Saturday, October 21, 2017


Jewish Cemetery in Vishkivtsy, Ukraine

       A mother is brought unlimited satisfaction only by her relation to a son; that is    altogether the most perfect, the most free from ambivalence of all human relationships.
               ~ Sigmund Freud, Lecture XXXIII: Femininity

My Golden Sigi, those cigars
will be the death of you.
Twenty a day! You take after me —
that excess of life,
an anarchy of excellence
that must be sung to before lying down.
In my youth I was thought a beauty.
A man, not your father, said, “One could fall
into your eyes and keep on falling . . . ”
I don’t blame you if you never
saw me as Amalia.

It seems our dear old Franz Josef
will live forever. You and I
also have that rage for time,
while Vienna’s bric-a-brac
dozes in the fog. I told you the devil’s
grandmother, Baba Yaga,
dropped her tea service in her flight
to a witches’ sabbath —
hence those chimneys like pots and teakettles.

The fountains are turned off,
chrysanthemums bruise brown —
a season of evenings and books.
We sat in one room, the girls
sewing by draft-torn candlelight —
I gave you the other room;
I gave you our only oil lamp.
I ate chicken wings,
saving the breasts for you.
When you said your sister’s music
intruded through the two closed doors,
I sold the piano.

I protected you in secret ways:
threw salt into fire,
hid a mole’s foot under your pillow.
I said, “There will be money for Sigi,
if I have to steal from the rabbi.”

You laugh that I pace like a caged lioness,
running to the landing, the door,
an hour before your visit.
I explained to a childless friend:
“It’s the same as what you feel
for a lover — except more.”
You say you don’t understand women.
A woman is a mother.
You nursed so hard my nipples bled.

Dolfi draws for hours: that hiss
of graphite on my nerves —
then she stacks
the drawings under her bed.
To you I showed how to write
your name on the page of the world.
When you were seven,
at the train station in Breslau,
the gas lights hissed and guttered;
you thought we were in hell —
You held my hand, and were not afraid.

Dolfi says your theories are scandalous —
but also that you wrote what it means
for a man to be his mother’s favorite son:
it’s a life-long feeling of triumph.
Sigi, Sigi, I was Baba Yaga.

I wait Sunday at seven as always. 
Don’t forget your gloves and scarf;
it’s so easy to catch a cold. 

~ Oriana

Sigmund Freud at 16, with his mother Amalia

~ Freud referred to Adolfina in a letter as “the sweetest and best of my sisters”; we know that Adolfina was “mistreated by her mother, that she lived with her parents as an adult and cared for them until their deaths,” and “that she spent her life in loneliness.” ~

Adolfina, or Dolfi, was the “designated spinster” who was expected not to marry so as to be a live-in care-taker of her parents in their old age — in this case with Freud’s formidable mother who long outlived her older husband. This cruel custom of choosing one of the daughters to be a spinster/care-taker was also depicted in “Like Water for Chocolate.”

In my persona poem in the voice of Freud’s mother writing to her beloved son, I single out Dolfi:

Dolfi draws for hours: that hiss
of graphite on my nerves —
then she stacks
the drawings under her bed.
To you I showed how to write
your name on the page of the world.

Indeed, everything was sacrificed for the sake of Sigmund’s education and advancement in the world.

We sat in one room, the girls
sewing by draft-torn candlelight —
I gave you the other room;
I gave you the oil lamp.
I ate chicken wings,
saving the breasts for you.
When you complained that a sister’s music
intruded through the two closed doors,
I sold the piano.


When Freud left for England in 1938, he managed to take with him his immediate family, his physician and the physician’s family, and his two housekeepers — and left behind his five sisters, four of whom (like all of Kafka’s sisters) later died in concentration camps. Freud was permitted to submit a list of people he wanted to go with him. His sisters’ names were not on the list, and he is often judged for having failed to save them. But that is hindsight; like so many, Freud did not believe the danger was extreme.


Why am I posting about this? Freud’s mother reminded me of my great-grandmother, who sacrificed the education of all the other children for the sake of the first-born son. As a friend summarized it, “The sun rose and set on the behind of the first-born son.”


Below: Sigmund Freud with his mother and sisters, including Adolfina (center), at their father's grave, Vienna, 1897


Your poem is wonderful — Mother, lover, sacrificing all for the “Golden Son.” Poor Dolfi hiding her drawings under the bed, having her piano taken, eating — what? If Sigi got the breast and Mama the wings — Dolfi got the neck? Gizzards? The watery broth? This kind of division of all good things, food, light, space, time, attention, in the family is ancient and probably still fairly widely practiced in some form, if not so extreme as in cultures that use ultrasounds to weed out and abort undesirable daughters.


