiness in the strictest sense comes from the (preferably sudden) satisfaction of needs which have been dammed up to a high degree, and it is by its nature only possible as an episodic phenomenon. When any situation that is desired by the pleasure principle is prolonged, it only produces a feeling of mild contentment. We are so made that we can derive intense enjoyment only from a contrast and very little from a state of things. Goethe indeed warns us that ‘nothing is harder to bear than a succession of fair days.’ But this may be an exaggeration.” ~ Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents

Come to think of it, Goethe lived for a while in Italy. But nothing like Southern California if you want to discover how much you love clouds and rain. By the way, Freud really makes an excellent point about happiness. The most intense kind is based on contrast. Fortunately there is also contentment (“mild contentment” is fine with me) and a sense of well-being.

Mesquite Dunes, Death Valley


~ “In 1734, in Scotland, a 23-year-old was falling apart.

As a teenager, he’d thought he had glimpsed a new way of thinking and living, and ever since, he’d been trying to work it out and convey it to others in a great book. The effort was literally driving him mad. His heart raced and his stomach churned. He couldn’t concentrate. Most of all, he just couldn’t get himself to write his book. His doctors diagnosed vapors, weak spirits, and “the Disease of the Learned.” Today, with different terminology but no more insight, we would say he was suffering from anxiety and depression. The doctors told him not to read so much and prescribed antihysteric pills, horseback riding, and claret—the Prozac, yoga, and meditation of their day.

The young man’s name was David Hume. Somehow, during the next three years, he managed not only to recover but also, remarkably, to write his book. Even more remarkably, it turned out to be one of the greatest books in the history of philosophy: A Treatise of Human Nature.

In his Treatise, Hume rejected the traditional religious and philosophical accounts of human nature. Instead, he took Newton as a model and announced a new science of the mind, based on observation and experiment. That new science led him to radical new conclusions. He argued that there was no soul, no coherent self, no “I.” “When I enter most intimately into what I call myself,” he wrote in the Treatise, “I always stumble on some particular perception or other, of heat or cold, light or shade, love or hatred, pain or pleasure. I never can catch myself at any time without a perception, and never can observe any thing but the perception.”

Hume had always been one of my heroes. I had known and loved his work since I was an undergraduate. In my own scientific papers I’d argued, like Hume, that the coherent self is an illusion. My research had convinced me that our selves are something we construct, not something we discover. I had found that when we are children, we don’t connect the “I” of the present to the “I” of the past and the future. We learn to be who we are.

But here’s Hume’s really great idea: Ultimately, the metaphysical foundations don’t matter. Experience is enough all by itself. What do you lose when you give up God or “reality” or even “I”? The moon is still just as bright; you can still predict that a falling glass will break, and you can still act to catch it; you can still feel compassion for the suffering of others. Science and work and morality remain intact. Go back to your backgammon game after your skeptical crisis, Hume wrote, and it will be exactly the same game.

In fact, if you let yourself think this way, your life might actually get better. Give up the prospect of life after death, and you will finally really appreciate life before it. Give up metaphysics, and you can concentrate on physics. Give up the idea of your precious, unique, irreplaceable self, and you might actually be more sympathetic to other people.

How did Hume come up with these ideas, so profoundly at odds with the Western philosophy and religion of his day? What turned the neurotic Presbyterian teenager into the great founder of the European Enlightenment?

In my shabby room, as I read Buddhist philosophy, I began to notice something that others had noticed before me. Some of the ideas in Buddhist philosophy sounded a lot like what I had read in Hume’s Treatise. But this was crazy. Surely in the 1730s, few people in Europe knew about Buddhist philosophy.

Still, as I read, I kept finding parallels. The Buddha doubted the existence of an omnipotent, benevolent God. In his doctrine of “emptiness,” he suggested that we have no real evidence for the existence of the outside world. He said that our sense of self is an illusion, too. The Buddhist sage Nagasena elaborated on this idea. The self, he said, is like a chariot. A chariot has no transcendent essence; it’s just a collection of wheels and frame and handle. Similarly, the self has no transcendent essence; it’s just a collection of perceptions and emotions.

I discovered that at least one person in Europe in the 1730s not only knew about Buddhism but had studied Buddhist philosophy for years. His name was Ippolito Desideri, and he had been a Jesuit missionary in Tibet. 

In 1728, just before Hume began the Treatise, Desideri finished his book, the most complete and accurate European account of Buddhist philosophy to be written until the 20th century. The catch was that it wasn’t published. No Catholic missionary could publish anything without the approval of the Vatican—and officials there had declared that Desideri’s book could not be printed. The manuscript disappeared into the Church’s archives.

Desideri sailed from Rome to India in 1712. In 1714 he began walking from Delhi across the Himalayas to Lhasa—a trek that lasted 18 months. He slept on the ground, in the snow, and struggled with snow blindness and frostbite. At one point he made his way over a rushing river by clinging precariously to a bridge made of two vine ropes. To get through the Ladakh desert, he joined the caravan of a Tartar princess and argued about theology with her each night in her tent.

In his book, Desideri describes Tibetan Buddhism in great and accurate detail, especially in one volume titled “Of the False and Peculiar Religion Observed in Tibet.” He explains emptiness, karma, reincarnation, and meditation, and he talks about the Buddhist denial of the self.

Desideri overcame Himalayan blizzards, mountain torrents, and war. But bureaucratic infighting got him in the end. Rival missionaries, the Capuchins, were struggling bitterly with the Jesuits over evangelical turf, and they claimed Tibet for themselves. Michelangelo Tamburini, the head of the Jesuits, ordered Desideri to return to Europe immediately, until the territory dispute was settled. The letter took two years to reach Tibet, but once it arrived, in 1721, Desideri had no choice. He had to leave.

Almost at the end of Desideri’s book, I came across a sentence that brought me up short. “I passed through La Flèche,” he wrote, “and on September the fourth arrived in the city of Le Mans.”

La Flèche? Where Hume had lived? I let out an astonished cry. The librarians, accustomed to Rare Book Room epiphanies, smiled instead of shushing me.

“On the 31st (August) around noon,” Desideri wrote, “I arrived at our Royal College at La Flèche. There I received the particular attention of the rector, the procurator, Père Tolu and several other of the reverend fathers. On the 4th I left La Flèche.”

But Desideri visited in 1727. David Hume arrived at La Flèche eight years later, in 1735. Could anyone there have told Hume about Desideri?

In 1723, after his extraordinarily eventful and exotic career, [one of the Jesuit missionaries], Charles Dolu retired to peaceful La Flèche for the rest of his long life. He was 80 when Hume arrived, the last surviving member of the embassies, and a relic of the great age of Jesuit science.

And I discovered something else. Hume had said that Pierre Bayle’s Historical and Critical Dictionary was an important influence on the Treatise—particularly the entry on Spinoza. So I looked up that entry in the dictionary, which is a brilliant, encyclopedic, 6 million–word mess of footnotes, footnotes to footnotes, references, and cross-references. One of the footnotes in the Spinoza entry was about “oriental philosophers” who, like Spinoza, denied the existence of God and argued for “emptiness.” And it cross-referenced another entry about the monks of Siam, as described by the Jesuit ambassadors. Hume must have been reading about Buddhism, and Dolu’s journey, in the very building where Dolu lived.

I’d learned that Hume could indeed have known about Buddhist philosophy. In fact, he had written the Treatise in one of the few places in Europe where that knowledge was available. Dolu himself had had firsthand experience of Siamese Buddhism, and had talked at some length with Desideri, who knew about Tibetan Buddhism. It’s even possible that the Jesuits at the Royal College had a copy of Desideri’s manuscript.

Of course, it’s impossible to know for sure what Hume learned at the Royal College, or whether any of it influenced the Treatise. Philosophers like Descartes, Malebranche, and Bayle had already put Hume on the skeptical path. But simply hearing about the Buddhist argument against the self could have nudged him further in that direction. Buddhist ideas might have percolated in his mind and influenced his thoughts, even if he didn’t track their source.

But I learned that they were all much more complicated, unpredictable, and fluid than they appeared at first, even to themselves. Both Hume and the Buddha would have nodded sagely at that thought. Although Dolu and Desideri went to Siam and Tibet to bring the wisdom of Europe to the Buddhists, they also brought back the wisdom of the Buddhists to Europe. Siam and Tibet changed them more than they changed Siam and Tibet. And his two years at La Flèche undoubtedly changed David Hume.” ~


I left out a paragraph that in retrospect I find important:

~ “It’s easy to think of the Enlightenment as the exclusive invention of a few iconoclastic European philosophers. But in a broader sense, the spirit of the Enlightenment, the spirit that both Hume and the Buddha articulated, pervades the story I’ve been telling. The drive to convert and conquer the “false and peculiar” in the name of some metaphysical absolute was certainly there, in the West and in the East. It still is. But the characters in this story were even more strongly driven by the simple desire to know, and the simple thirst for experience. They wanted to know what had happened before and what would happen next, what was on the other shore of the ocean, the other side of the mountain, the other face of the religious or philosophical—or even sexual—divide.” ~ 


On Hume, the Buddha, and the self, and in the spirit of less metaphysics and more physics...perhaps we are too stuck on seeing ourselves as constant particles, when we are far more like waves that sometimes act as particles, and can't be precisely fixed without reduction and falsification.

