July 19th: Why Community Matters…


So… I’m an introvert in the worst possible way… As a child I was so shy that I didn’t even dare make eye contact with people. My mom probably thought I was autistic– she thought a lot of things, because I didn’t quite fit the mold of my older siblings, who were more rebellious and outspoken. I saw the drama they caused and simply opted out of the drama– an introvert way of dealing with the world…

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My painful shyness I happened to overcome, I realized, by placing myself in front of an audience. When I did class presentations, I didn’t care what my peers thought– with an introvert focus, I simply remained calm and carried on, which, strangely, was associated with a certain level of cool and confidence. I even realized I could make people laugh, by just being smart and not trying very hard, because the latter is not the introvert way…

And strangely… performing… being in front of a room full of people then became a role, an act that I could slip into like Dame Helen Mirren. I wasn’t presenting myself or exposing myself after all. It was an act, and, as an act, it was easy to come out of my shell. Because to perform and project is always easier than shift the focus to oneself and be vulnerable.

So strangely,  I was cured of my introversion by acting like an extravert… but… and here’s the kicker, I learned to connect with people.

And so I went into teaching (which I love), while not neglecting my introverted quirks by choosing a career as a writer and translator.

Lately, my work has become so intense in an introverted kind of way (writing and translating) that I feel the introvert lifestyle is good for hermits and the Ted Kasinsky’s (spelling?) of the world but in essence, even the biggest introvert needs people and community. And please don’t write me off as a “libtard” when I say this, but I do believe in Barbra’s Streisand’s lyrics of “people needing people…”

With the onslaught of social media (faux community), we are losing our bearings when it comes to real community, i.e. sitting down with people and asking them: How can I help you? How can we connect in a way that’s meaningful to both of us? Community matters– it matters in making us whole and feeling validated. A like on social media is not the same, even though it tries to simulate a sense of community that’s not truly, really there…

This country is broken and polarized, but rather than hiding behind our profiles on Twitter and Facebook, we need to tune out, and drop out again, to connect as people. And we need to listen, because at the moment, we’re shouting at each other. For an introvert that may seem like a challenge, but take it from an introvert like me that community is salvation and soulful and good, if only we try.

I want to connect– not as Dame Helen Mirren, but as myself, with a person who thinks he/she has nothing in common with me. I want to listen and say I hear you and see you, because you’re not a different political party, or different gender or different race:

We are all people.

But if we can no longer connect as people, we are doing a disservice to our sense of community and, by default, we self destruct. I want introverts to think like extraverts and extraverts to think like introverts. Empathy will set us free, even though the narrative from Washington DC does not try to encourage this in any way.

Truth is: I’m a little desperate about this all, but feel we are all bigger than this and can overcome this, if we tune out, drop out and buy that stranger that cup of coffee. I’m in.

Are you?

 

 

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July 16th: It’s Never the Right Time to Say Goodbye


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This was our Frankie. He was with us for six years. We saved him from the euthanasia list because he was a badly socialized dog. He was malnourished and was small, I feel, because his growth had been stunted by lack of food. The shelter said that he had been abandoned by a Chinese family with whom he had lived inside a closet (!). Up until the very last day, Frankie couldn’t stand it if you closed a door on him. But he was a fighter, a Braveheart– little body, determined spirit.

From the moment he came to our house, he was my shadow, following me everywhere and even, in the beginning, showing up in the bathroom if I had to take a leak at night. We fattened him up, and slowly, he came out of his shell, even though damaged dogs remain damaged in some way: He would cower, if you reached out to pet him and the first year, his tail would be firmly in between his legs as if he had never even learned how to wag his tail.

Our older doxie, Teddy, tolerated him– we think he considered him a little punk and having been an only dog for a long time, it was hard to share the spotlight.

In February, when Frankie was with a sitter, and we were abroad, he went into diabetic shock, and a clinic at Berkeley pulled him back from death’s door. It was touch and go but my little fighter pulled through and driving him home after a week of ICU care, he lay down next to me, but his eyes wouldn’t leave my face, as if he were afraid to be abandoned again at any moment.

