Saturday, September 25, 2010

phobia du jour— from A to Z

I was looking for a word, a good word, to describe a feeling. But instead, I came upon a list that did not even remotely include the word I was looking for. When I printed out the list, it ran 17 pages. It was put together by someone with the unlikely name of Fredd Culbertson, who says he started the list as a lark in 1995, and just can't seem to stop. Now, what's the word for that?

The list, of course, was The Phobia List. The thing that amazed me was that there were not only lots of phobias I had never heard of, but also lots of phobias I could not even imagine. This was a bit heartening, since there were an awful lot of them that sounded like just plain common sense to me, and not phobias at all (phobias being defined as irrational fears).

There is, after all, an evolutionary value to having fears that keep us wary. And yes, I'm aware that it's only an evolutionary advantage if these fears manage to keep us safe long enough to reproduce and get that next generation on the road to further fecundity. I suppose after that we're really on our own.

Well, here are some of my favorites from Fredd Culbertson's Phobia List, from A to Z.

A — The A's were pretty boring to me except for this one. alektorophobia — fear of chickens. And the reason I found this one interesting is that there was only one term for this fear, compared to (for example) the many different terms for fears of erectile dysfunction and cats.

B — There were only 18 entries for the letter B, and they, too, seemed pretty innocuous. Fears of slime, toads, and Bolsheviks and the like.

C — The C's seemed like they would be a bit more promising, with 50 entries. But no, it was just the usual run from sex, cemeteries, constipation and comets.

D — Maybe I should just give up looking for my word, but I've just gotten to D, and I mean, who isn't fearful of diabetes, dentists, and dinner conversations?

E — The most interesting one I found here was ergasiophobia — the fear a surgeon has of operating.

F — There were only 4 F's. Fear of fevers, cats, the French, and the cold.

G — The G's were not bad, although there were still more terms here for fearing the French and cats. But there was also geniophobia — the fear of chins, and that's gotta be worth a good story somewhere.

H — The common theme here was the church, the dead, and creepy crawly things. helminthophobia — fear of being infested with worms. Running along the firmament theme, was hylophobia — the fear of forests. And there were quite a number of entries in this regard.

I — More penile fears, bugs, and doctors.

J — There were only two of these: Fear of the Japanese, and fear of the Jews.

K — Nothing earthshattering here.

L — Well, okay, I misread an entry here: limnophobia — which I thought was a fear of latkes (which sounds reasonable to me). But it turned out it was fear of lakes. Go figure.

M — There were some classics in the M's. Menstruation. Dirt. Mice. And more penile fears. My favorite among the M's however, has got to be metrophobia — the fear or hatred of poetry.

N — Along with the fear of nuclear weapons was something useful: novercaphobia — fear of your step mother. A good one for the fairy tales.

O — Try omphalophobia — the fear of belly buttons (which is actually a long story, as it can refer to the world's umbilicus, which could use some extra protection right about now).

P — There were over a page and a half of P-phobias. And here, the dreaded pentheraphobia makes it's appearance. Fear of the mother-in-law. Hmm. In a few days, that would be me, wouldn't it? Better remember this one.

Q — The letter Q managed to escape the list. No Q phobias at all. Yet.

R — Wrinkles and Russians...

S — A solid page of S's including the two at the top of my list, sociophobia and somniphobia.

T — The T's ran the gamut from tapeworms to theology to Germans.

U — Only 2 phobias here. uranophobia — the fear of heaven, and urophobia — the fear of pissing.

V — Another thematic letter. Fear of beautiful women, clothing, rape, and the step father.

W — That would be for Walloons, of course, and witchcraft, and nothing else. I personally have never had any problem at all with either one.

X — More fear of forests and wooden objects. And curiously, xanthophobia — fear of the color yellow or even the word yellow.

Y — How could there be no phobias for the letter Y?

Z — There were four, and they seemed rather banal.