And those societies have been finding out the hard way what a social burden and downright peril excess unmarried men are. And I’ve read that daughterless older couples are even advertising, seeking to adopt a young woman as a daughter.

Oddly enough, the US, for all its social conservatism, seems to be a pioneer in recognizing the value of daughters. Couples who plan to have only one child tend to express a strong preference for a daughter. The waiting rooms in fertility clinics tend to be painted pink. And I’ve met more than one set of parents who lament, “God has not blessed us with a daughter.”

Eventually even China and India will catch up.


London was Freud’s refuge, and friends set him up in Hampstead, in a big house that is now the Freud Museum. On January 28, 1939, Virginia and Leonard Woolf came for tea. The Woolfs, the founders and owners of the Hogarth Press, had been Freud’s British publishers since 1924; Hogarth later published the twenty-four-volume translation of Freud’s works, under the editorship of Anna Freud and James Strachey, that is known as the Standard Edition. This was the Woolfs’ only meeting with Freud.

English was one of Freud’s many languages. (After he settled in Hampstead, the BBC taped him speaking, the only such recording in existence.) But he was eighty-two and suffering from cancer of the jaw, and conversation with the Woolfs was awkward. He “was sitting in a great library with little statues at a large scrupulously tidy shiny table,” Virginia wrote in her diary. “A screwed up shrunk very old man: with a monkey’s light eyes, paralyzed spasmodic movements, inarticulate: but alert.” He was formal and courteous in an old-fashioned way, and presented her with a narcissus. The stage had been carefully set.

The Woolfs were not easily impressed by celebrity, and certainly not by stage setting. They understood the transactional nature of the tea. “All refugees are like gulls with their beaks out for possible crumbs,” Virginia coolly noted in the diary. But many years later, in his autobiography, Leonard remembered that Freud had given him a feeling that, he said, “only a very few people whom I have met gave me, a feeling of great gentleness, but behind the gentleness, great strength. . . . A formidable man.” Freud died in that house on September 23, 1939, three weeks after the start of the Second World War.

Virginia Woolf was notorious for saying nasty things about people — a misuse of her great intelligence. Note Leonard’s sympathetic assessment: “a feeling of great gentleness, but behind the gentleness, great strength . . . A formidable man.”


Recently we’ve had several books that attack both Freud as a person and his ideas. Traditional psychoanalysis is indeed pretty much dead, but that doesn’t mean that Freud’s historical importance in cultural evolution can ever be ignored.

Freud did have a tremendous influence on our way of thinking, but it wasn’t in the details, e.g. we don’t take the Oedipal Complex all that literally. We clearly see that “The Interpretation of Dreams” is too one-sided, and wish fulfillment, especially of secret erotic wishes, is just one element in dreams. Our idea of the unconscious is not really what most would call “Freudian” (though it was Freud who first suggested that all cognitive activity is unconscious). To be a dogmatic Freudian is rare and out of date — he was in many ways a man of his age. It’s rather his gift of the psychological approach (X had a traumatic childhood) — as opposed to, say, the religious one (X is a sinner). It’s trying to understand rather than condemn.

To understand rather than condemn — that, I think, was the giant impact of the psychological revolution. I wouldn’t call it the Freudian revolution — Freud was only one of the pioneers, though certainly a major figure.

Another part of the impact was something we are beginning to understand better only now: telling the stories of our lives, and how we tell those stories, changes the brain pathways and ultimately changes us so that we need not remain stuck in certain narratives. Simply putting events and feelings into words is a radical cognitive feat — and the words we choose can heal (“words that heal, words that kill”). Freud wasn’t the first one to use the “talking cure,” and the exact way he himself did is not important — the concept is important.

Who knows, maybe in the end Freud’s name will remain with us chiefly in the phrase a “Freudian slip” . . . This is a case of that more anonymous immortality of influence — of a cultural shift. 

Freud between Martha and Minna; Freud's mother in the background


Freud shifted the narrative away from sin, blame and punishment, toward a passion for understanding how the mind works with experience and is shaped by the injuries and traumas encountered in an individual life. His descriptions of the dynamics involved were certainly colored by the world and culture that produced him, and may not be of much relevance to us today, but he redirected our attention, showed us where to look, not to exorcising demons or punishing sinners, but to listening closely to the story of another’s life, finding there the riddle’s answer, and in the shaping of that story as it is told, healing.