Frankie’s diabetes was never fully under control. We had many more visits to the vet after that, but he continued to drink like a camel and was quite incontinent. His gait became more belabored as did his breathing, and his hair started falling out. He had a UTI for months. He had changed from a lively little rascal into a geriatric dog, sleeping most of the day and acting exhausted.

On Friday, Frankie took a turn for the worse. It almost seems as if he had had a stroke: his gait was unsteady, he fell over once or twice and he looked at me as if he had been smoking dope. He wouldn’t eat in the morning and lay in my arms like a drunken sailor. Teddy “inspected” him and did something I had never seen him do: He gently licked Frankie’s face.

I called the vet, fearing the end was near.

Going to the vet, Frankie perked up a bit, but after a conversation with the vet and the discussion of pain meds to add to the bazillion pills he was already taking, I decided to call it a day. There’s nothing nice about playing god or making that call. In fact, it made me feel guilty, like I was about to kill my dog at a point when he still might have had a few more good weeks or maybe months. It’s never the right time.

I felt torn. And heartbroken.

It went really fast– a more merciful death than most people sometimes get who linger in ICUs. He lay down and, after less than 20 seconds, his heart stopped beating. Out of his one eye, a little tear came rolling down. Do dogs cry?

Driving home, I felt like Dr. Kevorkian. Rationally, I had been ready. Emotionally, I was not. A friend of mine commented: “I know– why don’t they die in their sleep?”

I always thought the sanctity of life was for Christians and pro-life people, but the older I get, the more I feel conflicted about this sort of thing. As I age, life, these matters of life and death become more nuanced and complex, scarred as we become, seeing parents die, seeing our pets die and pondering our own mortality.

I was heartbroken about our little guy, because he had had such a rough life, living inside that closet and spending only six years with us. He shouldn’t be trusting people after what he had gone through but he trusted me… with his life.

The house felt strangely empty and I took Teddy in my arms and cried. And just as Teddy had been licking Frankie’s face, he now was licking mine. Our dogs offer us unconditional love, more than people, which is why it is so hard to let them go.

As I sat down at my desk, I missed little Frankie at my feet and for a weird, fleeting moment I felt a lick on my leg, but he was no longer there.

That night I couldn’t sleep. Multiple scenarios went through my head. Did we do everything we could have done for him? And dammit, I saw him die, many times over on that vet’s table.

When sleep finally did come, I woke up from a dog barking. It was Frankie’s distinct bark and I’m not sure, but I think it was his way of saying goodbye from wherever he is now.

Did I do the right thing? We never know. But it’s irreversible now.

Goodbye my little friend, my Braveheart, my little lion– your eyes burned a little hole in my soul, which won’t get patched up any time, soon.

It’s true, though, what a friend of my daughter’s said: All dogs go to heaven– they do, because in some ways, they’re so much better than humans.

 

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June 30th: I Smell a Rat…


Don’t worry, I’m not going to beat you over the head about the state of the country/world is in. I’m just going to tell you about my day, and boy, this surely was the wimpiest of days that I’ve had in a long time.

The day started out with the news that a new piece (a judgmental map– all the rage, apparently) by Caroline had been published. You can read her piece here. Looking at the map, this was the first thing I noticed:

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You’re right. Caroline Lake does not go to UC Berkeley but to Columbia College in Chicago. The publication, The Black Sheep (like The Onion for college life) editors decided that because Orinda is close to Berkeley, it would be better to just have her go to UC Berkeley for a day so the piece would attract more readers… and holy shit, it was already shared 341 times on FB when I took this screenshot, and that is so much better than her poor bumbling blogger-mom has ever done…

If that didn’t make me feel like a loser, it was looking at the map again that made me feel especially wimpy. People who don’t know us, I realized, now maybe think we live in some obscenely rich white people bubble (which we do) and that we, therefore, are loaded. This is far from the truth. We probably belong in Baja Orinda, and while we do fine compared to some people in Bumblefuck, Idaho, we’re definitely “struggling” when it comes to living up to Orinda Country Club standards (not that that is our ambition).

Pondering all of this, between work and doing my invoicing, I thought I needed to present you with a story to offset the impression that we might be living Stepford lives, or might have become Stepford Wives.