But what I didn't find was a nice concise term for the fear of falling on your face at your son's wedding because you're wearing pretty shoes for the first time in your life. What's Greek for that?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

the wedding

dearest firstborn,

I know you could have written all this yourself and done a better (and more thorough) job of it, but I thought I'd give it a shot exploring just how much kids imprint on their parents (or vice versa) (or not at all).

Besides, anthropologists should at least attempt a little cross-generational contemplation. Though, to be sure, we're so busy tracking other people's business (hm, just like the shrinks), it's a rare moment when we look back and contemplate our own.

So, off the top and in no particular order, here goes:

ours: jeans

yours: tuxedos

ours: um, I think we smoked them

yours: flowers, bouquets, flower arrangements, flower girl. you know: beautiful flowers (that aren't green)

ours: huh, what?

yours: pedi, mani, and makeup

ours: mini, black with glow in the dark patterns

yours: long, white and flowingly gorgeous

ours: hair

yours: styled

ours: sneaking into Temescal after hours, with illegal campfire and guitars

yours: the whole megilla, in a hall, with band and guitars

ours: Berkeley campus Hillel

yours: Lawrence restored historical treasure

ours: the Economy Cafe in Chinatown, with paper tablecloth and plastic chopsticks

yours: tasteful, with china

ours: with Morrie and Carol sleeping on our studio floor

yours: Upper East Side hotspot

ours: with Morrie and Carol, sleeping on the floor

yours: Hawaii, not camping out

ours: picked the rabbi 'cause he'd marched in Selma

yours: rabbi comes with restored synagogue

ours: tea ... ...

yours: surely champagne and all the good stuff

ours: from the only shop on Telegraph Avenue

yours: designer and designed

ours: two of every drug known to man, and a can of Spam from Denis (so we wouldn't forget the working class)

yours: all the necessities for starting out

ours: spur of the moment, so I could get a visa

yours: well planned, with a full year to do it right

ours: did the job

yours: a job well done

Mazel tov, my dearest first born, to you and your beautiful bride too.

Circle one:

a) bad parental units
b) good parental units
c) each generation a product of their times
d) massive generation gap
e) a parental job well done


Saturday, September 18, 2010

the invisible gorilla in the room: murder most foul

An interview on the radio yesterday triggered a memory that keeps popping up and that I keep shoving back down. Do you remember how a jack-in-the-box works? What triggers them is how tightly wound they are, how much pressure they're under. And you wind it and wind it until it can't stand it any more, and then that hideous face bursts forth. And you know it's going to happen, and it's startling every time.

It's not like I don't remember the murder. I've told it to my daughter as a precautionary tale, though not the kind of lesson you might think.

The book is called The Invisible Gorilla and other ways our intuitions deceive us. The interview was with co-author, Dan Simons. And it's about just that: how we don't see what we don't expect to see even when it's staring us in the face. Like a gorilla in the room — and we miss it. Every time.

Unless someone shoves it in our face, saying, "See, SEE. Gorilla. Right there." And then we can't look away and all we see is gorilla.

And that's what happened when I was a junior in high school. And it was murder.

Not like the murders at my old high school today, which seem to have become so routinized and normative as to have faded into the fabric of the place. Another kind of gorillaficaton.

No, this was a time and place before schools knew what to do with murder. And so they gorilla'd it (if you don't mind the verbification here). On the one hand, the school pretended not to see it. Tried to keep classes running, school open, minimal (if any) counseling. S, who found the bodies of her mother and older sister, simply disappeared from school. Which was reasonable. But in her absence, rumors flew. The fact that all of us, and perhaps the entire larger community were also traumatized by this event, seemed to pass unattended to by whatever powers there might have been to deal with such things. Instead, there were only whispers. Rumors. Fear.

All those details in the papers that we all read. Rape. Bondage in such a way that the more you struggle, the more you strangle yourself. Positions. Diagrams. The press thrives on invisible gorillas. And they splashed this case across the front page and many other pages, for weeks, for months. Until at long last it faded away to be replaced by another gorilla no one wanted to see, and that was called Vietnam.