(Just a bit of April foolery with these ideas!)


Oh, but this is wonderful! I love the idea that we are waves rather than particles! And I think David Hume would love it too. Bundles of constantly shifting perceptions — this sounds like a quantum perspective.


“Well," Brahma said, ”even after ten thousand explanations, a fool is no wiser, but an intelligent man requires only two thousand five hundred." ~ The Mahabharata

Teaching can certainly seem like that . .


~ “Across the board, all the moms mention one golden rule: Don't shout or yell at small children.

Traditional Inuit parenting is incredibly nurturing and tender. If you took all the parenting styles around the world and ranked them by their gentleness, the Inuit approach would likely rank near the top. (They even have a special kiss for babies, where you put your nose against the cheek and sniff the skin.)

The culture views scolding — or even speaking to children in an angry voice — as inappropriate, says Lisa Ipeelie, a radio producer and mom who grew up with 12 siblings. "When they're little, it doesn't help to raise your voice," she says. "It will just make your own heart rate go up.”

Even if the child hits you or bites you, there's no raising your voice?

"No," Ipeelie says with a giggle that seems to emphasize how silly my question is. "With little kids, you often think they're pushing your buttons, but that's not what's going on. They're upset about something, and you have to figure out what it is.”

Traditionally, the Inuit saw yelling at a small child as demeaning. It's as if the adult is having a tantrum; it's basically stooping to the level of the child, the anthropologist Jean Briggs documented.

"Shouting, 'Think about what you just did. Go to your room!' " Jaw says. "I disagree with that. That's not how we teach our children. Instead you are just teaching children to run away."

And you are teaching them to be angry, says clinical psychologist and author Laura Markham. "When we yell at a child — or even threaten with something like 'I'm starting to get angry,' we're training the child to yell," says Markham. "We're training them to yell when they get upset and that yelling solves problems."

In contrast, parents who control their own anger are helping their children learn to do the same, Markham says. "Kids learn emotional regulation from us."
I asked Markham if the Inuit's no-yelling policy might be their first secret of raising cool-headed kids. "Absolutely," she says.


"Kids learn well through narrative and explanations," says psychologist Deena Weisberg at Villanova University, who studies how small children interpret fiction. "We learn best through things that are interesting to us. And stories, by their nature, can have lots of things in them that are much more interesting in a way that bare statements don't."

Stories with a dash of danger pull in kids like magnets, Weisberg says. And they turn a tension-ridden activity like disciplining into a playful interaction that's — dare, I say it — fun.

"Don't discount the playfulness of storytelling," Weisberg says. "With stories, kids get to see stuff happen that doesn't really happen in real life. Kids think that's fun. Adults think it's fun, too.”

What Briggs documented is a central component to raising cool-headed kids.

When a child in the camp acted in anger — hit someone or had a tantrum — there was no punishment. Instead, the parents waited for the child to calm down and then, in a peaceful moment, did something that Shakespeare would understand all too well: They put on a drama.

"The idea is to give the child experiences that will lead the child to develop rational thinking," Briggs told the CBC in 2011.

In a nutshell, the parent would act out what happened when the child misbehaved, including the real-life consequences of that behavior.

The parent always had a playful, fun tone. And typically the performance starts with a question, tempting the child to misbehave.

For example, if the child is hitting others, the mom may start a drama by asking: "Why don't you hit me?”

Then the child has to think: "What should I do?" If the child takes the bait and hits the mom, she doesn't scold or yell but instead acts out the consequences. "Ow, that hurts!" she might exclaim.

The mom continues to emphasize the consequences by asking a follow-up question. For example: "Don't you like me?" or "Are you a baby?" She is getting across the idea that hitting hurts people's feelings, and "big girls" wouldn't hit. But, again, all questions are asked with a hint of playfulness.

The parent repeats the drama from time to time until the child stops hitting the mom during the dramas and the misbehavior ends.

Ishulutak says these dramas teach children not to be provoked easily. "They teach you to be strong emotionally," she says, "to not take everything so seriously or to be scared of teasing."

Psychologist Peggy Miller, at the University of Illinois, agrees: "When you're little, you learn that people will provoke you, and these dramas teach you to think and maintain some equilibrium."

In other words, the dramas offer kids a chance to practice controlling their anger, Miller says, during times when they're not actually angry.

This practice is likely critical for children learning to control their anger. Because here's the thing about anger: Once someone is already angry, it is not easy for that person to squelch it — even for adults.

But if you practice having a different response or a different emotion at times when you're not angry, you'll have a better chance of managing your anger in those hot-button moments.

Just be sure you do two things when you replay the misbehavior, she says. First, keep the child involved by asking many questions. For example, if the child has a hitting problem, you might stop midway through the puppet show and ask,"Bobby wants to hit right now. Should he?"

Second, be sure to keep it fun. Many parents overlook play as a tool for discipline, Markham says. But fantasy play offers oodles of opportunities to teach children proper behavior.

"Play is their work," Markham says. "That's how they learn about the world and about their experiences.”

from another source:

~ “Households with regular shouting incidents tend to have children with lower self-esteem and higher rates of depression. A 2014 study in The Journal of Child Development demonstrated that yelling produces results similar to physical punishment in children: increased levels of anxiety, stress and depression along with an increase in behavioral problems.

It doesn’t make you look authoritative. It makes you look out of control to your kids. It makes you look weak. And you’re yelling, let’s be honest, because you are weak. Yelling, even more than spanking, is the response of a person who doesn’t know what else to do.

But most parents — myself included — find it hard to imagine how to get through the day without yelling. The new research on yelling presents parents with twin problems: What do I do instead? And how do I stop?

Yelling to stop your kids from running into traffic is not what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about yelling as a form of correction. Yelling for correction is ineffective as a tool and merely imprints the habit of yelling onto the children. We yell at our kids over the same stuff every day, and we yell at them some more because the original yelling doesn’t work. Put your clothes away. Come down for dinner. Don’t ride the dog. Stop hitting your brother.

In the 1960s, 94 percent of parents used physical punishment. A poll in 2010 found the number had declined to 22 percent. There are probably many reasons, including the influence of a number of childhood development educators. But surely one reason has to be that the reason to spank your kids evaporates if there’s a more effective way to change their behavior that doesn’t involve violence. Why spank if it doesn’t work? The same applies to yelling: Why are you yelling? It isn’t for the kids’ sake.

Ultimately, techniques of discipline have to be about effectiveness, about getting through the day while trying to get your kids to do what you want and not do what you don’t want. Praise works. Punishment doesn’t.

Reader’s comment:

“So my dog trainer says not to yell at the dog because it shows that I am not the Alpha because I am out of control. He suggests (and it works) long hard stares, calm commands with a voice of expectation. Letting the dog know I am the alpha through other methods and expectations and to give lots of praise when she meets those expectations. This commands respect from the dog. When she does wrong, be bold (but not yell, don't hit, be in control). As he put it, the way you would raise your child. for thought here.”

Another reader:

Kazdin says we punish because it serves our social need for "justice" but really has little effect on achieving behavior change. In fact, Skinner said, "never punish." What Kazdin describes instead is pure Skinnerian behavior shaping, achieving the behavior you want from your child through rewarding of successive approximation of the desired behavior, followed by fading out the rewards once the behavior is established. It works. (It can even work on spouses).

Yelling now and then is human and at best an occurrence only by accident, followed by an apology for losing one's temper. It should not be a strategy, however, for raising kids — or for having relationships with other adults.”


I’ve seen many dogs that have known nothing but love. Children? Maybe one. 
“As someone who was brought up in the 50s and 60s in a household where yelling, hitting, and spanking were common, virtually daily occurrences for myself and/or my siblings, I can attest to the lifelong damage this environment created for the children who grew up in it. From middle age, I refused to participate when my mother still seemed to feel the need to periodically yell at me, like she could not let one of my rare and short visits end without a yelling episode. I feel sad for my mother and my childhood family that could not establish a loving environment, and I fervently hope that today's families find better ways of being, as discussed by the author and many commenters of this piece.”

Perhaps the best comment:

“Better to ask, how do I get through the day without yelling at my friends? Co-workers? Boss? Turns out, the only people we yell at are our kids. Why? One, because we can get away with it, and two because we think our job is to control our kids. We can't get away with it with adults, and neither can we control adults. So we don't yell at them. Until we treat our children with as much respect as we do a friend, client, co-worker or boss, there will be no improvement in the emotional environment our children experience. Children are eager to please, eager to cooperate, eager to explore and learn, eager to do pretty much everything that turns them into wonderful adults. Why must we mess with that and try to program behaviors that come naturally? Read Alfie Kohn's Unconditional Parenting for a good guide.”