The story presented itself when I heard a noise in one of our drawers (this is a cabinet we never use because rats have been inside it– and living in Orinda means rats are as common as Teslas, and while I have written plenty about rats, and even devoted an entire chapter (There is a rat on my kitchen counter) to them in my debut memoir, I really didn’t want to write about any more rats, but well, I thought maybe this is a good one to tell folks to make sure they realize we live with rats rather than trust funds).

Jon had set a trap in one of those drawers and it had gone off and I heard a screeching, like I had just stepped on a bird. I’ve heard these death struggles before in our house and they usually last less than a minute. This one lasted five. Then it quieted down. But then after half an hour, the poor guy started up again and it became hard to focus on the manuscript I was translating. Traps are usually effective (and believe me, we tried every possible form of extermination) but when it hits in the wrong place, they are inhumane. The squeaking did become a little less and I was too much of a chicken to look, because full-grown rats are as big as my geriatric doxie, Frankie– and he’s tiny for a dog, but huge if he were a rat.

I had to go out, and felt relieved, but then when I came back after an hour or so, there was still a pitiful peeping. I could no longer ignore it, so I opened the drawer, expected a mostly dead and mangled body but as I shone my iPhone light in, this poor little guy turned around, looking at me with eyes so big that I was ready to adopt him. His back side was completely squashed and obviously paralyzed and his little feet were hanging off the trap like delicate hands the size of Donald Trump’s grabbers.

Yes: I’m hearing you all– I should have grabbed that thing and killed it, because that is the humane thing to do. Truth is: I can’t kill a thing and I should be vegan but I’m not. I’m a wimp– pure and simple.

However, I couldn’t let him sit in that ugly and dark drawer, so I took him out on the patio and took him out of the trap (with gloves that reached to my ankles). He was then exploring the patio, dragging his behind him like he had always done that, and I read articles online that paralyzed rats have, with the right treatment, a much better chance of recovering fully than drunken dudes who end up with spinal cord injuries because they dive into shallow pools on July 4th. Part me of wondered whether wild rats were ever domesticated and whether we could “save” him and tame him, wheelchair or not. But since I’m already running a nursing home for doxies, with one dog who has three different pills now plus 2x insulin, taking him to the vet was not an option.

I texted Jon with an update on the situation and a picture, which I won’t show here as I respect rat privacy.

He texted back: “Rats have bad reputations but they are not much different than a hamster or a ferret.”

Yes.

That didn’t help at all…

I was talking to the rat and Caroline came onto the patio thinking I was talking sweetly to the dogs. We discussed options. Letting him get killed by the dogs was not one of them. Nor was banging his head in with a brick. Sorry. I wimped out. I put him in a secluded part of the garden, in the ivy– if he had to die, it was better to die outside in Nature in beautiful, rustic and rich Orinda than sitting in one of our unused, shabby drawers. He was no longer in pain, because I grabbed his rear when moving him and he didn’t even give a peep.

I felt conflicted and about as cruel as Auschwitz’s Dr. Mengele. Caroline saw my inner turmoil and gave me a hug.

“I’m kinda worried.” She said.

“Worried?” I asked. “Worried about that little unfortunate rat?”

“No worried about that judgmental map of Orinda. It got so many shares that maybe they won’t allow me to be Cinderella [her 4th appearance this year] in the Orinda July 4th Parade.”

“Oh hush,” I said.

Hush is right, for Caroline is as perfect as they come in Orinda.

I myself don’t know what that kind of perfection is.

I’m over fifty, fat, and I just dealt with a rat.

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June 24th: The Poop Test (click bait for sure)


downloadOnce you turn 50 in this youth-obsessed country, you’re officially old and people write you off. Jobs are harder to get at this age, movies are way beyond your comprehension because they make them for an age group that’s generally under twenty, the AARP sends you mail so often that you suspect they think you have some dementia already, and all the doctors you see are now generally younger than you are.

Speaking of doctors: Last year, I already sent in a stool sample but this year I’m being screened for colon cancer and I guess my old sample was beyond salvaging for a second try. This “poop in the mail/in an envelope” I find somewhat entertaining but mostly gross: How many of those envelopes does the mailman handle a day and does he think twice when he sees a certain address for a medical lab?