Beautifully put: “He redirected our attention, showed us where to look, not to exorcising demons or punishing sinners, but to listening closely to the story of another’s life.”

Yes. Literature lovers might argue that writers got there long before Freud — in fact Freud himself acknowledged that — and literature has done a lot to expand our empathy and make us listen to the story of another person’s life. But literature could be easily dismissed as “made up.” Freud and others made terms such as repression, projection, and denial part of the everyday vocabulary of an educated person. We began to think differently, with greater openness and tolerance, about the “psychopathology of everyday life.”

I think Freud came just at the right time. Religion was declining, so explaining mental illness in terms of sin, God’s plan, “God sends suffering to those he loves,” etc was becoming terribly insufficient. Not that we have a complete understanding now, but at least we pay attention to trauma, both physical and emotional. We pay attention to early childhood and beyond. And we know that providing empathy changes the neural circuits. Somewhere I read that Freud privately admitted that the healing power behind the “talking cure” was love. This may be apocryphal — still, receiving affection rather than punishment can transform a person.

“But how could you live and have no story to tell?” ~ Fyodor Dostoyevsky, White Nights


“When you break a bone, the body immediately sets to mending it, forming new bone as a sort of callus or scab over the break until it heals. You can feel this as a bump at the break. Hemingway misunderstood that callus — which eventually fades away. We are not stronger at the broken places. The injury always remains. The world carves our bones with indifference.” ~ Kestrel Trael


People (and not just Catholics, I’ve noticed) are strangely eager to justify and even glorify suffering, including major trauma. I do understand the drive to endow suffering with meaning, to insist that something good can come from something bad. While this may happen, we have to face the truth: suffering damages us. It does not “toughen” us — that’s an excuse of those (often abusive parents or bullying offspring) who want to inflict suffering on others.

If suffering is so good for us, if it leads to marvelous results — if disease leads to greater health — if an abused childhood leads to superior mental health in adulthood — then of course we shouldn’t do anything to prevent or relieve suffering. But evidence indicates the opposite. No woman is “improved” by getting raped. No one sleeps better after having been in combat — and even those who haven’t been wounded have a shorter life expectancy. Every bit of trauma stays in our body. It’s being loved that makes us healthier and stronger.

We really have to face the ugly fact that suffering doesn't make us stronger. That’s a lie. In most cases, suffering weakens us, damages us, drains our energy and creativity, creates scars that last a lifetime (scar tissue keeps on reproducing itself). Being loved makes us stronger. Why is that kept a secret? (OK, there is an occasional saying, like “Behind every great man, there is a woman” — but that's just not enough.)

I remember a woman doctor commenting on a young boy stricken with cancer. He’ll probably die, she said, because his family, who don’t live close to the hospital, abandoned him to relatives who come visit only once in a while. If he received enough love, he’d survive; this cancer is quite survivable if the patient receives enough loving care. I see so many such cases, the doctor said: people die of survivable diseases because they aren’t given love. The power of touch, of a soft tone of voice — they can make a difference between life and death.

I was raised with the Catholic notion that “suffering is good for you” and it did lead to various degrees of masochism and even self-harm (nor is self-flagellation an extinct practice, though probably less common now). The “nobility of suffering” is a lie we tell ourselves to lessen our grief. And that's OK — whatever helps us live, as long as it doesn't blind us to the ways suffering could be avoided, or make us excuse inflicting suffering on others.

Nevertheless, “the injury always remains.”

To recognize that is not to label yourself a victim forever, making your wound the center of your life. Making the wound a “no-think zone” can work too — I speak from experience. An intense absorption in work instead can work wonders. The present really DOES change the past because we remember according to our present understanding. But the injury always remains — and making peace with the past by recognizing this is the beginning of self-acceptance and self-compassion that will serve us well in what time remains. 

[By the way, it’s bad enough that “the injury always remains.” At this point we know that the parents’ and even grandparents’ trauma gets passed on.]


As to your Hemingway's quote, I think that courage is usually manifested in continuing. When the pieces are broken, the pain is there and the healing, when takes place, doesn't bring it back to exactly the same way as it was before. Yet, the mere stepping forward, one foot at a time, is courageous enough.


I agree. Healing takes courage and hope: the trust that we can cope somehow, that “this too shall pass” and we’ll go on and eventually be healthy and happy again, productive again, able to contribute.

Nevertheless, Hemingway was wrong the same way that Nietzsche was wrong when he said, “What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.” Nietzsche no doubt influenced Hemingway, and a lot of others besides — it’s so easy to go into denial about the serious of the harm and how it stays with us, in some ways weakening us. A handful of the children who got polio in the past may have become more resilient because of their ordeal — but at what price! We know that basically no child is “improved” by polio or any other dreadful disease.