On the effects of unregulated anger in a child's life, I can corroborate all from my own experience. My siblings and I grew up with the constant threat of wild, explosive, violent anger erupting, sometimes when we misbehaved, but sometimes seemingly without cause, at any time. It was loud and physical, furniture and small bodies both targets unable to escape. To this day loud angry words can shake me to the core, to the point where I can’t think coherently.

My own anger becomes debilitating, makes me tremble and feel not strong, but ready to collapse. And yes, there is always the feeling of unworthiness and guilt, that you must be essentially bad and deserving of punishment. It may take most of a lifetime to work yourself free, and I'm sure many never do.

With so many examples of negative parenting in the world, the Inuit seem eminently wise and loving in their methods, and I have no doubt those children grow up well and strong.


My parents were reasonably nurturing, though I definitely could have used more praise to offset the damage done by the harshness of others — not just the church constantly drumming into you that you were a wretched sinner deserving of eternal punishment and yes, probably heading for it, but also teachers and other adults thinking it was perfectly OK to yell at children, to call them names and shame and demean them in all kinds of ways. And children of course imitate adults, and use physical aggressiveness as well.

“Children, like fish, should be seen but not heard” was a saying I heard constantly. And the really old, the grandparent generation, were firm believers in physical punishment, and urged parents not to hesitate to use the belt. Being a girl helped — but I knew boys who were subjected to downright cruelty.

And the crazy concern that a child must not become “spoiled” through too much affection. Harshness was seen as prevention — because, above all, a child must not spoiled! The idea that the more love a child receives, the better would be considered a very unsettling heresy.

And, as Mary points out when she speaks of feeling guilty and unworthy, one dreadful consequence of harsh child upbringing is that you internalize the harshness. You don’t know how to be gentle and loving to yourself — how to appreciate and respect yourself, much less love yourself. Here the books by Louise Hay were of great help to me. “Immediately stop attacking and criticizing yourself” was a life-changing piece of advice.

On my trips back to Poland, I was glad to see that the old abusiveness (never acknowledged as such — it was regarded as normal and perfectly fine) wasn’t in evidence. I wonder if perhaps the spread of psychological advice played a part here. Another factor is probably the rise in education. The educated are more likely to talk to the children and explain rules to them rather then yell and hit.

What frightened me when I was growing up was that an any time I could be accused of breaking some rule that I didn’t even know existed — the adults (often under heavy stress, it must be admitted) did not bother to take the time to explain the rules. A child was such an inferior being compared to the mighty adult. I learned the word “hierarchical” at some point in my teens, but understood it more deeply only later, especially after experiencing the greater egalitarianism in America, the much greater respect with which people were treated here, including the way teachers spoke to children.

I think I’ve done a lot of recovery work — understanding the power of circumstances has helped me enormously. “It was not my fault — it was the circumstances” proved a very effective way to make peace with my past. But if the stress is heavy enough, I revert to being that frightened four-year-old thrust who assumes it must be my fault. That feeling of unworthiness and irrational guilt — I know it all too well. It’s wonderful that the world is moving toward greater kindness, gentleness, compassion.


~ “Not asking for help.

“You might feel dumb asking questions, but you look dumber when you don't get it because you failed to ask.”

As dumb as you might feel asking questions, it's the fastest way to get an answer.

Here's another way to look at it: if you're not asking for help, you're probably not challenging yourself enough. If you have all the answers, you're not learning new skills, trying new things or moving forward and out of your comfort zone. There are a handful of reasons we don't ask for help, but it's usually because we're too proud or scared, and that's a huge waste of time, because it keeps you from moving forward.

Trying to Make Bad Relationships Work

Relationships require maintenance, but there's a difference between maintaining a good relationship and trying to force a bad one that doesn't make much sense to begin with.

There's a lot of emotion in romance and friendships, so sometimes it's hard to tell when you should keep trying or you should just call it quits. Like a lot of people, I made some common bad decisions that wasted both my time and the time of the person I was with.

At the same time, it's hard to say all bad relationships are a total waste of time, because you learn a lot about yourself from them. That's a valid silver lining, but still, the sooner you learn those lessons, the better.

Similarly, not dealing with the emotional impact of a breakup is also a big waste of time. When a relationship ends, we usually go through the typical stages of grief associated with loss. It's easy to get comfortable with denial and convince ourselves we don't really care and we're fine. In reality, ignoring the pain only prolongs it. Our work suffers; the rest of our relationships suffer.

Dwelling on Your Mistakes and Shortcomings

Learning from your mistakes is one thing. Dwelling on them wastes your time, diminishes your confidence, and keeps you from getting on with your life.

Dwelling also makes you more apt to repeat your mistakes. In a recent study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, researchers asked subjects to spend money during an imaginary trip to the mall. Before "shopping", some subjects were asked to recall a past financial mistake. They found those subjects were more likely to incur debt.

When you think about your own experiences, it probably makes sense. Dwelling on the past makes you feel like a failure. When I feel like a failure, it's easy to tell myself there's no point in trying, because I already suck. (Hence, getting further into debt when you already feel like an overspender.)

Instead of dwelling on the past, Haws said, her research into behavior suggests that setting goals for the future can positively change present behavior. In short, if we want to have better self-control, "Look forward," Haws says. "Don't look back.”

Worrying Too Much About Other People

It's easy to waste time worrying about other people, too. Don't get me wrong — your friends and loved ones mean a lot to you, and you want to spend time nurturing them. But we also spend a lot of time fretting over problems that don't matter in the long run.

Once you understand why you feel jealous or envious, you can take action to take care of the problem, whether that means processing the emotions or coming up with goals for yourself. Either way, that's a lot more productive.

Most of us are probably guilty of all of these at some point, and really, they're human nature. Regret is another big waste of time, so there's no point in beating yourself up over these. The sooner you learn from them, though, the sooner you can free up your time and energy to live the life you want.” ~


This reminds me of Milosz’s motto that helped him end depression: “Escape forward.” Escape into work, which builds the future.


The journey out of the Catholic cult of suffering and its medieval odors was pretty inevitable for me, given that I was well-read and had the riches of literature, the arts, science (I loved paleontology). The great novels presented a world that was nothing like the biblical world — full of “unclean spirits,” alien, cruel, repugnant.

But already Shakespeare’s plays, for instance, presented a rich world of their own, and even if there was a friar, he was a minor character. The lovers, sunk in each other, both anguished and ecstatic, had no need of religion.

The novels, the plays, Beethoven’s symphonies — it was already a god-free world that had a different kind of transcendence, e.g. the beauty of language, the joy of the senses, of simply existing.

True, some people who love classical music say that this is the closest we can get to the divine. But make no mistake: those who deeply love music have no need for religion.

Come to think of it, the secular culture started already with the troubadours. Even Dante was strongly affected by it and set up Beatrice as his female savior.
There have of course been religious poets, always tending to heresy, I think (Milosz certainly admitted to gnosticism), but overall the arts were at least as corrosive as science. Not enough credit is given to the arts. Or to women for having been beautiful and tender enough to inspire love, the human love that was humanizing our world.

Raphael: Lady with a Unicorn (apparently painted in later by one of Raphael’s assistants)

“God is a man. That is why the Bible has that passionate tone not found in other religions dominated by metaphysics. God does not practice metaphysics.” ~ Oscar Milosz, quoted by Czeslaw Milosz in “The Land of Ulro”
For the theologian Swedenborg, the prophecy contain in the Apocalypse had come to pass in his own time. Of the Christian Church all that was left was “the abomination of desolation.” The decline of religion — the mouthing of words in which the hearts no longer believed — was, in his opinion, facilitated by two doctrines.

The first, the doctrine of the Trinity, adopted by the Council of Nicaea in 325 as a weapon against the heresy of Arius, constituted an enigma resolved only by the mind’s imposition of three gods instead of one. Christianity in effect became polytheistic, the consequences of which would not be apparent until centuries later.

Though a rationalist, Swedenborg refused to concede the Arian argument that Christ was a man only. On the contrary, there was no other God but the God-man, Creator of heaven and earth, who was born of a virgin, died, and was resurrected. Christ, in other words, was not “consubstantialis” with the Father but was himself the Father; hence that “Divine Human” signifying the Creator of the Universe. This was the great secret revealed to Swedenborg: our heavenly Father is a man. Heaven has a human shape.

The second fatal doctrine was the act of Redemption by which Christ obtained God’s forgiveness for the sins of mankind. From Mary, Christ received a human, that is, sinful nature, and His life was a succession of temptations overcome, thanks to which human nature became divinized.

Here Swedenborg was challenging the Catholics, for whom Christ’s human nature was without sin, and the Lutherans, who professed that man was saved by faith alone, that salvation was made possible through Christ’s bloody atonement.

The fallacy of both doctrines lay in the way in which they interfered with a decidedly anthropomorphic vision of Godmanhood (the God-man and human nature divinized).

. . . No one is condemned by God to Hell. Each dwells in the company and setting of his choice, according to his will’s intention. The damned, when surrounded by the saved, suffer revulsion and anguish.