The device to scoop up your poop I find very ill-designed. It’s a small barrel with some preservative fluid. You take the cap off (by turning) and then you are faced with a tiny plastic stick with some grooves on it. The intention is to get some poop into those grooves by digging around in your toilet bowl. This feels much like eating soup with a fork. Or pushing rope (and if you don’t know what that means, look it up on Urban Dictionary). After one try, nothing really stuck in those grooves. I guess those 8 glasses of water a day are a no no when you subject yourself to the poop test…

I tried again, doing a counter-clockwise stir but no luck. Caroline had just told me about a new expression that everyone seems to be using, which is Eat my ass. Stooped over the toilet, I cursed at my sorry poop and said out loud Eat my ass. Yes, how a propos.

So I tried a different strategy. Rather than stirring, I tried to scoop some up with that pathetic little stick. What had I been eating the previous day anyway? Was that Palak Paneer? Or was it digested salad I was looking at? The sample I had scooped up was too big for the barrel but I stashed it in anyway, spilling on the label that I still had to fill out (I didn’t obviously– just added a note). I popped it in the envelope and sealed it, and then realized I had to send along my doctor’s form, so I had to tear open the envelope and seal it with plastic tape. Yes, I’m one of those obstinate people who find reading instructions a waste of time.

As I looked at that pathetic envelope with the tape job I did, I wondered momentarily whether this was the way to go. I mean, now they’d probably think someone had tampered with my poop, but then who would engage in such an activity? Certainly not the mailman. The envelope also said my poop was time-sensitive material, and while that made it sound like my poop was way more important and urgent than it deserves to be, I think they probably don’t want you to have your envelope with poop lying about the house for a week. If I did, one of the dogs might probably get into it anyway.

So even though it was the end of the day, and I was really ready for a glass of wine, I jumped on my bike and rode into town to mail my poop. I gave it a little blessing as I dropped it in the blue mailbox, for everyone gets nervous about those kinds of tests.

When I came home, (and I’m using a little poetic license here for sure) Caroline asked where I had been.

“Mailed my poop,” came my answer.

“Yeah, right…” she said, “Eat my ass.”

 

 

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June 22nd: Not for Wimps


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Last night was so hot that we decided to get some AC at the ER… yeah right…

In the morning, when I took Caroline took the doctor, the doctor expressed a concern about Rhabdomyolisis, a breakdown of muscle tissue which can result in kidney failure. Caroline’s urine came back negative, so we decided to observe it for the day. At dinner though I saw that Caroline was not doing well, with bad pains in her stomach and back.

I made a judgment call, (and the doctor had told me, “when in doubt, take her to the ER”) and was momentarily thinking back of my ectopic pregnancy, years ago. Jon was out of town, I was a month pregnant and started having bad cramps. Since Will was in bed (he was barely 2 at the time) and I was very early in the pregnancy, I decided to toughen it out. Like a home miscarriage. Not as cool as home birthing but since it was close to midnight, I didn’t feel like jumping in the car, dragging along Will etc etc. What could be so bad? Maybe a little worse than a really bad period. Thank God I did have the wherewithal to call the nurse line. Listening to my symptoms, the nurse told me to get to the nearest hospital pronto. She essentially saved my life (aside from the doctor who did the surgery) because if I had stayed home, I would have died from internal bleeding.

So Caroline and I headed out and arrived at John Muir’s ER at 8 PM where it was rush hour. Side note: America’s ER’s tend to be more overcrowded than their European counterparts because people without or limited insurance postpone going to the doctor and then end up at the ER, and often when it is too late. It was a dramatic evening: like the guy who walked in, in shock, towel pressed to his face, his face looking like roadkill from falling off his bike. There was a little girl throwing up and curled up in the fetal position who wasn’t seen until 11PM. Or the heavily overweight guy with chest pains who almost started crying when he told the intake nurse that his father had died of a massive heart attack. Or that black woman, who walked in funny, then was put in a neck brace and started having seizures. Or the little kid with the infection on his arm: The entire family entourage was there, most of them without teeth (meth?)– the toothless mother who went braless with jugs that reached to her knees, was wearing a garbage bag on her head as she was dying her hair green. Or the elderly mother, wheeled in by her daughter: shaking like a leaf, disoriented and holding a coffee mug to throw up in. The mug clearly wouldn’t do.