I remember that everyone at school had seemed to envy S. She had been way up there at the top of the high school food chain. Rumor circulated among us lesser, younger souls, examples of her perfection. Strangely, I find that I can't write any of the details of this tale — even about the seeming goodness of her life. I'm editing. Then writing. Then hitting the delete button. I thought that if I could write this thing, that I could somehow get it out of my mind. But then, it would be in yours — and it would still take root somewhere and grow.

Another invisible gorilla in the room.

The point here is, no one ever envied her again.

Evil eye theory teaches us that envy is a very dangerous thing. Not to the poor, groveling have-nots, but to the recipients of that covetous eye. Which is not to say —and I will not say— that it was envy that brought the horror. But even the police speculated that it may well have been jealousy that led to S's sister's horrific demise.

Trauma theories teach us that things like this sink into our bones no matter how (seemingly) successfully we suppress the memory. Our bodies remember. Our bodies react. And we are left with somaticized pathologies that cannot be uncovered or cured by the practice of medicine alone.

If we want to be rid of it, we have to be willing not only to see that gorilla, but to do something about it.

But what can we do? Become obsessed and solve the thing ourselves? Apparently, in this case, there is something that could be done. In 1964 there was no such thing as DNA evidence. And now there is. Would finally solving 'the case' bring peace to anyone haunted by what happened then?

And over forty unsolved years later, the events of that January rush back in with a fierce tide, triggered so easily by Dan Simons talking 'bout invisible gorillas on the radio.

Over the years, the horror became a story that would sometimes pop back up forcing itself to be remembered. By now, apocryphal. Mythical. But still for the most part, untold. But there came a time, when my own daughter was the age we were back then. There came a time when she needed to hear at least what that event meant to me. The lesson I learned from it, instantly.

It's the lesson about envy.

The moral of the story, I tell my daughter, is not about murder, not about the 'bad people' out there. But about the pervasiveness of misfortune.

Envy is a specific kind of ignorance. We ignore the suffering of others: we imagine their lives as inhabiting our own notions of what Foster calls 'the limited good.' If they've got good fortune, there's no good fortune left for us. We stare at it from afar. We covet.

It's called the 'evil eye.'

When we were kids and saw murder most foul afflict those we thought were the embodiment of good fortune, we had to let the envy go. Forever. The lesson, at least for me, was a simple one. All beings suffer and all endure pain. And with that knowledge, we can live more nuanced lives. Filled with less expectation and more observation of what really is. It's a tough practice. Sometimes it works.

And if we manage a moment or two without prejudgement or expectation, we get a little better at identifying invisible gorillas who come to dance in the middle of that room.

Well, that's the idea anyway. In reality, it's not quite so elegant or easy to achieve.

And so, for now, I'll shove that jack right back into the box, and know that it sits there, coiled under pressure, all wound up, exactly like my guts. Waiting for the next accidental trigger and then ... pop ... it rears its ugly head and starts all over again.

Suppression, to paraphrase Freud, really sucks.

Friday, September 17, 2010

a perfect day at the office

No, the title is not the usual snarky sarcasm.

He walked into the office with these things under his arm. They were fairly transparent, blobby things — one short and bulbous, one tall and amorphous. He set them down on my desk very very carefully so that they each balanced on an impossible edge at an impossible angle. And then he sat down across from me and took off his backpack.

"I need your help," he said.

I looked at him. Looked at the fragile amorphous blob, the tall one.

"Asimov," I said.

"Asimov, great!" he said.

"Not his robot stuff. Not Foundation. This one's called The Gods Themselves. Not what he's known for.

He didn't know it.

"Here's what I'm after," he said. "I've got a show coming up, and I want these to be animate."

"Asimov," I repeated. "The beings he created look exactly like that. Only there are three of them, not two. Three genders, and they fit together ..."

"Yes, they're supposed to be able to merge..."

"Asimov called it 'melding' ... it's how they reproduce."

At some point he mentioned something about when he used to play wind instruments.

"Alchemical air," I said, mostly to myself.