Swedenborg posited the year 1757 as the year of the Last Judgment, assigning a strictly allegorical meaning to the Apocalypse. The Judgment took place in the other world; neither Earth nor mankind would come to an end, because the higher world could exist without mankind as little as mankind could exist without the higher world. The Second Advent had also come to pass, not literally but as the truth incarnated in Swedenborg’s writings.

Swedenborg thus transposed the biblical story of Creation and “the final things” to a purely spiritual plane. His theology admits neither to the resurrection of the bodies, with the exception of Christ, nor to the other extreme, that of [reincarnation].

Moreover , if the Last Judgment meant that in the “spirit world” there was to be a strict distinction — hitherto increasingly effaced — between salvation and damnation, then we should have no quarrel with the year 1757. For it coincides with the rise of the Industrial Revolution, along with its concomitant, that of spiritual disinheritance.

A God responsible for an evil world was either not good or not omnipotent. The Gnostics chose the good God, who was now transformed into the Other God, the Unknown God, while the Jehovah of the old Testament received the title of the lower demiurge. Swedenborg’s Christ is God the Father-Man incarnate.

A Swedenborgian concept that had great appeal to the Romantics was the arcanum of marriage, which referred as well to the marriage of spirits since, in Swedenborg’s heaven, angels were of both sexes. [If a couple truly loved each other, they would remain married in the spirit world; otherwise, each would be given a new suitable partner.]
~ Milosz, The Land of Ulro 

from Wikipedia:

~ “According to Swedenborg, angels in heaven do not have an ethereal or ephemeral existence but enjoy an active life of service to others. They sleep and wake, love, breathe, eat, talk, read, work, play, and worship. They live a genuine life in a real spiritual body and world.

An angel’s whole environment – clothes, houses, towns, plants, etc. – are what Swedenborg terms correspondences. In other words, their environment spiritually reflects, and thus "corresponds" to, the mental state of the angel and changes as the angel's state changes.

Swedenborg states that every angel or devil began life as an inhabitant of the human race.
Children who die go directly to heaven, where they are raised by angel mothers.

Angels are men and women in every detail just as they were here on earth, only they are spiritual and thus more perfect.

Swedenborg also says that Christian marriage love of one man and one woman is the highest of all loves, the source of the greatest bliss. “For in themselves Christian marriages are so holy that there is nothing more holy. They are the seminaries of the human race, and the human race is the seminary of the heavens.”

The ancients believed in a fountain of perpetual youth. In heaven their dream is realized, for those who leave this world old, decrepit, diseased in body or deformed, renew their youth, and maintain their lives in the full vigor of early manhood and womanhood.

So who sends people to Heaven or Hell? Nobody but themselves. There is no inquiry as to their faith or former church affiliations, or whether they were baptized, or even what kind of life they lived on Earth. They migrate toward a heavenly or hellish state because they are drawn to its way of life, and for no other reason.” ~


One of my favorite heretics, Swedenborg influenced Blake, the Romantics, and Dostoyevski ("Maybe hell is a grimy Russian country bathhouse, with dried-up spiders in the corners")

I found a Swedenborgian church in Cambridge, MA — maybe the more educated crowd is still drawn to his more man-friendly Christ-centered ideas. I came across Swedenborg’s Heaven and Hell, and I loved the theory of correspondence, e.g. beautiful minds get to live in beautiful "heavenly mansions" while minds filled with malice and other negativity live in hideous, filthy slums, where they always fight with their neighbors. This so amazingly renders wealth vs poverty at least in appearance -- greed doesn't seem to be a factor, only dying in a beautiful state of mind (if only he'd pushed on to the extra-moral causes of poverty, but it was much too early for that rather than "you get what you deserve.") Angels having sex isn't bad either. But I just browsed. He definitely wasn't a vivid writer, though he was attempting to create something similar to Dante's vision.

I also find the quotation by Oscar Milosz to be a keen observation — that the bible gets its passionate tone from the fact that god is a man. Yes, human, all too human. Not that Swedenborg cared for Yahweh's wrath and jealousy, so he made Christ the only god. But it's interesting that he assumed even Christ had to overcome human failings before becoming the "divine human." The idea that man should become divine is abundantly found in literature, starting with the Romantics.

All of this is made up, true — but so is great literature. And there is a certain compulsiveness once someone like Swedenborg or Yeats or Blake or Oscar Milosz starts creating a metaphysical system. The brain can really go on a trip until all the unreal details fall into place, e.g. here is how the angels have sex.



1. Good for Your Teeth

Tea contains very high levels of catechin, an antioxidant that fights oral infections. Fluoride is also a natural component of Earl Grey tea.

2. Digestion

Earl Grey tea has been known to improve digestion. It aids in the digestive process and helps relieve painful indigestion, colic and nausea. It is also used to treat intestinal problems such as worms. Because it helps the digestive process, it can also help to keep you regular.

3. Fights Anxiety and Depression

The bergamot in Earl Grey tea has been known to have a calming effect on people, as well as to boost a person’s mood. This is due to bergamot’s natural aromatherapy qualities. In this way Earl Grey is a good natural solution for people suffering from depression, stress and anxiety.

4. Energy

It may not have as much as a kick as coffee, but it does contain enough caffeine to give you a nice little afternoon boost without keeping you up all night.

5. Cancer Prevention

Earl Grey contains high quantities of antioxidants, which help our bodies to fight off free radicals that cause diseases such as cancer. Therefore, drinking the tasty beverage can give you a greater chance of not developing such diseases.

On a slightly less serious note, antioxidants also help your skin to stay healthy and looking young. Again, this is due to fighting free radicals that can damage your skin.

6. Weight Loss

Unsurprisingly, one of the most popular effects of Earl Grey tea is weight loss. This is primarily due to its citrus extract. It’s because of this that many people believe that citrus fruits in general can induce weight loss. It’s thought that calories are either broken down into food for your muscles or released through the natural metabolic process. So instead of cream or sugar, try putting lemon in your future cups of tea instead.

7. Prevention of Heart Disease

Good news everyone! Apparently, drinking three cups of Earl Grey tea daily may help lower your risk for heart disease. A study published in 2012 in Preventative Medicine found that people who drank three cups of black tea daily dramatically lowered their blood triglyceride levels and increased the ‘good cholesterol’ HDL after three months. The participants also had increased levels of antioxidants, which, as we now know, fight against free radicals that damage your cells.

Further research conducted by the University of Cantanzaro in Italy has also yielded positive results. A study of over two hundred patients with high levels of blood fats found that LDL (also know as ‘bad cholesterol) ‘bad’ cholesterol (LDL) was reduced by 39 per cent after a month of taking Earl Grey extract. It also reduced blood sugars by 22 per cent and raised ‘good’ cholesterol by 41 per cent. The reduction in blood sugar also shows that Earl Grey may be highly beneficial for those suffering with diabetes.

Unlike the effects of coffee, Earl Grey tea relaxes and soothes the body almost instantly. It also has a stress relief effect whilst simultaneously providing the same clarity and focus as coffee. This makes it the perfect alternative for those who don’t want to get overly wired from coffee.

9. Cold Relief
The bergamot found within Earl Grey is said to improve the immune system as well as cure fevers. As such, it’s considered to be a natural cold remedy.

10. It Keeps You Hydrated
And no, not just because you take it with water.

Unlike the dehydrating properties of coffee, tea helps you stay hydrated and maintains the body’s fluid balance because of its high potassium content.
8. Stress Relief


Anyone who is familiar with Earl Grey tea knows the fragrant, citrusy scent and distinct flavor of bergamot. But what the heck is it? Where does it come from?

Bergamot is a fragrant citrus fruit from the tropical, Citrus bergamia plant. Common throughout the Mediterranean, the fruit is the size of an orange, yet similar in color to a lime, or even yellowish, depending on the ripeness.

Unlike other citrus fruits, bergamot has a distinctive, heady fragrance and flavor. It is highly aromatic, and the essential oils are extracted from the rind. The fragrant oil is used to make perfumes, colognes, scented soaps, and of course, it gives Earl Grey tea its signature flavor and aroma.

Citrus bergamot lowers blood sugar levels, promotes good cholesterol, and reduces fatty deposits in the liver.


Funny, for many years I thought that bergamot was a kind of pear. It’s an orange! And Earl Gray happens to be my favorite tea.

ending on beauty:

“When I fall into the abyss, I go straight into it, head down and heels up, and I'm even pleased that I'm falling in just such a humiliating position, and for me I find it beautiful. And so in that very shame I suddenly begin a hymn.”

~ Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, Book III, Chapter 3

and vice versa, I want to add: we may begin a hymn, and suddenly slip into an abyss.

Saturday, April 6, 2019


photo by Bui Thanh Phuong


“Polish or German, what’s the difference,”
he shrugged, the American
who thought I was German.
“A huge difference,” I began,

face flushed with the venom of history.
Dates of battles,
marshes of blood.
I grew up in a mass graveyard.

Yet the stranger was right.

No nation is eternal.
Greece keens over the splendid
broken bodies,
Egypt sleeps in her own tomb.