In comparison, Caroline’s suspected affliction looked tame. But the doctor took her symptoms seriously and ordered blood tests. They all came back normal. Phew! Better safe than sorry. Walking out  near midnight, I did wonder about the little girl, the woman with the seizures, the guy with the chest pain and the old woman who was so out of it. Even with Obamacare we’re nowhere near to where Europe and Canada are, but without it, these ER scenes will become progressively worse.

Give me your hungry, your sick– well under TrumpCare we can all go to hell, and the poorest among us in particular. I don’t recognize this country anymore. It feels like a Dickensian reality and soooo 19th century…

First thing this morning was Frankie at the vet’s — the guy still has a UTI, and his skin has a yeast/fungal infection for which I got pills, shampoo and a mousse. Also more tests– all at the tune of $400. There goes that Mendocino weekend Jon and I were planning…

As for the pills, shampoo and mousse, I think I may try some of it myself because I have some dry patches, too, and can’t afford to see a dermatologist (facetious again– just adding this because many people tend to believe my poetic license. Like when I told my students one day that the Dutch dropped the case system (that German has, i.e. the changing of the article and ending of adjective and noun, depending on its function in the sentence) because, as I lied, they were still angry about the Germans having confiscated their bicycles during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. And you know, when you touch a Dutchman’s bicycle, you mess with his soul. So when the Nazis grabbed their bikes, the Dutch went like ditch those cases. It only inhibits foreigners from learning your language.

Anyway, to make a long story short, hopefully we’re all on the mend in Nursing Home Wiener, where, soon, residents may start dropping like flies from sun stroke and heat exhaustion. As I’m typing this, drops of perspiration are beginning to affect my RAM so it’s time for a cold shower. I’m eyeing that shampoo and mousse for real.

Have fun with your Friday and stay cool!

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June 21st: Another Wimpy Day


So yesterday I was cursing the fact that my home office lacks AC, but today I was counting my blessings for having the freedom to work from home: Caroline came downstairs with excruciating muscle pain, so we saw the doctor and are waiting to see how things develop with her today but if they don’t improve, it’ll be tests.

But working from home also means being close to the Hayward Fault Line and today we felt two big jolts, which reminded me that living on the edge is just a way of life in California.

Nursing Home Wiener continues: Teddy had some off days (may have been the heat) and Frankie’s losing so much hair that before you know it, he’ll look like one of those scary naked cats.

Another vet appointment tomorrow.

His gait is also quite unsteady and when he descends the kitchen stairs, he doesn’t jump like his former self, but lets himself drop down the stairs, letting gravity take its course. It sounds like a bag of potatoes spilling down the stairs and it looks pitiful. Poor guy. At least I have one “patient” who can talk– the other two are awfully silent, unless they see cats or smell BBQ.

And then there is work; I have a humongo job to do in July and in the few spare moments, I’m still working on my campus novel to get it ready for publication. I also need to update you on Henry Miller… but where’s the time?

Yesterday, I got a call from an old friend with whom I worked at Rosetta Stone, and he just got his PhD at Duke and in between career advice and talking about Europe, we couldn’t help but trash academia and all the unethical things we’ve seen happening on our bucolic campuses. I mean, today another story broke about the former Chancellor at UC Berkeley who is getting sued by his housekeeper (for telling her to hide income from the IRS). The Dean of the Law School was sued too because he liked to cuddle a bit too much with his personal assistant (and you should see the guy, eek) but as far as I know, he’s still gainfully employed. The CEO (and fellow scumbag) at Uber on the other hand was forced to resign this week. Clearly, actions have no consequences when tenure is your last name.