"Alchemical air. You blow glass, instruments, alchemical air. Oh. And earth: Your garden..." because I know what a horticulturalist he is.

He wrote that down in his notebook: Alchemical air.

"And fire..." I realized, thinking of the great heat entailed in his metier. "So that leaves...."

"Water," he said. "I'm very aware of how hydrated I have to be to do what I do..."

"Balance," I said.

"Balance," he said.

I looked at his pieces again, and laughed. Suddenly I saw them with these tiny plastic humans 1950s style set at the feet of these transparent obelisky things. It changed everything. The pieces became enormous. Like they were supposed to be enormous. Like they were supposed to be at least eight feet tall or something. I told him my vision.

"I've been struggling with scale," he said. "And that's it, that's what they need so that you can see the relative scale. At least until I find a way to make them large..."

There was more, much more. But that's the essence of it. I have no idea what he came into the office for. Why he was asking me for assistance since I know nothing about his art, his show, or him. No idea how I could help him.

He wanted his pieces to be animate. There was no way I could help. They already were.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

bean counting the dead

Who would do this sort of thing? Keep such careful track, I mean? Make it her duty (or life's mission?) to document every single dead person from her high school over the past 150 years?

That's gotta be an act of love, right? Or is it like my bird-watcher friends who keep notes on every bird's when and where, and add it all up at the end of the year, with the aim of what? Seeing/hearing every bird in the book by life's end? Is it more about knowing the birds, or more this obsessive desire to catalog the lot. Do bird-watchers know birds at all, or do they collect them? Document them? Is a momentary glimpse or warble enough?

I know I'm being a bit of an asshole about this. And I'm not here to talk about bird-watching at all. I want to talk about obituaries, high school yearbooks and the dead. A high school memorial website.

Here's what the site looks like: At the top is the name of the high school memorial. You can click on any year, starting from Gertrude Stein's class up to the present. And the pictures or names of every single student who has died is listed. In the more recent listings, there are links to obits. The year of birth and date of death are also listed under each name, when known. For military deaths a tiny waving American flag appears. For cops, a tiny badge, etc.

But the pictures of the dead are all exactly as they appeared in their last high school yearbook. Young and fresh and full of potential for a life about to be lived, however long or short. The pictures all were taken around the same age — around 17 years old.

But the deaths?

If you worked it out, maybe the ages of death would form a perfect bell-shaped curved. I'm not sure.

In my high school class, there have been 63 recorded deaths on the memorial page for 1965. I have no idea how many kids there were in the class, but no matter. Sixty-three feels like a pretty large number.

Of those 63, eighteen are listed with no cause of death. But for the others, here's the breakdown:

Three were killed in Vietnam. Ages 19, 21 and 22. I actually was surprised by this. I thought there would have been more.

Two were murdered, one of them by a classmate. He was 18 years old—the youngest death listed for my high school graduation year. I noticed looking at more recent graduation classes that there's a lot more murder these days. Two others died of gunshot wounds. If these are not classified as murder, what are they, accidents?

There were four suicides.

Three who died in car accidents.

Two who drowned.

One who suffocated to death.

What were their stories? What were their lives like? What really happened?

Someone is keeping track of all this. Think of what she knows about the life and death of others. Surely this is a full time job? I keep wondering if she has a grant to fund her research, especially into the 19th century lives and deaths from Oakland High. I keep wondering what motivates someone to make sure no one gets left behind.

And who reads this? And what do they think or feel when they click those pages? There's both so much information documented on this memorial site and so very little. A fresh young face with hair and formal picture style of the period. A name. A date. A cause of death. No more, no less — but thousands of them.

Of the diseases (so far), there were one each of AIDS, liver disease, leukemia, aortic aneurysm, ALS, and a brain tumor.

There were two who died of diabetes.

Seven heart attacks.

And the biggies: Fourteen who died of cancers not listed above.

I knew these people. Actually, I didn't know them at all. I recognize their faces and their names. I never really knew any of them. Not these, the dead. And not any of the remaining living, however many they might be. They will remain for me pictures in a yearbook, eternally young, no matter the ages of their demise. They'll always be stories I do not know. And my story too will not be known.