Who I really was —
Polish or German,
French or Russian —
empty thrones in echoing museums.


On my second trip to Poland, we visited
my mother’s schoolteacher.
Ninety-four, she’d grown tiny as a child,
her skin peeling like an old oilcloth.

Straining to see us, her eyes bleached of color,
she fluttered to the oak wardrobe:
“I must put on something pretty!”
She recognized only my cousin

Janina, the daughter of her
great love. Told over and over
who I was, whose daughter I was,
she’d forget and greet me again,

looking up with such light
in those half-blind eyes
that slowly I understood:
who I was, what my name was —

echoes thinner than the soul.
When the Angel of Love and Death
stands over us with trembling wings,
no difference as she sings

another story. It’s the music
that carries us on.

~ Oriana

If only one poem of mine were to survive, it would be between this one and Lot’s Wife.

Azrael is the name of the Angel of Death — in this poem I prefer to call him the Angel of Love and Death, since the two are more related than people suspect. On the biological level, it’s puberty that’s the first “death switch.” The capacity for sexual reproduction means that the end growth is near, and with it the ability to repair tissue damage (a fetus is best at it, but children still do very well). Without puberty, we’d be near-immortal (only “near” because some mishap would wipe out us in the end) — and we’d continue growing throughout lifetime.

And since we are doomed to mortality and erotic love, labels that we put on ourselves — in terms of nationality, parentage, professional titles, possessions, and the like — are pretty ridiculous when it comes to the larger picture of being human. What matters is that we are not isolated individuals — we are part of humanity. Each story is part of the greater story of humanity. 


With Azrael opening this blog you set the stage for Vonnegut and his Slaughterhouse Five. What is it to be human — so temporary, so fragile, and so fierce in our desires---for more, for love, for something that will last past our individual stories? Those stories we feel so singular, so all absorbing, so important, precious as the memories of fallen heroes, splendid as Egypt in its glory. The particularities of identity we treasure — nationality and culture, Poland and Germany, not to be muddied and confused, not to be disregarded, and yet in time all ephemeral, all wonder and accomplishment come down to the same as Shakespeare's definition of man . . . a "quintessence of dust."

What is important, as both the poem and Vonnegut's work discover, is not so much each single story, but all of them, one following another, all they share, the grief and hope and all the absurdities of chance, that we are all like the soldier on the battlefield, whose survival or death is purely a matter of luck. There is no fairness, no justice, no deserving one fate or another, no meaning to discover but the one we make. And it is our community, our connection, the situation we all suffer in a world that can be worse than even the most horrific imagined hell, that can become the "music that carries us on." Empathy, compassion, kindness, and the kind of humor that recognizes absurdity without nihilism, horror without despair . . . the only road out of a world ravaged and destroyed beyond recognition.


Thanks for your eloquent commentary.

I feel grateful to that American stranger. Until that encounter, I was trapped in the very thing I said I left Poland to escape — nationalism. I didn’t realize it — in Europe even the smallest countries (and perhaps especially the smallest countries) are still quite obsessed with their history and changing borders, their heroic myths about themselves, their particular enemies (never mind that it was centuries ago). And of course you can’t criticize that without giving tremendous offense. 

But the truth is: no country is eternal. Even worse for the nationalists: once you look at the larger picture, the differences are almost insignificant next to what people have in common.

Nationalism is what Vonnegut called a “granfalloon” — a pretty meaningless identity, like being a “Hoosier.” I had a few friends who grew up in Poland, but those friendships fell apart quickly. We simply didn’t have enough in common.

Christian Schloe: Amor



~ “On Shrove Tuesday – 13 February 1945 – the weather lifted as children prepared for carnival. Air raid sirens wailed at 9.51pm and minutes later 800 RAF planes began dropping their bombs, guided by the flares that lit up the city for one final view of what had stood for 700 years. The American POWs joined the hanging beef in the Schlachthof underground with only four German soldiers, who shut the steel door behind them.
Sheer walls of heat blockaded the city. Within, the tornado of fire created by the incendiary bombs was so intense that the air crews could feel the heat from 8,000 feet up. A second wave of RAF bombers attacked three hours after the first.

When the POWs emerged on Wednesday, Dresden was gone. Mardi Gras had become a grotesque parade, the streets filled with charred corpses frozen in time, with remains of children in fancy dress and dead animals everywhere – even the horror of people boiled alive after diving into water tanks and fountains. In the afternoon a third wave of aircraft, American B-17 bombers, attacked the remains. The Americans were moved through this three-dimensional Bruegel painting to the barracks of South African POWs housed four miles south of the city center. Modern historians believe 25,000 people died over the three days and 100,000 refugees fled the city.

On Thursday the POWs were instructed to help the clear-up: moving rubble, piling bodies and salvaging anything worthwhile. Vonnegut was told to locate the dead in basements, what he called “corpse mining”. Over the next few weeks, the harder-to-reach bodies began to decompose and those hunting them were driven mad by the leaking viscera from families of disintegrating cadavers, so the Germans decided their only option was to incinerate them with flame throwers.

As Vonnegut himself says in the introduction, all this is “pretty much true” and the war experiences of the main character, Billy Pilgrim, mirror his own. But here’s the thing: the firebombing of Dresden covers little more than a page. What Slaughterhouse-Five becomes is metafiction with a sigh.

Billy has become “unstuck in time” and claims he has been kidnapped by aliens who reveal to him how their species see in four dimensions. Billy is placed in a zoo on the planet Tralfamadore and partnered in captivity with an adult-film star, Montana Wildhack, with whom he has a child. “The most important thing I learned on Tralfamadore was that when a person dies he only appears to die. He is still very much alive in the past, so it is very silly for people to cry at his funeral. All moments past, present and future always have existed, always will exist. The Tralfamadorians can look at all the different moments just the way we can look at a stretch of the Rocky Mountains.”

Vonnegut inserts “so it goes” – a Tralfamadorian expression – for each death we encounter. Anything or anyone that dies is leveled in time, from Billy’s dog and the bubbles in champagne to the lice on the uniforms of American soldiers and inhabitants of Dresden. “When a Tralfamadorian sees a corpse, all he thinks is that the dead person is in a bad condition at that particular moment.”

Vonnegut’s literary Möbius strip works because he finds a way to balance horror and humor, philosophy and farce, narrative and chaos. In Germany, Billy ends up dressed in a torn woman’s jacket and the silver boots he stole from British POWs after a performance of Cinderella. When Billy watches a war movie backwards, Vonnegut recounts the sight of bombs being sucked back into the bellies of aircraft, corpses coming back to life and crews returning safely to base. The pace and simplicity of the telling is what makes it so moving.

Articulation is left to the birds. “There is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre... Everything is supposed to be very quiet after a massacre, and it always is, except for the birds. And what do the birds say? All there is to say about a massacre, things like ‘Poo-tee-weet?’”

As if to accept the legacy left him by his mother [who had committed suicide], Vonnegut attempted suicide on 13 February 1984 by taking an overdose of sleeping pills and alcohol. It was the 39th anniversary of the Dresden firebombing. It was also the day in 1976 Billy Pilgrim died once and forever in Slaughterhouse-Five. But Vonnegut lived, so more a case of “but not me” than “so it goes”.

We must listen to people who have seen such things as Vonnegut. Far from nihilism, he extols empathy, generosity and the notion of common decency personified by the character Edgar Derby – the soldier who survived Dresden only to be executed for stealing a teapot.

It is the easiest thing to ignore war for those who have not known it. Vonnegut was plagued by the idea that humans could kill each other in such a way. We need him to express that obsession, because most of us will never understand it. Hopefully. It seems that we are now closer to another global conflict than any time since the Sixties. It’s almost like we can’t avoid it. That, sadly, is about as Vonnegut a sentiment as you get. At least we can still laugh. Kurt Vonnegut made you ashamed to be human, but glad to be alive.” ~

Dresden, February 1945: collecting the dead bodies

Oriana:I left out two paragraphs that I now think do summarize Vonnegut’s writing in general:

~ “Laughter and sobbing are physiologically the same thing,” said Kurt Vonnegut. “I prefer laughter to tears because there’s less cleaning up to do afterwards.” Always with the jokes. Vonnegut was unable to make a joke without leaving a tragedy around the next corner and unable to pass up the opportunity to undermine his most profound utterances with a laugh. That, for him, was reality, however unreal it seemed.

This is a story about stories. It’s about how experience is turned into art and how horror becomes beauty. It’s about how something beyond expression can become something expressed in a way no one had thought of before and, in particular, it’s about how one very funny but damaged writer turned a catastrophic loss of human life into a novel that can just about save your faith in humanity.” ~

Vonnegut certainly knew that often we laugh in order not to cry; we sing in order not to scream; we dance in order not to fall down. These choices may be unconscious, but are profound nevertheless.


“But she did look back, and I love her for that because it was so human.” ~ Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five


I have a persona poem about Lot's wife, and she says "Only I obeyed / the human commandment" -- which is to see, to know, to find out. And in her famous poem about Lot’s Wife, Akhmatova also says she cannot reject "her who gave her life / for a single glance."