Nietzsche’s denial reminds me of the falsehood, conscious or unconscious, told me by my first, benighted UCLA knee surgeons (who unwitting crippled many of UCLA’s athletes, especially football players). They said, “Actually you are lucky. Scar tissue is stronger than cartilage.” This is ridiculous on the face of it — scar tissue is a nasty, inferior substitute for the original. But the surgeons said it with the certainty of priests who give you a cheap wafer announcing, “Body of Christ.”

But you are right: we don’t go back to what we were before. Scar tissue keeps reproducing itself; in the case of cartilage in particular, you never regain the miraculous natural cushioning and shock-absorbing capacity of the original. In cases of emotional injury, it depends. Receiving  affection in a loving relationship can be very healing even if past abuse is not discussed. The brain will automatically adjust its narrative.

Frankly, any kind of love is healing. I’ve seen a miraculous transformation of a bitter woman I knew when she got a beautiful husky! For another woman, it was adopting two kittens. When love enters a person’s life, no therapy can compete with that. If there is anything that’s the opposite of trauma, it’s a large dose of positive emotions. 

amethyst eyes from Uruguay


~ “Hannah followed New Age thinking for many years. She constructed astrology charts, worked with psychics and thought she knew something about the world. And then her 26-year-old son committed suicide. Prior to that tragedy (most bereavement counselors consider it the hardest loss to face), she believed in the adage: “Everything happens for a reason.” Hannah says, “I no longer believe that, nor do I believe I know anything about why the world works as it does.

“When people said my son died for a reason, or that he was in a better place, or worst of all, that he’d chosen to die,” said Hannah, “I was appalled and furious. It demeaned my son’s death.

Not only did it demean her son’s death, it minimized her loss.

Hannah’s experience reminded me of a friend who underwent a severe bout of chronic fatigue. She went to see the minister of her “new thought” church, hoping to get some short-term help with shopping and housework. The minister provided less practical support: he promised to help her come to grips with the “lessons” she should learn from the illness. My friend dragged herself home and returned to her bed, feeling alone and ashamed.

During my 36 years as a psychotherapist, I’ve seen many clients who have been victims of people like those Hannah and my friend describe. I call them New Age Bullies — those who, sometimes with the best intentions, repeat spiritual movement shibboleths, with little understanding of how hurtful their advice can be. Some of their favorite clichés are:

It happened for a reason.

Nobody can hurt you without your consent.

I wonder why you created this illness (or experience).

It’s just your karma.

There are no accidents.

There are no victims.

There are no mistakes.

A variant of this behavior is found in the self-bullying people who blame themselves for being victims of a crime, accident, or illness and interpret such misfortunes as evidence of their personal defects or spiritual deficiencies.

The belief that we create our own reality can be very self-empowering for some people — the psychological equivalent of moving mountains. My clients with strong beliefs that they are accountable for their own lives do much better in their recovery from psychological problems than those who stay stuck in the shame/blame cycle (of self or others.)

Classic books by holistic physicians, such as Bernie Siegel’s Love, Medicine and Miracles and Andrew Weil’s Spontaneous Healing, illustrate the value of empowering beliefs in recovering from illness. Neurologist David Perlmutter, author of the forthcoming The Better Brain Book, writes: “It is the belief that predestined reality can be modified that leads to statistically significantly better outcomes.

”Several years ago, Gen Kelsang Lingpur, now a resident teacher at the Tara Mahayana Buddhist Center in Tucson, was diagnosed with leukemia. At the time, she was a business executive from a Catholic background. “My first reaction,” she said, “was grief. I cried a lot and asked, ‘Why me?’ But then I thought, if I have only two years to live, I want them to mean something.

”Her quest for meaning led her to Buddhism, which, in turn, led her to a belief in karma. “I learned that everything comes from the Mind,” she recalled, “but not this [she smiled and pointed to her head] mind.

Everything that happens in this life is a direct result of actions from a previous life.” Once she accepted the belief that her illness was the result of her actions in a previous life, she was able, with help from her physician, to heal through Buddhist practices.

So I asked Gen Lingpur how she applied her belief in karma when working with cancer patients. “I never say to them as a group that their cancer is a result of actions from a previous life,” she said. “I don’t know if that is their belief. That would be inappropriate.” 