My name has changed so many times since birth that it's actually unlikely my own little blurb will ever be filled in. Born one name. Adopted another name. High School fits in around there. Then Hebrew name. Then married name. Then legal name change of the whole bit, with all the previous akas. Then a post-divorce name, for good measure, going back to an old old family name. So many names that I feel fairly untraceable. Any obit of mine had better not include all those bloody names I've left behind! This was the point, after all: to be someone different. Someone else. to find a name that finally felt like me. To start all over. And over. And over. If it was good enough for Avram and Sarai, to be given new names in order to flourish, it's good enough for me.

But we were speaking of death.

My problem is, I want to know if my horrid little high school picture with my horrid little name from that era will ever end up on that memorial site. My problem is I want to know what those dates will be on my horrid little caption, and what the subject heading will read. That is, if I ever get documented at all. My problem is I'm not sure if I'm more interested in the deaths of members of my cohort or in their lives. Or if I really care at all. I've never once thought of any of these people — not once — in all these decades. I've blanked out just about everything I experienced, almost everyone I knew from before I was 18 (second or third name change, depending on how you're counting).

So, why am I moved by this memorial?

Is it that it's an impressive piece of research? I'm not quite sure. One thing's for sure, it's not because it's personal.

I think what gets me are those young faces, and not seeing them grow old or older. And thinking about how much time they each got before poof, being gone. Thinking about whether they had time to think or change or care about anything important to them. Thinking about whether they procreated, or again, poof, they disappeared. Thinking about who thinks about them now, if anyone. As the decades recede, does this memorial provide footnotes to history? Will anyone go back and dig them up again upon the page and resurrect their moment on the stage?

My old puppy, Ziggy, died a year ago yesterday. He was fourteen. Cancer. No permanent record on a collective memorial. No photo from his youth, no fancy font name plate. But Zigurat, I remember you, and fourteen years of crazy puppy stuff. You licking the sweat off the legs of belly dancers. Jumping straight up five feet in the air. Sniffing the crotches of transmen who've taken too much T. Contact acid high and howling in tune with Jim Morrison, hitting the high notes. Finding and stealing a visitor's massive stash right out of their pack. Leering and licking at will. Lusting for chocolate, Nutella and double espressos.

You weren't a real dog, were you?
You were a person no one-liner could sum up.
So, this is my memorial.
It's just a few lines, but it says more than:

1995 – 2010

Sunday, September 5, 2010

throwing a freudian punch

I cannot (with any consistency) see into someone else's subjective experience, whether it be a dreamscape, a mystical encounter, or a schizophrenic nightmare. And my rational mind tells me that spirits do not and cannot exist outside our imagination. Never mind that I too (like everyone else I know) encounter them on a fairly regular basis.

No djinns, No dybbuks. No haouka. No angels. No God. No Holy Spirit. Even if I feel it's there. Can touch it, taste it, merge with it. Hold the conversation. I just don't believe it. I have no empirical evidence of its existence — ie, no independent verification, no replicable methodology...

But people do get dispirited. So the question arises— do people become psychologically demoralized and dejected or have they quite literally, lost their spirit, their soul? The work of Michael Harner and others leads us to ponder this one.

The scientist insists on the former answer: the psycho-dynamic interpretation. The psychological reality. The shamanic practitioner holds to the latter, the ethereal conclusion. The spirit hypothesis, if you will.

The debate is epitomized by the fight that Fritz Perls got into with Carlos Castaneda and Pomo shaman, Essie Parish.

Both Michael Harner and Michael Murphy told me this story on separate occasions. Both of them were there. Murphy set up the whole debate. He thought a forum on the question might lead to a resolution of the matter, once and for all. So he invited them all to the Esalen Institute in Big Sur to discuss whether or not the spirit world really existed or whether it was all in your head.