There is a rabbinical midrash that calls Lot's wife "Edith" (humanizing her that way) and explains she looked back to see if perhaps her two other daughters (the married ones) had left the city after all and were following. But I prefer the human drive to see and know as the reason.


And to witness and remember.

"Lot's Wife" on Mount Sodom 


Much as I admire Slaughterhouse-Five, it’s Vonnegut's The Sirens of Titan that has indelibly marked me as the darkest dystopia, including Church of God the Utterly Indifferent. No religion could survive truth in advertising.

“If you want to really hurt your parents, and you don’t have the nerve to be gay, the least you can do is go into the arts. I’m not kidding. THE ARTS ARE NOT A WAY TO MAKE A LIVING. THEY ARE A VERY HUMAN WAY OF MAKING LIFE MORE BEARABLE. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possible can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.” ~ Kurt Vonnegut, from A Man Without a Country


I remember when I used to make myself unhappy. To paraphrase Plath, I did it exceptionally well. And it's hard or even impossible for an unhappy person to make others happy. Here is Ebert's wisdom:

“Kindness covers all of my political beliefs. No need to spell them out. I believe that if, at the end, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn’t always know this and am happy I lived long enough to find out.”

~ Roger Ebert (1942-2013)

spring blossoms in Krakow; Ania Stepień 
I absolutely could not believe this kind of wisdom when I was young. The cult of suffering was ingrained in me. I don't know if it was the persistence of the belief that suffering is good for you — it allegedly “builds character” and “makes you stronger” — or perhaps even some unconscious remainder of the Catholic idea that “The more you suffer here, the less time in Purgatory.” Or maybe it was a shallow understanding of existentialism. In any case, I despised happiness: “happiness is for pigs.” Such stupidity, such cruelty to the self. It took me a very long time to see that being happy and contributing to the joy of others (which also increases our happiness in a "virtuous circle") is by far the most important.

John Guzlowski:

Happiness has a bad rap in western civilization. suffering gets a lot of press and praise. Hamlet, Raskolnikov, Satan — they all are seen as heroic unhappy sufferers.

Gustave Doré: Satan

True. And all those Byronic heroes with their mysterious melancholy. Likewise, we tend to see tragedy and unhappy endings as greater art than works with happy endings. As John says, it is a deep bias in the Western culture. But perhaps things are changing somewhat — we are becoming more aware that a work of art need not be shallow — or even be devoid of tragedy — in order to “contribute joy to the world.”


 . . . this goodly frame, the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory; this most excellent canopy, the air—look you, this brave o'erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire—why, it appears no other thing to me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapors. What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world. The paragon of animals. And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me. No, nor woman neither, though by your smiling you seem to say so.

~ Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2

Alan Cumming as Hamlet

“Love is not the answer; it's the question. What to love? What to hate? What to be for? What to be against? Yes, I have hatred in my heart, and would argue so does anyone who loves deeply. You can’t love something deeply without hating its opposite.” ~ Jeremy Sherman


This seems true. At the same time, we can try to focus more on things we love rather than those we hate. It’s the focus, the dominant emphasis, that makes a profound difference.


“A customer who turned 98 yesterday was reminiscing about the days when Franklin Roosevelt raised the minimum wage from 40 cents a day to $1 a day. That, my friends, was the beginning of America’s descent into socialist hell.” ~ Matt Flumerfelt


FDR is my favorite president, ahead even of Lincoln. And I feel a deep gratitude to LBJ for having managed to introduce Medicare. Like FDR with Social Security, LBJ had to deal with tremendous opposition to Medicare as “socialized medicine.” The long-term plan was indeed Medicare for All. I'm curious if I’ll see it in my lifetime. At least it’s being discussed.

FDR and Frances Perkins, signing of the Social Security Act


~ “Much about demography is “baked into the future” and is certain to happen. And this demographic future can be summarized in three colors: more gray, more green and less white.


The median age of the world’s population has already risen by around seven years since 1960. In the developed world, it has risen by more than a decade in the same period, while in east Asia as a whole it has risen by 16 years and in South Korea, an astonishing 22 years.

Yet the process is only just beginning. According to the middle-range UN forecasts, by the end of the present century median man or woman will be over 40, a dozen years older than today. This means that between 1960 and 2100 the median person will have doubled in age from barely 20 to more than 40.

Among the record-breakers for greater age will be Ethiopians (today on average 18, by 2100 aged 43), and Syrians (today aged barely 20, in 2100 likely to be aged nearly 47). Many countries, from Poland to Sri Lanka and Japan, will have a median age of over 50. By the end of this century, Libya’s median age is projected to be roughly where Japan’s is now.

Such aged societies have never been seen in history. When Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story was first produced in 1957 the median age among Puerto Ricans (in Puerto Rico rather than in New York, it is true) was around 18; by 2100 it will be little short of 55. It is only a slight exaggeration to say that, to be age representative, a latter-day Bernstein would need to set his musical in an old people’s home rather than among street gangs.

How this marked aging will affect the world cannot be predicted with any certainty, but it is surely the case that a world in which the median age is around 20 (1960) is profoundly different from one in which it is over 40 (2100), not only because of all the political, economic and technological changes that are likely to have happened, but also by sheer dint of its aging population. The changes effected by aging are likely to be both positive and negative. Viewed optimistically, the world is more likely to be a peaceful and law-abiding place.

There is a strong correlation between the youth of a society and the violence and crime within it. Not all young societies are embroiled in crime and war, but almost all old societies are at peace. Not only are older people less likely to take up arms or become criminals; young people, where they are few and far between, are more valued and more heavily invested in. Mothers who have only one son are less likely than mothers with many sons to goad them to take up arms against enemies real or perceived. 

On the other hand, older societies are less likely to be dynamic, innovative and risk-taking. An older population is more likely to want to hold the safest sort of investment, high-quality bonds rather than equities, for example, and this will affect markets and in turn the real economy. Real estate demand will also change as more and more accommodation is required by elderly singles and less and less by growing families—these effects are already at work in much of the developed world, and are set to go global.

While median age captures the age of a society as a whole, it is the rise in the number of elderly which tends to receive the greatest attention, not least because of the pressure this is likely to put on the welfare states of developed countries where state provision for older people is advanced. This is often expressed as a “support ratio”—the number of people of working age (however defined) to each older person—and as early as 2050 in Japan this figure will be approaching one to one. In Western Europe, although lower than Japan, it will be twice as high in 2050 as it was in 2005. Pensions in the developed world as a whole are set to double as a share of GDP without significant reform by 2050, and the greater demands of older people on health services will also be a fiscal challenge for a developed world where budgets are already under strain and debt to GDP ratios are seen by many as perilously high.

In the developed world, with state welfare provision, this may still be an issue, but in the developing world the question will be more critical. Countries will have to cope with growing old before they grow rich. In the developed world, however financed, young workers from countries like Thailand and the Philippines can be drawn in to help with elderly care, at least if allowed to do so by local immigration legislation. For developing countries with an aging population this will not be a luxury they can afford.


Accepting that almost come what may, the world is set to become more gray, there is also every chance that it could become more green. This flies in the face of conventional wisdom, which suggests that humanity is still in the midst of a population explosion which is wrecking the planet. There is no doubt that the great increase in human population on the one hand and the vast increase in living standards on the other has done much environmental damage. Humankind has taken over more and more of the planet for living space and farming, and modern lifestyles certainly churn out a great deal of environmentally damaging substances.

Where human population starts to decline, from Japan to Bulgaria, nature moves fast into the void. Because of slower than once expected decline in African fertility rates, the UN now expects the global population to exceed 11 billion and not to have stopped growing by the end of the current century; however, by then it should just about have stabilized, with growth at a tenth of that experienced today and a twentieth of that experienced in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Demography is a car that first trundles along slowly, then reaches tremendous speed and most recently has decelerated so significantly that in the course of this century it is very likely to have ground to a halt.


The third color we can predict with some certainty is “less white.” With the great population explosion starting among the Anglo-Saxons and then moving on to other Europeans, the white population of the world experienced an extraordinary expansion both in absolute and relative terms from the start of the 19th century to the middle of the 20th century. This has had profound political consequences, and without it, it is hard to imagine that European imperialism could have grown so extensive or had such an impact on the world. However, the Anglo-Saxons had no monopoly on falling mortality and sustained high fertility (and hence high population growth), and neither have people of European extraction. Until recently the lowest fertility, oldest and slowest-growing populations in the world were in Europe, and it was here, too, that population decline in recent times first set in. More recently, however, the peoples of north-east Asia have begun to catch up and in some cases, on some measures, overtake Europeans, and in time no doubt others will follow. Thai women have fewer children than British women, although Thailand still has some “demographic momentum” to enjoy.