Her distinction is important. It is the reason why affirmations so often fail. Coming to a personally held belief is a process. For some, the insight may come in a flash but, for most of us, it takes work and experience to move from a desire to belief. It would be like skipping to the last page of an instruction manual and missing all the necessary intervening steps for proper assembly. If you are in the first chapter of recovery from childhood sexual abuse, for example, an early stage of recovery is to challenge the commonly shared belief that you somehow “caused” the abuse. This belief does not come from a position of power but from one of self-shame or blame. 

In my therapeutic practice, I have never seen anyone able to skip over this first task of realizing they were not to blame. Sometimes the only thing these clients are able to do in this early stage is to see that their abuser was to blame. Some of my fellow therapists express concern that blaming others keeps the client in the victim role. While I don’t want my clients to get stuck there, if that’s what they need to do first, it can be a useful step. To tell a vulnerable client that there are no victims invariably leads them to internalize even more self-blame.

Franz Sedlacek: Storm, 1932

Blaming the Victim

Many people automatically and unconsciously blame themselves for being victims. Counselors who work in a battered women’s shelter or with rape victims know it is a long and arduous process for their clients to reclaim a sense of personal power. It would be utterly cruel to ask an abused woman what she did to create that experience or to suggest that she wasn’t a victim. I assume that most people reading this article would not condone such insensitivity, but there are subtler ways to blame a victim.

A client of mine was in a relationship with a man who shared her spiritual beliefs. At the beginning of our work, she described the relationship in mystical terms. However, she had severe stress symptoms as a direct result of trying to live with his eleven-year-old son who routinely screamed hateful remarks at her.

Her complaints about the boy’s out-of-control behavior and her pleas to her partner to get help for his son were met with disdain. He insisted the problem was her response to the situation. When she told him she was in emotional pain over the child’s behavior, he replied, “No one can hurt you without your permission.” The worst of the stress came from her buying into her partner’s reality — that it was her problem.

I said he sounded like a New Age Bully. He showed no compassion for her pain; he didn’t listen to her complaints or advice; and he shamed her for reacting to the child’s aggressiveness.

Once she stopped blaming herself for being upset and saw that the problem wasn’t her inability to handle whatever the child did, but her partner’s unwillingness to take her complaints seriously or show her any compassion, she ended the relationship. She was now in a place to examine the situation according to her own beliefs.

I encourage clients to carefully examine the belief that one should remain in an abusive relationship or job because of “the lessons to be learned,” as that can be a form of self-bullying.

Why New Age Bullies Do It

New Age Bullies often act from a sincere desire to be helpful. It may also be a defense. Think of a friend who has just suffered a terrible loss or someone who’s been diagnosed with a serious illness to whom you want to say something comforting. Or, someone who seems locked in a destructive pattern and you want to say something to get him to think differently or take charge of his life. The problem is, you can’t know how your words will be received. If they don’t share your beliefs, your advice won’t help. They may feel that you are blaming them or are indifferent to their feelings.

“In blaming or shaming a victim,” Gen Lingpur says of the Buddhist tradition, “you are assuming that the person knew the karma they were creating in a previous life and that they have that knowledge in the present. We don’t know. We can’t know ahead of time what the results of an action will be, nor can we remember what action created the result. It’s sometimes a problem in the Buddhist community when someone says of another’s suffering: ‘It’s just their karma.’ That statement lacks compassion.”

Psychologically, there’s another reason people blame victims. Viki Sharp, a victim advocate for 26 years, explains it this way: “People tend to blame victims because it makes them feel less vulnerable and more in control. A woman leaves her window open one night and a man comes through it and rapes her. The thinking is: ‘She was raped because of something she did — she left her window open and, since I don’t do that, I’m safe.’”

As a practice, I don’t give unsolicited advice because I can’t know for certain what another’s beliefs or vulnerabilities are. Of course, I will offer advice in the context of a therapy session or among friends whose beliefs and experiences are familiar to me.

Perhaps we can all learn from what the Buddha purportedly said about belief:

“Believe nothing because a wise person said it. Believe nothing because it is generally held. Believe nothing because it is written. Believe nothing because it is said to be Divine. Believe nothing because someone else believes it. But believe only what you yourself judge to be true.”

Sigrid Hjertén: Purple Hat, 1923


For me it was actually liberating to realize that some (a lot of) things are simply luck and circumstances. I could finally stop blaming myself for everything that went wrong. But I know others for whom it's very hard to accept the randomness of many things, the idea that no, they didn't choose the special task in this life before they were born, they didn't choose their parents (true New Age followers believe this!), they didn’t choose to be born male rather than female, in New York rather than Greece or Bangladesh — and those factors have a HUGE influence over your life.