Fritz Perls, as you probably know, was a big, hostile, son of a bitch at times. Founder of Gestalt Therapy, but before that, a Freudian (and Reichian) psychoanalyst. On the one side, Fritz Perls insisted that all this spirit crap was simply the work of the very talented and ingenious unconscious. Good metaphor, if you will, but not objective reality. On the other side, Essie Parish insisted that the spirit world was out there, independent of her, her desire, her will, or her unconscious. Harner, I can imagine, chuckled through the whole encounter. Castaneda, according to Murphy, kept floating away quite literally to the other world, thereby frequently exiting the debate. Perls became more and more frustrated. The debate became more and more heated. When Castaneda got up to speak, he rambled on and on. You know: Don Juan this, don Juan that... Story weaving, which is his forte.

Finally, Perls couldn't stand it anymore. He stood up, strode over, hauled off and punched Castaneda full force, smack in the face.

"IT'S ALL IN YOUR HEAD!" he boomed, to really sock it in.

Castaneda, who was maybe half Perls' size, stopped only for a moment, then went back to his tale, unchanged by the force of Perls' argument. Essie Parish too remained unmoved. Harner chuckled his shamanic chuckle. Murphy shut the forum down. Perls was spitting fire with rational indignation. These people just didn't get it.

So this was the Esalen attempt to settle the matter of spiritual vs psychological reality once and for all.

What it demonstrated was the degree of irreconcilable differences between the two camps. So much for trying to solve the big problems of the nature of the universe before or after soaking one's brains in those infamous moonlit hotsprings on the rocky Big Sur coast. I wonder if they might have made more progress in a conference room with florescent lighting? Would Fritz Perls' point have gotten through if they'd been overlooking the Atlantic instead of the Pacific?

Nobody published what went on at Esalen that day, not for a long long time. Then a couple years ago, Kripal finally recounted an abridged version of what happened in the book he called, Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion. Not even a paragraph's worth. According to Kripal, Claudio Naranjo was present as well, though neither Harner nor Murphy mentioned him in their telling of the tale. The incident was to have been documented for posterity by a local television station that filmed the debate and that final blow that ended the argument between science and religion. And the station (either KRON or KQED, depending on who you ask) managed to lose the film.

Harner laughed his head off when he spoke of the incident. Better to just teach people to go to the Other World to find the answers for themselves.

"Spirits? Unconscious? Who cares what you call it?" says Harner. "As long as it gets the job done."

And Perls? What did a slap in the face or sock in the jaw mean to him?

It was as tangible a piece of objective reality as he was capable of conveying in that moment. A graphic and reasonable contribution to the question, 'what is consensual or socially constructed reality, after all?'

Kripal recounts a part of the tale that I had not heard. Naranjo, he says, was deeply moved not by Harner or Castaneda or Essie Parish at the time — but by Perls. For Naranjo, it was Perls who was the powerful shaman, albeit from the Germanic persuasion.

Score one point then, for the Freudian punch. But only one point. And a subjective one at that.

Friday, September 3, 2010

fritz wasser and the magic stroke

This is how I remember him: He was very very tall and angular. His zygomatic stuck out sharp enough to hurt somebody. I think of him with blue blue eyes. He was skinny, with skinny clothes, pencil-thin pants, and he wore a sear-sucker jacket. He had a short short flat top of fine brown hair. Everything was very very. His sports car was an angular little convertible. I want to say it was a Mercedes, but it wasn't, was it? For all the sharpness of the angles I remember, my memory actually sucks.

I want to say it was 1962, but it wasn't. Maybe 1960. At the most, 1961. I was in Junior High School. In, of all places on the planet Earth, Oakland, California. A very scary place called McChesney Junior High. Where girls got into fights before or after school, wearing their blue gym clothes backwards so the snaps wouldn't just rip open with the first grab and throw. Where the blonde school bully wore razor blades in her hair. Girl fights were notorious for hair grabbing. But no one was gonna grab hers. I'm actually still scared of her. I can tell: I remember her name.