To switch topics, I’m jealous of Will who’s Eurotripping all over the Old World and seems to do some modeling on the side:

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What can I say? When I was young, I don’t think I realized how good it felt to be young and have a fab body. Now the excess pounds have taken hostage of my waist since entering menopause. With my chronic shortage of time, I wish I could get some time back by trading in those pounds. Men just start to look leaner and more suave at this age– and yes, those little wisps of grey hair give them the maturity and gravitas we’ve been wanting to see in them long ago, like when we were dating them.

We, on the other hand, morph into bags of bones, double chins (horrors), bags over our eyes that make people ask Are you sick? or Are you tired? to which I want to reply: No bitch, I’m just getting old… And omg we sweat like everyone’s worst hot flash.

No wonder some men trade us in for Maseratis.

But I can’t feel sorry for myself because when I look at Frankie, and I see those pathetic grey patches of bald, wrinkly skin and the hair he’s dropping like he’s doing chemo, I know there’s no need to despair, because I still have great hair.

(I’m being facetious here…)

 

 

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June 19th: Back to the Bay for Father’s Day in the Haight


Caroline and I returned from the Netherlands on Friday, so we had the Father’s Day Weekend to recover from jetlag:

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I hit a funk of sorts, which coincided with an oppressive heat which was so intolerable that we escaped into the city yesterday, to visit the Summer of Love Exhibit at the De Young Museum in Golden Gate Park.

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Even though the West Coast Left came out of the hippie movement and Free Speech Movement, I think we’re possibly overstating the political significance of The Summer of Love.

Mind you, in 1967, there was no Internet or Facebook but somehow the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood in San Francisco became the central gathering place for the Summer of Love. Hippies from all over the United States fetched a Greyhound bus or hitchhiked to the Haight, and center of the so-called Diggers, a group (www.diggers.org) which was not unlike the Provo group and movement in Amsterdam.

Originally, they were a theater group but soon they became a political and anti-capitalist hippie movement that declared possessions and ownership the root of all evil. Wanting to abolish trade, they started Free Stores (much like the white and free bicycles in Amsterdam by Provo) all over the Haight where you could come and take what you wanted. Every day, there was free food in the park as well, and there was a free clinic for health care.

The ambiance was pretty groovy in 1967 but sadly, the druggies took over from the Diggers. At the end of 1968, there were more heads and freaks than hippies or true reformers and thus that special summer of 1967, its music, its flower children and its idealism turned into a winter of LSD. Hence maybe Eric Cartman’s quote who said that hippies wanted to save the world but all they did was smoke dope and play frisbee.

What has remained is the Victorian and many-colored homes in the Haight. The free stores are gone but the eclectic shops, vintage clothing, the smell of incense (as well as marijuana) are still there, and the atmosphere, albeit tarnished by mass tourism, is still somewhat palpable. Janis Joplin lived in the Haight, at 122 Lyon Street. Rumor has it that one room was painted black completely, and that, if you walked into her house, you stumbled over the empty bottles.

And then it was Monday… GoFundMe was launched in the Netherlands today, a feat I and my Dutch colleague helped make happen, so I’m moving on– new clients, more work, and hopefully a little less heat…

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June 14th: The Stillness of Vermeer… in Delft…


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Will is already shopping for PhD programs and wanted to see Delft, so we drove there yesterday — after the hustle and bustle of Amsterdam, Delft was like walking back in time, exuding the stillness of a Vermeer painting. The sun broke through and look at that sky and the way it’s reflected in the canal. You don’t have to go to Venice to see this kind of beauty. Vermeer captured something similar of his hometown, in the famous picture and View of Delft, although this postage type stamp doesn’t do the original any justice:

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And I apologize: I started this blog when I had just arrived at my brother’s but being back home is trying to get most mileage out of our connections with family and shoring up ties between me and my siblings. With both my parents gone, I feel I’ve cut the umbilical cord with my native country and the relationships with my siblings have suffered, too, which happens when you live at the other end of the world. I’m typing this at home, on the couch, early in the morning, waking up from a deep, jetlag-induced sleep.

Jon picked us up from SFO and we were immediately plunged into the Trump intrigues and lawsuits and, having driven on Dutch roads and highways, I couldn’t help but feel shocked with the third-world feel of our roads and traffic congestions. Waking up, I read this article in the NYT: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/06/15/world/europe/climate-change-rotterdam.html?mcubz=1.