Karma from previous lives? There is no evidence. That’s just an attempt to justify suffering.

It’s much more compassionate and liberating to accept that “life isn’t fair” and move on from there, doing what little we can without the burden of self-blame.

Funny how New Age turned out to be even more “blame-the-victim” than traditional religions.  “Poverty is the result of negative thinking” is just a variation on “poverty is the result of sin” (a Protestant attitude, not a Catholic one). Extreme individualism is that way too — many people come to see themselves as failures.

I've been accused of failing to achieve national recognition as a poet because I don't dare “think big” (never mind that I applied to a gazillion contests, including the biggest ones) — and yes, it must be my negative thinking. If I didn’t win a big contest, it was because I didn’t believe I could win.

(By the way, my thanks again to anyone who ever said, “I love your writing” — that helped me survive probably more than anything else.)

And every time I have a medical problem, someone invariably suggests all kinds of "visualization." In fact any kind of problem — “Why don't you just put it out to the Universe that you need . . .” All you need to do to get what you want is request it! Does that by any chance come from “Ask, and it shall be given to you?” And again, as with prayer, lack of results doesn't seem to discourage anyone.

Do we really create our own reality? Only to a limited extent — and a true determinist would question even that. Say that we persistently exercise and consequently reap health benefits — isn’t persistence our “choice”? But it turns out that persistence is largely a genetic trait, just like intelligence — and not our merit after all. At least one of our parents is likely to have been conspicuously persistent. I was told I was persistent (actually the word “stubborn” was used) already as a toddler. I didn’t want to ride in a stroller — I wanted to PUSH the stroller, even though I couldn’t quite reach the handles. But I tried and tried.

Did we work hard in college? True, but being a compulsive reader, I absorbed all I could — without any wise, selective discrimination — I simply loved to read. It was both soothing and stimulating. Wouldn’t I rather go to a party than study? Are you kidding?? Would that be more fun than learning new things? There was no self-sacrifice.

I work hard because I enjoy working hard. For me the danger is working too hard. It’s not a virtue — it runs in the family, and causes both high achievement and heart attacks.

At the same time, in some context we do experience a sense of choice, and that’s typically stressful. I think it’s because we are not one coherent self, but several. It’s a squabbling committee inside our skull. To put it in more lofty terms, there are competing neural pathways, and at times one gains dominance, then another. On the conscious level, we experience conflict. Give us too much choice, and we are likely to give up altogether to end the stress. Or — that oldest and sometimes best solution — we toss a coin.



I think the value in suffering is all in how you survive it—how you make your way through, or out, to a place where you have agency—rather than simple passive endurance, an active and creative engagement to live beyond the limits of your pain, to be a creator yourself in the way you live. This is most often talked about in terms of a struggle, or battle, but that doesn’t adequately characterize what is more like a process of learning and enlargement, involving empathy and forgiveness for the self, and beyond the self, a fuller engagement with your own potentials and opportunities.

And thinking of the potential for healing in telling our stories, this is widely evident in the way women have worked to see their own oppression and find their way to resistance. We all suffer from self blame in similar ways — as society has long insisted, blaming the victim, who is responsible for the assaults, harassments, rapes, beatings, even murders, that befall her.

I know I thought it must be something particular to me, a scent, an expression, a secret mark visible to others, that attracted, allowed, even encouraged abuse. Like Red Riding Hood moving through the woods with her Fire Alarm cloak, something about me was signaling—“here she is, the one you want to hurt.”

It was only when I began to hear the stories of other women, when we began to TELL these stories, that I realized my story was her story, and hers, and hers—that it was all very much the same story. Most women do not have one of these stories, but many, an anthology of them, and I’ve never met a woman who didn’t.



At one time I was involved with an alcoholic, and read somewhere that alcoholics seeks out women who have low self-esteem. And that was enough: instantly I saw myself as a woman with a low self-esteem, exactly the kind who’d attract an alcoholic. So yes, it was my fault. And there was no point leaving the alcoholic, my source continued, because you’d just attract another one. It took me some years to shake off this crazy thinking (unfortunately reinforced by a friend who was a therapist: “You’re just going to repeat the same pattern”). And of course I’ve met other women, intelligent and attractive, who suffered from the same kind of self-blame: “I know what kind of man I attract.”

As for me, I learned to recognize alcoholics quickly and stay away from them (both male and female; both are destructive crazy-makers) very successfully. The relationship that followed has in many ways been the most fulfilling in my life. 