I don't know how I ended up in that little hellhole of a universe. There was the torment of the girl fights, and the fainting lessons in the girls' bathrooms, the slam-books, and sadistic teachers. The words lurid and leering come to mind when I think about that place. There were some truly terrible teachers there. But the kids didn't make it easy, either. At the end of the school year, there was the annual 'race riot' — that's what the kids called it. It took place, as most of the fights did at the time, in the parking lot of Temple Beth Jacob, a block or two away. And who won the annual race riot depended on which side the "Mexicans" took. It was all very friendly, as I recall, with no real animosity, just another excuse to fight. Welcome to Oakland.

Into all this came Mr. Fritz Wasser.

I mean, how the hell did he end up there? What was he doing there? With his perfectly scraped angular chin, and his perfect little sports car? He could have been anywhere, couldn't he? How the hell did he end up there? I never really asked that question before. I wish I could ask it in earnest. Track him down, and say, why?

Fritz Wasser was the new art teacher. And he introduced us to different mediums (not media) that I don't remember at all. All I remember was watercolor.

Watercolor is a very very difficult medium. It takes tremendous control with the brush, attention to just how much liquid there is on the brush, just exactly how the colors are mixed, and how not to wreck your watercolor paper by waterlogging it. Mr. Wasser explained and demonstrated how fickle was the art of watercolor, and just how much control it took. It was a lesson in focused attention.

I looked down at my white white paper, dipped my brush first in the water (carefully wiping off the excess) and then in a few colors together. I made a stroke on the page. And another. And another. Repeat the process.

And she emerged.

I had no idea what I was doing. But there she was, in three-quarter view. She had long, wavy tangled dark hair writhing like snakes. Alabaster skin, and a faint blush on her cheek. I gasped.

Mr. Wasser walked over to my table and looked down at my paper. He said nothing, but he took my brush, dipped it deftly into god only knows what substance, and drew one stroke on my painting — and bam, she came to life! She was fully fully animate, and I fell head over heels in love. She was perfect. and I never forgot her. And I often wondered what happened to that Junior High piece of paper that washed away the violence of my school. Where had she disappeared to?

* * * * *

It was a dark night, but with the pale moon shining through her window. She had been ill and needed her sleep, and I knew I needed to be very still. Me, and my insomnia. And so I sat up quietly, and just watched the shadows in the room filter through her lace curtains. I was on the inside, trapped there on this shelf of a bed. If I got up I'd have to climb over her, I'd wake her, and she had been ill... And so I sat there, and stared into the night.

And there she was, lying next to me — my painting, all come to life. That same Medusa hair, same nose, same blush upon her cheek. For all I know, she had a fever. For all I know, I didn't see color at all in the moonlight. It wasn't the first vision I had, looking into her face. And it wasn't the last, either. But I do know that that night my watercolor returned in full blush and brush stroke.

I had fallen in love with her first time round just about exactly when she was getting herself born. Sometime in those months, this beautiful creature came into the world — and I was already smitten with her image.

My mom remembers it differently. She says that her birth exactly coincides with my infant sister's death. And that that's why I love her. For if my sister had lived and grown and thrived, Tina is exactly what my mother would have expected. A Medusa beauty, who could sing, and paint, and think and reason. As smart as a whip, with a wicked lip. A Capricorn. A Caprican. A stickler for details and for delight.

It's not like I can say I dreamed her up. Or conjured her. Or drew her. Oh wait, that last one I can indeed claim. I did, I drew her in all senses of the word. And as I drew her, I was drawn.

But it was Mr. Wasser brought her to life.

And that's what made me decide not to be an artist. Because that genius stroke of his animistic brush was something I knew I could never achieve. No painting I ever made since came to life the way she did. I knew I'd never have that magic stroke.

Instead, I created the old fashioned way: I procreated. And what beauties I brought forth! But that doesn't make me an artist.

Or does it?

I've made my son. I've made my daughter. And when I was a child, my watercolor.

Seeing you last night brought it all back. And so, I throw into the universe (wherever he might be), belated thanks to Mr. Fritz Wasser and to the art he helped me see.