Over the centuries, the Dutch have turned a national and existentialist threat into an opportunity and the US seems more and more mired into the past where 19th-century solutions are supposed to solve 21st-century problems. So after living more than 23 years in this country, I feel, for the first time, that Europe, not the US is where the future and enlightenment lie, and some of this has to do with the fact that countries like the Netherlands haven’t abandoned their people. There may be poor people in the Netherlands, but most of them have access to food, free education, opportunity and health care that won’t break the bank.

Why does a country like America have so many hungry children? Surely, we have the wealth to feed those children? I do blame our leaders from both parties. We have become a corporate “democracy”, soon to be oligarchy, and while based on freedom, justice and liberty for all, we’ve lost touch with our foundation and values and are becoming a country like Brazil, when we should be emulating Western Europe, a place our founding fathers ran from.

So am I looking to move back? Yes. Or rather, ideally, I would like to downsize at home and dream of having a small place in the US and a small place in Europe.

But first I’ll have to work more to earn that. Speaking of which, I got the green light from Peet’s to translate the Dutch biography of Alfred Peet (another Dutchman, or, as the NYT obituary suggested at the time: the man who taught Americans/Starbucks how to drink and roast coffee) into English and met with the journalist who wrote the book (in Amsterdam). The book should be available at Peet’s stores before Christmas, so stay tuned.

Here are some more pics from my trip:

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Bathroom in Delft– the tulip doesn’t need to be watered; it gives you water when you hold your hands underneath it.

And here is Will in Delft, pondering PhDs in Europe: TU Delft? Zürich? Oxbridge?

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Family dinners:

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The new, and adorable addition to the family, Tom:

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More family…

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And yes, photo bombing is universal:

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Big bro at a local bruin café:

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Walks at 10 PM, still light outside:

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And amazing skies:

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Back home, the stillness of Vermeer, the simplicity of Mondriaan and the blessedness of above skies were quickly dissolved by the noise and madness of a country in turmoil. We can do better… not by closing our borders and building walls, but by borrowing what’s good, and pragmatic and what works elsewhere.

Have a nice weekend, everyone!

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June 12th: Vincent (Van Gogh) Has My Ear…


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“A great fire burns within me, but no one stops to warm themselves at it, and passers-by only see a wisp of smoke.”

~ Vincent van Gogh

This morning, Caroline and I went to see the Van Gogh Museum. We had been there years ago and the Museum has been modernized, but I was totally bumming out on the whole experience as so few works of his were on display; there was a part about the self-portraits, people who influenced him and painters whom he influenced, a part about his letters, and a great big part of selling Vincent paraphernalia. The Vincent van Gogh Museum has prostituted Vincent and it made me sad.

Over dinner with Will and Caroline we talked about this and Will had been there earlier this week: “Granted, I was a little high, so it was amazing…” he said, which he quickly qualified with “I liked how the different parts had a narrative, and it was about following the narrative and combining them with the paintings.” Point well made. Or maybe he just made that point because he wanted to order another beer and I was paying for dinner…

I was pleased to see Vincent’s letters have gained a larger prominence. Henry Miller loved those letters and has named Vincent as one of his big influences. The letters are not just letters from one brother to another, or the letters of a painter but they are literary. I remember reading them quite a while ago but I was equally impressed. Good writers may also paint but may not paint well and good painters may write but may not write as well as they paint, but this didn’t apply to Vincent. He wrote just as well as he painted.

Sadly, he hardly sold a painting or made any money from his letters.

And now, the lines in front of the Van Gogh Museum are almost as long as those in front of the Anne Frank Museum, and the once-obscure little Vincent may well be bigger than Rembrandt and Vermeer combined. What is Vincent’s appeal? Is it the mental illness? The ear? The explosion of color when he gets to the south of France? Is it the story of the unrecognized genius? Or is it that damn Don McClean with his starry, starry night?!

Anyway… after all the Vincent-mania, I dropped Caroline off at the Airbnb (she got my sore throat now) and I headed over to (Dutch) friends who, after 20 years or so in the US, just made the move from the US, back to the Netherlands.