So in this case I’ve learned something. Nevertheless, would I have not gained more from a happy, empowering relationship? With the greater strength and energy that comes from having a good relationship, would I have not accomplished more, taken more risks? Given a choice between a bad, draining relationship and a happy one, would anyone hesitate?

And yet almost all people I know try to claim that “suffering is good for you.” And I realize that it’s very hard for a person to admit something like, look, those ten years, it’s been just meaningless torment. I am willing to admit it. Decades of chronic pain, and the last years of downright disability — it’s been meaningless torture. I would have been better off without it: happier, stronger, richer in experience. But we can’t live in regret. We make the best of our reality, even if it’s lame and crippled. But it’s not that we’re improved by being lame and crippled. And once more: no woman is ever improved by getting raped. No child is improved by being abused. Let’s stop defending myths and falsehoods.


One of my moments of enlightenment happened when I thought, "If god allowed Auschwitz, god will allow anything." I was already an atheist, but obviously there was still some "unfinished business" that I was still processing.

“What is truly frightening is not that a Hitler could exist, but that so many people seemed to be secretly waiting for him.” ~ Volker Ullrich, Hitler's biographer


Once I gave outrage by speculating that Yahweh began as an actual person, a Middle Eastern warrior-god. ~ Harold Bloom, “The Daemon Knows”

~ Bloom: All through the Hebrew Bible, the prophets perpetually proclaim that the Jewish people, that Israel, has failed to keep the covenant with Yahweh. Nowhere do they say what is palpably true on the basis of Jewish history and of human history in general, which is that Yahweh has failed to keep his covenant with the people. I say in the book again and again that when Yahweh, which is the name of the high god ultimately in the Hebrew Bible, that when Yahweh is asked by Moses to give Moses his name and in the Hebrew, Yahweh punning on his own name, massively says, ‘Tell them that [words in Hebrew] has sent you,' which is translated in the King James Bible ultimately as ‘I am that I am,’ which I translate in order to get it into an English that will make sense, ‘I will be present wherever and whenever I choose to be present,’ which also implies its rather frightening corollary, 'And I will absent wherever and whenever I choose to be absent.' It seems to me that he has chosen to be absent throughout most of human history, including Jewish history.

NPR: Well, if Jesus is to Hamlet for you, Yahweh, the God of the Hebrew Bible, comes closest to King Lear, a passionate, impulsive figure.

Prof. BLOOM: I think that Shakespeare probably founds his extraordinary figure of King Lear--irascible, jealous, intense, immensely awesome, angry, bereft, dangerous — on the Geneva Bible's version of — which is essentially not very different from what is now the authorized, the King James...

There are four different layers in the five books of Moses. The original strata of Yahweh as written by the author we call the Yahwist is of a remarkably impish kind of a person. He is not God the Father. He is something of a mischief maker. He conducts on-the-ground inspections all the time to satisfy his curiosity. He is very much a human being. He prefers the cool of the day in the Garden of Eden because evidently he gets hot as human beings get hot. He picnics on the side of Mount Sinai with Moses and 70 elders of Zion, who stare at him silently while he sits there silently and he eats and they eat. He closes the door of Noah's ark with his own hands. With his own hands, he buries his prophet, Moses. And most of all, with his own hands, at the beginning, almost like a child playing with a mud pie, he plays with the moistened Earth and makes there a figurine. And then he breathes life into that figurine, and man becomes, as the Hebrew Bible says, a living soul and this is Adam. That is not what most people, I admit, think of as God.

God the Father is a later invention, on the one hand, of the Talmudical rabbis but primarily of Christian theology when they devise the Trinity, when Jesus of Nazareth, the more or less historical figure, has become an absolutely different figure, a Greek dying and reviving, God, a theological God. Yahweh is not a theological God at all. He is a human, all-too-human God.

The basic argument of this book, "Jesus and Yahweh: The Names Divine," is that we have three very different personages or beings: the more or less historical Jesus of Nazareth, a Jew of the first century of the common era; the Greek theological formulation, or God, Jesus Christ; and the original God of the Hebrews, now greatly shrunken into God the Father, Yahweh, he who will be present wherever and whenever he chooses to be present and will keep himself absent when perhaps we most want him and need him. These three figures are so incompatible with one another that I don't believe it is possible to bring them coherently together in any single statement. They come out of totally different realms of discourse. Trying to think them together is really an act of psychic violence.

The operations of the mind have got to become extremely distorted in order to bring the more or less historical Jesus, the Greek theological God Jesus Christ and the human, all-too-human God, Yahweh, into some coherent relationship. The normal processes of thought are being disturbed, and an act of imposition is taking place.