The decline in people of European origin can be seen on two levels: continental within a global context, and country by country. Starting with the first of these, in 1950, as the era of European imperialism was ending, the population of the European continent contained around 22 percent of humanity. Adding in overwhelmingly white Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the USA, the figure came to 29 percent. Sixty-five years later, Europe’s share was down to 10 percent and that of the “wider white world” down to 15 percent. Taking UN median projections, these two figures will by the end of the current century fall to 6 percent and 11 percent respectively. Many countries in Europe are already experiencing population decline, or would be were it not for inward migration. If UN projections are correct, then Bulgaria and Moldova will have lost half their population by the end of the current century and Latvia will not be far behind. Germany will have lost 10 percent and Italy 20 percent.

Moreover, those countries are themselves becoming less white. By the middle of this century people of “white British” origin may be just 60 percent of the population of the UK, although admittedly many of the immigrants and people of immigrant origin will be of European extraction. The white population of the United States, 85 percent in 1965 and 67 percent in 2005, is projected to dip below 50 percent by mid-century. In both countries it is likely that a “mixed origin” element will be significant and fast-growing.

The flipside of white decline in relative numbers has been and will continue to be the rise of Africa. In the middle of the 20th century, after centuries of being sidelined, colonized and subject to slavery, sub-Saharan Africans accounted for barely one person in ten on the planet; by the end of this century they are likely to account for one person in four.” ~


This is such an interesting reversal of Malthus, who of course goes back to before effective contraception. As the prosperity of the country increases, families get smaller. In fact the demographic problem in Europe and parts of Asia is women’s unwillingness to bear children (plural) — they often stop at one, or choose to remain childless (or “child-free” — the very emergence of that phrase points to the awareness of how having children is increasingly perceived as more stress and expense than it’s worth).

Yes, but before the population shrinks, the earth will be crowded indeed — and increasingly in cities. The phase of the most rapid population growth is already over, but at this point the world population is still growing. Nevertheless, women everywhere are already having fewer children — in many countries, the birth rate is below the 2.1, the so-called replacement rate. Some experts think that the shrinking may start as early as 2060.

You might say, but at a certain degree of crowding, won’t there be wars and diseases that will shrink the population sooner than the “baked-in demographics”? Here is one reader’s comment:

“War has little effect on population growth. Even WW II had little effect. Barring global nuclear war, war is likely to have little effect. ~"Professor Barry Brook, who co-led the study at the University of Adelaide, Australia, said: ‘'We were surprised that a five-year WW3 scenario, mimicking the same proportion of people killed in the first and second world wars combined, barely registered a blip on the human population trajectory in this century.’'

from another source:

~ “In the 1970s, the fertility rate began to drop below 2.1 in the most advanced economies and began dropping in developing countries as well, a phenomenon that has been described as “one of history’s most astounding global shifts.” In hindsight, it shouldn’t have been a surprise at all. The more a society urbanizes and the more control women exert over their bodies, the fewer babies they choose to have. Today, in most Western nations, such as the United States (fertility rate: 1.9) and Canada (fertility rate: 1.6), 80 percent of the population live in cities, and women have something close to total control over their reproductive choices.

But fertility declines aren’t unique to the developed world. Urbanization and the empowerment of women are global phenomena. We know that China and India are at or below the 2.1 replacement rate. But so are other developing countries: Brazil (1.8), Mexico (2.3), Malaysia (2.1), Thailand (1.5). Birth rates are still very high in Africa (Niger: 7.4; Malawi: 4.9; Ghana: 4.2) and parts of the Middle East (Afghanistan: 5.3; Iraq 4.6; Egypt: 3.4). But these high-fertility countries share one thing in common with their low-fertility counterparts: Everywhere, virtually without exception, birth rates are coming down. Nowhere are they going up.

Once having one or two children becomes the norm, it stays the norm.” ~


I find the completely unexpected universal change in population growth — that is to zero or even negative growth — actually a very hopeful one. Not so much in the resulting shrinkage in population as that it is a lesson in caution when assuming things will continue always moving in the direction we are used to. Things always change, of course, but this particular reversal of what was assumed to be a permanent movement toward more and more population growth, teaches us that some of our most basic ideas can be upended by developments we thought impossible, that go on and happen anyway.


I know it definitely won’t happen in my lifetime, but I think it would be fabulous if we could stabilize the population at two billion or so. It would be lovely to have more forests and more “nature” in general . . .

But first we have to resolve the climate crisis, or else the climate change will shrink — or even eliminate — the population in very unpleasant ways.


~ “Just because you experience something, just because something causes you to feel a certain way, just because you care about something, doesn’t mean it’s about you.

When people criticize you or reject you, it likely has way more to do with them — their values, their priorities, their life situation — than it does with you. I hate to break it to you, but other people simply don’t think about you that much (after all, they’re too busy trying to believe everything is about them).

When something you do fails, it doesn’t mean you are a failure as a person, it simply means you are a person who happens to fail sometimes.
When something tragic happens and you become horribly hurt, as much as your pain has you absolutely convinced that this must be about you, remember that hardship is part of choosing to live, that the tragedy of death is what gives meaning to life, and that pain has no prejudice — it afflicts us all. Deserving or not deserving isn’t part of the equation.

Second Important life Skill: How to Be Persuaded and Change Your Mind

Most people, when their beliefs are challenged, hold onto them as though they are a life vest on a sinking ship.

The problem is that often times their beliefs are the sinking ship.

Take dating. I’ve seen men who still held onto beliefs about themselves that they formed in high school — that women aren’t interested in nerds; that they need to have a bunch of money or a sweet ass car to be loved. Maybe these beliefs served them and explained their lives when they were 16. But at 32, these same beliefs and assumptions were wrecking their dating life.

You’re going to be wrong a lot in life. In fact, you’re going to be wrong pretty much all of the time. And in many ways, your ability to succeed and learn over the long-term is directly proportional to your ability to change what you believe.

Try this: Write down 20 things in your life today that you could potentially be wrong about. And again, I don’t just mean material stuff. I’m sure my understanding of physics is sorely lacking in many ways. But that’s not the most important thing I need to change my mind about.

What we’re going for here is questioning some of those deep assumptions about your identity — I am not an attractive person; I am lazy; I don’t know how to talk to people; I won’t ever be happy because I feel stuck in my life; I think the world is going to end next Tuesday.

The more emotionally charged the assumption, the more important it is to write it down and challenge it.

Then, after you’ve gotten 20, go through and write down what it would mean in your life if it were wrong.

Third Important Life Skill: How to Act Without Knowing the Result

Teacher wants a paper. So you write it. Mom wants a clean room. So you clean it.

But most of life — that is, real life — doesn’t work this way. When you decide to change careers, there’s no one there telling you which career is right for you. When you decide to commit to someone, there’s no one telling you this relationship is going to make you happy. When you decide to start a business or move to a new country or eat waffles instead of pancakes for breakfast, there’s no way of knowing — for certain — if what you’re doing is “right” or not.
And so we avoid it. We avoid making these decisions. We avoid moving and acting without knowing. And because we cannot act on what we don’t know, our lives become incredibly repetitive and safe.

Developing the ability to simply do things for no other reason than curiosity or interest or hell, even boredom — the ability to do things with no expectation for result or accolade or productivity or fanfare — will train you to better make these big ambiguous life decisions. It will train you to simply start on something without knowing where in the hell it’s going.

And while this will result in a thousand tiny failures, it will also likely result in your life’s biggest successes.

Stop making everything you do about accomplishing some fucking goal.
Or to put it another way: Get good at wasting time in unexpected ways.” ~


Hard to disagree with any of it. Life is so full of surprises that making a big deal of the goals we may have set for ourselves in youth is usually a guarantee of frustration. True, “diminished expectations,” that unmistakable sign of growing older, has a negative ring to it. Don’t be too put off by “diminished.” It’s a sign of the “wisdom of age” — as is knowing that the outcome of what we do is uncertain at best, and in any case whatever we achieve will be only temporary.

So is the knowledge that what people think about you says a lot more about them than about you. You are lucky to be important to one person, maybe two or three. It’s best to pay no attention to your “importance” — only to keep asking yourself how you can contribute. And it's best to concentrate on the work itself, not the outcome. Deep focus = happiness.

"We must let go of the life we've planned so that we can have the life that's waiting for us." ~ Joseph Campbell



~ “In the late 1980s, as the world's governments were waking up to the problem of climate change, the mud at the bottom of the ocean near Antarctica revealed a surprise. Earth had lived through rapid global warming before.

About 55 million years ago global temperatures spiked. Then, as now, sea levels rose, the oceans became more acidic, and species disappeared forever.

The geologists who studied those Antarctic sediments in the 1980s published their findings in 1991. They reported that the shells of tiny planktonic fossils in the muds had betrayed the rapid temperature swings.

More precisely, it was the oxygen isotopes locked away in those shells. At around the 55-million-year mark, the amount of "heavy" oxygen-18 in the shells rose relative to "lighter" oxygen-16.

That greater abundance of oxygen-18 is a sure sign that conditions were getting warmer. Water evaporates more readily at higher temperatures, and it's the "light" oxygen-16 that is most easily vaporized. This means that warmer water contains more oxygen-18, and the plankton living in warmer water incorporate more of the stuff into their shells.