Yes, they got out in time…

They live on a lovely house boat among grazing cows, voluminous Dutch skies (Marsman: de lucht hangt er laag) and country quiet. It was great to talk about new beginnings, impressions, ups and downs, life after America and the fear we both expressed, i.e. not wanting to grow old (and wanting) in the States. It’s not a country for old men. So yes, I’m checking real estate ads over here, and weighing the option of moving back. For real. Or rather, if we can afford it…

Opening the old laptop after dinner, I was flooded again with work requests — the kinds that say EOD (END OF THE DAY), meaning they have to be finished by the end of the day, but it was already my end of the day, while the day had only just started in California. Yikes. And I needed to fucking blog, and I haven’t even told you about my magical meeting with Peggy Stein of the Indische Kwestie yesterday, but that will find its sequel on and through The Indo Project. Launching into my work files, I thought back of Vincent, that sad little ear and his drive to paint and paint and paint, which came to an abrupt end with a gun shot to the chest.

I do have a wimpy life, compared to that, so stay tuned for more blog entries from a wimpy adult…

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June 11th: When Your Kids Start Behaving like the Locals, Maybe it’s Time to Go Home…


After a lovely time in The Hague, seeing the Mondrian exhibit at the Gemeentemuseum, stopping by on the beach at Scheveningen, but especially: overdosing on baby Tom:

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it became time to pick up Will from Schiphol. He was returning from South Africa, a life- altering trip or so it seems from the stories (and the missionary beard). Btw he wants a haircut and we all say: WHY?! We waited for about an hour at Schiphol but finally, he came through the doors:

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The dude in the rear (on the right) is probably thinking it might be his Dutch girlfriend who’s welcoming him home, but it’s his little sis. And here Will is, looking cool in the elevator:

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We drove to Amsterdam where Will is staying with his cousin Tim, and Sophie, and Fred, the amazing dachshund, who barks at you when you look him deep in the eye… Then Caroline and I went to our Airbnb in Amsterdam Zuid, which is to die for. The kitchen is better equipped than mine at home but parking fees are horrendous.

Will joined us later, biking like a true local and when we set out for dinner (Caroline and I in the car) and Will on his bike, Caroline could not resist the temptation and lean out the window when passing Will from the rear, and yelling KLOOTZAK! (which means asshole, for the uninitiated). Right. When the kids start behaving like the locals, maybe we overstayed our welcome already…

Dinner was lovely, outside, and the kids were marveling at how light it stays at night. All I can say: we’ve really lucked out with the weather, thus far. Then the kids went clubbing and I went to bed, feeling old and boring. Although clubbing really wasn’t my deal at their age either, so I’ve always been boring.

Now I’m getting ready for my meeting with Peggy Stein to interview her with regard to the Indische Kwestie (for The Indo Project), and I probably should work for the rest of the Sunday, as well Monday and Tuesday, which means that I haven’t fully assimilated yet, because when you walk downtown on a weekday, whether it’s The Hague or Amsterdam, the locals all seem to be on vacation, but I think it has to do with the large part-time economy of the Netherlands (read: people here know all about life/work balance).

Other impressions? The Netherlands is still overcrowded, although their extreme talent at organization doesn’t make it feel like Bangkok, we should have an Albert Heijn in America (let’s sacrifice one large Starbucks for that), produce and flowers, like these

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are still dirt cheap, Mondriaan’s early work is just as interesting as his abstract stuff:

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summer birds sound different from the ones in California, people are better about picking up dog shit these days, and the Dutch will still offer their opinion even if you didn’t ask for it. Also, my son shouldn’t be buying beers from a stranger in Vondelpark, and paying ten euros for two beers is ridiculous. The guy was so grateful that he offered some weed to go with, but lo and behold, Will declined. What did I say? My kids are becoming more Dutch than the Dutch themselves, because yes, as I told my American students at the time, the Dutch do way less weed than Americans, even though Americans tend to think all the Dutch are potheads when they can paint like Mondriaan and Van Gogh.

I’m signing off because I’ve wasted way too much of your time already…

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