NPR: Now you write that a Messiah who is God and who dies on the cross as an atonement for sins is irreconcilable with the Hebrew Bible. Why is that?

Prof. BLOOM: Yahweh does not commit suicide. And if one is to take the argument of Christianity, then Yahweh is, in effect, committing suicide through his supposed son. Yahweh also does not, even as a descending dove upon a human female virgin, bring forth a son. This is material that comes to one out of Greek and pagan traditions but has nothing to do with traditional Judaism.

I quote the great scholar of Hebraic matters Jacob Neusner as saying, "Judaism and Christianity are different groups of people talking different languages about different Gods to very different people." There is no Judeo-Christian tradition anymore than there could be, say, a Christian-Islamic tradition.

Whether 50 years from now, there will be of the 14 million now self-identified Jews more than a mere scattering, I would not be prepared to say. What that means about the existence of Yahweh is also a very interesting question. He is, after all, covenanted. Would he survive the disappearance of the Jewish people if that, indeed, is what happens? I do not know. I may, as I say, lack trust in the covenant, but though I keep asking Yahweh to go away, I say so many times in this book, he won't go away. He haunts me.” ~

Caravaggio: Conversion of St Paul, 1601. Don't you right away want to stroke this horse's face? A sweet, sensitive animal. The servant looks sympathetic also.

Another giveaway of how incompatible Yahweh and Jesus are is that we can indeed ask "What would Jesus do?" and come up with a plausible reply that can indeed serve as guidance. But we better not ask, “What would Yahweh do?” Would he command you to stone your disobedient child? This is not a god who knows what it’s like to be human — or at least you are forbidden to think along those lines. He can't relate to us, nor we to him. People get more out of talking to their pets.

What has turned out to be quite a problem for humanity is the us-them tribalism. Unfortunately monotheistic religion (“our god is the only real god” — or, if it’s the same god, “only our cause is the will of god”) tends to magnify it. Religion tends to turn any war into a holy war, with weapons blessed, verses of scripture selected to justify the cause, “God with us” on belt buckles.


That's why you need a back-up god, i.e. Kleenex (here in the US there's typically a box of Kleenex in every bathroom).

HOW TO RAISE YOUR HDL LEVELS (and thus reduce your risk of a heart attack)
~ “The greatest risk for having a heart attack comes not from a high LDL, not from hypertension, diabetes, or even smoking, but rather from a low HDL. A recent study supports the notion that a low HDL contributes more to atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) than does a high LDL.

Why, then, do physicians focus most of their discussion and interventions on lowering their patients' LDL and not raising their patients' HDL? The reason is simple: we don't have any drugs that have a significant effect on HDL. Exercise is known to raise HDL, but generally it must be of an intensity that in my own experience few patients are willing or able to maintain on a regular basis.

But recently, with the increasing popularity of low carbohydrate diets, a new, arguably less painful way to raise HDL—sometimes dramatically—has surfaced. It's long been known that another component of total cholesterol—triglycerides—have an inverse relationship to HDL. That is, as triglycerides go up, in general, HDL goes down, and vice versa. And while dietary interventions have little direct effect on HDL, they can have a large direct effect on triglycerides. And when triglycerides go down, HDL often goes up.

How do you reduce your triglycerides? There seem to be two main ways: 1) weight reduction and 2) a reduction in dietary intake of carbohydrates. Especially in people who are overweight or obese, reducing the amount of carbohydrate in the diet (especially sweets—sorry) reduces triglycerides—and in so doing often raises HDL.

HDL over 60 is considered to be protective against a heart attack.” ~

ending on beauty (and humor):

We’ll Always Have Parents

It isn't what he said in Casablanca
and it isn’t strictly true. Nonetheless
we’ll always have them, much as we have Paris.
They're in our baggage, or perhaps are baggage
of the old-fashioned type, before the wheels,
which we remember when we pack for Paris.
Or don't remember. Paris doesn't know
if you're thinking of it. Neither do your parents . . .
Meanwhile, those lovers, younger every year
(because with every rerun we get older),
persuade us less, for all their cigarettes
and shining unshed tears about the joy
of Paris blurring in their rearview mirror,
that they've surpassed us in sophistication.
Granted, they were born before our parents
but don't they seem by now, Bogart and Bergman,
like our own children? Think how we could help!
We could ban their late nights, keep them home
the whole time, and prevent their ill-starred romance!
Here's looking at us, Kid. You'll thank your parents.

~ Mary Jo Salter, from We’ll Always Have Parents

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