Like oxygen, carbon exists in different isotopic forms. At exactly the same time that the plankton shells became rich in oxygen-18, they also began carrying much more carbon-12 relative to carbon-13. The oceans must suddenly have gained a big supply of carbon-12.

This is something that generally happens after a massive injection of carbon-rich greenhouse gases – carbon dioxide (CO2) or methane – into the atmosphere.

In other words, the PETM seems to have been caused by greenhouse gases just like modern-day climate change.

Most researchers think the PETM warming really took place over a  long period, but exactly how long is still up for discussion.

One 2011 estimate suggests that the carbon was released over a period of perhaps 20,000 years.

Such a slow release is very different from today. It might indicate that the greenhouse gases came from the relatively gradual release of gases from volcanic activity.

Research published in 2014 points to a middle ground. Gabriel Bowen at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City and his colleagues examined the carbon isotopes preserved in soils that formed 55 million years ago in what is now Wyoming.

Whereas the ocean sediments tell us about conditions in the PETM oceans, the soils sample the PETM atmosphere, which responds more rapidly to climate change.

The by-now-familiar surge in carbon-12 popped up again, this time preserved in carbonate nodules that grew in the soil. In this case, it looks like the carbon was released into the atmosphere over about 1500 years: a timescale that looks more similar to today's atmospheric changes.

The ancient soils also indicate the pace of carbon emissions.

The researchers calculated that something approaching 1 billion tonnes of carbon entered the ancient atmosphere each year. That is within an order of magnitude of the current annual release rate of 9.5 billion tonnes.

Bowen and his colleagues made another discovery in Wyoming. They realized that there were actually two distinct pulses of warming 55 million years ago.

A few thousand years before the PETM itself, a vast quantity of carbon-rich greenhouse gases entered the atmosphere from an unidentified source, again at a rate of about 1 billion tonnes per year.

The environment seemed seems to have almost brushed off this "pre-onset event". Atmospheric temperatures rose, but within a couple of thousand years they fell again. Conditions had apparently returned to normal.

The fall in atmospheric temperatures probably came about because the oceans absorbed the heat from the pre-onset event. That might have paved the way for the PETM itself.

When the oceans warm up a little, vast deposits of methane that are "frozen" in the seabed begin to melt. The methane – a potent greenhouse gas – bubbles up, enters the atmosphere and raises global temperatures.

This leads to more ocean warming, triggers more methane release from the seabed, and causes atmospheric temperatures to rise more, and so on. Soon the planet becomes very warm, which is exactly what happened 55 million years ago during the PETM.

Something similar might be happening today. As the modern oceans warm there is good evidence that methane is once again bubbling up from the seabed. The PETM offers us a preview of where that can lead.

Regardless, while the PETM's exact cause is still elusive, its effects are clear.

Even back in 1991 when it was first described, it was evident that the PETM was a killer.

Some of the microfossil species preserved in the Antarctic sediments disappeared as the warming began. The species impacted were those that lived deep in the oceans. They experienced their most severe extinction in tens of millions of years.

Curiously, many microscopic species that lived in the shallower ocean waters actually flourished – an early sign that there were winners and losers as the climate changed.

It was probably a combination of factors that killed the deep-sea species. The warmer temperatures would have been unwelcome, but there may also have been less oxygen available in that warmer water.

However, other microbes may have taken advantage of those oxygen-poor conditions.

Seawater changed in other ways that were clearly harmful. When the oceans absorb greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, the process produces a mild acid in the water, lowering the pH: a phenomenon known as ocean acidification. We know it is happening in the world's oceans today, and it happened 55 million years ago too.

Then, as now, ocean acidification was bad news for marine species that build skeletons out of calcium carbonate, because this solid mineral begins to dissolve when the pH drops. Acidification might have been a factor in the deep-sea extinction, and it also affected some shallow living species.

In particular, the world's coral reefs faced one of their five greatest crises since they first evolved 550 million years ago.

In the Arctic, plenty more rain than usual fell during the PETM, probably because stronger ocean evaporation in the tropics delivered more water vapor to higher latitudes.

In Wyoming, plant ranges shifted hundreds of kilometers north as temperatures rose. Conifers apparently disappeared from the area entirely, only returning as temperatures fell after the PETM.

The PETM also marks the moment when many of the mammal groups that dominate the world today – including horses, cattle and other hoofed animals – appeared and spread across the northern continents. They probably did so probably in response to the warmer conditions.

But members of these familiar animal groups would have looked odd to our eyes.

"There is strong evidence that about 40% of the mammalian fauna got smaller during the PETM," says Ross Secord at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. "Nothing appears to have gotten larger."

Some mammals became very small indeed.

When atmospheric CO2 levels rise, the leaves and shoots of plants may become less nutritious and harder for herbivores to digest. If that happened during the PETM, it could have led to slower animal growth, and herbivores might have begun to shrink. Carnivores, forced to target smaller prey, might have followed suit.

Modern primates appeared and spread at the beginning of the PETM, alongside horses and other hoofed animals. Their early fossil record is patchy, but they appear at almost exactly the same time in Asia, Europe, the Americas and Africa.

Within a few tens of millions of years, our particular branch of the primate tree had flourished to such a degree that the world really had become the planet of the apes. About 5 million years later, the first upright apes we recognize as our direct ancestors appeared.

Would primates have become so successful if the PETM had never happened? No one can say for sure.

horse the size of a domestic cat (Sifrhippus)



I’ve been pondering an article on how god became homeless and lonely as fewer and fewer people believe there is “anyone up there.” I think there are different stages in disbelief. At first there may be anger at the church for having massively lied to us and manipulated us using threats of hell and promise of heaven. There is some shame we ever fell for it. That embarrassment tends to dissipate once we manage to remember we were helpless children — though I know two people who told me they were strong-minded youngsters who went to Sunday school just once and never again, or, alternately, stayed in Sunday school just a year or so before deciding it was all fairy tales (young Emily Dickinson, alone in her class, did not come forth to “accept Jesus”).

Anger at god is common after something nasty happens. Paradoxically, one can be seized with a real rage against a fictional character — that is, the rational mind knows that it’s a fictional character, but the emotional circuits fire on automatic. A Yiddish proverb: “If god lived on earth, people would break his windows.”

Priests shrewdly did not allow the gods to live on earth, unless on inaccessible mountain peaks (it was forbidden to climb a sacred mountain). Still, a throne in the clouds was safer by far from the curious. But as scientific knowledge began to grow, this throne was placed farther and farther away. In the first half of the twentieth century, Simone Weil, though highly educated, believed that god literally lived in cosmic space just beyond earth’s atmosphere. When that became untenable, the throne of gold was disposed of, and the answer became the mystical “everywhere.”

But “everywhere” is so non-specific that it can easily flow into nowhere. So a kind of pity can arise — agains in spite of knowing that we are talking about a fictional character — when we ponder god’s homelessness, loneliness, and lack of anything to do, since he can’t violate the laws of nature (which means that it's the laws of nature that are actually "in charge" and not god).

Pity and anger — that reminds me of “pity and horror,” the emotions that Greek tragedies were supposed to inspire. His human creators endowed him with so much hubris that a fall was inevitable: a dethroned deity, shrinking into uselessness — but still, in one remaining version, used to promote the horror of violence.

Jewish, I guess?



~ “PERSONS WITH SCHIZOPHRENIA HAVE A GREATLY DIMINISHED LIFE SPAN. [THEY TEND TO] DIE MORE THAN 25 YEARS EARLIER THAN THE GENERAL POPULATION. In other words, these individuals can only expect to live about 70% of the normal life span. Why do they die early?

In a paper recently published in JAMA Psychiatry, Mark Olfson and colleagues set out to answer this question. They examined reasons for premature mortality in a group of over 1 million people with schizophrenia covered by Medicaid, the largest insurance provider for persons suffering from schizophrenia in the U.S. They identified causes of death for over 65,500 of the 74,000 people who died during the study period and found that individuals with schizophrenia had an increased rate of death across all ages and all demographic groups when compared to the general population.

What were the causes of death in these individuals? Olfson and colleagues found that both natural causes and unnatural causes of death were increased by over three-fold. The most common causes of death were cardiovascular disease, cancer (particularly lung cancer), diabetes, influenza, accidental deaths, and suicides. The large majority of deaths (almost 55,750) resulted from natural causes. However, the rates of death from suicide and accidents were also substantially elevated.

Smoking is a significant risk factor for a number of diseases on this list. It has been known for a long time that a large majority of persons with schizophrenia smoke. In fact, the rate of smoking for individuals with schizophrenia is more than twice the rate observed in individuals without schizophrenia. Many are also very heavy smokers. This increased rate of smoking accounts for some of the increased death rate, but not all of it.” ~

ending on beauty:

The water, that circle of shattered glass,
healed itself with a slow whisper
and lay back
with the back-lit light of polished steel,
and the birds, in the endless waterfalls of the trees,
shook open the snowy pleats of their wings, and drifted away.

~ Mary Oliver, Alligator Poem